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Albert Bigelow Paine
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 240 pages of information about Mark Twain, a Biography Volume III, Part 1.

CCXLIII

AN INVESTMENT IN REDDING

Many of the less important happenings seem worth remembering now.  Among them was the sale, at the Nast auction, of the Mark Twain letters, already mentioned.  The fact that these letters brought higher prices than any others offered in this sale was gratifying.  Roosevelt, Grant, and even Lincoln items were sold; but the Mark Twain letters led the list.  One of them sold for forty-three dollars, which was said to be the highest price ever paid for the letter of a living man.  It was the letter written in 1877, quoted earlier in this work, in which Clemens proposed the lecture tour to Nast.  None of the Clemens-Nast letters brought less than twenty-seven dollars, and some of them were very brief.  It was a new measurement of public sentiment.  Clemens, when he heard of it, said: 

“I can’t rise to General Grant’s lofty place in the estimation of this country; but it is a deep satisfaction to me to know that when it comes to letter-writing he can’t sit in the front seat along with me.  That forty-three-dollar letter ought to be worth as much as eighty-six dollars after I’m dead.”

A perpetual string of callers came to 21 Fifth Avenue, and it kept the secretary busy explaining to most of them why Mark Twain could not entertain their propositions, or listen to their complaints, or allow them to express in person their views on public questions.  He did see a great many of what might be called the milder type persons who were evidently sincere and not too heavily freighted with eloquence.  Of these there came one day a very gentle-spoken woman who had promised that she would stay but a moment, and say no more than a few words, if only she might sit face to face with the great man.  It was in the morning hour before the dictations, and he received her, quite correctly clad in his beautiful dressing-robe and propped against his pillows.  She kept her contract to the letter; but when she rose to go she said, in a voice of deepest reverence: 

“May I kiss your hand?”

It was a delicate situation, and might easily have been made ludicrous.  Denial would have hurt her.  As it was, he lifted his hand, a small, exquisite hand it was, with the gentle dignity and poise of a king, and she touched her lips to it with what was certainly adoration.  Then, as she went, she said: 

“How God must love you!”

“I hope so,” he said, softly, and he did not even smile; but after she had gone he could not help saying, in a quaint, half-pathetic voice “I guess she hasn’t heard of our strained relations.”

Sitting in that royal bed, clad in that rich fashion, he easily conveyed the impression of royalty, and watching him through those marvelous mornings he seemed never less than a king, as indeed he was—­the king of a realm without national boundaries.  Some of those nearest to him fell naturally into the habit of referring to him as “the King,” and in time the title crept out of the immediate household and was taken up by others who loved him.

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