Good golly gracious, is there anyone who has not enjoyed reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer? To the last person, everyone I have talked to fell in love at first sight (or first read) with that boy; although most have been quick to add that they are glad he is not their son!
My brother had a bit of Tom in him. Why, when we were kids on a family vacation to Disneyland, my brother got lost for more than an hour on Tom Sawyer’s island. He wasn’t really lost; he knew where he was the whole time. It was my parents – well mostly my mother – who were in a panic. Maybe boys, treasures, and islands are just a natural fit, as he was not pretending to be Tom or Huck. He didn’t even know who they were at the time. It would be a couple of years before he was formally introduced to Mark Twain’s characters. But for an hour or so, he enjoyed the seemingly idyllic existence of a young lad in a small Missouri river town in the 1840s.
Tom was a very likeable character, imaginative, energetic, quick-witted, and just plain fun to be with. At times he was quite the imp, giving me a good chuckle. I marveled at the way he could find excitement in almost anything. He didn’t need fancy toys for what could be better than a dead rat on a short string? But life was not all carefree for Tom and he gave me many anxious moments and good reason to worry about him.
Ever on the search for a grand adventure and never doing anything half-heartedly, Tom increasingly found himself in physical danger and facing serious issues. He did not fail me though, for deep down he had a strong moral compass that was matched with enough courage to do what was right. He made the decisions and took the actions that a lesser person could not take. I’m proud of you Tom.
There’s treasure out there, Tom is sure of that and he aims to find it. With the help of his buddy Huck, Tom commences to find a fortune that has been left behind. Tom is a wise soul. He understands the mind of robbers and pirates and knows that there are three places they are likely to hide their stash; in a haunted house, under a tree with a dead limb or on an island.
The boys first try their luck digging under the trees on Cardiff Hill, behind the widow’s house. When their efforts fail to produce anything, Tom remembers something else about hiding treasure, "you got to find out where the shadow of the limb falls at midnight, and that’s where you dig." Late at night they return to mark the exact spot where the shadow falls. Again, their digging efforts produce nothing. Tom now realizes that when they marked the spot they were not sure of the time and only guessed that it was midnight. By this time Huck is annoyed, particularly since he is getting creeped out with all of the ghosts who are in their presence at night. Why they counted twelve ghosts while they were waiting to mark the shadow of the limb.
Wait, don’t give up yet Huck. Tom realizes there is yet another rule to hiding treasure. A dead man is usually placed where the treasure is buried. It only makes sense for them to move their search to St. Petersburg’s haunted house. To avoid the nighttime coming and going of ghosts, they wait until the next day to go to the house.
Midday, Tom and Huck retrieve their tools that they had hidden on Cardiff Hill. Although, anxious to get to the haunted house, Huck suddenly stopped and said "Lookyhere, Tom, do you know what day it is?" Friday, that’s what day it was. Surely trouble would come their way if they began the search on such an unlucky day. It is better that they wait until tomorrow. To pass the time, Tom suggests they play Robin Hood for Robin Hood is one of the most admirable men in England. Sure he was a robber but he only stole from "sheriffs and bishops and rich people and kings" and he always shared his loot with the poor.
On Saturday, the boys take a survey of the haunted house to get a sense as to where they should start looking. Just as they were about to leave the decaying and cobweb infested second floor, Tom hears something. Peering through knot holes they see that the deaf and dumb Spaniard and a rather tattered man have entered the house. Overhearing them talk, it quickly becomes apparent that the deaf, dumb Spaniard is none other than Injun Joe. Thoughts of terror race through the boys but they keep their fear in check and remain silent for hours. Eventually they hear Injun Joe and his partner talk about keeping the silver hidden there in the house just a bit longer so that they can do their surveillance of the town in preparation of their next deed. Injun Joe’s buddy is not keen on carrying out this last dangerous plan so Joe puts it very simply to him – he needs to do this not so much for the money - but for revenge. He was not going to leave St. Petersburg without fulfilling this last quest.
Injun Joe finds Tom and Huck’s digging tools and realizes the implements are encrusted with fresh dirt. Whoever used them might still be in the house! Joe sets out to find the intruder but cannot get to the second floor when the decaying staircase collapses on him. His partner tells him not to worry about who might be there, but they know they cannot keep the silver there any longer. Injun Joe decides to take the coins to his den, den number 2, and leave it under the cross. At first Tom feels relief when the two leave but then, an awful thought invades his mind. What if the revenge was meant for Tom and Huck!
Nightmares keep waking Tom that evening, confusing his thoughts until it occurs to him that this whole grand adventure was just a dream. Huck, plagued with sadness over losing the treasure, tells Tom it is all real. Ever the optimist, Tom sets his mind to figuring out where the treasure is now. He deduces that #2 is a room in one of the two taverns in town. They rustle up all of the keys they can and start spying on the most logical tavern, waiting for Injun Joe to leave so that they can search his room.
Several nights of clear skies leave the town too light for misdeeds by either Injun Joe or the boys. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday Huck stands guard over the tavern at night. On Thursday, when clouds roll in, Tom is ready. He stations himself at the back door of the tavern, the one most likely to be used by Injun Joe. Huck watches the front. Suddenly Tom bolts from the alley hollering for Huck to run for his life. Tom has just had the biggest scare of his life; he came within inches of stepping on Injun Joe’s hand! Figuring that he must have missed Injun Joe leave, Tom enters his room to search for the silver, but finds Injun Joe still in there. Drunk as a skunk, Injun Joe is not about to wake so Tom leaves undetected.
Injun Joe and his partner plan to take their money and live in Texas, but not until one last crime is committed. Money is not the motivation in this crime, revenge is. Mark Twain was a great observer of human nature. Was he showing us that emotions control people, that people are more likely to act out of anger, love, jealousy, hatred or sympathy than out of logic?