A Story of School Life by Unknown

[Illustration]

"Oh, girls! I shall just die, I know I shall!" exclaimed Belle Burnette, going off into a hysterical fit of laughter, which she vainly pretended to smother behind an elegant lace edged handkerchief.

"What is it, you provoking thing! Why don't you tell us, so we can laugh too?"

"Well—you—see," she gasped out at last, "we've got a new pupil—the queerest looking thing you ever saw. I happened to be in madam's room when she came. She came in the stage, and had a mite of an old-fashioned hair trunk, not much bigger than a band-box, and she came into madam's room with a funny little basket in her hand, and sat down as if she had come to stay forever.

"'Are you Madam Gazin?' she asked.

"'Yes,' replied the teacher, 'that is my name.'

"'Well, I've come to stay a year at your school.'

[Illustration: "That is just the amount, I believe."]

"And then she pulled a handkerchief out of her basket, and unrolled it till she found an old leather wallet, and actually took out $250 and laid it in madam's hand, as she said:—

"That is just the amount, I believe; will you please give me a receipt for it?'

"You never saw madam look so surprised. She actually didn't know what to say for a minute, but she gave her the receipt, asked a few more questions, and had her taken to No. 10, and there she is now, this very minute."

"Well, what was there so funny about all that?"

"Why, this: she has red hair, tucked into a black net, and looks just like a fright, every way. She had on a brown delaine dress, without a sign of a ruffle, or trimming of any kind, and the shabbiest hat and shawl you ever saw. You'll laugh, too, when you see her."

Belle Burnette was an only child, and her wealthy father was pleased to gratify her every whim. So, besides being far too elegantly dressed for a schoolgirl, she was supplied with plenty of pocket money, and being very generous and full of life and fun, she was the acknowledged leader among madam's pupils.

When the tea bell rang, the new-comer was escorted to the dining-room, and introduced to her schoolmates as Miss Fannie Comstock. She had exchanged her brown delaine for a plain, calico dress, with a bit of white edging about the neck.

[Illustration: "That is just the amount, I believe</i>."]

She did look rather queer, with her small, thin, freckled face, and her red hair brushed straight back from her face, and hidden as much as possible under a large, black net, and but for the presence of madam, her first reception would have been exceedingly unpleasant. She was shy and awkward, and evidently ill at ease among so many strangers.

As soon as possible, she hastened back to the seclusion of her own room. The next day she was examined, and assigned to her place in the different classes, and to the surprise of all, she was far in advance of those of her age.

But this did not awaken the respect of her schoolmates as it should have done. On the contrary, Belle Burnette and her special friends were highly indignant about it, and at once began a series of petty annoyances, whenever it was safe to do so. This kept poor Fannie miserable, indeed, although she seemed to take no notice of it.

A few weeks passed by. Her lessons were always perfectly recited. She made no complaint of the slights and sneers of her companions, but kept out of their way as much as possible. Her thin face grew paler, however, and there were dark rings about her eyes. A watchful friend would have seen that all these things were wearing cruelly upon her young life.

One day the very spirit of wickedness seemed let loose among the girls. Madam was away, and the other teachers were busy in their rooms. Fannie had been out for a walk and was near the door of her room, when a dozen or more of the girls surrounded her, clasping hands together so she was a prisoner in their midst.

For a moment she begged piteously to be released, but they only laughed the more, and began walking around and around, singing something which Belle had composed,—cruel, miserable, insulting words.

She stood for an instant, pale and still, then, with a piercing cry, she burst through the ring, rushed into her own room, closed and locked the door. Through their wild peals of laughter, the girls heard a strange moan and a heavy fall.

[Illustration: "<i>She begged piteously to be released</i>."]

"I believe she has fainted," said Belle.

"What shall we do?" questioned another.

For a moment they stood there sober enough; then one of them ran for the matron, and told her that Fanny Comstock had fainted in her room, and that the door was locked.

The matron ordered a long ladder put to the window, and sent the janitor to see if it was true. Fortunately the window was open, and in a few moments he had unlocked the door from the inside. The girls were huddled together in a frightened group, while madam lifted the poor girl and laid her upon her bed. She was in violent spasms.

The doctor was sent for, but when the spasms ceased, alarming symptoms set in, and he pronounced it a serious case of brain fever. It is impossible to tell the shame and remorse of the conscience-stricken girls.

They were not brave enough to confess their guilt, but hung around the sick room offering their services, vainly wishing that they might atone for it in some way. But their presence only excited the poor sufferer, so that they were all sent away.

Day after day passed, and still the young sufferer raved in violent delirium.

[Illustration: <i>In the Sick Room</i>]

But amid all her wild ravings not a word of complaint at the ill treatment she had received ever escaped her lips.

The little hair trunk was searched to find some clue to her friends, but there was nothing found in it but the plainest, scantiest supply of clothes.

Day after day the doctor came, looking grave and anxious, and at last the crisis came. For many hours she lay as if dead, and not a sound was permitted to disturb the silence, while anxious watchers waited to see whether she would live or die.

At last she opened her eyes; and the suspense was relieved by an assuring word from the doctor, that with careful nursing she would soon be well again. But her convalescence was slow and tedious.

Her former tormentors dared not even yet show the true courage to confess what they had done, but they daily sent little bouquets of fragrant flowers and many delicacies to tempt her returning appetite. Her eyes would light up with surprise and pleasure at the little gifts.

