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The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg, Page 2

Mark Twain

meantime, while you are running on with your jokes, the moneyis still here, and it is fast getting along toward burglar-time."

  "True. Very well, what shall we do--make the inquiry private? No, notthat; it would spoil the romance. The public method is better. Thinkwhat a noise it will make! And it will make all the other towns jealous;for no stranger would trust such a thing to any town but Hadleyburg, andthey know it. It's a great card for us. I must get to theprinting-office now, or I shall be too late."

  "But stop--stop--don't leave me here alone with it, Edward!"

  But he was gone. For only a little while, however. Not far from his ownhouse he met the editor--proprietor of the paper, and gave him thedocument, and said "Here is a good thing for you, Cox--put it in."

  "It may be too late, Mr. Richards, but I'll see."

  At home again, he and his wife sat down to talk the charming mysteryover; they were in no condition for sleep. The first question was, Whocould the citizen have been who gave the stranger the twenty dollars? Itseemed a simple one; both answered it in the same breath--

  "Barclay Goodson."

  "Yes," said Richards, "he could have done it, and it would have been likehim, but there's not another in the town."

  "Everybody will grant that, Edward--grant it privately, anyway. For sixmonths, now, the village has been its own proper self once more--honest,narrow, self-righteous, and stingy."

  "It is what he always called it, to the day of his death--said it rightout publicly, too."

  "Yes, and he was hated for it."

  "Oh, of course; but he didn't care. I reckon he was the best-hated manamong us, except the Reverend Burgess."

  "Well, Burgess deserves it--he will never get another congregation here.Mean as the town is, it knows how to estimate _him_. Edward, doesn't itseem odd that the stranger should appoint Burgess to deliver the money?"

  "Well, yes--it does. That is--that is--"

  "Why so much that-_is_-ing? Would _you_ select him?"

  "Mary, maybe the stranger knows him better than this village does."

  "Much _that_ would help Burgess!"

  The husband seemed perplexed for an answer; the wife kept a steady eyeupon him, and waited. Finally Richards said, with the hesitancy of onewho is making a statement which is likely to encounter doubt,

  "Mary, Burgess is not a bad man."

  His wife was certainly surprised.

  "Nonsense!" she exclaimed.

  "He is not a bad man. I know. The whole of his unpopularity had itsfoundation in that one thing--the thing that made so much noise."

  "That 'one thing,' indeed! As if that 'one thing' wasn't enough, all byitself."

  "Plenty. Plenty. Only he wasn't guilty of it."

  "How you talk! Not guilty of it! Everybody knows he _was_ guilty."

  "Mary, I give you my word--he was innocent."

  "I can't believe it and I don't. How do you know?"

  "It is a confession. I am ashamed, but I will make it. I was the onlyman who knew he was innocent. I could have saved him, and--and--well,you know how the town was wrought up--I hadn't the pluck to do it. Itwould have turned everybody against me. I felt mean, ever so mean; ut Ididn't dare; I hadn't the manliness to face that."

  Mary looked troubled, and for a while was silent. Then she saidstammeringly:

  "I--I don't think it would have done for you to--to--Onemustn't--er--public opinion--one has to be so careful--so--" It was adifficult road, and she got mired; but after a little she got startedagain. "It was a great pity, but--Why, we couldn't afford it, Edward--wecouldn't indeed. Oh, I wouldn't have had you do it for anything!"

  "It would have lost us the good-will of so many people, Mary; andthen--and then--"

  "What troubles me now is, what _he_ thinks of us, Edward."

  "He? _He_ doesn't suspect that I could have saved him."

  "Oh," exclaimed the wife, in a tone of relief, "I am glad of that. Aslong as he doesn't know that you could have saved him, he--he--well thatmakes it a great deal better. Why, I might have known he didn't know,because he is always trying to be friendly with us, as littleencouragement as we give him. More than once people have twitted me withit. There's the Wilsons, and the Wilcoxes, and the Harknesses, they takea mean pleasure in saying '_Your friend_ Burgess,' because they know itpesters me. I wish he wouldn't persist in liking us so; I can't thinkwhy he keeps it up."

