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Chapter 17


CHAPTER XVII.

IN about a minute somebody spoke out of a window
without putting his head out, and says:

"Be done, boys! Who's there?"

I says:

"It's me."

"Who's me?"

"George Jackson, sir."

"What do you want?"

"I don't want nothing, sir. I only want to go
along by, but the dogs won't let me."

"What are you prowling around here this time of
night for -- hey?"

"I warn't prowling around, sir, I fell overboard off
of the steamboat."

"Oh, you did, did you? Strike a light there, some-
body. What did you say your name was?"

"George Jackson, sir. I'm only a boy."

"Look here, if you're telling the truth you needn't
be afraid -- nobody'll hurt you. But don't try to
budge; stand right where you are. Rouse out Bob
and Tom, some of you, and fetch the guns. George
Jackson, is there anybody with you?"

"No, sir, nobody."

I heard the people stirring around in the house now,
and see a light. The man sung out:

"Snatch that light away, Betsy, you old fool -- ain't
you got any sense? Put it on the floor behind the
front door. Bob, if you and Tom are ready, take
your places."

"All ready."

"Now, George Jackson, do you know the Shepherd-
sons?"

"No, sir; I never heard of them."

"Well, that may be so, and it mayn't. Now, all
ready. Step forward, George Jackson. And mind,
don't you hurry -- come mighty slow. If there's any-
body with you, let him keep back -- if he shows him-
self he'll be shot. Come along now. Come slow;
push the door open yourself -- just enough to squeeze
in, d' you hear?"

I didn't hurry; I couldn't if I'd a wanted to. I
took one slow step at a time and there warn't a sound,
only I thought I could hear my heart. The dogs were
as still as the humans, but they followed a little behind
me. When I got to the three log doorsteps I heard
them unlocking and unbarring and unbolting. I put
my hand on the door and pushed it a little and a little
more till somebody said, "There, that's enough -- put
your head in." I done it, but I judged they would
take it off.

The candle was on the floor, and there they all was,
looking at me, and me at them, for about a quarter of
a minute: Three big men with guns pointed at me,
which made me wince, I tell you; the oldest, gray and
about sixty, the other two thirty or more -- all of them
fine and handsome -- and the sweetest old gray-headed
lady, and back of her two young women which I
couldn't see right well. The old gentleman says:

"There; I reckon it's all right. Come in."

As soon as I was in the old gentleman he locked the
door and barred it and bolted it, and told the young
men to come in with their guns, and they all went in a
big parlor that had a new rag carpet on the floor, and
got together in a corner that was out of the range of
the front windows -- there warn't none on the side.
They held the candle, and took a good look at me,
and all said, "Why, HE ain't a Shepherdson -- no,
there ain't any Shepherdson about him." Then the
old man said he hoped I wouldn't mind being searched
for arms, because he didn't mean no harm by it -- it
was only to make sure. So he didn't pry into my
pockets, but only felt outside with his hands, and said
it was all right. He told me to make myself easy and
at home, and tell all about myself; but the old lady
says:

"Why, bless you, Saul, the poor thing's as wet as
he can be; and don't you reckon it may be he's
hungry?"

"True for you, Rachel -- I forgot."

So the old lady says:

"Betsy" (this was a nigger woman), you fly around
and get him something to eat as quick as you can, poor
thing; and one of you girls go and wake up Buck and
tell him -- oh, here he is himself. Buck, take this
little stranger and get the wet clothes off from him and
dress him up in some of yours that's dry."

Buck looked about as old as me -- thirteen or four-
teen or along there, though he was a little bigger than
me. He hadn't on anything but a shirt, and he was
very frowzy-headed. He came in gaping and digging
one fist into his eyes, and he was dragging a gun along
with the other one. He says:

"Ain't they no Shepherdsons around?"

They said, no, 'twas a false alarm.

"Well," he says, "if they'd a ben some, I reckon
I'd a got one."

They all laughed, and Bob says:

"Why, Buck, they might have scalped us all, you've
been so slow in coming."

"Well, nobody come after me, and it ain't right
I'm always kept down; I don't get no show."

"Never mind, Buck, my boy," says the old man,
"you'll have show enough, all in good time, don't
you fret about that. Go 'long with you now, and do
as your mother told you."

When we got up-stairs to his room he got me a
coarse shirt and a roundabout and pants of his, and I
put them on. While I was at it he asked me what my
name was, but before I could tell him he started to tell
me about a bluejay and a young rabbit he had catched
in the woods day before yesterday, and he asked me
where Moses was when the candle went out. I said I
didn't know; I hadn't heard about it before, no way.

"Well, guess," he says.

"How'm I going to guess," says I, "when I never
heard tell of it before?"

"But you can guess, can't you? It's just as easy."

"WHICH candle?" I says.

"Why, any candle," he says.

"I don't know where he was," says I; "where
was he?"

"Why, he was in the DARK! That's where he was!"

"Well, if you knowed where he was, what did you
ask me for?"

