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They asked us considerable many questions; wanted to know what we covered up the raft that way for, and laid by in the day-time instead of running-was Jim a runaway nigger? Says I“Goodness sakes, would a runaway nigger run south?” No, they allowed he wouldn’t. I had to account for things some way, so I says: “My folks was living in Pike County, in Missouri, where I was born, and they all died off but me and pa and my brother Ike. Pa, he ‘lowed he’d break up and go down and live with Uncle Ben, who’s got a little one-horse place on the river, forty-four mile below Orleans. Pa was pretty poor, and had some debts; so when he’d squared up there warn’t nothing left but sixteen dollars and our nigger, Jim.
That warn’t enough to take us fourteen hundred mile, deck passage nor no other way. Well, when the river rose, pa had a streak of luck one day; he ketched this piece of a raft; so we reckoned we’d go down to Orleans on it. Pa’s luck didn’t hold out; a steamboat run over the forrard corner of the raft, one night, and we all went overboard and dove under the wheel; Jim and me come up, all right, but pa was drunk, and Ike was only four years old, so they never come up no more.
Well, for the next day or two we had considerable trouble, because people was always coming out in skiffs and trying to take Jim away from me, saying they believed he was a runaway nigger. We don’t run daytimes no more, now; nights they don’t bother us.” The duke says“Leave me alone to cipher out a way so we can run in the day-time if we want to. I’ll think the thing over-I’ll invent a plan that’ll fix it. We’ll let it alone for today, because of course we don’t want to go by that town yonder in daylightit mightn’t be healthy.” Towards night it begun to darken up and look like rain; the heat lightning was squirting around, low down in the sky, and the leaves was beginning to shiver-it was going to be pretty ugly, it was easy to see that. So the duke and the king went to overhauling our wigwam, to see what the beds was like. My bed was a straw tick-better than Jim’s, which was a corn-shuck tick; there’s always cobs around about in a shuck tick, and they poke into you and hurt; and when you roll over, the dry shucks sound like you was rolling over in a pile of dead leaves; it makes such a rustling that you wake up. Well, the duke allowed he would take my bed; but the king allowed he wouldn’t. He says“I should a reckoned the difference in rank would a sejested to you that a corn-shuck bed warn’t just fitten for me to sleep on. Your Grace’ll take the shuck bed yourself.” Jim and me was in a sweat again, for a minute, being afraid there was going to be some more trouble amongst them; so we was pretty glad when the duke says “’Tis my fate to be always ground into the mire under the iron heel of oppression. Misfortune has broken my once haughty spirit; I yield, I submit; ‘tis my fate. I am alone in the world-let me suffer; I can bear it.” We got away as soon as it was good and dark. The king told us to stand well out towards the middle of the river, and not show a light till we got a long ways below the town. We come in sight of the little bunch of lights by-and-by-that was the town, you know-and slid by, about a half a mile out, all right. When we was three-quarters of a mile below, we hoisted up our signal lantern; and about ten o’clock it come on to rain and blow and thunder and lighten like everything; so the king told us to both stay on watch till the weather got better; then him and the duke crawled into the wigwam and turned in for the night. It was my watch below, till twelve, but I wouldn’t a turned in, anyway, if I’d had a bed; because a body don’t see such a storm as that every night in the week, not by a long sight.
My souls, how the wind did scream along! And every second or two there’d come a glare that lit up the white-caps for a half a mile around, and you’d see the islands looking dusty through the rain, and the trees thrashing around in the wind; then comes a h-wack!- bum! bum! bumble-umble-um-bum-bum-bumbumand the thunder would go rumbling and grumbling away, and quit-and then rip comes another flash and another sockdolager. The waves most washed me off the raft, sometimes, but I hadn’t any clothes on, and didn’t mind. We didn’t have no trouble about snags; the lightning was glaring and flittering around so constant that we could see them plenty soon enough to throw her head this way or that and miss them.
