Mitch Miller
by Edgar Lee Masters
Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

We rode in with Willie Wallace and got to the school yard before eight o'clock. Mitch and I agreed that this was the longest school day we ever spent.


School interfered a good deal with huntin' treasure, but things happened now and then to let us out. The professor looked exactly like Tom Sawyer's teacher, except ours wore a beard. He seemed awful old and kind of knotty and twisty. I think he must have been near sixty, and he had been a preacher, and lost his pulpit and so turned to teachin'. We could see he was pretty rusty about a lot of things. You can't fool boys much, and you couldn't fool Mitch and me.

The professor's name was Professor Taylor. He had a low forehead with his hair lyin' flat like a wig—and creases across his forehead where he had been worryin'. And one of his shoulders was kind of humped up and to one side, and one of his hands had a stiff thumb. He couldn't keep order in the school at all, because some of the big boys like Charley King and George Heigold kept somethin' goin' all the time. And these big boys got the rest of us into things like throwin' chalk and sometimes erasers, or all together droppin' our geographies of a sudden. Then the professor would tap the bell and say, "The tap of the bell is the voice of the teacher—who dropped their geographies, who was it?" Then things would get worse and there would be a noise like a political meetin'. Pa said he warn't fit to run a school, but the directors kept him in because he was related to the president of the board. And most every mornin' for exercises he would read the 19th psalm, which says, "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple," generally lookin' at me when he said "simple," because I couldn't learn very well. Then he would start the song with a tuning fork, "Too-do" and generally somebody would cough like he had a awful cold and so start the noise. Then lots would cough and he'd have to wait before singin' "The Shades of Night Was Falling Fast." Then he would talk to us about bein' good. And onct when Ella Stephens died over at Springfield, where she had been for some kind of a operation, you couldn't find out what, because nobody would say, he got up and said that God would forgive Ella and all of us should pray for her. Most of us cried, rememberin' Ella's red cheeks and how she used to laugh when she came in the schoolroom. She was about 16.

And one mornin' school seemed to go all to pieces. This George Heigold was studyin' geometry and he came to me and says, before school took up: "When I go to the blackboard to demonstrate in geometry, I'll wink at you and then you drop your reader or somethin', Mitch will do the same, and then I'll get through, I'll show you. For I ain't studied the lesson." I said "all right."

So when the geometry class was recitin', there was four in it, George and Charley King, and Bertha Whitney and Mary Pitkin, the girls bein' awful smart, and always havin' their lessons. The professor turned to George Heigold and says: "George, you may demonstrate proposition three." Then the professor gave Bertha proposition four, and Mary proposition five, and Charley proposition six. But meantime George didn't get up to draw his figure on the blackboard, though the rest did. He was lookin' in the book so he could draw it; and finally the professor said, "Did you hear me, George?" "Yes, sir," said George, "but I was tryin' to think out a different way to demonstrate this here proposition from the way the book says." And the professor says: "If you demonstrate it the way the book does, that will be very well, and I'll give you a hundred." So then George hopped right up and drew a fine figure on the board and lettered it, and was just about to set down and study the book, as I could see, because he was eyein' the professor and expectin' that some of the others would be called on first, and while the professor was watchin' somebody else demonstrate, he would study up. But it happened wrong: George was called on first. So he got up, lookin' at me to give me the wink, and he began: "Supposin' A-B is a straight line, and supposin' B-C is a straight line, and supposin' C-D is a straight line, and supposin' these here lines are all joined so as to make a triangle." Then the professor got to his side and made it so George couldn't see me to wink, and he says: "No, no, George." And George says, "Very well, I have a original demonstration." And the professor says: "Original, original—just follow the book, just follow the book." Of course, George couldn't, and so he stepped back and gave me the wink, and I dropped my reader, Mitch dropped his reader. Percy Guyer, an awful nervous boy, started like, and flung his ink well off. Then there was a lot of coughin' and some laughin', and the professor went wild and says, "What is the matter? What can be the matter now?" And he turned to George and says, in a mad way, "Take your seat." So George did, and began to study the demonstration. And after while it got quiet and the professor went on with Mary and Bertha who got a hundred. Charley King got through fair, and probably got 75. And there sat George and the class was about to be dismissed without George recitin', when George raised his hand and said: "I'll do my best to demonstrate the way you want me to. I don't want to lose my chance." So the professor just smiled awful friendly on George and says "all right." And George got up and recited perfect, according to the book and got 100. I never saw such a boy as George Heigold; for once the professor got up an astronomy class—the whole school mostly was in it—and he was teachin' us general things about the stars and what they was made of. So one day the professor called out quick as a test of what he had told us before: "What element is found on the planet Mars that is not found anywhere else in the universe?" And George Heigold who was sittin' way back yelled out "Sapolio"—and the whole school went wild, into a roar of laugh. While the professor marched up and down flippin' his coat tails with his hands and sayin', "Who said Sapolio? Who said Sapolio?" But no one told and he couldn't find out.

So on this day when George Heigold got a hundred in geometry, somethin' else happened. It was a warm day and you could hear bees outside, and the trees was beginnin' to show green. All of us was so sleepy we could hardly stay awake, and I could look out of the window and see the river and the hills on the other side, and I could even see people fishin'. Well, near noon we all began to smell somethin' like onions, and it got worse and worse, and seemed to come up from the registers, for Jas. Walker, the janitor, was keepin' a little fire yet, or had for early mornin'. And the professor got over the register and smelt and he says, "Who put asoefetida in the furnace—who did such a cowherd thing as that?" Nobody said nothin'. It was a surprise to me, and to Mitch, but we were tickled for we could see what was comin'. The smell got worse and worse, and Jas. Walker came runnin' through the room and lookin' in registers. Then everybody began to cough in earnest, only George Heigold coughed louder than a cow, and Bertha Whitney, bein' delicate, fainted and there was a lot of runnin' to her, pickin' her up and fetchin' her water. And the schoolroom went wild. The professor lost hold of everything and got white and walked back and forth flappin' his coat tails with his hands. Till finally he said, "School's dismissed for the day." Then we all got up and busted out, singing and laughing. So Mitch and me went to dinner and then hurried off to Old Salem to dig for treasure.

When we got to the mill, Jim Lally was already there and was fishin' and had caught a big cat. They was bitin' good. And he says: "How did you boys like the asoefetida?" We said "pretty well." And then he said, "If anybody says I did that and you tell it, I'll lick you both, so you can't stand up." Jim was 16 or 17 and big and we knew he meant it. But Mitch laughed and said: "Why would we tell it? Ain't we off for the afternoon the same as you?"

So we went up and dug, but didn't find nothin'. And finally while we was diggin' away, all of a sudden I saw a big snake in the weeds, all coiled, and Mitch didn't see it at first. For all of a sudden it kind of sprang out like a spring you let loose and bit Mitch on the hand. Mitch gave an awful cry and began to suck the place where the snake bit him. I says, "Don't do that, Mitch, you have a tooth out, and the pisen will get in you there. What's the use of takin' it out one place and puttin' it in another?" I grabbed a stick then and killed the snake. Mitch got pale and began to be sickish and I was scared to death. And we ran down to the road as fast as we could. Just then a wagon came along, and I hollered to the man; so he came over and lifted Mitch into the wagon and laid him down, and we put the snake into the wagon too, for I had carried it along; and the man whipped up his horses fast so as to get into town for a doctor.

Mitch's hand didn't swell, but he kept gettin' sicker and sicker, and was moanin' and about to die; and the man drove faster and faster, for he said the snake was one of the most pisen. When we got to the square, Mr. Miller happened to be walkin' along. And the man drew up and said to Mr. Miller, "Here's your boy, bit by a snake." "What kind?" says Mr. Miller, all excited. "Here he is," said the man, and held up the snake. Mr. Miller says: "Oh, fiddlesticks! That's a blue racer, as harmless as the peck of a chicken." Then he took hold of Mitch and shook him and says: "Here, Mitch, this is all foolishness—you're just scart; that snake ain't pisen. He can't hurt you more than a chicken." So Mitch sat right up and looked at his hand which wasn't swelled. And he says: "I am pisened, I'm sick." "Oh, shucks," said Mr. Miller. "It's just imagination. Come into the drug store and get a soda."

Mitch climbed out of the wagon, kind of pale yet, but more sheepish and went in and drank his soda and began to laugh. And Mr. Miller said, "Where was you?" And Mitch said, "Down by the mill." And Mr. Miller said, "Now, listen; you've had a scare, but there is only two snakes around here that is pisen. One is the copperhead. You can tell him by his bright copper-colored head and his strawberry body; the other is the rattlesnake. You can tell him by his rattle. But if you don't be careful foolin' around in the woods and dreamin' and not watchin' what you're doin', one of them will bite you. Now look here, you go home and get in the wood and help around the house." So Mitch says, "Come on, Skeet, and help me, and for company." So I went and helped Mitch with his work.


After that Saturday that we made garden, we tried our best to get out to Old Salem on Saturdays, but something always happened, except one Saturday. One time I had to make garden again, one time I had to help Mitch make garden, another time pa and ma went to Pleasant Plains to a picnic and I had to stay and take care of Little Billie, for Myrtle went, because I had gone with pa and ma somewhere, I forget where it was, and it was Myrtle's time. Somehow Myrtle was always in my way, but ma said I was selfish and I suppose I was. Finally on the Saturday before school let out, we went to Old Salem, taking two shovels and two picks. We didn't do much, just looked around, and found a lot of foundations where buildings had been when the village was there, and got the lay of the land. We left our tools with the miller at the mill. He said all right, but told us to wait for the next rainbow, and then follow it up and get a bag of gold. "Never you mind," said Mitch. "Others have found treasure and so can we." He told the miller we were digging in the woods, because he said to me if it leaks out we're after these old cellars and places, there'll be a slough of diggers out here lookin' for treasure, and they'll get it before we do.

But first after school was out something interfered with our goin' on. It was this: Robbins' Circus had come to town, and his son, who was awful handsome, was a bareback rider, and had set the town wild, and Zueline came to Mitch and made him get up a circus. That took time, for we had to practice.

