AFTER the happy visit at Stormfield we never saw Mr. Clemens again, but from time to time precious letters came from him, so characteristic that they vividly evoked his presence. He always wrote them in his own hand.
The first one preserved is one that he wrote in answer to an incident of which I had written him an account. I had been lecturing to a class of students on Victor Hugo, and I had dwelt upon the enthusiastic appreciation of Frenchmen for their great men of letters. I had added, as I remember, that we had not yet attained that advanced stage of civilization where we could make heroes of our literary men, and, warming up to my subject, I said that were I to ask the class sitting then before me who was the most beloved American writer, I much doubted if they could, spontaneously, name anyone. Seeing nods of dissent, I challenged them, and a dozen or more responded, "Mark Twain!" while the rest nodded approval.
His answer is as follows --
STORMFIELD, REDDING, CONNECTICUT,
Dear Betsy: It is not conveyable in words. I mean my vanity-rotten joy in the dear and pleasant things you say of me, and in my enviable standing in your class, as revealed by the class's answer to your challenge. So I shall not try to do the conveying, but only say I am grateful -- a truth which you would easily divine, even if I said nothing at all.
You must come here again-please don't forget it. We'll have another good time.
S. L. CLEMENS.
In May he wrote in reference to Mr. Rogers's sudden death --
It is indeed, dear Betsy: a heavy stroke. It bruised many a heart; how many we shall never know, for his helpful kindnesses went far and wide and made no outward sign. Here we shall not look upon his like again; hereafter -
S. L. C.
Another letter was concerning a paper which I had written about him, and which I did not wish to read in public without his sanction. He says:
I am leaving home for five days and the article will arrive here after I am gone, but I can tell you now that I'm not afraid to have you print anything you have written with me for subject -- I don't need to see it first. I know all about it anyway, because Margaret's mother told me how charming it is. I saw her only a few days ago, when I went down to Irvington to see that dear little rascal play Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream. She did it well and I was proud of her. * * *
My present journey is to St. Timothy's School, where Francesca, another of my Fishes, will graduate next Thursday.
And thanks for the Kipling verses!
S. L. C.
The envelope containing this letter had been broken, and across the end was written,
"Broke it open myself. S. L. C."
There was a postscript added:
The mss. has arrived and I unseal my just-finished letter to say how grateful I am that you are able to say such beautiful things about me and to feel them. I thank you out of my heart.
I can suggest a correction or two, of no importance:
1. The Oxford degree is Litt.D.
2. My recollection is that the life of Henry IV was attempted 18 times -- once for each year of his reign -- a pretty striking coincidence, you see!
The next letter is without date. After speaking of some other matters, he says:
To change the subject: will you come? And bring or send Mr. S_____? For you and he are of the sort that can entertain themselves and be entertained by the household, counting me out mainly. I can't ask any other kind, for I went to Baltimore early in June, and the fatigue and the raw weather brought a return of what happened in August last. So I can stand but little fatigue and am not downstairs much. I was warned to stop smoking, which I did, for two or three days, but it 'was too lonesome, and I have resumed -- in a modified way -- 4 smokes a day instead of 40. This will have a good effect. On the bank balance.
I have delayed scandalously in the matter of returning the MSS., but I will have it mailed today or tomorrow sure.
S. L. C.
I almost hesitate to quote from his next letter, and yet what he says is so characteristic of one side of him, the opposite of the gentle self-control and sweetness which he was so beautifully capable of exercising, that it seems only fair to give at least an extract.
. . . There -- I have enjoyed treating the subject with a pen, for I am full of malice, saturated with malignity. I feel nearer to the Lord than I ever was before. I feel as He feels of a Saturday night when the weekly report is in and He has had a satisfactory clean-up of the human race.
I can't walk, I can't drive, I 'm not downstairs much and I don't see company; but I drink barrels of water to keep the pain quiet; I read, and read, and read, and smoke, and smoke, and smoke all the time (as formerly), and it's a contented and comfortable life.
