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HOME > Classical Novels > The Worst Boy in Town > CHAPTER V. EXPERIMENTS IN GRAVITATION.
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As June disappeared in the beginning of July, the long vacation of the Doveton schools began, and with it began Dr. Wittingham's special and particular annual annoyance, which consisted of keeping Jack out of mischief. To compel the boy to work all the while was something at which the good doctor's heart naturally revolted, but it seemed that when Jack was unoccupied even for half an hour an indignant complaint by some one was absolutely sure to follow. The doctor was not the only man who had charge of a boy of mischieveous tendencies, so there was considerable private jubilation among parents when a lone foreigner strayed into the town, announced himself as a Polish exile, and offered to carry a class in French through the summer vacation. The French language was not held in intelligent esteem by all Doveton parents, but every one of them understood the value of peace of mind, so within forty-eight hours the exile was guaranteed an eight weeks class of twenty boys, at six dollars per boy, and was granted the upper floor of one of the schoolhouses free of rent.

This arrangement for the consumption of the summer vacation did not meet Jack's views at all, and he protested so strongly that the doctor yielded, after exacting perfect behavior as the price of liberty. Jack promised; he would have promised anything rather than have spent all those delicious days indoors. There was altogether too much out-of-doors that demanded his attention; the blackberry harvest in which Jack earned most of his year's spending money, came in July; the march of civilization was working destruction with hazel-nut patches, so that prudent boys desired to know in advance where not to go in the fall; it was the "off year" for black walnuts, so it was advisable to ascertain where were the few trees which neglected to be in the fashion; there were several young orchards which had bloomed for the first time, and must be visited for sampling purposes, lest perchance there might some very early varieties come into bearing and be gathered before he had seen them, slippery elm bark was not entirely past its prime, several new kinds of fish-bait were to be tested on the perch which Jack was sure dwelt in jealous seclusion in certain deep holes in the river, the country district was to be scoured for new litters of puppies of desirable breed—in short Jack had so much work laid out that the vacation promised to be a very busy one.

But by the time the French class had been in session a week, Jack began to feel unutterably lonesome. Matt was in the class; so was lame Joey Wilson, who was always a pleasant companion; the Pinkshaw twins, who had no equal as tree-climbers, were also there, and so was big Frank Parker, whose superior strength and wisdom were not to be despised. Jack gave unwonted attention to the family garden so as to be within sound of the mid-morning intermission, and when the teacher's bell summoned the boys back to school again, Jack not unfrequently sat upon the school wood-pile during the long hour which ensued before the dismissal which brought him and the boys together again. Then satan began to find mischief for Jack's idle hands, and small pebbles not unfrequently flew into the open windows of the school-room, occasioning pleasing diversions for the boys and annoyance for the teacher. Every body knew who threw them, but when questioned by the teacher they all, with general mental reservation, professed utter ignorance. The exile-teacher was not of the best temper, so he took his stand near a window, with the text-book in one hand and half a brick in the other, but Jack, warned by friendly hands hanging out of the windows of the side upon which the teacher stood, operated from the other side and occasioned many spirited races against time, the teacher's course being across the schoolroom, while Jack's goal was the friendly shelter of the schoolhouse porch. But even this diversion grew tiresome, and Jack, from pure loneliness, finally came to sneaking up the stairway, sitting on the floor of the hall, and listening by the hour to what to him seemed the idiotic jabber of his late schoolmates.

Then listening itself grew tiresome; besides, the position was uncomfortable, so one day Jack climbed up the little hatchway which led to the cockpit and belfry, laid a board across several beams, stretched himself upon it, and listened at ease, for there were sundry cracks in the ceiling. Jack was not long in discovering that one of these cracks, in its meanderings, passed directly over the teacher's chair, and that sundry small fragments of plaster could be scratched from its sides and dropped upon the exile's head.

This discovery aroused the inventive spirit which seems dormant in the mind of every American, waiting only for appropriate occasion to call it forth, Jack carefully marked that portion of the crack which directly overhung the teacher's head. He remained where he was until school was dismissed; then he cautiously picked at the side of the crack, between two laths, until it was wide enough to admit a grain of corn dropped edgewise; then he went below, dusted away the fallen plaster with his hat, and went home through the unlocked door with a feeling that the next morning was at least six weeks away.

But the next morning came, according to all correct timepieces, at the proper hour, and the French class had got fairly under way upon some of the exasperating paradigms of an irregular verb, when suddenly a grain of corn fell upon the bald head of the exile. Fat Billy Barker, who was abler at staring than studying, happened to see the falling body, and as the startled teacher arose from his chair, Billy began to laugh. The teacher immediately marked him as the offender, dashed at him and gave him several hard blows with a switch, after which Billy put his head down upon his desk, wept, and declined to make a statement. But the teacher had hardly reseated himself when another missile of the same sort had struck him; Billy's head and hands being still down, the teacher exclaimed,

"Oh, Barkare, zen it was not you; I vill apologize, Barkare,—I have mooch sorrow. Vatever boy it vas should be whipped by Barkare!"