"Why, blame it, it's a riddle, don't you see? Say,
how long are you going to stay here? You got to
stay always. We can just have booming times -- they
don't have no school now. Do you own a dog?
I've got a dog -- and he'll go in the river and bring
out chips that you throw in. Do you like to comb up
Sundays, and all that kind of foolishness? You bet I
don't, but ma she makes me. Confound these ole
britches! I reckon I'd better put 'em on, but I'd
ruther not, it's so warm. Are you all ready? All
right. Come along, old hoss."

Cold corn-pone, cold corn-beef, butter and butter-
milk -- that is what they had for me down there, and
there ain't nothing better that ever I've come across
yet. Buck and his ma and all of them smoked cob
pipes, except the nigger woman, which was gone, and
the two young women. They all smoked and talked,
and I eat and talked. The young women had quilts
around them, and their hair down their backs. They
all asked me questions, and I told them how pap and
me and all the family was living on a little farm down
at the bottom of Arkansaw, and my sister Mary Ann
run off and got married and never was heard of no
more, and Bill went to hunt them and he warn't heard
of no more, and Tom and Mort died, and then there
warn't nobody but just me and pap left, and he was
just trimmed down to nothing, on account of his
troubles; so when he died I took what there was left,
because the farm didn't belong to us, and started up
the river, deck passage, and fell overboard; and that
was how I come to be here. So they said I could
have a home there as long as I wanted it. Then it
was most daylight and everybody went to bed, and I
went to bed with Buck, and when I waked up in the
morning, drat it all, I had forgot what my name was.
So I laid there about an hour trying to think, and
when Buck waked up I says:

"Can you spell, Buck?"

"Yes," he says.

"I bet you can't spell my name," says I.

"I bet you what you dare I can," says he.

"All right," says I, "go ahead."

"G-e-o-r-g-e J-a-x-o-n -- there now," he says.

"Well," says I, "you done it, but I didn't think
you could. It ain't no slouch of a name to spell --
right off without studying."

I set it down, private, because somebody might want
ME to spell it next, and so I wanted to be handy with
it and rattle it off like I was used to it.

It was a mighty nice family, and a mighty nice
house, too. I hadn't seen no house out in the country
before that was so nice and had so much style. It
didn't have an iron latch on the front door, nor a
wooden one with a buckskin string, but a brass knob
to turn, the same as houses in town. There warn't no
bed in the parlor, nor a sign of a bed; but heaps of
parlors in towns has beds in them. There was a big
fireplace that was bricked on the bottom, and the
bricks was kept clean and red by pouring water on
them and scrubbing them with another brick; some-
times they wash them over with red water-paint that
they call Spanish-brown, same as they do in town.
They had big brass dog-irons that could hold up a saw-
log. There was a clock on the middle of the mantel-
piece, with a picture of a town painted on the bottom
half of the glass front, and a round place in the middle
of it for the sun, and you could see the pendulum
swinging behind it. It was beautiful to hear that clock
tick; and sometimes when one of these peddlers had
been along and scoured her up and got her in good
shape, she would start in and strike a hundred and
fifty before she got tuckered out. They wouldn't took
any money for her.

Well, there was a big outlandish parrot on each side
of the clock, made out of something like chalk, and
painted up gaudy. By one of the parrots was a cat
made of crockery, and a crockery dog by the other;
and when you pressed down on them they squeaked,
but didn't open their mouths nor look different nor
interested. They squeaked through underneath. There
was a couple of big wild-turkey-wing fans spread out
behind those things. On the table in the middle of
the room was a kind of a lovely crockery basket that
bad apples and oranges and peaches and grapes piled
up in it, which was much redder and yellower and
prettier than real ones is, but they warn't real because
you could see where pieces had got chipped off and
showed the white chalk, or whatever it was, under-
neath.

This table had a cover made out of beautiful oilcloth,
with a red and blue spread-eagle painted on it, and a
painted border all around. It come all the way from
Philadelphia, they said. There was some books, too,
piled up perfectly exact, on each corner of the table.
One was a big family Bible full of pictures. One was
Pilgrim's Progress, about a man that left his family, it
didn't say why. I read considerable in it now and
then. The statements was interesting, but tough.
Another was Friendship's Offering, full of beautiful
stuff and poetry; but I didn't read the poetry. An-
other was Henry Clay's Speeches, and another was
Dr. Gunn's Family Medicine, which told you all about
what to do if a body was sick or dead. There was a
hymn book, and a lot of other books. And there was
nice split-bottom chairs, and perfectly sound, too --
not bagged down in the middle and busted, like an
old basket.

