TING-A-LING-LING-LING! went the little bell on the teachers desk of a village-school one morning, when the studies of the earlier part of the day were about half completed. It was well understood that this was a command for silence and attention; and when these had been obtaind, the master spoke. He was a low thick-set man, and his name was Lugare.
The one to whom he spoke came forward. He was a slight, fair-looking boy of about thirteen; and his face had a laughing, good-humord expression, which even the charge now preferrd against him, and the stern tone and threatening look of the teacher, had not entirely dissipated. The countenance of the boy, however, was too unearthly fair for health; it had, notwithstanding its fleshy, cheerful look, a singular cast as if some inward disease, and that a fearful one, were seated within. As the stripling stood before that place of judgmentthat place so often made the scene of heartless and coarse brutality, of timid innocence confused, helpless childhood outraged, and gentle feelings crushdLugare looked on him with a frown which plainly told that he felt in no very pleasant mood. (Happily a worthier and more philosophical system is proving to men that schools can be better governd than by lashes and tears and sighs. We are waxing toward that consummation when one of the old-fashiond school-masters, with his cowhide, his heavy birch-rod, and his many ingenious methods of child-torture, will be gazed upon as a scornd memento of an ignorant, cruel, and exploded doctrine. May propitious gales speed that day!)
Well, sir, Im glad to find you so ready with your confession. And so you thought you could do a little robbing, and enjoy yourself in a manner you ought to be ashamed to own, without being punishd, did you?
And pray, sir, continued Lugare, as the outward signs of wrath disappeard from his features; what were you about the garden for? Perhaps you only receivd the plunder, and had an accomplice to do the more dangerous part of the job?
I went that way because it is on my road home. I was there again afterwards to meet an acquaintance; andandBut I did not go into the garden, nor take anything away from it. I would not steal,hardly to save myself from starving.
You had better have stuck to that last evening. You were seen, Tim Barker, to come from under Mr. Nicholss garden-fence, a little after nine oclock, with a bag full of something or other over your shoulders. The bag had every appearance of being filled with fruit, and this morning the melon-beds are found to have been completely cleard. Now, sir, what was there in that bag?
The boy lookd as though he would faint. But the unmerciful teacher, confident of having brought to light a criminal, and exulting in the idea of the severe chastisement he should now be justified in inflicting, kept working himself up to a still greater and greater degree of passion. In the meantime, the child seemd hardly to know what to do with himself. His tongue cleavd to the roof of his mouth. Either he was very much frightend, or he was actually unwell.
Oh yes; thats very likely; and Mr. Lugare bulged out his nose and cheeks with contempt. Do you think to make me believe your lies? Ive found you out, sir, plainly enough; and I am satisfied that you are as precious a little villain as there is in the State. But I will postpone settling with you for an hour yet. I shall then call you up again; and if you dont tell the whole truth then, I will give you something thatll make you remember Mr. Nicholss melons for many a month to come:go to your seat.
Glad enough of the ungracious permission, and answering not a sound, the child crept tremblingly to his bench. He felt very strangely, dizzilymore as if he was in a dream than in real life; and laying his arms on his desk, bowd down his face between them. The pupils turnd to their accustomd studies, for during the reign of Lugare in the village-school, they had been so used to scenes of violence and severe chastisement, that such things made but little interruption in the tenor of their way.
Now, while the intervening hour is passing, we will clear up the mystery of the bag, and of young Barker being under the garden fence on the preceding night. The boys mother was a widow, and they both had to live in the very narrowest limits. His father had died when he was six years old, and little Tim was left a sickly emaciated infant whom no one expected to live many months. To the surprise of all, however, the poor child kept alive, and seemd to recover his health, as he certainly did his size and good looks. This was owing to the kind offices of an eminent physician who had a country-seat in the neighborhood, and who had been interested in the widows little family. Tim, the physician said, might possibly outgrow his disease; but everything was uncertain. It was a mysterious and baffling malady; and it would not be wonderful if he should in some moment of apparent health be suddenly taken away. The poor widow was at first in a continual state of uneasiness; but several years had now passd, and none of the impending evils had fallen upon the boys head. His mother seemd to feel confident that he would live, and be a help and an honor to her old age; and the two struggled on together, mutually happy in each other, and enduring much of poverty and discomfort without repining, each for the others sake.
