The true Southern watermelon is a boon apart, and not to be mentioned with commoner things. It is chief of this world's luxuries, king by the grace of God over all the fruits of the earth. When one has tasted it, he knows what the angels eat. It was not a Southern watermelon that Eve took: we know it because she repented. -- <Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar.>
About the time that Wilson was bowing the committee out, Pembroke Howard was entering the next house to report. He found the old Judge sitting grim and straight in his chair, waiting.
"Well, Howard -- the news?"
"The best in the world."
"Accepts, does he?" and the light of battle gleamed joyously in the Judge's eye.
"Accepts? Why, he jumped at it."
"Did, did he? Now that's fine -- that's very fine. I like that. When is it to be?"
"Now! Straight off! To-night! An admirable fellow -- admirable!"
"Admirable? He's a darling! Why, it's an honor as well as a pleasure to stand up before such a man. Come -- off with you! Go and arrange everything -- and give him my heartiest compliments. A rare fellow, indeed; an admirable fellow, as you have said!"
Howard hurried away, saying --
"I'll have him in the vacant stretch between Wilson's and the haunted house within the hour, and I'll bring my own pistols."
Judge Driscoll began to walk the floor in a state of pleased excitement; but presently he stopped, and began to think -- began to think of Tom. Twice he moved toward the secretary, and twice he turned away again; but finally he said --
"This may be my last night in the world -- I must not take the chance. He is worthless and unworthy, but it is largely my fault. He was intrusted to me by my brother on his dying bed, and I have indulged him to his hurt, instead of training him up severely, and making a man of him. I have violated my trust, and I must not add the sin of desertion to that. I have forgiven him once already, and would subject him to a long and hard trial before forgiving him again, if I could live; but I must not run that risk. No, I must restore the will. But if I survive the duel, I will hide it away, and he will not know, and I will not tell him until he reforms and I see that his reformation is going to be permanent."
He re-drew the will, and his ostensible nephew was heir to a fortune again. As he was finishing his task, Tom, wearied with another brooding tramp, entered the house and went tiptoeing past the sitting-room door. He glanced in, and hurried on, for the sight of his uncle had nothing but terrors for him to-night. But his uncle was writing! That was unusual at this late hour. What could he be writing? A chill of anxiety settled down upon Tom's heart. Did that writing concern him? He was afraid so. He reflected that when ill luck begins, it does not come in sprinkles, but in showers. He said he would get a glimpse of that document or know the reason why. He heard some one coming, and stepped out of sight and hearing. It was Pembroke Howard. What could be hatching?
Howard said, with great satisfaction:
"Everything's right and ready. He's gone to the battle-ground with his second and the surgeon -- also with his brother. I've arranged it all with Wilson -- Wilson's his second. We are to have three shots apiece."
"Good! How is the moon?"
"Bright as day, nearly. Perfect, for the distance -- fifteen yards. No wind -- not a breath; hot and still."
"All good; all first-rate. Here, Pembroke, read this, and witness it."
Pembroke read and witnessed the will, then gave the old man's hand a hearty shake and said:
"Now that's right, York -- but I knew you would do it. You couldn't leave that poor chap to fight along without means or profession, with certain defeat before him, and I knew you wouldn't, for his father's sake if not for his own."
"For his dead father's sake I couldn't, I know; for poor Percy -- but you know what Percy was to me. But mind -- Tom is not to know of this unless I fall to-night."
"I understand. I'll keep the secret."
The Judge put the will away, and the two started for the battle-ground. In another minute the will was in Tom's hands. His misery vanished, his feelings underwent a tremendous revulsion. He put the will carefully back in its place, and spread his mouth and swung his hat once, twice, three times around his head, in imitation of three rousing huzzas, no sound issuing from his lips. He fell to communing with himself excitedly and joyously, but every now and then he let off another volley of dumb hurrahs.
He said to himself: "I've got the fortune again, but I'll not let on that I know about it. And this time I 'm going to hang on to it. I take no more risks. I'll gamble no more, I'll drink no more, because -- well, because I'll not go where there is any of that sort of thing going on, again. It's the sure way, and the only sure way; I might have thought of that sooner -- well, yes, if I had wanted to. But now -- dear me, I've had a bad scare this time, and I'll take no more chances. Not a single chance more. Land! I persuaded myself this evening that I could fetch him around without any great amount of effort, but I've been getting more and more heavy-hearted and doubtful straight along, ever since. If he tells me about this thing, all right; but if he doesn't, I sha'n't let on. I -- well, I 'd like to tell Pudd'nhead Wilson, but -- no, I'll think about that; perhaps I won't." He whirled off another dead huzza, and said, "I 'm reformed, and this time I'll stay so, sure!"
