Hell Matter

Hell Matter

Once upon a time I lived in Quincy, IL, which wasn’t far from Hannibal, MO, the boyhood home of Mark Twain. I’d spent more than a few of my days off wandering around all the tourist attractions, including through the caves. I snapped up lots of books, attended summer plays about Tom Sawyer that were held in an outdoor amphitheater near the river, and in general became a Mark Twain devotee. When I was asked to write a cat mystery years later, I immediately thought about setting it in Hannibal. Mark Twain loved cats. “Hell Matter” was originally published in Kittens, Cats & Crime, Five Star, 2003.

It was barely evening, the sun just set, and the smell of the wet earth was strong. The rain—it had rained all afternoon—was nearing an end, I thought, as the sky was merely spitting now and then in an irregular rhythm that I found most annoying.

I hated rain.

I hated it especially when in this, the height of Missouri’s summer, it did nothing to cool things. Somehow despite the time of day, it only served to make everything steamy and more uncomfortable, and thoroughly, thoroughly sodden. Had I not sequestered myself just beyond the opening of this cave I would have been thoroughly wet too, and hot and miserable—rather than dry and only slightly miserable, and terribly, terribly bored.

As I watched the slowing drops, I heard the cicadas start their song. And from somewhere off I heard a steady and repeated slosh and crunch, the heavy sound of men’s boots tromping through puddles and across stretches of gravel. An unremitting “shush” told me they were dragging something. Perhaps they would come past this cave and I would have something to watch other than mud and rocks. And if they talked, I would have something to listen to other than this odious drizzle and the simple drone of insects.

I waited, and after several moments the sloshing and shushing grew louder, and the rain began to drum harder—making me realize it had only teased me moments ago into thinking it might stop. The wind picked up suddenly, sending some of the rain inside. There was a flash, lightning. The rumble of thunder followed. I retreated farther into the dry darkness, listening to a patter that was coming angrily now, listening to the sloshing, to the men, who had finally started talking and who were slogging uninvited into my favorite cave. I hoped they were only coming inside to escape the storm, and that they would leave when the rain no longer toyed with me and truly stopped. I did not care to share this place.

“Hate this rain,” one said.

I was amused at this, that a man would have something in common with me.

“The weather’s nothing to be bothered up about. It’s good that it’s raining,” the other said. I could tell that there were only two of them. “It’ll cover our tracks. Folks’re staying in their houses tonight. No one saw us leave town. No one way out here to see us.”

Except me. I could see fairly well in the growing darkness.

What they’d been dragging was a boy, their hands under his armpits. They dropped him when they came even with me, the shorter man letting out a deep breath, thankful to be free of his burden. The boy didn’t move, and I wondered if he was dead. I didn’t much care for boys, as I’d met more than a few mean ones in my years—pelting me with rocks, tying things to my tail, chasing me, trying to set my fur on fire. I didn’t much care for boys at all. But I didn’t want this boy to be dead. I didn’t want him rotting inside my favorite cave and fouling the air.

The taller man pulled a small lantern from a pack. He fumbled to light it, as I crept ’round a rock to keep out of sight. From the shadows I continued to watch them, glad that my boredom was banished and still worried that the boy was dead and would soon begin to stink.

I have a keen memory, and so I recognized the men from my trips into town. They were disparate, and it seemed odd that they would keep company. I’d seen the taller one along the river, where the steamboats and barges tie up. He dressed finer on the bank, all ruffles around his neck and wrists, gold rings flashing on each hand, hair smoothed back and dark as oil, and head topped with a cap with a shiny black brim. An important man. But the rings didn’t flash much in the lantern’s soft light, and he was dressed in the color of night, clothes in good repair, though not so fancy as his river attire.

