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Life On The Mississippi, Complete by Mark Twain

Part 3 out of 8

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of tall, ascending columns of coal-black smoke; a colonnade which
supported a sable roof of the same smoke blended together and spreading
abroad over the city. Every outward-bound boat had its flag flying at
the jack-staff, and sometimes a duplicate on the verge staff astern. Two
or three miles of mates were commanding and swearing with more than
usual emphasis; countless processions of freight barrels and boxes were
spinning athwart the levee and flying aboard the stage-planks, belated
passengers were dodging and skipping among these frantic things, hoping
to reach the forecastle companion way alive, but having their doubts
about it; women with reticules and bandboxes were trying to keep up with
husbands freighted with carpet-sacks and crying babies, and making a
failure of it by losing their heads in the whirl and roar and general
distraction; drays and baggage-vans were clattering hither and thither
in a wild hurry, every now and then getting blocked and jammed together,
and then during ten seconds one could not see them for the profanity,
except vaguely and dimly; every windlass connected with every forehatch,
from one end of that long array of steamboats to the other, was keeping
up a deafening whiz and whir, lowering freight into the hold, and the
half-naked crews of perspiring negroes that worked them were roaring
such songs as 'De Las' Sack! De Las' Sack!'--inspired to unimaginable
exaltation by the chaos of turmoil and racket that was driving everybody
else mad. By this time the hurricane and boiler decks of the steamers
would be packed and black with passengers. The 'last bells' would begin
to clang, all down the line, and then the powwow seemed to double; in a
moment or two the final warning came,--a simultaneous din of Chinese
gongs, with the cry, 'All dat ain't goin', please to git asho'!'--and
behold, the powwow quadrupled! People came swarming ashore, overturning
excited stragglers that were trying to swarm aboard. One more moment
later a long array of stage-planks was being hauled in, each with its
customary latest passenger clinging to the end of it with teeth, nails,
and everything else, and the customary latest procrastinator making a
wild spring shoreward over his head.

Now a number of the boats slide backward into the stream, leaving wide
gaps in the serried rank of steamers. Citizens crowd the decks of boats
that are not to go, in order to see the sight. Steamer after steamer
straightens herself up, gathers all her strength, and presently comes
swinging by, under a tremendous head of steam, with flag flying, black
smoke rolling, and her entire crew of firemen and deck-hands (usually
swarthy negroes) massed together on the forecastle, the best 'voice' in
the lot towering from the midst (being mounted on the capstan), waving
his hat or a flag, and all roaring a mighty chorus, while the parting
cannons boom and the multitudinous spectators swing their hats and
huzza! Steamer after steamer falls into line, and the stately procession
goes winging its flight up the river.

In the old times, whenever two fast boats started out on a race, with a
big crowd of people looking on, it was inspiring to hear the crews sing,
especially if the time were night-fall, and the forecastle lit up with
the red glare of the torch-baskets. Racing was royal fun. The public
always had an idea that racing was dangerous; whereas the opposite was
the case--that is, after the laws were passed which restricted each boat
to just so many pounds of steam to the square inch. No engineer was ever
sleepy or careless when his heart was in a race. He was constantly on
the alert, trying gauge-cocks and watching things. The dangerous place
was on slow, plodding boats, where the engineers drowsed around and
allowed chips to get into the 'doctor' and shut off the water supply
from the boilers.

In the 'flush times' of steamboating, a race between two notoriously
fleet steamers was an event of vast importance. The date was set for it
several weeks in advance, and from that time forward, the whole
Mississippi Valley was in a state of consuming excitement. Politics and
the weather were dropped, and people talked only of the coming race. As
the time approached, the two steamers 'stripped' and got ready. Every
encumbrance that added weight, or exposed a resisting surface to wind or
water, was removed, if the boat could possibly do without it. The
'spars,' and sometimes even their supporting derricks, were sent ashore,
and no means left to set the boat afloat in case she got aground. When
the 'Eclipse' and the 'A. L. Shotwell' ran their great race many years
ago, it was said that pains were taken to scrape the gilding off the
fanciful device which hung between the 'Eclipse's' chimneys, and that
for that one trip the captain left off his kid gloves and had his head
shaved. But I always doubted these things.

If the boat was known to make her best speed when drawing five and a
half feet forward and five feet aft, she was carefully loaded to that
exact figure--she wouldn't enter a dose of homoeopathic pills on her
manifest after that. Hardly any passengers were taken, because they not
only add weight but they never will 'trim boat.' They always run to the
side when there is anything to see, whereas a conscientious and
experienced steamboatman would stick to the center of the boat and part
his hair in the middle with a spirit level.

No way-freights and no way-passengers were allowed, for the racers would
stop only at the largest towns, and then it would be only 'touch and
go.' Coal flats and wood flats were contracted for beforehand, and these
were kept ready to hitch on to the flying steamers at a moment's
warning. Double crews were carried, so that all work could be quickly

The chosen date being come, and all things in readiness, the two great
steamers back into the stream, and lie there jockeying a moment, and
apparently watching each other's slightest movement, like sentient
creatures; flags drooping, the pent steam shrieking through safety-
valves, the black smoke rolling and tumbling from the chimneys and
darkening all the air. People, people everywhere; the shores, the house-
tops, the steamboats, the ships, are packed with them, and you know that
the borders of the broad Mississippi are going to be fringed with
humanity thence northward twelve hundred miles, to welcome these racers.

Presently tall columns of steam burst from the 'scape-pipes of both
steamers, two guns boom a good-bye, two red-shirted heroes mounted on
capstans wave their small flags above the massed crews on the
forecastles, two plaintive solos linger on the air a few waiting
seconds, two mighty choruses burst forth--and here they come! Brass
bands bray Hail Columbia, huzza after huzza thunders from the shores,
and the stately creatures go whistling by like the wind.

Those boats will never halt a moment between New Orleans and St. Louis,
except for a second or two at large towns, or to hitch thirty-cord wood-
boats alongside. You should be on board when they take a couple of
those wood-boats in tow and turn a swarm of men into each; by the time
you have wiped your glasses and put them on, you will be wondering what
has become of that wood.

Two nicely matched steamers will stay in sight of each other day after
day. They might even stay side by side, but for the fact that pilots are
not all alike, and the smartest pilots will win the race. If one of the
boats has a 'lightning' pilot, whose 'partner' is a trifle his inferior,
you can tell which one is on watch by noting whether that boat has
gained ground or lost some during each four-hour stretch. The shrewdest
pilot can delay a boat if he has not a fine genius for steering.
Steering is a very high art. One must not keep a rudder dragging across
a boat's stem if he wants to get up the river fast.

There is a great difference in boats, of course. For a long time I was
on a boat that was so slow we used to forget what year it was we left
port in. But of course this was at rare intervals. Ferryboats used to
lose valuable trips because their passengers grew old and died, waiting
for us to get by. This was at still rarer intervals. I had the
documents for these occurrences, but through carelessness they have been
mislaid. This boat, the 'John J. Roe,' was so slow that when she finally
sunk in Madrid Bend, it was five years before the owners heard of it.
That was always a confusing fact to me, but it is according to the
record, any way. She was dismally slow; still, we often had pretty
exciting times racing with islands, and rafts, and such things. One
trip, however, we did rather well. We went to St. Louis in sixteen
days. But even at this rattling gait I think we changed watches three
times in Fort Adams reach, which is five miles long. A 'reach' is a
piece of straight river, and of course the current drives through such a
place in a pretty lively way.

That trip we went to Grand Gulf, from New Orleans, in four days (three
hundred and forty miles); the 'Eclipse' and 'Shotwell' did it in one.
We were nine days out, in the chute of 63 (seven hundred miles); the
'Eclipse' and 'Shotwell' went there in two days. Something over a
generation ago, a boat called the 'J. M. White' went from New Orleans to
Cairo in three days, six hours, and forty-four minutes. In 1853 the
'Eclipse' made the same trip in three days, three hours, and twenty
minutes.{footnote [Time disputed. Some authorities add 1 hour and 16
minutes to this.]} In 1870 the 'R. E. Lee' did it in three days and ONE
hour. This last is called the fastest trip on record. I will try to show
that it was not. For this reason: the distance between New Orleans and
Cairo, when the 'J. M. White' ran it, was about eleven hundred and six
miles; consequently her average speed was a trifle over fourteen miles
per hour. In the 'Eclipse's' day the distance between the two ports had
become reduced to one thousand and eighty miles; consequently her
average speed was a shade under fourteen and three-eighths miles per
hour. In the 'R. E. Lee's' time the distance had diminished to about one
thousand and thirty miles; consequently her average was about fourteen
and one-eighth miles per hour. Therefore the 'Eclipse's' was
conspicuously the fastest time that has ever been made.



(From Commodore Rollingpin's Almanack.)



D. H. M.
1814 Orleans made the run in 6 6 40
1814 Comet " " 5 10
1815 Enterprise " " 4 11 20
1817 Washington " " 4
1817 Shelby " " 3 20
1818 Paragon " " 3 8
1828 Tecumseh " " 3 1 20
1834 Tuscarora " " 1 21
1838 Natchez " " 1 17
1840 Ed. Shippen " " 1 8
1842 Belle of the West " 1 18
1844 Sultana " " 19 45
1851 Magnolia " " 19 50
1853 A. L. Shotwell " " 19 49
1853 Southern Belle " " 20 3
1853 Princess (No. 4) " 20 26
1853 Eclipse " " 19 47
1855 Princess (New) " " 18 53
1855 Natchez (New) " " 17 30
1856 Princess (New) " " 17 30
1870 Natchez " " 17 17
1870 R. E. Lee " " 17 11


D. H. M.
1844 J. M. White made the run in 3 6 44
1852 Reindeer " " 3 12 45
1853 Eclipse " " 3 4 4
1853 A. L. Shotwell " " 3 3 40
1869 Dexter " " 3 6 20
1870 Natchez " " 3 4 34
1870 R. E. Lee " " 3 1


D. H. M.
1815 Enterprise made the run in 25 2 40
1817 Washington " " 25
1817. Shelby " " 20 4 20
1818 Paragon " " 18 10
1828 Tecumseh " " 8 4
1834 Tuscarora " " 7 16
1837 Gen. Brown " " 6 22
1837 Randolph " " 6 22
1837 Empress " " 6 17
1837 Sultana " " 6 15
1840 Ed. Shippen " " 5 14
1842 Belle of the West " 6 14
1843 Duke of Orleans" " 5 23
1844 Sultana " " 5 12
1849 Bostona " " 5 8
1851 Belle Key " " 3 4 23
1852 Reindeer " " 4 20 45
1852 Eclipse " " 4 19
1853 A. L. Shotwell " " 4 10 20
1853 Eclipse " " 4 9 30


H. M.
1852 A. L. Shotwell made the run in 5 42
1852 Eclipse " " 5 42
1854 Sultana " " 4 51
1860 Atlantic " " 5 11
1860 Gen. Quitman " " 5 6
1865 Ruth " " 4 43
1870 R. E. Lee " " 4 59


D. H. M.
1844 J. M. White made the run in 3 23 9
1849 Missouri " " 4 19
1869 Dexter " " 4 9
1870 Natchez " " 3 21 58
1870 R. E. Lee " " 3 18 14


D. H. M.
1819 Gen. Pike made the run in 1 16
1819 Paragon " " 1 14 20
1822 Wheeling Packet " " 1 10
1837 Moselle " " 12
1843 Duke of Orleans " " 12
1843 Congress " " 12 20
1846 Ben Franklin (No. 6) " 11 45
1852 Alleghaney " " 10 38
1852 Pittsburgh " " 10 23
1853 Telegraph No. 3 " " 9 52


D. H. M.
1843 Congress made the run in 2 1
1854 Pike " " 1 23
1854 Northerner " " 1 22 30
1855 Southemer " " 1 19


D. H.
1850 Telegraph No. 2 made the run in 1 17
1851 Buckeye State " " 1 16
1852 Pittsburgh " " 1 15


D. M.
1853 Altona made the run in 1 35
1876 Golden Eagle " " 1 37
1876 War Eagle " " 1 37


In June, 1859, the St. Louis and Keokuk Packet, City of Louisiana,
made the run from St. Louis to Keokuk (214 miles) in 16 hours
and 20 minutes, the best time on record.

