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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol III, Part 2: 1907 - 1910|
CCLXVI. A Winter in Bermuda
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|Edmund Clarence Stedman died suddenly at his desk, January 18, 1908, and
Clemens, in response to telegrams, sent this message:
I do not wish to talk about it. He was a valued friend from days that
date back thirty-five years. His loss stuns me and unfits me to speak.
He recalled the New England dinners which he used to attend, and where he
had often met Stedman.
"Those were great affairs," he said. "They began early, and they ended
early. I used to go down from Hartford with the feeling that it wasn't
an all-night supper, and that it was going to be an enjoyable time.
Choate and Depew and Stedman were in their prime then--we were all young
men together. Their speeches were always worth listening to. Stedman
was a prominent figure there. There don't seem to be any such men now--
or any such occasions."
Stedman was one of the last of the old literary group. Aldrich had died
the year before. Howells and Clemens were the lingering "last leaves."
Clemens gave some further luncheon entertainments to his friends, and
added the feature of "doe" luncheons--pretty affairs where, with Clara
Clemens as hostess, were entertained a group of brilliant women, such as
Mrs. Kate Douglas Riggs, Geraldine Farrax, Mrs. Robert Collier, Mrs.
Frank Doubleday, and others. I cannot report those luncheons, for I was
not present, and the drift of the proceedings came to me later in too
fragmentary a form to be used as history; but I gathered from Clemens
himself that he had done all of the talking, and I think they must have
been very pleasant afternoons. Among the acknowledgments that followed
one of these affairs is this characteristic word-play from Mrs. Riggs:
N. B.--A lady who is invited to and attends a doe luncheon is, of
course, a doe. The question is, if she attends two doe luncheons in
succession is she a doe-doe? If so is she extinct and can never
attend a third?
Luncheons and billiards, however, failed to give sufficient brightness to
the dull winter days, or to insure him against an impending bronchial
attack, and toward the end of January he sailed away to Bermuda, where
skies were bluer and roadsides gay with bloom. His sojourn was brief
this time, but long enough to cure him, he said, and he came back full of
happiness. He had been driving about over the island with a newly
adopted granddaughter, little Margaret Blackmer, whom he had met one
morning in the hotel dining-room. A part of his dictated story will
convey here this pretty experience.
My first day in Bermuda paid a dividend--in fact a double dividend:
it broke the back of my cold and it added a jewel to my collection.
As I entered the breakfast-room the first object I saw in that
spacious and far-reaching place was a little girl seated solitary at
a table for two. I bent down over her and patted her cheek and
"I don't seem to remember your name; what is it?"
By the sparkle in her brown eyes it amused her. She said:
"Why, you've never known it, Mr. Clemens, because you've never seen
"Why, that is true, now that I come to think; it certainly is true,
and it must be one of the reasons why I have forgotten your name.
But I remember it now perfectly--it's Mary."
She was amused again; amused beyond smiling; amused to a chuckle,
and she said:
"Oh no, it isn't; it's Margaret."
I feigned to be ashamed of my mistake and said:
"Ah, well, I couldn't have made that mistake a few years ago; but I
am old, and one of age's earliest infirmities is a damaged memory;
but I am clearer now--clearer-headed--it all comes back to me just
as if it were yesterday. It's Margaret Holcomb."
She was surprised into a laugh this time, the rippling laugh that a
happy brook makes when it breaks out of the shade into the sunshine,
and she said:
"Oh, you are wrong again; you don't get anything right. It isn't
Holcomb, it's Blackmer."
I was ashamed again, and confessed it; then:
"How old are you, dear?"
"Twelve; New-Year's. Twelve and a month."
We were close comrades-inseparables, in fact-for eight days. Every
day we made pedestrian excursions--called them that anyway, and
honestly they were intended for that, and that is what they would
have been but for the persistent intrusion of a gray and grave and
rough-coated donkey by the name of Maud. Maud was four feet long;
she was mounted on four slender little stilts, and had ears that
doubled her altitude when she stood them up straight. Her tender
was a little bit of a cart with seat room for two in it, and you
could fall out of it without knowing it, it was so close to the
ground. This battery was in command of a nice, grave, dignified,
gentlefaced little black boy whose age was about twelve, and whose
name, for some reason or other, was Reginald. Reginald and Maud--I
shall not easily forget those names, nor the combination they stood
for. The trips going and coming were five or six miles, and it
generally took us three hours to make it. This was because Maud set
the pace. Whenever she detected an ascending grade she respected
it; she stopped and said with her ears:
"This is getting unsatisfactory. We will camp here."
