Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 19


CHAPTER XIX.

TWO or three days and nights went by; I reckon I
might say they swum by, they slid along so quiet
and smooth and lovely. Here is the way we put in
the time. It was a monstrous big river down there --
sometimes a mile and a half wide; we run nights, and
laid up and hid daytimes; soon as night was most
gone we stopped navigating and tied up -- nearly
always in the dead water under a towhead; and then
cut young cottonwoods and willows, and hid the raft
with them. Then we set out the lines. Next we slid
into the river and had a swim, so as to freshen up and
cool off; then we set down on the sandy bottom where
the water was about knee deep, and watched the day-
light come. Not a sound anywheres -- perfectly still
-- just like the whole world was asleep, only sometimes
the bullfrogs a-cluttering, maybe. The first thing to
see, looking away over the water, was a kind of dull
line -- that was the woods on t'other side; you
couldn't make nothing else out; then a pale place in
the sky; then more paleness spreading around; then
the river softened up away off, and warn't black any
more, but gray; you could see little dark spots drifting
along ever so far away -- trading scows, and such
things; and long black streaks -- rafts; sometimes
you could hear a sweep screaking; or jumbled up
voices, it was so still, and sounds come so far; and by
and by you could see a streak on the water which you
know by the look of the streak that there's a snag
there in a swift current which breaks on it and makes
that streak look that way; and you see the mist curl
up off of the water, and the east reddens up, and the
river, and you make out a log-cabin in the edge of
the woods, away on the bank on t'other side of the
river, being a woodyard, likely, and piled by them
cheats so you can throw a dog through it anywheres;
then the nice breeze springs up, and comes fanning
you from over there, so cool and fresh and sweet to
smell on account of the woods and the flowers; but
sometimes not that way, because they've left dead fish
laying around, gars and such, and they do get pretty
rank; and next you've got the full day, and every-
thing smiling in the sun, and the song-birds just
going it!

A little smoke couldn't be noticed now, so we would
take some fish off of the lines and cook up a hot break-
fast. And afterwards we would watch the lonesome-
ness of the river, and kind of lazy along, and by and
by lazy off to sleep. Wake up by and by, and look to
see what done it, and maybe see a steamboat coughing
along up-stream, so far off towards the other side you
couldn't tell nothing about her only whether she was a
stern-wheel or side-wheel; then for about an hour there
wouldn't be nothing to hear nor nothing to see -- just
solid lonesomeness. Next you'd see a raft sliding by,
away off yonder, and maybe a galoot on it chopping,
because they're most always doing it on a raft; you'd
see the axe flash and come down -- you don't
hear nothing; you see that axe go up again, and by
the time it's above the man's head then you hear the
K'CHUNK! -- it had took all that time to come over the
water. So we would put in the day, lazying around,
listening to the stillness. Once there was a thick fog,
and the rafts and things that went by was beating tin
pans so the steamboats wouldn't run over them. A
scow or a raft went by so close we could hear them
talking and cussing and laughing -- heard them plain;
but we couldn't see no sign of them; it made you feel
crawly; it was like spirits carrying on that way in the
air. Jim said he believed it was spirits; but I says:

"No; spirits wouldn't say, 'Dern the dern fog.'"

Soon as it was night out we shoved; when we got
her out to about the middle we let her alone, and let
her float wherever the current wanted her to; then we
lit the pipes, and dangled our legs in the water, and
talked about all kinds of things -- we was always
naked, day and night, whenever the mosquitoes would
let us -- the new clothes Buck's folks made for me was
too good to be comfortable, and besides I didn't go
much on clothes, nohow.

