"And they had the sass to put the wallets back," said Abe, sounding awestruck.
"Well, don't feel bad," said Arthur Stuart. "It was probably the pickpocket's knack, so
what could you do about it?"
Abe sat himself right down on the dock, which was quite an operation, seeing how he
was so tall and bony that just getting himself into a sitting position involved nearly knocking
three or four people into the water.
"Well, ain't this a grand holiday," said Abe. "Ain't I just the biggest rube you ever
saw. First I made a raft that can't be steered, so you had to save me. And then when I sell my
cargo and make the money I came for, I let somebody take it away from us first thing."
"So," said Alvin, "let's go eat."
"How?" said Abe. "I haven't got a penny. I haven't even got a return passage."
"Oh, we'll treat you to supper," said Alvin.
"I can't let you do that," said Abe.
"Because then I'd be in your debt."
"We saved your stupid life on the river, Abe Lincoln," said Alvin. "You're already so
far in my debt that you owe me interest on your breath."
Abe thought about that for a moment. "Well, then, I reckon it's in for a penny, in for
"The American version of that is 'in for a dime, in for a dollar,'" said Arthur Stuart
"But my mama's version was the one I said," retorted Abe. "And since I got exactly as
many pennies and pounds as I got dimes and dollars, I reckon I can please myself which ones
to cuss with."
"You mean that was cussin'?" said Arthur Stuart.
"Inside me there was cussin' so bad it'd make a sailor poke sticks in his own ears to
keep from hearin' it," said Abe. "Pennies and pounds was just the part I let out."
All this while, of course, Alvin had been using his doodlebug to go in search of the
thieves. First thing was to find Coz, of course, partly because the woman might still be with
him, and partly to make sure he hadn't been harmed. Alvin found his heartfire just as he was
getting clubbed in the head in a back alley. It wasn't no hard thing to make it so the club
didn't do him much harm. Put him down on the ground convincingly enough, so they
wouldn't feel no need to give him another lick with it, but Coz'd wake up without so much as
Meanwhile, though, the woman and the man was strolling off as easy as you please. So
Alvin searched them with his doodlebug and found the money fast enough. It was no great
difficulty to make the man's pocket and the woman's bag unweave themselves a little, and it
wasn't much harder to make the gold coins all slippery. Nor was it so hard to keep them
from making a single sound when they hit the wharf. The tricky thing was to keep the coins
from slipping through the cracks between the planks and falling into the slack water under the
Arthur Stuart, of course, had enough experience and training now that he was able to
follow pretty much what Alvin was doing. That was why he was stringing out the
conversation long enough to give Alvin time to get the job done.
In a way, thought Alvin, we're just like that pair of thieves. Arthur Stuart's the stall,
keeping Abe busy so he doesn't have a clue what's going on, and I'm the cutpurse and
pickpocket. Only difference is, we're sort of unstealing what was already stolen.
"Let's go eat, then," said Arthur Stuart, "instead of talking about eatin'."
"Where shall we go to find food that we can stand to eat?" said Alvin.
"This way, I think," said Arthur Stuart, heading directly toward the alleyway where
the coins had all been spilled.
"Oh, that doesn't look too promising," said Abe.
"Trust me," said Arthur Stuart. "I got a nose for good food."
"He does," said Alvin. "And I got the tongue and lips and teeth for it."
"I'll happily provide the belly," offered Abe.
They had him lead the way down the alley. And blamed if he didn't just walk right
past the money.
"Abe," said Alvin. "Didn't you see them gold coins a-lyin' there?"
"They ain't mine," said Abe.
"Finders keepers, losers weepers," said Arthur Stuart.
"I may be a loser," said Abe, "but I ain't weepin'."
"But you're a finder now," said Arthur Stuart, "and I don't see you doin' no keepin'."
Abe looked at them a bit askance. "I reckon we ought to pick up these coins and
search out their proper owner. No doubt somebody's going to be right sorry for a hole in his
"Reckon so," said Alvin, bending over to pick up a few coins. Arthur Stuart was doing
the same, and pretty soon they had them all. It was quite a bit of money, when you had it all
"Gotta carry it somewhere," said Alvin. "Why don't you put it into those empty
wallets you got?"
Alvin fully expected that Abe would realize, when he started loading it in, that it was
exactly the amount that had been stolen.
