TO say that Walter felt quite cool and unconcerned as he entered the
schoolroom and advanced to his place behind the teacher’s desk, would
not be entirely true. It was a novel situation for a boy not quite
sixteen, and he felt it to be such. If for a moment he regretted having
assumed so grave a responsibility, it was not strange. But, if Walter
felt a little nervous and apprehensive, he had self-command enough not
to show it. He looked calmly about him, meeting the expectant glances of
all the scholars, and, fixing his eyes on the nearest boy, said:
“Will you go to the door and ring the bell?”
Alfred Clinton, for he was the one addressed, has already been alluded
to as an excellent student, and a boy of fine disposition. He was ready
and determined to co-operate with the young teacher in every way that
might be in his power.
He advanced respectfully, and, taking the bell, rang it from the door
There was little need of the summons, however, this morning. Led by
curiosity, the habitual loiterers were all in their seats.
There was a general silence and pause of expectation. The scholars were
sitting in judgment on the new teacher, and wondering how he would
Walter rose, and, calmly surveying the fifty scholars whose charge he
had assumed, spoke as follows:
“Scholars, before entering upon our duties, it may be proper for me to
say a few words. When I came to this place, it was not with the
intention of teaching. You know how it has happened that I have
undertaken to do so. You will easily judge, from my appearance, that I
have not experience to fit me for the post, and am younger than some of
you. But I have made up my mind to do my best, and I hope the relations
between us will be mutually pleasant and profitable. I will do all I can
to make them so. I will, in the first place, go round and take your
names, and make inquiries as to the studies you wish to take up.
To-morrow we shall be ready to begin in earnest, and go on regularly.”
This speech was favorably received by the generality of the scholars. It
was greeted with applause, in which, after a while, all joined, with two
exceptions. These two were Peter Groot and John Wall. Peter leaned back
in his seat, with both hands in his pockets, looking at Walter, with an
impudent smile on his face, as much as to say, “I am quiet now, but I’ll
make it hot enough for you by and by.” As for John, he regarded Walter
with a supercilious glance. He was not likely to break out into open
rebellion, not having the courage, but he did not intend to trouble
himself to be respectful, but to treat the new teacher with a cool
disdain and assumption of superiority, which, though disagreeable, would
not subject him to censure. He depended on his new friend, Peter, to
take bolder measures.
Walter took the school register, and went to the nearest desk. He took
down the name and age of the scholar, and learned to what classes he
belonged, and then went on. He met with perfectly respectful answers
till he came to Peter Groot.
Peter sat in the position already described, leaning back, with both
hands in his pockets. Walter noticed it, and he had no difficulty in
foreseeing trouble. But he did not care to precipitate matters. Whenever
it came, he meant to be ready.
“What is your name?” he asked.
Peter pretended not to hear.
“What is your name?” demanded Walter, in a quick, imperative tone.
Peter turned slowly, and answered: “Peter.”
“What other name?”
“What is your age?”
“Sixteen. What is yours?”
Of course, the question was an impudent one, but Walter answered it.
“We are about the same age,” he said, quietly.
“So I thought,” said Peter, smiling meaningly.
“What branches do you study?”
“Pretty much all.”
“That is not definite enough.”
“Reading, writing, arithmetic, grammar, geography.”
“Very well. You may come up in your usual classes.”
Walter advanced to the next desk, which chanced to be that of John Wall.
“Your name is John Wall, I believe?” said Walter, writing it down.
“What do you study?”
“I study Cæsar,” said John, in an important tone.
“Yes, I remember. How far did you go with Mr. Barclay?”
“I am at the fifth chapter in the second book.”
“You may go on where you left off. How much are you accustomed to take?”
“That is a short lesson, but perhaps it will be well not to take any
more till I find out whether you are able to do so.”
“Did you take any more when you studied Cæsar?” asked John, who
privately thought fifteen lines a very good lesson.
“From fifty to seventy-five lines,” answered Walter, rather to the
mortification of John. Then it occurred to the latter that it would be a
good thing if he could “stick” the new teacher; that is, to convict him
of ignorance. Accordingly he opened his Cæsar at a passage in the
preceding lesson, which he had found difficult, and said: “There is
something here that I don’t understand. Will you read it to me?”
“Certainly. What is the passage?”
It was a passage which Walter would have been able to read at any rate,
but he had the additional advantage of having read it over the week
before in Mr. Barclay’s book, and so, of course, it was very familiar.
Though Walter was a good scholar, as far as he had gone, I don’t, of
course, claim that he could read anywhere in Cæsar at sight. But this
passage he understood perfectly well. He read it fluently, and John was
disappointed to find that he had failed in his benevolent design.
