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   Chapter 7 THE WORD-BATTLE AT COBBLEVILLE.

Winter Fun By William Osborn Stoddard Characters: 17341

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Penelope was in bed and asleep when Susie returned from the donation. So long a road home as Vosh Stebbins had selected, had required time to travel over it; and Mrs. Farnham had vetoed Pen's proposal to sit up. When they all reached the breakfast-table in the morning, there was a great deal to talk about, but it was not long before the spelling-match came up.

"Oh, yes! Susie," said Pen, "I was going to tell you all about it. You know how to spell."

"They say we can be counted in among the Benton spellers," began Port; but there was a very serious look on Susie's face as she said to him,-

"I promised to go; but then, to think of being spelled down!"

"Why, Susie!" exclaimed Pen, "where did you hear of it?"

"Wasn't she at the donation?" asked Corry. "Didn't she ride home with Vosh Stebbins? Guess she's heard as much as anybody."

That was not a bad guess; but it soon appeared that Susie was as much in earnest over the results of the match as if she were a regular Benton-valley settler, instead of a mere visitor.

There was plenty of enthusiasm warming up, but Deacon Farnham seemed inclined to throw cold water on their hope of victory. He reminded them of the disastrous manner in which their district champions had already been defeated twice in succession.

"They've had a pretty good teacher, too, all winter," he said.

"So've we," said Corry; "and some of us have been putting in on our spelling more'n any thing else."

"That's good. Maybe they have too. I shouldn't wonder if Vosh was the best man you've got."

"Perhaps he is, and perhaps he isn't. Anyhow, we're going to have fair play this time. Their teacher isn't going to put out the words. There'll be a committee."

"That's better; but I'm afraid there won't be any prize brought back to this valley."

"It's a splendid prize!" exclaimed Pen,-"a great big dixinary."

"A dictionary, eh?"

"Yes," said Port; "and all the words spelled are to be given out from it."

"Any kind of words?"

"Not exactly. They must be just such words as people use, but they can be as long as they can find in the book."

"That won't hurt one side more'n it will the other," said Mrs. Farnham.

"Besides," said Pen, "more of us had to sit down on short words than long ones last year."

"Sit down?" asked Port.

"When they missed. You'll see when you get there," replied Corry. "It's awful to sit down on a mistake, with a whole meeting-house full of people looking at you and laughing."

"I should say it was."

There were four pairs of eyes in that one house, right away after breakfast, busy over the long rows of words in some spelling-books, and wondering if there were any there they had forgotten.

"I knew 'em all once," said Pen; "but they always look different when you're told 'em from the pulpit."

Over at the Stebbins homestead it was very much the same.

"Vosh," said his mother, "you was a dreadful long time at the barn."

"Well, mother, I staid till I'd spelled over every thing I could see. There's a good many names to things around a stable, and I spelled every one of 'em."

"Did you git 'em right, Vosh?"

"Guess I did."

"Would it do ye any good to have some other kind of spellin'-book, so you'd know more words?"

"That isn't the trouble, mother. It kind o' seems to me I know so many now, I can't remember half of 'em."

"Don't you git spelled down, now, Vosh. You won't, will ye, not with Susie Hudson and her brother a-lookin' on?"

Vosh's face put on a pretty sober expression as he muttered,-

"Guess I wouldn't like that."

The quiet winter days went by rapidly, and nothing came in them to interrupt in any way the steadily growing excitement over the great spelling-match.

All the arrangements for it were discussed over and over, until at last there was nothing more to be settled, and the set day came.

"Corry," said Port, when the sleigh drove to the door after supper, and they were hurrying on their overcoats, "seems to me I couldn't spell the shortest word I ever heard."

"If you get scared, you'll miss, sure's you live. Now, Port, we've just got to beat 'em."

Vosh and his cutter came up at that moment, and Mrs. Stebbins stepped out with the remark,-

"Deacon, you must make room for me. I'll swop with Susie. I want a talk with Judith and Sarah."

"Come, Susie," said Vosh. "I've been teaching my colt to spell."

There was no spare room in the big sleigh, for the farmhouse was left in charge of Ponto and the hired man.

Mrs. Farnham and aunt Judith would not for any thing have missed hearing for themselves how Penelope and Coriolanus, and Susie and Porter, managed their long words at Cobbleville.

The red cutter was jingling away down the road before the black span was in motion, but somehow the two sets of passengers reached Cobbleville at about the same time. Eight miles of excellent sleighing does not last long before fast horses, and there was to be no such thing as being late.

"This is Cobbleville, Susie."

"It's not so much bigger than Benton. I don't believe we shall be beaten."

Something like that same suggestion cheered up Porter Hudson a little, as the deacon drove into the village; but the faces of Pen and Corry were very serious. There was a great trial before them, and they knew it,-a very great trial; for the tall-steepled, white-painted meeting-house in the middle of the village-green was hardly large enough to hold the crowd which was now pouring into it. The people had come from miles and miles all over the country; and those of the Cobbleville district were not only the more numerous, but seemed to be in a sort of exultation over a victory they were sure to win.

