The Belated Russian Passport
written by Mark Twain and narrated by Cathy Dobson


A great beer-saloon in the Friedrichstrasse, Berlin, towards mid-afternoon. At a hundred round tables gentlemen sat smoking and drinking; flitting here and there and everywhere were white-aproned waiters bearing foaming mugs to the thirsty. At a table near the main entrance were grouped half a dozen lively young fellows—American students—drinking good-bye to a visiting Yale youth on his travels, who had been spending a few days in the German capital.

“But why do you cut your tour short in the middle, Parrish?” asked one of the students. “I wish I had your chance. What do you want to go home for?”

“Yes,” said another, “what is the idea? You want to explain, you know, because it looks like insanity. Homesick?”

A girlish blush rose in Parrish’s fresh young face, and after a little hesitation he confessed that that was his trouble.

“I was never away from home before,” he said, “and every day I get more and more lonesome. I have not seen a friend for weeks, and it’s been horrible. I meant to stick the trip through, for pride’s sake, but seeing you boys has finished me. It’s been heaven to me, and I can’t take up that companionless dreariness again. If I had company—but I haven’t, you know, so it’s no use. They used to call me Miss Nancy when I was a small chap, and I reckon I’m that yet—girlish and timorous, and all that. I ought to have been a girl! I can’t stand it; I’m going home.”

The boys rallied him good-naturedly, and said he was making the mistake of his life; and one of them added that he ought at least to see St. Petersburg before turning back.

“Don’t!” said Parrish, appealingly. “It was my dearest dream, and I’m throwing it away. Don’t say a word more on that head, for I’m made of water, and can’t stand out against anybody’s persuasion. I can’t go alone; I think I should die.” He slapped his breast-pocket, and added: “Here is my protection against a change of mind; I’ve bought ticket and sleeper for Paris, and I leave to-night. Drink, now—this is on me—bumpers—this is for home!”

The good-byes were said, and Alfred Parrish was left to his thoughts and his loneliness. But for a moment only. A sturdy, middle-aged man with a brisk and business-like bearing, and an air of decision and confidence suggestive of military training, came bustling from the next table, and seated himself at Parrish’s side, and began to speak, with concentrated interest and earnestness. His eyes, his face, his person, his whole system, seemed to exude energy. He was full of steam—racing pressure—one could almost hear his gauge-cocks sing. He extended a frank hand, shook Parrish cordially, and said, with a most convincing air of strenuous conviction:

“Ah, but you mustn’t; really you mustn’t; it would be the greatest mistake; you would always regret it. Be persuaded, I beg you; don’t do it—don’t!”

There was such a friendly note in it, and such a seeming of genuineness, that it brought a sort of uplift to the youth’s despondent spirits, and a telltale moisture betrayed itself in his eyes, an unintentional confession that he was touched and grateful. The alert stranger noted that sign, was quite content with that response, and followed up his advantage without waiting for a spoken one:

“No, don’t do it; it would be a mistake. I have heard everything that was said—you will pardon that—I was so close by that I couldn’t help it. And it troubled me to think that you would cut your travels short when you really want to see St. Petersburg, and are right here almost in sight of it! Reconsider it—ah, you must reconsider it. It is such a short distance—it is very soon done and very soon over—and think what a memory it will be!”

Then he went on and made a picture of the Russian capital and its wonders, which made Alfred Parrish’s mouth water and his roused spirits cry out with longing. Then—

“Of course you must see St. Petersburg—you must! Why, it will be a joy to you—a joy! I know, because I know the place as familiarly as I know my own birthplace in America. Ten years—I’ve known it ten years. Ask anybody there; they’ll tell you; they all know me—Major Jackson The very dogs know me. Do go; oh, you must go; you must, indeed.”

Alfred Parrish was quivering with eagerness now. He would go. His face said it as plainly as his tongue could have done it. Then—the old shadow fell, and he said, sorrowfully:

“Oh no—no, it’s no use; I can’t. I should die of the loneliness.”

