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Chapter 12


CHAPTER XII.

IT must a been close on to one o'clock when we
got below the island at last, and the raft did seem
to go mighty slow. If a boat was to come along we
was going to take to the canoe and break for the
Illinois shore; and it was well a boat didn't come, for
we hadn't ever thought to put the gun in the canoe,
or a fishing-line, or anything to eat. We was in
ruther too much of a sweat to think of so many things.
It warn't good judgment to put EVERYTHING on the raft.

If the men went to the island I just expect they
found the camp fire I built, and watched it all night for
Jim to come. Anyways, they stayed away from us,
and if my building the fire never fooled them it warn't
no fault of mine. I played it as low down on them as
I could.

When the first streak of day began to show we tied
up to a towhead in a big bend on the Illinois side, and
hacked off cottonwood branches with the hatchet,
and covered up the raft with them so she looked like
there had been a cave-in in the bank there. A tow-
head is a sandbar that has cottonwoods on it as thick
as harrow-teeth.

We had mountains on the Missouri shore and heavy
timber on the Illinois side, and the channel was down
the Missouri shore at that place, so we warn't afraid of
anybody running across us. We laid there all day,
and watched the rafts and steamboats spin down the
Missouri shore, and up-bound steamboats fight the big
river in the middle. I told Jim all about the time I
had jabbering with that woman; and Jim said she was
a smart one, and if she was to start after us herself she
wouldn't set down and watch a camp fire -- no, sir,
she'd fetch a dog. Well, then, I said, why couldn't
she tell her husband to fetch a dog? Jim said he bet
she did think of it by the time the men was ready to
start, and he believed they must a gone up-town to get
a dog and so they lost all that time, or else we
wouldn't be here on a towhead sixteen or seventeen
mile below the village -- no, indeedy, we would be in
that same old town again. So I said I didn't care
what was the reason they didn't get us as long as they
didn't.

When it was beginning to come on dark we poked
our heads out of the cottonwood thicket, and looked
up and down and across; nothing in sight; so Jim
took up some of the top planks of the raft and built a
snug wigwam to get under in blazing weather and
rainy, and to keep the things dry. Jim made a floor
for the wigwam, and raised it a foot or more above the
level of the raft, so now the blankets and all the traps
was out of reach of steamboat waves. Right in the
middle of the wigwam we made a layer of dirt about
five or six inches deep with a frame around it for to
hold it to its place; this was to build a fire on in
sloppy weather or chilly; the wigwam would keep it
from being seen. We made an extra steering-oar,
too, because one of the others might get broke on a
snag or something. We fixed up a short forked stick
to hang the old lantern on, because we must always
light the lantern whenever we see a steamboat coming
down-stream, to keep from getting run over; but we
wouldn't have to light it for up-stream boats unless we
see we was in what they call a "crossing"; for the
river was pretty high yet, very low banks being still a
little under water; so up-bound boats didn't always
run the channel, but hunted easy water.

This second night we run between seven and eight
hours, with a current that was making over four mile
an hour. We catched fish and talked, and we took a
swim now and then to keep off sleepiness. It was
kind of solemn, drifting down the big, still river, lay-
ing on our backs looking up at the stars, and we didn't
ever feel like talking loud, and it warn't often that we
laughed -- only a little kind of a low chuckle. We
had mighty good weather as a general thing, and noth-
ing ever happened to us at all -- that night, nor the
next, nor the next.

Every night we passed towns, some of them away
up on black hillsides, nothing but just a shiny bed of
lights; not a house could you see. The fifth night we
passed St. Louis, and it was like the whole world lit
up. In St. Petersburg they used to say there was
twenty or thirty thousand people in St. Louis, but I
never believed it till I see that wonderful spread of
lights at two o'clock that still night. There warn't a
sound there; everybody was asleep.

Every night now I used to slip ashore towards ten
o'clock at some little village, and buy ten or fifteen
cents' worth of meal or bacon or other stuff to eat;
and sometimes I lifted a chicken that warn't roosting
comfortable, and took him along. Pap always said,
take a chicken when you get a chance, because if you
don't want him yourself you can easy find somebody
that does, and a good deed ain't ever forgot. I never
see pap when he didn't want the chicken himself, but
that is what he used to say, anyway.

