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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Hoosier Schoolboy - Chapter 22. Chasing The Fox
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The Hoosier Schoolboy - Chapter 22. Chasing The Fox Post by :geoall28 Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Eggleston Date :May 2012 Read :2394

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The Hoosier Schoolboy - Chapter 22. 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.

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