What’s Going On In Gasoline Alley? May – August 2017


Do you know what time it is? Or what day it is, anyway? Because if it’s later than about December 2017, this isn’t an up-to-date report on the current plots of Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley. I’m writing this in mid-August 2017 and try to avoid making unfounded guesses about where stuff is going. So if it’s gone far enough that I’ve written a newer story summary, it should be at or near the top of this page. Thanks for reading.

Also thank you for reading my mathematics blog, where I reviewed some comic strips which had mathematical topics about six hours ago. There’ll be more.

Gasoline Alley.

29 May – 20 August 2017.

The Gasoline Alley for the 29th of May, 2017, shows Santa Claus getting tossed in the air by a water wheel. There’s reasons for this. One of Jim Scancarelli’s stock plots is the weepy melodrama, and that was in full swing. Comic-relief dopey characters Joel and Rufus had run across a desperately poor family living in the old mill and decided to bring them Christmas presents as Santa Claus Running Late.

In accord with the Law of Christmas Mysticism, the attempt to play Santa Claus crashes on the shoals of physical comedy. But a mysterious figure dressed as Santa Claus and explaining that of course he didn’t forget about the children delivers a pair of bicycles. But wait, you say, Joel is still dressed as Santa Claus and stuck on the water wheel! Who was that mysterious Santa-y figure giving presents to children? Hmmmmm?

Santa: 'I brought you two bikes! I hope you like them! Ride Safely!' Emma Sue And Scruffy: 'Wow!' (Crashing noise.) Emma Sue: 'What's that?' And Scruffy: 'It's Mr Rufus and some ol' geezer!' (Joel, dressed as Santa, caught on the water wheel) 'Ol' geezer?'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 3rd of June, 2017. This features one of the rare times I don’t think Scancarelli drew the comic very well. From the staging, it seems like Santa must have been visible to Joel and Rufus. The earlier strips suggest that too. But Joel and Rufus go on not knowing who that strange Santa-like figure giving away presents might have been. I’m not sure how to stage the action so that the reader could have been misdirected about which Santa was on-panel while the characters wouldn’t see what was up, I admit. Maybe there’s nothing to be done but this.

Hm. Well, Rufus goes back home to find his cat’s had a litter of kittens. Emma Sue And Scruffy, the poverty-stricken kids he tried to give bikes to, see them too. Rufus’s reasonable answer to whether they could adopt them (“you have to ask your mother”) inspires Joel to ask why he doesn’t try marrying The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mom. Rufus tries to dodge this plot by going fishing. Emma Sue And Scruffy do too, biking to the fishing pond.

There they find a codger, drawn realistically enough that when he tells them to scram they scram. Or they do until And Scruffy drives his bike down the embankment and learns it was a mistake not to also ask Santa Claus for bike helmets. Rufus did warn them about biking without protection, and honestly, when Joel and Rufus are the voices of wisdom …

Codger Elam Jackson, talking to camera: 'Many problems will solve themselves if we just forget them and go fishing!' He sees the accident-stricken And Scrffy. 'Hey! What's that up there? A head? It looks like a problem I won't be able to forget!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 10th of July, 2017. Oh, I don’t know about this problem not being one to forget, Elam. Have you ruled out staying at home and eating sheetcake?

Emma Sue goes seeking help. The codger, bringing his fish back through the fourth wall, finds And Scruffy. This promptly melts his heart, so the codger picks up the crash-victim and moves his spine all around bringing him back to the old mill. The codger — Elam Jackson — introduces himself and offers the fish he’d caught for a meal. Plus he offers to cover the medical bill to call a doctor for And Scruffy.

