The young pilot, with his usual enthusiasm, invested in all three languages, but after a few round trips decided that French would do. He did not return to the school, but kept the cards and added text- books. He studied faithfully when off watch and in port, and his old river note-book, still preserved, contains a number of advanced exercises, neatly written out.
Still more interesting are the river notes themselves. They are not the timid, hesitating memoranda of the "little book" which, by Bixby's advice, he bought for his first trip. They are quick, vigorous records that show confidence and knowledge. Under the head of "Second high-water trip--Jan., 1861 'Alonzo Child,'" the notes tell the story of a rising river, with overflowing banks, blind passages, and cut-offs--a new river, in fact, that must be judged by a perfect knowledge of the old--guessed, but guessed right.
Good deal of water all over Cole's Creek Chute, 12 or 15 ft. bank--could have gone up above General Taylor's--too much drift . . . .
Night--didn't run either 77 or 76 towheads--8-ft. bank on main shore Ozark chute.
To the reader to-day it means little enough, but one may imagine, perhaps, a mile-wide sweep of boiling water, full of drift, shifting currents with newly forming bars, and a lone figure in the dark pilot- house, peering into the night for blind and disappearing landmarks.
But such nights were not all there was of piloting. There were glorious nights when the stars were blazing out, and the moon was on the water, and the young pilot could follow a clear channel and dream long dreams. He was very serious at such times--he reviewed the world's history he had read, he speculated on the future, he considered philosophies, he lost himself in a study of the stars. Mark Twain's love of astronomy, which never waned until his last day, began with those lonely river watches. Once a great comet blazed in the sky, a "wonderful sheaf of light," and glorified his long hours at the wheel.
Samuel Clemens was now twenty-five, full of health and strong in his courage. In the old notebook there remains a well-worn clipping, the words of some unknown writer, which he may have kept as a sort of creed:
HOW TO TAKE LIFE.--Take it just as though it was--as it is--an earnest, vital, and important affair. Take it as though you were born to the task of performing a merry part in it--as though the world had awaited for your coming. Take it as though it was a grand opportunity to do and achieve, to carry forward great and good schemes to help and cheer a suffering, weary, it may be heartbroken, brother. Now and then a man stands aside from the crowd, labors earnestly, steadfastly, confidently, and straightway becomes famous for wisdom, intellect, skill, greatness of some sort. The world wonders, admires, idolizes, and it only illustrates what others may do if they take hold of life with a purpose. The miracle, or the power that elevates the few, is to be found in their industry, application, and perseverance under the promptings of a brave, determined spirit.
Bixby and Clemens were together that winter on the "Child," and were the closest friends. Once the young pilot invited his mother to make the trip to New Orleans, and the river journey and a long drive about the beautiful Southern city filled Jane Clemens with wonder and delight. She no longer shad any doubts of Sam. He had long since become the head of the family. She felt called upon to lecture him, now and then, but down in her heart she believed that he could really do no wrong. They joked each other unmercifully, and her wit, never at a loss, was quite as keen as his.
THE END OF PILOTING
When one remembers how much Samuel Clemens loved the river, and how perfectly he seemed suited to the ease and romance of the pilot-life, one is almost tempted to regret that it should so soon have come to an end.
Those trips of early '61, which the old note-book records, were the last he would ever make. The golden days of Mississippi steam-boating were growing few.