Sometimes, at odd moments, he would "set up" one of the popular songs or some favorite poem like "The Blackberry Girl," and of these he sent copies printed on cotton, even on scraps of silk, to favorite girl friends; also to Puss Quarles, on his uncle's farm, where he seldom went now, because he was really grown up, associating with men and doing a man's work. He had charge of the circulation--which is to say, he carried the papers. During the last year of the Mexican War, when a telegraph-wire found its way across the Mississippi to Hannibal--a long sagging span, that for some reason did not break of its own weight--he was given charge of the extras with news from the front; and the burning importance of his mission, the bringing of news hot from the field of battle, spurred him to endeavors that won plaudits and success.

He became a sort of subeditor. When the forms of the paper were ready to close and Ament was needed to supply more matter, it was Sam who was delegated to find that rather uncertain and elusive person and labor with him until the required copy was produced. Thus it was he saw literature in the making.

It is not believed that Sam had any writing ambitions of his own. His chief desire was to be an all-round journeyman printer like Pet McMurry; to drift up and down the world in Pet's untrammeled fashion; to see all that Pet had seen and a number of things which Pet appeared to have overlooked. He varied on occasion from this ambition. When the first negro minstrel show visited Hannibal and had gone, he yearned for a brief period to be a magnificent "middle man" or even the "end-man" of that combination; when the circus came and went, he dreamed of the day when, a capering frescoed clown, he would set crowded tiers of spectators guffawing at his humor; when the traveling hypnotist arrived, he volunteered as a subject, and amazed the audience by the marvel of his performance.

In later life he claimed that he had not been hypnotized in any degree, but had been pretending throughout--a statement always denied by his mother and his brother Orion. This dispute was never settled, and never could be. Sam Clemens's tendency to somnambulism would seem to suggest that he really might have taken on a hypnotic condition, while his consummate skill as an actor, then and always, and his early fondness of exhibition and a joke, would make it not unlikely that he was merely "showing off" and having his fun. He could follow the dictates of a vivid imagination and could be as outrageous as he chose without incurring responsibility of any sort. But there was a penalty: he must allow pins and needles to be thrust into his flesh and suffer these tortures without showing discomfort to the spectators. It is difficult to believe that any boy, however great his exhibitory passion, could permit, in the full possession of his sensibilities, a needle to be thrust deeply into his flesh without manifestations of a most unmesmeric sort. The conclusion seems warranted that he began by pretending, but that at times he was at least under semi-mesmeric control. At all events, he enjoyed a week of dazzling triumph, though in the end he concluded to stick to printing as a trade.

We have said that he was a rapid learner and a neat workman. At Ament's he generally had a daily task, either of composition or press-work, after which he was free. When he had got the hang of his work he was usually done by three in the afternoon; then away to the river or the cave, as in the old days, sometimes with his boy friends, sometimes with Laura Hawkins gathering wild columbine on that high cliff overlooking the river, Lover's Leap.

He was becoming quite a beau, attending parties on occasion, where old- fashioned games--Forfeits, Ring-around-a-Rosy, Dusty Miller, and the like--were regarded as rare amusements. He was a favorite with girls of his own age. He was always good-natured, though he played jokes on them, too, and was often a severe trial. He was with Laura Hawkins more than the others, usually her escort.

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

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