Chapter V
 
   About half-past ten the cracked bell of the small church began to ring,
and presently the people began to gather for the morning sermon. The
Sunday-school children distributed themselves about the house and occupied
pews with their parents, so as to be under supervision. Aunt Polly came,
and Tom and Sid and Mary sat with her-Tom being placed next the aisle, in
order that he might be as far away from the open window and the seductive
outside summer scenes as possible. The crowd filed up the aisles: the aged
and needy postmaster, who had seen better days; the mayor and his wife-for
they had a mayor there, among other unnecessaries; the justice of the
peace; the widow Douglass, fair, smart, and forty, a generous,
good-hearted soul and well-to-do, her hill mansion the only palace in the
town, and the most hospitable and much the most lavish in the matter of
festivities that St. Petersburg could boast; the bent and venerable Major
and Mrs. Ward; lawyer Riverson, the new notable from a distance; next the
belle of the village, followed by a troop of lawn-clad and ribbon-decked
young heart-breakers; then all the young clerks in town in a body-for they
had stood in the vestibule sucking their cane-heads, a circling wall of
oiled and simpering admirers, till the last girl had run their gantlet;
and last of all came the Model Boy, Willie Mufferson, taking as heedful
care of his mother as if she were cut glass. He always brought his mother
to church, and was the pride of all the matrons. The boys all hated him,
he was so good. And besides, he had been "thrown up to them" so much. His
white handkerchief was hanging out of his pocket behind, as usual on
Sundays-accidentally. Tom had no handkerchief, and he looked upon boys who
had as snobs.
The congregation being fully assembled, now, the bell rang once more,
to warn laggards and stragglers, and then a solemn hush fell upon the
church which was only broken by the tittering and whispering of the choir
in the gallery. The choir always tittered and whispered all through
service. There was once a church choir that was not ill-bred, but I have
forgotten where it was, now. It was a great many years ago, and I can
scarcely remember anything about it, but I think it was in some foreign
country.
The minister gave out the hymn, and read it through with a relish, in a
peculiar style which was much admired in that part of the country. His
voice began on a medium key and climbed steadily up till it reached a
certain point, where it bore with strong emphasis upon the topmost word
and then plunged down as if from a spring-board:

Shall I be car-ri-ed toe the skies, on flow'ry BEDS of ease,
Whilst others fight to win the prize, and sail thro' BLOOD-y seas?

