Ben Stone at Oakdaleñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“Mrs. Jones, I’ll think it over,” he said. “I have almost decided to take your advice and stay, no matter what comes.”
“That’s what I like to hear!” she laughed, rising from the trunk. “Don’t you never back down an’ run f’r nobody nor northin’. If Joel hed had more of the stand-up-an’-stick-to-it sperrit, I’m sartin it would ‘a’ been better f’r us all – but I ain’t complainin’, I ain’t complainin’.
“Goodness! I’ve been spendin’ a lot of time here when I’ve jest got loads of things to do before I can git a blessed wink of sleep this night. I’ve got to go. But you jest make up your mind to stick, enermies or no enermies. Good night.”
She had gathered up the dishes and was going. Ben held the lamp, to light her down the stairs, calling a grateful good night after her.
For two hours, at least, he walked the floor of that poor little room, fighting the inward battle with himself. Finally he paused, his hands clenched and his head thrown back. His square jaw seemed squarer and firmer than ever, and the determination on his plain face transfigured it.
“I am going to stay, Bernard Hayden!” he said quietly, as if speaking face to face with his enemy. “Whatever happens, I’ll not show the white feather. Do your worst!” He felt better when he had fully settled on this resolution.
Opening his window, he looked out on the quiet village that seemed winking sleepily and dreamily with its twinkling lights. Even as he lifted his eyes toward the overcast sky, the pure white moon burst through a widening rift and poured its light like a benediction upon the silent world. Still with his face upturned, his lips moving slightly, the boy knelt at the window, and the hush and peace of the night filled his heart.
ONE MORE CHANCE
Although he was certain he would be compelled to undergo an unpleasant ordeal at school the following day, he did not falter or hesitate. With determination in his heart, and his face grimly set, he turned in at the gate shortly after the ringing of the first bell, and walked up the path.
Several boys in a group near the academy steps saw him approaching. He distinctly heard one of them say, “Here he comes now”; and then a hush fell upon them as they watched him draw near. In spite of himself, he could not refrain from giving them a resentful and defiant glance. In return they looked on him in silent scorn, and he felt that not one of them held an atom of sympathy in his heart.
In the coat-room, where he went to hang his hat, he found Roger Eliot, who saw him, but did not speak. Ben’s lips parted, but Roger’s manner chilled him to silence, and he said nothing.
Bernard Hayden looked in. “Hey, Roger,” he called. “I want to see you a moment.” Then his eyes fell on Ben, and his proud lips curled a bit.
“All right, Bern,” said Eliot, walking out. Hayden took his arm, and they turned toward the outer door, talking in low tones.
As Ben entered the big lower room, a little gathering of girls just inside the door suddenly stopped chattering, looked at him in a frightened way, and hastily drew aside, one or two of them uttering low exclamations.
His freckled face flushed, but it suddenly grew white as he saw a tall, spare man, who was talking earnestly with Professor Richardson, near the latter’s desk.
The tall man was Lemuel Hayden, and Ben knew what had brought him to the academy that morning.
The principal saw Ben come in, and said something that caused Mr. Hayden to turn and look toward the unfortunate boy, who, chilled and apprehensive, was seeking his seat. Ben felt those cold gray eyes upon him, and suddenly his soul seemed to quiver with anger. A sense of injustice and wrong seized him, filling him with a desire to confront his enemies and defend himself as best he could.
“No use!” an inward voice seemed to whisper. “They are too powerful. Who will believe your word against that of Lemuel Hayden?”
Mr. Hayden was a man who had placed fifty years of his life behind him, and his appearance and manner seemed to indicate that during the greater number of those years his stern will had dominated the acts and enforced the obedience of nearly every one who chance to have dealings with him. His shaved upper lip exposed a firm, hard, almost cruel, mouth. His carefully trimmed whiskers, like his hair, were liberally besprinkled with gray.
“That’s the boy,” Ben distinctly heard him say. Then Prof. Richardson said something in a low voice, and once more they fell to talking earnestly in subdued tones.
Ben sat down and waited, feeling certain that the very worst must happen. After a few moments, he heard the principal say:
“I shall give the matter my immediate attention, Mr. Hayden. It is very unfortunate, and I may be compelled to take your advice.”
The second bell was ringing as Lemuel Hayden passed down the center aisle and out of the academy. In passing, he looked at Ben, and his lips were pressed together above the edge of his whiskers until his mouth formed a thin, hard line.
Boys and girls came trooping in and sought their seats. Ben paid no attention to any of them, although he was sure that many eyed him closely. His deskmate, however, a little chap by the name of Walker, found an opportunity amid the bustle and movement of the scholars to lean toward Ben and whisper:
“My! I bet you’re going to get it! Look out!”
