“See that flock of sheep,” said the Professor to ’Zekiel, with a strong touch of sarcasm in his tone. “That’s what makes me so cussed mad. Brains and glorious achievement count for nothin’ in this community. If a city swell comes along with a pocketful of money and just cries, ‘Baa,’ over the fence they all go after him.”
“Hasn’t it always been so?” asked ’Zekiel.
“Not a bit of it,” said Strout. “In the old days, kings and queens and princes used to search for modest merit, and when found they rewarded it. Nowadays modest merit has to holler and yell and screech to make folks look at it.”
Hiram again appeared in the room, beckoning to the two occupants.
“Say, ain’t you two comin’ along?” he cried. “We’ve saved good places for yer.”
“Where’s Mr. Sawyer?” asked ’Zekiel.
“Oh, he’s goin’ along with the crowd,” said Hiram; “he’s got a seat in between Miss Putnam and Miss Mason, and looks as snug as a bug in a rug. There’s a place for you, Mr. Pettengill, between Miss Mason and Mandy, and I comes in between Mandy and Mrs. Hawkins. Mandy wanted her mother to go cuz she works so confounded hard and gits out of doors so seldom, and there’s a seat ’tween Mrs. Hawkins and Tilly James for the Professor, and Sam Hill’s t’other side of Tilly and nex’ to S’frina Cotton.”
“I guess I can’t go,” said ’Zekiel. “The house is all alone, and I’m kind of ’fraid thet thet last hoss I bought may get into trouble again as he did last night. So I guess I’d better go home and look arter things.” Leaning over he whispered in Hiram’s ear, “I reckon you’d better take the seat between Huldy and Mandy, you don’t want ter separate a mother from her daughter, you know.”
“All right,” said Hiram, with a knowing wink, “I’m satisfied to obleege.”
Hiram then turned to the Professor: “Ain’t yer goin’, Mr. Strout?”
“When this sleigh ride was projected,” said the Professor with dignity, “I s’posed it was to be for the members of the singin’ class and not for boardin’ mistresses and city loafers.”
“I guess it don’t make much difference who goes,” replied Hiram, “as long as we git a free ride and a free supper for nothing.”
“Present my compliments to Mr. Sawyer,” said the Professor, “and tell him I’ve had my supper, and as I don’t belong to a fire company, I don’t care for crackers and cheese and coffee so late in the evenin’.”
“Oh, bosh!” cried Hiram, “it’s goin’ to be a turkey supper, with fried chicken and salery and cranberry juice, and each feller’s to have a bottle of cider and each girl a bottle of ginger ale.”
A horn was heard outside, it being the signal for the starting of the barge. Without stopping to say good-by, Hiram rushed out of the room, secured his seat in the barge, and with loud cheers the merry party started off on their journey.
The Professor extinguished the lights and accompanied by ’Zekiel left the building. He locked the door and hung the key in its accustomed place, for no one at Mason’s Corner ever imagined that a thief could be so bad as to steal anything from a schoolhouse. And it was once argued in town meeting that if a tramp got into it and thus escaped freezing, that was better than to have the town pay for burying him.