Everybody will want to see Huckleberry Finn, Mr. Clemens's story--a sort of continuation of his "Tom Sawyer." It is a tale of the Mississippi River, as that mighty stream and its commerce and travel presented themselves to the observer away back in Clay and Polk times, or thereabout. It is a good book, and it does teach a certain moral, notwithstanding the author's disclaimer; it teaches, without seeming to do it, the virtue of honest simplicity, directness, truth. As to stirring incidents, the story is full of them. It will hugely please the boys, and also interest people of more mature years.
Mr. Clemens describes things as they really were, in Missouri--and as they still are, to a somewaht modified extend; and this book is as good as a trip through all the regions of which it treats. The author is a good observer, as well as a humorist.
It is in one of those scrawny, ragged Missouri towns, that abounded a few years ago even more than now, that the boy "Huck Finn" lived. How boy-like the touches are--painted by a master hand, as every part of every picture shows--may be judged by Huck's account of his studies with the Widow Douglas, and the annoying supervision to which he was subjected in addition by her sister, Miss Watson, a prim old maid, in goggles. Huck had a little money left to him in trust, which his drunken father was trying to get hold of, and also to get control of the boy; the widow tries to educate the boy's neglected moral nature:
After supper she got out her book and learned me about Moses and the Bulrushers, and I was in a sweat to find out all about him; but by and by she let it out that Moses had been dead a considerable long time, so then I didn't care no more about him, because I don't take no stock in dead people.
Here is a glimpse of the watchful Miss Watson:
She took a set at me now with a spelling-book. She worked me middling hard for about an hour, and then the widow made her ease up. I couldn't stood it much longer. Then for an hour it was deadly dull, and I was fidgety. Miss Watson would say, "Don't put your feet up there, Huckleberry;" and "Don't scrunch up like that, Huckleberry — set up straight;" and pretty soon she would say, "Don't gap and stretch like that, Huckleberry — why don't you try to behave?" Then she told me all about the bad place, and I said I wished I was there. She got mad then, but I didn't mean no harm. All I wanted was to go somewheres; all I wanted was a change, I warn't particular. She said it was wicked to say what I said; said she wouldn't say it for the whole world; she was going to live so as to go to the good place. Well, I couldn't see no advantage in going where she was going, so I made up my mind I wouldn't try for it.
Things get to so bad a pass, finally, that to escape the old man's club, and the annoyance of Miss Watson's supervision, the lad runs away. He fixed up matters to make it "look like he was murdered," and then ran off down the Mississippi--his companion Miss Watson's slave, Jim. On an island near one of the river settlements, Huck, in his hiding place, put on a girl's dress, and struck out, after dark, to get the news. He applied at a house with this result:
" Come in," says the woman, and I did. She says: "Take a cheer."
I done it. She looked me all over with her little shiny eyes, and says:
"What might your name be?"
"Where 'bouts do you live? In this neighborhood?'
"No'm. In Hookerville, seven mile below. I've
walked all the way and I'm all tired out. My mother's
down sick, and out of money and everything, and I
come to tell my uncle Abner Moore. He lives at the
upper end of the town, she says. I hain't ever been
here before. Do you know him?"
The woman told him the news about the probable murder of Huckleberry Finn--a crime of which the boy's vicious father, as well as the runaway negro, were both suspected. She said there was a reward for the capture of Jim, and that a searching party were going out, that very night, to hunt the island where the darkey (though she didn't know it) was then hiding. The effect was immediate:
I had got so uneasy I couldn't set still. I had to do something with my hands; so I took up a needle off of the table and went to threading it. My hands shook, and I was making a bad job of it. When the woman stopped talking I looked up, and she was looking at me pretty curious, and smiling a little. I put down the needle and thread, and let on to be interested — and I was, too — and says:
"Three hundred dollars is a power of money. I wish my mother could get it. Is your husband going over there to-night?"
The woman kept looking at me pretty curious, and I didn't feel a bit comfortable. Pretty soon she says:
"What did you say your name was, honey?"
"M — Mary Williams."
"Honey, I thought you said it was Sarah when you first come in?"
"Oh, yes'm, I did. Sarah Mary Williams. Sarah's my first name. Some calls me Sarah, some calls me Mary."
"Oh, that's the way of it?"
I was feeling better then, but I wished I was out of there, anyway. I couldn't look up yet.
