Tom Sawyer Abroad

by Mark Twain

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Chapter 12


THE next few meals was pretty sandy, but that don't make no differencewhen you are hungry; and when you ain't it ain't no satisfaction to eat,anyway, and so a little grit in the meat ain't no particular drawback, asfar as I can see.

Then we struck the east end of the Desert at last, sailing on a northeastcourse. Away off on the edge of the sand, in a soft pinky light, we seethree little sharp roofs like tents, and Tom says:

"It's the pyramids of Egypt."

It made my heart fairly jump. You see, I had seen a many and a many apicture of them, and heard tell about them a hundred times, and yet tocome on them all of a sudden, that way, and find they was REAL, 'stead ofimaginations, 'most knocked the breath out of me with surprise. It's acurious thing, that the more you hear about a grand and big and bullything or person, the more it kind of dreamies out, as you may say, andgets to be a big dim wavery figger made out of moonshine and nothingsolid to it. It's just so with George Washington, and the same with thempyramids.

And moreover, besides, the thing they always said about them seemed to meto be stretchers. There was a feller come to the Sunday-school once, andhad a picture of them, and made a speech, and said the biggest pyramidcovered thirteen acres, and was most five hundred foot high, just a steepmountain, all built out of hunks of stone as big as a bureau, and laid upin perfectly regular layers, like stair-steps. Thirteen acres, you see,for just one building; it's a farm. If it hadn't been in Sunday-school, Iwould 'a' judged it was a lie; and outside I was certain of it. And hesaid there was a hole in the pyramid, and you could go in there withcandles, and go ever so far up a long slanting tunnel, and come to alarge room in the stomach of that stone mountain, and there you wouldfind a big stone chest with a king in it, four thousand years old. I saidto myself, then, if that ain't a lie I will eat that king if they willfetch him, for even Methusalem warn't that old, and nobody claims it.

As we come a little nearer we see the yaller sand come to an end in along straight edge like a blanket, and on to it was joined, edge to edge,a wide country of bright green, with a snaky stripe crooking through it,and Tom said it was the Nile. It made my heart jump again, for the Nilewas another thing that wasn't real to me. Now I can tell you one thingwhich is dead certain: if you will fool along over three thousand milesof yaller sand, all glimmering with heat so that it makes your eyes waterto look at it, and you've been a considerable part of a week doing it,the green country will look so like home and heaven to you that it willmake your eyes water AGAIN.

It was just so with me, and the same with Jim.

And when Jim got so he could believe it WAS the land of Egypt he waslooking at, he wouldn't enter it standing up, but got down on his kneesand took off his hat, because he said it wasn't fitten' for a humble poornigger to come any other way where such men had been as Moses and Josephand Pharaoh and the other prophets. He was a Presbyterian, and had a mostdeep respect for Moses which was a Presbyterian, too, he said. He was allstirred up, and says:

"Hit's de lan' of Egypt, de lan' of Egypt, en I's 'lowed to look at itwid my own eyes! En dah's de river dat was turn' to blood, en I's lookingat de very same groun' whah de plagues was, en de lice, en de frogs, ende locus', en de hail, en whah dey marked de door-pos', en de angel o' deLord come by in de darkness o' de night en slew de fust-born in all delan' o' Egypt. Ole Jim ain't worthy to see dis day!"

And then he just broke down and cried, he was so thankful. So between himand Tom there was talk enough, Jim being excited because the land was sofull of history--Joseph and his brethren, Moses in the bulrushers, Jacobcoming down into Egypt to buy corn, the silver cup in the sack, and allthem interesting things; and Tom just as excited too, because the landwas so full of history that was in HIS line, about Noureddin, andBedreddin, and such like monstrous giants, that made Jim's wool rise, anda raft of other Arabian Nights folks, which the half of them never donethe things they let on they done, I don't believe.

Then we struck a disappointment, for one of them early morning fogsstarted up, and it warn't no use to sail over the top of it, because wewould go by Egypt, sure, so we judged it was best to set her by compassstraight for the place where the pyramids was gitting blurred and blottedout, and then drop low and skin along pretty close to the ground and keepa sharp lookout. Tom took the hellum, I stood by to let go the anchor,and Jim he straddled the bow to dig through the fog with his eyes andwatch out for danger ahead. We went along a steady gait, but not veryfast, and the fog got solider and solider, so solid that Jim looked dimand ragged and smoky through it. It was awful still, and we talked lowand was anxious. Now and then Jim would say:

"Highst her a p'int, Mars Tom, highst her!" and up she would skip, a footor two, and we would slide right over a flat-roofed mud cabin, withpeople that had been asleep on it just beginning to turn out and gap andstretch; and once when a feller was clear up on his hind legs so he couldgap and stretch better, we took him a blip in the back and knocked himoff. By and by, after about an hour, and everything dead still and wea-straining our ears for sounds and holding our breath, the fog thinned alittle, very sudden, and Jim sung out in an awful scare:

"Oh, for de lan's sake, set her back, Mars Tom, here's de biggest giantouten de 'Rabian Nights a-comin' for us!" and he went over backwards inthe boat.

