As the earliest suspicion of dawn appeared on Sunday morning, Huck cam_roping up the hill and rapped gently at the old Welshman's door. The inmate_ere asleep, but it was a sleep that was set on a hair-trigger, on account o_he exciting episode of the night. A call came from a window: "Who's there!"
Huck's scared voice answered in a low tone:
"Please let me in! It's only Huck Finn!"
"It's a name that can open this door night or day, lad! — and welcome!"
These were strange words to the vagabond boy's ears, and the pleasantest h_ad ever heard. He could not recollect that the closing word had ever bee_pplied in his case before. The door was quickly unlocked, and he entered.
Huck was given a seat and the old man and his brace of tall sons speedil_ressed themselves.
"Now, my boy, I hope you're good and hungry, because breakfast will be read_s soon as the sun's up, and we'll have a piping hot one, too — make yoursel_asy about that! I and the boys hoped you'd turn up and stop here last night."
"I was awful scared," said Huck, "and I run. I took out when the pistols wen_ff, and I didn't stop for three mile. I've come now becuz I wanted to kno_bout it, you know; and I come before daylight becuz I didn't want to ru_cross them devils, even if they was dead."
"Well, poor chap, you do look as if you'd had a hard night of it — but there'_ bed here for you when you've had your breakfast. No, they ain't dead, lad — we are sorry enough for that. You see we knew right where to put our hands o_hem, by your description; so we crept along on tiptoe till we got withi_ifteen feet of them — dark as a cellar that sumach path was — and just then _ound I was going to sneeze. It was the meanest kind of luck! I tried to kee_t back, but no use — 'twas bound to come, and it did come! I was in the lea_ith my pistol raised, and when the sneeze started those scoundrels a-rustlin_o get out of the path, I sung out, 'Fire boys!' and blazed away at the plac_here the rustling was. So did the boys. But they were off in a jiffy, thos_illains, and we after them, down through the woods. I judge we never touche_hem. They fired a shot apiece as they started, but their bullets whizzed b_nd didn't do us any harm. As soon as we lost the sound of their feet we qui_hasing, and went down and stirred up the constables. They got a poss_ogether, and went off to guard the river bank, and as soon as it is light th_heriff and a gang are going to beat up the woods. My boys will be with the_resently. I wish we had some sort of description of those rascals — 'twoul_elp a good deal. But you couldn't see what they were like, in the dark, lad, I suppose?"
"Oh yes; I saw them down-town and follered them."
"Splendid! Describe them — describe them, my boy!"
"One's the old deaf and dumb Spaniard that's ben around here once or twice, and t'other's a mean-looking, ragged —"
"That's enough, lad, we know the men! Happened on them in the woods back o_he widow's one day, and they slunk away. Off with you, boys, and tell th_heriff — get your breakfast to-morrow morning!"
The Welshman's sons departed at once. As they were leaving the room Huc_prang up and exclaimed:
"Oh, please don't tell anybody it was me that blowed on them! Oh, please!"
"All right if you say it, Huck, but you ought to have the credit of what yo_id."
"Oh no, no! Please don't tell!"
When the young men were gone, the old Welshman said:
"They won't tell — and I won't. But why don't you want it known?"
Huck would not explain, further than to say that he already knew too muc_bout one of those men and would not have the man know that he knew anythin_gainst him for the whole world — he would be killed for knowing it, sure.
The old man promised secrecy once more, and said:
"How did you come to follow these fellows, lad? Were they looking suspicious?"
Huck was silent while he framed a duly cautious reply. Then he said:
"Well, you see, I'm a kind of a hard lot, — least everybody says so, and _on't see nothing agin it — and sometimes I can't sleep much, on account o_hinking about it and sort of trying to strike out a new way of doing. Tha_as the way of it last night. I couldn't sleep, and so I come along up-street
'bout midnight, a-turning it all over, and when I got to that old shackl_rick store by the Temperance Tavern, I backed up agin the wall to hav_nother think. Well, just then along comes these two chaps slipping alon_lose by me, with something under their arm, and I reckoned they'd stole it.
One was a-smoking, and t'other one wanted a light; so they stopped righ_efore me and the cigars lit up their faces and I see that the big one was th_eaf and dumb Spaniard, by his white whiskers and the patch on his eye, an_'other one was a rusty, ragged-looking devil."
"Could you see the rags by the light of the cigars?"
This staggered Huck for a moment. Then he said:
"Well, I don't know — but somehow it seems as if I did."
"Then they went on, and you —"
"Follered 'em — yes. That was it. I wanted to see what was up — they sneake_long so. I dogged 'em to the widder's stile, and stood in the dark and hear_he ragged one beg for the widder, and the Spaniard swear he'd spile her look_ust as I told you and your two —"
"What! The deaf and dumb man said all that!"
Huck had made another terrible mistake! He was trying his best to keep the ol_an from getting the faintest hint of who the Spaniard might be, and yet hi_ongue seemed determined to get him into trouble in spite of all he could do.
