What Henry Rogers did give to Mark Twain was his priceless counsel and time—gifts more precious than any mere sum of money—favors that Mark Twain could accept without humiliation. He did accept them, and never ceased to be grateful. He rarely wrote without expressing his gratitude, and we get the size of Mark Twain's obligation when in one letter we read:
"I have abundant peace of mind again—no sense of burden. Work is become a pleasure—it is not labor any longer."
He wrote much and well, mainly magazine articles, including some of those chapters later gathered it his book on "Christian Science." He reveled like a boy in his new freedom and fortunes, in the lavish honors paid him, in the rich circumstance of Viennese life. But always just beneath the surface were unforgetable sorrows. His face in repose was always sad. Once, after writing to Howells of his successes, he added:
"All those things might move and interest one. But how desperately more I have been moved to-night by the thought of a little old copy in the nursery of 'At the Back of the North Wind.' Oh, what happy days they were when that book was read, and how Susy loved it!"
RETURN AFTER EXILE
News came to Vienna of the death of Orion Clemens, at the age of seventy-two. Orion had died as he had lived—a gentle dreamer, always with a new plan. He had not been sick at all. One morning early he had seated himself at a table, with pencil and paper, and was putting down the details of his latest project, when death came—kindly, in the moment of new hope. He was a generous, upright man, beloved by all who understood him.
The Clemenses remained two winters in Vienna, spending the second at the Hotel Krantz, where their rooms were larger and finer than at the Metropole, and even more crowded with notabilities. Their salon acquired the name of the "Second Embassy," and Mark Twain was, in fact, the most representative American in the Austrian capital. It became the fashion to consult him on every question of public interest, his comments, whether serious or otherwise, being always worth printing. When European disarmament was proposed, Editor William T. Stead, of the "Review of Reviews," wrote for his opinion. He replied:
"DEAR MR. STEAD,—The Tsar is ready to disarm. I am ready to disarm. Collect the others; it should not be much of a task now. MARK TWAIN."
He refused offers of many sorts. He declined ten thousand dollars for a tobacco endorsement, though he liked the tobacco well enough. He declined ten thousand dollars a year for five years to lend his name as editor of a humorous periodical. He declined another ten thousand for ten lectures, and another offer for fifty lectures at the same rates —that is, one thousand dollars per night. He could get along without these sums, he said, and still preserve some remnants of his self-respect.
It was May, 1899, when Clemens and his family left Vienna. They spent a summer in Sweden on account of the health of Jean Clemens, and located in London apartments—30 Wellington Court—for the winter. Then followed a summer at beautiful Dollis Hill, an old house where Gladstone had often visited, on a shady hilltop just outside of London. The city had not quite enclosed the place then, and there were spreading oaks, a pond with lily-pads, and wide spaces of grassy lawn. The place to-day is converted into a public garden called Gladstone Park. Writing to Twichell in mid-summer, Clemens said:
"I am the only person who is ever in the house in the daytime, but I am working, and deep in the luxury of it. But there is one tremendous defect. Levy is all so enchanted with the place and so in love with it that she doesn't know how she is going to tear herself away from it."
However, there was one still greater attraction than Dollis Hill, and that was America—home. Mark Twain at sixty-five and a free man once more had decided to return to his native land. They closed Dollis Hill at the end of September, and October 6, 1900, sailed on the Minnehaha for New York, bidding good-by, as Mark Twain believed, and hoped, to foreign travel. Nine days later, to a reporter who greeted him on the ship, he said:
"If I ever get ashore I am going to break both of my legs so I can't get away again."
A PROPHET AT HOME
New York tried to outdo Vienna and London in honoring Mark Twain. Every newspaper was filled with the story of his great fight against debt, and his triumph. "He had behaved like Walter Scott," writes Howells, "as millions rejoiced to know who had not known how Walter Scott behaved till they knew it was like Clemens." Clubs and societies vied with one another in offering him grand entertainments. Literary and lecture proposals poured in. He was offered at the rate of a dollar a word for his writing—he could name his own terms for lectures.
These sensational offers did not tempt him. He was sick of the platform. He made a dinner speech here and there—always an event—but he gave no lectures or readings for profit. His literary work he confined to a few magazines, and presently concluded an arrangement with "Harper & Brothers" for whatever he might write, the payment to be twenty (later thirty) cents per word. He arranged with the same firm for the publication of all his books, by this time collected in uniform edition. He wished his affairs to be settled as nearly as might be. His desire was freedom from care. Also he would have liked a period of quiet and rest, but that was impossible. He realized that the multitude of honors tendered him was in a sense a vast compliment which he could not entirely refuse. Howells writes that Mark Twain's countrymen "kept it up past all precedent," and in return Mark Twain tried to do his part. "His friends saw that he was wearing himself out," adds Howells, and certain it is that he grew thin and pale and had a hacking cough. Once to Richard Watson Gilder he wrote:
"In bed with a chest cold and other company.
"DEAR GILDER,—I can't. If I were a well man I could explain with this pencil, but in the cir—ces I will leave it all to your imagination.
"Was it Grady that killed himself trying to do all the dining and speeching? No, old man, no, no!
"Ever yours, MARK."
In the various dinner speeches and other utterances made by Mark Twain at this time, his hearers recognized a new and great seriousness of purpose. It was not really new, only, perhaps, more emphasized. He still made them laugh, but he insisted on making them think, too. He preached a new gospel of patriotism—not the patriotism that means a boisterous cheering of the Stars and Stripes wherever unfurled, but the patriotism that proposes to keep the Stars and Stripes clean and worth shouting for. In one place he said:
"We teach the boys to atrophy their independence. We teach them to take their patriotism at second hand; to shout with the largest crowd without examining into the right or wrong of the matter —exactly as boys under monarchies are taught, and have always been taught."
He protested against the blind allegiance of monarchies. He was seldom "with the largest crowd" himself. Writing much of our foreign affairs, then in a good deal of a muddle, he assailed so fearlessly and fiercely measures which he held to be unjust that he was caricatured as an armed knight on a charger and as Huck Finn with a gun.
But he was not always warlike. One of the speeches he made that winter was with Col. Henry Watterson, a former Confederate soldier, at a Lincoln birthday memorial at Carnegie Hall. "Think of it!" he wrote Twichell, "two old rebels functioning there; I as president and Watterson as orator of the day. Things have changed somewhat in these forty years, thank God!"
The Clemens household did not go back to Hartford. During their early years abroad it had been Mrs. Clemens's dream to return and open the beautiful home, with everything the same as before. The death of Susy had changed all this. The mother had grown more and more to feel that she could not bear the sorrow of Susy's absence in the familiar rooms. After a trip which Clemens himself made to Hartford, he wrote, "I realize that if we ever enter the house again to live, our hearts will break."
So they did not go back. Mrs. Clemens had seen it for the last time on that day when the carriage waited while she went back to take a last look into the vacant rooms. They had taken a house at 14 West Tenth Street for the winter, and when summer came they went to a log cabin on Saranac Lake, which they called "The Lair." Here Mark Twain wrote "A Double-barreled Detective Story," a not very successful burlesque of Sherlock Holmes. But most of the time that summer he loafed and rested, as was his right. Once during the summer he went on a cruise with H. H. Rogers, Speaker "Tom" Reed, and others on Mr. Rogers's yacht.
HONORED BY MISSOURI
The family did not return to New York. They took a beautiful house at Riverdale on the Hudson—the old Appleton homestead. Here they established themselves and settled down for American residence. They would have bought the Appleton place, but the price was beyond their reach.
It was in the autumn of 1901 that Mark Twain settled in Riverdale. In June of the following year he was summoned West to receive the degree of LL.D. from the university of his native state. He made the journey a sort of last general visit to old associations and friends. In St. Louis he saw Horace Bixby, fresh, wiry, and capable as he had been forty-five years before. Clemens said:
"I have become an old man. You are still thirty-five."
They went over to the rooms of the pilots' association, where the river-men gathered in force to celebrate his return. Then he took train for Hannibal.
