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Well, when I had been dead about thirty years I begun to get a little anxious. Mind you, had been whizzing through space all that time, like a comet. Like a comet! Why, Peters, I laid over the lot of them! But it was generally pretty one-sided, because I sailed by them the same as if they were standing still. It was as if the comet was a gravel-train and I was a telegraph despatch.
But after I got outside of our astronomical system, I used to flush a comet occasionally that was something like. By his stern lights I judged he was bearing about northeast-and-by-north-half-east.
You should have heard me whiz, and seen the electric fur fly! In about a minute and a half I was fringed out with an electrical nimbus that flamed around for miles and miles and lit up all space like broad day. The comet was burning blue in the distance, like a sickly torch, when I first sighted him, but he begun to grow bigger and bigger as I crept up on him. By and by I closed up abreast of his tail.
Do you know what it was like? It was like a gnat closing up on the continent of America. I forged along. Well, I boomed along another hundred and fifty million miles, and got up abreast his shoulder, as you may say. I was feeling pretty fine, I tell you; but just then I noticed the officer of the deck come to the side and hoist his glass in my direction. Shake her up, shake her up! Heave on a hundred million billion tons of brimstone! Clothe her from stem to rudder-post! In less than ten seconds that comet was just a blazing cloud of red-hot canvas.
It was piled up into the heavens clean out of sight—the old thing seemed to swell out and occupy all space; the sulphur smoke from the furnaces—oh, well, nobody can describe the way it rolled and tumbled up into the skies, and nobody can half describe the way it smelt.
Neither can anybody begin to describe the way that monstrous craft begun to crash along. Well, I never heard the like of it before. I judged I had some reputation in space, and I calculated to keep it. There was a power of excitement on board the comet. Upwards of a hundred billion passengers swarmed up from below and rushed to the side and begun to bet on the race. Of course this careened her and damaged her speed. He jumped at that crowd, with his trumpet in his hand, and sung out—.
Peters, it was a mistake. He turned to the mate, and says he—. Lighten ship! Lively, now, lively, men! Heave the whole cargo overboard! Peters, look me in the eye, and be calm. I found out, over there, that a kazark is exactly the bulk of a hundred and sixty-nine worlds like ours!
They hove all that load overboard. As for the race, that was at an end. The minute she was lightened the comet swung along by me the same as if I was anchored. The captain stood on the stern, by the after-davits, and put his thumb to his nose and sung out—.
Yes, it was a mistake, Peters—that remark of mine. Now you see what kind of speed I was making. So, as I said, when I had been tearing along this way about thirty years I begun to get uneasy. Oh, it was pleasant enough, with a good deal to find out, but then it was kind of lonesome, you know.
Besides, I wanted to get somewhere. Well, one night—it was always night, except when I was rushing by some star that was occupying the whole universe with its fire and its glare—light enough then, of course, but I necessarily left it behind in a minute or two and plunged into a solid week of darkness again. Where was I? Oh yes; one night I was sailing along, when I discovered a tremendous long row of blinking lights away on the horizon ahead. As I approached, they begun to tower and swell and look like mighty furnaces.
Says I to myself—. Then I fainted. And there was such a marvellous world spread out before me—such a glowing, beautiful, bewitching country. I was pointed straight for one of these gates, and a-coming like a house afire. Now I noticed that the skies were black with millions of people, pointed for those gates. What a roar they made, rushing through the air!
The ground was as thick as ants with people, too—billions of them, I judge. I lit. I drifted up to a gate with a swarm of people, and when it was my turn the head clerk says, in a business-like way—. By George, Peters, think of it! Where are you from in a general way? I had him again , Peters! He puzzled a second, then he says, sharp and irritable—. Peters, do you know I had him again? His face was as blank as a target after a militia shooting-match.
He turned to an under clerk and says—. What world? Peters, he had me , that time. I looked at him, puzzled, he looked at me, worried. Then he burst out—. That meant for me to stand aside. I done so, and a sky-blue man with seven heads and only one leg hopped into my place. I took a walk. It just occurred to me, then, that all the myriads I had seen swarming to that gate, up to this time, were just like that creature. I tried to run across somebody I was acquainted with, but they were out of acquaintances of mine just then.
So I thought the thing all over and finally sidled back there pretty meek and feeling rather stumped, as you may say. What astronomical system is your world in? Seems to me we had a man from there eight or nine hundred years ago—but people from that system very seldom enter by this gate. You wandered from your course. How did that happen? It has brought you to a gate that is billions of leagues from the right one. If you had gone to your own gate they would have known all about your world at once and there would have been no delay.
But we will try to accommodate you. I will see. He got a balloon and sailed up and up and up, in front of a map that was as big as Rhode Island. He went on up till he was out of sight, and by and by he came down and got something to eat and went up again. To cut a long story short, he kept on doing this for a day or two, and finally he came down and said he thought he had found that solar system, but it might be fly-specks.
So he got a microscope and went back. It turned out better than he feared. He had rousted out our system, sure enough. He got me to describe our planet and its distance from the sun, and then he says to his chief—. It is on the map. It is called the Wart. Then they turned from me and went on with their work, the same as if they considered my case all complete and shipshape. I was a good deal surprised at this, but I was diffident about speaking up and reminding them.
I did so hate to do it, you know; it seemed a pity to bother them, they had so much on their hands. Twice I thought I would give up and let the thing go; so twice I started to leave, but immediately I thought what a figure I should cut stepping out amongst the redeemed in such a rig, and that made me hang back and come to anchor again.
So at last I plucked up courage and tipped the head clerk a signal. He says—. What do you lack?
Extract from Captain Stormfield's Visit to Heaven
It first appeared in print in Harper's Magazine in December and January , and was published in book form with some revisions in This was the last story published by Twain during his life. The story follows Captain Elias Stormfield on his decades long cosmic journey to Heaven; his accidental misplacement after racing a comet; his short-lived interest in singing and playing the harp generated by his preconceptions of heaven ; and the general obsession of souls with the celebrities of Heaven such as Adam , Moses , and Elijah , who according to Twain become as distant to most people in Heaven as living celebrities are on Earth an early parody of celebrity culture. Twain uses this story to show his view that the common conception of Heaven is ludicrous, and points out the incongruities of such beliefs with his characteristic adroit usage of hyperbole. Much of the story's description is given by the character Sandy McWilliams, a cranberry farmer who is very experienced in the ways of Heaven.
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