by Ernestine Noa Davis
All day, every day, she sat in a Red Cross production room and made surgical dressings. Around her the talk surged and fell, women prattling about domestic service, points, recipes, politics a little, the War a little, clothes a great deal, the movies, the commentators, the quiz kids. In some of it she took some small part. But over it all and through it all she felt the gauze, the straight, the bias, the too small, the too large, the two-by-twos, the four-by-fours, the four-by-eights. The wounds it would cover, the blood it would staunch, the fevered aches which would lie under it, the restless twisting and turning which would loosen it under its moorings, the deathless stillness, finally, under its whiteness, as white as itself, or the quick hands of nurses who would remove it only, while life lasted, to lay on more.
The casualties were light, said the commentators, or, the casualties were heavy. The cables or the telegrams which would be delivered to homes, one in a village, ten in a town, hundreds in a city: "The Secretary of the Navy regrets..." "The Secretary of War regrets..." Each home in which a minister of the Government regrets, a scene of despair, of nameless, ageless pain. Her parents received such a cable, long ago, forty-five years ago, "The Secretary of the Navy regrets..." and in that home life stopped, and when it had recovered somewhat, went limping forevermore, carrying a wound that refused to heal, a place that could not be filled, hopes shattered, ambition, joy, delight, happiness, a part of the meaning of life gone.
Two-by-twos, four-by-fours, four-by-eights, dozens, hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands. A party of congratulations on the completion of the millionth dressing. And she made dressing hour by hour, felt each individual ache a dressing was made to assuage, and was forced to think, in the production room at least, of something else. To take her mind off the useless dwelling on gauze, on casualties needing no gauze, no nurse, no doctor, no care, no waiting. The complete, final, utter casualties of war.
So, she must think of something, anything else.
Memory sighed, stirred, woke, yawned, stretched, spoke: Think of Miss Nettie Seymour.*
Dry and hot and the air hazy with the sun shining through red dust motes, red from the clay of all the streets, heavy with the heat which made the air seem to be a dancing, swirling weighted something as far as possible removed from what one means by the word atmosphere.
And she was going to school. Next Monday. To school to school to school. Next Monday. And this was Saturday. She had been waiting and waiting. All summer. Days and days and months and months. And now she still had to wait until Monday. It would never come. Monday would never, never come. But it had to come. Monday.
Her mother came in. "I met Miss Clara Wood and Mrs. LeClercq, and Miss Clara told me who your teacher will be, so you won't have to wait 'till Monday to find that out. Aren't you glad? Her name is Miss Nettie Seymour. Miss Clara says you will like her."
Mrs. LeClercq was one of the neighbors. She was a slender, fair lady, and tall, much taller than Mama. She always had little flowers in her bonnets, and they were always tied with lavender or violet ribbons, tied under one ear, not right under the chin. In the back, at her nape, she had four little fair curls; they always looked exactly the same. Miss Clara Wood was tall too, and very thin. She wore black bonnets, or gray, very plain. She was Mrs. LeClercq's great friend and boarded with her. She taught the Second Reader. There was another great friend of Mrs. LeClercq's who boarded with them, Captain Goulding. You would have called him Capt. Golding, but that was not right; you had to say Goolding, like schooling. He was the most important person she knew, because his father had written a Book, called The Young Marooners, and it had been a famous Book, long ago. So she know someone who was closely related to a Book. That was wonderful. Captain Goulding let us read his copy and he said if ever we got so we could have a Library he would give his book to it, so that any child who wanted to could read it. Captain Goulding said he and Papa and lots of other ladies and gentlemen were always talking about how fine it would be if we could get up enough money to have a Library.
There was another wonderful thing about Capt. Goulding: he has the terribly important task of reading the water gauge on the River. It was a long wooden thing with red paint marks on it, and it was fastened to the side of the Bluff, by spikes driven right into the rock, over the River on Spring Street. And when it rained and rained the gauge told Capt. Goulding if there was danger of the River rising dangerously high, and he told it to Col. MacGowan, and he put it in the Times, and then everybody who could read knew what to do, and they went all about the parts of Town where the water backed right up into peoples' homes, white and colored who couldn't read, and helped them to move out of their cabins before the River could float them away...
Monday did come.
"Shall I walk to school with you this first day?" asked Mama.
No, no, no. She would go alone. She knew the way. It was not far. She must go all alone. Because she was afraid. Not that she would not have enjoyed having a hand to hold, to steady her first entrance into a new world. But Mama might meet someone she knew on the street, and Mama would talk and talk, and then she might be late. Tardy. It was a word she knew. If you were tardy all the children would be in their seats, and you would have to walk in among them, and tell why you were tardy. You would be dizzy, your head would spin, you would be sick, you could not speak—you could not stand it. So, no, no, no. She would go all alone, first day and every day. She would not be tardy, ever.
And, really, it was not far. Down Lindsay Street hill, so steep and so rocky, with great wedges of stone sticking out everywhere. If you stumbled and fell you would roll and bump right down to the bottom. It would be as bad as what happened to those bad men in stories who were nailed up in casks, driven through all over with sharp nails and exercuted by being rolled down a mountain. Lindsay Street hill was only from Caroline to Vine, but it was as steep as Cameron Hill. And she knew all about Cameron Hill, because long ago an artist named Cameron came and wanted to paint the Whiteside family's picture and they gave him the Hill to pay for it. And then the War came and they cut down every single solitary tree on it, shooting off cannons, and that's why it was all bare and red, and just as steep...
At Vine Street, right through the ankle-deep red dust that filled the street from fence to fence, to Houston, and then to Douglas, and at Douglas you were at the end of Town as far as Vine Street went. All ahead of Douglas was just waste land, with no street marked out or anything. No trees on it, no grass, but now and then a clump of jimpson weed, or a faded great stalk of mullein. You could get milk out of its veins when it was young and tender. Now there were tall spikes of iron weed, pretty with their purple flowers. So you turned right at Douglas and walked on through the red clay dust to Oak, and crossed to the other side and there was the McCallie Avenue School, a fine, new brick school, standing on a lot that ran from Oak to McCallie and had three doors you could go in, front, back and side, and four great rooms downstairs and four upstairs, and three sets of stairs, in the middle and at each end. A grand school.
Note: In 1891 Ernestine's father, Ismar Noa,
was Vice-President of the Board of Education
But she had hurried so frantically that she was the first person on the lot. Not a boy, not a girl, but all the doors standing open. She went up to the Douglas Street door and peeped in. No one. She tiptoed out and went to the Oak Street door. Not a soul. She crept round to the McCallie Avenue door, and counted her heartbeats, and went up a step and another, but here she had to stop because there weren't any more steps. She crossed the sill and took hold of the doorknob, and held on, tight.
After a long, long time she saw a lady, and the lady saw her. The lady said "Good morning," and she said "Good morning." The lady said "Are you looking for someone?"
She said "I am coming here to school. I am going to school to Miss Nettie Seymour. Is Miss Nettie Seymour here yet?"
If the lady had been Miss Nettie Seymour it would have been to perfect, good morning safely got over and everything. But it was not so simple as that. The lady said no, she was one of the other teachers, but Miss Nettie would be here any minute, and this was her room, and why not wait in it until she came?
Miss Nettie Seymour's room was the first on the left if you came in the McCallie Avenue door, and the first on the right if you came in the Douglas Street door, so there were two ways to get in and get out, quickly, in case. It had four rows of double desks and it had blackboards all along two side walls, and it had a little platform about six inches high, with a kitchen table on it and a chair, and in the corner, near the platform stood an enormous tall, round stove, that was all. Oh, yes, standing back of the chair, leaning against the wall, was a long, wooden pointer. The school was only a year old, but the whitewashed walls were streaked and soiled, mixed stove smoke, and red clay color that made sort of patterns on the wall and the ceiling. You could make up rivers and mountains out of the patterns. You could do that when plaster was cracked too. She had known some splendid cracks in plaster that could be made to look like the Tennessee River, or Lookout Mountain, or almost anything you wanted.
Just outside the back door of the room, the door which led to the Douglas Street entrance, stood a wooden stool, and on it a water bucket. The bucket was pretty and new, made of cedar wood which had reddish streaks as well as regular woodeny streaks, and with two bright brass bands round it. In the wall above the bucket was a nail with a dipper hanging from it. Outside in the yard was a gooseneck pipe which gave water from the almost new water works.
She walked down an aisle of the room, just touching a point on each desk as she moved. Perhaps I'll sit in this one, she thought, or this one, or this one. She tried several, and all at once she looked up, and there was no mistake this time.
Here was Miss Nettie Seymour.
"I think I must know who you are," said Miss Nettie, smiling out of her nice, dark eyes. "Aren't you the little new girl who's coming to be in my room? Now tell me your name and how old you are."
She told Miss Nettie her name and that she was going on nine. Soon, very, very soon, o the 23rd of November, she would be nine whole years old.
"And you can read and write and spell and do everything we do in the Third Reader?"
She began to falter. There was a question coming that would shatter her, that would ruin her forever with Miss Nettie, for whom she had conceived an instant and passionate devotion.
"Are you good in arithmetic?" asked that kind voice.
She began to cry. There are persons in this world whose tear ducts are without faucets, or, if there be a semblance of a faucet, there is no washer. Like the metal faucets of the wartime day, when no good rubber washers are available, and so the faucets drip, drip, drip, and much good hot water is wasted. She may have had faucets, but she probably, certainly, had no washers. Again and again each day the fountains of her deep were broken up and she cried. The mention of arithmetic always made her cry. So now, while the children who were to be in the Third Reader came in to Miss Nettie's room, not one of whom she could see, she cried.
McGuffey's Third Reader. To a child who could read fluently it was a volume of pure delight. She had read all the way through it before the first week was out; she loved the stories, the poems, the bits of informative knowledge, the words, the pictures. She loved them only second to loving Miss Nettie. All of school was the happiness she had envisioned, excepting only the half hour or so of the arithmetic lesson. During the lesson she cried, helplessly, silently, oh, quite silently—she had never in her life cried aloud—but for the duration of the period, uninterruptedly.
