The Death of Jean by Mark Twain
The death of Jean Clemens occurred early in the morning of December 24,
1909. Mr. Clemens was in great stress of mind when I first saw him, but a
few hours later I found him writing steadily.
"I am setting it down," he said, "everything. It is a relief to me to
write it. It furnishes me an excuse for thinking." At intervals during
that day and the next I looked in, and usually found him writing. Then on
the evening of the 26th, when he knew that Jean had been laid to rest in
Elmira, he came to my room with the manuscript in his hand.
"I have finished it," he said; "read it. I can form no opinion of it
myself. If you think it worthy, some day—at the proper time—it
can end my autobiography. It is the final chapter."
Four months later—almost to the day—(April 21st) he was with
Albert Bigelow Paine.
Stormfield, Christmas Eve, 11 A.M., 1909.
JEAN IS DEAD!
Has any one ever tried to put upon paper all the little happenings
connected with a dear one—happenings of the twenty-four hours
preceding the sudden and unexpected death of that dear one? Would a book
contain them? Would two books contain them? I think not. They pour into
the mind in a flood. They are little things that have been always
happening every day, and were always so unimportant and easily forgettable
before—but now! Now, how different! how precious they are, now dear,
now unforgettable, how pathetic, how sacred, how clothed with dignity!
Last night Jean, all flushed with splendid health, and I the same, from
the wholesome effects of my Bermuda holiday, strolled hand in hand from
the dinner-table and sat down in the library and chatted, and planned, and
discussed, cheerily and happily (and how unsuspectingly!)—until nine—which
is late for us—then went upstairs, Jean's friendly German dog
following. At my door Jean said, "I can't kiss you good night, father: I
have a cold, and you could catch it." I bent and kissed her hand. She was
moved—I saw it in her eyes—and she impulsively kissed my hand
in return. Then with the usual gay "Sleep well, dear!" from both, we
At half past seven this morning I woke, and heard voices outside my door.
I said to myself, "Jean is starting on her usual horseback flight to the
station for the mail." Then Katy (1) entered, stood quaking and gasping at
my bedside a moment, then found her tongue:
"MISS JEAN IS DEAD!"
Possibly I know now what the soldier feels when a bullet crashes through
In her bathroom there she lay, the fair young creature, stretched upon the
floor and covered with a sheet. And looking so placid, so natural, and as
if asleep. We knew what had happened. She was an epileptic: she had been
seized with a convulsion and heart failure in her bath. The doctor had to
come several miles. His efforts, like our previous ones, failed to bring
her back to life.
It is noon, now. How lovable she looks, how sweet and how tranquil! It is
a noble face, and full of dignity; and that was a good heart that lies
there so still.
In England, thirteen years ago, my wife and I were stabbed to the heart
with a cablegram which said, "Susy was mercifully released today." I had
to send a like shot to Clara, in Berlin, this morning. With the peremptory
addition, "You must not come home." Clara and her husband sailed from here
on the 11th of this month. How will Clara bear it? Jean, from her
babyhood, was a worshiper of Clara.
Four days ago I came back from a month's holiday in Bermuda in perfected
health; but by some accident the reporters failed to perceive this. Day
before yesterday, letters and telegrams began to arrive from friends and
strangers which indicated that I was supposed to be dangerously ill.
Yesterday Jean begged me to explain my case through the Associated Press.
I said it was not important enough; but she was distressed and said I must
think of Clara. Clara would see the report in the German papers, and as
she had been nursing her husband day and night for four months (2) and was
worn out and feeble, the shock might be disastrous. There was reason in
that; so I sent a humorous paragraph by telephone to the Associated Press
denying the "charge" that I was "dying," and saying "I would not do such a
thing at my time of life."
Jean was a little troubled, and did not like to see me treat the matter so
lightly; but I said it was best to treat it so, for there was nothing
serious about it. This morning I sent the sorrowful facts of this day's
irremediable disaster to the Associated Press. Will both appear in this
evening's papers?—the one so blithe, the other so tragic?