Deacon Farnham and his party managed to secure seats, and then they could look around them. Up on the platform, behind the pulpit-desk, were several very dignified gentlemen; and it did the Benton people good to see Elder Evans among them.

"He's come to see fair play," whispered Corry. "He won't let 'em put out any words they ought not to. Our chance is good."

That was encouraging; and at that very moment Elder Evans arose, and came forward to say to his own parishioners,-

"Some of our friends of the Cobbleville district have visitors among their young people, and the committee have consented to their taking part in the exercises."

"That fixes you and Susie all right," said Corry. "They can't object to you now."

Of course not; and the other final arrangements were speedily completed.

It was simple enough, or would have been if there had not been so many boys and girls who had not learned to stand still. The pews and the galleries, all but a few of the very forward pews, were given up to the general public.

The young folk from the Benton district were made to stand in the right-hand aisle, in a line that reached from the platform to the door. The other aisle belonged to Cobbleville, and its line of spellers came near being a double one.

"Two to our one, Port," said Corry; "but they'll thin out fast enough after we begin to spell."

There was no such thing as selecting places at first. The spelling began at the head of each line, alternating from one to the other. If the speller missed, he or she sat down wherever a seat could be found; but, as fast as words were spelled rightly, their happy victors were entitled to march to the heads of their lines, and so these were kept continually in motion. It was a proud thing to walk up the whole length of that meeting-house again and again, but it was not so proud to walk down the aisle hunting for a seat.

"I see how it is," said Port.

"Yes, it's great fun; and the last one up gets the dictionary."

It had been agreed that neither of the school-teachers should give out the words, and Elder Evans had modestly insisted that the pastor of the Cobbleville church should perform that duty.

"Won't he kill 'em off, though!" exclaimed Corry dolefully.

"Won't he play fair?"

"Why, yes, he'll be honest enough, I s'pose. But then he pronounces so! Wait till you hear him."

It was about time to begin, and the two boys and Pen found themselves quite a little distance down the line below Vosh and Susie.

"That's Elder Keyser. Oh, but isn't that a big dictionary! Hush! he's giving out a word."

Nobody needed to be told that, for it was given in a deep, very heavy voice, that was heard all over the house; but Port at once understood all about Elder Keyser's pronunciation.

The poor word was in a manner tumbled neck and heels out of the good man's mouth, with a sort of vocal kick to hurry it; and there were chances of serious in

jury to any syllable that should happen to stumble.

"Hypocrite!" shouted the elder to the curly-headed youngster at the head of the Cobbleville line.

"H-i-p"-

"That'll do. Give an example, and take your seat."

"Example," piped the boy, "puttin' a bad cent in the contribution-box."

"Next. Hypocrite."

The bright little girl at the head of the Benton aisle spelled it correctly, and Elder Evans raised his head high to smile on her.

The words were now given out with something like rapidity; and there was a constant stream of boys and girls walking up the aisles, and of others coming in the opposite directions. Every one of the latter seemed to be muttering,-

"I knew that word just as well!"

It was well that the front pews had been kept for unlucky spellers; but a seat in one of them was hardly looked upon as a prize.

"Port," said Corry gleefully, "they're thinning out fast. Think of a girl and two boys going down on such a word as 'rotation'!"

"Was that it? I thought he said 'rundition;' and I'd never seen it anywhere. He'll stumble me, sure's you live."

It was nearly their turn; and they one after the other felt a ton or so lighter when they were able to march to the front, instead of going to find seats.

Before that, however, Elder Keyser had thrown as hard a word as he could find at the head of Vosh Stebbins.

"Glad he had to say it slow," thought Vosh. "Guess he never tried it before. I can do it."

He was safe for the time, and the next Cobbleville boy went down on an easy word that then came across to Susie. She was conscious of a great deal of red in her face; but she spelled it clearly and correctly, and that sent her to the head, and next to Vosh again.

Twice more around, and the lines of young people in the aisles were not nearly so long as at first.

There had been, moreover, an almost continual roar of laughter over the examples of use given by the unfortunates.

Hardly were Port and Corry safe on the second round, before Elder Keyser blurted out to the next boy a word that sounded like-

"Ber'l."

"Bar'l, b-a-r-r"-

"That'll do. Example?"

"A bar'l of flour."

"Next. Ber'l."

"Ber'l, b-e-r-y-l."

"Down. Wrong. Example?"

"Beryl, a precious stone;" and the blushing damsel sorrowfully slipped aside into one of the front pews.

"Next. Ber'l."

"Berril, b-u-r-r-i-a-l."

"Wrong. Down. Example?"

"Berril, the berril of Surgeon Moore. I've heerd 'em sing it."

That boy sat down; but the young lady opposite spelled "burial" correctly, even if she pronounced it "burriel."

Once more round; and now Cobbleville could show barely twenty, and the Benton district hardly a baker's dozen.

"We're getting 'em," chuckled Corry. "They've lost some of their best spellers on old Keyser's pronunciation."

Alas for Corry! His turn came to him next upon a word the sound of which he was sure he caught.

"Stood, s-t-oo-d."

"Wrong. Down. Example?"

"Stewed, then!" roared Corry in undisguised vexation. "Example: 'The boy stewed on the burning deck.'"

