"I think a photograph is a most important document."
ONE brilliant Sunday afternoon we went to Spanish Point. When Mr. Clemens, Maude, Reginald, and one or two others went, there was always a preliminary animated discussion as to who should ride. Maude, obviously, couldn't. Reginald, officially, could not. It was an open question, never quite settled, as to which was the more strenuous exercise, urging the reluctant Maude to go, or tramping alongside trying to keep her slow pace. Sometimes we would toss a penny and abide by its fall, or Mr. Clemens would gravely refer the decision to Margaret, as the most serious of the party. Then the two destined to the more vigorous work entered the cart and moved off down the road and up the hill past the quarry, on the way to Spanish Point, two miles away.
The shell road, smooth and hard, was bordered on either side by mossy stone walls. Over these walls hung the beautiful purple vines of the bougainvillea, heather with its small scarlet flower, or yellow clusters of the pigeon-berry. Sometimes the stone wall stopped and a hedge of the variegated match-us-if-you-can took its place, behind which rose the hectic blossoms of the hibiscus. Here and there drooped a grove of palms where bananas clustered thickly on the branches, and then tall cocoanut trees swept up to greater heights. Just beyond a grove of sweet-scented cedars a hospitable gateway broke the wall. It bore an attractive legend, like Norwood, or Soncy, or Olive Hill, and a driveway fringed by a marvelous tropic growth led windingly to some big, low, white coral-stone house, over run with veranda-roses and all sorts of sweet perfumed flowers.
The air was limpid and soft, the houses were startlingly white, and the brilliant foliage led a reckless and vivid existence on either side of the imperturbably hard and dry road. Sometimes we would stop suddenly at the clear, sweet notes of a cardinal bird and catch a glimpse of his scarlet coat against the deep green of the cedar. Sometimes we would look out between the trees to the blue glimmer of the harbor, where sails looked like white clouds as they flitted past.
Mr. Clemens was in a particularly happy and reminiscent mood; but when I try to put down what he said I feel that it lacks the pungency of the sea air and the charm of his drawl.
Mr. Clemens was more often serious than humorous in conversation, and I never knew him to be funny for the mere sake of being funny. He never seemed to say anything to win applause or to evoke laughter. If he said a humorous thing, it had to be humorous enough to satisfy his own sense of humor. It must not fall below his own ideal. I never knew him to say a clever thing at the sacrifice of a kind thing, nor a witty thing divorced from truth. I don't mean mere vulgar facts, but truth, truth about human nature -- he was always true to that.
We had scarcely lost the hotel from view when we met a group of gentlemen, evidently tourists. One of them came eagerly up to us and, accosting Mr. Clemens, said: "I beg your pardon, Mr. Clemens, but my daughter is particularly fond of your writings. Would you object if I took a picture of you for her? "Mr. Clemens, who chanced to be walking at that particular moment, answered immediately: "Certainly not, sir. Where do you wish me to stand?" The man became so nervous that he couldn't snap his kodak and handed it to his companion, exclaiming: " Say, you take it! I guess you can manage it better than I can." As we passed on we asked Mr. Clemens if he didn't ever get tired of being bothered in this way, but he replied that it was very little trouble to stop for a moment, and was most gratifying to his vanity! I had noticed that Mr. Clemens always assumed a dignified pose at such times, with a serious, almost severe expression of face. When he was spoken to of this he said: "I think a photo graph is a most important document, and there is nothing more damning to go down to posterity than a silly, foolish smile caught and fixed forever."
Mr. Clemens had presented me the day before with a precious volume which he had discovered in the island book store, entitled Beeton's Complete Letter-Writer for Gentlemen. It had appealed to Mr. Clemens's sense of humor. He had written this inscription on the blank page, " To Young Lady desirous of perfecting Herself in the Epistolary Art [date in full]. Dear Miss_____: Try Beeton, Trust Beeton, Beeton is your friend. Have no fear. Sincerely yours, S. L. Clemens." This choice book we carried with U8 and regaled ourselves, from time to time, with particularly rare specimens of the epistolary art.
