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PRODIGY (chapter1)

2006-09-07 20:27

    CHAPTER I

    It was a quiet New England village. Nowhere in the valley of the Connecticut the autumn sun shone upon a more peaceful, pastoral, manufacturing community. The wooden nutmegs were slowly ripening on the trees, and the white pine hams for Western consumption were gradually rounding into form under the deft manipulation of the hardy American artisan. The honest Connecticut farmer was quietly gathering from his threshing floor the shoe-pegs, which, when intermixed with a fair proportion of oats, offered a pleasing substitute for fodder to the effete civilizations of Europe. An almost Sabbath-like stillness prevailed. Doemville was only seven miles from Hartford, and the surrounding landscape smiled with the conviction of being fully insured.

    Few would have thought that this peaceful village was the home of the three young heroes whose exploits would hereafter——but we anticipate.

    Doemville Academy was the principal seat of learning in the county. Under the grave and gentle administration of the venerable Doctor Context, it had attained just popularity. Yet the increasing infirmities of age obliged the doctor to relinquish much of his trust to his assistants, who, it is needless to say, abused his confidence. Before long their brutal tyranny and deep-laid malevolence became apparent. Boys were absolutely forced to study their lessons. The sickening fact will hardly be believed, but during school hours they were obliged to remain in their seats with the appearance at least of discipline. It is stated by good authority that the rolling of croquet balls across the floor during recitation was objected to, under the fiendish excuse of its interfering with their studies. The breaking of windows by base balls, and the beating of small scholars with bats, were declared against. At last, bloated and arrogant with success, the under- teachers threw aside all disguise and revealed themselves in their true colors. A cigar was actually taken out of a day scholar's mouth during prayers! A flask of whisky was dragged from another's desk, and then thrown out of the window. And finally, Profanity, Hazing, Theft, and Lying were almost discouraged!

    Could the youth of America, conscious of their power and a literature of their own, tamely submit to this tyranny? Never! We repeat it firmly. Never! We repeat it to parents and guardians. Never! But the fiendish tutors, chuckling in their glee, little knew what was passing through the cold, haughty intellect of Charles Fanuel Hall Golightly, aged ten; what curled the lip of Benjamin Franklin Jenkins, aged seven; or what shone in the bold blue eyes of Bromley Chitterlings, aged six and a half, as they sat in the corner of the playground at recess. Their only other companion and confidant was the negro porter and janitor of the school, known as "Pirate Jim."

    Fitly, indeed, was he named, as the secrets of his early wild career-confessed freely to his noble young friends——plainly showed. A slaver at the age of seventeen, the ringleader of a mutiny on the African Coast at the age of twenty, a privateersman during the last war with England, the commander of a fire-ship and its sole survivor at twenty-five, with a wild intermediate career of unmixed piracy, until the Rebellion called him to civil service again as a blockade-runner, and peace and a desire for rural repose led him to seek the janitorship of the Doemville Academy, where no questions were asked and references not exchanged: he was, indeed, a fit mentor for our daring youth. Although a man whose days had exceeded the usual space allotted to humanity, the various episodes of his career footing his age up to nearly one hundred and fifty- nine years, he scarcely looked it, and was still hale and vigorous. "Yes," continued Pirate Jim, critically, "I don't think he was any bigger nor you, Master Chitterlings, if as big, when he stood on the fork'stle of my ship, and shot the captain o' that East Injymen dead. We used to call him little Weevils, he was so young-like. But, bless your hearts, boys! he wa'n't anything to little Sammy Barlow, ez once crep' up inter the captain's stateroom on a Rooshin frigate, stabbed him to the heart with a jack-knife, then put on the captain's uniform and his cocked hat, took command of the ship and fout her hisself."

    "Wasn't the captain's clothes big for him?" asked B. Franklin Jenkins, anxiously.

    The janitor eyed young Jenkins with pained dignity.

    "Didn't I say the Rooshin captain was a small, a very small man? Rooshins is small, likewise Greeks."

    A noble enthusiasm beamed in the faces of the youthful heroes.

