Mr. Ball did not let go easily. He had been engaged for the term, and he declared that he would go on to the end of the term, if there should be nothing but empty benches. In truth, he and his partisans hoped that the storm would blow over and the old man be allowed to go on teaching and thrashing as heretofore. He had a great advantage in that he had been trained in all the common branches better than most masters, and was regarded as a miracle of skill in arithmetical calculations. He even knew how to survey land.
Jack was much disappointed to miss his winter's schooling, and there was no probability that he would be able to attend school again. He went on as best he could at home, but he stuck fast on some difficult problems in the middle of the arithmetic. Columbus had by this time begun to recover his slender health, and he was even able to walk over to Jack's house occasionally. Finding Jack in despair over some of his "sums," he said:
"Why don't you ask Susan Lanham to show you? I believe she would; and she has been clean through the arithmetic, and she is 'most as good as the master himself."
"I don't like to," said Jack. "She wouldn't want to take the trouble."
But the next morning Christopher Columbus managed to creep over to the Lanhams:
"Cousin Sukey," he said, coaxingly, "I wish you'd do something for me. I want to ask a favor of you."
"What is it, Columbus?" said Sue. "Anything you ask shall be given, to the half of my kingdom!" and she struck an attitude, as Isabella of Castile, addressing the great Columbus, with the dust-brush for a sceptre, and the towel, which she had pinned about her head, for a crown.
"You are so funny," he said, with a faint smile. "But I wish you'd be sober a minute."
"Haven't had but one cup of coffee this morning. But what do you want?"
"Oh, yes, it's always Jack with you. But that's right—Jack deserves it."
"Jack can't do his sums, and he won't ask you to help him."
"And so he got you to ask?"
"No, he didn't. He wouldn't let me, if he knew. He thinks a young lady like you wouldn't want to take the trouble to help him."
"Do you tell that stupid Jack, that if he doesn't want to offend me so that I'll never, never forgive him, he is to bring his slate and pencil over here after supper this evening. And you'll come, too, with your geography. Yours truly, Susan Lanham, Professor of Mathematics and Natural Science in the Greenbank Independent and Miscellaneous Academy. Do you hear?"
"All right." And Columbus, smiling faintly, went off to tell Jack the good news. That evening Susan had, besides her own brother and two sisters, two pupils who learned more arithmetic than they would have gotten in the same time from Mr. Ball, though she did keep them laughing at her drollery. The next evening, little Joanna Merwin joined the party, and Professor Susan felt quite proud of her "academy," as she called it.
Bob Holliday caught the infection, and went to studying at home. As he was not so far advanced as Jack, he contented himself with asking Jack's help when he was in trouble. At length, he had a difficulty that Jack could not solve.
"Why don't you take that to the professor?" asked Jack. "I'll ask her to show you."
"I dursn't," said Bob, with a frightened look.
"Nonsense!" said Jack.
That evening, when the lessons were ended, Jack said:
"Professor Susan, there was a story in the old First Reader we had in the first school that I went to, about a dog who had a lame foot. A doctor cured his foot, and some time after, the patient brought another lame dog to the doctor, and showed by signs that he wanted this other dog cured, too."
"That's rather a good dog-story," said Susan. "But what made you think of it?"
"Because I'm that first dog."
"Yes. You've helped me, but there's Bob Holliday. I've been helping him, but he's got to a place where I don't quite understand the thing myself. Now Bob wouldn't dare ask you to help him——"
"Bring him along. How the Greenbank Academy grows!" laughed Susan, turning to her father.
Bob was afraid of Susan at first—his large fingers trembled so much that he had trouble to use his slate-pencil. But by the third evening his shyness had worn off, so that he got on well.
One evening, after a week of attendance, he was missing. The next morning he came to Jack's house with his face scratched and his eye bruised.
"What's the matter?" asked Jack.
"Well, you see, yesterday I was at the school-house at noon, and Pewee, egged on by Riley, said something he oughtn't to, about Susan, and I couldn't stand there and hear that girl made fun of, and so I up and downed him, and made him take it back. I can't go till my face looks better, you know, for I wouldn't want her to know anything about it."
But the professor heard all about it from Joanna, who had it from one of the school-boys. Susan sent Columbus to tell Bob that she knew all about it, and that he must come back to school.
"So you've been fighting, have you?" she said, severely, when Bob appeared. The poor fellow was glad she took that tone—if she had thanked him he wouldn't have been able to reply.
"Well, don't you do it any more. It's very wrong to fight. It makes boys brutal. A girl with ability enough to teach the Greenbank Academy can take care of herself, and she doesn't want her scholars to fight."
"All right," said Bob. "But," he muttered, "I'll thrash him all the same, and more than ever, if he ever says anything like that again."
CROWING AFTER VICTORY
Greenbank was awake, and the old master had to go. Mr. Weathervane stood up for him as long as he thought that the excitement was temporary. But when he found that Greenbank really was awake, and not just talking in its sleep, as it did for the most part, he changed sides,—not all at once, but by degrees. At first he softened down a little, "hemmed and hawed," as folks say. He said he did not know but that Mr. Ball had been hasty, but he meant well. The next day he took another step, and said that the old master meant well, but he was often too hasty in his temper. The next week he let himself down another peg in saying that "maybe" the old man meant well, but he was altogether too hot in his temper for a school-master. A little while later, he found out that Mr. Ball's way of teaching was quite out of date. Before a month had elapsed, he was sure that the old curmudgeon ought to be put out, and thus at last Mr. Weathervane found himself where he liked to be, in the popular party.
And so the old master came to his last day in the brick school-house. Whatever feelings he may have had in leaving behind him the scenes of his twenty-five years of labor, he said nothing. He only compressed his lips a little more tightly, scowled as severely as ever, removed his books and pens from his desk, gave a last look at his long beech switches on the wall, turned the key in the door of the school-house, carried it to Mr. Weathervane, received his pay, and walked slowly home to the house of his brother-in-law, Mr. Higbie.
The boys had resolved to have a demonstration. All their pent-up wrath against the master now found vent, since there was no longer any danger that the old man would have a chance to retaliate. They would serenade him. Bob Holliday was full of it. Harry Weathervane was very active. He was going to pound on his mother's bread-pan. Every sort of instrument for making a noise was brought into requisition. Dinner-bells, tin-pails, conch-shell dinner-horns, tin-horns, and even the village bass-drum, were to be used.
Would Jack go? Bob came over to inquire. All the boys were going to celebrate the downfall of a harsh master. He deserved it for beating Columbus. So Jack resolved to go.
But after the boys had departed, Jack began to doubt whether he ought to go or not. It did not seem quite right; yet his feelings had become so enlisted in the conflict for the old man's removal, that he had grown to be a bitter partisan, and the recollection of all he had suffered, and of all Columbus had endured during his sickness, reconciled Jack to the appearance of crowing over a fallen foe, which this burlesque serenade would have. Nevertheless, his conscience was not clear on the point, and he concluded to submit the matter to his mother, when she should come home to supper.
Unfortunately for Jack, his mother stayed away to tea, sending Jack word that he would have to get his own supper, and that she would come home early in the evening. Jack ate his bowl of bread and milk in solitude, trying to make himself believe that his mother would approve of his taking part in the "shiveree" of the old master. But when he had finished his supper, he concluded that if his mother did not come home in time for him to consult her, he would remain at home. He drew up by the light and tried to study, but he longed to be out with the boys. After a while Bob Holliday and Harry Weathervane came to the door and importuned Jack to come with them. It was lonesome at home; it would be good fun to celebrate the downfall of the old master's cruel rule, so, taking down an old dinner-bell, Jack went off to join the rest. He was a little disgusted when he found Riley, Pewee, and Ben Berry in the company, but once in the crowd, there was little chance to back out with credit. The boys crept through the back alleys until they came in front of Mr. Higbie's house, at half past eight o'clock. There was but one light visible, and that was in Mr. Ball's room. Jack dropped behind, a little faint of heart about the expedition. He felt sure in himself that his mother would shake her head if she knew of it. At length, at a signal from Bob, the tin pans, big and little, the skillet-lids grinding together, the horns, both conch-shell and tin, and the big bass-drum, set up a hideous clattering, banging, booming, roaring, and racketing. Jack rang his dinner-bell rather faintly, and stood back behind all the rest
"Jack's afraid," said Pewee. "Why don't you come up to the front, like a man?"
Jack could not stand a taunt like this, but came forward into the cluster of half-frightened peace-breakers. Just then, the door of Mr. Higbie's house was opened, and some one came out.
"It's Mr. Higbie," said Ben Berry. "He's going to shoot."
"It's Bugbee, the watchman, going to arrest us," said Pewee.
"It's Mr. Ball himself," said Riley, "and he'll whip us all." And he fled, followed pell-mell by the whole crowd, excepting Jack, who had a constitutional aversion to running away. He only slunk up close to the fence and so stood still.
"Hello! Who are you?" The voice was not that of Mr. Higbie, nor that of the old master, nor of the watchman, Bugbee. With some difficulty, Jack recognized the figure of Doctor Lanham. "Oh, it's Jack Dudley, is it?" said the doctor, after examining him in the feeble moonlight.
"Yes," said Jack, sheepishly.
"You're the one that got that whipping from the old master. I don't wonder you came out to-night."
"I do," said Jack, "and I would rather now that I had taken another such whipping than to find myself here."
"Well, well," said the doctor, "boys will be boys."
"And fools will be fools, I suppose," said Jack.
