Ghosts I Have Been by Richard PeckGhosts I Have Been by Richard Peck

Ghosts I Have Been

byRichard Peck

Paperback | April 23, 2001

Pricing and Purchase Info

$8.14 online 
$8.50 list price
Earn 41 plum® points

Prices and offers may vary in store


In stock online

Ships free on orders over $25

Not available in stores


Blossom Culp is the outspoken outcast of Bluff City, always getting into trouble. No one wants to cross her, especially now that she's revealed that she can see the Unseen. Then Blossom herself is stunned, because her lie turns out to be truth. She actually does have second sight...and she is "on board" the sinking Titanic.
Born in Decatur, IIlinois, Richard Peck has written over 18 novels for young readers. He is the winner of the 1990 Margaret A. Edwards Award, a prestigious award sponsored by the Young Adult Library Services Association of the American Library Association in cooperation with School Library Journal; the 1990 National Council of Teachers...
Title:Ghosts I Have BeenFormat:PaperbackDimensions:224 pages, 7.74 × 5.07 × 0.57 inPublished:April 23, 2001Publisher:Penguin Young Readers GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0141310960

ISBN - 13:9780141310961

Appropriate for ages: 9 - 12

Look for similar items by category:


Rated 3 out of 5 by from Ghosts I Have Been (Blossom Culp #2) by Richard Peck I was very worried that the book wouldn't age well, but even as an adult, it's still a good (and amusing) read. The humor is still there, and even though Blossom is one of those "loner girls without a friend in the world" she never turns into a whiny heroine. The first person voice is amazing. And while the plot turns on something a little bit far-fetched, I've read much worse in books for adults.Still love it. Would recommend it for even adults. There is a paedophile villian, but it's not too creepy, and he gets his comeuppance. One thing I didn't realize as a kid was that this was part of a series . . . I may have to look for the others. For me, it's one of those stories that when you think about it, you can still remember the images it brought to mind the first time you read it. I could practically touch the clothes and smell the curling smoke. It actually gave me goosebumps and got my heart pounding.
Date published: 2017-10-03

