THE HOOSIER SCHOOL-BOY
By EDWARD EGGLESTON
New York Charles Scribner's Sons 1919
Copyright, 1883, By CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS
Copyright, 1910, By FRANCES G. EGGLESTON
I. The New Scholar 3 II. King Milkmaid 15 III. Answering Back 23 IV. Little Christopher Columbus 34 V. Whiling Away Time 43 VI. A Battle 48 VII. Hat-ball and Bull-pen 58 VIII. The Defender 70 IX. Pigeon Pot-pie 80 X. Jack and His Mother 97 XI. Columbus and His Friends 102 XII. Greenbank Wakes Up 113 XIII. Professor Susan 119 XIV. Crowing After Victory 127 XV. An Attempt To Collect 137 XVI. An Exploring Expedition 148 XVII. Housekeeping Experiences 154 XVIII. Ghosts 166 XIX. The Return Home 177 XX. A Foot-race for Money 189 XXI. The New Teacher 203 XXII. Chasing the Fox 210 XXIII. Called To Account 222 XXIV. An Apology 229 XXV. King's Base and a Spelling-lesson 238 XXVI. Unclaimed Top-strings 243 XXVII. The Last Day of School, and The Last Chapter of the Story 252
"Not there, not there, my child!" Frontispiece
FACING PAGE Jack amusing the small boys with stories of hunting, fishing, and frontier adventure 44
"Cousin Sukey," said little Columbus, "I want to ask a favor of you" 120
Bob Holliday carries home his friend 258
THE HOOSIER SCHOOL-BOY
THE NEW SCHOLAR
While the larger boys in the village school of Greenbank were having a game of "three old cat" before school-time, there appeared on the playground a strange boy, carrying two books, a slate, and an atlas under his arm.
He was evidently from the country, for he wore a suit of brown jeans, or woollen homespun, made up in the natural color of the "black" sheep, as we call it. He shyly sidled up to the school-house door, and looked doubtfully at the boys who were playing, watching the familiar game as though he had never seen it before.
The boys who had the "paddles" were standing on three bases, while three others stood each behind a base and tossed the ball around the triangle from one hole or base to another. The new-comer soon perceived that, if one with a paddle, or bat, struck at the ball and missed it, and the ball was caught directly, or "at the first bounce," he gave up his bat to the one who had "caught him out." When the ball was struck, it was called a "tick," and when there was a tick, all the batters were obliged to run one base to the left, and then the ball thrown between a batter and the base to which he was running "crossed him out," and obliged him to give up his "paddle" to the one who threw the ball.
"Four old cat," "two old cat," and "five old cat" are, as everybody knows, played in the same way, the number of bases or holes increasing with the addition of each pair of players.
It is probable that the game was once—some hundreds of years ago, maybe—called "three hole catch," and that the name was gradually corrupted into "three hole cat," as it is still called in the interior States, and then became changed by mistake to "three old cat." It is, no doubt, an early form of our present game of base-ball.
It was this game which the new boy watched, trying to get an inkling of how it was played. He stood by the school-house door, and the girls who came in were obliged to pass near him. Each of them stopped to scrape her shoes, or rather the girls remembered the foot-scraper because they were curious to see the new-comer. They cast furtive glances at him, noting his new suit of brown clothes, his geography and atlas, his arithmetic, and, last of all, his face.
"There's a new scholar," said Peter Rose, or, as he was called, "Pewee" Rose, a stout and stocky boy of fourteen, who had just been caught out by another.
"I say, Greeny, how did you get so brown?" called out Will Riley, a rather large, loose-jointed fellow.
Of course, all the boys laughed at this. Boys will sometimes laugh at any one suffering torture, whether the victim be a persecuted cat or a persecuted boy. The new boy made no answer, but Joanna Merwin, who, just at that moment, happened to be scraping her shoes, saw that he grew red in the face with a quick flush of anger.
"Don't stand there, Greeny, or the cows'll eat you up!" called Riley, as he came round again to the base nearest to the school-house.
Why the boys should have been amused at this speech, the new scholar could not tell—the joke was neither new nor witty—only impudent and coarse. But the little boys about the door giggled.
"It's a pity something wouldn't eat you, Will Riley—you are good for nothing but to be mean." This sharp speech came from a rather tall and graceful girl of sixteen, who came up at the time, and who saw the annoyance of the new boy at Riley's insulting words. Of course the boys laughed again. It was rare sport to hear pretty Susan Lanham "take down" the impudent Riley.
"The bees will never eat you for honey, Susan," said Will.
Susan met the titter of the playground with a quick flush of temper and a fine look of scorn.
"Nothing would eat you, Will, unless, maybe, a turkey-buzzard, and a very hungry one at that."
This sharp retort was uttered with a merry laugh of ridicule, and a graceful toss of the head, as the mischievous girl passed into the school-house.
"That settles you, Will," said Pewee Rose. And Bob Holliday began singing, to a doleful tune:
"Poor old Pidy, She died last Friday."
Just then, the stern face of Mr. Ball, the master, appeared at the door; he rapped sharply with his ferule, and called: "Books, books, books!" The bats were dropped, and the boys and girls began streaming into the school, but some of the boys managed to nudge Riley, saying:
"Poor old creetur, The turkey-buzzards eat her,"
and such like soft and sweet speeches. Riley was vexed and angry, but nobody was afraid of him, for a boy may be both big and mean and yet lack courage.
The new boy did not go in at once, but stood silently and faced the inquiring looks of the procession of boys as they filed into the school-room with their faces flushed from the exercise and excitement of the games.
"I can thrash him easy," thought Pewee Rose.
"He isn't a fellow to back down easily," said Harvey Collins to his next neighbor.
Only good-natured, rough Bob Holliday stopped and spoke to the new-comer a friendly word. All that he said was "Hello!" But how much a boy can put into that word "Hello!" Bob put his whole heart into it, and there was no boy in the school that had a bigger heart, a bigger hand, or half so big a foot as Bob Holliday.
The village school-house was a long one built of red brick. It had taken the place of the old log institution in which one generation of Greenbank children had learned reading, writing, and Webster's spelling-book. There were long, continuous writing-tables down the sides of the room, with backless benches, so arranged that when the pupil was writing his face was turned toward the wall—there was a door at each end, and a box stove stood in the middle of the room, surrounded by a rectangle of four backless benches. These benches were for the little fellows who did not write, and for others when the cold should drive them nearer the stove.
The very worshipful master sat at the east end of the room, at one side of the door; there was a blackboard—a "newfangled notion" in 1850—at the other side of the door. Some of the older scholars, who could afford private desks with lids to them, suitable for concealing smuggled apples and maple-sugar, had places at the other end of the room from the master. This arrangement was convenient for quiet study, for talking on the fingers by signs, for munching apples or gingerbread, and for passing little notes between the boys and girls.
When the school had settled a little, the master struck a sharp blow on his desk for silence, and looked fiercely around the room, eager to find a culprit on whom to wreak his ill-humor. Mr. Ball was one of those old-fashioned teachers who gave the impression that he would rather beat a boy than not, and would even like to eat one, if he could find a good excuse. His eye lit upon the new scholar.
"Come here," he said, severely, and then he took his seat.
The new boy walked timidly up to a place in front of the master's desk. He was not handsome, his face was thin, his eyebrows were prominent, his mouth was rather large and good-humored, and there was that shy twinkle about the corners of his eyes which always marks a fun-loving spirit. But his was a serious, fine-grained face, with marks of suffering in it, and he had the air of having been once a strong fellow; of late, evidently, shaken to pieces by the ague.
"Where do you live?" demanded Mr. Ball.
"On Ferry Street."
"What do they call you?" This was said with a contemptuous, rasping inflection that irritated the new scholar. His eyes twinkled, partly with annoyance and partly with mischief.
"They call me Jack, for the most part,"—then catching the titter that came from the girls' side of the room, and frightened by the rising hurricane on the master's face, he added quickly: "My name is John Dudley, sir."
"Don't you try to show your smartness on me, young man. You are a new-comer, and I let you off this time. Answer me that way again, and you will remember it as long as you live." And the master glared at him like a savage bull about to toss somebody over a fence.
The new boy turned pale, and dropped his head.
"How old are you?" "Thirteen."
"Have you ever been to school?"
"Three months. Do you know how to read?"
"Yes, sir," with a smile.
"Can you cipher?" "Yes, sir."
"In multiplication?" "Yes, sir."
"Yes, sir; I've been half through fractions."
"You said you'd been to school but three months!" "My father taught me."
There was just a touch of pride in his voice as he said this—a sense of something superior about his father. This bit of pride angered the master, who liked to be thought to have a monopoly of all the knowledge in the town.
"Where have you been living?"
"In the Indian Reserve, of late; I was born in Cincinnati."
"I didn't ask you where you were born. When I ask you a question, answer that and no more."
"Yes, sir." There was a touch of something in the tone of this reply that amused the school, and that made the master look up quickly and suspiciously at Jack Dudley, but the expression on Jack's face was as innocent as that of a cat who has just lapped the cream off the milk.
Pewee Rose, whose proper name was Peter Rose, had also the nickname of King Pewee. He was about fourteen years old, square built and active, of great strength for his size, and very proud of the fact that no boy in town cared to attack him. He was not bad-tempered, but he loved to be master, and there were a set of flatterers who followed him, like jackals about a lion.