He was about to close with a final grand silent demonstration, when he suddenly recollected that Wilson had put it out of his power to pawn or sell the Indian knife, and that he was once more in awful peril of exposure by his creditors for that reason. His joy collapsed utterly, and he turned away and moped toward the door moaning and lamenting over the bitterness of his luck. He dragged himself upstairs, and brooded in his room a long time disconsolate and forlorn, with Luigi's Indian knife for a text. At last he sighed and said:
"When I supposed these stones were glass and this ivory bone, the thing hadn't any interest for me because it hadn't any value, and couldn't help me out of my trouble. But now -- why, now it is full of interest; yes, and of a sort to break a body's heart. It's a bag of gold that has turned to dirt and ashes in my hands. It could save me, and save me so easily, and yet I've got to go to ruin. It's like drowning with a life-preserver in my reach. All the hard luck comes to me, and all the good luck goes to other people -- Pudd'nhead Wilson, for instance; even his career has got a sort of a little start at last, and what has he done to deserve it, I should like to know? Yes, he has opened his own road, but he isn't content with that, but must block mine. It's a sordid, selfish world, and I wish I was out of it." He allowed the light of the candle to play upon the jewels of the sheath, but the flashings and sparklings had no charm for his eye; they were only just so many pangs to his heart. "I must not say anything to Roxy about this thing," he said, "she is too daring. She would be for digging these stones out and selling them, and then -- why, she would be arrested and the stones traced, and then -- " The thought made him quake, and he hid the knife away, trembling all over and glancing furtively about, like a criminal who fancies that the accuser is already at hand.
Should he try to sleep? Oh, no, sleep was not for him; his trouble was too haunting, too afflicting for that. He must have somebody to mourn with. He would carry his despair to Roxy.
He had heard several distant gunshots, but that sort of thing was not uncommon, and they had made no impression upon him. He went out at the back door, and turned westward. He passed Wilson's house and proceeded along the lane, and presently saw several figures approaching Wilson's place through the vacant lots. These were the duelists returning from the fight; he thought he recognized them, but as he had no desire for white people's company, he stooped down behind the fence until they were out of his way.
Roxy was feeling fine. She said:
"Whah was you, child? Warn't you in it?"
"In de duel."
"Duel? Has there been a duel?"
"'Co'se dey has. De ole Jedge has be'n havin' a duel wid one o' dem twins."
"Great Scott!" Then he added to himself: "That's what made him re-make the will; he thought he might get killed, and it softened him toward me. And that's what he and Howard were so busy about ... Oh dear, if the twin had only killed him, I should be out of my -- "
"What is you mumblin' 'bout, Chambers? Whah was you? Didn't you know dey was gwyne to be a duel?"
"No. I didn't. The old man tried to get me to fight one with Count Luigi, but he didn't succeed, so I reckon he concluded to patch up the family honor himself."
He laughed at the idea, and went rambling on with a detailed account of his talk with the Judge, and how shocked and ashamed the Judge was to find that he had a coward in his family. He glanced up at last, and got a shock himself. Roxana's bosom was heaving with suppressed passion, and she was glowering down upon him with measureless contempt written in her face.
"En you refuse' to fight a man dat kicked you,'stid o' jumpin' at de chance! En you ain't got no mo' feelin' den to come en tell me, dat fetched sich a po' low-down ornery rabbit into de worl'! Pah! it make me sick! It's de nigger in you, dat's what it is. Thirty-one parts o' you is white, en on'y one part nigger, en dat po' little one part is yo' <soul>. Tain't wuth savin'; tain't wuth totin' out on a shovel en thowin in de gutter. You has disgraced yo' birth. What would yo' pa think o' you? It's enough to make him turn in his grave."
The last three sentences stung Tom into a fury, and he said to himself that if his father were only alive and in reach of assassination his mother would soon find that he had a very clear notion of the size of his indebtedness to that man, and was willing to pay it up in full, and would do it too, even at risk of his life; but he kept his thought to himself; that was safest in his mother's present state.
Whatever has come o' yo' Essex blood? Dat's what I can't understand. En it ain't on'y jist Essex blood dat's in you, not by a long sight -- 'deed it ain't. My great-great-great-gran'father en yo' great-great-great-great-gran'father was ole Cap'n John Smith, de highest blood dat Ole Virginny ever turned out, en <his> great-great-gran'mother or somers along back dah, was Pocahontas de Injun queen, en her husbun' was a nigger king outen Africa -- en yit here you is, a slinkin' outen a duel en disgracin' our whole line like a ornery low-down hound! Yes, it's de nigger in you!"
She sat down on her candle-box and fell into a reverie. Tom did not disturb her; he sometimes lacked prudence, but it was not in circumstances of this kind. Roxana's storm went gradually down, but it died hard, and even when it seemed to be quite gone, it would now and then break out in a distant rumble, so to speak, in the form of muttered ejaculations. One of these was, "Ain't nigger enough in him to show in his finger-nails, en dat takes mighty little -- yit dey's enough to paint his soul."