Finally, one day, as the children were being released for recess Miss Nettie told her to wait for a moment.
"When you go home to your dinner will you take your Mama a message from me?"
"Yes, Miss Nettie." From the first day she always pronounced Miss Nettie's name. Instead of saying, Yes, ma'am, or no ma'am, as she had been taught, she always spoke Miss Nettie's name. It seemed to bring the beloved closer.
"Will you tell your Mama that if she is willing I should like to keep you here for twenty minutes every afternoon, after school. I want to help you with your arithmetic. Tell her I am no keeping you in; I just want to help you. And if you do not like to go home alone after all the children are gone, I'll walk part of the way with you."
Amazed rapture flooded her being. Twenty minutes alone every day with Miss Nettie! A good ten minutes walk toward home, holding, perhaps, Miss Nettie's hand. Even though the object were arithmetic!
"Now, let us see," said Miss Nettie, "what this terrible trouble is about arithmetic." She took a piece of chalk and began to make marks on the blackboard. She wrote 1. "What does that look like to you?"
"L, a little l, Miss Nettie?"
"Oh, dear! What does this look like?" Miss Nettie wrote 2.
"Like capital Q, Miss Nettie?"
And it went on painfully; 3 looked like capital E written backwards. 4 looked like nothing on earth, 5 like a sickle only with a useless extra handle; 6 like a gourd dipper with the handle standing up, and 9 like the same dipper with its handle hanging down, and 8 like two little o's one on top of the other. Poor Miss Nettie.
"Haven't you left out one, 7?" asked Miss Nettie.
She hung her head. Seven didn't look like anything at all unless it were — but no. Like nothing.
"Miss Nettie, could it be that seven is like the window in Aladdin's palace he had the genii build?"
"What window? I know Aladdin, but I don't seem to remember a window."
"Why, you know, when Aladdin was building the palace so he could marry the princess an take her there to live, and he had the genii trim all round the windows with the jewels out of the garden under the earth, except the last window he made them leave it bare. And the Emperor noticed it, and sent his jewelers to trim the window, and all the jewels in the Emperor's treasure weren't enough to trim one window even. I wonder a lot about that window, Miss Nettie."
The days passed and one day Miss Nettie said, "Before we begin the lesson, I want to read you a poem which I wish you to learn. On Friday we are to have visitors in the Upper Sixth, and a child from each room in school is to recite, and you are to be the reciter from my room if you can learn it in time. I'll read it to you now, and I hope you'll like it."
She took a sheet of paper written in her flawless Spenserian hand, very large and clear, and began to read:
The splendor falls on castle walls
And snowy summits old in story;
The long light shakes across the lakes
And the wild cataract leaps in glory.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, dying, dying, dying.
O hark, O hear! how thin and clear
And thinner, clearer, farther going!
O sweet and far from cliff and scar
The horns of Elfland faintly blowing!
Blow, let us hear the purple glens replying:
Blow, bugle; answer echoed, dying, dying, dying.
"Do you think you could learn that in time?"
"Oh, yes, Miss Nettie," and she began to recite, The splendor falls on castle walls...
"Have you heard this before? Have you read it?"
"No, Miss Nettie."
"Then how do you know it?"
"Because it is so nice, and besides, I can see it."
"You mean you see a picture of the castle and the waterfall?"
"Well, yes, Miss Nettie, but you know, I can see the words, in print, in front of my eyes, specially when they are nice, pretty words like splendor and horns of Elfland, and wild cataract leaping in glory."
"Ah," said Miss Nettie, "ah..."
In those days one did not say crayon. One said chalk, and miserable stuff it was, either so soft that it fairly crumbled in the fingers, or went scratchy and tore along the blackboard like a file on a piece of rusty iron. Miss Nettie took up a piece of chalk and stood before the blackboard, and instead of looking at the blackboard, she looked at Miss Nettie.
Miss Nettie never wore anything but an old black skirt. All round the hem it was stained with the rust red dust of the clay, or stiff with adhering bits of red clay mud. It was torn in places and roughly mended in other places, and at the waist it sagged miserably. Miss Nettie must, in the course of years, have worn a different, thinner blouse, but she could never remember any but a blouse made of shrieking red and black plaid, with not enough buttons to keep it fastened neatly up the front, and a collar that never quite closed. Miss Nettie's skin was dark and innocent of powder, and after the day's work was over it shone and looked rough from the chalk dust and other dust, constantly blowing about under the scuffling of forty children's feet; and her black hair was straight and stringy and never quite confined by its too few hairpins. Moreover, in the parlance of the day she simply had no figure at all, no agreeable curves, thick where she should have been thin, flat where she should have been round, wide where she should have been narrow, and her fine dark eyes, and really fine hands were never given the credit they deserved. Except for one person, she preferred looking at Miss Nettie over every other being in the whole entire world.
So now she saw Miss Nettie. She belonged to a family fanatically clean and fastidious; a family so scrubbed and brushed, and, as to the women, so corsetted, and clothed, and bonnetted and pinned, that not a hair, or a speck under a fingernail, or a wrinkle in a stocking, or a loose button could ever be tolerated. And she saw her darling Miss Nettie — and loved her more than ever.
"Now, look," said Miss Nettie, and she wrote on the black board. "Three times seven are twenty-one. Can you read that? Can you see it?"
"Three times seven are twenty-one, Miss Nettie."
"Can you see it in front of your eyes?"
"Yes, Miss Nettie. Does it mean there's a seven and a seven and a seven and it says twenty-one?"
"Good. Now find tomorrow's lesson in your book and let us sit down in your desk."
From that time on the lesson was taught by Miss Nettie in long hand, and if she never for a moment learned to think in figures, parrotlike she did manage to recite with the other children, sometimes even without tears.
Day by day, at home and at school, she was drilled in the recitation of her "piece." Every day Miss Nettie and she lingered after the arithmetic lesson was memorized, until they were swept out be the clouds of dust William and his great broom sent down from the upper rooms and stairways, until their noses and throats were clogged, and their eyes stung from the almost solid wall of red matter. William would sweep into the Third Reader and say,
"Y'all better go on home now, Miss Nettie, you an' the lill' gyurl. Got to sweep this out now; sweepin' ri'behime yuh, tell Ah sweep Y'all ri' out."
His great bent shoulders would shake in amusement, and his thick lips would open and close in gasps of choking, and his yellow face would pucker, and his eyes would close, daily penance imposed by dust and dirt, dry, hard, gritty, unavoidable. No one had ever thought of using a watering can to lay the dust.
She had recited, oh, many times, at home. Once, the memorable time, had been the day she was seven. Long before dark Annie gave her her supper and put her, feebly protesting, to bed. That was no way to treat a person seven years old, a person, moreover, who had received three birthday books, The Arabian Nights, and Robinson Crusoe, and Don Quixote. In the night, dark, still, way, way late, at eight o'clock, Annie had pulled her out of bed. Washed her face, combed her hair, dressed her in her best dress and best, truly best, sash, tied a new ribbon in her hair, and took her downstairs. There were Papa and Mama and Aunt Sarah and several ladies and gentlemen.
"Will you speak your piece for Papa and Mama and the company now?" asked Aunt Sarah.
Secretly Aunt Sarah had taught it to her for a surprise for Papa and Mama.
She stood in the center of the double doors. She should have seen red rep furniture, flowery Body Brussels carpet, tall gilt framed mirrors, two of them; great, enormous engravings in black and gold frames, a huge Knabe piano, lace curtains, and lambrequins of red and gold velveteen, tied back with red and gold cords and tassels more than a foot long. But she saw nothing. Everything black, her knees turned to water, her hands ice cold.
"Come and stand by me," said Papa.
She had to get across the room to him somehow. She had to hold her knees steady somehow. A long, long way off, showing a little in the gloom was Papa. She reached him. He pulled her in front of him, spread his long legs, stood her between his knees, and very gently placed one of her hands on each knee, braced for the ordeal. (Long afterward she noticed a picture of the statue of Memnon, vast, overpowering, protective, with its widespread limbs. She might have looked like the man, the tiny midget shown in the picture, standing between Papa's knees.
"Now," said Papa.
There were two stanzas in her poem that she liked especially:
I am old, so old I can write a letter,
My birthday lessons are done;
The lambs play always, they know no better,
They are only one times one.
And show me your nest with the young ones in it,
I will not steal them away;
I am old, you can trust me, linnet, linnet,
I'm seven yearn old today.
She got through it all, the seven or eight stanzas, to the end. She was given ice cream and cake and Annie took her back to bed.
But this was going to be different. This was going to be before Strange Visitors. This was to be before the whole School, as many of the children as could be seated and all the teachers and—Mama. She begged Mama not to come. But she would come. She then begged her to come in the McCallie Avenue door and go up the front stairs, and sit in the very last row in the Upper Sixth, and please, oh, please behind someone very tall, where she could not see Mama. That promise was given and honorably kept.
"You know it perfectly. You do not even have to think of the words," said Miss Nettie as they walked up the stairs, first time up those stairs. "All you have to remember is not to fix your eyes on one spot and keep them there. All you have to do is to make everyone think you are speaking straight to her or him. I hope you will forget to be frightened."
"I am so dreadfully frightened, Miss Nettie, and my knees are so scared they will drop me right down off the platform."
"Nonsense," said Miss Nettie. "Your knees belong to you—you don't belong to them. You just tell your knees to behave themselves."
The Upper Sixth. Full, full of ladies, and teachers and children. Home and Annie and the children were far, far away. There sat Mama behind a tall lady. Miss Nettie took a seat at a desk midway of the room, in the center.
"I will take her, Miss Nettie," said a gruff voice.
