One of the reasons why Tom's mind had drifted away from its secret trouble_as, that it had found a new and weighty matter to interest itself about.
Becky Thatcher had stopped coming to school. Tom had struggled with his prid_ few days, and tried to "whistle her down the wind," but failed. He began t_ind himself hanging around her father's house, nights, and feeling ver_iserable. She was ill. What if she should die! There was distraction in th_hought. He no longer took an interest in war, nor even in piracy. The char_f life was gone; there was nothing but dreariness left. He put his hoop away,
and his bat; there was no joy in them any more. His aunt was concerned. Sh_egan to try all manner of remedies on him. She was one of those people wh_re infatuated with patent medicines and all new-fangled methods of producin_ealth or mending it. She was an inveterate experimenter in these things. Whe_omething fresh in this line came out she was in a fever, right away, to tr_t; not on herself, for she was never ailing, but on anybody else that cam_andy. She was a subscriber for all the "Health" periodicals and phrenologica_rauds; and the solemn ignorance they were inflated with was breath to he_ostrils. All the "rot" they contained about ventilation, and how to go t_ed, and how to get up, and what to eat, and what to drink, and how muc_xercise to take, and what frame of mind to keep one's self in, and what sor_f clothing to wear, was all gospel to her, and she never observed that he_ealth-journals of the current month customarily upset everything they ha_ecommended the month before. She was as simple-hearted and honest as the da_as long, and so she was an easy victim. She gathered together her quac_eriodicals and her quack medicines, and thus armed with death, went about o_er pale horse, metaphorically speaking, with "hell following after." But sh_ever suspected that she was not an angel of healing and the balm of Gilead i_isguise, to the suffering neighbors. The water treatment was new, now, an_om's low condition was a windfall to her. She had him out at daylight ever_orning, stood him up in the woodshed and drowned him with a deluge of col_ater; then she scrubbed him down with a towel like a file, and so brought hi_o; then she rolled him up in a wet sheet and put him away under blankets til_he sweated his soul clean and "the yellow stains of it came through hi_ores" — as Tom said.
Yet notwithstanding all this, the boy grew more and more melancholy and pal_nd dejected. She added hot baths, sitz baths, shower baths, and plunges. Th_oy remained as dismal as a hearse. She began to assist the water with a sli_atmeal diet and blister-plasters. She calculated his capacity as she would _ug's, and filled him up every day with quack cure-alls.
Tom had become indifferent to persecution by this time. This phase filled th_ld lady's heart with consternation. This indifference must be broken up a_ny cost. Now she heard of Pain-killer for the first time. She ordered a lo_t once. She tasted it and was filled with gratitude. It was simply fire in _iquid form. She dropped the water treatment and everything else, and pinne_er faith to Pain-killer. She gave Tom a teaspoonful and watched with th_eepest anxiety for the result. Her troubles were instantly at rest, her sou_t peace again; for the "indifference" was broken up. The boy could not hav_hown a wilder, heartier interest, if she had built a fire under him.
Tom felt that it was time to wake up; this sort of life might be romanti_nough, in his blighted condition, but it was getting to have too littl_entiment and too much distracting variety about it. So he thought ove_arious plans for relief, and finally hit pon that of professing to be fond o_ain-killer. He asked for it so often that he became a nuisance, and his aun_nded by telling him to help himself and quit bothering her. If it had bee_id, she would have had no misgivings to alloy her delight; but since it wa_om, she watched the bottle clandestinely. She found that the medicine di_eally diminish, but it did not occur to her that the boy was mending th_ealth of a crack in the sitting-room floor with it.
One day Tom was in the act of dosing the crack when his aunt's yellow cat cam_long, purring, eying the teaspoon avariciously, and begging for a taste. To_aid:
"Don't ask for it unless you want it, Peter."
But Peter signified that he did want it.
"You better make sure."
Peter was sure.
"Now you've asked for it, and I'll give it to you, because there ain'_nything mean about me; but if you find you don't like it, you mustn't blam_nybody but your own self."
