Their free mode of life suited him. He was likely to be there at any hour of the day, and Tom made cat-call signals at night that would bring Sam out on the shed roof at the back and down a little trellis and flight of steps to the group of boon companions, which, besides Tom, usually included John Briggs, Will Pitts, and the two younger Bowen boys. They were not malicious boys, but just mischievous, fun-loving boys--little boys of ten or twelve--rather thoughtless, being mainly bent on having a good time.

They had a wide field of action: they ranged from Holliday's Hill on the north to the cave on the south, and over the fields and through all the woods between. They explored both banks of the river, the islands, and the deep wilderness of the Illinois shore. They could run like turkeys and swim like ducks; they could handle a boat as if born in one. No orchard or melon-patch was entirely safe from them. No dog or slave patrol was so watchful that they did not sooner or later elude it. They borrowed boats with or without the owner's consent--it did not matter.

Most of their expeditions were harmless enough. They often cruised up to Turtle Island, about two miles above Hannibal, and spent the day feasting. There were quantities of turtles and their eggs there, and mussels, and plenty of fish. Fishing and swimming were their chief pastimes, with incidental raiding, for adventure. Bear Creek was their swimming-place by day, and the river-front at night-fall--a favorite spot being where the railroad bridge now ends. It was a good distance across to the island where, in the book, Tom Sawyer musters his pirate band, and where later Huck found Nigger Jim, but quite often in the evening they swam across to it, and when they had frolicked for an hour or more on the sandbar at the head of the island, they would swim back in the dusk, breasting the strong, steady Mississippi current without exhaustion or dread. They could swim all day, those little scamps, and seemed to have no fear. Once, during his boyhood, Sam Clemens swam across to the Illinois side, then turned and swam back again without landing, a distance of at least two miles as he had to go. He was seized with a cramp on the return trip. His legs became useless and he was obliged to make the remaining distance with his arms.

The adventures of Sam Clemens and his comrades would fill several books of the size of Tom Sawyer. Many of them are, of course, forgotten now, but those still remembered show that Mark Twain had plenty of real material.

It was not easy to get money in those days, and the boys were often without it. Once "Huck" Blankenship had the skin of a 'coon he had captured, and offered to sell it to raise capital. At Selms's store, on Wild Cat Corner, the 'coon-skin would bring ten cents. But this was not enough. The boys thought of a plan to make it bring more. Selms's back window was open, and the place where he kept his pelts was pretty handy. Huck went around to the front door and sold the skin for ten cents to Selms, who tossed it back on the pile. Then Huck came back and, after waiting a reasonable time, crawled in the open window, got the 'coon- skin, and sold it to Selms again. He did this several times that afternoon, and the capital of the band grew. But at last John Pierce, Selms's clerk, said:

"Look here, Mr. Selms, there's something wrong about this. That boy has been selling us 'coonskins all the afternoon."

Selms went back to his pile of pelts. There were several sheep-skins and some cow-hides, but only one 'coon-skin--the one he had that moment bought.

Selms himself, in after years, used to tell this story as a great joke.

One of the boys' occasional pastimes was to climb Holliday's Hill and roll down big stones, to frighten the people who were driving by. Holliday's Hill above the road was steep; a stone once started would go plunging downward and bound across the road with the deadly momentum of a shell. The boys would get a stone poised, then wait until they saw a team approaching, and, calculating the distance, would give the boulder a start.

The Boys Life of Mark Twain Page 11

Mark Twain

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