Chapter 12 Summary
Eventually Tom stops thinking about Injun Joe and Muff Potter. Instead he worries about Becky Thatcher, who has stopped coming to school. He hangs around her house in the afternoons to find out if she is ill, but he never learns anything. This makes him so depressed that Aunt Polly notices and decides to try to cure him.
Aunt Polly subscribes to many health magazines and diligently follows their advice about diet, exercise, sleep, and so on. She never seems to notice that the health advice she reads is constantly contradicting itself. She is so simple and honest herself that she is an easy target for swindlers. Because of this, she always buys fancy new medicines and follows bogus advice, tormenting everyone she knows with her “cures.”
For Tom’s depression, Aunt Polly tries dunking the boy in cold water, scrubbing him with hard towels, and wrapping him up to make him sweat. When this does not work, she tries various other cures, eventually landing on an awful, fiery tasting medicine called Pain-killer. By this time, Tom is beginning to come out of his low mood, and he decides that he needs to escape his aunt’s doctoring. He does this by pretending to love Pain-killer and asking for it all the time. Eventually Aunt Polly gives him permission to take it as often as he likes. She watches to make sure the level in the bottle continues to drop, and it does—but only because Tom is "mending the health of a crack in the sitting-room floor with it."
One day Tom force-feeds some Pain-killer to the cat, Peter. The poor cat yelps and tears through the room, knocking over pots, turning somersaults, and eventually leaping out the window in its attempt to escape the burning in its mouth. Aunt Polly witnesses the end of this spectacle, and when she discovers what Tom has done, she shouts at him. Tom tells her earnestly that he was trying to help the cat because it “hadn’t any aunt” who could “roast his bowels” with medicine for him. Hearing this, Aunt Polly realizes that if she thinks it is wrong to force-feed something to a cat, it might also be wrong to force-feed it to a boy. She tells Tom that he does not have to take Pain-killer anymore.
Tom is feeling somewhat better, but at school he still is not acting like himself. Rather than play with the other boys, he hangs around watching for Becky Thatcher. He tries chatting with Jeff Thatcher, but Jeff does not give him any information about Becky’s condition. When at last the girl appears, Tom springs back to life, “war-whooping” and tumbling to impress her. She is still angry at him, however, and she acts as if she cannot see him. She says, “Mf! some people think they’re mighty smart—always showing off!” And so a blushing Tom sneaks away, his heart broken yet again.