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keelboats, broadhorns. They floated and sailed from the upper rivers to New Orleans, changed cargoes there, and were te-Frescoes from the Past
diously warped and poled back by hand. A voyage down and back sometimes occupied nine months. In time this com-APPARENTLY THE RIVER WAS READY FOR BUSINESS, now. But no, merce increased until it gave employment to hordes of rough the distribution of a population along its banks was as calm and hardy men; rude, uneducated, brave, suffering terrific and deliberate and time-devouring a process as the discov-hardships with sailor-like stoicism; heavy drinkers, coarse ery and exploration had been.
frolickers in moral sties like the Natchez-under-the-hill of Seventy years elapsed, after the exploration, before the that day, heavy fighters, reckless fellows, every one, river’s borders had a white population worth considering; elephantinely jolly, foul-witted, profane; prodigal of their and nearly fifty more before the river had a commerce. Be-money, bankrupt at the end of the trip, fond of barbaric 14
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain finery, prodigious braggarts; yet, in the main, honest, trust-Hannibal when I was a boy,—an acre or so of white, sweet-worthy, faithful to promises and duty, and often picturesquely smelling boards in each raft, a crew of two dozen men or magnanimous.
more, three or four wigwams scattered about the raft’s vast By and by the steamboat intruded. Then for fifteen or level space for storm-quarters,—and I remember the rude twenty years, these men continued to run their keelboats ways and the tremendous talk of their big crews, the ex-down-stream, and the steamers did all of the upstream busi-keelboatmen and their admiringly patterning successors; for ness, the keelboatmen selling their boats in New Orleans, we used to swim out a quarter or third of a mile and get on and returning home as deck passengers in the steamers.
these rafts and have a ride.
But after a while the steamboats so increased in number By way of illustrating keelboat talk and manners, and that and in speed that they were able to absorb the entire com-now-departed and hardly-remembered raft-life, I will throw merce; and then keelboating died a permanent death. The in, in this place, a chapter from a book which I have been keelboatman became a deck hand, or a mate, or a pilot on working at, by fits and starts, during the past five or six years, the steamer; and when steamer-berths were not open to him, and may possibly finish in the course of five or six more.
he took a berth on a Pittsburgh coal-flat, or on a pine-raft The book is a story which details some passages in the life of constructed in the forests up toward the sources of the Mis-an ignorant village boy, Huck Finn, son of the town drunk-sissippi.
ard of my time out west, there. He has run away from his In the heyday of the steamboating prosperity, the river persecuting father, and from a persecuting good widow who from end to end was flaked with coal-fleets and timber rafts, wishes to make a nice, truth-telling, respectable boy of him; all managed by hand, and employing hosts of the rough char-and with him a slave of the widow’s has also escaped. They acters whom I have been trying to describe. I remember the have found a fragment of a lumber raft (it is high water and annual processions of mighty rafts that used to glide by dead summer time), and are floating down the river by night, 15
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain and hiding in the willows by day,—bound for Cairo,—
tious. But everything was all right—nobody at the sweeps.
whence the negro will seek freedom in the heart of the free So I swum down along the raft till I was most abreast the States. But in a fog, they pass Cairo without knowing it. By camp fire in the middle, then I crawled aboard and inched and by they begin to suspect the truth, and Huck Finn is along and got in amongst some bundles of shingles on the persuaded to end the dismal suspense by swimming down to weather side of the fire. There was thirteen men there—
a huge raft which they have seen in the distance ahead of they was the watch on deck of course. And a mighty rough-them, creeping aboard under cover of the darkness, and gath-looking lot, too. They had a jug, and tin cups, and they kept ering the needed information by eavesdropping:—
the jug moving. One man was singing—roaring, you may But you know a young person can’t wait very well when say; and it wasn’t a nice song—for a parlor anyway. He roared he is impatient to find a thing out. We talked it over, and by through his nose, and strung out the last word of every line and by Jim said it was such a black night, now, that it wouldn’t very long. When he was done they all fetched a kind of Injun be no risk to swim down to the big raft and crawl aboard war-whoop, and then another was sung. It begun:—
and listen—they would talk about Cairo, because they would be calculating to go ashore there for a spree, maybe, or any-
“There was a woman in our towdn,
way they would send boats ashore to buy whiskey or fresh In our towdn did dwed’l (dwell,)
meat or something. Jim had a wonderful level head, for a She loved her husband dear-i-lee,
nigger: he could most always start a good plan when you But another man twyste as wed’l.
I stood up and shook my rags off and jumped into the river, and struck out for the raft’s light. By and by, when I got down nearly to her, I eased up and went slow and cau-16
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain over ribbons, and says, “You lay thar tell his sufferin’s is over.” Singing too, riloo, riloo, riloo,
Then he jumped up in the air and cracked his heels to-Ri-too, riloo, rilay - - - e,
gether again and shouted out—
She loved her husband dear-i-lee,
“Whoo-oop! I’m the old original iron-jawed, brass-But another man twyste as wed’l.
mounted, copper-bellied corpse-maker from the wilds of Arkansaw!—Look at me! I’m the man they call Sudden Death And so on—fourteen verses. It was kind of poor, and when and General Desolation! Sired by a hurricane, dam’d by an he was going to start on the next verse one of them said it earthquake, half-brother to the cholera, nearly related to the was the tune the old cow died on; and another one said, small-pox on the mother’s side! Look at me! I take nineteen
“Oh, give us a rest.” And another one told him to take a alligators and a bar’l of whiskey for breakfast when I’m in walk. They made fun of him till he got mad and jumped up robust health, and a bushel of rattlesnakes and a dead body and begun to cuss the crowd, and said he could lame any when I’m ailing! I split the everlasting rocks with my glance, thief in the lot.
and I squench the thunder when I speak! Whoo-oop! Stand They was all about to make a break for him, but the big-back and give me room according to my strength! Blood’s gest man there jumped up and says—
my natural drink, and the wails of the dying is music to my
“Set whar you are, gentlemen. Leave him to me; he’s my ear! Cast your eye on me, gentlemen!—and lay low and hold meat.”
