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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Jonas Lie (1833–1908)

The Snake in the Schoolroom

From “Niobe”

SCHULTHEISS strutted up and down the schoolroom with his brows knit. He was staring at his feet, of which he was exceedingly proud. He put one before the other with precision and elegance, step by step, and whenever he turned round made a deep bend of the knees, answering to the intellectual strain he was undergoing. His gait increased while his excitement grew. Suddenly he stopped, resuming thus, with a beaming, self-confident smile:

“‘The History of the Spinning-Wheel’—that is the title of the work I intend to write, in several volumes. What has there not been spun out of the spinning-wheel? The men have gone through the thread-loop like dots of wool. But I mean—hm—that this romantic sort of stuff about woman I shall leave to the petty scribblers. As for me, I—I”—he ejaculated passionately, until his voice became a squeak—“I will light a firebrand, show up the slave who is being bought and sold, who is chained to the spinning-wheel. And then,” looking solemnly at Minka, “begins the struggle for liberty. It is a highly complicated and delicate subject, which only a genius with the most penetrating powers of psychological analysis can unravel in all its details. Such a man must know the female heart to the core—yes, to the very core, I tell you!”

At this moment Arnt snatched the master’s handkerchief, which was protruding from the pocket of his coat tail.

“But when my pen is once let loose,” shouted the pedagogue, waving and flourishing his right arm so that his bare, bony wrist could be seen far out of his sleeve, “I will make revelations—ha, such revelations!”

Just then Arnt partly pulled down the handkerchief, which hung downward like a tail.

“I will lay bare all her weapons—the whole arsenal! Step by step will I follow up her wretched career, and prove how her secret yet constant opposition and intrigue against the lord of creation has turned her best feelings into sharply pointed, poisoned weapons, into the most wily allurements, and has made her mistress of all the most treacherous arts, and has perfected her in deceit and duplicity, and has changed her whole nature! Yes, changed her whole nature!”

He shot a fiery glance at Minka.

“She plays and coquets with man,” declaimed the wrought-up Schultheiss, “as selfishly, coldly, and cruelly as the cat with the mouse. She sits”—he put on a bland smile—“by the trap, bewitchingly flattering and enticing him; and when the fool has jumped into it”—a contemptuous kick at the air illustrated his meaning—“he surrenders his very life, while she weeps irresistible, heartrending tears!”

He paced rapidly up and down, while the handkerchief wagged to and fro behind him.

“She has turned into the world’s great impostor, whose satanic passion it is to allure and destroy! She is a dangerous creature, I say, a venomous, creeping thing, sparkling with a thousand colors”—his voice grew sarcastic—“to be watched with suspicion, like a snake which you think you have tamed.”

“Hee-hee-hee! Look at the snake!” laughed the scholars, while Ole was at that moment trying to abstract the handkerchief altogether from the schoolmaster’s pocket.

Schultheiss assumed a straddling position, and began rocking back and forth, with his head thrown back and his eyes fixed upon the ceiling. The “snake” was now hanging far down, and the pupils were watching it with breathless suspense.

“I have just exhibited a terrible picture to you,” said Schultheiss, taking a deep breath, and turning toward Minka.

“What did you say? I beg your pardon,” remarked the girl as she looked up at him with an innocent, preoccupied air. “I was busy with my exercise.”

A deadly pallor suddenly overspread his face; all his grandeur seemed to shrivel up and disappear; there was nothing but a nervous, fussy little figure left. He coughed, and began again with a stutter:

“I had n-next inten-ten-ded to represent w-woman when her sense of dignity is awakened, when her grand and noble struggle——”

“Hee-hee-hee! The snake! There lies the snake!” giggled all the boys in a fit of uncontrollable mirth.

Schultheiss looked about bewildered.

“There it is!” exclaimed Berthea obligingly, calling his attention to it where it lay on the floor.

The master hastily picked up the handkerchief, stuffed it into his pocket, snatched up a book, and flurriedly passed on to another lesson.