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Pudd'nhead Wilson

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CHAPTER VI. 
Swimming in Glory.


Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.
—Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar.

Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed down-stairs a step at a time.
—Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar.

At breakfast in the morning the twins’ charm of manner and easy and polished bearing made speedy conquest of the family’s good graces. All constraint and formality quickly disappeared, and the friendliest feeling succeeded. Aunt Patsy called them by their Christian names almost from the beginning. She was full of the keenest curiosity about them, and showed it; they responded by talking about themselves, which pleased her greatly. It presently appeared that in their early youth they had known poverty and hardship. As the talk wandered along the old lady watched for the right place to drop in a question or two concerning that matter, and when she found it she said to the blond twin who was now doing the biographies in his turn while the brunette one rested—

“If it ain’t asking what I ought not to ask, Mr. Angelo, how did you come to be so friendless and in such trouble when you were little? Do you mind telling? But don’t if you do.”

“Oh, we don’t mind it at all, madam; in our case it was merely misfortune, and nobody’s fault. Our parents were well to do, there in Italy, and we were their only child. We were of the old Florentine nobility”—Rowena’s heart gave a great bound, her nostrils expanded, and a fine light played in her eyes—“and when the war broke out my father was on the losing side and had to fly for his life. His estates were confiscated, his personal property seized, and there we were, in Germany, strangers, friendless, and in fact paupers. My brother and I were ten years old, and well educated for that age, very studious, very fond of our books, and well grounded in the German, French, Spanish, and English languages. Also, we were marvelous musical prodigies—if you will allow me to say it, it being only the truth.

“Our father survived his misfortunes only a month, our mother soon followed him, and we were alone in the world. Our parents could have made themselves comfortable by exhibiting us as a show, and they had many and large offers; but the thought revolted their pride, and they said they would starve and die first. But what they wouldn’t consent to do we had to do without the formality of consent. We were seized for the debts occasioned by their illness and their funerals, and placed among the attractions of a cheap museum in Berlin to earn the liquidation money. It took us two years to get out of that slavery. We traveled all about Germany receiving no wages, and not even our keep. We had to be exhibited for nothing, and beg our bread.

“Well, madam, the rest is not of much consequence. When we escaped from that slavery at twelve years of age, we were in some respects men. Experience had taught us some valuable things; among others, how to take care of ourselves, how to avoid and defeat sharks and sharpers, and how to conduct our own business for our own profit and without other people’s help. We traveled everywhere—years and years—picking up smatterings of strange tongues, familiarizing ourselves with strange sights and strange customs, accumulating an education of a wide and varied and curious sort. It was a pleasant life. We went to Venice—to London, Paris, Russia, India, China, Japan—”

At this point Nancy the slave woman thrust her head in at the door and exclaimed:

“Ole Missus, de house is plum’ jam full o’ people, en dey’s jes a-spi’lin’ to see de gen’lmen!” She indicated the twins with a nod of her head, and tucked it back out of sight again.

It was a proud occasion for the widow, and she promised herself high satisfaction in showing off her fine foreign birds before her neighbors and friends—simple folk who had hardly ever seen a foreigner of any kind, and never one of any distinction or style. Yet her feeling was moderate indeed when contrasted with Rowena’s. Rowena was in the clouds, she walked on air; this was to be the greatest day, the most romantic episode, in the colorless history of that dull country town. She was to be familiarly near the source of its glory and feel the full flood of it pour over her and about her; the other girls could only gaze and envy, not partake.

The widow was ready, Rowena was ready, so also were the foreigners.

The party moved along the hall, the twins in advance, and entered the open parlor door, whence issued a low hum of conversation. The twins took a position near the door, the widow stood at Luigi’s side, Rowena stood beside Angelo, and the march-past and the introductions began. The widow was all smiles and contentment. She received the procession and passed it on to Rowena.

“Good mornin’, Sister Cooper”—hand-shake.

“Good morning, Brother Higgins—Count Luigi Capello, Mr. Higgins”—hand-shake, followed by a devouring stare and “I’m glad to see ye,” on the part of Higgins, and a courteous inclination of the head and a pleasant “Most happy!” on the part of Count Luigi.

“Good mornin’, Roweny”—hand-shake.

“Good morning, Mr. Higgins—present you to Count Angelo Capello.” Hand-shake, admiring stare, “Glad to see ye,”—courteous nod, smily “Most happy!” and Higgins passes on.

