Every day at noon the wood-haulers came down Hardscrabble Hill, and the boys hitched their sleds to the bobsleds’ runners and rode away down the road. But they went only a little way and came back in time. Only Big Bill Ritchie and his friends didn’t care how soon Mr. Corse tried to punish them.
One day they were gone until after recess. When they came tramping into the schoolhouse, they all grinned impudently at Mr. Corse. He waited until they were in their seats. Then he stood up, pale, and he said:
“If this occurs again, I shall punish you.”
Everybody knew what would happen next day.
When Royal and Almanzo reached home that night, they told Father. Almanzo said it wasn’t fair. Mr. Corse wasn’t big enough to fight even one of those big boys, and they would all jump on him at once.
“I wish I was big enough to fight ’em!” he said.
“Son, Mr. Corse hired out to teach the school,” Father answered. “The school trustees were fair and aboveboard with him; they told him what he was undertaking. He undertook it. It’s his job, not yours.”
“But maybe they’ll kill him!” Almanzo said. “That’s his business,” said Father. “When a
man undertakes a job, he has to stick to it till he finishes it. If Corse is the man I think he is, he’d thank nobody for interfering.”
Almanzo couldn’t help saying again: “It isn’t fair. He can’t fight all five of them.”
“I wouldn’t wonder if you’d be surprised, son,” Father said. “Now you boys get a hustle on; these chores can’t wait all night.”
So Almanzo went to work and did not say any more.
All next morning, while he sat holding up his primer, he could not study. He was dreading what was going to happen to Mr. Corse. When the primer class was called, he could not read the les- son. He had to stay in with the girls at recess, and he wished he could lick Bill Ritchie.
At noon he went out to play, and he saw Mr. Ritchie, Bill’s father, coming down the hill on his loaded bobsled. All the boys stood where they were and watched Mr. Ritchie. He was a big, rough man, with a loud voice and a loud laugh. He was proud of Bill because Bill could thrash school-teachers and break up the school.
Nobody ran to fasten a sled behind Mr. Ritchie’s bobsled, but Bill and the other big boys climbed up on his load of wood. They rode, loudly talking, around the bend of the road and out of sight. The other boys did not play anymore; they stood and talked about what would happen.
When Mr. Corse rapped on the window, they went in soberly and soberly sat down.
That afternoon nobody knew the lessons. Mr. Corse called up class after class, and they lined up with their toes on a crack in the floor, but they could not answer his questions. Mr. Corse did not punish anybody. He said:
“We will have the same lesson again tomorrow.”
Everybody knew that Mr. Corse would not be there tomorrow. One of the little girls began to cry, then three or four of them put their heads down on their desks and sobbed. Almanzo had to sit still in his seat and look at his primer.
After a long time, Mr. Corse called him to the desk, to see if he could read the lesson now. Almanzo knew every word of it, but there was a lump in his throat that would not let the words out. He stood looking at the page while Mr. Corse waited. Then they heard the big boys coming.
Mr. Corse stood up and put his thin hand gently on Almanzo’s shoulder. He turned him around and said:
“Go to your seat, Almanzo.”
The room was still. Everybody was waiting. The big boys came up the path and clattered into the entry, hooting, and jostling one another. The door banged open, and Big Bill Ritchie swaggered in. The other big boys were behind him.
Mr. Corse looked at them and did not say any- thing. Bill Ritchie laughed in his face, and still he did not speak. The big boys jostled Bill, and he jeered again at Mr. Corse. Then he led them all tramping loudly down the aisle to their seats.
Mr. Corse lifted the lid of his desk and dropped one hand out of sight behind the raised lid. He said:
“Bill Ritchie, come up here.”
Big Bill jumped up and tore off his coat, yelling:
“Come on, boys!” He rushed up the aisle. Almanzo felt sick inside; he didn’t want to watch, but he couldn’t help it.
Mr. Corse stepped away from his desk. His hand came from behind the desk lid, and a long, thin, black streak hissed through the air.
It was a blacksnake ox-whip fifteen feet long. Mr. Corse held the short handle, loaded with iron, that could kill an ox. The thin, long lash coiled around Bill’s legs, and Mr. Corse jerked. Bill lurched and almost fell. Quick as black lightening the lash circled and stuck and coiled again, and again Mr. Corse jerked.
“Come up here, Bill Ritchie,” he said, jerking Bill toward him, and backing away.
Bill could not reach him. Faster and faster the lash was hissing and crackling, coiling and jerking, and more and more quickly Mr. Corse backed away, jerking Bill almost off his feet. Up and down they went in the open space in front of the desk. The lash kept coiling and tripping Bill, Mr. Corse kept running backward and striking.
Bill’s trousers were cut through, his shirt was slashed, his arms bleeding from the bite of the lash. It came and went, hissing, too fast to be seen. Bill rushed, and the floor shook when the whiplash jerked him over backward. He got up swearing and tried to reach the teacher’s chair, to throw it. The lash jerked him around. He began to bawl like a calf. He blubbered and begged.
The lash kept on hissing, circling, jerking. Bit by bit it jerked Bill to the door. Mr. Corse threw him headlong into the entry and slammed and locked the door. Turning quickly, he said:
“Now, John, come on up.”
John was in the aisle, staring. He whirled around and tried to get away, but Mr. Corse took a quick step, caught him with the whiplash and jerked him forward.
“Oh, please, please, please, Teacher!” John begged. Mr. Corse did not answer. He was panting and sweat trickled down his cheek. The whip- lash was coiling and hissing, jerking John to the door. Mr. Corse threw him out and slammed the door and turned.
The other big boys had got the window open. One, two, three, they jumped out into the deep snow and floundered away.
Mr. Corse coiled the whip neatly and laid it in his desk. He wiped his face with his handkerchief, straightened his collar, and said:
“Royal, will you please close the window?” Royal tiptoed to the window and shut it. Then
Mr. Corse called the arithmetic class. Nobody knew the lesson. All the rest of the afternoon, no one knew a lesson. And there was no recess that afternoon. Everybody had forgotten it.
Almanzo could hardly wait till school was dismissed and he could rush out with the other boys and yell. The big boys were licked! Mr. Corse had licked Bill Ritchie’s gang from Hard- scrabble Settlement!
But Almanzo did not know the best part of it till he listened to his father talking to Mr. Corse that night at supper.
“The boys didn’t throw you out, Royal tells me,” Father said.
“No,” said Mr. Corse. “Thanks to your black- snake whip.”
Almanzo stopped eating. He sat and looked at Father. Father had known, all the time. It was Father’s blacksnake whip that had bested Big Bill Ritchie. Almanzo was sure that Father was the smartest man in the world, as well as the biggest and strongest.
Father was talking. He said that while the big boys were riding on Mr. Ritchie’s bobsled they had told Mr. Ritchie that they were going to thrash the teacher that afternoon. Mr. Ritchie thought it was a good joke. He was so sure the boys would do it that he told everyone in town they had done it, and on his way home he had stopped to tell Father that Bill had thrashed Mr. Corse and broken up the school again.
Almanzo thought how surprised Mr. Ritchie must have been when he got home and saw Bill.