In 1868 the steamer Hawkeye State, of the Northern Packet Company,
made the run from St. Louis to St. Paul (800 miles) in 2 days and 20 hours.
Never was beaten.

In 1853 the steamer Polar Star made the run from St. Louis to St. Joseph,
on the Missouri River, in 64 hours. In July, 1856, the steamer Jas.
H. Lucas, Andy Wineland, Master, made the same run in 60 hours
and 57 minutes. The distance between the ports is 600 miles,
and when the difficulties of navigating the turbulent Missouri
are taken into consideration, the performance of the Lucas
deserves especial mention.


The time made by the R. E. Lee from New Orleans to St. Louis
in 1870, in her famous race with the Natchez, is the best
on record, and, inasmuch as the race created a national interest,
we give below her time table from port to port.

Left New Orleans, Thursday, June 30th, 1870, at 4 o'clock
and 55 minutes, p.m.; reached

D. H. M.
Carrollton 27{half}
Harry Hills 1 00{half}
Red Church 1 39
Bonnet Carre 2 38
College Point 3 50{half}
Donaldsonville 4 59
Plaquemine 7 05{half}
Baton Rouge 8 25
Bayou Sara 10 26
Red River 12 56
Stamps 13 56
Bryaro 15 51{half}
Hinderson's 16 29
Natchez 17 11
Cole's Creek 19 21
Waterproof 18 53
Rodney 20 45
St. Joseph 21 02
Grand Gulf 22 06
Hard Times 22 18
Half Mile below Warrenton 1
Vicksburg 1 38
Milliken's Bend 1 2 37
Bailey's 1 3 48
Lake Providence 1 5 47
Greenville 1 10 55
Napoleon 1 16 22
White River 1 16 56
Australia 1 19
Helena 1 23 25
Half Mile Below St. Francis 2
Memphis 2 6 9
Foot of Island 37 2 9
Foot of Island 26 2 13 30
Tow-head, Island 14 2 17 23
New Madrid 2 19 50
Dry Bar No. 10 2 20 37
Foot of Island 8 2 21 25
Upper Tow-head--Lucas Bend 3
Cairo 3 1
St. Louis 3 18 14

The Lee landed at St. Louis at 11.25 A.M., on July 4th, 1870--6 hours
and 36 minutes ahead of the Natchez. The officers of the Natchez claimed
7 hours and 1 minute stoppage on account of fog and repairing machinery.
The R. E. Lee was commanded by Captain John W. Cannon, and the Natchez was in
charge of that veteran Southern boatman, Captain Thomas P. Leathers.

Chapter 17 Cut-offs and Stephen

THESE dry details are of importance in one particular. They give me an
opportunity of introducing one of the Mississippi's oddest
peculiarities,--that of shortening its length from time to time. If you
will throw a long, pliant apple-paring over your shoulder, it will
pretty fairly shape itself into an average section of the Mississippi
River; that is, the nine or ten hundred miles stretching from Cairo,
Illinois, southward to New Orleans, the same being wonderfully crooked,
with a brief straight bit here and there at wide intervals. The two
hundred-mile stretch from Cairo northward to St. Louis is by no means so
crooked, that being a rocky country which the river cannot cut much.

The water cuts the alluvial banks of the 'lower' river into deep
horseshoe curves; so deep, indeed, that in some places if you were to
get ashore at one extremity of the horseshoe and walk across the neck,
half or three quarters of a mile, you could sit down and rest a couple
of hours while your steamer was coming around the long elbow, at a speed
of ten miles an hour, to take you aboard again. When the river is rising
fast, some scoundrel whose plantation is back in the country, and
therefore of inferior value, has only to watch his chance, cut a little
gutter across the narrow neck of land some dark night, and turn the
water into it, and in a wonderfully short time a miracle has happened:
to wit, the whole Mississippi has taken possession of that little ditch,
and placed the countryman's plantation on its bank (quadrupling its
value), and that other party's formerly valuable plantation finds itself
away out yonder on a big island; the old watercourse around it will soon
shoal up, boats cannot approach within ten miles of it, and down goes
its value to a fourth of its former worth. Watches are kept on those
narrow necks, at needful times, and if a man happens to be caught
cutting a ditch across them, the chances are all against his ever having
another opportunity to cut a ditch.

Pray observe some of the effects of this ditching business. Once there
was a neck opposite Port Hudson, Louisiana, which was only half a mile
across, in its narrowest place. You could walk across there in fifteen
minutes; but if you made the journey around the cape on a raft, you
traveled thirty-five miles to accomplish the same thing. In 1722 the
river darted through that neck, deserted its old bed, and thus shortened
itself thirty-five miles. In the same way it shortened itself twenty-
five miles at Black Hawk Point in 1699. Below Red River Landing,
Raccourci cut-off was made (forty or fifty years ago, I think). This
shortened the river twenty-eight miles. In our day, if you travel by
river from the southernmost of these three cut-offs to the northernmost,
you go only seventy miles. To do the same thing a hundred and seventy-
six years ago, one had to go a hundred and fifty-eight miles!--
shortening of eighty-eight miles in that trifling distance. At some
forgotten time in the past, cut-offs were made above Vidalia, Louisiana;
at island 92; at island 84; and at Hale's Point. These shortened the
river, in the aggregate, seventy-seven miles.

Since my own day on the Mississippi, cut-offs have been made at
Hurricane Island; at island 100; at Napoleon, Arkansas; at Walnut Bend;
and at Council Bend. These shortened the river, in the aggregate,
sixty-seven miles. In my own time a cut-off was made at American Bend,
which shortened the river ten miles or more.

Therefore, the Mississippi between Cairo and New Orleans was twelve
hundred and fifteen miles long one hundred and seventy-six years ago. It
was eleven hundred and eighty after the cut-off of 1722. It was one
thousand and forty after the American Bend cut-off. It has lost sixty-
seven miles since. Consequently its length is only nine hundred and
seventy-three miles at present.

Now, if I wanted to be one of those ponderous scientific people, and
'let on' to prove what had occurred in the remote past by what had
occurred in a given time in the recent past, or what will occur in the
far future by what has occurred in late years, what an opportunity is
here! Geology never had such a chance, nor such exact data to argue
from! Nor 'development of species,' either! Glacial epochs are great
things, but they are vague--vague. Please observe:--

In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi
has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. That is an average
of a trifle over one mile and a third per year. Therefore, any calm
person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old Oolitic
Silurian Period,' just a million years ago next November, the Lower
Mississippi River was upwards of one million three hundred thousand
miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing-rod.
And by the same token any person can see that seven hundred and forty-
two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three-
quarters long, and Cairo and New Orleans will have joined their streets
together, and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and a
mutual board of aldermen. There is something fascinating about science.
One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling
investment of fact.

When the water begins to flow through one of those ditches I have been
speaking of, it is time for the people thereabouts to move. The water
cleaves the banks away like a knife. By the time the ditch has become
twelve or fifteen feet wide, the calamity is as good as accomplished,
for no power on earth can stop it now. When the width has reached a
hundred yards, the banks begin to peel off in slices half an acre wide.
The current flowing around the bend traveled formerly only five miles an
hour; now it is tremendously increased by the shortening of the
distance. I was on board the first boat that tried to go through the
cut-off at American Bend, but we did not get through. It was toward
midnight, and a wild night it was--thunder, lightning, and torrents of
rain. It was estimated that the current in the cut-off was making about
fifteen or twenty miles an hour; twelve or thirteen was the best our
boat could do, even in tolerably slack water, therefore perhaps we were
foolish to try the cut-off. However, Mr. Brown was ambitious, and he
kept on trying. The eddy running up the bank, under the 'point,' was
about as swift as the current out in the middle; so we would go flying
up the shore like a lightning express train, get on a big head of steam,
and 'stand by for a surge' when we struck the current that was whirling
by the point. But all our preparations were useless. The instant the
current hit us it spun us around like a top, the water deluged the
forecastle, and the boat careened so far over that one could hardly keep
his feet. The next instant we were away down the river, clawing with
might and main to keep out of the woods. We tried the experiment four
times. I stood on the forecastle companion way to see. It was
astonishing to observe how suddenly the boat would spin around and turn
tail the moment she emerged from the eddy and the current struck her
nose. The sounding concussion and the quivering would have been about
the same if she had come full speed against a sand-bank. Under the
lightning flashes one could see the plantation cabins and the goodly
acres tumble into the river; and the crash they made was not a bad
effort at thunder. Once, when we spun around, we only missed a house
about twenty feet, that had a light burning in the window; and in the
same instant that house went overboard. Nobody could stay on our
forecastle; the water swept across it in a torrent every time we plunged
athwart the current. At the end of our fourth effort we brought up in
the woods two miles below the cut-off; all the country there was
overflowed, of course. A day or two later the cut-off was three-quarters
of a mile wide, and boats passed up through it without much difficulty,
and so saved ten miles.