The Major said, with astonishment: “The—loneliness! Why, I’m going with you!”

It was startlingly unexpected. And not quite pleasant. Things were moving too rapidly. Was this a trap? Was this stranger a sharper? Whence all this gratuitous interest in a wandering and unknown lad? Then he glanced at the Major’s frank and winning and beaming face, and was ashamed; and wished he knew how to get out of this scrape without hurting the feelings of its contriver. But he was not handy in matters of diplomacy, and went at the difficulty with conscious awkwardness and small confidence. He said, with a quite overdone show of unselfishness:

“Oh no, no, you are too kind; I couldn’t—I couldn’t allow you to put yourself to such an inconvenience on my—”

“Inconvenience? None in the world, my boy; I was going to-night, anyway; I leave in the express at nine. Come! we’ll go together. You sha’n’t be lonely a single minute. Come along—say the word!”

So that excuse had failed. What to do now? Parrish was disheartened; it seemed to him that no subterfuge which his poor invention could contrive would ever rescue him from these toils. Still, he must make another effort, and he did; and before he had finished his new excuse he thought he recognized that it was unanswerable:

“Ah, but most unfortunately luck is against me, and it is impossible. Look at these”—and he took out his tickets and laid them on the table. “I am booked through to Paris, and I couldn’t get these tickets and baggage coupons changed for St. Petersburg, of course, and would have to lose the money; and if I could afford to lose the money I should be rather short after I bought the new tickets—for there is all the cash I’ve got about me”—and he laid a five-hundred-mark bank-note on the table.

In a moment the Major had the tickets and coupons and was on his feet, and saying, with enthusiasm:

“Good! It’s all right, and everything safe. They’ll change the tickets and baggage pasters for me; they all know me—everybody knows me. Sit right where you are; I’ll be back right away.” Then he reached for the bank-note, and added, “I’ll take this along, for there will be a little extra pay on the new tickets, maybe”—and the next moment he was flying out at the door.


Alfred Parrish was paralyzed. It was all so sudden. So sudden, so daring, so incredible, so impossible. His mouth was open, but his tongue wouldn’t work; he tried to shout “Stop him,” but his lungs were empty; he wanted to pursue, but his legs refused to do anything but tremble; then they gave way under him and let him down into his chair. His throat was dry, he was gasping and swallowing with dismay, his head was in a whirl. What must he do? He did not know. One thing seemed plain, however—he must pull himself together, and try to overtake that man. Of course the man could not get back the ticket money,

but would he throw the tickets away on that account? No; he would certainly go to the station and sell them to some one at half-price; and to-day, too, for they would be worthless to-morrow, by German custom. These reflections gave him hope and strength, and he rose and started. But he took only a couple of steps, then he felt a sudden sickness, and tottered back to his chair again, weak with a dread that his movement had been noticed—for the last round of beer was at his expense; it had not been paid for, and he hadn’t a pfennig. He was a prisoner—Heaven only could know what might happen if he tried to leave the place. He was timid, scared, crushed; and he had not German enough to state his case and beg for help and indulgence.

Then his thoughts began to persecute him. How could he have been such a fool? What possessed him to listen to such a manifest adventurer? And here comes the waiter! He buried himself in the newspaper—trembling. The waiter passed by. It filled him with thankfulness. The hands of the clock seemed to stand still, yet he could not keep his eyes from them.

Ten minutes dragged by. The waiter again! Again he hid behind the paper. The waiter paused—apparently a week—then passed on.

Another ten minutes of misery—once more the waiter; this time he wiped off the table, and seemed to be a month at it; then paused two months, and went away.

Parrish felt that he could not endure another visit; he must take the chances: he must run the gantlet; he must escape. But the waiter stayed around about the neighborhood for five minutes—months and months seemingly, Parrish watching him with a despairing eye, and feeling the infirmities of age creeping upon him and his hair gradually turning gray.

At last the waiter wandered away—stopped at a table, collected a bill, wandered farther, collected another bill, wandered farther—Parrish’s praying eye riveted on him all the time, his heart thumping, his breath coming and going in quick little gasps of anxiety mixed with hope.