Indeed, he saw that Walter was probably a better Latin scholar than the
previous teacher; and, though he ought to have been glad of this, he was
so prejudiced against Walter, and so anxious to humiliate him, that he
was sorry, instead.
“Whenever you meet with a difficulty, John,” said Walter, after
finishing the reading, “I shall be ready to help you. But I strongly
advise you not to apply to me until you have done your best to make it
out yourself. That will do you more good. You may recite your first
He left John, and went to the next desk.
“He knows more than I thought he did,” said John to himself, “but he
can’t manage this school. He’ll have to give up before the week is out,
I’ll bet. Father ought to have known better than to give us a boy for a
Among the last, Walter came to the seat occupied by Phineas Morton.
Phineas has already been mentioned as the oldest pupil in the school. He
was twenty years of age, and six feet in height. There was a decided
contrast between him and the youthful teacher, and Phineas felt a little
mortified by it. He had been set to work early, and from twelve to
eighteen had not gone to school at all. Then, becoming aware of his
deficiencies, he decided to make them up, as far as he could. So he came
to school, and was, of course, placed in classes with boys much younger.
But he submitted to this patiently, knowing that it was necessary, and
had studied so faithfully since that he was now in the highest class in
all the English branches. Latin he did not study.
“I do not need your name,” said Walter, politely. “I believe you are
“Yes, sir,” said Phineas.
“What is your age?”
“Twenty. Rather old to come to school,” he added.
“One is never too old to learn, Mr. Morton,” said Walter. “I hope to be
studying when I am older than you are now.”
“I didn’t feel the importance of study when I was younger,” said
Phineas. “If I had, I should not have been so ignorant now.”
“Some of our most prominent public men have only made a beginning after
they have reached twenty-one,” said Walter. “You are quite right not to
mind your being older than the rest of the scholars.”
“I have minded it a little, I am afraid,” Phineas acknowledged; “but you
have encouraged me, by what you have just said, and I shall not care so
“I am glad to hear you say this, Mr. Morton. Now, you will be kind
enough to tell me what studies you are pursuing?”
When he had taken down the names of all the boys, Walter commenced with
the girls. Here he had no trouble, for all were disposed to regard the
young teacher with favor. It might have been, in part, because he was
good-looking, but it was also, in part, because he was quiet and
self-possessed, and appeared to understand his business.
WHEN he had taken the names of all the scholars Walter said: “We shall
not be able to enter upon our studies regularly till to-morrow. We will
occupy the rest of the forenoon by such tasks as do not require
preparation. First of all I will hear you read. Mr. Morton, will you
Phineas Morton rose, and, opening his book, began to read. He read
respectably till he came to the word “misled,” which he pronounced as if
it were mizzled. Instantly there was a shout of laughter from the other
scholars, Peter’s being louder than the rest, though but for the general
laughter he would not have known that a mistake had been made.
Phineas looked abashed and mortified.
“Have I made a mistake?” he said, inquiringly.
“Yes,” said Walter, who preserved his own gravity. “The word should be
pronounced mis-led. It is the participle of the verb mislead.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“The mistake you made is not an uncommon one,” said Walter; “I remember
making it once myself.”
The mortification of Phineas Morton was removed by this frank confession
of his teacher. Peter tried to get up a laugh at Walter’s expense, but
“I take it for granted,” continued our hero, “that those who have
laughed just now will not object to be laughed at when they come to make
Phineas went on, and finished his reading without further mistakes. At
length it came to the turn of Peter Groot. As we have already said, he
was by no means remarkable in scholarship, and particularly read in a
stumbling, hesitating manner, which made it very improbable that he
would ever win reputation as a public reader. It so happened that in the
passage he was reading occurred the geographical name, Straits of the
Dardanelles. Now, this was a common term, and Peter ought not to have
made any mistake in reading it. But he read it “Straits of the Darning
Needles,” which was so ludicrous that Walter had hard work not to join
in the general chorus of laughter.
Peter looked up, scowling, for, though he was ready enough to laugh at
others, he did not enjoy being laughed at.
“You should say Straits of the Dardanelles, Peter,” said Walter.
“That’s what I said,” growled Peter, with a cloudy brow, looking around
him with displeasure.
“We all understood you ‘darning needles.’ You may go on.”
Peter continued sullenly, and sat down at the end. He saw that he had
made a blunder quite as bad as Phineas, and it took away the
satisfaction he expected to have in reminding his fellow pupil of his.
