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Mark Twain > The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson > Chapter 3

The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson

Chapter 3


Roxy Plays a Shrewd Trick


Whoever has lived long enough to find out what life is,
knows how deep a debt of gratitude we owe to Adam,
the first great benefactor of our race. He brought death into the world.

--Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar


Percy Driscoll slept well the night he saved his house minions from
going down the river, but no wink of sleep visited Roxy's eyes.
A profound terror had taken possession of her. Her child could grow up
and be sold down the river! The thought crazed her with horror.
If she dozed and lost herself for a moment, the next moment she was
on her feet flying to her child's cradle to see if it was still there.
Then she would gather it to her heart and pour out her love upon it in
a frenzy of kisses, moaning, crying, and saying, "Dey sha'n't, oh,
dey _sha'nt'!'_--yo' po' mammy will kill you fust!"

Once, when she was tucking him back in its cradle again, the other child
nestled in its sleep and attracted her attention. She went and stood over
it a long time communing with herself.

"What has my po' baby done, dat he couldn't have yo' luck?
He hain't done nuth'n. God was good to you; why warn't he good to him?
Dey can't sell _you_ down de river. I hates yo' pappy; he hain't got
no heart--for niggers, he hain't, anyways. I hates him, en I could
kill him!" She paused awhile, thinking; then she burst into wild
sobbings again, and turned away, saying, "Oh, I got to kill my chile,
dey ain't no yuther way--killin' _him_ wouldn't save de chile fum goin'
down de river. Oh, I got to do it, yo' po' mammy's got to kill you to
save you, honey." She gathered her baby to her bosom now, and began to
smother it with caresses. "Mammy's got to kill you--how _kin_ I do it!
But yo' mammy ain't gwine to desert you--no, no, _dah_, don't cry--
she gwine _wid_ you, she gwine to kill herself too. Come along, honey,
come along wid mammy; we gwine to jump in de river, den troubles o' dis
worl' is all over--dey don't sell po' niggers down the river over _yonder_."

She stared toward the door, crooning to the child and hushing it;
midway she stopped, suddenly. She had caught sight of her new Sunday gown--
a cheap curtain-calico thing, a conflagration of gaudy colors and
fantastic figures. She surveyed it wistfully, longingly.

"Hain't ever wore it yet," she said, "en it's just lovely."
Then she nodded her head in response to a pleasant idea, and added,
"No, I ain't gwine to be fished out, wid everybody lookin' at me,
in dis mis'able ole linsey-woolsey."

She put down the child and made the change. She looked in the glass and
was astonished at her beauty. She resolved to make her death toilet perfect.
She took off her handkerchief turban and dressed her glossy wealth of
hair "like white folks"; she added some odds and ends of rather lurid
ribbon and a spray of atrocious artificial flowers; finally she threw
over her shoulders a fluffy thing called a "cloud" in that day,
which was of a blazing red complexion. Then she was ready for the tomb.

She gathered up her baby once more; but when her eye fell upon its
miserably short little gray tow-linen shirt and noted the contrast
between its pauper shabbiness and her own volcanic eruption of infernal
splendors, her mother-heart was touched, and she was ashamed.

"No, dolling mammy ain't gwine to treat you so. De angels is gwine
to 'mire you jist as much as dey does 'yo mammy. Ain't gwine to have
'em putt'n dey han's up 'fo' dey eyes en sayin' to David and Goliah
en dem yuther prophets, 'Dat chile is dress' to indelicate fo' dis place.'"

By this time she had stripped off the shirt. Now she clothed the naked
little creature in one of Thomas `a Becket's snowy, long baby gowns,
with its bright blue bows and dainty flummery of ruffles.

"Dah--now you's fixed." She propped the child in a chair and stood
off to inspect it. Straightway her eyes begun to widen with astonishment
and admiration, and she clapped her hands and cried out,
"Why, it do beat all! I _never_ knowed you was so lovely.
Marse Tommy ain't a bit puttier--not a single bit."

She stepped over and glanced at the other infant;' she flung a glance
back at her own; then one more at the heir of the house. Now a strange
light dawned in her eyes, and in a moment she was lost in thought.
She seemed in a trance; when she came out of it, she muttered,
"When I 'uz a-washin' 'em in de tub, yistiddy, he own pappy asked me
which of 'em was his'n."

She began to move around like one in a dream. She undressed
Thomas `a Becket, stripping him of everything, and put the tow-linen
shirt on him. She put his coral necklace on her own child's neck.
Then she placed the children side by side, and after earnest
inspection she muttered:

"Now who would b'lieve clo'es could do de like o' dat? Dog my cats
if it ain't all _I_ kin do to tell t' other fum which, let alone his pappy."

She put her cub in Tommy's elegant cradle and said:

"You's young Marse _Tom_ fum dis out, en I got to practice and git used
to 'memberin' to call you dat, honey, or I's gwine to make a mistake
sometime en git us bofe into trouble. Dah--now you lay still en
don't fret no mo', Marse Tom. Oh, thank de lord in heaven, you's saved,
you's saved! Dey ain't no man kin ever sell mammy's po' little
honey down de river now!"

