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Chapter XXXV
IT would be most an hour yet till breakfast, so we left and struck down
into the woods; because Tom said we got to have SOME light to see how to
dig by, and a lantern makes too much, and might get us into trouble; what
we must have was a lot of them rotten chunks that's called fox-fire, and
just makes a soft kind of a glow when you lay them in a dark place. We
fetched an armful and hid it in the weeds, and set down to rest, and Tom
says, kind of dissatisfied:
"Blame it, this whole thing is just as easy and awkward as it can be.
And so it makes it so rotten difficult to get up a difficult plan. There
ain't no watchman to be drugged-now there OUGHT to be a watchman. There
ain't even a dog to give a sleeping-mixture to. And there's Jim chained by
one leg, with a ten-foot chain, to the leg of his bed: why, all you got to
do is to lift up the bedstead and slip off the chain. And Uncle Silas he
trusts everybody; sends the key to the punkin-headed nigger, and don't
send nobody to watch the nigger. Jim could a got out of that windowhole
before this, only there wouldn't be no use trying to travel with a
ten-foot chain on his leg. Why, drat it, Huck, it's the stupidest
arrangement I ever see. You got to invent ALL the difficulties. Well, we
can't help it; we got to do the best we can with the materials we've got.
Anyhow, there's one thing-there's more honor in getting him out through a
lot of difficulties and dangers, where there warn't one of them furnished
to you by the people who it was their duty to furnish them, and you had to
contrive them all out of your own head. Now look at just that one thing of
the lantern. When you come down to the cold facts, we simply got to LET ON
that a lantern's resky. Why, we could work with a torchlight procession if
we wanted to, I believe. Now, whilst I think of it, we got to hunt up
something to make a saw out of the first chance we get."
"What do we want of a saw?"
"What do we WANT of a saw? Hain't we got to saw the leg of Jim's bed
off, so as to get the chain loose?"
"Why, you just said a body could lift up the bedstead and slip the
chain off."
"Well, if that ain't just like you, Huck Finn. You CAN get up the
infant-schooliest ways of going at a thing. Why, hain't you ever read any
books at all?-Baron Trenck, nor Casanova, nor Benvenuto Chelleeny, nor
Henri IV., nor none of them heroes? Who ever heard of getting a prisoner
loose in such an oldmaidy way as that? No; the way all the best
authorities does is to saw the bed-leg in two, and leave it just so, and
swallow the sawdust, so it can't be found, and put some dirt and grease
around the sawed place so the very keenest seneskal can't see no sign of
it's being sawed, and thinks the bed-leg is perfectly sound. Then, the
night you're ready, fetch the leg a kick, down she goes; slip off your
chain, and there you are. Nothing to do but hitch your rope ladder to the
battlements, shin down it, break your leg in the moat-because a rope
ladder is nineteen foot too short, you know-and there's your horses and
your trusty vassles, and they scoop you up and fling you across a saddle,
and away you go to your native Langudoc, or Navarre, or wherever it is.
It's gaudy, Huck. I wish there was a moat to this cabin. If we get time,
the night of the escape, we'll dig one."
I says:
"What do we want of a moat when we're going to snake him out from under
the cabin?"
But he never heard me. He had forgot me and everything else. He had his
chin in his hand, thinking. Pretty soon he sighs and shakes his head; then
sighs again, and says:
"No, it wouldn't do-there ain't necessity enough for it."
"For what?" I says.
"Why, to saw Jim's leg off," he says.
"Good land!" I says; "why, there ain't NO necessity for it. And what
would you want to saw his leg off for, anyway?"
"Well, some of the best authorities has done it. They couldn't get the
chain off, so they just cut their hand off and shoved. And a leg would be
better still. But we got to let that go. There ain't necessity enough in
this case; and, besides, Jim's a nigger, and wouldn't understand the
reasons for it, and how it's the custom in Europe; so we'll let it go. But
there's one thing-he can have a rope ladder; we can tear up our sheets and
make him a rope ladder easy enough. And we can send it to him in a pie;
it's mostly done that way. And I've et worse pies."
"Why, Tom Sawyer, how you talk," I says; "Jim ain't got no use for a
rope ladder."