He spent several days in Hannibal and saw Laura Hawkins—Mrs. Frazer, and a widow now—and John Briggs, an old man, and John RoBards, who had worn the golden curls and the medal for good conduct. They drove him to the old house on Hill Street, where once he had lived and set type; photographers were there and photographed him standing at the front door.
"It all seems so small to me," he said, as he looked through the house. "A boy's home is a big place to him. I suppose if I should come back again ten years from now it would be the size of a bird-house." He did not see "Huck"—Torn Blankenship had not lived in Hannibal for many years. But he was driven to all the familiar haunts—to Lover's Leap, the cave, and the rest; and Sunday afternoon, with John Briggs, he walked over Holliday's Hill—the "Cardiff Hill" of "Tom Sawyer." It was just such a day, as the one when they had damaged a cooper shop and so nearly finished the old negro driver. A good deal more than fifty years had passed since then, and now here they were once more—Tom Sawyer and Joe Harper—two old men, the hills still fresh and green, the river rippling in the sun. Looking across to the Illinois shore and the green islands where they had played, and to Lover's Leap on the south, the man who had been Sam Clemens said:
"John, that is one of the loveliest sights I ever saw. Down there is the place we used to swim, and yonder is where a man was drowned, and there's where the steamboat sank. Down there on Lover's Leap is where the Millerites put on their robes one night to go to heaven. None of them went that night, but I suppose most of them have gone now."
John Briggs said, "Sam, do you remember the day we stole peaches from old man Price, and one of his bow-legged niggers came after us with dogs, and how we made up our minds we'd catch that nigger and drown him?"
And so they talked on of this thing and that, and by and by drove along the river, and Sam Clemens pointed out the place where he swam it and was taken with a cramp on the return.
"Once near the shore I thought I would let down," he said, "but was afraid to, knowing that if the water was deep I was a goner, but finally my knee struck the sand and I crawled out. That was the closest call I ever had."
They drove by a place where a haunted house had stood. They drank from a well they had always known—from the bucket, as they had always drunk —talking, always talking, touching with lingering fondness that most beautiful and safest of all our possessions—the past.
"Sam," said John, when they parted, "this is probably the last time we shall meet on earth. God bless you. Perhaps somewhere we shall renew our friendship."
"John," was the answer, "this day has been worth a thousand dollars to me. We were like brothers once, and I feel that we are the same now. Good-by, John. I'll try to meet you somewhere."
Clemens left next day for Columbia, where the university is located. At each station a crowd had gathered to cheer and wave as the train pulled in and to offer him flowers. Sometimes he tried to say a few words, but his voice would not come. This was more than even Tom Sawyer had dreamed.
Certainly there is something deeply touching in the recognition of one's native State; the return of the boy who has set out unknown to battle with life and who is called back to be crowned is unlike any other home-coming—more dramatic, more moving. Next day at the university Mark Twain, summoned before the crowded assembly-hall to receive his degree, stepped out to the center of the stage and paused. He seemed in doubt as to whether he should make a speech or only express his thanks for the honor received. Suddenly and without signal the great audience rose and stood in silence at his feet. He bowed but he could not speak. Then the vast assembly began a peculiar chant, spelling out slowly the word M-i-s-s-o-u-r-i, with a pause between each letter. It was tremendously impressive.
Mark Twain was not left in doubt as to what was required of him when the chant ended. The audience demanded a speech—a speech, and he made them one—such a speech as no one there would forget to his dying day.
Back in St. Louis, he attended the rechristening of the St. Louis harbor boat; it had been previously called the "St. Louis," but it was now to be called the "Mark Twain."
THE CLOSE OF A BEAUTIFUL LIFE
Life which had begun very cheerfully at Riverdale ended sadly enough. In August, at York Harbor, Maine, Mrs. Clemens's health failed and she was brought home an invalid, confined almost entirely to her room. She had been always the life, the center, the mainspring of the household. Now she must not even be consulted—hardly visited. On her bad days—and they were many—Clemens, sad and anxious, spent most of his time lingering about her door, waiting for news, or until he was permitted to see her for a brief moment. In his memorandum-book of that period he wrote:
"Our dear prisoner is where she is through overwork—day and night devotion to the children and me. We did not know how to value it. We know now."
And on the margin of a letter praising him for what he had done for the world's enjoyment, and for his triumph over debt, he wrote:
"Livy never gets her share of those applauses, but it is because the people do not know. Yet she is entitled to the lion's share."
She improved during the winter, but very slowly. Her husband wrote in his diary:
"Feb. 2, 1903—Thirty-third wedding anniversary. I was allowed to see Livy five minutes this morning, in honor of the day."
Mrs. Clemens had always remembered affectionately their winter in Florence of ten years before, and she now expressed the feeling that if she were in Florence again she would be better. The doctors approved, and it was decided that she should be taken there as soon as she was strong enough to travel. She had so far improved by June that they journeyed to Elmira, where in the quiet rest of Quarry Farm her strength returned somewhat and the hope of her recovery was strong.
Mark Twain wrote a story that summer in Elmira, in the little octagonal study, shut in now by trees and overgrown with vines. "A Dog's Tale," a pathetic plea against vivisection, was the last story written in the little retreat that had seen the beginning of "Tom Sawyer" twenty-nine years before.
There was a feeling that the stay in Europe was this time to be permanent. On one of the first days of October Clemens wrote in his note-book:
"To-day I place flowers on Susy's grave—for the last time, probably —and read the words, 'Good night, dear heart, good night, good night.'"
They sailed on the 24th, by way of Naples and Genoa, and were presently installed in the Villa Reale di Quarto, a fine old Italian palace, in an ancient garden looking out over Florence toward Vallombrosa and the Chianti hills. It was a beautiful spot, though its aging walls and cypresses and matted vines gave it a rather mournful look. Mrs. Clemens's health improved there for a time, in spite of dull, rainy, depressing weather; so much so that in May, when the warmth and sun came back, Clemens was driving about the country, seeking a villa that he might buy for a home.
On one of these days—it was a Sunday in early June, the 5th—when he had been out with Jean, and had found a villa which he believed would fill all their requirements, he came home full of enthusiasm and hope, eager to tell the patient about the discovery. Certainly she seemed better. A day or two before she had been wheeled out on the terrace to enjoy the wonder of early Italian summer.
He found her bright and cheerful, anxious to hear all their plans for the new home. He stayed with her alone through the dinner hour, and their talk was as in the old days. Summoned to go at last, he chided himself for staying so long; but she said there was no harm and kissed him, saying, "you will come back?" and he answered "Yes, to say good night," meaning at half-past nine, as was the permitted custom. He stood a moment at the door, throwing kisses to her, and she returned them, her face bright with smiles.
He was so full of hope—they were going to be happy again. Long ago he had been in the habit of singing jubilee songs to the children. He went upstairs now to the piano and played the chorus and sang "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," and "My Lord He Calls Me." He stopped then, but Jean, who had come in, asked him to go on. Mrs. Clemens, from her room, heard the music and said to Katy Leary:
"He is singing a good-night carol to me."
The music ceased presently. A moment later she asked to be lifted up. Almost in that instant life slipped away without a sound.
Clemens, just then coming to say good-night, saw a little group gathered about her bed, and heard Clara ask:
"Katy, is it true? Oh, Katy, is it true?"
In his note-book that night he wrote:
"At a quarter-past nine this evening she that was the life of my life passed to the relief and the peace of death, after twenty-two months of unjust and unearned suffering. I first saw her thirty-seven years ago, and now I have looked upon her face for the last time.... I was full of remorse for things done and said in these thirty- four years of married life that have hurt Livy's heart."
And to Howells a few days later:
"To-day, treasured in her worn, old testament, I found a dear and gentle letter from you dated Far Rockaway, September 12, 1896, about our poor Susy's death. I am tired and old; I wish I were with Livy."
They brought her to America; and from the house, and the rooms, where she had been made a bride bore her to a grave beside Susy and little Langdon.