The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy's Mom, to Elam, who's working on their water wheel. 'Why are you doing all this work around here, Elam?' Elam: 'The Good Book says we are to look after widows and orphans ... and that's what I intend to do!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 10th of August, 2017. I don’t try often to project around here where stories are going to go. Usually, if a plot development seems directly to follow, I’m happy to let the writer try and fool me, or choose to do the obvious thing in an entertaining way. A story doesn’t have to surprise me; it has to be interesting. Still, at this point, I became convinced that Elam and The Widow Etc should be expected to set up home-making together. Rufus can try winning the affections of Miss The Widow Etc. But he’s one of the long-standing comic-relief characters. He’s not getting married off, not to someone who’s been in the strip less than three months.

Rufus calls Chipper Wallet in from the Physician’s Assistant public-service storyline. Chipper examines, judging And Scruffy to be basically all right, and leaves without charging. This short-circuits the attempts of both Rufus and Elam to win the heart of The Widow Emma Sue And Scruffy’s Mom by paying her family’s medical bills. Rufus shifts to bringing two of the kittens as gifts to Emma Sue and Scruffy. Elam shifts to fixing the water wheel, offering The Widow Etc the chance to grind cereals as the public needs. I admit I’m not sure whether The Widow Etc and family are actually legit tenants of the old mill or if they’re just squatting.

And that’s where the plot stands at the moment.

Walt at the gates of heaven: 'Excuse me! Am I at the Pearly Gates?' Angel Frank Nelson: 'Oooh, yesss, indeedy! What's your name?' Walt: 'Walter Weatherby Wallet! Are you Saint Peter?' Frank: 'No! He's stepped out for a millennia! I'm filling in for him! Let's see! Waldo ... Walnut ... Ah! Here you are ... Walter Wallet! Now! What's the password?' Walt: 'Password? I didn't know you need one to get in here! Uh! Will my phone, computer, or credit card passwords work?' Frank: 'I'm afraid not!' Walt: 'What can I do?' Devil Frank Nelson: 'Psst, bud! We don't need passwords to get in down here!'
Jim Scancarelli’s Gasoline Alley for the 6th of August, 2017. So, things I like here: That topper panel with the angel dog, cat, and mouse sequence. Angel Frank Nelson’s halo being this head ring. And the heaven-as-a-bureaucracy thing that was kind of popular-ish in movies and industrial shorts and stuff in the 30s through the 50s. What I don’t like: there’s no time for a good Frank Nelson-y put-down of Walt Wallet? ‘He’s stepped out for a millennia [sic]’ could be delivered nasty, but it’s not an insult by itself. What’s got me baffled: with an entry line like “psst, bud!” how is that devil not Sheldon Leonard? I am curious whether Scancarelli started out with the idea of Jack Benny’s Racetrack Tout trying to lure Walt Wallet to a warmer fate, which seems like a good premise. But maybe the setup took too long however he tried to write it, and Scancarelli figured to switch over to a Devil Frank Nelson to avoid muddling the surviving joke? I am not being snarky here; I’m genuinely curious how the idea developed.

The Sunday strips have been mostly the usual grab-bag of spot jokes. The one curious, possible exception: on the 6th of August we see Walt Wallet at the Pearly Gates, being checked out by Angel Frank Nelson. It’s hard to believe that Jim Scancarelli would allow for the death of Walt Wallet, one of the original cast of a comic strip that’s 99 years old, to be done in a single Sunday strip that’s mostly a spot joke. The strip hasn’t got most of the signifiers that something is a dream or a fanciful experience, though. On the other hand, neither did Slim Skinner’s encounter with a genie. And Walt turned up again just today, anyway, talking about the advantages of dying at an early age. So, I guess Sundays really are just a day for merry gags.

Next week: I check in on how nature or car-rental anecdotes will kill us all, in James Allen’s Mark Trail. Call your friends, if your friends know any prairie dogs! Word is that prairie dogs are making a comeback.

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What To Do For Valentine’s Day


With the upcoming Valentine’s Day it’s worth reviewing some proper romantic gestures. Before attempting a romantic gesture check with your physician and stretch all major muscle groups. Also have your otolith examined. While there are few ear bones whose health is really necessary for romantic gesturing how often have you ever called off work because of an otolith appointment? Exactly and now you’ll never be happy again until you have. I’m sorry. Check on some minor muscle groups if that helps you feel better.