Tom slammed on the back-action, and as we slowed to a standstill a man'sface as big as our house at home looked in over the gunnel, same as ahouse looks out of its windows, and I laid down and died. I must 'a' beenclear dead and gone for as much as a minute or more; then I come to, andTom had hitched a boat-hook on to the lower lip of the giant and washolding the balloon steady with it whilst he canted his head back and gota good long look up at that awful face.

Jim was on his knees with his hands clasped, gazing up at the thing in abegging way, and working his lips, but not getting anything out. I tookonly just a glimpse, and was fading out again, but Tom says:

"He ain't alive, you fools; it's the Sphinx!"

I never see Tom look so little and like a fly; but that was because thegiant's head was so big and awful. Awful, yes, so it was, but notdreadful any more, because you could see it was a noble face, and kind ofsad, and not thinking about you, but about other things and larger. Itwas stone, reddish stone, and its nose and ears battered, and that giveit an abused look, and you felt sorrier for it for that.

We stood off a piece, and sailed around it and over it, and it was justgrand. It was a man's head, or maybe a woman's, on a tiger's body ahundred and twenty-five foot long, and there was a dear little templebetween its front paws. All but the head used to be under the sand, forhundreds of years, maybe thousands, but they had just lately dug the sandaway and found that little temple. It took a power of sand to bury thatcretur; most as much as it would to bury a steamboat, I reckon.

We landed Jim on top of the head, with an American flag to protect him,it being a foreign land; then we sailed off to this and that and t'otherdistance, to git what Tom called effects and perspectives andproportions, and Jim he done the best he could, striking all thedifferent kinds of attitudes and positions he could study up, butstanding on his head and working his legs the way a frog does was thebest. The further we got away, the littler Jim got, and the grander theSphinx got, till at last it was only a clothespin on a dome, as you mightsay. That's the way perspective brings out the correct proportions, Tomsaid; he said Julus Cesar's niggers didn't know how big he was, they wastoo close to him.

Then we sailed off further and further, till we couldn't see Jim at allany more, and then that great figger was at its noblest, a-gazing outover the Nile Valley so still and solemn and lonesome, and all the littleshabby huts and things that was scattered about it clean disappeared andgone, and nothing around it now but a soft wide spread of yaller velvet,which was the sand.

That was the right place to stop, and we done it. We set there a-lookingand a-thinking for a half an hour, nobody a-saying anything, for it madeus feel quiet and kind of solemn to remember it had been looking overthat valley just that same way, and thinking its awful thoughts all toitself for thousands of years, and nobody can't find out what they are tothis day.

At last I took up the glass and see some little black things a-caperingaround on that velvet carpet, and some more a-climbing up the cretur'sback, and then I see two or three wee puffs of white smoke, and told Tomto look. He done it, and says:

"They're bugs. No--hold on; they--why, I believe they're men. Yes, it'smen--men and horses both. They're hauling a long ladder up onto theSphinx's back--now ain't that odd? And now they're trying to lean it upa--there's some more puffs of smoke--it's guns! Huck, they're after Jim."

We clapped on the power, and went for them a-biling. We was there in notime, and come a-whizzing down amongst them, and they broke and scatteredevery which way, and some that was climbing the ladder after Jim let goall holts and fell. We soared up and found him laying on top of the headpanting and most tuckered out, partly from howling for help and partlyfrom scare. He had been standing a siege a long time--a week, HE said,but it warn't so, it only just seemed so to him because they was crowdinghim so. They had shot at him, and rained the bullets all around him, buthe warn't hit, and when they found he wouldn't stand up and the bulletscouldn't git at him when he was laying down, they went for the ladder,and then he knowed it was all up with him if we didn't come pretty quick.Tom was very indignant, and asked him why he didn't show the flag andcommand them to GIT, in the name of the United States. Jim said he doneit, but they never paid no attention. Tom said he would have this thinglooked into at Washington, and says:

"You'll see that they'll have to apologize for insulting the flag, andpay an indemnity, too, on top of it even if they git off THAT easy."

Jim says:

"What's an indemnity, Mars Tom?"

"It's cash, that's what it is."

"Who gits it, Mars Tom?"

"Why, WE do."

"En who gits de apology?"

"The United States. Or, we can take whichever we please. We can take theapology, if we want to, and let the gov'ment take the money."

"How much money will it be, Mars Tom?"

"Well, in an aggravated case like this one, it will be at least threedollars apiece, and I don't know but more."

"Well, den, we'll take de money, Mars Tom, blame de 'pology. Hain't datyo' notion, too? En hain't it yourn, Huck?"

We talked it over a little and allowed that that was as good a way asany, so we agreed to take the money. It was a new business to me, and Iasked Tom if countries always apologized when they had done wrong, and hesays:

"Yes; the little ones does."