I lost Susy thirteen years ago; I lost her mother—her incomparable
mother!—five and a half years ago; Clara has gone away to live in
Europe; and now I have lost Jean. How poor I am, who was once so rich!
Seven months ago Mr. Rogers died—one of the best friends I ever had,
and the nearest perfect, as man and gentleman, I have yet met among my
race; within the last six weeks Gilder has passed away, and Laffan—old,
old friends of mine. Jean lies yonder, I sit here; we are strangers under
our own roof; we kissed hands good-by at this door last night—and it
was forever, we never suspecting it. She lies there, and I sit here—writing,
busying myself, to keep my heart from breaking. How dazzlingly the
sunshine is flooding the hills around! It is like a mockery.
Seventy-four years old twenty-four days ago. Seventy-four years old
yesterday. Who can estimate my age today?
I have looked upon her again. I wonder I can bear it. She looks just as
her mother looked when she lay dead in that Florentine villa so long ago.
The sweet placidity of death! it is more beautiful than sleep.
I saw her mother buried. I said I would never endure that horror again;
that I would never again look into the grave of any one dear to me. I have
kept to that. They will take Jean from this house tomorrow, and bear her
to Elmira, New York, where lie those of us that have been released, but I
shall not follow.
Jean was on the dock when the ship came in, only four days ago. She was at
the door, beaming a welcome, when I reached this house the next evening.
We played cards, and she tried to teach me a new game called "Mark Twain."
We sat chatting cheerily in the library last night, and she wouldn't let
me look into the loggia, where she was making Christmas preparations. She
said she would finish them in the morning, and then her little French
friend would arrive from New York—the surprise would follow; the
surprise she had been working over for days. While she was out for a
moment I disloyally stole a look. The loggia floor was clothed with rugs
and furnished with chairs and sofas; and the uncompleted surprise was
there: in the form of a Christmas tree that was drenched with silver film
in a most wonderful way; and on a table was a prodigal profusion of bright
things which she was going to hang upon it today. What desecrating hand
will ever banish that eloquent unfinished surprise from that place? Not
mine, surely. All these little matters have happened in the last four
days. "Little." Yes—THEN. But not now. Nothing she said or thought
or did is little now. And all the lavish humor!—what is become of
it? It is pathos, now. Pathos, and the thought of it brings tears.
All these little things happened such a few hours ago—and now she
lies yonder. Lies yonder, and cares for nothing any more. Strange—marvelous—incredible!
I have had this experience before; but it would still be incredible if I
had had it a thousand times.
"MISS JEAN IS DEAD!"
That is what Katy said. When I heard the door open behind the bed's head
without a preliminary knock, I supposed it was Jean coming to kiss me good
morning, she being the only person who was used to entering without
I have been to Jean's parlor. Such a turmoil of Christmas presents for
servants and friends! They are everywhere; tables, chairs, sofas, the
floor—everything is occupied, and over-occupied. It is many and many
a year since I have seen the like. In that ancient day Mrs. Clemens and I
used to slip softly into the nursery at midnight on Christmas Eve and look
the array of presents over. The children were little then. And now here is
Jean's parlor looking just as that nursery used to look. The presents are
not labeled—the hands are forever idle that would have labeled them
today. Jean's mother always worked herself down with her Christmas
preparations. Jean did the same yesterday and the preceding days, and the
fatigue has cost her her life. The fatigue caused the convulsion that
attacked her this morning. She had had no attack for months.
Jean was so full of life and energy that she was constantly in danger of
overtaxing her strength. Every morning she was in the saddle by half past
seven, and off to the station for her mail. She examined the letters and I
distributed them: some to her, some to Mr. Paine, the others to the
stenographer and myself. She dispatched her share and then mounted her
horse again and went around superintending her farm and her poultry the
rest of the day. Sometimes she played billiards with me after dinner, but
she was usually too tired to play, and went early to bed.