He didn’t like Phineas Morton, mainly because, on account of his
superior size, he was unable to bully him. Besides, Phineas had more
than once interfered to protect younger boys from the despotism of
Peter, and the latter had been compelled to respect the remonstrances of
the oldest pupil.
When the reading was concluded, Walter rang the bell for recess. Nearly
all the scholars went out. Phineas Morton came up to the teacher’s desk.
“Thank you, Mr. Howard,” he said, “for your kindness about my mistake.
Some teachers would have laughed at me.”
“I suppose it is natural to laugh at our mistakes,” returned Walter. “I
was laughed at when I made the same one. But I know, from my own
feelings, that it is not agreeable, and I don’t laugh unless I can’t
help it. Peter’s mistake was more amusing than yours. Though he was
ready to laugh at you, I observed that he didn’t enjoy being laughed at
“Peter is a bad boy. I am afraid you will have trouble with him, Mr.
“So Mr. Barclay told me. I expect it, but I do not fear it. If Peter
behaves well, I shall treat him well. If he undertakes to make trouble,
I shall be ready for him.”
There was a firmness in Walter’s tone, and a determination in his
manner, which tended to reassure Phineas; still, as he looked at
Walter’s youthful form and thought of Peter’s strength, he was not
entirely without apprehension.
“I am ready to stand by you, Mr. Howard,” he said, in a low tone. “If
you need any help, I will be on hand.”
“Thank you, Mr. Morton,” said Walter, gratefully, for he knew how to
value such assistance as the stalwart oldest pupil could render. “If
there is need of it, I will certainly accept your offer. But if there
should be any difficulty between Peter and myself, I think I can hold my
own without assistance.”
“Peter is strong,” suggested Phineas, doubtfully.
“I should judge so, from his appearance, but strength is not all. Can he
“No; he knows nothing of it.”
“I do,” said Walter, significantly. “If there shall be need of it, I
mean to let him feel what I know about boxing.”
Phineas smiled. “I am glad to hear that, Mr. Howard,” he said. “Peter
will be troublesome till you best him in a fair fight. After that, all
will go right.”
Meanwhile Peter and John were standing together at one end of the
“What do you think of the new teacher, Peter?” asked John.
“He’s nothing but a boy,” returned Peter, contemptuously.
“Do you think he’ll stay long?” asked John, insinuatingly.
“Not more’n a week.”
“Perhaps he will,” said John, intent upon drawing Peter on.
“He can’t keep order,” said Peter. “I can lick him myself.”
“Perhaps he is stronger than you think for,” suggested John.
“Look here, John Wall, do you mean ter say you think he can lick me?”
said Peter, facing about.
“No, I don’t believe he can.”
“Of course he can’t. Do you see that muscle?” and Peter stiffened his
arm in a way that my boy readers will understand.
“You have got a good deal of muscle, Peter, that’s a fact.”
“Of course I have. Just feel it. Do you see that fist?”
“If the master should feel it, he wouldn’t know what had happened to
him. I could knock him higher’n a kite.”
“Very likely you could.”
“There ain’t any likely about it. It’s a sure thing.”
“I guess he’s afraid of you, Peter. He didn’t laugh at you when you made
“I’d like to see him laugh at me,” said Peter, his vanity and conceit
getting worse under the flattery of John. “But I saw you laugh,” he
added, in a tone of displeasure.
“Did I?” said John.
“Yes, you did.”
“Then it was because the other boys laughed. You know a fellow can’t
help laughing when he sees others.”
“I don’t know about that,” said Peter, only half satisfied.
“You didn’t make half as bad a mistake as Phineas Morton.”
“Phineas is an old fool.”
Probably Peter would not have said this, if he had known that the person
of whom he was speaking was within hearing distance. He realized it,
however, when he was suddenly tripped up, and found himself lying on his
back, looking up in the face of Phineas.
“What did you do that for?” he demanded, angrily.
“To teach you better manners,” said Phineas, coolly. “When you feel like
calling me names, you had better look round first to make sure that I am
not near by.”
Peter was very angry. He would gladly have retaliated, but one look at
the broad shoulders and stalwart form of Phineas was enough to
discourage any such attempt.
“Why don’t you take one of your size?” he said, sulkily, as he gathered
himself slowly up from the ground.
“One reason is, because there isn’t any one of my size in school.”
“It’s cowardly to attack a smaller fellow.”
“Not when the smaller fellow sees fit to be impudent and insulting. But
how long have you acted on that rule, Peter? Didn’t I see you fighting
yesterday with Alfred Johnson, who is a head shorter than you are?”
“He wouldn’t lend me his ball.”
“He wasn’t obliged to, was he?”
