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26 June, 2013
Mark Twain, A Biography Vol III, Part 2: 1907 - 1910|
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|The building of the new home at Redding had been going steadily forward
for something more than a year. John Mead Howells had made the plans;
W. W. Sunderland and his son Philip, of Danbury, Connecticut, were the
builders, and in the absence of Miss Clemens, then on a concert tour,
Mark Twain's secretary, Miss I. V. Lyon, had superintended the
"Innocence at Home," as the place was originally named, was to be ready
for its occupant in June, with every detail in place, as he desired. He
had never visited Redding; he had scarcely even glanced at the plans or
discussed any of the decorations of the new home. He had required only
that there should be one great living-room for the orchestrelle, and
another big room for the billiard-table, with plenty of accommodations
for guests. He had required that the billiard-room be red, for something
in his nature answered to the warm luxury of that color, particularly in
moments of diversion. Besides, his other billiard-rooms had been red,
and such association may not be lightly disregarded. His one other
requirement was that the place should be complete.
"I don't want to see it," he said, "until the cat is purring on the
"He had grown so weary of change, and so indifferent to it, that he was
But it was rather, I think, that he was afraid of losing interest by
becoming wearied with details which were likely to exasperate him; also,
he wanted the dramatic surprise of walking into a home that had been
conjured into existence as with a word.
It was expected that the move would be made early in the month; but there
were delays, and it was not until the 18th of June that he took
The plan, at this time, was only to use the Redding place as a summer
residence, and the Fifth Avenue house was not dismantled. A few days
before the 18th the servants, with one exception, were taken up to the
new house, Clemens and myself remaining in the loneliness of No. 21,
attending to the letters in the morning and playing billiards the rest of
the time, waiting for the appointed day and train. It was really a
pleasant three days. He invented a new game, and we were riotous and
laughed as loudly as we pleased. I think he talked very little of the
new home which he was so soon to see. It was referred to no oftener than
once or twice a day, and then I believe only in connection with certain
of the billiard-room arrangements. I have wondered since what picture of
it he could have had in his mind, for he had never seen a photograph.
He had a general idea that it was built upon a hill, and that its
architecture was of the Italian villa order. I confess I had moments of
anxiety, for I had selected the land for him, and had been more or less
accessory otherwise. I did not really worry, for I knew how beautiful
and peaceful it all was; also something of his taste and needs.
It had been a dry spring, and country roads were dusty, so that those who
were responsible had been praying for rain, to be followed by a pleasant
day for his arrival. Both petitions were granted; June 18th would fall
on Thursday, and Monday night there came a good, thorough, and refreshing
shower that washed the vegetation clean and laid the dust. The morning
of the 18th was bright and sunny and cool. Clemens was up and shaved by
six o'clock in order to be in time, though the train did not leave until
four in the afternoon--an express newly timed to stop at Redding--its
first trip scheduled for the day of Mark Twain's arrival.
We were still playing billiards when word was brought up that the cab was
waiting. My daughter, Louise, whose school on Long Island had closed
that day, was with us. Clemens wore his white flannels and a Panama hat,
and at the station a group quickly collected, reporters and others, to
interview him and speed him to his new home. He was cordial and
talkative, and quite evidently full of pleasant anticipation. A reporter
or two and a special photographer came along, to be present at his
The new, quick train, the green, flying landscape, with glimpses of the
Sound and white sails, the hillsides and clear streams becoming rapidly
steeper and dearer as we turned northward: all seemed to gratify him, and
when he spoke at all it was approvingly. The hour and a half required to
cover the sixty miles of distance seemed very short. As the train slowed
down for the Redding station, he said:
"We'll leave this box of candy"--he had bought a large box on the way--
"those colored porters sometimes like candy, and we can get some more."
He drew out a great handful of silver.
"Give them something--give everybody liberally that does any service."
There was a sort of open-air reception in waiting. Redding had
recognized the occasion as historic. A varied assemblage of vehicles
festooned with flowers had gathered to offer a gallant country welcome.
