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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol III, Part 1: 1900 - 1907|
CCXXXI. The Close of a Beautiful Life
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|In one of his notes near the end of April Clemens writes that once more,
as at Riverdale, he has been excluded from Mrs. Clemens's room except for
the briefest moment at a time. But on May 12th, to R. W. Gilder, he
For two days now we have not been anxious about Mrs. Clemens
(unberufen). After 20 months of bedridden solitude & bodily misery
she all of a sudden ceases to be a pallid, shrunken shadow, & looks
bright & young & pretty. She remains what she always was, the most
wonderful creature of fortitude, patience, endurance, and
recuperative power that ever was. But ah, dear! it won't last;
this fiendish malady will play new treacheries upon her, and I shall
go back to my prayers again--unutterable from any pulpit!
May 13, A.M. I have just paid one of my pair of permitted 2-minute
visits per day to the sick-room. And found what I have learned to
There was a day when she was brought out on the terrace in a wheel-chair
to see the wonder of the early Italian summer. She had been a prisoner
so long that she was almost overcome with the delight of it all--the more
so, perhaps, in the feeling that she might so soon be leaving it.
It was on Sunday, the 5th of June, that the end came. Clemens and Jean
had driven out to make some calls, and had stopped at a villa, which
promised to fulfil most of the requirements. They came home full of
enthusiasm concerning it, and Clemens, in his mind, had decided on the
purchase. In the corridor Clara said:
"She is better to-day than she has been for three months."
Then quickly, under her breath, "Unberufen," which the others, too, added
Mrs. Clemens was, in fact, bright and cheerful, and anxious to hear all
about the new property which was to become their home. She urged him to
sit by her during the dinner-hour and tell her the details; but once,
when the sense of her frailties came upon her, she said they must not
mind if she could not go very soon, but be content where they were. He
remained from half past seven until eight--a forbidden privilege, but
permitted because she was so animated, feeling so well. Their talk was
as it had been in the old days, and once during it he reproached himself,
as he had so often done, and asked forgiveness for the tears he had
brought into her life. When he was summoned to go at last he chided
himself for remaining so long; but she said there was no harm, and kissed
him, saying: "You will come back," and he answered, "Yes, to say good
night," meaning at half past nine, as was the permitted custom. He stood
a moment at the door throwing kisses to her, and she returning them, her
face bright with smiles.
He was so hopeful and happy that it amounted to exaltation. He went to
his room at first, then he was moved to do a thing which he had seldom
done since Susy died. He went to the piano up-stairs and sang the old
jubilee songs that Susy had liked to hear him sing. Jean came in
presently, listening. She had not done this before, that he could
remember. He sang "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," and "My Lord He Calls Me."
He noticed Jean then and stopped, but she asked him to go on.
Mrs. Clemens, in her room, heard the distant music, and said to her
"He is singing a good-night carol to me."
The music ceased presently, and then a moment later she asked to be
lifted up. Almost in that instant life slipped away without a sound.
Clemens, coming to say good night, saw a little group about her bed,
Clara and Jean standing as if dazed. He went and bent over and looked
into her face, surprised that she did not greet him. He did not suspect
what had happened until he heard one of the daughters ask:
"Katie, is it true? Oh, Katie, is it true?"
He realized then that she was gone.
In his note-book that night he wrote:
At a quarter past 9 this evening she that was the life of my life
passed to the relief & the peace of death after as months of unjust
& unearned suffering. I first saw her near 37 years ago, & now I
have looked upon her face for the last time. Oh, so unexpected!...
I was full of remorse for things done & said in these 34 years of
married life that hurt Livy's heart.
He envied her lying there, so free from it all, with the great peace upon
her face. He wrote to Howells and to Twichell, and to Mrs. Crane, those
nearest and dearest ones. To Twichell he said:
How sweet she was in death, how young, how beautiful, how like her
dear girlish self of thirty years ago, not a gray hair showing!
This rejuvenescence was noticeable within two hours after her death;
& when I went down again (2.3o) it was complete. In all that night
& all that day she never noticed my caressing hand--it seemed
To Howells he recalled the closing scene:
I bent over her & looked in her face & I think I spoke--I was
surprised & troubled that she did not notice me. Then we understood
& our hearts broke. How poor we are to-day!
But how thankful I am that her persecutions are ended! I would not
call her back if I could.
To-day, treasured in her worn, old Testament, I found a dear &
gentle letter from you dated Far Rockaway, September 13, 1896, about
our poor Susy's death. I am tired & old; I wish I were with Livy.
And in a few days:
It would break Livy's heart to see Clara. We excuse ourself from all the
friends that call--though, of course, only intimates come. Intimates--
but they are not the old, old friends, the friends of the old, old times
when we laughed. Shall we ever laugh again? If I could only see a dog
that I knew in the old times & could put my arms around his neck and tell
him all, everything, & ease my heart!