Mark Twain: A Biography, by Albert Bigelow Paine


The Last Summer at Stormfield

I was at Stormfield pretty constantly during the rest of that year. At first I went up only for the day; but later, when his health did not improve, and when he expressed a wish for companionship evenings, I remained most of the nights as well. Our rooms were separated only by a bath-room; and as neither of us was much given to sleep, there was likely to be talk or reading aloud at almost any hour when both were awake. In the very early morning I would usually slip in, softly, sometimes to find him propped up against his pillows sound asleep, his glasses on, the reading-lamp blazing away as it usually did, day or night; but as often as not he was awake, and would have some new plan or idea of which he was eager to be delivered, and there was always interest, and nearly always amusement in it, even if it happened to be three in the morning or earlier.

Sometimes, when he thought it time for me to be stirring, he would call softly, but loudly enough for me to hear if awake; and I would go in, and we would settle again problems of life and death and science, or, rather, he would settle them while I dropped in a remark here and there, merely to hold the matter a little longer in solution.

The pains in his breast came back, and with a good deal of frequency as the summer advanced; also, they became more severe. Dr. Edward Quintard came up from New York, and did not hesitate to say that the trouble proceeded chiefly from the heart, and counseled diminished smoking, with less active exercise, advising particularly against Clemens’s lifetime habit of lightly skipping up and down stairs.

There was no prohibition as to billiards, however, or leisurely walking, and we played pretty steadily through those peaceful summer days, and often took a walk down into the meadows or perhaps in the other direction, when it was not too warm or windy. Once we went as far as the river, and I showed him a part of his land he had not seen before — a beautiful cedar hillside, remote and secluded, a place of enchantment. On the way I pointed out a little corner of land which earlier he had given me to straighten our division line. I told him I was going to build a study on it, and call it “Markland.” He thought it an admirable building-site, and I think he was pleased with the name. Later he said:

“If you had a place for that extra billiard-table of mine [the Rogers table, which had been left in New York] I would turn it over to you.”

I replied that I could adapt the size of my proposed study to fit a billiard-table, and he said:

“Now that will be very good. Then, when I want exercise, I can walk down and play billiards with you, and when you want exercise you can walk up and play billiards with me. You must build that study.”

So it was we planned, and by and by Mr. Lounsbury had undertaken the work.

During the walks Clemens rested a good deal. There were the New England hills to climb, and then he found that he tired easily, and that weariness sometimes brought on the pain. As I remember now, I think how bravely he bore it. It must have been a deadly, sickening, numbing pain, for I have seen it crumple him, and his face become colorless while his hand dug at his breast; but he never complained, he never bewailed, and at billiards he would persist in going on and playing in his turn, even while he was bowed with the anguish of the attack.

We had found that a glass of very hot water relieved it, and we kept always a thermos bottle or two filled and ready. At the first hint from him I would pour out a glass and another, and sometimes the relief came quickly; but there were times, and alas! they came oftener, when that deadly gripping did not soon release him. Yet there would come a week or a fortnight when he was apparently perfectly well, and at such times we dismissed the thought of any heart malady, and attributed the whole trouble to acute indigestion, from which he had always suffered more or less.

We were alone together most of the time. He did not appear to care for company that summer. Clara Clemens had a concert tour in prospect, and her father, eager for her success, encouraged her to devote a large part of her time to study. For Jean, who was in love with every form of outdoor and animal life, he had established headquarters in a vacant farm-house on one corner of the estate, where she had collected some stock and poultry, and was over-flowingly happy. Ossip Gabrilowitsch was a guest in the house a good portion of the summer, but had been invalided through severe surgical operations, and for a long time rarely appeared, even at meal-times. So it came about that there could hardly have been a closer daily companionship than was ours during this the last year of Mark Twain’s life. For me, of course, nothing can ever be like it again in this world. One is not likely to associate twice with a being from another star.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00