Ben paid no heed. His nerves were strained, and he waited in grim silence the coming crash, fully believing it was Prof. Richardson’s purpose to open the forenoon session in the regular manner and then denounce him before the assembled scholars.
When the opening exercises were over, Ben’s heart strained and quivered in the conviction that the trying moment had come. He was surprised and temporarily relieved when the first class was called in regular order and a few of the lower room scholars left to join a class in the upper room.
After a short time, however, he concluded that the time of trial had simply been postponed, and this conviction brought upon him a sort of slow torture that was hard to bear. He tried to study, but could not fix his mind on his book. His eyes might stare dully at the page, and his lips might keep repeating words printed there, but his thoughts persistently dwelt on the desperate strait into which he had fallen, and he speculated on the probable course that would be pursued by Lemuel Hayden.
His fancy pictured Mr. Hayden as hastening from the academy to consult with the town authorities and inform them about the dangerous character who had boldly entered the village for the purpose of attending school there. Ben felt that Mr. Hayden’s words would create a profound impression, and he was certain the man would then demand that the “dangerous character” of whom he spoke should be taken into custody at once and sent without delay to the State Reformatory.
The tortured lad further pictured Mr. Hayden and the authorities as making out certain papers and placing them in the hands of the village constable, urging him at the same time to do his duty without delay.
The boy fell to listening for the footsteps of Mr. Hayden and the constable at the door. Once he started and turned, but the door opened to admit returning scholars who had been to a recitation in the upper room.
Suddenly Ben heard his name sharply called by the principal, and he started to his feet with the conviction that at last the moment had arrived and that Prof. Richardson was about to arraign him before the school. Instead of that, his class in arithmetic had been called and was already on the front seats. He hastened down the aisle and joined the class.
Knowing he was wholly unprepared in the day’s lesson, he inwardly prayed that he might not be called to the blackboard. He was chosen, however, as one of five pupils to work problems on the board and demonstrate them to the rest of the class.
When the others had finished and taken their seats, he still remained before the board, chalk in hand, an unprepossessing figure as he frowned hopelessly over his task. At last, seeing the boy had failed, the principal told him to be seated. Although his face was burning and he was shamed by his failure, he could not repress a glance of defiance at some of his slyly-grinning classmates.
Prof. Richardson did not reprove him, but dismissed him with the rest of the class when the successful ones had demonstrated their problems.
“He thinks I won’t be here much longer, and so it’s not worth while bothering with me,” concluded Ben.
The forenoon wore away. At intermission Ben did not leave his seat, not caring to mingle with the boys and give them an opportunity to insult or anger him.
As the mid-day hour approached, the boy’s suspense grew greater, for he was still confident that he was not to escape. Thinking Prof. Richardson meant to speak of his case before dismissing the scholars at noon, his dread of the ordeal grew as the short hand of the clock behind the desk drew nearer and nearer to twelve.
Finally the hands of the clock stood upright, one over the other. Prof. Richardson closed his desk and locked it, after which he turned and faced the scholars. His eyes found Ben Stone and stopped. The time had come!
“Stone,” said the professor quietly, without a trace of harshness or reproof, “I should like to have you remain after the others are dismissed. I wish to speak with you.”
For a moment a feeling of relief flashed over Ben like an electric shock. So it was to be done privately, and not before the whole school! He was grateful for that much consideration for his feelings. When they were by themselves in that big, empty room, with no one else to hear, the professor would tell him quietly but firmly that it was quite out of the question to permit a boy of his bad reputation to remain in the school. He would be directed to leave the academy, never to return.
With many backward glances at the lad who remained behind, the scholars filed out. The door had closed behind the last of them when Ben was told to come down to the principal’s desk. There was no accusation, nothing but kindness, in Prof. Richardson’s eyes, as he looked on the boy who stood before him.
“Stone,” he said, in that same self-contained tone of voice, “I find it necessary to speak of an unpleasant matter relative to yourself. You came here to this school as a stranger, and it has ever been my practice to judge a boy by his acts and to estimate his character by what he proves himself to be. This is the course I should have pursued in your case, but this morning there came to me a gentleman who is well known in this town and highly respected, who knew you well before settling in Oakdale, and he told me many disagreeable things about you. I cannot doubt that he spoke the truth. He seemed to regard you as a rather dangerous and vicious character, and he expressed a belief that it was not proper for you to associate with the scholars here. I am not, however, one who thinks there is no chance of reform for a boy or man who has done wrong, and I think it is a fatal mistake to turn a cold shoulder on the repentant wrongdoer. I have given some thought to this matter, Stone, and I have decided to give you a chance, just the same as any other boy, to prove yourself here at this school.”
