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Mark Twain > Tom Sawyer Abroad > Chapter VII

Tom Sawyer Abroad

Chapter VII


TOM RESPECTS THE FLEA

"NOON!" says Tom, and so it was. His shadder
was just a blot around his feet. We looked,
and the Grinnage clock was so close to twelve the
difference didn't amount to nothing. So Tom said
London was right north of us or right south of us, one
or t'other, and he reckoned by the weather and the
sand and the camels it was north; and a good many
miles north, too; as many as from New York to the
city of Mexico, he guessed.

Jim said he reckoned a balloon was a good deal the
fastest thing in the world, unless it might be some
kinds of birds -- a wild pigeon, maybe, or a railroad.

But Tom said he had read about railroads in England
going nearly a hundred miles an hour for a little ways,
and there never was a bird in the world that could do
that -- except one, and that was a flea.

"A flea? Why, Mars Tom, in de fust place he
ain't a bird, strickly speakin' --"

"He ain't a bird, eh? Well, then, what is he?"

"I don't rightly know, Mars Tom, but I speck he's
only jist a' animal. No, I reckon dat won't do, nuther,
he ain't big enough for a' animal. He mus' be a bug.
Yassir, dat's what he is, he's a bug."

"I bet he ain't, but let it go. What's your second
place?"

"Well, in de second place, birds is creturs dat goes
a long ways, but a flea don't."

"He don't, don't he? Come, now, what IS a long
distance, if you know?"

"Why, it's miles, and lots of 'em -- anybody knows
dat."

"Can't a man walk miles?"

"Yassir, he kin."

"As many as a railroad?"

"Yassir, if you give him time."

"Can't a flea?"

"Well -- I s'pose so -- ef you gives him heaps of
time."

"Now you begin to see, don't you, that DISTANCE
ain't the thing to judge by, at all; it's the time it takes
to go the distance IN that COUNTS, ain't it?"

"Well, hit do look sorter so, but I wouldn't 'a'
b'lieved it, Mars Tom."

"It's a matter of PROPORTION, that's what it is; and
when you come to gauge a thing's speed by its size,
where's your bird and your man and your railroad,
alongside of a flea? The fastest man can't run more
than about ten miles in an hour -- not much over ten
thousand times his own length. But all the books says
any common ordinary third-class flea can jump a hun-
dred and fifty times his own length; yes, and he can
make five jumps a second too -- seven hundred and
fifty times his own length, in one little second -- for he
don't fool away any time stopping and starting -- he
does them both at the same time; you'll see, if you
try to put your finger on him. Now that's a common,
ordinary, third-class flea's gait; but you take an Eye-
talian FIRST-class, that's been the pet of the nobility all
his life, and hasn't ever knowed what want or sickness
or exposure was, and he can jump more than three
hundred times his own length, and keep it up all day,
five such jumps every second, which is fifteen hundred
times his own length. Well, suppose a man could go
fifteen hundred times his own length in a second -- say,
a mile and a half. It's ninety miles a minute; it's
considerable more than five thousand miles an hour.
Where's your man NOW? -- yes, and your bird, and
your railroad, and your balloon? Laws, they don't
amount to shucks 'longside of a flea. A flea is just
a comet b'iled down small."

Jim was a good deal astonished, and so was I. Jim
said:

"Is dem figgers jist edjackly true, en no jokin' en
no lies, Mars Tom?"

"Yes, they are; they're perfectly true."

"Well, den, honey, a body's got to respec' a flea.
I ain't had no respec' for um befo', sca'sely, but dey
ain't no gittin' roun' it, dey do deserve it, dat's
certain."

"Well, I bet they do. They've got ever so much
more sense, and brains, and brightness, in proportion
to their size, than any other cretur in the world. A
person can learn them 'most anything; and they learn
it quicker than any other cretur, too. They've been
learnt to haul little carriages in harness, and go this
way and that way and t'other way according to their
orders; yes, and to march and drill like soldiers, doing
it as exact, according to orders, as soldiers does it.
They've been learnt to do all sorts of hard and
troublesome things. S'pose you could cultivate a flea
up to the size of a man, and keep his natural
smartness a-growing and a-growing right along up,
bigger and bigger, and keener and keener, in the same
proportion -- where'd the human race be, do you
reckon? That flea would be President of the United
States, and you couldn't any more prevent it than you
can prevent lightning."

"My lan', Mars Tom, I never knowed dey was so
much TO de beas'. No, sir, I never had no idea of it,
and dat's de fac'."

"There's more to him, by a long sight, than there
is to any other cretur, man or beast, in proportion to
size. He's the interestingest of them all. People have
so much to say about an ant's strength, and an ele-
phant's, and a locomotive's. Shucks, they don't begin
with a flea. He can lift two or three hundred times his
own weight. And none of them can come anywhere
near it. And, moreover, he has got notions of his
own, and is very particular, and you can't fool him;
his instinct, or his judgment, or whatever it is, is per-
fectly sound and clear, and don't ever make a mistake.
People think all humans are alike to a flea. It ain't
so. There's folks that he won't go near, hungry or
not hungry, and I'm one of them. I've never had one
of them on me in my life."

"Mars Tom!"

"It's so; I ain't joking."

"Well, sah, I hain't ever heard de likes o' dat befo'."
Jim couldn't believe it, and I couldn't; so we had to
drop down to the sand and git a supply and see. Tom
was right. They went for me and Jim by the thou-
sand, but not a one of them lit on Tom. There warn't
no explaining it, but there it was and there warn't no
getting around it. He said it had always been just so,
and he'd just as soon be where there was a million of
them as not; they'd never touch him nor bother
him.

