THE HOOSIER SCHOOLMASTER
A Story of Backwoods Life in Indiana
with an introduction and Notes on the District by the Author,
With Character Sketches by
and other Illustrations by
GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS NEW YORK
AS A PEBBLE CAST UPON A GREAT CAIRN, THIS EDITION IS INSCRIBED TO THE MEMORY OF JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL, WHOSE CORDIAL ENCOURAGEMENT TO MY EARLY STUDIES OF AMERICAN DIALECT IS GRATEFULLY REMEMBERED.
PREFACE TO THE LIBRARY EDITION.
BEING THE HISTORY OF A STORY.
"THE HOOSIER SCHOOL-MASTER" was written and printed in the autumn of 1871. It is therefore now about twenty-one years old, and the publishers propose to mark its coming of age by issuing a library edition. I avail myself of the occasion to make some needed revisions, and to preface the new edition with an account of the origin and adventures of the book. If I should seem to betray unbecoming pride in speaking of a story that has passed into several languages and maintained an undiminished popularity for more than a score of years, I count on receiving the indulgence commonly granted to paternal vanity when celebrating the majority of a first-born. With all its faults on its head, this little tale has become a classic, in the bookseller's sense at least; and a public that has shown so constant a partiality for it has a right to feel some curiosity regarding its history.
I persuade myself that additional extenuation for this biography of a book is to be found in the relation which "The Hoosier School-Master" happens to bear to the most significant movement in American literature in our generation. It is the file-leader of the procession of American dialect novels. Before the appearance of this story, the New England folk-speech had long been employed for various literary purposes, it is true; and after its use by Lowell, it had acquired a standing that made it the classic lingua rustica of the United States. Even Hoosiers and Southerners when put into print, as they sometimes were in rude burlesque stories, usually talked about "huskin' bees" and "apple-parin' bees" and used many other expressions foreign to their vernacular. American literature hardly touched the speech and life of the people outside of New England; in other words, it was provincial in the narrow sense.
I can hardly suppose that "The Hoosier School-Master" bore any causative relation to that broader provincial movement in our literature which now includes such remarkable productions as the writings of Mr. Cable, Mr. Harris, Mr. Page, Miss Murfree, Mr. Richard Malcom Johnson, Mr. Howe, Mr. Garland, some of Mrs. Burnett's stories and others quite worthy of inclusion in this list. The taking up of life in this regional way has made our literature really national by the only process possible. The Federal nation has at length manifested a consciousness of the continental diversity of its forms of life. The "great American novel," for which prophetic critics yearned so fondly twenty years ago, is appearing in sections. I may claim for this book the distinction, such as it is, of being the first of the dialect stories that depict a life quite beyond New England influence. Some of Mr. Bret Harte's brief and powerful tales had already foreshadowed this movement toward a larger rendering of our life. But the romantic character of Mr. Harte's delightful stories and the absence of anything that can justly be called dialect in them mark them as rather forerunners than beginners of the prevailing school. For some years after the appearance of the present novel, my own stories had to themselves the field of provincial realism (if, indeed, there be any such thing as realism) before there came the succession of fine productions which have made the last fourteen years notable.
Though it had often occurred to me to write something in the dialect now known as Hoosier—the folk-speech of the southern part of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois of forty years ago—I had postponed the attempt indefinitely, probably because the only literary use that had been made of the allied speech of the Southwest had been in the books of the primitive humorists of that region. I found it hard to dissociate in my own mind the dialect from the somewhat coarse boisterousness which seemed inseparable from it in the works of these rollicking writers. It chanced that in 1871 Taine's lectures on "Art in the Netherlands," or rather Mr. John Durand's translation of them, fell into my hands as a book for editorial review. These discourses are little else than an elucidation of the thesis that the artist of originality will work courageously with the materials he finds in his own environment. In Taine's view, all life has matter for the artist, if only he have eyes to see.
Many years previous to the time of which I am now speaking, while I was yet a young man, I had projected a lecture on the Hoosier folk-speech, and had even printed during the war a little political skit in that dialect in a St. Paul paper. So far as I know, nothing else had ever been printed in the Hoosier. Under the spur of Taine's argument, I now proceeded to write a short story wholly in the dialect spoken in my childhood by rustics on the north side of the Ohio River. This tale I called "The Hoosier School-Master." It consisted almost entirely of an autobiographical narration in dialect by Mirandy Means of the incidents that form the groundwork of the present story. I was the newly installed editor of a weekly journal, Hearth and Home, and I sent this little story in a new dialect to my printer. It chanced that one of the proprietors of the paper saw a part of it in proof. He urged me to take it back and make a longer story out of the materials, and he expressed great confidence in the success of such a story. Yielding to his suggestion, I began to write this novel from week to week as it appeared in the paper, and thus found myself involved in the career of a novelist, which had up to that time formed no part of my plan of life. In my inexperience I worked at a white-heat, completing the book in ten weeks. Long before these weeks of eager toil were over, it was a question among my friends whether the novel might not write finis to me before I should see the end of it.
The sole purpose I had in view at first was the resuscitation of the dead-and-alive newspaper of which I had ventured to take charge. One of the firm of publishers thought much less favorably of my story than his partner did. I was called into the private office and informed with some severity that my characters were too rough to be presentable in a paper so refined as ours. I confess they did seem somewhat too robust for a sheet so anaemic as Hearth and Home had been in the months just preceding. But when, the very next week after this protest was made, the circulation of the paper increased some thousands at a bound, my employer's critical estimate of the work underwent a rapid change—a change based on what seemed to him better than merely literary considerations. By the time the story closed, at the end of fourteen instalments, the subscription list had multiplied itself four or five fold. It is only fair to admit, however, that the original multiplicand had been rather small.
Papers in Canada and in some of the other English colonies transferred the novel bodily to their columns, and many of the American country papers helped themselves to it quite freely. It had run some weeks of its course before it occurred to any one that it might profitably be reprinted in book form. The publishers were loath to risk much in the venture. The newspaper type was rejustified to make a book page, and barely two thousand copies were printed for a first edition. I remember expressing the opinion that the number was too large.
"The Hoosier School-Master" was pirated with the utmost promptitude by the Messrs. Routledge, in England, for that was in the barbarous days before international copyright, when English publishers complained of the unscrupulousness of American reprinters, while they themselves pounced upon every line of American production that promised some shillings of profit. "The Hoosier School-Master" was brought out in England in a cheap, sensational form. The edition of ten thousand has long been out of print. For this large edition and for the editions issued in the British colonies and in continental Europe I have never received a penny. A great many men have made money out of the book, but my own returns have been comparatively small. For its use in serial form I received nothing beyond my salary as editor. On the copyright edition I have received the moderate royalty allowed to young authors at the outset of their work. The sale of the American edition in the first twenty years amounted to seventy thousand copies. The peculiarity of this sale is its steadiness. After twenty years, "The Hoosier School-Master" is selling at the average rate of more than three thousand copies per annum. During the last half-dozen years the popularity of the book has apparently increased, and its twentieth year closed with a sale of twenty-one hundred in six months. Only those who are familiar with the book trade and who know how brief is the life of the average novel will understand how exceptional is this long-continued popularity.
Some of the newspaper reviewers of twenty years ago were a little puzzled to know what to make of a book in so questionable a shape, for the American dialect novel was then a new-comer. But nothing could have given a beginner more genuine pleasure than the cordial commendation of the leading professional critic of the time, the late Mr. George Ripley, who wrote an extended review of this book for the Tribune. The monthly magazines all spoke of "The Hoosier School-Master" in terms as favorable as it deserved. I cannot pretend that I was content with these notices at the time, for I had the sensitiveness of a beginner. But on looking at the reviews in the magazines of that day, I am amused to find that the faults pointed out in the work of my prentice hand are just those that I should be disposed to complain of now, if it were any part of my business to tell the reader wherein I might have done better.
The Nation, then in its youth, honored "The Hoosier School-Master" by giving it two pages, mostly in discussion of its dialect, but dispensing paradoxical praise and censure in that condescending way with which we are all familiar enough. According to its critic, the author had understood and described the old Western life, but he had done it "quite sketchily, to be sure." Yet it was done "with essential truth and some effectiveness." The critic, however instantly stands on the other foot again and adds that the book "is not a captivating one." But he makes amends in the very next sentence by an allusion to "the faithfulness of its transcript of the life it depicts," and then instantly balances the account on the adverse side of the ledger by assuring the reader that "it has no interest of passion or mental power." But even this fatal conclusion is diluted by a dependent clause. "Possibly," says the reviewer, "the good feeling of the intertwined love story may conciliate the good-will of some of the malcontent." One could hardly carry further the fine art of oscillating between moderate commendation and parenthetical damnation—an art that lends a factitious air of judicial impartiality and mental equipoise. Beyond question, The Nation is one of the ablest weekly papers in the world; the admirable scholarship of its articles and reviews in departments of special knowledge might well be a subject of pride to any American. But its inadequate reviews of current fiction add nothing to its value, and its habitual tone of condescending depreciation in treating imaginative literature of indigenous origin is one of the strongest discouragements to literary production.
The main value of good criticism lies in its readiness and penetration in discovering and applauding merit not before recognized, or imperfectly recognized. This is a conspicuous trait of Sainte-Beuve, the greatest of all newspaper critics. He knew how to be severe upon occasion, but he saw talent in advance of the public and dispensed encouragement heartily, so that he made himself almost a foster-father to the literature of his generation in France. But there is a class of anonymous reviewers in England and America who seem to hold a traditional theory that the function of a critic toward new-born talent is analogous to that of Pharaoh toward the infant Jewish population.
