We played the English game, in which caroms and pockets both count. I had a beginner's luck, on the whole, and I remember it as a riotous, rollicking game, the beginning of a closer understanding between us--of a distinct epoch in our association. When it was ended he said:
"I'm not going to Egypt. There was a man here yesterday afternoon who said it was bad for bronchitis, and, besides, it's too far away from this billiard-table."
He suggested that I come back in the evening and play some more. I did so, and the game lasted until after midnight. He gave me odds, of course, and my "nigger luck," as he called it, continued. It kept him sweating and swearing feverishly to win. Finally, once I made a great fluke--a carom, followed by most of the balls falling into the pockets.
"Well," he said, "when you pick up that cue this damn table drips at every pore."
After that the morning dictations became a secondary interest. Like a boy, he was looking forward to the afternoon of play, and it never seemed to come quick enough to suit him. I remained regularly for luncheon, and he was inclined to cut the courses short, that he might the sooner get up-stairs to the billiard-room. His earlier habit of not eating in the middle of the day continued; but he would get up and dress, and walk about the dining-room in his old fashion, talking that marvelous, marvelous talk which I was always trying to remember, and with only fractional success at best. To him it was only a method of killing time. I remember once, when he had been discussing with great earnestness the Japanese question, he suddenly noticed that the luncheon was about ending, and he said:
"Now we'll proceed to more serious matters--it's your--shot." And he was quite serious, for the green cloth and the rolling balls afforded him a much larger interest.
To the donor of his new possession Clemens wrote:
DEAR MRS. ROGERS,--The billiard-table is better than the doctors. I have a billiardist on the premises, & walk not less than ten miles every day with the cue in my hand. And the walking is not the whole of the exercise, nor the most health giving part of it, I think. Through the multitude of the positions and attitudes it brings into play every muscle in the body & exercises them all.
The games begin right after luncheons, daily, & continue until midnight, with 2 hours' intermission for dinner & music. And so it is 9 hours' exercise per day & 10 or 12 on Sunday. Yesterday & last night it was 12--& I slept until 8 this morning without waking. The billiard-table as a Sabbath-breaker can beat any coal-breaker in Pennsylvania & give it 30 in the game. If Mr. Rogers will take to daily billiards he can do without the doctors & the massageur, I think.
We are really going to build a house on my farm, an hour & a half from New York. It is decided.
With love & many thanks. S. L. C.
Naturally enough, with continued practice I improved my game, and he reduced my odds accordingly. He was willing to be beaten, but not too often. Like any other boy, he preferred to have the balance in his favor. We set down a record of the games, and he went to bed happier if the tally-sheet showed him winner.
It was natural, too, that an intimacy of association and of personal interest should grow under such conditions--to me a precious boon--and I wish here to record my own boundless gratitude to Mrs. Rogers for her gift, which, whatever it meant to him, meant so much more to me. The disparity of ages no longer existed; other discrepancies no longer mattered. The pleasant land of play is a democracy where such things do not count.
To recall all the humors and interesting happenings of those early billiard-days would be to fill a large volume. I can preserve no more than a few characteristic phases.
He was not an even-tempered player. When the balls were perverse in their movements and his aim unsteady, he was likely to become short with his opponent--critical and even fault-finding.