After the night that Wilson had partly revealed his scheme at his house, Tom had tried for several days to guess out the secret of the rest of it, but had failed. Then it occurred to him to give Roxana's smarter head a chance at it. He made up a supposititious0z H case, and laid it before her. She thought it over, and delivered her verdict upon it. Tom said to himself, "She's hit it, sure!" He thought he would test that verdict now, and watch Wilson's face; so he said reflectively:
"Wilson, you're not a fool--a fact of recent discovery. Whatever your scheme was, it had sense in it, Blake's opinion to the contrary notwithstanding. I don't ask you to reveal it, but I will suppose a case--a case which you will answer as a starting point for the real thing I am going to come at, and that's all I want. You offered five hundred dollars for the knife, and five hundred for the thief. We will suppose, for argument's sake, that the first reward is _advertised_ and the second offered by _private letter_ to pawnbrokers and--"
Blake slapped his thigh, and cried out:
"By Jackson, he's got you, Pudd'nhead! Now why couldn't I or _any_ fool have thought of that?"
Wilson said to himself, "Anybody with a reasonably good head would have thought of it. I am not surprised that Blake didn't detect it; I am only surprised that Tom did. There is more to him than I supposed." He said nothing aloud, and Tom went on:
"Very well. The thief would not suspect that there was a trap, and he would bring or send the knife, and say he bought it for a song, or found it in the road, or something like that, and try to collect the reward, and be arrested--wouldn't he?"
"Yes," said Wilson.
"I think so," said Tom. "There can't be any doubt of it. Have you ever seen that knife?"
"Has any friend of yours?"
"Not that I know of."
"Well, I begin to think I understand why your scheme failed."
"What do you mean, Tom? What are you driving at?" asked Wilson, with a dawning sense of discomfort.
"Why, that there _isn't_ any such knife."
"Look here, Wilson," said Blake, "Tom Driscoll's right, for a thousand dollars--if I had it."
Wilson's blood warmed a little, and he wondered if he had been played upon by those strangers; it certainly had something of that look. But what could they gain by it? He threw out that suggestion. Tom replied:
"Gain? Oh, nothing that you would value, maybe. But they are strangers making their way in a new community. Is it nothing to them to appear as pets of an Oriental prince--at no expense? It is nothing to them to be able to dazzle this poor town with thousand-dollar rewards--at no expense? Wilson, there isn't any such knife, or your scheme would have fetched it to light. Or if there is any such knife, they've got it yet. I believe, myself, that they've seen such a knife, for Angelo pictured it out with his pencil too swiftly and handily for him to have been inventing it, and of course I can't swear that they've never had it; but this I'll go bail for--if they had it when they came to this town, they've got it yet."
"It looks mighty reasonable, the way Tom puts it; it most certainly does."
Tom responded, turning to leave:
"You find the old woman, Blake, and if she can't furnish the knife, go and search the twins!"
Tom sauntered away. Wilson felt a good deal depressed. He hardly knew what to think. He was loath to withdraw his faith from the twins, and was resolved not to do it on the present indecisive evidence; but--well, he would think, and then decide how to act.
"Blake, what do you think of this matter?"
"Well, Pudd'nhead, I'm bound to say I put it up the way Tom does. They hadn't the knife; or if they had it, they've got it yet."
The men parted. Wilson said to himself:
"I believe they had it; if it had been stolen, the scheme would have restored it, that is certain. And so I believe they've got it."
Tom had no purpose in his mind when he encountered those two men. When he began his talk he hoped to be able to gall them a little and get a trifle of malicious entertainment out of it. But when he left, he left in great spirits, for he perceived that just by pure luck and no troublesome labor he had accomplished several delightful things: he had touched both men on a raw spot and seen them squirm; he had modified Wilson's sweetness for the twins with one small bitter taste that he wouldn't be able to get out of his mouth right away; and, best of all, he had taken the hated twins down a peg with the community; for Blake would gossip around freely, after the manner of detectives, and within a week the town would be laughing at them in its sleeve for offering a gaudy reward for a bauble which they either never possessed or hadn't lost.