ODDS AND ENDS
MR. CLEMENS was delighted when one day he found an English edition of his book, Stolen White Elephant, and Other Stories. It was bound in brilliant scarlet, with the picture of a white elephant on the cover. Some of the sketches contained in this volume he had not seen for years. The chapter entitled Notes of an Idle Excursion was particularly to the point, for the excursion described was to this same Happy Island, and had been written thirty or more years before. He read it aloud to us one evening, and we marveled at the freshness of description. Either the island had remained the same or the magic power of the writer made it ageless. Mr. Clemens had a quaint way of pronouncing the island's name that seemed to hark back to the days of Shakespeare and "vexed Bermoothes isle." He always said "Bermooda," and the name seemed to fit.
In this same collection of stories is recounted the incident illustrating the base ingratitude of the young aspirant to literary fame, who is helped by an author and who later on attacks his benefactor. The story points the agreeable moral that it doesn't pay to render that sort of help. If this was a theory of Mr. Clemens, it certainly was not his practice. One day at the hotel Mr. Clemens discovered that a would-be author earnestly desired to have his opinion of a manuscript, but was too timid to ask him to read it. He forthwith asked the author to read him some of his work. We were on the veranda, and we watched Mr. Clemens as he listened. The reading interested him and he sat with his head bent, leaning forward in his chair, his eyes hidden by the bushy eyebrows. How deeply interested, we could not tell, and we waited rather breathlessly when the anxious author's voice ceased. The King looked up and there was moisture in his eyes. He said slowly: "I was just wondering what publisher would be worthy of publishing such a beautiful piece of work." The startled joy on the author's face was almost funny. We happened to know that Mr. Clemens's interest did not end there, and that he made certain practical suggestions which were most helpful.
Mr. Clemens's generous spirit was shown in another way when the Children's Hospital Benefit was given. The management asked him if he would occupy the principal place on the program and make a speech, or tell stories, or, in fact, do anything he pleased. Mr. Clemens readily consented. He was the drawing-card, of course, and when the evening came the hotel parlors were packed to suffocation.
There is no need to describe Mr. Clemens as a public speaker, but on this evening some thing happened which, Mr. Rogers said, had never, to his knowledge, occurred before. Mr. Clemens was telling his well-known story of the first time he met General Miles in Washington, and of his successful and successive efforts to sell the dog. Everyone who has heard Mr. Clemens tell his stories will remember that he never, never laughed while relating them, no matter how excruciatingly absurd the story was. His unbroken gravity always added immensely to the effect on his audience. This time, however, when he reached the climax of the story, he suddenly broke down and laughed, laughed so hard that for a minute he could not go on. And the audience shook with mirth because of the unexpectedness of it.
One day we decided to have an all-day picnic and drive out to the far end of the island and take lunch in a quaint inn whose glories we had heard sung. Our party filled three or four carriages, and we had a long and very merry ride. But alas for our expectations! When we arrived we found the once picturesque hostelry newly refurnished. The proprietor had evidently inherited some of the worst tendencies of the early Victorian period of interior decoration, and the rooms were a riot of color, varnish, and silk tidies. After we had been greeted, and our orders had been given, and we were trying to assimilate the local coloring of the parlor, Mr. Clemens gravely and sadly remarked: " It looks more like a wrecked kaleidoscope than anything I've seen for a long time!" This faculty of Mr. Clemens for finding unexpected but perfectly fitting similes and adjectives was a never-ending joy to the rest of us.
Maude's expression was hard to catch.
Mr. Clemens had no great talent for drawing, and though he could make word pictures, his pencil pictures were difficult to recognize. One afternoon he suggested that we embroider some tapestry, for which he would make the designs. For my pattern he chose as the central figure the head of Maude. Beneath was to be a fish, also emblematic of the island, and in the upper left-hand corner was to be worked the legend, " Ste. Maude." With a blue pencil he tried to make a donkey's head. The first attempt looked too much like a cat, the second like a cow, but finally the third satisfied him. The fish was easier to make, because less intelligent-looking, Mr. Clemens said. It was Maude's expression that was so hard to catch.
The design was transferred by him to the canvas and was outlined in properly colored silks. But it lies unfinished, a mute reminder of the happy afternoon when we laughed like children over the series of tapestried figures we were going to make to hand down to posterity.
One evening Mr. Clemens was led to talk of his life on the Mississippi. His cigars were good, and we were sitting in a quiet corner of the big reading-room, and he had an appreciative audience, so that he fell into a sort of inspired monologue. I remember, but cannot transcribe, alas! the marvelous descriptions he gave of the mighty river. He seemed to be carried back to his youthful days and to see again the rushing current, the changing shores, the glowing sunsets. The descriptions of this evening seemed to me more vivid, more evoking, than the written ones of On the Mississippi. And they are masterpieces. But the added charm lay, doubtless, in the picturesqueness of the narrator, who sat as in a vision, his white head and strong features enveloped in a cloud of smoke, out of which his voice came to us vibrating with reminiscent feeling.
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