by Paul Laurence Dunbar
I NEVER shall furgit that night when father
hitched up Dobbin,
An' all us youngsters clambered in an' down the
road went bobbin'
To school where we was kep' at work in every
kind o' weather,
But where that night a spellin'-bee was callin' us
'Twas one o' Heaven's banner nights, the stars
was all a glitter,
The moon was shinin' like the hand o' God had
jest then lit her.
The ground was white with spotless snow, the
blast was sort o' stingin';
But underneath our round-abouts, you bet our
hearts was singin'.
That spellin'-bee had be'n the talk o' many a
The youngsters all was wild to see jes' what the
precious show meant,
An' we whose years was in their teens was little
O' gittin' to the meetin' so 's our sweethearts
could admire us.
So on we went so anxious fur to satisfy our
That father had to box our ears, to smother our
But boxin' ears was too short work to hinder
He jest turned roun' an' smacked us all, an' kep'
right on a-drivin'.
Well, soon the schoolhouse hove in sight, the
winders beamin' brightly;
The sound o' talkin' reached our ears, and voices
It puffed us up so full an' big 'at I 'll jest bet a
There wa'n't a feller there but felt the strain
upon his collar.
So down we jumped an' in we went ez sprightly
ez you make 'em,
But somethin' grabbed us by the knees an'
straight began to shake 'em.
Fur once within that lighted room, our feelin's
took a canter,
An' scurried to the zero mark ez quick ez Tam
'Cause there was crowds o' people there, both
sexes an' all stations;
It looked like all the town had come an' brought
all their relations.
The first I saw was Nettie Gray, I thought that
girl was dearer
'N' gold; an' when I got a chance, you bet I
aidged up near her.
An' Farmer Dobbs's girl was there, the one 'at
Jim was sweet on,
An' Cyrus Jones an' Mandy Smith an' Faith an'
Then Parson Brown an' Lawyer Jones were
An' piles on piles of other folks too numerous
The master rose an' briefly said: "Good friends,
dear brother Crawford,
To spur the pupils' minds along, a little prize
To him who spells the best to-night--or 't may
be 'her'--no tellin'--
He offers ez a jest reward, this precious work on
A little blue-backed spellin'-book with fancy
We boys devoured it with our eyes--so did the
girls an' women.
He held it up where all could see, then on the
table set it,
An' ev'ry speller in the house felt mortal bound
to get it.
At his command we fell in line, prepared to do
Outspell the rest an' set 'em down, an' carry
home the booty.
'T was then the merry times began, the blunders,
an' the laffin',
The nudges an' the nods an' winks an' stale
Ole Uncle Hiram Dane was there, the clostest
Whose only bugbear seemed to be the dreadful
fear o' givin'.
His beard was long, his hair uncut, his clothes
all bare an' dingy;
It was n't 'cause the man was pore, but jest so
An' there he sot by Sally Riggs a-smilin' an'
An' all his childern lef' to home a diggin' an'
A widower he was, an' Sal was thinkin' 'at she 'd
I reckon he was wond'rin' what them rings o'
hern would bring him.
An' when the spellin'-test commenced, he up
an' took his station,
A-spellin' with the best o' them to beat the very
An' when he 'd spell some youngster down, he 'd
turn to look at Sally,
An' say: "The teachin' nowadays can't be o'
no great vally."
But true enough the adage says, "Pride walks
in slipp'ry places,"
Fur soon a thing occurred that put a smile on
all our faces.
The laffter jest kep' ripplin' 'roun' an' teacher
could n't quell it,
Fur when he give out "charity" ole Hiram
could n't spell it.
But laffin' 's ketchin' an' it throwed some others
off their bases,
An' folks 'u'd miss the very word that seemed
to fit their cases.
Why, fickle little Jessie Lee come near the
By puttin' in a double "kay" to spell the word
An' when it come to Cyrus Jones, it tickled me
Him settin' up to Mandy Smith an' got sot
down on "lover."
But Lawyer Jones of all gone men did shorely
look the gonest,
When he found out that he 'd furgot to put the
"h" in "honest."
An' Parson Brown, whose sermons were too long
Caused lots o' smiles by missin' when they give
So one by one they giv' it up--the big words
Till me an' Nettie Gray was left, the only ones
An' then my inward strife began--I guess my
mind was petty--
I did so want that spellin'-book; but then to
spell down Nettie
Jest sort o' went ag'in my grain--I somehow
could n't do it,
An' when I git a notion fixed, I 'm great on
stickin' to it.
So when they giv' the next word out--I had n't
orter tell it,
But then 't was all fur Nettie's sake--I missed
so 's she could spell it.
She spelt the word, then looked at me so lovin'-
like an' mello',
I tell you 't sent a hunderd pins a-shootin'
through a fello'.
O' course I had to stand the jokes an' chaffin'
of the fello's,
But when they handed her the book I vow I
was n't jealous.
We sung a hymn, an' Parson Brown dismissed us
like he orter,
Fur, la! he 'd learned a thing er two an' made
his blessin' shorter.
'T was late an' cold when we got out, but Nettie
liked cold weather,
An' so did I, so we agreed we 'd jest walk home
We both wuz silent, fur of words we nuther had
'Till she spoke out quite sudden like, "You
missed that word on purpose."
Well, I declare it frightened me; at first I tried
But Nettie, she jest smiled an' smiled, she
knowed that I was lyin'.
Sez she: "That book is yourn by right;" sez
I: "It never could be--
I--I--you--ah---" an' there I stuck, an'
well she understood me.
So we agreed that later on when age had giv'
We 'd jine our lots an' settle down to own that