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Chapter XVI
 
After  dinner  all  the  gang turned out to hunt for turtle eggs on the
bar. They went about poking sticks into the sand, and when they found a
soft place they went down on their knees and dug with their hands.
Sometimes they would take fifty or sixty eggs out of one hole. They were
perfectly round white things a trifle smaller than an English walnut. They
had a famous fried-egg feast that night, and another on Friday morning.
After breakfast they went whooping and prancing out on the bar, and
chased each other round and round, shedding clothes as they went, until
they were naked, and then continued the frolic far away up the shoal water
of the bar, against the stiff current, which latter tripped their legs
from under them from time to time and greatly increased the fun. And now
and then they stooped in a group and splashed water in each other's faces
with their palms, gradually approaching each other, with averted faces to
avoid the strangling sprays, and finally gripping and struggling till the
best man ducked his neighbor, and then they all went under in a tangle of
white legs and arms and came up blowing, sputtering, laughing, and gasping
for breath at one and the same time.
When they were well exhausted, they would run out and sprawl on the
dry, hot sand, and lie there and cover themselves up with it, and by and
by break for the water again and go through the original performance once
more. Finally it occurred to them that their naked skin represented
flesh-colored "tights" very fairly; so they drew a ring in the sand and
had a circus-with three clowns in it, for none would yield this proudest
post to his neighbor.
Next they got their marbles and played "knucks" and "ring-taw" and
"keeps" till that amusement grew stale. Then Joe and Huck had another
swim, but Tom would not venture, because he found that in kicking off his
trousers he had kicked his string of rattlesnake rattles off his ankle,
and he wondered how he had escaped cramp so long without the protection of
this mysterious charm. He did not venture again until he had found it, and
by that time the other boys were tired and ready to rest. They gradually
wandered apart, dropped into the "dumps," and fell to gazing longingly
across the wide river to where the village lay drowsing in the sun. Tom
found himself writing "BECKY" in the sand with his big toe; he scratched
it out, and was angry with himself for his weakness. But he wrote it
again, nevertheless; he could not help it. He erased it once more and then
took himself out of temptation by driving the other boys together and
joining them.
But Joe's spirits had gone down almost beyond resurrection. He was so
homesick that he could hardly endure the misery of it. The tears lay very
near the surface. Huck was melancholy, too. Tom was downhearted, but tried
hard not to show it. He had a secret which he was not ready to tell, yet,
but if this mutinous depression was not broken up soon, he would have to
bring it out. He said, with a great show of cheerfulness:
"I bet there's been pirates on this island before, boys. We'll explore
it again. They've hid treasures here somewhere. How'd you feel to light on
a rotten chest full of gold and silver-hey?"
But it roused only faint enthusiasm, which faded out, with no reply.
Tom tried one or two other seductions; but they failed, too. It was
discouraging work. Joe sat poking up the sand with a stick and looking
very gloomy. Finally he said:
"Oh, boys, let's give it up. I want to go home. It's so lonesome."
"Oh no, Joe, you'll feel better by and by," said Tom. "Just think of
the fishing that's here."
"I don't care for fishing. I want to go home."
"But, Joe, there ain't such another swimming-place anywhere."
"Swimming's no good. I don't seem to care for it, somehow, when there
ain't anybody to say I sha'n't go in. I mean to go home."
"Oh, shucks! Baby! You want to see your mother, I reckon."
"Yes, I DO want to see my mother-and you would, too, if you had one. I
ain't any more baby than you are." And Joe snuffled a little.
"Well, we'll let the cry-baby go home to his mother, won't we, Huck?
Poor thing-does it want to see its mother? And so it shall. You like it
here, don't you, Huck? We'll stay, won't we?"
Huck said, "Y-e-s"-without any heart in it.
"I'll never speak to you again as long as I live," said Joe, rising.
"There now!" And he moved moodily away and began to dress himself.
