After that Jim ‘lowed we should lay up a while, keep out of sight until all the clamoration had died down. Where we was, most of the traffic kept to the Missouri side, hunting easy water. Over to Illinois the river was all broke up into slivery little islands and sloughs, some of ‘em through-pass and some’s oxbows or nearly oxbows, hardly any current along and shallow as the devil with snags and bars rearin’ up in muddy water. It was a capital place.
The river was risin’ a bit so we poled up in some gloomy overhanging spots, going near wherever we wanted cause the river was so sluggishy back in them little channels. Finally we found one nice little sandy spot with powerful big oaks a-leaning over and vines dripping down off ‘em and laid up out of sight for the night.
We had us a nice evenin’, setting and chatting. Jim was full of talk about Cairo and the Ohio. We figured we was almost there, so it seemed like a good time for a nice feed. Jim fried up one big catfish and the last of the corn-dodgers, along with some greens and some apples we’d come by accidental-like when we was ashore at the feuds. That was the last of ‘em, sweet old last-year apples.
The next morning the raft seemed a bit slanty when I woke up. Sure enough, we was aground. The river had fell in the night and left us high and dry! Jim was put out by it, since getting so far back up the creeks had been my idea, but I thought it was a fine way to take a break from all the slinking and sliding we’d been doing forever, it seemed like. Jim was talking more about Cairo but I just didn’t listen. He didn’t have much of a sense of adventure, seems to me.
Well, we was on a little sandy hump in a ocean of mud. Nearly all the water was gone out of that little channel but for a thin little creek in the middle. I tried to get over to the shore so’s I could round up somethin’ but the mud was so thick and grabby I nearly sank and had to slither along like a turkle on my belly. Finally I stuck fast and Jim had to throw me a rope and haul me out. By then I was a size or two bigger I reckon, and once that mud had dried hard I looked like a chocolate cock-a-roach or a Indian, either.
So we had to sit there. We had some bacon and a few watermelons, the last of my borrowing trip of the week before. One of the trees hanging over was a paw-paw and we finished off all of them we could reach pretty quick. Paw-paws is underestimated by most folks. They’re a bit hairy but sweet and tasty underneath. We tried to go slow on our supplies but by the next afternoon we was busted and getting hungry quick.
I was fixin’ to try the mud again--it had dried up a bit and looked like it might hold my weight--when Jim grabbed me and pointed.
“Looka there, Huck! They’s fish!”
He was right. The little stream in the center of the channel was puckered with little circles from fish poking up, eating bugs and such off the top of the water.
“Brims, I reckin. Brim is a tasty fish, Huck. Jus’ what would supper up nice,” he said.
“Sure, Jim, but how can we catch ‘em? They’s too small to take a catfish bait. Why, these hooks is as big as they are,” I said.
Jim just stood there, rubbing his chin like he does. He looked around the raft a minute, then went into the wigwam. Niggers is temperamental when they’re hungry, and I though maybe he was going to pout until the rain came, or he skinnied down to nothing. But then he came back out, smiling! He had the twine we took off the floating house and some other truck in his hand. He smiled again, and said: “Huck, I lan I catch them brim pretty quick. I bet ya I kin catch ten a them, ‘thout no bait, standin’ right heah.”
“You’re a fool, Jim. You can’t even get near those fish. They’ll spook out of here for sure. And if you step off this raft, you’ll be a mudpuppy just like I am. What’s your bet?”
“Effen I catch a mess a them brims, feed us bof’, then we go on to Cairo soon’s we can wifout no mo’ dilly-dallyin’ and adventurin’ aroun’. I wants to get on, up dat Ohio, befo’ the season gets on too long and it’s too late to buy my fambly out befo’ winter. We got us a bet?”
I said sure, and even shook on it, even though everybody knows a bet with a nigger is a flexible arrangement.
Jim went to work. He grabbed into the leaves and branches of the paw-paw and dragged the treetop down till he go the main stem, then hacked it off with his knife. I laughed.
“Jim, that pole ain’t a quarter long enough to reach the water!” He just smiled and said, “You gonna keep yo’ end, ain’t ya, Huck?”
