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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
CHAPTER 10: Dire Prophecy of the Howling Dog
The minute the graveyard is empty, the boys run for safety. At first they are speechless and horror struck over what they have just witnessed. Once they recover sufficiently, they discuss the murder. They realize that Muff Potter was drunk and that the whack that he received on his head had left him unconscious. As a result, they know that they are the only two witnesses to the murder. They pledge to one another to keep this secret to themselves, for they are afraid that if they reveal they have witnessed Injun Joe murder the doctor, he will come after them in revenge.
To seal their oath of secrecy, Tom writes a beautiful pledge of silence, and both the boys sign it with their blood. Suddenly, they are alerted by the howl of a dog. Both the boys believe in the superstition that a dog’s howl heralds death and assume that, since they are the only two people around that the howl is for them. When they look out, they are greatly relieved to notice that the dog has its back to them; therefore, they are free of the curse. Even as they are whispering about their discovery, they hear someone snoring and go out to investigate. They discover that it is Muff Potter, and the dog has howled in his direction. Soon after this, Tom and Huck go their separate ways.
When Tom returns home, he is delighted that he has left home and returned without detection. He climbs into bed and sleeps soundly. The next morning he wakes up late. When he goes down to breakfast, Tom is given the silent treatment, for Sid had discovered him missing during the night and told Aunt Polly. After Breakfast, Tom is taken aside by his aunt. She weeps over his behavior and begs him not to break her heart by disappearing again. Tom is affected by her tears and asks for her forgiveness; he also promises her that he will change and make everything up to her.
When Tom departs for school, he is feeling miserable. He cannot get Aunt Polly’s tears or the murder off his mind. Upon his arrival, Tom is whipped by the teacher for having skipped school the afternoon before. To make him even more miserable, he finds that Becky has left the brass knob on his desk.
Tom and Huck leave the graveyard the minute the coast is clear and go to the dark tannery. While hiding there, they decide to keep the killing to themselves, for fear that Injun Joe will seek vengeance if he finds out they have been witnesses to the murder. Tom writes out an oath of silence; both boys swear by it and sign it in blood. Once this is done, they hear a dog howling, a superstitious symbol of impending death that adds to their uneasiness. The boys heave a sigh of relief when they realize that the dog has its back to them, freeing them from its curse. At the same time, they notice that the dog is howling towards Muff Potter, who is sleeping nearby. Twain again shows how superstition is important to the boys. He also clearly develops the boys’ fear -- of being the only witnesses to the murder and of dreading Injun Joe’s revenge. They are so fearful that they agree to a "blood" oath of silence; it is believed that if anyone breaks a blood oath, he will die. The illiterate Huck is most impressed that Tom can write out the oath in longhand on a shingle.
It is important to realize that Tom and Huck react to Doc Robinson’s murder in a selfish manner. Their greatest fear is that Injun Joe will discover them, and he will hurt them. The fear is well founded, for Injun Joe has been developed as such a wicked character that he would think nothing of harming two young boys. It is also important to notice that Tom and Huck, as of yet, do not know all the details of the murder. They have left the scene as soon as they have seen Injun Joe kill the doctor. They have not witnessed Joe place the bloody knife in Muff Potter’s hand. Therefore, when the dog howls in the direction of the sleeping Muff, there is dramatic irony; the reader has a much clearer understanding about the superstition that is played out in the dog’s howling than do the unknowing boys.
The next morning, Tom discovers that Sid had missed him during the night and told Aunt Polly of his absence. She weeps over his evil ways and pleads with him to reform his behavior. Tom is affected by her tears and begs forgiveness. He truly dislikes upsetting the women in his life, and he worries all the way to school about Aunt Polly’s tears, as well as about the murder. Ironically, as soon as he arrives in class, the teacher gives him a serious whipping for having skipped school the previous afternoon. Tom is unbothered by the physical punishment; it is the emotional punishment that gets to him. When he spies his brass knob sitting on his desk, he again feels emotionally punished, this time by Becky.