John Barleycorn HTML version
Three years was the time required to go through the high school. I grew impatient. Also,
my schooling was becoming financially impossible. At such rate I could not last out, and
I did greatly want to go to the state university. When I had done a year of high school, I
decided to attempt a short cut. I borrowed the money and paid to enter the senior class of
a "cramming joint" or academy. I was scheduled to graduate right into the university at
the end of four months, thus saving two years.
And how I did cram! I had two years' new work to do in a third of a year. For five weeks
I crammed, until simultaneous quadratic equations and chemical formulas fairly oozed
from my ears. And then the master of the academy took me aside. He was very sorry, but
he was compelled to give me back my tuition fee and to ask me to leave the school. It
wasn't a matter of scholarship. I stood well in my classes, and did he graduate me into the
university he was confident that in that institution I would continue to stand well. The
trouble was that tongues were gossiping about my case. What! In four months
accomplished two years' work! It would be a scandal, and the universities were becoming
severer in their treatment of accredited prep schools. He couldn't afford such a scandal,
therefore I must gracefully depart.
I did. And I paid back the borrowed money, and gritted my teeth, and started to cram by
myself. There were three months yet before the university entrance examinations.
Without laboratories, without coaching, sitting in my bedroom, I proceeded to compress
that two years' work into three months and to keep reviewed on the previous year's work.
Nineteen hours a day I studied. For three months I kept this pace, only breaking it on
several occasions. My body grew weary, my mind grew weary, but I stayed with it. My
eyes grew weary and began to twitch, but they did not break down. Perhaps, toward the
last, I got a bit dotty. I know that at the time I was confident, I had discovered the formula
for squaring the circle; but I resolutely deferred the working of it out until after the
examinations. Then I would show them.
Came the several days of the examinations, during which time I scarcely closed my eyes
in sleep, devoting every moment to cramming and reviewing. And when I turned in my
last examination paper I was in full possession of a splendid case of brain-fag. I didn't
want to see a book. I didn't want to think or to lay eyes on anybody who was liable to
There was but one prescription for such a condition, and I gave it to myself--the
adventure-path. I didn't wait to learn the result of my examinations. I stowed a roll of
blankets and some cold food into a borrowed whitehall boat and set sail. Out of the
Oakland Estuary I drifted on the last of an early morning ebb, caught the first of the flood
up bay, and raced along with a spanking breeze. San Pablo Bay was smoking, and the
Carquinez Straits off the Selby Smelter were smoking, as I picked up ahead and left
astern the old landmarks I had first learned with Nelson in the unreefer Reindeer.