SOME LITERARY GOSSIP
ONCE in a while it rained on the Happy Island, and when it did, it did it thoroughly. The water came down in sheets and torrents, sweeping in from the sea, across the harbor, blotting out the islands and filling the air indoors with moisture. At such times it was impossible to brave the weather, for the most impermeable protection became soaked. One compensation, however, was, that the instant the rain ceased, the hard, white coral roads were as passable as ever. You could walk out, holding your head high, and with no fear of bringing up in a mud puddle. One Sunday morning the weather was thus comporting itself, and it was hard to mark the dividing line between sea and rain-drenched atmosphere. We went out on the veranda, where we found a protected spot and some capacious chairs. Margaret had been condemned to write letters, and Mr. Clemens missed her. He came out on the veranda and joined us. He was dressed, as he always was in daytime the last few years of his life, in white serge. The only color about him was the dark brown of a row of cigars in either breast-pocket. The row diminished as the morning progressed. He was always immaculate, although he wore his clothes easily, and there was never anything about him to suggest that he himself cared how he looked. His beautiful white hair curled softly in the dampness, and he was the image of picturesque comfort as he pulled at his cigar and talked.
It may have been the suggestion of the day, but, whatever it was, something moved him to discuss missionaries. This subject, together with old-fashioned orthodoxy, were topics that invariably stirred him to satiric loquacity. He gave the poor missionaries no quarter, he made no exceptions, they were all impaled upon the sharp brochette of his keen diction and grilled by the fire of his contempt. And all that he said, he said in his quiet slow drawl, with a twinkle of the eye, once in a while -- a twinkle that one did not often see, unless one looked carefully, for his bushy eyebrows almost concealed the deep gray green eyes. He often made us wait for a word, but when it came it was the only one in the Century Dictionary that could so exactly have conveyed to us what he wanted to say.
There sat not far from us a sweet soul whose heart was deeply interested in the missionary cause. All unconscious of this, Mr. Clemens went on. A long time afterward he learned that she had overheard the conversation and the quick expression of his regret showed that his kind heart saw no humor in that situation.
After an exhaustive arraignment of missionaries and their weaknesses, something was said about Mr. Clemens's recent story of " Captain Stormfield's Heavenly Experiences," which had shortly before appeared in magazine form. Mr. Clemens chuckled as he asked us if we remembered the picture of Heaven as presented in Elizabeth Stuart Phelps's book, Gates Ajar. He said that when he read that book he was deeply impressed by what seemed a sentimental and foolish idea. He resolved to satirize it, and wrote the first draught of Captain Stormfield. The result did not quite suit him, and, besides, he hesitated to publish it so soon after the appearance of Miss Phelps's book. So he put the manuscript aside, and it was almost for gotten. Then one day he came across it, thought it worth publishing, and sent it to the magazine where it appeared.
His cigars were not all smoked, and the rain continued to fall prodigiously and so we led him on to talk of other books he had written. One that he loved best of all, perhaps, and that is not nearly so widely read as his others, was Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc. He said that for years he had been impressed by the spirit of the French heroine, and year by year, for twelve years, he had laid by in his memory, and in his notes, every impression he could get of her. The most thrilling historical document he had ever read, he said, was the official account of her trial. And he regretted that he had not traveled in the parts of France where she had lived. Finally the time came when he could write of her, and he found that she stood forth in his mind, a clear, convincing figure.
There was a silence as he finished speaking of her, and we looked almost reverently on this man, who had seen into the heart of a simple peasant maid, and had understood the inspiration that had transformed her into the savior of France, and yet had kept her girlishly gay and womanly sweet.
The silence was broken by Mr. Clemens, who said, whimsically: "My books are really exceedingly serious and have been made the subject of profound study." He then told us, with much relish and some elaboration, the history of the Mark Twain Club.
One day he had received a communication from the north of England. The letter was written on heavily embossed and crested paper, and was to the effect that a club had been organized for the purpose of studying the works of the great American humorist. The writer delicately hinted that this had not yet been done in a scholarly and scientific manner, and that it was the intention of the Club to delve deeply into the stores of philosophic wisdom which were sometimes hidden from the casual reader by the super-fabric of wit and humor. The organization, with the permission of Mr. Clemens, should be known as The Mark Twain Club, and would feel itself much honored if it might send the record of its proceedings to Mr. Clemens.
Mr. Clemens was pleased, very much pleased. His works had not received the attention from scholars and from learned societies that he felt they deserved. Now justice would be done them.
With some pardonable degree of complacency he received and read the first papers of The Mark Twain Club. They were most satisfactory. The Club had printed not only the record of proceedings, but also the studies presented. From time to time Mr. Clemens received these reports. The society was evidently flourishing. A letter came from the President saying that the Club had decided to have an emblem; that, after much thought and consideration, a suitable design had been chosen, and that they begged Mr. Clemens to do them the honor of accepting one. A few days later a small box arrived containing a very beautiful and curiously wrought pin set with a number of precious stones. Mr. Clemens took great pleasure in wearing the pin and in carelessly saying to inquiring friends: " Oh, yes! that 's the pin of The Mark Twain Club, an English organization. -- Yes, it's very interesting."
After some time the publications of The Mark Twain Club ceased to come, and the incident began to lose some of its vividness.
When Mr. Clemens was making his lecture tour around the world, a fine-looking gentle man approached him at Sydney, Australia, after his lecture, and said: "Mr. Clemens, I am Sir _____, the President of The Mark Twain Club. It would give me great pleasure if you would take supper with me. I could then give you some interesting details regarding the Club." Mr. Clemens accepted, with pleasurable curiosity. When they were seated at table the Englishman leaned over and said, in a confidential tone, " I am The Mark Twain Club." He then went on to explain that some time before he had suffered from a nervous breakdown and, while in that condition, he was ordered by his physician to abstain entirely from all mental excitement. He had thereupon retired to his estate in the north of England and, while there, had conceived of the happy idea of the Club, as furnishing a mild distraction without any attendant mental strain. He was the charter member. There had never been any others. "But the pins?" queried Mr. Clemens.
"You are wearing the only one that was ever made," replied the courteous founder of The Mark Twain Club.
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