And to preface the rest of this: don’t listen to me for romantic gesture advice. I’m the sort of person who checks book stores to see if they have a new history of the containerized cargo industry because then I might own three books about it. I once gave my love a video game file for a present. In my defense, it was for Roller Coaster Tycoon 3, a game my love describes as “as good as we can hope for since they never ported Roller Coaster Tycoon 2 to the Mac”. It was a pretty good roller coaster too.

Romantic gestures are fundamentally simple. Think of the person you want to gesture at. Don’t wave! You haven’t checked that they’re not in a spot where you might hit them in the face by accident. There’s not a good time to hit a romantic partner in the face, but the immediate run-up to Valentine’s Day is a bad one. It sends the mixed messages of “I like how your body feels and wish to feel it more often and, indeed, right now” with “swiftly, and without your even suspecting my intentions”. Why so swift? “Because I have to get back to reading this thing on the Internet”? Your partner knows better. The Internet is the place we spend all our time and attention reading things, none of which is important.

Anyway, think of your partner. Now think of a thing your partner enjoys. Now think of a way to do a lot of that thing. Not too much! Having some restraint is important, especially if you’re, like me, a guy. The normal failure mode for guy thinking is to take something pleasant and then do so much of it that somebody weeps. That’s fine if we’re talking about contests where you drink mustard until someone’s tongue shrivels up and falls off. It’s not all right if we’re talking about giving your partner so many roses that it explodes, scattering the faint scent of good wishes over the entire Eastside. This will leave the roads all slick and make the evening commute an impossible mess. So if you do want to go ahead and destroy a loved one’s house with excessively many roses do it when Valentine’s Day in on a weekend so the evening rush doesn’t take the brunt of the chaos.

It doesn’t have to be complicated. For example, think of a movie you and your loved one have seen together. Then get that on some shiny disc. This lets you remember how you enjoyed being together watching a movie like this. And since you’ve already seen the movie you aren’t going to have to make the time to watch the shiny disc. Which is good since nobody’s had the time to watch a movie since 2009. The bookshelves are starting to groan under the weight of still-wrapped copies of The Tale of Desperaux and whatever else you have fond unchecked memories of. The point when they collapse will be excessive and someone may weep, so I guess that satisfies the need to do something guy-ish with the holiday after all.

Warning! One time I tried this, picking a bunch of used DVDs for movies we’d seen. My concept was that since these were experiences my love and I had already had it was only fitting that they be used discs. Do you get it? I had to explain this in a two-hour presentation using charts and a guest speaker and it got from my love the romantic statement that my argument that this was a romantic gesture was logically valid without making any statement about whether it was sound. It would’ve had greater impact if I had made pretend roller coasters out of them.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index dropped nine points, nine points mind you, because everybody realized they forgot it was open-mike poetry night and got a little panicky while trying to work out a reaction.

93

Century of Slapstick #77: Chaplin’s “The Tramp”


I’m embarrassed to have missed the exact centennial of this. Well, it’s a year full of exciting centennials. Fortunately vaudeville and comedy-history enthusiast Trav SD noticed the day. So, please, a tiny bit late, appreciate the anniversary of the debut of Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp.

Robert Benchley: A Romance In Encyclopedia Land


I haven’t featured a Robert Benchley piece in a while, so I’d like to return to Of All Things and a short story that can only come from falling into an endless research spiral.

A ROMANCE IN ENCYCLOPEDIA LAND

Written After Three Hours’ Browsing in a New Britannica Set

PICTURE to yourself an early spring afternoon along the banks of the river Aa, which, rising in the Teutoburger Wald, joins the Werre at Herford and is navigable as far as St. Omer.

