The Belated Russian Passport
written by Mark Twain and narrated by Cathy Dobson


The Major turned out to be an adorable travelling companion, and young Parrish was charmed with him. His talk was sunshine and rainbows, and lit up the whole region around, and kept it gay and happy and cheerful; and he was full of accommodating ways, and knew all about how to do things, and when to do them, and the best way. So the long journey was a fairy dream for that young lad who had been so lonely and forlorn and friendless so many homesick weeks. At last, when the two travellers were approaching the frontier, Parrish said something about passports; then started, as if recollecting something, and added:

“Why, come to think, I don’t remember your bringing my passport away from the consulate. But you did, didn’t you?”

“No; it’s coming by mail,” said the Major, comfortably.

“K—coming—by—mail!” gasped the lad; and all the dreadful things he had heard about the terrors and disasters of passportless visitors to Russia rose in his frightened mind and turned him white to the lips. “Oh, Major—oh, my goodness, what will become of me! How could you do such a thing?”

The Major laid a soothing hand upon the youth’s shoulder and said:

“Now don’t you worry, my boy, don’t you worry a bit. I’m taking care of you, and I’m not going to let any harm come to you. The Chief Inspector knows me, and I’ll explain to him, and it ’ll be all right—you’ll see. Now don’t you give yourself the least discomfort—I’ll fix it all up, easy as nothing.”

Alfred trembled, and felt a great sinking inside, but he did what he could to conceal his misery, and to respond with some show of heart to the Major’s kindly pettings and reassurings.

At the frontier he got out and stood on the edge of the great crowd, and waited in deep anxiety while the Major ploughed his way through the mass to “explain to the Chief Inspector.” It seemed a cruelly long wait, but at last the Major reappeared. He said, cheerfully, ‘Damnation, it’s a new inspector, and I don’t know him!”

Alfred fell up against a pile of trunks, with a despairing, “Oh, dear, dear, I might have known it!” and was slumping limp and helpless to the ground, but the Major gathered him up and seated him on a box, and sat down by him, with a supporting arm around him, and whispered in his ear:

“Don’t worry, laddie, don’t—it’s going to be all right; you just trust to me. The sub-inspector’s as near- sighted as a shad. I watched him, and I know it’s so. Now I’ll tell you how to do. I’ll go and get my passport chalked, then I’ll stop right yonder inside the grille where you see those peasants with their packs. You be there, and I’ll back up against the grille, and slip my passport to you through the bars, then you tag along after the crowd and hand it in, and trust to Providence and that shad. Mainly the shad. You’ll pull through all right—now don’t you be afraid.”

“But, oh dear, dear, your description and mine don’t tally any more than—”

“Oh, that’s all right—difference between fifty-one and nineteen—just entirely imperceptible to that shad—don’t you fret, it’s going to come out as right as nails.”

Ten minutes later Alfred was tottering towards the train, pale, and in a collapse, but he had played the shad successfully, and was as grateful as an untaxed dog that has evaded the police.

“I told you so,” said the Major, in splendid spirits. “I knew it would come out all right if you trusted in Providence like a little, trusting child and didn’t try to improve on His ideas—it always does.”

Between the frontier and Petersburg the Major laid himself out to restore his young comrade’s life, and work up his circulation, and pull him out of his despondency, and make him feel again that life was a joy and worth living. And so, as a consequence, the young fellow entered the city in high feather and marched into the hotel in fine form, and registered his name. But instead of naming a room, the clerk glanced at him inquiringly, and waited. The Major came promptly to the rescue, and said, cordially:

“It’s all right—you know me—set him down, I’m responsible.” The clerk looked grave, and shook his head. The Major added: “It’s all right, it ’ll be here in twenty-four hours—it’s coming by mail. Here’s mine, and his is coming right along.”

The clerk was full of politeness, full of deference, but he was firm. He said, in English:

“Indeed, I wish I could accommodate you, Major, and certainly I would if I could; but I have no choice, I must ask him to go; I cannot allow him to remain in the house a moment.”

Parrish began to totter, and emitted a moan; the Major caught him and stayed him with an arm, and said to the clerk, appealingly:

“Come, you know me—everybody does—just let him stay here the one night, and I give you my word—”

The clerk shook his head, and said:

“But, Major, you are endangering me, you are endangering the house. I—I hate to do such a thing, but I—I must call the police.”

