THE EVOLUTION OF "DODD"
A Pedagogical Story
Giving his Struggle for the
SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
HIS CHANCES, HIS CHANGES, AND HOW HE CAME OUT.
WILLIAM HAWLEY SMITH.
"Happy is the man who grinds at the mill; The mill turns 'round and he stands there still."
"Social institutions are made for man, and not man for social institutions."
"The supreme purpose of creation is the development of the individual."
THE EVOLUTION OF "DODD."
There was joy in the Weaver household when the child was born, and when it had been duly announced that it was a boy. The event was the first of the kind in this particular branch of the Weaver family, and, as is always the case, there was such rejoicing as does not come with the recurrence of like episodes. A man hardly feels sure of his manhood till the magic word father is put in the vocative case and applied to him direct, and the apotheosis of woman comes with maternity.
There is nothing remarkable about all this. It is the same the world around. But it is the usual that demands most of our time and attention here below, whether we wish it so or otherwise; and although we are everlastingly running after the strange and eccentric in human nature, as well as in all other branches of creation, it is the rule and not the exception that we have to deal with during most of our lives.
This Weaver family, father and mother, were much like other young fathers and mothers, and their child was not unlike other first-born children. His first low cry and his struggle for breath were just such as the officiating doctor had witnessed a hundred times, and doubtless his last moan and gasp will be such as the attending physician will have seen many a time and oft.
It is not the unusual that this brief tale has to deal with.
Yet, with all of these points held in common with the rest of the race, the hero of the adventures herein chronicled had an individuality that was his own, and most thoroughly so. This, too, is common. Most people have an individuality, if they can only find it! A good many men never do find this quality in themselves, having it crushed out by the timid or designing people who take charge of their education, so called; but for all that, to every man is given a being unlike that of any other in all the world, and it is the business of each, for himself, to make the most of his own peculiar gift, and for all his teachers and all systems of education to help him in his heaven-ordained task.
The young Weaver, whose advent has just been mentioned, was an individual. The nurse became conscious of it before he was an hour old, and the same impression has been received by all of his since-acquired acquaintances. He was a boy with a way of his own. He came into a world where there are crowds possessed of the same characteristics. It is a marvel, how, in such a multitude of differences, either he or the rest of us get along, even as well as we do.
When it came to naming the child, he was called "Dodd."
"Dodd" was the short for Doddridge, and the full appellation given to the youth at his christening, when he was two months old, was Doddridge Watts Weaver, a name which the officiating clergyman pronounced with great unction, and in the prayer after baptism made mention of again, asking heaven to grant that the mantle of both the old worthies whose names the child bore might fall upon the little body wrapped up in an embroidered blanket and held on the shoulder of the good woman who stood before the altar.
That is not just the way the preacher said this, but it is substantially the idea that he tried to convey to the Lord, and perhaps he succeeded in doing so better than I have succeeded in conveying it to you, dear reader; but then, he had this advantage: The Lord is quicker at taking a point hinted at than the public is! Though this needs to be added: that if the Hearer of Prayer did catch the meaning that lay around loose somewhere in the jumble of the parson's petition, that morning, He did not see fit to grant the request, for no scrap of a rag that ever had graced the backs of those dear old hymn-makers fell, either soon or late, upon the form of the boy whose wriggling little body the mother tried to keep in order while the parson prayed.
The father of this bit of humanity was Parson Weaver, a man of some ability, as was evinced by the fact that he joined the church, got married, went to preaching, and became a father, as noted, all within a twelve-month. He was shrewd, and generally had sufficient reasons for his actions. He even had a purpose in naming his first-born. He was fresh to the ministry, and young. The elders of the church were somber men, and feared that their pastor might be too much given to levity. Mr. Weaver got wind of this, somehow, and to impress upon the pillars of his church and the payers of his salary the fact that he was "sober, righteous and godly," he named his first-born out of the hymn book.
But the boy never liked the name. When he began to go to school the other boys used to laugh at him when he stood up and told the teacher what his name was, and, a tease among the girls, who had an old grandmother who used to sit in a corner and read old books, once nick-named the youth "Rise and Progress." As soon as he could write, he always signed his name D. W. Weaver, and insisted that the initials stood for Daniel Webster.
As already noted, the child was the first born of his parents. He was not the last, however, for, like a faithful clergyman of the old school, that he was, Parson Weaver ultimately had a family, the number of which could not be told by any one significant figure. The children came into the household in quick succession too, for when "Dodd" was four years old he had four brothers and sisters, two pairs of twins having blessed the good parson and his wife within the first half decade of their wedded life. These trifling facts may seem irrelevant to this record, but due reflection will doubtless show that they are worthy to be set down as pertaining to the case.
Perhaps first children are more apt to be individual than those of later birth. Be this as it may, "Dodd" had a much more marked individuality than his brothers and sisters. Not to attempt to trace the ways of nature too far, it is perhaps true that in a first-born child are joined the individualities of the young father and mother to a greater extent than in the younger members of a family. The untamed currents of youthful blood that course through the veins of the bride and groom, and their unmodified natures—all of which mellow with years,—leave marks upon their eldest which the younger children escape.
At any rate, "Dodd" was a wayward boy from the first, a typical preacher's son. He was rebellious, belligerent, and naturally deceitful. This last trait, matched with a vivid imagination, made him a great liar as soon as he grew old enough to use the two faculties at the same time. In this regard, however, he was not so wonderfully unlike a great many other people. He had bursts of great generosity; was brave and daring even to foolhardiness; had friends, and would stand by them till death, if need be, when the good impulse was on; or perhaps betray them in their greatest extremity if the opposite passion got control at a critical moment.
Intellectually he was bright, even to keenness; physically he was lazy and a shirk; morally his status is best represented by the algebraic sign 0-0; spiritually he was at times profoundly reverent and aspiring, or again, outrageously blasphemous, and reckless almost to desperation.
This is a partial catalogue of the characteristics with which "Dodd" was originally endowed. The character that was evolved from these, by means of the education that fell to the lot of this individual, is the business of these pages. To take such timber as is furnished in this specimen, and fashion from it a temple of the Lord, is a task that might puzzle angels. To make a decent child, a boy, or man out of "Dodd" Weaver, was the thing that worried everybody that had anything to do with him, and may, some day, perhaps, prove too hard a task for that individual himself. Yet his case is no uncommon one in many of its phases, for every day sees thousands quite like it in the school houses of America, as elsewhere.
And the question is, what are we to do about it?
Not to detail carefully all the events pertaining to the home life of "Dodd" up to the time he was six years old, it is enough to say that after the time he was able to creep, he lived much in the street. He was usually in mischief when not asleep, and his overworn mother and somewhat shiftless and careless father were so taken up with the other children and with family and pastoral cares, that "Dodd" grew up by himself, as so many children do; more is the pity.
A man seldom gets so many calves, or colts, or pigs that he cannot take good care of them, every one; but for his own children—well, it need not be said what, the cases are so frequent that everybody knows all about them.
"Dodd" was a youngster for everybody to tease. When he first began to toddle along the sidewalk in front of the house, the folks who came along would pull his little cap down over his eyes, and then laugh at him when he got mad and cried. All this tended to develop him, and doubtless the evolution of many points in his character took rise in these and similar events.
At last the morning dawned when "Dodd" was six years old, and there was joy in Parson Weavers household in the fact that now one youngster could be got rid of for six hours a day, and ten months in the year, Saturdays and Sundays excepted.
Gentle teacher, you who read these lines, you know who was to take care of this specimen, don't you? Alas! alas! what herds of six-year-old babies there are thus to be taken care of, many of them coming from homes where they have never known what care meant, but every one to be got into shape somehow, by you, my dear school ma'am, or master, all for a handful of paltry dollars per month, while you wait to get married, or to enter another profession. "To what base uses do we return!"
So, on a leaden morning in November, when the mud was deepest and the first snow was shied through the air, whose sharpness cut like a knife, "Dodd" Weaver came into the schoolroom alone, his mother being too busy to go with him. He had waded across the street where the mud and slush were worse than anywhere else. His boots were smeared to their very tops, and the new book that he started with had a black daub the size of your hand on the bright cover. He came late and, without a word of hesitation, marched to the desk, and remarked to the woman in charge: "Mam said you was to take care o' me!"
