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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol III, Part 2: 1907 - 1910
The Voyage Home
by Paine, Albert Bigelow


I sent no word to Bermuda that I was coming, and when on the second morning I arrived at Hamilton, I stepped quickly ashore from the tender and hurried to Bay House. The doors were all open, as they usually are in that summer island, and no one was visible. I was familiar with the place, and, without knocking, I went through to the room occupied by Mark Twain. As I entered I saw that he was alone, sitting in a large chair, clad in the familiar dressing-gown.

Bay House stands upon the water, and the morning light, reflected in at the window, had an unusual quality. He was not yet shaven, and he seemed unnaturally pale and gray; certainly he was much thinner. I was too startled, for the moment, to say anything. When he turned and saw me he seemed a little dazed.

"Why," he said, holding out his hand, "you didn't tell us you were coming."

"No," I said, "it is rather sudden. I didn't quite like the sound of your last letters."

"But those were not serious," he protested. "You shouldn't have come on my account."

I said then that I had come on my own account; that I had felt the need of recreation, and had decided to run down and come home with him.

"That's--very--good," he said, in his slow, gentle fashion. "Now I'm glad to see you."

His breakfast came in and he ate with an appetite.

When he had been shaved and freshly propped tip in his pillows it seemed to me, after all, that I must have been mistaken in thinking him so changed. Certainly he was thinner, but his color was fine, his eyes were bright; he had no appearance of a man whose life was believed to be in danger. He told me then of the fierce attacks he had gone through, how the pains had torn at him, and how it had been necessary for him to have hypodermic injections, which he amusingly termed "hypnotic injunctions" and "subcutaneous applications," and he had his humor out of it, as of course he must have, even though Death should stand there in person.

From Mr. and Mrs. Allen and from the physician I learned how slender had been his chances and how uncertain were the days ahead. Mr. Allen had already engaged passage on the Oceana for the 12th, and the one purpose now was to get him physically in condition for the trip.

How devoted those kind friends had been to him! They had devised every imaginable thing for his comfort. Mr. Allen had rigged an electric bell which connected with his own room, so that he could be aroused instantly at any hour of the night. Clemens had refused to have a nurse, for it was only during the period of his extreme suffering that he needed any one, and he did not wish to have a nurse always around. When the pains were gone he was as bright and cheerful, and, seemingly, as well as ever.

On the afternoon of my arrival we drove out, as formerly, and he discussed some of the old subjects in quite the old way. He had been rereading Macaulay, he said, and spoke at considerable length of the hypocrisy and intrigue of the English court under James II. He spoke, too, of the Redding Library. I had sold for him that portion of the land where Jean's farm-house had stood, and it was in his mind to use the money for some sort of a memorial to Jean. I had written, suggesting that perhaps he would like to put up a small library building, as the Adams lot faced the corner where Jean had passed every day when she rode to the station for the mail. He had been thinking this over, he said, and wished the idea carried out. He asked me to write at once to his lawyer, Mr. Lark, and have a paper prepared appointing trustees for a memorial library fund.

The pain did not trouble him that afternoon, nor during several succeeding days. He was gay and quite himself, and he often went out on the lawn; but we did not drive out again. For the most part, he sat propped up in his bed, reading or smoking, or talking in the old way; and as I looked at him he seemed so full of vigor and the joy of life that I could not convince myself that he would not outlive us all. I found that he had been really very much alive during those three months--too much for his own good, sometimes--for he had not been careful of his hours or his diet, and had suffered in consequence.

He had not been writing, though he had scribbled some playful valentines and he had amused himself one day by preparing a chapter of advice--for me it appeared--which, after reading it aloud to the Allens and receiving their approval, he declared he intended to have printed for my benefit. As it would seem to have been the last bit of continued writing he ever did, and because it is characteristic and amusing, a few paragraphs may be admitted. The "advice" is concerning deportment on reaching the Gate which St. Peter is supposed to guard--

Upon arrival do not speak to St. Peter until spoken to. It is not your place to begin.

Do not begin any remark with "Say."

When applying for a ticket avoid trying to make conversation. If you must talk let the weather alone. St. Peter cares not a damn for the weather. And don't ask him what time the 4.30 train goes; there aren't any trains in heaven, except through trains, and the less information you get about them the better for you.

You can ask him for his autograph--there is no harm in that--but be careful and don't remark that it is one of the penalties of greatness. He has heard that before.

Don't try to kodak him. Hell is full of people who have made that mistake.

Leave your dog outside. Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit you would stay out and the dog would go in.

You will be wanting to slip down at night and smuggle water to those poor little chaps (the infant damned), but don't you try it. You would be caught, and nobody in heaven would respect you after that.

Explain to Helen why I don't come. If you can.

There were several pages of this counsel. One paragraph was written in shorthand. I meant to ask him to translate it; but there were many other things to think of, and I did not remember.