But he didn't. Because the money didn't fit. There was too blamed much of it.
Arthur Stuart started laughing and kept laughing till he had tears running down his
"So now who's the weeper?" said Abe.
"He's laughing at me," said Alvin.
"Because I clean forgot that you and Coz probably wasn't the first folks they robbed
Abe looked down at the full wallets and the coins that Alvin and Arthur Stuart were
still holding and it finally dawned on him. "You robbed the robbers."
Alvin shook his head. "You was supposed to think they just dropped your money and
ran or something," he said. "But I can't pretend that when you go finding more money than
Abe shook his head. "Well, I'm beginning to get the idea that you got you some kind
of knack, Mr. Smith."
"I just know how to work with metals some," said Alvin.
"Including metal that's in somebody else's pocket or purse some six rods off."
"Let's go find Coz," said Alvin. "Since I reckon he's due to wake up soon."
"He's sleeping?" asked Abe.
"He had some encouragement," said Alvin. "But he'll be fine."
Abe gave him a look but said nothing.
"What about all this extra money?" asked Arthur Stuart.
"I'm not taking it," said Abe. "I'll keep what's rightfully mine and Coz's, but the rest
you can just leave there on the planks. Let the thieves come back and find it."
"But it wasn't theirs, neither," said Arthur Stuart.
"That's between them and their maker on Judgment Day," said Abe. "I ain't gettin'
involved. I don't want to have any money I can't account for."
"To the Lord?" asked Alvin.
"Or to the magistrate," said Abe. "I gave a receipt for this amount, and it can be
proved that it's mine. Just drop the rest of that. Or keep it, if you don't mind being thieves
Alvin couldn't believe that the man whose money he had just saved was calling him a
thief. But after he thought about it for a moment, he realized that he couldn't very well
pretend that he simply happened to find the money. Nor that it belonged to him by any
stretch of the imagination.
"I expect if you rob a robber," said Alvin, "it doesn't make you any less of a robber."
"I expect not," said Abe.
Alvin and Arthur Stuart let the money dribble out of their hands and back down onto
the planks. Once again, Alvin made sure that none of it fell through the cracks. Money
wouldn't do no good to anybody down in the water.
"You always this honest?" said Alvin.
"About money, yes sir," said Abe.
"But not about everything."
"I have to admit that there's parts of some stories I tell that aren't strictly speaking the
absolute God's-own truth."
"Well, no, of course not," said Alvin, "but you can't tell a good story without
improving it here and there."
"Well, you can," said Abe. "But then what do you do when you need to tell the same
story to the same people? You gotta change it then, so it'll still be entertaining."
"So it's really for their benefit to fiddle with the truth."
"Pure Christian charity."
Coz was still asleep when they found him, but it wasn't the sleep of the newly
knocked-upside-the-head, it was a snorish sleep of a weary man. So Abe paused a moment to
put a finger to his lips, to let Alvin and Arthur Stuart know that they should let him do the
talking. Only when they nodded did he start nudging Coz with his toe.
Coz sputtered and awoke. "Oh, man," he said. "What am I doing here?"
"Waking up," said Abe. "But a minute ago, you was sleeping."
"I was? Why was I sleeping here?"
"I was going to ask you the same question," said Abe. "Did you have a good time with
that lady you fell so much in love with?"
Coz started to brag. "Oh, you bet I did." Only they could all see from his face that he
actually had no memory of what might have happened. "It was amazing. She was -- only
maybe I shouldn't tell you all about it in front of the boy."
"No, best not," said Abe. "You must have got powerful drunk last night."
"Last night?" asked Coz, looking around.
"It's been a whole night and a day since you took off with her. I reckon you probably
spent every dime of your half of the money. But I'm a-tellin' you, Coz, I'm not giving you
any of my half, I'm just not."
Coz patted himself and realized his wallet was missing. "Oh, that snickety-pickle.
"Coz has him a knack for swearing in front of children," said Abe.
"My wallet's gone," he said.
"I reckon that includes the money in it," said Abe.
"Well she wouldn't steal the wallet and leave the money, would she?" said Coz.
"So you're sure she stole it?" said Abe.
"Well how else would my wallet turn up missing?" said Coz.
"You spent a whole night and day carousing. How do you know you didn't spend it
all? Or give it to her as a present? Or make six more friends and buy them drinks till you ran
out of money, and then you traded the wallet for one last drink?"
