The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Part 2. eBook: Page2

Mark Twain (2004)

attention. When a Sunday-school superintendentmakes his customary little speech, a hymn-book in the hand is asnecessary as is the inevitable sheet of music in the hand of a singerwho stands forward on the platform and sings a solo at a concert--though why, is a mystery: for neither the hymn-book nor the sheet ofmusic is ever referred to by the sufferer. This superintendent was aslim creature of thirty-five, with a sandy goatee and short sandy hair;he wore a stiff standing-collar whose upper edge almost reached hisears and whose sharp points curved forward abreast the corners of hismouth--a fence that compelled a straight lookout ahead, and a turningof the whole body when a side view was required; his chin was proppedon a spreading cravat which was as broad and as long as a bank-note,and had fringed ends; his boot toes were turned sharply up, in thefashion of the day, like sleigh-runners--an effect patiently andlaboriously produced by the young men by sitting with their toespressed against a wall for hours together. Mr. Walters was very earnestof mien, and very sincere and honest at heart; and he held sacredthings and places in such reverence, and so separated them from worldlymatters, that unconsciously to himself his Sunday-school voice hadacquired a peculiar intonation which was wholly absent on week-days. Hebegan after this fashion:

  "Now, children, I want you all to sit up just as straight and prettyas you can and give me all your attention for a minute or two. There--that is it. That is the way good little boys and girls should do. I seeone little girl who is looking out of the window--I am afraid shethinks I am out there somewhere--perhaps up in one of the trees makinga speech to the little birds. [Applausive titter.] I want to tell youhow good it makes me feel to see so many bright, clean little facesassembled in a place like this, learning to do right and be good." Andso forth and so on. It is not necessary to set down the rest of theoration. It was of a pattern which does not vary, and so it is familiarto us all.

  The latter third of the speech was marred by the resumption of fightsand other recreations among certain of the bad boys, and by fidgetingsand whisperings that extended far and wide, washing even to the basesof isolated and incorruptible rocks like Sid and Mary. But now everysound ceased suddenly, with the subsidence of Mr. Walters' voice, andthe conclusion of the speech was received with a burst of silentgratitude.

  A good part of the whispering had been occasioned by an event whichwas more or less rare--the entrance of visitors: lawyer Thatcher,accompanied by a very feeble and aged man; a fine, portly, middle-agedgentleman with iron-gray hair; and a dignified lady who was doubtlessthe latter's wife. The lady was leading a child. Tom had been restlessand full of chafings and repinings; conscience-smitten, too--he couldnot meet Amy Lawrence's eye, he could not brook her loving gaze. Butwhen he saw this small new-comer his soul was all ablaze with bliss ina moment. The next moment he was "showing off" with all his might--cuffing boys, pulling hair, making faces--in a word, using every artthat seemed likely to fascinate a girl and win her applause. Hisexaltation had but one alloy--the memory of his humiliation in thisangel's garden--and that record in sand was fast washing out, underthe waves of happiness that were sweeping over it now.

  The visitors were given the highest seat of honor, and as soon as Mr.Walters' speech was finished, he introduced them to the school. Themiddle-aged man turned out to be a prodigious personage--no less a onethan the county judge--altogether the most august creation thesechildren had ever looked upon--and they wondered what kind of materialhe was made of--and they half wanted to hear him roar, and were halfafraid he might, too. He was from Constantinople, twelve miles away--sohe had travelled, and seen the world--these very eyes had looked uponthe county court-house--which was said to have a tin roof. The awewhich these reflections inspired was attested by the impressive silenceand the ranks of staring eyes. This was the great Judge Thatcher,brother of their own lawyer. Jeff Thatcher immediately went forward, tobe familiar with the great man and be envied by the school. It wouldhave been music to his soul to hear the whisperings:

  "Look at him, Jim! He's a going up there. Say--look! he's a going toshake hands with him--he IS shaking hands with him! By jings, don't youwish you was Jeff?"

