TWT logo

Together We Teach
Reading Room

Take time to read.
Reading is the
fountain of wisdom.


(Samuel Langhorne Clemens)

< BACK    NEXT >




VACATION was approaching. The school master,

always severe, grew severer and more exacting

than ever, for he wanted the school to make a good

showing on "Examination" day. His rod and his ferule

were seldom idle now -- at least among the smaller pupils.

Only the biggest boys, and young ladies of eighteen and

twenty, escaped lashing. Mr. Dobbins' lashings were very

vigorous ones, too; for although he carried, under his wig,

a perfectly bald and shiny head, he had only reached

middle age, and there was no sign of feebleness in his

muscle. As the great day approached, all the tyranny

that was in him came to the surface; he seemed to take

a vindictive pleasure in punishing the least shortcomings.

The consequence was, that the smaller boys spent their

days in terror and suffering and their nights in plotting

revenge. They threw away no opportunity to do the

master a mischief. But he kept ahead all the time.

The retribution that followed every vengeful success

was so sweeping and majestic that the boys always

retired from the field badly worsted. At last they con-

spired together and hit upon a plan that promised a

dazzling victory. They swore in the sign-painter's boy,

told him the scheme, and asked his help. He had his

own reasons for being delighted, for the master boarded

in his father's family and had given the boy ample

cause to hate him. The master's wife would go on a visit

to the country in a few days, and there would be nothing

to interfere with the plan; the master always pre-

pared himself for great occasions by getting pretty well

fuddled, and the sign-painter's boy said that when the

dominie had reached the proper condition on Examina-

tion Evening he would "manage the thing" while he

napped in his chair; then he would have him awakened

at the right time and hurried away to school.

In the fulness of time the interesting occasion ar-

rived. At eight in the evening the schoolhouse was

brilliantly lighted, and adorned with wreaths and fes-

toons of foliage and flowers. The master sat throned

in his great chair upon a raised platform, with his

blackboard behind him. He was looking tolerably

mellow. Three rows of benches on each side and six

rows in front of him were occupied by the dignitaries of

the town and by the parents of the pupils. To his left,

back of the rows of citizens, was a spacious temporary

platform upon which were seated the scholars who were

to take part in the exercises of the evening; rows of

small boys, washed and dressed to an intolerable state

of discomfort; rows of gawky big boys; snowbanks of

girls and young ladies clad in lawn and muslin and

conspicuously conscious of their bare arms, their grand-

mothers' ancient trinkets, their bits of pink and blue

ribbon and the flowers in their hair. All the rest of

the house was filled with non-participating scholars.

The exercises began. A very little boy stood up and

sheepishly recited, "You'd scarce expect one of my

age to speak in public on the stage," etc. -- accompany-

ing himself with the painfully exact and spasmodic

gestures which a machine might have used -- supposing

the machine to be a trifle out of order. But he got

through safely, though cruelly scared, and got a fine

round of applause when he made his manufactured

bow and retired.

A little shamefaced girl lisped, "Mary had a little

lamb," etc., performed a compassion-inspiring curtsy,

got her meed of applause, and sat down flushed and happy.

Tom Sawyer stepped forward with conceited con-

fidence and soared into the unquenchable and inde-

structible "Give me liberty or give me death" speech,

with fine fury and frantic gesticulation, and broke down

in the middle of it. A ghastly stage-fright seized him,

his legs quaked under him and he was like to choke.

True, he had the manifest sympathy of the house but

he had the house's silence, too, which was even worse

than its sympathy. The master frowned, and this com-

pleted the disaster. Tom struggled awhile and then

retired, utterly defeated. There was a weak attempt

at applause, but it died early.

"The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck" followed;

also "The Assyrian Came Down," and other declama-

tory gems. Then there were reading exercises, and a

spelling fight. The meagre Latin class recited with

honor. The prime feature of the evening was in order,

now -- original "compositions" by the young ladies.

