Chapter XIX
 
 Tom arrived at home in a dreary mood, and the first thing his aunt said
to him showed him that he had brought his sorrows to an unpromising
market:
"Tom, I've a notion to skin you alive!"
"Auntie, what have I done?"
"Well, you've done enough. Here I go over to Sereny Harper, like an old
softy, expecting I'm going to make her believe all that rubbage about that
dream, when lo and behold you she'd found out from Joe that you was over
here and heard all the talk we had that night. Tom, I don't know what is
to become of a boy that will act like that. It makes me feel so bad to
think you could let me go to Sereny Harper and make such a fool of myself
and never say a word."
This was a new aspect of the thing. His smartness of the morning had
seemed to Tom a good joke before, and very ingenious. It merely looked
mean and shabby now. He hung his head and could not think of anything to
say for a moment. Then he said:
"Auntie, I wish I hadn't done it-but I didn't think."
"Oh, child, you never think. You never think of anything but your own
selfishness. You could think to come all the way over here from Jackson's
Island in the night to laugh at our troubles, and you could think to fool
me with a lie about a dream; but you couldn't ever think to pity us and
save us from sorrow."
"Auntie, I know now it was mean, but I didn't mean to be mean. I
didn't, honest. And besides, I didn't come over here to laugh at you that
night."
"What did you come for, then?"
"It was to tell you not to be uneasy about us, because we hadn't got
drownded."
"Tom, Tom, I would be the thankfullest soul in this world if I could
believe you ever had as good a thought as that, but you know you never
did-and I know it, Tom."
"Indeed and 'deed I did, auntie-I wish I may never stir if I didn't."
"Oh, Tom, don't lie-don't do it. It only makes things a hundred times
worse."
"It ain't a lie, auntie; it's the truth. I wanted to keep you from
grieving-that was all that made me come."
"I'd give the whole world to believe that-it would cover up a power of
sins, Tom. I'd 'most be glad you'd run off and acted so bad. But it ain't
reasonable; because, why didn't you tell me, child?"
"Why, you see, when you got to talking about the funeral, I just got
all full of the idea of our coming and hiding in the church, and I
couldn't somehow bear to spoil it. So I just put the bark back in my
pocket and kept mum."
"What bark?"
"The bark I had wrote on to tell you we'd gone pirating. I wish, now,
you'd waked up when I kissed you-I do, honest."
The hard lines in his aunt's face relaxed and a sudden tenderness
dawned in her eyes.
"DID you kiss me, Tom?"
"Why, yes, I did."
"Are you sure you did, Tom?"
"Why, yes, I did, auntie-certain sure."
"What did you kiss me for, Tom?"
"Because I loved you so, and you laid there moaning and I was so sorry."
The words sounded like truth. The old lady could not hide a tremor in
her voice when she said:
"Kiss me again, Tom!-and be off with you to school, now, and don't
bother me any more."
The moment he was gone, she ran to a closet and got out the ruin of a
jacket which Tom had gone pirating in. Then she stopped, with it in her
hand, and said to herself:
"No, I don't dare. Poor boy, I reckon he's lied about it-but it's a
blessed, blessed lie, there's such a comfort come from it. I hope the
Lord-I KNOW the Lord will forgive him, because it was such goodheartedness
in him to tell it. But I don't want to find out it's a lie. I won't look."
She put the jacket away, and stood by musing a minute. Twice she put
out her hand to take the garment again, and twice she refrained. Once more
she ventured, and this time she fortified herself with the thought: "It's
a good lie-it's a good lie-I won't let it grieve me." So she sought the
jacket pocket. A moment later she was reading Tom's piece of bark through
flowing tears and saying: "I could forgive the boy, now, if he'd committed
a million sins!"