HER BOOK & HEART
By GEORGE MADDEN MARTIN
And Illustrated By CHARLES LOUIS HINTON
"My Book and Heart Must Never Part." —New England Primer
GROSSET & DUNLAP Publishers—New York
Copyright, 1901, 1902, by S. S. McClure Co.
Copyright, 1902, by McCLURE, PHILLIPS & CO.
To My Sister THE AUNT CORDELIA of these stories, this book is affectionately inscribed
PAGE The Right Promethean Fire 1 A Little Feminine Casabianca 29 Hare-and-Tortoise or the Bliss of Ignorance 49 "I Sing of Honour and the Faithful Heart" 81 The Play's the Thing 113 The Shadow of a Tragedy 135 All the Winds of Doctrine 165 The Confines of Consistency 193 A Ballad in Print o' Life 225 Venus or Minerva? 247
THE RIGHT PROMETHEAN FIRE
Emmy Lou, laboriously copying digits, looked up. The boy sitting in line in the next row of desks was making signs to her.
She had noticed the little boy before. He was a square little boy, with a sprinkling of freckles over the bridge of the nose and a cheerful breadth of nostril. His teeth were wide apart, and his smile was broad and constant. Not that Emmy Lou could have told all this. She only knew that to her the knowledge of the little boy concerning the things peculiar to the Primer World seemed limitless.
And now the little boy was beckoning Emmy Lou. She did not know him, but neither did she know any of the seventy other little boys and girls making the Primer Class.
Because of a popular prejudice against whooping-cough, Emmy Lou had not entered the Primer Class until late. When she arrived, the seventy little boys and girls were well along in Alphabetical lore, having long since passed the a, b, c of initiation, and become glibly eloquent to a point where the l, m, n, o, p slipped off their tongues with the liquid ease of repetition and familiarity.
"But Emmy Lou can catch up," said Emmy Lou's Aunt Cordelia, a plump and cheery lady, beaming with optimistic placidity upon the infant populace seated in parallel rows at desks before her.
Miss Clara, the teacher, lacked Aunt Cordelia's optimism, also her plumpness. "No doubt she can," agreed Miss Clara, politely, but without enthusiasm. Miss Clara had stepped from the graduating rostrum to the school-room platform, and she had been there some years. And when one has been there some years, and is already battling with seventy little boys and girls, one cannot greet the advent of a seventy-first with acclaim. Even the fact that one's hair is red is not an always sure indication that one's temperament is sanguine also.
So in answer to Aunt Cordelia, Miss Clara replied politely but without enthusiasm, "No doubt she can."
Then Aunt Cordelia went, and Miss Clara gave Emmy Lou a desk. And Miss Clara then rapping sharply, and calling some small delinquent to order, Emmy Lou's heart sank within her.
Now Miss Clara's tones were tart because she did not know what to do with this late comer. In a class of seventy, spare time is not offering for the bringing up of the backward. The way of the Primer teacher was not made easy in a public school of twenty-five years ago.
So Miss Clara told the new pupil to copy digits.
Now what digits were, Emmy Lou had no idea, but being shown them on the blackboard, she copied them diligently. And as the time went on, Emmy Lou went on copying digits. And her one endeavor being to avoid the notice of Miss Clara, it happened the needs of Emmy Lou were frequently lost sight of in the more assertive claims of the seventy.
Emmy Lou was not catching up, and it was January.
But to-day was to be different. The little boy was nodding and beckoning. So far the seventy had left Emmy Lou alone. As a general thing the herd crowds toward the leaders, and the laggard brings up the rear alone.
But to-day the little boy was beckoning. Emmy Lou looked up. Emmy Lou was pink-cheeked and chubby and in her heart there was no guile. There was an ease and swagger about the little boy. And he always knew when to stand up, and what for. Emmy Lou more than once had failed to stand up, and Miss Clara's reminder had been sharp. It was when a bell rang one must stand up. But what for, Emmy Lou never knew, until after the others began to do it.
But the little boy always knew. Emmy Lou had heard him, too, out on the bench, glibly tell Miss Clara about the mat, and a bat, and a black rat. To-day he stood forth with confidence and told about a fat hen. Emmy Lou was glad to have the little boy beckon her.
And in her heart there was no guile. That the little boy should be holding out an end of a severed india-rubber band and inviting her to take it, was no stranger than other things happening in the Primer World every day.
The very manner of the infant classification breathed mystery, the sheep from the goats, so to speak, the little girls all one side the central aisle, the little boys all the other—and to overstep the line of demarcation a thing too dreadful to contemplate.
Many things were strange. That one must get up suddenly when a bell rang, was strange.
And to copy digits until one's chubby fingers, tightly gripping the pencil, ached, and then to be expected to take a sponge and wash those digits off, was strange.
And to be told crossly to sit down was bewildering, when in answer to c, a, t, one said "Pussy." And yet there was Pussy washing her face, on the chart, and Miss Clara's pointer pointing to her.
So when the little boy held out the rubber band across the aisle, Emmy Lou took the proffered end.
At this the little boy slid back into his desk holding to his end. At the critical moment of elongation the little boy let go. And the property of elasticity is to rebound.
Emmy Lou's heart stood still. Then it swelled. But in her filling eyes there was no suspicion, only hurt. And even while a tear splashed down, and falling upon the laboriously copied digits, wrought havoc, she smiled bravely across at the little boy. It would have made the little boy feel bad to know how it hurt. So Emmy Lou winked bravely and smiled.
Whereupon the little boy wheeled about suddenly and fell to copying digits furiously. Nor did he look Emmy Lou's way, only drove his pencil into his slate with a fervor that made Miss Clara rap sharply on her desk.
Emmy Lou wondered if the little boy was mad. One would think it had stung the little boy and not her. But since he was not looking, she felt free to let her little fist seek her mouth for comfort.
Nor did Emmy Lou dream, that across the aisle, remorse was eating into a little boy's soul. Or that, along with remorse, there went the image of one Emmy Lou, defenceless, pink-cheeked, and smiling bravely.
The next morning Emmy Lou was early. She was always early. Since entering the Primer Class, breakfast had lost its savor to Emmy Lou in the terror of being late.
But this morning the little boy was there before her. Hitherto his tardy and clattering arrival had been a daily happening, provocative of accents sharp and energetic from Miss Clara.
But this morning he was at his desk copying from his Primer on to his slate. The easy, ostentatious way in which he glanced from slate to book was not lost upon Emmy Lou, who lost her place whenever her eyes left the rows of digits upon the blackboard.
Emmy Lou watched the performance. And the little boy's pencil drove with furious ease and its path was marked with flourishes. Emmy Lou never dreamed that it was because she was watching that the little boy was moved to this brilliant exhibition. Presently reaching the end of his page, he looked up, carelessly, incidentally. It seemed to be borne to him that Emmy Lou was there, whereupon he nodded. Then, as if moved by sudden impulse, he dived into his desk, and after ostentatious search in, on, under it, brought forth a pencil, and held it up for Emmy Lou to see. Nor did she dream that it was for this the little boy had been there since before Uncle Michael had unlocked the Primer door.
Emmy Lou looked across at the pencil. It was a slate-pencil. A fine, long, new slate-pencil grandly encased for half its length in gold paper. One bought them at the drug-store across from the school, and one paid for them the whole of five cents.
Just then a bell rang. Emmy Lou got up suddenly. But it was the bell for school to take up. So she sat down. She was glad Miss Clara was not yet in her place.
After the Primer Class had filed in, with panting and frosty entrance, the bell rang again. This time it was the right bell tapped by Miss Clara, now in her place. So again Emmy Lou got up suddenly and by following the little girl ahead learned that the bell meant, "go out to the bench."
The Primer Class according to the degree of its infant precocity was divided in three sections. Emmy Lou belonged to the third section. It was the last section and she was the last one in it though she had no idea what a section meant nor why she was in it.
Yesterday the third section had said, over and over, in chorus, "One and one are two, two and two are four," etc.—but to-day they said, "Two and one are three, two and two are four."
Emmy Lou wondered, four what? Which put her behind, so that when she began again they were saying, "two and four are six." So now she knew. Four is six. But what is six? Emmy Lou did not know.
When she came back to her desk the pencil was there. The fine, new, long slate-pencil encased in gold paper. And the little boy was gone. He belonged to the first section, and the first section was now on the bench. Emmy Lou leaned across and put the pencil back on the little boy's desk.
Then she prepared herself to copy digits with her stump of a pencil. Emmy Lou's were always stumps. Her pencil had a way of rolling off her desk while she was gone, and one pencil makes many stumps. The little boy had generally helped her pick them up on her return. But strangely, from this time, her pencils rolled off no more.
But when Emmy Lou took up her slate there was a whole side filled with digits in soldierly rows across, so her heart grew light and free from the weight of digits, and she gave her time to the washing of her desk, a thing in which her soul revelled, and for which, patterning after her little girl neighbors, she kept within that desk a bottle of soapy water and rags of a gray and unpleasant nature, that never dried, because of their frequent using. When Emmy Lou first came to school, her cleaning paraphernalia consisted of a sponge secured by a string to her slate, which was the badge of the new and the unsophisticated comer. Emmy Lou had quickly learned that, and no one now rejoiced in a fuller assortment of soap, bottle, and rags than she, nor did a sponge longer dangle from the frame of her slate.
On coming in from recess this same day, Emmy Lou found the pencil on her desk again, the beautiful new pencil in the gilded paper. She put it back.
But when she reached home, the pencil, the beautiful pencil that cost all of five cents, was in her companion box along with her stumps and her sponge and her grimy little slate rags. And about the pencil was wrapped a piece of paper. It had the look of the margin of a Primer page. The paper bore marks. They were not digits.
Emmy Lou took the paper to Aunt Cordelia. They were at dinner.
"Can't you read it, Emmy Lou?" asked Aunt Katie, the prettiest aunty.
Emmy Lou shook her head.
"I'll spell the letters," said Aunt Louise, the youngest aunty.
But that did not help Emmy Lou one bit.
Aunt Cordelia looked troubled. "She doesn't seem to be catching up," she said.
