He felt that it was his conscience that made such things torture him. That was his mother's idea, and he had a high respect for her opinion in such matters. Among other things, he had seen her one day defy a vicious and fierce Corsican--a common terror in the town--who had chased his grown daughter with a heavy rope in his hand, declaring he would wear it out on her. Cautious citizens got out of the way, but Jane Clemens opened her door to the fugitive; then, instead of rushing in and closing it, spread her arms across it, barring the way. The man raved, and threatened her with the rope, but she did not flinch or show any sign of fear. She stood there and shamed and defied him until he slunk off, crestfallen and conquered. Any one as brave as his mother must have a perfect conscience, Sam thought, and would know how to take care of it. In the darkness he would say his prayers, especially when a thunderstorm was coming, and vow to begin a better life. He detested Sunday-school as much as he did day-school, and once his brother Orion, who was moral and religious, had threatened to drag him there by the collar, but, as the thunder got louder, Sam decided that he loved Sunday-school and would go the next Sunday without being invited.

Sam's days were not all disturbed by fierce events. They were mostly filled with pleasanter things. There were picnics sometimes, and ferryboat excursions, and any day one could roam the woods, or fish, alone or in company. The hills and woods around Hannibal were never disappointing. There was the cave with its marvels. There was Bear Creek, where he had learned to swim. He had seen two playmates drown; twice, himself, he had been dragged ashore, more dead than alive; once by a slave girl, another time by a slave man--Neal Champ, of the Pavey Hotel. But he had persevered, and with success. He could swim better than any playmate of his age.

It was the river that he cared for most. It was the pathway that led to the great world outside. He would sit by it for hours and dream. He would venture out on it in a quietly borrowed boat, when he was barely strong enough to lift an oar. He learned to know all its moods and phases.

More than anything in the world he hungered to make a trip on one of the big, smart steamers that were always passing. "You can hardly imagine what it meant," he reflected, once, "to a boy in those days, shut in as we were, to see those steamboats pass up and down, and never take a trip on them."

It was at the mature age of nine that he found he could endure this no longer. One day when the big packet came down and stopped at Hannibal, he slipped aboard and crept under one of the boats on the upper deck. Then the signal-bells rang, the steamer backed away and swung into midstream; he was really going at last. He crept from beneath the boat and sat looking out over the water and enjoying the scenery. Then it began to rain--a regular downpour. He crept back under the boat, but his legs were outside, and one of the crew saw him. He was dragged out and at the next stop set ashore. It was the town of Louisiana, where there were Lampton relatives, who took him home. Very likely the home-coming was not entirely pleasant, though a "lesson," too, in his general education.

And always, each summer, there was the farm, where his recreation was no longer mere girl plays and swings, with a colored nurse following about, but sports with his older boy cousins, who went hunting with the men, for partridges by day and for 'coons and 'possums by night. Sometimes the little boy followed the hunters all night long, and returned with them through the sparkling and fragrant morning, fresh, hungry, and triumphant, just in time for breakfast. So it is no wonder that Little Sam, at nine, was no longer Little Sam, but plain Sam Clemens, and grown up. If there were doubtful spots in his education--matters related to smoking and strong words--it is also no wonder, and experience even in these lines was worth something in a book like Tom Sawyer.

The Boys Life of Mark Twain Page 09

Mark Twain

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Mark Twain
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