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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol III, Part 2: 1907 - 1910|
CCXCII. 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
"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
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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,
"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
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.