"Name the thief!"

For the fourth time Mr. Driscoll had said it, and always in the same hard tone. And now he added these words of awful import:

"I give you one minute." He took out his watch. "If at the end of that time, you have not confessed, I will not only sell all four of you, BUT--I will sell you DOWN THE RIVER!"

It was equivalent to condemning them to hell! No Missouri Negro doubted this. Roxy reeled in her tracks, and the color vanished out of her face; the others dropped to their knees as if they had been shot; tears gushed from their eyes, their supplicating hands went up, and three answers came in the one instant.

"I done it!"

"I done it!"

"I done it!--have mercy, marster--Lord have mercy on us po' niggers!"

"Very good," said the master, putting up his watch, "I will sell you _here_ though you don't deserve it. You ought to be sold down the river."

The culprits flung themselves prone, in an ecstasy of gratitude, and kissed his feet, declaring that they would never forget his goodness and never cease to pray for him as long as they lived. They were sincere, for like a god he had stretched forth his mighty hand and closed the gates of hell against them. He knew, himself, that he had done a noble and gracious thing, and was privately well pleased with his magnanimity; and that night he set the incident down in his diary, so that his son might read it in after years, and be thereby moved to deeds of gentleness and humanity himself.

CHAPTER 3

Roxy Plays a Shrewd Trick

Whoever has lived long enough to find out what life is, knows how deep a debt of gratitude we owe to Adam, the first great benefactor of our race. He brought death into the world.

--Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar

Percy Driscoll slept well the night he saved his house minions from going down the river, but no wink of sleep visited Roxy's eyes. A profound terror had taken possession of her. Her child could grow up and be sold down the river! The thought crazed her with horror. If she dozed and lost herself for a moment, the next moment she was on her feet flying to her child's cradle to see if it was still there. Then she would gather it to her heart and pour out her love upon it in a frenzy of kisses, moaning, crying, and saying, "Dey sha'n't, oh, dey _sha'nt'!'_--yo' po' mammy will kill you fust!"

Once, when she was tucking him back in its cradle again, the other child nestled in its sleep and attracted her attention. She went and stood over it a long time communing with herself.

"What has my po' baby done, dat he couldn't have yo' luck? He hain't done nuth'n. God was good to you; why warn't he good to him? Dey can't sell _you_ down de river. I hates yo' pappy; he hain't got no heart--for niggers, he hain't, anyways. I hates him, en I could kill him!" She paused awhile, thinking; then she burst into wild sobbings again, and turned away, saying, "Oh, I got to kill my chile, dey ain't no yuther way--killin' _him_ wouldn't save de chile fum goin' down de river. Oh, I got to do it, yo' po' mammy's got to kill you to save you, honey." She gathered her baby to her bosom now, and began to smother it with caresses. "Mammy's got to kill you--how _kin_ I do it! But yo' mammy ain't gwine to desert you--no, no, _dah_, don't cry-- she gwine _wid_ you, she gwine to kill herself too. Come along, honey, come along wid mammy; we gwine to jump in de river, den troubles o' dis worl' is all over--dey don't sell po' niggers down the river over _yonder_."

She stared toward the door, crooning to the child and hushing it; midway she stopped, suddenly. She had caught sight of her new Sunday gown-- a cheap curtain-calico thing, a conflagration of gaudy colors and fantastic figures. She surveyed it wistfully, longingly.

"Hain't ever wore it yet," she said, "en it's just lovely." Then she nodded her head in response to a pleasant idea, and added, "No, I ain't gwine to be fished out, wid everybody lookin' at me, in dis mis'able ole linsey-woolsey."

She put down the child and made the change.

The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson Page 08

Mark Twain

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