your breath, for I’m bout to turn myself loose!” Then he jumped up in the air three times and cracked his All the time he was getting this off, he was shaking his heels together every time. He flung off a buckskin coat that head and looking fierce, and kind of swelling around in a was all hung with fringes, and says, “You lay thar tell the little circle, tucking up his wrist-bands, and now and then chawin-up’s done;” and flung his hat down, which was all straightening up and beating his breast with his fist, saying, 17
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain
“Look at me, gentlemen!” When he got through, he jumped the thunder! When I’m cold, I bile the Gulf of Mexico and up and cracked his heels together three times, and let off a bathe in it; when I’m hot I fan myself with an equinoctial roaring “Whoo-oop! I’m the bloodiest son of a wildcat that storm; when I’m thirsty I reach up and suck a cloud dry like lives!”
a sponge; when I range the earth hungry, famine follows in Then the man that had started the row tilted his old slouch my tracks! Whoo-oop! Bow your neck and spread! I put my hat down over his right eye; then he bent stooping forward, hand on the sun’s face and make it night in the earth; I bite with his back sagged and his south end sticking out far, and a piece out of the moon and hurry the seasons; I shake my-his fists a-shoving out and drawing in in front of him, and so self and crumble the mountains! Contemplate me through went around in a little circle about three times, swelling him-leather—don’t use the naked eye! I’m the man with a petri-self up and breathing hard. Then he straightened, and jumped fied heart and biler-iron bowels! The massacre of isolated up and cracked his heels together three times, before he lit communities is the pastime of my idle moments, the de-again (that made them cheer), and he begun to shout like struction of nationalities the serious business of my life! The this—
boundless vastness of the great American desert is my en-
“Whoo-oop! bow your neck and spread, for the kingdom closed property, and I bury my dead on my own premises!’
of sorrow’s a-coming! Hold me down to the earth, for I feel He jumped up and cracked his heels together three times my powers a-working! whoo-oop! I’m a child of sin, don’t let before he lit (they cheered him again), and as he come down me get a start! Smoked glass, here, for all! Don’t attempt to he shouted out: ‘Whoo-oop! bow your neck and spread, for look at me with the naked eye, gentlemen! When I’m play-the pet child of calamity’s a-coming!” ful I use the meridians of longitude and parallels of latitude Then the other one went to swelling around and blowing for a seine, and drag the Atlantic Ocean for whales! I scratch again—the first one—the one they called Bob; next, the my head with the lightning, and purr myself to sleep with Child of Calamity chipped in again, bigger than ever; then 18
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain they both got at it at the same time, swelling round and they was going to do; but a little black-whiskered chap round each other and punching their fists most into each skipped up and says—
other’s faces, and whooping and jawing like Injuns; then
“Come back here, you couple of chicken-livered cowards, Bob called the Child names, and the Child called him names and I’ll thrash the two of ye!”
back again: next, Bob called him a heap rougher names and And he done it, too. He snatched them, he jerked them the Child come back at him with the very worst kind of this way and that, he booted them around, he knocked them language; next, Bob knocked the Child’s hat off, and the sprawling faster than they could get up. Why, it warn’t two Child picked it up and kicked Bob’s ribbony hat about six minutes till they begged like dogs—and how the other lot foot; Bob went and got it and said never mind, this warn’t did yell and laugh and clap their hands all the way through, going to be the last of this thing, because he was a man that and shout “Sail in, Corpse-Maker!” “Hi! at him again, Child never forgot and never forgive, and so the Child better look of Calamity!” “Bully for you, little Davy!” Well, it was a out, for there was a time a-coming, just as sure as he was a perfect pow-wow for a while. Bob and the Child had red living man, that he would have to answer to him with the noses and black eyes when they got through. Little Davy best blood in his body. The Child said no man was willinger made them own up that they were sneaks and cowards and than he was for that time to come, and he would give Bob not fit to eat with a dog or drink with a nigger; then Bob and fair warning, now, never to cross his path again, for he could the Child shook hands with each other, very solemn, and never rest till he had waded in his blood, for such was his said they had always respected each other and was willing to nature, though he was sparing him now on account of his let bygones be bygones. So then they washed their faces in family, if he had one.
the river; and just then there was a loud order to stand by for Both of them was edging away in different directions, a crossing, and some of them went forward to man the sweeps growling and shaking their heads and going on about what there, and the rest went aft to handle the after-sweeps.
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain I laid still and waited for fifteen minutes, and had a smoke Mississippi water settle, you would have about a half to three-out of a pipe that one of them left in reach; then the crossing quarters of an inch of mud in the bottom, according to the was finished, and they stumped back and had a drink around stage of the river, and then it warn’t no better than Ohio and went to talking and singing again. Next they got out an water—what you wanted to do was to keep it stirred up—
old fiddle, and one played and another patted juba, and the and when the river was low, keep mud on hand to put in rest turned themselves loose on a regular old-fashioned keel-and thicken the water up the way it ought to be.
boat break-down. They couldn’t keep that up very long with-The Child of Calamity said that was so; he said there was out getting winded, so by and by they settled around the jug nutritiousness in the mud, and a man that drunk Missis-again.
sippi water could grow corn in his stomach if he wanted to.
They sung “jolly, jolly raftman’s the life for me,” with a He says—
musing chorus, and then they got to talking about differ-
“You look at the graveyards; that tells the tale. Trees won’t ences betwixt hogs, and their different kind of habits; and grow worth chucks in a Cincinnati graveyard, but in a Sent next about women and their different ways: and next about Louis graveyard they grow upwards of eight hundred foot the best ways to put out houses that was afire; and next about high. It’s all on account of the water the people drunk before what ought to be done with the Injuns; and next about what they laid up. A Cincinnati corpse don’t richen a soil any.” a king had to do, and how much he got; and next about how And they talked about how Ohio water didn’t like to mix to make cats fight; and next about what to do when a man with Mississippi water. Ed said if you take the Mississippi has fits; and next about differences betwixt clear-water riv-on a rise when the Ohio is low, you’ll find a wide band of ers and muddy-water ones. The man they called Ed said the clear water all the way down the east side of the Mississippi muddy Mississippi water was wholesomer to drink than the for a hundred mile or more, and the minute you get out a clear water of the Ohio; he said if you let a pint of this yaller quarter of a mile from shore and pass the line, it is all thick 20
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain and yaller the rest of the way across. Then they talked about
‘that the raft didn’t seem to hardly move, for the last hour,’
how to keep tobacco from getting moldy, and from that they says I, ‘though she’s a slipping along all right, now,’ says I.
