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Pudd'nhead Wilson

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CHAPTER XVI. 
Sold Down the River.


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 oyster. 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? Day 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-sayin’ 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 find 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 “upcountry” 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 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 telltale 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!”





CHAPTER XVII. 
The Judge Utters Dire Prophecy.


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 canvas. 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 peddlers 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 that 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.





CHAPTER XVIII. 
Roxana Commands.


Gratitude and treachery are merely the two extremities of the same procession. You have seen all of it that is worth staying for when the band and the gaudy officials have gone by.
—Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar.

Thanksgiving Day. Let all give humble, hearty, and sincere thanks, now, but the turkeys. In the island of Fiji they do not use turkeys; they use plumbers. It does not become you and me to sneer at Fiji.
—Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar.

The Friday after the election was a rainy one in St. Louis. It rained all day long, and rained hard, apparently trying its best to wash that soot-blackened town white, but of course not succeeding. Toward midnight Tom Driscoll arrived at his lodgings from the theatre in the heavy downpour, and closed his umbrella and let himself in; but when he would have shut the door, he found that there was another person entering—doubtless another lodger; this person closed the door and tramped up-stairs behind Tom. Tom found his door in the dark, and entered it and turned up the gas. When he faced about, lightly whistling, he saw the back of a man. The man was closing and locking his door for him. His whistle faded out and he felt uneasy. The man turned around, a wreck of shabby old clothes, sodden with rain and all a-drip, and showed a black face under an old slouch hat. Tom was frightened. He tried to order the man out, but the words refused to come, and the other man got the start. He said, in a low voice—

“Keep still—I’s yo’ mother!”

Tom sunk in a heap on a chair, and gasped out—

“It was mean of me, and base—I know it; but I meant it for the best, I did indeed—I can swear it.”

Roxana stood awhile looking mutely down on him while he writhed in shame and went on incoherently babbling self-accusations mixed with pitiful attempts at explanation and palliation of his crime; then she seated herself and took off her hat, and her unkept masses of long brown hair tumbled down about her shoulders.

“It ain’t no fault o’ yo’n dat dat ain’t gray,” she said sadly, noticing the hair.

“I know it, I know it! I’m a scoundrel. But I swear I meant it for the best. It was a mistake, of course, but I thought it was for the best, I truly did.”

Roxana began to cry softly, and presently words began to find their way out between her sobs. They were uttered lamentingly, rather than angrily—

“Sell a pusson down de river—down the river!—for de bes’! I wouldn’t treat a dog so! I is all broke down en wore out, now, en so I reckon it ain’t in me to storm aroun’ no mo’, like I used to when I ’uz trompled on en ’bused. I don’t know—but maybe it’s so. Leastways, I’s suffered so much dat mournin’ seem to come mo’ handy to me now den stormin’.”

These words should have touched Tom Driscoll, but if they did, that effect was obliterated by a stronger one—one which removed the heavy weight of fear which lay upon him, and gave his crushed spirit a most grateful rebound, and filled all his small soul with a deep sense of relief. But he kept prudently still, and ventured no comment. There was a voiceless interval of some duration, now, in which no sounds were heard but the beating of the rain upon the panes, the sighing and complaining of the winds, and now and then a muffled sob from Roxana. The sobs became more and more infrequent, and at last ceased. Then the refugee began to talk again:

“Shet down dat light a little. More. More yit. A pusson dat is hunted don’t like de light. Dah—dat’ll do. I kin see whah you is, en dat’s enough. I’s gwine to tell you de tale, en cut it jes as short as I kin, en den I’ll tell you what you’s got to do. Dat man dat bought me ain’t a bad man; he’s good enough, as planters goes; en if he could ’a’ had his way I’d ’a’ be’n a house servant in his fambly en be’n comfortable: but his wife she was a Yank, en not right down good lookin’, en she riz up agin me straight off; so den dey sent me out to de quarter ’mongst de common fiel’ han’s. Dat woman warn’t satisfied even wid dat, but she worked up de overseer ag’in’ me, she ’uz dat jealous en hateful; so de overseer he had me out befo’ day in de mawnin’s en worked me de whole long day as long as dey ’uz any light to see by; en many’s de lashin’s I got ’ca’se I couldn’t come up to de work o’ de stronges’. Dat overseer wuz a Yank, too, outen New Englan’, en anybody down South kin tell you what dat mean. Dey knows how to work a nigger to death, en dey knows how to whale ’em, too—whale ’em till dey backs is welted like a washboard. ’Long at fust my marster say de good word for me to de overseer, but dat ’uz bad for me; for de mistis she fine it out, en arter dat I jist ketched it at every turn—dey warn’t no mercy for me no mo’.”

Tom’s heart was fired—with fury against the planter’s wife; and he said to himself, “But for that meddlesome fool, everything would have gone all right.” He added a deep and bitter curse against her.

The expression of this sentiment was fiercely written in his face, and stood thus revealed to Roxana by a white glare of lightning which turned the somber dusk of the room into dazzling day at that moment. She was pleased—pleased and grateful; for did not that expression show that her child was capable of grieving for his mother’s wrongs and of feeling resentment toward her persecutors?—a thing which she had been doubting. But her flash of happiness was only a flash, and went out again and left her spirit dark; for she said to herself, “He sole me down de river—he can’t feel for a body long: dis’ll pass en go.” Then she took up her tale again.

“’Bout ten days ago I ’uz sayin’ to myself dat I couldn’t las’ many mo’ weeks I ’uz so wore out wid de awful work en de lashin’s, en so downhearted en misable. En I didn’t care no mo’, nuther—life warn’t wuth noth’n’ to me, if I got to go on like dat. Well, when a body is in a frame o’ mine like dat, what do a body care what a body do? Dey was a little sickly nigger wench ’bout ten year ole dat ’uz good to me, en hadn’t no mammy, po’ thing, en I loved her en she loved me; en she come out whah I ’uz workin ’en she had a roasted tater, en tried to slip it to me,—robbin’ herself, you see, ’ca’se she knowed de overseer didn’t gimme enough to eat,—en he ketched her at it, en give her a lick acrost de back wid his stick, which ’uz as thick as a broom-handle, en she drop’ screamin’ on de groun’, en squirmin’ en wallerin’ aroun’ in de dust like a spider dat’s got crippled. I couldn’t stan’ it. All de hell-fire dat ’uz ever in my heart flame’ up, en I snatch de stick outen his han’ en laid him flat. He laid dah moanin’ en cussin’, en all out of his head, you know, en de niggers ’uz plumb sk’yred to death. Dey gathered roun’ him to he’p him, en I jumped on his hoss en took out for de river as tight as I could go. I knowed what dey would do wid me. Soon as he got well he would start in en work me to death if marster let him; en if dey didn’t do dat, they’d sell me furder down de river, en dat’s de same thing. So I ’lowed to drown myself en git out o’ my troubles. It ’uz gitt’n’ towards dark. I ’uz at de river in two minutes. Den I see a canoe, en I says dey ain’t no use to drown myself tell I got to; so I ties de hoss in de edge o’ de timber en shove out down de river, keepin’ in under de shelter o’ de bluff bank en prayin’ for de dark to shet down quick. I had a pow’ful good start, ’ca’se de big house ’uz three mile back f’om de river en on’y de work-mules to ride dah on, en on’y niggers to ride ’em, en dey warn’t gwine to hurry—dey’d gimme all de chance dey could. Befo’ a body could go to de house en back it would be long pas’ dark, en dey couldn’t track de hoss en fine out which way I went tell mawnin’, en de niggers would tell ’em all de lies dey could ’bout it.

