He walked in his sleep and was often found in the middle of the night, fretting with the cold, in some dark corner. Once he heard that a neighbor's children had the measles, and, being very anxious to catch the complaint, slipped over to the house and crept into bed with an infected playmate. Some days later, Little Sam's relatives gathered about his bed to see him die. He confessed, long after, that the scene gratified him. However, he survived, and fell into the habit of running away, usually in the direction of the river.

"You gave me more uneasiness than any child I had," his mother once said to him, in her old age.

"I suppose you were afraid I wouldn't live," he suggested.

She looked at him with the keen humor which had been her legacy to him. "No, afraid you would," she said. Which was only her joke, for she had the tenderest of hearts, and, like all mothers, had a weakness for the child that demanded most of her mother's care. It was chiefly on his account that she returned each year to Florida to spend the summer on John Quarles's farm.

If Uncle John Quarles's farm was just an ordinary Missouri farm, and his slaves just average negroes, they certainly never seemed so to Little Sam. There was a kind of glory about everything that belonged to Uncle John, and it was not all imagination, for some of the spirit of that jovial, kindly hearted man could hardly fail to radiate from his belongings.

The farm was a large one for that locality, and the farm-house was a big double log building--that is, two buildings with a roofed-over passage between, where in summer the lavish Southern meals were served, brought in on huge dishes by the negroes, and left for each one to help himself. Fried chicken, roast pig, turkeys, ducks, geese, venison just killed, squirrels, rabbits, partridges, pheasants, prairie-chickens, green corn, watermelon--a little boy who did not die on that bill of fare would be likely to get well on it, and to Little Sam the farm proved a life-saver.

It was, in fact, a heavenly place for a little boy. In the corner of the yard there were hickory and black-walnut trees, and just over the fence the hill sloped past barns and cribs to a brook, a rare place to wade, though there were forbidden pools. Cousin Tabitha Quarles, called "Puss," his own age, was Little Sam's playmate, and a slave girl, Mary, who, being six years older, was supposed to keep them out of mischief. There were swings in the big, shady pasture, where Mary swung her charges and ran under them until their feet touched the branches. All the woods were full of squirrels and birds and blooming flowers; all the meadows were gay with clover and butterflies, and musical with singing grasshoppers and calling larks; the fence-rows were full of wild blackberries; there were apples and peaches in the orchard, and plenty of melons ripening in the corn. Certainly it was a glorious place!

Little Sam got into trouble once with the watermelons. One of them had not ripened quite enough when he ate several slices of it. Very soon after he was seized with such terrible cramps that some of the household did not think he could live.

But his mother said: "Sammy will pull through. He was not born to die that way." Which was a true prophecy. Sammy's slender constitution withstood the strain. It was similarly tested more than once during those early years. He was regarded as a curious child. At times dreamy and silent, again wild-headed and noisy, with sudden impulses that sent him capering and swinging his arms into the wind until he would fall with shrieks and spasms of laughter and madly roll over and over in the grass. It is not remembered that any one prophesied very well for his future at such times.

The negro quarters on Uncle John's farm were especially fascinating. In one cabin lived a bedridden old woman whom the children looked upon with awe. She was said to be a thousand years old, and to have talked with Moses. She had lost her health in the desert, coming out of Egypt.

The Boys Life of Mark Twain Page 05

Mark Twain

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Mark Twain
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