All say, "How hard it is that we have to die" -- a strange complaint to come from the mouths of people who have had to live. -- <Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar.>
When angry, count four; when very angry, swear. -- <Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar.>
Every now and then, after Tom went to bed, he had sudden wakings out of his sleep, and his first thought was, "Oh, joy, it was all a dream!" Then he laid himself heavily down again, with a groan and the muttered words, "A nigger! I am a nigger! Oh, I wish I was dead!"
He woke at dawn with one more repetition of this horror, and then he resolved to meddle no more with that treacherous sleep. He began to think. Sufficiently bitter thinkings they were. They wandered along something after this fashion:
"Why were niggers <and> whites made? What crime did the uncreated first nigger commit that the curse of birth was decreed for him? And why is this awful difference made between white and black? .... How hard the nigger's fate seems, this morning! -- yet until last night such a thought never entered my head."
He sighed and groaned an hour or more away. Then "Chambers" came humbly in to say that breakfast was nearly ready. "Tom" blushed scarlet to see this aristocratic white youth cringe to him, a nigger, and call him "Young Marster." He said roughly --
"Get out of my sight!" and when the youth was gone, he muttered, "He has done me no harm, poor wretch, but he is an eyesore to me now, for he is Driscoll the young gentleman, and I am a - oh, I wish I was dead!"
A gigantic irruption, like that of Krakatoa a few years ago, with the accompanying earthquakes, tidal waves, and clouds of volcanic dust, changes the face of the surrounding landscape beyond recognition, bringing down the high lands, elevating the low, making fair lakes where deserts had been, and deserts where green prairies had smiled before. The tremendous catastrophe which had befallen Tom had changed his moral landscape in much the same way. Some of his low places he found lifted to ideals, some of his ideals had sunk to the valleys, and lay there with the sackcloth and ashes of pumice-stone and sulphur on their ruined heads.
For days he wandered in lonely places, thinking, thinking, thinking -- trying to get his bearings. It was new work. If he met a friend, he found that the habit of a lifetime had in some mysterious way vanished -- his arm hung limp, instead of involuntarily extending the hand for a shake. It was the "nigger" in him asserting its humility, and he blushed and was abashed. And the "nigger" in him was surprised when the white friend put out his hand for a shake with him. He found the "nigger" in him involuntarily giving the road, on the sidewalk, to the white rowdy and loafer. When Rowena, the dearest thing his heart knew, the idol of his secret worship, invited him in, the "nigger" in him made an embarrassed excuse and was afraid to enter and sit with the dread white folks on equal terms. The "nigger" in him went shrinking and skulking here and there and yonder, and fancying it saw suspicion and maybe detection in all faces, tones, and gestures. So strange and uncharacteristic was Tom's conduct that people noticed it, and turned to look after him when he passed on; and when he glanced back -- as he could not help doing, in spite of his best resistance -- and caught that puzzled expression in a person's face, it gave him a sick feeling, and he took himself out of view as quickly as he could. He presently came to have a hunted sense and a hunted look, and then he fled away to the hilltops and the solitudes. He said to himself that the curse of Ham was upon him.
He dreaded his meals; the "nigger" in him was ashamed to sit at the white folks' table, and feared discovery all the time; and once when Judge Driscoll said, "What 's the matter with you? You look as meek as a nigger," he felt as secret murderers are said to feel when the accuser says, "Thou art the man!" Tom said he was not well, and left the table.
His ostensible "aunt's" solicitudes and endearments were become a terror to him, and he avoided them.
And all the time, hatred of his ostensible "uncle" was steadily growing in his heart; for he said to himself, "He is white; and I am his chattel, his property, his goods, and he can sell me, just as he could his dog."
For as much as a week after this, Tom imagined that his character had undergone a pretty radical change. But that was because he did not know himself.
In several ways his opinions were totally changed, and would never go back to what they were before, but the main structure of his character was not changed, and could not be changed. One or two very important features of it were altered, and in time effects would result from this, if opportunity offered -- effects of a quite serious nature, too. Under the influence of a great mental and moral upheaval his character and habits had taken on the appearance of complete change, but after a while with the subsidence of the storm both began to settle toward their former places. He dropped gradually back into his old frivolous and easy-going ways and conditions of feeling and manner of speech, and no familiar of his could have detected anything in him that differentiated him from the weak and careless Tom of other days.
The theft-raid which he had made upon the village turned out better than he had ventured to hope. It produced the sum necessary to pay his gaming-debts, and saved him from exposure to his uncle and another smashing of the will. He and his mother learned to like each other fairly well. She couldn't love him, as yet, because there "warn't nothing <to> him," as she expressed it, but her nature needed something or somebody to rule over, and he was better than nothing. Her strong character and aggressive and commanding ways compelled Tom's admiration in spite of the fact that he got more illustrations of them than he needed for his comfort. However, as a rule her conversation was made up of racy tattle about the privacies of the chief families of the town (for she went harvesting among their kitchens every time she came to the village), and Tom enjoyed this. It was just in his line. She always collected her half of his pension punctually, and he was always at the haunted house to have a chat with her on these occasions. Every now and then she paid him a visit there on between-days also.
Occasionally he would run up to St. Louis for a few weeks, and at last temptation caught him again. He won a lot of money, but lost it, and with it a deal more besides, which he promised to raise as soon as possible.
For this purpose he projected a new raid on his town. He never meddled with any other town, for he was afraid to venture into houses whose ins and outs he did not know and the habits of whose households he was not acquainted with. He arrived at the haunted house in disguise on the Wednesday before the advent of the twins -- after writing his aunt Pratt that he would not arrive until two days after -- and lay in hiding there with his mother until toward daylight Friday morning, when he went to his uncle's house and entered by the back way with his own key, and slipped up to his room, where he could have the use of mirror and toilet articles. He had a suit of girl's clothes with him in a bundle as a disguise for his raid, and was wearing a suit of his mother's clothing, with black gloves and veil. By dawn he was tricked out for his raid, but he caught a glimpse of Pudd'nhead Wilson through the window over the way, and knew that Pudd'n-head had caught a glimpse of him. So he entertained Wilson with some airs and graces and attitudes for a while, then stepped out of sight and resumed the other disguise, and by and by went down and out the back way and started down town to reconnoiter the scene of his intended labors.
