The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, excerpts

Life on the river

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 say, anyway.

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, sometime; 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 crab apples 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 crab apples ain’t ever good, and the p’simmons wouldn’t be ripe for two or three months yet.

We shot a waterfowl, 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 around, 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 on 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 his life fora texas and a pilot-house such a night as this, when it’s likely to break up and wash off down the river any minute?’ Jim couldn’t say nothing to that, so he didn’t try. ‘And besides,’ I says, ‘we might borrow something worth having, out of the captain’s stateroom. Seegars, I bet you – and cost five cents apiece, solid cash. Steamboat captains is always rich, and get sixty dollars a month, and they don’t care a cent what a thing costs, you know, long as they want it. Stick a candle in your pocket; I can’t rest, Jim, till we give her a rummaging. Do you reckon Tom Sawyer would ever go by this thing? Not for pie, he wouldn’t. He’d call it an adventure – that’s what he’d call it; and he’d land on that wreck if it was his last act. And wouldn’t he throw style into it? – wouldn’t he spread himself, nor nothing? Why, you’d think it was Christopher C’lumbus discovering Kingdom Come. I wish Tom Sawyer was here.’

Jim he grumbled a little, but give in. He said we mustn’t talk any more than we could help, and then talk mighty low. The lightning showed us the wreck again, just in time, and we fetched the starboard derrick, and made fast there.

page 65-67 Folio Society edition (1993)
Crying out loud

Then the king he hunched the duke, private – I see him do it – and then he looked around and see the coffin, over in the corner on two chairs; so then, him and the duke, with a hand across each other’s shoulder, and t’other hand to their eyes, walked slow and solemn over there, everybody dropping back to give them room, and all the talk and noise stopping, people saying ‘Sh!’ and all the men taking their hats off and drooping their heads, so you could a heard a pin fall.

And when they got there, they bent over and looked in the coffin, and took one sight, and then they bust out a-crying so you could a heard them to Orleans, most; and then they put their arms around each other’s necks, and hung their chins over each other’s shoulders; and then for three minutes, or maybe four, I never see two men leak the way they done.

And mind you, everybody was doing the same; and the place was that damp I never see anything like it. Then one of them got on one side of the coffin, and t’other on t’other side, and they kneeled down and rested their foreheads on the coffin, and let on to pray all to theirselves. Well, when it come to that, it worked the crowd like you never see anything like it, and so everybody broke down and went to sobbing right out loud – the poor girls, too; and every woman, nearly, went up to the girls, without saying a word, and kissed them, solemn, on the forehead, and then put their hand on their head, and looked up towards the sky, with the tears running down, and then busted out and went off sobbing and swabbing, and give the next woman a show. I never see anything so disgusting.

Well, by-and-by the king he gets up and comes forward a little, and works himself up and slobbers out a speech, all full of tears and flapdoodle about its being a sore trial for him and his poor brother to lose the diseased, and to miss seeing diseased alive, after the long journey of four thousand mile, but it’s a trial that’s sweetened and sanctified to us by this dear sympathy and these holy tears, and so he thanks them out of his heart and out of his brother’s heart, because out of their mouths they can’t, words being too weak and cold, and all that kind of rot and slush, till it was just sickening; and then he blubbers out a pious goody-goody amen, and turns himself loose and goes to crying fit to bust.

And the minute the words was out of his mouth somebody over in the crowd struck up the doxolojer, and everybody joined in with all their might, and it just warmed you up and made you feel as good as church letting out. Music is a good thing; and after all that soul-butter and hogwash, I never see it freshen up things so, and sound so honest and bully.

pages 162-163 Folio Society edition (1993)