went into ghosts and told about a lot that other folks had He give a kind of a groan, and says—
seen; but Ed says—
“‘I’ve seed a raft act so before, along here,’ he says, ‘“pears to
“Why don’t you tell something that you’ve seen yourselves?
me the current has most quit above the head of this bend Now let me have a say. Five years ago I was on a raft as big as durin’ the last two years,’ he says.
this, and right along here it was a bright moonshiny night,
“Well, he raised up two or three times, and looked away and I was on watch and boss of the stabboard oar forrard, off and around on the water. That started me at it, too. A and one of my pards was a man named Dick Allbright, and body is always doing what he sees somebody else doing, he come along to where I was sitting, forrard—gaping and though there mayn’t be no sense in it. Pretty soon I see a stretching, he was—and stooped down on the edge of the black something floating on the water away off to stabboard raft and washed his face in the river, and come and set down and quartering behind us. I see he was looking at it, too. I by me and got out his pipe, and had just got it filled, when says—
he looks up and says—
“‘What’s that?” He says, sort of pettish,—
“‘Why looky-here,’ he says, ‘ain’t that Buck Miller’s place,
“‘Tain’t nothing but an old empty bar’l.
over yander in the bend.’
“‘An empty bar’l!’ says I, ‘why,’ says I, ‘a spy-glass is a fool
“‘Yes,’ says I, ‘it is—why.’ He laid his pipe down and leant to your eyes. How can you tell it’s an empty bar’l?’ He says—
his head on his hand, and says—
“‘I don’t know; I reckon it ain’t a bar’l, but I thought it
“‘I thought we’d be furder down.’ I says—
might be,’ says he.
“‘I thought it too, when I went off watch’—we was stand-
“‘Yes,’ I says, ‘so it might be, and it might be anything ing six hours on and six off— ‘but the boys told me,’ I says, else, too; a body can’t tell nothing about it, such a distance as 21
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain that,’ I says.
got bad luck by it. The captain of the watch said he didn’t
“We hadn’t nothing else to do, so we kept on watching it.
believe in it. He said he reckoned the bar’l gained on us By and by I says—
because it was in a little better current than what we was. He
“‘Why looky-here, Dick Allbright, that thing’s a-gaining said it would leave by and by.
on us, I believe.’
“So then we went to talking about other things, and we
“He never said nothing. The thing gained and gained, and had a song, and then a breakdown; and after that the captain I judged it must be a dog that was about tired out. Well, we of the watch called for another song; but it was clouding up, swung down into the crossing, and the thing floated across now, and the bar’l stuck right thar in the same place, and the the bright streak of the moonshine, and, by George, it was song didn’t seem to have much warm-up to it, somehow, bar’l. Says I—
and so they didn’t finish it, and there warn’t any cheers, but
“‘Dick Allbright, what made you think that thing was a it sort of dropped flat, and nobody said anything for a minute.
bar’l, when it was a half a mile off,’ says I. Says he—
Then everybody tried to talk at once, and one chap got off a
“‘I don’t know.’ Says I—
joke, but it warn’t no use, they didn’t laugh, and even the
“‘You tell me, Dick Allbright.’ He says—
chap that made the joke didn’t laugh at it, which ain’t usual.
“‘Well, I knowed it was a bar’l; I’ve seen it before; lots has We all just settled down glum, and watched the bar’l, and seen it; they says it’s a haunted bar’l.’
was oneasy and oncomfortable. Well, sir, it shut down black
“I called the rest of the watch, and they come and stood and still, and then the wind begin to moan around, and next there, and I told them what Dick said. It floated right along the lightning begin to play and the thunder to grumble. And abreast, now, and didn’t gain any more. It was about twenty pretty soon there was a regular storm, and in the middle of it foot off. Some was for having it aboard, but the rest didn’t a man that was running aft stumbled and fell and sprained want to. Dick Allbright said rafts that had fooled with it had his ankle so that he had to lay up. This made the boys shake 22
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain their heads. And every time the lightning come, there was nobody talked; the boys didn’t scatter around, neither; they that bar’l with the blue lights winking around it. We was sort of huddled together, forrard; and for two hours they set always on the look-out for it. But by and by, towards dawn, there, perfectly still, looking steady in the one direction, and she was gone. When the day come we couldn’t see her any-heaving a sigh once in a while. And then, here comes the where, and we warn’t sorry, neither.
bar’l again. She took up her old place. She staid there all
“But next night about half-past nine, when there was songs night; nobody turned in. The storm come on again, after and high jinks going on, here she comes again, and took her midnight. It got awful dark; the rain poured down; hail, old roost on the stabboard side. There warn’t no more high too; the thunder boomed and roared and bellowed; the wind jinks. Everybody got solemn; nobody talked; you couldn’t blowed a hurricane; and the lightning spread over every-get anybody to do anything but set around moody and look thing in big sheets of glare, and showed the whole raft as at the bar’l. It begun to cloud up again. When the watch plain as day; and the river lashed up white as milk as far as changed, the off watch stayed up, ‘stead of turning in. The you could see for miles, and there was that bar’l jiggering storm ripped and roared around all night, and in the middle along, same as ever. The captain ordered the watch to man of it another man tripped and sprained his ankle, and had to the after sweeps for a crossing, and nobody would go—no knock off. The bar’l left towards day, and nobody see it go.
more sprained ankles for them, they said. They wouldn’t
“Everybody was sober and down in the mouth all day. I even walk aft. Well then, just then the sky split wide open, don’t mean the kind of sober that comes of leaving liquor with a crash, and the lightning killed two men of the after alone—not that. They was quiet, but they all drunk more watch, and crippled two more. Crippled them how, says you?
than usual—not together—but each man sidled off and took Why, sprained their ankles
it private, by himself.
