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Mark Twain > Tom Sawyer Abroad > Chapter VI

Tom Sawyer Abroad

Chapter VI


IT'S A CARAVAN

I WAS so weak that the only thing I wanted was a
chance to lay down, so I made straight for my
locker-bunk, and stretched myself out there. But a
body couldn't get back his strength in no such oven as
that, so Tom give the command to soar, and Jim
started her aloft.

We had to go up a mile before we struck comfort-
able weather where it was breezy and pleasant and just
right, and pretty soon I was all straight again. Tom
had been setting quiet and thinking; but now he jumps
up and says:

"I bet you a thousand to one I know where we are.
We're in the Great Sahara, as sure as guns!"

He was so excited he couldn't hold still; but I
wasn't. I says:

"Well, then, where's the Great Sahara? In Eng-
land or in Scotland?"

"'Tain't in either; it's in Africa."

Jim's eyes bugged out, and he begun to stare down
with no end of interest, because that was where his
originals come from; but I didn't more than half be-
lieve it. I couldn't, you know; it seemed too awful
far away for us to have traveled.

But Tom was full of his discovery, as he called it,
and said the lions and the sand meant the Great Desert,
sure. He said he could 'a' found out, before we
sighted land, that we was crowding the land some-
wheres, if he had thought of one thing; and when we
asked him what, he said:

"These clocks. They're chronometers. You al-
ways read about them in sea voyages. One of them
is keeping Grinnage time, and the other is keeping St.
Louis time, like my watch. When we left St. Louis it
was four in the afternoon by my watch and this clock,
and it was ten at night by this Grinnage clock. Well,
at this time of the year the sun sets at about seven
o'clock. Now I noticed the time yesterday evening
when the sun went down, and it was half-past five
o'clock by the Grinnage clock, and half past 11 A.M.
by my watch and the other clock. You see, the sun
rose and set by my watch in St. Louis, and the Grin-
nage clock was six hours fast; but we've come so far
east that it comes within less than half an hour of set-
ting by the Grinnage clock now, and I'm away out --
more than four hours and a half out. You see, that
meant that we was closing up on the longitude of
Ireland, and would strike it before long if we was
p'inted right -- which we wasn't. No, sir, we've been
a-wandering -- wandering 'way down south of east, and
it's my opinion we are in Africa. Look at this map.
You see how the shoulder of Africa sticks out to the
west. Think how fast we've traveled; if we had gone
straight east we would be long past England by this
time. You watch for noon, all of you, and we'll stand
up, and when we can't cast a shadow we'll find that
this Grinnage clock is coming mighty close to marking
twelve. Yes, sir, I think we're in Africa; and it's just
bully."

Jim was gazing down with the glass. He shook his
head and says:

"Mars Tom, I reckon dey's a mistake som'er's.
hain't seen no niggers yit."

"That's nothing; they don't live in the desert.
What is that, 'way off yonder? Gimme a glass."

He took a long look, and said it was like a black
string stretched across the sand, but he couldn't guess
what it was.

"Well," I says, "I reckon maybe you've got a
chance now to find out whereabouts this balloon is,
because as like as not that is one of these lines here,
that's on the map, that you call meridians of longi-
tude, and we can drop down and look at its number,
and --"

"Oh, shucks, Huck Finn, I never see such a lunk-
head as you. Did you s'pose there's meridians of
longitude on the EARTH?"

"Tom Sawyer, they're set down on the map, and
you know it perfectly well, and here they are, and you
can see for yourself."

"Of course they're on the map, but that's nothing;
there ain't any on the GROUND."

"Tom, do you know that to be so?"

"Certainly I do."

"Well, then, that map's a liar again. I never see
such a liar as that map."

He fired up at that, and I was ready for him, and
Jim was warming his opinion, too, and next minute
we'd 'a' broke loose on another argument, if Tom
hadn't dropped the glass and begun to clap his hands
like a maniac and sing out:

"Camels! -- Camels!"

So I grabbed a glass and Jim, too, and took a look,
but I was disappointed, and says:

"Camels your granny; they're spiders."

"Spiders in a desert, you shad? Spiders walking
in a procession? You don't ever reflect, Huck Finn,
and I reckon you really haven't got anything to
reflect WITH. Don't you know we're as much as a
mile up in the air, and that that string of crawlers is
two or three miles away? Spiders, good land! Spiders
as big as a cow? Perhaps you'd like to go down
and milk one of 'em. But they're camels, just the
same. It's a caravan, that's what it is, and it's a mile
long."

