He was twenty now and at the age for love-making; yet he remained, as in Hannibal, a beau rather than a suitor, good friend and comrade to all, wooer of none. Ella Creel, a cousin on the Lampton side, a great belle; also Ella Patterson (related through Orion's wife and generally known as "Ick"), and Belle Stotts were perhaps his favorite companions, but there were many more. He was always ready to stop and be merry with them, full of his pranks and pleasantries; though they noticed that he quite often carried a book under his arm--a history or a volume of Dickens or the tales of Edgar Allan Poe.
He read at odd moments; at night voluminously--until very late, sometimes. Already in that early day it was his habit to smoke in bed, and he had made him an Oriental pipe of the hubble-bubble variety, because it would hold more and was more comfortable than the regular short pipe of daytime use.
But it had its disadvantages. Sometimes it would go out, and that would mean sitting up and reaching for a match and leaning over to light the bowl which stood on the floor. Young Brownell from below was passing upstairs to his room on the fourth floor one night when he heard Sam Clemens call. The two were great chums by this time, and Brownell poked his head in at the door.
"What will you have, Sam?" he asked.
"Come in, Ed; Henry's asleep, and I am in trouble. I want somebody to light my pipe."
"Why don't you get up and light it yourself?" Brownell asked.
"I would, only I knew you'd be along in a few minutes and would do it for me."
Brownell scratched the necessary match, stooped down, and applied it.
"What are you reading, Sam?" he asked.
"Oh, nothing much--a so-called funny book--one of these days I'll write a funnier book than that, myself."
"No, you won't, Sam," he said. "You are too lazy ever to write a book."
A good many years later when the name "Mark Twain" had begun to stand for American humor the owner of it gave his "Sandwich Island" lecture in Keokuk. Speaking of the unreliability of the islanders, he said: "The king is, I believe, one of the greatest liars on the face of the earth, except one; and I am very sorry to locate that one right here in the city of Keokuk, in the person of Ed Brownell."
The Keokuk episode in Mark Twain's life was neither very long nor very actively important. It extended over a period of less than two years-- two vital years, no doubt, if all the bearings could be known--but they were not years of startling occurrence.
Yet he made at least one beginning there: at a printers' banquet he delivered his first after-dinner speech; a hilarious speech--its humor of a primitive kind. Whatever its shortcomings, it delighted his audience, and raised him many points in the public regard. He had entered a field of entertainment in which he would one day have no rival. They impressed him into a debating society after that, and there was generally a stir of attention when Sam Clemens was about to take the floor.
Orion Clemens records how his brother undertook to teach the German apprentice music.
"There was an old guitar in the office and Sam taught Fritz a song beginning:
"Grasshopper sitting on a sweet-potato vine, Turkey came along and yanked him from behind."
The main point in the lesson was in giving to the word "yanked" the proper expression and emphasis, accompanied by a sweep of the fingers across the strings. With serious face and deep earnestness Fritz in his broken English would attempt these lines, while his teacher would bend over and hold his sides with laughter at each ridiculous effort. Without intending it, Fritz had his revenge. One day his tormentor's hand was caught in the press when the German boy was turning the wheel. Sam called to him to stop, but the boy's mind was slow to grasp the situation. The hand was badly wounded, though no bones were broken. In due time it recovered, its power and dexterity, but the trace of the scars remained.
Orion's printing-office was not a prosperous one; he had not the gift of prosperity in any form.