Tims pleasant disposition had made him many friends in the village, and among the rest a young farmer named Jones, who, with his elder brother, workd a large farm in the neighborhood on shares. Jones very frequently made Tim a present of a bag of potatoes or corn, or some garden vegetables, which he took from his own stock; but as his partner was a parsimonious, high-tempered man, and had often said that Tim was an idle fellow, and ought not to be helpd because he did not work, Jones generally made his gifts in such a manner that no one knew anything about them, except himself and the grateful objects of his kindness. It might be, too, that the widow was loth to have it understood by the neighbors that she received food from anyone; for there is often an excusable pride in people of her condition which makes them shrink from being considerd as objects of charity as they would from the severest pains. On the night in question, Tim had been told that Jones would send them a bag of potatoes, and the place at which they were to be waiting for him was fixed at Mr. Nicholss garden-fence. It was this bag that Tim had been seen staggering under, and which caused the unlucky boy to be accused and convicted by his teacher as a thief. That teacher was one little fitted for his important and responsible office. Hasty to decide, and inflexibly severe, he was the terror of the little world he ruled so despotically. Punishment he seemed to delight in. Knowing little of those sweet fountains which in childrens breasts ever open quickly at the call of gentleness and kind words, he was feard by all for his sternness, and loved by none. I would that he were an isolated instance in his profession.
The hour of grace had drawn to its close, and the time approachd at which it was usual for Lugare to give his school a joyfully-receivd dismission. Now and then one of the scholars would direct a furtive glance at Tim, sometimes in pity, sometimes in indifference or inquiry. They knew that he would have no mercy shown him, and though most of them loved him, whipping was too common there to exact much sympathy. Every inquiring glance, however, remaind unsatisfied, for at the end of the hour, Tim remaind with his face completely hidden, and his head bowd in his arms, precisely as he had leand himself when he first went to his seat. Lugare lookd at the boy occasionally with a scowl which seemd to bode vengeance for his sullenness. At length the last class had been heard, and the last lesson recited, and Lugare seated himself behind his desk on the platform, with his longest and stoutest ratan before him.
The boy did not stir any more than if he had been of wood. Lugare shook with passion. He sat still a minute, as if considering the best way to wreak his vengeance. That minute, passed in death-like silence, was a fearful one to some of the children, for their faces whitend with fright. It seemd, as it slowly droppd away, like the minute which precedes the climax of an exquisitely-performed tragedy, when some mighty master of the histrionic art is treading the stage, and you and the multitude around you are waiting, with stretchd nerves and suspended breath, in expectation of the terrible catastrophe.
Lugare, at this intelligence, allowd his features to relax from their expression of savage anger into a smile, but that smile lookd more malignant if possible, than his former scowls. It might be that he felt amused at the horror depicted on the faces of those about him; or it might be that he was gloating in pleasure on the way in which he intended to wake the slumberer.
Asleep! are you, my young gentleman! said he; let us see if we cant find something to tickle your eyes open. Theres nothing like making the best of a bad case, boys. Tim, here, is determind not to be worried in his mind about a little flogging, for the thought of it cant even keep the little scoundrel awake.
Lugare smiled again as he made the last observation. He graspd his ratan firmly, and descended from his seat. With light and stealthy steps he crossd the room, and stood by the unlucky sleeper. The boy was still as unconscious of his impending punishment as ever. He might be dreaming some golden dream of youth and pleasure; perhaps he was far away in the world of fancy, seeing scenes, and feeling delights, which cold reality never can bestow. Lugare lifted his ratan high over his head, and with the true and expert aim which he had acquired by long practice, brought it down on Tims back with a force and whacking sound which seemd sufficient to awake a freezing man in his last lethargy. Quick and fast, blow followd blow. Without waiting to see the effect of the first cut, the brutal wretch plied his instrument of torture first on one side of the boys back, and then on the other, and only stopped at the end of two or three minutes from very weariness. But still Tim showd no signs of motion; and as Lugare, provoked at his torpidity, jerkd away one of the childs arms, on which he had been leaning over the desk, his head droppd down on the board with a dull sound, and his face lay turnd up and exposed to view. When Lugare saw it, he stood like one transfixd by a basilisk. His countenance turnd to a leaden whiteness; the ratan droppd from his grasp; and his eyes, stretchd wide open, glared as at some monstrous spectacle of horror and death. The sweat started in great globules seemingly from every pore in his face; his skinny lips contracted, and showd his teeth; and when he at length stretchd forth his arm, and with the end of one of his fingers touchd the childs cheek, each limb quiverd like the tongue of a snake; and his strength seemed as though it would momentarily fail him. The boy was dead. He had probably been so for some time, for his eyes were turnd up, and his body was quite cold. Death was in the school-room, and Lugare had been flogging A CORPSE.