We went up to the cold weather to freeze 'em out,
and stayed a little spell, and then come back to the
comfortable weather and went lazying along twenty or
twenty-five miles an hour, the way we'd been doing for
the last few hours. The reason was, that the longer
we was in that solemn, peaceful desert, the more the
hurry and fuss got kind of soothed down in us, and
the more happier and contented and satisfied we got to
feeling, and the more we got to liking the desert, and
then loving it. So we had cramped the speed down,
as I was saying, and was having a most noble good
lazy time, sometimes watching through the glasses,
sometimes stretched out on the lockers reading, some-
times taking a nap.

It didn't seem like we was the same lot that was in
such a state to find land and git ashore, but it was.
But we had got over that -- clean over it. We was
used to the balloon now and not afraid any more, and
didn't want to be anywheres else. Why, it seemed
just like home; it 'most seemed as if I had been born
and raised in it, and Jim and Tom said the same. And
always I had had hateful people around me, a-nagging
at me, and pestering of me, and scolding, and finding
fault, and fussing and bothering, and sticking to me,
and keeping after me, and making me do this, and
making me do that and t'other, and always selecting
out the things I didn't want to do, and then giving me
Sam Hill because I shirked and done something else,
and just aggravating the life out of a body all the time;
but up here in the sky it was so still and sunshiny and
lovely, and plenty to eat, and plenty of sleep, and
strange things to see, and no nagging and no pester-
ing, and no good people, and just holiday all the time.
Land, I warn't in no hurry to git out and buck at
civilization again. Now, one of the worst things about
civilization is, that anybody that gits a letter with
trouble in it comes and tells you all about it and makes
you feel bad, and the newspapers fetches you the
troubles of everybody all over the world, and keeps
you downhearted and dismal 'most all the time, and
it's such a heavy load for a person. I hate them
newspapers; and I hate letters; and if I had my way
I wouldn't allow nobody to load his troubles on to
other folks he ain't acquainted with, on t'other side of
the world, that way. Well, up in a balloon there ain't
any of that, and it's the darlingest place there is.

We had supper, and that night was one of the
prettiest nights I ever see. The moon made it just
like daylight, only a heap softer; and once we see a
lion standing all alone by himself, just all alone on the
earth, it seemed like, and his shadder laid on the sand
by him like a puddle of ink. That's the kind of moon-
light to have.

Mainly we laid on our backs and talked; we didn't
want to go to sleep. Tom said we was right in the
midst of the Arabian Nights now. He said it was right
along here that one of the cutest things in that book
happened; so we looked down and watched while he
told about it, because there ain't anything that is so
interesting to look at as a place that a book has talked
about. It was a tale about a camel-driver that had lost
his camel, and he come along in the desert and met a
man, and says:

"Have you run across a stray camel to-day?"

And the man says:

"Was he blind in his left eye?"

"Yes."

"Had he lost an upper front tooth?"

"Yes."

"Was his off hind leg lame?"

"Yes."

"Was he loaded with millet-seed on one side and
honey on the other?"

"Yes, but you needn't go into no more details --
that's the one, and I'm in a hurry. Where did you
see him?"

"I hain't seen him at all," the man says.

"Hain't seen him at all? How can you describe
him so close, then?"

"Because when a person knows how to use his eyes,
everything has got a meaning to it; but most people's
eyes ain't any good to them. I knowed a camel had
been along, because I seen his track. I knowed he
was lame in his off hind leg because he had favored
that foot and trod light on it, and his track showed it.
I knowed he was blind on his left side because he only
nibbled the grass on the right side of the trail. I
knowed he had lost an upper front tooth because where
he bit into the sod his teeth-print showed it. The
millet-seed sifted out on one side -- the ants told me
that; the honey leaked out on the other -- the flies
told me that. I know all about your camel, but I
hain't seen him."

Jim says:

"Go on, Mars Tom, hit's a mighty good tale, and
powerful interestin'."

"That's all," Tom says.

"ALL?" says Jim, astonished. "What 'come o'
de camel?"

"I don't know."

"Mars Tom, don't de tale say?"

"No."

Jim puzzled a minute, then he says:

"Well! Ef dat ain't de beatenes' tale ever I struck.
Jist gits to de place whah de intrust is gittin' red-hot,
en down she breaks. Why, Mars Tom, dey ain't no
SENSE in a tale dat acts like dat. Hain't you got no
IDEA whether de man got de camel back er not?"

"No, I haven't."

I see myself there warn't no sense in the tale, to
chop square off that way before it come to anything,
but I warn't going to say so, because I could see Tom
was souring up pretty fast over the way it flatted out
and the way Jim had popped on to the weak place in
it, and I don't think it's fair for everybody to pile on
to a feller when he's down. But Tom he whirls on
me and says:

"What do YOU think of the tale?"

Of course, then, I had to come out and make a clean
breast and say it did seem to me, too, same as it did
to Jim, that as long as the tale stopped square in the
middle and never got to no place, it really warn't
worth the trouble of telling.

Tom's chin dropped on his breast, and 'stead of
being mad, as I reckoned he'd be, to hear me scoff at
his tale that way, he seemed to be only sad; and he
says:

"Some people can see, and some can't -- just as
that man said. Let alone a camel, if a cyclone had
gone by, YOU duffers wouldn't 'a' noticed the
track."

I don't know what he meant by that, and he didn't
say; it was just one of his irrulevances, I reckon -- he
was full of them, sometimes, when he was in a close
place and couldn't see no other way out -- but I didn't
mind. We'd spotted the soft place in that tale sharp
enough, he couldn't git away from that little fact. It
graveled him like the nation, too, I reckon, much as
he tried not to let on.

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