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Chapter 33

The Fate of Injun Joe

WITHIN A FEW MINUTES the news had spread, and a dozen were on their
way to McDougal’s cave, at, well filled with passengers, soon followed. Tom
Sawyer was in the skiff that bore Judge Thatcher.

When the cave door was unlocked a sorrowful sight presented itself in the dim
twilight of the place. Injun Joe lay stretched upon the ground, dead, with his face
close to the crack of the door, as if his longing eyes had been fixed, to the latest
moment, upon the light and the cheer of the free world outside. Tom was
touched, for he knew by his own experience how this wretch had suffered. His
pity was moved, but nevertheless he felt an abounding sense of relief and
security, now, which revealed to him in a degree which he had not fully
appreciated before how vast a weight of dread had been lying upon him since
the day he lifted his voice against this bloody-minded outcast.

Injun Joe’s bowie knife lay close by, its blade broken in two. The great
foundation-beam of the door had been chipped and hacked through, with
tedious labor; useless labor, too, it was, for the native rock formed a sill outside
it, and upon that stubborn material the knife had wrought no effect; the only
damage done was to the knife itself. But if there had been no stony obstruction
there the labor would have been useless still, for if the beam had been wholly cut
away Injun joe could not have squeezed his body under the door, and he knew
it. So he had only hacked that place in order to be doing something-in order to
pass the weary time-in order to employ his tortured faculties. Ordinarily one
could find half a dozen bits of candle stuck around in the crevices of this
vestibule, left there by tourists; but there were none now. The prisoner had
searched them out and eaten them. He had also contrived to catch a few bats,
and these, also, he had eaten, leaving only their claws. The poor unfortunate had
starved to death. In one place near at hand, a stalagmite had been slowly
growing up from the ground for ages, builded by the water-drip from a
stalactite overhead. The captive had broken off the stalagmite, and upon the
stump had placed a stone, wherein he had scooped a shallow hollow to catch the
precious drop that fell once in every three minutes with the dreary regularity of
a clock-tick-a dessert spoonful once in four and twenty hours. That drop was
falling when the Pyramids were new; when Troy fell; when the foundations of
Rome were laid; when Christ was crucified; when the Conqueror created the
British empire; when Columbus sailed; when the massacre at Lexington was
“news.” It is falling now; it will still be falling when all these things shall have
sunk down the afternoon of history, and the twilight of history, and the twilight
of tradition, and been swallowed up in the thick night of oblivion. Has
everything a purpose and a mission? Did this drop fall patiently during five
thousand years to be ready for this flitting human insect’s need? and has it
another important object to accomplish ten thousand years to come? No matter.

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