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Chapter 15

Tom’s Stealthy Visit Home

A FEW MINUTES LATER Tom was in the shoal water of the bar, wading
toward the Illinois shore. Before the depth reached his middle he was half way
over; the current would permit no more wading, now, so he struck out
confidently to swim the remaining hundred yards. He swam quartering up
stream, but still was swept downward rather faster than he had expected.
However, he reached the shore finally, and drifted along till he found a low
place and drew himself out. He put his hand on his jacket pocket, found his
piece of bark safe, and then struck through the woods, following the shore, with
streaming garments. Shortly before ten o’clock he came out into an open place
opposite the village, and saw the ferry boat lying in the shadow of the trees and
the high bank. Everything was quiet under the blinking stars. He crept down the
bank, watching with all his eyes, slipped into the water, swam three or four
strokes and climbed into the skiff that did “yawl” duty at the boat’s stern. He
laid himself down under the thwarts and waited, panting.

Presently the cracked bell tapped and a voice gave the order to “cast off.” A
minute or two later the skiff’s head was standing high up, against the boat’s
swell, and the voyage was begun. Tom felt happy in his success, for he knew it
was the boat’s last trip for the night. At the end of a long twelve or fifteen
minutes the wheels stopped, and Tom slipped overboard and swam ashore in
the dusk, landing fifty yards down stream, out of danger of possible stragglers.
He flew along unfrequented alleys, and shortly found himself at his aunt’s back
fence. He climbed over, approached the “ell” and looked in at the sittingroom
window, for a light was burning there. There sat Aunt Polly, Sid, Mary, and Joe
Harper’s mother, grouped together, talking. They were by the bed, and the bed
was between them and the door. Tom went to the door and began to softly lift
the latch; then he pressed gently and the door yielded a crack; he continued
pushing cautiously, and quaking every time it creaked, till he judged he might
squeeze through on his knees; and so he put his head through and began,

“What makes the candle blow so?” said Aunt Polly. Tom hurried up. “Why that
door’s open, I believe. Why of course it is. No end of strange things now. Go
‘long and shut it, Sid.” Tom disappeared under the bed just in time. He lay and
“breathed” himself for a time, and then crept to where he could almost touch his
aunt’s foot.

“But as I was saying,” said Aunt Polly, “he warn’t bad, so to say-only
mischeevous. Only just giddy, and harum-scarum, you know. He warn’t any
more responsible than a colt. He never meant any harm, and he was the best-
hearted boy that ever was”- and she began to cry.

“It was just so with my Joe-always full of his devilment, and up to every kind of
mischief, but he was just as unselfish and kind as he could be-and laws bless

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