We slept most all day, and started
out at night, a little ways behind a monstrous long
raft that was as long going by as a procession.
She had four long sweeps at each end, so we judged
she carried as many as thirty men, likely. She
had five big wigwams aboard, wide apart, and an
open camp fire in the middle, and a tall flag-pole
at each end. There was a power of style about
her. It amounted to something being a raftsman
on such a craft as that.
We went drifting down into a big bend,
and the night clouded up and got hot. The river
was very wide, and was walled with solid timber on
both sides; you couldn’t see a break in it hardly
ever, or a light. We talked about Cairo, and
wondered whether we would know it when we got to it.
I said likely we wouldn’t, because I had heard
say there warn’t but about a dozen houses there,
and if they didn’t happen to have them lit up,
how was we going to know we was passing a town?
Jim said if the two big rivers joined together there,
that would show. But I said maybe we might think
we was passing the foot of an island and coming into
the same old river again. That disturbed Jim and
me too. So the question was, what to do?
I said, paddle ashore the first time a light showed,
and tell them pap was behind, coming along with a
trading-scow, and was a green hand at the business,
and wanted to know how far it was to Cairo. Jim
thought it was a good idea, so we took a smoke on it
There warn’t nothing to do now
but to look out sharp for the town, and not pass it
without seeing it. He said he’d be mighty
sure to see it, because he’d be a free man the
minute he seen it, but if he missed it he’d
be in a slave country again and no more show for freedom.
Every little while he jumps up and says:
“Dah she is?”
But it warn’t. It was
Jack-o’-lanterns, or lightning bugs; so he set
down again, and went to watching, same as before.
Jim said it made him all over trembly and feverish
to be so close to freedom. Well, I can tell
you it made me all over trembly and feverish, too,
to hear him, because I begun to get it through my
head that he was most free and who
was to blame for it? Why, me. I couldn’t
get that out of my conscience, no how nor no way.
It got to troubling me so I couldn’t rest; I
couldn’t stay still in one place. It hadn’t
ever come home to me before, what this thing was that
I was doing. But now it did; and it stayed with
me, and scorched me more and more. I tried to
make out to myself that I warn’t to blame, because
I didn’t run Jim off from his rightful owner;
but it warn’t no use, conscience up and says,
every time, “But you knowed he was running for
his freedom, and you could a paddled ashore and told
somebody.” That was so I couldn’t
get around that noway. That was where it pinched.
Conscience says to me, “What had poor Miss Watson
done to you that you could see her nigger go off right
under your eyes and never say one single word?
What did that poor old woman do to you that you could
treat her so mean? Why, she tried to learn you
your book, she tried to learn you your manners, she
tried to be good to you every way she knowed how.
That’s what she done.”
I got to feeling so mean and so miserable
I most wished I was dead. I fidgeted up and
down the raft, abusing myself to myself, and Jim was
fidgeting up and down past me. We neither of
us could keep still. Every time he danced around
and says, “Dah’s Cairo!” it went
through me like a shot, and I thought if it was
Cairo I reckoned I would die of miserableness.
Jim talked out loud all the time while
I was talking to myself. He was saying how the
first thing he would do when he got to a free State
he would go to saving up money and never spend a single
cent, and when he got enough he would buy his wife,
which was owned on a farm close to where Miss Watson
lived; and then they would both work to buy the two
children, and if their master wouldn’t sell them,
they’d get an Ab’litionist to go and steal
It most froze me to hear such talk.
He wouldn’t ever dared to talk such talk in
his life before. Just see what a difference it
made in him the minute he judged he was about free.
It was according to the old saying, “Give a
nigger an inch and he’ll take an ell.”
Thinks I, this is what comes of my not thinking.
Here was this nigger, which I had as good as helped
to run away, coming right out flat-footed and saying
he would steal his children children that
belonged to a man I didn’t even know; a man
that hadn’t ever done me no harm.
I was sorry to hear Jim say that,
it was such a lowering of him. My conscience
got to stirring me up hotter than ever, until at last
I says to it, “Let up on me it ain’t
too late yet I’ll paddle ashore at
the first light and tell.” I felt easy
and happy and light as a feather right off.
All my troubles was gone. I went to looking out
sharp for a light, and sort of singing to myself.
By and by one showed. Jim sings out:
“We’s safe, Huck, we’s
safe! Jump up and crack yo’ heels!
Dat’s de good olé Cairo at las’,
I jis knows it!”
“I’ll take the canoe and go and see, Jim.
It mightn’t be, you know.”
He jumped and got the canoe ready,
and put his old coat in the bottom for me to set on,
and give me the paddle; and as I shoved off, he says:
“Pooty soon I’ll be a-shout’n’
for joy, en I’ll say, it’s all on accounts
o’ Huck; I’s a free man, en I couldn’t
ever ben free ef it hadn’ ben for
Huck; Huck done it. Jim won’t ever forgit
you, Huck; you’s de bes’ fren’ Jim’s
ever had; en you’s de only fren’ olé
Jim’s got now.”
