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CHAPTER I His Fighting
 OH! Everything was so ! That stupid Tellef Olsen! Always boasting and about his muscle as if he were the only one in the town who had muscle. Well, anyway, he wouldn’t be coming around here any more to about it.  
Johnny Blossom thrust his arm out fiercely and drew it slowly in again with his teeth set and his face getting very red. Ha! That was good muscle there, just what muscle ought to be—rounding up in your arm and as hard as iron to feel of. How tired he had been of the other boys’ bragging about Tellef, too. It seemed as if they never talked of anything else. That was why he had been out of patience yesterday. Well, he had shown them, once for all, who was the strongest.
My, oh, my! How he had pounded Tellef! But he would really like to know whether any one wouldn’t be a little angry if, when he was sitting on a fence not thinking of a thing, some one should come and him in the back with a long stick?
For that was just the way the trouble began. He had been walking on his tallest the whole afternoon—the stilts that were exactly, to the dot, one yard fifteen inches and a half tall—and then had sat himself on the fence along the back . He was facing the yard, with his back toward the alley, and that disgusting Olsen boy came past and gave him a dig in the back with that sharp stick. Just think of it! Wouldn’t anybody say it was ?
Like a flash, John had slid down from the fence and rushed after Tellef; and then came the fight.
Gracious! how that boy had yelled! Well, a good pommeling was just what he deserved. It was rather a pity, though, that there had come a great split in his jacket and that his fishpole had got broken to bits in the fight. Even if it hadn’t ever been a good pole, it was wonderful how much he caught with it. He had to catch fish for his mother every single day. People said that at Tellef’s house they ate fish for breakfast, dinner, and supper, and that they had scarcely anything else to eat. Ugh! That must be ! There was nothing so horrid when one came home from school very hungry, and shouted at the kitchen door “What are we going to have for dinner?” as to have Olea the cook say “Codfish.” And think! That was about all they had to eat down in Tellef’s .
Well, anyway, Tellef had given him an ugly scratch on the cheek. It hurt awfully, for it was a long, deep scratch. Ugh! But the fight had been a great one, and Tellef and everybody knew now who was the strongest, and all that bragging about Tellef’s muscle was done with.
It must be grand to be so strong that one could, well, beat everybody—that is, of course, all the boys,—if one had a mind to do it. Not that he, Johnny Blossom, really wanted to fight everybody; only to have strength enough to do it, if it were necessary. And to be able to hold the heaviest things with your arm stretched out straight!
Every day at home he had a great gymnastic performance, holding a dining-room chair at arm’s length. He could do it splendidly now, so lately he had thought he would practise holding his sisters up that way. If he began with the littlest sister he might by degrees work up to the biggest. Perhaps even so he might not be able to manage Asta—she was so fat. But they were all tiresome. They screamed if he merely touched them. Just think what happened in the dining room only yesterday?
Without meaning the least harm, and as nicely as possible, he had taken Dagny up to see whether he could hold her two minutes with his arm out straight and stiff. And that big child, who was a whole year old, had roared so that they had come rushing in from every corner of the house, even Father, from his midday nap, with hair and angry looks. Oh, dear! It was horrid. That stupid child! People might have understood that he was just trying his strength.
Everything had been disagreeable all the afternoon, until by and by he happened to think of trying to dance a mazurka on his highest stilts. Doing that he had fortunately forgotten his troubles.
Then came Tellef’s hitting him in the back and their fighting, with Tellef, for all his muscle, getting the worst of it. Of course Mrs. Dahl, who had seen them fighting, would come and tell Mother. Awfully pleasant that would be! Oh, well, he didn’t mind.
Johnny Blossom put his hands in his pockets and whistled, “Yes, we love our grand old Norway,” loudly and .
Still, it was horrid that Tellef’s fishpole had got smashed. That was awfully bad luck. And his jacket torn, too. But how could he expect anything else when he was so horrid with his boasting and everything?
“Yes, we love our grand old Norway,” Johnny Blossom whistled again with great .
Perhaps he ought to be looking after his own fishing tackle. Every one was talking about going fishing nowadays and he’d better see whether his tackle was hanging where it should be, on the wall of the wash-house. William Holm had done nothing at school today but brag of that new fishing tackle of his.
