Edmund Clarence Stedman died suddenly at his desk, January 18, 1908, and Clemens, in response to telegrams, sent this message:
I do not wish to talk about it. He was a valued friend from days that date back thirty-five years. His loss stuns me and unfits me to speak.
He recalled the New England dinners which he used to attend, and where he had often met Stedman.
“Those were great affairs,” he said. “They began early, and they ended early. I used to go down from Hartford with the feeling that it wasn’t an all-night supper, and that it was going to be an enjoyable time. Choate and Depew and Stedman were in their prime then — we were all young men together. Their speeches were always worth listening to. Stedman was a prominent figure there. There don’t seem to be any such men now — or any such occasions.”
Stedman was one of the last of the old literary group. Aldrich had died the year before. Howells and Clemens were the lingering “last leaves.”
Clemens gave some further luncheon entertainments to his friends, and added the feature of “doe” luncheons — pretty affairs where, with Clara Clemens as hostess, were entertained a group of brilliant women, such as Mrs. Kate Douglas Riggs, Geraldine Farrax, Mrs. Robert Collier, Mrs. Frank Doubleday, and others. I cannot report those luncheons, for I was not present, and the drift of the proceedings came to me later in too fragmentary a form to be used as history; but I gathered from Clemens himself that he had done all of the talking, and I think they must have been very pleasant afternoons. Among the acknowledgments that followed one of these affairs is this characteristic word-play from Mrs. Riggs:
N. B. — A lady who is invited to and attends a doe luncheon is, of course, a doe. The question is, if she attends two doe luncheons in succession is she a doe-doe? If so is she extinct and can never attend a third?
Luncheons and billiards, however, failed to give sufficient brightness to the dull winter days, or to insure him against an impending bronchial attack, and toward the end of January he sailed away to Bermuda, where skies were bluer and roadsides gay with bloom. His sojourn was brief this time, but long enough to cure him, he said, and he came back full of happiness. He had been driving about over the island with a newly adopted granddaughter, little Margaret Blackmer, whom he had met one morning in the hotel dining-room. A part of his dictated story will convey here this pretty experience.
My first day in Bermuda paid a dividend — in fact a double dividend: it broke the back of my cold and it added a jewel to my collection. As I entered the breakfast-room the first object I saw in that spacious and far-reaching place was a little girl seated solitary at a table for two. I bent down over her and patted her cheek and said:
“I don’t seem to remember your name; what is it?”
By the sparkle in her brown eyes it amused her. She said:
“Why, you’ve never known it, Mr. Clemens, because you’ve never seen me before.”
“Why, that is true, now that I come to think; it certainly is true, and it must be one of the reasons why I have forgotten your name. But I remember it now perfectly — it’s Mary.”
She was amused again; amused beyond smiling; amused to a chuckle, and she said:
“Oh no, it isn’t; it’s Margaret.”
I feigned to be ashamed of my mistake and said:
“Ah, well, I couldn’t have made that mistake a few years ago; but I am old, and one of age’s earliest infirmities is a damaged memory; but I am clearer now — clearer-headed — it all comes back to me just as if it were yesterday. It’s Margaret Holcomb.”
She was surprised into a laugh this time, the rippling laugh that a happy brook makes when it breaks out of the shade into the sunshine, and she said:
“Oh, you are wrong again; you don’t get anything right. It isn’t Holcomb, it’s Blackmer.”
I was ashamed again, and confessed it; then:
“How old are you, dear?”
“Twelve; New-Year’s. Twelve and a month.”
We were close comrades-inseparables, in fact-for eight days. Every day we made pedestrian excursions — called them that anyway, and honestly they were intended for that, and that is what they would have been but for the persistent intrusion of a gray and grave and rough-coated donkey by the name of Maud. Maud was four feet long; she was mounted on four slender little stilts, and had ears that doubled her altitude when she stood them up straight. Her tender was a little bit of a cart with seat room for two in it, and you could fall out of it without knowing it, it was so close to the ground. This battery was in command of a nice, grave, dignified, gentlefaced little black boy whose age was about twelve, and whose name, for some reason or other, was Reginald. Reginald and Maud — I shall not easily forget those names, nor the combination they stood for. The trips going and coming were five or six miles, and it generally took us three hours to make it. This was because Maud set the pace. Whenever she detected an ascending grade she respected it; she stopped and said with her ears:
“This is getting unsatisfactory. We will camp here.”