The shorter one? His clothes were dark, too, but old and spotted. Not an upmarket soul. He had the craggy, drooping face of a bulldog, and he walked with his right foot turned slightly out. I remembered seeing him most often in the shadows of the town’s buildings, sometimes in the backs and in the alleys, where people carelessly threw out food. That’s what I went into town for, the discarded food. I was getting older and slower, and only old, slow mice were finding their way into my belly. I’d come to—sadly—appreciate the people’s garbage.

The boy? I might have seen him, too, but I would not have recalled it—I did my best to avoid boys. In truth I hated them only a little less than the rain.

“We should tie the boy up,” the tall one announced. “Don’t want him running off on us.”

Not dead, I sighed gratefully. There would be no horrible odor in my favorite cave.

“Tie Sammy up? He ain’t going anywhere, Hobe. You walloped him good. He’s unconscious.”

The tall man nudged the boy with his boot. “Mebee he’s unconscious. Mebee he’s not. Could be playing possum. We can’t take any chances he’ll slip away.” He fumbled in his pack and pulled out a length of rope. The two men propped the boy up against the opposite wall of the cave and tied his hands behind his back, then tied his ankles together. He was a lean boy, with a hawkish nose and unruly hair. His clothes were worn and thin, holes at the knees and elbows, and he was caked with mud from being drug here.

“Not sure I like this, Hobe, killing a boy. I ain’t got no hankering to…”

“Can’t take any chances, I told you. ’Sides, who’s really going to miss him?”

“I hear tell he works for Joseph Ament. So Ament’ll miss him.”

“Ament can find another cub,” the one called Hobe said. “I’m not willing to take the chance. I’ll not go to jail ’cause some boy heard us jawing.”

“Should’ve drowned him in the river, then,” the shorter man said. “Wouldn’t’ve had to come way out here in this weather. Sammy’s always down by the river, folks’d think he slipped.”

A shake of the tall man’s head. “My crew’s on my boat. An’ there’re a few hands working on the river—in spite of this weather. Someone might’ve seen us. Nobody’d see us around here.”

The shorter man shrugged, drawing his shoulders up practically to his ears. “Guess you’re right, Hobe. No one comes out to these caves, ’cept some kids, maybe a trapper once in a while.”

“That’s right.”

“And I guess we’re not really killing Sammy, eh, Hobe?” He let out a raspy chuckle. “We ain’t doing the actual deed. The cave’ll do that, eh?”

Hobe didn’t reply. He was in his pack again, this time retrieving something I had no name for. I noticed the boy was stirring behind them and mumbling something.

“Sammysammysammy,” the shorter man said, the words hissing together like a teakettle left too long on the stove. “Shouldn’t’ve been out in this weather, Sammy.” He started tsking, and he added a finger wag for emphasis. “Shouldn’t’ve been creeping around behind the Hawkins’ house. Shouldn’t’ve overheard us.”

“Didn’t hear nothin’,” the boy managed. He poked out his bottom lip. “Didn’t hear…”

The tall man roughly backhanded the boy, pitching him onto his side. The boy groaned.

“Sammysammysammy,” the other man hissed. “I bet you heard me an’ Hobe just fine. I bet you heard real good.”

“I didn’t hear nothin’, I said. But even if I did, I wouldn’t tell,” the boy offered. “Ain’t nobody would believe me anyway.”

“ ’Cause you’re just a kid? Or ’cause you’re always telling wild stories? I might go along with you, Sammysammysammy. But Hobe, here? Captain Hobart? He’s not the type to take a gamble. Can’t afford to.” The shorter man bent over and righted the boy. “Hobe says you’ve got to die.”

The two men worked quickly then, double-checking the boy’s ropes.

“I didn’t hear nothin’. And if I did, I wouldn’t tell,” the boy repeated. “Honest.”

Hobe let out a clipped laugh. “If you’re Ament’s cub, you’d tell him about me—and mebee, just mebee he’d believe you. Can’t have my ship jeopardized ’cause of you. Can’t risk losing all I’ve worked for. Can’t go to jail. You understand, boy.”