“The bar’l left in the dark betwixt lightnings, towards dawn.
“After dark the off watch didn’t turn in; nobody sung, Well, not a body eat a bite at breakfast that morning. After 23
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain that the men loafed around, in twos and threes, and talked this bar’l to be dogging us all the way to Orleans, and you low together. But none of them herded with Dick Allbright.
don’t; well, then, how’s the best way to stop it? Burn it up,—
They all give him the cold shake. If he come around where that’s the way. I’m going to fetch it aboard,’ he says. And any of the men was, they split up and sidled away. They before anybody could say a word, in he went.
wouldn’t man the sweeps with him. The captain had all the
“He swum to it, and as he come pushing it to the raft, the skiffs hauled up on the raft, alongside of his wigwam, and men spread to one side. But the old man got it aboard and wouldn’t let the dead men be took ashore to be planted; he busted in the head, and there was a baby in it! Yes, sir, a stark didn’t believe a man that got ashore would come back; and naked baby. It was Dick Allbright’s baby; he owned up and he was right.
“After night come, you could see pretty plain that there
“‘Yes,’ he says, a-leaning over it, ‘yes, it is my own lamented was going to be trouble if that bar’l come again; there was darling, my poor lost Charles William Allbright deceased,’
such a muttering going on. A good many wanted to kill Dick says he,—for he could curl his tongue around the bulliest Allbright, because he’d seen the bar’l on other trips, and that words in the language when he was a mind to, and lay them had an ugly look. Some wanted to put him ashore. Some before you without a jint started, anywheres. Yes, he said he said, let’s all go ashore in a pile, if the bar’l comes again.
used to live up at the head of this bend, and one night he
“This kind of whispers was still going on, the men being choked his child, which was crying, not intending to kill bunched together forrard watching for the bar’l, when, lo it,—which was prob’ly a lie,—and then he was scared, and and behold you, here she comes again. Down she comes, buried it in a bar’l, before his wife got home, and off he slow and steady, and settles into her old tracks. You could a went, and struck the northern trail and went to rafting; and heard a pin drop. Then up comes the captain, and says:—
this was the third year that the bar’l had chased him. He said
“‘Boys, don’t be a pack of children and fools; I don’t want the bad luck always begun light, and lasted till four men was 24
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain killed, and then the bar’l didn’t come any more after that.
“Did it have its hair parted?” says another.
He said if the men would stand it one more night,—and was
“What was the brand on that bar’l, Eddy?” says a fellow a-going on like that,—but the men had got enough. They they called Bill.
started to get out a boat to take him ashore and lynch him,
“Have you got the papers for them statistics, Edmund?” but he grabbed the little child all of a sudden and jumped says Jimmy.
overboard with it hugged up to his breast and shedding tears,
“Say, Edwin, was you one of the men that was killed by and we never see him again in this life, poor old suffering the lightning.” says Davy.
soul, nor Charles William neither.”
“Him? O, no, he was both of ‘em,” says Bob. Then they
“Who was shedding tears?” says Bob; “was it Allbright or all haw-hawed.
“Say, Edward, don’t you reckon you’d better take a pill?
“Why, Allbright, of course; didn’t I tell you the baby was You look bad—don’t you feel pale?” says the Child of Ca-dead. Been dead three years—how could it cry?” lamity.
“Well, never mind how it could cry—how could it keep all
“O, come, now, Eddy,” says Jimmy, “show up; you must a that time?” says Davy. “You answer me that.” kept part of that bar’l to prove the thing by. Show us the
“I don’t know how it done it,” says Ed. “It done it though—
bunghole—do—and we’ll all believe you.” that’s all I know about it.”
“Say, boys,” says Bill, “less divide it up. Thar’s thirteen of
“Say—what did they do with the bar’l?” says the Child of us. I can swaller a thirteenth of the yarn, if you can worry Calamity.
down the rest.”
“Why, they hove it overboard, and it sunk like a chunk of Ed got up mad and said they could all go to some place lead.”
which he ripped out pretty savage, and then walked off aft
“Edward, did the child look like it was choked?” says one.
cussing to himself, and they yelling and jeering at him, and 25
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain roaring and laughing so you could hear them a mile.
him a sky blue all over from head to heel, and then heave
“Boys, we’ll split a watermelon on that,” says the Child of him over!”
Calamity; and he come rummaging around in the dark
“Good, that ‘s it. Go for the paint, Jimmy.” amongst the shingle bundles where I was, and put his hand When the paint come, and Bob took the brush and was on me. I was warm and soft and naked; so he says “Ouch!” just going to begin, the others laughing and rubbing their and jumped back.
hands, I begun to cry, and that sort of worked on Davy, and
“Fetch a lantern or a chunk of fire here, boys—there’s a he says—
snake here as big as a cow!”
“Vast there! He ‘s nothing but a cub. I’ll paint the man So they run there with a lantern and crowded up and looked that tetches him!”
in on me.
So I looked around on them, and some of them grumbled
“Come out of that, you beggar!” says one.
and growled, and Bob put down the paint, and the others
“Who are you?” says another.
didn’t take it up.
“What are you after here? Speak up prompt, or overboard
“Come here to the fire, and less see what you’re up to you go.
here,” says Davy. “Now set down there and give an account
“Snake him out, boys. Snatch him out by the heels.” of yourself. How long have you been aboard here?” I began to beg, and crept out amongst them trembling.
“Not over a quarter of a minute, sir,” says I.
They looked me over, wondering, and the Child of Calam-
“How did you get dry so quick?”
“I don’t know, sir. I’m always that way, mostly.”
“A cussed thief! Lend a hand and less heave him over-
“Oh, you are, are you. What’s your name?” board!”
I warn’t going to tell my name. I didn’t know what to say,
“No,” says Big Bob, “less get out the paint-pot and paint so I just says—
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain
“Charles William Allbright, sir.”
in on me and stopped me.
Then they roared—the whole crowd; and I was mighty
“Now, looky-here,” says Davy; “you’re scared, and so you glad I said that, because maybe laughing would get them in talk wild. Honest, now, do you live in a scow, or is it a lie?” a better humor.