As often happens, Nature had built for King Pewee a very fine body, but had forgotten to give him any mind to speak of. In any kind of chaff or banter, at any sort of talk or play where a good head was worth more than a strong arm and a broad back, King Pewee was sure to have the worst of it. A very convenient partnership had therefore grown up between him and Will Riley. Riley had muscle enough, but Nature had made him mean-spirited. He had—not exactly wit—but a facility for using his tongue, which he found some difficulty in displaying, through fear of other boys' fists. By forming a friendship with Pewee Rose, the two managed to keep in fear the greater part of the school. Will's rough tongue, together with Pewee's rude fists, were enough to bully almost any boy. They let Harvey Collins alone, because he was older, and, keeping to himself, awed them by his dignity; good-natured Bob Holliday, also, was big enough to take care of himself. But the rest were all as much afraid of Pewee as they were of the master, and as Riley managed Pewee, it behooved them to be afraid of the prime minister, Riley, as well as of King Pewee.
From the first day that Jack Dudley entered the school, dressed in brown jeans, Will Riley marked him for a victim. The air of refinement about his face showed him to be a suitable person for teasing.
Riley called him "milksop," and "sap-head"; words which seemed to the dull intellect of King Pewee exceedingly witty. And as Pewee was Riley's defender, he felt as proud of these rude nicknames as he would had he invented them and taken out a patent.
But Riley's greatest stroke of wit came one morning when he caught Jack Dudley milking the cow. In the village of Greenbank, milking a cow was regarded as a woman's work; and foolish men and boys are like savages,—very much ashamed to be found doing a woman's work. Fools always think something else more disgraceful than idleness. So, having seen Jack milking, Riley came to school happy. He had an arrow to shoot that would give great delight to the small boys.
"Good-morning, milkmaid!" he said to Jack Dudley, as he entered the school-house before school. "You milk the cow at your house, do you? Where's your apron?"
"Oh-h! Milkmaid! milkmaid! That's a good one," chimed in Pewee Rose and all his set.
Jack changed color.
"Well, what if I do milk my mother's cow? I don't milk anybody's cow but ours, do I? Do you think I'm ashamed of it? I'd be ashamed not to. I can"—but he stopped a minute and blushed—"I can wash dishes, and make good pancakes, too. Now if you want to make fun, why, make fun. I don't care." But he did care, else why should his voice choke in that way?
"Oh, girl-boy; a pretty girl-boy you are—" but here Will Riley stopped and stammered. There right in front of him was the smiling face of Susan Lanham, with a look in it which made him suddenly remember something. Susan had heard all the conversation, and now she came around in front of Will, while all the other girls clustered about her with a vague expectation of sport.
"Come, Pewee, let's play ball," said Will.
"Ah, you're running away, now; you're afraid of a girl," said Susan, with a cutting little laugh, and a toss of her black curls over her shoulder.
Will had already started for the ball-ground, but at this taunt he turned back, thrust his hands into his pockets, put on a swagger, and stammered: "No, I'm not afraid of a girl, either."
"That's about all that he isn't afraid of," said Bob Holliday.
"Oh! you're not afraid of a girl?" said Susan. "What did you run away for, when you saw me? You know that Pewee won't fight a girl. You're afraid of anybody that Pewee can't whip."
"You've got an awful tongue, Susan. We'll call you Sassy Susan," said Will, laughing at his own joke.
"Oh, it isn't my tongue you're afraid of now. You know I can tell on you. I saw you drive your cow into the stable last week. You were ashamed to milk outside, but you looked all around——"
"I didn't do it. How could you see? It was dark," and Will giggled foolishly, seeing all at once that he had betrayed himself.
"It was nearly dark, but I happened to be where I could see. And as I was coming back, a few minutes after, I saw you come out with a pail of milk, and look around you like a sneak-thief. You saw me and hurried away. You are such a coward that you are ashamed to do a little honest work. Milkmaid! Girl-boy! Coward! And Pewee Rose lets you lead him around by the nose!"
"You'd better be careful what you say, Susan," said Pewee, threateningly.
"You won't touch me. You go about bullying little boys, and calling yourself King Pewee, but you can't do a sum in long division, nor in short subtraction, for that matter, and you let fellows like Riley make a fool of you. Your father's poor, and your mother can't keep a girl, and you ought to be ashamed to let her milk the cows. Who milked your cow this morning, Pewee?"
"I don't know," said the king, looking like the king's fool.
"You did it," said Susan. "Don't deny it. Then you come here and call a strange boy a milkmaid!"
"Well, I didn't milk in the street, anyway, and he did." At this, all laughed aloud, and Susan's victory was complete. She only said, with a pretty toss of her head, as she turned away: "King Milkmaid!"
Pewee found the nickname likely to stick. He was obliged to declare on the playground the next day, that he would "thrash" any boy that said anything about milkmaids. After that, he heard no more of it. But one morning he found "King Milkmaid" written on the door of his father's cow-stable. Some boy who dared not attack Pewee, had vented his irritation by writing the hateful words on the stable, and on the fence-corners near the school-house, and even on the blackboard.
Pewee could not fight with Susan Lanham, but he made up his mind to punish the new scholar when he should have a chance. He must give somebody a beating.
It is hard for one boy to make a fight. Even your bully does not like to "pitch on" an inoffensive school-mate. You remember AEsop's fable of the wolf and the lamb, and what pains the wolf took to pick a quarrel with the lamb. It was a little hard for Pewee to fight with a boy who walked quietly to and from the school, without giving anybody cause for offence.
But the chief reason why Pewee did not attack him with his fists was that both he and Riley had found out that Jack Dudley could help them over a hard place in their lessons better than anybody else. And notwithstanding their continual persecution of Jack, they were mean enough to ask his assistance, and he, hoping to bring about peace by good-nature, helped them to get out their geography and arithmetic almost every day. Unable to appreciate this, they were both convinced that Jack only did it because he was afraid of them, and as they found it rare sport to abuse him, they kept it up. By their influence Jack was shut out of the plays. A greenhorn would spoil the game, they said. What did a boy that had lived on Wildcat Creek, in the Indian Reserve, know about playing bull-pen, or prisoner's base, or shinny? If he was brought in, they would go out.
But the girls, and the small boys, and good-hearted Bob Holliday liked Jack's company very much. Yet, Jack was a boy, and he often longed to play games with the others. He felt very sure that he could dodge and run in "bull-pen" as well as any of them. He was very tired of Riley's continual ridicule, which grew worse as Riley saw in him a rival in influence with the smaller boys.
"Catch Will alone sometimes," said Bob Holliday, "when Pewee isn't with him, and then thrash him. He'll back right down if you bristle up to him. If Pewee makes a fuss about it, I'll look after Pewee. I'm bigger than he is, and he won't fight with me. What do you say?"
"I shan't fight unless I have to."
"Afraid?" asked Bob, laughing.
"It isn't that. I don't think I'm much afraid, although I don't like to be pounded or to pound anybody. I think I'd rather be whipped than to be made fun of, though. But my father used to say that people who fight generally do so because they are afraid of somebody else, more than they are of the one they fight with."
"I believe that's a fact," said Bob. "But Riley aches for a good thrashing."
"I know that, and I feel like giving him one, or taking one myself, and I think I shall fight him before I've done. But father used to say that fists could never settle between right and wrong. They only show which is the stronger, and it is generally the mean one that gets the best of it."
"That's as sure as shootin'," said Bob. "Pewee could use you up. Pewee thinks he's the king, but laws! he's only Riley's bull-dog. Riley is afraid of him, but he manages to keep the dog on his side all the time."
"My father used to say," said Jack, "that brutes could fight with force, but men ought to use their wits."
"You seem to think a good deal of what your father says,—like it was your Bible, you know."
"My father's dead," replied Jack.
"Oh, that's why. Boys don't always pay attention to what their father says when he's alive."
"Oh, but then my father was—" Here Jack checked himself, for fear of seeming to boast. "You see," he went on, "my father knew a great deal. He was so busy with his books that he lost 'most all his money, and then we moved to the Indian Reserve, and there he took the fever and died; and then we came down here, where we owned a house, so that I could go to school."
"Why don't you give Will Riley as good as he sends?" said Bob, wishing to get away from melancholy subjects. "You have got as good a tongue as his."
"I haven't his stock of bad words, though."
"You've got a power of fun in you, though,—you keep everybody laughing when you want to, and if you'd only turn the pumps on him once, he'd howl like a yellow dog that's had a quart o' hot suds poured over him out of a neighbor's window. Use your wits, like your father said. You've lived in the woods till you're as shy as a flying-squirrel. All you've got to do is to talk up and take it rough and tumble, like the rest of the world. Riley can't bear to be laughed at, and you can make him ridiculous as easy as not."
The next day, at the noon recess, about the time that Jack had finished helping Bob Holliday to find some places on the map, there came up a little shower, and the boys took refuge in the school-house. They must have some amusement, so Riley began his old abuse.
"Well, greenhorn from the Wildcat, where's the black sheep you stole that suit of clothes from?"
"I hear him bleat now," said Jack,—"about the blackest sheep I have ever seen."
"You've heard the truth for once, Riley," said Bob Holliday.
Riley, who was as vain as a peacock, was very much mortified by the shout of applause with which this little retort of Jack's was greeted. It was not a case in which he could call in King Pewee. The king, for his part, shut up his fists and looked silly, while Jack took courage to keep up the battle.