It was now a little before six o'clock of that long June day, still and
dreamlike; and to the people assembled there may have been something
which was not quite reality in the scene. There was a tendency to be
very still. They nodded, waved their hands to him, smiled, and looked
their fill; but a spell lay upon them, and they did not cheer. It would
have been a pity if they had done so. A noise, and the illusion would
have been shattered.
His carriage led away on the three-mile drive to the house on the
hilltop, and the floral turnout fell in behind. No first impression of a
fair land could have come at a sweeter time. Hillsides were green,
fields were white with daisies, dog-wood and laurel shone among the
trees. And over all was the blue sky, and everywhere the fragrance of
He was very quiet as we drove along. Once with gentle humor, looking
over a white daisy field, he said:
"That is buckwheat. I always recognize buckwheat when I see it. I wish
I knew as much about other things as I know about buckwheat. It seems to
be very plentiful here; it even grows by the roadside." And a little
later: "This is the kind of a road I like; a good country road through
The water was flowing over the mill-dam where the road crosses the
Saugatuck, and he expressed approval of that clear, picturesque little
river, one of those charming Connecticut streams. A little farther on a
brook cascaded down the hillside, and he compared it with some of the
tiny streams of Switzerland, I believe the Giessbach. The lane that led
to the new home opened just above, and as he entered the leafy way he
said, "This is just the kind of a lane I like," thus completing his
acceptance of everything but the house and the location.
The last of the procession had dropped away at the entrance of the lane,
and he was alone with those who had most anxiety for his verdict. They
had not long to wait. As the carriage ascended higher to the open view
he looked away, across the Saugatuck Valley to the nestling village and
church-spire and farm-houses, and to the distant hills, and declared the
land to be a good land and beautiful--a spot to satisfy one's soul. Then
came the house--simple and severe in its architecture--an Italian villa,
such as he had known in Florence, adapted now to American climate and
needs. The scars of building had not all healed yet, but close to the
house waved green grass and blooming flowers that might have been there
always. Neither did the house itself look new. The soft, gray stucco
had taken on a tone that melted into the sky and foliage of its
background. At the entrance his domestic staff waited to greet him, and
then he stepped across the threshold into the wide hall and stood in his
own home for the first time in seventeen years. It was an anxious
moment, and no one spoke immediately. But presently his eye had taken in
the satisfying harmony of the place and followed on through the wide
doors that led to the dining-room--on through the open French windows to
an enchanting vista of tree-tops and distant farmside and blue hills. He
said, very gently:
"How beautiful it all is? I did not think it could be as beautiful as
He was taken through the rooms; the great living-room at one end of the
hall--a room on the walls of which there was no picture, but only color-
harmony--and at the other end of the hall, the splendid, glowing
billiard-room, where hung all the pictures in which he took delight.
Then to the floor above, with its spacious apartments and a continuation
of color--welcome and concord, the windows open to the pleasant evening
hills. When he had seen it all--the natural Italian garden below the
terraces; the loggia, whose arches framed landscape vistas and formed a
rare picture-gallery; when he had completed the round and stood in the
billiard-room--his especial domain--once more he said, as a final
"It is a perfect house--perfect, so far as I can see, in every detail.
It might have been here always."
He was at home there from that moment--absolutely, marvelously at home,
for he fitted the setting perfectly, and there was not a hitch or flaw in
his adaptation. To see him over the billiard-table, five minutes later,
one could easily fancy that Mark Twain, as well as the house, had "been
there always." Only the presence of his daughters was needed now to
complete his satisfaction in everything.
There were guests that first evening--a small home dinner-party--and so
perfect were the appointments and service, that one not knowing would
scarcely have imagined it to be the first dinner served in that lovely
room. A little later; at the foot of the garden of bay and cedar,
neighbors, inspired by Dan Beard, who had recently located near by, set
off some fireworks. Clemens stepped out on the terrace and saw rockets
climbing through the summer sky to announce his arrival.
"I wonder why they all go to so much trouble for me," he said, softly.
"I never go to any trouble for anybody"--a statement which all who heard
it, and all his multitude of readers in every land, stood ready to deny.
That first evening closed with billiards--boisterous, triumphant
billiards--and when with midnight the day ended and the cues were set in
the rack, there was none to say that Mark Twain's first day in his new
home had not been a happy one.