ONE of the reasons why Tom's mind had
drifted away from its secret troubles was,
that it had found a new and weighty
matter to interest itself about. Becky
Thatcher had stopped coming to school.
Tom had struggled with his pride a few
days, and tried to "whistle her down the wind," but
failed. He began to find himself hanging around her
father's house, nights, and feeling very miserable. She
was ill. What if she should die! There was distraction in the thought. He no longer took an interest
in war, nor even in piracy. The charm of life was
gone; there was nothing but dreariness left. He put
his hoop away, and his bat; there was no joy in them
any more. His aunt was concerned. She began to try
all manner of remedies on him. She was one of those
people who are infatuated with patent medicines and
all new-fangled methods of producing health or mending
it. She was an inveterate experimenter in these things.
When something fresh in this line came out she was in a
fever, right away, to try it; not on herself, for she was
never ailing, but on anybody else that came handy.
She was a subscriber for all the "Health" periodicals
and phrenological frauds; and the solemn ignorance
they were inflated with was breath to her nostrils.
All the "rot" they contained about ventilation, and
how to go to bed, and how to get up, and what to
eat, and what to drink, and how much exercise to
take, and what frame of mind to keep one's self in,
and what sort of clothing to wear, was all gospel to
her, and she never observed that her health-journals
of the current month customarily upset everything
they had recommended the month before. She was
as simple-hearted and honest as the day was long,
and so she was an easy victim. She gathered together
her quack periodicals and her quack medicines, and
thus armed with death, went about on her pale horse,
metaphorically speaking, with "hell following after."
But she never suspected that she was not an angel of
healing and the balm of Gilead in disguise, to the
The water treatment was new, now, and Tom's low
condition was a windfall to her. She had him out at
daylight every morning, stood him up in the woodshed and drowned him with a deluge of cold water;
then she scrubbed him down with a towel like a
file, and so brought him to; then she rolled him
up in a wet sheet and put him away under blankets till she sweated his soul clean and "the yellow stains of it came through his pores" -- as Tom
Yet notwithstanding all this, the boy grew more
and more melancholy and pale and dejected. She
added hot baths, sitz baths, shower baths, and plunges.
The boy remained as dismal as a hearse. She began
to assist the water with a slim oatmeal diet and blisterplasters. She calculated his capacity as she would a
jug's, and filled him up every day with quack cure-alls.
Tom had become indifferent to persecution by this
time. This phase filled the old lady's heart with
consternation. This indifference must be broken up
at any cost. Now she heard of Pain-killer for the
first time. She ordered a lot at once. She tasted it
and was filled with gratitude. It was simply fire in a
liquid form. She dropped the water treatment and
everything else, and pinned her faith to Pain-killer.
She gave Tom a teaspoonful and watched with the
deepest anxiety for the result. Her troubles were instantly at rest, her soul at peace again; for the "indifference" was broken up. The boy could not have
shown a wilder, heartier interest, if she had built a fire
Tom felt that it was time to wake up; this sort of
life might be romantic enough, in his blighted condition, but it was getting to have too little sentiment
and too much distracting variety about it. So he
thought over various plans for relief, and finally hit
pon that of professing to be fond of Pain-killer. He
asked for it so often that he became a nuisance, and
his aunt ended by telling him to help himself and quit
bothering her. If it had been Sid, she would have had
no misgivings to alloy her delight; but since it was Tom,
she watched the bottle clandestinely. She found that
the medicine did really diminish, but it did not occur
to her that the boy was mending the health of a crack
in the sitting-room floor with it.
One day Tom was in the act of dosing the crack
when his aunt's yellow cat came along, purring, eying the teaspoon avariciously, and begging for a taste.
"Don't ask for it unless you want it, Peter."
But Peter signified that he did want it.
"You better make sure."
Peter was sure.
"Now you've asked for it, and I'll give it to you,
because there ain't anything mean about me; but
if you find you don't like it, you mustn't blame anybody but your own self."
