If the band had a leader, it was he. They were always ready to listen to him--they would even stop fishing to do that-- and to follow his projects. They looked to him for ideas and organization, whether the undertaking was to be real or make-believe. When they played "Bandit" or "Pirate" or "Indian," Sam Clemens was always chief; when they became real raiders it is recorded that he was no less distinguished. Like Tom Sawyer, he loved the glare and trappings of leadership. When the Christian Sons of Temperance came along with a regalia, and a red sash that carried with it rank and the privilege of inventing pass-words, the gaud of these things got into his eyes, and he gave up smoking (which he did rather gingerly) and swearing (which he did only under heavy excitement), also liquor (though he had never tasted it yet), and marched with the newly washed and pure in heart for a full month--a month of splendid leadership and servitude. Then even the red sash could not hold him in bondage. He looked up Tom Blankenship and said:
"Say, Tom, I'm blamed tired of this! Let's go somewhere and smoke!" Which must have been a good deal of a sacrifice, for the uniform was a precious thing.
Limelight and the center of the stage was a passion of Sam Clemens's boyhood, a love of the spectacular that never wholly died. It seems almost a pity that in those far-off barefoot old days he could not have looked down the years to a time when, with the world at his feet, venerable Oxford should clothe him in a scarlet gown.
He could not by any chance have dreamed of that stately honor. His ambitions did not lie in the direction of mental achievement. It is true that now and then, on Friday at school, he read a composition, one of which--a personal burlesque on certain older boys--came near resulting in bodily damage. But any literary ambition he may have had in those days was a fleeting thing. His permanent dream was to be a pirate, or a pilot, or a bandit, or a trapper-scout; something gorgeous and active, where his word--his nod, even--constituted sufficient law. The river kept the pilot ambition always fresh, and the cave supplied a background for those other things.
The cave was an enduring and substantial joy. It was a real cave, not merely a hole, but a subterranean marvel of deep passages and vaulted chambers that led away into bluffs and far down into the earth's black silences, even below the river, some said. For Sam Clemens the cave had a fascination that never faded. Other localities and diversions might pall, but any mention of the cave found him always eager and ready for the three-mile walk or pull that brought them to its mystic door. With its long corridors, its royal chambers hung with stalactites, its remote hiding-places, its possibilities as the home of a gallant outlaw band, it contained everything that a romantic boy could love or long for. In Tom Sawyer Indian Joe dies in the cave. He did not die there in real life, but was lost there once, and was living on bats when they found him. He was a dissolute reprobate, and when, one night, he did die there came up a thunder-storm so terrific that Sam Clemens at home and in bed was certain that Satan had come in person for the half-breed's wicked soul. He covered his head and said his prayers industriously, in the fear that the evil one might conclude to save another trip by taking him along, too.
The treasure-digging adventure in the book had a foundation in fact. There was a tradition concerning some French trappers who long before had established a trading-post two miles above Hannibal, on what is called the "bay." It is said that, while one of these trappers was out hunting, Indians made a raid on the post and massacred the others. The hunter on returning found his comrades killed and scalped, but the Indians had failed to find the treasure which was buried in a chest. He left it there, swam across to Illinois, and made his way to St. Louis, where he told of the massacre and the burial of the, chest of gold.