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Take time to read.
Reading is the
fountain of wisdom.


(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)

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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 and waited, in restless impatience.

When it seemed to him that it must be nearly daylight,

he heard the clock strike ten! This was despair. He

would have tossed and fidgeted, as his nerves demanded,

but he was afraid 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 preceptible noises began to emphasize them-

selves. The ticking of the clock began to bring it-

self into notice. Old beams began to crack mysteri-

ously. The stairs creaked faintly. Evidently spirits

were abroad. A measured, muffled snore issued

from Aunt Polly's chamber. And now the tiresome

chirping of a cricket that no human ingenuity could

locate, began. Next the ghastly ticking of a death-

watch in the wall at the bed's head made Tom shudder

-- it meant that somebody's days were numbered.

Then the howl of a far-off dog rose on the night air,

and was answered by a fainter howl from a remoter

distance. Tom was in an agony. At last he was

satisfied that time had ceased and eternity begun; he

began to doze, in spite of himself; the clock chimed

eleven, but he did not hear it. And then there came,

mingling with his half-formed dreams, a most mel-

ancholy caterwauling. The raising of a neighboring

window disturbed him. A cry of "Scat! you devil!"

and the crash of an empty bottle against the back of

his aunt's woodshed brought him wide awake, and a

single minute later he was dressed and out of the win-

dow and creeping along the roof of the "ell" on all

fours. He "meow'd" with caution once or twice, as

he went; then jumped to the roof of the woodshed and

thence to the ground. Huckleberry Finn was there,

with his dead cat. The boys moved off and disap-

peared in the gloom. At the end of half an hour they

were wading through the tall grass of the graveyard.

It was a graveyard of the old-fashioned Western

kind. It was on a hill, about a mile and a half from

the village. It had a crazy board fence around it,

which leaned inward in places, and outward the rest

of the time, but stood upright nowhere. Grass and

weeds grew rank over the whole cemetery. All the

old graves were sunken in, there was not a tombstone

on the place; round-topped, worm-eaten boards stag-

gered over the graves, leaning for support and finding

none. "Sacred to the memory of" So-and-So had been

painted on them once, but it could no longer have 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 the spirits of the dead, complain-

ing at being disturbed. The boys talked little, and

only under their breath, for the time and the place

and the pervading solemnity and silence oppressed

their spirits. They found the sharp new heap they

were seeking, and ensconced themselves within the

protection of three great elms that grew in a bunch

within a few feet of the grave.

Then they waited in silence for what seemed a long

time. The hooting of a distant owl was all the sound

that troubled the dead stillness. Tom's reflections

grew oppressive. He must force some talk. So he

said in 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 matter inwardly. 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 dead people, Tom."

This was a damper, and conversation died again.

Presently Tom seized his comrade's arm and said:


"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't come."

"Oh, don't be afeard. I don't believe they'll bother

us. We ain't doing any harm. If we keep perfectly

still, maybe they won't notice us at all."

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


The boys bent their heads together and scarcely

breathed. A muffled sound 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 an old-fashioned tin lantern that freckled

the ground with innumerable little spangles of light.

Presently Huckleberry whispered with a shudder:

"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. 'Now I lay me down to sleep, I --'"


"What is it, Huck?"

"They're HUMANS! One of 'em is, anyway. One

of 'em's old Muff Potter's voice."

"No -- 'tain't so, is it?"

"I bet I know it. Don't you stir nor budge. He

ain't sharp enough to notice us. Drunk, the same as

usual, likely -- blamed old rip!"

"All right, I'll keep still. Now they're stuck.

Can't find it. Here they 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' them voices; it's Injun Joe."

"That's so -- that murderin' half-breed! I'd druther

they was devils a dern sight. What kin they be up to?"

The whisper died wholly out, now, for the three

men had reached the grave and stood within a few

feet of the boys' hiding-place.

"Here it is," said the third voice; and the owner

of it held the lantern up and revealed the face of young

Doctor Robinson.

Potter and Injun Joe were carrying a handbarrow

with a rope and a couple of shovels on it. They cast

down their load and began to open the grave. The

doctor put the lantern at the head of the grave and came

and sat down with his back against one of the elm trees.

