English Language > Chapter 04 - The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain - Showing Off In Sunday-school

Chapter IV

THE sun rose upon a tranquil world, and

beamed down upon the peaceful village like

a benediction.

Breakfast over, Aunt Polly had family

worship: it began with a prayer built from

the ground up of solid courses of

Scriptural quotations, welded together

with a thin mortar of originality; and

from the summit of this she delivered a

grim chapter of the Mosaic Law, as from


Then Tom girded up his loins, so to speak,

and went to work to "get his verses."

Sid had learned his lesson days before.

Tom bent all his energies to the

memorizing of five verses, and he chose

part of the Sermon on the Mount, because

he could find no verses that were shorter.

At the end of half an hour Tom had a vague

general idea of his lesson, but no more,

for his mind was traversing the whole

field of human thought, and his hands were

busy with distracting recreations.

Mary took his book to hear him recite, and

he tried to find his way through the fog:

"Blessed are the--a--a--"


"Yes--poor; blessed are the poor--a--a--"

"In spirit--"

"In spirit; blessed are the poor in

spirit, for they--they--"



Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs

is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they that mourn, for they--



"For they--a--"

"S, H, A--"

"For they S, H--Oh, I don't know what it




for they shall--for they shall--a--a--

shall mourn--a--a-- blessed are they that

shall--they that--a--they that shall

mourn, for they shall--a--shall WHAT?

Why don't you tell me, Mary?--what do you

want to be so mean for?"

"Oh, Tom, you poor thick-headed thing, I'm

not teasing you.

I wouldn't do that.

You must go and learn it again.

Don't you be discouraged, Tom, you'll

manage it--and if you do, I'll give you

something ever so nice.

There, now, that's a good boy."

"All right!

What is it, Mary, tell me what it is."

"Never you mind, Tom.

You know if I say it's nice, it is nice."

"You bet you that's so, Mary.

All right, I'll tackle it again."

And he did "tackle it again"--and under

the double pressure of curiosity and

prospective gain he did it with such

spirit that he accomplished a shining


Mary gave him a brand-new "Barlow" knife

worth twelve and a half cents; and the

convulsion of delight that swept his

system shook him to his foundations.

True, the knife would not cut anything,

but it was a "sure-enough" Barlow, and

there was inconceivable grandeur in that--

though where the Western boys ever got the

idea that such a weapon could possibly be

counterfeited to its injury is an imposing

mystery and will always remain so,


Tom contrived to scarify the cupboard with

it, and was arranging to begin on the

bureau, when he was called off to dress

for Sunday-school.

Mary gave him a tin basin of water and a

piece of soap, and he went outside the

door and set the basin on a little bench

there; then he dipped the soap in the

water and laid it down; turned up his

sleeves; poured out the water on the

ground, gently, and then entered the

kitchen and began to wipe his face

diligently on the towel behind the door.

But Mary removed the towel and said:

"Now ain't you ashamed, Tom.

You mustn't be so bad.

Water won't hurt you."

Tom was a trifle disconcerted.

The basin was refilled, and this time he

stood over it a little while, gathering

resolution; took in a big breath and


When he entered the kitchen presently,

with both eyes shut and groping for the

towel with his hands, an honorable

testimony of suds and water was dripping

from his face.

But when he emerged from the towel, he was

not yet satisfactory, for the clean

territory stopped short at his chin and

his jaws, like a mask; below and beyond

this line there was a dark expanse of

unirrigated soil that spread downward in

front and backward around his neck.

Mary took him in hand, and when she was

done with him he was a man and a brother,

without distinction of color, and his

saturated hair was neatly brushed, and its

short curls wrought into a dainty and

symmetrical general effect.

[He privately smoothed out the curls, with

labor and difficulty, and plastered his

hair close down to his head; for he held

curls to be effeminate, and his own filled

his life with bitterness.] Then Mary got

out a suit of his clothing that had been

used only on Sundays during two years--

they were simply called his "other

clothes"--and so by that we know the size

of his wardrobe.

The girl "put him to rights" after he had

dressed himself; she buttoned his neat

roundabout up to his chin, turned his vast

shirt collar down over his shoulders,

brushed him off and crowned him with his

speckled straw hat.