Presently she muttered, "Yassir, enough to paint a whole thimbleful of 'em." At last her ramblings ceased altogether, and her countenance began to clear -- a welcome sign to Tom, who had learned her moods, and knew she was on the threshold of good-humor, now. He noticed that from time to time she unconsciously carried her finger to the end of her nose. He looked closer and said:
"Why, mammy, the end of your nose is skinned. How did that come?"
She sent out the sort of whole-hearted peal of laughter which God has vouchsafed in its perfection to none but the happy angels in heaven and the bruised and broken black slave on the earth, and said:
"Dad fetch dat duel, I be'n in it myself."
"Gracious! did a bullet do that?"
"Yassir, you bet it did!"
"Well, I declare! Why, how did that happen?"
"Happen dis-away. I 'uz a-sett'n' here kinder dozin' in de dark, en <che-bang!> goes a gun, right out dah. I skips along out towards t' other end o' de house to see what's gwyne on, en stops by de ole winder on de side towards Pudd'nhead Wilson's house dat ain't got no sash in it, -- but dey ain't none of 'em got any sashes, fur as dat's concerned, -- en I stood dah in de dark en look out, en dar in de moonlight, right down under me 'uz one o' de twins a-cussin' -- not much, but jist a-cussin' soft -- it 'uz de brown one dat 'uz cussin', 'ca'se he 'uz hit in de shoulder. En Doctor Claypool he 'uz a-workin' at him, en Pudd'nhead Wilson he 'uz a-he'pin', en ole Jedge Driscoll en Pem Howard 'uz a-standin' out yonder a little piece waitin' for 'em to git ready agin. En treckly dey squared off en give de word, en <bang-bang> went de pistols, en de twin he say, `Ouch!' -- hit him on de han' dis time, -- en I hear dat same bullet go <spat!> ag'in' de logs under de winder; en de nex' time dey shoot, de twin say, `Ouch!' ag'in, en I done it too, 'ca'se de bullet glance' on his cheek-bone en skip up here en glance on de side o' de winder en whiz right acrost my face en tuck de hide off'n my nose -- why, if I 'd 'a' be'n jist a inch or a inch en a half furder 't would 'a' tuck de whole nose en disfigger me. Here's de bullet; I hunted her up."
"Did you stand there all the time?"
"Dat's a question to ask, ain't it! What else would I do? Does I git a chance to see a duel every day?"
"Why, you were right in range! Weren't you afraid?"
The woman gave a sniff of scorn.
"'Fraid! De Smith-Pocahontases ain't 'fraid o' nothin', let alone bullets."
"They've got pluck enough, I suppose; what they lack is judgment. <I> wouldn't have stood there."
"Nobody's accusin' you!"
"Did anybody else get hurt?"
"Yes, we all got hit 'cep' de blon' twin en de doctor en de seconds. De Jedge didn't git hurt, but I hear Pudd'nhead say de bullet snip some o' his ha'r off."
"'George!" said Tom to himself, "to come so near being out of my trouble, and miss it by an inch. Oh dear, dear, he will live to find me out and sell me to some nigger-trader yet -- yes, and he would do it in a minute." Then he said aloud, in a grave tone --
"Mother, we are in an awful fix."
Roxana caught her breath with a spasm, and said --
"Chile! What you hit a body so sudden for, like dat? What's be'n en gone en happen'?"
"Well, there's one thing I didn't tell you. When I wouldn't fight, he tore up the will again, and -- "
Roxana's face turned a dead white, and she said --
"Now you's <done>! -- done forever! Dat's de end. Bofe un us is gwyne to starve to -- "
"Wait and hear me through, can't you! I reckon that when he resolved to fight, himself, he thought he might get killed and not have a chance to forgive me any more in this life, so he made the will again, and I've seen it, and it's all right. But -- "
"Oh, thank goodness, den we's safe agin! -- safe! en so what did you want to come here en talk sich dreadful -- "
"Hold <on>, I tell you, and let me finish. The swag I gathered won't half square me up, and the first thing we know, my creditors -- well, you know what'll happen."
Roxana dropped her chin, and told her son to leave her alone -- she must think this matter out. Presently she said impressively:
"You got to go mighty keerful now, I tell you! En here's what you got to do. He didn't git killed, en if you gives him de least reason, he'll bust de will ag'in, en dat's de <las>' time, now you hear me! So -- you's got to show him what you kin do in de nex' few days. You's got to be pison good, en let him see it; you got to do everything dat'll make him b'lieve in you, en you got to sweeten aroun' ole Aunt Pratt, too, -- she's pow'ful strong wid de Jedge, en de bes' frien' you got. Nex', you'll go 'long away to Sent Louis, en dat'll <keep> him in yo' favor. Den you go en make a bargain wid dem people. You tell 'em he ain't gwyne to live long -- en dat's de fac', too, -- en tell 'em you'll pay 'em intrust, en big intrust, too, -- ten per -- what you call it?"
