The New Orleans plan was not wholly dead at this time. Howells wrote near the end of January that the matter was still being debated, now and then, but was far from being decided upon. He hoped to go somewhere with Mrs. Howells for a brief time in March, he said. Clemens, in haste, replied:
To W. D. Howells, in Boston:
HARTFORD, Jan. 26, 1875. MY DEAR HOWELLS,--When Mrs. Clemens read your letter she said: "Well, then, wherever they go, in March, the direction will be southward and so they must give us a visit on the way." I do not know what sort of control you may be under, but when my wife speaks as positively as that, I am not in the habit of talking back and getting into trouble. Situated as I am, I would not be able to understand, now, how you could pass by this town without feeling that you were running a wanton risk and doing a daredevil thing. I consider it settled that you are to come in March, and I would be sincerely sorry to learn that you and Mrs. Howells feel differently about it.
The piloting material has been uncovering itself by degrees, until it has exposed such a huge hoard to my view that a whole book will be required to contain it if I use it. So I have agreed to write the book for Bliss. --[The book idea was later given up for the time being.]--I won't be able to run the articles in the Atlantic later than the September number, for the reason that a subscription book issued in the fall has a much larger sale than if issued at any other season of the year. It is funny when I reflect that when I originally wrote you and proposed to do from 6 to 9 articles for the magazine, the vague thought in my mind was that 6 might exhaust the material and 9 would be pretty sure to do it. Or rather it seems to me that that was my thought--can't tell at this distance. But in truth 9 chapters don't now seem to more than open up the subject fairly and start the yarn to wagging.
I have been sick a-bed several days, for the first time in 21 years. How little confirmed invalids appreciate their advantages. I was able to read the English edition of the Greville Memoirs through without interruption, take my meals in bed, neglect all business without a pang, and smoke 18 cigars a day. I try not to look back upon these 21 years with a feeling of resentment, and yet the partialities of Providence do seem to me to be slathered around (as one may say) without that gravity and attention to detail which the real importance of the matter would seem to suggest. Yrs ever MARK.
The New Orleans idea continued to haunt the letters. The thought of drifting down the Mississippi so attracted both Clemens and Howells, that they talked of it when they met, and wrote of it when they were separated. Howells, beset by uncertainties, playfully tried to put the responsibility upon his wife. Once he wrote: "She says in the noblest way, 'Well, go to New Orleans, if you want to so much' (you know the tone). I suppose it will do if I let you know about the middle of February?"
But they had to give it up in the end. Howells wrote that he had been under the weather, and on half work the whole winter. He did not feel that he had earned his salary, he said, or that he was warranted in taking a three weeks' pleasure trip. Clemens offered to pay all the expenses of the trip, but only indefinite postponement followed. It would be seven years more before Mark Twain would return to the river, and then not with Howells.
In a former chapter mention has been made of Charles Warren Stoddard, whom Mark Twain had known in his California days. He was fond of Stoddard, who was a facile and pleasing writer of poems and descriptive articles. During the period that he had been acting as Mark Twain's secretary in London, he had taken pleasure in collecting for him the news reports of the celebrated Tichborn Claimant case, then in the English courts.