He now looked exceedingly improved and


He was fully as uncomfortable as he

looked; for there was a restraint about

whole clothes and cleanliness that galled


He hoped that Mary would forget his shoes,

but the hope was blighted; she coated them

thoroughly with tallow, as was the custom,

and brought them out.

He lost his temper and said he was always

being made to do everything he didn't want

to do.

But Mary said, persuasively:

"Please, Tom--that's a good boy."

So he got into the shoes snarling.

Mary was soon ready, and the three

children set out for Sunday-school--a

place that Tom hated with his whole heart;

but Sid and Mary were fond of it.

Sabbath-school hours were from nine to

half-past ten; and then church service.

Two of the children always remained for

the sermon voluntarily, and the other

always remained too--for stronger reasons.

The church's high-backed, uncushioned pews

would seat about three hundred persons;

the edifice was but a small, plain affair,

with a sort of pine board tree-box on top

of it for a steeple.

At the door Tom dropped back a step and

accosted a Sunday-dressed comrade:

"Say, Billy, got a yaller ticket?"


"What'll you take for her?"

"What'll you give?"

"Piece of lickrish and a fish-hook."

"Less see 'em."

Tom exhibited.

They were satisfactory, and the property

changed hands.

Then Tom traded a couple of white alleys

for three red tickets, and some small

trifle or other for a couple of blue ones.

He waylaid other boys as they came, and

went on buying tickets of various colors

ten or fifteen minutes longer.

He entered the church, now, with a swarm

of clean and noisy boys and girls,

proceeded to his seat and started a

quarrel with the first boy that came


The teacher, a grave, elderly man,

interfered; then turned his back a moment

and Tom pulled a boy's hair in the next

bench, and was absorbed in his book when

the boy turned around; stuck a pin in

another boy, presently, in order to hear

him say "Ouch!"

and got a new reprimand from his teacher.

Tom's whole class were of a pattern--

restless, noisy, and troublesome.

When they came to recite their lessons,

not one of them knew his verses perfectly,

but had to be prompted all along.

However, they worried through, and each

got his reward--in small blue tickets,

each with a passage of Scripture on it;

each blue ticket was pay for two verses of

the recitation.

Ten blue tickets equalled a red one, and

could be exchanged for it; ten red tickets

equalled a yellow one; for ten yellow

tickets the superintendent gave a very

plainly bound Bible (worth forty cents in

those easy times) to the pupil.

How many of my readers would have the

industry and application to memorize two

thousand verses, even for a Dore Bible?

And yet Mary had acquired two Bibles in

this way--it was the patient work of two

years--and a boy of German parentage had

won four or five.

He once recited three thousand verses

without stopping; but the strain upon his

mental faculties was too great, and he was

little better than an idiot from that day

forth--a grievous misfortune for the

school, for on great occasions, before

company, the superintendent (as Tom

expressed it) had always made this boy

come out and "spread himself."

Only the older pupils managed to keep

their tickets and stick to their tedious

work long enough to get a Bible, and so

the delivery of one of these prizes was a

rare and noteworthy circumstance; the

successful pupil was so great and

conspicuous for that day that on the spot

every scholar's heart was fired with a

fresh ambition that often lasted a couple

of weeks.

It is possible that Tom's mental stomach

had never really hungered for one of those

prizes, but unquestionably his entire

being had for many a day longed for the

glory and the eclat that came with it.

In due course the superintendent stood up

in front of the pulpit, with a closed

hymn-book in his hand and his forefinger

inserted between its leaves, and commanded


When a Sunday-school superintendent makes

his customary little speech, a hymn-book

in the hand is as necessary as is the

inevitable sheet of music in the hand of a

singer who stands forward on the platform

and sings a solo at a concert --though

why, is a mystery: for neither the hymn-

book nor the sheet of music is ever

referred to by the sufferer.

This superintendent was a slim creature of

thirty-five, with a sandy goatee and short

sandy hair; he wore a stiff standing-

collar whose upper edge almost reached his

ears and whose sharp points curved forward

abreast the corners of his mouth--a fence

that compelled a straight lookout ahead,

and a turning of the whole body when a

side view was required; his chin was

propped on a spreading cravat which was as

broad and as long as a bank-note, and had

fringed ends; his boot toes were turned

sharply up, in the fashion of the day,

like sleigh-runners--an effect patiently

and laboriously produced by the young men

by sitting with their toes pressed against

a wall for hours together.

