That was always his way. He did nothing by halves. He got up and showed me the warm luxury of the study, with its mass of material—disordered, but priceless.
I have no distinct recollections of how I came away, but presently, back at the Players, I was confiding the matter to Charles Harvey Genung, who said he was not surprised; but I think he was.
WORKING WITH MARK TWAIN
It was true, after all; and on Tuesday morning, January 9, 1906, I was on hand with a capable stenographer, ready to begin. Clemens, meantime, had developed a new idea: he would like to add, he said, the new dictations to his former beginnings, completing an autobiography which was to be laid away and remain unpublished for a hundred years. He would pay the stenographer himself, and own the notes, allowing me, of course, free use of them as material for my book. He did not believe that he could follow the story of his life in its order of dates, but would find it necessary to wander around, picking up the thread as memory or fancy prompted. I could suggest subjects and ask questions. I assented to everything, and we set to work immediately.
As on my former visit, he was in bed when we arrived, though clad now in a rich Persian dressing gown, and propped against great, snowy pillows. A small table beside him held his pipes, cigars, papers, also a reading-lamp, the soft light of which brought out his brilliant coloring and the gleam of his snowy hair. There was daylight, too, but it was dull winter daylight, from the north, while the walls of the room were a deep, unreflecting red.
He began that morning with some memories of the Comstock mine; then he dropped back to his childhood, closing at last with some comment on matters quite recent. How delightful it was—his quaint, unhurried fashion of speech, the unconscious habits of his delicate hands, the play of his features as his fancies and phrases passed through his mind and were accepted or put aside. We were watching one of the great literary creators of his time in the very process of his architecture. Time did not count. When he finished, at last, we were all amazed to find that more than two hours had slipped away.
“And how much I have enjoyed it,” he said. “It is the ideal plan for this kind of work. Narrative writing is always disappointing. The moment you pick up a pen you begin to lose the spontaneity of the personal relation, which contains the very essence of interest. With short-hand dictation one can talk as if he were at his own dinner-table always an inspiring place. I expect to dictate all the rest of my life, if you good people are willing to come and listen to it.”
The dictations thus begun continued steadily from week to week, with increasing charm. We never knew what he was going to talk about, and it was seldom that he knew until the moment of beginning. But it was always fascinating, and I felt myself the most fortunate biographer in the world, as indeed I was.