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The Death of Jean, Mark Twain

Mark Twain and the Christmas train

By Judi McLeod
Sunday, December 4, 2005

Number one New York Times bestselling author David Baldacci did me a favour. The spellbinding storyteller both put me in the Christmas spirit and took me back to Mark Twain.

David Baldacci's the Christmas train is another one of those books I picked up on impulse that put some meaning into my life.

although Baldacci is better known for spy espionage blockbusters like Hour Game and absolute Power, the Christmas train is a real charmer.

Tom Langdon the book's central character is a journalist related to the great Samuel Clemens, described by Baldacci as "the loquacious orator, irascible personality and prolific scribe known to his friends as Samuel Clemens, but otherwise known to the world and to history as Mark Twain."

"Twain was also a journalist, starting at the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City, Nevada before going on to fame, fortune, bankruptcy and fortune again."

Between pages, I temporarily jumped off the Christmas train, and went to the official Mark Twain biography on the Internet. It was here where I read one of Samuel Clemens's most heart-rending essays with a Christmas theme.

The long ago, heart rending and true story the famed author of Huckleberry Finn tells in the essay, goes back to early in the morning of December 24, 1909.

albert Bigelow Paine noted this account of sad events for posterity.

"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 with 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 Jean."

They say that no parent should ever have to bury a child. But Samuel Clemens who made the world chuckle as the unforgettable Mark Twain, was predeceased by not one, but two beloved daughters.

Jean, who was a comfort to her famous father in his golden years, died on Christmas Eve.

"Has anyone 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 always so unimportant and easily forgettable before–but now! Now, how different! How precious they are, how dear, how unforgettable, how pathetic, how sacred, how clothed with dignity!" Clemens wrote.

"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 goodnight, 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 parted.

"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 entered, stood quaking and gasping at my bedside a moment, then found her tongue:

"MISS JEaN IS DEaD!"

"Possibly I now know what the soldier feels when a bullet crashes through his heart," the grief-stricken father wrote.

Jean's father was grateful that his daughter, who had been in exile two years with the hope of healing her malady–epilepsy, "did not meet her fate in the hands of strangers, but in the loving shelter of her own home."

In a description that could only be provided by Clemens, we read about his being told "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."

We read how a father watches his last sight of his daughter's body being carried away, "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."

But even in the pathos, Clemens somehow leaves comfort for all who would someday read about Jean's untimely death--as only the towering talent of Mark Twain could do.

The Death of Jean is a Christmas story in its own haunting way. and I never would have found it had it not been for David Baldacci's evocative the Christmas train.

Merry Christmas, Mr. Baldacci.

Canada Free Press founding editor Most recent by Judi McLeod is an award-winning journalist with 30 years experience in the print media. Her work has appeared on Newsmax.com, Drudge Report, Foxnews.com, Glenn Beck. Judi can be reached at: [email protected]


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