I spent most of each day with him, merely sitting by the bed and reading while he himself read or dozed. His nights were wakeful--he found it easier to sleep by day--and he liked to think that some one was there. He became interested in Hardy's Jude, and spoke of it with high approval, urging me to read it. He dwelt a good deal on the morals of it, or rather on the lack of them. He followed the tale to the end, finishing it the afternoon before we sailed. It was his last continuous reading. I noticed, when he slept, that his breathing was difficult, and I could see from day to day that he did not improve; but each evening he would be gay and lively, and he liked the entire family to gather around, while he became really hilarious over the various happenings of the day. It was only a few days before we sailed that the very severe attacks returned. The night of the 8th was a hard one. The doctors were summoned, and it was only after repeated injections of morphine that the pain had been eased. When I returned in the early morning he was sitting in his chair trying to sing, after his old morning habit. He took my hand and said:

"Well, I had a picturesque night. Every pain I had was on exhibition."

He looked out the window at the sunlight on the bay and green dotted islands. "'Sparkling and bright in the liquid light,'" he quoted. "That's Hoffman. Anything left of Hoffman?"

"No," I said.

"I must watch for the Bermudian and see if she salutes," he said, presently. "The captain knows I am here sick, and he blows two short whistles just as they come up behind that little island. Those are for me."

He said he could breathe easier if he could lean forward, and I placed a card-table in front of him. His breakfast came in, and a little later he became quite gay. He drifted to Macaulay again, and spoke of King James's plot to assassinate William II., and how the clergy had brought themselves to see that there was no difference between killing a king in battle and by assassination. He had taken his seat by the window to watch for the Bermudian. She came down the bay presently, her bright red stacks towering vividly above the green island. It was a brilliant morning, the sky and the water a marvelous blue. He watched her anxiously and without speaking. Suddenly there were two white puffs of steam, and two short, hoarse notes went up from her.

"Those are for me," he said, his face full of contentment. "Captain Fraser does not forget me."

There followed another bad night. My room was only a little distance away, and Claude came for me. I do not think any of us thought he would survive it; but he slept at last, or at least dozed. In the morning he said:

"That breast pain stands watch all night and the short breath all day. I am losing enough sleep to supply a worn-out army. I want a jugful of that hypnotic injunction every night and every morning."

We began to fear now that he would not be able to sail on the 12th; but by great good-fortune he had wonderfully improved by the 12th, so much so that I began to believe, if once he could be in Stormfield, where the air was more vigorous, he might easily survive the summer. The humid atmosphere of the season increased the difficulty of his breathing.

That evening he was unusually merry. Mr. and Mrs. Allen and Helen and myself went in to wish him good night. He was loath to let us leave, but was reminded that he would sail in the morning, and that the doctor had insisted that he must be quiet and lie still in bed and rest. He was never one to be very obedient. A little later Mrs. Allen and I, in the sitting-room, heard some one walking softly outside on the veranda. We went out there, and he was marching up and down in his dressing-gown as unconcerned as if he were not an invalid at all. He hadn't felt sleepy, he said, and thought a little exercise would do him good. Perhaps it did, for he slept soundly that night--a great blessing.

Mr. Allen had chartered a special tug to come to Bay House landing in the morning and take him to the ship. He was carried in a little hand-chair to the tug, and all the way out he seemed light-spirited, anything but an invalid: The sailors carried him again in the chair to his state-room, and he bade those dear Bermuda friends good-by, and we sailed away.

As long as I remember anything I shall remember the forty-eight hours of that homeward voyage. It was a brief two days as time is measured; but as time is lived it has taken its place among those unmeasured periods by the side of which even years do not count.

At first he seemed quite his natural self, and asked for a catalogue of the ship's library, and selected some memoirs of the Countess of Cardigan for his reading. He asked also for the second volume of Carlyle's French Revolution, which he had with him. But we ran immediately into the more humid, more oppressive air of the Gulf Stream, and his breathing became at first difficult, then next to impossible. There were two large port- holes, which I opened; but presently he suggested that it would be better outside. It was only a step to the main-deck, and no passengers were there. I had a steamer-chair brought, and with Claude supported him to it and bundled him with rugs; but it had grown damp and chilly, and his breathing did not improve. It seemed to me that the end might come at any moment, and this thought was in his mind, too, for once in the effort for breath he managed to say:

"I am going--I shall be gone in a moment."

Breath came; but I realized then that even his cabin was better than this. I steadied him back to his berth and shut out most of that deadly dampness. He asked for the "hypnotic 'injunction" (for his humor never left him), and though it was not yet the hour prescribed I could not deny it. It was impossible for him to lie down, even to recline, without great distress. The opiate made him drowsy, and he longed for the relief of sleep; but when it seemed about to possess him the struggle for air would bring him upright.

During the more comfortable moments he spoke quite in the old way, and time and again made an effort to read, and reached for his pipe or a cigar which lay in the little berth hammock at his side. I held the match, and he would take a puff or two with satisfaction. Then the peace of it would bring drowsiness, and while I supported him there would come a few moments, perhaps, of precious sleep. Only a few moments, for the devil of suffocation was always lying in wait to bring him back for fresh tortures. Over and over again this was repeated, varied by him being steadied on his feet or sitting on the couch opposite the berth. In spite of his suffering, two dominant characteristics remained--the sense of humor, and tender consideration for another.

Once when the ship rolled and his hat fell from the hook, and made the circuit of the cabin floor, he said:

"The ship is passing the hat."

