Chapter II

Our Gang's Dark Oath

WE WENT TIPTOEING along a path amongst the trees back towards the end of the widow's garden, stooping down so as the branches wouldn't scrape our heads. When we was passing by the kitchen I fell over a root and made a noise. We scrouched down and laid still. Miss Watson's big nigger, named Jim, was setting in the kitchen door; we could see him pretty clear, because there was a light behind him. He got up and stretched his neck out about a minute, listening. Then he says:

“Who dah?”

He listened some more; then he come tiptoeing down and stood right between us; we could 'a' touched him, nearly. Well, likely it was minutes and minutes that there warn't a sound, and we all there so close together. There was a place on my ankle that got to itching, but I dasn't scratch it; and then my ear begun to itch; and next my back, right between my shoulders. Seemed like I'd die if I couldn't scratch. Well, I've noticed that thing plenty times since. If you are with the quality, or at a funeral, or trying to go to sleep when you ain't sleepy—if you are anywheres where it won't do for you to scratch, why you will itch all over in upwards of a thousand places. Pretty soon Jim says:

“Say, who is you? Whar is you? Dog my cats ef I didn' hear sumf'n. Well, I know what I's gwyne to do: I's gwyne to set down here and listen tell I hears it agin.”

So he set down on the ground betwixt me and Tom. He leaned his back up against a tree, and stretched his legs out till one of them most touched one of mine. My nose begun to itch. It itched till the tears come into my eyes. But I dasn't scratch. Then it begun to itch on the inside. Next I got to itching underneath. I didn't know how I was going to set still. The miserableness went on as much as six or seven minutes; but it seemed a sight longer than that. I was itching in eleven different places now. I reckoned I couldn't stand it more'n a minute longer, but I set my teeth hard and got ready to try. Just then Jim begun to breathe heavy; next he begun to snore—and then I was pretty soon comfortable again.

Tom he made a sign to me—kind of a little noise with his mouth—and we went creeping away on our hands and knees. When we was ten foot off Tom whispered to me, and wanted to tie Jim to the tree for fun. But I said no; he might wake and make a disturbance, and then they'd find out I warn't in. Then Tom said he hadn't got candles enough, and he would slip in the kitchen and get some more. I didn't want him to try. I said Jim might wake up and come. But Tom wanted to resk it; so we slid in there and got three candles, and Tom laid five cents on the table for pay. Then we got out, and I was in a sweat to get away; but nothing would do Tom but he must crawl to where Jim was, on his hands and knees, and play something on him. I waited, and it seemed a good while, everything was so still and lonesome.

As soon as Tom was back we cut along the path, around the garden fence, and by and by fetched up on the steep top of the hill the other side of the house. Tom said he slipped Jim's hat off of his head and hung it on a limb right over him, and Jim stirred a little, but he didn't wake. Afterwards Jim said the witches bewitched him and put him in a trance, and rode him all over the state, and then set him under the trees again, and hung his hat on a limb to show who done it. And next time Jim told it he said they rode him down to New Orleans; and, after that, every time he told it he spread it more and more, till by and by he said they rode him all over the world, and tired him most to death, and his back was all over saddle-boils. Jim was monstrous proud about it, and he got so he wouldn't hardly notice the other niggers. Niggers would come miles to hear Jim tell about it, and he was more looked up to than any nigger in that country. Strange niggers would stand with their mouths open and look him all over, same as if he was a wonder. Niggers is always talking about witches in the dark by the kitchen fire; but whenever one was talking and letting on to know all about such things, Jim would happen in and say, “Hm! What you know 'bout witches?” and that nigger was corked up and had to take a back seat. Jim always kept that five-center piece round his neck with a string, and said it was a charm the devil give to him with his own hands, and told him he could cure anybody with it and fetch witches whenever he wanted to just by saying something to it; but he never told what it was he said to it. Niggers would come from all around there and give Jim anything they had, just for a sight of that five-center piece; but they wouldn't touch it, because the devil had had his hands on it. Jim was most ruined for a servant, because he got stuck up on account of having seen the devil and been rode by witches.

Well, when Tom and me got to the edge of the hilltop we looked away down into the village and could see three or four lights twinkling, where there was sick folks, maybe; and the stars over us was sparkling ever so fine; and down by the village was the river, a whole mile broad, and awful still and grand. We went down the hill and found Jo Harper and Ben Rogers, and two or three more of the boys, hid in the old tanyard. So we unhitched a skiff and pulled down the river two mile and a half, to the big scar on the hillside, and went ashore.

