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


(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)

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A FEW minutes later Tom was in the shoal water of the bar,

wading toward the Illinois shore. Before the depth reached

his middle he was half-way over; the current would permit

no more wading, now, so he struck out confidently to swim

the remaining hundred yards. He swam quartering upstream,

but still was swept downward rather faster than he had

expected. However, he reached the shore finally,

and drifted along till he found a low place and

drew himself out. He put his hand on his jacket pocket,

found his piece of bark safe, and then struck through

the woods, following the shore, with streaming garments.

Shortly before ten o'clock he came out into an open

place opposite the village, and saw the ferryboat lying

in the shadow of the trees and the high bank. Every-

thing was quiet under the blinking stars. He crept

down the bank, watching with all his eyes, slipped into

the water, swam three or four strokes and climbed into

the skiff that did "yawl" duty at the boat's stern. He

laid himself down under the thwarts and waited, panting.

Presently the cracked bell tapped and a voice gave

the order to "cast off." A minute or two later the

skiff's head was standing high up, against the boat's

swell, and the voyage was begun. Tom felt happy in

his success, for he knew it was the boat's last trip for

the night. At the end of a long twelve or fifteen minutes

the wheels stopped, and Tom slipped overboard and

swam ashore in the dusk, landing fifty yards down-

stream, out of danger of possible stragglers.

He flew along unfrequented alleys, and shortly found

himself at his aunt's back fence. He climbed over,

approached the "ell," and looked in at the sitting-room

window, for a light was burning there. There sat

Aunt Polly, Sid, Mary, and Joe Harper's mother,

grouped together, talking. They were by the bed, and

the bed was between them and the door. Tom went

to the door and began to softly lift the latch; then he

pressed gently and the door yielded a crack; he con-

tinued pushing cautiously, and quaking every time it

creaked, till he judged he might squeeze through on his

knees; so he put his head through and began, warily.

"What makes the candle blow so?" said Aunt

Polly. Tom hurried up. "Why, that door's open,

I believe. Why, of course it is. No end of strange

things now. Go 'long and shut it, Sid."

Tom disappeared under the bed just in time. He

lay and "breathed" himself for a time, and then crept

to where he could almost touch his aunt's foot.

"But as I was saying," said Aunt Polly, "he warn't

BAD, so to say -- only mischEEvous. Only just giddy,

and harum-scarum, you know. He warn't any more

responsible than a colt. HE never meant any harm,

and he was the best-hearted boy that ever was" -- and

she began to cry.

"It was just so with my Joe -- always full of his

devilment, and up to every kind of mischief, but he

was just as unselfish and kind as he could be -- and

laws bless me, to think I went and whipped him for

taking that cream, never once recollecting that I

throwed it out myself because it was sour, and I never

to see him again in this world, never, never, never, poor

abused boy!" And Mrs. Harper sobbed as if her

heart would break.

"I hope Tom's better off where he is," said Sid,

"but if he'd been better in some ways --"

"SID!" Tom felt the glare of the old lady's eye,

though he could not see it. "Not a word against my

Tom, now that he's gone! God'll take care of HIM --

never you trouble YOURself, sir! Oh, Mrs. Harper, I

don't know how to give him up! I don't know how to

give him up! He was such a comfort to me, although

he tormented my old heart out of me, 'most."

"The Lord giveth and the Lord hath taken away

-- Blessed be the name of the Lord! But it's so hard

-- Oh, it's so hard! Only last Saturday my Joe busted

a firecracker right under my nose and I knocked him

sprawling. Little did I know then, how soon -- Oh,

if it was to do over again I'd hug him and bless him for it."

"Yes, yes, yes, I know just how you feel, Mrs.

Harper, I know just exactly how you feel. No longer

ago than yesterday noon, my Tom took and filled the

cat full of Pain-killer, and I did think the cretur would

tear the house down. And God forgive me, I cracked

Tom's head with my thimble, poor boy, poor dead boy.

But he's out of all his troubles now. And the last words

I ever heard him say was to reproach --"

But this memory was too much for the old lady,

and she broke entirely down. Tom was snuffling, now,

himself -- and more in pity of himself than anybody

else. He could hear Mary crying, and putting in a

kindly word for him from time to time. He began to

have a nobler opinion of himself than ever before.