The old Raccourci cut-off reduced the river's length twenty-eight miles.
There used to be a tradition connected with it. It was said that a boat
came along there in the night and went around the enormous elbow the
usual way, the pilots not knowing that the cut-off had been made. It was
a grisly, hideous night, and all shapes were vague and distorted. The
old bend had already begun to fill up, and the boat got to running away
from mysterious reefs, and occasionally hitting one. The perplexed
pilots fell to swearing, and finally uttered the entirely unnecessary
wish that they might never get out of that place. As always happens in
such cases, that particular prayer was answered, and the others
neglected. So to this day that phantom steamer is still butting around
in that deserted river, trying to find her way out. More than one grave
watchman has sworn to me that on drizzly, dismal nights, he has glanced
fearfully down that forgotten river as he passed the head of the island,
and seen the faint glow of the specter steamer's lights drifting through
the distant gloom, and heard the muffled cough of her 'scape-pipes and
the plaintive cry of her leadsmen.

In the absence of further statistics, I beg to close this chapter with
one more reminiscence of 'Stephen.'

Most of the captains and pilots held Stephen's note for borrowed sums,
ranging from two hundred and fifty dollars upward. Stephen never paid
one of these notes, but he was very prompt and very zealous about
renewing them every twelve months.

Of course there came a time, at last, when Stephen could no longer
borrow of his ancient creditors; so he was obliged to lie in wait for
new men who did not know him. Such a victim was good-hearted, simple
natured young Yates (I use a fictitious name, but the real name began,
as this one does, with a Y). Young Yates graduated as a pilot, got a
berth, and when the month was ended and he stepped up to the clerk's
office and received his two hundred and fifty dollars in crisp new
bills, Stephen was there! His silvery tongue began to wag, and in a very
little while Yates's two hundred and fifty dollars had changed hands.
The fact was soon known at pilot headquarters, and the amusement and
satisfaction of the old creditors were large and generous. But innocent
Yates never suspected that Stephen's promise to pay promptly at the end
of the week was a worthless one. Yates called for his money at the
stipulated time; Stephen sweetened him up and put him off a week. He
called then, according to agreement, and came away sugar-coated again,
but suffering under another postponement. So the thing went on. Yates
haunted Stephen week after week, to no purpose, and at last gave it up.
And then straightway Stephen began to haunt Yates! Wherever Yates
appeared, there was the inevitable Stephen. And not only there, but
beaming with affection and gushing with apologies for not being able to
pay. By and by, whenever poor Yates saw him coming, he would turn and
fly, and drag his company with him, if he had company; but it was of no
use; his debtor would run him down and corner him. Panting and red-
faced, Stephen would come, with outstretched hands and eager eyes,
invade the conversation, shake both of Yates's arms loose in their
sockets, and begin--

'My, what a race I've had! I saw you didn't see me, and so I clapped on
all steam for fear I'd miss you entirely. And here you are! there, just
stand so, and let me look at you! just the same old noble countenance.'
[To Yates's friend:] 'Just look at him! LOOK at him! Ain't it just GOOD
to look at him! AIN'T it now? Ain't he just a picture! SOME call him
a picture; I call him a panorama! That's what he is--an entire panorama.
And now I'm reminded! How I do wish I could have seen you an hour
earlier! For twenty-four hours I've been saving up that two hundred and
fifty dollars for you; been looking for you everywhere. I waited at the
Planter's from six yesterday evening till two o'clock this morning,
without rest or food; my wife says, "Where have you been all night?" I
said, "This debt lies heavy on my mind." She says, "In all my days I
never saw a man take a debt to heart the way you do." I said, "It's my
nature; how can I change it?" She says, "Well, do go to bed and get some
rest." I said, "Not till that poor, noble young man has got his money."
So I set up all night, and this morning out I shot, and the first man I
struck told me you had shipped on the "Grand Turk" and gone to New
Orleans. Well, sir, I had to lean up against a building and cry. So
help me goodness, I couldn't help it. The man that owned the place come
out cleaning up with a rag, and said he didn't like to have people cry
against his building, and then it seemed to me that the whole world had
turned against me, and it wasn't any use to live any more; and coming
along an hour ago, suffering no man knows what agony, I met Jim Wilson
and paid him the two hundred and fifty dollars on account; and to think
that here you are, now, and I haven't got a cent! But as sure as I am
standing here on this ground on this particular brick,--there, I've
scratched a mark on the brick to remember it by,--I'll borrow that money
and pay it over to you at twelve o'clock sharp, tomorrow! Now, stand
so; let me look at you just once more.'

And so on. Yates's life became a burden to him. He could not escape
his debtor and his debtor's awful sufferings on account of not being
able to pay. He dreaded to show himself in the street, lest he should
find Stephen lying in wait for him at the comer.

Bogart's billiard saloon was a great resort for pilots in those days.
They met there about as much to exchange river news as to play. One
morning Yates was there; Stephen was there, too, but kept out of sight.
But by and by, when about all the pilots had arrived who were in town,
Stephen suddenly appeared in the midst, and rushed for Yates as for a
long-lost brother.

'OH, I am so glad to see you! Oh my soul, the sight of you is such a
comfort to my eyes! Gentlemen, I owe all of you money; among you I owe
probably forty thousand dollars. I want to pay it; I intend to pay it
every last cent of it. You all know, without my telling you, what
sorrow it has cost me to remain so long under such deep obligations to
such patient and generous friends; but the sharpest pang I suffer--by
far the sharpest--is from the debt I owe to this noble young man here;
and I have come to this place this morning especially to make the
announcement that I have at last found a method whereby I can pay off
all my debts! And most especially I wanted HIM to be here when I
announced it. Yes, my faithful friend,--my benefactor, I've found the
method! I've found the method to pay off all my debts, and you'll get
your money!' Hope dawned in Yates's eye; then Stephen, beaming
benignantly, and placing his hand upon Yates's head, added, 'I am going
to pay them off in alphabetical order!'

Then he turned and disappeared. The full significance of Stephen's
'method' did not dawn upon the perplexed and musing crowd for some two
minutes; and then Yates murmured with a sigh--

'Well, the Y's stand a gaudy chance. He won't get any further than the
C's in THIS world, and I reckon that after a good deal of eternity has
wasted away in the next one, I'll still be referred to up there as "that
poor, ragged pilot that came here from St. Louis in the early days!"

Chapter 18 I Take a Few Extra Lessons

DURING the two or two and a half years of my apprenticeship, I served
under many pilots, and had experience of many kinds of steamboatmen and
many varieties of steamboats; for it was not always convenient for Mr.
Bixby to have me with him, and in such cases he sent me with somebody
else. I am to this day profiting somewhat by that experience; for in
that brief, sharp schooling, I got personally and familiarly acquainted
with about all the different types of human nature that are to be found
in fiction, biography, or history. The fact is daily borne in upon me,
that the average shore-employment requires as much as forty years to
equip a man with this sort of an education. When I say I am still
profiting by this thing, I do not mean that it has constituted me a
judge of men--no, it has not done that; for judges of men are born, not
made. My profit is various in kind and degree; but the feature of it
which I value most is the zest which that early experience has given to
my later reading. When I find a well-drawn character in fiction or
biography, I generally take a warm personal interest in him, for the
reason that I have known him before--met him on the river.

The figure that comes before me oftenest, out of the shadows of that
vanished time, is that of Brown, of the steamer 'Pennsylvania'--the man
referred to in a former chapter, whose memory was so good and tiresome.
He was a middle-aged, long, slim, bony, smooth-shaven, horse-faced,
ignorant, stingy, malicious, snarling, fault hunting, mote-magnifying
tyrant. I early got the habit of coming on watch with dread at my heart.
No matter how good a time I might have been having with the off-watch
below, and no matter how high my spirits might be when I started aloft,
my soul became lead in my body the moment I approached the pilot-house.

I still remember the first time I ever entered the presence of that man.
The boat had backed out from St. Louis and was 'straightening down;' I
ascended to the pilot-house in high feather, and very proud to be semi-
officially a member of the executive family of so fast and famous a
boat. Brown was at the wheel. I paused in the middle of the room, all
fixed to make my bow, but Brown did not look around. I thought he took a
furtive glance at me out of the corner of his eye, but as not even this
notice was repeated, I judged I had been mistaken. By this time he was
picking his way among some dangerous 'breaks' abreast the woodyards;
therefore it would not be proper to interrupt him; so I stepped softly
to the high bench and took a seat.

There was silence for ten minutes; then my new boss turned and inspected
me deliberately and painstakingly from head to heel for about--as it
seemed to me--a quarter of an hour. After which he removed his
countenance and I saw it no more for some seconds; then it came around
once more, and this question greeted me--

'Are you Horace Bigsby's cub?'

'Yes, sir.'

After this there was a pause and another inspection. Then--

'What's your name?'

I told him. He repeated it after me. It was probably the only thing he
ever forgot; for although I was with him many months he never addressed
himself to me in any other way than 'Here!' and then his command

'Where was you born?'

'In Florida, Missouri.'

A pause. Then--

'Dern sight better staid there!'

By means of a dozen or so of pretty direct questions, he pumped my
family history out of me.

The leads were going now, in the first crossing. This interrupted the
inquest. When the leads had been laid in, he resumed--

'How long you been on the river?'

I told him. After a pause--

'Where'd you get them shoes?'

I gave him the information.

'Hold up your foot!'

I did so. He stepped back, examined the shoe minutely and
contemptuously, scratching his head thoughtfully, tilting his high
sugar-loaf hat well forward to facilitate the operation, then
ejaculated, 'Well, I'll be dod derned!' and returned to his wheel.

What occasion there was to be dod derned about it is a thing which is
still as much of a mystery to me now as it was then. It must have been
all of fifteen minutes--fifteen minutes of dull, homesick silence--
before that long horse-face swung round upon me again--and then, what a
change! It was as red as fire, and every muscle in it was working. Now
came this shriek--

'Here!--You going to set there all day?'

I lit in the middle of the floor, shot there by the electric suddenness
of the surprise. As soon as I could get my voice I said,
apologetically:--'I have had no orders, sir.'

'You've had no ORDERS! My, what a fine bird we are! We must have
ORDERS! Our father was a GENTLEMAN--owned slaves--and we've been to
SCHOOL. Yes, WE are a gentleman, TOO, and got to have ORDERS! ORDERS,
is it? ORDERS is what you want! Dod dern my skin, I'LL learn you to
swell yourself up and blow around here about your dod-derned ORDERS!
G'way from the wheel!' (I had approached it without knowing it.)

I moved back a step or two, and stood as in a dream, all my senses
stupefied by this frantic assault.

'What you standing there for? Take that ice-pitcher down to the texas-
tender-come, move along, and don't you be all day about it!'

The moment I got back to the pilot-house, Brown said--

'Here! What was you doing down there all this time?'

'I couldn't find the texas-tender; I had to go all the way to the

'Derned likely story! Fill up the stove.'

I proceeded to do so. He watched me like a cat. Presently he shouted--

'Put down that shovel! Deadest numskull I ever saw--ain't even got
sense enough to load up a stove.'

