“Watch me.” Billy whispered to the other boys before setting out across the schoolyard. He approached the outhouse from the back, but not before getting a whip-like branch from a bush at the yard’s edge.
A piercing shriek erupted from the outhouse and the door banged open. Miss Bailey bolted out, jerking at her petticoats and shirtwaist, and running for the schoolhouse. After a moment, Billy sauntered back, tossing the thin stick into the tall grass and whistling nonchalantly.
“Billy, yer brazen, you are.” Henry’s eyes glowed with admiration.
“But yer gonna get caught,” added Bert.
“Not me,” denied Billy. He lay back on the stubble and gnawed on a knot of grass. “I don’t reckon Miss Bailey knows who’s...”
The clanging of the bell interrupted their conversation, and they reluctantly headed back into the schoolhouse and their Arithmetic lesson. Poor Miss Bailey appeared flustered and disheveled as they passed. Billy winked as he slid into his seat, but then his face became the epitome of innocence as he listened to his teacher’s instruction.
Miss Bailey began to open her drawer for her chalk, then stopped.
“Pay attention, boys and girls. Get out your slates. I’m going to dictate your lesson instead. Please follow along.”
“Now see what you done,” Henry hissed in Billy’s ear.
“I didn’t do nothin’.”
“But she thinks you...”
Miss Bailey was moving on with the lesson, and the classroom was filled with the sounds of clicking slate pencils and the murmuring of the little ones reading with the older students.
Billy’s escapades knew no bounds, his imagination no end. Not a day went by that the little prairie school wasn’t entertained by the nine-year old’s enterprising and daring bravado.
Even now, he was thinking of his next act of mischief. So was Miss Bailey.
Arithmetic was soon over, and the little school went on to Geography and Citizenship. Then, it was time for dismissal.
“Billy, please stay behind,” requested Miss Bailey.
“Billy, I’d like you to tidy up the stable area, please, and bring in firewood for tomorrow.” Miss Bailey had a knowing look in her eye that Billy couldn’t miss. Quickly, contritely, he did the job he’d been asked to do, fetching the rake used for piling manure and old hay, then gathering wood to bring inside.
When Billy arrived the next morning, Miss Bailey was standing outside the schoolhouse along with a group of children. A pall of smoke hung about the building, and a few of the pupils were coughing. Gerald, one of the older students, came outside carrying a bucket of smoldering material.
“You can light a fire now, Miss Bailey. The chimney was plugged from the inside with a wad of hay.”
“Now, I wonder who did that?” Miss Bailey pondered aloud as Billy came into her view.
Billy turned around and ran. Miss Bailey made as if to pursue him, but she was no match in her long skirts. Gerald dropped the smoking bucket, yelling for someone to dampen it at the pump, and gave chase. With his lanky legs, he caught up to Billy immediately, picking him up and throwing him over his shoulder.
Billy struggled wildly, and when everything failed, he reached down and bit Gerald squarely on the backside!
At that, Gerald flipped him down and grabbed him by the scruff of the neck, then marched him inside the schoolroom. Miss Bailey followed.
“Thank you, Gerald. Please watch the other children.” She motioned for Billy to sit on a stool in the front corner. “Billy Williamsen. You are simply...”
“Yes. And you’re...”
“Absolutely. And rude and...”
“Audacious. I’m going to quit school, Miss Bailey. I know all them words.”
“Because you’ve heard them so often. You’re in third grade, Billy. You can’t quit yet.”
“Pa needs me on the farm. I don’t need no spellin’ or readin’.” Billy stuck out his chin defiantly.
“Is that why you’re always making trouble? So I’ll send you home?”
“Nah, Miss Bailey, I just like funnin’ folks.”
Miss Bailey regarded Billy for a moment. “How about a deal? You stay out of trouble, and we’ll talk again in a year.”
Billy gazed out at the flat prairie. Perhaps, the lingering smoke in classroom smarting his eyes caused the tear to well up.
“Sure thing, Miss Bailey.” He ran out the door.
Miss Bailey’s shriek echoed across the plain as she opened the drawer and the snake slithered out.
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