It was Mrs. Lukens. Mrs. Lukens was the Principa [she remained principal through 1892]l. Mrs. Lukens was the tallest lady in the whole United States. She wore the stiffest and blackest silk ever woven. She had the straightest shoulders, and the firmest bust, and the roundest waist, and the, presumably, longest legs. Mrs. Lukens wore the largest bustle, and the shiniest blackest shoes, and she had the firmest hands and the biggest nose, and the brightest eyes, and right beside her nose, under one eye, she had the most tremendous brown liver spot.
Mrs. Lukens' hand was surprisingly smooth and warm. And thus clasped and led, she was placed upon one of the front benches to await her turn.
There were two babies, not grown up at all, from the First and Second Readers, and they would speak first. And then the big children. She was the first big child, really grown-up, so going-on nine that only a few weeks were to be endured before it was over, and then she would, at last, be going-on ten.
Her turn came. Water instead of knees to make a bow with. Ice instead of hands to hold loosely clasped. Miss Nettie said she did not need to think of the words. She knew the words. But she had to move her head, from right to left, to center. (There was a solid iron bar down her neck that didn't want to let it move.) Her eyes. Every person must think himself the special one for whom the piece was being recited. (Her eyes were fastened together with tight hard rusty scratching wire.)
The splendor falls on castle walls...
There was Miss Nettie smiling at her. "You know the words, you know the words, you know the words," said Miss Nettie's beloved eyes.
And snowy summits old in story...
She would think of something that would please Miss Nettie. She did not have to think of the words. The words would run right out. She would move her head. She would move her eyes...
"Four times seven are twenty-eight; seven times four are twenty-eight; five times seven are thirty-five; seven times five are thirty-five; six times seven..."
Blow bugle; answer echoed dying, dying, dying."
It was said. Mama wiped her eyes with her handkerchief. Miss Nettie smiled. Mrs. Lukens kissed her.
She sat quietly in her seat while the other children stuffed their books in the desks, scampered out into the hall, seized their hats and caps from the hooks round the wainscoting, and scattered to their homes.
Now. Now the precious time had come when she had Miss Nettie all to herself. Time for that hateful old arithmetic, but—the time when she had Miss Nettie all to herself, could talk a little, work very hard at tomorrow's lesson, time from the dear walk away from school together.
"There is something I have to tell you," said Miss Nettie.
"Oh, have I—have I done something wrong, Miss Nettie? Have I..."
"No, no, but they are not going to let me have you any more."
Tears flowed. "You mean I can't come to school to you any more?"
"You will always come to me after school for arithmetic, but they aren't going to let you be in my room any more."
"Not—stay—in your—room? Where will I stay?"
"In Miss Agnes Putnam's** room; you will love Miss Agnes; you will be in the Lower Fifth Reader. Monday. When you come Monday I'll take you up to Miss Agnes."
How she cried. What had she done? What had she ever done that made them take her away from Miss Nettie.
"And there is something else," said Miss Nettie. "Now you will have to learn to do your lessons with figures. You will, you must do your sums on your slate, on the blackboard, in figures. I think you can learn the lesson each day, spelling out the words, but after each word you must write the proper figure, and I think you can do it because you must."
"Papa will like that. Papa has been trying to teach my for years, ever since I was a child he has been trying to teach me; every night. Before he would tell me a story about Hector and Diomed and Ajax, or Macbeth or Julius Caesar, or any story, Papa tried to teach me figures." But she cried right on.
Miss Agnes was a thin lady. Her skin was so fine and fair and clear that she looked like a pearl button, that same kind of color that one could almost see through but not quite. Her dress was part black and part white. The basque was all black, very smooth and plain with buttons and buttons up the front to her neck. The skirt was black with little white flowers in it, and the overskirt was draped up so that it was all in little ripples along the sides, and her bustle was not huge and flat on top like Mrs. Lukens' but rounded and sloped. Miss Agnes' hands were so thin that you could almost see out the other side, and Miss Agnes never got chalk on her hands or on her dress, and her hair was never mussed the least tiny little bit; and she never talked except softly, but the boys and girls minded Miss Agnes.
She for the first time became aware of the children in the room. With Miss Nettie she had been completely absorbed, even though two of her best friends were in Miss Nettie's room. Mary Gillespie and Lena Thomasson. She saw Mary every Sunday at Sunday School, and Lena was so cute and funny that she made everyone laugh. But now, here she was with thirty-five or forty children, and she was aware of them.
The Lower Fifth Reader was grown-up. Some of the boys and girls were just smart. They studied grammar and geography. Geography was fun, but grammar was foolish. McGuffey's Fifth Reader was wonderful. At the top of each piece was a paragraph about the author; when he was born, what he had written. She was going to beg Papa and Mama to buy her all the works of every author, especially Kingsley and Leigh Hunt, and Goldsmith and Campbell and Southey and Daniel Webster.
But, yes, decidedly, grammar was foolish. Miss Agnes wanted you to parse sentences, instead of just sensibly learning them. Miss Agnes wanted you to learn the names of words instead of the words. Miss Agnes said it was to make you speak correctly to know that a word was a noun or an adverb. If Miss Agnes wrote a jumble of words on the blackboard, like, for instance,
Sink or give this swim die survive my heart this to vote perish I hand and this live o and or my and,
Miss Agnes insisted on knowing the subject, the predicate, the object, the verb—oh, what was the use? When one was able to unjumble the sentence without knowing why except that it sounded right, Miss Agnes was not too pleased.
But Miss Agnes was capable of being deflected. A question adroitly inserted, about her famous ancestor, General Putnam, could get Miss Agnes telling all sorts of fascinating anecdotes about her great great great grandfather. Some of the boys were wonderful about asking those deflecting questions. Miss Agnes was nice, too. When lessons were finished, or when rain was sluicing down the windows so that one could not go our for recess, Miss Agnes would read or tell other stories, although the prime favorite with her was always about Gen'l Israel Putnam, her forebear [1718-1790].
One day she was looking at her geography lesson. If Miss Agnes called on her for the third question, it was what states "bounded" Idaho. If it were to be the fifth question, it was about the Missouri River. The geography was set up before her on the desk like a screen. Hewitt Wood, across the aisle, laid a book in front of the geography. A story book. Stories she had never read.
She wrote on her slate, "For me to take home? I'll bring it back tomorrow."
"Nope, got to read it myself," muttered Hewitt.
The book lay there in front of the geography. Miss Agnes was sitting at her desk. She began to read.
There was a delicate swish behind her. Miss Agnes! Miss Agnes holding up the Book in her translucent hand. Miss Agnes asking in what, for her, was a terrible voice, "Whose book is this?"
Miss Agnes marched away with the book to her desk and laid it inside. She said, "The geography class will recite."
Everybody in the class stood up. The lesson began.
It was her turn. Miss Agnes did not ask her the third question. Nor the fifth.
"What is the capital of Montana?"
She did not know it. She had to say so.
"Probably you'd better star in fifteen minutes and learn the answer," said Miss Agnes.
She had never been kept in!
The school day wore to its close. She had to stay in. The lessons were all recited. She had to stay in. The children trooped away. Miss Agnes sat at her desk. She had to stay in. She cried.
"Miss Agnes, would you just as lief let me stay in tomorrow to learn that Helena is the capital of Montana, instead of today?"
"No, I'm sorry. Today."
"Miss Agnes, would you just as lief let me run stairs for just only one minute, before I learn that Helena is the capital of Montana?"
"Well, I just only have to tell Miss Nettie, that I am kept in to learn that Helena is the capital of Montana; if you will let me go, Miss Agnes, I'll learn that Helena is..."
"Yes, you may go."
She raced down the stairs and came back breathless. She looked at her geography.
"Miss Agnes, while I learn that Helena is the capital of Montana, will you please tell me whether you let Hewitt take his book home?"
"No, I didn't. I thought it was wrong of him to tempt you with it, and his punishment is to do without it until he goes home Friday."
"Miss Agnes — did you ever read Hewitt's book? Wouldn't you enjoy reading in it while I learn that Helena is the capital of..."
"What is the book?"
"Well, Miss Agnes, it's a story book, and the story I was reading—when I should have been learning that Helena is the capital of Montana—was about an emperor who was sick, and a nightingale came and sang to him to make him well, and I was just at the place where the courtiers drove her away, and they made an artificial nightingale. Miss Agnes, while I finish learning that Helena is the capital of Montana, wouldn't it be nice if you read the story up to my place and then we could finish it together... Please, Miss Agnes?"
Into Miss Agnes' pale cheeks came a tiny fleck of palest pink. Miss Agnes opened her desk, took out the volume, read up to the "place" and then finished the story aloud.
"Yes, my dear?"
"Miss Agnes, I was never kept in before, but learning that Helena is the capital of Montana—and hearing the story, was, was, enjoyable, and I'll never forget it. Thank you, Miss Agnes."
* * * * *
"Are you sure the maps in the geography are exactly right, Miss Nettie?"
"Why, yes, dear. Why should you think they are not right?"
"Well, for instance, of course Texas is the largest State. When I was a child I got a silly notion that because Texas was the Largest State, it got all the taxes. The letters are the same, only mixed up sort of. But that isn't what I mean. Foreign countries. They have entirely different customs from us, don't they?"
"I think the people in foreign countries do have different customs and habits, yes. But, after all, people are people everywhere."
"Not about marrying, Miss Nettie. In Scotland, now. All the young ladies in Scotland elope to get married. They don't here."
"Where did you get the notion that young ladies in Scotland always elope?"
"Lord Ullin's daughter did, didn't she? And the young lady that ran away with Lochinvar did. What I mean about the maps being right is that the map of Scotland looks awfully little. But it says:
There was racing and chasing on Canobie Lea,
But the lost bride of Netherby ne'er did they see.
So Canobie Lea must be at least as big as Texas, mustn't it? Or else they surely would have found her. And if Canobie Lea is as large as Texas, Scotland must be lots and lots bigger, to hold Canobie Lea in, Miss Nettie."
* * * * *
"Oh, Miss Nettie, the most extraordinary thing has happened."
"Yes, dear, what is this extraordinary thing?"
