Twain a.k.a. Samuel Clemens, 1909
The Death of Jean:
The death of Jean Clemens occurred early in the
morning of December 24, 1909. Mr. Clemens was in great stress of
mind when I first saw him, but a few hours later I found him 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."
At intervals during that day and the next I looked in, and usually
found him writing. Then on the evening of the 26th, when he knew
that Jean had been laid to rest in Elmira, he came to my room with
the manuscript in his hand.
"I have finished it," he said; "read it. I can form
no opinion of it myself. If you think it worthy, some day–at the
proper time–it can end my autobiography. It is the final chapter."
Four months later–almost to the day–(April 21st)
he was with Jean.
Albert Bigelow Paine.
Stormfield, Christmas Eve, 11 A.M., 1909.
JEAN IS DEAD!
Has any one ever tried to put upon paper all the
little happenings connected with a dear one–happenings of the
twenty-four hours preceding the sudden and unexpected death of that
dear one? Would a book contain them? Would two books contain them? I
think not. They pour into the mind in a flood. They are little
things that have been always happening every day, and were always so
unimportant and easily forgettable before–but now! Now, how
different! How precious they are, now dear, how unforgettable, how
pathetic, how sacred, how clothed with dignity!
Last night Jean, all flushed with splendid health,
and I the same, from the wholesome effects of my Bermuda holiday,
strolled hand in hand from the dinner-table and sat down in the
library and chatted, and planned, and discussed, cheerily and
happily (and how unsuspectingly!)–until nine–which is late for
us–then went upstairs, Jean's friendly German dog following. At my
door Jean said, "I can't kiss you good night, father: I have a cold,
and you could catch it." I bent and kissed her hand. She was
moved–I saw it in her eyes–and she impulsively kissed my hand in
return. Then with the usual gay "Sleep well, dear!" from both, we
At half past seven this morning I woke, and heard
voices outside my door. I said to myself, "Jean is starting on her
usual horseback flight to the station for the mail." Then Katy
entered, stood quaking and gasping at my bedside a moment, then
found her tongue:
"MISS JEAN IS DEAD!"
Possibly I know now what the soldier feels when a
bullet crashes through his heart.
In her bathroom there she lay, the fair young
creature, stretched upon the floor and covered with a sheet. And
looking so placid, so natural, and as if asleep. We knew what had
happened. She was an epileptic: she had been seized with a
convulsion and heart failure in her bath. The doctor had to come
several miles. His efforts, like our previous ones, failed to bring
her back to life.
It is noon, now. How lovable she looks, how sweet
and how tranquil! It is a noble face, and full of dignity; and that
was a good heart that lies there so still.
In England, thirteen years ago, my wife and I were
stabbed to the heart with a cablegram which said, "Susy was
mercifully released today." I had to send a like shot to Clara, in
Berlin, this morning. With the peremptory addition, "You must not
come home." Clara and her husband sailed from here on the 11th of
this month. How will Clara bear it? Jean, from her babyhood, was a
worshiper of Clara.
Four days ago I came back from a month's holiday in
Bermuda in perfected health; but by some accident the reporters
failed to perceive this. Day before yesterday, letters and telegrams
began to arrive from friends and strangers which indicated that I
was supposed to be dangerously ill. Yesterday Jean begged me to
explain my case through the Associated Press. I said it was not
important enough; but she was distressed and said I must think of
Clara. Clara would see the report in the German papers, and as she
had been nursing her husband day and night for four months and
was worn out and feeble, the shock might be disastrous. There was
reason in that; so I sent a humorous paragraph by telephone to the
Associated Press denying the "charge" that I was "dying," and saying
"I would not do such a thing at my time of life."
Jean was a little troubled, and did not like to see
me treat the matter so lightly; but I said it was best to treat it
so, for there was nothing serious about it. This morning I sent the
sorrowful facts of this day's irremediable disaster to the
Associated Press. Will both appear in this evening's papers?– the
one so blithe, the other so tragic?
I lost Susy thirteen years ago; I lost her
mother–her incomparable mother!–five and a half years ago; Clara
has gone away to live in Europe; and now I have lost Jean. How poor
I am, who was once so rich! Seven months ago Mr. Roger died–one of
the best friends I ever had, and the nearest perfect, as man and
gentleman, I have yet met among my race; within the last six weeks
Gilder has passed away, and Laffan–old, old friends of mine. Jean
lies yonder, I sit here; we are strangers under our own roof; we
kissed hands good-by at this door last night–and it was forever, we
never suspecting it. She lies there, and I sit here–writing,
busying myself, to keep my heart from breaking. How dazzlingly the
sunshine is flooding the hills around! It is like a mockery.
Seventy-four years ago twenty-four days ago.
Seventy-four years old yesterday. Who can estimate my age today?
