|WE slept most all day, and started out at night, a little ways behind monstrous long raft that was as long going by as a procession. She had four long sweeps at each end, so we judged she carried as many as thirty men, likely. She had five big wigwams aboard, wide apart, and an open camp fire in the middle, and a tall flag-pole at each end. There was a power of style about her. It AMOUNTED to something being a raftsman on such a craft as that.||We slept most of the day and started out at night. We were a little ways behind a monstrously long raft that seemed as long as a funeral procession. It had four long oars at each end, so we figured it could probably carry about thirty men. On the deck were five big wigwams spaced widely apart and an open campfire in the middle. There were tall flagpoles at each end. It had an impressive style to it. You were really SOMEBODY if you were a raftsman on a raft like that.|
|We went drifting down into a big bend, and the night clouded up and got hot. The river was very wide, and was walled with solid timber on both sides; you couldn’t see a break in it hardly ever, or a light. We talked about Cairo, and wondered whether we would know it when we got to it. I said likely we wouldn’t, because I had heard say there warn’t but about a dozen houses there, and if they didn’t happen to have them lit up, how was we going to know we was passing a town? Jim said if the two big rivers joined together there, that would show. But I said maybe we might think we was passing the foot of an island and coming into the same old river again. That disturbed Jim—and me too. So the question was, what to do? I said, paddle ashore the first time a light showed, and tell them pap was behind, coming along with a trading-scow, and was a green hand at the business, and wanted to know how far it was to Cairo. Jim thought it was a good idea, so we took a smoke on it and waited.||As the night was getting hot and cloudy, we drifted down into a big bend. The river was very wide, and thick forests formed a wall along both banks. You could barely any light through the breaks in the trees. We talked about the city of Cairo and wondered whether we would know it when we reached it. I said we probably wouldn’t because I’d heard that there weren’t even a dozen houses there. If those houses weren’t lit up, how would we know we were passing the town? Jim said we would know because the two big rivers joined together there. I said that we might mistakenly think we were passing the foot of an island that runs down the middle of the river. That bothered both of us. So the question was, what should we do? I said that we should paddle ashore at first light and tell everyone that pap was following us in a trading barge. We could say that he was new to the business and wanted to know how far it was to Cairo. Jim liked the idea, so we had ourselves a smoke while we waited.|
|There warn’t nothing to do now but to look out sharp for the town, and not pass it without seeing it. He said he’d be mighty sure to see it, because he’d be a free man the minute he seen it, but if he missed it he’d be in a slave country again and no more show for freedom. Every little while he jumps up and says:||All we could do at this point was to keep a sharp eye out for the town so as not to miss it. Jim said he wouldn’t miss it because he’d be a free man the minute he saw it, but would be back in slave country again without an ounce of freedom if he missed it. Every now and then he’d jump up and say:|
|“Dah she is?”||“Is that it?”|
|But it warn’t. It was Jack-o’-lanterns, or lightning bugs; so he set down again, and went to watching, same as before. Jim said it made him all over trembly and feverish to be so close to freedom. Well, I can tell you it made me all over trembly and feverish, too, to hear him, because I begun to get it through my head that he WAS most free—and who was to blame for it? Why, ME. I couldn’t get that out of my conscience, no how nor no way. It got to troubling me so I couldn’t rest; I couldn’t stay still in one place. It hadn’t ever come home to me before, what this thing was that I was doing. But now it did; and it stayed with me, and scorched me more and more. I tried to make out to myself that I warn’t to blame, because I didn’t run Jim off from his rightful owner; but it warn’t no use, conscience up and says, every time, “But you knowed he was running for his freedom, and you could a paddled ashore and told somebody.” That was so—I couldn’t get around that noway. That was where it pinched. Conscience says to me, “What had poor Miss Watson done to you that you could see her nigger go off right under your eyes and never say one single word? What did that poor old woman do to you that you could treat her so mean? Why, she tried to learn you your book, she tried to learn you your manners, she tried to be good to you every way she knowed how. THAT’S what she done.”||But it wasn’t. It would only be jack o’lanterns or lighting bugs. So he sat down and went back to watching. Jim said it made him anxious and excited to be so close to freedom. I can tell you, it made me anxious and excited as well to hear him talk about it. I began to start thinking that he WAS free. And who was to blame for setting him free? ME. My conscience was nagging me. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It bothered me so much that I couldn’t relax; I couldn’t sit still. What I was doing hadn’t dawned on me before, but now it did, and it burned my conscience. I tried to convince myself that I wasn’t to blame for setting Jim free because I didn’t steal him from his rightful owner. But that didn’t help. My conscience kept saying, “But you knew he was running toward freedom. You could have paddled him back to town and told someone.” This was true—I couldn’t deny it no matter how hard I tried, and that’s what was bothering me. My conscience said to me, “What did poor Miss Watson ever do to you that would make you watch her n----- run away right in front of your eyes and never say a word? What did that poor old woman do to you that could make you treat her so badly? Why, she even tried to teach you how to read. She tried to teach you manners. And she tried to be good to you in every way she knew how. THAT’S what she did.”|
|I got to feeling so mean and so miserable I most wished I was dead. I fidgeted up and down the raft, abusing myself to myself, and Jim was fidgeting up and down past me. We neither of us could keep still. Every time he danced around and says, “Dah’s Cairo!” it went through me like a shot, and I thought if it WAS Cairo I reckoned I would die of miserableness.||I started feeling so sad and so miserable that I almost wished I were dead. I fidgeted and paced up and down the raft, berating myself. Jim fidgeted and paced up and down right along with me. Neither of us could keep still. Every time he jumped around and said, “There’s Cairo!” it went through me like a gunshot. I thought that if it WAS Cairo, I would die of sadness.|
|Jim talked out loud all the time while I was talking to myself. He was saying how the first thing he would do when he got to a free State he would go to saving up money and never spend a single cent, and when he got enough he would buy his wife, which was owned on a farm close to where Miss Watson lived; and then they would both work to buy the two children, and if their master wouldn’t sell them, they’d get an Ab’litionist to go and steal them.||Jim constantly talked out loud while I talked to myself. He would say that the first thing he’d do when he got to a free state would be to start saving up money by not spending a single cent. When he had saved enough money, he would buy his wife, who was owned by a farm close to where Miss Watson lived. Then they would both work to buy their two children. And if their master wouldn’t sell them, they’d get an abolitionist to steal them.|
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