None of these visitors was at ease, but, being honest people, they didn’t pretend to be. None of them had ever seen a person bearing a title of nobility before, and none had been expecting to see one now, consequently the title came upon them as a kind of pile-driving surprise and caught them unprepared. A few tried to rise to the emergency, and got out an awkward “My lord,” or “Your lordship,” or something of that sort, but the great majority were overwhelmed by the unaccustomed word and its dim and awful associations with gilded courts and stately ceremony and anointed kingship, so they only fumbled through the hand-shake and passed on, speechless. Now and then, as happens at all receptions everywhere, a more than ordinary friendly soul blocked the procession and kept it waiting while he inquired how the brothers liked the village, and how long they were going to stay, and if their families were well, and dragged in the weather, and hoped it would get cooler soon, and all that sort of thing, so as to be able to say, when they got home, “I had quite a long talk with them”; but nobody did or said anything of a regrettable kind, and so the great affair went through to the end in a creditable and satisfactory fashion.

General conversation followed, and the twins drifted about from group to group, talking easily and fluently and winning approval, compelling admiration and achieving favor from all. The widow followed their conquering march with a proud eye, and every now and then Rowena said to herself with deep satisfaction, “And to think they are ours—all ours!”

There were no idle moments for mother or daughter. Eager inquiries concerning the twins were pouring into their enchanted ears all the time; each was the constant center of a group of breathless listeners; each recognized that she knew now for the first time the real meaning of that great word Glory, and perceived the stupendous value of it, and understood why men in all ages had been willing to throw away meaner happinesses, treasure, life itself, to get a taste of its sublime and supreme joy. Napoleon and all his kind stood accounted for—and justified.

When Rowena had at last done all her duty by the people in the parlor, she went up-stairs to satisfy the longings of an overflow-meeting there, for the parlor was not big enough to hold all the comers. Again she was besieged by eager questioners and again she swam in sunset seas of glory. When the forenoon was nearly gone, she recognized with a pang that this most splendid episode of her life was almost over, that nothing could prolong it, that nothing quite its equal could ever fall to her fortune again. But never mind, it was sufficient unto itself, the grand occasion had moved on an ascending scale from the start, and was a noble and memorable success. If the twins could but do some crowning act, now, to climax it, something unusual, something startling, something to concentrate upon themselves the company’s loftiest admiration, something in the nature of an electric surprise—

Here a prodigious slam-banging broke out below, and everybody rushed down to see. It was the twins knocking out a classic four-handed piece on the piano, in great style. Rowena was satisfied—satisfied down to the bottom of her heart.

The young strangers were kept long at the piano. The villagers were astonished and enchanted with the magnificence of their performance, and could not bear to have them stop. All the music that they had ever heard before seemed spiritless prentice-work and barren of grace or charm when compared with these intoxicating floods of melodious sound. They realized that for once in their lives they were hearing masters.





CHAPTER VII. 
The Unknown Nymph.


One of the most striking differences between a cat and a lie is that a cat has only nine lives.
—Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar.

The company broke up reluctantly, and drifted toward their several homes, chatting with vivacity, and all agreeing that it would be many a long day before Dawson’s Landing would see the equal of this one again. The twins had accepted several invitations while the reception was in progress, and had also volunteered to play some duets at an amateur entertainment for the benefit of a local charity. Society was eager to receive them to its bosom. Judge Driscoll had the good fortune to secure them for an immediate drive, and to be the first to display them in public. They entered his buggy with him, and were paraded down the main street, everybody flocking to the windows and sidewalks to see.

The Judge showed the strangers the new graveyard, and the jail, and where the richest man lived, and the Freemasons’ hall, and the Methodist church, and the Presbyterian church, and where the Baptist church was going to be when they got some money to build it with, and showed them the town hall and the slaughter-house, and got out the independent fire company in uniform and had them put out an imaginary fire; then he let them inspect the muskets of the militia company, and poured out an exhaustless stream of enthusiasm over all these splendors, and seemed very well satisfied with the responses he got, for the twins admired his admiration, and paid him back the best they could, though they could have done better if some fifteen or sixteen hundred thousand previous experiences of this sort in various countries had not already rubbed off a considerable part of the novelty of it.

The Judge laid himself out hospitably to make them have a good time, and if there was a defect anywhere it was not his fault. He told them a good many humorous anecdotes, and always forgot the nub, but they were always able to furnish it, for these yarns were of a pretty early vintage, and they had had many a rejuvenating pull at them before. And he told them all about his several dignities, and how he had held this and that and the other place of honor or profit, and had once been to the legislature, and was now president of the Society of Free-thinkers. He said the society had been in existence four years, and already had two members, and was firmly established. He would call for the brothers in the evening if they would like to attend a meeting of it.