The whole idea of these excursions was that Margaret and I should
employ them for the gathering of strength, by walking, yet we were
oftener in the cart than out of it. She drove and I superintended.
In the course of the first excursions I found a beautiful little
shell on the beach at Spanish Point; its hinge was old and dry, and
the two halves came apart in my hand. I gave one of them to
Margaret and said:
"Now dear, sometime or other in the future I shall run across you
somewhere, and it may turn out that it is not you at all, but will
be some girl that only resembles you. I shall be saying to myself
'I know that this is a Margaret by the look of her, but I don't know
for sure whether this is my Margaret or somebody else's'; but, no
matter, I can soon find out, for I shall take my half shell out of
my pocket and say, 'I think you are my Margaret, but I am not
certain; if you are my Margaret you can produce the other half of
Next morning when I entered the breakfast-room and saw the child I
approached and scanned her searchingly all over, then said, sadly:
"No, I am mistaken; it looks like my Margaret,--but it isn't, and I
am so sorry. I shall go away and cry now."
Her eyes danced triumphantly, and she cried out:
"No, you don't have to. There!" and she fetched out the identifying
I was beside myself with gratitude and joyful surprise, and revealed
it from every pore. The child could not have enjoyed this thrilling
little drama more if we had been playing it on the stage. Many
times afterward she played the chief part herself, pretending to be
in doubt as to my identity and challenging me to produce my half of
the shell. She was always hoping to catch me without it, but I
always defeated that game--wherefore she came to recognize at last
that I was not only old, but very smart.
Sometimes, when they were not walking or driving, they sat on the
veranda, and he prepared history-lessons for little Margaret by making
grotesque figures on cards with numerous legs and arms and other
fantastic symbols end features to fix the length of some king's reign.
For William the Conqueror, for instance, who reigned twenty-one years, he
drew a figure of eleven legs and ten arms. It was the proper method of
impressing facts upon the mind of a child. It carried him back to those
days at Elmira when he had arranged for his own little girls the game of
kings. A Miss Wallace, a friend of Margaret's, and usually one of the
pedestrian party, has written a dainty book of those Bermudian days.
--[Mark Twain and the Happy Islands, by Elizabeth Wallace.]
Miss Wallace says:
Margaret felt for him the deep affection that children have for an
older person who understands them and treats them with respect. Mr.
Clemens never talked down to her, but considered her opinions with a
There were some pretty sequels to the shell incident. After Mark Twain
had returned to New York, and Margaret was there, she called one day with
her mother, and sent up her card. He sent back word, saying:
"I seem to remember the name; but if this is really the person whom
I think it is she can identify herself by a certain shell I once
gave her, of which I have the other half. If the two halves fit, I
shall know that this is the same little Margaret that I remember."
The message went down, and the other half of the shell was promptly sent
up. Mark Twain had the two half-shells incised firmly in gold, and one
of these he wore on his watch-fob, and sent the other to Margaret.
He afterward corresponded with Margaret, and once wrote her:
I'm already making mistakes. When I was in New York, six weeks ago,
I was on a corner of Fifth Avenue and I saw a small girl--not a big
one--start across from the opposite corner, and I exclaimed to
myself joyfully, "That is certainly my Margaret!" so I rushed to
meet her. But as she came nearer I began to doubt, and said to
myself, "It's a Margaret--that is plain enough--but I'm afraid it is
somebody else's." So when I was passing her I held my shell so she
couldn't help but see it. Dear, she only glanced at it and passed
on! I wondered if she could have overlooked it. It seemed best to
find out; so I turned and followed and caught up with her, and said,
deferentially; "Dear Miss, I already know your first name by the
look of you, but would you mind telling me your other one?" She was
vexed and said pretty sharply, "It's Douglas, if you're so anxious
to know. I know your name by your looks, and I'd advise you to shut
yourself up with your pen and ink and write some more rubbish. I am
surprised that they allow you to run' at large. You are likely to
get run over by a baby-carriage any time. Run along now and don't
let the cows bite you."