Not a sign of Johnny’s was to be seen. Who could have been so mean as to take it away? Of course he had put it in its place. (A great stirring up of things and searching everywhere.) Dear! How people were! Here they had gone and hidden away his fishing rod. Really, wouldn’t any one be angry?
Oh! there it hung by the closet. But what a forlorn, thing! He had not remembered that it was so worn out. Why, it scarcely held together! It was almost a disgrace to have such shabby fishing tackle, especially now when William Holm had that brand-new pole and Philip Krag was going to get one tomorrow. No, this old thing would not do. He needed a new , and that meant that he simply must have some money.
“Yes, we love”—Why, of course! He would go over to Kingthorpe. It was a long time since he had been there, certainly as much as two weeks. What a comfort it was to have such an uncle as Uncle Isaac of Kingthorpe! For one thing, it sometimes happened that he made you a present of a quarter, and a person was so likely to need a quarter—need it badly, dreadfully, as he, Johnny Blossom himself, did today.
Without further delay off he started on the road to Kingthorpe, but his thoughts were still busy.
Uncle Isaac had not given him anything the last time he was there, nor the time before either, so very likely—Pshaw! Even if you got nothing at all from Uncle Isaac, it was always more than pleasant to go to Kingthorpe. He wasn’t going there to beg—far from it; he wasn’t quite so mean as that.
Here his steps lingered a little, but he walked on nevertheless.
Some things about these visits were rather tiresome. Not exactly with Uncle Isaac, though you had to be a bit careful with him, too; but there was that of his, Miss Melling. One was never sure which door she would poke her nose out of and call: “Walk quietly, Johnny. Shut the door softly. Have you wiped your feet , Johnny boy?”
The idea of her calling him Johnny boy! That was perfectly ! What right had she to call him by that name? He had it long ago, and no one used it now except just herself. Here he would be ten years old in a fortnight, no, in twelve days—or, to be exact, twelve days and a half, and so surely he was too old for that baby name.
Perhaps Miss Melling could fly through the air, but he couldn’t; and yet she seemed to think that he could come all the way over here without getting his shoes muddy! He would surely ask her today whether she could fly. She did not look so very light!
All the floors at Kingthorpe were as shining as a mirror. Mother said they were waxed. It was a good thing the floors at home were not waxed, for it would be an awful job to take care of them. When he and Asta played tag around the dining-room table for instance—my, oh my! but there would be a good many scratches on the floor! Queer, that rich people must have every thing so fine! For his part, he thought such was only a bother.
How disgusting about Tellef’s old fishing tackle! And that his jacket should get that great split in it, too! The pity about the jacket was that Tellef hadn’t any other. But all the same, it was mean of Tellef to hit him in the back.
“Yes, we love our grand old Norway!” This time he whistled almost the whole in his loud, whistle; then he took to his heels and was soon at the big gate that led into the Kingthorpe grounds.
It was queer, but the minute you were inside that gate you felt quiet, almost solemn, and like behaving your very best. Everything was orderly and stately and peaceful. The trees were very old and very tall, with wonderfully broad, full crowns. The lawns were very , with not a single on the grass anywhere, and the paths were always smooth, as if freshly raked.
Every one said that Uncle Isaac was awfully rich. Well, then, why did he look so sad and why was he always thinking and thinking so hard? What in the world could he be puzzling about when he was so rich? Why, he had everything, even to a saddle horse and a pleasure yacht; and the horse was a thoroughbred, according to Carlstrom the coachman.
It was different with Father. When he looked troubled, Mother said he was worried about money matters, and that we had to be very careful with our money. Pshaw! Why must some people be so careful about money, and some ride on fine saddle horses, and some have nothing but fish to eat, morning, noon, and night?
If he only hadn’t smashed Tellef’s fishing rod yesterday!
“Yes, we love our grand old Norway!” Suddenly he stopped short. Think of his whistling in Kingthorpe Park! It was to be hoped that no one had heard. Of course you should be nice and quiet here. It was to be hoped, too, that that ill-tempered watchdog would not come along. Not that Johnny Blossom was afraid of him. Far from it! But that dog was so cross, you couldn’t like him.
Johnny stood still, unconsciously kicking a big hole in the path as he . Perhaps it would be just as well to go straight back home again without seeing Uncle Isaac; but no—he really needed a quarter terribly today; and on he ran through the grounds and burst in at the big entrance door of Kingthorpe.