MARK TWAIN AT SEVENTY
In a small cottage belonging to Richard Watson Gilder, at Tyringham, Massachusetts, Samuel Clemens and his daughters tried to plan for the future. Mrs. Clemens had always been the directing force—they were lost without her. They finally took a house in New York City, No. 21 Fifth Avenue, at the corner of Ninth Street, installed the familiar furnishings, and tried once more to establish a home. The house was handsome within and without—a proper residence for a venerable author and sage—a suitable setting for Mark Twain. But it was lonely for him.
It lacked soul—comfort that would reach the heart. He added presently a great Aeolian orchestrelle, with a variety of music for his different moods. Sometimes he played it himself, though oftener his secretary played to him. He went out little that winter—seeing only a few old and intimate friends. His writing, such as it was, was of a serious nature, protests against oppression and injustice in a variety of forms. Once he wrote a "War Prayer," supposed to have been made by a mysterious, white-robed stranger who enters a church during those ceremonies that precede the marching of the nation's armies to battle. The minister had prayed for victory, a prayer which the stranger interprets as a petition that the enemy's country be laid waste, its soldiers be torn by shells, its people turned out roofless, to wander through their desolated land in rags and hunger. It was a scathing arraignment of war, a prophecy, indeed, which to-day has been literally fulfilled. He did not print it, because then it would have been regarded as sacrilege.
When summer came again, in a beautiful house at Dublin, New Hampshire, on the Monadnock slope, he seemed to get back into the old swing of work, and wrote that pathetic story, "A Horse's Tale." Also "Eve's Diary," which, under its humor, is filled with tenderness, and he began a wildly fantastic tale entitled "Three Thousand Years Among the Microbes," a satire in which Gulliver is outdone. He never finished it. He never could finish it, for it ran off into amazing by-paths that led nowhere, and the tale was lost. Yet he always meant to get at it again some day and make order out of chaos.
Old friends were dying, and Mark Twain grew more and more lonely. "My section of the procession has but a little way to go," he wrote when the great English actor Henry Irving died. Charles Henry Webb, his first publisher, John Hay, Bret Harte, Thomas B. Reed, and, indeed, most of his earlier associates were gone. When an invitation came from San Francisco to attend a California reunion he replied that his wandering days were over and that it was his purpose to sit by the fire for the rest of his life. And in another letter:
"I have done more for San Francisco than any other of its old residents. Since I left there, it has increased in population fully 300,000. I could have done more—I could have gone earlier—it was suggested."
A choice example, by the way, of Mark Twain's best humor, with its perfectly timed pause, and the afterthought. Most humorists would have been content to end with the statement, "I could have gone earlier." Only Mark Twain could have added that final exquisite touch—"it was suggested."
Mark Twain was nearing seventy. With the 30th of November (1905) he would complete the scriptural limitation, and the president of his publishing-house, Col. George Harvey, of Harper's, proposed a great dinner for him in celebration of his grand maturity. Clemens would have preferred a small assembly in some snug place, with only his oldest and closest friends. Colonel Harvey had a different view. He had given a small, choice dinner to Mark Twain on his sixty-seventh birthday; now it must be something really worth while—something to outrank any former literary gathering. In order not to conflict with Thanksgiving holidays, the 5th of December was selected as the date. On that evening, two hundred American and English men and women of letters assembled in Delmonico's great banquet-hall to do honor to their chief. What an occasion it was! The tables of gay diners and among them Mark Twain, his snow-white hair a gleaming beacon for every eye. Then, by and by, presented by William Dean Howells, he rose to speak. Instantly the brilliant throng was on its feet, a shouting billow of life, the white handkerchiefs flying foam-like on its crest. It was a supreme moment! The greatest one of them all hailed by their applause as he scaled the mountaintop.
Never did Mark Twain deliver a more perfect address than he gave that night. He began with the beginning, the meagerness of that little hamlet that had seen his birth, and sketched it all so quaintly and delightfully that his hearers laughed and shouted, though there was tenderness under it, and often the tears were just beneath the surface. He told of his habits of life, how he had reached seventy by following a plan of living that would probably kill anybody else; how, in fact, he believed he had no valuable habits at all. Then, at last, came that unforgetable close:
"Threescore years and ten!
"It is the scriptural statute of limitations. After that you owe no active duties; for you the strenuous life is over. You are a time- expired man, to use Kipling's military phrase: you have served your term, well or less well, and you are mustered out. You are become an honorary member of the republic, you are emancipated, compulsions are not for you, nor any bugle-call but 'lights out.' You pay the time-worn duty bills if you choose, or decline, if you prefer—and without prejudice—for they are not legally collectable.
"The previous-engagement plea, which in forty years has cost you so many twinges, you can lay aside forever; on this side of the grave you will never need it again. If you shrink at thought of night, and winter, and the late homecomings from the banquet and the lights and laughter, through the deserted streets—a desolation which would not remind you now, as for a generation it did, that your friends are sleeping and you must creep in a-tiptoe and not disturb them, but would only remind you that you need not tiptoe, you can never disturb them more—if you shrink at the thought of these things you need only reply, 'Your invitation honors me and pleases me because you still keep me in your remembrance, but I am seventy; seventy, and would nestle in the chimney-corner, and smoke my pipe, and read my book, and take my rest, wishing you well in all affection, and that when you, in your turn, shall arrive at Pier 70 you may step aboard your waiting ship with a reconciled spirit, and lay your course toward the sinking sun with a contented heart.'"
The tears that had been lying in wait were no longer kept back. If there were any present who did not let them flow without shame, who did not shout their applause from throats choked with sobs, they failed to mention the fact later.
Many of his old friends, one after another, rose to tell their love for him—Cable, Carnegie, Gilder, and the rest. Mr. Rogers did not speak, nor the Reverend Twichell, but they sat at his special table. Aldrich could not be there, but wrote a letter. A group of English authors, including Alfred Austin, Barrie, Chesterton, Dobson, Doyle, Hardy, Kipling, Lang, and others, joined in a cable. Helen Keller wrote:
"And you are seventy years old? Or is the report exaggerated, like that of your death? I remember, when I saw you last, at the house of dear Mr. Hutton, in Princeton, you said:
"'If a man is a pessimist before he is forty-eight, he knows too much. If he is an optimist after he is forty-eight, he knows too little.'
"Now we know you are an optimist, and nobody would dare to accuse one on the 'seven-terraced summit' of knowing little. So probably you are not seventy, after all, but only forty-seven!"
Helen Keller was right. Mark Twain was never a pessimist in his heart.
MARK TWAIN ARRANGES FOR HIS BIOGRAPHY
It was at the beginning of 1906—a little more than a month after the seventieth-birthday dinner—that the writer of these chapters became personally associated with Mark Twain. I had met him before, and from time to time he had returned a kindly word about some book I had written and inconsiderately sent him, for he had been my literary hero from childhood. Once, indeed, he had allowed me to use some of his letters in a biography I was writing of Thomas Nast; he had been always an admirer of the great cartoonist, and the permission was kindness itself. Before the seating at the birthday dinner I happened to find myself for a moment alone with Mark Twain and remembered to thank him in person for the use of the letters; a day or two later I sent him a copy of the book. I did not expect to hear from it again.
It was a little while after this that I was asked to join in a small private dinner to be given to Mark Twain at the Players, in celebration of his being made an honorary member of that club—there being at the time only one other member of this class, Sir Henry Irving. I was in the Players a day or two before the event, and David Munro, of "The North American Review," a man whose gentle and kindly nature made him "David" to all who knew him, greeted me joyfully, his face full of something he knew I would wish to hear.
He had been chosen, he said, to propose the Players' dinner to Mark Twain, and had found him propped up in bed, and beside him a copy of the Nast book. I suspect now that David's generous heart prompted Mark Twain to speak of the book, and that his comment had lost nothing in David's eager retelling. But I was too proud and happy to question any feature of the precious compliment, and Munro—always most happy in making others happy—found opportunity to repeat it, and even to improve upon it —usually in the presence of others—several times during the evening.
