MARK TWAIN'S AQUARIUM
The angel-fish came into our circle.
ON one of the three hundred and sixty-five islets that group about the Happy Isle was an aquarium. As it used to be a store-house for powder and other food for guns and cannon, it was all the more picturesque as a house for fish.
Mr. Clemens beguiled into going there one day by the genial and obliging Consul, took Mr. Rogers and the rest of us with him. It was a beautiful Sunday morning, and the sun brought out all sorts of unexpected lights on the water. The fish in the aquarium were very wonderful in their coloring and form, but Mr. Clemens didn't seem to think that they were very sociable. And it wasn't pleasant to see the octopus dine off a retiring and harmless crab, nor to see the keeper stuffing live eels down the lazy moreau's throat. There were four-eyed fish and squirrel-fish and parrot-fish, and I don't know how many other kinds of streaked and barred and polka dotted curiosities. But the kind that Mr. Clemens picked out as his favorite was the Angel-fish. They were plump, and had fins like wings, and were gorgeous in their coloring and had pretty little pursed-up mouths that suggested maidenly modesty. Their wings suggested spirituality, and their coloring femininity. These traits appealed especially to Mr. Clemens, and, not long after, Mr. Clemens's aquarium was established. In this aquarium there were to be none but Angel-fish admitted. To be an Angel-fish one must be a girl, and one must be young, and one must have won Mr. Clemens's heart. This latter was not hard to do, for he always made the overtures when he first met, or saw, any promising candidate. Margaret was, I think, morally speaking, the first real Angel-fish, but Irene was the first one to be so-called. She was Margaret's direct successor in the donkey cart, and many a lovely morning she and Mr. Clemens and Maude ambled off to Spanish Point, while the faithful followed or preceded, according to Maude's gait.
His light weight could not discourage her.
One morning, when we were returning after a happy jaunt, Mr. Rogers began to berate Mr. Clemens for riding longer than was his turn. Mr. Clemens defended himself by saying that it was purely out of consideration for Maude, as his light weight could not discourage her, whereas Mr. Rogers's heavy form would be a burden too great for her. The result of the discussion was that Mr. Rogers and I got into the cart, while Mr. Clemens, the Angel-fish, and the others walked behind. Despite our efforts, Maude could not be made to see the advantage of going rapidly, and when we came to the hill in front of the hotel she stopped completely and went down on her knees -- her final argument. I tender-heartedly suggested getting out and helping Maude up the incline. But Mr. Rogers had a happier plan, which was to make Mr. Clemens push the cart up the hill. Mr. Clemens demurred at first, but submitted with good grace, and Maude, encouraged by the sympathetic friend in the rear, pricked up her long, sad ears, and we dashed up to the front entrance in fine style, with the Angel-fish following fast behind.
Others were later made members of the King's aquarium, and to each one was given a pretty enameled pin in the shape of an Angel-fish, which she was to wear as often as possible.
When Mr. Clemens could not have one of his Angel-fish with him, then the next best thing was to talk about them.
One evening he told us of far-away Dorothy. He had said to her one time: "Dear -- [to hear Mr. Clemens say "dear" to one of his little girl friends was a revelation of the wealth of affection in that one syllable] -- I love you so that I think I really will have to eat you up! " And Dorothy responded, quick as a flash: "Oh, don't! Mr. Clemens; you would miss me so! " How Mr. Clemens chuckled over this! And he told another story of this same Dorothy. They were at breakfast and Dorothy was eating her egg. Mr. Clemens began by saying: "Isn't this egg a wonderful thing, so curiously made, so marvelously constructed! I wonder how it all came about! " And Dorothy responded, practically: "Why, they 're just made to keep the hens busy."
It was hard to tell which he loved best.
There were two or three Dorothys among the Angel-fish, and it was hard for Mr. Clemens to tell which he loved best.
One of Mr. Clemens's household wrote me later an incident of one of the other Dorothys which had filled Mr. Clemens's soul with joy. This Dorothy was at his house in New York one day. She was twelve years old and shone as an authoress. Sitting by the King's side, she wrote a story, handing him each sheet as it was finished. It was something as follows: "A man was seated in a chair by the fireside, brooding over his troubles. He was sad because his wife was dead. Suddenly a spectre appeared before him, and it was his wife. She said: 'Dear, I could not bear to see you so sad and discontented, so I have come to comfort you. You must not be sad. You must be bright and happy. It was best that I should leave you when I did, because I was going to get a divorce.' Then she disappeared. The man sat for a while longer, and then said to himself: 'Yes, it is best to be contented.' " Dorothy asked for the last sheet again after she had handed it to the King, saying she did not quite like the ending. The King gravely returned it to her, and she added "with what is ordained," and reread the sentence with satisfaction: "Yes, it is best to be contented with what is ordained."
Society that Mr. Clemens loved.
This was the kind of society that Mr. Clemens loved best those last days of his life.
There was a boyishness about Mr. Clemens sometimes that found different modes of expression. Once, when the long corridor of the second floor of the hotel presented a temptingly empty avenue, he hopped, skipped, and ran, and then gave a delicious suggestion of a cake-walk. As soon as a door opened, however, he stopped and assumed a supernaturally grave aspect.
Another time -- it was of a Sunday evening -- I heard a mysteriously gentle knock at my door, and, opening it, saw Mr. Clemens. He put his finger to his lips and said " Hush!" For the Lady Mother's room adjoined. Then, beckoning me out into the hall, he whispered, "Can't you run away and have a game of cards? " To my reply of " I'm afraid mother won't let me; it's Sunday evening," he rejoined, "Play hookey; she'll never know." So, closing the door, we escaped down the hall, with a well-simulated thrill of adventure, while the dear Lady Mother remained sweetly unconscious of the perfidy.
For more information on Mark Twain and his angelfish, see "Mark Twain's Angel-fish Roster."
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Proceed to next chapter (Chapter 9)