About half-past ten the cracked bell of the small church began to ring, an_resently the people began to gather for the morning sermon. The Sunday-schoo_hildren distributed themselves about the house and occupied pews with thei_arents, so as to be under supervision. Aunt Polly came, and Tom and Sid an_ary sat with her — Tom being placed next the aisle, in order that he might b_s far away from the open window and the seductive outside summer scenes a_ossible. The crowd filed up the aisles: the aged and needy postmaster, wh_ad 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 hil_ansion the only palace in the town, and the most hospitable and much the mos_avish in the matter of festivities that St. Petersburg could boast; the ben_nd venerable Major and Mrs. Ward; lawyer Riverson, the new notable from _istance; next the belle of the village, followed by a troop of lawn-clad an_ibbon-decked young heart-breakers; then all the young clerks in town in _ody — for they had stood in the vestibule sucking their cane-heads, _ircling wall of oiled and simpering admirers, till the last girl had ru_heir gantlet; and last of all came the Model Boy, Willie Mufferson, taking a_eedful care of his mother as if she were cut glass. He always brought hi_other to church, and was the pride of all the matrons. The boys all hate_im, he was so good. And besides, he had been "thrown up to them" so much. Hi_hite handkerchief was hanging out of his pocket behind, as usual on Sundays —
accidentally. Tom had no handkerchief, and he looked upon boys who had a_nobs.
The congregation being fully assembled, now, the bell rang once more, to war_aggards and stragglers, and then a solemn hush fell upon the church which wa_nly broken by the tittering and whispering of the choir in the gallery. Th_hoir always tittered and whispered all through service. There was once _hurch choir that was not ill-bred, but I have forgotten where it was, now. I_as a great many years ago, and I can scarcely remember anything about it, bu_ think it was in some foreign country.
The minister gave out the hymn, and read it through with a relish, in _eculiar style which was much admired in that part of the country. His voic_egan 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 dow_s if from a spring-board:
Shall I be car-ri-ed toe the skies, on flow'ry beds
Whilst others fight to win the prize, and sail thro' bloody seas?
He was regarded as a wonderful reader. At church "sociables" he was alway_alled upon to read poetry; and when he was through, the ladies would lift u_heir 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 to_eautiful, 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 lis_ould stretch out to the crack of doom — a queer custom which is still kept u_n 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 t_et rid of it.
And now the minister prayed. A good, generous prayer it was, and went int_etails: it pleaded for the church, and the little children of the church; fo_he other churches of the village; for the village itself; for the county; fo_he State; for the State officers; for the United States; for the churches o_he United States; for Congress; for the President; for the officers of th_overnment; for poor sailors, tossed by stormy seas; for the oppresse_illions groaning under the heel of European monarchies and Orienta_espotisms; for such as have the light and the good tidings, and yet have no_yes to see nor ears to hear withal; for the heathen in the far islands of th_ea; and closed with a supplication that the words he was about to speak migh_ind grace and favor, and be as seed sown in fertile ground, yielding in tim_ grateful harvest of good. Amen.
There was a rustling of dresses, and the standing congregation sat down. Th_oy whose history this book relates did not enjoy the prayer, he only endure_t — if he even did that much. He was restive all through it; he kept tally o_he details of the prayer, unconsciously — for he was not listening, but h_new the ground of old, and the clergyman's regular route over it — and when _ittle trifle of new matter was interlarded, his ear detected it and his whol_ature resented it; he considered additions unfair, and scoundrelly. In th_idst of the prayer a fly had lit on the back of the pew in front of him an_ortured his spirit by calmly rubbing its hands together, embracing its hea_ith its arms, and polishing it so vigorously that it seemed to almost par_ompany 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 i_hey had been coat-tails; going through its whole toilet as tranquilly as i_t knew it was perfectly safe. As indeed it was; for as sorely as Tom's hand_tched to grab for it they did not dare — he believed his soul would b_nstantly destroyed if he did such a thing while the prayer was going on. Bu_ith the closing sentence his hand began to curve and steal forward; and th_nstant the "Amen" was out the fly was a prisoner of war. His aunt detecte_he act and made him let it go.
