Meantime, he had passed his eighteenth birthday, winter was coming on, he had been away from home half a year, and the first attack of homesickness was due. “One only has to leave home to learn how to write interesting letters to an absent friend,” he wrote; and again. “I don’t like our present prospect for cold weather at all.”
He declared he only wanted to get back to avoid night work, which was injuring his eyes, but we may guess there was a stronger reason, which perhaps he did not entirely realize. The novelty of wandering had worn off, and he yearned for familiar faces, the comfort of those he loved.
But he did not go. He made a trip to Washington in January—a sight-seeing trip—returning to Philadelphia, where he worked for the “Ledger” and “North American.” Eventually he went back to New York, and from there took ticket to St. Louis. This was in the late summer of 1854; he had been fifteen months away from his people when he stepped aboard the train to return.
Sam was worn out when he reached St. Louis; but the Keokuk packet was leaving, and he stopped only long enough to see Pamela, then went aboard and, flinging himself into his berth, did not waken until the boat reached Muscatine, Iowa, thirty-six hours later.
It was very early when he arrived, too early to rouse the family. He sat down in the office of a little hotel to wait for morning, and picked up a small book that lay on the writing-table. It contained pictures of the English rulers with the brief facts of their reigns. Sam Clemens entertained himself learning these data by heart. He had a fine memory for such things, and in an hour or two had those details so perfectly committed that he never forgot one of them as long as he lived. The knowledge acquired in this stray fashion he found invaluable in later life. It was his groundwork for all English history.
A WIND OF CHANCE
Orion could not persuade his brother to remain in Muscatine. Sam returned to his old place on the “Evening News,” in St. Louis, where he remained until the following year, rooming with a youth named Burrough, a journeyman chair-maker with literary taste, a reader of the English classics, a companionable lad, and for Samuel Clemens a good influence.
By spring, Orion Clemens had married and had sold out in Muscatine. He was now located in Keokuk, Iowa. When presently Brother Sam came visiting to Keokuk, Orion offered him five dollars a week and his board to remain. He accepted. Henry Clemens, now seventeen, was also in Orion’s employ, and a lad named Dick Hingham. Henry and Sam slept in the office; Dick and a young fellow named Brownell, who roomed above, came in for social evenings.