It sized up this solitude. It is so complete, so perfect, that even the wild animals are satisfied with it. Those dainty creatures were not in the least degree afraid of me.

This was no more than a mood--though real enough while it lasted--somber, and in its way regal. It was the loneliness of a king--King Lear. Yet he returned gladly enough to solitude after each absence.

It was just before one of his departures that I made another set of pictures of him, this time on the colonnaded veranda, where his figure had become so familiar. He had determined to have his hair cut when he reached New York, and I was anxious to get the pictures before this happened. When the proofs came seven of them--he arranged them as a series to illustrate what he called "The Progress of a Moral Purpose." He ordered a number of sets of this series, and he wrote a legend on each photograph, numbering them from 1 to 7, laying each set in a sheet of letter-paper which formed a sort of wrapper, on which was written:

This series of q photographs registers with scientific precision, stage by stage, the progress of a moral purpose through the mind of the human race's Oldest Friend. S. L. C.

He added a personal inscription, and sent one to each of his more intimate friends. One of the pictures amused him more than the others, because during the exposure a little kitten, unnoticed, had walked into it, and paused near his foot. He had never outgrown his love for cats, and he had rented this kitten and two others for the summer from a neighbor. He didn't wish to own them, he said, for then he would have to leave them behind uncared for, so he preferred to rent them and pay sufficiently to insure their subsequent care. These kittens he called Sackcloth and Ashes--Ashes being the joint name of the two that looked exactly alike, and so did not need distinctive titles. Their gambols always amused him. He would stop any time in the midst of dictation to enjoy them. Once, as he was about to enter the screen-door that led into the hall, two of the kittens ran up in front of him and stood waiting. With grave politeness he opened the door, made a low bow, and stepped back and said: "Walk in, gentlemen. I always give precedence to royalty." And the kittens marched in, tails in air. All summer long they played up and down the wide veranda, or chased grasshoppers and butterflies down the clover slope. It was a never-ending amusement to him to see them jump into the air after some insect, miss it and tumble back, and afterward jump up, with a surprised expression and a look of disappointment and disgust. I remember once, when he was walking up and down discussing some very serious subject--and one of the kittens was lying on the veranda asleep--a butterfly came drifting along three feet or so above the floor. The kitten must have got a glimpse of the insect out of the corner of its eye, and perhaps did not altogether realize its action. At all events, it suddenly shot straight up into the air, exactly like a bounding rubber ball, missed the butterfly, fell back on the porch floor with considerable force and with much surprise. Then it sprang to its feet, and, after spitting furiously once or twice, bounded away. Clemens had seen the performance, and it completely took his subject out of his mind. He laughed extravagantly, and evidently cared more for that moment's entertainment than for many philosophies.

In that remote solitude there was one important advantage--there was no procession of human beings with axes to grind, and few curious callers. Occasionally an automobile would find its way out there and make a circuit of the drive, but this happened too seldom to annoy him. Even newspaper men rarely made the long trip from Boston or New York to secure his opinions, and when they came it was by permission and appointment. Newspaper telegrams arrived now and then, asking for a sentiment on some public condition or event, and these he generally answered willingly enough.

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book