Mark Twain at the Library


twain-1Astonished, I immediately recognized the man the minute I saw him in the library. I had no idea how he had done it, but I knew my eyes did not deceive me. I approached him quietly, hoping not to frighten him.

“Mr. Clemens?” I whispered.

He looked at me, confusion in his eyes.

“Or do you prefer Mr. Twain?”

“I… I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he murmured.

I nodded quickly to reassure him. “I understand,” I said. “You prefer to remain incognito. What is it, research for a new book? ‘A Connecticut Yankee in the 21st Century’ perhaps? That would be fantastic!”

A glimmer of understanding crept into his eyes. “Yes,” he said, slowly and carefully, undoubtedly trying to speak in our modern vernacular. “Yes, a new book. You mustn’t tell anyone!”

“You can trust me, Mr. Clemens! You’re my favorite author.”

I had grown up with Tom Sawyer, admiring his spunk and wishing my life could be as much fun as his. I had thrilled as Huck Finn and Jim made their adventurous way down the Mississippi. And now the creator of my boyhood heroes sat before me in the flesh!

“Is there anything I can do to help you?” I asked.

“Well,” he said reluctantly, “I did make one tactical mistake in coming here. I’m a little ashamed to admit it.”
“No, please tell me!” I implored. “I’m sure I can help!”

twain-2“I failed to consider that the currency might have changed since the 1890s,” he explained. “I brought plenty of money with me, but it’s all unusable. If I tried to spend it, I’d be arrested as a counterfeiter or locked up as a lunatic!”

I hurriedly pulled out my wallet. “That’s no problem, Mr. Clemens! How much do you need?”

He glanced at my open wallet, no doubt fascinated with the modern currency.

“I’m only going to be here for a few days,” he said. “I suppose prices have gone up in the last century. How much do you suppose a simple room and a little food would cost for that long? Twenty or thirty dollars, perhaps?”

“Oh, no,” I explained, “prices have gone up much more than that. I’ve got $64 here; you might be able to get by on that if you stay at the YMCA and don’t eat too much. I’m sorry that’s all I have.”

He accepted the money gratefully. “I don’t know how to thank you, son. I’m going to dedicate my book to you!”

We spoke for a few more minutes about his life in Missouri, and what changes he had seen since coming to our time. I could have talked with him for hours, but then he stood.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “could you excuse me for just a few moments? I need to use the facilities.”

I pointed out the hallway that led to the restrooms and he headed that way. After I waited several minutes without his return, I walked down the hall and glanced into the men’s room. It was empty. He must have had something more important to do than waste time with me, and he was too polite to say so.

I wandered over to the fiction shelves and scanned the Mark Twain section, but I didn’t see any books that I didn’t recognize. After some thought, I realized he probably ran out of money and had to cut his research short. I cursed myself for not having more to give him. I had cost the world another masterpiece! Worse yet, it would have been dedicated to me!

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