"Who cares!" said Tom. "Nobody wants you to. Go 'long home and get
laughed at. Oh, you're a nice pirate. Huck and me ain't cry-babies. We'll
stay, won't we, Huck? Let him go if he wants to. I reckon we can get along
without him, per'aps."
But Tom was uneasy, nevertheless, and was alarmed to see Joe go
sullenly on with his dressing. And then it was discomforting to see Huck
eying Joe's preparations so wistfully, and keeping up such an ominous
silence. Presently, without a parting word, Joe began to wade off toward
the Illinois shore. Tom's heart began to sink. He glanced at Huck. Huck
could not bear the look, and dropped his eyes. Then he said:
"I want to go, too, Tom. It was getting so lonesome anyway, and now
it'll be worse. Let's us go, too, Tom."
"I won't! You can all go, if you want to. I mean to stay."
"Tom, I better go."
"Well, go 'long-who's hendering you."
Huck began to pick up his scattered clothes. He said:
"Tom, I wisht you'd come, too. Now you think it over. We'll wait for
you when we get to shore."
"Well, you'll wait a blame long time, that's all."
Huck started sorrowfully away, and Tom stood looking after him, with a
strong desire tugging at his heart to yield his pride and go along too. He
hoped the boys would stop, but they still waded slowly on. It suddenly
dawned on Tom that it was become very lonely and still. He made one final
struggle with his pride, and then darted after his comrades, yelling:
"Wait! Wait! I want to tell you something!"
They presently stopped and turned around. When he got to where they
were, he began unfolding his secret, and they listened moodily till at
last they saw the "point" he was driving at, and then they set up a
war-whoop of applause and said it was "splendid!" and said if he had told
them at first, they wouldn't have started away. He made a plausible
excuse; but his real reason had been the fear that not even the secret
would keep them with him any very great length of time, and so he had
meant to hold it in reserve as a last seduction.
The lads came gayly back and went at their sports again with a will,
chattering all the time about Tom's stupendous plan and admiring the
genius of it. After a dainty egg and fish dinner, Tom said he wanted to
learn to smoke, now. Joe caught at the idea and said he would like to try,
too. So Huck made pipes and filled them. These novices had never smoked
anything before but cigars made of grape-vine, and they "bit" the tongue,
and were not considered manly anyway.
Now they stretched themselves out on their elbows and began to puff,
charily, and with slender confidence. The smoke had an unpleasant taste,
and they gagged a little, but Tom said:
"Why, it's just as easy! If I'd a knowed this was all, I'd a learnt
long ago."
"So would I," said Joe. "It's just nothing."
"Why, many a time I've looked at people smoking, and thought well I
wish I could do that; but I never thought I could," said Tom.
"That's just the way with me, hain't it, Huck? You've heard me talk
just that way-haven't you, Huck? I'll leave it to Huck if I haven't."
"Yes-heaps of times," said Huck.
"Well, I have too," said Tom; "oh, hundreds of times. Once down by the
slaughter-house. Don't you remember, Huck? Bob Tanner was there, and
Johnny Miller, and Jeff Thatcher, when I said it. Don't you remember,
Huck, 'bout me saying that?"
"Yes, that's so," said Huck. "That was the day after I lost a white
alley. No, 'twas the day before."
"There-I told you so," said Tom. "Huck recollects it."
"I bleeve I could smoke this pipe all day," said Joe. "I don't feel
sick."
"Neither do I," said Tom. "I could smoke it all day. But I bet you Jeff
Thatcher couldn't."
"Jeff Thatcher! Why, he'd keel over just with two draws. Just let him
try it once. HE'D see!"
"I bet he would. And Johnny Miller-I wish could see Johnny Miller
tackle it once."
"Oh, don't I!" said Joe. "Why, I bet you Johnny Miller couldn't any
more do this than nothing. Just one little snifter would fetch HIM."