Still, he was sufficiently touched by his aunt's grief to

long to rush out from under the bed and overwhelm

her with joy -- and the theatrical gorgeousness of the

thing appealed strongly to his nature, too, but he re-

sisted and lay still.

He went on listening, and gathered by odds and ends

that it was conjectured at first that the boys had got

drowned while taking a swim; then the small raft had

been missed; next, certain boys said the missing lads

had promised that the village should "hear some-

thing" soon; the wise-heads had "put this and that

together" and decided that the lads had gone off on

that raft and would turn up at the next town below,

presently; but toward noon the raft had been found,

lodged against the Missouri shore some five or six miles

below the village -- and then hope perished; they must

be drowned, else hunger would have driven them home

by nightfall if not sooner. It was believed that the

search for the bodies had been a fruitless effort merely

because the drowning must have occurred in mid-

channel, since the boys, being good swimmers, would

otherwise have escaped to shore. This was Wednesday

night. If the bodies continued missing until Sunday,

all hope would be given over, and the funerals would

be preached on that morning. Tom shuddered.

Mrs. Harper gave a sobbing good-night and turned

to go. Then with a mutual impulse the two bereaved

women flung themselves into each other's arms and had

a good, consoling cry, and then parted. Aunt Polly

was tender far beyond her wont, in her good-night to

Sid and Mary. Sid snuffled a bit and Mary went off

crying with all her heart.

Aunt Polly knelt down and prayed for Tom so touch-

ingly, so appealingly, and with such measureless love

in her words and her old trembling voice, that he was

weltering in tears again, long before she was through.

He had to keep still long after she went to bed, for

she kept making broken-hearted ejaculations from time

to time, tossing unrestfully, and turning over. But at

last she was still, only moaning a little in her sleep.

Now the boy stole out, rose gradually by the bedside,

shaded the candle-light with his hand, and stood re-

garding her. His heart was full of pity for her. He

took out his sycamore scroll and placed it by the candle.

But something occurred to him, and he lingered con-

sidering. His face lighted with a happy solution of his

thought; he put the bark hastily in his pocket. Then

he bent over and kissed the faded lips, and straightway

made his stealthy exit, latching the door behind him.

He threaded his way back to the ferry landing, found

nobody at large there, and walked boldly on board the

boat, for he knew she was tenantless except that there

was a watchman, who always turned in and slept like

a graven image. He untied the skiff at the stern,

slipped into it, and was soon rowing cautiously up-

stream. When he had pulled a mile above the village,

he started quartering across and bent himself stoutly to

his work. He hit the landing on the other side neatly,

for this was a familiar bit of work to him. He was

moved to capture the skiff, arguing that it might be

considered a ship and therefore legitimate prey for a

pirate, but he knew a thorough search would be made

for it and that might end in revelations. So he stepped

ashore and entered the woods.

He sat down and took a long rest, torturing him-

self meanwhile to keep awake, and then started warily

down the home-stretch. The night was far spent.

It was broad daylight before he found himself fairly

abreast the island bar. He rested again until the sun

was well up and gilding the great river with its splendor,

and then he plunged into the stream. A little later he

paused, dripping, upon the threshold of the camp,

and heard Joe say:

"No, Tom's true-blue, Huck, and he'll come back.

He won't desert. He knows that would be a disgrace

to a pirate, and Tom's too proud for that sort of thing.

He's up to something or other. Now I wonder what?"

"Well, the things is ours, anyway, ain't they?"

Pretty near, but not yet, Huck. The writing says

they are if he ain't back here to breakfast."

"Which he is!" exclaimed Tom, with fine dramatic

effect, stepping grandly into camp.

A sumptuous breakfast of bacon and fish was shortly

provided, and as the boys set to work upon it, Tom

recounted (and adorned) his adventures. They were

a vain and boastful company of heroes when the tale

was done. Then Tom hid himself away in a shady

nook to sleep till noon, and the other pirates got ready

to fish and explore.



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