He was so close the boys could have touched him.

"Hurry, men!" he said, in a low voice; "the moon

might come out at any moment."

They growled a response and went on digging.

For some time there was no noise but the grating

sound of the spades discharging their freight of mould

and gravel. It was very monotonous. Finally a spade

struck upon the coffin with a dull woody accent, and

within another minute or two the men had hoisted it

out on the ground. They pried off the lid with their

shovels, got out the body and dumped it rudely on the

ground. The moon drifted from behind the clouds

and exposed the pallid face. The barrow was got ready

and the corpse placed on it, covered with a blanket,

and bound to its place with the rope. Potter took out

a large spring-knife and cut off the dangling end of the

rope and then said:

"Now the cussed thing's ready, Sawbones, and

you'll just out with another five, or here she stays."

"That's the talk!" said Injun Joe.

"Look here, what does this mean?" said the doctor.

"You required your pay in advance, and I've paid you."

"Yes, and you done more than that," said Injun

Joe, approaching the doctor, who was now standing.

"Five years ago you drove me away from your father's

kitchen one night, when I come to ask for something

to eat, and you said I warn't there for any good; and

when I swore I'd get even with you if it took a hundred

years, your father had me jailed for a vagrant. Did

you think I'd forget? The Injun blood ain't in me for

nothing. 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 this time. The doctor struck out suddenly and

stretched the ruffian on the ground. Potter dropped

his knife, and exclaimed:

"Here, now, don't you hit my pard!" and the next

moment he had grappled with the doctor and the two

were struggling with might and main, trampling the

grass and tearing the ground with their heels. Injun

Joe sprang to his feet, his eyes flaming with passion,

snatched up Potter's knife, and went creeping, catlike

and stooping, round and round about the combatants,

seeking an opportunity. All at once the doctor flung

himself free, seized the heavy headboard of Williams'

grave and felled Potter to the earth with it -- and in the

same instant the half-breed saw his chance and drove

the knife to the hilt in the young man's breast. He

reeled and fell partly upon Potter, flooding him with his

blood, and in the same moment the clouds blotted out the

dreadful spectacle and the two frightened boys went

speeding away in the dark.

Presently, when the moon emerged again, Injun

Joe was standing over the 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 in Potter's open right hand, and sat

down on the dismantled coffin. Three -- four -- five

minutes passed, and then Potter began to stir and

moan. His hand closed upon the knife; he raised

it, glanced at it, and let it fall, with a shudder. Then

he sat up, pushing the body from him, and gazed 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's in my head yet -- worse'n when we

started here. I'm all in a muddle; can't recollect any-

thing of it, hardly. Tell me, Joe -- HONEST, now, old

feller -- did I do it? Joe, I never meant to -- 'pon my

soul and honor, I never meant to, Joe. Tell me how

it was, Joe. Oh, it's awful -- and him so young and


"Why, you two was scuffling, and he fetched you

one with the headboard and you fell flat; and then

up you come, all reeling and staggering like, and

snatched the knife and jammed it into him, just as

he fetched you another awful clip -- and here you've

laid, as dead as a wedge til now."

"Oh, I didn't know what I was a-doing. I wish

I may die this minute if I did. It was all on account

of the whiskey and the excitement, I reckon. I never

used a weepon in my life before, Joe. I've fought, but

never with weepons. They'll all say that. Joe, don't

tell! Say you won't tell, Joe -- that's a good feller. I

always liked you, Joe, and stood 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 stolid

murderer, and clasped his appealing hands.

"No, you've always been fair and square with me,

Muff Potter, and I won'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 I live." 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 any tracks be-

hind you."

Potter started on a trot that quickly increased to a run.

The half-breed stood looking after him. He muttered:

"If he's as much stunned with the lick and fud-

dled with the rum as he had the look of being, he

won't think of the knife till he's gone so far he'll be

afraid to come back after it to such a place by him-

self -- chicken-heart!"

Two or three minutes later the murdered man, the

blanketed corpse, the lidless coffin, and the open grave

were under no inspection but the moon's. The stillness

was complete again, too.



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