The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
Most of the adventures recorded in this book really occurred; one or two were experiences of my own, the rest those of boys who were schoolmates of mine. Huckleberry Finn is drawn from life; Tom Sawyer also, but not from an individual, he is a combination of the characteristics of three boys whom I knew, and therefore belongs to the composite order of architecture. The odd superstitions touched upon were all prevalent among children and slaves in the West at the period of this story -- that is to say, thirty or forty years ago.
Although my book is intended mainly for the entertainment of boys and girls, I hope it will not be shunned by men and women on that account, for part of my plan has been to try to pleasantly remind adults of what they once were themselves, and of how they felt and thought and talked, and what queer enterprises they sometimes engaged in.
~The Author, Hartford, 1876
"What's gone with that boy, I wonder? You TOM!"
The old lady pulled her spectacles down and looked
over them about the room; then she put them up and
looked out under them. She seldom or never looked
THROUGH them for so small a thing as a boy; they were
her state pair, the pride of her heart, and were built
for "style," not service -- she could have seen through
a pair of stove-lids just as well. She looked perplexed
for a moment, and then said, not fiercely, but still
loud enough for the furniture to hear:
"Well, I lay if I get hold of you I'll --"
She did not finish, for by this time she was bending
down and punching under the bed with the broom,
and so she needed breath to punctuate the punches
with. She resurrected nothing but the cat.
"I never did see the beat of that boy!"
She went to the open door and stood in it and looked
out among the tomato vines and "jimpson" weeds that
constituted the garden. No Tom. So she lifted up
her voice at an angle calculated for distance and
There was a slight noise behind her and she turned
just in time to seize a small boy by the slack of his
roundabout and arrest his flight.
"There! I might 'a' thought of that closet. What
you been doing in there?"
"Nothing! Look at your hands. And look at
your mouth. What IS that truck?"
"I don't know, aunt."
"Well, I know. It's jam -- that's what it is. Forty
times I've said if you didn't let that jam alone I'd skin
you. Hand me that switch."
The switch hovered in the air -- the peril was des-
"My! Look behind you, aunt!"
The old lady whirled round, and snatched her skirts
out of danger. The lad fled on the instant, scrambled
up the high board-fence, and disappeared over it.
His aunt Polly stood surprised a moment, and then
broke into a gentle laugh.
"Hang the boy, can't I never learn anything? Ain't
he played me tricks enough like that for me to be look-
ing out for him by this time? But old fools is the big-
gest fools there is. Can't learn an old dog new tricks,
as the saying is. But my goodness, he never plays
them alike, two days, and how is a body to know what's
coming? He 'pears to know just how long he can
torment me before I get my dander up, and he knows
if he can make out to put me off for a minute or make
me laugh, it's all down again and I can't hit him a lick.
I ain't doing my duty by that boy, and that's the Lord's
truth, goodness knows. Spare the rod and spile the
child, as the Good Book says. I'm a laying up sin and
suffering for us both, I know. He's full of the Old
Scratch, but laws-a-me! he's my own dead sister's boy,
poor thing, and I ain't got the heart to lash him, some-
how. Every time I let him off, my conscience does
hurt me so, and every time I hit him my old heart most
breaks. Well-a-well, man that is born of woman is of
few days and full of trouble, as the Scripture says, and
I reckon it's so. He'll play hookey this evening, * and
[* Southwestern for "afternoon"]
I'll just be obleeged to make him work, to-morrow, to
punish him. It's mighty hard to make him work
Saturdays, when all the boys is having holiday, but he
hates work more than he hates anything else, and I've
GOT to do some of my duty by him, or I'll be the ruination
of the child."
Tom did play hookey, and he had a very good time.
He got back home barely in season to help Jim, the
small colored boy, saw next-day's wood and split the
kindlings before supper -- at least he was there in
time to tell his adventures to Jim while Jim did
three-fourths of the work. Tom's younger brother
(or rather half-brother) Sid was already through
with his part of the work (picking up chips), for he
was a quiet boy, and had no adventurous, trouble-
While Tom was eating his supper, and stealing
sugar as opportunity offered, Aunt Polly asked him
questions that were full of guile, and very deep -- for
she wanted to trap him into damaging revealments.
Like many other simple-hearted souls, it was her pet
vanity to believe she was endowed with a talent for
dark and mysterious diplomacy, and she loved to con-
template her most transparent devices as marvels of
low cunning. Said she:
"Tom, it was middling warm in school, warn't
"Powerful warm, warn't it?"