She put the heir of the house in her own child's unpainted pine cradle,
and said, contemplating its slumbering form uneasily:

"I's sorry for you, honey; I's sorry, God knows I is--but what _kin_ I do,
what _could_ I do? Yo' pappy would sell him to somebody, sometime,
en den he'd go down de river, sho', en I couldn't, couldn't,
_couldn't_ stan' it."

She flung herself on her bed and began to think and toss, toss and think.
By and by she sat suddenly upright, for a comforting thought had flown
through her worried mind--

"'T ain't no sin--_white_ folks has done it! It ain't no sin,
glory to goodness it ain't no sin! _Dey's_ done it--yes, en dey was
de biggest quality in de whole bilin', too--_kings!"_

She began to muse; she was trying to gather out of her memory the
dim particulars of some tale she had heard some time or other.
At last she said--

"Now I's got it; now I 'member. It was dat ole nigger preacher dat
tole it, de time he come over here fum Illinois en preached in
de nigger church. He said dey ain't nobody kin save his own self--
can't do it by faith, can't do it by works, can't do it no way at all.
Free grace is de _on'y_ way, en dat don't come fum nobody but jis' de Lord;
en _he_ kin give it to anybody He please, saint or sinner--_he_ don't kyer.
He do jis' as He's a mineter. He s'lect out anybody dat suit Him,
en put another one in his place, and make de fust one happy forever
en leave t' other one to burn wid Satan. De preacher said it was jist
like dey done in Englan' one time, long time ago. De queen she lef'
her baby layin' aroun' one day, en went out callin'; an one 'o de
niggers roun'bout de place dat was 'mos' white, she come in en see de
chile layin' aroun', en tuck en put her own chile's clo's on
de queen's chile, en put de queen's chile's clo'es on her own chile,
en den lef' her own chile layin' aroun', en tuck en toted de queen's
chile home to de nigger quarter, en nobody ever foun' it out,
en her chile was de king bimeby, en sole de queen's chile down de
river one time when dey had to settle up de estate. Dah, now--de preacher
said it his own self, en it ain't no sin, 'ca'se white folks done it.
DEY done it--yes, DEY done it; en not on'y jis' common white folks nuther,
but de biggest quality dey is in de whole bilin'. _Oh_, I's _so_ glad I
'member 'bout dat!"

She got lighthearted and happy, and went to the cradles, and spent what
was left of the night "practicing." She would give her own child a
light pat and say humbly, "Lay still, Marse Tom," then give the real
Tom a pat and say with severity, "Lay _still_, Chambers! Does you want
me to take somep'n _to_ you?"

As she progressed with her practice, she was surprised to see how steadily
and surely the awe which had kept her tongue reverent and her manner
humble toward her young master was transferring itself to her speech
and manner toward the usurper, and how similarly handy she was becoming
in transferring her motherly curtness of speech and peremptoriness of
manner to the unlucky heir of the ancient house of Driscoll.

She took occasional rests from practicing, and absorbed herself in
calculating her chances.

"Dey'll sell dese niggers today fo' stealin' de money, den dey'll
buy some mo' dat don't now de chillen--so _dat's_ all right. When I takes
de chillen out to git de air, de minute I's roun' de corner I's gwine
to gaum dey mouths all roun' wid jam, den dey can't _nobody_ notice
dey's changed. Yes, I gwine ter do dat till I's safe, if it's a year.

"Dey ain't but one man dat I's afeard of, en dat's dat Pudd'nhead Wilson.
Dey calls him a pudd'nhead, en says he's a fool. My lan, dat man
ain't no mo' fool den I is! He's de smartes' man in dis town,
lessn' it's Jedge Driscoll or maybe Pem Howard. Blame dat man,
he worries me wid dem ornery glasses o' his'n; _I_ b'lieve he's a witch.
But nemmine, I's gwine to happen aroun' dah one o' dese days en let
on dat I reckon he wants to print a chillen's fingers ag'in; en if HE
don't notice dey's changed, I bound dey ain't nobody gwine to notice it,
en den I's safe, sho'. But I reckon I'll tote along a hoss-shoe to
keep off de witch work."

The new Negros gave Roxy no trouble, of course. The master gave her none,
for one of his speculations was in jeopardy, and his mind was so
occupied that he hardly saw the children when he looked at them,
and all Roxy had to do was to get them both into a gale of laughter
when he came about; then their faces were mainly cavities exposing gums,
and he was gone again before the spasm passed and the little creatures
resumed a human aspect.

Within a few days the fate of the speculation became so dubious that
Mr. Percy went away with his brother, the judge, to see what could be
done with it. It was a land speculation as usual, and it had gotten
complicated with a lawsuit. The men were gone seven weeks. Before they
got back, Roxy had paid her visit to Wilson, and was satisfied.
Wilson took the fingerprints, labeled them with the names and with the date--
October the first--put them carefully away, and continued his chat
with Roxy, who seemed very anxious that he should admire the great
advance in flesh and beauty which the babes had made since he took
their fingerprints a month before. He complimented their improvement
to her contentment; and as they were without any disguise of jam
or other stain, she trembled all the while and was miserably frightened
lest at any moment he--

But he didn't. He discovered nothing; and she went home jubilant,
and dropped all concern about the matter permanently out of her mind.

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