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CHAPTER VIII. THE DISAPPEARING LAKE
WE had an early breakfast in the morning, and set looking down on the desert, and the weather was ever so bammy and lovely, although we warn't high up. You have to come down lower and lower after sundown in the desert, because it cools off so fast; and so, by the time it is getting toward dawn, you are skimming along only a little ways above the sand.
We was watching the shadder of the balloon slide along the ground, and now and then gazing off across the desert to see if anything was stirring, and then down on the shadder again, when all of a sudden almost right under us we see a lot of men and camels laying scattered about, perfectly quiet, like they was asleep.
We shut off the power, and backed up and stood over them, and then we see that they was all dead. It give us the cold shivers. And it made us hush down, too, and talk low, like people at a funeral. We dropped down slow and stopped, and me and Tom clumb down and went among them. There was men, and women, and children. They was dried by the sun and dark and shriveled and leathery, like the pictures of mummies you see in books. And yet they looked just as human, you wouldn't 'a' believed it; just like they was asleep.
Some of the people and animals was partly covered with sand, but most of them not, for the sand was thin there, and the bed was gravel and hard. Most of the clothes had rotted away; and when you took hold of a rag, it tore with a touch, like spiderweb. Tom reckoned they had been laying there for years.
Some of the men had rusty guns by them, some had swords on and had shawl belts with long, silvermounted pistols stuck in them. All the camels had their loads on yet, but the packs had busted or rotted and spilt the freight out on the ground. We didn't reckon the swords was any good to the dead people any more, so we took one apiece, and some pistols. We took a small box, too, because it was so handsome and inlaid so fine; and then we wanted to bury the people; but there warn't no way to do it that we could think of, and nothing to do it with but sand, and that would blow away again, of course.
Then we mounted high and sailed away, and pretty soon that black spot on the sand was out of sight, and we wouldn't ever see them poor people again in this world. We wondered, and reasoned, and tried to guess how they come to be there, and how it all happened to them, but we couldn't make it out. First we thought maybe they got lost, and wandered around and about till their food and water give out and they starved to death; but Tom said no wild animals nor vultures hadn't meddled with them, and so that guess wouldn't do. So at last we give it up, and judged we wouldn't think about it no more, because it made us low-spirited.
Then we opened the box, and it had gems and jewels in it, quite a pile, and some little veils of the kind the dead women had on, with fringes made out of curious gold money that we warn't acquainted with. We wondered if we better go and try to find them again and give it back; but Tom thought it over and said no, it was a country that was full of robbers, and they would come and steal it; and then the sin would be on us for putting the temptation in their way. So we went on; but I wished we had took all they had, so there wouldn't 'a' been no temptation at all left.
We had had two hours of that blazing weather down there, and was dreadful thirsty when we got aboard again. We went straight for the water, but it was spoiled and bitter, besides being pretty near hot enough to scald your mouth. We couldn't drink it. It was Mississippi river water, the best in the world, and we stirred up the mud in it to see if that would help, but no, the mud wasn't any better than the water. Well, we hadn't been so very, very thirsty before, while we was interested in the lost people, but we was now, and as soon as we found we couldn't have a drink, we was more than thirty-five times as thirsty as we was a quarter of a minute before. Why, in a little while we wanted to hold our mouths open and pant like a dog.
Tom said to keep a sharp lookout, all around, everywheres, because we'd got to find an oasis or there warn't no telling what would happen. So we done it. We kept the glasses gliding around all the time, till our arms got so tired we couldn't hold them any more. Two hours - three hours - just gazing and gazing, and nothing but sand, sand, SAND, and you could see the quivering heat-shimmer playing over it. Dear, dear, a body don't know what real misery is till he is thirsty all the way through and is certain he ain't ever going to come to any water any more. At last I couldn't stand it to look around on them baking plains; I laid down on the locker, and give it up.
But by and by Tom raised a whoop, and there she was! A lake, wide and shiny, with pa'm-trees leaning over it asleep, and their shadders in the water just as soft and delicate as ever you see. I never see anything look so good. It was a long ways off, but that warn't anything to us; we just slapped on a hundredmile gait, and calculated to be there in seven minutes; but she stayed the same old distance away, all the time; we couldn't seem to gain on her; yes, sir, just as far, and shiny, and like a dream; but we couldn't get no nearer; and at last, all of a sudden, she was gone!
Tom's eyes took a spread, and he says:
"Boys, it was a MYridge!" Said it like he was glad. I didn't see nothing to be glad about. I says:
"Maybe. I don't care nothing about its name, the thing I want to know is, what's become of it?"
Jim was trembling all over, and so scared he couldn't speak, but he wanted to ask that question himself if he could 'a' done it. Tom says:
"What's BECOME of it? Why, you see yourself it's gone."