“I hate a fellow that’s so careful of his things.”
“All right; I may want to borrow something of you some time. If you
don’t lend it, I am to knock you down, am I?”
Peter did not find it convenient to answer this question. Circumstances
altered cases, and it didn’t seem quite the same when he took the case
“Come along, John,” he said.
John Wall followed him to a different part of the yard.
“I hate that Phineas Morton,” said Peter. “He’s a brute.”
“I don’t like him myself,” said John.
“Just because he’s so big, he wants to boss it over the rest of us,”
Now, if there was anybody in school of whom it could be said that he
wanted to “boss it” over his schoolfellows, it was Peter himself. John
knew this, but it was his interest at present to flatter Peter, since
both cherished a common dislike for the new teacher, and John depended
upon his companion, who was bolder than himself, to make trouble.
At this point the schoolbell rang, indicating that the recess was over.
“There goes the bell,” said John. “Shall we go in?”
“I’m in no hurry,” said Peter. “I’d just as lief go home. He couldn’t do
anything to me.”
“Are you going home?”
“No, I want to see how he gets along. When I get ready, you’ll see fun.”
The two boys entered a little later than the rest. Walter observed their
companionship, and drew his own conclusions, knowing the enmity of both
toward him. But he said nothing.
THE remainder of the day passed without incident. Peter was no less
determined to make trouble, but had not decided in what manner to do it.
He was content to bide his time. He sat idle, but watchful, apparently
“taking stock” of the young teacher, and making up his mind about him.
Soon after eight the next morning Peter called at the house of his new
associate. John observed with surprise that he carried in his hand a
covered basket, from which proceeded some signs of dissatisfaction of an
“What have you got there, Peter?” asked John, curiously.
“Can’t you tell?”
“A hen, isn’t it?”
“What are you going to do with it?”
“It’s a present for the teacher.”
“What!” exclaimed John, in surprise.
“Are you surprised that I am going to give him a present?” said Peter.
“Yes. I thought you didn’t like him.”
“No more I do.”
“I’ll tell you. I’m going to fasten the hen in his chair, so that when
he comes he will find his seat occupied.
“Good!” said John. “He’ll be mad.”
“Of course he will.”
“He may find out who put the hen there.”
“That’s what I want him to do.”
“He may punish you.”
“I’d like to see him do it,” said Peter, wagging his head. “He’d find
out he’d got a hard job on hand. Come, are you ready to go to school?”
“I don’t generally go so soon.”
“I want to be there early, so as to tie the hen.”
“All right; I’ll get my hat.”
The two boys started for school, and arrived nearly half an hour early.
They entered the house, and, by means of a stout cord, soon secured the
hen to the “master’s” chair. The poor bird did not appreciate or enjoy
the high dignity which had been forced upon her. She probably thought
that her personal wishes ought to have been consulted in the choice of a
profession. She began to give vent to her dissatisfaction in the manner
characteristic of her kind.
Soon some of the other scholars arrived. Most of them laughed, but
Alfred Clinton ventured to remonstrate.
“You ought not to do that, Peter,” he said.
“What makes you think I did it?”
“I know well enough.”
“Well, have you got anything to say about it?” asked Peter, defiantly.
“Do you want to fight? If you do, come on.”
“I am not anxious to fight,” said Alfred, quietly. “I think that’s a
poor way to settle a dispute.”
“I thought you wouldn’t care about it,” said Peter, significantly.
“I am not afraid of you, if that’s what you mean.”
“You’d better shut up your mouth.”
“I admire your elegant style of conversation.”
“It suits me.”
“Yes, it does suit you. It wouldn’t suit anybody else.”
“What do you mean?” said Peter, suspiciously.
“It is too much trouble to explain all I say. You are not very quick at
“You look out, Alfred Clinton, or I may hurt you.”
“Don’t trouble yourself.”
“I shall have to fight that boy some time,” said Peter to John. “He’s
“He ain’t much,” said John, contemptuously. “He and his mother are as
poor as poverty. He’s a proud beggar.”
“So he is,” said Peter, whose worldly circumstances were scarcely any
better than Alfred’s, his father being a mechanic, whose drunken habits
rendered his income very precarious and fluctuating. He did not realize
that John looked down upon him quite as much as he did on Alfred, but
thought fit to conceal this feeling at present, on account of his hatred
As may naturally be supposed, the arrival of the young teacher was
looked forward to with eager anticipation on the part of the scholars.
They wanted to see how he would regard the occupation of his seat. Most
thought he would be “mad.”
At last Walter was seen ascending the hill on which the schoolhouse was
situated. The scholars who were grouped in front immediately entered,
and took their seats.
