Then he started to raise a party to go back for it, but was taken sick and died. Later some men came up from St. Louis looking for the chest. They did not find it, but they told the circumstances, and afterward a good many people tried to find the gold.

Tom Blankenship one morning came to Sam Clemens and John Briggs and said he was going to dig up the treasure. He said he had dreamed just where it was, and said if they would go with him and dig he would divide up. The boys had great faith in dreams, especially Tom's dreams. Tom's unlimited freedom gave him a large importance in their eyes. The dreams of a boy like that were pretty sure to mean something. They followed Tom to the place with some shovels and a pick, and he showed them where to dig. Then he sat down under the shade of a papaw-tree and gave orders.

They dug nearly all day. Now and then they stopped to rest, and maybe to wonder a little why Tom didn't dig some himself; but, of course, he had done the dreaming, which entitled him to an equal share.

They did not find it that day, and when they went back next morning they took two long iron rods; these they would push and drive into the ground until they struck something hard. Then they would dig down to see what it was, but it never turned out to be money. That night the boys declared they would not dig any more. But Tom had another dream. He dreamed the gold was exactly under the, little papaw-tree. This sounded so circumstantial that they went back and dug another day. It was hot weather too, August, and that night they were nearly dead. Even Tom gave it up, then. He said there was something about the way they dug, but he never offered to do any digging himself.

This differs considerably from the digging incident in the book, but it gives us an idea of the respect the boys had for the ragamuffin original of Huckleberry Finn.--[Much of the detail in this chapter was furnished to the writer by John Briggs shortly before his death in 1907.]--Tom Blankenship's brother, Ben, was also drawn upon for that creation, at least so far as one important phase of Huck's character is concerned. He was considerably older, as well as more disreputable, than Tom. He was inclined to torment the boys by tying knots in their clothes when they went swimming, or by throwing mud at them when they wanted to come out, and they had no deep love for him. But somewhere in Ben Blankenship there was a fine generous strain of humanity that provided Mark Twain with that immortal episode in the story of Huck Finn--in sheltering the Nigger Jim.

This is the real story:

A slave ran off from Monroe County, Missouri, and got across the river into Illinois. Ben used to fish and hunt over there in the swamps, and one day found him. It was considered a most worthy act in those days to return a runaway slave; in fact, it was a crime not to do it. Besides, there was for this one a reward of fifty dollars, a fortune to ragged outcast Ben Blankenship. 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 would fish and Ben would carry him scraps of other food. Then, by and by, it 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.

In the book, the author makes Huck's struggle a psychological one between conscience and the law, on one side, and sympathy on the other. With Ben Blankenship the struggle--if there was a struggle--was probably between sympathy and cupidity. He would care very little for conscience and still less for law. His sympathy with the runaway, however, would be large and elemental, and it must have been very large to offset the lure of that reward.

There was a gruesome sequel to this incident. Some days following the drowning of the runaway, Sam Clemens, John Briggs, and the Bowen boys went to the spot and were pushing the drift about, when suddenly the negro rose before them, straight and terrible, about half his length out of the water.

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

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