I have looked upon her again. I wonder I can bear
it. She looks just as her mother looked when she lay dead in that
Florentine villa so long ago. The sweet placidity of death! it is
more beautiful than sleep.
I saw her mother buried. I said I would never endure
that horror again; that I would never again look into the grave of
any one dear to me. I have kept to that. They will take Jean from
this house tomorrow, and bear her to Elmira, New York, where lie
those of us that have been released, but I shall not follow.
Jean was on the dock when the ship came in, only
four days ago. She was at the door, beaming a welcome, when I
reached this house the next evening. We played cards, and she tried
to teach me a new game called "Mark Twain." We sat chatting cheerily
in the library last night, and she wouldn't let me look into the
loggia, where she was making Christmas preparations. She said she
would finish them in the morning, and then her little French friend
would arrive from New York–the surprise would follow; the surprise
she had been working over for days. While she was out for a moment I
disloyally stole a look. The loggia floor was clothed with rugs and
furnished with chairs and sofas; and the uncompleted surprise was
there: in the form of a Christmas tree that was drenched with silver
film in a most wonderful way; and on a table was prodigal profusion
of bright things which she was going to hang upon it today. What
desecrating hand will ever banish that eloquent unfinished surprise
from that place? Not mine, surely. All these little matters have
happened in the last four days. "Little." Yes–THEN. But not now.
Nothing she said or thought or did is little now. And all the lavish
humor!–what is become of it? It is pathos, now. Pathos, and the
thought of it brings tears.
All these little things happened such a few hours
ago–and now she lies yonder. Lies yonder, and cares for nothing any
more. Strange–marvelous–incredible! I have had this experience
before; but it would still be incredible if I had had it a thousand
"MISS JEAN IS DEAD!"
That is what Katy said. When I heard the door open
behind the bed's head without a preliminary knock, I supposed it was
Jean coming to kiss me good morning, she being the only person who
was used to entering without formalities.
I have been to Jean's parlor. Such a turmoil of
Christmas presents for servants and friends! They are everywhere;
tables, chairs, sofas, the floor–everything is occupied, and over-occupied. It is many and many a year since I have seen the like. In
that ancient day Mrs. Clemens and I used to slip softly into the
nursery at midnight on Christmas Eve and look the array of presents
over. The children were little then. And now here is Jean's parlor
looking just as that nursery used to look. The presents are not
labeled–the hands are forever idle that would have labeled them
today. Jean's mother always worked herself down with her Christmas
preparations. Jean did the same yesterday and the preceding days,
and the fatigue has cost her her life. The fatigue caused the
convulsion that attacked her this morning. She had had no attack for
Jean was so full of life and energy that she was
constantly is danger of overtaxing her strength. Every morning she
was in the saddle by half past seven, and off to the station for her
mail. She examined the letters and I distributed them: some to her,
some to Mr. Paine, the others to the stenographer and myself. She
dispatched her share and then mounted her horse again and went
around superintending her farm and her poultry the rest of the day.
Sometimes she played billiards with me after dinner, but she was
usually too tired to play, and went early to bed.
Yesterday afternoon I told her about some plans I
had been devising while absent in Bermuda, to lighten her burdens.
We would get a housekeeper; also we would put her share of the
secretary-work into Mr. Paine's hands.
No–she wasn't willing. She had been making plans
herself. The matter ended in a compromise, I submitted. I always
did. She wouldn't audit the bills and let Paine fill out the
checks– she would continue to attend to that herself. Also, she
would continue to be housekeeper, and let Katy assist. Also, she
would continue to answer the letters of personal friends for me.
Such was the compromise. Both of us called it by that name, though I
was not able to see where my formidable change had been made.
However, Jean was pleased, and that was sufficient
for me. She was proud of being my secretary, and I was never able to
persuade her to give up any part of her share in that unlovely work.
In the talk last night I said I found everything
going so smoothly that if she were willing I would go back to
Bermuda in February and get blessedly out of the clash and turmoil
again for another month. She was urgent that I should do it, and
said that if I would put off the trip until March she would take
Katy and go with me. We struck hands upon that, and said it was
settled. I had a mind to write to Bermuda by tomorrow's ship and
secure a furnished house and servants. I meant to write the letter
this morning. But it will never be written, now.
For she lies yonder, and before her is another
journey than that.
Night is closing down; the rim of the sun barely
shows above the sky-line of the hills.
I have been looking at that face again that was
growing dearer and dearer to me every day. I was getting acquainted
with Jean in these last nine months. She had been long an exile from
home when she came to us three-quarters of a year ago. She had been
shut up in sanitariums, many miles from us. How eloquent glad and
grateful she was to cross her father's threshold again!
Would I bring her back to life if I could do it? I
would not. If a word would do it, I would beg for strength to
withhold the word. And I would have the strength; I am sure of it.