But he was ill at ease. He had changed back to Roxy's dress, with the stoop of age added to the disguise, so that Wilson would not bother himself about a humble old woman leaving a neighbor's house by the back way in the early morning, in case he was still spying. But supposing Wilson had seen him leave, and had thought it suspicious, and had also followed him? The thought made Tom cold. He gave up the raid for the day, and hurried back to the haunted house by the obscurest route he knew. His mother was gone; but she came back, by and by, with the news of the grand reception at Patsy Cooper's, and soon persuaded him that the opportunity was like a special providence, it was so inviting and perfect. So he went raiding, after all, and made a nice success of it while everybody was gone to Patsy Cooper's. Success gave him nerve and even actual intrepidity; insomuch, indeed, that after he had conveyed his harvest to his mother in a back alley, he went to the reception himself, and added several of the valuables of that house to his takings.
AFTER this long digression we have now arrived once more at the point where Pudd'nhead Wilson, while waiting for the arrival of the twins on that same Friday evening, sat puzzling over the strange apparition of that morning -- a girl in young Tom Driscoll's bedroom; fretting, and guessing, and puzzling over it, and wondering who the shameless creature might be.
There are three infallible ways of pleasing an author, and the three form a rising scale of compliment: 1, to tell him you have read one of his books; 2, to tell him you have read all of his books; 3, to ask him to let you read the manuscript of his forthcoming book. No. 1 admits you to his respect; No. 2 admits you to his admiration; No. 3 carries you clear into his heart. -- <Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar.>
As to the Adjective: when in doubt, strike it out. -- <Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar.>
The twins arrived presently, and talk began. It flowed along chattily and sociably, and under its influence the new friendship gathered ease and strength. Wilson got out his Calendar, by request, and read a passage or two from it, which the twins praised quite cordially. This pleased the author so much that he complied gladly when they asked him to lend them a batch of the work to read at home. In the course of their wide travels they had found out that there are three sure ways of pleasing an author; they were now working the best of the three.
There was an interruption, now. Young Tom Driscoll appeared, and joined the party. He pretended to be seeing the distinguished strangers for the first time when they rose to shake hands; but this was only a blind, as he had already had a glimpse of them at the reception, while robbing the house. The twins made mental note that he was smooth-faced and rather handsome, and smooth and undulatory in his movements -- graceful, in fact. Angelo thought he had a good eye; Luigi thought there was something veiled and sly about it. Angelo thought he had a pleasant free-and-easy way of talking; Luigi thought it was more so than was agreeable. Angelo thought he was a sufficiently nice young man; Luigi reserved his decision. Tom's first contribution to the conversation was a question which he had put to Wilson a hundred times before. It was always cheerily and good-naturedly put, and always inflicted a little pang, for it touched a secret sore; but this time the pang was sharp, since strangers were present.
"Well, how does the law come on? Had a case yet?"
Wilson bit his lip, but answered, "No -- not yet," with as much indifference as he could assume. Judge Driscoll had generously left the law feature out of the Wilson biography which he had furnished to the twins. Young Tom laughed pleasantly, and said:
"Wilson 's a lawyer, gentlemen, but he doesn't practise now."
The sarcasm bit, but Wilson kept himself under control, and said without passion:
"I don't practise, it is true. It is true that I have never had a case, and have had to earn a poor living for twenty years as an expert accountant in a town where I can't get hold of a set of books to untangle as often as I should like. But it is also true that I did fit myself well for the practice of the law. By the time I was your age, Tom, I had chosen a profession, and was soon competent to enter upon it." Tom winced. "I never got a chance to try my hand at it, and I may never get a chance; and yet if I ever do get it I shall be found ready, for I have kept up my law-studies all these years."
"That 's it; that 's good grit! I like to see it. I 've a notion to throw all my business your way. My business and your law-practice ought to make a pretty gay team, Dave," and the young fellow laughed again.
"If you will throw -- " Wilson had thought of the girl in Tom's bedroom, and was going to say, "If you will throw the surreptitious and disreputable part of your business my way, it may amount to something"; but thought better of it and said, "However, this matter doesn't fit well in a general conversation."
"All right, we'll change the subject; I guess you were about to give me another dig, anyway, so I'm willing to change. How 's the Awful Mystery flourishing these days? Wilson 's got a scheme for driving plain window-glass out of the market by decorating it with greasy finger-marks, and getting rich by selling it at famine prices to the crowned heads over in Europe to outfit their palaces with. Fetch it out, Dave."
Wilson brought three of his glass strips, and said --
"I get the subject to pass the fingers of his right hand through his hair, so as to get a little coating of the natural oil on them, and then press the balls of them on the glass. A fine and delicate print of the lines in the skin results, and is permanent, if it doesn't come in contact with something able to rub it off. You begin, Tom."
"Why, I think you took my finger-marks once or twice before."
"Yes; but you were a little boy the last time, only about twelve years old."
"That 's so. Of course I 've changed entirely since then, and variety is what the crowned heads want, I guess."
He passed his fingers through his crop of short hair, and pressed them one at a time on the glass. Angelo made a print of his fingers on another glass, and Luigi followed with the third. Wilson marked the glasses with names and date, and put them away. Tom gave one of his little laughs, and said --
"I thought I wouldn't say anything, but if variety is what you are after, you have wasted a piece of glass. The hand-print of one twin is the same as the hand-print of the fellow-twin."
