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|The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg||Mark Twain|
|Page 8 of 13||
"Second the motion!"
It was put and carried--uproariously. Then poor old Richards got up, and his wife rose and stood at his side. Her head was bent down, so that none might see that she was crying. Her husband gave her his arm, and so supporting her, he began to speak in a quavering voice:
"My friends, you have known us two--Mary and me--all our lives, and I think you have liked us and respected us--"
The Chair interrupted him:
"Allow me. It is quite true--that which you are saying, Mr. Richards; this town DOES know you two; it DOES like you; it DOES respect you; more--it honours you and LOVES you--"
Halliday's voice rang out:
"That's the hall-marked truth, too! If the Chair is right, let the house speak up and say it. Rise! Now, then--hip! hip! hip!--all together!"
The house rose in mass, faced toward the old couple eagerly, filled the air with a snow-storm of waving handkerchiefs, and delivered the cheers with all its affectionate heart.
The Chair then continued:
"What I was going to say is this: We know your good heart, Mr. Richards, but this is not a time for the exercise of charity toward offenders. [Shouts of "Right! right!"] I see your generous purpose in your face, but I cannot allow you to plead for these men--"
"But I was going to--"
"Please take your seat, Mr. Richards. We must examine the rest of these notes--simple fairness to the men who have already been exposed requires this. As soon as that has been done--I give you my word for this--you shall he heard."
Many voices. "Right!--the Chair is right--no interruption can be permitted at this stage! Go on!--the names! the names!--according to the terms of the motion!"
The old couple sat reluctantly down, and the husband whispered to the wife, "It is pitifully hard to have to wait; the shame will be greater than ever when they find we were only going to plead for OURSELVES."
Straightway the jollity broke loose again with the reading of the names.
"'You are far from being a bad man--' Signature, 'Robert J. Titmarsh.'"
'"You are far from being a bad man--' Signature, 'Eliphalet Weeks.'"
"'You are far from being a bad man--' Signature, 'Oscar B. Wilder.'"
At this point the house lit upon the idea of taking the eight words out of the Chairman's hands. He was not unthankful for that. Thenceforward he held up each note in its turn and waited. The house droned out the eight words in a massed and measured and musical deep volume of sound (with a daringly close resemblance to a well-known church chant)--"You are f-a-r from being a b-a-a-a-d man." Then the Chair said, "Signature, 'Archibald Wilcox.'" And so on, and so on, name after name, and everybody had an increasingly and gloriously good time except the wretched Nineteen. Now and then, when a particularly shining name was called, the house made the Chair wait while it chanted the whole of the test-remark from the beginning to the closing words, "And go to hell or Hadleyburg-- try and make it the for-or-m-e-r!" and in these special cases they added a grand and agonised and imposing "A-a-a-a-MEN!"
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|The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg
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