During the first year after its publication "The Hoosier School-Master" was translated into French and published in a condensed form in the Revue des Deux Mondes. The translator was the writer who signs the name M. Th. Bentzon, and who is well known to be Madame Blanc. This French version afterward appeared in book form in the same volume with one of Mr. Thomas Bailey Aldrich's stories and some other stories of mine. In this latter shape I have never seen it. The title given to the story by Madame Blanc was "Le Maitre d'Ecole de Flat Creek." It may be imagined that the translator found it no easy task to get equivalents in French for expressions in a dialect new and strange. "I'll be dog-on'd" appears in French as "devil take me" ("diable m'emporte"), which is not bad; the devil being rather a jolly sort of fellow, in French. "The Church of the Best Licks" seems rather unrenderable, and I do not see how the translator could have found a better phrase for it than "L'Eglise des Raclees" though "raclees" does not convey the double sense of "licks." "Jim epelait vite comme l'eclair" is not a good rendering of "Jim spelled like lightning," since it is not the celerity of the spelling that is the main consideration. "Concours d'epellation" is probably the best equivalent for "spelling-school," but it seems something more stately in its French dress. When Bud says, with reference to Hannah, "I never took no shine that air way," the phrase is rather too idiomatic for the French tongue, and it becomes "I haven't run after that hare" ("Je n'ai pas chasse ce lievre-la"). Perhaps the most sadly amusing thing in the translation is the way the meaning of the nickname Shocky is missed in an explanatory foot-note. It is, according to the translator, an abbreviation or corruption of the English word "shocking," which expresses the shocking ugliness of the child—"qui exprime la laideur choquante de l'enfant."
A German version of "The Hoosier School-Master" was made about the time of the appearance of the French translation, but of this I have never seen a copy. I know of it only from the statement made to me by a German professor, that he had read it in German before he knew any English. What are the equivalents in High German for "right smart" and "dog-on" I cannot imagine.
Several years after the publication of "The Hoosier School-Master" it occurred to Mr. H. Hansen, of Kjoege, in Denmark, to render it into Danish. Among the Danes the book enjoyed a popularity as great, perhaps, as it has had at home. The circulation warranted Mr. Hansen and his publisher in bringing out several other novels of mine. The Danish translator was the only person concerned in the various foreign editions of this book who had the courtesy to ask the author's leave. Under the old conditions in regard to international copyright, an author came to be regarded as one not entitled even to common civilities in the matter of reprinting his works—he was to be plundered without politeness. As I look at the row of my books in the unfamiliar Danish, I am reminded of that New England mother who, on recovering her children carried away by the Canadian Indians, found it impossible to communicate with a daughter who spoke only French and a son who knew nothing but the speech of his savage captors. Mr. Hansen was thoughtful enough to send me the reviews of my books in the Danish newspapers; and he had the double kindness to translate these into English and to leave out all but those that were likely to be agreeable to my vanity. Of these I remember but a single sentence, and that because it was expressed with felicity. The reviewer said of the fun in "The Hoosier School-Master:" "This is humor laughing to keep from bursting into tears."
A year or two before the appearance of "The Hoosier School-Master," a newspaper article of mine touching upon American dialect interested Mr. Lowell, and he urged me to "look for the foreign influence" that has affected the speech of the Ohio River country. My reverence for him as the master in such studies did not prevent me from feeling that the suggestion was a little absurd. But at a later period I became aware that North Irishmen used many of the pronunciations and idioms that distinctly characterized the language of old-fashioned people on the Ohio. Many Ulster men say "wair" for were and "air" for are, for example. Connecting this with the existence of a considerable element of Scotch-Irish names in the Ohio River region, I could not doubt that here was one of the keys the master had bidden me look for. While pursuing at a later period a series of investigations into the culture-history of the American people in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, I became much interested in the emigration to America from the north of Ireland, a movement that waxed and waned as the great Irish-linen industry of the last century declined or prospered. The first American home of these Irish was Pennsylvania. A portion of them were steady-going, psalm-singing, money-getting people, who in course of time made themselves felt in the commerce, politics, and intellectual life of the nation. There was also a dare-devil element, descended perhaps from those rude borderers who were deported to Ireland more for the sake of the peace of North Britain than for the benefit of Ireland. In this rougher class there was perhaps a larger dash of the Celtic fire that came from the wild Irish women whom the first Scotch settlers in Ulster made the mothers of their progeny. Arrived in the wilds of Pennsylvania, these Irishmen built rude cabins, planted little patches of corn and potatoes, and distilled a whiskey that was never suffered to grow mellow. The forest was congenial to men who spent much the larger part of their time in boisterous sport of one sort or another. The manufacture of the rifle was early brought to Lancaster, in Pennsylvania, direct from the land of its invention by Swiss emigrants, and in the adventurous Scotch-Irishman of the Pennsylvania frontier the rifle found its fellow. Irish settlers became hunters of wild beasts, explorers, pioneers, and warriors against the Indians, upon whom they avenged their wrongs with relentless ferocity. Both the Irish race and the intermingled Pennsylvania Dutch were prolific, and the up-country of Pennsylvania soon overflowed. Emigration was held in check to the westward for a while by the cruel massacres of the French and Indian wars, and one river of population poured itself southward into the fertile valleys of the Virginia mountain country; another and larger flood swept still farther to the south along the eastern borders of the Appalachian range until it reached the uplands of Carolina. When the militia of one county in South Carolina was mustered during the Revolution, it was found that every one of the thirty-five hundred men enrolled were natives of Pennsylvania. These were mainly sons of North Irishmen, and from the Carolina Irish sprang Calhoun, the most aggressive statesman that has appeared in America, and Jackson, the most brilliant military genius in the whole course of our history. Before the close of the Revolution this adventurous race had begun to break over the passes of the Alleghanies into the dark and bloody ground of Kentucky and Tennessee. Soon afterward a multitude of Pennsylvanians of all stocks—the Scotch-Irish and those Germans, Swiss, and Hollanders who are commonly classed together as the Pennsylvania Dutch, as well as a large number of people of English descent—began to migrate down the Ohio Valley. Along with them came professional men and people of more or less culture, chiefly from eastern Virginia and Maryland. There came also into Indiana and Illinois, from the border States and from as far south as North Carolina and Tennessee, a body of "poor whites." These semi-nomadic people, descendants of the colonial bond-servants, formed, in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, the lowest rank of Hoosiers. But as early as 1845 there was a considerable exodus of these to Missouri. From Pike County, in that State, they wended their way to California, to appear in Mr. Bret Harte's stories as "Pikes." The movement of this class out of Indiana went on with augmented volume in the fifties. The emigrants of this period mostly sought the States lying just west of the Mississippi, and the poorer sort made the trip in little one-horse wagons of the sorriest description, laden mainly with white-headed children and followed by the yellow curs that are the one luxury indispensable to a family of this class. To this migration and to a liberal provision for popular education Indiana owes a great improvement in the average intelligence of her people. As early as 1880, I believe, the State had come to rank with some of the New England States in the matter of literacy.
The folk-speech of the Ohio River country has many features in common with that of the eastern Middle States, while it received but little from the dignified eighteenth-century English of eastern Virginia. There are distinct traces of the North-Irish in the idioms and in the peculiar pronunciations. One finds also here and there a word from the "Pennsylvania Dutch," such as "waumus" for a loose jacket, from the German wamms, a doublet, and "smearcase" for cottage cheese, from the German schmierkaese. The only French word left by the old voyageurs, so far as I now remember, is "cordelle," to tow a boat by a rope carried along the shore.
Substantially the same folk-speech exists wherever the Pennsylvania migration formed the main element of the primitive settlement. I have heard the same dialect in the South Carolina uplands that one gets from a Posey County Hoosier, or rather that one used to get in the old days before the vandal school-master had reduced the vulgar tongue to the monotonous propriety of what we call good English.
In drawing some of the subordinate characters in this tale a little too baldly from the model, I fell into an error common to inexperienced writers. It is amusing to observe that these portrait characters seem the least substantial of all the figures in the book. Dr. Small is a rather unrealistic villain, but I knew him well and respected him in my boyish heart for a most exemplary Christian of good family at the very time that, according to testimony afterward given, he was diversifying his pursuits as a practising physician by leading a gang of burglars. More than one person has been pointed out as the original of Bud Means, and I believe there are one or two men each of whom flatters himself that he posed for the figure of the first disciple of the Church of the Best Licks. Bud is made up of elements found in some of his race, but not in any one man. Not dreaming that the story would reach beyond the small circulation of Hearth and Home, I used the names of people in Switzerland and Decatur counties, in Indiana, almost without being aware of it. I have heard that a young man bearing the surname given to one of the rudest families in this book had to suffer many gibes while a student at an Indiana college. I here do public penance for my culpable indiscretion.
"Jeems Phillips," name and all, is a real person whom at the time of writing this story I had not seen since I was a lad of nine and he a man of nearly forty. He was a mere memory to me, and was put into the book with some slighting remarks which the real Jeems did not deserve. I did not know that he was living, and it did not seem likely that the story would have vitality enough to travel all the way to Indiana. But the portion referring to Phillips was transferred to the county paper circulating among Jeems' neighbors. For once the good-natured man was, as they say in Hoosier, "mad," and he threatened to thrash the editor. "Do you think he means you?" demanded the editor. "To be sure he does," said the champion speller. "Can you spell?" "I can spell down any master that ever came to our district," he replied. As time passed on, Phillips found himself a lion. Strangers desired an introduction to him as a notability, and invited the champion to dissipate with them at the soda fountain in the village drug store. It became a matter of pride with him that he was the most famous speller in the world. Two years ago, while visiting the town of my nativity, I met upon the street the aged Jeems Phillips, whom I had not seen for more than forty years. I would go far to hear him "spell down" a complacent school-master once more.