"Didn't you want to go in a-swimming, Tom?"
A bit of a scare shot through Tom -- a touch of
uncomfortable suspicion. He searched Aunt Polly's
face, but it told him nothing. So he said:
"No'm -- well, not very much."
The old lady reached out her hand and felt Tom's
shirt, and said:
"But you ain't too warm now, though." And
it flattered her to reflect that she had discovered that
the shirt was dry without anybody knowing that that
was what she had in her mind. But in spite of her,
Tom knew where the wind lay, now. So he forestalled
what might be the next move:
"Some of us pumped on our heads -- mine's damp
Aunt Polly was vexed to think she had overlooked
that bit of circumstantial evidence, and missed a trick.
Then she had a new inspiration:
"Tom, you didn't have to undo your shirt collar
where I sewed it, to pump on your head, did you?
Unbutton your jacket!"
The trouble vanished out of Tom's face. He opened
his jacket. His shirt collar was securely sewed.
"Bother! Well, go 'long with you. I'd made sure
you'd played hookey and been a-swimming. But I
forgive ye, Tom. I reckon you're a kind of a singed
cat, as the saying is -- better'n you look. THIS time."
She was half sorry her sagacity had miscarried, and
half glad that Tom had stumbled into obedient con-
duct for once.
But Sidney said:
"Well, now, if I didn't think you sewed his collar
with white thread, but it's black."
"Why, I did sew it with white! Tom!"
But Tom did not wait for the rest. As he went out
at the door he said:
"Siddy, I'll lick you for that."
In a safe place Tom examined two large needles
which were thrust into the lapels of his jacket, and
had thread bound about them -- one needle carried
white thread and the other black. He said:
"She'd never noticed if it hadn't been for Sid.
Confound it! sometimes she sews it with white, and
sometimes she sews it with black. I wish to gee-
miny she'd stick to one or t'other -- I can't keep the
run of 'em. But I bet you I'll lam Sid for that. I'll
He was not the Model Boy of the village. He
knew the model boy very well though — and loatheddc
Within two minutes, or even less, he had forgotten
all his troubles. Not because his troubles were one
whit less heavy and bitter to him than a man's are to a
man, but because a new and powerful interest bore
them down and drove them out of his mind for the time
-- just as men's misfortunes are forgotten in the excite-
ment of new enterprises. This new interest was a
valued novelty in whistling, which he had just acquired
from a negro, and he was suffering to practise it un-
disturbed. It consisted in a peculiar bird-like turn, a
sort of liquid warble, produced by touching the tongue
to the roof of the mouth at short intervals in the midst of
the music -- the reader probably remembers how to
do it, if he has ever been a boy. Diligence and attention
soon gave him the knack of it, and he strode down the
street with his mouth full of harmony and his soul full
of gratitude. He felt much as an astronomer feels who
has discovered a new planet -- no doubt, as far as strong,
deep, unalloyed pleasure is concerned, the advantage
was with the boy, not the astronomer.
The summer evenings were long. It was not dark,
yet. Presently Tom checked his whistle. A stranger
was before him -- a boy a shade larger than himself.
A new-comer of any age or either sex was an im-
pressive curiosity in the poor little shabby village of
St. Petersburg. This boy was well dressed, too --
well dressed on a week-day. This was simply as-
tounding. His cap was a dainty thing, his close-
buttoned blue cloth roundabout was new and natty,
and so were his pantaloons. He had shoes on --
and it was only Friday. He even wore a necktie, a
bright bit of ribbon. He had a citified air about him
that ate into Tom's vitals. The more Tom stared at
the splendid marvel, the higher he turned up his nose
at his finery and the shabbier and shabbier his own
outfit seemed to him to grow. Neither boy spoke. If
one moved, the other moved -- but only sidewise, in a
circle; they kept face to face and eye to eye all the time.
Finally Tom said:
"I can lick you!"
"I'd like to see you try it."
"Well, I can do it."
"No you can't, either."
"Yes I can."
"No you can't."
An uncomfortable pause. Then Tom said:
"What's your name?"
"'Tisn't any of your business, maybe."
"Well I 'low I'll MAKE it my business."
"Well why don't you?"
"If you say much, I will."
"Much -- much -- MUCH. There now."
"Oh, you think you're mighty smart, DON'T you?
I could lick you with one hand tied behind me, if I
"Well why don't you DO it? You SAY you can do it."
"Well I WILL, if you fool with me."
"Oh yes -- I've seen whole families in the same fix."