The whole idea of these excursions was that Margaret and I should employ them for the gathering of strength, by walking, yet we were oftener in the cart than out of it. She drove and I superintended. In the course of the first excursions I found a beautiful little shell on the beach at Spanish Point; its hinge was old and dry, and the two halves came apart in my hand. I gave one of them to Margaret and said:
“Now dear, sometime or other in the future I shall run across you somewhere, and it may turn out that it is not you at all, but will be some girl that only resembles you. I shall be saying to myself ‘I know that this is a Margaret by the look of her, but I don’t know for sure whether this is my Margaret or somebody else’s’; but, no matter, I can soon find out, for I shall take my half shell out of my pocket and say, ‘I think you are my Margaret, but I am not certain; if you are my Margaret you can produce the other half of this shell.’”
Next morning when I entered the breakfast-room and saw the child I approached and scanned her searchingly all over, then said, sadly:
“No, I am mistaken; it looks like my Margaret — but it isn’t, and I am so sorry. I shall go away and cry now.”
Her eyes danced triumphantly, and she cried out:
“No, you don’t have to. There!” and she fetched out the identifying shell.
I was beside myself with gratitude and joyful surprise, and revealed it from every pore. The child could not have enjoyed this thrilling little drama more if we had been playing it on the stage. Many times afterward she played the chief part herself, pretending to be in doubt as to my identity and challenging me to produce my half of the shell. She was always hoping to catch me without it, but I always defeated that game — wherefore she came to recognize at last that I was not only old, but very smart.
Sometimes, when they were not walking or driving, they sat on the veranda, and he prepared history-lessons for little Margaret by making grotesque figures on cards with numerous legs and arms and other fantastic symbols end features to fix the length of some king’s reign. For William the Conqueror, for instance, who reigned twenty-one years, he drew a figure of eleven legs and ten arms. It was the proper method of impressing facts upon the mind of a child. It carried him back to those days at Elmira when he had arranged for his own little girls the game of kings. A Miss Wallace, a friend of Margaret’s, and usually one of the pedestrian party, has written a dainty book of those Bermudian days.184
184 [Mark Twain and the Happy Islands, by Elizabeth Wallace.]
Miss Wallace says:
Margaret felt for him the deep affection that children have for an older person who understands them and treats them with respect. Mr. Clemens never talked down to her, but considered her opinions with a sweet dignity.
There were some pretty sequels to the shell incident. After Mark Twain had returned to New York, and Margaret was there, she called one day with her mother, and sent up her card. He sent back word, saying:
“I seem to remember the name; but if this is really the person whom I think it is she can identify herself by a certain shell I once gave her, of which I have the other half. If the two halves fit, I shall know that this is the same little Margaret that I remember.”
The message went down, and the other half of the shell was promptly sent up. Mark Twain had the two half-shells incised firmly in gold, and one of these he wore on his watch-fob, and sent the other to Margaret.
He afterward corresponded with Margaret, and once wrote her:
I’m already making mistakes. When I was in New York, six weeks ago, I was on a corner of Fifth Avenue and I saw a small girl — not a big one — start across from the opposite corner, and I exclaimed to myself joyfully, “That is certainly my Margaret!” so I rushed to meet her. But as she came nearer I began to doubt, and said to myself, “It’s a Margaret — that is plain enough — but I’m afraid it is somebody else’s.” So when I was passing her I held my shell so she couldn’t help but see it. Dear, she only glanced at it and passed on! I wondered if she could have overlooked it. It seemed best to find out; so I turned and followed and caught up with her, and said, deferentially; “Dear Miss, I already know your first name by the look of you, but would you mind telling me your other one?” She was vexed and said pretty sharply, “It’s Douglas, if you’re so anxious to know. I know your name by your looks, and I’d advise you to shut yourself up with your pen and ink and write some more rubbish. I am surprised that they allow you to run’ at large. You are likely to get run over by a baby-carriage any time. Run along now and don’t let the cows bite you.”