Sometimes we'd have that whole river all to ourselves
for the longest time. Yonder was the banks and the
islands, across the water; and maybe a spark -- which
was a candle in a cabin window; and sometimes on the
water you could see a spark or two -- on a raft or a
scow, you know; and maybe you could hear a fiddle
or a song coming over from one of them crafts. It's
lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky up there, all
speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs
and look up at them, and discuss about whether they
was made or only just happened. Jim he allowed
they was made, but I allowed they happened; I judged
it would have took too long to MAKE so many. Jim
said the moon could a LAID them; well, that looked
kind of reasonable, so I didn't say nothing against it,
because I've seen a frog lay most as many, so of
course it could be done. We used to watch the stars
that fell, too, and see them streak down. Jim allowed
they'd got spoiled and was hove out of the nest.

Once or twice of a night we would see a steamboat
slipping along in the dark, and now and then she
would belch a whole world of sparks up out of her
chimbleys, and they would rain down in the river and
look awful pretty; then she would turn a corner and
her lights would wink out and her powwow shut off
and leave the river still again; and by and by her
waves would get to us, a long time after she was gone,
and joggle the raft a bit, and after that you wouldn't
hear nothing for you couldn't tell how long, except
maybe frogs or something.

After midnight the people on shore went to bed,
and then for two or three hours the shores was black --
no more sparks in the cabin windows. These sparks
was our clock -- the first one that showed again meant
morning was coming, so we hunted a place to hide and
tie up right away.

One morning about daybreak I found a canoe and
crossed over a chute to the main shore -- it was only
two hundred yards -- and paddled about a mile up a
crick amongst the cypress woods, to see if I couldn't
get some berries. Just as I was passing a place where
a kind of a cowpath crossed the crick, here comes a
couple of men tearing up the path as tight as they
could foot it. I thought I was a goner, for whenever
anybody was after anybody I judged it was ME -- or
maybe Jim. I was about to dig out from there in a
hurry, but they was pretty close to me then, and sung
out and begged me to save their lives -- said they
hadn't been doing nothing, and was being chased for
it -- said there was men and dogs a-coming. They
wanted to jump right in, but I says:

"Don't you do it. I don't hear the dogs and horses
yet; you've got time to crowd through the brush and
get up the crick a little ways; then you take to the
water and wade down to me and get in -- that'll throw
the dogs off the scent."

They done it, and soon as they was aboard I lit
out for our towhead, and in about five or ten minutes
we heard the dogs and the men away off, shouting.
We heard them come along towards the crick, but
couldn't see them; they seemed to stop and fool
around a while; then, as we got further and further
away all the time, we couldn't hardly hear them at all;
by the time we had left a mile of woods behind us and
struck the river, everything was quiet, and we paddled
over to the towhead and hid in the cottonwoods and
was safe.

One of these fellows was about seventy or upwards,
and had a bald head and very gray whiskers. He had
an old battered-up slouch hat on, and a greasy blue
woollen shirt, and ragged old blue jeans britches stuffed
into his boot-tops, and home-knit galluses -- no, he
only had one. He had an old long-tailed blue jeans
coat with slick brass buttons flung over his arm, and
both of them had big, fat, ratty-looking carpet-bags.

The other fellow was about thirty, and dressed about
as ornery. After breakfast we all laid off and talked,
and the first thing that come out was that these chaps
didn't know one another.

"What got you into trouble?" says the baldhead to
t'other chap.

"Well, I'd been selling an article to take the tartar
off the teeth -- and it does take it off, too, and generly
the enamel along with it -- but I stayed about one
night longer than I ought to, and was just in the act of
sliding out when I ran across you on the trail this side
of town, and you told me they were coming, and begged
me to help you to get off. So I told you I was ex-
pecting trouble myself, and would scatter out WITH you.
That's the whole yarn -- what's yourn?

"Well, I'd ben a-running' a little temperance revival
thar 'bout a week, and was the pet of the women
folks, big and little, for I was makin' it mighty warm
for the rummies, I TELL you, and takin' as much as five
or six dollars a night -- ten cents a head, children and
niggers free -- and business a-growin' all the time,
when somehow or another a little report got around
last night that I had a way of puttin' in my time with
a private jug on the sly. A nigger rousted me out
this mornin', and told me the people was getherin' on
the quiet with their dogs and horses, and they'd be
along pretty soon and give me 'bout half an hour's
start, and then run me down if they could; and if they
got me they'd tar and feather me and ride me on a
rail, sure. I didn't wait for no breakfast -- I warn't
hungry."

