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The mysterious Stranger
Mark Twain
(1916)

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The mysterious Stranger The mysterious Stranger
Chapter IChapter I
It was in 1590—winter. Austria was far away from the world, and asleep; it was still the Middle Ages in Austria, and promised to remain so forever. Some even set it away back centuries upon centuries and said that by the mental and spiritual clock it was still the Age of Belief in Austria. But they meant it as a compliment, not a slur, and it was so taken, and we were all proud of it. I remember it well, although I was only a boy; and I remember, too, the pleasure it gave me. Yes, Austria was far from the world, and asleep, and our village was in the middle of that sleep, being in the middle of Austria. It drowsed in peace in the deep privacy of a hilly and woodsy solitude where news from the world hardly ever came to disturb its dreams, and was infinitely content. At its front flowed the tranquil river, its surface painted with cloud-forms and the reflections of drifting arks and stone-boats; behind it rose the woody steeps to the base of the lofty precipice; from the top of the precipice frowned a vast castle, its long stretch of towers and bastions mailed in vines; beyond the river, a league to the left, was a tumbled expanse of forest-clothed hills cloven by winding gorges where the sun never penetrated; and to the right a precipice overlooked the river, and between it and the hills just spoken of lay a far-reaching plain dotted with little homesteads nested among orchards and shade trees. The whole region for leagues around was the hereditary property of a prince, whose servants kept the castle always in perfect condition for occupancy, but neither he nor his family came there oftener than once in five years. When they came it was as if the lord of the world had arrived, and had brought all the glories of its kingdoms along; and when they went they left a calm behind which was like the deep sleep which follows an orgy. Eseldorf was a paradise for us boys. We were not overmuch pestered with schooling. Mainly we were trained to be good Christians; to revere the Virgin, the Church, and the saints above everything. Beyond these matters we were not required to know much; and, in fact, not allowed to. Knowledge was not good for the common people, and could make them discontented with the lot which God had appointed for them, and God would not endure discontentment with His plans. We had two priests. One of them, Father Adolf, was a very zealous and strenuous priest, much considered. There may have been better priests, in some ways, than Father Adolf, but there was never one in our commune who was held in more solemn and awful respect. This was because he had absolutely no fear of the Devil. He was the only Christian I have ever known of whom that could be truly said. People stood in deep dread of him on that account; for they thought that there must be something supernatural about him, else he could not be so bold and so confident. All men speak in bitter disapproval of the Devil, but they do it reverently, not flippantly; but Father Adolf's way was very different; he called him by every name he could lay his tongue to, and it made everyone shudder that heard him; and often he would even speak of him scornfully and scoffingly; then the people crossed themselves and went quickly out of his presence, fearing that something fearful might happen. Father Adolf had actually met Satan face to face more than once, and defied him. This was known to be so. Father Adolf said it himself. He never made any secret of it, but spoke it right out. And that he was speaking true there was proof in at least one instance, for on that occasion he quarreled with the enemy, and intrepidly threw his bottle at him; and there, upon the wall of his study, was the ruddy splotch where it struck and broke. But it was Father Peter, the other priest, that we all loved best and were sorriest for. Some people charged him with talking around in conversation that God was all goodness and would find a way to save all his poor human children. It was a horrible thing to say, but there was never any absolute proof that Father Peter said it; and it was out of character for him to say it, too, for he was always good and gentle and truthful. He wasn't charged with saying it in the pulpit, where all the congregation could hear and testify, but only outside, in talk; and it is easy for enemies to manufacture that. Father Peter had an enemy and a very powerful one, the astrologer who lived in a tumbled old tower up the valley, and put in his nights studying the stars. Every one knew he could foretell wars and famines, though that was not so hard, for there was always a war, and generally a famine somewhere. But he could also read any man's life through the stars in a big book he had, and find lost property, and every one in the village except Father Peter stood in awe of him. Even Father Adolf, who had defied the Devil, had a wholesome respect for the astrologer when he came through our village wearing his tall, pointed hat and his long, flowing robe with stars on it, carrying his big book, and a staff which was known to have magic power. The bishop