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"Back to Putnam Hall at last!"
"Yes, boys, back at last! Hurrah for the dear old school, and all the boys in it!"
Peleg Snuggers, the general utility man of the Hall, had just brought the boys up from Cedarville, to which place they had journeyed from Ithaca on the regular afternoon boat running up Cayuga Lake. With the Rovers had come Fred Garrison, Larry Colby, and several others of their old school chums.
(For the doings of the Putnam Hall students previous to the arrival at that institution of the Rover boys, see The Putnam Hall Series, the first volume of which is entitled, "The Putnam Hall Cadets." -- PUBLISHERS)
"Glad to welcome you back, boys!" exclaimed Captain Victor Putnam, a pleasant smile on his face. He shook hands all around. "Did you have a nice trip?"
"Splendid, sir," said Tom. "Oh, how do you do, Mr. Strong?" and he ran to meet the head teacher. He could not help but think of how different things were now to when he had first arrived at Putnam Hall the year previous, and Josiah Crabtree had locked him up in the guardroom for exploding a big firecracker in honor of the occasion.
"Well, Thomas, I hope you have left all your pranks behind," observed George Strong. "How about it?" And his eyes twinkled.
"Oh, I'm going in for study this session," answered Tom demurely. And then he winked at Larry on the sly. But his words did not deceive George Strong, who understood only too well Tom's propensity for mischief.
It was the first day of the term, but as the cadets kept on arriving with every train and boat, no lessons were given out, and the boys were allowed to do pretty much as they pleased. They visited every nook and corner, including the classrooms, the dormitories, the stables, and the gymnasium and boathouse, and nearly bothered the life out of Peleg Snuggers, Mrs. Green, the housekeeper, and Alexander Pop, the colored waiter of the mess hall.
"Hullo, Aleck!" cried Tom rushing up and grabbing the colored man by the hand. "How are you -- pretty well? I'm first-rate, never was better in my life!" And he gave the hand a hard squeeze.
"Stop, wot yo' up to, Massah Rober!" roared the waiter, leaping off his feet. "Wot yo' got in yo' hand?"
"Why, nothing, Aleck, my boy. Yes, I'm feeling fine. I've gained fifteen pounds, and -"
"Yo' lemme go, sah-yo' is stickin' pins in my hand!" howled Pop. "Oh, deah, now de term's dun begun we'll all be dead wid dat boy's tricks!" he moaned, as Tom ran off, throwing away several tiny tacks as he did so.
"So you've come back, have you?" observed Mrs. Green, as Tom stopped at the kitchen door. "Well, just you mind your P's and Q's, or there will be trouble, I can tell you that, Tom Rover."
"Why, we never had any trouble, Mrs. Green," he said soberly. "Did we?"
"Oh, of course not! But who stole that can of peaches right after the Christmas holidays, and who locked one of the cows in the back hall and nearly scared the washwoman to death? Oh, dear, you never did anything, never!" And Mrs. Green shook her head warningly.
"Do you mean to say I would take a can of peaches, Mrs. Green?" asked Tom, and then his face fell. "Oh, dear, you always did put me down as the worst boy in the school, when I do my very best," and, almost sobbing, Torn put his face up against his coat sleeve. Mrs. Green was very tender-hearted in, spite of her somewhat free tongue, and she was all sympathy immediately.
"There, there, Tom, I didn't mean to hurt your feelings," she said soothingly. "I -- I was only fooling. Will you have a piece of hot mince pie? It's just out of the oven."
"I - I don't know!" sobbed Tom. "You treat me so awful meanly!"
"I didn't mean it -- really I didn't. Come, sit down and have the pie, that'sa good boy. I'm glad you are back, and you are better than lots of the other cadets, so there!" And Tom slid into a seat and devoured the generous slice of pie dealt out to him with keen relish.
"It's really like home," he murmured presently.
'Mrs. Green, when you die, they ought to erect an awfully big monument over your grave."
"But I'm not dying just yet, Tom -- pray don't speak of it."
