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Chapter 9

Tragedy in the Grave Yard

AT HALF PAST NINE, that night, Tom and Sid were sent to bed, as usual.
They said their prayers, and Sid was soon asleep. Tom lay awake and waited, in
restless impatience. When it seemed to him that it must be nearly daylight, he
heard the clock strike ten! This was despair. He would have tossed and fidgeted,
as his nerves demanded, but he was afraid he might wake Sid. So he lay still,
and stared up into the dark. Everything was dismally still. By and by, out of the
stillness little scarcely perceptible noises began to emphasize themselves. The
ticking of the clock began to bring itself into notice. Old beams began to crack
mysteriously. The stairs creaked faintly. Evidently spirits were abroad. A
measured, muffled snore issued from Aunt Polly’s chamber. And now the
tiresome chirping of a cricket that no human ingenuity could locate, began. Next
the ghastly ticking of a death-watch in the wall at the bed’s head made Tom
shudder-it meant that somebody’s days were numbered. Then the howl of a far-
off dog rose on the night air and was answered by a fainter howl from a remoter
distance. Tom was in an agony. At last he was satisfied that time had ceased and
eternity begun; he began to doze, in spite of himself, the clock chimed eleven but
he did not hear it. And then there came mingling with his half-formed dreams, a
most melancholy caterwauling. The raising of a neighboring window disturbed
him. A cry of “Scat! you devil!” and the crash of an empty bottle against the back
of his aunt’s woodshed brought him wide awake, and a single minute later he
was dressed and out of the window and creeping along the roof of the “ell” on
all fours. He “meow’d” with caution once or twice, as he went; then jumped to
the roof of the woodshed and thence to the ground. Huckleberry Finn was there,
with his dead cat. The boys moved off and disappeared in the gloom. At the end
of half an hour they were wading through the tall grass of the graveyard.

It was a graveyard of the old-fashioned western kind. It was on a hill, about a
mile and a half from the village. It had a crazy board fence around it, which
leaned inward in places, and outward the rest of the time, but stood upright
nowhere. Grass and weeds grew rank over the whole cemetery. All the old
graves were sunken in. There was not a tombstone on the place; round-topped,
wormeaten boards staggered over the graves, leaning for support and finding
none. “Sacred to the Memory of” So-and-So had been painted on them once, but
it could no longer have been read, on the most of them, now, even if there had
been light.

A faint wind moaned through the trees, and Tom feared it might be the spirits of
the dead complaining at being disturbed. The boys talked little, and only under
their breath, for the time and the place and the pervading solemnity and silence
oppressed their spirits. They found the sharp new heap they were seeking, and
ensconced themselves within the protection of three great elms that grew in a
bunch within a few feet of the grave.

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