Well, the woman fell to talking about how hard times was, and how poor they had to live, and how the rats was as free as if they owned the place, and so forth and so on, and then I got easy again. She was right about the rats. You'd see one stick his nose out of a hole in the corner every little while. She said she had to have things handy to throw at them when she was alone, or they wouldn't give her no peace. She showed me a bar of lead, twisted up into a knot, and said she was a good shot with it, generly, but she'd wrenched her arm a day or two ago, and didn't know whether she could throw true, now. But she watched for a chance, and directly banged away at a rat; but she missed him wide, and said "Ouch!" it hurt her arm so. Then she told me to try the next one. I wanted to be getting away before the old man got back, but of course I didn't let on. I got the thing, and the first rat that showed his nose I let drive, and if he'd a stayed where he was he'd a been a tolerable sick rat. She said that was first-rate, and she reckoned I would hive the next one. She went and got the lump of lead and fetched it back, and brought along a hank of yarn which she wanted me to help her with. I held up my two hands and she put the hank over them, and went on talking about her and her husband's matters. But she broke off to say:
"Keep your eye on the rats. You better have the lead in your lap, handy."
So she dropped the lump into my lap just at that moment, and I clapped my legs together on it and she went on talking. But only about a minute. Then she took off the hank and looked me straight in the face, but very pleasant, and says:
"Come, now, what's your real name?"
"Wh — what, mum?"
"What's your real name? Is it Bill, or Tom, or Bob? — or what is it?"
I reckon I shook like a leaf, and I didn't know hardly what to do. So I said it wouldn't be no use to try to play it any longer, and I would just make a clean breast and tell her everything. I told her my father and mother was dead, and the law had bound me out to a mean old farmer in the country thirty mile back from the river, and he treated me so bad I couldn't stand it no longer. I stole some of his daughter's clothes and cleared out, and I had been three nights coming thirty miles. I said I believed my uncle, Abner Moore, would take care of me, and that was why I struck out for this town of Goshen.
"Goshen, child? This ain't Goshen. This is St. Petersburg. Goshen's ten mile further up the river.
"Well, I've got to be moving along. I'll fetch Goshen before daylight."
"Hold on a minute. I'll put you up a snack to eat. You might want it." So she put me up a snack, and says:
"Say, when a cow's laying down, which end of her gets up first? Answer up prompt now — don't stop to study over it. Which end gets up first?"
"The hind end, mum."
"Well, then, a horse?"
"The for'rard end, mum."
"Which side of a tree does the moss grow on?"
"If fifteen cows is browsing on a hillside, how many of them eats with their heads pointed the same direction?"
"The whole fifteen, mum."
"Well, I reckon you have lived in the country. I thought maybe you was trying to hocus me again. What's your real name, now?"
"George Peters, mum."
"Well, try to remember it, George. Don't forget
and tell me it's Elexander before you go, and then get
out by saying it's George Elexander when I catch you.
And don't go about women in that old calico. You
do a girl tolerable poor, but you might fool men,
maybe. Bless you, child, when you set out to thread
a needle don't hold the thread still and fetch the needle
up to it; hold the needle still and poke the thread at
it--that's the way a woman most always does, but a
man always does 'tother way. And when you throw
at a rat or anything, hitch yourself up a tiptoe, and
fetch your hand up over your head as awkward as you
can, and miss your rat about six or seven foot. Throw
stiff-armed from the shoulder, like there was a pivot
there for it to turn on--like a girl; not from the wrist
and elbow, with your arm out to one side, like a boy.
And, mind you, when a girl tries to catch anything in
her lap she throws her knees apart; she don't clap
them together, the way you did when you catched the
lump of lead. Why, I spotted you for a boy when
you was threading the needle; and I contrived the
other things just to make certain. Now trot along to
your uncle, Sarah Mary Williams George Elexander
Peters, and if you get into trouble you send word to
Mrs. Judith Loftus, which is me, and I'll do what I
can to get you out of it."
The book is good and lively, all the way through. Not the least of its merits is the fidelity with which it paints the characters and the scenes with which the story deals. Mark Twain's art is of the pre-Raphaelite kind. He paints living pictures, and he makes his fibbing young hero a character that the reader is bound to like, in spite of himself. Engravings are seen on almost every page; very fair pictures, that really help, not mar, the story.