Chapter XX
 
 There  was  something  about  Aunt Polly's manner, when she kissed Tom,
that swept away his low spirits and made him lighthearted and happy again.
He started to school and had the luck of coming upon Becky Thatcher at the
head of Meadow Lane. His mood always determined his manner. Without a
moment's hesitation he ran to her and said:
"I acted mighty mean to-day, Becky, and I'm so sorry. I won't ever,
ever do that way again, as long as ever I live-please make up, won't you?"
The girl stopped and looked him scornfully in the face:
"I'll thank you to keep yourself TO yourself, Mr. Thomas Sawyer. I'll
never speak to you again."
She tossed her head and passed on. Tom was so stunned that he had not
even presence of mind enough to say "Who cares, Miss Smarty?" until the
right time to say it had gone by. So he said nothing. But he was in a fine
rage, nevertheless. He moped into the schoolyard wishing she were a boy,
and imagining how he would trounce her if she were. He presently
encountered her and delivered a stinging remark as he passed. She hurled
one in return, and the angry breach was complete. It seemed to Becky, in
her hot resentment, that she could hardly wait for school to "take in,"
she was so impatient to see Tom flogged for the injured spelling-book. If
she had had any lingering notion of exposing Alfred Temple, Tom's
offensive fling had driven it entirely away.
Poor girl, she did not know how fast she was nearing trouble herself.
The master, Mr. Dobbins, had reached middle age with an unsatisfied
ambition. The darling of his desires was, to be a doctor, but poverty had
decreed that he should be nothing higher than a village schoolmaster.
Every day he took a mysterious book out of his desk and absorbed himself
in it at times when no classes were reciting. He kept that book under lock
and key. There was not an urchin in school but was perishing to have a
glimpse of it, but the chance never came. Every boy and girl had a theory
about the nature of that book; but no two theories were alike, and there
was no way of getting at the facts in the case. Now, as Becky was passing
by the desk, which stood near the door, she noticed that the key was in
the lock! It was a precious moment. She glanced around; found herself
alone, and the next instant she had the book in her hands. The
title-page-Professor Somebody's ANATomY-carried no information to her
mind; so she began to turn the leaves. She came at once upon a handsomely
engraved and colored frontispiece-a human figure, stark naked. At that
moment a shadow fell on the page and Tom Sawyer stepped in at the door and
caught a glimpse of the picture. Becky snatched at the book to close it,
and had the hard luck to tear the pictured page half down the middle. She
thrust the volume into the desk, turned the key, and burst out crying with
shame and vexation.
"Tom Sawyer, you are just as mean as you can be, to sneak up on a
person and look at what they're looking at."
"How could I know you was looking at anything?"
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Tom Sawyer; you know you're going
to tell on me, and oh, what shall I do, what shall I do! I'll be whipped,
and I never was whipped in school."
Then she stamped her little foot and said:
"BE so mean if you want to! I know something that's going to happen.
You just wait and you'll see! Hateful, hateful, hateful!"-and she flung
out of the house with a new explosion of crying.
Tom stood still, rather flustered by this onslaught. Presently he said
to himself:
"What a curious kind of a fool a girl is! Never been licked in school!
Shucks! What's a licking! That's just like a girl-they're so thin-skinned
and chicken-hearted. Well, of course I ain't going to tell old Dobbins on
this little fool, because there's other ways of getting even on her, that
ain't so mean; but what of it? Old Dobbins will ask who it was tore his
book. Nobody'll answer. Then he'll do just the way he always does-ask
first one and then t'other, and when he comes to the right girl he'll know
it, without any telling. Girls' faces always tell on them. They ain't got
any backbone. She'll get licked. Well, it's a kind of a tight place for
Becky Thatcher, because there ain't any way out of it." Tom conned the
thing a moment longer, and then added: "All right, though; she'd like to
see me in just such a fix-let her sweat it out!"
