"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
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
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!"
I never said anything. I didn't want to tell why I
was late from school. Pa stopped scattering the bundles
of fodder. He looked at me. He says, "Why are you gettin'
in here this time o' night? You tell me or I'll take a
hickory withe to you right here on th' spot!"
I says, "I had to stay after school." I couldn't lie
to Pa. He'd go to school and find out why I had to stay.
If I lied to him it would be too bad for me.
"Why did you haf to stay atter school?" says Pa.
I says, "0ur biology class went on a field trip
today. Six of us boys broke down a cherry tree. We had
to give a dollar apiece to pay for the tree. I didn't
have the dolIar. Professor Herbert is making me work out
my dollar. He gives me twenty-five cents an hour. I had
to stay in this afternoon. I'll have to stay in tomorrow
"Are you telling me th' truth?" says Pa.
"I'm telling you the truth," I says. "Go and see for
"That's just what I'll do in th' mornin'," says Pa. "Jist
whose cherry tree did you break down?"
"Eif Crabtree's cherry tree!"
"What was you doin' clear out in Eif Crabtree's
place?" says Pa. "He lives four miles from th' county
high school. Don't they teach you no books at that high
school? Do they jist let you get out and gad over th'
hillsides? If that's all they do I'll keep you at home,
Dave. I've got work here fer you to do!"
"Pa," I says, "spring is just getting here. We take a
subject in school where we have to have bugs, snakes,
flowers, lizards, frogs, and plants. It is biology. It
was a pretly day today. We went out to find a few of
these. Six of us boys saw a lizard at the same time
sunning on a cherry tree. We all went up the tree to get
it. We broke the tree down. It split at the forks. Eif
Crabtree was plowing down below us. He ran up the hill
and got our names. The other boys gave their dollar
apiece. I didn't have mine. Professor Herbert put mine
in for me. I have to work it out at school."
"Poor man's son, huh," says Pa. "I'll attend to that
myself in th' mornin'. I'll take keer o' 'im. He ain't
from this county nohow. I'll go down there in th' mornin'
and see 'im. Lettin' you leave your books and galavant
all over th' hills. What kind of a school is it nohow!
Didn't do that, my son, when I's a little shaver in
school. All fared alike too."
"Pa, please don't go down there," I says, "just let
me have fifty cents and pay the rest of my fine! I don't
want you to go down there! I don't want you to start
anything with Professor Herbert!
"Ashamed of your old Pap are you, Dave," says Pa, "atter
th' way I've worked to raise you! Tryin' to send you to
school so you can make a better livin' than I've made.
"I'll straighten this thing out myself! I'll take
keer o' Professor Herbert myself! He ain't got no right
to keep you in and let the other boys off jist because
they've got th' money! I'm a poor man. A bullet will go
in a professor same as it will any man. It will go in a
rich man same as it will a poor man. Now you get into
this work before I take one o' these withes and cut the
shirt off'n your back!"
I thought once I'd run through the woods above the
barn just as hard as I could go. I thought I'd leave
high school and home forever! Pa could not catch me! I'd
get away! I couldn't go back to school with him. He'd
have a gun and maybe he'd shoot Professor Herbert. It
was hard to tell what he would do. I could tell Pa that
school had changed in the hills from the way it was when
he was a boy, but he wouldn't understand. I could tell
him we studied frogs, birds, snakes, lizards, flowers,
insects. But Pa wouldn't understand. If I did run away
from home it wouldn't matter to Pa. He would see
Professor Herbert anyway. He would think that high
school and Professor Herbert had run me away from home.
There was no need to run away. I'd just have to stay,
finish foddering the cattle, and go to school with Pa
the next morning.
I would take a bundle of fodder, remove the hickory
witheband from around it, and scatter it on rocks,
clumps of green briers, and brush so the cattle wouldn't
tramp it under their feet. I would lean it up against
the oak trees and the rocks in the pasture just above
our pigpen on the hill. The fodder was cold and frosty
where it had set out in the stacks. I would carry
bundles of the fodder from the stack until I had spread
out a bundle for each steer. Pa went to the barn to feed
the mules and throw corn in the pen to the hogs.