Again he said:

"I am sorry for you, Paine, but I can't help it--I can't hurry this dying business. Can't you give me enough of the hypnotic injunction to put an end to me?"

He thought if I could arrange the pillows so he could sit straight up it would not be necessary to support him, and then I could sit on the couch and read while he tried to doze. He wanted me to read Jude, he said, so we could talk about it. I got all the pillows I could and built them up around him, and sat down with the book, and this seemed to give him contentment. He would doze off a little and then come up with a start, his piercing, agate eyes searching me out to see if I was still there. Over and over--twenty times in an hour--this was repeated. When I could deny him no longer I administered the opiate, but it never completely possessed him or gave him entire relief.

As I looked at him there, so reduced in his estate, I could not but remember all the labor of his years, and all the splendid honor which the world had paid to him. Something of this may have entered his mind, too, for once, when I offered him some of the milder remedies which we had brought, he said:

"After forty years of public effort I have become just a target for medicines."

The program of change from berth to the floor, from floor to the couch, from the couch back to the berth among the pillows, was repeated again and again, he always thinking of the trouble he might be making, rarely uttering any complaint; but once he said:

"I never guessed that I was not going to outlive John Bigelow." And again:

"This is such a mysterious disease. If we only had a bill of particulars we'd have something to swear at."

Time and again he picked up Carlyle or the Cardigan Memoirs, and read, or seemed to read, a few lines; but then the drowsiness would come and the book would fall. Time and again he attempted to smoke, or in his drowse simulated the motion of placing a cigar to his lips and puffing in the old way.

Two dreams beset him in his momentary slumber--one of a play in which the title-role of the general manager was always unfilled. He spoke of this now and then when it had passed, and it seemed to amuse him. The other was a discomfort: a college assembly was attempting to confer upon him some degree which he did not want. Once, half roused, he looked at me searchingly and asked:

"Isn't there something I can resign and be out of all this? They keep trying to confer that degree upon me and I don't want it." Then realizing, he said: "I am like a bird in a cage: always expecting to get out, and always beaten back by the wires." And, somewhat later: "Oh, it is such a mystery, and it takes so long."

Toward the evening of the first day, when it grew dark outside, he asked:

"How long have we been on this voyage?"

I answered that this was the end of the first day.

"How many more are there?" he asked.

"Only one, and two nights."

"We'll never make it," he said. "It's an eternity."

"But we must on Clara's account," I told him, and I estimated that Clara would be more than half-way across the ocean by now.

"It is a losing race," he said; "no ship can outsail death."

It has been written--I do not know with what proof--that certain great dissenters have recanted with the approach of death--have become weak, and afraid to ignore old traditions in the face of the great mystery. I wish to write here that Mark Twain, as he neared the end, showed never a single tremor of fear or even of reluctance. I have dwelt upon these hours when suffering was upon him, and death the imminent shadow, in order to show that at the end he was as he had always been, neither more nor less, and never less than brave.

Once, during a moment when he was comfortable and quite himself, he said, earnestly:

"When I seem to be dying I don't want to be stimulated back to life. I want to be made comfortable to go."

There was not a vestige of hesitation; there was no grasping at straws, no suggestion of dread.

Somehow those two days and nights went by. Once, when he was partially relieved by the opiate, I slept, while Claude watched; and again, in the fading end of the last night, when we had passed at length into the cold, bracing northern air, and breath had come back to him, and with it sleep.

Relatives, physicians, and news-gatherers were at the dock to welcome him. He was awake, and the northern air had brightened him, though it was the chill, I suppose, that brought on the pains in his breast, which, fortunately, he had escaped during the voyage. It was not a prolonged attack, and it was, blessedly, the last one.

An invalid-carriage had been provided, and a compartment secured on the afternoon express to Redding--the same train that had taken him there two years before. Dr. Robert H. Halsey and Dr. Edward Quintard attended him, and he made the journey really in cheerful comfort, for he could breathe now, and in the relief came back old interests. Half reclining on the couch, he looked through the afternoon papers. It happened curiously that Charles Harvey Genung, who, something more than four years earlier, had been so largely responsible for my association with Mark Twain, was on the same train, in the same coach, bound for his country-place at New Hartford.

Lounsbury was waiting with the carriage, and on that still, sweet April evening we drove him to Stormfield much as we had driven him two years before. Now and then he mentioned the apparent backwardness of the season, for only a few of the trees were beginning to show their green. As we drove into the lane that led to the Stormfield entrance, he said:

"Can we see where you have built your billiard-room?"

The gable showed above the trees, and I pointed it out to him.

"It looks quite imposing," he said.

I think it was the last outside interest he ever showed in anything. He had been carried from the ship and from the train, but when we drew up to Stormfield, where Mrs. Paine, with Katie Leary and others of the household, was waiting to greet him, he stepped from the carriage alone with something of his old lightness, and with all his old courtliness, and offered each one his hand. Then, in the canvas chair which we had brought, Claude and I carried him up-stairs to his room and delivered him to the physicians, and to the comforts and blessed air of home. This was Thursday evening, April 14, 1910.

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