Mr. Walters was very earnest of mien, and

very sincere and honest at heart; and he

held sacred things and places in such

reverence, and so separated them from

worldly matters, that unconsciously to

himself his Sunday-school voice had

acquired a peculiar intonation which was

wholly absent on week-days.

He began after this fashion:

"Now, children, I want you all to sit up

just as straight and pretty as you can and

give me all your attention for a minute or


There --that is it.

That is the way good little boys and girls

should do.

I see one little girl who is looking out

of the window--I am afraid she thinks I am

out there somewhere--perhaps up in one of

the trees making a speech to the little


[Applausive titter.] I want to tell you

how good it makes me feel to see so many

bright, clean little faces assembled in a

place like this, learning to do right and

be good."

And so forth and so on.

It is not necessary to set down the rest

of the oration.

It was of a pattern which does not vary,

and so it is familiar to us all.

The latter third of the speech was marred

by the resumption of fights and other

recreations among certain of the bad boys,

and by fidgetings and whisperings that

extended far and wide, washing even to the

bases of isolated and incorruptible rocks

like Sid and Mary.

But now every sound ceased suddenly, with

the subsidence of Mr. Walters' voice, and

the conclusion of the speech was received

with a burst of silent gratitude.

A good part of the whispering had been

occasioned by an event which was more or

less rare--the entrance of visitors:

lawyer Thatcher, accompanied by a very

feeble and aged man; a fine, portly,

middle-aged gentleman with iron-gray hair;

and a dignified lady who was doubtless the

latter's wife.

The lady was leading a child.

Tom had been restless and full of chafings

and repinings; conscience-smitten, too--he

could not meet Amy Lawrence's eye, he

could not brook her loving gaze.

But when he saw this small new-comer his

soul was all ablaze with bliss in a


The next moment he was "showing off" with

all his might --cuffing boys, pulling

hair, making faces--in a word, using every

art that seemed likely to fascinate a girl

and win her applause.

His exaltation had but one alloy--the

memory of his humiliation in this angel's

garden--and that record in sand was fast

washing out, under the waves of happiness

that were sweeping over it now.

The visitors were given the highest seat

of honor, and as soon as Mr. Walters'

speech was finished, he introduced them to

the school.

The middle-aged man turned out to be a

prodigious personage--no less a one than

the county judge--altogether the most

august creation these children had ever

looked upon--and they wondered what kind

of material he was made of--and they half

wanted to hear him roar, and were half

afraid he might, too.

He was from Constantinople, twelve miles

away--so he had travelled, and seen the

world--these very eyes had looked upon the

county court-house--which was said to have

a tin roof.

The awe which these reflections inspired

was attested by the impressive silence and

the ranks of staring eyes.

This was the great Judge Thatcher, brother

of their own lawyer.

Jeff Thatcher immediately went forward, to

be familiar with the great man and be

envied by the school.

It would have been music to his soul to

hear the whisperings:

"Look at him, Jim!

He's a going up there.


he's a going to shake hands with him--he

IS shaking hands with him!

By jings, don't you wish you was Jeff?"

Mr. Walters fell to "showing off," with

all sorts of official bustlings and

activities, giving orders, delivering

judgments, discharging directions here,

there, everywhere that he could find a


The librarian "showed off"--running hither

and thither with his arms full of books

and making a deal of the splutter and fuss

that insect authority delights in.

The young lady teachers "showed off" --

bending sweetly over pupils that were

lately being boxed, lifting pretty warning

fingers at bad little boys and patting

good ones lovingly.

The young gentlemen teachers "showed off"

with small scoldings and other little

displays of authority and fine attention

to discipline--and most of the teachers,

of both sexes, found business up at the

library, by the pulpit; and it was

business that frequently had to be done

over again two or three times (with much

seeming vexation).

The little girls "showed off" in various

ways, and the little boys "showed off"

with such diligence that the air was thick

with paper wads and the murmur of


And above it all the great man sat and

beamed a majestic judicial smile upon all

the house, and warmed himself in the sun

of his own grandeur--for he was "showing

off," too.

