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


(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)

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ABOUT half-past ten the cracked bell of the small church

began to ring, and presently the people began to gather

for the morning sermon. The Sunday-school children

distributed themselves about the house and occupied pews

with their parents, so as to be under supervision.

Aunt Polly came, and Tom and Sid and Mary sat with her --

Tom being placed next the aisle, in order that he might be

as far away from the open window and the seductive

outside summer scenes as possible. The crowd filed

up the aisles: the aged and needy postmaster, who

had seen better days; the mayor and his wife -- for

they had a mayor there, among other unnecessaries;

the justice of the peace; the widow Douglass, fair,

smart, and forty, a generous, good-hearted soul and

well-to-do, her hill mansion the only palace in the

town, and the most hospitable and much the most

lavish in the matter of festivities that St. Petersburg

could boast; the bent and venerable Major and Mrs.

Ward; lawyer Riverson, the new notable from a dis-

tance; next the belle of the village, followed by a troop

of lawn-clad and ribbon-decked young heart-breakers;

then all the young clerks in town in a body -- for they

had stood in the vestibule sucking their cane-heads, a

circling wall of oiled and simpering admirers, till the

last girl had run their gantlet; and last of all came

the Model Boy, Willie Mufferson, taking as heedful

care of his mother as if she were cut glass. He always

brought his mother to church, and was the pride of all

the matrons. The boys all hated him, he was so good.

And besides, he had been "thrown up to them" so

much. His white handkerchief was hanging out of his

pocket behind, as usual on Sundays -- accidentally.

Tom had no handkerchief, and he looked upon boys

who had as snobs.

The congregation being fully assembled, now, the

bell rang once more, to warn laggards and stragglers,

and then a solemn hush fell upon the church which

was only broken by the tittering and whispering of

the choir in the gallery. The choir always tittered

and whispered all through service. There was once

a church choir that was not ill-bred, but I have for-

gotten where it was, now. It was a great many years

ago, and I can scarcely remember anything about it,

but I think it was in some foreign country.

The minister gave out the hymn, and read it through

with a relish, in a peculiar style which was much ad-

mired in that part of the country. His voice began

on a medium key and climbed steadily up till it reached

a certain point, where it bore with strong emphasis upon

the topmost word and then plunged down as if from a


Shall I be car-ri-ed toe the skies, on flow'ry BEDS of ease,

Whilst others fight to win the prize, and sail thro' BLOOD-

y seas?

He was regarded as a wonderful reader. At church

"sociables" he was always called upon to read poetry;

and when he was through, the ladies would lift up their

hands and let them fall helplessly in their laps, and

"wall" their eyes, and shake their heads, as much as

to say, "Words cannot express it; it is too beautiful,

TOO beautiful for this mortal earth."

After the hymn had been sung, the Rev. Mr. Sprague

turned himself into a bulletin-board, and read off

"notices" of meetings and societies and things till it

seemed that the list would stretch out to the crack of

doom -- a queer custom which is still kept up in America,

even in cities, away here in this age of abundant newspapers.

Often, the less there is to justify a traditional custom,

the harder it is to get rid of it.

And now the minister prayed. A good, generous

prayer it was, and went into details: it pleaded for

the church, and the little children of the church; for

the other churches of the village; for the village itself;

for the county; for the State; for the State officers; for

the United States; for the churches of the United States;

for Congress; for the President; for the officers of the

Government; for poor sailors, tossed by stormy seas;

for the oppressed millions groaning under the heel of

European monarchies and Oriental despotisms; for such

as have the light and the good tidings, and yet have not

eyes to see nor ears to hear withal; for the heathen in the

far islands of the sea; and closed with a supplication that

the words he was about to speak might find grace and

favor, and be as seed sown in fertile ground, yielding

in time a grateful harvest of good. Amen.

There was a rustling of dresses, and the standing

congregation sat down. The boy whose history this

book relates did not enjoy the prayer, he only en-

dured it -- if he even did that much. He was restive

all through it; he kept tally of the details of the prayer,

unconsciously -- for he was not listening, but he knew

the ground of old, and the clergyman's regular route

over it -- and when a little trifle of new matter was in-

terlarded, his ear detected it and his whole nature re-

sented it; he considered additions unfair, and scoun-

drelly. In the midst of the prayer a fly had lit on the

back of the pew in front of him and tortured his spirit

by calmly rubbing its hands together, embracing its

head with its arms, and polishing it so vigorously that

it seemed to almost part company with the body, and

the slender thread of a neck was exposed to view;

scraping its wings with its hind legs and smoothing

them to its body as if they had been coat-tails; going

through its whole toilet as tranquilly as if it knew it was

perfectly safe. As indeed it was; for as sorely as Tom's

hands itched to grab for it they did not dare -- he believed

his soul would be instantly destroyed if he did such

a thing while the prayer was going on. But with

the closing sentence his hand began to curve and steal

forward; and the instant the "Amen" was out the fly

was a prisoner of war. His aunt detected the act and

made him let it go.