Branching bryophytu spread their flat, dorsiventral bodies, closely applied to the sub-stratum on which they grew, and leafy carophyllaceae twined their sepals in prodigal profusion, lending a touch of color to the scene. It was dear that nature was in preparation for her estivation.

But it was not this which attracted the eye of the young man who, walking along the phonolithic formation of the riverbank, was playing softly to himself on a double curtail, or converted bass-pommer, an octave below the single curtail and therefore identical in pitch and construction with the early fagotto in C.

His mind was on other things.

He was evidently of Melanochronic extraction, with the pentagonal facial angle and strong obital ridges, but he combined with this the fine lines of a full-blooded native of Coll, where, indeed, he was born, seven miles west of Caliach Point, in Mull, and in full view of the rugged gneiss.

As he swung along, there throbbed again and again through his brain the beautiful opening paragraph of Frantisek Palacky’s (1798-1876) Zur böhmischen Geschichtschreibung (Prague, 1871), written just after the author had refused a portfolio in the Pillersdorf Cabinet and had also declined to take part in the preliminary diet at Kromerice.

“If he could believe such things, why can not I?” murmured the young man, and crushed a ginkgo beneath his feet. Young men are often so. It is due to the elaterium of spring.

“By Ereshkigal,” he swore softly to himself, “I’ll do it.”

No sooner had he spoken than he came suddenly out of the tangle of gynmnosperms through whose leaves, needle-like and destitute of oil-glands as they were, he had been making his way, and emerged to a full view of the broad sweep of the Lake of Zug, just where the Lorze enters at its northern extremity and one and a quarter miles east of where it issues again to pursue its course toward the Reuss. Zug, at this point, is 1,368 feet above sea-level, and boasted its first steamer in 1852.

“Well,” he sighed, as he gazed upon the broad area of subsidence, “if I were now an exarch, whose dignity was, at one time, intermediate between the Patriarchal and the Metropolitan and from whose name has come that of the politico-religious party, the Exarchists, I should not be here day-dreaming. I should be far away in Footscray, a city of Bourke County, Victoria, Australia, pop. (1901) 18,301.”

And as he said this his eyes filled with tears, and under his skin, brown as fustic, there spread a faint flush, such as is often formed by citrocyde, or by pyrochloric acid when acting on uncured leather.

Far down in the valley the natives were celebrating the birthday of Gambrinus, a mythical Flemish king who is credited with the first brewing of beer. The sound of their voices set in motion longitudinal sound waves, and these, traveling through the surrounding medium, met the surface separating two media and were in part reflected, traveling back from the surface into the first medium again with the velocity with which they approached it, as depicted in Fig. 10. This caused the echo for which the Lake of Zug is justly famous.

The twilight began to deepen and from far above came the twinkling signals of, first, Böotes, then Coma Berenices, followed, awhile later, by Ursa Major and her little brother, Ursa Minor.

“The stars are clear to-night,” he sighed. “I wonder if they are visible from the dacite elevation on which SHE lives.”

His was an untrained mind. His only school had been the Eleatic School, the contention of which was that the true explanation of things lies in the conception of a universal unity of being, or the All-ness of One.

But he knew what he liked.

In the calm light of the stars he felt as if a uban had been lifted from his heart, 5 ubans being equal to 1 quat, 6 quats to 1 ammat and 120 ammats to 1 sos.

He was free again.

Turning, he walked swiftly down into the valley, passing returning peasants with their baa-poots, and soon came in sight of the shining lamps of the small but carefully built pooroos which lined the road.

Reaching the corner he saw the village epi peering over the tree-tops, and swarms of cicada, with the toothed famoras of their anterior legs mingling in a sleepy drone, like so many cichlids. It was all very home-like to the wanderer.

Suddenly there appeared on a neighboring eminence a party of guisards, such as, during the Saturnalia, and from the Nativity till the Epiphany were accustomed to disport themselves in odd costumes; all clad in clouting, and evidently returning from taking part in the celebration.

