A Story Without an End by Mark Twain

We had one game in the ship which was a good time passer – at least it was at night in the smoking room when the men were getting freshened up from the day’s monotonies and dullnesses. It was the completing of noncomplete stories. That is to say, a man would tell a story except the finish. Then the others would try to supply the ending out of their own invention. When everyone who wanted a chance had had it, the man who had introduced the story would give it its original ending – then you could take your choice. Sometimes the new endings turned out to be better than the olde one. But the story which called out the most persostent and determined ans ambitious effort was the one which had no ending, and so there was nothing to compare the new endings with. The man who told it said he could furnish the particulars up to a certain point only, because that was as much of the tale as he knew. He would give anyone fifty dollars who would finish the story to the satisfaction of a jury to be appointed by ourselves. We appointed a jury and wrestled with the tale. We invented plenty of endings, but the jury voted them all down. The jury was right. It was a tale which the author may have completed . In substance the storiette was a follows:

John Brown, aged thirty-one, good, gentle, bashful, timid, lived in a quiet village in Missouri. He was superintendent of the Presbyterian Sunday school, The extreme kindliness of his nature was recognized by all; in fact people said that he was made entirely out of good impulses and bashfulness; that he could always be counted upon for help when it was needed, and for bashfulness both when it was needed, and when it wasn’t.

Mary Taylor, twenty-tree, modest, sweet, winning, an in character and person beautiful, was all in all to him. And he was very nearly to all in all to her. She was wavering, his hopes were high. Her mother had been in opposition from the first. But she was wavering too; he could see it. She was being touched by his warm interest in her two charity “proteges” and by his contributions toward their support. These were two aged sisters who lived in a log hut in a lonely place up a crossroad four miles from Mrs. Taylor’s farm. One of the sisters was crazy, and sometimes a little violent, but not often.

At last the time seemed ripe for a final advance, and Brown gathered his courage together, and resolve to make it. He would take along a contribution of double the usual size, and win the mother over; with her opposition annulled, the rest of the conquest would be sure and prompt.

He took to the road in the middle of a placid Sunday afternoon in the soft Missourian summer, and he was equipped properly for his mission. He was all clothed in white linen, with a blue ribbon for a necktie, and he had on dressy tight boots. His horse and buggy were the finest. The lap robe was of white linen, it was new, and it had a handworked border.

When he was four miles out on the lonely road and was walking his horse over a wooden bridge, his straw hat blew off and fell in the creek, and floated down anf lodged against a bar. He did not quite knew what to do. He must have the hat, that was manifest; but how was he to get it?

Then he had an idea. The roads were empty, nobody was stirring. Yes, he would risk it. He led the horse to the roadside and set it to cropping grass; then he undressed and put his clothes in the buggy, petted the horse for a moment to secure its compassion and loyalty, then hurried to the stream. He swam out and soon had the hat. When he got to the top of the bank the horse was gone!

His legs almost gave way under him. The horse was walking leisurely along the road. Brown trotted after it saying, “Whoa, wyhoa, there’s a good fellow”; but whenever he got near enough to chance a jump for the buggy, the horse quickened its pace a little and defeated him. He tagged on and on, imploring the horse, till he had left a mile behind him, and was closing up on the Taylor premises; then at last he was successful, and got into the buggy. He flung his shirt, his necktie and his coat; then he reached for – but he was too late; he sat suddenly down and pulled up the lap robe, for he saw someone coming out of a gate – a wooman he thought. He wheeled the horse to the left, and struck briskly up the crossroad. As he passed around the turn he slowed down to a walk, and reached for the tr- too late again.

He had come upon Mrs Enderby, Mrs. Glossop, Mrs. Taylor, and Mary. They were on foot, and seemed tired and excited. They came at once to the buggy and shook hands, and all spoke at once, and said, eagerly how glad they were. And Mrs. Enderby said, impressively :

“It looks like an accident, his coming at such a time; but he was sent from the high.”

They were all moved and Mrs. Glossop said in an awed voice :

“Sarah Enderby, you never said a truer word in your lofe. This is no accident, it is a special providence. He was sent, an angel of deliverance. I say angel, Sarah Enderby, and will have no other word.”

“I know it’s so,” said Mrs. Taylor, fervently. “John Brown, I could worship you; I could go down on my knees to you. I could kiss the hem of your lap robe.”

He was not able to speak; he was helpless with shame and fright.

