AT half-past nine, that night, Tom and Sid were sent to bed, as usual.
They said their prayers, and Sid was soon asleep. Tom lay awake and
waited, in restless impatience. When it seemed to him that it must be
nearly daylight, he heard the clock strike ten! This was despair. He
would have tossed and fidgeted, as his nerves demanded, but he was
afraid he might wake Sid. So he lay still, and stared up into the dark.
Everything was dismally still. By and by, out of the stillness, little,
scarcely perceptible noises began to emphasize themselves. The ticking
of the clock began to bring itself into notice. Old beams began to crack
mysteriously. The stairs creaked faintly. Evidently spirits were abroad.
A measured, muffled snore issued from Aunt Polly's chamber. And now the
tiresome chirping of a cricket that no human ingenuity could locate,
began. Next the ghastly ticking of a death-watch in the wall at the
bed's head made Tom shudder--it meant that somebody's days were numbered.
Then the howl of a far-off dog rose on the night air, and was answered
by a fainter howl from a remoter distance. Tom was in an agony. At last
he was satisfied that time had ceased and eternity begun; he began to
doze, in spite of himself; the clock chimed eleven, but he did not hear
it. And then there came, mingling with his half-formed dreams, a most
melancholy caterwauling. The raising of a neighboring window disturbed
him. A cry of "Scat! you devil!" and the crash of an empty bottle
against the back of his aunt's woodshed brought him wide awake, and a
single minute later he was dressed and out of the window and creeping
along the roof of the "ell" on all fours. He "meow'd" with caution once
or twice, as he went; then jumped to the roof of the woodshed and thence
to the ground. Huckleberry Finn was there, with his dead cat. The boys
moved off and disappeared in the gloom. At the end of half an hour they
were wading through the tall grass of the graveyard.
It was a graveyard of the old-fashioned Western kind. It was on a hill,
about a mile and a half from the village. It had a crazy board fence
around it, which leaned inward in places, and outward the rest of the
time, but stood upright nowhere. Grass and weeds grew rank over the
whole cemetery. All the old graves were sunken in, there was not a
tombstone on the place; round-topped, worm-eaten boards staggered over
the graves, leaning for support and finding none. "Sacred to the memory
of" So-and-So had been painted on them once, but it could no longer have
been read, on the most of them, now, even if there had been light.