AT last the sleepy atmosphere was stirred -- and vigorously:
the murder trial came on in the court. It became the absorbing
topic of village talk immediately. Tom could not get away
from it. Every reference to the murder sent a shudder to
his heart, for his troubled conscience and fears almost
persuaded him that these remarks were put forth in his
hearing as "feelers"; he did not see how he could be
suspected of knowing anything about the murder, but
still he could not be comfortable in the midst of this
gossip. It kept him in a cold shiver all the time. He
took Huck to a lonely place to have a talk with him.
It would be some relief to unseal his tongue for a little
while; to divide his burden of distress with another suf-
ferer. Moreover, he wanted to assure himself that
Huck had remained discreet.
"Huck, have you ever told anybody about -- that?"
"You know what."
"Oh -- 'course I haven't."
"Never a word?"
"Never a solitary word, so help me. What makes you ask?"
"Well, I was afeard."
"Why, Tom Sawyer, we wouldn't be alive two days
if that got found out. YOU know that."
Tom felt more comfortable. After a pause:
"Huck, they couldn't anybody get you to tell, could they?"
"Get me to tell? Why, if I wanted that half-breed
devil to drownd me they could get me to tell. They
ain't no different way."
"Well, that's all right, then. I reckon we're safe
as long as we keep mum. But let's swear again, any-
way. It's more surer."
So they swore again with dread solemnities.
"What is the talk around, Huck? I've heard a power of it."
"Talk? Well, it's just Muff Potter, Muff Potter,
Muff Potter all the time. It keeps me in a sweat, con-
stant, so's I want to hide som'ers."
"That's just the same way they go on round me.
I reckon he's a goner. Don't you feel sorry for him,
"Most always -- most always. He ain't no account;
but then he hain't ever done anything to hurt anybody.
Just fishes a little, to get money to get drunk on -- and
loafs around considerable; but lord, we all do that --
leastways most of us -- preachers and such like. But
he's kind of good -- he give me half a fish, once, when
there warn't enough for two; and lots of times he's kind
of stood by me when I was out of luck."
"Well, he's mended kites for me, Huck, and knitted
hooks on to my line. I wish we could get him out of there."
"My! we couldn't get him out, Tom. And besides,
'twouldn't do any good; they'd ketch him again."
"Yes -- so they would. But I hate to hear 'em abuse
him so like the dickens when he never done -- that."
"I do too, Tom. Lord, I hear 'em say he's the
bloodiest looking villain in this country, and they won-
der he wasn't ever hung before."
"Yes, they talk like that, all the time. I've heard
'em say that if he was to get free they'd lynch him."
"And they'd do it, too."
The boys had a long talk, but it brought them little
comfort. As the twilight drew on, they found them-
selves hanging about the neighborhood of the little
isolated jail, perhaps with an undefined hope that
something would happen that might clear away their
difficulties. But nothing happened; there seemed to
be no angels or fairies interested in this luckless captive.
The boys did as they had often done before -- went
to the cell grating and gave Potter some tobacco and
matches. He was on the ground floor and there were
His gratitude for their gifts had always smote their
consciences before -- it cut deeper than ever, this time.
They felt cowardly and treacherous to the last degree
when Potter said:
"You've been mighty good to me, boys -- better'n any-
body else in this town. And I don't forget it, I don't.
Often I says to myself, says I, 'I used to mend all the
boys' kites and things, and show 'em where the good
fishin' places was, and befriend 'em what I could, and
now they've all forgot old Muff when he's in trouble;
but Tom don't, and Huck don't -- THEY don't forget him,
says I, 'and I don't forget them.' Well, boys, I done
an awful thing -- drunk and crazy at the time -- that's
the only way I account for it -- and now I got to swing
for it, and it's right. Right, and BEST, too, I reckon --
hope so, anyway. Well, we won't talk about that. I
don't want to make YOU feel bad; you've befriended me.
But what I want to say, is, don't YOU ever get drunk --
then you won't ever get here. Stand a litter furder west
-- so -- that's it; it's a prime comfort to see faces that's
friendly when a body's in such a muck of trouble, and
there don't none come here but yourn. Good friendly
faces -- good friendly faces. Git up on one another's
backs and let me touch 'em. That's it. Shake hands
-- yourn'll come through the bars, but mine's too big.
Little hands, and weak -- but they've helped Muff
Potter a power, and they'd help him more if they could."
Tom went home miserable, and his dreams that
night were full of horrors. The next day and the day
after, he hung about the court-room, drawn by an al-
most irresistible impulse to go in, but forcing himself
to stay out. Huck was having the same experience.
They studiously avoided each other. Each wandered
away, from time to time, but the same dismal fascina-
tion always brought them back presently. Tom kept
his ears open when idlers sauntered out of the court-
room, but invariably heard distressing news -- the toils
were closing more and more relentlessly around poor
Potter. At the end of the second day the village talk
was to the effect that Injun Joe's evidence stood firm
and unshaken, and that there was not the slightest ques-
tion as to what the jury's verdict would be.
