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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Hoosier Schoolboy - Chapter 11. Columbus And His Friends
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The Hoosier Schoolboy - Chapter 11. Columbus And His Friends Post by :kdwashere Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Eggleston Date :May 2012 Read :3198

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The Hoosier Schoolboy - Chapter 11. Columbus And His Friends

CHAPTER XI. COLUMBUS AND HIS FRIENDS

When he waked up in the morning, Jack remembered that he had not seen Columbus Risdale go past the door after his cow the evening before, and he was afraid that he might be ill. Why had he not thought to go down and drive up the cow himself? It was yet early, and he arose and went down to the little rusty, brown, unpainted house in which the Risdales, who were poor people, had their home. Just as he pushed open the gate, Bob Holliday came out of the door, looking tired and sleepy.

"Hello, Bob!" said Jack. "How's Columbus? Is he sick?"

"Awful sick," said Bob. "Clean out of his head all night."

"Have you been here all night?"

"Yes, I heerd he was sick last night, and I come over and sot up with him."

"You good, big-hearted Bob!" said Jack. "You're the best fellow in the world, I believe."

"What a quare feller you air to talk, Jack," said Bob, choking up. "Air you goin' to school to-day?"

"No. Mother'd rather have me not go any more."

"I'm not going any more. I hate old Ball. Neither's Susan Lanham going. She's in there," and Bob made a motion toward the house with his thumb, and passed out of the gate, while Jack knocked at the door. He was admitted by Susan.

"Oh, Jack! I'm so glad to see you," she whispered. "Columbus has asked for you a good many times during the night. You've stood by him splendidly."

Jack blushed, but asked how Lummy was now.

"Out of his head most of the time. Bob Holliday stayed with him all night. What a good fellow Bob Holliday is!"

"I almost hugged him, just now," said Jack, and Susan couldn't help smiling at this frank confession.

Jack passed into the next room as stealthily as possible, that he might not disturb his friend, and paused by the door. Mrs. Risdale sat by the bedside of Columbus, who was sleeping uneasily, his curious big head and long, thin hair making a strange picture against the pillow. His face looked more meagre and his eyes more sunken than ever before, but there was a feverish flush on his wan cheeks, and the slender hands moved uneasily on the outside of the blue coverlet, the puny arms were bare to the elbows.

Mrs. Risdale beckoned Jack to come forward, and he came and stood at the bed-foot. Then Columbus opened his large eyes and fixed them on Jack for a few seconds.

"Come, Jack, dear old fellow," he whispered.

Jack came and bent over him with tearful eyes, and the poor little reed-like arms were twined about his neck.

"Jack," he sobbed, "the master's right over there in the corner all the time, straightening out his long switches. He says he's going to whip me again. But you won't let him, will you, Jack, you good old fellow?"

"No, he shan't touch you."

"Let's run away, Jack," he said, presently. And so the poor little fellow went on, his great, disordered brain producing feverish images of terror from which he continually besought "dear good old Jack" to deliver him.

When at last he dropped again into a troubled sleep, Jack slipped away and drove up the Risdale cow, and then went back to his breakfast. He was a boy whose anger kindled slowly; but the more he thought about it, the more angry he became at the master who had given Columbus such a fright as to throw him into a brain fever, and at the "mean, sneaking contemptible villains," as he hotly called them, who wouldn't come forward and confess their trick, rather than to have the poor little lad punished.

"I suppose we ought to make some allowances," his mother said, quietly.

"That's what you always say, mother. You're always making allowances."

After breakfast and chores, Jack thought to go again to see his little friend. On issuing from the gate, he saw Will Riley and Ben Berry waiting for him at the corner. Whether they meant to attack him or not he could not tell, but he felt too angry to care.

"I say, Jack," said Riley, "how did you know who put the powder in the stove? Did Columbus tell you?"

"Mind your own business," said Jack, in a tone not so polite as it might be. "The less you say about gunpowder, hereafter, the better for you both. Why didn't you walk up and tell, and save that little fellow a beating?"

"Look here, Jack," said Berry, "don't you tell what you know about it. There's going to be a row. They say that Doctor Lanham's taken Susan, and all the other children, out of school, because the master thrashed Lummy, and they say Bob Holliday's quit, and that you're going to quit, and Doctor Lanham's gone to work this morning to get the master put out at the end of the term. Mr. Ball didn't know that Columbus was kin to the Lanhams, or he'd have let him alone, like he does the Lanhams and the Weathervanes. There is going to be a big row, and everybody'll want to know who put the powder in the stove. We want you to be quiet about it."

"You _do_?" said Jack, with a sneer. "_You do?"

"Yes, we do," said Riley, coaxingly.

"You do? _You come to _me and ask me to keep it secret, after letting me and that poor little baby take your whipping! You want me to hide what you did, when that poor little Columbus lies over there sick abed and like to die, all because you sneaking scoundrels let him be whipped for what you did!"

"Is he sick?" said Riley, in terror.

"Going to die, I expect," said Jack, bitterly.

"Well," said Ben Berry, "you be careful what you say about us, or we'll get Pewee to get even with you."

"Oh, that's your game! You think you can scare me, do you?"

Jack grew more and more angry. Seeing a group of school-boys on the other side of the street, he called them over.

"Look here, boys," said Jack, "I took a whipping yesterday to keep from telling on these fellows, and now they have the face to ask me not to tell that they put the powder in the stove, and they promise me a beating from Pewee if I do. These are the two boys that let a poor sickly baby take the whipping they ought to have had. They have just as good as killed him, I suppose, and now they come sneaking around here and trying to scare me in keeping still about it. I didn't back down from the master, and I won't from Pewee. Oh, no! I won't tell anybody. But if any of you boys should happen to guess that Will Riley and Ben Berry were the cowards who did that mean trick, I am not going to say they weren't. It wouldn't be of any use to deny it. There are only two boys in school mean enough to play such a contemptible trick as that."

Riley and Berry stood sheepishly silent, but just here Pewee came in sight, and seeing the squad of boys gathered around Jack, strode over quickly and pushed his sturdy form into the midst.

"Pewee," said Riley, "I think you ought to pound Jack. He says you can't back him down."

"I didn't," said Jack. "I said _you couldn't scare me out of telling who tried to blow up the school-house stove, and let other boys take the whipping, by promising me a drubbing from Pewee Rose. If Pewee wants to put himself in as mean a crowd as yours, and be your puppy-dog to fight for you, let him come on. He's a fool if he does, that's all I have to say. The whole town will want to ship you two fellows off before night, and Pewee isn't going to fight your battles. What do you think, Pewee, of fellows that put powder in a stove where they might blow up a lot of little children? What do you think of two fellows that want me to keep quiet after they let little Lum Risdale take a whipping for them, and that talk about setting you on to me if I tell?"

Thus brought face to face with both parties, King Pewee only looked foolish and said nothing.

Jack had worked himself into such a passion that he could not go to Risdale's, but returned to his own home, declaring that he was going to tell everybody in town. But when he entered the house and looked into the quiet, self-controlled face of his mother, he began to feel cooler.

"Let us remember that some allowances are to be made for such boys," was all that she said.

"That's what you always say, Mother," said Jack, impatiently. "I believe you'd make allowances for the Old Boy himself."

"That would depend on his bringing up," smiled Mrs. Dudley. "Some people have bad streaks naturally, and some have been cowed and brutalized by ill-treatment, and some have been spoiled by indulgence."

Jack felt more calm after a while. He went back to the bedside of Columbus, but he couldn't bring himself to make allowances.

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