Sam Clemens, by this time, was accounted a good steersman, so it seemed fortunate and a good arrangement for all parties.

But Brown was a tyrant. He was illiterate and coarse, and took a dislike to Sam from the start. His first greeting was a question, harmless enough in form but offensive in manner.

"Are you Horace Bigsby's cub?"--Bixby being usually pronounced "Bigsby" in river parlance.

Sam answered politely enough that he was, and Brown proceeded to comment on the "style" of his clothes and other personal matters.

He had made an effort to please Brown, but it was no use. Brown was never satisfied. At a moment when Sam was steering, Brown, sitting on the bench, would shout: "Here! Where are you going now? Pull her down! Pull her down! Do you hear me? Blamed mud-cat!"

The young pilot soon learned to detest his chief, and presently was putting in a good deal of his time inventing punishments for him.

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 the river in my mind, as was my duty, I threw business aside for pleasure, and killed Brown.

He gave up trying to please Brown, and was even willing to stir him up upon occasion. One day when the cub was at the wheel his chief noticed that the course seemed peculiar.

"Here! Where you headin' for now?" he yelled. "What in the nation you steerin' at, anyway? Blamed numskull!"

"Why," said Sam in his calm, slow way, "I didn't see much else I could steer for, so I was heading for that white heifer on the bank."

"Get away from that wheel! And get outen this pilot-house!" yelled Brown. "You ain't fitten to become no pilot!" An order that Sam found welcome enough. The other pilot, George Ealer, was a lovable soul who played the flute and chess during his off watch, and read aloud to Sam from "Goldsmith" and "Shakespeare." To be with George Ealer was to forget the persecutions of Brown.

Young Clemens had been on the river nearly a year at this time, and, though he had learned a good deal and was really a fine steersman, he received no wages. He had no board to pay, but there were things he must buy, and his money supply had become limited. Each trip of the "Pennsylvania" she remained about two days and nights in New Orleans, during which time the young man was free. He found he could earn two and a half to three dollars a night watching freight on the levee, and, as this opportunity came around about once a month, the amount was useful. Nor was this the only return; many years afterward he said:

"It was a desolate experience, 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 sots of situations and possibilities. These things got into my books by and by, and furnished me with many a chapter. I can trace the effects of those nights through most of my books, in one way and another."

Piloting, even with Brown, had its pleasant side. In St. Louis, young Clemens stopped with his sister, and often friends were there from Hannibal. At both ends of the line he visited friendly boats, especially the "Roe," where a grand welcome was always waiting. Once among the guests of that boat a young girl named Laura so attracted him that he forgot time and space until one of the "Roe" pilots, Zeb Leavenworth, came flying aft, shouting:

"The "Pennsylvania" is backing out!"

A hasty good-by, a wild flight across the decks of several boats, and a leap across several feet of open water closed the episode. He wrote to Laura, but there was no reply. He never saw her again, never heard from her for nearly fifty years, when both were widowed and old. She had not received his letter.

Occasionally there were stirring adventures aboard the "Pennsylvania." In a letter written in March, 1858, the young pilot tells of an exciting night search in the running ice for Hat Island soundings:

Brown, the pilot, stood in the bow with an oar, to keep her head out, and I took the tiller.

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book