"Old man," said the young one, "I reckon we
might double-team it together; what do you think?"

"I ain't undisposed. What's your line -- mainly?"

"Jour printer by trade; do a little in patent medi-
cines; theater-actor -- tragedy, you know; take a turn
to mesmerism and phrenology when there's a chance;
teach singing-geography school for a change; sling a
lecture sometimes -- oh, I do lots of things -- most
anything that comes handy, so it ain't work. What's
your lay?"

"I've done considerble in the doctoring way in my
time. Layin' on o' hands is my best holt -- for cancer
and paralysis, and sich things; and I k'n tell a fortune
pretty good when I've got somebody along to find out
the facts for me. Preachin's my line, too, and
workin' camp-meetin's, and missionaryin' around."

Nobody never said anything for a while; then the
young man hove a sigh and says:

"Alas!"

"What 're you alassin' about?" says the bald-
head.

"To think I should have lived to be leading such a
life, and be degraded down into such company." And
he begun to wipe the corner of his eye with a rag.

"Dern your skin, ain't the company good enough
for you?" says the baldhead, pretty pert and uppish.

" Yes, it IS good enough for me; it's as good as I
deserve; for who fetched me so low when I was so
high? I did myself. I don't blame YOU, gentlemen --
far from it; I don't blame anybody. I deserve it all.
Let the cold world do its worst; one thing I know --
there's a grave somewhere for me. The world may
go on just as it's always done, and take everything
from me -- loved ones, property, everything; but it
can't take that. Some day I'll lie down in it and for-
get it all, and my poor broken heart will be at rest."
He went on a-wiping.

"Drot your pore broken heart," says the baldhead;
"what are you heaving your pore broken heart at US
f'r? WE hain't done nothing."

"No, I know you haven't. I ain't blaming you,
gentlemen. I brought myself down -- yes, I did it
myself. It's right I should suffer -- perfectly right --
I don't make any moan."

"Brought you down from whar? Whar was you
brought down from?"

"Ah, you would not believe me; the world never
believes -- let it pass -- 'tis no matter. The secret of
my birth --"

"The secret of your birth! Do you mean to say --"

"Gentlemen," says the young man, very solemn,
"I will reveal it to you, for I feel I may have confi-
dence in you. By rights I am a duke!"

Jim's eyes bugged out when he heard that; and I
reckon mine did, too. Then the baldhead says:
"No! you can't mean it?"

"Yes. My great-grandfather, eldest son of the
Duke of Bridgewater, fled to this country about the
end of the last century, to breathe the pure air of free-
dom; married here, and died, leaving a son, his own
father dying about the same time. The second son of
the late duke seized the titles and estates -- the infant
real duke was ignored. I am the lineal descendant of
that infant -- I am the rightful Duke of Bridgewater;
and here am I, forlorn, torn from my high estate,
hunted of men, despised by the cold world, ragged,
worn, heart-broken, and degraded to the companion-
ship of felons on a raft!"

Jim pitied him ever so much, and so did I. We
tried to comfort him, but he said it warn't much use,
he couldn't be much comforted; said if we was a mind
to acknowledge him, that would do him more good
than most anything else; so we said we would, if he
would tell us how. He said we ought to bow when
we spoke to him, and say "Your Grace," or "My
Lord," or "Your Lordship" -- and he wouldn't mind
it if we called him plain "Bridgewater," which, he
said, was a title anyway, and not a name; and one of
us ought to wait on him at dinner, and do any little
thing for him he wanted done.