“Yes, sir, in a trading scow. She lays up at the head of the When they got done laughing, Davy says—
bend. But I warn’t born in her. It’s our first trip.”
“It won’t hardly do, Charles William. You couldn’t have
“Now you’re talking! What did you come aboard here, growed this much in five year, and you was a baby when you for? To steal?”
come out of the bar’l, you know, and dead at that. Come,
“No, sir, I didn’t.—It was only to get a ride on the raft. All now, tell a straight story, and nobody’ll hurt you, if you ain’t boys does that.”
up to anything wrong. What is your name.?”
“Well, I know that. But what did you hide for?”
“Aleck Hopkins, sir. Aleck James Hopkins.”
“Sometimes they drive the boys off.”
“Well, Aleck, where did you come from, here.?”
“So they do. They might steal. Looky-here; if we let you
“From a trading scow. She lays up the bend yonder. I was off this time, will you keep out of these kind of scrapes here-born on her. Pap has traded up and down here all his life; after?”
and he told me to swim off here, because when you went by
“Deed I will, boss. You try me.”
he said he would like to get some of you to speak to a Mr.
“All right, then. You ain’t but little ways from shore. Over-Jonas Turner, in Cairo, and tell him—” board with you, and don’t you make a fool of yourself an-
other time this way.—Blast it, boy, some raftsmen would
“Yes, sir; it’s as true as the world; Pap he says—” rawhide you till you were black and blue!”
“Oh, your grandmother!”
I didn’t wait to kiss good-bye, but went overboard and They all laughed, and I tried again to talk, hut they broke broke for shore. When Jim come along by and by, the big 27
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain raft was away out of sight around the point. I swum out and sient. When a circus came and went, it left us all burning to got aboard, and was mighty glad to see home again.
become clowns; the first negro minstrel show that came to The boy did not get the information he was after, but his our section left us all suffering to try that kind of life; now adventure has furnished the glimpse of the departed raftsman and then we had a hope that if we lived and were good, God and keelboatman which I desire to offer in this place.
would permit us to be pirates. These ambitions faded out, I now come to a phase of the Mississippi River life of the each in its turn; but the ambition to be a steamboatman flush times of steamboating, which seems to me to warrant always remained.
full examination—the marvelous science of piloting, as dis-Once a day a cheap, gaudy packet arrived upward from played there. I believe there has been nothing like it else-St. Louis, and another downward from Keokuk. Before these where in the world.
events, the day was glorious with expectancy; after them, the day was a dead and empty thing. Not only the boys, but the whole village, felt this. After all these years I can picture Chapter 4
that old time to myself now, just as it was then: the white town drowsing in the sunshine of a summer’s morning; the The Boys Ambition
streets empty, or pretty nearly so; one or two clerks sitting in front of the Water Street stores, with their splint-bottomed WHEN I WAS A BOY, there was but one permanent ambition chairs tilted back against the wall, chins on breasts, hats among my comrades in our village* on the west bank of the slouched over their faces, asleep—with shingle-shavings Mississippi River. That was, to be a steamboatman. We had enough around to show what broke them down; a sow and a transient ambitions of other sorts, but they were only tran-litter of pigs loafing along the sidewalk, doing a good business in watermelon rinds and seeds; two or three lonely little
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain freight piles scattered about the “levee;” a pile of “skids” on rather a handsome sight, too. She is long and sharp and trim the slope of the stone-paved wharf, and the fragrant town and pretty; she has two tall, fancy-topped chimneys, with a drunkard asleep in the shadow of them; two or three wood gilded device of some kind swung between them; a fanciful flats at the head of the wharf, but nobody to listen to the pilot-house, a glass and “gingerbread,” perched on top of peaceful lapping of the wavelets against them; the great Mis-the “texas” deck behind them; the paddle-boxes are gorgeous sissippi, the majestic, the magnificent Mississippi, rolling its with a picture or with gilded rays above the boat’s name; the mile-wide tide along, shining in the sun; the dense forest boiler deck, the hurricane deck, and the texas deck are fenced away on the other side; the ‘point’ above the town, and the and ornamented with clean white railings; there is a flag gal-
“point” below, bounding the river-glimpse and turning it lantly flying from the jack-staff; the furnace doors are open into a sort of sea, and withal a very still and brilliant and and the fires glaring bravely; the upper decks are black with lonely one. Presently a film of dark smoke appears above passengers; the captain stands by the big bell, calm, impos-one of those remote “points;” instantly a negro drayman, ing, the envy of all; great volumes of the blackest smoke are famous for his quick eye and prodigious voice, lifts up the rolling and tumbling out of the chimneys—a husbanded cry, “S-t-e-a-m-boat a-comin’!” and the scene changes! The grandeur created with a bit of pitch pine just before arriving town drunkard stirs, the clerks wake up, a furious clatter of at a town; the crew are grouped on the forecastle; the broad drays follows, every house and store pours out a human con-stage is run far out over the port bow, and an envied deckhand tribution, and all in a twinkling the dead town is alive and stands picturesquely on the end of it with a coil of rope in moving. Drays, carts, men, boys, all go hurrying from many his hand; the pent steam is screaming through the gauge-quarters to a common center, the wharf. Assembled there, cocks, the captain lifts his hand, a bell rings, the wheels stop; the people fasten their eyes upon the coming boat as upon a then they turn back, churning the water to foam, and the wonder they are seeing for the first time. And the boat is steamer is at rest. Then such a scramble as there is to get 29
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain aboard, and to get ashore, and to take in freight and to dis-on a steamboat. This thing shook the bottom out of all my charge freight, all at one and the same time; and such a yell-Sunday-school teachings. That boy had been notoriously ing and cursing as the mates facilitate it all with! Ten min-worldly, and I just the reverse; yet he was exalted to this utes later the steamer is under way again, with no flag on the eminence, and I left in obscurity and misery. There was noth-jack-staff and no black smoke issuing from the chimneys.
ing generous about this fellow in his greatness. He would After ten more minutes the town is dead again, and the town always manage to have a rusty bolt to scrub while his boat drunkard asleep by the skids once more.
