Huck Finn: Ch. 26–31
WELL, when they was all gone the king he asks Mary Jane how they was off for spare rooms, and she said she had one spare room, which would do for Uncle William, and she’d give her own room to Uncle Harvey, which was a little bigger, and she would turn into the room with her sisters and sleep on a cot; and up garret was a little cubby, with a pallet in it. The king said the cubby would do for his valley — meaning me.
So Mary Jane took us up, and she showed them their rooms, which was plain but nice. She said she’d have her frocks and a lot of other traps took out of her room if they was in Uncle Harvey’s way, but he said they warn’t. The frocks was hung along the wall, and before them was a curtain made out of calico that hung down to the floor. There was an old hair trunk in one corner, and a guitar-box in another, and all sorts of little knickknacks and jimcracks around, like girls brisken up a room with. The king said it was all the more homely and more pleasanter for these fixings, and so don’t disturb them. The duke’s room was pretty small, but plenty good enough, and so was my cubby.
That night they had a big supper, and all them men and women was there, and I stood behind the king and the duke’s chairs and waited on them, and the niggers waited on the rest. Mary Jane she set at the head of the table, with Susan alongside of her, and said how bad the biscuits was, and how mean the preserves was, and how ornery and tough the fried chickens was — and all that kind of rot, the way women always do for to force out compliments; and the people all knowed everything was tiptop, and said so — said “How do you get biscuits to brown so nice?” and “Where, for the land’s sake, did you get these amaz’n pickles?” and all that kind of humbug talky-talk, just the way people always does at a supper, you know.
And when it was all done me and the hare-lip had supper in the kitchen off of the leavings, whilst the others was helping the niggers clean up the things. The hare-lip she got to pumping me about England, and blest if I didn’t think the ice was getting mighty thin sometimes. She says:
“Did you ever see the king?”
“Who? William Fourth? Well, I bet I have — he goes to our church.” I knowed he was dead years ago, but I never let on. So when I says he goes to our church, she says:
“What — regular?”
“Yes — regular. His pew’s right over opposite ourn — on t’other side the pulpit.”
“I thought he lived in London?”
“Well, he does. Where would he live?”
“But I thought you lived in Sheffield?”
I see I was up a stump. I had to let on to get choked with a chicken bone, so as to get time to think how to get down again. Then I says:
“I mean he goes to our church regular when he’s in Sheffield. That’s only in the summer time, when he comes there to take the sea baths.”
“Why, how you talk — Sheffield ain’t on the sea.”
“Well, who said it was?”
“Why, you did.”
“I didn’t nuther.”
“I never said nothing of the kind.”
“Well, what did you say, then?”
“Said he come to take the sea baths — that’s what I said.”
“Well, then, how’s he going to take the sea baths if it ain’t on the sea?”
“Looky here,” I says; “did you ever see any Congress-water?”
“Well, did you have to go to Congress to get it?”
“Well, neither does William Fourth have to go to the sea to get a sea bath.”
“How does he get it, then?”
“Gets it the way people down here gets Congress-water — in barrels. There in the palace at Sheffield they’ve got furnaces, and he wants his water hot. They can’t bile that amount of water away off there at the sea. They haven’t got no conveniences for it.”
“Oh, I see, now. You might a said that in the first place and saved time.”
When she said that I see I was out of the woods again, and so I was comfortable and glad. Next, she says:
“Do you go to church, too?”
“Yes — regular.”
“Where do you set?”
“Why, in our pew.”
“Why, ourn — your Uncle Harvey’s.”
“His’n? What does he want with a pew?”
“Wants it to set in. What did you reckon he wanted with it?”
“Why, I thought he’d be in the pulpit.”
Rot him, I forgot he was a preacher. I see I was up a stump again, so I played another chicken bone and got another think. Then I says:
“Blame it, do you suppose there ain’t but one preacher to a church?”
“Why, what do they want with more?”
“What! — to preach before a king? I never did see such a girl as you. They don’t have no less than seventeen.”
“Seventeen! My land! Why, I wouldn’t set out such a string as that, not if I never got to glory. It must take ‘em a week.”
“Shucks, they don’t all of ‘em preach the same day — only one of ‘em.”
“Well, then, what does the rest of ‘em do?”
“Oh, nothing much. Loll around, pass the plate — and one thing or another. But mainly they don’t do nothing.”
“Well, then, what are they for?”
“Why, they’re for style. Don’t you know nothing?”
“Well, I don’t want to know no such foolishness as that. How is servants treated in England? Do they treat ‘em better ‘n we treat our niggers?”
“No! A servant ain’t nobody there. They treat them worse than dogs.”
“Don’t they give ‘em holidays, the way we do, Christmas and New Year’s week, and Fourth of July?”
“Oh, just listen! A body could tell you hain’t ever been to England by that. Why, Hare-l — why, Joanna, they never see a holiday from year’s end to year’s end; never go to the circus, nor theater, nor nigger shows, nor nowheres.”
“But you always went to church.”
Well, I was gone up again. I forgot I was the old man’s servant. But next minute I whirled in on a kind of an explanation how a valley was different from a common servant and had to go to church whether he wanted to or not, and set with the family, on account of its being the law. But I didn’t do it pretty good, and when I got done I see she warn’t satisfied. She says:
“Honest injun, now, hain’t you been telling me a lot of lies?”
“Honest injun,” says I.
“None of it at all?”
“None of it at all. Not a lie in it,” says I.
“Lay your hand on this book and say it.”
I see it warn’t nothing but a dictionary, so I laid my hand on it and said it. So then she looked a little better satisfied, and says:
“Well, then, I’ll believe some of it; but I hope to gracious if I’ll believe the rest.”
“What is it you won’t believe, Joe?” says Mary Jane, stepping in with Susan behind her. “It ain’t right nor kind for you to talk so to him, and him a stranger and so far from his people. How would you like to be treated so?”
“That’s always your way, Maim — always sailing in to help somebody before they’re hurt. I hain’t done nothing to him. He’s told some stretchers, I reckon, and I said I wouldn’t swallow it all; and that’s every bit and grain I did say. I reckon he can stand a little thing like that, can’t he?”
“I don’t care whether ‘twas little or whether ‘twas big; he’s here in our house and a stranger, and it wasn’t good of you to say it. If you was in his place it would make you feel ashamed; and so you oughtn’t to say a thing to another person that will make them feel ashamed.”
“Why, Mam, he said — “
“It don’t make no difference what he said — that ain’t the thing. The thing is for you to treat him kind, and not be saying things to make him remember he ain’t in his own country and amongst his own folks.”
I says to myself, this is a girl that I’m letting that old reptile rob her of her money!
Then Susan she waltzed in; and if you’ll believe me, she did give Hare-lip hark from the tomb!
Says I to myself, and this is another one that I’m letting him rob her of her money!
Then Mary Jane she took another inning, and went in sweet and lovely again — which was her way; but when she got done there warn’t hardly anything left o’ poor Hare-lip. So she hollered.
“All right, then,” says the other girls; “you just ask his pardon.”
She done it, too; and she done it beautiful. She done it so beautiful it was good to hear; and I wished I could tell her a thousand lies, so she could do it again.
I says to myself, this is another one that I’m letting him rob her of her money. And when she got through they all jest laid theirselves out to make me feel at home and know I was amongst friends. I felt so ornery and low down and mean that I says to myself, my mind’s made up; I’ll hive that money for them or bust.
So then I lit out — for bed, I said, meaning some time or another. When I got by myself I went to thinking the thing over. I says to myself, shall I go to that doctor, private, and blow on these frauds? No — that won’t do. He might tell who told him; then the king and the duke would make it warm for me. Shall I go, private, and tell Mary Jane? No — I dasn’t do it. Her face would give them a hint, sure; they’ve got the money, and they’d slide right out and get away with it. If she was to fetch in help I’d get mixed up in the business before it was done with, I judge. No; there ain’t no good way but one. I got to steal that money, somehow; and I got to steal it some way that they won’t suspicion that I done it. They’ve got a good thing here, and they ain’t a-going to leave till they’ve played this family and this town for all they’re worth, so I’ll find a chance time enough. I’ll steal it and hide it; and by and by, when I’m away down the river, I’ll write a letter and tell Mary Jane where it’s hid. But I better hive it tonight if I can, because the doctor maybe hasn’t let up as much as he lets on he has; he might scare them out of here yet.
So, thinks I, I’ll go and search them rooms. Upstairs the hall was dark, but I found the duke’s room, and started to paw around it with my hands; but I recollected it wouldn’t be much like the king to let anybody else take care of that money but his own self; so then I went to his room and begun to paw around there. But I see I couldn’t do nothing without a candle, and I dasn’t light one, of course. So I judged I’d got to do the other thing — lay for them and eavesdrop. About that time I hears their footsteps coming, and was going to skip under the bed; I reached for it, but it wasn’t where I thought it would be; but I touched the curtain that hid Mary Jane’s frocks, so I jumped in behind that and snuggled in amongst the gowns, and stood there perfectly still.
They come in and shut the door; and the first thing the duke done was to get down and look under the bed. Then I was glad I hadn’t found the bed when I wanted it. And yet, you know, it’s kind of natural to hide under the bed when you are up to anything private. They sets down then, and the king says:
“Well, what is it? And cut it middlin’ short, because it’s better for us to be down there a-whoopin’ up the mournin’ than up here givin’ ‘em a chance to talk us over.”
