He had traveled far and learned much. What the two apprentices did not already know, Pet McMurry could teach them. Sam Clemens had promised to be a good boy, and he was so, by the standards of boyhood. He was industrious, regular at his work, quick to learn, kind, and truthful. Angels could hardly be more than that in a printing-office. But when food was scarce, even an angel--a young printer-angel--could hardly resist slipping down the cellar stairs at night, for raw potatoes, onions, and apples, which they cooked in the office, where the boys slept on a pallet on the floor. Wales had a wonderful way of cooking a potato which his fellow apprentice never forgot.
How one wishes for a photograph of Sam Clemens at that period! But in those days there were only daguerreotypes, and they were expensive things. There is a letter, though, written long afterward, by Pet McMurry to Mark Twain, which contains this paragraph:
"If your memory extends so far back, you will recall a little sandy- haired boy of nearly a quarter of a century ago, in the printing- office at Hannibal, over the Brittingham drug-store, mounted upon a little box at the case, who used to love to sing so well the expression of the poor drunken man who was supposed to have fallen by the wayside, 'If ever I get up again, I'll stay up--if I kin.'"
And with this portrait we must be content--we cannot doubt its truth.
Sam was soon office favorite and in time became chief stand-by. When he had been at work a year, he could set type accurately, run the job press to the tune of "Annie Laurie," and he had charge of the circulation. That is to say, he carried the papers--a mission of real importance, for a long, sagging span of telegraph-wire had reached across the river to Hannibal, and Mexican-war news delivered hot from the front gave the messenger a fine prestige.
He even did editing, of a kind. That is to say, when Ament was not in the office and copy was needed, Sam hunted him up, explained the situation, and saw that the necessary matter was produced. He was not ambitious to write--not then. He wanted to be a journeyman printer, like Pet, and travel and see the world. Sometimes he thought he would like to be a clown, or "end man" in a minstrel troupe. Once for a week he served as subject for a traveling hypnotist-and was dazzled by his success.
But he stuck to printing, and rapidly became a neat, capable workman. Ament gave him a daily task, after which he was free. By three in the afternoon he was likely to finish his stint. Then he was off for the river or the cave, joining his old comrades. Or perhaps he would go with Laura Hawkins to gather wild columbine on the high cliff above the river, known as Lover's Leap. When winter came these two sometimes went to Bear Creek, skating; or together they attended parties, where the old- fashioned games "Ring-around-Rosy" and "Dusty Miller" were the chief amusements.
In "The Gilded Age," Laura Hawkins at twelve is pictured "with her dainty hands propped into the ribbon-bordered pockets of her apron . . . a vision to warm the coldest heart and bless and cheer the saddest." That was the real Laura, though her story in that book in no way resembles the reality.
It was just at this time that an incident occurred which may be looked back upon now as a turning-point in Samuel Clemens's life. Coming home from the office one afternoon, he noticed a square of paper being swept along by the wind. He saw that it was printed--was interested professionally in seeing what it was like. He chased the flying scrap and overtook it. It was a leaf from some old history of Joan of Arc, and pictured the hard lot of the "maid" in the tower at Rouen, reviled and mistreated by her ruffian captors. There were some paragraphs of description, but the rest was pitiful dialogue.
Sam had never heard of Joan before--he knew nothing of history. He was no reader. Orion was fond of books, and Pamela; even little Henry had read more than Sam.