The moon shone bright in the cold March sky. I
finished my work by moonlight. Professor Herbert really
didn't know how much work I had to do at home. If he had
known he would not have kept me after school. He would
have loaned me a dolIar to have paid my part on the
cherry tree. He had never lived in the hills. He didn't
know the way the hill boys had to work so that they
could go to school. Now he was teaching in a county high
school where all the boys who attended were from hill
After I'd finished doing my work I went to the house
and ate my supper. Pa and Mom had eaten. My supper was
getting cold. I heard Pa and Mom talking in the front
room. Pa was telling Mom about me staying in after
"I had to do all th' milkin' tonight, chop th' wood
myself. It's too hard on me atter I've turned ground all
day. I'm goin' to take a day off tomorrow and see if I
can't remedy things a little. I'll go down to that high
school tomorrow. I won't be a very good scholar fer
Professor Herbert nohow. He won't keep me in atter
school. I'll take a different kind of lesson down there
and make 'im acquainted with it."
"Now, Luster," says Mom, "you jist stay away from
there. Don't cause a lot o' trouble. You can be jailed
fer a trick like that. You'll get th' Law atter you.
You'll jist go down there and show off and plague your
own boy Dave to death in front o' all th' scholars!"
"Plague or no plague," says Pa, "he don't take into
consideration what all I haf to do here, does he? I'll
show 'im it ain't right to keep one boy in and let the
rest go scot-free. My boy is good as th' rest, ain't he?
A bullet will make a hole in a schoolteacher same as it
will anybody else. He can't do me that way and get by
with it. I'll plug 'im first. I aim to go down there
bright and early in the mornin' and get all this
straight! I aim to see about bug larnin' and this runnin'
all over God's creation huntin' snakes, lizards, and
frogs. Ransackin' th' country and goin' through cherry
orchards and breakin' th' trees down atter lizards! 0ld
Eif Crabtree ought to a-poured th' hot lead to 'em
instead o' chargin' six dollars fer th' tree! He ought
to a-got old Herbert th' first one!"
I ate my supper. I slipped upstairs and lit the lamp.
I tried to forget the whole thing. I studied plane
geometry. Then I studied my biology lesson. I could
hardly study for thinking about Pa. "He'll go to school
with me in the morning. He'll take a gun for Professor
Herbert! What will Professor Herbert think of me! I'll
tell him when Pa leaves that I couldn't help it. But Pa
might shoot him. I hate to go with Pa. Maybe he'll cool
off about it tonight and not go in the morning."
Pa got up at four o'clock. He built a fire in the
stove. Then he built a fire in the fireplace. He got Mom
up to get breakfast. Then he got me up to help feed and
milk. By the time we had our work done at the barn, Mom
had breakfast ready for us. We ate our breakfast.
Daylight came and we could see the bare oak trees
covered white with frost. The hills were white with
frost. A cold wind was blowing. The sky was clear. The
sun would soon come out and melt the frost. The
afternoon would be warm with sunshine and the frozen
ground with thaw. There would be mud on the hills again.
Muddy water would then run down the little ditches on
"Now, Dave," says Pa, "let's get ready fer school. I
aim to go with you this mornin' and look into bug larnin',
frog larnin', lizard and snake larnin', and breakin'
down cherry trees! I don't like no sicha foolish way o'
Pa hadn't forgot. I'd have to take him to school with
me. He would take me to school with him. We were going
early. I was glad we were going early. If Pa pulled a
gun on Professor Herbert there wouldn't be so many of my
classmates there to see him.
I knew that Pa wouldn't be at home in the high
school. He wore overalls, big boots, a blue shirt and a
sheepskin coat and a slouched black hat gone to seed at
the top. He put his gun in its holster. We started
trudging toward the high schoo1 across the hill.
It was early when we got to the county high school.
Professor Herbert had just got there. I just thought as
we walked up the steps into the schoolhouse, "Maybe Pa
will find out Professor Herbert is a good man. He just
doesn't know him. Just like I felt toward the Lambert
boys across the hill. I didn't like them until I'd seen
them and talked to them. After I went to school with
them and talked to them, I liked them and we were
friends. It's a lot in knowing the other fellow."
"You're th' Professor here, ain't you?" says Pa.
"Yes," says Professor Herbert, "and you are Dave's
"Yes," says Pa, pulling out his gun and laying it on
the seat in Professor Herbert's office. Professor
Herbert's eyes got big behind his black-rimmed glasses
when he saw Pa's gun. Color came into his pale cheeks.
