One tough guy in the Sugar Creek territory was enough to keep us all on the lookout all the time for different kinds of trouble. We'd certainly had plenty with Big Bob Till, who, as you maybe know, was the big brother of Little Tom Till, our newest gang member.
But when a new quick-tempered boy whose name was Shorty Long, moved into the neighborhood and started coming to our school, and when Shorty and Bob began to chum around together, we never knew whether we'd get through even one day without something happening to start a fight, or get one of the gang into trouble with our teacher. On top of that, we had a new teacher, a man teacher at that, who didn't exactly know that most of us tried to behave ourselves most of the time.
Poetry, who is the barrel-shaped member of our gang, had made up a poem about our new teacher, whom not a one of us liked very well, on account of not wanting a new teacher when we'd liked our pretty lady other teacher so extra well. This is the way the poem went:"The Sugar Creek Gang had the worst of teachersAnd 'Black' his named was called,His round, red face had the homeliest of features,He was fat and forty and bald."
Poetry was always writing a new poem or always quoting one somebody else wrote.
Maybe it was a library book that was to blame for some of the trouble we had in this story, though. I'm not quite sure, but the very minute my pal, Poetry, and I saw the picture in a book called The Hoosier Schoolmaster, we both had a very mischievous idea come into our minds, which we couldn't get out no matter how we tried....
This is the way it happened.... Poetry and I were in his house, in fact, I was staying at his house all night one night, and just before we went to sleep, we sat up in his big bed for awhile, looking at the picture which was a full-paged glossy picture of a man school teacher away up on the roof of a country schoolhouse, and he was holding a wide board across the top of the chimney. The schoolhouse's only door was open and a gang of tough-looking boys was tumbling out, along with a lot of smoke.
"Have you ever read the story?" I said to Poetry, and he said, "No, have you?" and when I said "No," we both read a part of it. The story was about a man teacher whose very bad boys in the school had locked him out of the building, and he had climbed up on the roof of the school and put a board across the chimney, and smoked them out just like a boy smokes a skunk out of a woodchuck den along Sugar Creek.
That put the idea in our heads, and it stayed there until a week or two after Christmas, before it got us into trouble.... Then just like a time-bomb exploding, all of a sudden that innocent idea which an innocent author had written in an innocent library book, exploded—and—Well, here goes the story.
It was a swell Saturday afternoon at our house with bright sunlight on the snow and the weather just right for coasting. I was standing by our kitchen sink, getting ready to start wiping a big stack of dishes which my mom had just rinsed with steaming hot water out of the teakettle. I was just reaching for a drying towel when Mom said, "Better wash your hands first, Bill," which I had forgotten to do like I once in a while do. Right away I washed my hands with soap, in our bathroom, came back and grabbed the towel off the rack by the range, and started in carefully wiping the dishes, not exactly wanting to, on account of the clock on our mantel-shelf said it was one o'clock, and the gang was supposed to meet on Bumblebee hill right that very minute, with our sleds, and we were going to have the time of our lives coasting, and rolling in the snow, and making huge balls and snow men and everything.......