Read CHAPTER I of Cudjo's Cave , free online book, by J. T. Trowbridge, on ReadCentral.com.

THE SCHOOLMASTER IN TROUBLE.

Carl crept stealthily up the bank, and, peering through the window, saw the master writing at his desk.

In his neat Quaker garb, his slender form bent over his task, his calm young face dimly seen in profile, there he sat. The room was growing dark; the glow of a March sunset was fading fast from the paper on which the swift pen traced these words:

“Tennessee is getting too hot for me. My school is nearly broken up, and my farther stay here is becoming not only useless, but dangerous. There are many loyal men in the neighborhood, but they are overawed by the reckless violence of the secessionists. Mobs sanctioned by self-styled vigilance committees override all law and order. As I write, I can hear the yells of a drunken rabble before my school-house door. I am an especial object of hatred to them on account of my northern birth and principles. They have warned me to leave the state, they have threatened me with southern vengeance, but thus far I have escaped injury. How long this reign of terror is to last, or what is to be the end

A rap on the window drew the writer’s attention, and, looking up, he saw, against the twilight sky, the broad German face of the boy Carl darkening the pane. He stepped to raise the sash.

“What is it, Carl?”

The lad glanced quickly around, first over one shoulder, then the other, and said, in a hoarse whisper,

“Shpeak wery low!”

“Was it you that rapped before?”

“I have rapped tree times, not loud, pecause I vas afraid the men would hear.”

“What men are they?”

“The Wigilance Committee’s men! They have some tar in a kettle. They have made a fire unter it, and I hear some of ’em say, ’Run, boys, and pring some fedders.’”

“Tar and feathers!” The young man grew pale. “They have threatened it, but they will not dare!”

“They vill dare do anything; but you shall prewent ’em! See vat I have prought you!” Carl opened his jacket, and showed the handle of a revolver. “Stackridge sent it.”

“Hide it! hide it!” said the master, quickly. “He offered it to me himself. I told him I could not take it.”

“He said, may be when you smell tar and see fedders, you vill change your mind,” answered Carl.

The schoolmaster smiled. The pallor of fear which had surprised him for an instant, had vanished.

“I believe in a different creed from Mr. Stackridge’s, honest man as he is. I shall not resist evil, but overcome evil with good, if I can; if I cannot, I shall suffer it.”

“You show you vill shoot some of ’em, and they vill let you go,” said Carl, not understanding the nobler doctrine. “Shooting vill do some of them willains some good!” his placid blue eyes kindling, as if he would like to do a little of the shooting. “You take it?”

“No,” said the young man, firmly. “Such weapons are not for me.”

“Wery vell!” Carl buttoned his jacket over the revolver. “Then you come mit me, if you please. Get out of the vinder and run. That is pest, I suppose.”

“No, no, my lad. I may as well meet these men first as last.”

“Then I vill go and pring help!” suddenly exclaimed, the boy; and away he scampered across the fields, leaving the young man alone in the darkening school-room.

It was not a very pleasant situation to be in, you may well believe. As he closed the sash, a faint odor of tar was wafted in on the evening breeze. The voices of the ruffians at the door grew louder and more menacing. He knew they were only waiting for the tar to heat, for the shadows of night to thicken, and for him to make his appearance. He returned to his desk, but it was now too dark to write. He could barely see to sign his name and superscribe the envelope. This done, he buttoned his straight-fitting brown coat, put on his modest hat, and stood pondering in his mind what he should do.

A young man scarcely twenty years old, reared in the quiet atmosphere of a community of Friends, and as unaccustomed, hitherto, to scenes of strife and violence as the most innocent child, such was Penn Hapgood, teacher of the “Academy” (as the school was proudly named) in Curryville. This was the first great trial of his faith and courage. He had not taken Carl’s advice, and run, because he did not believe that he could escape the danger in that way. And as for fighting, that was not in his heart any more than it was in his creed. But to say he did not dread to meet his foes at the door, that he felt no fear, would be speaking falsely. He was afraid. His entire nature, delicate body and still more delicate soul, shrank from the ordeal. He went to the outer door, and laid his hand on the bolt, but could not, for a long time, summon resolution to open it.

As he hesitated, there came a loud thump on one of the panels which nearly crushed it in, and filled the hollow building with ominous echoes.

“Make ready in thar, you hound of a abolitionist!” shouted a brutal voice; “we’re about ready fur ye!” Penn’s hand drew back. I dare say it trembled, I dare say his face turned white again, as he felt the danger so near. How could he confront, with his sensitive spirit, those merciless, coarse men?

