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Reading is the
fountain of wisdom.


(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)

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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 be-

longing to Muff Potter -- so the story ran. And it was

said that a belated citizen had come upon Potter wash-

ing himself in the "branch" about one or two o'clock

in the morning, and that Potter had at once sneaked

off -- suspicious 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 heartbreak vanished and he joined the pro-

cession, not because he would not a thousand times

rather go anywhere else, but because an awful, un-

accountable 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 Huckle-

berry'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 re-

mark; 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.

"I didn't do it, friends," he sobbed; "'pon my word

and honor I never done it."

"Who's accused you?" shouted a voice.

This shot seemed to carry home. Potter lifted his

face and looked around him with a pathetic hope-

lessness in his eyes. He saw Injun Joe, and exclaimed:

"Oh, Injun Joe, you promised me you'd never --"

"Is that your knife?" and it was thrust before him

by the Sheriff.

Potter would have fallen if they had not caught him

and eased him to the ground. Then he said:

"Something told me 't if I didn't come back and

get --" He shuddered; then waved his nerveless hand

with a vanquished gesture and said, "Tell 'em, Joe,

tell 'em -- it ain't any use any more."

Then Huckleberry and Tom stood dumb and star-

ing, and heard the stony-hearted liar reel off his se-

rene statement, they expecting every moment that the

clear sky would deliver God's lightnings upon his head,

and wondering to see how long the stroke was delayed.

And when he had finished and still stood alive and

whole, their wavering impulse to break their oath and

save the poor betrayed prisoner's life faded and vanished

away, for plainly this miscreant had sold himself to

Satan and it would be fatal to meddle with the property

of such a power as that.

"Why didn't you leave? What did you want to

come here for?" somebody said.

"I couldn't help it -- I couldn't help it," Potter moaned.

"I wanted to run away, but I couldn't seem to come

anywhere but here." And he fell to sobbing again.

Injun Joe repeated his statement, just as calmly,

a few minutes afterward on the inquest, under oath;

and the boys, seeing that the lightnings were still

withheld, were confirmed in their belief that Joe had

sold himself to the devil. He was now become, to

them, the most balefully interesting object they had

ever looked upon, and they could not take their fas-

cinated eyes from his face.

They inwardly resolved to watch him nights, when

opportunity should offer, in the hope of getting a glimpse

of his dread master.

Injun Joe helped to raise the body of the murdered

man and put it in a wagon for removal; and it was

whispered through the shuddering crowd that the

wound bled a little! The boys thought that this happy

circumstance would turn suspicion in the right direction;

but they were disappointed, for more than one villager


"It was within three feet of Muff Potter when it done it."

Tom's fearful secret and gnawing conscience dis-

turbed his sleep for as much as a week after this; and

at breakfast one morning Sid said:

"Tom, you pitch around and talk in your sleep so

much that you keep me awake half the time."

Tom blanched and dropped his eyes.

"It's a bad sign," said Aunt Polly, gravely. "What

you got on your mind, Tom?"

"Nothing. Nothing 't I know of." But the boy's

hand shook so that he spilled his coffee.

"And you do talk such stuff," Sid said. "Last

night you said, 'It's blood, it's blood, that's what it is!'

You said that over and over. And you said, 'Don't

torment me so -- I'll tell!' Tell WHAT? What is it you'll tell?"

Everything was swimming before Tom. There is

no telling what might have happened, now, but luckily

the concern passed out of Aunt Polly's face and she

came to Tom's relief without knowing it. She said:

"Sho! It's that dreadful murder. I dream about

it most every night myself. Sometimes I dream it's

me that done it."

Mary said she had been affected much the same

way. Sid seemed satisfied. Tom got out of the

presence as quick as he plausibly could, and after that

he complained of toothache for a week, and tied up

his jaws every night. He never knew that Sid lay

nightly watching, and frequently slipped the bandage

free and then leaned on his elbow listening a good while

at a time, and afterward slipped the bandage back to

its place again. Tom's distress of mind wore off

gradually and the toothache grew irksome and was

discarded. If Sid really managed to make anything

out of Tom's disjointed mutterings, he kept it to himself.

It seemed to Tom that his schoolmates never would

get done holding inquests on dead cats, and thus

keeping his trouble present to his mind. Sid noticed

that Tom never was coroner at one of these inquiries,

though it had been his habit to take the lead in all

new enterprises; he noticed, too, that Tom never acted

as a witness -- and that was strange; and Sid did not

overlook the fact that Tom even showed a marked

aversion to these inquests, and always avoided them

when he could. Sid marvelled, but said nothing. How-

ever, even inquests went out of vogue at last, and ceased

to torture Tom's conscience.

Every day or two, during this time of sorrow, Tom

watched his opportunity and went to the little grated

jail-window and smuggled such small comforts through

to the "murderer" as he could get hold of. The jail

was a trifling little brick den that stood in a marsh at

the edge of the village, and no guards were afforded for

it; indeed, it was seldom occupied. These offerings

greatly helped to ease Tom's conscience.

The villagers had a strong desire to tar-and-feather

Injun Joe and ride him on a rail, for body-snatching,

but so formidable was his character that nobody could

be found who was willing to take the lead in the matter,

so it was dropped. He had been careful to begin both

of his inquest-statements with the fight, without con-

fessing the grave-robbery that preceded it; therefore

it was deemed wisest not to try the case in the courts

at present.



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