Accordingly he called for them, and on the way he told them all about Pudd’nhead Wilson, in order that they might get a favorable impression of him in advance and be prepared to like him. This scheme succeeded—the favorable impression was achieved. Later it was confirmed and solidified when Wilson proposed that out of courtesy to the strangers the usual topics be put aside and the hour be devoted to conversation upon ordinary subjects and the cultivation of friendly relations and good-fellowship,—a proposition which was put to vote and carried.

The hour passed quickly away in lively talk, and when it was ended the lonesome and neglected Wilson was richer by two friends than he had been when it began. He invited the twins to look in at his lodgings, presently, after disposing of an intervening engagement, and they accepted with pleasure.

Toward the middle of the evening they found themselves on the road to his house. Pudd’nhead was at home waiting for them and putting in his time puzzling over a thing which had come under his notice that morning. The matter was this: He happened to be up very early—at dawn, in fact; and he crossed the hall which divided his cottage through the center, and entered a room to get something there. The window of the room had no curtains, for that side of the house had long been unoccupied, and through this window he caught sight of something which surprised and interested him. It was a young woman—a young woman where properly no young woman belonged; for she was in Judge Driscoll’s house, and in the bedroom over the Judge’s private study or sitting-room. This was young Tom Driscoll’s bedroom. He and the Judge, the Judge’s widowed sister Mrs. Pratt and three negro servants were the only people who belonged in the house. Who, then, might this young lady be? The two houses were separated by an ordinary yard, with a low fence running back through its middle from the street in front to the lane in the rear. The distance was not great, and Wilson was able to see the girl very well, the window-shades of the room she was in being up, and the window also. The girl had on a neat and trim summer dress, patterned in broad stripes of pink and white, and her bonnet was equipped with a pink veil. She was practising steps, gaits and attitudes, apparently; she was doing the thing gracefully, and was very much absorbed in her work. Who could she be, and how came she to be in young Tom Driscoll’s room?

Wilson had quickly chosen a position from which he could watch the girl without running much risk of being seen by her, and he remained there hoping she would raise her veil and betray her face. But she disappointed him. After a matter of twenty minutes she disappeared, and although he stayed at his post half an hour longer, she came no more.

Toward noon he dropped in at the Judge’s and talked with Mrs. Pratt about the great event of the day, the levee of the distinguished foreigners at Aunt Patsy Cooper’s. He asked after her nephew Tom, and she said he was on his way home, and that she was expecting him to arrive a little before night; and added that she and the Judge were gratified to gather from his letters that he was conducting himself very nicely and creditably—at which Wilson winked to himself privately. Wilson did not ask if there was a newcomer in the house, but he asked questions that would have brought light-throwing answers as to that matter if Mrs. Pratt had had any light to throw; so he went away satisfied that he knew of things that were going on in her house of which she herself was not aware.

He was now waiting for the twins, and still puzzling over the problem of who that girl might be, and how she happened to be in that young fellow’s room at daybreak in the morning.





CHAPTER VIII. 
Marse Tom Tramples His Chance.


The holy passion of Friendship is of so sweet and steady and loyal and enduring a nature that it will last through a whole lifetime, if not asked to lend money.
—Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar.

Consider well the proportions of things. It is better to be a young June-bug than an old bird of paradise.
—Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar.

It is necessary now, to hunt up Roxy.

At the time she was set free and went away chambermaiding, she was thirty-five. She got a berth as second chambermaid on a Cincinnati boat in the New Orleans trade, the Grand Mogul. A couple of trips made her wonted and easy-going at the work, and infatuated her with the stir and adventure and independence of steamboat life. Then she was promoted and became head chambermaid. She was a favorite with the officers, and exceedingly proud of their joking and friendly way with her.

During eight years she served three parts of the year on that boat, and the winters on a Vicksburg packet. But now for two months she had had rheumatism in her arms, and was obliged to let the wash-tub alone. So she resigned. But she was well fixed—rich, as she would have described it; for she had lived a steady life, and had banked four dollars every month in New Orleans as a provision for her old age. She said in the start that she had “put shoes on one bar’footed nigger to tromple on her with,” and that one mistake like that was enough; she would be independent of the human race thenceforth forevermore if hard work and economy could accomplish it. When the boat touched the levee at New Orleans she bade good-by to her comrades on the Grand Mogul and moved her kit ashore.

But she was back in a hour. The bank had gone to smash and carried her four hundred dollars with it. She was a pauper, and homeless. Also disabled bodily, at least for the present. The officers were full of sympathy for her in her trouble, and made up a little purse for her. She resolved to go to her birthplace; she had friends there among the negroes, and the unfortunate always help the unfortunate, she was well aware of that; those lowly comrades of her youth would not let her starve.