“I could leave town,” the boy continued, the desperation thick in his voice. “Go south to St. Louis or east to Springfield. My folks wouldn’t miss me. My pa died last year.”

“How old are you, boy?” Hobe leaned close.


“You won’t be seeing fourteen.”

Hobe started backing toward the cave’s entrance, and taking the object I couldn’t name. He stuffed a cord in the center of the thing and motioned to his fellow.

“Someone’s gonna find you out!” the boy hollered to them. “What you’re doin’ is wrong. Someone else’ll overhear you. You can’t steal from people like you’re doin’. It ain’t right.” His defiance grew with his hopelessness. “And if I get out of here, Captain Hobart, I aim to see that you and Jim rot in jail forever. You’re pirates!”

“Pirates? Told you the boy overheard us,” Hobe said.

“Didn’t think he knew my name,” the short man said, as he returned to the boy and stuffed a rag in his mouth to quiet him. Then he snatched up the lantern. “All shit and no sugar, Sammysammysammy. You’re just too dangerous to let live. Light the fuse, Hobe. The way it’s thundering, ain’t no one going to hear the dynamite.”

Then the men were outside, and suddenly the object I couldn’t name was sputtering and sitting in the cave’s mouth, the cord attached to it burning merrily. I hesitated, looking between the boy and the way out. A part of me was urging me to follow the men, not to stay here. A part of me somehow knew “here” wasn’t safe. But I was curious about the boy. Aren’t all of my kind so vexed with a natural inquisitiveness? And so I hesitated and crept closer to the boy. I heard the thunder boom outside, and felt a trembling beneath my paws, heard a hurtful, rumbling clap of thunder coming from the cave mouth—louder than anything—and it set the stone floor to shaking. In an instant my favorite cave was quaking, sending bits of rock and dust down on me like rain. The dust was so thick I found breathing difficult. The rumbling continued, and I was tossed about, the cave trembling like a frightened beast, its walls cracking, the ground continuing to pitch. For the first time ever I felt a true, profound fear, and as my heart hammered loud in my ears. I fully expected to die.

The utter darkness was sudden and absolute. The entrance to the cave was gone, and the rocks that filled the once-opening kept the twilight and lantern light from slipping inside. Kept all hint of light at bay. I sensed my stomach was rising into my throat. The dust continued to come down, and I struggled to take a breath.

I was surprised I didn’t die. And as moments passed, the trembling subsided. The only rumbling now came from the thunder I knew was booming outside. The boy was still alive, as I could hear his ragged breath. I couldn’t see him, though, couldn’t see anything.

I’d found myself in this terrible blackness once before, when I’d ventured so far into this cave the light didn’t reach me. I retraced my steps on that occasion. On this occasion, I didn’t know what to do.

“Mmmmph.” This was coming from the boy.

I didn’t like boys. But…

I padded close to him, relying on my hearing and sense of smell. He continued to make the “mmmphing” noise. He smelled of sweat and fear and the wet earth that clung to his threadbare clothes. I could tell that he was struggling against his ropes, and he jostled me in his gyrations as I slid past.

“Mmmph?” He’d felt me, and he stiffened and stopped wriggling. If it was possible, his breathing became more rushed and ragged.

I didn’t like boys at all, but I moved around behind him, my whiskers brushing first against his fingers, then the rope. I started gnawing, and finally his breathing slowed. When I’d cut through enough of it, he managed to work his hands out. In the blackness he fumbled for the gag in his mouth, then set to untying his ankles.

“Who’re you? What’re you?” he asked.

Of course, I couldn’t answer in a way that he could hear.

Then his fingers were groping through the blackness, finding me and grabbing, fluttering for me when I slipped away.

“A cat,” he pronounced. He kept his voice low. “You’re a cat.”

I felt the air stir, his fingers still futilely searching for me. He gave up, and I heard his feet scrabble over the rocks as he stood.

“Thank ya cat,” he continued. “Thank ya mightily.”

