The nervous, dapper, “pert” young man took the chair I offered him, and said he was connected with the Daily Thunderstorm, and added:
“Hoping it’s no harm, I’ve come to interview you.”
“Come to what?”
“Ah! I see. Yes---yes. Um! Yes---yes.”
I was not feeling well that morning. Indeed, my powers seemed a bit under a cloud. However, I went to the bookcase, and, when I had been looking six or seven minutes, found I was obliged to refer to the young man. I said:
“How do you spell it?’
“Oh, my goodness. What do you want to spell it for?”
“I don’t want to spell it. I want to see what it means.”
“Well, this is astonishing, I must say. I can tell you what it means, if you---if you”---
“Oh, all right. That will answer, and much obliged to you, too.”
“In, in, ter, ter, inter”___
“Then you spell it with an I?”
“Oh, that is what took me so long!”
“Why, my dear sir, what did you propose to spell it with?”
“Well, I---I---I---hardly know. I had the Unabridged; and I was ciphering around in the back-end, hoping I might see her among the pictures. But it’s a very old edition.”
“Why, my friend, they wouldn’t have a picture of it even in the latest e-----. My dear sir, I beg your pardon, I mean no harm in the world. but you do not look as---as---intelligent as I had expected you would. No harm,---I mean no harm at all.”
“Oh, don’t mention it. It has often been said, and by people who would not flatter, and who could have no inducement to flatter, that I am quite remarkable in that way. Yes---yes; they always speak of it with rapture.”
“I can easily imagine it. But about this interview. You know it is the custom now to interview any man who has become notorious.”
“Indeed. I had not heard of it before. It must be very interesting. What do you do with it?”
“Ah, well---well---well---this is disheartening. It ought to be done with a club, in some cases; but customarily it consists in the interviewer asking questions, and the interviewed answering them. It is all the rage now. Will you let me ask you certain questions calculated to bring out the salient points of your public and private history?”
“Oh, with pleasure---with pleasure. I have a very bad memory; but I hope you will not mind that. That is to say, it is an irregular memory, singularly irregular. Sometimes it goes into a gallop, and then again it will be as much as a fortnight passing a given point. This is a great grief to me.”
“Oh! It is no matter. So you will try to do the best you can.”
“I will. I will put my whole mind on it.”
“Thanks. Are you ready to begin?”
Question: How old are you?
Answer: Nineteen in June.
Q: Indeed. I would have taken you to be thirty-five or six. Where were you born?
A: In Missouri.
Q: When did you begin to write?
A: In 1836.
Q: Why, how could that be if you are only nineteen now?
A: I don’t know. It does seem curious, somehow.
Q: It does, indeed. Whom do you consider the most remarkable man you ever met?
A: Aaron Burr.
Q: But you never could have met Aaron Burr if you are only nineteen years---
A: Now, if you know more about me than I do, what do you ask me for?
Q: Well, it was only a suggestion; nothing more. How did you happen to meet Burr?
A: Well, I happened to be at his funeral one day; and he asked me to make less noise, and---
Q: But, good heavens. If you were at his funeral he must have been dead; and, if he was dead, how could he care whether you made a noise or not?
A: I don’t know. He was always a particular kind of a man that way.
Q: Still, I don’t understand it at all. You say he spoke to you, and that he was dead?
A: I didn’t say he was dead.
Q: But wasn’t he dead?
A: Well, some said he was, some said he wasn’t.
Q: What do you think?
A: Oh, it was none of my business. It wasn’t any of my funeral.
Q: Did you--- However, we can never get this matter straight. Let me ask you something else. What was the date of your birth?
A: Monday, October 31, 1693.
Q: What. Impossible. That would make you a hundred and eighty years old. How do you account for that?
A: I don’t account for it at all.
Q: But you said at first you were only nineteen, and now you make yourself out to be one hundred and eighty. It is an awful discrepancy.
A: Why, have you noticed that. (Here I shook his hand warmly.) Many a time it has seemed to me like a discrepancy; but somehow I couldn’t make up my mind. How quick you notice a thing.
Q: Thank you for the compliment, as far as it goes. Had you, or have you any brothers or sisters?
A: Eh. I---I---I---think so,---yes---but I don’t remember.
Q: Well that is the most extraordinary statement I ever heard.
A: Why, what make you think that?
Q: How could I think otherwise. Why, look here. Who is in this picture on the wall. Isn’t that a brother of yours?
A: Oh, yes, yes. Now you remind me of it, that was a brother of mine. That’s William, Bill we called him. Poor old Bill!
Q: Why, he is dead, then?
A: Ah, well, I suppose so. We never could tell. There was a great mystery about it.
Q: That is sad, very sad. He disappeared then?
A: Well, yes, in a sort of general way. We buried him.
Q: Buried him. Buried him without knowing whether he was dead or not?
A: Oh, no. Not that. He was dead enough.
Q: Well, I confess that I can’t understand this. If you buried him, and you knew he was dead---
A: No, no. We only thought he was.
Q: Oh, I see. He came to life again.
A: I bet he didn’t.
Q: Well, I never heard anything like this. Somebody was dead. Somebody was buried. Now, where was the mystery?
A: Ah, that’s just it. That’s it exactly. You see we were twins,---defunct and I; and we got mixed in the bath tub when we were only two weeks old, and one of us was drowned. But we didn’t know which. Some think it was Bill. Some think it was me.
Q: Well, that is remarkable. What do you think?
A: Goodness knows. I would give whole worlds to know. This solemn, this awful mystery has cast a gloom over my whole life. But I will tell you a secret now, which I never have revealed to any creature before. One of us had a peculiar mark, a large mole on the back of his left hand: that was me. That child was the one that was drowned!
Q: Very well, then, I don’t see that there is any mystery about it, after all.
A: You don’t. Well, I do. Anyway, I don’t see how they could ever have been such a blundering lot as to go and bury the wrong child. But, ‘shh!, don’t mention it where the family can hear it. Heaven knows they have heart-breaking troubles enough without adding this.
Q: Well, I believe I have got material enough for the present; and I am very much obliged to you for the pains you have taken. But I was a good deal interested in that account of Aaron Burr’s funeral. Would you mind telling me what particular circumstance it was that made you think Burr was such a remarkable man?
A: Oh, it was a mere trifle. Not one man in fifty would have noticed it at all. When the sermon was over, and the procession all ready to start for the cemetery, and the body all arranged nice in the hearse, he said he wanted to take a last look at the scenery; and so he got up, and rode with the driver.
* * * * *
And that was the end of my first interview.
The young man reverently withdrew. He was very pleasant company; and I was sorry to see him go.