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CHAPTER SIXTEEN (continued)
They went off, and I got aboard the raft, feeling bad and low, because I knowed very well I had done wrong, and I see it warn’t no use for me to try to learn to do right; a body that don’t get started right when he’s little, ain’t got no show-when the pinch comes there ain’t nothing to back him up and keep him to his work, and so he gets beat. Then I thought a minute, and says to myself, hold on-s’pose you’d a done right and give Jim up; would you felt better than what you do now? No, says I, I’d feel bad-I’d feel just the same way I do now. Well, then, says I, what’s the use you learning to do right, when it’s troublesome to do right and ain’t no trouble to do wrong, and the wages is just the same? I was stuck. I couldn’t answer that. So I reckoned I wouldn’t bother no more about it, but after this always do whichever comes handiest at the time. I went into the wigwam; Jim warn’t there. I looked all around; he warn’t anywhere. I says: “Jim!” “Here I is, Huck. Is dey out o’ sight yit? Don’t talk loud.” He was in the river, under the stern oar, with just his nose out. I told him they was out of sight, so he come aboard. He says: “I was a-listenin’ to all de talk, en I slips into de river en was gwyne to shove for sho’ if dey come aboard. Den I was gwyne to swim to de raf’ agin when dey was gone. But lawsy, how you did fool ‘em, Huck! Dat wuz de smartes’ dodge! tell you, chile, I ‘speck it save’ ole Jim-ole Jim ain’ gwyne to forgit you for dat, honey.” Then we talked about the money. It was a pretty good raise, twenty dollars apiece. Jim said we could take deck passage on a steamboat now, and the money would last us as far as we wanted to go in the free States. He said twenty mile more warn’t far for the raft to go, but he wished we was already there.
Towards daybreak we tied up, and Jim was mighty particular about hiding the raft good. Then he worked all day fixing things in bundles, and getting all ready to quit rafting.
That night about ten we hove in sight of the lights of a town away down in a left-hand bend. I went off in the canoe, to ask about it. Pretty soon I found a man out in the aver with a skiff, setting a trot-line. I ranged up and says: “Mister, is that town Cairo?” “Cairo? no. You must be a blame’ fool.” “What town is it, mister?” “If you want to know, go and find out. If you stay here botherin’ around me for about a half minute longer, you’ll get something you won’t want.” I paddled to the raft. Jim was awful disappointed, but I said never mind, Cairo would be the next place, I reckoned.
We passed another town before daylight, and I was going out again; but it was high ground, so I didn’t go. No high ground about Cairo, Jim said. I had forgot it. We laid up for the day, on a tow-head tolerable close to the left-hand bank.
I begun to suspicion something. So did Jim. I says: “Maybe we went by Cairo in the fog that night.” He says: “Doan’ less’ talk about it, Huck. Po’ niggers can’t have no luck. I awluz ‘spected dat rattle-snake skin warn’t done wid its work.” “I wish I’d never seen that snake-skin, Jim-I do wish I’d never laid eyes on it.” “It ain’t yo’ fault, Huck; you didn’ know. Don’t you blame yo’self ‘bout it.” When it was daylight, here was the clear Ohio water in shore, sure enough, and outside was the old regular Muddy! So it was all up with Cairo.
We talked it all over. It wouldn’t do to take to the shore; we couldn’t take the raft up the stream, of course. There warn’t no way but to wait for dark, and start back in the canoe and take the chances. So we slept all day amongst the cottonwood thicket, so as to be fresh for the work, and when we went back to the raft about dark the canoe was gone!
We didn’t say a word for a good while. There warn’t anything to say. We both knowed well enough it was some more work of the rattle-snake skin; so what was the use to talk about it? It would only look like we was finding fault, and that would be bound to fetch more bad luck-and keep on fetching it, too, till we knowed enough to keep still. By-and-by we talked about what we better do, and found there warn’t no way but just to go along down with the raft till we got a chance to buy a canoe to go back in. We warn’t going to borrow it when there warn’t anybody around, the way pap would do, for that might set people after us.
So we shoved out, after dark, on the raft. Anybody that don’t believe yet, that it’s foolishness to handle a snake-skin, after all that snake-skin done for us, will believe it now, if they read on and see what more it done for us.
The place to buy canoes is off of rafts laying at shore. But we didn’t see no rafts laying up; so we went along during three hours and more. Well, the night got gray, and ruther thick, which is the next meanest thing to fog. You can’t tell the shape of the river, and you can’t see no distance. It got to be very late and still, and then along comes a steamboat up the river. We lit the lantern, and judged she would see it. Upstream boats didn’t generly come close to us; they go out and follow the bars and hunt for easy water under the reefs; but nights like this they bull right up the channel against the whole river.
We could hear her pounding along, but we didn’t see her good till she was close. She aimed right for us. Often they do that and try to see how close they can come without touching; sometimes the wheel bites off a sweep, and then the pilot sticks his head out and laughs, and thinks he’s mighty smart. Well, here she comes, and we said she was going to try to shave us; but she didn’t seem to be sheering off a bit. She was a big one, and she was coming in a hurry, too, looking like a black cloud with rows of glow-worms around it; but all of a sudden she laughed out, big and scary, with a long row of wide-open furnace doors shining like red-hot teeth, and her monstrous bows and guards hanging right over us.
There was a yell at us, and a jingling of bells to stop the engines, a pow-wow of cussing, and whistling of steam-and as Jim went overboard on one side and I on the other, she come smashing straight through the raft.
I dived-and I aimed to find the bottom, too, for a thirty-foot wheel had got to go over me, and I wanted it to have plenty of room. I could always stay under water a minute; this time I reckon I staid under water a minute and a half. Then I bounced for the top in a hurry, for I was nearly busting. I popped out to my armpits and blowed the water out of my nose, and puffed a bit. Of course there was a booming current; and of course that boat started her engines again ten seconds after she stopped them, for they never cared much for raftsmen; so now she was churning along up the river, out of sight in the thick weather, though I could hear her.
I sung out for Jim about a dozen times, but I didn’t get any answer; so I grabbed a plank that touched me while I was “treading water,” and struck out for shore, shoving it ahead of me. But I made out to see that the drift of the current was towards the left-hand shore, which meant that I was in a crossing; so I changed off and went that way.
It was one of these long, slanting, two-mile crossings; so I was a good long time in getting over. I made a safe landing, and clum up the bank. I couldn’t see but a little ways, but I went poking along over rough ground for a quarter of a mile or more, and then I run across a big old-fashioned double log house before I noticed it. I was going to rush by and get away, but a lot of dogs jumped out and went to howling and barking at me, and I knowed better than to move another peg.