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  • Chapter I

  • "TOM!"

  • No answer.

  • "TOM!"

  • No answer.

  • "What's gone with that boy, I wonder?

  • You TOM!"

  • No answer.

  • The old lady pulled her spectacles down

  • and looked over them about the room; then

  • she put them up and looked out under them.

  • She seldom or never looked THROUGH them

  • for so small a thing as a boy; they were

  • her state pair, the pride of her heart,

  • and were built for "style," not service--

  • she could have seen through a pair of

  • stove-lids just as well.

  • She looked perplexed for a moment, and

  • then said, not fiercely, but still loud

  • enough for the furniture to hear:

  • "Well, I lay if I get hold of you I'll--"

  • She did not finish, for by this time she

  • was bending down and punching under the

  • bed with the broom, and so she needed

  • breath to punctuate the punches with.

  • She resurrected nothing but the cat.

  • "I never did see the beat of that boy!"

  • She went to the open door and stood in it

  • and looked out among the tomato vines and

  • "jimpson" weeds that constituted the

  • garden.

  • No Tom.

  • So she lifted up her voice at an angle

  • calculated for distance and shouted:

  • "Y-o-u-u TOM!"

  • There was a slight noise behind her and

  • she turned just in time to seize a small

  • boy by the slack of his roundabout and

  • arrest his flight.

  • "There!

  • I might 'a' thought of that closet.

  • What you been doing in there?"

  • "Nothing."

  • "Nothing!

  • Look at your hands.

  • And look at your mouth.

  • What IS that truck?"

  • "I don't know, aunt."

  • "Well, I know.

  • It's jam--that's what it is.

  • Forty times I've said if you didn't let

  • that jam alone I'd skin you.

  • Hand me that switch."

  • The switch hovered in the air--the peril

  • was desperate--

  • "My!

  • Look behind you, aunt!"

  • The old lady whirled round, and snatched

  • her skirts out of danger.

  • The lad fled on the instant, scrambled up

  • the high board-fence, and disappeared over

  • it.

  • His aunt Polly stood surprised a moment,

  • and then broke into a gentle laugh.

  • "Hang the boy, can't I never learn

  • anything?

  • Ain't he played me tricks enough like that

  • for me to be looking out for him by this

  • time?

  • But old fools is the biggest fools there

  • is.

  • Can't learn an old dog new tricks, as the

  • saying is.

  • But my goodness, he never plays them

  • alike, two days, and how is a body to know

  • what's coming?

  • He 'pears to know just how long he can

  • torment me before I get my dander up, and

  • he knows if he can make out to put me off

  • for a minute or make me laugh, it's all

  • down again and I can't hit him a lick.

  • I ain't doing my duty by that boy, and

  • that's the Lord's truth, goodness knows.

  • Spare the rod and spile the child, as the

  • Good Book says.

  • I'm a laying up sin and suffering for us

  • both, I know.

  • He's full of the Old Scratch, but laws-a-

  • me!

  • he's my own dead sister's boy, poor thing,

  • and I ain't got the heart to lash him,

  • somehow.

  • Every time I let him off, my conscience

  • does hurt me so, and every time I hit him

  • my old heart most breaks.

  • Well-a-well, man that is born of woman is

  • of few days and full of trouble, as the

  • Scripture says, and I reckon it's so.

  • He'll play hookey this evening, * and [*

  • Southwestern for "afternoon"] I'll just be

  • obleeged to make him work, to-morrow, to

  • punish him.

  • It's mighty hard to make him work

  • Saturdays, when all the boys is having

  • holiday, but he hates work more than he

  • hates anything else, and I've GOT to do

  • some of my duty by him, or I'll be the

  • ruination of the child."

  • Tom did play hookey, and he had a very

  • good time.

  • He got back home barely in season to help

  • Jim, the small colored boy, saw next-day's

  • wood and split the kindlings before

  • supper--at least he was there in time to

  • tell his adventures to Jim while Jim did

  • three-fourths of the work.

  • Tom's younger brother (or rather half-

  • brother) Sid was already through with his

  • part of the work (picking up chips), for

  • he was a quiet boy, and had no

  • adventurous, troublesome ways.

  • While Tom was eating his supper, and

  • stealing sugar as opportunity offered,

  • Aunt Polly asked him questions that were

  • full of guile, and very deep--for she

  • wanted to trap him into damaging

  • revealments.

  • Like many other simple-hearted souls, it

  • was her pet vanity to believe she was

  • endowed with a talent for dark and

  • mysterious diplomacy, and she loved to

  • contemplate her most transparent devices

  • as marvels of low cunning.

  • Said she:

  • "Tom, it was middling warm in school,

  • warn't it?"

  • "Yes'm."

  • "Powerful warm, warn't it?"

  • "Yes'm."

  • "Didn't you want to go in a-swimming,

  • Tom?"

  • A bit of a scare shot through Tom--a touch

  • of uncomfortable suspicion.

  • He searched Aunt Polly's face, but it told

  • him nothing.

  • So he said:

  • "No'm--well, not very much."

  • The old lady reached out her hand and felt

  • Tom's shirt, and said:

  • "But you ain't too warm now, though."

  • And it flattered her to reflect that she

  • had discovered that the shirt was dry

  • without anybody knowing that that was what

  • she had in her mind.

  • But in spite of her, Tom knew where the

  • wind lay, now.

  • So he forestalled what might be the next

  • move:

  • "Some of us pumped on our heads--mine's

  • damp yet.

  • See?"

  • Aunt Polly was vexed to think she had

  • overlooked that bit of circumstantial

  • evidence, and missed a trick.

  • Then she had a new inspiration:

  • "Tom, you didn't have to undo your shirt

  • collar where I sewed it, to pump on your

  • head, did you?

  • Unbutton your jacket!"

  • The trouble vanished out of Tom's face.

  • He opened his jacket.

  • His shirt collar was securely sewed.

  • "Bother!

  • Well, go 'long with you.

  • I'd made sure you'd played hookey and been

  • a-swimming.

  • But I forgive ye, Tom.

  • I reckon you're a kind of a singed cat, as

  • the saying is--better'n you