Yesterday afternoon I told her about some plans I had been devising while
absent in Bermuda, to lighten her burdens. We would get a housekeeper;
also we would put her share of the secretary-work into Mr. Paine's hands.
No—she wasn't willing. She had been making plans herself. The matter
ended in a compromise, I submitted. I always did. She wouldn't audit the
bills and let Paine fill out the checks—she would continue to attend
to that herself. Also, she would continue to be housekeeper, and let Katy
assist. Also, she would continue to answer the letters of personal friends
for me. Such was the compromise. Both of us called it by that name, though
I was not able to see where any formidable change had been made.
However, Jean was pleased, and that was sufficient for me. She was proud
of being my secretary, and I was never able to persuade her to give up any
part of her share in that unlovely work.
In the talk last night I said I found everything going so smoothly that if
she were willing I would go back to Bermuda in February and get blessedly
out of the clash and turmoil again for another month. She was urgent that
I should do it, and said that if I would put off the trip until March she
would take Katy and go with me. We struck hands upon that, and said it was
settled. I had a mind to write to Bermuda by tomorrow's ship and secure a
furnished house and servants. I meant to write the letter this morning.
But it will never be written, now.
For she lies yonder, and before her is another journey than that.
Night is closing down; the rim of the sun barely shows above the sky-line
of the hills.
I have been looking at that face again that was growing dearer and dearer
to me every day. I was getting acquainted with Jean in these last nine
months. She had been long an exile from home when she came to us
three-quarters of a year ago. She had been shut up in sanitariums, many
miles from us. How eloquently glad and grateful she was to cross her
father's threshold again!
Would I bring her back to life if I could do it? I would not. If a word
would do it, I would beg for strength to withhold the word. And I would
have the strength; I am sure of it. In her loss I am almost bankrupt, and
my life is a bitterness, but I am content: for she has been enriched with
the most precious of all gifts—that gift which makes all other gifts
mean and poor—death. I have never wanted any released friend of mine
restored to life since I reached manhood. I felt in this way when Susy
passed away; and later my wife, and later Mr. Rogers. When Clara met me at
the station in New York and told me Mr. Rogers had died suddenly that
morning, my thought was, Oh, favorite of fortune—fortunate all his
long and lovely life—fortunate to his latest moment! The reporters
said there were tears of sorrow in my eyes. True—but they were for
ME, not for him. He had suffered no loss. All the fortunes he had ever
made before were poverty compared with this one.
Why did I build this house, two years ago? To shelter this vast emptiness?
How foolish I was! But I shall stay in it. The spirits of the dead hallow
a house, for me. It was not so with other members of my family. Susy died
in the house we built in Hartford. Mrs. Clemens would never enter it
again. But it made the house dearer to me. I have entered it once since,
when it was tenantless and silent and forlorn, but to me it was a holy
place and beautiful. It seemed to me that the spirits of the dead were all
about me, and would speak to me and welcome me if they could: Livy, and
Susy, and George, and Henry Robinson, and Charles Dudley Warner. How good
and kind they were, and how lovable their lives! In fancy I could see them
all again, I could call the children back and hear them romp again with
George—that peerless black ex-slave and children's idol who came one
day—a flitting stranger—to wash windows, and stayed eighteen
years. Until he died. Clara and Jean would never enter again the New York
hotel which their mother had frequented in earlier days. They could not
bear it. But I shall stay in this house. It is dearer to me tonight than
ever it was before. Jean's spirit will make it beautiful for me always.
Her lonely and tragic death—but I will not think of that now.