All through the watch this sort of thing went on. Yes, and the
subsequent watches were much like it, during a stretch of months. As I
have said, I soon got the habit of coming on duty with dread. The moment
I was in the presence, even in the darkest night, I could feel those
yellow eyes upon me, and knew their owner was watching for a pretext to
spit out some venom on me. Preliminarily he would say--

'Here! Take the wheel.'

Two minutes later--

'WHERE in the nation you going to? Pull her down! pull her down!'

After another moment--

'Say! You going to hold her all day? Let her go--meet her! meet her!'

Then he would jump from the bench, snatch the wheel from me, and meet
her himself, pouring out wrath upon me all the time.

George Ritchie was the other pilot's cub. He was having good times now;
for his boss, George Ealer, was as kindhearted as Brown wasn't. Ritchie
had steeled for Brown the season before; consequently he knew exactly
how to entertain himself and plague me, all by the one operation.
Whenever I took the wheel for a moment on Ealer's watch, Ritchie would
sit back on the bench and play Brown, with continual ejaculations of
'Snatch her! snatch her! Derndest mud-cat I ever saw!' 'Here! Where
you going NOW? Going to run over that snag?' 'Pull her DOWN! Don't you
hear me? Pull her DOWN!' 'There she goes! JUST as I expected! I TOLD
you not to cramp that reef. G'way from the wheel!'

So I always had a rough time of it, no matter whose watch it was; and
sometimes it seemed to me that Ritchie's good-natured badgering was
pretty nearly as aggravating as Brown's dead-earnest nagging.

I often wanted to kill Brown, but this would not answer. A cub had to
take everything his boss gave, in the way of vigorous comment and
criticism; and we all believed that there was a United States law making
it a penitentiary offense to strike or threaten a pilot who was on duty.
However, I could IMAGINE myself killing Brown; there was no law against
that; and that was the thing I used always to do the moment I was abed.
Instead of going over my river in my mind as was my duty, I threw
business aside for pleasure, and killed Brown. I killed Brown every
night for months; not in old, stale, commonplace ways, but in new and
picturesque ones;--ways that were sometimes surprising for freshness of
design and ghastliness of situation and environment.

Brown was ALWAYS watching for a pretext to find fault; and if he could
find no plausible pretext, he would invent one. He would scold you for
shaving a shore, and for not shaving it; for hugging a bar, and for not
hugging it; for 'pulling down' when not invited, and for not pulling
down when not invited; for firing up without orders, and for waiting FOR
orders. In a word, it was his invariable rule to find fault with
EVERYTHING you did; and another invariable rule of his was to throw all
his remarks (to you) into the form of an insult.

One day we were approaching New Madrid, bound down and heavily laden.
Brown was at one side of the wheel, steering; I was at the other,
standing by to 'pull down' or 'shove up.' He cast a furtive glance at
me every now and then. I had long ago learned what that meant; viz., he
was trying to invent a trap for me. I wondered what shape it was going
to take. By and by he stepped back from the wheel and said in his usual
snarly way--

'Here!--See if you've got gumption enough to round her to.'

This was simply BOUND to be a success; nothing could prevent it; for he
had never allowed me to round the boat to before; consequently, no
matter how I might do the thing, he could find free fault with it. He
stood back there with his greedy eye on me, and the result was what
might have been foreseen: I lost my head in a quarter of a minute, and
didn't know what I was about; I started too early to bring the boat
around, but detected a green gleam of joy in Brown's eye, and corrected
my mistake; I started around once more while too high up, but corrected
myself again in time; I made other false moves, and still managed to
save myself; but at last I grew so confused and anxious that I tumbled
into the very worst blunder of all--I got too far down before beginning
to fetch the boat around. Brown's chance was come.

His face turned red with passion; he made one bound, hurled me across
the house with a sweep of his arm, spun the wheel down, and began to
pour out a stream of vituperation upon me which lasted till he was out
of breath. In the course of this speech he called me all the different
kinds of hard names he could think of, and once or twice I thought he
was even going to swear--but he didn't this time. 'Dod dern' was the
nearest he ventured to the luxury of swearing, for he had been brought
up with a wholesome respect for future fire and brimstone.

That was an uncomfortable hour; for there was a big audience on the
hurricane deck. When I went to bed that night, I killed Brown in
seventeen different ways--all of them new.

Chapter 19 Brown and I Exchange Compliments

Two trips later, I got into serious trouble. Brown was steering; I was
'pulling down.' My younger brother appeared on the hurricane deck, and
shouted to Brown to stop at some landing or other a mile or so below.
Brown gave no intimation that he had heard anything. But that was his
way: he never condescended to take notice of an under clerk. The wind
was blowing; Brown was deaf (although he always pretended he wasn't),
and I very much doubted if he had heard the order. If I had two heads, I
would have spoken; but as I had only one, it seemed judicious to take
care of it; so I kept still.

Presently, sure enough, we went sailing by that plantation. Captain
Klinefelter appeared on the deck, and said--

'Let her come around, sir, let her come around. Didn't Henry tell you to
land here?'

'NO, sir!'

'I sent him up to do, it.'

'He did come up; and that's all the good it done, the dod-derned fool.
He never said anything.'

'Didn't YOU hear him?' asked the captain of me.

Of course I didn't want to be mixed up in this business, but there was
no way to avoid it; so I said--

'Yes, sir.'

I knew what Brown's next remark would be, before he uttered it; it was--

'Shut your mouth! you never heard anything of the kind.'

I closed my mouth according to instructions. An hour later, Henry
entered the pilot-house, unaware of what had been going on. He was a
thoroughly inoffensive boy, and I was sorry to see him come, for I knew
Brown would have no pity on him. Brown began, straightway--

'Here! why didn't you tell me we'd got to land at that plantation?'

'I did tell you, Mr. Brown.'

'It's a lie!'

I said--

'You lie, yourself. He did tell you.'

Brown glared at me in unaffected surprise; and for as much as a moment
he was entirely speechless; then he shouted to me--

'I'll attend to your case in half a minute!' then to Henry, 'And you
leave the pilot-house; out with you!'

It was pilot law, and must be obeyed. The boy started out, and even had
his foot on the upper step outside the door, when Brown, with a sudden
access of fury, picked up a ten-pound lump of coal and sprang after him;
but I was between, with a heavy stool, and I hit Brown a good honest
blow which stretched-him out.

I had committed the crime of crimes--I had lifted my hand against a
pilot on duty! I supposed I was booked for the penitentiary sure, and
couldn't be booked any surer if I went on and squared my long account
with this person while I had the chance; consequently I stuck to him and
pounded him with my fists a considerable time--I do not know how long,
the pleasure of it probably made it seem longer than it really was;--but
in the end he struggled free and jumped up and sprang to the wheel: a
very natural solicitude, for, all this time, here was this steamboat
tearing down the river at the rate of fifteen miles an hour and nobody
at the helm! However, Eagle Bend was two miles wide at this bank-full
stage, and correspondingly long and deep; and the boat was steering
herself straight down the middle and taking no chances. Still, that was
only luck--a body MIGHT have found her charging into the woods.

Perceiving, at a glance, that the 'Pennsylvania' was in no danger, Brown
gathered up the big spy-glass, war-club fashion, and ordered me out of
the pilot-house with more than Comanche bluster. But I was not afraid of
him now; so, instead of going, I tarried, and criticized his grammar; I
reformed his ferocious speeches for him, and put them into good English,
calling his attention to the advantage of pure English over the bastard
dialect of the Pennsylvanian collieries whence he was extracted. He
could have done his part to admiration in a cross-fire of mere
vituperation, of course; but he was not equipped for this species of
controversy; so he presently laid aside his glass and took the wheel,
muttering and shaking his head; and I retired to the bench. The racket
had brought everybody to the hurricane deck, and I trembled when I saw
the old captain looking up from the midst of the crowd. I said to
myself, 'Now I AM done for!'--For although, as a rule, he was so
fatherly and indulgent toward the boat's family, and so patient of minor
shortcomings, he could be stern enough when the fault was worth it.

I tried to imagine what he WOULD do to a cub pilot who had been guilty
of such a crime as mine, committed on a boat guard-deep with costly
freight and alive with passengers. Our watch was nearly ended. I
thought I would go and hide somewhere till I got a chance to slide
ashore. So I slipped out of the pilot-house, and down the steps, and
around to the texas door--and was in the act of gliding within, when the
captain confronted me! I dropped my head, and he stood over me in
silence a moment or two, then said impressively--

'Follow me.'

I dropped into his wake; he led the way to his parlor in the forward end
of the texas. We were alone, now. He closed the after door; then moved
slowly to the forward one and closed that. He sat down; I stood before
him. He looked at me some little time, then said--

'So you have been fighting Mr. Brown?'

I answered meekly--

'Yes, sir.'

'Do you know that that is a very serious matter?'

'Yes, sir.'

'Are you aware that this boat was plowing down the river fully five
minutes with no one at the wheel?'

'Yes, sir.'

'Did you strike him first?'

'Yes, sir.'

'What with?'

'A stool, sir.'


'Middling, sir.'

'Did it knock him down?'

'He--he fell, sir.'

'Did you follow it up? Did you do anything further?'

'Yes, sir.'

'What did you do?'

'Pounded him, sir.'

'Pounded him?'

'Yes, sir.'

'Did you pound him much?--that is, severely?'

'One might call it that, sir, maybe.'

'I'm deuced glad of it! Hark ye, never mention that I said that. You
have been guilty of a great crime; and don't you ever be guilty of it
again, on this boat. BUT--lay for him ashore! Give him a good sound
thrashing, do you hear? I'll pay the expenses. Now go--and mind you,
not a word of this to anybody. Clear out with you!--you've been guilty
of a great crime, you whelp!'

I slid out, happy with the sense of a close shave and a mighty
deliverance; and I heard him laughing to himself and slapping his fat
thighs after I had closed his door.

When Brown came off watch he went straight to the captain, who was
talking with some passengers on the boiler deck, and demanded that I be
put ashore in New Orleans--and added--

'I'll never turn a wheel on this boat again while that cub stays.'

The captain said--

'But he needn't come round when you are on watch, Mr. Brown.

'I won't even stay on the same boat with him. One of us has got to go

'Very well,' said the captain, 'let it be yourself;' and resumed his
talk with the passengers.

During the brief remainder of the trip, I knew how an emancipated slave
feels; for I was an emancipated slave myself. While we lay at landings,
I listened to George Ealer's flute; or to his readings from his two
bibles, that is to say, Goldsmith and Shakespeare; or I played chess
with him--and would have beaten him sometimes, only he always took back
his last move and ran the game out differently.

