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languidly, but there were two among them that watched his movements with
intent eyes. Mr. Dobbins fingered his book absently for a while, then took it out
and settled himself in his chair to read! Tom shot a glance at Becky. He had seen
a hunted and helpless rabbit look as she did, with a gun leveled at its head.
Instantly he forgot his quarrel with her. Quick-something must be done! done in
a flash, too! But the very imminence of the emergency paralyzed his invention.
Good!- he had an inspiration! He would run and snatch the book, spring
through the door and fly. But his resolution shook for one little instant, and the
chance was lost-the master opened the volume. If Tom only had the wasted
opportunity back again! Too late; there was no help for Becky now, he said. The
next moment the master faced the school. Every eye sunk under his gaze. There
was that in it which smote even the innocent with fear. There was silence while
one might count ten; the master was gathering his wrath. Then he spoke: “Who
tore this book?” There was not a sound. One could have heard a pin drop. The
stillness continued; the master searched face after face for signs of guilt.
“Benjamin Rogers, did you tear this book?” A denial. Another pause.
“Joseph Harper, did you?” Another denial. Tom’s uneasiness grew more and
more intense under the slow torture of these proceedings. The master scanned
the ranks of boys-considered a while, then turned to the girls: “Amy
Lawrence?” A shake of the head.
“Gracie Miller?” The same sign.
“Susan Harper, did you do this?” Another negative. The next girl was Becky
Thatcher. Tom was trembling from head to foot with excitement and a sense of
the hopelessness of the situation.
“Rebecca Thatcher,” (Tom glanced at her face-it was white with terror,)- “did
you tear-no, look me in the face”- (her hands rose in appeal)- “did you tear this
book?” A thought shot like lightning through Tom’s brain. He sprang to his feet
and shouted“I done it!” The school stared in perplexity at this incredible folly.
Tom stood a moment, to gather his dismembered faculties; and when he stepped
forward to go to his punishment the surprise, the gratitude, the adoration that
shone upon him out of poor Becky’s eyes seemed pay enough for a hundred
floggings. Inspired by the splendor of his own act, he took without an outcry the
most merciless flaying that even Mr. Dobbins had ever administered; and also
received with indifference the added cruelty of a command to remain two hours
after school should be dismissed-for he knew who would wait for him outside
till his captivity was done, and not count the tedious time as loss, either.
Tom went to bed that night planning vengeance against Alfred Temple; for with
shame and repentance Becky had told him all, not forgetting her own treachery;
but even the longing for vengeance had to give way, soon, to pleasanter
musings, and he fell asleep at last, with Becky’s latest words lingering dreamily
in his ear“Tom, how could you be so noble!”
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