Bixby personally, and has followed his phrasing throughout.]--was looking out over the bow at the head of Island No. 35 when he heard a slow, pleasant voice say:

"Good morning."

Bixby was a clean-cut, direct, courteous man.

"Good morning, sir," he said, briskly, without looking around.

As a rule Mr. Bixby did not care for visitors in the pilot-house. This one presently came up and stood a little behind him.

"How would you like a young man to learn the river?" he said.

The pilot glanced over his shoulder and saw a rather slender, loose- limbed young fellow with a fair, girlish complexion and a great tangle of auburn hair.

"I wouldn't like it. Cub pilots are more trouble than they're worth. A great deal more trouble than profit."

The applicant was not discouraged.

"I am a printer by trade," he went on, in his easy, deliberate way. "It doesn't agree with me. I thought I'd go to South America."

Bixby kept his eye on the river; but a note of interest crept into his voice.

"What makes you pull your words that way?" ("pulling" being the river term for drawling), he asked.

The young man had taken a seat on the visitors' bench.

"You'll have to ask my mother," he said, more slowly than ever. "She pulls hers, too."

Pilot Bixby woke up and laughed; he had a keen sense of humor, and the manner of the reply amused him. His guest made another advance.

"Do you know the Bowen boys?" he asked--"pilots in the St. Louis and New Orleans trade?"

"I know them well--all three of them. William Bowen did his first steering for me; a mighty good boy, too. Had a Testament in his pocket when he came aboard; in a week's time he had swapped it for a pack of cards. I know Sam, too, and Bart."

"Old schoolmates of mine in Hannibal. Sam and Will especially were my chums."

"Come over and stand by the side of me," he said. "What is your name?"

The applicant told him, and the two stood looking at the sunlit water.

"Do you drink?"


"Do you gamble?"

"No, Sir."

"Do you swear?"

"Not for amusement; only under pressure."

"Do you chew?"

"No, sir, never; but I must smoke."

"Did you ever do any steering?" was Bixby's next question.

"I have steered everything on the river but a steamboat, I guess."

"Very well; take the wheel and see what you can do with a steamboat. Keep her as she is--toward that lower cottonwood, snag."

Bixby had a sore foot and was glad of a little relief. He sat down on the bench and kept a careful eye on the course. By and by he said:

"There is just one way that I would take a young man to learn the river: that is, for money."

"What do you charge?"

"Five hundred dollars, and I to be at no expense whatever."

In those days pilots were allowed to carry a learner, or "cub," board free. Mr. Bixby meant that he was to be at no expense in port, or for incidentals. His terms looked rather discouraging.

"I haven't got five hundred dollars in money," Sam said; "I've got a lot of Tennessee land worth twenty-five cents an acre; I'll give you two thousand acres of that."

Bixby dissented.

"No; I don't want any unimproved real estate. I have too much already."

Sam reflected upon the amount he could probably borrow from Pamela's husband without straining his credit.

"Well, then, I'll give you one hundred dollars cash and the rest when I earn it."

Something about this young man had won Horace Bixby's heart. His slow, pleasant speech; his unhurried, quiet manner with the wheel, his evident sincerity of purpose--these were externals, but beneath them the pilot felt something of that quality of mind or heart which later made the world love Mark Twain. The terms proposed were agreed upon. The deferred payments were to begin when the pupil had learned the river and was receiving pilot's wages. During Mr. Bixby's daylight watches his pupil was often at the wheel, that trip, while the pilot sat directing him and nursing his sore foot. Any literary ambitions Samuel Clemens may have had grew dim; by the time they had reached New Orleans he had almost forgotten he had been a printer, and when he learned that no ship would be sailing to the Amazon for an indefinite period the feeling grew that a directing hand had taken charge of his affairs.

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

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