Mark Twain: A Biography, by Albert Bigelow Paine

Chapter CCLXXII

Stormfield Adventures

Clemens had fully decided, by this time, to live the year round in the retirement at Stormfield, and the house at 21 Fifth Avenue was being dismantled. He had also, as he said, given up his dictations for the time, at least, after continuing them, with more or less regularity, for a period of two and a half years, during which he had piled up about half a million words of comment and reminiscence. His general idea had been to add portions of this matter to his earlier books as the copyrights expired, to give them new life and interest, and he felt that he had plenty now for any such purpose.

He gave his time mainly to his guests, his billiards, and his reading, though of course he could not keep from writing on this subject and that as the fancy moved him, and a drawer in one of his dressers began to accumulate fresh though usually fragmentary manuscripts . . . He read the daily paper, but he no longer took the keen, restless interest in public affairs. New York politics did not concern him any more, and national politics not much. When the Evening Post wrote him concerning the advisability of renominating Governor Hughes he replied:

If you had asked me two months ago my answer would have been prompt & loud & strong: yes, I want Governor Hughes renominated. But it is too late, & my mouth is closed. I have become a citizen & taxpayer of Connecticut, & could not now, without impertinence, meddle in matters which are none of my business. I could not do it with impertinence without trespassing on the monopoly of another.

Howells speaks of Mark Twain’s “absolute content” with his new home, and these are the proper words’ to express it. He was like a storm-beaten ship that had drifted at last into a serene South Sea haven.

The days began and ended in tranquillity. There were no special morning regulations: One could have his breakfast at any time and at almost any place. He could have it in bed if he liked, or in the loggia or livingroom, or billiard-room. He might even have it in the diningroom, or on the terrace, just outside. Guests — there were usually guests — might suit their convenience in this matter — also as to the forenoons. The afternoon brought games — that is, billiards, provided the guest knew billiards, otherwise hearts. Those two games were his safety-valves, and while there were no printed requirements relating to them the unwritten code of Stormfield provided that guests, of whatever age or previous faith, should engage in one or both of these diversions.

Clemens, who usually spent his forenoon in bed with his reading and his letters, came to the green table of skill and chance eager for the onset; if the fates were kindly, he approved of them openly. If not — well, the fates were old enough to know better, and, as heretofore, had to take the consequences. Sometimes, when the weather was fine and there were no games (this was likely to be on Sunday afternoons), there were drives among the hills and along the Saugatuck through the Bedding Glen.

The cat was always “purring on the hearth” at Stormfield — several cats — for Mark Twain’s fondness for this clean, intelligent domestic animal remained, to the end, one of his happiest characteristics. There were never too many cats at Stormfield, and the “hearth” included the entire house, even the billiard-table. When, as was likely to happen at any time during the game, the kittens Sinbad, or Danbury, or Billiards would decide to hop up and play with the balls, or sit in the pockets and grab at them as they went by, the game simply added this element of chance, and the uninvited player was not disturbed. The cats really owned Stormfield; any one could tell that from their deportment. Mark Twain held the title deeds; but it was Danbury and Sinbad and the others that possessed the premises. They occupied any portion of the house or its furnishings at will, and they never failed to attract attention. Mark Twain might be preoccupied and indifferent to the comings and goings of other members of the household; but no matter what he was doing, let Danbury appear in the offing and he was observed and greeted with due deference, and complimented and made comfortable. Clemens would arise from the table and carry certain choice food out on the terrace to Tammany, and be satisfied with almost no acknowledgment by way of appreciation. One could not imagine any home of Mark Twain where the cats were not supreme. In the evening, as at 21 Fifth Avenue, there was music — the stately measures of the orchestrelle — while Mark Twain smoked and mingled unusual speculation with long, long backward dreams.

It was three months from the day of arrival in Redding that some guests came to Stormfield without invitation — two burglars, who were carrying off some bundles of silver when they were discovered. Claude, the butler, fired a pistol after them to hasten their departure, and Clemens, wakened by the shots, thought the family was opening champagne and went to sleep again.

It was far in the night; but neighbor H. A. Lounsbury and Deputy-Sheriff Banks were notified, and by morning the thieves were captured, though only after a pretty desperate encounter, during which the officer received a bullet-wound. Lounsbury and a Stormfield guest had tracked them in the dark with a lantern to Bethel, a distance of some seven miles. The thieves, also their pursuers, had boarded the train there. Sheriff Banks was waiting at the West Redding station when the train came down, and there the capture was made. It was a remarkably prompt and shrewd piece of work. Clemens gave credit for its success chiefly to Lounsbury, whose talents in many fields always impressed him. The thieves were taken to the Redding Town Hall for a preliminary healing. Subsequently they received severe sentences.

Clemens tacked this notice on his front door:

NOTICE

TO THE NEXT BURGLAR

There is nothing but plated ware in this house now and henceforth.

You will find it in that brass thing in the dining-room over in the corner by the basket of kittens.

If you want the basket put the kittens in the brass thing. Do not make a noise — it disturbs the family.

You will find rubbers in the front hall by that thing which has the umbrellas in it, chiffonnier, I think they call it, or pergola, or something like that.

Please close the door when you go away!

Very truly yours, S. L. CLEMENS.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:05