tarried at our town, and he would sit on the inside guard My father was a justice of the peace, and I supposed he and scrub it, where we could all see him and envy him and possessed the power of life and death over all men and could loathe him. And whenever his boat was laid up he would hang anybody that offended him. This was distinction come home and swell around the town in his blackest and enough for me as a general thing; but the desire to be a greasiest clothes, so that nobody could help remembering steamboatman kept intruding, nevertheless. I first wanted that he was a steamboatman; and he used all sorts of steam-to be a cabin-boy, so that I could come out with a white boat technicalities in his talk, as if he were so used to them apron on and shake a tablecloth over the side, where all my that he forgot common people could not understand them.
old comrades could see me; later I thought I would rather be He would speak of the “labboard” side of a horse in an easy, the deckhand who stood on the end of the stage-plank with natural way that would make one wish he was dead. And he the coil of rope in his hand, because he was particularly con-was always talking about “St. Looy” like an old citizen; he spicuous. But these were only day-dreams,—they were too would refer casually to occasions when he “was coming down heavenly to be contemplated as real possibilities. By and by Fourth Street,” or when he was “passing by the Planter’s one of our boys went away. He was not heard of for a long House,” or when there was a fire and he took a turn on the time. At last he turned up as apprentice engineer or ‘striker’
brakes of “the old Big Missouri”; and then he would go on 30
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain and lie about how many towns the size of ours were burned The minister’s son became an engineer. The doctor’s and the down there that day. Two or three of the boys had long been post-master’s sons became ‘mud clerks;’ the wholesale liquor persons of consideration among us because they had been to dealer’s son became a barkeeper on a boat; four sons of the St. Louis once and had a vague general knowledge of its chief merchant, and two sons of the county judge, became wonders, but the day of their glory was over now. They lapsed pilots. Pilot was the grandest position of all. The pilot, even into a humble silence, and learned to disappear when the in those days of trivial wages, had a princely salary—from a ruthless “cub”-engineer approached. This fellow had money, hundred and fifty to two hundred and fifty dollars a month, too, and hair oil. Also an ignorant silver watch and a showy and no board to pay. Two months of his wages would pay a brass watch chain. He wore a leather belt and used no sus-preacher’s salary for a year. Now some of us were left discon-penders. If ever a youth was cordially admired and hated by solate. We could not get on the river—at least our parents his comrades, this one was. No girl could withstand his would not let us.
charms. He “cut out” every boy in the village. When his So by and by I ran away. I said I never would come home boat blew up at last, it diffused a tranquil contentment among again till I was a plot and could come in glory. But somehow us such as we had not known for months. But when he came I could not manage it. I went meekly aboard a few of the home the next week, alive, renowned, and appeared in church boats that lay packed together like sardines at the long St.
all battered up and bandaged, a shining hero, stared at and Louis wharf, and very humbly inquired for the pilots, but wondered over by everybody, it seemed to us that the par-got only a cold shoulder and short words from mates and tiality of Providence for an undeserving reptile had reached clerks. I had to make the best of this sort of treatment for a point where it was open to criticism.
the time being, but I had comforting daydreams of a future This creature’s career could produce but one result, and it when I should be a great and honored pilot, with plenty of speedily followed. Boy after boy managed to get on the river.
money, and could kill some of these mates and clerks and 31
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain pay for them.
ancient tub called the “Paul Jones,” for New Orleans. For the sum of sixteen dollars I had the scarred and tarnished splendors of “her” main saloon principally to myself, for she Chapter 5
was not a creature to attract the eye of wiser travelers.
When we presently got under way and went poking down I Want to be a Cub-pilot
the broad Ohio, I became a new being, and the subject of my own admiration. I was a traveler! A word never had tasted MONTHS AFTERWARD THE HOPE WITHIN ME struggled to a re-so good in my mouth before. I had an exultant sense of luctant death, and I found myself without an ambition. But being bound for mysterious lands and distant climes which I was ashamed to go home. I was in Cincinnati, and I set to I never have felt in so uplifting a degree since. I was in such work to map out a new career. I had been reading about the a glorified condition that all ignoble feelings departed out of recent exploration of the river Amazon by an expedition sent me, and I was able to look down and pity the untraveled out by our government. It was said that the expedition, ow-with a compassion that had hardly a trace of contempt in it.
ing to difficulties, had not thoroughly explored a part of the Still, when we stopped at villages and wood-yards, I could country lying about the head-waters, some four thousand not help lolling carelessly upon the railings of the boiler deck miles from the mouth of the river. It was only about fifteen to enjoy the envy of the country boys on the bank. If they hundred miles from Cincinnati to New Orleans, where I did not seem to discover me, I presently sneezed to attract could doubtless get a ship. I had thirty dollars left; I would their attention, or moved to a position where they could not go and complete the exploration of the Amazon. This was all help seeing me. And as soon as I knew they saw me I gaped the thought I gave to the subject. I never was great in mat-and stretched, and gave other signs of being mightily bored ters of detail. I packed my valise, and took passage on an with traveling.
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain I kept my hat off all the time, and stayed where the wind or mostly skipping out of it—till the mate suddenly roared a and the sun could strike me, because I wanted to get the general order for somebody to bring him a capstan bar. I bronzed and weather-beaten look of an old traveler. Before sprang to his side and said: “Tell me where it is—I’ll fetch the second day was half gone I experienced a joy which filled it!”
me with the purest gratitude; for I saw that the skin had If a rag-picker had offered to do a diplomatic service for begun to blister and peel off my face and neck. I wished that the Emperor of Russia, the monarch could not have been the boys and girls at home could see me now.
more astounded than the mate was. He even stopped swear-We reached Louisville in time—at least the neighborhood ing. He stood and stared down at me. It took him ten sec-of it. We stuck hard and fast on the rocks in the middle of onds to scrape his disjointed remains together again. Then the river, and lay there four days. I was now beginning to he said impressively: “Well, if this don’t beat hell!” and turned feel a strong sense of being a part of the boat’s family, a sort to his work with the air of a man who had been confronted of infant son to the captain and younger brother to the of-with a problem too abstruse for solution.
