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HOME > Inspiring Novel > A Son of Courage > CHAPTER XVIII THE METTLE OF THE BREED
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 Immediately thirty boys and girls leaped to their feet and windows went up with a bang.  
"I think," Mr. Johnson's voice was heard above the din, "it would be a good plan to start a fire in that big stove. This place is positively vault like with dampness."
A number of the boys ran out to gather kindling and wood and soon a fire was crackling in the stove.
"Pupils will now take their seats," commanded the teacher, tinkling the bell on his desk. There was a hurried scramble as each boy and girl found his and her place.
"We will now have—" resumed the teacher, then paused to glare angrily at the stove. From every crack in its rusty sides was pouring forth a whitish-yellow smoke that gripped the throat and smelled like a breath from the very pit of darkness. Mr. Johnston attempted to proceed and failed dismally. He was choking, as was every boy and girl in the room.
It was Billy Wilson who acted promptly. Running to the stove he opened the door and lifted out the blazing wood and, at the risk of scorching himself badly, ran with it from the room.
It was nearly half an hour before Mr. Johnston summoned the boys and girls from the open windows to their seats. The room still smelled strongly of sulphur, but one might still breathe and live.
In the interval of waiting for the air to clear the new teacher's face had turned a ghastly white. His black eyes blazed; his thin lips were drawn back from his strong, irregular teeth. Gazing upon him, the boys and girls quaked in apprehension. Their fears were well founded. Never before in all his long career in administering knowledge to grubby and inferior minds had Mr. G. G. Johnston been subject to such deadly insult as had been offered him here. It was fully a minute before he could command his voice sufficiently to speak and when he did the words trickled through his stiff lips thinly.
"Boys and girls," he said at length, "one or more of you have been guilty of the most unpardonable misdemeanor that has ever come under my observation as a teacher. I realize that the dirty trick has been deliberately planned, the motive being perhaps to test me. You may believe me when I inform you that the one who placed that sulphur in the stove will have plenty of reason to regret having done it. I intend to flog him—or her—until he—or she—cannot stand. I shall now ask the one who is guilty of the offense to stand up."
Nobody stood. Anson was on the point of jumping to his feet and telling who had brought the sulphur into the room but, on second thought, sat still. The teacher had asked who had put it in the stove. Certainly it had not been Fatty Watland, because he had gone on an errand for the teacher long before the fire was started.
Mr. Johnston smiled darkly and nodded. "As I thought. The one who did it is too much of a coward to confess it," he grated, his voice shaking. "Well, there remains but one thing to do. If the guilty party is to be punished, I must punish you one and all."
There was the sound of the quick intaking of breath, and an audible long-drawn "Oh!" from the girls.
"I must punish each and every one of you," Mr. Johnston reiterated, picking up the pointer. "I shall begin on the boy who is smiling so defiantly in the back seat, if he will be good enough to step up here."
"I guess that's me," said Billy, jumping to his feet and starting for the platform.
"That's a nice smile you wear," said Mr. Johnston scathingly as he gazed down at Billy, his bony fingers caressing the long, supple pointer.
"Glad you like it," said Billy.
"Eh? What's that?" Mr. Johnston fairly recoiled in surprise and indignation at the affront to his dignity. "Silence! boys and girls," he shouted, as a titter ran through the schoolroom.
"Now young man," he said grimly, grasping one of Billy's hands and pulling it forward and out, "I'm going to drive that happy smile from your face."
"You're a'goin' to find that some job," said Billy quietly.
"Well, we'll see, young Mr. Impudence." The long pointer rose and fell. Billy caught the stroke full on his palm. His face whitened with pain, but the smile did not leave his lips.
"Your other hand," commanded Mr. Johnston.
He bent forward to grasp the hand which Billy raised slowly, thereby dodging a stone ink-bottle hurled by Maurice Keeler. At it was the bottle struck the blackboard and broke, deluging the teacher's face with a sable spray.
Billy turned quickly. "No more of that," he said. "This is my funeral—and the teacher's. Everybody else keep out of it."
He squared his shoulders and held out his hand. The pointer came down with all the strength that the man dared put behind it. Johnston peered closely into the boy's face. It was white and quivering but it still wore a smile.
"Take your seat," commanded the teacher. "Next boy forward!" One by one the boys walked up to receive their punishment. All took it bravely.
When, at last, the boys had all been attended to, Mr. Johnston paused for rest. "I shall now begin on the girls," he said, "but before administering punishment I am going to give the guilty boy, or girl, one more chance to confess. Will the one who put the sulphur in the stove stand up?"
As before, nobody moved.
Mr. Johnston smiled. "Very well. The girl with the handkerchief to her eyes, the one dressed in white and blue, five seats down, will come forward for punishment."
Billy felt his blood run cold. He could not believe his ears. The girl dressed in white and blue! Why, that was she—his angel—his light—his everything. And she was crying now. She was standing up, moving forward.
Like a flash Billy was on his feet. "Stop!" he cried, his voice ringing out like a challenge. "You don't whip her if I know it."
For the second time that morning Mr. Johnston received a violent shock to his dignity. Such rank insubordination he had never experienced before. The black eyes turned on Billy fairly darting sparks. "Take your seat, you impudent boy!" he thundered, "I see I have been too lenient with you. When I am through with the girls I shall flog you until you cry for mercy, and with you the boy who threw that bottle."
Billy was running up the aisle.
"Please sir, don't whip her," he said, p............
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