An elder Bowen boy was already a pilot, and when he came home, as he did now and then, his person seemed almost too sacred to touch.
Next to being a pilot, Sam thought he would like to be a pirate or a bandit or a trapper-scout--something gorgeous and awe-inspiring, where his word, his nod, would still be law. The river kept his river ambition always fresh, and with the cave and the forest round about helped him to imagine those other things.
The cave was the joy of his heart. It was a real cave, not merely a hole, but a marvel of deep passages and vaulted chambers that led back into the bluffs and far down into the earth, even below the river, some said. Sam Clemens never tired of the cave. He was willing any time to quit fishing or swimming or melon-hunting for the three-mile walk, or pull, that brought them to its mystic door. With its long corridors, its royal chambers hung with stalactites, its remote hiding-places, it was exactly suitable, Sam thought, to be the lair of an outlaw, and in it he imagined and carried out adventures which his faithful followers may not always have understood, though enjoying them none the less for that reason.
In Tom Sawyer, Indian Joe dies in the cave. He did not die there in real life, but was lost there once and was very weak when they found him. He was not as bad as painted in the book, though he was dissolute and accounted dangerous; and when one night he died in reality, there came a thunder-storm so terrific that Sam Clemens at home, in bed, was certain that Satan had come in person for the half-breed's soul. He covered his head and said his prayers with fearful anxiety lest the evil one might decide to save another trip by taking him along then.
The treasure-digging adventure in the book had this foundation in fact: It was said that two French trappers had once buried a chest of gold about two miles above Hannibal, and that it was still there. Tom Blankenship (Huck) one morning said he had dreamed just where the treasure was, and that if the boys--Sam Clemens and John Briggs--would go with him and help dig, he would divide. The boys had great faith in dreams, especially in Huck's dreams. They followed him to a place with some shovels and picks, and he showed them just where to dig. Then he sat down under the shade of a pawpaw-bush and gave orders.
They dug nearly all day. Huck didn't dig any himself, because he had done the dreaming, which was his share. They didn't find the treasure that day, and next morning they took two long iron rods to push and drive into the ground until they should strike something. They struck a number of things, but when they dug down it was never the money they found. That night the boys said they wouldn't dig any more.
But Huck had another dream. He dreamed the gold was exactly under the little pawpaw-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 Huck gave it up then. He said there was something wrong about the way they dug.
This differs a good deal from the treasure incident in the book, but it shows us what respect the boys had for the gifts of the ragamuffin original of Huck Finn. Tom Blankenship's brother Ben was also used, and very importantly, in the creation of our beloved Huck. Ben was considerably older, but certainly no more reputable, than Tom. He tormented the smaller boys, and they had little love for him. Yet somewhere in Ben Blankenship's nature there was a fine, generous strain of humanity that provided Mark Twain with that immortal episode--the sheltering of 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, out-cast Ben Blankenship.