By Mark Twain
"COME in," says the woman, and I did. She says: "Take a cheer."
I done it. She looked me all over with her little shiny eyes, and says:
"What might your name be?"
"Where 'bouts do you live? In this neighborhood?'
"No'm. In Hookerville, seven mile below. I've walked all the way and
I'm all tired out."
"Hungry, too, I reckon. I'll find you something."
"No'm, I ain't hungry. I was so hungry I had to stop two miles below
here at a farm; so I ain't hungry no more. It's what makes me so late.
My mother's down sick, and out of money and everything, and I come to
tell my uncle Abner Moore. He lives at the upper end of the town, she
says. I hain't ever been here before. Do you know him?"
"No; but I don't know everybody yet. I haven't lived here quite two
weeks. It's a considerable ways to the upper end of the town. You better
stay here all night. Take off your bonnet."
"No," I says; "I'll rest a while, I reckon, and go on. I ain't afeared
of the dark."
She said she wouldn't let me go by myself, but her husband would be in by
and by, maybe in a hour and a half, and she'd send him along with me.
Then she got to talking about her husband, and about her relations up the
river, and her relations down the river, and about how much better off
they used to was, and how they didn't know but they'd made a mistake
coming to our town, instead of letting well alone--and so on and so on,
till I was afeard I had made a mistake coming to her to find out what was
going on in the town; but by and by she dropped on to pap and the murder,
and then I was pretty willing to let her clatter right along. She told
about me and Tom Sawyer finding the six thousand dollars (only she got it
ten) and all about pap and what a hard lot he was, and what a hard lot I
was, and at last she got down to where I was murdered. I says:
"Who done it? We've heard considerable about these goings on down in
Hookerville, but we don't know who 'twas that killed Huck Finn."
"Well, I reckon there's a right smart chance of people HERE that'd like
to know who killed him. Some think old Finn done it himself."
"No--is that so?"
"Most everybody thought it at first. He'll never know how nigh he come
to getting lynched. But before night they changed around and judged it
was done by a runaway nigger named Jim."
I stopped. I reckoned I better keep still. She run on, and never
noticed I had put in at all:
"The nigger run off the very night Huck Finn was killed. So there's a
reward out for him--three hundred dollars. And there's a reward out for
old Finn, too--two hundred dollars. You see, he come to town the morning
after the murder, and told about it, and was out with 'em on the
ferryboat hunt, and right away after he up and left. Before night they
wanted to lynch him, but he was gone, you see. Well, next day they found
out the nigger was gone; they found out he hadn't ben seen sence ten
o'clock the night the murder was done. So then they put it on him, you
see; and while they was full of it, next day, back comes old Finn, and
went boo-hooing to Judge Thatcher to get money to hunt for the nigger all
over Illinois with. The judge gave him some, and that evening he got
drunk, and was around till after midnight with a couple of mighty
hard-looking strangers, and then went off with them. Well, he hain't
come back sence, and they ain't looking for him back till this thing
blows over a little, for people thinks now that he killed his boy and
fixed things so folks would think robbers done it, and then he'd get
Huck's money without having to bother a long time with a lawsuit. People
do say he warn't any too good to do it. Oh, he's sly, I reckon. If he
don't come back for a year he'll be all right. You can't prove anything
on him, you know; everything will be quieted down then, and he'll walk in
Huck's money as easy as nothing."
"Yes, I reckon so, 'm. I don't see nothing in the way of it. Has
everybody quit thinking the nigger done it?"
"Oh, no, not everybody. A good many thinks he done it. But they'll get
the nigger pretty soon now, and maybe they can scare it out of him."
"Why, are they after him yet?"
"Well, you're innocent, ain't you! Does three hundred dollars lay around
every day for people to pick up? Some folks think the nigger ain't far
from here. I'm one of them--but I hain't talked it around. A few days
ago I was talking with an old couple that lives next door in the log
shanty, and they happened to say hardly anybody ever goes to that island
over yonder that they call Jackson's Island. Don't anybody live there?
says I. No, nobody, says they. I didn't say any more, but I done some
thinking. I was pretty near certain I'd seen smoke over there, about the
head of the island, a day or two before that, so I says to myself, like
as not that nigger's hiding over there; anyway, says I, it's worth the
trouble to give the place a hunt. I hain't seen any smoke sence, so I
reckon maybe he's gone, if it was him; but husband's going over to see
--him and another man. He was gone up the river; but he got back to-day,
and I told him as soon as he got here two hours ago."
I had got so uneasy I couldn't set still. I had to do something with my
hands; so I took up a needle off of the table and went to threading it.
