A Story of School Life by
"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
"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
"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
"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.
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.
"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
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
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
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?"
"How did you get money enough to pay for a year's board and tuition
"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
"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
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
"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
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.
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
"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.
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.