Pudd'nhead Wilson/Chapter 14
The true Southern watermelon is a boon apart, and not to be mentioned with commoner things. It is chief of this world's luxuries, king by the grace of God over all the fruits of the earth. When one has tasted it, he knows what the angels eat. It was not a Southern watermelon that Eve took: we know it because she repented.
—Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar
About the time that Wilson was bowing the committee out, Pembroke Howard was entering the next house to report. He found the old judge sitting grim and straight in his chair, waiting.
"Well, Howard—the news?"
"The best in the world."
"Accepts, does he?" and the light of battle gleamed joyously in the Judge's eye.
"Accepts? Why he jumped at it."
"Did, did he? Now that's fine—that's very fine. I like that. When is it to be?"
"Now! Straight off! Tonight! An admirable fellow—admirable!"
"Admirable? He's a darling! Why, it's an honor as well as a pleasure to stand up before such a man. Come—off with you! Go and arrange everything—and give him my heartiest compliments. A rare fellow, indeed; an admirable fellow, as you have said!"
"I'll have him in the vacant stretch between Wilson's and the haunted house within the hour, and I'll bring my own pistols."
Judge Driscoll began to walk the floor in a state of pleased excitement; but presently he stopped, and began to think—began to think of Tom. Twice he moved toward the secretary, and twice he turned away again; but finally he said:
"This may be my last night in the world—I must not take the chance. He is worthless and unworthy, but it is largely my fault. He was entrusted to me by my brother on his dying bed, and I have indulged him to his hurt, instead of training him up severely, and making a man of him, I have violated my trust, and I must not add the sin of desertion to that. I have forgiven him once already, and would subject him to a long and hard trial before forgiving him again, if I could live; but I must not run that risk. No, I must restore the will. But if I survive the duel, I will hide it away, and he will not know, and I will not tell him until he reforms, and I see that his reformation is going to be permanent."
He redrew the will, and his ostensible nephew was heir to a fortune again. As he was finishing his task, Tom, wearied with another brooding tramp, entered the house and went tiptoeing past the sitting room door. He glanced in, and hurried on, for the sight of his uncle was nothing but terrors for him tonight. But his uncle was writing! That was unusual at this late hour. What could he be writing? A chill of anxiety settled down upon Tom's heart. Did that writing concern him? He was afraid so. He reflected that when ill luck begins, it does not come in sprinkles, but in showers. He said he would get a glimpse of that document or know the reason why. He heard someone coming, and stepped out of sight and hearing. It was Pembroke Howard. What could be hatching?
Howard said, with great satisfaction:
"Everything's right and ready. He's gone to the battleground with his second and the surgeon—also with his brother. I've arranged it all with Wilson—Wilson's his second. We are to have three shots apiece."
"Good! How is the moon?"
"Bright as day, nearly. Perfect, for the distance—fifteen yards. No wind—not a breath; hot and still."
"All good; all first-rate. Here, Pembroke, read this, and witness it."
Pembroke read and witnessed the will, then gave the old man's hand a hearty shake and said:
"Now that's right, York—but I knew you would do it. You couldn't leave that poor chap to fight along without means or profession, with certain defeat before him, and I knew you wouldn't, for his father's sake if not for his own."
"For his dead father's sake, I couldn't, I know; for poor Percy—but you know what Percy was to me. But mind—Tom is not to know of this unless I fall tonight."
"I understand. I'll keep the secret."
The judge put the will away, and the two started for the battleground. In another minute the will was in Tom's hands. His misery vanished, his feelings underwent a tremendous revulsion. He put the will carefully back in its place, and spread his mouth and swung his hat once, twice, three times around his head, in imitation of three rousing huzzahs, no sound issuing from his lips. He fell to communing with himself excitedly and joyously, but every now and then he let off another volley of dumb hurrahs.
