The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Part 3. eBook: Page2

Mark Twain (2004)


  CHAPTER IX

  AT half-past nine, that night, Tom and Sid were sent to bed, as usual.They said their prayers, and Sid was soon asleep. Tom lay awake andwaited, in restless impatience. When it seemed to him that it must benearly daylight, he heard the clock strike ten! This was despair. Hewould have tossed and fidgeted, as his nerves demanded, but he wasafraid he might wake Sid. So he lay still, and stared up into the dark.Everything was dismally still. By and by, out of the stillness, little,scarcely perceptible noises began to emphasize themselves. The tickingof the clock began to bring itself into notice. Old beams began tocrack mysteriously. The stairs creaked faintly. Evidently spirits wereabroad. A measured, muffled snore issued from Aunt Polly's chamber. Andnow the tiresome chirping of a cricket that no human ingenuity couldlocate, began. Next the ghastly ticking of a deathwatch in the wall atthe bed's head made Tom shudder--it meant that somebody's days werenumbered. Then the howl of a far-off dog rose on the night air, and wasanswered by a fainter howl from a remoter distance. Tom was in anagony. At last he was satisfied that time had ceased and eternitybegun; he began to doze, in spite of himself; the clock chimed eleven,but he did not hear it. And then there came, mingling with hishalf-formed dreams, a most melancholy caterwauling. The raising of aneighboring window disturbed him. A cry of "Scat! you devil!" and thecrash of an empty bottle against the back of his aunt's woodshedbrought him wide awake, and a single minute later he was dressed andout of the window and creeping along the roof of the "ell" on allfours. He "meow'd" with caution once or twice, as he went; then jumpedto the roof of the woodshed and thence to the ground. Huckleberry Finnwas there, with his dead cat. The boys moved off and disappeared in thegloom. At the end of half an hour they were wading through the tallgrass of the graveyard.

  It was a graveyard of the old-fashioned Western kind. It was on ahill, about a mile and a half from the village. It had a crazy boardfence around it, which leaned inward in places, and outward the rest ofthe time, but stood upright nowhere. Grass and weeds grew rank over thewhole cemetery. All the old graves were sunken in, there was not atombstone on the place; round-topped, worm-eaten boards staggered overthe graves, leaning for support and finding none. "Sacred to the memoryof" So-and-So had been painted on them once, but it could no longerhave been read, on the most of them, now, even if there had been light.

  A faint wind moaned through the trees, and Tom feared it might be thespirits of the dead, complaining at being disturbed. The boys talkedlittle, and only under their breath, for the time and the place and thepervading solemnity and silence oppressed their spirits. They found thesharp new heap they were seeking, and ensconced themselves within theprotection of three great elms that grew in a bunch within a few feetof the grave.

  Then they waited in silence for what seemed a long time. The hootingof a distant owl was all the sound that troubled the dead stillness.Tom's reflections grew oppressive. He must force some talk. So he saidin a whisper:

  "Hucky, do you believe the dead people like it for us to be here?"

  Huckleberry whispered:

  "I wisht I knowed. It's awful solemn like, AIN'T it?"

  "I bet it is."

  There was a considerable pause, while the boys canvassed this matterinwardly. Then Tom whispered:

  "Say, Hucky--do you reckon Hoss Williams hears us talking?"

  "O' course he does. Least his sperrit does."

  Tom, after a pause:

  "I wish I'd said Mister Williams. But I never meant any harm.Everybody calls him Hoss."

  "A body can't be too partic'lar how they talk 'bout these-yer deadpeople, Tom."

  This was a damper, and conversation died again.

  Presently Tom seized his comrade's arm and said:

  "Sh!"

  "What is it, Tom?" And the two clung together with beating hearts.

  "Sh! There 'tis again! Didn't you hear it?"

  "I--"

  "There! Now you hear it."

  "Lord, Tom, they're coming! They're coming, sure. What'll we do?"

  "I dono. Think they'll see us?"

  "Oh, Tom, they can see in the dark, same as cats. I wisht I hadn'tcome."

  "Oh, don't be afeard. I don't believe they'll bother us. We ain'tdoing any harm. If we keep perfectly still, maybe they won't notice usat all."

  "I'll try to, Tom, but, Lord, I'm all of a shiver."

  "Listen!"

  The boys bent their heads together and scarcely breathed. A muffledsound of voices floated up from the far end of the graveyard.

  "Look! See there!" whispered Tom. "What is it?"

  "It's devil-fire. Oh, Tom, this is awful."

  Some vague figures approached through the gloom, swinging anold-fashioned tin lantern that freckled the ground with innumerablelittle spangles of light. Presently Huckleberry whispered with ashudder:

  "It's the devils sure enough. Three of 'em! Lordy, Tom, we're goners!Can you pray?"

  "I'll try, but don't you be afeard. They ain't going to hurt us. 'NowI lay me down to sleep, I--'"

  "Sh!"

  "What is it, Huck?"

  "They're HUMANS! One of 'em is, anyway. One of 'em's old Muff Potter'svoice."

  "No--'tain't so, is it?"

  "I bet I know it. Don't you stir nor budge. He ain't sharp enough tonotice us. Drunk, the same as usual, likely--blamed old rip!"

  "All right, I'll keep still. Now they're stuck. Can't find it. Herethey come again. Now they're hot. Cold again. Hot again. Red hot!They're p'inted right, this time. Say, Huck, I know another o' themvoices; it's Injun Joe."

  "That's so--that murderin' half-breed! I'd druther they was devils adern sight. What kin they be up to?"