“Well, de dark come, en I went on a-spinnin’ down de river. I paddled mo’n two hours, den I warn’t worried no mo’, so I quit paddlin, en floated down de current, considerin’ what I ’uz gwine to do if I didn’t have to drown myself. I made up some plans, en floated along, turnin’ ’em over in my mine. Well, when it ’uz a little pas’ midnight, as I reckoned, en I had come fifteen or twenty mile, I see de lights o’ a steamboat layin’ at de bank, whah dey warn’t no town en no woodyard, en putty soon I ketched de shape o’ de chimbly-tops ag’in’ de stars, en den good gracious me, I ’most jumped out o’ my skin for joy! It ’uz de Gran’ Mogul—I ’uz chambermaid on her for eight seasons in de Cincinnati en Orleans trade. I slid ’long pas’—don’t see nobody stirrin’ nowhah—hear ’em a-hammerin’ away in de engine-room, den I knowed what de matter was—some o’ de machinery’s broke. I got asho’ below de boat and turn’ de canoe loose, den I goes ’long up, en dey ’uz jes one plank out, en I step’ ’board de boat. It ’uz pow’ful hot, deckhan’s en roustabouts ’uz sprawled aroun’ asleep on de fo’cas’l’, de second mate, Jim Bangs, he sot dah on de bitts wid his head down, asleep—’ca’se dat’s de way de second mate stan’ de cap’n’s watch!—en de ole watchman, Billy Hatch, he ’uz a-noddin’ on de companionway;—en I knowed ’em all; ’en, lan’, but dey did look good! I says to myself, I wished old marster’d come along now en try to take me—bless yo’ heart, I’s ’mong frien’s, I is. So I tromped right along ’mongst ’em, en went up on de b’iler deck en ’way back aft to de ladies’ cabin guard, en sot down dah in de same cheer dat I’d sot in ’mos’ a hund’d million times, I reckon; en it ’uz jist home ag’in, I tell you!

“In ’bout an hour I heard de ready-bell jingle, en den de racket begin. Putty soon I hear de gong strike. ‘Set her back on de outside,’ I says to myself—‘I reckon I knows dat music!’ I hear de gong ag’in. ‘Come ahead on de inside,’ I says. Gong ag’in. ‘Stop de outside.’ Gong ag’in. ‘Come ahead on de outside—now we’s pinted for Sent Louis, en I’s outer de woods en ain’t got to drown myself at all.’ I knowed de Mogul ’uz in de Sent Louis trade now, you see. It ’uz jes fair daylight when we passed our plantation, en I seed a gang o’ niggers en white folks huntin’ up en down de sho’, en troublin’ deyselves a good deal ’bout me; but I warn’t troublin’ myself none ’bout dem.

“’Bout dat time Sally Jackson, dat used to be my second chambermaid en ’uz head chambermaid now, she come out on de guard, en ’uz pow’ful glad to see me, en so ’uz all de officers; en I tole ’em I’d got kidnapped en sole down de river, en dey made me up twenty dollahs en give it to me, en Sally she rigged me out wid good clo’es, en when I got here I went straight to whah you used to wuz, en den I come to dis house, en dey say you’s away but ’spected back every day; so I didn’t dast to go down de river to Dawson’s, ’ca’se I might miss you.

“Well, las’ Monday I ’uz pass’n’ by one o’ dem places in Fourth street whah deh sticks up runaway-nigger bills, en he’ps to ketch ’em, en I seed my marster! I ’mos’ flopped down on de groun’, I felt so gone. He had his back to me, en ’uz talkin’ to de man en givin’ him some bills—nigger-bills, I reckon, en I’se de nigger. He’s offerin’ a reward—dat’s it. Ain’t I right, don’t you reckon?”

Tom had been gradually sinking into a state of ghastly terror, and he said to himself, now: “I’m lost, no matter what turn things take! This man has said to me that he thinks there was something suspicious about that sale. He said he had a letter from a passenger on the Grand Mogul saying that Roxy came here on that boat and that everybody on board knew all about the case; so he says that her coming here instead of flying to a free State looks bad for me, and that if I don’t find her for him, and that pretty soon, he will make trouble for me. I never believed that story; I couldn’t believe she would be so dead to all motherly instincts as to come here, knowing the risk she would run of getting me into irremediable trouble. And after all, here she is! And I stupidly swore I would help him find her, thinking it was a perfectly safe thing to promise. If I venture to deliver her up, she—she—but how can I help myself? I’ve got to do that or pay the money, and where’s the money to come from? I—I—well, I should think that if he would swear to treat her kindly hereafter—and she says, herself, that he is a good man—and if he would swear to never allow her to be overworked, or ill fed, or—”

A flash of lightning exposed Tom’s pallid face, drawn and rigid with these worrying thoughts. Roxana spoke up sharply now, and there was apprehension in her voice—

“Turn up dat light! I want to see yo’ face better. Dah now—lemme look at you. Chambers, you’s as white as yo’ shirt! Has you see dat man? Has he be’n to see you?”

“Ye-s.”

“When?”

“Monday noon.”

“Monday noon! Was he on my track?”

“He—well, he thought he was. That is, he hoped he was. This is the bill you saw.” He took it out of his pocket.

“Read it to me!”

She was panting with excitement, and there was a dusky glow in her eyes that Tom could not translate with certainty, but there seemed to be something threatening about it. The handbill had the usual rude woodcut of a turbaned negro woman running, with the customary bundle on a stick over her shoulder, and the heading in bold type, “$100 Reward.” Tom read the bill aloud—at least the part that described Roxana and named the master and his St. Louis address and the address of the Fourth-street agency; but he left out the item that applicants for the reward might also apply to Mr. Thomas Driscoll.

“Gimme de bill!”

Tom had folded it and was putting it in his pocket. He felt a chilly streak creeping down his back, but said as carelessly as he could—

“The bill? Why, it isn’t any use to you, you can’t read it. What do you want with it?”

“Gimme de bill!” Tom gave it to her, but with a reluctance which he could not entirely disguise. “Did you read it all to me?”

“Certainly I did.”

“Hole up yo’ han’ en swah to it.”

Tom did it. Roxana put the bill carefully away in her pocket, with her eyes fixed upon Tom’s face all the while; then she said—

“Yo’s lyin’!”

“What would I want to lie about it for?”

“I don’t know—but you is. Dat’s my opinion, anyways. But nemmine ’bout dat. When I seed dat man I ’uz dat sk’yerd dat I could sca’cely wobble home. Den I give a nigger man a dollar for dese clo’es, en I ain’t be’n in a house sence, night ner day, till now. I blacked my face en laid hid in de cellar of a ole house dat’s burnt down, daytimes, en robbed de sugar hogsheads en grain sacks on de wharf, nights, to git somethin’ to eat, en never dast to try to buy noth’n’, en I’s ’mos’ starved. En I never dast to come near dis place till dis rainy night, when dey ain’t no people roun’ sca’cely. But to-night I be’n a-stannin’ in de dark alley ever sence night come, waitin’ for you to go by. En here I is.”

She fell to thinking. Presently she said—

“You seed dat man at noon, las’ Monday?”

“Yes.”

“I seed him de middle o’ dat arternoon. He hunted you up, didn’t he?”

“Yes.”

“Did he give you de bill dat time?”

“No, he hadn’t got it printed yet.”

Roxana darted a suspicious glance at him.

“Did you he’p him fix up de bill?”

Tom cursed himself for making that stupid blunder, and tried to rectify it by saying he remembered, now, that it was at noon Monday that the man gave him the bill. Roxana said—

“You’s lyin’ ag’in, sho.” Then she straightened up and raised her finger:

“Now den! I’s gwine to ask you a question, en I wants to know how you’s gwine to git aroun’ it. You knowed he ’uz arter me; en if you run off, ’stid o’ stayin’ here to he’p him, he’d know dey ’uz somethin’ wrong ’bout dis business, en den he would inquire ’bout you, en dat would take him to yo’ uncle, en yo’ uncle would read de bill en see dat you be’n sellin’ a free nigger down de river, en you know him, I reckon! He’d t’ar up de will en kick you outen de house. Now, den, you answer me dis question: hain’t you tole dat man dat I would be sho’ to come here, en den you would fix it so he could set a trap en ketch me?”

Tom recognized that neither lies nor arguments could help him any longer—he was in a vise, with the screw turned on, and out of it there was no budging. His face began to take on an ugly look, and presently he said, with a snarl—

“Well, what could I do? You see, yourself, that I was in his grip and couldn’t get out.”

Roxy scorched him with a scornful gaze awhile, then she said—

“What could you do? You could be Judas to yo’ own mother to save yo’ wuthless hide! Would anybody b’lieve it? No—a dog couldn’t! You is de low-downest orneriest hound dat was ever pup’d into dis worl’—en I’s ’sponsible for it!”—and she spat on him.

He made no effort to resent this. Roxy reflected a moment, then she said—

“Now I’ll tell you what you’s gwine to do. You’s gwine to give dat man de money dat you’s got laid up, en make him wait till you kin go to de Judge en git de res’ en buy me free agin.”