Read from the Book

From Blossom herself:I tell you, the world is so full of ghosts, a person wonders if there’s a soul to be found on the Other Side, or anybody snug in a quiet grave. I’ve seen several haunts, and I’ve been one myself.You’ve probably heard about me already. For a time I was the most famous girl in two countries. I’ve been called Ghost Girl and Fantastic Faker by turns. Numerous people have commented on my adventures in this world and others, but none could explain my Powers entirely, and many are liars outright.My first glimpses into Worlds Unseen come as quite a surprise to me, among others. . . .PUFFIN BOOKS BY RICHARD PECKAre You in the House Alone?The Dreadful Future of Blossom CulpDreamland LakeFather FigureThe Great Interactive Dream MachineThe Ghost Belonged to MeGhosts I Have BeenA Long Way from ChicagoLost in CyberspaceStrays Like UsTable of Contents Prologue I TELL YOU, the world is so full of ghosts, a person wonders if there’s a soul to be found on the Other Side. Or anybody snug in a quiet grave. I’ve seen several haunts, and been one myself.You’ve probably heard about me already. For a time I was the most famous girl in two countries. I’ve been called Ghost Girl and Fantastic Faker by turns. Numerous people have commented on my adventures in this world and others, but none could explain my Powers entirely, and many are liars outright.I lived a full fourteen years without thought to having any extra talents of my own. Psychic Gifts were to me the advantages certain other people had, like good looks or regular meals. So my first glimpses into Worlds Unseen come as quite a surprise to me, among others.Whether you be born with the Gift or attain it is often debated. As you’ll see, my Gift tended to creep up on me and would often pop out under pressure. Practice makes perfect, as the poet says. I seemed to refine my Powers as I went, much like learning to write a clear hand or driving one of the new automobiles.All this was leading in a direction. At the start I was no more than a plain American girl with nothing going for me but spunk. Little did I know where my new-found talents would lead me—across tossing seas and into lives of high and low degree. I little knew the wickedness of this world until I saw beyond it.Two fates were entwined: mine and the tormented ghost of a boy—a perfect stranger to me—who died a death I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.As I pen these words to leave a lasting record, I wonder myself where it all began. We start up in the mists of mystery, and there we all end. And Souls drift like ground fog across a hundred worlds and far frontiers.Many’s the ignorant person who claims that spirits and haunts have forsaken the modern age in this new twentieth century. But what they do not know would fill a book. And this is the book. 1 THERE ARE GIRLS in this town who pass their time up on their porches doing fancywork on embroidery hoops. You can also see them going about in surreys or on the back seats of autos with their mothers, paying calls in white gloves. They’re all as alike as gingerbread figures in skirts. I was never one of them. My name is Blossom Culp, and I’ve always lived by my wits.My mama and me live hard by the streetcar right of way, on the down side. Ours is a two-room dwelling which we have rent free, it being abandoned. We had always lived off a hard clay garden and put by what we could against the winter. For extras, I’ve been on my own since I was knee-high.My mama picked up a certain amount of loose change in palm reading, herb cures, and other occupations I will mention. But until I became famous, she never made her skills known. And in this modern age, if you don’t advertise, the world doesn’t beat a path to your door. Remember this. It bears on the story later on.Since various people—newspaper reporters and suchlike—have asked me about my paw or if I have one, I’ll just mention that Paw’s a traveling man. We don’t hear tell of him for long stretches. He doesn’t figure in this present account, since to my recollection he didn’t turn up at our place any time during 1913 or 1914. Still, I wouldn’t be surprised to come in at any time now and find Paw stretched out insensible before the stove. As the poet says,Not drunk is he who from the floorCan rise alone and still drink more;But drunk is he, who prostrate lies,Without the power to drink or rise.At intervals we get picture postcards from Paw, who lives his life answering the call of the open road. The name and address on the cards, merely “The Culps, Bluff City,” are written in by a series of unknown hands. The spaces for messages are blank. Neither my paw nor my mama can read or write, though they have their talents like anybody else.Here I have shown progress, for I am a quick study as to reading and other matters. My penmanship, as you can see from this page, is first-rate. My grammar is not perfect, but then whose is? As to spelling, I could cover my middy blouse with medals won at various bees.None of these accomplishments will take you far, of course, if