Ben was quivering from head to feet. In his heart new hope and new life leaped. Still in some doubt, he faltered:
“Then you – you are not going to – to expel me, sir?”
“Not until I am satisfied that you deserve it; not until by some act that comes under my observation you convince me that you are not earnestly seeking to reform – that you are not worthy to remain in the school.”
“Oh, thank you – thank you!” choked the boy, and that was all he could say. His voice broke, and he saw the kind face of the professor through a blurring mist.
“I hope I am not making a mistake in this, Stone,” that same soothing voice went on. “I hope you will try to prove to me that I am not.”
“I will, sir – I will!” Ben eagerly promised.
“That is all I ask of you. If you have a vicious disposition, try to overcome it; if you have a violent temper, seek to control it. Learn to be your own master, which is the great lesson that every one must learn in case he wishes to become honored and respected and successful in life. Prove to every one that you regret any mistakes of your past, and that you may be thoroughly trusted in the future. In this manner you will rise above your mistakes and above yourself. I don’t think I need say anything more to you, but remember that I shall watch you with anxiety and with hope. That is all.”
Ben felt that he could have seized the professor’s hand and kissed it, but he knew he would quite break down, and the thought of such weakness shamed him. All he did was to again huskily exclaim:
“Thank you, sir – thank you!”
The September air seemed again filled with mellow sweetness as he hurried in happy relief from the academy. With the touch of a passing breeze, the maple trees of the yard waved their hands gayly to him, and in the distance beyond the football field Lake Woodrim dimpled and laughed in the golden sunshine.
“One chance more!” he exultantly murmured. “One chance more, and I’ll make the most of it.”
INTO THE SHADOWS
As he hastened from the yard and turned down the street, he saw several boys assembled beneath a tree in a fence-corner near the roadside. They were laughing loudly at something that was taking place there. On the outskirts of the little gathering he saw the thin-legged figure of Spotty Davis, who was smoking a cigarette and grinning as he peered over the heads of those in front of him.
Ben would have hurried past, but he suddenly stopped in his tracks, checked by the shrill, protesting voice of a child in distress. At the sound of that voice, he turned quickly toward the boys beneath the tree and forced his way among them, pushing some of them unceremoniously aside.
What he saw caused a fierce look to come to his face and his freckled cheeks to flush; for in the midst of the group was Hunk Rollins, a look of vicious pleasure on his face, holding little Jimmy Jones by the ear, which he was twisting with brutal pleasure, showing his ugly teeth as he laughed at the tortured lad’s cries and pleadings.
“Oh, that don’t hurt any!” the bullying fellow declared, as he gave another twist. “What makes ye holler? It’s only fun, and you’ll like it when you get used to it.”
A moment later Ben reached the spot and sent the tormentor reeling with a savage thrust, at the same time snatching the sobbing cripple from him.
“You miserable coward!” he cried, hoarse with anger.
The cripple gave a cry and clung to him. “Don’t let him hurt me any more, Ben!” he pleaded. “He’s pulled my hair an’ my nose, an’ ’most twisted my ear off. I was comin’ to meet you to tell you I ketched a squirrel in the trap.”
In sullen silence the watching boys had fallen back. Ben was facing Hunk Rollins, and in his eyes there was a look that made the bully hesitate.
“Now you’ll see a fight,” said one of the group, in an awed tone. “Hunk will give it to him.”
Rollins had been astonished, but he knew what was expected of him, and he began to bluster fiercely, taking a step toward Stone, who did not retreat or move.
“Who are you calling a coward? Who are you pushing?” snarled the low-browed chap, scowling his blackest, and assuming his fiercest aspect, his huge hands clenched.
“You!” was the prompt answer. “No one but a coward and a brute would hurt a harmless little cripple.”
“You take care!” raged Hunk. “I won’t have you calling me names! I want you to understand that, too. Who are you? You’re nothing but the son of a jail-bird!”
“Go for him, Hunk!” urged Spotty Davis, his voice making a whistling sound through the space left by his missing teeth. “Soak him a good one!”
“I’ll soak him if he ever puts his hands on me again,” declared Rollins, who was desirous of maintaining his reputation, yet hesitated before that dangerous look on Stone’s face. “I don’t care to fight with no low fellow like him.”
“Hunk’s scared of him,” cried one of the boys, and then the others groaned in derision.