Walter was a little surprised at their unusual promptness, but when he
was still in the entry he heard the hen, and guessed the trick that had
been attempted. One glance at the teacher’s chair, on entering the
schoolroom, showed him what had made the scholars take their seats so
He was too much of a boy still not to be amused. He turned to the
scholars with a smile.
“I see you have got a new teacher,” he said.
The scholars laughed, and the hen, by way of asserting her position,
flapped her wings and uttered a cry.
“I dare say,” continued Walter, “the hen is competent to teach the one
who put her there, but I am afraid she wouldn’t prove generally
There was another laugh, but this time it was at Peter’s expense. Peter
did not join in the mirth. It always made him angry to feel that he was
the subject of mirth, or ridicule, and his face showed his anger.
“Besides,” said Walter, “in this free country I don’t approve of
compulsion, and the hen is evidently unwilling to assume the duties of
teacher; therefore I shall release her. If her owner is present and
would like to take charge of her, he can come forward.”
Walter took out his knife and was about to sever the string which
secured the hen to the chair, when Peter, with a defiant air, rose from
his seat, and advancing to the front, said: “That is my hen.”
“Is it?” said Walter, not appearing surprised. “Didn’t it give you
considerable trouble to bring her here?”
“No,” said Peter, regarding the teacher attentively, to see whether he
was making game of him. But there was nothing in the young teacher’s
manner to indicate this.
“How did you bring her–in your hand?”
“No, in a basket.”
“That was better. Well, Peter, we are indebted to you for a good joke,
and if you would like to carry the hen back now, I will excuse you for
half an hour.”
He rose from his seat, and came forward.
Peter was astonished at being thanked for a practical joke, which he
thought would make the teacher “mad.” Walter had turned the tables upon
him, and he began to ask himself whether the success of his joke was
sufficient to pay him for the trouble he had incurred. There wasn’t much
fun in transporting the hen back again alone. Still he felt that it
would be rather hard to keep it secure until school was over.
“May John Wall go with me?” he asked.
“Yes, if he desires it,” said Walter.
Peter looked toward John. The latter, after a little hesitation, decided
to go. He was not particularly afraid of losing half an hour of school,
and it would give him a chance for consultation with Peter.
Peter brought in the basket, and the hen, after a little trouble, was
put in. Then the two boys, Peter and John, started away with her. Walter
commenced the duties of the forenoon. By the coolness and good nature
with which he had met the trick attempted to be played upon him, he had
disarmed his adversaries, strengthened his hold upon the other pupils,
and now remained master of the situation. If he had only flown into a
passion Peter would have felt repaid for his trouble. Now, as he trudged
along the road, he was not quite sure whether he was not sorry for
having attempted it.
“I thought he’d be mad,” he said at length.
“So did I,” said John.
“He’s a queer fellow; I don’t know what to make of him.”
“He didn’t seem surprised when you came forward, and said the hen was
“Do you think he thought it was me?”
“Yes, I shouldn’t wonder.”
“Perhaps,” said Peter, brightening up, “he was afraid of making a fuss
“Very likely,” said John.
“I think he is afraid of me,” said Peter, complacently. “He must know
that I am stronger than he.”
“I guess you are right.”
“That’s the reason he turned it off as a joke. I guess he wants to keep
on good terms with me.”
“Only, you know he said that the hen was qualified to teach the one who
put her there.”
“Do you think he meant me then?” asked Peter, scowling.
“I guess he did.”
“Then he insulted me.”
“It does look like it,” said John, who wanted to make mischief.
“I’ll get even with him–you see if I don’t,” said Peter, angrily.
PETER hardly knew what to think of the new teacher. He would have liked
to believe Walter afraid of him, but he was reluctantly forced to admit
that there was no satisfactory evidence of this feeling as yet. The
young teacher’s manner was by no means aggressive, but there was a
firmness and self-possession about him that indicated anything but
timidity. At length he came to a satisfactory conclusion.
“He doesn’t know how strong I am. He thinks he can lick me,” he
suggested to John.
“Very likely,” acquiesced his companion.
“But don’t you think I can lick him?”
“Of course you can.”
“I am heavier than he.”
“How much do you weigh?”
“A hundred and thirty pounds.”
“That’s good weight. I only weigh a hundred and twelve.”
“How much do you think he weighs?”
“About a hundred and twenty.”
This was a good guess, Walter weighing really but four pounds more. He
was not quite so “chunky” as Peter, but he was quicker and more agile.
