The boys run to a deserted tannery and hide, unaware of Injun Joe’s plot to blame Potter for the murder. They decide that if they tell what they saw and Injun Joe escapes hanging, he will probably kill them. Consequently, they decide to swear in blood never to tell anyone what they saw. After taking the oath, they hear the howls of a stray dog, which they interpret as a sign that whomever the animal is howling at will die. Tom and Huck assume the dog’s howls are for them, but when they go outside, they see that the dog is facing Muff Potter.
Tom goes home and crawls into bed. Sid, still awake, takes note of Tom’s late arrival and tells Aunt Polly about it the next morning. She lectures Tom and asks how he can go on breaking her heart; her heavy sorrow is for Tom a punishment “worse than a thousand whippings.” Tom goes off to school dejected. On his desk he finds the brass andiron knob he tried to give to Becky the day before, and his anguish deepens.
As his Robin Hood game shows, Tom assimilates and adheres to the conventions of the heroic and romantic stories in which he is so steeped. He memorizes situations and even exact dialogue from these stories in order to re-create them in his own games. Tom’s courtship of Becky also follows the conventions of romantic literature, albeit in a somewhat adulterated form.
With the ability to memorize and re-create situations according to stories and literature, Tom shows that he has highly developed mental skills. Yet, in his conduct and interaction with others, Tom is still immature. This imbalance is evident when Tom accidentally reveals his previous engagement to Amy Lawrence and only watches, unsure of how to act, when Becky cries. His subsequent depression and decision to become a pirate manifest his preference for the youthful world of make-believe and literature over that of real-life relationships. Tom’s actions at this point also foreshadow his later adventures with Huck and Joe on Jackson’s Island.
The graveyard scene constitutes a turning point in the plot, as it is the first of Tom’s adventures that has any moral significance. Up to this point, Tom’s adventures have been playful and innocent. As Tom and Huck witness Dr. Robinson’s murder, the sordid adult world imposes itself upon their childhood innocence. When they see the figures approaching the grave, both boys assume them to be devils, among the most terrifying things they can envision. Ironically, the presumed devils turn out to be real men who become more frightening than any childhood superstition or imagined vision.
After witnessing the crime, Tom and Huck’s immediate inclination is to flee, both physically and symbolically. They run from the scene of the crime back into their world of childhood games by signing a “blood oath” to keep what they have seen a secret. Knowing nothing about Injun Joe’s plan to blame hapless Muff Potter for the crime, Huck and Tom assume that Injun Joe will either be caught or will escape. They are understandably afraid of what these wicked men might do to them if they find out that the boys were present at the scene of the crime. As we later see, however, even after Potter is falsely accused and arrested, Tom and Huck are unable to overcome their fears and tell the authorities what they have seen. Instead, their belief in superstition, their adherence to the blood oath, and their assumption that God will strike down Injun Joe for wickedly lying guide their actions. Even though the boys fear Injun Joe, they also fear superstition and, ultimately, God or a higher force that they hope will cancel out the more immediate threat from the murderous Injun Joe.