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Mark Twain > Tom Sawyer Abroad > Chapter II

Tom Sawyer Abroad

Chapter II


THE BALLOON ASCENSION

WELL, Tom got up one thing after another, but
they all had tender spots about 'em somewheres,
and he had to shove 'em aside. So at last he was
about in despair. Then the St. Louis papers begun to
talk a good deal about the balloon that was going to
sail to Europe, and Tom sort of thought he wanted
to go down and see what it looked like, but couldn't
make up his mind. But the papers went on talking,
and so he allowed that maybe if he didn't go he
mightn't ever have another chance to see a balloon;
and next, he found out that Nat Parsons was going
down to see it, and that decided him, of course. He
wasn't going to have Nat Parsons coming back brag-
ging about seeing the balloon, and him having to listen
to it and keep quiet. So he wanted me and Jim to go
too, and we went.

It was a noble big balloon, and had wings and fans
and all sorts of things, and wasn't like any balloon you
see in pictures. It was away out toward the edge of
town, in a vacant lot, corner of Twelfth street; and
there was a big crowd around it, making fun of it, and
making fun of the man, -- a lean pale feller with that
soft kind of moonlight in his eyes, you know, -- and
they kept saying it wouldn't go. It made him hot to
hear them, and he would turn on them and shake his
fist and say they was animals and blind, but some day
they would find they had stood face to face with one
of the men that lifts up nations and makes civilizations,
and was too dull to know it; and right here on this
spot their own children and grandchildren would build
a monument to him that would outlast a thousand
years, but his name would outlast the monument.
And then the crowd would burst out in a laugh again,
and yell at him, and ask him what was his name before
he was married, and what he would take to not do it,
and what was his sister's cat's grandmother's name,
and all the things that a crowd says when they've got
hold of a feller that they see they can plague. Well,
some things they said WAS funny, -- yes, and mighty
witty too, I ain't denying that, -- but all the same it
warn't fair nor brave, all them people pitching on one,
and they so glib and sharp, and him without any gift
of talk to answer back with. But, good land! what
did he want to sass back for? You see, it couldn't do
him no good, and it was just nuts for them. They
HAD him, you know. But that was his way. I reckon
he couldn't help it; he was made so, I judge. He
was a good enough sort of cretur, and hadn't no harm
in him, and was just a genius, as the papers said, which
wasn't his fault. We can't all be sound: we've got to
be the way we're made. As near as I can make out,
geniuses think they know it all, and so they won't take
people's advice, but always go their own way, which
makes everybody forsake them and despise them, and
that is perfectly natural. If they was humbler, and
listened and tried to learn, it would be better for them.

The part the professor was in was like a boat, and
was big and roomy, and had water-tight lockers around
the inside to keep all sorts of things in, and a body
could sit on them, and make beds on them, too. We
went aboard, and there was twenty people there, snoop-
ing around and examining, and old Nat Parsons was
there, too. The professor kept fussing around getting
ready, and the people went ashore, drifting out one at
a time, and old Nat he was the last. Of course it
wouldn't do to let him go out behind US. We mustn't
budge till he was gone, so we could be last ourselves.

But he was gone now, so it was time for us to follow.
I heard a big shout, and turned around -- the city was
dropping from under us like a shot! It made me sick
all through, I was so scared. Jim turned gray and
couldn't say a word, and Tom didn't say nothing, but
looked excited. The city went on dropping down,
and down, and down; but we didn't seem to be doing
nothing but just hang in the air and stand still. The
houses got smaller and smaller, and the city pulled
itself together, closer and closer, and the men and
wagons got to looking like ants and bugs crawling
around, and the streets like threads and cracks; and
then it all kind of melted together, and there wasn't
any city any more it was only a big scar on the earth,
and it seemed to me a body could see up the river and
down the river about a thousand miles, though of
course it wasn't so much. By and by the earth was a
ball -- just a round ball, of a dull color, with shiny
stripes wriggling and winding around over it, which
was rivers. The Widder Douglas always told me the
earth was round like a ball, but I never took any stock
in a lot of them superstitions o' hers, and of course I
paid no attention to that one, because I could see my-
self that the world was the shape of a plate, and flat.
I used to go up on the hill, and take a look around
and prove it for myself, because I reckon the best way
to get a sure thing on a fact is to go and examine for
yourself, and not take anybody's say-so. But I had to
give in now that the widder was right. That is, she
was right as to the rest of the world, but she warn't
right about the part our village is in; that part is the
shape of a plate, and flat, I take my oath!

The professor had been quiet all this time, as if he
was asleep; but he broke loose now, and he was mighty
bitter. He says something like this:

"Idiots! They said it wouldn't go; and they
wanted to examine it, and spy around and get the
secret of it out of me. But I beat them. Nobody
knows the secret but me. Nobody knows what makes
it move but me; and it's a new power -- a new power,
and a thousand times the strongest in the earth!
Steam's foolishness to it! They said I couldn't go to
Europe. To Europe! Why, there's power aboard to
last five years, and feed for three months. They are
fools! What do they know about it? Yes, and they
said my air-ship was flimsy. Why, she's good for
fifty years! I can sail the skies all my life if I want
to, and steer where I please, though they laughed at
that, and said I couldn't. Couldn't steer! Come
here, boy; we'll see. You press these buttons as I
tell you."