Besides, as we know, he knew something of boxing; but of this Peter was
absolutely ignorant. Peter’s plan in fighting was to pitch in heavily,
and as he generally tackled those who knew no more than himself of the
“noble art of self-defence,” and was careful to fight only with those
whom he knew to be smaller and weaker than himself, he had achieved a
long list of victories. The natural result was to make him confident in
his prowess, and a bully. He had convinced himself that Walter was his
inferior in physical strength, and was sure he could master him in a
“I’d just as lief get into a fight with the master to-day,” said Peter;
“but there’s one thing I’m afraid of.”
“I am afraid that old fool Phineas Morton would come to his help. I
couldn’t fight with such a big fellow as that. It would be mean in
“Of course it would,” said John. “What makes you think he would
“He don’t like me. You saw what he did to-day–the brute!”
“Besides, the master’s been tryin’ to get him on his side.”
“Because he’s afraid of you?”
“You might try it some day when Phineas is absent.”
“He ain’t absent very often.”
“He gets a headache sometimes, and gets dismissed.”
“So he does. I wish he’d have a headache to-day.”
While this conversation was proceeding the boys had been walking in the
direction of Peter’s house. They had nearly reached there when General
Wall rode by in his chaise. Recognizing the boys and wondering why they
were out during school hours, he stopped his horse and called out:
“John, where are you going?”
“Hasn’t school commenced?”
“Then why are you not there?”
“We were in school, but the master let us go for half an hour.”
“To carry home this hen.”
Then for the first time General Wall’s attention was attracted to the
covered basket, the occupant of which took the opportunity of indicating
“Whose hen is it?”
“How came it at school?”
John looked at Peter, and the latter answered readily, not being
overbashful, “I carried it there.”
“What for?” asked the general, surprised.
“I tied it in the master’s chair.”
“You wanted to play a trick upon him, I suppose?”
“What did he say?” asked General Wall, in some curiosity.
“He said,” answered John, who took a little malicious satisfaction in
annoying Peter, “that the hen was qualified to teach the one who brought
“Very good,” said the general, laughing. “He had you there, Peter.”
Peter scowled, but did not reply. The joke was at his expense, and he
did not relish it. He felt angry with John for repeating the offensive
remark, and with his father for laughing at it.
“Was the teacher angry?” was the next question.
“No; he took it as a joke, and told Peter he might carry the hen home.”
“There was no need of your coming too, John.”
“Peter wanted me.”
General Wall was a little surprised at this. He knew his son and had
heard him more than once speak in contemptuous terms of Peter, whose
company he now appeared to seek. However, he said nothing further,
except to caution Peter against playing any further tricks, and
enjoining upon both boys to return to school as soon as possible.
“What made you tell your father what the master said of me?” demanded
Peter, angrily, when General Wall had driven by.
“I didn’t think you’d care,” said John, not quite truthfully.
“Well, I do care,” said Peter, sullenly, “and I don’t want you to speak
of it again.”
“You won’t mind after you’ve got even with him.”
“No, but I haven’t got even with him yet.”
“You will, though.”
“Of course I will. I wish I could to-day.”
There was some more conversation of this character, but it did not vary
in substance from what has already been reported.
When the boys returned to the schoolhouse it was time for Peter’s class
in grammar to recite. The latter did not belong to the first class, but
the second, and it happened that he was the oldest and largest scholar
in his class, but not by any means the most proficient. He had applied
to Mr. Barclay to let him join the first class, which request was very
promptly refused. Peter did not dare to make a fuss, knowing that Mr.
Barclay had the physical strength to enforce his decision. But with
Walter he believed it to be different. He therefore proposed to make a
transfer, that he might no longer be humiliated by being associated with
those smaller and younger than himself. When, therefore, the second
class in grammar took their places, he remained in his seat. Walter
might not have noticed this, but one of the class spoke, saying: “Peter
Groot belongs to this class.”
Peter looked up and said: “No, I don’t.”
“Yes, he does.”
“Have you been accustomed to recite in this class, Peter?” asked Walter.
“Then why do you not take your place?”
“I’m goin’ into the first class,” said Peter, defiantly.
“I have no objections to that, if you are qualified.”
“I am qualified.”
“That I can determine after one recitation. Take your place to-day with
your old class, and then, if I judge you fit I will let you enter the
Peter hesitated. He did not want to recite with his old class at all.
But he reflected that, even if the teacher decided against him, he could
refuse to obey him, and this would bring on the collision and trial of
strength which he desired. He knew very well that he was not qualified
for promotion, and had no doubt the teacher would so decide, unless he
was afraid to do so. On the whole, therefore, he thought it best to
submit for the present, and, rising, advanced to his place.
