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Excitement tumbled and bubbled deep inside ten-year-old Grace Morgan's stomach, making it difficult for her to pay attention. Her chin rested on her hand as she stared out the schoolhouse window.
The crowded classroom on the first floor of the brick building was not only noisy, but stuffy, too. The classroom upstairs, where the older students attended, was just as crowded. Thankfully, Grace's seat was by an open window, where she could feel the soft spring breeze blowing in. She didn't mind that she had to share a seat with Amy Coppock. Amy had been her friend for almost two years.
April meant that her fifth-grade school term was nearly over. That in itself was enough to make Grace want to turn handsprings. But today was much more exciting than the close of school. Tonight she and Mama would pen the order for her brand-new piano!
She'd dreamed of having a piano for months. Finally, Papa said that with the contracts for two new steamboats, there would be enough money for a piano. Grace sighed as she thought of the pictures in the catalog she and Mama pored over night after night. But now the decision was made. Papa said the steamboat Velocipede would be leaving in the morning, and the order would go onboard with the outgoing mail!
Shifting in the small, hard seat, Grace brought her attention to the front of the room, where Mr. Inman tried his utmost to work on recitation with a group of first- and second-grade students. Mr. Inman's stand-up white collar, which that morning had looked starched and spiffy, now looked rather wilted. His black bow tie drooped, as well.
Grace had decided months ago that Silas Inman was too kind and gentle to be a teacher, especially in this crowded room. The older boys talked out of turn and kept a ruckus rumbling most of the time. Last year's teacher, grouchy old Mr. Travers, seemed harsh and mean, but at least the boys had behaved.
Out of the corner of her eye, Grace saw Raggy Langler shoot a spitwad right at the back of her cousin Drew's head. Drew Ramsey sat two rows over with the sixth graders. Grace watched as he reached up to remove the wet mass from his hair and turned around to scowl at Raggy. Even from two rows over, she could sense Drew's disgust. Drew had told her there were never boys like Raggy in his school in Boston.
Poor Drew. Ever since he'd arrived from Boston two months ago, several of the boys had made fun of his dapper clothes and Boston accent, but Raggy was the worst. As Mr. Inman turned his back, Grace stuck her tongue out at Raggy, making Amy giggle. Raggy shook his fist at her and mouthed the threat, "I'll get you."
Grace just turned up her nose and ignored him. Amy nudged Grace, then pinched her own nose, indicating that Raggy smelled bad. Grace nodded in agreement. Raggy's dark hair was matted, his clothes were worn and frayed, and his neck was the color of dirty dishwater. His nose seemed too long for his angular face. The boy was continually scratching, and Grace was certain he must have lice.
On their shared slate, Amy and Grace were supposed to be working their multiplication tables, but instead, Grace had drawn a stick-figure girl sitting at a piano. Amy knew all about the new piano that would soon be coming to the Morgan household, and she was happy for Grace.
"I wouldn't even want a piano," Amy had said that day at recess time. "Then Mama would make me practice every day. I'd hate that." She screwed up her pretty face at the very thought.
But Grace didn't see it that way. It was as though her fingers hungered to move over the smooth ivory keys and coax out melodies to accompany her singing.
Last year, the church her family attended had purchased a piano. But only Widow Robbins was allowed to go near the fine instrument. No one was even supposed to touch the dark mahogany lid to take a peek at the shiny row of black-and-white keys. Grace told Mama that was unfair. Mama just said, "Rules are rules, Gracie. You know that."
Now that Grace had celebrated her tenth birthday, she hated being called Gracie, but still Mama, Papa, and even her older brother, Luke, insisted on calling her that.
Just then, Mr. Inman finished with the younger children and called the class to order. His efforts were rewarded only slightly as the older boys continued to whisper and laugh. Raggy had a handful of followers who mimicked his every action, especially Wesley Smith and Karl Thompson.
"As we approach the closing of the school term-" Mr. Inman began. He was interrupted with cheers from Raggy and those around him.
"Yea, hooray!" they cried in chorus. "No more school!"
Mr. Inman's soft brown eyes were troubled as he surveyed the culprits. Tugging at his dark chin whiskers, he began again. "The superintendent of schools has asked that all classrooms have a presentation prepared for the closing-day ceremony. Be thinking of how our classroom can contribute to the program, either individually or as a group."
Amy's hand shot up, and when the teacher called on her, she said, "Grace Morgan can sing, Mr. Inman. She has the most beautiful voice in the world. Nicer than a nightingale."
Grace felt herself blushing. She had no idea Amy was going to blurt out such a thing. Often she sang for family gatherings. A few times she'd even sung at church. But singing in front of the entire community would be quite different.
"Thank you, Amy." To Grace, he said, "Would you please have a song prepared for the program, Grace?"
"Yes, sir," she answered, feeling giddiness building inside her. Now she had one more exciting thing to look forward to.
From the back of the room, Raggy said in a loud whisper, "Dapper-Dandy Drew could show us how to talk Yankee talk."
