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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol III, Part 2: 1907 - 1910|
CCLXXXIX. The Death of Jean
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|He decided to go home for the holidays, and how fortunate it seems now
that he did so! We sailed for America on the 18th of December, arriving
the 21st. Jean was at the wharf to meet us, blue and shivering with the
cold, for it was wretchedly bleak there, and I had the feeling that she
should not have come.
She went directly, I think, to Stormfield, he following a day or two
later. On the 23d I was lunching with Jean alone. She was full of
interest in her Christmas preparations. She had a handsome tree set up
in the loggia, and the packages were piled about it, with new ones
constantly arriving. With her farm management, her housekeeping, her
secretary work, and her Christmas preparations, it seemed to me that she
had her hands overfull. Such a mental pressure could not be good for
her. I suggested that for a time at least I might assume a part of her
I was to remain at my own home that night, and I think it was as I left
Stormfield that I passed Jean on the stair. She said, cheerfully, that
she felt a little tired and was going up to lie down, so that she would
be fresh for the evening. I did not go back, and I never saw her alive
I was at breakfast next morning when word was brought in that one of the
men from Stormfield was outside and wished to see me immediately. When I
went out he said: "Miss Jean is dead. They have just found her in her
bath-room. Mr. Clemens sent me to bring you."
It was as incomprehensible as such things always are. I could not
realize at all that Jean, so full of plans and industries and action less
than a day before, had passed into that voiceless mystery which we call
Harry Iles drove me rapidly up the hill. As I entered Clemens's room he
looked at me helplessly and said:
"Well, I suppose you have heard of this final disaster."
He was not violent or broken down with grief. He had come to that place
where, whatever the shock or the ill-turn of fortune, he could accept it,
and even in that first moment of loss he realized that, for Jean at
least, the fortune was not ill. Her malady had never been cured, and it
had been one of his deepest dreads that he would leave her behind him.
It was believed, at first; that Jean had drowned, and Dr. Smith tried
methods of resuscitation; but then he found that it was simply a case of
heart cessation caused by the cold shock of her bath.
The Gabrilowitsches were by this time in Europe, and Clemens cabled them
not to come. Later in the day he asked me if we would be willing to
close our home for the winter and come to Stormfield. He said that he
should probably go back to Bermuda before long; but that he wished to
keep the house open so that it would be there for him to come to at any
time that he might need it.
We came, of course, for there was no thought among any of his friends but
for his comfort and peace of mind. Jervis Langdon was summoned from
Elmira, for Jean would lie there with the others.
In the loggia stood the half-trimmed Christmas tree, and all about lay
the packages of gifts, and in Jean's room, on the chairs and upon her
desk, were piled other packages. Nobody had been forgotten. For her
father she had bought a handsome globe; he had always wanted one. Once
when I went into his room he said:
"I have been looking in at Jean and envying her. I have never greatly
envied any one but the dead. I always envy the dead."
He told me how the night before they had dined together alone; how he had
urged her to turn over a part of her work to me; how she had clung to
every duty as if now, after all the years, she was determined to make up
for lost time.
While they were at dinner a telephone inquiry had come concerning his
health, for the papers had reported him as returning from Bermuda in a
critical condition. He had written this playful answer:
MANAGER ASSOCIATED PRESS,
I hear the newspapers say I am dying. The charge is not true. I
would not do such a thing at my time of life. I am behaving as good
as I can.
Merry Christmas to everybody!
Jean telephoned it for him to the press. It had been the last secretary
service she had ever rendered.
She had kissed his hand, he said, when they parted, for she had a severe
cold and would not wish to impart it to him; then happily she had said
good night, and he had not seen her again. The reciting of this was good
to him, for it brought the comfort of tears.
Later, when I went in again, he was writing:
"I am setting it down," he said--"everything. It is a relief to me to
write it. It furnishes me an excuse for thinking."
He continued writing most of the day, and at intervals during the next
day, and the next.
It was on Christmas Day that they went with Jean on her last journey.
Katie Leary, her baby nurse, had dressed her in the dainty gown which she
had worn for Clara's wedding, and they had pinned on it a pretty buckle
which her father had brought her from Bermuda, and which she had not
seen. No Greek statue was ever more classically beautiful than she was,
lying there in the great living-room, which in its brief history had seen
so much of the round of life.
They were to start with Jean at about six o'clock, and a little before
that time Clemens (he was unable to make the journey) asked me what had
been her favorite music. I said that she seemed always to care most for
the Schubert Impromptu.--[Op. 142, No. 2.]--Then he said:
"Play it when they get ready to leave with her, and add the Intermezzo
for Susy and the Largo for Mrs. Clemens. When I hear the music I shall
know that they are starting. Tell them to set lanterns at the door, so I
can look down and see them go."
So I sat at the organ and began playing as they lifted and bore her away.
A soft, heavy snow was falling, and the gloom of those shortest days was
closing in. There was not the least wind or noise, the whole world was
muffled. The lanterns at the door threw their light out on the thickly
falling flakes. I remained at the organ; but the little group at the
door saw him come to the window above--the light on his white hair as he
stood mournfully gazing down, watching Jean going away from him for the
last time. I played steadily on as he had instructed, the Impromptu, the
Intermezzo from "Cavalleria," and Handel's Largo. When I had finished I
went up and found him.
"Poor little Jean," he said; "but for her it is so good to go."
