THE BALLOON ASCENSION
WELL, Tom got up one thing after another, but they all had tender spotsabout 'em somewheres, and he had to shove 'em aside. So at last he wasabout in despair. Then the St. Louis papers begun to talk a good dealabout the balloon that was going to sail to Europe, and Tom sort ofthought he wanted to go down and see what it looked like, but couldn'tmake up his mind. But the papers went on talking, and so he allowed thatmaybe if he didn't go he mightn't ever have another chance to see aballoon; and next, he found out that Nat Parsons was going down to seeit, and that decided him, of course. He wasn't going to have Nat Parsonscoming back bragging about seeing the balloon, and him having to listento it and keep quiet. So he wanted me and Jim to go too, and we went.
It was a noble big balloon, and had wings and fans and all sorts ofthings, and wasn't like any balloon you see in pictures. It was away outtoward the edge of town, in a vacant lot, corner of Twelfth street; andthere was a big crowd around it, making fun of it, and making fun of theman,--a lean pale feller with that soft kind of moonlight in his eyes,you know,--and they kept saying it wouldn't go. It made him hot to hearthem, and he would turn on them and shake his fist and say they wasanimals and blind, but some day they would find they had stood face toface with one of the men that lifts up nations and makes civilizations,and was too dull to know it; and right here on this spot their ownchildren and grandchildren would build a monument to him that wouldoutlast a thousand years, but his name would outlast the monument. Andthen the crowd would burst out in a laugh again, and yell at him, and askhim what was his name before he was married, and what he would take tonot do it, and what was his sister's cat's grandmother's name, and allthe things that a crowd says when they've got hold of a feller that theysee they can plague. Well, some things they said WAS funny,--yes, andmighty witty too, I ain't denying that,--but all the same it warn't fairnor brave, all them people pitching on one, and they so glib and sharp,and him without any gift of talk to answer back with. But, good land!what did he want to sass back for? You see, it couldn't do him no good,and it was just nuts for them. They HAD him, you know. But that was hisway. I reckon he couldn't help it; he was made so, I judge. He was a goodenough sort of cretur, and hadn't no harm in him, and was just a genius,as the papers said, which wasn't his fault. We can't all be sound: we'vegot to be the way we're made. As near as I can make out, geniuses thinkthey know it all, and so they won't take people's advice, but always gotheir own way, which makes everybody forsake them and despise them, andthat is perfectly natural. If they was humbler, and listened and tried tolearn, it would be better for them.
The part the professor was in was like a boat, and was big and roomy, andhad water-tight lockers around the inside to keep all sorts of things in,and a body could sit on them, and make beds on them, too. We went aboard,and there was twenty people there, snooping around and examining, and oldNat Parsons was there, too. The professor kept fussing around gettingready, and the people went ashore, drifting out one at a time, and oldNat he was the last. Of course it wouldn't do to let him go out behindUS. We mustn't budge till he was gone, so we could be last ourselves.
But he was gone now, so it was time for us to follow. I heard a bigshout, and turned around--the city was dropping from under us like ashot! It made me sick all through, I was so scared. Jim turned gray andcouldn't say a word, and Tom didn't say nothing, but looked excited. Thecity went on dropping down, and down, and down; but we didn't seem to bedoing nothing but just hang in the air and stand still. The houses gotsmaller and smaller, and the city pulled itself together, closer andcloser, and the men and wagons got to looking like ants and bugs crawlingaround, and the streets like threads and cracks; and then it all kind ofmelted together, and there wasn't any city any more it was only a bigscar on the earth, and it seemed to me a body could see up the river anddown the river about a thousand miles, though of course it wasn't somuch. By and by the earth was a ball--just a round ball, of a dull color,with shiny stripes wriggling and winding around over it, which wasrivers. The Widder Douglas always told me the earth was round like aball, but I never took any stock in a lot of them superstitions o' hers,and of course I paid no attention to that one, because I could see myselfthat the world was the shape of a plate, and flat. I used to go up on thehill, and take a look around and prove it for myself, because I reckonthe best way to get a sure thing on a fact is to go and examine foryourself, and not take anybody's say-so. But I had to give in now thatthe widder was right. That is, she was right as to the rest of the world,but she warn't right about the part our village is in; that part is theshape of a plate, and flat, I take my oath!
The professor had been quiet all this time, as if he was asleep; but hebroke loose now, and he was mighty bitter. He says something like this:
"Idiots! They said it wouldn't go; and they wanted to examine it, and spyaround and get the secret of it out of me. But I beat them. Nobody knowsthe secret but me. Nobody knows what makes it move but me; and it's a newpower--a new power, and a thousand times the strongest in the earth!Steam's foolishness to it! They said I couldn't go to Europe. To Europe!Why, there's power aboard to last five years, and feed for three months.They are fools! What do they know about it? Yes, and they said myair-ship was flimsy. Why, she's good for fifty years! I can sail theskies all my life if I want to, and steer where I please, though theylaughed at that, and said I couldn't. Couldn't steer! Come here, boy;we'll see. You press these buttons as I tell you."
