Yet he would appear not to have been satisfied with his heritage of ailments, and was ambitious for more. An epidemic of measles--the black, deadly kind--was ravaging Hannibal, and he yearned for the complaint. He yearned so much that when he heard of a playmate, one of the Bowen boys, who had it, he ran away and, slipping into the house, crept into bed with the infection. The success of this venture was complete. Some days later, the Clemens family gathered tearfully around Little Sam's bed to see him die. According to his own after-confession, this gratified him, and he was willing to die for the glory of that touching scene. However, he disappointed them, and was presently up and about in search of fresh laurels.--[In later life Mr. Clemens did not recollect the precise period of this illness. With habitual indifference he assigned it to various years, as his mood or the exigencies of his theme required. Without doubt the "measles" incident occurred when he was very young.]--
He must have been a wearing child, and we may believe that Jane Clemens, with her varied cares and labors, did not always find him a comfort.
"You gave me more uneasiness than any child I had," she said to him once, in her old age.
"I suppose you were afraid I wouldn't live," he suggested, in his tranquil fashion.
She looked at him with that keen humor that had not dulled in eighty years. "No; afraid you would," she said. But that was only her joke, for she was the most tenderhearted creature in the world, and, like mothers in general, had a weakness for the child that demanded most of her mother's care.
It was mainly on his account that she spent her summers on John Quarles's farm near Florida, and it was during the first summer that an incident already mentioned occurred. It was decided that the whole family should go for a brief visit, and one Saturday morning in June Mrs. Clemens, with the three elder children and the baby, accompanied by Jennie, the slave- girl, set out in a light wagon for the day's drive, leaving Judge Clemens to bring Little Sam on horseback Sunday morning. The hour was early when Judge Clemens got up to saddle his horse, and Little Sam was still asleep. The horse being ready, Clemens, his mind far away, mounted and rode off without once remembering the little boy, and in the course of the afternoon arrived at his brother-in-law's farm. Then he was confronted by Jane Clemens, who demanded Little Sam.
"Why," said the judge, aghast, "I never once thought of him after I left him asleep."
Wharton Lampton, a brother of Jane Clemens and Patsey Quarles, hastily saddled a horse and set out, helter-skelter, for Hannibal. He arrived in the early dusk. The child was safe enough, but he was crying with loneliness and hunger. He had spent most of the day in the locked, deserted house playing with a hole in the meal-sack where the meal ran out, when properly encouraged, in a tiny stream. He was fed and comforted, and next day was safe on the farm, which during that summer and those that followed it, became so large a part of his boyhood and lent a coloring to his later years.
We have already mentioned the delight of the Clemens children in Uncle John Quarles's farm. To Little Sam it was probably a life-saver. With his small cousin, Tabitha,--[Tabitha Quarles, now Mrs. Greening, of Palmyra, Missouri, has supplied most of the material for this chapter.]-- just his own age (they called her Puss), he wandered over that magic domain, fording new marvels at every step, new delights everywhere. A slave-girl, Mary, usually attended them, but she was only six years older, and not older at all in reality, so she was just a playmate, and not a guardian to be feared or evaded. Sometimes, indeed, it was necessary for her to threaten to tell "Miss Patsey" or "Miss Jane," when her little charges insisted on going farther or staying later than she thought wise from the viewpoint of her own personal safety; but this was seldom, and on the whole a stay at the farm was just one long idyllic dream of summer-time and freedom.