And the young pilots who used to tell me, patronizingly, that I could never learn the river cannot keep from showing a little of their chagrin at seeing me so far ahead of them. Permit me to "blow my horn," for I derive a living pleasure from these things, and I must confess that when I go to pay my dues, I rather like to let the d---d rascals get a glimpse of a hundred dollar bill peeping out from amongst notes of smaller dimensions, whose face I do not exhibit! You will despise this egotism, but I tell you there is a "stern joy" in it.....
Pilots did not remain long on one boat, as a rule; just why it is not so easy to understand. Perhaps they liked the experience of change; perhaps both captain and pilot liked the pursuit of the ideal. In the light- hearted letter that follows--written to a friend of the family, formerly of Hannibal--we get something of the uncertainty of the pilot's engagements.
To Mrs. Elizabeth W. Smith, in ,Jackson, Cape Girardeau County, Mo.:
ST. Louis, Oct. 31 [probably 1859]. DEAR AUNT BETSEY,--Ma has not written you, because she did not know when I would get started down the river again.....
You see, Aunt Betsey, I made but one trip on the packet after you left, and then concluded to remain at home awhile. I have just discovered this morning that I am to go to New Orleans on the "Col. Chambers"--fine, light-draught, swift-running passenger steamer--all modern accommodations and improvements--through with dispatch--for freight or passage apply on board, or to--but--I have forgotten the agent's name--however, it makes no difference--and as I was saying, or had intended to say, Aunt Betsey, probably, if you are ready to come up, you had better take the "Ben Lewis," the best boat in the packet line. She will be at Cape Girardeau at noon on Saturday (day after tomorrow,) and will reach here at breakfast time, Sunday. If Mr. Hamilton is chief clerk,--very well, I am slightly acquainted with him. And if Messrs. Carter Gray and Dean Somebody (I have forgotten his other name,) are in the pilot-house--very well again-I am acquainted with them. Just tell Mr. Gray, Aunt Betsey-- that I wish him to place himself at your command.
All the family are well--except myself--I am in a bad way again--disease, Love, in its most malignant form. Hopes are entertained of my recovery, however. At the dinner table--excellent symptom--I am still as "terrible as an army with banners."
Aunt Betsey--the wickedness of this world--but I haven't time to moralize this morning. Goodbye SAM CLEMENS.
As we do not hear of this "attack" again, the recovery was probably prompt. His letters are not frequent enough for us to keep track of his boats, but we know that he was associated with Bixby from time to time, and now and again with one of the Bowen boys, his old Hannibal schoolmates. He was reveling in the river life, the ease and distinction and romance of it. No other life would ever suit him as well. He was at the age to enjoy just what it brought him --at the airy, golden, overweening age of youth.