In his own story of it he wrote:
From my windows I saw the hearse and the carriages wind along the
road and gradually grow vague and spectral in the falling snow, and
presently disappear. Jean was gone out of my life, and would not
come back any more. The cousin she had played with when they were
babies together--he and her beloved old Katie--Were conducting her
to her distant childhood home, where she will lie by her mother's
side once more, in the company of Susy and Langdon.
He did not come down to dinner, and when I went up afterward I found him
curiously agitated. He said:
"For one who does not believe in spirits I have had a most peculiar
experience. I went into the bath-room just now and closed the door.
You know how warm it always is in there, and there are no draughts. All
at once I felt a cold current of air about me. I thought the door must
be open; but it was closed. I said, 'Jean, is this you trying to let me
know you have found the others?' Then the cold air was gone."
I saw that the incident had made a very great impression upon him; but I
don't remember that he ever mentioned it afterward.
Next day the storm had turned into a fearful blizzard; the whole hilltop
was a raging, driving mass of white. He wrote most of the day, but
stopped now and then to read some of the telegrams or letters of
condolence which came flooding in. Sometimes he walked over to the
window to look out on the furious tempest. Once, during the afternoon,
"Jean always so loved to see a storm like this, and just now at Elmira
they are burying her."
Later he read aloud some lines by Alfred Austin, which Mrs. Crane had
sent him lines which he had remembered in the sorrow for Susy:
When last came sorrow, around barn and byre
Wind-careen snow, the year's white sepulchre, lay.
"Come in," I said, "and warm you by the fire";
And there she sits and never goes away.
It was that evening that he came into the room where Mrs. Paine and I sat
by the fire, bringing his manuscript.
"I have finished my story of Jean's death," he said. "It is the end of
my autobiography. I shall never write any more. I can't judge it myself
at all. One of you read it aloud to the other, and let me know what you
think of it. If it is worthy, perhaps some day it may be published."
It was, in fact, one of the most exquisite and tender pieces of writing
in the language. He had ended his literary labors with that perfect
thing which so marvelously speaks the loftiness and tenderness of his
soul. It was thoroughly in keeping with his entire career that he
should, with this rare dramatic touch, bring it to a close. A paragraph
which he omitted may be printed now:
December 27. Did I know jean's value? No, I only thought I did.
I knew a ten-thousandth fraction of it, that was all. It is always
so, with us, it has always been so. We are like the poor ignorant
private soldier-dead, now, four hundred years--who picked up the
great Sancy diamond on the field of the lost battle and sold it for
a franc. Later he knew what he had done.
Shall I ever be cheerful again, happy again? Yes. And soon. For
I know my temperament. And I know that the temperament is master of
the man, and that he is its fettered and helpless slave and must in
all things do as it commands. A man's temperament is born in him,
and no circumstances can ever change it.
My temperament has never allowed my spirits to remain depressed long
at a time.
That was a feature of Jean's temperament, too. She inherited it
from me. I think she got the rest of it from her mother.
Jean Clemens had two natural endowments: the gift of justice and a
genuine passion for all nature. In a little paper found in her desk she
I know a few people who love the country as I do, but not many.
Most of my acquaintances are enthusiastic over the spring and summer
months, but very few care much for it the year round. A few people
are interested in the spring foliage and the development of the wild
flowers--nearly all enjoy the autumn colors--while comparatively few
pay much attention to the coming and going of the birds, the changes
in their plumage and songs, the apparent springing into life on some
warm April day of the chipmunks and woodchucks, the skurrying of
baby rabbits, and again in the fall the equally sudden disappearance
of some of the animals and the growing shyness of others. To me it
is all as fascinating as a book--more so, since I have never lost
interest in it.
It is simple and frank, like Thoreau. Perhaps, had she exercised it,
there was a third gift--the gift of written thought.
Clemens remained at Stormfield ten days after Jean was gone. The weather
was fiercely cold, the landscape desolate, the house full of tragedy.
He kept pretty closely to his room, where he had me bring the heaps of
letters, a few of which he answered personally; for the others he
prepared a simple card of acknowledgment. He was for the most part in
gentle mood during these days, though he would break out now and then,
and rage at the hardness of a fate that had laid an unearned burden of
illness on Jean and shadowed her life.
They were days not wholly without humor--none of his days could be
altogether without that, though it was likely to be of a melancholy sort.
Many of the letters offered orthodox comfort, saying, in effect: "God
does not willingly punish us."
When he had read a number of these he said:
"Well, why does He do it then? We don't invite it. Why does He give
Himself the trouble?"
I suggested that it was a sentiment that probably gave comfort to the
writer of it.
"So it does," he said, "and I am glad of it--glad of anything that gives
comfort to anybody."
He spoke of the larger God--the God of the great unvarying laws, and by
and by dropped off to sleep, quite peacefully, and indeed peace came more
and more to him each day with the thought that Jean and Susy and their
mother could not be troubled any more. To Mrs. Gabrilowitsch he wrote:
REDDING, CONN, December 29, 1909.
O, Clara, Clara dear, I am so glad she is out of it & safe--safe!
I am not melancholy; I shall never be melancholy again, I think.
You see, I was in such distress when I came to realize that you were
gone far away & no one stood between her & danger but me--& I could
die at any moment, & then--oh then what would become of her! For
she was wilful, you know, & would not have been governable.
You can't imagine what a darling she was that last two or three
days; & how fine, & good, & sweet, & noble--& joyful, thank Heaven!
--& how intellectually brilliant. I had never been acquainted with
Jean before. I recognized that.
But I mustn't try to write about her--I can't. I have already
poured my heart out with the pen, recording that last day or two.
I will send you that--& you must let no one but Ossip read it.
Good-by. I love you so! And Ossip.