There were also a number of girls. Bettie Ormsley, Artemisia Briggs, and Jennie Brady were among the girls he remembered in later years, and Mary Miller, who was nearly double his age and broke his heart by getting married one day, a thing he had not expected at all.
Yet through it all he appears, like Tom Sawyer, to have had one faithful sweetheart. In the book it is Becky Thatcher--in real life she was Laura Hawkins. The Clemens and Hawkins families lived opposite, and the children were early acquainted. The "Black Avenger of the Spanish Main" was very gentle when he was playing at house-building with little Laura, and once, when he dropped a brick on her finger, he cried the louder and longer of the two.
For he was a tender-hearted boy. He would never abuse an animal, except when his tendency to mischief ran away with him, as in the "pain-killer" incident. He had a real passion for cats. Each summer he carried his cat to the farm in a basket, and it always had a place by him at the table. He loved flowers--not as a boy botanist or gardener, but as a companion who understood their thoughts. He pitied dead leaves and dry weeds because their lives were ended and they would never know summer again or grow glad with another spring. Even in that early time he had that deeper sympathy which one day would offer comfort to humanity and make every man his friend.
But we are drifting away from Sam Clemens's school-days. They will not trouble us much longer now. More than anything in the world Sam detested school, and he made any excuse to get out of going. It is hard to say just why, unless it was the restraint and the long hours of confinement.
The Square in Hannibal, where stood the school of Mr. Cross, was a grove in those days, with plum-trees and hazel-bushes and grape-vines. When spring came, the children gathered flowers at recess, climbed trees, and swung in the vines. It was a happy place enough, only--it was school. To Sam Clemens, the spelling-bee every Friday afternoon was the one thing that made it worth while. Sam was a leader at spelling--it was one of his gifts--he could earn compliments even from Mr. Cross, whose name, it would seem, was regarded as descriptive. Once in a moment of inspiration Sam wrote on his late:
"Cross by name and Cross by nature, Cross jumped over an Irish potato."
John Briggs thought this a great effort, and urged the author to write it on the blackboard at noon. Sam hesitated.
"Oh, pshaw!" said John, "I wouldn't be afraid to do it."
"I dare you to do it," said Sam.
This was enough. While Mr. Cross was at dinner John wrote in a large hand the fine couplet. The teacher returned and called the school to order. He looked at the blackboard, then, searchingly, at John Briggs. The handwriting was familiar.
"Did you do that?" he asked, ominously.
It was a time for truth.
"Yes, sir," said John.
"Come here!" And John came and paid handsomely for his publishing venture. Sam Clemens expected that the author would be called for next; but perhaps Mr. Cross had exhausted himself on John. Sam did not often escape. His back kept fairly warm from one "flailing" to the next.
Yet he usually wore one of the two medals offered in that school--the medal for spelling. Once he lost it by leaving the first "r" out of February. Laura Hawkins was on the floor against him, and he was a gallant boy. If it had only been Huck Brown he would have spelled that and all the other months backward, to show off. There were moments of triumph that almost made school worth while; the rest of the time it was prison and servitude.
But then one day came freedom. Judge Clemens, who, in spite of misfortune, had never lost faith in humanity, indorsed a large note for a neighbor, and was obliged to pay it. Once more all his property was taken away. Only a few scanty furnishings were rescued from the wreck. A St. Louis cousin saved the home, but the Clemens family could not afford to live in it.