Mark Twain: A Biography, by Albert Bigelow Paine

Chapter LXVII

A Visit to Elmira

Meantime he had skilfully obtained a renewal of the invitation to spend a week in the Langdon home.

He meant to go by a fast train, but, with his natural gift for misunderstanding time-tables, of course took a slow one, telegraphing his approach from different stations along the road. Young Langdon concluded to go down the line as far as Waverly to meet him. When the New York train reached there the young man found his guest in the smoking-car, travel-stained and distressingly clad. Mark Twain was always scrupulously neat and correct of dress in later years, but in that earlier day neatness and style had not become habitual and did not give him comfort. Langdon greeted him warmly but with doubt. Finally he summoned courage to say, hesitatingly —

“You’ve got some other clothes, haven’t you?”

The arriving guest was not in the least disturbed.

“Oh yes,” he said with enthusiasm, “I’ve got a fine brand-new outfit in this bag, all but a hat. It will be late when we get in, and I won’t see any one to-night. You won’t know me in the morning. We’ll go out early and get a hat.”

This was a large relief to the younger man, and the rest of the journey was happy enough. True to promise, the guest appeared at daylight correctly, even elegantly clad, and an early trip to the shops secured the hat. A gay and happy week followed — a week during which Samuel Clemens realized more fully than ever that in his heart there was room for only one woman in all the world: Olivia Langdon —“Livy,” as they all called her — and as the day of departure drew near it may be that the gentle girl had made some discoveries, too.

No word had passed between them. Samuel Clemens had the old-fashioned Southern respect for courtship conventions, and for what, in that day at least, was regarded as honor. On the morning of the final day he said to young Langdon:

“Charley, my week is up, and I must go home.”

The young man expressed a regret which was genuine enough, though not wholly unqualified. His older sister, Mrs. Crane, leaving just then for a trip to the White Mountains, had said:

“Charley, I am sure Mr. Clemens is after our Livy. You mustn’t let him carry her off before our return.”

The idea was a disturbing one. The young man did not urge his guest to prolong his-visit. He said:

“We’ll have to stand it, I guess, but you mustn’t leave before to-night.”

“I ought to go by the first train,” Clemens said, gloomily. “I am in love.”

“In what!”

“In love-with your sister, and I ought to get away from here.”

The young man was now very genuinely alarmed. To him Mark Twain was a highly gifted, fearless, robust man — a man’s man — and as such altogether admirable — lovable. But Olivia — Livy — she was to him little short of a saint. No man was good enough for her, certainly not this adventurous soldier of letters from the West. Delightful he was beyond doubt, adorable as a companion, but not a companion for Livy.

“Look here, Clemens,” he said, when he could get his voice. “There’s a train in half an hour. I’ll help you catch it. Don’t wait till to-night. Go now.”

Clemens shook his head.

“No, Charley,” he said, in his gentle drawl, “I want to enjoy your hospitality a little longer. I promise to be circumspect, and I’ll go to-night.”

That night, after dinner, when it was time to take the New York train, a light two-seated wagon was at the gate. The coachman was in front, and young Langdon and his guest took the back seat. For some reason the seat had not been locked in its place, and when, after the good-bys, the coachman touched the horse it made a quick spring forward, and the back seat, with both passengers, described a half-circle and came down with force on the cobbled street. Neither passenger was seriously hurt; Clemens not at all — only dazed a little for a moment. Then came an inspiration; here was a chance to prolong his visit. Evidently it was not intended that he should take that train. When the Langdon household gathered around with restoratives he did not recover too quickly. He allowed them to support or carry him into the house and place him in an arm-chair and apply remedies. The young daughter of the house especially showed anxiety and attention. This was pure happiness. He was perjuring himself, of course, but they say Jove laughs at such things.

He recovered in a day or two, but the wide hospitality of the handsome Langdon home was not only offered now; it was enforced. He was still there two weeks later, after which he made a trip to Cleveland to confide in Mrs. Fairbanks how he intended to win Livy Langdon for his wife.

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