The publication of this book gave rise to an amusing revival of the spelling-school as a means of public entertainment, not in rustic regions alone, but in towns also. The furor extended to the great cities of New York and London, and reached at last to farthest Australia, spreading to every region in which English is spelled or spoken. But the effect of the chapter on the spelling-school was temporary and superficial; the only organization that came from the spelling-school mania, so far as I know, was an association of proof-readers in London to discuss mooted points. The sketch of the Church of the Best Licks, however, seems to have made a deep and enduring impression upon individuals and to have left some organized results. I myself endeavored to realize it, and for five years I was the pastor of a church in Brooklyn, organized on a basis almost as simple as that in the Flat Creek school-house. The name I rendered into respectable English, and the Church of the Best Licks became the Church of Christian Endeavor. It was highly successful in doing that which a church ought to do, and its methods of work have been widely copied. After my work as a minister had been definitely closed, the name and the underlying thought of this church were borrowed for a young people's society; and thus the little story of good endeavor in Indiana seems to have left a permanent mark on the ecclesiastical organization of the time.
If any one, judging by the length of this preface, should conclude that I hold my little book in undue esteem, let him know that I owe it more than one grudge. It is said that Thomas Campbell, twenty years after the appearance of his best-known poem, was one day introduced as "the author of 'The Pleasures of Hope.'" "Confound 'The Pleasures of Hope,'" he protested; "can't I write anything else?" So, however much I may prefer my later work, more carefully wrought in respect of thought, structure, and style, this initial novel, the favorite of the larger public, has become inseparably associated with my name. Often I have mentally applied Campbell's imprecation on "The Pleasures of Hope" to this story. I could not write in this vein now if I would, and twenty-one years have made so many changes in me that I dare not make any but minor changes in this novel. The author of "The Hoosier School-Master" is distinctly not I; I am but his heir and executor; and since he is a more popular writer than I, why should I meddle with his work? I have, however, ventured to make some necessary revision of the diction, and have added notes, mostly with reference to the dialect.
A second grudge against this story is that somehow its readers persist in believing it to be a bit of my own life. Americans are credulous believers in that miracle of the imagination whom no one has ever seen in the flesh—the self-made man. Some readers of "The Hoosier School-Master" have settled it for a certainty that the author sprang from the rustic class he has described. One lady even wrote to inquire whether my childhood were not represented in Shocky, the little lad out of the poor-house. A biographical sketch of me in Italian goes so far as to state that among the hard resorts by which I made a living in my early life was the teaching of a Sunday-school in Chicago.
No one knows so well as I the faults of immaturity and inexperience that characterize this book. But perhaps after all the public is right in so often preferring an author's first book. There is what Emerson would have called a "central spontaneity" about the work of a young man that may give more delight to the reader than all the precision of thought and perfection of style for which we strive as life advances.
JOSHUA'S ROCK ON LAKE GEORGE, 1892.
[Footnote 1: Since writing the passage in the text, I have met with the following in The Speaker, of London: "Everybody knows that when an important work is published in history, philosophy, or any branch of science, the editor of a respectable paper employs an expert to review it; . . . indeed, the more abstruse the subject of the book, the more careful and intelligent you will find the review. . . . It is equally well known that works of fiction and books of verse are not treated with anything like the same care. . . . A good poem, play, or novel is at least as fine an achievement as a good history; yet the history gets the benefit of an expert's judgment and two columns of thoughtful pimse or censure, while the poem, play, or novel is treated to ten skittish lines by the hack who happens to be within nearest call when the book comes in."]
PART OF THE PREFACE TO THE
I may as well confess, what it would be affectation to conceal, that I am more than pleased with the generous reception accorded to this story as a serial in the columns of Hearth and Home. It has been in my mind since I was a Hoosier boy to do something toward describing life in the back-country districts of the Western States. It used to be a matter of no little jealousy with us, I remember, that the manners, customs, thoughts, and feelings of New England country people filled so large a place in books, while our life, not less interesting, not less romantic, and certainly not less filled with humorous and grotesque material, had no place in literature. It was as though we were shut out of good society. And, with the single exception of Alice Gary, perhaps, our Western writers did not dare speak of the West otherwise than as the unreal world to which Cooper's lively imagination had given birth.
I had some anxiety lest Western readers should take offence at my selecting what must always seem an exceptional phase of life to those who have grown up in the more refined regions of the West. But nowhere has the School-master been received more kindly than in his own country and among his own people.
Some of those who have spoken generous words of the School-master and his friends have suggested that the story is an autobiography. But it is not, save in the sense in which every work of art is an autobiography: in that it is the result of the experience and observation of the writer. Readers will therefore bear in mind that not Ralph nor Bud nor Brother Sodom nor Dr. Small represents the writer, nor do I appear, as Talleyrand said of Madame de Stael, "disguised as a woman," in the person of Hannah or Mirandy. Some of the incidents have been drawn from life; none of them, I believe, from my own. I should like to be considered a member of the Church of the Best Licks, however.
It has been in my mind to append some remarks, philological and otherwise, upon the dialect, but Professor Lowell's admirable and erudite preface to the Biglow Papers must be the despair of every one who aspires to write on Americanisms. To Mr. Lowell belongs the distinction of being the only one of our most eminent authors and the only one of our most eminent scholars who has given careful attention to American dialects. But while I have not ventured to discuss the provincialisms of the Indiana backwoods, I have been careful to preserve the true usus loquendi of each locution.
BROOKLYN, December, 1871.
CHAPTER I PAGE A Private Lesson from a Bulldog . . . 37
CHAPTER II. A Spell Coming. . . . . . . . . . . . 52
CHAPTER III. Mirandy, Hank, and Shocky . . . . . . 57
CHAPTER IV. Spelling Down the Master. . . . . . . 70
CHAPTER V. The Walk Home . . . . . . . . . . . . 90
CHAPTER VI. A Night at Pete Jones's . . . . . . . 97
CHAPTER VII Ominous Remarks of Mr. Jones. . . . . 105
CHAPTER VIII. The Struggle in the Dark. . . . . . . 109
CHAPTER IX. Has God Forgotten Shocky? . . . . . . 114
CHAPTER X. The Devil of Silence. . . . . . . . . 118
CHAPTER XI. Miss Martha Hawkins . . . . . . . . . 125
CHAPTER XII. The Hardshell Preacher. . . . . . . . 133
CHAPTER XIII. A Struggle for the Mastery. . . . . . 143
CHAPTER XIV. A Crisis with Bud . . . . . . . . . . 150
CHAPTER XV. The Church of the Best Licks. . . . . 157
CHAPTER XVI. The Church Militant . . . . . . . . . 163
CHAPTER XVII. A Council of War. . . . . . . . . . . 169
CHAPTER XVIII. Odds and Ends . . . . . . . . . . . . 175
CHAPTER XIX. Face to Face. . . . . . . . . . . . . 180
CHAPTER XX. God Remembers Shocky. . . . . . . . . 185
CHAPTER XXI. Miss Nancy Sawyer . . . . . . . . . . 192
CHAPTER XXII. Pancakes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 195
CHAPTER XXIII. A Charitable Institution. . . . . . . 203
CHAPTER XXIV The Good Samaritan. . . . . . . . . . 212
CHAPTER XXV. Bud Wooing. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 215
CHAPTER XXVI. A Letter and its Consequences . . . . 220
CHAPTER XXVII. A Loss and a Gain . . . . . . . . . . 224
CHAPTER XXVIII. The Flight. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 228
CHAPTER XXIX. The Trial . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 234
CHAPTER XXX. "Brother Sodom" . . . . . . . . . . . 249
CHAPTER XXXI. The Trial Concluded . . . . . . . . . 254
CHAPTER XXXII. After the Battle. . . . . . . . . . . 269
CHAPTER XXXIII. Into the Light. . . . . . . . . . . . 274
CHAPTER XXXIV. "How it Came Out" . . . . . . . . . . 278
The Hoosier School-Master.
A PRIVATE LESSON FROM A BULLDOG.
"Want to be a school-master, do you? You? Well, what would you do in Flat Crick deestrick, I'd like to know? Why, the boys have driv off the last two, and licked the one afore them like blazes. You might teach a summer school, when nothin' but children come. But I 'low it takes a right smart man to be school-master in Flat Crick in the winter. They'd pitch you out of doors, sonny, neck and heels, afore Christmas."
The young man, who had walked ten miles to get the school in this district, and who had been mentally reviewing his learning at every step he took, trembling lest the committee should find that he did not know enough, was not a little taken aback at this greeting from "old Jack Means," who was the first trustee that he lighted on. The impression made by these ominous remarks was emphasized by the glances which he received from Jack Means's two sons. The older one eyed him from the top of his brawny shoulders with that amiable look which a big dog turns on a little one before shaking him. Ralph Hartsook had never thought of being measured by the standard of muscle. This notion of beating education into young savages in spite of themselves dashed his ardor.
He had walked right to where Jack Means was at work shaving shingles in his own front yard. While Mr. Means was making the speech which we have set down above, and punctuating it with expectorations, a large brindle bulldog had been sniffing at Ralph's heels, and a girl in a new linsey-woolsey dress, standing by the door, had nearly giggled her head off at the delightful prospect of seeing a new school-teacher eaten up by the ferocious brute.
The disheartening words of the old man, the immense muscles of the young man who was to be his rebellious pupil, the jaws of the ugly bulldog, and the heartless giggle of the girl, gave Ralph a delightful sense of having precipitated himself into a den of wild beasts. Faint with weariness and discouragement, and shivering with fear, he sat down on a wheelbarrow.