"Well, it 's done now, and I like to have them both, anyway," said Wilson, returning to his place.
"But look here, Dave," said Tom, "you used to tell people's fortunes, too, when you took their finger-marks. Dave 's just an all-round genius -- a genius of the first water, gentlemen; a great scientist running to seed here in this village, a prophet with the kind of honor that prophets generally get at home -- for here they don't give shucks for his scientifics, and they call his skull a notion-factory -- hey, Dave, ain't it so? But never mind; he'll make his mark some day -- finger- ark, you know, he-he! But really, you want to let him take a shy at your palms once; it 's worth twice the price of admission or your money 's returned at the door. Why, he'll read your wrinkles as easy as a book, and not only tell you fifty or sixty things that 's going to happen to you, but fifty or sixty thousand that ain't. Come, Dave, show the gentlemen what an inspired Jack-at-all- cience we 've got in this town, and don't know it."
Wilson winced under this nagging and not very courteous chaff, and the twins suffered with him and for him. They rightly judged, now, that the best way to relieve him would be to take the thing in earnest and treat it with respect, ignoring Tom's rather overdone raillery; so Luigi said --
"We have seen something of palmistry in our wanderings, and know very well what astonishing things it can do. If it isn't a science, and one of the greatest of them, too, I don't know what its other name ought to be. In the Orient -- "
Tom looked surprised and incredulous. He said --
"That juggling a science? But really, you ain't serious, are you?"
"Yes, entirely so. Four years ago we had our hands read out to us as if our palms had been covered with print."
"Well, do you mean to say there was actually anything in it?" asked Tom, his incredulity beginning to weaken a little.
"There was this much in it," said Angelo; "what was told us of our characters was minutely exact -- we could not have bettered it ourselves. Next, two or three memorable things that had happened to us were laid bare -- things which no one present but ourselves could have known about."
"Why, it 's rank sorcery!" exclaimed Tom, who was now becoming very much interested. "And how did they make out with what was going to happen to you in the future?"
"On the whole, quite fairly," said Luigi. "Two or three of the most striking things foretold have happened since; much the most striking one of all happened within that same year. Some of the minor prophecies have come true; some of the minor and some of the major ones have not been fulfilled yet, and of course may never be: still, I should be more surprised if they failed to arrive than if they didn't."
Tom was entirely sobered, and profoundly impressed. He said, apologetically --
"Dave, I wasn't meaning to belittle that science; I was only chaffing -- chattering, I reckon I 'd better say. I wish you would look at their palms. Come, won't you?"
"Why, certainly, if you want me to; but you know I've had no chance to become an expert, and don't claim to be one. When a past event is somewhat prominently recorded in the palm I can generally detect that, but minor ones often escape me, -- not always, of course, but often, -- but I haven't much confidence in myself when it comes to reading the future. I am talking as if palmistry was a daily study with me, but that is not so. I haven't examined half a dozen hands in the last half dozen years; you see, the people got to joking about it, and I stopped to let the talk die down. I'll tell you what we'll do, Count Luigi: I'll make a try at your past, and if I have any success there -- no, on the whole, I'll let the future alone; that 's really the affair of an expert."
He took Luigi's hand. Tom said --
"Wait -- don't look yet, Dave! Count Luigi, here 's paper and pencil. Set down that thing that you said was the most striking one that was foretold to you, and happened less than a year afterward, and give it to me so I can see if Dave finds it in your hand."
Luigi wrote a line privately, and folded up the piece of paper, and handed it to Tom, saying --
"I'll tell you when to look at it, if he finds it."
Wilson began to study Luigi's palm, tracing life lines, heart lines, head lines, and so on, and noting carefully their relations with the cobweb of finer and more delicate marks and lines that enmeshed them on all sides; he felt of the fleshy cushion at the base of the thumb, and noted its shape; he felt of the fleshy side of the hand between the wrist and the base of the little finger, and noted its shape also; he painstakingly examined the fingers, observing their form, proportions, and natural manner of disposing themselves when in repose. All this process was watched by the three spectators with absorbing interest, their heads bent together over Luigi's palm, and nobody disturbing the stillness with a word. Wilson now entered upon a close survey of the palm again, and his revelations began.
He mapped out Luigi's character and disposition, his tastes, aversions, proclivities, ambitions, and eccentricities in a way which sometimes made Luigi wince and the others laugh, but both twins declared that the chart was artistically drawn and was correct.
Next, Wilson took up Luigi's history. He proceeded cautiously and with hesitation, now, moving his finger slowly along the great lines of the palm, and now and then halting it at a "star" or some such landmark, and examining that neighborhood minutely. He proclaimed one or two past events, Luigi confirmed his correctness, and the search went on. Presently Wilson glanced up suddenly with a surprised expression --
"Here is record of an incident which you would perhaps not wish me to -- "
"Bring it out," said Luigi, good-naturedly; "I promise you it sha'n't embarrass me."
But Wilson still hesitated, and did not seem quite to know what to do. Then he said --
"I think it is too delicate a matter to -- to -- I believe I would rather write it or whisper it to you, and let you decide for yourself whether you want it talked out or not."
"That will answer," said Luigi; "write it."
Wilson wrote something on a slip of paper and handed it to Luigi, who read it to himself and said to Tom --
"Unfold your slip and read it, Mr. Driscoll."
<"It was prophesied that I would kill a man. It came true before the year was out.">
Tom added, "Great Scott!"
Luigi handed Wilson's paper to Tom, and said --
"Now read this one."
<"You have killed some one, but whether man, woman or child, I do not make out.">
"Caesar's ghost!" commented Tom, with astonishment. "It beats anything that was ever heard of! Why, a man's own hand is his deadliest enemy! Just think of that -- a man's own hand keeps a record of the deepest and fatalest secrets of his life, and is treacherously ready to expose him to any black-magic stranger that comes along. But what do you let a person look at your hand for, with that awful thing printed in it?"
