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Mark Twain > Tom Sawyer Abroad > Chapter XII

Tom Sawyer Abroad

Chapter XII


JIM STANDING SIEGE

THE next few meals was pretty sandy, but that
don't make no difference when you are hungry;
and when you ain't it ain't no satisfaction to eat, any-
way, and so a little grit in the meat ain't no particular
drawback, as far as I can see.

Then we struck the east end of the Desert at last,
sailing on a northeast course. Away off on the edge
of the sand, in a soft pinky light, we see three little
sharp roofs like tents, and Tom says:

"It's the pyramids of Egypt."

It made my heart fairly jump. You see, I had seen
a many and a many a picture of them, and heard tell
about them a hundred times, and yet to come on them
all of a sudden, that way, and find they was REAL, 'stead
of imaginations, 'most knocked the breath out of me
with surprise. It's a curious thing, that the more you
hear about a grand and big and bully thing or person,
the more it kind of dreamies out, as you may say, and
gets to be a big dim wavery figger made out of moon-
shine and nothing solid to it. It's just so with George
Washington, and the same with them pyramids.

And moreover, besides, the thing they always said
about them seemed to me to be stretchers. There was
a feller come to the Sunday-school once, and had a
picture of them, and made a speech, and said the big-
gest pyramid covered thirteen acres, and was most five
hundred foot high, just a steep mountain, all built out
of hunks of stone as big as a bureau, and laid up
in perfectly regular layers, like stair-steps. Thirteen
acres, you see, for just one building; it's a farm. If
it hadn't been in Sunday-school, I would 'a' judged it
was a lie; and outside I was certain of it. And he
said there was a hole in the pyramid, and you could go
in there with candles, and go ever so far up a long
slanting tunnel, and come to a large room in the
stomach of that stone mountain, and there you would
find a big stone chest with a king in it, four thousand
years old. I said to myself, then, if that ain't a lie I
will eat that king if they will fetch him, for even
Methusalem warn't that old, and nobody claims it.

As we come a little nearer we see the yaller sand
come to an end in a long straight edge like a blanket,
and on to it was joined, edge to edge, a wide country
of bright green, with a snaky stripe crooking through
it, and Tom said it was the Nile. It made my heart
jump again, for the Nile was another thing that wasn't
real to me. Now I can tell you one thing which is
dead certain: if you will fool along over three thou-
sand miles of yaller sand, all glimmering with heat so
that it makes your eyes water to look at it, and you've
been a considerable part of a week doing it, the green
country will look so like home and heaven to you that
it will make your eyes water AGAIN.

It was just so with me, and the same with Jim.

And when Jim got so he could believe it WAS the
land of Egypt he was looking at, he wouldn't enter it
standing up, but got down on his knees and took off
his hat, because he said it wasn't fitten' for a humble
poor nigger to come any other way where such men
had been as Moses and Joseph and Pharaoh and the
other prophets. He was a Presbyterian, and had a
most deep respect for Moses which was a Presbyterian,
too, he said. He was all stirred up, and says:

"Hit's de lan' of Egypt, de lan' of Egypt, en I's
'lowed to look at it wid my own eyes! En dah's de
river dat was turn' to blood, en I's looking at de very
same groun' whah de plagues was, en de lice, en de
frogs, en de locus', en de hail, en whah dey marked
de door-pos', en de angel o' de Lord come by in de
darkness o' de night en slew de fust-born in all de lan'
o' Egypt. Ole Jim ain't worthy to see dis day!"

And then he just broke down and cried, he was so
thankful. So between him and Tom there was talk
enough, Jim being excited because the land was so full
of history -- Joseph and his brethren, Moses in the
bulrushers, Jacob coming down into Egypt to buy
corn, the silver cup in the sack, and all them interesting
things; and Tom just as excited too, because the land
was so full of history that was in HIS line, about
Noureddin, and Bedreddin, and such like monstrous
giants, that made Jim's wool rise, and a raft of other
Arabian Nights folks, which the half of them never
done the things they let on they done, I don't believe.

Then we struck a disappointment, for one of them
early morning fogs started up, and it warn't no use to
sail over the top of it, because we would go by Egypt,
sure, so we judged it was best to set her by compass
straight for the place where the pyramids was gitting
blurred and blotted out, and then drop low and skin
along pretty close to the ground and keep a sharp
lookout. Tom took the hellum, I stood by to let go
the anchor, and Jim he straddled the bow to dig
through the fog with his eyes and watch out for danger
ahead. We went along a steady gait, but not very
fast, and the fog got solider and solider, so solid that
Jim looked dim and ragged and smoky through it. It
was awful still, and we talked low and was anxious.
Now and then Jim would say:

"Highst her a p'int, Mars Tom, highst her!" and
up she would skip, a foot or two, and we would slide
right over a flat-roofed mud cabin, with people that
had been asleep on it just beginning to turn out and
gap and stretch; and once when a feller was clear up
on his hind legs so he could gap and stretch better, we
took him a blip in the back and knocked him off. By
and by, after about an hour, and everything dead still
and we a-straining our ears for sounds and holding our
breath, the fog thinned a little, very sudden, and Jim
sung out in an awful scare:

"Oh, for de lan's sake, set her back, Mars Tom,
here's de biggest giant outen de 'Rabian Nights a-
comin' for us!" and he went over backwards in the
boat.