In her loss I am almost bankrupt, and my life is a bitterness, but I
am content: for she has been enriched with the most precious of all
gifts–that gift which makes all other gifts mean and poor– death.
I have never wanted any released friend of mine restored to life
since I reached manhood. I felt in this way when Susy passed away;
and later my wife, and later Mr. Rogers. When Clara met me at the
station in New York and told me Mr. Rogers had died suddenly that
morning, my thought was, Oh, favorite of fortune– fortunate all his
long and lovely life–fortunate to his latest moment! The reporters
said there were tears of sorrow in my eyes. True–but they were for
ME, not for him. He had suffered no loss. All the fortunes he had
ever made before were poverty compared with this one.
Why did I build this house, two years ago? To
shelter this vast emptiness? How foolish I was! But I shall stay in
it. The spirits of the dead hallow a house, for me. It was not so
with other members of the family. Susy died in the house we built in
Hartford. Mrs. Clemens would never enter it again. But it made the
house dearer to me. I have entered it once since, when it was
tenantless and silent and forlorn, but to me it was a holy place and
beautiful. It seemed to me that the spirits of the dead were all
about me, and would speak to me and welcome me if they could: Livy,
and Susy, and George, and Henry Robinson, and Charles Dudley Warner.
How good and kind they were, and how lovable their
lives! In fancy I could see them all again, I could call the
children back and hear them romp again with George–that peerless
black ex-slave and children's idol who came one day–a flitting
stranger–to wash windows, and stayed eighteen years. Until he died.
Clara and Jean would never enter again the New York hotel which
their mother had frequented in earlier days. They could not bear it.
But I shall stay in this house. It is dearer to me tonight than ever
it was before. Jean's spirit will make it beautiful for me always.
Her lonely and tragic death–but I will not think of that now.
Jean's mother always devoted two or three weeks to
Christmas shopping, and was always physically exhausted when
Christmas Eve came. Jean was her very own child–she wore herself
out present- hunting in New York these latter days. Paine has just
found on her desk a long list of names–fifty, he thinks–people to
whom she sent presents last night. Apparently she forgot no one. And
Katy found there a roll of bank-notes, for the servants.
Her dog has been wandering about the grounds today,
comradeless and forlorn. I have seen him from the windows. She got
him from Germany. He has tall ears and looks exactly like a wolf. He
was educated in Germany, and knows no language but the German. Jean
gave him no orders save in that tongue. And so when the
burglar-alarm made a fierce clamor at midnight a fortnight ago, the
butler, who is French and knows no German, tried in vain to interest
the dog in the supposed burglar. Jean wrote me, to Bermuda, about
the incident. It was the last letter I was ever to receive from her
bright head and her competent hand. The dog will not be neglected.
There was never a kinder heart than Jean's. From her
childhood up she always spent the most of her allowance on charities
of one kind or another. After she became secretary and had her
income doubled she spent her money upon these things with a free
hand. Mine too, I am glad and grateful to say.
She was a loyal friend to all animals, and she loved
them all, birds, beasts, and everything–even snakes–an inheritance
from me. She knew all the birds; she was high up in that lore. She
became a member of various humane societies when she was still a
little girl–both here and abroad–and she remained an active member
to the last. She founded two or three societies for the protection
of animals, here and in Europe.
She was an embarrassing secretary, for she finished my
correspondence out of the waste-basket and answered the letters. She
thought all letters deserved the courtesy of an answer. Her mother
brought her up in that kindly error.
She could write a good letter, and was swift with
her pen. She had but an indifferent ear for music, but her tongue took
to languages with an easy facility. She never allowed her Italian,
French, and German to get rusty through neglect.
The telegrams of sympathy are flowing in, from far
and wide, now, just as they did in Italy five years and a half ago,
when this child's mother laid down her blameless life. They cannot
heal the hurt, but they take away some of the pain. When Jean and I
kissed hands and parted at my door last, how little did we imagine
that in twenty-two hours the telegraph would be bringing words like
"From the bottom of our hearts we send out sympathy,
dearest of friends."
For many and many a day to come, wherever I go in
this house, remembrances of Jean will mutely speak to me of her. Who
can count the number of them?
She was in exile two years with the hope of healing
her malady–epilepsy. There are no words to express how grateful I
am that she did not meet her fate in the hands of strangers, but in
the loving shelter of her own home.
"MISS JEAN IS DEAD!"
It is true. Jean is dead.
A month ago I was writing bubbling and hilarious
articles for magazines yet to appear, and now I am writing–this.
