During the last year Belton had dug a large hole running from the floor of the wood-shed to a point under the platform of the school room. The dirt from this underground channel he cast into a deep old unused well, not far distant. Once under the platform, he kept on digging, making the hole larger by far. Numerous rocks abounded in the neighborhood, and these he used to wall up his underground room, so that it would hold water. Just in the middle of the school-room platform he cut, from beneath, a square hole, taking in the spot where the teacher invariably stood when addressing the school. He cut the boards until they lacked but a very little, indeed, of being cut through. All looked well above, but a baby would not be safe standing thereon. Belton contrived a kind of prop with a weight attached. This prop would serve to keep the cut section from breaking through. The attached weight was at rest in a hole left in the wall of the cavity near its top. If you dislocated the weight, the momentum that it would gather in the fall would pull down the prop to which it was attached.
Finally, Belton fastened a strong rope to the weight, and ran the rope under the schoolhouse floor until it was immediately beneath his seat. With an auger he made a hole in the floor and brought the end through. He managed to keep this bit of rope concealed, while at the same time he had perfect command of his trap door.
For two or three nights previous to commencement day Belton had worked until nearly morning filling this cistern with water. Now when through delivering his oration, he had returned to his seat to await the proper moment for the payment of his teacher. The judges were out debating the question as to who had won. They seemed to be unable to decide who was victorious and beckoned for the teacher to step outside.
They said: “That black nigger has beat the yellow one all to pieces this time, but we don’t like to see nigger blood triumph over any Anglo-Saxon blood. Ain’t there any loop-hole where we can give it to Bernard, anyhow?”
“Well, yes,” said the teacher eagerly, “on the ground of good behavior.”
“There you hit it,” said the Mayor. “So we all decide.”
The judges filed in, and the Mayor arose to announce their decision. “We award,” said he to the breathless audience, “the prize to Bernard Belgrave.”
“No! no! no!” burst forth from persons all over the house. The congressman arose and went up to Belton and congratulated him upon his triumph over oratory, and lamented his defeat by prejudice. This action caused a perceptible stir in the entire audience.
The teacher went to his desk and produced a large gold medal. He took his accustomed place on the platform and began thus:
“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the proudest moment of my life.” He got no further. Belton had pulled the rope, the rope had caused the weight to fall, and the weight had pulled the prop and down had gone the teacher into a well of water.