Faintly, I heard his arm brush against the cave wall.

“My head hurts somethin’ fierce,” he said. “That ol’ Captain Hobart hit me hard.”

His feet started shuffling away from me. He grunted, finding the collapsed entrance and trying to move aside the rocks.

“Ain’t gonna be able to get out the way I came in, cat. Not that I want to run into them thieves again anyway. They’d surely kill me this time. Shoot me or…”

His feet were shuffling again. Now I could tell he was going deeper into the cave.

“Don’t think I been in this cave before,” he continued to prattle. “Unless I came in another way.”

I’m not sure what I expected of the boy, but it wasn’t this—going farther into the utter black. I wanted him to move all the rocks that had fallen down in the entrance. I chewed him loose, and in payment I wanted him to dig us out of the cave.

He continued to move away from the entrance. That he couldn’t see didn’t seem to worry him overmuch.

“You here, cat?”

I relied on my hearing to follow him, keeping what I guessed was a safe distance. One could never trust boys…even ones who owed you.

“I gotta find me a way out, ya know. I can’t let ol’ Captain Hobart and Junkman Jim get away with it.”

I wondered just what it was the two men were getting away with. And though I doubt the boy was able to sense my thoughts, he supplied the information.

“Them two is bad,” he continued. “And they’s right, I overheard ’em. I was on my way to Laura’s house. She was gonna help me with some schoolwork. They was in the alley behind her house, talkin’ so fast they sounded like bees. Seems ol’ Captain Hobart keeps real close watch on his steamboat passengers. Finds out who’s got money and jewelry. And he finds out which gamblers won big stakes.”

He paused in his words and steps. I heard him bump against stone. “Careful, cat. Find the wall and press close against it. There’s a drop off, and I don’t want to find out how deep it goes.”

I took his advice, though I was certain I would have felt the edge of any rocky ledge and could have stopped myself from tumbling. We traveled very slowly now, until he was certain the footing was safer. I heard a rustling overhead.

“Bats,” he said.

He spoke the obvious.

“They ain’t gonna bother us none if’n we don’t spook ’em.” His course was taking us still deeper, and we were twisting down one unseen path after another. There were other sounds intruding, a plopping of drops on water.

“Maybe I have been in this cave before.”

Finally I sensed that we were moving up. The going was more difficult, as the boy was constantly bumping into stalagmites and rocky outcroppings.

“Junkman Jim… When ol’ Captain Hobart docks his steamer, I think he goes straightaway to Jim. Tells Jim about the passengers, which ones to follow, which boarding house they’re staying at. He tells Jim which ones to rob, and they split the take. They’s been doin’ it for some time, cat. I’m Ament’s cub, all right, and so I read every paper he prints. There’s always somethin’ there about a robbery. Every week, it seems. Wealthy folks that came down the river and are only stoppin’ in Hannibal for a day or two. No one stayin’ here long has been robbed. Bet this has been goin’ on for better than a year. They’s pirates, Hobart and Jim.”

The boy continued to chatter as he stumbled, lost. “I gotta get me out of here, cat. I gotta tell Ament, gotta get to the judge so Hobart and Jim can be stopped. Ain’t right what they’re doin’.” He stopped suddenly. “And more than stealin’, cat, they’s guilty of tryin’ to kill me. My heads still achin’. They’s gonna be in jail a long time.”

We started down again.

I don’t know how long we meandered disoriented. Hours upon hours, I was certain. It was long enough that the pads on my feet were sore and bleeding and my legs ached like they’d been set on fire. My throat was dry and my tongue felt thick. I was so very, very thirsty. And hungry. I’d intended to go to town after the rain quit, to search through the people’s garbage.

“You there, cat?” The boy had paused again, and by the rustling of his clothes, I could tell he was sitting. “I gotta stop for a piece, catch my breath.” His fingers were questing through the darkness, and in an uncharacteristic move, I let him touch my fur. “Yep, cat, you’re still there.” He settled back against a wall, and I lay nearby. Every few minutes his fingers fluttered along my back. “I like cats,” he said.