As they drew nearer, our hero noticed a young woman in the front rank who was playing folk-songs on a cromorne with a double-reed mouth-piece enclosed in an air-reservoir. In spite of the detritus wrought by the festival, there was something familiar about the buccinator of her face and her little mannerism of elevating her second phalanx. It struck him like the flash of a cloud highly charged by the coalescence of drops of vapor. He approached her, tenderly, reverently.

“Lange, Anne Françoise Elizabeth”, he said, “I know you. You are a French actress, born in Genoa on the seventeenth of September, 1772, and you made your first appearance on the stage in L’Ecossaise in 1788. Your talent and your beauty gave you an enormous success in Pamela. It has taken me years to find you, but now we are united at last.”

The girl turned like a frightened aard-vark, still holding the cromorne in her hand. Then she smiled.

“Weenix, Barnaby Bernard (1777-1829),” she said very slowly, “you started business as a publisher in London about 1797.”

They looked at each other for a moment in silence. He was the first to speak.

“Miss Lange, Anne,” he said, “let us go together to Lar —– and be happy there —– happy as two ais, or three-toed South American sloths.”

She lowered her eyes.

“I will go with you Mr. Weenix-Barney,” she said, ” to the ends of the earth. But why to Lar? Why not to Wem?”

“Because,” said the young man, “Lar is the capital of Laristan, in 27 degrees, 30 minutes N., 180 miles from Shiraz, and contains an old bazaar consisting of four arcades each 180 feet long.”

Their eyes met, and she placed her hands in his.

And, from the woods, came the mellow whinnying of a herd of vip, the wool of which is highly valued for weaving.

Mark Twain: Awful, Terrible Medieval Romance


It’s hard to imagine anyone not being aware of Mark Twain, although whether they read him when it isn’t for an assignment is a fair question. Oh, his influence is staggering and much of it is so woven into the public mind that it can be plundered freely — I realized once that while I’ve seen enough versions of The Prince and the Pauper to be sick of the idea I’ve never read the original — but it could be that his status as a great and important figure gets in the way of reading him for fun. So, I’d like to summon from Mark Twain’s (Burlesque) Autobiography, published in 1871, the closing half of this (his third book).

It’s as the title describes, a Medieval Romance, and if it doesn’t show Twain’s prankishness enough, first in existing, second in padding out a mock autobiography, then please consider LibriVox’s note that “the illustrations form an interesting aspect of this book. They have no relationship to the text of the book. Rather, they use cartoons illustrating the children’s poem The House That Jack Built to lampoon the Erie Railroad Ring (the house) and its participants, Jay Gould, John T Hoffman, and Jim Fisk”. And isn’t that wonderful? (I’m sorry that I didn’t find a copy of the illustrations to go with this.)

AWFUL, TERRIBLE
MEDIEVAL ROMANCE

CHAPTER I

THE SECRET REVEALED.

It was night. Stillness reigned in the grand old feudal castle of Klugenstein. The year 1222 was drawing to a close. Far away up in the tallest of the castle’s towers a single light glimmered. A secret council was being held there. The stern old lord of Klugenstein sat in a chair of state meditating. Presently he, said, with a tender accent:

“My daughter!”

A young man of noble presence, clad from head to heel in knightly mail,
answered:

“Speak, father!”

“My daughter, the time is come for the revealing of the mystery that hath puzzled all your young life. Know, then, that it had its birth in the matters which I shall now unfold. My brother Ulrich is the great Duke of Brandenburgh. Our father, on his deathbed, decreed that if no son were born to Ulrich, the succession should pass to my house, provided a son were born to me. And further, in case no son, were born to either, but only daughters, then the succession should pass to Ulrich’s daughter, if she proved stainless; if she did not, my daughter should succeed, if she retained a blameless name. And so I, and my old wife here, prayed fervently for the good boon of a son, but the prayer was vain. You were born to us. I was in despair. I saw the mighty prize slipping from my grasp, the splendid dream vanishing away. And I had been so hopeful! Five years had Ulrich lived in wedlock, and yet his wife had borne no heir of either sex.