CHRISTMAS DAY. NOON. –Last night I went to Jean's
room at intervals, and turned back the sheet and looked at the
peaceful face, and kissed the cold brow, and remembered that
heartbreaking night in Florence so long ago, in that cavernous and
silent vast villa, when I crept downstairs so many times, and turned
back a sheet and looked at a face just like this one–Jean's
mother's face–and kissed a brow that was just like this one. And
last night I saw again what I had seen then–that strange and lovely
miracle–the sweet, soft contours of early maidenhood restored by
the gracious hand of death! When Jean's mother lay dead, all traces
of care, and trouble, and suffering, and the corroding years had
vanished out of the face, and I was looking again upon it as I had
known and worshipped it in its young bloom and beauty a whole
About three in the morning, while wandering about
the house in the deep silences, as one does in times like these,
when there is a dumb sense that something has been lost that will
never be found again, yet must be sought, if only for the employment
the useless seeking gives, I came upon Jean's dog in the hall
downstairs, and noted that he did not spring to greet me, according
to his hospitable habit, but came slow and sorrowfully; also I
remembered that he had not visited Jean's apartment since the
tragedy. Poor fellow, did he know? I think so. Always when Jean was
abroad in the open he was with her; always when she was in the house
he was with her, in the night as well as in the day. Her parlor was
his bedroom. Whenever I happened upon him on the ground floor he
always followed me about, and when I went upstairs he went too–in a
tumultuous gallop. But now it was different: after patting him a
little I went to the library–he remained behind; when I went
upstairs he did not follow me, save with his wistful eyes. He has
wonderful eyes–big, and kind, and eloquent. He can talk with them.
He is a beautiful creature, and is of the breed of the New York
police-dogs. I do not like dogs, because they bark when there is no
occasion for it; but I have liked this one from the beginning,
because he belonged to Jean, and because he never barks except when
there is occasion– which is not oftener than twice a week.
In my wanderings I visited Jean's parlor. On a shelf
I found a pile of my books, and I knew what it meant. She was
waiting for me to come home from Bermuda and autograph them, then
she would send them away. If I only knew whom she intended them for!
But I shall never know. I will keep them. Her hand has touched
them–it is an accolade–they are noble, now.
And in a closet she had hidden a surprise for me–a
thing I have often wished I owned: a noble big globe. I couldn't see
it for the tears. She will never know the pride I take in it, and
the pleasure. Today the mails are full of loving remembrances for
her: full of those old, old kind words she loved so well, "Merry
Christmas to Jean!" If she could only have lived one day longer!
At last she ran out of money, and would not use
mine. So she sent to one of those New York homes for poor girls all
the clothes she could spare–and more, most likely.
CHRISTMAS NIGHT.–This afternoon they took her away
from her room. As soon as I might, I went down to the library, and
there she lay, in her coffin, dressed in exactly the same clothes
she wore when she stood at the other end of the same room on the 6th
of October last, as Clara's chief bridesmaid. Her face was radiant
with happy excitement then; it was the same face now, with the
dignity of death and the peace of God upon it.
They told me the first mourner to come was the dog.
He came uninvited, and stood up on his hind legs and rested his fore
paws upon the trestle, and took a last long look at the face that
was so dear to him, then went his way as silently as he had come. HE
At mid-afternoon it began to snow. The pity of
it–that Jean could not see it! She so loved the snow.
The snow continued to fall. At six o'clock the
hearse drew up to the door to bear away its pathetic burden. As they
lifted the casket, Paine began playing on the orchestrelle
Schubert's "Impromptu," which was Jean's favorite. Then he played
the Intermezzo; that was for Susy; then he played the Largo; that
was for their mother. He did this at my request. Elsewhere in my
Autobiography I have told how the Intermezzo and the Largo came to
be associated in my heart with Susy and Livy in their last hours in
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. Jervis, the cousin she had played
with when they were babies together–he and her beloved old
Katy–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
DECEMBER 26TH. The dog came to see me at eight
o'clock this morning. He was very affectionate, poor orphan! My room
will be his quarter’s hereafter.
The storm raged all night. It has raged all the
morning. The snow drives across the landscape in vast clouds,
superb, sublime–and Jean not here to see.
2:30 P.M.–It is the time appointed. The funeral has
begun. Four hundred miles away, but I can see it all, just as if I
were there. The scene is the library in the Langdon homestead.
Jean's coffin stands where her mother and I stood, forty years ago,
and were married; and where Susy's coffin stood thirteen years ago;
where her mother’s stood five years and a half ago; and where mine
will stand after a little time.
FIVE O'CLOCK.–It is all over.
When Clara went away two weeks ago to live in
Europe, it was hard, but I could bear it, for I had Jean left. I
said WE would be a family. We said we would be close comrades and
happy–just we two. That fair dream was in my mind when Jean met me
at the steamer last Monday; it was in my mind when she received me
at the door last Tuesday evening. We were together; WE WERE A
FAMILY! the dream had come true–oh, precisely true, contentedly,
true, satisfyingly true! and remained true two whole days.
And now? Now Jean is in her grave!
In the grave–if I can believe it. God rest her sweet spirit!