Perhaps this one boy was all right.

He dozed for a time. I could not sleep. The darkness and my thirst were too disconcerting. Eventually I nudged him, and he clumsily got up.

“Guess you want to get goin’, huh, cat? Me, too. Gotta stop ol’ Captain Hobart and Jim. They’s gonna give the river and steamboats a bad name. I aim to be a steamboat captain someday, cat. An honest one.”

I had to nudge him twice more in the hours that followed, on the latter occasion prodding him to his right, where I felt the air moving. My senses were far superior to his, and I knew that if I did not take the lead now, we would either die of starvation in this black place or fall down some hole and break our necks.

The air smelled fresh, and this sped my sore paws. In it I could pick out traces of damp earth and wildflowers. And when I listened closely, and shut out the sounds of the boy’s shuffling feet and quick breath, I could hear the cry of some bird and the tinkling of a nearby creek. And I could hear the cicadas singing their blessed, monotonous tune.

I nudged him a final time, and by now I think he heard the sounds of outside, too. He became clumsy in his excitement, slipping on skree and falling to his knees more times than I bothered to count. I fell back so he would not tumble on me, and I only took the lead again at the very end, when a grayness intruded into the black and the insects’ song grew louder.

“Hurry, cat,” the boy urged, though he didn’t have to. I had moved several yards ahead, and my legs were working with a speed they hadn’t shown in quite a while. “I’ve found us a way out of here, cat!”

You found us?

It was only minutes later that we stumbled out of the cave. The air was warmer out here, but for once I didn’t complain about the sweltering summer. There were stars overhead, evidence we’d passed at least an entire day in the cave. I was exhausted, and I stretched out on the ground. In a moment I would worry about the creek and getting a drink. In a long moment.

“We have to hurry, cat.” The boy was looking down at me, hands on his knees, and sucking in great gulps of this August air. “We have to get into town and tell Ament about ol’ Captain Hobart and Junkman Jim. We gotta get the judge.”

I raised my brow. We? We didn’t have to do anything. We were out of the damnable hole in the ground. We were safe. The creek was near. With some effort I rose and trotted to it and started drinking. The boy was talking again, but I let his words drift to the back of my mind and I concentrated on the sound and sweet taste of the water.

“We gotta go,” he said.

You can go where you please, I thought.

Then he scooped me up and nestled me under an arm. I was squirming in protest, but my motions were so feeble, so completely tired was I. I knew the boy was heading into town—Hannibal, he called the place. And so I finally stopped squirming. I was hungry, and Hannibal would feed me. It was night, and so I would be able to pick through people’s garbage undisturbed. And then I would find somewhere to sleep.

“It’s only a mile,” he continued. “Not far. Me and Laura used to come out here once in a while. Don’t think it was to that cave, though. Ain’t never goin’ back to that cave.”

I agreed with him. I could find a better place to stay out of the rain, and somewhere not so far from town. The past several times my legs had been arguing with me over the journey between town and my once-favorite cave.

Somehow the boy managed to pick up his pace, and as we came down a hill I could see the town’s sparse lights. It was late, as most of the homes were dark, but there were streetlights burning. Perhaps this Ament the boy was intent on seeing had left choice scraps outside his backdoor.

It didn’t take us long, and we were darting down one street, then down a dark alley. Soon he was bounding up front porch steps and pounding on a door. The boy was impatient, and he began rocking back and forth on his heels, fidgeting with his free hand, then he was pounding again. A light was lit inside, and I could hear slow footfalls and a thin voice.

“Give me a minute.” Then the door swung open and a stoop-shouldered man, barechested and in creased pants, loomed over us. “Sam?”

“Mr. Ament,” the boy began.

“It’s late.”

