The Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain

It was 1590, and Austria lived in a world of its own. I lived there, in a sleepy town in the middle of the country. Contentedly it rested, amidst the woods and hills, rarely disturbed by the goings on of the rest of the world.

Here there lived a prince too, residing in a magnificent castle.

In our town, Eseldorf, we lived together in peaceful ignorance, passing the days.

We learned from our books about God and goodness, and sought to be good Christians. In our town there were two priests. Father Adolf, a fiery man, who spoke fiercely about Satan and his wicked ways. He had once met Satan, and had his way!

The other priest, Father Peter, spoke of peace and good things. But he had his enemies, the town astrologer, who lived in a tower, where he watched the starry night’s glittering lights.

The astrologer walked through town in his pointy hat and purple star-bespeckled robe, with his book of secrets. He foretold future wars and famines, though there was always another one around the corner anyway. Father Adolf was humbled by his presence.

Father Peter, however, was not impressed. He denounced the astrologer as a charlatan and fraud, with no special knowledge at all. This angered the astrologer, who soon sought to get him in trouble.

Whispering secret words around town, Father Peter was soon suspended, and so Father Adolf gained his flock.

Father Peter fell on tough times. Along with his niece Marget, they struggled to get by. Finally, the end had come, they were no longer able to meet their ends, and were faced with eviction.

Ch. 2

My friends and I spent our days playing in the woods and trees, by the lake.

And sometimes in the castle, for we had become friends with one of the men who worked there and when it rained or stormed he would sit us down and tell stories of the war, and of ghosts, and bloodsuckers and the incubus. He taught us to smoke and drink coffee like the Turks.

He said not to worry about ghosts. We stood still, showing our courage. Ghosts and angels dancing in the castle’s walls.

One day, we went into the hills to lie in the grass. A young man passed by, a stranger to be sure but pleasant enough. I offered him my pipe, but then remembered I had forgotten a light.

“No worries,” he exclaimed, and blowing on the pipe the herb was soon incensed, spiraling blue smoke rising in the air. He chatted amiably, we were at ease, curious about our new visitor.

He went to a nearby puddle and turned it into ice. Silly things.

“What type of fruit do you like?” he asked. “Grapes!” Sure enough our pockets were filled with them. Mysterious stranger, grape smuggler. They were delicious.

Soon, a feast lay before our eyes. This curious man then created a squirrel out of clay, which ran up a tree and danced on its branches. And a lovely bird, which flew away.

Who was this clay pigeon creating, festivity catering man? An angel, of course.

He then began to make a whole town of clay people.

“What’s your name?” we asked.

“Satan” he replied.

“Ahh, the one and only?” we inquired.

“Oh, no. He’s my uncle.” Naturally, for he had been an angel too, before the fall. The Satans were good people, a well-respected family, sinning aside.

I was going to ask him a question, but he read my thoughts. It’s easier that way.

“I am 16,000 years old, though I know I don’t look a shade over 14.”

“I never tasted the apple myself, so naturally, I don’t know what evil is.” He created two little clay men, who began fighting, crushing them in his hand, he continued with his charms.

He spoke of solar systems and the gods, as the little clay women cried over their dead husbands. He stamped them out, it is rude to sob while someone is talking.

Intoxicated, we drank in his eyes. What a thrill, preconceived concerns unaddressed.

Ch. 3

Satan had seen it all before. Nonchalance – proud peacock, Samson, Caesar it was all the same. Men came and went, women cooking and wept.

In heaven he could see the inferno below, late night entertainment. Further beyond, men of this world fiddled about. Interesting, late night reruns.

“Flies.” he said. That wasn’t nice.

“Nice!” he exclaimed, “To tell the truth is nice.”

He made a castle of sand. We joined in, making our own figures – men and horses. But they were misshapen, stumbling around drunken and silly like, exploded by canons and gunpowder.

“No worries, we can always make more!” Satan explained.

Clouds gathered over the castle, walls shook, bricks flew. Explosions, perishables.

“No matter. We can make more!”