“Thunder! what are you thinking of? Go and ask him for three hundred dollars and odd? What would I tell him I want with it, pray?”

Roxy’s answer was delivered in a serene and level voice—

“You’ll tell him you’s sole me to pay yo’ gamblin’ debts en dat you lied to me en was a villain, en dat I ’quires you to git dat money en buy me back ag’in.”

“Why, you’ve gone stark mad! He would tear the will to shreds in a minute—don’t you know that?”

“Yes, I does.”

“Then you don’t believe I’m idiot enough to go to him, do you?”

“I don’t b’lieve nothin’ ’bout it—I knows you’s a-goin’. I knows it ’ca’se you knows dat if you don’t raise dat money I’ll go to him myself, en den he’ll sell you down de river, en you kin see how you like it!”

Tom rose, trembling and excited, and there was an evil light in his eye. He strode to the door and said he must get out of this suffocating place for a moment and clear his brain in the fresh air so that he could determine what to do. The door wouldn’t open. Roxy smiled grimly, and said—

“I’s got de key, honey—set down. You needn’t cle’r up yo’ brain none to fine out what you gwine to do—I knows what you’s gwine to do.” Tom sat down and began to pass his hands through his hair with a helpless and desperate air. Roxy said, “Is dat man in dis house?”

Tom glanced up with a surprised expression, and asked—

“What gave you such an idea?”

“You done it. Gwine out to cle’r yo’ brain! In de fust place you ain’t got none to cle’r, en in de second place yo’ ornery eye tole on you. You’s de low-downest hound dat ever—but I done tole you dat befo’. Now den, dis is Friday. You kin fix it up wid dat man, en tell him you’s gwine away to git de res’ o’ de money, en dat you’ll be back wid it nex’ Tuesday, or maybe Wednesday. You understan’?”

Tom answered sullenly—

“Yes.”

“En when you gits de new bill o’ sale dat sells me to my own self, take en send it in de mail to Mr. Pudd’nhead Wilson, en write on de back dat he’s to keep it tell I come. You understan’?”

“Yes.”

“Dat’s all den. Take yo’ umbreller, en put on yo’ hat.”

“Why?”

“Beca’se you’s gwine to see me home to de wharf. You see dis knife? I’s toted it aroun’ sence de day I seed dat man en bought dese clo’es en it. If he ketch me, I’s gwine to kill myself wid it. Now start along, en go sof’, en lead de way; en if you gives a sign in dis house, or if anybody comes up to you in de street, I’s gwine to jam it right into you. Chambers, does you b’lieve me when I says dat?”

“It’s no use to bother me with that question. I know your word’s good.”

“Yes, it’s diff’rent from yo’n! Shet de light out en move along—here’s de key.”

They were not followed. Tom trembled every time a late straggler brushed by them on the street, and half expected to feel the cold steel in his back. Roxy was right at his heels and always in reach. After tramping a mile they reached a wide vacancy on the deserted wharves, and in this dark and rainy desert they parted.

As Tom trudged home his mind was full of dreary thoughts and wild plans; but at last he said to himself, wearily—

“There is but the one way out. I must follow her plan. But with a variation—I will not ask for the money and ruin myself; I will rob the old skinflint.”





CHAPTER XIX. 
The Prophecy Realized.


Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.
—Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar.

It were not best that we should all think alike; it is difference of opinion that makes horse-races.
—Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar.

Dawson’s Landing was comfortably finishing its season of dull repose and waiting patiently for the duel. Count Luigi was waiting, too; but not patiently, rumor said. Sunday came, and Luigi insisted on having his challenge conveyed. Wilson carried it. Judge Driscoll declined to fight with an assassin—“that is,” he added significantly, “in the field of honor.”

Elsewhere, of course, he would be ready. Wilson tried to convince him that if he had been present himself when Angelo told about the homicide committed by Luigi, he would not have considered the act discreditable to Luigi; but the obstinate old man was not to be moved.

Wilson went back to his principal and reported the failure of his mission. Luigi was incensed, and asked how it could be that the old gentleman, who was by no means dull-witted, held his trifling nephew’s evidence and inferences to be of more value than Wilson’s. But Wilson laughed, and said—

“That is quite simple; that is easily explicable. I am not his doll—his baby—his infatuation: his nephew is. The Judge and his late wife never had any children. The Judge and his wife were past middle age when this treasure fell into their lap. One must make allowances for a parental instinct that has been starving for twenty-five or thirty years. It is famished, it is crazed with hunger by that time, and will be entirely satisfied with anything that comes handy; its taste is atrophied, it can’t tell mud-cat from shad. A devil born to a young couple is measurably recognizable by them as a devil before long, but a devil adopted by an old couple is an angel to them, and remains so, through thick and thin. Tom is this old man’s angel; he is infatuated with him. Tom can persuade him into things which other people can’t—not all things; I don’t mean that, but a good many—particularly one class of things: the things that create or abolish personal partialities or prejudices in the old man’s mind. The old man liked both of you. Tom conceived a hatred for you. That was enough; it turned the old man around at once. The oldest and strongest friendship must go to the ground when one of these late-adopted darlings throws a brick at it.”

“It’s a curious philosophy,” said Luigi.

“It ain’t a philosophy at all—it’s a fact. And there is something pathetic and beautiful about it, too. I think there is nothing more pathetic than to see one of these poor old childless couples taking a menagerie of yelping little worthless dogs to their hearts; and then adding some cursing and squawking parrots and a jackass-voiced macaw; and next a couple of hundred screeching song-birds, and presently some fetid guinea-pigs and rabbits, and a howling colony of cats. It is all a groping and ignorant effort to construct out of base metal and brass filings, so to speak, something to take the place of that golden treasure denied them by Nature, a child. But this is a digression. The unwritten law of this region requires you to kill Judge Driscoll on sight, and he and the community will expect that attention at your hands—though of course your own death by his bullet will answer every purpose. Look out for him! Are you heeled—that is, fixed?”

“Yes, he shall have his opportunity. If he attacks me I will respond.”

As Wilson was leaving, he said—

“The Judge is still a little used up by his campaign work, and will not get out for a day or so; but when he does get out, you want to be on the alert.”

About eleven at night the twins went out for exercise, and started on a long stroll in the veiled moonlight.

Tom Driscoll had landed at Hackett’s Store, two miles below Dawson’s, just about half an hour earlier, the only passenger for that lonely spot, and had walked up the shore road and entered Judge Driscoll’s house without having encountered any one either on the road or under the roof.

He pulled down his window-blinds and lighted his candle. He laid off his coat and hat and began his preparations. He unlocked his trunk and got his suit of girl’s clothes out from under the male attire in it, and laid it by. Then he blacked his face with burnt cork and put the cork in his pocket. His plan was, to slip down to his uncle’s private sitting-room below, pass into the bedroom, steal the safe-key from the old gentleman’s clothes, and then go back and rob the safe. He took up his candle to start. His courage and confidence were high, up to this point, but both began to waver a little, now. Suppose he should make a noise, by some accident, and get caught—say, in the act of opening the safe? Perhaps it would be well to go armed. He took the Indian knife from its hiding-place, and felt a pleasant return of his wandering courage. He slipped stealthily down the narrow stair, his hair rising and his pulses halting at the slightest creak. When he was half-way down, he was disturbed to perceive that the landing below was touched by a faint glow of light. What could that mean? Was his uncle still up? No, that was not likely; he must have left his night-taper there when he went to bed. Tom crept on down, pausing at every step to listen. He found the door standing open, and glanced in. What he saw pleased him beyond measure. His uncle was asleep on the sofa; on a small table at the head of the sofa a lamp was burning low, and by it stood the old man’s small tin cash-box, closed. Near the box was a pile of bank-notes and a piece of paper covered with figures in pencil. The safe-door was not open. Evidently the sleeper had wearied himself with work upon his finances, and was taking a rest.

