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Mark Twain > The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson > Chapter 11

The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson

Chapter 11

Pudd'nhead's Thrilling Discovery

There are three infallible ways of pleasing an author, and the three
form a rising scale of compliment: 1--to tell him you have read one
of his books; 2--to tell him you have read all of his books;
3--to ask him to let you read the manuscript of his forthcoming book.
No. 1 admits you to his respect; No. 2 admits you to his admiration;
No. 3 carries you clear into his heart.

--Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar

As to the Adjective: when in doubt, strike it out.

--Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar

The twins arrived presently, and talk began. It flowed along
chattily and sociably, and under its influence the new friendship
gathered ease and strength. Wilson got out his Calendar, by request,
and read a passage or two from it, which the twins praised quite cordially.
This pleased the author so much that he complied gladly when the asked
him to lend them a batch of the work to read at home. In the course of
their wide travels, they had found out that there are three sure ways of
pleasing an author; they were now working the best of the three.

There was an interruption now. Young Driscoll appeared, and joined
the party. He pretended to be seeing the distinguished strangers for
the first time when they rose to shake hands; but this was only a blind,
as he had already had a glimpse of them, at the reception, while robbing
the house. The twins made mental note that he was smooth-faced and
rather handsome, and smooth and undulatory in his movements--graceful,
in fact. Angelo thought he had a good eye; Luigi thought there was
something veiled and sly about it. Angelo thought he had a pleasant
free-and-easy way of talking; Luigi thought it was more so than was agreeable.
Angelo thought he was a sufficiently nice young man; Luigi reserved
his decision. Tom's first contribution to the conversation was a
question which he had put to Wilson a hundred times before.
It was always cheerily and good-natured put, and always inflicted a
little pang, for it touched a secret sore; but this time the pang
was sharp, since strangers were present.

"Well, how does the law come on? Had a case yet?"

Wilson bit his lip, but answered, "No--not yet," with as much
indifference as he could assume. Judge Driscoll had generously left
the law feature out of Wilson's biography which he had furnished
to the twins. Young Tom laughed pleasantly, and said:

"Wilson's a lawyer, gentlemen, but he doesn't practice now."

The sarcasm bit, but Wilson kept himself under control,
and said without passion:

"I don't practice, it is true. It is true that I have never had a case,
and have had to earn a poor living for twenty years as an expert
accountant in a town where I can't get a hold of a set of books to
untangle as often as I should like. But it is also true that I did
myself well for the practice of the law. By the time I was your age,
Tom, I had chosen a profession, and was soon competent to enter upon it."
Tom winced. "I never got a chance to try my hand at it, and I may
never get a chance; and yet if I ever do get it, I shall be found ready,
for I have kept up my law studies all these years."

"That's it; that's good grit! I like to see it. I've a notion to throw
all my business your way. My business and your law practice ought to
make a pretty gay team, Dave," and the young fellow laughed again.

"If you will throw--" Wilson had thought of the girl in Tom's bedroom,
and was going to say, "If you will throw the surreptitious and
disreputable part of your business my way, it may amount to something,"
but thought better of it and said,

"However, this matter doesn't fit well in a general conversation."

"All right, we'll change the subject; I guess you were about
to give me another dig, anyway, so I'm willing to change.
How's the Awful Mystery flourishing these days? Wilson's got a scheme
for driving plain window glass panes out of the market by decorating it
with greasy finger marks, and getting rich by selling it at famine
prices to the crowned heads over in Europe to outfit their palaces with.
Fetch it out, Dave."

Wilson brought three of his glass strips, and said:

"I get the subject to pass the fingers of his right through his hair,
so as to get a little coating of the natural oil on them,
and then press the balls of them on the glass. A fine an delicate
print of the lines in the skin results, and is permanent,
if it doesn't come in contact with something able to rub it off.
You begin, Tom."

"Why, I think you took my finger marks once or twice before."

"Yes, but you were a little boy the last time, only about
twelve years old."

"That's so. Of course, I've changed entirely since then,
and variety is what the crowned heads want, I guess."

He passed his fingers through his crop of short hair, and pressed
them one at a time on the glass. Angelo made a print of his fingers
on another glass, and Luigi followed with a third. Wilson marked the
glasses with names and dates, and put them away. Tom gave one of
his little laughs, and said:

"I thought I wouldn't say anything, but if variety is what you are after,
you have wasted a piece of glass. The hand print of one twin is the
same as the hand print of the fellow twin."