Miss Elvira Stone was teaching the school that year. Miss Stone was above the average height of women, and carried her social much higher than she did her physical head, while there was a kind of nose-in-the-air bearing in both cases. She had beautiful, wavy black hair, a clear complexion, black eyes, and narrow, thin lips, which were always slightly pursed up, as the groundwork or main support of a kind of cast-iron smile that never left her face for a moment while she was awake. Her dresses always fitted her perfectly, and her skirts trailed at the proper angle, but yet there was a feeling, all the time, that she had been poured into the mould that the dressmaker had prepared, and now that she had got hard, you could strike her with a hammer and not break her up, though you could not help thinking that it must have taken a very hot fire ever to melt her.
She wore glasses, too. Not spectacles, but a dainty pair of eye glasses, set in gold, that sat astride of her nose in a very dignified fashion and crowned the everlasting smile that was spread out below them. In fact Miss Stone was so superior a person that one wondered how it ever happened that she should condescend to teach school at all.
But this was only a general view of the case.
When viewed in detail the fact appeared that although Elvira was proud she was also poor!
This accounted for her being in the schoolroom.
But she had made the most of herself in her profession, as she had in other directions. Her motto was to aim high, even if her arrow should light in the mud at last, and she always shot by that rule. When she decided to be a teacher rather than a clerk in a store, she began to look about for the best opportunities in the direction of her choice. It should be remarked that the alternative of store or schoolroom came to her only after several unsuccessful seasons in society, in which the moulded form, the wavy hair, and the constant smile had been used to their best possible advantage, but all in vain. The hook on which her bait was hung was so rigid and cold that no gudgeon, even, ever thought of biting at it; though the angler thought it a clever and tempting bit to bite at.
How apt we all are to be deceived—by ourselves.
So Elvira resolved to make a school teacher out of herself.
Being somewhat dull intellectually, and detesting severe study, she abjured all paths that would lead her to teach the higher branches of learning, and bent her rather spare and somewhat stale energies to fitting herself for primary work. This, too, in the face of the fact that she naturally despised children, except sweet little girls in their best clothes, with long curls, freshly made up, and hanging like a golden flood over neck and shoulders; or bright little boys, also well dressed and duly curled, for about a minute, when they came into the parlor where Miss Stone used to sit with her smile. For these she had a fancy merely, it could not be called an affection. Miss Stone was not affectionate.
She went to St. Louis and associated herself with the Kindergarten of that far-famed city.
Far be it from this record to intimate that this is not a good thing to do, on occasion. With this point I have naught to do. But history is history, and facts must be duly recorded; and the fact is, Miss Stone went to St. Louis, as before stated, and let out the job of being fashioned into a Kindergarten, to certain persons who dwelt in that city, and whose business it was to do just this sort of thing.
Neither can it be here set down what her ultimate success might have been had she confined herself to Kindergarten work proper. Indeed, it is an open question how any one ever succeeded in this particular way, or, in fact, whether any one ever did do Kindergarten work proper for a week at a time. It is one of the peculiarities of this kind, that it is never met with in all its purity. Like the old-fashioned milk-sickness, you can never come to the place where it really exists. Any one can tell you just where you will find it, but when you pursue it, and come to the place, like the end of the rainbow, it evades you and goes beyond.
But this is getting on slowly. Miss Stone got on slowly, too.
This was the woman to whom "Dodd" committed himself, in the words of the last chapter. The lady turned towards the boy and brought the full force of her smile to bear upon his luckless head.
"My dear little child," she said, "go and clean your feet!"
This, vocally. In mental reservation she remarked at the same time: "Drat the little villain, I've got to take him at last," for she had heard of "Dodd" and his exploits before she had been in her place a week.
"I don't haf to," returned the youth, scraping a piece of black loam off his left boot with the toe of his right, and rubbing the sticky lump into the floor.
But Miss Stone had faith in her training. She hastily ran through all the precepts and maxims of Froebel, and also such others as his American followers have added by way of perfecting this highly wrought system, but though she thought a great deal more rapidly than usual, she found no rules and regulations duly made and provided for a case just like this.
For the first time in her life she realized that there was one thing in this world that even a German specialist, backed up by St. Louis philosophy, had not reached; neither Froebel nor his followers said a word about poking mud off one boot with the toe of the other, nor of rubbing mud into the floor, nor what to do with a saucy little boy who said defiantly, "I don't haf to."
Had she been teaching in a large city she might have sent for the principal, and he might have telephoned the superintendent, who might have called a meeting of the Board to consider the case, and so overcome the dilemma; but Circleville had a school of only three rooms, and the principal, so called, heard twenty-two recitations a day, in his own room, and had little time for anything else. So there was no help from that quarter, and for the time Miss Stone was dumb.
There is a tradition that her smile left her for a moment, but the fact is not well authenticated and should not be too freely believed.
How long this teacher would have remained in her unfortunate condition it is impossible to tell, for just at this instant Esther Tracy, a motherly little soul, aged seven, who had been conscientiously trying for half an hour to see in how many different ways she could arrange four wooden tooth-picks upon the desk, according to a modified form of Froebel's canons, as interpreted by Miss Stone, took the ends of her fingers out from between her lips, where she had thrust them during the moment of her doubt, and raising her hand, said:
"Please, Miss Stone, let me take 'Dodd' and I'll take care of him."
Without waiting for a reply, she came forward, took the boy by the hand and led him out of the room.
O, Nature, Nature! How inexorable art thou! As people are born, so are they always, and what do all our strivings to change thy decrees amount to? Esther Tracy, aged seven, who had never heard of a Theory and Art of Teaching, and who scarce knew her letters; indeed, has put to shame Miss Elvira Stone, the handmade disciple of Froebel and the St. Louis Kindergarten system! She knew what to do with "Dodd," and Miss Stone didn't. This was the success of one, the failure of the other. The principle obtains always.
It was fully fifteen minutes before Esther and "Dodd" returned to the schoolroom. It takes a large reserve force of both patience and scraping to make presentable such a specimen as "Dodd" was on this memorable morning. But when the two appeared again, the boy's boots were clean, and his hair was smoothed down, while the book cover showed only a wet spot, of deeper tint than the rest of the book, in place of the black blot that had been so prominent a few minutes before. The girl led the boy to a seat not far from hers and then returned to her own little desk.
While the children were out Miss Stone had time to collect her thoughts, and she began at once to consider what she should do to amuse the child. It had been a primary principle with those who constructed this female educator, that the chief end of a primary teacher was to amuse the children placed under her charge.
This precept had been drilled into Miss Stone, and nothing less than a charge of dynamite could have dislodged it.
She was taught that it was little less than wicked to impose tasks upon young shoulders; that the "pretty little birdies" (this always said with a smile) "enjoyed themselves, hopping about in God's blessed sunlight, and that it was Nature's way to have her children happy."
"Happiness," in this case, seemed to mean doing nothing, but simply being amused—a definition that finds general recognition among many, there being those who dream of heaven as a place where they can be as everlastingly lazy as they choose, through all eternity, with the celestial choirs forever tooting soft music in the distance, and streams of milk and honey flowing perpetually to their lips, all for their amusement and delectation. Perhaps this last is the correct idea. It might as well be confessed that on this point we are not well posted in this world, though many profess to be. The Father will show us this some day, as he will all else, but till then we can wait.
But, be the employment or enjoyment of heaven what it may, it is evident that in this world a man or a child has something to do besides being amused. We are all born destined for work, rich and poor alike. It is our reasonable service, and the best thing we can do is to fit ourselves for the task, from the very first. Not that our work shall be mere drudgery, though it may be that and nothing more, and, even so, be better than idleness or being amused; but it is the fate of every soul born on earth to be called upon constantly to do things which it had rather not do, just then, anyhow, and whenever such a condition exists, work is the word that describes what has to be done. It is the business of life to work. The Book has it that, "The Father worketh hitherto." Even the new version has failed to reveal the phrase, "The Father is amused," and the Master, when a boy, declared that he must attend to the "business" that lay waiting for him.
But the pedagogic preceptors of Miss Stone did not draw their system of education from so old a book as the one just referred to. It is perhaps true, also, that German philosophy was evolved merely that people might be amused by it!
Quietly she glided down the aisle, her dress rustling along the seats, and an odor of "new mown hay" exhaling from her clothing. "Dodd" hung his head as she approached—perhaps it was to dodge her smile—and waited developments.
"What is your name, my dear?" came from between the pursed-up lips.
"Doddridge Watts Weaver," said the boy, in a loud tone.