Tom set his candle on the stairs, and began to make his way toward the pile of notes, stooping low as he went. When he was passing his uncle, the old man stirred in his sleep, and Tom stopped instantly—stopped, and softly drew the knife from its sheath, with his heart thumping, and his eyes fastened upon his benefactor’s face. After a moment or two he ventured forward again—one step—reached for his prize and seized it, dropping the knife-sheath. Then he felt the old man’s strong grip upon him, and a wild cry of “Help! help!” rang in his ear. Without hesitation he drove the knife home—and was free. Some of the notes escaped from his left hand and fell in the blood on the floor. He dropped the knife and snatched them up and started to fly; transferred them to his left hand, and seized the knife again, in his fright and confusion, but remembered himself and flung it from him, as being a dangerous witness to carry away with him.

He jumped for the stair-foot, and closed the door behind him; and as he snatched his candle and fled upward, the stillness of the night was broken by the sound of urgent footsteps approaching the house. In another moment he was in his room and the twins were standing aghast over the body of the murdered man!

Tom put on his coat, buttoned his hat under it, threw on his suit of girl’s clothes, dropped the veil, blew out his light, locked the room door by which he had just entered, taking the key, passed through his other door into the back hall, locked that door and kept the key, then worked his way along in the dark and descended the back stairs. He was not expecting to meet anybody, for all interest was centered in the other part of the house, now; his calculation proved correct. By the time he was passing through the back-yard, Mrs. Pratt, her servants, and a dozen half-dressed neighbors had joined the twins and the dead, and accessions were still arriving at the front door.

As Tom, quaking as with a palsy, passed out at the gate, three women came flying from the house on the opposite side of the lane. They rushed by him and in at the gate, asking him what the trouble was there, but not waiting for an answer. Tom said to himself, “Those old maids waited to dress—they did the same thing the night Stevens’s house burned down next door.” In a few minutes he was in the haunted house. He lighted a candle and took off his girl-clothes. There was blood on him all down his left side, and his right hand was red with the stains of the blood-soaked notes which he had crushed in it; but otherwise he was free from this sort of evidence. He cleansed his hand on the straw, and cleaned most of the smut from his face. Then he burned his male and female attire to ashes, scattered the ashes, and put on a disguise proper for a tramp. He blew out his light, went below, and was soon loafing down the river road with the intent to borrow and use one of Roxy’s devices. He found a canoe and paddled off down-stream, setting the canoe adrift as dawn approached, and making his way by land to the next village, where he kept out of sight till a transient steamer came along, and then took deck passage for St. Louis. He was ill at ease until Dawson’s Landing was behind him; then he said to himself, “All the detectives on earth couldn’t trace me now; there’s not a vestige of a clue left in the world; that homicide will take its place with the permanent mysteries, and people won’t get done trying to guess out the secret of it for fifty years.”

In St. Louis, next morning, he read this brief telegram in the papers—dated at Dawson’s Landing:

Judge Driscoll, an old and respected citizen, was assassinated here about midnight by a profligate Italian nobleman or barber on account of a quarrel growing out of the recent election. The assassin will probably be lynched.

“One of the twins!” soliloquized Tom; “how lucky! It is the knife that has done him this grace. We never know when fortune is trying to favor us. I actually cursed Pudd’nhead Wilson in my heart for putting it out of my power to sell that knife. I take it back, now.”

Tom was now rich and independent. He arranged with the planter, and mailed to Wilson the new bill of sale which sold Roxana to herself; then he telegraphed his Aunt Pratt:

Have seen the awful news in the papers and am almost prostrated with grief. Shall start by packet to-day. Try to bear up till I come.

When Wilson reached the house of mourning and had gathered such details as Mrs. Pratt and the rest of the crowd could tell him, he took command as mayor, and gave orders that nothing should be touched, but everything left as it was until Justice Robinson should arrive and take the proper measures as coroner. He cleared everybody out of the room but the twins and himself. The sheriff soon arrived and took the twins away to jail. Wilson told them to keep heart, and promised to do his best in their defense when the case should come to trial. Justice Robinson came presently, and with him Constable Blake. They examined the room thoroughly. They found the knife and the sheath. Wilson noticed that there were finger-prints on the knife-handle. That pleased him, for the twins had required the earliest comers to make a scrutiny of their hands and clothes, and neither these people nor Wilson himself had found any blood-stains upon them. Could there be a possibility that the twins had spoken the truth when they said they found the man dead when they ran into the house in answer to the cry for help? He thought of that mysterious girl at once. But this was not the sort of work for a girl to be engaged in. No matter; Tom Driscoll’s room must be examined.

After the coroner’s jury had viewed the body and its surroundings, Wilson suggested a search up-stairs, and he went along. The jury forced an entrance to Tom’s room, but found nothing, of course.

The coroner’s jury found that the homicide was committed by Luigi, and that Angelo was accessory to it.

The town was bitter against the unfortunates, and for the first few days after the murder they were in constant danger of being lynched. The grand jury presently indicted Luigi for murder in the first degree, and Angelo as accessory before the fact. The twins were transferred from the city jail to the county prison to await trial.

Wilson examined the finger-marks on the knife-handle and said to himself, “Neither of the twins made those marks.” Then manifestly there was another person concerned, either in his own interest or as hired assassin.

But who could it be? That, he must try to find out. The safe was not open, the cash-box was closed, and had three thousand dollars in it. Then robbery was not the motive, and revenge was. Where had the murdered man an enemy except Luigi? There was but that one person in the world with a deep grudge against him.

The mysterious girl! The girl was a great trial to Wilson. If the motive had been robbery, the girl might answer; but there wasn’t any girl that would want to take this old man’s life for revenge. He had no quarrels with girls; he was a gentleman.

Wilson had perfect tracings of the finger-marks of the knife-handle; and among his glass-records he had a great array of finger-prints of women and girls, collected during the last fifteen or eighteen years, but he scanned them in vain, they successfully withstood every test; among them were no duplicates of the prints on the knife.

The presence of the knife on the stage of the murder was a worrying circumstance for Wilson. A week previously he had as good as admitted to himself that he believed Luigi had possessed such a knife, and that he still possessed it notwithstanding his pretense that it had been stolen. And now here was the knife, and with it the twins. Half the town had said the twins were humbugging when they claimed that they had lost their knife, and now these people were joyful, and said, “I told you so!”

If their finger-prints had been on the handle—but it was useless to bother any further about that; the finger-prints on the handle were not theirs—that he knew perfectly.

Wilson refused to suspect Tom; for first, Tom couldn’t murder anybody—he hadn’t character enough; secondly, if he could murder a person he wouldn’t select his doting benefactor and nearest relative; thirdly, self-interest was in the way; for while the uncle lived, Tom was sure of a free support and a chance to get the destroyed will revived again, but with the uncle gone, that chance was gone, too. It was true the will had really been revived, as was now discovered, but Tom could not have been aware of it, or he would have spoken of it, in his native talky, unsecretive way. Finally, Tom was in St. Louis when the murder was done, and got the news out of the morning journals, as was shown by his telegram to his aunt. These speculations were unemphasized sensations rather than articulated thoughts, for Wilson would have laughed at the idea of seriously connecting Tom with the murder.

Wilson regarded the case of the twins as desperate—in fact, about hopeless. For he argued that if a confederate was not found, an enlightened Missouri jury would hang them, sure; if a confederate was found, that would not improve the matter, but simply furnish one more person for the sheriff to hang. Nothing could save the twins but the discovery of a person who did the murder on his sole personal account—an undertaking which had all the aspect of the impossible. Still, the person who made the finger-prints must be sought. The twins might have no case with him, but they certainly would have none without him.

So Wilson mooned around, thinking, thinking, guessing, guessing, day and night, and arriving nowhere. Whenever he ran across a girl or a woman he was not acquainted with, he got her finger-prints, on one pretext or another; and they always cost him a sigh when he got home, for they never tallied with the finger-marks on the knife-handle.

As to the mysterious girl, Tom swore he knew no such girl, and did not remember ever seeing a girl wearing a dress like the one described by Wilson. He admitted that he did not always lock his room, and that sometimes the servants forgot to lock the house doors; still, in his opinion the girl must have made but few visits or she would have been discovered. When Wilson tried to connect her with the stealing-raid, and thought she might have been the old woman’s confederate, if not the very thief herself disguised as an old woman, Tom seemed stuck, and also much interested, and said he would keep a sharp eye out for this person or persons, although he was afraid that she or they would be too smart to venture again into a town where everybody would now be on the watch for a good while to come.