He made Tom steer the ship all about and every
which way, and learnt him the whole thing in nearly
no time; and Tom said it was perfectly easy. He
made him fetch the ship down 'most to the earth, and
had him spin her along so close to the Illinois prairies
that a body could talk to the farmers, and hear every-
thing they said perfectly plain; and he flung out
printed bills to them that told about the balloon, and
said it was going to Europe. Tom got so he could
steer straight for a tree till he got nearly to it, and then
dart up and skin right along over the top of it. Yes,
and he showed Tom how to land her; and he done it
first-rate, too, and set her down in the prairies as soft
as wool. But the minute we started to skip out the
professor says, "No, you don't!" and shot her up in
the air again. It was awful. I begun to beg, and so
did Jim; but it only give his temper a rise, and he
begun to rage around and look wild out of his eyes,
and I was scared of him.

Well, then he got on to his troubles again, and
mourned and grumbled about the way he was treated,
and couldn't seem to git over it, and especially people's
saying his ship was flimsy. He scoffed at that, and at
their saying she warn't simple and would be always
getting out of order. Get out of order! That graveled
him; he said that she couldn't any more get out of
order than the solar sister.

He got worse and worse, and I never see a person
take on so. It give me the cold shivers to see him,
and so it did Jim. By and by he got to yelling and
screaming, and then he swore the world shouldn't ever
have his secret at all now, it had treated him so mean.
He said he would sail his balloon around the globe just
to show what he could do, and then he would sink it in
the sea, and sink us all along with it, too. Well, it was
the awfulest fix to be in, and here was night coming
on!

He give us something to eat, and made us go to the
other end of the boat, and he laid down on a locker,
where he could boss all the works, and put his old
pepper-box revolver under his head, and said if any-
body come fooling around there trying to land her, he
would kill him.

We set scrunched up together, and thought consider-
able, but didn't say much -- only just a word once in a
while when a body had to say something or bust, we
was so scared and worried. The night dragged along
slow and lonesome. We was pretty low down, and the
moonshine made everything soft and pretty, and the
farmhouses looked snug and homeful, and we could
hear the farm sounds, and wished we could be down
there; but, laws! we just slipped along over them like
a ghost, and never left a track.

Away in the night, when all the sounds was late
sounds, and the air had a late feel, and a late smell,
too -- about a two-o'clock feel, as near as I could make
out -- Tom said the professor was so quiet this time
he must be asleep, and we'd better --

"Better what?" I says in a whisper, and feeling sick
all over, because I knowed what he was thinking about.

"Better slip back there and tie him, and land the
ship," he says.

I says: "No, sir! Don' you budge, Tom Sawyer."

And Jim -- well, Jim was kind o' gasping, he was so
scared. He says:

"Oh, Mars Tom, DON'T! Ef you teches him, we's
gone -- we's gone sho'! I ain't gwine anear him, not
for nothin' in dis worl'. Mars Tom, he's plumb crazy."

Tom whispers and says -- "That's WHY we've got to
do something. If he wasn't crazy I wouldn't give
shucks to be anywhere but here; you couldn't hire me
to get out -- now that I've got used to this balloon and
over the scare of being cut loose from the solid ground
-- if he was in his right mind. But it's no good politics,
sailing around like this with a person that's out of his
head, and says he's going round the world and then
drown us all. We've GOT to do something, I tell you,
and do it before he wakes up, too, or we mayn't ever
get another chance. Come!"

But it made us turn cold and creepy just to think of
it, and we said we wouldn't budge. So Tom was for
slipping back there by himself to see if he couldn't get
at the steering-gear and land the ship. We begged and
begged him not to, but it warn't no use; so he got
down on his hands and knees, and begun to crawl an
inch at a time, we a-holding our breath and watching.
After he got to the middle of the boat he crept slower
than ever, and it did seem like years to me. But at
last we see him get to the professor's head, and sort
of raise up soft and look a good spell in his face and
listen. Then we see him begin to inch along again
toward the professor's feet where the steering-buttons
was. Well, he got there all safe, and was reaching
slow and steady toward the buttons, but he knocked
down something that made a noise, and we see him
slump down flat an' soft in the bottom, and lay still.
The professor stirred, and says, "What's that?" But
everybody kept dead still and quiet, and he begun to
mutter and mumble and nestle, like a person that's
going to wake up, and I thought I was going to die, I
was so worried and scared.

Then a cloud slid over the moon, and I 'most cried,
I was so glad. She buried herself deeper and deeper
into the cloud, and it got so dark we couldn't see Tom.
Then it began to sprinkle rain, and we could hear the
professor fussing at his ropes and things and abusing
the weather. We was afraid every minute he would
touch Tom, and then we would be goners, and no
help; but Tom was already on his way back, and when
we felt his hands on our knees my breath stopped
sudden, and my heart fell down 'mongst my other works,
because I couldn't tell in the dark but it might be the
professor! which I thought it WAS.

Dear! I was so glad to have him back that I was
just as near happy as a person could be that was up in
the air that way with a deranged man. You can't land
a balloon in the dark, and so I hoped it would keep on
raining, for I didn't want Tom to go meddling any
more and make us so awful uncomfortable. Well, I
got my wish. It drizzled and drizzled along the rest
of the night, which wasn't long, though it did seem so;
and at daybreak it cleared, and the world looked
mighty soft and gray and pretty, and the forests and
fields so good to see again, and the horses and cattle
standing sober and thinking. Next, the sun come a-
blazing up gay and splendid, and then we began to feel
rusty and stretchy, and first we knowed we was all
asleep.

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