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Tales of Trail and Town

A Tale Of Three Truants
The schoolmaster at Hemlock Hill was troubled that morning. Three of his boys
were missing. This was not only a notable deficit in a roll-call of twenty, but the
absentees were his three most original and distinctive scholars. He had received
no preliminary warning or excuse. Nor could he attribute their absence to any
common local detention or difficulty of travel. They lived widely apart and in
different directions. Neither were they generally known as "chums," or comrades,
who might have entered into an unhallowed combination to "play hookey."
He looked at the vacant places before him with a concern which his other
scholars little shared, having, after their first lively curiosity, not unmixed with
some envy of the derelicts, apparently forgotten them. He missed the cropped
head and inquisitive glances of Jackson Tribbs on the third bench, the red hair
and brown eyes of Providence Smith in the corner, and there was a blank space
in the first bench where Julian Fleming, a lanky giant of seventeen, had sat. Still,
it would not do to show his concern openly, and, as became a man who was at
least three years the senior of the eldest, Julian Fleming, he reflected that they
were "only boys," and that their friends were probably ignorant of the good he
was doing them, and so dismissed the subject. Nevertheless, it struck him as
wonderful how the little world beneath him got on without them. Hanky Rogers,
bully, who had been kept in wholesome check by Julian Fleming, was lively and
exuberant, and his conduct was quietly accepted by the whole school; Johnny
Stebbins, Tribbs's bosom friend, consorted openly with Tribbs's particular enemy;
some of the girls were singularly gay and conceited. It was evident that some
superior masculine oppression had been removed.
He was particularly struck by this last fact, when, the next morning, no news
coming of the absentees, he was impelled to question his flock somewhat
precisely concerning them. There was the usual shy silence which follows a
general inquiry from the teacher's desk; the children looked at one another,
giggled nervously, and said nothing.
"Can you give me any idea as to what might have kept them away?" said the
Hanky Rogers looked quickly around, began, "Playin' hook—" in a loud voice, but
stopped suddenly without finishing the word, and became inaudible. The master
saw fit to ignore him.
"Bee-huntin'," said Annie Roker vivaciously.
"Who is?" asked the master.
"Provy Smith, of course. Allers bee-huntin'. Gets lots o' honey. Got two full combs
in his desk last week. He's awful on bees and honey. Ain't he, Jinny?" This in a
high voice to her sister.
The younger Miss Roker, thus appealed to, was heard to murmur that of all the
sneakin' bee-hunters she had ever seed, Provy Smith was the worst. "And
squirrels—for nuts," she added.
The master became attentive,—a clue seemed probable here. "Would Tribbs and
Fleming be likely to go with him?" he asked.