I was paddling off, all in a sweat
to tell on him; but when he says this, it seemed to
kind of take the tuck all out of me. I went along
slow then, and I warn’t right down certain whether
I was glad I started or whether I warn’t.
When I was fifty yards off, Jim says:
“Dah you goes, de olé true
Huck; de on’y white genlman dat ever kep’
his promise to olé Jim.”
Well, I just felt sick. But
I says, I got to do it I can’t
get out of it. Right then along comes a
skiff with two men in it with guns, and they stopped
and I stopped. One of them says:
“What’s that yonder?”
“A piece of a raft,” I says.
“Do you belong on it?”
“Any men on it?”
“Only one, sir.”
“Well, there’s five niggers
run off to-night up yonder, above the head of the
bend. Is your man white or black?”
I didn’t answer up prompt.
I tried to, but the words wouldn’t come.
I tried for a second or two to brace up and out with
it, but I warn’t man enough hadn’t
the spunk of a rabbit. I see I was weakening;
so I just give up trying, and up and says:
“I reckon we’ll go and see for ourselves.”
“I wish you would,” says
I, “because it’s pap that’s there,
and maybe you’d help me tow the raft ashore
where the light is. He’s sick and
so is mam and Mary Ann.”
“Oh, the devil! we’re
in a hurry, boy. But I s’pose we’ve
got to. Come, buckle to your paddle, and let’s
I buckled to my paddle and they laid
to their oars. When we had made a stroke or
two, I says:
“Pap’ll be mighty much
obleeged to you, I can tell you. Everybody goes
away when I want them to help me tow the raft ashore,
and I can’t do it by myself.”
“Well, that’s infernal
mean. Odd, too. Say, boy, what’s
the matter with your father?”
“It’s the a the well,
it ain’t anything much.”
They stopped pulling. It warn’t
but a mighty little ways to the raft now. One
“Boy, that’s a lie.
What is the matter with your pap? Answer
up square now, and it’ll be the better for you.”
“I will, sir, I will, honest but
don’t leave us, please. It’s the the
Gentlemen, if you’ll only pull ahead,
and let me heave you the headline, you won’t
have to come a-near the raft please do.”
“Set her back, John, set her
back!” says one. They backed water.
“Keep away, boy keep to looard.
Confound it, I just expect the wind has blowed it
to us. Your pap’s got the small-pox, and
you know it precious well. Why didn’t
you come out and say so? Do you want to spread
it all over?”
“Well,” says I, a-blubbering,
“I’ve told everybody before, and they just
went away and left us.”
“Poor devil, there’s something
in that. We are right down sorry for you, but
we well, hang it, we don’t want the
small-pox, you see. Look here, I’ll tell
you what to do. Don’t you try to land by
yourself, or you’ll smash everything to pieces.
You float along down about twenty miles, and you’ll
come to a town on the left-hand side of the river.
It will be long after sun-up then, and when you ask
for help you tell them your folks are all down with
chills and fever. Don’t be a fool again,
and let people guess what is the matter. Now
we’re trying to do you a kindness; so you just
put twenty miles between us, that’s a good boy.
It wouldn’t do any good to land yonder where
the light is it’s only a wood-yard.
Say, I reckon your father’s poor, and I’m
bound to say he’s in pretty hard luck.
Here, I’ll put a twenty-dollar gold piece on
this board, and you get it when it floats by.
I feel mighty mean to leave you; but my kingdom!
it won’t do to fool with small-pox, don’t
“Hold on, Parker,” says
the other man, “here’s a twenty to put
on the board for me. Good-bye, boy; you do as
Mr. Parker told you, and you’ll be all right.”
“That’s so, my boy good-bye,
good-bye. If you see any runaway niggers you
get help and nab them, and you can make some money
“Good-bye, sir,” says
I; “I won’t let no runaway niggers get
by me if I can help it.”
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 come handiest at the time.
I went into the wigwam; Jim warn’t
there. I looked all around; he warn’t
anywhere. I says:
“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
were 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!
I tell you, chile, I’spec it save’
olé Jim olé Jim ain’t going
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 river
with a skiff, setting a trot-line. I ranged up
“Mister, is that town Cairo?”
“Cairo? no. You must be a blame’
“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 a 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 towhead 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.”
“Doan’ le’s talk
about it, Huck. Po’ niggers can’t
have no luck. I awluz ’spected dat rattlesnake-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 inshore, sure enough, and outside
was the old regular Muddy! So it was all up with
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 rattlesnake-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
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
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 that snake-skin done for us, will believe
it now if they read on and see what more it done for
The place to buy canoes is off of
rafts laying up 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. Up-stream 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
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 and 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 bulged 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 powwow 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 stayed under 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 clumb 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.