Jean's mother always devoted two or three weeks to Christmas shopping, and
was always physically exhausted when Christmas Eve came. Jean was her very
own child—she wore herself out present-hunting in New York these
latter days. Paine has just found on her desk a long list of names—fifty,
he thinks—people to whom she sent presents last night. Apparently
she forgot no one. And Katy found there a roll of bank-notes, for the
Her dog has been wandering about the grounds today, comradeless and
forlorn. I have seen him from the windows. She got him from Germany. He
has tall ears and looks exactly like a wolf. He was educated in Germany,
and knows no language but the German. Jean gave him no orders save in that
tongue. And so when the burglar-alarm made a fierce clamor at midnight a
fortnight ago, the butler, who is French and knows no German, tried in
vain to interest the dog in the supposed burglar. Jean wrote me, to
Bermuda, about the incident. It was the last letter I was ever to receive
from her bright head and her competent hand. The dog will not be
There was never a kinder heart than Jean's. From her childhood up she
always spent the most of her allowance on charities of one kind and
another. After she became secretary and had her income doubled she spent
her money upon these things with a free hand. Mine too, I am glad and
grateful to say.
She was a loyal friend to all animals, and she loved them all, birds,
beasts, and everything—even snakes—an inheritance from me. She
knew all the birds; she was high up in that lore. She became a member of
various humane societies when she was still a little girl—both here
and abroad—and she remained an active member to the last. She
founded two or three societies for the protection of animals, here and in
She was an embarrassing secretary, for she fished my correspondence out of
the waste-basket and answered the letters. She thought all letters
deserved the courtesy of an answer. Her mother brought her up in that
She could write a good letter, and was swift with her pen. She had but an
indifferent ear for music, but her tongue took to languages with an easy
facility. She never allowed her Italian, French, and German to get rusty
The telegrams of sympathy are flowing in, from far and wide, now, just as
they did in Italy five years and a half ago, when this child's mother laid
down her blameless life. They cannot heal the hurt, but they take away
some of the pain. When Jean and I kissed hands and parted at my door last,
how little did we imagine that in twenty-two hours the telegraph would be
bringing words like these:
"From the bottom of our hearts we send our sympathy, dearest of friends."
For many and many a day to come, wherever I go in this house,
remembrancers of Jean will mutely speak to me of her. Who can count the
number of them?
She was in exile two years with the hope of healing her malady—epilepsy.
There are no words to express how grateful I am that she did not meet her
fate in the hands of strangers, but in the loving shelter of her own home.
"MISS JEAN IS DEAD!"
It is true. Jean is dead.
A month ago I was writing bubbling and hilarious articles for magazines
yet to appear, and now I am writing—this.
CHRISTMAS DAY. NOON.—Last night I went to Jean's room at intervals,
and turned back the sheet and looked at the peaceful face, and kissed the
cold brow, and remembered that heartbreaking night in Florence so long
ago, in that cavernous and silent vast villa, when I crept downstairs so
many times, and turned back a sheet and looked at a face just like this
one—Jean's mother's face—and kissed a brow that was just like
this one. And last night I saw again what I had seen then—that
strange and lovely miracle—the sweet, soft contours of early
maidenhood restored by the gracious hand of death! When Jean's mother lay
dead, all trace of care, and trouble, and suffering, and the corroding
years had vanished out of the face, and I was looking again upon it as I
had known and worshipped it in its young bloom and beauty a whole
About three in the morning, while wandering about the house in the deep
silences, as one does in times like these, when there is a dumb sense that
something has been lost that will never be found again, yet must be
sought, if only for the employment the useless seeking gives, I came upon
Jean's dog in the hall downstairs, and noted that he did not spring to
greet me, according to his hospitable habit, but came slow and
sorrowfully; also I remembered that he had not visited Jean's apartment
since the tragedy. Poor fellow, did he know? I think so. Always when Jean
was abroad in the open he was with her; always when she was in the house
he was with her, in the night as well as in the day. Her parlor was his
bedroom. Whenever I happened upon him on the ground floor he always
followed me about, and when I went upstairs he went too—in a
tumultuous gallop. But now it was different: after patting him a little I
went to the library—he remained behind; when I went upstairs he did
not follow me, save with his wistful eyes. He has wonderful eyes—big,
and kind, and eloquent. He can talk with them. He is a beautiful creature,
and is of the breed of the New York police-dogs. I do not like dogs,
because they bark when there is no occasion for it; but I have liked this
one from the beginning, because he belonged to Jean, and because he never
barks except when there is occasion—which is not oftener than twice
In my wanderings I visited Jean's parlor. On a shelf I found a pile of my
books, and I knew what it meant. She was waiting for me to come home from
Bermuda and autograph them, then she would send them away. If I only knew
whom she intended them for! But I shall never know. I will keep them. Her
hand has touched them—it is an accolade—they are noble, now.