But Riley tried again.
"I say, Wildcat, you think you're smart, but you're a double-distilled idiot, and haven't got brains enough to be sensible of your misery."
This kind of outburst on Riley's part always brought a laugh from the school. But before the laugh had died down, Jack Dudley took the word, saying, in a dry and quizzical way:
"Don't you try to claim kin with me that way, Riley. No use; I won't stand it. I don't belong to your family. I'm neither a fool nor a coward."
"Hurrah!" shouted Bob Holliday, bringing down first one and then the other of his big feet on the floor. "It's your put-in now, Riley."
"Don't be backward in coming forward, Will, as the Irish priest said to his people," came from grave Harvey Collins, who here looked up from his book, thoroughly enjoying the bully's discomfiture.
"That's awfully good," said Joanna Merwin, clasping her hands and giggling with delight.
King Pewee doubled up his fists and looked at Riley to see if he ought to try his sort of wit on Jack. If a frog, being pelted to death by cruel boys, should turn and pelt them again, they could not be more surprised than were Riley and King Pewee at Jack's repartees.
"You'd better be careful what you say to Will Riley," said Pewee. "I stand by him."
But Jack's blood was up now, and he was not to be scared.
"All the more shame to him," said Jack. "Look at me, shaken all to pieces with the fever and ague on the Wildcat, and look at that great big, bony coward of a Riley. I've done him no harm, but he wants to abuse me, and he's afraid of me. He daren't touch me. He has to coax you to stand by him, to protect him from poor little me. He's a great big——"
"Calf," broke in Bob Holliday, with a laugh.
"You'd better be careful," said Pewee to Jack, rising to his feet. "I stand by Riley."
"Will you defend him if I hit him?"
"Well, then, I won't hit him. But you don't mean that he is to abuse me, while I am not allowed to answer back a word?"
"Well—" said Pewee hesitatingly.
"Well," said Bob Holliday hotly, "I say that Jack has just as good a right to talk with his tongue as Riley. Stand by Riley if he's hit, Pewee; he needs it. But don't you try to shut up Jack." And Bob got up and put his broad hand on Jack's shoulder. Nobody had ever seen the big fellow angry before, and the excitement was very great. The girls clapped their hands.
"Good for you, Bob, I say," came from Susan Lanham, and poor, ungainly Bob blushed to his hair to find himself the hero of the girls.
"I don't mean to shut up Jack," said Pewee, looking at Bob's size, "but I stand by Riley."
"Well, do your standing sitting down, then," said Susan. "I'll get a milking-stool for you, if that'll keep you quiet."
It was well that the master came in just then, or Pewee would have had to fight somebody or burst.
LITTLE CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS
Jack's life in school was much more endurable now that he had a friend in Bob Holliday. Bob had spent his time in hard work and in rough surroundings, but he had a gentleman's soul, although his manners and speech were rude. More and more Jack found himself drawn to him. Harvey Collins asked Jack to walk down to the river-bank with him at recess. Both Harvey and Bob soon liked Jack, who found himself no longer lonely. The girls also sought his advice about their lessons, and the younger boys were inclined to come over to his side.
As winter came on, country boys, anxious to learn something about "reading, writing, and ciphering," came into the school. Each of these new-comers had to go through a certain amount of teasing from Riley and of bullying from Pewee.
One frosty morning in December there appeared among the new scholars a strange little fellow, with a large head, long straight hair, an emaciated body, and legs that looked like reeds, they were so slender. His clothes were worn and patched, and he had the look of having been frost-bitten. He could not have been more than ten years old, to judge by his size, but there was a look of premature oldness in his face.
"Come here!" said the master, when he caught sight of him. "What is your name?" And Mr. Ball took out his book to register the new-comer, with much the same relish that the Giant Despair showed when he had bagged a fresh pilgrim.
"Columbus Risdale." The new-comer spoke in a shrill, piping voice, as strange as his weird face and withered body.
"Is that your full name?" asked the master.
"No, sir," piped the strange little creature.
"Give your full name," said Mr. Ball, sternly.
"My name is Christopher Columbus George Washington Marquis de Lafayette Risdale." The poor lad was the victim of that mania which some people have for "naming after" great men. His little shrunken body and high, piping voice made his name seem so incongruous that all the school tittered, and many laughed outright. But the dignified and eccentric little fellow did not observe it.
"Can you read?"
"Yes, sir," squeaked the lad, more shrilly than ever.
"Umph," said the master, with a look of doubt on his face. "In the first reader?"
"No, sir; in the fourth reader."
Even the master could not conceal his look of astonishment at this claim. At that day, the fourth reader class was the highest in the school, and contained only the largest scholars. The school laughed at the bare notion of little Christopher Columbus reading in the fourth reader, and the little fellow looked around the room, puzzled to guess the cause of the merriment.
"We'll try you," said the master, with suspicion. When the fourth-reader class was called, and Harvey Collins and Susie Lanham and some others of the nearly grown-up pupils came forward, with Jack Dudley as quite the youngest of the class, the great-eyed, emaciated little Columbus Risdale picked himself up on his pipe-stems and took his place at the end of this row.
It was too funny for anything!
Will Riley and Pewee and other large scholars, who were yet reading in that old McGuffey's Third Reader, which had a solitary picture of Bonaparte crossing the Alps, looked with no kindly eyes on this preposterous infant in the class ahead of them.
The piece to be read was the poem of Mrs. Hemans's called "The Better Land." Poems like this one are rather out of fashion nowadays, and people are inclined to laugh a little at Mrs. Hemans. But thirty years ago her religious and sentimental poetry was greatly esteemed. This one presented no difficulty to the readers. In that day, little or no attention was paid to inflection—the main endeavor being to pronounce the words without hesitation or slip, and to "mind the stops." Each one of the class read a stanza ending with a line:
"Not there, not there, my child!"
The poem was exhausted before all had read, so that it was necessary to begin over again in order to give each one his turn. All waited to hear the little Columbus read. When it came his turn, the school was as still as death. The master, wishing to test him, told him, with something like a sneer, that he could read three stanzas, or "verses," as Mr. Ball called them.
The little chap squared his toes, threw his head back, and more fluently even than the rest, he read, in his shrill, eager voice, the remaining lines, winding up each stanza in a condescending tone, as he read:
"Not there, not there, my child!"
The effect of this from the hundred-year-old baby was so striking and so ludicrous that everybody was amused, while all were surprised at the excellence of his reading. The master proceeded, however, to whip one or two of the boys for laughing.
When recess-time arrived, Susan Lanham came to Jack with a request.
"I wish you'd look after little Lummy Risdale. He's a sort of cousin of my mother's. He is as innocent and helpless as the babes in the wood."
"I'll take care of him," said Jack.
So he took the little fellow walking away from the school-house; Will Riley and some of the others calling after them: "Not there, not there, my child!"
But Columbus did not lay their taunts to heart. He was soon busy talking to Jack about things in the country, and things in town. On their return, Riley, crying out: "Not there, my child!" threw a snow-ball from a distance of ten feet and struck the poor little Christopher Columbus George Washington Lafayette so severe a blow as to throw him off his feet. Quick as a flash, Jack charged on Riley, and sent a snow-ball into his face. An instant later he tripped him with his foot and rolled the big, scared fellow into the snow and washed his face well, leaving half a snow-bank down his back.
"What makes you so savage?" whined Riley. "I didn't snow-ball you." And Riley looked around for Pewee, who was on the other side of the school-house, and out of sight of the scuffle.
"No, you daren't snow-ball me," said Jack, squeezing another ball and throwing it into Riley's shirt-front with a certainty of aim that showed that he knew how to play ball. "Take that one, too, and if you bother Lum Risdale again, I'll make you pay for it. Take a boy of your size." And with that he moulded yet another ball, but Riley retreated to the other side of the school-house.
WHILING AWAY TIME
Excluded from the plays of the older fellows, Jack drew around him a circle of small boys, who were always glad to be amused with the stories of hunting, fishing, and frontier adventure that he had heard from old pioneers on Wildcat Creek. Sometimes he played "tee-tah-toe, three in a row," with the girls, using a slate and pencil in a way well known to all school-children. And he also showed them a better kind of "tee-tah-toe," learned on the Wildcat, and which may have been in the first place an Indian game, as it is played with grains of Indian corn. A piece of board is grooved with a jack-knife in the manner shown in the diagram.
One player has three red or yellow grains of corn, and the other an equal number of white ones. The player who won the last game has the "go"—that is, he first puts down a grain of corn at any place where the lines intersect, but usually in the middle, as that is the best point. Then the other player puts down one, and so on until all are down. After this, the players move alternately along any of the lines, in any direction, to the next intersection, provided it is not already occupied. The one who first succeeds in getting his three grains in a row wins the point, and the board is cleared for a new start. As there are always three vacant points, and as the rows may be formed in any direction along any of the lines, the game gives a chance for more variety of combinations than one would expect from its appearance.
Jack had also an arithmetical puzzle which he had learned from his father, and which many of the readers of this story will know, perhaps.
"Set down any number, without letting me know what it is," said he to Joanna Merwin.
She set down a number.
"Now add twelve and multiply by two."
"Well, that is done," said Joanna.
"Divide by four, subtract half of the number first set down, and your answer will be six."
"Oh, but how did you know that I put down sixty-four?" said Joanna.