"No," said Aunt Katie.
"No," agreed Aunt Louise.
"Nor—on," said Uncle Charlie, the brother of the aunties, lighting his cigar to go downtown.
Aunt Cordelia spread the paper out. It bore the words:
"It is for you."
So Emmy Lou put the pencil away in the companion, and tucked it about with the grimy slate rags that no harm might befall it. And the next day she took it out and used it. But first she looked over at the little boy. The little boy was busy. But when she looked up again, he was looking.
The little boy grew red, and wheeling suddenly, fell to copying digits furiously. And from that moment on the little boy was moved to strange behavior.
Three times before recess did he, boldly ignoring the preface of upraised hand, swagger up to Miss Clara's desk. And going and coming, the little boy's boots with copper toes and run-down heels marked with thumping emphasis upon the echoing boards his processional and recessional. And reaching his desk, the little boy slammed down his slate with clattering reverberations.
Emmy Lou watched him uneasily. She was miserable for him. She did not know that there are times when the emotions are more potent than the subtlest wines. Nor did she know that the male of some species is moved thus to exhibition of prowess, courage, defiance, for the impressing of the chosen female of the species.
Emmy Lou merely knew that she was miserable and that she trembled for the little boy.
Having clattered his slate until Miss Clara rapped sharply, the little boy arose and went swaggering on an excursion around the room to where sat the bucket and dipper. And on his return he came up the centre aisle between the sheep and the goats.
Emmy Lou had no idea what happened. It took place behind her. But there was another little girl who did. A little girl who boasted curls, yellow curls in tiered rows about her head. A lachrymosal little girl, who affected great horror of the little boys.
And what Emmy Lou failed to see was this: the little boy, in passing, deftly lift a cherished curl between finger and thumb and proceed on his way.
The little girl did not fail the little boy. In the suddenness of the surprise she surprised even him by her outcry. Miss Clara jumped. Emmy Lou jumped. And the sixty-nine jumped. And, following this, the little girl lifted her voice in lachrymal lament.
Miss Clara sat erect. The Primer Class held its breath. It always held its breath when Miss Clara sat erect. Emmy Lou held tightly to her desk besides. She wondered what it was all about.
Then Miss Clara spoke. Her accents cut the silence.
Billy Traver stood forth. It was the little boy.
"Since you seem pleased to occupy yourself with the little girls, Billy, go to the pegs!"
Emmy Lou trembled. "Go to the pegs!" What unknown, inquisitorial terrors lay behind those dread, laconic words, Emmy Lou knew not.
She could only sit and watch the little boy turn and stump back down the aisle and around the room to where along the wall hung rows of feminine apparel.
Here he stopped and scanned the line. Then he paused before a hat. It was a round little hat with silky nap and a curling brim. It had rosettes to keep the ears warm and ribbon that tied beneath the chin. It was Emmy Lou's hat. Aunt Cordelia had cautioned her to care concerning it.
The little boy took it down. There seemed to be no doubt in his mind as to what Miss Clara meant. But then he had been in the Primer Class from the beginning.
Having taken the hat down he proceeded to put it upon his own shock head. His face wore its broad and constant smile. One would have said the little boy was enjoying the affair. As he put the hat on, the sixty-nine laughed. The seventieth did not. It was her hat, and besides, she did not understand.
Miss Clara still erect spoke again: "And now, since you are a little girl, get your book, Billy, and move over with the girls."
Nor did Emmy Lou understand why, when Billy, having gathered his belongings together, moved across the aisle and sat down with her, the sixty-nine laughed again. Emmy Lou did not laugh. She made room for Billy.
Nor did she understand when Billy treated her to a slow and surreptitious wink, his freckled countenance grinning beneath the rosetted hat. It never could have occurred to Emmy Lou that Billy had laid his cunning plans to this very end. Emmy Lou understood nothing of all this. She only pitied Billy. And presently, when public attention had become diverted, she proffered him the hospitality of a grimy little slate rag. When Billy returned the rag there was something in it—something wrapped in a beautiful, glazed, shining bronze paper. It was a candy kiss. One paid five cents for six of them at the drug-store.
On the road home, Emmy Lou ate the candy. The beautiful, shiny paper she put in her Primer. The slip of paper that she found within she carried to Aunt Cordelia. It was sticky and it was smeared. But it had reading on it.
"But this is printing," said Aunt Cordelia; "can't you read it?"
Emmy Lou shook her head.
"Try," said Aunt Katie.
"The easy words," said Aunt Louise.
But Emmy Lou, remembering c-a-t, Pussy, shook her head.
Aunt Cordelia looked troubled. "She certainly isn't catching up," said Aunt Cordelia. Then she read from the slip of paper:
"Oh, woman, woman, thou wert made The peace of Adam to invade."
The aunties laughed, but Emmy Lou put it away with the glazed paper in her Primer. It meant quite as much to her as did the reading in that Primer: Cat, a cat, the cat. The bat, the mat, a rat. It was the jingle to both that appealed to Emmy Lou.
About this time rumors began to reach Emmy Lou. She heard that it was February, and that wonderful things were peculiar to the Fourteenth. At recess the little girls locked arms and talked Valentines. The echoes reached Emmy Lou.
The valentines must come from a little boy, or it wasn't the real thing. And to get no valentine was a dreadful—dreadful thing. And even the timidest of the sheep began to cast eyes across at the goats.
Emmy Lou wondered if she would get a valentine. And if not, how was she to survive the contumely and shame?
You must never, never breathe to a living soul what was on your valentine. To tell even your best and truest little girl friend was to prove faithless to the little boy sending the valentine. These things reached Emmy Lou.
Not for the world would she tell. Emmy Lou was sure of that, so grateful did she feel she would be to anyone sending her a valentine.
And in doubt and wretchedness did she wend her way to school on the Fourteenth Day of February. The drug-store window was full of valentines. But Emmy Lou crossed the street. She did not want to see them. She knew the little girls would ask her if she had gotten a valentine. And she would have to say, No.
She was early. The big, empty room echoed back her footsteps as she went to her desk to lay down book and slate before taking off her wraps. Nor did Emmy Lou dream the eye of the little boy peeped through the crack of the door from Miss Clara's dressing-room.
Emmy Lou's hat and jacket were forgotten. On her desk lay something square and white. It was an envelope. It was a beautiful envelope, all over flowers and scrolls.
Emmy Lou knew it. It was a valentine. Her cheeks grew pink.
She took it out. It was blue. And it was gold. And it had reading on it.
Emmy Lou's heart sank. She could not read the reading. The door opened. Some little girls came in. Emmy Lou hid her valentine in her book, for since you must not—she would never show her valentine—never.
The little girls wanted to know if she had gotten a valentine, and Emmy Lou said, Yes, and her cheeks were pink with the joy of being able to say it.
Through the day, she took peeps between the covers of her Primer, but no one else might see it.
It rested heavy on Emmy Lou's heart, however, that there was reading on it. She studied it surreptitiously. The reading was made up of letters. It was the first time Emmy Lou had thought about that. She knew some of the letters. She would ask someone the letters she did not know by pointing them out on the chart at recess. Emmy Lou was learning. It was the first time since she came to school.
But what did the letters make? She wondered, after recess, studying the valentine again.
Then she went home. She followed Aunt Cordelia about. Aunt Cordelia was busy.
"What does it read?" asked Emmy Lou.
Aunt Cordelia listened.
"B," said Emmy Lou, "and e?"
"Be," said Aunt Cordelia.
If B was Be, it was strange that B and e were Be. But many things were strange.
Emmy Lou accepted them all on faith.
After dinner she approached Aunt Katie.
"What does it read?" asked Emmy Lou, "m and y?"
"My," said Aunt Katie.
The rest was harder. She could not remember the letters, and had to copy them off on her slate. Then she sought Tom, the house-boy. Tom was out at the gate talking to another house-boy. She waited until the other boy was gone.
"What does it read?" asked Emmy Lou, and she told the letters off the slate. It took Tom some time, but finally he told her.
Just then a little girl came along. She was a first-section little girl, and at school she never noticed Emmy Lou.
Now she was alone, so she stopped.
"Get any valentines?"
"Yes," said Emmy Lou. Then moved to confidence by the little girl's friendliness, she added, "It has reading on it."
"Pooh," said the little girl, "they all have that. My mamma's been reading the long verses inside to me."
"Can you show them—valentines?" asked Emmy Lou.
"Of course, to grown-up people," said the little girl.
The gas was lit when Emmy Lou came in. Uncle Charlie was there, and the aunties, sitting around, reading.
"I got a valentine," said Emmy Lou.
They all looked up. They had forgotten it was Valentine's Day, and it came to them that if Emmy Lou's mother had not gone away, never to come back, the year before, Valentine's Day would not have been forgotten. Aunt Cordelia smoothed the black dress she was wearing because of the mother who would never come back, and looked troubled.
But Emmy Lou laid the blue and gold valentine on Aunt Cordelia's knee. In the valentine's centre were two hands clasping. Emmy Lou's forefinger pointed to the words beneath the clasped hands.
"I can read it," said Emmy Lou.
They listened. Uncle Charlie put down his paper. Aunt Louise looked over Aunt Cordelia's shoulder.
"B," said Emmy Lou, "e—Be."
The aunties nodded.
"M," said Emmy Lou, "y—my."
Emmy Lou did not hesitate. "V," said Emmy Lou, "a, l, e, n, t, i, n, e—Valentine. Be my Valentine."
"There!" said Aunt Cordelia.
"Well!" said Aunt Katie.
"At last!" said Aunt Louise.
"H'm!" said Uncle Charlie.
