It did not occur to me that I should hear of it again.
We step back a moment here. Something more than a year earlier, through a misunderstanding, Mark Twain's long association with The Players had been severed. It was a sorrow to him, and a still greater sorrow to the club. There was a movement among what is generally known' as the "Round Table Group"--because its members have long had a habit of lunching at a large, round table in a certain window--to bring him back again. David Munro, associate editor of the North American Review-" David," a man well loved of men--and Robert Reid, the painter, prepared this simple document:
TO MARK TWAIN from THE CLANSMEN
Will ye no come back again? Will ye no come back again? Better lo'ed ye canna be, Will ye no come back again?
It was signed by Munro and by Reid and about thirty others, and it touched Mark Twain deeply. The lines had always moved him. He wrote:
TO ROBT. REID & THE OTHERS--
WELL-BELOVED,--Surely those lovely verses went to Prince Charlie's heart, if he had one, & certainly they have gone to mine. I shall be glad & proud to come back again after such a moving & beautiful compliment as this from comrades whom I have loved so long. I hope you can poll the necessary vote; I know you will try, at any rate. It will be many months before I can foregather with you, for this black border is not perfunctory, not a convention; it symbolizes the loss of one whose memory is the only thing I worship.
It is not necessary for me to thank you--& words could not deliver what I feel, anyway. I will put the contents of your envelope in the small casket where I keep the things which have become sacred to me. S. L. C.
So the matter was temporarily held in abeyance until he should return. to social life. At the completion of his seventieth year the club had taken action, and Mark Twain had been brought back, not in the regular order of things, but as an honorary life member without dues or duties. There was only one other member of this class, Sir Henry Irving.
The Players, as a club, does not give dinners. Whatever is done in that way is done by one or more of the members in the private dining-room, where there is a single large table that holds twenty-five, even thirty when expanded to its limit. That room and that table have mingled with much distinguished entertainment, also with history. Henry James made his first after-dinner speech there, for one thing--at least he claimed it was his first, though this is by the way.
A letter came to me which said that those who had signed the plea for the Prince's return were going to welcome him in the private dining-room on the 5th of January. It was not an invitation, but a gracious privilege. I was in New York a day or two in advance of the date, and I think David Munro was the first person I met at The Players. As he greeted me his eyes were eager with something he knew I would wish to hear. He had been delegated to propose the dinner to Mark Twain, and had found him propped up in bed, and noticed on the table near him a copy of the Nast book. I suspect that Munro had led him to speak of it, and that the result had lost nothing filtered through that radiant benevolence of his.
The night of January 5, 1906, remains a memory apart from other dinners. Brander Matthews presided, and Gilder was there, and Frank Millet and Willard Metcalf and Robert Reid, and a score of others; some of them are dead now, David Munro among them. It so happened that my seat was nearly facing the guest of the evening, who, by custom of The Players, is placed at the side and not at the end of the long table. He was no longer frail and thin, as when I had first met him.