How did Aunt Polly find out that Tom had been out swimming?

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Aunt Polly finds out that Tom had been out swimming when Sid alerts her to the thread on Tom's collar. Instead of the original white thread she used to sew on Tom's collar, the thread is now black. This means that Tom took off his collar before he went for a swim. After the swim, he sewed the collar back on, except that he used black thread, instead of white (the color of the thread Aunt Polly originally used).

According to the text, Aunt Polly suspects that Tom skipped school to go swimming. However, she can't come up with clear proof to confirm her suspicions. After all, the shirt collar appears to be securely sewn onto Tom's jacket. The only evidence that Aunt Polly can point to is that Tom's hair is wet.

As for Tom, he tells Aunt Polly that he merely wet his hair with water. Aunt Polly gives up her line of questioning. However, Sid (Tom's half-brother) pipes up with “Well, now, if I didn't think you sewed his collar with white thread, but it's black.”

At this, Tom quickly makes a getaway. Sid's revelation upsets Tom, and he consoles himself with the fact that he'll make Sid pay for outing him.

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It's such a lovely sunny day that Tom feels it would be a waste to spend it in class, so he plays hooky to go for a nice swim. When Tom returns home later that day, Aunt Polly is rather suspicious, not least because his hair is quite wet. But she can't prove what her young scamp of a nephew has been up to. Tom must think he has gotten away with it. Unfortunately for him, he hasn't reckoned on Sid, who will never pass up the opportunity to get one over on Tom. Sid's eagle eye spots that the thread on Tom's shirt collar is black, whereas when Aunt Polly had sewn it earlier, it was white. This indicates that, at some point in the day, Tom must have taken his shirt off to mend the collar. Together with the evidence of Tom's wet hair, Aunt Polly's suspicions are now confirmed.

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