The waiter stopped again to collect, and Parrish said to himself, it is now or never! and started for the door. One step—two steps—three—four—he was nearing the door—five—his legs shaking under him—was that a swift step behind him?—the thought shrivelled his heart—six steps—seven, and he was out!—eight—nine—ten—eleven—twelve—there is a pursuing step!—he turned the corner, and picked up his heels to fly—a heavy hand fell on his shoulder, and the strength went out of his body!

It was the Major. He asked not question. he showed no surprise. He said, in his breezy and exhilarating fashion:

“Confound those people, they delayed me; that’s why I was gone so long. New man in the ticket-office, and he didn’t know me, and wouldn’t make the exchange because it was irregular; so I had to hunt up my old friend, the great mogul—the station-master, you know—hi, there, cab! cab!—jump in, Parrish!—Russian consulate, cabby, and let them fly!—so, as I say, that all cost time. But it’s all right now, and everything straight; your luggage reweighed, rechecked, fare-ticket and sleeper changed, and I’ve got the documents for it in my pocket; also the change—I’ll keep it for you. Whoop along, cabby, whoop along; don’t let them go to sleep!”

Poor Parrish was trying his best to get in a word edgeways, as the cab flew farther and farther from the bilked beer-hall, and now at last he succeeded, and wanted to return at once and pay his little bill.

“Oh, never mind about that,” said the Major, placidly; “that’s all right, they know me, everybody knows me—I’ll square it next time I’m in Berlin—push along, cabby, push along—no great lot of time to spare, now.”

They arrived at the Russian consulate, a moment after hours, and hurried in. No one there but a clerk. The Major laid his card on the desk, and said, in the Russian tongue, “Now, then, if you’ll visé this young man’s passport for Petersburg as quickly as—”

“But, dear sir, I’m not authorized, and the consul has just gone.” “Gone where?” “Out in the country, where he lives.” “And he’ll be back—” “Not till morning.”

“Thunder! Oh, well, look here, I’m Major Jackson—he knows me, everybody knows me. You visé it yourself; tell him Major Jackson asked you; it’ll be all right.”

But it would be desperately and fatally irregular; the clerk could not be persuaded; he almost fainted at the idea.

“Well, then, I’ll tell you what to do,” said the Major. “Here’s stamps and the fee—visé it in the morning, and start it along by mail.”

The clerk said, dubiously, “He—well, he may perhaps do it, and so—”

“May? He will! He knows me—everybody knows me.”

“Very well,” said the clerk, “I will tell him what you say.” He looked bewildered, and in a measure subjugated; and added, timidly: “But—but—you know you will beat it to the frontier twenty-four hours. There are no accommodations there for so long a wait.”

“Who’s going to wait? Not I, if the court knows herself.”

The clerk was temporarily paralyzed, and said, “Surely, sir, you don’t wish it sent to Petersburg!”

“And why not?”

“And the owner of it tarrying at the frontier, twenty-five miles away? It couldn’t do him any good, in those circumstances.”

“Tarry—the mischief! Who said he was going to do any tarrying?”

“Why, you know, of course, they’ll stop him at the frontier if he has no passport.”

“Indeed they won’t! The Chief Inspector knows me—everybody does. I’ll be responsible for the young man. You send it straight through to Peters-burg—Hôtel de l’Europe, care Major Jackson: tell the consul not to worry, I’m taking all the risks myself.”

The clerk hesitated, then chanced one more appeal:

“You must bear in mind, sir, that the risks are peculiarly serious, just now. The new edict is in force.”

“What is it?”

“Ten years in Siberia for being in Russia without a passport.”

“Mm—damnation!” He said it in English, for the Russian tongue is but a poor stand-by in spiritual emergencies. He mused a moment, then brisked up and resumed in Russian: “Oh, it’s all right—label her St. Petersburg and let her sail! I’ll fix it. They all know me there—all the authorities—everybody.”

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