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 VII: Laying for Him; Locked in the Cabin; Sinking the Body; Resting
“GIT up! What you ’bout?”
I opened my eyes and looked around, trying to make out where I was. It was after sun-up, and I had been sound asleep. Pap was standing over me looking sour and sick, too. He says:
“What you doin’ with this gun?”
I judged he didn’t know nothing about what he had been doing, so I says:
“Somebody tried to get in, so I was laying for him.”
“Why didn’t you roust me out?”
“Well, I tried to, but I couldn’t; I couldn’t budge you.”
“Well, all right. Don’t stand there palavering all day, but out with you and see if there’s a fish on the lines for breakfast. I’ll be along in a minute.”
He unlocked the door, and I cleared out up the river-bank. I noticed some pieces of limbs and such things floating down, and a sprinkling of bark; so I knowed the river had begun to rise. I reckoned I would have great times now if I was over at the town. The June rise used to be always luck for me; because as soon as that rise begins here comes cordwood floating down, and pieces of log rafts—sometimes a dozen logs together; so all you have to do is to catch them and sell them to the wood-yards and the sawmill.
I went along up the bank with one eye out for pap and t’other one out for what the rise might fetch along. Well, all at once here comes a canoe; just a beauty, too, about thirteen or fourteen foot long, riding high like a duck. I shot head-first off of the bank like a frog, clothes and all on, and struck out for the canoe. I just expected there’d be somebody laying down in it, because people often done that to fool folks, and when a chap had pulled a skiff out most to it they’d raise up and laugh at him. But it warn’t so this time. It was a drift-canoe sure enough, and I clumb in and paddled her ashore. Thinks I, the old man will be glad when he sees this—she’s worth ten dollars. But when I got to shore pap wasn’t in sight yet, and as I was running her into a little creek like a gully, all hung over with vines and willows, I struck another idea: I judged I’d hide her good, and then, ‘stead of taking to the woods when I run off, I’d go down the river about fifty mile and camp in one place for good, and not have such a rough time tramping on foot.
It was pretty close to the shanty, and I thought I heard the old man coming all the time; but I got her hid; and then I out and looked around a bunch of willows, and there was the old man down the path a piece just drawing a bead on a bird with his gun. So he hadn’t seen anything.
When he got along I was hard at it taking up a “trot” line. He abused me a little for being so slow; but I told him I fell in the river, and that was what made me so long. I knowed he would see I was wet, and then he would be asking questions. We got five catfish off the lines and went home.
While we laid off after breakfast to sleep up, both of us being about wore out, I got to thinking that if I could fix up some way to keep pap and the widow from trying to follow me, it would be a certainer thing than trusting to luck to get far enough off before they missed me; you see, all kinds of things might happen. Well, I didn’t see no way for a while, but by and by pap raised up a minute to drink another barrel of water, and he says:
“Another time a man comes a-prowling round here you roust me out, you hear? That man warn’t here for no good. I’d a shot him. Next time you roust me out, you hear?”
Then he dropped down and went to sleep again; but what he had been saying give me the very idea I wanted. I says to myself, I can fix it now so nobody won’t think of following me.
About twelve o’clock we turned out and went along up the bank. The river was coming up pretty fast, and lots of driftwood going by on the rise. By and by along comes part of a log raft—nine logs fast together. We went out with the skiff and towed it ashore. Then we had dinner. Anybody but pap would a waited and seen the day through, so as to catch more stuff; but that warn’t pap’s style. Nine logs was enough for one time; he must shove right over to town and sell. So he locked me in and took the skiff, and started off towing the raft about half-past three. I judged he wouldn’t come back that night. I waited till I reckoned he had got a good start; then I out with my saw, and went to work on that log again. Before he was t’other side of the river I was out of the hole; him and his raft was just a speck on the water away off yonder.
I took the sack of corn meal and took it to where the canoe was hid, and shoved the vines and branches apart and put it in; then I done the same with the side of bacon; then the whisky-jug. I took all the coffee and sugar there was, and all the ammunition; I took the wadding; I took the bucket and gourd; I took a dipper and a tin cup, and my old saw and two blankets, and the skillet and the coffee-pot. I took fish-lines and matches and other things—everything that was worth a cent. I cleaned out the place. I wanted an axe, but there wasn’t any, only the one out at the woodpile, and I knowed why I was going to leave that. I fetched out the gun, and now I was done.
I had wore the ground a good deal crawling out of the hole and dragging out so many things. So I fixed that as good as I could from the outside by scattering dust on the place, which covered up the smoothness and the sawdust. Then I fixed the piece of log back into its place, and put two rocks under it and one against it to hold it there, for it was bent up at that place and didn’t quite touch ground. If you stood four or five foot away and didn’t know it was sawed, you wouldn’t never notice it; and besides, this was the back of the cabin, and it warn’t likely anybody would go fooling around there.
It was all grass clear to the canoe, so I hadn’t left a track. I followed around to see. I stood on the bank and looked out over the river. All safe. So I took the gun and went up a piece into the woods, and was hunting around for some birds when I see a wild pig; hogs soon went wild in them bottoms after they had got away from the prairie farms. I shot this fellow and took him into camp.