"Well, you know, on top of Brabson Hill, right on the corner of Caroline Street, next door to where my uncle's bought a lot and's building his house, Mr. Clint Gaskell and Miss Sallie Lee, that's his wife, well, they are digging their cellar to build a house, and the men were digging and digging and they came on a skeleton, a regular skeleton, just only bones, you know. And Papa says it must be the skeleton of some poor soldier who died in the War, because that's where lots of fighting was; and when they lifted up the skeleton all the bones fell apart and everything."
"Oh, dear me!"
"And, Miss Nettie, you know my Papa's bought the lot on the other end, Lindsay and Mott, and that's where our house is going to be and it's all covered over with earthworks of General Thomas's Army, and wouldn't it be wonderful if our diggers would find us a skeleton on our lot?"
"Rather gruesome, I think, don't you?"
"Well—but anyhow, Miss Nettie, you know what's going to be in our house when it's ever built? A bathroom, Miss Nettie, and a tub and two handles, and if you turn one, water, hot water will run out, and if you turn the other, cold water, and that will be wonderful, and a basin, just the same, and a water closet so you won't have to go out in the yard to the privy. Miss Nettie..."
"Miss Nettie, do you suppose after we get a regular bathroom Mama will still make us be washed all over every day the way she does now, washed all over with warm water in the bowl, and soap, and then stood in a wash tub and have cold water poured over you till you shiver and sneeze, like the old woman in Mother Goose that had her petticoats cut all round about. Don't you think it would be wonderful if a person could be allowed to get in a whole tub of nice warm water, while Annie stands and makes us wash every little place, and leave out that old cold water every day, Miss Nettie? I do, and we're going to have gas, too, in every single solitary room."
"Yes, it will all be lovely for you; and now, how about finding out how many times 12 goes into 1567; and if you were talking about dollars how many would there be and how many cents; and if you were buying potatoes at twenty-five cents a bushel, how many dollars' worth you could buy and how many bushels would you have?"
Silence and hard work on the slate with much squeaking and scratching of the poor quality pencil, even if it was wrapped at the top with a red, white, and blue band.
"Miss Nettie, you know Squire and Mrs. Golightly that live out at Wauhatchie, and they used to come every Saturday with the eggs and butter and potatoes and things?"
"No, I don't know them. Come now, please, how many dollars...?"
"But, Miss Nettie, in a minute. Just last Saturday Squire Golightly came by himself, and he looked awfully funny, and he said, 'My wife done dies on me, and I jes' won't be able to gether up the eggs and truck, and churn till I git me geared up with another woman.' Whatever do you suppose he meant by that, Miss Nettie?"
* * * * *
The winter passed. The rains stopped, and the streets were deep, smooth seas of liquid mud, with only the high precarious stepping stones across at the corners to save pedestrians from ruin. Next they turned into smooth soft paste through which wagons and buggies made quickly disappearing grooves, before drying wholly into thick red dust. Mocking birds sang, tender green appeared on the trees, soft airs stirred.
A boy came in with a note to Miss Agnes from Mrs. Lukens.
"Children, there are visitors in the front room, and Professor Wyatt. The doors are to be folded back so we'll all be in one big room, and Professor Wyatt is going to give tests to twelve children out of each class. The six boys in the first row of boys and the six girls in the first row of girls stand up, please."
Among the first six boys were Frank Merriam and Hewitt Wood and Frank Gardenhire and among the girls were Maggie Bachman and Mamie Cleage and Minnie Brown and Cary VanDyke. Those were the smartest ones. They were all or nearly all perfect. But she was among the six girls. She hoped and prayed, oh, how she hoped and prayed their test would be spelling or reading or even grammar.
Miss Agnes and Miss Agnes' people had come South long ago. But in her being remained the rock-ribbed New England honesty which would not allow her to pick and choose over her room for her best, to make a good showing before Professor Wyatt. Professor Wyatt was the Superintendent of Schools.
"The Fourth Reader will do a spelling test," said Miss Agnes. My class will do mental arithmetic. When the doors are opened, form in line, a boy and then a girl, and march very quietly into front of the big room, down the center aisle, over to the left side of the room, and stand there facing the platform. When the test is over, turn round and march back on the left-hand side and back here and take your seats."
"Oh, Miss Agnes, Miss Agnes," she moaned in her heart. "When you knew it was mental arithmetic, why didn't you take me out? I shall disgrace you and the whole Fifth Reader. Our honor will be ruined—by me."
The doors folded and folded and folded back. They marched in. Back to her came all her wonted symptoms, hands frozen, knees liquid, eyes blinded by tears, through which she daw dimly Professor Wyatt's kind, twinkling blue eyes, his square black beard. She made herself count. She was the eighth in line. If the floor did not open and suck her down before the first seven had answered then—then disgrace for the whole Fifth Reader.
One after the other, slowly, carefully, perfectly the boys and girls worked their problems, and Mrs. Lukens was smiling and so was Professor Wyatt. The sixth girl was reciting. Then a boy. Then...
On her shoulder was laid a large, long thumb. Under her arm were inserted long, strong fingers. Silently she was drawn back from the row, set in front of Mrs. Lukens, propelled along the wall completely hidden by Mrs. Lukens' rustling silk skirts, set down in the last desk of the big room. The line of boys and girls closed up, unconscious of so doing, to close the gap where she had stood and suffered. The test ended. The row of boys and girls turned, marched along the wall. As they came abreast of her she rose took her place in the line which moved forward into the Fifth Reader and sat in their places.
Miss Agnes was saved. Mrs. Lukens had no Yankee background.
Fall, again, and heat and dust and hazy sunshine again, and the Upper Fifth Reader, in one corner of the big room where you sat to learn lessons, but you recited in a small recitation room at one side. Out of the windows was a high, sloping waste of rocks and weeds. There was no fence between it and the school yard. At recess you and the girls would wander up there, and look off toward the Mountain, crouching under its mantle of green pines and changing foliage, large and long and far away.
The teacher was Miss Fanny Bellows. Miss Fanny was not a pretty lady, but she was all teacher. She did not wear pretty dresses, but she was neat and trim in her high-shouldered way. No overskirts on her invariable black alpacas, no banks on her bright brown hair. Miss Fanny wore spectacles. Miss Fanny never made jokes, or smiled, except if someone did something very bad, and then she had a sarcastic smile. But she liked Miss Fanny. She just naturally liked teachers, she supposed, even though she was forced to admit that every teacher had a special pet of a subject that she hammered on. Miss Fanny hammered on diacritical marks; Miss Fanny insisted upon one's knowing the marks for long a's and short e's and so on.
She found diacritical marks as impossible to see in her mind's eye as figures. The class would take spelling to dictation, long lists of words. Then the words had to be marked for pronunciation. Then each boy or girl passed her slate to be graded by her neighbor. Spelling was all right. It was easy and it was fun. You were marked 50 for perfect on spelling. But marking the words was no fun, and she was almost always marked minus-5o on that, so that the best she could hope for, day by day, was 50 in spelling.
Sometimes Miss Fanny would be outraged by that 50. She would say, "Stand up and spell what I say," and give out the definition of a word.
"She would spell, "D i s c o n c e r t e d."
"Pronounce it," would say Miss Fanny.
"What are the proper marks?"
"I don't know, ma'am."
"Then why do you say it as you do?"
"Because it sounds nice that way, ma'am."
"Spell the word that means genuineness."
"Can you mark it properly?"
"N-n-no, ma'am." Tears flowed.
* * * * *
"Miss Nettie, all our teachers are different, aren't they? Miss Fanny knows everything, but why does she want to bother with those old marks over letters and under letters; do you s'pose anyone ever truly learned to pronounce that way? Do you s'pose I could ever see those marks in front of my eyes, inside, and learn them so I could please Miss Fanny."
"At least you should try, dear. And your lesson for tomorrow."
"Yes, Miss Nettie, the examples on page 54. Miss Nettie, do you ever do anything really dreadfully wrong, that doesn't actually sound wrong?"
"All of us, sometimes..."
"I mean, for instance, Goldsmith, on page 87. Elegy on Madam Blaize. In the Reader, so, of course, Goldsmith is all right, isn't he?"
"Oh, yes, certainly, he was a great..."
"So at home I found a book on the whatnot—all the books we have are on the whatnot, and most of'em I've read a million times—and I showed it to Mama, and she said I might read the book at the back. Paul and Virginia, and by somebody who isn't even in the Readers at all."
"Very pretty, wasn't it?"
"Well, Miss Nettie..."
"Oh, you didn't like it?"
"But, Miss Nettie, there are two books in the book, and the front one is The Vicar of Wakefield, and's by Goldsmith, and he is in the Reader, so mustn't he be all right?"
"But your Mama told you not to read it?"
"Oh, no, Miss Nettie. All she said was to read Paul and Virginia. You know, Professor Hacker gives us music lessons now, and we have to practice every day? All I did was set the book up in front of the music, it's the Carnival of Venice, and practice with one hand and read with the other. Miss Nettie, why are you laughing?"
"And your Mama caught you?"
"She came in one day when I thought she was out calling. She said it was lying, sort of. She sent me to bed without my supper. But I had just that minute finished the book, and there was one lovely little poem in it:
When lovely woman stoops to folly,
And finds too late that men betray,
What charm can soothe her melancholy,
What art can wash her guilt away?
Miss Nettie, doesn't stoops to folly and melancholy make a sound just like music? I can't imagine why Mama wouldn't want me to read the Vicar of Wakefield, can you, Miss Nettie?"
* * * * *
Roused out of sleep deep in the night she struggled against waking.
"Wake up, darling, wake up!"
They always said nothing would wake her but fear of being tardy.
"But why, Mama, why must I wake up in the night?"
"Hush, don't make a noise. Bianca and Wallie are sick, very sick. Hurry! Annie, put her drawers and a dress on her. Quickly. You must run as fast as you can and wake Dr. Eaton. Papa has gone for Uncle Herman."
