Sunday-school hours were from nine to half-past
ten. Then there was a church service. Two of the children always stayed for the
sermon voluntarily, and the other always remained too, for other reasons.
The church's hard high-backed seats held about three hundred people. It was a
simple building with a sort of a square box on top of it for a steeple.
At the door, Tom spoke to a friend wearing a similar Sunday outfit:
"Hey, Billy, got any tickets?"
"What'll you swap for them?"
"What'll you give me?"
"Some sweets and a fish-hook."
"Let’s see them."
Tom showed him and they were satisfactory. The property changed hands.
Then Tom swapped a couple of marbles for three more tickets.
He stopped other boys as they arrived, and went on swapping tickets for another
He entered the church, now, with a group of clean and noisy boys and girls, went
to his seat and started an argument with the first boy that he found.
The teacher, a serious, elderly man, stopped the argument, then turned his
back a moment which gave Tom a chance to pull a boy's hair in the next seat. The
teacher was occupied with his book when Tom turned around to stick a pin in
another boy, in order to hear him say "Ouch!". The teacher told him off.
Tom's whole class was a series of restlessness, noise and trouble.
When everyone had to recite their lessons, not one of them knew his verses
perfectly, but had to be helped and prompted all the way through.
However, if they got to the end, they received a reward; small blue tickets with
words from the bible on them. Each blue ticket was payment for two verses of the
recitation. Ten blue tickets could be exchanged for one red ticket and ten red
tickets equaled a yellow one.
For ten yellow tickets the teacher gave a new Bible (worth forty cents in those
times) to the pupil.
How many of you would have the dedication and motivation to memorize two
thousand verses, even for a new Bible? But Mary had acquired two Bibles in this
way (it took her two years) and a boy from a German family had won four or five.
He once recited three thousand verses without stopping! But the stress on his
brain was too much, and he was little better than an idiot from that day on.
This was bad news for the school, because on special days the headmaster had
always made this boy come out in front of everyone and speak to the audience.
Only the older students managed to keep their tickets and do all the boring work
that was needed long enough to get a Bible, and so the winning of one of these
prizes was a rare and noteworthy occasion. The successful student was so noticed
and honoured for that day that every student’s heart was full with fresh
ambition that often lasted a couple of weeks.
It is possible that Tom had never really wanted one of those prizes, but without
a doubt, he had definitely desired the glory and respect that came with it.
... to be continued!
* The text has been adapted from the Adventures
of Tom Sawyer
by Mark Twain
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