you lack what the world calls advantages. I consider that I was always well off without such advantages, as they tend to kill your initiative. As the poet says, necessity is what makes the mule plow. And I for one would not care to pass my life up on a porch, gazing into an embroidery hoop.Naming no names, there are some people here in Bluff City who still say I do not know my place. How wrong they are. I know it well and always did. But I have always meant to better myself, and when you are on your own in this life, it is uphill work.As the poet says, vanity has done more in this world than modesty. Now I am not vain when it comes to looks. If I was, a trip to the mirror would cure me. My eyes are very nearly black, particularly if I am roused to anger or action. My hair needs more attention than I have time to give it. And my legs, being thin, do not show to good advantage, as being fourteen, I am still in short skirts.But I am vain about my resourcefulness. There is more to be learned about a town from the wrong side of the tracks than from the right. I made a study of this town long before I had the power to see beyond it. Bluff City is mainly divided into two camps: those who have already arrived and those who never will. So I am something of a misfit. But the advantage of a small town is that the rich and the poor live cheek by jowl. Just over the streetcar tracks lives a well-to-do family, name of Armsworth. They have a son, Alexander, who’s in my same grade at school. He is getting to the lanky stage. However, being a boy, he’s not as mature for his age as I am. Boys never are, which is a scientific fact.Between his house and mine on the Armsworth property is a large outbuilding known locally as the Ghost Barn. You may have read about it in all the papers here and elsewhere last spring. Though the barn was haunted, it no longer is, thanks to me and Alexander Armsworth.He had the Gift of seeing the ghost as plain as day. I had the talent for involving myself in other people’s business. Between us, we got the ghost out of the barn and into a quiet grave. The whole business embarrassed Alexander considerably, though it did not faze me.My name didn’t figure in the local write-up. The reporter on the story was spooning at the time with Alexander’s big sister, Lucille, so he featured the Armsworths strongly, leaving me out. His name is Lowell Seaforth, and I don’t hold it against him. He’s since married Lucille Armsworth, so I have no doubt he’s paying for all his past sins.The ghost which got such a big play last spring came to light entirely due to my mama. She was the first to perceive its presence. Gypsy blood runs in her veins, giving her the Second Sight and the Gift of seeing the Unseen, like Alexander but better. She’s such a great hand at dealing in the supernatural that we were run out of Sikeston, Missouri, where we originated. They won’t burn you for a witch in Sikeston, but they can make it hot for you.The blood is running thin, though, and I doubted that I’d inherited any mystical gifts. At least they had not shown up yet. So here again, the only advantage I might have had seemed to pass me by. Anybody with a drop of gypsy blood in her veins would gladly lay some claim to mystical powers. But what’s not inherited can sometimes be manufactured.*   *   *Halloween in Bluff City as elsewhere is a marvelous time of year for boys to play the fool. Nothing inflames them like an excuse to disturb the peace and a harvest moon to light their way. Mama and me were never troubled by pranksters. They paid us no mind generally, but on Halloween they went out of their way to shun us. Even now, no one is sure of the extent of my mama’s Gift and how she might use it against you.But I made it my business that Halloween of the year 1913 to be out and about myself. Boys will repeat the same tricks, never tiring of them. If there’s anything more predictable than a boy, I haven’t met it. I decided to give a certain gang of them something to think about. Indeed, I meant to scare them out of a year’s growth.My motive was not spotless. It involved Alexander Armsworth. Me and him had been drawn together over that ghost business. Directly after we’d settled it, though, he kept his distance. I was not sweet on Alexander. Still, a person does not like to be picked up and then dropped. I decided to let him know I was still a girl to be reckoned with.Besides, he’d fallen in with a gang of rough types. Bub Timmons was one of them, and so was Champ Ferguson. The chief troublemaker was Les Dawson, a bully of more brawn than brain. Nobody cared to lock horns with him. I was shortly to do just that.They were all older than Alexander, though Les Dawson was in our grade, being left back several semesters. It was entirely like Alexander to mix with an older crowd and be drawn into their doings.Out in the Horace Mann schoolyard it was hard work not to overhear the gang’s plans for Halloween mischief. They whispered about it every recess, boxing each other about the head and ears as boys do. Their Halloween plan was nothing more