What an idea! There aren't any cows in Fifth Avenue. But I didn't
smile; I didn't let on to perceive how uncultured she was. She was
from the country, of course, and didn't know what a comical blunder.
she was making.
Mr. Rogers's health was very poor that winter, and Clemens urged him to
try Bermuda, and offered to go back with him; so they sailed away to the
summer island, and though Margaret was gone, there was other entertaining
company--other granddaughters to be adopted, and new friends and old
friends, and diversions of many sorts. Mr. Rogers's son-in-law, William
Evarts Benjamin, came down and joined the little group. It was one of
Mark Twain's real holidays. Mr. Rogers's health improved rapidly, and
Mark Twain was in fine trim. To Mrs. Rogers, at the end of the first
week, he wrote:
DEAR MRS. ROGERS, He is getting along splendidly! This was the very
place for him. He enjoys himself & is as quarrelsome as a cat.
But he will get a backset if Benjamin goes home. Benjamin is the
brightest man in these regions, & the best company. Bright? He is
much more than that, he is brilliant. He keeps the crowd intensely
With love & all good wishes.
S. L. C.
Mark Twain and Henry Rogers were much together and much observed. They
were often referred to as "the King" and "the Rajah," and it was always a
question whether it was "the King" who took care of "the Rajah," or vice
versa. There was generally a group to gather around them, and Clemens
was sure of an attentive audience, whether he wanted to air his
philosophies, his views of the human race, or to read aloud from the
verses of Kipling.
"I am not fond of all poetry," he would say; "but there's something in
Kipling that appeals to me. I guess he's just about my level."
Miss Wallace recalls certain Kipling readings in his room, when his
friends gathered to listen.
On those Kipling evenings the 'mise-en-scene' was a striking one.
The bare hotel room, the pine woodwork and pine furniture, loose
windows which rattled in the sea-wind. Once in a while a gust of
asthmatic music from the spiritless orchestra downstairs came up the
hallway. Yellow, unprotected gas-lights burned uncertainly, and
Mark Twain in the midst of this lay on his bed (there was no couch)
still in his white serge suit, with the light from the jet shining
down on the crown of his silver hair, making it gleam and glisten
like frosted threads.
In one hand he held his book, in the other he had his pipe, which he used
principally to gesture with in the most dramatic passages.
Margaret's small successors became the earliest members of the Angel Fish
Club, which Clemens concluded to organize after a visit to the
spectacular Bermuda aquarium. The pretty angel-fish suggested youth and
feminine beauty to him, and his adopted granddaughters became angel-fish
to him from that time forward. He bought little enamel angel-fish pins,
and carried a number of them with him most of the time, so that he could
create membership on short notice. It was just another of the harmless
and happy diversions of his gentler side. He was always fond of youth
and freshness. He regarded the decrepitude of old age as an unnecessary
part of life. Often he said:
"If I had been helping the Almighty when, He created man, I would have
had Him begin at the other end, and start human beings with old age. How
much better it would have been to start old and have all the bitterness
and blindness of age in the beginning! One would not mind then if he
were looking forward to a joyful youth. Think of the joyous prospect of
growing young instead of old! Think of looking forward to eighteen
instead of eighty! Yes, the Almighty made a poor job of it. I wish He
had invited my assistance."
To one of the angel fish he wrote, just after his return:
I miss you, dear. I miss Bermuda, too, but not so much as I miss
you; for you were rare, and occasional and select, and Ltd.; whereas
Bermuda's charms and, graciousnesses were free and common and
unrestricted--like the rain, you know, which falls upon the just and
the unjust alike; a thing which would not happen if I were
superintending the rain's affairs. No, I would rain softly and
sweetly upon the just, but whenever I caught a sample of the unjust
outdoors I would drown him.