Coz looked like he'd been kicked in the belly, he was so stunned and forlorn. "Do
you think I did, Abe? I got to admit, I have no memory of what I did last night."
Then he reached up and touched his head. "I must have slept my way clear past the
"You don't look too steady," said Abe. "Maybe you don't have a hangover cause
you're still drunk."
"I am a little wobbly," said Coz. "Tell me, the three of you, am I talking slurry? Do I
Alvin shrugged. "Maybe you sound like a man as just woke up."
"Kind of a frog in your throat," said Arthur Stuart.
"I've seen you drunker," said Abe.
"Oh, I'm never gonna live down the shame of this, Abe," said Coz. "You warned me
not to go off with her. And whether she robbed me or somebody else did or I spent it all or I
clean lost it from being so stupid drunk, I'm going home empty-handed and Ma'll kill me,
she'll just ream me out a new ear, she'll cuss me up so bad."
"Oh, Coz, you know I won't leave you in such a bad way," said Abe.
"Won't you? You mean it? You'll give me a share of your half?"
"Enough to be respectable," said Abe. "We'll just say you ... invested the rest of it, on
speculation, kind of, but it went bad. They'll believe that, right? That's better than getting
robbed or spending it on likker."
"Oh, it is, Abe. You're a saint. You're my best friend. And you won't have to lie for
me, Abe. I know you hate to lie, so you just tell folks to ask me and I'll do all the lyin'."
Abe reached into his pocket and took out Coz's own wallet and handed it to him.
"You just take from that wallet as much as you think you'll need to make your story stick."
Coz started counting out the twenty-dollar gold pieces, but it only took a few before
his conscience started getting to him. "Every coin I take is taken from you, Abe. I can't do
this. You decide how much you can spare for me."
"No, you do the calculatin'," said Abe. "You know I'm no good at accounts, or my
store wouldn't have gone bust the way it did last year."
"But I feel like I'm robbing you, taking money out of your wallet like this."
"Oh, that ain't my wallet," said Abe.
Coz looked at him like he was crazy. "You took it out of your own pocket," he said.
"And if it ain't yours, then whose is it?"
When Abe didn't answer, Coz looked at the wallet again.
"It's mine," he said.
"It does look like yours," said Abe.
"You took it out of my own pocket when I was sleeping!" said Coz, outraged.
"I can tell you honestly that I did not," said Abe. "And these gentlemen can affirm
that I did not touch you with more than the toe of my boot as you laid there snoring like a
choir of angels."
"Then how'd you get it?"
"I stole it from you before you even went off with that girl," said Abe.
"You ... but then ... then how could I have done all those things last night?"
"Last night?" said Abe. "As I recall, last night you were on the boat with us."
"What're you ..." And then it all came clear. "You dad-blasted gummer-huggit! You
Abe put a hand to his ear. "Hark! The song of the chuckle-headed Coz-bird!"
"It's the same day! I wasn't asleep half an hour!"
"Twenty minutes," offered Alvin. "At least that's my guess."
"And this is all my own money!" Coz said.
Abe nodded gravely. "It is, my friend, at least until another girl makes big-eyes at
Coz looked up and down the little alleyway. "But what happened to Fannie? One
minute I was walking down this alleyway with my hand on her ... hand, and the next minute
you're pokin' me with your toe."
"You know something, Coz?" said Abe. "You don't have much of a love life."
"Look who's talkin'," said Coz sullenly.
But that seemed to be something of a sore spot with Abe, for though the smile didn't
leave his face, the mirth did, and instead of coming back with some jest or jape, he sort of
seemed to wander off inside himself somewhere.
"Come on, let's eat," said Arthur Stuart. "All this talkin' don't fill me up much."
And that being the most honest and sensible thing that had been said that half hour,
they all agreed to it and followed their noses till they found a place that sold food that was
mostly dead, didn't have too many legs, wasn't poisonous when alive, and seemed cooked
enough to eat. Not an easy search in Barcy.
After dinner, Coz got him out a pipe which he proceeded to stuff with manure, or so it
smelled when he go the thing alight. Alvin toyed with putting out the fire, but he knew he
wasn't given his makery gift just to spare himself the occasional stink.
