‘You know Rollin’s Ancient History, don’t you?’ the young man asked who sat with me at school that first day.
‘Have it at home,’ I answered, ‘It’s in five volumes.’
‘I mean the history of Sol Rollin, the man you are boarding with,’ said he smiling at me and then he told the story of the cookies.
The principal of the Hillsborough Academy was a big, brawny bachelor of Scotch descent, with a stem face and cold, grey, glaring eyes. When he stood towering above us on his platform in the main room of the building where I sat, there was an alertness in his figure, and a look of responsibility in his face, that reminded me of the pictures of Napoleon at Waterloo. He always carried a stout ruler that had blistered a shank of every mischievous boy in school. As he stood by the line, that came marching into prayers every morning he would frequently pull out a boy, administer a loud whack or two, shake him violently and force him into a seat. The day I began my studies at the Academy I saw him put two dents in the wall with the heels of a young man who had failed in his algebra. To a bashful and sensitive youth, just out of a country home, the sight of such violence was appalling. My first talk with him, however, renewed my courage. He had heard I was a good scholar and talked with me in a friendly way about my plans. Both Hope and I were under him in algebra and Latin. I well remember my first error in his class. I had misconstrued a Latin sentence. He looked at me, a smile and a sneer crowding each other for possession of his face. In a loud, jeering tone he cried: ’Mirabile dictu!’
I looked at him in doubt of his meaning.
‘Mirabile dictu!’ he shouted, his tongue trilling the r.
I corrected my error.
‘Perfect!’ he cried again. ‘Puer pulchre! Next!’
He never went further than that with me in the way of correction. My size and my skill as a wrestler, that shortly ensured for me the respect of the boys, helped me to win the esteem of the master. I learned my lessons and kept out of mischief. But others of equal proficiency were not so fortunate. He was apt to be hard on a light man who could be handled without over-exertion.
Uncle Eb came in to see me one day and sat awhile with me in my seat. While he was there the master took a boy by the collar and almost literally wiped the blackboard with him. There was a great clatter of heels for a moment. Uncle Eb went away shortly and was at Sol Rollin’s when I came to dinner.
‘Powerful man ain’t he?’ said Uncle Eb.
‘Rather,’ I said.
‘Turned that boy into a reg’lar horse fiddle,’ he remarked. ’Must ’ave unsot his reason.’
‘Unnecessary!’ I said.
‘Reminded me o’ the time ‘at Tip Taylor got his tooth pulled,’ said he. ’Shook ’im up so ‘at he thought he’d had his neck put out o’ ji’nt.’