Drew's hair-the color of corn silk-didn't quite cover his ears, and Grace saw them turn red right up to the tips. How she wished she could do something to cheer up Drew. She tried to imagine what it would be like if she were to lose both her parents to such a wretched disease as yellow fever. That's what had happened to Drew just last winter.
Grace turned to give Raggy her worst scowl. He was such a beast.
Mr. Inman gave Raggy, whose name in class was Russell, a warning to keep silent, but the warnings carried little weight. Raggy mostly did whatever he wanted. And that seldom meant schoolwork.
In the past, Raggy had showed up for school only about half the time, but recently his attendance had become almost perfect. Grace believed that Raggy came to school only to take part in tormenting poor, defenseless Drew.
At last, Mr. Inman completed all the instructions regarding the school-closing ceremonies, which, he said, would include a parade down Main Street. Amy and Grace nudged one another at the prospect of a parade. What fun that would be!
Class was then dismissed, and Grace went to the cloakroom to fetch her tin pail from the shelf. Drew was right there beside her. Out in the schoolyard, Amy called out a good-bye as she and her older brother, Jason, headed west down Fourth Street toward their home. Grace often wished Amy lived nearer to Deer Creek so they could walk home together.
Before going out of the fenced schoolyard, Grace said to Drew, "Wait a minute." Sitting down in the dirt, she proceeded to unbutton her hightop shoes and pull off her long, itchy woolen stockings. The shoes, which had been purchased at the shoemaker's last autumn, were now much too tight.
"Grace, what are you doing?" Drew protested. "You can't walk barefoot in these filthy streets."
"Of course I can. Just watch me." She jumped up and wiggled her toes in the dirt, making little dust puffs. "Ahh. Now my feet are finally free."
Drew shook his head in disbelief. "No girl in Boston would walk home from school barefoot in the dirt." He paused a moment as he studied Fourth Street. It was nearly three inches deep in dirt. "But then, in Boston there are no dirt streets."
"Oh, come on, Drew," she said, hurrying on ahead of him and turning off Fourth Street to Walnut. "Forget about Boston for a while. Let's go down near the landing and look at the Velocipede before going home." Grace wanted so much to help Drew forget about past things and for him to be as happy about Cincinnati as she was.
"I thought you weren't supposed to go near the landing by yourself," Drew countered, hurrying to catch up with her.
Grace gave a little giggle. "I'm not by myself, silly. You're with me. And besides, we won't go all the way to the landing. We'll just look down from Second Street."
She knew Drew wanted to hurry home. Among other things, Drew was frightened of the many pigs that ran wild on the streets. The helpful pigs ate the garbage that was thrown into the streets every day by the town's residents.
"I know you're wary of the pigs, Drew," she told him as patiently as she could. "But we'll find two big old sticks, and if any pigs come along, we'll just whack them on the snout."
Grace had never had a pesky pig attack her, but she knew other children had been attacked and seriously hurt. The gruesome stories had scared Drew.
Grace pointed to a yard where several large shade trees grew. "There should be a couple of sticks under those trees." But before they could head that direction, out from between two buildings came Raggy along with Wesley and Karl. They whooped and hollered.
"Dapper Drew! Dresses up in pretty clothes! Looks like a dandy!" Raggy called out in a singsong voice.
Quickly the other two took up the chant: "Dapper Drew! Looks like a dandy!"
Grace caught the look of fear in Drew's eyes. These boys were more frightening to him than a whole herd of pigs.
Chapter Two The Fight
Grace stopped stock-still and turned about to glare at the trio. "You boys hush your mouths!" she demanded. "Leave us alone!"
Drew seemed confused, but Grace knew if he shot off running, they'd be after him for sure. "Pay 'em no mind at all, Drew Ramsey," she said in a loud voice. "At least your name is better than Raggy." She spit out the word with all the disdain she could muster.
But Raggy's attention was not on Grace. Coming closer, the tall boy reached down to grab a handful of the dirt from Walnut Street and flung it at Drew. "Now the dandy's a dirty little dandy," he said and roared with laughter.
"Stop that!" Drew protested. In vain he tried to brush off his nice navy coat and matching trousers. As Drew looked down at the mess, Raggy gave him a sudden shove, dumping him into the dirt.
Grace could stand it no more. She began twirling around, swinging her tin pail as she went. Coming up right behind Raggy, she whammed him in the back of the legs with the pail. Raggy yowled with pain. The blow knocked him off balance, causing him to stumble. As he did, he grabbed one of Grace's shoes that she'd dropped.
"Got your shoe!" he hollered as he ran off, but Grace was in hot pursuit.
"Stop that thief! He's a thief! Stop him!"
Not looking where he was going, Raggy ran smack into a well-dressed gentleman with a top hat and pearl-handled cane. "Here, here, you ragamuffin!" protested the man. "Watch where you're going!"