"Well, then, let's go down and look at it. I
don't believe in it, and ain't going to till I see it and
know it."

"All right," he says, and give the command:

"Lower away."

As we come slanting down into the hot weather, we
could see that it was camels, sure enough, plodding
along, an everlasting string of them, with bales strapped
to them, and several hundred men in long white robes,
and a thing like a shawl bound over their heads and
hanging down with tassels and fringes; and some of
the men had long guns and some hadn't, and some
was riding and some was walking. And the weatherJ--
well, it was just roasting. And how slow they did
creep along! We swooped down now, all of a
sudden, and stopped about a hundred yards over their
heads.

The men all set up a yell, and some of them fell flat
on their stomachs, some begun to fire their guns at us,
and the rest broke and scampered every which way,
and so did the camels.

We see that we was making trouble, so we went up
again about a mile, to the cool weather, and watched
them from there. It took them an hour to get together
and form the procession again; then they started along,
but we could see by the glasses that they wasn't pay-
ing much attention to anything but us. We poked
along, looking down at them with the glasses, and by
and by we see a big sand mound, and something like
people the other side of it, and there was something
like a man laying on top of the mound that raised his
head up every now and then, and seemed to be watch-
ing the caravan or us, we didn't know which. As the
caravan got nearer, he sneaked down on the other side
and rushed to the other men and horses -- for that is
what they was -- and we see them mount in a hurry;
and next, here they come, like a house afire, some with
lances and some with long guns, and all of them yell-
ing the best they could.

They come a-tearing down on to the caravan, and the
next minute both sides crashed together and was all
mixed up, and there was such another popping of guns
as you never heard, and the air got so full of smoke
you could only catch glimpses of them struggling
together. There must 'a' been six hundred men in
that battle, and it was terrible to see. Then they
broke up into gangs and groups, fighting tooth and
nail, and scurrying and scampering around, and laying
into each other like everything; and whenever the
smoke cleared a little you could see dead and wounded
people and camels scattered far and wide and all about,
and camels racing off in every direction.

At last the robbers see they couldn't win, so their
chief sounded a signal, and all that was left of them
broke away and went scampering across the plain.
The last man to go snatched up a child and carried it
off in front of him on his horse, and a woman run
screaming and begging after him, and followed him
away off across the plain till she was separated a long
ways from her people; but it warn't no use, and she
had to give it up, and we see her sink down on the
sand and cover her face with her hands. Then Tom
took the hellum, and started for that yahoo, and we
come a-whizzing down and made a swoop, and knocked
him out of the saddle, child and all; and he was jarred
considerable, but the child wasn't hurt, but laid there
working its hands and legs in the air like a tumble-bug
that's on its back and can't turn over. The man went
staggering off to overtake his horse, and didn't know
what had hit him, for we was three or four hundred
yards up in the air by this time.

We judged the woman would go and get the child
now; but she didn't. We could see her, through the
glass, still setting there, with her head bowed down on
her knees; so of course she hadn't seen the perform-
ance, and thought her child was clean gone with the
man. She was nearly a half a mile from her people,
so we thought we might go down to the child, which
was about a quarter of a mile beyond her, and snake
it to her before the caravan people could git to us to
do us any harm; and besides, we reckoned they had
enough business on their hands for one while, anyway,
with the wounded. We thought we'd chance it, and
we did. We swooped down and stopped, and Jim
shinned down the ladder and fetched up the kid, which
was a nice fat little thing, and in a noble good humor,
too, considering it was just out of a battle and been
tumbled off of a horse; and then we started for the
mother, and stopped back of her and tolerable near
by, and Jim slipped down and crept up easy, and when
he was close back of her the child goo-goo'd, the way
a child does, and she heard it, and whirled and fetched
a shriek of joy, and made a jump for the kid and
snatched it and hugged it, and dropped it and hugged
Jim, and then snatched off a gold chain and hung it
around Jim's neck, and hugged him again, and jerked
up the child again, a-sobbing and glorifying all the
time; and Jim he shoved for the ladder and up it, and
in a minute we was back up in the sky and the woman
was staring up, with the back of her head between her
shoulders and the child with its arms locked around
her neck. And there she stood, as long as we was in
sight a-sailing away in the sky.

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