« PredošláPokračovať »
of the room were ranged desks and benches, covered with large splotches of ink, and whittled almost to pieces, and around sat about twenty boys of all sizes. One little chubby-faced fellow, whose feet could not reach the floor, was crying out, at the very top of his voice, b-l-a, bla, and all the rest were spelling or reading in the most abominably loud and dissonant tones, and with that peculiar whine which a child at first considers as the distinctive characteristic of reading as opposed to talking. Some were at great A, little a, r-o-n; some at a-bom-i-na-ble, and some at con-cat-e-na-tion and such a concatenation of abominable sounds I certainly had never heard in my life before. The instant they saw me, all save the combatants, were as still as Tam O'Shanter's witches, when he cried out “weel done, Cutty Sark.” Before I had power to move from the station I occupied, the scuffle between the boy and the school-master terminated in favor of the latter, who proved game, while the former showed the dunghill
, and attempted a retreat through the door. As he approached, I started on one side to give him a free passage, but unfortunately he was not aware of my movement, and we came in contact, by which means the whole party, school-master and all, tumbled heels over head into the yard. The rebellious boy by this means was caught, and received in my presence such a lashing, as proved our teacher to be fully as expert as “the most expert flogger in all Oviedo."
Such was my initiation into the mysteries of an oldfield school ; and the reader will see at once, that I cannot be held responsible for the defects of my education. What could I learn in this Babel but the confusion of tongues? There reigned here a constant struggle between democracy and despotism; and notwithstanding the strong arnı of authority was against us, the physical force was on our side—and so various were our means of annoying our tyrant, that he was ultimately obliged to succumb, and wink at our enormities. When I first entered this school, I was as innocent as original sin would permit me to be: I was a good boy, and said my prayers regularly, night and morning, but was soon laughed out of this; for the doctrines of infidelity had penetrated, at that time, almost every hovel in the land, and even school-boys might be heard promulgating the sentiments of the deists. I soon followed the example of those around me, and found, with Mr. Feathernest, that “a good conscience was too expensive a luxury for me to indulge in.” I could not keep pace with my schoolmates if I remained too conscientious, and especially with Benson, the overgrown boy, who had given me my first lesson in rebellion. He was the incarnation of every thing vile, and never forgave me that unlucky tumble which I so innocently gave him on the threshhold of our school. He conceived the most in veterate antipathy to me, and left no stone unturned to thwart and vex me in every thing. So relentless were his persecutions, that my chief study became revenge ; and although obliged at first to submit to many a severe drubbing from his superior strength, I found frequent opportunities of retort, which did not leave him altogether victorious. It is not my intention to describe the multiplied incidents of such a life, which are familiar to every Virginian at least. Let it suffice, that having triumphed over our tyrant, we declared war against one another, as is often the case with more important communities, and we became divided into Bensonites and Buckskins. This feud became the allabsorbing matter of the school, and ramified itself into all our sports and occupations. Books were secondary considerations. The substitutes, positive, were boxing, jumping, leaping and bandy; the comparative, were cock-fighting and fives; the superlative, a scrub race. In all these various accomplishments I made a rapid progress—and in gaffing a cock, I became supreme. I. shall not stop to enumerate my successive triumphs over Benson. I foiled him at length in every thing. Our last desperate struggle for the mastery was in a pitched battle between his game-cock, the Emperor of Germany, and my King of Prussia. The whole neighborhood assembled to witness the fight, and many were the bets upon the respective combatants. Those who have never partaken of the sport can hardly form an idea
of the thrilling interest excited. In the first encounter of our royal personages, the Emperor struck the King a blow, which to all appearances seemed fatal. It was a brain stroke, and for a while my old warrior seemed paralysed : Benson was in ecstacies. Confident of the valor of his majesty, and conjecturing his situation, I sprang forward and with all the seeming odds against me, I offered to treble the bet upon the King. It was immediately taken up; and scarcely was it done, when my veteran combatant, rousing from his temporary stupor, flew at the Emperor, and literally cut him to mince-meat. I shall take leave of my school with the acknowledgment that I issued from thence as finished a devil in most things, as Pandemonium could have turned loose; and with such exquisite accomplishments as those of cock-fighter, horse-racer and five-player, it is not wonderful that I speedily ran through the little property my well-meaning and industrious parents had made a shift to leave me. I thank