Each in her turn stepped forward to the edge of the

platform, cleared her throat, held up her manuscript

(tied with dainty ribbon), and proceeded to read, with

labored attention to "expression" and punctuation.

The themes were the same that had been illuminated

upon similar occasions by their mothers before them,

their grandmothers, and doubtless all their ancestors in

the female line clear back to the Crusades. "Friend-

ship" was one; "Memories of Other Days"; "Religion

in History"; "Dream Land"; "The Advantages of

Culture"; "Forms of Political Government Compared

and Contrasted"; "Melancholy"; "Filial Love";

"Heart Longings," etc., etc.

A prevalent feature in these compositions was a

nursed and petted melancholy; another was a wasteful

and opulent gush of "fine language"; another was a

tendency to lug in by the ears particularly prized words

and phrases until they were worn entirely out; and

a peculiarity that conspicuously marked and marred

them was the inveterate and intolerable sermon that

wagged its crippled tail at the end of each and every

one of them. No matter what the subject might be, a

brain-racking effort was made to squirm it into some

aspect or other that the moral and religious mind could

contemplate with edification. The glaring insincerity

of these sermons was not sufficient to compass the

banishment of the fashion from the schools, and it is

not sufficient to-day; it never will be sufficient while

the world stands, perhaps. There is no school in all

our land where the young ladies do not feel obliged to

close their compositions with a sermon; and you will

find that the sermon of the most frivolous and the least

religious girl in the school is always the longest and the

most relentlessly pious. But enough of this. Homely

truth is unpalatable.

Let us return to the "Examination." The first

composition that was read was one entitled "Is this,

then, Life?" Perhaps the reader can endure an extract from it:

"In the common walks of life, with what delightful

emotions does the youthful mind look forward to some

anticipated scene of festivity! Imagination is busy

sketching rose-tinted pictures of joy. In fancy, the

voluptuous votary of fashion sees herself amid the

festive throng, 'the observed of all observers.' Her

graceful form, arrayed in snowy robes, is whirling

through the mazes of the joyous dance; her eye is

brightest, her step is lightest in the gay assembly.

"In such delicious fancies time quickly glides by,

and the welcome hour arrives for her entrance into

the Elysian world, of which she has had such bright

dreams. How fairy-like does everything appear to

her enchanted vision! Each new scene is more charming

than the last. But after a while she finds that

beneath this goodly exterior, all is vanity, the

flattery which once charmed her soul, now grates

harshly upon her ear; the ball-room has lost its

charms; and with wasted health and imbittered heart,

she turns away with the conviction that earthly

pleasures cannot satisfy the longings of the soul!"

And so forth and so on. There was a buzz of grati-

fication from time to time during the reading, accom-

panied by whispered ejaculations of "How sweet!"

"How eloquent!" "So true!" etc., and after the thing

had closed with a peculiarly afflicting sermon the

applause was enthusiastic.

Then arose a slim, melancholy girl, whose face had

the "interesting" paleness that comes of pills and indi-

gestion, and read a "poem." Two stanzas of it will do:


"Alabama, good-bye! I love thee well!

But yet for a while do I leave thee now!

Sad, yes, sad thoughts of thee my heart doth swell,

And burning recollections throng my brow!

For I have wandered through thy flowery woods;

Have roamed and read near Tallapoosa's stream;

Have listened to Tallassee's warring floods,

And wooed on Coosa's side Aurora's beam.

"Yet shame I not to bear an o'er-full heart,

Nor blush to turn behind my tearful eyes;

'Tis from no stranger land I now must part,

'Tis to no strangers left I yield these sighs.

Welcome and home were mine within this State,

Whose vales I leave -- whose spires fade fast from me

And cold must be mine eyes, and heart, and tete,

When, dear Alabama! they turn cold on thee!"

There were very few there who knew what "tete"

meant, but the poem was very satisfactory, nevertheless.

