Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Chapters 21 to 25 eBook: Page2

Mark Twain (2004)


  CHAPTER XXII.

  THEY swarmed up towards Sherburn's house, a-whooping and raging likeInjuns, and everything had to clear the way or get run over and trompedto mush, and it was awful to see. Children was heeling it ahead of themob, screaming and trying to get out of the way; and every window alongthe road was full of women's heads, and there was nigger boys in everytree, and bucks and wenches looking over every fence; and as soon as themob would get nearly to them they would break and skaddle back out ofreach. Lots of the women and girls was crying and taking on, scared mostto death.

  They swarmed up in front of Sherburn's palings as thick as they could jamtogether, and you couldn't hear yourself think for the noise. It was alittle twenty-foot yard. Some sung out "Tear down the fence! tear downthe fence!" Then there was a racket of ripping and tearing and smashing,and down she goes, and the front wall of the crowd begins to roll in likea wave.

  Just then Sherburn steps out on to the roof of his little front porch,with a double-barrel gun in his hand, and takes his stand, perfectly ca'mand deliberate, not saying a word. The racket stopped, and the wavesucked back.

  Sherburn never said a word--just stood there, looking down. Thestillness was awful creepy and uncomfortable. Sherburn run his eye slowalong the crowd; and wherever it struck the people tried a little toout-gaze him, but they couldn't; they dropped their eyes and looked sneaky.Then pretty soon Sherburn sort of laughed; not the pleasant kind, but thekind that makes you feel like when you are eating bread that's got sandin it.

  Then he says, slow and scornful:

  "The idea of YOU lynching anybody! It's amusing. The idea of youthinking you had pluck enough to lynch a MAN! Because you're braveenough to tar and feather poor friendless cast-out women that come alonghere, did that make you think you had grit enough to lay your hands on aMAN? Why, a MAN'S safe in the hands of ten thousand of your kind--aslong as it's daytime and you're not behind him.

  "Do I know you? I know you clear through was born and raised in theSouth, and I've lived in the North; so I know the average all around.The average man's a coward. In the North he lets anybody walk over himthat wants to, and goes home and prays for a humble spirit to bear it.In the South one man all by himself, has stopped a stage full of men inthe daytime, and robbed the lot. Your newspapers call you a brave peopleso much that you think you are braver than any other people--whereasyou're just AS brave, and no braver. Why don't your juries hangmurderers? Because they're afraid the man's friends will shoot them inthe back, in the dark--and it's just what they WOULD do.

  "So they always acquit; and then a MAN goes in the night, with a hundredmasked cowards at his back and lynches the rascal. Your mistake is, thatyou didn't bring a man with you; that's one mistake, and the other isthat you didn't come in the dark and fetch your masks. You brought PARTof a man--Buck Harkness, there--and if you hadn't had him to start you,you'd a taken it out in blowing.

  "You didn't want to come. The average man don't like trouble and danger.YOU don't like trouble and danger. But if only HALF a man--like BuckHarkness, there--shouts 'Lynch him! lynch him!' you're afraid to backdown--afraid you'll be found out to be what you are--COWARDS--and soyou raise a yell, and hang yourselves on to that half-a-man's coat-tail,and come raging up here, swearing what big things you're going to do.The pitifulest thing out is a mob; that's what an army is--a mob; theydon't fight with courage that's born in them, but with courage that'sborrowed from their mass, and from their officers. But a mob without anyMAN at the head of it is BENEATH pitifulness. Now the thing for YOU todo is to droop your tails and go home and crawl in a hole. If any reallynching's going to be done it will be done in the dark, Southernfashion; and when they come they'll bring their masks, and fetch a MANalong. Now LEAVE--and take your half-a-man with you"--tossing his gun upacross his left arm and cocking it when he says this.

  The crowd washed back sudden, and then broke all apart, and went tearingoff every which way, and Buck Harkness he heeled it after them, lookingtolerable cheap. I could a stayed if I wanted to, but I didn't want to.

  I went to the circus and loafed around the back side till the watchmanwent by, and then dived in under the tent. I had my twenty-dollar goldpiece and some other money, but I reckoned I better save it, becausethere ain't no telling how soon you are going to need it, away from homeand amongst strangers that way. You can't be too careful. I ain'topposed to spending money on circuses when there ain't no other way, butthere ain't no use in WASTING it on them.

  It was a real bully circus. It was the splendidest sight that ever waswhen they all come riding in, two and two, a gentleman and lady, side byside, the men just in their drawers and undershirts, and no shoes norstirrups, and resting their hands on their thighs easy and comfortable--there must a been twenty of them--and every lady with a lovelycomplexion, and perfectly beautiful, and looking just like a gang of realsure-enough queens, and dressed in clothes that cost millions of dollars,and just littered with diamonds. It was a powerful fine sight; I neversee anything so lovely. And then one by one they got up and stood, andwent a-weaving around the ring so gentle and wavy and graceful, the menlooking ever so tall and airy and straight, with their heads bobbing andskimming along, away up there under the tent-roof, and every lady'srose-leafy dress flapping soft and silky around her hips, and she lookinglike the most loveliest parasol.