We went to the real circus, Mitch and me, and earned the money ourselves. It was this way: Pa said, "You boys spend so much time foolin' around about treasures, why don't you earn some money?" So Mitch's pa made up a lot of pop-corn balls and we sold 'em on the street and got money that way to see the show. It was the most beautiful circus in the world—such lovely ladies, and a clown who sang "Never Take the Horseshoe from the Door."

Then we got to work to get up our circus. Zueline had her Ayrdale and we cooped him up for a lion; we put the cat in a box for a tiger, and the rooster for an ostrich, and Mitch caught a snake, and I had my pony to play Robbins' son, and Myrtle was goin' to be the woman who et fire. Mitch practiced for the trapeze, and he had to practice a lot, for when he was 4 or 5 years old, he cut his foot in two with an ax and after that the toes were a little numb and didn't work as well as they did before.

Mitch said that in Europe they had a royal box for queens and princesses, so he built a kind of box for Zueline to sit in, and see the circus, and draped it with rag carpets and put a mirror in it. It was awful pretty.

Mitch was gate-keeper and manager. We had some bills printed by Onstott, the printer, which said "Miller & Kirby's Renowned Circus and Menagerie" and a lot of things, naming the performers and all that. But I must say we had our troubles. First Kit O'Brien and his gang came down to break up the show. He tried to come in without payin', but Mitch settled old scores this time. He hit Kit a punch in the mouth and knocked out his baby teeth, which were danglin' and needed to be pulled anyway. He bled like a pig and ran up the hill hollerin', "I'll get even." But that settled that.

Then Myrtle burned her mouth trying to chew cotton on fire, and Mitch's toe went back on him while hangin' from the trapeze. He fell, but didn't hurt himself much; only the audience laughed, even the princess Zueline in the box. I rode the pony pretty well, but he was too big for the ring in the barn, and Charley King who tried to sing "Never Take the Horseshoe from the Door" forgot part of it, and had to back into the corn crib which was the dressin' room.

Outside of these things, the show was a success—only this was the day Mitch began to get acquainted with Charley King and George Heigold, which was a bad thing, as I'll tell later.

So the circus was over and we took up the treasure again. Mitch said—we mustn't let another thing interfere. And so we went to work at Old Salem.

As I said, we found a lot of old foundations and we scraped and dug around in all of 'em, mostly; and I never see so many snakes. Mitch could take a snake by the tail and crack his head off like a whip; but I was afraid to see him do it because there was hoop snakes around, and their tails is pisen. Nigger Dick told me he saw one roll down hill one time and just as it got to an oak tree, it took its tail out of its mouth and struck the tree with the stinger of its tail. The next morning all the leaves on the tree was withered. That is how pisen a hoop snake is. Well, of course there was lots of black snakes and they can wrap you. One wrapped Kit O'Brien once; and he waited till it got itself so tight that you could see through its skin, then he touched it with a knife and it bust in two and fell off of him.

Well, we didn't find a thing, though once when we struck some tin cans, I thought sure we'd hit it.

By and by one day when we was diggin', I looked up and saw an old feller standin' watchin' us. He was awful old, maybe more than eighty, and he just looked at Mitch and me and finally said, "Lost somethin', boys?" Mitch said: "I suppose you might say so till we find it." Then the old feller said: "I hope you'll find it, for you look hot workin' here in this hot sun, and you are workin', I declare." Mitch's face was red and he looked earnest, and I suppose I did too.

I don't know whether the old feller had talked to the miller or what, but finally he said, "'Tain't likely you'll find any treasure here. It's all been taken away long ago. Every place is like a mine, it produces a certain amount and that's all. This place produced great riches, boys, but it's a worked out place now. It's a dead mine." Then he stopped a minute and talked to himself a little and looked around and said: "Yep, this is the foundation of the Rutledge Tavern where Linkern lived. Yep, I know because right over there is where Dr. Allen lived; and over this a way was preacher Cameron's house, and here was the road, and down yonder was Linkern and Berry's store, and back thar was Offets store. Yep, it all comes back to me now. There was more'n twenty houses here, shops, stores, schoolhouses, and this tavern; and here Linkern lived, and I've seen him many a time around here. And I'm glad to see you boys diggin' here for you might find treasure. Peter Lukins, the shoemaker had his place just three houses over, right there, and he was a miser, and they thought he hid his money sommers around here."

"Well," said Mitch, under his breath, "no more cheating to the county. Law or no law, if we find it there, your pa will never know it. We've had one experience and that's enough." So he said out loud to the old feller—"Where is Peter Lukins' place?" And the old feller said: "Climb out of thar and I'll show you."

We walked over about a hundred yards maybe, and here was another foundation all full of dead weeds and new weeds, and so grown up you could hardly see the stones at first, and not a stick of timber left, except a log lying outside the foundation. The older feller sat down and began to talk.

"I left this country in '65," he said, "for California, and now I'm back to Menard County, Illinois, to die and be buried with my people over at Rock Creek. And I'm goin' about seein' the old places onct again. You see, there ain't anything left of the village of Salem, but it all comes back to me, and I can close my eyes and see the people that used to walk around here, and see Linkern. And I'll tell you a story of a man who found treasure here."

Mitch looked awful eager and bright-eyed, and the old feller twisted off some tobacco and began to chew and get the thread of his story.

"It was this a way," he began. "There was a man here who was clerkin' in one of the stores; and one day a feller drove up and said 'hallow' and this clerk came out of the store and says, 'What is it?' The traveler says, 'Here's a barl I have no use for and don't want to carry on my wagon any furder, and I'll sell it to you.' And the clerk says, 'I ain't got no use for the barl.' 'Well,' says the traveler, 'you can have it for fifty cents, and it will accommodate me; and besides I don't want to just throw it away.' So the clerk says all right, and gave him fifty cents and took the barl in the store and put it in the corner. It was kind of heavy too—had somethin' in it—had treasure in it, as you'll see. And after a few days this here clerk took the barl and turned it upside down and there was treasure."

"How much?" said Mitch. "Gee, but that was wonderful."

"Well," said the old feller, "you can believe it or not, it was treasure too much to count. You've heard of a man bein' suddenly rich and not realizin' it, or havin' somethin' given to him that he didn't know the value of, and findin' out afterwards. It was just this way."

"Well," said Mitch, "why didn't he count it, right away, or was it diamonds or rubies?"

"He couldn't count it all right there. It couldn't be done, because it had to be weighed and tested and tried out, and put on the market; for you might say some of it was rubies, and to know what rubies are worth takes experience and time and a lot of things."

Mitch got more and more interested and I did too. Then the old feller went on.

"But that ain't sayin' that this clerk didn't know it was treasure—he did—but it was treasure that he had to put work on to bring out all its value."

"Melt it up," said Mitch, "or polish it maybe."

"Yes," said the old feller, "melt it up and polish it, and put his elbow grease on it. And nobody but him could do it. He couldn't hire it done. For if he had, he'd a lost the treasure—the cost of doin' that would have wasted all the treasure. And this the clerk knew. That's why he didn't know what it was worth, though he knew it was worth a lot and he was a happy man."

"Well," said Mitch, "what was it—tell me—I can't wait."

"Books," said the old feller—"two law books. Blackstone's Commentaries."

"Oh, shucks," said Mitch.

"Shucks," said the old man. "Listen to me. Here you boys dig in the sun like niggers for treasure, and you'll never find it that a way. It ain't to be found. And if you did, it wouldn't amount to nothin'. But suppose you get a couple of books into your head like Abe Linkern did, and become a great lawyer, and a president, and a benefactor to your fellows, then you have found treasure and given it too. And it was out of that barl that Linkern became what he was. He found his treasure there. He might have found it sommers else; but at least he found it there. And you can't get treasure that's good that the good of you wasn't put into it in getting it. Remember that. If you dug up treasure here, what have you put into the getting of that treasure? Just your work with the shovel and the pick—that's all—and you haven't got rich doin' that. The money will go and you'll be where you was before. But if there's good in you, and you put the good into what you find and make it all it can be made, then you have found real treasure like Linkern did."

Mitch was quiet for a minute and then said: "Don't you 'spose the man who sold the barl to Linkern knew the books was in there? Of course he did. And if he did, why didn't he take the books and study and be president? He couldn't, that's why. If you call books treasure, they ain't unless they mean something to you. But take money or jewels, who is there that they don't mean somethin' to? Nobody. Why there're hundreds of books around our house, that would do things if they meant anything. And I've found my book. It's 'Tom Sawyer.' And till I find another I mean to stick by it, as fur as that goes. One book at a time."

I don't know where Mitch got all this talk. He was the wonderfulest boy that ever lived, but besides he heard his pa talk things all the time, and his pa could talk Greek and knew everything in the world.

We sat talkin' to this old feller till pretty near sundown, when we said we must go. We threw the tools into Peter Lukins' cellar and started off, leavin' the old feller standin'. When we got to the edge of the hill which led down to the road by the river, we turned around and looked, and saw the old feller standin' there still, black like against the light of the sun. Mitch was awful serious.

"It must be awful to be old like that," said Mitch. "Did you hear what he said—come back to Menard County to be buried with his folks—and all his folks gone. How does a feller live when he comes to that? Nothin' to do, nowhere really to go. Skeeters, sometimes I wisht I was dead. Even this treasure business, as much fun as it is, is just a never endin' trouble and worry. And I see everybody in the same fix, no matter who they are, worryin' about somethin'. And while it seems I've lived for ever and ever, and it looks thousands of miles back to the time I cut my foot off, just the same, I seem to be close to the beginnin' too, and sometimes I can just feel myself mixin' into the earth and bein' nothin'."

"Don't you believe in heaven, Mitch?" says I.

"No," he says, "not very clear."

"And you a preacher's son!"