“Hold on, don’t do that. Come along, my boy, and don’t you fret—it’s going to come out all right. Hi, there, cabby! Jump in, Parrish. Palace of the General of the Secret Police—turn them loose, cabby! Let them go! Make them whiz! Now we’re off, and don’t you give yourself any uneasiness. Prince Bossloffsky knows me, knows me like a book; he’ll soon fix things all right for us.”

They tore through the gay streets and arrived at the palace, which was brilliantly lighted. But it was half- past eight; the Prince was about going in to dinner, the sentinel said, and couldn’t receive any one.

“But he’ll receive me,” said the Major, robustly, and handed his card. “I’m Major Jackson. Send it in; it ’ll be all right.”

The card was sent in, under protest, and the Major and his waif waited in a reception-room for some time. At length they were sent for, and conducted to a sumptuous private office and confronted with the Prince, who stood there gorgeously arrayed and frowning like a thunder-cloud. The Major stated his case, and begged for a twenty-four-hour stay of proceedings until the passport should be forthcoming.

“Oh, impossible!” said the Prince, in faultless English. “I marvel that you should have done so insane a thing as to bring the lad into the country without a passport, Major, I marvel at it; why, it’s ten years in Siberia, and no help for it—catch him! support him!” for poor Parrish was making another trip to the floor. “Here—quick, give him this. There—take another draught; brandy’s the thing, don’t you find it so, lad? Now you feel better, poor fellow. Lie down on the sofa. How stupid it was of you, Major, to get him into such a horrible scrape.”

The Major eased the boy down with his strong arms, put a cushion under his head, and whispered in his ear:

“Look as damned sick as you can! Play it for all it’s worth; he’s touched, you see; got a tender heart under there somewhere; fetch a groan, and say, ‘Oh, mamma, mamma’; it ’ll knock him out, sure as guns.”

Parrish was going to do these things anyway, from native impulse, so they came from him promptly, with great and moving sincerity, and the Major whispered: “Splendid! Do it again; Bernhardt couldn’t beat it.”

What with the Major’s eloquence and the boy’s misery, the point was gained at last; the Prince struck his colors, and said:

“Have it your way; though you deserve a sharp lesson and you ought to get it. I give you exactly twenty- four hours. If the passport is not here then, don’t come near me; it’s Siberia without hope of pardon.”

While the Major and the lad poured out their thanks, the Prince rang in a couple of soldiers, and in their own language he ordered them to go with these two people, and not lose sight of the younger one a moment for the next twenty-four hours; and if, at the end of that term, the boy could not show a passport, impound him in the dungeons of St. Peter and St. Paul, and report.

The unfortunates arrived at the hotel with their guards, dined under their eyes, remained in Parrish’s room until the Major went off to bed, after cheering up the said Parrish, then one of the soldiers locked himself and Parrish in, and the other one stretched himself across the door outside and soon went off to sleep.

So also did not Alfred Parrish. The moment he was alone with the solemn soldier and the voiceless silence his machine-made cheerfulness began to waste away, his medicated courage began to give off its supporting gases and shrink towards normal, and his poor little heart to shrivel like a raisin. Within thirty minutes he struck bottom; grief, misery, fright, despair, could go no lower. Bed? Bed was not for such as he; bed was not for the doomed, the lost! Sleep? He was not the Hebrew children, he could not sleep in the fire! He could only walk the floor. And not only could, but must. And did, by the hour. And mourned, and wept, and shuddered, and prayed.

Then all-sorrowfully he made his last dispositions, and prepared himself, as well as in him lay, to meet his fate. As a final act, he wrote a letter:

“My darling Mother,—When these sad lines shall have reached you your poor Alfred will be no more. No; worse than that, far worse! Through my own fault and foolishness I have fallen into the hands of a sharper or a lunatic; I do not know which, but in either case I feel that I am lost. Sometimes I think he is a sharper, but most of the time I think he is only mad, for he has a kind, good heart, I know, and he certainly seems to try the hardest that ever a person tried to get me out of the fatal difficulties he has gotten me into.

“In a few hours I shall be one of a nameless horde plodding the snowy solitudes of Russia, under the lash, and bound for that land of mystery and misery and termless oblivion, Siberia! I shall not live to see it; my heart is broken and I shall die. Give my picture to her, and ask her to keep it in memory of me, and to so live that in the appointed time she may join me in that better world where there is no marriage nor giving in marriage, and where there are no more separations, and troubles never come. Give my yellow dog to Archy Hale, and the other one to Henry Taylor; my blazer I give to brother Will, and my fishing things and Bible.

