Read CHAPTER III of Ramsey Milholland , free online book, by Booth Tarkington, on

He had not forgiven her four years later when he entered high school in her company, for somehow Ramsey managed to shovel his way through examinations and stayed with the class.  By this time he had a long accumulation of reasons for hating her:  Dora’s persistent and increasing competency was not short of flamboyant, and teachers naturally got the habit of flinging their quickest pupil in the face of their slowest and “dumbest.”  Nevertheless, Ramsey was unable to deny that she had become less awful lookin’ than she used to be.  At least, he was honest enough to make a partial retraction when his friend and classmate, Fred Mitchell, insisted that an amelioration of Dora’s appearance could be actually proven.

“Well, I’ll take it back.  I don’t claim she’s every last bit as awful lookin’ as she always has been,” said Ramsey, toward the conclusion of the argument.  “I’ll say this for her, she’s awful lookin’, but she may not be as awful lookin’ as she was.  She don’t come to school with the edge of some of her underclo’es showin’ below her dress any more, about every other day, and her eyewinkers have got to stickin’ out some, and she may not be so abbasa_loot_ly skinny, but she’ll haf to wait a mighty long while before I want to look at her without gettin’ sick!”

The implication that Miss Yocum cared to have Ramsey look at her, either with or without gettin’ sick, was mere rhetoric, and recognized as such by the producer of it; she had never given the slightest evidence of any desire that his gaze be bent upon her.  What truth lay underneath his flourish rested upon the fact that he could not look at her without some symptoms of the sort he had tersely sketched to his friend; and yet, so pungent is the fascination of self-inflicted misery, he did look at her, during periods of study, often for three or four minutes at a stretch.  His expression at such times indeed resembled that of one who has dined unwisely; but Dora Yocum was always too eagerly busy to notice it.  He was almost never in her eye, but she was continually in his; moreover, as the banner pupil she was with hourly frequency an exhibit before the whole class.

Ramsey found her worst of all when her turn came in “Declamation,” on Friday afternoons.  When she ascended the platform, bobbed a little preliminary bow and began, “Listen, my children, and you shall hear,” Ramsey included Paul Revere and the Old North Church and the whole Revolutionary War in his antipathy, since they somehow appeared to be the property of the Teacher’s Pet.  For Dora held this post in “Declamation” as well as in everything else; here, as elsewhere, the hateful child’s prowess surpassed that of all others; and the teacher always entrusted her with the rendition of the “patriotic selections”:  Dora seemed to take fire herself when she declared: 

     “The fate of a nation was riding that night;
     And the spark struck out by that steed in his flight,
     Kindled the land into flame with its heat.”

Ramsey himself was in the same section of declaimers, and performed next-a ghastly contrast.  He gave a “selection from Shakespeare,” assigned by the teacher; and he began this continuous misfortune by stumbling violently as he ascended the platform, which stimulated a general giggle already in being at the mere calling of his name.  All of the class were bright with happy anticipation, for the miserable Ramsey seldom failed their hopes, particularly in “Declamation.”  He faced them, his complexion wan, his expression both baleful and horrified; and he began in a loud, hurried voice, from which every hint of intelligence was excluded: 

“Most pottent, grave, and rev-”

The teacher tapped sharply on her desk, and stopped him.  “You’ve forgotten to bow,” she said.  “And don’t say ‘pottent.’  The word is ’potent’.”

Ramsey flopped his head at the rear wall of the room, and began again: 

“Most pottent potent gray and revenerd signers my very nobe and approve good masters that I have tan away this sole man’s dutter it is mose true true I have marry dur the very headman frun tuv my fending hath this extent no more rude am I in speech-in speech-rude am I in speech-in speech-in speech-in speech-”

He had stalled.  Perhaps the fatal truth of that phrase, and some sense of its applicability to the occasion had interfered with the mechanism which he had set in operation to get rid of the “recitation” for him.  At all events, the machine had to run off its job all at once, or it wouldn’t run at all.  Stopped, it stayed stopped, and backing off granted no new impetus, though he tried, again and again.  “Hath this extent no more rude am I in speech-” He gulped audibly.  “Rude rude rude am I-rude am I in speech-in speech-in speech.  Rude am I in speech-”

“Yes,” the irritated teacher said, as Ramsey’s failing voice continued huskily to insist upon this point.  “I think you are!” And her nerves were a little soothed by the shout of laughter from the school-it was never difficult for teachers to be witty.  “Go sit down, Ramsey, and do it after school.”

His ears roaring, the unfortunate went to his seat, and, among all the hilarious faces, one stood out-Dora Yocum’s.  Her laughter was precocious; it was that of a confirmed superior, insufferably adult-she was laughing at him as a grown person laughs at a child.  Conspicuously and unmistakably, there was something indulgent in her amusement.  He choked.  Here was a little squirt of a high-school girl who would trot up to George Washington himself and show off around him, given the opportunity; and George Washington would probably pat her on the head, or give her a medal-or something.  Well, let him!  Ramsey didn’t care.  He didn’t care for George Washington, or Paul Revere, or Shakespeare, or any of ’em.  They could all go to the dickens with Dora Yocum.  They were all a lot of smarties anyway and he hated the whole stew of ’em!

There was one, however, whom he somehow couldn’t manage to hate, even though this one officially seemed to be as intimately associated with Dora Yocum and superiority as the others were.  Ramsey couldn’t hate Abraham Lincoln, even when Dora was chosen to deliver the “Gettysburg Address” on the twelfth of February.  Vaguely, yet reassuringly, Ramsey felt that Lincoln had resisted adoption by the intellectuals.  Lincoln had said “Government of the people, by the people, for the people,” and that didn’t mean government by the teacher and the Teacher’s Pet and Paul Revere and Shakespeare and suchlike; it meant government by everybody, and therefore Ramsey had as much to do with it as anybody else had.  This was friendly; and he believed that if Abraham Lincoln could have walked into the schoolroom, Lincoln would have been as friendly with him as with Dora and the teacher herself.  Beyond a doubt, Dora and the teacher thought Lincoln belonged to them and their crowd of exclusives; they seemed to think they owned the whole United States; but Ramsey was sure they were mistaken about Abraham Lincoln.

He felt that it was just like this little Yocum snippet to assume such a thing, and it made him sicker than ever to look at her.

Then, one day, he noticed that her eye-winkers were stickin’ out farther and farther.