"Ten per cent. a month?"
"Dat's it. Den you take and sell yo' truck aroun', a little at a time, en pay de intrust. How long will it las'?"
"I think there's enough to pay the interest five or six months."
"Den you's all right. If he don't die in six months, dat don't make no diff'rence -- Providence'll provide. You's gwyne to be safe -- if you behaves." She bent an austere eye on him and added, "En you <is> gwyne to behave -- does you know dat?"
He laughed and said he was going to try, anyway. She did not unbend. She said gravely:
"Tryin' ain't de thing. You's gwyne to <do> it. You ain't gwyne to steal a pin -- 'ca'se it ain't safe no mo'; en you ain't gwyne into no bad comp'ny -- not even once, you understand; en you ain't gwyne to drink a drop -- nary single drop; en you ain't gwyne to gamble one single gamble -- not one! Dis ain't what you's gwyne to <try> to do, it's what you's gwyne to <do>. En I'll tell you how I knows it. Dis is how. I's gwyne to foller along to Sent Louis my own self; en you's gwyne to come to me every day o' yo' life, en I'll look you over; en if you fails in one single one o' dem things -- jist <one> -- I take my oath I'll come straight down to dis town en tell de Jedge you's a nigger en a slave -- en <prove> it!" She paused to let her words sink home. Then she added, "Chambers, does you b'lieve me when I says dat?"
Tom was sober enough now. There was no levity in his voice when he answered:
"Yes, mother. I know, now, that I am reformed -- and permanently. Permanently -- and beyond the reach of any human temptation."
"Den g' long home en begin!"
Nothing so needs reforming as other people's habits. -- <Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar.>
Behold, the fool saith, "Put not all thine eggs in the one basket" -- which is but a manner of saying, "Scatter your money and your attention"; but the wise man saith, "Put all your eggs in the one basket and -- WATCH THAT BASKET." -- <Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar.>
What a time of it Dawson's Landing was having! All its life it had been asleep, but now it hardly got a chance for a nod, so swiftly did big events and crashing surprises come along in one another's wake: Friday morning, first glimpse of Real Nobility, also grand reception at Aunt Patsy Cooper's, also great robber-raid; Friday evening, dramatic kicking of the heir of the chief citizen in presence of four hundred people; Saturday morning, emergence as practising lawyer of the long-submerged Pudd'nhead Wilson; Saturday night, duel between chief citizen and titled stranger.
The people took more pride in the duel than in all the other events put together, perhaps. It was a glory to their town to have such a thing happen there. In their eyes the principals had reached the summit of human honor. Everybody paid homage to their names; their praises were in all mouths. Even the duelists' subordinates came in for a handsome share of the public approbation: wherefore Pudd'nhead Wilson was suddenly become a man of consequence. When asked to run for the mayoralty Saturday night he was risking defeat, but Sunday morning found him a made man and his success assured.
The twins were prodigiously great, now; the town took them to its bosom with enthusiasm. Day after day, and night after night, they went dining and visiting from house to house, making friends, enlarging and solidifying their popularity, and charming and surprising all with their musical prodigies, and now and then heightening the effects with samples of what they could do in other directions, out of their stock of rare and curious accomplishments. They were so pleased that they gave the regulation thirty days' notice, the required preparation for citizenship, and resolved to finish their days in this pleasant place. That was the climax. The delighted community rose as one man and applauded; and when the twins were asked to stand for seats in the forthcoming aldermanic board, and consented, the public contentment was rounded and complete.
Tom Driscoll was not happy over these things; they sunk deep, and hurt all the way down. He hated the one twin for kicking him, and the other one for being the kicker's brother.
Now and then the people wondered why nothing was heard of the raider, or of the stolen knife or the other plunder, but nobody was able to throw any light on that matter. Nearly a week had drifted by, and still the thing remained a vexed mystery.
On Saturday Constable Blake and Pudd'nhead Wilson met on the street, and Tom Driscoll joined them in time to open their conversation for them. He said to Blake --
"You are not looking well, Blake; you seem to be annoyed about something. Has anything gone wrong in the detective business? I believe you fairly and justifiably claim to have a pretty good reputation in that line, isn't it so?" -- which made Blake feel good, and look it; but Tom added, "for a country detective" -- which made Blake feel the other way, and not only look it, but betray it in his voice --
"Yes, sir, I <have> got a reputation; and it's as good as anybody's in the profession, too, country or no country."
"Oh, I beg pardon; I didn't mean any offense. What I started out to ask was only about the old woman that raided the town -- the stoop-shouldered old woman, you know, that you said you were going to catch; and I knew you would, too, because you have the reputation of never boasting, and -- well, you -- you've caught the old woman?"
"D ------ the old woman!"
"Why, sho! you don't mean to say you haven't caught her?"