“Any person could see the hand of prividence in it. Here at noon what do we see? We see the smoke rising. I speak up and say, ‘That’s the Old People’s cabin afire’.”

“The very words you said, Nancy Taylor. ”

“Then the next thing I said was, ‘Mary Taylor, tell the hired man to rig up the team – we’ll go to the rescue. We’ll go afoot.’ And go we did. And found Sarah Enderby on the road.”

“And we all went together and found the cabin set fire and burnt down by the crazy one. We got them to a shaddy place and made them as comfortable as we could.”

“And then,” said Mrs. Glossop, “waht do you think we had better do – let Mr. Brown drive the Old People to nancy Taylor’s one at a time, or put both of them in the buggy, and him lead the horse?”

Brown gasped.

“Now, then, that’s a question,” said Mrs. Enderby. “You see, we are all tired out, and any way we fix it it’s going to be difficult. For if Mr. Brown take both of them, at least one of us must go back and help him.”

“That is so,” said Mrs. Taylor. “One of us drive with Mr. Brown, and the rest of you go along to my house and get things ready. I’ll go with him.”

They had all been sitting on the grass beside the buggy for a while, now, trying to rest their bodies. Then Mrs. Enderby said:

“I’ve got an idea, now. You see, we can’t walk anymore so my idea is this: one of us ride back with Mr. Brown, then ride to Nancy Taylor’s with one of the Old people, leaving Mr. Brown to keep the other company. One of you drive back and get the other one and drive her to Nancy’s.”

“Splendid!” they all cried. After a concultation it was decided that Mrs. Enderby should drive back with Brown because she invented the plan. Everything now being satisfactorily arranged and settled, the ladies rose, relieved and happy, and brushed down their gowns, and three of them started homeward. Mrs. Enderby set her foot on the buggy step and was about to climb in, when Brown found a remnant of his voice and gasped out –

“Please, Mrs. Enderby, call them back. I am very weak; I can’t walk, I can’t indeed.”

“Why, dear Mr. Brown! You do look pale. Come back all of you! Mr. Brown is not well. Mr. Brown I’m real sorry. Are you in pain?”

“No, madam, only weak.”

The others came back, and poured out their sympathies. They would all go to Nancy Taylor’s house and see to Brown’s needs first. He could lie down and two of the ladies would take the buggy and get one of the Old People.

By this time, without any solicitation, they were at the horse’s head and were beginning to turn him around. The danger was imminent, but Brown found his voice again and saved himself. He said –

“But ladies, you are overlooking something. You see, if you bring one of them home, and one remains behind with the other lady, there will be three persons there to come back. For someone has to drive the buggy back, and three can’t come home in it.”

They all claimed, “Why sure-ly, that is so”” and they all perplexed again.

Presently, Mary offered a plan; it was her first effort. She said:

“I am young and strong and am refreshed, now. Take Mr. Brown to our house, and give him help. I will go back and take care of the Old People; I can be there in twenty minutes. Wait on the main road at our house until someone comes along with a wagon. You won’t have to wait long; the farmers will soon be coming back from town now. ”

This plan was discussed and accepted; it seemed the best that could be done, in the circumstances. Brown felt relieved, and was deeply thankful, Let him once get to the main road and he would find a way to escape.

Then Mrs. Taylor said:

“The evening chill will be coming on, pretty soon, and those poor old things will need some kind of covering. Take the lap robe with you dear.”

“Very well mother, I will.”

She stepped to the buggy and put out her hand to take it-

That was the end of the tale.

At first we tought we could finish the story quite easily, but soon it appear that it was not a simple thing. This was on account of Brown’s character – great generosity and kindliness, but complicated with unusual shyness and diffidence, particularly in the presence of ladies. There was his love for Mary, in a condition where its affair must be handled with great tact, and no mistakes made, no offense given. And there was the mother to be won over. Also there were the helpless Old People.

Mary was reaching for the lap robe; Brown must decide – there was no time to be lost.

Of course none but a happy ending of the story would be accepted by the jury; the finish must find Brown in high credit with the ladies, his behavior without blemish, his modesty unwounded, his character for self-sacrifice maintained, The Old People rescued through him, their benefactor, all the party proud of him, happy in him.

We worked at the troublesome problem until three in the morning.

Meantime Mary was still reaching for the lap robe. We gave it up, and decided to let her continue to reach. It is the reader’s privilege to determine for himself how the things came out.

The End.