“Well, this is it, Capet. I ain’t easy; I ain’t comfortable. That doctor lays on my mind. I wanted to know your plans. I’ve got a notion, and I think it’s a sound one.”
“What is it, duke?”
“That we better glide out of this before three in the morning, and clip it down the river with what we’ve got. Specially, seeing we got it so easy — given back to us, flung at our heads, as you may say, when of course we allowed to have to steal it back. I’m for knocking off and lighting out.”
That made me feel pretty bad. About an hour or two ago it would a been a little different, but now it made me feel bad and disappointed, The king rips out and says:
“What! And not sell out the rest o’ the property? March off like a passel of fools and leave eight or nine thous’n’ dollars’ worth o’ property layin’ around jest sufferin’ to be scooped in? — and all good, salable stuff, too.”
The duke he grumbled; said the bag of gold was enough, and he didn’t want to go no deeper — didn’t want to rob a lot of orphans of everything they had.
“Why, how you talk!” says the king. “We sha’n’t rob ‘em of nothing at all but jest this money. The people that buys the property is the suff’rers; because as soon ‘s it’s found out ‘at we didn’t own it — which won’t be long after we’ve slid — the sale won’t be valid, and it ‘ll all go back to the estate. These yer orphans ‘ll git their house back agin, and that’s enough for them; they’re young and spry, and k’n easy earn a livin’. they ain’t a-goin to suffer. Why, jest think — there’s thous’n’s and thous’n’s that ain’t nigh so well off. Bless you, they ain’t got noth’n’ to complain of.”
Well, the king he talked him blind; so at last he give in, and said all right, but said he believed it was blamed foolishness to stay, and that doctor hanging over them. But the king says:
“Cuss the doctor! What do we k’yer for him? Hain’t we got all the fools in town on our side? And ain’t that a big enough majority in any town?”
So they got ready to go down stairs again. The duke says:
“I don’t think we put that money in a good place.”
That cheered me up. I’d begun to think I warn’t going to get a hint of no kind to help me. The king says:
“Because Mary Jane ‘ll be in mourning from this out; and first you know the nigger that does up the rooms will get an order to box these duds up and put ‘em away; and do you reckon a nigger can run across money and not borrow some of it?”
“Your head’s level agin, duke,” says the king; and he comes a-fumbling under the curtain two or three foot from where I was. I stuck tight to the wall and kept mighty still, though quivery; and I wondered what them fellows would say to me if they catched me; and I tried to think what I’d better do if they did catch me. But the king he got the bag before I could think more than about a half a thought, and he never suspicioned I was around. They took and shoved the bag through a rip in the straw tick that was under the feather-bed, and crammed it in a foot or two amongst the straw and said it was all right now, because a nigger only makes up the feather-bed, and don’t turn over the straw tick only about twice a year, and so it warn’t in no danger of getting stole now.
But I knowed better. I had it out of there before they was half-way down stairs. I groped along up to my cubby, and hid it there till I could get a chance to do better. I judged I better hide it outside of the house somewheres, because if they missed it they would give the house a good ransacking: I knowed that very well. Then I turned in, with my clothes all on; but I couldn’t a gone to sleep if I’d a wanted to, I was in such a sweat to get through with the business. By and by I heard the king and the duke come up; so I rolled off my pallet and laid with my chin at the top of my ladder, and waited to see if anything was going to happen. But nothing did.
So I held on till all the late sounds had quit and the early ones hadn’t begun yet; and then I slipped down the ladder.
I crept to their doors and listened; they was snoring. So I tiptoed along, and got down stairs all right. There warn’t a sound anywheres. I peeped through a crack of the dining-room door, and see the men that was watching the corpse all sound asleep on their chairs. The door was open into the parlor, where the corpse was laying, and there was a candle in both rooms. I passed along, and the parlor door was open; but I see there warn’t nobody in there but the remainders of Peter; so I shoved on by; but the front door was locked, and the key wasn’t there. Just then I heard somebody coming down the stairs, back behind me. I run in the parlor and took a swift look around, and the only place I see to hide the bag was in the coffin. The lid was shoved along about a foot, showing the dead man’s face down in there, with a wet cloth over it, and his shroud on. I tucked the money-bag in under the lid, just down beyond where his hands was crossed, which made me creep, they was so cold, and then I run back across the room and in behind the door.
The person coming was Mary Jane. She went to the coffin, very soft, and kneeled down and looked in; then she put up her handkerchief, and I see she begun to cry, though I couldn’t hear her, and her back was to me. I slid out, and as I passed the dining-room I thought I’d make sure them watchers hadn’t seen me; so I looked through the crack, and everything was all right. They hadn’t stirred.
I slipped up to bed, feeling ruther blue, on accounts of the thing playing out that way after I had took so much trouble and run so much resk about it. Says I, if it could stay where it is, all right; because when we get down the river a hundred mile or two I could write back to Mary Jane, and she could dig him up again and get it; but that ain’t the thing that’s going to happen; the thing that’s going to happen is, the money ‘ll be found when they come to screw on the lid. Then the king ‘ll get it again, and it ‘ll be a long day before he gives anybody another chance to smouch it from him. Of course I wanted to slide down and get it out of there, but I dasn’t try it. Every minute it was getting earlier now, and pretty soon some of them watchers would begin to stir, and I might get catched — catched with six thousand dollars in my hands that nobody hadn’t hired me to take care of. I don’t wish to be mixed up in no such business as that, I says to myself.
When I got down stairs in the morning the parlor was shut up, and the watchers was gone. There warn’t nobody around but the family and the widow Bartley and our tribe. I watched their faces to see if anything had been happening, but I couldn’t tell.
Towards the middle of the day the undertaker come with his man, and they set the coffin in the middle of the room on a couple of chairs, and then set all our chairs in rows, and borrowed more from the neighbors till the hall and the parlor and the dining-room was full. I see the coffin lid was the way it was before, but I dasn’t go to look in under it, with folks around.
Then the people begun to flock in, and the beats and the girls took seats in the front row at the head of the coffin, and for a half an hour the people filed around slow, in single rank, and looked down at the dead man’s face a minute, and some dropped in a tear, and it was all very still and solemn, only the girls and the beats holding handkerchiefs to their eyes and keeping their heads bent, and sobbing a little. There warn’t no other sound but the scraping of the feet on the floor and blowing noses — because people always blows them more at a funeral than they do at other places except church.
When the place was packed full the undertaker he slid around in his black gloves with his softy soothering ways, putting on the last touches, and getting people and things all ship-shape and comfortable, and making no more sound than a cat. He never spoke; he moved people around, he squeezed in late ones, he opened up passageways, and done it with nods, and signs with his hands. Then he took his place over against the wall. He was the softest, glidingest, stealthiest man I ever see; and there warn’t no more smile to him than there is to a ham.
They had borrowed a melodeum — a sick one; and when everything was ready a young woman set down and worked it, and it was pretty skreeky and colicky, and everybody joined in and sung, and Peter was the only one that had a good thing, according to my notion. Then the Reverend Hobson opened up, slow and solemn, and begun to talk; and straight off the most outrageous row busted out in the cellar a body ever heard; it was only one dog, but he made a most powerful racket, and he kept it up right along; the parson he had to stand there, over the coffin, and wait — you couldn’t hear yourself think. It was right down awkward, and nobody didn’t seem to know what to do. But pretty soon they see that long-legged undertaker make a sign to the preacher as much as to say, “Don’t you worry — just depend on me.” Then he stooped down and begun to glide along the wall, just his shoulders showing over the people’s heads. So he glided along, and the powwow and racket getting more and more outrageous all the time; and at last, when he had gone around two sides of the room, he disappears down cellar. Then in about two seconds we heard a whack, and the dog he finished up with a most amazing howl or two, and then everything was dead still, and the parson begun his solemn talk where he left off. In a minute or two here comes this undertaker’s back and shoulders gliding along the wall again; and so he glided and glided around three sides of the room, and then rose up, and shaded his mouth with his hands, and stretched his neck out towards the preacher, over the people’s heads, and says, in a kind of a coarse whisper, “He had a rat!” Then he drooped down and glided along the wall again to his place. You could see it was a great satisfaction to the people, because naturally they wanted to know. A little thing like that don’t cost nothing, and it’s just the little things that makes a man to be looked up to and liked. There warn’t no more popular man in town than what that undertaker was.
Well, the funeral sermon was very good, but pison long and tiresome; and then the king he shoved in and got off some of his usual rubbage, and at last the job was through, and the undertaker begun to sneak up on the coffin with his screw-driver. I was in a sweat then, and watched him pretty keen. But he never meddled at all; just slid the lid along as soft as mush, and screwed it down tight and fast. So there I was! I didn’t know whether the money was in there or not. So, says I, s’pose somebody has hogged that bag on the sly? — now how do I know whether to write to Mary Jane or not? S’pose she dug him up and didn’t find nothing, what would she think of me? Blame it, I says, I might get hunted up and jailed; I’d better lay low and keep dark, and not write at all; the thing’s awful mixed now; trying to better it, I’ve worsened it a hundred times, and I wish to goodness I’d just let it alone, dad fetch the whole business!
They buried him, and we come back home, and I went to watching faces again — I couldn’t help it, and I couldn’t rest easy. But nothing come of it; the faces didn’t tell me nothing.
