Abroad with Mark Twain and Eugene Field/Mark, the Sleight-of-hand Man

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Minister William Walter Phelps gave a dinner to the Clemenses in Frankfort, when Mark Twain and Livy were staying at a nearby watering place, but Mrs. Clemens was not well enough to attend—or, as Mark whispered to Mr. Phelps—was unwilling to go, being afraid that he might disgrace the family by some practical joke. So Mark had it all his own way and enjoyed his freedom hugely, keeping all in a roar.

Finally, Dr. Von Something-or-Other tried to get in a word edgewise and abruptly asked Mark what he thought of the European equilibrium.

(Mark said afterwards: "Knowing my political incompetence, the Doctor probably tried to inveigle me into making an ass of myself.")

The Herr Von's question having been delivered in no sotto voce style, everybody pricked up ears to hear Mark's answer.

"I can't explain in a few words," he said, "but I'll demonstrate." And turning to Mr. Phelps: "Hand me the Doctor's plate, please."

The Doctor looked up "disgusted," because he had only just commenced to eat and was "as hungry as a dog." Plate in hand, Mark stepped to a space between the window and the table and asked the Doctor to join him, bringing his knife. "Now," he said, "I will throw the plate up to the ceiling and you will catch it, on the end of your knife, but don't you spill anything. After catching it, you will please keep it spinning upon the end of your steel for five minutes, balancing it so as not to lose a drop of sauce, a chop, or fried murphy. And when you have performed all these stunts without mishap, you will have gained a correct idea of what I think of the balance of European power."