"Well, it's done now, and I like to have them both, anyway,"
said Wilson, returned to his place.

"But look here, Dave," said Tom, you used to tell people's fortunes,
too, when you took their finger marks. Dave's just an all-round genius--
a genius of the first water, gentlemen; a great scientist running to
seed here in this village, a prophet with the kind of honor that
prophets generally get at home--for here they don't give shucks for
his scientifics, and they call his skull a notion factory--hey, Dave,
ain't it so? But never mind, he'll make his mark someday--finger mark,
you know, he-he! But really, you want to let him take a shy at
your palms once; it's worth twice the price of admission or your
money's returned at the door. Why, he'll read your wrinkles as easy
as a book, and not only tell you fifty or sixty things that's going to
happen to you, but fifty or sixty thousand that ain't. Come, Dave,
show the gentlemen what an inspired jack-at-all-science we've got in
this town, and don't know it."

Wilson winced under this nagging and not very courteous chaff,
and the twins suffered with him and for him. They rightly judged,
now, that the best way was to relieve him would be to take the thing
in earnest and treat it with respect, ignoring Tom's rather
overdone raillery; so Luigi said:

"We have seen something of palmistry in our wanderings, and know very
well what astonishing things it can do. If it isn't a science,
and one of the greatest of them too, I don't know what its other
name ought to be. In the Orient--"

Tom looked surprised and incredulous. He said:

"That juggling a science? But really, you ain't serious, are you?"

"Yes, entirely so. Four years ago we had our hands read out to us as
if our plans had been covered with print."

"Well, do you mean to say there was actually anything in it?" asked Tom,
his incredulity beginning to weaken a little.

"There was this much in it," said Angelo: "what was told us
of our characters was minutely exact--we could have not have
bettered it ourselves. Next, two or three memorable things that
have happened to us were laid bare--things which no one present
but ourselves could have known about."

"Why, it's rank sorcery!" exclaimed Tom, who was now becoming very
much interested. "And how did they make out with what was going to
happen to you in the future?"

"On the whole, quite fairly," said Luigi. "Two or three of the most
striking things foretold have happened since; much the most striking
one of all happened within that same year. Some of the minor prophesies
have come true; some of the minor and some of the major ones have not
been fulfilled yet, and of course may never be: still, I should be
more surprised if they failed to arrive than if they didn't."

Tom was entirely sobered, and profoundly impressed. He said, apologetically:

"Dave, I wasn't meaning to belittle that science; I was only chaffing--
chattering, I reckon I'd better say. I wish you would look at their palms.
Come, won't you?"

"Why certainly, if you want me to; but you know I've had no chance to
become an expert, and don't claim to be one. When a past event is
somewhat prominently recorded in the palm, I can generally detect that,
but minor ones often escape me--not always, of course, but often--
but I haven't much confidence in myself when it comes to
reading the future. I am talking as if palmistry was a daily
study with me, but that is not so. I haven't examined half a
dozen hands in the last half dozen years; you see, the people got to
joking about it, and I stopped to let the talk die down. I'll tell you
what we'll do, Count Luigi: I'll make a try at your past,
and if I have any success there--no, on the whole, I'll let
the future alone; that's really the affair of an expert."

He took Luigi's hand. Tom said:

"Wait--don't look yet, Dave! Count Luigi, here's paper and pencil.
Set down that thing that you said was the most striking one that was
foretold to you, and happened less than a year afterward, and give it
to me so I can see if Dave finds it in your hand."

Luigi wrote a line privately, and folded up the piece of paper,
and handed it to Tom, saying:

"I'll tell you when to look at it, if he finds it."

Wilson began to study Luigi's palm, tracing life lines, heart lines,
head lines, and so on, and noting carefully their relations with the
cobweb of finer and more delicate marks and lines that enmeshed them
on all sides; he felt of the fleshy cushion at the base of the thumb
and noted its shape; he felt of the fleshy side of the hand between
the wrist and the base of the little finger and noted its shape also;
he painstakingly examined the fingers, observing their form, proportions,
and natural manner of disposing themselves when in repose.
All this process was watched by the three spectators with
absorbing interest, their heads bent together over Luigi's palm, and nobody
disturbing the stillness with a word. Wilson now entered upon a close
survey of the palm again, and his revelations began.