than to turn over people’s outhouses. Progress in Bluff City is spotty. Only the chosen few have indoor plumbing. Much of the town on my side of the tracks is still dotted with privies. I had little trouble plotting the gang’s course.Since ghosts were still on the minds of many people, I planned a costume to feature myself as one. By dark on Halloween night, I had ready a garment made out of old bed linens. One ragged sheet provided me with a full skirt and trailing train. I devised two batwing sleeves from a pair of pillowslips. I shook a full cup of cake flour over my face and hair and worked it in. To complete my disguise as the shade of a dead girl, I draped a mosquito bar over my head as a veil. And I carried a candle in my hand and a box of safety matches in my shoe top to light up my frightful face when the moment was right.As I stepped out into the evening, the town was alive with young children trick-or-treating from house to house. Half scared of themselves and each other, they kept to the roads and front walks. I flitted through backyards, not wanting to give the little ones a turn. Though it was a clear night, there were wisps of fog. I moved with small quick steps, and my white skirts billowed behind me for all the world like floating. Listen, I wouldn’t have liked to meet me in a dark alley.Glowing a ghastly white, I glided down garden rows and past woven-wire fences, lingering behind woodpiles to observe how my drapings settled. There was a nip in the air, but I was warmed by my plans.They were to figure out which of the outhouses Alexander’s gang would push over first. I reflected on what a lot of trouble this gave innocent people and considered I was doing the property owners a favor. I might cure the gang of vandalism permanently.The first privy I come to was on the back of Old Man Leverette’s place. He’s a retired farmer moved to town, but he keeps to his country ways and is not the type to invest in an indoor toilet. His outhouse stood like a sentry box against the rising moon. Here was a temptation the boys could not resist. I waited like a terrible statue for a time, seeming to hear the gang’s stealthy footsteps in the distance. For the practice I sighed and moaned a little.My intention was to step just inside the privy and pull the door shut. Then when the gang approached to tip it over, I planned to step out, with the lighted candle, and moan eerily. If this wouldn’t strike them half dead with horror, what would? I grinned under my mosquito bar at my plans. Alas, I grinned too soon.As there was no breeze that night, I fished the matches out of my shoe top and lit my candle as I stepped up to Old Man Leverette’s privy door.At this point, things went seriously wrong. I had one foot inside when I come face to face with Old Man Leverette himself. He was in his privy, using it. His nightshirt was hitched up about his hips. My candle threw dreadful shadows in the tiny room, and light fell on Old Man Leverette’s startled face and on the torn pages of the Montgomery Ward catalogue in his aged hands.Near enough to the grave himself, he let out a kind of Indian war whoop. He rose up, thought better of it, and flopped back down on the seat. I was as startled as he was, and the wind from his gasping breath set the candle flame bobbing.“Whoooo, whoooo, whooo in the Sam Hill are you?” Old Man Leverette howled.“I beg your pardon, I’m sure,” I said, not wanting to identify myself. I took a step backwards, but his hand snaked out and grabbed my wrist. Pages from the catalogue fluttered away like moths. My presence of mind failed me and I said, “I just happened to be passing.”“So was I!” Old Man Leverette roared.He could tell by grasping my wrist that I was human. Giving it a painful wrenching, he pushed me out the door, which closed between us. As I lifted my sheets to take flight, I heard his voice from inside still roaring, “Don’t light out, missy! I got business with you!”As near fear as I’d ever been, I waited until Old Man Leverette stepped out into the yard. Lit by the moon, we seemed a pair of ghosts, what with his white nightshirt and a shock of flowing white hair above his lion’s face.“If you’re trick-or-treatin’,” he said, still gasping, “you can go around to the front door of the house and take your chances like anybody else!”My candle had gone out by then, and I’d thrown my veil back from my face. He fixed me with a watery eye, but couldn’t place me. “And just who do you happen to be?” he said, and waited for an answer.“Letty Shambaugh,” I replied, naming a stuck-up girl in my grade whose name occurred to me.