Chapter 15 Summary
Tom swims across a channel to a ferry, stowing himself away out of sight just before it makes its final passage across the river for the night. When it arrives in town, he creeps through the streets, careful to prevent anyone from noticing him. He peeks through the window of his house and sees Aunt Polly sitting with Sid, Mary, and Joe Harper’s mother. He sneaks inside and crawls under a bed to listen to what they have to say.
Aunt Polly says that Tom “warn’t bad, so to say—only mischeevous.” She says that he had a wonderful heart, in spite of his tendency to misbehave. Mrs. Harper says much the same about Joe. She grieves over the fact that she whipped Joe wrongly the last time she saw him, blaming him for taking cream that she forgot she had thrown out. Aunt Polly tells the story of punishing Tom for feeding Pain-killer to her cat. As Tom listens, he is moved to tears along with the speakers—but his tears come mainly because he feels sorry for himself.
In spite of this, Tom is tempted to jump out and reveal himself to stop the women's crying. He holds back, however, and as he listens, he realizes that the townspeople have guessed that he and the boys took the raft. When the raft appeared downriver empty—and when the boys did not turn up at home to eat—everyone assumed that they must have drowned. If the boys do not reappear by Sunday, their families will give up hope and hold a funeral.
When Mrs. Harper leaves, and Sid and Mary go off to bed, Aunt Polly kneels down and prays for Tom. Her prayer is so obviously heartfelt that Tom is again tempted to leap out and show her that he is all right. Again, however, he refrains. He waits for Polly to go to sleep, and he places a sycamore bark message on her nightstand. At the last moment, however, he changes his mind. He puts the bark back in his pocket, kisses Aunt Polly on the lips, and he returns home to his friends.
When Tom goes back to the island, he hears Huck and Joe arguing. Huck thinks that Tom has abandoned them. Joe, who has read the note Tom wrote on the other piece of bark, believes that Tom will not give up being a pirate so easily. Tom stops the argument by stepping into camp. He tells the others about his adventures, and then they all sit down to a breakfast of bacon and fish.