BUT there was no hilarity in the little town
that same tranquil Saturday afternoon.
The Harpers, and Aunt Polly's family,
were being put into mourning, with great
grief and many tears. An unusual quiet
possessed the village, although it was ordinarily quiet enough, in all conscience. The villagers
conducted their concerns with an absent air, and
talked little; but they sighed often. The Saturday
holiday seemed a burden to the children. They had
no heart in their sports, and gradually gave them up.
In the afternoon Becky Thatcher found herself
moping about the deserted schoolhouse yard, and
feeling very melancholy. But she found nothing there
to comfort her. She soliloquized:
"Oh, if I only had a brass andiron-knob again! But
I haven't got anything now to remember him by."
And she choked back a little sob.
Presently she stopped, and said to herself:
"It was right here. Oh, if it was to do over again,
I wouldn't say that -- I wouldn't say it for the whole
world. But he's gone now; I'll never, never, never see
him any more."
This thought broke her down, and she wandered
away, with tears rolling down her cheeks. Then quite
a group of boys and girls -- playmates of Tom's and Joe's
-- came by, and stood looking over the paling fence
and talking in reverent tones of how Tom did so-and-so
the last time they saw him, and how Joe said this and
that small trifle (pregnant with awful prophecy, as they
could easily see now!) -- and each speaker pointed out
the exact spot where the lost lads stood at the time, and
then added something like "and I was a-standing just
so -- just as I am now, and as if you was him -- I was as
close as that -- and he smiled, just this way -- and then
something seemed to go all over me, like -- awful, you
know -- and I never thought what it meant, of course,
but I can see now!"
Then there was a dispute about who saw the dead
boys last in life, and many claimed that dismal distinction, and offered evidences, more or less tampered
with by the witness; and when it was ultimately decided
who DID see the departed last, and exchanged the last
words with them, the lucky parties took upon themselves a sort of sacred importance, and were gaped at
and envied by all the rest. One poor chap, who had no
other grandeur to offer, said with tolerably manifest
pride in the remembrance:
"Well, Tom Sawyer he licked me once."
But that bid for glory was a failure. Most of the
boys could say that, and so that cheapened the distinction too much. The group loitered away, still recalling memories of the lost heroes, in awed voices.
When the Sunday-school hour was finished, the next
morning, the bell began to toll, instead of ringing in
the usual way. It was a very still Sabbath, and the
mournful sound seemed in keeping with the musing
hush that lay upon nature. The villagers began to
gather, loitering a moment in the vestibule to converse
in whispers about the sad event. But there was no
whispering in the house; only the funereal rustling of
dresses as the women gathered to their seats disturbed
the silence there. None could remember when the
little church had been so full before. There was finally
a waiting pause, an expectant dumbness, and then Aunt
Polly entered, followed by Sid and Mary, and they by
the Harper family, all in deep black, and the whole
congregation, the old minister as well, rose reverently
and stood until the mourners were seated in the front
pew. There was another communing silence, broken
at intervals by muffled sobs, and then the minister
spread his hands abroad and prayed. A moving hymn
was sung, and the text followed: "I am the Resurrection
and the Life."
As the service proceeded, the clergyman drew such
pictures of the graces, the winning ways, and the rare
promise of the lost lads that every soul there, thinking
he recognized these pictures, felt a pang in remembering
that he had persistently blinded himself to them always
before, and had as persistently seen only faults and
flaws in the poor boys. The minister related many a
touching incident in the lives of the departed, too, which
illustrated their sweet, generous natures, and the people
could easily see, now, how noble and beautiful those
episodes were, and remembered with grief that at the
time they occurred they had seemed rank rascalities,
well deserving of the cowhide. The congregation became more and more moved, as the pathetic tale went
on, till at last the whole company broke down and joined
the weeping mourners in a chorus of anguished sobs,
the preacher himself giving way to his feelings, and
crying in the pulpit.
There was a rustle in the gallery, which nobody
noticed; a moment later the church door creaked; the
minister raised his streaming eyes above his handkerchief, and stood transfixed! First one and then
another pair of eyes followed the minister's, and then
almost with one impulse the congregation rose and
stared while the three dead boys came marching up
the aisle, Tom in the lead, Joe next, and Huck, a ruin
of drooping rags, sneaking sheepishly in the rear!
They had been hid in the unused gallery listening to
their own funeral sermon!
Aunt Polly, Mary, and the Harpers threw themselves
upon their restored ones, smothered them with kisses
and poured out thanksgivings, while poor Huck stood
abashed and uncomfortable, not knowing exactly what
to do or where to hide from so many unwelcoming eyes.
He wavered, and started to slink away, but Tom seized
him and said:
"Aunt Polly, it ain't fair. Somebody's got to be glad
to see Huck."
"And so they shall. I'm glad to see him, poor
motherless thing!" And the loving attentions Aunt
Polly lavished upon him were the one thing capable of
making him more uncomfortable than he was before.
Suddenly the minister shouted at the top of his voice:
"Praise God from whom all blessings flow -- SING! -- and put your hearts in it!"
And they did. Old Hundred swelled up with a
triumphant burst, and while it shook the rafters Tom
Sawyer the Pirate looked around upon the envying
juveniles about him and confessed in his heart that this
was the proudest moment of his life.
As the "sold" congregation trooped out they said
they would almost be willing to be made ridiculous
again to hear Old Hundred sung like that once more.
Tom got more cuffs and kisses that day -- according
to Aunt Polly's varying moods -- than he had earned
before in a year; and he hardly knew which expressed
the most gratefulness to God and affection for himself.