"Mama, in the dark? And...barefooted?"
"It's getting light. By the time you're back it will be almost light and Dr. Eaton will be with you. Hurry. Run all the way. It isn't far, and you know the house, on Georgia Avenue. Hurry!"
Bianca was in her bed by the window. Wallie was in his crib in Mama's room. Their faces were as red as fire. They moaned and muttered and tossed in their beds. She had never seen anyone sick.
Just not dark, but scary. Every rock on Brabson Hill cut into one foot or the other as she stumbled and ran. At the bottom of the hill it was a bit better, the dust was easier on her feet but it rose in clouds into her eyes and nose. Away off towards Missionary Ridge lay a slaty gray-blue line, like Dr. Eaton's eyes. Jennie Sharp's house at the corner looked like a bundle, a big, huge bundle of mist that might melt and float away. She ran and ran, fear clutching her heart.
Typhoid fever. Days and nights of grownup watching, waiting, trying to break the fever. Dr. Eaton there five and six times a day. Uncle Herman there all the time, letting his other patients wait. Then the crisis.
The faces of the children were red no more. No more moans and tossings. They lay like little white statues, moveless, eyes closed, not breathing, dying.
"It's the water," said Papa in a muffled tone. "It's having no sewage system, dirty wells, filthy gutters, unfiltered water, untended cisterns."
Not their cistern. It was great fun always, when it began to rain, watching until the roof would be washed clean before opening the pipe and letting the rain run off the roof and in.
They were standing in the hall, Papa, Uncle Herman, Dr. Eaton and Mama.
"I should say there is a chance in a thousand," said Dr. Eaton. "If we could get them to the Mountain, perhaps..."
Uncle Herman got on his big horse, Reddy, to go to the Mountain, to see if there were a place open that would take them. Papa went to hire a carriage. Annie packed. She dressed Lovey and herself. Lovey would be her boy now. Everybody was too busy to take care of him. But she was a big girl, in two weeks she would be going on eleven.
Mama sat on one seat in the carriage, with one child laid along the seat, its head in her lap. Annie sat on the other seat with the other child. Dr. Eaton was in his buggy with Papa beside him. She was on the high seat beside the driver.
"Can I go in the buggy with Papa?" asked Lovey.
"Better not," said Dr. Eaton. "We may have to get out in a hurry, and no time to tie my horse. Put him up on the seat with her. She will hold him tight."
Reddy's bay sides were dripping with sweat, his mouth was flecked with foam. "But he can make it again," said Uncle Herman. "He has a great heart, has Reddy."
Dr. Eaton and Papa ahead in the buggy. The carriage crawling through the streets, Uncle Herman close beside it. The children lay like the dead.
Up the Mountain, slowly, slowly. The road was not red like in town. Golden yellow sand, golden yellow rocks; sandstone. Up the narrow, narrow road, sometimes so narrow there was not room for the horse beside the carriage, and Uncle Herman had to fall behind until the road widened again. Quarter way up the Mountain, third of the way, half way.
Bianca's eyelids flickered, almost opened. "Ma - m," she whispered and fainted again.
Quick as a flash Uncle Herman was off his horse.
"The boiled water!" he ordered.
It was in a screw-topped jar beside Annie. Uncle Herman moistened a swab and held it to the child's mouth. Dr. Eaton was feeling for pulse to beat again.
"It's beating. Not Wallie's yet. Bianca's."
The top of the Mountain. The other child stirred, very faintly.
They were saved.
Then followed days and weeks in the old Mountain Home. Only the owners there. They had been all packed, ready to leave for the Winter, when Uncle Herman had roused them before break of day and implored them to take the family in its last hope of saving two children.
The trees in thee large place were gigantic. They might have been like the forest in "Pussy Cat Mew," ogres ready to speak threateningly out of the tops of their trunks.
"This is the forest primeval," she said to Lovey. They did not see anyone but each other from morning to night.
Of course there were compensations. No baths, as at home, to take. She washed Lovey and herself and put on their clothes. Mama said she was his little nurse and must amuse him. When Mother Goose palled, she made up stories for him.
The golden light of Indian Summer lay on the land. Everyone who ever lived on the Mountain in the summertime was gone. If they walked down the road to the Lookout Mountain House, it was all closed and a big padlock on the gate. If they worked their way through the bushes to the Natural Bridge House—all closed, too. But not so tightly fenced in that they could not work their way in and creep down to the Natural Bridge, and the spring under it. Cold and dank in there, and the spring going drip, drip, drip. All the woods brown and bare. All the birds gone. All the ground soft with pine needles. And nobody, not a person did they ever see, except the lady who owned the Mountain Home when she gave them their meals in the dining room, large enough for one hundred people, and now their two small selves at a long table by a window.
She had asked Papa to send notes to Miss Nettie and Miss Fanny, and he had done so. She had asked him to bring her a book, but he had been too worried and unhappy to remember.
If she only had a book!
One day she and Lovey were sitting on the steps of the front porch.
"Sit right here, Lovey, till I come back. I'm going to look for a book. There must be a book somewhere."
The front room was a parlor. Back of that was a room called the office. It had a counter. On top of it a huge book. She looked into it. Nothing but writing, names of people. There was a shelf under the counter. She got down on her knees and began to feel round in there. Bundles of papers. Tied up. Another big, old book, like the one on the counter, but with torn pages.
Something was behind it. She tugged. It was a book. A paper book. She clasped it and ran back to Lovey, sitting peacefully still on the top step.
"Look, Lovey, I found us a book. It's only a paper book, but there are stories in it. Now we'll read."
"Yeth, we'll wead," said Lovey, and looked at her in utter faith.
She opened the book and began to read: "Scenes from Clerical Life" by George Eliot.
The new house was built. The tub worked. The cold morning plunges went on and on and on.
There was a cow, Boonder. Every morning after she was milked she was turned out and wandered away after such sparse feeding as could be found in the rough fields that stretched away toward the Ridge. Sometimes she did not come home in time for milking and then Allen had to search for her in the evening. The City Fathers, after a long time, decreed that cows were to be kept in their own stable lots unless accompanied. Once Wallie was sent to keep Boonder company. Boonder came home in the late evening, but no Wallie. Every one went frantically to look for him. When Papa came home he was outraged.
"What have you done with my son?" he demanded of Mama.
Wallie was six. He was found presently, fast asleep under a sapling. There were no trees, not real ones, since the War.
The great event of the year, in the family, was the Golden Wedding in Nashville. Mama's uncle and aunt.
"We are going to take you and Bianca," said Mama. "You are to recite a humorous poem. Papa is writing it. We are going to have a picture of you four children, for a present for Uncle and Auntie. A group picture."
The picture was framed in a marvelous concoction of rows of gilt, red plush, and more gilt.
Miss Grace MacGowan licked the poem into shape, and Papa had three hundred copies printed, for the guests. The bridal copy was printed in gold on white satin, with gold fringes on the bottom, mounted on a little gilded rod with tassels at the ends, and rolled up to hold.
The wedding banquet was held in the Maxwell House.
Mama looked beautiful. Her dress was black in wide stripes of what Miss Mollie Thatcher, who made it, said were satin and gros grain. It had an overskirt, and a flounce round the bottom, and a long train, and a very low neck, and little teensy sleeves laced together with round cords made of the silk. Her black eyes shone and sparkled, her smile showed her perfect teeth and in her black hair she wore a dark red rose.
Three hundred guests. When her time came after her cousin May had recited a poem, she was lifted up on the table right in front of the old bridal pair, with her satin and gold scroll in her hand, and recited her verses.
The next day she was interviewed. A reporter came from The Banner to see her, and the yellowed clipping in a scrapbook said something about the future of "her silvery voice". What was not printed in the interview was something she said to the reporter.
"Tell me," he said, "what were you thinking about when you were speaking to all those people, such a mite of a girl?"
"Well, I was not pleased. My cousin May is only a year older than I am, and she had a pale blue dress, a really silk dress; and my cousin Leonora had a pink really silk dress, and pink satin slippers, and she is only two years older than I. And I had only a white dress. But anyhow—I had tassels on my shoes!"
* * * * *
"Miss Nettie, are you interested in King Phillip's War? I mean, do you think it is necessary to spend hours and hours and hours learning about how we treated the Indians, after they turned on us because we stole their lands and taught them bad things, like getting drunk?"
"What would you like to spend hours and hours and hours learning?"
"You know, what I want to learn is much further on. About getting free, about learning how to govern, about getting rid of those things that Patrick Henry said were sent to 'bind and rivet' us."
"Yes, but you have to know what went first, so that you can understand what came after."
"I don't care, Miss Nettie. I think one should just have to read about the beginnings, and then fasten into one's mind what really matters, like when Patrick Henry wa talking about 'three millions on people armed in the holy cause of liberty...' Miss Nettie, when are elections?"
"Every year some elections, and others every two years and for President every four years."
"You know, Miss Nettie, I actually don't know whether Papa votes every time there is an election. When is the next one, Miss Nettie?"
"Why, let me see; I think next Tuesday."
If she hurried very fast and walked down McCallie Avenue to Georgia Avenue, and then down Eighth Street to the Store, she could be in time. The block down Eighth Street, on one side, the store side, was very dreadful. The whole block was a great enormous hole, with a lumber yard in it. And there was a wooden sidewalk with planks not too close together, so that a person could not help seeing through, and, maybe, catch a heel in the slits, and get dizzy. Of course, there was an old hand rail at the side, rough and splintery. No one ever used the hand rail. No one was supposed to get afraid and need to hold on. The lumber rose in great stacks, with a sour-sweet smell. If a person should fall down, and a plank broke it would be terribly far down to the bottom. One could walk on the opposite side of the street, but that would be cowardly. Better to suffer and be, if not brave, at least not too scared to walk on the plank walk.
"Well, well, well," said Papa very pleased. "Have you come to walk home to dinner with Papa?"
"Yes, Papa. Papa. wouldn't it be nice to walk down Market Street and turn up Seventh, instead of always on Eighth?"
