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THEY asked us considerable many questions; wanted to know what we covered up the raft that way for, and laid by in the daytime instead of running—was Jim a runaway nigger? Says I: They asked us an awful lot of questions. They wanted to know why we were covered up the raft, and why we rested during the day instead of running—wait, was Jim a runaway n-----? I said:
“Goodness sakes! would a runaway nigger run SOUTH?” “For goodness’s sake! Would a runaway n----- head SOUTH?”
No, they allowed he wouldn’t. I had to account for things some way, so I says: No, they said he wouldn’t. I had to find some way to explain all these things, so I said:
“My folks was living in Pike County, in Missouri, where I was born, and they all died off but me and pa and my brother Ike. Pa, he ’lowed he’d break up and go down and live with Uncle Ben, who’s got a little one-horse place on the river, forty-four mile below Orleans. Pa was pretty poor, and had some debts; so when he’d squared up there warn’t nothing left but sixteen dollars and our nigger, Jim. That warn’t enough to take us fourteen hundred mile, deck passage nor no other way. Well, when the river rose pa had a streak of luck one day; he ketched this piece of a raft; so we reckoned we’d go down to Orleans on it. Pa’s luck didn’t hold out; a steamboat run over the forrard corner of the raft one night, and we all went overboard and dove under the wheel; Jim and me come up all right, but pa was drunk, and Ike was only four years old, so they never come up no more. Well, for the next day or two we had considerable trouble, because people was always coming out in skiffs and trying to take Jim away from me, saying they believed he was a runaway nigger. We don’t run daytimes no more now; nights they don’t bother us.” “My folks were living in Pike County, Missouri, where I was born, but they all died except for pa, my brother Ike, and me. Pa said he’d figured he’d go live with Uncle Ben, who has a small one-horse farm on the river about forty-four miles below New Orleans. Pa was pretty poor and had a lot of debt. When he paid it all off, we didn’t have anything except sixteen dollars and our n----- Jim. That wasn’t going to be enough to take us fouteen hundred miles—not even if by