"Yes, I know; but where's it gone TO?"
He looked me over and says:
"Well, now, Huck Finn, where WOULD it go to! Don't you know what a myridge is?"
"No, I don't. What is it?"
"It ain't anything but imagination. There ain't anything TO it. "
It warmed me up a little to hear him talk like that, and I says:
"What's the use you talking that kind of stuff, Tom Sawyer? Didn't I see the lake?"
"Yes - you think you did."
"I don't think nothing about it, I DID see it."
"I tell you you DIDN'T see it either - because it warn't there to see."
It astonished Jim to hear him talk so, and he broke in and says, kind of pleading and distressed:
"Mars Tom, PLEASE don't say sich things in sich an awful time as dis. You ain't only reskin' yo' own self, but you's reskin' us - same way like Anna Nias en Siffra. De lake WUZ dah - I seen it jis' as plain as I sees you en Huck dis minute."
"Why, he seen it himself! He was the very one that seen it first. NOW, then!"
"Yes, Mars Tom, hit's so - you can't deny it. We all seen it, en dat PROVE it was dah."
"Proves it! How does it prove it?"
"Same way it does in de courts en everywheres, Mars Tom. One pusson might be drunk, or dreamy or suthin', en he could be mistaken; en two might, maybe; but I tell you, sah, when three sees a thing, drunk er sober, it's SO. Dey ain't no gittin' aroun' dat, en you knows it, Mars Tom."
"I don't know nothing of the kind. There used to be forty thousand million people that seen the sun move from one side of the sky to the other every day. Did that prove that the sun DONE it?"
"Course it did. En besides, dey warn't no 'casion to prove it. A body 'at's got any sense ain't gwine to doubt it. Dah she is now - a sailin' thoo de sky, like she allays done."
Tom turned on me, then, and says:
"What do YOU say - is the sun standing still?"
"Tom Sawyer, what's the use to ask such a jackass question? Anybody that ain't blind can see it don't stand still."
"Well," he says, "I'm lost in the sky with no company but a passel of low-down animals that don't know no more than the head boss of a university did three or four hundred years ago."
It warn't fair play, and I let him know it. I says:
"Throwin' mud ain't arguin', Tom Sawyer."
"Oh, my goodness, oh, my goodness gracious, dah's de lake agi'n!" yelled Jim, just then. "NOW, Mars Tom, what you gwine to say?"
Yes, sir, there was the lake again, away yonder across the desert, perfectly plain, trees and all, just the same as it was before. I says:
"I reckon you're satisfied now, Tom Sawyer."
But he says, perfectly ca'm:
"Yes, satisfied there ain't no lake there."
"DON'T talk so, Mars Tom - it sk'yers me to hear you. It's so hot, en you's so thirsty, dat you ain't in yo' right mine, Mars Tom. Oh, but don't she look good! 'clah I doan' know how I's gwine to wait tell we gits dah, I's SO thirsty."
"Well, you'll have to wait; and it won't do you no good, either, because there ain't no lake there, I tell you."
"Jim, don't you take your eye off of it, and I won't, either."
"'Deed I won't; en bless you, honey, I couldn't ef I wanted to."
We went a-tearing along toward it, piling the miles behind us like nothing, but never gaining an inch on it - and all of a sudden it was gone again! Jim staggered, and 'most fell down. When he got his breath he says, gasping like a fish:
"Mars Tom, hit's a GHOS', dat's what it is, en I hopes to goodness we ain't gwine to see it no mo'. Dey's BEEN a lake, en suthin's happened, en de lake's dead, en we's seen its ghos'; we's seen it twiste, en dat's proof. De desert's ha'nted, it's ha'nted, sho; oh, Mars Tom, le''s git outen it; I'd ruther die den have de night ketch us in it ag'in en de ghos' er dat lake come a-mournin' aroun' us en we asleep en doan' know de danger we's in."
"Ghost, you gander! It ain't anything but air and heat and thirstiness pasted together by a person's imagination. If I - gimme the glass!"
He grabbed it and begun to gaze off to the right.
"It's a flock of birds," he says. "It's getting toward sundown, and they're making a bee-line across our track for somewheres. They mean business -maybe they're going for food or water, or both. Let her go to starboard! - Port your hellum! Hard down! There - ease up - steady, as you go."
We shut down some of the power, so as not to outspeed them, and took out after them. We went skimming along a quarter of a mile behind them, and when we had followed them an hour and a half and was getting pretty discouraged, and was thirsty clean to unendurableness, Tom says:
"Take the glass, one of you, and see what that is, away ahead of the birds."
