“If he had stayed another five minutes I should have offered him twenty-five cents to go.”
But a moment later he glared at me.
“Why in nation did you offer him your cue?”
“Wasn’t that the courteous thing to do?” I asked.
“No!” he ripped out. “The courteous and proper thing would have been to strike him dead. Did you want to saddle that disaster upon us for life?”
He was blowing off steam, and I knew it and encouraged it. My impulse was to lie down on the couch and shout with hysterical laughter, but I suspected that would be indiscreet. He made some further comment on the propriety of offering a visitor a cue, and suddenly began to sing a travesty of an old hymn:
“How tedious are they
Who their sovereign obey,”
and so loudly that I said:
“Aren’t you afraid he’ll hear you and come back?” Whereupon he pretended alarm and sang under his breath, and for the rest of the evening was in boundless good-humor.
I have recalled this incident merely as a sample of things that were likely to happen at any time in his company, and to show the difficulty one might find in fitting himself to his varying moods. He was not to be learned in a day, or a week, or a month; some of those who knew him longest did not learn him at all.
We celebrated his seventy-first birthday by playing billiards all day. He invented a new game for the occasion; inventing rules for it with almost every shot.
It happened that no member of the family was at home on this birthday. Ill health had banished every one, even the secretary. Flowers, telegrams, and congratulations came, and there was a string of callers; but he saw no one beyond some intimate friends—the Gilders—late in the afternoon. When they had gone we went down to dinner. We were entirely alone, and I felt the great honor of being his only guest on such an occasion. Once between the courses, when he rose, as usual, to walk about, he wandered into the drawing-room, and seating himself at the orchestrelle began to play the beautiful flower-song from “Faust.” It was a thing I had not seen him do before, and I never saw him do it again. When he came back to the table he said:
“Speaking of companions of the long ago, after fifty years they become only shadows and might as well be in the grave. Only those whom one has really loved mean anything at all. Of my playmates I recall John Briggs, John Garth, and Laura Hawkins—just those three; the rest I buried long ago, and memory cannot even find their graves.”
He was in his loveliest humor all that day and evening; and that night, when he stopped playing, he said:
“I have never had a pleasanter day at this game.”
I answered, “I hope ten years from to-night we shall still be playing it.”
“Yes,” he said, “still playing the best game on earth.”