Three or four months run along and it was well into the winter now. I had been to school most of the time and could spell words and read and write just a little. I had no talent for “the art”, though. Miss Watson and the widow schooled me privately in that. The best I could do with magic was to cause a tingling feeling in my nose and ears. I don’t think I could improve if I was to live forever. And that goes for magic, reading, writing or ’rithmetic, as well.
I hated school at first. But by-and-by I got so I could stand it. The teachers and I worked out a system. Whenever I got uncommon tired with all their learning I played hooky and hid out in the woods, went for long walks around the town, or just laid down in the meadow and had me a powerful sleep. The hiding I got the next day didn’t bother me none; it seemed a fair price to pay for breaking the rules and wasting a day in thoughtful idleness. So the longer I went to school the easier it got to be.
I was getting used to the widow’s ways, too. They didn’t grate on my nerves like when I first arrived. All the same living in a house and sleeping in a bed ruined me. But before winter clamped down I used to slide out at night a couple times a week and that was a comfort. I liked the old wild ways best but I liked the new sivilized ways, too. The widow said I was coming along slow and sure; said she warn’t ashamed of me all of the time any more.
One morning I knocked over the salt shaker at breakfast. I reached for some of the spilled crystals to throw over my left shoulder and keep off the bad luck but Miss Watson was too fast for me. “Take your hands off that salt, Huckleberry. Foolish superstition. Ain’t we got God? Ain’t we got magic? My, what a mess you’re making!” The widow put in a quick word for me with a muttered prayer but that warn’t going to keep off the bad luck, I knowed that well enough.
After breakfast I started out worried and shaky, wondering when the bad luck would fall on me and what form it might take. I poked along low-spirited on the watch-out.
I went down to the front garden and clumb over the stile where you go through the high board fence. There was an inch of new snow on the ground and I seen somebody’s tracks. They had come up from the quarry and stood around the stile a while, and then gone on around the garden fence. It was funny they hadn’t come in after standing around so. I couldn’t make it out. It was very curious, somehow. I was going to follow around but I stooped down to look at the tracks first. There was a cross in the left boot heel made with big nails to keep off the devil. Damn! Pap.
I was up in a second and shinning down the hill. I looked over my shoulder now and then but I didn’t see nobody. I was at Judge Thatcher’s as quick as I could get there.
He said, “My boy, you are all out of breath! Did you come for your interest?”
“No sir,” says I. “Is there some for me?”
“Oh yes, a half-yearly is in, last night. Over a hundred and fifty dollars. Quite a fortune for you. You had better let me invest it along with your six thousand, otherwise you’ll take it and spend it.”
“No sir,” I says, “I don’t want to spend it. I don’t want any of it; I want you to take it. All of it—the six thousand and the hundred-and-fifty.”
The judge looked surprised. He couldn’t seem to make it out. He says, “Why, what can you mean, boy?”
I says, “Don’t ask me no questions about it. You’ll take it, won’t you?”
He says, “Well, I’m right puzzled. Is something the matter?”
“Please take it,” says I. “And don’t ask me no questions. Then I won’t have to tell you no lies.”
He thought awhile, and then says, “I think I see. You want to sell all your property to me, not give it away. That’s the correct idea.”
Judge Thatcher wrote something on a paper, read it over and announced, “There—you see it says ‘for a consideration’. That means I have bought it off you and paid you for it. Here’s a dollar. Now you sign.”
I signed the paper and left.
Miss Watson’s slave, Jim, had a hairball as big as your fist which had been took out the fourth stomach of a dancing three-headed ox, and he used to do magic with it. He said there was a spirit inside the hairball and it knowed everything. So I went to him that night and tole him pap was here again, for I found his tracks in the snow. I wanted to know what he was going to do and was he going to stay?
Jim got out his hairball and mumbled to it, then held it up over his head and dropped it on the floor. It fell with a thump and rolled about an inch. He went through the routine over and over again yet the hairball acted just the same.
Jim got down on his knees and put his ear against it and listened. But it warn’t no use; he said the oracle wasn’t talking. He said sometimes it wouldn’t talk without money. Just like God.
I tole him I had an old counterfeit quarter that warn’t no good on account of the brass showed through the silver a little. (I reckoned I wouldn’t say nothing about the dollar I got from the judge.) I said it was pretty bad money, but maybe the hairball would take it because it wouldn’t know the difference.
Jim smelt the counterfeit quarter, bit it, rubbed it on his ear, and said he could manage things so the hairball would think the coin was good. Said he would split open a raw Irish potato, stick the quarter in between the halves and keep it there all night. Next morning you wouldn’t see no brass, so anybody in town would take that counterfeit quarter let alone a hairball.
Jim put the quarter under the hairball and got down and listened again. This time he said the hairball was all right. He said it would tell my whole fortune if I wanted it to.
I says yes, go on.
So the hairball talked to Jim, and Jim tole it to me this way: “Yo’ own father doan know yet what he’s a-goin’ to do. Sometimes he ’spects he’ll go away; an’ den agin he ’spects he’ll stay. De best way o’ things is to jus’ rest easy an’ let de ole man take his own way. Dey’s two angels hoverin’ roun’ about him, Huck: one evil, one good. De good angel gits him to go right fo’ a while, den de evil angel busts everythin’ up. No one can tell which angel is goin’ to come fo’ him at de last. But you is all right. You goin’ to have considerable trouble in yo’ life, an’ considerable joy. Sometimes you goin’ to get hurt; an’ sometimes you goin’ to git sick. But every time you’s goin’ to git well agin. Dey’s two gals flyin’ about you in yo’ life. One of em’s light, an’ t’other one’s dark. One is rich, an’ de other one’s poor. You’s goin’ to marry de poor one first, an’ dey rich one by-and-by. You want to keep away from de water much as you kin an’ doan run no risk, on account of dah’s a strong possibility yo’ destiny is to wind up hung by de neck till you’s stone cold dead.”
A most powerful prophesy. I was still thinking about it when I lit my candle and went up to my room that night.
And there sat pap, his own self.