was a glittering hero once more – the pet of the old, the envy of the young. His name even went into immortal print, for the village paper magnified him. There were some that believed he would be President, yet, if he escaped hanging.
As usual, the fickle, unreasoning world took Muff Potter to its bosom and fondled him as lavishly as it had abused him before. But that sort of conduct is to the world’s credit; therefore it is not well to find fault with it.
Tom’s days were days of splendor and exultation to him, but his nights were seasons of horror. Injun Joe infested all his dreams, and always with doom in his eye. Hardly any temptation could persuade the boy to stir abroad after nightfall. Poor Huck was in the same state of wretchedness and terror, for Tom had told the whole story to the lawyer the night before the great day of the trial, and Huck was sore afraid that his share in the business might leak out, yet, notwithstanding Injun Joe’s flight had saved him the suffering of testifying in court. The poor fellow had got the attorney to promise secrecy, but what of that? Since Tom’s harassed conscience had managed to drive him to the lawyer’s house by night and wring a dread tale from lips that had been sealed with the dismalest and most formidable of oaths, Huck’s confidence in the human race was well-nigh obliterated.
Daily Muff Potter’s gratitude made Tom glad he had spoken; but nightly he wished he had sealed up his tongue.
Half the time Tom was afraid Injun Joe would never be captured; the other half he was afraid he would be. He felt sure he never could draw a safe breath again until that man was dead and he had seen the corpse.
Rewards had been offered, the country had been scoured, but no Injun Joe was found. One of those omniscient and awe-inspiring marvels, a detective, came up from St. Louis, moused around, shook his head, looked wise, and made that sort of astounding success which members of that craft usually achieve. That is to say, he “found a clew.” But you can’t hang a “clew” for murder, and so after that detective had got through and gone home, Tom felt just as insecure as he was before.
The slow days drifted on, and each left behind it a slightly lightened weight of apprehension.
comes a time in every rightly-constructed boy’s life when he has a raging desire to go somewhere and dig for hidden treasure. This desire suddenly came upon Tom one day. He sallied out to find Joe Harper, but failed of success. Next he sought Ben Rogers; he had gone fishing. Presently he stumbled upon Huck Finn the Red-Handed. Huck would answer. Tom took him to a private place and opened the matter to him confidentially. Huck was willing. Huck was always willing to take a hand in any enterprise that offered entertainment and required no capital, for he had a troublesome superabundance of that sort of time which is not money. “Where’ll we dig?” said Huck.
“Oh, most anywhere.”
“Why, is it hid all around?”
“No, indeed it ain’t. It’s hid in mighty particular places, Huck – sometimes on islands, sometimes in rotten chests under the end of a limb of an old dead tree, just where the shadow falls at midnight; but mostly under the floor in ha’nted houses.”
“Who hides it?”
“Why, robbers, of course – who’d you reckon? Sunday-school sup’rintendents?”
“I don’t know. If ’twas mine I wouldn’t hide it; I’d spend it and have a good time.”
“So would I. But robbers don’t do that way. They always hide it and leave it there.”
THE PRIVATE CONFERENCE.
“Don’t they come after it any more?”
“No, they think they will, but they generally forget the marks, or else they die. Anyway, it lays there a long time and gets rusty; and by and by somebody finds an old yellow paper that tells how to find the marks – a paper that’s got to be ciphered over about a week because it’s mostly signs and hy’roglyphics.”
“Hy’roglyphics – pictures and things, you know, that don’t seem to mean anything.”
“Have you got one of them papers, Tom?”
“Well then, how you going to find the marks?”
“I don’t want any marks. They always bury it under a ha’nted house or on an island, or under a dead tree that’s got one limb sticking out. Well, we’ve tried Jackson’s Island a little, and we can try it again some time; and there’s the old ha’nted house up the Still-House branch, and there’s lots of dead-limb trees – dead loads of ’em.”
“Is it under all of them?”
“How you talk! No!”
“Then how you going to know which one to go for?”
“Go for all of ’em!”
“Why, Tom, it’ll take all summer.”
“Well, what of that? Suppose you find a brass pot with a hundred dollars in it, all rusty and gray, or rotten chest full of di’monds. How’s that?”
Huck’s eyes glowed.
“That’s bully. Plenty bully enough for me. Just you gimme the hundred dollars and I don’t want no di’monds.”
“All right. But I bet you I ain’t going to throw off on di’monds. Some of ’em’s worth twenty dollars apiece – there ain’t any, hardly, but’s worth six bits or a dollar.”
“No! Is that so?”
“Cert’nly – anybody’ll tell you so. Hain’t you ever seen one, Huck?”
“Not as I remember.”
“Oh, kings have slathers of them.”
“Well, I don’ know no kings, Tom.”
“I reckon you don’t. But if you was to go to Europe you’d see a raft of ’em hopping around.”
“Do they hop?”
“Hop? – your granny! No!”
“Well, what did you say they did, for?”
“Shucks, I only meant you’d see ’em – not hopping, of course – what do they want to hop for? – but I mean you’d just see ’em – scattered around, you know, in a kind of a general way. Like that old hump-backed Richard.”
“Richard? What’s his other name?”
“He didn’t have any other name. Kings don’t have any but a given name.”
“But they don’t.”
“Well, if they like it, Tom, all right; but I don’t want to be a king and have only just a given name, like a nigger. But say – where you going to dig first?”
A KING, POOR FELLOW!
“Well, I don’t know. S’pose we tackle that old dead-limb tree on the hill t’other side of Still-House branch?”
So they got a crippled pick and a shovel, and set out on their three-mile tramp. They arrived hot and panting, and threw themselves down in the shade of a neighboring elm to rest and have a smoke.
“I like this,” said Tom.
“So do I.”
“Say, Huck, if we find a treasure here, what you going to do with your share?”
“Well, I’ll have pie and a glass of soda every day, and I’ll go to every circus that comes along. I bet I’ll have a gay time.”
“Well, ain’t you going to save any of it?”
“Save it? What for?”
“Why, so as to have something to live on, by and by.”
“Oh, that ain’t any use. Pap would come back to thish-yer town some day and get his claws on it if I didn’t hurry up, and I tell you he’d clean it out pretty quick. What you going to do with yourn, Tom?”
“I’m going to buy a new drum, and a sure’nough sword, and a red neck-tie and a bull pup, and get married.”
“Tom, you – why, you ain’t in your right mind.”
“Wait – you’ll see.”
“Well, that’s the foolishest thing you could do. Look at pap and my mother. Fight! Why, they used to fight all the time. I remember, mighty well.”
“That ain’t anything. The girl I’m going to marry won’t fight.”
“Tom, I reckon they’re all alike. They’ll all comb a body. Now you better think ’bout this a while. I tell you you better. What’s the name of the gal?”
“It ain’t a gal at all – it’s a girl.”
“It’s all the same, I reckon; some says gal, some says girl – both’s right, like enough. Anyway, what’s her name, Tom?”
“I’ll tell you some time – not now.”
“All right – that’ll do. Only if you get married I’ll be more lonesomer than ever.”
“No you won’t. You’ll come and live with me. Now stir out of this and we’ll go to digging.”
They worked and sweated for half an hour. No result. They toiled another half-hour. Still no result. Huck said:
“Do they always bury it as deep as this?”
“Sometimes – not always. Not generally. I reckon we haven’t got the right place.”
So they chose a new spot and began again. The labor dragged a little, but still they made progress. They pegged away in silence for some time. Finally Huck leaned on his shovel, swabbed the beaded drops from his brow with his sleeve, and said:
“Where you going to dig next, after we get this one?”
“I reckon maybe we’ll tackle the old tree that’s over yonder on Cardiff Hill back of the widow’s.”
“I reckon that’ll be a good one. But won’t the widow take it away from us, Tom? It’s on her land.”
“She take it away! Maybe she’d like to try it once. Whoever finds one of these hid treasures, it belongs to him. It don’t make any difference whose land it’s on.”
That was satisfactory. The work went on. By and by Huck said:
“Blame it, we must be in the wrong place again. What do you think?”
“It is mighty curious, Huck. I don’t understand it. Sometimes witches interfere. I reckon maybe that’s what’s the trouble now.”
“Shucks! Witches ain’t got no power in the daytime.”
“Well, that’s so. I didn’t think of that. Oh, I know what the matter is! What a blamed lot of fools we are! You got to find out where the shadow of the limb falls at midnight, and that’s where you dig!”
“Then confound it, we’ve fooled away all this work for nothing. Now hang it all, we got to come back in the night. It’s an awful long way. Can you get out?”
“I bet I will. We’ve got to do it to-night, too, because if somebody sees these holes they’ll know in a minute what’s here and they’ll go for it.”
“Well, I’ll come around and maow to-night.”
“All right. Let’s hide the tools in the bushes.”
The boys were there that night, about the appointed time. They sat in the shadow waiting. It was a lonely place, and an hour made solemn by old traditions. Spirits whispered in the rustling leaves, ghosts lurked in the murky nooks, the deep baying of a hound floated up out of the distance, an owl answered with his sepulchral note. The boys were subdued by these solemnities, and talked little. By and by they judged that twelve had come; they marked where the shadow fell, and began to dig. Their hopes commenced to rise. Their interest grew stronger, and their industry kept pace with it. The hole deepened and still deepened, but every time their hearts jumped to hear the pick strike upon something, they only suffered a new disappointment. It was only a stone or a chunk. At last Tom said:
“It ain’t any use, Huck, we’re wrong again.”
“Well, but we can’t be wrong. We spotted the shadder to a dot.”
“I know it, but then there’s another thing.”
“Why, we only guessed at the time. Like enough it was too late or too early.”
Huck dropped his shovel.
“That’s it,” said he. “That’s the very trouble. We got to give this one up. We can’t ever tell the right time, and besides this kind of thing’s too awful, here this time of night with witches and ghosts a-fluttering around so. I feel as if something’s behind me all the time; and I’m afeard to turn around, becuz maybe there’s others in front a-waiting for a chance. I been creeping all over, ever since I got here.”
“Well, I’ve been pretty much so, too, Huck. They most always put in a dead man when they bury a treasure under a tree, to look out for it.”
“Yes, they do. I’ve always heard that.”
“Tom, I don’t like to fool around much where there’s dead people. A body’s bound to get into trouble with ’em, sure.”
“I don’t like to stir ’em up, either. S’pose this one here was to stick his skull out and say something!”
“Don’t Tom! It’s awful.”
“Well, it just is. Huck, I don’t feel comfortable a bit.”
“Say, Tom, let’s give this place up, and try somewheres else.”
“All right, I reckon we better.”
“What’ll it be?”
Tom considered a while; and then said:
“The ha’nted house. That’s it!”
“Blame it, I don’t like ha’nted houses, Tom. Why, they’re a dern sight worse’n dead people. Dead people might talk, maybe, but they don’t come sliding around in a shroud, when you ain’t noticing, and peep over your shoulder all of a sudden and grit their teeth, the way a ghost does. I couldn’t stand such a thing as that, Tom – nobody could.”
“Yes, but, Huck, ghosts don’t travel around only at night. They won’t hender us from digging there in the daytime.”
“Well, that’s so. But you know mighty well people don’t go about that ha’nted house in the day nor the night.”
“Well, that’s mostly because they don’t like to go where a man’s been murdered, anyway – but nothing’s ever been seen around that house except in the night – just some blue lights slipping by the windows – no regular ghosts.”
“Well, where you see one of them blue lights flickering around, Tom, you can bet there’s a ghost mighty close behind it. It stands to reason. Becuz you know that they don’t anybody but ghosts use ’em.”
“Yes, that’s so. But anyway they don’t come around in the daytime, so what’s the use of our being afeard?”
“Well, all right. We’ll tackle the ha’nted house if you say so – but I reckon it’s taking chances.”
They had started down the hill by this time. There in the middle of the moonlit valley below them stood the “ha’nted” house, utterly isolated, its fences gone long ago, rank weeds smothering the very doorsteps, the chimney crumbled to ruin, the window-sashes vacant, a corner of the roof caved in. The boys gazed a while, half expecting to see a blue light flit past a window; then talking in a low tone, as befitted the time and the circumstances, they struck far off to the right, to give the haunted house a wide berth, and took their way homeward through the woods that adorned the rearward side of Cardiff Hill.
THE HA’NTED HOUSE.
noon the next day the boys arrived at the dead tree; they had come for their tools. Tom was impatient to go to the haunted house; Huck was measurably so, also – but suddenly said:
“Lookyhere, Tom, do you know what day it is?”
Tom mentally ran over the days of the week, and then quickly lifted his eyes with a startled look in them—
“My! I never once thought of it, Huck!”
“Well, I didn’t neither, but all at once it popped onto me that it was Friday.”
“Blame it, a body can’t be too careful, Huck. We might a got into an awful scrape, tackling such a thing on a Friday.”
“Might! Better say we would! There’s some lucky days, maybe, but Friday ain’t.”
“Any fool knows that. I don’t reckon you was the first that found it out, Huck.”
“Well, I never said I was, did I? And Friday ain’t all, neither. I had a rotten bad dream last night – dreampt about rats.”
“No! Sure sign of trouble. Did they fight?”
“Well, that’s good, Huck. When they don’t fight it’s only a sign that there’s trouble around, you know. All we got to do is to look mighty sharp and keep out of it. We’ll drop this thing for to-day, and play. Do you know Robin Hood, Huck?”
“No. Who’s Robin Hood?”
“Why, he was one of the greatest men that was ever in England – and the best. He was a robber.”
THE GREATEST AND BEST.
“Cracky, I wisht I was. Who did he rob?”
“Only sheriffs and bishops and rich people and kings, and such like. But he never bothered the poor. He loved ’em. He always divided up with ’em perfectly square.”
“Well, he must a been a brick.”
“I bet you he was, Huck. Oh, he was the noblest man that ever was. They ain’t any such men now, I can tell you. He could lick any man in England, with one hand tied behind him; and he could take his yew bow and plug a ten-cent piece every time, a mile and a half.”
“What’s a yew bow?”
“I don’t know. It’s some kind of a bow, of course. And if he hit that dime only on the edge he would set down and cry – and curse. But we’ll play Robin Hood – it’s nobby fun. I’ll learn you.”
So they played Robin Hood all the afternoon, now and then casting a yearning eye down upon the haunted house and passing a remark about the morrow’s prospects and possibilities there. As the sun began to sink into the west they took their way homeward athwart the long shadows of the trees and soon were buried from sight in the forests of Cardiff Hill.
On Saturday, shortly after noon, the boys were at the dead tree again. They had a smoke and a chat in the shade, and then dug a little in their last hole, not with great hope, but merely because Tom said there were so many cases where people had given up a treasure after getting down within six inches of it, and then somebody else had come along and turned it up with a single thrust of a shovel. The thing failed this time, however, so the boys shouldered their tools and went away feeling that they had not trifled with fortune, but had fulfilled all the requirements that belong to the business of treasure-hunting.
When they reached the haunted house there was something so weird and grisly about the dead silence that reigned there under the baking sun, and something so depressing about the loneliness and desolation of the place, that they were afraid, for a moment, to venture in. Then they crept to the door and took a trembling peep. They saw a weedgrown, floorless room, unplastered, an ancient fire-place, vacant windows, a ruinous staircase; and here, there, and everywhere hung ragged and abandoned cobwebs. They presently entered, softly, with quickened pulses, talking in whispers, ears alert to catch the slightest sound, and muscles tense and ready for instant retreat.
In a little while familiarity modified their fears and they gave the place a critical and interested examination, rather admiring their own boldness, and wondering at it, too. Next they wanted to look up-stairs. This was something like cutting off retreat, but they got to daring each other, and of course there could be but one result – they threw their tools into a corner and made the ascent. Up there were the same signs of decay. In one corner they found a closet that promised mystery, but the promise was a fraud – there was nothing in it. Their courage was up now and well in hand. They were about to go down and begin work when—
“Sh!” said Tom.
“What is it?” whispered Huck, blanching with fright.
“Sh! . . . There! . . . Hear it?”
“Yes! . . . Oh, my! Let’s run!”
“Keep still! Don’t you budge! They’re coming right toward the door.”
The boys stretched themselves upon the floor with their eyes to knotholes in the planking, and lay waiting, in a misery of fear.
“They’ve stopped. . . . No – coming. . . . Here they are. Don’t whisper another word, Huck. My goodness, I wish I was out of this!”
Two men entered. Each boy said to himself: “There’s the old deaf and dumb Spaniard that’s been about town once or twice lately – never saw t’other man before.”
“T’other” was a ragged, unkempt creature, with nothing very pleasant in his face. The Spaniard was wrapped in a serape; he had bushy white whiskers; long white hair flowed from under his sombrero, and he wore green goggles. When they came in, “t’other” was talking in a low voice; they sat down on the ground, facing the door, with their backs to the wall, and the speaker continued his remarks. His manner became less guarded and his words more distinct as he proceeded:
“No,” said he, “I’ve thought it all over, and I don’t like it. It’s dangerous.”
“Dangerous!” grunted the “deaf and dumb” Spaniard – to the vast surprise of the boys. “Milksop!”
This voice made the boys gasp and quake. It was Injun Joe’s! There was silence for some time. Then Joe said:
“What’s any more dangerous than that job up yonder – but nothing’s come of it.”
“That’s different. Away up the river so, and not another house about. ’Twon’t ever be known that we tried, anyway, long as we didn’t succeed.”
“Well, what’s more dangerous than coming here in the daytime! – anybody would suspicion us that saw us.”
“I know that. But there warn’t any other place as handy after that fool of a job. I want to quit this shanty. I wanted to yesterday, only it warn’t any use trying to stir out of here, with those infernal boys playing over there on the hill right in full view.”
“Those infernal boys” quaked again under the inspiration of this remark, and thought how lucky it was that they had remembered it was Friday and concluded to wait a day. They wished in their hearts they had waited a year.
The two men got out some food and made a luncheon. After a long and thoughtful silence, Injun Joe said:
“Look here, lad – you go back up the river where you belong. Wait there till you hear from me. I’ll take the chances on dropping into this town just once more, for a look. We’ll do that ‘dangerous’ job after I’ve spied around a little and think things look well for it. Then for Texas! We’ll leg it together!”
This was satisfactory. Both men presently fell to yawning, and Injun Joe said:
“I’m dead for sleep! It’s your turn to watch.”
He curled down in the weeds and soon began to snore. His comrade stirred him once or twice and he became quiet. Presently the watcher began to nod; his head drooped lower and lower, both men began to snore now.
The boys drew a long, grateful breath. Tom whispered:
“Now’s our chance – come!”
“I can’t – I’d die if they was to wake.”
Tom urged – Huck held back. At last Tom rose slowly and softly, and started alone. But the first step he made wrung such a hideous creak from the crazy floor that he sank down almost dead with fright. He never made a second attempt. The boys lay there counting the dragging moments till it seemed to them that time must be done and eternity growing gray; and then they were grateful to note that at last the sun was setting.
Now one snore ceased. Injun Joe sat up, stared around – smiled grimly upon his comrade, whose head was drooping upon his knees – stirred him up with his foot and said:
“Here! You’re a watchman, ain’t you! All right, though – nothing’s happened.”
“My! have I been asleep?”
“Oh, partly, partly. Nearly time for us to be moving, pard. What’ll we do with what little swag we’ve got left?”
“I don’t know – leave it here as we’ve always done, I reckon. No use to take it away till we start south. Six hundred and fifty in silver’s something to carry.”
“Well – all right – it won’t matter to come here once more.”
“No – but I’d say come in the night as we used to do – it’s better.”
“Yes: but look here; it may be a good while before I get the right chance at that job; accidents might happen; ’tain’t in such a very good place; we’ll just regularly bury it – and bury it deep.”
“Good idea,” said the comrade, who walked across the room, knelt down, raised one of the rearward hearth-stones and took out a bag that jingled pleasantly. He subtracted from it twenty or thirty dollars for himself and as much for Injun Joe, and passed the bag to the latter, who was on his knees in the corner, now, digging with his bowie-knife.
The boys forgot all their fears, all their miseries in an instant. With gloating eyes they watched every movement. Luck! – the splendor of it was beyond all imagination! Six hundred dollars was money enough to make half a dozen boys rich! Here was treasure-hunting under the happiest auspices – there would not be any bothersome uncertainty as to where to dig. They nudged each other every moment – eloquent nudges and easily understood, for they simply meant – “Oh, but ain’t you glad now we’re here!”
Joe’s knife struck upon something.
“Hello!” said he.
“What is it?” said his comrade.
“Half-rotten plank – no, it’s a box, I believe. Here – bear a hand and we’ll see what it’s here for. Never mind, I’ve broke a hole.”
He reached his hand in and drew it out—
“Man, it’s money!”
The two men examined the handful of coins. They were gold. The boys above were as excited as themselves, and as delighted.
Joe’s comrade said:
“We’ll make quick work of this. There’s an old rusty pick over amongst the weeds in the corner the other side of the fire-place – I saw it a minute ago.”
He ran and brought the boys’ pick and shovel. Injun Joe took the pick, looked it over critically, shook his head, muttered something to himself, and then began to use it. The box was soon unearthed. It was not very large; it was iron bound and had been very strong before the slow years had injured it. The men contemplated the treasure a while in blissful silence.
HIDDEN TREASURES UNEARTHED.
“Pard, there’s thousands of dollars here,” said Injun Joe.
“’Twas always said that Murrel’s gang used to be around here one summer,” the stranger observed.
“I know it,” said Injun Joe; “and this looks like it, I should say.”
“Now you won’t need to do that job.”
The half-breed frowned. Said he:
“You don’t know me. Least you don’t know all about that thing. ’Tain’t robbery altogether – it’s revenge!” and a wicked light flamed in his eyes. “I’ll need your help in it. When it’s finished – then Texas. Go home to your Nance and your kids, and stand by till you hear from me.”
“Well – if you say so; what’ll we do with this – bury it again?”
“Yes. [Ravishing delight overhead.] No! by the great Sachem, no! [Profound distress overhead.] I’d nearly forgot. That pick had fresh earth on it! [The boys were sick with terror in a moment.] What business has a pick and a shovel here? What business with fresh earth on them? Who brought them here – and where are they gone? Have you heard anybody? – seen anybody? What! bury it again and leave them to come and see the ground disturbed? Not exactly – not exactly. We’ll take it to my den.”
“Why, of course! Might have thought of that before. You mean Number One?”
“No – Number Two – under the cross. The other place is bad – too common.”
“All right. It’s nearly dark enough to start.”
Injun Joe got up and went about from window to window cautiously peeping out. Presently he said:
“Who could have brought those tools here? Do you reckon they can be up-stairs?”
The boys’ breath forsook them. Injun Joe put his hand on his knife, halted a moment, undecided, and then turned toward the stairway. The boys thought of the closet, but their strength was gone. The steps came creaking up the stairs – the intolerable distress of the situation woke the stricken resolution of the lads – they were about to spring for the closet, when there was a crash of rotten timbers and Injun Joe landed on the ground amid the débris of the ruined stairway. He gathered himself up cursing, and his comrade said:
THE BOYS’ SALVATION.
“Now what’s the use of all that? If it’s anybody, and they’re up there, let them stay there – who cares? If they want to jump down, now, and get into trouble, who objects? It will be dark in fifteen minutes – and then let them follow us if they want to. I’m willing. In my opinion, whoever hove those things in here caught a sight of us and took us for ghosts or devils or something. I’ll bet they’re running yet.”
Joe grumbled a while; then he agreed with his friend that what daylight was left ought to be economized in getting things ready for leaving. Shortly afterward they slipped out of the house in the deepening twilight, and moved toward the river with their precious box.
Tom and Huck rose up, weak but vastly relieved, and stared after them through the chinks between the logs of the house. Follow? Not they. They were content to reach ground again without broken necks, and take the townward track over the hill. They did not talk much. They were too much absorbed in hating themselves – hating the ill luck that made them take the spade and the pick there. But for that, Injun Joe never would have suspected. He would have hidden the silver with the gold to wait there till his “revenge” was satisfied, and then he would have had the misfortune to find that money turn up missing. Bitter, bitter luck that the tools were ever brought there!
They resolved to keep a lookout for that Spaniard when he should come to town spying out for chances to do his revengeful job, and follow him to “Number Two,” wherever that might be. Then a ghastly thought occurred to Tom.
“Revenge? What if he means us, Huck!”
“Oh, don’t!” said Huck, nearly fainting.
They talked it all over, and as they entered town they agreed to believe that he might possibly mean somebody else – at least that he might at least mean nobody but Tom, since only Tom had testified.
Very, very small comfort it was to Tom to be alone in danger! Company would be a palpable improvement, he thought.