"This is a surprise to me which I wasn't looking
for; and I'll acknowledge, candid and frank, I ain't
very well fixed to meet it and answer it; for my
brother and me has had misfortunes; he's broke his
arm, and our baggage got put off at a town above here
last night in the night by a mistake. I am Peter
Wilks' brother Harvey, and this is his brother William,
which can't hear nor speak -- and can't even make
signs to amount to much, now't he's only got one
hand to work them with. We are who we say we are;
and in a day or two, when I get the baggage, I can
prove it. But up till then I won't say nothing more,
but go to the hotel and wait."
So him and the new dummy started off; and the king
he laughs, and blethers out:
"Broke his arm -- VERY likely, AIN'T it? -- and very
convenient, too, for a fraud that's got to make signs,
and ain't learnt how. Lost their baggage! That's
MIGHTY good! -- and mighty ingenious -- under the
So he laughed again; and so did everybody else,
except three or four, or maybe half a dozen. One of
these was that doctor; another one was a sharp-
looking gentleman, with a carpet-bag of the old-
fashioned kind made out of carpet-stuff, that had just
come off of the steamboat and was talking to him in a
low voice, and glancing towards the king now and then
and nodding their heads -- it was Levi Bell, the lawyer
that was gone up to Louisville; and another one was
a big rough husky that come along and listened to
all the old gentleman said, and was listening to the
king now. And when the king got done this husky
up and says:
"Say, looky here; if you are Harvey Wilks, when'd
you come to this town?"
"The day before the funeral, friend," says the king.
"But what time o' day?"
"In the evenin' -- 'bout an hour er two before sun-
"HOW'D you come?"
"I come down on the Susan Powell from Cincin-
"Well, then, how'd you come to be up at the Pint
in the MORNIN' -- in a canoe?"
"I warn't up at the Pint in the mornin'."
"It's a lie."
Several of them jumped for him and begged him not
to talk that way to an old man and a preacher.
"Preacher be hanged, he's a fraud and a liar. He
was up at the Pint that mornin'. I live up there, don't
I? Well, I was up there, and he was up there. I see
him there. He come in a canoe, along with Tim
Collins and a boy."
The doctor he up and says:
"Would you know the boy again if you was to see
"I reckon I would, but I don't know. Why,
yonder he is, now. I know him perfectly easy."
It was me he pointed at. The doctor says:
"Neighbors, I don't know whether the new couple
is frauds or not; but if THESE two ain't frauds, I am an
idiot, that's all. I think it's our duty to see that they
don't get away from here till we've looked into this
thing. Come along, Hines; come along, the rest of
you. We'll take these fellows to the tavern and
affront them with t'other couple, and I reckon we'll
find out SOMETHING before we get through."
It was nuts for the crowd, though maybe not for
the king's friends; so we all started. It was about
sundown. The doctor he led me along by the hand,
and was plenty kind enough, but he never let go my
We all got in a big room in the hotel, and lit up
some candles, and fetched in the new couple. First,
the doctor says:
"I don't wish to be too hard on these two men, but
I think they're frauds, and they may have complices
that we don't know nothing about. If they have,
won't the complices get away with that bag of gold
Peter Wilks left? It ain't unlikely. If these men
ain't frauds, they won't object to sending for that
money and letting us keep it till they prove they're
all right -- ain't that so?"
Everybody agreed to that. So I judged they had
our gang in a pretty tight place right at the outstart.
But the king he only looked sorrowful, and says:
"Gentlemen, I wish the money was there, for I
ain't got no disposition to throw anything in the way
of a fair, open, out-and-out investigation o' this
misable business; but, alas, the money ain't there;
you k'n send and see, if you want to."
"Where is it, then?"
