"Friends, they are only gilded disks of lead!"

There was a crashing outbreak of delight over this news, and when the noise had subsided, the tanner called out:

"By right of apparent seniority in this business, Mr. Wilson is Chairman of the Committee on Propagation of the Tradition. I suggest that he step forward on behalf of his pals, and receive in trust the money."

A Hundred Voices. "Wilson! Wilson! Wilson! Speech! Speech!"

Wilson [in a voice trembling with anger]. "You will allow me to say, and without apologies for my language, DAMN the money!"

A Voice. "Oh, and him a Baptist!"

A Voice. "Seventeen Symbols left! Step up, gentlemen, and assume your trust!"

There was a pause--no response.

The Saddler. "Mr. Chairman, we've got ONE clean man left, anyway, out of the late aristocracy; and he needs money, and deserves it. I move that you appoint Jack Halliday to get up there and auction off that sack of gilt twenty-dollar pieces, and give the result to the right man--the man whom Hadleyburg delights to honour--Edward Richards."

This was received with great enthusiasm, the dog taking a hand again; the saddler started the bids at a dollar, the Brixton folk and Barnum's representative fought hard for it, the people cheered every jump that the bids made, the excitement climbed moment by moment higher and higher, the bidders got on their mettle and grew steadily more and more daring, more and more determined, the jumps went from a dollar up to five, then to ten, then to twenty, then fifty, then to a hundred, then--

At the beginning of the auction Richards whispered in distress to his wife: "Oh, Mary, can we allow it? It--it--you see, it is an honour--reward, a testimonial to purity of character, and--and--can we allow it? Hadn't I better get up and--Oh, Mary, what ought we to do?--what do you think we--" [Halliday's voice. "Fifteen I'm bid!-- fifteen for the sack!--twenty!--ah, thanks!--thirty--thanks again! Thirty, thirty, thirty!--do I hear forty?--forty it is! Keep the ball rolling, gentlemen, keep it rolling!--fifty!--thanks, noble Roman!--going at fifty, fifty, fifty!--seventy!--ninety!-- splendid!--a hundred!--pile it up, pile it up!--hundred and twenty-- forty!--just in time!--hundred and fifty!--Two hundred!--superb! Do I hear two h--thanks!--two hundred and fifty!--"]

"It is another temptation, Edward--I'm all in a tremble--but, oh, we've escaped one temptation, and that ought to warn us, to--["Six did I hear?--thanks!--six fifty, six f--SEVEN hundred!"] And yet, Edward, when you think--nobody susp--["Eight hundred dollars!-- hurrah!--make it nine!--Mr. Parsons, did I hear you say--thanks!-- nine!--this noble sack of virgin lead going at only nine hundred dollars, gilding and all--come! do I hear--a thousand!--gratefully yours!--did some one say eleven?--a sack which is going to be the most celebrated in the whole Uni--"] Oh, Edward (beginning to sob), we are so poor!--but--but--do as you think best--do as you think best."

Edward fell--that is, he sat still; sat with a conscience which was not satisfied, but which was overpowered by circumstances.

Meantime a stranger, who looked like an amateur detective gotten up as an impossible English earl, had been watching the evening's proceedings with manifest interest, and with a contented expression in his face; and he had been privately commenting to himself. He was now soliloquising somewhat like this: 'None of the Eighteen are bidding; that is not satisfactory; I must change that--the dramatic unities require it; they must buy the sack they tried to steal; they must pay a heavy price, too--some of them are rich. And another thing, when I make a mistake in Hadleyburg nature the man that puts that error upon me is entitled to a high honorarium, and some one must pay. This poor old Richards has brought my judgment to shame; he is an honest man:--I don't understand it, but I acknowledge it. Yes, he saw my deuces--AND with a straight flush, and by rights the pot is his.

The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg and other Stories Page 21

Mark Twain

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

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book