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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Hoosier Schoolmaster: A Story Of Backwoods Life In Indiana - Chapter 14. A Crisis With Bud
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The Hoosier Schoolmaster: A Story Of Backwoods Life In Indiana - Chapter 14. A Crisis With Bud Post by :WhoDoesItReach Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Eggleston Date :May 2012 Read :3286

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The Hoosier Schoolmaster: A Story Of Backwoods Life In Indiana - Chapter 14. A Crisis With Bud

CHAPTER XIV. A CRISIS WITH BUD

Ralph sat still at his desk. The school had gone. All at once he became conscious that Shocky sat yet in his accustomed place upon the hard, backless bench.

"Why, Shocky, haven't you gone yet?"

"No--sir--I was waitin' to see if you warn't a-goin', too--I--"

"Well?"

"I thought it would make me feel as if God warn't quite so fur away to talk to you. It did the other day."

The master rose and put his hand on Shocky's head. Was it the brotherhood in affliction that made Shocky's words choke him so? Or, was it the weird thoughts that he expressed? Or, was it the recollection that Shocky was Hannah's brother? Hannah so far, far away from him now! At any rate, Shocky, looking up for the smile on which he fed, saw the relaxing of the master's face, that had been as hard as stone, and felt just one hot tear on his hand.

"P'r'aps God's forgot you, too," said Shocky in a sort of half soliloquy. "Better get away from Flat Creek. You see God forgets everybody down here. 'Cause 'most everybody forgets God, 'cept Mr. Bosaw, and I 'low God don't no ways keer to be remembered by sich as him. Leastways I wouldn't if I was God, you know. I wonder what becomes of folks when God forgets 'em?" And Shocky, seeing that the master had resumed his seat and was looking absently into the fire, moved slowly out the door.

"Shocky!" called the master.

The little poet came back and stood before him.

"Shocky, you mustn't think God has forgotten you. God brings things out right at last." But Ralph's own faith was weak, and his words sounded hollow and hypocritical to himself. Would God indeed bring things out right?

He sat musing a good while, trying to convince himself of the truth of what he had just been saying to Shocky--that God would indeed bring things out right at last. Would it all come out right if Bud married Hannah? Would it all come out right if he were driven from Flat Creek with a dark suspicion upon his character? Did God concern himself with these things? Was there any God? It was the same old struggle between Doubt and Faith. And when Ralph looked up, Shocky had departed.

In the next hour Ralph fought the old battle of Armageddon. I shall not describe it. You will fight it in your own way. No two alike. The important thing is the End. If you come out as he did, with the doubt gone and the trust in God victorious, it matters little just what shape the battle may take. Since Jacob became Israel there have never been two such struggles alike, save in that they all end either in victory or in defeat.

It was after twelve o'clock on that Christmas day when Ralph put his head out the door of the school-house and called out: "Bud, I'd like to see you."

Bud did not care to see the master, for he had inly resolved to "thrash him" and have done with him. But he couldn't back out, certainly not in sight of the others who were passing along the road with him.

"I don't want the rest of you," said Ralph in a decided way, as he saw that Hank and one or two others were resolved to come also.

"Thought maybe you'd want somebody to see far play," said Hank as he went off sheepishly.

"If I did, you would be the last one I should ask," said Ralph. "There's no unfair play in Bud, and there is in you." And he shut the door.

"Now, looky here, Mr. Ralph Hartsook," said Bud. "You don't come no gum games over me with your saft sodder and all that. I've made up my mind. You've got to promise to leave these 'ere digging, or I've got to thrash you."

"You'll have to thrash me, then," said Ralph, turning a little pale, but remembering the bulldog. "But you'll tell me what It's all about, won't you?"

"You know well enough. Folks says you know more 'bout the robbery at the Dutchman's than you orter. But I don't believe them. Fer them as says it is liars and thieves theirselves. 'Ta'n't fer none of that. And I shan't tell you what it _is fer. So now, if you won't travel, why, take off your coat and git ready fer a thrashing."

The master took off his coat and showed his slender arms. Bud laid his off, and showed the physique of a prize-fighter.

"You a'n't a-goin to fight _me_?" said Bud.

"Not unless you make me."

"Why I could chaw you all up."

"I know that."

"Well, you're the grittiest feller I ever did see, and ef you'd jest kep off of my ground I wouldn't a touched you. But I a'n't a-goin' to be cut out by no feller a livin' 'thout thrashin' him in an inch of his life. You see I wanted to git out of this Flat Crick way. We're a low-lived set here in Flat Crick. And I says to myself, I'll try to be somethin' more nor Pete Jones, and dad, and these other triflin', good-fer-nothin' ones 'bout here. And when you come I says, There's one as'll help me. And what do you do with yor book-larnin' and town manners but start right out to git away the gal that I'd picked out, when I'd picked her out kase I thought, not bein' Flat Crick born herself, she might help a feller to do better! Now I won't let nobody cut me out without givin' 'em the best thrashin' it's in these 'ere arms to give."

"But I haven't tried to cut you out."

"You can't fool _me_."

"Bud, listen to me, and then thrash me if you will. I went with that girl once. When I found you had some claims, I gave her up. Not because I was afraid of you, for I would rather have taken the worst thrashing you can give me than give her up. But I haven't spoken to her since the night of the first spelling-school."

"You lie!" said Bud, doubling his fists.

Ralph grew red.

"You was a-waitin' on her last Sunday right afore my eyes, and a-tryin' to ketch my attention too. So when you're ready say so."

"Bud, there is some misunderstanding." Hartsook spoke slowly and felt bewildered. "I tell you that I did not speak to Hannah last Sunday, and you know I didn't."

"Hanner!" Bud's eyes grew large. "Hanner!" Here he gasped for breath, and looked around, "Hanner!" He couldn't get any further than the name at first. "Why, plague take it, who said Hanner?"

"Mirandy said you were courting Hannah," said Ralph, feeling round in a vague way to get his ideas together.

"Mirandy! Thunder! You believed Mirandy! Well! Now, looky here, Mr. Hartsook, ef you was to say that my sister lied, I'd lick you till yer hide wouldn't hold shucks. But _I say, a-twix you and me and the gate-post, don't you never believe nothing that Mirandy Means says. Her and marm has set theirselves like fools to git you. Hanner! Well, she's a mighty nice gal, but you're welcome to _her_. I never tuck no shine that air way. But I was out of school last Thursday and Friday a-shucking corn to take to mill a-Saturday. And when I come past the Squire's and seed you talking to a gal as is a gal, you know"--here Bud hesitated and looked foolish--"I felt hoppin' mad."

Bud put on his coat.

Ralph put on his coat.

Then they shook hands and Bud went out. Ralph sat looking into the fire. There was no conscientious difficulty now in the way of his claiming Hannah. The dry forestick lying on the rude stone andirons burst into a blaze. The smoldering hope In the heart of Ralph Hartsook did the same. He could have Hannah If he could win her. But there came slowly back the recollection of his lost standing in Flat Creek. There was circumstantial evidence against him. It was evident that Hannah believed something of this. What other stones Small might have put in circulation he did not know. Would Small try to win Hannah's love to throw it away again, as he had done with others? At least he would not spare any pains to turn the heart of the bound girl against Ralph.

The bright flame on the forestick, which Ralph had been watching, flickered and burned low.

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