Rogers by Mark Twain
This Man Rogers happened upon me and introduced himself at the town
of -----, in the South of England, where I stayed awhile. His
stepfather had married a distant relative of mine who was afterward
hanged; and so he seemed to think a blood relationship existed between
us. He came in every day and sat down and talked. Of all the bland,
serene human curiosities I ever saw, I think he was the chiefest. He
desired to look at my new chimney-pot hat. I was very willing, for I
thought he would notice the name of the great Oxford Street hatter in
it, and respect me accordingly. But he turned it about with a sort of
grave compassion, pointed out two or three blemishes, and said that I,
being so recently arrived, could not be expected to know where to
supply myself. Said he would send me the address of his hatter. Then
he said, "Pardon me," and proceeded to cut a neat circle of red tissue
paper; daintily notched the edges of it; took the mucilage and pasted
it in my hat so as to cover the manufacturer's name. He said, "No one
will know now where you got it. I will send you a hat-tip of my
hatter, and you can paste it over this tissue circle." It was the
calmest, coolest thing--I never admired a man so much in my life.
Mind, he did this while his own hat sat offensively near our noses,
on the table--an ancient extinguisher of the "slouch" pattern, limp
and shapeless with age, discolored by vicissitudes of the weather, and
banded by an equator of bear's grease that had stewed through.
Another time he examined my coat. I had no terrors, for over my
tailor's door was the legend, "By Special Appointment Tailor to H. R.
H. the Prince of Wales," etc. I did not know at the time that the
most of the tailor shops had the same sign out, and that whereas it
takes nine tailors to make an ordinary man, it takes a hundred and
fifty to make a prince. He was full of compassion for my coat. Wrote
down the address of his tailor for me. Did not tell me to mention my
nom de plume and the tailor would put his best work on my garment, as
complimentary people sometimes do, but said his tailor would hardly
trouble himself for an unknown person (unknown person, when I thought
I was so celebrated in England!--that was the cruelest cut), but
cautioned me to mention his name, and it would be all right. Thinking
to be facetious, I said:
"But he might sit up all night and injure his health."
"Well, let him," said Rogers; "I've done enough for him, for him to
show some appreciation of it."
I might as well have tried to disconcert a mummy with my
facetiousness. Said Rogers: "I get all my coats there--they're the
only coats fit to be seen in."
I made one more attempt. I said, "I wish you had brought one with
you-- I would like to look at it."
"Bless your heart, haven't I got one on?--this article is Morgan's
I examined it. The coat had been bought ready-made, of a Chatham
Street Jew, without any question--about 1848. It probably cost four
dollars when it was new. It was ripped, it was frayed, it was napless
and greasy. I could not resist showing him where it was ripped. It
so affected him that I was almost sorry I had done it. First he
seemed plunged into a bottomless abyss of grief. Then he roused
himself, made a feint with his hands as if waving off the pity of a
nation, and said-- with what seemed to me a manufactured emotion--"No
matter; no matter; don't mind me; do not bother about it. I can get
When he was thoroughly restored, so that he could examine the rip
and command his feelings, he said, ah, now he understood it--his
servant must have done it while dressing him that morning.
His servant! There was something awe-inspiring in effrontery like
Nearly every day he interested himself in some article of my
clothing. One would hardly have expected this sort of infatuation in a
man who always wore the same suit, and it a suit that seemed coeval
with the Conquest.
It was an unworthy ambition, perhaps, but I did wish I could make
this man admire something about me or something I did--you would have
felt the same way. I saw my opportunity: I was about to return to
London, and had "listed" my soiled linen for the, wash. It made quite
au imposing mountain in the corner of the room--fifty-four pieces. I
hoped he would fancy it was the accumulation of a single week. I took
up the wash-list, as if to see that it was all right, and then tossed
it on the table, with pretended forgetfulness. Sure enough, he took
it. up and ran his eye along down to the grand total. Then he said,
"You get off easy," and laid it down again.
His gloves were the saddest ruin, but he told me where I could get
some like them. His shoes would hardly hold walnuts without leaking,
but he liked to put his feet up on the mantelpiece and contemplate
them. He wore a dim glass breastpin, which he called a "morphylitic
diamond"-- whatever that may mean--and said only two of them had ever
been found --the Emperor of China had the other one.