“‘But hold,’ I said, ‘all is not lost.’ A saving scheme had shot athwart my brain. You were born at midnight. Only the leech, the nurse, and six waiting-women knew your sex. I hanged them every one before an hour had sped. Next morning all the barony went mad with rejoicing over the proclamation that a son was born to Klugenstein, an heir to mighty Brandenburgh! And well the secret has been kept. Your mother’s own sister nursed your infancy, and from that time forward we feared nothing.

“When you were ten years old, a daughter was born to Ulrich. We grieved, but hoped for good results from measles, or physicians, or other natural enemies of infancy, but were always disappointed. She lived, she throve–Heaven’s malison upon her! But it is nothing. We are safe. For, Ha-ha! have we not a son? And is not our son the future Duke? Our well-beloved Conrad, is it not so?–for, woman of eight-and-twenty years–as you are, my child, none other name than that hath ever fallen to you!

“Now it hath come to pass that age hath laid its hand upon my brother, and he waxes feeble. The cares of state do tax him sore. Therefore he wills that you shall come to him and be already Duke–in act, though not yet in name. Your servitors are ready–you journey forth to-night.

“Now listen well. Remember every word I say. There is a law as old as Germany that if any woman sit for a single instant in the great ducal chair before she hath been absolutely crowned in presence of the people, SHE SHALL DIE! So heed my words. Pretend humility. Pronounce your judgments from the Premier’s chair, which stands at the foot of the throne. Do this until you are crowned and safe. It is not likely that your sex will ever be discovered; but still it is the part of wisdom to make all things as safe as may be in this treacherous earthly life.”

“Oh; my father, is it for this my life hath been a lie! Was it that I might cheat my unoffending cousin of her rights? Spare me, father, spare your child!”

“What, huzzy! Is this my reward for the august fortune my brain has wrought for thee? By the bones of my father, this puling sentiment of thine but ill accords with my humor.

“Betake thee to the Duke, instantly! And beware how thou meddlest with my purpose!”

Let this suffice, of the conversation. It is enough for us to know that the prayers, the entreaties and the tears of the gentle-natured girl availed nothing. They nor anything could move the stout old lord of Klugenstein. And so, at last, with a heavy heart, the daughter saw the castle gates close behind her, and found herself riding away in the darkness surrounded by a knightly array of armed, vassals and a brave following of servants.

The old baron sat silent for many minutes after his daughter’s departure, and then he turned to his sad wife and said:

“Dame, our matters seem speeding fairly. It is full three months since I sent the shrewd and handsome Count Detzin on his devilish mission to my brother’s daughter Constance. If he fail, we are not wholly safe; but if he do succeed, no power can bar our girl from being Duchess e’en though ill-fortune should decree she never should be Duke!”

“My heart is full of bodings, yet all may still be well.”

“Tush, woman! Leave the owls to croak. To bed with ye, and dream of Brandenburgh and grandeur!”

CHAPTER II.

FESTIVITY AND TEARS

Six days after the occurrences related in the above chapter, the brilliant capital of the Duchy of Brandenburgh was resplendent with military pageantry, and noisy with the rejoicings of loyal multitudes; for Conrad, the young heir to the crown, was come. The old Duke’s, heart was full of happiness, for Conrad’s handsome person and graceful bearing had won his love at once. The great halls of tie palace were thronged with nobles, who welcomed Conrad bravely; and so bright and happy did all things seem, that he felt his fears and sorrows passing away and giving place to a comforting contentment.

But in a remote apartment of the palace a scene of a different nature was, transpiring. By a window stood the Duke’s only child, the Lady Constance. Her eyes were red and swollen, and full of tears. She was alone. Presently she fell to weeping anew, and said aloud:

“The villain Detzin is gone–has fled the dukedom! I could not believe it at first, but alas! it is too true. And I loved him so. I dared to love him though I knew the Duke my father would never let me wed him. I loved him–but now I hate him! With all, my soul I hate him! Oh, what is to become of me! I am lost, lost, lost! I shall go mad!”

