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February 27, 2005

Exposition, Chapter 4 (p. 70-75)

A Whispering Through the Branches
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"After that day," Huck started up again, "we switched around the liquors so much that John stopped lookin' at the labels an' only just drank whatever it was he got his hands on without complainin', so that game got tiresome. Both me an' Nathaniel figured we'd got to come up with some sort a' topper 'cause the Summer was endin', but we neither of us could think of a plan.

"Must 'a' been a week or two later that I hears this meowin' outside my window in the middle a' the night. It was Nathaniel, an' he whispers up at me that he's got to show me somethin'. I shimmied down the porch roof, an' we took off real quiet into the woods. We passed over this field that we're walkin' across now, an' a little higher up on that mountain, where it's a sight more woody, we came to a cave which I didn't believe you could find if you didn't know where you was lookin'. Inside, the cave was mainly one big room like a wigwam with a bit of a slice taken out of the top, an' you could see a sliver a' the moon overhead. It was awful hot out, but it was cool in the cave.

"We spent the rest a' that night comin' up with a plan, but I needn't tell you what 'cause I knowed it would change consider'ble once we got a-goin'. Just that we was goin' to scare the wits outta John an have a grand ol' time a-doin' it.

"The first thing we set out to set up was to make the cave a proper place for me to stay an' make like I was a murd'rous bandit. Nathaniel wanted to be the one to hide out in the cave, but he figured John'd miss him before long an' catch on. I told Nathaniel that one've us would have to go to town an' get me some canned food 'cause there warn't enough in the pantry to take any without John missin' 'em.

"'Ain't none of us goin' to need to go shoppin',' he says, an' I asked him why. 'Huck, you ever hear of a criminal on the run goin' off whenever he felt like it to get some prime vittles fer his self?'

"'No,' I says, 'but I thought I was jest a bandit, I warn't awares that I'd been runnin' from people.'

"'Well, a'course yer on the run! Why else would you be out in the woods where there ain't nothin' or nobody to rob from?'

"'I reckon you got a point there, but what'm I supposed to eat?'

"He told me that I could catch all the squirrels or raccoons I wanted if we made some traps for'm, an' I suggested that I could jest get the fishin' pole from out the closet an' catch me some trout in the lake.

"'That won't do,' he told me. 'If you want a fish, you got to sharpen up a long stick on a rock an' stab 'im through like an injun.'

"'Why don't I jest set out a line then, if I can't use the pole?'

"'Well, darn it, that'd be too simple, now wouldn't it? No, the best convicts all learns how to stand real still an' pierce the fish when it swims by.'

"I said I'd give 'er a try, but I reckoned I'd use my pocketknife to shave the stick.

"'Where would a runaway bandit get a knife from?' he asked.

"'You said I was murd'rous, right?'

"'Yes, what's that got to do with it?'

"'Well what did I kill the people with that I'm runnin' for?'

"'I reckon you used a gun. Warn't no pocket knife, that's fer sure!'

"'What would I wanna go catchin' squirrels an' stabbin' fish fer if I got a gun? Why wouldn't I jest shoot a deer or somesuch thing?'

"'I suppose you stashed the gun in the river when you knew they was after you.'

"'What would I do that fer?'

"'So they wouldn't have no evidence against you when yer caught?'

"'But if they ain't got no evidence, why'm I runnin'? It'll jest make me look more s'spicious.'

"Nathaniel looked like he was startin' to get a-boil in his blood. 'It don't matter nohow,' he says, 'because we ain't got a gun fer real even if you was dumb enough to keep the fake'n!'

"'So I'll jest pertend I killed 'em with a knife an' held onto it when I ran.'

"By now Nathaniel was sick of arguin', so he said alright an' suit myself. The next thing we figured was how I was goin' to cook the food once I'd caught it, an' Nathaniel, he said the only way t'do was to only cook at night an' to use alot a' green wood so it'd give off a good 'mount of smoke.