"He HAS got use for it. How YOU talk, you better say; you don't know
nothing about it. He's GOT to have a rope ladder; they all do."
"What in the nation can he DO with it?"
"DO with it? He can hide it in his bed, can't he?" That's what they all
do; and HE'S got to, too. Huck, you don't ever seem to want to do anything
that's regular; you want to be starting something fresh all the time.
S'pose he DON'T do nothing with it? ain't it there in his bed, for a clew,
after he's gone? and don't you reckon they'll want clews? Of course they
will. And you wouldn't leave them any? That would be a PRETTY howdy-do,
WOULDN'T it! I never heard of such a thing."
"Well," I says, "if it's in the regulations, and he's got to have it,
all right, let him have it; because I don't wish to go back on no
regulations; but there's one thing, Tom Sawyer-if we go to tearing up our
sheets to make Jim a rope ladder, we're going to get into trouble with
Aunt Sally, just as sure as you're born. Now, the way I look at it, a
hickry-bark ladder don't cost nothing, and don't waste nothing, and is
just as good to load up a pie with, and hide in a straw tick, as any rag
ladder you can start; and as for Jim, he ain't had no experience, and so
he don't care what kind of a-"
"Oh, shucks, Huck Finn, if I was as ignorant as you I'd keep
still-that's what I'D do. Who ever heard of a state prisoner escaping by a
hickry-bark ladder? Why, it's perfectly ridiculous."
"Well, all right, Tom, fix it your own way; but if you'll take my
advice, you'll let me borrow a sheet off of the clothesline."
He said that would do. And that gave him another idea, and he says:
"Borrow a shirt, too."
"What do we want of a shirt, Tom?"
"Want it for Jim to keep a journal on."
"Journal your granny-JIM can't write."
"S'pose he CAN'T write-he can make marks on the shirt, can't he, if we
make him a pen out of an old pewter spoon or a piece of an old iron
"Why, Tom, we can pull a feather out of a goose and make him a better
one; and quicker, too."
"PRISONERS don't have geese running around the donjon-keep to pull pens
out of, you muggins. They ALWAYS make their pens out of the hardest,
toughest, troublesomest piece of old brass candlestick or something like
that they can get their hands on; and it takes them weeks and weeks and
months and months to file it out, too, because they've got to do it by
rubbing it on the wall. THEY wouldn't use a goose-quill if they had it. It
ain't regular."
"Well, then, what'll we make him the ink out of?"
"Many makes it out of iron-rust and tears; but that's the common sort
and women; the best authorities uses their own blood. Jim can do that; and
when he wants to send any little common ordinary mysterious message to let
the world know where he's captivated, he can write it on the bottom of a
tin plate with a fork and throw it out of the window. The Iron Mask always
done that, and it's a blame' good way, too."
"Jim ain't got no tin plates. They feed him in a pan."
"That ain't nothing; we can get him some."
"Can't nobody READ his plates."
"That ain't got anything to DO with it, Huck Finn. All HE'S got to do
is to write on the plate and throw it out. You don't HAVE to be able to
read it. Why, half the time you can't read anything a prisoner writes on a
tin plate, or anywhere else."
"Well, then, what's the sense in wasting the plates?"
"Why, blame it all, it ain't the PRISONER'S plates."
"But it's SOMEBODY'S plates, ain't it?"
"Well, spos'n it is? What does the PRISONER care whose-"
He broke off there, because we heard the breakfasthorn blowing. So we
cleared out for the house.
