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Chapter 7

Tick-Running and Heartbreak

THE HARDER Tom tried to fasten his mind on his book, the more his ideas
wandered. So at last, with a sigh and a yawn, he gave it up. It seemed to him
that the noon recess would never come. The air was utterly dead. There was not
a breath stirring. It was the sleepiest of sleepy days. The drowsing murmur of
the five and twenty studying scholars soothed the soul like the spell that is in the
murmur of bees. Away off in the flaming sunshine, Cardiff Hill lifted its soft
green sides through a shimmering veil of heat, tinted with the purple of
distance; a few birds floated on lazy wing high in the air; no other living thing
was visible but some cows, and they were asleep.

Tom’s heart ached to be free, or else to have something of interest to do to pass
the dreary time. His hand wandered into his pocket and his face lit up with a
glow of gratitude that was prayer, though he did not know it. Then furtively the
percussion-cap box came out. He released the tick and put him on the long flat
desk. The creature probably glowed with a gratitude that amounted to prayer,
too, at this moment, but it was premature: for when he started thankfully to
travel off, Tom turned him aside with a pin and made him take a new direction.
Tom’s bosom friend sat next him, suffering just as Tom had been, and now he
was deeply and gratefully interested in this entertainment in an instant. This
bosom friend was Joe Harper. The two boys were sworn friends all the week,
and embattled enemies on Saturdays. Joe took a pin out of his lappel and began
to assist in exercising the prisoner. The sport grew in interest momently. Soon
Tom said that they were interfering with each other, and neither getting the
fullest benefit of the tick. So he put Joe’s slate on the desk and drew a line down
the middle of it from top to bottom.

“Now,” said he, “as long as he is on your side you can stir him up and I’ll let
him alone; but if you let him get away and get on my side, you’re to leave him
alone as long as I can keep him from crossing over.” “All right-go ahead-start
him up.” The tick escaped from Tom, presently, and crossed the equator. Joe
harassed him a while, and then he got away and crossed back again. This change
of base occurred often. While one boy was worrying the tick with absorbing
interest, the other would look on with interest as strong, the two heads bowed
together over the slate, and the two souls dead to all things else. At last luck
seemed to settle and abide with Joe. The tick tried this, that, and the other
course, and got as excited and as anxious as the boys themselves, but time and
again just as he would have victory in his very grasp, so to speak, and Tom’s
fingers would be twitching to begin, Joe’s pin would deftly head him off, and
keep possession. At last Tom could stand it no longer. The temptation was too
strong. So he reached out and lent a hand with his pin. Joe was angry in a
moment. Said he:“Tom, you let him alone.”

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