“Explain yourself before I cut a switch and stripe your legs!”It wasn’t easy to explain to Old Man Leverette that I had his best interests at heart and only meant to save his outhouse from a tipping over. And how would he like to be tipped over in it? I nearly added this, but didn’t.He is one of these people who don’t like being convinced. But when I mentioned a gang of boys planning to knock over every outhouse between here and the city limits, he began to nod. I didn’t name these boys, but I made it clear that I meant to teach them a lesson. If not in the Leverette privy, then in another.My words began to work. Old Man Leverette worried the stubble on his chin with a gnarled hand. Presently he said, “There’s sense to your plan, Letty. But I don’t know but what I can improve on it. You can scare hell out of them in the privy, and I’ll send ’em on their way with a plan of my own. Don’t move. I’ll be back directly.” Then he stalked off to the house. His nightshirt strained around his big white legs.He returned, marching down his punkin patch with a shotgun on his shoulder. “Now then,” he said, taking over, “you can get yourself into the privy, and I’ll hunker down over there behind my compost heap. I got a notion we won’t have long to wait. Do your best, and I’ll do the rest.“And you just as well leave your veil up. You’re spooky enough lookin’ without it.”There was hardly enough air in the privy to get my candle going again. The atmosphere was close and unpleasant. I was reminded of mummies buried upright in their coffins before I heard the sure sounds of a gang of boys trying to be quiet. I drew my veil down.The boys crashed through the undergrowth behind the privy. I hoped they didn’t mean to tip from the back and flatten the door to the ground before I could float out of it. But they only lingered back there, egging one another on. A good example of cowardice is boys in a bunch. I had an idea this was their first privy of the evening. And with any luck at all, their last.Giving the sides a shove or two, they circled around and went to work on the front. They began to rock my hiding place, but its posts were well sunk. It started to give, though, just as I pushed back the door and stepped out, nearly into the straining arms of Alexander Armsworth.The candle flickered and guttered between my white veil and his suddenly white face. His arms fell from the door jamb, and he let out the high whinny of a fire-crazed horse. Bub and Champ were at work on the far side of the door and missed my entrance. But they couldn’t miss Alexander. He keeled backwards and fell flat on the ground. “A HAUNT! I AM CURSED!” he screamed and lay on his back like a turned turtle, with his fists jammed into his eyes.Bub and Champ were transfixed by this behavior. So was Les Dawson, who was standing farther off, supervising the job. I moved beyond the shadow of the door, pulled my veil tight at my throat, and held the candle directly beneath my chin. “Ohhhh! Woe to all here,” I moaned in a far-off, cultivated voice, rather like that of our teacher, Miss Mae Spaulding. Bub and Champ gave me one look and ran directly into each other’s arms. Then they stumbled forward, sprawling over Alexander, who was still on his back in the weeds. The three rolled together like puppies. Being farther off, Les held his ground. I raised a ghostly finger and pointed directly at him.This moved him. Just as he wheeled in the direction of a high wood fence along the side of the property, Old Man Leverette reared up from behind him and let out another of his war whoops. It would have curdled milk and blood alike.Already traveling, Les took a kind of skip in the air. The three on the ground were scuttling crab fashion toward the fence themselves, but they flattened when they heard the war cry.Old Man Leverette’s whoop had not died away before he aimed his shotgun in the air and fired off one barrel of rock salt. People later reported hearing the explosion as far away as the town square. There was a flash of flame from the muzzle, and for some seconds rock salt spattered like hail over the backyard and privy roof.Les Dawson had hit the fence at his top speed by then, but crumpled down into a summer-squash vine, evidently thinking he was killed. In the next second Bub, Champ, and Alexander were on the fence, clinging to it a moment, and then over the top. Les, being gangly, made two tries at the fence top before he could heave himself over; he was sobbing aloud. For a long moment his backside was high in the air as he tried to calculate the drop on the far side of the fence. Temptation overcame Old Man Leverette.He grabbed up his shotgun, jammed the butt into his shoulder, and squeezed off the other barrel of rock salt. His large target was Les Dawson’s behind.Of all the screams and whoops that rent the air that night, Les’s was the loudest. He seemed to take flight from the top of the fence, like an aeroplane fueled by rock salt, and he fell in an arc on the far side, howling all the way to the ground.Old Man Leverette whooped again, very nearly helpless with laughter. His shotgun clattered to earth. He gasped and called out, “Well, Letty, I reckon we showed ’em. You, Letty! You hear me?”But I’d put out my candle by then and was making tracks toward home. I faded away behind a stand of dry hollyhocks, grinning as I went at the notion of Letty Shambaugh putting in such a night’s work. 2 THE EVENTS of that busy Halloween night cast a lengthier shadow than I bargained for. In the long run many lives were changed, mine among