There was a titter all over the room. The name was very odd, and an oddity is always to be laughed at by the average person, boy or man. Did you ever think of that, my dear pedagogue; you who would fain amuse children, and yet will spit them upon the spear of public ridicule by asking them to tell their names out loud in public, before all the rest of the boys and girls? It is doubtful if any one ever likes to tell his name in public. I have known old lawyers to blush when put upon the witness stand and obliged to tell their names to the court and jury, all of whom had known them for the last fifty years! If such is the effect on a dry old stump of a lawyer, what must the effect be on a green, sensitive child?
"Dodd" heard the titter and it made him mad. He was not to blame for the name, and he felt that it was mean for the folks to laugh at him for what he couldn't help. He cast an angry glance out of the corner of his eyes, as if to say he would be even for this some day, and then hung his head again.
"That's a very pretty name," said Miss Stone, thinking by this thin compliment to amuse the boy.
"Tain't nuther!" returned the youth.
Miss Stone ventured no further in that line.
"I am glad you have come to school, and I hope you will be a very nice little boy, because we all love nice little boys," replied Miss Stone.
"Dodd" glanced across the aisle to where sat a "curled darling" and wished be could pull his hair till he howled.
"Now here is something that will amuse you a little while, I am sure," pursued Miss Stone, and she laid a handful of beans upon the desk.
The boy glanced up and giggled just a little—such a knowing giggle, too, as much as to say: "What do you take me for? Here's a go! Come to school to be amused with beans!"
Miss Stone caught the glance, and in her inmost soul knew all it meant, and realized its full force; but she checked the truth that she felt within her and proceeded by the card. And why not? Was she not acting in accordance with the rules and regulations laid down by those who had fashioned her for this very work, and were not these same warranted to keep in any climate, and not to be affected by dampness or dry weather? She had put her faith in a system and had paid for what she received; and she didn't propose to be beaten out of her possession by any little white-headed son of a Methodist preacher, in a town of a thousand inhabitants.
She showed "Dodd" how to divide the handful of beans into little bunches of three each, and how to lay each pile by itself along the top of the desk, and then left him to be amused according to the rule in such cases made and provided.
Now it is admitted, right here, that beans are not a strictly Kindergarten "property"—to bring a stage term into the schoolroom—but one seldom sees genuine Kindergarten properties, or hardly ever, even in St. Louis, and beans are so commonly used as above stated, that it can hardly be the fault of the harmless vegetable that Miss Stone's plan did not succeed exactly as she wished it to. The fact is, "Dodd" knew how to count before he went to school, and could even add and subtract fairly, as was shown by his doing errands at the store for his mother and counting the change which he brought back to her. The bean business was therefore mere nonsense to him. He turned up his nose at the inoffensive kidney-shaped pellets before him, and his reverence for the dignity of the schoolroom and his faith in Miss Stone fell several degrees in a few minutes.
Perhaps it would not have been so in Boston. In that city, I am told, the bean is held in such reverence by all grown-up people that one might well expect to see the quality descend to all children, as a natural inheritance. But Circleville is not Boston, and there are thousands of other towns in these United States that are like Circleville in this respect.
However, "Dodd" sat idly moving the beans about for some time. He was quiet, and gradually Miss Stone forgot him in the press of other thoughts. To be plain, she had recently joined an Art Club, an organization composed of a few ladies in the little village, women whose husbands were well-to-do, and who, being childless, were restless and anxious to "become developed." Miss Stone was a member of this club, and in a few days she was to read a paper on "Giunta Pisano, and his probable relation to Cimabue," and the subject was working her mightily, for she was anxious to have her production longer than Miss Blossom's, read at the last meet, and to secure this was no small task. She had been to the "up-stairs room" during recess and brought down the cyclopedia, and, happily, had found a page and a half regarding Giunta Pisano therein, which she was copying verbatim. To be sure, there was no word in it about Cimabue, or the relation of the one to the other, but this was not taken into account. There were plenty of words in the article, and that was the chief end just then.
So Miss Stone was soon busy with her pen, the index finger of her left hand noting the line in the cyclopedia which should be next transcribed. The children whispered and played a good deal, but she paid little heed. There was little danger of visitors, for no one visited schools in Circleville (how like all other towns it is in this respect!) and Miss Stone knew how to hustle classes through recitations and make time on a down grade just before dinner, and so took her time at her task of writing up poor old Giunta.
She was presently conscious, however, that something unusual was going on, and on looking up, found the eyes of the pupils fastened on "Dodd." She ran down to his desk, hoping to find the beans in order. But alas for human expectations! We are all so often doomed to disappointment! Not a bean was to be seen, and "Dodd" hung his head.
Miss Stone reached for his hands, thinking he was hiding them there; but his hands were empty. She tried his pockets. They yielded ample returns of such things as boys' pockets are wont to contain, but no beans appeared.
Miss Stone was alarmed, and she almost trembled as she asked:
"'Dodd,' where are the beans?"
The boy did not look up, but with a kind of suppressed chuckle, he muttered, "I've eat 'em all up!"
For some cause or other Miss Stone and "Dodd" did not get on well together as their acquaintance progressed. The boy was impulsive, saucy, rude, and generally outrageous, in more ways than can be told or even dreamed of by any one but a primary teacher who has become familiar with the species.
Miss Stone had no natural tact as a teacher, no gift of God in this direction, no intuition, which is worth more than all precepts and maxims combined. She knew how to work by rule, as so many teachers do, but beyond this she had little ability. This to her credit, however: she did, ultimately, labor hard with the boy, and tried her best to do something with him, or for him, or by him, but all to little purpose.
It seemed to be "Dodd's" special mission to knock in the head the pet theories of this hand-made school-ma'am. She had him up to read on the afternoon of the first day of his attendance at school. Being but six years of age, and having just entered school, it was proper, according to the regulations, that he should enter the Chart Class. So to the Chart Class he went.
The word for the class that day was "girl," and the lesson proceeded after the usual manner of those who hold to this method of teaching children to read.
A little girl was placed upon the platform (the prettiest little girl in the class, to be sure), and the pupils were asked to tell what they saw. They all answered in concert, "a girl;" and it is to be hoped that this answer, thus given, was duly evolved from their inner consciousness by a method fully in harmony with the principles of thought-development, as laid down in the books, and by Miss Stone's preceptors. A picture girl was then displayed upon a card-board which hung against the wall. There were many of these card-boards in the room, all made by a book-concern that had some faith and a good deal of money invested in this particular way of teaching reading—all of which, I am sure, is well enough, but the fact, probably, ought to be mentioned just here, as it is.
The pupils were asked if the girl on the platform was the same as the one on the card-board, and there was a unanimous opinion that they were not identical. The analysis of differences was not pursued to any great length, but enough questions were asked the children, by Miss Stone, to develop in them the thought that "structurally and functionally the two objects, designated by the common term, were not the same!" When this diagnosis had been thoroughly mastered by the children, a third member was added for their serious consideration, Miss Stone having duly explained to the class that "there is still another way to make us think girl."
"You know," she said, "we always think girl when we see 'Lollie'"—the little girl on the platform—"and we always think girl when we see the picture; but now you all watch me, and I will show you one other way in which we may always be made to think girl."
Then, with much flourish of chalk, Miss Stone printed "GIRL" upon the board, and proceeded to elucidate, as follows:
"Now, this that I have written upon the board is not 'Lollie,' for she is on the platform yet; nor is it the picture, for that is on the card-board, but it is the word 'girl,' and whenever I see it, it makes me think girl. Now, 'Lollie' is the real girl, on the card-board is the picture girl, and on the blackboard is the word girl. Now, who thinks he can take the pointer and point to the kind of girl I ask for?"
Several little hands went up, but "Dodd's" was not among them. Miss Stone noticed this and was "riled" a little, for she had tried doubly hard to do well, just because this tow-head was in the class, and now to have the little scamp repudiate it all was too bad.
She called on one and another of the children to point, now to the real girl, now to the picture girl, now to the word girl, and all went very nicely, till finally she asked "Dodd" to take the pointer and see what he could do. But the boy made no motion to obey. Gently she urged him to try, but he hung his head and would not budge.
"Why don't you want to try, 'Dodd?'" asked the lady, bending down over the child.
O fatal question! Quick as thought the lad replied, as he raised his head:
"Coz, I've knowed that always!"
It is not the intention of this chronicle to pass judgment upon any system of teaching children to read. This record does not concern itself with one system nor another. But in the evolution of "Dodd," Miss Stone used the word-method of the charts, as before stated, and using it just as she did, she failed to reach the boy as she hoped to, and her failure was very unfortunate for the child. She was aware of this, but she had not strength enough, in her own right, to change the result.