  The whisper died wholly out, now, for the three men had reached thegrave and stood within a few feet of the boys' hiding-place.

  "Here it is," said the third voice; and the owner of it held thelantern up and revealed the face of young Doctor Robinson.

  Potter and Injun Joe were carrying a handbarrow with a rope and acouple of shovels on it. They cast down their load and began to openthe grave. The doctor put the lantern at the head of the grave and cameand sat down with his back against one of the elm trees. He was soclose the boys could have touched him.

  "Hurry, men!" he said, in a low voice; "the moon might come out at anymoment."

  They growled a response and went on digging. For some time there wasno noise but the grating sound of the spades discharging their freightof mould and gravel. It was very monotonous. Finally a spade struckupon the coffin with a dull woody accent, and within another minute ortwo the men had hoisted it out on the ground. They pried off the lidwith their shovels, got out the body and dumped it rudely on theground. The moon drifted from behind the clouds and exposed the pallidface. The barrow was got ready and the corpse placed on it, coveredwith a blanket, and bound to its place with the rope. Potter took out alarge spring-knife and cut off the dangling end of the rope and thensaid:

  "Now the cussed thing's ready, Sawbones, and you'll just out withanother five, or here she stays."

  "That's the talk!" said Injun Joe.

  "Look here, what does this mean?" said the doctor. "You required yourpay in advance, and I've paid you."

  "Yes, and you done more than that," said Injun Joe, approaching thedoctor, who was now standing. "Five years ago you drove me away fromyour father's kitchen one night, when I come to ask for something toeat, and you said I warn't there for any good; and when I swore I'd geteven with you if it took a hundred years, your father had me jailed fora vagrant. Did you think I'd forget? The Injun blood ain't in me fornothing. And now I've GOT you, and you got to SETTLE, you know!"

  He was threatening the doctor, with his fist in his face, by thistime. The doctor struck out suddenly and stretched the ruffian on theground. Potter dropped his knife, and exclaimed:

  "Here, now, don't you hit my pard!" and the next moment he hadgrappled with the doctor and the two were struggling with might andmain, trampling the grass and tearing the ground with their heels.Injun Jo
e sprang to his feet, his eyes flaming with passion, snatchedup Potter's knife, and went creeping, catlike and stooping, round andround about the combatants, seeking an opportunity. All at once thedoctor flung himself free, seized the heavy headboard of Williams'grave and felled Potter to the earth with it--and in the same instantthe half-breed saw his chance and drove the knife to the hilt in theyoung man's breast. He reeled and fell partly upon Potter, flooding himwith his blood, and in the same moment the clouds blotted out thedreadful spectacle and the two frightened boys went speeding away inthe dark.

  Presently, when the moon emerged again, Injun Joe was standing overthe two forms, contemplating them. The doctor murmured inarticulately,gave a long gasp or two and was still. The half-breed muttered:

  "THAT score is settled--damn you."

  Then he robbed the body. After which he put the fatal knife inPotter's open right hand, and sat down on the dismantled coffin. Three--four--five minutes passed, and then Potter began to stir and moan. Hishand closed upon the knife; he raised it, glanced at it, and let itfall, with a shudder. Then he sat up, pushing the body from him, andgazed at it, and then around him, confusedly. His eyes met Joe's.

  "Lord, how is this, Joe?" he said.

  "It's a dirty business," said Joe, without moving.

  "What did you do it for?"

  "I! I never done it!"

  "Look here! That kind of talk won't wash."

  Potter trembled and grew white.

  "I thought I'd got sober. I'd no business to drink to-night. But it'sin my head yet--worse'n when we started here. I'm all in a muddle;can't recollect anything of it, hardly. Tell me, Joe--HONEST, now, oldfeller--did I do it? Joe, I never meant to--'pon my soul and honor, Inever meant to, Joe. Tell me how it was, Joe. Oh, it's awful--and himso young and promising."

  "Why, you two was scuffling, and he fetched you one with the headboardand you fell flat; and then up you come, all reeling and staggeringlike, and snatched the knife and jammed it into him, just as he fetchedyou another awful clip--and here you've laid, as dead as a wedge tilnow."

  "Oh, I didn't know what I was a-doing. I wish I may die this minute ifI did. It was all on account of the whiskey and the excitement, Ireckon. I never used a weepon in my life before, Joe. I've fought, butnever with weepons. They'll all say that. Joe, don't tell! Say youwon't tell, Joe--that's a good feller. I always liked you, Joe, andstood up for you, too. Don't you remember? You WON'T tell, WILL you,Joe?" And the poor creature dropped on his knees before the stolidmurderer, and clasped his appealing hands.

  "No, you've always been fair and square with me, Muff Potter, and Iwon't go back on you. There, now, that's as fair as a man can say."

  "Oh, Joe, you're an angel. I'll bless you for this the longest day Ilive." And Potter began to cry.

  "Come, now, that's enough of that. This ain't any time for blubbering.You be off yonder way and I'll go this. Move, now, and don't leave anytracks behind you."

  Potter started on a trot that quickly increased to a run. Thehalf-breed stood looking after him. He muttered:

  "If he's as much stunned with the lick and fuddled with the rum as hehad the look of being, he won't think of the knife till he's gone sofar he'll be afraid to come back after it to such a place by himself--chicken-heart!"

  Two or three minutes later the murdered man, the blanketed corpse, thelidless coffin, and the open grave were under no inspection but themoon's. The stillness was complete again, too.