A NIGHT'S VIGIL
BENNY she was looking pretty sober, and she sighed some, now and then;but pretty soon she got to asking about Mary, and Sid, and Tom's auntPolly, and then Aunt Sally's clouds cleared off and she got in a goodhumor and joined in on the questions and was her lovingest best self, andso the rest of the supper went along gay and pleasant. But the old man hedidn't take any hand hardly, and was absent-minded and restless, and donea considerable amount of sighing; and it was kind of heart-breaking tosee him so sad and troubled and worried.
By and by, a spell after supper, come a nigger and knocked on the doorand put his head in with his old straw hat in his hand bowing andscraping, and said his Marse Brace was out at the stile and wanted hisbrother, and was getting tired waiting supper for him, and would MarseSilas please tell him where he was? I never see Uncle Silas speak up sosharp and fractious before. He says:
"Am I his brother's keeper?" And then he kind of wilted together, andlooked like he wished he hadn't spoken so, and then he says, very gentle:"But you needn't say that, Billy; I was took sudden and irritable, and Iain't very well these days, and not hardly responsible. Tell him he ain'there."
And when the nigger was gone he got up and walked the floor, backwardsand forwards, mumbling and muttering to himself and plowing his handsthrough his hair. It was real pitiful to see him. Aunt Sally shewhispered to us and told us not to take notice of him, it embarrassedhim. She said he was always thinking and thinking, since these troublescome on, and she allowed he didn't more'n about half know what he wasabout when the thinking spells was on him; and she said he walked in hissleep considerable more now than he used to, and sometimes wanderedaround over the house and even outdoors in his sleep, and if we catchedhim at it we must let him alone and not disturb him. She said shereckoned it didn't do him no harm, and may be it done him good. She saidBenny was the only one that was much help to him these days. Said Bennyappeared to know just when to try to soothe him and when to leave himalone.
So he kept on tramping up and down the floor and muttering, till by andby he begun to look pretty tired; then Benny she went and snuggled up tohis side and put one hand in his and one arm around his waist and walkedwith him; and he smiled down on her, and reached down and kissed her; andso, little by little the trouble went out of his face and she persuadedhim off to his room. They had very petting ways together, and it wasuncommon pretty to see.
Aunt Sally she was busy getting the children ready for bed; so by and byit got dull and tedious, and me and Tom took a turn in the moonlight, andfetched up in the watermelon-patch and et one, and had a good deal oftalk. And Tom said he'd bet the quarreling was all Jubiter's fault, andhe was going to be on hand the first time he got a chance, and see; andif it was so, he was going to do his level best to get Uncle Silas toturn him off.
And so we talked and smoked and stuffed watermelons much as two hours,and then it was pretty late, and when we got back the house was quiet anddark, and everybody gone to bed.
Tom he always seen everything, and now he see that the old green baizework-gown was gone, and said it wasn't gone when he went out; so heallowed it was curious, and then we went up to bed.
We could hear Benny stirring around in her room, which was next to ourn,and judged she was worried a good deal about her father and couldn'tsleep. We found we couldn't, neither. So we set up a long time, andsmoked and talked in a low voice, and felt pretty dull and down-hearted.We talked the murder and the ghost over and over again, and got so creepyand crawly we couldn't get sleepy nohow and noway.
By and by, when it was away late in the night and all the sounds was latesounds and solemn, Tom nudged me and whispers to me to look, and I doneit, and there we see a man poking around in the yard like he didn't knowjust what he wanted to do, but it was pretty dim and we couldn't see himgood. Then he started for the stile, and as he went over it the mooncame out strong, and he had a long-handled shovel over his shoulder, andwe see the white patch on the old work-gown. So Tom says:
"He's a-walking in his sleep. I wish we was allowed to follow him andsee where he's going to. There, he's turned down by the tobacker-field.Out of sight now. It's a dreadful pity he can't rest no better."
We waited a long time, but he didn't come back any more, or if he did hecome around the other way; so at last we was tuckered out and went tosleep and had nightmares, a million of them. But before dawn we wasawake again, because meantime a storm had come up and been raging, andthe thunder and lightning was awful, and the wind was a-thrashing thetrees around, and the rain was driving down in slanting sheets, and thegullies was running rivers. Tom says:
"Looky here, Huck, I'll tell you one thing that's mighty curious. Up tothe time we went out last night the family hadn't heard about Jake Dunlapbeing murdered. Now the men that chased Hal Clayton and Bud Dixon awaywould spread the thing around in a half an hour, and every neighbor thatheard it would shin out and fly around from one farm to t'other and tryto be the first to tell the news. Land, they don't have such a big thingas that to tell twice in thirty year! Huck, it's mighty strange; I don'tunderstand it."
So then he was in a fidget for the rain to let up, so we could turn outand run across some of the people and see if they would say anythingabout it to us. And he said if they did we must be horribly surprised andshocked.
We was out and gone the minute the rain stopped. It was just broad daythen. We loafed along up the road, and now and then met a person andstopped and said howdy, and told them when we come, and how we left thefolks at home, and how long we was going to stay, and all that, but noneof them said a word about that thing; which was just astonishing, and nomistake. Tom said he believed if we went to the sycamores we would findthat body laying there solitary and alone, and not a soul around. Saidhe believed the men chased the thieves so far into the woods that thethieves prob'ly seen a good chance and turned on them at last, and maybethey all killed each other, and so there wasn't anybody left to tell.
First we knowed, gabbling along that away, we was right at the sycamores.The cold chills trickled down my back and I wouldn't budge another step,for all Tom's persuading. But he couldn't hold in; he'd GOT to see if theboots was safe on that body yet. So he crope in--and the next minute outhe come again with his eyes bulging he was so excited, and says:
"Huck, it's gone!"
I WAS astonished! I says:
"Tom, you don't mean it."
"It's gone, sure. There ain't a sign of it. The ground is trampledsome, but if there was any blood it's all washed away by the storm, forit's all puddles and slush in there."
At last I give in, and went and took a look myself; and it was just asTom said--there wasn't a sign of a corpse.
"Dern it," I says, "the di'monds is gone. Don't you reckon the thievesslunk back and lugged him off, Tom?"
"Looks like it. It just does. Now where'd they hide him, do youreckon?"
"I don't know," I says, disgusted, "and what's more I don't care.They've got the boots, and that's all I cared about. He'll lay aroundthese woods a long time before I hunt him up."
Tom didn't feel no more intrust in him neither, only curiosity to knowwhat come of him; but he said we'd lay low and keep dark and it wouldn'tbe long till the dogs or somebody rousted him out.
We went back home to breakfast ever so bothered and put out anddisappointed and swindled. I warn't ever so down on a corpse before.