There was only one thing wanting to make

Mr. Walters' ecstasy complete, and that

was a chance to deliver a Bible-prize and

exhibit a prodigy.

Several pupils had a few yellow tickets,

but none had enough --he had been around

among the star pupils inquiring.

He would have given worlds, now, to have

that German lad back again with a sound


And now at this moment, when hope was

dead, Tom Sawyer came forward with nine

yellow tickets, nine red tickets, and ten

blue ones, and demanded a Bible.

This was a thunderbolt out of a clear sky.

Walters was not expecting an application

from this source for the next ten years.

But there was no getting around it--here

were the certified checks, and they were

good for their face.

Tom was therefore elevated to a place with

the Judge and the other elect, and the

great news was announced from


It was the most stunning surprise of the

decade, and so profound was the sensation

that it lifted the new hero up to the

judicial one's altitude, and the school

had two marvels to gaze upon in place of


The boys were all eaten up with envy--but

those that suffered the bitterest pangs

were those who perceived too late that

they themselves had contributed to this

hated splendor by trading tickets to Tom

for the wealth he had amassed in selling

whitewashing privileges.

These despised themselves, as being the

dupes of a wily fraud, a guileful snake in

the grass.

The prize was delivered to Tom with as

much effusion as the superintendent could

pump up under the circumstances; but it

lacked somewhat of the true gush, for the

poor fellow's instinct taught him that

there was a mystery here that could not

well bear the light, perhaps; it was

simply preposterous that this boy had

warehoused two thousand sheaves of

Scriptural wisdom on his premises--a dozen

would strain his capacity, without a


Amy Lawrence was proud and glad, and she

tried to make Tom see it in her face--but

he wouldn't look.

She wondered; then she was just a grain

troubled; next a dim suspicion came and

went--came again; she watched; a furtive

glance told her worlds--and then her heart

broke, and she was jealous, and angry, and

the tears came and she hated everybody.

Tom most of all (she thought).

Tom was introduced to the Judge; but his

tongue was tied, his breath would hardly

come, his heart quaked--partly because of

the awful greatness of the man, but mainly

because he was her parent.

He would have liked to fall down and

worship him, if it were in the dark.

The Judge put his hand on Tom's head and

called him a fine little man, and asked

him what his name was.

The boy stammered, gasped, and got it out:


"Oh, no, not Tom--it is--"


"Ah, that's it.

I thought there was more to it, maybe.

That's very well.

But you've another one I daresay, and

you'll tell it to me, won't you?"

"Tell the gentleman your other name,

Thomas," said Walters, "and say sir.

You mustn't forget your manners."

"Thomas Sawyer--sir."

"That's it!

That's a good boy.

Fine boy.

Fine, manly little fellow.

Two thousand verses is a great many--very,

very great many.

And you never can be sorry for the trouble

you took to learn them; for knowledge is

worth more than anything there is in the

world; it's what makes great men and good

men; you'll be a great man and a good man

yourself, some day, Thomas, and then

you'll look back and say, It's all owing

to the precious Sunday-school privileges

of my boyhood--it's all owing to my dear

teachers that taught me to learn--it's all

owing to the good superintendent, who

encouraged me, and watched over me, and

gave me a beautiful Bible--a splendid

elegant Bible--to keep and have it all for

my own, always--it's all owing to right

bringing up!

That is what you will say, Thomas--and you

wouldn't take any money for those two

thousand verses--no indeed you wouldn't.

And now you wouldn't mind telling me and

this lady some of the things you've

learned--no, I know you wouldn't--for we

are proud of little boys that learn.

Now, no doubt you know the names of all

the twelve disciples.

Won't you tell us the names of the first

two that were appointed?"

Tom was tugging at a button-hole and

looking sheepish.

He blushed, now, and his eyes fell.

Mr. Walters' heart sank within him.

He said to himself, it is not possible

that the boy can answer the simplest

question--why DID the Judge ask him?

Yet he felt obliged to speak up and say:

"Answer the gentleman, Thomas--don't be


Tom still hung fire.

"Now I know you'll tell me," said the


"The names of the first two disciples



Let us draw the curtain of charity over

the rest of the scene.

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