"Mr. Ball is very ill," continued the doctor. "Find the others and tell them they mustn't come here again to-night, or they'll kill him. I wouldn't have had this happen for anything. The old man's just broken down by the strain he has been under. He has deserved it all, but I think you might let him have a little peace now."
"So do I," said Jack, more ashamed of himself than ever.
The doctor went back into the house, and Jack Dudley and his dinner-bell started off down the street in search of Harry Weathervane and his tin pan, and Bob Holliday and his skillet-lids, and Ben Berry and the bass-drum.
"Hello, Jack!" called out Bob from an alley. "You stood your ground the best of all, didn't you?"
"I wish I'd stood my ground in the first place against you and Harry, and stayed at home."
"Why, what's the matter? Who was it?"
By this time the other boys were creeping out of their hiding-places and gathering about Jack.
"Well, it was the doctor," said Jack. "Mr. Ball's very sick and we've 'most killed him; that's all. We're a pack of cowards to go tooting at a poor old man when he's already down, and we ought to be kicked, every one of us. That's the way I feel about it," and Jack set out for home, not waiting for any leave-taking with the rest, who, for their part, slunk away in various directions, anxious to get their instruments of noise and torment hidden away out of sight.
Jack stuck the dinner-bell under the hay in the stable-loft, whence he could smuggle it into the house before his mother should get down-stairs in the morning. Then he went into the house.
"Where have you been?" asked Mrs. Dudley. "I came home early so that you needn't be lonesome."
"Bob Holliday and Harry Weathervane came for me, and I found it so lonesome here that I went out with them."
"Have you got your lessons?"
"No, ma'am," said Jack, sheepishly.
He was evidently not at ease, but his mother said no more. He went off to bed early, and lay awake a good part of the night. The next morning he brought the old dinner-bell and set it down in the very middle of the breakfast-table. Then he told his mother all about it. And she agreed with him that he had done a very mean thing.
AN ATTEMPT TO COLLECT
Three times a week the scholars of the "Greenbank Academy" met at the house of Dr. Lanham to receive instruction from Professor Susan, for the school trustees could not agree on a new teacher. Some of the people wanted one thing, and some another; a lady teacher was advocated and opposed; a young man, an old man, a new-fashioned man, an old-fashioned man, and no teacher at all for the rest of the present year, so as to save money, were projects that found advocates. The division of opinion was so great that the plan of no school at all was carried because no other could be. So Susan's class went on for a month, and grew to be quite a little society, and then it came to an end.
One evening, when the lessons were finished, Professor Susan said: "I am sorry to tell you that this is the last lesson I can give."
And then they all said "Aw-w-w-w-w!" in a melancholy way.
"I am going away to school myself," Susan went on. "My father thinks I ought to go to Mr. Niles's school at Port William."
"I shouldn't think you'd need to go any more," said Joanna Merwin. "I thought you knew everything."
"Oh, bless me!" cried Susan.
In former days the people of the interior—the Mississippi Valley—which used then to be called "the West," were very desirous of education for their children. But good teachers were scarce. Ignorant and pretentious men, incompetent wanderers from New England, who had grown tired of clock-peddling, or tin-peddling, and whose whole stock was assurance, besides impostors of other sorts, would get places as teachers because teachers were scarce and there were no tests of fitness. Now and then a retired Presbyterian minister from Scotland or Pennsylvania, or a college graduate from New England, would open a school in some country town. Then people who could afford it would send their children from long distances to board near the school, and learn English grammar, arithmetic, and, in some cases, a little Latin, or, perhaps, to fit themselves for entrance to some of the sturdy little country colleges already growing up in that region. At Port William, in Kentucky, there was at this time an old minister, Mr. Niles, who really knew what he professed to teach, and it was to his school that Dr. Lanham was now about to send Susan; Harvey Collins and Henry Weathervane had already entered the school. But for poor boys like Jack, and Bob Holliday, and Columbus, who had no money with which to pay board, there seemed no chance.
The evening on which Susan's class broke up, there was a long and anxious discussion between Jack Dudley and his mother.
"You see, Mother, if I could get even two months in Mr. Niles's school, I could learn some Latin, and if I once get my fingers into Latin, it is like picking bricks out of a pavement; if I once get a start, I can dig it out myself. I am going to try to find some way to attend that school."
But the mother only shook her head.
"Couldn't we move to Port William?" said Jack.
"How could we? Here we have a house of our own, which couldn't easily be rented. There we should have to pay rent, and where is the money to come from?"
"Can't we collect something from Gray?"
Again Mrs. Dudley shook her head.
But Jack resolved to try the hardhearted debtor, himself. It was now four years since Jack's father had been persuaded to release a mortgage in order to relieve Francis Gray from financial distress. Gray had promised to give other security, but his promise had proved worthless. Since that time he had made lucky speculations and was now a man rather well off, but he kept all his property in his wife's name, as scoundrels and fraudulent debtors usually do. All that Jack and his mother had to show for the one thousand dollars with four years' interest due them, was a judgment against Francis Gray, with the sheriff's return of "no effects" on the back of the writ of execution against the property "of the aforesaid Francis Gray." For how could you get money out of a man who was nothing in law but an agent for his wife?
But Jack believed in his powers of persuasion, and in the softness of the human heart. He had never had to do with a man in whom the greed for money had turned the heart to granite.
Two or three days later Jack heard that Francis Gray, who lived in Louisville, had come to Greenbank. Without consulting his mother, lest she should discourage him, Jack went in pursuit of the slippery debtor. He had left town, however, to see his fine farm, three miles away, a farm which belonged in law to Mrs. Gray, but which belonged of right to Francis Gray's creditors.
Jack found Mr. Gray well-dressed and of plausible manners. It was hard to speak to so fine a gentleman on the subject of money. For a minute, Jack felt like backing out. But then he contrasted his mother's pinched circumstances with Francis Gray's abundance, and a little wholesome anger came to his assistance. He remembered, too, that his cherished projects for getting an education were involved, and he mustered courage to speak.
"Mr. Gray, my name is John Dudley."
Jack thought that there was a sign of annoyance on Gray's face at this announcement.
"You borrowed a thousand dollars of my father once, I believe."
"Yes, that is true. Your father was a good friend of mine."
"He released a mortgage so that you could sell a piece of property when you were in trouble."
"Yes, your father was a good friend to me. I acknowledge that. I wish I had money enough to pay that debt. It shall be the very first debt paid when I get on my feet again, and I expect to get on my feet, as sure as I live."
"But, you see, Mr. Gray, while my mother is pinched for money, you have plenty."
"It's all Mrs. Gray's money. She has plenty. I haven't anything."
"But I want to go to school to Port William. My mother is too poor to help me. If you could let me have twenty-five dollars——"
"But, you see, I can't. I haven't got twenty-five dollars to my name, that I can control. But by next New Year's I mean to pay your mother the whole thousand that I owe her."
This speech impressed Jack a little, but remembering how often Gray had broken such promises, he said:
"Don't you think it a little hard that you and Mrs. Gray are well off, while my mother is so poor, all because you won't keep your word given to my father?"
"But, you see, I haven't any money, excepting what Mrs. Gray lets me have," said Mr. Gray.
"She seems to let you have what you want. Don't you think, if you coaxed her, she would lend you twenty-five dollars till New Year's, to help me go to school one more term?"
Francis Gray was a little stunned by this way of asking it. For a moment, looking at the entreating face of the boy, he began to feel a disposition to relent a little. This was new and strange for him. To pay twenty-five dollars that he was not obliged by any self-interest to pay, would have been an act contrary to all his habits and to all the business maxims in which he had schooled himself. Nevertheless, he fingered his papers a minute in an undecided way, and then he said that he couldn't do it. If he began to pay creditors in that way "it would derange his business."
"But," urged Jack, "think how much my father deranged his business to oblige you, and now you rob me of my own money, and of my chance to get an education."
Mr. Gray was a little ruffled, but he got up and went out of the room. When Jack looked out of the window a minute later, Gray was riding away down the road without so much as bidding the troublesome Jack good-morning.
There was nothing for Jack to do but to return to town and make the best of it. But all the way back, the tired and discouraged boy felt that his last chance of becoming an educated man had vanished. He told his mother about his attempt on Mr. Gray's feelings and of his failure. They discussed the matter the whole evening, and could see no chance for Jack to get the education he wanted.
"I mean to die a-trying," said Jack, doggedly, as he went off to bed.
AN EXPLORING EXPEDITION
The next day but one, there came a letter to Mrs. Dudley that increased her perplexity.
"Your Aunt Hannah is sick," she said to Jack, "and I must go to take care of her. I don't know what to do with you."
"I'll go to Port William to school," said Jack. "See if I don't."
"How?" asked his mother. "We don't know a soul on that side of the river. You couldn't make any arrangement."
"Maybe I can," said Jack. "Bob Holliday used to live on the Indiana side, opposite Port William. I mean to talk with him."
Bob was setting onions in one of the onion-patches which abounded about Greenbank, and which were, from March to July, the principal sources of pocket-money to the boys. Jack thought best to wait until the day's work was finished. Then he sat, where Greenbank boys were fond of sitting, on the sloping top-board of a broad fence, and told his friend Bob of his eager desire to go to Port William.
"I'd like to go, too," said Bob. "This is the last year's schooling I'm to have."
"Don't you know any house, or any place, where we could keep 'bach' together?"
"W'y, yes," said Bob; "if you didn't mind rowing across the river every day, I've got a skiff, and there's the old hewed-log house on the Indianny side where we used to live. A body might stay as long as he pleased in that house, I guess. Judge Kane owns it, and he's one of the best-hearted men in the country."