Mornings before daylight I slipped into cornfields
and borrowed a watermelon, or a mushmelon, or a
punkin, or some new corn, or things of that kind.
Pap always said it warn't no harm to borrow things if
you was meaning to pay them back some time; but
the widow said it warn't anything but a soft name for
stealing, and no decent body would do it. Jim said he
reckoned the widow was partly right and pap was partly
right; so the best way would be for us to pick out two
or three things from the list and say we wouldn't borrow
them any more -- then he reckoned it wouldn't be no
harm to borrow the others. So we talked it over all
one night, drifting along down the river, trying to
make up our minds whether to drop the watermelons,
or the cantelopes, or the mushmelons, or what. But
towards daylight we got it all settled satisfactory, and
concluded to drop crabapples and p'simmons. We
warn't feeling just right before that, but it was all
comfortable now. I was glad the way it come out,
too, because crabapples ain't ever good, and the
p'simmons wouldn't be ripe for two or three months
yet.

We shot a water-fowl now and then that got up too
early in the morning or didn't go to bed early enough
in the evening. Take it all round, we lived pretty high.

The fifth night below St. Louis we had a big storm
after midnight, with a power of thunder and lightning,
and the rain poured down in a solid sheet. We stayed
in the wigwam and let the raft take care of itself.
When the lightning glared out we could see a big
straight river ahead, and high, rocky bluffs on both
sides. By and by says I, "Hel-LO, Jim, looky yon-
der!" It was a steamboat that had killed herself on a
rock. We was drifting straight down for her. The
lightning showed her very distinct. She was leaning
over, with part of her upper deck above water, and
you could see every little chimbly-guy clean and clear,
and a chair by the big bell, with an old slouch hat
hanging on the back of it, when the flashes come.

Well, it being away in the night and stormy, and all
so mysterious-like, I felt just the way any other boy
would a felt when I see that wreck laying there so
mournful and lonesome in the middle of the river. I
wanted to get aboard of her and slink around a little,
and see what there was there. So I says:

"Le's land on her, Jim."

But Jim was dead against it at first. He says:

"I doan' want to go fool'n 'long er no wrack.
We's doin' blame' well, en we better let blame' well
alone, as de good book says. Like as not dey's a
watchman on dat wrack."

"Watchman your grandmother," I says; "there
ain't nothing to watch but the texas and the pilot-
house; and do you reckon anybody's going to resk his
life for a texas and a pilot-house such a night as this,
when it's likely to break up and wash off down the
river any minute?" Jim couldn't say nothing to that,
so he didn't try. "And besides," I says, "we might
borrow something worth having out of the captain's
stateroom. Seegars, I bet you -- and cost five cents
apiece, solid cash. Steamboat captains is always rich,
and get sixty dollars a month, and THEY don't care a
cent what a thing costs, you know, long as they want
it. Stick a candle in your pocket; I can't rest, Jim,
till we give her a rummaging. Do you reckon Tom
Sawyer would ever go by this thing? Not for pie, he
wouldn't. He'd call it an adventure -- that's what
he'd call it; and he'd land on that wreck if it was his
last act. And wouldn't he throw style into it? --
wouldn't he spread himself, nor nothing? Why,
you'd think it was Christopher C'lumbus discovering
Kingdom-Come. I wish Tom Sawyer WAS here."

Jim he grumbled a little, but give in. He said we
mustn't talk any more than we could help, and then
talk mighty low. The lightning showed us the wreck
again just in time, and we fetched the stabboard
derrick, and made fast there.

The deck was high out here. We went sneaking down
the slope of it to labboard, in the dark, towards the
texas, feeling our way slow with our feet, and spreading
our hands out to fend off the guys, for it was so dark
we couldn't see no sign of them. Pretty soon we
struck the forward end of the skylight, and clumb on
to it; and the next step fetched us in front of the
captain's door, which was open, and by Jimminy,
away down through the texas-hall we see a light! and
all in the same second we seem to hear low voices in
yonder!

Jim whispered and said he was feeling powerful
sick, and told me to come along. I says, all right,
and was going to start for the raft; but just then I
heard a voice wail out and say:

"Oh, please don't, boys; I swear I won't ever
tell!"

Another voice said, pretty loud:

"It's a lie, Jim Turner. You've acted this way
before. You always want more'n your share of the
truck, and you've always got it, too, because you've
swore 't if you didn't you'd tell. But this time you've
said it jest one time too many. You're the meanest,
treacherousest hound in this country."