"Smarty! You think you're SOME, now, DON'T you?
Oh, what a hat!"
"You can lump that hat if you don't like it. I dare
you to knock it off -- and anybody that'll take a dare
will suck eggs."
"You're a liar!"
"You're a fighting liar and dasn't take it up."
"Aw -- take a walk!"
"Say -- if you give me much more of your sass I'll
take and bounce a rock off'n your head."
"Oh, of COURSE you will."
"Well I WILL."
"Well why don't you DO it then? What do you
keep SAYING you will for? Why don't you DO it? It's
because you're afraid."
"I AIN'T afraid."
Another pause, and more eying and sidling around
each other. Presently they were shoulder to shoulder.
"Get away from here!"
"Go away yourself!"
"I won't either."
So they stood, each with a foot placed at an angle
as a brace, and both shoving with might and main,
and glowering at each other with hate. But neither
could get an advantage. After struggling till both
were hot and flushed, each relaxed his strain with
watchful caution, and Tom said:
"You're a coward and a pup. I'll tell my big
brother on you, and he can thrash you with his little
finger, and I'll make him do it, too."
"What do I care for your big brother? I've got
a brother that's bigger than he is -- and what's more,
he can throw him over that fence, too." [Both brothers
"That's a lie."
"YOUR saying so don't make it so."
Tom drew a line in the dust with his big toe, and
"I dare you to step over that, and I'll lick you till
you can't stand up. Anybody that'll take a dare will
The new boy stepped over promptly, and said:
"Now you said you'd do it, now let's see you do it."
"Don't you crowd me now; you better look out."
"Well, you SAID you'd do it -- why don't you do it?"
"By jingo! for two cents I WILL do it."
The new boy took two broad coppers out of his
pocket and held them out with derision. Tom struck
them to the ground. In an instant both boys were
rolling and tumbling in the dirt, gripped together like
cats; and for the space of a minute they tugged and tore
at each other's hair and clothes, punched and scratched
each other's nose, and covered themselves with dust
and glory. Presently the confusion took form, and
through the fog of battle Tom appeared, seated astride
the new boy, and pounding him with his fists.
"Holler 'nuff!" said he.
The boy only struggled to free himself. He was
crying -- mainly from rage.
"Holler 'nuff!" -- and the pounding went on.
At last the stranger got out a smothered "'Nuff!"
and Tom let him up and said:
"Now that'll learn you. Better look out who you're
fooling with next time."
The new boy went off brushing the dust from his
clothes, sobbing, snuffling, and occasionally looking
back and shaking his head and threatening what he
would do to Tom the "next time he caught him out."
To which Tom responded with jeers, and started off
in high feather, and as soon as his back was turned the
new boy snatched up a stone, threw it and hit him be-
tween the shoulders and then turned tail and ran like
an antelope. Tom chased the traitor home, and thus
found out where he lived. He then held a position at
the gate for some time, daring the enemy to come out-
side, but the enemy only made faces at him through
the window and declined. At last the enemy's mother
appeared, and called Tom a bad, vicious, vulgar child,
and ordered him away. So he went away; but he
said he "'lowed" to "lay" for that boy.
He got home pretty late that night, and when he
climbed cautiously in at the window, he uncovered
an ambuscade, in the person of his aunt; and when
she saw the state his clothes were in her resolution
to turn his Saturday holiday into captivity at hard
labor became adamantine in its firmness.
SATURDAY morning was come, and all
the summer world was bright and fresh,
and brimming with life. There was a
song in every heart; and if the heart was
young the music issued at the lips. There
was cheer in every face and a spring in
every step. The locust-trees were in bloom and the
fragrance of the blossoms filled the air. Cardiff
Hill, beyond the village and above it, was green with
vegetation and it lay just far enough away to seem
a Delectable Land, dreamy, reposeful, and inviting.
Tom appeared on the sidewalk with a bucket of
whitewash and a long-handled brush. He surveyed
the fence, and all gladness left him and a deep mel-
ancholy settled down upon his spirit. Thirty yards
of board fence nine feet high. Life to him seemed
hollow, and existence but a burden. Sighing, he
dipped his brush and passed it along the topmost plank;
repeated the operation; did it again; compared the in-
significant whitewashed streak with the far-reaching
continent of unwhitewashed fence, and sat down on a
tree-box discouraged. Jim came skipping out at the
gate with a tin pail, and singing Buffalo Gals. Bringing
water from the town pump had always been hateful
work in Tom's eyes, before, but now it did not strike
him so. He remembered that there was company
at the pump. White, mulatto, and negro boys and
girls were always there waiting their turns, resting,
trading playthings, quarrelling, fighting, skylarking.
