AT half-past nine, that night, Tom and
Sid were sent to bed, as usual. They
said their prayers, and Sid was soon
asleep. Tom lay awake and waited, in
restless impatience. When it seemed to
him that it must be nearly daylight, he
heard the clock strike ten! This was despair. He
would have tossed and fidgeted, as his nerves demanded,
but he was afraid he might wake Sid. So he lay
still, and stared up into the dark. Everything was
dismally still. By and by, out of the stillness, little,
scarcely preceptible noises began to emphasize themselves. The ticking of the clock began to bring itself into notice. Old beams began to crack mysteriously. The stairs creaked faintly. Evidently spirits
were abroad. A measured, muffled snore issued
from Aunt Polly's chamber. And now the tiresome
chirping of a cricket that no human ingenuity could
locate, began. Next the ghastly ticking of a deathwatch in the wall at the bed's head made Tom shudder
-- it meant that somebody's days were numbered.
Then the howl of a far-off dog rose on the night air,
and was answered by a fainter howl from a remoter
distance. Tom was in an agony. At last he was
satisfied that time had ceased and eternity begun; he
began to doze, in spite of himself; the clock chimed
eleven, but he did not hear it. And then there came,
mingling with his half-formed dreams, a most melancholy caterwauling. The raising of a neighboring
window disturbed him. A cry of "Scat! you devil!"
and the crash of an empty bottle against the back of
his aunt's woodshed brought him wide awake, and a
single minute later he was dressed and out of the window and creeping along the roof of the "ell" on all
fours. He "meow'd" with caution once or twice, as
he went; then jumped to the roof of the woodshed and
thence to the ground. Huckleberry Finn was there,
with his dead cat. The boys moved off and disappeared in the gloom. At the end of half an hour they
were wading through the tall grass of the graveyard.
It was a graveyard of the old-fashioned Western
kind. It was on a hill, about a mile and a half from
the village. It had a crazy board fence around it,
which leaned inward in places, and outward the rest
of the time, but stood upright nowhere. Grass and
weeds grew rank over the whole cemetery. All the
old graves were sunken in, there was not a tombstone
on the place; round-topped, worm-eaten boards staggered over the graves, leaning for support and finding
none. "Sacred to the memory of" So-and-So had been
painted on them once, but it could no longer have been
read, on the most of them, now, even if there had
A faint wind moaned through the trees, and Tom
feared it might be the spirits of the dead, complaining at being disturbed. The boys talked little, and
only under their breath, for the time and the place
and the pervading solemnity and silence oppressed
their spirits. They found the sharp new heap they
were seeking, and ensconced themselves within the
protection of three great elms that grew in a bunch
within a few feet of the grave.
Then they waited in silence for what seemed a long
time. The hooting of a distant owl was all the sound
that troubled the dead stillness. Tom's reflections
grew oppressive. He must force some talk. So he
said in a whisper:
"Hucky, do you believe the dead people like it for
us to be here?"
"I wisht I knowed. It's awful solemn like, AIN'T it?"
"I bet it is."
There was a considerable pause, while the boys
canvassed this matter inwardly. Then Tom whispered:
"Say, Hucky -- do you reckon Hoss Williams hears
"O' course he does. Least his sperrit does."
Tom, after a pause:
"I wish I'd said Mister Williams. But I never
meant any harm. Everybody calls him Hoss."
"A body can't be too partic'lar how they talk 'bout
these-yer dead people, Tom."
This was a damper, and conversation died again.
Presently Tom seized his comrade's arm and said:
"What is it, Tom?" And the two clung together
with beating hearts.
"Sh! There 'tis again! Didn't you hear it?"
"There! Now you hear it."
"Lord, Tom, they're coming! They're coming,
sure. What'll we do?"
"I dono. Think they'll see us?"
"Oh, Tom, they can see in the dark, same as cats.
I wisht I hadn't come."
"Oh, don't be afeard. I don't believe they'll bother
us. We ain't doing any harm. If we keep perfectly
still, maybe they won't notice us at all."
"I'll try to, Tom, but, Lord, I'm all of a shiver."
The boys bent their heads together and scarcely
breathed. A muffled sound of voices floated up from
the far end of the graveyard.
"Look! See there!" whispered Tom. "What is it?"
"It's devil-fire. Oh, Tom, this is awful."
Some vague figures approached through the gloom,
swinging an old-fashioned tin lantern that freckled
the ground with innumerable little spangles of light.
Presently Huckleberry whispered with a shudder:
"It's the devils sure enough. Three of 'em! Lordy,
Tom, we're goners! Can you pray?"
"I'll try, but don't you be afeard. They ain't going
to hurt us. 'Now I lay me down to sleep, I --'"
"What is it, Huck?"
"They're HUMANS! One of 'em is, anyway. One
of 'em's old Muff Potter's voice."
"No -- 'tain't so, is it?"
"I bet I know it. Don't you stir nor budge. He
ain't sharp enough to notice us. Drunk, the same as
usual, likely -- blamed old rip!"
"All right, I'll keep still. Now they're stuck.
Can't find it. Here they come again. Now they're
hot. Cold again. Hot again. Red hot! They're
p'inted right, this time. Say, Huck, I know another
o' them voices; it's Injun Joe."
"That's so -- that murderin' half-breed! I'd druther
they was devils a dern sight. What kin they be up
The whisper died wholly out, now, for the three
men had reached the grave and stood within a few
feet of the boys' hiding-place.
