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Mark Twain, A Biography Vol I, Part 2: 1866 - 1875|
LXXIX. The Old Human Story
by Paine, Albert Bigelow
|Jervis Langdon was never able to accept his son-in-law's invitation to
the new home. His health began to fail that spring, and at the end of
March, with his physician and Mrs. Langdon, he made a trip to the South.
In a letter written at Richmond he said, "I have thrown off all care,"
and named a list of the four great interests in which he was involved.
Under "number 5," he included "everything," adding, "so you see how good
I am to follow the counsel of my children." He closed: "Samuel, I love
your wife and she loves me. I think it is only fair that you should know
it, but you need not flare up. I loved her before you did, and she loved
me before she did you, and has not ceased since. I see no way but for
you to make the most of it." He was already a very ill man, and this
cheerful letter was among the last he ever wrote.
He was absent six weeks and seemed to improve, but suffered an attack
early in May; in June his condition became critical. Clemens and his
wife were summoned to Elmira, and joined in the nursing, day and night.
Clemens surprised every one by his ability as a nurse. His delicacy and
thoughtfulness were unfailing; his original ways of doing things always
amused and interested the patient. In later years Mark Twain once said:
"How much of the nursing did I do? My main watch was from midnight
to four in the morning, nearly four hours. My other watch was a
midday watch, and I think it was nearly three hours. The two
sisters divided the remaining seventeen hours of the twenty-four
hours between them, and each of them tried generously and
persistently to swindle the other out of a part of her watch. I
went to bed early every night, and tried to get sleep enough by
midnight to fit me for my work, but it was always a failure. I went
on watch sleepy and remained miserable, sleepy, and wretched,
straight along through the four hours. I can still see myself
sitting by that bed in the melancholy stillness of the sweltering
night, mechanically waving a palm-leaf fan over the drawn, white
face of the patient. I can still recall my noddings, my fleeting
unconsciousness, when the fan would come to a standstill in my hand,
and I woke up with a start and a hideous shock. During all that
dreary time I began to watch for the dawn long before it came. When
the first faint gray showed through the window-blinds I felt as no
doubt a castaway feels when the dim threads of the looked-for ship
appear against the sky. I was well and strong, but I was a man,
afflicted with a man's infirmity--lack of endurance."
He always dealt with himself in this unsparing way; but those who were
about him then have left a different story.
It was all without avail. Mr. Langdon rallied, and early in July there
was hope for his recovery. He failed again, and on the afternoon of the
6th of August he died. To Mrs. Clemens, delicate and greatly worn with
the anxiety and strain of watching, the blow was a crushing one. It was
the beginning of a series of disasters which would mark the entire
remaining period of their Buffalo residence.
There had been a partial plan for spending the summer in England, and a
more definite one for joining the Twichells in the Adirondacks. Both of
these projects were now abandoned. Mrs. Clemens concluded that she would
be better at home than anywhere else, and invited an old school friend, a
Miss Emma Nye, to visit her.
But the shadow of death had not been lifted from the Clemens household.
Miss Nye presently fell ill with typhoid fever. There followed another
long period of anxiety and nursing, ending with the death of the visitor
in the new home, September 29th. The young wife was now in very delicate
health; genuinely ill, in fact. The happy home had become a place of
sorrow-of troubled nights and days. Another friend came to cheer them,
and on this friend's departure Mrs. Clemens drove to the railway station.
It was a hurried trip over rough streets to catch the train. She was
prostrated on her return, and a little later, November 7, 1870, her first
child, Langdon, was prematurely born. A dangerous illness followed, and
complete recovery was long delayed. But on the 12th the crisis seemed
passed, and the new father wrote a playful letter to the Twichells, as
coming from the late arrival:
DEAR UNCLE AND AUNT,--I came into the world on the 7th inst., and
consequently am about five days old now. I have had wretched health
ever since I made my appearance . . . I am not corpulent, nor am
I robust in any way. At birth I only weighed four and one-half
pounds with my clothes on--and the clothes were the chief feature of
the weight, too, I am obliged to confess, but I am doing finely, all
things considered . . . . My little mother is very bright and
cheery, and I guess she is pretty happy, but I don't know what
about. She laughs a great deal, notwithstanding she is sick abed.
P. S.--Father says I had better write because you will be more
interested in me, just now, than in the rest of the family.
A week later Clemens, as himself, wrote:
Livy is up and the prince keeps her busy and anxious these latter
days and nights, but I am a bachelor up-stairs and don't have to
jump up and get the soothing sirup, though I would as soon do it as
not, I assure you. (Livy will be certain to read this letter.)
Tell Harmony that I do hold the baby, and do it pretty handily too,
though with occasional apprehensions that his loose head will fall
off. I don't have to quiet him; he hardly ever utters a cry. He is
always thinking about something. He is a patient, good little baby.
Further along he refers to one of his reforms:
Smoke? I always smoke from three till five on Sunday afternoons,
and in New York, the other day, I smoked a week, day and night. But
when Livy is well I smoke only those two hours on Sunday. I'm boss
of the habit now, and shall never let it boss me any more.
Originally I quit solely on Livy's account (not that I believed
there was the faintest reason in the matter, but just as I would
deprive myself of sugar in my coffee if she wished it, or quit
wearing socks if she thought them immoral), and I stick to it yet on
Livy's account, and shall always continue to do so without a pang.
But somehow it seems a pity that you quit, for Mrs. T. didn't mind
it, if I remember rightly. Ah, it is turning one's back upon a
kindly Providence to spurn away from us the good creature he sent to
make the breath of life a luxury as well as a necessity, enjoyable
as well as useful. To go quit smoking, when there ain't any
sufficient excuse for it!--why, my old boy, when they used to tell
me I would shorten my life ten years by smoking, they little knew
the devotee they were wasting their puerile words upon; they little
knew how trivial and valueless I would regard a decade that had no
smoking in it! But I won't persuade you, Twichell--I won't until I
see you again--but then we'll smoke for a week together, and then
shut off again.