Everybody was pitying Tom, he looked so quiet and sorrowful, and seemed to feel his great loss so deeply. He was playing a part, but it was not all a part. The picture of his alleged uncle, as he had last seen him, was before him in the dark pretty frequently, when he was awake, and called again in his dreams, when he was asleep. He wouldn’t go into the room where the tragedy had happened. This charmed the doting Mrs. Pratt, who realized now, “as she had never done before,” she said, what a sensitive and delicate nature her darling had, and how he adored his poor uncle.





CHAPTER XX. 
The Murderer Chuckles.


Even the clearest and most perfect circumstantial evidence is likely to be at fault, after all, and therefore ought to be received with great caution. Take the case of any pencil, sharpened by any woman: if you have witnesses, you will find she did it with a knife; but if you take simply the aspect of the pencil, you will say she did it with her teeth.
—Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar.

The weeks dragged along, no friend visiting the jailed twins but their counsel and Aunt Patsy Cooper, and the day of trial came at last—the heaviest day in Wilson’s life; for with all his tireless diligence he had discovered no sign or trace of the missing confederate. “Confederate” was the term he had long ago privately accepted for that person—not as being unquestionably the right term, but as being at least possibly the right one, though he was never able to understand why the twins did not vanish and escape, as the confederate had done, instead of remaining by the murdered man and getting caught there.

The court-house was crowded, of course, and would remain so to the finish, for not only in the town itself, but in the country for miles around, the trial was the one topic of conversation among the people. Mrs. Pratt, in deep mourning, and Tom with a weed on his hat, had seats near Pembroke Howard, the public prosecutor, and back of them sat a great array of friends of the family. The twins had but one friend present to keep their counsel in countenance, their poor old sorrowing landlady. She sat near Wilson, and looked her friendliest. In the “nigger corner” sat Chambers; also Roxy, with good clothes on, and her bill of sale in her pocket. It was her most precious possession, and she never parted with it, day or night. Tom had allowed her thirty-five dollars a month ever since he came into his property, and had said that he and she ought to be grateful to the twins for making them rich; but had roused such a temper in her by this speech that he did not repeat the argument afterward. She said the old Judge had treated her child a thousand times better than he deserved, and had never done her an unkindness in his life; so she hated these outlandish devils for killing him, and shouldn’t ever sleep satisfied till she saw them hanged for it. She was here to watch the trial, now, and was going to lift up just one “hooraw” over it if the County Judge put her in jail a year for it. She gave her turbaned head a toss and said, “When dat verdic’ comes, I’s gwine to lif’ dat roof, now, I tell you.”

Pembroke Howard briefly sketched the State’s case. He said he would show by a chain of circumstantial evidence without break or fault in it anywhere, that the principal prisoner at the bar committed the murder; that the motive was partly revenge, and partly a desire to take his own life out of jeopardy, and that his brother, by his presence, was a consenting accessory to the crime; a crime which was the basest known to the calendar of human misdeeds—assassination; that it was conceived by the blackest of hearts and consummated by the cowardliest of hands; a crime which had broken a loving sister’s heart, blighted the happiness of a young nephew who was as dear as a son, brought inconsolable grief to many friends, and sorrow and loss to the whole community. The utmost penalty of the outraged law would be exacted, and upon the accused, now present at the bar, that penalty would unquestionably be executed. He would reserve further remark until his closing speech.

He was strongly moved, and so also was the whole house; Mrs. Pratt and several other women were weeping when he sat down, and many an eye that was full of hate was riveted upon the unhappy prisoners.

Witness after witness was called by the State, and questioned at length; but the cross-questioning was brief. Wilson knew they could furnish nothing valuable for his side. People were sorry for Pudd’nhead; his budding career would get hurt by this trial.

Several witnesses swore they heard Judge Driscoll say in his public speech that the twins would be able to find their lost knife again when they needed it to assassinate somebody with. This was not news, but now it was seen to have been sorrowfully prophetic, and a profound sensation quivered through the hushed court-room when those dismal words were repeated.

The public prosecutor rose and said that it was within his knowledge, through a conversation held with Judge Driscoll on the last day of his life, that counsel for the defense had brought him a challenge from the person charged at this bar with murder; that he had refused to fight with a confessed assassin—“that is, on the field of honor,” but had added significantly, that he would be ready for him elsewhere. Presumably the person here charged with murder was warned that he must kill or be killed the first time he should meet Judge Driscoll. If counsel for the defense chose to let the statement stand so, he would not call him to the witness stand. Mr. Wilson said he would offer no denial. [Murmurs in the house—“It is getting worse and worse for Wilson’s case.”]

Mrs. Pratt testified that she heard no outcry, and did not know what woke her up, unless it was the sound of rapid footsteps approaching the front door. She jumped up and ran out in the hall just as she was, and heard the footsteps flying up the front steps and then following behind her as she ran to the sitting-room. There she found the accused standing over her murdered brother. [Here she broke down and sobbed. Sensation in the court.] Resuming, she said the persons entering behind her were Mr. Rogers and Mr. Buckstone.

Cross-examined by Wilson, she said the twins proclaimed their innocence; declared that they had been taking a walk, and had hurried to the house in response to a cry for help which was so loud and strong that they had heard it at a considerable distance; that they begged her and the gentlemen just mentioned to examine their hands and clothes—which was done, and no blood stains found.

Confirmatory evidence followed from Rogers and Buckstone.

The finding of the knife was verified, the advertisement minutely describing it and offering a reward for it was put in evidence, and its exact correspondence with that description proved. Then followed a few minor details, and the case for the State was closed.

Wilson said that he had three witnesses, the Misses Clarkson, who would testify that they met a veiled young woman leaving Judge Driscoll’s premises by the back gate a few minutes after the cries for help were heard, and that their evidence, taken with certain circumstantial evidence which he would call the court’s attention to, would in his opinion convince the court that there was still one person concerned in this crime who had not yet been found, and also that a stay of proceedings ought to be granted, in justice to his clients, until that person should be discovered. As it was late, he would ask leave to defer the examination of his three witnesses until the next morning.

The crowd poured out of the place and went flocking away in excited groups and couples, talking the events of the session over with vivacity and consuming interest, and everybody seemed to have had a satisfactory and enjoyable day except the accused, their counsel, and their old-lady friend. There was no cheer among these, and no substantial hope.

In parting with the twins Aunt Patsy did attempt a good-night with a gay pretense of hope and cheer in it, but broke down without finishing.

Absolutely secure as Tom considered himself to be, the opening solemnities of the trial had nevertheless oppressed him with a vague uneasiness, his being a nature sensitive to even the smallest alarms; but from the moment that the poverty and weakness of Wilson’s case lay exposed to the court, he was comfortable once more, even jubilant. He left the court-room sarcastically sorry for Wilson. “The Clarksons met an unknown woman in the back lane,” he said to himself—“that is his case! I’ll give him a century to find her in—a couple of them if he likes. A woman who doesn’t exist any longer, and the clothes that gave her her sex burnt up and the ashes thrown away—oh, certainly, he’ll find her easy enough!” This reflection set him to admiring, for the hundredth time, the shrewd ingenuities by which he had insured himself against detection—more, against even suspicion.

“Nearly always in cases like this there is some little detail or other overlooked, some wee little track or trace left behind, and detection follows; but here there’s not even the faintest suggestion of a trace left. No more than a bird leaves when it flies through the air—yes, through the night, you may say. The man that can track a bird through the air in the dark and find that bird is the man to track me out and find the Judge’s assassin—no other need apply. And that is the job that has been laid out for poor Pudd’nhead Wilson, of all people in the world! Lord, it will be pathetically funny to see him grubbing and groping after that woman that don’t exist, and the right person sitting under his very nose all the time!” The more he thought the situation over, the more the humor of it struck him. Finally he said, “I’ll never let him hear the last of that woman. Every time I catch him in company, to his dying day, I’ll ask him in the guileless affectionate way that used to gravel him so when I inquired how his unborn law-business was coming along, ‘Got on her track yet—hey, Pudd’nhead?’” He wanted to laugh, but that would not have answered; there were people about, and he was mourning for his uncle. He made up his mind that it would be good entertainment to look in on Wilson that night and watch him worry over his barren law-case and goad him with an exasperating word or two of sympathy and commiseration now and then.