And he remembered that although the pump was only
a hundred and fifty yards off, Jim never got back with
a bucket of water under an hour -- and even then some-
body generally had to go after him. Tom said:
"Say, Jim, I'll fetch the water if you'll whitewash
Jim shook his head and said:
"Can't, Mars Tom. Ole missis, she tole me I
got to go an' git dis water an' not stop foolin' roun'
wid anybody. She say she spec' Mars Tom gwine
to ax me to whitewash, an' so she tole me go 'long
an' 'tend to my own business -- she 'lowed SHE'D 'tend
to de whitewashin'."
"Oh, never you mind what she said, Jim. That's
the way she always talks. Gimme the bucket -- I
won't be gone only a a minute. SHE won't ever know."
"Oh, I dasn't, Mars Tom. Ole missis she'd take
an' tar de head off'n me. 'Deed she would."
"SHE! She never licks anybody -- whacks 'em over
the head with her thimble -- and who cares for that,
I'd like to know. She talks awful, but talk don't
hurt -- anyways it don't if she don't cry. Jim, I'll give
you a marvel. I'll give you a white alley!"
Jim began to waver.
"White alley, Jim! And it's a bully taw."
"My! Dat's a mighty gay marvel, I tell you!
But Mars Tom I's powerful 'fraid ole missis --"
"And besides, if you will I'll show you my sore
Jim was only human -- this attraction was too much
for him. He put down his pail, took the white alley,
and bent over the toe with absorbing interest while the
bandage was being unwound. In another moment he
was flying down the street with his pail and a tingling
rear, Tom was whitewashing with vigor, and Aunt
Polly was retiring from the field with a slipper in her
hand and triumph in her eye.
But Tom's energy did not last. He began to think
of the fun he had planned for this day, and his sorrows
multiplied. Soon the free boys would come tripping
along on all sorts of delicious expeditions, and they
would make a world of fun of him for having to work
-- the very thought of it burnt him like fire. He got
out his worldly wealth and examined it -- bits of toys,
marbles, and trash; enough to buy an exchange of WORK,
maybe, but not half enough to buy so much as half an
hour of pure freedom. So he returned his straitened
means to his pocket, and gave up the idea of trying
to buy the boys. At this dark and hopeless moment
an inspiration burst upon him! Nothing less than a
great, magnificent inspiration.
He took up his brush and went tranquilly to work.
Ben Rogers hove in sight presently -- the very boy,
of all boys, whose ridicule he had been dreading.
Ben's gait was the hop-skip-and-jump -- proof enough
that his heart was light and his anticipations high. He
was eating an apple, and giving a long, melodious
whoop, at intervals, followed by a deep-toned ding-
dong-dong, ding-dong-dong, for he was personating a
steamboat. As he drew near, he slackened speed,
took the middle of the street, leaned far over to star-
board and rounded to ponderously and with laborious
pomp and circumstance -- for he was personating the
Big Missouri, and considered himself to be drawing
nine feet of water. He was boat and captain and
engine-bells combined, so he had to imagine himself
standing on his own hurricane-deck giving the orders
and executing them:
"Stop her, sir! Ting-a-ling-ling!" The headway ran
almost out, and he drew up slowly toward the sidewalk.
"Ship up to back! Ting-a-ling-ling!" His arms
straightened and stiffened down his sides.
"Set her back on the stabboard! Ting-a-ling-ling!
Chow! ch-chow-wow! Chow!" His right hand, mean-
time, describing stately circles -- for it was representing
a forty-foot wheel.
"Let her go back on the labboard! Ting-a-ling-
ling! Chow-ch-chow-chow!" The left hand began
to describe circles.
"Stop the stabboard! Ting-a-ling-ling! Stop the
labboard! Come ahead on the stabboard! Stop her!
Let your outside turn over slow! Ting-a-ling-ling!
Chow-ow-ow! Get out that head-line! LIVELY now!
Come -- out with your spring-line -- what're you about
there! Take a turn round that stump with the bight
of it! Stand by that stage, now -- let her go! Done
with the engines, sir! Ting-a-ling-ling! SH'T! S'H'T!
SH'T!" (trying the gauge-cocks).
Tom went on whitewashing -- paid no attention to
the steamboat. Ben stared a moment and then said:
"Hi-YI! YOU'RE up a stump, ain't you!"