Next he pulled out the old doll we’d found in the steamboat. The arms was held on by some little steel springs so the legs would flop and wobble, and Jim pulled one of those out and bent it to and fro a while till it broke, then bent it into a tiny little hook. I saw that little hook, I begun to get worried. Next he took some thread and began winding and tying on the hook, and then he whittled down a bottle cork and poked the hook on through it. Now he had what looked like a little spider with a cork head.
I was starting to sweat a little, till I realized that Jim would never get his contraption in front of them brim. They was an easy forty feet away, and they’d be right finicky in the little hole they was in. That spider might catch one, but getting it over there quiet-like was the problem. I thought for a minute that I shoulda known Jim had a trick up his sleeve--he’s oncommon clever for a nigger.
Next he pulled off a long hank of twine from the ball we got off the floating house, and fathomed out some as he ‘lowed would reach the creek. I began to get confident again--it was a long stretch of string, and I didn’t see how he could get it in the water there without spooking them fish on up to Iowa.
Finally he drew a long thread from the finished cotton shirt I was wearing, and tied the little spider on it, then tied the other end to the heavy twine. He tied the twine to the tip of his paw-paw switch and looked at me again with that same knowing smile.
A thought came to me. I realized that I had been looking at Jim wrong. When he was a slave in Miss Watson’s, I had always seen him as a kind of animal, like a mule maybe, just for work and owning. When I found him on Jackson’s Island, he had been like another boy, a person to stay with and talk to, someone to be happy and fun with after the trouble at Pa’s cabin and all that came after. Later, got up to realizing, Jim had been taking care of me, caring what happened to me, and sometimes going without so I could have some more sleep or food. That was something.
Now I saw Jim again, a new kind of way. He was having fun. I knowed he was serious about our bet, but I didn’t pay that too much mind. It was more than that. He was enjoying his self. He knew something, and he was a-going to show me, and have fun at it, both. That made a difference somehow. That Jim wanted something--to go on up the Ohio and all--had never really mattered to me until now. Jim wanted something just like I might want something. I suddenly got this cold chill doping it out. It seemed wrong to say, or even think, but Jim was like me.
Once he had his contraption all rigged out, Jim went over to the corner of the raft that stuck out clear of the trees. He started waggling his pole all around. It was the funniest thing I ever saw. It most embarassed me to death to remember that just a few minutes before I had been feeling soft for this bufflehead.
After a minute Jim had waggled his twine into a clump about fifteen feet in front of him, just layin on the cracked-out mud. I couldn’t stop laughing.
Jim just looked at me, still smilin’. He said, “You gonna honor our bet, now, ain’t ya, Huck?”
Then he drew the pole back suddenly. The twine jumped and snapped out behind him, unfolding in a straight line almost to the trees. When it was ‘most out, just hanging in the air, he yanked that pole forward, bendin’ it nigh in two, and the twine seemed to pop! in the air, shooting straight out in front and stretching itself all the way to the creek. In mid-air it stopped and settled softly down, and the little spider landed plumb in the middle of those brim without hardly a ripple! Sure enough, one of them sunnies slurped the spider down and Jim had him sliding over the mud in a jiffy, and it weren’t more than a half hour before we was eating some of the tastiest fried fish I’d ever had. And a bit of crow for me, though Jim never mentioned our bet.
He did say that he’d seen that kind of fishing done up in Arkansaw oncet when he’d gone with Miss Watson and the Widder on a Sunday-school trip. He also said the fish they caught that way up there was bright green with orange spots, but I didn’t put no stock in that.
After I’d ate, I rested a time looking up at the sunset. I suddenly realized that a jam I was in: If I helped Jim, I was breaking a law, a law that’d wind me up in jail or worse; but Jim had a obligation over me, a obligation that was more than some little bet. The bet was big, all right, but there was something else in it that I couldn’t figure yet. It was deeper than that. It worried me up quite a while, but I finally fell to snoring as deep as Jim was. In the morning it was raining hard, and we floated off by noon, and I didn’t think too much more of it, which you will see soon enough, and maybe get to thinking your own self about what kind of a fool I am.