"Next." The word sounded a little shorter this time; and the Cobbleville champion, whose turn it was, began,-

"Stud, s-t-u-d."

"Wrong. Down. Example?"

"One of my shirt-studs;" and down he went in a great roar of laughter, while Porter Hudson took the hint Corry's "example" had given him, and went to the head again on "stewed."

The rounds went by rapidly now; and each one sent down somebody in disgrace, while the excitement of the audience was visibly increasing.

"Susie," whispered Vosh, "we've got as many left standing as they have. Keyser's killing 'em off fast, though."

"That's what I'm afraid of."

"Don't spell a word till you know what it is, even if you have to ask him."

"I'd never dare do that."

"I would, then."

She was just above him, and in another moment her trial came. Vosh saw the puzzled, troubled expression on her face, and he came to the rescue.

"Elder Keyser," he sang out, "was that word 'mystery,' or 'mastery,' or 'monastery,' or was it 'mercy'? There's a difference in the spelling of 'em."

"Silence!"

"Silence, s-i-l-e-n-c-e," gravely spelled Susie, while the whole meeting-house rang with the applause that greeted her.

"Next. Spell 'misery,'" sharply exclaimed Elder Keyser; and a very pretty young lady of Cobbleville was so far disconcerted by the suddenness of it, that she actually began,-

"Misery, m-i-z"-

"Wrong. Down. Example?"

"Misery-ah! nothing to eat."

Susie was safe for that round; and in the next Elder Keyser was almost spitefully slow and correct in uttering the word he gave her.

During all that time, the older people from the farmhouse had been watching the course of events with no small degree of exultation over the success of their young representatives.

Corry had joined them, and about his first remark was,-

"Oh, but won't old Keyser be a popular man in Cobbleville after to-night! He'd better go in for a donation. Half the boys in the village'd like to snowball him on his way home."

The game grew closer. Barely six on a side, when Corry exclaimed,-

"That cross-eyed girl's down! She was the best speller they had last year. Too bad, too. She spelled 'bunch,' when what old Keyser said was 'bench.' It's a good deal too much to have to guess at what's in his mouth, and then spell it."

"Dear, dear!" exclaimed aunt Judith a moment later. "Here comes Pen."

"Such luck she's had!" said Corry. "Nothing harder than 'melon' since she began. Now it's Port's turn. Here he comes."

"Port," said Mrs. Farnham, "what was that word?"

"'Baratry,' and I thought he said 'battery;' and that long-necked Cobbleville boy said 'bartery,' and gave 'swopping jackknives' for an example."

It could not last much longer now.

"There!" exclaimed Mrs. Stebbins, "if my Vosh ain't all alone on our side! O Lavawjer!"

"O Susie!" groaned Port, "to think of her spelling 'elopement' without any middle 'e'!"

She had done it by a slip of the tongue, and, when asked for an example, stammered out,-

"Elopement, a runaway," and left Vosh to fight what there was left of Cobbleville. There would have been three against him, if a bright boy had not forgotten how many "l's" there should be in "traveller," and then given himself for an example as he shot away down the aisle.

Vosh knew how to spell "traveller;" and the next word went across the house to be spelled as "porringer," when all the elder wanted was "porridge."

"Two left," said Mrs. Stebbins,-"that there dumpy gal and my Vosh."

"She's one of the smartest girls in all Cobbleville," said Corry.

"She ain't as smart as my Vosh."

Opinions might vary on a point like that; and every time the healthy-looking young lady whom Mrs. Stebbins so unkindly described as "dumpy" spelled a word correctly, her conduct was approved by Cobbleville in a rousing round of applause. All that Vosh's friends could do for him was as nothing to it, but he had his revenge. On the fourth word, after they were left alone, the applause began too soon.

The healthy young lady remembered too well the nature of Susie Hudson's blunder, and she rashly inserted an unnecessary "e" in "fusibility."

"Wrong. Down. Example?"

"Fusibility-example!"-a long, confused hesitation-"butter, sir."

And the hasty multitude of Cobbleville had been loudly cheering the unlucky "e" which the triumphant Vosh the next moment very carefully omitted.

Didn't Benton cheer then!

"Vosh has got the dictionary!" all but shouted his happy mother. "I declare, I'll read it through."

"If she does," whispered Corry to Port, "she'll never stop talking again as long as she lives."

"She'd have all the words she'd need to keep her a-going."

The ceremony of presenting the prize was gracefully turned over to Elder Evans by his reverend friend and the committee. The good man seemed to take a special pleasure in delivering so very large a book to "a young member of his own flock," as he expressed it. It must be confessed that Vosh looked more than a little "sheepish" when he walked forward, and held out his hands for the prize.

The great spelling-match was over, and the crowd of old and young spectators began to disperse.

Before the Cobbleville boys could make up their minds clearly whether it was their duty to snowball Elder Keyser or the Benton-district folk, the latter were mostly on their way home.

"Susie," said Vosh, as he stowed the dictionary carefully away in the red cutter, "I wish you'd won it."

"I'm real glad I didn't, then. Our side beat, and that's quite enough for me."

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