  And then faster and faster they went, all of them dancing, first one footout in the air and then the other, the horses leaning more and more, andthe ringmaster going round and round the center-pole, cracking his whipand shouting "Hi!--hi!" and the clown cracking jokes behind him; and byand by all hands dropped the reins, and every lady put her knuckles onher hips and every gentleman folded his arms, and then how the horses didlean over and hump themselves! And so one after the other they allskipped off into the ring, and made the sweetest bow I ever see, and thenscampered out, and everybody clapped their hands and went just aboutwild.

  Well, all through the circus they done the most astonishing things; andall the time that clown carried on so it most killed the people. Theringmaster couldn't ever say a word to him but he was back at him quickas a wink with the funniest things a body ever said; and how he everCOULD think of so many of them, and so sudden and so pat, was what Icouldn't noway understand. Why, I couldn't a thought of them in a year.And by and by a drunk man tried to get into the ring--said he wanted toride; said he could ride as well as anybody that ever was. They arguedand tried to keep him out, but he wouldn't listen, and the whole showcome to a standstill. Then the people begun to holler at him and makefun of him, and that made him mad, and he begun to rip and tear; so thatstirred up the people, and a lot of men begun to pile down off of thebenches and swarm towards the ring, saying, "Knock him down! throw himout!" and one or two women begun to scream. So, then, the ringmaster hemade a little speech, and said he hoped there wouldn't be no disturbance,and if the man would promise he wouldn't make no more trouble he wouldlet him ride if he thought he could stay on the horse. So everybodylaughed and said all right, and the man got on. The minute he was on, thehorse begun to rip and tear and jump and cavort around, with two circusmen hanging on to his bridle trying to hold him, and the drunk manhanging on to his neck, and his heels flying in the air every jump, andthe whole crowd of people standing up shouting and laughing till tearsrolled down. And at last, sure enough, all the circus men could do, thehorse broke loose, and away he went like the very nation, round and roundthe ring, with that sot laying down on him and hanging to his neck, withfirst one leg hanging most to the ground on one side, and then t'otherone on t'other side, and the people just crazy. It warn't funny to me,though; I was all of a tremble to see his danger. But pretty soon hestruggled up astraddle and grabbed the bridle, a-reeling this way andthat; and the next minute he sprung up and dropped the bridle and stood!and the horse a-going like a house afire too. He just stood up there,a-sailing around as easy and comfortable as if he warn't ever drunk in hislife--and then he begun to pull off his
clothes and sling them. He shedthem so thick they kind of clogged up the air, and altogether he shedseventeen suits. And, then, there he was, slim and handsome, and dressedthe gaudiest and prettiest you ever saw, and he lit into that horse withhis whip and made him fairly hum--and finally skipped off, and made hisbow and danced off to the dressing-room, and everybody just a-howlingwith pleasure and astonishment.

  Then the ringmaster he see how he had been fooled, and he WAS the sickestringmaster you ever see, I reckon. Why, it was one of his own men! Hehad got up that joke all out of his own head, and never let on to nobody.Well, I felt sheepish enough to be took in so, but I wouldn't a been inthat ringmaster's place, not for a thousand dollars. I don't know; theremay be bullier circuses than what that one was, but I never struck themyet. Anyways, it was plenty good enough for ME; and wherever I run acrossit, it can have all of MY custom every time.

  Well, that night we had OUR show; but there warn't only about twelvepeople there--just enough to pay expenses. And they laughed all thetime, and that made the duke mad; and everybody left, anyway, before theshow was over, but one boy which was asleep. So the duke said theseArkansaw lunkheads couldn't come up to Shakespeare; what they wanted waslow comedy--and maybe something ruther worse than low comedy, hereckoned. He said he could size their style. So next morning he gotsome big sheets of wrapping paper and some black paint, and drawed offsome handbills, and stuck them up all over the village. The bills said:

  AT THE COURT HOUSE! FOR 3 NIGHTS ONLY!The World-Renowned TragediansDAVID GARRICK THE YOUNGER!AND EDMUND KEAN THE ELDER!Of the London andContinental Theatres,In their Thrilling Tragedy ofTHE KING'S CAMELEOPARD,OR THE ROYAL NONESUCH ! ! !Admission 50 cents.

  Then at the bottom was the biggest line of all, which said:

  LADIES AND CHILDREN NOT ADMITTED.

  "There," says he, "if that line don't fetch them, I don't know Arkansaw!"