The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Part 4. eBook: Page2

Mark Twain (2004)


  CHAPTER XIV

  WHEN Tom awoke in the morning, he wondered where he was. He sat up andrubbed his eyes and looked around. Then he comprehended. It was thecool gray dawn, and there was a delicious sense of repose and peace inthe deep pervading calm and silence of the woods. Not a leaf stirred;not a sound obtruded upon great Nature's meditation. Beaded dewdropsstood upon the leaves and grasses. A white layer of ashes covered thefire, and a thin blue breath of smoke rose straight into the air. Joeand Huck still slept.

  Now, far away in the woods a bird called; another answered; presentlythe hammering of a woodpecker was heard. Gradually the cool dim gray ofthe morning whitened, and as gradually sounds multiplied and lifemanifested itself. The marvel of Nature shaking off sleep and going towork unfolded itself to the musing boy. A little green worm camecrawling over a dewy leaf, lifting two-thirds of his body into the airfrom time to time and "sniffing around," then proceeding again--for hewas measuring, Tom said; and when the worm approached him, of its ownaccord, he sat as still as a stone, with his hopes rising and falling,by turns, as the creature still came toward him or seemed inclined togo elsewhere; and when at last it considered a painful moment with itscurved body in the air and then came decisively down upon Tom's leg andbegan a journey over him, his whole heart was glad--for that meant thathe was going to have a new suit of clothes--without the shadow of adoubt a gaudy piratical uniform. Now a procession of ants appeared,from nowhere in particular, and went about their labors; one struggledmanfully by with a dead spider five times as big as itself in its arms,and lugged it straight up a tree-trunk. A brown spotted lady-bugclimbed the dizzy height of a grass blade, and Tom bent down close toit and said, "Lady-bug, lady-bug, fly away home, your house is on fire,your children's alone," and she took wing and went off to see about it--which did not surprise the boy, for he knew of old that this insect wascredulous about conflagrations, and he had practised upon itssimplicity more than once. A tumblebug came next, heaving sturdily atits ball, and Tom touched the creature, to see it shut its legs againstits body and pretend to be dead. The birds were fairly rioting by thistime. A catbird, the Northern mocker, lit in a tree over Tom's head,and trilled out her imitations of her neighbors in a rapture ofenjoyment; then a shrill jay swept down, a flash of blue flame, andstopped on a twig almost within the boy's reach, cocked his head to oneside and eyed the strangers with a consuming curiosity; a gray squirreland a big fellow of the "fox" kind came skurrying along, sitting up atintervals to inspect and chatter at the boys, for the wild things hadprobably never seen a human being before and scarcely knew whether tobe afraid or not. All Nature was wide awake and stirring, now; longlances of sunlight pierced down through the dense foliage far and near,and a few butterflies came fluttering upon the scene.

  Tom stirred up the other pirates and they all clattered away with ashout, and in a minute or two were stripped and chasing after andtumbling over each other in the shallow limpid water of the whitesandbar. They felt no longing for the little village sleeping in thedistance beyond the majestic waste of water. A vagrant current or aslight rise in the river had carried off their raft, but this onlygratified them, since its going was something like burning the bridgebetween them and civilization.

  They came back to camp wonderfully refreshed, glad-hearted, andravenous; and they soon had the camp-fire blazing up again. Huck founda spring of clear cold water close by, and the boys made cups of broadoak or hickory leaves, and felt that water, sweetened with such awildwood charm as that, would be a good enough substitute for coffee.While Joe was slicing bacon for breakfast, Tom and Huck asked him tohold on a minute; they stepped to a promising nook in the river-bankand threw in their lines; almost immediately they had reward. Joe hadnot had time to get impatient before they were back again with somehandsome bass, a couple of sun-perch and a small catfish--provisionsenough for quite a family. They fried the fish with the bacon, and wereastonished; for no fish had ever seemed so delicious before. They didnot know that the quicker a fresh-water fish is on the fire after he iscaught the better he is; and they reflected little upon what a sauceopen-air sleeping, open-air exercise, bathing, and a large ingredientof hunger make, too.

  They lay around in the shade, after breakfast, while Huck had a smoke,and then went off through the woods on an exploring expedition. Theytramped gayly along, over decaying logs, through tangled underbrush,among solemn monarchs of the forest, hung from their crowns to theground with a drooping regalia of grape-vines. Now and then they cameupon snug nooks carpeted with grass and jeweled with flowers.

  They found plenty of things to be delighted with, but nothing to beastonished at. They discovered that the island was about three mileslong and a quarter of a mile wide, and that the shore it lay closest towas only separated from it by a narrow channel hardly two hundred yardswide. They took a swim about every hour, so it was close upon themiddle of the afternoon when they got back to camp. They were toohungry to stop to fish, but they fared sumptuously upon cold ham, andthen threw themselves down in the shade to talk. But the talk soonbegan to drag, and then died. The stillness, the solemnity that broodedin the woods, and the sense of loneliness, began to tell upon thespirits of the boys. They fell to thinking. A sort of undefined longingcrept upon them. This took dim shape, presently--it was buddinghomesickness. Even Finn the Red-Handed was dreaming of his doorstepsand empty hogsheads. But they were all ashamed of their weakness, andnone was brave enough to speak his thought.