He mapped out Luigi's character and disposition, his tastes, aversions,
proclivities, ambitions, and eccentricities in a way which sometimes
made Luigi wince and the others laugh, but both twins declared that
the chart was artistically drawn and was correct.

Next, Wilson took up Luigi' history. He proceeded cautiously and
with hesitation now, moving his finger slowly along the great lines
of the palm, and now and then halting it at a "star" or some
such landmark, and examining that neighborhood minutely.
He proclaimed one or two past events, Luigi confirmed his correctness,
and the search went on. Presently Wilson glanced up suddenly with
a surprised expression.

"Here is a record of an incident which you would perhaps not wish me to--"

"Bring it out," said Luigi, good-naturedly. "I promise you
sha'n't embarrass me."

But Wilson still hesitated, and did not seem quite to know what to do.
Then he said:

"I think it is too delicate a matter to--to--I believe I would rather
write it or whisper it to you, and let you decide for yourself whether
you want it talked out or not."

"That will answer," said Luigi. "Write it."

Wilson wrote something on a slip of paper and handed it to Luigi,
who read it to himself and said to Tom:

"Unfold your slip and read it, Mr. Driscoll."

Tom said:


Tom added, "Great Scott!"

Luigi handed Wilson's paper to Tom, and said:

"Now read this one."

Tom read:


"Caesar's ghost!" commented Tom, with astonishment.
"It beats anything that was ever heard of! Why, a man's own hand is
his deadliest enemy! Just think of that--a man's own hand keeps
a record of the deepest and fatalest secrets of his life, and is
treacherously ready to expose himself to any black-magic stranger
that comes along. But what do you let a person look at your hand for,
with that awful thing printed on it?"

"Oh," said Luigi, reposefully, "I don't mind it. I killed the man
for good reasons, and I don't regret it."

"What were the reasons?"

"Well, he needed killing."

"I'll tell you why he did it, since he won't say himself," said Angelo,
warmly. "He did it to save my life, that's what he did it for.
So it was a noble act, and not a thing to be hid in the dark."

"So it was, so it was," said Wilson. "To do such a thing to save a
brother's life is a great and fine action."

"Now come," said Luigi, "it is very pleasant to hear you say
these things, but for unselfishness, or heroism, or magnanimity,
the circumstances won't stand scrutiny. You overlook one detail;
suppose I hadn't saved Angelo's life, what would have become of mine?
If I had let the man kill him, wouldn't he have killed me, too?
I saved my own life, you see."

"Yes, that is your way of talking," said Angelo, "but I know you--
I don't believe you thought of yourself at all. I keep that weapon
yet that Luigi killed the man with, and I'll show it to you sometime.
That incident makes it interesting, and it had a history before it
came into Luigi's hands which adds to its interest. It was given to
Luigi by a great Indian prince, the Gaikowar of Baroda, and it had been
in his family two or three centuries. It killed a good many disagreeable
people who troubled the hearthstone at one time or another. It isn't much
too look at, except it isn't shaped like other knives, or dirks,
or whatever it may be called--here, I'll draw it for you." He took a
sheet of paper and made a rapid sketch. "There it is--a broad and
murderous blade, with edges like a razor for sharpness.
The devices engraved on it are the ciphers or names of its long
line of possessors--I had Luigi's name added in Roman letters
myself with our coat of arms, as you see. You notice what a
curious handle the thing has. It is solid ivory, polished like a mirror,
and is four or five inches long--round, and as thick as a
large man's wrist, with the end squared off flat, for your thumb
to rest on; for you grasp it, with your thumb resting on the blunt end--
so--and lift it along and strike downward. The Gaikowar showed us how
the thing was done when he gave it to Luigi, and before that
night was ended, Luigi had used the knife, and the Gaikowar was a man
short by reason of it. The sheath is magnificently ornamented with
gems of great value. You will find a sheath more worth looking at
than the knife itself, of course."

Tom said to himself:

"It's lucky I came here. I would have sold that knife for a song;
I supposed the jewels were glass."

"But go on; don't stop," said Wilson. "Our curiosity is up now,
to hear about the homicide. Tell us about that."