He made Tom steer the ship all about and every which way, and learnt himthe whole thing in nearly no time; and Tom said it was perfectly easy. Hemade him fetch the ship down 'most to the earth, and had him spin heralong so close to the Illinois prairies that a body could talk to thefarmers, and hear everything they said perfectly plain; and he flung outprinted bills to them that told about the balloon, and said it was goingto Europe. Tom got so he could steer straight for a tree till he gotnearly to it, and then dart up and skin right along over the top of it.Yes, and he showed Tom how to land her; and he done it first-rate, too,and set her down in the prairies as soft as wool. But the minute westarted to skip out the professor says, "No, you don't!" and shot her upin the air again. It was awful. I begun to beg, and so did Jim; but itonly give his temper a rise, and he begun to rage around and look wildout of his eyes, and I was scared of him.
Well, then he got on to his troubles again, and mourned and grumbledabout the way he was treated, and couldn't seem to git over it, andespecially people's saying his ship was flimsy. He scoffed at that, andat their saying she warn't simple and would be always getting out oforder. Get out of order! That graveled him; he said that she couldn't anymore get out of order than the solar sister.
He got worse and worse, and I never see a person take on so. It give methe cold shivers to see him, and so it did Jim. By and by he got toyelling and screaming, and then he swore the world shouldn't ever havehis secret at all now, it had treated him so mean. He said he would sailhis balloon around the globe just to show what he could do, and then hewould sink it in the sea, and sink us all along with it, too. Well, itwas the awfulest fix to be in, and here was night coming on!
He give us something to eat, and made us go to the other end of the boat,and he laid down on a locker, where he could boss all the works, and puthis old pepper-box revolver under his head, and said if anybody comefooling around there trying to land her, he would kill him.
We set scrunched up together, and thought considerable, but didn't saymuch--only just a word once in a while when a body had to say somethingor bust, we was so scared and worried. The night dragged along slow andlonesome. We was pretty low down, and the moonshine made everything softand pretty, and the farmhouses looked snug and homeful, and we could hearthe farm sounds, and wished we could be down there; but, laws! we justslipped along over them like a ghost, and never left a track.
Away in the night, when all the sounds was late sounds, and the air had alate feel, and a late smell, too--about a two-o'clock feel, as near as Icould make out--Tom said the professor was so quiet this time he must beasleep, and we'd better--
"Better what?" I says in a whisper, and feeling sick all over, because Iknowed what he was thinking about.
"Better slip back there and tie him, and land the ship," he says.
I says: "No, sir! Don' you budge, Tom Sawyer."
And Jim--well, Jim was kind o' gasping, he was so scared. He says:
"Oh, Mars Tom, DON'T! Ef you teches him, we's gone--we's gone sho'! Iain't gwine anear him, not for nothin' in dis worl'. Mars Tom, he's plumbcrazy."
Tom whispers and says--"That's WHY we've got to do something. If hewasn't crazy I wouldn't give shucks to be anywhere but here; you couldn'thire me to get out--now that I've got used to this balloon and over thescare of being cut loose from the solid ground--if he was in his rightmind. But it's no good politics, sailing around like this with a personthat's out of his head, and says he's going round the world and thendrown us all. We've GOT to do something, I tell you, and do it before hewakes up, too, or we mayn't ever get another chance. Come!"
But it made us turn cold and creepy just to think of it, and we said wewouldn't budge. So Tom was for slipping back there by himself to see ifhe couldn't get at the steering-gear and land the ship. We begged andbegged him not to, but it warn't no use; so he got down on his hands andknees, and begun to crawl an inch at a time, we a-holding our breath andwatching. After he got to the middle of the boat he crept slower thanever, and it did seem like years to me. But at last we see him get to theprofessor's head, and sort of raise up soft and look a good spell in hisface and listen. Then we see him begin to inch along again toward theprofessor's feet where the steering-buttons was. Well, he got there allsafe, and was reaching slow and steady toward the buttons, but he knockeddown something that made a noise, and we see him slump down flat an' softin the bottom, and lay still. The professor stirred, and says, "What'sthat?" But everybody kept dead still and quiet, and he begun to mutterand mumble and nestle, like a person that's going to wake up, and Ithought I was going to die, I was so worried and scared.
Then a cloud slid over the moon, and I 'most cried, I was so glad. Sheburied herself deeper and deeper into the cloud, and it got so dark wecouldn't see Tom. Then it began to sprinkle rain, and we could hear theprofessor fussing at his ropes and things and abusing the weather. We wasafraid every minute he would touch Tom, and then we would be goners, andno help; but Tom was already on his way back, and when we felt his handson our knees my breath stopped sudden, and my heart fell down 'mongst myother works, because I couldn't tell in the dark but it might be theprofessor! which I thought it WAS.
Dear! I was so glad to have him back that I was just as near happy as aperson could be that was up in the air that way with a deranged man. Youcan't land a balloon in the dark, and so I hoped it would keep onraining, for I didn't want Tom to go meddling any more and make us soawful uncomfortable. Well, I got my wish. It drizzled and drizzled alongthe rest of the night, which wasn't long, though it did seem so; and atdaybreak it cleared, and the world looked mighty soft and gray andpretty, and the forests and fields so good to see again, and the horsesand cattle standing sober and thinking. Next, the sun come a-blazing upgay and splendid, and then we began to feel rusty and stretchy, and firstwe knowed we was all asleep.