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Take time to read.
Reading is the
fountain of wisdom.


(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)

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TOM presented himself before Aunt Polly, who was sitting

by an open window in a pleasant rearward apartment,

which was bedroom, breakfast-room, dining-room,

and library, combined. The balmy summer air,

the restful quiet, the odor of the flowers,

and the drowsing murmur of the bees had

had their effect, and she was nodding over her knitting --

for she had no company but the cat, and it was

asleep in her lap. Her spectacles were propped up

on her gray head for safety. She had thought that of

course Tom had deserted long ago, and she wondered

at seeing him place himself in her power again in this

intrepid way. He said: "Mayn't I go and play now, aunt?"

"What, a'ready? How much have you done?"

"It's all done, aunt."

"Tom, don't lie to me -- I can't bear it."

"I ain't, aunt; it IS all done."

Aunt Polly placed small trust in such evidence.

She went out to see for herself; and she would have

been content to find twenty per cent of Tom's state-

ment true. When she found the entire fence white-

washed, and not only whitewashed but elaborately

coated and recoated, and even a streak added to the

ground, her astonishment was almost unspeakable.

She said:

"Well, I never! There's no getting round it, you

can work when you're a mind to, Tom." And then

she diluted the compliment by adding, "But it's power-

ful seldom you're a mind to, I'm bound to say. Well,

go 'long and play; but mind you get back some time in

a week, or I'll tan you."

She was so overcome by the splendor of his achieve-

ment that she took him into the closet and selected a

choice apple and delivered it to him, along with an

improving lecture upon the added value and flavor

a treat took to itself when it came without sin through

virtuous effort. And while she closed with a happy

Scriptural flourish, he "hooked" a doughnut.

Then he skipped out, and saw Sid just starting up

the outside stairway that led to the back rooms on

the second floor. Clods were handy and the air was

full of them in a twinkling. They raged around Sid

like a hail-storm; and before Aunt Polly could collect

her surprised faculties and sally to the rescue, six or

seven clods had taken personal effect, and Tom was

over the fence and gone. There was a gate, but as a

general thing he was too crowded for time to make use

of it. His soul was at peace, now that he had settled

with Sid for calling attention to his black thread and

getting him into trouble.

Tom skirted the block, and came round into a

muddy alley that led by the back of his aunt's cow-

stable. He presently got safely beyond the reach

of capture and punishment, and hastened toward the

public square of the village, where two "military"

companies of boys had met for conflict, according

to previous appointment. Tom was General of one

of these armies, Joe Harper (a bosom friend) General

of the other. These two great commanders did not

condescend to fight in person -- that being better suited

to the still smaller fry -- but sat together on an eminence

and conducted the field operations by orders delivered

through aides-de-camp. Tom's army won a great

victory, after a long and hard-fought battle. Then

the dead were counted, prisoners exchanged, the terms

of the next disagreement agreed upon, and the day

for the necessary battle appointed; after which the

armies fell into line and marched away, and Tom turned

homeward alone.

As he was passing by the house where Jeff Thatcher

lived, he saw a new girl in the garden -- a lovely little

blue-eyed creature with yellow hair plaited into two

long-tails, white summer frock and embroidered pan-

talettes. The fresh-crowned hero fell without firing

a shot. A certain Amy Lawrence vanished out of his

heart and left not even a memory of herself behind.

He had thought he loved her to distraction; he had

regarded his passion as adoration; and behold it was

only a poor little evanescent partiality. He had been

months winning her; she had confessed hardly a week

ago; he had been the happiest and the proudest boy in

the world only seven short days, and here in one instant

of time she had gone out of his heart like a casual

stranger whose visit is done.

He worshipped this new angel with furtive eye, till

he saw that she had discovered him; then he pre-

tended he did not know she was present, and began

to "show off" in all sorts of absurd boyish ways, in

order to win her admiration. He kept up this grotesque

foolishness for some time; but by-and-by, while he was

in the midst of some dangerous gymnastic performances,

he glanced aside and saw that the little girl was wending

her way toward the house. Tom came up to the

fence and leaned on it, grieving, and hoping she would

tarry yet awhile longer. She halted a moment on the

steps and then moved toward the door. Tom heaved

a great sigh as she put her foot on the threshold. But

his face lit up, right away, for she tossed a pansy over the

fence a moment before she disappeared.

The boy ran around and stopped within a foot or

two of the flower, and then shaded his eyes with his

hand and began to look down street as if he had dis-

covered something of interest going on in that direction.

Presently he picked up a straw and began trying to

balance it on his nose, with his head tilted far back;

and as he moved from side to side, in his efforts, he

edged nearer and nearer toward the pansy; finally his

bare foot rested upon it, his pliant toes closed upon it,

and he hopped away with the treasure and disappeared

round the corner. But only for a minute -- only while

he could button the flower inside his jacket, next his

heart -- or next his stomach, possibly, for he was not

much posted in anatomy, and not hypercritical, anyway.

He returned, now, and hung about the fence till

nightfall, "showing off," as before; but the girl never

exhibited herself again, though Tom comforted him-

self a little with the hope that she had been near some

window, meantime, and been aware of his attentions.

Finally he strode home reluctantly, with his poor head

full of visions.