"That's just it," says Mitch. "A preacher's son is like a circus man's son, young Robbins who was here. There's no mystery about it. Why, young Robbins paid no attention to the horses, animals, the band—things we went crazy about. And I see my father get ready for funerals and dig up his old sermons for funerals and all that, till it looks just like any trade to me. But besides, how can heaven be, and what's the use? No, sir, I don't want to be buried with my folks—I want to be lost, like your uncle was, and buried by the Indians way off where nobody knows."

Then Mitch switched and began to talk about Tom Sawyer again. He said we're the age of Tom Sawyer; that Linkern was a grown man when he found the books; that there was a time for everything, that as far as that's concerned, Tom might be working on something else now, having found his treasure. "Why, lookee, don't the book end up with Tom organizing a robbers' gang to rob the rich—not harm anybody, mind you—but really do good—take money away from them that got it wrong and don't need it, and give it to the poor that can't get it and do need it?"

By this time we was clost to town. The road ran under a hill where there was the old graveyard, where lots of soldiers was buried. "Do you know," said Mitch, "them pictures your grandma had of soldiers stay in my mind. They looked old and grown up with beards and everything; but after all, they're not so old—and they went away and was killed and lots of 'em are buried up there—some without names. Think of it, Skeet. Suppose there should be a war again and you'd go, and be blown up so no one could know you, and they'd put you in a grave with no stone."

"Ain't that what you want, Mitch?"

"Yes, but you're different, Skeet. And besides, it's different dyin' natural and bein' buried by the Indians in a lovely place, and bein' killed like an animal and dumped with a lot of others and no stone. If every boy felt as I do, they'd never be another war. They couldn't get me into a war except to defend the country, and it would have to be a real defense. You know, Skeet, we came here from Missouri, where there was awful times during the war; and my pa thinks the war could have been avoided. He used to blame Linkern, but he don't no more. Say, did you think of Linkern while we were diggin' to-day? I did. I could feel him. The sky spoke about him, the still air spoke about him, the meadow larks reminded me of him. Onct I thought I saw him."

"No, Mitch."

"Yes, sir—you see I see things, Skeet, sometimes spirits, and I hear music most of the time, and the fact is, nobody knows me."

"Nor me," says I. "I'm a good deal lonelier than you are, Mitch Miller, and nobody understands me either; and I have no girl. Girls seem to me just like anything else—dogs or chickens—I don't mean no disrespect—but you know."

By this time we'd got to Petersburg, and up to a certain corner, and we'd been talking about Linkern so much that a lot of things came to me. And I says: "See this corner, Mitch? I'll tell you somethin' about it—maybe to-morrow."


The next day as I was helpin' Myrtle bury her doll, Mitch came by and whistled. I had made a coffin out of a cigar box, and put glass in for a window to look through at the doll's face, and we had just got the grave filled. I went out to the front gate and there was Charley King and George Heigold with Mitch. They were big boys about fourteen and knew a lot of things we didn't. They hunted with real guns and roasted chickens they hooked over in Fillmore's woods. They carried slings and knucks and used to go around with grown men, sometimes Joe Pink. I didn't like to have Mitch friends with these boys. It hurt me; and I was afraid of something, and they were not very friendly to me for some reason. But a few times I went to Charley King's to stay all night. His mother was a strange woman. She petted Charley like the mother did in the "Fourth Reader" whose boy was hanged because he had no raisin' and was given his own way about everything. Mrs. King used to look at me and say I had pretty eyes and take me on her lap and stroke my head. She was a queer woman, and Charley's father was off somewhere, Chandlerville, or somewhere, and they said they didn't live together. My ma stopped me goin' to Mrs. King's, and so as Charley ran with George Heigold, that's probably why I didn't like Mitch to be with them, as I wasn't very friendly any more with Charley on account of this.

These two boys went off somewhere and left us when we got to the square. And then I took Mitch to see something.

The tables was now turned. I did most of the talkin'—though Mitch was more interestin' than me, and that's why he says more than I do in this book. We went to that corner where we was the day before, and I says to Mitch: "Look at this house partly in the street, and look at the street how it jogs. Well, Linkern did that. You see he surveyed this whole town of Petersburg. But as to this, this is how it happened. You see it was after the Black Hawk War in 1836, and when Linkern came here to survey, he found that Jemima Elmore, which was a widow of Linkern's friend in the war, had a piece of land, and had built a house on it and was livin' here with her children. And Linkern saw if the street run straight north and south, a part of her house would be in the street. So to save Jemima's house, he set his compass to make the line run a little furder south. And so this is how the line got skewed and leaves this strip kind of irregular, clear through the town, north and south. This is what I call makin' a mistake that is all right, bein' good and bad at the same time."

And Mitch says: "A man that will do that is my kind. And yet pa used to say that freein' the slaves was not the thing; and maybe Linkern skewed the line there and left a strip clear across the country that will always be irregular and bad."

"Anyway," said Mitch, "do you know what I think? I think there ain't two boys in the world that live in as good a town as this. What's Tom Sawyer's town? Nothin' without Tom Sawyer—no great men but Tom Sawyer, and he ain't a man yet. There ain't anybody in his book that can't be matched by some one in this town—but there's no one in his book to equal Linkern, and this is Linkern's town. And I've been thinkin' about it."

I says: "There you have it, Mitch. It's true. We're the luckiest boys in the world to live here where Linkern lived, and to hear about him from people who knew him, to see this here house where he made a mistake, though doin' his best, to hear about them books, and to walk over the ground where he lived at Salem, and more than that, to have all this as familiar to us as Nigger Dick or Joe Pink."

"It's too familiar," said Mitch. "My pa says we won't appreciate it or understand it all for years to come."

So I went on tellin' Mitch how my grandpa hired Linkern once in a lawsuit; then we went to the court house, for I wanted to show Mitch some things I knew about.

The court house was a square brick building with a hall running through it, and my pa's office, the coroner's office, the treasurer's office on each side of the hall. And there was a big yard around the court house, with watermelon rinds scattered over the grass; and a fence around the yard and a hitch rack where the farmers tied their teams. And at one side there was a separate building where the clerks of the courts had their offices. I knew all the lay of the land. So I took Mitch into the clerk's office and showed him papers which Linkern had written and signed. At first he wouldn't believe it. So while we was lookin' at them papers, John Armstrong came in to pay his taxes or somethin' and he knew me because him and my pa had played together as boys. He was a brother of Duff which Linkern had defended for murder, and I tried to get him to tell Mitch and me about the trial, but he didn't have time, and he said: "The next time you come to your grandpap's, come over to see me. I live about 7 miles from your grandpap. And I'll tell you and play the fiddle for you."

"When can we come?" says Mitch.

"Any time," says John.

"To-morrow," says Mitch.

"Wal, to-morrow I'm goin' to Havaner—But you just get your grandpap to drive you and Mitch over some day, and we'll have a grand visit." So he went away.

Then as we was comin' out of the clerk's office, Sheriff Rutledge stepped up and read a subpoena to Mitch and me to appear before the Grand Jury in August, about Doc Lyon.

"We won't be here," says Mitch.

"Why not?" says the sheriff. "Where'll you be?"

This stumped Mitch—he didn't want to say. The sheriff walked away and Mitch says: "Now I see what we have to do. We must clean up that Peter Lukins' cellar right off and get off to Hannibal to see Tom. One thing will happen after another if we let it, and we'll never get away, and never see Tom. I wish this here Doc Lyon was in Halifax."

Says I, "Who wanted to talk to him in the jail, you or me?"

"Why, I did," said Mitch.

"Well, then, you made the tangle, Mitch, and we'll have to stick. For it's a jail offense to run away from a subpoena, my pa says so, and we are witnesses, and will have to stick."

"Well, then," says Mitch, "if we do, and the whole month of August goes by, and school commences before we get off, we'll throw the school and go anyway. My mind is made up. Dern it, I never dreamed of gettin' tangled in the law for a little thing like seein' Doc Lyon in jail. It's awful. Look here, you go to your pa and get me off and get off yourself."

I knew I couldn't do that, that pa wouldn't do it, and I said so. And Mitch looked terribly worried. And he said, "Let's go out to Salem and finish up Peter Lukins'—right now."

The air seemed to sing with the heat, and it was awful hot down in that place among the weeds. We worked like beavers getting the weeds away so we could pick into the stones and the dirt. My, it was hard work. And we hadn't been there more'n an hour when I heard some one cryin' and hollerin'. We looked over the edge of the cellar and here came Heine Missman's brother, wringin' his hands and cryin', and actin' like he was crazy. "Heine's drowned," he cried, "Heine's drowned."

We climbed out of the cellar as quick as we could and ran down to the mill, for John, Heine's brother, said that Heine had stepped into the mill race.

"Is the mill runnin'?" said Mitch.

"No," said John.

"Because if it is," said Mitch, "he's all ground up by now in the wheels."

But the mill hadn't run that day, so if we could get Heine out, we could save him maybe. John couldn't swim, nor Heine. And John said that Heine had stepped into the race, thinkin' he could wade over to the dam, and he went down and down, and then didn't come up any more. John had tried to catch him by the hair, but couldn't.

We were good divers, both Mitch and me, and finally I dived and got a hold of his shirt and brought him up. But he was all swelled, and blue in the face, and was dead. He'd been in about an hour before we got him.

Just then the miller came up and saw what had happened. He went and got his wagon and put Heine's body in it, and we all drove into town; and finally to Heine's house, where his mother fainted and cried so you could hear her all over town.

Then Mitch and me started for home. Mitch was awful solemn and said, "That might have been you or me, Skeet. What does it mean, anyway? Here's Heine just growin' up, just been around this town with us boys a few years, and now he's drowned and gone for good. Why, I can remember when he wore short dresses, and now it's all over, and it looks like life is just nuthin'."

Then, after a bit, he said, "I have a presentiment."

"What's that?" I asked.

"Why, it's when you know somethin' is goin' to happen."

"Do you mean somethin' 's goin' to happen, to you or me, Mitch?"

"Well, nothin' like drownin' or dyin'," said Mitch. "I don't get it that way. But I just feel we'll never dig any more at Old Salem."

"But we ain't finished there," says I.

"That may be," he says, "but to-morrow is Sunday, and I've always noticed that the next week after Sunday ain't the same."