The minister gave out his text and droned along monotonously through a_rgument that was so prosy that many a head by and by began to nod — and ye_t was an argument that dealt in limitless fire and brimstone and thinned th_redestined 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 man_ages there had been, but he seldom knew anything else about the discourse.
However, this time he was really interested for a little while. The ministe_ade a grand and moving picture of the assembling together of the world'_osts at the millennium when the lion and the lamb should lie down togethe_nd a little child should lead them. But the pathos, the lesson, the moral o_he great spectacle were lost upon the boy; he only thought of th_onspicuousness of the principal character before the on-looking nations; hi_ace lit with the thought, and he said to himself that he wished he could b_hat child, if it was a tame lion.
Now he lapsed into suffering again, as the dry argument was resumed. Presentl_e bethought him of a treasure he had and got it out. It was a large blac_eetle with formidable jaws — a "pinchbug," he called it. It was in _ercussion-cap box. The first thing the beetle did was to take him by th_inger. A natural fillip followed, the beetle went floundering into the aisl_nd lit on its back, and the hurt finger went into the boy's mouth. The beetl_ay there working its helpless legs, unable to turn over. Tom eyed it, an_onged for it; but it was safe out of his reach. Other people uninterested i_he sermon found relief in the beetle, and they eyed it too. Presently _agrant poodle dog came idling along, sad at heart, lazy with the summe_oftness and the quiet, weary of captivity, sighing for change. He spied th_eetle; the drooping tail lifted and wagged. He surveyed the prize; walke_round it; smelt at it from a safe distance; walked around it again; gre_older, and took a closer smell; then lifted his lip and made a gingerl_natch at it, just missing it; made another, and another; began to enjoy th_iversion; subsided to his stomach with the beetle between his paws, an_ontinued his experiments; grew weary at last, and then indifferent an_bsent-minded. His head nodded, and little by little his chin descended an_ouched the enemy, who seized it. There was a sharp yelp, a flirt of th_oodle's head, and the beetle fell a couple of yards away, and lit on its bac_nce more. The neighboring spectators shook with a gentle inward joy, severa_aces went behind fans and handkerchiefs, and Tom was entirely happy. The do_ooked 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 war_ttack on it again; jumping at it from every point of a circle, lighting wit_is fore-paws within an inch of the creature, making even closer snatches a_t with his teeth, and jerking his head till his ears flapped again. But h_rew tired once more, after a while; tried to amuse himself with a fly bu_ound no relief; followed an ant around, with his nose close to the floor, an_uickly wearied of that; yawned, sighed, forgot the beetle entirely, and sa_own on it. Then there was a wild yelp of agony and the poodle went sailing u_he aisle; the yelps continued, and so did the dog; he crossed the house i_ront 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, til_resently he was but a woolly comet moving in its orbit with the gleam and th_peed of light. At last the frantic sufferer sheered from its course, an_prang into its master's lap; he flung it out of the window, and the voice o_istress quickly thinned away and died in the distance.
By this time the whole church was red-faced and suffocating with suppresse_aughter, and the sermon had come to a dead standstill. The discourse wa_esumed presently, but it went lame and halting, all possibility o_mpressiveness being at an end; for even the gravest sentiments wer_onstantly being received with a smothered burst of unholy mirth, under cove_f some remote pew-back, as if the poor parson had said a rarely facetiou_hing. It was a genuine relief to the whole congregation when the ordeal wa_ver and the benediction pronounced.
Tom Sawyer went home quite cheerful, thinking to himself that there was som_atisfaction about divine service when there was a bit of variety in it. H_ad but one marring thought; he was willing that the dog should play with hi_inchbug, but he did not think it was upright in him to carry it off.