It made me shiver. And I about made up my mind to pray, and see if I
couldn’t try to quit being the kind of a boy I was and be better. So I
kneeled down. But the words wouldn’t come. Why wouldn’t they? It warn’t no
use to try and hide it from Him. Nor from ME, neither. I knowed very well
why they wouldn’t come. It was because my heart warn’t right; it was because
I warn’t square; it was because I was playing double. I was letting ON to
give up sin, but away inside of me I was holding on to the biggest one of
all. I was trying to make my mouth SAY I would do the right thing and the
clean thing, and go and write to that nigger’s owner and tell where he was;
but deep down in me I knowed it was a lie, and He knowed it. You can’t pray
a lie—I found that out.
Just thinking about it made me shiver. I made up my mind to start praying
that I could stop being wicked and become a better boy. So I kneeled
down—but the words wouldn’t come. Why not? It was no use to try and hide it
from Him, or from ME either. I knew exactly why those words wouldn’t come.
It was because my heart wasn’t in the right place. It was because I wasn’t
being honest with myself. I was lying to myself and to HIM. I was saying
that I was going to give up doing bad things, but deep down inside I was
doing the worst thing of all. I was trying to make my mouth SAY I would do
the right and honest thing and go write to that n-----’s owner and tell her
where he was. But deep down inside I knew it was a lie, and HE knew it too.
I found out that day that you can’t pray a lie.
So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn’t know what to do.
At last I had an idea; and I says, I’ll go and write the letter—and then see
if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather
right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper and
a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:
So I was in a lot of trouble, about as much trouble as I could be in. And
I didn’t know what to do. Finally, I had an idea. I told myself that I’d go
and write the letter. Then I would see if I could pray. Why, it was amazing
how much better I felt right away. It was as if all my troubles were gone.
Happy and excited, I got out paper and pencil, sat down, and wrote:
Miss Watson, your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below
Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the
reward if you send.
Miss Watson, your runaway n-----, Jim, is down here two miles below the
town of Pikesville. Mr. Phelps has caught him and will give him up for the
reward if you send word.
I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt
so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn’t do it straight
off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking—thinking how good it was
all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell.
And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and
I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time,
sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and
singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to
harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my
watch on top of his’n, ’stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and
see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to
him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and such-like times;
and would always call me honey, and pet me and do everything he could think
of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved
him by telling the men we had small-pox aboard, and he was so grateful, and
said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the ONLY one
he’s got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper.
I felt good as if I’d been cleansed of all the sin for the first time in
my life. I’d never felt so good, and I knew I could pray now. But I didn’t
start praying right away—I set the paper down and just sat there thinking
about how good it was that everything had happened the way it had and how
nearly I’d come to being lost forever and going to hell. And I kept on
thinking. I got to thinking about our entire trip down the river, and I saw
Jim in my head the whole time—in the daytime and in the nighttime, sometimes
in the moonlight, sometimes during storms, and sometimes while we were just
floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But for some reason I just
couldn’t come up with anything that would make me feel indifferently toward
him. In fact, it was just the opposite. I could see him taking a double
watch so that I could go on sleeping. I saw how glad he was when I came back
out of the fog and when I came to him in the swamp back there where the feud
was. And I remembered other good times. He would always call me honey and
pet me and do everything he could for me. I remembered how good he always
was to me. And finally I remembered the time I saved him by telling the men
people infected with smallpox were aboard our raft, and how he’d been so
grateful and said I was the best friend he’d ever had and the only one he
had now. And then I happened to look down and see my letter to Miss
It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was
a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I
knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to
It was a difficult situation. I picked up the letter, and held it in my
hand. I was trembling, because I knew had to make a choice between two
things, and the outcome of my decision would last forever. I thought about
it a minute while I held my breath. And then I said to myself:
“All right, then, I’ll GO to hell"—and tore it up.
“All right, then, I’ll GO to hell.” And I tore the letter up.
It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them
stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. I shoved the whole
thing out of my head, and said I would take up wickedness again, which was
in my line, being brung up to it, and the other warn’t. And for a starter I
would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up
anything worse, I would do that, too; because as long as I was in, and in
for good, I might as well go the whole hog.
Those were awful thoughts and awful words, but that’s what I said. And I
didn’t take them back, either, and I never had any more thoughts about
reforming. I shoved the whole thing out of my mind and said I’d go back to
being wicked again. It was what I’d been brought up to do and what I was
good at—I wasn’t good at being good. For starters, I’d start working on how
to steal Jim out of slavery again. And if I could think of doing anything
worse than that, then I’d do that too. If I was going to be bad from now on,
then I might as well do it right.
Then I set to thinking over how to get at it, and turned over some
considerable many ways in my mind; and at last fixed up a plan that suited
me. So then I took the bearings of a woody island that was down the river a
piece, and as soon as it was fairly dark I crept out with my raft and went
for it, and hid it there, and then turned in. I slept the night through, and
got up before it was light, and had my breakfast, and put on my store
clothes, and tied up some others and one thing or another in a bundle, and
took the canoe and cleared for shore. I landed below where I judged was
Phelps’s place, and hid my bundle in the woods, and then filled up the canoe
with water, and loaded rocks into her and sunk her where I could find her
again when I wanted her, about a quarter of a mile below a little steam
sawmill that was on the bank.
I started thinking about how I’d rescue Jim. I thought about a lot of
different options, but finally came up with a plan that suited me. I had
noted the direction and position of a wooded island a little way down the
river. As soon as it was dark enough, I headed for it, hid there, and went
to sleep. I slept through the night, and got up before it was light. I ate
breakfast, put on my store clothes, tied up some more clothes and other
things in a bundle, and headed for shore in the canoe. I landed a bit
downstream from where I figured Phelps’s place was and hid my bundle in the
woods. Then I filled the canoe with rocks and water and sunk it near the
bank next to the mouth of a stream, about a quarter miles down the river
from a sawmill. I knew I could find it again when I needed it.