We struggled to navigate the river as it twisted and turned, pushing us with its powerful current towards the woods on the shore. We repeated the experiment four times, each time hoping to find a way out of the dangerous situation. I stood on the raised platform near the front of the boat to watch the scene. It was amazing to see how quickly the boat would rotate and change direction as soon as she left the swirling water of the eddy and felt the full force of the current on her front. The loud thud and the shaking of the boat were similar to what would happen if she had crashed into a sand-bank at high speed. Under the flashes of lightning, I could see the wooden houses and the fertile fields of the plantations falling into the river; and they made a noise that resembled thunder. Once, when we spun around, we barely avoided a house that was about twenty feet away from us, with a light shining in its window; and in that same moment, that house was swept away by the water. Nobody could remain on our front platform; the water rushed over it like a torrent every time we crossed the current at an angle. At the end of our fourth attempt, we ended up in the woods two miles downstream from the cut-off; the whole area there was flooded, of course. A day or two later, the cut-off was three quarters of a mile wide, and boats could pass through it with not much trouble, and so they saved ten miles.
We decided to give up on the experiment and look for a safer place to anchor the boat. We followed the river downstream, hoping to find a town or a village where we could get some help. The storm was still raging, and the lightning illuminated the dark sky. The wind howled in our ears, and the rain soaked us to the bone. We felt like we were in a nightmare.
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After what seemed like an eternity, we saw a faint light in the distance. It looked like a lantern hanging from a pole. We steered the boat towards it, hoping it was a sign of civilization. As we got closer, we saw that it was indeed a lantern, but it was not hanging from a pole. It was floating on a raft, and on the raft there was a man. He was waving at us and shouting something we could not hear.
We slowed down the boat and approached the raft. The man looked relieved to see us. He had a long beard and ragged clothes. He told us his name was Jim, and he had been living on the raft for two weeks. He had escaped from a plantation where he had been enslaved, and he had been hiding in the woods until the flood came. He had built the raft from some logs and barrels, and he had been drifting on the river ever since. He said he was looking for a place where he could be free.
We invited Jim to join us on our boat. He was grateful for our offer, and he brought his raft along. He said he had some supplies and tools on it that he did not want to lose. He also had a dog, a black and white mongrel that he called Jack. Jack was friendly and wagged his tail when he saw us. Jim said Jack was his only companion on the raft.
We introduced ourselves to Jim. We told him we were Tom and Huck, two friends who had run away from home to have an adventure on the river. We did not tell him the whole truth, of course. We did not tell him that we had faked our own deaths, that we had found a treasure in a cave, that we had been chased by robbers and murderers, and that we had been involved in a family feud. We did not think he would believe us, or that he would approve of our escapades.
Jim told us more about his life. He said he had a wife and two children who were still enslaved on another plantation. He said he missed them terribly, and he hoped to find them someday. He said he had heard of a place called Cairo, where the Ohio River joined the Mississippi River, and where he could find people who would help him go north. He said he had been trying to reach Cairo for a long time, but he had lost his way in the flood. He asked us if we knew where Cairo was. 29c81ba772