"Oh," said Luigi, reposefully, "I don't mind it. I killed the man for good reasons, and I don't regret it."
"What were the reasons?"
"Well, he needed killing."
"I'll tell you why he did it, since he won't say himself," said Angelo, warmly. "He did it to save my life, that 's what he did it for. So it was a noble act, and not a thing to be hid in the dark."
"So it was, so it was," said Wilson; "to do such a thing to save a brother's life is a great and fine action."
"Now come," said Luigi, "it is very pleasant to hear you say these things, but for unselfishness, or heroism, or magnanimity, the circumstances won't stand scrutiny. You overlook one detail: suppose I hadn't saved Angelo's life, what would have become of mine? If I had let the man kill him, wouldn't he have killed me, too? I saved my own life, you see."
"Yes; that is your way of talking," said Angelo, "but I know you -- I don't believe you thought of yourself at all. I keep that weapon yet that Luigi killed the man with, and I'll show it to you some time. That incident makes it interesting, and it had a history before it came into Luigi's hands which adds to its interest. It was given to Luigi by a great Indian prince, the Gaikowar of Baroda, and it had been in his family two or three centuries. It killed a good many disagreeable people who troubled that hearthstone at one time and another. It isn't much to look at, except that it isn't shaped like other knives, or dirks, or whatever it may be called -- here, I 'll draw it for you." He took a sheet of paper and made a rapid sketch. "There it is -- a broad and murderous blade, with edges like a razor for sharpness. The devices engraved on it are the ciphers or names of its long line of possessors -- I had Luigi's name added in Roman letters myself with our coat of arms, as you see. You notice what a curious handle the thing has. It is solid ivory, polished like a mirror, and is four or five inches long -- round, and as thick as a large man's wrist, with the end squared off flat, for your thumb to rest on; for you grasp it, with your thumb resting on the blunt end -- so -- and lift it aloft and strike downward. The Gaikowar showed us how the thing was done when he gave it to Luigi, and before that night was ended Luigi had used the knife, and the Gaikowar was a man short by reason of it. The sheath is magnificently ornamented with gems of great value. You will find the sheath more worth looking at than the knife itself, of course."
Tom said to himself --
"It's lucky I came here. I would have sold that knife for a song; I supposed the jewels were glass."
"But go on; don't stop," said Wilson. "Our curiosity is up now, to hear about the homicide. Tell us about that."
"Well, briefly, the knife was to blame for that, all around. A native servant slipped into our room in the palace in the night, to kill us and steal the knife on account of the fortune incrusted on its sheath, without a doubt. Luigi had it under his pillow; we were in bed together. There was a dim night-light burning. I was asleep, but Luigi was awake, and he thought he detected a vague form nearing the bed. He slipped the knife out of the sheath and was ready, and unembarrassed by hampering bed-clothes, for the weather was hot and we hadn't any. Suddenly that native rose at the bedside, and bent over me with his right hand lifted and a dirk in it aimed at my throat; but Luigi grabbed his wrist, pulled him downward, and drove his own knife into the man's neck. That is the whole story."
Wilson and Tom drew deep breaths, and after some general chat about the tragedy, Pudd'nhead said, taking Tom's hand --
"Now, Tom, I 've never had a look at your palms, as it happens; perhaps you 've got some little questionable privacies that need -- hel-lo!"
Tom had snatched away his hand, and was looking a good deal confused.
"Why, he 's blushing!" said Luigi.
Tom darted an ugly look at him, and said sharply --
"Well, if I am, it ain't because I'm a murderer!" Luigi's dark face flushed, but before he could speak or move, Tom added with anxious haste: "Oh, I beg a thousand pardons. I didn't mean that; it was out before I thought, and I'm very, very sorry -- you must forgive me!"
Wilson came to the rescue, and smoothed things down as well as he could; and in fact was entirely successful as far as the twins were concerned, for they felt sorrier for the affront put upon him by his guest's outburst of ill manners than for the insult offered to Luigi. But the success was not so pronounced with the offender. Tom tried to seem at his ease, and he went through the motions fairly well, but at bottom he felt resentful toward all the three witnesses of his exhibition; in fact, he felt so annoyed at them for having witnessed it and noticed it that he almost forgot to feel annoyed at himself for placing it before them. However, something presently happened which made him almost comfortable, and brought him nearly back to a state of charity and friendliness. This was a little spat between the twins; not much of a spat, but still a spat; and before they got far with it they were in a decided condition of irritation with each other. Tom was charmed; so pleased, indeed, that he cautiously did what he could to increase the irritation while pretending to be actuated by more respectable motives. By his help the fire got warmed up to the blazing-point, and he might have had the happiness of seeing the flames show up, in another moment, but for the interruption of a knock on the door -- an interruption which fretted him as much as it gratified Wilson. Wilson opened the door.
The visitor was a good-natured, ignorant, energetic, middle-aged Irishman named John Buckstone, who was a great politician in a small way, and always took a large share in public matters of every sort. One of the town's chief excitements, just now, was over the matter of rum. There was a strong rum party and a strong anti-rum party. Buckstone was training with the rum party, and he had been sent to hunt up the twins and invite them to attend a mass-meeting of that faction. He delivered his errand, and said the clans were already gathering in the big hall over the market-house. Luigi accepted the invitation cordially, Angelo less cordially, since he disliked crowds, and did not drink the powerful intoxicants of America. In fact, he was even a teetotaler sometimes -- when it was judicious to be one.
The twins left with Buckstone, and Tom Driscoll joined company with them uninvited.