The king he visited around in the evening, and sweetened everybody up, and made himself ever so friendly; and he give out the idea that his congregation over in England would be in a sweat about him, so he must hurry and settle up the estate right away and leave for home. He was very sorry he was so pushed, and so was everybody; they wished he could stay longer, but they said they could see it couldn’t be done. And he said of course him and William would take the girls home with them; and that pleased everybody too, because then the girls would be well fixed and amongst their own relations; and it pleased the girls, too — tickled them so they clean forgot they ever had a trouble in the world; and told him to sell out as quick as he wanted to, they would be ready. Them poor things was that glad and happy it made my heart ache to see them getting fooled and lied to so, but I didn’t see no safe way for me to chip in and change the general tune.
Well, blamed if the king didn’t bill the house and the niggers and all the property for auction straight off — sale two days after the funeral; but anybody could buy private beforehand if they wanted to.
So the next day after the funeral, along about noon-time, the girls’ joy got the first jolt. A couple of nigger traders come along, and the king sold them the niggers reasonable, for three-day drafts as they called it, and away they went, the two sons up the river to Memphis, and their mother down the river to Orleans. I thought them poor girls and them niggers would break their hearts for grief; they cried around each other, and took on so it most made me down sick to see it. The girls said they hadn’t ever dreamed of seeing the family separated or sold away from the town. I can’t ever get it out of my memory, the sight of them poor miserable girls and niggers hanging around each other’s necks and crying; and I reckon I couldn’t a stood it all, but would a had to bust out and tell on our gang if I hadn’t knowed the sale warn’t no account and the niggers would be back home in a week or two.
The thing made a big stir in the town, too, and a good many come out flatfooted and said it was scandalous to separate the mother and the children that way. It injured the frauds some; but the old fool he bulled right along, spite of all the duke could say or do, and I tell you the duke was powerful uneasy.
Next day was auction day. About broad day in the morning the king and the duke come up in the garret and woke me up, and I see by their look that there was trouble. The king says:
“Was you in my room night before last?”
“No, your majesty” — which was the way I always called him when nobody but our gang warn’t around.
“Was you in there yisterday er last night?”
“No, your majesty.”
“Honor bright, now — no lies.”
“Honor bright, your majesty, I’m telling you the truth. I hain’t been a-near your room since Miss Mary Jane took you and the duke and showed it to you.”
The duke says:
“Have you seen anybody else go in there?”
“No, your grace, not as I remember, I believe.”
“Stop and think.”
I studied awhile and see my chance; then I says:
“Well, I see the niggers go in there several times.”
Both of them gave a little jump, and looked like they hadn’t ever expected it, and then like they had. Then the duke says:
“What, all of them?”
“No — leastways, not all at once — that is, I don’t think I ever see them all come out at once but just one time.”
“Hello! When was that?”
“It was the day we had the funeral. In the morning. It warn’t early, because I overslept. I was just starting down the ladder, and I see them.”
“Well, go on, go on! What did they do? How’d they act?”
“They didn’t do nothing. And they didn’t act anyway much, as fur as I see. They tiptoed away; so I seen, easy enough, that they’d shoved in there to do up your majesty’s room, or something, s’posing you was up; and found you warn’t up, and so they was hoping to slide out of the way of trouble without waking you up, if they hadn’t already waked you up.”
“Great guns, this is a go!” says the king; and both of them looked pretty sick and tolerable silly. They stood there a-thinking and scratching their heads a minute, and the duke he bust into a kind of a little raspy chuckle, and says:
“It does beat all how neat the niggers played their hand. They let on to be sorry they was going out of this region! And I believed they was sorry, and so did you, and so did everybody. Don’t ever tell me any more that a nigger ain’t got any histrionic talent. Why, the way they played that thing it would fool anybody. In my opinion, there’s a fortune in ‘em. If I had capital and a theater, I wouldn’t want a better lay-out than that — and here we’ve gone and sold ‘em for a song. Yes, and ain’t privileged to sing the song yet. Say, where is that song — that draft?”
“In the bank for to be collected. Where would it be?”
“Well, that’s all right then, thank goodness.”
Says I, kind of timid-like:
“Is something gone wrong?”
The king whirls on me and rips out:
“None o’ your business! You keep your head shet, and mind y’r own affairs — if you got any. Long as you’re in this town don’t you forgit that — you hear?” Then he says to the duke, “We got to jest swaller it and say noth’n’: mum’s the word for us.”
As they was starting down the ladder the duke he chuckles again, and says:
“Quick sales and small profits! It’s a good business — yes.”
The king snarls around on him and says:
“I was trying to do for the best in sellin’ ‘em out so quick. If the profits has turned out to be none, lackin’ considable, and none to carry, is it my fault any more’n it’s yourn?”
“Well, they’d be in this house yet and we wouldn’t if I could a got my advice listened to.”
The king sassed back as much as was safe for him, and then swapped around and lit into me again. He give me down the banks for not coming and telling him I see the niggers come out of his room acting that way — said any fool would a knowed something was up. And then waltzed in and cussed himself awhile, and said it all come of him not laying late and taking his natural rest that morning, and he’d be blamed if he’d ever do it again. So they went off a-jawing; and I felt dreadful glad I’d worked it all off on to the niggers, and yet hadn’t done the niggers no harm by it.
BY and by it was getting-up time. So I come down the ladder and started for down-stairs; but as I come to the girls’ room the door was open, and I see Mary Jane setting by her old hair trunk, which was open and she’d been packing things in it — getting ready to go to England. But she had stopped now with a folded gown in her lap, and had her face in her hands, crying. I felt awful bad to see it; of course anybody would. I went in there and says:
“Miss Mary Jane, you can’t a-bear to see people in trouble, and I can’t — most always. Tell me about it.”
So she done it. And it was the niggers — I just expected it. She said the beautiful trip to England was most about spoiled for her; she didn’t know how she was ever going to be happy there, knowing the mother and the children warn’t ever going to see each other no more — and then busted out bitterer than ever, and flung up her hands, and says:
“Oh, dear, dear, to think they ain’t ever going to see each other any more!”
“But they will — and inside of two weeks — and I know it!” says I.
Laws, it was out before I could think! And before I could budge she throws her arms around my neck and told me to say it again, say it again, say it again!
I see I had spoke too sudden and said too much, and was in a close place. I asked her to let me think a minute; and she set there, very impatient and excited and handsome, but looking kind of happy and eased-up, like a person that’s had a tooth pulled out. So I went to studying it out. I says to myself, I reckon a body that ups and tells the truth when he is in a tight place is taking considerable many resks, though I ain’t had no experience, and can’t say for certain; but it looks so to me, anyway; and yet here’s a case where I’m blest if it don’t look to me like the truth is better and actuly safer than a lie. I must lay it by in my mind, and think it over some time or other, it’s so kind of strange and unregular. I never see nothing like it. Well, I says to myself at last, I’m a-going to chance it; I’ll up and tell the truth this time, though it does seem most like setting down on a kag of powder and touching it off just to see where you’ll go to. Then I says:
“Miss Mary Jane, is there any place out of town a little ways where you could go and stay three or four days?”
“Yes; Mr. Lothrop’s. Why?”
“Never mind why yet. If I’ll tell you how I know the niggers will see each other again inside of two weeks — here in this house — and prove how I know it — will you go to Mr. Lothrop’s and stay four days?”
“Four days!” she says; “I’ll stay a year!”
“All right,” I says, “I don’t want nothing more out of you than just your word — I druther have it than another man’s kiss-the-Bible.” She smiled and reddened up very sweet, and I says, “If you don’t mind it, I’ll shut the door — and bolt it.”
Then I come back and set down again, and says:
“Don’t you holler. Just set still and take it like a man. I got to tell the truth, and you want to brace up, Miss Mary, because it’s a bad kind, and going to be hard to take, but there ain’t no help for it. These uncles of yourn ain’t no uncles at all; they’re a couple of frauds — regular dead-beats. There, now we’re over the worst of it, you can stand the rest middling easy.”
It jolted her up like everything, of course; but I was over the shoal water now, so I went right along, her eyes a-blazing higher and higher all the time, and told her every blame thing, from where we first struck that young fool going up to the steamboat, clear through to where she flung herself on to the king’s breast at the front door and he kissed her sixteen or seventeen times — and then up she jumps, with her face afire like sunset, and says:
“The brute! Come, don’t waste a minute — not a second — we’ll have them tarred and feathered, and flung in the river!”
“Cert’nly. But do you mean before you go to Mr. Lothrop’s, or — “
“Oh,” she says, “what am I thinking about!” she says, and set right down again. “Don’t mind what I said — please don’t — you won’t, now, will you?” Laying her silky hand on mine in that kind of a way that I said I would die first. “I never thought, I was so stirred up,” she says; “now go on, and I won’t do so any more. You tell me what to do, and whatever you say I’ll do it.”
“Well,” I says, “it’s a rough gang, them two frauds, and I’m fixed so I got to travel with them a while longer, whether I want to or not — I druther not tell you why; and if you was to blow on them this town would get me out of their claws, and I’d be all right; but there’d be another person that you don’t know about who’d be in big trouble. Well, we got to save him, hain’t we? Of course. Well, then, we won’t blow on them.”
Saying them words put a good idea in my head. I see how maybe I could get me and Jim rid of the frauds; get them jailed here, and then leave. But I didn’t want to run the raft in the daytime without anybody aboard to answer questions but me; so I didn’t want the plan to begin working till pretty late to-night. I says:
“Miss Mary Jane, I’ll tell you what we’ll do, and you won’t have to stay at Mr. Lothrop’s so long, nuther. How fur is it?”
“A little short of four miles — right out in the country, back here.”