We got to my gate now, and Mitch hardly said "good-by"—just went on lookin' down at the ground. I watched him till he got up the hill and up to Tom White's, then I turned in.


Sunday School bothered me terribly, for a lot of reasons. I had to dress up, for one thing, and in the summer time ma made me wear linen suits, which was starched stiff by Delia, our girl. They had sharp edges which scratched. And my hat was too small, and my shoes hurt. And the inside of the church smelt like stale coffee grounds, and the teacher looked hungry and kept parting her lips with a sound as if she was gettin' ready to eat, or wanted to, and she trickled inside like the sound of water or somethin'. Besides, there was no end to the Bible stories and the golden texts.

Mitch and the Miller girls went just as if it was the thing to do, and they didn't seem to mind it. It was a part of their life. But it was a little different with Mitch after all, for sometimes he didn't go. He went mostly, but he stayed away if he wanted to read, and his pa let him alone. Mr. Miller was the best man you ever saw, and everybody loved him.

It was this way with us children, ma made us go and pa said nothin' about it unless she asked him to make us go, and then he'd say "go on now." But he didn't go himself, or much to church either. I never understood him, he was kind of a mystery.

Well, on a Sunday in July me and Myrtle was dressed to go and waitin' for ma to dress Little Billie. It was awful hot and looked like rain, and my clothes scratched, my shoes hurt; but Myrtle was all quiet and anxious to go. Little Billie was frettin', like he allus did. He didn't want to go; and ma was just buttonin' his dress, and had the bowl near to comb his hair out of. And he kept frettin' and sayin' he didn't want to go. By and by ma shook him and said: "You never want to go. I never see such heathen children. None of you want to go." "I do," says Myrtle. "Yes," says ma, "you do. You're good. But Billie and Skeet make this same trouble every Sunday." Then Little Billie began to cry worse, and said his throat hurt him, and ma said, "Let me see." So she looked, and his throat had white splotches, and she said, "Land of the livin'," and began to undress him. His head was hot, too. So she put Myrtle and me out of the room and told us to go and play, and we needn't go to Sunday School. I changed back to my old clothes and went out under the oak tree.

Pretty soon the doctor came—Doctor Holland. He drank a lot, but was the smartest doctor in town, just the same. And he and pa quarreled sometimes, but they were friends; for pa said Doc Holland meant no harm, even when he threatened to kill, which he did lots of times, even my pa. It turned out that Little Billie had the diphtheria and the next day he was as sick as a child could be, and live. They did everything for him, even got a kind of a lamp to blow carbolic acid in his throat; but he got no better. And I never saw my pa so worked up; it showed us what child he loved the most. He was about frantic and so was ma, and neither of 'em slept at all, it seemed.

Of course while Little Billie was sick, we dropped the diggin' out at Salem—I was helpin' around the house. And Mitch said he had no heart for it. He came onct to see Little Billie and just looked at him and began to cry and went away. Little Billie was unconscious and didn't know Mitch.

And grandma came in and helped. She wanted to give Little Billie some tea she could make from some weeds she'd heard about—but the doctor said it wouldn't do any good. So she just helped and let ma and the doctor run it; and the house just smelt of carbolic acid from that spray-lamp, and Little Billie gettin' worse every day. Grandpa came in onct, and went in and looked at him, and took his hand, and then just walked out of the room, and stood out in the yard a bit, and bent down and picked some leaves and began to pull 'em apart. I went out and said: "Is he better, grandpa?" But he didn't answer for quite a spell. Then he said—"The little feller's gone" and walked away.

So one night when he'd been sick about two weeks, it was about eight o'clock, and all of a sudden Little Billie's eyes opened big. There had been a lot of runnin' around that day; pa was cryin' and the doctor was there all day. As I said, Little Billie opened his eyes big, and ma was settin' right by the bed and pa was standin' there, and Myrtle and me was standin' at the door lookin' in, for they wouldn't let us in the room. Then all of a sudden Little Billie said, "Sing somethin', ma," and she began to sing "Flee as a Bird to its Mountain," without her voice breakin' or anything; but she'd only sang a little when she broke into a great cry and pa cried, for Little Billie had died—just in a second, it seemed. So Myrtle and me ran out-doors and began to cry, and I got down in the grass and rolled and cried.

So I was lyin' there, lookin' up at the stars, quiet for a bit, and pretty soon my pa called me, and said, "Come on with me." So we started down town together to get the undertaker. And just as we got to Harris' barn, there were clouds way up that looked like gates with the moon shining between 'em, and I said to pa, "Is that where Little Billie went through into heaven?" "Yep," said pa, just cold like, hard and cold as if there warn't a thing to it, and he was half mad at me for askin' such a question; then he went on: "Some day you'll understand—but life is just a trouble and tangle. I've been messed up all my life; always getting ready to do something, never really getting anything done. The Civil War has made a lot of trouble—trouble and enemies for me, because I didn't believe in it. And I've had to fight my way through, and work like a slave and worry about money matters, and I've never found my treasure any more than you boys have, or if I ever did, something took it away, like you lost Nancy Allen's money. And now Little Billie is dead, and I don't care what happens next."

Pa scared me with his talk; and when we got to the undertaker's, he rattled the door, and old Moore came out, and pa said, "My little boy's dead, come up," in a tired voice, or kind of hard, or somethin'.

Then there was the funeral. All the Miller children came and Zueline and her mother, and lots of grown men who knew my father or loved Little Billie for his own sake; and grandpa and grandma and Uncle Henry, and John Armstrong drove clear in from his farm—only Mitch didn't come. And I wasn't there, either, for now I had the diphtheria, too. Only they told me about it; how Mr. Miller spoke so beautiful, how the tears streamed down his face, as he talked, and how all the children cried. And this was two days after Little Billie died, and I was out of my head and havin' awful dreams.

At first when I took sick, I expected to die, of course, and I thought about all my life, until I got cloudy and began to fly and talk wild. I thought about all I was goin' to miss, never to see Mitch again, not to see any more Christmases; but somehow, I didn't regret anything much I had done and wasn't exactly afraid. I wasn't sorry about not likin' Sunday School or anything—only it just seemed that I had never done anything, or learned anything. We hadn't found the treasure—I had never had a real friend but Mitch; I never loved a girl. I just seemed to myself a shadow that had moved around seein' things, but not being seen, and always alone and lonely, havin' my best times flyin' kites or when I wasn't with Mitch. I didn't seem real to myself, and it got worse and worse, until I got delirious and became a dozen boys, doin' every sort of thing. And first thing I knew, my ma was feedin' me out of a spoon. I was so weak I couldn't lift a hand. But I had come to and was on the mend. It all seemed strange to wake up and find Little Billie gone and remember back. Ma looked worn out and wouldn't answer questions about Mitch or anything. I had been sick more'n two weeks, and all but died. By and by I began to mend, and then I could sit up, and one day Mitch came to see me. It was the first day I was dressed, and had begun to walk a little.


Ma brought Mitch in the room, and said: "Have a good visit now, for we're goin' to send Skeet to the farm. He needs it, and I'm worn out. Your grandpa is comin' on Saturday, and they want you out there for a while, and it will do you good."

Mitch looked a minute and said: "I'll miss you, but there's nothing to do here." Then when ma went out of the room, he said: "The jig's up at Salem. I dug the Peter Lukins' cellar out, and there's nothing there, and nothing at Salem. So it's us for Tom Sawyer." Then he fished some letters out of his pocket and handed one to me to read. "This is your writin', Mitch," I said. "I know it," says Mitch—"But wait, read this, and I'll show you somethin'." This is what it said:

"Dear Tom: My name is Mitch Miller, and I live here in Petersburg, as you'll see. My chum is Skeet Kirby, a boy as good as Huckleberry Finn, but different, as you'll see when you meet him. But you'll like him. He's sick now, but he's true blue, and when he gets up, we want to come to see you. For we've dug for treasure all around here, and as fur as that goes, we found some, only the law took it away. But what I want to say is that we know you have things to say that is not in your book, not only about treasure, but about a lot of things. And anyway, we want to see you, and the Mississippi, and Huck, and your folks, and have a visit. Nobody knows that I'm writin' this letter, because they say here that you ain't real. But I know better, and Skeet does, and so I've made up my mind to try this letter. If you're real, write me and if you want us to come, say so, and we'll be there, if there's a way. Next to Skeet, I love you and Huck more than anybody in the world, barrin' near relatives, for I think you're brave and plucky, and square, as anybody would who reads your book. I want to meet Becky, too.

"Your Friend, "Mitch Miller."

"Well," I said after readin' this, "when you goin' to send this?" "I have sent it," said Mitch. "This is a copy kept for you to see. Yes, sir, I've sent it, and here is Tom's letter to me."

He pulled a letter out all stamped and everything—stamped Hannibal, Missouri, and handed it to me to take the letter out my own self, which I did, and read:

"Dear Mitch: It's all right for you to come down here and we'll be glad to see you—although you can't depend much on Huck for he's in trouble all the time with his pap. The old man is lawin' with Judge Thatcher about Huck's money, and Huck ain't had any peace of mind since we found the treasure. Don't think I'm puttin' on airs, when I say that this findin' of treasure ain't what it's cracked up to be. You see I ain't got my own money either. Aunt Polly is my guardeen, and it's put away until I grow up and have some sense, as she says. By that time, maybe I won't know what to do with it, or we'll be dead or some thin'. You never can tell, and everything is so blamed uncertain. But if I can help you and Skeet any way, I'll do it, and so will Huck. Yours is the first letter I ever got, because everybody I know lives here, and I'm glad to hear from you. So come along, and if we can't put you up here, we'll get the Widow Douglas to take you in. And maybe if I can get you to give up this treasure huntin', which ain't much after all, you'll want to join the gang I'm formin'—that is if I really see that you and Skeet are the right kind. I sign myself,

"Your Friend, "Tom Sawyer."