Certainly," said Papa, "just as near, and no steeper."
Market Street had three or four blocks with regular sidewalks. Not very smooth, just large blacks of stone that didn't match, and were up and down, sort of, but at least not muddy like the other streets. On the corner of Seventh Street was the Presbyterian Church, backed up into the side of the hill. The whole front of the yard was shaded by a tremendous magnolia tree, and no grass could grow under it because the magnolia tree shaded it so, and the ground was as black as anything, not red like everywhere else. On one side was the Sunday School Room, and the sun could shine in there, but no grass grew there either.
At the head of Seventh Street, across Walnut, was the Court House. It stood in a whole block, except that there was a Church, a Baptist Church, in the far corner at Sixth Street. The Court House was red brick with white trimmings.
"Look, Papa, most of the leaves are off the Court House trees; well, I mean, they're going to be really trees one of these days. I love to walk in dry leaves. Why don't we go through the Court House yard and let me scuff through the leaves?"
"Just as you like," said Papa, agreeably.
They scuffed round to the Georgia Avenue side of the Court House. There were lots of men standing about in the pleasant sunshine.
"Why, Papa, there's Judge Moon, and Mr. Scott Hyde, and isn't that Mr. H. Clay Evans, who made the speech at the National Cemetery on Memorial Day? Why are they here today, Papa?"
"Election Day," said Papa, "and as usual I'd forgotten all about it."
He paused and began to greet all the gentlemen. Mr. Scott Hyde was the one who sang so beautifully with Mrs. Pratt and Mrs. Lap Walker, and someone said he was going to be the Sheriff.
"Well, hello there!" said Mr. Scott Hyde to her. "Have you come to cast your Papa's vote?"
"I never did see anyone vote," she mumbled. She was feeling very shy. "Could I see him do it?"
"You sure could. Take him right in and see that he does his duty."
All the gentlemen laughed, Papa too.
They went inside to the rough makeshift polling booth, and Papa voted.
In the years to come she always managed to walk home to dinner with Papa on election day, and the same gentlemen and many others always cracked a joke about her coming to cast Papa's vote, until she was an old girl fourteen or fifteen, and after that they changed their form. They began to say Papa had come to cast her vote, and seemed to think that a tremendous pleasantry because, of course, who ever heard of a female voting?
* * * * *
"Miss Nettie, Miss Nettie, what do you think? We have a pony! A beautiful black pony named Judith that a friend of Papa sent us, and a little bitsy cart to ride in, and Papa's going to have it all covered with silverleaf, like signs on store windows, and trimmed with little black lines, only those are gold on the windows I mean, and the harness is black and all the buckles and things are going to look like silver, only they won't be, truly. But they'll look like silver. And we can ride Judith and drive her. And I want to take you for the very first drive, Miss Nettie."
"That will be lovely for you, but you must be careful, you know."
"Oh, yes, Miss Nettie. Of course. I've been riding Uncle Herman's horse, Reddy, for years. I know all about horseback riding. You know how Uncle Herman taught Bianca and me to ride? He just set us up on the horse and said, 'Ride.' And we had to ride. It wasn't a bit of trouble for Bianca."
"Have you ever ridden for, really far?"
"Miss Nettie, do you know what happened the very day after the pony came, with the little side saddle to fit her and everything? Our washwoman didn't come, that's Jinny Cooper and she was sick, and another one was to come. So she did not come, and Mama said, 'Get right on Judith and ride out Whiteside Street and find a girl named Parthenia. I don't know her other name, but you'll find her.' Well, Miss Nettie, it's frightfully far to Whiteside Street, and I don't exactly know how to tell you the way, but Judith and I found her. And I found out her husband's name, too, if I have to go again, and his name's Willie Maisie Monroe Mitchell Harry Linsora Cornelius Turner, and they call him Willie for short."
"And did she come and get the washing?"
"Oh, yes, Miss Nettie. She came. She walked right behind Judith and me all the way home. Somebody told my papa there was going to be a street car all the way out there, one of these days."
* * * * *
The huge mound of rock and dirt on which the house sat was graded to shape. In time the street was graded down, and roadway and sidewalks laid out. The long straggling wagon trail of mud, dust, or deep, hard ruts that led to the Citizens Cemetery was straightened and widened.
"Miss Nettie, I've found the loveliest dell, well, I suppose it isn't a dell exactly, because it's a little low hill sloping to the River. It's part of Frank Gardenhire's farm. And right now the ground is just covered with wild, huge enormous blue and white violets, and little fine ferns, and even a tiny bit of trailing arbutus, but not much, and little trees shading it, little but pretty. Miss Nettie, if I tell Mama I'll be late tomorrow would you have time to walk out there with me? Because it's like a scene in Fairyland. I was there yesterday. I was all by myself, and it was so quiet and pure, sort of. I asked Mama. She said it was absolutely safe, and it was. I didn't see a single solitary person."
* * * * *
On Vine Street, near Douglas, they had been building the Orphan's Home. Very fine, and large, and brick, and poor little children who had no Papas and Mamas were going to live there with Mrs. Reed. They had been building it for a long time and it was finished just before vacation.
Everyone talked about the Home and gave it things and did things for it. There were already a lot of little children in it.
She thought and thought about the Home and the poor little lonesome children. She had no money, but why couldn't she earn some? Perhaps she and the children, the six children who were her followers and lieges, could do something. Her three cousins and her sister and brothers. Lovey was four, and they rose in steps to nine. Probably Lovey could sing "Fluey Anny John." Yes. And charades. The other children could all do charades. She was no actor and she knew it. But she could get others to do act.
Coaxing, scolding, bullying, praising, it took everything. But it was done.
On a lovely afternoon, on Aunt Eva's side lawn, with twenty-one ladies and children, admission one cent, the program was presented amid tumultuous applause, while Lovey's rendition, rather piping of voice, of "Fluey Anny John" was a complete success:
Snail drew a rail, Fluey Anny, Fluey Anny,
Snail drew a rail, Fluey Anny John,
Snail drew a rail he drew it with his tail,
Wasn't that a funny draw? Fluey Anny John.
Camel clumb a tree, Fluey Anny, Fluey Anny,
Camel clumb a tree, Fluey Anny John,
Camel clumb a tree, foh to cotch a bumble bee,
Wasn't that a funny climb, Fluey Anny John?
Elephant walked a rope, Fluey Anny, Fluey Anny,
Elephant walked a rope, Fluey Anny John,
Elephant walked a rope, 'twas all greased up with soap,
Wasn't that a funny walk, Fluey Anny John?
The performance over and the guests dispersed, she said, "Now, I shall take the money down to the Orphans' Home, and as we are all in our best clothes, you may all come along, and see me give it to Mrs. Reed."
Pandemonium broke loose.
"You will not either carry all of it yourself... You can't do that to us... Didn't we do the acting...? Wasn't it us the ladies and children clapped for...? What did you do? Jus' bossed!"
Well, it was painful. Very painful. Argument availed nothing. Being of a stature that was going on twelve availed nothing. Finally routed hip and thigh by her own cohorts, they all set off together down the Hill, out Vine Street, each with three cents clutched in a little fat hot fist, to be poured with suitable ceremony into Mrs. Reed's gentle hands.
And then, Mr. Milton Ochs wrote a piece about it in The Times. As cake and lemonade had been served at the close of the Performance, Mr. Milton called his paragraph "Le Monde Aide," which was Greek to her, but Papa thought it very neat indeed.
* * * * *
The arithmetic lesson which dealt with the abstractions and manipulations of compound fractions seemed very dull.
"You aren't keeping your mind on the lesson," said Miss Nettie. "Have you something of exceeding importance on your mind?"
"Miss Nettie—I heard something. Miss Nettie, have you been in James Hall? I have, four times. The first time was when Mr. Dick Stewart took us to see 'Uncle Tom's Cabin'. Have you seen it?"
"No, I never wanted to see it."
"Well, of course, I knew James Hall, you know, corner Sixth and Market, was not a truly handsome building, but I thought when you went inside, up the stairs and in, it would be grand, with velvet seats, and lots of gold trimming, and gorgeous chandeliers—like you read about a regular theater?"
"And it isn't, is it?"
"My goodness! Miss Nettie, it's just only a hall. All are dirty whitewashed walls, and an old torn funny painted curtain across the stage in front, and long benches that lots of people could crowd up in to sit on. I was terribly disappointed. And then, Uncle Tom's Cabin. Miss Nettie...well, of course, I was only a child, it was at least three years ago, but that girl in it, Little Eva... You know what, Miss Nettie, there couldn't ever, in the whole wide world, be any little girl so good as that. She made me disgusted, honestly. Then those blocks Eliza had to skip over that pretended to be ice. I'm a good pretender, Miss Nettie, but I couldn't pretend that those were anything but blue calico, heaving about for her to jump over. Well, they weren't any worse than our stepping stones when you have to cross the street in a storm, and the stones are all slippery and wet."
"And the other times you were in James Hall?"
"Ah, Miss Nettie, the next time was Rip van Winkle, and the head actor was called Joe Jefferson [1829-1905; Rip van Winkle was a signature role]. Miss Nettie, when he was on that stage, you saw the village, just as plain, and the trees, and his dog, and when he fell asleep in those mountains, why James Hall went right away, all the dirty walls and ceiling, and the ugly wooden benches. You were right there in those mountains and the gnomes were playing nine pins, and you knew a long, long time was going by while Rip slept. And when he woke up you didn't have to pretend at all. He had grown to be an old man, and his beard was really and truly white, and when he got back to his village and nobody knew him, and he said please give him something to eat, and one hard lady said, 'Give him a cold potato, and let him go!' you could have cried. Oh, Miss Nettie, how wonderful that was to be transported right away from horrible old James Hall into...into Fairyland, without even a magic carpet to ride on."
"Didn't you say two more times in James Hall?"
