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CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE (continued)
The lawyer done it, and says: “I believe it’s so-and if it ain’t so, there’s a heap stronger resemblance than I’d noticed before, anyway. Well, well, well! I thought we was right on the track of a slution, but it’s gone to grass, partly. But anyway, one thing is proved-these two ain’t either of ‘em Wilkses”- and he wagged his head towards the king and the duke.
Well, what do you think?- that muleheaded old fool wouldn’t give in then! Indeed he wouldn’t. Said it warn’t no fair test. Said his brother William was the cussedest joker in the world, and hadn’t tried to write-he see William was going to play one of his jokes the minute he put the pen to paper. And so he warmed up and went warbling and warbling right along, till he was actuly beginning to believe what he was saying, himself-but pretty soon the new old gentleman broke in, and says: “I’ve thought of something. Is there anybody here that helped to lay out my br-helped to lay out the late Peter Wilks for burying?” “Yes,” says somebody, “me and Ab Turner done it. We’re both here.” Then the old man turns towards the king, and says: “Perhaps this gentleman can tell me what was tatooed on his breast?” Blamed if the king didn’t have to brace up mighty quick, or he’d a squshed down like a bluff bank that the river has cut under, it took him so sudden-and mind you, it was a thing that was calculated to make most anybody sqush to get fetched such a solid one as that without any notice-because how was he going to know what was tatooed on the man? He whitened a little; he couldn’t help it; and it was mighty still in there, and everybody bending a little forwards and gazing at him. Says I to myself, Now he’ll throw up the sponge-there ain’t no more use.
Well, did he? A body can’t hardly believe it, but he didn’t. I reckon he thought he’d keep the thing up till he tired them people out, so they’d thin out, and him and the duke could break loose and get away. Anyway, he set there, and pretty soon he begun to smile, and says: “Mf! It’s a very tough question, ain’t it! Yes, sir, I k’n tell you what’s tatooed on his breast. It’s jest a small, thin, blue arrow-that’s what it is; and if you don’t look clost, you can’t see it. Now what do you say-hey?” Well, I never see anything like that old blister for clean out-and-out cheek.
The new old gentleman turns brisk towards Ab Turner and his pard, and his eye lights up like he judged he’d got the king this time, and says: “There-you’ve heard what he said! Was there any such mark on Peter Wilks’s breast?” Both of them spoke up and says: “We didn’t see no such mark.” “Good!” says the old gentleman. “Now, what you did see on his breast was a small dim P, and a B (which is an initial he dropped when he was young), and a W, with dashes between them, so: P-B-W”-and he marked them that way on a piece of paper. “Come-ain’t that what you saw?” Both of them spoke up again, and says: “No, we didn’t. We never seen any marks at all.” Well, everybody was in a state of mind, now; and they sings out: “The whole bilin’ of’ m’s frauds! Le’s duck ‘em! le’s drown ‘em! le’s ride’em on a rail!” and everybody was whooping at once, and there was a rattling powwow. But the lawyer he jumps on the table and yells, and says: “Gentlemen-gentlemen! Hear me just a word-just a single word-if you PLEASE! There’s one way yet-let’s go and dig up the corpse and look.” That took them. “Hooray!” they all shouted, and was starting right off; but the lawyer and the doctor sung out: “Hold on, hold on! Collar all these four men and the boy, and fetch them along, too!” “We’ll do it!” they all shouted: “and if we don’t find them marks we’ll lynch the whole gang!” I was scared, now, I tell you. But there warn’t no getting away, you know.
They gripped us all, and marched us right along, straight for the graveyard, which was a mile and a half down the river, and the whole town at our heels, for we made noise enough, and it was only nine in the evening.
