After breakfast I wanted to talk
about the dead man and guess out how he come to be
killed, but Jim didn’t want to. He said
it would fetch bad luck; and besides, he said, he
might come and ha’nt us; he said a man that
warn’t buried was more likely to go a-ha’nting
around than one that was planted and comfortable.
That sounded pretty reasonable, so I didn’t
say no more; but I couldn’t keep from studying
over it and wishing I knowed who shot the man, and
what they done it for.
We rummaged the clothes we’d
got, and found eight dollars in silver sewed up in
the lining of an old blanket overcoat. Jim said
he reckoned the people in that house stole the coat,
because if they’d a knowed the money was there
they wouldn’t a left it. I said I reckoned
they killed him, too; but Jim didn’t want to
talk about that. I says:
“Now you think it’s bad
luck; but what did you say when I fetched in the snake-skin
that I found on the top of the ridge day before yesterday?
You said it was the worst bad luck in the world to
touch a snake-skin with my hands. Well, here’s
your bad luck! We’ve raked in all this
truck and eight dollars besides. I wish we could
have some bad luck like this every day, Jim.”
“Never you mind, honey, never
you mind. Don’t you git too peart.
It’s a-comin’. Mind I tell you,
It did come, too. It was a Tuesday
that we had that talk. Well, after dinner Friday
we was laying around in the grass at the upper end
of the ridge, and got out of tobacco. I went
to the cavern to get some, and found a rattlesnake
in there. I killed him, and curled him up on
the foot of Jim’s blanket, ever so natural,
thinking there’d be some fun when Jim found
him there. Well, by night I forgot all about
the snake, and when Jim flung himself down on the
blanket while I struck a light the snake’s mate
was there, and bit him.
He jumped up yelling, and the first
thing the light showed was the varmint curled up and
ready for another spring. I laid him out in a
second with a stick, and Jim grabbed pap’s whisky-jug
and begun to pour it down.
He was barefooted, and the snake bit
him right on the heel. That all comes of my
being such a fool as to not remember that wherever
you leave a dead snake its mate always comes there
and curls around it. Jim told me to chop off
the snake’s head and throw it away, and then
skin the body and roast a piece of it. I done
it, and he eat it and said it would help cure him.
He made me take off the rattles and tie them around
his wrist, too. He said that that would help.
Then I slid out quiet and throwed the snakes clear
away amongst the bushes; for I warn’t going to
let Jim find out it was all my fault, not if I could
Jim sucked and sucked at the jug,
and now and then he got out of his head and pitched
around and yelled; but every time he come to himself
he went to sucking at the jug again. His foot
swelled up pretty big, and so did his leg; but by
and by the drunk begun to come, and so I judged he
was all right; but I’d druther been bit with
a snake than pap’s whisky.
Jim was laid up for four days and
nights. Then the swelling was all gone and he
was around again. I made up my mind I wouldn’t
ever take a-holt of a snake-skin again with my hands,
now that I see what had come of it. Jim said
he reckoned I would believe him next time. And
he said that handling a snake-skin was such awful
bad luck that maybe we hadn’t got to the end
of it yet. He said he druther see the new moon
over his left shoulder as much as a thousand times
than take up a snake-skin in his hand. Well,
I was getting to feel that way myself, though I’ve
always reckoned that looking at the new moon over
your left shoulder is one of the carelessest and foolishest
things a body can do. Old Hank Bunker done it
once, and bragged about it; and in less than two years
he got drunk and fell off of the shot-tower, and spread
himself out so that he was just a kind of a layer,
as you may say; and they slid him edgeways between
two barn doors for a coffin, and buried him so, so
they say, but I didn’t see it. Pap told
me. But anyway it all come of looking at the
moon that way, like a fool.
Well, the days went along, and the
river went down between its banks again; and about
the first thing we done was to bait one of the big
hooks with a skinned rabbit and set it and catch a
catfish that was as big as a man, being six foot two
inches long, and weighed over two hundred pounds.
We couldn’t handle him, of course; he would a
flung us into Illinois. We just set there and
watched him rip and tear around till he drownded.
We found a brass button in his stomach and a round
ball, and lots of rubbage. We split the ball
open with the hatchet, and there was a spool in it.
Jim said he’d had it there a long time, to coat
it over so and make a ball of it. It was as
big a fish as was ever catched in the Mississippi,
I reckon. Jim said he hadn’t ever seen
a bigger one. He would a been worth a good deal
over at the village. They peddle out such a
fish as that by the pound in the market-house there;
everybody buys some of him; his meat’s as white
as snow and makes a good fry.
Next morning I said it was getting
slow and dull, and I wanted to get a stirring up some
way. I said I reckoned I would slip over the
river and find out what was going on. Jim liked
that notion; but he said I must go in the dark and
look sharp. Then he studied it over and said,
couldn’t I put on some of them old things and
dress up like a girl? That was a good notion,
too. So we shortened up one of the calico gowns,
and I turned up my trouser-legs to my knees and got
into it. Jim hitched it behind with the hooks,
and it was a fair fit. I put on the sun-bonnet
and tied it under my chin, and then for a body to
look in and see my face was like looking down a joint
of stove-pipe. Jim said nobody would know me,
even in the daytime, hardly. I practiced around
all day to get the hang of the things, and by and
by I could do pretty well in them, only Jim said I
didn’t walk like a girl; and he said I must quit
pulling up my gown to get at my britches-pocket.
I took notice, and done better.
I started up the Illinois shore in
the canoe just after dark.
I started across to the town from
a little below the ferry-landing, and the drift of
the current fetched me in at the bottom of the town.
I tied up and started along the bank. There
was a light burning in a little shanty that hadn’t
been lived in for a long time, and I wondered who had
took up quarters there. I slipped up and peeped
in at the window. There was a woman about forty
year old in there knitting by a candle that was on
a pine table. I didn’t know her face; she
was a stranger, for you couldn’t start a face
in that town that I didn’t know. Now this
was lucky, because I was weakening; I was getting
afraid I had come; people might know my voice and
find me out. But if this woman had been in such
a little town two days she could tell me all I wanted
to know; so I knocked at the door, and made up my
mind I wouldn’t forget I was a girl.