"You, Bull!" said the old man to the dog, which was showing more and more a disposition to make a meal of the incipient pedagogue, "you, Bull! git aout, you pup!" The dog walked sullenly off, but not until he had given Ralph a look full of promise of what he meant to do when he got a good chance. Ralph wished himself back in the village of Lewisburg, whence he had come.
"You see," continued Mr. Means, spitting in a meditative sort of a way, "you see, we a'n't none of your saft sort in these diggings. It takes a man to boss this deestrick. Howsumdever, ef you think you kin trust your hide in Flat Crick school-house I ha'n't got no 'bjection. But ef you git licked, don't come on us. Flat Crick don't pay no 'nsurance, you bet! Any other trustees? Wal, yes. But as I pay the most taxes, t'others jist let me run the thing. You can begin right off a Monday. They a'n't been no other applications. You see, it takes grit to apply for this school. The last master had a black eye for a month. But, as I wuz sayin', you can jist roll up and wade in. I 'low you've got spunk, maybe, and that goes for a heap sight more'n sinnoo with boys. Walk in, and stay over Sunday with me. You'll hev' to board roun', and I guess you better begin here."
Ralph did not go in, but sat out on the wheelbarrow, watching the old man shave shingles, while the boys split the blocks and chopped wood. Bull smelled of the new-comer again in an ugly way, and got a good kick from the older son for his pains. But out of one of his red eyes the dog warned the young school-master that he should yet suffer for all kicks received on his account.
"Ef Bull once takes a holt, heaven and yarth can't make him let go," said the older son to Ralph, by way of comfort.
It was well for Ralph that he began to "board roun'" by stopping at Mr. Means's. Ralph felt that Flat Creek was what he needed. He had lived a bookish life; but here was his lesson in the art of managing people, for he who can manage the untamed and strapping youths of a winter school in Hoopole County has gone far toward learning one of the hardest of lessons. And in Ralph's time, things were worse than they are now. The older son of Mr. Means was called Bud Means. What his real name was, Ralph could not find out, for in many of these families the nickname of "Bud" given to the oldest boy, and that of "Sis," which is the birth-right of the oldest girl, completely bury the proper Christian name. Ralph saw his first strategic point, which was to capture Bud Means.
After supper, the boys began to get ready for something. Bull stuck up his ears in a dignified way, and the three or four yellow curs who were Bull's satellites yelped delightedly and discordantly.
"Bill," said Bud Means to his brother, "ax the master ef he'd like to hunt coons. I'd like to take the starch out uv the stuck-up feller."
"'Nough said," was Bill's reply.
"You durn't do it," said Bud.
"I don't take no sech a dare," returned Bill, and walked down to the gate, by which Ralph stood watching the stars come out, and half wishing he had never seen Flat Creek.
"I say, mister," began Bill, "mister, they's a coon what's been a eatin' our chickens lately, and we're goin' to try to ketch the varmint. You wouldn't like to take a coon hunt nor nothin', would you?"
"Why, yes," said Ralph, "there's nothing I should like better, if I could only be sure Bull wouldn't mistake me for the coon."
And so, as a matter of policy, Ralph dragged his tired legs eight or ten miles, on hill and in hollow, after Bud, and Bill, and Bull, and the coon. But the raccoon climbed a tree. The boys got into a quarrel about whose business it was to have brought the axe, and who was to blame that the tree could not be felled. Now, if there was anything Ralph's muscles were good for, it was climbing. So, asking Bud to give him a start, he soon reached the limb above the one on which the raccoon was. Ralph did not know how ugly a customer a raccoon can be, and so got credit for more courage than he had. With much peril to his legs from the raccoon's teeth, he succeeded in shaking the poor creature off among the yelping brutes and yelling boys. Ralph could not help sympathizing with the hunted animal, which sold its life as dearly as possible, giving the dogs many a scratch and bite. It seemed to him that he was like the raccoon, precipitated into the midst of a party of dogs who would rejoice in worrying his life out, as Bull and his crowd were destroying the poor raccoon. When Bull at last seized the raccoon and put an end to it, Ralph could not but admire the decided way in which he did it, calling to mind Bud's comment, "Ef Bull once takes a holt, heaven and yarth can't make him let go."
But as they walked home, Bud carrying the raccoon by the tail, Ralph felt that his hunt had not been in vain. He fancied that even red-eyed Bull, walking uncomfortably close to his heels, respected him more since he had climbed that tree.
"Purty peart kind of a master," remarked the old man to Bud, after Ralph had gone to bed. "Guess you better be a little easy on him. Hey?"
But Bud deigned no reply. Perhaps because he knew that Ralph heard the conversation through the thin partition.
Ralph woke delighted to find it raining. He did not want to hunt or fish on Sunday, and this steady rain would enable him to make friends with Bud. I do not know how he got started, but after breakfast he began to tell stories. Out of all the books he had ever read he told story after story. And "old man Means," and "old Miss Means," and Bud Means, and Bill Means, and Sis Means listened with great eyes while he told of Sinbad's adventures, of the Old Man of the Sea, of Robinson Crusoe, of Captain Gulliver's experiences in Liliput, and of Baron Munchausen's exploits.
Ralph had caught his fish. The hungry minds of these backwoods people were refreshed with the new life that came to their imaginations in these stories. For there was but one book in the Means library, and that, a well-thumbed copy of "Captain Riley's Narrative," had long since lost all freshness.
"I'll be dog-on'd," said Bill, emphatically, "ef I hadn't 'ruther hear the master tell them whoppin' yarns than to go to a circus the best day I ever seed!" Bill could pay no higher compliment.
What Ralph wanted was to make a friend of Bud. It's a nice thing to have the seventy-four-gun ship on your own side, and the more Hartsook admired the knotted muscles of Bud Means the more he desired to attach him to himself. So, whenever he struck out a peculiarly brilliant passage, he anxiously watched Bud's eye. But the young Philistine kept his own counsel. He listened, but said nothing, and the eyes under his shaggy brows gave no sign. Ralph could not tell whether those eyes were deep and inscrutable or only stolid. Perhaps a little of both. When Monday morning came, Ralph was nervous. He walked to school with Bud.
"I guess you're a little skeered by what the old man said, a'n't you?"
Ralph was about to deny it, but on reflection concluded that it was best to speak the truth. He said that Mr. Means's description of the school had made him feel a little down-hearted.
"What will you do with the tough boys? You a'n't no match for 'em." And Ralph felt Bud's eyes not only measuring his muscles, but scrutinizing his countenance. He only answered:
"I don't know."
"What would you do with me, for instance?" and Bud stretched himself up as if to shake out the reserve power coiled up in his great muscles.
"I sha'n't have any trouble with you."
"Why, I'm the wust chap of all. I thrashed the last master, myself."
And again the eyes of Bud Means looked out sharply from his shadowing brows to see the effect of this speech on the slender young man.
"You won't thrash me, though," said Ralph.
"Pshaw! I 'low I could whip you in an inch of your life with my left hand, and never half try," said young Means, with a threatening sneer.
"I know that as well as you do."
"Well, a'n't you afraid of me, then?" and again he looked sidewise at Ralph.
"Not a bit," said Ralph, wondering at his own courage.
They walked on in silence a minute. Bud was turning the matter over.
"Why a'n't you afraid of me?" he said presently.
"Because you and I are going to be friends."
"And what about t'others?"
"I am not afraid of all the other boys put together."
"You a'n't! The mischief! How's that?"
"Well, I'm not afraid of them because you and I are going to be friends, and you can whip all of them together. You'll do the fighting and I'll do the teaching."
The diplomatic Bud only chuckled a little at this; whether he assented to the alliance or not Ralph could not tell.
When Ralph looked round on the faces of the scholars—the little faces full of mischief and curiosity, the big faces full of an expression which was not further removed than second-cousin from contempt—when when young Hartsook looked into these faces, his heart palpitated with stage-fright. There is no audience so hard to face as one of school-children, as many a man has found to his cost. Perhaps it is that no conventional restraint can keep down their laughter when you do or say anything ridiculous.
Hartsook's first day was hurried and unsatisfactory. He was not of himself, and consequently not master of anybody else. When evening came, there were symptoms of insubordination through the whole school. Poor Ralph was sick at heart. He felt that if there had ever been the shadow of an alliance between himself and Bud, it was all "off" now. It seemed to Hartsook that even Bull had lost his respect for the teacher. Half that night the young man lay awake. At last comfort came to him. A reminiscence of the death of the raccoon flashed on him like a vision. He remembered that quiet and annihilating bite which Bull gave. He remembered Bud's certificate, that "Ef Bull once takes a holt, heaven and yarth can't make him let go." He thought that what Flat Creek needed was a bulldog. He would be a bulldog, quiet, but invincible. He would take hold in such a way that nothing should make him let go. And then he went to sleep.
In the morning Ralph got out of bed slowly. He put his clothes on slowly. He pulled on his boots in a bulldog mood. He tried to move as he thought Bull would move if he were a man. He ate with deliberation, and looked everybody in the eyes with a manner that made Bud watch him curiously. He found himself continually comparing himself with Bull. He found Bull possessing a strange fascination for him. He walked to school alone, the rest having gone on before. He entered the school-room preserving a cool and dogged manner. He saw in the eyes of the boys that there was mischief brewing. He did not dare sit down in his chair for fear of a pin. Everybody looked solemn. Ralph lifted the lid of his desk. "Bow-wow! wow-wow!" It was the voice of an imprisoned puppy, and the school giggled and then roared. Then everything was quiet.
The scholars expected an outburst of wrath from the teacher. For they had come to regard the whole world as divided into two classes, the teacher on the one side representing lawful authority, and the pupils on the other in a state of chronic rebellion. To play a trick on the master was an evidence of spirit; to "lick" the master was to be the crowned hero of Flat Creek district. Such a hero was Bud Means; and Bill, who had less muscle, saw a chance to distinguish himself on a teacher of slender frame. Hence the puppy in the desk.