CHAPTER III.

THE PLOT THICKENS.

Few months drifted by. All men published the praises of the young Conrad’s government and extolled the wisdom of his judgments, the mercifulness of his sentences, and the modesty with which he bore himself in his great office. The old Duke soon gave everything into his hands, and sat apart and listened with proud satisfaction while his heir delivered the decrees of the crown from the seat of the premier. It seemed plain that one so loved and praised and honored of all men as Conrad was, could not be otherwise than happy. But strange enough, he was not. For he saw with dismay that the Princess Constance had begun to love him! The love of, the rest of the world was happy fortune for him, but this was freighted with danger! And he saw, moreover, that the delighted Duke had discovered his daughter’s passion likewise, and was already dreaming of a marriage. Every day somewhat of the deep sadness that had been in the princess’ face faded away; every day hope and animation beamed brighter from her eye; and by and by even vagrant smiles visited the face that had been so troubled.

Conrad was appalled. He bitterly cursed himself for having yielded to the instinct that had made him seek the companionship of one of his own sex when he was new and a stranger in the palace–when he was sorrowful and yearned for a sympathy such as only women can give or feel. He now began to avoid, his cousin. But this only made matters worse, for, naturally enough, the more he avoided her, the more she cast herself in his way. He marveled at this at first; and next it startled him. The girl haunted him; she hunted him; she happened upon him at all times and in all places, in the night as well as in the day. She seemed singularly anxious. There was surely a mystery somewhere.

This could not go on forever. All the world was talking about it. The Duke was beginning to look perplexed. Poor Conrad was becoming a very ghost through dread and dire distress. One day as he was emerging from a private ante-room attached to the picture gallery, Constance confronted him, and seizing both his hands, in hers, exclaimed:

“Oh, why, do you avoid me? What have I done–what have I said, to lose your kind opinion of me–for, surely I had it once? Conrad, do not despise me, but pity a tortured heart? I cannot–cannot hold the words unspoken longer, lest they kill me–I LOVE you, CONRAD! There, despise me if you must, but they would be uttered!”

Conrad was speechless. Constance hesitated a moment, and then, misinterpreting his silence, a wild gladness flamed in her eyes, and she flung her arms about his neck and said:

“You relent! you relent! You can love me–you will love me! Oh, say you will, my own, my worshipped Conrad!'”

Conrad groaned aloud. A sickly pallor overspread his countenance, and he trembled like an aspen. Presently, in desperation, he thrust the poor girl from him, and cried:

“You know not what you ask! It is forever and ever impossible!” And then he fled like a criminal and left the princess stupefied with amazement. A minute afterward she was crying and sobbing there, and Conrad was crying and sobbing in his chamber. Both were in despair. Both save ruin staring them in the face.

By and by Constance rose slowly to her feet and moved away, saying:

“To think that he was despising my love at the very moment that I thought it was melting his cruel heart! I hate him! He spurned me–did this man–he spurned me from him like a dog!”

CHAPTER IV

THE AWFUL REVELATION.

Time passed on. A settled sadness rested once more upon the countenance of the good Duke’s daughter. She and Conrad were seen together no more now. The Duke grieved at this. But as the weeks wore away, Conrad’s color came back to his cheeks and his old-time vivacity to his eye, and he administered the government with a clear and steadily ripening wisdom.

Presently a strange whisper began to be heard about the palace. It grew louder; it spread farther. The gossips of the city got hold-of it. It swept the dukedom. And this is what the whisper said:

“The Lady Constance hath given birth to a child!”

When the lord of Klugenstein heard it, he swung his plumed helmet thrice around his head and shouted:

“Long live. Duke Conrad!–for lo, his crown is sure, from this day forward! Detzin has done his errand well, and the good scoundrel shall be rewarded!”