We was sailing around examining the pyramids, you know, and now we soaredup and roosted on the flat top of the biggest one, and found it was justlike what the man said in the Sunday-school. It was like four pairs ofstairs that starts broad at the bottom and slants up and comes togetherin a point at the top, only these stair-steps couldn't be clumb the wayyou climb other stairs; no, for each step was as high as your chin, andyou have to be boosted up from behind. The two other pyramids warn't faraway, and the people moving about on the sand between looked like bugscrawling, we was so high above them.

Tom he couldn't hold himself he was so worked up with gladness andastonishment to be in such a celebrated place, and he just drippedhistory from every pore, seemed to me. He said he couldn't scarcelybelieve he was standing on the very identical spot the prince flew fromon the Bronze Horse. It was in the Arabian Night times, he said. Somebodygive the prince a bronze horse with a peg in its shoulder, and he couldgit on him and fly through the air like a bird, and go all over theworld, and steer it by turning the peg, and fly high or low and landwherever he wanted to.

When he got done telling it there was one of them uncomfortable silencesthat comes, you know, when a person has been telling a whopper and youfeel sorry for him and wish you could think of some way to change thesubject and let him down easy, but git stuck and don't see no way, andbefore you can pull your mind together and DO something, that silence hasgot in and spread itself and done the business. I was embarrassed, Jim hewas embarrassed, and neither of us couldn't say a word. Well, Tom heglowered at me a minute, and says:

"Come, out with it. What do you think?"

I says:

"Tom Sawyer, YOU don't believe that, yourself."

"What's the reason I don't? What's to hender me?"

"There's one thing to hender you: it couldn't happen, that's all."

"What's the reason it couldn't happen?"

"You tell me the reason it COULD happen."

"This balloon is a good enough reason it could happen, I should reckon."

"WHY is it?"

"WHY is it? I never saw such an idiot. Ain't this balloon and the bronzehorse the same thing under different names?"

"No, they're not. One is a balloon and the other's a horse. It's verydifferent. Next you'll be saying a house and a cow is the same thing."

"By Jackson, Huck's got him ag'in! Dey ain't no wigglin' outer dat!"

"Shut your head, Jim; you don't know what you're talking about. And Huckdon't. Look here, Huck, I'll make it plain to you, so you can understand.You see, it ain't the mere FORM that's got anything to do with theirbeing similar or unsimilar, it's the PRINCIPLE involved; and theprinciple is the same in both. Don't you see, now?"

I turned it over in my mind, and says:

"Tom, it ain't no use. Principles is all very well, but they don't gitaround that one big fact, that the thing that a balloon can do ain't nosort of proof of what a horse can do."

"Shucks, Huck, you don't get the idea at all. Now look here aminute--it's perfectly plain. Don't we fly through the air?"


"Very well. Don't we fly high or fly low, just as we please?"


"Don't we steer whichever way we want to?"


"And don't we land when and where we please?"


"How do we move the balloon and steer it?"

"By touching the buttons."

"NOW I reckon the thing is clear to you at last. In the other case themoving and steering was done by turning a peg. We touch a button, theprince turned a peg. There ain't an atom of difference, you see. I knowedI could git it through your head if I stuck to it long enough."

He felt so happy he begun to whistle. But me and Jim was silent, so hebroke off surprised, and says:

"Looky here, Huck Finn, don't you see it YET?"

I says:

"Tom Sawyer, I want to ask you some questions."

"Go ahead," he says, and I see Jim chirk up to listen.

"As I understand it, the whole thing is in the buttons and the peg--therest ain't of no consequence. A button is one shape, a peg is anothershape, but that ain't any matter?"

"No, that ain't any matter, as long as they've both got the same power."

"All right, then. What is the power that's in a candle and in a match?"

"It's the fire."

"It's the same in both, then?"

"Yes, just the same in both."

"All right. Suppose I set fire to a carpenter shop with a match, whatwill happen to that carpenter shop?"

"She'll burn up."

"And suppose I set fire to this pyramid with a candle--will she burn up?"

"Of course she won't."

"All right. Now the fire's the same, both times. WHY does the shop burn,and the pyramid don't?"

"Because the pyramid CAN'T burn."

"Aha! and A HORSE CAN'T FLY!"

"My lan', ef Huck ain't got him ag'in! Huck's landed him high en dry distime, I tell you! Hit's de smartes' trap I ever see a body walk inter--enef I--"

But Jim was so full of laugh he got to strangling and couldn't go on, andTom was that mad to see how neat I had floored him, and turned his ownargument ag'in him and knocked him all to rags and flinders with it, thatall he could manage to say was that whenever he heard me and Jim try toargue it made him ashamed of the human race. I never said nothing; I wasfeeling pretty well satisfied. When I have got the best of a person thatway, it ain't my way to go around crowing about it the way some peopledoes, for I consider that if I was in his place I wouldn't wish him tocrow over me. It's better to be generous, that's what I think.

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It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.