"Well, when my niece give it to me to keep for her
I took and hid it inside o' the straw tick o' my bed,
not wishin' to bank it for the few days we'd be here,
and considerin' the bed a safe place, we not bein' used
to niggers, and suppos'n' 'em honest, like servants in
England. The niggers stole it the very next mornin'
after I had went down stairs; and when I sold 'em I
hadn't missed the money yit, so they got clean away
with it. My servant here k'n tell you 'bout it, gentle-
The doctor and several said "Shucks!" and I see
nobody didn't altogether believe him. One man asked
me if I see the niggers steal it. I said no, but I see
them sneaking out of the room and hustling away, and
I never thought nothing, only I reckoned they was
afraid they had waked up my master and was trying to
get away before he made trouble with them. That
was all they asked me. Then the doctor whirls on me
"Are YOU English, too?"
I says yes; and him and some others laughed, and
Well, then they sailed in on the general investiga-
tion, and there we had it, up and down, hour in, hour
out, and nobody never said a word about supper, nor
ever seemed to think about it -- and so they kept it
up, and kept it up; and it WAS the worst mixed-up
thing you ever see. They made the king tell his yarn,
and they made the old gentleman tell his'n; and any-
body but a lot of prejudiced chuckleheads would a SEEN
that the old gentleman was spinning truth and t'other
one lies. And by and by they had me up to tell what
I knowed. The king he give me a left-handed look
out of the corner of his eye, and so I knowed enough
to talk on the right side. I begun to tell about
Sheffield, and how we lived there, and all about the
English Wilkses, and so on; but I didn't get pretty
fur till the doctor begun to laugh; and Levi Bell, the
"Set down, my boy; I wouldn't strain myself if I
was you. I reckon you ain't used to lying, it don't
seem to come handy; what you want is practice. You
do it pretty awkward."
I didn't care nothing for the compliment, but I was
glad to be let off, anyway.
The doctor he started to say something, and turns
"If you'd been in town at first, Levi Bell --
The king broke in and reached out his hand, and
"Why, is this my poor dead brother's old friend
that he's wrote so often about?"
The lawyer and him shook hands, and the lawyer
smiled and looked pleased, and they talked right along
awhile, and then got to one side and talked low; and
at last the lawyer speaks up and says:
"That 'll fix it. I'll take the order and send it,
along with your brother's, and then they'll know it's
So they got some paper and a pen, and the king he
set down and twisted his head to one side, and chawed
his tongue, and scrawled off something; and then they
give the pen to the duke -- and then for the first time
the duke looked sick. But he took the pen and wrote.
So then the lawyer turns to the new old gentleman and
"You and your brother please write a line or two
and sign your names."
The old gentleman wrote, but nobody couldn't read
it. The lawyer looked powerful astonished, and says:
"Well, it beats ME -- and snaked a lot of old letters
out of his pocket, and examined them, and then ex-
amined the old man's writing, and then THEM again;
and then says: "These old letters is from Harvey
Wilks; and here's THESE two handwritings, and any-
body can see they didn't write them" (the king and
the duke looked sold and foolish, I tell you, to see
how the lawyer had took them in), "and here's THIS old
gentleman's hand writing, and anybody can tell, easy
enough, HE didn't write them -- fact is, the scratches
he makes ain't properly WRITING at all. Now, here's
some letters from --"
The new old gentleman says:
"If you please, let me explain. Nobody can read
my hand but my brother there -- so he copies for me.
It's HIS hand you've got there, not mine."
"WELL!" says the lawyer, "this IS a state of
things. I've got some of William's letters, too; so if
you'll get him to write a line or so we can com --"
"He CAN'T write with his left hand," says the old
gentleman. "If he could use his right hand, you
would see that he wrote his own letters and mine
too. Look at both, please -- they're by the same
The lawyer done it, and says:
"I believe it's so -- and if it ain't so, there's a heap
stronger resemblance than I'd noticed before, anyway.
Well, well, well! I thought we was right on the track
of a slution, but it's gone to grass, partly. But any-
way, one thing is proved -- THESE two ain't either of
'em Wilkses" -- and he wagged his head towards the
king and the duke.
Well, what do you think? That muleheaded old
fool wouldn't give in THEN! Indeed he wouldn't.