himself sometimes listened to the astrologer, it was said, for, besides studying the stars and prophesying, the astrologer made a great show of piety, which would impress the bishop, of course. But Father Peter took no stock in the astrologer. He denounced him openly as a charlatan—a fraud with no valuable knowledge of any kind, or powers beyond those of an ordinary and rather inferior human being, which naturally made the astrologer hate Father Peter and wish to ruin him. It was the astrologer, as we all believed, who originated the story about Father Peter's shocking remark and carried it to the bishop. It was said that Father Peter had made the remark to his niece, Marget, though Marget denied it and implored the bishop to believe her and spare her old uncle from poverty and disgrace. But the bishop wouldn't listen. He suspended Father Peter indefinitely, though he wouldn't go so far as to excommunicate him on the evidence of only one witness; and now Father Peter had been out a couple of years, and our other priest, Father Adolf, had his flock. Those had been hard years for the old priest and Marget. They had been favorites, but of course that changed when they came under the shadow of the bishop's frown. Many of their friends fell away entirely, and the rest became cool and distant. Marget was a lovely girl of eighteen when the trouble came, and she had the best head in the village, and the most in it. She taught the harp, and earned all her clothes and pocket money by her own industry. But her scholars fell off one by one now; she was forgotten when there were dances and parties among the youth of the village; the young fellows stopped coming to the house, all except Wilhelm Meidling—and he could have been spared; she and her uncle were sad and forlorn in their neglect and disgrace, and the sunshine was gone out of their lives. Matters went worse and worse, all through the two years. Clothes were wearing out, bread was harder and harder to get. And now, at last, the very end was come. Solomon Isaacs had lent all the money he was willing to put on the house, and gave notice that to-morrow he would foreclose.


It was in 1590—winter. Austria was far away from the world, and asleep; it was still the Middle Ages in Austria, and promised to remain so forever. Some even set it away back centuries upon centuries and said that by the mental and spiritual clock it was still the Age of Belief in Austria. But they meant it as a compliment, not a slur, and it was so taken, and we were all proud of it. I remember it well, although I was only a boy; and I remember, too, the pleasure it gave me. Yes, Austria was far from the world, and asleep, and our village was in the middle of that sleep, being in the middle of Austria. It drowsed in peace in the deep privacy of a hilly and woodsy solitude where news from the world hardly ever came to disturb its dreams, and was infinitely content. At its front flowed the tranquil river, its surface painted with cloud-forms and the reflections of drifting arks and stone-boats; behind it rose the woody steeps to the base of the lofty precipice; from the top of the precipice frowned a vast castle, its long stretch of towers and bastions mailed in vines; beyond the river, a league to the left, was a tumbled expanse of forest-clothed hills cloven by winding gorges where the sun never penetrated; and to the right a precipice overlooked the river, and between it and the hills just spoken of lay a far-reaching plain dotted with little homesteads nested among orchards and shade trees. The whole region for leagues around was the hereditary property of a prince, whose servants kept the castle always in perfect condition for occupancy, but neither he nor his family came there oftener than once in five years. When they came it was as if the lord of the world had arrived, and had brought all the glories of its kingdoms along; and when they went they left a calm behind which was like the deep sleep which follows an orgy. Eseldorf was a paradise for us boys. We were not overmuch pestered with schooling. Mainly we were trained to be good Christians; to revere the Virgin, the Church, and the saints above everything. Beyond these matters we were not required to know much; and, in fact, not allowed to. Knowledge was not good for the common people, and could make them discontented with the lot which God had appointed for them, and God would not endure discontentment with His plans. We had two priests. One of them, Father Adolf, was a very zealous and strenuous priest, much considered. There may have been better priests, in some ways, than Father Adolf, but there was never one in our commune who was held in more solemn and awful respect. This was because he had absolutely no fear of the Devil. He was the only Christian I have ever known of whom that could be truly said. People stood in deep dread of him on that account; for they thought that there must be something supernatural about him, else he could not be so bold and so confident. All men speak in bitter disapproval of the Devil, but they do it reverently, not flippantly; but Father Adolf's way was very different; he called him by every name he could lay his tongue to, and it made everyone shudder that heard him; and often he would even speak of him scornfully