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|The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg||Mark Twain|
|Page 7 of 9||
The husband came out of his thinkings with a slight start, and gazed wistfully at his wife, whose face was become very pale; then he hesitatingly rose, and glanced furtively at his hat, then at his wife--a sort of mute inquiry. Mrs. Cox swallowed once or twice, with her hand at her throat, then in place of speech she nodded her head. In a moment she was alone, and mumbling to herself.
And now Richards and Cox were hurrying through the deserted streets, from opposite directions. They met, panting, at the foot of the printing-office stairs; by the night-light there they read each other's face. Cox whispered:
"Nobody knows about this but us?"
The whispered answer was:
"Not a soul--on honour, not a soul!"
"If it isn't too late to--"
The men were starting up-stairs; at this moment they were overtaken by a boy, and Cox asked,
"Is that you, Johnny?"
"You needn't ship the early mail--nor ANY mail; wait till I tell you."
"It's already gone, sir."
"GONE?" It had the sound of an unspeakable disappointment in it.
"Yes, sir. Time-table for Brixton and all the towns beyond changed to-day, sir--had to get the papers in twenty minutes earlier than common. I had to rush; if I had been two minutes later--"
The men turned and walked slowly away, not waiting to hear the rest. Neither of them spoke during ten minutes; then Cox said, in a vexed tone,
"What possessed you to be in such a hurry, I can't make out."
The answer was humble enough:
"I see it now, but somehow I never thought, you know, until it was too late. But the next time--"
"Next time be hanged! It won't come in a thousand years."
Then the friends separated without a good-night, and dragged themselves home with the gait of mortally stricken men. At their homes their wives sprang up with an eager "Well?"--then saw the answer with their eyes and sank down sorrowing, without waiting for it to come in words. In both houses a discussion followed of a heated sort--a new thing; there had been discussions before, but not heated ones, not ungentle ones. The discussions to-night were a sort of seeming plagiarisms of each other. Mrs. Richards said:
"If you had only waited, Edward--if you had only stopped to think; but no, you must run straight to the printing-office and spread it all over the world."
"It SAID publish it."
"That is nothing; it also said do it privately, if you liked. There, now--is that true, or not?"
"Why, yes--yes, it is true; but when I thought what a stir it would make, and what a compliment it was to Hadleyburg that a stranger should trust it so--"
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|The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg
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