THE THREE SLEEPERS
WELL, all day we went through the humbug of watching one another, and itwas pretty sickly business for two of us and hard to act out, I can tell you. About night we landed at one of them little Missouri towns high up toward Iowa, and had supper at the tavern, and got a room upstairs with a cot and a double bed in it, but I dumped my bag under a deal table in the dark hall while we was moving along it to bed, single file, me last, and the landlord in the lead with a tallow candle. We had up a lot of whisky,and went to playing high-low-jack for dimes, and as soon as the whisky begun to take hold of Bud we stopped drinking, but we didn't let him stop. We loaded him till he fell out of his chair and laid there snoring.
"We was ready for business now. I said we better pull our boots off, andhis'n too, and not make any noise, then we could pull him and haul himaround and ransack him without any trouble. So we done it. I set myboots and Bud's side by side, where they'd be handy. Then we stripped himand searched his seams and his pockets and his socks and the inside ofhis boots, and everything, and searched his bundle. Never found anydi'monds. We found the screwdriver, and Hal says, 'What do you reckon hewanted with that?' I said I didn't know; but when he wasn't looking Ihooked it. At last Hal he looked beat and discouraged, and said we'd gotto give it up. That was what I was waiting for. I says:
"'There's one place we hain't searched.'
"'What place is that?' he says.
"'By gracious, I never thought of that! NOW we're on the homestretch, toa dead moral certainty. How'll we manage?'
"'Well,' I says, 'just stay by him till I turn out and hunt up a drugstore, and I reckon I'll fetch something that'll make them di'monds tiredof the company they're keeping.'
"He said that's the ticket, and with him looking straight at me I slidmyself into Bud's boots instead of my own, and he never noticed. Theywas just a shade large for me, but that was considerable better thanbeing too small. I got my bag as I went a-groping through the hall, andin about a minute I was out the back way and stretching up the river roadat a five-mile gait.
"And not feeling so very bad, neither--walking on di'monds don't have nosuch effect. When I had gone fifteen minutes I says to myself, there'smore'n a mile behind me, and everything quiet. Another five minutes andI says there's considerable more land behind me now, and there's a manback there that's begun to wonder what's the trouble. Another five and Isays to myself he's getting real uneasy--he's walking the floor now.Another five, and I says to myself, there's two mile and a half behindme, and he's AWFUL uneasy--beginning to cuss, I reckon. Pretty soon Isays to myself, forty minutes gone--he KNOWS there's something up! Fiftyminutes--the truth's a-busting on him now! he is reckoning I found thedi'monds whilst we was searching, and shoved them in my pocket and neverlet on--yes, and he's starting out to hunt for me. He'll hunt for newtracks in the dust, and they'll as likely send him down the river as up.
"Just then I see a man coming down on a mule, and before I thought Ijumped into the bush. It was stupid! When he got abreast he stopped andwaited a little for me to come out; then he rode on again. But I didn'tfeel gay any more. I says to myself I've botched my chances by that; Isurely have, if he meets up with Hal Clayton.
"Well, about three in the morning I fetched Elexandria and see thisstern-wheeler laying there, and was very glad, because I felt perfectlysafe, now, you know. It was just daybreak. I went aboard and got thisstateroom and put on these clothes and went up in the pilot-house--towatch, though I didn't reckon there was any need of it. I set there andplayed with my di'monds and waited and waited for the boat to start, butshe didn't. You see, they was mending her machinery, but I didn't knowanything about it, not being very much used to steamboats.
"Well, to cut the tale short, we never left there till plumb noon; andlong before that I was hid in this stateroom; for before breakfast I seea man coming, away off, that had a gait like Hal Clayton's, and it mademe just sick. I says to myself, if he finds out I'm aboard this boat,he's got me like a rat in a trap. All he's got to do is to have mewatched, and wait--wait till I slip ashore, thinking he is a thousandmiles away, then slip after me and dog me to a good place and make megive up the di'monds, and then he'll--oh, I know what he'll do! Ain't itawful--awful! And now to think the OTHER one's aboard, too! Oh, ain't ithard luck, boys--ain't it hard! But you'll help save me, WON'T you?--oh,boys, be good to a poor devil that's being hunted to death, and saveme--I'll worship the very ground you walk on!"
We turned in and soothed him down and told him we would plan for him andhelp him, and he needn't be so afeard; and so by and by he got to feelingkind of comfortable again, and unscrewed his heelplates and held up hisdi'monds this way and that, admiring them and loving them; and when thelight struck into them they WAS beautiful, sure; why, they seemed to kindof bust, and snap fire out all around. But all the same I judged he wasa fool. If I had been him I would a handed the di'monds to them pals andgot them to go ashore and leave me alone. But he was made different. Hesaid it was a whole fortune and he couldn't bear the idea.
Twice we stopped to fix the machinery and laid a good while, once in thenight; but it wasn't dark enough, and he was afeard to skip. But thethird time we had to fix it there was a better chance. We laid up at acountry woodyard about forty mile above Uncle Silas's place a littleafter one at night, and it was thickening up and going to storm. So Jakehe laid for a chance to slide. We begun to take in wood. Pretty soonthe rain come a-drenching down, and the wind blowed hard. Of courseevery boat-hand fixed a gunny sack and put it on like a bonnet, the waythey do when they are toting wood, and we got one for Jake, and heslipped down aft with his hand-bag and come tramping forrard just likethe rest, and walked ashore with them, and when we see him pass out ofthe light of the torch-basket and get swallowed up in the dark, we gotour breath again and just felt grateful and splendid. But it wasn't forlong. Somebody told, I reckon; for in about eight or ten minutes themtwo pals come tearing forrard as tight as they could jump and dartedashore and was gone. We waited plumb till dawn for them to come back,and kept hoping they would, but they never did. We was awful sorry andlow-spirited. All the hope we had was that Jake had got such a start thatthey couldn't get on his track, and he would get to his brother's andhide there and be safe.
He was going to take the river road, and told us to find out if Brace andJubiter was to home and no strangers there, and then slip out aboutsundown and tell him. Said he would wait for us in a little bunch ofsycamores right back of Tom's uncle Silas's tobacker field on the riverroad, a lonesome place.
We set and talked a long time about his chances, and Tom said he was allright if the pals struck up the river instead of down, but it wasn'tlikely, because maybe they knowed where he was from; more likely theywould go right, and dog him all day, him not suspecting, and kill himwhen it come dark, and take the boots. So we was pretty sorrowful.