Along during the morning I borrowed a sheet and a white shirt off of
the clothes-line; and I found an old sack and put them in it, and we went
down and got the fox-fire, and put that in too. I called it borrowing,
because that was what pap always called it; but Tom said it warn't
borrowing, it was stealing. He said we was representing prisoners; and
prisoners don't care how they get a thing so they get it, and nobody don't
blame them for it, either. It ain't no crime in a prisoner to steal the
thing he needs to get away with, Tom said; it's his right; and so, as long
as we was representing a prisoner, we had a perfect right to steal
anything on this place we had the least use for to get ourselves out of
prison with. He said if we warn't prisoners it would be a very different
thing, and nobody but a mean, ornery person would steal when he warn't a
prisoner. So we allowed we would steal everything there was that come
handy. And yet he made a mighty fuss, one day, after that, when I stole a
watermelon out of the nigger-patch and eat it; and he made me go and give
the niggers a dime without telling them what it was for. Tom said that
what he meant was, we could steal anything we NEEDED. Well, I says, I
needed the watermelon. But he said I didn't need it to get out of prison
with; there's where the difference was. He said if I'd a wanted it to hide
a knife in, and smuggle it to Jim to kill the seneskal with, it would a
been all right. So I let it go at that, though I couldn't see no advantage
in my representing a prisoner if I got to set down and chaw over a lot of
gold-leaf distinctions like that every time I see a chance to hog a
Well, as I was saying, we waited that morning till everybody was
settled down to business, and nobody in sight around the yard; then Tom he
carried the sack into the lean-to whilst I stood off a piece to keep
watch. By and by he come out, and we went and set down on the woodpile to
talk. He says:
"Everything's all right now except tools; and that's easy fixed."
"Tools?" I says.
"Tools for what?"
"Why, to dig with. We ain't a-going to GNAW him out, are we?"
"Ain't them old crippled picks and things in there good enough to dig a
nigger out with?" I says.
He turns on me, looking pitying enough to make a body cry, and says:
"Huck Finn, did you EVER hear of a prisoner having picks and shovels,
and all the modern conveniences in his wardrobe to dig himself out with?
Now I want to ask you-if you got any reasonableness in you at all-what
kind of a show would THAT give him to be a hero? Why, they might as well
lend him the key and done with it. Picks and shovels-why, they wouldn't
furnish 'em to a king."
"Well, then," I says, "if we don't want the picks and shovels, what do
we want?"
"A couple of case-knives."
"To dig the foundations out from under that cabin with?"
"Confound it, it's foolish, Tom."
"It don't make no difference how foolish it is, it's the RIGHT way-and
it's the regular way. And there ain't no OTHER way, that ever I heard of,
and I've read all the books that gives any information about these things.
They always dig out with a case-knife-and not through dirt, mind you;
generly it's through solid rock. And it takes them weeks and weeks and
weeks, and for ever and ever. Why, look at one of them prisoners in the
bottom dungeon of the Castle Deef, in the harbor of Marseilles, that dug
himself out that way; how long was HE at it, you reckon?"
"I don't know."
"Well, guess."
"I don't know. A month and a half."
"THIRTY-SEVEN YEAR-and he come out in China. THAT'S the kind. I wish
the bottom of THIS fortress was solid rock."
"JIM don't know nobody in China."
"What's THAT got to do with it? Neither did that other fellow. But
you're always a-wandering off on a side issue. Why can't you stick to the
main point?"
"All right-I don't care where he comes out, so he COMES out; and Jim
don't, either, I reckon. But there's one thing, anyway-Jim's too old to be
dug out with a case-knife. He won't last."
"Yes he will LAST, too. You don't reckon it's going to take
thirty-seven years to dig out through a DIRT foundation, do you?"
"How long will it take, Tom?"
"Well, we can't resk being as long as we ought to, because it mayn't
take very long for Uncle Silas to hear from down there by New Orleans.
He'll hear Jim ain't from there. Then his next move will be to advertise
Jim, or something like that. So we can't resk being as long digging him
out as we ought to. By rights I reckon we ought to be a couple of years;
but we can't. Things being so uncertain, what I recommend is this: that we
really dig right in, as quick as we can; and after that, we can LET ON, to
ourselves, that we was at it thirty-seven years. Then we can snatch him
out and rush him away the first time there's an alarm. Yes, I reckon that
'll be the best way."
"Now, there's SENSE in that," I says. "Letting on don't cost nothing;
letting on ain't no trouble; and if it's any object, I don't mind letting
on we was at it a hundred and fifty year. It wouldn't strain me none,
after I got my hand in. So I'll mosey along now, and smouch a couple of
"Smouch three," he says; "we want one to make a saw out of."
"Tom, if it ain't unregular and irreligious to sejest it," I says,
"there's an old rusty saw-blade around yonder sticking under the
weather-boarding behind the smoke-house."
He looked kind of weary and discouraged-like, and says:
"It ain't no use to try to learn you nothing, Huck. Run along and
smouch the knives-three of them." So I done it.