I took the axe and smashed in the door. I beat it and hacked it considerable a-doing it. I fetched the pig in, and took him back nearly to the table and hacked into his throat with the axe, and laid him down on the ground to bleed; I say ground because it was ground—hard packed, and no boards. Well, next I took an old sack and put a lot of big rocks in it—all I could drag—and I started it from the pig, and dragged it to the door and through the woods down to the river and dumped it in, and down it sunk, out of sight. You could easy see that something had been dragged over the ground. I did wish Tom Sawyer was there; I knowed he would take an interest in this kind of business, and throw in the fancy touches. Nobody could spread himself like Tom Sawyer in such a thing as that.
Well, last I pulled out some of my hair, and blooded the axe good, and stuck it on the back side, and slung the axe in the corner. Then I took up the pig and held him to my breast with my jacket (so he couldn’t drip) till I got a good piece below the house and then dumped him into the river. Now I thought of something else. So I went and got the bag of meal and my old saw out of the canoe, and fetched them to the house. I took the bag to where it used to stand, and ripped a hole in the bottom of it with the saw, for there warn’t no knives and forks on the place—pap done everything with his clasp-knife about the cooking. Then I carried the sack about a hundred yards across the grass and through the willows east of the house, to a shallow lake that was five mile wide and full of rushes—and ducks too, you might say, in the season. There was a slough or a creek leading out of it on the other side that went miles away, I don’t know where, but it didn’t go to the river. The meal sifted out and made a little track all the way to the lake. I dropped pap’s whetstone there too, so as to look like it had been done by accident. Then I tied up the rip in the meal sack with a string, so it wouldn’t leak no more, and took it and my saw to the canoe again.
It was about dark now; so I dropped the canoe down the river under some willows that hung over the bank, and waited for the moon to rise. I made fast to a willow; then I took a bite to eat, and by and by laid down in the canoe to smoke a pipe and lay out a plan. I says to myself, they’ll follow the track of that sackful of rocks to the shore and then drag the river for me. And they’ll follow that meal track to the lake and go browsing down the creek that leads out of it to find the robbers that killed me and took the things. They won’t ever hunt the river for anything but my dead carcass. They’ll soon get tired of that, and won’t bother no more about me. All right; I can stop anywhere I want to. Jackson’s Island is good enough for me; I know that island pretty well, and nobody ever comes there. And then I can paddle over to town nights, and slink around and pick up things I want. Jackson’s Island’s the place.
I was pretty tired, and the first thing I knowed I was asleep. When I woke up I didn’t know where I was for a minute. I set up and looked around, a little scared. Then I remembered. The river looked miles and miles across. The moon was so bright I could a counted the drift logs that went a-slipping along, black and still, hundreds of yards out from shore. Everything was dead quiet, and it looked late, and SMELT late. You know what I mean—I don’t know the words to put it in.
I took a good gap and a stretch, and was just going to unhitch and start when I heard a sound away over the water. I listened. Pretty soon I made it out. It was that dull kind of a regular sound that comes from oars working in rowlocks when it’s a still night. I peeped out through the willow branches, and there it was—a skiff, away across the water. I couldn’t tell how many was in it. It kept a-coming, and when it was abreast of me I see there warn’t but one man in it. Think’s I, maybe it’s pap, though I warn’t expecting him. He dropped below me with the current, and by and by he came a-swinging up shore in the easy water, and he went by so close I could a reached out the gun and touched him. Well, it WAS pap, sure enough—and sober, too, by the way he laid his oars.
I didn’t lose no time. The next minute I was a-spinning down stream soft but quick in the shade of the bank. I made two mile and a half, and then struck out a quarter of a mile or more towards the middle of the river, because pretty soon I would be passing the ferry landing, and people might see me and hail me. I got out amongst the driftwood, and then laid down in the bottom of the canoe and let her float.
I laid there, and had a good rest and a smoke out of my pipe, looking away into the sky; not a cloud in it. The sky looks ever so deep when you lay down on your back in the moonshine; I never knowed it before. And how far a body can hear on the water such nights! I heard people talking at the ferry landing. I heard what they said, too—every word of it. One man said it was getting towards the long days and the short nights now. T’other one said THIS warn’t one of the short ones, he reckoned—and then they laughed, and he said it over again, and they laughed again; then they waked up another fellow and told him, and laughed, but he didn’t laugh; he ripped out something brisk, and said let him alone. The first fellow said he ‘lowed to tell it to his old woman—she would think it was pretty good; but he said that warn’t nothing to some things he had said in his time. I heard one man say it was nearly three o’clock, and he hoped daylight wouldn’t wait more than about a week longer. After that the talk got further and further away, and I couldn’t make out the words any more; but I could hear the mumble, and now and then a laugh, too, but it seemed a long ways off.
I was away below the ferry now. I rose up, and there was Jackson’s Island, about two mile and a half down stream, heavy timbered and standing up out of the middle of the river, big and dark and solid, like a steamboat without any lights. There warn’t any signs of the bar at the head—it was all under water now.
It didn’t take me long to get there. I shot past the head at a ripping rate, the current was so swift, and then I got into the dead water and landed on the side towards the Illinois shore. I run the canoe into a deep dent in the bank that I knowed about; I had to part the willow branches to get in; and when I made fast nobody could a seen the canoe from the outside.
I went up and set down on a log at the head of the island, and looked out on the big river and the black driftwood and away over to the town, three mile away, where there was three or four lights twinkling. A monstrous big lumber-raft was about a mile up stream, coming along down, with a lantern in the middle of it. I watched it come creeping down, and when it was most abreast of where I stood I heard a man say, “Stern oars, there! heave her head to stabboard!” I heard that just as plain as if the man was by my side.
There was a little gray in the sky now; so I stepped into the woods, and laid down for a nap before breakfast.