She took the little local packet at Cairo, and now she was on the home-stretch. Time had worn away her bitterness against her son, and she was able to think of him with serenity. She put the vile side of him out of her mind, and dwelt only on recollections of his occasional acts of kindness to her. She gilded and otherwise decorated these, and made them very pleasant to contemplate. She began to long to see him. She would go and fawn upon him, slave-like—for this would have to be her attitude, of course—and maybe she would find that time had modified him, and that he would be glad to see his long-forgotten old nurse and treat her gently. That would be lovely; that would make her forget her woes and her poverty.

Her poverty! That thought inspired her to add another castle to her dream: maybe he would give her a trifle now and then—maybe a dollar, once a month, say; any little thing like that would help, oh, ever so much.

By the time she reached Dawson’s Landing she was her old self again; her blues were gone, she was in high feather. She would get along, surely; there were many kitchens where the servants would share their meals with her, and also steal sugar and apples and other dainties for her to carry home—or give her a chance to pilfer them herself, which would answer just as well. And there was the church. She was a more rabid and devoted Methodist than ever, and her piety was no sham, but was strong and sincere. Yes, with plenty of creature comforts and her old place in the amen-corner in her possession again, she would be perfectly happy and at peace thenceforward to the end.

She went to Judge Driscoll’s kitchen first of all. She was received there in great form and with vast enthusiasm. Her wonderful travels, and the strange countries she had seen and the adventures she had had, made her a marvel, and a heroine of romance. The negroes hung enchanted upon the great story of her experiences, interrupting her all along with eager questions, with laughter, exclamations of delight and expressions of applause; and she was obliged to confess to herself that if there was anything better in this world than steamboating, it was the glory to be got by telling about it. The audience loaded her stomach with their dinners, and then stole the pantry bare to load up her basket.

Tom was in St. Louis. The servants said he had spent the best part of his time there during the previous two years. Roxy came every day, and had many talks about the family and its affairs. Once she asked why Tom was away so much. The ostensible “Chambers” said:

“De fac’ is, ole marster kin git along better when young marster’s away den he kin when he’s in de town; yes, en he love him better, too; so he gives him fifty dollahs a month—”

“No, is dat so? Chambers, you’s a-jokin’, ain’t you?”

“’Clah to goodness I ain’t, mammy; Marse Tom tole me so his own self. But nemmine, ’tain’t enough.”

“My lan’, what de reason ’tain’t enough?”

“Well, I’s gwine to tell you, if you gimme a chanst, mammy. De reason it ain’t enough is ’ca’se Marse Tom gambles.”

Roxy threw up her hands in astonishment and Chambers went on—

“Ole marster found it out, ’ca’se he had to pay two hundred dollahs for Marse Tom’s gamblin’ debts, en dat’s true, mammy, jes as dead certain as you’s bawn.”

“Two—hund’d—dollahs! Why, what is you talkin’ ’bout? Two—hund’d—dollahs. Sakes alive, it’s ’mos’ enough to buy a tol’able good second-hand nigger wid. En you ain’t lyin’, honey?—you wouldn’t lie to yo’ ole mammy?”

“It’s God’s own truth, jes as I tell you—two hund’d dollahs—I wisht I may never stir outen my tracks if it ain’t so. En, oh, my lan’, ole Marse was jes a-hoppin’! he was b’ilin’ mad, I tell you! He tuck ’n’ dissenhurrit him.”

He licked his chops with relish after that stately word. Roxy struggled with it a moment, then gave it up and said—

“Dissenwhiched him?”

“Dissenhurrit him.”

“What’s dat? What do it mean?”

“Means he bu’sted de will.”

“Bu’s—ted de will! He wouldn’t ever treat him so! Take it back, you mis’able imitation nigger dat I bore in sorrow en tribbilation.”

Roxy’s pet castle—an occasional dollar from Tom’s pocket—was tumbling to ruin before her eyes. She could not abide such a disaster as that; she couldn’t endure the thought of it. Her remark amused Chambers:

“Yah-yah-yah! jes listen to dat! If I’s imitation, what is you? Bofe of us is imitation white—dat’s what we is—en pow’ful good imitation, too—yah-yah-yah!—we don’t ’mount to noth’n as imitation niggers; en as for—”

“Shet up yo’ foolin’, ’fo’ I knock you side de head, en tell me ’bout de will. Tell me ’tain’t bu’sted—do, honey, en I’ll never forgit you.”

“Well, ’tain’t—’ca’se dey’s a new one made, en Marse Tom’s all right ag’in. But what is you in sich a sweat ’bout it for, mammy? ’Tain’t none o’ your business I don’t reckon.”

