We last left off with Bill falling off the roof of the school and landing safely in a snowbank.
And there I was, Bill Collins, the one member of the Sugar Creek Gang who had made up his mind he wasn’t going to have anything to do with smoking a teacher out of his schoolhouse, the one who was going to be what is called a gentleman, now lying upside down in a scrambled-up heap, with one of my trouser legs ripped maybe half way down, and myself all covered with snow and with my mind all tangled up and everything.
Because none of the other Sugar Creek Gang members are going to be “what is called a gentleman!”
Bill reassures us that he’s not hurt, but that something has to be done and done fast. The boys quickly run to the schoolhouse to try and put out the fire.
Just that second we heard Mr. Black’s horse, which was tied at the front gate, snort and make crazy horse noises, and even before I could imagine what was going to happen, it had happened. There was a noise like a leather strap straining, and then a cracking and splintering sound. I looked just in time to see the little wooden gate to which the horse had been tied, break in two or maybe three, and part of it go galloping down the road being dragged by a scared wild-eyed brown saddle horse, and at the same time I saw a half-wild-looking man come running out of the smoking schoolhouse and make a wild dash through the place where the gate had been and go racing after the horse, not even seeing us boys, or if he saw us, not paying any attention to us, but yelling to Prince in a commanding voice to “WHOA … W-H-O-A!”
Oh no, not the horse! I care more about Prince than I do about Bill falling off the roof!
The poor horse has pieces of the gate stuck to its reins , and is dragging them behind him. So Prince is running around scared, scaring himself more by dragging gate pieces. Bill worries about Prince breaking a leg and having to be shot. You have to shoot a horse with a broken leg, because you can’t keep a horse quiet for weeks and months while its leg heals.
Ho hum—say, if I don’t get going faster, telling you this story, it’ll be too long to get it into one book and I’ll have to finish it some other time, so here goes just as fast as I can, till I get to the end….
Man, it’s like the author is reading my mind and doing my job for me.
Bill goes on about the horse for a paragraph before realizing that the schoolhouse is still on fire. Maybe he should do something about that. He turns around to find that he’s standing there alone while the other boys have gone inside to help put out the fire. When he gets inside and his eyes adjust to the smoke, he discovers the fire isn’t the only thing Bob Till and Shorty Long have done.
There on the teacher’s desk, upside down, was the teacher’s great big swivel chair; and the brooms and the mop were piled on top of that, and on the blackboard written in great big letters with chalk, was Poetry’s poem about a teacher not having any hair. The old Christmas tree which had been standing so pretty and straight in a corner of the platform was lying on the floor, and the popcorn and paper chains which the Sugar Creek pupils had made were in a tangled up mess all over the tree and the floor. The stove door was open and the fire box was half-filled with snow, which maybe Mr. Black had scooped in to put out the fire he’d started awhile ago.
Bill deduces that Bob and Shorty want to make sure The Sugar Creek Gang get the blame for all of this. Bill thinks some rather ungentlemanlike thoughts about Bob and Shorty (or so we are told, we do not get to hear them).
The boys put out the fire, get some wire cutters so they can get the board off the chimney, then start a real fire as they go about putting the schoolhouse to rights.
Mr. Black and Circus’ dad finally get his horse calmed down. Mr. Black leaves Prince in the stable for now to calm down while he goes back to the schoolhouse.
As he is walking back, Dragonfly realizes that Mr. Black has left his diary on top of the schoolhouse dictionary. Why he’d leave it there I have no idea, but set that aside. Why are they reading it? Dragonfly probably wouldn’t know what it was at first, but the moment it looked like something personal, he should have left it alone.
Bill goes on for a few paragraphs about a whipping he got from reading his father’s diary and how it’s wrong to read someone else’s diary…. but he does it anyway before feeling guilty and quickly looking away.
I knew I shouldn’t have been reading, and I decided to quit quick, which I did, only I saw one other thing just as my eyes were leaving the page, and it was:
“Things have come to a show down with the boys. I know I’m going to have to take drastic action soon.”
“What’s ‘drastic‘ mean?” Dragonfly wanted to know, just as I turned away, and I knew he’d read what I’d read, so I said, “I don’t know, but whatever it is, I’ll bet it’ll hurt like everything.” I reached out my hand and laid it down flat on the opened diary, so I wouldn’t read anything else, when Dragonfly said, “Psst! Listen!”
We all listened for a half jiffy and things were so quiet in that still-half-smokey room we could hear only the crackling of the fire in the stove, when all of a sudden there was a step on the schoolhouse porch, and the door was thrust open and there stood Mr. Black himself, looking right straight at us.
I’ll give the author credit. This is a great place to have a chapter break. Well done.
As Mr. Black enters the schoolhouse, everyone starts trying to explain things all at once, which, obviously, doesn’t do anybody any good. Little Jim talks about what a great sermon the pastor preached this morning, and I have no idea what that has to do with anything.