"Well, briefly, the knife was to blame for that, all around.
A native servant slipped into our room in the palace in the night,
to kill us and steal the knife on account of the fortune encrusted
on its sheath, without a doubt. Luigi had it under his pillow;
we were in bed together. There was a dim night-light burning.
I was asleep, but Luigi was awake, and he thought he detected a
vague form nearing the bed. He slipped the knife out of the sheath
and was ready and unembarrassed by hampering bedclothes,
for the weather was hot and we hadn't any. Suddenly that native rose
at the bedside, and bent over me with his right hand lifted and a
dirk in it aimed at my throat; but Luigi grabbed his wrist,
pulled him downward, and drove his own knife into the man's neck.
That is the whole story."

Wilson and Tom drew deep breaths, and after some general chat
about the tragedy, Pudd'nhead said, taking Tom's hand:

"Now, Tom, I've never had a look at your palms, as it happens;
perhaps you've got some little questionable privacies that need--hel-lo!"

Tom had snatched away his hand, and was looking a good deal confused.

"Why, he's blushing!" said Luigi.

Tom darted an ugly look at him, and said sharply:

"Well, if I am, it ain't because I'm a murderer!" Luigi's dark
face flushed, but before he could speak or move, Tom added with
anxious haste: "Oh, I beg a thousand pardons. I didn't mean that;
it was out before I thought, and I'm very, very sorry--you must forgive me!"

Wilson came to the rescue, and smoothed things down as well as he could;
and in fact was entirely successful as far as the twins were concerned,
for they felt sorrier for the affront put upon him by his guest's
outburst of ill manners than for the insult offered to Luigi.
But the success was not so pronounced with the offender. Tom tried to
seem at his ease, and he went through the motions fairly well,
but at bottom he felt resentful toward all the three witnesses of
his exhibition; in fact, he felt so annoyed at them for having
witnessed it and noticed it that he almost forgot to feel annoyed
at himself for placing it before them. However, something presently
happened which made him almost comfortable, and brought him nearly back
to a state of charity and friendliness. This was a little spat between
the twins; not much of a spat, but still a spat; and before they got
far with it, they were in a decided condition of irritation while
pretending to be actuated by more respectable motives. By his help
the fire got warmed up to the blazing point, and he might have had the
happiness of seeing the flames show up in another moment, but for the
interruption of a knock on the door--an interruption which fretted him
as much as it gratified Wilson. Wilson opened the door.

The visitor was a good-natured, ignorant, energetic middle-aged
Irishman named John Buckstone, who was a great politician in a
small way, and always took a large share in public matters of
every sort. One of the town's chief excitements, just now, was over
the matter of rum. There was a strong rum party and a strong
anti-rum party. Buckstone was training with the rum party, and he
had been sent to hunt up the twins and invite them to attend a
mass meeting of that faction. He delivered his errand, and said
the clans were already gathering in the big hall over the market house.
Luigi accepted the invitation cordially. Angelo less cordially,
since he disliked crowds, and did not drink the powerful intoxicants
of America. In fact, he was even a teetotaler sometimes--
when it was judicious to be one.

The twins left with Buckstone, and Tom Driscoll joined the
company with them uninvited.

In the distance, one could see a long wavering line of
torches drifting down the main street, and could hear the
throbbing of the bass drum, the clash of cymbals, the squeaking
of a fife or two, and the faint roar of remote hurrahs. The tail
end of this procession was climbing the market house stairs when
the twins arrived in its neighborhood; when they reached the hall,
it was full of people, torches, smoke, noise, and enthusiasm.
They were conducted to the platform by Buckstone--Tom Driscoll
still following--and were delivered to the chairman in the midst
of a prodigious explosion of welcome. When the noise had moderated
a little, the chair proposed that "our illustrious guests be at
once elected, by complimentary acclamation, to membership in our
ever-glorious organization, the paradise of the free and the perdition
of the slave."

This eloquent discharge opened the floodgates of enthusiasm again,
and the election was carried with thundering unanimity. Then arose
a storm of cries:

"Wet them down! Wet them down! Give them a drink!"

Glasses of whisky were handed to the twins. Luigi waves his aloft,
then brought it to his lips; but Angelo set his down.
There was another storm of cries.

"What's the matter with the other one?" "What is the blond one
going back on us for?" "Explain! Explain!"

The chairman inquired, and then reported:

"We have made an unfortunate mistake, gentlemen. I find that the
Count Angelo Capello is opposed to our creed--is a teetotaler, in fact,
and was not intending to apply for membership with us. He desires
that we reconsider the vote by which he was elected. What is the
pleasure of the house?"

