Tom Stares at Ruin
When I reflect upon the number of disagreeable people who I know have gone to a better world, I am moved to lead a different life.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar
October. This is one of the peculiarly dangerous months to speculate in stocks in. The others are July, January, September, April, November, May, March, June, December, August, and February.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar
Thus mournfully communing with himself, Tom moped along the lane past Pudd'nhead Wilson's house, and still on and on between fences enclosing vacant country on each hand till he neared the haunted house, then he came moping back again, with many sighs and heavy with trouble. He sorely wanted cheerful company. Rowena! His heart gave a bound at the thought, but the next thought quieted it--the detested twins would be there.
He was on the inhabited side of Wilson's house, and now as he approached it, he noticed that the sitting room was lighted. This would do; others made him feel unwelcome sometimes, but Wilson never failed in courtesy toward him, and a kindly courtesy does at least save one's feelings, even if it is not professing to stand for a welcome. Wilson heard footsteps at his threshold, then the clearing of a throat.
"It's that fickle-tempered, dissipated young goose--poor devil, he find friends pretty scarce today, likely, after the disgrace of carrying a personal assault case into a law-court."
A dejected knock. "Come in!"
Tom entered, and dropped into a chair, without saying anything. Wilson said kindly:
"Why, my boy, you look desolate. Don't take it so hard. Try and forget you have been kicked."
"Oh, dear," said Tom, wretchedly, "it's not that, Pudd'nhead-- it's not that.. It's a thousand times worse than that--oh, yes, a million times worse."
"Why, Tom, what do you mean? Has Rowena--"
"Flung me? No, but the old man has."
Wilson said to himself, "Aha!" and thought of the mysterious girl in the bedroom. "The Driscolls have been making discoveries!" Then he said aloud, gravely:
"Tom, there are some kinds of dissipation which--"
"Oh, shucks, this hasn't got anything to do with dissipation. He wanted me to challenge that derned Italian savage, and I wouldn't do it."
"Yes, of course he would do that," said Wilson in a meditative matter-of-course way, "but the thing that puzzled me was, why he didn't look to that last night, for one thing, and why he let you carry such a matter into a court of law at all, either before the duel or after it. It's no place for it. It was not like him. I couldn't understand it. How did it happen?"
"It happened because he didn't know anything about it. He was asleep when I got home last night."
"And you didn't wake him? Tom, is that possible?"
Tom was not getting much comfort here. He fidgeted a moment, then said:
"I didn't choose to tell him--that's all. He was going a-fishing before dawn, with Pembroke Howard, and if I got the twins into the common calaboose--and I thought sure I could--I never dreamed of their slipping out on a paltry fine for such an outrageous offense-- well, once in the calaboose they would be disgraced, and uncle wouldn't want any duels with that sort of characters, and wouldn't allow any.
"Tom, I am ashamed of you! I don't see how you could treat your good old uncle so. I am a better friend of his than you are; for if I had known the circumstances I would have kept that case out of court until I got word to him and let him have the gentleman's chance."
"You would?" exclaimed Tom, with lively surprise. "And it your first case! And you know perfectly well there never would have been any case if he had got that chance, don't you? And you'd have finished your days a pauper nobody, instead of being an actually launched and recognized lawyer today. And you would really have done that, would you?"
Tom looked at him a moment or two, then shook his head sorrowfully and said:
"I believe you--upon my word I do. I don't know why I do, but I do. Pudd'nhead Wilson, I think you're the biggest fool I ever saw."
"Don't mention it."
"Well, he has been requiring you to fight the Italian, and you have refused. You degenerate remnant of an honorable line! I'm thoroughly ashamed of you, Tom!"
"Oh, that's nothing! I don't care for anything, now that the will's torn up again."
"Tom, tell me squarely--didn't he find any fault with you for anything but those two things--carrying the case into court and refusing to fight?"
He watched the young fellow's face narrowly, but it was entirely reposeful, and so also was the voice that answered:
"No, he didn't find any other fault with me. If he had had any to find, he would have begun yesterday, for he was just in the humor for it. He drove that jack-pair around town and showed them the sights, and when he came home he couldn't find his father's old silver watch that don't keep time and he thinks so much of, and couldn't remember what he did with it three or four days ago when he saw it last, and when I suggested that it probably wasn't lost but stolen, it put him in a regular passion, and he said I was a fool-- which convinced me, without any trouble, that that was just what he was afraid had happened, himself, but did not want to believe it, because lost things stand a better chance of being found again than stolen ones."
"Whe-ew!" whistled Wilson. "Score another one the list."
"Yes, theft. That watch isn't lost, it's stolen. There's been another raid on the town--and just the same old mysterious sort of thing that has happened once before, as you remember."
"You don't mean it!"
"It's as sure as you are born! Have you missed anything yourself?"
"No. That is, I did miss a silver pencil case that Aunt Mary Pratt gave me last birthday--"
"You'll find it stolen--that's what you'll find."
