He had gone down feet foremost, and the loosened drift had released him. The boys did not stop to investigate. They thought he was after them and flew in wild terror, never stopping until they reached human habitation.

How many gruesome experiences there appear to have been in those early days! In 'The Innocents Abroad' Mark Twain tells of the murdered man he saw one night in his father's office. The man's name was McFarlane. He had been stabbed that day in the old Hudson-McFarlane feud and carried in there to die. Sam Clemens and John Briggs had run away from school and had been sky larking all that day, and knew nothing of the affair. Sam decided that his father's office was safer for him than to face his mother, who was probably sitting up, waiting. He tells us how he lay on the lounge, and how a shape on the floor gradually resolved itself into the outlines of a man; how a square of moonlight from the window approached it and gradually revealed the dead face and the ghastly stabbed breast.

"I went out of there," he says. "I do not say that I went away in any sort of a hurry, but I simply went; that is sufficient. I went out of the window, and I carried the sash along with me. I did not need the sash, but it was handier to take it than to, leave it, and so I took it. I was not scared, but I was considerably agitated."

He was not yet twelve, for his father was no longer alive when the boy reached that age. Certainly these were disturbing, haunting things. Then there was the case of the drunken tramp in the calaboose to whom the boys kind-heartedly enough carried food and tobacco. Sam Clemens spent some of his precious money to buy the tramp a box of Lucifer matches--a brand new invention then, scarce and high. The tramp started a fire with the matches and burned down the calaboose, himself in it. For weeks the boy was tortured, awake and in his dreams, by the thought that if he had not carried the man the matches the tragedy could not have happened. Remorse was always Samuel Clemens's surest punishment. To his last days on earth he never outgrew its pangs.

What a number of things crowded themselves into a few brief years! It is not easy to curtail these boyhood adventures of Sam Clemens and his scapegrace friends, but one might go on indefinitely with their mad doings. They were an unpromising lot. Ministers and other sober-minded citizens freely prophesied sudden and violent ends for them, and considered them hardly worth praying for. They must have proven a disappointing lot to those prophets. The Bowen boys became fine river- pilots; Will Pitts was in due time a leading merchant and bank director; John Briggs grew into a well-to-do and highly respected farmer; even Huck Finn--that is to say, Tom Blankenship--is reputed to have ranked as an honored citizen and justice of the peace in a Western town. But in those days they were a riotous, fun-loving band with little respect for order and even less for ordinance.



His associations were not all of that lawless breed. At his school (he had sampled several places of learning, and was now at Mr. Cross's on the Square) were a number of less adventurous, even if not intrinsically better playmates. There was George Robards, the Latin scholar, and John, his brother, a handsome boy, who rode away at last with his father into the sunset, to California, his golden curls flying in the wind. And there was Jimmy McDaniel, a kind-hearted boy whose company was worth while, because his father was a confectioner, and he used to bring candy and cake to school. Also there was Buck Brown, a rival speller, and John Meredith, the doctor's son, and John Garth, who was one day to marry little Helen Kercheval, and in the end would be remembered and honored with a beautiful memorial building not far from the site of the old school.

Furthermore, there were a good many girls. Tom Sawyer had an impressionable heart, and Sam Clemens no less so. There was Bettie Ormsley, and Artemisia Briggs, and Jennie Brady; also Mary Miller, who was nearly twice his age and gave him his first broken heart.

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

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