"No; I haven't caught her. If anybody could have caught her, I could; but nobody couldn't, I don't care who he is."
"I am sorry, real sorry -- for your sake; because, when it gets around that a detective has expressed himself so confidently, and then -- "
"Don't you worry, that's all -- don't you worry; and as for the town, the town needn't worry, either. She's my meat -- make yourself easy about that. I 'm on her track; I've got clues that -- "
"That's good! Now if you could get an old veteran detective down from St. Louis to help you find out what the clues mean, and where they lead to, and then -- "
"I 'm plenty veteran enough myself, and I don't need anybody's help. I'll have her inside of a we -- inside of a month. That I 'll swear to!"
Tom said carelessly --
"I suppose that will answer -- yes, that will answer. But I reckon she is pretty old, and old people don't often outlive the cautious pace of the professional detective when he has got his clues together and is out on his still-hunt."
Blake's dull face flushed under this gibe, but before he could set his retort in order Tom had turned to Wilson, and was saying, with placid indifference of manner and voice --
"Who got the reward, Pudd'nhead?"
Wilson winced slightly, and saw that his own turn was come.
"Why, the reward for the thief,
and the other one for the
Wilson answered -- and rather uncomfortably, to judge by his hesitating fashion of delivering himself --
"Well, the -- well, in fact, nobody has claimed it yet."
Tom seemed surprised.
"Why, is that so?"
Wilson showed a trifle of irritation when he replied --
"Yes, it's so. And what of it?"
"Oh, nothing. Only I thought you had struck out a new idea, and invented a scheme that was going to revolution-ize the time-worn and ineffectual methods of the -- " He stopped, and turned to Blake, who was happy now that another had taken his place on the gridiron: "Blake, didn't you understand him to intimate that it wouldn't be necessary for you to hunt the old woman down?"
"B'George, he said he 'd have thief and swag both inside of three days -- he did, by hokey! and that's just about a week ago. Why, I said at the time that no thief and no thief's pal was going to try to pawn or sell a thing where he knowed the pawnbroker could get both rewards by taking <him> into camp <with> the swag. It was the blessedest idea that ever <I> struck!"
"You 'd change your mind," said Wilson, with irritated bluntness, "if you knew the entire scheme instead of only part of it."
"Well," said the constable, pensively, "I had the idea that it wouldn't work, and up to now I 'm right, anyway."
"Very well, then, let it stand at that, and give it a further show. It has worked at least as well as your own methods, you perceive."
The constable hadn't anything handy to hit back with, so he discharged a discontented sniff, and said nothing.
After the night that Wilson had partly revealed his scheme at his house, Tom had tried for several days to guess out the secret of the rest of it, but had failed. Then it occurred to him to give Roxana's smarter head a chance at it. He made up a supposititious case, and laid it before her. She thought it over, and delivered her verdict upon it. Tom said to himself, "She's hit it, sure!" He thought he would test that verdict, now, and watch Wilson's face; so he said reflectively --
"Wilson, you 're not a fool -- a fact of recent discovery. Whatever your scheme was, it had sense in it, Blake's opinion to the contrary notwithstanding. I don't ask you to reveal it, but I will suppose a case -- a case which will answer as a starting-point for the real thing I am going to come at, and that's all I want. You offered five hundred dollars for the knife, and five hundred for the thief. We will suppose, for argument's sake, that the first reward is <advertised>, and the second offered by <private letter> to pawnbrokers and -- "
Blake slapped his thigh, and cried out --
"By Jackson, he's got you, Pudd'nhead! Now why couldn't I or <any> fool have thought of that?"
Wilson said to himself, "Anybody with a reasonably good head would have thought of it. I am not surprised that Blake didn't detect it; I am only surprised that Tom did. There is more to him than I supposed." He said nothing aloud, and Tom went on:
"Very well. The thief would not suspect that there was a trap, and he would bring or send the knife, and say he bought it for a song, or found it in the road, or something like that, and try to collect the reward, and be arrested -- wouldn't he?"
"Yes," said Wilson.
"I think so," said Tom. "There can't be any doubt of it. Have you ever seen that knife?"
"Has any friend of yours?"
"Not that I know of."
"Well, I begin to think I understand why your scheme failed."
"What do you mean, Tom? What are you driving at?" asked Wilson, with a dawning sense of discomfort.
"Why, that there <isn't> any such knife."
"Look here, Wilson," said Blake, "Tom Driscoll's right, for a thousand dollars -- if I had it."
Wilson's blood warmed a little, and he wondered if he had been played upon by those strangers; it certainly had something of that look. But what could they gain by it? He threw out that suggestion. Tom replied:
"Gain? Oh, nothing that you would value, maybe. But they are strangers making their way in a new community. Is it nothing to them to appear as pets of an Oriental prince -- at no expense? Is it nothing to them to be able to dazzle this poor little town with thousand-dollar rewards -- at no expense? Wilson, there isn't any such knife, or your scheme would have fetched it to light. Or if there is any such knife, they've got it yet. I believe, myself, that they've seen such a knife, for Angelo pictured it out with his pencil too swiftly and handily for him to have been inventing it, and of course I can't swear that they've never had it; but this I'll go bail for -- if they had it when they came to this town, they've got it yet."