“’Tain’t none o’ my business? Whose business is it den, I’d like to know? Wuz I his mother tell he was fifteen years old, or wusn’t I?—you answer me dat. En you speck I could see him turned out po’ en ornery on de worl’ en never care noth’n’ ’bout it? I reckon if you’d ever be’n a mother yo’self, Valet de Chambers, you wouldn’t talk sich foolishness as dat.”

“Well, den, ole Marse forgive him en fixed up de will ag’in—do dat satisfy you?”

Yes, she was satisfied now, and quite happy and sentimental over it. She kept coming daily, and at last she was told that Tom had come home. She began to tremble with emotion, and straightway sent to beg him to let his “po’ ole nigger mammy have jes one sight of him en die for joy.”

Tom was stretched at his lazy ease on a sofa when Chambers brought the petition. Time had not modified his ancient detestation of the humble drudge and protector of his boyhood; it was still bitter and uncompromising. He sat up and bent a severe gaze upon the fair face of the young fellow whose name he was unconsciously using and whose family rights he was enjoying. He maintained the gaze until the victim of it had become satisfactorily pallid with terror, then he said—

“What does the old rip want with me?”

The petition was meekly repeated.

“Who gave you permission to come and disturb me with the social attentions of niggers?”

Tom had risen. The other young man was trembling now, visibly. He saw what was coming, and bent his head sideways, and put up his left arm to shield it. Tom rained cuffs upon the head and its shield, saying no word: the victim received each blow with a beseeching, “Please, Marse Tom!—oh, please, Marse Tom!” Seven blows—then Tom said, “Face the door—march!” He followed behind with one, two, three solid kicks. The last one helped the pure-white slave over the door-sill, and he limped away mopping his eyes with his old ragged sleeve. Tom shouted after him, “Send her in!”

Then he flung himself panting on the sofa again, and rasped out the remark, “He arrived just at the right moment; I was full to the brim with bitter thinkings, and nobody to take it out of. How refreshing it was! I feel better.”

Tom’s mother entered now, closing the door behind her, and approached her son with all the wheedling and supplicating servilities that fear and interest can impart to the words and attitudes of the born slave. She stopped a yard from her boy and made two or three admiring exclamations over his manly stature and general handsomeness, and Tom put an arm under his head and hoisted a leg over the sofa-back in order to look properly indifferent.

“My lan’, how you is growed, honey! ’Clah to goodness, I wouldn’t a-knowed you, Marse Tom! ’deed I wouldn’t! Look at me good; does you ’member old Roxy?—does you know yo’ old nigger mammy, honey? Well, now, I kin lay down en die in peace, ’ca’se I’se seed—”

“Cut it short, ——— it, cut it short! What is it you want?”

“You heah dat? Jes the same old Marse Tom, al’ays so gay and funnin’ wid de ole mammy. I ’uz jes as shore—”

“Cut it short, I tell you, and get along! What do you want?”

This was a bitter disappointment. Roxy had for so many days nourished and fondled and petted her notion that Tom would be glad to see his old nurse, and would make her proud and happy to the marrow with a cordial word or two, that it took two rebuffs to convince her that he was not funning, and that her beautiful dream was a fond and foolish vanity, a shabby and pitiful mistake. She was hurt to the heart, and so ashamed that for a moment she did not quite know what to do or how to act. Then her breast began to heave, the tears came, and in her forlornness she was moved to try that other dream of hers—an appeal to her boy’s charity; and so, upon the impulse, and without reflection, she offered her supplication:

“Oh, Marse Tom, de po’ ole mammy is in sich hard luck dese days; en she’s kinder crippled in de arms en can’t work, en if you could gimme a dollah—on’y jes one little dol—”

Tom was on his feet so suddenly that the supplicant was startled into a jump herself.

“A dollar!—give you a dollar! I’ve a notion to strangle you! Is that your errand here? Clear out! and be quick about it!”

Roxy backed slowly toward the door. When she was half-way she stopped, and said mournfully:

“Marse Tom, I nussed you when you was a little baby, en I raised you all by myself tell you was ’most a young man; en now you is young en rich, en I is po’ en gitt’n ole, en I come heah b’lievin’ dat you would he’p de ole mammy ’long down de little road dat’s lef’ ’twix’ her en de grave, en—”

Tom relished this tune less than any that had preceded it, for it began to wake up a sort of echo in his conscience; so he interrupted and said with decision, though without asperity, that he was not in a situation to help her, and wasn’t going to do it.

“Ain’t you ever gwine to he’p me, Marse Tom?”

“No! Now go away and don’t bother me any more.”

