TOM presented himself before Aunt Polly,
who was sitting by an open window in a
pleasant rearward apartment, which was
bedroom, breakfast-room, dining-room,
and library, combined. The balmy summer air,
the restful quiet, the odor of the
flowers, and the drowsing murmur of the bees had
had their effect, and she was nodding over her
knitting -- for she had no company but the cat, and it was
asleep in her lap. Her spectacles were propped up
on her gray head for safety. She had thought that of
course Tom had deserted long ago, and she wondered
at seeing him place himself in her power again in this
intrepid way. He said: "Mayn't I go and play now,
"What, a'ready? How much have you done?"
"It's all done, aunt."
"Tom, don't lie to me -- I can't bear it."
"I ain't, aunt; it IS all done."
Aunt Polly placed small trust in such evidence.
She went out to see for herself; and she would have
been content to find twenty per cent. of Tom's statement
true. When she found the entire fence whitewashed,
and not only whitewashed but elaborately
coated and recoated, and even a streak added to the
ground, her astonishment was almost unspeakable.
"Well, I never! There's no getting round it, you
can work when you're a mind to, Tom." And then
she diluted the compliment by adding, "But it's powerful
seldom you're a mind to, I'm bound to say. Well,
go 'long and play; but mind you get back some time in
a week, or I'll tan you."
She was so overcome by the splendor of his achievement
that she took him into the closet and selected a
choice apple and delivered it to him, along with an
improving lecture upon the added value and flavor
a treat took to itself when it came without sin through
virtuous effort. And while she closed with a happy
Scriptural flourish, he "hooked" a doughnut.
Then he skipped out, and saw Sid just starting up
the outside stairway that led to the back rooms on
the second floor. Clods were handy and the air was
full of them in a twinkling. They raged around Sid
like a hail-storm; and before Aunt Polly could collect
her surprised faculties and sally to the rescue, six or
seven clods had taken personal effect, and Tom was
over the fence and gone. There was a gate, but as a
general thing he was too crowded for time to make use
of it. His soul was at peace, now that he had settled
with Sid for calling attention to his black thread and
getting him into trouble.
Tom skirted the block, and came round into a
muddy alley that led by the back of his aunt's cow-stable.
He presently got safely beyond the reach
of capture and punishment, and hastened toward the
public square of the village, where two "military"
companies of boys had met for conflict, according
to previous appointment. Tom was General of one
of these armies, Joe Harper (a bosom friend) General
of the other. These two great commanders did not
condescend to fight in person -- that being better suited
to the still smaller fry -- but sat together on an eminence
and conducted the field operations by orders delivered
through aides-de-camp. Tom's army won a great
victory, after a long and hard-fought battle. Then
the dead were counted, prisoners exchanged, the terms
of the next disagreement agreed upon, and the day
for the necessary battle appointed; after which the
armies fell into line and marched away, and Tom turned
As he was passing by the house where Jeff Thatcher
lived, he saw a new girl in the garden -- a lovely little
blue-eyed creature with yellow hair plaited into two
long-tails, white summer frock and embroidered pantalettes.
The fresh-crowned hero fell without firing
a shot. A certain Amy Lawrence vanished out of his
heart and left not even a memory of herself behind.
He had thought he loved her to distraction; he had
regarded his passion as adoration; and behold it was
only a poor little evanescent partiality. He had been
months winning her; she had confessed hardly a week
ago; he had been the happiest and the proudest boy in
the world only seven short days, and here in one instant
of time she had gone out of his heart like a casual
stranger whose visit is done.
He worshipped this new angel with furtive eye, till
he saw that she had discovered him; then he pretended
he did not know she was present, and began
to "show off" in all sorts of absurd boyish ways, in
order to win her admiration. He kept up this grotesque
foolishness for some time; but by-and-by, while he was
in the midst of some dangerous gymnastic performances,
he glanced aside and saw that the little girl was wending
her way toward the house. Tom came up to the
fence and leaned on it, grieving, and hoping she would
tarry yet awhile longer. She halted a moment on the
steps and then moved toward the door. Tom heaved
a great sigh as she put her foot on the threshold. But
his face lit up, right away, for she tossed a pansy over the
fence a moment before she disappeared.
The boy ran around and stopped within a foot or
two of the flower, and then shaded his eyes with his
hand and began to look down street as if he had discovered
something of interest going on in that direction.
Presently he picked up a straw and began trying to
balance it on his nose, with his head tilted far back;
and as he moved from side to side, in his efforts, he
edged nearer and nearer toward the pansy; finally his
bare foot rested upon it, his pliant toes closed upon it,
and he hopped away with the treasure and disappeared
round the corner. But only for a minute -- only while
he could button the flower inside his jacket, next his
heart -- or next his stomach, possibly, for he was not
much posted in anatomy, and not hypercritical, anyway.
He returned, now, and hung about the fence till
nightfall, "showing off," as before; but the girl never
exhibited herself again, though Tom comforted himself
a little with the hope that she had been near some
window, meantime, and been aware of his attentions.
Finally he strode home reluctantly, with his poor head
full of visions.