He said to himself: "I've got the fortune again, but I'll not let on that I know about it. And this time I'm gong to hang on to it. I take no more risks. I'll gamble no more, I'll drink no more, because—well, because I'll not go where there is any of that sort of thing going on, again. It's the sure way, and the only sure way; I might have thought of that sooner—well, yes, if I had wanted to. But now—dear me, I've had a scare this time, and I'll take no more chances. Not a single chance more. Land! I persuaded myself this evening that I could fetch him around without any great amount of effort, but I've been getting more and more heavyhearted and doubtful straight along, ever since. If he tells me about this thing, all right; but if he doesn't, I sha'n't let on. I—well, I'd like to tell Pudd'nhead Wilson, but—no, I'll think about that; perhaps I won't." He whirled off another dead huzzah, and said, "I'm reformed, and this time I'll stay so, sure!"
He was about to close with a final grand silent demonstration, when he suddenly recollected that Wilson had put it out of his power to pawn or sell the Indian knife, and that he was once more in awful peril of exposure by his creditors for that reason. His joy collapsed utterly, and he turned away and moped toward the door moaning and lamenting over the bitterness of his luck. He dragged himself upstairs, and brooded in his room a long time, disconsolate and forlorn, with Luigi's Indian knife for a text. At last he sighed and said:
"When I supposed these stones were glass and this ivory bone, the thing hadn't any interest for me because it hadn't any value, and couldn't help me out of my trouble. But now—why, now it is full of interest; yes, and of a sort to break a body's heart. It's a bag of gold that has turned to dirt and ashes in my hands. It could save me, and save me so easily, and yet I've got to go to ruin. It's like drowning with a life preserver in my reach. All the hard luck comes to me, and all the good luck goes to other people—Pudd'nhead Wilson, for instance; even his career has got a sort of a little start at last, and what has he done to deserve it, I should like to know? Yes, he has opened his own road, but he isn't content with that, but must block mine. It's a sordid, selfish world, and I wish I was out of it." He allowed the light of the candle to play upon the jewels of the sheath, but the flashings and sparklings had no charm for his eye; they were only just so many pangs to his heart. "I must not say anything to Roxy about this thing," he said. "She is too daring. She would be for digging these stones out and selling them, and then—why, she would be arrested and the stones traced, and then—" The thought made him quake, and he hid the knife away, trembling all over and glancing furtively about, like a criminal who fancies that the accuser is already at hand.
Should he try to sleep? Oh, no, sleep was not for him; his trouble was too haunting, too afflicting for that. He must have somebody to mourn with. He would carry his despair to Roxy.
He had heard several distant gunshots, but that sort of thing was not uncommon, and they had made no impression upon him. He went out at the back door, and turned westward. He passed Wilson's house and proceeded along the lane, and presently saw several figures approaching Wilson's place through the vacant lots. These were the duelists returning from the fight; he thought he recognized them, but as he had no desire for white people's company, he stooped down behind the fence until they were out of his way.
Roxy was feeling fine. She said:
"Whah was you, child? Warn't you in it?"
"In de duel."
"Duel? Has there been a duel?"
"Co'se dey has. De ole Jedge has be'n havin' a duel wid one o' dem twins."
"Great Scott!" Then he added to himself: "That's what made him remake the will; he thought he might get killed, and it softened him toward me. And that's what he and Howard were so busy about.... Oh dear, if the twin had only killed him, I should be out of my—"
"What is you mumblin' 'bout, Chambers? Whah was you? Didn't you know dey was gwine to be a duel?"
"No, I didn't. The old man tried to get me to fight one with Count Luigi, but he didn't succeed, so I reckon he concluded to patch up the family honor himself."
He laughed at the idea, and went rambling on with a detailed account of his talk with the judge, and how shocked and ashamed the judge was to find that he had a coward in his family. He glanced up at last, and got a shock himself. Roxana's bosom was heaving with suppressed passion, and she was glowering down upon him with measureless contempt written in her face.