them. But I little knew this the next morning. There’s nothing like a night’s work well done to set you up for the next day. I headed off for school with a cup of black coffee in me by way of breakfast and an apple in my skirt pocket for lunch.As a rule I followed the streetcar tracks halfway to school, which is the long way around. Since I had to wear the same outfit in all weather, I would not parade myself down the best streets, like Fairview Avenue, lined with the large homes of such well-off old-timers as Miss Gertrude Dabney and, farther along, the Shambaughs. I have my pride just like anybody else. That morning, though, I trespassed across the Armsworths’ property.My success as a ghost had backfired on me in one way. I’d scared Alexander into believing he could see ghosts again, at least for a brief period. This would remind him of a time him and me had shared. But my disguise kept him from knowing who had set him gibbering with fear and showed up the thugs he was running with as a bunch of crybabies. Especially Les Dawson. I like to see credit given where credit is due. And if the credit’s due me, so much the better.Also, confession is good for the soul, as the poet says; though I’d have to catch Alexander before I could confess to him. It might take some while, but I was willing to wait. Still, with Armsworths on my mind, I made a shortcut across their territory.Beyond the Ghost Barn their place rose up in all its glory. Autumn-red clinging vines twined over their many porches and towers. The morning sun caught the stained glass of their windows. The Armsworth place is the third largest house in Bluff City, with a lawn befitting it.Drawn up to the side stood a new Ford automobile. This meant that Alexander’s big sister, Lucille, was paying an early morning call. She’s quite stout, so I guess she’d come around for a second breakfast. Lucille’s the new bride of the newspaperman, Lowell Seaforth, who was soon to figure big in my fortunes. The Ford automobile was her paw’s wedding present to the happy couple. Lucille Armsworth Seaforth was a well-known hazard around town all summer while learning to drive the Ford. She is headstrong but easily distracted, making her a poor candidate for a license.While she was teaching herself to drive, the Ford got away from her and mowed down a line of shrubs on the Carnegie Library lawn. Veering the wrong way, she gunned the Ford up the front walk, and it tried to mount the library steps, destroying two stone urns. During this, Lucille rose in the seat and screamed “Whoa!” to the Ford.Her paw paid all damages and said publicly that as to wedding presents, a set of silverware would have been a better bet.Just beyond the Ford was a big dining-room window. From it came the sounds of the family at their breakfast. The smell of frying bacon drifted out, making me dizzy. The voices of Lucille and Mrs. Armsworth were raised in conversation. I took the sound of knives and forks to be Alexander and his paw silently putting their breakfast away. A hired girl was at their beck and call. Some people live high up on the hog and no mistake.*   *   *News travels fast in a schoolyard. There was considerable buzzing about the strange events and gunfire of the night before. As usual everybody had their own version of the story nowhere near the truth. But various parts of their tales were right enough; it would only need one intelligent person to put the puzzle pieces together.Our grade at Horace Mann School was taught by the principal, Miss Mae Spaulding. She left nothing to chance, taking it on herself to whip us into shape before we moved across the road to the high school. And whip is a word you don’t want to use lightly with Miss Spaulding. Though slender as a wand and ladylike, she has an arm on her like a bartender.Les Dawson did not come to school till noon. I have an idea that his kin spent many hours picking rock salt out of him. A morning recess without Les was as good as Christmas for the smaller kids, for Les never missed a day of stealing their pennies and putting their lunch buckets in trees. When he did come to school, he was in a meaner frame of mind than usual. Alexander was subdued throughout the day. As to Bub Timmons and Champ Ferguson, I did not know, because they are across the road in the high school.During Geography I noticed a worrisome thing. Miss Spaulding was saying, “And who can name me two principal exports of Egypt?”Letty Shambaugh’s hand flew up as usual. “Please, Miss Spaulding, sisal and jute!”