"Here it is," said the third voice; and the owner
of it held the lantern up and revealed the face of young
Potter and Injun Joe were carrying a handbarrow
with a rope and a couple of shovels on it. They cast
down their load and began to open the grave. The
doctor put the lantern at the head of the grave and came
and sat down with his back against one of the elm trees.
He was so close the boys could have touched him.
"Hurry, men!" he said, in a low voice; "the moon
might come out at any moment."
They growled a response and went on digging.
For some time there was no noise but the grating
sound of the spades discharging their freight of mould
and gravel. It was very monotonous. Finally a spade
struck upon the coffin with a dull woody accent, and
within another minute or two the men had hoisted it
out on the ground. They pried off the lid with their
shovels, got out the body and dumped it rudely on the
ground. The moon drifted from behind the clouds
and exposed the pallid face. The barrow was got ready
and the corpse placed on it, covered with a blanket,
and bound to its place with the rope. Potter took out
a large spring-knife and cut off the dangling end of the
rope and then said:
"Now the cussed thing's ready, Sawbones, and
you'll just out with another five, or here she stays."
"That's the talk!" said Injun Joe.
"Look here, what does this mean?" said the doctor.
"You required your pay in advance, and I've paid
"Yes, and you done more than that," said Injun
Joe, approaching the doctor, who was now standing.
"Five years ago you drove me away from your father's
kitchen one night, when I come to ask for something
to eat, and you said I warn't there for any good; and
when I swore I'd get even with you if it took a hundred
years, your father had me jailed for a vagrant. Did
you think I'd forget? The Injun blood ain't in me for
nothing. And now I've GOT you, and you got to SETTLE,
He was threatening the doctor, with his fist in his
face, by this time. The doctor struck out suddenly and
stretched the ruffian on the ground. Potter dropped
his knife, and exclaimed:
"Here, now, don't you hit my pard!" and the next
moment he had grappled with the doctor and the two
were struggling with might and main, trampling the
grass and tearing the ground with their heels. Injun
Joe sprang to his feet, his eyes flaming with passion,
snatched up Potter's knife, and went creeping, catlike
and stooping, round and round about the combatants,
seeking an opportunity. All at once the doctor flung
himself free, seized the heavy headboard of Williams'
grave and felled Potter to the earth with it -- and in the
same instant the half-breed saw his chance and drove
the knife to the hilt in the young man's breast. He
reeled and fell partly upon Potter, flooding him with his
blood, and in the same moment the clouds blotted out the
dreadful spectacle and the two frightened boys went
speeding away in the dark.
Presently, when the moon emerged again, Injun
Joe was standing over the two forms, contemplating
them. The doctor murmured inarticulately, gave a
long gasp or two and was still. The half-breed muttered:
"THAT score is settled -- damn you."
Then he robbed the body. After which he put
the fatal knife in Potter's open right hand, and sat
down on the dismantled coffin. Three -- four -- five
minutes passed, and then Potter began to stir and
moan. His hand closed upon the knife; he raised
it, glanced at it, and let it fall, with a shudder. Then
he sat up, pushing the body from him, and gazed at it,
and then around him, confusedly. His eyes met Joe's.
"Lord, how is this, Joe?" he said.
"It's a dirty business," said Joe, without moving.
"What did you do it for?"
"I! I never done it!"
"Look here! That kind of talk won't wash."
Potter trembled and grew white.
"I thought I'd got sober. I'd no business to drink
to-night. But it's in my head yet -- worse'n when we
started here. I'm all in a muddle; can't recollect anything of it, hardly. Tell me, Joe -- HONEST, now, old
feller -- did I do it? Joe, I never meant to -- 'pon my
soul and honor, I never meant to, Joe. Tell me how
it was, Joe. Oh, it's awful -- and him so young and
"Why, you two was scuffling, and he fetched you
one with the headboard and you fell flat; and then
up you come, all reeling and staggering like, and
snatched the knife and jammed it into him, just as
he fetched you another awful clip -- and here you've
laid, as dead as a wedge til now."
"Oh, I didn't know what I was a-doing. I wish
I may die this minute if I did. It was all on account
of the whiskey and the excitement, I reckon. I never
used a weepon in my life before, Joe. I've fought, but
never with weepons. They'll all say that. Joe, don't
tell! Say you won't tell, Joe -- that's a good feller. I
always liked you, Joe, and stood up for you, too. Don't
you remember? You WON'T tell, WILL you, Joe?" And
the poor creature dropped on his knees before the stolid
murderer, and clasped his appealing hands.
"No, you've always been fair and square with me,
Muff Potter, and I won't go back on you. There, now,
that's as fair as a man can say."
"Oh, Joe, you're an angel. I'll bless you for this
the longest day I live." And Potter began to cry.
"Come, now, that's enough of that. This ain't any
time for blubbering. You be off yonder way and I'll
go this. Move, now, and don't leave any tracks behind you."
Potter started on a trot that quickly increased to a
run. The half-breed stood looking after him. He
"If he's as much stunned with the lick and fuddled with the rum as he had the look of being, he
won't think of the knife till he's gone so far he'll be
afraid to come back after it to such a place by himself -- chicken-heart!"
Two or three minutes later the murdered man, the
blanketed corpse, the lidless coffin, and the open grave
were under no inspection but the moon's. The stillness was complete again, too.