Peter was agreeable. So Tom pried his mouth
open and poured down the Pain-killer. Peter sprang
a couple of yards in the air, and then delivered a
war-whoop and set off round and round the room,
banging against furniture, upsetting flower-pots, and
making general havoc. Next he rose on his hind
feet and pranced around, in a frenzy of enjoyment,
with his head over his shoulder and his voice proclaiming his unappeasable happiness. Then he went
tearing around the house again spreading chaos and
destruction in his path. Aunt Polly entered in time
to see him throw a few double summersets, deliver a
final mighty hurrah, and sail through the open window,
carrying the rest of the flower-pots with him. The
old lady stood petrified with astonishment, peering
over her glasses; Tom lay on the floor expiring with
"Tom, what on earth ails that cat?"
"I don't know, aunt," gasped the boy.
"Why, I never see anything like it. What did make
him act so?"
"Deed I don't know, Aunt Polly; cats always act
so when they're having a good time."
"They do, do they?" There was something in the
tone that made Tom apprehensive.
"Yes'm. That is, I believe they do."
The old lady was bending down, Tom watching,
with interest emphasized by anxiety. Too late he
divined her "drift." The handle of the telltale teaspoon was visible under the bed-valance. Aunt Polly
took it, held it up. Tom winced, and dropped his eyes.
Aunt Polly raised him by the usual handle -- his ear -- and cracked his head soundly with her thimble.
"Now, sir, what did you want to treat that poor
dumb beast so, for?"
"I done it out of pity for him -- because he hadn't
"Hadn't any aunt! -- you numskull. What has that
got to do with it?"
"Heaps. Because if he'd had one she'd a burnt
him out herself! She'd a roasted his bowels out of him
'thout any more feeling than if he was a human!"
Aunt Polly felt a sudden pang of remorse. This
was putting the thing in a new light; what was cruelty
to a cat MIGHT be cruelty to a boy, too. She began to
soften; she felt sorry. Her eyes watered a little, and
she put her hand on Tom's head and said gently:
"I was meaning for the best, Tom. And, Tom, it
DID do you good."
Tom looked up in her face with just a perceptible
twinkle peeping through his gravity.
"I know you was meaning for the best, aunty, and
so was I with Peter. It done HIM good, too. I never
see him get around so since --"
"Oh, go 'long with you, Tom, before you aggravate
me again. And you try and see if you can't be a good
boy, for once, and you needn't take any more medicine."
Tom reached school ahead of time. It was noticed
that this strange thing had been occurring every day
latterly. And now, as usual of late, he hung about
the gate of the schoolyard instead of playing with his
comrades. He was sick, he said, and he looked it.
He tried to seem to be looking everywhere but whither
he really was looking -- down the road. Presently
Jeff Thatcher hove in sight, and Tom's face lighted;
he gazed a moment, and then turned sorrowfully away.
When Jeff arrived, Tom accosted him; and "led up"
warily to opportunities for remark about Becky, but
the giddy lad never could see the bait. Tom watched
and watched, hoping whenever a frisking frock came in
sight, and hating the owner of it as soon as he saw she
was not the right one. At last frocks ceased to appear,
and he dropped hopelessly into the dumps; he entered
the empty schoolhouse and sat down to suffer. Then
one more frock passed in at the gate, and Tom's heart
gave a great bound. The next instant he was out,
and "going on" like an Indian; yelling, laughing,
chasing boys, jumping over the fence at risk of life and
limb, throwing handsprings, standing on his head -- doing all the heroic things he could conceive of, and
keeping a furtive eye out, all the while, to see if Becky
Thatcher was noticing. But she seemed to be unconscious of it all; she never looked. Could it be
possible that she was not aware that he was there?
He carried his exploits to her immediate vicinity; came
war-whooping around, snatched a boy's cap, hurled it
to the roof of the schoolhouse, broke through a group
of boys, tumbling them in every direction, and fell
sprawling, himself, under Becky's nose, almost upsetting
her -- and she turned, with her nose in the air, and he
heard her say: "Mf! some people think they're mighty
smart -- always showing off!"
Tom's cheeks burned. He gathered himself up and
sneaked off, crushed and crestfallen.