God, they were spared the exhibition of my folly, by being removed from this world just as my propensities were blossoming. My reader, if I ever have one, must not, however, suppose from what I have said of my vices, that I was altogether corrupt. “None are all evil.” I had not forgotten all the lessons of virtue I had received from my parents, and especially those which were occasionally instilled into me by a being whom I must ever revere and hold in grateful recollection: I mean the wife of my school-master, who was so meek and gentle, so kind and affectionate, such a pattern of genuine benevolence and goodness, that I loved her like a mother, and in despite of my wildness, would hearken sometimes to her counsels. She cast the bread upon the waters, and it was found afterwards in the circumstance, that although I plunged into every species of dissipation, I never lost that sense of honor, which kept my hands from picking and stealing, and my tongue from evil speaking, lying and slandering. 1 injured myself more than any one else, and I do not believe that anything could have tempted me to hurt a hair of any creature's head, Benson's excepted. Fate seemed determined to protract our warfare to the scenes of after life. We both fell in love with the same girl, and a duel would have been the consequence, had my antagonist possessed half the courage of his Emperor of Germany; but cowardice is always the associate of cold blooded villainy. I know not whether his craven spirit decided our love affair in my favor, but this I know, that the immortal author of the Cockiad has said, with great truth, that
Hens, like women, though the deed be cruel,
Won't have a cock that will not fight a duel. Having sunk, at last, the whole of my little patrimony, and finding myself sinking fast in the estimation of those who flee with “he lees of the wine cask," I resolved on removing to a distant county, and turning over a new leaf. Sated with pleasure, as it is foolishly called, and pressed by necessity, I determined 10 try that sort of life which had been so often recommended by my excellent friend, and by dint of industry and economy was doing well, when, as Providence ordered, my evil genius, Benson strayed to the neighborhood, and settled himself as a carpenter in our little county town. I know not whether there be any thing in the feeling which we call presentiment, but I remember a sort of sinking at my heart when this man first crossed my path. He accosted me in terms of an old acquaintance, and I did not repel his civilities; but I secretly resolved to have as little to do with him as possble, because I was fully aware of the profligacy of his nature, and I was not so secure in my own resolutions of amendment as not to fear contamination from his company. He seemed determined to force himself upon me, and notwithstanding all my efforts to shun him, I could not avoid altogether the discredit of his friendship. This was particularly disagreeable to me, because I had formed many valuable acquaintances, and depended wholly upon their good opinion for success in my busi
It was not long before the peace of our village was disturbed by this serpent having made his way into our paradise. He corrupted our youths, and intro
duced the scenes of riot and debauchery, where all before was good order and quiet. Gambling, racing and cock-fighting were the elements which seemed necessary to his existence; and how he contrived to support the extravagance of his expenditure upon his slender means as a workman, was more than any one could tell. I never joined in any of his excesses, but, as I said before, I could not avoid the discredit of his acquaintance, and came in for my share of the odium which insensibly attaches itself to those who have been familiar with the worthless; and at the same time I incurred the vindictive hatred of Benson, who had never forgotten the ancient enmity of our school-boy days; and the time was rapidly approaching when he had an opportunity of glutting his malice to the fullest extent.
One morning, about day-break, in the month of February, 17—, I was crossing the country to my daily employment, in order to gain a public road, which led to the place of my occupation, when just as I struck the highway, my ear caught the rapidly retreating sounds of a horse's feet, and looking to my right I saw the figure of a horseman, just disappearing at an angle of the road. I thought the figure resembled Benson's, but the view was so transient that I might be mistaken, and I deemed this the more probable because I supposed him at that time to be in another part of the country: I proceeded down the road in an opposite direction, and had not gone more than a half mile, when I discovered near a small thicket on the side of the road, the dead body of a man, covered with blood.
His hat was placed near him, with some papers and his watch in it, and a pistol was slightly grasped in his right hand. At a small distance was a horse saddled and bridled, and tied to a tree. It was impossible that the horseman should have passed without seeing these objects, and I therefore supposed that he might have entered the public road at a cross one, which I had passed before arriving at the spot. I immediately recognized the body to be that of an elderly gentleman of the neighborhood, who was somewhat singular in his manners, but he