"No, I sha'n't; for when I suggested theft about the watch and got such a rap, I went and examined my room, and the pencil case was missing, but it was only mislaid, and I found it again."
"You are sure you missed nothing else?"
"Well, nothing of consequence. I missed a small plain gold ring worth two or three dollars, but that will turn up. I'll look again."
"In my opinion you'll not find it. There's been a raid, I tell you. Come in!"
Mr. Justice Robinson entered, followed by Buckstone and the town constable, Jim Blake. They sat down, and after some wandering and aimless weather-conversation Wilson said:
"By the way, We've just added another to the list of thefts, maybe two. Judge Driscoll's old silver watch is gone, and Tom here has missed a gold ring."
"Well, it is a bad business," said the justice, "and gets worse the further it goes. The Hankses, the Dobsons, the Pilligrews, the Ortons, the Grangers, the Hales, the Fullers, the Holcombs, in fact everybody that lives around about Patsy Cooper's had been robbed of little things like trinkets and teaspoons and suchlike small valuables that are easily carried off. It's perfectly plain that the thief took advantage of the reception at Patsy Cooper's when all the neighbors were in her house and all their niggers hanging around her fence for a look at the show, to raid the vacant houses undisturbed. Patsy is miserable about it; miserable on account of the neighbors, and particularly miserable on account of her foreigners, of course; so miserable on their account that she hasn't any room to worry about her own little losses."
"It's the same old raider," said Wilson. "I suppose there isn't any doubt about that."
"Constable Blake doesn't think so."
"No, you're wrong there," said Blake. "The other times it was a man; there was plenty of signs of that, as we know, in the profession, thought we never got hands on him; but this time it's a woman."
Wilson thought of the mysterious girl straight off. She was always in his mind now. But she failed him again. Blake continued:
"She's a stoop-shouldered old woman with a covered basket on her arm, in a black veil, dressed in mourning. I saw her going aboard the ferryboat yesterday. Lives in Illinois, I reckon; but I don't care where she lives, I'm going to get her--she can make herself sure of that."
"What makes you think she's the thief?"
"Well, there ain't any other, for one thing; and for another, some nigger draymen that happened to be driving along saw her coming out of or going into houses, and told me so--and it just happens that they was robbed, every time."
It was granted that this was plenty good enough circumstantial evidence. A pensive silence followed, which lasted some moments, then Wilson said:
"There's one good thing, anyway. She can't either pawn or sell Count Luigi's costly Indian dagger."
"My!" said Tom. "Is that gone?"
"Well, that was a haul! But why can't she pawn it or sell it?"
"Because when the twins went home from the Sons of Liberty meeting last night, news of the raid was sifting in from everywhere, and Aunt Patsy was in distress to know if they had lost anything. They found that the dagger was gone, and they notified the police and pawnbrokers everywhere. It was a great haul, yes, but the old woman won't get anything out of it, because she'll get caught."
"Did they offer a reward?" asked Buckstone.
"Yes, five hundred dollars for the knife, and five hundred more for the thief."
"What a leather-headed idea!" exclaimed the constable. "The thief das'n't go near them, nor send anybody. Whoever goes is going to get himself nabbed, for their ain't any pawnbroker that's going to lose the chance to--"
If anybody had noticed Tom's face at that time, the gray-green color of it might have provoked curiosity; but nobody did. He said to himself: "I'm gone! I never can square up; the rest of the plunder won't pawn or sell for half of the bill. Oh, I know it-- I'm gone, I'm gone--and this time it's for good. Oh, this is awful-- I don't know what to do, nor which way to turn!"
"Softly, softly," said Wilson to Blake. "I planned their scheme for them at midnight last night, and it was all finished up shipshape by two this morning. They'll get their dagger back, and then I'll explain to you how the thing was done."
There were strong signs of a general curiosity, and Buckstone said:
"Well, you have whetted us up pretty sharp. Wilson, and I'm free to say that if you don't mind telling us in confidence--"
"Oh, I'd as soon tell as not, Buckstone, but as long as the twins and I agreed to say nothing about it, we must let it stand so. But you can take my word for it, you won't be kept waiting three days. Somebody will apply for that reward pretty promptly, and I'll show you the thief and the dagger both very soon afterward."
The constable was disappointed, and also perplexed. He said:
"It may all be--yes, and I hope it will, but I'm blamed if I can see my way through it. It's too many for yours truly."
The subject seemed about talked out. Nobody seemed to have anything further to offer. After a silence the justice of the peace informed Wilson that he and Buckstone and the constable had come as a committee, on the part of the Democratic party, to ask him to run for mayor--for the little town was about to become a city and the first charter election was approaching. It was the first attention which Wilson had ever received at the hands of any party; it was a sufficiently humble one, but it was a recognition of his debut into the town's life and activities at last; it was a step upward, and he was deeply gratified. He accepted, and the committee departed, followed by young Tom.