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    Chapter 15

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    Chapter 16
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    Truth is stranger than fiction--to some people, but I am measurably
    familiar with it.
    --Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.

    Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to
    stick to possibilities; Truth isn't.
    --Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.

    The air was balmy and delicious, the sunshine radiant; it was a charming
    excursion. In the course of it we came to a town whose odd name was
    famous all over the world a quarter of a century ago--Wagga-Wagga. This
    was because the Tichborne Claimant had kept a butcher-shop there. It was
    out of the midst of his humble collection of sausages and tripe that he
    soared up into the zenith of notoriety and hung there in the wastes of
    space a time, with the telescopes of all nations leveled at him in
    unappeasable curiosity--curiosity as to which of the two long-missing
    persons he was: Arthur Orton, the mislaid roustabout of Wapping, or Sir
    Roger Tichborne, the lost heir of a name and estates as old as English
    history. We all know now, but not a dozen people knew then; and the
    dozen kept the mystery to themselves and allowed the most intricate and
    fascinating and marvelous real-life romance that has ever been played
    upon the world's stage to unfold itself serenely, act by act, in a
    British court by the long and laborious processes of judicial

    When we recall the details of that great romance we marvel to see what
    daring chances truth may freely take in constructing a tale, as compared
    with the poor little conservative risks permitted to fiction. The
    fiction-artist could achieve no success with the materials of this
    splendid Tichborne romance.

    He would have to drop out the chief characters; the public would say such
    people are impossible. He would have to drop out a number of the most
    picturesque incidents; the public would say such things could never
    happen. And yet the chief characters did exist, and the incidents did

    It cost the Tichborne estates $400,000 to unmask the Claimant and drive
    him out; and even after the exposure multitudes of Englishmen still
    believed in him. It cost the British Government another $400,000 to
    convict him of perjury; and after the conviction the same old multitudes
    still believed in him; and among these believers were many educated and
    intelligent men; and some of them had personally known the real Sir
    Roger. The Claimant was sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment. When he
    got out of prison he went to New York and kept a whisky saloon in the
    Bowery for a time, then disappeared from view.

    He always claimed to be Sir Roger Tichborne until death called for him.
    This was but a few months ago--not very much short of a generation since
    he left Wagga-Wagga to go and possess himself of his estates. On his
    death-bed he yielded up his secret, and confessed in writing that he was
    only Arthur Orton of Wapping, able seaman and butcher--that and nothing
    more. But it is scarcely to be doubted that there are people whom even
    his dying confession will not convince. The old habit of assimilating
    incredibilities must have made strong food a necessity in their case; a
    weaker article would probably disagree with them.

    I was in London when the Claimant stood his trial for perjury. I
    attended one of his showy evenings in the sumptuous quarters provided for
    him from the purses of his adherents and well-wishers. He was in evening
    dress, and I thought him a rather fine and stately creature. There were
    about twenty-five gentlemen present; educated men, men moving in good
    society, none of them commonplace; some of them were men of distinction,
    none of them were obscurities. They were his cordial friends and
    admirers. It was "Sir Roger," always "Sir Roger," on all hands; no one
    withheld the title, all turned it from the tongue with unction, and as if
    it tasted good.

    For many years I had had a mystery in stock. Melbourne, and only
    Melbourne, could unriddle it for me. In 1873 I arrived in London with my
    wife and young child, and presently received a note from Naples signed by
    a name not familiar to me. It was not Bascom, and it was not Henry; but
    I will call it Henry Bascom for convenience's sake. This note, of about
    six lines, was written on a strip of white paper whose end-edges were
    ragged. I came to be familiar with those strips in later years. Their
    size and pattern were always the same. Their contents were usually to
    the same effect: would I and mine come to the writer's country-place in
    England on such and such a date, by such and such a train, and stay
    twelve days and depart by such and such a train at the end of the
    specified time? A carriage would meet us at the station.

    These invitations were always for a long time ahead; if we were in
    Europe, three months ahead; if we were in America, six to twelve months
    ahead. They always named the exact date and train for the beginning and
    also for the end of the visit.

    This first note invited us for a date three months in the future. It
    asked us to arrive by the 4.10 p.m. train from London, August 6th. The
    carriage would be waiting. The carriage would take us away seven days
    later-train specified. And there were these words: "Speak to Tom

    I showed the note to the author of "Tom Brown at Rugby," and he said:
    "Accept, and be thankful."

    He described Mr. Bascom as being a man of genius, a man of fine
    attainments, a choice man in every way, a rare and beautiful character.
    He said that Bascom Hall was a particularly fine example of the stately
    manorial mansion of Elizabeth's days, and that it was a house worth going
    a long way to see--like Knowle; that Mr. B. was of a social disposition;
    liked the company of agreeable people, and always had samples of the sort
    coming and going.

    We paid the visit. We paid others, in later years--the last one in 1879.
    Soon after that Mr. Bascom started on a voyage around the world in a
    steam yacht--a long and leisurely trip, for he was making collections, in
    all lands, of birds, butterflies, and such things.

    The day that President Garfield was shot by the assassin Guiteau, we were
    at a little watering place on Long Island Sound; and in the mail matter
    of that day came a letter with the Melbourne post-mark on it. It was for
    my wife, but I recognized Mr. Bascom's handwriting on the envelope, and
    opened it. It was the usual note--as to paucity of lines--and was
    written on the customary strip of paper; but there was nothing usual
    about the contents. The note informed my wife that if it would be any
    assuagement of her grief to know that her husband's lecture-tour in
    Australia was a satisfactory venture from the beginning to the end, he,
    the writer, could testify that such was the case; also, that her
    husband's untimely death had been mourned by all classes, as she would
    already know by the press telegrams, long before the reception of this
    note; that the funeral was attended by the officials of the colonial and
    city governments; and that while he, the writer, her friend and mine, had
    not reached Melbourne in time to see the body, he had at least had the
    sad privilege of acting as one of the pall-bearers. Signed, "Henry

    My first thought was, why didn't he have the coffin opened? He would
    have seen that the corpse was an imposter, and he could have gone right
    ahead and dried up the most of those tears, and comforted those sorrowing
    governments, and sold the remains and sent me the money.

    I did nothing about the matter. I had set the law after living lecture
    doubles of mine a couple of times in America, and the law had not been
    able to catch them; others in my trade had tried to catch their
    impostor-doubles and had failed. Then where was the use in harrying a
    ghost? None--and so I did not disturb it. I had a curiosity to know
    about that man's lecture-tour and last moments, but that could wait.
    When I should see Mr. Bascom he would tell me all about it. But he
    passed from life, and I never saw him again.. My curiosity faded away.

    However, when I found that I was going to Australia it revived. And
    naturally: for if the people should say that I was a dull, poor thing
    compared to what I was before I died, it would have a bad effect on
    business. Well, to my surprise the Sydney journalists had never heard of
    that impostor! I pressed them, but they were firm--they had never heard
    of him, and didn't believe in him.

    I could not understand it; still, I thought it would all come right in
    Melbourne. The government would remember; and the other mourners. At
    the supper of the Institute of Journalists I should find out all about
    the matter. But no--it turned out that they had never heard of it.

    So my mystery was a mystery still. It was a great disappointment. I
    believed it would never be cleared up--in this life--so I dropped it out
    of my mind.

    But at last! just when I was least expecting it----

    However, this is not the place for the rest of it; I shall come to the
    matter again, in a far-distant chapter.
    Next Chapter
    Chapter 16
    Previous Chapter
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