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Chapter 12

The Cat and the Painkiller

ONE OF THE REASONS why Tom’s mind had drifted away from its secret
troubles was, that it had found a new and weighty matter to interest itself about.
Becky Thatcher had stopped coming to school. Tom had struggled with his pride
a few days, and tried to “whistle her down the wind,” but failed. He began to
find himself hanging around her father’s house, nights, and feeling very

She was ill. What if she should die! There was distraction in the thought. He no
longer took an interest in war, nor even in piracy. The charm of life was gone;
there was nothing but dreariness left. He put his hoop away, and his bat; there
was no joy in them any more. His aunt was concerned. She began to try all
manner of remedies on him. She was one of those people who are infatuated
with patent medicines and all new-fangled methods of producing health or
mending it. She was an inveterate experimenter in these things. When something
fresh in this line came out she was in a fever, right away, to try it; not on herself,
for she was never ailing, but on anybody else that came handy. She was a
subscriber for all the “Health” periodicals and phrenological frauds; and the
solemn ignorance they were inflated with was breath to her nostrils. All the
“rot” they contained about ventilation, and how to go to bed, and how to get up,
and what to eat, and what to drink, and how much exercise to take, and what
frame of mind to keep one’s self in, and what sort of clothing to wear, was all
gospel to her, and she never observed that her health-journals of the current
month customarily upset everything they had recommended the month before.
She was as simple-hearted and honest as the day was long, and so she was an
easy victim. She gathered together her quack periodicals and her quack
medicines, and thus armed with death, went about on her pale horse,
metaphorically speaking, with “hell following after.” But she never suspected
that she was not an angel of healing and the balm of Gilead in disguise, to the
suffering neighbors.

The water treatment was new, now, and Tom’s low condition was a windfall to
her. She had him out at daylight every morning, stood him up in the woodshed
and drowned him with a deluge of cold water; then she scrubbed him down
with a towel like a file, and so brought him to; then she rolled him up in a wet
sheet and put him away under blankets till she sweated his soul clean and “the
yellow stains of it came through his pores”- as Tom said.

Yet notwithstanding all this, the boy grew more and more melancholy and pale
and dejected. She added hot baths, sitz baths, shower baths and plunges. The
boy remained as dismal as a hearse. She began to assist the water with a slim
oatmeal diet and blister plasters. She calculated his capacity as she would a jug’s,
and filled him up every day with quack cure-alls.

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