There are several sorts of ills in the world from which a person can never escape altogether, let him journey as far as he will. One escapes from one breed of an ill only to encounter another breed of it. We have come far from the snake liar and the fish liar, and there was rest and peace in the thought; but now we have reached the realm of the boomerang liar, and sorrow is with us once more. The first officer has seen a man try to escape from his enemy by getting behind a tree; but the enemy sent his boomerang sailing into the sky far above and beyond the tree; then it turned, descended, and killed the man. The Australian passenger has seen this thing done to two men, behind two trees--and by the one arrow. This being received with a large silence that suggested doubt, he buttressed it with the statement that his brother once saw the boomerang kill a bird away off a hundred yards and bring it to the thrower. But these are ills which must be borne. There is no other way.
The talk passed from the boomerang to dreams--usually a fruitful subject, afloat or ashore--but this time the output was poor. Then it passed to instances of extraordinary memory--with better results. Blind Tom, the negro pianist, was spoken of, and it was said that he could accurately play any piece of music, howsoever long and difficult, after hearing it once; and that six months later he could accurately play it again, without having touched it in the interval. One of the most striking of the stories told was furnished by a gentleman who had served on the staff of the Viceroy of India. He read the details from his note-book, and explained that he had written them down, right after the consummation of the incident which they described, because he thought that if he did not put them down in black and white he might presently come to think he had dreamed them or invented them.
The Viceroy was making a progress, and among the shows offered by the Maharajah of Mysore for his entertainment was a memory-exhibition. The Viceroy and thirty gentlemen of his suite sat in a row, and the memory- expert, a high-caste Brahmin, was brought in and seated on the floor in front of them. He said he knew but two languages, the English and his own, but would not exclude any foreign tongue from the tests to be applied to his memory. Then he laid before the assemblage his program-- a sufficiently extraordinary one. He proposed that one gentleman should give him one word of a foreign sentence, and tell him its place in the sentence. He was furnished with the French word 'est', and was told it was second in a sentence of three words. The next, gentleman gave him the German word 'verloren' and said it was the third in a sentence of four words. He asked the next gentleman for one detail in a sum in addition; another for one detail in a sum of subtraction; others for single details in mathematical problems of various kinds; he got them. Intermediates gave him single words from sentences in Greek, Latin, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, and other languages, and told him their places in the sentences. When at last everybody had furnished him a single rag from a foreign sentence or a figure from a problem, he went over the ground again, and got a second word and a second figure and was told their places in the sentences and the sums; and so on and so on. He went over the ground again and again until he had collected all the parts of the sums and all the parts of the sentences--and all in disorder, of course, not in their proper rotation. This had occupied two hours.
The Brahmin now sat silent and thinking, a while, then began and repeated all the sentences, placing the words in their proper order, and untangled the disordered arithmetical problems and gave accurate answers to them all.
In the beginning he had asked the company to throw almonds at him during the two hours, he to remember how many each gentleman had thrown; but none were thrown, for the Viceroy said that the test would be a sufficiently severe strain without adding that burden to it.
General Grant had a fine memory for all kinds of things, including even names and faces, and I could have furnished an instance of it if I had thought of it. The first time I ever saw him was early in his first term as President. I had just arrived in Washington from the Pacific coast, a stranger and wholly unknown to the public, and was passing the White House one morning when I met a friend, a Senator from Nevada. He asked me if I would like to see the President. I said I should be very glad; so we entered. I supposed that the President would be in the midst of a crowd, and that I could look at him in peace and security from a distance, as another stray cat might look at another king. But it was in the morning, and the Senator was using a privilege of his office which I had not heard of--the privilege of intruding upon the Chief Magistrate's working hours. Before I knew it, the Senator and I were in the presence, and there was none there but we three. General Grant got slowly up from his table, put his pen down, and stood before me with the iron expression of a man who had not smiled for seven years, and was not intending to smile for another seven. He looked me steadily in the eyes--mine lost confidence and fell. I had never confronted a great man before, and was in a miserable state of funk and inefficiency. The Senator said:--
"Mr. President, may I have the privilege of introducing Mr. Clemens?"
The President gave my hand an unsympathetic wag and dropped it. He did not say a word but just stood. In my trouble I could not think of anything to say, I merely wanted to resign. There was an awkward pause, a dreary pause, a horrible pause. Then I thought of something, and looked up into that unyielding face, and said timidly:--