Tom was out late, that night, and came to bed through
the window. He was in a tremendous state of excite-
ment. It was hours before he got to sleep. All the
village flocked to the court-house the next morning, for
this was to be the great day. Both sexes were about
equally represented in the packed audience. After a
long wait the jury filed in and took their places; shortly
afterward, Potter, pale and haggard, timid and hopeless,
was brought in, with chains upon him, and seated where
all the curious eyes could stare at him; no less con-
spicuous was Injun Joe, stolid as ever. There was an-
other pause, and then the judge arrived and the sheriff
proclaimed the opening of the court. The usual whis-
perings among the lawyers and gathering together of
papers followed. These details and accompanying
delays worked up an atmosphere of preparation that
was as impressive as it was fascinating.
Now a witness was called who testified that he found
Muff Potter washing in the brook, at an early hour of
the morning that the murder was discovered, and that
he immediately sneaked away. After some further ques-
tioning, counsel for the prosecution said:
"Take the witness."
The prisoner raised his eyes for a moment, but
dropped them again when his own counsel said:
"I have no questions to ask him."
The next witness proved the finding of the knife
near the corpse. Counsel for the prosecution said:
"Take the witness."
"I have no questions to ask him," Potter's lawyer replied.
A third witness swore he had often seen the knife in
"Take the witness."
Counsel for Potter declined to question him. The
faces of the audience began to betray annoyance.
Did this attorney mean to throw away his client's life
without an effort?
Several witnesses deposed concerning Potter's guilty
behavior when brought to the scene of the murder.
They were allowed to leave the stand without being
Every detail of the damaging circumstances that
occurred in the graveyard upon that morning which
all present remembered so well was brought out by
credible witnesses, but none of them were cross-
examined by Potter's lawyer. The perplexity and
dissatisfaction of the house expressed itself in mur-
murs and provoked a reproof from the bench. Counsel
for the prosecution now said:
"By the oaths of citizens whose simple word is
above suspicion, we have fastened this awful crime,
beyond all possibility of question, upon the unhappy
prisoner at the bar. We rest our case here."
A groan escaped from poor Potter, and he put his
face in his hands and rocked his body softly to and
fro, while a painful silence reigned in the court-room.
Many men were moved, and many women's com-
passion testified itself in tears. Counsel for the de-
fence rose and said:
"Your honor, in our remarks at the opening of this
trial, we foreshadowed our purpose to prove that our
client did this fearful deed while under the influence
of a blind and irresponsible delirium produced by drink.
We have changed our mind. We shall not offer that
plea." [Then to the clerk:] "Call Thomas Sawyer!"
A puzzled amazement awoke in every face in the
house, not even excepting Potter's. Every eye fast-
ened itself with wondering interest upon Tom as he
rose and took his place upon the stand. The boy
looked wild enough, for he was badly scared. The
oath was administered.
"Thomas Sawyer, where were you on the seventeenth
of June, about the hour of midnight?"
Tom glanced at Injun Joe's iron face and his tongue
failed him. The audience listened breathless, but the
words refused to come. After a few moments, however,
the boy got a little of his strength back, and managed
to put enough of it into his voice to make part of the
"In the graveyard!"
"A little bit louder, please. Don't be afraid. You were --"
"In the graveyard."
A contemptuous smile flitted across Injun Joe's face.
"Were you anywhere near Horse Williams' grave?"
"Speak up -- just a trifle louder. How near were you?"
"Near as I am to you."
"Were you hidden, or not?"
"I was hid."
"Behind the elms that's on the edge of the grave."
Injun Joe gave a barely perceptible start.
"Any one with you?"
"Yes, sir. I went there with --"
"Wait -- wait a moment. Never mind mentioning
your companion's name. We will produce him at the
proper time. Did you carry anything there with you."
Tom hesitated and looked confused.
"Speak out, my boy -- don't be diffident. The truth
is always respectable. What did you take there?"
"Only a -- a -- dead cat."
There was a ripple of mirth, which the court checked.
"We will produce the skeleton of that cat. Now,
my boy, tell us everything that occurred -- tell it in
your own way -- don't skip anything, and don't be afraid."
Tom began -- hesitatingly at first, but as he warmed
to his subject his words flowed more and more easily;
in a little while every sound ceased but his own voice;
every eye fixed itself upon him; with parted lips and
bated breath the audience hung upon his words, taking
no note of time, rapt in the ghastly fascinations of the
tale. The strain upon pent emotion reached its climax
when the boy said:
"-- and as the doctor fetched the board around and
Muff Potter fell, Injun Joe jumped with the knife and --"
Crash! Quick as lightning the half-breed sprang
for a window, tore his way through all opposers, and
Top of Page
Room | THE
ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER