But he stuck to printing, and rapidly became a neat, capable workman. Ament gave him a daily task, after which he was free. By three in the afternoon he was likely to finish his stint. Then he was off for the river or the cave, joining his old comrades. Or perhaps he would go with Laura Hawkins to gather wild columbine on the high cliff above the river, known as Lover’s Leap. When winter came these two sometimes went to Bear Creek, skating; or together they attended parties, where the old-fashioned games “Ring-around-Rosy” and “Dusty Miller” were the chief amusements.
In “The Gilded Age,” Laura Hawkins at twelve is pictured “with her dainty hands propped into the ribbon-bordered pockets of her apron . . . a vision to warm the coldest heart and bless and cheer the saddest.” That was the real Laura, though her story in that book in no way resembles the reality.
It was just at this time that an incident occurred which may be looked back upon now as a turning-point in Samuel Clemens’s life. Coming home from the office one afternoon, he noticed a square of paper being swept along by the wind. He saw that it was printed—was interested professionally in seeing what it was like. He chased the flying scrap and overtook it. It was a leaf from some old history of Joan of Arc, and pictured the hard lot of the “maid” in the tower at Rouen, reviled and mistreated by her ruffian captors. There were some paragraphs of description, but the rest was pitiful dialogue.
Sam had never heard of Joan before—he knew nothing of history. He was no reader. Orion was fond of books, and Pamela; even little Henry had read more than Sam. But now, as he read, there awoke in him a deep feeling of pity and indignation, and with it a longing to know more of the tragic story. It was an interest that would last his life through, and in the course of time find expression in one of the rarest books ever written.
The first result was that Sam began to read. He hunted up everything he could find on the subject of Joan, and from that went into French history in general—indeed, into history of every kind. Samuel Clemens had suddenly become a reader—almost a student. He even began the study of languages, German and Latin, but was not able to go on for lack of time and teachers.
He became a hater of tyranny, a champion of the weak. Watching a game of marbles or tops, he would remark to some offender, in his slow drawling way, “You mustn’t cheat that boy.”
And the cheating stopped, or trouble followed.
A Hannibal paper, the “Journal,” was for sale under a mortgage of five hundred dollars, and Orion Clemens, returning from St. Louis, borrowed the money and bought it. Sam’s two years’ apprenticeship with Ament had been completed, and Orion felt that together they could carry on the paper and win success. Henry Clemens, now eleven, was also taken out of school to learn type-setting.