Roxy’s head was down, in an attitude of humility. But now the fires of her old wrongs flamed up in her breast and began to burn fiercely. She raised her head slowly, till it was well up, and at the same time her great frame unconsciously assumed an erect and masterful attitude, with all the majesty and grace of her vanished youth in it. She raised her finger and punctuated with it:

“You has said de word. You has had yo’ chance, en you has trompled it under yo’ foot. When you git another one, you’ll git down on yo’ knees en beg for it!”

A cold chill went to Tom’s heart, he didn’t know why; for he did not reflect that such words, from such an incongruous source, and so solemnly delivered, could not easily fail of that effect. However, he did the natural thing: he replied with bluster and mockery:

“You’ll give me a chance—you! Perhaps I’d better get down on my knees now! But in case I don’t—just for argument’s sake—what’s going to happen, pray?”

“Dis is what is gwine to happen. I’s gwine as straight to yo’ uncle as I kin walk, en tell him every las’ thing I knows ’bout you.”

Tom’s cheek blenched, and she saw it. Disturbing thoughts began to chase each other through his head. “How can she know? And yet she must have found out—she looks it. I’ve had the will back only three months, and am already deep in debt again, and moving heaven and earth to save myself from exposure and destruction, with a reasonably fair show of getting the thing covered up if I’m let alone, and now this fiend has gone and found me out somehow or other. I wonder how much she knows? Oh, oh, oh, it’s enough to break a body’s heart! But I’ve got to humor her—there’s no other way.”

Then he worked up a rather sickly sample of a gay laugh and a hollow chipperness of manner, and said:

“Well, well, Roxy dear, old friends like you and me mustn’t quarrel. Here’s your dollar—now tell me what you know.”

He held out the wild-cat bill; she stood as she was, and made no movement. It was her turn to scorn persuasive foolery, now, and she did not waste it. She said, with a grim implacability in voice and manner which made Tom almost realize that even a former slave can remember for ten minutes insults and injuries returned for compliments and flatteries received, and can also enjoy taking revenge for them when the opportunity offers:

“What does I know? I’ll tell you what I knows. I knows enough to bu’st dat will to flinders—en more, mind you, more!”

Tom was aghast.

“More?” he said. “What do you call more? Where’s there any room for more?”

Roxy laughed a mocking laugh, and said scoffingly, with a toss of her head, and her hands on her hips—

“Yes!—oh, I reckon! Co’se you’d like to know—wid yo’ po’ little ole rag dollah. What you reckon I’s gwine to tell you for?—you ain’t got no money. I’s gwine to tell yo’ uncle—en I’ll do it dis minute, too—he’ll gimme five dollahs for de news, en mighty glad, too.”

She swung herself around disdainfully, and started away. Tom was in a panic. He seized her skirts, and implored her to wait. She turned and said, loftily—

“Look-a-heah, what ’uz it I tole you?”

“You—you—I don’t remember anything. What was it you told me?”

“I tole you dat de next time I give you a chance you’d git down on yo’ knees en beg for it.”

Tom was stupefied for a moment. He was panting with excitement. Then he said:

“Oh, Roxy, you wouldn’t require your young master to do such a horrible thing. You can’t mean it.”

“I’ll let you know mighty quick whether I means it or not! You call me names, en as good as spit on me when I comes here po’ en ornery en ’umble, to praise you for bein’ growed up so fine en handsome, en tell you how I used to nuss you en tend you en watch you when you ’uz sick en hadn’t no mother but me in de whole worl’, en beg you to give de po’ ole nigger a dollah for to git her som’n’ to eat, en you call me names—names, dad blame you! Yassir, I gives you jes one chance mo’, and dat’s now, en it las’ on’y a half a second—you hear?”

Tom slumped to his knees and began to beg, saying—

“You see, I’m begging, and it’s honest begging, too! Now tell me, Roxy, tell me.”

The heir of two centuries of unatoned insult and outrage looked down on him and seemed to drink in deep draughts of satisfaction. Then she said—

“Fine nice young white gen’l’man kneelin’ down to a nigger-wench! I’s wanted to see dat jes once befo’ I’s called. Now, Gabr’el, blow de hawn, I’s ready … Git up!”

Tom did it. He said, humbly—

“Now, Roxy, don’t punish me any more. I deserved what I’ve got, but be good and let me off with that. Don’t go to uncle. Tell me—I’ll give you the five dollars.”

“Yes, I bet you will; en you won’t stop dah, nuther. But I ain’t gwine to tell you heah—”

“Good gracious, no!”

“Is you ’feared o’ de ha’nted house?”

“N-no.”