In the distance one could see a long wavering line of torches drifting down the main street, and could hear the throbbing of the bass drum, the clash of cymbals, the squeaking of a fife or two, and the faint roar of remote hurrahs. The tail-end of this procession was climbing the market- house stairs when the twins arrived in its neighborhood; when they reached the hall it was full of people, torches, smoke, noise, and enthusiasm. They were conducted to the platform by Buckstone -- Tom Driscoll still following -- and were delivered to the chairman in the midst of a prodigious explosion of welcome. When the noise had moderated a little, the chair proposed that "our illustrious guests be at once elected, by complimentary acclamation, to membership in our ever-glorious organization, the paradise of the free and the perdition of the slave."
This eloquent discharge opened the flood-gates of enthusiasm again, and the election was carried with thundering unanimity. Then arose a storm of cries:
"Wet them down! Wet them down! Give them a drink!"
Glasses of whisky were handed to the twins. Luigi waved his aloft, then brought it to his lips; but Angelo set his down. There was another storm of cries:
"What 's the matter with the other one?" "What is the blond one going back on us for?" "Explain! Explain!"
The chairman inquired, and then reported --
"We have made an unfortunate mistake, gentlemen. I find that the Count Angelo Cappello is opposed to our creed -- is a teetotaler, in fact, and was not intending to apply for membership with us. He desires that we reconsider the vote by which he was elected. What is the pleasure of the house?"
There was a general burst of
laughter, plentifully accented with whistlings and cat-calls, but the
energetic use of the gavel presently restored something like order. Then a
man spoke from the crowd, and said that while he was very sorry that the
mistake had been made, it would not be possible to rectify it at the
present meeting. According to the by-laws it must go over to the next
This speech was received with great applause, mixed with cries of --
"That 's the talk!" "He 's a good fellow, any way, if he <is> a teetotaler!" "Drink his health!" "Give him a rouser, and no heel-taps!"
Glasses were handed around, and everybody on the platform drank Angelo's health, while the house bellowed forth in song:
For he 's a jolly good fel-low,
Tom Driscoll drank. It was his second glass, for he had drunk Angelo's the moment that Angelo had set it down. The two drinks made him very merry -- almost idiotically so -- and he began to take a most lively and prominent part in the proceedings, particularly in the music and cat-call and side-remarks.
The chairman was still standing at the front, the twins at his side. The extraordinarily close resemblance of the brothers to each other suggested a witticism to Tom Driscoll, and just as the chairman began a speech he skipped forward and said with an air of tipsy confidence to the audience --
"Boys, I move that he keeps still and lets this human philopena snip you out a speech."
The descriptive aptness of the phrase caught the house, and a mighty burst of laughter followed.
Luigi's southern blood leaped to the boiling-point in a moment under the sharp humiliation of this insult delivered in the presence of four hundred strangers. It was not in the young man's nature to let the matter pass, or to delay the squaring of the account. He took a couple of strides and halted behind the unsuspecting joker. Then he drew back and delivered a kick of such titanic vigor that it lifted Tom clear over the footlights and landed him on the heads of the front row of the Sons of Liberty.
Even a sober person does not like to have a human being emptied on him when he is not doing any harm; a person who is not sober cannot endure such an attention at all. The nest of Sons of Liberty that Driscoll landed in had not a sober bird in it; in fact there was probably not an entirely sober one in the auditorium. Driscoll was promptly and indignantly flung on to the heads of Sons in the next row, and these Sons passed him on toward the rear, and then immediately began to pummel the front-row Sons who had passed him to them. This course was strictly followed by bench after bench as Driscoll traveled in his tumultuous and airy flight toward the door; so he left behind him an ever lengthening wake of raging and plunging and fighting and swearing humanity. Down went group after group of torches, and presently above the deafening clatter of the gavel, roar of angry voices, and crash of succumbing benches, rose the paralyzing cry of
The fighting ceased instantly; the cursing ceased; for one distinctly defined moment there was a dead hush, a motionless calm, where the tempest had been; then with one impulse the multitude awoke to life and energy again, and went surging and struggling and swaying, this way and that, its outer edges melting away through windows and doors and gradually lessening the pressure and relieving the mass.
The fire-boys were never on hand so suddenly before; for there was no distance to go, this time, their quarters being in the rear end of the market-house. There was an engine company and a hook-and-ladder company. Half of each was composed of rummies and the other half of anti- rummies, after the moral and political share-and-share-alike fashion of the frontier town of the period. Enough anti-rummies were loafing in quarters to man the engine and the ladders. In two minutes they had their red shirts and helmets on -- they never stirred officially in unofficial costume -- and as the mass meeting overhead smashed through the long row of windows and poured out upon the roof of the arcade, the deliverers were ready for them with a powerful stream of water which washed some of them off the roof and nearly drowned the rest. But water was preferable to fire, and still the stampede from the windows continued, and still the pitiless drenchings assailed it until the building was empty; then the fire-boys mounted to the hall and flooded it with water enough to annihilate forty times as much fire as there was there; for a village fire-company does not often get a chance to show off, and so when it does get a chance it makes the most of it. Such citizens of that village as were of a thoughtful and judicious temperament did not insure against fire; they insured against the fire-company.
Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear -- not absence of fear. Except a creature be part coward it is not a compliment to say it is brave; it is merely a loose misapplication of the word. Consider the flea! -- incomparably the bravest of all the creatures of God, if ignorance of fear were courage. Whether you are asleep or awake he will attack you, caring nothing for the fact that in bulk and strength you are to him as are the massed armies of the earth to a sucking child; he lives both day and night and all days and nights in the very lap of peril and the immediate presence of death, and yet is no more afraid than is the man who walks the streets of a city that was threatened by an earthquake ten centuries before. When we speak of Clive, Nelson, and Putnam as men who "didn't know what fear was," we ought always to add the flea -- and put him at the head of the procession. -- <Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar.>
Judge Driscoll was in bed and asleep by ten o'clock on Friday night, and he was up and gone a- fishing before daylight in the morning with his friend Pembroke Howard. These two had been boys together in Virginia when that State still ranked as the chief and most imposing member of the Union, and they still coupled the proud and affectionate adjective "old" with her name when they spoke of her. In Missouri a recognized superiority attached to any person who hailed from Old Virginia; and this superiority was exalted to supremacy when a person of such nativity could also prove descent from the First Families of that great commonwealth. The Howards and Driscolls were of this aristocracy. In their eyes it was a nobility. It had its unwritten laws, and they were as clearly defined and as strict as any that could be found among the printed statutes of the land. The F. F. V. was born a gentleman; his highest duty in life was to watch over that great inheritance and keep it unsmirched. He must keep his honor spotless. Those laws were his chart; his course was marked out on it; if he swerved from it by so much as half a point of the compass it meant shipwreck to his honor; that is to say, degradation from his rank as a gentleman. These laws required certain things of him which his religion might forbid: then his religion must yield -- the laws could not be relaxed to accommodate religions or anything else. Honor stood first; and the laws defined what it was and wherein it differed in certain details from honor as defined by church creeds and by the social laws and customs of some of the minor divisions of the globe that had got crowded out when the sacred boundaries of Virginia were staked out.
If Judge Driscoll was the recognized first citizen of Dawson's Landing, Pembroke Howard was easily its recognized second citizen. He was called "the great lawyer" -- an earned title. He and Driscoll were of the same age -- a year or two past sixty.
Although Driscoll was a free-thinker and Howard a strong and determined Presbyterian, their warm intimacy suffered no impairment in consequence. They were men whose opinions were their own property and not subject to revision and amendment, suggestion or criticism, by anybody, even their friends.
The day's fishing finished, they came floating down stream in their skiff, talking national politics and other high matters, and presently met a skiff coming up from town, with a man in it who said:
"I reckon you know one of the new twins gave your nephew a kicking last night, Judge?"
"Gave him a kicking."
The old Judge's lips paled, and his eyes began to flame. He choked with anger for a moment, then he got out what he was trying to say --
"Well -- well -- go on! Give me the details."
The man did it. At the finish the Judge was silent a minute, turning over in his mind the shameful picture of Tom's flight over the footlights; then he said, as if musing aloud --
"H'm -- I don't understand it. I was asleep at home. He didn't wake me. Thought he was competent to manage his affair without my help, I reckon." His face lit up with pride and pleasure at that thought, and he said with a cheery complacency, "I like that -- it 's the true old blood -- hey, Pembroke?"
Howard smiled an iron smile, and nodded his head approvingly. Then the news-bringer spoke again --
"But Tom beat the twin on the trial."
The Judge looked at the man wonderingly, and said --
"The trial? What trial?"
"Why, Tom had him up before Judge Robinson for assault and battery."
The old man shrank suddenly together like one who has received a death-stroke. Howard sprang for him as he sank forward in a swoon, and took him in his arms, and bedded him on his back in the boat. He sprinkled water in his face, and said to the startled visitor --
"Go, now -- don't let him come to and find you here. You see what an effect your heedless speech has had; you ought to have been more considerate than to blurt out such a cruel piece of slander as that."
"I'm right down sorry I did it now, Mr. Howard, and I wouldn't have done it if I had thought: but it ain't a slander; it 's perfectly true, just as I told him."
He rowed away. Presently the old Judge came out of his faint and looked up piteously into the sympathetic face that was bent over him.
"Say it ain't true, Pembroke; tell me it ain't true!" he said in a weak voice.
There was nothing weak in the deep organ-tones that responded --
"You know it 's a lie as well as I do, old friend. He is of the best blood of the Old Dominion."
"God bless you for saying it!" said the old gentleman, fervently. "Ah, Pembroke, it was such a blow!"
Howard stayed by his friend, and saw him home, and entered the house with him. It was dark, and past supper-time, but the Judge was not thinking of supper; he was eager to hear the slander refuted from headquarters, and as eager to have Howard hear it, too. Tom was sent for, and he came immediately. He was bruised and lame, and was not a happy-looking object. His uncle made him sit down, and said --
"We have been hearing about your adventure, Tom, with a handsome lie added to it for embellishment. Now pulverize that lie to dust! What measures have you taken? How does the thing stand?"
Tom answered guilelessly: "It don't stand at all; it 's all over. I had him up in court and beat him. Pudd'nhead Wilson defended him -- first case he ever had, and lost it. The judge fined the miserable hound five dollars for the assault."
Howard and the Judge sprang to their feet with the opening sentence -- why, neither knew; then they stood gazing vacantly at each other. Howard stood a moment, then sat mournfully down without saying anything. The Judge's wrath began to kindle, and he burst out --
"You cur! You scum! You vermin! Do you mean to tell me that blood of my race has suffered a blow and crawled to a court of law about it? Answer me!"
Tom's head drooped, and he answered with an eloquent silence. His uncle stared at him with a mixed expression of amazement and shame and incredulity that was sorrowful to see. At last he said --
"Which of the twins was it?"
"You have challenged him?"
"N -- no," hesitated Tom, turning pale.
"You will challenge him to-night. Howard will carry it."
Tom began to turn sick, and to show it. He turned his hat round and round in his hand, his uncle glowering blacker and blacker upon him as the heavy seconds drifted by; then at last he began to stammer, and said piteously --
"Oh, please don't ask me to do it, uncle! He is a murderous devil -- I never could -- I -- I'm afraid of him!"
Old Driscoll's mouth opened and closed three times before he could get it to perform its office; then he stormed out --
"A coward in my family! A Driscoll a coward! Oh, what have I done to deserve this infamy!" He tottered to his secretary in the corner repeating that lament again and again in heartbreaking tones, and got out of a drawer a paper, which he slowly tore to bits scattering the bits absently in his track as he walked up and down the room, still grieving and lamenting. At last he said --
"There it is, shreds and fragments once more -- my will. Once more you have forced me to disinherit you, you base son of a most noble father! Leave my sight! Go -- before I spit on you!"
