Mark Twain: A Biography, by Albert Bigelow Paine

Chapter LXXIV

The Wedding-Day

The wedding was planned, at first, either for Christmas or New-Year’s Day; but as the lecture engagements continued into January it was decided to wait until these were filled. February 2d, a date near the anniversary of the engagement, was agreed upon, also a quiet wedding with no “tour.” The young people would go immediately to Buffalo, and take up a modest residence, in a boardinghouse as comfortable, even as luxurious, as the husband’s financial situation justified. At least that was Samuel Clemens’s understanding of the matter. He felt that he was heavily in debt — that his first duty was to relieve himself of that obligation.

There were other plans in Elmira, but in the daily and happy letters he received there was no inkling of any new purpose.

He wrote to J. D. F. Slee, of Buffalo, who was associated in business with Mr. Langdon, and asked him to find a suitable boarding-place, one that would be sufficiently refined for the woman who was to be his wife, and sufficiently reasonable to insure prosperity. In due time Slee replied that, while boarding was a “miserable business anyhow,” he had been particularly fortunate in securing a place on one of the most pleasant streets —“the family a small one and choice spirits, with no predilection for taking boarders, and consenting to the present arrangement only because of the anticipated pleasure of your company.” The price, Slee added, would be reasonable. As a matter of fact a house on Delaware Avenue — still the fine residence street of Buffalo — had been bought and furnished throughout as a present to the bride and groom. It stands to-day practically unchanged — brick and mansard without, Eastlake within, a type then much in vogue — spacious and handsome for that period. It was completely appointed. Diagrams of the rooms had been sent to Elmira and Miss Langdon herself had selected the furnishings. Everything was put in readiness, including linen, cutlery, and utensils. Even the servants had been engaged and the pantry and cellar had been stocked.

It must have been hard for Olivia Langdon to keep this wonderful surprise out of those daily letters. A surprise like that is always watching a chance to slip out unawares, especially when one is eagerly impatient to reveal it.

However, the traveler remained completely in the dark. He may have wondered vaguely at the lack of enthusiasm in the boarding idea, and could he have been certain that the sales of the book would continue, or that his newspaper venture would yield an abundant harvest, he might have planned his domestic beginning on a more elaborate scale. If only the Tennessee land would yield the long-expected fortune now! But these were all incalculable things. All that he could be sure of was the coming of his great happiness, in whatever environment, and of the dragging weeks between.

At last the night of the final lecture came, and he was off for Elmira with the smallest possible delay. Once there, the intervening days did not matter. He could join in the busy preparations; he could write exuberantly to his friends. To Laura Hawkins, long since Laura Frazer he sent a playful line; to Jim Gillis, still digging and washing on the slopes of the old Tuolumne hills, he wrote a letter which eminently belongs here:

Elmira, N. Y., January 26, 1870.

DEAR Jim — I remember that old night just as well! And somewhere among my relics I have your remembrance stored away. It makes my heart ache yet to call to mind some of those days. Still it shouldn’t, for right in the depths of their poverty and their pocket-hunting vagabondage lay the germ of my coming good fortune. You remember the one gleam of jollity that shot across our dismal sojourn in the rain and mud of Angel’s Camp — I mean that day we sat around the tavern stove and heard that chap tell about the frog and how they filled him with shot. And you remember how we quoted from the yarn and laughed over it out there on the hillside while you and dear old Stoker panned and washed. I jotted the story down in my note-book that day, and would have been glad to get ten or fifteen dollars for it — I was just that blind. But then we were so hard up. I published that story, and it became widely known in America, India, China, England, and the reputation it made for me has paid me thousands and thousands of dollars since. Four or five months ago I bought into the Express (I have ordered it sent to you as long as you live, and if the bookkeeper sends you any bills you let me hear of it). I went heavily in debt — never could have dared to do that, Jim, if we hadn’t heard the jumping Frog story that day.

And wouldn’t I love to take old Stoker by the hand, and wouldn’t I love to see him in his great specialty, his wonderful rendition of Rinalds in the “Burning Shame!” Where is Dick and what is he doing? Give him my fervent love and warm old remembrances.