No answer. Tom surveyed his last touch with the
eye of an artist, then he gave his brush another gentle
sweep and surveyed the result, as before. Ben ranged
up alongside of him. Tom's mouth watered for the
apple, but he stuck to his work. Ben said:
"Hello, old chap, you got to work, hey?"
Tom wheeled suddenly and said:
"Why, it's you, Ben! I warn't noticing."
"Say -- I'm going in a-swimming, I am. Don't
you wish you could? But of course you'd druther
WORK -- wouldn't you? Course you would!"
Tom contemplated the boy a bit, and said:
"What do you call work?"
"Why, ain't THAT work?"
Tom resumed his whitewashing, and answered care-
"Well, maybe it is, and maybe it ain't. All I know,
is, it suits Tom Sawyer."
"Oh come, now, you don't mean to let on that you
The brush continued to move.
"Like it? Well, I don't see why I oughtn't to like it.
Does a boy get a chance to whitewash a fence every day?"
That put the thing in a new light. Ben stopped
nibbling his apple. Tom swept his brush daintily
back and forth -- stepped back to note the effect --
added a touch here and there -- criticised the effect
again -- Ben watching every move and getting more
and more interested, more and more absorbed. Pres-
ently he said:
"Say, Tom, let ME whitewash a little."
Tom considered, was about to consent; but he
altered his mind:
"No -- no -- I reckon it wouldn't hardly do, Ben.
You see, Aunt Polly's awful particular about this
fence -- right here on the street, you know -- but if it
was the back fence I wouldn't mind and SHE wouldn't.
Yes, she's awful particular about this fence; it's got to
be done very careful; I reckon there ain't one boy in a
thousand, maybe two thousand, that can do it the way
it's got to be done."
"No -- is that so? Oh come, now -- lemme just
try. Only just a little -- I'd let YOU, if you was me,
"Ben, I'd like to, honest injun; but Aunt Polly
-- well, Jim wanted to do it, but she wouldn't let him;
Sid wanted to do it, and she wouldn't let Sid. Now
don't you see how I'm fixed? If you was to tackle this
fence and anything was to happen to it --"
"Oh, shucks, I'll be just as careful. Now lemme try.
Say -- I'll give you the core of my apple."
"Well, here -- No, Ben, now don't. I'm afeard --"
"I'll give you ALL of it!"
Tom gave up the brush with reluctance in his face,
but alacrity in his heart. And while the late steamer
Big Missouri worked and sweated in the sun, the
retired artist sat on a barrel in the shade close by,
dangled his legs, munched his apple, and planned the
slaughter of more innocents. There was no lack
of material; boys happened along every little while;
they came to jeer, but remained to whitewash. By
the time Ben was fagged out, Tom had traded the next
chance to Billy Fisher for a kite, in good repair; and
when he played out, Johnny Miller bought in for a
dead rat and a string to swing it with -- and so on, and
so on, hour after hour. And when the middle of the
afternoon came, from being a poor poverty-stricken
boy in the morning, Tom was literally rolling in wealth.
He had besides the things before mentioned, twelve
marbles, part of a jews-harp, a piece of blue bottle-glass
to look through, a spool cannon, a key that wouldn't
unlock anything, a fragment of chalk, a glass stopper
of a decanter, a tin soldier, a couple of tadpoles, six
fire-crackers, a kitten with only one eye, a brass door-
knob, a dog-collar -- but no dog -- the handle of a knife,
four pieces of orange-peel, and a dilapidated old window
He had had a nice, good, idle time all the while --
plenty of company -- and the fence had three coats of
whitewash on it! If he hadn't run out of whitewash he
would have bankrupted every boy in the village.
Tom said to himself that it was not such a hollow
world, after all. He had discovered a great law of
human action, without knowing it -- namely, that in
order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only
necessary to make the thing difficult to attain. If
he had been a great and wise philosopher, like the
writer of this book, he would now have comprehended
that Work consists of whatever a body is OBLIGED to
do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not
obliged to do. And this would help him to understand
why constructing artificial flowers or performing on a
tread-mill is work, while rolling ten-pins or climbing
Mont Blanc is only amusement. There are wealthy
gentlemen in England who drive four-horse passenger-
coaches twenty or thirty miles on a daily line, in the
summer, because the privilege costs them considerable
money; but if they were offered wages for the service,
that would turn it into work and then they would
The boy mused awhile over the substantial change
which had taken place in his worldly circumstances,
and then wended toward headquarters to report.