Chapter 20 A Catastrophe

WE lay three days in New Orleans, but the captain did not succeed in
finding another pilot; so he proposed that I should stand a daylight
watch, and leave the night watches to George Ealer. But I was afraid; I
had never stood a watch of any sort by myself, and I believed I should
be sure to get into trouble in the head of some chute, or ground the
boat in a near cut through some bar or other. Brown remained in his
place; but he would not travel with me. So the captain gave me an order
on the captain of the 'A. T. Lacey,' for a passage to St. Louis, and
said he would find a new pilot there and my steersman's berth could then
be resumed. The 'Lacey' was to leave a couple of days after the

The night before the 'Pennsylvania' left, Henry and I sat chatting on a
freight pile on the levee till midnight. The subject of the chat,
mainly, was one which I think we had not exploited before--steamboat
disasters. One was then on its way to us, little as we suspected it;
the water which was to make the steam which should cause it, was washing
past some point fifteen hundred miles up the river while we talked;--but
it would arrive at the right time and the right place. We doubted if
persons not clothed with authority were of much use in cases of disaster
and attendant panic; still, they might be of SOME use; so we decided
that if a disaster ever fell within our experience we would at least
stick to the boat, and give such minor service as chance might throw in
the way. Henry remembered this, afterward, when the disaster came, and
acted accordingly.

The 'Lacey' started up the river two days behind the 'Pennsylvania.' We
touched at Greenville, Mississippi, a couple of days out, and somebody

'The "Pennsylvania" is blown up at Ship Island, and a hundred and fifty
lives lost!'

At Napoleon, Arkansas, the same evening, we got an extra, issued by a
Memphis paper, which gave some particulars. It mentioned my brother, and
said he was not hurt.

Further up the river we got a later extra. My brother was again
mentioned; but this time as being hurt beyond help. We did not get full
details of the catastrophe until we reached Memphis. This is the
sorrowful story--

It was six o'clock on a hot summer morning. The 'Pennsylvania' was
creeping along, north of Ship Island, about sixty miles below Memphis on
a half-head of steam, towing a wood-flat which was fast being emptied.
George Ealer was in the pilot-house-alone, I think; the second engineer
and a striker had the watch in the engine room; the second mate had the
watch on deck; George Black, Mr. Wood, and my brother, clerks, were
asleep, as were also Brown and the head engineer, the carpenter, the
chief mate, and one striker; Captain Klinefelter was in the barber's
chair, and the barber was preparing to shave him. There were a good
many cabin passengers aboard, and three or four hundred deck passengers
--so it was said at the time--and not very many of them were astir. The
wood being nearly all out of the flat now, Ealer rang to 'come ahead'
full steam, and the next moment four of the eight boilers exploded with
a thunderous crash, and the whole forward third of the boat was hoisted
toward the sky! The main part of the mass, with the chimneys, dropped
upon the boat again, a mountain of riddled and chaotic rubbish--and
then, after a little, fire broke out.

Many people were flung to considerable distances, and fell in the river;
among these were Mr. Wood and my brother, and the carpenter. The
carpenter was still stretched upon his mattress when he struck the water
seventy-five feet from the boat. Brown, the pilot, and George Black,
chief clerk, were never seen or heard of after the explosion. The
barber's chair, with Captain Klinefelter in it and unhurt, was left with
its back overhanging vacancy--everything forward of it, floor and all,
had disappeared; and the stupefied barber, who was also unhurt, stood
with one toe projecting over space, still stirring his lather
unconsciously, and saying, not a word.

When George Ealer saw the chimneys plunging aloft in front of him, he
knew what the matter was; so he muffled his face in the lapels of his
coat, and pressed both hands there tightly to keep this protection in
its place so that no steam could get to his nose or mouth. He had ample
time to attend to these details while he was going up and returning. He
presently landed on top of the unexploded boilers, forty feet below the
former pilot-house, accompanied by his wheel and a rain of other stuff,
and enveloped in a cloud of scalding steam. All of the many who breathed
that steam, died; none escaped. But Ealer breathed none of it. He made
his way to the free air as quickly as he could; and when the steam
cleared away he returned and climbed up on the boilers again, and
patiently hunted out each and every one of his chessmen and the several
joints of his flute.

By this time the fire was beginning to threaten. Shrieks and groans
filled the air. A great many persons had been scalded, a great many
crippled; the explosion had driven an iron crowbar through one man's
body--I think they said he was a priest. He did not die at once, and his
sufferings were very dreadful. A young French naval cadet, of fifteen,
son of a French admiral, was fearfully scalded, but bore his tortures
manfully. Both mates were badly scalded, but they stood to their posts,
nevertheless. They drew the wood-boat aft, and they and the captain
fought back the frantic herd of frightened immigrants till the wounded
could be brought there and placed in safety first.

When Mr. Wood and Henry fell in the water, they struck out for shore,
which was only a few hundred yards away; but Henry presently said he
believed he was not hurt (what an unaccountable error!), and therefore
would swim back to the boat and help save the wounded. So they parted,
and Henry returned.

By this time the fire was making fierce headway, and several persons who
were imprisoned under the ruins were begging piteously for help. All
efforts to conquer the fire proved fruitless; so the buckets were
presently thrown aside and the officers fell-to with axes and tried to
cut the prisoners out. A striker was one of the captives; he said he was
not injured, but could not free himself; and when he saw that the fire
was likely to drive away the workers, he begged that some one would
shoot him, and thus save him from the more dreadful death. The fire did
drive the axmen away, and they had to listen, helpless, to this poor
fellow's supplications till the flames ended his miseries.

The fire drove all into the wood-flat that could be accommodated there;
it was cut adrift, then, and it and the burning steamer floated down the
river toward Ship Island. They moored the flat at the head of the
island, and there, unsheltered from the blazing sun, the half-naked
occupants had to remain, without food or stimulants, or help for their
hurts, during the rest of the day. A steamer came along, finally, and
carried the unfortunates to Memphis, and there the most lavish
assistance was at once forthcoming. By this time Henry was insensible.
The physicians examined his injuries and saw that they were fatal, and
naturally turned their main attention to patients who could be saved.

Forty of the wounded were placed upon pallets on the floor of a great
public hall, and among these was Henry. There the ladies of Memphis
came every day, with flowers, fruits, and dainties and delicacies of all
kinds, and there they remained and nursed the wounded. All the
physicians stood watches there, and all the medical students; and the
rest of the town furnished money, or whatever else was wanted. And
Memphis knew how to do all these things well; for many a disaster like
the 'Pennsylvania's' had happened near her doors, and she was
experienced, above all other cities on the river, in the gracious office
of the Good Samaritan'

The sight I saw when I entered that large hall was new and strange to
me. Two long rows of prostrate forms--more than forty, in all--and every
face and head a shapeless wad of loose raw cotton. It was a gruesome
spectacle. I watched there six days and nights, and a very melancholy
experience it was. There was one daily incident which was peculiarly
depressing: this was the removal of the doomed to a chamber apart. It
was done in order that the MORALE of the other patients might not be
injuriously affected by seeing one of their number in the death-agony.
The fated one was always carried out with as little stir as possible,
and the stretcher was always hidden from sight by a wall of assistants;
but no matter: everybody knew what that cluster of bent forms, with its
muffled step and its slow movement meant; and all eyes watched it
wistfully, and a shudder went abreast of it like a wave.

I saw many poor fellows removed to the 'death-room,' and saw them no
more afterward. But I saw our chief mate carried thither more than
once. His hurts were frightful, especially his scalds. He was clothed
in linseed oil and raw cotton to his waist, and resembled nothing human.
He was often out of his mind; and then his pains would make him rave and
shout and sometimes shriek. Then, after a period of dumb exhaustion,
his disordered imagination would suddenly transform the great apartment
into a forecastle, and the hurrying throng of nurses into the crew; and
he would come to a sitting posture and shout, 'Hump yourselves, HUMP
yourselves, you petrifactions, snail-bellies, pall-bearers! going to be
all DAY getting that hatful of freight out?' and supplement this
explosion with a firmament-obliterating irruption or profanity which
nothing could stay or stop till his crater was empty. And now and then
while these frenzies possessed him, he would tear off handfuls of the
cotton and expose his cooked flesh to view. It was horrible. It was bad
for the others, of course--this noise and these exhibitions; so the
doctors tried to give him morphine to quiet him. But, in his mind or
out of it, he would not take it. He said his wife had been killed by
that treacherous drug, and he would die before he would take it. He
suspected that the doctors were concealing it in his ordinary medicines
and in his water--so he ceased from putting either to his lips. Once,
when he had been without water during two sweltering days, he took the
dipper in his hand, and the sight of the limpid fluid, and the misery of
his thirst, tempted him almost beyond his strength; but he mastered
himself and threw it away, and after that he allowed no more to be
brought near him. Three times I saw him carried to the death-room,
insensible and supposed to be dying; but each time he revived, cursed
his attendants, and demanded to be taken back. He lived to be mate of a
steamboat again.

But he was the only one who went to the death-room and returned alive.
Dr. Peyton, a principal physician, and rich in all the attributes that
go to constitute high and flawless character, did all that educated
judgment and trained skill could do for Henry; but, as the newspapers
had said in the beginning, his hurts were past help. On the evening of
the sixth day his wandering mind busied itself with matters far away,
and his nerveless fingers 'picked at his coverlet.' His hour had struck;
we bore him to the death-room, poor boy.

Chapter 21 A Section in My Biography

IN due course I got my license. I was a pilot now, full fledged. I
dropped into casual employments; no misfortunes resulting, intermittent
work gave place to steady and protracted engagements. Time drifted
smoothly and prosperously on, and I supposed--and hoped--that I was
going to follow the river the rest of my days, and die at the wheel when
my mission was ended. But by and by the war came, commerce was
suspended, my occupation was gone.

I had to seek another livelihood. So I became a silver miner in Nevada;
next, a newspaper reporter; next, a gold miner, in California; next, a
reporter in San Francisco; next, a special correspondent in the Sandwich
Islands; next, a roving correspondent in Europe and the East; next, an
instructional torch-bearer on the lecture platform; and, finally, I
became a scribbler of books, and an immovable fixture among the other
rocks of New England.

In so few words have I disposed of the twenty-one slow-drifting years
that have come and gone since I last looked from the windows of a pilot-

Let us resume, now.

Chapter 22 I Return to My Muttons

AFTER twenty-one years' absence, I felt a very strong desire to see the
river again, and the steamboats, and such of the boys as might be left;
so I resolved to go out there. I enlisted a poet for company, and a
stenographer to 'take him down,' and started westward about the middle
of April.

