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Mark Twain > Adventures Of Tom Sawyer > Chapter V

Adventures Of Tom Sawyer

Chapter V


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 distance; 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 forgotten 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 admired 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 spring-board:

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' BLOODY 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 endured 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 interlarded, his ear detected it and his whole nature
resented it; he considered additions unfair, and scoundrelly. 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
conspicuousness 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 argument 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, sighing 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 handkerchiefs, 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,
lighting 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 himself 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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