Ralph Hartsook grew red in the face when he saw the puppy. But the cool, repressed, bulldog mood in which he had kept himself saved him. He lifted the dog into his arms and stroked him until the laughter subsided. Then, in a solemn and set way, he began:
"I am sorry," and he looked round the room with a steady, hard eye—everybody felt that there was a conflict coming—"I am sorry that any scholar in this school could be so mean"—the word was uttered with a sharp emphasis, and all the big boys felt sure that there would be a fight with Bill Means, and perhaps with Bud—"could be so mean—as to—shut up his brother in such a place as that!"
There was a long, derisive laugh. The wit was indifferent, but by one stroke Ralph had carried the whole school to his side. By the significant glances of the boys, Hartsook detected the perpetrator of the joke, and with the hard and dogged look in his eyes, with just such a look as Bull would give a puppy, but with the utmost suavity in his voice, he said:
"William Means, will you be so good as to put this dog out of doors?"
[Footnote 2: Aout is not the common form of out, as it is in certain rustic New England regions. The vowel is here drawn in this way for imperative emphasis, and it occurs as a consequence of drawling speech.]
[Footnote 3: "'Nough said" is more than enough said for the French translator, who takes it apparently for a sort of barbarous negative and renders it, "I don't like to speak to him." I need hardly explain to any American reader that enough said implies the ending of all discussion by the acceptance of the proposition or challenge.]
[Footnote 4: Durn't, daren't, dasent, dursent, and don't dast are forms of this variable negative heard in the folk-speech of various parts of the country. The tenses of this verb seem to have got hopelessly mixed long ago, even in literary use, and the speech of the people reflects the historic confusion.]
[Footnote 5: To take a dare is an expression used in senses diametrically opposed. Its common sense is that of the text. The man who refuses to accept a challenge is said to take a dare, and there is some implication of cowardice in the imputation. On the other hand, one who accepts a challenge is said also to take the dare.]
[Footnote 6: Most bad English was once good English. Ketch was used by writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries for catch. A New Hampshire magistrate in the seventeenth century spells it caitch, and probably pronounced it in that way. Ketch, a boat, was sometimes spelled catch by the first American colonists, and the far-fetched derivation of the word from the Turkish may be one of the fancies of etymologists.]
[Footnote 7: The derivation of raccoon from the French raton, to which Mr. Skeat gives currency, still holds its place in some of our standard dictionaries. If American lexicographers would only read the literature of American settlement they would know that Mr. Skeat's citation of a translation of Buffon is nearly two centuries too late. As early as 1612 Captain John Smith gives aroughcune as the aboriginal Virginia word, and more than one New England writer used rackoon a few years later.]
[Footnote 8: This prefixed y is a mark of a very illiterate or antique form of the dialect. I have known piece yarthen used for "a piece of earthen" [ware], the preposition getting lost in the sound of the y. I leave it to etymologists to determine its relation to that ancient prefix that differentiates earn in one sense from yearn. But the article before a vowel may account for it if we consider it a corruption. "The earth" pronounced in a drawling way will produce the yearth. In the New York Documents is a letter from one Barnard Hodges, a settler in Delaware in the days of Governor Andros, whose spelling indicates a free use of the parasitic y. He writes "yunless," "yeunder" (under), "yunderstanding," "yeundertake," and "yeouffeis" (office).]
[Footnote 9: Like many of the ear-marks of this dialect, the verb "dog-on" came from Scotland, presumably by the way of the north of Ireland. A correspondent of The Nation calls attention to the use of "dagon" as Scotch dialect in Barrie's "Little Minister," a recent book. On examining that story, I find that the word has precisely the sense of our Hoosier "dog-on," which is to be pronounced broadly as a Hoosier pronounces dog—"daug-on." If Mr. Barrie gives his a the broad sound, his "dagon" is nearly identical with "dog-on." Here are some detached sentences from "The Little Minister:"
"Beattie spoke for more than himself when he said: 'Dagon that Manse! I never gie a swear but there it is glowering at me.'"
"'Dagon religion,' Rob retorted fiercely; 't spoils a' thing.'"
"There was some angry muttering from the crowd, and young Charles Yuill exclaimed, 'Dagon you, would you lord it ower us on week-days as well as on Sabbaths?'"
"'Have you on your Sabbath shoon or have you no on your Sabbath shoon?' 'Guid care you took I should ha'e the dagont things on!' retorted the farmer."
It will be seen that "dagont," as used above, is the Scotch form of "dog-oned." But Mr. Barrie uses the same form apparently for "dog-on it" in the following passage:
"Ay, there was Ruth when she was na wanted, but Ezra, dagont, it looked as if Ezra had jumped clean out o' the Bible!"
Strangely enough, this word as a verb is not to be found in Jamieson's dictionary of the Scottish dialect, but Jamieson gives "dugon" as a noun. It is given in the supplement to Jamieson, however, as "dogon," but still as a noun, with an ancient plural dogonis. It is explained as "a term of contempt." The example cited by Jamieson is Hogg's "Winter Tales," I. 292, and is as follows:
"What wad my father say if I were to marry a man that loot himsel' be thrashed by Tommy Potts, a great supple wi' a back nae stiffer than a willy brand? . . . When one comes to close quarters wi' him he's but a dugon."
Halliwell and Wright give dogon as a noun, and mark it Anglo-Norman, but they apparently know it only from Jamieson and the supplement to Jamieson, where dogguin is cited from Cotgrave as meaning "a filthie old curre," and doguin from Roquefort, defined by "brutal, currish" [hargneux]. A word with the same orthography, doguin, is still used in French for puppy. It is of course a question whether the noun dogon and its French antecedents are connected with the American verb dog-on. It is easy to conceive that such an epithet as dogon might get itself mixed up with the word dog, and so become an imprecation. For instance, a servant in the family of a friend of mine in Indiana, wishing to resign her place before the return of some daughters of the house whom she had never seen, announced that she was going to leave "before them dog-on girls got home." Here the word might have been the old epithet, or an abbreviated participle. Dogged is apparently a corruption of dog-on in the phrase "I'll be dogged." I prefer dog-on to dogone, because in the dialect the sense of setting a dog on is frequently present to the speaker, though far enough away from the primitive sense of the word; perhaps.]
A SPELL COMING.
There was a moment of utter stillness; but the magnetism of Ralph's eye was too much for Bill Means. The request was so polite, the master's look was so innocent and yet so determined. Bill often wondered afterward that he had not "fit" rather than obeyed the request. But somehow he put the dog out. He was partly surprised, partly inveighed, partly awed into doing just what he had not intended to do. In the week that followed, Bill had to fight half a dozen boys for calling him "Puppy Means." Bill said he wished he'd licked the master on the spot. 'Twould 'a' saved five fights out of the six.
And all that day and the next, the bulldog in the master's eye was a terror to evil-doers. At the close of school on the second day Bud was heard to give it as his opinion that "the master wouldn't be much in a tussle, but he had a heap of thunder and lightning in him."
Did he inflict corporal punishment? inquires some philanthropic friend. Would you inflict corporal punishment if you were tiger-trainer in Van Amburgh's happy family? But poor Ralph could never satisfy his constituency in this regard.
"Don't believe he'll do," was Mr. Pete Jones's comment to Mr. Means. "Don't thrash enough. Boys won't l'arn 'less you thrash 'em, says I. Leastways, mine won't. Lay it on good is what I says to a master. Lay it on good. Don't do no harm. Lickin' and l'arnin' goes together. No lickin', no l'arnin', says I. Lickin' and l'arnin,' lickin' and larnin', is the good ole way."
And Mr. Jones, like some wiser people, was the more pleased with his formula that it had an alliterative sound. Nevertheless, Ralph was master from this time until the spelling-school came. If only it had not been for that spelling-school! Many and many a time after the night of the fatal spelling-school Ralph used to say, "If only it had not been for that spelling-school!"
There had to be a spelling-school. Not only for the sake of my story, which would not have been worth the telling if the spelling-school had not taken place, but because Flat Creek district had to have a spelling-school. It is the only public literary exercise known in Hoopole County. It takes the place of lyceum lecture and debating club. Sis Means, or, as she wished now to be called, Mirandy Means, expressed herself most positively in favor of it. She said that she 'lowed the folks in that district couldn't in no wise do without it. But it was rather to its social than to its intellectual benefits that she referred. For all the spelling-schools ever seen could not enable her to stand anywhere but at the foot of the class. There is one branch diligently taught in a backwoods school. The public mind seems impressed with the difficulties of English orthography, and there is a solemn conviction that the chief end of man is to learn to spell. "'Know Webster's Elementary' came down from Heaven," would be the backwoods version of the 'Greek saying but that, unfortunately for the Greeks, their fame has not reached so far. It often happens that the pupil does not know the meaning of a single word in the lesson. This is of no consequence. What do you want to know the meaning of a word for? Words were made to be spelled, and men were probably created that they might spell them. Hence the necessity for sending a pupil through the spelling-book five times before you allow him to begin to read, or indeed to do anything else. Hence the necessity for those long spelling-classes at the close of each forenoon and afternoon session of the school, to stand at the head of which is the cherished ambition of every scholar. Hence, too, the necessity for devoting the whole of the afternoon session of each Friday to a "spelling-match." In fact, spelling is the "national game" in Hoopole County. Baseball and croquet matches are as unknown as Olympian chariot-races. Spelling and shucking are the only public competitions.
So the fatal spelling-school had to be appointed for the Wednesday of the second week of the session, just when Ralph felt himself master of the situation. Not that he was without his annoyances. One of Ralph's troubles in the week before the spelling-school was that he was loved. The other that he was hated. And while the time between the appointing of the spelling tournament and the actual occurrence of that remarkable event is engaged in elapsing, let me narrate two incidents that made it for Ralph a trying time.