Blake said --
"It looks mighty reasonable, the way Tom puts it; it most certainly does."
Tom responded, turning to leave --
"You find the old woman, Blake, and if she can't furnish the knife, go and search the twins!"
Tom sauntered away. Wilson felt a good deal depressed. He hardly knew what to think. He was loth to withdraw his faith from the twins, and was resolved not to do it on the present indecisive evidence; but -- well, he would think, and then decide how to act.
"Blake, what do you think of this matter?"
"Well, Pudd'nhead, I 'm bound to say I put it up the way Tom does. They hadn't the knife; or if they had it, they've got it yet."
The men parted. Wilson said to himself:
"I believe they had it; if it had been stolen, the scheme would have restored it, that is certain. And so I believe they've got it yet."
Tom had no purpose in his mind when he encountered those two men. When he began his talk he hoped to be able to gall them a little and get a trifle of malicious entertainment out of it. But when he left, he left in great spirits, for he perceived that just by pure luck and no troublesome labor he had accomplished several delightful things: he had touched both men on a raw spot and seen them squirm; he had modified Wilson's sweetness for the twins with one small bitter taste that he wouldn't be able to get out of his mouth right away; and, best of all, he had taken the hated twins down a peg with the community; for Blake would gossip around freely, after the manner of detectives, and within a week the town would be laughing at them in its sleeve for offering a gaudy reward for a bauble which they either never possessed or hadn't lost. Tom was very well satisfied with himself.
Tom's behavior at home had been perfect during the entire week. His uncle and aunt had seen nothing like it before. They could find no fault with him anywhere.
Saturday evening he said to the Judge --
"I've had something preying on my mind, uncle, and as I am going away, and might never see you again, I can't bear it any longer. I made you believe I was afraid to fight that Italian adventurer. I had to get out of it on some pretext or other, and maybe I chose badly, being taken unawares, but no honorable person could consent to meet him in the field, knowing what I knew about him."
"Indeed? What was that?"
"Count Luigi is a confessed assassin."
"It is perfectly true. Wilson detected it in his hand, by palmistry, and charged him with it, and cornered him up so close that he had to confess; but both twins begged us on their knees to keep the secret, and swore they would lead straight lives here; and it was all so pitiful that we gave our word of honor never to expose them while they kept that promise. You would have done it yourself, uncle."
"You are right, my boy; I would. A man's secret is still his own property, and sacred, when it has been surprised out of him like that. You did well, and I am proud of you." Then he added mournfully, "But I wish I could have been saved the shame of meeting an assassin on the field of honor."
"It couldn't be helped, uncle. If I had known you were going to challenge him I should have felt obliged to sacrifice my pledged word in order to stop it, but Wilson couldn't be expected to do otherwise than keep silent."
"Oh no; Wilson did right, and is in no way to blame. Tom, Tom, you have lifted a heavy load from my heart; I was stung to the very soul when I seemed to have discovered that I had a coward in my family."
"You may imagine what it cost <me> to assume such a part, uncle."
"Oh, I know it, poor boy, I know it. And I can understand how much it has cost you to remain under that unjust stigma to this time. But it is all right now, and no harm is done. You have restored my comfort of mind, and with it your own; and both of us had suffered enough."
The old man sat a while plunged in thought; then he looked up with a satisfied light in his eye, and said: "That this assassin should have put the affront upon me of letting me meet him on the field of honor as if he were a gentleman is a matter which I will presently settle -- but not now. I will not shoot him until after election. I see a way to ruin them both before; I will attend to that first. Neither of them shall be elected, that I promise. You are sure that the fact that he is an assassin has not got abroad?"
"Perfectly certain of it, sir."
"It will be a good card. I will fling a hint at it from the stump on the polling-day. It will sweep the ground from under both of them."
"There's not a doubt of it. It will finish them."
"That and outside work among the voters will, to a certainty. I want you to come down here by and by and work privately among the rag-tag and bobtail. You shall spend money among them; I will furnish it."
Another point scored against the detested twins! Really it was a great day for Tom. He was encouraged to chance a parting shot, now, at the same target, and did it.
"You know that wonderful Indian knife that the twins have been making such a to-do about? Well, there's no track or trace of it yet; so the town is beginning to sneer and gossip and laugh. Half the people believe they never had any such knife, the other half believe they had it and have got it still. I've heard twenty people talking like that to-day."
Yes, Tom's blemishless week had restored him to the favor of his aunt and uncle.