A LITTLE FEMININE CASABIANCA
The close of the first week of Emmy Lou's second year at a certain large public school found her round, chubby self, like a pink-cheeked period, ending the long line of intermingled little boys and girls making what was known, twenty-five years ago, as the First-Reader Class. Emmy Lou had spent her first year in the Primer Class, where the teacher, Miss Clara by name, had concealed the kindliest of hearts behind a brusque and energetic manner, and had possessed, along with her red hair and a temper tinged with that color also, a sharp voice that, by its unexpected snap in attacking some small sinner, had caused Emmy Lou's little heart to jump many times a day. Here Emmy Lou had spent the year in strenuously guiding a squeaking pencil across a protesting slate, or singing in chorus, as Miss Clara's long wooden pointer went up and down the rows of words on the spelling-chart: "A-t, at; b-a-t, bat; c-a-t, cat," or "a-n, an; b-a-n, ban; c-a-n, can." Emmy Lou herself had so little idea of what it was all about, that she was dependent on her neighbor to give her the key to the proper starting-point heading the various columns—"a-t, at," or "a-n, an," or "e-t, et," or "o-n, on;" after that it was easy sailing. But one awful day, while the class stopped suddenly at Miss Clara's warning finger as visitors opened the door, Emmy Lou, her eyes squeezed tight shut, her little body rocking to and fro to the rhythm, went right on, "m-a-n, man," "p-a-n, pan"—until at the sound of her own sing-song little voice rising with appalling fervor upon the silence, she stopped to find that the page in the meantime had been turned, and that the pointer was directed to a column beginning "o-y, oy."
Among other things incident to that first year, too, had been Recess. At that time everybody was turned out into a brick-paved yard, the boys on one side of a high fence, the girls on the other. And here, waiting without the wooden shed where stood a row of buckets each holding a shiny tin dipper, Emmy Lou would stop on the sloppy outskirts for the thirst of the larger girls to be assuaged, that the little girls' opportunity might come—together with the dregs in the buckets. And at Recess, too, along with the danger of being run into by the larger girls at play and having the breath knocked out of one's little body, which made it necessary to seek sequestered corners and peep out thence, there was The Man to be watched for and avoided—the low, square, black-browed, black-bearded Man who brandished a broom at the little girls who dropped their apple-cores and crusts on the pavements, and who shook his fist at the jeering little boys who dared to swarm to the forbidden top and sit straddling the dividing fence. That Uncle Michael, the janitor, was getting old and had rheumatic twinges was indeed Uncle Michael's excuse, but Emmy Lou did not know this, and her fear of Uncle Michael was great accordingly.
But somehow the Primer year wore away; and one day, toward its close, in the presence of Miss Clara, two solemn-looking gentlemen requested certain little boys to cipher and several little girls to spell, and sent others to the blackboard or the chart, while to Emmy Lou was handed a Primer, open at Page 17, which she was told to read. Knowing Page 17 by heart, and identifying it by its picture, Emmy Lou arose, and her small voice droned forth in sing-song fashion:
How old are you, Sue? I am as old as my cat. And how old is your cat? My cat is as old as my dog. And how old is your dog? My dog is as old as I am.
Having so delivered herself, Emmy Lou sat down, not at all disconcerted to find that she had been holding her Primer upside down.
Following this, Emmy Lou was told that she had "passed;" and seeing from the jubilance of the other children that it was a matter to be joyful over, Emmy Lou went home and told the elders of her family that she had passed. And these elders, three aunties and an uncle, an uncle who was disposed to look at Emmy Lou's chubby self and her concerns in jocular fashion, laughed: and Emmy Lou went on wondering what it was all about, which never would have been the case had there been a mother among the elders, for mothers have a way of understanding these things. But to Emmy Lou "mother" had come to mean but a memory which faded as it came, a vague consciousness of encircling arms, of a brooding, tender face, of yearning eyes; and it was only because they told her that Emmy Lou remembered how mother had gone away South, one winter, to get well. That they afterward told her it was Heaven, in no wise confused Emmy Lou, because, for aught she knew, South and Heaven and much else might be included in these points of the compass. Ever since then Emmy Lou had lived with the three aunties and the uncle; and papa had been coming a hundred miles once a month to see her.
When Emmy Lou went back to school for the second year, she was told that she was now in the First Reader. If her heart had jumped at the sharp accents of Miss Clara, it now grew still within her at the slow, awful enunciation of the Large Lady in black bombazine who reigned over the department of the First Reader, pointing her morals with a heavy forefinger, before which Emmy Lou's eyes lowered with every aspect of conscious guilt. Nor did Emmy Lou dream that the Large Lady, whose black bombazine was the visible sign of a loss by death that had made it necessary for her to enter the school-room to earn a living, was finding the duties incident to the First Reader almost as strange and perplexing as Emmy Lou herself.
Emmy Lou from the first day found herself descending steadily to the foot of the class; and there she remained until the awful day, at the close of the first week, when the Large Lady, realizing perhaps that she could no longer ignore such adherence to that lowly position, made discovery that while to Emmy Lou "d-o-g" might spell "dog" and "f-r-o-g" might spell "frog," Emmy Lou could not find either on a printed page, and, further, could not tell wherein they differed when found for her, that, also, Emmy Lou made her figure 8's by adding one uncertain little o to the top of another uncertain little o; and that while Emmy Lou might copy, in smeary columns, certain cabalistic signs off the blackboard, she could not point them off in tens, hundreds, thousands, or read their numerical values, to save her little life. The Large Lady, sorely perplexed within herself as to the proper course to be pursued, in the sight of the fifty-nine other First-Readers pointed a condemning forefinger at the miserable little object standing in front of her platform: and said, "You will stay after school, Emma Louise, that I may examine further into your qualifications for this grade."
Now Emmy Lou had no idea what it meant—"examine further into your qualifications for this grade." It might be the form of punishment in vogue for the chastisement of the members of the First Reader. But "stay after school" she did understand, and her heart sank, and her little breast heaved.
It was then past the noon recess. In those days, in this particular city, school closed at half-past one. At last the bell for dismissal had rung. The Large Lady, arms folded across her bombazine bosom, had faced the class, and with awesome solemnity had already enunciated, "Attention," and sixty little people had sat up straight, when the door opened, and a teacher from the floor above came in.
At her whispered confidence, the Large Lady left the room hastily, while the strange teacher with a hurried "one—two—three, march out quietly, children," turned, and followed her. And Emmy Lou, left sitting at her desk, saw through gathering tears the line of First-Readers wind around the room and file out the door, the sound of their departing footsteps along the bare corridors and down the echoing stairway coming back like a knell to her sinking heart. Then class after class from above marched past the door and on its clattering way, while voices from outside, shrill with the joy of the release, came up through the open windows in talk, in laughter, together with the patter of feet on the bricks. Then as these familiar sounds grew fewer, fainter, farther away, some belated footsteps went echoing through the building, a door slammed somewhere—then—silence.
Emmy Lou waited. She wondered how long it would be. There was watermelon at home for dinner; she had seen it borne in, a great, striped promise of ripe and juicy lusciousness, on the marketman's shoulder before she came to school. And here a tear, long gathering, splashed down the pink cheek.
Still that awesome personage presiding over the fortunes of the First-Readers failed to return. Perhaps this was "the examination into—into—" Emmy Lou could not remember what—to be left in this big, bare room with the flies droning and humming in lazy circles up near the ceiling. The forsaken desks, with a forgotten book or slate left here and there upon them, the pegs around the wall empty of hats and bonnets, the unoccupied chair upon the platform—Emmy Lou gazed at these with a sinking sensation of desolation, while tear followed tear down her chubby face. And listening to the flies and the silence, Emmy Lou began to long for even the Bombazine Presence, and dropping her quivering countenance upon her arms folded upon the desk she sobbed aloud. But the time was long, and the day was warm, and the sobs grew slower, and the breath began to come in long-drawn, quivering sighs, and the next Emmy Lou knew she was sitting upright, trembling in every limb, and someone coming up the stairs—she could hear the slow, heavy footfalls, and a moment after she saw The Man—the Recess Man, the low, black-bearded, black-browed, scowling Man—with the broom across his shoulder, reach the hallway, and make toward the open doorway of the First-Reader room. Emmy Lou held her breath, stiffened her little body, and—waited. But The Man pausing to light his pipe, Emmy Lou, in the sudden respite thus afforded, slid in a trembling heap beneath the desk, and on hands and knees went crawling across the floor. And as Uncle Michael came in, a moment after, broom, pan, and feather-duster in hand, the last fluttering edge of a little pink dress was disappearing into the depths of the big, empty coal-box, and its sloping lid was lowering upon a flaxen head and cowering little figure crouched within. Uncle Michael having put the room to rights, sweeping and dusting, with many a rheumatic groan in accompaniment, closed the windows, and going out, drew the door after him and, as was his custom, locked it.
* * * * *
Meanwhile, at Emmy Lou's home the elders wondered. "You don't know Emmy Lou," Aunt Cordelia, round, plump, and cheery, insisted to the lady visitor spending the day; "Emmy Lou never loiters."
Aunt Katie, the prettiest auntie, cut off a thick round of melon as they arose from the table, and put it in the refrigerator for Emmy Lou. "It seems a joke," she remarked, "such a baby as Emmy Lou going to school anyhow; but then she has only a square to go and come."
But Emmy Lou did not come. And by half-past two Aunt Louise, the youngest auntie, started out to find her. But as she stopped on the way at the houses of all the neighbors to inquire, and ran around the corner to Cousin Tom Macklin's to see if Emmy Lou could be there, and then, being but a few doors off, went on around that corner to Cousin Amanda's, the school-house, when she finally reached it, was locked up, with the blinds down at every front window as if it had closed its eyes and gone to sleep. Uncle Michael had a way of cleaning and locking the front of the building first, and going in and out at the back doors. But Aunt Louise did not know this, and, anyhow, she was sure that she would find Emmy Lou at home when she got there.
But Emmy Lou was not at home, and it being now well on in the afternoon, Aunt Katie and Aunt Louise and the lady visitor and the cook all started out in search, while Aunt Cordelia sent the house-boy downtown for Uncle Charlie. Just as Uncle Charlie arrived—and it was past five o'clock by then—some of the children of the neighborhood, having found a small boy living some squares off who confessed to being in the First Reader with Emmy Lou, arrived also, with the small boy in tow.
"She didn't know 'dog' from 'frog' when she saw 'em," stated the small boy, with the derision of superior ability, "an' teacher, she told her to stay after school. She was settin' there in her desk when school let out, Emmy Lou was."
