It was a hard task for the girl, for she was timid and not over-strong; but she was resolute and patient, and won success. Pamela Clemens was a noble character and deserves a fuller history than can be afforded in this work.

Mrs. Clemens and her son Samuel now had a sober talk, and, realizing that the printing trade offered opportunity for acquiring further education as well as a livelihood, they agreed that he should be apprenticed to Joseph P. Ament, who had lately moved from Palmyra to Hannibal and bought a weekly Democrat paper, the Missouri Courier. The apprentice terms were not over-liberal. They were the usual thing for that time: board and clothes--"more board than clothes, and not much of either," Mark Twain used to say.

"I was supposed to get two suits of clothes a year, like a nigger, but I didn't get them. I got one suit and took the rest out in Ament's old garments, which didn't fit me in any noticeable way. I was only about half as big as he was, and when I had on one of his shirts I felt as if I had on a circus tent. I had to turn the trousers up to my ears to make them short enough."

There was another apprentice, a young fellow of about eighteen, named Wales McCormick, a devilish fellow and a giant. Ament's clothes were too small for Wales, but he had to wear them, and Sam Clemens and Wales McCormick together, fitted out with Ament's clothes, must have been a picturesque pair. There was also, for a time, a boy named Ralph; but he appears to have presented no features of a striking sort, and the memory of him has become dim.

The apprentices ate in the kitchen at first, served by the old slave-cook and her handsome mulatto daughter; but those printer's "devils" made it so lively there that in due time they were promoted to the family table, where they sat with Mr. and Mrs. Ament and the one journeyman, Pet McMurry--a name that in itself was an inspiration. What those young scamps did not already know Pet McMurry could teach them. Sam Clemens had promised to be a good boy, and he was, by the standards of boyhood. He was industrious, regular at his work, quick to learn, kind, and truthful. Angels could hardly be more than that in a printing-office; but when food was scarce even an angel--a young printer angel--could hardly resist slipping down the cellar stairs at night for raw potatoes, onions, and apples which they carried into the office, where the boys slept on a pallet on the floor, and this forage they cooked on the office stove. Wales especially had a way of cooking a potato that his associate never forgot.

It is unfortunate that no photographic portrait has been preserved of Sam Clemens at this period. But we may imagine him from a letter which, long years after, Pet McMurry wrote to Mark Twain. He said:

If your memory extends so far back, you will recall a little sandy- haired boy--[The color of Mark Twain's hair in early life has been variously referred to as red, black, and brown. It was, in fact, as stated by McMurry, "sandy" in boyhood, deepening later to that rich, mahogany tone known as auburn.]--of nearly a quarter of a century ago, in the printing-office at Hannibal, over the Brittingham drugstore, mounted upon a little box at the case, pulling away at a huge cigar or a diminutive pipe, who used to love to sing so well the expression of the poor drunken man who was supposed to have fallen by the wayside: "If ever I get up again, I'll stay up--if I kin." . . . Do you recollect any of the serious conflicts that mirth-loving brain of yours used to get you into with that diminutive creature Wales McCormick--how you used to call upon me to hold your cigar or pipe, whilst you went entirely through him?

This is good testimony, without doubt. When he had been with Ament little more than a year Sam had become office favorite and chief standby. Whatever required intelligence and care and imagination was given to Sam Clemens. He could set type as accurately and almost as rapidly as Pet McMurry; he could wash up the forms a good deal better than Pet; and he could run the job-press to the tune of "Annie Laurie" or "Along the Beach at Rockaway," without missing a stroke or losing a finger.

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

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