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Mark Twain > Tom Sawyer Abroad > Chapter IX

Tom Sawyer Abroad

Chapter IX


TOM DISCOURSES ON THE DESERT

STILL, we thought we would drop down there a
minute, but on another errand. Most of the pro-
fessor's cargo of food was put up in cans, in the new
way that somebody had just invented; the rest was
fresh. When you fetch Missouri beefsteak to the
Great Sahara, you want to be particular and stay up
in the coolish weather. So we reckoned we would
drop down into the lion market and see how we could
make out there.

We hauled in the ladder and dropped down till we
was just above the reach of the animals, then we let
down a rope with a slip-knot in it and hauled up a
dead lion, a small tender one, then yanked up a cub
tiger. We had to keep the congregation off with the
revolver, or they would 'a' took a hand in the proceed-
ings and helped.

We carved off a supply from both, and saved the
skins, and hove the rest overboard. Then we baited
some of the professor's hooks with the fresh meat and
went a-fishing. We stood over the lake just a con-
venient distance above the water, and catched a lot of
the nicest fish you ever see. It was a most amazing
good supper we had; lion steak, tiger steak, fried fish,
and hot corn-pone. I don't want nothing better than
that.

We had some fruit to finish off with. We got it out
of the top of a monstrous tall tree. It was a very slim
tree that hadn't a branch on it from the bottom plumb
to the top, and there it bursted out like a feather-
duster. It was a pa'm-tree, of course; anybody knows
a pa'm-tree the minute he see it, by the pictures. We
went for cocoanuts in this one, but there warn't none.
There was only big loose bunches of things like over-
sized grapes, and Tom allowed they was dates, because
he said they answered the description in the Arabian
Nights and the other books. Of course they mightn't
be, and they might be poison; so we had to wait a
spell, and watch and see if the birds et them. They
done it; so we done it, too, and they was most amaz-
ing good.

By this time monstrous big birds begun to come and
settle on the dead animals. They was plucky creturs;
they would tackle one end of a lion that was being
gnawed at the other end by another lion. If the lion
drove the bird away, it didn't do no good; he was
back again the minute the lion was busy.

The big birds come out of every part of the sky --
you could make them out with the glass while they was
still so far away you couldn't see them with your naked
eye. Tom said the birds didn't find out the meat was
there by the smell; they had to find it out by seeing
it. Oh, but ain't that an eye for you! Tom said at
the distance of five mile a patch of dead lions couldn't
look any bigger than a person's finger-nail, and he
couldn't imagine how the birds could notice such a
little thing so far off.

It was strange and unnatural to see lion eat lion,
and we thought maybe they warn't kin. But Jim said
that didn't make no difference. He said a hog was
fond of her own children, and so was a spider, and he
reckoned maybe a lion was pretty near as unprincipled
though maybe not quite. He thought likely a lion
wouldn't eat his own father, if he knowed which was
him, but reckoned he would eat his brother-in-law if
he was uncommon hungry, and eat his mother-in-law
any time. But RECKONING don't settle nothing. You
can reckon till the cows come home, but that don't
fetch you to no decision. So we give it up and let it
drop.

Generly it was very still in the Desert nights, but this
time there was music. A lot of other animals come to
dinner; sneaking yelpers that Tom allowed was jackals,
and roached-backed ones that he said was hyenas; and
all the whole biling of them kept up a racket all the
time. They made a picture in the moonlight that was
more different than any picture I ever see. We had a
line out and made fast to the top of a tree, and didn't
stand no watch, but all turned in and slept; but I was
up two or three times to look down at the animals and
hear the music. It was like having a front seat at a
menagerie for nothing, which I hadn't ever had before,
and so it seemed foolish to sleep and not make the
most of it; I mightn't ever have such a chance
again.

We went a-fishing again in the early dawn, and then
lazied around all day in the deep shade on an island,
taking turn about to watch and see that none of the
animals come a-snooping around there after erronorts
for dinner. We was going to leave the next day, but
couldn't, it was too lovely.

The day after, when we rose up toward the sky and
sailed off eastward, we looked back and watched that
place till it warn't nothing but just a speck in the
Desert, and I tell you it was like saying good-bye to a
friend that you ain't ever going to see any more.

Jim was thinking to himself, and at last he says:

"Mars Tom, we's mos' to de end er de Desert now,
I speck."

"Why?"

"Well, hit stan' to reason we is. You knows how
long we's been a-skimmin' over it. Mus' be mos' out
o' san'. Hit's a wonder to me dat it's hilt out as long
as it has."

"Shucks, there's plenty sand, you needn't worry."

"Oh, I ain't a-worryin', Mars Tom, only wonderin',
dat's all. De Lord's got plenty san', I ain't doubtin'
dat; but nemmine, He ain't gwyne to WAS'E it jist on
dat account; en I allows dat dis Desert's plenty big
enough now, jist de way she is, en you can't spread
her out no mo' 'dout was'in' san'."

"Oh, go 'long! we ain't much more than fairly
STARTED across this Desert yet. The United States is a
pretty big country, ain't it? Ain't it, Huck?"

