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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Hoosier Schoolboy - Chapter 3. Answering Back
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The Hoosier Schoolboy - Chapter 3. Answering Back Post by :grimmbot Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Eggleston Date :May 2012 Read :2422

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The Hoosier Schoolboy - Chapter 3. Answering Back

CHAPTER III. ANSWERING BACK

It is hard for one boy to make a fight. Even your bully does not like to "pitch on" an inoffensive school-mate. You remember AEsop's fable of the wolf and the lamb, and what pains the wolf took to pick a quarrel with the lamb. It was a little hard for Pewee to fight with a boy who walked quietly to and from the school, without giving anybody cause for offence.

But the chief reason why Pewee did not attack him with his fists was that both he and Riley had found out that Jack Dudley could help them over a hard place in their lessons better than anybody else. And notwithstanding their continual persecution of Jack, they were mean enough to ask his assistance, and he, hoping to bring about peace by good-nature, helped them to get out their geography and arithmetic almost every day. Unable to appreciate this, they were both convinced that Jack only did it because he was afraid of them, and as they found it rare sport to abuse him, they kept it up. By their influence Jack was shut out of the plays. A greenhorn would spoil the game, they said. What did a boy that had lived on Wildcat Creek, in the Indian Reserve, know about playing bull-pen, or prisoner's base, or shinny? If he was brought in, they would go out.

But the girls, and the small boys, and good-hearted Bob Holliday liked Jack's company very much. Yet, Jack was a boy, and he often longed to play games with the others. He felt very sure that he could dodge and run in "bull-pen" as well as any of them. He was very tired of Riley's continual ridicule, which grew worse as Riley saw in him a rival in influence with the smaller boys.

"Catch Will alone sometimes," said Bob Holliday, "when Pewee isn't with him, and then thrash him. He'll back right down if you bristle up to him. If Pewee makes a fuss about it, I'll look after Pewee. I'm bigger than he is, and he won't fight with me. What do you say?"

"I shan't fight unless I have to."

"Afraid?" asked Bob, laughing.

"It isn't that. I don't think I'm much afraid, although I don't like to be pounded or to pound anybody. I think I'd rather be whipped than to be made fun of, though. But my father used to say that people who fight generally do so because they are afraid of somebody else, more than they are of the one they fight with."

"I believe that's a fact," said Bob. "But Riley aches for a good thrashing."

"I know that, and I feel like giving him one, or taking one myself, and I think I shall fight him before I've done. But father used to say that fists could never settle between right and wrong. They only show which is the stronger, and it is generally the mean one that gets the best of it."

"That's as sure as shootin'," said Bob. "Pewee could use you up. Pewee thinks he's the king, but laws! he's only Riley's bull-dog. Riley is afraid of him, but he manages to keep the dog on his side all the time."

"My father used to say," said Jack, "that brutes could fight with force, but men ought to use their wits."

"You seem to think a good deal of what your father says,--like it was your Bible, you know."

"My father's dead," replied Jack.

"Oh, that's why. Boys don't always pay attention to what their father says when he's alive."

"Oh, but then my father was--" Here Jack checked himself, for fear of seeming to boast. "You see," he went on, "my father knew a great deal. He was so busy with his books that he lost 'most all his money, and then we moved to the Indian Reserve, and there he took the fever and died; and then we came down here, where we owned a house, so that I could go to school."

"Why don't you give Will Riley as good as he sends?" said Bob, wishing to get away from melancholy subjects. "You have got as good a tongue as his."

"I haven't his stock of bad words, though."

"You've got a power of fun in you, though,--you keep everybody laughing when you want to, and if you'd only turn the pumps on him once, he'd howl like a yellow dog that's had a quart o' hot suds poured over him out of a neighbor's window. Use your wits, like your father said. You've lived in the woods till you're as shy as a flying-squirrel. All you've got to do is to talk up and take it rough and tumble, like the rest of the world. Riley can't bear to be laughed at, and you can make him ridiculous as easy as not."

The next day, at the noon recess, about the time that Jack had finished helping Bob Holliday to find some places on the map, there came up a little shower, and the boys took refuge in the school-house. They must have some amusement, so Riley began his old abuse.

"Well, greenhorn from the Wildcat, where's the black sheep you stole that suit of clothes from?"

"I hear him bleat now," said Jack,--"about the blackest sheep I have ever seen."

"You've heard the truth for once, Riley," said Bob Holliday.

Riley, who was as vain as a peacock, was very much mortified by the shout of applause with which this little retort of Jack's was greeted. It was not a case in which he could call in King Pewee. The king, for his part, shut up his fists and looked silly, while Jack took courage to keep up the battle.

But Riley tried again.

"I say, Wildcat, you think you're smart, but you're a double-distilled idiot, and haven't got brains enough to be sensible of your misery."

This kind of outburst on Riley's part always brought a laugh from the school. But before the laugh had died down, Jack Dudley took the word, saying, in a dry and quizzical way:

"Don't you try to claim kin with me that way, Riley. No use; I won't stand it. I don't belong to your family. I'm neither a fool nor a coward."

"Hurrah!" shouted Bob Holliday, bringing down first one and then the other of his big feet on the floor. "It's your put-in now, Riley."

"Don't be backward in coming forward, Will, as the Irish priest said to his people," came from grave Harvey Collins, who here looked up from his book, thoroughly enjoying the bully's discomfiture.

"That's awfully good," said Joanna Merwin, clasping her hands and giggling with delight.

King Pewee doubled up his fists and looked at Riley to see if he ought to try his sort of wit on Jack. If a frog, being pelted to death by cruel boys, should turn and pelt them again, they could not be more surprised than were Riley and King Pewee at Jack's repartees.

"You'd better be careful what you say to Will Riley," said Pewee. "I stand by him."

But Jack's blood was up now, and he was not to be scared.

"All the more shame to him," said Jack. "Look at me, shaken all to pieces with the fever and ague on the Wildcat, and look at that great big, bony coward of a Riley. I've done him no harm, but he wants to abuse me, and he's afraid of me. He daren't touch me. He has to coax you to stand by him, to protect him from poor little me. He's a great big----"

"Calf," broke in Bob Holliday, with a laugh.

"You'd better be careful," said Pewee to Jack, rising to his feet. "I stand by Riley."

"Will you defend him if I hit him?"

"Yes."

"Well, then, I won't hit him. But you don't mean that he is to abuse me, while I am not allowed to answer back a word?"

"Well--" said Pewee hesitatingly.

"Well," said Bob Holliday hotly, "I say that Jack has just as good a right to talk with his tongue as Riley. Stand by Riley if he's hit, Pewee; he needs it. But don't you try to shut up Jack." And Bob got up and put his broad hand on Jack's shoulder. Nobody had ever seen the big fellow angry before, and the excitement was very great. The girls clapped their hands.

"Good for you, Bob, I say," came from Susan Lanham, and poor, ungainly Bob blushed to his hair to find himself the hero of the girls.

"I don't mean to shut up Jack," said Pewee, looking at Bob's size, "but I stand by Riley."

"Well, do your standing sitting down, then," said Susan. "I'll get a milking-stool for you, if that'll keep you quiet."

It was well that the master came in just then, or Pewee would have had to fight somebody or burst.

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