My hands shook, and I was making a bad job of it. When the woman stopped
talking I looked up, and she was looking at me pretty curious and smiling
a little. I put down the needle and thread, and let on to be interested
--and I was, too--and says:
"Three hundred dollars is a power of money. I wish my mother could get
it. Is your husband going over there to-night?"
"Oh, yes. He went up-town with the man I was telling you of, to get a
boat and see if they could borrow another gun. They'll go over after
"Couldn't they see better if they was to wait till daytime?"
"Yes. And couldn't the nigger see better, too? After midnight he'll
likely be asleep, and they can slip around through the woods and hunt up
his camp fire all the better for the dark, if he's got one."
"I didn't think of that."
The woman kept looking at me pretty curious, and I didn't feel a bit
comfortable. Pretty soon she says,
"What did you say your name was, honey?"
Somehow it didn't seem to me that I said it was Mary before, so I didn't
look up--seemed to me I said it was Sarah; so I felt sort of cornered,
and was afeared maybe I was looking it, too. I wished the woman would
say something more; the longer she set still the uneasier I was. But now
"Honey, I thought you said it was Sarah when you first come in?"
"Oh, yes'm, I did. Sarah Mary Williams. Sarah's my first name. Some
calls me Sarah, some calls me Mary."
"Oh, that's the way of it?"
I was feeling better then, but I wished I was out of there, anyway. I
couldn't look up yet.
Well, the woman fell to talking about how hard times was, and how poor
they had to live, and how the rats was as free as if they owned the
place, and so forth and so on, and then I got easy again. She was right
about the rats. You'd see one stick his nose out of a hole in the corner
every little while. She said she had to have things handy to throw at
them when she was alone, or they wouldn't give her no peace. She showed
me a bar of lead twisted up into a knot, and said she was a good shot
with it generly, but she'd wrenched her arm a day or two ago, and didn't
know whether she could throw true now. But she watched for a chance, and
directly banged away at a rat; but she missed him wide, and said "Ouch!"
it hurt her arm so. Then she told me to try for the next one. I wanted
to be getting away before the old man got back, but of course I didn't
let on. I got the thing, and the first rat that showed his nose I let
drive, and if he'd a stayed where he was he'd a been a tolerable sick
rat. She said that was first-rate, and she reckoned I would hive the
next one. She went and got the lump of lead and fetched it back, and
brought along a hank of yarn which she wanted me to help her with. I
held up my two hands and she put the hank over them, and went on talking
about her and her husband's matters. But she broke off to say:
"Keep your eye on the rats. You better have the lead in your lap,
So she dropped the lump into my lap just at that moment, and I clapped my
legs together on it and she went on talking. But only about a minute.
Then she took off the hank and looked me straight in the face, and very
pleasant, and says:
"Come, now, what's your real name?"
"What's your real name? Is it Bill, or Tom, or Bob?--or what is it?"
I reckon I shook like a leaf, and I didn't know hardly what to do. But I
"Please to don't poke fun at a poor girl like me, mum. If I'm in the way
"No, you won't. Set down and stay where you are. I ain't going to hurt
you, and I ain't going to tell on you, nuther. You just tell me your
secret, and trust me. I'll keep it; and, what's more, I'll help you.
So'll my old man if you want him to. You see, you're a runaway
'prentice, that's all. It ain't anything. There ain't no harm in it.
You've been treated bad, and you made up your mind to cut. Bless you,
child, I wouldn't tell on you. Tell me all about it now, that's a good
So I said it wouldn't be no use to try to play it any longer, and I would
just make a clean breast and tell her everything, but she musn't go back
on her promise. Then I told her my father and mother was dead, and the
law had bound me out to a mean old farmer in the country thirty mile back
from the river, and he treated me so bad I couldn't stand it no longer;
he went away to be gone a couple of days, and so I took my chance and
stole some of his daughter's old clothes and cleared out, and I had been
three nights coming the thirty miles. I traveled nights, and hid
daytimes and slept, and the bag of bread and meat I carried from home
lasted me all the way, and I had a-plenty. I said I believed my uncle
Abner Moore would take care of me, and so that was why I struck out for
this town of Goshen.
"Goshen, child? This ain't Goshen. This is St. Petersburg. Goshen's
ten mile further up the river. Who told you this was Goshen?"
"Why, a man I met at daybreak this morning, just as I was going to turn
into the woods for my regular sleep. He told me when the roads forked I
must take the right hand, and five mile would fetch me to Goshen."
"He was drunk, I reckon. He told you just exactly wrong."
"Well, he did act like he was drunk, but it ain't no matter now. I got
to be moving along. I'll fetch Goshen before daylight."
"Hold on a minute. I'll put you up a snack to eat. You might want it."
So she put me up a snack, and says:
"Say, when a cow's laying down, which end of her gets up first? Answer
up prompt now--don't stop to study over it. Which end gets up first?"
"The hind end, mum."
