“We watched a lot of the nicest fish you ever see.”
DO you reckon Tom Sawyer was satisfied after all them adventures? I mean the adventures we had down the river, and the time we set the darky Jim free and Tom got shot in the leg. No, he wasn’t. It only just p’isoned him for more. That was all the effect it had. You see, when we three came back up the river in glory, as you may say, from that long travel, and the village received us with a torchlight procession and speeches, and everybody hurrah’d and shouted, it made us heroes, and that was what Tom Sawyer had always been hankering to be.
For a while he WAS satisfied. Everybody made much of him, and he tilted up his nose and stepped around the town as though he owned it. Some called him Tom Sawyer the Traveler, and that just swelled him up fit to bust. You see he laid over me and Jim considerable, because we only went down the river on a raft and came back by the steamboat, but Tom went by the steamboat both ways. The boys envied me and Jim a good deal, but land! they just knuckled to the dirt before TOM.
Well, I don’t know; maybe he might have been satisfied if it hadn’t been for old Nat Parsons, which was postmaster, and powerful long and slim, and kind o’ good-hearted and silly, and bald-headed, on account of his age, and about the talkiest old cretur I ever see. For as much as thirty years he’d been the only man in the village that had a reputation — I mean a reputation for being a traveler, and of course he was mortal proud of it, and it was reckoned that in the course of that thirty years he had told about that journey over a million times and enjoyed it every time. And now comes along a boy not quite fifteen, and sets everybody admiring and gawking over HIS travels, and it just give the poor old man the high strikes. It made him sick to listen to Tom, and to hear the people say “My land!” “Did you ever!” “My goodness sakes alive!” and all such things; but he couldn’t pull away from it, any more than a fly that’s got its hind leg fast in the molasses. And always when Tom come to a rest, the poor old cretur would chip in on HIS same old travels and work them for all they were worth; but they were pretty faded, and didn’t go for much, and it was pitiful to see. And then Tom would take another innings, and then the old man again — and so on, and so on, for an hour and more, each trying to beat out the other.
You see, Parsons’ travels happened like this: When he first got to be postmaster and was green in the business, there come a letter for somebody he didn’t know, and there wasn’t any such person in the village. Well, he didn’t know what to do, nor how to act, and there the letter stayed and stayed, week in and week out, till the bare sight of it gave him a conniption. The postage wasn’t paid on it, and that was another thing to worry about. There wasn’t any way to collect that ten cents, and he reckon’d the gov’ment would hold him responsible for it and maybe turn him out besides, when they found he hadn’t collected it. Well, at last he couldn’t stand it any longer. He couldn’t sleep nights, he couldn’t eat, he was thinned down to a shadder, yet he da’sn’t ask anybody’s advice, for the very person he asked for advice might go back on him and let the gov’ment know about the letter. He had the letter buried under the floor, but that did no good; if he happened to see a person standing over the place it’d give him the cold shivers, and loaded him up with suspicions, and he would sit up that night till the town was still and dark, and then he would sneak there and get it out and bury it in another place. Of course, people got to avoiding him and shaking their heads and whispering, because, the way he was looking and acting, they judged he had killed somebody or done something terrible, they didn’t know what, and if he had been a stranger they would’ve lynched him.
Well, as I was saying, it got so he couldn’t stand it any longer; so he made up his mind to pull out for Washington, and just go to the President of the United States and make a clean breast of the whole thing, not keeping back an atom, and then fetch the letter out and lay it before the whole gov’ment, and say, “Now, there she is — do with me what you’re a mind to; though as heaven is my judge I am an innocent man and not deserving of the full penalties of the law and leaving behind me a family that must starve and yet hadn’t had a thing to do with it, which is the whole truth and I can swear to it.”
So he did it. He had a little wee bit of steamboating, and some stage-coaching, but all the rest of the way was horseback, and it took him three weeks to get to Washington. He saw lots of land and lots of villages and four cities. He was gone ’most eight weeks, and there never was such a proud man in the village as he when he got back. His travels made him the greatest man in all that region, and the most talked about; and people come from as much as thirty miles back in the country, and from over in the Illinois bottoms, too, just to look at him — and there they’d stand and gawk, and he’d gabble. You never see anything like it.
