THE DISAPPEARING LAKE
WE had an early breakfast in the morning, and set looking down on thedesert, and the weather was ever so bammy and lovely, although we warn'thigh up. You have to come down lower and lower after sundown in thedesert, because it cools off so fast; and so, by the time it is gettingtoward dawn, you are skimming along only a little ways above the sand.
We was watching the shadder of the balloon slide along the ground, andnow and then gazing off across the desert to see if anything wasstirring, and then down on the shadder again, when all of a sudden almostright under us we see a lot of men and camels laying scattered about,perfectly quiet, like they was asleep.
We shut off the power, and backed up and stood over them, and then we seethat they was all dead. It give us the cold shivers. And it made us hushdown, too, and talk low, like people at a funeral. We dropped down slowand stopped, and me and Tom clumb down and went among them. There wasmen, and women, and children. They was dried by the sun and dark andshriveled and leathery, like the pictures of mummies you see in books.And yet they looked just as human, you wouldn't 'a' believed it; justlike they was asleep.
Some of the people and animals was partly covered with sand, but most ofthem not, for the sand was thin there, and the bed was gravel and hard.Most of the clothes had rotted away; and when you took hold of a rag, ittore with a touch, like spiderweb. Tom reckoned they had been layingthere for years.
Some of the men had rusty guns by them, some had swords on and had shawlbelts with long, silver-mounted pistols stuck in them. All the camels hadtheir loads on yet, but the packs had busted or rotted and spilt thefreight out on the ground. We didn't reckon the swords was any good tothe dead people any more, so we took one apiece, and some pistols. Wetook a small box, too, because it was so handsome and inlaid so fine; andthen we wanted to bury the people; but there warn't no way to do it thatwe could think of, and nothing to do it with but sand, and that wouldblow away again, of course.
Then we mounted high and sailed away, and pretty soon that black spot onthe sand was out of sight, and we wouldn't ever see them poor peopleagain in this world. We wondered, and reasoned, and tried to guess howthey come to be there, and how it all happened to them, but we couldn'tmake it out. First we thought maybe they got lost, and wandered aroundand about till their food and water give out and they starved to death;but Tom said no wild animals nor vultures hadn't meddled with them, andso that guess wouldn't do. So at last we give it up, and judged wewouldn't think about it no more, because it made us low-spirited.
Then we opened the box, and it had gems and jewels in it, quite a pile,and some little veils of the kind the dead women had on, with fringesmade out of curious gold money that we warn't acquainted with. Wewondered if we better go and try to find them again and give it back; butTom thought it over and said no, it was a country that was full ofrobbers, and they would come and steal it; and then the sin would be onus for putting the temptation in their way. So we went on; but I wishedwe had took all they had, so there wouldn't 'a' been no temptation at allleft.
We had had two hours of that blazing weather down there, and was dreadfulthirsty when we got aboard again. We went straight for the water, but itwas spoiled and bitter, besides being pretty near hot enough to scaldyour mouth. We couldn't drink it. It was Mississippi river water, thebest in the world, and we stirred up the mud in it to see if that wouldhelp, but no, the mud wasn't any better than the water. Well, we hadn'tbeen so very, very thirsty before, while we was interested in the lostpeople, but we was now, and as soon as we found we couldn't have a drink,we was more than thirty-five times as thirsty as we was a quarter of aminute before. Why, in a little while we wanted to hold our mouths openand pant like a dog.
Tom said to keep a sharp lookout, all around, everywheres, because we'dgot to find an oasis or there warn't no telling what would happen. So wedone it. We kept the glasses gliding around all the time, till our armsgot so tired we couldn't hold them any more. Two hours--three hours--justgazing and gazing, and nothing but sand, sand, SAND, and you could seethe quivering heat-shimmer playing over it. Dear, dear, a body don't knowwhat real misery is till he is thirsty all the way through and is certainhe ain't ever going to come to any water any more. At last I couldn'tstand it to look around on them baking plains; I laid down on the locker,and give it up.
But by and by Tom raised a whoop, and there she was! A lake, wide andshiny, with pa'm-trees leaning over it asleep, and their shadders in thewater just as soft and delicate as ever you see. I never see anythinglook so good. It was a long ways off, but that warn't anything to us; wejust slapped on a hundred-mile gait, and calculated to be there in sevenminutes; but she stayed the same old distance away, all the time; wecouldn't seem to gain on her; yes, sir, just as far, and shiny, and likea dream; but we couldn't get no nearer; and at last, all of a sudden, shewas gone!
Tom's eyes took a spread, and he says:
"Boys, it was a MYridge!" Said it like he was glad. I didn't see nothingto be glad about. I says:
"Maybe. I don't care nothing about its name, the thing I want to know is,what's become of it?"
