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Take time to read.
Reading is the
fountain of wisdom.


(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)

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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 approach-

ing each other, with averted faces to avoid the stran-

gling 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 perform-

ance 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 pro-

tection of this mysterious charm. He did not vent-

ure 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 down-

hearted, 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 prepara-

tions 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 lone-

some 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 "splen-

did!" 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 confi-

dence. 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 them-

selves 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 quiver-

ing 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 snow-

ing 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 every-

thing 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 boom-

ing thunder-blasts drowned their voices utterly. How-

ever, 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 thunder-

peals 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 re-

tired with weaker and weaker threatenings and grum-

blings, 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 dis-

tress; 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 shel-

tered logs, they coaxed the fire to burn again. Then

they piled on great dead boughs till they had a roar-

ing 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 home-

sick once more. Tom saw the signs, and fell to cheer-

ing up the pirates as well as he could. But they cared

nothing for marbles, or circus, or swimming, or any-

thing. He reminded them of the imposing secret, and

raised a ray of cheer. While it lasted, he got them in-

terested 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 dread-

ful 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 with-

out first making peace, and this was a simple im-

possibility 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.



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