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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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THEY swarmed up towards Sherburn’s house, a-whooping and raging like Injuns, and everything had to clear the way or get run over and tromped to mush, and it was awful to see. Children was heeling it ahead of the mob, screaming and trying to get out of the way; and every window along the road was full of women’s heads, and there was nigger boys in every tree, and bucks and wenches looking over every fence; and as soon as the mob would get nearly to them they would break and skaddle back out of reach. Lots of the women and girls was crying and taking on, scared most to death. The crowd ran up toward Sherburn’s house in a swarm, whooping and yelling like Indians. It was awful to see—everyone and everything had to move out of their path or they’d get trampled. Children were running ahead of the mob to get away, and women were popping their heads out of every window along the road. Little n----- boys sat in every tree and young men and women looked over every fence. When the mob was almost on top of them, they’d back away and scatter to get out of reach. Many women and girls were crying and carrying on, scared to death.
They swarmed up in front of Sherburn’s palings as thick as they could jam together, and you couldn’t hear yourself think for the noise. It was a little twenty-foot yard. Some sung out “Tear down the fence! tear down the fence!” Then there was a racket of ripping and tearing and smashing, and down she goes, and the front wall of the crowd begins to roll in like a wave. They swarmed up to the front of Sherburn’s fence and crammed into the little twenty-foot yard. You couldn’t hear yourself think through all the noise they made. Some people cried out, “Tear down the fence! Tear down the fence!” Then you could hear the awful racket of people ripping and tearing and smashing wood, and the fence was gone. The wall of people in the front of the crowd began to push forward as if they were a wave.
Just then Sherburn steps out on to the roof of his little front porch, with a double-barrel gun in his hand, and takes his stand, perfectly ca’m and deliberate, not saying a word. The racket stopped, and the wave sucked back. Just then, Sherburn stepped out on to the roof of his little front porch with a double-barrelled shotgun in his hand. He took his stand, perfectly calm and deliberate, without saying a word. The racket of the mob stopped, and the wave of people pulled back.
Sherburn never said a word—just stood there, looking down. The stillness was awful creepy and uncomfortable. Sherburn run his eye slow along the crowd; and wherever it struck the people tried a little to out-gaze him, but they couldn’t; they dropped their eyes and looked sneaky. Then pretty soon Sherburn sort of laughed; not the pleasant kind, but the kind that makes you feel like when you are eating bread that’s got sand in it. Sherburn never said a word. He just stood there, looking down, slowly running his eyes over the crowd. The stillness was awfully creepy and uncomfortable. The people tried to meet his gaze, but they couldn’t. They dropped their eyes as if they were trying to hide something. Pretty soon, Sherburn let out a sort of laugh. It wasn’t a pleasant laugh, but the kind laugh that makes you feel as if you’d been eating bread that had sand in it.
Then he says, slow and scornful: Slowly and scornfully, he said:
“The idea of YOU lynching anybody! It’s amusing. The idea of you thinking you had pluck enough to lynch a MAN! Because you’re brave enough to tar and feather poor friendless cast-out women that come along here, did that make you think you had grit enough to lay your hands on a MAN? Why, a MAN’S safe in the hands of ten thousand of your kind—as long as it’s daytime and you’re not behind him. “The idea of YOU lynching anybody—it’s amusing! The idea of you thinking that you had enough guts to lynch a man! You think you have what it takes simply because you’re brave enough to tar and feather poor, friendless outcast women who come through here. Does that make you think you have the stomach to lay your hands on a MAN? Why, as long as there’s daylight and you’re not creeping behind him, a MAN would be safe even if there were ten thousand of you.
“Do I know you? I know you clear through was born and raised in the South, and I’ve lived in the North; so I know the average all around. The average man’s a coward. In the North he lets anybody walk over him that wants to, and goes home and prays for a humble spirit to bear it. In the South one man all by himself, has stopped a stage full of men in the daytime, and robbed the lot. Your newspapers call you a brave people so much that you think you are braver than any other people—whereas you’re just AS brave, and no braver. Why don’t your juries hang murderers? Because they’re afraid the man’s friends will shoot them in the back, in the dark—and it’s just what they WOULD do. “Do I know your kind? Of course I do. I know all about you—I was born and raised in the South and lived in the North. I know what men everywhere are like. The average man is a coward. In the North he lets anyone who wants to walk all over him, and then he goes home and prays for the strength to take it. In the South, one man alone has stopped a stagecoach full of men in broad daylight and robbed all the passengers. Just because your newspapers call you brave, you now think that makes you braver than everyone else. But you’re only AS brave—not braver. Why don’t southern juries hang murderers? Because the jury members are afraid the murderer’s friends will shoot them in the back in the dark. And they WOULD.
“So they always acquit; and then a MAN goes in the night, with a hundred masked cowards at his back and lynches the rascal. Your mistake is, that you didn’t bring a man with you; that’s one mistake, and the other is that you didn’t come in the dark and fetch your masks. You brought PART of a man—Buck Harkness, there—and if you hadn’t had him to start you, you’d a taken it out in blowing. “So the juries always acquit. Then some MAN goes out into the night with a hundred masked cowards behind him and lynches the scoundrel. Your first mistake is that you didn’t bring a MAN with you. The second is that you didn’t come in the dark and bring your masks to hide behind. You brought PART of a man—Buck Harkness there—and if he hadn’t been there to get you all riled up, you would have just blown off a bunch of hot air.
“You didn’t want to come. The average man don’t like trouble and danger. YOU don’t like trouble and danger. But if only HALF a man—like Buck Harkness, there—shouts ’Lynch him! lynch him!’ you’re afraid to back down—afraid you’ll be found out to be what you are—COWARDS—and so you raise a yell, and hang yourselves on to that half-a-man’s coat-tail, and come raging up here, swearing what big things you’re going to do. The pitifulest thing out is a mob; that’s what an army is—a mob; they don’t fight with courage that’s born in them, but with courage that’s borrowed from their mass, and from their officers. But a mob without any MAN at the head of it is BENEATH pitifulness. Now the thing for YOU to do is to droop your tails and go home and crawl in a hole. If any real lynching’s going to be done it will be done in the dark, Southern fashion; and when they come they’ll bring their masks, and fetch a MAN along. Now LEAVE—and take your half-a-man with you"—tossing his gun up across his left arm and cocking it when he says this. “You didn’t want to come here—average men don’t like trouble and danger. YOU don’t like trouble and danger. But if only HALF a man, such as Buck Harkness there, shouts, “Lynch him! Lynch him!” then you’re afraid to back down. You’re afraid that everyone will found out what you really are: COWARDS. So you raise a ruckus and yell and latch on to that half-man’s coattails. You come raging up here, yelling about all the things you’re going to do. The most pitiful thing in the world is a mob. That’s what an army is, a mob. They don’t fight with the courage they’re born with. They fight with courage borrowed from their numbers and from the leaders. But a mob without any MAN in charge is WORSE than pitiful. Now, tuck your tails between your legs and go home and crawl in a hole. If there’s going to be an actual lynching it’s going to be done in the dark, Southern style. And when they come, they’ll bring their masks and bring a MAN with them. Now LEAVE—and take your half-man with you.” As he said this, he tossed his gun up across his left arm and cocked it.

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