Tom slammed on the back-action, and as we slowed
to a standstill a man's face as big as our house at home
looked in over the gunnel, same as a house looks out
of its windows, and I laid down and died. I must 'a'
been clear dead and gone for as much as a minute or
more; then I come to, and Tom had hitched a boat-
hook on to the lower lip of the giant and was holding
the balloon steady with it whilst he canted his head
back and got a good long look up at that awful face.

Jim was on his knees with his hands clasped, gazing
up at the thing in a begging way, and working his lips,
but not getting anything out. I took only just a
glimpse, and was fading out again, but Tom says:

"He ain't alive, you fools; it's the Sphinx!"

I never see Tom look so little and like a fly;
but that was because the giant's head was so big and
awful. Awful, yes, so it was, but not dreadful any
more, because you could see it was a noble face,
and kind of sad, and not thinking about you, but about
other things and larger. It was stone, reddish stone,
and its nose and ears battered, and that give it an
abused look, and you felt sorrier for it for that.

We stood off a piece, and sailed around it and over
it, and it was just grand. It was a man's head, or
maybe a woman's, on a tiger's body a hundred and
twenty-five foot long, and there was a dear little temple
between its front paws. All but the head used to be
under the sand, for hundreds of years, maybe thou-
sands, but they had just lately dug the sand away and
found that little temple. It took a power of sand to
bury that cretur; most as much as it would to bury a
steamboat, I reckon.

We landed Jim on top of the head, with an American
flag to protect him, it being a foreign land; then we
sailed off to this and that and t'other distance, to git
what Tom called effects and perspectives and propor-
tions, and Jim he done the best he could, striking all
the different kinds of attitudes and positions he could
study up, but standing on his head and working his
legs the way a frog does was the best. The further we
got away, the littler Jim got, and the grander the
Sphinx got, till at last it was only a clothespin on a
dome, as you might say. That's the way perspective
brings out the correct proportions, Tom said; he said
Julus Cesar's niggers didn't know how big he was,
they was too close to him.

Then we sailed off further and further, till we
couldn't see Jim at all any more, and then that great
figger was at its noblest, a-gazing out over the Nile
Valley so still and solemn and lonesome, and all the
little shabby huts and things that was scattered about it
clean disappeared and gone, and nothing around it now
but a soft wide spread of yaller velvet, which was the
sand.

That was the right place to stop, and we done it.
We set there a-looking and a-thinking for a half an
hour, nobody a-saying anything, for it made us feel
quiet and kind of solemn to remember it had been
looking over that valley just that same way, and think-
ing its awful thoughts all to itself for thousands of
years. and nobody can't find out what they are to this
day.

At last I took up the glass and see some little black
things a-capering around on that velvet carpet, and
some more a-climbing up the cretur's back, and then I
see two or three wee puffs of white smoke, and told
Tom to look. He done it, and says:

"They're bugs. No -- hold on; they -- why, I be-
lieve they're men. Yes, it's men -- men and horses
both. They're hauling a long ladder up onto the
Sphinx's back -- now ain't that odd? And now they're
trying to lean it up a -- there's some more puffs of
smoke -- it's guns! Huck, they're after Jim."

We clapped on the power, and went for them a-
biling. We was there in no time, and come a-whizzing
down amongst them, and they broke and scattered every
which way, and some that was climbing the ladder after
Jim let go all holts and fell. We soared up and found
him laying on top of the head panting and most
tuckered out, partly from howling for help and partly
from scare. He had been standing a siege a long time
-- a week, HE said, but it warn't so, it only just seemed
so to him because they was crowding him so. They
had shot at him, and rained the bullets all around him,
but he warn't hit, and when they found he wouldn't
stand up and the bullets couldn't git at him when he
was laying down, they went for the ladder, and then
he knowed it was all up with him if we didn't come
pretty quick. Tom was very indignant, and asked him
why he didn't show the flag and command them to GIT,
in the name of the United States. Jim said he done
it, but they never paid no attention. Tom said he
would have this thing looked into at Washington, and
says:

"You'll see that they'll have to apologize for insult-
ing the flag, and pay an indemnity, too, on top of it
even if they git off THAT easy."

Jim says:

"What's an indemnity, Mars Tom?"

"It's cash, that's what it is."

"Who gits it, Mars Tom?"

"Why, WE do."

"En who gits de apology?"

"The United States. Or, we can take whichever
we please. We can take the apology, if we want to,
and let the gov'ment take the money."

"How much money will it be, Mars Tom?"

"Well, in an aggravated case like this one, it will
be at least three dollars apiece, and I don't know but
more."

"Well, den, we'll take de money, Mars Tom, blame
de 'pology. Hain't dat yo' notion, too? En hain't it
yourn, Huck?"

We talked it over a little and allowed that that was as
good a way as any, so we agreed to take the money.
It was a new business to me, and I asked Tom if
countries always apologized when they had done wrong,
and he says:

"Yes; the little ones does."

