I was merely telling a true story just as it had been told to me by one who well knew the mother and the daughter & all the beautiful & pathetic details. I was living in the house where it had happened, three years before, & I put it on paper at once while it was fresh in my mind, & its pathos still straining at my heartstrings.
Clemens did not guess that the coincidences were not yet complete, that within a month the drama of the tale would be enacted in his own home. In his note-book, under the date of December 24(1902), he wrote:
Jean was hit with a chill: Clara was completing her watch in her mother's room and there was no one able to force Jean to go to bed. As a result she is pretty ill to-day-fever & high temperature.
Three days later he added:
It was pneumonia. For 5 days jean's temperature ranged between 103 & 104 2/5, till this morning, when it got down to 101. She looks like an escaped survivor of a forest fire. For 6 days now my story in the Christmas Harper's "Was it Heaven? or Hell?"--has been enacted in this household. Every day Clara & the nurses have lied about Jean to her mother, describing the fine times she is having outdoors in the winter sports.
That proved a hard, trying winter in the Clemens home, and the burden of it fell chiefly, indeed almost entirely, upon Clara Clemens. Mrs. Clemens became still more frail, and no other member of the family, not even her husband, was allowed to see her for longer than the briefest interval. Yet the patient was all the more anxious to know the news, and daily it had to be prepared--chiefly invented--for her comfort. In an account which Clemens once set down of the "Siege and Season of Unveracity," as he called it, he said:
Clara stood a daily watch of three or four hours, and hers was a hard office indeed. Daily she sealed up in her heart a dozen dangerous truths, and thus saved her mother's life and hope and happiness with holy lies. She had never told her mother a lie in her life before, and I may almost say that she never told her a truth afterward. It was fortunate for us all that Clara's reputation for truthfulness was so well established in her mother's mind. It was our daily protection from disaster. The mother never doubted Clara's word. Clara could tell her large improbabilities without exciting any suspicion, whereas if I tried to market even a small and simple one the case would have been different. I was never able to get a reputation like Clara's. Mrs. Clemens questioned Clara every day concerning Jean's health, spirits, clothes, employments, and amusements, and how she was enjoying herself; and Clara furnished the information right along in minute detail--every word of it false, of course. Every day she had to tell how Jean dressed, and in time she got so tired of using Jean's existing clothes over and over again, and trying to get new effects out of them, that finally, as a relief to her hard-worked invention, she got to adding imaginary clothes to Jean's wardrobe, and probably would have doubled it and trebled it if a warning note in her mother's comments had not admonished her that she was spending more money on these spectral gowns and things than the family income justified.
Some portions of detailed accounts of Clara's busy days of this period, as written at the time by Clemens to Twichell and to Mrs. Crane, are eminently worth preserving. To Mrs. Crane:
Clara does not go to her Monday lesson in New York today [her mother having seemed not so well through the night], but forgets that fact and enters her mother's room (where she has no business to be) toward train-time dressed in a wrapper.
LIVY. Why, Clara, aren't you going to your lesson? CLARA (almost caught). Yes. L. In that costume? CL. Oh no. L. Well, you can't make your train; it's impossible. CL.