[Footnote 10: In naming the several parts of the Indian corn and the dishes made from it, the English language was put to many shifts. Such words as tassel and silk were poetically applied to the blossoms; stalk, blade, and ear were borrowed from other sorts of corn, and the Indian tongues were forced to pay tribute to name the dishes borrowed from the savages. From them we have hominy, pone, supawn, and succotash. For other nouns words were borrowed from English provincial dialects. Shuck is one of these. On the northern belt, shucks are the outer covering of nuts; in the middle and southern regions the word is applied to what in New England is called the husks of the corn. Shuck, however, is much more widely used than husk in colloquial speech—the farmers in more than half of the United States are hardly acquainted with the word husk as applied to the envelope of the ear. Husk, in the Middle States, and in some parts of the South and West, means the bran of the cornmeal, as notably in Davy Crockett's verse:
"She sifted the meal, she gimme the hus'; She baked the bread, she gimme the crus'; She b'iled the meat, she gimme the bone; She gimme a kick and sent me home."
In parts of Virginia, before the war, the word husk or hus' meant the cob or spike of the corn. "I smack you over wid a cawn-hus'" is a threat I have often heard one negro boy make to another. Cob is provincial English for ear, and I have known "a cob of corn" used in Canada for an ear of Indian corn. While writing this note "a cob of Indian corn "—meaning an ear—appears in the report of an address by a distinguished man at a recent meeting of the Royal Geographical Society. A lady tells me that she met, in the book of an English traveller, the remarkable statement that "the Americans are very fond of the young grain called cob." These Indian-corn words have reached an accepted meaning after a competition. To shell corn, among the earliest settlers of Virginia, meant to take it out of the envelope, which was presumably called the shell. The analogy is with the shelling of pulse.]
MIRANDY, HANK, AND SHOCKY.
Mirandy had nothing but contempt for the new master until he developed the bulldog in his character. Mirandy fell in love with the bulldog. Like many other girls of her class, she was greatly enamored with the "subjection of women," and she stood ready to fall in love with any man strong enough to be her master. Much has been said of the strong-minded woman. I offer this psychological remark as a contribution to the natural history of the weak-minded woman.
It was at the close of that very second day on which Ralph had achieved his first victory over the school, and in which Mirandy had been seized with her desperate passion for him, that she told him about it. Not in words. We do not allow that in the most civilized countries, and still less would it be tolerated in Hoopole County. But Mirandy told the master the fact that she was in love with him, though no word passed her lips. She walked by him from school. She cast at him what are commonly called sheep's-eyes. Ralph thought them more like calf's eyes. She changed the whole tone of her voice. She whined ordinarily. Now she whimpered. And so by ogling him, by blushing at him, by tittering at him, by giggling at him, by snickering at him, by simpering at him, by making herself tenfold more a fool even than nature had made her, she managed to convey to the dismayed soul of the young teacher the frightful intelligence that he was loved by the richest, the ugliest, the silliest, the coarsest, and the most entirely contemptible girl in Flat Creek district.
Ralph sat by the fire the next morning trying to read a few minutes before school-time, while the boys were doing the chores and the bound girl was milking the cows, with no one in the room but the old woman. She was generally as silent as Bud, but now she seemed for some unaccountable reason disposed to talk. She had sat down on the broad hearth to have her usual morning smoke; the poplar table, adorned by no cloth, stood in the middle of the floor; the unwashed blue teacups sat in the unwashed blue saucers; the unwashed blue plates kept company with the begrimed blue pitcher. The dirty skillets by the fire were kept in countenance by the dirtier pots, and the ashes were drifted and strewn over the hearth-stones in a most picturesque way.
"You see," said the old woman, knocking the residuum from her cob pipe, and chafing some dry leaf between her withered hands preparatory to filling it again, "you see, Mr. Hartsook, my ole man's purty well along in the world. He's got a right smart lot of this world's plunder, one way and another." And while she stuffed the tobacco into her pipe Ralph wondered why she should mention it to him. "You see, we moved in here nigh upon twenty-five years ago. 'Twas when my Jack, him as died afore Bud was born, was a baby. Bud'll be twenty-one the fif' of next June."
Here Mrs. Means stopped to rake a live coal out of the fire with her skinny finger, and then to carry it in her skinny palm to the bowl—or to the hole—of her cob pipe. When she got the smoke a-going, she proceeded:
"You see, this yere bottom land was all Congress land in them there days, and it sold for a dollar and a quarter, and I says to my ole man, 'Jack,' says I, 'Jack, do you git a plenty while you're a-gittin'. Git a plenty while you're a-gittin',' says I, 'fer 'twon't never be no cheaper'n 'tis now,' and it ha'n't been; I knowed 'twouldn't," and Mrs. Means took the pipe from her mouth to indulge in a good chuckle at the thought of her financial shrewdness. "'Git a plenty while you're a-gittin' says I. I could see, you know, they was a powerful sight of money in Congress land. That's what made me say, 'Git a plenty while you're a-gittin'.' And Jack, he's wuth lots and gobs of money, all made out of Congress land. Jack didn't git rich by hard work. Bless you, no! Not him. That a'n't his way. Hard work a'n't, you know. 'Twas that air six hundred dollars he got along of me, all salted down into Flat Crick bottoms at a dollar and a quarter a' acre, and 'twas my sayin' 'Git a plenty while you're a gittin'' as done it." And here the old ogre laughed, or grinned horribly, at Ralph, showing her few straggling, discolored teeth.
Then she got up and knocked the ashes out of her pipe, and laid the pipe away and walked round In front of Ralph. After adjusting the chunks so that the fire would burn, she turned her yellow face toward Ralph, and scanning him closely came out with the climax of her speech in the remark: "You see as how, Mr. Hartsook, the man what gits my Mirandy'll do well. Flat Crick land's wuth nigt upon a hundred a' acre."
This gentle hint came near knocking Ralph down. Had Flat Creek land been worth a hundred times a hundred dollars an acre, and had he owned five hundred times Means's five hundred acres, he would have given it all just at that moment to have annihilated the whole tribe of Meanses. Except Bud. Bud was a giant, but a good-natured one. He thought he would except Bud from the general destruction. As for the rest, he mentally pictured to himself the pleasure of attending their funerals. There was one thought, however, between him and despair. He felt confident that the cordiality, the intensity, and the persistency of his dislike of Sis Means were such that he should never inherit a foot of the Flat Creek bottoms.
But what about Bud? What if he joined the conspiracy to marry him to this weak-eyed, weak-headed wood-nymph, or backwoods nymph?
If Ralph felt it a misfortune to be loved by Mirandy Means, he found himself almost equally unfortunate in having incurred the hatred of the meanest boy in school. "Hank" Banta, low-browed, smirky, and crafty, was the first sufferer by Ralph's determination to use corporal punishment, and so Henry Banta, who was a compound of deceit and resentment, never lost an opportunity to annoy the young school-master, who was obliged to live perpetually on his guard against his tricks.
One morning, as Ralph walked toward the school-house, he met little Shocky. What the boy's first name or last name was the teacher did not know. He had given his name as Shocky, and all the teacher knew was that he was commonly called Shocky, that he was an orphan, that he lived with a family named Pearson over in Rocky Hollow, and that he was the most faithful and affectionate child in the school. On this morning that I speak of, Ralph had walked toward the school early to avoid the company of Mirandy. But not caring to sustain his dignity longer than was necessary, he loitered along the road, admiring the trunks of the maples, and picking up a beech-nut now and then. Just as he was about to go on toward the school, he caught sight of little Shocky running swiftly toward him, but looking from side to side, as if afraid of being seen.
"Well, Shocky, what is it?" and Ralph put his hand kindly on the great bushy head of white hair from which came Shocky's nickname. Shocky had to pant a minute.
"Why, Mr. Hartsook," he gasped, scratching his head, "they's a pond down under the school-house," and here Shocky's breath gave out entirely for a minute.
"Yes, Shocky, I know that. What about it? The trustees haven't come to fill it up, have they?"
"Oh! no, sir; but Hank Banta, you know—" and Shocky took another breathing spell, standing as dose to Ralph as he could, for poor Shocky got all his sunshine from the master's presence.
"Has Henry fallen in and got a ducking, Shocky?"
"Oh! no, sir; he wants to git you in, you see."
"Well, I won't go in, though, Shocky."
"But, you see, he's been and gone and pulled back the board that you have to step on to git ahind your desk; he's been and gone and pulled back the board so as you can't help a-tippin' it up, and a-sowsin' right in ef you step there."
"And so you came to tell me." There was a huskiness in Ralph's voice. He had, then, one friend in Flat Creek district—poor little Shocky. He put his arm around Shocky just a moment, and then told him to hasten across to the other road, so as to come back to the school-house in a direction at right angles to the master's approach. But the caution was not needed. Shocky had taken care to leave in that way, and was altogether too cunning to be seen coming down the road with Mr. Hartsook. But after he got over the fence to go through the "sugar camp" (or sugar orchard, as they say at the East), he stopped and turned back once or twice, just to catch one more smile from Ralph. And then he hied away through the tall trees, a very happy boy, kicking and ploughing the brown leaves before him in his perfect delight, saying over and over again: "How he looked at me! how he did look!" And when Ralph came up to the school-house door, there was Shocky sauntering along from the other direction, throwing bits of limestone at fence rails, and smiling still clear down to his shoes at thought of the master's kind words.
"What a quare boy Shocky is!" remarked Betsey Short, with a giggle. "He just likes to wander round alone. I see him a-comin' out of the sugar camp just now. He's been in there half an hour." And Betsey giggled again; for Betsey Short could giggle on slighter provocation than any other girl on Flat Creek.
