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
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.