"There," said Mitch—"how's that? And to show you it's Tom's writin', I've brought the book along. Look here!" Mitch turned to where Tom wrote on the shingle with blood, and sure enough the writin' was the same. Any one could see it; and so Tom Sawyer was a real person, and it was proved.

Then Mitch said: "Go out to your grandpa's and stay a week. That'll give you time to get strong again. I'm ready to start now, but you ain't. We may have to walk miles and miles, and you must be able to keep up a good pace; for while we can hop some rides now and then, we'll have to do a lot of walkin'. And then we'll have to sleep in barns, in hay-stacks, and everywheres on the way, and pick up what we can eat by odd jobs, maybe."

Says I, "I can get some money. My grandma will pay me for helpin' her. And maybe I can have a couple of dollars by the time I'm fit to go."

Mitch says: "Charley King has the agency for the Springfield papers, and he's goin' to divy with me for helpin' him deliver, and that way I can get some money too. But shucks, as for that, we can turn tricks on the way for money. All we need is hand-outs, and that's easy."

"Well, then," says I, "let me furnish the money. You just plan things out and wait for me."

Mitch caught somethin' in my voice, and he said, "What makes you say that? I'm square. I want to do my share on the money."

"Well," says I, "I don't like to have you goin' with Charley King. It don't seem the thing to me. His folks don't seem right to me; and he's older than you, and I'm afraid somethin' will happen. I have a funny feelin' about that boy and about George Heigold, too."

"Oh, you're just ticklish," said Mitch, "and if you're afeard they can win me away from you, don't think of it, for they can't, and no one can."

All this time I'd forgot something. Here we was plannin' to go to Hannibal in about a week, when it was clear out of the question, for it was gettin' close to court time, and we was subpoened, Mitch and me, to testify against Doc Lyon. It was clear crazy to think of goin' to Hannibal and gettin' back in time. And I'd made up my mind to stick it out—we couldn't run away for good. And if I had anything to say, I wasn't goin' to let Mitch slump on that. Here was a chance to get rid of a awful criminal, this Doc Lyon, and we could help, and it was our duty. Pa had said so. So I spoke up and says to Mitch, "You've forgot somethin', Mitch. We can't leave till this Doc Lyon matter is all fixed."

"It's fixed," said Mitch.

"How?" says I.

"Doc Lyon fixed it his own self. He killed hisself in jail while you was sick."

"What!" says I.

"Yep," says Mitch. "He's dead and buried, and we're out of the law, and I say let's keep out. Let's never be a witness to anything again. We ain't got time till we get this treasure. Do you promise?"

I said "yes."

Then Mitch took my hand and said, "A week from Saturday be down at the corner where Linkern got the line wrong, and I'll have everything ready, and we'll go."

So I promised, and Mitch said good-by and left.


I could hardly wait for Saturday to come, for there wasn't anything to do. And everywheres in the house I saw somethin' that made me think of Little Billie. There was his French harp, and the glass bank that Uncle Harvey had given him; and onct I went into a closet and saw his hat hangin' there yet, and I kept wonderin' if I had been a good brother to him always. Of course there was the time I wouldn't let him go when Old Bender's house was burned down, and that hurt me to think of it. But we did carry him on our hands, Mitch and me, one time from the river. And Mitch said he thought I'd been a good brother, and that Little Billie thought so too. Ma said she just couldn't live with Little Billie gone—Myrtle and me didn't answer, somehow. And one day I heard her singin' at the piano—she and pa had joined the town troupe to sing Pinafore. She was Little Buttercup, and pa was Dick Deadeye, and so they practiced together. And I always, to this day, think of Little Billie whenever I hear any one sing "The Nightingale Sighs for the Moon's Bright Rays." These things always get mixed together and stay mixed, so my ma says.

Well, Saturday came, and I went down to the square and found my grandpa on the corner, talkin' temperance to a man and sayin' that he'd seen slavery abolished and he hoped to live to see strong drink done away with, that it was sure to come, the questions were just alike; and that Linkern was against slavery and strong drink both, and if he was livin' he would be in this new fight. And this other man kept sayin', "you're right, you're right," and noddin' his head. So when my grandpa saw me, his eyes grew wonderful kind, and he said, "Son, we're goin' right away. Go put your things in the carriage. Your grandma is over at the store. Go over and see her." I went over and found her, and she bought me some jeans to work in and a blue shirt and some heavy shoes to walk through the briars and thickets in, and she said, "Now, we're ready. Go and tell your grandpa." I went back and grandpa was talkin' to another man, about temperance, and sayin' to him that he'd seen slavery abolished and he expected to live to see hard drink done away with. I told him grandma was ready; and he said to go back and tell grandma to go to the harness shop and wait, he had to come there for a halter, and he'd pick us up there. I went back and told her and we went to the harness shop and waited. But grandpa didn't come; and finally grandma said to go out and see what was the matter, and I did, and found grandpa comin' out of the bank. It looked like we'd never get started. But he said, "Come on, Son, we must hurry. It may rain. My darlin', it looks like it." So I thought we were off at last. And just then a man came up and spoke to him. And they began to talk and I stood by restless and gettin' tired. They began to talk temperance, too. And grandpa told him that he'd seen slavery abolished and he hoped to live to see hard drink done away with. And the man said it would come; and then they talked about the corn crop and things, and finally grandpa got away from him and we started for the harness shop. But when we got up to the big store, grandpa says, "Bless me, I've forgot my spectacles at the jeweler's." And he turned around and trotted back. I didn't know whether to foller him or to wait, or to go on to the harness shop. I decided to foller him to keep him from gettin' into more talks, if I could. I suppose he stopped or was stopped a dozen times to talk; and he and the jeweler had a long talk. Mitch and me never wasted time this a way. I couldn't understand it.

Then we got over to the hitchin' rack, and got into the carriage and started for the harness shop. Grandma was fussed and began to scold, and grandpa just laughed and said, "Hey! hey!" and went for his halter. He and the harness maker had a considerable talk, and at last we got started.

By this time I was tired clear out and fell asleep before we got to the fair grounds and slept until we got to the hill where you first see the farm house. And then when we drove into the lot, my Uncle Henry came to take the horses. And I wondered and asked, "Where's Willie Wallace?" "He's gone to work on the railroad. He's a brakeman now," said my uncle. My heart sunk clear down, for I had expected to go fishin' with him, and ride around the country while he was haulin' corn. And it made me sad to think he was gone for good, and maybe at this very minute was in some noisy, wicked place, like Peoria, with railroad men, conductors and such. Anyway, he was gone, and they had no one in his place. And grandma said, "It's a great mistake. He'll get killed, or get into bad company. It's not a good thing to leave home and your place and go gallivantin' around the country on the cars." But it seemed he wasn't so far away, after all. He was on the C. P. which came through Atterberry, and I was bettin' if we went there some day when the train came through we could see him in the caboose, or runnin' on top of the cars, or couplin' and sayin' "back her up," or motionin' to go ahead.

You can bet that grandma started to get me well. I had the softest bed you ever see, and the best things to eat, and a horse to ride, and we went visitin' around to the neighbors, and over to old Cy McDoel's who was dyin' that summer and had been in bed a long while. He was about ninety. I saw and heard my grandpa say to Cy, "I seen slavery abolished, and I expect to live to see hard drink done away with." And Cy said, "You will, but I won't. But it makes no difference. The Lord will have His own way. Blessed be the name of the Lord." The flies was awful and every now and then Cy's granddaughter came in to fan the flies off him—but they came right back.

By Wednesday it seemed I'd been there a month. I had made kites and done about everything, and I began to think of Saturday, when I'd see Mitch. So on Thursday I said to grandma that I had to go by Saturday, and she says, "Your popie said you was to stay all this month. You must get well, and besides I want you here with me."

I began to see I was in for it, and what would Mitch say? He would be waitin' for me on the corner where Linkern got the line wrong, and what would he think? There was nothing to do but to run away or do somethin' so they wouldn't want me any more. And I didn't want to do that, but I pretty near stumbled into it. That afternoon I went out into the work house and there I found all kinds of paint, red, white, blue and green. So I began to paint pictures. Then I took to paintin' signs. I got a nice board and painted a beer keg on it with a glass under the faucet and beer runnin' in it, all white and foamy. Then I painted some letters, "Billiards and Beer." It was a dandy sign—as good as you see in town.

There was an outdoor cellar in the yard, and over the cellar a shed that you could see from the road; so I nailed the sign up on the shed and stood off and looked at it. I wasn't thinkin'—I wasn't tryin' to do a thing. But it looked so funny considerin' that grandpa said that he'd seen slavery abolished and he'd live to see hard drink done away with too. And I just laughed. Grandma came out and said, "What you laughin' at, Skeet?" Says I, "At the chickens." "Here," she says, "don't you feed them poor dumb creatures red flannel again. Have you?" "No'm," I said. "Well, if you do, I'll flax you," and she went into the kitchen.

That very afternoon a peddler came into the yard. He had an oilcloth pack full of tablecloths, napkins, towels, suspenders, lead pencils, laces, overalls, mirrors, combs—a lot of things. And he threw his pack down and opened it up. Grandpa was carryin' slop to the pigs. It was awful hot; you couldn't hardly breathe—except when you got in front of the cellar door. Grandpa had no use for peddlers and never bought nothin' of 'em, and he kept answerin' the peddler short and carryin' slop, so as to keep away from hearin' him ask: "Any napkins, any handkerchiefs, any combs?" Grandpa kept sayin', "Nope, nope, nope." I was standing there and all at once I saw the peddler glue his eye on the sign "Billiards and Beer"—so I thought somethin' was goin' to happen, and went into the dinin' room and looked out of the window. Then the peddler folded up his pack and strapped it, and turned to grandpa and said, "I'll take a beer."

Grandpa didn't understand him. He didn't know about the sign, and if the peddler had said, "I'll take a set of plush furniture," or "Give me a barrel of coal oil," it would have meant just as much to him. Grandpa looked at him as if he was crazy. "Do you keep it real cold?" said the peddler. "What?" said my grandpa. "Why, the beer. Because that's the way I like it. And come to think of it, I'll take a bucket. It's hotter'n blazes and my throat is caked with dust."

