“I have become an old man. You are still thirty-five,” Clemens said.
They went to the Planters Hotel, and the news presently got around that Mark Twain was there. There followed a sort of reception in the hotel lobby, after which Bixby took him across to the rooms of the Pilots Association, where the rivermen gathered in force to celebrate his return. A few of his old comrades were still alive, among them Beck Jolly. The same afternoon he took the train for Hannibal.
It was a busy five days that he had in Hannibal. High-school commencement day came first. He attended, and willingly, or at least patiently, sat through the various recitals and orations and orchestrations, dreaming and remembering, no doubt, other high-school commencements of more than half a century before, seeing in some of those young people the boys and girls he had known in that vanished time. A few friends of his youth were still there, but they were among the audience now, and no longer fresh and looking into the future. Their heads were white, and, like him, they were looking down the recorded years. Laura Hawkins was there and Helen Kercheval (Mrs. Frazer and Mrs. Garth now), and there were others, but they were few and scattering.
He was added to the program, and he made himself as one of the graduates, and told them some things of the young people of that earlier time that brought their laughter and their tears.
He was asked to distribute the diplomas, and he undertook the work in his own way. He took an armful of them and said to the graduates:
“Take one. Pick out a good one. Don’t take two, but be sure you get a good one.”
So each took one “unsight and unseen” aid made the more exact distributions among themselves later.
Next morning it was Saturday—he visited the old home on Hill Street, and stood in the doorway all dressed in white while a battalion of photographers made pictures of “this return of the native” to the threshold of his youth.
“It all seems so small to me,” he said, as he looked through the house; “a boy’s home is a big place to him. I suppose if I should come back again ten years from now it would be the size of a birdhouse.”
He went through the rooms and up-stairs where he had slept and looked out the window down in the back yard where, nearly sixty years before, Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn, Joe Harper, and the rest—that is to say, Tom Blankenship, John Briggs, Will Pitts, and the Bowen boys—set out on their nightly escapades. Of that lightsome band Will Pitts and John Briggs still remained, with half a dozen others—schoolmates of the less adventurous sort. Buck Brown, who had been his rival in the spelling contests, was still there, and John Robards, who had worn golden curls and the medal for good conduct, and Ed Pierce. And while these were assembled in a little group on the pavement outside the home a small old man came up and put out his hand, and it was Jimmy MacDaniel, to whom so long before, sitting on the river-bank and eating gingerbread, he had first told the story of Jim Wolfe and the cats.