Again the recitation began and another grain of corn fell, this time in full view of the entire school. A general titter resulted, and this so enraged the teacher that he strolled rapidly down the aisles, displaying two rows of terribly white teeth, and shaking his ruler at nearly every boy individually. This operation had a very sobering effect, and even Jack was so appalled by the noise of the teacher's footfalls that he remained quiet nearly an hour. Finally he dropped two grains in quick succession, and the boys, who had been feverishly awaiting something new, laughed aloud with one accord. The teacher sprang to his feet, seized both ruler and switch, and roared.

"Now, who did it? Barkare, you vill tell me, an' let me avenge ze vipping you did haf?"

Billy gulped down the truth and declared he did not know.

"Vilson," shouted the teacher, "you is ze good boy of ze school; you will tell me, I know, Vilson?"

But Joey, looking as innocent as if he were saying his prayers, shook his head negatively.

"Mistare Frank Parkare," continued the teacher, "you haf nearly ze years of a man, and cannot enchoy to see ze destruction of discipline. Who vas it that throw ze corn-grain."

And big Frank Parker unblushingly and solemnly said that he did not know.

"Efferybody tell me," exclaimed the teacher, resuming his chair with dignity, "or ze class will stay in ze room till it starve to death. How like you zat, mes gar?ons, eh?"

The boys did not seem particularly to enjoy the prospect, and Jack himself sobered somewhat at the thought of inflicting such a penalty upon his friends. But just there he conceived a new idea, and emerging quietly from his hiding place, he ran home, obtained a vial from his father's office, filled it with water, and hurried back. He was anxious to see as well as to hear the result of his impending operation, so he removed his board, lay along one of the beams, steadying himself by his left hand, and held the mouth of the vial over the teacher's head. Lame Joey Wilson was just translating fragmentarily, as follows:


What the carpenter-owner of the dog really had, remained unexplained during the remainder of the session. Jack had intended to let but a single drop of water fall, and he could generally trust his hand at such work, for his father sometimes allowed him to assist in compounding prescriptions. But on this particular occasion anticipation proved too much for reality, for Jack laughed to himself so violently over the fun about to ensue that his hand shook, a stream of water poured through the hole, and trickled all over the teacher's chair. And, worse still, Jack discovered that a two-inch beam is not a safe place of repose for the human frame in moments of profound agitation, for he lost his balance, tried to save it with one elbow and one foot, which between them dislodged great masses of plaster from the laths and dropped it upon the teacher's desk.


Even then the truth might not have been suspected, had not Jack, frightened at the mischief he had caused, lost all self-control and tumbled off the beam and upon the laths. Crack! Crack! went several laths, a violent commotion was heard upon the remainder, and, as the school started to its feet and the teacher dropped back in terror, a boy's foot and a section of trowser-leg appeared for an instant through a hole in the ceiling, only to be instantly withdrawn.

"Ah!" snarled the exile, seizing his half brick and ruler, and starting for the hall, "I haf ze villain!" The entire class followed, in time to hear a rustling sound and to see the teacher's half brick go up the hatchway, through which the bell rope was being rapidly drawn.

The teacher danced frantically about and shouted,

"Somebody go for the police—ze constable, what you call him! I would gif five dollare if I had my pistol viz me here. Somebody bring one little laddare—zen I go up ze hole an' drag down ze diable. I show you vat I do, you bring me ze laddare!"

Nobody stirred; every one preferred to remain as spectator. Suddenly the teacher's half brick descended, followed by a nail keg, a dusty roll of discarded maps, and a piece of board.

"It is one attaque de force!" exclaimed the teacher, retiring precipitately upon the feet of lame Joey Wilson, who had squeezed well to the front. "Ze rascal shall go to ze prison. Will nobody go for ze constable? Zen I will give ze alarm from out ze window."

The exile put his head out the window, just in time to see Jack, who had thrown the bell rope over the front of the building, sliding down the same, and making dreadful faces because of the pain which friction occasioned in his hands and legs. With a fiendish yell the teacher threw the ruler, which missed Jack. Just as the young man felt that the rope was no longer between his knees yet the ground not invitingly near, the teacher reappeared with an inkstand which he threw with such excellent aim that it struck Jack in the side. The boy immediately loosened his hold and dropped about fifteen feet, striking upon his side. In an instant he was upon his feet and hurrying homeward without as much hilarity as might have been expected, for in falling he had broken his left arm.

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