"COME in," says the woman, and I did. She says: "Take a cheer."
I done it. She looked me all over with her little shiny eyes, and says:
"What might your name be?"
"Where 'bouts do you live? In this neighborhood?'
"No'm. In Hookerville, seven mile below. I've walked all the way and I'm al_ired out."
"Hungry, too, I reckon. I'll find you something."
"No'm, I ain't hungry. I was so hungry I had to stop two miles below here at _arm; so I ain't hungry no more. It's what makes me so late. My mother's dow_ick, and out of money and everything, and I come to tell my uncle Abne_oore. He lives at the upper end of the town, she says. I hain't ever bee_ere before. Do you know him?"
"No; but I don't know everybody yet. I haven't lived here quite two weeks.
It's a considerable ways to the upper end of the town. You better stay her_ll night. Take off your bonnet."
"No," I says; "I'll rest a while, I reckon, and go on. I ain't afeared of th_ark."
She said she wouldn't let me go by myself, but her husband would be in by an_y, maybe in a hour and a half, and she'd send him along with me. Then she go_o talking about her husband, and about her relations up the river, and he_elations down the river, and about how much better off they used to was, an_ow they didn't know but they'd made a mistake coming to our town, instead o_etting well alone—and so on and so on, till I was afeard I had made a mistak_oming to her to find out what was going on in the town; but by and by sh_ropped on to pap and the murder, and then I was pretty willing to let he_latter right along. She told about me and Tom Sawyer finding the six thousan_ollars (only she got it ten) and all about pap and what a hard lot he was, and what a hard lot I was, and at last she got down to where I was murdered. _ays:
"Who done it? We've heard considerable about these goings on down i_ookerville, but we don't know who 'twas that killed Huck Finn."
"Well, I reckon there's a right smart chance of people HERE that'd like t_now who killed him. Some think old Finn done it himself."
"No—is that so?"
"Most everybody thought it at first. He'll never know how nigh he come t_etting lynched. But before night they changed around and judged it was don_y a runaway nigger named Jim."
I stopped. I reckoned I better keep still. She run on, and never noticed I ha_ut in at all:
"The nigger run off the very night Huck Finn was killed. So there's a rewar_ut for him—three hundred dollars. And there's a reward out for old Finn, too—two hundred dollars. You see, he come to town the morning after th_urder, and told about it, and was out with 'em on the ferryboat hunt, an_ight away after he up and left. Before night they wanted to lynch him, but h_as gone, you see. Well, next day they found out the nigger was gone; the_ound out he hadn't ben seen sence ten o'clock the night the murder was done.
So then they put it on him, you see; and while they was full of it, next day, back comes old Finn, and went boo-hooing to Judge Thatcher to get money t_unt for the nigger all over Illinois with. The judge gave him some, and tha_vening he got drunk, and was around till after midnight with a couple o_ighty hard- looking strangers, and then went off with them. Well, he hain'_ome back sence, and they ain't looking for him back till this thing blow_ver a little, for people thinks now that he killed his boy and fixed thing_o folks would think robbers done it, and then he'd get Huck's money withou_aving to bother a long time with a lawsuit. People do say he warn't any to_ood to do it. Oh, he's sly, I reckon. If he don't come back for a year he'l_e all right. You can't prove anything on him, you know; everything will b_uieted down then, and he'll walk in Huck's money as easy as nothing."
"Yes, I reckon so, 'm. I don't see nothing in the way of it. Has everybod_uit thinking the nigger done it?"
"Oh, no, not everybody. A good many thinks he done it. But they'll get th_igger pretty soon now, and maybe they can scare it out of him."
"Why, are they after him yet?"
"Well, you're innocent, ain't you! Does three hundred dollars lay around ever_ay for people to pick up? Some folks think the nigger ain't far from here.
I'm one of them—but I hain't talked it around. A few days ago I was talkin_ith an old couple that lives next door in the log shanty, and they happene_o say hardly anybody ever goes to that island over yonder that they cal_ackson's Island. Don't anybody live there? says I. No, nobody, says they. _idn't say any more, but I done some thinking. I was pretty near certain I'_een smoke over there, about the head of the island, a day or two before that, so I says to myself, like as not that nigger's hiding over there; anyway, say_, it's worth the trouble to give the place a hunt. I hain't seen any smok_ence, so I reckon maybe he's gone, if it was him; but husband's going over t_ee— him and another man. He was gone up the river; but he got back to-day, and I told him as soon as he got here two hours ago."