What an idea! There aren’t any cows in Fifth Avenue. But I didn’t smile; I didn’t let on to perceive how uncultured she was. She was from the country, of course, and didn’t know what a comical blunder. she was making.
Mr. Rogers’s health was very poor that winter, and Clemens urged him to try Bermuda, and offered to go back with him; so they sailed away to the summer island, and though Margaret was gone, there was other entertaining company — other granddaughters to be adopted, and new friends and old friends, and diversions of many sorts. Mr. Rogers’s son-in-law, William Evarts Benjamin, came down and joined the little group. It was one of Mark Twain’s real holidays. Mr. Rogers’s health improved rapidly, and Mark Twain was in fine trim. To Mrs. Rogers, at the end of the first week, he wrote:
DEAR MRS. ROGERS, He is getting along splendidly! This was the very place for him. He enjoys himself & is as quarrelsome as a cat.
But he will get a backset if Benjamin goes home. Benjamin is the brightest man in these regions, & the best company. Bright? He is much more than that, he is brilliant. He keeps the crowd intensely alive.
With love & all good wishes. S. L. C.
Mark Twain and Henry Rogers were much together and much observed. They were often referred to as “the King” and “the Rajah,” and it was always a question whether it was “the King” who took care of “the Rajah,” or vice versa. There was generally a group to gather around them, and Clemens was sure of an attentive audience, whether he wanted to air his philosophies, his views of the human race, or to read aloud from the verses of Kipling.
“I am not fond of all poetry,” he would say; “but there’s something in Kipling that appeals to me. I guess he’s just about my level.”
Miss Wallace recalls certain Kipling readings in his room, when his friends gathered to listen.
On those Kipling evenings the ‘mise-en-scene’ was a striking one. The bare hotel room, the pine woodwork and pine furniture, loose windows which rattled in the sea-wind. Once in a while a gust of asthmatic music from the spiritless orchestra downstairs came up the hallway. Yellow, unprotected gas-lights burned uncertainly, and Mark Twain in the midst of this lay on his bed (there was no couch) still in his white serge suit, with the light from the jet shining down on the crown of his silver hair, making it gleam and glisten like frosted threads.
In one hand he held his book, in the other he had his pipe, which he used principally to gesture with in the most dramatic passages.
Margaret’s small successors became the earliest members of the Angel Fish Club, which Clemens concluded to organize after a visit to the spectacular Bermuda aquarium. The pretty angel-fish suggested youth and feminine beauty to him, and his adopted granddaughters became angel-fish to him from that time forward. He bought little enamel angel-fish pins, and carried a number of them with him most of the time, so that he could create membership on short notice. It was just another of the harmless and happy diversions of his gentler side. He was always fond of youth and freshness. He regarded the decrepitude of old age as an unnecessary part of life. Often he said:
“If I had been helping the Almighty when, He created man, I would have had Him begin at the other end, and start human beings with old age. How much better it would have been to start old and have all the bitterness and blindness of age in the beginning! One would not mind then if he were looking forward to a joyful youth. Think of the joyous prospect of growing young instead of old! Think of looking forward to eighteen instead of eighty! Yes, the Almighty made a poor job of it. I wish He had invited my assistance.”
To one of the angel fish he wrote, just after his return:
I miss you, dear. I miss Bermuda, too, but not so much as I miss you; for you were rare, and occasional and select, and Ltd.; whereas Bermuda’s charms and, graciousnesses were free and common and unrestricted — like the rain, you know, which falls upon the just and the unjust alike; a thing which would not happen if I were superintending the rain’s affairs. No, I would rain softly and sweetly upon the just, but whenever I caught a sample of the unjust outdoors I would drown him.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00