Little Nelly Tells a Story Out of Her Own Head

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Little Nelly Tells a Story Out of Her Own Head  (1907) 
by Mark Twain

From Fables of Man.

Twenty-two-or-three years ago, in Cleveland, a thing happened which I still remember pretty well. Out in the suburbs, it was — on the lake; the Fairbankses had bought a large house and a great place there, and were living sumptuously, after Mr. Fairbanks's long life of struggle and privation in building up the Cleveland Herald to high place and prosperity. I was there a week, and the Severances came out to dinner twice, and they and "Mother Fairbanks" and I talked over the old times we had enjoyed together in the "Quaker City," when we were "Innocents Abroad." Meantime, every day Mother Fairbanks was busy staging a brief little drama of "The Prince and Pauper" and drilling the children from town who were to play it.

One of these children was Nelly (nevermindtherestofthename) and she was a prodigy — a bright and serious and pretty little creature of nine, who ho was to play Lady Jane Grey. She had a large reputation as a reciter of poetry and little speeches before company in her mother's drawing-room at home; she did her work charmingly, and the sweetest charm about it was the aged gravity and sincerity and earnestness which she put into it. Latterly she had added a new laurel: she had composed a quaint little story, "out of her own head," and had delighted a parlor-audience with it and made herself the envy of all the children around.

The Prince and Pauper play was to be given in my honor, and I had a seat in the centre of the front row; a hundred and fifty friends of the house were present in evening costume, old and young and both sexes, the great room was brilliantly lighted, the fine clothes made the aspect gay, everybody was laughing and chatting and having a good time, the curtain was about ready to rise.

A hitch occurred. Edward VI, (to be played by a girl,) had been belated, it would take a quarter of an hour to dress her for her part. This announcement was made, and Mother Fairbanks retired to attend to this function, and took Nelly's mother with her to help. Presently the audience began to call for little Nelly to come on the stage and do her little story. Nelly's twin sister brought her on, and sat down in a chair beside her and folded her pudgy hands in her lap, and beamed upon the house her joy in the ovation which Lady Jane received. Lady Jane got another round when she said she had made a new story out of her own head and would recite it — which she proceeded to do, with none of her sweet solemnities lacking. To-wit:

Once there were two ladies, and were twins, and lived together, Mary and Olivia Scott, in the house they were born in, and all alone, for Mr. and Mrs. Scott were dead, now. After a while they got lonesome and wished they could have a baby, and said God will provide.

(You could feel the walls give, the strain upon suppressed emotion was so great.)

So when the baby came they were very glad, and the neighbors surprised.

(The walls spread again, but held.)

And asked where they got it and they said by prayer, which is the only way.

(There was not a sound in the audience except the muffled volleying of bursting buttons and the drip of unrestrainable tears. With a gravity not of this world, the inspired child went on:)

But there was no way to feed it at first, because it had only gums and could not bite, then they prayed and God sent a lady which had several and showed them how, then it got fat and they were so happy you cannot think; and thought oh, if they could have some more — and prayed again and got them, because whatever you pray for in the right spirit you get it a thousand fold.

(I could feel the throes and quivers coursing up and down the body of the ripe maiden lady at my left, and sue buried her face in her handkerchief and seemed to sob, but it was not sobbing. The walls were sucking in and bellying out, but they held. The two children on the stage were a dear and lovely picture to see, the face of the one so sweetly earnest, the other's face so speakingly lit up with pride in her gifted sister and with worshipping admiration.)

And God was pleased the way they were so thankful to have that child, and every prayer they made they got another one, and by the time fall came they had thirteen, and whoever will do the right way can have as many, perhaps more, for nothing is impossible with God, and whoever puts their trust in Him they will have their reward, heaped up and running over. When we think of Mary and Olivia Scott it should learn us to have confidence. End of the tale — good bye.

The dear little thing! She made her innocent bow, and retired without a suspicion that she had been an embarrassment. Nothing would have happened, now, perhaps, if quiet could have been maintained for a few minutes, so that the people could get a grip upon themselves, but the strain overpowered my old maid partner and she exploded like a bomb; a general and unrestrained crash of laughter followed, of course, the happy tears flowed like brooks, and no one was sorry of the opportunity to laugh himself out and get the blessed relief that comes of that privilege in such circumstances.

I think the Prince and Pauper went very well — I do not remember; but the other incident stays by me with great and contenting vividness — the picture and everything.