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Chapter 16

First Pipes-“I’ve Lost My Knife

AFTER DINNER all the gang turned out to hunt for turtle eggs on the bar.
They went about poking sticks into the sand, and when they found a soft place
they went down on their knees and dug with their hands. Sometimes they
would take fifty or sixty eggs out of one hole. They were perfectly round white
things a trifle smaller than an English walnut. They had a famous fried-egg feast
that night, and another on Friday morning.

After breakfast they went whooping and prancing out on the bar, and chased
each other round and round, shedding clothes as they went, until they were
naked, and then continued the frolic far away up the shoal water of the bar,
against the stiff current, which latter tripped their legs from under them from
time to time and greatly increased the fun. And now and then they stooped in a
group and splashed water in each other’s faces with their palms, gradually
approaching each other, with averted faces to avoid the strangling sprays and
finally gripping and struggling till the best man ducked his neighbor, and then
they all went under in a tangle of white legs and arms and came up blowing,
sputtering, laughing and gasping for breath at one and the same time.

When they were well exhausted, they would run out and sprawl on the dry, hot
sand, and lie there and cover themselves up with it, and by and by break for
the water again and go through the original performance once more. Finally it
occurred to them that their naked skin represented flesh-colored “tights” very
fairly; so they drew a ring in the sand and had a circus-with three clowns in it,
for none would yield this proudest post to his neighbor.

Next they got their marbles and played “knucks” and “ring-taw” and “keeps”
till that amusement grew stale. Then Joe and Huck had another swim, but Tom
would not venture, because he found that in kicking off his trousers he had
kicked his string of rattlesnake rattles off his ankle, and he wondered how he
had escaped cramp so long without the protection of this mysterious charm. He
did not venture again until he had found it, and by that time the other boys were
tired and ready to rest. They gradually wandered apart, dropped into the
“dumps,” and fell to gazing longingly across the wide river to where the village
lay drowsing in the sun. Tom found himself writing “BECKY” in the sand with
his big toe; he scratched it out, and was angry with himself for his weakness. But
he wrote it again, nevertheless; he could not help it. He erased it once more and
then took himself out of temptation by driving the other boys together and
joining them.

But Joe’s spirits had gone down almost beyond resurrection. He was so
homesick that he could hardly endure the misery of it. The tears lay very near
the surface. Huck was melancholy, too. Tom was downhearted, but tried hard
not to show it. He had a secret which he was not ready to tell, yet, but if this
mutinous depression was not broken up soon, he would have to bring it out. He

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