    "Was Barlow as large as me?" asked C. F. Hall Golightly, lifting his curls from his Jove-like brow.

    "Yes; but then he hed hed, so to speak, experiences. It was allowed that he had pizened his schoolmaster afore he went to sea. But it's dry talking, boys."

    Golightly drew a flask from his jacket and handed it to the janitor. It was his father's best brandy. The heart of the honest old seaman was touched.

    "Bless ye, my own pirate boy!" he said, in a voice suffocating with emotion.

    "I've got some tobacco," said the youthful Jenkins, "but it's fine- cut; I use only that now."

    "I kin buy some plug at the corner grocery," said Pirate Jim, "only I left my port-money at home."

    "Take this watch," said young Golightly; "it is my father's. Since he became a tyrant and usurper, and forced me to join a corsair's band, I've began by dividing the property."

    "This is idle trifling," said young Chitterlings, mildly. "Every moment is precious. Is this an hour to give to wine and wassail? Ha, we want action——action! We must strike the blow for freedom to-night——aye, this very night. The scow is already anchored in the mill-dam, freighted with provisions for a three months' voyage. I have a black flag in my pocket. Why, then, this cowardly delay?"

    The two elder youths turned with a slight feeling of awe and shame to gaze on the glowing cheeks, and high, haughty crest of their youngest comrade——the bright, the beautiful Bromley Chitterlings. Alas! that very moment of forgetfulness and mutual admiration was fraught with danger. A thin, dyspeptic, half-starved tutor approached.

    "It is time to resume your studies, young gentlemen," he said, with fiendish politeness.

    They were his last words on earth.

    "Down, tyrant!" screamed Chitterlings.

    "Sic him——I mean, Sic semper tyrannis!" said the classical Golightly.

    A heavy blow on the head from a base-ball bat, and the rapid projection of a base ball against his empty stomach, brought the tutor a limp and lifeless mass to the ground. Golightly shuddered. Let not my young readers blame him too rashly. It was his first homicide.

    "Search his pockets," said the practical Jenkins.

    They did so, and found nothing but a Harvard Triennial Catalogue.

    "Let us fly," said Jenkins.

    "Forward to the boats!" cried the enthusiastic Chitterlings.

    But C. F. Hall Golightly stood gazing thoughtfully at the prostrate tutor.

    "This," he said calmly, "is the result of a too free government and the common school system. What the country needs is reform. I cannot go with you, boys."

    "Traitor!" screamed the others.

    C. F. H. Golightly smiled sadly."You know me not. I shall not become a pirate——but a Congressman!"Jenkins and Chitterlings turned pale."I have already organized two caucuses in a base ball club, and bribedthe delegates of another. Nay, turn not away. Let us be friends, pursuing through various ways one common end. Farewell!" They shook hands. "But where is Pirate Jim?" asked Jenkins.

    "He left us but for a moment to raise money on the watch to purchase armament for the scow. Farewell!"

    And so the gallant, youthful spirits parted, bright with the sunrise of hope.

    That night a conflagration raged in Doemville. The Doemville Academy, mysteriously fired, first fell a victim to the devouring element. The candy shop and cigar store, both holding heavy liabilities against the academy, quickly followed. By the lurid gleams of the flames, a long, low, sloop-rigged scow, with every mast gone except one, slowly worked her way out of the mill-dam towards the Sound. The next day three boys were missing——C. F. Hall Golightly, B. F. Jenkins, and Bromley Chitterlings. Had they perished in the flames who shall say? Enough that never more under these names did they again appear in the homes of their ancestors.

    Happy, indeed, would it have been for Doemville had the mystery ended here. But a darker interest and scandal rested upon the peaceful village. During that awful night the boarding-school of Madam Brimborion was visited stealthily, and two of the fairest heiresses of Connecticut——daughters of the president of a savings bank, and insurance director——were the next morning found to have eloped. With them also disappeared the entire contents of the Savings Bank. and on the following day the Flamingo Fire Insurance Company failed.

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