"I didn't," said Jack.
"How could you tell the answer, then?"
"That's for you to find out."
This puzzle excited a great deal of curiosity. To add to the wonder of the scholars, Jack gave each time a different number to be added in, and sometimes he varied the multiplying and dividing. Harvey Collins, who was of a studious turn, puzzled over it a long time, and at last he found it out; but he did not tell the secret. He contented himself with giving out a number to Jack and telling his result. To the rest it was quite miraculous, and Riley turned green with jealousy when he found the girls and boys refusing to listen to his jokes, but gathering about Jack to test his ability to "guess the answer," as they phrased it. Riley said he knew how it was done, and he was even foolish enough to try to do it, by watching the slate-pencil, or by sheer guessing, but this only brought him into ridicule.
"Try me once," said the little C. C. G. W. M. de L. Risdale, and Jack let Columbus set down a figure and carry it through the various processes until he told him the result. Lummy grew excited, pushed his thin hands up into his hair, looked at his slate a minute, and then squeaked out:
"Oh—let me see—yes—no—yes—Oh, I see! Your answer is just half the amount added in, because you have——"
But here Jack placed his hand over Columbus's mouth.
"You can see through a pine door, Lummy, but you mustn't let out my secret," he said.
But Jack had a boy's heart in him, and he longed for some more boy-like amusement.
One morning, when Jack proposed to play a game of ball with the boys, Riley and Pewee came up and entered the game, and objected.
"It isn't interesting to play with greenhorns," said Will. "If Jack plays, little Christopher Columbus Andsoforth will want to play, too; and then there'll be two babies to teach. I can't be always helping babies. Let Jack play two-hole cat or Anthony-over with the little fellows." To which answer Pewee assented, of course.
That day at noon Riley came to Jack, with a most gentle tone and winning manner, and whiningly begged Jack to show him how to divide 770 by 14.
"It isn't interesting to show greenhorns," said Jack, mimicking Riley's tone on the playground that morning. "If I show you, Pewee Rose will want me to show him; then there'll be two babies to teach. I can't be always helping babies. Go and play two-hole cat with the First-Reader boys."
That afternoon, Mr. Ball had the satisfaction of using his new beech switches on both Riley and Pewee, though indeed Pewee did not deserve to be punished for not getting his lesson. It was Nature's doing that his head, like a goat's, was made for butting and not for thinking.
But if he had to take whippings from the master and his father, he made it a rule to get satisfaction out of somebody else. If Jack had helped him he wouldn't have missed. If he had not missed his lesson badly, Mr. Ball would not have whipped him. It would be inconvenient to whip Mr. Ball in return, but Jack would be easy to manage, and as somebody must be whipped, it fell to Jack's lot to take it.
King Pewee did not fall upon his victim at the school-house door; this would have insured him another beating from the master. Nor did he attack Jack while Bob Holliday was with him. Bob was big and strong—a great fellow of sixteen. But after Jack had passed the gate of Bob's house, and was walking on toward home alone, Pewee came out from behind an alley fence, accompanied by Ben Berry and Will Riley.
"I'm going to settle with you now," said King Pewee, sidling up to Jack like an angry bull-dog.
It was not a bright prospect for Jack, and he cast about him for a chance to escape a brutal encounter with such a bully, and yet avoid actually running away.
"Well," said Jack, "if I must fight, I must. But I suppose you won't let Riley and Berry help you."
"No, I'll fight fair." And Pewee threw off his coat, while Jack did the same.
"You'll quit when I say 'enough,' won't you?" said Jack.
"Yes, I'll fight fair, and hold up when you've got enough."
"Well, then, for that matter, I've got enough now. I'll take the will for the deed and just say 'enough' before you begin," and he turned to pick up his coat.
"No, you don't get off that way," said Pewee. "You've got to stand up and see who is the best man, or I'll kick you all the way home."
"Didn't you ever hear about Davy Crockett's 'coon?" said Jack. "When the 'coon saw him taking aim, it said: 'Is that you, Crockett? Well, don't fire—I'll come down anyway. I know you'll hit anything you shoot at.' Now, I'm that 'coon. If it was anybody but you, I'd fight. But as it's you, Pewee, I might just as well come down before you begin."
Pewee was flattered by this way of putting the question. Had he been alone, Jack would have escaped. But Will Riley, remembering all he had endured from Jack's retorts, said:
"Oh, give it to him, Pewee; he's always making trouble."
At which Pewee squared himself off, doubled up his fists, and came at the slenderer Jack. The latter prepared to meet him, but, after all, it was hard for Pewee to beat so good-humored a fellow as Jack. The king's heart failed him, and suddenly he backed off, saying:
"If you'll agree to help Riley and me out with our lessons hereafter, I'll let you off. If you don't, I'll thrash you within an inch of your life." And Pewee stood ready to begin.
Jack wanted to escape the merciless beating that Pewee had in store for him. But it was quite impossible for him to submit under a threat. So he answered:
"If you and Riley will treat me as you ought to, I'll help you when you ask me, as I always have. But even if you pound me into jelly I won't agree to help you, unless you treat me right. I won't be bullied into helping you."
"Give it to him, Pewee," said Ben Berry; "he's too sassy."
Pewee was a rather good-natured dog—he had to be set on. He now began to strike at Jack. Whether he was to be killed or not, Jack did not know, but he was resolved not to submit to the bully. Yet he could not do much at defence against Pewee's hard fists. However, Jack was active and had long limbs; he soon saw that he must do something more than stand up to be beaten. So, when King Pewee, fighting in the irregular Western fashion, and hoping to get a decided advantage at once, rushed upon Jack and pulled his head forward, Jack stooped lower than his enemy expected, and, thrusting his head between Pewee's knees, shoved his legs from under him, and by using all his strength threw Pewee over his own back, so that the king's nose and eyes fell into the dust of the village street.
"I'll pay you for that," growled Pewee, as he recovered himself, now thoroughly infuriated; and with a single blow he sent Jack flat on his back, and then proceeded to pound him. Jack could do nothing now but shelter his eyes from Pewee's blows.
Joanna Merwin had seen the beginning of the battle from her father's house, and feeling sure that Jack would be killed, she had run swiftly down the garden walk to the back gate, through which she slipped into the alley; and then she hurried on, as fast as her feet would carry her, to the blacksmith-shop of Pewee Rose's father.
"Oh, please, Mr. Rose, come quick! Pewee's just killing a boy in the street."
"Vitin' ag'in," said Mr. Rose, who was a Pennsylvanian from the limestone country, and spoke English with difficulty. "He ees a leetle ruffen, dat poy. I'll see apout him right avay a'ready, may be."
And without waiting to put off his leathern apron, he walked briskly in the direction indicated by Joanna. Pewee was hammering Jack without pity, when suddenly he was caught by the collar and lifted sharply to his feet.
"Wot you doin' down dare in de dirt wunst a'ready? Hey?" said Mr. Rose, as he shook his son with the full force of his right arm, and cuffed him with his left hand. "Didn't I dells you I'd gill you some day if you didn't gwit vitin' mit oder poys, a'ready?"
"He commenced it," whimpered Pewee.
"You dells a pig lie a'ready, I beleefs, Peter, and I'll whip you fur lyin' besides wunst more. Fellers like him," pointing to Jack, who was brushing the dust off his clothes,—"fellers like him don't gommence on such a poy as you. You're such anoder viter I never seed." And he shook Pewee savagely.
"I won't do it no more," begged Pewee—"'pon my word and honor I won't."
"Oh, you don't gits off dat away no more, a'ready. You know what I'll giff you when I git you home, you leedle ruffen. I shows you how to vite, a'ready."
And the king disappeared down the street, begging like a spaniel, and vowing that he "wouldn't do it no more." But he got a severe whipping, I fear;—it is doubtful if such beatings ever do any good. The next morning Jack appeared at school with a black eye, and Pewee had some scratches, so the master whipped them both for fighting.
HAT-BALL AND BULL-PEN
Pewee did not renew the quarrel with Jack—perhaps from fear of the rawhide that hung in the blacksmith's shop, or of the master's ox-goad, or of Bob Holliday's fists, or perhaps from a hope of conciliating Jack and getting occasional help in his lessons. Jack was still excluded from the favorite game of "bull-pen." I am not sure that he would have been rejected had he asked for admission, but he did not want to risk another refusal. He planned a less direct way of getting into the game. Asking his mother for a worn-out stocking, and procuring an old boot-top, he ravelled the stocking, winding the yarn into a ball of medium hardness. Then he cut from the boot-top a square of leather large enough for his purpose. This he laid on the kitchen-table, and proceeded to mark off and cut it into the shape of an orange-peel that has been quartered off the orange, leaving the four quarters joined together at the middle. This leather he put to soak over night. The next morning, bright and early, with a big needle and some strong thread he sewed it around his yarn-ball, stretching the wet leather to its utmost, so that when it should contract the ball should be firm and hard, and the leather well moulded to it. Such a ball is far better for all play in which the player is to be hit than those sold in the stores nowadays. I have described the manufacture of the old-fashioned home-made ball, because there are some boys, especially in the towns, who have lost the art of making yarn balls.