“Well, den, you come to de ha’nted house ’bout ten or ’leven to-night, en climb up de ladder, ’ca’se de sta’r-steps is broke down, en you’ll find me. I’s a-roostin’ in de ha’nted house ’ca’se I can’t ’ford to roos’ nowhers’ else.” She started toward the door, but stopped and said, “Gimme de dollah bill!” He gave it to her. She examined it and said, “H’m—like enough de bank’s bu’sted.” She started again, but halted again. “Has you got any whisky?”

“Yes, a little.”

“Fetch it!”

He ran to his room overhead and brought down a bottle which was two-thirds full. She tilted it up and took a drink. Her eyes sparkled with satisfaction, and she tucked the bottle under her shawl, saying, “It’s prime. I’ll take it along.”

Tom humbly held the door for her, and she marched out as grim and erect as a grenadier.





CHAPTER IX. 
Tom Practises Sycophancy.


Why is it that we rejoice at a birth and grieve at a funeral? It is because we are not the person involved.
—Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar.

It is easy to find fault, if one has that disposition. There was once a man who, not being able to find any other fault with his coal, complained that there were too many prehistoric toads in it.—Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar.

Tom flung himself on the sofa, and put his throbbing head in his hands, and rested his elbows on his knees. He rocked himself back and forth and moaned.

“I’ve knelt to a nigger wench!” he muttered. “I thought I had struck the deepest depths of degradation before, but oh, dear, it was nothing to this.… Well, there is one consolation, such as it is—I’ve struck bottom this time; there’s nothing lower.”

But that was a hasty conclusion.

At ten that night he climbed the ladder in the haunted house, pale, weak and wretched. Roxy was standing in the door of one of the rooms, waiting, for she had heard him.

This was a two-story log house which had acquired the reputation a few years before of being haunted, and that was the end of its usefulness. Nobody would live in it afterward, or go near it by night, and most people even gave it a wide berth in the daytime. As it had no competition, it was called the haunted house. It was getting crazy and ruinous, now, from long neglect. It stood three hundred yards beyond Pudd’nhead Wilson’s house, with nothing between but vacancy. It was the last house in the town at that end.

Tom followed Roxy into the room. She had a pile of clean straw in the corner for a bed, some cheap but well-kept clothing was hanging on the wall, there was a tin lantern freckling the floor with little spots of light, and there were various soap-and-candle boxes scattered about, which served for chairs. The two sat down. Roxy said—

“Now den, I’ll tell you straight off, en I’ll begin to k’leck de money later on; I ain’t in no hurry. What does you reckon I’s gwine to tell you?”

“Well, you—you—oh, Roxy, don’t make it too hard for me! Come right out and tell me you’ve found out somehow what a shape I’m in on account of dissipation and foolishness.”

“Disposition en foolishness! No sir, dat ain’t it. Dat jist ain’t nothin’ at all, ’longside o’ what I knows.”

Tom stared at her, and said—

“Why, Roxy, what do you mean?”

She rose, and gloomed above him like a Fate.

“I means dis—en it’s de Lord’s truth. You ain’t no more kin to ole Marse Driscoll den I is!—dat’s what I means!” and her eyes flamed with triumph.

“What!”

“Yassir, en dat ain’t all! You’s a nigger!—bawn a nigger en a slave!—en you’s a nigger en a slave dis minute; en if I opens my mouf ole Marse Driscoll’ll sell you down de river befo’ you is two days older den what you is now!”

“It’s a thundering lie, you miserable old blatherskite!”

“It ain’t no lie, nuther. It’s jes de truth, en nothin’ but de truth, so he’p me. Yassir—you’s my son—”

“You devil!”

“En dat po’ boy dat you’s be’n a-kickin’ en a-cuffin’ to-day is Percy Driscoll’s son en yo’ marster—”

“You beast!”

“En his name’s Tom Driscoll, en yo’ name’s Valet de Chambers, en you ain’t got no fambly name, beca’se niggers don’t have em!”

Tom sprang up and seized a billet of wood and raised it; but his mother only laughed at him, and said—

“Set down, you pup! Does you think you kin skyer me? It ain’t in you, nor de likes of you. I reckon you’d shoot me in de back, maybe, if you got a chance, for dat’s jist yo’ style—I knows you, throo en throo—but I don’t mind gitt’n killed, beca’se all dis is down in writin’ en it’s in safe hands, too, en de man dat’s got it knows whah to look for de right man when I gits killed. Oh, bless yo’ soul, if you puts yo’ mother up for as big a fool as you is, you’s pow’ful mistaken, I kin tell you! Now den, you set still en behave yo’self; en don’t you git up ag’in till I tell you!”

Tom fretted and chafed awhile in a whirlwind of disorganizing sensations and emotions, and finally said, with something like settled conviction—

“The whole thing is moonshine; now then, go ahead and do your worst; I’m done with you.”