All through supper his spirits were so high that
his aunt wondered "what had got into the child." He
took a good scolding about clodding Sid, and did not
seem to mind it in the least. He tried to steal sugar
under his aunt's very nose, and got his knuckles rapped
for it. He said:
"Aunt, you don't whack Sid when he takes it."
"Well, Sid don't torment a body the way you do.
You'd be always into that sugar if I warn't watching
Presently she stepped into the kitchen, and Sid,
happy in his immunity, reached for the sugar-bowl --
a sort of glorying over Tom which was wellnigh
unbearable. But Sid's fingers slipped and the bowl
dropped and broke. Tom was in ecstasies. In such
ecstasies that he even controlled his tongue and was
silent. He said to himself that he would not speak
a word, even when his aunt came in, but would sit
perfectly still till she asked who did the mischief; and then
he would tell, and there would be nothing so good in
the world as to see that pet model "catch it." He was
so brimful of exultation that he could hardly hold
himself when the old lady came back and stood above the
wreck discharging lightnings of wrath from over her
spectacles. He said to himself, "Now it's coming!"
And the next instant he was sprawling on the floor!
The potent palm was uplifted to strike again when
Tom cried out:
"Hold on, now, what 'er you belting ME for? -- Sid
Aunt Polly paused, perplexed, and Tom looked
for healing pity. But when she got her tongue again,
she only said:
"Umf! Well, you didn't get a lick amiss, I reckon.
You been into some other audacious mischief when I
wasn't around, like enough."
Then her conscience reproached her, and she yearned
to say something kind and loving; but she judged
that this would be construed into a confession that she
had been in the wrong, and discipline forbade that.
So she kept silence, and went about her affairs with
a troubled heart. Tom sulked in a corner and exalted
his woes. He knew that in her heart his aunt was on
her knees to him, and he was morosely gratified by the
consciousness of it. He would hang out no signals, he
would take notice of none. He knew that a yearning
glance fell upon him, now and then, through a film of
tears, but he refused recognition of it. He pictured
himself lying sick unto death and his aunt bending over him
beseeching one little forgiving word, but he would
turn his face to the wall, and die with that word unsaid.
Ah, how would she feel then? And he pictured himself
brought home from the river, dead, with his curls all
wet, and his sore heart at rest. How she would throw
herself upon him, and how her tears would fall like
rain, and her lips pray God to give her back her boy
and she would never, never abuse him any more!
But he would lie there cold and white and make no
sign -- a poor little sufferer, whose griefs were at an
end. He so worked upon his feelings with the pathos
of these dreams, that he had to keep swallowing, he
was so like to choke; and his eyes swam in a blur of
water, which overflowed when he winked, and ran
down and trickled from the end of his nose. And such
a luxury to him was this petting of his sorrows, that he
could not bear to have any worldly cheeriness or any
grating delight intrude upon it; it was too sacred
for such contact; and so, presently, when his cousin
Mary danced in, all alive with the joy of seeing home
again after an age-long visit of one week to the country,
he got up and moved in clouds and darkness out at
one door as she brought song and sunshine in at the
He wandered far from the accustomed haunts of
boys, and sought desolate places that were in harmony
with his spirit. A log raft in the river invited
him, and he seated himself on its outer edge and
contemplated the dreary vastness of the stream,
wishing, the while, that he could only be drowned, all at
once and unconsciously, without undergoing the
uncomfortable routine devised by nature. Then he
thought of his flower. He got it out, rumpled and
wilted, and it mightily increased his dismal felicity.
He wondered if she would pity him if she knew?
Would she cry, and wish that she had a right to put
her arms around his neck and comfort him? Or
would she turn coldly away like all the hollow world?
This picture brought such an agony of pleasurable
suffering that he worked it over and over again in his mind
and set it up in new and varied lights, till he wore it
threadbare. At last he rose up sighing and departed
in the darkness.
About half-past nine or ten o'clock he came along
the deserted street to where the Adored Unknown
lived; he paused a moment; no sound fell upon his
listening ear; a candle was casting a dull glow upon
the curtain of a second-story window. Was the
sacred presence there? He climbed the fence, threaded
his stealthy way through the plants, till he stood under
that window; he looked up at it long, and with emotion;
then he laid him down on the ground under it,
disposing himself upon his back, with his hands clasped
upon his breast and holding his poor wilted flower.
And thus he would die -- out in the cold world, with no
shelter over his homeless head, no friendly hand to
wipe the death-damps from his brow, no loving face to
bend pityingly over him when the great agony came.
And thus SHE would see him when she looked out upon
the glad morning, and oh! would she drop one little
tear upon his poor, lifeless form, would she heave
one little sigh to see a bright young life so rudely
blighted, so untimely cut down?
The window went up, a maid-servant's discordant
voice profaned the holy calm, and a deluge of water
drenched the prone martyr's remains!
The strangling hero sprang up with a relieving
snort. There was a whiz as of a missile in the air,
mingled with the murmur of a curse, a sound as of
shivering glass followed, and a small, vague form went
over the fence and shot away in the gloom.
Not long after, as Tom, all undressed for bed, was
surveying his drenched garments by the light of a
tallow dip, Sid woke up; but if he had any dim idea of
making any "references to allusions," he thought better
of it and held his peace, for there was danger in Tom's
Tom turned in without the added vexation of prayers,
and Sid made mental note of the omission.