Stung by this, the bully roared, “I’ll show you!” and made a jump and a swinging blow at Ben. His arm was knocked aside, and Stone’s heavy fist landed with terrible violence on his chin, sending him to the ground in a twinkling.
The boys uttered exclamations of astonishment.
With his fists clenched and his uncomely face awesome to look upon, Ben Stone took one step and stood over Rollins, waiting for him to rise. It was thus that Prof. Richardson saw them as he pushed through the gathering of boys. Without pausing, he placed himself between them, and turned on Ben.
“It has not taken you very long, Stone,” he said, in a manner that made Ben shrink and shiver, “to demonstrate beyond question that what Mr. Hayden told me about you is true. I told you it is my custom to judge every boy by his acts and by what he proves himself to be. For all of your apparently sincere promise to me a short time ago, you have thus quickly shown your true character, and I shall act on what I have seen.”
“He hit me, sir,” Hunk hastened to explain, having risen to his feet. “He came right in here and pushed me, and then he hit me.”
Ben opened his lips to justify himself. “Professor, if you’ll let me explain – ”
“I need no explanations; I have seen quite enough to satisfy me,” declared the professor coldly. “You have not reformed since the time when you made a vicious and brutal assault on Bernard Hayden.”
Involuntarily, Ben lifted an unsteady hand to his mutilated ear, as if that could somehow justify him for what had happened. His face was ashen, and the hopeless look of desperation was again in his eyes.
Upon the appearance of Prof. Richardson, many of the boys had lost no time in hurrying away; the others he now told to go home, at the same time turning his back on Ben. The miserable lad stood there and watched them depart, the academy principal walking with Rollins, who, in his own manner and to his own justification, was relating what had taken place beneath the tree.
As Ben stood thus gazing after them, he felt a hand touch his, and heard the voice of little Jimmy at his side.
“I’m sorry,” said the lame boy, “I’m awfully sorry if I got you into any trouble, Ben.”
“You’re not to blame,” was the husky assurance.
“Mebbe I hadn’t oughter come, but I wanted to tell y’u ’bout the squirrel I ketched. He’s jest the handsomest feller! Hunk Rollins he’s alwus plaguin’ an’ hurtin’ me when he gets a chance. My! but you did hit him hard!”
“Not half as hard as he ought to be hit!” exclaimed Ben, with such savageness that the lame lad was frightened.
With Jimmy clinging to his hand, they walked down the road together. The little cripple tried to cheer his companion by saying:
“You warn’t to blame; why didn’t you say you warn’t?”
“What good would it have done!” cried Ben bitterly. “The professor wouldn’t listen to me. I tried to tell him, but he stopped me. Everything and every one is against me, Jimmy. I have no friends and no chance.”
“I’m your friend,” protested the limping lad. “I think you’re jest the best feller I ever knew.”
To Jimmy’s surprise, Ben caught him up in his strong arms and squeezed him, laughing with a choking sound that was half a sob:
“I forgot you.”
“I know I don’t ’mount to much,” said the cripple, as he was lifted to Stone’s shoulder and carried there; “but I like you jest the same. I want you to see my squirrel. I’ve got him in an old bird cage. I’m goin’ to make a reg’ler cage for him, an’ I thought p’raps you’d show me how an’ help me some.”
Ben spent the greater part of the noon hour in the woodshed with little Jimmy, admiring the squirrel and explaining how a cage might be made. Mrs. Jones heard them talking and laughing, and peered out at them, her face beaming as she wiped her hands on her apron.
“Land!” she smiled; “Jimmy’s ’most crazy over that squirrel. You don’t s’pose it’ll die, do y’u?”
“Not if it can have a big cage with plenty of room to exercise,” answered Ben. “It’s a young one, and it seems to be getting tame already.”
“Well, I’m glad. Jimmy he’s jest silly over pets. But I tell him it ain’t right to keep the squirrel alwus shut up, an’ that he’d better let him go bimeby. Goodness! I can’t waste my time this way. I’ve got my han’s full to-day.”
Then she disappeared.
“Mother she thinks it ain’t jest right to keep a squirrel in a cage,” said the lame boy, with a slight cloud on his face. “What ju think, Ben?”
“Well,” said Ben, “it’s this way, Jimmy: Yesterday this little squirrel was frolicking in the woods, running up and down the trees and over the ground, playing with other squirrels and enjoying the open air and the sunshine. Now he’s confined in a cramped cage here in this dark old woodshed, taken from his companions and shut off from the sunshine and the big beautiful woods. Try to put yourself in his place, Jimmy. How would you like it if a great giant came along, captured you, carried you off where you could not see your mother or your friends, and shut you up in a narrow dungeon with iron bars?”ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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