and scoffingly; then the people crossed themselves and went quickly out of his presence, fearing that something fearful might happen. Father Adolf had actually met Satan face to face more than once, and defied him. This was known to be so. Father Adolf said it himself. He never made any secret of it, but spoke it right out. And that he was speaking true there was proof in at least one instance, for on that occasion he quarreled with the enemy, and intrepidly threw his bottle at him; and there, upon the wall of his study, was the ruddy splotch where it struck and broke. But it was Father Peter, the other priest, that we all loved best and were sorriest for. Some people charged him with talking around in conversation that God was all goodness and would find a way to save all his poor human children. It was a horrible thing to say, but there was never any absolute proof that Father Peter said it; and it was out of character for him to say it, too, for he was always good and gentle and truthful. He wasn't charged with saying it in the pulpit, where all the congregation could hear and testify, but only outside, in talk; and it is easy for enemies to manufacture that. Father Peter had an enemy and a very powerful one, the astrologer who lived in a tumbled old tower up the valley, and put in his nights studying the stars. Every one knew he could foretell wars and famines, though that was not so hard, for there was always a war, and generally a famine somewhere. But he could also read any man's life through the stars in a big book he had, and find lost property, and every one in the village except Father Peter stood in awe of him. Even Father Adolf, who had defied the Devil, had a wholesome respect for the astrologer when he came through our village wearing his tall, pointed hat and his long, flowing robe with stars on it, carrying his big book, and a staff which was known to have magic power. The bishop himself sometimes listened to the astrologer, it was said, for, besides studying the stars and prophesying, the astrologer made a great show of piety, which would impress the bishop, of course. But Father Peter took no stock in the astrologer. He denounced him openly as a charlatan—a fraud with no valuable knowledge of any kind, or powers beyond those of an ordinary and rather inferior human being, which naturally made the astrologer hate Father Peter and wish to ruin him. It was the astrologer, as we all believed, who originated the story about Father Peter's shocking remark and carried it to the bishop. It was said that Father Peter had made the remark to his niece, Marget, though Marget denied it and implored the bishop to believe her and spare her old uncle from poverty and disgrace. But the bishop wouldn't listen. He suspended Father Peter indefinitely, though he wouldn't go so far as to excommunicate him on the evidence of only one witness; and now Father Peter had been out a couple of years, and our other priest, Father Adolf, had his flock. Those had been hard years for the old priest and Marget. They had been favorites, but of course that changed when they came under the shadow of the bishop's frown. Many of their friends fell away entirely, and the rest became cool and distant. Marget was a lovely girl of eighteen when the trouble came, and she had the best head in the village, and the most in it. She taught the harp, and earned all her clothes and pocket money by her own industry. But her scholars fell off one by one now; she was forgotten when there were dances and parties among the youth of the village; the young fellows stopped coming to the house, all except Wilhelm Meidling—and he could have been spared; she and her uncle were sad and forlorn in their neglect and disgrace, and the sunshine was gone out of their lives. Matters went worse and worse, all through the two years. Clothes were wearing out, bread was harder and harder to get. And now, at last, the very end was come. Solomon Isaacs had lent all the money he was willing to put on the house, and gave notice that to-morrow he would foreclose.


  • arrive: To arrive is to get to or reach some place.
  • lot: A lot means a large number or amount of people, animals, things, etc.
  • middle: The middle of something is the center or halfway point.
  • promise: To promise is to say you will do something for sure.
  • well: You use well to say that something was done in a good way.
  • evil: Evil describes something or someone bad or cruel, not good.
  • loud: If a sound is loud, it is strong and very easy to hear.
  • secret: A secret is something that you do not tell other people.
  • worse: If something is worse, it is of poorer quality than another thing.
  • among: If you are among certain things, they are all around you.
  • cloud: A cloud is a group of water drops in the sky.
  • ever: Ever means at any time.
  • calm: When someone is calm, they do not get excited or upset.
  • content: To be content is to be happy and not want more.
  • village: A village is a very small town.
  • cause: To cause is to make something happen.
  • face: If you face a problem, you deal with it.
  • follow: To follow means to go behind someone and go where they go.
  • reach: To reach means to arrive at a place.
  • allow: To allow something to happen means to let it happen.
