Tom is glum on what seems to be a particularly cheerful Saturday morning for everyone else. Aunt Polly is making him whitewash the front fence.
Jim is heading for the water pump. Though Tom never liked this chore, at least he would meet other children there. Tom offers to trade chores. Jim says Aunt Polly already anticipated this and told him to refuse. Tom offers a white marble and to show his sore toe. Aunt Polly catches them and whips Jim’s bottom. Jim scurries to the pump, and Tom white washes with much motivation.
Tom mourns the fun he was planning and is now going to miss out on. He worries about the other boys making fun of him when they see him painting the fence. He doesn’t have enough to barter a trade for them to do the work. Suddenly, he gets an idea.
Ben Rogers is a boy Tom had particularly dreaded in seeing. He comes up to Tom, and Tom pretends he is so absorbed in his task that he doesn’t notice him. When he finally does acknowledge Ben, he pretends that there is nothing he would rather do on a Saturday than to whitewash a fence. Ben suddenly wants to do it, but Tom feigns reluctance, saying his Aunt Polly wants it done well since it is pointing to the front. She wouldn’t let Sid or Jim do it because she didn’t think they could do it well enough.
Ben offers his apple, and Tom agrees. More boys come, initially to tease but are soon convinced into whitewashing the fence…and paying for the opportunity as well. Tom collects a wealth of objects that appeals to a young boy. He has company, and the fence gets three coats of whitewash. Tom learns that work is what a person is obliged to do. If you make it look like amusement, people will pay you to do the same thing they would refuse if you offered them a salary.