Clemens did in fact go to New York that same evening, to spend Christmas with Dan Slote, and missed Bliss’s second letter. It was no matter. Fate had his affairs properly in hand, and had prepared an event of still larger moment than the publication even of Innocents Abroad. There was a pleasant reunion at Dan Slote’s. He wrote home about it:
Charley Langdon, Jack Van Nostrand, Dan and I (all Quaker City night-hawks) had a blow-out at Dan’s house and a lively talk over old times. I just laughed till my sides ached at some of our reminiscences. It was the unholiest gang that ever cavorted through Palestine, but those are the best boys in the world.
This, however, was not the event; it was only preliminary to it. We are coming to that now. At the old St. Nicholas Hotel, which stood on the west of Broadway between Spring and Broome streets, there were stopping at this time Jervis Langdon, a wealty coal-dealer and mine-owner of Elmira, his son Charles and his daughter Olivia, whose pictured face Samuel Clemens had first seen in the Bay of Smyrna one September day. Young Langdon had been especially anxious to bring his distinguished Quaker City friend and his own people together, and two days before Christmas Samuel Clemens was invited to dine at the hotel. He went very willingly. The lovely face of that miniature had been often a part of his waking dreams. For the first time now he looked upon its reality. Long afterward he said:
“It is forty years ago. From that day to this she has never been out of my mind.”
Charles Dickens was in New York then, and gave a reading that night in Steinway Hall. The Langdons went, and Samuel Clemens accompanied them. He remembered afterward that Dickens wore a black velvet coat with a fiery red flower in his buttonhole, and that he read the storm scene from Copperfield—the death of James Steerforth. But he remembered still more clearly the face and dress of that slender girlish figure at his side.
Olivia Langdon was twenty-two years old at this time, delicate as the miniature he had seen, fragile to look upon, though no longer with the shattered health of her girlhood. At sixteen, through a fall upon the ice, she had become a complete invalid, confined to her bed for two years, unable to sit, even when supported, unable to lie in any position except upon her back. Great physicians and surgeons, one after another, had done their best for her but she had failed steadily until every hope had died. Then, when nothing else was left to try, a certain Doctor Newton, of spectacular celebrity, who cured by “laying on of hands,” was brought to Elmira to see her. Doctor Newton came into the darkened room and said:
“Open the windows—we must have light!”