Adam was but human -- this explains it all. He did not want the apple for the apple's sake, he wanted it only because it was forbidden. The mistake was in not forbidding the serpent; then he would have eaten the serpent.
-- Pudd'nhead Wilson's Calendar
Pudd'nhead Wilson had a trifle of money when he arrived, and he bought a small house on the extreme western verge of the town. Between it and Judge Driscoll's house there was only a grassy yard, with a paling fence dividing the properties in the middle. He hired a small office down in the town and hung out a tin sign with these words on it:
D A V I D W I L S O N
ATTORNEY AND COUNSELOR-AT-LAW
SURVEYING, CONVEYANCING, ETC.
But his deadly remark had ruined his chance -- at least in the law. No clients came. He
He had a rich abundance of idle time, but it never hung heavy on his hands, for he interested himself in every new thing that was born into the universe of ideas, and studied it, and experimented upon it at his house. One of his pet fads was palmistry. To another one he gave no name, neither would he explain to anybody what its purpose was, but merely said it was an amusement. In fact, he had found that his fads added to his reputation as a pudd'nhead; there, he was growing chary of being too communicative about them. The fad without a name was one which dealt with
He often studied his records, examining and poring over them with absorbing interest until far into the night; but what he found there --
One sweltering afternoon -- it was the first day of July, 1830 -- he was at work over a set of tangled account books in his workroom, which looked westward over a stretch of vacant lots, when a conversation outside disturbed him. It was carried on it yells, which showed that the people engaged in it were not close together.
"Say, Roxy, how does yo' baby come on?" This from the distant voice.
"Fust-rate. How does you come on, Jasper?" This yell was from close by.
"Oh, I's middlin'; hain't got noth'n' to complain of, I's gwine to come a-court'n you bimeby, Roxy."
"You is, you black mud cat! Yah -- yah -- yah! I got somep'n' better to do den 'sociat'n' wid niggers as black as you is. Is ole Miss Cooper's Nancy done give you de mitten?"
"You's jealous, Roxy, dat's what's de matter wid you, you hussy -- yah -- yah -- yah! Dat's de time I got you!"
"Oh, yes, you got me, hain't you. 'Clah to goodness if dat conceit o' yo'n strikes in, Jasper, it gwine to kill you sho'. If you b'longed to me, I'd sell you down de river 'fo' you git too fur gone. Fust time I runs acrost yo' marster, I's gwine to tell him so."
This idle and aimless jabber went on and on, both parties enjoying the friendly duel and each well satisfied with his own share of the wit exchanged -- for wit they considered it.
Wilson stepped to the window to observe the combatants; he could not work while their chatter continued. Over in the vacant lots was Jasper, young, coal black, and of magnificent build, sitting on a wheelbarrow in the pelting sun -- at work, supposably, whereas he was in fact only preparing for it by taking an hour's rest before beginning. In front of Wilson's porch stood Roxy, with a local handmade baby wagon, in which sat her two charges --
To all intents and purposes Roxy was as white as anybody, but the one sixteenth of her which was black outvoted the other fifteen
The white child's name was Thomas a Becket Driscoll, the other's name was Valet de Chambre: no surname -- slaves hadn't the privilege. Roxana had heard that phrase somewhere, the fine sound of it had pleased her ear, and as she had supposed it was a name, she loaded it on to her darling. It soon got shorted to "Chambers," of course.
Wilson knew Roxy by sight, and when the duel of wits begun to play out, he stepped outside to gather in a record or two. Jasper went to work energetically, at once, perceiv-
"How old are they, Roxy?"
"Bofe de same age, sir -- five months. Bawn de fust o' Feb'uary."
"They're handsome little chaps. One's just as handsome as the other, too."
A delighted smile exposed the girl's white teeth, and she said:
"Bless yo' soul, Misto Wilson, it's pow'ful nice o' you to say dat, 'ca'se one of 'em ain't on'y a nigger. Mighty prime little nigger, I al'ays says, but dat's 'ca'se it's mine, o' course."
"How do you tell them apart, Roxy, when they haven't any clothes on?"
Roxy laughed a laugh proportioned to her size, and said:
"Oh, I kin tell 'em 'part, Misto Wilson, but I bet Marse Percy couldn't, not to save his life."
Wilson chatted along for awhile, and presently got Roxy's fingerprints for his collection -- right hand and left -- on a couple of his glass strips; then labeled and dated them, and took the "records" of both children, and labeled and dated them also.
The next day -- that is to say, on the fourth of September -- something occurred which profoundly impressed Roxana. Mr. Driscoll missed another small sum of money -- which is a way of saying that this was not a new thing, but had happened before. In truth, it had happened three times before. Driscoll's patience was exhausted. He was a fairly humane man toward slaves and other animals; he was an exceedingly humane man toward the erring of his own race. Theft he could not abide, and plainly there was a thief in his house. Necessarily the thief must be one of his Negros. Sharp measures must be taken. He called his servants before him. There were three of these, besides Roxy: a man, a woman, and a boy twelve years old. They were not related. Mr. Driscoll said:
"You have all been warned before. It has
They all shuddered at the threat, for here they had a good home, and a new one was likely to be a change for the worse. The denial was general. None had stolen anything -- not money, anyway -- a little sugar, or cake, or honey, or something like that, that "Marse Percy wouldn't mind or miss" but not money -- never a cent of money. They were eloquent in their protestations, but Mr. Driscoll was not moved by them. He answered each in turn with a stern "Name the thief!"
The truth was, all were guilty but Roxana; she suspected that the others were guilty, but she did not know them to be so. She was horrified to think how near she had come to being guilty herself; she had been saved in the nick of time by a revival in the colored Methodist Church, a fortnight before, at which time and place she "got religion." The very next day after that gracious experience, while her change of style was fresh upon her and she was vain of her purified
"Dad blame dat revival, I wisht it had 'a' be'n put off till tomorrow!"
Then she covered the tempter with a book, and another member of the kitchen cabinet got it. She made this sacrifice as a matter of religious etiquette; as a thing necessary just now, but by no means to be wrested into a precedent; no, a week or two would limber up her piety, then she would be rational again, and the next two dollars that got left out in the cold would find a comforter -- and she could name the comforter.
Was she bad? Was she worse than the general run of her race? No. They had an unfair show in the battle of life, and they held it no sin to take military advantage of the enemy -- in a small way; in a small way, but not in a large one. They would smouch provisions from the pantry whenever they got a
"Name the thief!"
For the fourth time Mr. Driscoll had said it, and always in the same hard tone. And now he added these words of awful import:
"I give you one minute." He took out his watch. "If at the end of that time, you have not confessed, I will not only sell all four of you, BUT -- I will sell you DOWN THE RIVER!"
It was equivalent to condemning them to hell! No Missouri Negro doubted this. Roxy reeled in her tracks, and the color vanished out of her face; the others dropped to their knees as if they had been shot; tears gushed from their eyes, their supplicating hands went up, and three answers came in the one instant.
"I done it!"
"I done it!"
"I done it! -- have mercy, marster -- Lord have mercy on us po' niggers!"
"Very good," said the master, putting up his watch, "I will sell you here though you don't
The culprits flung themselves prone, in an ecstasy of gratitude, and kissed his feet, declaring that they would never forget his goodness and never cease to pray for him as long as they lived. They were sincere, for like a god he had stretched forth his mighty hand and closed the gates of hell against them. He knew, himself, that he had done a noble and gracious thing, and was privately well pleased with his magnanimity; and that night he set the incident down in his diary, so that his son might read it in after years, and be thereby moved to deeds of gentleness and humanity himself.