"En you refuse' to fight a man dat kicked you, 'stid o' jumpin' at de chance! En you ain't got no mo' feelin' den to come en tell me, dat fetched sich a po' lowdown ornery rabbit into de worl'! Pah! it make me sick! It's de nigger in you, dat's what it is. Thirty-one parts o' you is white, en on'y one part nigger, en dat po' little one part is yo' soul. 'Tain't wuth savin'; tain't wuth totin' out on a shovel en throwin' en de gutter. You has disgraced yo' birth. What would yo' pa think o' you? It's enough to make him turn in his grave.
The last three sentences stung Tom into a fury, and he said to himself that if his father were only alive and in reach of assassination his mother would soon find that he had a very clear notion of the size of his indebtedness to that man, and was willing to pay it up in full, and would do it too, even at risk of his life; but he kept this thought to himself; that was safest in his mother's present state.
"Whatever has come o' yo' Essex blood? Dat's what I can't understan'. En it ain't on'y jist Essex blood dat's in you, not by a long sight— 'deed it ain't! My great-great-great-gran'father en yo' great-great-great-great-gran'father was Ole Cap'n John Smith, de highest blood dat Ole Virginny ever turned out, en his great-great-gran'mother, or somers along back dah, was Pocahontas de Injun queen, en her husbun' was a nigger king outen Africa—en yit here you is, a slinkin' outen a duel en disgracin' our whole line like a ornery lowdown hound! Yes, it's de nigger in you!"
She sat down on her candle box and fell into a reverie. Tom did not disturb her; he sometimes lacked prudence, but it was not in circumstances of this kind, Roxana's storm went gradually down, but it died hard, and even when it seemed to be quite gone, it would now and then break out in a distant rumble, so to speak, in the form of muttered ejaculations. One of these was, "Ain't nigger enough in him to show in his fingernails, en dat takes mighty little—yit dey's enough to pain his soul."
Presently she muttered. "Yassir, enough to paint a whole thimbleful of 'em." At last her ramblings ceased altogether, and her countenance began to clear—a welcome sight to Tom, who had learned her moods, and knew she was on the threshold of good humor now. He noticed that from time to time she unconsciously carried her finger to the end of her nose. He looked closer and said:
"Why, Mammy, the end of your nose is skinned. How did that come?"
She sent out the sort of wholehearted peal of laughter which God had vouchsafed in its perfection to none but the happy angels in heaven and the bruised and broken black slave on the earth, and said:
"Dad fetch dat duel, I be'n in it myself."
"Gracious! did a bullet to that?"
"Yassir, you bet it did!"
"Well, I declare! Why, how did that happen?"
"Happened dis-away. I 'uz a-sett'n' here kinder dozin' in de dark, en che-bang! goes a gun, right out dah. I skips along out towards t'other end o' de house to see what's gwine on, en stops by de ole winder on de side towards Pudd'nhead Wilson's house dat ain't got no sash in it—but dey ain't none of 'em got any sashes, for as dat's concerned—en I stood dah in de dark en look out, en dar in the moonlight, right down under me 'uz one o' de twins a-cussin'—not much, but jist a-cussin' soft—it 'uz de brown one dat 'uz cussin,' 'ca'se he 'uz hit in de shoulder. En Doctor Claypool he 'uz a-workin' at him, en Pudd'nhead Wilson he 'uz a-he'pin', en ole Jedge Driscoll en Pem Howard 'uz a-standin' out yonder a little piece waitin' for 'em to get ready agin. En treckly dey squared off en give de word, en bang-bang went de pistols, en de twin he say, 'Ouch!'—hit him on de han' dis time—en I hear dat same bullet go spat! ag'in de logs under de winder; en de nex' time dey shoot, de twin say, 'Ouch!' ag'in, en I done it too, 'ca'se de bullet glance' on his cheekbone en skip up here en glance' on de side o' de winder en whiz right acrost my face en tuck de hide off'n my nose—why, if I'd 'a'; be'n jist a inch or a inch en a half furder 't would 'a' tuck de whole nose en disfiggered me. Here's de bullet; I hunted her up."
"Did you stand there all the time?"
"Dat's a question to ask, ain't it! What else would I do? Does I git a chance to see a duel every day?"