The young man did not tarry. Then the Judge turned to Howard:
"You will be my second, old friend?"
"There is pen and paper. Draft the cartel, and lose no time."
"The Count shall have it in his hands in fifteen minutes," said Howard.
Tom was very heavy-hearted. His appetite was gone with his property and his self-respect. He went out the back way and wandered down the obscure lane grieving, and wondering if any course of future conduct, however discreet and carefully perfected and watched over, could win back his uncle's favor and persuade him to reconstruct once more that generous will which had just gone to ruin before his eyes. He finally concluded that it could. He said to himself that he had accomplished this sort of triumph once already, and that what had been done once could be done again. He would set about it. He would bend every energy to the task, and he would score that triumph once more, cost what it might to his convenience, limit as it might his frivolous and liberty-loving life.
"To begin," he said to himself, "I'll square up with the proceeds of my raid, and then gambling has got to be stopped -- and stopped short off. It 's the worst vice I've got -- from my standpoint, anyway, because it 's the one he can most easily find out, through the impatience of my creditors. He thought it expensive to have to pay two hundred dollars to them for me once. Expensive -- <that!> Why, it cost me the whole of his fortune -- but of course he never thought of that; some people can't think of any but their own side of a case. If he had known how deep I am in, now, the will would have gone to pot without waiting for a duel to help. Three hundred dollars! It 's a pile! But he'll never hear of it, I'm thankful to say. The minute I've cleared it off, I'm safe; and I'll never touch a card again. Anyway, I won't while he lives, I make oath to that. I'm entering on my last reform -- I know it -- yes, and I'll win; but after that, if I ever slip again I'm gone."
When I reflect upon the number of disagreeable people who I know have gone to a better world, I am moved to lead a different life. -- <Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar.>
October. This is one of the peculiarly dangerous months to speculate in stocks in. The others are July, January, September, April, November, May, March, June, December, August, and February. -- <Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar.>
Thus mournfully communing with himself Tom moped along the lane past Pudd'nhead Wilson's house, and still on and on between fences inclosing vacant country on each hand till he neared the haunted house, then he came moping back again, with many sighs and heavy with trouble. He sorely wanted cheerful company. Rowena! His heart gave a bound at the thought, but the next thought quieted it -- the detested twins would be there.
He was on the inhabited side of Wilson's house, and now as he approached it he noticed that the sitting-room was lighted. This would do; others made him feel unwelcome sometimes, but Wilson never failed in courtesy toward him, and a kindly courtesy does at least save one's feelings, even if it is not professing to stand for a welcome. Wilson heard footsteps at his threshold, then the clearing of a throat.
"It's that fickle-tempered, dissipated young goose -- poor devil, he finds friends pretty scarce to- ay, likely, after the disgrace of carrying a personal-assault case into a law-court."
A dejected knock. "Come in!"
Tom entered, and drooped into a chair, without saying anything. Wilson said kindly --
"Why, my boy, you look desolate. Don't take it so hard. Try and forget you have been kicked."
"Oh, dear," said Tom, wretchedly, "it 's not that, Pudd'n-head -- it 's not that. It's a thousand times worse than that -- oh, yes, a million times worse."
"Why, Tom, what do you mean? Has Rowena -- "
"Flung me? No, but the old man has."
Wilson said to himself, "Aha!" and thought of the mysterious girl in the bedroom. "The Driscolls have been making discoveries!" Then he said aloud, gravely:
"Tom, there are some kinds of dissipation which -- "
"Oh, shucks, this hasn't got anything to do with dissipation. He wanted me to challenge that derned Italian savage, and I wouldn't do it."
"Yes, of course he would do that," said Wilson in a meditative matter-of-course way; "but the thing that puzzled me was, why he didn't look to that last night, for one thing, and why he let you carry such a matter into a court of law at all, either before the duel or after it. It 's no place for it. It was not like him. I couldn't understand it. How did it happen?"
"It happened because he didn't know anything about it. He was asleep when I got home last night."
"And you didn't wake him? Tom, is that possible?"
Tom was not getting much comfort here. He fidgeted a moment, then said:
"I didn't choose to tell him -- that 's all. He was going a-fishing before dawn, with Pembroke Howard, and if I got the twins into the common calaboose -- and I thought sure I could -- I never dreamed of their slipping out on a paltry fine for such an outrageous offense -- well, once in the calaboose they would be disgraced, and uncle wouldn't want any duels with that sort of characters, and wouldn't allow any."
"Tom, I am ashamed of you! I don't see how you could treat your good old uncle so. I am a better friend of his than you are; for if I had known the circumstances I would have kept that case out of court until I got word to him and let him have a gentleman's chance."
"You would?" exclaimed Tom, with lively surprise. "And it your first case! And you know perfectly well there never would have <been> any case if he had got that chance, don't you? And you 'd have finished your days a pauper nobody, instead of being an actually launched and recognized lawyer to-day. And you would really have done that, would you?"
Tom looked at him a moment or two, then shook his head sorrowfully and said --
"I believe you -- upon my word I do. I don't know why I do, but I do. Pudd'nhead Wilson, I think you 're the biggest fool I ever saw."
"Don't mention it."
"Well, he has been requiring you to fight the Italian and you have refused. You degenerate remnant of an honorable line! I'm thoroughly ashamed of you, Tom!"
"Oh, that 's nothing! I don't care for anything, now that the will 's torn up again."
"Tom, tell me squarely -- didn't he find any fault with you for anything but those two things -- carrying the case into court and refusing to fight?"