Well, that was all easy, so we done it. All through
dinner Jim stood around and waited on him, and says,
"Will yo' Grace have some o' dis or some o' dat?"
and so on, and a body could see it was mighty pleasing
to him.

But the old man got pretty silent by and by -- didn't
have much to say, and didn't look pretty comfortable
over all that petting that was going on around that
duke. He seemed to have something on his mind.
So, along in the afternoon, he says:

"Looky here, Bilgewater," he says, "I'm nation
sorry for you, but you ain't the only person that's had
troubles like that."

"No?"

"No you ain't. You ain't the only person that's
ben snaked down wrongfully out'n a high place."

"Alas!"

"No, you ain't the only person that's had a secret
of his birth." And, by jings, HE begins to cry.

"Hold! What do you mean?"

"Bilgewater, kin I trust you?" says the old man,
still sort of sobbing.

"To the bitter death!" He took the old man by
the hand and squeezed it, and says, "That secret of
your being: speak!"

"Bilgewater, I am the late Dauphin!"

You bet you, Jim and me stared this time. Then
the duke says:

"You are what?"

"Yes, my friend, it is too true -- your eyes is look-
in' at this very moment on the pore disappeared
Dauphin, Looy the Seventeen, son of Looy the Six-
teen and Marry Antonette."

"You! At your age! No! You mean you're
the late Charlemagne; you must be six or seven hun-
dred years old, at the very least."

"Trouble has done it, Bilgewater, trouble has done
it; trouble has brung these gray hairs and this prema-
ture balditude. Yes, gentlemen, you see before you,
in blue jeans and misery, the wanderin', exiled, tram-
pled-on, and sufferin' rightful King of France."

Well, he cried and took on so that me and Jim
didn't know hardly what to do, we was so sorry -- and
so glad and proud we'd got him with us, too. So we
set in, like we done before with the duke, and tried to
comfort HIM. But he said it warn't no use, nothing
but to be dead and done with it all could do him any
good; though he said it often made him feel easier and
better for a while if people treated him according to
his rights, and got down on one knee to speak to him,
and always called him "Your Majesty," and waited
on him first at meals, and didn't set down in his
presence till he asked them. So Jim and me set to
majestying him, and doing this and that and t'other
for him, and standing up till he told us we might set
down. This done him heaps of good, and so he got
cheerful and comfortable. But the duke kind of soured
on him, and didn't look a bit satisfied with the way
things was going; still, the king acted real friendly
towards him, and said the duke's great-grandfather
and all the other Dukes of Bilgewater was a good deal
thought of by HIS father, and was allowed to come to
the palace considerable; but the duke stayed huffy a
good while, till by and by the king says:

"Like as not we got to be together a blamed long
time on this h-yer raft, Bilgewater, and so what's the
use o' your bein' sour? It 'll only make things on-
comfortable. It ain't my fault I warn't born a duke,
it ain't your fault you warn't born a king -- so what's
the use to worry? Make the best o' things the way
you find 'em, says I -- that's my motto. This ain't
no bad thing that we've struck here -- plenty grub
and an easy life -- come, give us your hand, duke, and
le's all be friends."

The duke done it, and Jim and me was pretty glad
to see it. It took away all the uncomfortableness and
we felt mighty good over it, because it would a been a
miserable business to have any unfriendliness on the
raft; for what you want, above all things, on a raft, is
for everybody to be satisfied, and feel right and kind
towards the others.

It didn't take me long to make up my mind that
these liars warn't no kings nor dukes at all, but just
low-down humbugs and frauds. But I never said
nothing, never let on; kept it to myself; it's the best
way; then you don't have no quarrels, and don't get
into no trouble. If they wanted us to call them kings
and dukes, I hadn't no objections, 'long as it would
keep peace in the family; and it warn't no use to tell
Jim, so I didn't tell him. If I never learnt nothing
else out of pap, I learnt that the best way to get along
with his kind of people is to let them have their own
way.

Mark Twain