Tacoma Encounter with an Interviewer
17 August 1895
How the Great Humorist Entertained His Entertainers.
AN UNPUBLISHED STORY TOLD
Old Friendships Renewed in Tacoma in the Midst of the Most Delightful Surroundings.
Mrs. Frank Allyn, who with her mother, Mrs. Judge Turner, renewed the old time acquaintance with Mr. and Mrs. Clemens, last week, gave in her own gracious way a tiny impromptu tea Monday afternoon, when a few friends were privileged to meet the great humorist and his charming wife and daughter. To say that the occasion was one of the treats of a lifetime is by no means to express the delight felt by all present, for the same genial, kindly, irresistible fun that lies between the covers of his books pervades his whole being, and filled the entire room as Mark Twain, in a perfect abandon of jollity and good fellowship, sat by the beautiful woman whose pride in him is only equaled by her great love for him, and met with a characteristic word and grasp of the hand, the guests of the afternoon. A surprise and an unmitigated delight to all was the singing of Master Philip Spooner, the young son of Senator Spooner, of Wisconsin, whose phenomenal soprano voice is of wonderful range and power. He gave two exquisite songs, accompanied by his mother, and won the [one line illegible].
Miss Claire Clemens, who is an artist of rare skill upon the piano, favored the company with two masterly selections by Hope Kirk, displaying great power and breadth of style in her playing. A very delightful solo was given by Mrs. Morris Gross, and a most enjoyable feature was the reading by Lieutenant-Commander Wadhams, of several of the poems of Ella Higginson, the beauty of which lost nothing by the effective and thoughtful interpretation they were given.
The climax of the pleasure was reached when Commander Wadhams gracefully announced that Mr. Clemens had consented to tell a story, and everyone drew little short breaths and smiled in advance as the man every one knows and loves, rose and remarked:
"I want to tell you this story because I have Claire and her mother both here, and I may never have such a chance again, for they belong in this, and they don't like to have me tell it very well, either; but it happened this way: We were staying one summer at a place up in the Catskills, near Mr. Laurence Hutton's country home, and Mr. Charles Dudley Warner was staying there too. After we had been there a short time, I was called away for ten days, and while I was gone, Dr. B.E. Martin visited Mr. Hutton. Now, Dr. B.E. Martin is an American gentleman who has lived so much in England that he has -- well, absorbed many English ways. He is very natty and spruce about his clothes, always wears gloves, and so on. Well, you know at these country places they toss every new comer in a blanket, so to speak, get all the good they can out of him and then drop him and pick up somebody else, so when I came back they had forgotten all about Mr. Martin and I never heard him mentioned, but the Warners (they are in this story, too), they invited him to call on them in Hartford, and Mrs. Clemens and Claire, they urged him if he ever visited the town to call at our house, and we would make it pleasant for him, but I didn't know anything about that.
"So it happened that about six weeks later, one rainy, miserable day, I was up in the billiard room on the third floor, and I was just in a desperately disagreeable mood. I had just played a game of billiards with myself (and lost), and was in an overwhelming rage. I wanted something or somebody to be violent towards, so when the colored man we have brought a card to me, I gave it a savage look, and read, 'Mr. B.E. Martin.'
"Here was my victim! I knew this was a lightning rod man, and I said, 'I'm going to kill him!' 'What is it, Sambo, did he say anything, have anything -- want anything? Did he have any lightning rods?' 'No, sir, not as I could see, sir; he's just a gentleman, sir.'
"'Oh, well if he isn't selling lightning rods it's something else. He's selling engravings for Goupil, -- did he have a Russia leather portfolio under his arm?' 'I don't think he did, but he might, sir, he had kid gloves on, sir.' Well, I fairly gloated at the torture I would put that man through. I was in that thoroughly vindictive mood. I thought this fellow would have to suffer for some of the unpleasantness his kind had made us. So I started. But as I went I remembered certain warnings against these ebullitions of rage. I remembered that I was not exactly commander-in-chief of that home, and that whoever came I was to treat them well. So I decided not to use violence -- I would see how the land lay, get my bearings, and I would carry in with me a black frost that would immediately settle over everything, and utterly wither the man with his lightning rods or his engravings, or whatever he had.
"I peeped in the drawing room. Now Mrs. Clemens had been making a tour of the house that day and had gathered up nine or ten etchings in little silver frames and arranged them on the floor to try the effect for a certain space on the wall, and there they were. I'd seen 'em a thousand times, but I didn't know it then. I made me feel good to think I had so nearly hit it, and I walked in -- as luck would have it, he had taken from the table a Russia leather portfolio, and held it on his lap. Of course, I'd seen the case a million times, but I didn't know that either -- I was feeling especially well, and so, so -- capable -- as I took in the situation and prepared to meet the foe.