But a big girl of the neighborhood objected. "Her teacher went home the minute school was out," she declared. "Isn't the new lady, Mrs. Samuels, your teacher?" this to the small boy. "Well, her daughter, Lettie, she's in my room, and she was sick, and her mother came up to our room and took her home. Our teacher, she went down and dismissed the First-Readers."
"I don't care if she did," retorted the small boy. "I reckon I saw Emmy Lou settin' there when we come away."
Aunt Cordelia, pale and tearful, clutched Uncle Charlie's arm. "Then she's there, Brother Charlie, locked up in that dreadful place—my precious baby——"
"Pshaw!" said Uncle Charlie.
But Aunt Cordelia was wringing her hands. "You don't know Emmy Lou, Charlie. If she was told to stay, she has stayed. She's locked up in that dreadful place. What shall we do, my baby, my precious baby——"
Aunt Katie was in tears, Aunt Louise in tears, the cook in loud lamentation, Aunt Cordelia fast verging upon hysteria.
The small boy from the First Reader, legs apart, hands in knickerbocker pockets, gazed at the crowd of irresolute elders with scornful wonder. "What you wanter do," stated the small boy, "is find Uncle Michael; he keeps the keys. He went past my house a while ago, going home. He lives in Rose Lane Alley. 'Taint much outer my way," condescendingly; "I'll take you there." And meekly they followed in his footsteps.
It was dark when a motley throng of uncle, aunties, visiting lady, neighbors, and children went climbing the cavernous, echoing stairway of the dark school building behind the toiling figure of the skeptical Uncle Michael, lantern in hand.
"Ain't I swept over every inch of this here school-house myself and carried the trash outten a dust-pan?" grumbled Uncle Michael, with what inference nobody just then stopped to inquire. Then with the air of a mistreated, aggrieved person who feels himself a victim, he paused before a certain door on the second floor, and fitted a key in its lock. "Here it is then, No. 9, to satisfy the lady," and he flung open the door. The light of Uncle Michael's lantern fell full upon the wide-eyed, terror-smitten person of Emmy Lou, in her desk, awaiting, her miserable little heart knew not what horror.
"She—she told me to stay," sobbed Emmy Lou in Aunt Cordelia's arms, "and I stayed; and the Man came, and I hid in the coal-box!"
And Aunt Cordelia, holding her close, sobbed too, and Aunt Katie cried, and Aunt Louise and the lady visitor cried, and Uncle Charlie passed his plump white hand over his eyes, and said, "Pshaw!" And the teacher of the First Reader, when she heard about it next day, cried hardest of them all, so hard that not even Aunt Cordelia could cherish a feeling against her.
HARE-AND-TORTOISE OR THE BLISS OF IGNORANCE
There was head and foot in the Second Reader. Emmy Lou heard it whispered the day of her entrance into the Second-Reader room.
Once, head and foot had meant Aunt Cordelia above the coffee tray and Uncle Charlie below the carving-knife. But at school head and foot meant little girls bobbing up and down, descending and ascending the scale of excellency.
There were no little boys. At the Second Reader the currents of the sexes divided, and little boys were swept out of sight. One mentioned little boys now in undertones.
But head and foot meant something beside little girls bobbing out of their places on the bench to take a neighbor's place. Head and foot meant tears—that is, when the bobbing was downward and not up. However, if one bobbed down to-day there was the chance of bobbing up to-morrow—that is, with all but Emmy Lou and a little girl answering to the call of "Kitty McKoeghany."
Step by step Kitty went up, and having reached the top, Kitty stayed there.
And step by step, Emmy Lou, from her original, alphabetically determined position beside Kitty, went down, and then, only because further descent was impossible, Emmy Lou stayed there. But since the foot was nearest the platform Emmy Lou took that comfort out of the situation, for the Teacher sat on the platform, and Emmy Lou loved the Teacher.
The Second-Reader Teacher was the lady, the nice lady, the pretty lady with white hair, who patted little girls on the cheek as she passed them in the hall. On the first day of school, the name of "Emily Louise MacLauren" had been called. Emmy Lou stood up. She looked at the Teacher. She wondered if the Teacher remembered. Emmy Lou was chubby and round and much in earnest. And the lady, the pretty lady, looking down at her, smiled. Then Emmy Lou knew that the lady had not forgotten. And Emmy Lou sat down. And she loved the Teacher and she loved the Second Reader. Emmy Lou had not heard the Teacher's name. But could her grateful little heart have resolved its feelings into words, "Dear Teacher" must ever after have been the lady's name. And so, as if impelled by her own chubby weight and some head-and-foot force of gravity, though Emmy Lou descended steadily to the foot of the Second-Reader class, there were compensations. The foot was in the shadow of the platform and within the range of Dear Teacher's smile.
Besides, there was Hattie.
Emmy Lou sat with Hattie. They sat at a front desk. Hattie had plaits; small affairs, perhaps, but tied with ribbons behind each ear. And the part bisecting Hattie's little head from nape to crown was exact and true. Emmy Lou admired plaits. And she admired the little pink sprigs on Hattie's dress.
After Hattie and Emmy Lou had sat together a whole day, Hattie took Emmy Lou aside as they were going home, and whispered to her.
"Who's your mos' nintimate friend?" was what Emmy Lou understood her to whisper.
Emmy Lou had no idea what a nintimate friend might be. She did not know what to do.
"Haven't you got one?" demanded Hattie.
Emmy Lou shook her head.
Hattie put her lips close to Emmy Lou's ear.
"Let's us be nintimate friends," said Hattie.
Though small in knowledge, Emmy Lou was large in faith. She confessed herself as glad to be a nintimate friend.
When Emmy Lou found that to be a nintimate friend meant to walk about the yard with Hattie's arm about her, she was glad indeed to be one. Hitherto, at recess, Emmy Lou had known the bitterness of the outcast and the pariah, and had stood around, principally in corners, to avoid being swept off her little feet by the big girls at play, and had gazed upon a paired-off and sufficient-unto-itself world.
Hattie seemed to know everything. In all the glory of its newness Emmy Lou brought her Second Reader to school. Hattie was scandalised. She showed her reader soberly encased in a calico cover.
Emmy Lou grew hot. She hid her Reader hastily. Somehow she felt that she had been immodest. The next day Emmy Lou's Reader came to school discreetly swathed in calico.
Hardly had the Second Reader begun, when one Friday the music man came. And after that he came every Friday and stayed an hour.
He was a tall, thin man, and he had a point of beard on his chin that made him look taller. He wore a blue cape, which he tossed on a chair. And he carried a violin. His name was Mr. Cato. He drew five lines on the blackboard, and made eight dots that looked as though they were going upstairs on the lines. Then he rapped on his violin with his bow, and the class sat up straight.
"This," said Mr. Cato, "is A," and he pointed to a dot. Then he looked at Emmy Lou. Unfortunately Emmy Lou sat at a front desk.
"Now, what is it?" said Mr. Cato.
"A," said Emmy Lou, obediently. She wondered. But she had met A in so many guises of print and script that she accepted any statement concerning A. And now a dot was A.
"And this," said Mr. Cato, "is B, and this is C, and this D, and E, F, G, which brings us naturally to A again," and Mr. Cato with his bow went up the stairway punctuated with dots.
Emmy Lou wondered why G brought one naturally to A again.
But Mr. Cato was tapping up the dotted stairway with his bow. "Now what are they?" asked Mr. Cato.
"Dots," said Emmy Lou, forgetting.
Mr. Cato got red in the face and rapped angrily.
"A," said Emmy Lou, hastily, "B, C, D, E, F, G, H," and was going hurriedly on when Hattie, with a surreptitious jerk, stopped her.
"That is better," said Mr. Cato, "A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A—exactly—but we are not going to call them A, B, C, D, E, F, G, A—" Mr. Cato paused impressively, his bow poised, and looked at Emmy Lou—"we are going to call them"—and Mr. Cato touched a dot—"do"—his bow went up the punctuated stairway—"re, mi, fa, sol, la, si. Now what is this?" The bow pointed itself to Emmy Lou, then described a curve, bringing it again to a dot.
"A," said Emmy Lou. The bow rapped angrily on the board, and Mr. Cato glared.
"Do," said Mr. Cato, "do—always do—not A, nor B, nor C, never A, nor B, nor C again—do, do," the bow rapping angrily the while.
"Dough," said Emmy Lou, swallowing miserably.
Mr. Cato was mollified. "Forget now it was ever A; A is do here. Always in the future remember the first letter in the scale is do. Whenever you meet it placed like this, A is do, A is do."
Emmy Lou resolved she would never forget. A is dough. How or why or wherefore did not matter. The point was, A is dough. But Emmy Lou was glad when the music man went. And then came spelling, when there was always much bobbing up and down and changing of places and tears. This time the rest might forget, but Emmy Lou would not. It came her turn.
She stood up. Her word was Adam. And A was dough. Emmy Lou went slowly to get it right. "Dough-d-dough-m, Adam," said Emmy Lou.
They laughed. But Dear Teacher did not laugh. The recess-bell rang. And Dear Teacher, holding Emmy Lou's hand, sent them all out. Everyone must go. Desks and slates to be scrubbed, mattered not. Everyone must go. Then Dear Teacher lifted Emmy Lou to her lap. And when she was sure they were every one gone, Emmy Lou cried. And after a while Dear Teacher explained about A and do, so that Emmy Lou understood. And then Dear Teacher said, "You may come in." And the crack of the door widened, and in came Hattie. Emmy Lou was glad she was a nintimate friend. Hattie had not laughed.
But that day the carriage which took Dear Teacher to and from her home outside of town—the carriage with the white, woolly dog on the seat by the little coloured-boy driver and the spotted dog running behind—stopped at Emmy Lou's gate. And Dear Teacher, smiling at Emmy Lou just arriving with her school-bag, went in, too, and rang the bell.
Then Dear Teacher and Aunt Cordelia and Aunt Katie and Aunt Louise sat in the parlour and talked.
And when Dear Teacher left, all the aunties went out to the gate with her, and Uncle Charlie, just leaving, put her in the carriage, and stood with his hat lifted until she was quite gone.