When Ralph Hartsook, with the quiet, dogged tread that he was cultivating, walked into the school-room, he took great care not to seem to see the trap set for him; but he carelessly stepped over the board that had been so nicely adjusted. The boys who were Hank's confidants in the plot were very busy over their slates, and took pains not to show their disappointment.
The morning session wore on without incident. Ralph several times caught two people looking at him. One was Mirandy. Her weak and watery eyes stole loving glances over the top of her spelling-book, which she would not study. Her looks made Ralph's spirits sink to forty below zero, and congeal.
But on one of the backless little benches that sat in the middle of the school-room was little Shocky, who also cast many love glances at the young master; glances as grateful to his heart as Mirandy's ogling—he was tempted to call it ogring—was hateful.
"Look at Shocky," giggled Betsey Short, behind her slate. "He looks as if he was a-goin' to eat the master up, body and soul."
And so the forenoon wore on as usual, and those who laid the trap had forgotten it, themselves. The morning session was drawing to a close. The fire in the great old fire-place had burnt low. The flames, which seemed to Shocky to be angels, had disappeared, and now the bright coals, which had played the part of men and women and houses in Shocky's fancy, had taken on a white and downy covering of ashes, and the great half-burnt back-log lay there smouldering like a giant asleep in a snow-drift. Shocky longed to wake him up.
As for Henry Banta, he was too much bothered to get the answer to a "sum" he was doing, to remember anything about his trap. In fact, he had quite forgotten that half an hour ago in the all-absorbing employment of drawing ugly pictures on his slate and coaxing Betsey Short to giggle by showing them slyly across the school-room. Once or twice Ralph had been attracted to Betsey's extraordinary fits of giggling, and had come so near to catching Hank that the boy thought it best not to run any further risk of the beech switches, four or five feet long, laid up behind the master in sight of the school as a prophylactic. Hence his application just now to his "sum" in long division, and hence his puzzled look, for, idler that he was, his "sums" did not solve themselves easily. As usual in such cases, he came up in front of the master's desk to have the difficulty explained. He had to wait a minute until Ralph got through with showing Betsey Short, who had been seized with a studying fit, and who could hardly give any attention to the teacher's explanations, she did want to giggle so much! Not at anything in particular, but just at things in general.
While Ralph was "doing" Betsey's "sum" for her, he was solving a much more difficult question. A plan had flashed upon him, but the punishment seemed a severe one. He gave it up once or twice, but he remembered how turbulent the Flat Creek elements were; and had he not inly resolved to be as unrelenting as a bulldog? He fortified himself by recalling again the oft-remembered remark of Bud, "Ef Bull wunst takes a holt, heaven and yarth can't make him let go." And so he resolved to give Hank and the whole school one good lesson.
"Just step round behind me, Henry, and you can see how I do this," said Ralph.
Hank was entirely off his guard, and, with his eyes fixed upon the slate on the teacher's desk, he sidled round upon the broad loose board misplaced by his own hand, and in an instant the other end of the board rose up in the middle of the school-room, almost striking Shocky in the face, while Henry Banta went down into the ice-cold water beneath the school-house.
"Why, Henry!" cried Ralph, jumping to his feet with well-feigned surprise. "How did this happen?" him by the fire.
Betsey Short giggled.
Shocky was so tickled that he could hardly keep his seat.
The boys who were in the plot looked very serious indeed.
Ralph made some remarks by way of improving the occasion. He spoke strongly of the utter meanness of the one who could play so heartless a trick on a schoolmate. He said that it was as much thieving to get your fun at the expense of another as to steal his money. And while he talked, all eyes were turned on Hank—all except the eyes of Mirandy Means. They looked simperingly at Ralph. All the rest looked at Hank. The fire had made his face very red. Shocky noticed that. Betsey Short noticed it, and giggled. The master wound up with an appropriate quotation from Scripture. He said that the person who displaced that board had better not be encouraged by the success—he said success with a curious emphasis—of the present experiment to attempt another trick of the kind. For it was set down in the Bible that if a man dug a pit for the feet of another he would be very likely to fall in it himself. Which made all the pupils look solemn, except Betsey Short, who giggled. And Shocky wanted to. And Mirandy cast an expiring look at Ralph. And if the teacher was not love-sick, he certainly was sick of Mirandy's love.
When school was "let out," Ralph gave Hank every caution that he could about taking cold, and even lent him his overcoat, very much against Hank's will. For Hank had obstinately refused to go home before the school was dismissed.
Then the master walked out in a quiet and subdued way to spend the noon recess in the woods, while Shocky watched his retreating footsteps with loving admiration. And the pupils not in the secret canvassed the question of who moved the board. Bill Means said he'd bet Hank did it, which set Betsey Short off in an uncontrollable giggle. And Shocky listened innocently.
But that night Bud said slyly: "Thunder and lightning! what a manager you air, Mr. Hartsook!" To which Ralph returned no reply except a friendly smile. Muscle paid tribute to brains that time.
But Ralph had no time for exultation; for just here came the spelling-school.
[Footnote 11: This word plunder is probably from Pennsylvania, as it is exactly equivalent to the German word plunder, in the sense of household effects, the original meaning of the word in German. Any kind of baggage may be called plunder, but the most accepted sense is household goods. It is quite seriously used. I have seen bills of lading on the Western waters certifying that A.B. had shipped "1 lot of plunder;" that is, household goods. It is here used figuratively for goods in general.]
[Footnote 12: Congress land was the old designation for land owned by the government. Under the Confederation, the Congress was the government, and the forms of speech seem to have long retained the notion that what belonged to the United States was the property of Congress.]
[Footnote 13: The commonest use of the word chunk in the old days was for the ends of the sticks of cord-wood burned in the great fireplaces. As the sticks burned in two, the chunks fell down or rolled back on the wall side of the andirons. By putting the chunks together, a new fire was set a-going without fresh wood. This use of the word is illustrated in a folk-rhyme or nursery jingle of the country which has neither sense nor elegance to recommend it:
"Old Mother Hunk She got drunk And fell in the fire And kicked up a chunk." ]
SPELLING DOWN THE MASTER.
"I 'low," said Mrs. Means, as she stuffed the tobacco into her cob pipe after supper on that eventful Wednesday evening: "I 'low they'll app'int the Squire to gin out the words to-night. They mos' always do, you see, kase he's the peartest ole man in this deestrick; and I 'low some of the young fellers would have to git up and dust ef they would keep up to him. And he uses sech remarkable smart words. He speaks so polite, too. But laws! don't I remember when he was poarer nor Job's turkey? Twenty year ago, when he come to these 'ere diggings, that air Squire Hawkins was a poar Yankee school-master, that said 'pail' instid of bucket, and that called a cow a 'caow,' and that couldn't tell to save his gizzard what we meant by 'low and by right smart. But he's larnt our ways now, an' he's jest as civilized as the rest of us. You would-n know he'd ever been a Yankee. He didn't stay poar long. Not he. He jest married a right rich girl! He! he!" And the old woman grinned at Ralph, and then at Mirandy, and then at the rest, until Ralph shuddered. Nothing was so frightful to him as to be fawned on by this grinning ogre, whose few lonesome, blackish teeth seemed ready to devour him. "He didn't stay poar, you bet a hoss!" and with this the coal was deposited on the pipe, and the lips began to crack like parchment as each puff of smoke escaped. "He married rich, you see," and here another significant look at the young master, and another fond look at Mirandy, as she puffed away reflectively. "His wife hadn't no book-larnin'. She'd been through the spellin'-book wunst, and had got as fur as 'asperity' on it a second time. But she couldn't read a word when she was married, and never could. She warn't overly smart. She hadn't hardly got the sense the law allows. But schools was skase in them air days, and, besides, book-larnin' don't do no good to a woman. Makes her stuck up. I never knowed but one gal in my life as had ciphered into fractions, and she was so dog-on stuck up that she turned up her nose one night at a apple-peelin' bekase I tuck a sheet off the bed to splice out the table-cloth, which was rather short. And the sheet was mos' clean too. Had-n been slep on more'n wunst or twicet. But I was goin' fer to say that when Squire Hawkins married Virginny Gray he got a heap o' money, or, what's the same thing mostly, a heap o' good land. And that's better'n book-larnin', says I. Ef a gal had gone clean through all eddication, and got to the rule of three itself, that would-n buy a feather-bed. Squire Hawkins jest put eddication agin the gal's farm, and traded even, an' ef ary one of 'em got swindled, I never heerd no complaints."
And here she looked at Ralph in triumph, her hard face splintering into the hideous semblance of a smile. And Mirandy cast a blushing, gushing, all-imploring, and all-confiding look on the young master.
"I say, ole woman," broke in old Jack, "I say, wot is all this 'ere spoutin' about the Square fer?" and old Jack, having bit off an ounce of "pigtail," returned the plug to his pocket.
As for Ralph, he fell into a sort of terror. He had a guilty feeling that this speech of the old lady's had somehow committed him beyond recall to Mirandy. He did not see visions of breach-of-promise suits. But he trembled at the thought of an avenging big brother.
"Hanner, you kin come along, too, ef you're a mind, when you git the dishes washed," said Mrs. Means to the bound girl, as she shut and latched the back door. The Means family had built a new house in front of the old one, as a sort of advertisement of bettered circumstances, an eruption of shoddy feeling; but when the new building was completed, they found themselves unable to occupy it for anything else than a lumber room, and so, except a parlor which Mirandy had made an effort to furnish a little (in hope of the blissful time when somebody should "set up" with her of evenings), the new building was almost unoccupied, and the family went in and out through the back door, which, indeed, was the front door also, for, according to a curious custom, the "front" of the house was placed toward the south, though the "big road" (Hoosier for highway) ran along the north-west side, or, rather, past the north-west corner of it.