Then grandpa thought that the peddler was mad and was mockin' him because he didn't buy anything, and that the peddler had heard about his temperance work and was tryin' to be insultin'. So he said, "If you're thirsty, here's plenty of slops."

So then the peddler flew all to pieces. "Well, this is what I'd like to know. I want you to tell me. I want to know why you make fools of people. I want to know what's the matter with me. You won't buy of me, and you won't sell to me. And I'd like to know what I've done. I'm a man, the same as you. And you've got beer to sell. And you have no right to discriminate, even if I was a nigger, which I'm not. I've been respectful to you, and I don't deserve this here treatment. And I won't stand it. You've either got the right to sell it, or you ain't; and if you ain't I'll have the law on you, and if you have, I want the beer—that's what I want. I speak right out what I think. And what right have you to put up a sign like that and attract people from the road if you didn't mean to sell it?" And he pointed to the sign.

"What sign?" said grandpa, comin' around and lookin' up and seem' it. "Tut, tut," said grandpa, completely dazed like. I run up-stairs and hid, but I could hear. Then grandma came out and said: "Look here! That's just a prank of our grandson. It's too bad! It's a shame. Sit down and rest and I'll bring you somethin'." Grandpa went off sommers; and pretty soon grandma came out with a glass clinkin' with ice, and after a bit I heard the peddler say, "Is this blackberry wine?" And grandma said, "Yes." And the peddler said: "Well, it's better'n beer, and I thank ye. You've saved my life. And if you advertised this here, you couldn't make enough of it." Then the peddler seemed to grow bolder somehow and finally he came back to the wine and he said, "I suppose your husband don't know you keep this." Grandma says: "There's certain medicines I believe in—for people that need 'em. And now you feel well enough to go on your way, and I wish you good luck."

So the peddler went off down the road.

And pretty soon grandma came up-stairs and said: "Your grandpa is awful vexed. He'd most pull your hair. And you'd better stay here, and I'll bring some supper to you after a bit, and we'll let this quiet down."

"Well, this is Thursday," says I, "and I'm goin' Saturday anyway. And suppose I go to-night—I can walk in." Grandma says: "Your popie is comin' in the morning on the way to Havaner, and you stay and see him. And if he says you can go, why all right. Or maybe he'll take you to Havaner with him." A thought went through my head! Why not go to Havaner and get the lay of the land, see the steamboats and get ready to go to Hannibal. So grandma brought me my supper, and I went to bed dreamin' of the steamboats.


While I was at my grandpa's this time, my Aunt Melissa and Uncle Lemuel came to visit on their way to Ohio. They lived in Iowa sommers and he was a preacher and awful smart. He had been married before and his wife died, and then he married my aunt. My pa said a preacher would never do without a wife, especially if he was a Methodist. Besides being lonely, my pa said Uncle Lemuel thought Aunt Melissa would inherit, and of course the time comes when a preacher can't preach and must either go to a preacher's home and be supported or else have help from his wife, because they can't lay up much.

Well, Uncle Lemuel was awful smart. He didn't know Greek or Latin, but he had read the translations and he knew the Bible from A to Z and he could sing in a deep voice, and when he preached he made you scared and ashamed. They petted me a lot—both Aunt Melissa and Uncle Lemuel. They held me on their laps and stroked my head, and asked me about Sunday School and whether I really loved Jesus or only just said so.

There was always a lot goin' on when they visited and I sat and watched. In the first place, when they would come they had a lot of bags, carpet bags and boxes, and you had to be awful particular of 'em, and the hired man had to carry 'em to the house and Aunt Melissa would say be careful, and if he dropped anything, there was an awful scare about it. This time they got here just before dinner; and grandma had a big dinner for 'em—lots of fried chicken and mashed potatoes, and you ought to see Uncle Lemuel eat, and Aunt Melissa, too. You'd almost think they didn't have food in Iowa.

But first I noticed that grandpa always kind of shriveled when Uncle Lemuel came. His voice was high compared to Uncle Lemuel's, besides he didn't know so much, not even about the Bible, though grandpa hadn't read anything else for 50 years except the prohibition paper. Well, of course grandpa gave up to him the sayin' of grace, and Uncle Lemuel said it in a voice that made the dishes kind of tremble, just like low thunder, and we all looked down, except me. I looked out of one eye a little to see him, and watch my grandma, who was lookin' down of course, but with a look which said: "this is all very well, but here's the dinner which I got and which is to be et. There's real things here before us." Then after grace Uncle Lemuel would tell stories about darkies and things—no swear words, sometimes kind of a funny point, and grandpa would laugh, sometimes the hired man would laugh, sometimes grandma would—not much though. And Aunt Melissa would just smile—she'd heard it before, maybe. Then grandpa would ask Uncle Lemuel questions about politics and church and things, and ask him what he thought would happen. And Uncle Lemuel would talk and grandpa would say, "Yes," "Well, well," "You don't say so," and things like that sometimes, awful surprised. And all the time Uncle Lemuel would be eatin', and of course, bein' a son-in-law, he could have as much as he liked; and they kept passin' the chicken to him until the bones was just piled around his plate.

This time they didn't bring their boy Archie. They had just one child, and he was supposed to be awful bad, but they was givin' him a Christian rearin' and expected to make a good man of him. My grandma said that one time when they was here he forgot to say his prayers and sassed Aunt Melissa when she spoke to him about it, and that Uncle Lemuel made her get a strap and strop him. Uncle Lemuel stood at the head of the stair and said to Aunt Melissa, "A little more, Melissa, a little harder." And so they whipped him good, and after that he prayed and thanked God for parents that wouldn't let him forget his prayers but made him say 'em. And onct there was a Dutch boy that came over to play with Archie and Archie got him out in the ice house and got a rope around his neck and pulled him up. Archie was playin' hangin' and this Dutch boy was the criminal and was bein' hanged for a crime. And grandma kind of heard a noise or suspected somethin', so she came into the wood house and found this here Dutch boy clawin' at the rope and kind of purple in the face, and Archie standin' by pretendin' to hold a watch and be the sheriff. Well, this time Uncle Lemuel whipped Archie with the strap; and after that they made him pray, and put him in a dark room and kept him on bread and water for a day. Then they let him out and he kissed his pa and his ma and said he loved 'em and loved God and was all right now and would never commit another sin while he lived.

But to come back to eatin' chicken, if you've ever seen bricks piled, kind a thrown down in a pile around a mortar box, that's the way the chicken bones looked around Uncle Lemuel's plate; and all the time there was a lot of talk about the evil of intemperance and the curse of strong drink, and grandpa said that he'd seen slavery abolished, and the time would come when strong drink would be abolished too.

Then in the afternoon we generally had singin' and music; and Uncle Lemuel played the piano and sang "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" in a terrible deep voice, and all the rest joined as well as they could. And then after while everybody would get to cryin' and Uncle Lemuel would say that beyond the weepin' and the wailin' here there was a land of pure delight where we would all be. And Uncle Lemuel would put his hand on my head and ask me if I didn't believe it, and I said yes, I did, though so far as my thoughts went, I didn't know much about it, and I kept thinkin' of heaven as a place where dead folks suddently made alive went around in their night-gowns not doin' very much, except just smilin' sweet on each other and saying soft words.

Grandma always seemed kind of apart at these times, as if she believed everything maybe, and approved of it, but kind of as if there was other things which she had to think of and which kept her from takin' part as much as Uncle Lemuel and Aunt Melissa, and even grandpa, who didn't have anything else to do. For grandma always had the meals to get and the cows to milk, and so much business like that to run; and she never shed any tears except when she was really sayin' good-by to some one, or maybe when she'd get to talkin' about some of the children which had died and which she loved so much.

Of course there was always prayers at night, and in the morning prayers, and readin' from the Bible, which Uncle Lemuel carried on, grandpa standin' back for him. And I came in for a lot of talk about bein' a good boy and man and never touchin' liquor or tobacco, or dancin' or goin' to bad theaters and such like. And Uncle Lemuel talked to me about this treasure huntin', for he'd heard it somehow. And he said to me to lay up treasure in heaven where moths don't come nor thieves; and he said that riches was nothin' because they could be lost so easy; but if a man improved his character and learnt things, he couldn't lose 'em, and no one could take your knowledge away from you, and you couldn't lose it. And onct, while he was talkin' this away, he was tryin' to remember the place in the Bible where there was a text he wanted to say to me, and he couldn't remember the place; and he asked grandpa where it was and grandpa couldn't remember, for you see grandpa was pretty old. Grandpa had been kind of dozin' while Uncle Lemuel was talkin' to me, but he woke up when Uncle Lemuel asked him where that text was and when grandpa couldn't remember, he says to Uncle Lemuel: "I can't remember like I used to, Lemuel, and a lot of it has gone out of my mind, which I remember when somebody says it to me, maybe, but except for that, it's gone. And sometimes I don't know folks that I've known always, and I forget my specs, and leave my bank book in the wrong place, and make mistakes adding up figures; for you see, as the good book says, things change with us, the grinders become fewer, we lose our teeth; those that looks out of the window are darkened, and we have to get stronger specs; and the truth is we become children again, and if we had to live our life over from that point, we'd have to learn a lot of things over again, if not everything." And Uncle Lemuel said it was true, and for that reason it proved God's mercy and love to take people to 'im when they got this a way and not let 'em go on forever stumbling about in this sad world.

Well, so it would be after a few days that Uncle Lemuel and Aunt Melissa would have to go; for they always had important things to do in teaching religion; and Uncle Lemuel had to lecture, and this time they was goin' as far east as Ohio. And after singin' "God be with us till we Meet Again" and prayers and everybody cryin' but grandma, they got ready to go. Grandpa come up with the carriage and the white horses and grandma was in the kitchen makin' up a box of lunch—fried chicken and brown bread and preserves and cake, because Uncle Lemuel didn't like the lunch counters along the way. And finally grandma came with the box, and Uncle Lemuel and Aunt Melissa was standin' by the door waitin' and ready. So she handed the box to 'em and kissed 'em, and Aunt Melissa cried some more and so they went.