He was regarded as a wonderful reader. At church "sociables" he was
always called upon to read poetry; and when he was through, the ladies
would lift up their hands and let them fall helplessly in their laps, and
"wall" their eyes, and shake their heads, as much as to say, "Words cannot
express it; it is too beautiful, TOO beautiful for this mortal earth."
After the hymn had been sung, the Rev. Mr. Sprague turned himself into
a bulletin-board, and read off "notices" of meetings and societies and
things till it seemed that the list would stretch out to the crack of
doom-a queer cusTom which is still kept up in America, even in cities,
away here in this age of abundant newspapers. Often, the less there is to
justify a traditional cusTom, the harder it is to get rid of it.
And now the minister prayed. A good, generous prayer it was, and went
into details: it pleaded for the church, and the little children of the
church; for the other churches of the village; for the village itself; for
the county; for the State; for the State officers; for the United States;
for the churches of the United States; for Congress; for the President;
for the officers of the Government; for poor sailors, tossed by stormy
seas; for the oppressed millions groaning under the heel of European
monarchies and Oriental despotisms; for such as have the light and the
good tidings, and yet have not eyes to see nor ears to hear withal; for
the heathen in the far islands of the sea; and closed with a supplication
that the words he was about to speak might find grace and favor, and be as
seed sown in fertile ground, yielding in time a grateful harvest of good.
Amen.
There was a rustling of dresses, and the standing congregation sat
down. The boy whose history this book relates did not enjoy the prayer, he
only endured it-if he even did that much. He was restive all through it;
he kept tally of the details of the prayer, unconsciously-for he was not
listening, but he knew the ground of old, and the clergyman's regular
route over it-and when a little trifle of new matter was interlarded, his
ear detected it and his whole nature resented it; he considered additions
unfair, and scoundrelly. In the midst of the prayer a fly had lit on the
back of the pew in front of him and tortured his spirit by calmly rubbing
its hands together, embracing its head with its arms, and polishing it so
vigorously that it seemed to almost part company with the body, and the
slender thread of a neck was exposed to view; scraping its wings with its
hind legs and smoothing them to its body as if they had been coat-tails;
going through its whole toilet as tranquilly as if it knew it was
perfectly safe. As indeed it was; for as sorely as Tom's hands itched to
grab for it they did not dare-he believed his soul would be instantly
destroyed if he did such a thing while the prayer was going on. But with
the closing sentence his hand began to curve and steal forward; and the
instant the "Amen" was out the fly was a prisoner of war. His aunt
detected the act and made him let it go.
The minister gave out his text and droned along monotonously through an
argument that was so prosy that many a head by and by began to nod-and yet
it was an argument that dealt in limitless fire and brimstone and thinned
the predestined elect down to a company so small as to be hardly worth the
saving. Tom counted the pages of the sermon; after church he always knew
how many pages there had been, but he seldom knew anything else about the
discourse. However, this time he was really interested for a little while.
The minister made a grand and moving picture of the assembling together of
the world's hosts at the millennium when the lion and the lamb should lie
down together and a little child should lead them. But the pathos, the
lesson, the moral of the great spectacle were lost upon the boy; he only
thought of the conspicuousness of the principal character before the
on-looking nations; his face lit with the thought, and he said to himself
that he wished he could be that child, if it was a tame lion.
Now he lapsed into suffering again, as the dry argument was resumed.
Presently he bethought him of a treasure he had and got it out. It was a
large black beetle with formidable jaws-a "pinchbug," he called it. It was
in a percussion-cap box. The first thing the beetle did was to take him by
the finger. A natural fillip followed, the beetle went floundering into
the aisle and lit on its back, and the hurt finger went into the boy's
mouth. The beetle lay there working its helpless legs, unable to turn
over. Tom eyed it, and longed for it; but it was safe out of his reach.
Other people uninterested in the sermon found relief in the beetle, and
they eyed it too. Presently a vagrant poodle dog came idling along, sad at
heart, lazy with the summer softness and the quiet, weary of captivity,
sighing for change. He spied the beetle; the drooping tail lifted and
wagged. He surveyed the prize; walked around it; smelt at it from a safe
distance; walked around it again; grew bolder, and took a closer smell;
then lifted his lip and made a gingerly snatch at it, just missing it;
made another, and another; began to enjoy the diversion; subsided to his
sTomach with the beetle between his paws, and continued his experiments;
grew weary at last, and then indifferent and absent-minded. His head
nodded, and little by little his chin descended and touched the enemy, who
seized it. There was a sharp yelp, a flirt of the poodle's head, and the
beetle fell a couple of yards away, and lit on its back once more. The
neighboring spectators shook with a gentle inward joy, several faces went
behind fans and handkerchiefs, and Tom was entirely happy. The dog looked
foolish, and probably felt so; but there was resentment in his heart, too,
and a craving for revenge. So he went to the beetle and began a wary
attack on it again; jumping at it from every point of a circle, lighting
with his fore-paws within an inch of the creature, making even closer
snatches at it with his teeth, and jerking his head till his ears flapped
again. But he grew tired once more, after a while; tried to amuse himself
with a fly but found no relief; followed an ant around, with his nose
close to the floor, and quickly wearied of that; yawned, sighed, forgot
the beetle entirely, and sat down on it. Then there was a wild yelp of
agony and the poodle went sailing up the aisle; the yelps continued, and
so did the dog; he crossed the house in front of the altar; he flew down
the other aisle; he crossed before the doors; he clamored up the
home-stretch; his anguish grew with his progress, till presently he was
but a woolly comet moving in its orbit with the gleam and the speed of
light. At last the frantic sufferer sheered from its course, and sprang
into its master's lap; he flung it out of the window, and the voice of
distress quickly thinned away and died in the distance.
By this time the whole church was red-faced and suffocating with
suppressed laughter, and the sermon had come to a dead standstill. The
discourse was resumed presently, but it went lame and halting, all
possibility of impressiveness being at an end; for even the gravest
sentiments were constantly being received with a smothered burst of unholy
mirth, under cover of some remote pew-back, as if the poor parson had said
a rarely facetious thing. It was a genuine relief to the whole
congregation when the ordeal was over and the benediction pronounced.
Tom Sawyer went home quite cheerful, thinking to himself that there was
some satisfaction about divine service when there was a bit of variety in
it. He had but one marring thought; he was willing that the dog should
play with his pinchbug, but he did not think it was upright in him to
carry it off.