There was a general burst of laughter, plentifully accented with
whistlings and catcalls, but the energetic use of the gavel
presently restored something like order. Then a man spoke from
the crowd, and said that while he was very sorry that the mistake
had been made, it would not be possible to rectify it at the
present meeting. According to the bylaws, it must go over to the
next regular meeting for action. He would not offer a motion, as
none was required. He desired to apologize to the gentlemen in
the name of the house, and begged to assure him that as far as it
might lie in the power of the Sons of Liberty, his temporary
membership in the order would be made pleasant to him.

This speech was received with great applause, mixed with cries of:

"That's the talk! "He's a good fellow, anyway, if he _is_ a teetotaler!"
"Drink his health!" "Give him a rouser, and no heeltaps!"

Glasses were handed around, and everybody on the platform
drank Angelo's health, while the house bellowed forth in song:

         For he's a jolly good fel-low,
         For he's a jolly good fel-low,
         For he's a jolly good fe-el-low,
             Which nobody can deny.

Tom Driscoll drank. It was his second glass, for he had drunk
Angelo's the moment that Angelo had set it down. The two drinks
made him very merry--almost idiotically so, and he began to take a
most lively and prominent part in the proceedings, particularly in
the music and catcalls and side remarks.

The chairman was still standing at the front, the twins at his side.
The extraordinarily close resemblance of the brothers to each other
suggested a witticism to Tom Driscoll, and just as the chairman began
a speech he skipped forward and said, with an air of tipsy confidence,
to the audience:

"Boys, I move that he keeps still and lets this human philopena snip
you out a speech."

The descriptive aptness of the phrase caught the house, and a mighty
burst of laughter followed.

Luigi's southern blood leaped to the boiling point in a moment under
the sharp humiliation of this insult delivered in the presence of
four hundred strangers. It was not in the young man's nature to
let the matter pass, or to delay the squaring of the account.
He took a couple of strides and halted behind the unsuspecting joker.
Then he drew back and delivered a kick of such titanic vigor that it
lifted Tom clear over the footlights and landed him on the heads of
the front row of the Sons of Liberty.

Even a sober person does not like to have a human being emptied on him
when he is not going any harm; a person who is not sober cannot endure
such an attention at all. The nest of Sons of Liberty that Driscoll
landed in had not a sober bird in it; in fact there was probably not
an entirely sober one in the auditorium. Driscoll was promptly and
indignantly flung on the heads of Sons in the next row, and these Sons
passed him on toward the rear, and then immediately began to pummel the
front row Sons who had passed him to them. This course was strictly
followed by bench after bench as Driscoll traveled in his tumultuous
and airy flight toward the door; so he left behind him an ever-lengthening
wake of raging and plunging and fighting and swearing humanity.
Down went group after group of torches, and presently above the
deafening clatter of the gavel, roar of angry voices, and crash of
succumbing benches, rose the paralyzing cry of "_fire!_"

The fighting ceased instantly; the cursing ceased; for one distinctly
defined moment, there was a dead hush, a motionless calm, where the
tempest had been; then with one impulse the multitude awoke to life
and energy again, and went surging and struggling and swaying,
this way and that, its outer edges melting away through windows and
doors and gradually lessening the pressure and relieving the mass.

The fireboys were never on hand so suddenly before; for there was
no distance to go this time, their quarters being in the rear end
of the market house, There was an engine company and a
hook-and-ladder company. Half of each was composed of rummies and
the other half of anti-rummies, after the moral and political
share-and-share-alike fashion of the frontier town of the period.
Enough anti-rummies were loafing in quarters to man the engine
and the ladders. In two minutes they had their red shirts and helmets on--
they never stirred officially in unofficial costume--and as the
mass meeting overhead smashed through the long row of windows and
poured out upon the roof of the arcade, the deliverers were ready
for them with a powerful stream of water, which washed some of them
off the roof and nearly drowned the rest. But water was preferable
to fire, and still the stampede from the windows continued, and still the
pitiless drenching assailed it until the building was empty;
then the fireboys mounted to the hall and flooded it with water enough
to annihilate forty times as much fire as there was there;
for a village fire company does not often get a chance to show off,
and so when it does get a chance, it makes the most of it.
Such citizens of that village as were of a thoughtful and judicious
temperament did not insure against fire; they insured against the
fire company.

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