Split Cherry Tree
I don’t mind staying after school,” I says to Professor Herbert, “but I’d rather you’d whip me with a switch and let me go home early. Pa will whip me anyway for getting home two hours late.”
“You are too big to whip,” says Professor Herbert, “and I have to punish you for climbing up in that cherry tree. You boys knew better than that! The other five boys have paid their dollar each. You have been the only one who has not helped pay for the tree. Can’t you borrow a dollar?”
“I can’t,” I says. “I’ll have to take the punishment. I wish it would be quicker punishment. I wouldn’t mind.”
Professor Herbert stood and looked at me. He was a big man. He wore a grey suit of clothes. The suit matched his grey hair.
“You don’t know my father,” I says to Professor Herbert. “He might be called a little old-fashioned. He makes us mind him until we’re twenty-one years old. He believes: ‘If you spare the rod you spoil the child.’ I’ll never be able to make him understand about the cherry tree. I’m the first of my people to go to high school.”
“You must take the punishment,” says Professor Herbert. “You must stay two hours after school today and two hours after school tomorrow. I am allowing you twenty-five cents an hour. That is good money for a high-school student. You can sweep the schoolhouse floor, wash the blackboards, and clean windows. I’ll pay the dollar for you.”
I couldn’t ask Professor Herbert to loan me a dolIar. He never offered to loan it to me. I had to stay and help the janitor and work out my fine at a quarter an hour.
I thought as I swept the floor, “What will Pa do to me? What lie can I tell him when I go home? Why did we ever climb that cherry tree and break it down for anyway? Why did
we run crazy over the hills away from the crowd? Why did we do all of this? Six of us climbed up in a little cherry tree after one little lizard! Why did the tree split and fall with us? It should have been a stronger tree! Why did Eif Crabtree just happen to be below us plowing and catch us in his cherry tree? Why wasn’t he a better man than to charge us six dollars for the tree?”
It was six o’clock when I left the schoolhouse. I had six miles to walk home. It would be after seven when I got home. I had all my work to do when I got home. It took Pa and I both to do the work. Seven cows to milk. Nineteen head of cattle to feed, four mules, twenty-five hogs, firewood and stovewood to cut, and water to draw from the well. He would be doing it when I got home. He would be mad and wondering what was keeping me!
I hurried home. I would run under the dark, leafless trees. I would walk fast uphill. I would run down the hill. The ground was freezing. I had to hurry. I had to run. I reached the long ridge that led to our cow pasture. I ran along this ridge. The wind dried the sweat on my face. I ran across the pasture to the house.
I threw down my books in the chipyard. I ran to the barn to spread fodder on the ground for the cattle. I didn’t take time to change my clean school clothes for my old work clothes. I ran out to the barn. I saw Pa spreading fodder on the ground to the cattle. That was my job. I ran up to the fence. I says, “Leave that for me, Pa. I’ll do it. I’m just a little late.”
“I see you are,” says Pa. He turned and looked at me. His eyes danced fire. “What in th’ world has kept you so? Why ain’t you been here to help me with this work? Make a gentleman out’n one boy in th’ family and this is what you get! Send you to high school and you get too onery fer th’ buzzards to smell!”
schools in britain
“split cherry tree” jesse stuart