Tom lifted his lip and showed the vacancy.
"Well, all right," said Huckleberry, "it's a trade."
Tom enclosed the tick in the percussion-cap box that had lately been the pinchbug's prison, and the boys separated, each feeling wealthier than before.
When Tom reached the little isolated frame schoolhouse, he strode in briskly, with the manner of one who had come with all honest speed. He hung his hat on a peg and flung himself into his seat with business-like alacrity. The master, throned on high in his great splint-bottom arm-chair, was dozing, lulled by the drowsy hum of study. The interruption roused him.
Tom knew that when his name was pronounced in full, it meant trouble.
"Come up here. Now, sir, why are you late again, as usual?"
Tom was about to take refuge in a lie, when he saw two long tails of yellow hair hanging down a back that he recognized by the electric sympathy of love; and by that form was THE ONLY VACANT PLACE on the girls' side of the schoolhouse. He instantly said:
"I STOPPED TO TALK WITH HUCKLEBERRY FINN!"
The master's pulse stood still, and he stared helplessly. The buzz of study ceased. The pupils wondered if this foolhardy boy had lost his mind. The master said:
"You — you did what?"
"Stopped to talk with Huckleberry Finn."
There was no mistaking the words.
"Thomas Sawyer, this is the most astounding confession I have ever listened to. No mere ferule will answer for this offence. Take off your jacket."
The master's arm performed until it was tired and the stock of switches notably diminished. Then the order followed:
"Now, sir, go and sit with the girls! And let this be a warning to you."
The titter that rippled around the room appeared to abash the boy, but in reality that result was caused rather more by his worshipful awe of his unknown idol and the dread pleasure that lay in his high good fortune. He sat down upon the end of the pine bench and the girl hitched herself away from him with a toss of her head. Nudges and winks and whispers traversed the room, but Tom sat still, with his arms upon the long, low desk before him, and seemed to study his book.
By and by attention ceased from him, and the accustomed school murmur rose upon the dull air once more. Presently the boy began to steal furtive glances at the girl. She observed it, "made a mouth" at him and gave him the back of her head for the space of a minute. When she cautiously faced around again, a peach lay before her. She thrust it away. Tom gently put it back. She thrust it away again, but with less animosity. Tom patiently returned it to its place. Then she let it remain. Tom scrawled on his slate, "Please take it — I got more." The girl glanced at the words, but made no sign. Now the boy began to draw something on the slate, hiding his work with his left hand. For a time the girl refused to notice; but her human curiosity presently began to manifest itself by hardly perceptible signs. The boy worked on, apparently unconscious. The girl made a sort of noncommittal attempt to see, but the boy did not betray that he was aware of it. At last she gave in and hesitatingly whispered:
"Let me see it."
Tom partly uncovered a dismal caricature of a house with two gable ends to it and a corkscrew of smoke issuing from the chimney. Then the girl's interest began to fasten itself upon the work and she forgot everything else. When it was finished, she gazed a moment, then whispered:
"It's nice — make a man."
The artist erected a man in the front yard, that resembled a derrick. He could have stepped over the house; but the girl was not hypercritical; she was satisfied with the monster, and whispered:
"It's a beautiful man — now make me coming along."
Tom drew an hour-glass with a full moon and straw limbs to it and armed the spreading fingers with a portentous fan. The girl said:
"It's ever so nice — I wish I could draw."
"It's easy," whispered Tom, "I'll learn you."
"Oh, will you? When?"
"At noon. Do you go home to dinner?"
"I'll stay if you will."
"Good — that's a whack. What's your name?"
"Becky Thatcher. What's yours? Oh, I know. It's Thomas Sawyer."
"That's the name they lick me by. I'm Tom when I'm good. You call me Tom, will you?"
Now Tom began to scrawl something on the slate, hiding the words from the girl. But she was not backward this time. She begged to see. Tom said:
"Oh, it ain't anything."
"Yes it is."
"No it ain't. You don't want to see."
"Yes I do, indeed I do. Please let me."
"No I won't — deed and deed and double deed won't."
"You won't tell anybody at all? Ever, as long as you live?"
"No, I won't ever tell ANYbody. Now let me."
"Oh, YOU don't want to see!"
"Now that you treat me so, I WILL see." And she put her small hand upon his and a little scuffle ensued, Tom pretending to resist in earnest but letting his hand slip by degrees till these words were revealed: "I LOVE YOU."
"Oh, you bad thing!" And she hit his hand a smart rap, but reddened and looked pleased, nevertheless.
Just at this juncture the boy felt a slow, fateful grip closing on his ear, and a steady lifting impulse. In that wise he was borne across the house and deposited in his own seat, under a peppering fire of giggles from the whole school. Then the master stood over him during a few awful moments, and finally moved away to his throne without saying a word. But although Tom's ear tingled, his heart was jubilant.
As the school quieted down Tom made an honest effort to study, but the turmoil within him was too great. In turn he took his place in the reading class and made a botch of it; then in the geography class and turned lakes into mountains, mountains into rivers, and rivers into continents, till chaos was come again; then in the spelling class, and got "turned down," by a succession of mere baby words, till he brought up at the foot and yielded up the pewter medal which he had worn with ostentation for months.