Mr. Black is really really angry, but he keeps his wits about him, and does what anyone would do in such a situation: grabs his camera and starts taking pictures.
What on earth he wanted a picture of us for, I didn’t know, unless it was so he could prove to anybody who didn’t believe it, that we were a bunch of roughnecks.
Evidence, Bill, he’s collecting evidence. Duh.
When Mr. Black goes to get a picture of the mess on his desk and the poem on the blackboard, he gets upset and confused.
“Who straightened up this room! Did you boys do that!”
“Yes, sir,” I said, “we did; we wanted to prove to you that we didn’t do it.”
“We wanted to prove to you that we didn’t do it!” Little Jim said.
Mr. Black looked at Little Jim and at all of us like he thought we were even crazier than we felt, and he said, “Prove you didn’t do what?”
How has Mr. Black not figured out what happened? What does he think happened to cause the chimney to back up like that and start a fire?
“That we didn’t put the board across the—OUCH!” Dragonfly started to talk, but stopped his sentence with an OUCH when I quick kicked him on the shin.
Dragonfly is really not good at this. I vote him of the island.
Bill tries to back out the open door the schoolhouse, but Mr. Black tells him to stop. I can’t think why all the kids don’t just start running out the door of the schoolhouse. It’s one against 6, Mr. Black probably can’t get all of them, if he will even be able to catch one at all. We are assured he can’t run fast because he is “barrel shaped, like Poetry.”
Mr. Black tells Bill to bring the beech switches. Bill tries to stop and look up “Drastic” in the dictionary first, which is a really odd thing to do in the first place unless one is trying to put off the spanking. Bill doesn’t seem to be thinking about that, though, he just wants to know the meaning of “drastic.”
Mr. Black has, like, the best come back ever.
“If the word is punishment,” Mr. Black said to me angrily, “it’s a noun, and it means beech switches…. You bring them to me!”
SNORT. The villains always get the best lines.
And I knew I had to do it. I stopped looking in the dictionary, and feeling simply terrible inside of me, on account of not having done anything wrong on purpose, but knowing Mr. Black wouldn’t believe us even if we told him, I got the switches and took them toward him, but was so nervous I dropped one of them…. Say, Little Jim who is very quick when he makes up his mind to do something, made a dive for the floor, picked up the switch I’d dropped and quick took the other one out of my hand, and handed them both to Mr. Black and said to him very politely, “Here you are, sir, with all the old brown dead leaves gone—every one of them.”
The ellipses are original to the text. I did not leave anything out. Most of this paragraph is a really long run on sentence.
Bill asks Mr. Black not to whip him where he got scratched sliding off the schoolhouse roof. Little Jim says, “Gee, that sure was a good sermon this morning.” Mr. Black gets an odd look on his face. He asks where Bill got the scratch, and Dragonfly tells him Bill got it from sliding off the roof.
I just couldn’t believe Dragonfly was that dumb—that he didn’t know he oughtn’t to tell where I’d gotten that scratch. I remembered with a mad thought that we’d had trouble with Dragonfly once before, on account of he had been friends with Shorty Long.
I have no idea what Dragonfly’s old friendship with Shorty has to do with anything right now. If Dragonfly’s goal was to get the gang into trouble, it’s clearly not working out very well for him because he’s gonna get whipped too.
Mr. Black demands to know why Bill was on the schoolhouse roof. Bill doesn’t want to be a tattletale, and I get that. But there’s a line between being a tattle tale and letting yourself get punished for something someone else did. This is that line. This is not the time for Bill to worry about Tattling. This is the time for him to do what he told us about earlier; tell the truth.
Well, I hated to tell him because I thought he wouldn’t believe it, and another reason I hated to tell him was because if I did, it would mean I’d have to tell him somebody else had put the board ON the chimney, and that wouldn’t be fair to Little Tom Till who was Bob’s brother, and also on account of my mom was trying to get Shorty Long’s mom to be a Christian, and I hated to be a tattletale about Shorty and Bob, so I just stood there, without answering Mr. Black.
How is it not fair to Little Tom Till? I’d say it’s more unfair for Little Tom to get punished for something his big brother did.
But oh no, I can’t tell the truth because, um, because we’re trying to get Shorty Long’s mom to be a Christian! And me telling the truth will mess that up somehow!
Wow that is fucked up. It’s attitudes like that that get you walked all over in life.
I saw Little Jim’s face and it reminded me again of the Bible picture above his piano, and that reminded me of a Bible verse I’d memorized, which was, “A soft answer turneth away wrath,” and I thought of Mr. Black’s pretty horse and said, politely, “Your horse is the prettiest horse I ever saw. I hope he didn’t fall and break his leg.”
No. That is the wrong ass bible verse for this situation! Here’s a more appropriate one:
And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
Poetry, desperate to avoid being hit, offers to help carry wood in for the school so that Mr. Black won’t have to go outside during the cold snap.
