Now, seven years later, it was the wind again that directed his fortune. It was a day in early November--bleak, bitter, and gusty, with whirling snow; most persons were indoors. Samuel Clemens, going down Main Street, Keokuk, saw a flying bit of paper pass him and lodge against a building. Something about it attracted him and he captured it. It was a fifty-dollar bill! He had never seen one before, but he recognized it. He thought he must be having a pleasant dream.

He was tempted to pocket his good fortune and keep still. But he had always a troublesome conscience. He went to a newspaper office and advertised that he had found a sum of money, a large bill.

Once, long after, he said: "I didn't describe it very particularly, and I waited in daily fear that the owner would turn up and take away my fortune. By and by I couldn't stand it any longer. My conscience had gotten all that was coming to it. I felt that I must take that money out of danger."

Another time he said, "I advertised the find and left for the Amazon the same day." All of which we may take with his usual literary discount-- the one assigned to him by his mother in childhood. As a matter of fact, he remained for an ample time, and nobody came for the money. What was its origin? Was it swept out of a bank, or caught up by the wind from some counting-room table? Perhaps it materialized out of the unseen. Who knows?



Sam decided on Cincinnati as his base. From there he could go either to New York or New Orleans to catch the Amazon boat. He paid a visit to St. Louis, where his mother made him renew his promise as to drink and cards. Then he was seized with a literary idea, and returned to Keokuk, where he proposed to a thriving weekly paper, the "Saturday Post," to send letters of travel, which might even be made into a book later on. George Reese, owner of the "Post," agreed to pay five dollars each for the letters, which speaks well for his faith in Samuel Clemens's talent, five dollars being good pay for that time and place--more than the letters were worth, judged by present standards. The first was dated Cincinnati, November 14, 1856, and was certainly not promising literature. It was written in the ridiculous dialect which was once thought to be the dress of humor; and while here and there is a comic flash, there is in it little promise of the future Mark Twain. One extract is enough:

"When we got to the depo', I went around to git a look at the iron hoss. Thunderation! It wasn't no more like a hoss than a meetin'- house. If I was goin' to describe the animule, I'd say it looked like--well, it looked like--blamed if I know what it looked like, snorting fire and brimstone out of his nostrils, and puffin' out black smoke all 'round, and pantin', and heavin', and swellin', and chawin' up red-hot coals like they was good. A feller stood in a little house like, feedin' him all the time; but the more he got, the more he wanted and the more he blowed and snorted. After a spell the feller ketched him by the tail, and great Jericho! he set up a yell that split the ground for more'n a mile and a half, and the next minit I felt my legs a-waggin', and found myself at t'other end of the string o' vehickles. I wasn't skeered, but I had three chills and a stroke of palsy in less than five minits, and my face had a cur'us brownish-yaller-greenbluish color in it, which was perfectly unaccountable. 'Well,' say I, 'comment is super-flu-ous.'"

How Samuel Clemens could have written that, and worse, at twenty-one, and a little more than ten years later have written "The Innocents Abroad," is one of the mysteries of literature. The letters were signed "Snodgrass," and there are but two of them. Snodgrass seems to have found them hard work, for it is said he raised on the price, which, fortunately, brought the series to a close. Their value to-day lies in the fact that they are the earliest of Mark Twain's newspaper contributions that have been preserved--the first for which he received a cash return.

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book