"Jist a few things about this school I want to know,"
says Pa. "I'm tryin' to make a scholar out'n Dave. He's
the only one out'n eleven youngins I've sent to high
school. Here he comes in late and leaves me all th' work
to do! He said you's all out bug huntin' yesterday and
broke a cherry tree down. He had to stay two hours atter
school yesterday and work out money to pay on that
cherry tree! Is that right?"
"Wwwwy," says Professor Herbert, "I guess it is."
He looked at Pa's gun.
"Well," says Pa, "this ain't no high school. It's a
bug school, a lizard school, a snake school! It ain't no
"Why did you bring that gun?" says Professor Herbert
"You see that little hole," says Pa as he picked up
the long blue forty-four and put his finger on the end
of the barrel, "a bullet can come out'n that hole that
will kill a schoolteacher same as it will any other man.
It will kill a rich man same as a poor man. It will kill
a man. But atter I come in and saw you, I know'd I
wouldn't need it. This maul o' mine could do you up in a
Pa stood there, big, hard, brown-skinned, and mighty
beside of Professor Herbert. I didn't know Pa was so
much bigger and harder. I'd never seen Pa in a
schoolhouse before. I'd seen Professor Herbert. He'd
always looked big before to me. He didn't look big
standing beside of Pa.
"I was only doing my duty," says Professor Herbert,
"Mr. Sexton, and following the course of study the state
provided us with."
"Course o' study," says Pa, "what study, bug study?
Varmint study? Takin' youngins to th' woods and their
poor old Ma's and Pa's at home a-slavin' to keep 'em in
school and give 'em a education! You know that's
dangerous, too, puttin' a lot o' boys and girIs out
together like that!"
Students were coming into the schoolhouse now.
Professor Herbert says, "Close the door, Dave, so
others won't hear."
I walked over and closed the door. I was shaking like
a leaf in the wind. I thought Pa was going to hit
Professor Herbert every minute. He was doing all the
talking. His face was getting red. The red color was
coming through the brown, weather-beaten skin on Pa's
"I was right with these students," says Professor
Herbert. "I know what they got into and what they
didn't. I didn't send one of the other teachers with
them on this field trip. I went myself. Yes, I took the
boys and girIs together. Why not?"
"It jist don't look good to me," says Pa, "a-takin'
all this swarm of youngins out to pillage th' whole
deestrict. Breakin' down cherry trees. Keepin' boys in
"What else could I have done with Dave, Mr. Sexton?"
says Professor Herbert. "The boys didn't have any
business all climbing that cherry tree after one lizard.
One boy could have gone up in the tree and got it. The
farmer charged us six dollars. It was a little steep, I
think, but we had it to pay. Must I make five boys pay
and let your boy off? He said he didn't have the dollar
and couldn't get it. So I put it in for him. I'm letting
him work it out. He's not working for me. He's working
for the school!"
"I jist don't know what you could a-done with 'im,"
says Pa, "only a-larruped im with a withe! That's what
"He's too big to whip," says Professor Herbert,
pointing at me. "He's a man in size."
"He's not too big fer me to whip," says Pa. "They
ain't too big until they're over twenty-one! It jist
didn't look fair to me! Work one and let th' rest out
because they got th' money. I don't see what bugs has
got to do with a high school! It don't look good to me
Pa picked up his gun and put it back in its holster.
The red color left Professor Herbert's face. He talked
more to Pa. Pa softened a littIe. It looked funny to see
Pa in the high-school building. It was the first time
he'd ever been there.
"We were not only hunting snakes, toads, flowers,
butterflies, lizards," says Professor Herbert, "but, Mr.
Sexton, I was hunting dry timothy grass to put in an
incubator and raise some protozoa."
" I don't know what that is," says Pa. "Th' incubator
is th' new-fangled way o' cheatin' th' hens and raisin'
chickens. I ain't so sure about th' breed o' chickens
"You've heard of germs, Mr. Sexton, haven't you?"
says Professor Herbert.
"Jist call me Luster, if you don't mind," says Pa,
very casual like.
"All right, Luster, you've heard of germs, haven't
"Yes," says Pa, "but I don't believe in germs. I'm
sixty-five years old and I ain't seen one yet!"
"You can't see them with your naked eye," says
Professor Herbert. "Just keep that gun in the holster
and stay with me in the high school today. I have a few
things want to show you. That scum on your teeth has
germs in it."
"What," says Pa, "you mean to tell me I've got germs
on my teeth!
