When they had gone we went down to dinner. We were entirely alone, and I felt the great honor of being his only guest on such an occasion. Once between the courses, when he rose, as usual, to walk about, he wandered into the drawing-room, and seating himself at the orchestrelle began to play the beautiful flower-song from "Faust." It was a thing I had not seen him do before, and I never saw him do it again. When he came back to the table he said:
"Speaking of companions of the long ago, after fifty years they become only shadows and might as well be in the grave. Only those whom one has really loved mean anything at all. Of my playmates I recall John Briggs, John Garth, and Laura Hawkins--just those three; the rest I buried long ago, and memory cannot even find their graves."
He was in his loveliest humor all that day and evening; and that night, when he stopped playing, he said:
"I have never had a pleasanter day at this game."
I answered, "I hope ten years from to-night we shall still be playing it."
"Yes," he said, "still playing the best game on earth."
PHILOSOPHY AND PESSIMISM
In a letter to MacAlister, written at this time, he said:
The doctors banished Jean to the country 5 weeks ago; they banished my secretary to the country for a fortnight last Saturday; they banished Clara to the country for a fortnight last Monday . . . . They banished me to Bermuda to sail next Wednesday, but I struck and sha'n't go. My complaint is permanent bronchitis & is one of the very best assets I've got, for it excuses me from every public function this winter--& all other winters that may come.
If he had bronchitis when this letter was written, it must have been of a very mild form, for it did not interfere with billiard games, which were more protracted and strenuous than at almost any other period. I conclude, therefore, that it was a convenient bronchitis, useful on occasion.
For a full ten days we were alone in the big house with the servants. It was a holiday most of the time. We hurried through the mail in the morning and the telephone calls; then, while I answered such letters as required attention, he dictated for an hour or so to Miss Hobby, after which, billiards for the rest of the day and evening. When callers were reported by the butler, I went down and got rid of them. Clara Clemens, before her departure, had pinned up a sign, "NO BILLIARDS AFTER 10 P.M.," which still hung on the wall, but it was outlawed. Clemens occasionally planned excursions to Bermuda and other places; but, remembering the billiard-table, which he could not handily take along, he abandoned these projects. He was a boy whose parents had been called away, left to his own devices, and bent on a good time.
There were likely to be irritations in his morning's mail, and more often he did not wish to see it until it had been pretty carefully sifted. So many people wrote who wanted things, so many others who made the claim of more or less distant acquaintanceship the excuse for long and trivial letters.
"I have stirred up three generations," he said; "first the grandparents, then the children, and now the grandchildren; the great-grandchildren will begin to arrive soon."
His mail was always large; but often it did not look interesting. One could tell from the envelope and the superscription something of the contents. Going over one assortment he burst out:
"Look at them! Look how trivial they are! Every envelope looks as if it contained a trivial human soul."
Many letters were filled with fulsome praise and compliment, usually of one pattern. He was sated with such things, and seldom found it possible to bear more than a line or two of them. Yet a fresh, well-expressed note of appreciation always pleased him.
"I can live for two months on a good compliment," he once said. Certain persistent correspondents, too self-centered to realize their lack of consideration, or the futility of their purpose, followed him relentlessly.