“A Young Savage,” by A. Perry (from Robert Merry’s Museum, November, 1870; pp. 227-229)
Four or five school girls had stolen away by preconcerted agreement, one noon time, to a strawberry patch that was in the lot behind the school-house, and had just begun to pick the ripe berries, when Emily Ball, one of the party, cried out, in a terrified voice, “An old straggler! an old straggler!”
“O, dear, what shall we do?”
All started to run, but not so quickly but that they saw, in the very lot in which they were, coming from the direction of a piece of woods near by, and bearing down straight towards them at a rapid pace, a tall figure, with a high hat on its head, a monstrous pack on its back, and the rest of it enveloped in what might be a very long overcoat, or it might be a woman’s dress. The face, as far as the flying glances could discover, was very dark.
Something else, too. Following this horror closely, and keeping pace with it in speed, imitating even its swift, rolling motion, was a boy, evidently some eight or ten years old.
The girls did not loiter, however, for very close investigations. Over the wall they went, helter-skelter, two or three of them taking hold and dragging Sarah, the youngest, who was very fleshy, and on whose naked arms and face a brier bush they encountered ploughed bloody records of the flight, and caused her to utter cries that most likely endangered all their lives. The girls cuddled down behind the wall in a heap, nobody daring to breathe, except Emily, who, at the risk of her life, kept bobbing up her head and reporting in whispers her observations.
“It’s an Indian.”
“O, O, O! Has he got a tomahawk?”
“No; it’s a squaw with a woman’s gown on. I declare, I shouldn’t wonder if that boy was a girl! There they go, over the fence, into the road. Now for it! Let’s run to the school-house.”
Which they did with swiftness, two of them making a “chair” of their hands, on which Sarah was hoisted and borne forward, a clarion witness of their recent peril.
No less excitement prevailed among the group that awaited them in the school-yard. On went the mysterious strangers straight past the building,—neither turning to the right nor left, insultingly unmindful of shouts and shrieks, and even of the shying towards them of small sticks and pebble-stones by the more daring of the boys,—on. The leading figure showed itself, upon nearer view, even more hideous for having a profusion of long black hair, that streamed like living snakes about the ragged pack. The child also wore a high hat, and pretty much all the rest of him, except the feet and ankles, which were bare, was encased in a big man’s vest.
On they went up the road. Johnny Seeton lengthened himself out by standing on the top of a bar post near by, and watched them till they reached the nearest house, which happened to be the poor-house, which they undauntedly marched into.
It turned out that Emily was right when she reported these frights as squaw and boy, and wrong when she declared otherwise. They had come home there, moreover,—this was a country place in the interior of Maine,—from unknown wanderings, to the woman’s birthplace, to be taken care of.
The next morning the boy was brought to school, Mr. Field, who kept the poor-house, handing him in backwards; and after hurriedly telling Miss Wilson, the teacher, who had just got her other charges in order, and who looked aghast at this addition, that his name was Lendall Soo, and that he would need some looking after, shut the door upon him and made off.
“Some looking after!” He stood there facing the door, his back to the school. Dressed now in ordinary fashion he was, and so much of his skin as could be seen was not many shades darker than that of some of the children present—an object for contemplation, certainly.
Miss Wilson’s authoritative “Lendall, come forward to this seat!” produced no more impression upon him than it did upon the bench she pointed at.
She was a person whose mandates were not to be treated lightly; and a tremor of terror crept through the school as she moved towards him, and put out a hand to seize him by the shoulder. Quick as a flash, he was away; still with his face towards the wall, and gliding swiftly along close by it, he darted up the aisle, she following, through at a disheartening distance, then across, behind the children’s backs, then down the other outside aisle, where she faced him, almost. His back was towards her; and, as though unwilling to encounter her in open fight, and despairing of finding a present opening for escape, he slipped silently into the corner, which he faced, and where he remained fixed, deaf to order and entreaty, and irresponsive to the hand that undertook to lead him to a seat.
She had the good sense not to use force; and the children’s faces indicated a sense of relief when, with a considerate “I will allow you to remain where you are till you are better acquainted, Lendall,” she left him to his meditations, and went on with the regular business of school.
And there he did remain. For the next hour he was not discovered to move a muscle. Some of the boys found opportunities to whisper, “Here, you, Lendall Soo!” and one paper ball lighted on his head, and two or three about his feet; but he made no sign.
The boys made hemming signals to him when they filed out at recess. In vain. At the girls’ recess, their dressing-room, the interior of which his corner commanded a view, was opened, discovering within it a narrow flight of steep stairs, that led to the dark loft under the rafters of the building. No sooner were the girls out of the way, than the new
scholar was up those stairs, and out of sight like a flash.
There, then, he was imprisoned, if not captured. There was no chance of egress from that garret, save by the door, which Miss Wilson made haste to secure; and the remainder of the forenoon was devoted to plodding work—only, there being nothing but the lathing between the cross-beams, and a fresh patch of plastering upon the ceiling, recalling the time when the dignified foot of a school committee man had found its way through,—he being up there examining the roof,—there was a general expectation that Lendall might be partially seen even up there; but no such thing occurred.
Miss Wilson, at the first moment of the intermission, opened the door; but no sooner was she on the stairs, than a slight jar, followed by another, and another, and another, like winks, announced that the boy, by a series of flying leaps from beam to beam, had placed himself far beyond her reach.
“O, let me go after him, please!” entreated Johnny Seeton, who, with a crowd of boys, had followed the teacher to the stairs, and who had his hand up in eager appeal; “I’ll get him.”
Johnny was terribly nimble—a very monkey—a little fellow, a poor scholar, and by all odds the worst boy in school.
The teacher made a motion of assent, and he scrambled up; and the next moment there ensued a repetition of the winking jars, which were greatly prolonged, and more complex, and at times far more emphatic, than the first. It was evident, as was afterwards confirmed, that the two boys went in for a regular race up there, which terminated, somehow, in the establishment of friendly relations, though what magic Johnny used never transpired. It was believed, however, to have been peanuts. The two came down together after a little silence; and Lendall not only condescended to accept portions of everybody’s dinner, almost,—always under cover of Johnny’s protection,—but to take his seat with Johnny at the ringing of the bell for the afternoon session. To be sure, for the first hour he sat on the floor, and only showed his head once, and that was when they sang; but that was an improvement on his morning performance.
He skulked out with the boys at recess; and though he refused to join in any play, and watched their doings with solemn contempt, he made no attempt to injure anybody, and came in docilely with the rest at its close.
But he go forth in the sight of everybody to be instructed? By no means. He sat on the seat for the rest of that afternoon, though on his knees, and with his back square towards the teacher.
Johnny, who, in obedience to her directions, was obliged to assume her duties, as on all her efforts at instructing him he had turned the cold shoulder, snatched this opportunity to begin the work of his education. It was a success. Lendall was kept under his tuition the next day, and the next. He was, in fact, his scholar; for it was pretty much the same thing all summer.
And, really, it was the great event of the term, not the coming of the stranger, but the influence those two boys exercised upon each other. Lendall, with his odd ways,—for he was always shy and strange, and never took to anybody else,—was no companion, but he was a charge; and John, under the responsibility, grew manly, and careful of his example, as well as eager to push on in his studies, and enlarge his ability to impart. The stranger turned out to be a very marvel of aptness at his learning, doing such honor to John’s tuition that summer, that the next winter it was found absolutely necessary to transfer him to the charge of an older teacher; and before the year’s end he ranked with John himself.