  • beside: When someone or something is beside you, they are next to you.
  • condition: The condition of someone or something is the state that they are in.
  • lay: To lay means to put or place in a horizontal or flat position.
  • peace: Peace is a time without war.
  • prince: A prince is the son of a king.
  • hang: To hang something is to keep it above the ground.
  • require: To require something is to say that it is necessary.
  • save: To save something is to keep it from being hurt.
  • still: Still is used when you say that a situation keeps going on.
  • far: If something is far, it is not close.
  • proud: If someone feels proud, they are happy about what they have done.
  • remain: To remain somewhere is to stay there.
  • rest: To rest is to stop being active while the body gets back its strength.
  • trouble: Trouble is a problem ora difficulty.
  • asleep: When a person is asleep, they are not awake.
  • conversation: A conversation is a talk between people.
  • either: Either is used with or to say there are two or more possibilities.
  • forest: A forest is a place with lots of trees and animals.
  • spend: To spend is to use time doing something or being somewhere.
  • truth: The truth is a fact or something that is right.
  • thin: If someone or something is thin, they are not fat.
  • hole: A hole is an opening in something.
  • lord: Long ago, a lord was a man in charge of a town.
  • owe: To owe is to have to pay or give back something received from another.
  • whole: Whole means all of something.
  • mail: Mail is letters and other things sent to people.
  • fear: Fear is the feeling of being afraid.
  • happen: If someone happens to do something, they do it by chance.
  • race: A race is a contest to see who is the fastest.
  • else: If you talk about something else, you talk about something different.
  • flow: To flow is to move easily and continuously in one direction.
  • hill: A hill is a round area of land. It is higher than the land around it.
  • communicate: To communicate is to give information by talking, writing, etc.
  • property: Property is something that someone owns.
  • staff: A staff is a group of people working together in a company.
  • wood: Wood is the thing that trees are made of.
  • bit: A bit is a small amount of something.
  • consider: To consider something means to think about it.
  • lie: To lie is to say or write something untrue to deceive someone.
  • reflect: To reflect is when a surface sends back light, heat, sound or an image.
  • war: A war is a big fight between two groups of people.
  • base: The base is the bottom of something.
  • pain: Pain is the feeling that you have when you are hurt.
  • though: Though is used when the second idea makes the first seem surprising.
  • actual: Actual means that something is real or true.
  • charge: A charge is the price to pay for something.
  • earn: To earn means to get money for the work you do.
  • set: To set something is to put it somewhere.
  • behind: Behind means to be at the back of something.
  • course: A course is a class in school.
  • member: A member is a person who is part of a group.
  • mental: If something is mental, it has to do with your mind.
  • instance: An instance is an example of something.
  • along: Along means to move from one part of a road, river, etc. to another.
  • neither: You use neither to connect two negative statements.
  • actually: Actually means in fact or really.
  • rather: Rather is used when you want to do one thing but not the other.
  • list: A list is a record of information printed with an item on each line.
  • magic: Magic is the power to do impossible things.
  • notice: To notice something is to see it for the first time.
  • own: To own something means to have it. That thing belongs to you.
  • cool: If the weather is cool, it is a little bit cold.
  • knowledge: Knowledge is information that you have about something.
  • mean: Mean describes someone who is unkind or cruel.
  • respect: Respect is a good opinion of someone because they are good.
  • above: If something is above, it is at a higher level than something else.
  • common: If something is common, it happens often or there is much of it.
  • different: Different describes someone or something that is not the same as others.
  • evidence: Evidence is a fact or thing that you use to prove something.
  • proper: If something is proper, it is right.
  • surface: The surface of something is the top part or outside of it.

  • arrive: To arrive is to get to or reach some place.
  • lot: A lot means a large number or amount of people, animals, things, etc.
  • middle: The middle of something is the center or halfway point.
  • promise: To promise is to say you will do something for sure.
  • well: You use well to say that something was done in a good way.
  • evil: Evil describes something or someone bad or cruel, not good.
  • loud: If a sound is loud, it is strong and very easy to hear.
  • secret: A secret is something that you do not tell other people.
  • worse: If something is worse, it is of poorer quality than another thing.