ficers. There is no estimating the pride I took in this granI crept away, and courted solitude for the rest of the day. I deur, or the affection that began to swell and grow in me for did not go to dinner; I stayed away from supper until every-those people. I could not know how the lordly steamboatman body else had finished. I did not feel so much like a member scorns that sort of presumption in a mere landsman. I par-of the boat’s family now as before. However, my spirits re-ticularly longed to acquire the least trifle of notice from the turned, in installments, as we pursued our way down the big stormy mate, and I was on the alert for an opportunity river. I was sorry I hated the mate so, because it was not in to do him a service to that end. It came at last. The riotous (young) human nature not to admire him. He was huge and powwow of setting a spar was going on down on the fore-muscular, his face was bearded and whiskered all over; he castle, and I went down there and stood around in the way—
had a red woman and a blue woman tattooed on his right 33
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain arm,—one on each side of a blue anchor with a red rope to When the soreness of my adventure with the mate had it; and in the matter of profanity he was sublime. When he somewhat worn off, I began timidly to make up to the hum-was getting out cargo at a landing, I was always where I could blest official connected with the boat—the night watchman.
see and hear. He felt all the majesty of his great position, and He snubbed my advances at first, but I presently ventured made the world feel it, too. When he gave even the simplest to offer him a new chalk pipe; and that softened him. So he order, he discharged it like a blast of lightning, and sent a allowed me to sit with him by the big bell on the hurricane long, reverberating peal of profanity thundering after it. I deck, and in time he melted into conversation. He could not could not help contrasting the way in which the average well have helped it, I hung with such homage on his words landsman would give an order, with the mate’s way of doing and so plainly showed that I felt honored by his notice. He it. If the landsman should wish the gang-plank moved a foot told me the names of dim capes and shadowy islands as we farther forward, he would probably say: “James, or William, glided by them in the solemnity of the night, under the wink-one of you push that plank forward, please;” but put the ing stars, and by and by got to talking about himself. He mate in his place and he would roar out: “Here, now, start seemed over-sentimental for a man whose salary was six dol-that gang-plank for’ard! Lively, now! What’re you about!
lars a week—or rather he might have seemed so to an older Snatch it! Snatch it! There! there! Aft again! aft again! don’t person than I. But I drank in his words hungrily, and with a you hear me. Dash it to dash! are you going to sleep over it!
faith that might have moved mountains if it had been ap-
‘ Vast heaving. ‘Vast heaving, I tell you! Going to heave it plied judiciously. What was it to me that he was soiled and clear astern? Where’re you going with that barrel! For’ard with seedy and fragrant with gin. What was it to me that his gram-it ‘fore I make you swallow it, you dash-dash-dash- dasheed mar was bad, his construction worse, and his profanity so split between a tired mud-turtle and a crippled hearse-horse!” void of art that it was an element of weakness rather than I wished I could talk like that.
strength in his conversation? He was a wronged man, a man 34
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain who had seen trouble, and that was enough for me. As he low, vulgar, ignorant, sentimental, half-witted humbug, an mellowed into his plaintive history his tears dripped upon untraveled native of the wilds of Illinois, who had absorbed the lantern in his lap, and I cried, too, from sympathy. He wildcat literature and appropriated its marvels, until in time said he was the son of an English nobleman—either an earl he had woven odds and ends of the mess into this yarn, and or an alderman, he could not remember which, but believed then gone on telling it to fledglings like me, until he had was both; his father, the nobleman, loved him, but his mother come to believe it himself.
hated him from the cradle; and so while he was still a little boy he was sent to “one of them old, ancient colleges”—he couldn’t remember which; and by and by his father died and Chapter 6
his mother seized the property and ‘shook’ him as he phrased it. After his mother shook him, members of the nobility A Cub-pilots Experience
with whom he was acquainted used their influence to get him the position of “loblolly-boy in a ship;” and from that WHAT WITH LYING ON THE ROCKS four days at Louisville, and point my watchman threw off all trammels of date and lo-some other delays, the poor old “Paul Jones” fooled away cality and branched out into a narrative that bristled all along about two weeks in making the voyage from Cincinnati to with incredible adventures; a narrative that was so reeking New Orleans. This gave me a chance to get acquainted with with bloodshed and so crammed with hair-breadth escapes one of the pilots, and he taught me how to steer the boat, and the most engaging and unconscious personal villainies, and thus made the fascination of river life more potent than that I sat speechless, enjoying, shuddering, wondering, wor-ever for me.
It also gave me a chance to get acquainted with a youth It was a sore blight to find out afterwards that he was a who had taken deck passage—more’s the pity; for he easily 35
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain borrowed six dollars of me on a promise to return to the what I was about to require of my faculties, I should not boat and pay it back to me the day after we should arrive.
have had the courage to begin. I supposed that all a pilot had But he probably died or forgot, for he never came. It was to do was to keep his boat in the river, and I did not consider doubtless the former, since he had said his parents were that that could be much of a trick, since it was so wide.
wealthy, and he only traveled deck passage because it was The boat backed out from New Orleans at four in the cooler.*
afternoon, and it was “our watch” until eight. Mr. Bixby, my I soon discovered two things. One was that a vessel would chief, “straightened her up,” plowed her along past the sterns not be likely to sail for the mouth of the Amazon under ten of the other boats that lay at the Levee, and then said, “Here, or twelve years; and the other was that the nine or ten dol-take her; shave those steamships as close as you’d peel an lars still left in my pocket would not suffice for so imposing apple.” I took the wheel, and my heart-beat fluttered up an exploration as I had planned, even if I could afford to into the hundreds; for it seemed to me that we were about to wait for a ship. Therefore it followed that I must contrive a scrape the side off every ship in the line, we were so close. I new career. The ‘Paul Jones’ was now bound for St. Louis. I held my breath and began to claw the boat away from the planned a siege against my pilot, and at the end of three hard danger; and I had my own opinion of the pilot who had days he surrendered. He agreed to teach me the Mississippi known no better than to get us into such peril, but I was too River from New Orleans to St. Louis for five hundred dol-wise to express it. In half a minute I had a wide margin of lars, payable out of the first wages I should receive after gradu-safety intervening between the “Paul Jones” and the ships; ating. I entered upon the small enterprise of ‘learning’ twelve and within ten seconds more I was set aside in disgrace, and or thirteen hundred miles of the great Mississippi River with Mr. Bixby was going into danger again and flaying me alive the easy confidence of my time of life. If I had really known with abuse of my cowardice. I was stung, but I was obliged to admire the easy confidence with which my chief loafed
*‘Deck’ Passage, i.e. steerage passage.
