To me the association was invaluable; it drew from him a thousand long-forgotten incidents; it invited a stream of picturesque comments and philosophies; it furnished the most intimate insight into his character.

He was not always glad to see promiscuous callers, even some one that he might have met pleasantly elsewhere. One afternoon a young man whom he had casually invited to "drop in some day in town" happened to call in the midst of a very close series of afternoon games. It would all have been well enough if the visitor had been content to sit quietly on the couch and "bet on the game," as Clemens suggested, after the greetings were over; but he was a very young man, and he felt the necessity of being entertaining. He insisted on walking about the room and getting in the way, and on talking about the Mark Twain books he had read, and the people he had met from time to time who had known Mark Twain on the river, or on the Pacific coast, or elsewhere. I knew how fatal it was for him to talk to Clemens during his play, especially concerning matters most of which had been laid away. I trembled for our visitor. If I could have got his ear privately I should have said: "For heaven's sake sit down and keep still or go away! There's going to be a combination of earthquake and cyclone and avalanche if you keep this thing up."

I did what I could. I looked at my watch every other minute. At last, in desperation, I suggested that I retire from the game and let the visitor have my cue. I suppose I thought this would eliminate an element of danger. He declined on the ground that he seldom played, and continued his deadly visit. I have never been in an atmosphere so fraught with danger. I did not know how the game stood, and I played mechanically and forgot to count the score. Clemens's face was grim and set and savage. He no longer ventured even a word. By and by I noticed that he was getting white, and I said, privately, "Now, this young man's hour has come."

It was certainly by the mercy of God just then that the visitor said:

"I'm sorry, but I've got to go. I'd like to stay longer, but I've got an engagement for dinner."

I don't remember how he got out, but I know that tons lifted as the door closed behind him. Clemens made his shot, then very softly said:

"If he had stayed another five minutes I should have offered him twenty- five cents to go."

But a moment later he glared at me.

"Why in nation did you offer him your cue?"

"Wasn't that the courteous thing to do?" I asked.

"No!" he ripped out. "The courteous and proper thing would have been to strike him dead. Did you want to saddle that disaster upon us for life?"

He was blowing off steam, and I knew it and encouraged it. My impulse was to lie down on the couch and shout with hysterical laughter, but I suspected that would be indiscreet. He made some further comment on the propriety of offering a visitor a cue, and suddenly began to sing a travesty of an old hymn:

"How tedious are they Who their sovereign obey,"

and so loudly that I said:

"Aren't you afraid he'll hear you and come back?" Whereupon he pretended alarm and sang under his breath, and for the rest of the evening was in boundless good-humor.

I have recalled this incident merely as a sample of things that were likely to happen at any time in his company, and to show the difficulty one might find in fitting himself to his varying moods. He was not to be learned in a day, or a week, or a month; some of those who knew him longest did not learn him at all.

We celebrated his seventy-first birthday by playing billiards all day. He invented a new game for the occasion; inventing rules for it with almost every shot.

It happened that no member of the family was at home on this birthday. Ill health had banished every one, even the secretary. Flowers, telegrams, and congratulations came, and there was a string of callers; but he saw no one beyond some intimate friends--the Gilders--late in the afternoon.

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

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