"He rose when I went in and put out his hand. I took it, and let it repose a moment in mine; let it lie there -- then let it drop. That was good for a starter. Then I stood there and didn't say anything. I didn't ask him to sit down. I didn't sit down. I knew that a pause, a long, deep, deliberate pause, well distributed over the surroundings would be highly advantageous.
"At last he said, 'Mrs. Clemens is well, I hope.'
"'Oh, yes, she's well -- well enough.'
"Then that pause settled again and you could feel it over everything. At last in a sort of hopeless way he stooped and absently raised one of the etchings that lay on the floor.
"That instant it struck me that somewhere I had seen that, so with a wave of the hand, I said blandly, 'Never mind, we've got that one.'
"Well, he dropped it suddenly, and I congratulated myself; but still I didn't say anything, and when he touched the second one I tried the same dodge again, and said, 'Never mind, we've that one, too.'
"He let go and stammered out: 'I recently met Mr. Warner in the mountains -- and he spoke to me about calling at his house. Could you kindly direct me?'
"What a chance! A fairly covered him with directions! 'Certainly, certainly, right out the front door,' pointing straight ahead, 'you can't miss it -- right ahead there, down that street,' and he was out in a trice.
"But when I came back and saw all those pictures on the floor, I began to feel a slight sinking at the heart. It struck me perhaps I had not been so very neat and clever after all. I had sent that man away without his property, and I studied that proposition until I felt uncomfortable. Then I called up to the second story, -- 'Do you know anybody by the name of Mr. B.E. Martin?' 'Martin?' said Mrs. Clemens, 'is he tall and fair, glasses?' 'No, that ain't the one.'
"Then Claire came from the other side and she called down, 'Why he is the gentleman we met at Mr. Hutton's and we invited him particularly to call when he came to Hartford.'
"'It's all right,' I said, 'he's been here.'
"'What have you done now, -- what have you done? We urged him to visit us.'
"'It's all right, I say, he's been here. I didn't know who he was, and he's gone -- gone to Mr. Warner's. I thought he was selling etchings!'
"'Oh, how terrible! You must go right after him and apologize!'
"What could I say? Tell him I took him for a peddler?
"But something had to be done, so I rushed wildly down the street. The Warner's house has a door, the upper half of which is often open, and a cat or Christian may easily get over the lower half, [two lines illegible] an instant I stood breathless and disheveled in the drawing room. My! but there was ice all around! There sat Susie Warner, like a frozen image, and Mr. Martin was bolt upright on the other side of the room.
"I didn't lose a minute. 'My dear fellow,' I cried, 'why did you let me go on so? Didn't you see I was not myself? Why didn't you -- oh -- say something -- do something, and bring me to my senses?'
"'Why, I observed, Mr. Clemens, that you seemed -- ah -- pre-occupied, and rather disinclined for conversation; but I conjectured that you were probably absorbed in your work----'
"'That's just it,' I put in, triumphantly, 'absorbed in my work! You've hit it exactly!'
"By this time Susie was on to the whole business. She twigged instanter, and the atmosphere thawed. She had taken him for a book agent!
"Well, we gathered around that man, and we invited him to dinner and breakfast and lunch, and to balls and private theatricals and picnics. You never saw anything like the way the fellow was feted, and if he'd stayed another week we'd have had him in the inebriate asylum!"
It is one thing to give the substance of the story, and quite another to hear it told, and see the expressive gestures and characteristic expressions with which it was told to the convulsed company, but it was easy to see why Mark Twain has achieved the reputation he sustains, and impossible to lose the funny side of a dilemma where he has it by the horns.
After the laughter had subsided, Mrs. Allyn was urged by the visitors to favor them with a song, which she did in a manner thoroughly artistic and delightful.
Mrs. Clemens is a woman of great charm and beauty. Her face is at once sweet, womanly, animated and full of kindness.
Claire Clemens, their Spanish daughter, as they call her, has a wealth of glossy black hair, which she wears in a rich soft coil low on the head, and is a girl whose graceful, simple manner would endear her to all.
The ladies were fairly covered with flowers, and the pretty rooms were tastefully decorated from Tacoma gardens.
Among those present were: Mr. and Mrs. Moffat, of the Examiner; Mrs. Luke Robinson and daughters, of San Francisco; Mrs. Senator Spooner and son, of Wisconsin; Miss Nettie Wallace, Mrs. Galusha Parsons, Mrs. C.W. Griggs, Mrs. A.K. Hiscock, Mrs. Frank Clark, Mrs. E. M. Munt, Mrs. H. Weston Briggs, Mrs. Leslie Cullom, Mrs. Arthur Bridgman, Mrs. Bernice E. Newell, Mrs. Otis Sprague, Mrs. C.J. Kershaw, Mrs. W.R. Rust and others.