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain from side to side of his wheel, and trimmed the ships so near chipping off the edge of a sugar plantation, or I yawed closely that disaster seemed ceaselessly imminent. When he too far from shore, and so dropped back into disgrace again had cooled a little he told me that the easy water was close and got abused.
ashore and the current outside, and therefore we must hug The watch was ended at last, and we took supper and went the bank, up-stream, to get the benefit of the former, and to bed. At midnight the glare of a lantern shone in my eyes, stay well out, down-stream, to take advantage of the latter.
and the night watchman said—
In my own mind I resolved to be a down-stream pilot and
“Come! turn out!”
leave the up-streaming to people dead to prudence.
And then he left. I could not understand this extraordi-Now and then Mr. Bixby called my attention to certain nary procedure; so I presently gave up trying to, and dozed things. Said he, “This is Six-Mile Point.” I assented. It was off to sleep. Pretty soon the watchman was back again, and pleasant enough information, but I could not see the bear-this time he was gruff. I was annoyed. I said:—
ing of it. I was not conscious that it was a matter of any
“What do you want to come bothering around here in the interest to me. Another time he said, “This is Nine-Mile middle of the night for. Now as like as not I’ll not get to Point.” Later he said, “This is Twelve-Mile Point.” They were sleep again to-night.”
all about level with the water’s edge; they all looked about The watchman said—
alike to me; they were monotonously unpicturesque. I hoped
“Well, if this an’t good, I’m blest.” Mr. Bixby would change the subject. But no; he would crowd The “off-watch” was just turning in, and I heard some up around a point, hugging the shore with affection, and brutal laughter from them, and such remarks as “Hello, then say: “The slack water ends here, abreast this bunch of watchman! an’t the new cub turned out yet? He’s delicate, China-trees; now we cross over.” So he crossed over. He gave likely. Give him some sugar in a rag and send for the cham-me the wheel once or twice, but I had no luck. I either came bermaid to sing rock-a-by-baby to him.” 37
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain About this time Mr. Bixby appeared on the scene. Some-you joy of your job, Mr. Bixby; you’ll have a good time find-thing like a minute later I was climbing the pilot-house steps ing Mr. Jones’s plantation such a night as this; and I hope with some of my clothes on and the rest in my arms. Mr.
you never will find it as long as you live.
Bixby was close behind, commenting. Here was something Mr. Bixby said to the mate:—
fresh—this thing of getting up in the middle of the night to
“Upper end of the plantation, or the lower.?” go to work. It was a detail in piloting that had never oc-
curred to me at all. I knew that boats ran all night, but some-
“I can’t do it. The stumps there are out of water at this how I had never happened to reflect that somebody had to stage: It’s no great distance to the lower, and you’ll have to get up out of a warm bed to run them. I began to fear that get along with that.”
piloting was not quite so romantic as I had imagined it was;
“All right, sir. If Jones don’t like it he’ll have to lump it, I there was something very real and work-like about this new reckon.”
phase of it.
And then the mate left. My exultation began to cool and It was a rather dingy night, although a fair number of my wonder to come up. Here was a man who not only pro-stars were out. The big mate was at the wheel, and he had posed to find this plantation on such a night, but to find the old tub pointed at a star and was holding her straight up either end of it you preferred. I dreadfully wanted to ask a the middle of the river. The shores on either hand were not question, but I was carrying about as many short answers as much more than half a mile apart, but they seemed wonder-my cargo-room would admit of, so I held my peace. All I fully far away and ever so vague and indistinct. The mate desired to ask Mr. Bixby was the simple question whether said:—
he was ass enough to really imagine he was going to find that
“We’ve got to land at Jones’s plantation, sir.” plantation on a night when all plantations were exactly alike The vengeful spirit in me exulted. I said to myself, I wish and all the same color. But I held in. I used to have fine 38
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain inspirations of prudence in those days.
Mile Point, to cross over?”
Mr. Bixby made for the shore and soon was scraping it,
“I—I— don’t know.”
just the same as if it had been daylight. And not only that,
“You—you—don’t know?” mimicking my drawling man-but singing—
ner of speech. “What do you know?”
“Father in heaven, the day is declining, etc.”
“I—I— nothing, for certain.”
It seemed to me that I had put my life in the keeping of a
“By the great Caesar’s ghost, I believe you! You’re the stu-peculiarly reckless outcast. Presently he turned on me and pidest dunderhead I ever saw or ever heard of, so help me said:—
Moses! The idea of you being a pilot—you! Why, you don’t
“What’s the name of the first point above New Orleans?” know enough to pilot a cow down a lane.” I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I Oh, but his wrath was up! He was a nervous man, and he said I didn’t know.
shuffled from one side of his wheel to the other as if the
floor was hot. He would boil a while to himself, and then This manner jolted me. I was down at the foot again, in a overflow and scald me again.
moment. But I had to say just what I had said before.
“Look here! What do you suppose I told you the names of
“Well, you’re a smart one,” said Mr. Bixby. “What’s the those points for?”
name of the next point?”
I tremblingly considered a moment, and then the devil of Once more I didn’t know.
temptation provoked me to say:—
“Well, this beats anything. Tell me the name of any point
“Well—to—to—be entertaining, I thought.” or place I told you.”
This was a red rag to the bull. He raged and stormed so I studied a while and decided that I couldn’t.
(he was crossing the river at the time) that I judge it made
“Look here! What do you start out from, above Twelve-him blind, because he ran over the steering-oar of a trading-39
Life on the Mississippi - Mark Twain scow. Of course the traders sent up a volley of red-hot proas black as ink. I could hear the wheels churn along the fanity. Never was a man so grateful as Mr. Bixby was: be-bank, but I was not entirely certain that I could see the shore.