“Well, that ‘ll answer. Now you go along out there, and lay low till nine or half-past to-night, and then get them to fetch you home again — tell them you’ve thought of something. If you get here before eleven put a candle in this window, and if I don’t turn up wait till eleven, and then if I don’t turn up it means I’m gone, and out of the way, and safe. Then you come out and spread the news around, and get these beats jailed.”
“Good,” she says, “I’ll do it.”
“And if it just happens so that I don’t get away, but get took up along with them, you must up and say I told you the whole thing beforehand, and you must stand by me all you can.”
“Stand by you! indeed I will. They sha’n’t touch a hair of your head!” she says, and I see her nostrils spread and her eyes snap when she said it, too.
“If I get away I sha’n’t be here,” I says, “to prove these rapscallions ain’t your uncles, and I couldn’t do it if I was here. I could swear they was beats and bummers, that’s all, though that’s worth something. Well, there’s others can do that better than what I can, and they’re people that ain’t going to be doubted as quick as I’d be. I’ll tell you how to find them. Gimme a pencil and a piece of paper. There — ‘Royal Nonesuch, Bricksville.’ Put it away, and don’t lose it. When the court wants to find out something about these two, let them send up to Bricksville and say they’ve got the men that played the Royal Nonesuch, and ask for some witnesses — why, you’ll have that entire town down here before you can hardly wink, Miss Mary. And they’ll come a-biling, too.”
I judged we had got everything fixed about right now. So I says:
“Just let the auction go right along, and don’t worry. Nobody don’t have to pay for the things they buy till a whole day after the auction on accounts of the short notice, and they ain’t going out of this till they get that money; and the way we’ve fixed it the sale ain’t going to count, and they ain’t going to get no money. It’s just like the way it was with the niggers — it warn’t no sale, and the niggers will be back before long. Why, they can’t collect the money for the niggers yet — they’re in the worst kind of a fix, Miss Mary.”
“Well,” she says, “I’ll run down to breakfast now, and then I’ll start straight for Mr. Lothrop’s.”
“’Deed, that ain’t the ticket, Miss Mary Jane,” I says, “by no manner of means; go before breakfast.”
“What did you reckon I wanted you to go at all for, Miss Mary?”
“Well, I never thought — and come to think, I don’t know. What was it?”
“Why, it’s because you ain’t one of these leather-face people. I don’t want no better book than what your face is. A body can set down and read it off like coarse print. Do you reckon you can go and face your uncles when they come to kiss you good-morning, and never — “
“There, there, don’t! Yes, I’ll go before breakfast — I’ll be glad to. And leave my sisters with them?”
“Yes; never mind about them. They’ve got to stand it yet a while. They might suspicion something if all of you was to go. I don’t want you to see them, nor your sisters, nor nobody in this town; if a neighbor was to ask how is your uncles this morning your face would tell something. No, you go right along, Miss Mary Jane, and I’ll fix it with all of them. I’ll tell Miss Susan to give your love to your uncles and say you’ve went away for a few hours for to get a little rest and change, or to see a friend, and you’ll be back to-night or early in the morning.”
“Gone to see a friend is all right, but I won’t have my love given to them.”
“Well, then, it sha’n’t be.” It was well enough to tell her so — no harm in it. It was only a little thing to do, and no trouble; and it’s the little things that smooths people’s roads the most, down here below; it would make Mary Jane comfortable, and it wouldn’t cost nothing. Then I says: “There’s one more thing — that bag of money.”
“Well, they’ve got that; and it makes me feel pretty silly to think how they got it.”
“No, you’re out, there. They hain’t got it.”
“Why, who’s got it?”
“I wish I knowed, but I don’t. I had it, because I stole it from them; and I stole it to give to you; and I know where I hid it, but I’m afraid it ain’t there no more. I’m awful sorry, Miss Mary Jane, I’m just as sorry as I can be; but I done the best I could; I did honest. I come nigh getting caught, and I had to shove it into the first place I come to, and run — and it warn’t a good place.”
“Oh, stop blaming yourself — it’s too bad to do it, and I won’t allow it — you couldn’t help it; it wasn’t your fault. Where did you hide it?”
I didn’t want to set her to thinking about her troubles again; and I couldn’t seem to get my mouth to tell her what would make her see that corpse laying in the coffin with that bag of money on his stomach. So for a minute I didn’t say nothing; then I says:
“I’d ruther not tell you where I put it, Miss Mary Jane, if you don’t mind letting me off; but I’ll write it for you on a piece of paper, and you can read it along the road to Mr. Lothrop’s, if you want to. Do you reckon that ‘ll do?”
So I wrote: “I put it in the coffin. It was in there when you was crying there, away in the night. I was behind the door, and I was mighty sorry for you, Miss Mary Jane.”
It made my eyes water a little to remember her crying there all by herself in the night, and them devils laying there right under her own roof, shaming her and robbing her; and when I folded it up and give it to her I see the water come into her eyes, too; and she shook me by the hand, hard, and says:
“Good-bye. I’m going to do everything just as you’ve told me; and if I don’t ever see you again, I sha’n’t ever forget you and I’ll think of you a many and a many a time, and I’ll pray for you, too!” — and she was gone.
Pray for me! I reckoned if she knowed me she’d take a job that was more nearer her size. But I bet she done it, just the same — she was just that kind. She had the grit to pray for Judus if she took the notion — there warn’t no back-down to her, I judge. You may say what you want to, but in my opinion she had more sand in her than any girl I ever see; in my opinion she was just full of sand. It sounds like flattery, but it ain’t no flattery. And when it comes to beauty — and goodness, too — she lays over them all. I hain’t ever seen her since that time that I see her go out of that door; no, I hain’t ever seen her since, but I reckon I’ve thought of her a many and a many a million times, and of her saying she would pray for me; and if ever I’d a thought it would do any good for me to pray for her, blamed if I wouldn’t a done it or bust.
Well, Mary Jane she lit out the back way, I reckon; because nobody see her go. When I struck Susan and the hare-lip, I says:
“What’s the name of them people over on t’other side of the river that you all goes to see sometimes?”
“There’s several; but it’s the Proctors, mainly.”
“That’s the name,” I says; “I most forgot it. Well, Miss Mary Jane she told me to tell you she’s gone over there in a dreadful hurry — one of them’s sick.”
“I don’t know; leastways, I kinder forget; but I thinks it’s — “
“Sakes alive, I hope it ain’t Hanner?”
“I’m sorry to say it,” I says, “but Hanner’s the very one.”
“My goodness, and she so well only last week! Is she took bad?”
“It ain’t no name for it. They set up with her all night, Miss Mary Jane said, and they don’t think she’ll last many hours.”
“Only think of that, now! What’s the matter with her?”
I couldn’t think of anything reasonable, right off that way, so I says:
“Mumps your granny! They don’t set up with people that’s got the mumps.”
“They don’t, don’t they? You better bet they do with these mumps. These mumps is different. It’s a new kind, Miss Mary Jane said.”
“How’s it a new kind?”
“Because it’s mixed up with other things.”
“What other things?”
“Well, measles, and whooping-cough, and erysiplas, and consumption, and yaller janders, and brain-fever, and I don’t know what all.”
“My land! And they call it the mumps?”
“That’s what Miss Mary Jane said.”
“Well, what in the nation do they call it the mumps for?”
“Why, because it is the mumps. That’s what it starts with.”
“Well, ther’ ain’t no sense in it. A body might stump his toe, and take pison, and fall down the well, and break his neck, and bust his brains out, and somebody come along and ask what killed him, and some numskull up and say, ‘Why, he stumped his toe.’ Would ther’ be any sense in that? No. And ther’ ain’t no sense in this, nuther. Is it ketching?”
“Is it ketching? Why, how you talk. Is a harrow catching — in the dark? If you don’t hitch on to one tooth, you’re bound to on another, ain’t you? And you can’t get away with that tooth without fetching the whole harrow along, can you? Well, these kind of mumps is a kind of a harrow, as you may say — and it ain’t no slouch of a harrow, nuther, you come to get it hitched on good.”
“Well, it’s awful, I think,” says the hare-lip. “I’ll go to Uncle Harvey and — “
“Oh, yes,” I says, “I would. Of course I would. I wouldn’t lose no time.”
“Well, why wouldn’t you?”
“Just look at it a minute, and maybe you can see. Hain’t your uncles obleegd to get along home to England as fast as they can? And do you reckon they’d be mean enough to go off and leave you to go all that journey by yourselves? you know they’ll wait for you. So fur, so good. Your uncle Harvey’s a preacher, ain’t he? Very well, then; is a preacher going to deceive a steamboat clerk? is he going to deceive a ship clerk? — so as to get them to let Miss Mary Jane go aboard? Now you know he ain’t. What will he do, then? Why, he’ll say, ‘It’s a great pity, but my church matters has got to get along the best way they can; for my niece has been exposed to the dreadful pluribus-unum mumps, and so it’s my bounden duty to set down here and wait the three months it takes to show on her if she’s got it.’ But never mind, if you think it’s best to tell your uncle Harvey — “
“Shucks, and stay fooling around here when we could all be having good times in England whilst we was waiting to find out whether Mary Jane’s got it or not? Why, you talk like a muggins.”
“Well, anyway, maybe you’d better tell some of the neighbors.”
“Listen at that, now. You do beat all for natural stupidness. Can’t you see that they’d go and tell? Ther’ ain’t no way but just to not tell anybody at all.”
“Well, maybe you’re right — yes, I judge you are right.”
“But I reckon we ought to tell Uncle Harvey she’s gone out a while, anyway, so he won’t be uneasy about her?”
