It was a sunny, summer Saturday morning and all was right with the world. The town of St. Petersburg basked in the warmth of the sun. Birds twittered and sang, filling the air with music. The cries and laughter of the town’s children, busy playing games of ball and tag and leapfrog, echoed among the shady trees and red-brick homes.
Yes, all was right with the world on this summer morning — for everyone but Tom Sawyer, that is.
Poor Tom Sawyer watched his friends frolic and shout and run. He watched the mighty steamboats chug up and down the muddy river. But that is all he could do — watch. For Tom had a fence to paint.
“Buffalo girls, won’t you come out tonight, come out tonight, come out tonight?”
As he stood painting the fence, Tom heard a voice singing a funny old song. The voice was getting closer and closer when Tom recognized who it was. It was his good friend Jim!
“Why, Jim!” Tom said, an idea in his head. “I bet you’d like to paint this fence, huh?”
“Oh, Tom,” said Jim, “I don’t believe I can do that. Your Aunt Polly told me that you would try to get me to do your work for you.”
“Well,” said Tom, “this is hardly work at all. It’s fun! I’ll just sit and read that comic book of yours while you paint the fence.”
Jim just shook his head and said, “No.”
Tom shrugged and said, “I’ll show you my sore toe.”
Now a sore toe isn’t something one sees very often. Especially a toe so sore that it must be wrapped in a bandage. So Jim agreed to help paint the fence for a quick peek — just one, small peek — at Tom’s sore toe.”This sure is a funny comic book,” Tom laughed.
He watched Jim paint away.
“I know,” said Jim. “I’ve read it three times myself.”
Tom had just continued his reading and Jim had just restarted his painting when a voice called out from the house. “Tom Sawyer,” the voice said, “I thought I told you to paint that fence by yourself!”
It was Aunt Polly!As Aunt Polly came roaring out the front door, Jim quickly scooted down the street, his comic book in his hand. Not so quickly, Tom picked up his brush and bucket and got back to work.
Tom began to think of all the fun he would be having if it weren’t for Aunt Polly and her lousy fence. He could be off with his pals on some wild adventure, or watching the steamboats chug past.Just as Tom thought of the majestic steamboats that cruised the mighty Mississippi, he heard a steamboat — and it sounded like it was awfully close.
Tom dropped his paintbrush and whirled around to find his friend Ben Rogers pretending to be the Big Missouri, the largest, grandest steamboat there was.
“Over to starboard!” Ben yelled, turning his imaginary boat’s wheel. “Men, we’re taking on water! Stop her, sir! Ting-a-ling! Toot-toot!”
Tom tried to ignore all of the fun Ben was having. He tried to pay attention to his painting. It was hard to do.
“Chug-chug! Toot-toot! Hi there, Tom,” Ben said.
Tom pretended that his friend wasn’t there.
“You have to work today, huh?” asked Ben, polishing a crisp, red apple. “That’s too bad. I’m going swimming. I bet you’d rather work, though.”
“Work?” Tom asked, a plan hatching in his mind. “Why, this isn’t work. This painting is loads of fun!”
“Looks like work to me,” Ben said.
“Well, maybe it is,” said Tom. “But I sure like it.”
“I bet I’d like it, too,” said Ben. “It’s not every day that you get to paint a fence, is it? Can I paint just a bit?”
“Well, I don’t think I can let you,” Tom said. “You see, my Aunt Polly is awful set on how she wants her fence painted. You might mess it all up.”But by now, Ben Rogers wanted to paint that old fence more than anything in the whole world.
“I’ll give you my apple core,” Ben said.
“Give me the whole thing,” Tom replied.
So Ben handed his apple to Tom. And Tom pretended to be sad as he handed the paintbrush to Ben. But deep inside, Tom was happy to get out of the work.Before he knew it, Tom was surrounded by all of the other children of St. Petersburg. They had seen how much Ben wanted to paint. Now they wanted to paint, too!
Tom sat there, munching on his apple and planning how he would trick the rest of the children.
Once Ben Rogers was tired of painting, Tom let Billy Fisher paint — once Billy had handed over his new kite. And once Billy Fisher was tired out, Tom traded Johnny Miller the chance to paint for a rat and a piece of string. By the end of the morning, the happiest boy in St. Petersburg was Tom Sawyer. At his feet, he had a pile of treasure: a jaw harp, a bright piece of blue glass, a toy cannon, a key that had no lock, a piece of yellow chalk, a bottle cap, a toy soldier, two tadpoles, a kitten, a brilliant brass doorknob, a dog collar without a dog, and an orange peel without an orange inside.Yes sir, that morning Tom Sawyer was the happiest boy in St. Petersburg, sitting there in the shade while his friends painted Aunt Polly’s fence.