"'Now I can see that wait'n 'til dark would keep me from gettin' caught so easy,' I said, 'but why would I want more smoke than I got to have?'

"'Dern Huck,' he says, 'ain't you never read a book in yer life? Crim'nals always get caught 'cause somebody sees the smoke from their fires.'

"'Well, if I'm lookin' to get caught, I reckon it'd happen quicker if I cook durin' the day.'

"'How you talk! Yer not tryin' to get caught! Yer jest tryin' to make it possible to get caught.'

"I told 'im that I could see tryin' to do one thing or the other, but I warn't sure why I would want to try to do one thing bad enough that th'other would happen.

"'Then how'd you s'pose anybody would come fer you to take'm hostage?'

"'What I want a hostage for if I can avoid havin' one?'

"'But you got to get a hostage so there's somebody to help you when you break yer leg?'

"'Shoot, Nathaniel, I ain't gonna break my leg!'

"'You have to break yer leg! Or at least yer arm. One a' the bandits always gets hurt an' has to be looked after by a hostage so't the others can get away.'

"'But there ain't no other bandits but me!'

"'That's why it's got to be you that gets hurt.'

"'Well if I'm gonna have to get hurt fer the sake a scarin' John, I'd rather jest make like I was pushed outta the tower an' have done with it.'

"Nathaniel considered it for a second and then said that there warn't reason enough fer me to fall from the tower unless it was while John was tryin' to get away. I said that John was a smart enough man to know not to run up to a tower when there was plenty a ways to 'scape from the house an' not drop more'n a couple feet. He asked if I thought I could break an arm fallin' a couple feet, an' I said that I reckoned I could if I wanted to, but that I didn't want to so I wouldn't.

"'Fine,' he says. 'Then jest cook at night so's you don't get caught, an' use alot a green wood so's I can point it out to John so's he'll know there's somebody up here.'

"I told him that he could 'a' just said that to begin with an' saved us all the trouble of arguin'. He grumbled somethin' 'bout me not knowin' nothin', an' we went back to the house to get some shut-eye."

"The followin' day, Nathaniel an' me went around lookin' for things that I might need, which warn't much since I was supposed to be a fugitive and all. In one room we found an old straw hat. Nathaniel said I'd have to start wearin' it all the time so't would be a mysterious omin that I could leave in the woods when I disappeared, an' I told him that it was a heck of an idea. In another room we found a women's white robe with a hood that I thought I'd filtch an' hold on to 'cause we might come up with a use later on, an' Nathaniel said I was startin' to get the feel fer this kinda work. Next to the robe was an old worn Winter jacket that Nathaniel said I'd best take, too.

"'Now what need do I got for a heavy coat like that'n in the middle a' the Summer?'

"'You don't reckon a runaway killer this far in the mountains can count on gettin' caught b'fore it gets cold out do you?'

"I told him that I warn't goin' to wait around that long to get found out, an' if Nathaniel didn't get John to discover me before a week had gone by, then I reckoned I'd make sure they both knowed there was somebody in the woods. He said that I didn't have to wait 'til Winter, only wear the coat to the cave next time I went 'cause a crim'nal wouldn't want to have to carry such a thing when he was on the run, an' leave it in a corner so the police knowed I had been there some time. That didn't seem too much to ask, though I knowed I'd be sweatin' like a pig by the time I climbed all the way up that mountain, jest so long as the police he was talkin' about warn't no more real than the gun or the people I'd killed with it.

"We borrowed a box a' matches from the mantle on the fireplace in the dinin' room, filled a couple a' John's empty bottles with well water, an' took everythin' to the cave after lunch. As I 'spected, I was a-drippin' all over sweat by the time we got there, an' I thought I'd take a sip a' the water. B'fore I could unscrew the cap, Nathaniel up an' tells me I can't do what I was a-plannin' to do. When I asked why not, he just told me that I'd miss it if I ran out while I was hidin'. I didn't bother pointin' out that I could go back to the house an' get more whenever I pleased 'cause he'd 'a' just told me that a fugitive bandit would be too afeared of gettin' caught, so I just waited 'til we got back to have my drink.