I had sent him a copy of Thompson's beautiful appreciation of Shelley, to which he replied:
STORMFIELD, Sept. 22/09.
It is a lovely little book, and as rich in sumptuous imagery as is Shelley himself. The reading so moved and charmed me that I read some Shelley under the inspiration of it. Thank you ever so much for sending it.
But the Angel-fishes are not "company." They are part of the family. They come, and dear me, how welcome they are!
That little rascal [Margaret] will come, I think, when she gets located at Greenwich -- near-by -- where her next school is. . . .
We had a grand time here yesterday. Concert in aid of the little library.
David Bispham, vocalist.
Clara Clemens, ditto.
Mark Twain, Introducer of Team.
Detachments, and squads, and groups, and singles came from everywhere --Danbury, New Haven, Norwalk, Redding, Redding Ridge, Ridgefield, and even from New York; some in 60 motor cars, some in buggies and carriages, and a swarm of farmer-young-folk on foot from miles around: 525 altogether.
If we hadn't stopped the sale of tickets a day and a half before the performance we should have been swamped. We jammed 160 into the library (not quite all had seats); we filled the loggia, the dining-room, the hall, clear into the billiard-room, the stairs, and the brick-paved square outside the dining-room door.
The artists were received with a great welcome, and it woke them up, and I tell you they performed to the Queen's taste! The program was an hour and three-quarters long, and the encores added a half hour to it. The enthusiasm of the house was hair-lifting. They all stayed an hour after the close, to shake hands and congratulate.
We had no dollar seats except in the library, but we accumulated $372 for the Building Fund. We had a tea at half past six for a dozen -- the Hawthornes, Jeanette Gilder and her niece, etc.: and after 8 o'clock dinner we had a private concert and a ball in the bare-stripped library until 10: nobody present but the team, and Mr. and Mrs. Paine, and Jean and her dog. And me. Bispham did Danny Deever and the Erlkonig in his majestic great organ tones and artillery, and Gabrilowitsch played the accompaniments as they were never played before, I do suppose.
It having been decided that smoking was in no way responsible for my malady, I'm smoking as much as ever now.
S. L. C.
A later letter tells of the wedding of his daughter Clara, in most happy vein. He was perfectly satisfied. He adds, towards the last:
Jean abides with me, and runs a farm and keeps my accounts. . . . No, I haven't any 7-page letters from Margaret -- no letters at all, in fact. She and her mother were to visit me last week. My Bermuda Angel-fish has been here. She has grown considerably, but is as sweet and innocent and unspoiled as ever she was.
I sent you Booth Tarkington's little Xmas book the other day. I hate Xmas stories, but this one is bright and felicitous, and hasn't any religion in it, and I like it.
I've written a Xmas thing myself, for the Bazaar, but if it has any religion in it I didn't notice it.
I had spoken in one of my letters about Anatole France's book, I'lle des Pingouins, and had ordered a copy to be sent to him. In reply this letter came:
STORMFIELD, Nov. 18/09.
Dear Betsy: No, I haven't read it, but you make me want to read it -- hungry to read it, in fact. I am all ready for it. Meantime I've been writing "Letters from the Earth," and if you will come here and see us, I'll read passages to you. This book will never be published. Paine likes it, but then, Paine is going to be damned anyhow.
The autumn splendors passed you by? What a pity. I wish you had been here. It was beyond words! It was heaven and bell and sunset and rainbows and the aurora, all fused into one divine harmony, and you couldn't look at it and keep the tears back. All the hosannahing and strong gorgeousnesses have gone back to heaven and hell and the pole now, but no matter: if you could look out at my bedroom window at this moment, you would choke up; and when you got your voice you would say this is not real, this is a dream. Such a singing together, and such a whispering together, and such a snuggling together of cosy soft colors, and such kissing and caressing, and such pretty blushing when the sun breaks out and catches those dainty weeds at it -- you remember that weed-garden of mine? -- and then-then the far hills sleeping in a dim blue trance -- oh, hearing about it is nothing, you should be here to see it.
