Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is the chosen book for this year’s Flagler Reads Together, a project of the Friends of the Flagler County Library. Flagler Reads Together, now celebrating its 10th year, encourages all of Flagler County to read the book simultaneously over the month, and participate in events surrounding Twain’s novel. Here’s your chance. FlaglerLive is taking part by serializing the novel over the course of March. Those of you who’ve never read the book: here’s your chance. Those of you who haven’t read it in a while may want to give it another shot. Critics welcome: Twain wouldn’t want it any other way. Illustrations are from the Charles Webster and Company edition of 1885.
A project of FlaglerLive and the Friends of the Library.
Flagler Reads Together: Huckleberry Finn
Chapter 39: Rats; Lively Bed; fellows; The Straw Dummy.
IN the morning we went up to the village and bought a wire rat-trap and fetched it down, and unstopped the best rat-hole, and in about an hour we had fifteen of the bulliest kind of ones; and then we took it and put it in a safe place under Aunt Sally’s bed. But while we was gone for spiders little Thomas Franklin Benjamin Jefferson Elexander Phelps found it there, and opened the door of it to see if the rats would come out, and they did; and Aunt Sally she come in, and when we got back she was a-standing on top of the bed raising Cain, and the rats was doing what they could to keep off the dull times for her. So she took and dusted us both with the hickry, and we was as much as two hours catching another fifteen or sixteen, drat that meddlesome cub, and they warn’t the likeliest, nuther, because the first haul was the pick of the flock. I never see a likelier lot of rats than what that first haul was.
We got a splendid stock of sorted spiders, and bugs, and frogs, and caterpillars, and one thing or another; and we like to got a hornet’s nest, but we didn’t. The family was at home. We didn’t give it right up, but stayed with them as long as we could; because we allowed we’d tire them out or they’d got to tire us out, and they done it. Then we got allycumpain and rubbed on the places, and was pretty near all right again, but couldn’t set down convenient. And so we went for the snakes, and grabbed a couple of dozen garters and house-snakes, and put them in a bag, and put it in our room, and by that time it was supper-time, and a rattling good honest day’s work: and hungry?—oh, no, I reckon not! And there warn’t a blessed snake up there when we went back—we didn’t half tie the sack, and they worked out somehow, and left. But it didn’t matter much, because they was still on the premises somewheres. So we judged we could get some of them again. No, there warn’t no real scarcity of snakes about the house for a considerable spell. You’d see them dripping from the rafters and places every now and then; and they generly landed in your plate, or down the back of your neck, and most of the time where you didn’t want them. Well, they was handsome and striped, and there warn’t no harm in a million of them; but that never made no difference to Aunt Sally; she despised snakes, be the breed what they might, and she couldn’t stand them no way you could fix it; and every time one of them flopped down on her, it didn’t make no difference what she was doing, she would just lay that work down and light out. I never see such a woman. And you could hear her whoop to Jericho. You couldn’t get her to take a-holt of one of them with the tongs. And if she turned over and found one in bed she would scramble out and lift a howl that you would think the house was afire. She disturbed the old man so that he said he could most wish there hadn’t ever been no snakes created. Why, after every last snake had been gone clear out of the house for as much as a week Aunt Sally warn’t over it yet; she warn’t near over it; when she was setting thinking about something you could touch her on the back of her neck with a feather and she would jump right out of her stockings. It was very curious. But Tom said all women was just so. He said they was made that way for some reason or other.
We got a licking every time one of our snakes come in her way, and she allowed these lickings warn’t nothing to what she would do if we ever loaded up the place again with them. I didn’t mind the lickings, because they didn’t amount to nothing; but I minded the trouble we had to lay in another lot. But we got them laid in, and all the other things; and you never see a cabin as blithesome as Jim’s was when they’d all swarm out for music and go for him. Jim didn’t like the spiders, and the spiders didn’t like Jim; and so they’d lay for him, and make it mighty warm for him. And he said that between the rats and the snakes and the grindstone there warn’t no room in bed for him, skasely; and when there was, a body couldn’t sleep, it was so lively, and it was always lively, he said, because THEY never all slept at one time, but took turn about, so when the snakes was asleep the rats was on deck, and when the rats turned in the snakes come on watch, so he always had one gang under him, in his way, and t’other gang having a circus over him, and if he got up to hunt a new place the spiders would take a chance at him as he crossed over. He said if he ever got out this time he wouldn’t ever be a prisoner again, not for a salary.
Well, by the end of three weeks everything was in pretty good shape. The shirt was sent in early, in a pie, and every time a rat bit Jim he would get up and write a little in his journal whilst the ink was fresh; the pens was made, the inscriptions and so on was all carved on the grindstone; the bed-leg was sawed in two, and we had et up the sawdust, and it give us a most amazing stomach-ache. We reckoned we was all going to die, but didn’t. It was the most undigestible sawdust I ever see; and Tom said the same./
But as I was saying, we’d got all the work done now, at last; and we was all pretty much fagged out, too, but mainly Jim. The old man had wrote a couple of times to the plantation below Orleans to come and get their runaway nigger, but hadn’t got no answer, because there warn’t no such plantation; so he allowed he would advertise Jim in the St. Louis and New Orleans papers; and when he mentioned the St. Louis ones it give me the cold shivers, and I see we hadn’t no time to lose. So Tom said, now for the nonnamous letters.