“Yes, Miss Mary Jane she wanted you to do that. She says, ‘Tell them to give Uncle Harvey and William my love and a kiss, and say I’ve run over the river to see Mr.’ — Mr. — what is the name of that rich family your uncle Peter used to think so much of? — I mean the one that — “
“Why, you must mean the Apthorps, ain’t it?”
“Of course; bother them kind of names, a body can’t ever seem to remember them, half the time, somehow. Yes, she said, say she has run over for to ask the Apthorps to be sure and come to the auction and buy this house, because she allowed her uncle Peter would ruther they had it than anybody else; and she’s going to stick to them till they say they’ll come, and then, if she ain’t too tired, she’s coming home; and if she is, she’ll be home in the morning anyway. She said, don’t say nothing about the Proctors, but only about the Apthorps — which ‘ll be perfectly true, because she is going there to speak about their buying the house; I know it, because she told me so herself.”
“All right,” they said, and cleared out to lay for their uncles, and give them the love and the kisses, and tell them the message.
Everything was all right now. The girls wouldn’t say nothing because they wanted to go to England; and the king and the duke would ruther Mary Jane was off working for the auction than around in reach of Doctor Robinson. I felt very good; I judged I had done it pretty neat — I reckoned Tom Sawyer couldn’t a done it no neater himself. Of course he would a throwed more style into it, but I can’t do that very handy, not being brung up to it.
Well, they held the auction in the public square, along towards the end of the afternoon, and it strung along, and strung along, and the old man he was on hand and looking his level pisonest, up there longside of the auctioneer, and chipping in a little Scripture now and then, or a little goody-goody saying of some kind, and the duke he was around goo-gooing for sympathy all he knowed how, and just spreading himself generly.
But by and by the thing dragged through, and everything was sold — everything but a little old trifling lot in the graveyard. So they’d got to work that off — I never see such a girafft as the king was for wanting to swallow everything. Well, whilst they was at it a steamboat landed, and in about two minutes up comes a crowd a-whooping and yelling and laughing and carrying on, and singing out:
“Here’s your opposition line! here’s your two sets o’ heirs to old Peter Wilks — and you pays your money and you takes your choice!”
THEY was fetching a very nice-looking old gentleman along, and a nice-looking younger one, with his right arm in a sling. And, my souls, how the people yelled and laughed, and kept it up. But I didn’t see no joke about it, and I judged it would strain the duke and the king some to see any. I reckoned they’d turn pale. But no, nary a pale did they turn. The duke he never let on he suspicioned what was up, but just went a goo-gooing around, happy and satisfied, like a jug that’s googling out buttermilk; and as for the king, he just gazed and gazed down sorrowful on them new-comers like it give him the stomach-ache in his very heart to think there could be such frauds and rascals in the world. Oh, he done it admirable. Lots of the principal people gethered around the king, to let him see they was on his side. That old gentleman that had just come looked all puzzled to death. Pretty soon he begun to speak, and I see straight off he pronounced like an Englishman — not the king’s way, though the king’s was pretty good for an imitation. I can’t give the old gent’s words, nor I can’t imitate him; but he turned around to the crowd, and says, about like this:
“This is a surprise to me which I wasn’t looking for; and I’ll acknowledge, candid and frank, I ain’t very well fixed to meet it and answer it; for my brother and me has had misfortunes; he’s broke his arm, and our baggage got put off at a town above here last night in the night by a mistake. I am Peter Wilks’ brother Harvey, and this is his brother William, which can’t hear nor speak — and can’t even make signs to amount to much, now’t he’s only got one hand to work them with. We are who we say we are; and in a day or two, when I get the baggage, I can prove it. But up till then I won’t say nothing more, but go to the hotel and wait.”
So him and the new dummy started off; and the king he laughs, and blethers out:
“Broke his arm — very likely, ain’t it? — and very convenient, too, for a fraud that’s got to make signs, and ain’t learnt how. Lost their baggage! That’s mighty good! — and mighty ingenious — under the circumstances!”
So he laughed again; and so did everybody else, except three or four, or maybe half a dozen. One of these was that doctor; another one was a sharp-looking gentleman, with a carpet-bag of the old-fashioned kind made out of carpet-stuff, that had just come off of the steamboat and was talking to him in a low voice, and glancing towards the king now and then and nodding their heads — it was Levi Bell, the lawyer that was gone up to Louisville; and another one was a big rough husky that come along and listened to all the old gentleman said, and was listening to the king now. And when the king got done this husky up and says:
“Say, looky here; if you are Harvey Wilks, when’d you come to this town?”
“The day before the funeral, friend,” says the king.
“But what time o’ day?”
“In the evenin’ — ‘bout an hour er two before sundown.”
“How’d you come?”
“I come down on the Susan Powell from Cincinnati.”
“Well, then, how’d you come to be up at the Pint in the mornin’ — in a canoe?”
“I warn’t up at the Pint in the mornin’.”
“It’s a lie.”
Several of them jumped for him and begged him not to talk that way to an old man and a preacher.
“Preacher be hanged, he’s a fraud and a liar. He was up at the Pint that mornin’. I live up there, don’t I? Well, I was up there, and he was up there. I see him there. He come in a canoe, along with Tim Collins and a boy.”
The doctor he up and says:
“Would you know the boy again if you was to see him, Hines?”
“I reckon I would, but I don’t know. Why, yonder he is, now. I know him perfectly easy.”
It was me he pointed at. The doctor says:
“Neighbors, I don’t know whether the new couple is frauds or not; but if these two ain’t frauds, I am an idiot, that’s all. I think it’s our duty to see that they don’t get away from here till we’ve looked into this thing. Come along, Hines; come along, the rest of you. We’ll take these fellows to the tavern and affront them with t’other couple, and I reckon we’ll find outsomething before we get through.”
It was nuts for the crowd, though maybe not for the king’s friends; so we all started. It was about sundown. The doctor he led me along by the hand, and was plenty kind enough, but he never let go my hand.
We all got in a big room in the hotel, and lit up some candles, and fetched in the new couple. First, the doctor says:
“I don’t wish to be too hard on these two men, but I think they’re frauds, and they may have complices that we don’t know nothing about. If they have, won’t the complices get away with that bag of gold Peter Wilks left? It ain’t unlikely. If these men ain’t frauds, they won’t object to sending for that money and letting us keep it till they prove they’re all right — ain’t that so?”
Everybody agreed to that. So I judged they had our gang in a pretty tight place right at the outstart. But the king he only looked sorrowful, and says:
“Gentlemen, I wish the money was there, for I ain’t got no disposition to throw anything in the way of a fair, open, out-and-out investigation o’ this misable business; but, alas, the money ain’t there; you k’n send and see, if you want to.”
“Where is it, then?”
“Well, when my niece give it to me to keep for her I took and hid it inside o’ the straw tick o’ my bed, not wishin’ to bank it for the few days we’d be here, and considerin’ the bed a safe place, we not bein’ used to niggers, and suppos’n’ ‘em honest, like servants in England. The niggers stole it the very next mornin’ after I had went down stairs; and when I sold ‘em I hadn’t missed the money yit, so they got clean away with it. My servant here k’n tell you ‘bout it, gentlemen.”
The doctor and several said “Shucks!” and I see nobody didn’t altogether believe him. One man asked me if I see the niggers steal it. I said no, but I see them sneaking out of the room and hustling away, and I never thought nothing, only I reckoned they was afraid they had waked up my master and was trying to get away before he made trouble with them. That was all they asked me. Then the doctor whirls on me and says:
“Are you English, too?”
I says yes; and him and some others laughed, and said, “Stuff!”
Well, then they sailed in on the general investigation, and there we had it, up and down, hour in, hour out, and nobody never said a word about supper, nor ever seemed to think about it — and so they kept it up, and kept it up; and it was the worst mixed-up thing you ever see. They made the king tell his yarn, and they made the old gentleman tell his’n; and anybody but a lot of prejudiced chuckleheads would a seen that the old gentleman was spinning truth and t’other one lies. And by and by they had me up to tell what I knowed. The king he give me a left-handed look out of the corner of his eye, and so I knowed enough to talk on the right side. I begun to tell about Sheffield, and how we lived there, and all about the English Wilkses, and so on; but I didn’t get pretty fur till the doctor begun to laugh; and Levi Bell, the lawyer, says:
“Set down, my boy; I wouldn’t strain myself if I was you. I reckon you ain’t used to lying, it don’t seem to come handy; what you want is practice. You do it pretty awkward.”
I didn’t care nothing for the compliment, but I was glad to be let off, anyway.
The doctor he started to say something, and turns and says:
“If you’d been in town at first, Levi Bell — “ The king broke in and reached out his hand, and says:
“Why, is this my poor dead brother’s old friend that he’s wrote so often about?”
The lawyer and him shook hands, and the lawyer smiled and looked pleased, and they talked right along awhile, and then got to one side and talked low; and at last the lawyer speaks up and says:
“That ‘ll fix it. I’ll take the order and send it, along with your brother’s, and then they’ll know it’s all right.”
So they got some paper and a pen, and the king he set down and twisted his head to one side, and chawed his tongue, and scrawled off something; and then they give the pen to the duke — and then for the first time the duke looked sick. But he took the pen and wrote. So then the lawyer turns to the new old gentleman and says:
“You and your brother please write a line or two and sign your names.”