We was sailing around examining the pyramids, you
know, and now we soared up and roosted on the flat top
of the biggest one, and found it was just like what the
man said in the Sunday-school. It was like four pairs
of stairs that starts broad at the bottom and slants up
and comes together in a point at the top, only these
stair-steps couldn't be clumb the way you climb other
stairs; no, for each step was as high as your chin, and
you have to be boosted up from behind. The two
other pyramids warn't far away, and the people moving
about on the sand between looked like bugs crawling,
we was so high above them.

Tom he couldn't hold himself he was so worked up
with gladness and astonishment to be in such a cele-
brated place, and he just dripped history from every
pore, seemed to me. He said he couldn't scarcely
believe he was standing on the very identical spot the
prince flew from on the Bronze Horse. It was in the
Arabian Night times, he said. Somebody give the
prince a bronze horse with a peg in its shoulder, and
he could git on him and fly through the air like a bird,
and go all over the world, and steer it by turning the
peg, and fly high or low and land wherever he wanted
to.

When he got done telling it there was one of them
uncomfortable silences that comes, you know, when a
person has been telling a whopper and you feel sorry
for him and wish you could think of some way to
change the subject and let him down easy, but git stuck
and don't see no way, and before you can pull your
mind together and DO something, that silence has got in
and spread itself and done the business. I was embar-
rassed, Jim he was embarrassed, and neither of us
couldn't say a word. Well, Tom he glowered at me a
minute, and says:

"Come, out with it. What do you think?"

I says:

"Tom Sawyer, YOU don't believe that, yourself."

"What's the reason I don't? What's to hender
me?"

"There's one thing to hender you: it couldn't
happen, that's all."

"What's the reason it couldn't happen?"

"You tell me the reason it COULD happen."

"This balloon is a good enough reason it could
happen, I should reckon."

"WHY is it?"

"WHY is it? I never saw such an idiot. Ain't this
balloon and the bronze horse the same thing under
different names?"

"No, they're not. One is a balloon and the other's
a horse. It's very different. Next you'll be saying a
house and a cow is the same thing."

"By Jackson, Huck's got him ag'in! Dey ain't no
wigglin' outer dat!"

"Shut your head, Jim; you don't know what you're
talking about. And Huck don't. Look here, Huck,
I'll make it plain to you, so you can understand. You
see, it ain't the mere FORM that's got anything to do
with their being similar or unsimilar, it's the PRINCI-
PLE involved; and the principle is the same in both.
Don't you see, now?"

I turned it over in my mind, and says:

"Tom, it ain't no use. Principles is all very well,
but they don't git around that one big fact, that the
thing that a balloon can do ain't no sort of proof of
what a horse can do."

"Shucks, Huck, you don't get the idea at all. Now
look here a minute -- it's perfectly plain. Don't we
fly through the air?"

"Yes."

"Very well. Don't we fly high or fly low, just as
we please?"

"Yes."

"Don't we steer whichever way we want to?"

"Yes."

"And don't we land when and where we please?"

"Yes."

"How do we move the balloon and steer it?"

"By touching the buttons."

"NOW I reckon the thing is clear to you at last. In
the other case the moving and steering was done by
turning a peg. We touch a button, the prince turned
a peg. There ain't an atom of difference, you see. I
knowed I could git it through your head if I stuck to it
long enough."

He felt so happy he begun to whistle. But me and
Jim was silent, so he broke off surprised, and says:

"Looky here, Huck Finn, don't you see it YET?"

I says:

"Tom Sawyer, I want to ask you some questions."

"Go ahead," he says, and I see Jim chirk up to
listen.

"As I understand it, the whole thing is in the buttons
and the peg -- the rest ain't of no consequence. A
button is one shape, a peg is another shape, but that
ain't any matter?"

"No, that ain't any matter, as long as they've both
got the same power."

"All right, then. What is the power that's in a
candle and in a match?"

"It's the fire."

"It's the same in both, then?"

"Yes, just the same in both."

"All right. Suppose I set fire to a carpenter shop
with a match, what will happen to that carpenter
shop?"

"She'll burn up."

"And suppose I set fire to this pyramid with a
candle -- will she burn up?"

"Of course she won't."

"All right. Now the fire's the same, both times.
WHY does the shop burn, and the pyramid don't?"

"Because the pyramid CAN'T burn."

"Aha! and A HORSE CAN'T FLY!"

"My lan', ef Huck ain't got him ag'in! Huck's
landed him high en dry dis time, I tell you! Hit's
de smartes' trap I ever see a body walk inter -- en
ef I --"

But Jim was so full of laugh he got to strangling and
couldn't go on, and Tom was that mad to see how neat
I had floored him, and turned his own argument ag'in
him and knocked him all to rags and flinders with it,
that all he could manage to say was that whenever he
heard me and Jim try to argue it made him ashamed
of the human race. I never said nothing; I was feel-
ing pretty well satisfied. When I have got the best of
a person that way, it ain't my way to go around crow-
ing about it the way some people does, for I consider
that if I was in his place I wouldn't wish him to crow
over me. It's better to be generous, that's what I
think.

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