Jim was trembling all over, and so scared he couldn't speak, but hewanted to ask that question himself if he could 'a' done it. Tom says:
"What's BECOME of it? Why, you see yourself it's gone."
"Yes, I know; but where's it gone TO?"
He looked me over and says:
"Well, now, Huck Finn, where WOULD it go to! Don't you know what amyridge is?"
"No, I don't. What is it?"
"It ain't anything but imagination. There ain't anything TO it."
It warmed me up a little to hear him talk like that, and I says:
"What's the use you talking that kind of stuff, Tom Sawyer? Didn't I seethe lake?"
"Yes--you think you did."
"I don't think nothing about it, I DID see it."
"I tell you you DIDN'T see it either--because it warn't there to see."
It astonished Jim to hear him talk so, and he broke in and says, kind ofpleading and distressed:
"Mars Tom, PLEASE don't say sich things in sich an awful time as dis. Youain't only reskin' yo' own self, but you's reskin' us--same way like AnnaNias en Siffra. De lake WUZ dah--I seen it jis' as plain as I sees you enHuck dis minute."
"Why, he seen it himself! He was the very one that seen it first. NOW,then!"
"Yes, Mars Tom, hit's so--you can't deny it. We all seen it, en dat PROVEit was dah."
"Proves it! How does it prove it?"
"Same way it does in de courts en everywheres, Mars Tom. One pusson mightbe drunk, or dreamy or suthin', en he could be mistaken; en two might,maybe; but I tell you, sah, when three sees a thing, drunk er sober, it'sSO. Dey ain't no gittin' aroun' dat, en you knows it, Mars Tom."
"I don't know nothing of the kind. There used to be forty thousandmillion people that seen the sun move from one side of the sky to theother every day. Did that prove that the sun DONE it?"
"Course it did. En besides, dey warn't no 'casion to prove it. A body'at's got any sense ain't gwine to doubt it. Dah she is now--a sailin'thoo de sky, like she allays done."
Tom turned on me, then, and says:
"What do YOU say--is the sun standing still?"
"Tom Sawyer, what's the use to ask such a jackass question? Anybody thatain't blind can see it don't stand still."
"Well," he says, "I'm lost in the sky with no company but a passel oflow-down animals that don't know no more than the head boss of auniversity did three or four hundred years ago."
It warn't fair play, and I let him know it. I says:
"Throwin' mud ain't arguin', Tom Sawyer."
"Oh, my goodness, oh, my goodness gracious, dah's de lake agi'n!" yelledJim, just then. "NOW, Mars Tom, what you gwine to say?"
Yes, sir, there was the lake again, away yonder across the desert,perfectly plain, trees and all, just the same as it was before. I says:
"I reckon you're satisfied now, Tom Sawyer."
But he says, perfectly ca'm:
"Yes, satisfied there ain't no lake there."
"DON'T talk so, Mars Tom--it sk'yers me to hear you. It's so hot, enyou's so thirsty, dat you ain't in yo' right mine, Mars Tom. Oh, butdon't she look good! 'clah I doan' know how I's gwine to wait tell wegits dah, I's SO thirsty."
"Well, you'll have to wait; and it won't do you no good, either, becausethere ain't no lake there, I tell you."
"Jim, don't you take your eye off of it, and I won't, either."
"'Deed I won't; en bless you, honey, I couldn't ef I wanted to."
We went a-tearing along toward it, piling the miles behind us likenothing, but never gaining an inch on it--and all of a sudden it wasgone again! Jim staggered, and 'most fell down. When he got his breath hesays, gasping like a fish:
"Mars Tom, hit's a GHOS', dat's what it is, en I hopes to goodness weain't gwine to see it no mo'. Dey's BEEN a lake, en suthin's happened, ende lake's dead, en we's seen its ghos'; we's seen it twiste, en dat'sproof. De desert's ha'nted, it's ha'nted, sho; oh, Mars Tom, le''s gitouten it; I'd ruther die den have de night ketch us in it ag'in en deghos' er dat lake come a-mournin' aroun' us en we asleep en doan' know dedanger we's in."
"Ghost, you gander! It ain't anything but air and heat and thirstinesspasted together by a person's imagination. If I--gimme the glass!"
He grabbed it and begun to gaze off to the right.
"It's a flock of birds," he says. "It's getting toward sundown, andthey're making a bee-line across our track for somewheres. They meanbusiness--maybe they're going for food or water, or both. Let her go tostarboard!--Port your hellum! Hard down! There--ease up--steady, as yougo."
We shut down some of the power, so as not to outspeed them, and took outafter them. We went skimming along a quarter of a mile behind them, andwhen we had followed them an hour and a half and was getting prettydiscouraged, and was thirsty clean to unendurableness, Tom says:
"Take the glass, one of you, and see what that is, away ahead of thebirds."