And he spread, the tidings far and wide, and for eight-and-forty hours no soul in all the barony but did dance and sing, carouse and illuminate, to celebrate the great event, and all at proud and happy old Klugenstein’s expense.

CHAPTER V.

THE FRIGHTFUL CATASTROPHE.

The trial was at hand. All the great lords and barons of Brandenburgh were assembled in the Hall of Justice in the ducal palace. No space was left unoccupied where there was room for a spectator to stand or sit. Conrad, clad in purple and ermine, sat in the premier’s chair, and on either side sat the great judges of the realm. The old Duke had sternly commanded that the trial of his daughter should proceed, without favor, and then had taken to his bed broken-hearted. His days were numbered. Poor Conrad had begged, as for his very life, that he might be spared the misery of sitting in judgment upon his cousin’s crime, but it did not avail.

The saddest heart in all that great assemblage was in Conrad’s breast.

The gladdest was in his father’s. For, unknown to his daughter “Conrad,” the old Baron Klugenstein was come, and was among the crowd of nobles, triumphant in the swelling fortunes of his house.

After the heralds had made due proclamation and the other preliminaries had followed, the venerable Lord Chief justice said:

“Prisoner, stand forth!”

The unhappy princess rose and stood unveiled before the vast multitude. The Lord Chief Justice continued:

“Most noble lady, before the great judges of this realm it hath been charged and proven that out of holy wedlock your Grace hath given birth unto a child; and by our ancient law the penalty is death, excepting in one sole contingency, whereof his Grace the acting Duke, our good Lord Conrad, will advertise you in his solemn sentence now; wherefore, give heed.”

Conrad stretched forth the reluctant sceptre, and in the self-same moment the womanly heart beneath his robe yearned pityingly toward the doomed prisoner, and the tears came into his eyes. He opened his lips to speak, but the Lord Chief Justice said quickly:

“Not there, your Grace, not there! It is not lawful to pronounce judgment upon any of the ducal line SAVE FROM THE DUCAL THRONE!”

A shudder went to the heart of poor Conrad, and a tremor shook the iron frame of his old father likewise. CONRAD HAD NOT BEEN CROWNED–dared he profane the throne? He hesitated and turned pale with fear. But it must be done. Wondering eyes were already upon him. They would be suspicious eyes if he hesitated longer. He ascended the throne. Presently he stretched forth the sceptre again, and said:

“Prisoner, in the name of our sovereign lord, Ulrich, Duke of Brandenburgh, I proceed to the solemn duty that hath devolved upon me. Give heed to my words. By the ancient law of the land, except you produce the partner of your guilt and deliver him up to the executioner, you must surely die. Embrace this opportunity–save yourself while yet you may. Name the father of your child!”

A solemn hush fell upon the great court–a silence so profound that men could hear their own hearts beat. Then the princess slowly turned, with eyes gleaming with hate, and pointing her finger straight at Conrad,
said:

“Thou art the man!”

An appalling conviction of his helpless, hopeless peril struck a chill to Conrad’s heart like the chill of death itself. What power on earth could save him! To disprove the charge, he must reveal that he was a woman; and for an uncrowned woman to sit in the ducal chair was death! At one and the same moment, he and his grim old father swooned and fell to, the ground.


[The remainder of this thrilling and eventful story will NOT be found in this or any other publication, either now or at any future time.]


The truth is, I have got my hero (or heroine) into such a particularly close place, that I do not see how I am ever going to get him (or her) out of it again–and therefore I will wash my hands of the whole business, and leave that person to get out the best way that offers–or else stay there. I thought it was going to be easy enough to straighten out that little difficulty, but it looks different now.


[If Harper’s Weekly or the New York Tribune desire to copy these initial chapters into the, reading columns of their valuable journals, just as they do the opening chapters of Ledger and New York Weekly novels, they
are at liberty to do so at the usual rates, provided they “trust.”]

MARK TWAIN