The Boys' Life of Mark Twain
Albert Bigelow Paine
Part 5 out of 5
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
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
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
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
"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--
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,
"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
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
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
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,
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
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
"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
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
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
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