We went to a clump of bushes, and Tom made everybody swear to keep the secret, and then showed them a hole in the hill, right in the thickest part of the bushes. Then we lit the candles, and crawled in on our hands and knees. We went about two hundred yards, and then the cave opened up. Tom poked about amongst the passages, and pretty soon ducked under a wall where you wouldn't 'a' noticed that there was a hole. We went along a narrow place and got into a kind of room, all damp and sweaty and cold, and there we stopped. Tom says:

“Now, we'll start this band of robbers and call it Tom Sawyer's Gang. Everybody that wants to join has got to take an oath, and write his name in blood.”

Everybody was willing. So Tom got out a sheet of paper that he had wrote the oath on, and read it. It swore every boy to stick to the band, and never tell any of the secrets; and if anybody done anything to any boy in the band, whichever boy was ordered to kill that person and his family must do it, and he mustn't eat and he mustn't sleep till he had killed them and hacked a cross in their breasts, which was the sign of the band. And nobody that didn't belong to the band could use that mark, and if he did he must be sued; and if he done it again he must be killed. And if anybody that belonged to the band told the secrets, he must have his throat cut, and then have his carcass burnt up and the ashes scattered all around, and his name blotted off of the list with blood and never mentioned again by the gang, but have a curse put on it and be forgot forever.

Everybody said it was a real beautiful oath, and asked Tom if he got it out of his own head. He said, some of it, but the rest was out of pirate-books and robber-books, and every gang that was high-toned had it.

Some thought it would be good to kill the families of boys that told the secrets. Tom said it was a good idea, so he took a pencil and wrote it in. Then Ben Rogers says:

“Here's Huck Finn, he hain't got no family; what you going to do 'bout him?”

“Well, hain't he got a father?” says Tom Sawyer.

“Yes, he's got a father, but you can't never find him these days. He used to lay drunk with the hogs in the tanyard, but he hain't been seen in these parts for a year or more.”

They talked it over, and they was going to rule me out, because they said every boy must have a family or somebody to kill, or else it wouldn't be fair and square for the others. Well, nobody could think of anything to do—everybody was stumped, and set still. I was most ready to cry; but all at once I thought of a way, and so I offered them Miss Watson—they could kill her. Everybody said:

“Oh, she'll do. That's all right. Huck can come in.”

Then they all stuck a pin in their fingers to get blood to sign with, and I made my mark on the paper.

“Now,” says Ben Rogers, “what's the line of business of this Gang?”

“Nothing only robbery and murder,” Tom said.

“But who are we going to rob?—houses, or cattle, or—”

“Stuff! stealing cattle and such things ain't robbery; it's burglary,” says Tom Sawyer. “We ain't burglars. That ain't no sort of style. We are highwaymen. We stop stages and carriages on the road, with masks on, and kill the people and take their watches and money.”

“Must we always kill the people?”

“Oh, certainly. It's best. Some authorities think different, but mostly it's considered best to kill them—except some that you bring to the cave here, and keep them till they're ransomed.”

“Ransomed? What's that?”

“I don't know. But that's what they do. I've seen it in books; and so of course that's what we've got to do.”

“But how can we do it if we don't know what it is?”

“Why, blame it all, we've got to do it. Don't I tell you it's in the books? Do you want to go to doing different from what's in the books, and get things all muddled up?”

“Oh, that's all very fine to say, Tom Sawyer, but how in the nation are these fellows going to be ransomed if we don't know how to do it to them?—that's the thing I want to get at. Now, what do you reckon it is?”

“Well, I don't know. But per'aps if we keep them till they're ransomed, it means that we keep them till they're dead.”

“Now, that's something like. That'll answer. Why couldn't you said that before? We'll keep them till they're ransomed to death; and a bothersome lot they'll be, too—eating up everything, and always trying to get loose.”

“How you talk, Ben Rogers. How can they get loose when there's a guard over them, ready to shoot them down if they move a peg?”

“A guard! Well, that is good. So somebody's got to set up all night and never get any sleep, just so as to watch them. I think that's foolishness. Why can't a body take a club and ransom them as soon as they get here?”

“Because it ain't in the books so—that's why. Now, Ben Rogers, do you want to do things regular, or don't you? That's the idea. Don't you reckon that the people that made the books knows what's the correct thing to do? Do you reckon you can learn 'em anything? Not by a good deal. No, sir, we'll just go on and ransom them in the regular way.”

“All right. I don't mind; but I say it's a fool way, anyhow. Say, do we kill the women, too?”

“Well, Ben Rogers, if I was as ignorant as you I wouldn't let on. Kill the women? No; nobody ever saw anything in the books like that. You fetch them to the cave, and you're always as polite as pie to them; and by and by they fall in love with you, and never want to go home any more.”

“Well, if that's the way I'm agreed, but I don't take no stock in it. Mighty soon we'll have the cave so cluttered up with women, and fellows waiting to be ransomed, that there won't be no place for the robbers. But go ahead, I ain't got nothing to say.”