Apropos of this book Mr. Clemens told a story he remembered from his boyhood, of a negro who was up north and who wanted to communicate with his mother down south. He went to his mistress with a Complete Letter Writer in his hand, having selected therefrom a model entitled: "From a Young Man proposing marriage to the Lady of His Choice." He insisted upon his mistress copying this verbatim. Protests were in vain, and she was obliged to reproduce the ardent but utterly inappropriate words. She learned months afterward that the letter had had an enormous success, and that all the darkies on the plantation had tried to emulate this effort. The mother was pleased beyond words, and the letter became an authority to be consulted by everyone, no matter to whom or about what he was writing.
This story led us to talk of life and its disappointments. Mr. Clemens advanced a favorite theory: "If I had been helping the Almighty in his job I would have commenced at the other end, and have the human race begin with old age. It would have been infinitely better and more logical to begin as old men, and have all our woes and aches and troubles over in a few years. They would be much easier to bear sustained by the hope of a joyful youth. And think of the exhilaration and inspiration of reaching eighteen and knowing that you were never to be old and wrinkled again. Yes, the Almighty made a pretty bad job of it, pretty bad!"
By this time Maude's pace, which had gradually been growing more languid, stopped altogether, and we decided to rest a while by the roadside. Across the road was a house two or three centuries old. It had evidently not been whitewashed for years, and had be come a beautiful soft gray. It reminded us of Old England, whence its first owners had doubtless come, and we asked Mr. Clemens to tell us of some of his summer experiences on the British Isles.
Although the experience of the previous summer, when the Oxford degree had been conferred upon him, had probably been the culminating one of his life, he very seldom spoke of its events or referred in any way to the wonderful homage he had everywhere received. So when we asked him he replied: " There was one incident that may amuse you as it did me. It was on the occasion of the Open Air Pageant at Oxford. I had been detained and came in a little late, with Lord Curzon and Rudyard Kipling. We were conducted to a box, and, when seated, a note was passed to us -- a little slip of paper on which was written, 'Not true.' Upon opening the paper, we found inside these lines of Kipling:
"East is East and West is West
And never the Twain shall meet."
As he finished the story, he added: "By the way, the best picture I ever had taken was at that time. We were coming out in procession, and I was walking beside Sidney Lee. Mr. Kipling was behind me, and someone with a camera tried to snap him; but the kodak slipped, or something happened, and it turned out that I had eclipsed him completely, and there was nothing left but the tip of his ear."
Maude was now sufficiently rested, and we got up to jog along to Spanish Point. The sea was very beautiful and dashed in spray upon the rocks. We gathered shells and polished pebbles, and wrote names in the sand, and then turned to come back.
Mr. Clemens talked of his father and of the latter's attitude toward the slave trade. He told us with much chuckling of the time he took his mother to a minstrel show, having deluded her into the belief that she was going to hear some African missionaries. And that reminded him of a later incident, which he related thus: "I haven't told you of the time I was asked to address John D. Rockefeller Jr.'s Sunday-school class, have I ? Well, once John D. Jr. sent me an invitation to talk to his class on any subject I might choose, taken from the Bible. Just before this time John D. Jr. had been whitewashing Joseph a good deal, and making him out to be a pretty fine fellow. So when the letter came with this invitation I said to my secretary: 'You just write to Mr. Rockefeller that the only subject that seems to interest me very much just now is the subject of Joseph, but that I'm afraid that what I have to say about him won't exactly meet with his views.' This was written to him, and by the next mail came a very polite answer from Mr. Rockefeller saying that he was sure that anything I would have to say would be most profitable, but that perhaps it would be advisable for me to jot down my thoughts and send them to him beforehand. I followed his happy suggestion, and I exposed Joseph in a way he had never been exposed before, and I said what I thought of his whole Egyptian policy in perfectly plain terms. It was really very good," and Mr. Clemens gave a reminiscent chuckle. "I sent the manuscript on to Mr. Rockefeller, and, do you know, he never pursued the subject!"
Maude realized the nearness of home and food and mended her pace. Margaret exclaimed gleefully: "Oh, Mr. Clemens! She's going, she's trotting!" And with a triumphant wave of the whip, they left us behind and we heard no more stories that afternoon.
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