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


(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)

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ONE of the reasons why Tom's mind had drifted away

from its secret troubles was, that it had found a new

and weighty matter to interest itself about. Becky Thatcher

had stopped coming to school. Tom had struggled with his

pride a few days, and tried to "whistle her down the wind,"

but failed. He began to find himself hanging around her

father's house, nights, and feeling very miserable. She

was ill. What if she should die! There was dis-

traction in the thought. He no longer took an interest

in war, nor even in piracy. The charm of life was

gone; there was nothing but dreariness left. He put

his hoop away, and his bat; there was no joy in them

any more. His aunt was concerned. She began to try

all manner of remedies on him. She was one of those

people who are infatuated with patent medicines and

all new-fangled methods of producing health or mending

it. She was an inveterate experimenter in these things.

When something fresh in this line came out she was in a

fever, right away, to try it; not on herself, for she was

never ailing, but on anybody else that came handy.

She was a subscriber for all the "Health" periodicals

and phrenological frauds; and the solemn ignorance

they were inflated with was breath to her nostrils.

All the "rot" they contained about ventilation, and

how to go to bed, and how to get up, and what to

eat, and what to drink, and how much exercise to

take, and what frame of mind to keep one's self in,

and what sort of clothing to wear, was all gospel to

her, and she never observed that her health-journals

of the current month customarily upset everything

they had recommended the month before. She was

as simple-hearted and honest as the day was long,

and so she was an easy victim. She gathered together

her quack periodicals and her quack medicines, and

thus armed with death, went about on her pale horse,

metaphorically speaking, with "hell following after."

But she never suspected that she was not an angel of

healing and the balm of Gilead in disguise, to the

suffering neighbors.

The water treatment was new, now, and Tom's low

condition was a windfall to her. She had him out at

daylight every morning, stood him up in the wood-

shed and drowned him with a deluge of cold water;

then she scrubbed him down with a towel like a

file, and so brought him to; then she rolled him

up in a wet sheet and put him away under blankets

till she sweated his soul clean and "the yellow stains

of it came through his pores" -- as Tom said.

Yet notwithstanding all this, the boy grew more

and more melancholy and pale and dejected. She

added hot baths, sitz baths, shower baths, and plunges.

The boy remained as dismal as a hearse. She began

to assist the water with a slim oatmeal diet and blister-

plasters. She calculated his capacity as she would a

jug's, and filled him up every day with quack cure-alls.

Tom had become indifferent to persecution by this

time. This phase filled the old lady's heart with

consternation. This indifference must be broken up

at any cost. Now she heard of Pain-killer for the

first time. She ordered a lot at once. She tasted it

and was filled with gratitude. It was simply fire in a

liquid form. She dropped the water treatment and

everything else, and pinned her faith to Pain-killer.

She gave Tom a teaspoonful and watched with the

deepest anxiety for the result. Her troubles were in-

stantly at rest, her soul at peace again; for the "in-

difference" was broken up. The boy could not have

shown a wilder, heartier interest, if she had built a fire

under him.

Tom felt that it was time to wake up; this sort of

life might be romantic enough, in his blighted con-

dition, but it was getting to have too little sentiment

and too much distracting variety about it. So he

thought over various plans for relief, and finally hit

pon that of professing to be fond of Pain-killer. He

asked for it so often that he became a nuisance, and

his aunt ended by telling him to help himself and quit

bothering her. If it had been Sid, she would have had

no misgivings to alloy her delight; but since it was Tom,

she watched the bottle clandestinely. She found that

the medicine did really diminish, but it did not occur

to her that the boy was mending the health of a crack

in the sitting-room floor with it.

One day Tom was in the act of dosing the crack

when his aunt's yellow cat came along, purring, ey-

ing the teaspoon avariciously, and begging for a taste.

Tom said:

"Don't ask for it unless you want it, Peter."

But Peter signified that he did want it.

"You better make sure."

Peter was sure.

"Now you've asked for it, and I'll give it to you,

because there ain't anything mean about me; but

if you find you don't like it, you mustn't blame any-

body but your own self."

