There was a consensus of newspaper opinion that the old hell with its lake of fire and brimstone was an antiquated institution; in fact a dead letter." And again, "I was coming down Broadway last night, and I stopped to look at one of the street-venders selling those little toy fighting roosters. It was a bleak, desolate evening; nobody was buying anything, and as he pulled the string and kept those little roosters dancing and fighting his remarks grew more and more cheerless and sardonic.
"'Japanese game chickens,' he said; 'pretty toys, amuse the children with their antics. Child of three can operate it. Take them home for Christmas. Chicken-fight at your own fireside.' I tried to catch his eye to show him that I understood his desolation and sorrow, but it was no use. He went on dancing his toy chickens, and saying, over and over, 'Chicken-fight at your own fireside.'"
The luncheon over, we wandered back into the drawing-room, and presently all left but Colonel Harvey. Clemens and the Colonel went up to the billiard-room and engaged in a game of cushion caroms, at twenty-five cents a game. I was umpire and stakeholder, and it was a most interesting occupation, for the series was close and a very cheerful one. It ended the day much to Mark Twain's satisfaction, for he was oftenest winner. That evening he said:
"We will repeat that luncheon; we ought to repeat it once a month. Howells will be gone, but we must have the others. We cannot have a thing like that too often."
There was, in fact, a second stag-luncheon very soon after, at which George Riggs was present and that rare Irish musician, Denis O'Sullivan. It was another choice afternoon, with a mystical quality which came of the music made by O'Sullivan on some Hindu reeds-pipes of Pan. But we shall have more of O'Sullivan presently--all too little, for his days were few and fleeting.
Howells could not get away just yet. Colonel Harvey, who, like James Osgood, would not fail to find excuse for entertainment, chartered two drawing-room cars, and with Mrs. Harvey took a party of fifty-five or sixty congenial men and women to Lakewood for a good-by luncheon to Howells. It was a day borrowed from June, warm and beautiful.
The trip down was a sort of reception. Most of the guests were acquainted, but many of them did not often meet. There was constant visiting back and forth the full length of the two coaches. Denis O'Sullivan was among the guests. He looked in the bloom of health, and he had his pipes and played his mystic airs; then he brought out the tin- whistle of Ireland, and blew such rollicking melodies as capering fairies invented a long time ago. This was on the train going down.
There was a brief program following the light-hearted feasting--an informal program fitting to that sunny day. It opened with some recitations by Miss Kitty Cheatham; then Colonel Harvey introduced Howells, with mention of his coming journey. As a rule, Howells does not enjoy speaking. He is willing to read an address on occasion, but he has owned that the prospect of talking without his notes terrifies him. This time, however, there was no reluctance, though he had prepared no speech. He was among friends. He looked even happy when he got on his feet, and he spoke like a happy man. He talked about Mark Twain. It was all delicate, delicious chaffing which showed Howells at his very best--all too short for his listeners.
Clemens, replying, returned the chaff, and rambled amusingly among his fancies, closing with a few beautiful words of "Godspeed and safe return" to his old comrade and friend.
Then once more came Denis and his pipes. No one will ever forget his part of the program. The little samples we had heard on the train were expanded and multiplied and elaborated in a way that fairly swept his listeners out of themselves into that land where perhaps Denis himself wanders playing now; for a month later, strong and lusty and beautiful as he seemed that day, he suddenly vanished from among us and his reeds were silent.