"Well, then, a horse?"
"The for'rard end, mum."
"Which side of a tree does the moss grow on?"
"If fifteen cows is browsing on a hillside, how many of them eats with
their heads pointed the same direction?"
"The whole fifteen, mum."
"Well, I reckon you HAVE lived in the country. I thought maybe you was
trying to hocus me again. What's your real name, now?"
"George Peters, mum."
"Well, try to remember it, George. Don't forget and tell me it's
Elexander before you go, and then get out by saying it's George Elexander
when I catch you. And don't go about women in that old calico. You do a
girl tolerable poor, but you might fool men, maybe. Bless you, child,
when you set out to thread a needle don't hold the thread still and fetch
the needle up to it; hold the needle still and poke the thread at it;
that's the way a woman most always does, but a man always does t'other
way. And when you throw at a rat or anything, hitch yourself up a tiptoe
and fetch your hand up over your head as awkward as you can, and miss
your rat about six or seven foot. Throw stiff-armed from the shoulder,
like there was a pivot there for it to turn on, like a girl; not from the
wrist and elbow, with your arm out to one side, like a boy. And, mind
you, when a girl tries to catch anything in her lap she throws her knees
apart; she don't clap them together, the way you did when you catched the
lump of lead. Why, I spotted you for a boy when you was threading the
needle; and I contrived the other things just to make certain. Now trot
along to your uncle, Sarah Mary Williams George Elexander Peters, and if
you get into trouble you send word to Mrs. Judith Loftus, which is me,
and I'll do what I can to get you out of it. Keep the river road all the
way, and next time you tramp take shoes and socks with you. The river
road's a rocky one, and your feet'll be in a condition when you get to
Goshen, I reckon."
I went up the bank about fifty yards, and then I doubled on my tracks and
slipped back to where my canoe was, a good piece below the house. I
jumped in, and was off in a hurry. I went up-stream far enough to make
the head of the island, and then started across. I took off the
sun-bonnet, for I didn't want no blinders on then. When I was about the
middle I heard the clock begin to strike, so I stops and listens; the
sound come faint over the water but clear--eleven. When I struck the
head of the island I never waited to blow, though I was most winded, but
I shoved right into the timber where my old camp used to be, and started
a good fire there on a high and dry spot.
Then I jumped in the canoe and dug out for our place, a mile and a half
below, as hard as I could go. I landed, and slopped through the timber
and up the ridge and into the cavern. There Jim laid, sound asleep on
the ground. I roused him out and says:
"Git up and hump yourself, Jim! There ain't a minute to lose. They're
Jim never asked no questions, he never said a word; but the way he worked
for the next half an hour showed about how he was scared. By that time
everything we had in the world was on our raft, and she was ready to be
shoved out from the willow cove where she was hid. We put out the camp
fire at the cavern the first thing, and didn't show a candle outside
I took the canoe out from the shore a little piece, and took a look; but
if there was a boat around I couldn't see it, for stars and shadows ain't
good to see by. Then we got out the raft and slipped along down in the
shade, past the foot of the island dead still--never saying a word.
IT must a been close on to one o'clock when we got below the island at
last, and the raft did seem to go mighty slow. If a boat was to come
along we was going to take to the canoe and break for the Illinois shore;
and it was well a boat didn't come, for we hadn't ever thought to put the
gun in the canoe, or a fishing-line, or anything to eat. We was in
ruther too much of a sweat to think of so many things. It warn't good
judgment to put EVERYTHING on the raft.
If the men went to the island I just expect they found the camp fire I
built, and watched it all night for Jim to come. Anyways, they stayed
away from us, and if my building the fire never fooled them it warn't no
fault of mine. I played it as low down on them as I could.
When the first streak of day began to show we tied up to a towhead in a
big bend on the Illinois side, and hacked off cottonwood branches with
the hatchet, and covered up the raft with them so she looked like there
had been a cave-in in the bank there. A tow-head is a sandbar that has
cottonwoods on it as thick as harrow-teeth.
We had mountains on the Missouri shore and heavy timber on the Illinois
side, and the channel was down the Missouri shore at that place, so we
warn't afraid of anybody running across us. We laid there all day, and
watched the rafts and steamboats spin down the Missouri shore, and
up-bound steamboats fight the big river in the middle. I told Jim all
about the time I had jabbering with that woman; and Jim said she was a
smart one, and if she was to start after us herself she wouldn't set down
and watch a camp fire--no, sir, she'd fetch a dog. Well, then, I said,
why couldn't she tell her husband to fetch a dog? Jim said he bet she
did think of it by the time the men was ready to start, and he believed
they must a gone up-town to get a dog and so they lost all that time, or
else we wouldn't be here on a towhead sixteen or seventeen mile below the
village--no, indeedy, we would be in that same old town again. So I said
I didn't care what was the reason they didn't get us as long as they
When it was beginning to come on dark we poked our heads out of the
cottonwood thicket, and looked up and down and across; nothing in sight;
so Jim took up some of the top planks of the raft and built a snug wigwam
to get under in blazing weather and rainy, and to keep the things dry.
