That money, and the honor he could acquire, must have been tempting to the waif, but it did not outweigh his human sympathy. Instead of giving him up and claiming the reward, Ben kept the runaway over there in the marshes all summer. The negro fished, and Ben carried him scraps of other food. Then, by and by, the facts leaked out. Some wood- choppers went on a hunt for the fugitive and chased him to what was called Bird Slough. There, trying to cross a drift, he was drowned.

Huck's struggle in the book is between conscience and the law, on one side, and deep human sympathy on the other. Ben Blankenship's struggle, supposing there was one, would be between sympathy and the offered reward. Neither conscience nor law would trouble him. It was his native humanity that made him shelter the runaway, and it must have been strong and genuine to make him resist the lure of the fifty-dollar prize.

There was another chapter to this incident. A few days after the drowning of the runaway, Sam Clemens and his band made their way to the place and were pushing the drift about, when, all at once, the negro shot up out of the water, straight and terrible, a full half-length in the air. He had gone down foremost and had been caught in the drift. The boys did not stop to investigate, but flew in terror to report their tale.

Those early days seem to have been full of gruesome things. In "The Innocents Abroad," the author tells how he once spent a night in his father's office and discovered there a murdered man. This was a true incident. The man had been stabbed that afternoon and carried into the house to die. Sam and John Briggs had been playing truant all day and knew nothing of the matter. Sam thought the office safer than his home, where his mother was probably sitting up for him. He climbed in by a window and lay down on the lounge, but did not sleep. Presently he noticed what appeared to be an unusual shape on the floor. He tried to turn his face to the wall and forget it, but that would not do. In agony he watched the thing until at last a square of moonlight gradually revealed a sight that he never forgot. In the book he says:

"I went away from there. I do not say that I went in any sort of hurry, but I simply went--that is sufficient. I went out of the window, and I carried the sash along with me. I did not need the sash, but it was handier to take it than to leave it, and so I took it. I was not scared, but I was considerable agitated."

Sam was not yet twelve, for his father was no longer living when the boy had reached that age. And how many things had crowded themselves into his few brief years! We must be content here with only a few of them. Our chapter is already too long.

Ministers and deacons did not prophesy well for Sam Clemens and his mad companions. They spoke feelingly of state prison and the gallows. But the boys were a disappointing lot. Will Bowen became a fine river-pilot. Will Pitts was in due time a leading merchant and bank president. John Briggs grew into a well-to-do and highly respected farmer. Huck Finn-- which is to say, Tom Blankenship--died an honored citizen and justice of the peace in a Western town. As for Sam Clemens, we shall see what he became as the chapters pass.

[1] John Briggs died in 1907; earlier in the same year the writer of this memoir spent an afternoon with him and obtained from him most of the material for this chapter.

VI.

CLOSING SCHOOL-DAYS

Sam was at Mr. Cross's school on the Square in due time, and among the pupils were companions that appealed to his gentler side. There were the RoBards boys--George, the best Latin scholar, and John, who always won the good-conduct medal, and would one day make all the other boys envious by riding away with his father to California, his curls of gold blowing in the wind.

There was Buck Brown, a rival speller, and John Garth, who would marry little Helen Kercheval, and Jimmy MacDaniel, whom it was well to know because his father kept a pastry-shop and he used to bring cakes and candy to school.

The Boys Life of Mark Twain Page 14

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