The paper throughout was excellent, and seemed on the high road to success. But the pace was too hard to maintain. Overwork brought weariness, and Orion's enthusiasm, never a very stable quantity, grew feeble. He became still more exacting.

It is not to be supposed that Sam Clemens had given up all amusements to become merely a toiling drudge or had conquered in any large degree his natural taste for amusement. He had become more studious; but after the long, hard days in the office it was not to be expected that a boy of fifteen would employ the evening--at least not every evening--in reading beneficial books. The river was always near at hand--for swimming in the summer and skating in the winter--and once even at this late period it came near claiming a heavy tribute. That was one winter's night when with another boy he had skated until nearly midnight. They were about in the middle of the river when they heard a terrific and grinding noise near the shore. They knew what it was. The ice was breaking up, and they set out for home forthwith. It was moonlight, and they could tell the ice from the water, which was a good thing, for there were wide cracks toward the shore, and they had to wait for these to close. They were an hour making the trip, and just before they reached the bank they came to a broad space of water. The ice was lifting and falling and crunching all around them. They waited as long as they dared and decided to leap from cake to cake. Sam made the crossing without accident, but his companion slipped in when a few feet from shore. He was a good swimmer and landed safely, but the bath probably cost him his hearing. He was taken very ill. One disease followed another, ending with scarlet fever and deafness.

There was also entertainment in the office itself. A country boy named Jim Wolfe had come to learn the trade--a green, good-natured, bashful boy. In every trade tricks are played on the new apprentice, and Sam felt that it was his turn to play them. With John Briggs to help him, tortures for Jim Wolfe were invented and applied.

They taught him to paddle a canoe, and upset him. They took him sniping at night and left him "holding the bag" in the old traditional fashion while they slipped off home and went to bed.

But Jim Wolfe's masterpiece of entertainment was one which he undertook on his own account. Pamela was having a candy-pull down-stairs one night--a grown-up candy-pull to which the boys were not expected. Jim would not have gone, anyway, for he was bashful beyond belief, and always dumb, and even pale with fear, in the presence of pretty Pamela Clemens. Up in their room the boys could hear the merriment from below and could look out in the moonlight on the snowy sloping roof that began just beneath their window. Down at the eaves was the small arbor, green in summer, but covered now with dead vines and snow. They could hear the candymakers come out, now and then, doubtless setting out pans of candy to cool. By and by the whole party seemed to come out into the little arbor, to try the candy, perhaps the joking and laughter came plainly to the boys up-stairs. About this time there appeared on the roof from somewhere two disreputable cats, who set up a most disturbing duel of charge and recrimination. Jim detested the noise, and perhaps was gallant enough to think it would disturb the party. He had nothing to throw at them, but he said:

"For two cents I'd get out there and knock their heads off."

"You wouldn't dare to do it," Sam said, purringly.

This was wormwood to Jim. He was really a brave spirit.

"I would too," he said, "and I will if you say that again."

"Why, Jim, of course you wouldn't dare to go out there. You might catch cold."

"You wait and see," said Jim Wolfe.

He grabbed a pair of yarn stockings for his feet, raised the window, and crept out on the snowy roof. There was a crust of ice on the snow, but Jim jabbed his heels through it and stood up in the moonlight, his legs bare, his single garment flapping gently in the light winter breeze. Then he started slowly toward the cats, sinking his heels in the snow each time for a footing, a piece of lath in his hand.

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book