The Players' dinner to Mark Twain was given on the evening of January 3, 19066, and the picture of it still remains clear to me. The guests, assembled around a single table in the private dining-room, did not exceed twenty-five in number. Brander Matthews presided, and the knightly Frank Millet, who would one day go down on the "Titanic," was there, and Gilder and Munro and David Bispham and Robert Reid, and others of their kind. It so happened that my seat was nearly facing the guest of the evening, who by a custom of the Players is placed at the side and not at the distant end of the long table. Regarding him at leisure, I saw that he seemed to be in full health. He had an alert, rested look; his complexion had the tints of a miniature painting. Lit by the soft glow of the shaded candles, outlined against the richness of the shadowed walls, he made a figure of striking beauty. I could not take my eyes from it, for it stirred in me the farthest memories. I saw the interior of a farm-house sitting-room in the Middle West where I had first heard the name of Mark Twain, and where night after night a group had gathered around the evening lamp to hear read aloud the story of the Innocents on their Holy Land pilgrimage, which to a boy of eight had seemed only a wonderful poem and fairy-tale. To Charles Harvey Genung, who sat next to me, I whispered something of this, and how during the thirty-six years since then no one had meant to me quite what Mark Twain had meant—in literature and, indeed, in life. Now here he was just across the table. It was a fairy-tale come true.
Genung said: "You should write his life."
It seemed to me no more than a pleasant remark, but he came back to it again and again, trying to encourage me with the word that Munro had brought back concerning the biography of Nast. However, nothing of what he said had kindled any spark of hope. I put him off by saying that certainly some one of longer and closer friendship and larger experience had been selected for the work. Then the speaking began, and the matter went out of my mind. Later in the evening, when we had left our seats and were drifting about the table, I found a chance to say a word to our guest concerning his "Joan of Arc," which I had recently re-read. To my happiness, he told me that long-ago incident—the stray leaf from Joan's life, blown to him by the wind—which had led to his interest in all literature. Then presently I was with Genung again and he was still insisting that I write the life of Mark Twain. It may have been his faithful urging, it may have been the quick sympathy kindled by the name of "Joan of Arc"; whatever it was, in the instant of bidding good-by to our guest I was prompted to add:
"May I call to see you, Mr. Clemens, some day?" And something—to this day I do not know what—prompted him to answer:
"Yes, come soon."
Two days later, by appointment with his secretary, I arrived at 21 Fifth Avenue, and waited in the library to be summoned to his room. A few moments later I was ascending the long stairs, wondering why I had come on so useless an errand, trying to think up an excuse for having come at all.
He was propped up in bed—a regal bed, from a dismantled Italian palace —delving through a copy of "Huckleberry Finn," in search of a paragraph concerning which some unknown correspondent had inquired. He pushed the cigars toward me, commenting amusingly on this correspondent and on letter-writing in general. By and by, when there came a lull, I told him what so many thousands had told him before—what his work had meant to me, so long ago, and recalled my childish impressions of that large black-and-gilt book with its wonderful pictures and adventures "The Innocents Abroad." Very likely he was willing enough to let me change the subject presently and thank him for the kindly word which David Munro had brought. I do not remember what was his comment, but I suddenly found myself saying that out of his encouragement had grown a hope (though certainly it was less), that I might some day undertake a book about himself. I expected my errand to end at this point, and his silence seemed long and ominous.
He said at last that from time to time he had himself written chapters of his life, but that he had always tired of the work and put it aside. He added that he hoped his daughters would one day collect his letters, but that a biography—a detailed story of a man's life and effort—was another matter. I think he added one or two other remarks, then all at once, turning upon me those piercing agate-blue eyes, he said:
"When would you like to begin?"
There was a dresser, with a large mirror, at the end of the room. I happened to catch my reflection in it, and I vividly recollect saying to it, mentally "This is not true; it is only one of many similar dreams." But even in a dream one must answer, and I said:
"Whenever you like. I can begin now."
He was always eager in any new undertaking.
"Very good," he said, "the sooner, then, the better. Let's begin while we are in the humor. The longer you postpone a thing of this kind, the less likely you are ever to get at it."
This was on Saturday; I asked if Tuesday, January 9, would be too soon to start. He agreed that Tuesday would do, and inquired as to my plan of work. I suggested bringing a stenographer to make notes of his life-story as he could recall it, this record to be supplemented by other material—letters, journals, and what not. He said:
"I think I should enjoy dictating to a stenographer with some one to prompt me and act as audience. The room adjoining this was fitted up for my study. My manuscript and notes and private books and many of my letters are there, and there are a trunkful or two of such things in the attic. I seldom use the room myself. I do my writing and reading in bed. I will turn that room over to you for this work. Whatever you need will be brought to you. We can have the dictations here in the morning, and you can put in the rest of the day to suit yourself. You can have a key and come and go as you please."
That was always his way. He did nothing by halves. He got up and showed me the warm luxury of the study, with its mass of material—disordered, but priceless.
I have no distinct recollections of how I came away, but presently, back at the Players, I was confiding the matter to Charles Harvey Genung, who said he was not surprised; but I think he was.
WORKING WITH MARK TWAIN
It was true, after all; and on Tuesday morning, January 9, 1906, I was on hand with a capable stenographer, ready to begin. Clemens, meantime, had developed a new idea: he would like to add, he said, the new dictations to his former beginnings, completing an autobiography which was to be laid away and remain unpublished for a hundred years. He would pay the stenographer himself, and own the notes, allowing me, of course, free use of them as material for my book. He did not believe that he could follow the story of his life in its order of dates, but would find it necessary to wander around, picking up the thread as memory or fancy prompted. I could suggest subjects and ask questions. I assented to everything, and we set to work immediately.
As on my former visit, he was in bed when we arrived, though clad now in a rich Persian dressing gown, and propped against great, snowy pillows. A small table beside him held his pipes, cigars, papers, also a reading-lamp, the soft light of which brought out his brilliant coloring and the gleam of his snowy hair. There was daylight, too, but it was dull winter daylight, from the north, while the walls of the room were a deep, unreflecting red.
He began that morning with some memories of the Comstock mine; then he dropped back to his childhood, closing at last with some comment on matters quite recent. How delightful it was—his quaint, unhurried fashion of speech, the unconscious habits of his delicate hands, the play of his features as his fancies and phrases passed through his mind and were accepted or put aside. We were watching one of the great literary creators of his time in the very process of his architecture. Time did not count. When he finished, at last, we were all amazed to find that more than two hours had slipped away.
"And how much I have enjoyed it," he said. "It is the ideal plan for this kind of work. Narrative writing is always disappointing. The moment you pick up a pen you begin to lose the spontaneity of the personal relation, which contains the very essence of interest. With short-hand dictation one can talk as if he were at his own dinner-table always an inspiring place. I expect to dictate all the rest of my life, if you good people are willing to come and listen to it."
The dictations thus begun continued steadily from week to week, with increasing charm. We never knew what he was going to talk about, and it was seldom that he knew until the moment of beginning. But it was always fascinating, and I felt myself the most fortunate biographer in the world, as indeed I was.
It was not all smooth sailing, however. In the course of time I began to realize that these marvelous dictated chapters were not altogether history, but were often partly, or even entirely, imaginary. The creator of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn had been embroidering old incidents or inventing new ones too long to stick to history now, to be able to separate the romance in his mind from the reality of the past. Also, his memory of personal events had become inaccurate. He realized this, and once said, in his whimsical, gentle way:
"When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it happened or not; but I am getting old, and soon I shall remember only the latter."
Yet it was his constant purpose to stick to fact, and especially did he make no effort to put himself in a good light. Indeed, if you wanted to know the worst of Mark Twain you had only to ask him for it. He would give it to the last syllable, and he would improve upon it and pile up his sins, and sometimes the sins of others, without stint. Certainly the dictations were precious, for they revealed character as nothing else could; but as material for history they often failed to stand the test of the documents in the next room—the letters, notebooks, agreements, and the like—from which I was gradually rebuilding the structure of the years.
In the talks that we usually had when the dictations were ended and the stenographer had gone I got much that was of great value. It was then that I usually made those inquiries which we had planned in the beginning, and his answers, coming quickly and without reflection, gave imagination less play. Sometimes he would touch some point of special interest and walk up and down, philosophizing, or commenting upon things in general, in a manner not always complimentary to humanity and its progress.
