AN INVITATION FOR TOM AND HUCK
[Footnote: Strange as the incidents of this story are, they are notinventions, but facts--even to the public confession of the accused. Itake them from an old-time Swedish criminal trial, change the actors, andtransfer the scenes to America. I have added some details, but only acouple of them are important ones. -- M. T.]
WELL, it was the next spring after me and Tom Sawyer set our old niggerJim free, the time he was chained up for a runaway slave down there onTom's uncle Silas's farm in Arkansaw. The frost was working out of theground, and out of the air, too, and it was getting closer and closeronto barefoot time every day; and next it would be marble time, and nextmumbletypeg, and next tops and hoops, and next kites, and then right awayit would be summer and going in a-swimming. It just makes a boy homesickto look ahead like that and see how far off summer is. Yes, and it setshim to sighing and saddening around, and there's something the matterwith him, he don't know what. But anyway, he gets out by himself andmopes and thinks; and mostly he hunts for a lonesome place high up on thehill in the edge of the woods, and sets there and looks away off on thebig Mississippi down there a-reaching miles and miles around the pointswhere the timber looks smoky and dim it's so far off and still, andeverything's so solemn it seems like everybody you've loved is dead andgone, and you 'most wish you was dead and gone too, and done with it all.
Don't you know what that is? It's spring fever. That is what the name ofit is. And when you've got it, you want--oh, you don't quite know whatit is you DO want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want itso! It seems to you that mainly what you want is to get away; get awayfrom the same old tedious things you're so used to seeing and so tiredof, and set something new. That is the idea; you want to go and be awanderer; you want to go wandering far away to strange countries whereeverything is mysterious and wonderful and romantic. And if you can't dothat, you'll put up with considerable less; you'll go anywhere you CANgo, just so as to get away, and be thankful of the chance, too.
Well, me and Tom Sawyer had the spring fever, and had it bad, too; but itwarn't any use to think about Tom trying to get away, because, as hesaid, his Aunt Polly wouldn't let him quit school and go traipsing offsomers wasting time; so we was pretty blue. We was setting on the frontsteps one day about sundown talking this way, when out comes his auntPolly with a letter in her hand and says:
"Tom, I reckon you've got to pack up and go down to Arkansaw--your auntSally wants you."
I 'most jumped out of my skin for joy. I reckoned Tom would fly at hisaunt and hug her head off; but if you believe me he set there like arock, and never said a word. It made me fit to cry to see him act sofoolish, with such a noble chance as this opening up. Why, we might loseit if he didn't speak up and show he was thankful and grateful. But heset there and studied and studied till I was that distressed I didn'tknow what to do; then he says, very ca'm, and I could a shot him for it:
"Well," he says, "I'm right down sorry, Aunt Polly, but I reckon I got tobe excused--for the present."
His aunt Polly was knocked so stupid and so mad at the cold impudence ofit that she couldn't say a word for as much as a half a minute, and thisgave me a chance to nudge Tom and whisper:
"Ain't you got any sense? Sp'iling such a noble chance as this andthrowing it away?"
But he warn't disturbed. He mumbled back:
"Huck Finn, do you want me to let her SEE how bad I want to go? Why,she'd begin to doubt, right away, and imagine a lot of sicknesses anddangers and objections, and first you know she'd take it all back. Youlemme alone; I reckon I know how to work her."
Now I never would 'a' thought of that. But he was right. Tom Sawyer wasalways right--the levelest head I ever see, and always AT himself andready for anything you might spring on him. By this time his aunt Pollywas all straight again, and she let fly. She says:
"You'll be excused! YOU will! Well, I never heard the like of it in allmy days! The idea of you talking like that to ME! Now take yourself offand pack your traps; and if I hear another word out of you about whatyou'll be excused from and what you won't, I lay I'LL excuse you--with ahickory!"
She hit his head a thump with her thimble as we dodged by, and he let onto be whimpering as we struck for the stairs. Up in his room he huggedme, he was so out of his head for gladness because he was goingtraveling. And he says:
"Before we get away she'll wish she hadn't let me go, but she won't knowany way to get around it now. After what she's said, her pride won't lether take it back."
