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Conscience Racks Torn
CLOSE UPON THE HOUR OF NOON the whole village was suddenly
electrified with the ghastly news. No need of the as yet undreamed-of telegraph;
the tale flew from man to man, from group to group, from house to house, with
little less than telegraphic speed. Of course the schoolmaster gave holiday for
that afternoon; the town would have thought strangely of him if he had not.
A gory knife had been found close to the murdered man, and it had been
recognized by somebody as belonging to Muff Potter-so the story ran. And it
was said that a belated citizen had come upon Potter washing himself in the
“branch” about one or two o’clock in the morning, and that Potter had at once
sneaked offsuspicious circumstances, especially the washing, which was not a
habit with Potter. It was also said that the town had been ransacked for this
“murderer” (the public are not slow in the matter of sifting evidence and
arriving at a verdict) but that he could not be found. Horsemen had departed
down all the roads in every direction, and the Sheriff “was confident” that he
would be captured before night.
All the town was drifting toward the graveyard. Tom’s heart-break vanished
and he joined the procession, not because he would not a thousand times rather
go anywhere else, but because an awful, unaccountable fascination drew him on.
Arrived at the dreadful place, he wormed his small body through the crowd and
saw the dismal spectacle. It seemed to him an age since he was there before.
Somebody pinched his arm. He turned, and his eyes met Huckleberry’s. Then
both looked elsewhere at once, and wondered if anybody had noticed anything
in their mutual glance. But everybody was talking, and intent upon the grisly
spectacle before them.
“Poor fellow!” “Poor young fellow!” “This ought to be a lesson to grave-
robbers!” “Muff Potter’ll hang for this if they catch him!” This was the drift of
remark; and the minister said, “It was a judgment; His hand is here.” Now Tom
shivered from head to heel; for his eye fell upon the stolid face of Injun Joe. At
this moment the crowd began to sway and struggle, and voices shouted, “It’s
him! it’s him! he’s coming himself!” “Who? Who?” from twenty voices.
“Muff Potter!” “Hallo, he’s stopped!- Look out, he’s turning! Don’t let him get
away!” People in the branches of the trees over Tom’s head, said he wasn’t
trying to get away-he only looked doubtful and perplexed.
“Infernal impudence!” said a bystander; “wanted to come and take a quiet look
at his work, I reckon-didn’t expect any company.” The crowd fell apart, now,
and the Sheriff came through, ostentatiously leading Potter by the arm. The poor
fellow’s face was haggard, and his eyes showed the fear that was upon him.
When he stood before the murdered man, he shook as with a palsy, and he put
his face in his hands and burst into tears.
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