  • among: If you are among certain things, they are all around you.
  • cloud: A cloud is a group of water drops in the sky.
  • ever: Ever means at any time.
  • calm: When someone is calm, they do not get excited or upset.
  • content: To be content is to be happy and not want more.
  • village: A village is a very small town.
  • cause: To cause is to make something happen.
  • face: If you face a problem, you deal with it.
  • follow: To follow means to go behind someone and go where they go.
  • reach: To reach means to arrive at a place.
  • allow: To allow something to happen means to let it happen.
  • beside: When someone or something is beside you, they are next to you.
  • condition: The condition of someone or something is the state that they are in.
  • lay: To lay means to put or place in a horizontal or flat position.
  • peace: Peace is a time without war.
  • prince: A prince is the son of a king.
  • hang: To hang something is to keep it above the ground.
  • require: To require something is to say that it is necessary.
  • save: To save something is to keep it from being hurt.
  • still: Still is used when you say that a situation keeps going on.
  • far: If something is far, it is not close.
  • proud: If someone feels proud, they are happy about what they have done.
  • remain: To remain somewhere is to stay there.
  • rest: To rest is to stop being active while the body gets back its strength.
  • trouble: Trouble is a problem ora difficulty.
  • asleep: When a person is asleep, they are not awake.
  • conversation: A conversation is a talk between people.
  • either: Either is used with or to say there are two or more possibilities.
  • forest: A forest is a place with lots of trees and animals.
  • spend: To spend is to use time doing something or being somewhere.
  • truth: The truth is a fact or something that is right.
  • thin: If someone or something is thin, they are not fat.
  • hole: A hole is an opening in something.
  • lord: Long ago, a lord was a man in charge of a town.
  • owe: To owe is to have to pay or give back something received from another.
  • whole: Whole means all of something.
  • mail: Mail is letters and other things sent to people.
  • fear: Fear is the feeling of being afraid.
  • happen: If someone happens to do something, they do it by chance.
  • race: A race is a contest to see who is the fastest.
  • else: If you talk about something else, you talk about something different.
  • flow: To flow is to move easily and continuously in one direction.
  • hill: A hill is a round area of land. It is higher than the land around it.
  • communicate: To communicate is to give information by talking, writing, etc.
  • property: Property is something that someone owns.
  • staff: A staff is a group of people working together in a company.
  • wood: Wood is the thing that trees are made of.
  • bit: A bit is a small amount of something.
  • consider: To consider something means to think about it.
  • lie: To lie is to say or write something untrue to deceive someone.
  • reflect: To reflect is when a surface sends back light, heat, sound or an image.
  • war: A war is a big fight between two groups of people.
  • base: The base is the bottom of something.
  • pain: Pain is the feeling that you have when you are hurt.
  • though: Though is used when the second idea makes the first seem surprising.
  • actual: Actual means that something is real or true.
  • charge: A charge is the price to pay for something.
  • earn: To earn means to get money for the work you do.
  • set: To set something is to put it somewhere.
  • behind: Behind means to be at the back of something.
  • course: A course is a class in school.
  • member: A member is a person who is part of a group.
  • mental: If something is mental, it has to do with your mind.
  • instance: An instance is an example of something.
  • along: Along means to move from one part of a road, river, etc. to another.
  • neither: You use neither to connect two negative statements.
  • actually: Actually means in fact or really.
  • rather: Rather is used when you want to do one thing but not the other.
  • list: A list is a record of information printed with an item on each line.
  • magic: Magic is the power to do impossible things.
  • notice: To notice something is to see it for the first time.
  • own: To own something means to have it. That thing belongs to you.
  • cool: If the weather is cool, it is a little bit cold.
  • knowledge: Knowledge is information that you have about something.
  • mean: Mean describes someone who is unkind or cruel.
  • respect: Respect is a good opinion of someone because they are good.
  • above: If something is above, it is at a higher level than something else.
  • common: If something is common, it happens often or there is much of it.
  • different: Different describes someone or something that is not the same as others.
  • evidence: Evidence is a fact or thing that you use to prove something.
  • proper: If something is proper, it is right.
  • surface: The surface of something is the top part or outside of it.

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