But it was Little Jim who saved us from trouble, when he said what he said, and it was, “That was a good sermon this morning, wasn’t it, Mr. Black? All of us are going to try not to be mad at you any more, and if we’ve done anything wrong, we’re sorry. We hope you won’t give us a licking, but if you do, we won’t even get mad.”
Little Jim, it’s ok to be angry about being whipped, especially if you didn’t do anything to deserve it.
Mr. Black’s hand trembles, and he lets go of the whip. He paces frantically around the schoolhouse before sitting at his desk and opening a book.
You could have knocked me over with a turkey feather, when I saw the kind of book he was leafing through. I’d never seen it there on that desk before, and I wondered where it had come from, but there it was as plain as day, an honest-to-goodness great big beautiful brown-bound Bible.
Yes. It is so rare for the town schoolteacher to be caught with a Bible. In those days, I think his ability to teach would’ve been called into question if he didn‘t attend a church of some kind.
Mr. Black slowly turns the pages. All this pacing around and reading the Bible takes up at least a good 3 paragraphs. What was it you were saying earlier, Paul, about getting to the point of your story?
Dragonfly blows his nose on a red hanky. Mr. Black keeps reading.
A jiffy later, I heard Mr. Black clear his throat and say to us, “It’s been a very exciting afternoon, boys, and I don’t feel any too well. I think I ran too hard to catch Prince.”
He takes the boys up on their offer to carry in loads of wood and clean up the schoolhouse.
Little Jim tells Bill “I knew it would work.” When Bill asks wtf Little Jim is talking about, Little Jim just gives him a smug grin and says, “something.” If this is supposed to build suspense, it’s really not working. People like this are just really fucking annoying.
Before the boys leave, Mr. Black has the boys act out scenes from The Hoosier Schoolmaster.See, he’s apparently promised this one lady to illustrate the book with scenes from real life.
Mr. Black hands Bill his bible, which of course is Bill’s cue to start snooping.
Without hardly knowing I was going to, I quick opened the Bible to the first blank page and what I saw was, “To my dear son, Sam Black, from your Mother.” And right below it were printed, very carefully, the words:“This Book will keep you from sin,
Sin will keep you from this Book.“
Then Mr. Black climbs the schoolhouse roof and puts the board over the chimney while Poetry takes pictures.
While Mr. Black was still up on the roof, he called down to all of us in a cheerful voice and said, “That was a very clever poem you boys composed—you know, the one you had on the snow man yesterday, and on the blackboard this afternoon. I think I got a very good picture of both of them for next Wednesday night—the people of Sugar Creek will think it very clever. When I first got the idea of illustrating the book review for Mrs. Mansfield, I didn’t know how much cooperation you boys were going to give me.”
Subtle, Mr. Black, very subtle. Help me illustrate this book, boys, and I won’t give you a whipping.
As the boys are walking home, Little Jim finally tells us about that really awesome sermon that Bill–and by extension, we–totally missed out on.
“Oh, about when you get Jesus in your heart, you don’t get mad so easy, and when you do, you behave yourself anyway—just like a fire in a house melts the snow off the roof, or like when spring comes, the new leaves will push all of the old dead leaves off that’ve hung on all winter.”
Then Little Jim said, “When I put that question in ‘The Minister’s Question Box,’ just inside the church door this morning, I hoped Sylvia’s pop would answer it in his very first sermon, and he did.”
Let me tell you something. Tactics like this–reminding the authority figure in your life of the contents of the week’s sermon–don’t actually work in real life.
Also, kudos to the pastor for being able to come up with an entire sermon to explain the question in the few hours between Sunday school and preaching time. Silly me, I thought he wrote his sermons in advance.
Little Jim whispered to me something that was a real secret, and it made me like him awful well, to know he wasn’t afraid to talk to me about it, and it was, “Do you suppose Mr. Black really became a Christian this morning while Sylvia’s pop was preaching—or maybe he is just going to let Jesus into his heart, real soon?”
Yes, a real secret, just between you two. I’m sure no one else in the gang is wondering this at all, since religion is clearly all you boys think about.
The entire gang decide they’re not mad at Bob Till and Shorty Long, and wonder what else they’re going to have to deal with.
The book ends on sort of a cliffhanger, but not a large one. Bill is day dreaming about spring when all of a sudden a great big blizzard comes up.
In almost a half a jiffy all of us were in a whirling snowstorm, and I knew the new cold wave had already come, and that before spring got to Sugar Creek we’d have a lot more winter—in fact there might even be a blizzard.
“Hurry up!” all of us yelled to all of us. “We’ve got to get home quick.”
But that’s the beginning of another Sugar Creek Gang story, which I hope I’ll get a chance to write for you real soon.
Yawn, I don’t care. I hope they all get lost in the snowstorm and freeze to death. Ho hum.
In any case, that’s the end of the chapter and the end of the book. You’re welcome.
*Yes I am aware I am ripping the verse out of context and that “the Truth” is actually Jesus. I’m still using it, because I’ve decided that verse has more than one meaning.