"Oh, yes, but one was only a lecture, and Mama said it was Henry Ward Beecher, just only talking about Shakespeare. What I'd like better would be to see a play by Shakespeare, like Julius Caesar or Macbeth that Papa's told us the story of. And the last time was just simply music, a man from a foreign country named Hungary, playing a fiddle. His name was Remenyi, and he could play all right, but he got angry because there was a man sitting on a bench, eating goobers. It does make a loud noise cracking goober shells and then they plop on the floor. This foreign gentleman got dreadfully angry, and he stopped playing, and stuck his fiddle under his arm, and walked down right to the edge of the stage, and shook his fist and hollered! He said, 'Dot vone mans shall distorb a whole owdience!' He was at our house after. He wrote music in Mama's autograph album, and his name, and, Miss Nettie, he put so many letters in that it said Chatttanooooga, Tennnnesssseeee. He laughed and so did everybody. Of course, he didn't know that Chattanooga means the Nest of the Eagle, and Tennessee means the River of Many Turns, in Indian language."
"And still, my little chatterbox, we haven't come to the thing you heard that keeps you from compound fractions."
"Well, Miss Nettie, last night, after I was tight asleep, I woke up. Papa and Mama were in their room in bed, and it was all dark. And they were talking. They were talking about me. They did not mention my name, but I knew it. Papa said, 'It's a chance of a lifetime, and I want to take her.' And Mama said, 'But it's ridiculous to keep a child out that late.' So Papa said, 'That should not make any difference. You can have her sleep all afternoon. You can send her teacher a note.' So then Mama said, 'I don't like to take such a child to such a wicked play.' And Papa said, 'That makes no difference either. Whether it's called Tosca, or whatever it's called she won't understand a word of it. And, by the way, neither will you, my little goosie.' 'And so fearfully expensive,' said Mama. 'Think of the wicked extravagance of paying three whole dollars to take a child like that to the theater.' Now listen to this, Miss Nettie: Papa said, 'My dear one, one of these days she'll grow up, and she'll be able to remember that she has seen the greatest actress in the world, and in her retentive memory she'll be able to recall the cadences of that golden voice. She may not appreciate it now, but she'll remember that she has heard and seen Bernhardt—and I want to take her.' So, of course, Miss Nettie, I'll have to be the most surprised person in this whole State when they tell me they're going to take me. And Miss Nettie, I'll tell you what I'd like to do. This coming month I'd like to pass the arithmetic examination one time in my life, for a present for Papa."
They walked one block north from the corner, the corner which used to be Mott and Lindsay, but had changed so now it was East Fourth and Lindsay, like getting married and changing one's name only that streets didn't marry, to the River. But the River was not level or nearly or anywhere like level with Lindsay Street, as it was at Market. At Market Street there was only a slight dip to the River, and out in front stood the battered stumps of what had been the bridge before the War, two stumpy piers of stone, all crooked on top, as they had been left by the soldiers who destroyed the bridge.
Lindsay Street was far above the River, a long, steep way down, too steep to climb down, and too far to see down if one wanted to see the edge where the water met land. At Lindsay Street one could see the River miles each way, and every yard of the way was an angry, swirling torrent, a muddy, turbid rush of flood and tangled trees and bits of crowding timbers, and washed away cabins. The island in the middle of the River, where was it now? All Summer the island had been a changing picture of growth. First the long stretch, like a fish, almost, with its garniture all round of trees, and its center a long ploughed field; and then a field trimmed with spears of starting green; and then a corn field, all green, then gold topped, yellowing as Fall came on. Now the island was gone, sunk under the roaring waste of water. Across the River, where hills rose sharply a little back from its banks, there were now no banks left. Down at Spring Street where Captain Goulding's water gauge hung, and where the bluff was all rock, the water had climbed and climbed until the water gauge was lost down below the raging spate.
Mama was out all day every day on the Committee that was helping to care for the flood sufferers. Tomorrow Mr. Dick Stewart was going to take the children for a row, think of it! in a boat, from where Market Street normally began, and row them all the way out to the Stanton House. Row them past all the stores standing in water up to their waists. That was going to be a marvelous adventure.
But for her and Bianca that adventure never came, for in the night they developed mumps, mumps on both sides, mumps that hurt if they tried to laugh at each other, mumps that made them miss almost the whole fascinating, terrifying flood. Only the boys would go on that row out Market Street, which needed only muscular fortitude on the part of the rower to extend it all the way to the foot of the Mountain.
"Never mind," Mama tried to soothe. "You may be on my private flood committee in the kitchen. You may fry corn pone and side meat for the flood sufferers. Annie and Allen will be working at it all day, and you may cook at the range or the gas stove."
For the old wood cook stove was gone, and there were both a coal range and a gas stove in the kitchen. The floor, all but a passageway, was piled with bags of meal and sides of pork, and bushel baskets in which to stack the cooked food. These were carried to the "boat landing" nearest to the house and rowed away for distribution. In dozens of houses similar work was going on, all day long, everybody helping.
"We found one cabin, just not in the water," said Mama, in horrified tones, "and there were a dozen horrible people in that one room. On the floor, lying on filthy rags, was an apparently dying child, feverish and gasping for breath. The father is out at the back door. I brought him along to take back eggs and milk for the sick child. They all look as if they were dying of malaria and I don't know what to do with them. If only there were a hospital! We must, we just must get up a hospital."
The Flood Sufferer was a long, gangling man. His cheeks were greenish and as hollow as cups. His lank black hair hung in his eyes and down his cheeks. His bones were so loosely articulated that you could almost hear them rattle. His covering was of rags indescribably filthy. might have been thirty-five. He was the father of ten children.
The next day after he'd been given food for the family and eggs and milk for the sick child he was back for more.
"What," cried Mama, delighted, "do you mean to say that sick child took a dozen raw eggs and a gallon of milk? Why, maybe, he isn't so sick. Maybe we can cure him."
"Naw," said the Flood Sufferer, shifting his quid. "He never et none of it."
"Who did, then?"
"Me, I et'em. I done come fur more."
"You! But I told you they were for the sick child. Now, listen to me! I'm going to give you more eggs and more milk, and when I come tomorrow I'm going to have a policeman with me, and if you have tested the eggs or milk..."
No use. In the first place, the half dozen policemen of the town were too busy. In the second, as the Flood Sufferer reasonably remarked, "That thar child, he ain't eatin' nohow. An' ef'n I hadn't et'em th'ole woman an' the childern would've, an' I need'em more'n they do."
The child died. The flood receded. The back waters abated and the River returned to its banks. The island rose into view, its necklace of trees tangled with twisted trees and litter, which for years marred its symmetry. Round the old bridge stumps at Market Street debris was twined as if it never would let go. In the path of the ferry great trees stood up on the River, as if to say, "Not this way, not over us, we are embedded here."
But for ten years the Flood Sufferer appeared regularly irregularly at the back door, demanding food and clothing for ever more and more pathetic, malarial, tuberculous children.
"Those horrible old mumps don' know what they did to us, Miss Nettie. They were just dreadful. Not only did they come so I couldn't enjoy the Flood, or row on the water or anything except fry old corn pone and side meat, but they kept us from seeing Booth and Barrett. In Hamlet. By Shakespeare. Papa and Mama had tickets for both of us, and now I'll never see them. It makes me perfectly disgusted. I declare, Miss Nettie, it seems as if everything was wrong for me. Miss Mary does not like me because when she calls on me in history, I get so interested I just forget to only answer the question, and say the whole lesson, and the boys grin, and only have to say over what I've said. Mama tried to comfort me by saying I was on her private committee, frying side meat, but I hate committees. I declare, Miss Nettie, I'll never be on a committee as long as I live!"
There never was anyone in the whole world who was so good and so tender and so eager to help when anyone was sick, as Mama. She did exactly as the doctor told her to do. She never forgot a dose due to be given. She was never too busy to put cold cloths on a person's head. She would read, if anyone's pain could stand it, for hours and hours and hours. Joking with her, they would call her Doctor Rose, and say she should have been a doctor.
But Mama hated illness. Mama thought illness was a disgrace. Mama was never sick, nor Papa, nor Bianca, nor Wallie, nor Lovey, nor Annie, nor Allan. Of course, there was that terrible time when Bianca and Wallie had had typhoid fever, had nearly died of it. But that was different. That was because the water was bad. That was because there was no sewage system. That was because of the invariable open privies. That was because of dirty streets, and open gutters running with filth.
Yes, that was different. She was different. She had headaches. Headaches that made her almost blind with pain. She had headaches first sometimes, and then many times, and then all the time. Most of the time they were headaches just in her head, but sometimes she had headaches that made her throw up. The throwing-up kind, in the last two years, came a day or two days before she had to recite a poem or a speech by some great man. The strange thing about the throwing-up kind was that they came two days or one day before the recitation. When she actually had to stand up on the platform she was all right. And a funny thing about the headaches was that when her head was aching she never cried, she who cried so often. The pain never made her cry.
And Mama was ashamed. When Mama had to write a note to the teacher to say she had been unable to come to school, Mama never would say why. Mama would make any sort of excuse except the true one. Finally, nearly two years ago, a note had been sent to Mrs. Lukens, a sort of blanket excuse to cover any number of days or parts of days out of school.
Miss Nettie knew. She had told Miss Nettie, and Miss Nettie was so sorry, and said they would make up all the missed arithmetic lessons. Miss Nettie was so very sorry that the spectacles had not done any good, nor the turning pole for gymnastic exercises Papa had had built in the back yard, nor the bromides Dr. Eaton had tried and tried, nor the massage, nor anything. Nothing had done any good. Her head, now, ached all the time.
And Mama was ashamed. And Dr. Eaton said we'd try taking her out of school, and keeping her from reading, and keep her out of doors all the time—and see. For there did not seem to be anything physically the matter. For all that anyone could see she was a completely normal girl. And her head ached. Dr. Eaton said he'd read about some scientist who was working on a machine that would let doctors see right inside a person, but it was not invented yet.