I seldom asked him a question during the dictation—or interrupted in any way, though he had asked me to stop him when I found him repeating or contradicting himself, or misstating some fact known to me. At first I lacked the courage to point out a mistake at the moment, and cautiously mentioned the matter when he had finished. Then he would be likely to say:
"Why didn't you stop me? Why did you let me go on making a donkey of myself when you could have saved me?"
So then I used to take the risk of getting struck by lightning, and nearly always stopped him in time. But if it happened that I upset his thought, the thunderbolt was apt to fly. He would say:
"Now you've knocked everything out of my head."
Then, of course, I was sorry and apologized, and in a moment the sky was clear again. There was generally a humorous complexion to the dictations, whatever the subject. Humor was his natural breath of life, and rarely absent.
Perhaps I should have said sooner that he smoked continuously during the dictations. His cigars were of that delicious fragrance which belongs to domestic tobacco. They were strong and inexpensive, and it was only his early training that made him prefer them. Admiring friends used to send him costly, imported cigars, but he rarely touched them, and they were smoked by visitors. He often smoked a pipe, and preferred it to be old and violent. Once when he had bought a new, expensive briar-root, he handed it to me, saying:
"I'd like to have you smoke that a year or two, and when it gets so you can't stand it, maybe it will suit me."
DICTATIONS AT DUBLIN, N. H.
Following his birthday dinner, Mark Twain had become once more the "Belle of New York," and in a larger way than ever before. An editorial in the "Evening Mail" referred to him as a kind of joint Aristides, Solon, and Themistocles of the American metropolis, and added:
"Things have reached a point where, if Mark Twain is not at a public meeting or banquet, he is expected to console it with one of his inimitable letters of advice and encouragement."
He loved the excitement of it, and it no longer seemed to wear upon him. Scarcely an evening passed that he did not go out to some dinner or gathering where he had promised to speak. In April, for the benefit of the Robert Fulton Society, he delivered his farewell lecture—the last lecture, he said, where any one would have to pay to hear him. It was at Carnegie Hall, and the great place was jammed. As he stood before that vast, shouting audience, I wondered if he was remembering that night, forty years before in San Francisco, when his lecture career had begun. We hoped he might speak of it, but he did not do so.
In May the dictations were transferred to Dublin, New Hampshire, to the long veranda of the Upton House, on the Monadnock slope. He wished to continue our work, he said; so the stenographer and myself were presently located in the village, and drove out each morning, to sit facing one of the rarest views in all New England, while he talked of everything and anything that memory or fancy suggested. We had begun in his bedroom, but the glorious outside was too compelling.
The long veranda was ideal. He was generally ready when we arrived, a luminous figure in white flannels, pacing up and down before a background of sky and forest, blue lake, and distant hills. When it stormed we would go inside to a bright fire. The dictation ended, he would ask his secretary to play the orchestrelle, which at great expense had been freighted up from New York. In that high situation, the fire and the music and the stormbeat seemed to lift us very far indeed from reality. Certain symphonies by Beethoven, an impromptu by Schubert, and a nocturne by Chopin were the selections he cared for most, though in certain moods he asked, for the Scotch melodies.
There was a good deal of social life in Dublin, but, the dictations were seldom interrupted. He became lonely, now and then, and paid a brief visit to New York, or to Mr. Rogers in Fairhaven, but he always returned gladly, for he liked the rest and quiet, and the dictations gave him employment. A part of his entertainment was a trio of kittens which he had rented for the summer—rented because then they would not lose ownership and would find home and protection in the fall. He named the kittens Sackcloth and Ashes—Sackcloth being a black-and-white kit, and Ashes a joint name owned by the two others, who were gray and exactly alike. All summer long these merry little creatures played up and down the wide veranda, or chased butterflies and grasshoppers down the clover slope, offering Mark Twain never-ending amusement. He loved to see them spring into the air after some insect, miss it, tumble back, and quickly jump up again with a surprised and disappointed expression.
In spite of his resolve not to print any of his autobiography until he had been dead a hundred years, he was persuaded during the summer to allow certain chapters of it to be published in "The North American Review." With the price received, thirty thousand dollars, he announced he was going to build himself a country home at Redding, Connecticut, on land already purchased there, near a small country place of my own. He wished to have a fixed place to go each summer, he said, and his thought was to call it "Autobiography House."
 His special favorites were Schubert's Op. 142, part 2, and Chopin's Op. 37, part 2.
A NEW ERA OF BILLIARDS
With the return to New York I began a period of closer association with Mark Twain. Up to that time our relations had been chiefly of a literary nature. They now became personal as well.
It happened in this way: Mark Twain had never outgrown his love for the game of billiards, though he had not owned a table since the closing of the Hartford house, fifteen years before. Mrs. Henry Rogers had proposed to present him with a table for Christmas, but when he heard of the plan, boylike, he could not wait, and hinted that if he had the table "right now" he could begin to use it sooner. So the table came—a handsome combination affair, suitable to all games—and was set in place. That morning when the dictation ended he said:
"Have you any special place to lunch, to-day?"
I replied that I had not.
"Lunch here," he said, "and we'll try the new billiard-table."
I acknowledged that I had never played more than a few games of pool, and those very long ago.
"No matter," he said "the poorer you play the better I shall like it."
So I remained for luncheon, and when it was over we began the first game ever played on the "Christmas" table. He taught me a game in which caroms and pockets both counted, and he gave me heavy odds. He beat me, but it was a riotous, rollicking game, the beginning of a closer relation between us. We played most of the afternoon, and he suggested that I "come back in the evening and play some more." I did so, and the game lasted till after midnight. I had beginner's luck—"nigger luck," as he called it—and it kept him working feverishly to win. Once when I had made a great fluke—a carom followed by most of the balls falling into the pockets, he said:
"When you pick up that cue this table drips at every pore."
The morning dictations became a secondary interest. Like a boy, he was looking forward to the afternoon of play, and it seemed never to come quickly enough to suit him. I remained regularly for luncheon, and he was inclined to cut the courses short that we might the sooner get up-stairs for billiards. He did not eat the midday meal himself, but he would come down and walk about the dining-room, talking steadily that marvelous, marvelous talk which little by little I trained myself to remember, though never with complete success. He was only killing time, and I remember once, when he had been earnestly discussing some deep question, he suddenly noticed that the luncheon was ending.
"Now," he said, "we will proceed to more serious matters—it's your —shot."
My game improved with practice, and he reduced my odds. He was willing to be beaten, but not too often. We kept a record of the games, and he went to bed happier if the tally-sheet showed a balance in his favor.
He was not an even-tempered player. When the game went steadily against him he was likely to become critical, even fault-finding, in his remarks. Then presently he would be seized with remorse and become over-gentle and attentive, placing the balls as I knocked them into the pockets, hurrying to render this service. I wished he would not do it. It distressed me that he should humble himself. I was willing that he should lose his temper, that he should be even harsh if he felt so inclined—his age, his position, his genius gave him special privileges. Yet I am glad, as I remember it now, that the other side revealed itself, for it completes the sum of his humanity. Once in a burst of exasperation he made such an onslaught on the balls that he landed a couple of them on the floor. I gathered them up and we went on playing as if nothing had happened, only he was very gentle and sweet, like a summer meadow when the storm has passed by. Presently he said:
"This is a most amusing game. When you play badly it amuses me, and when I play badly and lose my temper it certainly must amuse you."
It was but natural that friendship should grow under such conditions. The disparity of our ages and gifts no longer mattered. The pleasant land of play is a democracy where such things do not count.
We celebrated his seventy-first birthday by playing billiards all day. He invented a new game for the occasion, and added a new rule for it with almost every shot. It happened that no other member of the family was at home—ill-health had banished every one, even the secretary. Flowers, telegrams, and congratulations came, and a string of callers. He saw no one but a few intimate friends.
We were entirely alone for dinner, and I felt the great honor of being his only guest on such an occasion. On that night, a year before, the flower of his profession had assembled to do him honor. Once between the courses, when he rose, as was his habit, to walk about, he wandered into the drawing-room, and, seating himself at the orchestrelle, began to play the beautiful "Flower Song" from Faust. It was a thing I had not seen him do before, and I never saw him do it again.
