In another place, stamped within a circle, in offensively large capitals, you find the words "DUE 8 CENTS." Finally, in the midst of a desert space up nor-noreastard from that circle you find a figure "3" of quite unnecessarily aggressive and insolent magnitude--and done with a blue pencil, so as to be as conspicuous as possible. I inquired about these strange signs and symbols of the postman. He said they were P. O. Department signals for his instruction.
"Instruction for what?"
"To get extra postage."
"Is it so? Explain. Tell me about the large T and the 40.
"It's short for Take 40--or as we postmen say, grab 40"
Go on, please, while I think up some words to swear with."
"Due 8 means, grab 8 more."
"The blue-pencil 3 was an afterthought. There aren't any stamps for afterthoughts; the sums vary, according to inspiration, and they whirl in the one that suggests itself at the last moment. Sometimes they go several times higher than this one. This one only means hog 3 cents more. And so if you've got 51 cents about you, or can borrow it--"
"Tell me: who gets this corruption?"
"Half of it goes to the man in England who ships the letter on short postage, and the other half goes to the P.O.D. to protect cheap postage from inaugurating a deficit."
"I can't blame you; I would say it myself in your place, if these ladies were not present. But you see I'm only obeying orders, I can't help myself."
"Oh, I know it; I'm not blaming you. Finally, what does that L stand for?"
"Get the money, or give him L. It's English, you know."
"Take it and go. It's the last cent I've got in the world--."
After seeing the Oxford pageant file by the grand stand, picture after picture, splendor after splendor, three thousand five hundred strong, the most moving and beautiful and impressive and historically-instructive show conceivable, you are not to think I would miss the London pageant of next year, with its shining host of 15,000 historical English men and women dug from the misty books of all the vanished ages and marching in the light of the sun--all alive, and looking just as they were used to look! Mr. Lascelles spent yesterday here on the farm, and told me all about it. I shall be in the middle of my 75th year then, and interested in pageants for personal and prospective reasons.
I beg you to give my best thanks to the Bath Club for the offer of its hospitalities, but I shall not be able to take advantage of it, because I am to be a guest in a private house during my stay in London. Sincerely yours, S. L. CLEMENS.
It was in 1907 that Clemens had seen the Oxford Pageant--during the week when he had been awarded his doctor's degree. It gave him the greatest delight, and he fully expected to see the next one, planned for 1910.
In the letter to Howells which follows we get another glimpse of Mark Twain's philosophy of man, the irresponsible machine.
To W. D. Howells, in New York:
STORMFIELD, REDDING, CONN., Jan. 18, '09. DEAR HOWELLS,--I have to write a line, lazy as I am, to say how your Poe article delighted me; and to say that I am in agreement with substantially all you say about his literature. To me his prose is unreadable--like Jane Austin's. No, there is a difference. I could read his prose on salary, but not Jane's. Jane is entirely impossible. It seems a great pity that they allowed her to die a natural death.
Another thing: you grant that God and circumstances sinned against Poe, but you also grant that he sinned against himself--a thing which he couldn't do and didn't do.
It is lively up here now. I wish you could come. Yrs ever, MARK
To W. D. Howells, in New York:
STORMFIELD, REDDING, CONNECTICUT, 3 in the morning, Apl.