The old gentleman wrote, but nobody couldn’t read it. The lawyer looked powerful astonished, and says:
“Well, it beats me” — and snaked a lot of old letters out of his pocket, and examined them, and then examined the old man’s writing, and then them again; and then says: “These old letters is from Harvey Wilks; and here’s these two handwritings, and anybody can see they didn’t write them” (the king and the duke looked sold and foolish, I tell you, to see how the lawyer had took them in), “and here’s this old gentleman’s hand writing, and anybody can tell, easy enough, he didn’t write them — fact is, the scratches he makes ain’t properly writing at all. Now, here’s some letters from — “
The new old gentleman says:
“If you please, let me explain. Nobody can read my hand but my brother there — so he copies for me. It’s his hand you’ve got there, not mine.”
“Well!” says the lawyer, “this is a state of things. I’ve got some of William’s letters, too; so if you’ll get him to write a line or so we can com — “
“He can’t write with his left hand,” says the old gentleman. “If he could use his right hand, you would see that he wrote his own letters and mine too. Look at both, please — they’re by the same hand.”
The lawyer done it, and says:
“I believe it’s so — and if it ain’t so, there’s a heap stronger resemblance than I’d noticed before, anyway. Well, well, well! I thought we was right on the track of a solution, but it’s gone to grass, partly. But anyway, one thing is proved — these two ain’t either of ‘em Wilkses” — and he wagged his head towards the king and the duke.
Well, what do you think? That muleheaded old fool wouldn’t give in then! Indeed he wouldn’t. Said it warn’t no fair test. Said his brother William was the cussedest joker in the world, and hadn’t tried to write — he see William was going to play one of his jokes the minute he put the pen to paper. And so he warmed up and went warbling and warbling right along till he was actuly beginning to believe what he was saying himself; but pretty soon the new gentleman broke in, and says:
“I’ve thought of something. Is there anybody here that helped to lay out my br — helped to lay out the late Peter Wilks for burying?”
“Yes,” says somebody, “me and Ab Turner done it. We’re both here.”
Then the old man turns towards the king, and says:
“Perhaps this gentleman can tell me what was tattooed on his breast?”
Blamed if the king didn’t have to brace up mighty quick, or he’d a squshed down like a bluff bank that the river has cut under, it took him so sudden; and, mind you, it was a thing that was calculated to make most anybody sqush to get fetched such a solid one as that without any notice, because how was he going to know what was tattooed on the man? He whitened a little; he couldn’t help it; and it was mighty still in there, and everybody bending a little forwards and gazing at him. Says I to myself, now he’ll throw up the sponge — there ain’t no more use. Well, did he? A body can’t hardly believe it, but he didn’t. I reckon he thought he’d keep the thing up till he tired them people out, so they’d thin out, and him and the duke could break loose and get away. Anyway, he set there, and pretty soon he begun to smile, and says:
“Mf! It’s a very tough question, ain’t it! yes, sir, I k’n tell you what’s tattooed on his breast. It’s jest a small, thin, blue arrow — that’s what it is; and if you don’t look clost, you can’t see it. now what do you say — hey?”
Well, I never see anything like that old blister for clean out-and-out cheek.
The new old gentleman turns brisk towards Ab Turner and his pard, and his eye lights up like he judged he’d got the king this time, and says:
“There — you’ve heard what he said! Was there any such mark on Peter Wilks’ breast?”
Both of them spoke up and says:
“We didn’t see no such mark.”
“Good!” says the old gentleman. “Now, what you did see on his breast was a small dim P, and a B (which is an initial he dropped when he was young), and a W, with dashes between them, so: P — B — W” — and he marked them that way on a piece of paper. “Come, ain’t that what you saw?”
Both of them spoke up again, and says:
“No, we didn’t. We never seen any marks at all.”
Well, everybody was in a state of mind now, and they sings out:
“The whole bilin’ of ‘m ‘s frauds! Le’s duck ‘em! le’s drown ‘em! le’s ride ‘em on a rail!” and everybody was whooping at once, and there was a rattling powwow. But the lawyer he jumps on the table and yells, and says:
“Gentlemen — gentlemen! Hear me just a word — just a single word — if you please! There’s one way yet — let’s go and dig up the corpse and look.”
That took them.
“Hooray!” they all shouted, and was starting right off; but the lawyer and the doctor sung out:
“Hold on, hold on! Collar all these four men and the boy, and fetch them along, too!”
“We’ll do it!” they all shouted; “and if we don’t find them marks we’ll lynch the whole gang!”
I was scared, now, I tell you. But there warn’t no getting away, you know. They gripped us all, and marched us right along, straight for the graveyard, which was a mile and a half down the river, and the whole town at our heels, for we made noise enough, and it was only nine in the evening.
As we went by our house I wished I hadn’t sent Mary Jane out of town; because now if I could tip her the wink she’d light out and save me, and blow on our dead-beats.
Well, we swarmed along down the river road, just carrying on like wildcats; and to make it more scary the sky was darking up, and the lightning beginning to wink and flitter, and the wind to shiver amongst the leaves. This was the most awful trouble and most dangersome I ever was in; and I was kinder stunned; everything was going so different from what I had allowed for; stead of being fixed so I could take my own time if I wanted to, and see all the fun, and have Mary Jane at my back to save me and set me free when the close-fit come, here was nothing in the world betwixt me and sudden death but just them tattoo-marks. If they didn’t find them —
I couldn’t bear to think about it; and yet, somehow, I couldn’t think about nothing else. It got darker and darker, and it was a beautiful time to give the crowd the slip; but that big husky had me by the wrist — Hines — and a body might as well try to give Goliar the slip. He dragged me right along, he was so excited, and I had to run to keep up.
When they got there they swarmed into the graveyard and washed over it like an overflow. And when they got to the grave they found they had about a hundred times as many shovels as they wanted, but nobody hadn’t thought to fetch a lantern. But they sailed into digging anyway by the flicker of the lightning, and sent a man to the nearest house, a half a mile off, to borrow one.
So they dug and dug like everything; and it got awful dark, and the rain started, and the wind swished and swushed along, and the lightning come brisker and brisker, and the thunder boomed; but them people never took no notice of it, they was so full of this business; and one minute you could see everything and every face in that big crowd, and the shovelfuls of dirt sailing up out of the grave, and the next second the dark wiped it all out, and you couldn’t see nothing at all.
At last they got out the coffin and begun to unscrew the lid, and then such another crowding and shouldering and shoving as there was, to scrouge in and get a sight, you never see; and in the dark, that way, it was awful. Hines he hurt my wrist dreadful pulling and tugging so, and I reckon he clean forgot I was in the world, he was so excited and panting.
All of a sudden the lightning let go a perfect sluice of white glare, and somebody sings out:
“By the living jingo, here’s the bag of gold on his breast!”
Hines let out a whoop, like everybody else, and dropped my wrist and give a big surge to bust his way in and get a look, and the way I lit out and shinned for the road in the dark there ain’t nobody can tell.
I had the road all to myself, and I fairly flew — leastways, I had it all to myself except the solid dark, and the now-and-then glares, and the buzzing of the rain, and the thrashing of the wind, and the splitting of the thunder; and sure as you are born I did clip it along!
When I struck the town I see there warn’t nobody out in the storm, so I never hunted for no back streets, but humped it straight through the main one; and when I begun to get towards our house I aimed my eye and set it. No light there; the house all dark — which made me feel sorry and disappointed, I didn’t know why. But at last, just as I was sailing by, flash comes the light in Mary Jane’s window! and my heart swelled up sudden, like to bust; and the same second the house and all was behind me in the dark, and wasn’t ever going to be before me no more in this world. She was the best girl I ever see, and had the most sand.
The minute I was far enough above the town to see I could make the towhead, I begun to look sharp for a boat to borrow, and the first time the lightning showed me one that wasn’t chained I snatched it and shoved. It was a canoe, and warn’t fastened with nothing but a rope. The towhead was a rattling big distance off, away out there in the middle of the river, but I didn’t lose no time; and when I struck the raft at last I was so fagged I would a just laid down to blow and gasp if I could afforded it. But I didn’t. As I sprung aboard I sung out:
“Out with you, Jim, and set her loose! Glory be to goodness, we’re shut of them!”
Jim lit out, and was a-coming for me with both arms spread, he was so full of joy; but when I glimpsed him in the lightning my heart shot up in my mouth and I went overboard backwards; for I forgot he was old King Lear and a drownded A-rab all in one, and it most scared the livers and lights out of me. But Jim fished me out, and was going to hug me and bless me, and so on, he was so glad I was back and we was shut of the king and the duke, but I says:
“Not now; have it for breakfast, have it for breakfast! Cut loose and let her slide!”
So in two seconds away we went a-sliding down the river, and it did seem so good to be free again and all by ourselves on the big river, and nobody to bother us. I had to skip around a bit, and jump up and crack my heels a few times — I couldn’t help it; but about the third crack I noticed a sound that I knowed mighty well, and held my breath and listened and waited; and sure enough, when the next flash busted out over the water, here they come! — and just a-laying to their oars and making their skiff hum! It was the king and the duke.
So I wilted right down on to the planks then, and give up; and it was all I could do to keep from crying.
WHEN they got aboard the king went for me, and shook me by the collar, and says:
“Tryin’ to give us the slip, was ye, you pup! Tired of our company, hey?”
“No, your majesty, we warn’t — please don’t, your majesty!”
“Quick, then, and tell us what was your idea, or I’ll shake the insides out o’ you!”
