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


(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)

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THERE was something about Aunt Polly's manner,

when she kissed Tom, that swept away his low spirits

and made him lighthearted and happy again. He started to

school and had the luck of coming upon Becky Thatcher

at the head of Meadow Lane. His mood always determined

his manner. Without a moment's hesitation he ran to her

and said:

"I acted mighty mean to-day, Becky, and I'm so

sorry. I won't ever, ever do that way again, as long

as ever I live -- please make up, won't you?"

The girl stopped and looked him scornfully in the face:

"I'll thank you to keep yourself TO yourself, Mr.

Thomas Sawyer. I'll never speak to you again."

She tossed her head and passed on. Tom was so

stunned that he had not even presence of mind enough

to say "Who cares, Miss Smarty?" until the right time

to say it had gone by. So he said nothing. But he

was in a fine rage, nevertheless. He moped into the

schoolyard wishing she were a boy, and imagining

how he would trounce her if she were. He presently

encountered her and delivered a stinging remark as he

passed. She hurled one in return, and the angry

breach was complete. It seemed to Becky, in her hot

resentment, that she could hardly wait for school to

"take in," she was so impatient to see Tom flogged for

the injured spelling-book. If she had had any linger-

ing notion of exposing Alfred Temple, Tom's offensive

fling had driven it entirely away.

Poor girl, she did not know how fast she was near-

ing trouble herself. The master, Mr. Dobbins, had

reached middle age with an unsatisfied ambition. The

darling of his desires was, to be a doctor, but poverty

had decreed that he should be nothing higher than a

village schoolmaster. Every day he took a mysterious

book out of his desk and absorbed himself in it at times

when no classes were reciting. He kept that book un-

der lock and key. There was not an urchin in school

but was perishing to have a glimpse of it, but the chance

never came. Every boy and girl had a theory about

the nature of that book; but no two theories were alike,

and there was no way of getting at the facts in the case.

Now, as Becky was passing by the desk, which stood

near the door, she noticed that the key was in the lock!

It was a precious moment. She glanced around;

found herself alone, and the next instant she had the

book in her hands. The title-page -- Professor Some-

body's ANATOMY -- carried no information to her mind;

so she began to turn the leaves. She came at once upon

a handsomely engraved and colored frontispiece -- a hu-

man figure, stark naked. At that moment a shadow

fell on the page and Tom Sawyer stepped in at the

door and caught a glimpse of the picture. Becky

snatched at the book to close it, and had the hard luck

to tear the pictured page half down the middle. She

thrust the volume into the desk, turned the key, and

burst out crying with shame and vexation.

"Tom Sawyer, you are just as mean as you can

be, to sneak up on a person and look at what they're

looking at."

"How could I know you was looking at anything?"

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Tom Sawyer;

you know you're going to tell on me, and oh, what shall

I do, what shall I do! I'll be whipped, and I never was

whipped in school."

Then she stamped her little foot and said:

"BE so mean if you want to! I know something

that's going to happen. You just wait and you'll see!

Hateful, hateful, hateful!" -- and she flung out of the

house with a new explosion of crying.

Tom stood still, rather flustered by this onslaught.

Presently he said to himself:

"What a curious kind of a fool a girl is! Never

been licked in school! Shucks! What's a licking!

That's just like a girl -- they're so thin-skinned and

chicken-hearted. Well, of course I ain't going to tell

old Dobbins on this little fool, because there's other

ways of getting even on her, that ain't so mean; but

what of it? Old Dobbins will ask who it was tore his

book. Nobody'll answer. Then he'll do just the way

he always does -- ask first one and then t'other, and

when he comes to the right girl he'll know it, without

any telling. Girls' faces always tell on them. They

ain't got any backbone. She'll get licked. Well, it's

a kind of a tight place for Becky Thatcher, because there

ain't any way out of it." Tom conned the thing a

moment longer, and then added: "All right, though;

she'd like to see me in just such a fix -- let her sweat it out!"

Tom joined the mob of skylarking scholars outside.

In a few moments the master arrived and school "took

in." Tom did not feel a strong interest in his studies.