Well, there wasn’t any way now to settle which was the greatest traveler; some said it was Nat, some said it was Tom. Everybody allowed that Nat had seen the most longitude, but they had to give in that whatever Tom was short in longitude he had made up in latitude and climate. It was about a stand-off; so both of them had to whoop up their dangerous adventures, and try to get ahead THAT way. That bullet-wound in Tom’s leg was a tough thing for Nat Parsons to buck against, but he bucked the best he could; and at a disadvantage, too, for Tom didn’t set still as he’d orter done, to be fair, but always got up and sauntered around and worked his limp while Nat was painting up the adventure that HE had in Washington; for Tom never let go that limp when his leg got well, but practiced it nights at home, and kept it good as new right along.
Nat’s adventure was like this; I don’t know how true it is; maybe he got it out of a paper, or somewhere, but I will say this for him, that he DID know how to tell it. He could make anybody’s flesh crawl, and he’d turn pale and hold his breath when he told it, and sometimes women and girls got so faint they couldn’t stick it out. Well, it was this way, as near as I can remember:
He come a-loping into Washington, and put up his horse and shoved out to the President’s house with his letter, and they told him the President was up to the Capitol, and just going to start for Philadelphia — not a minute to lose if he wanted to catch him. Nat ’most dropped, it made him so sick. His horse was put up, and he didn’t know what to do. But just then along comes a darky driving an old ramshackly hack, and he see his chance. He rushes out and shouts: “A half a dollar if you git me to the Capitol in half an hour, and a quarter extra if you do it in twenty minutes!”
“Done!” says the darky.
Nat he jumped in and slammed the door, and away they went a-ripping and a-tearing over the roughest road a body ever see, and the racket of it was something awful. Nat passed his arms through the loops and hung on for life and death, but pretty soon the hack hit a rock and flew up in the air, and the bottom fell out, and when it come down Nat’s feet was on the ground, and he see he was in the most desperate danger if he couldn’t keep up with the hack. He was horrible scared, but he laid into his work for all he was worth, and hung tight to the arm-loops and made his legs fairly fly. He yelled and shouted to the driver to stop, and so did the crowds along the street, for they could see his legs spinning along under the coach, and his head and shoulders bobbing inside through the windows, and he was in awful danger; but the more they all shouted the more the nigger whooped and yelled and lashed the horses and shouted, “Don’t you fret, I’se gwine to git you dah in time, boss; I’s gwine to do it, sho’!” for you see he thought they were all hurrying him up, and, of course, he couldn’t hear anything for the racket he was making. And so they went ripping along, and everybody just petrified to see it; and when they got to the Capitol at last it was the quickest trip that ever was made, and everybody said so. The horses laid down, and Nat dropped, all tuckered out, and he was all dust and rags and barefooted; but he was in time and just in time, and caught the President and give him the letter, and everything was all right, and the President give him a free pardon on the spot, and Nat give the nigger two extra quarters instead of one, because he could see that if he hadn’t had the hack he wouldn’t’a’ got there in time, nor anywhere near it.
It WAS a powerful good adventure, and Tom Sawyer had to work his bullet-wound mighty lively to hold his own against it.
Well, by and by Tom’s glory got to paling down gradu’ly, on account of other things turning up for the people to talk about — first a horse-race, and on top of that a house afire, and on top of that the circus, and on top of that the eclipse; and that started a revival, same as it always does, and by that time there wasn’t any more talk about Tom, so to speak, and you never see a person so sick and disgusted.
Pretty soon he got to worrying and fretting right along day in and day out, and when I asked him what WAS he in such a state about, he said it ’most broke his heart to think how time was slipping away, and him getting older and older, and no wars breaking out and no way of making a name for himself that he could see. Now that is the way boys is always thinking, but he was the first one I ever heard come out and say it.
So then he set to work to get up a plan to make him celebrated; and pretty soon he struck it, and offered to take me and Jim in. Tom Sawyer was always free and generous that way. There’s a-plenty of boys that’s mighty good and friendly when YOU’VE got a good thing, but when a good thing happens to come their way they don’t say a word to you, and try to hog it all. That warn’t ever Tom Sawyer’s way, I can say that for him. There’s plenty of boys that will come hankering and groveling around you when you’ve got an apple and beg the core off of you; but when they’ve got one, and you beg for the core and remind them how you give them a core one time, they say thank you ’most to death, but there ain’t a-going to be no core. But I notice they always git come up with; all you got to do is to wait.