"Yes," I says, "there ain't no bigger one, I don't
reckon."

"Well," he says, "this Desert is about the shape
of the United States, and if you was to lay it down on
top of the United States, it would cover the land of
the free out of sight like a blanket. There'd be a little
corner sticking out, up at Maine and away up north-
west, and Florida sticking out like a turtle's tail, and
that's all. We've took California away from the
Mexicans two or three years ago, so that part of the
Pacific coast is ours now, and if you laid the Great
Sahara down with her edge on the Pacific, she would
cover the United States and stick out past New York
six hundred miles into the Atlantic ocean."

I say:

"Good land! have you got the documents for that,
Tom Sawyer?"

"Yes, and they're right here, and I've been study-
ing them. You can look for yourself. From New
York to the Pacific is 2,600 miles. From one end of
the Great Desert to the other is 3,200. The United
States contains 3,600,000 square miles, the Desert
contains 4,162,000. With the Desert's bulk you could
cover up every last inch of the United States, and in
under where the edges projected out, you could tuck
England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Denmark, and all
Germany. Yes, sir, you could hide the home of the
brave and all of them countries clean out of sight under
the Great Sahara, and you would still have 2,000
square miles of sand left."

"Well," I says, "it clean beats me. Why, Tom,
it shows that the Lord took as much pains makin' this
Desert as makin' the United States and all them other
countries."

Jim says: "Huck, dat don' stan' to reason. I
reckon dis Desert wa'n't made at all. Now you take
en look at it like dis -- you look at it, and see ef I's
right. What's a desert good for? 'Taint good for
nuthin'. Dey ain't no way to make it pay. Hain't
dat so, Huck?"

"Yes, I reckon."

"Hain't it so, Mars Tom?"

"I guess so. Go on."

"Ef a thing ain't no good, it's made in vain, ain't it?"

"Yes."

"NOW, den! Do de Lord make anything in vain?
You answer me dat."

"Well -- no, He don't."

"Den how come He make a desert?"

"Well, go on. How DID He come to make it?"

"Mars Tom, I b'lieve it uz jes like when you's buildin'
a house; dey's allays a lot o' truck en rubbish lef' over.
What does you do wid it? Doan' you take en k'yart
it off en dump it into a ole vacant back lot? 'Course.
Now, den, it's my opinion hit was jes like dat -- dat
de Great Sahara warn't made at all, she jes HAPPEN'."

I said it was a real good argument, and I believed it
was the best one Jim ever made. Tom he said the same,
but said the trouble about arguments is, they ain't
nothing but THEORIES, after all, and theories don't prove
nothing, they only give you a place to rest on, a spell,
when you are tuckered out butting around and around
trying to find out something there ain't no way TO find
out. And he says:

"There's another trouble about theories: there's
always a hole in them somewheres, sure, if you look
close enough. It's just so with this one of Jim's.
Look what billions and billions of stars there is. How
does it come that there was just exactly enough star-
stuff, and none left over? How does it come there
ain't no sand-pile up there?"

But Jim was fixed for him and says:

"What's de Milky Way? -- dat's what I want to
know. What's de Milky Way? Answer me dat!"

In my opinion it was just a sockdologer. It's only
an opinion, it's only MY opinion and others may think
different; but I said it then and I stand to it now -- it
was a sockdologer. And moreover, besides, it landed
Tom Sawyer. He couldn't say a word. He had that
stunned look of a person that's been shot in the back
with a kag of nails. All he said was, as for people
like me and Jim, he'd just as soon have intellectual
intercourse with a catfish. But anybody can say that
-- and I notice they always do, when somebody has
fetched them a lifter. Tom Sawyer was tired of that
end of the subject.

So we got back to talking about the size of the
Desert again, and the more we compared it with this
and that and t'other thing, the more nobler and bigger
and grander it got to look right along. And so, hunt-
ing among the figgers, Tom found, by and by, that it
was just the same size as the Empire of China. Then
he showed us the spread the Empire of China made on
the map, and the room she took up in the world.
Well, it was wonderful to think of, and I says:

"Why, I've heard talk about this Desert plenty of
times, but I never knowed before how important she
was."

Then Tom says:

"Important! Sahara important! That's just the
way with some people. If a thing's big, it's important.
That's all the sense they've got. All they can see is
SIZE. Why, look at England. It's the most important
country in the world; and yet you could put it in
China's vest-pocket; and not only that, but you'd
have the dickens's own time to find it again the next
time you wanted it. And look at Russia. It spreads
all around and everywhere, and yet ain't no more im-
portant in this world than Rhode Island is, and hasn't
got half as much in it that's worth saving."

Away off now we see a little hill, a-standing up just
on the edge of the world. Tom broke off his talk, and
reached for a glass very much excited, and took a look,
and says:

"That's it -- it's the one I've been looking for,
sure. If I'm right, it's the one the dervish took the
man into and showed him all the treasures."

So we begun to gaze, and he begun to tell about it
out of the Arabian Nights.


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