"It's eight miles down there," said Jack.
"Only seven if you go by water," said Bob. "Let's put out to-morry morning early. Let's go in the skiff; we can row and cordelle it up the river again, though it is a job."
Bright and early, the boys started down the river, rowing easily with the strong, steady current of the Ohio, holding their way to Judge Kane's, whose house was over against Port William. This Judge Kane was an intelligent and wealthy farmer, liked by everybody. He was not a lawyer, but had once held the office of "associate judge," and hence the title, which suited his grave demeanor. He looked at the two boys out of his small, gray, kindly eyes, hardly ever speaking a word. He did not immediately answer when they asked permission to occupy the old, unused log-house, but got them to talk about their plans, and watched them closely. Then he took them out to see his bees. He showed them his ingenious hives and a bee-house which he had built to keep out the moths by drawing chalk-lines about it, for over these lines the wingless grub of the moth could not crawl. Then he showed them a glass hive, in which all the processes of the bees' housekeeping could be observed. After that, he took the boys to the old log-house, and pointed out some holes in the roof that would have to be fixed. And even then he did not give them any answer to their request, but told them to stay to dinner and he would see about it, all of which was rather hard on boyish impatience. They had a good dinner of fried chicken and biscuits and honey, served in the neatest manner by the motherly Mrs. Kane. Then the Judge suggested that they ought to see Mr. Niles about taking them into the school. So his skiff was launched, and he rowed with them across the river, which is here about a mile wide, to Port William. Here he introduced them to Mr. Niles, an elderly man, a little bent and a little positive in his tone, as is the habit of teachers, but with true kindness in his manner. The boys had much pleasure at recess time in greeting their old school-mates, Harvey Collins, Henry Weathervane, and, above all, Susan Lanham, whom they called Professor. These three took a sincere interest in the plans of Bob and Jack, and Susan spoke a good word for them to Mr. Niles, who, on his part, offered to give Jack Latin without charging him anything more than the rates for scholars in the English branches. Then they rowed back to Judge Kane's landing, where he told them they could have the house without rent, and that they could get slabs and other waste at his little sawmill to fix up the cracks. Then he made kindly suggestions as to the furniture they should bring—mentioning a lantern, an ax, and various other articles necessary for a camp life. They bade him good-bye at last, and started home, now rowing against the current and now cordelling along the river shore, when they grew tired of rowing. In cordelling, one sits in the skiff and steers, while the other walks on the shore, drawing the boat by a rope over the shoulders. The work of rowing and cordelling was hard, but they carried light and hopeful hearts. Jack was sure now that he should overcome all obstacles and get a good education. As for Bob, he had no hope higher than that of worrying through vulgar fractions before settling down to hard work.
Mrs. Dudley having gone to Cincinnati the next day to attend her sister, who was ill, Jack was left to make his arrangements for housekeeping with Bob. Each of the boys took two cups, two saucers, two plates, and two knives and forks. Things were likely to get lost or broken, and therefore they provided duplicates. Besides, they might have company to dinner some day, and, moreover, they would need the extra dishes to "hold things," as Jack expressed it. They took no tumblers, but each was provided with a tin cup. Bob remembered the lantern, and Jack put in an ax. They did not take much food; they could buy that of farmers or in Port William. They got a "gang," or, as they called it, a "trot-line," to lay down in the river for catfish, perch, and shovel-nose sturgeon, for there was no game-law then. Bob provided an iron pot to cook the fish in, and Jack a frying-pan and tea-kettle. Their bedding consisted of an empty tick, to be filled with straw in Judge Kane's barn, some equally empty pillow-ticks, and a pair of brown sheets and two blankets. But, with one thing and another, the skiff was well loaded.
A good many boys stood on the bank as they embarked, and among them was Columbus, who had a feeling that his best friends were about to desert him, and who would gladly have been one of the party if he could have afforded the expense.
In the little crowd which watched the embarkation was Hank Rathbone, an old hunter and pioneer, who made several good suggestions about their method of loading the boat.
"But where's your stove?" he asked.
"Stove?" said Bob. "We can't take a stove in this thing. There's a big old fire-place in the house that'll do to cook by."
"But hot weather's comin' soon," said old Hank, "and then you'll want to cook out in the air, I reckon. Besides, it takes a power of wood for a fire-place. If one of you will come along with me to the tin-shop, I'll have a stove made for you, of the best paytent-right sort, that'll go into a skiff, and that won't weigh more'n three or four pounds and won't cost but about two bits."
Jack readily agreed to buy as good a thing as a stove for twenty-five cents, and so he went with Hank Rathbone to the tin-shop, stopping to get some iron on the way. Two half-inch round rods of iron five feet long were cut and sharpened at each end. Then the ends were turned down so as to make on each rod two pointed legs of eighteen inches in length, and thus leave two feet of the rod for a horizontal piece.
"Now," said the old hunter, "you drive about six inches of each leg into the ground, and stand them about a foot apart. Now for a top."
For this he had a piece of sheet-iron cut out two feet long and fourteen inches wide, with a round kettle-hole near one end. The edges of the long sides of the sheet-iron were bent down to fit over the rods.
"Lay that over your rods," said Hank, "and you've got a stove two foot long, one foot high, and more than one foot wide, and you can build your fire of chips, instid of logs. You can put your tea-kittle, pot, pipkin, griddle, skillet, or gridiron on to the hole"—the old man eyed it admiringly. "It's good for bilin', fryin', or brilin', and all fer two bits. They ain't many young couples gits set up as cheap as that!"
An hour and a half of rowing downstream brought the boys to the old cabin. The life there involved more hard work than they had expected. Notwithstanding Jack's experience in helping his mother, the baking of corn-bread, and the frying of bacon or fish were difficult tasks, and both the boys had red faces when supper was on the table. But, as time wore on, they became skilful, and though the work was hard, it was done patiently and pretty well. Between cooking, and cleaning, and fixing, and getting wood, and rowing to school and back, there was not a great deal of time left for study out of school, but Jack made a beginning in Latin, and Bob perspired quite as freely over the addition of fractions as over the frying-pan.
They rarely had recreation, excepting that of taking the fish off their trot-line in the morning, when there were any on it. Once or twice they allowed themselves to visit an Indian mound or burial-place on the summit of a neighboring hill, where idle boys and other loungers had dug up many bones and thrown them down the declivity. Jack, who had thoughts of being a doctor, made an effort to gather a complete Indian skeleton, but the dry bones had become too much mixed up. He could not get any three bones to fit together, and his man, as he tried to put him together, was the most miscellaneous creature imaginable,—neither man, woman, nor child. Bob was a little afraid to have these human ruins stored under the house, lest he might some night see a ghost with war-paint and tomahawk; but Jack, as became a boy of scientific tastes, pooh-poohed all superstitions or sentimental considerations in the matter. He told Bob that, if he should ever see the ghost which that framework belonged to, it would be the ghost of the whole Shawnee tribe, for there were nearly as many individuals represented as there were bones in the skeleton.
The one thing that troubled Jack was that he couldn't get rid of the image of Columbus as they had seen him when they left Greenbank, standing sorrowfully on the river bank. The boys often debated between themselves how they could manage to have him one of their party, but they were both too poor to pay the small tuition fees, though his board would not cost much. They could not see any way of getting over the difficulty, but they talked with Susan about it, and Susan took hold of the matter in her fashion by writing to her father on the subject.
The result of her energetic effort was that one afternoon, as they came out of school, when the little packet-steamer was landing at the wharf, who should come ashore but Christopher Columbus, in his best but thread-bare clothes, tugging away at an old-fashioned carpet-bag, which was too much for him to carry. Bob seized the carpet-bag and almost lifted the dignified little lad himself off his feet in his joyful welcome, while Jack, finding nothing else to do, stood still and hurrahed. They soon had the dear little spindle-shanks and his great carpet-bag stowed away in the skiff. As they rowed to the north bank of the river, Columbus explained how Dr. Lanham had undertaken to pay his expenses, if the boys would take him into partnership, but he said he was 'most afraid to come, because he couldn't chop wood, and he wasn't good for much in doing the work.
"Never mind, honey," said Bob. "Jack and I don't care whether you work or not. You are worth your keep, any time."
"Yes," said Jack, "we even tried hard yesterday to catch a young owl to make a pet of, but we couldn't get it. You see, we're so lonesome."
"I suppose I'll do for a pet owl, won't I?" said little Columbus, with a strange and quizzical smile on his meagre face. And as he sat there in the boat, with his big head and large eyes, the name seemed so appropriate that Bob and Jack both laughed outright.
But the Pet Owl made himself useful in some ways. I am sorry to say that the housekeeping of Bob and Jack had not always been of the tidiest kind. They were boys, and they were in a hurry. But Columbus had the tastes of a girl about a house. He did not do any cooking or chopping to speak of, but he fixed up. He kept the house neat, cleaned the candlestick every morning, and washed the windows now and then, and as spring advanced he brought in handfuls of wild flowers. The boys declared that they had never felt at home in the old house until the Pet Owl came to be its mistress. He wouldn't let anything be left around out of place, but all the pots, pans, dishes, coats, hats, books, slates, the lantern, the boot-jack, and other slender furniture, were put in order before school time, so that when they got back in the afternoon the place was inviting and home-like. When Judge Kane and his wife stopped during their Sunday-afternoon stroll, to see how the lads got on, Mrs. Kane praised their housekeeping.
"That is all the doings of the Pet Owl," said Bob.
