A TRAGEDY IN THE WOODS
WE didn't get done tinkering the machinery till away late in theafternoon, and so it was so close to sundown when we got home that wenever stopped on our road, but made a break for the sycamores as tight aswe could go, to tell Jake what the delay was, and have him wait till wecould go to Brace's and find out how things was there. It was gettingpretty dim by the time we turned the corner of the woods, sweating andpanting with that long run, and see the sycamores thirty yards ahead ofus; and just then we see a couple of men run into the bunch and heard twoor three terrible screams for help. "Poor Jake is killed, sure," we says.We was scared through and through, and broke for the tobacker field andhid there, trembling so our clothes would hardly stay on; and just as weskipped in there, a couple of men went tearing by, and into the bunchthey went, and in a second out jumps four men and took out up the road astight as they could go, two chasing two.
We laid down, kind of weak and sick, and listened for more sounds, butdidn't hear none for a good while but just our hearts. We was thinkingof that awful thing laying yonder in the sycamores, and it seemed likebeing that close to a ghost, and it give me the cold shudders. The mooncome a-swelling up out of the ground, now, powerful big and round andbright, behind a comb of trees, like a face looking through prison bars,and the black shadders and white places begun to creep around, and it wasmiserable quiet and still and night-breezy and graveyardy and scary. Allof a sudden Tom whispers:
"Don't!" I says. "Don't take a person by surprise that way. I'm 'mostready to die, anyway, without you doing that."
"Look, I tell you. It's something coming out of the sycamores."
"It's terrible tall!"
"Oh, lordy-lordy! let's--"
"Keep still--it's a-coming this way."
He was so excited he could hardly get breath enough to whisper. I had tolook. I couldn't help it. So now we was both on our knees with our chinson a fence rail and gazing--yes, and gasping too. It was coming down theroad--coming in the shadder of the trees, and you couldn't see it good;not till it was pretty close to us; then it stepped into a bright splotchof moonlight and we sunk right down in our tracks--it was Jake Dunlap'sghost! That was what we said to ourselves.
We couldn't stir for a minute or two; then it was gone We talked about itin low voices. Tom says:
"They're mostly dim and smoky, or like they're made out of fog, but thisone wasn't."
"No," I says; "I seen the goggles and the whiskers perfectly plain."
"Yes, and the very colors in them loud countrified Sunday clothes--plaidbreeches, green and black--"
"Cotton velvet westcot, fire-red and yaller squares--"
"Leather straps to the bottoms of the breeches legs and one of themhanging unbottoned--"
"Yes, and that hat--"
"What a hat for a ghost to wear!"
You see it was the first season anybody wore that kind--a blackstiff-brim stove-pipe, very high, and not smooth, with a round top--justlike a sugar-loaf.
"Did you notice if its hair was the same, Huck?"
"No--seems to me I did, then again it seems to me I didn't."
"I didn't either; but it had its bag along, I noticed that."
"So did I. How can there be a ghost-bag, Tom?"
"Sho! I wouldn't be as ignorant as that if I was you, Huck Finn.Whatever a ghost has, turns to ghost-stuff. They've got to have theirthings, like anybody else. You see, yourself, that its clothes was turnedto ghost-stuff. Well, then, what's to hender its bag from turning, too?Of course it done it."
That was reasonable. I couldn't find no fault with it. Bill Withers andhis brother Jack come along by, talking, and Jack says:
"What do you reckon he was toting?"
"I dunno; but it was pretty heavy."
"Yes, all he could lug. Nigger stealing corn from old Parson Silas, Ijudged."
"So did I. And so I allowed I wouldn't let on to see him."
"That's me, too."
Then they both laughed, and went on out of hearing. It showed howunpopular old Uncle Silas had got to be now. They wouldn't 'a' let anigger steal anybody else's corn and never done anything to him.
We heard some more voices mumbling along towards us and getting louder,and sometimes a cackle of a laugh. It was Lem Beebe and Jim Lane. JimLane says:
"Oh, I don't know. I reckon so. I seen him spading up some ground alongabout an hour ago, just before sundown--him and the parson. Said heguessed he wouldn't go to-night, but we could have his dog if we wantedhim."
"Too tired, I reckon."
"Yes--works so hard!"
"Oh, you bet!"
They cackled at that, and went on by. Tom said we better jump out andtag along after them, because they was going our way and it wouldn't becomfortable to run across the ghost all by ourselves. So we done it, andgot home all right.
That night was the second of September--a Saturday. I sha'n't ever forgetit. You'll see why, pretty soon.