Instead he took his leave, hoisted his poke onto his shoulder, made sure Arthur Stuart
unwound himself from his chair before standing up, and the two lit out in search of a place to
stay. None of the miserable fleabitten overpriced understaffed crowded smelly firetraps near
the river. Alvin had no idea how long he'd be staying and he only had limited funds, so he'd
want a room in a boarding house somewhere in the part of Barcy where decent people lived
who aimed to stay a spell. Where a journeyman smith might stay, for instance, while he
searched for a shop as needed an extra pair of arms.
He wasn't thirty steps out of the tavern where they'd dined afore he realized that Abe
Lincoln was a-following, and even though Abe had even longer legs than Alvin's, there was no
point in making him hasten to catch them up. He stopped, he turned, and only then did he
realize that Arthur Stuart wasn't walking with him, he was with Abe.
It was disconcerting, how Arthur had learnt a way to keep Alvin from noticing his
heartfire. Not that Alvin ever failed to find Arthur when he was looking for him. But it used
to be Alvin always knew where Arthur Stuart was without even thinking, but ever since
Arthur had figured out a bit of real makering -- how to het up iron or soften it, which was no
mean trick -- it seemed he'd also figured out how to make Alvin not notice when he sort of
drifted away and went off on his own.
But now wasn't the time for remonstration, not with Abe a-lookin' on.
"You decided Coz could be trusted with his own money tonight after all?" asked
"Coz can't be trusted with his own elbows," said Abe, "but it occurred to me that you
and Arthur Stuart here have become right good friends, and I'd be sorry to lose track of you."
"Well, it's bound to happen," said Alvin, "since the only way to get your profits back
north is to buy passage and get aboard afore Coz falls in love again."
"You seem to be a wandering man," said Abe, "and not likely to have a place where a
man can send you a letter. Me, though, I'm rooted. I don't make much money doing much
of anything yet, but I know where I want to do it. You write to Abraham Lincoln, town of
Springfield, state of Noisy River, that'll reach me right enough."
Alvin had no shortage of friends in his life, but never had a man he liked so well upon
such short acquaintance made it so plain that he liked him back. "Abe, I won't forget that
address, and indeed I expect I'll use it. Not only that, but I do have a way that a fellow can
write to me. Any letter posted to Alvin Junior in the care of Alvin Miller in the town of
Vigor Church would reach me in due time."
"Your folks, I reckon."
"I grew up there and we're still on speaking terms," said Alvin with a smile.
But Abe didn't smile back. "I know the name of Vigor Church, and a dark story
attached to the place."
"The story's dark enough, and also true," said Alvin. "But if you know the tale, you
know there was some as didn't take part in the massacre of Prophet's Town, and didn't have
no curse upon them."
"I never thought about it, but I reckon there had to be some as had clean hands."
Alvin held his hands up. "But that doesn't mean as much as it once did, because the
curse has been lifted and the sin forgiven."
"I hadn't heard that."
"It isn't much spoken of," said Alvin. "If you want to learn the whole of the tale,
you're welcome to visit my family there at any time. It's a welcoming house, with many a
visitor, and if you tell them you're a friend of me and a certain step-brother-in-law of mine,
they'll serve you extra helpings and perhaps tell you a tale or two that you haven't heard
"You can be sure I'll go there," said Abe. "And I'm glad to think tonight won't be the
last I'll hear of you."
"You can't be any gladder than me," said Alvin.
With a handshake they parted yet again, and soon Abe's long legs were carrying him
back toward the tavern with a stride that parted the flow of the crowd in the street like an
"I like that man," said Arthur Stuart.
"Me too," said Alvin. "Though I think there's more to him than making folks laugh."
"Not to mention being the best-looking ugly man or the ugliest handsome man I ever
seen," said Arthur Stuart.
"Speaking of nothing much," said Alvin, "I wish you wouldn't do that trick of hiding
your heartfire from me."
Arthur Stuart looked at him without blinking an eye and answered just as Alvin
supposed he would. "Now that we're away from company, Al, ain't it about time you told
me what our business is here in Barcy?"
Alvin sighed. "I'll tell you now what I told you back in Carthage when we set out on
this journey. I'm going because my Peggy sent me here to Barcy, and a good husband does
what his wife insists."
"She didn't send you to Carthage, that's for sure. She thinks you're gonna die there."
"When I die, I'll be dead everywhere, all at once," said Alvin, a little peeved. "She can
send me to the end of the world, and I'll go, but at least I get to choose my own route."
