My gratitude toward him was absolutely limitless."
She adds that Mrs. Bingham was very handsome and decidedly the most attractive lady present. Berlin was Susy's first real taste of society, and she was reveling in it. In her letter she refers to Minister Phelps by the rather disrespectful nickname of "Yaas," a term conferred because of his pronounciation of that affirmative. The Clemens children were not entirely happy in the company of the minister. They were fond of him, but he was a great tease. They were quite young enough, but it seemed always to give him delight to make them appear much younger. In the letter above quoted Susy says:
When I saw Mr. Phelps I put out my hand enthusiastically and said, "Oh, Mr. Phelps, good evening," whereat he drew back and said, so all could hear, "What, you here! why, you're too young. Do you think you know how to behave?" As there were two or three young gentlemen near by to whom I hadn't been introduced I wasn't exactly overjoyed at this greeting.
We may imagine that the nickname "Yaas" had been invented by Susy in secret retaliation, though she was ready enough to forgive him, for he was kindness itself at heart.
In one of his later dictations Clemens related an anecdote concerning a dinner with Phelps, when he (Clemens) had been invited to meet Count S----, a cabinet minister of long and illustrious descent. Clemens, and Phelps too, it seems, felt overshadowed by this ancestry.
Of course I wanted to let out the fact that I had some ancestors, too; but I did not want to pull them out of their graves by the ears, and I never could seem to get the chance to work them in, in a way that would look sufficiently casual. I suppose Phelps was in the same difficulty. In fact he looked distraught now and then just as a person looks who wants to uncover an ancestor purely by accident and cannot think of a way that will seem accidental enough. But at last, after dinner, he made a try. He took us about his drawing-room, showing us the pictures, and finally stopped before a rude and ancient engraving. It was a picture of the court that tried Charles I. There was a pyramid of judges in Puritan slouch hats, and below them three bareheaded secretaries seated at a table. Mr. Phelps put his finger upon one of the three and said, with exulting indifference:
"An ancestor of mine."
I put a finger on a judge and retorted with scathing languidness: "Ancestor of mine. But it is a small matter. I have others."
Clemens was sincerely fond of Phelps and spent a good deal of time at the legation headquarters. Sometimes he wrote there. An American journalist, Henry W. Fischer, remembers seeing him there several times scribbling on such scraps of paper as came handy, and recalls that on one occasion he delivered an address to a German and English audience on the "Awful German Tongue." This was probably the lecture that brought Clemens to bed with pneumonia. With Mrs. Clemens he had been down to Ilsenburg, in the Hartz Mountains, for a week of change. It was pleasant there, and they would have remained longer but for the Berlin lecture engagement. As it was, they found Berlin very cold and the lecture-room crowded and hot. When the lecture was over they stopped at General von Versen's for a ball, arriving at home about two in the morning. Clemens awoke with a heavy cold and lung congestion. He remained in bed, a very sick man indeed, for the better part of a month. It was unpleasant enough at first, though he rather enjoyed the convalescent period. He could sit up in bed and read and receive occasional callers. Fischer brought him Memoirs of the Margravine of Bayreuth, always a favorite. --[Clemens was deeply interested in the Margravine, and at one time began a novel with her absorbing history as its theme. He gave it up, probably feeling that the romantic form could add nothing to the Margravine's own story.]--The Emperor sent Frau von Versen with an invitation for him to attend the consecration of some flags in the palace.