One day madam was sitting by her side, and as Fanny seemed to be much stronger, she ventured to ask after her friends.

"I have no friends, madam, only cousin John who has a large family of his own, and has never cared for me. Mother died when I was born. I had a step-mother, but father died five years after, and I've taken care of myself ever since."

"And you are only fifteen now?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"How did you get money enough to pay for a year's board and tuition here?"

[Illustration: "<i>I used to fix a book open on my
loom</i>."]

"I earned it all madam, every cent of it. As soon as I was big enough I went into a factory, and earned two dollars a week at first, and finally three dollars and a half; and I worked for my board nights and mornings."

"Poor child!"

"Oh no, ma'am, I was very glad to do it."

"But how did you keep along so well with your studies?"

"I used to fix a book open on my loom, where I could catch a sentence now and then, and the overseer did not object, because I always did my work well. You see, madam, I wanted to be a teacher sometime, and I'd have a better chance to learn here than anywhere else, so I determined to do it."

"What are your plans for the long vacation?"

"I must go back to the factory and earn enough to get some warmer clothes for the winter. You see, madam, why I can't afford to dress better."

Madam's heart was full. She bent over the white, thin, little face, and kissed it reverently.

That evening, when the girls gathered in the chapel for worship, she told Fannie's story. There was not a dry eye in the room. The moment madam finished, Belle Burnette sprang up with the tears coursing down her cheeks, and said:—

"Oh, madam! We have been awfully cruel and wicked to that poor girl. We have made fun of her from the first, and she would not have been sick as she was if we had not tormented her almost to death. I was the most to blame.

"It was I that led on the rest, and we have suffered terribly all these weeks, fearing she might die. You may expel me, or punish me in any way you please; for I deserve it; and I shall go down on my knees to ask her pardon, as soon as you will let me see her."

"My child, I am shocked to hear this. I can scarcely believe that any of my pupils would ill-treat a companion because she was so unfortunate as to be plain and poor. But you have made a noble confession, and I forgive you as freely as I believe she will, when she knows how truly you have repented of your unkindness."

By degrees, as she was able to bear it, one after another went to Fannie and begged her forgiveness, which was freely granted. She said:—

"I don't wonder you made fun of me. I know I was poorly dressed, and awful homely. I would have pulled every hair out of my head long ago only I knew it would grow out as red as ever. But, oh! if I could have felt that I had just one friend among you all I could have borne it; but somehow it just broke my heart to have you all turn against me."

After this she gained rapidly, and one fine morning the doctor said she might join the girls in the drawing room for an hour before tea. There had been a vast deal of whispering and hurrying to and fro of late, among the girls, of which Fannie had been totally unconscious.

At the appointed time, madam herself came to assist her, and leaning upon her strong arm, the young girl walked feebly through the long hall and down the stairs.

"My dear, the girls have planned a little surprise for you, to make the hour as pleasant as possible."

She opened the door and seated Fannie in an easy chair, as the girls came gliding in, with smiling faces, singing a sweet song of welcome. At its close Belle Burnette approached and placed a beautiful wreath of flowers upon her head, saying:—

"Dear Fannie, we crown you our queen to-day, knowing well how far above us all you are in His sight, who looketh upon the heart instead of the outward appearance. You have taught us a lesson we shall never forget, and we beg you to accept a token of sincere love and repentance for our treatment of you in the past, which you will find in your room on your return."

Fannie's eyes were full of tears, and she tried to say a word in reply, but madam spoke for her, and after another song, they followed their newly crowned queen to the dining-room, where a most tempting feast was laid in honor of the occasion.

Fannie was quietly, tearfully happy through it all, yet so wearied with the unusual excitement that madam said she must not see the girl's "peace offering" that night.

The first thing she saw the next morning was a fine large trunk, and lying upon it a card: "For Miss Fannie Comstock, from her teacher and schoolmates." Opening it, she saw that it was packed full of newly folded garments, but she had no time to examine the contents until after breakfast, when they left her alone with her wonderful gifts.

There were pretty dresses and sacques, a fine new parasol, gloves and ribbons, cuffs and collars in abundance—indeed, everything that a young schoolgirl could possibly need. Every one of madam's two hundred and ten pupils had contributed from their choicest and best, to furnish a complete outfit for their less favored mate.

[Illustration: <i>"On the floor, crying like a baby."</i>]

At the bottom was a well-filled writing desk, an album containing all their pictures, and a pretty purse containing $5, and the following note from madam:—

"MY DEAR CHILD: This shall be a receipt in full for all expenses, during whatever time you may choose to remain in the seminary. This I present you as a sincere token of my love and respect.

"JEANNETTE GAZIN."

They found her at dinner time on the floor, surrounded by her new treasures, crying-like a baby; but it did her good. She was soon able to begin her studies once more, and was ever afterward treated with kindness and consideration, even though all her hair came out and left her head bald as her face, so that she had to wear a queer cap-like wig for many weeks.

When the long vacation arrived, Belle carried her off to her beautiful home on the Hudson, where for the first time in her life she was surrounded with beauty and luxury on every side, and was treated as a loved and honored guest.

It was not long before the hateful wig was cast aside, and Fannie's head was covered with a profusion of dark auburn curls, which were indeed a crown of glory that made her face almost beautiful.

Gentle, loving, and beloved by all, she remained in the seminary until she graduated with honor, after which madam offered her the position of head teacher, with a most liberal salary, which she gratefully accepted.