"At her age——" said Aunt Cordelia.
"To have to teach——," said Aunt Katie.
"How beautiful she must have been——" said Aunt Louise.
"Is——" said Uncle Charlie.
"But she has the little grandchild," said Aunt Cordelia; "she is keeping the home for him. She is happy." And Aunt Cordelia took Emmy Lou's hand.
That very afternoon Aunt Louise began to help Emmy Lou with her lessons, and Aunt Cordelia went around and asked Hattie's mother to let Hattie come and get her lessons with Emmy Lou.
And at school Dear Teacher, walking up and down the aisles, would stop, and her fingers would close over and guide the labouring digits of Emmy Lou, striving to copy within certain ruled lines upon her slate the writing on the blackboard:
The pen is the tongue of the mind.
Emmy Lou began to learn. As weeks went by, now and then Emmy Lou bobbed up a place, although, sooner or later, she slipped back. She was not always at the foot.
But no one, not even Dear Teacher, who understood so much, realised one thing. The day after a lesson, Emmy Lou knew it. On the day it was recited, Emmy Lou had lacked sufficient time to grasp it.
With ten words in the spelling lesson, Emmy Lou listened, letter by letter, to those ten droned out five times down the line, then twice again around the class of fifty. Then Emmy Lou, having already laboured faithfully over it, knew her spelling lesson.
And at home, it was Emmy Lou's joy to gather her doll children in line, and giving out past lessons, recite them in turn for her children. And so did Emmy Lou know by heart her Second Reader as far as she had gone; she often gave the lesson with her book upside down. And an old and battered doll, dearest to Emmy Lou's heart, was always head, and Hattie, the newest doll, was next. Even the Emmy Lous must square with Fate somehow.
Along in the year a new feature was introduced in the Second Reader. The Second Reader was to have a Medal. Dear Teacher did not seem enthusiastic. She seemed to dread tears. But it was decreed that the school was to use medals.
At recess Emmy Lou asked Hattie what a medal was. The big Fourth and Fifth Reader girls were playing games from which the little girls were excluded, for the school was large and the yard was small. At one time it had seemed to Emmy Lou that the odium, the obloquy, the reproach of being a little girl was more than she could bear, but she would not change places with anyone, now she was a nintimate friend.
Emmy Lou asked Hattie what it was—this medal.
Hattie explained. Hattie knew everything. A medal was—well—a medal. It hung on a blue ribbon. Each little girl brought her own blue ribbon. You wore it for a week—this medal.
That afternoon Emmy Lou went round the corner to Mrs. Heinz's little fancy store. Her chin just came to Mrs. Heinz's counter. But she knew what she wanted—a yard of blue ribbon.
She showed it to Hattie the next day, folded in its paper, and slipped for safety beneath the long criss-cross stitches which held the calico cover of her Second Reader.
Then Hattie explained. One had to stay head a whole week to get the medal.
Emmy Lou's heart was heavy—the more that she had now seen the medal. It was a silver medal that said "Merit." It was around Kitty McKoeghany's neck.
And Kitty tossed her head. And when, at recess, she ran, the medal swung to and fro on its ribbon. And the big girls all stopped Kitty to look at the medal.
There was a condition attached to the gaining of the medal. Upon receiving it one had to go foot. But that mattered little to Kitty McKoeghany. Kitty climbed right up again.
And Emmy Lou peeped surreptitiously at the blue ribbon in her Second Reader. And at home she placed her dolls in line and spelt the back lessons faithfully, with comfort in her knowledge of them. And the old battered doll, dear to her heart, wore oftenest a medal of shining tinfoil. For even Hattie, in one of Kitty's off weeks, had won the medal.
It was late in the year when a rumour ran around the Second Reader room. The trustees were coming that day to visit the school.
Emmy Lou wondered what trustees were. She asked Hattie. Hattie explained. "They are men, in black clothes. You daren't move in your seat. They're something like ministers." Hattie knew everything.
"Will they come here, in our room?" asked Emmy Lou. It was terrible to be at the front desk. Emmy Lou remembered the music man. He still pointed his bow at her on Fridays.
"Of course," said Hattie; "comp'ny always comes to our room."
Which was true, for Dear Teacher's room was different. Dear Teacher's room seemed always ready, and the Principal brought company to it accordingly.
It was after recess they came—the Principal, the Trustee (there was just one Trustee), and a visiting gentleman.
There was a hush as they filed in. Hattie was right. It was like ministers. The Principal was in black, with a white tie. He always was. And the Trustee was in black. He rubbed his hands and bowed to the Second Reader Class, sitting very straight and awed. And the visiting gentleman was in black, with a shiny black hat.
The Trustee was a big man, and his face was red, and when urged by the Principal to address the Second Reader Class, his face grew redder.
The Trustee waved his hand toward the visiting gentleman. "Mr. Hammel, children, the Hon. Samuel S. Hammel, a citizen with whose name you are all, I am sure, familiar." And then the Trustee, mopping his face, got behind the visiting gentleman and the Principal.
The visiting gentleman stood forth. He was a short, little man—a little, round man, whose feet were so far back beneath a preponderating circumference of waist line, that he looked like nothing so much as one of Uncle Charlie's pouter pigeons.
He was a smiling-and-bowing little man, and he held out his fat hand playfully, and in it a shining white box.
Dear Teacher seemed taller and very far off. She looked as she did the day she told the class they were to have a medal. Emmy Lou watched Dear Teacher anxiously. Something told her Dear Teacher was troubled.
The visiting gentleman began to speak. He called the Second Reader Class "dear children," and "mothers of a coming generation," and "moulders of the future welfare."
The Second Reader Class sat very still. There seemed to be something paralysing to their infant faculties, mental and physical, in learning they were "mothers" and "moulders." But Emmy Lou breathed freer to have it applied impartially and not to the front seat.
Their "country, the pillars of state, everything," it seemed, depended on the way in which these mothers learned their Second Readers. "As mothers and moulders, they must learn now in youth to read, to number, to spell—exactly—to spell!" And the visiting gentleman nodded meaningly, tapped the white box and looked smilingly about. The mothers moved uneasily. The smile they avoided. But they wondered what was in the box.
The visiting gentleman lifted the lid, and displayed a glittering, shining something on a bed of pink cotton.
Then, as if struck by a happy thought, he turned to the blackboard. He looked about for chalk. The Principal supplied him. Fashioned by his fat, white hand, these words sprawled themselves upon the blackboard:
The best speller in this room is to recieve this medal.
There was silence. Then the Second Reader class moved. It breathed a long breath.
A whisper went around the room while Dear Teacher and the gentleman were conferring. Rumour said Kitty McKoeghany started it. Certainly Kitty, in her desk across the aisle from Hattie, in the sight of all, tossed her black head knowingly.
The whisper concerned the visiting gentleman. "He is running for Trustee," said the whisper.
Emmy Lou wondered. Hattie seemed to understand. "He puts his name up on tree-boxes and fences," she whispered to Emmy Lou, "and that's running for Trustee."
The rumour was succeeded by another.
"He's running against the Trustee that's not here to-day."
No wonder Kitty McKoeghany was head. The extent of Kitty's knowledge was boundless.
The third confidence was freighted with strange import. It came straight from Kitty to Hattie, who told it to Emmy Lou.
"When he's Trustee, he means the School Board shall take his pork house for the new school."
Even Emmy Lou knew the pork house which had built itself unpleasantly near the neighbourhood.
Just then the Second Reader class was summoned to the bench. As the line took its place a hush fell. Emmy Lou, at its foot, looked up its length and wondered how it would seem to be Kitty McKoeghany at the head.
The three gentlemen were looking at Kitty, too. Kitty tossed her head. Kitty was used to being looked at because of being head.
The low words of the gentleman reached the foot of the line. "The head one, that's McKoeghany's little girl." It was the Trustee telling the visiting gentleman. Emmy Lou did not wonder that Kitty was being pointed out. Kitty was head. But Emmy Lou did not know that it was because Kitty was Mr. Michael McKoeghany's little girl that she was being pointed out as well as because she was head, for Mr. Michael McKoeghany was the political boss of a district known as Limerick, and by the vote of Limerick a man running for office could stand or fall.
Now there were many things unknown to Emmy Lou, about which Kitty, being the little girl of Mr. Michael McKoeghany, could have enlightened her.
Kitty could have told her that the yard of the absent Trustee ran back to the pork house. Also that the Trustee present was part owner of that offending building. And further that Emmy Lou's Uncle Charlie, leading an irate neighbourhood to battle, had compelled the withdrawal of the obnoxious business.
But to Emmy Lou only one thing was clear. Kitty was being pointed out by the Principal and the Trustee to the visiting gentleman because she was head.
Dear Teacher took the book. She stood on the platform apart from the gentlemen, and gave out the words distinctly but very quietly.
Emmy Lou felt that Dear Teacher was troubled. Emmy Lou thought it was because Dear Teacher was afraid the poor spellers were going to miss. She made up her mind that she would not miss.
Dear Teacher began with the words on the first page and went forward. Emmy Lou could tell the next word to come each time, for she knew her Second Reader by heart as far as the class had gone.
She stood up when her time came and spelled her word. Her word was "wrong." She spelled it right.
Dear Teacher looked pleased. There was a time when Emmy Lou had been given to leaving off the introductory "w" as superfluous.
On the next round a little girl above Emmy Lou missed on "enough." To her phonetic understanding, a u and two f's were equivalent to an ough.
Emmy Lou spelled it right and went up one. The little girl went to her seat. She was no longer in the race. She was in tears.
Presently a little girl far up the line arose to spell.
"Right, to do right," said Dear Teacher.
"W-r-i-t-e, right," said the little girl promptly.
"R-i-t-e, right," said the next little girl.
The third stood up with triumph preassured. In spelling, the complicated is the surest, reasoned this little girl.
"W-r-i-g-h-t, right," spelled the certain little girl; then burst into tears.
The mothers of the future grew demoralised. The pillars of state of English orthography at least seemed destined to totter. The spelling grew wild.
Then in the desperation of sheer hopelessness came "w-r-i-t-e, right," again.