"By the way, my aunt was dyeing when I left home," went on the boy, as he moved toward the door.
"Indeed. Didn't you hate to leave her?"
"Not at all. She didn't seem to mind it."
"What was her trouble, Tom -- consumption?"
"No, she had an old brown dress that had faded out green and she was dyeing it black," was the soft answer, and then Tom ran for his life. Mrs. Green did not speak to him for almost a week after that. And yet with it all she couldn't help but like the boy.
Of course Peleg Snuggers came in for his full share of attention, and the utility man had all sorts of jokes played on him until he was almost in despair.
"Don't, young gents, don't!" he would plead. "Oh, my! An' to think the term's just begun!" And he mopped his brow with his red bandanna handkerchief.
"Peleg, you are getting handsomer every day," remarked Sam. "It's a wonder you don't go into the beauty show in New York."
"Wot kind of a joke is that, Master Rover?"
"Oh, it's no joke. You are handsome. Won't you let me take your photograph?"
"Have you got a camera?"
"To be sure. Here it is." Sam drew a tiny box from his pocket.
"Now stand still and I'll take a snap shot."
Snuggers had wanted to have his picture taken for some time, to send to a certain girl in Cedarville in whom he was much interested. To have a photograph taken for nothing tickled him greatly.
"Wait till I brush up a bit," he said, and got out a pocket comb, with which he adjusted his hair and his stubby mustache.
"Now stand straight and look happy!" cried Sam as a crowd collected around. "Raise you right hand to your breast, just as all statesmen do. Up with your chin -- don't drop your left eye -- close your mouth. Now then, don't budge on your life!"
Peleg Snuggers stood like a statue, his chin well up in the air and his eyes set into a steady stare. Sam elevated the tiny box and kept the man standing for fully half a minute, while the boys behind Snuggers could scarcely keep from roaring.
"There you are," said Sam at last. "Now wait a minute and the picture will be finished."
"Don't you have to print 'em in the sun?" asked Snuggers.
"No, this is a new patented process." Sam drew a square of tin from the box. "There you are, Peleg, and all for nothing."
"I don't see any picture," growled Snuggers, looking at the square blankly.
"You must breathe on it, Peleg; then the picture will come out beautifully. It's a little fresh yet."
Peleg Snuggers breathed on the square of tin as directed, and then there slowly came to view the picture of a donkey's head! The boys gathered around set up a shout.
"Hurrah, Peleg, what a fine picture!"
"You've changed a little in your looks, Peleg, since you had the last taken, eh?"
"Your girl will fall in love with that picture, Peleg, I'm certain of it."
"Sam Rover, I'll git square, see if I don't!" roared the utility man, as he dashed the square of tin to the ground. "I knowed you was goin' to play a joke on me." And he started to walk off.
"Why, what's the matter?" demanded Sam innocently. "Isn't it a good picture?'
"I'll picture you!"
"I thought I was doing my best."
"Show me off for a donkey! If it wasn't against the rules I'd -- I'd wollop you!"
"A donkey! Oh, Peleg, I did nothing of the kind! Here is your picture, on my word of honor."
"It's a donkey's head, I say."
"And I say it's your picture. I'll leave it to anybody in the crowd."
"I guess I know a donkey's head when I see it, Master Rover. I didn't expect no such joke from you, though your brother Tom might have played it."
"Boys, isn't this a good picture?" demanded Sam, showing up the other side of the tin square.
"Why, splendid!" came from the crowd.
"Peleg, there is some mistake here."
"Oh, you can't joke me no more!" returned the utility man.
"But just look!" pleaded Sam. "Isn't that a good picture of you? If you don't say so yourself I'll give you five dollars."
He handed the tin over again, this time with the opposite side toward Snuggers. He had just breathed on it heavily.
"Now blow on it," he continued, and Snuggers did as directed. The moisture cleared away, revealing the face of the utility man in a bit of looking-glass!
"Oh, you're tremendously smart, you are!" muttered Snuggers, and walked off. But he was not half as angry as he had been a few minutes before.
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