“There is no hope for me. I cannot escape; the soldier stands there with his gun and never takes his eyes off me, just blinks; there is no other movement, any more than if he was dead. I cannot bribe him, the maniac has my money. My letter of credit is in my trunk, and may never come—will never come, I know. Oh, what is to become of me! Pray for me, darling mother, pray for your poor Alfred. But it will do no good.”


In the morning Alfred came out looking scraggy and worn when the Major summoned him to an early breakfast. They fed their guards, they lit cigars, the Major loosened his tongue and set it going, and under its magic influence Alfred gradually and gratefully became hopeful, measurably cheerful, and almost happy once more.

But he would not leave the house. Siberia hung over him black and threatening, his appetite for sights was all gone, he could not have borne the shame of inspecting streets and galleries and churches with a soldier at each elbow and all the world stopping and staring and commenting—no, he would stay within and wait for the Berlin mail and his fate. So, all day long the Major stood gallantly by him in his room, with one soldier standing stiff and motionless against the door with his musket at his shoulder, and the other one drowsing in a chair outside; and all day long the faithful veteran spun campaign yarns, described battles, reeled off explosive anecdotes, with unconquerable energy and sparkle and resolution, and kept the scared student alive and his pulses functioning. The long day wore to a close, and the pair, followed by their guards, went down to the great dining-room and took their seats.

“The suspense will be over before long, now,” sighed poor Alfred.

Just then a pair of Englishmen passed by, and one of them said, “So we’ll get no letters from Berlin to- night.”

Parrish’s breath began to fail him. The Englishmen seated themselves at a near-by table, and the other one said:

“No, it isn’t as bad as that.” Parrish’s breathing improved. “There is later telegraphic news. The accident did detain the train formidably, but that is all. It will arrive here three hours late to-night.”

Parrish did not get to the floor this time, for the Major jumped for him in time. He had been listening, and foresaw what would happen. He patted Parrish on the back, hoisted him out of his chair, and said, cheerfully:

“Come along, my boy, cheer up, there’s absolutely nothing to worry about. I know a way out. Bother the passport; let it lag a week if it wants to, we can do without it.”

Parrish was too sick to hear him; hope was gone, Siberia present; he moved off on legs of lead, upheld by the Major, who walked him to the American legation, heartening him on the way with assurances that on his recommendation the minister wouldn’t hesitate a moment to grant him a new passport.

“I had that card up my sleeve all the time,” he said. “The minister knows me—knows me familiarly—chummed together hours and hours under a pile of other wounded at Cold Harbor; been chummies ever since, in spirit, though we haven’t met much in the body. Cheer up, laddie, everything’s looking splendid! By gracious! I feel as cocky as a buck angel. Here we are, and our troubles are at an end! If we ever really had any.”

There, alongside the door, was the trade-mark of the richest and freest and mightiest republic of all the ages: the pine disk, with the planked eagle spread upon it, his head and shoulders among the stars, and his claws full of out-of-date war material; and at that sight the tears came into Alfred’s eyes, the pride of country rose in his heart, “Hail Columbia” boomed up in his breast, and all his fears and sorrows vanished away; for here he was safe, safe! not all the powers of the earth would venture to cross that threshold to lay a hand upon him!

For economy’s sake the mightiest republic’s legations in Europe consist of a room and a half on the ninth floor, when the tenth is occupied, and the legation furniture consists of a minister or an ambassador with a brakeman’s salary, a secretary of legation who sells matches and mends crockery for a living, hired girl for interpreter and general utility, pictures of the American liners, a chromo of the reigning President, a desk, three chairs, kerosene-lamp, a cat, a clock, and a cuspidor with motto, “In God We Trust.”

The party climbed up there, followed by the escort. A man sat at the desk writing official things on wrapping- paper with a nail. He rose and faced about; the cat climbed down and got under the desk; the hired girl squeezed herself up into the corner by the vodka-jug to make room; the soldiers squeezed themselves up against the wall alongside of her, with muskets at shoulder arms. Alfred was radiant with happiness and the sense of rescue. The Major cordially shook hands with the official, rattled off his case in easy and fluent style, and asked for the desired passport.

The official seated his guests, then said: “Well, I am only the secretary of legation, you know, and I wouldn’t like to grant a passport while the minister is on Russian soil. There is far too much responsibility.”

“All right, send for him.”

The secretary smiled, and said: “That’s easier said than done. He’s away up in the wilds, somewhere, on his vacation.”

“Ger-reat Scott!” ejaculated the Major.

Alfred groaned; the color went out of his face, and he began to slowly collapse in his clothes. The secretary said, wonderingly:

“Why, what are you Great-Scotting about, Major? The Prince gave you twenty-four hours. Look at the clock; you’re all right; you’ve half an hour left; the train is just due; the passport will arrive in time.”