His mother was satisfied with him, too. Privately, she believed she was coming to love him, but she did not say so. She told him to go along to St. Louis, now, and she would get ready and follow. Then she smashed her whisky bottle and said --
"Dah now! I's a-gwyne to make you walk as straight as a string, Chambers, en so I's bown' you ain't gwyne to git no bad example out o' yo' mammy. I tole you you couldn't go into no bad comp'ny. Well, you's gwyne into my comp'ny, en I's gwyne to fill de bill. Now, den, trot along, trot along!"
Tom went aboard one of the big transient boats that night with his heavy satchel of miscellaneous plunder, and slept the sleep of the unjust, which is serener and sounder than the other kind, as we know by the hanging-eve history of a million rascals. But when he got up in the morning, luck was against him again: A brother-thief had robbed him while he slept, and gone ashore at some intermediate landing.
If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man. -- <Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar.>
We know all about the habits of the ant, we know all about the habits of the bee, but we know nothing at all about the habits of the yster. It seems almost certain that we have been choosing the wrong time for studying the oyster. -- <Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar.>
When Roxana arrived, she found her son in such despair and misery that her heart was touched and her motherhood rose up strong in her. He was ruined past hope, now; his destruction would be immediate and sure, and he would be an outcast and friendless. That was reason enough for a mother to love a child; so she loved him, and told him so. It made him wince, secretly -- for she was a "nigger." That he was one himself was far from reconciling him to that despised race.
Roxana poured out endearments upon him, to which he responded uncomfortably, but as well as he could. And she tried to comfort him, but that was not possible. These intimacies quickly became horrible to him, and within the hour he began to try to get up courage enough to tell her so, and require that they be discontinued or very considerably modified. But he was afraid of her; and besides, there came a lull, now, for she had begun to think. She was trying to invent a saving plan. Finally she started up, and said she had found a way out. Tom was almost suffocated by the joy of this sudden good news. Roxana said:
"Here is de plan, en she'll win, sure. I's a nigger, en nobody ain't gwyne to doubt it dat hears me talk. I's wuth six hund'd dollahs. Take en sell me, en pay off dese gamblers."
Tom was dazed. He was not sure he had heard aright. He was dumb for a moment; then he said:
"Do you mean that you would be sold into slavery to save me?"
"Ain't you my chile? En does you know anything dat a mother won't do for her chile? Dey ain't nothin' a white mother won't do for her chile. Who made 'em so? De Lord done it. En who made de niggers? De Lord made 'em. In de inside, mothers is all de same. De good Lord he made 'em so. I's gwyne to be sole into slavery, en in a year you's gwyne to buy yo' ole mammy free ag'in. I'll show you how. Dat's de plan."
Tom's hopes began to rise, and his spirits along with them. He said --
"It's lovely of you, mammy -- it's just -- "
"Say it ag'in! En keep on sayin' it! It's all de pay a body kin want in dis worl', en it's mo' den enough. Laws bless you, honey, when I's slavin' aroun', en dey 'buses me, if I knows you's a- ayin' dat, 'way off yonder somers, it'll heal up all de sore places, en I kin stan' 'em."
"I <do> say it again, mammy, and I'll keep on saying it, too. But how am I going to sell you? You 're free, you know."
"Much diff'rence dat make! White folks ain't partic'lar. De law kin sell me now if dey tell me to leave de State in six months en I don't go. You draw up a paper -- bill o' sale -- en put it 'way off yonder, down in de middle 'o Kaintuck somers, en sign some names to it, en say you'll sell me cheap 'ca'se you's hard up; you'll fine you ain't gwyne to have no trouble. You take me up de country a piece, en sell me on a farm; dem people ain't gwyne to ask no questions if I's a bargain."
Tom forged a bill of sale and sold his mother to an Arkansas cotton-planter for a trifle over six hundred dollars. He did not want to commit this treachery, but luck threw the man in his way, and this saved him the necessity of going up country to hunt up a purchaser, with the added risk of having to answer a lot of questions, whereas this planter was so pleased with Roxy that he asked next to none at all. Besides, the planter insisted that Roxy wouldn't know where she was, at first, and that by the time she found out she would already have become contented. And Tom argued with himself that it was an immense advantage for Roxy to have a master who was so pleased with her, as this planter manifestly was. In almost no time his flowing reasonings carried him to the point of even half believing he was doing Roxy a splendid surreptitious service in selling her "down the river." And then he kept diligently saying to himself all the time: "It's for only a year. In a year I buy her free again; she'll keep that in mind, and it'll reconcile her." Yes; the little deception could do no harm, and everything would come out right and pleasant in the end, any way. By agreement, the conversation in Roxy's presence was all about the man's "up- country" farm, and how pleasant a place it was, and how happy the slaves were there; so poor Roxy was entirely deceived; and easily, for she was not dreaming that her own son could be guilty of treason to a mother who, in voluntarily going into slavery -- slavery of any kind, mild or severe, or of any duration, brief or long -- was making a sacrifice for him compared with which death would have been a poor and commonplace one. She lavished tears and loving caresses upon him privately, and then went away with her owner -- went away broken-hearted, and yet proud of what she was doing, and glad that it was in her power to do it.