"Yes," says Professor Herbert. "The same kind as we
might be able to find in a living black snake if we
"I don't mean to dispute your word," says Pa, "but I
don't believe it. I don't believe I have germs on my
"Stay with me today and I'll show you. I want to take
you through the school anyway! School has changed a lot
in the hills since you went to school. I don't guess we
had high schools in this county when you went to
"No," says Pa, "jist readin', writin', and cipherin'.
We didn't have all this bug larnin', frog larnin', and
findin' germs on your teeth and in the middle o' black
snakes! Th' world's changin'."
"It is," says Professor Herbert, "and we hope all for
the better. Boys like your own there are going to help
change it. He's your boy. He knows all of what I've told
you. You stay with me today."
"I'll shore stay with you," says Pa. " I want to see
th' germs off'n my teeth. I jist want to see a germ.
I've never seen one in my life. 'Seein' is believin','
Pap allus told me."
Pa walks out of the office with Professor Herbert. I
just hoped Professor Herbert didn't have Pa arrested for
pulling his gun. Pa's gun has always been a friend to
him when he goes to settle disputes.
The bell rang. School took up. I saw the students
when they marched in the schoolhouse look at Pa. They
would grin and punch each other. Pa just stood and
watched them pass in at the schoolhouse door. Two long
lines marched in the house. The boys and girls were
clean and well dressed. Pa stood over in the schoolyard
under a leafless elm, in his sheepskin coat, his big
boots laced in front with buckskin, and his heavy socks
stuck above his boot tops. Pa's overalIs legs were baggy
and wrinkled between his coat and boot tops. His blue
work shirt showed at the collar. His big black hat
showed his gray-streaked black hair. His face was hard
and weather-tanned to the color of a ripe fodder blade.
His hands were big and gnarled like the roots of the elm
tree he stood beside.
When I went to my first cIass I saw Pa and Professor
Herbert going around over the schoolhouse. I was in my
geometry class when Pa and Professor Herbert came in the
room. We were explaining our propositions on the
blackboard. Professor Herbert and Pa just quietly came
in and sat down for awhile. I heard Fred Wutts whisper
to Glenn Armstrong, "Who is that old man? Lord, he's a
rough-looking scamp." Glenn whispered back, "I think
he's Dave's Pap." The students in geometry looked at Pa.
They must have wondered what he was doing in school.
Before the cIass was over, Pa and Professor Herbert got
up and went out. I saw them together down on the
playground. Professor Herbert was explaining to Pa. I
could see the prints of Pa's gun under his coat when
he'd walk around.
At noon in the high-school cafeteria Pa and Professor
Herbert sat together at the little table where Professor
Herbert always ate by himself. They ate together. The
students watched the way Pa ate. He ate with his knife
instead of his fork. A lot of the students felt sorry
for me after they found out he was my father. They
didn't have to feel sorry for me. I wasn't ashamed of Pa
after I found out he wasn't going to shoot Professor
Herbert. I was glad they had made friends. I wasn't
ashamed of Pa. I wouldn't be as long as he behaved. He
would find out about the high school as I had found out
about the Lambert boys across the hill.
In the afternoon when we went to biology Pa was in
the class. He was sitting on one of the high stools
beside the microscope. We went ahead with our work just
as if Pa wasn't in the class. I saw- Pa take his knife
and scrape tartar from one of his teeth. Professor
Herbert put it on the lens and adjusted the microscope
for Pa. He adjusted it and worked awhile. Then he says:
"Now Luster, look! Put your eye right down to the light.
Squint the other eye!"
Pa put his head down and did as Professor Herbert
said. "I see 'im," says Pa. 'Who'd a ever thought that?
Right on a body's teeth! Right in a body's mouth. You're
right certain they ain't no fake to this, Professor
"No, Luster," says Professor Herbert. "It's there.
That's the germ. Germs live in a worId we cannot see
with the naked eye. We must use the microscope. There
are millions of them in our bodies. Some are harmful.
Others are helpful."
Pa holds his face down and looks through the
microscope. We stop and watch Pa. He sits upon the tall
stool. His knees are against the table. His legs are
long. His coat slips up behind when he bends over. The
handle of his gun shows. Professor Herbert pulls his
coat down quickly.
"Oh, yes," says Pa. He gets up and pulls his coat
down. Pa's face gets a little red. He knows about his
gun and he knows he doesn't have any use for it in high
"We have a big black snake over here we caught
yesterday," says Professor Herbert. "We'll chloroform
him and dissect him and show you he has germs in his
"Don't do it," says Pa. "I believe you. I jist don't
want to see you kill the black snake. I never kill one.