Little Tommy Barnes was asleep now, and when they waked him up he was scared, and cried, and said he wanted to go home to his ma, and didn't want to be a robber any more.

So they all made fun of him, and called him cry-baby, and that made him mad, and he said he would go straight and tell all the secrets. But Tom give him five cents to keep quiet, and said we would all go home and meet next week, and rob somebody and kill some people.

Ben Rogers said he couldn't get out much, only Sundays, and so he wanted to begin next Sunday; but all the boys said it would be wicked to do it on Sunday, and that settled the thing. They agreed to get together and fix a day as soon as they could, and then we elected Tom Sawyer first captain and Jo Harper second captain of the Gang, and so started home.

I clumb up the shed and crept into my window just before day was breaking. My new clothes was all greased up and clayey, and I was dog-tired.

Footnotes

  1. Jim, Miss Watson's slave, has achieved higher status in the slave community because everyone believes his story about being transported around the state by witches. His confidence, which is really rooted in gullibility and superstitiousness, ruins him as a servant because he's now "stuck up."

    — Sarah St. Albin, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. Highwaymen were horseback-riding thieves who ambushed travelers and stole money and other valuables that the victims carried. Highwaymen were common until the early 19th century, at which point the spread of civilization and population essentially ended their activities. Tom wouldn't have had direct experience with highwaymen but would instead have read about them in books.

    — Evan, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. Notice that Tom doesn't make Huck his second captain, even though they're as close to best friends as they can be. His reticence to give Huck authority seems to stem from Huck's runaway attempt in the first chapter. Remember that Huck only stayed to be a part of this "gang of robbers" and that this friendship is the only thing tethering Huck. This doesn't bode well for the future.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  4. Tanneries are workshops where animal hides were processed into leather. The tanning process requires the use of the chemical tannin, which is stored in vats in the tanyard, where these boys have hidden. In general, the chemicals used in the tanning process gave off a very strong, unpleasant smell, making this a great place to hide from passersby who want to avoid the smell.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  5. In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tom and his love interest Becky get lost in a cave while they escape Injun Joe, the villain of that novel. This scene alludes to that one and presents us with a version of Tom that doesn't appear at first to have learned from his mistakes but at the very least isn't putting anyone in danger.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  6. Like bedsores, saddle-boils develop in the places were horseback riders make extended contact with their saddle. It's most common now among cyclists and racers and sometimes require medical attention. How Jim would've gotten the saddle-boils on his back rather than his legs remains a mystery.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  7. Though this is our first time meeting Jim, he's well-known to Tom and Huck, who share some of Jim's many superstitions. Knowing this, it seems reasonable for us to assume that Tom knows Jim will see the hat on a branch and think something supernatural happened to him. Tom just wouldn't have expected it to snowball into such an elaborate lie.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  8. This might be the single best character description of Tom: that nothing would do him, that he just has to play tricks on people. It's in his nature, which at once makes it easily relatable and incredibly frustrating for Huck, who'd rather not go out of his way to get in trouble. This tendency of Tom's will cause problems later in the novel.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  9. Many critics feel that Jim, while a slave, is the character with the most humanity in the book. He's uneducated and very superstitious, like Huck, but he's also loyal, trustworthy, and honorable, and it's only through him that Huck comes to understand the truth about slavery and about man's inhumanity towards man.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  10. Tom's repetition of Ben's full name serves two purposes: 1) it belittles Ben, who's name in this process becomes a kind of joke, and 2) it allows Twain to identify who's talking and who Tom's responding to without having to use the normal "he said" construction. This enhances the humor of the situation without sacrificing any clarity.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  11. Pirates and robbers were common subjects of the 18th and 19th Century adventure stories Tom refers to here, among the most popular of which is Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. His fascination with adventures stories and their common tropes will play a major role in the last chapters of the novel.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  12. Notice how Twain buries Huck's scratching in this aside. After using the word "itch" eight times in two paragraphs, he very wisely chose not to use it again and instead imply the act of itching by stating it's result ("comfort"). These logical leaps are common in Twain's work.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  13. Twain uses this simple observation to characterize Huck, whose discomfort with people of "quality" and with high-stress situations is readily apparent. He's not the kind of boy who enjoys being watched, listened to, or just generally kept tabs on, which is symbolized by his fevered itching.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  14. What does this comment reveal about Tom Sawyer's character?

    — Natalie, Owl Eyes Contributor
  15. What attitude do Huck and the other boys take toward Tom Sawyer?

    — Natalie, Owl Eyes Contributor
  16. What does Huck imply here about the appropriate attitude for a servant?

    — Natalie, Owl Eyes Contributor
  17. What racist stereotype is suggested here?

    — Natalie, Owl Eyes Contributor
  18. What personality trait of Jim’s is revealed in his reaction?

    — Natalie, Owl Eyes Contributor