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The Grateful Husband by Mark Twain


One day a lady was driving through the principal street of a great city with her little boy, when the horses took fright and dashed madly away, hurling the coachman from his box and leaving the occupants of the carnage paralyzed with terror. But a brave youth who was driving a grocery-wagon threw himself before the plunging animals, and succeeded in arresting their flight at the peril of his own. --[This is probably a misprint.-M. T.]-- The grateful lady took his number, and upon arriving at her home she related the heroic act to her husband (who had read the books), who listened with streaming eyes to the moving recital, and who, after returning thanks, in conjunction with his restored loved ones, to Him who suffereth not even a sparrow to fall to the ground unnoticed, sent for the brave young person, and, placing a check for five hundred dollars in his hand, said, "Take this as a reward for your noble act, William Ferguson, and if ever you shall need a, friend, remember that Thompson McSpadden has a grateful heart." Let us learn from this that a good deed cannot fail to benefit the doer, however humble he may be.


William Ferguson called the next week and asked Mr. McSpadden to use his influence to get him a higher employment, he feeling capable of better things than driving a grocer's wagon. Mr. McSpadden got him an underclerkship at a good salary.

Presently William Ferguson's mother fell sick, and William-- Well, to cut the story short, Mr. McSpadden consented to take her into his house. Before long she yearned for the society of her younger children; so Mary and Julia were admitted also, and little Jimmy, their brother. Jimmy had a pocket knife, and he wandered into the drawing-room with it one day, alone, and reduced ten thousand dollars' worth of furniture to an indeterminable value in rather less than three-quarters of an hour. A day or two later he fell down-stairs and broke his neck, and seventeen of his family's relatives came to the house to attend the funeral. This made them acquainted, and they kept the kitchen occupied after that, and likewise kept the McSpaddens busy hunting-up situations of various sorts for them, and hunting up more when they wore these out. The old woman drank a good deal and swore a good deal; but the grateful McSpaddens knew it was their duty to reform her, considering what her son had done for them, so they clave nobly to their generous task. William came often and got decreasing sums of money, and asked for higher and more lucrative employments--which the grateful McSpadden more or less promptly procured for him. McSpadden consented also, after some demur, to fit William for college; but when the first vacation came and the hero requested to be sent to Europe for his health, the persecuted McSpadden rose against the tyrant and revolted. He plainly and squarely refused. William Ferguson's mother was so astounded that she let her gin-bottle drop, and her profane lips refused to do their office. When she recovered she said in a half-gasp, "Is this your gratitude? Where would your wife and boy be now, but for my son?"

William said, "Is this your gratitude? Did I save your wife's life or not? Tell me that!"

Seven relations swarmed in from the kitchen and each said, "And this is his gratitude!"

William's sisters stared, bewildered, and said, "And this is his grat--" but were interrupted by their mother, who burst into tears and exclaimed,

"To think that my sainted little Jimmy threw away his life in the service of such a reptile!"

Then the pluck of the revolutionary McSpadden rose to the occasion, and he replied with fervor, "Out of my house, the whole beggarly tribe of you! I was beguiled by the books, but shall never be beguiled again --once is sufficient for me." And turning to William he shouted, "Yes, you did save my, wife's life, and the next man that does it shall die in his tracks!"

Not being a clergyman, I place my text at the end of my sermon instead of at the beginning. Here it is, from Mr. Noah Brooks's Recollections of President Lincoln in Scribners Monthly:

     J.  H.  Hackett, in his part of Falstaff, was an actor who gave Mr.
     Lincoln great delight.  With his usual desire to signify to others
     his sense of obligation, Mr. Lincoln wrote a genial little note to
     the actor expressing his pleasure at witnessing his performance.
     Mr. Hackett, in reply, sent a book of some sort; perhaps it was one
     of his own authorship.  He also wrote several notes to the
     President.  One night, quite late, when the episode had passed out
     of my mind, I went to the white House in answer to a message.
     Passing into the President's office, I noticed, to my surprise,
     Hackett sitting in the anteroom as if waiting for an audience.  The
     President asked me if any one was outside.  On being told, he said,
     half sadly, "Oh, I can't see him, I can't see him; I was in hopes he
     had gone away."  Then he added, "Now this just illustrates the
     difficulty of having pleasant friends and acquaintances in this
     place.  You know how I liked Hackett as an actor, and how I wrote to
     tell him so.  He sent me that book, and there I thought the matter
     would end.  He is a master of his place in the profession, I
     suppose, and well fixed in it; but just because we had a little
     friendly correspondence, such as any two men might have, he wants
     something.  What do you suppose he wants?"  I could not guess, and
     Mr. Lincoln added, "well, he wants to be consul to London.  Oh,

I will observe, in conclusion, that the William Ferguson incident occurred, and within my personal knowledge--though I have changed the nature of the details, to keep William from recognizing himself in it.

All the readers of this article have in some sweet and gushing hour of their lives played the role of Magnanimous-Incident hero. I wish I knew how many there are among them who are willing to talk about that episode and like to be reminded of the consequences that flowed from it.


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