A week from to-day I shall be married-to a girl even better and lovelier than the peerless “Chapparal Quails.” You can’t come so far, Jim, but still I cordially invite you to come anyhow, and I invite Dick too. And if you two boys were to land here on that pleasant occasion we would make you right royally welcome.
Truly your friend,
SAML. L. CLEMENS.

P.S. —-California plums are good. Jim, particularly when they are stewed.

It had been only five years before — that day in Angel’s Camp — but how long ago and how far away it seemed to him now! So much had happened since then, so much of which that was the beginning — so little compared with the marvel of the years ahead, whose threshold he was now about to cross, and not alone.

A day or two before the wedding he was asked to lecture on the night of February 2d. He replied that he was sorry to disappoint the applicant, but that he could not lecture on the night of February 2d, for the reason that he was going to marry a young lady on that evening, and that he would rather marry that young lady than deliver all the lectures in the world.

And so came the wedding-day. It began pleasantly; the postman brought a royalty check that morning of $4,000, the accumulation of three months’ sales, and the Rev. Joseph Twichell and Harmony, his wife, came from Hartford — Twichell to join with the Rev. Thomas K. Beecher in solemnizing the marriage. Pamela Moffett, a widow now, with her daughter Annie, grown to a young lady, had come all the way from St. Louis, and Mrs. Fairbanks from Cleveland.

Yet the guests were not numerous, not more than a hundred at most, so it was a quiet wedding there in the Langdon parlors, those dim, stately rooms that in the future would hold so much of his history — so much of the story of life and death that made its beginning there.

The wedding-service was about seven o’clock, for Mr. Beecher had a meeting at the church soon after that hour. Afterward followed the wedding-supper and dancing, and the bride’s father danced with the bride. To the interested crowd awaiting him at the church Mr. Beecher reported that the bride was very beautiful, and had on the longest white gloves he had ever seen; he declared they reached to her shoulders.66

66 [Perhaps for a younger generation it should be said that Thomas K. Beecher was a brother of Henry Ward Beecher. He lived and died in Elmira, the almost worshiped pastor of the Park Congregational Church. He was a noble, unorthodox teacher. Samuel Clemens at the time of his marriage already strongly admired him, and had espoused his cause in an article signed “S’cat!” in the Elmira Advertiser, when he (Beecher) had been assailed by the more orthodox Elmira clergy. For the “S’cat” article see Appendix I.]

It was the next afternoon when they set out for Buffalo, accompanied by the bride’s parents, the groom’s relatives, the Beechers, and perhaps one or two others of that happy company. It was nine o’clock at night when they arrived, and found Mr. Slee waiting at the station with sleighs to convey the party to the “boarding-house” he had selected. They drove and drove, and the sleigh containing the bride and groom got behind and apparently was bound nowhere in particular, which disturbed the groom a good deal, for he thought it proper that they should arrive first, to receive their guests. He commented on Slee’s poor judgment in selecting a house that was so hard to find, and when at length they turned into fashionable Delaware Avenue, and stopped before one of the most attractive places in the neighborhood, he was beset with fear concerning the richness of the locality.

They were on the steps when the doors opened, and a perfect fairyland of lights and decoration was revealed within. The friends who had gone ahead came out with greetings, to lead in the bride and groom. Servants hurried forward to take bags and wraps. They were ushered inside; they were led through beautiful rooms, all newly appointed and garnished. The bridegroom was dazed, unable to understand the meaning of things, the apparent ownership and completeness of possession.

At last the young wife put her hand upon his arm:

“Don’t you understand, Youth,” she said; that was always her name for him. “Don’t you understand? It is ours, all ours — everything — a gift from father!”

But even then he could not grasp it; not at first, not until Mr. Langdon brought a little box and, opening it, handed them the deeds.

Mr. and Mrs. Clemens and their first home

Nobody quite remembers what was the first remark that Samuel Clemens made then; but either then or a little later he said:

“Mr. Langdon, whenever you are in Buffalo, if it’s twice a year, come right here. Bring your bag and stay overnight if you want to. It sha’n’t cost you a cent!”

They went in to supper then, and by and by the guests were gone and the young wedded pair were alone.

Patrick McAleer, the young coachman, who would grow old in their employ, and Ellen, the cook, came in for their morning orders, and were full of Irish delight at the inexperience and novelty of it all. Then they were gone, and only the lovers in their new house and their new happiness remained.

And so it was they entered the enchanted land.

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