"Pet Owl? Have you one?" asked Mrs. Kane.
The boys laughed, and Bob explained that Columbus was the pet.
That evening, the boys had a box of white honey for supper, sent over by Mrs. Kane, and the next Saturday afternoon Jack and Bob helped Judge Kane finish planting his corn-field.
One unlucky day, Columbus discovered Jack's box of Indian bones under the house, and he turned pale and had a fit of shivering for a long time afterward. It was necessary to move the box into an old stable to quiet his shuddering horror. The next Sunday afternoon, the Pet Owl came in with another fit of terror, shivering as before.
"What's the matter now, Lummy?" said Jack. "Have you seen any more Indians?"
"Pewee and his crowd have gone up to the Indian Mound," said Columbus.
"Well, let 'em go," said Bob. "I suppose they know the way, don't they? I should like to see them. I've been so long away from Greenbank that even a yellow dog from there would be welcome."
Jack and Bob had to amuse Columbus with stories, to divert his mind from the notion that Pewee and his party meant them some harm. The Indian burying-ground was not an uncommon place of resort on Sundays for loafers and idlers, and now and then parties came from as far as Greenbank, to have the pleasure of a ride and the amusement of digging up Indian relics from the cemetery on the hill. This hill-top commanded a view of the Ohio River for many miles in both directions, and of the Kentucky River, which emptied into the Ohio just opposite. I do not know whether the people who can find amusement in digging up bones and throwing them down-hill enjoy scenery or not, but I have heard it urged that even some dumb animals, as horses, enjoy a landscape; and I once knew a large dog, in Switzerland, who would sit enchanted for a long time on the brink of a mountain cliff, gazing off at the lake below. It is only fair to suppose, therefore, that even these idle diggers in Indian mounds had some pleasure in looking from a hill-top; at any rate, they were fond of frequenting this one. Pewee, and Riley, and Ben Berry, and two or three others of the same feather, had come down on this Sunday to see the Indian Mound and to find any other sport that might lie in their reach. When they had dug up and thrown away down the steep hill-side enough bones to satisfy their jackal proclivities, they began to cast about them for some more exciting diversion. As there were no water-melon patches nor orchards to be robbed at this season of the year, they decided to have an egg-supper, and then to wait for the moon to rise after midnight before starting to row and cordelle their two boats up the river again to Greenbank. The fun of an egg-supper to Pewee's party consisted not so much in the eggs as in the manner of getting them. Every nest in Judge Kane's chicken-house was rummaged that night, and Mrs. Kane found next day that all the nest-eggs were gone, and that one of her young hens was missing also.
About dark, little Allen Mackay, a round-bodied, plump-faced, jolly fellow who lived near the place where the skiffs were landed, and who had spent the afternoon at the Indian Mound, came to the door of the old log-house.
"I wanted to say that you fellows have always done the right thing by me. You've set me acrost oncet or twicet, and you've always been 'clever' to me, and I don't want to see no harm done you. You'd better look out to-night. They's some chaps from Greenbank down here, and they're in for a frolic, and somebody's hen-roost'll suffer, I guess; and they don't like you boys, and they talked about routing you out to-night."
"Thank you," said Jack.
"Let 'em rout," said Bob.
But the poor little Pet Owl was all in a cold shudder again.
About eleven o'clock, King Pewee's party had picked the last bone of Mrs. Kane's chicken. It was yet an hour and a half before the moon would be up, and there was time for some fun. Two boys from the neighborhood, who had joined the party, agreed to furnish dough-faces for them all. Nothing more ghastly than masks of dough can well be imagined, and when the boys all put them on, and had turned their coats wrong-side out, they were almost afraid of one another.
"Now," said Riley, "Pewee will knock at the door, and when they come with their lantern or candle, we'll all rush in and howl like Indians."
"How do Indians howl?" asked Ben Berry.
"Oh, any way—like a dog or a wolf, you know. And then they'll be scared to death, and we'll just pitch their beds, and dishes, and everything else out of the door, and show them how to clean house."
Riley didn't know that Allen Mackay and Jack Dudley, hidden in the bushes, heard this speech, nor that Jack, as soon as he had heard the plan, crept away to tell Bob at the house what the enemy proposed to do.
As the crowd neared the log-house, Riley prudently fell to the rear, and pushed Pewee to the front. There was just the faintest whitening of the sky from the coming moon, but the large apple-trees in front of the log-house made it very dark, and the dough-face crowd were obliged almost to feel their way as they came into the shadow of these trees. Just as Riley was exhorting Pewee to knock at the door, and the whole party was tittering at the prospect of turning Bob, Jack, and Columbus out of bed and out of doors, they all stopped short and held their breaths.
"Good gracious! Julius Caesar! sakes alive!" whispered Riley. "What—wh—what is that?"
Nobody ran. All stood as though frozen in their places. For out from behind the corner of the house came slowly a skeleton head. It was ablaze inside, and the light shone out of all the openings. The thing had no feet, no hands, and no body. It actually floated through the air, and now and then joggled and danced a little. It rose and fell, but still came nearer and nearer to the attacking party of dough-faces, who for their part could not guess that Bob Holliday had put a lighted candle into an Indian's skull, and then tied this ghost's lantern to a wire attached to the end of a fishing-rod, which he operated from behind the house.
Pewee's party drew close together, and Riley whispered hoarsely:
"The house is ha'nted."
Just then the hideous and fiery death's-head made a circuit, and swung, grinning, into Riley's face, who could stand no more, but broke into a full run toward the river. At the same instant Jack tooted a dinner-horn, Judge Kane's big dog ran barking out of the log-house, and the enemy were routed like the Midianites before Gideon. Their consternation was greatly increased at finding their boats gone, for Allen Mackay had towed them into a little creek out of sight, and hidden the oars in an elder thicket. Riley and one of the others were so much afraid of the ghosts that "ha'nted" the old house, that they set out straightway for Greenbank, on foot. Pewee and the others searched everywhere for the boats, and at last sat down and waited for daylight. Just as day was breaking, Bob Holliday came down to the river with a towel, as though for a morning bath. Very accidentally, of course, he came upon Pewee and his party, all tired out, sitting on the bank in hope that day might throw some light on the fate of their boats.
"Hello, Pewee! You here? What's the matter?" said Bob, with feigned surprise.
"Some thief took our skiffs. We've been looking for them all night, and can't find them."
"That's curious," said Bob, sitting down and leaning his head on his hand. "Where did you get supper last night?"
"Oh! we brought some with us."
"Look here, Pewee, I'll bet I can find your boats."
"You give me money enough among you to pay for the eggs and the chicken you had for supper, and I'll find out who hid your boats and where the oars are, and it'll all be square."
Pewee was now sure that the boat had been taken as indemnity for the chicken and the eggs. He made every one of the party contribute something until he had collected what Bob thought sufficient to pay for the stolen things, and Bob took it and went up and found Judge Kane, who had just risen, and left the money with him. Then he made a circuit to Allen Mackay's, waked him up, and got the oars, which they put into the boats; and pushing these out of their hiding-place, they rowed them into the river, delivering them to Pewee and company, who took them gratefully. Jack and Columbus had now made their appearance, and as Pewee got into his boat, he thought to repay Bob's kindness with a little advice.
"I say, if I was you fellers, you know, I wouldn't stay in that old cabin a single night."
"Why?" asked Jack.
"Because," said Pewee, "I've heerd tell that it is ha'nted."
"Ghosts aren't anything when you get used to them," said Jack. "We don't mind them at all."
"Don't you?" said Pewee, who was now rowing against the current.
"No," said Bob, "nor dough-faces, neither."
THE RETURN HOME
As Mr. Niles's school-term drew to a close, the two boys began to think of their future.
"I expect to work with my hands, Jack," said Bob; "I haven't got a head for books, as you have. But I'd like to know a leetle more before I settle down. I wish I could make enough at something to be able to go to school next winter."
"If I only had your strength and size, Bob, I'd go to work for somebody as a farmer. But I have more than myself to look after. I must help mother after this term is out. I must get something to do, and then learning will be slow business. They talk about Ben Franklin studying at night and all that, but it's a little hard on a fellow who hasn't the constitution of a Franklin. Still, I'm going to have an education, by hook or crook."
At this point in the conversation, Judge Kane came in. As usual, he said little, but he got the boys to talk about their own affairs.
"When do you go home?" he asked.
"Next Friday evening, when school is out," said Jack.
"And what are you going to do?" he asked of Bob.
"Get some work this summer, and then try to get another winter of schooling next year," was the answer.
"What kind of work?"
"Oh, I can farm better than I can do anything else," said Bob. "And I like it, too."
And then Judge Kane drew from Jack a full account of his affairs, and particularly of the debt due from Gray, and of his interview with Gray.
"If you could get a few hundred dollars, so as to make your mother feel easy for a while, living as she does in her own house, you could go to school next winter."
"Yes, and then I could get on after that, somehow, by myself, I suppose," said Jack. "But the few hundred dollars is as much out of my reach as a million would be, and my father used to say that it was a bad thing to get into the way of figuring on things that we could never reach."
The Judge sat still, and looked at Jack out of his half-closed gray eyes for a minute in silence.
"Come up to the house with me," he said, rising.
Jack followed him to the house, where the Judge opened his desk and took out a red-backed memorandum-book, and dictated while Jack copied in his own handwriting the description of a piece of land on a slip of paper.