They are good mousers and a lot o' help to us on the
farm. I like black snakes. I jist hate to see people
kill 'em. I don't allow 'em killed on my place."
The students look at Pa. They seem to like him better
after he said that. Pa with a gun in his pocket but a
tender heart beneath his ribs for snakes, but not for
man! Pa won't whip a mule at home. He won't whip his
"Man can defend hisself," says Pa, "but cattle and
mules can't. We have the drop on 'em. Ain't nothin' to a
man that'll beat a good pullin' mule. He ain't got th'
right kind o' a heart!"
Professor Herbert took Pa through the laboratory. He
showed him the different kinds of work we were doing. He
showed him our equipment. They stood and talked while we
worked. Then they walked out together. They talked
louder when they got out in the hall.
When our biology class was over I walked out of the
room. It was our last class for the day. I would have to
take my broom and sweep two hours to finish paying for
the split cherry tree. I just wondered if Pa would want
me to stay. He was standing in the hallway watching the
students march out. He looked lost among us. He looked
like a leaf turned brown on the tree among the treetop
filled with growing leaves.
I got my broom and started to sweep. Professor
Herbert walked up and says, "I'm going to let you do
that some other time. You can go home with your father.
He is waiting out there."
I Iaid my broom down, got my books, and went down the
Pa says, "Ain't you got two hours o' sweepin' yet to
I says, "Professor Herbert said I could do it some
other time. He said for me to go home with you."
"No," says Pa. "You are goin' to do as he says. He's
a good man. School has changed from my day and time. I'm
a dead leaf, Dave. I'm behind. I don't belong here. If
he'll let me I'll get a broom and we'll both sweep one
hour. That pays your debt. I'll hep you pay it. I'll ast
'im and see if he won't let me hep you."
"I'm going to cancel the debt," says Professor
Herbert. "I just wanted you to understand, Luster."
"I understand," says Pa, "and since I understand he
must pay his debt fer th' tree and I'm goin' to hep 'im."
"Don't do that," says Professor Herbert. "It's all on
"We don't do things like that," says Pa, "we're just
and honest people. We don't want somethin' fer nothin'.
Professor Herbert, you're wrong now and I'm right.
You'll haf to listen to me. I've larned a lot from you.
My boy must go on. Th' worId has left me. It changed
while I've raised my family and plowed th' hills. I'm a
just and honest man. I don' skip debts. I ain't larned 'em
to do that. I ain't got much larnin' myself but I do
know right from wrong atter I see through a thing."
Professor Herbert went home. Pa and I stayed and
swept one hour. It looked funny to see Pa use a broom.
He never used one at home. Mom used the broom. Pa used
the plow. Pa did hard work. Pa says, "I can't sweep.
Durned if I can. Look at th' streaks o' dirt I leave on
th' floor! Seems like no work a-tall fer me. Brooms is
too light 'r somethin'. I'll jist do th' best I can,
Dave. I've been wrong about th' school."
I says, "Did you know Professor Herbert can get a
warrant out for you for bringing your pistoI to school
and showing it in his office! They can railroad you for
"That's all made right," says Pa. "I've made that
right. Professor Herbert ain't goin' to take it to
court. He likes me. I like 'im. We jist had to get
together. He had the remedies. He showed me. You must go
on to school. I am as strong a man as ever come out'n th'
hills fer my years and th' hard work I've done. But I'm
behind, Dave. I'm a little man. Your hands will be
softer than mine. Your clothes will be better. You'll
allus look cleaner than your old Pap. Jist remember,
Dave, to pay your debts and be honest. Jist be kind to
animals and don't bother th' snakes. That's all I got
agin th' school. Puttin' black snakes to sleep and
cuttin' 'em open."
It was late when we got home. Stars were in the sky.
The moon was up. The ground was frozen. Pa took his time
going home. I couldn't run like I did the night before.
It was ten o'clock before we got the work finished, our
suppers eaten. Pa sat before the fire and told Mom he
was going to take her and show her a germ sometime. Mom
hadn't seen one either. Pa told her about the high
school and the fine man Professor Herbert was. He told
Mom about the strange school across the hill and how
different it was from the school in their day and time.
Reprint of story found at http://www.americanliterature.com/Stuart/SS/SplitCherryTree.html