Wilson wanted no supper, he had no appetite. He got out all the finger-prints of girls and women in his collection of records and pored gloomily over them an hour or more, trying to convince himself that that troublesome girl’s marks were there somewhere and had been overlooked. But it was not so. He drew back his chair, clasped his hands over his head, and gave himself up to dull and arid musings.

Tom Driscoll dropped in, an hour after dark, and said with a pleasant laugh as he took a seat—

“Hello, we’ve gone back to the amusements of our days of neglect and obscurity for consolation, have we?” and he took up one of the glass strips and held it against the light to inspect it. “Come, cheer up, old man; there’s no use in losing your grip and going back to this child’s-play merely because this big sunspot is drifting across your shiny new disk. It’ll pass, and you’ll be all right again,”—and he laid the glass down. “Did you think you could win always?”

“Oh, no,” said Wilson, with a sigh, “I didn’t expect that, but I can’t believe Luigi killed your uncle, and I feel very sorry for him. It makes me blue. And you would feel as I do, Tom, if you were not prejudiced against those young fellows.”

“I don’t know about that,” and Tom’s countenance darkened, for his memory reverted to his kicking; “I owe them no good will, considering the brunette one’s treatment of me that night. Prejudice or no prejudice, Pudd’nhead, I don’t like them, and when they get their deserts you’re not going to find me sitting on the mourner’s bench.”

He took up another strip of glass, and exclaimed—

“Why, here’s old Roxy’s label! Are you going to ornament the royal palaces with nigger paw-marks, too? By the date here, I was seven months old when this was done, and she was nursing me and her little nigger cub. There’s a line straight across her thumb-print. How comes that?” and Tom held out the piece of glass to Wilson.

“That is common,” said the bored man, wearily. “Scar of a cut or a scratch, usually”—and he took the strip of glass indifferently, and raised it toward the lamp.

All the blood sunk suddenly out of his face; his hand quaked, and he gazed at the polished surface before him with the glassy stare of a corpse.

“Great Heavens, what’s the matter with you, Wilson? Are you going to faint?”

Tom sprang for a glass of water and offered it, but Wilson shrank shuddering from him and said—

“No, no!—take it away!” His breast was rising and falling, and he moved his head about in a dull and wandering way, like a person who had been stunned. Presently he said, “I shall feel better when I get to bed; I have been overwrought to-day; yes, and over worked for many days.”

“Then I’ll leave you and let you to get to your rest. Good-night, old man.” But as Tom went out he couldn’t deny himself a small parting gibe: “Don’t take it so hard; a body can’t win every time; you’ll hang somebody yet.”

Wilson muttered to himself, “It is no lie to say I am sorry I have to begin with you, miserable dog though you are!”

He braced himself up with a glass of cold whisky, and went to work again. He did not compare the new finger-marks unintentionally left by Tom a few minutes before on Roxy’s glass with the tracings of the marks left on the knife-handle, there being no need for that (for his trained eye), but busied himself with another matter, muttering from time to time, “Idiot that I was!—Nothing but a girl would do me—a man in girl’s clothes never occurred to me.” First, he hunted out the plate containing the finger-prints made by Tom when he was twelve years old, and laid it by itself; then he brought forth the marks made by Tom’s baby fingers when he was a suckling of seven months, and placed these two plates with the one containing this subject’s newly (and unconsciously) made record.

“Now the series is complete,” he said with satisfaction, and sat down to inspect these things and enjoy them.

But his enjoyment was brief. He stared a considerable time at the three strips, and seemed stupefied with astonishment. At last he put them down and said, “I can’t make it out at all—hang it, the baby’s don’t tally with the others!”

He walked the floor for half an hour puzzling over his enigma, then he hunted out two other glass plates.

He sat down and puzzled over these things a good while, but kept muttering, “It’s no use; I can’t understand it. They don’t tally right, and yet I’ll swear the names and dates are right, and so of course they ought to tally. I never labeled one of these thing carelessly in my life. There is a most extraordinary mystery here.”

He was tired out, now, and his brains were beginning to clog. He said he would sleep himself fresh, and then see what he could do with this riddle. He slept through a troubled and unrestful hour, then unconsciousness began to shred away, and presently he rose drowsily to a sitting posture. “Now what was that dream?” he said, trying to recall it; “what was that dream?—it seemed to unravel that puz—”

He landed in the middle of the floor at a bound, without finishing the sentence, and ran and turned up his light and seized his “records.” He took a single swift glance at them and cried out—

“It’s so! Heavens, what a revelation! And for twenty-three years no man has ever suspected it!”





CHAPTER XXI. 
Doom.


He is useless on top of the ground; he ought to be under it, inspiring the cabbages.
—Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar.

April 1. This is the day upon which we are reminded of what we are on the other three hundred and sixty-four.
—Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar.

Wilson put on enough clothes for business purposes and went to work under a high pressure of steam. He was awake all over. All sense of weariness had been swept away by the invigorating refreshment of the great and hopeful discovery which he had made. He made fine and accurate reproductions of a number of his “records,” and then enlarged them on a scale of ten to one with his pantograph. He did these pantograph enlargements on sheets of white cardboard, and made each individual line of the bewildering maze of whorls or curves or loops which constituted the “pattern,” of a “record” stand out bold and black by reinforcing it with ink. To the untrained eye the collection of delicate originals made by the human finger on the glass plates looked about alike; but when enlarged ten times they resembled the markings of a block of wood that has been sawed across the grain, and the dullest eye could detect at a glance, and at a distance of many feet, that no two of the patterns were alike. When Wilson had at last finished his tedious and difficult work, he arranged its results according to a plan in which a progressive order and sequence was a principal feature; then he added to the batch several pantograph enlargements which he had made from time to time in bygone years.

The night was spent and the day well advanced, now. By the time he had snatched a trifle of breakfast it was nine o’clock, and the court was ready to begin its sitting. He was in his place twelve minutes later with his “records.”

Tom Driscoll caught a slight glimpse of the records, and nudged his nearest friend and said, with a wink, “Pudd’nhead’s got a rare eye to business—thinks that as long as he can’t win his case it’s at least a noble good chance to advertise his palace-window decorations without any expense.” Wilson was informed that his witnesses had been delayed, but would arrive presently; but he rose and said he should probably not have occasion to make use of their testimony. [An amused murmur ran through the room—“It’s a clean backdown! he gives up without hitting a lick!”] Wilson continued—“I have other testimony—and better. [This compelled interest, and evoked murmurs of surprise that had a detectable ingredient of disappointment in them.] If I seem to be springing this evidence upon the court, I offer as my justification for this, that I did not discover its existence until late last night, and have been engaged in examining and classifying it ever since, until half an hour ago. I shall offer it presently; but first I wish to say a few preliminary words.

“May it please the Court, the claim given the front place, the claim most persistently urged, the claim most strenuously and I may even say aggressively and defiantly insisted upon by the prosecution, is this—that the person whose hand left the blood-stained finger-prints upon the handle of the Indian knife is the person who committed the murder.” Wilson paused, during several moments, to give impressiveness to what he was about to say, and then added tranquilly, “We grant that claim.”

It was an electrical surprise. No one was prepared for such an admission. A buzz of astonishment rose on all sides, and people were heard to intimate that the overworked lawyer had lost his mind. Even the veteran judge, accustomed as he was to legal ambushes and masked batteries in criminal procedure, was not sure that his ears were not deceiving him, and asked counsel what it was he had said. Howard’s impassive face betrayed no sign, but his attitude and bearing lost something of their careless confidence for a moment. Wilson resumed:

“We not only grant that claim, but we welcome it and strongly endorse it. Leaving that matter for the present, we will now proceed to consider other points in the case which we propose to establish by evidence, and shall include that one in the chain in its proper place.”

He had made up his mind to try a few hardy guesses, in mapping out his theory of the origin and motive of the murder—guesses designed to fill up gaps in it—guesses which could help if they hit, and would probably do no harm if they didn’t.

“To my mind, certain circumstances of the case before the court seem to suggest a motive for the homicide quite different from the one insisted on by the State. It is my conviction that the motive was not revenge, but robbery. It has been urged that the presence of the accused brothers in that fatal room, just after notification that one of them must take the life of Judge Driscoll or lose his own the moment the parties should meet, clearly signifies that the natural instinct of self-preservation moved my clients to go there secretly and save Count Luigi by destroying his adversary.