“Very good, Letty,” Miss Spaulding said, and expanded on the answer.I noticed that Les shot Letty a look. There was murder in his eye. It came to me that I’d passed myself off as Letty the night before. Old Man Leverette had called out her name just as the boys were encouraged over the fence. There is only one girl in town by the name of Letty. One is plenty.This muddled my thoughts. Like the rest of the girls, Letty is no friend of mine. She’s stuck-up and with very little cause, though her paw owns the Select Dry Goods Company. Letty is a walking advertisement for it. She has more shirtwaists, skirts, and shoes, all well fitting, than any five or six girls in school. She’s also the president of a club of girls she founded herself. I knew nothing of it except for its name, The Sunny Thoughts and Busy Fingers Sisterhood. Only later did I learn how poorly it was named. For none of them had enough to do to keep their thoughts sunny or their fingers busy.It looked like Les thought it was Letty who’d scattered his gang and caused him to be fired on. Anybody with common sense would know that Letty’s not that enterprising. Besides, her people never let her out at night, let alone Halloween. But if Les had common sense, he’d be graduated from the high school by now.Whatever he planned for Letty might bring her down a peg or two. On the other hand, Letty was innocent of this. And I wondered if it was fair that she should suffer. A small amount of suffering would surely do her no harm, I reasoned. I put this problem aside in favor of Miss Spaulding’s Egypt lecture.At afternoon recess Les pounced. Letty was in a swing being pushed by one of her club members. Boys have gangs and girls have clubs, but they are much the same. Letty held her small feet close together. The lace of her many petticoats riffled in the breeze. Up and down she swooped, with a girl behind her straining to keep up the momentum. Letty’s gold ringlets stood out from her round pink face, and her little rosebud mouth was pursed in pleasure. I was nearby, as I often am.Les suddenly loomed up, snarling like a dog. She was swinging right into his ugly face before she saw him. He grabbed hold of her feet, and Letty’s swing fell back without her.She hit the dirt under a tent of collapsing petticoats, the wind knocked out of her. Les dropped her feet and set upon her, growling, “I’ll larn ya,” and several other words. Letty’s half-smothered squeaks brought a ring of onlookers but no aid. Les flipped her over and rubbed her pink face in the dirt. Then he yanked off her enormous satin hair ribbon and ripped it to shreds. All the Sunny Thoughts and Busy Fingers girls squealed and wrung their hands.To add to the confusion, up pounded Bub Timmons and Champ Ferguson, even though nobody from the high school is allowed into our schoolyard, especially boys. They stood by, half satisfied and half uncertain. From the corner of my eye, I saw Alexander playing kick-the-can at the far end of the yard. He was well out of this.Right then my better nature took command of the rest of me. Les was rubbing Letty’s face into the playground, and her head seemed to be sinking lower into the earth. This might have ended in untimely death if I hadn’t pushed through the crowd and come up behind Les. The big bruiser could have felled me with one blow. But who knew better than me how tender his rear must be, pocked with rock salt as it was? I kicked him hard where it would be most instructive.He turned nearly inside out and yelled. But he let go of Letty. Then he was up in a crouch and wheeling my way. When he saw me with my thin legs braced and both small fists clenched, he broke into an evil smirk, though his eyes were wet with pain. Letty scrambled in the other direction. People said later that she took a few tottering steps and fell into a faint in the arms of her club. I’d saved Letty, but who would save me? I threw a few punches, but Les Dawson’s hands closed around my throat and the world went dark.Though I was only truly out for a moment, I remained where I sprawled. Somewhere nearby was the whistle and thwack of the paddle Miss Spaulding keeps for hard cases. Les was getting it again, and this time a systematic thrashing from Miss Spaulding’s own arm. My mind drifted off then, for I was nearer strangled than I knew.I come to in Miss Spaulding’s private office, stretched out on a cot. Letty Shambaugh was on another cot just opposite. I let my eyes flutter shut again. If you must be in a principal’s office at all, it’s better to be unconscious.But I had a glimpse of Letty still looking dead to the world. What a sight she was. Now you could have buried me up to my neck in hogmash and not done much violence to my bib and tucker. But Letty looked like the Wreck of the Hesperus. She was bright yellow with playground dirt, and her petticoat lace was hanging in tatters. Half her collar was missing, and her rosebud lips were gray. I sensed activity in the room and stayed quiet.Time had passed, for school was out and Letty’s mother had been sent for. Nobody thought to send for my mama, but that was just as well.Evidently Miss Spaulding was trying to prepare Mrs. Shambaugh for her first sight of Letty. “Everything is under control now,” Miss Spaulding was saying, “and I have thrashed the culprit soundly and expelled him from school.”“It seems to me,” came Mrs. Shambaugh’s voice, “that you’d have done better to expel him some while back. What Mr. Shambaugh will say when he—Saints in Heaven! Letty, honey, speak to me!”

Editorial Reviews

" outrageous sequence of events charmed together with skillful wordwork." --Booklist, starred review