When Jack had finished his ball, he let it dry, while he ate his breakfast and did his chores. Then he sallied out and found Bob Holliday, and showed him the result of his work. Bob squeezed it, felt its weight, bounced it against a wall, tossed it high in the air, caught it, and then bounced it on the ground. Having thus "put it through its paces," he pronounced it an excellent ball,—"a good deal better than Ben Berry's ball. But what are you going to do with it?" he asked. "Play Anthony-over? The little boys can play that."
I suppose there are boys in these days who do not know what "Anthony-over" is. How, indeed, can anybody play Anthony-over in a crowded city?
The old one-story village school-houses stood generally in an open green. The boys divided into two parties, the one going on one side, and the other on the opposite side of the school-house. The party that had the ball would shout "Anthony!" The others responded, "Over!" To this, answer was made from the first party, "Over she comes!" and the ball was immediately thrown over the school-house. If any of the second party caught it, they rushed, pell-mell, around both ends of the school-house to the other side, and that one of them who held the ball essayed to hit some one of the opposite party before they could exchange sides. If a boy was hit by the ball thus thrown he was counted as captured to the opposite party, and he gave all his efforts to beat his old allies. So the game went on, until all the players of one side were captured by the others. I don't know what Anthony means in this game, but no doubt the game is hundreds of years old, and was played in English villages before the first colony came to Jamestown.
"I'm not going to play Anthony-over," said Jack. "I'm going to show King Pewee a new trick."
"You can't get up a game of bull-pen on your own hook, and play the four corners and the ring all by yourself."
"No, I don't mean that. I'm going to show the boys how to play hat-ball—a game they used to play on the Wildcat."
"I see your point. You are going to make Pewee ask you to let him in," said Bob, and the two boys set out for school together, Jack explaining the game to Bob. They found one or two boys already there, and when Jack showed his new ball and proposed a new game, they fell in with it.
The boys stood their hats in a row on the grass. The one with the ball stood over the row of hats, and swung his hand to and fro above them, while the boys stood by him, prepared to run as soon as the ball should drop into a hat. The boy who held the ball, after one or two false motions,—now toward this hat, and now toward that one,—would drop the ball into Somebody's hat. Somebody would rush to his hat, seize the ball, and throw it at one of the other boys, who were fleeing in all directions. If he hit Somebody-Else, Somebody-Else might throw from where the ball lay, or from the hats, at the rest, and so on, until some one missed. The one who missed took up his hat and left the play, and the boy who picked up the ball proceeded to drop it into a hat, and the game went on until all but one were put out.
Hat-ball is so simple that any number can play at it, and Jack's friends found it so full of boisterous fun, that every new-comer wished to set down his hat. And thus, by the time Pewee and Riley arrived, half the larger boys in the school were in the game, and there were not enough left to make a good game of bull-pen.
At noon, the new game drew the attention of the boys again, and Riley and Pewee tried in vain to coax them away.
"Oh, I say, come on, fellows!" Riley would say. "Come—let's play something worth playing."
But the boys stayed by the new game and the new ball. Neither Riley, nor Pewee, nor Ben Berry liked to ask to be let into the game, after what had passed. Not one of them had spoken to Jack since the battle between him and Pewee, and they didn't care to play with Jack's ball in a game of his starting.
Once the other boys had broken away from Pewee's domination, they were pleased to feel themselves free. As for Pewee and his friends, they climbed up on a fence, and sat like three crows, watching the play of the others. After a while they got down in disgust, and went off, not knowing just what to do. When once they were out of sight, Jack winked at Bob, who said:
"I say, boys, we can play hat-ball at recess when there isn't time for bull-pen. Let's have a game of bull-pen now, before school takes up."
It was done in a minute. Bob Holliday and Tom Taylor "chose up sides," the bases were all ready, and by the time Pewee and his aides-de-camp had walked disconsolately to the pond and back, the boys were engaged in a good game of bull-pen.
Perhaps I ought to say something about the principles of a game so little known over the country at large. I have never seen it played anywhere but in a narrow bit of country on the Ohio River, and yet there is no merrier game played with a ball.
The ball must not be too hard. There should be four or more corners. The space inside is called the pen, and the party winning the last game always has the corners. The ball is tossed from one corner to another, and when it has gone around once, any boy on a corner may, immediately after catching the ball thrown to him from any of the four corners, throw it at any one in the pen. He must throw while "the ball is hot,"—that is, instantly on catching it. If he fails to hit anybody on the other side, he goes out. If he hits, his side leave the corners and run as they please, for the boy who has been hit may throw from where the ball fell, or from any corner, at any one of the side holding the corners. If one of them is hit, he has the same privilege; but now the men in the pen are allowed to scatter, also. Whoever misses is "out," and the play is resumed from the corners until all of one side is out. When but two are left on the corners the ball is smuggled,—that is, one hides the ball in his bosom, and the other pretends that he has it also. The boys in the ring do not know which has it, and the two "run the corners," throwing from any corner. If but one is left on the corners, he is allowed, also, to run from corner to corner.
It happened that Jack's side lost on the toss-up for corners, and he got into the ring, where his play showed better than it would have done on the corners. As Jack was the greenhorn and the last chosen on his side, the players on the corners expected to make light work of him; but he was an adroit dodger, and he put out three of the boys on the corners by his unexpected way of evading a ball. Everybody who has ever played this fine old game knows that expertness in dodging is worth quite as much as skill in throwing. Pewee was a famous hand with a ball, Riley could dodge well, Ben Berry had a happy knack of dropping flat upon the ground and letting a ball pass over him, Bob Holliday could run well in a counter charge; but nothing could be more effective than Jack Dudley's quiet way of stepping forward or backward, bending his lithe body or spreading his legs to let the ball pass, according to the course which it took from the player's hand.
King Pewee and company came back in time to see Jack dodge three balls thrown point-blank at him from a distance of fifteen feet. It was like witchcraft—he seemed to be charmed. Every dodge was greeted with a shout, and when once he luckily caught the ball thrown at him, and thus put out the thrower, there was no end of admiration of his playing. It was now evident to all that Jack could no longer be excluded from the game, and that, next to Pewee himself, he was already the best player on the ground.
At recess that afternoon Pewee set his hat down in the hat-ball row, and as Jack did not object, Riley and Ben Berry did the same. The next day Pewee chose Jack first in bull-pen, and the game was well played.
If Jack had not about this time undertaken the defence of the little boy in the Fourth Reader, whose name was large enough to cover the principal points in the history of the New World, he might have had peace, for Jack was no longer one of the newest scholars, his courage was respected by Pewee, and he kept poor Riley in continual fear of his ridicule—making him smart every day. But, just when he might have had a little peace and happiness, he became the defender of Christopher Columbus George Washington Marquis de la Fayette Risdale—little "Andsoforth," as Riley and the other boys had nicknamed him.
The strange, pinched little body of the boy, his eccentric ways, his quickness in learning, and his infantile simplicity had all conspired to win the affection of Jack, so that he would have protected him even without the solicitation of Susan Lanham. But since Susan had been Jack's own first and fast friend, he felt in honor bound to run all risks in the care of her strange little cousin.
I think that Columbus's child-like ways might have protected him even from Riley and his set, if it had not been that he was related to Susan Lanham, and under her protection. It was the only chance for Riley to revenge himself on Susan. She was more than a match for him in wit, and she was not a proper subject for Pewee's fists. So with that heartlessness which belongs to the school-boy bully, he resolved to torment the helpless fellow in revenge for Susan's sarcasms.
One morning, smarting under some recent taunt of Susan's, Riley caught little Columbus almost alone in the school-room. Here was a boy who certainly would not be likely to strike back again. His bamboo legs, his spindling arms, his pale face, his contracted chest, all gave the coward a perfect assurance of safety. So, with a rude pretence at play, laughing all the time, he caught the lad by the throat, and in spite of his weird dignity and pleading gentleness, shoved him back against the wall behind the master's empty chair. Holding him here a minute in suspense, he began slapping him, first on this side of the face and then on that. The pale cheeks burned red with pain and fright, but Columbus did not cry out, though the constantly increasing sharpness of the blows, and the sense of weakness, degradation, and terror, stung him severely. Riley thought it funny. Like a cat playing with a condemned mouse, the cruel fellow actually enjoyed finding one person weak enough to be afraid of him.
Columbus twisted about in a vain endeavor to escape from Riley's clutches, getting only a sharper cuff for his pains. Ben Berry, arriving presently, enjoyed the sport, while some of the smaller boys and girls, coming in, looked on the scene of torture in helpless pity. And ever, as more and more of the scholars gathered, Columbus felt more and more mortified; the tears were in his great sad eyes, but he made no sound of crying or complaint.
Jack Dudley came in at last, and marched straight up to Riley, who let go his hold and backed off. "You mean, cowardly, pitiful villain!" broke out Jack, advancing on him.
"I didn't do anything to you," whined Riley, backing into a corner.
"No, but I mean to do something to you. If there's an inch of man in you, come right on and fight with me. You daren't do it."
"I don't want any quarrel with you."
"No, you quarrel with babies."
Here all the boys and girls jeered.
"You're too hard on a fellow, Jack," whined the scared Riley, slipping out of the corner and continuing to back down the school-room, while Jack kept slowly following him.
"You're a great deal bigger than I am," said Jack. "Why don't you try to corner me? Oh, I could just beat the breath out of you, you great, big, good-for-nothing——"
Here Riley pulled the west door open, and Jack, at the same moment, struck him. Riley half dropped, half fell, through the door-way, scared so badly that he went sprawling on the ground.