There were tears all along the line. At their wits' end, the mothers, dissolving as they rose in turn, shook their heads hopelessly.
Emmy Lou stood up. She knew just where the word was in a column of three on page 14. She could see it. She looked up at Dear Teacher, quiet and pale, on the platform.
"R," said Emmy Lou, steadily, "i-g-h-t, right."
A long line of weeping mothers went to their seats, and Emmy Lou moved up past the middle of the bench.
The words were now more complicated. The nerves of the mothers had been shaken by this last strain. Little girls dropped out rapidly. The foot moved on up toward the head, until there came a pink spot on Dear Teacher's either cheek. For some reason Dear Teacher's head began to hold itself finely erect again.
"Beaux," said Dear Teacher.
The little girl next the head stood up. She missed. She burst into audible weeping. Nerves were giving out along the line. It went wildly down. Emmy Lou was the last. Emmy Lou stood up. It was the first word of a column on page 22. Emmy Lou could see it. She looked at Dear Teacher.
"B," said Emmy Lou, "e-a-u-x, beaux."
The intervening mothers had gone to their seats, and Kitty and Emmy Lou were left.
Kitty spelled triumphantly. Emmy Lou spelled steadily. Even Dear Teacher's voice showed a touch of the strain.
She gave out half a dozen words. Then "receive," said Dear Teacher.
It was Kitty's turn. Kitty stood up. Dear Teacher's back was to the blackboard. The Trustee and the visiting gentleman were also facing the class. Kitty's eyes, as she stood up, were on the board.
"The best speller in this room is to recieve this medal,"
was the assurance on the board.
Kitty tossed her little head. "R-e, re, c-i-e-v-e, ceive, receive," spelled Kitty, her eyes on the blackboard.
Emmy Lou stood up. It was the second word in a column on a picture page. Emmy Lou could see it. She looked at Dear Teacher.
"R-e, re, c-e-i-v-e, ceive, receive," said Emmy Lou.
One person beside Kitty had noted the blackboard. Already the Principal was passing an eraser across the words of the visiting gentleman.
Dear Teacher's cheeks were pink as Emmy Lou's as she led Emmy Lou to receive the medal. And her head was finely erect. She held Emmy Lou's hand through it all.
The visiting gentleman's manner was a little stony. It had quite lost its playfulness. He looked almost gloomily on the mother who had upheld the pillars of state and the future generally.
It was a beautiful medal. It was a five-pointed star. It said "Reward of Merit."
The visiting gentleman lifted it from its bed of pink cotton.
"You must get a ribbon for it," said Dear Teacher.
Emmy Lou slipped her hand from Dear Teacher's. She went to the front desk. She got her Second Reader, and brought forth a folded packet from behind the criss-cross stitches holding the cover.
Then she came back. She put the paper in Dear Teacher's hand.
"There's a ribbon," said Emmy Lou.
They were at dinner when Emmy Lou got home. On a blue ribbon around her neck dangled a new medal. In her hand she carried a shiny box.
Even Uncle Charlie felt there must be some mistake.
Aunt Louise got her hat to hurry Emmy Lou right back to school.
At the gate they met Dear Teacher's carriage, taking Dear Teacher home. She stopped.
Aunt Cordelia came out, and Aunt Katie. Uncle Charlie, just going, stopped to hear.
"Spelling match!" said Aunt Louise.
"Not our Emmy Lou?" said Aunt Katie.
"The precious baby," said Aunt Cordelia.
"Hammel," said Uncle Charlie, "McKoeghany," and Uncle Charlie smote his thigh.
"I SING OF HONOUR AND THE FAITHFUL HEART"
The Real Teacher was sick. The Third Reader was to begin its duties with a Substitute. The Principal announced it to the class, looking at them coldly and stating the matter curtly. It was as though he considered the Third Reader Class to blame.
Somehow Emmy Lou felt apologetic about it and guilty. And she watched the door. A Substitute might mean anything. Hattie, Emmy Lou's desk-mate, watched the door, too, but covertly, for Hattie did not like to acknowledge she did not know.
The Substitute came in a little breathlessly. She was pretty—as pretty as Emmy Lou's Aunt Katie. She seemed a little uncertain as to what to do. Perhaps she felt conscious of forty pairs of eyes waiting to see what she would do.
The Substitute stepped hesitatingly up on the platform. She gripped the edge of the desk, and opened her lips, but nothing came. She closed them and swallowed. Then she said, "Children——"
"She's goin' to cry!" whispered Hattie, in awed accents. Emmy Lou felt it would be terrible to see her cry. It was evidently something so unpleasant to be a Substitute that Emmy Lou's heart went out to her.
But the Substitute did not cry. She still gripped the desk, and after a moment went on: "—you will find printed on the slips of paper upon each desk the needs of the Third Reader."
She did not cry, but everybody felt the tremor in her voice. The Substitute was young, and new to her business.
Reading over the needs of the Third Reader printed on the slips of paper, Emmy Lou found them so complicated and lengthy she realised one thing—she would have to have a new school-bag, a larger, stronger one, to accommodate them.
Now, there is a difference between a Real Teacher and a Substitute. The Real Teacher loves mystery and explains grudgingly. The Real Teacher stands aloof, with awe and distance between herself and the inhabitants of the rows of desks she holds dominion over.
But a Substitute tells the class all about her duty and its duty, and about what she is planning and what she expects of them. A Substitute makes the occupants of the desks feel flattered and conscious and important.
The Substitute's name was Miss Jenny. The class speedily adored her. Soon her desk might have been a shrine to Pomona. It was joy to forego one's apple to swell the fruitage of adoration piled on Miss Jenny's desk. The class could scarcely be driven to recess, since going tore them from her. They found their happiness in Miss Jenny's presence.
So, apparently, did Mr. Bryan. Mr. Bryan was the Principal. He wore his black hair somewhat long and thrown off his forehead, only Mr. Bryan would have called it brow.
Mr. Bryan came often to the Third Reader room. He said it was very necessary that the Third Reader should be well grounded in the rudiments of number. He said he was astonished, he was appalled, he was chagrined.
He paused at "chagrined," and repeated it impressively, so that the guttural grimness of its second syllable sounded most unpleasant. Appalled and astonished must be bad, but to be chagrined, as Mr. Bryan said it, must be terrible.
He was chagrined, so it proved, that a class could show such deplorable ignorance concerning the very rudiments of number.
It was Emmy Lou who displayed it, when she was called to the blackboard by Mr. Bryan. He called a different little girl each day, with discriminating impartiality. When doing so, Mr. Bryan would often express a hope that his teachers would have no favourites.
Emmy Lou went to the board.
"If a man born in eighteen hundred and nine, lives—" began Mr. Bryan. Then he turned to speak to Miss Jenny.
Emmy Lou took the chalk and stood on her toes to reach the board.
"Set it down," said Mr. Bryan, turning—"the date."
Emmy Lou paused, uncertain. Had he said one thousand, eight hundred and nine, she would have known; that was the way one knew it in the Second Reader, but eighteen hundred was confusing.
Again Mr. Bryan looked around, to see the chubby little girl standing on her toes, chalk in hand, still uncertain. Mr. Bryan's voice expressed tried but laudable patience.
"Put it down—the date," said Mr. Bryan, "eighteen hundred and nine."
Emmy Lou put it down. She put it down in this way:
18 100 9
Then it was he was astonished, appalled, chagrined; then it was he found it would be necessary to come even oftener to the Third Reader to ground it in the rudiments of number.
But he did not always go when the lesson ended. Directly following its work in the "New Eclectic Practical and Mental Primary Arithmetic," the class was given over to mastering "Townsend's New System of Drawing."
While the children drew, Mr. Bryan would lean on Miss Jenny's desk, rearrange his white necktie, and talk to her. Miss Jenny was pretty. The class gloried in her prettiness, but it felt it would have her more for its own if Mr. Bryan would go when the number lesson ended.
Mr. Townsend may have made much of the system he claimed was embodied in "Book No. 1," but the class never tried his system. There is a chance Miss Jenny had not tried it either. Drawing had never been in the public school before, and Miss Jenny was only a Substitute.
So the class drew with no supervision and with only such verbal direction as Miss Jenny could insert between Mr. Bryan's attentions. Miss Jenny seemed different when Mr. Bryan was there, she seemed helpless and nervous.
Emmy Lou felt reasonably safe when it came to drawing. She had often copied pictures out of books, and she, like Mr. Townsend, had her system.
On the first page of "Book No. 1" were six lines up and down, six lines across, six slanting lines, and a circle. One was expected to copy these in the space below. To do this Emmy Lou applied her system. She produced a piece of tissue-paper folded away in her "Montague's New Elementary Geography"—Emmy Lou was a saving and hoarding little soul—which she laid over the lines and traced them with her pencil.
It was harder to do the rest. Next she laid the traced paper carefully over the space below, and taking her slate-pencil, went laboriously over each line with an absorbing zeal that left its mark in the soft drawing paper. Lastly she went over each indented line with a lead-pencil, carefully and frequently wetted in her little mouth.
Miss Jenny exclaimed when she saw it. Mr. Bryan had gone. Miss Jenny said it was the best page in the room.
Emmy Lou could not take her book home, for drawing-books must be kept clean and were collected and kept in the cupboard, but she told Aunt Cordelia that her page had been the best in the room. Aunt Cordelia could hardly believe it, saying she had never heard of a talent for drawing in any branch of the family.
Now Hattie had taken note of Emmy Lou's system in drawing, and the next day she brought tissue-paper. That day Miss Jenny praised Hattie's page. Emmy Lou's system immediately became popular. All the class got tissue-paper. And Mr. Bryan, finding the drawing-hour one of undisturbed opportunity, stayed until the bell rang for Geography.
A little girl named Sadie wondered if tissue-paper was fair. Hattie said it was, for Mr. Bryan saw her using it, and turned and went on talking to Miss Jenny. But a little girl named Mamie settled it definitely. Did not her mamma, Mamie wanted to know, draw the scallops that way on Baby Sister's flannel petticoat? And didn't one's own mamma know?