So it was that day after day went by, and the antagonism between teacher and pupil grew.
The boy presently discovered that he could annoy Miss Stone mightily, and he lost no opportunity to do what he could in this direction. It was contrary to the creed taught this good woman to inflict corporal punishment upon any child, and though "Dodd" aggravated her almost to desperation, and was malicious in his persecutions, yet she kept her hands off him. Once or twice she tried some slight punishment, such as making him sit on the platform at her feet, or stand with his face in the corner, but these light afflictions the boy counted as joyous rather than grievous, and did as he chose more than ever. He slyly unfastened one of Miss Stone's shoestrings one day, when seated at her feet for penalty, and laughed when she tripped in it as she got up; and somehow or other, he would always put the whole room in a turmoil whenever placed with his face to the wall.
"Dodd" learned to read quite rapidly, however, having mastered his letters before he went to school, and having spelled a good many words on signs and in newspapers. Before the end of the third week he had read his first reader through, one way or another, though he was still in the Chart Class, and having once been through the book, it lost many, if not most, of its charms for him thereafter.
But if his reader was so soon crippled for him, what shall be said of the work of the Chart Class, over which he went again and again, always in substantially the same way?
It may be said, and truthfully, that there were some pupils in the class who, even after going over and over the same lesson, for days and days, still did not master it, and so the class was not ready to move on; but it does not follow that therefore "Dodd" was not ready to move on. This did follow, however, according to Miss Stone's teaching, and according to the system adopted by multitudes of teachers East, West, North, and South.
I am well aware that there are teachers, plenty of them, whose spirits will rebel against the above insinuation, so, a word with you, ladies and gentlemen.
The system used by Miss Stone may have worked well enough in some other hands, but it should be remembered that it is not a system that can educate our children. Nor is it a system—any set of rules and formularies—that can make our schools, any more than it is forms and ceremonies that make our churches. These may all be well enough in their proper places, but there is nothing, absolutely nothing, in them, per se. It is the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees in the one case, and the dry bones of pedagogy in the other,
The evil arises, in the schools as in the churches, from believing and acting as if there were something in the system itself.
If human nature were a fixed quantity, if any two children were alike, or anywhere nearly alike, if a certain act done for a child always brought forth the same result, then it might be possible to form an absolute system of pedagogy, as, with fixed elements, there is formed the science of chemistry. But the quick atoms of spirit that manifest their affinities under the eye of that alchemist, the teacher, are far more subtle than the elements that go into the crucible in any other of Nature's laboratories.
A chemist will distill for you the odor of a blown rose, or catch and hold captive the breath of the morning meadow, and do it always just the same, and ever with like results. But there is no art by which anything analogous can be wrought in human life. Here a new element comes in that entirely changes the economy of nature in this regard. The individuality of every human soul is this new factor, and because of it, of its infinite variability—because no two atoms that are cast into the crucible of life are ever the same, or can be wrought into character by the same means—because of this, no fixed rules can ever be laid down for evolving a definite result, in the realm of soul, by never-varying means.
And this is where Miss Stone was at fault. She had put her faith in a system, a mill through which all children should be run, and in passing through which each child should receive the same treatment, and from which they should all emerge, stamped with the seal of the institution, "uniformity."
This was the prime idea that lay at the foundation of Miss Stone's system of training—to make children uniform. This very thing that God and Nature have set themselves against—no two faces, or forms, or statures; no two minds, or hearts, or souls being alike, as designed by the Creator, and as fashioned by Nature's hand—to make all these alike was the aim of the system under which "Dodd" began to be evolved, and with which he began to clash at once.
The boy was much brighter than most of the class in which he was placed. The peculiarity of his own nature, and his surroundings before entering school, made him a subject for some special notice, something more than the "regular thing" prescribed by the rules. Yet this he did not get, and by so much as he did not, by so much he failed to receive his proper due at this period of his life.
And this is a fault in any system, or in any teacher who works exclusively by any card other than his or her own good sense, as applied to each individual case.
It was not so much the means that Miss Stone tried upon "Dodd" that were at fault, as it was the way in which she applied them and the end she strove to reach by their use. And for you, my dear, who are walking over the same road as the one just reported as traversed by Miss Stone, look the way over and see how it is with you in these matters. And do not content yourself, either, by merely saying, "But what are we going to do about it?" Bless your dear life, that is the very thing that is set for you to find out, and as you hope for success here and a reward hereafter, don't give up till you have answered the question.
Neither can any one but yourself answer this question. The experience of others may be of some help to you, but the problem—and you have a new problem every time you have a new pupil—is only to be solved by yourself. Look over the history of the Chart Class, over whose silly mumblings this boy was dragged till disgust took the place of expectancy, then think of like cases that you have known, and ask yourself what you are going to do about it.
It is true that classes are large, that rooms are full, that some pupils are severely dull, and that it is a very hard thing to know what it is best to do; but these things, all of them, do not excuse you from doing your best, and from making that best, in large measure, meet the absolute needs of the child. "Hic labor, hoc opus est."
And for you, who send your six-year-olds to school with a single book, and grumble because you have to buy even so much of an outfit, what are you going to do about it when your boy drains all the life out of the little volume, in a couple of weeks or a month? He knows the stories by heart, and after that says them over, day by day, because he must, and not in the least because he cares to.
What are you going to do about this? It is largely your business. You cannot shirk it and say that you send the boy to school, and it is the teacher's business to take care of him. That will not answer the question. Look the facts in the face, and then do as well by your boy as you do by your hogs! When they get cloyed on corn, then you change their feed, and so keep them growing, even if it does cost twice as much to make the change; and yet, the chances are that when your boy is tired to death of the old, old stories in his reader, tales worn threadbare, as they are drawled over and over in his hearing by the dullards of his class, till his soul is sick of them, even then you force him to go again and again over the hated pages, till he will resort to rank rebellion to be rid of them!
And what are you going to do about it?
Miss Stone knew none of these things. They were of little interest to her, and she bothered her head but little about them. But they were of interest to "Dodd" Weaver. In the evolution of this young hopeful they played an important part. They were hindrances to the boy at the very outset of his course in the public schools. They begot in him habits and dislikes which it took years to efface, and from which it is doubtful if he ever did fully recover. There are multitudes in like case, and what are we going to do about it?
The severity of the duties, pastoral and paternal, that fell to the lot of Elder Weaver, wore rapidly upon the constitution of that worthy gentleman, and when "Dodd" was nine years old his father found it necessary to retire from the pulpit, for a year at least, and, as is usual in such cases, he went to that refuge for fagged out ministers of all denominations, the old homestead of his wife's parents.
From this rustic domicile he had led the youngest daughter, a buxom bride, ten years before; to it he now returned with her and with seven small children besides. An ambitious young man and a healthy young woman, a decade before, they came back to the threshold from which they had gone out, he, broken in spirit and as poor in purse as in purpose; she, worn and faded, yet trying hard to seem cheerful as she came within the sunlight of the old home again.
The old people lengthened the cords and strengthened the stakes of their simple home, and made the Elder and his wife, and the seven children ("seven devils," an irreverent sister once called them in a burst of indignation at the state of affairs) as comfortable as possible. To be sure grandpa and grandma Stebbins were old, and it was long since there had been children in the house, but they had enough and to spare in crib and pantry, and they had lived sufficiently long in this world to accept the inevitable without a murmur.
But for all of that, the children were a source of a good deal of annoyance to the old people, especially until they were brought somewhat under subjection by the faithful hand of the old gentleman, who found that he should have to stand up for his own in the premises or submit to the unendurable.
The first real climax occurred on the second day of the quartering of the family thus, and "Dodd" was the boy who brought matters to a focus.
The month was October, and down in the yard, a few feet from the bee-hives, just beyond the shadow of the weeping-willow that stood near the well, and along the row of gooseberry bushes under which the hens were wont to gather and gossip—standing on one leg and making their toilets meanwhile—there stood a barrel, out of whose bung-hole protruded a black bottle turned bottom side up. The barrel was filled with the best cider made that season, a special run from apples that had been sorted out, and from which every worm-hole and specked place had been cut by the thrifty hand of Grandma Stebbins. This was for the family vinegar for the year, and the cask was thus left in the sun duly to ripen its contents.