Bubbly spirit, never mind the tragedy, laughter magic takes care. We danced on their grave to the sweet music he played, music from heaven.

But he then had to leave. “Just call me Philip.”

“This is our secret.”

Do bricks have emotions? Do we treat them as Satan treated his clay creations?

Ephemeral spirits, aristocracy of imperishabilities.

Satan was back. We laughed. We liked him.

Father Peter came by, he had lost his wallet. There it is! Filled with gold coins! Surprise surprise, and right where Satan had stood. We tried to tell him, but you can’t speak what Satan doesn’t want to be heard.

“Did you do this boys?” Not us, how silly.

“Then who?”

“Not a human being.”

“Fair enough. Eleven hundred ducats! Praise the lord. No, only four are mine, the rest…” Well, why not. That will pay the rent. Father Peter put the wallet in his pocket, gold lining.

Ch. 4

Things began to go well for Father Peter and sweet Marget. Old friends came back, dusting off cold shoulders. Clearly this was God’s work.

Or Satan’s.

Whatever.

How we wished for him to come back, he was so exciting!

“What is morality?” we asked Father Peter.

“It is that which allows us to tell good from evil. It is the one thing that lifts man above the beasts!”

Marget was doing well, she walked with handsome Wilhelm. That’s nice.

Ch. 5

Then came the astrologer.

“How many ducats did you say? 1100. 1107. Interesting, curious indeed!

“I know who the thief is.”

Father Peter was then arrested, on charges of stealing from the astrologer. For how else did his wallet get so fat?

Loose tongues then turned on us, we were implicated you know, for we knew, but were unable to speak. The cat got our tongue.

Father Peter would go to court, defended by handsome Wilhelm. Marget’s happiness was short-lived. Friends no longer came about, no more parties. No matter, God will provide.

Meanwhile, the astrologer inflamed Father Peter’s name throughout town.

Ursula came by the house, mom gave her some money for food. Marget wouldn’t accept charity.

Ursula went outside, there was a kitten playing under a tree.

“Forget the cat, you don’t need another mouth to feed.” There was Satan.

He was back.

“Only the poor will care for this kitten, the poor and God” said Ursula.

“God sees the leaves fall,” replied Satan. “But they still fall.”

“Away with you!” cried Ursula.

Satan was not insulted, a king is not insulted by a tumble-bug.

“What are you doing here, that is what I would like to know.”

The kitten was jumping about.

“Give it a name, and it will be yours. Call it Anges.” It worked.

“Why don’t you keep it?”

The house is lonely, thought Ursula.

“This breed of cat brings money! It is a lucky kitty. Be it yours, and you will find fresh money in your pocket every morning.”

She reached into her pockets and sure enough, 4 silver groschen!

“It’s true!” she exclaimed, kissing Satan, according to Austrian custom.

We then went with Satan to Marget’s house. He was introduced to her as “Philip,” and soon Marget was the recipient of his charming delights. He said he was an orphan, she was teary-eyed.

He told her he knew how she could sneak into the jailhouse to see her poor Uncle. “Take this note, and at night go and show it to the guards and they will let you in.” She was happy!

She did not know about Ursula’s cat. She didn’t know.

“Supper time!” said, Satan inviting himself to the table. No worries, lucky cat will provide.

A fish in the frying pan, and another. A cornucopia of feasts: fruit, wine and game. Joyous occasion, spiced with Satanic stories. He was a perfect angel. All is divine, when entertaining human play things.

“Do you have an uncle as well?” inquired Marget.

“Yes, indeed. He is quite a Prince.”

The kitten licked my hand.

That night, Marget went to the jail to see her uncle. We came too, in spirit. I was interested to see what the inside of a jail looked like. There, a man was being asked to confess to a crime he didn’t commit, unagreeable splinters driven under his nails.

“What brutality!” I exclaimed.

“No, this is what humans do,” Satan explained. “Do not use the word brute, for brutes do not do these things. Animals know neither wrong nor right, they do not knowingly inflict punishment on their fellow kind.”