  "I can explain it. It's another confession. When the thing was new andhot, and the town made a plan to ride him on a rail, my conscience hurtme so that I couldn't stand it, and I went privately and gave him notice,and he got out of the town and stayed out till it was safe to come back."

  "Edward! If the town had found it out--"

  "_Don't_! It scares me yet, to think of it. I repented of it the minuteit was done; and I was even afraid to tell you lest your face mightbetray it to somebody. I didn't sleep any that night, for worrying. Butafter a few days I saw that no one was going to suspect me, and afterthat I got to feeling glad I did it. And I feel glad yet, Mary--gladthrough and through."

  "So do I, now, for it would have been a dreadful way to treat him. Yes,I'm glad; for really you did owe him that, you know. But, Edward,suppose it should come out yet, some day!"

  "It won't."


  "Because everybody thinks it was Goodson."

  "Of course they would!"

  "Certainly. And of course _he_ didn't care. They persuaded poor oldSawlsberry to go and charge it on him, and he went blustering over thereand did it. Goodson looked him over, like as if he was hunting for aplace on him that he could despise the most; then he says, 'So you arethe Committee of Inquiry, are you?' Sawlsberry said that was about whathe was. 'H'm. Do they require particulars, or do you reckon a kind of a_general_ answer will do?' 'If they require particulars, I will comeback, Mr. Goodson; I will take the general answer first.' 'Very well,then, tell them to go to hell--I reckon that's general enough. And I'llgive you some advice, Sawlsberry; when you come back for the particulars,fetch a basket to carry what is left of yourself home in.'"

  "Just like Goodson; it's got all the marks. He had only one vanity; hethought he could give advice better than any other person."

  "It settled the business, and saved us, Mary. The subject was dropped."

  "Bless you, I'm not doubting _that_."

  Then they took up the gold-sack mystery again, with strong interest. Soonthe conversation began to suffer breaks--interruptions caused by absorbedthinkings. The breaks grew more and more frequent. At last Richardslost himself wholly in thought. He sat long, gazing vacantly at thefloor, and by-and-by he began to punctuate his thoughts with littlenervous movements of his hands that seemed to indicate vexation. Meantimehis wife too had relapsed into a thoughtful silence, and her movementswere beginning to show a troubled discomfort. Finally Richards got upand strode aimlessly about the room, ploughing his hands through hishair, much as a somnambulist might do who was having a bad dream. Thenhe seemed to arrive at a definite purpose; and without a word he put onhis hat and passed quickly out of the house. His wife sat brooding, witha drawn face, and did not seem to be aware that she was alone. Now andthen she murmured, "Lead us not into t . . . but--but--we are so poor, sopoor! . . . Lead us not into . . . Ah, who would be hurt by it?--and noone would ever know . . . Lead us . . . " The voice died out inmumblings. After a little she glanced up and muttered in ahalf-frightened, half-glad way--

  "He is gone! But, oh dear, he may be too late--too late . . . Maybenot--maybe there is still time." She rose and stood thinking, nervouslyclasping and unclasping her hands. A slight shudder shook her frame, andshe said, out of a dry throat, "God forgive me--it's awful to think suchthings--but . . . Lord, how we are made--how strangely we are made!"

  She turned the light low, and slipped stealthily over and knelt down bythe sack and felt of its ridgy sides with her hands, and fondled themlovingly; and there was a gloating light in her poor old eyes. S
he fellinto fits of absence; and came half out of them at times to mutter "If wehad only waited!--oh, if we had only waited a little, and not been insuch a hurry!"

  Meantime Cox had gone home from his office and told his wife all aboutthe strange thing that had happened, and they had talked it over eagerly,and guessed that the late Goodson was the only man in the town who couldhave helped a suffering stranger with so noble a sum as twenty dollars.Then there was a pause, and the two became thoughtful and silent. And by-and-by