  Mr. Walters fell to "showing off," with all sorts of officialbustlings and activities, giving orders, delivering judgments,discharging directions here, there, everywhere that he could find atarget. The librarian "showed off"--running hither and thither with hisarms full of books and making a deal of the splutter and fuss thatinsect authority delights in. The young lady teachers "showed off"--bending sweetly over pupils that were lately being boxed, liftingpretty warning fingers at bad little boys and patting good oneslovingly. The young gentlemen teachers "showed off" with smallscoldings and other little displays of authority and fine attention todiscipline--and most of the teachers, of both sexes, found business upat the library, by the pulpit; and it was business that frequently hadto be done over again two or three times (with much seeming vexation).The little girls "showed off" in various ways, and the little boys"showed off" with such diligence that the air was thick with paper wadsand the murmur of scufflings. And above it all the great man sat andbeamed a majestic judicial smile upon all the house, and warmed himselfin the sun of his own grandeur--for he was "showing off," too.

  There was only one thing wanting to make Mr. Walters' ecstasycomplete, and that was a chance to deliver a Bible-prize and exhibit aprodigy. Several pupils had a few yellow tickets, but none had enough--he had been around among the star pupils inquiring. He would have givenworlds, now, to have that German lad back again with a sound mind.

  And now at this moment, when hope was dead, Tom Sawyer came forwardwith nine yellow tickets, nine red tickets, and ten blue ones, anddemanded a Bible. This was a thunderbolt out of a clear sky. Walterswas not expecting an application from this source for the next tenyears. But there was no getting around it--here were the certifiedchecks, and they were good for their face. Tom was therefore elevatedto a place with the Judge and the other elect, and the great news wasannounced from headquarters. It was the most stunning surprise of thedecade, and so profound was the sensation that it lifted the new heroup to the judicial one's altitude, and the school had two marvels togaze upon in place of one. The boys were all eaten up with envy--butthose that suffered the bitterest pangs were those who perceived toolate that they themselves had contributed to this hated splendor bytrading tickets to Tom for the wealth he had amassed in sellingwhitewashing privileges. These despised themselves, as being the dupesof a wily fraud, a guileful snake in the grass.

  The prize was delivered to Tom with as much effusion as thesuperintendent could pump up under the circumstances; but it lackedsomewhat of the true gush, for the poor fellow's instinct taught himthat there was a mystery here that could not well bear the light,perhaps; it was simply preposterous that this boy had warehoused twothousand sheaves of Scriptural wisdom on his premises--a dozen wouldstrain his capacity, without a doubt.

  Amy Lawrence was proud and glad, and she tried to make Tom see it inher face--but he wouldn't look. She wondered; then she was just a graintroubled; next a dim suspicion came and went--came again; she watched;a furtive glance told her worlds--and then her heart broke, and she wasjealous, and angry, and the tears came and she hated everybody. Tommost of all (she thought).

  Tom was introduced to the Judge; but his tongue was tied, his breathwould hardly come, his heart quaked--partly because of the awfulgreatness of the man, but mainly because he was her parent. He wouldhave liked to fall down and worship him, if it were in the dark. TheJudge put his hand on Tom's head and called him a fine little man, andasked him what his name was. The boy stammered, gasped, and got it out:

  "Tom."

  "Oh, no, not Tom--it is--"

  "Thomas."

  "Ah, that's it. I thought there was more to it, maybe. That's verywell. But you've another one I daresay, and you'll tell it to me, won'tyou?"

  "Tell the gentleman your other name, Thomas," said Walters, "and saysir. You mustn't forget your manners."

  "Thomas Sawyer--sir."

  "That'
s it! That's a good boy. Fine boy. Fine, manly little fellow.Two thousand verses is a great many--very, very great many. And younever can be sorry for the trouble you took to learn them; forknowledge is worth more than anything there is in the world; it's whatmakes great men and good men; you'll be a great man and a good manyourself, some day, Thomas, and then you'll look back and say, It's allowing to the precious Sunday-school privileges of my boyhood--it's allowing to my dear teachers that taught me to learn--it's all owing tothe good superintendent, who encouraged me, and watched over me, andgave me a beautiful Bible--a splendid elegant Bible--to keep and haveit all for my own, always--it's all owing to right bringing up! That iswhat you will say, Thomas--and you wouldn't