I stood at the door with grandma until they drove off, and then grandma said to me: "Go put on your boots, Skeet, and we'll go over into the woods and look for flowers. I need a change." So we did, and grandma acted like a wild young girl, laughin' and tellin' stories and makin' a lovely bouquet.


The next mornin' when I got down to breakfast, everybody had et and grandpa had gone down the road where the tenant was buildin' a fence. So I took my kite and went way into the middle of the pasture and sent her up. Then I lay on the grass and watched her sail and drift and looked over at the Mason County Hills, that seemed so mysterious and quiet and never ending. By and by I thought I heard somebody callin' me—and there was. It was grandma. So I hollered back and drew in my kite, and went to the house. And there was my pa. He looked so powerful, and his voice was so deep, and he was so full of fun. You'd never thought he was the same man who was beside hisself over Little Billie. And he was awful glad to see me, and took me on his knee and pulled out a knife he had brought me for a present. Of course grandpa wouldn't say anything about that sign in front of my pa—it warn't the place and didn't fit in. But, anyway, grandpa seemed himself again. So I sat down and listened to 'em talk.

Before they had got very far my grandpa said he'd seen slavery abolished and the time warn't far off when hard drink would be done away with. I was eyein' my pa close, for I knew he drank a beer now and then, and I wanted to see what he'd say. But he didn't say nothin'. He just looked calm, and as grandpa went right on talkin', it would have been interruptin' if my pa did say anything. So he got over that place in the conversation without any trouble. Later, just before dinner, I saw grandma give pa a drink of blackberry wine and take a little herself. She came from a different part of Kentucky from what grandpa did. And yet they lived happy. It was because she was so smart and like a piece of oiled leather that bends and don't crack.

Well, as I said, I sat listenin' to my pa and grandpa talk—awful interesting too. Pa was tellin' about "Pinafore"; but grandpa kind o' smiled in a forced way, because he didn't believe in shows. But pretty soon it came out that Joe Rainey had been killed the night before, and Temple Scott had killed him, which boarded at their house. And so I knew there was another case. And I said to myself, it's lucky I was here, for if I'd been in town, most likely Mitch and me would have been around sommers and been witnesses, and got into another tangle, to keep us from goin' to see Tom Sawyer.

It was this a way, as pa told it. Joe Rainey was drinkin' and he and Temple Scott was always the best of friends, but when he was drinkin' he always quarreled with Scott and threatened him. Then my pa says: "His threats came to nothin'. He wouldn't harm a child. He's threatened me a hundred times. I never paid any attention to him. Every one knows he was harmless."

They were practicin' "Pinafore" at Joe Rainey's house—my pa, my ma, and just as my pa was singin':

The merry, merry maiden, the merry, merry maiden, The merry, merry maiden and the tar,

all of a sudden they heard a shot, and then another shot, and somebody opened the door, and there was Joe Rainey lyin' on the porch, almost dead—unconscious, and bleedin'. And Temple Scott had stood his ground and said that Rainey had threatened to kill him, and had drawn his pistol first, and that he shot him in self-defense. My grandpa interrupted to talk about the sin of drink and what it makes people do. Then pa went on to say that they searched Joe Rainey's pocket and couldn't find his pistol; that later they searched the house and his office and couldn't find his pistol, and the wonder was where it was. And pa said he didn't believe he had a pistol, at least with him at the time. But Mrs. Rainey said that her husband had come into the house earlier in the evening and got the pistol. But pa said that Mrs. Rainey was too sweet on Temple, and he didn't believe her, and he intended to prosecute Temple Scott as hard as he could and hang him. Then he said that this broke up the practicin' of "Pinafore," that Mrs. Rainey was goin' to play Josephine, but now that her husband was killed, she couldn't. That they all went home, and that the town was full of talk over it, and where the pistol was if Joe Rainey ever had one.

Well, Joe Rainey had died about one o'clock that mornin', beggin' every one not to let him fall asleep for fear he wouldn't wake up no more. They had give him ether or somethin' and so he kept gettin' drowsier and drowsier, and finally died in his sleep.

So my pa and grandpa talked till noon—most wonderful talk; and then we had dinner and grandma told more funny stories than you ever heard, and had the best time in the world. And after dinner, grandpa hitched up the horses and drove pa to Atterberry to catch the train for Havaner. But pa wouldn't take me. He says, "No, sir, you stay here and get well, and mind your grandma and help her. If you don't, I'll whale you. And I'll come for you a week from Saturday, maybe."

That settled that, I was afraid. "Well, then," I said, "will you tell Mitch that I'll be back a week from Saturday?" He said he would, and I made up my mind to it.

What do you suppose, when we got to Atterberry, there was Willie Wallace in charge of a freight train which had side-tracked for the passenger goin' to Havaner. You can't imagine how funny it seemed to see him talkin' to the conductor and everything; and how funny it seemed that I knowed him so well, since I had seen him plow and drive a team and all that on the farm.

"How do you like it?" says I to Willie.

"No more farm for me," says Willie.

"Ain't you afeard? Ain't it dangerous?"

"Yes, it's dangerous," says he. "But look at the pay. And then look at the fun. One night it's Springfield, the next night Peoria—always somethin' new."

Just then the passenger train whistled, and Willie got up and began to motion to the engineer on his train. I went back to the platform and said good-by to pa. And then we drove back to the farm.


When we got back to the farm, who do you suppose was there? My ma and Myrtle. She said she was just tired stayin' alone all the time—that pa was always away; and now that Little Billie was dead, she couldn't stand it. She said she never seed such a town as Petersburg was, that she had half a mind to go back to Boston where she was born and raised. That she didn't believe there was such characters in the whole world as Doc Lyon and dozens of others in Petersburg, Joe Pink, and the hoodlums and roughs, and she was afeard all the time some of 'em would kill pa for bein' States Attorney. That it was just one murder after another, that even she'd lost confidence in Mrs. Rainey, who had been her friend, and couldn't understand the talk about Joe Rainey having a pistol when there was no pistol. Then she said that's one part of the town; and the other part was narrow as a knife blade, that they were talkin' of churchin' Mr. Miller and drivin' him out of the pulpit and for nothin' except sayin' that God was in everything, and that there wasn't room enough in the world for anything but God. Sometimes Mr. Miller when he was preachin', got to dreamin' and would wander way off. He had done this when talkin' about God and give hisself away—that's what they said. And what was he goin' to do with so many children and nothin' saved because he never made nothin', and nothin' to do if he couldn't preach? Grandpa said, "Well, where does that doctrine put old Satan?" And ma says, "Of course it puts him out of the world, which I don't believe; there's too much sin in the world to believe that; but anyway a man has a right to his opinions without bein' persecuted for 'em."

All the time Myrtle was leanin' against ma, just like a cat, actin', I thought. She did make me terrible mad sometimes. Grandpa couldn't see through her. He petted her and went out and saddled a horse and put her on it and led the horse around the lot for 'bout an hour, right in the sun. And then she came in and began to honey around grandma and get things. I saw the game was spoiled for me, and wanted the time to go by so I could get away, or for somethin' to happen. Then about eleven o'clock grandma came into the settin' room with apples to peel, and ma helped her and they began to talk—and it was wonderful to listen, for it was about Mitch and Zueline. Ma said she'd never seed such children, such a boy as Mitch, that he would be a musician or a poet like Longfellow when he grew up; that he was dreamin' all the time and believed in fairy stories, and made everything real to hisself. Then she said that Mitch thought so much of Zueline that it was enough to scare a body; that if anything happened to her Mitch would go out of his head, and if they was separated it would kill him, and she thought they would be separated. That Mrs. Hasson thought of takin' a trip, and takin' Zueline, but was keepin' it quiet. Grandma said it was silly for two children to act that a way, or at least for Mitch to act that a way. Zueline warn't doin' anything except just to be Zueline to Mitch—she wasn't as much in love with Mitch as he was with her.

Then grandpa came in and said we'd all go to Bobtown the next day, that his spring wagon was done and we'd go over and get it. It was an awful ways, eighteen miles at least, and we'd have to start by six o'clock in order to get there and get back, and take a lunch to eat on the way. I suppose I had heard as much about Bobtown as any place in the world, but never seen it. It was just in a straight line from the porch at grandpa's, past Spotty Milt Stith's place, and just in the place between the woods and where the sky came down beyond. So the next mornin' we was off—grandpa and ma settin' in the front seat of the carriage; and me, grandma and Myrtle in the back seat. And ma began right away to talk about Petersburg, they agreed about hard drink and a lot of things.

But grandpa said that he'd been in the war and had seen two, and he'd like to see war abolished with slavery and hard drink. He was in the Black Hawk War, but that wasn't much; but the Mexican War was bad and warn't necessary, and was unjust, even Linkern thought so, and had stirred up a lot of hate. And he said the Civil War had left things bad. It had killed off a lot of fine young men, and herded toughs into places like Petersburg and stirred up all kinds of hate and bad feelin's, and made people dishonest and tricky and careless and lazy—and we'd have to stand the consequences for years to come in politics and everything. And he said the way to avoid war was the same as a man would avoid fightin' or killin' another man—you could do it mostly by usin' your mind and bein' a civilized being and not standin' too much on your pride and all that. But if you couldn't avoid it, then fight and fight hard.

It was pretty near eleven o'clock and we came in sight of a white steeple and white houses, right amongst green trees—and sure enough it was Bobtown. I was so excited I could hardly stand it. And I said: "It's a downright shame that Mitch ain't here. He never saw Bobtown, and he's there in Petersburg waitin' for me, and here I am havin' this wonderful trip." We were just in a little grove, and grandpa stopped and unreined the horses and fed 'em and said, "We'll have our lunch here." "Oh," says I, "let's go on to Bobtown first." Grandpa laughed, for he knew I was wild to go on. But he said, "By and by." So we spread the tablecloth on the grass and had the lunch—and it was wonderful, fried chicken and blackberry pie and about everything. Then we drove into Bobtown. Here was a drug store, and a post-office and a billiard parlor, and a saloon kept by Porky Jim Thomas, grandpa said; and a lot of white houses, and a big store, and this wagon shop which was also a blacksmith shop. We separated now. Grandma and ma and Myrtle went to the store, and grandpa and me to the wagon shop.