“I’ll wait a little,” he thought within himself. “Perhaps Carl will bring help.”

There were good sturdy Unionists in the place, men who, unlike the Pennsylvania schoolmaster, believed in opposing evil with evil, force by force. Only last night, one of them entered this very school-room, bolted the door carefully, and sat down to unfold to the young master a scheme for resisting the plans of the secessionists. It was a league for circumventing treason; for keeping Tennessee in the Union; for preserving their homes and families from the horrors of the impending civil war. The conspirators had arms concealed; they met in secret places; they were watching for the hour to strike. Would the schoolmaster join them? Strange to say, they believed in him as a man who had abilities as a leader, “an undeveloped fighting man” he, Penn Hapgood, the Quaker! Penn smiled, as he declined the farmer’s offer of a commission in the secret militia, and refused to accept the weapon of self-defence which the same earnest Unionist had proffered him again, through Carl, the German boy, this night.

Penn thought of these men now, and hoped that Carl would haste and bring them to the rescue. Then immediately he blushed at his own cowardly inconsistency; for something in his heart said that he ought not to wish others to do for him what he had conscientious scruples against doing for himself.

“I’ll go out!” he said, sternly, to his trembling heart.

But he would first make a reconnoissance through the keyhole. He looked, and saw one ruffian stirring the fire under the tar kettle, another displaying a rope, and two others alternately drinking from a bottle. He started back, as the thundering on the panel was repeated, and the same voice roared out, “You kin be takin’ off them clo’es of yourn; the tar is about het!”

“I’ll wait a few minutes longer for Carl!” said Penn to himself, with a long breath.

Unfortunately, Carl was not just now in a situation to render much assistance.

Although he had arrived unseen at the window, he did not retire undiscovered. He had run but a short distance when a gruff voice ordered him to stop. He had a way, however, of misunderstanding English when he chose, and interpreted the command to mean, run faster. Receiving it in that sense, he obeyed. Somebody behind him began to run too. In short, it was a chase; and Carl, glancing backwards, saw long-legged Silas Ropes, one of the ringleaders of the mob, taking appalling strides after him, across the open field.

There were some woods about a quarter of a mile away, and Carl made for them, trusting to their shelter and the shades of night to favor his escape. He was fifteen years old, strong, and an excellent runner. He did not again look behind to see if Silas was gaining on him, but attended strictly to his own business, which was, to get into the thickets as soon as possible. His success seemed almost certain; a few rods more, and the undergrowth would be reached; and he was congratulating himself on having thus led away from the schoolmaster one of his most desperate enemies, when he rushed suddenly almost into the arms of two men, or rather, into a feather-bed, which they were fetching by the corner of the wood lot.

“Ketch that Dutchman!” roared Silas. And they “ketched” him.

“What’s the Dutchman done?” said one of the men, throwing himself lazily on the feather-bed, while his companion held Carl for his pursuer.

“I don’t know,” said Carl, opening his eyes with placid wonder. “I tought he vas vanting to run a race mit me.”

“A race, you fool!” said Silas, seizing and shaking him. “Didn’t you hear me tell ye to stop?”

“Did you say shtop?” asked Carl, with a broad smile. “It ish wery queer! Ven it sounded so much as if you said shtep! so I shtepped just as fast as I could.”

“What was you thar at the winder fur?”

“Vot vinder?” said Carl.

“Of the Academy,” said Silas.

“O! to pe sure! I vas there,” said Carl. “Pecause I left my books in there last week, and I vas going to get ’em. But I saw somebody in the house, and I vas afraid.”

“Wasn’t it the schoolmaster?”

“I shouldn’t be wery much surprised if it vas the schoolmaster,” said Carl, with blooming simplicity.

“You lying rascal! what did you say to him through the winder?”

Carl looked all around with an expression of mild wonder, as if expecting somebody else to answer.

“Why don’t you speak?” And Silas gave his arm a fierce wrench.

“Vat did you say?”

“I said, you lying rascal!

“That is not my name,” said Carl, “and I tought you vas shpeaking to somebody else. I tought you vas conwersing mit this man,” pointing at the fellow on the bed.

“Dan Pepperill!” said Silas, turning angrily on the recumbent figure, “what are you stretching your lazy bones thar fur? We’re waiting fur them feathers, and you’ll git a coat yourself, if you don’t show a little more of the sperrit of a gentleman! You don’t act as if your heart was in this yer act of dooty we’re performin’, any more’n as if you was a northern mudsill yourself!”