As I proposed to make notes, with a view to printing, I took some
thought as to methods of procedure. I reflected that if I were
recognized, on the river, I should not be as free to go and come, talk,
inquire, and spy around, as I should be if unknown; I remembered that it
was the custom of steamboatmen in the old times to load up the confiding
stranger with the most picturesque and admirable lies, and put the
sophisticated friend off with dull and ineffectual facts: so I
concluded, that, from a business point of view, it would be an advantage
to disguise our party with fictitious names. The idea was certainly
good, but it bred infinite bother; for although Smith, Jones, and
Johnson are easy names to remember when there is no occasion to remember
them, it is next to impossible to recollect them when they are wanted.
How do criminals manage to keep a brand-new ALIAS in mind? This is a
great mystery. I was innocent; and yet was seldom able to lay my hand
on my new name when it was needed; and it seemed to me that if I had had
a crime on my conscience to further confuse me, I could never have kept
the name by me at all.

We left per Pennsylvania Railroad, at 8 A.M. April 18.

'EVENING. Speaking of dress. Grace and picturesqueness drop gradually
out of it as one travels away from New York.'

I find that among my notes. It makes no difference which direction you
take, the fact remains the same. Whether you move north, south, east, or
west, no matter: you can get up in the morning and guess how far you
have come, by noting what degree of grace and picturesqueness is by that
time lacking in the costumes of the new passengers,--I do not mean of
the women alone, but of both sexes. It may be that CARRIAGE is at the
bottom of this thing; and I think it is; for there are plenty of ladies
and gentlemen in the provincial cities whose garments are all made by
the best tailors and dressmakers of New York; yet this has no
perceptible effect upon the grand fact: the educated eye never mistakes
those people for New-Yorkers. No, there is a godless grace, and snap,
and style about a born and bred New-Yorker which mere clothing cannot

'APRIL 19. This morning, struck into the region of full goatees--
sometimes accompanied by a mustache, but only occasionally.'

It was odd to come upon this thick crop of an obsolete and uncomely
fashion; it was like running suddenly across a forgotten acquaintance
whom you had supposed dead for a generation. The goatee extends over a
wide extent of country; and is accompanied by an iron-clad belief in
Adam and the biblical history of creation, which has not suffered from
the assaults of the scientists.

'AFTERNOON. At the railway stations the loafers carry BOTH hands in
their breeches pockets; it was observable, heretofore, that one hand was
sometimes out of doors,--here, never. This is an important fact in

If the loafers determined the character of a country, it would be still
more important, of course.

'Heretofore, all along, the station-loafer has been often observed to
scratch one shin with the other foot; here, these remains of activity
are wanting. This has an ominous look.'

By and by, we entered the tobacco-chewing region. Fifty years ago, the
tobacco-chewing region covered the Union. It is greatly restricted now.

Next, boots began to appear. Not in strong force, however. Later--away
down the Mississippi--they became the rule. They disappeared from other
sections of the Union with the mud; no doubt they will disappear from
the river villages, also, when proper pavements come in.

We reached St. Louis at ten o'clock at night. At the counter of the
hotel I tendered a hurriedly-invented fictitious name, with a miserable
attempt at careless ease. The clerk paused, and inspected me in the
compassionate way in which one inspects a respectable person who is
found in doubtful circumstances; then he said--

'It's all right; I know what sort of a room you want. Used to clerk at
the St. James, in New York.'

An unpromising beginning for a fraudulent career. We started to the
supper room, and met two other men whom I had known elsewhere. How odd
and unfair it is: wicked impostors go around lecturing under my NOM DE
GUERRE and nobody suspects them; but when an honest man attempts an
imposture, he is exposed at once.

One thing seemed plain: we must start down the river the next day, if
people who could not be deceived were going to crop up at this rate: an
unpalatable disappointment, for we had hoped to have a week in St.
Louis. The Southern was a good hotel, and we could have had a
comfortable time there. It is large, and well conducted, and its
decorations do not make one cry, as do those of the vast Palmer House,
in Chicago. True, the billiard-tables were of the Old Silurian Period,
and the cues and balls of the Post-Pliocene; but there was refreshment
in this, not discomfort; for there is rest and healing in the
contemplation of antiquities.

The most notable absence observable in the billiard-room, was the
absence of the river man. If he was there he had taken in his sign, he
was in disguise. I saw there none of the swell airs and graces, and
ostentatious displays of money, and pompous squanderings of it, which
used to distinguish the steamboat crowd from the dry-land crowd in the
bygone days, in the thronged billiard-rooms of St. Louis. In those
times, the principal saloons were always populous with river men; given
fifty players present, thirty or thirty-five were likely to be from the
river. But I suspected that the ranks were thin now, and the
steamboatmen no longer an aristocracy. Why, in my time they used to
call the 'barkeep' Bill, or Joe, or Tom, and slap him on the shoulder; I
watched for that. But none of these people did it. Manifestly a glory
that once was had dissolved and vanished away in these twenty-one years.

When I went up to my room, I found there the young man called Rogers,
crying. Rogers was not his name; neither was Jones, Brown, Dexter,
Ferguson, Bascom, nor Thompson; but he answered to either of these that
a body found handy in an emergency; or to any other name, in fact, if he
perceived that you meant him. He said--

'What is a person to do here when he wants a drink of water?--drink this

'Can't you drink it?'

'I could if I had some other water to wash it with.'

Here was a thing which had not changed; a score of years had not
affected this water's mulatto complexion in the least; a score of
centuries would succeed no better, perhaps. It comes out of the
turbulent, bank-caving Missouri, and every tumblerful of it holds nearly
an acre of land in solution. I got this fact from the bishop of the
diocese. If you will let your glass stand half an hour, you can separate
the land from the water as easy as Genesis; and then you will find them
both good: the one good to eat, the other good to drink. The land is
very nourishing, the water is thoroughly wholesome. The one appeases
hunger; the other, thirst. But the natives do not take them separately,
but together, as nature mixed them. When they find an inch of mud in the
bottom of a glass, they stir it up, and then take the draught as they
would gruel. It is difficult for a stranger to get used to this batter,
but once used to it he will prefer it to water. This is really the
case. It is good for steamboating, and good to drink; but it is
worthless for all other purposes, except baptizing.

Next morning, we drove around town in the rain. The city seemed but
little changed. It WAS greatly changed, but it did not seem so; because
in St. Louis, as in London and Pittsburgh, you can't persuade a new
thing to look new; the coal smoke turns it into an antiquity the moment
you take your hand off it. The place had just about doubled its size,
since I was a resident of it, and was now become a city of 400,000
inhabitants; still, in the solid business parts, it looked about as it
had looked formerly. Yet I am sure there is not as much smoke in St.
Louis now as there used to be. The smoke used to bank itself in a dense
billowy black canopy over the town, and hide the sky from view. This
shelter is very much thinner now; still, there is a sufficiency of smoke
there, I think. I heard no complaint.

However, on the outskirts changes were apparent enough; notably in
dwelling-house architecture. The fine new homes are noble and beautiful
and modern. They stand by themselves, too, with green lawns around
them; whereas the dwellings of a former day are packed together in
blocks, and are all of one pattern, with windows all alike, set in an
arched frame-work of twisted stone; a sort of house which was handsome
enough when it was rarer.

There was another change--the Forest Park. This was new to me. It is
beautiful and very extensive, and has the excellent merit of having been
made mainly by nature. There are other parks, and fine ones, notably
Tower Grove and the Botanical Gardens; for St. Louis interested herself
in such improvements at an earlier day than did the most of our cities.

The first time I ever saw St. Louis, I could have bought it for six
million dollars, and it was the mistake of my life that I did not do it.
It was bitter now to look abroad over this domed and steepled
metropolis, this solid expanse of bricks and mortar stretching away on
every hand into dim, measure-defying distances, and remember that I had
allowed that opportunity to go by. Why I should have allowed it to go
by seems, of course, foolish and inexplicable to-day, at a first glance;
yet there were reasons at the time to justify this course.

A Scotchman, Hon. Charles Augustus Murray, writing some forty-five or
fifty years ago, said--'The streets are narrow, ill paved and ill
lighted.' Those streets are narrow still, of course; many of them are
ill paved yet; but the reproach of ill lighting cannot be repeated, now.
The 'Catholic New Church' was the only notable building then, and Mr.
Murray was confidently called upon to admire it, with its 'species of
Grecian portico, surmounted by a kind of steeple, much too diminutive in
its proportions, and surmounted by sundry ornaments' which the
unimaginative Scotchman found himself 'quite unable to describe;' and
therefore was grateful when a German tourist helped him out with the
exclamation--'By ---, they look exactly like bed-posts!' St. Louis is
well equipped with stately and noble public buildings now, and the
little church, which the people used to be so proud of, lost its
importance a long time ago. Still, this would not surprise Mr. Murray,
if he could come back; for he prophesied the coming greatness of St.
Louis with strong confidence.

The further we drove in our inspection-tour, the more sensibly I
realized how the city had grown since I had seen it last; changes in
detail became steadily more apparent and frequent than at first, too:
changes uniformly evidencing progress, energy, prosperity.

But the change of changes was on the 'levee.' This time, a departure
from the rule. Half a dozen sound-asleep steamboats where I used to see
a solid mile of wide-awake ones! This was melancholy, this was woeful.
The absence of the pervading and jocund steamboatman from the billiard-
saloon was explained. He was absent because he is no more. His
occupation is gone, his power has passed away, he is absorbed into the
common herd, he grinds at the mill, a shorn Samson and inconspicuous.
Half a dozen lifeless steamboats, a mile of empty wharves, a negro
fatigued with whiskey stretched asleep, in a wide and soundless vacancy,
where the serried hosts of commerce used to contend!{footnote [Capt.
Marryat, writing forty-five years ago says: 'St. Louis has 20,000
LYING IN TWO OR THREE TIERS.']} Here was desolation, indeed.

'The old, old sea, as one in tears, Comes murmuring, with foamy lips,
And knocking at the vacant piers, Calls for his long-lost multitude of

The towboat and the railroad had done their work, and done it well and
completely. The mighty bridge, stretching along over our heads, had
done its share in the slaughter and spoliation. Remains of former
steamboatmen told me, with wan satisfaction, that the bridge doesn't
pay. Still, it can be no sufficient compensation to a corpse, to know
that the dynamite that laid him out was not of as good quality as it had
been supposed to be.

The pavements along the river front were bad: the sidewalks were rather
out of repair; there was a rich abundance of mud. All this was familiar
and satisfying; but the ancient armies of drays, and struggling throngs
of men, and mountains of freight, were gone; and Sabbath reigned in
their stead. The immemorial mile of cheap foul doggeries remained, but
business was dull with them; the multitudes of poison-swilling Irishmen
had departed, and in their places were a few scattering handfuls of
ragged negroes, some drinking, some drunk, some nodding, others asleep.
St. Louis is a great and prosperous and advancing city; but the river-
edge of it seems dead past resurrection.

