Luncheon was served aboard, and Mayor Wells made the christening speech; then the Countess Rochambeau took a bottle of champagne from the hand of Governor Francis and smashed it on the deck, saying, “I christen thee, good boat, Mark Twain.” So it was, the Mississippi joined in according him honors. In his speech of reply he paid tribute to those illustrious visitors from France and recounted something of the story of French exploration along that great river.
“The name of La Salle will last as long as the river itself,” he said; “will last until commerce is dead. We have allowed the commerce of the river to die, but it was to accommodate the railroads, and we must be grateful.”
Carriages were waiting for them when the boat landed in the afternoon, and the party got in and were driven to a house which had been identified as Eugene Field’s birthplace. A bronze tablet recording this fact had been installed, and this was to be the unveiling. The place was not in an inviting quarter of the town. It stood in what is known as Walsh’s Row—was fashionable enough once, perhaps, but long since fallen into disrepute. Ragged children played in the doorways, and thirsty lodgers were making trips with tin pails to convenient bar-rooms. A curious nondescript audience assembled around the little group of dedicators, wondering what it was all about. The tablet was concealed by the American flag, which could be easily pulled away by an attached cord. Governor Francis spoke a few words, to the effect that they had gathered here to unveil a tablet to an American poet, and that it was fitting that Mark Twain should do this. They removed their hats, and Clemens, his white hair blowing in the wind, said:
“My friends; we are here with reverence and respect to commemorate and enshrine in memory the house where was born a man who, by his life, made bright the lives of all who knew him, and by his literary efforts cheered the thoughts of thousands who never knew him. I take pleasure in unveiling the tablet of Eugene Field.”
The flag fell and the bronze inscription was revealed. By this time the crowd, generally, had recognized who it was that was speaking. A working-man proposed three cheers for Mark Twain, and they were heartily given. Then the little party drove away, while the neighborhood collected to regard the old house with a new interest.
It was reported to Clemens later that there was some dispute as to the identity of the Field birthplace. He said:
“Never mind. It is of no real consequence whether it is his birthplace or not. A rose in any other garden will bloom as sweet.”
AT YORK HARBOR
They decided to spend the summer at York Harbor, Maine. They engaged a cottage, there, and about the end of June Mr. Rogers brought his yacht Kanawha to their water-front at Riverdale, and in perfect weather took them to Maine by sea. They landed at York Harbor and took possession of their cottage, The Pines, one of their many attractive summer lodges. Howells, at Kittery Point, was not far away, and everything promised a happy summer.