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forced a recognition. The boys started, glanced at each other, and then each
assumed a listening attitude. There was a long silence, profound and unbroken;
then a deep, sullen boom came floating down out of the distance.
“What is it!” exclaimed Joe, under his breath.
“I wonder,” said Tom in a whisper.
“’Tain’t thunder,” said Huckleberry, in an awed tone, “becuz thunder-” “Hark!”
said Tom. “Listen-don’t talk.” They waited a time that seemed an age, and then
the same muffled boom troubled the solemn hush.
“Let’s go and see.” They sprang to their feet and hurried to the shore toward the
town. They parted the bushes on the bank and peered out over the water. The
little steam ferry boat was about a mile below the village, drifting with the
current. Her broad deck seemed crowded with people. There were a great many
skiffs rowing about or floating with the stream in the neighborhood of the ferry
boat, but the boys could not determine what the men in them were doing.
Presently a great jet of white smoke burst from the ferry boat’s side, and as it
expanded and rose in a lazy cloud, that same dull throb of sound was borne to
the listeners again.
“I know now!” exclaimed Tom; “somebody’s drownded!”
“That’s it!” said Huck; “they done that last summer, when Bill Turner got
drownded; they shoot a cannon over the water, and that makes him come up to
the top. Yes, and they take loaves of bread and put quicksilver in ‘em and set
‘em afloat, and wherever there’s anybody that’s drownded, they’ll float right
there and stop.” “Yes, I’ve heard about that,” said Joe. “I wonder what makes
the bread do that.” “O it ain’t the bread, so much,” said Tom; “I reckon it’s
mostly what they say over it before they start it out.” “But they don’t say
anything over it,” said Huck. “I’ve seen ‘em and they don’t.” “Well that’s
funny”, said Tom. “But maybe they say it to themselves. Of course they do.
Anybody might know that.” The other boys agreed that there was reason in
what Tom said, because an ignorant lump of bread, uninstructed by an
incantation, could not be expected to act very intelligently when sent upon an
errand of such gravity.
“By jings I wish I was over there, now,” said Joe.
“I do too,” said Huck. “I’d give heaps to know who it is.” The boys still listened
and watched. Presently a revealing thought flashed through Tom’s mind, and he
exclaimed: “Boys, I know who’s drownded-it’s us!” They felt like heroes in an
instant. Here was a gorgeous triumph; they were missed; they were mourned;
hearts were breaking on their account; tears were being shed; accusing memories
of unkindnesses to these poor lost lads were rising up, and unavailing regrets
and remorse were being indulged; and best of all, the departed were the talk of
the whole town, and the envy of all the boys, as far as this dazzling notoriety
was concerned. This was fine. It was worth while to be a pirate, after all.
As twilight drew on, the ferry boat went back to her accustomed business and
the skiffs disappeared. The pirates returned to camp. They were jubilant with
vanity over their new grandeur and the illustrious trouble they were making.
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