They were not vicious boys; they were not really bad boys; they were only mischievous, fun-loving boys-thoughtless, and rather disregardful of the comforts and the rights of others.
TOM SAWYER'S BAND
They ranged from Holliday's Hill on the north to the Cave on the south, and over the fields and through all the woods about. They navigated. the river from Turtle Island to Glasscock's Island (now Pearl, or Tom Sawyer's Island), and far below; they penetrated the wilderness of the Illinois shore. They could run like wild turkeys and swim like ducks; they could handle a boat as if born in one. No orchard or melon patch was entirely safe from them; no dog or slave patrol so vigilant that they did not sooner or later elude it. They borrowed boats when their owners were not present. Once when they found this too much trouble, they decided to own a boat, and one Sunday gave a certain borrowed craft a coat of red paint (formerly it had been green), and secluded it for a season up Bear Creek. They borrowed the paint also, and the brush, though they carefully returned these the same evening about nightfall, so the painter could have them Monday morning. Tom Blankenship rigged up a sail for the new craft, and Sam Clemens named it Cecilia, after which they didn't need to borrow boats any more, though the owner of it did; and he sometimes used to observe as he saw it pass that, if it had been any other color but red, he would have sworn it was his.
Some of their expeditions were innocent enough. They often cruised up to Turtle Island, about two miles above Hannibal, and spent the day feasting. You could have loaded a car with turtles and their eggs up there, and there were quantities of mussels and plenty of fish. Fishing and swimming were their chief pastimes, with general marauding for adventure. Where the railroad-bridge now ends on the Missouri side was their favorite swimming-hole--that and along Bear Creek, a secluded limpid water with special interests of its own. Sometimes at evening they swam across to Glasscock's Island--the rendezvous of Tom Sawyer's "Black Avengers" and the hiding-place of Huck and Nigger Jim; then, when they had frolicked on the sand-bar at the head of the island for an hour or more, they would swim back in the dusk, a distance of half a mile, breasting the strong, steady Mississippi current without exhaustion or fear. They could swim all day, likely enough, those graceless young scamps. Once--though this was considerably later, when he was sixteen-- Sam Clemens swam across to the Illinois side, and then turned and swam back again without landing, a distance of at least two miles, as he had to go. He was seized with a cramp on the return trip. His legs became useless, and he was obliged to make the remaining distance with his arms. It was a hardy life they led, and it is not recorded that they ever did any serious damage, though they narrowly missed it sometimes.
One of their Sunday pastimes was to climb Holliday's Hill and roll down big stones, to frighten the people who were driving to church. Holliday's Hill above the road was steep; a stone once started would go plunging and leaping down and bound across the road with the deadly swiftness of a twelve-inch shell. The boys would get a stone poised, then wait until they saw a team approaching, and, calculating the distance, would give it a start. Dropping down behind the bushes, they would watch the dramatic effect upon the church-goers as the great missile shot across the road a few yards before them. This was Homeric sport, but they carried it too far. Stones that had a habit of getting loose so numerously on Sundays and so rarely on other days invited suspicion, and the "Patterollers" (river patrol--a kind of police of those days) were put on the watch. So the boys found other diversions until the Patterollers did not watch any more; then they planned a grand coup that would eclipse anything before attempted in the stone-rolling line.
A rock about the size of an omnibus was lying up there, in a good position to go down hill, once, started.