All through supper his spirits were so high that

his aunt wondered "what had got into the child." He

took a good scolding about clodding Sid, and did not

seem to mind it in the least. He tried to steal sugar

under his aunt's very nose, and got his knuckles rapped

for it. He said:

"Aunt, you don't whack Sid when he takes it."

"Well, Sid don't torment a body the way you do.

You'd be always into that sugar if I warn't watching you."

Presently she stepped into the kitchen, and Sid,

happy in his immunity, reached for the sugar-bowl --

a sort of glorying over Tom which was wellnigh un-

bearable. But Sid's fingers slipped and the bowl

dropped and broke. Tom was in ecstasies. In such

ecstasies that he even controlled his tongue and was

silent. He said to himself that he would not speak

a word, even when his aunt came in, but would sit per-

fectly still till she asked who did the mischief; and then

he would tell, and there would be nothing so good in

the world as to see that pet model "catch it." He was

so brimful of exultation that he could hardly hold him-

self when the old lady came back and stood above the

wreck discharging lightnings of wrath from over her

spectacles. He said to himself, "Now it's coming!"

And the next instant he was sprawling on the floor!

The potent palm was uplifted to strike again when

Tom cried out:

"Hold on, now, what 'er you belting ME for? -- Sid broke it!"

Aunt Polly paused, perplexed, and Tom looked

for healing pity. But when she got her tongue again,

she only said:

"Umf! Well, you didn't get a lick amiss, I reckon.

You been into some other audacious mischief when I

wasn't around, like enough."

Then her conscience reproached her, and she yearned

to say something kind and loving; but she judged

that this would be construed into a confession that she

had been in the wrong, and discipline forbade that.

So she kept silence, and went about her affairs with

a troubled heart. Tom sulked in a corner and exalted

his woes. He knew that in her heart his aunt was on

her knees to him, and he was morosely gratified by the

consciousness of it. He would hang out no signals, he

would take notice of none. He knew that a yearning

glance fell upon him, now and then, through a film of

tears, but he refused recognition of it. He pictured him-

self lying sick unto death and his aunt bending over him

beseeching one little forgiving word, but he would

turn his face to the wall, and die with that word unsaid.

Ah, how would she feel then? And he pictured himself

brought home from the river, dead, with his curls all

wet, and his sore heart at rest. How she would throw

herself upon him, and how her tears would fall like

rain, and her lips pray God to give her back her boy

and she would never, never abuse him any more!

But he would lie there cold and white and make no

sign -- a poor little sufferer, whose griefs were at an

end. He so worked upon his feelings with the pathos

of these dreams, that he had to keep swallowing, he

was so like to choke; and his eyes swam in a blur of

water, which overflowed when he winked, and ran

down and trickled from the end of his nose. And such

a luxury to him was this petting of his sorrows, that he

could not bear to have any worldly cheeriness or any

grating delight intrude upon it; it was too sacred

for such contact; and so, presently, when his cousin

Mary danced in, all alive with the joy of seeing home

again after an age-long visit of one week to the country,

he got up and moved in clouds and darkness out at

one door as she brought song and sunshine in at the other.

He wandered far from the accustomed haunts of

boys, and sought desolate places that were in har-

mony with his spirit. A log raft in the river invited

him, and he seated himself on its outer edge and

contemplated the dreary vastness of the stream, wishing,

the while, that he could only be drowned, all at

once and unconsciously, without undergoing the

uncomfortable routine devised by nature. Then he

thought of his flower. He got it out, rumpled and

wilted, and it mightily increased his dismal felicity.

He wondered if she would pity him if she knew?

Would she cry, and wish that she had a right to put

her arms around his neck and comfort him? Or

would she turn coldly away like all the hollow world?

This picture brought such an agony of pleasurable suf-

fering that he worked it over and over again in his mind

and set it up in new and varied lights, till he wore it

threadbare. At last he rose up sighing and departed

in the darkness.

About half-past nine or ten o'clock he came along

the deserted street to where the Adored Unknown

lived; he paused a moment; no sound fell upon his

listening ear; a candle was casting a dull glow upon

the curtain of a second-story window. Was the

sacred presence there? He climbed the fence, threaded

his stealthy way through the plants, till he stood under

that window; he looked up at it long, and with emotion;

then he laid him down on the ground under it, dis-

posing himself upon his back, with his hands clasped

upon his breast and holding his poor wilted flower.

And thus he would die -- out in the cold world, with no

shelter over his homeless head, no friendly hand to

wipe the death-damps from his brow, no loving face to

bend pityingly over him when the great agony came.

And thus SHE would see him when she looked out upon

the glad morning, and oh! would she drop one little

tear upon his poor, lifeless form, would she heave

one little sigh to see a bright young life so rudely blighted,

so untimely cut down?

The window went up, a maid-servant's discordant

voice profaned the holy calm, and a deluge of water

drenched the prone martyr's remains!

The strangling hero sprang up with a relieving

snort. There was a whiz as of a missile in the air,

mingled with the murmur of a curse, a sound as of

shivering glass followed, and a small, vague form went

over the fence and shot away in the gloom.

Not long after, as Tom, all undressed for bed, was

surveying his drenched garments by the light of a

tallow dip, Sid woke up; but if he had any dim idea of

making any "references to allusions," he thought better

of it and held his peace, for there was danger in Tom's eye.

Tom turned in without the added vexation of prayers,

and Sid made mental note of the omission.



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