“Then why did they stay there, after the deed was done? Mrs. Pratt had time, although she did not hear the cry for help, but woke up some moments later, to run to that room—and there she found these men standing and making no effort to escape. If they were guilty, they ought to have been running out of the house at the same time that she was running to that room. If they had had such a strong instinct toward self-preservation as to move them to kill that unarmed man, what had become of it now, when it should have been more alert than ever? Would any of us have remained there? Let us not slander our intelligence to that degree.

“Much stress has been laid upon the fact that the accused offered a very large reward for the knife with which this murder was done; that no thief came forward to claim that extraordinary reward; that the latter fact was good circumstantial evidence that the claim that the knife had been stolen was a vanity and a fraud; that these details taken in connection with the memorable and apparently prophetic speech of the deceased concerning that knife, and the final discovery of that very knife in the fatal room where no living person was found present with the slaughtered man but the owner of the knife and his brother, form an indestructible chain of evidence which fixes the crime upon those unfortunate strangers.

“But I shall presently ask to be sworn, and shall testify that there was a large reward offered for the thief, also; and it was offered secretly and not advertised; that this fact was indiscreetly mentioned—or at least tacitly admitted—in what was supposed to be safe circumstances, but may not have been. The thief may have been present himself. [Tom Driscoll had been looking at the speaker, but dropped his eyes at this point.] In that case he would retain the knife in his possession, not daring to offer it for sale, or for pledge in a pawn-shop. [There was a nodding of heads among the audience by way of admission that this was not a bad stroke.] I shall prove to the satisfaction of the jury that there was a person in Judge Driscoll’s room several minutes before the accused entered it. [This produced a strong sensation; the last drowsy-head in the court-room roused up, now, and made preparation to listen.] If it shall seem necessary, I will prove by the Misses Clarkson that they met a veiled person—ostensibly a woman—coming out of the back gate a few minutes after the cry for help was heard. This person was not a woman, but a man dressed in woman’s clothes.” Another sensation. Wilson had his eye on Tom when he hazarded this guess, to see what effect it would produce. He was satisfied with the result, and said to himself, “It was a success—he’s hit!”

“The object of that person in that house was robbery, not murder. It is true that the safe was not open, but there was an ordinary tin cash-box on the table, with three thousand dollars in it. It is easily supposable that the thief was concealed in the house; that he knew of this box, and of its owner’s habit of counting its contents and arranging his accounts at night—if he had that habit, which I do not assert, of course;—that he tried to take the box while its owner slept, but made a noise and was seized, and had to use the knife to save himself from capture; and that he fled without his booty because he heard help coming.

“I have now done with my theory, and will proceed to the evidences by which I propose to try to prove its soundness.” Wilson took up several of his strips of glass. When the audience recognized these familiar mementoes of Pudd’nhead’s old-time childish “puttering” and folly, the tense and funereal interest vanished out of their faces, and the house burst into volleys of relieving and refreshing laughter, and Tom chirked up and joined in the fun himself; but Wilson was apparently not disturbed. He arranged his records on the table before him, and said—

“I beg the indulgence of the court while I make a few remarks in explanation of some evidence which I am about to introduce, and which I shall presently ask to be allowed to verify under oath on the witness stand. Every human being carries with him from his cradle to his grave certain physical marks which do not change their character, and by which he can always be identified—and that without shade of doubt or question. These marks are his signature, his physiological autograph, so to speak, and this autograph can not be counterfeited, nor can he disguise it or hide it away, nor can it become illegible by the wear and mutations of time. This signature is not his face—age can change that beyond recognition; it is not his hair, for that can fall out; it is not his height, for duplicates of that exist; it is not his form, for duplicates of that exist also, whereas this signature is each man’s very own—there is no duplicate of it among the swarming populations of the globe! [The audience were interested once more.]

“This autograph consists of the delicate lines or corrugations with which Nature marks the insides of the hands and the soles of the feet. If you will look at the balls of your fingers,—you that have very sharp eyesight,—you will observe that these dainty curving lines lie close together, like those that indicate the borders of oceans in maps, and that they form various clearly defined patterns, such as arches, circles, long curves, whorls, etc., and that these patterns differ on the different fingers. [Every man in the room had his hand up to the light, now, and his head canted to one side, and was minutely scrutinizing the balls of his fingers; there were whispered ejaculations of ‘Why, it’s so—I never noticed that before!’] The patterns on the right hand are not the same as those on the left. [Ejaculations of ‘Why, that’s so, too!’] Taken finger for finger, your patterns differ from your neighbor’s. [Comparisons were made all over the house—even the judge and jury were absorbed in this curious work.] The patterns of a twin’s right hand are not the same as those on his left. One twin’s patterns are never the same as his fellow-twin’s patterns—the jury will find that the patterns upon the finger-balls of the accused follow this rule. [An examination of the twins’ hands was begun at once.] You have often heard of twins who were so exactly alike that when dressed alike their own parents could not tell them apart. Yet there was never a twin born into this world that did not carry from birth to death a sure identifier in this mysterious and marvelous natal autograph. That once known to you, his fellow-twin could never personate him and deceive you.”

Wilson stopped and stood silent. Inattention dies a quick and sure death when a speaker does that. The stillness gives warning that something is coming. All palms and finger-balls went down, now, all slouching forms straightened, all heads came up, all eyes were fastened upon Wilson’s face. He waited yet one, two, three moments, to let his pause complete and perfect its spell upon the house; then, when through the profound hush he could hear the ticking of the clock on the wall, he put out his hand and took the Indian knife by the blade and held it aloft where all could see the sinister spots upon its ivory handle; then he said, in a level and passionless voice—

“Upon this haft stands the assassin’s natal autograph, written in the blood of that helpless and unoffending old man who loved you and whom you all loved. There is but one man in the whole earth whose hand can duplicate that crimson sign,”—he paused and raised his eyes to the pendulum swinging back and forth,—“and please God we will produce that man in this room before the clock strikes noon!”

Stunned, distraught, unconscious of its own movement, the house half rose, as if expecting to see the murderer appear at the door, and a breeze of muttered ejaculations swept the place. “Order in the court!—sit down!” This from the sheriff. He was obeyed, and quiet reigned again. Wilson stole a glance at Tom, and said to himself, “He is flying signals of distress, now; even people who despise him are pitying him; they think this is a hard ordeal for a young fellow who has lost his benefactor by so cruel a stroke—and they are right.” He resumed his speech:

“For more than twenty years I have amused my compulsory leisure with collecting these curious physical signatures in this town. At my house I have hundreds upon hundreds of them. Each and every one is labelled with name and date; not labelled the next day or even the next hour, but in the very minute that the impression was taken. When I go upon the witness stand I will repeat under oath the things which I am now saying. I have the finger-prints of the court, the sheriff, and every member of the jury. There is hardly a person in this room, white or black, whose natal signature I cannot produce, and not one of them can so disguise himself that I cannot pick him out from a multitude of his fellow-creatures and unerringly identify him by his hands. And if he and I should live to be a hundred I could still do it. [The interest of the audience was steadily deepening, now.]

“I have studied some of these signatures so much that I know them as well as the bank cashier knows the autograph of his oldest customer. While I turn my back now, I beg that several persons will be so good as to pass their fingers through their hair, and then press them upon one of the panes of the window near the jury, and that among them the accused may set their finger-marks. Also, I beg that these experimenters, or others, will set their finger-marks upon another pane, and add again the marks of the accused, but not placing them in the same order or relation to the other signatures as before—for, by one chance in a million, a person might happen upon the right marks by pure guess-work once, therefore I wish to be tested twice.”

He turned his back, and the two panes were quickly covered with delicately-lined oval spots, but visible only to such persons as could get a dark background for them—the foliage of a tree, outside, for instance. Then, upon call, Wilson went to the window, made his examination, and said—

“This is Count Luigi’s right hand; this one, three signatures below, is his left. Here is Count Angelo’s right; down here is his left. Now for the other pane: here and here are Count Luigi’s, here and here are his brother’s.” He faced about. “Am I right?”

A deafening explosion of applause was the answer. The Bench said—

“This certainly approaches the miraculous!”