Peter was agreeable. So Tom pried his mouth

open and poured down the Pain-killer. Peter sprang

a couple of yards in the air, and then delivered a

war-whoop and set off round and round the room,

banging against furniture, upsetting flower-pots, and

making general havoc. Next he rose on his hind

feet and pranced around, in a frenzy of enjoyment,

with his head over his shoulder and his voice pro-

claiming his unappeasable happiness. Then he went

tearing around the house again spreading chaos and

destruction in his path. Aunt Polly entered in time

to see him throw a few double summersets, deliver a

final mighty hurrah, and sail through the open window,

carrying the rest of the flower-pots with him. The

old lady stood petrified with astonishment, peering

over her glasses; Tom lay on the floor expiring with laughter.

"Tom, what on earth ails that cat?"

"I don't know, aunt," gasped the boy.

"Why, I never see anything like it. What did make

him act so?"

"Deed I don't know, Aunt Polly; cats always act

so when they're having a good time."

"They do, do they?" There was something in the

tone that made Tom apprehensive.

"Yes'm. That is, I believe they do."

"You DO?"


The old lady was bending down, Tom watching,

with interest emphasized by anxiety. Too late he

divined her "drift." The handle of the telltale tea-

spoon was visible under the bed-valance. Aunt Polly

took it, held it up. Tom winced, and dropped his eyes.

Aunt Polly raised him by the usual handle -- his ear --

and cracked his head soundly with her thimble.

"Now, sir, what did you want to treat that poor

dumb beast so, for?"

"I done it out of pity for him -- because he hadn't any aunt."

"Hadn't any aunt! -- you numskull. What has that

got to do with it?"

"Heaps. Because if he'd had one she'd a burnt

him out herself! She'd a roasted his bowels out of him

'thout any more feeling than if he was a human!"

Aunt Polly felt a sudden pang of remorse. This

was putting the thing in a new light; what was cruelty

to a cat MIGHT be cruelty to a boy, too. She began to

soften; she felt sorry. Her eyes watered a little, and

she put her hand on Tom's head and said gently:

"I was meaning for the best, Tom. And, Tom, it

DID do you good."

Tom looked up in her face with just a perceptible

twinkle peeping through his gravity.

"I know you was meaning for the best, aunty, and

so was I with Peter. It done HIM good, too. I never

see him get around so since --"

"Oh, go 'long with you, Tom, before you aggravate

me again. And you try and see if you can't be a good

boy, for once, and you needn't take any more medicine."

Tom reached school ahead of time. It was noticed

that this strange thing had been occurring every day

latterly. And now, as usual of late, he hung about

the gate of the schoolyard instead of playing with his

comrades. He was sick, he said, and he looked it.

He tried to seem to be looking everywhere but whither

he really was looking -- down the road. Presently

Jeff Thatcher hove in sight, and Tom's face lighted;

he gazed a moment, and then turned sorrowfully away.

When Jeff arrived, Tom accosted him; and "led up"

warily to opportunities for remark about Becky, but

the giddy lad never could see the bait. Tom watched

and watched, hoping whenever a frisking frock came in

sight, and hating the owner of it as soon as he saw she

was not the right one. At last frocks ceased to appear,

and he dropped hopelessly into the dumps; he entered

the empty schoolhouse and sat down to suffer. Then

one more frock passed in at the gate, and Tom's heart

gave a great bound. The next instant he was out,

and "going on" like an Indian; yelling, laughing,

chasing boys, jumping over the fence at risk of life and

limb, throwing handsprings, standing on his head --

doing all the heroic things he could conceive of, and

keeping a furtive eye out, all the while, to see if Becky

Thatcher was noticing. But she seemed to be un-

conscious of it all; she never looked. Could it be

possible that she was not aware that he was there?

He carried his exploits to her immediate vicinity; came

war-whooping around, snatched a boy's cap, hurled it

to the roof of the schoolhouse, broke through a group

of boys, tumbling them in every direction, and fell

sprawling, himself, under Becky's nose, almost upsetting

her -- and she turned, with her nose in the air, and he

heard her say: "Mf! some people think they're mighty

smart -- always showing off!"

Tom's cheeks burned. He gathered himself up and

sneaked off, crushed and crestfallen.



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