The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Part 7. eBook: Page2

Mark Twain (2004)


  CHAPTER XXIX

  THE first thing Tom heard on Friday morning was a glad piece of news--Judge Thatcher's family had come back to town the night before. BothInjun Joe and the treasure sunk into secondary importance for a moment,and Becky took the chief place in the boy's interest. He saw her andthey had an exhausting good time playing "hi-spy" and "gully-keeper"with a crowd of their school-mates. The day was completed and crownedin a peculiarly satisfactory way: Becky teased her mother to appointthe next day for the long-promised and long-delayed picnic, and sheconsented. The child's delight was boundless; and Tom's not moremoderate. The invitations were sent out before sunset, and straightwaythe young folks of the village were thrown into a fever of preparationand pleasurable anticipation. Tom's excitement enabled him to keepawake until a pretty late hour, and he had good hopes of hearing Huck's"maow," and of having his treasure to astonish Becky and the picnickerswith, next day; but he was disappointed. No signal came that night.

  Morning came, eventually, and by ten or eleven o'clock a giddy androllicking company were gathered at Judge Thatcher's, and everythingwas ready for a start. It was not the custom for elderly people to marthe picnics with their presence. The children were considered safeenough under the wings of a few young ladies of eighteen and a fewyoung gentlemen of twenty-three or thereabouts. The old steam ferryboatwas chartered for the occasion; presently the gay throng filed up themain street laden with provision-baskets. Sid was sick and had to missthe fun; Mary remained at home to entertain him. The last thing Mrs.Thatcher said to Becky, was:

  "You'll not get back till late. Perhaps you'd better stay all nightwith some of the girls that live near the ferry-landing, child."

  "Then I'll stay with Susy Harper, mamma."

  "Very well. And mind and behave yourself and don't be any trouble."

  Presently, as they tripped along, Tom said to Becky:

  "Say--I'll tell you what we'll do. 'Stead of going to Joe Harper'swe'll climb right up the hill and stop at the Widow Douglas'. She'llhave ice-cream! She has it most every day--dead loads of it. And she'llbe awful glad to have us."

  "Oh, that will be fun!"

  Then Becky reflected a moment and said:

  "But what will mamma say?"

  "How'll she ever know?"

  The girl turned the idea over in her mind, and said reluctantly:

  "I reckon it's wrong--but--"

  "But shucks! Your mother won't know, and so what's the harm? All shewants is that you'll be safe; and I bet you she'd 'a' said go there ifshe'd 'a' thought of it. I know she would!"

  The Widow Douglas' splendid hospitality was a tempting bait. It andTom's persuasions presently carried the day. So it was decided to saynothing anybody about the night's programme. Presently it occurred toTom that maybe Huck might come this very night and give the signal. Thethought took a deal of the spirit out of his anticipations. Still hecould not bear to give up the fun at Widow Douglas'. And why should hegive it up, he reasoned--the signal did not come the night before, sowhy should it be any more likely to come to-night? The sure fun of theevening outweighed the uncertain treasure; and, boy-like, he determinedto yield to the stronger inclination and not allow himself to think ofthe box of money another time that day.

  Three miles below town the ferryboat stopped at the mouth of a woodyhollow and tied up. The crowd swarmed ashore and soon the forestdistances and craggy heights echoed far and near with shoutings andlaughter. All the different ways of getting hot and tired were gonethrough with, and by-and-by the rovers straggled back to camp fortifiedwith responsible appetites, and then the destruction of the good thingsbegan. After the feast there was a refreshing season of rest and chatin the shade of spreading oaks. By-and-by somebody shouted:

  "Who's ready for the cave?"

