Then presently a reaction would set in, and he would be seized with remorse. He would become unnecessarily gentle and kindly--even attentive--placing the balls as I knocked them into the pockets, hurrying from one end of the table to render this service, endeavoring to show in every way except by actual confession in words that he was sorry for what seemed to him, no doubt, an unworthy display of temper, unjustified irritation.
Naturally, this was a mood that I enjoyed less than that which had induced it. I did not wish him to humble himself; I was willing that he should be severe, even harsh, if he felt so inclined; his age, his position, his genius entitled him to special privileges; yet I am glad, as I remember it now, that the other side revealed itself, for it completes the sum of his great humanity.
Indeed, he was always not only human, but superhuman; not only a man, but superman. Nor does this term apply only to his psychology. In no other human being have I ever seen such physical endurance. I was comparatively a young man, and by no means an invalid; but many a time, far in the night, when I was ready to drop with exhaustion, he was still as fresh and buoyant and eager for the game as at the moment of beginning. He smoked and smoked continually, and followed the endless track around the billiard-table with the light step of youth. At three or four o'clock in the morning he would urge just one more game, and would taunt me for my weariness. I can truthfully testify that never until the last year of his life did he willingly lay down the billiard- cue, or show the least suggestion of fatigue.
He played always at high pressure. Now and then, in periods of adversity, he would fly into a perfect passion with things in general. But, in the end, it was a sham battle, and he saw the uselessness and humor of it, even in the moment of his climax. Once, when he found it impossible to make any of his favorite shots, he became more and more restive, the lightning became vividly picturesque as the clouds blackened. Finally, with a regular thunder-blast, he seized the cue with both hands and literally mowed the balls across the table, landing one or two of them on the floor. I do not recall his exact remarks during the performance; I was chiefly concerned in getting out of the way, and those sublime utterances were lost. I gathered up the balls and we went on playing as if nothing had happened, only he was very gentle and sweet, like the sun on the meadows after the storm has passed by. After a little he said:
"This is a most amusing game. When you play badly it amuses me, and when I play badly and lose my temper it certainly must amuse you."
His enjoyment of his opponent's perplexities was very keen. When he had left the balls in some unfortunate position which made it almost impossible for me to score he would laugh boisterously. I used to affect to be injured and disturbed by this ridicule. Once, when he had made the conditions unusually hard for me, and was enjoying the situation accordingly, I was tempted to remark:
"Whenever I see you laugh at a thing like that I always doubt your sense of humor." Which seemed to add to his amusement.
Sometimes, when the balls were badly placed for me, he would offer ostensible advice, suggesting that I should shoot here and there--shots that were possible, perhaps, but not promising. Often I would follow his advice, and then when I failed to score his amusement broke out afresh.
Other billiardists came from time to time: Colonel Harvey, Mr. Duneka, and Major Leigh, of the Harper Company, and Peter Finley Dunne (Mr. Dooley); but they were handicapped by their business affairs, and were not dependable for daily and protracted sessions. Any number of his friends were willing, even eager, to come for his entertainment; but the percentage of them who could and would devote a number of hours each day to being beaten at billiards and enjoy the operation dwindled down to a single individual. Even I could not have done it--could not have afforded it, however much I might have enjoyed the diversion--had it not been contributory to my work.