The Unknown Nymph
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One of the most striking differences between a cat and a lie
is that a cat has only nine lives.
--Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar
The company broke up reluctantly, and drifted toward their several homes,
chatting with vivacity and all agreeing that it would be many a long
day before Dawson's Landing would see the equal of this one again.
The twins had accepted several invitations while the reception
was in progress, and had also volunteered to play some duets at
an amateur entertainment for the benefit of a local charity.
Society was eager to receive them to its bosom. Judge Driscoll had
the good fortune to secure them for an immediate drive, and to be
the first to display them in public. They entered his buggy with him
and were paraded down the main street, everybody flocking to the windows
and sidewalks to see.
The judge showed the strangers the new graveyard, and the jail,
and where the richest man lived, and the Freemasons' hall,
and the Methodist church, and the Presbyterian church, and where the
Baptist church was going to be when they got some money to build it with,
and showed them the town hall and the slaughterhouse, and got out
of the independent fire company in uniform and had them put out
an imaginary fire; then he let them inspect the muskets of the
militia company, and poured out an exhaustless stream of enthusiasm
over all these splendors, and seemed very well satisfied with the
responses he got, for the twins admired his admiration, and paid him
back the best they could, though they could have done better if
some fifteen or sixteen hundred thousand previous experiences of this
sort in various countries had not already rubbed off a considerable part
of the novelty in it.
The judge laid himself out hospitality to make them have a good time,
and if there was a defect anywhere, it was not his fault.
He told them a good many humorous anecdotes, and always forgot the nub,
but they were always able to furnish it, for these yarns were of a
pretty early vintage, and they had had many a rejuvenating pull
at them before. And he told them all about his several dignities,
and how he had held this and that and the other place of honor or profit,
and had once been to the legislature, and was now president of the
Society of Freethinkers. He said the society had been in existence
four years, and already had two members, and was firmly established.
He would call for the brothers in the evening, if they would like
to attend a meeting of it.
Accordingly he called for them, and on the way he told them all about
Pudd'nhead Wilson, in order that they might get a favorable impression
of him in advance and be prepared to like him. This scheme succeeded--
the favorable impression was achieved. Later it was confirmed and
solidified when Wilson proposed that out of courtesy to the strangers
the usual topics be put aside and the hour be devoted to conversation upon
ordinary subjects and the cultivation of friendly relations and
good-fellowship--a proposition which was put to vote and carried.
The hour passed quickly away in lively talk, and when it was ended,
the lonesome and neglected Wilson was richer by two friends than he
had been when it began. He invited the twins to look in at his
lodgings presently, after disposing of an intervening engagement,
and they accepted with pleasure.
Toward the middle of the evening, they found themselves on the road
to his house. Pudd'nhead was at home waiting for them and putting
in his time puzzling over a thing which had come under his notice
that morning. The matter was this: He happened to be up very early--
at dawn, in fact; and he crossed the hall, which divided his cottage
through the center, and entered a room to get something there.
The window of the room had no curtains, for that side of the house
had long been unoccupied, and through this window he caught sight of
something which surprised and interested him. It was a young woman--
a young woman where properly no young woman belonged; for she was in
Judge Driscoll's house, and in the bedroom over the judge's private
study or sitting room. This was young Tom Driscoll's bedroom.
He and the judge, the judge's widowed sister Mrs. Pratt, and three Negro
servants were the only people who belonged in the house. Who, then,
might this young lady be? The two houses were separated by an
ordinary yard, with a low fence running back through its middle
from the street in front to the lane in the rear. The distance was
not great, and Wilson was able to see the girl very well,
the window shades of the room she was in being up, and the window also.
The girl had on a neat and trim summer dress, patterned in broad stripes
of pink and white, and her bonnet was equipped with a pink veil.
She was practicing steps, gaits and attitudes, apparently; she was
doing the thing gracefully, and was very much absorbed in her work.
Who could she be, and how came she to be in young Tom Driscoll's room?
Wilson had quickly chosen a position from which he could watch the girl
without running much risk of being seen by her, and he remained there
hoping she would raise her veil and betray her face. But she
disappointed him. After a matter of twenty minutes she disappeared
and although he stayed at his post half an hour longer, she came no more.
Toward noon he dropped in at the judge's and talked with Mrs. Pratt
about the great event of the day, the levee of the distinguished
foreigners at Aunt Patsy Cooper's. He asked after her nephew Tom,
and she said he was on his way home and that she was expecting him
to arrive a little before night, and added that she and the judge
were gratified to gather from his letters that he was conducting himself
very nicely and creditably--at which Wilson winked to himself privately.
Wilson did not ask if there was a newcomer in the house, but he asked
questions that would have brought light-throwing answers as to that
matter if Mrs. Pratt had had any light to throw; so he went away
satisfied that he knew of things that were going on in her house
of which she herself was not aware.
He was now awaiting for the twins, and still puzzling over the problem
of who that girl might be, and how she happened to be in that
young fellow's room at daybreak in the morning.