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Mark Twain > Tom Sawyer, Detective > Chapter V

Tom Sawyer, Detective

Chapter V


A TRAGEDY IN THE WOODS

WE didn't get done tinkering the machinery till away
late in the afternoon, and so it was so close to sundown
when we got home that we never stopped on our road,
but made a break for the sycamores as tight as we could go,
to tell Jake what the delay was, and have him wait till we
could go to Brace's and find out how things was there.
It was getting pretty dim by the time we turned the corner
of the woods, sweating and panting with that long run,
and see the sycamores thirty yards ahead of us;
and just then we see a couple of men run into the bunch
and heard two or three terrible screams for help.
"Poor Jake is killed, sure," we says. We was scared through
and through, and broke for the tobacker field and hid there,
trembling so our clothes would hardly stay on; and just
as we skipped in there, a couple of men went tearing by,
and into the bunch they went, and in a second out jumps four
men and took out up the road as tight as they could go,
two chasing two.

We laid down, kind of weak and sick, and listened for
more sounds, but didn't hear none for a good while but
just our hearts. We was thinking of that awful thing
laying yonder in the sycamores, and it seemed like being
that close to a ghost, and it give me the cold shudders.
The moon come a-swelling up out of the ground, now,
powerful big and round and bright, behind a comb of trees,
like a face looking through prison bars, and the black
shadders and white places begun to creep around,
and it was miserable quiet and still and night-breezy
and graveyardy and scary. All of a sudden Tom whispers:

"Look!--what's that?"

"Don't!" I says. "Don't take a person by surprise that way.
I'm 'most ready to die, anyway, without you doing that."

"Look, I tell you. It's something coming out of the sycamores."

"Don't, Tom!"

"It's terrible tall!"

"Oh, lordy-lordy! let's--"

"Keep still--it's a-coming this way."

He was so excited he could hardly get breath enough
to whisper. I had to look. I couldn't help it.
So now we was both on our knees with our chins on a fence
rail and gazing--yes, and gasping too. It was coming
down the road--coming in the shadder of the trees, and you
couldn't see it good; not till it was pretty close to us;
then it stepped into a bright splotch of moonlight and we
sunk right down in our tracks--it was Jake Dunlap's
ghost! That was what we said to ourselves.

We couldn't stir for a minute or two; then it was gone
We talked about it in low voices. Tom says:

"They're mostly dim and smoky, or like they're made
out of fog, but this one wasn't."

"No," I says; "I seen the goggles and the whiskers
perfectly plain."

"Yes, and the very colors in them loud countrified Sunday
clothes--plaid breeches, green and black--"

"Cotton velvet westcot, fire-red and yaller squares--"

"Leather straps to the bottoms of the breeches legs
and one of them hanging unbottoned--"

"Yes, and that hat--"

"What a hat for a ghost to wear!"

You see it was the first season anybody wore that kind--a
black sitff-brim stove-pipe, very high, and not smooth,
with a round top--just like a sugar-loaf.

"Did you notice if its hair was the same, Huck?"

"No--seems to me I did, then again it seems to me I didn't."

"I didn't either; but it had its bag along, I noticed that."

"So did I. How can there be a ghost-bag, Tom?"

"Sho! I wouldn't be as ignorant as that if I was you,
Huck Finn. Whatever a ghost has, turns to ghost-stuff.
They've got to have their things, like anybody else.
You see, yourself, that its clothes was turned
to ghost-stuff. Well, then, what's to hender its bag
from turning, too? Of course it done it."

That was reasonable. I couldn't find no fault with it.
Bill Withers and his brother Jack come along by, talking,
and Jack says:

"What do you reckon he was toting?"

"I dunno; but it was pretty heavy."

"Yes, all he could lug. Nigger stealing corn from old
Parson Silas, I judged."

"So did I. And so I allowed I wouldn't let on to see him."

"That's me, too."

Then they both laughed, and went on out of hearing.
It showed how unpopular old Uncle Silas had got to be now.
They wouldn't 'a' let a nigger steal anybody else's corn
and never done anything to him.

We heard some more voices mumbling along towards us
and getting louder, and sometimes a cackle of a laugh.
It was Lem Beebe and Jim Lane. Jim Lane says:

"Who?--Jubiter Dunlap?"

"Yes."

"Oh, I don't know. I reckon so. I seen him spading
up some ground along about an hour ago, just before
sundown--him and the parson. Said he guessed he wouldn't
go to-night, but we could have his dog if we wanted him."

"Too tired, I reckon."

"Yes--works so hard!"

"Oh, you bet!"

They cackled at that, and went on by. Tom said we
better jump out and tag along after them, because they
was going our way and it wouldn't be comfortable to run
across the ghost all by ourselves. So we done it,
and got home all right.

That night was the second of September--a Saturday.
I sha'n't ever forget it. You'll see why, pretty soon .

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