Jim got the first glimpse, and slumped down on the locker sick. He wasmost crying, and says:
"She's dah ag'in, Mars Tom, she's dah ag'in, en I knows I's gwine to die,'case when a body sees a ghos' de third time, dat's what it means. Iwisht I'd never come in dis balloon, dat I does."
He wouldn't look no more, and what he said made me afraid, too, because Iknowed it was true, for that has always been the way with ghosts; so thenI wouldn't look any more, either. Both of us begged Tom to turn off andgo some other way, but he wouldn't, and said we was ignorantsuperstitious blatherskites. Yes, and he'll git come up with, one ofthese days, I says to myself, insulting ghosts that way. They'll stand itfor a while, maybe, but they won't stand it always, for anybody thatknows about ghosts knows how easy they are hurt, and how revengeful theyare.
So we was all quiet and still, Jim and me being scared, and Tom busy. Byand by Tom fetched the balloon to a standstill, and says:
"NOW get up and look, you sapheads."
We done it, and there was the sure-enough water right under us!--clear,and blue, and cool, and deep, and wavy with the breeze, the loveliestsight that ever was. And all about it was grassy banks, and flowers, andshady groves of big trees, looped together with vines, and all looking sopeaceful and comfortable--enough to make a body cry, it was sobeautiful.
Jim DID cry, and rip and dance and carry on, he was so thankful and outof his mind for joy. It was my watch, so I had to stay by the works, butTom and Jim clumb down and drunk a barrel apiece, and fetched me up alot, and I've tasted a many a good thing in my life, but nothing thatever begun with that water.
Then we went down and had a swim, and then Tom came up and spelled me,and me and Jim had a swim, and then Jim spelled Tom, and me and Tom had afoot-race and a boxing-mill, and I don't reckon I ever had such a goodtime in my life. It warn't so very hot, because it was close on toevening, and we hadn't any clothes on, anyway. Clothes is well enough inschool, and in towns, and at balls, too, but there ain't no sense in themwhen there ain't no civilization nor other kinds of bothers and fussinessaround.
"Lions a-comin'!--lions! Quick, Mars Tom! Jump for yo' life, Huck!"
Oh, and didn't we! We never stopped for clothes, but waltzed up theladder just so. Jim lost his head straight off--he always done itwhenever he got excited and scared; and so now, 'stead of just easing theladder up from the ground a little, so the animals couldn't reach it, heturned on a raft of power, and we went whizzing up and was dangling inthe sky before he got his wits together and seen what a foolish thing hewas doing. Then he stopped her, but he had clean forgot what to do next;so there we was, so high that the lions looked like pups, and we wasdrifting off on the wind.
But Tom he shinned up and went for the works and begun to slant her down,and back toward the lake, where the animals was gathering like acamp-meeting, and I judged he had lost HIS head, too; for he knowed I wastoo scared to climb, and did he want to dump me among the tigers andthings?
But no, his head was level, he knowed what he was about. He swooped downto within thirty or forty feet of the lake, and stopped right over thecenter, and sung out:
"Leggo, and drop!"
I done it, and shot down, feet first, and seemed to go about a miletoward the bottom; and when I come up, he says:
"Now lay on your back and float till you're rested and got your pluckback, then I'll dip the ladder in the water and you can climb aboard."
I done it. Now that was ever so smart in Tom, because if he had startedoff somewheres else to drop down on the sand, the menagerie would 'a'come along, too, and might 'a' kept us hunting a safe place till I gottuckered out and fell.
And all this time the lions and tigers was sorting out the clothes, andtrying to divide them up so there would be some for all, but there was amisunderstanding about it somewheres, on account of some of them tryingto hog more than their share; so there was another insurrection, and younever see anything like it in the world. There must 'a' been fifty ofthem, all mixed up together, snorting and roaring and snapping and bitingand tearing, legs and tails in the air, and you couldn't tell which waswhich, and the sand and fur a-flying. And when they got done, some wasdead and some was limping off crippled, and the rest was setting aroundon the battlefield, some of them licking their sore places and the otherslooking up at us and seemed to be kind of inviting us to come down andhave some fun, but which we didn't want any.
As for the clothes, they warn't any, any more. Every last rag of them wasinside of the animals; and not agreeing with them very well, I don'treckon, for there was considerable many brass buttons on them, and therewas knives in the pockets, too, and smoking tobacco, and nails and chalkand marbles and fishhooks and things. But I wasn't caring. All that wasbothering me was, that all we had now was the professor's clothes, a bigenough assortment, but not suitable to go into company with, if we cameacross any, because the britches was as long as tunnels, and the coatsand things according. Still, there was everything a tailor needed, andJim was a kind of jack legged tailor, and he allowed he could soon trim asuit or two down for us that would answer.