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Mark Twain > Tom Sawyer Abroad > Chapter VIII

Tom Sawyer Abroad

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 spider-
web. 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, silver-
mounted 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 hap-
pened 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, every-
wheres, 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 hundred-
mile 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."

I says:

"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."

Jim says:

"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."

I says:

"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 stag-
gered, 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 out-
speed them, and took out after them. We went skim-
ming along a quarter of a mile behind them, and when
we had followed them an hour and a half and was get-
ting 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 revenge-
ful 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 ex-
cited 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, be-
cause 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 misunderstand-
ing 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 fish-
hooks and things. But I wasn't caring. All that was
bothering me was, that all we had now was the pro-
fessor's clothes, a big enough assortment, but not suit-
able 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.

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