Orion Clemens in the mean time had married and removed to Keokuk. He had married during a visit to that city, in the casual, impulsive way so characteristic of him, and the fact that he had acquired a wife in the operation seemed at first to have escaped his inner consciousness. He tells it himself; he says:

At sunrise on the next morning after the wedding we left in a stage for Muscatine. We halted for dinner at Burlington. After despatching that meal we stood on the pavement when the stage drove up, ready for departure. I climbed in, gathered the buffalo robe around me, and leaned back unconscious that I had anything further to do. A gentleman standing on the pavement said to my wife, "Miss, do you go by this stage?" I said, "Oh, I forgot!" and sprang out and helped her in. A wife was a new kind of possession to which I had not yet become accustomed; I had forgotten her.

Orion's wife had been Mary Stotts; her mother a friend of Jane Clemens's girlhood. She proved a faithful helpmate to Orion; but in those early days of marriage she may have found life with him rather trying, and it was her homesickness that brought them to Keokuk. Brother Sam came up from St. Louis, by and by, to visit them, and Orion offered him five dollars a week and board to remain. He accepted. The office at this time, or soon after, was located on the third floor of 52 Main Street, in the building at present occupied by the Paterson Shoe Company. Henry Clemens, now seventeen, was also in Orion's employ, and a lad by the name of Dick Hingham. Henry and Sam slept in the office, and Dick came in for social evenings. Also a young man named Edward Brownell, who clerked in the book-store on the ground floor.

These were likely to be lively evenings. A music dealer and teacher, Professor Isbell, occupied the floor just below, and did not care for their diversions. He objected, but hardly in the right way. Had he gone to Samuel Clemens gently, he undoubtedly would have found him willing to make any concessions. Instead, he assailed him roughly, and the next evening the boys set up a lot of empty wine-bottles, which they had found in a barrel in a closet, and, with stones for balls, played tenpins on the office floor. This was Dick and Sam; Henry declined to join the game. Isbell rushed up-stairs and battered on the door, but they paid no attention. Next morning he waited for the young men and denounced them wildly. They merely ignored him, and that night organized a military company, made up of themselves and a new German apprentice-boy, and drilled up and down over the singing-class. Dick Hingham led these military manoeuvers. He was a girlish sort of a fellow, but he had a natural taste for soldiering. The others used to laugh at him. They called him a disguised girl, and declared he would run if a gun were really pointed in his direction. They were mistaken; seven years later Dick died at Fort Donelson with a bullet in his forehead: this, by the way.

Isbell now adopted new tactics. He came up very pleasantly and said:

"I like your military practice better than your tenpin exercise, but on the whole it seems to disturb the young ladies. You see how it is yourself. You couldn't possibly teach music with a company of raw recruits drilling overhead--now, could you? Won't you please stop it? It bothers my pupils."

Sam Clemens regarded him with mild surprise.

"Does it?" he said, very deliberately. "Why didn't you mention it before? To be sure we don't want to disturb the young ladies."

They gave up the horse-play, and not only stopped the disturbance, but joined one of the singing--classes. Samuel Clemens had a pretty good voice in those days and could drum fairly well on a piano and guitar. He did not become a brilliant musician, but he was easily the most popular member of the singing-class.

They liked his frank nature, his jokes, and his humor; his slow, quaint fashion of speech. The young ladies called him openly and fondly a "fool"--a term of endearment, as they applied it meaning only that he kept them in a more or less constant state of wonder and merriment; and indeed it would have been hard for them to say whether he was really light-minded and frivolous or the wisest of them all.

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

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