When the old woman had spoken thus to Hannah and had latched the door, she muttered, "That gal don't never show no gratitude fer favors;" to which Bud rejoined that he didn't think she had no great sight to be pertickler thankful fer. To which Mrs. Means made no reply, thinking it best, perhaps, not to wake up her dutiful son on so interesting a theme as her treatment of Hannah. Ralph felt glad that he was this evening to go to another boarding place. He should not hear the rest of the controversy.
Ralph walked to the school-house with Bill. They were friends again. For when Hank Banta's ducking and his dogged obstinacy in sitting in his wet clothes had brought on a serious fever, Ralph had called together the big boys, and had said: "We must take care of one another, boys. Who will volunteer to take turns sitting up with Henry?" He put his own name down, and all the rest followed.
"William Means and myself will sit up to-night," said Ralph. And poor Bill had been from that moment the teacher's friend. He was chosen to be Ralph's companion. He was Puppy Means no longer! Hank could not be conquered by kindness, and the teacher was made to feel the bitterness of his resentment long after. But Bill Means was for the time entirely placated, and he and Ralph went to spelling-school together.
Every family furnished a candle. There were yellow dips and white dips, burning, smoking, and flaring. There was laughing, and talking, and giggling, and simpering, and ogling, and flirting, and courting. What a full-dress party is to Fifth Avenue, a spelling-school is to Hoopole County. It is an occasion which is metaphorically inscribed with this legend: "Choose your partners." Spelling is only a blind in Hoopole County, as is dancing on Fifth Avenue. But as there are some in society who love dancing for its own sake, so in Flat Creek district there were those who loved spelling for its own sake, and who, smelling the battle from afar, had come to try their skill in this tournament, hoping to freshen the laurels they had won in their school-days.
"I 'low," said Mr. Means, speaking as the principal school trustee, "I 'low our friend the Square is jest the man to boss this 'ere consarn to-night. Ef nobody objects, I'll app'int him. Come, Square, don't be bashful. Walk up to the trough, fodder or no fodder, as the man said to his donkey."
There was a general giggle at this, and many of the young swains took occasion to nudge the girls alongside them, ostensibly for the purpose of making them see the joke, but really for the pure pleasure of nudging. The Greeks figured Cupid as naked, probably because he wears so many disguises that they could not select a costume for him.
The Squire came to the front. Ralph made an inventory of the agglomeration which bore the name of Squire Hawkins, as follows:
1. A swallow-tail coat of indefinite age, worn only on state occasions^ when its owner was called to figure in his public capacity. Either the Squire had grown too large or the coat too small.
2. A pair of black gloves, the most phenomenal, abnormal, and unexpected apparition conceivable in Flat Creek district, where the preachers wore no coats in the summer, and where a black glove was never seen except on the hands of the Squire.
3. A wig of that dirty, waxen color so common to wigs. This one showed a continual inclination to slip off the owner's smooth, bald pate, and the Squire had frequently to adjust it. As his hair had been red, the wig did not accord with his face, and the hair ungrayed was doubly discordant with a countenance shrivelled by age.
4. A semicircular row of whiskers hedging the edge of the jaw and chin. These were dyed a frightful dead-black, such a color as belonged to no natural hair or beard that ever existed. At the roots there was a quarter of an inch of white, giving the whiskers the appearance of having been stuck on.
5. A pair of spectacles "with tortoise-shell rim." Wont to slip off.
6. A glass eye, purchased of a peddler, and differing in color from its natural mate, perpetually getting out of focus by turning in or out.
7. A set of false teeth, badly fitted, and given to bobbing up and down.
8. The Squire proper, to whom these patches were loosely attached.
It is an old story that a boy wrote home to his father begging him to come West, because "mighty mean men get into office out here." But Ralph concluded that some Yankees had taught school in Hoopole County who would not have held a high place in the educational institutions of Massachusetts. Hawkins had some New England idioms, but they were well overlaid by a Western pronunciation.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he began, shoving up his spectacles, and sucking his lips over his white teeth to keep them in place, "ladies and gentlemen, young men and maidens, raley I'm obleeged to Mr. Means fer this honor," and the Squire took both hands and turned the top of his head round half an inch. Then he adjusted his spectacles. Whether he was obliged to Mr. Means for the honor of being compared to a donkey was not clear. "I feel in the inmost compartments of my animal spirits a most happifying sense of the success and futility of all my endeavors to sarve the people of Flat Creek deestrick, and the people of Tomkins township, in my weak way and manner." This burst of eloquence was delivered with a constrained air and an apparent sense of a danger that he, Squire Hawkins, might fall to pieces in his weak way and manner, and of the success and futility of all attempts at reconstruction. For by this time the ghastly pupil of the left eye, which was black, was looking away round to the left, while the little blue one on the right twinkled cheerfully toward the front. The front teeth would drop down so that the Squire's mouth was kept nearly closed, and his words whistled through.
"I feel as if I could be grandiloquent on this interesting occasion," twisting his scalp round, "but raley I must forego any such exertions. It is spelling you want. Spelling is the corner-stone, the grand, underlying subterfuge, of a good eddication. I put the spellin'-book prepared by the great Daniel Webster alongside the Bible. I do, raley. I think I may put it ahead of the Bible. For if it wurn't fer spellin'-books and sich occasions as these, where would the Bible be? I should like to know. The man who got up, who compounded this work of inextricable valoo was a benufactor to the whole human race or any other." Here the spectacles fell off. The Squire replaced them in some confusion, gave the top of his head another twist, and felt of his glass eye, while poor Shocky stared in wonder, and Betsey Short rolled from side to side in the effort to suppress her giggle. Mrs. Means and the other old ladies looked the applause they could not speak.
"I app'int Larkin Lanham and Jeems Buchanan fer captings," said the Squire. And the two young men thus named took a stick and tossed it from hand to hand to decide which should have the "first choice." One tossed the stick to the other, who held it fast just where he happened to catch it. Then the first placed his hand above the second, and so the hands were alternately changed to the top. The one who held the stick last without room for the other to take hold had gained the lot. This was tried three times. As Larkin held the stick twice out of three times, he had the choice. He hesitated a moment. Everybody looked toward tall Jim Phillips. But Larkin was fond of a venture on unknown seas, and so he said, "I take the master," while a buzz of surprise ran round the room, and the captain of the other side, as if afraid his opponent would withdraw the choice, retorted quickly, and with a little smack of exultation and defiance in his voice, "And I take Jeems Phillips."
And soon all present, except a few of the old folks, found themselves ranged in opposing hosts, the poor spellers lagging in, with what grace they could, at the foot of the two divisions. The Squire opened his spelling-book and began to give out the words to the two captains, who stood up and spelled against each other. It was not long until Larkin spelled "really" with one l, and had to sit down in confusion, while a murmur of satisfaction ran through the ranks of the opposing forces. His own side bit their lips. The slender figure of the young teacher took the place of the fallen leader, and the excitement made the house very quiet. Ralph dreaded the loss of prestige he would suffer if he should be easily spelled down. And at the moment of rising he saw in the darkest corner the figure of a well-dressed young man sitting in the shadow. Why should his evil genius haunt him? But by a strong effort he turned his attention away from Dr. Small, and listened carefully to the words which the Squire did not pronounce very distinctly, spelling them with extreme deliberation. This gave him an air of hesitation which disappointed those on his own side. They wanted him to spell with a dashing assurance. But he did not begin a word until he had mentally felt his way through it. After ten minutes of spelling hard words Jeems Buchanan, the captain on the other side, spelled "atrocious" with an s instead of a c, and subsided, his first choice, Jeems Phillips, coming up against the teacher. This brought the excitement to fever-heat. For though Ralph was chosen first, it was entirely on trust, and most of the company were disappointed. The champion who now stood up against the school-master was a famous speller.
Jim Phillips was a tall, lank, stoop-shouldered fellow who had never distinguished himself in any other pursuit than spelling. Except in this one art of spelling he was of no account. He could not catch well or bat well in ball. He could not throw well enough to make his mark in that famous West ern game of bull-pen. He did not succeed well in any study but that of Webster's Elementary. But in that he was—to use the usual Flat Creek locution—in that he was "a boss." This genius for spelling is in some people a sixth sense, a matter of intuition. Some spellers are born, and not made, and their facility reminds one of the mathematical prodigies that crop out every now and then to bewilder the world. Bud Means, foreseeing that Ralph would be pitted against Jim Phillips, had warned his friend that Jim could "spell like thunder and lightning," and that it "took a powerful smart speller" to beat him, for he knew "a heap of spelling-book." To have "spelled down the master" is next thing to having whipped the biggest bully in Hoopole County, and Jim had "spelled down" the last three masters. He divided the hero-worship of the district with Bud Means.
For half an hour the Squire gave out hard words. What a blessed thing our crooked orthography is! Without it there could be no spelling-schools. As Ralph discovered his opponent's mettle he became more and more cautious. He was now satisfied that Jim would eventually beat him. The fellow evidently knew more about the spelling-book than old Noah Webster himself. As he stood there, with his dull face and long sharp nose, his hands behind his back, and his voice spelling infallibly, it seemed to Hartsook that his superiority must lie in his nose. Ralph's cautiousness answered a double purpose; it enabled him to tread surely, and it was mistaken by Jim for weakness. Phillips was now confident that he should carry off the scalp of the fourth school-master before the evening was over. He spelled eagerly, confidently, brilliantly. Stoop-shouldered as he was, he began to straighten up. In the minds of all the company the odds were in his favor. He saw this, and became ambitious to distinguish himself by spelling without giving the matter any thought.