I had got so uneasy I couldn't set still. I had to do something with my hands; so I took up a needle off of the table and went to threading it. My hand_hook, and I was making a bad job of it. When the woman stopped talking _ooked up, and she was looking at me pretty curious and smiling a little. _ut down the needle and thread, and let on to be interested —and I was, too—and says:
"Three hundred dollars is a power of money. I wish my mother could get it. I_our husband going over there to-night?"
"Oh, yes. He went up-town with the man I was telling you of, to get a boat an_ee if they could borrow another gun. They'll go over after midnight."
"Couldn't they see better if they was to wait till daytime?"
"Yes. And couldn't the nigger see better, too? After midnight he'll likely b_sleep, and they can slip around through the woods and hunt up his camp fir_ll the better for the dark, if he's got one."
"I didn't think of that."
The woman kept looking at me pretty curious, and I didn't feel a bi_omfortable. Pretty soon she says"
"What did you say your name was, honey?"
Somehow it didn't seem to me that I said it was Mary before, so I didn't loo_p—seemed to me I said it was Sarah; so I felt sort of cornered, and wa_feared maybe I was looking it, too. I wished the woman would say somethin_ore; the longer she set still the uneasier I was. But now she says:
"Honey, I thought you said it was Sarah when you first come in?"
"Oh, yes'm, I did. Sarah Mary Williams. Sarah's my first name. Some calls m_arah, some calls me Mary."
"Oh, that's the way of it?"
I was feeling better then, but I wished I was out of there, anyway. I couldn'_ook up yet.
Well, the woman fell to talking about how hard times was, and how poor the_ad to live, and how the rats was as free as if they owned the place, and s_orth and so on, and then I got easy again. She was right about the rats.
You'd see one stick his nose out of a hole in the corner every little while.
She said she had to have things handy to throw at them when she was alone, o_hey wouldn't give her no peace. She showed me a bar of lead twisted up into _not, and said she was a good shot with it generly, but she'd wrenched her ar_ day or two ago, and didn't know whether she could throw true now. But sh_atched for a chance, and directly banged away at a rat; but she missed hi_ide, and said "Ouch!" it hurt her arm so. Then she told me to try for th_ext one. I wanted to be getting away before the old man got back, but o_ourse I didn't let on. I got the thing, and the first rat that showed hi_ose I let drive, and if he'd a stayed where he was he'd a been a tolerabl_ick rat. She said that was first-rate, and she reckoned I would hive the nex_ne. She went and got the lump of lead and fetched it back, and brought alon_ hank of yarn which she wanted me to help her with. I held up my two hand_nd she put the hank over them, and went on talking about her and he_usband's matters. But she broke off to say:
"Keep your eye on the rats. You better have the lead in your lap, handy."
So she dropped the lump into my lap just at that moment, and I clapped my leg_ogether on it and she went on talking. But only about a minute. Then she too_ff the hank and looked me straight in the face, and very pleasant, and says:
"Come, now, what's your real name?"
"What's your real name? Is it Bill, or Tom, or Bob?—or what is it?"
I reckon I shook like a leaf, and I didn't know hardly what to do. But I says:
"Please to don't poke fun at a poor girl like me, mum. If I'm in the way here, I'll—"
"No, you won't. Set down and stay where you are. I ain't going to hurt you, and I ain't going to tell on you, nuther. You just tell me your secret, an_rust me. I'll keep it; and, what's more, I'll help you. So'll my old man i_ou want him to. You see, you're a runaway 'prentice, that's all. It ain'_nything. There ain't no harm in it. You've been treated bad, and you made u_our mind to cut. Bless you, child, I wouldn't tell on you. Tell me all abou_t now, that's a good boy."
So I said it wouldn't be no use to try to play it any longer, and I would jus_ake a clean breast and tell her everything, but she musn't go back on he_romise. Then I told her my father and mother was dead, and the law had boun_e out to a mean old farmer in the country thirty mile back from the river, and he treated me so bad I couldn't stand it no longer; he went away to b_one a couple of days, and so I took my chance and stole some of hi_aughter's old clothes and cleared out, and I had been three nights coming th_hirty miles. I traveled nights, and hid daytimes and slept, and the bag o_read and meat I carried from home lasted me all the way, and I had a-plenty.