Sadie was reassured. Sadie was a conscientious little girl. Miss Jenny said so. Miss Jenny was conscientious, too. Right at the beginning she told them how she hated a story, fib-story she meant.
The class felt that they, too, abhorred stories. They loved Miss Jenny. And Miss Jenny disliked stories. Just then a little girl raised her hand. It was Sadie.
Sadie said she was afraid she had told Miss Jenny a story, a fib-story, the day before, when Miss Jenny had asked her if she felt the wind from the window opened above, and she had said no. Afterward she had realised she did feel the wind. A thrill, deep-awed, went around the room. In her secret soul every little girl wished she had told a story, that she might tell Miss Jenny.
Miss Jenny praised Sadie, she called her a brave and conscientious little girl. She closed the book and came to the edge of the platform and talked to them about duty and honour and faithfulness.
Emmy Lou, her cheeks pink, longed for opportunity to prove her faithfulness, her honesty; she longed to prove herself a Sadie.
There was Roll Call in the Third Reader. The duties were much too complicated for mere Head and Foot. After each lesson came Roll Call.
As Emmy Lou understood them, the marks by which one graded one's performance and deserts in the Third Reader were interpreted:
6—The final state which few may hope to attain.
5—The gate beyond which lies the final and unattainable state.
4—The highest hope of the humble.
3—The common condition of mankind.
2—The just reward of the wretched.
1—The badge of shame.
When Roll Call first began, Miss Jenny said to her class: "You must each think earnestly before answering. To give in a mark above what you feel yourself entitled, is to tell worse than a story, it is to tell a falsehood, and a falsehood is a lie. I shall leave it to you. I believe in trusting my pupils, and I shall take no note of your standing. Each will be answerable for herself." Miss Jenny was very young.
The class sat weighted with the awfulness of the responsibility. It was a conscientious class, and Miss Jenny's high ideals had worked upon its sensibilities. No little girl dared to be "six." How could she know, for instance, in her reading lesson, if she had paused the exact length of a full stop every time she met with a period? Who could decide? Certainly not the little girl in her own favour, and perhaps be branded with a falsehood, which was a lie. Or who, when Roll Call for deportment came, could ever dare call herself perfect? Self-examination and inward analysis lead rather to a belief in natural sin. The Third Reader Class grew conscientious to the splitting of a hair. It was better to be "four" than "five" and be saved, and "three" than "four," if there was room for doubt. Class standing fell rapidly.
Emmy Lou struggled to keep up with the downward tendency.
Hattie outstripped her promptly. Hattie could adapt herself to all exigencies. Emmy Lou even felt envy of Hattie creeping into her heart.
There came an awful day. It was Roll Call for drawing. It had been a fish, a fish with elaborately serrated fins. Miss Jenny had said that Emmy Lou's fish was as good as the copy. In her heart Miss Jenny wondered at the proficiency of her class in drawing, for she could not draw a straight line. But since Mr. Bryan seemed satisfied and said every day, "Let them alone, they are getting along," Miss Jenny gave the credit to Mr. Townsend's system.
She was enthusiastic over Emmy Lou's fish, which Emmy Lou brought up as soon as Mr. Bryan departed.
"It is wonderful," said Miss Jenny. "It is perfect."
Emmy Lou went back to her desk much troubled. What was she to do? She had not moved, she had not whispered, she had not lifted the lashes sweeping her chubby cheeks even to look at Hattie, yet it was the general belief that no little girl could answer "six," and not tell a falsehood, which is a lie. Yet, on the other hand, being perfect, Emmy Lou could not say less. She was perfect. Miss Jenny said so. Emmy Lou shut her eyes to think. It was approaching her turn to answer.
"Six," said Emmy Lou, opening her eyes and standing, the impersonation of conscious guilt. She felt disgraced. She felt the silence. She felt she could not meet the eyes of the other little girls. And she felt sick. Her throat was sore. In the Third Reader one's face burned from the red-hot stove so near by, while one shivered from the draught when the window was lowered above one's head.
Emmy Lou did not come to school the next day, so Hattie went out to see her. It was Friday. The class had had singing. Every Friday the singing teacher came to the Third Reader for an hour.
"He changed my seat over to the left," said Hattie. "I can sing alto."
Emmy Lou felt cross. She felt the strenuousness of striving to keep abreast of Hattie. And the taste of a nauseous dose from a black bottle was in her mouth, and another dose loomed an hour ahead. And now Hattie could sing alto.
"Sing it," said Emmy Lou.
It disconcerted Hattie. "It—isn't—er—you can't just up and sing it—it's alto," said Hattie, nonplussed.
"You said you could sing it," said Emmy Lou. This was the nearest Emmy Lou had come to fussing with Hattie.
The next Monday Emmy Lou was late in starting, that is, late for Emmy Lou, and she made a discovery—Miss Jenny passed Emmy Lou's house going to school. Emmy Lou did not have courage to join her, but waited inside her gate until Miss Jenny had passed. But the next morning she was at her gate again as Miss Jenny came by.
Miss Jenny said, "Good morning."
Emmy Lou went out. They walked along together. After that Emmy Lou waited every morning. One day it was icy on the pavements. Miss Jenny told Emmy Lou to take her hand. After that Emmy Lou's mittened hand went into Miss Jenny's every morning.
Emmy Lou told Hattie, who came out to Emmy Lou's the next morning. They both waited for Miss Jenny. They each held a hand. It was in this way they came to know the Drug-Store Man. Sometimes he waited for them at the corner. Sometimes he walked out to meet them. He and Miss Jenny seemed to be old friends. He asked them about rudiments of number. They wondered how he knew.
One day Hattie proposed a plan. It was daring. She persuaded Emmy Lou to agree to it. That night Emmy Lou packed her school-bag even to the apple for Miss Jenny. Next morning, early as Hattie arrived, she was waiting for her at the gate, though hot and cold with the daring of the expedition. They were going to walk out in the direction of the Great Unknown, from which, each day, Miss Jenny emerged. They were going to meet Miss Jenny!
They knew she turned into their street at the corner. So they turned. At the next corner they saw Miss Jenny coming. But along the intersecting street, one walking southward, one northward, toward the corner where Hattie, Emmy Lou, and Miss Jenny were about to meet, came two others—Mr. Bryan and the Drug-Store Man!
Something made Emmy Lou and Hattie feel queer and guilty. Something made them turn and run. They ran fast. They ran faster. Emmy Lou's heavy school-bag thumped against her little calves. Her apple flew out. Emmy Lou never stopped.
Hattie told her afterward that it was the Drug-Store Man who brought Miss Jenny to school. Hattie peeped out from behind the shed where the water-buckets sat. She said he brought Miss Jenny to the gate and opened it for her. He had never come farther than the corner before. That day Mr. Bryan did not come to ground them in the rudiments of number, nor did he come the next day; nor ever, any more. Yet the Third Reader Class was undoubtedly poor in arithmetic. Miss Jenny found that out. Mr. Bryan's instruction seemed not to have helped them at all. Miss Jenny said that as they were so well up in drawing, they would lay those books aside, and give that time to arithmetic. And she also reminded them to be conscientious in all their work. They were, and the Roll Call bore witness to their rigourous self-depreciation.
Mr. Bryan never came for number again, but he came, one day, because of Roll Call. Once a week Roll Call was sent to the office. It was called their Class Average. The day of Class Average Mr. Bryan walked in. He rapped smartly on the red and blue lined paper in his hand. Miss Jenny's Class Average, so the class learned, was low, and she must see to it that her class made a better showing. She was a substitute, Mr. Bryan recognised that, and made allowance accordingly, "but"—then he went.
Miss Jenny looked frightened. The class feared she was going to cry. They determined to be better and more conscientious for her sake, feeling that they would die for Miss Jenny. But the Class Average was low again. How could it be otherwise with forty over-strained little consciences determining their own deserts?
One day Miss Jenny was sent for. When one was sent for, one went to the office. Little boys went there to be whipped. Sadie went there once; her grandma was dead, and they had sent for her.
Miss Jenny had been crying when she came back. Lessons went on miserably. Then Miss Jenny put the book down. It was evident she had not heard one word of the absent-minded and sympathetic little girl who said that a peninsula was a body of water almost surrounded by land.
Miss Jenny came to the edge of the platform. She looked way off a moment; then she looked at the class, and spoke. She said she was going to take them into her confidence. Miss Jenny was very young. She told them the teacher of the Third Reader, the Real Teacher, was not coming back, and that she had hoped to take the Real Teacher's place, but the Class Average was being counted against her.
Everybody noticed the tremor in Miss Jenny's voice. It broke on the fatal Class Average. Sadie began to cry.
Miss Jenny came to the very edge of the platform. She looked slight and young and appealing, did Miss Jenny.
Next week, she went on to tell them, would be Quarterly Examination. If they did well in Examination, even with the Class Average against her, Miss Jenny might be allowed to remain, but if they failed——
The Third Reader Class gathered in knots and groups at recess. It depended on them whether Miss Jenny went or stayed. Emmy Lou stood in one of the groups, her chubby face bearing witness to her concern. "What is a Quarterly Examination?" asked Emmy Lou. Nobody seemed very sure.
"Oh," said another little girl, "they give you questions, and you write down answers. My brother is in the Grammar School, and he has Examinations."
"Quarterly Examinations?" asked Emmy Lou, who was definite.
The little girl did not know. She only knew if you answered right, you passed; if wrong, you failed.
And Miss Jenny would go.
There was an air of mystery about a Quarterly Examination. It made one uneasy before the actual thing came, while the uncertainty concerning it was trying to the nerves.
The day before Examination, Miss Jenny told every little girl to clear out her desk and carry all her belongings home. Then she went around and looked in each desk, for not a scrap of paper even must remain.
Miss Jenny told them that she trusted them, it was not that, it was because it was the rule.
"To cheat at Examination," said Miss Jenny, "is worse even than to lie. To cheat is to steal—steal knowledge that doesn't belong to you. To cheat at Examination is to be both a liar and a thief."
The class scarcely breathed. This was terrible.
"About the first subject," said Miss Jenny, "I feel safe. The first thing in the morning you will be examined in drawing."
