The Boys’ Life of Mark Twain
by Paine

Presented by

Public Domain Books

VI. Closing School-Days

Sam was at Mr. Cross’s school on the Square in due time, and among the pupils were companions that appealed to his gentler side. There were the RoBards boys–George, the best Latin scholar, and John, who always won the good-conduct medal, and would one day make all the other boys envious by riding away with his father to California, his curls of gold blowing in the wind.

There was Buck Brown, a rival speller, and John Garth, who would marry little Helen Kercheval, and Jimmy MacDaniel, whom it was well to know because his father kept a pastry-shop and he used to bring cakes and candy to school.

There were also a number of girls. Bettie Ormsley, Artemisia Briggs, and Jennie Brady were among the girls he remembered in later years, and Mary Miller, who was nearly double his age and broke his heart by getting married one day, a thing he had not expected at all.

Yet through it all he appears, like Tom Sawyer, to have had one faithful sweetheart. In the book it is Becky Thatcher–in real life she was Laura Hawkins. The Clemens and Hawkins families lived opposite, and the children were early acquainted. The “Black Avenger of the Spanish Main" was very gentle when he was playing at house-building with little Laura, and once, when he dropped a brick on her finger, he cried the louder and longer of the two.

For he was a tender-hearted boy. He would never abuse an animal, except when his tendency to mischief ran away with him, as in the “pain-killer" incident. He had a real passion for cats. Each summer he carried his cat to the farm in a basket, and it always had a place by him at the table. He loved flowers–not as a boy botanist or gardener, but as a companion who understood their thoughts. He pitied dead leaves and dry weeds because their lives were ended and they would never know summer again or grow glad with another spring. Even in that early time he had that deeper sympathy which one day would offer comfort to humanity and make every man his friend.

But we are drifting away from Sam Clemens’s school-days. They will not trouble us much longer now. More than anything in the world Sam detested school, and he made any excuse to get out of going. It is hard to say just why, unless it was the restraint and the long hours of confinement.

The Square in Hannibal, where stood the school of Mr. Cross, was a grove in those days, with plum-trees and hazel-bushes and grape-vines. When spring came, the children gathered flowers at recess, climbed trees, and swung in the vines. It was a happy place enough, only–it was school. To Sam Clemens, the spelling-bee every Friday afternoon was the one thing that made it worth while. Sam was a leader at spelling–it was one of his gifts–he could earn compliments even from Mr. Cross, whose name, it would seem, was regarded as descriptive. Once in a moment of inspiration Sam wrote on his late:

“Cross by name and Cross by nature, Cross jumped over an Irish potato.”

John Briggs thought this a great effort, and urged the author to write it on the blackboard at noon. Sam hesitated.

“Oh, pshaw!” said John, “I wouldn’t be afraid to do it.”

“I dare you to do it,” said Sam.

This was enough. While Mr. Cross was at dinner John wrote in a large hand the fine couplet. The teacher returned and called the school to order. He looked at the blackboard, then, searchingly, at John Briggs. The handwriting was familiar.

“Did you do that?” he asked, ominously.

It was a time for truth.

“Yes, sir,” said John.

“Come here!” And John came and paid handsomely for his publishing venture. Sam Clemens expected that the author would be called for next; but perhaps Mr. Cross had exhausted himself on John. Sam did not often escape. His back kept fairly warm from one “flailing” to the next.

Yet he usually wore one of the two medals offered in that school–the medal for spelling. Once he lost it by leaving the first “r” out of February. Laura Hawkins was on the floor against him, and he was a gallant boy. If it had only been Huck Brown he would have spelled that and all the other months backward, to show off. There were moments of triumph that almost made school worth while; the rest of the time it was prison and servitude.

But then one day came freedom. Judge Clemens, who, in spite of misfortune, had never lost faith in humanity, indorsed a large note for a neighbor, and was obliged to pay it. Once more all his property was taken away. Only a few scanty furnishings were rescued from the wreck. A St. Louis cousin saved the home, but the Clemens family could not afford to live in it. They moved across the street and joined housekeeping with another family.

Judge Clemens had one hope left. He was a candidate for the clerkship of the surrogate court, a good office, and believed his election sure. His business misfortunes had aroused wide sympathy. He took no chances, however, and made a house-to house canvas of the district, regardless of the weather, probably undermining his health. He was elected by a large majority, and rejoiced that his worries were now at an end. They were, indeed, over. At the end of February he rode to the county seat to take the oath of office. He returned through a drenching storm and reached home nearly frozen. Pneumonia set in, and a few days later he was dying. His one comfort now was the Tennessee land. He said it would make them all rich and happy. Once he whispered:

“Cling to the land; cling to the land and wait. Let nothing beguile it away from you.”

He was a man who had rarely displayed affection for his children. But presently he beckoned to Pamela, now a lovely girl of nineteen, and, putting his arm around her neck, kissed her for the first time in years.