“I know, Mr. Ament, but…”

“Samuel, you weren’t at work today. I needed you. I have a mind to fire you and get me another cub. One that won’t…”

“Mr. Ament, Captain Hobart and Junkman Jim just tried to kill me…and all because I overheard ’em talkin’ behind the Hawkins place.” The words flew furiously from the boy’s lips. He left nothing out, though the part about our escape from the cave was not nearly as harrowing as he made it seem. The boy was quite the storyteller. When he was finished, Ament shook his head.

“Sam, I usually don’t mind your tall tales, but this one is a bit too stretched. If you made it up to justify why you didn’t work today…”

“I’m tellin’ you the truth Mr. Ament. I didn’t whitewash nothin’ and…”

“Hobart is one of the most successful riverboat captains on the Mississippi. He wouldn’t set folks up to be robbed.”

“But there have been robberies,” the boy persisted. “We’ve printed stories about ’em in the paper!”

Ament yawned and shook his head again. “Tell you what, Sam. I’ll not fire you. Not just yet. And first thing Saturday morning…”

“That’s two days away.”

“First thing Saturday, I’ll start looking into Captain Hobart. Poke around, ask some questions. Investigate like any good journalist would. There might be something in what you say, but…”

“But Captain Hobart will be gone then, especially if he knows we’re askin’ questions. Off down the river settin’ more people up to be robbed in another town by someone like Junkman Jim. We can’t wait.”

Boys are so impatient, I realized. But this one had reason. I found myself wishing Ament would take him more seriously.

“Sam, I will investigate this first before we print anything. And maybe we’ll have a story by next Thursday or the one after. And maybe we won’t.” Then Ament shut the door.

The boy raised his fist to the wood again, but I nipped him in the side.

“Cat, I can’t wait. If ol’ Captain Hobart sees me in town, he’ll come after me again—and this time he’ll kill me for certain. And I can’t hide while Ament ‘investigates’ this. If ol’ Captain Hobart catches wind of someone checkin’ up on him, he’ll kill me and then he’ll be gone, never stoppin’ in Hannibal again. I have to do somethin’.”

I admired the boy’s fervor. He had a purpose other than bothering cats. There was something almost noble about him. The way his arm was crooked beneath me left his fingers just beneath my chin. I moved my head and nipped at his thumb, not so hard as to draw blood, though. And I rubbed my jaw against his fingers.

Be a smart boy, I thought. Look to yourself for the answer.

The light from the stars and the light from the lamp inside the Ament place was enough. The boy could see his hands. They were dirty, from being dragged in the mud and from running along the walls in the cave. But there was more than dirt, there was a black settled in the whorls of his fingers. Ink from being Ament’s cub.

“I set type,” he told me.

Smart boy.

Then we were off again, down another alley and then turning on a street that paralleled the river. “What we’re doin’ ain’t legal, breakin’ into a place like this—even though I work here. But our crime ain’t near so bad as what Hobart and Jim are guilty of. Our’s is a good crime…if there’s such a thing.” He moved around to the back of a building and worked at the doorknob before it gave up and turned. “Lock doesn’t hold none too good,” he explained.

Inside, he finally set me down, and I watched as he lit a few lanterns. We were in a shop filled with cabinets and paper, big containers of ink, rollers, and a great contraption of metal larger than a bear. The boy continued to babble on, and I realized that in all my years boys had never talked to me, only at me as they were throwing things.

“I don’t normally wet it down until Saturday, cat,” he said, gesturing at the great contraption. “Turn it Sunday. See, we’re a weekly, and the paper comes out on Thursday. That means one came out this mornin’. No wonder Ament was mad. I wasn’t around to deliver it at dawn. ’Cept, I can’t wait until next Thursday or the one after to tell my story. We’re gonna print us up a special edition, cat. Tonight! And ol’ Captain Hobart’ll have the front page all to hisself. Gotta get the date right. August thirteenth, eighteen forty-eight.”