"'Deed it would, Joe. Say-I wish the boys could see us now."
"So do I."
"Say-boys, don't say anything about it, and some time when they're
around, I'll come up to you and say, 'Joe, got a pipe? I want a smoke.'
And you'll say, kind of careless like, as if it warn't anything, you'll
say, 'Yes, I got my OLD pipe, and another one, but my tobacker ain't very
good.' And I'll say, 'Oh, that's all right, if it's STRONG enough.' And
then you'll out with the pipes, and we'll light up just as ca'm, and then
just see 'em look!"
"By jings, that'll be gay, Tom! I wish it was NOW!"
"So do I! And when we tell 'em we learned when we was off pirating,
won't they wish they'd been along?"
"Oh, I reckon not! I'll just BET they will!"
So the talk ran on. But presently it began to flag a trifle, and grow
disjointed. The silences widened; the expectoration marvellously
increased. Every pore inside the boys' cheeks became a spouting fountain;
they could scarcely bail out the cellars under their tongues fast enough
to prevent an inundation; little overflowings down their throats occurred
in spite of all they could do, and sudden retchings followed every time.
Both boys were looking very pale and miserable, now. Joe's pipe dropped
from his nerveless fingers. Tom's followed. Both fountains were going
furiously and both pumps bailing with might and main. Joe said feebly:
"I've lost my knife. I reckon I better go and find it."
Tom said, with quivering lips and halting utterance:
"I'll help you. You go over that way and I'll hunt around by the
spring. No, you needn't come, Huck-we can find it."
So Huck sat down again, and waited an hour. Then he found it lonesome,
and went to find his comrades. They were wide apart in the woods, both
very pale, both fast asleep. But something informed him that if they had
had any trouble they had got rid of it.
They were not talkative at supper that night. They had a humble look,
and when Huck prepared his pipe after the meal and was going to prepare
theirs, they said no, they were not feeling very well-something they ate
at dinner had disagreed with them.
About midnight Joe awoke, and called the boys. There was a brooding
oppressiveness in the air that seemed to bode something. The boys huddled
themselves together and sought the friendly companionship of the fire,
though the dull dead heat of the breathless atmosphere was stifling. They
sat still, intent and waiting. The solemn hush continued. Beyond the light
of the fire everything was swallowed up in the blackness of darkness.
Presently there came a quivering glow that vaguely revealed the foliage
for a moment and then vanished. By and by another came, a little stronger.
Then another. Then a faint moan came sighing through the branches of the
forest and the boys felt a fleeting breath upon their cheeks, and
shuddered with the fancy that the Spirit of the Night had gone by. There
was a pause. Now a weird flash turned night into day and showed every
little grass-blade, separate and distinct, that grew about their feet. And
it showed three white, startled faces, too. A deep peal of thunder went
rolling and tumbling down the heavens and lost itself in sullen rumblings
in the distance. A sweep of chilly air passed by, rustling all the leaves
and snowing the flaky ashes broadcast about the fire. Another fierce glare
lit up the forest and an instant crash followed that seemed to rend the
tree-tops right over the boys' heads. They clung together in terror, in
the thick gloom that followed. A few big rain-drops fell pattering upon
the leaves.
"Quick! boys, go for the tent!" exclaimed Tom.
They sprang away, stumbling over roots and among vines in the dark, no
two plunging in the same direction. A furious blast roared through the
trees, making everything sing as it went. One blinding flash after another
came, and peal on peal of deafening thunder. And now a drenching rain
poured down and the rising hurricane drove it in sheets along the ground.
