Come and I'll sell you the site for twenty-five dollars. John will tell you it is a choice place."
The unusual summer was near its close. In my notebook, under date of September 16th, appears this entry:
Windy in valleys but not cold. This veranda is protected. It is peaceful here and perfect, but we are at the summer's end.
This is my last entry, and the dictations must have ceased a few days later. I do not remember the date of the return to New York, and apparently I made no record of it; but I do not think it could have been later than the 20th. It had been four months since the day of arrival, a long, marvelous summer such as I would hardly know again. When I think of that time I shall always hear the ceaseless slippered, shuffling walk, and see the white figure with its rocking, rolling movement passing up and down the long gallery, with that preternaturally beautiful landscape behind, and I shall hear his deliberate speech--always deliberate, save at rare intervals; always impressive, whatever the subject might be; whether recalling some old absurdity of youth, or denouncing orthodox creeds, or detailing the shortcomings of human-kind.
The return to New York marked the beginning of a new era in my relations with Mark Twain. I have not meant to convey up to this time that there was between us anything resembling a personal friendship. Our relations were friendly, certainly, but they were relations of convenience and mainly of a business, or at least of a literary nature. He was twenty- six years my senior, and the discrepancy of experience and attainments was not measurable. With such conditions friendship must be a deliberate growth; something there must be to bridge the dividing gulf. Truth requires the confession that, in this case, the bridge took a very solid, material form, it being, in fact, nothing less than a billiard-table.-- [Clemens had been without a billiard-table since 1891, the old one having been disposed of on the departure from Hartford.]
It was a present from Mrs. Henry H. Rogers, and had been intended for his Christmas; but when he heard of it he could not wait, and suggested delicately that if he had it "right now" he could begin using it sooner. So he went one day with Mr. Rogers to the Balke-Collender Company, and they selected a handsome combination table suitable to all games--the best that money could buy. He was greatly excited over the prospect, and his former bedroom was carefully measured, to be certain that it was large enough for billiard purposes. Then his bed was moved into the study, and the bookcases and certain appropriate pictures were placed and hung in the billiard-room to give it the proper feeling.
The billiard-table arrived and was put in place, the brilliant green cloth in contrast with the rich red wallpaper and the bookbindings and pictures making the room wonderfully handsome and inviting.
Meantime, Clemens, with one of his sudden impulses, had conceived the notion of spending the winter in Egypt, on the Nile. He had gone so far, within a few hours after the idea developed, as to plan the time of his departure, and to partially engage a traveling secretary, so that he might continue his dictations. He was quite full of the idea just at the moment when the billiard table was being installed. He had sent for a book on the subject--the letters of Lady Duff-Gordon, whose daughter, Janet Ross, had become a dear friend in Florence during the Viviani days. He spoke of this new purpose on the morning when we renewed the New York dictations, a month or more following the return from Dublin. When the dictation ended he said:
"Have you any special place to lunch to-day?"
I replied that I had not.
"Lunch here," he said, "and we'll try the new billiard-table."
I said what was eminently true--that I could not play--that I had never played more "than a few games of pool, and those very long ago.
"No matter," he answered; "the poorer you play, the better I shall like it."
So I remained for luncheon and we began, November 2d, the first game ever played on the Christmas table.