The front hall was very grand. It was two stories high and the floor was of black and white marble. Here you need not be so careful about footmarks as on the other floors, which were all highly polished.
Pshaw! There stood Miss Melling, Uncle Isaac’s housekeeper. “Why! Is it you, John? Is there anything particular wanted?”
There! Any one could see by that how horrid she was—asking if he wanted anything in particular!
“Oh, I just came to see Uncle Isaac, it is so long since I was here.”
“Long? It seems to me you were here only last week.”
“No, I wasn’t.”
“Well, I don’t know whether your uncle is well enough to see you today. I will find out.”
How tiresome Miss Melling was! Well, if she offered him cookies and jelly today, as she sometimes did, she would find out that he wouldn’t take anything from her. Never in the world.
Here she was again.
“Yes, you may go in; but you must wipe your feet well and shut the door softly and not stay so long as to tire him.”
Wouldn’t any one suppose that Uncle Isaac was her uncle and not his, Johnny Blossom’s, the way she behaved?
Johnny Blossom, cap in hand, tiptoed with unusual care over the highly polished floor. First a gentle knock on Uncle’s door, then a louder one.
“Come right in, my boy.”
Johnny Blossom bowed low as he entered.
Gray-haired, delicate, with sorrowful eyes and long, white hands, Uncle Isaac sat in his big, carved, oaken chair.
“Good day, John! Now this is very kind of you to come to me, away out here.”
“Yes. I thought it was an awfully long time since you had seen me.”
“True, so it is. I suppose you are very busy nowadays?”
“Awfully busy. Tonight we are going out fishing.”
“I meant particularly at school.”
“Oh! Of course I go to school.”
“You are a good scholar?”
“Oh, well, I am not the worst. I’m not one of the best either, but I’m not the worst, really.”
“But you should be among the best, Johnny Blossom.”
There was a short silence.
“It is awfully hard to be among the best, Uncle Isaac,” with an apologetic smile.
“Not if a person is , John.”
Johnny Blossom suddenly found something the matter with his . His face was very red when he straightened up again, saying, “How provoking are!”
“How are your sisters?”
“Oh, very well.”
“My god-daughter, Dagny—she is getting big now?”
“My, oh, my! She is so heavy! You would hardly believe how heavy she is; but I almost know that I could lift her and hold her at arm’s length with my arm out like this, perfectly straight!”
“My dear John! You do not try lifting the child at arm’s length, as you say?”
“Yes, I tried once. I could do it well enough, too; but you should just see how cross that child is. She roars at nothing.”
“But there might be a bad accident if you dropped her.”
Johnny smiled condescendingly. “You don’t know how strong I am, Uncle Isaac. Look at my muscle here.”
Quick as a flash, Johnny’s jacket was off and he was displaying his little shirt sleeve. “Look here! Look! Isn’t that good muscle?”
Suddenly he glanced around the room. “Isn’t there something here I can lift?”
“My dear Johnny! No, no!”
“Yes, that fire-screen will be just the thing.”
“No, no, thank you, John. I am willing to believe that you are very strong.”
“There! This lamp will do.”
A little firm brown hand had already seized upon the big lamp.
Uncle Isaac roused up. “No, no, my boy! Let go the lamp! Let go instantly!”
“Well, if you don’t want me to show you. But really, if my little finger were only big enough, I could lift the lamp just with that.”
Johnny shook the brown little finger almost in Uncle Isaac’s face.
“Why, what have you done to your face, John? You have a big scratch there.”
“Oh, that? Well, that’s—that’s nothing.”
“But how did you get it?”
“Why—it—it came so.”
“Came so? What do you mean?”
“Oh, we were fighting.”
“Why were you fighting?”
“It was just that stupid Tellef Olsen. He so much about being the strongest of all the boys”—
“And then?”
“The whole school said he was the strongest, and that was disgusting, for it wasn’t true. I’m a great deal stronger than Tellef. I am really awfully strong, I am.”
“And so you fought?”
“Yes. I was up on the fence yesterday, and Tellef Olsen went past in the alley and hit me in the back with a long switch”—
“And then?”
“Why, yes. Then we fought each other, you know.”