Presently it came to Peter’s turn to parse.
“You may parse ‘had been conquered,’ Peter,” said the young teacher.
“Had been conquered is an adverb,” said Peter, hesitatingly.
“You surely cannot mean that!” said Walter.
“I thought it was an adverb.”
“It is a verb. Go on and parse it.”
The whole sentence read thus: “If the Americans had been conquered in
their struggle for independence, the cause of political liberty and
human progress would have been retarded by at least a century.”
“It is a common active passive verb,” said Peter, “masculine gender,
objective case, and governed by Americans.”
This was so evidently absurd that the entire class burst into a shout of
laughter, in which Walter had great difficulty in not joining.
“I am afraid you spoke without reflecting, Peter,” he said. “The verb
could not be both active and passive, and the rest of your description
applies properly to nouns.” He went on to correct Peter’s mistakes, and
tried to draw out of him what he ought to say, but with only partial
success. Peter’s ideas of grammar were very far from clear. He was not
well grounded in the fundamental principles of this branch of study, and
was not even qualified to keep up with the second class.
At the end of the recitation, Walter said: “You may remain in this
class, Peter. You are not qualified to enter the first class.”
“Why not?” demanded Peter, in a surly tone.
“You must know as well as I do,” said Walter, rather provoked. “If not,
the rest of your class can tell you.”
“I want to go into the first class,” persisted Peter.
“I cannot consent to your doing so. Judging from your recitation to-day,
I should say it would be better for you to join a lower class.”
Peter was so astonished at this decided remark that he did not make any
further remonstrance. He was very angry and equally mortified, but in
addition to these feelings there dawned upon him the conviction that
Walter could not be afraid of him, or he would never have dared to speak
to him in such terms.
ABOUT an hour before the close of the afternoon school Phineas Morton
went up to the teacher’s desk and said: “I have a bad headache, Mr.
Howard. If you will excuse me, I would like to go home.”
“Certainly, Mr. Morton. Are you often troubled in that way?”
“About once a week. It affects me so that I cannot study while it
“You had better go. I hope you will soon recover.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Phineas went back to his seat, took a couple of books from his desk, and
went out of the schoolroom. Peter Groot exchanged looks with John Wall.
All had happened as he desired. Now he felt safe in precipitating a
His first overt act was to drop his slate heavily on the floor. The
noise was such as to draw general attention. Walter looked up, but as he
had no evidence that the disturbance was intentional, he said nothing.
Five minutes later, Peter, having piled all his books near the edge of
his desk, gave them a push and they, too, dropped on the floor.
“Be a little more careful, Peter,” said Walter, mildly. “You are
disturbing the school.”
Peter mistook this mild tone for a confession of timidity, and it
emboldened him. He threw up his head, and, leaning back in his seat,
stared insolently at the young teacher, as much to say: “What are you
going to do about it?”
“It’s coming,” thought Walter. “Well, it’s just as well now as at any
“Peter, will you pick up your books?” he said, calmly.
Peter made no motion to obey, but sat still, staring insolently at the
“Didn’t you hear me?” said Walter.
“Yes,” said Peter, “I heard you.”
“Then why don’t you obey me?”
“I will pick them up when I get ready,” said Peter, impudently.
Walter found it difficult to restrain his temper at this open insolence,
but he succeeded by an effort.
“You appear to forget that I am the teacher of this school, and you are
my scholar,” said Walter.
“You are a boy like me,” said Peter. “I ain’t goin’ to be ordered round
by a boy no older than I am.”
“I am aware,” said Walter, quietly, “that I am only a boy, and that some
of my pupils, probably yourself, are older than I am. But that does not
alter the fact that I am your teacher. The trustees knew my age when
they appointed me teacher. They placed me here not only to teach, but to
keep good order. I have had no trouble thus far with any one but you.
What is your object in making trouble?”
“I ain’t goin’ to be ordered round by a boy,” said Peter.
“I don’t intend to do any ordering, except what is absolutely necessary.
But I intend to keep order,” said Walter, firmly. “You can continue to
attend school, and I will do my best to advance you in your studies, or
you can leave it, if you are unwilling to be orderly. Take your choice.”
“I am comin’ to school,” said Peter, “and I will behave as I have a mind
“Not if I can prevent it,” said Walter, resolutely, his eyes flashing
“What are you goin’ to do about it?” demanded Peter, insolently.
“Come out on the floor if you would like to be informed.”
“I shall stay where I am,” said Peter, defiantly.
“I have no objection, but you must keep order.”
Peter’s answer to this was to throw his slate on the floor.