"Stop him!" Grace kept yelling. But Raggy threw the shoe as hard as he could and raced on down the street. His friends had long since disappeared.
With the help of the kind stranger, Grace retrieved her shoe from within the high wrought-iron fence of a fine home, then retraced her steps to where Drew stood waiting.
"You know, Drew," she said as she tried to catch her breath, "if we stick together, we can whip that terrible Raggy Langler."
But even as she said it, she could tell Drew had no desire to whip anyone-even someone who'd pushed him into the dirt. It was as though there were no life in her cousin at all.
"Why do they allow ruffians like him to attend our school?" Drew wanted to know. "He should stay in Sausage Row where he belongs."
Drew was referring to the run-down district near the landing where the poorer people of the city lived.
"Papa says the city voted to pay the way for a few indigent children to attend as well as those of us who can pay the subscription to go to school." Grace felt proud to know these facts, but it was only because she sometimes sat on the stair landing and listened to the grown-ups talk. She was always sent to bed before serious talk began.
"But why someone like Raggy?" Drew asked. "He doesn't even want to learn."
"It's because of the washerwoman he lives with. Emaline Stanley is her name. She took Raggy in when she found him roaming around Sausage Row all alone. I hear tell she's plumb set on him getting educated." Grace chuckled. "They say she barged right into a meeting of the board of trustees to have her say."
Drew shook his head. "Doesn't she realize the boy's not worth it?"
"I guess not. You know, Drew, the Reverend Danforth says we're supposed to love everybody, but I don't see how anyone could love that dirty, mean-mouthed Raggy."
As they talked, they approached the brink of the hill. Walnut Street, like most of the north-south streets in town, led down toward the public landing at the bank of the grand Ohio River.
Grace loved the sight of the landing as it spread out before them. The wide cobblestone landing was flanked on the north by a row of stately buildings, housing factories, mills, and warehouses that thrived on the river business. At one end of the landing was the brick factory, at the other end was the glassworks.
Situated on the far side of the glassworks was the boatbuilding business in which Papa and Luke were involved. Papa had told her many times, "Grace, someday you'll see dozens, and perhaps even scores, of steamboats plying these waters. And mark my words, the queen city of Cincinnati will be smack dab in the middle of it all!"
The awe and thrill in Papa's voice never failed to stir something inside of Grace. How she wished Drew could be as impressed by this growing frontier city as she was.
"There it is!" she cried out as they approached Front Street. "There's the Velocipede!" The queenly steamboat sat high and proud near the landing, among lesser keelboats, barges, and a few meager flatboats, which carried individual families and all their earthly belongings.
"You see steamboats most every day," Drew commented dryly. "Nothing to get worked up about."
"But this steamboat will carry the order for my new piano!" she said, bouncing up and down on her bare toes.
Drew stopped beside her to study the river. "Why is the sternwheeler out so far?" he asked.
Now Grace stopped to look, as well. "The water's low. Papa says it's because there was so little snow last winter and so little rain this spring."
"What happens if the water goes lower?"
Papa and Luke had told Grace about a summer many years ago when the river was dry for a number of months. But that was before they depended on steamboats to bring so many supplies from New York and New Orleans.
"It won't go any lower," she assured him-and assured herself, as well. "The spring rains will come soon. Just wait and see. Then, instead of complaining about the dust in the streets, you'll complain about all the mud." Grace didn't even want to think about the prospect of a business slowdown on Cincinnati's public landing, especially if it meant a slowdown on the arrival of her piano.
The walk to Front Street had taken them a few blocks out of the way in their journey home. Before turning to walk back up the hill to Third, Grace sat down to put on her shoes and stockings so Mama would never know she'd been running barefoot all over the city.
Looking up at Drew, she asked, "Are you going to do something special for the school program, Drew?" She hopped up as they resumed their walk toward home.
Drew gave a shrug.
"You told me you learned Greek and Latin in Boston. Why don't you recite a piece in Greek?" She laughed as she thought of it. "That'd show that old Raggy a thing or two." But she could see her great idea sparked little response in Drew. If she could speak another language, she'd teach it to Amy. Then they could talk about Raggy, and he'd never know what they were saying.
They were almost to the two-story brick home where Grace lived on Symmes Street. She stopped a moment at their front gate, where her mama had planted masses of rambling roses and honeysuckle bushes.
"In the morning, Papa and I will take the order for my piano down to the steamboat," Grace said. "If you want to go with us, come by earlier than usual."
Drew nodded in agreement. "Bye," he said giving her a listless wave.
Grace watched as he walked slowly toward the plank-covered log cabin situated in a clearing near Deer Creek. There, Drew lived with his older brother, Carter; Carter's wife, Deanna; and their two little ones, Adah and Matthew. Even though Carter had built a loft for Drew, Grace knew that, with two toddlers underfoot, it was a crowded place.
Excerpted from Grace And The Bully by Norma Jean Lutz Copyright © 2006 by Barbour Publishing, Inc.. Excerpted by permission.
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