I said I believed my uncle Abner Moore would take care of me, and so that wa_hy I struck out for this town of Goshen.
"Goshen, child? This ain't Goshen. This is St. Petersburg. Goshen's ten mil_urther up the river. Who told you this was Goshen?"
"Why, a man I met at daybreak this morning, just as I was going to turn int_he woods for my regular sleep. He told me when the roads forked I must tak_he right hand, and five mile would fetch me to Goshen."
"He was drunk, I reckon. He told you just exactly wrong."
"Well, he did act like he was drunk, but it ain't no matter now. I got to b_oving along. I'll fetch Goshen before daylight."
"Hold on a minute. I'll put you up a snack to eat. You might want it."
So she put me up a snack, and says:
"Say, when a cow's laying down, which end of her gets up first? Answer u_rompt now—don't stop to study over it. Which end gets up first?"
"The hind end, mum."
"Well, then, a horse?"
"The for'rard end, mum."
"Which side of a tree does the moss grow on?"
"If fifteen cows is browsing on a hillside, how many of them eats with thei_eads pointed the same direction?"
"The whole fifteen, mum."
"Well, I reckon you HAVE lived in the country. I thought maybe you was tryin_o hocus me again. What's your real name, now?"
"George Peters, mum."
"Well, try to remember it, George. Don't forget and tell me it's Elexande_efore you go, and then get out by saying it's George Elexander when I catc_ou. And don't go about women in that old calico. You do a girl tolerabl_oor, but you might fool men, maybe. Bless you, child, when you set out t_hread a needle don't hold the thread still and fetch the needle up to it; hold the needle still and poke the thread at it; that's the way a woman mos_lways does, but a man always does t'other way. And when you throw at a rat o_nything, hitch yourself up a tiptoe and fetch your hand up over your head a_wkward as you can, and miss your rat about six or seven foot. Throw stiff- armed from the shoulder, like there was a pivot there for it to turn on, lik_ girl; not from the wrist and elbow, with your arm out to one side, like _oy. And, mind you, when a girl tries to catch anything in her lap she throw_er knees apart; she don't clap them together, the way you did when yo_atched the lump of lead. Why, I spotted you for a boy when you was threadin_he needle; and I contrived the other things just to make certain. Now tro_long to your uncle, Sarah Mary Williams George Elexander Peters, and if yo_et into trouble you send word to Mrs. Judith Loftus, which is me, and I'll d_hat I can to get you out of it. Keep the river road all the way, and nex_ime you tramp take shoes and socks with you. The river road's a rocky one, and your feet'll be in a condition when you get to Goshen, I reckon."
I went up the bank about fifty yards, and then I doubled on my tracks an_lipped back to where my canoe was, a good piece below the house. I jumped in, and was off in a hurry. I went up-stream far enough to make the head of th_sland, and then started across. I took off the sun- bonnet, for I didn't wan_o blinders on then. When I was about the middle I heard the clock begin t_trike, so I stops and listens; the sound come faint over the water bu_lear—eleven. When I struck the head of the island I never waited to blow, though I was most winded, but I shoved right into the timber where my old cam_sed to be, and started a good fire there on a high and dry spot.
Then I jumped in the canoe and dug out for our place, a mile and a half below, as hard as I could go. I landed, and slopped through the timber and up th_idge and into the cavern. There Jim laid, sound asleep on the ground. _oused him out and says:
"Git up and hump yourself, Jim! There ain't a minute to lose. They're afte_s!"
Jim never asked no questions, he never said a word; but the way he worked fo_he next half an hour showed about how he was scared. By that time everythin_e had in the world was on our raft, and she was ready to be shoved out fro_he willow cove where she was hid. We put out the camp fire at the cavern th_irst thing, and didn't show a candle outside after that.
I took the canoe out from the shore a little piece, and took a look; but i_here was a boat around I couldn't see it, for stars and shadows ain't good t_ee by. Then we got out the raft and slipped along down in the shade, past th_oot of the island dead still—never saying a word.