Mississippi steamboating was born about 1812; at the end of thirty
years, it had grown to mighty proportions; and in less than thirty more,
it was dead! A strangely short life for so majestic a creature. Of
course it is not absolutely dead, neither is a crippled octogenarian who
could once jump twenty-two feet on level ground; but as contrasted with
what it was in its prime vigor, Mississippi steamboating may be called

It killed the old-fashioned keel-boating, by reducing the freight-trip
to New Orleans to less than a week. The railroads have killed the
steamboat passenger traffic by doing in two or three days what the
steamboats consumed a week in doing; and the towing-fleets have killed
the through-freight traffic by dragging six or seven steamer-loads of
stuff down the river at a time, at an expense so trivial that steamboat
competition was out of the question.

Freight and passenger way-traffic remains to the steamers. This is in
the hands--along the two thousand miles of river between St. Paul and
New Orleans---of two or three close corporations well fortified with
capital; and by able and thoroughly business-like management and system,
these make a sufficiency of money out of what is left of the once
prodigious steamboating industry. I suppose that St. Louis and New
Orleans have not suffered materially by the change, but alas for the
wood-yard man!

He used to fringe the river all the way; his close-ranked merchandise
stretched from the one city to the other, along the banks, and he sold
uncountable cords of it every year for cash on the nail; but all the
scattering boats that are left burn coal now, and the seldomest
spectacle on the Mississippi to-day is a wood-pile. Where now is the
once wood-yard man?

Chapter 23 Traveling Incognito

MY idea was, to tarry a while in every town between St. Louis and New
Orleans. To do this, it would be necessary to go from place to place by
the short packet lines. It was an easy plan to make, and would have
been an easy one to follow, twenty years ago--but not now. There are
wide intervals between boats, these days.

I wanted to begin with the interesting old French settlements of St.
Genevieve and Kaskaskia, sixty miles below St. Louis. There was only one
boat advertised for that section--a Grand Tower packet. Still, one boat
was enough; so we went down to look at her. She was a venerable rack-
heap, and a fraud to boot; for she was playing herself for personal
property, whereas the good honest dirt was so thickly caked all over her
that she was righteously taxable as real estate. There are places in New
England where her hurricane deck would be worth a hundred and fifty
dollars an acre. The soil on her forecastle was quite good--the new crop
of wheat was already springing from the cracks in protected places. The
companionway was of a dry sandy character, and would have been well
suited for grapes, with a southern exposure and a little subsoiling.
The soil of the boiler deck was thin and rocky, but good enough for
grazing purposes. A colored boy was on watch here--nobody else visible.
We gathered from him that this calm craft would go, as advertised, 'if
she got her trip;' if she didn't get it, she would wait for it.

'Has she got any of her trip?'

'Bless you, no, boss. She ain't unloadened, yit. She only come in dis

He was uncertain as to when she might get her trip, but thought it might
be to-morrow or maybe next day. This would not answer at all; so we had
to give up the novelty of sailing down the river on a farm. We had one
more arrow in our quiver: a Vicksburg packet, the 'Gold Dust,' was to
leave at 5 P.M. We took passage in her for Memphis, and gave up the idea
of stopping off here and there, as being impracticable. She was neat,
clean, and comfortable. We camped on the boiler deck, and bought some
cheap literature to kill time with. The vender was a venerable Irishman
with a benevolent face and a tongue that worked easily in the socket,
and from him we learned that he had lived in St. Louis thirty-four years
and had never been across the river during that period. Then he wandered
into a very flowing lecture, filled with classic names and allusions,
which was quite wonderful for fluency until the fact became rather
apparent that this was not the first time, nor perhaps the fiftieth,
that the speech had been delivered. He was a good deal of a character,
and much better company than the sappy literature he was selling. A
random remark, connecting Irishmen and beer, brought this nugget of
information out of him--

They don't drink it, sir. They can't drink it, sir. Give an Irishman
lager for a month, and he's a dead man. An Irishman is lined with
copper, and the beer corrodes it. But whiskey polishes the copper and is
the saving of him, sir.'

At eight o'clock, promptly, we backed out and crossed the river. As we
crept toward the shore, in the thick darkness, a blinding glory of white
electric light burst suddenly from our forecastle, and lit up the water
and the warehouses as with a noon-day glare. Another big change, this--
no more flickering, smoky, pitch-dripping, ineffectual torch-baskets,
now: their day is past. Next, instead of calling out a score of hands
to man the stage, a couple of men and a hatful of steam lowered it from
the derrick where it was suspended, launched it, deposited it in just
the right spot, and the whole thing was over and done with before a mate
in the olden time could have got his profanity-mill adjusted to begin
the preparatory services. Why this new and simple method of handling the
stages was not thought of when the first steamboat was built, is a
mystery which helps one to realize what a dull-witted slug the average
human being is.

We finally got away at two in the morning, and when I turned out at six,
we were rounding to at a rocky point where there was an old stone
warehouse--at any rate, the ruins of it; two or three decayed dwelling-
houses were near by, in the shelter of the leafy hills; but there were
no evidences of human or other animal life to be seen. I wondered if I
had forgotten the river; for I had no recollection whatever of this
place; the shape of the river, too, was unfamiliar; there was nothing in
sight, anywhere, that I could remember ever having seen before. I was
surprised, disappointed, and annoyed.

We put ashore a well-dressed lady and gentleman, and two well-dressed,
lady-like young girls, together with sundry Russia-leather bags. A
strange place for such folk! No carriage was waiting. The party moved
off as if they had not expected any, and struck down a winding country
road afoot.

But the mystery was explained when we got under way again; for these
people were evidently bound for a large town which lay shut in behind a
tow-head (i.e., new island) a couple of miles below this landing. I
couldn't remember that town; I couldn't place it, couldn't call its
name. So I lost part of my temper. I suspected that it might be St.
Genevieve--and so it proved to be. Observe what this eccentric river
had been about: it had built up this huge useless tow-head directly in
front of this town, cut off its river communications, fenced it away
completely, and made a 'country' town of it. It is a fine old place,
too, and deserved a better fate. It was settled by the French, and is a
relic of a time when one could travel from the mouths of the Mississippi
to Quebec and be on French territory and under French rule all the way.

Presently I ascended to the hurricane deck and cast a longing glance
toward the pilot-house.

Chapter 24 My Incognito is Exploded

AFTER a close study of the face of the pilot on watch, I was satisfied
that I had never seen him before; so I went up there. The pilot
inspected me; I re-inspected the pilot. These customary preliminaries
over, I sat down on the high bench, and he faced about and went on with
his work. Every detail of the pilot-house was familiar to me, with one
exception,--a large-mouthed tube under the breast-board. I puzzled over
that thing a considerable time; then gave up and asked what it was for.

'To hear the engine-bells through.'

It was another good contrivance which ought to have been invented half a
century sooner. So I was thinking, when the pilot asked--

'Do you know what this rope is for?'

I managed to get around this question, without committing myself.

'Is this the first time you were ever in a pilot-house?'

I crept under that one.

'Where are you from?'

'New England.'

'First time you have ever been West?'

I climbed over this one.

'If you take an interest in such things, I can tell you what all these
things are for.'

I said I should like it.

'This,' putting his hand on a backing-bell rope, 'is to sound the fire-
alarm; this,' putting his hand on a go-ahead bell, 'is to call the
texas-tender; this one,' indicating the whistle-lever, 'is to call the
captain'--and so he went on, touching one object after another, and
reeling off his tranquil spool of lies.

I had never felt so like a passenger before. I thanked him, with
emotion, for each new fact, and wrote it down in my note-book. The pilot
warmed to his opportunity, and proceeded to load me up in the good old-
fashioned way. At times I was afraid he was going to rupture his
invention; but it always stood the strain, and he pulled through all
right. He drifted, by easy stages, into revealments of the river's
marvelous eccentricities of one sort and another, and backed them up
with some pretty gigantic illustrations. For instance--

'Do you see that little boulder sticking out of the water yonder? well,
when I first came on the river, that was a solid ridge of rock, over
sixty feet high and two miles long. All washed away but that.' [This
with a sigh.]

I had a mighty impulse to destroy him, but it seemed to me that killing,
in any ordinary way, would be too good for him.

Once, when an odd-looking craft, with a vast coal-scuttle slanting aloft
on the end of a beam, was steaming by in the distance, he indifferently
drew attention to it, as one might to an object grown wearisome through
familiarity, and observed that it was an 'alligator boat.'

'An alligator boat? What's it for?'

'To dredge out alligators with.'

'Are they so thick as to be troublesome?'

'Well, not now, because the Government keeps them down. But they used to
be. Not everywhere; but in favorite places, here and there, where the
river is wide and shoal-like Plum Point, and Stack Island, and so on--
places they call alligator beds.'

'Did they actually impede navigation?'

'Years ago, yes, in very low water; there was hardly a trip, then, that
we didn't get aground on alligators.'

It seemed to me that I should certainly have to get out my tomahawk.
However, I restrained myself and said--

'It must have been dreadful.'

'Yes, it was one of the main difficulties about piloting. It was so hard
to tell anything about the water; the damned things shift around so--
never lie still five minutes at a time. You can tell a wind-reef,
straight off, by the look of it; you can tell a break; you can tell a
sand-reef--that's all easy; but an alligator reef doesn't show up, worth
anything. Nine times in ten you can't tell where the water is; and when
you do see where it is, like as not it ain't there when YOU get there,
the devils have swapped around so, meantime. Of course there were some
few pilots that could judge of alligator water nearly as well as they
could of any other kind, but they had to have natural talent for it; it
wasn't a thing a body could learn, you had to be born with it. Let me
see: there was Ben Thornburg, and Beck Jolly, and Squire Bell, and
Horace Bixby, and Major Downing, and John Stevenson, and Billy Gordon,
and Jim Brady, and George Ealer, and Billy Youngblood--all A 1 alligator
pilots. THEY could tell alligator water as far as another Christian
could tell whiskey. Read it?--Ah, COULDN'T they, though! I only wish I
had as many dollars as they could read alligator water a mile and a half
off. Yes, and it paid them to do it, too. A good alligator pilot could
always get fifteen hundred dollars a month. Nights, other people had to
lay up for alligators, but those fellows never laid up for alligators;
they never laid up for anything but fog. They could SMELL the best
alligator water it was said; I don't know whether it was so or not, and
I think a body's got his hands full enough if he sticks to just what he
knows himself, without going around backing up other people's say-so's,
though there's a plenty that ain't backward about doing it, as long as
they can roust out something wonderful to tell. Which is not the style
of Robert Styles, by as much as three fathom--maybe quarter-LESS.'

[My! Was this Rob Styles?--This mustached and stately figure?-A slim
enough cub, in my time. How he has improved in comeliness in five-and-
twenty year and in the noble art of inflating his facts.] After these
musings, I said aloud--

'I should think that dredging out the alligators wouldn't have done much
good, because they could come back again right away.'