The boys shouted "coward" and "baby" after him as he sneaked off, but Jack went back to comfort Columbus and to get control of his temper. For it is not wise, as Jack soon reflected, even in a good cause to lose your self-control.
"It was good of you to interfere," said Susan, when she had come in and learned all about it.
"I should have been a brute if I hadn't," said Jack, pleased none the less with her praise. "But it doesn't take any courage to back Riley out of a school-house. One could get more fight out of a yearling calf. I suppose I've got to take a beating from Pewee, though."
"Go and see him about it, before Riley talks to him," suggested Susan. And Jack saw the prudence of this course. As he left the school-house at a rapid pace, Ben Berry told Riley, who was skulking behind a fence, that Jack was afraid of Pewee.
"Pewee," said Jack, when he met him starting to school, after having done his "chores," including the milking of his cow,—"Pewee, I want to say something to you."
Jack's tone and manner flattered Pewee. One thing that keeps a rowdy a rowdy is the thought that better people despise him. Pewee felt in his heart that Jack had a contempt for him, and this it was that made him hate Jack in turn. But now that the latter sought him in a friendly way, he felt himself lifted up into a dignity hitherto unknown to him. "What is it?"
"You are a kind of king among the boys," said Jack. Pewee grew an inch taller.
"They are all afraid of you. Now, why don't you make us fellows behave? You ought to protect the little boys from fellows that impose on them. Then you'd be a king worth the having. All the boys and girls would like you."
"I s'pose may be that's so," said the king.
"There's poor little Columbus Risdale——"
"I don't like him," said Pewee.
"You mean you don't like Susan. She is a little sharp with her tongue. But you wouldn't fight with a baby—it isn't like you."
"No, sir-ee," said Pewee.
"You'd rather take a big boy than a little one. Now, you ought to make Riley let Lummy alone."
"I'll do that," said Pewee. "Riley's about a million times bigger than Lum."
"I went to the school-house this morning," continued Jack, "and I found Riley choking and beating him. And I thought I'd just speak to you, and see if you can't make him stop it."
"I'll do that," said Pewee, walking along with great dignity.
When Ben Berry and Riley saw Pewee coming in company with Jack, they were amazed and hung their heads, afraid to say anything even to each other. Jack and Pewee walked straight up to the fence-corner in which they stood.
"I thought I'd see what King Pewee would say about your fighting with babies, Riley," said Jack.
"I want you fellows to understand," said Pewee, "that I'm not going to have that little Lum Risdale hurt. If you want to fight, why don't you fight somebody your own size? I don't fight babies myself," and here Pewee drew his head up, "and I don't stand by any boy that does."
Poor Riley felt the last support drop from under him. Pewee had deserted him, and he was now an orphan, unprotected in an unfriendly world!
Jack knew that the truce with so vain a fellow as Pewee could not last long, but it served its purpose for the time. And when, after school, Susan Lanham took pains to go and thank Pewee for standing up for Columbus, Pewee felt himself every inch a king, and for the time he was—if not a "reformed prize-fighter," such as one hears of sometimes, at least an improved boy. The trouble with vain people like Pewee is, that they have no stability. They bend the way the wind blows, and for the most part the wind blows from the wrong quarter.
Happy boys and girls that go to school nowadays! You have to study harder than the generations before you, it is true; you miss the jolly spelling-schools, and the good old games that were not half so scientific as base-ball, lawn tennis, or lacrosse, but that had ten times more fun and frolic in them; but all this is made up to you by the fact that you escape the tyrannical old master. Whatever the faults the teachers of this day may have, they do not generally lacerate the backs of their pupils, as did some of their fore-runners.
At the time of which I write, thirty years ago, a better race of school-masters was crowding out the old, but many of the latter class, with their terrible switches and cruel beatings, kept their ground until they died off one by one, and relieved the world of their odious ways.
Mr. Ball wouldn't die to please anybody. He was a bachelor, and had no liking for children, but taught school five or six months in winter to avoid having to work on a farm in the summer. He had taught in Greenbank every winter for a quarter of a century, and having never learned to win anybody's affection, had been obliged to teach those who disliked him. This atmosphere of mutual dislike will sour the sweetest temper, and Mr. Ball's temper had not been strained honey to begin with. Year by year he grew more and more severe—he whipped for poor lessons, he whipped for speaking in school, he took down his switch for not speaking loud enough in class, he whipped for coming late to school, he whipped because a scholar made a noise with his feet, and he whipped because he himself had eaten something unwholesome for his breakfast. The brutality of a master produces like qualities in scholars. The boys drew caricatures on the blackboard, put living cats or dead ones into Mr. Ball's desk, and tried to drive him wild by their many devices.
He would walk up and down the school-room seeking a victim, and he had as much pleasure in beating a girl or a little boy as in punishing an overgrown fellow.
And yet I cannot say that Mr. Ball was impartial. There were some pupils that escaped. Susan Lanham was not punished, because her father, Dr. Lanham, was a very influential man in the town; and the faults of Henry Weathervane and his sister were always overlooked after their father became a school trustee.
Many efforts had been made to put a new master into the school. But Mr. Ball's brother-in-law was one of the principal merchants in the place, and the old man had had the school so long that it seemed like robbery to deprive him of it. It had come, in some sort, to belong to him. People hated to see him moved. He would die some day, they said, and nobody could deny that, though it often seemed to the boys and girls that he would never die; he was more likely to dry up and blow away. And it was a long time to wait for that.
And yet I think Greenbank might have had to wait for something like that if there hadn't come a great flight of pigeons just at this time. For whenever Susan Lanham suggested to her father that he should try to get Mr. Ball removed and a new teacher appointed, Dr. Lanham smiled and said "he hated to move against the old man; he's been there so long, you know, and he probably wouldn't live long, anyhow. Something ought to be done, perhaps, but he couldn't meddle with him." For older people forgot the beatings they had endured, and remembered the old man only as one of the venerable landmarks of their childhood.
And so, by favor of Henry Weathervane's father, whose children he did not punish, and by favor of other people's neglect and forgetfulness, the Greenbank children might have had to face and fear the old ogre down to this day, or until he dried up and blew away, if it hadn't been, as I said, that there came a great flight of pigeons.
A flight of pigeons is not uncommon in the Ohio River country. Audubon, the great naturalist, saw them in his day, and in old colonial times such flights took place in the settlements on the sea-board, and sometimes the starving colonists were able to knock down pigeons with sticks. The mathematician is not yet born who can count the number of pigeons in one of these sky-darkening flocks, which are often many miles in length, and which follow one another for a whole day. The birds, for the most part, fly at a considerable height from the earth, but when they are crossing a wide valley, like that of the Ohio River, they drop down to a lower level, and so reach the hills quite close to the ground, and within easy gunshot.
When the pigeon flight comes on Saturday, it is very convenient for those boys that have guns. If these pigeons had only come on Saturday instead of on Monday, Mr. Ball might have taught the Greenbank school until to-day,—that is to say, if he hadn't died or quite dried up and blown off meanwhile.
For when Riley and Ben Berry saw this flight of pigeons begin on Monday morning, they remembered that the geography lesson was a hard one, and so they played "hooky," and, taking their guns with them, hid in the bushes at the top of the hill. Then, as the birds struck the hill, and beat their way up over the brow of it, the boys, lying in ambush, had only to fire into the flock without taking aim, and the birds would drop all around them. The discharge of the guns made Bob Holliday so hungry for pigeon pot-pie, that he, too, ran away from school, at recess, and took his place among the pigeon-slayers in the paw-paw patch on the hill top.
Tuesday morning, Mr. Ball came in with darkened brows, and three extra switches. Riley, Berry, and Holliday were called up as soon as school began. They had pigeon pot-pie for dinner, but they also had sore backs for three days, and Bob laughingly said that he knew just how a pigeon felt when it was basted.
The day after the whipping and the pigeon pot-pie, when the sun shone warm at noon, the fire was allowed to go down in the stove. All were at play in the sunshine, excepting Columbus Risdale, who sat solitary, like a disconsolate screech-owl, in one corner of the room. Riley and Ben Berry, still smarting from yesterday, entered, and without observing Lummy's presence, proceeded to put some gunpowder in the stove, taking pains to surround it with cool ashes, so that it should not explode until the stirring of the fire, as the chill of the afternoon should come on. When they had finished this dangerous transaction, they discovered the presence of Columbus in his corner, looking at them with large-eyed wonder and alarm.
"If you ever tell a living soul about that, we'll kill you," said Ben Berry.
Riley also threatened the scared little rabbit, and both felt safe from detection.
An hour after school had resumed its session. Columbus, who had sat shivering with terror all the time, wrote on his slate:
"Will Riley and Ben B. put something in the stove. Said they would kill me if I told on them."
This he passed to Jack, who sat next to him. Jack rubbed it out as soon as he had read it, and wrote:
"Don't tell anybody."
Jack could not guess what they had put in. It might be coffee-nuts, which would explode harmlessly; it might be something that would give a bad smell in burning, such as chicken-feathers. If he had thought that it was gunpowder, he would have plucked up courage enough to give the master some warning, though he might have got only a whipping for his pains. While Jack was debating what he should do, the master called the Fourth-Reader class. At the close of the lesson he noticed that Columbus was shivering, though indeed it was more from terror than from cold.
"Go to the stove and stir up the fire, and get warm," he said, sternly.