Tom joined the mob of skylarking scholars outside. In a few moments the
master arrived and school "took in." Tom did not feel a strong interest in
his studies. Every time he stole a glance at the girls' side of the room
Becky's face troubled him. Considering all things, he did not want to pity
her, and yet it was all he could do to help it. He could get up no
exultation that was really worthy the name. Presently the spelling-book
discovery was made, and Tom's mind was entirely full of his own matters
for a while after that. Becky roused up from her lethargy of distress and
showed good interest in the proceedings. She did not expect that Tom could
get out of his trouble by denying that he spilt the ink on the book
himself; and she was right. The denial only seemed to make the thing worse
for Tom. Becky supposed she would be glad of that, and she tried to
believe she was glad of it, but she found she was not certain. When the
worst came to the worst, she had an impulse to get up and tell on Alfred
Temple, but she made an effort and forced herself to keep still-because,
said she to herself, "he'll tell about me tearing the picture sure. I
wouldn't say a word, not to save his life!"
Tom took his whipping and went back to his seat not at all
broken-hearted, for he thought it was possible that he had unknowingly
upset the ink on the spellingbook himself, in some skylarking bout-he had
denied it for form's sake and because it was cusTom, and had stuck to the
denial from principle.
A whole hour drifted by, the master sat nodding in his throne, the air
was drowsy with the hum of study. By and by, Mr. Dobbins straightened
himself up, yawned, then unlocked his desk, and reached for his book, but
seemed undecided whether to take it out or leave it. Most of the pupils
glanced up languidly, but there were two among them that watched his
movements with intent eyes. Mr. Dobbins fingered his book absently for a
while, then took it out and settled himself in his chair to read! Tom shot
a glance at Becky. He had seen a hunted and helpless rabbit look as she
did, with a gun levelled at its head. Instantly he forgot his quarrel with
her. Quick-something must be done! done in a flash, too! But the very
imminence of the emergency paralyzed his invention. Good!-he had an
inspiration! He would run and snatch the book, spring through the door and
fly. But his resolution shook for one little instant, and the chance was
lost-the master opened the volume. If Tom only had the wasted opportunity
back again! Too late. There was no help for Becky now, he said. The next
moment the master faced the school. Every eye sank under his gaze. There
was that in it which smote even the innocent with fear. There was silence
while one might count ten-the master was gathering his wrath. Then he
spoke: "Who tore this book?"
There was not a sound. One could have heard a pin drop. The stillness
continued; the master searched face after face for signs of guilt.
"Benjamin Rogers, did you tear this book?"
A denial. Another pause.
"Joseph Harper, did you?"
Another denial. Tom's uneasiness grew more and more intense under the
slow torture of these proceedings. The master scanned the ranks of
boys-considered a while, then turned to the girls:
"Amy Lawrence?"
A shake of the head.
"Gracie Miller?"
The same sign.
"Susan Harper, did you do this?"
Another negative. The next girl was Becky Thatcher. Tom was trembling
from head to foot with excitement and a sense of the hopelessness of the
situation.
"Rebecca Thatcher" [Tom glanced at her face-it was white with
terror]-"did you tear-no, look me in the face" [her hands rose in
appeal]-"did you tear this book?"
A thought shot like lightning through Tom's brain. He sprang to his
feet and shouted-"I done it!"
The school stared in perplexity at this incredible folly. Tom stood a
moment, to gather his dismembered faculties; and when he stepped forward
to go to his punishment the surprise, the gratitude, the adoration that
shone upon him out of poor Becky's eyes seemed pay enough for a hundred
floggings. Inspired by the splendor of his own act, he took without an
outcry the most merciless flaying that even Mr. Dobbins had ever
administered; and also received with indifference the added cruelty of a
command to remain two hours after school should be dismissed-for he knew
who would wait for him outside till his captivity was done, and not count
the tedious time as loss, either.
Tom went to bed that night planning vengeance against Alfred Temple;
for with shame and repentance Becky had told him all, not forgetting her
own treachery; but even the longing for vengeance had to give way, soon,
to pleasanter musings, and he fell asleep at last with Becky's latest
words lingering dreamily in his ear-
"Tom, how COULD you be so noble!"