I watched the boy work. “Only one page, cat, and I’ll use the large type to take up space. Hope I can spell everythin’ right.” His fingers were plucking pieces of metal from racks—letters, he explained. Nearly all of these he arranged in rows, but he threw some bits away. “These’re no good,” he said. “Bent, worn, can’t get a good print from ’em.” He tossed them in a box. “Gotta throw the bad pieces away, into the hell matter.” He paused. “I think ol’ Captain Hobart and Junkman Jim belong in the hell matter, too.” He smiled wide. “Jail is a hell matter box for bad people.”

Despite being up so many hours, and frequently complaining about his sore head, he toiled without stop. Me? I slept off and on and wondered in between if the boy might think to feed me. I had, indeed, rescued him from the cave. I saved his life. And I had, by nipping his thumb, urged him to tell his tale to all of Hannibal now, rather than next Thursday. The boy owed me a meal.

It was dawn when the boy was finished pressing his one-sheet newspapers. He read the headline to me:

Respected Riverboat Captain Daniel Hobart

Mastermind Behind Scheme to Rob Passengers

Hannibal’s Junkman Jim in Kahoots

“Not the best turn of phrase, cat,” the boy told me. “But then I ain’t had me a chance to write the news before. Good for a first effort, don’t you think?”

I meowed my approval.

Later I clung to the buildings, watching him as he scurried from business to business to house to house, delivering his special edition and knocking on doors to wake up those still sleeping inside. He was careful to stay away from the river, not wanting to cross paths with Captain Hobart. And when he spotted Junkman Jim—fortunately Jim was looking the other way—the boy disappeared down an alley.

He did feed me well when he was finished, and he carried me up to a room above a drugstore, where both of us lay down on a small bed and slept the rest of the day away.

        *              *              *

It was a week later, a fine Thursday morning, that Sam and I sat on the bank of the river, watching a steamer pass by. Captain Hobart and Junkman Jim were safely tucked away in a hell matter box—Hannibal’s jail, and word was they were to be shipped down to St. Louis to begin a long sentence. More would be joining them, as Hobart had others like Junkman Jim working for him in several river towns in Missouri and Iowa.

Sam had delivered all the regular editions of the Hannibal Courier—that contained more detailed stories about Hobart and his gang—and was declared finished for the day. Ament hadn’t fired him, rather he’d given the boy a modest raise and the title of assistant editor. Sam seemed pleased at this.

I was pleased, too.

For the first time in my long years, I had a home. Above a drugstore in the heart of Hannibal, a place at the foot of Sam’s bed. For the rest of my days I was fed well and given saucers of milk, and I went to work with Sam on all the mornings my legs felt like carrying me.

I never cared much for boys.

Except for this one.

Two quotes that inspired this tale:

Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) said this in an address at the Typothetae dinner, given at Delmonico’s, January 18, 1886, Commemorating the birthday of Benjamin Franklin.

“The chairman’s historical reminiscences of Gutenberg have caused me to fall into reminiscences, for I myself am something of an antiquity. All things change in the procession of years, and it may be that I am among strangers. It may be that the printer of today is not the printer of thirty-five years ago. I was no stranger to him. I knew him well. I built his fire for him in the winter mornings; I brought his water from the village pump; I swept out his office; I picked up his type from under his stand; and, if he were there to see, I put the good type in his case and the broken ones among the “hell matter”; and if he wasn’t there to see, I dumped it all with the “pi” on the imposing-stone—for that was the furtive fashion of the cub, and I was a cub. I wetted down the paper Saturdays, I turned it Sundays—for this was a country weekly; I rolled, I washed the rollers, I washed the forms, I folded the papers, I carried them around at dawn Thursday mornings.”


“Of all God’s creatures there is only one that cannot be made the slave of the leash. That one is the cat. If man could be crossed with the cat it would improve man, but it would deteriorate the cat.”

—Mark Twain Notebook, 1894

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