Tom squared his accounts, and resolved to keep to the very letter of his reform, and never to put that will in jeopardy again. He had three hundred dollars left. According to his mother's plan, he was to put that safely away, and add her half of his pension to it monthly. In one year this fund would buy her free again.
For a whole week he was not able to sleep well, so much the villainy which he had played upon his trusting mother preyed upon his rag of a conscience; but after that he began to get comfortable again, and was presently able to sleep like any other miscreant.
THE boat bore Roxy away from St. Louis at four in the afternoon, and she stood on the lower guard abaft the paddle-box and watched Tom through a blur of tears until he melted into the throng of people and disappeared; then she looked no more, but sat there on a coil of cable crying till far into the night. When she went to her foul steerage-bunk at last, between the clashing engines, it was not to sleep, but only to wait for the morning, and, waiting, grieve.
It had been imagined that she "would not know," and would think she was traveling up stream. She! Why, she had been steamboating for years. At dawn she got up and went listlessly and sat down on the cable-coil again. She passed many a snag whose "break" could have told her a thing to break her heart, for it showed a current moving in the same direction that the boat was going; but her thoughts were elsewhere, and she did not notice. But at last the roar of a bigger and nearer break than usual brought her out of her torpor, and she looked up, and her practised eye fell upon that tell-tale rush of water. For one moment her petrified gaze fixed itself there. Then her head dropped upon her breast, and she said --
"Oh, de good Lord God have mercy on po' sinful me -- <I's sole down de river!>"
Even popularity can be overdone. In Rome, along at first, you are full of regrets that Michelangelo died; but by and by you only regret that you didn't see him do it. -- <Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar.>
<July 4.> Statistics show that we lose more fools on this day than in all the other days of the year put together. This proves, by the number left in stock, that one Fourth of July per year is now inadequate, the country has grown so. <Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar.>
The summer weeks dragged by, and then the political campaign opened -- opened in pretty warm fashion, and waxed hotter and hotter daily. The twins threw themselves into it with their whole heart, for their self-love was engaged. Their popularity, so general at first, had suffered afterward; mainly because they had been <too> popular, and so a natural reaction had followed. Besides, it had been diligently whispered around that it was curious -- indeed, <very> curious -- that that wonderful knife of theirs did not turn up -- <if> it was so valuable, or <if> it had ever existed. And with the whisperings went chucklings and nudgings and winks, and such things have an effect. The twins considered that success in the election would reinstate them, and that defeat would work them irreparable damage. Therefore they worked hard, but not harder than Judge Driscoll and Tom worked against them in the closing days of the canvass. Tom's conduct had remained so letter-perfect during two whole months, now, that his uncle not only trusted him with money with which to persuade voters, but trusted him to go and get it himself out of the safe in the private sitting-room.
The closing speech of the campaign was made by Judge Driscoll, and he made it against both of the foreigners. It was disastrously effective. He poured out rivers of ridicule upon them, and forced the big mass-meeting to laugh and applaud. He scoffed at them as adventurers, mountebanks, side-show riff-raff, dime-museum freaks; he assailed their showy titles with measureless derision; he said they were back-alley barbers disguised as nobilities, peanut pedlers masquerading as gentlemen, organ-grinders bereft of their brother-monkey. At last he stopped and stood still. He waited until the place had become absolutely silent and expectant, then he delivered his deadliest shot; delivered it with ice-cold seriousness and deliberation, with a significant emphasis upon the closing words: he said he believed that the reward offered for the lost knife was humbug and buncombe, and that its owner would know where to find it whenever he should have occasion <to assassinate somebody>.
Then he stepped from the stand, leaving a startled and impressive hush behind him instead of the customary explosion of cheers and party cries.
The strange remark flew far and wide over the town and made an extraordinary sensation. Everybody was asking, "What could he mean by that?" And everybody went on asking that question, but in vain; for the Judge only said he knew what he was talking about, and stopped there; Tom said he hadn't any idea what his uncle meant, and Wilson, whenever he was asked what he thought it meant, parried the question by asking the questioner what <he> thought it meant.
Wilson was elected, the twins were defeated -- crushed, in fact, and left forlorn and substantially friendless. Tom went back to St. Louis happy.
Dawson's Landing had a week of repose, now, and it needed it. But it was in an expectant state, for the air was full of rumors of a new duel. Judge Driscoll's election labors had prostrated him, but it was said that as soon as he was well enough to entertain a challenge he would get one from Count Luigi.
The brothers withdrew entirely from society, and nursed their humiliation in privacy. They avoided the people, and went out for exercise only late at night, when the streets were deserted.