"If you go over to school, to-morrow, an hour earlier than usual," he said, "call at the county clerk's office, show him your memorandum, and find out in whose name that land stands. It is timber-land five miles back, and worth five hundred dollars. When you get the name of the owner, you will know what to do; if not, you can ask me, but you'd better not mention my name to anybody in this matter."
Jack thanked Mr. Kane, but left him feeling puzzled. In fact, the farmer-judge seemed to like to puzzle people, or at least he never told anything more than was necessary.
The next morning, the boys were off early to Port William. Jack wondered if the land might belong to his father, but then he was sure his father never had any land in Kentucky. Or, was it the property of some dead uncle or cousin, and was he to find a fortune, like the hero of a cheap story? But when the county clerk, whose office it is to register deeds in that county, took the little piece of paper, and after scanning it, took down some great deed-books and mortgage-books, and turned the pages awhile, and then wrote "Francis Gray, owner, no incumbrance," on the same slip with the description, Jack had the key to Mr. Kane's puzzle.
It was now Thursday forenoon, and Jack was eager on all accounts to get home, especially to see the lawyer in charge of his father's claim against Mr. Gray. So the next day at noon, as there was nothing left but the closing exercises, the three boys were excused, and bade good-bye to their teacher and school-mates, and rowed back to their own side of the river. They soon had the skiff loaded, for all three were eager to see the folks at Greenbank. Jack's mother had been at home more than a week, and he was the most impatient of the three. But they could not leave without a good-bye to Judge Kane and his wife, to which good-bye they added a profusion of bashful boyish thanks for kindness received. The Judge walked to the boat-landing with them. Jack began to tell him about the land.
"Don't say anything about it to me, nor to anybody else but your lawyer," said Mr. Kane; "and do not mention my name. You may say to your lawyer that the land has just changed hands, and the matter must be attended to soon. It won't stand exposed in that way long."
When the boys were in the boat ready to start, Mr. Kane said to Bob:
"You wouldn't mind working for me this summer at the regular price?"
"I'd like to," said Bob.
"How soon can you come?"
"Next Wednesday evening."
"I'll expect you," said the Judge, and he turned away up the bank, with a slight nod and a curt "Good-bye," while Bob said: "What a curious man he is!"
"Yes, and as good as he's curious," added Jack.
It was a warm day for rowing, but the boys were both a little homesick. Under the shelter of a point where the current was not too strong the two rowed and made fair headway, sometimes encountering an eddy which gave them a lift. But whenever the current set strongly toward their side of the river, and whenever they found it necessary to round a point, one of them would leap out on the pebbly beach and, throwing the boat-rope over his shoulder, set his strength against the stream. The rope, or cordelle,—a word that has come down from the first French travellers and traders in the great valley,—was tied to the row-locks. It was necessary for one to steer in the stern while the other played tow-horse, so that each had his turn at rest and at work. After three hours' toil the wharf-boat of the village was in sight, and all sorts of familiar objects gladdened their hearts. They reached the landing, and then, laden with things, they hurriedly cut across the commons to their homes.
As soon as Jack's first greeting with his mother was over, she told him that she thought she might afford him one more quarter of school.
"No," said Jack, "you've pinched yourself long enough for me; now it's time I should go to work. If you try to squeeze out another quarter of school for me you'll have to suffer for it. Besides, I don't see how you can do it, unless Gray comes down, and I think I have now in my pocket something that will make him come down." And Jack's face brightened at the thought of the slip of paper in the pocket of his roundabout.
Without observing the last remark, nor the evident elation of Jack's feelings, Mrs. Dudley proceeded to tell him that she had been offered a hundred and twenty dollars for her claim against Gray.
"Who offered it?" asked Jack.
"Mr. Tinkham, Gray's agent. Maybe Gray is buying up his own debts, feeling tired of holding property in somebody else's name."
"A hundred and twenty dollars for a thousand! The rascal! I wouldn't take it," broke out Jack, impetuously.
"That's just the way I feel, Jack. I'd rather wait forever, if it wasn't for your education. I can't afford to have you lose that. I'm to give an answer this evening."
"We won't do it," said Jack. "I've got a memorandum here," and he took the slip of paper from his pocket and unfolded it, "that'll bring more money out of him than that. I'm going to see Mr. Beal at once."
Mrs. Dudley looked at the paper without understanding just what it was, and, without giving her any further explanation, but only a warning to secrecy, Jack made off to the lawyer's office.
"Where did you get this?" asked Mr. Beal.
"I promised not to mention his name—I mean the name of the one who gave me that. I went to the clerk's office with the description, and the clerk wrote the words: 'Francis Gray, owner, no incumbrance.'"
"I wish I had had it sooner," said the lawyer. "It will be best to have our judgment recorded in that county to-morrow," he continued. "Could you go down to Port William?"
"Yes, sir," said Jack, a little reluctant to go back. "I could if I must."
"I don't think the mail will do," added Mr. Beal. "This thing came just in time. We should have sold the claim to-night. This land ought to fetch five hundred dollars."
Mr. Tinkham, agent for Francis Gray, was much disappointed that night when Mrs. Dudley refused to sell her claim against Gray.
"You'll never get anything any other way," he said.
"Perhaps not, but we've concluded to wait," said Mrs. Dudley. "We can't do much worse if we get nothing at all."
After a moment's reflection, Mr. Tinkham said:
"I'll do a little better by you, Mrs. Dudley. I'll give you a hundred and fifty. That's the very best I can do."
"I will not sell the claim at present," said Mrs. Dudley. "It is of no use to offer."
It would have been better if Mrs. Dudley had not spoken so positively. Mr. Tinkham was set a-thinking. Why wouldn't the widow sell? Why had she changed her mind since yesterday? Why did Mr. Beal, the lawyer, not appear at the consultation? All these questions the shrewd little Tinkham asked himself, and all these questions he asked of Francis Gray that evening.
A FOOT-RACE FOR MONEY
"They've got wind of something," said Mr. Tinkham to Mr. Gray, "or else they are waiting for you to resume payment,—or else the widow's got money from somewhere for her present necessities."
"I don't know what hope they can have of getting money out of me," said Gray, with a laugh. "I've tangled everything up, so that Beal can't find a thing to levy on. I have but one piece of property exposed, and that's not in this State."
"Where is it?" asked Tinkham.
"It's in Kentucky, five miles back of Port William. I took it last week in a trade, and I haven't yet made up my mind what to do with it."
"That's the very thing," said Tinkham, with his little face drawn to a point,—"the very thing. Mrs. Dudley's son came home from Port William yesterday, where he has been at school. They've heard of that land, I'm afraid; for Mrs. Dudley is very positive that she will not sell the claim at any price."
"I'll make a mortgage to my brother on that land, and send it off from the mail-boat as I go down to-morrow," said Gray.
"That'll be too late," said Tinkham. "Beal will have his judgment recorded as soon as the packet gets there. You'd better go by the packet, get off, and see the mortgage recorded yourself, and then take the mail-boat."
To this Gray agreed, and the next day, when Jack went on board the packet "Swiftsure," he found Mr. Francis Gray going aboard also. Mr. Beal had warned Jack that he must not let anybody from the packet get to the clerk's office ahead of him,—that the first paper deposited for record would take the land. Jack wondered why Mr. Francis Gray was aboard the packet, which went no farther than Madison, while Mr. Gray's home was in Louisville. He soon guessed, however, that Gray meant to land at Port William, and so to head him off. Jack looked at Mr. Gray's form, made plump by good feeding, and felt safe. He couldn't be very dangerous in a foot-race. Jack reflected with much hopefulness that no boy in school could catch him in a straight-away run when he was fox. He would certainly leave the somewhat puffy Mr. Francis Gray behind.
But in the hour's run down the river, including two landings at Minuit's and Craig's, Jack had time to remember that Francis Gray was a cunning man and might head him off by some trick or other. A vague fear took possession of him, and he resolved to be first off the boat before any pretext could be invented to stop him.
Meantime, Francis Gray had looked at Jack's lithe legs with apprehension. "I can never beat that boy," he had reflected. "My running days are over." Finding among the deck passengers a young fellow who looked as though he needed money, Gray approached him with this question:
"Do you belong in Port William, young man?"
"I don't belong nowhere else, I reckon," answered the seedy fellow, with shuffling impudence.
"Do you know where the county clerk's office is?" asked Mr. Gray.
"Yes, and the market-house. I can show you the way to the jail, too, if you want to know; but I s'pose you've been there many a time," laughed the "wharf rat."
Gray was irritated at this rudeness, but he swallowed his anger.
"Would you like to make five dollars?"
"Now you're talkin' interestin'. Why didn't you begin at that eend of the subjick? I'd like to make five dollars as well as the next feller, provided it isn't to be made by too much awful hard work."
"Can you run well?"
"If they's money at t'other eend of the race I can run like sixty fer a spell. 'Tain't my common gait, howsumever."
"If you'll take this paper," said Gray, "and get it to the county clerk's office before anybody else gets there from this boat, I'll give you five dollars."
"Honor bright?" asked the chap, taking the paper, drawing a long breath, and looking as though he had discovered a gold mine.
"Honor bright," answered Gray. "You must jump off first of all, for there's a boy aboard that will beat you if he can. No pay if you don't win."
"Which is the one that'll run ag'in' me?" asked the long-legged fellow.
Gray described Jack, and told the young man to go out forward and he would see him. Gray was not willing to be seen with the "wharf-rat," lest suspicions should be awakened in Jack Dudley's mind. But after the shabby young man had gone forward and looked at Jack, he came back with a doubtful air.