He was in his loveliest humor all that day and evening, and at night when we stopped playing he said:
"I have never had a pleasanter day at this game."
I answered: "I hope ten years from to-night we shall be playing it."
"Yes," he said, "still playing the best game on earth."
LIVING WITH MARK TWAIN
I accompanied him on a trip he made to Washington in the interest of copyright. Speaker "Uncle Joe" Cannon lent us his private room in the Capitol, and there all one afternoon Mark Twain received Congressmen, and in an atmosphere blue with cigar-smoke preached the gospel of copyright. It was a historic trip, and for me an eventful one, for it was on the way back to New York that Mark Twain suggested that I take up residence in his home. There was a room going to waste, he said, and I would be handier for the early and late billiard sessions. I accepted, of course.
Looking back, now, I see pretty vividly three quite distinct pictures. One of them, the rich, red interior of the billiard-room, with the brilliant green square in the center on which the gay balls are rolling, and bent over it his luminous white figure in the instant of play. Then there is the long lighted drawing-room, with the same figure stretched on a couch in the corner, drowsily smoking while the rich organ tones summon for him scenes and faces which the others do not see. Sometimes he rose, pacing the length of the parlors, but oftener he lay among the cushions, the light flooding his white hair and dress, heightening his brilliant coloring. He had taken up the fashion of wearing white altogether at this time. Black, he said, reminded him of his funerals.
The third picture is that of the dinner-table—always beautifully laid, and always a shrine of wisdom when he was there. He did not always talk, but he often did, and I see him clearest, his face alive with interest, presenting some new angle of thought in his vivid, inimitable speech. These are pictures that will not fade from my memory. How I wish the marvelous things he said were like them! I preserved as much of them as I could, and in time trained myself to recall portions of his exact phrasing. But even so they seemed never quite as he had said them. They lacked the breath of his personality. His dinner-table talk was likely to be political, scientific, philosophic. He often discussed aspects of astronomy, which was a passion with him. I could succeed better with the billiard-room talk—that was likely to be reminiscent, full of anecdotes. I kept a pad on the window-sill, and made notes while he was playing. At one time he told me of his dreams.
"There is never a month passes," he said, "that I do not dream of being in reduced circumstances and obliged to go back to the river to earn a living. Usually in my dream I am just about to start into a black shadow without being able to tell whether it is Selma Bluff, or Hat Island, or only a black wall of night. Another dream I have is being compelled to go back to the lecture platform. In it I am always getting up before an audience, with nothing to say, trying to be funny, trying to make the audience laugh, realizing I am only making silly jokes. Then the audience realizes it, and pretty soon they commence to get up and leave. That dream always ends by my standing there in the semi-darkness talking to an empty house."
He did not return to Dublin the next summer, but took a house at Tuxedo, nearer New York. I did not go there with him, for in the spring it was agreed that I should make a pilgrimage to the Mississippi and the Pacific coast to see those few still remaining who had known Mark Twain in his youth. John Briggs was alive, also Horace Bixby, "Joe" Goodman, Steve and Jim Gillis, and there were a few others.
It was a trip taken none too soon. John Briggs, a gentle-hearted old man who sat by his fire and through one afternoon told me of the happy days along the river-front from the cave to Holliday's Hill, did not reach the end of the year. Horace Bixby, at eighty-one, was still young, and piloting a government snag-boat. Neither was Joseph Goodman old, by any means, but Jim Gillis was near his end, and Steve Gillis was an invalid, who said:
"Tell Sam I'm going to die pretty soon, but that I love him; that I've loved him all my life, and I'll love him till I die."
A DEGREE FROM OXFORD
On my return I found Mark Twain elated: he had been invited to England to receive the degree of Literary Doctor from the Oxford University. It is the highest scholastic honorary degree; and to come back, as I had, from following the early wanderings of the barefoot truant of Hannibal, only to find him about to be officially knighted by the world's most venerable institution of learning, seemed rather the most surprising chapter even of his marvelous fairy-tale. If Tom Sawyer had owned the magic wand, he hardly could have produced anything as startling as that.
He sailed on the 8th of June, 1907, exactly forty years from the day he had sailed on the "Quaker City" to win his greater fame. I did not accompany him. He took with him a secretary to make notes, and my affairs held me in America. He was absent six weeks, and no attentions that England had ever paid him before could compare with her lavish welcome during this visit. His reception was really national. He was banqueted by the greatest clubs of London, he was received with special favor at the King's garden party, he traveled by a royal train, crowds gathering everywhere to see him pass. At Oxford when he appeared on the street the name Mark Twain ran up and down like a cry of fire, and the people came running. When he appeared on the stage at the Sheldonian Theater to receive his degree, clad in his doctor's robe of scarlet and gray, there arose a great tumult—the shouting of the undergraduates for the boy who had been Tom Sawyer and had played with Huckleberry Finn. The papers next day spoke of his reception as a "cyclone," surpassing any other welcome, though Rudyard Kipling was one of those who received degrees on that occasion, and General Booth and Whitelaw Reid, and other famous men.
Perhaps the most distinguished social honor paid to Mark Twain at this time was the dinner given him by the staff of London "Punch," in the historic "Punch" editorial rooms on Bouverie Street. No other foreigner had ever been invited to that sacred board, where Thackeray had sat, and Douglas Jerrold and others of the great departed. "Punch" had already saluted him with a front-page cartoon, and at this dinner the original drawing was presented to him by the editor's little daughter, Joy Agnew.
The Oxford degree, and the splendid homage paid him by England at large, became, as it were, the crowning episode of Mark Twain's career. I think he realized this, although he did not speak of it—indeed, he had very little to say of the whole matter. I telephoned a greeting when I knew that he had arrived in New York, and was summoned to "come down and play billiards." I confess I went with a good deal of awe, prepared to sit in silence and listen to the tale of the returning hero. But when I arrived he was already in the billiard-room, knocking the balls about—his coat off, for it was a hot night. As I entered, he said:
"Get your cue—I've been inventing a new game."
That was all. The pageant was over, the curtain was rung down. Business was resumed at the old stand.
THE REMOVAL TO REDDING
There followed another winter during which I was much with Mark Twain, though a part of it he spent with Mr. Rogers in Bermuda, that pretty island resort which both men loved. Then came spring again, and June, and with it Mark Twain's removal to his newly built home, "Stormfield," at Redding, Connecticut.
The house had been under construction for a year. He had never seen it —never even seen the land I had bought for him. He even preferred not to look at any plans or ideas for decoration.
"When the house is finished and furnished, and the cat is purring on the hearth, it will be time enough for me to see it," he had said more than once.
He had only specified that the rooms should be large and that the billiard-room should be red. His billiard-rooms thus far had been of that color, and their memory was associated in his mind with enjoyment and comfort. He detested details of preparation, and then, too, he looked forward to the dramatic surprise of walking into a home that had been conjured into existence as with a word.
It was the 18th of June, 1908, that he finally took possession. The Fifth Avenue house was not dismantled, for it was the plan then to use Stormfield only as a summer place. The servants, however, with one exception, had been transferred to Redding, and Mark Twain and I remained alone, though not lonely, in the city house; playing billiards most of the time, and being as hilarious as we pleased, for there was nobody to disturb. I think he hardly mentioned the new home during that time. He had never seen even a photograph of the place, and I confess I had moments of anxiety, for I had selected the site and had been more or less concerned otherwise, though John Howells was wholly responsible for the building. I did not really worry, for I knew how beautiful and peaceful it all was.
The morning of the 18th was bright and sunny and cool. Mark Twain was up and shaved by six o'clock in order to be in time. The train did not leave until four in the afternoon, but our last billiards in town must begin early and suffer no interruption. We were still playing when, about three, word was brought up that the cab was waiting. Arrived at the station, a group collected, reporters and others, to speed him to his new home. Some of the reporters came along.
The scenery was at its best that day, and he spoke of it approvingly. The hour and a half required to cover the sixty miles' distance seemed short. The train porters came to carry out the bags. He drew from his pocket a great handful of silver.
