“For two cents I’d get out there and knock their heads off.”
“You wouldn’t dare to do it,” Sam said, purringly.
This was wormwood to Jim. He was really a brave spirit.
“I would too,” he said, “and I will if you say that again.”
“Why, Jim, of course you wouldn’t dare to go out there. You might catch cold.”
“You wait and see,” said Jim Wolfe.
He grabbed a pair of yarn stockings for his feet, raised the window, and crept out on the snowy roof. There was a crust of ice on the snow, but Jim jabbed his heels through it and stood up in the moonlight, his legs bare, his single garment flapping gently in the light winter breeze. Then he started slowly toward the cats, sinking his heels in the snow each time for a footing, a piece of lath in his hand. The cats were on the corner of the roof above the arbor, and Jim cautiously worked his way in that direction. The roof was not very steep. He was doing well enough until he came to a place where the snow had melted until it was nearly solid ice. He was so intent on the cats that he did not notice this, and when he struck his heel down to break the crust nothing yielded. A second later Jim’s feet had shot out from under him, and he vaulted like an avalanche down the icy roof out on the little vine-clad arbor, and went crashing through among those candypullers, gathered there with their pans of cooling taffy. There were wild shrieks and a general flight. Neither Jim nor Sam ever knew how he got back to their room, but Jim was overcome with the enormity of his offense, while Sam was in an agony of laughter.
“You did it splendidly, Jim,” he drawled, when he could speak. “Nobody could have done it better; and did you see how those cats got out of there? I never had any idea when you started that you meant to do it that way. And it was such a surprise to the folks down-stairs. How did you ever think of it?”
It was a fearful ordeal for a boy like Jim Wolfe, but he stuck to his place in spite of what he must have suffered. The boys made him one of them soon after that. His initiation was thought to be complete.
An account of Jim Wolfe and the cats was the first original story Mark Twain ever told. He told it next day, which was Sunday, to Jimmy McDaniel, the baker’s son, as they sat looking out over the river, eating gingerbread. His hearer laughed immoderately, and the story-teller was proud and happy in his success.
THE BEGINNING OF A LITERARY LIFE
Orion’s paper continued to go downhill. Following some random counsel, he changed the name of it and advanced the price—two blunders. Then he was compelled to reduce the subscription, also the advertising rates. He was obliged to adopt a descending scale of charges and expenditures to keep pace with his declining circulation—a fatal sign. A publisher must lead his subscription list, not follow it.