By this time Jim was gone for the raft. I was just
a-biling with curiosity; and I says to myself, Tom
Sawyer wouldn't back out now, and so I won't either;
I'm a-going to see what's going on here. So I
dropped on my hands and knees in the little passage,
and crept aft in the dark till there warn't but one
stateroom betwixt me and the cross-hall of the texas.
Then in there I see a man stretched on the floor and
tied hand and foot, and two men standing over him,
and one of them had a dim lantern in his hand, and
the other one had a pistol. This one kept pointing
the pistol at the man's head on the floor, and saying:

"I'd LIKE to! And I orter, too -- a mean skunk!"

The man on the floor would shrivel up and say,
"Oh, please don't, Bill; I hain't ever goin' to tell."

And every time he said that the man with the lantern
would laugh and say:

"'Deed you AIN'T! You never said no truer thing
'n that, you bet you." And once he said: "Hear
him beg! and yit if we hadn't got the best of him and
tied him he'd a killed us both. And what FOR? Jist
for noth'n. Jist because we stood on our RIGHTS --
that's what for. But I lay you ain't a-goin' to threaten
nobody any more, Jim Turner. Put UP that pistol,
Bill."

Bill says:

"I don't want to, Jake Packard. I'm for killin'
him -- and didn't he kill old Hatfield jist the same
way -- and don't he deserve it?"

"But I don't WANT him killed, and I've got my
reasons for it."

"Bless yo' heart for them words, Jake Packard!
I'll never forgit you long's I live!" says the man on
the floor, sort of blubbering.

Packard didn't take no notice of that, but hung up
his lantern on a nail and started towards where I was
there in the dark, and motioned Bill to come. I
crawfished as fast as I could about two yards, but the
boat slanted so that I couldn't make very good time;
so to keep from getting run over and catched I crawled
into a stateroom on the upper side. The man came a-
pawing along in the dark, and when Packard got to
my stateroom, he says:

"Here -- come in here."

And in he come, and Bill after him. But before
they got in I was up in the upper berth, cornered, and
sorry I come. Then they stood there, with their hands
on the ledge of the berth, and talked. I couldn't see
them, but I could tell where they was by the whisky
they'd been having. I was glad I didn't drink whisky;
but it wouldn't made much difference anyway, because
most of the time they couldn't a treed me because I
didn't breathe. I was too scared. And, besides, a
body COULDN'T breathe and hear such talk. They
talked low and earnest. Bill wanted to kill Turner.
He says:

"He's said he'll tell, and he will. If we was to
give both our shares to him NOW it wouldn't make no
difference after the row and the way we've served him.
Shore's you're born, he'll turn State's evidence; now
you hear ME. I'm for putting him out of his troubles."

"So'm I," says Packard, very quiet.

"Blame it, I'd sorter begun to think you wasnUt.
Well, then, that's all right. Le's go and do it."

"Hold on a minute; I hain't had my say yit. You
listen to me. Shooting's good, but there's quieter
ways if the thing's GOT to be done. But what I say is
this: it ain't good sense to go court'n around after a
halter if you can git at what you're up to in some
way that's jist as good and at the same time don't
bring you into no resks. Ain't that so?"

"You bet it is. But how you goin' to manage it
this time?"

"Well, my idea is this: we'll rustle around and gather
up whatever pickins we've overlooked in the state-
rooms, and shove for shore and hide the truck. Then
we'll wait. Now I say it ain't a-goin' to be more'n
two hours befo' this wrack breaks up and washes off
down the river. See? He'll be drownded, and won't
have nobody to blame for it but his own self. I
reckon that's a considerble sight better 'n killin' of
him. I'm unfavorable to killin' a man as long as you
can git aroun' it; it ain't good sense, it ain't good
morals. Ain't I right?"

"Yes, I reck'n you are. But s'pose she DON'T
break up and wash off?"

"Well, we can wait the two hours anyway and see,
can't we?"

"All right, then; come along."

So they started, and I lit out, all in a cold sweat,
and scrambled forward. It was dark as pitch there;
but I said, in a kind of a coarse whisper, "Jim !" and
he answered up, right at my elbow, with a sort of a
moan, and I says:

"Quick, Jim, it ain't no time for fooling around
and moaning; there's a gang of murderers in yonder,
and if we don't hunt up their boat and set her drifting
down the river so these fellows can't get away from the
wreck there's one of 'em going to be in a bad fix.
But if we find their boat we can put ALL of 'em in a
bad fix -- for the sheriff 'll get 'em. Quick -- hurry!
I'll hunt the labboard side, you hunt the stabboard.
You start at the raft, and --"

"Oh, my lordy, lordy! RAF'? Dey ain' no raf'
no mo'; she done broke loose en gone I -- en here
we is!"

Mark Twain