Walter felt that the time for forbearance was past. If he suffered this
insolence to go unpunished his authority in the school was overthrown.
In that case he might as well retire at once. Moral suasion was thrown
away upon Peter Groot. He must understand what was meant by physical
“Scholars,” said Walter, “I am sorry for what is about to happen, but I
call you to witness that it has been forced upon me.”
He walked up to Peter’s desk, eying him in a quiet, determined manner.
“You have defied my authority,” he said, “and insulted me before the
rest of the scholars. You believe me to be unable to enforce my orders.
Come out on the floor and I will convince you to the contrary.”
“I am comfortable where I am,” said Peter, glancing about him
“Then, as you don’t accept my offer, I must force it upon you.”
Walter, who now stood beside Peter’s desk, seized him suddenly by the
collar, and by a quick movement, jerked him into the aisle between the
desks. Peter had not anticipated this. He was astonished and indignant
beyond measure. The smile of triumph faded from his face, and his
features were distorted with rage.
“You’ll be sorry for this!” he screamed, adding an oath, which is better
omitted. “I’ll pay you up for it.”
He knew how to fight after his style, and prepared to “pitch in” in his
customary manner. Walter had drawn back a little, so as to be clear of
the desks, and Peter followed him up. He aimed a blow at the young
teacher’s head, which would have been likely to give him a headache, but
Walter had assumed an attitude of defence, and fended it off with the
greatest ease. Peter quickly followed up the blow by another quite as
vigorous. But this again was warded off. Walter did not immediately act
offensively. He wished before doing so to show Peter that his own
efforts were futile. In proportion as Peter discovered the ill success
of his attempts to hit his opponent, his rage became more ungovernable,
and he began to curse and swear. At length, when he felt it to be time,
Walter retaliated. One swift, well-planted blow, which Peter was utterly
unable to ward off, and the troublesome pupil found himself lying upon
his back on the floor of the schoolroom.
Walter remained standing, a little flushed, but otherwise calm, and made
no attempt to prevent Peter’s rising. Peter was not a hero, but he was
not altogether without pluck, and he was up again quickly and ready to
renew the contest.
Walter held himself in readiness, but did not speak. He wished this to
be a decisive battle. “I will give Peter all the chance he wants,” he
said to himself. “He must find out once for all that I am more than his
match, and then he will cease to trouble me.”
Peter pitched in again, but he was unable to profit by the lessons he
had learned. He saw that the teacher was more scientific than himself,
but feeling that in strength he was quite his equal, he did not
understand why he could not match him. He tried to grasp Walter around
the waist, which would, of course, have given him a decided advantage,
and neutralized Walter’s superior science, but our hero was too wary for
this. Taking advantage of Peter’s unguarded state, he planted another
heavy blow, which, like the first, prostrated his opponent.
The scholars looked on with intense interest. Not one except John Wall
sympathized with Peter. Not one was sorry to see the insolent boy
receiving his deserts. Some of the better class had feared that the new
teacher would prove unequal to the encounter, but a very short time
undeceived them. When Peter went down a second time there was a stamping
of feet, intended as applause.
“Be kind enough not to applaud,” said Walter, turning to them. “I am
glad your sympathies are with me, but I hope you will not mortify your
schoolfellow, who, I hope, will some time be ashamed of the course which
he is now taking.”
This manly request raised Walter still higher in the opinion of his
pupils. They saw that he had no desire to triumph over Peter; that he
was only influenced by the desire to maintain his authority. When Peter
had renewed the contest, and again been thrown, Walter addressed him
calmly: “If you wish to keep on, Peter, I will accommodate you, but you
must know by this time that you stand no chance of success. I know
something of boxing, and it is clear that you do not.”
“I’m as strong as you are,” growled Peter.
“You may be, but you don’t know how to use your strength. Suppose we
stop here, and forget all that has happened. I shall bear you no grudge,
and shall only expect the same of you that I do from the other
“That’s fair, Peter,” said half a dozen boys from their seats.
Peter did not answer, but on the other hand he did not offer to renew
the contest. He rose and walked quietly to his desk, and seated himself,
with his opinions of the “master’s” prowess decidedly revolutionized.
Walter walked back to the teacher’s desk, and quietly called the next
class. He might have felt a little excited by the conflict in which he
had just been engaged, but, if so, he did not betray it in his manner.
He was very glad that the ordeal was over, and that his efforts were
crowned with success. He had known boys like Peter before, and he felt
confident that he should have no more trouble with him. He made up his
mind neither by look nor word to remind Peter of his defeat, but to do
all he could to spare him humiliation. He wanted, if possible, to
convert him from an enemy to a friend.