Tom and Huck: The War Years

 

By Richard McCallum

 

“Bett’a ta’ lure a skunk out of his hole,” Huck mutters aloud, “than to crawl in after ‘im.” He mixes the pork rinds and grits on the campfire and moves the coffee pot over a flame. Adjusting his blue, Union Calvary cap, reveals red-hair tumbling over a freckled face. His Army issued six-shooter straps his waist.

The bushes up on the hill stir, and a Confederate Kipi raises out of a small cave hole. Tom Sawyer brushes the dust off his tattered outfit and adjusts his gun belt.

“Dang, they sent Huck.” He clambers down the slope in his ripped riding boots.

“Have a seat, Tom, and help yourself.”

“Thank ya, Huck. Best smellin’ grub this here side of the Mississippi.” Tom sits, fills a plate and sips a cup of coffee.

Huck stands and smokes his pipe. “Colonel tells me since the war you been robbin’ banks, trains, and stuff.”

“We lost everything Huck; Aunt Polly, Sis, Sid, Judge Thatcher, the whole town burned down and gone.”

“War brought out the bad in people,” Huck says and loosens the buttons on his Yankee blue-belly jacket.

“I know it brought out the worst in me,” Tom agrees and shakes the dust off his Dixie cap, his thick, black curly hair springs up.

“I never wanted to kill no one, ‘specially not friends and neighbors.” Huck shuffles to re-light his pipe.

“We never owned no slaves, either of us,” Tom takes a bite and sips his coffee. “And looky here, we fought on opposite sides as though it mattered to us either way.”

“Yep.”

“Becky said the banks been looted, Huck, our Injun Joe’s gold gone.”

“I told the Colonel I’se knows were the cave was, that I could bring you in myself, Tom. Save some lives.”

“The troop close by?”

“Down around the river bend, Tom, waiting on me and you. Where’s Becky?”

“She’s gone to Texas with the gang. She’s with my child. I didn’t want to endanger her by travelin’ among ‘em. A-fixin’ to leave when you showed up.” Tom smudges the ashes with his worn-out riding boot.

I recollect when we was kids, going back in the cave and getting’ out the old weapons and shootin’ and a’bladin’ pinecones and brush like they was’a Redlegs.”

“Yea, sur’nough, you dressed up like an Injun in war paint.”

“Yep, and then gettin’ over to the old rope swing, and splashin’ in the river with the boys.”

“And dirt clod fights.”

“Funny how you was always on the winning side, Tom.”

“ ‘member we all hiked over to the Harper farm? Burned down now, all of them shot dead in the house. He shakes his head, “and we had tasty picnics and all’s the men talked about how the war weren’t never gonna happen.”

“Recall every word, Tom. Said there’d be a compromise or such, and Lincoln never would get President.”

“Seems like a lifetime ago now, don’t it, Huck?”

“Gone with the wind.”

“Shucks, I remember the day we split up company, you, me, Jim.”

“Sure, that’d be the day we visited the Widow’s plantation, Tom. It’s all burned up now, too. Fields a squandered, slaves ran off.”

“Yep, all gone now. I recall you was a-talkin’ to Jim out in the yard and I was on the porch with the Widow, Becky, and the Colonial.”

“Miss Becky was lookin’ fine that day, as I recall.”

“Yep, in her summer dress and bonnet,” Tom agrees.

“That’s when the Colonel recruited Jim and me to join up with the Calvary and ride out west to patrol the Injun territories.”

“And I formed up my own militia, Tom Sawyers Sons of Missoura” and we rode out to Lawrence Kansas and shot up the town.”

“Heard about that Tom. Sad to know you was part of it.”

“Yeah, well afterwards I joined up with the regulars and guarded a fort overlooking the Illinois side of the river.”

“Jim and I rode out west and got in a mess with the Indians. Near got scalped, mauled by a griz, stampeded by a herd, and kil’t some gunfighters. Just everyday stuff now days, Tom.

“Yes, sir, I deserted the Army, raided cargo rafts, held up banks, robbed trains, and been shot, beat, stabbed and jailed.”

“I quit the Army for a spell, herded cattle, ran a liquor-smoke store, and lived with an Indian squaw.”

“Wow, where’s she now, Huck?”

“The Saloonkeeper attacked my store for sellin’ liquor to white men. His gunners murdered her and burned out my place.”

“Sorry to hear that Huck, if I’d a known me and the boys would ‘ave gone after him.”

“Jim and I took care of that problem, Tom.”

“Reckon you did.”

“I joined back up with the Colonel, and Jim and I were called back here to chase down irregular ex-rebs. Caught up with headless Bill. Jim and I kil’t him.”

“I rode with him once. Our gangs robbed a train. But I split with him when I saw him cutting off heads and such.”

“His head got dragged through the streets.”

“Jim, still with you, Huck?” Tom stands and walks towards the river to see the bend.

“Yep. He’s with the troops.” Huck walks alongside.

The faint droning of flies distracts from the tension between them. Neither wants to make the first move to draw weapons. A movement in the bush startles them. They pull their guns and aim at the disturbance.

“Ain’t nothing but an old hog!” Tom cries.

“Reminds me of the time I kil’t a pig and dragged him to the river to make folks think it was me that got kil’t,” Huck boasts. “That’s how I a-fixed it, so nobody’d expect me ever again.”

“I ‘member. We searched the river for days,” Tom recalls. “You recollect our blood oath?”

“Sure, I do.”

Tom slices his thumb, and Huck does the same, they hold their thumbs together.

“Always defend each other till death do we part.”

________________________________________________

Back at the trooper’s camp, Jim, mills about, uneasy.

A gunshot reports. Jim looks up towards the hills, after a pause, two more shots resound.

“Colonel,” Jim calls out, “we’se gots ta’ go help, Huck!”

The troop leader orders, “Mount up!” Jim gets underway before the troops.

At the campfire, Jim finds Huck lying in the dust, wounded, shot right through his leg without hitting a bone, in about the same spot as Tom’s old wound. The troops pull up and scour the area, unable to find Tom. Jim raises Huck’s head. “Where’s Tom, Huck?”

“I shot him, Jim.”

The officer checks the scene. A bloody trail, like a body slithering, leads into the river. The commander questions, “Dragged himself into the river?”

Jim answers, “I found coarse hairs, Colonel. Huck? Didn’t that Tom sport the curliest hair? Sort’a like the bristles on an ol’ hog.”

“Did you kill him, Huck?” The officer asks.

“You’ll never hear of him again, Colonel.”

“Thank you, Huck.”

“Y’ar all right, Huck. I’se take care of you,” Jim promises. “Looks like you nicked your thumb there Huck.”

 


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