"Dodd" had not been in the yard five minutes before his quick eye caught sight of this, and his eager imagination transformed it into a horse in a twinkling. He did this the more easily, too, because it was raised from the ground a foot or more, being supported by blocks of wood which in the mind's eye of the boy did well enough for legs, while a spicket, protruding from one end, below, made a head for the animal, which, though small, was available for bridling purposes.
It was the work of but a minute to jerk a string from his pocket, bridle the beast, and mount him for a ride.
"Dodd" had but fairly started on this escapade, however, when his grandfather appeared in the yard and at once saw the danger that threatened his carefully garnered cider. He quietly approached his little grandson, and, telling him that he could not permit him to play with the barrel, began gently to lift him to the ground.
But against this the boy rebelled. He clutched his little legs about the cask and held to his seat with all his might, and when at last he was forced to yield, he took the black bottle with him as a trophy.
His grandfather set him down and explained to him how the cider was turning to vinegar; that if it was jarred it would spoil it, and how the black bottle "drew the sun."
But "Dodd" heard little of all this, and cared less, even, for what he did hear. He was used to having his own way. He wriggled and squirmed during the explanation, and as soon as he was released, he made straight for his coveted seat again, even in the very face of the old gentleman, and when his grandfather caught him once more and led him away somewhat rapidly, he kicked the shins of his captor in a very malicious and wicked fashion, and yelled lustily the while. The old man took the boy to his mother and explained matters, assuring "Dodd" and the other children, who stood about in a ring, that they must in no case touch the cask in question, and then left the room.
Mrs. Weaver scolded her first-born roundly, told him he was "a very naughty boy," and ended by taking from behind the clock a small and brittle switch—an auxiliary that she had made haste to provide herself with before she had been on the premises an hour, and without which she felt that her family government would be but sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal—and striking "Dodd" one or two slight strokes over his hips.
This was Mrs. Weaver's way of "training" her children. From "Dodd's" earliest infancy he had been used to this sort of thing. His mother believed in the maxim, "spare the rod and spoil the child," and this was her method of endeavoring to fulfill both the spirit and the letter of the precept. There was always a small, brittle switch behind the clock, and it was taken down numberless times each day, only to make a child bawl for a minute, as he was threatened or struck lightly with the harmless stick.
The usual result was that he went ahead and did the very thing he was forbidden to do.
"Dodd" yelled lustily while his mother laid on, though in truth he scarcely felt the blows, and then sulked for the rest of the day, teasing the other children and making life a burden to everybody and everything he came near.
It was the next day, about two o'clock, that the boy once more got into the yard and made straight for his coveted seat. The fact is he had never given up his purpose to return at the first opportunity.
He fastened the bridle to the spigot and mounted in hot haste, kicking his little heels into the bleached staves, and plying the riding whip like a young fury. The horse acted badly ("Dodd's" horses always acted badly), and he jerked smartly on the bridle rein to subdue him. It was rare sport, and the lad fairly reveled in it, in his little heart defying those who had forbidden him this pleasure, and glorying in his triumph.
But "the way of sinners is as darkness, they know not at what they stumble," and "Dodd" was destined to "take a header" forthwith. The jerks on the reins drew the spigot from its place, and the first he knew it was dangling in the air over the end of the barrel. He leaned over, fully to observe this fact, and saw the cider shooting out in an amber stream and flooding all the ground.
"Hurray," he yelled, "that's a bully waterfall!" and he thrust his whip into the stream to see it spatter, hopping about meantime.
It was just at this instant that grandfather Stebbins came out of the barn, and, hearing the shout of the boy, looked over that way and took in the situation. He was over seventy, but he covered the ground from barn to barrel in most excellent time.
"Hi! hi!" he shouted as he ran. "Stop it up! Stop it up!"
"Dodd" saw the old man coming, and realizing something of the situation, he began to beat a retreat, taking the spigot with him.
"Here! you young Benjamite" ("Dodd" was left-handed, and the old gentleman was well posted in Bible lore), "bring back that spigot."
But the boy ran like a white-head that he was, and a race of several yards ensued before he was caught. But the old man was wiry and was urged to his topmost speed by the press of the circumstances. He caught "Dodd," and collared him with a grip such as the boy had never before felt. He dragged the young rogue back to the barrel in no gentle manner, and thrust the plug into the hole, saving a mere remnant that remained of the contents of the cask, and then devoted himself to the little scamp whom he still held.
For a few times in a lifetime Fortune puts into our hands the very thing we most want at the very time we most want it, and this was one of the times when the fickle goddess favored the old man Stebbins.
"Dodd" had dropped the riding whip that he had been using, beside the barrel, and it lay where it fell. It was a tough bit of rawhide, hard-twisted, and lithe. The old man's hand caught it instinctively, as if drawn to it by an irresistible attraction, and before the young lawbreaker, whom he held by the collar, could say, or think, "what doest thou?" he plied it so vigorously about his legs and back that the culprit thought for a moment that he had been struck by lightning. He yelled from very pain for the first time in his life, from such a cause, and tried to find breath or words to beg for a respite, but in vain, for the blows fell thick and fast and they stung terribly, every one.
"I'll teach you," the old man shouted as he laid on. "Perhaps you think this is a little switch, and that I shall only tickle you with it."
He paused a minute to let "Dodd" catch up with the general line of thought, in his somewhat distracted mind, and while the youth danced about, he proceeded.
"Young man, I have got to teach you to mind! I told you to keep away from this barrel and you paid no attention, and now I'm going to whip you till you will pay attention!"
At the words "going to whip you" "Dodd" tried to find words to beg, but they came too slowly, and once more the old man wrapped the supple lash about the smarting understandings of his grandson.
It seemed to "Dodd" as though his legs were fairly whipped off, and as if the place for the general reception of the strokes had left him altogether; as though he could not endure another blow, but still the supply was unexhausted. He fell limp to the ground, and fairly roared for mercy.
It was the first time in his life that he had really yielded to any one, but he never thought of that; he only groaned and begged for reprieve.
The old man stopped when he felt that he had quite fulfilled his duty, as he understood it, and then spoke as follows to the boy, who lay collapsed on the ground:
"There, my young man, get up and go into the house, and after this, remember and do just exactly as I tell you. That's all I want, but that I must have, and you must understand it. I don't want to be cruel to you, and I won't be,—but you must learn to mind, and you had better learn it now than later. Don't you ever do again what I tell you not to do, or I shall have to punish you even harder than this!"
"Dodd" rubbed his stinging legs and wondered if there was anything beyond what he had suffered. He staggered to his feet and went to the house as limp as a rag. He did not seek his mother, but went straight up stairs and threw himself upon the bed in the back room, where he cried for half an hour, and finally fell asleep.
As for the old gentleman, he went back to the barn all in a tremble, his hands shaking like an aspen and his heart in a flutter.
He busied himself here and there for a few minutes, but finally broke down completely and retired in to the granary, where be fell upon his knees, and with penitential tears besought the Lord to forgive him if he had done wrong, and to help him, in his last years, to keep the devil out of his heart and life. He prayed for the boy too, and asked the God in whom he trusted to lead him in the right way as he grew out of youth into manhood.
And then he rose from his knees refreshed, and went about his business. His heart was somewhat heavy, but he reviewed the whole situation and concluded that he had done the best thing, and so was content. He knew that he had not maimed the child in any way, but had only caused him to suffer intense pain for a time, a sensation which would soon pass away, but the memory of which, and the dread of a repetition of which, he trusted, would endure for a lifetime.
At five o'clock he came into the house; and finding "Dodd" in fair good humor, playing with the children in the kitchen, he asked him to go with him and fetch the cows for milking. The boy was off for his hat in an instant, and a moment later the two were seen, hand in hand, going down the lane that led to the pasture.
They chatted pleasantly as they went along. They even referred freely to the affair of three hours before. The old gentleman read him no terrible lesson as to his depravity, and his probable end of life upon the gallows if he persisted in so headstrong and wilful a course. The story of the "forty she bears" he did not repeat to the youth, and no reference was made to the awful death of Jack Ketch. He was too shrewd an observer of human nature to present anything as attractive as these things to the imagination of his grandson!
Tell a boy like "Dodd" that he is on the high road to ruin, the prison, or the rope, and the chances are that you puff him up with pride at his own achievement, or fill him with ambition to see the end of his own career carried out in this line.
But grandpa Stebbins gave "Dodd" none of this. He simply told him that it was the best thing for everybody that he should mind. He reviewed the facts regarding the waste of the cider, and showed him how bad he had been in doing as he had done, and why he was bad.