Wilson turned to the window again and remarked, pointing with his finger—

“This is the signature of Mr. Justice Robinson. [Applause.] This, of Constable Blake. [Applause.] This, of John Mason, juryman. [Applause.] This, of the sheriff. [Applause.] I cannot name the others, but I have them all at home, named and dated, and could identify them all by my finger-print records.”

He moved to his place through a storm of applause—which the sheriff stopped, and also made the people sit down, for they were all standing and struggling to see, of course. Court, jury, sheriff, and everybody had been too absorbed in observing Wilson’s performance to attend to the audience earlier.

“Now, then,” said Wilson, “I have here the natal autographs of two children—thrown up to ten times the natural size by the pantograph, so that any one who can see at all can tell the markings apart at a glance. We will call the children A and B. Here are A’s finger-marks, taken at the age of five months. Here they are again, taken at seven months. [Tom started.] They are alike, you see. Here are B’s at five months, and also at seven months. They, too, exactly copy each other, but the patterns are quite different from A’s, you observe. I shall refer to these again presently, but we will turn them face down, now.

“Here, thrown up ten sizes, are the natal autographs of the two persons who are here before you accused of murdering Judge Driscoll. I made these pantograph copies last night, and will so swear when I go upon the witness stand. I ask the jury to compare them with the finger-marks of the accused upon the window panes, and tell the court if they are the same.”

He passed a powerful magnifying-glass to the foreman.

One juryman after another took the cardboard and the glass and made the comparison. Then the foreman said to the judge—

“Your honor, we are all agreed that they are identical.”

Wilson said to the foreman—

“Please turn that cardboard face down, and take this one, and compare it searchingly, by the magnifier, with the fatal signature upon the knife-handle, and report your finding to the court.”

Again the jury made minute examinations, and again reported—

“We find them to be exactly identical, your honor.”

Wilson turned toward the counsel for the prosecution, and there was a clearly recognizable note of warning in his voice when he said—

“May it please the court, the State has claimed, strenuously and persistently, that the blood-stained finger-prints upon that knife-handle were left there by the assassin of Judge Driscoll. You have heard us grant that claim, and welcome it.” He turned to the jury: “Compare the finger-prints of the accused with the finger-prints left by the assassin—and report.”

The comparison began. As it proceeded, all movement and all sound ceased, and the deep silence of an absorbed and waiting suspense settled upon the house; and when at last the words came—

“They do not even resemble,” a thunder-crash of applause followed and the house sprang to its feet, but was quickly repressed by official force and brought to order again. Tom was altering his position every few minutes, now, but none of his changes brought repose nor any small trifle of comfort. When the house’s attention was become fixed once more, Wilson said gravely, indicating the twins with a gesture—

“These men are innocent—I have no further concern with them. [Another outbreak of applause began, but was promptly checked.] We will now proceed to find the guilty. [Tom’s eyes were starting from their sockets—yes, it was a cruel day for the bereaved youth, everybody thought.] We will return to the infant autographs of A and B. I will ask the jury to take these large pantograph facsimilies of A’s marked five months and seven months. Do they tally?”

The foreman responded—

“Perfectly.”

“Now examine this pantograph, taken at eight months, and also marked A. Does it tally with the other two?”

The surprised response was—

“No—they differ widely!”

“You are quite right. Now take these two pantographs of B’s autograph, marked five months and seven months. Do they tally with each other?”

“Yes—perfectly.”

“Take this third pantograph marked B, eight months. Does it tally with B’s other two?”

“By no means!”

“Do you know how to account for those strange discrepancies? I will tell you. For a purpose unknown to us, but probably a selfish one, somebody changed those children in the cradle.”

This produced a vast sensation, naturally; Roxana was astonished at this admirable guess, but not disturbed by it. To guess the exchange was one thing, to guess who did it quite another. Pudd’nhead Wilson could do wonderful things, no doubt, but he couldn’t do impossible ones. Safe? She was perfectly safe. She smiled privately.

“Between the ages of seven months and eight months those children were changed in the cradle”—he made one of his effect-collecting pauses, and added—“and the person who did it is in this house!”

Roxy’s pulses stood still! The house was thrilled as with an electric shock, and the people half rose as if to seek a glimpse of the person who had made that exchange. Tom was growing limp; the life seemed oozing out of him. Wilson resumed:

“A was put into B’s cradle in the nursery; B was transferred to the kitchen and became a negro and a slave, [Sensation—confusion of angry ejaculations]—but within a quarter of an hour he will stand before you white and free! [Burst of applause, checked by the officers.] From seven months onward until now, A has still been a usurper, and in my finger-record he bears B’s name. Here is his pantograph at the age of twelve. Compare it with the assassin’s signature upon the knife-handle. Do they tally?”

The foreman answered—

“To the minutest detail!”

Wilson said, solemnly—

“The murderer of your friend and mine—York Driscoll of the generous hand and the kindly spirit—sits in among you. Valet de Chambre, negro and slave,—falsely called Thomas à Becket Driscoll,—make upon the window the finger-prints that will hang you!”

Tom turned his ashen face imploring toward the speaker, made some impotent movements with his white lips, then slid limp and lifeless to the floor.

Wilson broke the awed silence with the words—

“There is no need. He has confessed.”

Roxy flung herself upon her knees, covered her face with her hands, and out through her sobs the words struggled—

“De Lord have mercy on me, po’ misable sinner dat I is!”

The clock struck twelve.

The court rose; the new prisoner, handcuffed, was removed.





Conclusion

It is often the case that the man who can’t tell a lie thinks he is the best judge of one.
—Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar.

October 12, the Discovery. It was wonderful to find America, but it would have been more wonderful to miss it.
—Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar.

The town sat up all night to discuss the amazing events of the day and swap guesses as to when Tom’s trial would begin. Troop after troop of citizens came to serenade Wilson, and require a speech, and shout themselves hoarse over every sentence that fell from his lips—for all his sentences were golden, now, all were marvelous. His long fight against hard luck and prejudice was ended; he was a made man for good.

And as each of these roaring gangs of enthusiasts marched away, some remorseful member of it was quite sure to raise his voice and say—

“And this is the man the likes of us have called a pudd’nhead for more than twenty years. He has resigned from that position, friends.”

“Yes, but it isn’t vacant—we’re elected.”

* * *

The twins were heroes of romance, now, and with rehabilitated reputations. But they were weary of Western adventure, and straightway retired to Europe.

Roxy’s heart was broken. The young fellow upon whom she had inflicted twenty-three years of slavery continued the false heir’s pension of thirty-five dollars a month to her, but her hurts were too deep for money to heal; the spirit in her eye was quenched, her martial bearing departed with it, and the voice of her laughter ceased in the land. In her church and its affairs she found her only solace.

The real heir suddenly found himself rich and free, but in a most embarrassing situation. He could neither read nor write, and his speech was the basest dialect of the negro quarter. His gait, his attitudes, his gestures, his bearing, his laugh—all were vulgar and uncouth; his manners were the manners of a slave. Money and fine clothes could not mend these defects or cover them up; they only made them the more glaring and the more pathetic. The poor fellow could not endure the terrors of the white man’s parlor, and felt at home and at peace nowhere but in the kitchen. The family pew was a misery to him, yet he could nevermore enter into the solacing refuge of the “nigger gallery”—that was closed to him for good and all. But we cannot follow his curious fate further—that would be a long story.

The false heir made a full confession and was sentenced to imprisonment for life. But now a complication came up. The Percy Driscoll estate was in such a crippled shape when its owner died that it could pay only sixty per cent. of its great indebtedness, and was settled at that rate. But the creditors came forward, now, and complained that inasmuch as through an error for which they were in no way to blame the false heir was not inventoried at the time with the rest of the property, great wrong and loss had thereby been inflicted upon them. They rightly claimed that “Tom” was lawfully their property and had been so for eight years; that they had already lost sufficiently in being deprived of his services during that long period, and ought not to be required to add anything to that loss; that if he had been delivered up to them in the first place, they would have sold him and he could not have murdered Judge Driscoll; therefore it was not he that had really committed the murder, the guilt lay with the erroneous inventory. Everybody saw that there was reason in this. Everybody granted that if “Tom” were white and free it would be unquestionably right to punish him—it would be no loss to anybody; but to shut up a valuable slave for life—that was quite another matter.

As soon as the Governor understood the case, he pardoned Tom at once, and the creditors sold him down the river.

END