“Honest, I’ll tell you everything just as it happened, your majesty. The man that had a-holt of me was very good to me, and kept saying he had a boy about as big as me that died last year, and he was sorry to see a boy in such a dangerous fix; and when they was all took by surprise by finding the gold, and made a rush for the coffin, he lets go of me and whispers, ‘Heel it now, or they’ll hang ye, sure!’ and I lit out. It didn’t seem no good for me to stay — I couldn’t do nothing, and I didn’t want to be hung if I could get away. So I never stopped running till I found the canoe; and when I got here I told Jim to hurry, or they’d catch me and hang me yet, and said I was afeard you and the duke wasn’t alive now, and I was awful sorry, and so was Jim, and was awful glad when we see you coming; you may ask Jim if I didn’t.”
Jim said it was so; and the king told him to shut up, and said, “Oh, yes, it’s mighty likely!” and shook me up again, and said he reckoned he’d drownd me. But the duke says:
“Leggo the boy, you old idiot! Would you a done any different? Did you inquire around for him when you got loose? I don’t remember it.”
So the king let go of me, and begun to cuss that town and everybody in it. But the duke says:
“You better a blame’ sight give yourself a good cussing, for you’re the one that’s entitled to it most. You hain’t done a thing from the start that had any sense in it, except coming out so cool and cheeky with that imaginary blue-arrow mark. That was bright — it was right down bully; and it was the thing that saved us. For if it hadn’t been for that they’d a jailed us till them Englishmen’s baggage come — and then — the penitentiary, you bet! But that trick took ‘em to the graveyard, and the gold done us a still bigger kindness; for if the excited fools hadn’t let go all holts and made that rush to get a look we’d a slept in our cravats to-night — cravats warranted to wear, too — longer than we’d need ‘em.”
They was still a minute — thinking; then the king says, kind of absent-minded like:
“Mf! And we reckoned the niggers stole it!”
That made me squirm!
“Yes,” says the duke, kinder slow and deliberate and sarcastic, “we did.”
After about a half a minute the king drawls out:
“Leastways, I did.”
The duke says, the same way:
“On the contrary, I did.”
The king kind of ruffles up, and says:
“Looky here, Bilgewater, what’r you referrin’ to?”
The duke says, pretty brisk:
“When it comes to that, maybe you’ll let me ask, what was you referring to?”
“Shucks!” says the king, very sarcastic; “but I don’t know — maybe you was asleep, and didn’t know what you was about.”
The duke bristles up now, and says:
“Oh, let up on this cussed nonsense; do you take me for a blame’ fool? Don’t you reckon I know who hid that money in that coffin?”
“Yes, sir! I know you do know, because you done it yourself!”
“It’s a lie!” — and the duke went for him. The king sings out:
“Take y’r hands off! — leggo my throat! — I take it all back!”
The duke says:
“Well, you just own up, first, that you did hide that money there, intending to give me the slip one of these days, and come back and dig it up, and have it all to yourself.”
“Wait jest a minute, duke — answer me this one question, honest and fair; if you didn’t put the money there, say it, and I’ll b’lieve you, and take back everything I said.”
“You old scoundrel, I didn’t, and you know I didn’t. There, now!”
“Well, then, I b’lieve you. But answer me only jest this one more — now don’t git mad; didn’t you have it in your mind to hook the money and hide it?”
The duke never said nothing for a little bit; then he says:
“Well, I don’t care if I did, I didn’t do it, anyway. But you not only had it in mind to do it, but you done it.”
“I wisht I never die if I done it, duke, and that’s honest. I won’t say I warn’t goin’ to do it, because I was; but you — I mean somebody — got in ahead o’ me.”
“It’s a lie! You done it, and you got to say you done it, or — “
The king began to gurgle, and then he gasps out:
“’Nough! — I own up!”
I was very glad to hear him say that; it made me feel much more easier than what I was feeling before. So the duke took his hands off and says:
“If you ever deny it again I’ll drown you. It’s well for you to set there and blubber like a baby — it’s fitten for you, after the way you’ve acted. I never see such an old ostrich for wanting to gobble everything — and I a-trusting you all the time, like you was my own father. You ought to been ashamed of yourself to stand by and hear it saddled on to a lot of poor niggers, and you never say a word for ‘em. It makes me feel ridiculous to think I was soft enough to believe that rubbage. Cuss you, I can see now why you was so anxious to make up the deffisit — you wanted to get what money I’d got out of the Nonesuch and one thing or another, and scoop it all!”
The king says, timid, and still a-snuffling:
“Why, duke, it was you that said make up the deffisit; it warn’t me.”
“Dry up! I don’t want to hear no more out of you!” says the duke. “And now you see what you GOT by it. They’ve got all their own money back, and all of ourn but a shekel or twobesides. G’long to bed, and don’t you deffersit me no more deffersits, long ‘s you live!”
So the king sneaked into the wigwam and took to his bottle for comfort, and before long the duke tackled HIS bottle; and so in about a half an hour they was as thick as thieves again, and the tighter they got the lovinger they got, and went off a-snoring in each other’s arms. They both got powerful mellow, but I noticed the king didn’t get mellow enough to forget to remember to not deny about hiding the money-bag again. That made me feel easy and satisfied. Of course when they got to snoring we had a long gabble, and I told Jim everything.
WE dasn’t stop again at any town for days and days; kept right along down the river. We was down south in the warm weather now, and a mighty long ways from home. We begun to come to trees with Spanish moss on them, hanging down from the limbs like long, gray beards. It was the first I ever see it growing, and it made the woods look solemn and dismal. So now the frauds reckoned they was out of danger, and they begun to work the villages again.
First they done a lecture on temperance; but they didn’t make enough for them both to get drunk on. Then in another village they started a dancing-school; but they didn’t know no more how to dance than a kangaroo does; so the first prance they made the general public jumped in and pranced them out of town. Another time they tried to go at yellocution; but they didn’t yellocute long till the audience got up and give them a solid good cussing, and made them skip out. They tackled missionarying, and mesmerizing, and doctoring, and telling fortunes, and a little of everything; but they couldn’t seem to have no luck. So at last they got just about dead broke, and laid around the raft as she floated along, thinking and thinking, and never saying nothing, by the half a day at a time, and dreadful blue and desperate.
And at last they took a change and begun to lay their heads together in the wigwam and talk low and confidential two or three hours at a time. Jim and me got uneasy. We didn’t like the look of it. We judged they was studying up some kind of worse deviltry than ever. We turned it over and over, and at last we made up our minds they was going to break into somebody’s house or store, or was going into the counterfeit-money business, or something. So then we was pretty scared, and made up an agreement that we wouldn’t have nothing in the world to do with such actions, and if we ever got the least show we would give them the cold shake and clear out and leave them behind. Well, early one morning we hid the raft in a good, safe place about two mile below a little bit of a shabby village named Pikesville, and the king he went ashore and told us all to stay hid whilst he went up to town and smelt around to see if anybody had got any wind of the Royal Nonesuch there yet. (“House to rob, you mean,” says I to myself; “and when you get through robbing it you’ll come back here and wonder what has become of me and Jim and the raft — and you’ll have to take it out in wondering.”) And he said if he warn’t back by midday the duke and me would know it was all right, and we was to come along.
So we stayed where we was. The duke he fretted and sweated around, and was in a mighty sour way. He scolded us for everything, and we couldn’t seem to do nothing right; he found fault with every little thing. Something was a-brewing, sure. I was good and glad when midday come and no king; we could have a change, anyway — and maybe a chance for the change on top of it. So me and the duke went up to the village, and hunted around there for the king, and by and by we found him in the back room of a little low doggery, very tight, and a lot of loafers bullyragging him for sport, and he a-cussing and a-threatening with all his might, and so tight he couldn’t walk, and couldn’t do nothing to them. The duke he begun to abuse him for an old fool, and the king begun to sass back, and the minute they was fairly at it I lit out and shook the reefs out of my hind legs, and spun down the river road like a deer, for I see our chance; and I made up my mind that it would be a long day before they ever see me and Jim again. I got down there all out of breath but loaded up with joy, and sung out:
“Set her loose, Jim! we’re all right now!”
But there warn’t no answer, and nobody come out of the wigwam. Jim was gone! I set up a shout — and then another — and then another one; and run this way and that in the woods, whooping and screeching; but it warn’t no use — old Jim was gone. Then I set down and cried; I couldn’t help it. But I couldn’t set still long. Pretty soon I went out on the road, trying to think what I better do, and I run across a boy walking, and asked him if he’d seen a strange nigger dressed so and so, and he says:
“Whereabouts?” says I.
“Down to Silas Phelps’ place, two mile below here. He’s a runaway nigger, and they’ve got him. Was you looking for him?”
“You bet I ain’t! I run across him in the woods about an hour or two ago, and he said if I hollered he’d cut my livers out — and told me to lay down and stay where I was; and I done it. Been there ever since; afeard to come out.”
“Well,” he says, “you needn’t be afeard no more, becuz they’ve got him. He run off f’m down South, som’ers.”
“It’s a good job they got him.”
“Well, I reckon! There’s two hunderd dollars reward on him. It’s like picking up money out’n the road.”
“Yes, it is — and I could a had it if I’d been big enough; I see him first. Who nailed him?”
“It was an old fellow — a stranger — and he sold out his chance in him for forty dollars, becuz he’s got to go up the river and can’t wait. Think o’ that, now! You bet I’d wait, if it was seven year.”
“That’s me, every time,” says I. “But maybe his chance ain’t worth no more than that, if he’ll sell it so cheap. Maybe there’s something ain’t straight about it.”