A silence followed this remark. Since Uncle Isaac said nothing, Johnny continued:
“I beat, too! My, what a thrashing I gave him! Now they’ll know I am the strongest. I’d rather be strong than anything else.”
Again it was very still.
“You say that, do you, John? You think that to be strong is the greatest thing? Possibly it was, in past ages; but in the future, the man with the most love in his heart, the best man, will be the greatest. Remember that, little John Blossom.”
The boy looked at his uncle in . The man with the most love in his heart the best man? He the greatest of all?
“Yes,” continued Uncle Isaac. “He who heals instead of wounds, he who does good and helps the , he is the greatest, John Blossom.”
Heals and not wounds; does good; helps the needy. Johnny sat staring at his Uncle Isaac. Deep within his heart there lay a weight, a sadness. It was the thought of Tellef Olsen’s fishing rod that he had broken to smithereens—Tellef’s, who had to go fishing every day or his mother and the children would have nothing to eat; and of the jacket all split, too,—the only one Tellef had.
Uncle Isaac was gazing far away, up toward the sky. “That is being great; the greatest any one in the world can be.”
All at once it had become very impressive in there with Uncle Isaac, who seemed to have forgotten him and continued gazing up into the sky. Johnny Blossom turned and fidgeted in his seat. “I’ve got to go,” he said suddenly.
“Well, well. Wait a minute.” Uncle Isaac took out his pocket-book and gave John two bright half-dollars. “There is always something you would like to buy for yourself, little John, so take this; but don’t fight any more, and remember what it is that makes a man great.”
“Thank you, Uncle Isaac. Good-by.” With this Johnny Blossom bowed and vanished.
Out in the front hall stood Miss Melling, holding in her hand a plate on which was a big piece of cake with thick frosting on it.
“Johnny boy, see here! Here is something for you.”
He had bitten into the cake before he remembered that he never in the world was going to take any more goodies from Miss Melling. “Thank you.” He bowed low, with his mouth full of cake. “Thank you.” Of course he couldn’t possibly say that he wouldn’t have the cake when she put it right under his nose that way. He had thought of her asking him to go into her room to be treated to cookies and jelly. That was what he had meant he would not do.
Soon he was in the grounds again, but he did not hurry, nor did he give one thought to the cross mastiff. Every now and then he opened his hand to look at the two silver pieces. To think that he really had two half-dollars! He could get himself extra good fishing tackle for that much money—far better than William Holm’s even. Yes, as Uncle Isaac had said, there was always something you wanted to buy for yourself. What was that other thing Uncle Isaac had said? The man with the most love in his heart was the greatest? He who was kind was greater than he who was strong?
How hard he had hit Tellef in the face! How the blood had out from his nose! It was too bad. Tellef had not been out to play last night or today either. How that jacket of his looked, torn that way! Really, it was a perfect shame.
Again and again Johnny Blossom opened his hand and looked at the silver pieces. Suddenly, speaking aloud in his determination, he said: “I am going to give these to Tellef. It was an awful shame for me to fight him like that, even if he did hit me in the back.”
Johnny dashed off at a run. What if they hadn’t had even fish to eat at Tellef’s house today on account of the broken pole?
The road was very steep and he almost slid down, landing right near the shanty where Tellef lived. Oh, dear! What was to be done next? It would be very embarrassing to say to Tellef that he felt ashamed of himself. How could he do it?
Aha! there was Christina, Tellef’s little sister.
“Here, Christina. Will you give these to Tellef?”
Johnny Blossom handed her the two half-dollars, speaking fast and feeling in a great hurry to get away. Christina looked at him in .
“What for?” she asked.
“Oh, because I fought him; because his fishpole got smashed.”
He was off, leaping up the steep road. Christina looked at the money and then at the disappearing boy and said, “How queer he was!”
For several days Johnny Blossom avoided meeting Tellef, but he saw that Tellef had bought a handsome strong fishing rod, and that he had had fish to take home every single day.
“That’s fine new tackle you have,” said William Holm to Tellef one afternoon.
“Yes.” Tellef cast a smiling glance at Johnny Blossom.
With that it was as if the old score between them was wiped out once for all. That same afternoon they went fishing together and talked much about the new fishing rod’s wonderful powers; but not a word did Johnny Blossom say as to why he had given the money to Tellef, nor did Tellef ever mention it. And there was no more talk between them as to who was the stronger.

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