Peter was agreeable. So Tom pried his mouth open and poured down the Pain-
killer. Peter sprang a couple of yards in the air, and then delivered a war-
whoop and set off round and round the room, banging against furniture,
upsetting flower-pots, and making general havoc. Next he rose on his hind fee_nd pranced around, in a frenzy of enjoyment, with his head over his shoulde_nd his voice proclaiming his unappeasable happiness. Then he went tearin_round the house again spreading chaos and destruction in his path. Aunt Poll_ntered in time to see him throw a few double summersets, deliver a fina_ighty hurrah, and sail through the open window, carrying the rest of th_lower-pots with him. The old lady stood petrified with astonishment, peerin_ver her glasses; Tom lay on the floor expiring with laughter.
"Tom, what on earth ails that cat?"
"I don't know, aunt," gasped the boy.
"Why, I never see anything like it. What did make him act so?"
"Deed I don't know, Aunt Polly; cats always act so when they're having a goo_ime."
"They do, do they?" There was something in the tone that made To_pprehensive.
"Yes'm. That is, I believe they do."
The old lady was bending down, Tom watching, with interest emphasized b_nxiety. Too late he divined her "drift." The handle of the telltale teaspoo_as visible under the bed-valance. Aunt Polly took it, held it up. Tom winced,
and dropped his eyes. Aunt Polly raised him by the usual handle — his ear —
and cracked his head soundly with her thimble.
"Now, sir, what did you want to treat that poor dumb beast so, for?"
"I done it out of pity for him — because he hadn't any aunt."
"Hadn't any aunt! — you numskull. What has that got to do with it?"
"Heaps. Because if he'd had one she'd a burnt him out herself! She'd a roaste_is bowels out of him 'thout any more feeling than if he was a human!"
Aunt Polly felt a sudden pang of remorse. This was putting the thing in a ne_ight; what was cruelty to a cat might be cruelty to a boy, too. She began t_often; she felt sorry. Her eyes watered a little, and she put her hand o_om's head and said gently:
"I was meaning for the best, Tom. And, Tom, it did do you good."
Tom looked up in her face with just a perceptible twinkle peeping through hi_ravity.
"I know you was meaning for the best, aunty, and so was I with Peter. It don_im good, too. I never see him get around so since —"
"Oh, go 'long with you, Tom, before you aggravate me again. And you try an_ee if you can't be a good boy, for once, and you needn't take any mor_edicine."
Tom reached school ahead of time. It was noticed that this strange thing ha_een occurring every day latterly. And now, as usual of late, he hung abou_he gate of the schoolyard instead of playing with his comrades. He was sick,
he said, and he looked it. He tried to seem to be looking everywhere bu_hither he really was looking — down the road. Presently Jeff Thatcher hove i_ight, and Tom's face lighted; he gazed a moment, and then turned sorrowfull_way. When Jeff arrived, Tom accosted him; and "led up" warily t_pportunities for remark about Becky, but the giddy lad never could see th_ait. Tom watched and watched, hoping whenever a frisking frock came in sight,
and hating the owner of it as soon as he saw she was not the right one. A_ast frocks ceased to appear, and he dropped hopelessly into the dumps; h_ntered the empty schoolhouse and sat down to suffer. Then one more froc_assed in at the gate, and Tom's heart gave a great bound. The next instant h_as out, and "going on" like an Indian; yelling, laughing, chasing boys,
jumping over the fence at risk of life and limb, throwing handsprings,
standing on his head — doing all the heroic things he could conceive of, an_eeping a furtive eye out, all the while, to see if Becky Thatcher wa_oticing. But she seemed to be unconscious of it all; she never looked. Coul_t be possible that she was not aware that he was there? He carried hi_xploits to her immediate vicinity; came war-whooping around, snatched a boy'_ap, hurled it to the roof of the schoolhouse, broke through a group of boys,
tumbling them in every direction, and fell sprawling, himself, under Becky'_ose, almost upsetting her — and she turned, with her nose in the air, and h_eard her say: "Mf! some people think they're mighty smart — always showin_ff!"
Tom's cheeks burned. He gathered himself up and sneaked off, crushed an_restfallen.