He watched the young fellow's face narrowly, but it was entirely reposeful, and so also was the voice that answered:
"No, he didn't find any other fault with me. If he had had any to find, he would have begun yesterday, for he was just in the humor for it. He drove that jack-pair around town and showed them the sights, and when he came home he couldn't find his father's old silver watch that don't keep time and he thinks so much of, and could n't remember what he did with it three or four days ago when he saw it last; and so when I arrived he was all in a sweat about it, and when I suggested that it probably wasn't lost but stolen, it put him in a regular passion and he said I was a fool -- which convinced me, without any trouble, that that was just what he was afraid <had> happened, himself, but did not want to believe it, because lost things stand a better chance of being found again than stolen ones."
"Whe-ew!" whistled Wilson; "score another on the list."
"Yes, theft. That watch isn't lost, it 's stolen. There 's been another raid on the town -- and just the same old mysterious sort of thing that has happened once before, as you remember."
"You don't mean it!"
"It 's as sure as you are born! Have you missed anything yourself?"
"No. That is, I did miss a silver pencil-case that Aunt Mary Pratt gave me last birthday -- "
"You'll find it 's stolen -- that 's what you'll find."
"No, I sha'n't; for when I suggested theft about the watch and got such a rap, I went and examined my room, and the pencil-case was missing, but it was only mislaid, and I found it again."
"You are sure you missed nothing else?"
"Well, nothing of consequence. I missed a small plain gold ring worth two or three dollars, but that will turn up. I'll look again."
"In my opinion you'll not find it. There 's been a raid, I tell you. Come <in>!"
Mr. Justice Robinson entered, followed by Buckstone and the town-constable, Jim Blake. They sat down, and after some wandering and aimless weather-conversation Wilson said --
"By the way, we 've just added another to the list of thefts, maybe two. Judge Driscoll's old silver watch is gone, and Tom here has missed a gold ring."
"Well, it is a bad business," said the Justice, "and gets worse the further it goes. The Hankses, the Dobsons, the Pilligrews, the Ortons, the Grangers, the Hales, the Fullers, the Holcombs, in fact everybody that lives around about Patsy Cooper's has been robbed of little things like trinkets and teaspoons and such-like small valuables that are easily carried off. It 's perfectly plain that the thief took advantage of the reception at Patsy Cooper's, when all the neighbors were in her house and all their niggers hanging around her fence for a look at the show, to raid the vacant houses undisturbed. Patsy is miserable about it; miserable on account of the neighbors, and particularly miserable on account of her foreigners, of course; so miserable on their account that she hasn't any room to worry about her own little losses."
"It 's the same old raider," said Wilson. "I suppose there is n't any doubt about that."
"Constable Blake doesn't think so."
"No, you 're wrong there," said Blake; "the other times it was a man; there was plenty of signs of that, as we know, in the profession, though we never got hands on him; but this time it 's a woman."
Wilson thought of the mysterious girl straight off. She was always in his mind now. But she failed him again. Blake continued:
"She 's a stoop-shouldered old woman with a covered basket on her arm, in a black veil, dressed in mourning. I saw her going aboard the ferry-boat yesterday. Lives in Illinois, I reckon; but I don't care where she lives, I'm going to get her -- she can make herself sure of that."
"What makes you think she 's the thief?"
"Well, there ain't any other, for one thing; and for another, some of the nigger draymen that happened to be driving along saw her coming out of or going into houses, and told me so -- and it just happens that they was <robbed> houses, every time."
It was granted that this was plenty good enough circumstantial evidence. A pensive silence followed, which lasted some moments, then Wilson said --
"There 's one good thing, anyway. She can't either pawn or sell Count Luigi's costly Indian dagger."
"My!" said Tom, "is <that> gone?"
"Well, that was a haul! But why can't she pawn it or sell it?"
"Because when the twins went home from the Sons of Liberty meeting last night, news of the raid was sifting in from everywhere, and Aunt Patsy was in distress to know if they had lost anything. They found that the dagger was gone, and they notified the police and pawnbrokers everywhere. It was a great haul, yes, but the old woman won't get anything out of it, because she'll get caught."
"Did they offer a reward?" asked Buckstone.
"Yes; five hundred dollars for the knife, and five hundred more for the thief."
"What a leather-headed idea!" exclaimed the constable. "The thief da'sn't go near them, nor send anybody. Whoever goes is going to get himself nabbed, for there ain't any pawnbroker that 's going to lose the chance to -- "
If anybody had noticed Tom's face at that time, the gray-green color of it might have provoked curiosity; but nobody did. He said to himself: "I'm gone! I never can square up; the rest of the plunder won't pawn or sell for half of the bill. Oh, I know it -- I'm gone, I'm gone -- and this time it 's for good. Oh, this is awful -- I don't know what to do, nor which way to turn!"
"Softly, softly," said Wilson to Blake. "I planned their scheme for them at midnight last night, and it was all finished up shipshape by two this morning. They'll get their dagger back, and then I'll explain to you how the thing was done."
There were strong signs of a general curiosity, and Buckstone said --
"Well, you have whetted us up pretty sharp, Wilson, and I'm free to say that if you don't mind telling us in confidence -- "
"Oh, I 'd as soon tell as not, Buckstone, but as long as the twins and I agreed to say nothing about it, we must let it stand so. But you can take my word for it you won't be kept waiting three days. Somebody will apply for that reward pretty promptly, and I'll show you the thief and the dagger both very soon afterward."
The constable was disappointed, and also perplexed. He said --
"It may all be -- yes, and I hope it will, but I'm blamed if I can see my way through it. It 's too many for yours truly."
The subject seemed about talked out. Nobody seemed to have anything further to offer. After a silence the justice of the peace informed Wilson that he and Buckstone and the constable had come as a committee, on the part of the Democratic party, to ask him to run for mayor -- for the little town was about to become a city and the first charter election was approaching. It was the first attention which Wilson had ever received at the hands of any party; it was a sufficiently humble one, but it was a recognition of his debut into the town's life and activities at last; it was a step upward, and he was deeply gratified. He accepted, and the committee departed, followed by young Tom.