  For some time, now, the boys had been dully conscious of a peculiarsound in the distance, just as one sometimes is of the ticking of aclock which he takes no distinct note of. But now this mysterious soundbecame more pronounced, and forced a recognition. The boys started,glanced at each other, and then each assumed a listening attitude.There was a long silence, profound and unbroken; then a deep, sullenboom came floating down out of the distance.

  "What is it!" exclaimed Joe, under his breath.

  "I wonder," said Tom in a whisper.

  "'Tain't thunder," said Huckleberry, in an awed tone, "becuz thunder--"

  "Hark!" said Tom. "Listen--don't talk."

  They waited a time that seemed an age, and then the same muffled boomtroubled the solemn hush.

  "Let's go and see."

  They sprang to their feet and hurried to the shore toward the town.They parted the bushes on the bank and peered out over the water. Thelittle steam ferryboat was about a mile below the village, driftingwith the current. Her broad deck seemed crowded with people. There werea great many skiffs rowing about or floating with the stream in theneighborhood of the ferryboat, but the boys could not determine whatthe men in them were doing. Presently a great jet of white smoke burstfrom the ferryboat's side, and as it expanded and rose in a lazy cloud,that same dull throb of sound was borne to the listeners again.

  "I know now!" exclaimed Tom; "somebody's drownded!"

  "That's it!" said Huck; "they done that last summer, when Bill Turnergot drownded; they shoot a cannon over the water, and that makes himcome up to the top. Yes, and they take loaves of bread and putquicksilver in 'em and set 'em afloat, and wherever there's anybodythat's drownded, they'll float right there and stop."

  "Yes, I've heard about that," said Joe. "I wonder what makes the breaddo that."

  "Oh, it ain't the bread, so much," said Tom; "I reckon it's mostlywhat they SAY over it before they start it out."

  "But they don't say anything over it," said Huck. "I've seen 'em andthey don't."

  "Well, that's funny," said Tom. "But maybe they say it to themselves.Of COURSE they do. Anybody might know that."

  The other boys agreed that there was reason in what Tom said, becausean ignorant lump of bread, uninstructed by an incantation, could not beexpected to act very intelligently when set upon an errand of suchgravity.

  "By jings, I wish I was over there, now," said Joe.

  "I do too" said Huck "I'd give heaps to know who it is."

  The boys still listened and watched. Presently a revealing thoughtflashed th
rough Tom's mind, and he exclaimed:

  "Boys, I know who's drownded--it's us!"

  They felt like heroes in an instant. Here was a gorgeous triumph; theywere missed; they were mourned; hearts were breaking on their account;tears were being shed; accusing memories of unkindness to these poorlost lads were rising up, and unavailing regrets and remorse were beingindulged; and best of all, the departed were the talk of the wholetown, and the envy of all the boys, as far as this dazzling notorietywas concerned. This was fine. It was worth while to be a pirate, afterall.

  As twilight drew on, the ferryboat went back to her accustomedbusiness and the skiffs disappeared. The pirates returned to camp. Theywere jubilant with vanity over their new grandeur and the illustrioustrouble they were making. They caught fish, cooked supper and ate it,and then fell to guessing at what the village was thinking and sayingabout them; and the pictures they drew of the public distress on theiraccount were gratifying to look upon--from their point of view. Butwhen the shadows of night closed them in, they gradually ceased totalk, and sat gazing into the fire, with their minds evidentlywandering elsewhere. The excitement was gone, now, and Tom and Joecould not keep back thoughts of certain persons at home who were notenjoying this fine frolic as much as they were. Misgivings came; theygrew troubled and unhappy; a sigh or two escaped, unawares. By and byJoe timidly ventured upon a roundabout "feeler" as to how the othersmight look upon a return to civilization--not right now, but--

  Tom withered him with derision! Huck, being uncommitted as yet, joinedin with Tom, and the waverer quickly "explained," and was glad to getout of the scrape with as little taint of chicken-hearted homesicknessclinging to his garments as he could. Mutiny was effectually laid torest for the moment.

  As the night deepened, Huck began to nod, and presently to snore. Joefollowed next. Tom lay upon his elbow motionless, for some time,watching the two intently. At last he got up cautiously, on his knees,and went searching among the grass and the flickering reflections flungby the camp-fire. He picked up and inspected several largesemi-cylinders of the thin white bark of a sycamore, and finally chosetwo which seemed to suit him. Then he knelt by the fire and painfullywrote something upon each of these with his "red keel"; one he rolled upand put in his jacket pocket, and the other he put in Joe's hat andremoved it to a little distance from the owner. And he also put into thehat certain schoolboy treasures of almost inestimable value--among thema lump of chalk, an India-rubber ball, three fishhooks, and one of thatkind of marbles known as a "sure 'nough crystal." Then he tiptoed hisway cautiously among the trees till he felt that he was out of hearing,and straightway broke into a keen run in the direction of the sandbar.