In the Mississippi book the author gives his first interview with Brown, also his last one. For good reasons these occasions were burned into his memory, and they may be accepted as substantially correct. Brown had an offensive manner. His first greeting was a surly question.

"Are you Horace Bigsby's cub?"

"Bixby" was usually pronounced "Bigsby" on the river, but Brown made it especially obnoxious and followed it up with questions and comments and orders still more odious. His subordinate soon learned to detest him thoroughly. It was necessary, however, to maintain a respectable deportment--custom, discipline, even the law, required that--but it must have been a hard winter and spring the young steersman put in during those early months of 1858, restraining himself from the gratification of slaying Brown. Time would bring revenge--a tragic revenge and at a fearful cost; but he could not guess that, and he put in his spare time planning punishments of his own.

I could imagine myself killing Brown; there was no law against that, and that was the thing I always used to do the moment I was abed. Instead of going over my river in my mind, as was my duty, I threw business aside for pleasure and killed Brown. I killed Brown every night for a month; not in old, stale, commonplace ways, but in new and picturesque ones--ways that were sometimes surprising for freshness of design and ghastly for situation and environment.

Once when Brown had been more insulting than usual his subordinate went to bed and killed him in "seventeen different ways--all of them new."

He had made an effort at first to please Brown, but it was no use. Brown was the sort of a man that refused to be pleased; no matter how carefully his subordinate steered, he as always at him.

"Here," he would shout, "where are you going now? Pull her down! Pull her down! Don't you hear me? Dod-derned mud-cat!"

His assistant lost all desire to be obliging to such a person and even took occasion now and then to stir him up. One day they were steaming up the river when Brown noticed that the boat seemed to be heading toward some unusual point.

"Here, where are you heading for now?" he yelled. "What in nation are you steerin' at, anyway? Deyned numskull!"

"Why," said Sam, in unruffled deliberation, "I didn't see much else I could steer for, and I was heading for that white heifer on the bank."

"Get away from that wheel! and get outen this pilothouse!" yelled Brown. "You ain't fit to become no pilot!"

Which was what Sam wanted. Any temporary relief from the carping tyranny of Brown was welcome.

He had been on the river nearly a year now, and, though universally liked and accounted a fine steersman, he was receiving no wages. There had been small need of money for a while, for he had no board to pay; but clothes wear out at last, and there were certain incidentals. The Pennsylvania made a round trip in about thirty-five days, with a day or two of idle time at either end. The young pilot found that he could get night employment, watching freight on the New Orleans levee, and thus earn from two and a half to three dollars for each night's watch. Sometimes there would be two nights, and with a capital of five or six dollars he accounted himself rich.

"It was a desolate experience," he said, long afterward, "watching there in the dark among those piles of freight; not a sound, not a living creature astir. But it was not a profitless one: I used to have inspirations as I sat there alone those nights. I used to imagine all sorts of situations and possibilities. Those things got into my books by and by and furnished me with many a chapter. I can trace the effect of those nights through most of my books in one way and another."

Many of the curious tales in the latter half of the Mississippi book came out of those long night-watches. It was a good time to think of such things.



Of course, life with Brown was not all sorrow.

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

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