“Let me die,” he said.

He did not speak again. A little more, and his worries had indeed ended. The hard struggle of an upright, impractical man had come to a close. This was in March, 1847. John Clemens had lived less than forty-nine years.

The children were dazed. They had loved their father and honored his nobility of purpose. The boy Sam was overcome with remorse. He recalled his wildness and disobedience–a thousand things trifling enough at the time, but heartbreaking now. Boy and man, Samuel Clemens was never spared by remorse. Leading him into the room where his father lay, his mother said some comforting words and asked him to make her a promise.

He flung himself into her arms, sobbing: “I will promise anything, if you won’t make me go to school! Anything!”

After a moment his mother said: “No, Sammy, you need not go to school any more. Only promise me to be a better boy. Promise not to break my heart!”

He gave his promise to be faithful and industrious and upright, like his father. Such a promise was a serious matter, and Sam Clemens, underneath all, was a serious lad. He would not be twelve until November, but his mother felt that he would keep his word.

Orion Clemens returned to St. Louis, where he was receiving a salary of ten dollars a week–high wage for those days–out of which he could send three dollars weekly to the family. Pamela, who played the guitar and piano very well, gave music lessons, and so helped the family fund. Pamela Clemens, the original of Cousin Mary, in “Tom Sawyer,” was a sweet and noble girl. Henry was too young to work, but Sam was apprenticed to a printer named Ament, who had recently moved to Hannibal and bought a weekly paper, “The Courier.” Sam agreed with his mother that the printing trade offered a chance for further education without attending school, and then, some day, there might be wages.


Preface  •  I. The Family of John Clemens  •  II. The New Home, and Uncle John Quarles’s Farm  •  IV. Education Out of School  •  V. Tom Sawyer and His Band  •  VI. Closing School-Days  •  VII. The Apprentice  •  VIII. Orion’s Paper  •  IX. The Open Road  •  X. A Wind of Chance  •  XI. The Long Way to the Amazon  •  XII. Renewing an Old Ambition  •  XIII. Learning the River  •  XIV. River Days  •  XV. The Wreck of the “Pennsylvania”  •  XVI. The Pilot  •  XVII. The End of Piloting  •  XVIII. The Soldier  •  XIX. The Pioneer  •  XX. The Miner  •  XXI. The Territorial Enterprise  •  XXII. “Mark Twain”  •  XXIII. Artemus Ward and Literary San Francisco  •  XXIV. The Discovery of “The Jumping Frog”  •  XXV. Hawaii and Anson Burlingame  •  XXVI. Mark Twain, Lecturer  •  XXVII. An Innocent Abroad, and Home Again  •  XXVIII. Olivia Langdon. Work on the “Innocents”  •  XXIX. The Visit to Elmira and Its Consequences  •  XXX. The New Book and a Wedding  •  XXXI. Mark Twain in Buffalo  •  XXXII. At Work on “Roughing It”  •  XXXIII. In England  •  XXXIV. A New Book and New English Triumphs  •  XXXV. Beginning “Tom Sawyer”  •  XXXVI. The New Home  •  XXXVII. “Old Times,” “Sketches,” And “Tom Sawyer”  •  XXXVIII. Home Pictures  •  XXXIX. Tramping Abroad  •  XL. “The Prince and the Pauper”  •  XLI. General Grant at Hartford  •  XLII. Many Investments  •  XLIII. Back to the River, With Bixby  •  XLIV. A Reading-Tour With Cable  •  XLV. “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”  •  XLVI. Publisher to General Grant  •  XLVII. The High-Tide of Fortune  •  XLVIII. Business Difficulties. Pleasanter Things  •  XLIX. Kipling at Elmira. Elsie Leslie. The “Yankee”  •  L. The Machine. Good-By to Hartford. “Joan” Is Begun  •  LI. The Failure of Webster & Co. Around the World. Sorrow  •  LII. European Economies  •  LIII. Mark Twain Pays His Debts  •  LIV. Return After Exile  •  LV. A Prophet At Home  •  LVI. Honored by Missouri  •  LVII. The Close of a Beautiful Life  •  LVIII. Mark Twain at Seventy  •  LIX. Mark Twain Arranges for His Biography  •  LX. Working With Mark Twain  •  LXI. Dictations at Dublin, N. H.  •  LXII. A New Era of Billiards  •  LXIII. Living With Mark Twain  •  LXIV. A Degree From Oxford  •  LXV. The Removal to Redding  •  LXVI. Life at Stormfield  •  LXVII. The Death of Jean  •  LXVIII. Days in Bermuda  •  LXIX. The Return to Redding  •  LXX. The Close of a Great Life

[Buy at Amazon]
The boys' life of Mark Twain: The story of a man who made the world laugh and love him
By Albert Bigelow Paine
At Amazon