"Then," continued the prince, "I would be much obliged if you would get him for dinner with me to-morrow evening."
It was very much the same company as had dined with the prince the night before. Again Twain was for a long time a complete disappointment. I knew scores of good things of his and tried my best to start him off, but without success. The prince, who was unusually adroit and tactful in drawing a distinguished guest out, also failed. When the dinner was over, however, and we had reached the cigars, Mark Twain started in telling a story in his most captivating way. His peculiar drawl, his habit in emphasizing the points by shaking his bushy hair, made him a dramatic narrator. He never had greater success. Even the veteran Mark himself was astonished at the uproarious laughter which greeted almost every sentence and was overwhelming when he closed.
There are millions of stories in the world, and several hundred of them good ones. No one knew more of them than Mark Twain, and yet out of this vast collection he selected the one which I had told the night before to the same company. The laughter and enjoyment were not at the story, but because the English had, as they thought, caught me in retailing to them from Mark Twain's repertoire one of his stories. It so happened that it was a story which I had heard as happening upon our railroad in one of my tours of inspection. I had told it in a speech, and it had been generally copied in the American newspapers. Mark Twain's reputation as the greatest living humorist caused that crowd to doubt the originality of my stories.
Mark had declined the cigars, but the prince was so delighted that he offered him one of the highly prized selection from his own case. This drew from him a story, which I have not seen in any of his books. I have read Mark Twain always with the greatest pleasure. His books of travel have been to me a source of endless interest, and his "Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc" is the best representation of the saint and heroine that I know.
When the prince offered him the cigar, Mark said: "No, prince, I never smoke. I have the reputation in Hartford, Conn., of furnishing at my entertainments the worst of cigars. When I was going abroad, and as I would be away for several years, I gave a reception and invited all my friends. I had the governor of the State of Connecticut and the judges of the highest courts, and the most distinguished members of the legislature. I had the leading clergymen and other citizens, and also the president and faculty of Yale University and Trinity College.
"At three o'clock in the afternoon my butler, who is a colored man, Pompey by name, came to me and said: 'Mr. Clemens, we have no cigars.' Just then a pedler's wagon stopped at the gate. In England they call them cheap jacks. I hailed the merchant and said: 'What have you in your wagon?' 'Well,' he answered, 'I have some Gobelin tapestries, Sevres china, and Japanese cloisonne vases, and a few old masters.' Then I said to him: 'I do not want any of those, but have you cigars, and how much?' The pedler answered: 'Yes, sir, I have some excellent cigars, which I will sell you at seventeen cents a barrel.' I have to explain that a cent is an English farthing. Then I told him to roll a barrel in."
"It was a great occasion, one of the greatest we ever had in the old State of Connecticut," continued Mark, "but I noticed that the guests left unusually early after supper. The next morning I asked the butler why they left so early. 'Well,' he said, 'Mr. Clemens, everybody enjoyed the supper, and they were all having a good time until I gave them the cigars. After the gentleman had taken three puffs, he said: "Pomp, you infernal nigger, get me my hat and coat quick." When I went out, my stone walk, which was one hundred yards long from the front door to the gate, was just paved with those cigars.'" This specimen of American exaggeration told in Mark Twain's original way made a great hit.
I met Mark Twain at a theatrical supper in London given by Sir Henry Irving. It was just after his pubIishing firm had failed so disastrously. It was a notable company of men of letters, playwrights, and artists. Poor Mark was broken in health and spirits. He tried to make a speech, and a humorous one, but it saddened the whole company.