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.”