"Why, you were right in range! Weren't you afraid?"
The woman gave a sniff of scorn.
"'Fraid! De Smith-Pocahontases ain't 'fraid o' nothin', let alone bullets."
"They've got pluck enough, I suppose; what they lack is judgment. I wouldn't have stood there."
"Nobody's accusin' you!"
"Did anybody else get hurt?"
"Yes, we all got hit 'cep' de blon' twin en de doctor en de seconds. De Jedge didn't git hurt, but I hear Pudd'nhead say de bullet snip some o' his ha'r off."
"'George!" said Tom to himself, "to come so near being out of my trouble, and miss it by an inch. Oh dear, dear, he will live to find me out and sell me to some nigger trader yet—yes, and he would do it in a minute." Then he said aloud, in a grave tone:
"Mother, we are in an awful fix."
Roxana caught her breath with a spasm, and said:
"Chile! What you hit a body so sudden for, like dat? What's be'n en gone en happen'?"
"Well, there's one thing I didn't tell you. When I wouldn't fight, he tore up the will again, and—"
Roxana's face turned a dead white, and she said:
"Now you's done!—done forever! Dat's de end. Bofe un us is gwine to starve to—"
"Wait and hear me through, can't you! I reckon that when he resolved to fight, himself, he thought he might get killed and not have a chance to forgive me any more in this life, so he made the will again, and I've seen it, and it's all right. But—"
"Oh, thank goodness, den we's safe ag'in!—safe! en so what did you want to come here en talk sich dreadful—"
"Hold ON, I tell you, and let me finish. The swag I gathered won't half square me up, and the first thing we know, my creditors—well, you know what'll happen."
Roxana dropped her chin, and told her son to leave her alone—she must think this matter out. Presently she said impressively:
"You got to go mighty keerful now, I tell you! En here's what you got to do. He didn't git killed, en if you gives him de least reason, he'll bust de will ag'in, en dat's de las' time, now you hear me! So—you's got to show him what you kin do in de nex' few days. You got to be pison good, en let him see it; you got to do everything dat'll make him b'lieve in you, en you got to sweeten aroun' ole Aunt Pratt, too—she's pow'ful strong with de Jedge, en de bes' frien' you got. Nex', you'll go 'long away to Sent Louis, en dat'll keep him in yo' favor. Den you go en make a bargain wid dem people. You tell 'em he ain't gwine to live long—en dat's de fac', too—en tell 'em you'll pay 'em intrust, en big intrust, too—ten per—what you call it?"
"Ten percent a month?"
"Dat's it. Den you take and sell yo' truck aroun', a little at a time, en pay de intrust. How long will it las'?"
"I think there's enough to pay the interest five or six months." "Den you's all right. If he don't die in six months, dat don't make no diff'rence—Providence'll provide. You's gwine to be safe—if you behaves." She bent an austere eye on him and added, "En you IS gwine to behave—does you know dat?"
He laughed and said he was going to try, anyway. She did not unbend. She said gravely:
"Tryin' ain't de thing. You's gwine to do it. You ain't gwine to steal a pin—'ca'se it ain't safe no mo'; en you ain't gwine into no bad comp'ny—not even once, you understand; en you ain't gwine to drink a drop—nary a single drop; en you ain't gwine to gamble one single gamble—not one! Dis ain't what you's gwine to try to do, it's what you's gwine to DO. En I'll tell you how I knows it. Dis is how. I's gwine to foller along to Sent Louis my own self; en you's gwine to come to me every day o' your life, en I'll look you over; en if you fails in one single one o' dem things—jist one—I take my oath I'll come straight down to dis town en tell de Jedge you's a nigger en a slave—en prove it!" She paused to let her words sink home. Then she added, "Chambers, does you b'lieve me when I says dat?"
Tom was sober enough now. There was no levity in his voice when he answered:
"Yes, Mother, I know, now, that I am reformed—and permanently. Permanently—and beyond the reach of any human temptation."
"Den g'long home en begin!"