“But it is, though — straight as a string. I see the handbill myself. It tells all about him, to a dot — paints him like a picture, and tells the plantation he’s frum, below Newrleans. No-sirree-bob, they ain’t no trouble ‘bout that speculation, you bet you. Say, gimme a chaw tobacker, won’t ye?”
I didn’t have none, so he left. I went to the raft, and set down in the wigwam to think. But I couldn’t come to nothing. I thought till I wore my head sore, but I couldn’t see no way out of the trouble. After all this long journey, and after all we’d done for them scoundrels, here it was all come to nothing, everything all busted up and ruined, because they could have the heart to serve Jim such a trick as that, and make him a slave again all his life, and amongst strangers, too, for forty dirty dollars.
Once I said to myself it would be a thousand times better for Jim to be a slave at home where his family was, as long as he’d got to be a slave, and so I’d better write a letter to Tom Sawyer and tell him to tell Miss Watson where he was. But I soon give up that notion for two things: she’d be mad and disgusted at his rascality and ungratefulness for leaving her, and so she’d sell him straight down the river again; and if she didn’t, everybody naturally despises an ungrateful nigger, and they’d make Jim feel it all the time, and so he’d feel ornery and disgraced. And then think of me! It would get all around that Huck Finn helped a nigger to get his freedom; and if I was ever to see anybody from that town again I’d be ready to get down and lick his boots for shame. That’s just the way: a person does a low-down thing, and then he don’t want to take no consequences of it. Thinks as long as he can hide it, it ain’t no disgrace. That was my fix exactly. The more I studied about this the more my conscience went to grinding me, and the more wicked and low-down and ornery I got to feeling. And at last, when it hit me all of a sudden that here was the plain hand of Providence slapping me in the face and letting me know my wickedness was being watched all the time from up there in heaven, whilst I was stealing a poor old woman’s nigger that hadn’t ever done me no harm, and now was showing me there’s One that’s always on the lookout, and ain’t a-going to allow no such miserable doings to go only just so fur and no further, I most dropped in my tracks I was so scared. Well, I tried the best I could to kinder soften it up somehow for myself by saying I was brung up wicked, and so I warn’t so much to blame; but something inside of me kept saying, “There was the Sunday-school, you could a gone to it; and if you’d a done it they’d a learnt you there that people that acts as I’d been acting about that nigger goes to everlasting fire.”
It made me shiver. And I about made up my mind to pray, and see if I couldn’t try to quit being the kind of a boy I was and be better. So I kneeled down. But the words wouldn’t come. Why wouldn’t they? It warn’t no use to try and hide it from Him. Nor from me, neither. I knowed very well why they wouldn’t come. It was because my heart warn’t right; it was because I warn’t square; it was because I was playing double. I was letting on to give up sin, but away inside of me I was holding on to the biggest one of all. I was trying to make my mouth say I would do the right thing and the clean thing, and go and write to that nigger’s owner and tell where he was; but deep down in me I knowed it was a lie, and He knowed it. You can’t pray a lie — I found that out.
So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn’t know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I’ll go and write the letter — and then see if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:
Miss Watson, your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send.
I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn’t do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking — thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, ‘stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and such-like times; and would always call me honey, and pet me and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had small-pox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he’s got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper.
It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:
“All right, then, I’ll go to hell” — and tore it up.
It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. I shoved the whole thing out of my head, and said I would take up wickedness again, which was in my line, being brung up to it, and the other warn’t. And for a starter I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too; because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog.
Then I set to thinking over how to get at it, and turned over some considerable many ways in my mind; and at last fixed up a plan that suited me. So then I took the bearings of a woody island that was down the river a piece, and as soon as it was fairly dark I crept out with my raft and went for it, and hid it there, and then turned in. I slept the night through, and got up before it was light, and had my breakfast, and put on my store clothes, and tied up some others and one thing or another in a bundle, and took the canoe and cleared for shore. I landed below where I judged was Phelps’s place, and hid my bundle in the woods, and then filled up the canoe with water, and loaded rocks into her and sunk her where I could find her again when I wanted her, about a quarter of a mile below a little steam sawmill that was on the bank.
Then I struck up the road, and when I passed the mill I see a sign on it, “Phelps’s Sawmill,” and when I come to the farm-houses, two or three hundred yards further along, I kept my eyes peeled, but didn’t see nobody around, though it was good daylight now. But I didn’t mind, because I didn’t want to see nobody just yet — I only wanted to get the lay of the land. According to my plan, I was going to turn up there from the village, not from below. So I just took a look, and shoved along, straight for town. Well, the very first man I see when I got there was the duke. He was sticking up a bill for the Royal Nonesuch — three-night performance — like that other time. They had the cheek, them frauds! I was right on him before I could shirk. He looked astonished, and says:
“Hel-lo! Where’d you come from?” Then he says, kind of glad and eager, “Where’s the raft? — got her in a good place?”
“Why, that’s just what I was going to ask your grace.”
Then he didn’t look so joyful, and says:
“What was your idea for asking me?” he says.
“Well,” I says, “when I see the king in that doggery yesterday I says to myself, we can’t get him home for hours, till he’s soberer; so I went a-loafing around town to put in the time and wait. A man up and offered me ten cents to help him pull a skiff over the river and back to fetch a sheep, and so I went along; but when we was dragging him to the boat, and the man left me a-holt of the rope and went behind him to shove him along, he was too strong for me and jerked loose and run, and we after him. We didn’t have no dog, and so we had to chase him all over the country till we tired him out. We never got him till dark; then we fetched him over, and I started down for the raft. When I got there and see it was gone, I says to myself, ‘They’ve got into trouble and had to leave; and they’ve took my nigger, which is the only nigger I’ve got in the world, and now I’m in a strange country, and ain’t got no property no more, nor nothing, and no way to make my living;’ so I set down and cried. I slept in the woods all night. But what did become of the raft, then? — and Jim — poor Jim!”
“Blamed if I know — that is, what’s become of the raft. That old fool had made a trade and got forty dollars, and when we found him in the doggery the loafers had matched half-dollars with him and got every cent but what he’d spent for whisky; and when I got him home late last night and found the raft gone, we said, ‘That little rascal has stole our raft and shook us, and run off down the river.’”
“I wouldn’t shake my nigger, would I? — the only nigger I had in the world, and the only property.”
“We never thought of that. Fact is, I reckon we’d come to consider him our nigger; yes, we did consider him so — goodness knows we had trouble enough for him. So when we see the raft was gone and we flat broke, there warn’t anything for it but to try the Royal Nonesuch another shake. And I’ve pegged along ever since, dry as a powder-horn. Where’s that ten cents? Give it here.”
I had considerable money, so I give him ten cents, but begged him to spend it for something to eat, and give me some, because it was all the money I had, and I hadn’t had nothing to eat since yesterday. He never said nothing. The next minute he whirls on me and says:
“Do you reckon that nigger would blow on us? We’d skin him if he done that!”
“How can he blow? Hain’t he run off?”
“No! That old fool sold him, and never divided with me, and the money’s gone.”
“Sold him?” I says, and begun to cry; “why, he was my nigger, and that was my money. Where is he? — I want my nigger.”
“Well, you can’t get your nigger, that’s all — so dry up your blubbering. Looky here — do you think you’d venture to blow on us? Blamed if I think I’d trust you. Why, if you was to blow on us — “
He stopped, but I never see the duke look so ugly out of his eyes before. I went on a-whimpering, and says:
“I don’t want to blow on nobody; and I ain’t got no time to blow, nohow. I got to turn out and find my nigger.”
He looked kinder bothered, and stood there with his bills fluttering on his arm, thinking, and wrinkling up his forehead. At last he says:
“I’ll tell you something. We got to be here three days. If you’ll promise you won’t blow, and won’t let the nigger blow, I’ll tell you where to find him.”
So I promised, and he says:
“A farmer by the name of Silas Ph — “ and then he stopped. You see, he started to tell me the truth; but when he stopped that way, and begun to study and think again, I reckoned he was changing his mind. And so he was. He wouldn’t trust me; he wanted to make sure of having me out of the way the whole three days. So pretty soon he says:
“The man that bought him is named Abram Foster — Abram G. Foster — and he lives forty mile back here in the country, on the road to Lafayette.”
“All right,” I says, “I can walk it in three days. And I’ll start this very afternoon.”
“No you wont, you’ll start now; and don’t you lose any time about it, neither, nor do any gabbling by the way. Just keep a tight tongue in your head and move right along, and then you won’t get into trouble with us, d’ye hear?”
That was the order I wanted, and that was the one I played for. I wanted to be left free to work my plans.
“So clear out,” he says; “and you can tell Mr. Foster whatever you want to. Maybe you can get him to believe that Jim is your nigger — some idiots don’t require documents — leastways I’ve heard there’s such down South here. And when you tell him the handbill and the reward’s bogus, maybe he’ll believe you when you explain to him what the idea was for getting ‘em out. Go ‘long now, and tell him anything you want to; but mind you don’t work your jaw any between here and there.”
So I left, and struck for the back country. I didn’t look around, but I kinder felt like he was watching me. But I knowed I could tire him out at that. I went straight out in the country as much as a mile before I stopped; then I doubled back through the woods towards Phelps’. I reckoned I better start in on my plan straight off without fooling around, because I wanted to stop Jim’s mouth till these fellows could get away. I didn’t want no trouble with their kind. I’d seen all I wanted to of them, and wanted to get entirely shut of them.