"That's Hoosier Jack, as we used to call him," said the shabby young man. "He an' two more used to row a boat acrost the river every day to go to ole Niles's school. He's a hard one to beat,—they say he used to lay the whole school out on prisoners' base, and that he could leave 'em all behind on fox."
"You think you can't do it, then?" asked Gray.
"Gimme a little start and I reckon I'll fetch it. It's up-hill part of the way and he may lose his wind, for it's a good half-mile. You must make a row with him at the gang-plank, er do somethin' to kinder hold him back. The wind's down stream to-day and the boat's shore to swing in a little aft. I'll jump for it and you keep him back."
To this Gray assented.
As the shabby young fellow had predicted, the boat did swing around in the wind, and have some trouble in bringing her bow to the wharf-boat. The captain stood on the hurricane-deck calling to the pilot to "back her," "stop her," "go ahead on her," "go ahead on yer labberd," and "back on yer stabberd." Now, just as the captain was backing the starboard wheel and going ahead on his larboard, so as to bring the boat around right, Mr. Gray turned on Jack.
"What are you treading on my toes for, you impudent young rascal?" he broke out.
Jack colored and was about to reply sharply, when he caught sight of the shabby young fellow, who just then leaped from the gunwale of the boat amidships and barely reached the wharf. Jack guessed why Gray had tried to irritate him,—he saw that the well-known "wharf-rat" was to be his competitor. But what could he do? The wind held the bow of the boat out, the gang-plank which had been pushed out ready to reach the wharf-boat was still firmly grasped by the deck-hands, and the farther end of it was six feet from the wharf, and much above it. It would be some minutes before any one could leave the boat in the regular way. There was only one chance to defeat the rascally Gray. Jack concluded to take it.
He ran out upon the plank amidst the harsh cries of the deck-hands, who tried to stop him, and the oaths of the mate, who thundered at him, with the stern order of the captain from the upper deck, who called out to him to go back.
But, luckily, the steady pulling ahead of the larboard engine, and the backing of the starboard, began just then to bring the boat around, the plank sank down a little under Jack's weight, and Jack made the leap to the wharf, hearing the confused cries, orders, oaths, and shouts from behind him, as he pushed through the crowd.
"Stop that thief!" cried Francis Gray to the people on the wharf-boat, but in vain. Jack glided swiftly through the people, and got on shore before anybody could check him. He charged up the hill after the shabby young fellow, who had a decided lead, while some of the men on the wharf-boat pursued them both, uncertain which was the thief. Such another pell-mell race Port William had never seen. Windows flew up and heads went out. Small boys joined the pursuing crowd, and dogs barked indiscriminately and uncertainly at the heels of everybody. There were cries of "Hurrah for long Ben!" and "Hurrah for Hoosier Jack!" Some of Jack's old school-mates essayed to stop him to find out what it was all about, but he would not relax a muscle, and he had no time to answer any questions. He saw the faces of the people dimly; he heard the crowd crying after him, "Stop, thief!" he caught a glimpse of his old teacher, Mr. Niles, regarding him with curiosity as he darted by; he saw an anxious look in Judge Kane's face as he passed him on a street corner. But Jack held his eyes on Long Ben, whom he pursued as a dog does a fox. He had steadily gained on the fellow, but Ben had too much the start, and, unless he should give out, there would be little chance for Jack to overtake him. One thinks quickly in such moments. Jack remembered that there were two ways of reaching the county clerk's office. To keep the street around the block was the natural way,—to take an alley through the square was neither longer nor shorter. But by running down the alley he would deprive Long Ben of the spur of seeing his pursuer, and he might even make him think that Jack had given out. Jack had played this trick when playing hound and fox, and at any rate he would by this turn shake off the crowd. So into the alley he darted, and the bewildered pursuers kept on crying "Stop, thief!" after Long Ben, whose reputation was none of the best. Somebody ahead tried to catch the shabby young fellow, and this forced Ben to make a slight curve, which gave Jack the advantage, so that just as Ben neared the office, Jack rounded a corner out of an alley, and entered ahead of him, dashed up to the clerk's desk and deposited the judgment.
"For record," he gasped.
The next instant the shabby young fellow pushed forward the mortgage.
"Mine first!" cried Long Ben.
"I'll take yours when I get this entered," said the clerk quietly, as became a public officer.
"I got here first," said Long Ben.
But the clerk looked at the clock and entered the date on the back of Jack's paper, putting "one o'clock and eighteen minutes" after the date. Then he wrote "one o'clock and nineteen minutes" on the paper which Long Ben handed him. The office was soon crowded with people discussing the result of the race, and a part of them were even now in favor of seizing one or the other of the runners for a theft, which some said had been committed on the packet, and others declared was committed on the wharf-boat. Francis Gray came in, and could not conceal his chagrin.
"I meant to do the fair thing by you," he said to Jack, severely, "but now you'll never get a cent out of me."
"I'd rather have the law on men like you, than have a thousand of your sort of fair promises," said Jack.
"I've a mind to strike you," said Gray.
"The Kentucky law is hard on a man who strikes a minor," said Judge Kane, who had entered at that moment.
Mr. Niles came in to learn what was the matter, and Judge Kane, after listening quietly to the talk of the people, until the excitement subsided, took Jack over to his house, whence the boy trudged home in the late afternoon full of hopefulness.
Gray's land realized as much as Mr. Beal expected, and Jack studied hard all summer, so as to get as far ahead as possible by the time school should begin in the autumn.
THE NEW TEACHER
The new teacher who was employed to take the Greenbank school in the autumn was a young man from college. Standing behind the desk hitherto occupied by the grim-faced Mr. Ball, young Williams looked very mild by contrast. He was evidently a gentle-spirited man as compared with the old master, and King Pewee and his crowd were gratified in noting this fact. They could have their own way with such a master as that! When he called the school to order, there remained a bustle of curiosity and mutual recognition among the children. Riley and Pewee kept up a little noise by way of defiance. They had heard that the new master did not intend to whip. Now he stood quietly behind his desk, and waited a few moments in silence for the whispering group to be still. Then he slowly raised and levelled his finger at Riley and Pewee, but still said nothing. There was something so firm and quiet about his motion—something that said, "I will wait all day, but you must be still"—that the boys could not resist it.
By the time they were quiet, two of the girls had got into a titter over something, and the forefinger was aimed at them. The silent man made the pupils understand that he was not to be trifled with.
When at length there was quiet, he made every one lay down book or slate and face around toward him. Then with his pointing finger, or with a little slap of his hands together, or with a word or two at most, he got the school still again.
"I hope we shall be friends," he said, in a voice full of kindliness. "All I want is to——"
But at this point Riley picked up his slate and book, and turned away. The master snapped his fingers, but Riley affected not to hear him.
"That young man will put down his slate." The master spoke in a low tone, as one who expected to be obeyed, and the slate was reluctantly put upon the desk.
"When I am talking to you, I want you to hear," he went on, very quietly. "I am paid to teach you. One of the things I have to teach you is good manners. You," pointing to Riley, "are old enough to know better than to take your slate when your teacher is speaking, but perhaps you have never been taught what are good manners. I'll excuse you this time. Now, you all see those switches hanging here behind me. I did not put them there. I do not say that I shall not use them. Some boys have to be whipped, I suppose,—like mules,—and when I have tried, I may find that I cannot get on without the switches, but I hope not to have to use them."
Here Riley, encouraged by the master's mildness and irritated by the rebuke he had received, began to make figures on his slate.
"Bring me that slate," said the teacher.
Riley was happy that he had succeeded in starting a row. He took his slate and his arithmetic, and shuffled up to the master in a half-indolent, half-insolent way.
"Why do you take up your work when I tell you not to?" asked the new teacher.
"Because I didn't want to waste all my morning. I wanted to do my sums."
"You are a remarkably industrious youth, I take it." The young master looked Riley over, as he said this, from head to foot. The whole school smiled, for there was no lazier boy than this same Riley. "I suppose," the teacher continued, "that you are the best scholar in school—the bright and shining light of Greenbank."
Here there was a general titter at Riley.
"I cannot have you sit away down at the other end of the school-room and hide your excellent example from the rest. Stand right up here by me and cipher, that all the school may see how industrious you are."
Riley grew very red in the face and pretended to "cipher," holding his book in his hand.
"Now," said the new teacher, "I have but just one rule for this school, and I will write it on the blackboard that all may see it."
He took chalk and wrote:
"That is all. Let us go to our lessons."
For the first two hours that Riley stood on the floor he pretended to enjoy it. But when recess came and went and Mr. Williams did not send him to his seat, he began to shift from one foot to the other and from his heels to his toes, and to change his slate from the right hand to the left. His class was called, and after recitation he was sent back to his place. He stood it as best he could until the noon recess, but when, at the beginning of the afternoon session, Mr. Williams again called his "excellent scholar" and set him up, Riley broke down and said:
"I think you might let me go now."
"Are you tired?" asked the cruel Mr. Williams.
"Yes, I am," and Riley hung his head, while the rest smiled.
"And are you ready to do what the good order of the school requires?"
"Very well; you can go."
The chopfallen Riley went back to his seat, convinced that it would not do to rebel against the new teacher, even if he did not use the beech switches.
But Mr. Williams was also quick to detect the willing scholar. He gave Jack extra help on his Latin after school was out, and Jack grew very proud of the teacher's affection for him.
CHASING THE FOX
All the boys in the river towns thirty years ago—and therefore the boys in Greenbank, also—took a great interest in the steam-boats which plied up and down the Ohio. Each had his favorite boat, and boasted of her speed and excellence. Every one of them envied those happy fellows whose lot it was to "run on the river" as cabin-boys. Boats were a common topic of conversation—their build, their engines, their speed, their officers, their mishaps, and all the incidents of their history.
So it was that from the love of steam-boats, which burned so brightly in the bosom of the boy who lived on the banks of that great and lovely river, there grew up the peculiar game of "boats' names." I think the game was started at Louisville or New Albany, where the falls interrupt navigation, and where many boats of the upper and lower rivers are assembled.
One day, as the warm air of Indian summer in this mild climate made itself felt, the boys assembled, on the evergreen "bluegrass," after the snack at the noon recess, to play boats' names.
Through Jack's influence, Columbus, who did not like to play with the A B C boys, was allowed to take the handkerchief and give out the first name. All the rest stood up in a row like a spelling-class, while little Columbus, standing in front of them, held a knotted handkerchief with which to scourge them when the name should be guessed. The arm which held the handkerchief was so puny that the boys laughed to see the feeble lad stand there in a threatening attitude.
"I say, Lum, don't hit too hard, now; my back is tender," said Bob Holliday.
"Give us an easy one to guess," said Riley, coaxingly.
Columbus, having come from the back country, did not know the names of half a dozen boats, and what he knew about were those which touched daily at the wharf of Greenbank.
"F——n," he said.
"Fashion," cried all the boys at once, breaking into unrestrained mirth at the simplicity that gave them the name of Captain Glenn's little Cincinnati and Port William packet, which landed daily at the village wharf. Columbus now made a dash at the boys, who were obliged to run to the school-house and back whenever a name was guessed, suffering a beating all the way from the handkerchief of the one who had given out the name, though, indeed, the punishment Lum was able to give was very slight. It was doubtful who had guessed first, since the whole party had cried "Fashion" almost together, but it was settled at last in favor of Harry Weathervane, who was sure to give out hard names, since he had been to Cincinnati recently, and had gone along the levee reading the names of those boats that did business above that city, and so were quite unknown, unless by report, to the boys of Greenbank.
"A—— A——s," were the three letters which Harry gave, and Ben Berry guessed "Archibald Ananias," and Tom Holcroft said it was "Amanda Amos," and at last all gave it up; whereupon Harry told them it was "Alvin Adams," and proceeded to give out another.
"C—— A—— P——x," he said next time.
"Caps," said Riley, mistaking the x for an s; and then Bob Holliday suggested "Hats and Caps," and Jack wanted to have it "Boots and Shoes." But Johnny Meline remembered that he had read of such a name for a ship in his Sunday-school lesson of the previous Sunday, and he guessed that a steam-boat might bear that same.
"I know," said Johnny, "it's Castor——"
"Oil," suggested Jack.
"No—Castor and P, x,—Pollux—Castor and Pollux—it's a Bible name."
"You're not giving us the name of Noah's ark, are you?" asked Bob.
"I say, boys, that isn't fair a bit," growled Pewee, in all earnestness. "I don't hardly believe that Bible ship's a-going now." Things were mixed in Pewee's mind, but he had a vague notion that Bible times were as much as fifty years ago. While he stood doubting, Harry began to whip him with the handkerchief, saying, "I saw her at Cincinnati, last week. She runs to Maysville and Parkersburg, you goose."
After many names had been guessed, and each guesser had taken his turn, Ben Berry had to give out. He had just heard the name of a "lower country" boat, and was sure that it would not be guessed.
"C——p——r," he said.
"Oh, I know," said Jack, who had been studying the steam-boat column of an old Louisville paper that very morning, "it's the—the—" and he put his hands over his ears, closed his eyes, and danced around, trying to remember, while all the rest stood and laughed at his antics. "Now I've got it,—the 'Cornplanter'!"
And Ben Berry whipped the boys across the road and back, after which Jack took the handkerchief.
"Oh, say, boys, this is a poor game; let's play fox," Bob suggested. "Jack's got the handkerchief, let him be the first fox."
So Jack took a hundred yards' start, and all the boys set out after him. The fox led the hounds across the commons, over the bars, past the "brick pond," as it was called, up the lane into Moro's pasture, along the hill-side to the west across Dater's fence into Betts's pasture; thence over into the large woods pasture of the Glade farm. In every successive field some of the hounds had run off to the flank, and by this means every attempt of Jack's to turn toward the river, and thus fetch a circuit for home, had been foiled. They had cut him off from turning through Moro's orchard or Betts's vineyard, and so there was nothing for the fleet-footed fox but to keep steadily to the west and give his pursuers no chance to make a cut-off on him. But every now and then he made a feint of turning, which threw the others out of a straight track. Once in the woods pasture, Jack found himself out of breath, having run steadily for a rough mile and a half, part of it up-hill. He was yet forty yards ahead of Bob Holliday and Riley, who led the hounds. Dashing into a narrow path through the underbrush, Jack ran into a little clump of bushes and hid behind a large black-walnut log.
Riley and Holliday came within six feet of him, some of the others passed to the south of him and some to the north, but all failed to discover his lurking-place. Soon Jack could hear them beating about the bushes beyond him.
This was his time. Having recovered his wind, he crept out southward until he came to the foot of the hill, and entered Glade's lane, heading straight for the river across the wide plain. Pewee, who had perched himself on a fence to rest, caught sight of Jack first, and soon the whole pack were in full cry after him, down the long, narrow, elder-bordered lane. Bob Holliday and Riley, the fleetest of foot, climbed over the high stake-and-rider fence into Betts's corn-field, and cut off a diagonal to prevent Jack's getting back toward the school-house. Seeing this movement, Jack, who already had made an extraordinary run, crossed the fence himself, and tried to make a cut-off in spite of them; but Riley already had got in ahead of him, and Jack, seeing the boys close behind and before him, turned north again toward the hill, got back into the lane, which was now deserted, and climbed into Glade's meadow on the west side of the lane. He now had a chance to fetch a sweep around toward the river again, though the whole troop of boys were between him and the school-house. Fairly headed off on the east, he made a straight run south for the river shore, striking into a deep gully, from which he came out panting upon the beach, where he had just time to hide himself in a hollow sycamore, hoping that the boys would get to the westward and give him a chance to run up the river shore for the school-house.
But one cannot play the same trick twice. Some of the boys stationed themselves so as to intercept Jack's retreat toward the school-house, while the rest searched for him, beating up and down the gully, and up and down the beach, until they neared the hollow sycamore. Jack made a sharp dash to get through them, but was headed off and caught by Pewee. Just as Jack was caught, and Pewee was about to start homeward as fox, the boys caught sight of two steam-boats racing down the river. The whole party was soon perched on a fallen sycamore, watching first the "Swiftsure" and then the "Ben Franklin," while the black smoke poured from their chimneys. So fascinated were they with this exciting contest that they stayed half an hour waiting to see which should beat. At length, as the boats passed out of sight, with the "Swiftsure" leading her competitor, it suddenly occurred to Jack that it must be later than the school-hour. The boys looked aghast at one another a moment on hearing him mention this; then they glanced at the sun, already declining in the sky, and set out for school, trotting swiftly in spite of their fatigue.
What would the master say? Pewee said he didn't care,—it wasn't Old Ball, and they wouldn't get a whipping, anyway. But Jack thought that it was too bad to lose the confidence of Mr. Williams.
CALLED TO ACCOUNT
Successful hounds, having caught their fox, ought to have come home in triumph; but, instead of that, they came home like dogs that had been killing sheep, their heads hanging down in a guilty and self-betraying way.
Jack walked into the school-house first. It was an hour and a half past the time for the beginning of school. He tried to look unconcerned as he went to his seat. There stood the teacher, with his face very calm but very pale, and Jack felt his heart sink.
One by one the laggards filed into the school-room, while the awe-stricken girls on the opposite benches, and the little A B C boys, watched the guilty sinners take their places, prepared to meet their fate.
Riley came in with a half-insolent smile on his face, as if to say: "I don't care." Pewee was sullen and bull-doggish. Ben Berry looked the sneaking fellow he was, and Harry Weathervane tried to remember that his father was a school-trustee. Bob Holliday couldn't help laughing in a foolish way. Columbus had fallen out of the race before he got to the "brick-pond," and so had returned in time to be punctual when school resumed its session.
During all the time that the boys, heated with their exercise and blushing with shame, were filing in, Mr. Williams stood with set face and regarded them. He was very much excited, and so I suppose did not dare to reprove them just then. He called the classes and heard them in rapid succession, until it was time for the spelling-class, which comprised all but the very youngest pupils. On this day, instead of calling the spelling-class, he said, evidently with great effort to control himself: "The girls will keep their seats. The boys will take their places in the spelling-class."
Riley's lower jaw fell—he was sure that the master meant to flog them all. He was glad he was not at the head of the class. Ben Berry could hardly drag his feet to his place, and poor Jack was filled with confusion. When the boys were all in place, the master walked up and down the line and scrutinized them, while Riley cast furtive glances at the dusty old beech switches on the wall, wondering which one the master would use, and Pewee was trying to guess whether Mr. Williams's arm was strong, and whether he "would make a fellow take off his coat" or not.
"Columbus," said the teacher, "you can take your seat."
Riley shook in his shoes, thinking that this certainly meant a whipping. He began to frame excuses in his mind, by which to try to lighten his punishment.
But the master did not take down his switches. He only talked. But such a talk! He told the boys how worthless a man was who could not be trusted, and how he had hoped for a school full of boys that could be relied on. He thought there were some boys, at least—and this remark struck Jack to the heart—that there were some boys in the school who would rather be treated as gentlemen than beaten with ox-goads. But he was now disappointed. All of them seemed equally willing to take advantage of his desire to avoid whipping them; and all of them had shown themselves unfit to be trusted.
Here he paused long enough to let the full weight of his censure enter their minds. Then he began on a new tack. He had hoped that he might have their friendship. He had thought that they cared a little for his good opinion. But now they had betrayed him. All the town was looking to see whether he would succeed in conducting his school without whipping. A good many would be glad to see him fail. Today they would be saying all over Greenbank that the new teacher couldn't manage his school. Then he told the boys that while they were sitting on the trunk of the fallen sycamore looking at the steam-boat race, one of the trustees, Mr. Weathervane, had driven past and had seen them there. He had stopped to complain to the master. "Now," said the master, "I have found how little you care for me."
This was very sharp talk, and it made the boys angry. Particularly did Jack resent any intimation that he was not to be trusted. But the new master was excited and naturally spoke severely. Nor did he give the boys a chance to explain at that time.
"You have been out of school," he said, "one hour and thirty-one minutes. That is about equal to six fifteen-minute recesses—to the morning and afternoon recesses for three days. I shall have to keep you in at those six recesses to make up the time, and in addition, as a punishment, I shall keep you in school half an hour after the usual time of dismission, for three days."
Here Jack made a motion to speak.
"No," said the master, "I will not hear a word, now. Go home and think it over. To-morrow I mean to ask each one of you to explain his conduct."
With this, he dismissed the school, and the boys went out as angry as a hive of bees that have been disturbed. Each one made his speech. Jack thought it "mean that the master should say they were not fit to be trusted. He wouldn't have stayed out if he'd known it was school-time."
Bob Holliday said "the young master was a blisterer," and then he laughed good-naturedly.
Harry Weathervane was angry, and so were all the rest. At length it was agreed that they didn't want to be cross-questioned about it, and that it was better that somebody should write something that should give Mr. Williams a piece of their mind, and show him how hard he was on boys that didn't mean any harm, but only forgot themselves. And Jack was selected to do the writing.
Jack made up his mind that the paper he would write should be "a scorcher."
Of course, there was a great deal of talk in the village. The I-told-you-so people were quite delighted. Old Mother Horn "always knew that boys couldn't be managed without switching. Didn't the Bible or somebody say: 'Just as the twig is bent the boy's inclined?' And if you don't bend your twig, what'll become of your boy?"
The loafers and loungers and gad-abouts and gossips talked a great deal about the failure of the new plan. They were sure that Mr. Ball would be back in that school-house before the term was out, unless Williams should whip a good deal more than he promised to. The boys would just drive him out.
Jack told his mother, with a grieved face, how harsh the new master had been, and how he had even said they were not fit to be trusted.
"That's a very harsh word," said Mrs. Dudley, "but let us make some allowances. Mr. Williams is on trial before the town, and he finds himself nearly ruined by the thoughtlessness of the boys. He had to wait an hour and a half, with half of the school gone. Think how much he must have suffered in that time. And then, to have to take a rebuke from Mr. Weathervane besides, must have stung him to the quick."
"Yes, that's so," said Jack, "but then he had no business to take it for granted that we did it on purpose."
And Jack went about his chores, trying to think of some way of writing to the master an address which should be severe, but not too severe. He planned many things but gave them up. He lay awake in the night thinking about it, and, at last, when he had cooled off, he came to the conclusion that, as the boys had been the first offenders, they should take the first step toward a reconciliation. But whether he could persuade the angry boys to see it in that light, he did not know.
When morning came, he wrote a very short paper, somewhat in this fashion:
Dear Sir: We are very sorry for what we did yesterday, and for the trouble we have given you. We are willing to take the punishment, for we think we deserve it; but we hope you will not think that we did it on purpose, for we did not, and we don't like to have you think so.
Jack carried this in the first place to his faithful friend, Bob Holliday, who read it.
"Oh, you've come down, have you?" said Bob.
"I thought we ought to," said Jack. "We did give him a great deal of trouble, and if it had been Mr. Ball, he would have whipped us half to death."
"We shouldn't have forgot and gone away at that time if Old Ball had been the master," said Bob.
"That's just it," said Jack; "that's the very reason why we ought to apologize."
"All right," said Bob, "I'll sign her," and he wrote "Robert M. Holliday" in big letters at the top of the column intended for the names. Jack put his name under Bob's.
But when they got to the school-house it was not so easy to persuade the rest. At length, however, Johnny Meline signed it, and then Harry Weathervane, and then the rest, one after another, with some grumbling, wrote their names. All subscribed to it excepting Pewee and Ben Berry and Riley. They declared they never would sign it. They didn't want to be kept in at recess and after school like convicts. They didn't deserve it.
"Jack is a soft-headed fool," Riley said, "to draw up such a thing as that. I'm not afraid of the master. I'm not going to knuckle down to him, either."
Of course, Pewee, as a faithful echo, said just what Riley said, and Ben Berry said what Riley and Pewee said; so that the three were quite unanimous.
"Well," said Jack, "then we'll have to hand in our petition without the signatures of the triplets."
"Don't you call me a triplet," said Pewee; "I've got as much sense as any of you. You're a soft-headed triplet yourself!"
Even Riley had to join in the laugh that followed this blundering sally of Pewee.
When the master came in, he seemed very much troubled. He had heard what had been said about the affair in the town. The address which Jack had written was lying on his desk. He took it up and read it, and immediately a look of pleasure and relief took the place of the worried look he had brought to school with him.
"Boys," he said, "I have received your petition, and I shall answer it by and by."
The hour for recess came and passed. The girls and the very little boys were allowed their recess, but nothing was said to the larger boys about their going out. Pewee and Riley were defiant.
At length, when the school was about to break up for noon, the master put his pen, ink, and other little articles in the desk, and the school grew hushed with expectancy.
"This apology," said Mr. Williams, "which I see is in John Dudley's handwriting, and which bears the signature of all but three of those who were guilty of the offence yesterday, is a very manly apology, and quite increases my respect for those who have signed it. I have suffered much from your carelessness of yesterday, but this apology, showing, as it does, the manliness of my boys, has given me more pleasure than the offence gave me pain. I ought to make an apology to you. I blamed you too severely yesterday in accusing you of running away intentionally. I take all that back."
Here he paused a moment, and looked over the petition carefully.
"William Riley, I don't see your name here. Why is that?"
"Because I didn't put it there."
Pewee and Ben Berry both laughed at this wit.
"Why didn't you put it there?"
"Because I didn't want to."
"Have you any explanation to give of your conduct yesterday?"
"No, sir; only that I think it's mean to keep us in because we forgot ourselves."
"Peter Rose, have you anything to say?"
"Just the same as Will Riley said."
"And you, Benjamin?"
"Oh, I don't care much," said Ben Berry. "Jack was fox, and I ran after him, and if he hadn't run all over creation and part of Columbia, I shouldn't have been late. It isn't any fault of mine. I think Jack ought to do the staying in."
"You are about as old a boy as Jack," said the master. "I suppose Jack might say that if you and the others hadn't chased him, he wouldn't have run 'all over creation,' as you put it. You and the rest were all guilty of a piece of gross thoughtlessness. All excepting you three have apologized in the most manly way. I therefore remove the punishment from all the others entirely hereafter, deeming that the loss of this morning's recess is punishment enough for boys who can be so manly in their acknowledgments. Peter Rose, William Riley, and Benjamin Berry will remain in school at both recesses and for a half-hour after school every day for three days—not only for having forgotten their duty, but for having refused to make acknowledgment or apology."
Going home that evening, half an hour after all the others had been dismissed, the triplets put all their griefs together, and resolved to be avenged on Mr. Williams at the first convenient opportunity.
KING'S BASE AND A SPELLING-LESSON
As the three who usually gave the most trouble on the playground, as well as in school, were now in detention at every recess, the boys enjoyed greatly their play during these three days.
It was at this time that they began to play that favorite game of Greenbank, which seems to be unknown almost everywhere else. It is called "king's base," and is full of all manner of complex happenings, sudden surprises, and amusing results.
Each of the boys selected a base or goal. A row of sidewalk trees were favorite bases. There were just as many bases as boys. Some boy would venture out from his base. Then another would pursue him; a third would chase the two, and so it would go, the one who left his base latest having the right to catch.
Just as Johnny Meline was about to lay hold on Jack, Sam Crashaw, having just left his base, gave chase to Johnny, and just as Sam thought he had a good chance to catch Johnny, up came Jack, fresh from having touched his base, and nabbed Sam. When one has caught another, he has a right to return to his base with his prisoner, unmolested. The prisoner now becomes an active champion of the new base, and so the game goes on until all the bases are broken up but one. Very often the last boy on a base succeeds in breaking up a strong one, and, indeed, there is no end to the curious results attained in the play.
Jack had never got on in his studies as at this time. Mr. Williams took every opportunity to show his liking for his young friend, and Jack's quickened ambition soon put him at the head of his classes. It was a rule that the one who stood at the head of the great spelling-class on Friday evenings should go to the foot on Monday, and so work his way up again. There was a great strife between Sarah Weathervane and Jack to see which should go to the foot the oftenest during the term, and so win a little prize that Mr. Williams had offered to the best speller in the school. As neither of them ever missed a word in the lesson, they held the head each alternate Friday evening. In this way the contest bade fair to be a tie. But Sarah meant to win the prize by fair means or foul.