Good! I wish I could go on the platform and read. And I could, if it could be kept out of the papers. There's a charity -- school of 400 young girls in Boston that I would give my ears to talk to if I had some more; but -- oh, well, I can't go, and so it's no use to grieve about it.
This morning Jean went to town; also Paine; also the butler; also Katy; also the laundress. The cook and the maid, and the boy, and the roustabout and Jean's coachman, are left -- just enough to make it lonesome, because they are around yet never visible. However, the Harpers are sending Leigh up to play billiards; therefore, I shall survive.
S. L. C.
I want you to look at this view.
Soon after the date of this letter, Mr. Clemens went to Bermuda to make a short stay. A card came from him, postmarked December 17th, and bearing the following:
Merry Christmas and affectionate greeting to Betsy. Maude has been close-clipped and looks elegant -- even spiritual.
S. L. C.
His visit to Bermuda was brief, and he came back to Stormfield to spend the holidays with his daughter Jean. Then came the sad tragedy which robbed him of this daughter, and he was left alone, for his daughter Mrs. Gabrilowitsch had gone to live in Europe. On New Year's day he wrote:
I can't write, for I am ill with a cold -- the first one I have had in two years. The pain in my breast has come back -- so I am leaving for Bermuda next Wednesday, for an indefinite stay.
I enclose a sheet which I wrote to Clara to comfort her. I shall stay with the A_____s, if they've got room for me.
S. L. C.
The enclosed sheet to which he refers is touchingly sweet. There are two sentences which I may perhaps quote. In speaking of Jean's death he says:
"I am so glad she is out of it and safe-safe!"
And, further on:
"I am not melancholy; I shall never be melancholy again, I think."
He is again in Bermuda, and, seemingly, much better. He writes:
BERMUDA, Jan. 26/10.
No, revelation -- of a valuable sort -- does not come through sorrow when one is old. . . . I am happy -- few are so happy -- but I get none of this happiness from knowing more of the unknowable than I knew before. Jan. 29 -- noon. I intended to be lazy and dictate the rest of this, but my little secretary (Helen, Angel-fish) has escaped, and gone bicycling with a schoolmate. I am guest in her parents' house -- indefinitely. I never feel a desire to visit Stormfield. . . . I have Claude, best of butlers, valets and everything else, with me. He lives at the Hamilton House, but is in close touch with me by telephone and bicycle. . . .Helen has been gone an hour and a half, and will have to be severely scolded. Did you ever try to scold an angel-fish? I think a person could learn to do it. But he would have to have considerable practice.
S. L. C.
There was added, in a childish hand, the following apology:
Mr. Clemens wants me to say I am sorry. So I say I am sorry.
Helen S_____ A_____, Secy.
The last letter bears date of March 12th.
If I were to start over again I would be a Reformer. I certainly would. There would be an increasing interest in it that would pay handsomely for all the hostilities I should raise.
I wish you had given me the name of your pretty and sweet friend who sailed for Bermuda the other day. I would have hunted her up. You know that, well enough. Maybe she looked for us in the donkey-cart -- but I haven't been in it. Helen requires swifter transportation than that.
You ought to be here now! The weather is divine; and you know what it is to drive along the North Shore in such weather and watch the sun paint the waters. We had that happiness today. The joy of it never stales. . . .
There are no newspapers, no telegrams, no mobiles, no trolleys, no trains, no tramps, no railways, no theatres, no noise, no lectures, no riots, no murders, no fires, no burglaries, no politics, no offenses of any kind, no follies but church, and I don't go there. I think I could live here always and be contented.
You go to heaven if you want to-!'d druther stay here.
As ever affectionately,
S. L. C.
P. S. I have been reading Chapter XIII of "A Yankee in King Arthur's Court." Bless you. I find it good.
Six weeks later, his friend and official biographer, Albert Bigelow Paine, wrote me:
"Yes, he is resting. If you had seen his calm face as I saw it for the last time on Sunday, you would know how peacefully."
And so the King left us. But the Happy Island, where we learned to know him and love him, will always be for us enchanted ground, and his throne is secure in the kingdom of our hearts.
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