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       The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Part 6., p.1

           Mark Twain
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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Part 6.


  Produced by David Widger

  THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER BY MARK TWAIN (Samuel Langhorne Clemens)

  Part 6

  CHAPTER XXIII

  AT last the sleepy atmosphere was stirred--and vigorously: the murdertrial came on in the court. It became the absorbing topic of villagetalk immediately. Tom could not get away from it. Every reference tothe murder sent a shudder to his heart, for his troubled conscience andfears almost persuaded him that these remarks were put forth in hishearing as "feelers"; he did not see how he could be suspected ofknowing anything about the murder, but still he could not becomfortable in the midst of this gossip. It kept him in a cold shiverall the time. He took Huck to a lonely place to have a talk with him.It would be some relief to unseal his tongue for a little while; todivide his burden of distress with another sufferer. Moreover, hewanted to assure himself that Huck had remained discreet.

  "Huck, have you ever told anybody about--that?"

  "'Bout what?"

  "You know what."

  "Oh--'course I haven't."

  "Never a word?"

  "Never a solitary word, so help me. What makes you ask?"

  "Well, I was afeard."

  "Why, Tom Sawyer, we wouldn't be alive two days if that got found out.YOU know that."

  Tom felt more comfortable. After a pause:

  "Huck, they couldn't anybody get you to tell, could they?"

  "Get me to tell? Why, if I wanted that half-breed devil to drownd methey could get me to tell. They ain't no different way."

  "Well, that's all right, then. I reckon we're safe as long as we keepmum. But let's swear again, anyway. It's more surer."

  "I'm agreed."

  So they swore again with dread solemnities.

  "What is the talk around, Huck? I've heard a power of it."

  "Talk? Well, it's just Muff Potter, Muff Potter, Muff Potter all thetime. It keeps me in a sweat, constant, so's I want to hide som'ers."

  "That's just the same way they go on round me. I reckon he's a goner.Don't you feel sorry for him, sometimes?"

  "Most always--most always. He ain't no account; but then he hain'tever done anything to hurt anybody. Just fishes a little, to get moneyto get drunk on--and loafs around considerable; but lord, we all dothat--leastways most of us--preachers and such like. But he's kind ofgood--he give me half a fish, once, when there warn't enough for two;and lots of times he's kind of stood by me when I was out of luck."

  "Well, he's mended kites for me, Huck, and knitted hooks on to myline. I wish we could get him out of there."

  "My! we couldn't get him out, Tom. And besides, 'twouldn't do anygood; they'd ketch him again."

  "Yes--so they would. But I hate to hear 'em abuse him so like thedickens when he never done--that."

  "I do too, Tom. Lord, I hear 'em say he's the bloodiest lookingvillain in this country, and they wonder he wasn't ever hung before."

  "Yes, they talk like that, all the time. I've heard 'em say that if hewas to get free they'd lynch him."

  "And they'd do it, too."

  The boys had a long talk, but it brought them little comfort. As thetwilight drew on, they found themselves hanging about the neighborhoodof the little isolated jail, perhaps with an undefined hope thatsomething would happen that might clear away their difficulties. Butnothing happened; there seemed to be no angels or fairies interested inthis luckless captive.

  The boys did as they had often done before--went to the cell gratingand gave Potter some tobacco and matches. He was on the ground floorand there were no guards.

  His gratitude for their gifts had always smote their consciencesbefore--it cut deeper than ever, this time. They felt cowardly andtreacherous to the last degree when Potter said:

  "You've been mighty good to me, boys--better'n anybody else in thistown. And I don't forget it, I don't. Often I says to myself, says I,'I used to mend all the boys' kites and things, and show 'em where thegood fishin' places was, and befriend 'em what I could, and now they'veall forgot old Muff when he's in trouble; but Tom don't, and Huckdon't--THEY don't forget him, says I, 'and I don't forget them.' Well,boys, I done an awful thing--drunk and crazy at the time--that's theonly way I account for it--and now I got to swing for it, and it'sright. Right, and BEST, too, I reckon--hope so, anyway. Well, we won'ttalk about that. I don't want to make YOU feel bad; you've befriendedme. But what I want to say, is, don't YOU ever get drunk--then you won'tever get here. Stand a litter furder west--so--that's it; it's a primecomfort to see faces that's friendly when a body's in such a muck oftrouble, and there don't none come here but yourn. Good friendlyfaces--good friendly faces. Git up on one another's backs and let metouch 'em. That's it. Shake hands--yourn'll come through the bars, butmine's too big. Little hands, and weak--but they've helped Muff Pottera power, and they'd help him more if they could."

  Tom went home miserable, and his dreams that night were full ofhorrors. The next day and the day after, he hung about the court-room,drawn by an almost irresistible impulse to go in, but forcing himselfto stay out. Huck was having the same experience. They studiouslyavoided each other. Each wandered away, from time to time, but the samedismal fascination always brought them back presently. Tom kept hisears open when idlers sauntered out of the court-room, but invariablyheard distressing news--the toils were closing more and morerelentlessly around poor Potter. At the end of the second day thevillage talk was to the effect that Injun Joe's evidence stood firm andunshaken, and that there was not the slightest question as to what thejury's verdict would be.

  Tom was out late, that night, and came to bed through the window. Hewas in a tremendous state of excitement. It was hours before he got tosleep. All the village flocked to the court-house the next morning, forthis was to be the great day. Both sexes were about equally representedin the packed audience. After a long wait the jury filed in and tooktheir places; shortly afterward, Potter, pale and haggard, timid andhopeless, was brought in, with chains upon him, and seated where allthe curious eyes could stare at him; no less conspicuous was Injun Joe,stolid as ever. There was another pause, and then the judge arrived andthe sheriff proclaimed the opening of the court. The usual whisperingsamong the lawyers and gathering together of papers followed. Thesedetails and accompanying delays worked up an atmosphere of preparationthat was as impressive as it was fascinating.

  Now a witness was called who testified that he found Muff Potterwashing in the brook, at an early hour of the morning that the murderwas discovered, and that he immediately sneaked away. After somefurther questioning, counsel for the prosecution said:

  "Take the witness."

  The prisoner raised his eyes for a moment, but dropped them again whenhis own counsel said:

  "I have no questions to ask him."

  The next witness proved the finding of the knife near the corpse.Counsel for the prosecution said:

  "Take the witness."

  "I have no questions to ask him," Potter's lawyer replied.

  A third witness swore he had often seen the knife in Potter'spossession.

  "Take the witness."

  Counsel for Potter declined to question him. The faces of the audiencebegan to betray annoyance. Did this attorney mean to throw away hisclient's life without an effort?

  Several witnesses deposed concerning Potter's guilty behavior whenbrought to the scene of the murder. They were allowed to leave thestand without being cross-questioned.

  Every detail of the damaging circumstances that occurred in thegraveyard upon that morning which all present remembered so well wasbrought out by credible witnesses, bu
t none of them were cross-examinedby Potter's lawyer. The perplexity and dissatisfaction of the houseexpressed itself in murmurs and provoked a reproof from the bench.Counsel for the prosecution now said:

  "By the oaths of citizens whose simple word is above suspicion, wehave fastened this awful crime, beyond all possibility of question,upon the unhappy prisoner at the bar. We rest our case here."

  A groan escaped from poor Potter, and he put his face in his hands androcked his body softly to and fro, while a painful silence reigned inthe court-room. Many men were moved, and many women's compassiontestified itself in tears. Counsel for the defence rose and said:

  "Your honor, in our remarks at the opening of this trial, weforeshadowed our purpose to prove that our client did this fearful deedwhile under the influence of a blind and irresponsible deliriumproduced by drink. We have changed our mind. We shall not offer thatplea." [Then to the clerk:] "Call Thomas Sawyer!"

  A puzzled amazement awoke in every face in the house, not evenexcepting Potter's. Every eye fastened itself with wondering interestupon Tom as he rose and took his place upon the stand. The boy lookedwild enough, for he was badly scared. The oath was administered.

  "Thomas Sawyer, where were you on the seventeenth of June, about thehour of midnight?"

  Tom glanced at Injun Joe's iron face and his tongue failed him. Theaudience listened breathless, but the words refused to come. After afew moments, however, the boy got a little of his strength back, andmanaged to put enough of it into his voice to make part of the househear:

  "In the graveyard!"

  "A little bit louder, please. Don't be afraid. You were--"

  "In the graveyard."

  A contemptuous smile flitted across Injun Joe's face.

  "Were you anywhere near Horse Williams' grave?"

  "Yes, sir."

  "Speak up--just a trifle louder. How near were you?"

  "Near as I am to you."

  "Were you hidden, or not?"

  "I was hid."

  "Where?"

  "Behind the elms that's on the edge of the grave."

  Injun Joe gave a barely perceptible start.

  "Any one with you?"

  "Yes, sir. I went there with--"

  "Wait--wait a moment. Never mind mentioning your companion's name. Wewill produce him at the proper time. Did you carry anything there withyou."

  Tom hesitated and looked confused.

  "Speak out, my boy--don't be diffident. The truth is alwaysrespectable. What did you take there?"

  "Only a--a--dead cat."

  There was a ripple of mirth, which the court checked.

  "We will produce the skeleton of that cat. Now, my boy, tell useverything that occurred--tell it in your own way--don't skip anything,and don't be afraid."

  Tom began--hesitatingly at first, but as he warmed to his subject hiswords flowed more and more easily; in a little while every sound ceasedbut his own voice; every eye fixed itself upon him; with parted lipsand bated breath the audience hung upon his words, taking no note oftime, rapt in the ghastly fascinations of the tale. The strain uponpent emotion reached its climax when the boy said:

  "--and as the doctor fetched the board around and Muff Potter fell,Injun Joe jumped with the knife and--"

  Crash! Quick as lightning the half-breed sprang for a window, tore hisway through all opposers, and was gone!

 
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