“Wal, the truth is,” said Dan Pepperill, reluctantly getting up from the bed, and preparing to shoulder it, “the schoolmaster has allus treated me well, and though I hate his principles,

“You don’t hate his principles, neither! You’re more’n half a abolitionist yourself! And I swear to gosh,” said Silas, “if you don’t do your part now

“I will! I’m a-going to!” said Dan, with something like a groan. “Though, as I said, he has allus used me well

“Shet up!” Silas administered a kick, which Dan adroitly caught in the bed. Mr. Ropes got his foot embarrassed in the feathers, lost his balance, and fell. Dan, either by mistake or design, fell also, tumbling the bed in a smothering mass over the screaming mouth and coarse red nose of the prostrate Silas.

The third man, who was guarding Carl, began to laugh. Carl laughed too, as if it was the greatest joke in the world; to enhance the fun of which, he gave his man a sudden push forwards, tripped him as he went, and so flung him headlong upon the struggling heap. This pleasant feat accomplished, he turned to run; but changed his mind almost instantly; and, instead of plunging into the undergrowth, threw himself upon the accumulating pile.

There he scrambled, and kicked, with his heels in the air, and rolled over the topmost man, who rolled over Mr. Pepperill, who rolled over the feather-bed, which rolled again over Mr. Ropes, in a most lively and edifying manner.

At this interesting juncture Carl’s reason for changing his mind and remaining, became manifest. Two more of the chivalry from the tar kettle came rushing to the spot, and would speedily have seized him had he attempted to get off. So he staid, thinking he might be helping the master in this way as well as any other.

And now the miscellaneous heap of legs and feathers began to resolve itself into its original elements. First Carl was pulled off by one of the new comers; then Dan and the man Carl had sent to comfort him fell to blows, clinched each other, and rolled upon the earth; and lastly, Mr. Silas Ropes arose, choked with passion and feathers, from under the rent and bursting bed. The two squabbling men were also quickly on their feet, Mr. Pepperill proving too much for his antagonist.

“What did you pitch into me fur?” demanded Silas, threatening his friend Dan.

“What did Gad pitch into me fur?” said the irate Dan, shaking his fist at Gad.

“What did you push and jump on to me fur?” said Gad, clutching Carl, who was still laughing.

Thus the wrath of the whole party was turned against the boy.

“Pless me!” said he, staring innocently, “I tought it vas all for shport!”

The furious Mr. Ropes was about to convince him, by some violent act, of his mistake, when cries from the direction of the school-house called his attention.

“See what’s there, boys!” said Silas.

“Durn me,” said Mr. Pepperill, looking across the field as he brushed the feathers from his clothes, “if it ain’t the master himself!”

In fact, Penn had by this time summoned courage to slip back the bolt, throw open the school-house door, and come out.

The gentlemen who were heating the tar and drinking from the bottle were taken by surprise. They had not expected that the fellow would come out at all, but wait to be dragged out. Their natural conclusion was, that he was armed; for he appeared with as calm and determined a front as if he had been perfectly safe from injury himself, while it was in his power to do them some fatal mischief. They could not understand how the mere consciousness of his own uprightness, and a sense of reliance on the arm of eternal justice, could inspire a man with courage to face so many.

“My friends,” said Penn, as they beset him with threats and blasphemy, “I have never injured one of you, and you will not harm me.”

And as if some deity held an invisible shield above him, he passed by; and they, in their astonishment, durst not even lay their hands upon him.

“I’ve hearn tell he was a Quaker, and wouldn’t fight,” muttered one; “but I see a revolver under his coat!”

“Where’s Sile? Where’s Sile Ropes?” cried others, who, though themselves unwilling to assume the responsibility of seizing the young master, would have been glad to see Silas attempt it.

Great was the joy of Carl when he saw Mr. Hapgood walking through the guard of ruffians untouched. But, a moment after, he uttered an involuntary groan of despair. It was Penn’s custom to cross the fields in going from the Academy to the house where he boarded, and his path wound by the edge of the woods, where Silas and his accomplices were at this moment gathering up the spilt feathers.

“All right!” said Mr. Ropes, crouching down in order to remain concealed from Penn’s view. “This is as comf’table a place to do our dooty by him as any to be found. Keep dark, boys, and let him come!”