Bliss was a capable, energetic man, with a taste for humor, and believed there was money for author and publisher in the travel-book.

The proposition pleased Mark Twain, who replied at once, asking for further details as to Bliss's plan. Somewhat later he made a trip to Hartford, and the terms for the publication of "The Innocents Abroad" were agreed upon. It was to be a large illustrated book for subscription sale, and the author was to receive five per cent of the selling price. Bliss had offered him the choice between this royalty and ten thousand dollars cash. Though much tempted by the large sum to be paid in hand, Mark Twain decided in favor of the royalty plan--"the best business judgment I ever displayed," he used to say afterward. He agreed to arrange the letters for book publication, revising and rewriting where necessary, and went back to Washington well pleased. He did not realize that his agreement with Bliss marked the beginning of one of the most notable publishing connections in American literary history.

XXVIII.

OLIVIA LANGDON. WORK ON THE "INNOCENTS"

Certainly this was a momentous period in Mark Twain's life. It was a time of great events, and among them was one which presently would come to mean more to him than all the rest--the beginning of his acquaintance with Olivia Langdon.

One evening in late December when Samuel Clemens had come to New York to visit his old "Quaker City" room-mate, Dan Slote, he found there other ship comrades, including Jack Van Nostrand and Charlie Langdon. It was a joyful occasion, but one still happier followed it. Young Langdon's father and sister Olivia were in New York, and an evening or two later the boy invited his distinguished "Quaker City" shipmate to dine with them at the old St. Nicholas Hotel. We may believe that Samuel Clemens went willingly enough. He had never forgotten the September day in the Bay of Smyrna when he had first seen the sweet-faced miniature--now, at last he looked upon the reality.

Long afterward he said: "It was forty years ago. From that day to this she has never been out of my mind."

Charles Dickens gave a reading that night at Steinway Hall. The Langdons attended, and Samuel Clemens with them. He recalled long after that Dickens wore a black velvet coat with a fiery-red flower in his buttonhole, and that he read the storm scene from "David Copperfield"-- the death of James Steerforth; but he remembered still more clearly the face and dress and the slender, girlish figure of Olivia Langdon at his side.

Olivia Langdon was twenty-two years old at this time, delicate as the miniature he had seen, though no longer in the fragile health of her girlhood. Gentle, winning, lovable, she was the family idol, and Samuel Clemens was no less her worshiper from the first moment of their meeting.

Miss Langdon, on her part, was at first rather dazed by the strange, brilliant, handsome man, so unlike anything she had known before. When he had gone, she had the feeling that something like a great meteor had crossed her sky. To her brother, who was eager for her good opinion of his celebrity, she admitted her admiration, if not her entire approval. Her father had no doubts. With a keen sense of humor and a deep knowledge of men, Jervis Langdon was from that first evening the devoted champion of Mark Twain. Clemens saw Miss Langdon again during the holidays, and by the week's end he had planned to visit Elmira--soon. But fate managed differently. He was not to see Elmira for the better part of a year.

He returned to his work in Washington--the preparation of the book and his newspaper correspondence. It was in connection with the latter that he first met General Grant, then not yet President. The incident, characteristic of both men, is worth remembering. Mark Twain had called by permission, elated with the prospect of an interview. But when he looked into the square, smileless face of the soldier he found himself, for the first time in his life, without anything particular to say. Grant nodded slightly and waited.

The Boys Life of Mark Twain Page 57

Mark Twain

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book