“Once near the shore I thought I would let down,” he said, “but was afraid to, knowing that if the water was deep I was a goner, but finally my knee struck the sand and I crawled out. That was the closest call I ever had.”
They drove by a place where a haunted house had stood. They drank from a well they had always known—from the bucket, as they had always drunk —talking, always talking, touching with lingering fondness that most beautiful and safest of all our possessions—the past.
“Sam,” said John, when they parted, “this is probably the last time we shall meet on earth. God bless you. Perhaps somewhere we shall renew our friendship.”
“John,” was the answer, “this day has been worth a thousand dollars to me. We were like brothers once, and I feel that we are the same now. Good-by, John. I’ll try to meet you somewhere.”
Clemens left next day for Columbia, where the university is located. At each station a crowd had gathered to cheer and wave as the train pulled in and to offer him flowers. Sometimes he tried to say a few words, but his voice would not come. This was more than even Tom Sawyer had dreamed.
Certainly there is something deeply touching in the recognition of one’s native State; the return of the boy who has set out unknown to battle with life and who is called back to be crowned is unlike any other home-coming—more dramatic, more moving. Next day at the university Mark Twain, summoned before the crowded assembly-hall to receive his degree, stepped out to the center of the stage and paused. He seemed in doubt as to whether he should make a speech or only express his thanks for the honor received. Suddenly and without signal the great audience rose and stood in silence at his feet. He bowed but he could not speak. Then the vast assembly began a peculiar chant, spelling out slowly the word M-i-s-s-o-u-r-i, with a pause between each letter. It was tremendously impressive.
Mark Twain was not left in doubt as to what was required of him when the chant ended. The audience demanded a speech—a speech, and he made them one—such a speech as no one there would forget to his dying day.
Back in St. Louis, he attended the rechristening of the St. Louis harbor boat; it had been previously called the “St. Louis,” but it was now to be called the “Mark Twain.”
THE CLOSE OF A BEAUTIFUL LIFE
Life which had begun very cheerfully at Riverdale ended sadly enough. In August, at York Harbor, Maine, Mrs. Clemens’s health failed and she was brought home an invalid, confined almost entirely to her room. She had been always the life, the center, the mainspring of the household. Now she must not even be consulted—hardly visited. On her bad days—and they were many—Clemens, sad and anxious, spent most of his time lingering about her door, waiting for news, or until he was permitted to see her for a brief moment. In his memorandum-book of that period he wrote: