At their homes their wives sprang up with an eager "Well?"--then saw the answer with their eyes and sank down sorrowing, without waiting for it to come in words. In both houses a discussion followed of a heated sort--a new thing; there had been discussions before, but not heated ones, not ungentle ones. The discussions to-night were a sort of seeming plagiarisms of each other. Mrs. Richards said:

"If you had only waited, Edward--if you had only stopped to think; but no, you must run straight to the printing-office and spread it all over the world."

"It SAID publish it."

"That is nothing; it also said do it privately, if you liked. There, now--is that true, or not?"

"Why, yes--yes, it is true; but when I thought what a stir it would make, and what a compliment it was to Hadleyburg that a stranger should trust it so--"

"Oh, certainly, I know all that; but if you had only stopped to think, you would have seen that you COULDN'T find the right man, because he is in his grave, and hasn't left chick nor child nor relation behind him; and as long as the money went to somebody that awfully needed it, and nobody would be hurt by it, and--and--"

She broke down, crying. Her husband tried to think of some comforting thing to say, and presently came out with this:

"But after all, Mary, it must be for the best--it must be; we know that. And we must remember that it was so ordered--"

"Ordered! Oh, everything's ORDERED, when a person has to find some way out when he has been stupid. Just the same, it was ORDERED that the money should come to us in this special way, and it was you that must take it on yourself to go meddling with the designs of Providence--and who gave you the right? It was wicked, that is what it was--just blasphemous presumption, and no more becoming to a meek and humble professor of--"

"But, Mary, you know how we have been trained all our lives long, like the whole village, till it is absolutely second nature to us to stop not a single moment to think when there's an honest thing to be done--"

"Oh, I know it, I know it--it's been one everlasting training and training and training in honesty--honesty shielded, from the very cradle, against every possible temptation, and so it's ARTIFICIAL honesty, and weak as water when temptation comes, as we have seen this night. God knows I never had shade nor shadow of a doubt of my petrified and indestructible honesty until now--and now, under the very first big and real temptation, I--Edward, it is my belief that this town's honesty is as rotten as mine is; as rotten as yours. It is a mean town, a hard, stingy town, and hasn't a virtue in the world but this honesty it is so celebrated for and so conceited about; and so help me, I do believe that if ever the day comes that its honesty falls under great temptation, its grand reputation will go to ruin like a house of cards. There, now, I've made confession, and I feel better; I am a humbug, and I've been one all my life, without knowing it. Let no man call me honest again--I will not have it."

"I--Well, Mary, I feel a good deal as you do: I certainly do. It seems strange, too, so strange. I never could have believed it-- never."

A long silence followed; both were sunk in thought. At last the wife looked up and said:

"I know what you are thinking, Edward."

Richards had the embarrassed look of a person who is caught.

"I am ashamed to confess it, Mary, but--"

"It's no matter, Edward, I was thinking the same question myself."

"I hope so. State it."

"You were thinking, if a body could only guess out WHAT THE REMARK WAS that Goodson made to the stranger."

"It's perfectly true. I feel guilty and ashamed. And you?"

"I'm past it. Let us make a pallet here; we've got to stand watch till the bank vault opens in the morning and admits the sack. . . Oh dear, oh dear--if we hadn't made the mistake!"

The pallet was made, and Mary said:

"The open sesame--what could it have been? I do wonder what that remark could have been.

The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg and other Stories Page 07

Mark Twain

Free Books in the public domain from the Classic Literature Library ©

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book