"John was tolerable drunk when we got to the house, an' somehow managin' to read some book or other that seemed to 'a' got him on edge. He went on an' on talkin' 'bout the state a' the gov'ment an' how he wouldn't be s'prised if they was hidin' out an' waitin' to cetch him.

"'What'd the gov'ment want with you fer, John?' Nathaniel asked him. John told us that he'd said some things t'upset 'em in his time. Well, me an' Nathaniel jest let him go on, sometimes leadin' him back to it when he started to wander to somethin' else, so by the time we was eatin' dinner, he was jumpin' every time a body threw a stone or piece of metal to the floor behind him.

"'Wassat?' he'd shout an' start spinnin' 'round lookin' fer the gov'ment. After a while I couldn't help but laugh a little an' tell 'im that the gov'ment was too sneaky to jest up an' tap his shoulder. I reckon that was the wrong word to use 'cause then he got going on how they was always list'nin' to what everybody was sayin' all the time an' had saterlites hoverin' over our house an' watchin' us when we was out in the yard.

"It was gettin' close to twilight, an' Nathaniel gave me a signal that maybe I should make a break for it now.

"'I think I'll go'n take a walk to work off my supper,' I said by way of excusin' myself.

"'Watch out,' said John. 'If you see any men in suits, get right back here just's quick as you can.'

"I told 'im that I reckoned if I came 'cross a man in a suit this far in the woods, an' lookin' like I was lookin' after bein' here so long, then he'd be the one runnin' the other way. Not hearin' me, John told me to holler if I had any trouble. I didn't 'spect I'd have any, but I considered hollerin' anyway.

"Well I climbed all the way to the top a' the mountain that the cave's on an' fell asleep watchin' the sun go down. When I woke up, the moon was overhead, an' the stars was all twinklin'. I heared the wind rustlin' through the trees like it was mournin', an' there was an owl in the distance purrin' out 'bout somebody that had died. I couldn't say fer sure it warn't part a' my dream, but it felt like the wind was tryin' to whisper somethin'."

D. shivered; the shadows were long across the ground.

"Then I thought it was the voice a' spirits a' people that'd been dead a long time, an' maybe they was gossipin' to me 'bout each other. I shook off the fear an' stood up. The straw hat was still on my head. I shinned down the mountain 'cause it seemed Nathaniel might a' brought John out to look fer me by now an' be expectin' to find the hat knocked off me in a struggle.

"When I got to the lake by the gazebo, I ran right into Nathaniel. He looked at me somethin' fierce when he saw what I was still wearin'. 'What're you doin'? We been lookin' fer that hat all over!' he whispered.

"Just then, we heared John askin' Nathaniel who he was talkin' to. 'Jest myself,' he says, snatchin' the hat an' pushin' me into the bushes, 'I found that hat that Huck's always wearin'.'

"'I ain't never seen Huck in a hat b'fore.' John was still drunk, an' prob'ly a little tired to boot.

"'He found one yesterday, an' I guess it just seemed so perfect on 'im that I thought he'd always had it,' Nathaniel came back right quick, an' blame it if he didn't sound like he was gettin' all choked up. B'fore he went over to where John was most likely startin' to doze off 'gainst a tree er somethin', Nathaniel took a big bite outta the brim a' the hat an spit the straw on the ground.

"I peaked through the bushes I was hidin' in an' saw Nathaniel handin' the hat over to John, sayin', 'The rip wasn't there before, though.'

"John just looked at it with a blank face an' then says, 'I reckon it was the gov'ment got'im. The cannibals!'"

Posted by Justin Katz at February 27, 2005 2:41 PM
A Whispering Through the Branches