The boy offered no word of remonstrance, but, on the contrary, acknowledged his fault, and assured his grandfather that he would "remember" in future. With a light heart he ran for the cows, which were taking a farewell feed along the banks of the brook that ran across the pasture, and it was with a genuine pride that he headed them for home, especially one contrary heifer, that preferred to have her own way and not obey his command. He ran after her with much spirit, and was quite delighted when he forced her to do his bidding.
And for you, good people, who do not believe in this sort of thing, what about this case? It is a hard case, no doubt. There is no pleasing feature in its early stages, but does not its outcome warrant all its ugly phases?
Grant that it is all old fashioned; that to you it seems silly for the old man to go alone and pray after trouncing the boy, or that you fear the "boy's will was broken" by this episode, yet review the facts in their entirety, and see if there is not a good in them that you are wont to overlook.
The punishment was harsh, but it was just such as "Dodd" Weaver had been needing for a long time, and the only thing that could reach him just then. It would have been a crime to treat in like manner a gentle little girl with a sweet disposition, but was it a crime in the case of "Dodd?"
And if not a crime in "Dodd's" case, why in other cases like his? And if the punishment was right, inflicted by the hand of the grandfather, why not by the hand of the teacher who shall have occasion to resort, even to this, to put a boy into the right way? I do not mean a cold-blooded whipping, inflicted by a Principal for a trifling transgression of a rule in some department of school, under one of the assistant teachers, but a retribution, swift, sure, and terrible, that is inflicted by the person against whom the wrong is done, and which falls upon the willful transgressor to keep him from doing so again.
For this is the mission of penalty, to keep the wrong-doer from a repetition of his wrong doing.
"Dodd" Weaver was a wrong-doer, and under the treatment he was receiving from his parents, and had received from Miss Stone, he was waxing worse and worse with each recurring day. This was really more unfortunate for him than for the people whom he annoyed by his lawlessness. There was no likelihood of his correcting the fault by his own will, nor could persuasion lead him to reform, this having been worn to rags by Miss Stone, till the boy laughed to scorn so gentle an opposition to his bad actions.
But over all these misfortunes and follies alike came the lively thrashing of grandpa Stebbins, and brought the boy to a realizing sense of the situation. The young sinner found himself suddenly confronted with the penalty of his sin, and when he found that this penalty was really extreme suffering, he made up his mind that it was something worth looking out for.
To be sure, it was not a high motive to right action, but it was a motive that led to better deeds on the part of "Dodd" Weaver, and as such is worthy a place in this record. There was one man and one thing in the world that be had learned to have a decent respect for, and that was a new acquisition at this period of his life. So long as grandpa Stebbins lived, he and "Dodd" were fast friends, and when, years after, the old man went to his reward, there was no more genuine mourner that stood about his grave than the hero of these adventures.
Quarrel with the theory of corporal punishment as much as you choose, beloved, but when you get a case like "Dodd's," do as well by it as grandpa Stebbins did by him—if you can.
The "Fall School" in "deestrick" number four had been in session for more than a month when the Weavers moved into the country and came within its jurisdiction. Preparations were at once made to increase its numbers, if not its graces, to a very perceptible extent, from out of the bosom of the Weaver homestead; for, as the youngest twins were now "five past," they were held by the inexorable logic of rural argumentation to be "in their sixth year," and so to come within the age limit of the school law, and entitled to go to school and draw public money.
Besides, "Old Man Stebbins owns nigh onter six eighties in the deestrick, an' pays more school tax nor ary other man in Dundas township, an' it hain't no more nor fair 'at ef he wants to send the hull family, he orter be 'lowed ter, coz he hain't sent no one ter school fur more 'n ten year, only one winter, when Si Hodges done chores fer him fer his board, an' went ter school," explained old Uncle Billy Wetzel to a company of objecting neighbors, as they all stood together by a hitching post in front of the church, waiting for "meetin' to take up," whittling and discussing local affairs meantime.
So the five young Weavers, headed by "Dodd," became members of the "fall school in deestrick four, Dundas township," and were marched off for the day, five times a week, with dinner for the crowd in a wooden dinner pail, which was the special care of twins number one.
This laxity regarding twins number two would have been rebuked in a city where there is a superintendent kept on purpose to head off such midgets as these, who creep in under the legislative gates that guard the entrance to the road to learning, but no such potentate held sway in Dundas township, so the little bow-legged pair went to school unmolested and began, thus early, the heavy task of climbing the hill of knowledge, starting on their hands and knees.
Is it, or is it not, better so?
Amos Waughops (pronounced Wops, but spelled W-a-u-g-h-o-p-s, such is the tyranny laid upon us by those who invented the spelling of proper names, and who have upon their invention the never-expiring patent of custom), had charge of the school that fall. He had been hired for six months, beginning the last week in August. School was begun thus early for the sake of getting an extra week of vacation during the Indian summer days of November, when the school would close for a while to give the boys and girls a chance to "help through corn-shucking," and still get in days enough in the school year to be sure to draw school money.
Amos had but one reason for being a school teacher, and that was, he was a cripple. Like the uncouth Richard, he had been sent into the world but half made up, and a club foot, of immense proportions, rendered locomotion so great a task that he was compelled, per force, to choose some occupation by which he could earn a living without the use of his legs.
He had been endowed by nature with what is commonly known as "a good flow of language." He learned to talk when very young and his tongue once started, its periods of rest had been few. From a youth he was noted for his ability to "argy." He was the hero of the rural debating society and would argue any side of any question with any man on a moment's notice. If the question happened to be one of which he had never heard and concerning which he knew nothing, such a condition did not embarrass him in the least; he would begin to talk and talk fluently by the hour, if need be, till his opponent would succumb through sheer exhaustion.
He had been to school but little, and had not profited much by what instruction he had received while there. It was an idea early adopted by him that a "self-made man" was the highest type of the race, and to him a self-made man was one who worked like the original Creator—made everything out of nothing and called it all very good.
So it was that, being ignorant, despising both books and teachers, and yet being able to talk glibly, he came to the conclusion that words were wisdom, and a rattling tongue identical with a well-stored mind—a not uncommon error in the genus under the glass just now.
I am sure I shall be pardoned, too, if I still further probe in this direction, and unfold a little more the nature of the circumstances that had to do with the evolution of "Dodd" while he went to school to Amos Waughops, in "deestrick four." As the plot unfolds, and it shall appear what kind of a pupil-carpenter Amos really was, you may wonder how it happened that such a blunderer ever got into that workshop, the school room, and had a chance to try his tools on "Dodd." Wait a minute, and verily you shall find out about this.
He was the orphan nephew of two farmers in the district, men who had taken turns in caring for him during his childhood. These men were school directors and had been elected to their positions for the very purpose of getting Amos to teach the "fall-and-winter school." This had further been made possible by the fact that two winters before the young man had "got religion," and his friends in the church had an eye on him for the ministry. To work him toward this goal they had resolved that he, being poor, should teach their school to fill his purse; and so glorify God through the school fund, and his uncles had been chosen directors to that end.
Hush! Don't say a word! The thing is done, time and again, all over the country!
The matter had been set up for the year before, but the examiner of teachers had vetoed the plan by refusing a certificate to teach to the young man who talked so much and knew so little. This official had asked the candidate, when he came for examination, to add together 2/3, 3/4, 5/6, and 7/8, whereupon he wrote: "Since you cannot reduce these fractions to a common denominator, I adopt the method of multiplying the numerators together for a new numerator, and the denominators together for a new denominator=210/576! This, reduced to the greatest common divisor, or, add numerators and denominators=17/21!"
Please do not think that I am jesting, for I have copied this quotation verbatim from a set of examination papers that lie before me as I write, papers that were written before the very face and eyes of an examiner in this great State of Illinois, by a bona fide candidate for a certificate, on the 16th day of December, in the year of grace, 1875; the man who wrote them being over thirty years of age and having taught school for more than half a decade! This is a truthful tale, if nothing else.
So Amos did not teach the first year that his friends and relations wanted him to. His friends and relations, however, had their own way about it after all, for they met and resolved that it should be "Amos or nobody," and they got the latter. That is, they asked the examiner to send them a teacher if he would not let them have the one they wanted.
The examiner asked them what they would pay for a good teacher and they replied, "Twenty dollars a month!" The poor man sent them the best he had for that money, but it was of so poor a quality that it could ill stand the strain put upon it by the wrangling and angered patrons of "deestrick four," and it broke down before the school had run a month.