And in a closet she had hidden a surprise for me—a thing I have
often wished I owned: a noble big globe. I couldn't see it for the tears.
She will never know the pride I take in it, and the pleasure. Today the
mails are full of loving remembrances for her: full of those old, old kind
words she loved so well, "Merry Christmas to Jean!" If she could only have
lived one day longer!
At last she ran out of money, and would not use mine. So she sent to one
of those New York homes for poor girls all the clothes she could spare—and
more, most likely.
CHRISTMAS NIGHT.—This afternoon they took her away from her room. As
soon as I might, I went down to the library, and there she lay, in her
coffin, dressed in exactly the same clothes she wore when she stood at the
other end of the same room on the 6th of October last, as Clara's chief
bridesmaid. Her face was radiant with happy excitement then; it was the
same face now, with the dignity of death and the peace of God upon it.
They told me the first mourner to come was the dog. He came uninvited, and
stood up on his hind legs and rested his fore paws upon the trestle, and
took a last long look at the face that was so dear to him, then went his
way as silently as he had come. HE KNOWS.
At mid-afternoon it began to snow. The pity of it—that Jean could
not see it! She so loved the snow.
The snow continued to fall. At six o'clock the hearse drew up to the door
to bear away its pathetic burden. As they lifted the casket, Paine began
playing on the orchestrelle Schubert's "Impromptu," which was Jean's
favorite. Then he played the Intermezzo; that was for Susy; then he played
the Largo; that was for their mother. He did this at my request. Elsewhere
in my Autobiography I have told how the Intermezzo and the Largo came to
be associated in my heart with Susy and Livy in their last hours in this
From my windows I saw the hearse and the carriages wind along the road and
gradually grow vague and spectral in the falling snow, and presently
disappear. Jean was gone out of my life, and would not come back any more.
Jervis, the cousin she had played with when they were babies together—he
and her beloved old Katy—were conducting her to her distant
childhood home, where she will lie by her mother's side once more, in the
company of Susy and Langdon.
DECEMBER 26TH. The dog came to see me at eight o'clock this morning. He
was very affectionate, poor orphan! My room will be his quarters
The storm raged all night. It has raged all the morning. The snow drives
across the landscape in vast clouds, superb, sublime—and Jean not
here to see.
2:30 P.M.—It is the time appointed. The funeral has begun. Four
hundred miles away, but I can see it all, just as if I were there. The
scene is the library in the Langdon homestead. Jean's coffin stands where
her mother and I stood, forty years ago, and were married; and where
Susy's coffin stood thirteen years ago; where her mother's stood five
years and a half ago; and where mine will stand after a little time.
FIVE O'CLOCK.—It is all over.
When Clara went away two weeks ago to live in Europe, it was hard, but I
could bear it, for I had Jean left. I said WE would be a family. We said
we would be close comrades and happy—just we two. That fair dream
was in my mind when Jean met me at the steamer last Monday; it was in my
mind when she received me at the door last Tuesday evening. We were
together; WE WERE A FAMILY! the dream had come true—oh, precisely
true, contentedly, true, satisfyingly true! and remained true two whole
And now? Now Jean is in her grave!
In the grave—if I can believe it. God rest her sweet spirit!
1. Katy Leary, who had been in the service of the Clemens
family for twenty-nine years.
2. Mr. Gabrilowitsch had been operated on for appendicitis.