"I'd—I'd rather not," said Lum, shaking with fright at the idea.
"Umph!" said Mr. Ball, looking hard at the lad, with half a mind to make him go. Then he changed his purpose and went to the stove himself, raked forward the coals, and made up the fire. Just as he was shutting the stove-door, the explosion came—the ashes flew out all over the master, the stove was thrown down from the bricks on which its four legs rested, the long pipe fell in many pieces on the floor, and the children set up a general howl in all parts of the room.
As soon as Mr. Ball had shaken off the ashes from his coat, he said: "Be quiet—there's no more danger. Columbus Risdale, come here."
"He did not do it," spoke up Susan Lanham.
"Be quiet, Susan. You know all about this," continued the master to poor little Columbus, who was so frightened as hardly to be able to stand. After looking at Columbus a moment, the master took down a great beech switch. "Now, I shall whip you until you tell me who did it. You were afraid to go to the stove. You knew there was powder there. Who put it there? That's the question. Answer, quick, or I shall make you."
The little skin-and-bones trembled between two terrors, and Jack, seeing his perplexity, got up and stood by him.
"He didn't do it, Mr. Ball. I know who did it. If Columbus should tell you, he would be beaten for telling. The boy who did it is just mean enough to let Lummy get the whipping. Please let him off."
"You know, do you? I shall whip you both. You knew there was gunpowder in the fire, and you gave no warning. I shall whip you both—the severest whipping you ever had, too."
And the master put up the switch he had taken down, as not effective enough, and proceeded to take another.
"If we had known it was gunpowder," said Jack, beginning to tremble, "you would have been warned. But we didn't. We only knew that something had been put in."
"If you'll tell all about it, I'll let you off easier; if you don't, I shall give you all the whipping I know how to give." And by way of giving impressiveness to his threat he took a turn about the room, while there was an awful stillness among the terrified scholars.
I do not know what was in Bob Holliday's head, but about this time he managed to open the western door while the master's back was turned. Bob's desk was near the door.
Poor little Columbus was ready to die, and Jack was afraid that, if the master should beat him as he threatened to do, the child would die outright. Luckily, at the second cruel blow, the master broke his switch and turned to get another. Seeing the door open, Jack whispered to Columbus:
"Run home as fast as you can go."
The little fellow needed no second bidding. He tottered on his trembling legs to the door, and was out before Mr. Ball had detected the motion. When the master saw his prey disappearing out of the door, he ran after him, but it happened curiously enough, in the excitement, that Bob Holliday, who sat behind the door, rose up, as if to look out, and stumbled against the door, thus pushing it shut, so that by the time Mr. Ball got his stiff legs outside the door, the frightened child was under such headway that, fearing to have the whole school in rebellion, the teacher gave over the pursuit, and came back prepared to wreak his vengeance on Jack.
While Mr. Ball was outside the door, Bob Holliday called to Jack, in a loud whisper, that he had better run, too, or the old master would "skin him alive." But Jack had been trained to submit to authority, and to run away now would lose him his winter's schooling, on which he had set great store. He made up his mind to face the punishment as best he could, fleeing only as a last resort if the beating should be unendurable.
"Now," said the master to Jack, "will you tell me who put that gunpowder in the stove? If you don't, I'll take it out of your skin."
Jack could not bear to tell, especially under a threat. I think that boys are not wholly right in their notion that it is dishonorable to inform on a school-mate, especially in the case of so bad an offence as that of which Will and Ben were guilty. But, on the other hand, the last thing a master ought to seek is to turn boys into habitual spies and informers on one another. In the present instance, Jack ought, perhaps, to have told, for the offence was criminal; but it is hard for a high-spirited lad to yield to a brutal threat.
Jack caught sight of Susan Lanham telegraphing from behind the master, by spelling with her fingers:
"Tell or run."
But he could not make up his mind to do either, though Bob Holliday had again mysteriously opened the western door.
The master summoned all his strength and struck him half a dozen blows, that made poor Jack writhe. Then he walked up and down the room awhile, to give the victim time to consider whether he would tell or not.
"Run," spelled out Susan on her fingers.
"The school-house is on fire!" called out Bob Holliday. Some of the coals that had spilled from the capsized stove were burning the floor—not dangerously, but Bob wished to make a diversion. He rushed for a pail of water in the corner, and all the rest, aching with suppressed excitement, crowded around the fallen stove, so that it was hard for the master to tell whether there was any fire or not. Bob whispered to Jack to "cut sticks," but Jack only went to his seat.
"Lay hold, boys, and let's put up the stove," said Bob, taking the matter quite out of the master's hands. Of course, the stove-pipe would not fit without a great deal of trouble. Did ever stove-pipe go together without trouble? Somehow, all the joints that Bob joined together flew asunder over and over again, though he seemed to work most zealously to get the stove set up. After half an hour of this confusion, the pipe was fixed, and the master, having had time, like the stove, to cool off, and seeing Jack bent over his book, concluded to let the matter drop. But there are some matters that, once taken up, are hard to drop.
JACK AND HIS MOTHER
Jack went home that night very sore on his back and in his feelings. He felt humiliated to be beaten like a dog, and even a dog feels degraded in being beaten. He told his mother about it—the tall, dignified, sweet-faced mother, patient in trouble and full of a goodness that did not talk much about goodness. She always took it for granted that her boy would not do anything mean, and thus made a healthy atmosphere for a brave boy to grow in. Jack told her of his whipping, with some heat, while he sat at supper. She did not say much then, but after Jack's evening chores were all finished, she sat down by the candle where he was trying to get out some sums, and questioned him carefully.
"Why didn't you tell who did it?" she asked.
"Because it makes a boy mean to tell, and all the boys would have thought me a sneak."
"It is a little hard to face a general opinion like that," she said.
"But," said Jack, "if I had told, the master would have whipped Columbus all the same, and the boys would probably have pounded him, too. I ought to have told beforehand," said Jack, after a pause. "But I thought it was only some coffee-nuts that they had put in. The mean fellows, to let Columbus take a whipping for them! But the way Mr. Ball beats us is enough to make a boy mean and cowardly."
After a long silence, the mother said: "I think we shall have to give it up, Jack."
"The schooling for this winter. I don't want you to go where boys are beaten in that way. In the morning, go and get your books and see what you can do at home."
Then, after a long pause, in which neither liked to speak, Mrs. Dudley said:
"I want you to be an educated man. You learn quickly; you have a taste for books, and you will be happier if you get knowledge. If I could collect the money that Gray owes your father's estate, or even a part of it, I should be able to keep you in school one winter after this. But there seems to be no hope for that."
"But Gray is a rich man, isn't he?"
"Yes, he has a good deal of property, but not in his own name. He persuaded your father, who was a kind-hearted and easy-natured man, to release a mortgage, promising to give him some other security the next week. But, meantime, he put his property in such a shape as to cheat all his creditors. I don't think we shall ever get anything."
"I am going to be an educated man, anyhow."
"But you will have to go to work at something next fall," said the mother.
"That will make it harder, but I mean to study a little every day. I wish I could get a chance to spend next winter in school."
"We'll see what can be done."
And long after Jack went to bed that night the mother sat still by the candle with her sewing, trying to think what she could do to help her boy to get on with his studies.
Jack woke up after eleven o'clock, and saw her light still burning in the sitting-room.
"I say, mother," he called out, "don't you sit there worrying about me. We shall come through this all right."
Some of Jack's hopefulness got into the mother's heart, and she took her light and went to bed.
Weary, and sore, and disappointed, Jack did not easily get to sleep himself after his cheerful speech to his mother. He lay awake long, making boy's plans for his future. He would go and collect money by some hook or crook from the rascally Gray; he would make a great invention; he would discover a gold mine; he would find some rich cousin who would send him through college; he would——, but just then he grew more wakeful and realized that all his plans had no foundation of probability.
COLUMBUS AND HIS FRIENDS
When he waked up in the morning, Jack remembered that he had not seen Columbus Risdale go past the door after his cow the evening before, and he was afraid that he might be ill. Why had he not thought to go down and drive up the cow himself? It was yet early, and he arose and went down to the little rusty, brown, unpainted house in which the Risdales, who were poor people, had their home. Just as he pushed open the gate, Bob Holliday came out of the door, looking tired and sleepy.
"Hello, Bob!" said Jack. "How's Columbus? Is he sick?"
"Awful sick," said Bob. "Clean out of his head all night."
"Have you been here all night?"
"Yes, I heerd he was sick last night, and I come over and sot up with him."
"You good, big-hearted Bob!" said Jack. "You're the best fellow in the world, I believe."
"What a quare feller you air to talk, Jack," said Bob, choking up. "Air you goin' to school to-day?"
"No. Mother'd rather have me not go any more."
"I'm not going any more. I hate old Ball. Neither's Susan Lanham going. She's in there," and Bob made a motion toward the house with his thumb, and passed out of the gate, while Jack knocked at the door. He was admitted by Susan.
"Oh, Jack! I'm so glad to see you," she whispered. "Columbus has asked for you a good many times during the night. You've stood by him splendidly."
Jack blushed, but asked how Lummy was now.
"Out of his head most of the time. Bob Holliday stayed with him all night. What a good fellow Bob Holliday is!"
"I almost hugged him, just now," said Jack, and Susan couldn't help smiling at this frank confession.