  Everybody was. Bundles of candles were procured, and straightway therewas a general scamper up the hill. The mouth of the cave was up thehillside--an opening shaped like a letter A. Its massive oaken doorstood unbarred. Within was a small chamber, chilly as an ice-house, andwalled by Nature with solid limestone that was dewy with a cold sweat.It was romantic and mysterious to stand here in the deep gloom and lookout upon the green valley shining in the sun. But the impressiveness ofthe situation quickly wore off, and the romping began again. The momenta candle was lighted there was a general rush upon the owner of it; astruggle and a gallant defence followed, but the candle was soonknocked down or blown out, and then there was a glad clamor of laughterand a new chase. But all things have an end. By-and-by the processionwent filing down the steep descent of the main avenue, the flickeringrank of lights dimly revealing the lofty walls of rock almost to theirpoint of junction sixty feet overhead. This main avenue was not morethan eight or ten feet wide. Every few steps other lofty and stillnarrower crevices branched from it on either hand--for McDougal's cavewas but a vast labyrinth of crooked aisles that ran into each other andout again and led nowhere. It was said that one might wander days andnights together through its intricate tangle of rifts and chasms, andnever find the end of the cave; and that he might go down, and down,and still down, into the earth, and it was just the same--labyrinthunder labyrinth, and no end to any of them. No man "knew" the cave.That was an impossible thing. Most of the young men knew a portion ofit, and it was not customary to venture much beyond this known portion.Tom Sawyer knew as much of the cave as any one.

  The procession moved along the main avenue some three-quarters of amile, and then groups and couples began to slip aside into branchavenues, fly along the dismal corridors, and take each other bysurprise at points where the corridors joined again. Parties were ableto elude each other for the space of half an hour without going beyondthe "known" ground.

  By-and-by, one group after another came straggling back to the mouthof the cave, panting, hilarious, smeared from head to foot with tallowdrippings, daubed with clay, and entirely delighted with the success ofthe day. Then they were astonished to find that they had been taking nonote of time and that night was about at hand. The clanging bell hadbeen calling for half an hour. However, this sort of close to the day'sadventures was romantic and therefore satisfactory. When the ferryboatwith her wild freight pushed into the stream, nobody cared sixpence forthe wasted time but the captain of the craft.

  Huck was already upon his watch when the ferryboat's lights wentglinting past the wharf. He heard no noise on board, for the youngpeople were as subdued and still as people usually are who are nearlytired to death. He wondered what boat it was, and why she did not stopat the wharf--and then he dropped her out of his mind and put hisattention upon his business. The night was growing cloudy and dark. Teno'clock came, and the noise of vehicles ceased, scattered lights beganto wink out, all straggling foot-passengers disappeared, the villagebetook itself to its slumbers and left the small watcher alone with thesilence and the ghosts. Eleven o'clock came, and the tavern lights wereput out; darkness everywhere, now. Huck waited what seemed a weary longtime, but nothing happened. His faith was weakening. Was there any use?Was there really any use? Why not give it up and turn in?

  A noise fell upon his ear. He was all attention in an instant. Thealley door closed softly. He sprang to the corner of the brick store.The next moment two men brushed by him, and one seemed to havesomething under his arm. It must be that box! So they were going toremove the treasure. Why call Tom now? It would be absurd--the menwould get away with the box and never be found again. No, he wouldstick to their wake and follow them; he would trust to the darkness forsecurity from discovery. So communing with himself, Huck stepped outand glided along behind the men, cat-like, with bare feet, allowingthem to keep just far enough ahead not to be invisible.

  They moved up the river street three blocks, then turned to the leftup a cross-street. They went straight ahead, then, until they came tothe path that led up Cardiff Hill; this they took. They passed by theold Welshman's house, half-way up the hill, without hesitating, andstill climbed upward. Good, thought Huck, they will bury it in the oldquarry. But they neve
r stopped at the quarry. They passed on, up thesummit. They plunged into the narrow path between the tall sumachbushes, and were at once hidden in the gloom. Huck closed up andshortened his distance, now, for they would never be able to see him.He trotted along awhile; then slackened his pace, fearing he wasgaining too fast; moved on a piece, then stopped altogether; listened;no sound; none, save that he seemed to hear the beating of his ownheart. The hooting of an owl came over the hill--ominous sound! But nofootsteps. Heavens, was everything lost! He was about to spring withwinged feet, when a man cleared his throat not four feet from him!Huck's heart shot into his throat, but he swallowed it again; and thenhe stood there shaking as if a dozen agues had taken charge of him