'If you had had as much experience of alligators as I have, you wouldn't
talk like that. You dredge an alligator once and he's CONVINCED. It's
the last you hear of HIM. He wouldn't come back for pie. If there's one
thing that an alligator is more down on than another, it's being
dredged. Besides, they were not simply shoved out of the way; the most
of the scoopful were scooped aboard; they emptied them into the hold;
and when they had got a trip, they took them to Orleans to the
Government works.'

'What for?'

'Why, to make soldier-shoes out of their hides. All the Government shoes
are made of alligator hide. It makes the best shoes in the world. They
last five years, and they won't absorb water. The alligator fishery is
a Government monopoly. All the alligators are Government property--just
like the live-oaks. You cut down a live-oak, and Government fines you
fifty dollars; you kill an alligator, and up you go for misprision of
treason--lucky duck if they don't hang you, too. And they will, if
you're a Democrat. The buzzard is the sacred bird of the South, and you
can't touch him; the alligator is the sacred bird of the Government, and
you've got to let him alone.'

'Do you ever get aground on the alligators now?'

'Oh, no! it hasn't happened for years.'

'Well, then, why do they still keep the alligator boats in service?'

'Just for police duty--nothing more. They merely go up and down now and
then. The present generation of alligators know them as easy as a
burglar knows a roundsman; when they see one coming, they break camp and
go for the woods.'

After rounding-out and finishing-up and polishing-off the alligator
business, he dropped easily and comfortably into the historical vein,
and told of some tremendous feats of half-a-dozen old-time steamboats of
his acquaintance, dwelling at special length upon a certain
extraordinary performance of his chief favorite among this distinguished
fleet--and then adding--

'That boat was the "Cyclone,"--last trip she ever made--she sunk, that
very trip--captain was Tom Ballou, the most immortal liar that ever I
struck. He couldn't ever seem to tell the truth, in any kind of
weather. Why, he would make you fairly shudder. He WAS the most
scandalous liar! I left him, finally; I couldn't stand it. The proverb
says, "like master, like man;" and if you stay with that kind of a man,
you'll come under suspicion by and by, just as sure as you live. He
paid first-class wages; but said I, What's wages when your reputation's
in danger? So I let the wages go, and froze to my reputation. And I've
never regretted it. Reputation's worth everything, ain't it? That's the
way I look at it. He had more selfish organs than any seven men in the
world--all packed in the stern-sheets of his skull, of course, where
they belonged. They weighed down the back of his head so that it made
his nose tilt up in the air. People thought it was vanity, but it
wasn't, it was malice. If you only saw his foot, you'd take him to be
nineteen feet high, but he wasn't; it was because his foot was out of
drawing. He was intended to be nineteen feet high, no doubt, if his foot
was made first, but he didn't get there; he was only five feet ten.
That's what he was, and that's what he is. You take the lies out of
him, and he'll shrink to the size of your hat; you take the malice out
of him, and he'll disappear. That "Cyclone" was a rattler to go, and
the sweetest thing to steer that ever walked the waters. Set her
amidships, in a big river, and just let her go; it was all you had to
do. She would hold herself on a star all night, if you let her alone.
You couldn't ever feel her rudder. It wasn't any more labor to steer
her than it is to count the Republican vote in a South Carolina
election. One morning, just at daybreak, the last trip she ever made,
they took her rudder aboard to mend it; I didn't know anything about it;
I backed her out from the wood-yard and went a-weaving down the river
all serene. When I had gone about twenty-three miles, and made four
horribly crooked crossings--'

'Without any rudder?'

'Yes--old Capt. Tom appeared on the roof and began to find fault with me
for running such a dark night--'

'Such a DARK NIGHT ?--Why, you said--'

'Never mind what I said,--'twas as dark as Egypt now, though pretty soon
the moon began to rise, and--'

'You mean the SUN--because you started out just at break of--look here!
Was this BEFORE you quitted the captain on account of his lying, or--'

'It was before--oh, a long time before. And as I was saying, he--'

'But was this the trip she sunk, or was--'

'Oh, no!--months afterward. And so the old man, he--'

'Then she made TWO last trips, because you said--'

He stepped back from the wheel, swabbing away his perspiration, and

'Here!' (calling me by name), 'YOU take her and lie a while--you're
handier at it than I am. Trying to play yourself for a stranger and an
innocent!--why, I knew you before you had spoken seven words; and I made
up my mind to find out what was your little game. It was to DRAW ME OUT.
Well, I let you, didn't I? Now take the wheel and finish the watch; and
next time play fair, and you won't have to work your passage.'

Thus ended the fictitious-name business. And not six hours out from St.
Louis! but I had gained a privilege, any way, for I had been itching to
get my hands on the wheel, from the beginning. I seemed to have
forgotten the river, but I hadn't forgotten how to steer a steamboat,
nor how to enjoy it, either.

Chapter 25 From Cairo to Hickman

THE scenery, from St. Louis to Cairo--two hundred miles--is varied and
beautiful. The hills were clothed in the fresh foliage of spring now,
and were a gracious and worthy setting for the broad river flowing
between. Our trip began auspiciously, with a perfect day, as to breeze
and sunshine, and our boat threw the miles out behind her with
satisfactory despatch.

We found a railway intruding at Chester, Illinois; Chester has also a
penitentiary now, and is otherwise marching on. At Grand Tower, too,
there was a railway; and another at Cape Girardeau. The former town gets
its name from a huge, squat pillar of rock, which stands up out of the
water on the Missouri side of the river--a piece of nature's fanciful
handiwork--and is one of the most picturesque features of the scenery of
that region. For nearer or remoter neighbors, the Tower has the Devil's
Bake Oven--so called, perhaps, because it does not powerfully resemble
anybody else's bake oven; and the Devil's Tea Table--this latter a great
smooth-surfaced mass of rock, with diminishing wine-glass stem, perched
some fifty or sixty feet above the river, beside a beflowered and
garlanded precipice, and sufficiently like a tea-table to answer for
anybody, Devil or Christian. Away down the river we have the Devil's
Elbow and the Devil's Race-course, and lots of other property of his
which I cannot now call to mind.

The Town of Grand Tower was evidently a busier place than it had been in
old times, but it seemed to need some repairs here and there, and a new
coat of whitewash all over. Still, it was pleasant to me to see the old
coat once more. 'Uncle' Mumford, our second officer, said the place had
been suffering from high water, and consequently was not looking its
best now. But he said it was not strange that it didn't waste white-
wash on itself, for more lime was made there, and of a better quality,
than anywhere in the West; and added--'On a dairy farm you never can get
any milk for your coffee, nor any sugar for it on a sugar plantation;
and it is against sense to go to a lime town to hunt for white-wash.' In
my own experience I knew the first two items to be true; and also that
people who sell candy don't care for candy; therefore there was
plausibility in Uncle Mumford's final observation that 'people who make
lime run more to religion than whitewash.' Uncle Mumford said, further,
that Grand Tower was a great coaling center and a prospering place.

Cape Girardeau is situated on a hillside, and makes a handsome
appearance. There is a great Jesuit school for boys at the foot of the
town by the river. Uncle Mumford said it had as high a reputation for
thoroughness as any similar institution in Missouri! There was another
college higher up on an airy summit--a bright new edifice, picturesquely
and peculiarly towered and pinnacled--a sort of gigantic casters, with
the cruets all complete. Uncle Mumford said that Cape Girardeau was the
Athens of Missouri, and contained several colleges besides those already
mentioned; and all of them on a religious basis of one kind or another.
He directed my attention to what he called the 'strong and pervasive
religious look of the town,' but I could not see that it looked more
religious than the other hill towns with the same slope and built of the
same kind of bricks. Partialities often make people see more than really

Uncle Mumford has been thirty years a mate on the river. He is a man of
practical sense and a level head; has observed; has had much experience
of one sort and another; has opinions; has, also, just a perceptible
dash of poetry in his composition, an easy gift of speech, a thick growl
in his voice, and an oath or two where he can get at them when the
exigencies of his office require a spiritual lift. He is a mate of the
blessed old-time kind; and goes gravely damning around, when there is
work to the fore, in a way to mellow the ex-steamboatman's heart with
sweet soft longings for the vanished days that shall come no more. 'GIT
up there you! Going to be all day? Why d'n't you SAY you was petrified
in your hind legs, before you shipped!'

He is a steady man with his crew; kind and just, but firm; so they like
him, and stay with him. He is still in the slouchy garb of the old
generation of mates; but next trip the Anchor Line will have him in
uniform--a natty blue naval uniform, with brass buttons, along with all
the officers of the line--and then he will be a totally different style
of scenery from what he is now.

Uniforms on the Mississippi! It beats all the other changes put
together, for surprise. Still, there is another surprise--that it was
not made fifty years ago. It is so manifestly sensible, that it might
have been thought of earlier, one would suppose. During fifty years, out
there, the innocent passenger in need of help and information, has been
mistaking the mate for the cook, and the captain for the barber--and
being roughly entertained for it, too. But his troubles are ended now.
And the greatly improved aspect of the boat's staff is another advantage
achieved by the dress-reform period.

Steered down the bend below Cape Girardeau. They used to call it
'Steersman's Bend;' plain sailing and plenty of water in it, always;
about the only place in the Upper River that a new cub was allowed to
take a boat through, in low water.

Thebes, at the head of the Grand Chain, and Commerce at the foot of it,
were towns easily rememberable, as they had not undergone conspicuous
alteration. Nor the Chain, either--in the nature of things; for it is a
chain of sunken rocks admirably arranged to capture and kill steamboats
on bad nights. A good many steamboat corpses lie buried there, out of
sight; among the rest my first friend the 'Paul Jones;' she knocked her
bottom out, and went down like a pot, so the historian told me--Uncle
Mumford. He said she had a gray mare aboard, and a preacher. To me,
this sufficiently accounted for the disaster; as it did, of course, to
Mumford, who added--

'But there are many ignorant people who would scoff at such a matter,
and call it superstition. But you will always notice that they are
people who have never traveled with a gray mare and a preacher. I went
down the river once in such company. We grounded at Bloody Island; we
grounded at Hanging Dog; we grounded just below this same Commerce; we
jolted Beaver Dam Rock; we hit one of the worst breaks in the
'Graveyard' behind Goose Island; we had a roustabout killed in a fight;
we burnt a boiler; broke a shaft; collapsed a flue; and went into Cairo
with nine feet of water in the hold--may have been more, may have been
less. I remember it as if it were yesterday. The men lost their heads
with terror. They painted the mare blue, in sight of town, and threw
the preacher overboard, or we should not have arrived at all. The
preacher was fished out and saved. He acknowledged, himself, that he had

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