"Give them something," he said; "give everybody liberally that does any service."
There was a sort of open-air reception in waiting—a varied assemblage of vehicles festooned with flowers had gathered to offer gallant country welcome. It was a perfect June evening, still and dream-like; there seemed a spell of silence on everything. The people did not cheer—they smiled and waved to the white figure, and he smiled and waved reply, but there was no noise. It was like a scene in a cinema.
His carriage led the way on the three-mile drive to the house on the hilltop, and the floral procession fell in behind. Hillsides were green, fields were white with daisies, dogwood and laurel shone among the trees. He was very quiet as we drove along. Once, with gentle humor, looking out over a white daisy-field, he said:
"That is buckwheat. I always recognize buckwheat when I see it. I wish I knew as much about other things as I know about buckwheat."
The clear-running brooks, a swift-flowing river, a tumbling cascade where we climbed a hill, all came in for his approval—then we were at the lane that led to his new home, and the procession behind dropped away. The carriage ascended still higher, and a view opened across the Saugatuck Valley, with its nestling village and church-spire and farmhouses, and beyond them the distant hills. Then came the house—simple in design, but beautiful—an Italian villa, such as he had known in Florence, adapted here to American climate and needs.
At the entrance his domestic staff waited to greet him, and presently he stepped across the threshold and stood in his own home for the first time in seventeen years. Nothing was lacking—it was as finished, as completely furnished, as if he had occupied it a lifetime. No one spoke immediately, but when his eyes had taken in the harmony of the place, with its restful, home-like comfort, and followed through the open French windows to the distant vista of treetops and farmsides and blue hills, he said, very gently:
"How beautiful it all is! I did not think it could be as beautiful as this." And later, when he had seen all of the apartments: "It is a perfect house—perfect, so far as I can see, in every detail. It might have been here always."
There were guests that first evening—a small home dinner-party—and a little later at the foot of the garden some fireworks were set off by neighbors inspired by Dan Beard, who had recently located in Redding. Mark Twain, watching the rockets that announced his arrival, said, gently:
"I wonder why they go to so much trouble for me. I never go to any trouble for anybody."
The evening closed with billiards, hilarious games, and when at midnight the cues were set in the rack no one could say that Mark Twain's first day in his new home had not been a happy one.
LIFE AT STORMFIELD
Mark Twain loved Stormfield. Almost immediately he gave up the idea of going back to New York for the winter, and I think he never entered the Fifth Avenue house again. The quiet and undisturbed comfort of Stormfield came to him at the right time of life. His day of being the "Belle of New York" was over. Now and then he attended some great dinner, but always under protest. Finally he refused to go at all. He had much company during that first summer—old friends, and now and again young people, of whom he was always fond. The billiard-room he called "the aquarium," and a frieze of Bermuda fishes, in gay prints, ran around the walls. Each young lady visitor was allowed to select one of these as her patron fish and attach her name to it. Thus, as a member of the "aquarium club," she was represented in absence. Of course there were several cats at Stormfield, and these really owned the premises. The kittens scampered about the billiard-table after the balls, even when the game was in progress, giving all sorts of new angles to the shots. This delighted him, and he would not for anything have discommoded or removed one of those furry hazards.
My own house was a little more than half a mile away, our lands joining, and daily I went up to visit him—to play billiards or to take a walk across the fields. There was a stenographer in the neighborhood, and he continued his dictations, but not regularly. He wrote, too, now and then, and finished the little book called "Is Shakespeare Dead?"
Winter came. The walks were fewer, and there was even more company; the house was gay and the billiard games protracted. In February I made a trip to Europe and the Mediterranean, to go over some of his ground there. Returning in April, I found him somewhat changed. It was not that he had grown older, or less full of life, but only less active, less eager for gay company, and he no longer dictated, or very rarely. His daughter Jean, who had been in a health resort, was coming home to act as his secretary, and this made him very happy. We resumed our games, our talks, and our long walks across the fields. There were few guests, and we were together most of the day and evening. How beautiful the memory of it all is now! To me, of course, nothing can ever be like it again in this world.
Mark Twain walked slowly these days. Early in the summer there appeared indications of the heart trouble that less than a year later would bring the end. His doctor advised diminished smoking, and forbade the old habit of lightly skipping up and down stairs. The trouble was with the heart muscles, and at times there came severe deadly pains in his breast, but for the most part he did not suffer. He was allowed the walk, however, and once I showed him a part of his estate he had not seen before—a remote cedar hillside. On the way I pointed out a little corner of land which earlier he had given me to straighten our division line. I told him I was going to build a study on it and call it "Markland." I think the name pleased him. Later he said:
"If you had a place for that extra billiard-table of mine" (the Rogers table, which had been left in storage in New York), "I would turn it over to you."
I replied that I could adapt the size of my proposed study to fit the table, and he said:
"Now that will be very good. Then when I want exercise I can walk down and play billiards with you, and when you want exercise you can walk up and play billiards with me. You must build that study."
So it was planned, and the work was presently under way.
How many things we talked of! Life, death, the future—all the things of which we know so little and love so much to talk about. Astronomy, as I have said, was one of his favorite subjects. Neither of us had any real knowledge of the matter, which made its great facts all the more awesome. The thought that the nearest fixed star was twenty-five trillions of miles away—two hundred and fifty thousand times the distance to our own remote sun—gave him a sort of splendid thrill. He would figure out those appalling measurements of space, covering sheets of paper with his sums, but he was not a good mathematician, and the answers were generally wrong. Comets in particular interested him, and one day he said:
"I came in with Halley's comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley's comet."
He looked so strong, and full of color and vitality. One could not believe that his words held a prophecy. Yet the pains recurred with increasing frequency and severity; his malady, angina pectoris, was making progress. And how bravely he bore it all! He never complained, never bewailed. I have seen the fierce attack crumple him when we were at billiards, but he would insist on playing in his turn, bowed, his face white, his hand digging at his breast.
THE DEATH OF JEAN
Clara Clemens was married that autumn to Ossip Gabrilowitsch, the Russian pianist, and presently sailed for Europe, where they would make their home. Jean Clemens was now head of the house, and what with her various duties and poor health, her burden was too heavy. She had a passion for animal life of every kind, and in some farm-buildings at one corner of the estate had set up quite an establishment of chickens and domestic animals. She was fond of giving these her personal attention, and this, with her house direction and secretarial work, gave her little time for rest. I tried to relieve her of a share of the secretarial work, but she was ambitious and faithful. Still, her condition did not seem critical.
I stayed at Stormfield, now, most of the time—nights as well as days —for the dull weather had come and Mark Twain found the house rather lonely. In November he had an impulse to go to Bermuda, and we spent a month in the warm light of that summer island, returning a week before the Christmas holidays. And just then came Mark Twain's last great tragedy—the death of his daughter Jean.
The holidays had added heavily to Jean's labors. Out of her generous heart she had planned gifts for everybody—had hurried to and from the city for her purchases, and in the loggia set up a beautiful Christmas tree. Meantime she had contracted a heavy cold. Her trouble was epilepsy, and all this was bad for her. On the morning of December 24, she died, suddenly, from the shock of a cold bath.
Below, in the loggia, drenched with tinsel, stood the tree, and heaped about it the packages of gifts which that day she had meant to open and put in place. Nobody had been overlooked.
Jean was taken to Elmira for burial. Her father, unable to make the winter journey, remained behind. Her cousin, Jervis Langdon, came for her.
It was six in the evening when she went away. A soft, heavy snow was falling, and the gloom of the short day was closing in. There was not the least noise, the whole world was muffled. The lanterns shone out the open door, and at an upper window, the light gleaming on his white hair, her father watched her going away from him for the last time. Later he wrote:
"From my window I saw the hearse and the carriages wind along the road and gradually grow vague and spectral in the falling snow, and presently disappear. Jean was gone out of my life, and would not come back any more. The cousin she had played with when they were babies together—he and her beloved old Katy—were conducting her to her distant childhood home, where she will lie by her mother's side once more, in the company of Susy and Langdon."