Next appeared a dark-complexioned, black-eyed,

black-haired young lady, who paused an impressive

moment, assumed a tragic expression, and began to

read in a measured, solemn tone:


"Dark and tempestuous was night. Around the

throne on high not a single star quivered; but

the deep intonations of the heavy thunder

constantly vibrated upon the ear; whilst the

terrific lightning revelled in angry mood

through the cloudy chambers of heaven, seeming

to scorn the power exerted over its terror by

the illustrious Franklin! Even the boisterous

winds unanimously came forth from their mystic

homes, and blustered about as if to enhance by

their aid the wildness of the scene.

"At such a time,so dark,so dreary, for human

sympathy my very spirit sighed; but instead thereof,

"'My dearest friend, my counsellor, my comforter

and guide -- My joy in grief, my second bliss

in joy,' came to my side. She moved like one of

those bright beings pictured in the sunny walks

of fancy's Eden by the romantic and young, a

queen of beauty unadorned save by her own

transcendent loveliness. So soft was her step, it

failed to make even a sound, and but for the

magical thrill imparted by her genial touch, as

other unobtrusive beauties, she would have glided

away un-perceived -- unsought. A strange sadness

rested upon her features, like icy tears upon

the robe of December, as she pointed to the

contending elements without, and bade me contemplate

the two beings presented."

This nightmare occupied some ten pages of manu-

script and wound up with a sermon so destructive of

all hope to non-Presbyterians that it took the first prize.

This composition was considered to be the very finest

effort of the evening. The mayor of the village, in

delivering the prize to the author of it, made a warm

speech in which he said that it was by far the most

"eloquent" thing he had ever listened to, and that

Daniel Webster himself might well be proud of it.

It may be remarked, in passing, that the number

of compositions in which the word "beauteous" was

over-fondled, and human experience referred to as

"life's page," was up to the usual average.

Now the master, mellow almost to the verge of

geniality, put his chair aside, turned his back to the

audience, and began to draw a map of America on

the blackboard, to exercise the geography class upon.

But he made a sad business of it with his unsteady hand,

and a smothered titter rippled over the house. He

knew what the matter was, and set himself to right it.

He sponged out lines and remade them; but he only

distorted them more than ever, and the tittering was

more pronounced. He threw his entire attention upon

his work, now, as if determined not to be put down by

the mirth. He felt that all eyes were fastened upon

him; he imagined he was succeeding, and yet the titter-

ing continued; it even manifestly increased. And well

it might. There was a garret above, pierced with a

scuttle over his head; and down through this scuttle

came a cat, suspended around the haunches by a

string; she had a rag tied about her head and jaws

to keep her from mewing; as she slowly descended she

curved upward and clawed at the string, she swung

downward and clawed at the intangible air. The

tittering rose higher and higher -- the cat was within

six inches of the absorbed teacher's head -- down, down,

a little lower, and she grabbed his wig with her desperate

claws, clung to it, and was snatched up into the garret

in an instant with her trophy still in her possession!

And how the light did blaze abroad from the master's

bald pate -- for the sign-painter's boy had GILDED it!

That broke up the meeting. The boys were avenged.

Vacation had come.

NOTE:-- The pretended "compositions" quoted in

this chapter are taken without alteration from a

volume entitled "Prose and Poetry, by a Western

Lady" -- but they are exactly and precisely after

the schoolgirl pattern, and hence are much

happier than any mere imitations could be.



Top of Page

< BACK    NEXT >






Why not spread the word about Together We Teach?
Simply copy & paste our home page link below into your emails... 

Want the Together We Teach link to place on your website?
Copy & paste either home page link on your webpage...
Together We Teach 






Use these free website tools below for a more powerful experience at Together We Teach!

****Google™ search****

For a more specific search, try using quotation marks around phrases (ex. "You are what you read")


*** Google Translate™ translation service ***

 Translate text:


  Translate a web page:

****What's the Definition?****
(Simply insert the word you want to lookup)

 Search:   for   

S D Glass Enterprises

Privacy Policy

Warner Robins, GA, USA