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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Hoosier Schoolboy - Chapter 1. The New Scholar
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The Hoosier Schoolboy - Chapter 1. The New Scholar Post by :grimmbot Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Eggleston Date :May 2012 Read :3250

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The Hoosier Schoolboy - Chapter 1. The New Scholar


While the larger boys in the village school of Greenbank were having a game of "three old cat" before school-time, there appeared on the playground a strange boy, carrying two books, a slate, and an atlas under his arm.

He was evidently from the country, for he wore a suit of brown jeans, or woollen homespun, made up in the natural color of the "black" sheep, as we call it. He shyly sidled up to the school-house door, and looked doubtfully at the boys who were playing, watching the familiar game as though he had never seen it before.

The boys who had the "paddles" were standing on three bases, while three others stood each behind a base and tossed the ball around the triangle from one hole or base to another. The new-comer soon perceived that, if one with a paddle, or bat, struck at the ball and missed it, and the ball was caught directly, or "at the first bounce," he gave up his bat to the one who had "caught him out." When the ball was struck, it was called a "tick," and when there was a tick, all the batters were obliged to run one base to the left, and then the ball thrown between a batter and the base to which he was running "crossed him out," and obliged him to give up his "paddle" to the one who threw the ball.

"Four old cat," "two old cat," and "five old cat" are, as everybody knows, played in the same way, the number of bases or holes increasing with the addition of each pair of players.

It is probable that the game was once--some hundreds of years ago, maybe--called "three hole catch," and that the name was gradually corrupted into "three hole cat," as it is still called in the interior States, and then became changed by mistake to "three old cat." It is, no doubt, an early form of our present game of base-ball.

It was this game which the new boy watched, trying to get an inkling of how it was played. He stood by the school-house door, and the girls who came in were obliged to pass near him. Each of them stopped to scrape her shoes, or rather the girls remembered the foot-scraper because they were curious to see the new-comer. They cast furtive glances at him, noting his new suit of brown clothes, his geography and atlas, his arithmetic, and, last of all, his face.

"There's a new scholar," said Peter Rose, or, as he was called, "Pewee" Rose, a stout and stocky boy of fourteen, who had just been caught out by another.

"I say, Greeny, how did you get so brown?" called out Will Riley, a rather large, loose-jointed fellow.

Of course, all the boys laughed at this. Boys will sometimes laugh at any one suffering torture, whether the victim be a persecuted cat or a persecuted boy. The new boy made no answer, but Joanna Merwin, who, just at that moment, happened to be scraping her shoes, saw that he grew red in the face with a quick flush of anger.

"Don't stand there, Greeny, or the cows'll eat you up!" called Riley, as he came round again to the base nearest to the school-house.

Why the boys should have been amused at this speech, the new scholar could not tell--the joke was neither new nor witty--only impudent and coarse. But the little boys about the door giggled.

"It's a pity something wouldn't eat you, Will Riley--you are good for nothing but to be mean." This sharp speech came from a rather tall and graceful girl of sixteen, who came up at the time, and who saw the annoyance of the new boy at Riley's insulting words. Of course the boys laughed again. It was rare sport to hear pretty Susan Lanham "take down" the impudent Riley.

"The bees will never eat you for honey, Susan," said Will.

Susan met the titter of the playground with a quick flush of temper and a fine look of scorn.

"Nothing would eat you, Will, unless, maybe, a turkey-buzzard, and a very hungry one at that."

This sharp retort was uttered with a merry laugh of ridicule, and a graceful toss of the head, as the mischievous girl passed into the school-house.

"That settles you, Will," said Pewee Rose. And Bob Holliday began singing, to a doleful tune:

"Poor old Pidy,
She died last Friday."

Just then, the stern face of Mr. Ball, the master, appeared at the door; he rapped sharply with his ferule, and called: "Books, books, books!" The bats were dropped, and the boys and girls began streaming into the school, but some of the boys managed to nudge Riley, saying:

"Poor old creetur,
The turkey-buzzards eat her,"

and such like soft and sweet speeches. Riley was vexed and angry, but nobody was afraid of him, for a boy may be both big and mean and yet lack courage.

The new boy did not go in at once, but stood silently and faced the inquiring looks of the procession of boys as they filed into the school-room with their faces flushed from the exercise and excitement of the games.

"I can thrash him easy," thought Pewee Rose.

"He isn't a fellow to back down easily," said Harvey Collins to his next neighbor.

Only good-natured, rough Bob Holliday stopped and spoke to the new-comer a friendly word. All that he said was "Hello!" But how much a boy can put into that word "Hello!" Bob put his whole heart into it, and there was no boy in the school that had a bigger heart, a bigger hand, or half so big a foot as Bob Holliday.

The village school-house was a long one built of red brick. It had taken the place of the old log institution in which one generation of Greenbank children had learned reading, writing, and Webster's spelling-book. There were long, continuous writing-tables down the sides of the room, with backless benches, so arranged that when the pupil was writing his face was turned toward the wall--there was a door at each end, and a box stove stood in the middle of the room, surrounded by a rectangle of four backless benches. These benches were for the little fellows who did not write, and for others when the cold should drive them nearer the stove.

The very worshipful master sat at the east end of the room, at one side of the door; there was a blackboard--a "newfangled notion" in 1850--at the other side of the door. Some of the older scholars, who could afford private desks with lids to them, suitable for concealing smuggled apples and maple-sugar, had places at the other end of the room from the master. This arrangement was convenient for quiet study, for talking on the fingers by signs, for munching apples or gingerbread, and for passing little notes between the boys and girls.

When the school had settled a little, the master struck a sharp blow on his desk for silence, and looked fiercely around the room, eager to find a culprit on whom to wreak his ill-humor. Mr. Ball was one of those old-fashioned teachers who gave the impression that he would rather beat a boy than not, and would even like to eat one, if he could find a good excuse. His eye lit upon the new scholar.

"Come here," he said, severely, and then he took his seat.

The new boy walked timidly up to a place in front of the master's desk. He was not handsome, his face was thin, his eyebrows were prominent, his mouth was rather large and good-humored, and there was that shy twinkle about the corners of his eyes which always marks a fun-loving spirit. But his was a serious, fine-grained face, with marks of suffering in it, and he had the air of having been once a strong fellow; of late, evidently, shaken to pieces by the ague.

"Where do you live?" demanded Mr. Ball.

"On Ferry Street."

"What do they call you?" This was said with a contemptuous, rasping inflection that irritated the new scholar. His eyes twinkled, partly with annoyance and partly with mischief.

"They _call me Jack, for the most part,"--then catching the titter that came from the girls' side of the room, and frightened by the rising hurricane on the master's face, he added quickly: "My name is John Dudley, sir."

"Don't you try to show your smartness on me, young man. You are a new-comer, and I let you off this time. Answer me that way again, and you will remember it as long as you live." And the master glared at him like a savage bull about to toss somebody over a fence.

The new boy turned pale, and dropped his head.

"How old are you?" "Thirteen."

"Have you ever been to school?"

"Three months."

"Three months. Do you know how to read?"

"Yes, sir," with a smile.

"Can you cipher?" "Yes, sir."

"In multiplication?" "Yes, sir."

"Long division?"

"Yes, sir; I've been half through fractions."

"You said you'd been to school but three months!" "My father taught me."

There was just a touch of pride in his voice as he said this--a sense of something superior about his father. This bit of pride angered the master, who liked to be thought to have a monopoly of all the knowledge in the town.

"Where have you been living?"

"In the Indian Reserve, of late; I was born in Cincinnati."

"I didn't ask you where you were born. When I ask you a question, answer that and no more."

"Yes, sir." There was a touch of something in the tone of this reply that amused the school, and that made the master look up quickly and suspiciously at Jack Dudley, but the expression on Jack's face was as innocent as that of a cat who has just lapped the cream off the milk.

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