Jack passed into the next room as stealthily as possible, that he might not disturb his friend, and paused by the door. Mrs. Risdale sat by the bedside of Columbus, who was sleeping uneasily, his curious big head and long, thin hair making a strange picture against the pillow. His face looked more meagre and his eyes more sunken than ever before, but there was a feverish flush on his wan cheeks, and the slender hands moved uneasily on the outside of the blue coverlet, the puny arms were bare to the elbows.
Mrs. Risdale beckoned Jack to come forward, and he came and stood at the bed-foot. Then Columbus opened his large eyes and fixed them on Jack for a few seconds.
"Come, Jack, dear old fellow," he whispered.
Jack came and bent over him with tearful eyes, and the poor little reed-like arms were twined about his neck.
"Jack," he sobbed, "the master's right over there in the corner all the time, straightening out his long switches. He says he's going to whip me again. But you won't let him, will you, Jack, you good old fellow?"
"No, he shan't touch you."
"Let's run away, Jack," he said, presently. And so the poor little fellow went on, his great, disordered brain producing feverish images of terror from which he continually besought "dear good old Jack" to deliver him.
When at last he dropped again into a troubled sleep, Jack slipped away and drove up the Risdale cow, and then went back to his breakfast. He was a boy whose anger kindled slowly; but the more he thought about it, the more angry he became at the master who had given Columbus such a fright as to throw him into a brain fever, and at the "mean, sneaking contemptible villains," as he hotly called them, who wouldn't come forward and confess their trick, rather than to have the poor little lad punished.
"I suppose we ought to make some allowances," his mother said, quietly.
"That's what you always say, mother. You're always making allowances."
After breakfast and chores, Jack thought to go again to see his little friend. On issuing from the gate, he saw Will Riley and Ben Berry waiting for him at the corner. Whether they meant to attack him or not he could not tell, but he felt too angry to care.
"I say, Jack," said Riley, "how did you know who put the powder in the stove? Did Columbus tell you?"
"Mind your own business," said Jack, in a tone not so polite as it might be. "The less you say about gunpowder, hereafter, the better for you both. Why didn't you walk up and tell, and save that little fellow a beating?"
"Look here, Jack," said Berry, "don't you tell what you know about it. There's going to be a row. They say that Doctor Lanham's taken Susan, and all the other children, out of school, because the master thrashed Lummy, and they say Bob Holliday's quit, and that you're going to quit, and Doctor Lanham's gone to work this morning to get the master put out at the end of the term. Mr. Ball didn't know that Columbus was kin to the Lanhams, or he'd have let him alone, like he does the Lanhams and the Weathervanes. There is going to be a big row, and everybody'll want to know who put the powder in the stove. We want you to be quiet about it."
"You do?" said Jack, with a sneer. "You do?"
"Yes, we do," said Riley, coaxingly.
"You do? You come to me and ask me to keep it secret, after letting me and that poor little baby take your whipping! You want me to hide what you did, when that poor little Columbus lies over there sick abed and like to die, all because you sneaking scoundrels let him be whipped for what you did!"
"Is he sick?" said Riley, in terror.
"Going to die, I expect," said Jack, bitterly.
"Well," said Ben Berry, "you be careful what you say about us, or we'll get Pewee to get even with you."
"Oh, that's your game! You think you can scare me, do you?"
Jack grew more and more angry. Seeing a group of school-boys on the other side of the street, he called them over.
"Look here, boys," said Jack, "I took a whipping yesterday to keep from telling on these fellows, and now they have the face to ask me not to tell that they put the powder in the stove, and they promise me a beating from Pewee if I do. These are the two boys that let a poor sickly baby take the whipping they ought to have had. They have just as good as killed him, I suppose, and now they come sneaking around here and trying to scare me in keeping still about it. I didn't back down from the master, and I won't from Pewee. Oh, no! I won't tell anybody. But if any of you boys should happen to guess that Will Riley and Ben Berry were the cowards who did that mean trick, I am not going to say they weren't. It wouldn't be of any use to deny it. There are only two boys in school mean enough to play such a contemptible trick as that."
Riley and Berry stood sheepishly silent, but just here Pewee came in sight, and seeing the squad of boys gathered around Jack, strode over quickly and pushed his sturdy form into the midst.
"Pewee," said Riley, "I think you ought to pound Jack. He says you can't back him down."
"I didn't," said Jack. "I said you couldn't scare me out of telling who tried to blow up the school-house stove, and let other boys take the whipping, by promising me a drubbing from Pewee Rose. If Pewee wants to put himself in as mean a crowd as yours, and be your puppy-dog to fight for you, let him come on. He's a fool if he does, that's all I have to say. The whole town will want to ship you two fellows off before night, and Pewee isn't going to fight your battles. What do you think, Pewee, of fellows that put powder in a stove where they might blow up a lot of little children? What do you think of two fellows that want me to keep quiet after they let little Lum Risdale take a whipping for them, and that talk about setting you on to me if I tell?"
Thus brought face to face with both parties, King Pewee only looked foolish and said nothing.
Jack had worked himself into such a passion that he could not go to Risdale's, but returned to his own home, declaring that he was going to tell everybody in town. But when he entered the house and looked into the quiet, self-controlled face of his mother, he began to feel cooler.
"Let us remember that some allowances are to be made for such boys," was all that she said.
"That's what you always say, Mother," said Jack, impatiently. "I believe you'd make allowances for the Old Boy himself."
"That would depend on his bringing up," smiled Mrs. Dudley. "Some people have bad streaks naturally, and some have been cowed and brutalized by ill-treatment, and some have been spoiled by indulgence."
Jack felt more calm after a while. He went back to the bedside of Columbus, but he couldn't bring himself to make allowances.
GREENBANK WAKES UP
If the pigeons had not crossed the valley on Monday, nobody would have played truant, and if nobody had played truant on Monday, there would not have been occasion to whip three boys on Tuesday morning, and if Ben Berry and Riley had escaped a beating on Tuesday morning, they would not have thought of putting gunpowder into the stove on Wednesday at noon, and if they had omitted that bad joke, Columbus would not have got into trouble and run away from school, and if he had escaped the fright and the flight, he might not have had the fever, and the town would not have been waked up, and other things would not have happened.
So then, you see, this world of ours is just like the House that Jack Built: one thing is tied to another and another to that, and that to this, and this to something, and something to something else, and so on to the very end of all things.
So it was that the village was thrown into a great excitement as the result of a flock of innocent pigeons going over the heads of some lazy boys. In the first place, Susan Lanham talked about things. She talked to her aunts, and she talked to her uncles, and, above all, she talked to her father. Now Susan was the brightest girl in the town, and she had a tongue, as all the world knew, and when she set out to tell people what a brute the old master was, how he had beaten two innocent boys, how bravely Jack had carried himself, how frightened little Columbus was, and how sick it had made him, and how mean the boys were to put the powder there, and then to let the others take the whipping,—I say, when Susan set out to tell all these things, in her eloquent way, to everybody she knew, you might expect a waking up in the sleepy old town. Some of the people took Susan's side and removed their children from the school, lest they, too, should get a whipping and run home and have brain fever. But many stood up for the old master, mostly because they were people of the sort that never can bear to see anything changed. "The boys ought to have told who put the powder in the stove," they said. "It served them right."
"How could the master know that Jack and Columbus did not do it themselves?" said others. "Maybe they did!"
"Don't tell me!" cried old Mrs. Horne. "Don't tell me! Boys can't be managed without whipping, and plenty of it. 'Bring up a child and away he goes,' as the Bible says. When you hire a master, you want a master, says I."
"What a tongue that Sue Lanham has got!" said Mr. Higbie, Mr. Ball's brother-in-law.
The excitement spread over the whole village. Doctor Lanham talked about it, and the ministers, and the lawyers, and the loafers in the stores, and the people who came to the post-office for their letters. Of course, it broke out furiously in the "Maternal Association," a meeting of mothers held at the house of one of the ministers.
"Mr. Ball can do every sum in the arithmetic," urged Mrs. Weathervane.
"He's a master hand at figures, they do say," said Mother Brownson.
"Yes," said Mrs. Dudley, "I don't doubt it. Jack's back is covered with figures of Mr. Ball's making. For my part, I should rather have a master that did his figuring on a slate."
Susan Lanham got hold of this retort, and took pains that it should be known all over the village.
When Greenbank once gets waked up on any question, it never goes to sleep until that particular question is settled. But it doesn't wake up more than once or twice in twenty years. Most of the time it is only talking in its sleep. Now that Greenbank had its eyes open for a little time, it was surprised to see that while the cities along the river had all adopted graded schools,—de-graded schools, as they were called by the people opposed to them,—and while even the little villages in the hill country had younger and more enlightened teachers, the county-town of Greenbank had made no advance. It employed yet, under the rule of President Fillmore, the same hard old stick of a master that had beaten the boys in the log school-house in the days of John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. But, now it was awake, Greenbank kept its eyes open on the school question. The boys wrote on the fences, in chalk:
DOWN WITH OLD BAWL!
and thought the bad spelling of the name a good joke, while men and women began to talk about getting a new master.
Will Riley and Ben Berry had the hardest time. For the most part they stayed at home during the excitement, only slinking out in the evening. The boys nicknamed them "Gunpowder cowards," and wrote the words on the fences. Even the loafers about the street asked them whether Old Ball had given them that whipping yet, and how they liked "powder and Ball."