“Man, there’s news! The train is three hours behind time! This boy’s life and liberty are wasting away by minutes, and only thirty of them left! In half an hour he’s the same as dead and damned to all eternity! By God, we must have the passport!”

“Oh, I am dying, I know it!” wailed the lad, and buried his face in his arms on the desk. A quick change came over the secretary, his placidity vanished away, excitement flamed up in his face and eyes, and he exclaimed:

“I see the whole ghastliness of the situation, but, Lord help us, what can I do? What can you suggest?”

“Why, hang it, give him the passport!”

“Impossible! totally impossible! You know nothing about him; three days ago you had never heard of him; there’s no way in the world to identify him. He is lost, lost—there’s no possibility of saving him!”

The boy groaned again, and sobbed out, “Lord, Lord, it’s the last of earth for Alfred Parrish!”

Another change came over the secretary.

In the midst of a passionate outburst of pity, vexation, and hopelessness, he stopped short, his manner calmed down, and he asked, in the indifferent voice which one uses in introducing the subject of the weather when there is nothing to talk about, “Is that your name?”

The youth sobbed out a yes.

“Where are you from?”


The secretary shook his head—shook it again—and muttered to himself. After a moment:

“Born there?”

“No; New Haven.”

“Ah-h.” The secretary glanced at the Major, who was listening intently, with blank and unenlightened face, and indicated rather than said, “There is vodka there, in case the soldiers are thirsty. The Major sprang up, poured for them, and received their gratitude. The questioning went on.

“How long did you live in New Haven?”

“Till I was fourteen. Came back two years ago to enter Yale.”

“When you lived there, what street did you live on?”

“Parker Street.”

With a vague half-light of comprehension dawning in his eye, the Major glanced an inquiry at the secretary. The secretary nodded, the Major poured vodka again.

“What number?”

“It hadn’t any.”

The boy sat up and gave the secretary a pathetic look which said, “Why do you want to torture me with these foolish things, when I am miserable enough without it?”

The secretary went on, unheeding: “What kind of a house was it?”


“Flush with the sidewalk?”

“No, small yard in front.”

“Iron fence?”

“No, palings.”

The Major poured vodka again—without instructions—poured brimmers this time; and his face had cleared and was alive now.

“What do you see when you enter the door?”

“A narrow hall; door at the end of it, and a door at your right.”

“Anything else?”


“Room at the right?”




“Kind of carpet?”

“Old-fashioned Wilton.”


“Yes—hawking-party, horseback.”

The Major cast an eye at the clock—only six minutes left! He faced about with the jug, and as he poured he glanced at the secretary, then at the clock—inquiringly. The secretary nodded; the Major covered the clock from view with his body a moment, and set the hands back half an hour; then he refreshed the men—double rations.

“Room beyond the hall and hat-rack?”




“Did your people own the house?”


“Do they own it yet?”

“No; sold it when we moved to Bridgeport.”

The secretary paused a little, then said, “Did you have a nickname among your playmates?”

The color slowly rose in the youth’s pale cheeks, and he dropped his eyes. He seemed to struggle with himself a moment or two, then he said, plaintively, “They called me Miss Nancy.”

The secretary mused awhile, then he dug up another question:

“Any ornaments in the dining-room?”

“Well, y—no.”

None? None at all?


“The mischief! Isn’t that a little odd? Think!”

The youth thought and thought; the secretary waited, slightly panting. At last the imperilled waif looked up sadly and shook his head.

“Think—think!” cried the Major, in anxious solicitude; and poured again.

“Come!” said the secretary, “not even a picture?

“Oh, certainly! but you said ornament.”

“Ah! What did your father think of it?”

The color rose again. The boy was silent.

“Speak,” said the secretary.

“Speak,” cried the Major, and his trembling hand poured more vodka outside the glasses than inside.

“I—I can’t tell you what he said,” murmured the boy.

“Quick! quick!” said the secretary; “out with it; there’s no time to lose—home and liberty or Siberia and death depend upon the answer.”

“Oh, have pity! he is a clergyman, and—”

“No matter; out with it, or—”

“He said it was the hellfiredest nightmare he ever struck!”

“Saved!” shouted the secretary, and seized his nail and a blank passport. “I identify you; I’ve lived in the house, and I painted the picture myself!”

“Oh, come to my arms, my poor rescued boy!” cried the Major. “We will always be grateful to God that He made this artist!—if He did.”

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