Afterward, in London, it was a pleasure to me to see this fantastic
vagabond come marching into the lobby of the hotel in his grand-ducal
way, for he always had some new imaginary grandeur to develop--there
was nothing stale about him but his clothes. If he addressed me when
strangers were about, he always raised his voice a little and called
me "Sir Richard," or "General," or "Your Lordship"--and when people
began to stare and look deferential, he would fall to inquiring in a
casual way why I disappointed the Duke of Argyll the night before; and
then remind me of our engagement at the Duke of Westminster's for the
following day. I think that for the time being these things were
realities to him. He once came and invited me to go with him and
spend the evening with the Earl of Warwick at his town house. I said
I had received no formal invitation. He said that that was of no
consequence, the Earl had no formalities for him or his friends. I
asked if I could go just as I was. He said no, that would hardly do;
evening dress was requisite at night in any gentleman's house. He
said he would wait while I dressed, and then we would go to his
apartments and I could take a bottle of champagne and a cigar while he
dressed. I was very willing to see how this enterprise would turn
out, so I dressed, and we started to his lodgings. He said if I
didn't mind we would walk. So we tramped some four miles through the
mud and fog, and finally found his "apartments"; they consisted of a
single room over a barber's shop in a back street. Two chairs, a
small table, an ancient valise, a wash-basin and pitcher (both on the
floor in a corner), an unmade bed, a fragment of a looking-glass, and
a flower- pot, with a perishing little rose geranium in it, which he
called a century plant, and said it had not bloomed now for upward of
two centuries--given to him by the late Lord Palmerston (been offered
a prodigious sum for it)--these were the contents of the room. Also a
brass candlestick and a part of a candle. Rogers lit the candle, and
told me to sit down and make myself at home. He said he hoped I was
thirsty, because he would surprise my palate with an article of
champagne that seldom got into a commoner's system; or would I prefer
sherry, or port? Said he had port in bottles that were swathed in
stratified cobwebs, every stratum representing a generation. And as
for his cigars- -well, I should judge of them myself. Then he put his
head out at the door and called:
"Sackville!" No answer.
"Hi-Sackville!" No answer.
"Now what the devil can have become of that butler? I never allow
a servant to--Oh, confound that idiot, he's got the keys. Can't get
into the other rooms without the keys."
(I was just wondering at his intrepidity in still keeping up the
delusion of the champagne, and trying to imagine how he was going to
get out of the difficulty.)
Now he stopped calling Sackville and began to call "Anglesy." But
Anglesy didn't come. He said, "This is the second time that that
equerry has been absent without leave. To-morrow I'll discharge him."
Now he began to whoop for "Thomas," but Thomas didn't answer. Then
for "Theodore," but no Theodore replied.
"Well, I give it up," said Rogers. "The servants never expect me
at this hour, and so they're all off on a lark. Might get along
without the equerry and the page, but can't have any wine or cigars
without the butler, and can't dress without my valet."
I offered to help him dress, but he would not hear of it; and
besides, he said he would not feel comfortable unless dressed by a
practised hand. However, he finally concluded that he was such old
friends with the Earl that it would not make any difference how he was
dressed. So we took a cab, he gave the driver some directions, and we
started. By and by we stopped before a large house and got out. I
never had seen this man with a collar on. He now stepped under a lamp
and got a venerable paper collar out of his coat pocket, along with a
hoary cravat, and put them on. He ascended the stoop, and entered.
Presently he reappeared, descended rapidly, and said:
We hurried away, and turned the corner.
"Now we're safe," he said, and took off his collar and cravat and
returned them to his pocket.
"Made a mighty narrow escape," said he.
"How?" said I.
"B' George, the Countess was there!"
"Well, what of that?--don't she know you?"
"Know me? Absolutely worships me. I just did happen to catch a
glimpse of her before she saw me--and out I shot. Haven't seen her
for two months--to rush in on her without any warning might have been
fatal. She could not have stood it. I didn't know she was in
town--thought she was at the castle. Let me lean on you--just a
moment--there; now I am better--thank you; thank you ever so much.
Lord bless me, what an escape!"
So I never got to call on the Earl, after all. But I marked the
house for future reference. It proved to be an ordinary family hotel,
with about a thousand plebeians roosting in it.
In most things Rogers was by no means a fool. In some things it
was plain enough that he was a fool, but he certainly did not know it.
He was in the "deadest" earnest in these matters. He died at sea,
last summer, as the "Earl of Ramsgate."