They had pictures hung on the walls -- mainly
Washingtons and Lafayettes, and battles, and High-
land Marys, and one called "Signing the Declaration."
There was some that they called crayons, which one of
the daughters which was dead made her own self when
she was only fifteen years old. They was different
from any pictures I ever see before -- blacker, mostly,
than is common. One was a woman in a slim black
dress, belted small under the armpits, with bulges like
a cabbage in the middle of the sleeves, and a large
black scoop-shovel bonnet with a black veil, and white
slim ankles crossed about with black tape, and very
wee black slippers, like a chisel, and she was leaning
pensive on a tombstone on her right elbow, under a
weeping willow, and her other hand hanging down her
side holding a white handkerchief and a reticule, and
underneath the picture it said "Shall I Never See Thee
More Alas." Another one was a young lady with her
hair all combed up straight to the top of her head, and
knotted there in front of a comb like a chair-back, and
she was crying into a handkerchief and had a dead
bird laying on its back in her other hand with its heels
up, and underneath the picture it said "I Shall Never
Hear Thy Sweet Chirrup More Alas." There was one
where a young lady was at a window looking up at the
moon, and tears running down her cheeks; and she
had an open letter in one hand with black sealing wax
showing on one edge of it, and she was mashing a
locket with a chain to it against her mouth, and under-
neath the picture it said "And Art Thou Gone Yes
Thou Art Gone Alas." These was all nice pictures, I
reckon, but I didn't somehow seem to take to them,
because if ever I was down a little they always give me
the fan-tods. Everybody was sorry she died, because
she had laid out a lot more of these pictures to do,
and a body could see by what she had done what they
had lost. But I reckoned that with her disposition she
was having a better time in the graveyard. She was
at work on what they said was her greatest picture
when she took sick, and every day and every night it
was her prayer to be allowed to live till she got it
done, but she never got the chance. It was a picture
of a young woman in a long white gown, standing on
the rail of a bridge all ready to jump off, with her hair
all down her back, and looking up to the moon, with
the tears running down her face, and she had two arms
folded across her breast, and two arms stretched out in
front, and two more reaching up towards the moon --
and the idea was to see which pair would look best,
and then scratch out all the other arms; but, as I was
saying, she died before she got her mind made up,
and now they kept this picture over the head of the
bed in her room, and every time her birthday come
they hung flowers on it. Other times it was hid with
a little curtain. The young woman in the picture had a
kind of a nice sweet face, but there was so many arms
it made her look too spidery, seemed to me.

This young girl kept a scrap-book when she was
alive, and used to paste obituaries and accidents and
cases of patient suffering in it out of the Presbyterian
Observer, and write poetry after them out of her own
head. It was very good poetry. This is what she
wrote about a boy by the name of Stephen Dowling
Bots that fell down a well and was drownded:

  ODE TO STEPHEN DOWLING BOTS, DEC'D

  And did young Stephen sicken,
    And did young Stephen die?
  And did the sad hearts thicken,
    And did the mourners cry?

  No; such was not the fate of
    Young Stephen Dowling Bots;
  Though sad hearts round him thickened,
    'Twas not from sickness' shots.

  No whooping-cough did rack his frame,
    Nor measles drear with spots;
  Not these impaired the sacred name
    Of Stephen Dowling Bots.

  Despised love struck not with woe
    That head of curly knots,
  Nor stomach troubles laid him low,
    Young Stephen Dowling Bots.

  O no. Then list with tearful eye,
    Whilst I his fate do tell.
  His soul did from this cold world fly
    By falling down a well.

  They got him out and emptied him;
    Alas it was too late;
  His spirit was gone for to sport aloft
    In the realms of the good and great.

If Emmeline Grangerford could make poetry like
that before she was fourteen, there ain't no telling
what she could a done by and by. Buck said she
could rattle off poetry like nothing. She didn't ever
have to stop to think. He said she would slap down a
line, and if she couldn't find anything to rhyme with it
would just scratch it out and slap down another one,
and go ahead. She warn't particular; she could write
about anything you choose to give her to write about
just so it was sadful. Every time a man died, or a
woman died, or a child died, she would be on hand
with her "tribute" before he was cold. She called
them tributes. The neighbors said it was the doctor
first, then Emmeline, then the undertaker -- the under-
taker never got in ahead of Emmeline but once, and
then she hung fire on a rhyme for the dead person's
name, which was Whistler. She warn't ever the same
after that; she never complained, but she kinder pined
away and did not live long. Poor thing, many's the
time I made myself go up to the little room that used
to be hers and get out her poor old scrap-book and
read in it when her pictures had been aggravating me
and I had soured on her a little. I liked all that
family, dead ones and all, and warn't going to let any-
thing come between us. Poor Emmeline made poetry
about all the dead people when she was alive, and it
didn't seem right that there warn't nobody to make
some about her now she was gone; so I tried to sweat
out a verse or two myself, but I couldn't seem to make
it go somehow. They kept Emmeline's room trim
and nice, and all the things fixed in it just the way
she liked to have them when she was alive, and nobody
ever slept there. The old lady took care of the room
herself, though there was plenty of niggers, and she
sewed there a good deal and read her Bible there
mostly.

Well, as I was saying about the parlor, there was
beautiful curtains on the windows: white, with pictures
painted on them of castles with vines all down the
walls, and cattle coming down to drink. There was a
little old piano, too, that had tin pans in it, I reckon,
and nothing was ever so lovely as to hear the young
ladies sing "The Last Link is Broken" and play "The
Battle of Prague" on it. The walls of all the rooms
was plastered, and most had carpets on the floors, and
the whole house was whitewashed on the outside.

It was a double house, and the big open place be-
twixt them was roofed and floored, and sometimes the
table was set there in the middle of the day, and it was
a cool, comfortable place. Nothing couldn't be better.
And warn't the cooking good, and just bushels of it
too!

Mark Twain