I had the middle watch, you know, but I was pretty sleepy by that time, so Jim he said he would stand the first half of it for me; he was always mighty good, that way, Jim was. I crawled into the wigwam, but the king and the duke had their legs sprawled around so there warn’t no show for me; so I laid outside-I didn’t mind the rain, because it was warm, and the waves warn’t running so high, now. About two they come up again, though, and Jim was going to call me, but he changed his mind because he reckoned they warn’t high enough yet to do any harm; but he was mistaken about that, for pretty soon all of a sudden along comes a regular ripper, and washed me overboard. It most killed Jim a-laughing. He was the easiest nigger to laugh that ever was, anyway.
I took the watch, and Jim he laid down and snored away; and by-and-by the storm let up for good and all; and the first cabin-light that showed, I rousted him out and we slid the raft into hiding-quarters for the day. The king got out an old ratty deck of cards, after breakfast, and him and the duke played seven-up a while, five cents a game. Then they got tired of it, and allowed they would “lay out a campaign,” as they called it. The duke went down into his carpet-bag and fetched up a lot of little printed bills, and read them out loud. One bill said “The celebrated Dr. Armand de Montalban of Paris,” would “lecture on the Science of Phrenology” at such and such a place, on the blank day of blank, at ten cents admission, and “furnish charts of character at twenty-five cents apiece.” The duke said that was him. In another bill he was the “world renowned Shaksperean tragedian, Garrick the Younger, of Drury Lane, London.” In other bills he had a lot of other names and done other wonderful things, like finding water and gold with a “divining rod,” “dissipating witch-spells,” and so on.
By-and-by he says“But the histrionic muse is the darling. Have you ever trod the boards, Royalty?” “No,” says the king.
“You shall, then, before you’re three days older, Fallen Grandeur,” says the duke. “The first good town we come to, we’ll hire a hall and do the sword-fight in Richard III. and the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet. How does that strike you?” “I’m in, up to the hub, for anything that will pay, Bilgewater, but you see I don’t know nothing about play-actn’, and hain’t ever seen much of it. I was too small when pap used to have ‘em at the palace. Do you reckon you can learn me?” “Easy!” “All right. I’m jist a-freezn’ for something fresh, anyway. Less commence, right away.” So the duke he told him all about who Romeo was, and who Juliet was, and said he was used to being Romeo, so the king could be Juliet.
“But if Juliet’s such a young gal, Duke, my peeled head and my white whiskers is goin’ to look oncommon odd on her, maybe.” “No, don’t you worry-these country jakes won’t ever think of that. Besides, you know, you’ll be in costume, and that makes all the difference in the world; Juliet’s in a balcony, enjoying the moonlight before she goes to bed, and she’s got on her night-gown and her ruffled night-cap. Here are the costumes for the parts.” He got out two or three curtain-calico suits, which he said was meedyevil armor for Richard III. and t’other chap, and a long white cotton night-shirt and a ruffled night-cap to match. The king was satisfied; so the duke got out his book and read the parts over in the most splendid spread-eagle way, prancing around and acting at the same time, to show how it had got to be done; then he give the book to the king and told him to get his part by heart.
There was a little one-horse town about three mile down the bend, and after dinner the duke said he had ciphered out his idea about how to run in daylight without it being dangersome for Jim; so he allowed he would go down to the town and fix that thing. The king allowed he would go too, and see if he couldn’t strike something. We was out of coffee, so Jim said I better go along with them in the canoe and get some. When we got there, there warn’t nobody stirring; streets empty, and perfectly dead and still, like Sunday. We found a sick nigger sunning himself in a back yard, and he said everybody that warn’t too young or too sick or too old, was gone to camp-meeting, about two mile back in the woods. The king got the directions, and allowed he’d go and work that camp-meeting for all it was worth, and I might go, too.
The duke said what he was after was a printing office. We found it; a little bit of a concern, up over a carpenter shop-carpenters and printers all gone to the meeting, and no doors locked. It was a dirty, litteredup place, and had ink marks, and handbills with pictures of horses and runaway niggers on them, all over the walls. The duke shed his coat and said he was all right, now. So me and the king lit out for the camp-meeting.