The present work is a study for an illustration in the 1936 Heritage Press edition of Mark Twain's classic The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. In the scene, Tom, Huck and Joe try smoking for the first time, and while they first brag to each other about how much they enjoy the experience, soon after, "Both boys were looking very pale and miserable now." As seen in Rockwell's study, "Joe's pipe dropped from his nerveless fingers."
In preparation for the project, Norman Rockwell traveled to Twain's hometown of Hannibal, Missouri, to make sure his depictions would authentically capture the writer's detailed scenes. As Rockwell reflected, "Every illustrator appreciates the opportunity afforded by a fine book written by a great author...In 'Tom Sawyer' and 'Huckleberry Finn' there is a picture on every single page--there is nothing that Mark Twain has his characters do that isn't just perfect. I therefore greatly enjoyed illustrating these books for Heritage Press." (as quoted in A.L. Guptill, Norman Rockwell Illustrator, New York, 1946, p. 100)
The final version of this painting is in the collection of the Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, Hannibal, Missouri. The composition was also reproduced as a lithograph.