A BERMUDA BIRTHDAY
It was the middle of November, 1909, when Clemens decided to take another Bermuda vacation, and it was the 19th that we sailed. I went to New York a day ahead and arranged matters, and on the evening of the 18th received the news that Richard Watson Gilder had suddenly died.
Next morning there was other news. Clemens’s old friend, William M. Laffan, of the Sun, had died while undergoing a surgical operation. I met Clemens at the train. He had already heard about Gilder; but he had not yet learned of Laffan’s death. He said:
“That’s just it. Gilder and Laffan get all the good things that come along and I never get anything.”
Then, suddenly remembering, he added:
“How curious it is! I have been thinking of Laffan coming down on the train, and mentally writing a letter to him on this Stetson-Eddy affair.”
I asked when he had begun thinking of Laffan.
He said: “Within the hour.”
It was within the hour that I had received the news, and naturally in my mind had carried it instantly to him. Perhaps there was something telepathic in it.
He was not at all ill going down to Bermuda, which was a fortunate thing, for the water was rough and I was quite disqualified. We did not even discuss astronomy, though there was what seemed most important news—the reported discovery of a new planet.
But there was plenty of talk on the subject as soon as we got settled in the Hamilton Hotel. It was windy and rainy out-of-doors, and we looked out on the drenched semi-tropical foliage with a great bamboo swaying and bending in the foreground, while he speculated on the vast distance that the new planet must lie from our sun, to which it was still a satellite. The report had said that it was probably four hundred billions of miles distant, and that on this far frontier of the solar system the sun could not appear to it larger than the blaze of a tallow candle. To us it was wholly incredible how, in that dim remoteness, it could still hold true to the central force and follow at a snail-pace, yet with unvarying exactitude, its stupendous orbit. Clemens said that heretofore Neptune, the planetary outpost of our system, had been called the tortoise of the skies, but that comparatively it was rapid in its motion, and had become a near neighbor. He was a good deal excited at first, having somehow the impression that this new planet traveled out beyond the nearest fixed star; but then he remembered that the distance to that first solar neighbor was estimated in trillions, not billions, and that our little system, even with its new additions, was a child’s handbreadth on the plane of the sky. He had brought along a small book called The Pith of Astronomy—a fascinating little volume—and he read from it about the great tempest of fire in the sun, where the waves of flame roll up two thousand miles high, though the sun itself is such a tiny star in the deeps of the universe.