“What’s them?” I says.
“Warnings to the people that something is up. Sometimes it’s done one way, sometimes another. But there’s always somebody spying around that gives notice to the governor of the castle. When Louis XVI. was going to light out of the Tooleries, a servant-girl done it. It’s a very good way, and so is the nonnamous letters. We’ll use them both. And it’s usual for the prisoner’s mother to change clothes with him, and she stays in, and he slides out in her clothes. We’ll do that, too.”
“But looky here, Tom, what do we want to WARN anybody for that something’s up? Let them find it out for themselves—it’s their lookout.”
“Yes, I know; but you can’t depend on them. It’s the way they’ve acted from the very start—left us to do EVERYTHING. They’re so confiding and mullet-headed they don’t take notice of nothing at all. So if we don’t GIVE them notice there won’t be nobody nor nothing to interfere with us, and so after all our hard work and trouble this escape ‘ll go off perfectly flat; won’t amount to nothing—won’t be nothing TO it.”
“Well, as for me, Tom, that’s the way I’d like.”
“Shucks!” he says, and looked disgusted. So I says:
“But I ain’t going to make no complaint. Any way that suits you suits me. What you going to do about the servant-girl?”
“You’ll be her. You slide in, in the middle of the night, and hook that yaller girl’s frock.”
“Why, Tom, that ‘ll make trouble next morning; because, of course, she prob’bly hain’t got any but that one.”
“I know; but you don’t want it but fifteen minutes, to carry the nonnamous letter and shove it under the front door.”
“All right, then, I’ll do it; but I could carry it just as handy in my own togs.”
“You wouldn’t look like a servant-girl THEN, would you?”
“No, but there won’t be nobody to see what I look like, ANYWAY.”
“That ain’t got nothing to do with it. The thing for us to do is just to do our DUTY, and not worry about whether anybody SEES us do it or not. Hain’t you got no principle at all?”
“All right, I ain’t saying nothing; I’m the servant-girl. Who’s Jim’s mother?”
“I’m his mother. I’ll hook a gown from Aunt Sally.”
“Well, then, you’ll have to stay in the cabin when me and Jim leaves.”
“Not much. I’ll stuff Jim’s clothes full of straw and lay it on his bed to represent his mother in disguise, and Jim ‘ll take the nigger woman’s gown off of me and wear it, and we’ll all evade together. When a prisoner of style escapes it’s called an evasion. It’s always called so when a king escapes, f’rinstance. And the same with a king’s son; it don’t make no difference whether he’s a natural one or an unnatural one.”
So Tom he wrote the nonnamous letter, and I smouched the yaller wench’s frock that night, and put it on, and shoved it under the front door, the way Tom told me to. It said:
Beware. Trouble is brewing. Keep a sharp lookout. UNKNOWN FRIEND.
Next night we stuck a picture, which Tom drawed in blood, of a skull and crossbones on the front door; and next night another one of a coffin on the back door. I never see a family in such a sweat. They couldn’t a been worse scared if the place had a been full of ghosts laying for them behind everything and under the beds and shivering through the air. If a door banged, Aunt Sally she jumped and said “ouch!” if anything fell, she jumped and said “ouch!” if you happened to touch her, when she warn’t noticing, she done the same; she couldn’t face noway and be satisfied, because she allowed there was something behind her every time—so she was always a-whirling around sudden, and saying “ouch,” and before she’d got two-thirds around she’d whirl back again, and say it again; and she was afraid to go to bed, but she dasn’t set up. So the thing was working very well, Tom said; he said he never see a thing work more satisfactory. He said it showed it was done right.
So he said, now for the grand bulge! So the very next morning at the streak of dawn we got another letter ready, and was wondering what we better do with it, because we heard them say at supper they was going to have a nigger on watch at both doors all night. Tom he went down the lightning-rod to spy around; and the nigger at the back door was asleep, and he stuck it in the back of his neck and come back. This letter said:
Don’t betray me, I wish to be your friend. There is a desprate gang of cutthroats from over in the Indian Territory going to steal your runaway nigger to-night, and they have been trying to scare you so as you will stay in the house and not bother them. I am one of the gang, but have got religgion and wish to quit it and lead an honest life again, and will betray the helish design. They will sneak down from northards, along the fence, at midnight exact, with a false key, and go in the nigger’s cabin to get him. I am to be off a piece and blow a tin horn if I see any danger; but stead of that I will BA like a sheep soon as they get in and not blow at all; then whilst they are getting his chains loose, you slip there and lock them in, and can kill them at your leasure. Don’t do anything but just the way I am telling you, if you do they will suspicion something and raise whoop-jamboreehoo. I do not wish any reward but to know I have done the right thing. UNKNOWN FRIEND.