You will need a small army of assistants; choose them yourself--and carefully. Take no man for friendship's sake; but, all things being equal, take the man you know, take your friend, in preference to the stranger." After some further talk under this head, the Commodore said:

"Good-bye, my boy, and thank Alf for me, for sending you to me."

When Ed reached Memphis he rushed down to the wharf in a fever to tell his great news and thank the boys over and over again for thinking to give him the letter to Mr. Vanderbilt. It happened to be one of those idle times. Blazing hot noonday, and no sign of life on the wharf. But as Ed threaded his way among the freight piles, he saw a white linen figure stretched in slumber upon a pile of grain-sacks under an awning, and said to himself, "That's one of them," and hastened his step; next, he said, "It's Charley--it's Fairchild good"; and the next moment laid an affectionate hand on the sleeper's shoulder. The eyes opened lazily, took one glance, the face blanched, the form whirled itself from the sack-pile, and in an instant Ed was alone and Fairchild was flying for the wharf-boat like the wind!

Ed was dazed, stupefied. Was Fairchild crazy? What could be the meaning of this? He started slow and dreamily down toward the wharf-boat; turned the corner of a freight-pile and came suddenly upon two of the boys. They were lightly laughing over some pleasant matter; they heard his step, and glanced up just as he discovered them; the laugh died abruptly; and before Ed could speak they were off, and sailing over barrels and bales like hunted deer. Again Ed was paralyzed. Had the boys all gone mad? What could be the explanation of this extraordinary conduct? And so, dreaming along, he reached the wharf-boat, and stepped aboard nothing but silence there, and vacancy. He crossed the deck, turned the corner to go down the outer guard, heard a fervent--

"O lord!" and saw a white linen form plunge overboard.

The youth came up coughing and strangling, and cried out--

"Go 'way from here! You let me alone. I didn't do it, I swear I didn't!"

"Didn't do what?"

"Give you the----"

"Never mind what you didn't do--come out of that! What makes you all act so? What have I done?"

"You? Why you haven't done anything. But----"

"Well, then, what have you got against me? What do you all treat me so for?"

"I--er--but haven't you got anything against us?"

"Of course not. What put such a thing into your head?"

"Honor bright--you haven't?

"Honor bright."

"Swear it!"

"I don't know what in the world you mean, but I swear it, anyway."

"And you'll shake hands with me?"

"Goodness knows I'll be glad to! Why, I'm just starving to shake hands with somebody!"

The swimmer muttered, "Hang him, he smelt a rat and never delivered the letter!--but it's all right, I'm not going to fetch up the subject." And he crawled out and came dripping and draining to shake hands. First one and then another of the conspirators showed up cautiously--armed to the teeth--took in the amicable situation, then ventured warily forward and joined the love-feast.

And to Ed's eager inquiry as to what made them act as they had been acting, they answered evasively, and pretended that they had put it up as a joke, to see what he would do. It was the best explanation they could invent at such short notice. And each said to himself, "He never delivered that letter, and the joke is on us, if he only knew it or we were dull enough to come out and tell."

Then, of course, they wanted to know all about the trip; and he said--

"Come right up on the boiler deck and order the drinks it's my treat. I'm going to tell you all about it. And to-night it's my treat again-- and we'll have oysters and a time!"

When the drinks were brought and cigars lighted, Ed said:

"Well, when, I delivered the letter to Mr. Vanderbilt----"

"Great Scott!"

"Gracious, how you scared me. What's the matter?"

"Oh--er--nothing. Nothing--it was a tack in the chair-seat," said one.

Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

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