Jim made a floor for the wigwam, and raised it a foot or more above the
level of the raft, so now the blankets and all the traps was out of reach
of steamboat waves. Right in the middle of the wigwam we made a layer of
dirt about five or six inches deep with a frame around it for to hold it
to its place; this was to build a fire on in sloppy weather or chilly;
the wigwam would keep it from being seen. We made an extra steering-oar,
too, because one of the others might get broke on a snag or something.
We fixed up a short forked stick to hang the old lantern on, because we
must always light the lantern whenever we see a steamboat coming
down-stream, to keep from getting run over; but we wouldn't have to light
it for up-stream boats unless we see we was in what they call a
"crossing"; for the river was pretty high yet, very low banks being still
a little under water; so up-bound boats didn't always run the channel,
but hunted easy water.
This second night we run between seven and eight hours, with a current
that was making over four mile an hour. We catched fish and talked, and
we took a swim now and then to keep off sleepiness. It was kind of
solemn, drifting down the big, still river, laying on our backs looking
up at the stars, and we didn't ever feel like talking loud, and it warn't
often that we laughed--only a little kind of a low chuckle. We had
mighty good weather as a general thing, and nothing ever happened to us
at all--that night, nor the next, nor the next.
Every night we passed towns, some of them away up on black hillsides,
nothing but just a shiny bed of lights; not a house could you see. The
fifth night we passed St. Louis, and it was like the whole world lit up.
In St. Petersburg they used to say there was twenty or thirty thousand
people in St. Louis, but I never believed it till I see that wonderful
spread of lights at two o'clock that still night. There warn't a sound
there; everybody was asleep.
Every night now I used to slip ashore towards ten o'clock at some little
village, and buy ten or fifteen cents' worth of meal or bacon or other
stuff to eat; and sometimes I lifted a chicken that warn't roosting
comfortable, and took him along. Pap always said, take a chicken when
you get a chance, because if you don't want him yourself you can easy
find somebody that does, and a good deed ain't ever forgot. I never see
pap when he didn't want the chicken himself, but that is what he used to
Mornings before daylight I slipped into cornfields and borrowed a
watermelon, or a mushmelon, or a punkin, or some new corn, or things of
that kind. Pap always said it warn't no harm to borrow things if you was
meaning to pay them back some time; but the widow said it warn't anything
but a soft name for stealing, and no decent body would do it. Jim said
he reckoned the widow was partly right and pap was partly right; so the
best way would be for us to pick out two or three things from the list
and say we wouldn't borrow them any more--then he reckoned it wouldn't be
no harm to borrow the others. So we talked it over all one night,
drifting along down the river, trying to make up our minds whether to
drop the watermelons, or the cantelopes, or the mushmelons, or what. But
towards daylight we got it all settled satisfactory, and concluded to
drop crabapples and p'simmons. We warn't feeling just right before that,
but it was all comfortable now. I was glad the way it come out, too,
because crabapples ain't ever good, and the p'simmons wouldn't be ripe
for two or three months yet.
We shot a water-fowl now and then that got up too early in the morning or
didn't go to bed early enough in the evening. Take it all round, we
lived pretty high.
The fifth night below St. Louis we had a big storm after midnight, with a
power of thunder and lightning, and the rain poured down in a solid
sheet. We stayed in the wigwam and let the raft take care of itself.
When the lightning glared out we could see a big straight river ahead,
and high, rocky bluffs on both sides. By and by says I, "Hel-LO, Jim,
looky yonder!" It was a steamboat that had killed herself on a rock. We
was drifting straight down for her. The lightning showed her very
distinct. She was leaning over, with part of her upper deck above water,
and you could see every little chimbly-guy clean and clear, and a chair
by the big bell, with an old slouch hat hanging on the back of it, when
the flashes come.
Well, it being away in the night and stormy, and all so mysterious-like,
I felt just the way any other boy would a felt when I see that wreck
laying there so mournful and lonesome in the middle of the river. I
wanted to get aboard of her and slink around a little, and see what there
was there. So I says:
"Le's land on her, Jim."
But Jim was dead against it at first. He says:
"I doan' want to go fool'n 'long er no wrack. We's doin' blame' well, en
we better let blame' well alone, as de good book says. Like as not dey's
a watchman on dat wrack."
"Watchman your grandmother," I says; "there ain't nothing to watch but
the texas and the pilot-house; and do you reckon anybody's going to resk