As we went by our house I wished I hadn’t sent Mary Jane out of town; because now if I could tip her the wink, she’d light out and save me, and blow on our dead-beats. Well, we swarmed along down the river road, just carrying on like wild-cats; and to make it more scary, the sky was darking up, and the lightning beginning to wink and flitter, and the wind to shiver amongst the leaves. This was the most awful trouble and most dangersome I ever was in; and I was kinder stunned; everything was going so different from what I had allowed for; stead of being fixed so I could take my own time, if I wanted to, and see all the fun, and have Mary Jane at my back to save me and set me free when the close-fit come, here was nothing in the world betwixt me and sudden death but just them tatoo-marks. If they didn’t find themI couldn’t bear to think about it; and yet, somehow, I couldn’t think about nothing else. It got darker and darker, and it was a beautiful time to give the crowd the slip; but that big husky had me by the wrist-Hines-and a body might as well try to give Goliar the slip. He dragged me right along, he was so excited; and I had to run to keep up.
When they got there they swarmed into the graveyard and washed over it like an overflow. And when they got to the grave, they found they had about a hundred times as many shovels as they wanted, but nobody hadn’t thought to fetch a lantern. But they sailed into digging, anyway, by the flicker of the lightning, and sent a man to the nearest house a half a mile off, to borrow one.
So they dug and dug, like everything; and it got awful dark, and the rain started, and the wind swished and swushed along, and the lightning come brisker and brisker, and the thunder boomed; but them people never took no notice of it, they was so full of this business; and one minute you could see everything and every face in that big crowd, and the shovelfuls of dirt sailing up out of the grave, and the next second the dark wiped it all out, and you couldn’t see nothing at all.
At last they got out the coffin, and begun to unscrew the lid, and then such another crowding, and shouldering, and shoving as there was, to scrouge in and get a sight, you never see; and in the dark, that way, it was awful. Hines he hurt my wrist dreadful, pulling and tugging so, and I reckon he clean forgot I was in the world, he was so excited and panting.
All of a sudden the lightning let go a perfect sluice of white glare, and somebody sings out: “By the living jingo, here’s the bag of gold on his breast!” Hines let out a whoop, like everybody else, and dropped my wrist and give a big surge to bust his way in and get a look, and the way I lit out and shinned for the road in the dark, there ain’t nobody can tell.
I had the road all to myself, and I fairly flew-leastways I had it all to myself, except the solid dark, and the now-and-then glares, and the buzzing of the rain, and the thrashing of the wind, and the splitting of the thunder; and sure as you are born I did clip it along!
When I struck the town, I see there warn’t nobody out in the storm, so I never hunted for no back streets, but humped it straight through the main one; and when I begun to get towards our house I aimed my eye and set it. No light there; the house all dark-which made me feel sorry and disappointed, I didn’t know why. But at last, just as I was sailing by, flash comes the light in Mary Jane’s window! and my heart swelled up sudden, like to bust; and the same second the house and all was behind me in the dark, and wasn’t ever going to be before me no more in this world. She was the best girl I ever see, and had the most sand.
The minute I was far enough above the town to see I could make the towhead, I begun to look sharp for a boat to borrow; and the first time the lightning showed me one that wasn’t chained, I snatched it and shoved. It was a canoe, and warn’t fastened with nothing but a rope. The tow-head was a rattling big distance off, away out there in the middle of the river, but I didn’t lose no time; and when I struck the raft at last, I was so fagged I would a just laid down to blow and gasp if I could afforded it. But I didn’t. As I sprung aboard I sung out: “Out with you Jim, and set her loose! Glory be to goodness, we’re shut of them!” Jim lit out, and was a coming for me with both arms spread, he was so full of joy; but when I glimpsed him in the lightning, my heart shot up in my mouth, and I went overboard backwards; for I forgot he was old King Lear and a drowned A rab all in one, and it most scared the livers and lights out of me. But Jim fished me out, and was going to hug me and bless me, and so on, he was so glad I was back and we was shut of the king and the duke, but I says: “Not now-have it for breakfast, have it for breakfast! Cut loose and let her slide!” So, in two seconds, away we went, a sliding down the river, and it did seem so good to be free again and all by ourselves on the big river and nobody to bother us. I had to skip around a bit, and jump up and crack my heels a few times, I couldn’t help it; but about the third crack, I noticed a sound that I knowed mighty well-and held my breath and listened and waited-and sure enough, when the next flash busted out over the water, here they come!-and just a laying to their oars and making their skiff hum! It was the king and the duke.
So I wilted right down onto the planks, then, and give up; and it was all I could do to keep from crying.