Emmy Lou at that remembered she had no tissue-paper. Neither had Hattie. Neither had Mamie. Everybody must be reminded. Miss Jenny told them to come with slate, pencils, and legal-cap paper. After school Emmy Lou and Hattie and Sadie and Mamie made mention of tissue-paper. The Drug-Store Man waited on Emmy Lou the next morning. Emmy Lou had a nickel. She wanted tissue-paper. The Drug-Store Man was curious. It seemed as if every little girl who came in wanted tissue-paper. Emmy Lou and the Drug-Store Man were great friends.
"What's it got to do with rudiments of number?" asked the Drug-Store Man.
"It's for drawing," said Emmy Lou. "It's Quarterly Examination."
The Drug-Store Man was interested. He did not quite understand the system. Emmy Lou explained. Her chin did not reach the counter, but she looked up and he leaned over. The Drug-Store Man grew serious. He was afraid this might get Miss Jenny into trouble. He explained to Emmy Lou that it would be cheating to use tissue-paper in Examination, and told her she must draw right off the copy, according to the directions set down in the book. He suggested that she go and tell the others of the class. For that matter, if they came right over, he would take back the tissue-paper and substitute licorice sticks.
Emmy Lou hurried over to tell them. Examinations, she explained, were different, and to use tissue-paper would be cheating. And what would Miss Jenny say? Little girls hurried across the street, and the jar of licorice was exhausted.
Miss Jenny saw them seated. She told them she could trust them. No one in her class would cheat. Then a strange teacher from the class above came in to examine them. It was the rule. And Miss Jenny was sent away to examine a Primary School in another district.
But at the door she turned. Every eye was following her. They loved Miss Jenny. Her cheeks were glowing, and the draught, as Miss Jenny stood in the open doorway, blew her hair about her face. She smiled back at them. She turned to go. But again she turned—Miss Jenny—yes, Miss Jenny was throwing a kiss to the Third Reader Class.
The door closed. It was Examination. The page they were to draw had for copy a cup and saucer. No, worse, a cup in a saucer. And by it was a coffee-pot. And next to that was a pepper-box. And these were to be drawn for Quarterly Examination—without tissue-paper.
When Emmy Lou had finished she felt discouraged. In the result one might be pardoned for some uncertainty as to which was coffee-pot and which pepper-box. The cup and saucer seemed strangely like a circle in a hole. There was a yawning break in the paper from much erasure where the handle of the coffee-pot should have been. There were thumb marks and smears where nothing should have been. Emmy Lou looked at Hattie. Hattie looked worn out. She had her book upside down, putting the holes in the lid of the pepper-box. Sadie was crying. Tears were dropping right down on the page of her book.
The bell rang. Examination in drawing was over. The books were collected. Just as the teacher was dismissing them for recess she opened a book. She opened another. She turned to the front pages. She passed a finger over the reverse side of a page. She was a teacher of long years of experience. She told the class to sit down. She asked a little girl named Mamie Sessum to please rise. It was Mamie's book she held. Mamie rose.
The teacher's tones were polite. It made one tremble, they were so polite. "May I ask," said the teacher, "to have explained the system by which the supposedly freehand drawing in this book has been done?"
"It wasn't any system," Mamie hastened to explain, anxious to disclaim a connection evidently so undesirable; "it was tissue-paper."
"And this confessed openly to my face?" said the teacher. She was, even after many years at the business of exposing the natural depravity of the youthful mind, appalled at the brazenness of Mamie.
Mamie looked uncertain. Whatever she had done, it was well to have company. "We all used tissue-paper," said Mamie.
It proved even so. The teacher, that this thing might be fully exposed, called the roll. Each little girl responded in alphabetical sequence. The teacher's condition of shocked virtue rendered her coldly laconic.
"Tissue-paper?" she asked each little girl in turn.
"Tissue-paper" was the burden, if not the form, of every alarmed little girl's reply.
"Cipher," said the teacher briefly as each made confession, and called the next.
The teacher at the last closed her book with a snap. "Cipher and worse," she told them. "You are cheats, and to cheat is to lie. And further, the class has failed in drawing."
A bell rang. Recess was over.
The teacher, regarding them coldly, picked up the chalk, and turned to write on the board, "If a man——"
Examination in "New Eclectic Practical and Mental Primary Arithmetic" had begun.
The Third Reader Class, stunned, picked up its pencils. Miss Jenny had feared for them in arithmetic. They had feared for themselves. They were cheats and liars and they had failed. And the knowledge did not make them feel confident. They were cheats, and a suspicious and cold surveillance on the part of the teacher kept them reminded that she looked upon them as cheats and watched them accordingly. Misery and despair were their portion. And further, failure. In their state of mind it was inevitable for them to get lost in the maze of conditions surrounding "If a man——"
They did better next day in geography and reading. They passed on Friday in spelling and penmanship.
But the terrible fact remained—the teacher had declared them cheats and liars. If they could only see Miss Jenny. Miss Jenny would understand. Miss Jenny would make it all right after she returned.
When the Third Reader Class assembled on Monday, a tall lady occupied the platform. She was a Real Teacher. But at the door stood a memory of Miss Jenny, the hair blown about her face, kissing her hand.
The Third Reader Class never saw Miss Jenny again.
THE PLAY'S THE THING
It was the day of the exhibition. At close of the half year the Third Reader Class had suffered a change in teachers, the first having been a Substitute, whereas her successor was a Real Teacher. And since the coming of Miss Carrie, the Third Reader Class had lived, as it were, in the public eye, for on Fridays books were put away and the attention given to recitations and company.
Miss Carrie talked in deep tones, which she said were chest tones, and described mysterious sweeps and circles with her hands when she talked. And these she called gestures. Miss Carrie was an elocutionist and had even recited on the stage.
She gave her class the benefit of her talent, and in teaching them said they must suit the action to the word. The action meant gestures, and gestures meant sweeps and circles.
Emmy Lou had to learn a piece for Friday. It was poetry, but you called it a piece, and though Uncle Charlie had selected it for Emmy Lou, Miss Carrie did not seem to think much of it.
Emmy Lou stood up. Miss Carrie was drilling her, and though she did her best to suit the action to the word, it seemed a complicated undertaking. The piece was called, "A Plain Direction." Emmy Lou came to the lines:
"Straight down the Crooked Lane And all round the Square."
Whatever difficulties her plump forefinger had had over the first three of these geometrical propositions, it triumphed at the end, for Emmy Lou paused. A square has four sides, and to suit a four-sided action to the word, takes time.
Miss Carrie, whose attention had wandered a little, here suddenly observing, stopped her, saying her gestures were stiff and meaningless. She said they looked like straight lines cut in the air.
Emmy Lou, anxious to prove her efforts to be conscientious, explained that they were straight lines, it was a square. Miss Carrie drew herself up, and, using her coldest tones, told Emmy Lou not to be funny.
"Funny!" Emmy Lou felt that she did not understand.
But this was a mere episode between Fridays. One lived but to prepare for Fridays, and a Sunday dress was becoming a mere everyday affair, since one's best must be worn for Fridays.
No other class had these recitations and the Third Reader was envied. Its members were pointed out and gazed upon, until one realised one was standing in the garish light of fame. The other readers, it seemed, longed for fame and craved publicity, and so it came about that the school was to have an exhibition with Miss Carrie's genius to plan and engineer the whole. For general material Miss Carrie drew from the whole school, but the play was for her own class alone.
And this was the day of the exhibition.
Hattie and Sadie and Emmy Lou stood at the gate of the school. They had spent the morning in rehearsing. At noon they had been sent home with instructions to return at half past two. The exhibition would begin at three.
"Of course," Miss Carrie had said, "you will not fail to be on time." And Miss Carrie had used her deepest tones.
Hattie and Sadie and Emmy Lou had wondered how she could even dream of such a thing.
It was not two o'clock, and the three stood at the gate, the first to return.
They were in the same piece. It was The Play. In a play one did more than suit the action to the word, one dressed to suit the part.
In the play Hattie and Sadie and Emmy Lou found themselves the orphaned children of a soldier who had failed to return from the war. It was a very sad piece. Sadie had to weep, and more than once Emmy Lou had found tears in her own eyes, watching her.
Miss Carrie said Sadie showed histrionic talent. Emmy Lou asked Hattie about it, who said it meant tears, and Emmy Lou remembered then how tears came naturally to Sadie.
When Aunt Cordelia heard they must dress to suit the part she came to see Miss Carrie, and so did the mamma of Sadie and the mamma of Hattie.
"Dress them in a kind of mild mourning," Miss Carrie explained, "not too deep, or it will seem too real, and, as three little sisters, suppose we dress them alike."
And now Hattie and Sadie and Emmy Lou stood at the gate ready for the play. Stiffly immaculate white dresses, with beltings of black sashes, flared jauntily out above spotless white stockings and sober little black slippers, while black-bound Leghorn hats shaded three anxious little countenances. By the exact centre, each held a little handkerchief, black-bordered.
"It seems almost wicked," Aunt Cordelia had ventured at this point; "it seems like tempting Providence."
But Sadie's mamma did not see it so. Sadie's mamma had provided the handkerchiefs. Tears were Sadie's feature in the play.
Hattie and Sadie and Emmy Lou wore each an anxious seriousness of countenance, but it was a variant seriousness.
Hattie's tense expression breathed a determination which might have been interpreted do or die; to Hattie life was a battling foe to be overcome and trodden beneath a victorious heel; Hattie was an infantile St. George always on the look for The Dragon, and to-day The Exhibition was The Dragon.
Sadie's seriousness was a complacent realization of large responsibility. Her weeping was a feature. Sadie remembered she had histrionic talent.
Emmy Lou's anxiety was because there loomed ahead the awful moment of mounting the platform. It was terrible on mere Fridays to mount the platform and, after vain swallowing to overcome a labial dryness and a lingual taste of copper, try to suit the action to the word, but to mount the platform for The Play—Emmy Lou was trying not to look that far ahead. But as the hour approached, the solemn importance of the occasion was stealing brainward, and she even began to feel glad she was a part of The Exhibition, for to have been left out would have been worse even than the moment of mounting the platform.