"You mean you really don't know what you're supposed to do here? When you said
that before I thought you were just telling me it was none of my business."
"It might well be none of your business," said Alvin, "but so far it's apparently none of
my business, either. Back on the steamboat, I thought maybe our trip here had something to
do with Steve Austin and Jim Bowie and the expedition to Mexico they tried to recruit me
for. But then we left them behind and --"
"And freed two dozen black men as didn't want to be slaves."
"That was more you than me, and not a thing to be bragging on here in the streets of
Barcy," said Alvin.
"And you still have yet to figger out what Peggy has in mind," said Arthur Stuart.
"We don't talk like we used to," said Alvin. "And there's times I think she tells me of
an urgent errand in one place, just so I won't be in a different place where she saw some awful
thing happening to me."
"It's been known to happen."
"Well, I don't like it. But I also know she wants our baby to have a living father, and
so I go along, though I remind her from time to time that a grown man likes to know why
he's doing a thing. And in this case, what the thing is I'm supposed to be doing."
"Is that what a grown man likes?" said Arthur Stuart, with a grin that was way too
"You'll find out when you're growed," said Alvin.
But the truth was, Arthur Stuart might be full grown already. Alvin didn't know
whether his father was a tall man, and his mother was so young she might not have been full
growed. No matter how tall he might get, at age fifteen it was time for Alvin to stop treating
him like a little brother and start treating him like a man who had the right to go his own
way, if he so chose.
Which was probably why Arthur Stuart had gone to the trouble to learn how to hide
his heartfire from Alvin. Not hide it completely -- he'd never be able to do that. But he
could make it so Alvin didn't notice him unless he was particularly looking, and that was
more hidden than Alvin ever thought he'd be able to do.
Alvin did his share of hiding from folks, too, so he couldn't rightly begrudge the boy
his privacy. For instance, there was no one who knew that Alvin not only didn't know what
errand Margaret had in mind for him, he didn't much care, either. Or about anything else.
Because at the ripe old age of twenty-six, Alvin Miller, who had become Alvin Smith,
and whose secret name was Alvin Maker; this Alvin, whose birth had been surrounded by
such portents, who had been so watched over by good and evil as he was growing up; this
same Alvin who had thought he had a great mission and work in his life, had long since come
to realize that all those portents came to nothing, that all that watching had been wasted,
because the power of makery had been given to the wrong man. In Alvin's hands it had all
come to nothing. Whatever he made got unmade just as fast or faster. There was no
overtaking the Unmaker in his dire work of unraveling the world. He couldn't teach more
than scraps of the power to anyone else, so it's not as though his plan of surrounding himself
with other makers was ever going to work.
He couldn't even save the life of his own baby, or learn languages the way Arthur
Stuart could, or see the paths of the future like Margaret, or any of the other practical gifts.
He was just a journeyman smith who by sheerest accident got himself a golden plow which
he'd been carrying around in a poke for five years now, and for what?
Alvin had no idea why God had singled him out to be the seventh son of a seventh
son, but whatever God's plan might have been at first, Alvin must have muffed it by now,
because even the Unmaker seemed to be leaving him alone. Once he had been so formidable
that he was surrounded by enemies. Now even his enemies had lost interest in him. What
clearer sign of failure could you find than that?
It was this dark mood that rode in his heart all the way into Barcy proper, and perhaps
it was the cloud that it put in his visage that made the first two houses turn them away.
He was so darkhearted by the time they come to the third house that he didn't even
try to be personable. "I'm a journeyman smith from up north," he said, "and this boy is
passing as my slave but he's not, he's free, and I'm blamed if I'm going to make him sleep
down with the servants. I want a room with two good beds, and I'll pay faithful but I won't
have anybody treating this young fellow like a servant."
The woman at the door looked from him to Arthur Stuart and back again. "If you
make that speech at every door, I'm surprised you ain't got you a mob of men with clubs and
a rope followin' behind."
"Mostly I just ask for a room," said Alvin, "but I'm in a bad mood."
"Well, control your tongue in future," said the woman. "It happens you chose the
right door for that speech, by sheer luck or perversity. I have the room you want, with the
two beds, and this being a house where slavery is hated as an offense against God, you'll find
no one quarrels with you for treating this young man as an equal."
Copyright © 2003 Orson Scott Card