He showed this to John Briggs, who considered it a stroke of genius. He urged the author to write it on the board at noon, but the poet's ambition did not go so far.

"Oh, pshaw!" said John. "I wouldn't be afraid to do it.

"I dare you to do it," said Sam.

John Briggs never took a dare, and at noon, when Mr. Cross was at home at dinner, he wrote flamingly the descriptive couplet. When the teacher returned and "books" were called he looked steadily at John Briggs. He had recognized the penmanship.

"Did you do that?" he asked, ominously.

It was a time for truth.

"Yes, sir," said John.

"Come here!" And John came, and paid for his exploitation of genius heavily. Sam Clemens expected that the next call would be for "author," but for some reason the investigation ended there. It was unusual for him to escape. His back generally kept fairly warm from one "frailing" to the next.

His rewards were not all of a punitive nature. There were two medals in the school, one for spelling, the other for amiability. They were awarded once a week, and the holders wore them about the neck conspicuously, and were envied accordingly. John Robards--he of the golden curls--wore almost continuously the medal for amiability, while Sam Clemens had a mortgage on the medal for spelling. Sometimes they traded, to see how it would seem, but the master discouraged this practice by taking the medals away from them for the remainder of the week. Once Sam Clemens lost the medal by leaving the first "r" out of February. He could have spelled it backward, if necessary; but Laura Hawkins was the only one on the floor against him, and he was a gallant boy.

The picture of that school as presented in the book written thirty years later is faithful, we may believe, and the central figure is a tender- hearted, romantic, devil-may-care lad, loathing application and longing only for freedom. It was a boon which would come to him sooner even than he had dreamed.



Judge Clemens, who time and again had wrecked or crippled his fortune by devices more or less unusual, now adopted the one unfailing method of achieving disaster. He endorsed a large note, for a man of good repute, and the payment of it swept him clean: home, property, everything vanished again. The St. Louis cousin took over the home and agreed to let the family occupy it on payment of a small interest; but after an attempt at housekeeping with a few scanty furnishings and Pamela's piano --all that had been saved from the wreck--they moved across the street into a portion of the Virginia house, then occupied by a Dr. Grant. The Grants proposed that the Clemens family move over and board them, a welcome arrangement enough at this time.

Judge Clemens had still a hope left. The clerkship of the Surrogate Court was soon to be filled by election. It was an important remunerative office, and he was regarded as the favorite candidate for the position. His disaster had aroused general sympathy, and his nomination and election were considered sure. He took no chances; he made a canvass on horseback from house to house, often riding through rain and the chill of fall, acquiring a cough which was hard to overcome. He was elected by a heavy majority, and it was believed he could hold the office as long as he chose. There seemed no further need of worry. As soon as he was installed in office they would live in style becoming their social position. About the end of February he rode to Palmyra to be sworn in. Returning he was drenched by a storm of rain and sleet, arriving at last half frozen. His system was in no condition to resist such a shock. Pneumonia followed; physicians came with torments of plasters and allopathic dosings that brought no relief. Orion returned from St. Louis to assist in caring for him, and sat by his bed, encouraging him and reading to him, but it was evident that he grew daily weaker. Now and then he became cheerful and spoke of the Tennessee land as the seed of a vast fortune that must surely flower at last.

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

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