He made several efforts to creep out of his scrape, but the old man's eye wa_pon him and he made blunder after blunder. Presently the Welshman said:
"My boy, don't be afraid of me. I wouldn't hurt a hair of your head for al_he world. No — I'd protect you — I'd protect you. This Spaniard is not dea_nd dumb; you've let that slip without intending it; you can't cover that u_ow. You know something about that Spaniard that you want to keep dark. No_rust me — tell me what it is, and trust me — I won't betray you."
Huck looked into the old man's honest eyes a moment, then bent over an_hispered in his ear:
"'Tain't a Spaniard — it's Injun Joe!"
The Welshman almost jumped out of his chair. In a moment he said:
"It's all plain enough, now. When you talked about notching ears and slittin_oses I judged that that was your own embellishment, because white men don'_ake that sort of revenge. But an Injun! That's a different matte_ltogether."
During breakfast the talk went on, and in the course of it the old man sai_hat the last thing which he and his sons had done, before going to bed, wa_o get a lantern and examine the stile and its vicinity for marks of blood.
They found none, but captured a bulky bundle of —
If the words had been lightning they could not have leaped with a mor_tunning suddenness from Huck's blanched lips. His eyes were staring wide, now, and his breath suspended — waiting for the answer. The Welshman started — stared in return — three seconds — five seconds — ten — then replied:
"Of burglar's tools. Why, what's the matter with you?"
Huck sank back, panting gently, but deeply, unutterably grateful. The Welshma_yed him gravely, curiously — and presently said:
"Yes, burglar's tools. That appears to relieve you a good deal. But what di_ive you that turn? What were you expecting we'd found?"
Huck was in a close place — the inquiring eye was upon him — he would hav_iven anything for material for a plausible answer — nothing suggested itself — the inquiring eye was boring deeper and deeper — a senseless reply offered — there was no time to weigh it, so at a venture he uttered it — feebly:
"Sunday-school books, maybe."
Poor Huck was too distressed to smile, but the old man laughed loud an_oyously, shook up the details of his anatomy from head to foot, and ended b_aying that such a laugh was money in a-man's pocket, because it cut down th_octor's bill like everything. Then he added:
"Poor old chap, you're white and jaded — you ain't well a bit — no wonde_ou're a little flighty and off your balance. But you'll come out of it. Res_nd sleep will fetch you out all right, I hope."
Huck was irritated to think he had been such a goose and betrayed such _uspicious excitement, for he had dropped the idea that the parcel brough_rom the tavern was the treasure, as soon as he had heard the talk at th_idow's stile. He had only thought it was not the treasure, however — he ha_ot known that it wasn't — and so the suggestion of a captured bundle was to_uch for his self-possession. But on the whole he felt glad the little episod_ad happened, for now he knew beyond all question that that bundle was not th_undle, and so his mind was at rest and exceedingly comfortable. In fact, everything seemed to be drifting just in the right direction, now; th_reasure must be still in No. 2, the men would be captured and jailed tha_ay, and he and Tom could seize the gold that night without any trouble or an_ear of interruption.
Just as breakfast was completed there was a knock at the door. Huck jumped fo_ hiding-place, for he had no mind to be connected even remotely with the lat_vent. The Welshman admitted several ladies and gentlemen, among them th_idow Douglas, and noticed that groups of citizens were climbing up the hill — to stare at the stile. So the news had spread. The Welshman had to tell th_tory of the night to the visitors. The widow's gratitude for her preservatio_as outspoken.
"Don't say a word about it, madam. There's another that you're more beholde_o than you are to me and my boys, maybe, but he don't allow me to tell hi_ame. We wouldn't have been there but for him."
Of course this excited a curiosity so vast that it almost belittled the mai_atter — but the Welshman allowed it to eat into the vitals of his visitors, and through them be transmitted to the whole town, for he refused to part wit_is secret. When all else had been learned, the widow said:
"I went to sleep reading in bed and slept straight through all that noise. Wh_idn't you come and wake me?"
"We judged it warn't worth while. Those fellows warn't likely to come again — they hadn't any tools left to work with, and what was the use of waking you u_nd scaring you to death? My three negro men stood guard at your house all th_est of the night. They've just come back."
More visitors came, and the story had to be told and retold for a couple o_ours more.
There was no Sabbath-school during day-school vacation, but everybody wa_arly at church. The stirring event was well canvassed. News came that not _ign of the two villains had been yet discovered. When the sermon wa_inished, Judge Thatcher's wife dropped alongside of Mrs. Harper as she move_own the aisle with the crowd and said:
"Is my Becky going to sleep all day? I just expected she would be tired t_eath."
"Yes," with a startled look — "didn't she stay with you last night?"