Every time he stole a glance at the girls' side of the

room Becky's face troubled him. Considering all

things, he did not want to pity her, and yet it was all

he could do to help it. He could get up no exultation

that was really worthy the name. Presently the spell-

ing-book discovery was made, and Tom's mind was en-

tirely full of his own matters for a while after that.

Becky roused up from her lethargy of distress and

showed good interest in the proceedings. She did not

expect that Tom could get out of his trouble by denying

that he spilt the ink on the book himself; and she was

right. The denial only seemed to make the thing worse

for Tom. Becky supposed she would be glad of that,

and she tried to believe she was glad of it, but she found

she was not certain. When the worst came to the

worst, she had an impulse to get up and tell on Alfred

Temple, but she made an effort and forced herself to

keep still -- because, said she to herself, "he'll tell about

me tearing the picture sure. I wouldn't say a word,

not to save his life!"

Tom took his whipping and went back to his seat

not at all broken-hearted, for he thought it was possible

that he had unknowingly upset the ink on the spelling-

book himself, in some skylarking bout -- he had denied

it for form's sake and because it was custom, and had

stuck to the denial from principle.

A whole hour drifted by, the master sat nodding in

his throne, the air was drowsy with the hum of study.

By and by, Mr. Dobbins straightened himself up, yawn-

ed, then unlocked his desk, and reached for his book,

but seemed undecided whether to take it out or leave it.

Most of the pupils glanced up languidly, but there were

two among them that watched his movements with in-

tent eyes. Mr. Dobbins fingered his book absently for

a while, then took it out and settled himself in his chair

to read! Tom shot a glance at Becky. He had seen a

hunted and helpless rabbit look as she did, with a gun

levelled at its head. Instantly he forgot his quarrel

with her. Quick -- something must be done! done in a

flash, too! But the very imminence of the emergency

paralyzed his invention. Good! -- he had an inspira-

tion! He would run and snatch the book, spring

through the door and fly. But his resolution shook

for one little instant, and the chance was lost -- the

master opened the volume. If Tom only had the

wasted opportunity back again! Too late. There was

no help for Becky now, he said. The next moment the

master faced the school. Every eye sank under his gaze.

There was that in it which smote even the innocent

with fear. There was silence while one might count ten

-- the master was gathering his wrath. Then he spoke:

"Who tore this book?"

There was not a sound. One could have heard a

pin drop. The stillness continued; the master searched

face after face for signs of guilt.

"Benjamin Rogers, did you tear this book?"

A denial. Another pause.

"Joseph Harper, did you?"

Another denial. Tom's uneasiness grew more and

more intense under the slow torture of these proceedings.

The master scanned the ranks of boys -- considered a

while, then turned to the girls:

"Amy Lawrence?"

A shake of the head.

"Gracie Miller?"

The same sign.

"Susan Harper, did you do this?"

Another negative. The next girl was Becky Thatcher.

Tom was trembling from head to foot with excitement

and a sense of the hopelessness of the situation.

"Rebecca Thatcher" [Tom glanced at her face -- it

was white with terror] -- "did you tear -- no, look me

in the face" [her hands rose in appeal] -- "did you tear

this book?"

A thought shot like lightning through Tom's brain.

He sprang to his feet and shouted -- "I done it!"

The school stared in perplexity at this incredible

folly. Tom stood a moment, to gather his dismem-

bered faculties; and when he stepped forward to go

to his punishment the surprise, the gratitude, the

adoration that shone upon him out of poor Becky's

eyes seemed pay enough for a hundred floggings.

Inspired by the splendor of his own act, he took without

an outcry the most merciless flaying that even Mr.

Dobbins had ever administered; and also received with

indifference the added cruelty of a command to remain

two hours after school should be dismissed -- for he

knew who would wait for him outside till his captivity

was done, and not count the tedious time as loss, either.

Tom went to bed that night planning vengeance

against Alfred Temple; for with shame and repentance

Becky had told him all, not forgetting her own treachery;

but even the longing for vengeance had to give way,

soon, to pleasanter musings, and he fell asleep at last

with Becky's latest words lingering dreamily in his ear --

"Tom, how COULD you be so noble!"



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