Said it warn't no fair test. Said his brother William
was the cussedest joker in the world, and hadn't tried
to write -- HE see William was going to play one of his
jokes the minute he put the pen to paper. And so he
warmed up and went warbling right along till he was
actuly beginning to believe what he was saying HIM-
SELF; but pretty soon the new gentleman broke in, and
"I've thought of something. Is there anybody
here that helped to lay out my br -- helped to lay out
the late Peter Wilks for burying?"
"Yes," says somebody, "me and Ab Turner done
it. We're both here."
Then the old man turns towards the king, and
"Peraps this gentleman can tell me what was
tattooed on his breast?"
Blamed if the king didn't have to brace up mighty
quick, or he'd a squshed down like a bluff bank that
the river has cut under, it took him so sudden; and,
mind you, it was a thing that was calculated to make
most ANYBODY sqush to get fetched such a solid one as
that without any notice, because how was HE going to
know what was tattooed on the man? He whitened a
little; he couldn't help it; and it was mighty still in
there, and everybody bending a little forwards and
gazing at him. Says I to myself, NOW he'll throw up
the sponge -- there ain't no more use. Well, did he?
A body can't hardly believe it, but he didn't. I
reckon he thought he'd keep the thing up till he tired
them people out, so they'd thin out, and him and the
duke could break loose and get away. Anyway, he
set there, and pretty soon he begun to smile, and says:
"Mf! It's a VERY tough question, AIN'T it! YES,
sir, I k'n tell you what's tattooed on his breast. It's
jest a small, thin, blue arrow -- that's what it is; and
if you don't look clost, you can't see it. NOW what
do you say -- hey?"
Well, I never see anything like that old blister for
clean out-and-out cheek.
The new old gentleman turns brisk towards Ab
Turner and his pard, and his eye lights up like he
judged he'd got the king THIS time, and says:
"There -- you've heard what he said! Was there
any such mark on Peter Wilks' breast?"
Both of them spoke up and says:
"We didn't see no such mark."
"Good!" says the old gentleman. "Now, what
you DID see on his breast was a small dim P, and a B
(which is an initial he dropped when he was young),
and a W, with dashes between them, so: P -- B --
W" -- and he marked them that way on a piece of
paper. "Come, ain't that what you saw?"
Both of them spoke up again, and says:
"No, we DIDN'T. We never seen any marks at all."
Well, everybody WAS in a state of mind now, and
they sings out:
"The whole BILIN' of 'm 's frauds! Le's duck
'em! le's drown 'em! le's ride 'em on a rail!" and
everybody was whooping at once, and there was a rat-
tling powwow. But the lawyer he jumps on the table
and yells, and says:
"Gentlemen -- gentleMEN! Hear me just a word --
just a SINGLE word -- if you PLEASE! There's one way
yet -- let's go and dig up the corpse and look."
That took them.
"Hooray!" they all shouted, and was starting right
off; but the lawyer and the doctor sung out:
"Hold on, hold on! Collar all these four men and
the boy, and fetch THEM along, too!"
"We'll do it!" they all shouted; "and if we don't
find them marks we'll lynch the whole gang!"
I WAS scared, now, I tell you. But there warn't no
getting away, you know. They gripped us all, and
marched us right along, straight for the graveyard,
which was a mile and a half down the river, and the
whole town at our heels, for we made noise enough,
and it was only nine in the evening.
As we went by our house I wished I hadn't sent
Mary Jane out of town; because now if I could tip her
the wink she'd light out and save me, and blow on our
Well, we swarmed along down the river road, just
carrying on like wildcats; and to make it more scary
the sky was darking up, and the lightning beginning to
wink and flitter, and the wind to shiver amongst the
leaves. This was the most awful trouble and most
dangersome I ever was in; and I was kinder stunned;
everything was going so different from what I had
allowed for; stead of being fixed so I could take my
own time if I wanted to, and see all the fun, and have
Mary Jane at my back to save me and set me free
when the close-fit come, here was nothing in the
world betwixt me and sudden death but just them
tattoo-marks. If they didn't find them --
I couldn't bear to think about it; and yet, some-
how, I couldn't think about nothing else. It got
darker and darker, and it was a beautiful time to give
the crowd the slip; but that big husky had me by the
wrist -- Hines -- and a body might as well try to give
Goliar the slip. He dragged me right along, he was so
excited, and I had to run to keep up.