Mrs. Thatcher turned pale, and sank into a pew, just as Aunt Polly, talkin_riskly with a friend, passed by. Aunt Polly said:
"Good-morning, Mrs. Thatcher. Good-morning, Mrs. Harper. I've got a boy that'_urned up missing. I reckon my Tom stayed at your house last night — one o_ou. And now he's afraid to come to church. I've got to settle with him."
Mrs. Thatcher shook her head feebly and turned paler than ever.
"He didn't stay with us," said Mrs. Harper, beginning to look uneasy. A marke_nxiety came into Aunt Polly's face.
"Joe Harper, have you seen my Tom this morning?"
"When did you see him last?"
Joe tried to remember, but was not sure he could say. The people had stoppe_oving out of church. Whispers passed along, and a boding uneasiness too_ossession of every countenance. Children were anxiously questioned, and youn_eachers. They all said they had not noticed whether Tom and Becky were o_oard the ferryboat on the homeward trip; it was dark; no one thought o_nquiring if any one was missing. One young man finally blurted out his fea_hat they were still in the cave! Mrs. Thatcher swooned away. Aunt Polly fel_o crying and wringing her hands.
The alarm swept from lip to lip, from group to group, from street to street, and within five minutes the bells were wildly clanging and the whole town wa_p! The Cardiff Hill episode sank into instant insignificance, the burglar_ere forgotten, horses were saddled, skiffs were manned, the ferryboat ordere_ut, and before the horror was half an hour old, two hundred men were pourin_own highroad and river toward the cave.
All the long afternoon the village seemed empty and dead. Many women visite_unt Polly and Mrs. Thatcher and tried to comfort them. They cried with them, too, and that was still better than words. All the tedious night the tow_aited for news; but when the morning dawned at last, all the word that cam_as, "Send more candles — and send food." Mrs. Thatcher was almost crazed; an_unt Polly, also. Judge Thatcher sent messages of hope and encouragement fro_he cave, but they conveyed no real cheer.
The old Welshman came home toward daylight, spattered with candle-grease, smeared with clay, and almost worn out. He found Huck still in the bed tha_ad been provided for him, and delirious with fever. The physicians were al_t the cave, so the Widow Douglas came and took charge of the patient. Sh_aid she would do her best by him, because, whether he was good, bad, o_ndifferent, he was the Lord's, and nothing that was the Lord's was a thing t_e neglected. The Welshman said Huck had good spots in him, and the wido_aid:
"You can depend on it. That's the Lord's mark. He don't leave it off. He neve_oes. Puts it somewhere on every creature that comes from his hands."
Early in the forenoon parties of jaded men began to straggle into the village, but the strongest of the citizens continued searching. All the news that coul_e gained was that remotenesses of the cavern were being ransacked that ha_ever been visited before; that every corner and crevice was going to b_horoughly searched; that wherever one wandered through the maze of passages, lights were to be seen flitting hither and thither in the distance, an_houtings and pistol-shots sent their hollow reverberations to the ear dow_he sombre aisles. In one place, far from the section usually traversed b_ourists, the names "Becky & Tom" had been found traced upon the rocky wal_ith candle-smoke, and near at hand a grease-soiled bit of ribbon. Mrs.
Thatcher recognized the ribbon and cried over it. She said it was the las_elic she should ever have of her child; and that no other memorial of he_ould ever be so precious, because this one parted latest from the living bod_efore the awful death came. Some said that now and then, in the cave, a far- away speck of light would glimmer, and then a glorious shout would burst fort_nd a score of men go trooping down the echoing aisle — and then a sickenin_isappointment always followed; the children were not there; it was only _earcher's light.
Three dreadful days and nights dragged their tedious hours along, and th_illage sank into a hopeless stupor. No one had heart for anything. Th_ccidental discovery, just made, that the proprietor of the Temperance Taver_ept liquor on his premises, scarcely fluttered the public pulse, tremendou_s the fact was. In a lucid interval, Huck feebly led up to the subject o_averns, and finally asked — dimly dreading the worst — if anything had bee_iscovered at the Temperance Tavern since he had been ill.
"Yes," said the widow.
Huck started up in bed, wild-eyed:
"What? What was it?"
"Liquor! — and the place has been shut up. Lie down, child — what a turn yo_id give me!"
"Only tell me just one thing — only just one — please! Was it Tom Sawyer tha_ound it?"
The widow burst into tears. "Hush, hush, child, hush! I've told you before, you must not talk. You are very, very sick!"
Then nothing but liquor had been found; there would have been a great powwo_f it had been the gold. So the treasure was gone forever — gone forever! Bu_hat could she be crying about? Curious that she should cry.
These thoughts worked their dim way through Huck's mind, and under th_eariness they gave him he fell asleep. The widow said to herself:
"There — he's asleep, poor wreck. Tom Sawyer find it! Pity but somebody coul_ind Tom Sawyer! Ah, there ain't many left, now, that's got hope enough, o_trength enough, either, to go on searching."