Dunne offered to bet five dollars that he could, and the wager was made. Dunne scored about twenty-five the first time and missed; then he insisted on betting five dollars again, and his defeats continued until Clemens had twenty-five dollars of Dunne's money, and Dunne was sweating and swearing, and Mark Twain rocking with delight. Dunne went away still unsatisfied, promising that he would come back and try it again. Perhaps he practised in his absence, for when he returned he had learned something. He won his twenty-five dollars back, and I think something more added. Mark Twain was still ahead, for Dunne furnished him with a good five hundred dollars' worth of amusement.

Clemens never cared to talk and never wished to be talked to when the game was actually in progress. If there was anything to be said on either side, he would stop and rest his cue on the floor, or sit down on the couch, until the matter was concluded. Such interruptions happened pretty frequently, and many of the bits of personal comment and incident scattered along through this work are the result of those brief rests. Some shot, or situation, or word would strike back through the past and awaken a note long silent, and I generally kept a pad and pencil on the window-sill with the score-sheet, and later, during his play, I would scrawl some reminder that would be precious by and by.

On one of these I find a memorandum of what he called his three recurrent dreams. All of us have such things, but his seem worth remembering.

"There is never a month passes," he said, "that I do not dream of being in reduced circumstances, and obliged to go back to the river to earn a living. It is never a pleasant dream, either. I love to think about those days; but there's always something sickening about the thought that I have been obliged to go back to them; and usually in my dream I am just about to start into a black shadow without being able to tell whether it is Selma bluff, or Hat Island, or only a black wall of night.

"Another dream that I have of that kind is being compelled to go back to the lecture platform. I hate that dream worse than the other. In it I am always getting up before an audience with nothing to say, trying to be funny; trying to make the audience laugh, realizing that I am only making silly jokes. Then the audience realizes it, and pretty soon they commence to get up and leave. That dream always ends by my standing there in the semidarkness talking to an empty house.

"My other dream is of being at a brilliant gathering in my night- garments. People don't seem to notice me there at first, and then pretty soon somebody points me out, and they all begin to look at me suspiciously, and I can see that they are wondering who I am and why I am there in that costume. Then it occurs to me that I can fix it by making myself known. I take hold of some man and whisper to him, 'I am Mark Twain'; but that does not improve it, for immediately I can hear him whispering to the others, 'He says he is Mark Twain,' and they all look at me a good deal more suspiciously than before, and I can see that they don't believe it, and that it was a mistake to make that confession. Sometimes, in that dream, I am dressed like a tramp instead of being in my night-clothes; but it all ends about the same--they go away and leave me standing there, ashamed. I generally enjoy my dreams, but not those three, and they are the ones I have oftenest."

Quite often some curious episode of the world's history would flash upon him--something amusing, or coarse, or tragic, and he would bring the game to a standstill and recount it with wonderful accuracy as to date and circumstance. He had a natural passion for historic events and a gift for mentally fixing them, but his memory in other ways was seldom reliable. He was likely to forget the names even of those he knew best and saw oftenest, and the small details of life seldom registered at all.

He had his breakfast served in his room, and once, on a slip of paper, he wrote, for his own reminder:

The accuracy of your forgetfulness is absolute--it seems never to fail. I prepare to pour my coffee so it can cool while I shave--and I always forget to pour it.

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book