The wagon maker was a big man with bushy hair and he was tickled to death to see my grandpa. The wagon was all done, all except puttin' in a few bolts. It shone like a lookin' glass, all varnished up with pretty pictures on the sides, and the man said it would be ready in an hour. So grandpa said he'd go to see a man about the temperance work, and I could go with him or stay around. So I stayed to see the wagon finished.

I hadn't noticed a man sittin' on a bench in the shop and whittlin'; but when grandpa was gone, he said to the blacksmith, "Ain't that Squire Kirby?" (they called grandpa squire because he had been Justice of the Peace onct); and the blacksmith said "yes"; and the man said: "I suppose he's sincere. I suppose so, but that ain't the whole story. He gets used by people who ain't sincere, who want law about temperance, but don't want it about somethin' else. It's a hell of a country," he went on, "everybody is talkin' about law and about enforcin' the law, and everybody is breakin' the law himself. Take Porky Jim Thomas, they make an awful fuss about his sellin' to habituals or anything, and look at it: who sells Porky Jim adulterated stuff, who allows it to be sold to him? Are the revenue agents obeyin' the law? No, they ain't. Go right down the list. Congress don't obey the law—they don't obey the constitution. Yet they're always talkin' law and denouncin' law breakers. Do the judges obey the law? No, they don't—they talk about it and make other folks obey what they say is the law. And everywhere you go you hear about law breakers from people breakin' the law themselves—they're all breakin' it, and them that's highest is breakin' it most—and it's just like ants climbin' over each other—that's what it's like—and it ain't worth a damn. Look what the city folks do to the farmers. And take the mine owners—they don't obey the law, they don't prop their ceilin's and protect their men as the law says. And now they're goin' to strike over at Springfield, and you hear talk of the law and they're goin' to call out the guards. And look at me—losin' my farm through the law—just look anywhere you want and you'll see the same thing—everybody hollerin' law and nobody obeyin' it himself."

"Lem," said the blacksmith, "you've been mad ever since the war."

"Wal, ain't I got a right to be? Here I was just a young feller and hated slavery and loved liberty, and I was one of the first to volunteer. Yes, sir, I went right into Petersburg when Cap Estil was recruitin' and joined the army and me not more'n seventeen, and all because I wanted to help free the country and put down rebellion, and serve God. Yes, that's what a boy says to hisself, 'God and my country.' You get into kind of a religion. Wal, what happened? They treat a soldier worse'n a dog—they feed you like a dog and sleep you like a dog. And they order you in danger worse'n a dog. What in hell are you, anyway? Here you are, we'll say, with a couple of hundred, and the captain thinks that by sacrificing a couple of hundred, he can do somethin', turn a certain trick. It's like checkers, you make a sacrifice to get into the king's row and come back stronger and clean up the board. That's how I got it. They ordered us in when it was death to go, and I got it through the lung, and here I am, no good to this here day."

"Lem," says the blacksmith, "you talk like a democrat."

"Wal, I ain't no democrat. I ain't nothin'. How can a man be anything? Look at what they did. Look at the way the stay-at-homes made money. Look at the grabs in the country, look at the money scandals, look at the poor, look at the fellers goin' around in the name of the army gettin' themselves elected to office. Just look at the country. Look at me with just enough pension to keep body and soul together, and tryin' to grub out a little farm. Why, look here, if the next generation knew what we know about war, how they get it up, and how they get the young fellers into it, and what it means after they get into it, you couldn't get 'em into a war. That's the way to stop war. Pass the word along, so the young fellers that can fight will know what they're a takin' a hold of—and they won't fight. You can't burn a child that knows the fire. These here pot-bellies that sit in banks, and these here loud-mouthed orators that make speeches and say they wished they could go to war, it's their only regret that they can't go, and die with the flag in their hands—these fellers, damn 'em, can't make any headway if the boys are on to the game. And, by God, furst thing you know they ain't anybody to do the fightin' but the pot-bellies and the orators who want to die but are too old to carry a gun, and so go around lamentin' their age, the furst thing you know, nobody is left but 'em to fight. And then there won't be no war, because they wouldn't fight. They are too careful of their precious selves, and too afraid of hell, and have got over believin' in God, or country, except the price of corn and cotton, and so that ends war. And that's the way to end it, pass the word along."

So he went on talkin' and the blacksmith was makin' a rod and he took it out of the forge and put it on the anvil and it sputtered sparks, and he pounded it around, and finally he took a chisel and cut off a piece, and I watched it grow from dull red till it got black and looked like a piece of licorice. So I went and picked it up. Gee! but it just cooked my fingers, and I yelled. "Thar's your lesson," says Lem—"remember it. Don't take hold of a hot thing till it gets cold. Thar's your lesson, remember that as long as you live."

But I was cryin' and my grandpa came in and when he heard Lem talk, he said Lem had been drinkin', poor feller, and was another victim of the awful curse of drink. So he took me to the drug store and got somethin', and by and by I was better and so we drove home to the farm.


It was only Tuesday, and the days just dragged by. It seemed Saturday was a year off, when I was to see Mitch. I was out in the front yard about nine o'clock and all the rest was in the house. My uncle came along and began to sharpen a scythe on the grinder and I was turnin' it for him. I was teasin' him to go to the river and fish and camp out over night. He said it was too hot, and besides we needed another man, and Willie Wallace was gone, and he couldn't get Bud Entrekin to go until he'd hauled some corn. By and by he got the scythe sharp and went away to cut weeds. While I was standin' there wonderin' what to do, I heard a low whistle and looked over the fence and there was Mitch. He didn't look very gay. He was covered with dust, had been walkin' since early mornin'. He scrooched down behind the fence and whispered to me to come over into the orchard. We got down in the grass by a tree, first lookin' for snakes, and then Mitch said: "How much money you got?" I said, I thought I could get two dollars anyway, and he said, "That's bully, I've got 80 cents and that's enough." "What you goin' to do, Mitch, you're not goin' to see Tom now, are you?" Says he: "The time has come. Go get your money and we'll start right now."

He almost scared me, he was so quick and earnest. Then he said, "I've got somethin' on my mind, a good deal on my mind. The time has come to go. There's nothin' left but Old Salem, and we can finish that any time—and let's go now and see Tom before anything else happens. Pretty soon the summer'll be over, and things keep happenin'. We must go now."

So he made me go to the house for my money. I had to ask grandma for it, and at first she wouldn't give it to me. She said I'd lose it. But I teased her till she went to her closet and gave it to me. Then said she: "You never let a body alone when you start. So here it is, and if you lose it—you lose it."

I went back to the tree in the orchard where Mitch was. Then we walked clear to the back of the orchard, clumb the rail fence, walked through the meadow a roundabout way and came to the road on the other side of the Tate farm. So here we struck out for Atterberry, so as to walk the railroad to Havaner. We thought we could make Oakford before night.

When we got fairly started Mitch said, "Something terrible has happened to me, Skeet—it's terrible."

"What?" says I.

"I can't talk about it now," says Mitch. "By and by I can, maybe. Of course I'll tell you—I must tell some one. But it's that made me come out here and see you, and not wait for Saturday. I just had to see you; and it seemed the time had just come for us to go to see Tom."

I says: "Well, Mitch, you know me, and if I can do anything, you know I'll do it. And maybe you'd better tell me right now."

"Well," says Mitch, "there's more'n one thing to tell—and both of 'em had somethin' to do with me comin' to-day. I couldn't stand the town another minute. I had to get away."

So we walked on and didn't get a lift or anything, and about eleven we came to Atterberry. We went into the store to get a bottle of pop, and while we was there, the train whistled, and the store-keeper says, "That's number 2. She's on time."

You never see such luck. We went out and the freight train pulled in and there was Willie Wallace. Well, he was that glad to see me. Here he was with gloves on and a cap with a silver label which said "Brakeman," and he was the happiest man you ever see.

I began to think what to say. We wanted to ride, but where was we goin', and did our folks know it? If we told him we was runnin' away to see Tom Sawyer, maybe he wouldn't let us on the train. So I began to play safe. I told him Mitch and me was goin' to Havaner to see my pa who was there, and come back with him to-morrow. Then I took out my two dollars and showed him, and says, "That's for my fare, and Mitch has money, too." Willie Wallace says: "You don't need no fare—just crawl up in the cupola of the caboose, and it will be all right. I owe your grandpap a lot for what he did for me in times past—and I'll pay part of it by lettin' you ride."

Then Willie walked away to go into the depot; and Mitch says, "Derned if I'm not proud of you, Skeet. That was a bully whack—and we've struck it rich. Our luck has turned at last."

We climbed up into the cupola and took seats, swingin' seats they was—and we could see all over the country—clean down to the woods where the river was, and over the fields far away. And pretty soon we was off, goin' like mad.

"What do you think of this?" says I.

"Why, Skeet," says Mitch, "did Tom Sawyer ever have anything like this? He never did. And come to think of it, was there a railroad in Tom's town? He never speaks of one. And nobody ever goes anywhere, except to Coonville, which maybe was as far from Tom's town as Atterberry from your grandpa's farm. Say, this is wonderful."

And Mitch took off his hat and let the wind blow through his sweaty hair. It was a wonderful day, and here we was, whizzin' right through the country, lookin' down on the fields, and goin' so fast that blackbirds flyin' alongside of us got way behind and couldn't keep up. Then we could whirl around in our chairs and look through the windows of the cupola all around the country.

We got to Oakford by and by and looked down on the men and boys standing by the depot, their hands in their pockets, chewin' tobacco, whittlin', jostlin' each other, laughin' and all that. Then the conductor came out of the depot with tissue papers in his hand and gave the signal and we started off. At Kilburn we did some switchin', put on a car with cattle in it. And here the conductor saw us for the first time.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse