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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Hoosier Schoolboy - Chapter 4. Little Christopher Columbus
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The Hoosier Schoolboy - Chapter 4. Little Christopher Columbus Post by :grimmbot Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Eggleston Date :May 2012 Read :2552

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The Hoosier Schoolboy - Chapter 4. Little Christopher Columbus


Jack's life in school was much more endurable now that he had a friend in Bob Holliday. Bob had spent his time in hard work and in rough surroundings, but he had a gentleman's soul, although his manners and speech were rude. More and more Jack found himself drawn to him. Harvey Collins asked Jack to walk down to the river-bank with him at recess. Both Harvey and Bob soon liked Jack, who found himself no longer lonely. The girls also sought his advice about their lessons, and the younger boys were inclined to come over to his side.

As winter came on, country boys, anxious to learn something about "reading, writing, and ciphering," came into the school. Each of these new-comers had to go through a certain amount of teasing from Riley and of bullying from Pewee.

One frosty morning in December there appeared among the new scholars a strange little fellow, with a large head, long straight hair, an emaciated body, and legs that looked like reeds, they were so slender. His clothes were worn and patched, and he had the look of having been frost-bitten. He could not have been more than ten years old, to judge by his size, but there was a look of premature oldness in his face.

"Come here!" said the master, when he caught sight of him. "What is your name?" And Mr. Ball took out his book to register the new-comer, with much the same relish that the Giant Despair showed when he had bagged a fresh pilgrim.

"Columbus Risdale." The new-comer spoke in a shrill, piping voice, as strange as his weird face and withered body.

"Is that your full name?" asked the master.

"No, sir," piped the strange little creature.

"Give your full name," said Mr. Ball, sternly.

"My name is Christopher Columbus George Washington Marquis de Lafayette Risdale." The poor lad was the victim of that mania which some people have for "naming after" great men. His little shrunken body and high, piping voice made his name seem so incongruous that all the school tittered, and many laughed outright. But the dignified and eccentric little fellow did not observe it.

"Can you read?"

"Yes, sir," squeaked the lad, more shrilly than ever.

"Umph," said the master, with a look of doubt on his face. "In the first reader?"

"No, sir; in the fourth reader."

Even the master could not conceal his look of astonishment at this claim. At that day, the fourth reader class was the highest in the school, and contained only the largest scholars. The school laughed at the bare notion of little Christopher Columbus reading in the fourth reader, and the little fellow looked around the room, puzzled to guess the cause of the merriment.

"We'll try you," said the master, with suspicion. When the fourth-reader class was called, and Harvey Collins and Susie Lanham and some others of the nearly grown-up pupils came forward, with Jack Dudley as quite the youngest of the class, the great-eyed, emaciated little Columbus Risdale picked himself up on his pipe-stems and took his place at the end of this row.

It was too funny for anything!

Will Riley and Pewee and other large scholars, who were yet reading in that old McGuffey's Third Reader, which had a solitary picture of Bonaparte crossing the Alps, looked with no kindly eyes on this preposterous infant in the class ahead of them.

The piece to be read was the poem of Mrs. Hemans's called "The Better Land." Poems like this one are rather out of fashion nowadays, and people are inclined to laugh a little at Mrs. Hemans. But thirty years ago her religious and sentimental poetry was greatly esteemed. This one presented no difficulty to the readers. In that day, little or no attention was paid to inflection--the main endeavor being to pronounce the words without hesitation or slip, and to "mind the stops." Each one of the class read a stanza ending with a line:

"Not there, not there, my child!"

The poem was exhausted before all had read, so that it was necessary to begin over again in order to give each one his turn. All waited to hear the little Columbus read. When it came his turn, the school was as still as death. The master, wishing to test him, told him, with something like a sneer, that he could read three stanzas, or "verses," as Mr. Ball called them.

The little chap squared his toes, threw his head back, and more fluently even than the rest, he read, in his shrill, eager voice, the remaining lines, winding up each stanza in a condescending tone, as he read:

"Not there, not there, my child!"

The effect of this from the hundred-year-old baby was so striking and so ludicrous that everybody was amused, while all were surprised at the excellence of his reading. The master proceeded, however, to whip one or two of the boys for laughing.

When recess-time arrived, Susan Lanham came to Jack with a request.

"I wish you'd look after little Lummy Risdale. He's a sort of cousin of my mother's. He is as innocent and helpless as the babes in the wood."

"I'll take care of him," said Jack.

So he took the little fellow walking away from the school-house; Will Riley and some of the others calling after them: "Not there, not there, my child!"

But Columbus did not lay their taunts to heart. He was soon busy talking to Jack about things in the country, and things in town. On their return, Riley, crying out: "Not there, my child!" threw a snow-ball from a distance of ten feet and struck the poor little Christopher Columbus George Washington Lafayette so severe a blow as to throw him off his feet. Quick as a flash, Jack charged on Riley, and sent a snow-ball into his face. An instant later he tripped him with his foot and rolled the big, scared fellow into the snow and washed his face well, leaving half a snow-bank down his back.

"What makes you so savage?" whined Riley. "I didn't snow-ball you." And Riley looked around for Pewee, who was on the other side of the school-house, and out of sight of the scuffle.

"No, you daren't snow-ball me," said Jack, squeezing another ball and throwing it into Riley's shirt-front with a certainty of aim that showed that he knew how to play ball. "Take that one, too, and if you bother Lum Risdale again, I'll make you pay for it. Take a boy of your size." And with that he moulded yet another ball, but Riley retreated to the other side of the school-house.

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