Then how she cried. She liked school, she loved Miss Nettie.
"But you're going to lose Miss Nettie," said Mama. "Didn't you tell us that some cousins or somebody of Miss Nettie's are coming to take her to the country to live with them as soon as school is out?"
"Then, at least, can't I stay in school until it's out and Miss Nettie's gone?"
"We won't say exactly which day you have to stop," said Papa. "You are a big girl now. You shall choose your own day."
This was her third year in school. This was the fifth grade she'd been in; the third and the lower fifth and the upper fifth and the lower sixth and the upper sixth. All the time McGuffey's Readers were more and more lovely to read in. Arithmetic was worse and worse, in spite of Miss Nettie's trying. Arithmetic was just not to be learned. There was that time when Mama told her to go to the store and bring home two boxes of strawberries if they were not more than two-for-a-quarter. And she went to the store and asked Mr. Dewees about strawberries and he said 10õ a quart. And she said, "Mama told me to pay two-for-a-quarter. Can't I have two-for-a-quarter, Mr. Dewees?" And Mr. Dewees said, "Well," and gave them to her, with a smile, she thought with a rather funny smile, two-for-a-quarter. Why did he smile like that? she wondered. Arithmetic was just not to be learned. But spelling was easy and history was exciting, and geography was always interesting.
Miss Henrietta was the teacher of the Upper Sixth. Miss Henrietta was not a pretty lady. She was short and dumpy, and her face was exactly like a pug dog's. Sometimes, when she did not like a person, Miss Henrietta could be unkind. Miss Nettie did not think Miss Henrietta meant to be unkind, Miss Nettie thought maybe Miss Henrietta was unhappy, and said things and did things she would not have said or done if she had been happy. Miss Nettie was too good and sweet to think anyone ever meant to be unkind.
"Oh, Miss Nettie, I am so mad! Do you know what Miss Henrietta did to me today? It was geography examination, and she had put me in the back of the room, because of my... because maybe the light would be easier for my... Anyhow, I was sitting way in the back of the room, right behind Will Long, with his great big old broad back and tallness and everything, to see if that place in the room would be better for me, for my... And there were nine questions, that came right down to the bottom of the blackboard, easy ones, and I wrote them all out, and folded my paper and signed it, and took it up to Miss Henrietta at her desk. And you know, Miss Nettie, just before I handed it to her, I looked over toward the blackboard where the questions were, and right down at the very bottom, was another question! No. 10. What is a volcano? And I said, 'Oh, Miss Henrietta, there's another question that I couldn't see, sitting behind Will Long. I'll go back and write it.'
"And Miss Henrietta would not let me! Miss Henrietta said I had folded my paper and signed it, and I couldn't unfold it and go back and write what was a volcano. And I said, 'Miss Henrietta, you know I know what a volcano is.' And she said, 'Hand me your paper.' So I had to hand it to her. So now that'll take ten off my paper, so I'll only get 80 on my examination, won't I? And if she'd let me put in what was a volcano I'd have had 100. Isn't she mean, Miss Nettie? You know she's mean."
* * * * *
The history lesson was on the treason of Benedict Arnold and the capture and execution of Major André. She was enraptured with the wickedness of it, and the tragedy of it and the sadness of it. In addition to the matter in the school history she had been reading about it in Redpath's History of the World which Papa had just bought for her, and the brand new edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica that he had bought.
Two days before she had had to leave school because of her head and had been lying on her bed, thinking about Major André.
When Papa came home to supper and found her on the bed, he sat down beside her and said, "Look, now, there are only four more weeks of school. Don't you think you've had time enough to think about it and that now is as good a time as any to stop? Mama and I feel just as bad about your having to stop as you do, but after all, you ought to try the doctor's way, and he wants you to stop everything. Can't you make up your mind to tell Miss Nettie goodbye, and give it up for a year or so? Maybe then..."
So she was lying on her bed and thinking about Major André, and then she was asleep.
And in the morning, her head was not, for a miracle, aching. She dressed. She ate her breakfast. She walked to school. Perhaps a kind fairy would wave her wand and let her be free of pain so that she could stay with Miss Nettie until the last day. Then she would stop. For a whole year. Then her headaches would end and she would go to high school. She could not know that there was no kind fairy, nor that for three whole years she would never go inside a school door again, nor ever, ever go to high school at all.
The history lesson was on the treason of Benedict Arnold and...
Miss Henrietta asked her, "Where was the traitor Arnold on the day André was captured?"
She stood up to recite. In spite of many and hideous occasions when, carried away by her interest and enthusiasm, she had overstretched the limits of the specific question asked, she proceeded to recite the entire lesson.
Miss Henrietta fumed, enraged. Chester Richmond grinned. He was next in line, and would merely have had to repeat something she had said.
Miss Henrietta said, "Come to the desk!"
She walked forward and stood in front of the teacher's platform.
"You think you are very smart. You think because you can read a page and remember it almost word for word, that you can take possession of the time of this class, prevent the others from having to learn their lessons, and parrot-like make an exhibition of yourself whenever you feel the urge. It never occurs to you that there is such a thing as thinking. That is why you cannot learn arithmetic. But let me tell you that memory is the lowest faculty of the brain, and that memory is the only brain faculty you possess. The class is dismissed."
It was the noon hour. Very silently the boys and girls left the room and clattered, for once silent, down the stairs.
She went to her desk, took out all her things, shoved them into her bag, walked forward, and again stood before Miss Henrietta's desk.
"Miss Henrietta, if you had been kind you would have said all those things to me by myself. I did not mean to tell the whole lesson, I did it because I was so fascinated. But you have been cruel to me before today, Miss Henrietta, and before I go I want to tell you just one thing, and this is it. Miss Henrietta, I forgive you."
She turned from Miss Henrietta's desk and Miss Henrietta's sour face, and walked back through the room into Miss Agnes' room, and through to the steps leading down to the first floor and the McCallie Avenue door, and turned right and went into Miss Nettie's room. No one was there, everyone gone home to dinner. She stood and looked at Miss Nettie's room, at the dusty blackboards, and the cracks and the streaks of the whitewashed walls, deeper cracks and dirtier streaks than they had worn three years ago.
She walked down the aisle, just touching the desks, pausing at the one that had been hers, standing for a little while in front of Miss Nettie's table, and just touching that too, with a forefinger packed with love. How happy she had been in that room. How precious had been her afternoon sessions with Miss Nettie, when all the children were gone, and she had tried so hard to learn that 7 times 8 are really 56, instead of any other entirely meaningless combination of entirely meaningless symbols. How she had loved the poetry-learning times, the pieces she was to recite, the thrill and the rapture of splendid thoughts wrapped round with beautiful, melodious words that carried their meaning right into her heart.
She went out of Miss Nettie's room, to the Douglas Street door, past the cedar water bucket sitting on its stool, past fat William sitting on the top step, down the two steps, down the path to the gate, down Douglas Street to Vine, home.
At dinner time she said, "Papa and Mama, I have something to say. This morning I stopped school. I brought all my things home. At closing time until school ends, I'm going to walk up to school to be with Miss Nettie and walk part way home with her. But now I'm through school and you have your wish."
* * * * *
All day rain had been falling hard, but now it had stopped, and in the late afternoon she opened the front door and stepped on the porch.
Over the rim of Cameron Hill the blazing red disk of the sun seemed to pause as it hovered. On the dark evergreens every tip was spangled with a diamond drop. Every blade of grass was topped by a jewel of liquid crystal. Every shrub and bush was laden with gleaming water drops, shaken off as each one straightened and raised itself to its standing posture. The leaves upon the young trees were sheathed in greenish-golden light, she thought, "of purest ray serene." The hills across the River rose in serried, green ranks, shining and fresh; back and back toward the North until they were lost in the far blue of Walden's Ridge. At the east rose Missionary Ridge, its sides strewn with streaks of tattered gray-blue mist. And between flowed the River, splendid, silent, rapid and deep. In the sky floated wisps of baby-white fleeces of cloud, and above shone the arc of the sky, blue and tender.
She thought, I have never seen anything so lovely, and I must remember it always. I have never seen such red, such green, such gold, such white, such blue. Miss Nettie. Oh, how I wish I could see Miss Nettie tomorrow, to ask her whether she had anything like this in the country where she's gone to live. Perhaps she saw it. Perhaps she saw it and thought of me. I wish she did. Oh, I wish, I wish she did.
—Ernestine Noa Davis
* From The History of Hamilton County and Chattanooga, Tennessee by Zella Armstrong: "Rev. William Mowbray, who became rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in 1869, established a parish school in the rear of the Church which was then located on Chestnut and West Eighth Streets. The teachers were: Professors Gordon and Ruth, and Miss Nettie Seymour." In the history of Bayside Elementary School in Virginia Beach, Virginia: "Bayside Elementary School's rich history began with a log cabin headed by Reverend Joseph H. Hall. In 1911, the school moved to the W.E. Biddle School, a wooden building located on Independence Boulevard. The school was later renamed The Bayside School. At that time, the two teachers were Nettie Seymour and Agnes Hatchett." I do not know if these two people are the same, but one can surmise that at least the first is the same woman described by Miss Noa.(back)
** From the Tennessee 1880 census: "Agnes Putnam, Chattanooga, Hamilton County. She is a teacher 23 MS OH GA. She lives with her married sister Carrie Morrison 24 TN OH GA and husband Robert Morrison a druggist 26 TN. They are daughters of Waldo Washington Putnam and Elizabeth Jane Smith. Waldo died in 1864 shortly after returning from Mississipi. He was a son of Albigence Waldo Putnam from Marietta Ohio. Agnes will be back in Coffee County with her widowed mother in 1900 and then will go to Mississippi with her nephew Putnam Morrison and be there in Vicksburg in 1920 and in 1930. Putnam Morrison is with this family and is 3 TN. Massachusetts family." A Miss Agnes Putnam received a "certificate of promotion" in the Chattanooga Peabody Institute on August 21, 1896. (back)