The minister gave out his text and droned along

monotonously through an argument that was so prosy

that many a head by and by began to nod -- and yet

it was an argument that dealt in limitless fire and

brimstone and thinned the predestined elect down to a

company so small as to be hardly worth the saving.

Tom counted the pages of the sermon; after church he

always knew how many pages there had been, but he

seldom knew anything else about the discourse. However,

this time he was really interested for a little while.

The minister made a grand and moving picture of the

assembling together of the world's hosts at the millennium

when the lion and the lamb should lie down

together and a little child should lead them. But the

pathos, the lesson, the moral of the great spectacle were

lost upon the boy; he only thought of the conspicuous-

ness of the principal character before the on-looking

nations; his face lit with the thought, and he said to

himself that he wished he could be that child, if it was

a tame lion.

Now he lapsed into suffering again, as the dry argu-

ment was resumed. Presently he bethought him of a

treasure he had and got it out. It was a large black

beetle with formidable jaws -- a "pinchbug," he called

it. It was in a percussion-cap box. The first thing

the beetle did was to take him by the finger. A natural

fillip followed, the beetle went floundering into the

aisle and lit on its back, and the hurt finger went into

the boy's mouth. The beetle lay there working its

helpless legs, unable to turn over. Tom eyed it, and

longed for it; but it was safe out of his reach. Other

people uninterested in the sermon found relief in the

beetle, and they eyed it too. Presently a vagrant poodle

dog came idling along, sad at heart, lazy with the

summer softness and the quiet, weary of captivity, sigh-

ing for change. He spied the beetle; the drooping tail

lifted and wagged. He surveyed the prize; walked

around it; smelt at it from a safe distance; walked around

it again; grew bolder, and took a closer smell; then

lifted his lip and made a gingerly snatch at it, just

missing it; made another, and another; began to enjoy

the diversion; subsided to his stomach with the beetle

between his paws, and continued his experiments; grew

weary at last, and then indifferent and absent-minded.

His head nodded, and little by little his chin descended

and touched the enemy, who seized it. There was a

sharp yelp, a flirt of the poodle's head, and the beetle

fell a couple of yards away, and lit on its back once

more. The neighboring spectators shook with a gentle

inward joy, several faces went behind fans and hand-

kerchiefs, and Tom was entirely happy. The dog

looked foolish, and probably felt so; but there was

resentment in his heart, too, and a craving for revenge.

So he went to the beetle and began a wary attack on it

again; jumping at it from every point of a circle, light-

ing with his fore-paws within an inch of the creature,

making even closer snatches at it with his teeth, and

jerking his head till his ears flapped again. But he

grew tired once more, after a while; tried to amuse him-

self with a fly but found no relief; followed an ant around,

with his nose close to the floor, and quickly wearied of

that; yawned, sighed, forgot the beetle entirely, and sat

down on it. Then there was a wild yelp of agony and

the poodle went sailing up the aisle; the yelps continued,

and so did the dog; he crossed the house in front of the

altar; he flew down the other aisle; he crossed before

the doors; he clamored up the home-stretch; his

anguish grew with his progress, till presently he was

but a woolly comet moving in its orbit with the gleam

and the speed of light. At last the frantic sufferer

sheered from its course, and sprang into its master's

lap; he flung it out of the window, and the voice of

distress quickly thinned away and died in the distance.

By this time the whole church was red-faced and

suffocating with suppressed laughter, and the sermon

had come to a dead standstill. The discourse was

resumed presently, but it went lame and halting, all

possibility of impressiveness being at an end; for even

the gravest sentiments were constantly being received

with a smothered burst of unholy mirth, under cover

of some remote pew-back, as if the poor parson had

said a rarely facetious thing. It was a genuine relief

to the whole congregation when the ordeal was over

and the benediction pronounced.

Tom Sawyer went home quite cheerful, thinking

to himself that there was some satisfaction about

divine service when there was a bit of variety in it.

He had but one marring thought; he was willing that

the dog should play with his pinchbug, but he did not

think it was upright in him to carry it off.



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