Captain Sellers would never need it again. It would do no harm to keep it alive- -to give it a new meaning in a new land. Clemens took a trip from Carson up to Virginia City.
"Joe," he said to Goodman, "I want to sign my articles. I want to be identified to a wider audience."
"All right, Sam. What name do you want to use Josh?"
"No, I want to sign them Mark Twain. It is an old river term, a leadsman's call, signifying two fathoms--twelve feet. It has a richness about it; it was always a pleasant sound for a pilot to hear on a dark night; it meant safe waters."
He did not mention that Captain Sellers had used and dropped the name. He was not proud of his part in that episode, and it was too recent for confession.
Goodman considered a moment. "Very well, Sam," he said, "that sounds like a good name."
A good name, indeed! Probably, if he had considered every combination of words in the language, he could not have found a better one. To-day we recognize it as the greatest nom de plume ever chosen, and, somehow, we cannot believe that the writer of "Tom Sawyer" and "Huck Finn" and "Roughing It" could have selected any other had he tried.
The name Mark Twain was first signed to a Carson letter, February 2, 1863, and after that to all of Samuel Clemens's work. The letters that had amused so many readers had taken on a new interest--the interest that goes with a name. It became immediately more than a pen-name. Clemens found he had attached a name to himself as well as to his letters. Everybody began to address him as Mark. Within a few weeks he was no longer "Sam" or "Clemens," but Mark--Mark Twain. The Coast papers liked the sound of it. It began to mean something to their readers. By the end of that legislative session Samuel Clemens, as Mark Twain, had acquired out there on that breezy Western slope something resembling fame.
Curiously, he fails to mention any of this success in his letters home of that period. Indeed, he seldom refers to his work, but more often speaks of mining shares which he has accumulated, and their possible values. His letters are airy, full of the joy of life and of the wild doings of the frontier. Closing one of them, he says: "I have just heard five pistolshots down the street. As such things are in my line, I will go and see about it."
And in a postscript, later, he adds:
"5 A.M.--The pistol-shots did their work well. One man, a Jackson County Missourian, shot two of my friends (police officers) through the heart--both died within three minutes. The murderer's name is John Campbell."
The Comstock was a great school for Mark Twain, and in "Roughing It" he has left us a faithful picture of its long-vanished glory.
More than one national character came out of the Comstock school. Senator James G. Fair was one of them, and John Mackay, both miners with pick and shovel at first, though Mackay presently became a superintendent. Mark Twain one day laughingly offered to trade jobs with Mackay.
"No," Mackay said, "I can't trade. My business is not worth as much as yours. I have never swindled anybody, and I don't intend to begin now."
For both these men the future held splendid gifts: for Mackay vast wealth, for Mark Twain the world's applause, and neither would have long to wait.
ARTEMUS WARD AND LITERARY SAN FRANCISCO
It was about the end of 1863 that a new literary impulse came into Mark Twain's life. The gentle and lovable humorist Artemus Ward (Charles F. Browne) was that year lecturing in the West, and came to Virginia City. Ward had intended to stay only a few days, but the whirl of the Comstock fascinated him. He made the "Enterprise" office his headquarters and remained three weeks. He and Mark Twain became boon companions. Their humor was not unlike; they were kindred spirits, together almost constantly. Ward was then at the summit of his fame, and gave the younger man the highest encouragement, prophesying great things for ha work. Clemens, on his side, was stirred, perhaps for the first time, with a real literary ambition, and the thought that he, too, might win a place of honor.