When Clemens came to Boston the Howells household was regulated, or rather unregulated, without regard to former routine. Mark Twain’s personality was of a sort that unconsciously compelled the general attendance of any household. The reader may recall Josh Billings’s remark on the subject. Howells tells how they kept their guest to themselves when he visited their home in Cambridge, permitting him to indulge in as many unconventions as he chose; how Clemens would take a room at the Parker House, leaving the gas burning day and night, and perhaps arrive at Cambridge, after a dinner or a reading, in evening dress and slippers, and joyously remain with them for a day or more in that guise, slipping on an overcoat and a pair of rubbers when they went for a walk. Also, how he smoked continuously in every room of the house, smoked during every waking moment, and how Howells, mindful of his insurance, sometimes slipped in and removed the still-burning cigar after he was asleep.
Clemens had difficulty in getting to sleep in that earlier day, and for a time found it soothing to drink a little champagne on retiring. Once, when he arrived in Boston, Howells said:
“Clemens, we’ve laid in a bottle of champagne for you.”
But he answered:
“Oh, that’s no good any more. Beer’s the thing.”
So Howells provided the beer, and always afterward had a vision of his guest going up-stairs that night with a pint bottle under each arm.
He invented other methods of inducing slumber as the years went by, and at one time found that this precious boon came more easily when he stretched himself on the bath-room floor.
He was a perpetual joy to the Howells family when he was there, even though the household required a general reorganization when he was gone.
Mildred Howells remembers how, as a very little girl, her mother cautioned her not to ask for anything she wanted at the table when company was present, but to speak privately of it to her. Miss Howells declares that while Mark Twain was their guest she nearly starved because it was impossible to get her mother’s attention; and Mrs. Howells, after one of those visits of hilarity and disorder, said:
“Well, it ’most kills me, but it pays,” a remark which Clemens vastly enjoyed. Howells himself once wrote:
Your visit was a perfect ovation for us; we never enjoy anything so much as those visits of yours. The smoke and the Scotch and the late hours almost kill us; but we look each other in the eyes when you are gone, and say what a glorious time it was, and air the library, and begin sleeping and longing to have you back again....
SUMMER LABORS AT QUARRY FARM
They went to Elmira, that summer of ’76, to be “hermits and eschew caves and live in the sun,” as Clemens wrote in a letter to Dr. Brown. They returned to the place as to Paradise: Clemens to his study and the books which he always called for, Mrs. Clemens to a blessed relief from social obligations, the children to the shady play-places, the green, sloping hill, where they could race and tumble, and to all their animal friends.