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Mark Twain > Adventures Of Tom Sawyer > Chapter XX

Adventures Of Tom Sawyer

Chapter XX


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 lingering notion of exposing Alfred
Temple, Tom's offensive fling had driven it entirely away.

Poor girl, she did not know how fast she was nearing 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 under 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 Somebody'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 human 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 spelling-book discovery was made, and Tom's mind was entirely 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, yawned, 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 intent 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 inspiration! 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 dismembered 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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