Tom was packed in ten minutes, all except what his aunt and Mary wouldfinish up for him; then we waited ten more for her to get cooled down andsweet and gentle again; for Tom said it took her ten minutes to unrufflein times when half of her feathers was up, but twenty when they was allup, and this was one of the times when they was all up. Then we wentdown, being in a sweat to know what the letter said.
She was setting there in a brown study, with it laying in her lap. Weset down, and she says:
"They're in considerable trouble down there, and they think you andHuck'll be a kind of diversion for them--'comfort,' they say. Much ofthat they'll get out of you and Huck Finn, I reckon. There's a neighbornamed Brace Dunlap that's been wanting to marry their Benny for threemonths, and at last they told him point blank and once for all, heCOULDN'T; so he has soured on them, and they're worried about it. Ireckon he's somebody they think they better be on the good side of, forthey've tried to please him by hiring his no-account brother to help onthe farm when they can't hardly afford it, and don't want him aroundanyhow. Who are the Dunlaps?"
"They live about a mile from Uncle Silas's place, Aunt Polly--all thefarmers live about a mile apart down there--and Brace Dunlap is a longsight richer than any of the others, and owns a whole grist of niggers.He's a widower, thirty-six years old, without any children, and is proudof his money and overbearing, and everybody is a little afraid of him. Ijudge he thought he could have any girl he wanted, just for the asking,and it must have set him back a good deal when he found he couldn't getBenny. Why, Benny's only half as old as he is, and just as sweet andlovely as--well, you've seen her. Poor old Uncle Silas--why, it'spitiful, him trying to curry favor that way--so hard pushed and poor, andyet hiring that useless Jubiter Dunlap to please his ornery brother."
"What a name--Jubiter! Where'd he get it?"
"It's only just a nickname. I reckon they've forgot his real name longbefore this. He's twenty-seven, now, and has had it ever since the firsttime he ever went in swimming. The school teacher seen a round brownmole the size of a dime on his left leg above his knee, and four littlebits of moles around it, when he was naked, and he said it minded him ofJubiter and his moons; and the children thought it was funny, and so theygot to calling him Jubiter, and he's Jubiter yet. He's tall, and lazy,and sly, and sneaky, and ruther cowardly, too, but kind of good-natured,and wears long brown hair and no beard, and hasn't got a cent, and Braceboards him for nothing, and gives him his old clothes to wear, anddespises him. Jubiter is a twin."
"What's t'other twin like?"
"Just exactly like Jubiter--so they say; used to was, anyway, but hehain't been seen for seven years. He got to robbing when he was nineteenor twenty, and they jailed him; but he broke jail and got away--up Northhere, somers. They used to hear about him robbing and burglaring now andthen, but that was years ago. He's dead, now. At least that's what theysay. They don't hear about him any more."
"What was his name?"
There wasn't anything more said for a considerable while; the old ladywas thinking. At last she says:
"The thing that is mostly worrying your aunt Sally is the tempers thatthat man Jubiter gets your uncle into."
Tom was astonished, and so was I. Tom says:
"Tempers? Uncle Silas? Land, you must be joking! I didn't know he HAD anytemper."
"Works him up into perfect rages, your aunt Sally says; says he acts asif he would really hit the man, sometimes."
"Aunt Polly, it beats anything I ever heard of. Why, he's just as gentleas mush."
"Well, she's worried, anyway. Says your uncle Silas is like a changedman, on account of all this quarreling. And the neighbors talk about it,and lay all the blame on your uncle, of course, because he's a preacherand hain't got any business to quarrel. Your aunt Sally says he hates togo into the pulpit he's so ashamed; and the people have begun to cooltoward him, and he ain't as popular now as he used to was."
"Well, ain't it strange? Why, Aunt Polly, he was always so good and kindand moony and absent-minded and chuckle-headed and lovable--why, he wasjust an angel! What CAN be the matter of him, do you reckon?"