DAYS IN BERMUDA
Ten days later Mark Twain returned to Bermuda, accompanied only by a valet. He had asked me if we would be willing to close our home for the winter and come to Stormfield, so that the place might be ready any time for his return. We came, of course, for there was no thought other than for his comfort. He did not go to a hotel in Bermuda, but to the home of Vice-Consul Allen, where he had visited before. The Allens were devoted to him and gave him such care as no hotel could offer.
Bermuda agreed with Mark Twain, and for a time there he gained in strength and spirits and recovered much of his old manner. He wrote me almost daily, generally with good reports of his health and doings, and with playful counsel and suggestions. Then, by and by, he did not write with his own hand, but through his newly appointed "secretary," Mr. Allen's young daughter, Helen, of whom he was very fond. The letters, however, were still gay. Once he said:
"While the matter is in my mind I will remark that if you ever send me another letter which is not paged at the top I will write you with my own hand, so that I may use in utter freedom and without embarrassment the kind of words which alone can describe such a criminal."
He had made no mention so far of the pains in his breast, but near the end of March he wrote that he was coming home, if the breast pains did not "mend their ways pretty considerable. I do not want to die here," he said. "I am growing more and more particular about the place." A week later brought another alarming letter, also one from Mr. Allen, who frankly stated that matters had become very serious indeed. I went to New York and sailed the next morning, cabling the Gabrilowitsches to come without delay.
I sent no word to Bermuda that I was coming, and when I arrived he was not expecting me.
"Why," he said, holding out his hand, "you did not tell us you were coming?"
"No," I said, "it is rather sudden. I didn't quite like the sound of your last letters."
"But those were not serious. You shouldn't have come on my account."
I said then that I had come on my own account, that I had felt the need of recreation, and had decided to run down and come home with him.
"That's—very—good," he said, in his slow, gentle fashion. "Wow I'm glad to see you."
His breakfast came in and he ate with appetite. I had thought him thin and pale, at first sight, but his color had come back now, and his eyes were bright. He told me of the fierce attacks of the pain, and how he had been given hypodermic injections which he amusingly termed "hypnotic injunctions" and "the sub-cutaneous." From Mr. and Mrs. Allen I learned how slender had been his chances, and how uncertain were the days ahead. Mr. Allen had already engaged passage home for April 12th.
He seemed so little like a man whose days were numbered. On the afternoon of my arrival we drove out, as we had done on our former visit, and he discussed some of the old subjects in quite the old way. I had sold for him, for six thousand dollars, the farm where Jean had kept her animals, and he wished to use the money in erecting for her some sort of memorial. He agreed that a building to hold the library which he had already donated to the town of Redding would be appropriate and useful. He asked me to write at once to his lawyer and have the matter arranged.
We did not drive out again. The pains held off for several days, and he was gay and went out on the lawn, but most of the time he sat propped up in bed, reading and smoking. When I looked at him there, so full of vigor and the joy of life, I could not persuade myself that he would not outlive us all.
He had written very little in Bermuda—his last work being a chapter of amusing "Advice"—for me, as he confessed—what I was to do upon reaching the gate of which St. Peter is said to keep the key. As it is the last writing he ever did, and because it is characteristic, one or two paragraphs may be admitted here:
"Upon arrival do not speak to St. Peter until spoken to. It is not your place to begin.
"Do not begin any remark with 'Say.'"
"When applying for a ticket avoid trying to make conversation. If you must talk, let the weather alone. . .
"You can ask him for his autograph—there is no harm in that—but be careful and don't remark that it is one of the penalties of greatness. He has heard that before."
There were several pages of this counsel.
THE RETURN TO REDDING
I spent most of each day with him, merely sitting by the bed and reading. I noticed when he slept that his breathing was difficult, and I could see that he did not improve, but often he was gay and liked the entire family to gather about and be merry. It was only a few days before we sailed that the severe attacks returned. Then followed bad nights; but respite came, and we sailed on the 12th, as arranged. The Allen home stands on the water, and Mr. Allen had chartered a tug to take us to the ship. We were obliged to start early, and the fresh morning breeze was stimulating. Mark Twain seemed in good spirits when we reached the "Oceana," which was to take him home.
As long as I remember anything I shall remember the forty-eight hours of that homeward voyage. He was comfortable at first, and then we ran into the humid, oppressive air of the Gulf Stream, and he could not breathe. It seemed to me that the end might come at any moment, and this thought was in his own mind, but he had no dread, and his sense of humor did not fail. Once when the ship rolled and his hat fell from the hook and made the circuit of the cabin floor, he said:
"The ship is passing the hat."
I had been instructed in the use of the hypodermic needle, and from time to time gave him the "hypnotic injunction," as he still called it. But it did not afford him entire relief. He could remain in no position for any length of time. Yet he never complained and thought only of the trouble he might be making. Once he said:
"I am sorry for you, Paine, but I can't help it—I can't hurry this dying business."
And a little later:
"Oh, it is such a mystery, and it takes so long!"
Relatives, physicians, and news-gatherers were at the dock to welcome him. Revived by the cool, fresh air of the North, he had slept for several hours and was seemingly much better. A special compartment on the same train that had taken us first to Redding took us there now, his physicians in attendance. He did not seem to mind the trip or the drive home.
As we turned into the lane that led to Stormfield he said:
"Can we see where you have built your billiard-room?"
The gable of the new study showed among the trees, and I pointed it out to him.
"It looks quite imposing," he said.
Arriving at Stormfield, he stepped, unassisted, from the carriage to greet the members of the household, and with all his old courtliness offered each his hand. Then in a canvas chair we had brought we carried him up-stairs to his room—the big, beautiful room that looked out to the sunset hills. This was Thursday evening, April 14, 1910.
THE CLOSE OF A GREAT LIFE
Mark Twain lived just a week from that day and hour. For a time he seemed full of life, talking freely, and suffering little. Clara and Ossip Gabrilowitsch arrived on Saturday and found him cheerful, quite like himself. At intervals he read. "Suetonius" and "Carlyle" lay on the bed beside him, and he would pick them up and read a page or a paragraph. Sometimes when I saw him thus—the high color still in his face, the clear light in his eyes'—I said: "It is not reality. He is not going to die."
But by Wednesday of the following week it was evident that the end was near. We did not know it then, but the mysterious messenger of his birth year, Halley's comet, became visible that night in the sky.
On Thursday morning, the 21st, his mind was still fairly clear, and he read a little from one of the volumes on his bed. By Clara he sent word that he wished to see me, and when I came in he spoke of two unfinished manuscripts which he wished me to "throw away," as he briefly expressed it, for his words were few, now, and uncertain. I assured him that I would attend to the matter and he pressed my hand. It was his last word to me. During the afternoon, while Clara stood by him, he sank into a doze, and from it passed into a deeper slumber and did not heed us any more.
Through that peaceful spring afternoon the life-wave ebbed lower and lower. It was about half-past six, and the sun lay just on the horizon, when Dr. Quintard noticed that the breathing, which had gradually become more subdued, broke a little. There was no suggestion of any struggle. The noble head turned a little to one side, there was a fluttering sigh, and the breath that had been unceasing for seventy-four tumultuous years had stopped forever.
In the Brick Church, New York, Mark Twain—dressed in the white he loved so well—lay, with the nobility of death upon him, while a multitude of those who loved him passed by and looked at his face for the last time. Flowers in profusion were banked about him, but on the casket lay a single wreath which Dan Beard and his wife had woven from the laurel which grows on Stormfield hill. He was never more beautiful than as he lay there, and it was an impressive scene to see those thousands file by, regard him for a moment, gravely, thoughtfully, and pass on. All sorts were there, rich and poor; some crossed themselves, some saluted, some paused a little to take a closer look.
That night we went with him to Elmira, and next day he lay in those stately parlors that had seen his wedding-day, and where little Langdon and Susy had lain, and Mrs. Clemens, and then Jean, only a little while before.
The worn-out body had reached its journey's end; but his spirit had never grown old, and to-day, still young, it continues to cheer and comfort a tired world.