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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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“Oh, yes, this is a wonderful govment, wonderful. Why, looky here. There was a free nigger there from Ohio—a mulatter, most as white as a white man. He had the whitest shirt on you ever see, too, and the shiniest hat; and there ain’t a man in that town that’s got as fine clothes as what he had; and he had a gold watch and chain, and a silver-headed cane—the awfulest old gray-headed nabob in the State. And what do you think? They said he was a p’fessor in a college, and could talk all kinds of languages, and knowed everything. And that ain’t the wust. They said he could VOTE when he was at home. Well, that let me out. Thinks I, what is the country a-coming to? It was ’lection day, and I was just about to go and vote myself if I warn’t too drunk to get there; but when they told me there was a State in this country where they’d let that nigger vote, I drawed out. I says I’ll never vote agin. Them’s the very words I said; they all heard me; and the country may rot for all me—I’ll never vote agin as long as I live. And to see the cool way of that nigger—why, he wouldn’t a give me the road if I hadn’t shoved him out o’ the way. I says to the people, why ain’t this nigger put up at auction and sold?—that’s what I want to know. And what do you reckon they said? Why, they said he couldn’t be sold till he’d been in the State six months, and he hadn’t been there that long yet. There, now—that’s a specimen. They call that a govment that can’t sell a free nigger till he’s been in the State six months. Here’s a govment that calls itself a govment, and lets on to be a govment, and thinks it is a govment, and yet’s got to set stock-still for six whole months before it can take a hold of a prowling, thieving, infernal, white-shirted free nigger, and—” “Oh yes, this government is wonderful, just wonderful. Just listen to this: There was an elderly free n----- from Ohio who was the nicest looking grey-haired man in the state. He was a mulatto who looked as white as any white man. We wore the whitest shirt you’ve ever seen and the shiniest hat too. He had a gold watch and chain and a silver-headed cane. There wasn’t a man in town with clothes as fine as his. And do you know what they said about him? They said he was a college professor, who could speak several different languages and knew everything. But that isn’t the worst thing. They said he could VOTE in his home state. Well that sure pissed me off. What’s this country coming to, I asked myself. It was election day, and I would have voted myself, if I hadn’t been too drunk to get to the polls. But when they told me there was a state in this country where a n----- could vote, I stopped dead in my tracks. I said I’d never vote again as long as I live. Those are the very words I used—everyone heard it. The country can rot for all I care. And to see the confident way that n----- acted! He wouldn’t have even stepped aside had I shoved him out of my way. I asked everyone why this n----- wasn’t being put up for auction and sold into slavery? And do you know what they said? They said he could only be sold into slavery after he’d been in the state for six months, and he hadn’t been here that long yet. Can you believe it? That’s some kind of government that won’t even sell a free n----- til he’s been in the state for six months. Here you’ve got a government that calls itself a government and thinks it’s a government and lets on like it’s a government, yet it refuses to act until six months have passed before it can grab that sneaky, thieving, blasted white-shirted free n-----—”
Pap was agoing on so he never noticed where his old limber legs was taking him to, so he went head over heels over the tub of salt pork and barked both shins, and the rest of his speech was all the hottest kind of language—mostly hove at the nigger and the govment, though he give the tub some, too, all along, here and there. He hopped around the cabin considerable, first on one leg and then on the other, holding first one shin and then the other one, and at last he let out with his left foot all of a sudden and fetched the tub a rattling kick. But it warn’t good judgment, because that was the boot that had a couple of his toes leaking out of the front end of it; so now he raised a howl that fairly made a body’s hair raise, and down he went in the dirt, and rolled there, and held his toes; and the cussing he done then laid over anything he had ever done previous. He said so his own self afterwards. He had heard old Sowberry Hagan in his best days, and he said it laid over him, too; but I reckon that was sort of piling it on, maybe. Pap went on and on, paying no attention to where he was walking. Suddenly, he fell head over heels over the tub of salted pork and scraped both shins. Then he started cussing and swearing at n-----, the government, and a little bit at the tub. He held his shins and hopped around the cabin, first on one leg and then on the other, until he finally gave the tub a swift kick. But that turned out to be a pretty dumb idea, because the foot he lashed out with was the same one where his toes stuck out the front of the boot. He let off a hair-raising howl, fell down in the dirt, and rolled around holding his toes and cussing more ferociously than ever before. He even admitted it later on. He said that he out-cussed even old Sowberry Hagan in his heydey. But I imagine he was just exaggerating.
After supper pap took the jug, and said he had enough whisky there for two drunks and one delirium tremens. That was always his word. I judged he would be blind drunk in about an hour, and then I would steal the key, or saw myself out, one or t’other. He drank and drank, and tumbled down on his blankets by and by; but luck didn’t run my way. He didn’t go sound asleep, but was uneasy. He groaned and moaned and thrashed around this way and that for a long time. At last I got so sleepy I couldn’t keep my eyes open all I could do, and so before I knowed what I was about I was sound asleep, and the candle burning. After supper pap took the jug of whisky and said he had enough to get drunk twice and get the

delirium tremens

delirium experienced by the most severe alcoholics during withdrawal

delirium tremens
once. That’s the word he always used. I figured in about an hour he’d be so drunk he’d be blind. This would be my chance to either steal the key or finish sawing the hole in the wall and crawl out. He drank and drank and eventually tumbled down on to his blankets. But luck wasn’t with me, since instead of falling sound asleep, he just rolled around uncomfortably. He groaned and moaned and thrashed around for such a long time that I got sleepy just waiting for him to sleep. Before I knew it, I’d fallen sound asleep, and even left the candle burning.
I don’t know how long I was asleep, but all of a sudden there was an awful scream and I was up. There was pap looking wild, and skipping around every which way and yelling about snakes. He said they was crawling up his legs; and then he would give a jump and scream, and say one had bit him on the cheek—but I couldn’t see no snakes. He started and run round and round the cabin, hollering “Take him off! take him off! he’s biting me on the neck!” I never see a man look so wild in the eyes. Pretty soon he was all fagged out, and fell down panting; then he rolled over and over wonderful fast, kicking things every which way, and striking and grabbing at the air with his hands, and screaming and saying there was devils a-hold of him. He wore out by and by, and laid still a while, moaning. Then he laid stiller, and didn’t make a sound. I could hear the owls and the wolves away off in the woods, and it seemed terrible still. He was laying over by the corner. By and by he raised up part way and listened, with his head to one side. He says, very low: I don’t know how long I slept, but I woke up when I suddenly heard this awful scream. There was pap looking crazy, and jumping around everywhere. He was yelling about snakes, saying they were crawling up his legs. He even said one had bitten him on the cheek. I looked around, but I couldn’t see any snakes. He ran around the cabin screaming, “Get him off! Get him off! He’s biting me on the neck!” I never saw a man whose eyes looked so wild and crazy. Pretty soon he’d exhausted himself and fell down panting. Then he rolled around as fast as lightening, kicking things, punching, grabbing at the air with his hands. He was screaming and saying that devils had gotten ahold of him. Pretty soon he’d worn himself out, and lay still in the corner of the cabin, moaning. Then he lay perfectly still and didn’t make a sound. I could hear the owls and the wolves off in the distant woods, and everything seemed incredibly still. Soon, though, he raised himself half way up, cocked his head to one side as if listening, and said:

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