Jim got the first glimpse, and slumped down on the locker sick. He was most crying, and says:
"She's dah ag'in, Mars Tom, she's dah ag'in, en I knows I's gwine to die, 'case when a body sees a ghos' de third time, dat's what it means. I wisht I'd never come in dis balloon, dat I does."
He wouldn't look no more, and what he said made me afraid, too, because I knowed it was true, for that has always been the way with ghosts; so then I wouldn't look any more, either. Both of us begged Tom to turn off and go some other way, but he wouldn't, and said we was ignorant superstitious blatherskites. Yes, and he'll git come up with, one of these days, I says to myself, insulting ghosts that way. They'll stand it for a while, maybe, but they won't stand it always, for anybody that knows about ghosts knows how easy they are hurt, and how revengeful they are.
So we was all quiet and still, Jim and me being scared, and Tom busy. By and by Tom fetched the balloon to a standstill, and says:
"NOW get up and look, you sapheads."
We done it, and there was the sure-enough water right under us! - clear, and blue, and cool, and deep, and wavy with the breeze, the loveliest sight that ever was. And all about it was grassy banks, and flowers, and shady groves of big trees, looped together with vines, and all looking so peaceful and comfortable -enough to make a body cry, it was so beautiful.
Jim DID cry, and rip and dance and carry on, he was so thankful and out of his mind for joy. It was my watch, so I had to stay by the works, but Tom and Jim clumb down and drunk a barrel apiece, and fetched me up a lot, and I've tasted a many a good thing in my life, but nothing that ever begun with that water.
Then we went down and had a swim, and then Tom came up and spelled me, and me and Jim had a swim, and then Jim spelled Tom, and me and Tom had a foot-race and a boxing-mill, and I don't reckon I ever had such a good time in my life. It warn't so very hot, because it was close on to evening, and we hadn't any clothes on, anyway. Clothes is well enough in school, and in towns, and at balls, too, but there ain't no sense in them when there ain't no civilization nor other kinds of bothers and fussiness around.
"Lions a-comin'! - lions! Quick, Mars Tom! Jump for yo' life, Huck!"
Oh, and didn't we! We never stopped for clothes, but waltzed up the ladder just so. Jim lost his head straight off - he always done it whenever he got excited and scared; and so now, 'stead of just easing the ladder up from the ground a little, so the animals couldn't reach it, he turned on a raft of power, and we went whizzing up and was dangling in the sky before he got his wits together and seen what a foolish thing he was doing. Then he stopped her, but he had clean forgot what to do next; so there we was, so high that the lions looked like pups, and we was drifting off on the wind.
But Tom he shinned up and went for the works and begun to slant her down, and back toward the lake, where the animals was gathering like a camp-meeting, and I judged he had lost HIS head, too; for he knowed I was too scared to climb, and did he want to dump me among the tigers and things?
But no, his head was level, he knowed what he was about. He swooped down to within thirty or forty feet of the lake, and stopped right over the center, and sung out:
"Leggo, and drop!"
I done it, and shot down, feet first, and seemed to go about a mile toward the bottom; and when I come up, he says:
"Now lay on your back and float till you're rested and got your pluck back, then I'll dip the ladder in the water and you can climb aboard."
I done it. Now that was ever so smart in Tom, because if he had started off somewheres else to drop down on the sand, the menagerie would 'a' come along, too, and might 'a' kept us hunting a safe place till I got tuckered out and fell.
And all this time the lions and tigers was sorting out the clothes, and trying to divide them up so there would be some for all, but there was a misunderstanding about it somewheres, on account of some of them trying to hog more than their share; so there was another insurrection, and you never see anything like it in the world. There must 'a' been fifty of them, all mixed up together, snorting and roaring and snapping and biting and tearing, legs and tails in the air, and you couldn't tell which was which, and the sand and fur a-flying. And when they got done, some was dead. and some was limping off crippled, and the rest was setting around on the battlefield, some of them licking their sore places and the others looking up at us and seemed to be kind of inviting us to come down and have some fun, but which we didn't want any.
As for the clothes, they warn't any, any more. Every last rag of them was inside of the animals; and not agreeing with them very well, I don't reckon, for there was considerable many brass buttons on them, and there was knives in the pockets, too, and smoking tobacco, and nails and chalk and marbles and fishhooks and things. But I wasn't caring. All that was bothering me was, that all we had now was the professor's clothes, a big enough assortment, but not suitable to go into company with, if we came across any, because the britches was as long as tunnels, and the coats and things according. Still, there was everything a tailor needed, and Jim was a kind of jack legged tailor, and he allowed he could soon trim a suit or two down for us that would answer.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER IX. TOM DISCOURSES ON THE DESERT