When they got there they swarmed into the grave-
yard and washed over it like an overflow. And when
they got to the grave they found they had about a
hundred times as many shovels as they wanted, but
nobody hadn't thought to fetch a lantern. But they
sailed into digging anyway by the flicker of the light-
ning, and sent a man to the nearest house, a half a
mile off, to borrow one.
So they dug and dug like everything; and it got
awful dark, and the rain started, and the wind swished
and swushed along, and the lightning come brisker and
brisker, and the thunder boomed; but them people
never took no notice of it, they was so full of this
business; and one minute you could see everything
and every face in that big crowd, and the shovelfuls of
dirt sailing up out of the grave, and the next second
the dark wiped it all out, and you couldn't see nothing
At last they got out the coffin and begun to unscrew
the lid, and then such another crowding and shoulder-
ing and shoving as there was, to scrouge in and get a
sight, you never see; and in the dark, that way, it was
awful. Hines he hurt my wrist dreadful pulling and
tugging so, and I reckon he clean forgot I was in the
world, he was so excited and panting.
All of a sudden the lightning let go a perfect sluice
of white glare, and somebody sings out:
"By the living jingo, here's the bag of gold on his
Hines let out a whoop, like everybody else, and
dropped my wrist and give a big surge to bust his way
in and get a look, and the way I lit out and shinned
for the road in the dark there ain't nobody can tell.
I had the road all to myself, and I fairly flew --
leastways, I had it all to myself except the solid dark,
and the now-and-then glares, and the buzzing of the
rain, and the thrashing of the wind, and the splitting
of the thunder; and sure as you are born I did clip it
When I struck the town I see there warn't nobody
out in the storm, so I never hunted for no back streets,
but humped it straight through the main one; and
when I begun to get towards our house I aimed my
eye and set it. No light there; the house all dark --
which made me feel sorry and disappointed, I didn't
know why. But at last, just as I was sailing by, FLASH
comes the light in Mary Jane's window! and my heart
swelled up sudden, like to bust; and the same second
the house and all was behind me in the dark, and
wasn't ever going to be before me no more in this
world. She WAS the best girl I ever see, and had the
The minute I was far enough above the town to see
I could make the towhead, I begun to look sharp for
a boat to borrow, and the first time the lightning
showed me one that wasn't chained I snatched it and
shoved. It was a canoe, and warn't fastened with
nothing but a rope. The towhead was a rattling big
distance off, away out there in the middle of the river,
but I didn't lose no time; and when I struck the raft
at last I was so fagged I would a just laid down to
blow and gasp if I could afforded it. But I didn't.
As I sprung aboard I sung out:
"Out with you, Jim, and set her loose! Glory be
to goodness, we're shut of them!"
Jim lit out, and was a-coming for me with both arms
spread, he was so full of joy; but when I glimpsed
him in the lightning my heart shot up in my mouth
and I went overboard backwards; for I forgot he was
old King Lear and a drownded A-rab all in one, and it
most scared the livers and lights out of me. But Jim
fished me out, and was going to hug me and bless me,
and so on, he was so glad I was back and we was shut
of the king and the duke, but I says:
"Not now; have it for breakfast, have it for break-
fast! Cut loose and let her slide!"
So in two seconds away we went a-sliding down the
river, and it DID seem so good to be free again and all
by ourselves on the big river, and nobody to bother
us. I had to skip around a bit, and jump up and
crack my heels a few times -- I couldn't help it; but
about the third crack I noticed a sound that I knowed
mighty well, and held my breath and listened and
waited; and sure enough, when the next flash busted
out over the water, here they come! -- and just a-
laying to their oars and making their skiff hum! It
was the king and the duke.
So I wilted right down on to the planks then, and
give up; and it was all I could do to keep from crying.