deck passage

cheap space on the deck of the steamboat rather than in a cabin

deck passage
. Well, when the river swelled, pa got lucky one day and caught this piece of raft. So we figured we’d float down to New Orleans on it. Pa’s luck didn’t hold out, though. A steamboat ran over the front corner of the raft one night, and we all went overboard. We dove under the wheel, and Jim and I came up okay, but pa was drunk and Ike was only four years old. They didn’t come back up. Well, the next day we had a lot of trouble from people coming out to us in skiffs and trying to take Jim away. They thought he was a runaway n-----. That’s why we don’t float down the river during the day any more. No one bothers us at night.”
The duke says: The duke said:
“Leave me alone to cipher out a way so we can run in the daytime if we want to. I’ll think the thing over—I’ll invent a plan that’ll fix it. We’ll let it alone for to-day, because of course we don’t want to go by that town yonder in daylight—it mightn’t be healthy.” “Leave me sit alone and figure out a way that we can travel during the day if we want to. I’ll think it over and come up with a plan. We’ll let it go for today, because, of course, we don’t want to pass by that town in the daylight—it might not be healthy for us.”
Towards night it begun to darken up and look like rain; the heat lightning was squirting around low down in the sky, and the leaves was beginning to shiver—it was going to be pretty ugly, it was easy to see that. So the duke and the king went to overhauling our wigwam, to see what the beds was like. My bed was a straw tick better than Jim’s, which was a corn-shuck tick; there’s always cobs around about in a shuck tick, and they poke into you and hurt; and when you roll over the dry shucks sound like you was rolling over in a pile of dead leaves; it makes such a rustling that you wake up. Well, the duke allowed he would take my bed; but the king allowed he wouldn’t. He says: As night started to fall, the sky began to get dark, and it looked like it was going to rain. Lightning struck low in the sky, and the leaves of the trees were beginning to shiver—it was easy to see that we were in for an ugly storm. The duke and the king checked out our wigwam to see what the beds were like. My bed was just a straw mattress, but Jim’s was only a mattress made out of corn husks. There’s always a cob or two still hidden in corn husk mattresses, and they hurt when they poke you. And when you roll over in the husks, it sounds like you’re rolling over in a pile of dead leaves. They rustle so loudly that you wake up. Well, the duke said he’d take my bed, but the king said HE would. He said:
“I should a reckoned the difference in rank would a sejested to you that a corn-shuck bed warn’t just fitten for me to sleep on. Your Grace ’ll take the shuck bed yourself.” “I figure that the difference in our rank would have suggested to you that a bed made out of corn husks isn’t fit for me to sleep on. You can take the corn husk bed yourself, Your Grace.”
Jim and me was in a sweat again for a minute, being afraid there was going to be some more trouble amongst them; so we was pretty glad when the duke says: For a minute, Jim and I were worried that there was going to be some serious trouble between them. We were really glad when the duke said:
“’Tis my fate to be always ground into the mire under the iron heel of oppression. Misfortune has broken my once haughty spirit; I yield, I submit; ’tis my fate. I am alone in the world—let me suffer; can bear it.” “It is my fate to always be ground into the mud under the iron heel of oppression. Misfortunate has broken my spirit, and I am no longer haughty. You win—I give up—it is my fate. I am alone in the world. Let me suffer, I can take it.”
We got away as soon as it was good and dark. The king told us to stand well out towards the middle of the river, and not show a light till we got a long ways below the town. We come in sight of the little bunch of lights by and by—that was the town, you know—and slid by, about a half a mile out, all right. When we was three-quarters of a mile below we hoisted up our signal lantern; and about ten o’clock it come on to rain and blow and thunder and lighten like everything; so the king told us to both stay on watch till the weather got better; then him and the duke crawled into the wigwam and turned in for the night. It was my watch below till twelve, but I wouldn’t a turned in anyway if I’d had a bed, because a body don’t see such a storm as that every day in the week, not by a long sight. My souls, how the wind did scream along! And every second or two there’d come a glare that lit up the white-caps for a half a mile around, and you’d see the islands looking dusty through the rain, and the trees thrashing around in the wind; then comes a H-WHACK!—bum! bum! bumble-umble-um-bum-bum-bum-bum—and the thunder would go rumbling and grumbling away, and quit—and then RIP comes another flash and another sockdolager. The waves most washed me off the raft sometimes, but I hadn’t any clothes on, and didn’t mind. We didn’t have no trouble about snags; the lightning was glaring and flittering around so constant that we could see them plenty soon enough to throw her head this way or that and miss them. We started out as soon as it was good and dark. The king told us to take the raft out toward the middle of the river and not to light any fires until we’d floated well past the town. Pretty soon we came to a bunch of lights—which was the town—and slid past about a half a mile without incident. When we were three-quarters of a mile past the town, we lit our signal lantern. The storm hit around ten o’clock. It brought rain, thunder, lightning, and wind, and everything else. The king told us both to stay on watch until the weather got better, while he and the duke crawled into the wigwam for the night. I was on watch until midnight, but I wouldn’t have gone to bed even if I had one. A storm like that doesn’t come along every day of the week—not by a long shot. My word, how the wind screamed! And every second or two a flash of lightning would light up the white caps on the surface of the water for half a mile in every direction. You could make out the islands through the pouring rain and see the trees thrashing around in the wind. Then would come a WHACK! Bum! Bum! Bumble-umble-um-bum-bum-bum-bum as the thunder rumbled and grumbled before dying away. And then, RIP, another flash of lightning and another great crash of thunder would come along. The waves almost swept me off the raft a few times, but I didn’t have any clothes on, and I didn’t mind. We didn’t have any trouble running into any snags—the lightning flashed so bright and frequent that we could see them coming in plenty of time to stear around.