Roxy made no answer. She took the lantern and started toward the door. Tom was in a cold panic in a moment.

“Come back, come back!” he wailed. “I didn’t mean it, Roxy; I take it all back, and I’ll never say it again! Please come back, Roxy!”

The woman stood a moment, then she said gravely:

“Dat’s one thing you’s got to stop, Valet de Chambers. You can’t call me Roxy, same as if you was my equal. Chillen don’t speak to dey mammies like dat. You’ll call me ma or mammy, dat’s what you’ll call me—leastways when dey ain’t nobody aroun’. Say it!”

It cost Tom a struggle, but he got it out.

“Dat’s all right. Don’t you ever forgit it ag’in, if you knows what’s good for you. Now den, you has said you wouldn’t ever call it lies en moonshine ag’in. I’ll tell you dis, for a warnin’: if you ever does say it ag’in, it’s de las’ time you’ll ever say it to me; I’ll tramp as straight to de Judge as I kin walk, en tell him who you is, en prove it. Does you b’lieve me when I says dat?”

“Oh,” groaned Tom, “I more than believe it; I know it.”

Roxy knew her conquest was complete. She could have proved nothing to anybody, and her threat about the writings was a lie; but she knew the person she was dealing with, and had made both statements without any doubt as to the effect they would produce.

She went and sat down on her candle-box, and the pride and pomp of her victorious attitude made it a throne. She said—

“Now den, Chambers, we’s gwine to talk business, en dey ain’t gwine to be no mo’ foolishness. In de fust place, you gits fifty dollahs a month; you’s gwine to han’ over half of it to yo’ ma. Plank it out!”

But Tom had only six dollars in the world. He gave her that, and promised to start fair on next month’s pension.

“Chambers, how much is you in debt?”

Tom shuddered, and said—

“Nearly three hundred dollars.”

“How is you gwine to pay it?”

Tom groaned out—“Oh, I don’t know; don’t ask me such awful questions.”

But she stuck to her point until she wearied a confession out of him: he had been prowling about in disguise, stealing small valuables from private houses; in fact, he made a good deal of a raid on his fellow-villagers a fortnight before, when he was supposed to be in St. Louis; but he doubted if he had sent away enough stuff to realize the required amount, and was afraid to make a further venture in the present excited state of the town. His mother approved of his conduct, and offered to help, but this frightened him. He tremblingly ventured to say that if she would retire from the town he should feel better and safer, and could hold his head higher—and was going on to make an argument, but she interrupted and surprised him pleasantly by saying she was ready; it didn’t make any difference to her where she stayed, so that she got her share of the pension regularly. She said she would not go far, and would call at the haunted house once a month for her money. Then she said—

“I don’t hate you so much now, but I’ve hated you a many a year—and anybody would. Didn’t I change you off, en give you a good fambly en a good name, en made you a white gen’l’man en rich, wid store clothes on—en what did I git for it? You despised me all de time, en was al’ays sayin’ mean hard things to me befo’ folks, en wouldn’t ever let me forgit I’s a nigger—en—en———”

She fell to sobbing, and broke down. Tom said—“But you know I didn’t know you were my mother; and besides—”

“Well, nemmine ’bout dat, now; let it go. I’s gwine to fo’git it.” Then she added fiercely, “En don’t ever make me remember it ag’in, or you’ll be sorry, I tell you.”

When they were parting, Tom said, in the most persuasive way he could command—

“Ma, would you mind telling me who was my father?”

He had supposed he was asking an embarrassing question. He was mistaken. Roxy drew herself up with a proud toss of her head, and said—

“Does I mine tellin’ you? No, dat I don’t! You ain’t got no ’casion to be shame’ o’ yo’ father, I kin tell you. He wuz de highest quality in dis whole town—ole Virginny stock. Fust famblies, he wuz. Jes as good stock as de Driscolls en de Howards, de bes’ day dey ever seed.” She put on a little prouder air, if possible, and added impressively: “Does you ’member Cunnel Cecil Burleigh Essex, dat died de same year yo’ young Marse Tom Driscoll’s pappy died, en all de Masons en Odd Fellers en Churches turned out en give him de bigges’ funeral dis town ever seed? Dat’s de man.”

Under the inspiration of her soaring complacency the departed graces of her earlier days returned to her, and her bearing took to itself a dignity and state that might have passed for queenly if her surroundings had been a little more in keeping with it.

“Dey ain’t another nigger in dis town dat’s as high-bawn as you is. Now den, go ’long! En jes you hold yo’ head up as high as you want to—you has de right, en dat I kin swah.”





CHAPTER X. 
The Nymph Revealed.


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 a 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 hill-tops 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 the 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’nhead 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.