This year they had tried the same thing again, and the examiner, in sheer despair, gave them their way, as perhaps the lesser of two evils.
If any one thinks this an unnatural picture, please address, stamp enclosed, any one of the one hundred and two county superintendents of schools in Illinois, and if you don't get what you want to know, then try Iowa, or Ohio, or Pennsylvania, or even the old Bay State. The quality is largely distributed, and specimens can be picked up in almost any locality where it is made possible by the system that permits such a condition.
This was the teacher to whom "Dodd" came on an October morning, just preceding his ninth birthday. Amos had heard much of Elder Weaver and had boasted not a little of how he would "out argy" him the first "lick" he got at him, and he gazed on these small scions of so notable a stock with a feeling that the contest had already begun. He put the children into their seats somewhat gruffly when they appeared, as if resolved to paralyze his antagonist from the first.
"Dodd" had learned to read by this time, in spite of the hindrance imposed by Miss Stone in the chart class. Indeed, the only redeeming feature in his career as a pupil up to date, was his natural love for reading. The child had a fondness for this art, a genius for it, if you will, which triumphed over all obstacles, and asserted itself in spite of all attempts to cripple it, or to bring it down to the level of his more limited attainments, or to raise these lesser powers to a line with his special gift.
And in this respect, too, "Dodd" was like other children, or other children are like "Dodd." Most of these individualities have special things that they can do ever so much better than they can do some other things. Why not put them at the things that they can do best, and help them on in this direction, instead of striving to press them down from the line of their special genius, and up from the line of their mediocrity, so as to have them on one common level, as some would fain have all the world?
As said, "Dodd" had a special genius for reading. When he began to go to school to Amos this fact appeared at once, and it speedily became a casus belli between the two, for Amos was a blockhead with a reading book, and the boy put him terribly to shame before all the school.
He could talk, but he could not read.
"Dodd" had come to school with a sixth reader. It was a world too wide for his small attainments, with its quotations from Greek and Latin orators, Webster, Clay, Hastings, et al., but it was the only reader of the series used in Amos's school that grandma Stebbins could find in the carefully saved pile of old school books that were housed in the garret, the residuum of former school generations. So, with a sixth reader, the boy went to school.
This is the common way of supplying children with school books in the rural districts. He brought, also, an arithmetic and a speller, but as his knowledge of the first branch only reached to that part of it which lies on the hither side of the multiplication table, and as "Webster" is the chief speller used by children in country schools, and he could not go estray in that point, these facts need not be emphasized.
As he brought a sixth reader, to the sixth reader class he went. This also is common in schools of this class. It is not supposed to be by those who talk learnedly before the legislature about "grading the country schools," and all that, but it is the way things are done in the country, as any one will find who will take the pains to go into the country and find out. It is understood by the patrons that it is the teacher's business to put the pupil to work with the books that he brings with him, and in putting "Dodd" into the sixth reader Amos only did as the rest do in this regard, that is all.
This class was made up of four pupils, two boys and two girls, tall, awkward creatures, who went to the front of the room twice a day and read in a sing-song tone out of two books which were the joint possession of the quartette. The girls used always to stand in class with their arms around each other and their heads leaned together, as they swayed back and forth and rattled over the words of the page; and the boys leaned back against the wall, usually standing on one leg and sticking the other foot up on the wall behind them.
"Dodd" was a pigmy beside these, but he read better than any of them, and soon convinced Amos that he, "Dodd," must be taken down a peg, or he, Amos, would find himself looked down upon by his pupils, who would see him worsted by this stripling.
He strove to nettle the boy in many ways, but "Dodd" bore the slings and arrows with a good deal of fortitude, and seemed to avoid a clash. The experience with his grandfather had had a very softening effect upon him, and he was slow to forget the lesson. He tried to be good, and did his best for many weeks.
But Amos could ill endure the condition into which affairs were drifting. Every day the boy improved in his reading, till it got so that whenever he read all the school stopped to listen. This the teacher felt would not do, and besides this, he had met the parson, and "argyed" with him once, and it was the popular verdict that he had not come out ahead in the encounter. All of which tended to make him bear down on "Dodd," till finally he resolved that he would have a row with the boy and that it should be in the reading class.
Do not start at this, beloved. The thing has been done multitudes of times, not only in the country, but in the city as well, and many a child has been made to suffer for the sake of satisfying grudges that existed between teachers and parents.
So Amos was bound to settle with "Dodd." He watched his chance, and along in early winter he found what he was looking for.
The reading class was on duty, and "Dodd" was leading, as he had for several months. The lesson for the day was "The Lone Indian," and related the woes of that poor savage, who, in old age, returned to the hunting grounds of his young manhood, only to find them gone, and in their places villages and fenced farms.
"He leaned against a tree," the narrative continued, "Dodd" reading it in a sympathetic tone, being greatly overcome by the story, "and gazed upon the landscape that he had once known so well."
He paused suddenly, and a tear or two fell on his book.
"Stop!" exclaimed Amos Waughops, brandishing a long stick which he always carried in his right hand and waved to and fro as he talked to the children, as though he were a great general, in the heat of battle, swinging his sword and urging his men to the charge, "What are you crying about? Eh? Look up here! Look up, I say! Do you intend to mind me?"
The boy's eyes were full of tears, but he looked up as he was bidden and fixed his eyes on Amos. This was worse than ever, and the teacher was more angry than before.
"See here, I'll ask you a question, if you are so mighty smart. The book says that the Indian 'leaned against the tree.' Now, what is meant by that?"
The question was so sudden and so senseless that "Dodd" essayed no answer. This was Amos's opportunity.
He waved his stick again—the same being one of the narrow slats that had been torn from one of the double seats in the room, a strip of wood two inches wide, an inch thick, and nearly four feet long—and swinging it within an inch of the boy's nose, he shouted again: "The book says that the Indian leaned against a tree.' What does that mean? Answer me!" and again he made the passes and swung the slat.
"I don't know," answered "Dodd," just a little frightened.
It was a little, but it was enough. Amos felt that he had Parson Weaver on the hip and he hastened to make the most of his advantage.
"Do you mean to say that you don't know what it is to lean against a tree? Why, where was you raised? What kind o' folks hev you got? Your old man must be mighty smart to raise a boy as big as you be, an' not learn him what it means to lean ag'in' a tree."
It was a savage thrust and it drew blood from the boy.
"My dad may not be very smart," he retorted, fully forgetting the "lone Indian," "but he's got gall enough to pound the stuffin' out o' such a rooster as you be."
There was a sensation in the little school room, a dead pause, so still that the little clock on the desk seemed to rattle like a factory, as it hit off the anxious seconds of the strife it was forced to witness.
This speech of "Dodd's" was almost too many for Amos. It smote him in his weakest part, and for a moment he was daunted, but he rallied, and with a few wild brandishes of the slat he felt that he was himself again, and once more led on to the fray.
"See here, young man, you mustn't talk to me like that! Don't you give me none of your Methodist lip" (Amos was not a Methodist, and, though a candidate for the ministry, he cordially hated all outside his own denomination), "or I'll make you wish you'd never saw deestrick four. Now tell me what it means to 'lean ag'in' a tree,'" and he glared at the boy and waved the slat again.
"Why, it means to lean up against it," returned "Dodd," who was bound to do his best. "That's what I think it means; what do you think it means?"
The tables were turned, and Amos almost caught his breath at the dilemma.
"What do I think it means?" he retorted; "what do I think it means? Why, it means—it means—it means what it says; that he leaned ag'in' the tree, that is, that he assumed a recumbent posture ag'in' the tree!"
It was a bold stroke, but Amos felt that it had brought him safely over. "Recumbent posture" was not a vile phrase, and he patted himself on the back, though he puffed a little at the exertion it cost him to hoist the words out of himself.
But it was "Dodd's" turn next. Quick as thought he retorted:
"Well, that ain't half so easy as what the book says."
The school giggled. Amos lost all control, and, starting toward "Dodd," he shouted:
"I'll whip you, you little devil, if it's the last thing I ever do."
But "Dodd" was too quick for him. He shot down the room like an arrow, and out at the open door, and was off like a deer. With his club foot, Amos Waughops was no match for the boy with his nimble legs, and, flushed and beaten, the gabbler hobbled back to his desk. He looked toward the twins, all four of them, as if to wreak his vengeance on them, but he somehow felt that they were foemen unworthy of his steel, and forebore.