The boys cried out to each other, but the roaring wind and the booming
thunder-blasts drowned their voices utterly. However, one by one they
straggled in at last and took shelter under the tent, cold, scared, and
streaming with water; but to have company in misery seemed something to be
grateful for. They could not talk, the old sail flapped so furiously, even
if the other noises would have allowed them. The tempest rose higher and
higher, and presently the sail tore loose from its fastenings and went
winging away on the blast. The boys seized each others' hands and fled,
with many tumblings and bruises, to the shelter of a great oak that stood
upon the river-bank. Now the battle was at its highest. Under the
ceaseless conflagration of lightning that flamed in the skies, everything
below stood out in clean-cut and shadowless distinctness: the bending
trees, the billowy river, white with foam, the driving spray of
spume-flakes, the dim outlines of the high bluffs on the other side,
glimpsed through the drifting cloud-rack and the slanting veil of rain.
Every little while some giant tree yielded the fight and fell crashing
through the younger growth; and the unflagging thunderpeals came now in
ear-splitting explosive bursts, keen and sharp, and unspeakably appalling.
The storm culminated in one matchless effort that seemed likely to tear
the island to pieces, burn it up, drown it to the tree-tops, blow it away,
and deafen every creature in it, all at one and the same moment. It was a
wild night for homeless young heads to be out in.
But at last the battle was done, and the forces retired with weaker and
weaker threatenings and grumblings, and peace resumed her sway. The boys
went back to camp, a good deal awed; but they found there was still
something to be thankful for, because the great sycamore, the shelter of
their beds, was a ruin, now, blasted by the lightnings, and they were not
under it when the catastrophe happened.
Everything in camp was drenched, the camp-fire as well; for they were
but heedless lads, like their generation, and had made no provision
against rain. Here was matter for dismay, for they were soaked through and
chilled. They were eloquent in their distress; but they presently
discovered that the fire had eaten so far up under the great log it had
been built against (where it curved upward and separated itself from the
ground), that a handbreadth or so of it had escaped wetting; so they
patiently wrought until, with shreds and bark gathered from the under
sides of sheltered logs, they coaxed the fire to burn again. Then they
piled on great dead boughs till they had a roaring furnace, and were
glad-hearted once more. They dried their boiled ham and had a feast, and
after that they sat by the fire and expanded and glorified their midnight
adventure until morning, for there was not a dry spot to sleep on,
anywhere around.
As the sun began to steal in upon the boys, drowsiness came over them,
and they went out on the sandbar and lay down to sleep. They got scorched
out by and by, and drearily set about getting breakfast. After the meal
they felt rusty, and stiff-jointed, and a little homesick once more. Tom
saw the signs, and fell to cheering up the pirates as well as he could.
But they cared nothing for marbles, or circus, or swimming, or anything.
He reminded them of the imposing secret, and raised a ray of cheer. While
it lasted, he got them interested in a new device. This was to knock off
being pirates, for a while, and be Indians for a change. They were
attracted by this idea; so it was not long before they were stripped, and
striped from head to heel with black mud, like so many zebras-all of them
chiefs, of course-and then they went tearing through the woods to attack
an English settlement.
By and by they separated into three hostile tribes, and darted upon
each other from ambush with dreadful war-whoops, and killed and scalped
each other by thousands. It was a gory day. Consequently it was an
extremely satisfactory one.
They assembled in camp toward supper-time, hungry and happy; but now a
difficulty arose-hostile Indians could not break the bread of hospitality
together without first making peace, and this was a simple impossibility
without smoking a pipe of peace. There was no other process that ever they
had heard of. Two of the savages almost wished they had remained pirates.
However, there was no other way; so with such show of cheerfulness as they
could muster they called for the pipe and took their whiff as it passed,
in due form.
And behold, they were glad they had gone into savagery, for they had
gained something; they found that they could now smoke a little without
having to go and hunt for a lost knife; they did not get sick enough to be
seriously uncomfortable. They were not likely to fool away this high
promise for lack of effort. No, they practised cautiously, after supper,
with right fair success, and so they spent a jubilant evening. They were
prouder and happier in their new acquirement than they would have been in
the scalping and skinning of the Six Nations. We will leave them to smoke
and chatter and brag, since we have no further use for them at present.