As for "Dodd," it was his last day of school with Amos Waughops. Even the persuasion of his grandfather, for whom he had the greatest reverence, was insufficient to get him into the school house again that winter. He learned to do many things on the farm, and helped in out-of-door work in all the coldest days, suffering much from cold and storm, but all this he bore cheerfully rather than meet Amos Waughops and the slat again.
Under these circumstances his parents did not force him to school, and who shall say they did wrong by letting him stay at home and work?
Long suffering reader, you may frown at the introduction of this unfortunate man, Amos Waughops, into the thread of this story, but I can't help it if you do. I am telling the story of "Dodd" just as it is, and I can't tell it at all unless I tell it that way. You may not like Mr. Waughops; you may not like his way of teaching school; you may say that I am cruel to harp on facts to the extent of intimating that the mere misfortune of being a cripple is not reason enough for being a school teacher; but I can't help this either, because it is true, and we all know it is. We lift up our eyes and behold the educational field all white for the harvest and even among the few laborers that are working, we see a large per cent of bungling reapers who trample under foot more grain than they gather, and whose pockets are full of the seeds of tares, which they are sowing gratis for next year's crop, as they stumble about. I am sure I pity a cripple as much as any one can, but children have rights that even cripples should be made to respect, and no man or woman has a right in the schoolroom merely from the fact of physical inability to work at some more muscular calling. I know there are many most excellent teachers who are bodily maimed, and whose misfortune seems to enhance their devotion to their profession and their success therein, but there are a multitude besides who are in the school room solely because they are the victims of misfortune, and for them there is little excuse to be made. Amos Waughops was a factor in the evolution of "Dodd" Weaver, and his like are found by the quantity in the rural schools of this and other States. We have had enough of them.
It is all right for us to be kind and charitable to unfortunate people, but let us be careful whose money and means we are charitable with. When the State took charge of the schools it removed them from the realm of charitable institutions, though some people are very unwilling to acknowledge the fact, and it is a very common thing for the public funds to be still used indirectly for charitable purposes. They are so used on fellows like Amos Waughops and his cognates of the other sex. It is an abomination.
The white drifts of winter grew gray and then turned black under the March sun that melted them down and drained off their soluble parts, leaving only a residuum of mud along fences and hedges where, a few days before had been shapely piles of snow. April came with its deluges of rain that washed the earth clean and carried off the riffraff of the previous season, making ready for another and more bountiful harvest. What a thrifty housekeeper nature is!
"Dodd" still stayed away from school, and through slush and mud and drenching rain worked like a little man. The fact is, he had secretly made up his mind never to go to school again, a conclusion that it is no particular wonder he had reached after his experience with Amos Waughops, as just chronicled. He observed that his ready work met the approval of both of his parents and grandparents, and he quietly hoped that they would let him alone and permit him to stay out of school so long as he continued to make himself useful on the farm.
He said nothing about this, however. His training had not been such as to inspire confidence between himself and his parents, and already he had begun to think, plan and act for himself, unaided by their counsel or advice.
Nor is it an uncommon thing for many well-meaning and well-wishing parents thus to isolate their children from the holy of holies of their hearts and force them out into the desert of their own inexperience, to die there alone, or compel them to seek help from the heathenish crowd that is always camped around about within easy reach of such wandering ones.
How is it in your own household, beloved? Look it up, if you dare to!
But one day when the boy and his grandfather were burning corn stalks in the field, making ready for plowing, the old gentleman broached the subject of school to "Dodd," and, by dint of much persuasion, gained his reluctant consent to brave once more the trials of the school room and out himself again under the guidance of a teacher. A week later "Dodd" made his third venture in the legalized lottery of licensed school teachers. He had drawn blanks twice and he was more than suspicious of the enterprise. He had no faith in it whatever.
But the counterfeit always presupposes the genuine, and the same system that includes such specimens as Miss Stone and Amos Waughops in its wide embrace, enfolds also thousands who are the worthiest of men and women. After all, Virtue is on top in this mundane sphere; if it were not so, this old planet would have gone to ruin long ago. Let us look up!
Amy Kelly bad been awarded the contract to teach the "spring and summer school" in district four, Dundas township, on this particular year, and with timid, anxious steps she had walked six miles the first Monday morning of the term to take charge of her pupils.
It was her first school, and she was worried about it, as folks usually are about almost anything that is new to them and concerning which they are conscientious. Some people never are worried, though. They are born in a don't-care fashion; they absorb the principle from the first, and it never wears out. Others are anxious to begin with, but grow careless as they grow familiar with their surroundings. Others are always anxious. They never do so well that they do not hope to do better next time, and they would almost decline heaven if they felt it to be a place where they must forever remain as they are.
Amy Kelly was of the pattern last described.
As her name indicates, she was Irish. Her father and mother came from "the old sod" before she was born, and they had won their way up from working at day's wages to being the owners of a snug farm, which was well stocked and thriftily kept. They spoke their native tongue to each other when in the secret recesses of their home, and talked with their children and the neighbors in a brogue so deeply accented that it would be useless for them ever to claim to be "Scotch-Irish," had they wished to make such pretensions—which they did not.
Indeed, these people would have been called "very Irish" by the average observer. The old gentleman had red hair and only allowed his beard to grow about his neck, under his chin; wore a strap around his wrist, and smoked a short clay pipe. His wife was stout and somewhat red-faced, and in summer a stray caller would be likely to find her at work in petticoat and short gown, her rather large feet and ankles innocent of shoes or stockings. But she was a good housekeeper, for all of these things. No better butter than hers ever came to market, and her heart was warm and true, even if it did beat under a rather full form and beneath a coarsely woven garment. She had a cheery voice and a pleasant disposition, loved her husband devotedly, was proud of her family, both on account of its numbers and the health, brightness and good looks of her progeny; and her good deeds toward her neighbors, together with her general thrift and good nature, made her a great favorite in all the country-side.
Such was the family from which this young school miss was sprung.
The girl was just eighteen when she went to her new work. She had received most of her education in a similar school, in a neighboring district, where she had always led her classes, but had spent two winters in a State Normal School. She was a trim body, compactly built, had black hair and eyes, and a fresh, rosy complexion that is so characteristic of her class. She could ride a fractious horse, milk, sew, knit and cook, and had followed the plow more than one day; while during harvest and corn-husking she had many a time "made a hand." From this cause she was strong and well knit in all her frame, a perfect picture of young womanly health and rustic beauty. She had a soft, sweet voice and spoke without the slightest trace of a brogue, so surely does a single generation Americanize such people, and was very modest and retiring in her manners. Like her parents, she was a devout Catholic.
It was hardly seven o'clock on an April morning when this girl unlocked the schoolhouse door at the end of her long walk and let the fresh spring breeze blow into its interior. It was a small building, with one door, opening to the south, and six windows, two on each of three sides, all darkened with tight board shutters. She threw all these open and raised the sashes for a fuller sweep of the air, for the school-roomish smell was stifling to one accustomed to wholesome, out-of-door air. As soon as she felt free to take a long breath she began to examine the room in which she was to go to work.
The floor was filthy beyond description. There was a hill of dry tobacco quids on the floor under the "teacher's desk," historical relics of the reign of Amos Waughops, and equally disgusting debris scattered all over the room, special contributions of the free American citizens of "deestrick four," who had held an election in the house a few days previous. Moreover, the desks were, many of them, smeared with tallow on the top, patches of grease that told of debating societies, singing schools, and revival meetings of the winter before—blots that Amos had never thought of trying to remove. The stovepipe had parted and hung trembling from the ceiling, while the small blackboard in the corner was scrawled all over with rude and indecent figures, the handiwork of the electors aforesaid. Pray do not think I have painted this picture in too high colors, you fastidious ones, who dwell in fine houses and live in towns and have never seen sights like these. I have not. There are thousands of just such schoolhouses in this and every other State in the Union, that open on an April morning just as this one did. It is a great pity that it is so, but so it is. I wish it were otherwise. But it isn't, and I sometimes wonder if it ever will be!
Amy took in the situation at a glance and resolved what to do forthwith. There was a house a quarter of a mile down the road, and thither she bent her sprightly steps. Fifteen minutes later she returned with two buckets, a scrubbing brush, a broom and a mop. She rolled up her sleeves, disclosing an arm that you well might envy, my dear, you who delight in the display of such charms in parlor or ball room—charms which no cosmetics can rival—turned up the skirt of her neat calico dress, and pinned it behind her supple waist, donned a large coarse apron that she had borrowed with the rest of her outfit, and was ready for work.