Aunt Thankful by M. H.

SHE was our school teacher, a little bit of a woman, hardly larger than a good-sized doll. She had moved into our village years before I was born; for so I heard the folks say, I don’t know how many times. Nobody seemed to know where she came from. She had no relatives—at least, none called to see her or to visit her. Once or twice, as I grew older, I heard dark hints whispered about Aunt Thankful, about her having left her early home to get away from unpleasant memories, but no whisper against her character. She was a good woman, a Christian woman—only the people called her odd.

But everybody loved her. In sickness or health, in trouble or joy, in prosperity or adversity, everybody was sure they could depend upon assistance and sympathy, if needed, from Aunt Thankful. She was always ready to extend her helping hand, always ready to do a generous act. She was ever true to herself as well as to her neighbors. Perhaps that was the reason why the world called her odd. If so, how earnestly I wish there were a great many more odd folks!

Aunt Thankful lived many years in the village before she began to keep school. I remember how funny she used to look as she came down the street towards the school-house. She was so small that I should not have been astonished to see her driving a hoop to school.

Then she wore her spectacles in such a funny way! What use they were to her, I never could discover. If she looked at the scholars in the school-house, she looked over the glasses; if she was reading or writing, she looked under them. I have often heard boys, who were considered truthful, declare that on no occasion was she ever known to look through them.

 But what made Aunt Thankful so popular with the children was her kind manner and her kinder words. Somehow or other she used to like the poor and the friendless children the best. That was quite a puzzle to me at first. We usually pay most attention to such as are well off, and prosperous, and dressed nicely. But not so was it with Aunt Thankful. She took sides always with the weak and the down-trodden. I have seen her mend many an apron, many a torn dress worn by a poor scholar, during school hours. She did it, too, in such a kind way, that it made one forget that they were poor. That was because she was ODD, you know.

As I grew up, I began to understand more of this good lady’s character than I ever dreamed when I went to school. I saw things in a different light, as it were. And for her many good acts, from the fact that she was about my first school teacher, I do not think I shall ever forget her.

There is another reason why I shall never forget Aunt Thankful. Perhaps I had better tell you about it. She kept our village school one summer; I think it must have been the second or third year I went to school. Anyhow, I was in one of the lower classes.

The school-house was a little box of a thing, hardly bigger than a decent-sized shed. There was only one room in the building. The teacher sat upon a small platform on one side, while the seats for the scholars were raised, one above the other, on the opposite side. Over the teacher’s desk was a little square window, looking out upon the horse shed in the rear.

It was a hot summer forenoon, and the windows were all open; the morning lessons had been completed. Aunt Thankful sat writing at her desk, now and then casting her eyes round the school-room, to see that everything was in order. But there was mischief brewing. The children were waiting impatiently for noon recess, and more than one of them were having a quiet whisper or giggle all by themselves.

All at once some of the children saw the mischievous face of a monkey peeping in at the little back window behind the teacher’s desk. Of course those who saw such an unusual sight laughed outright, greatly to the astonishment of Aunt Thankful.

Rap! rap! rap! went her ruler upon the desk, as a signal for quiet. At the noise the monkey dodged out of sight in a moment, and soon the children were restored to order. Aunt Thankful went on writing.

To explain so unusual a sight, I ought to say that a strolling organ man, with a monkey, had been in the village that day. He had stopped in the shed behind the school-house to eat his dinner. Accidentally, he had fallen asleep; and his monkey, being of an inquisitive turn, had got loose, and was exploring on his own account. He carried a part of his chain upon his neck all the while, and somehow or other he had climbed up to the little square window, as related.

Aunt Thankful went on writing. But soon the monkey appeared again over her head, turning his funny little face to one side and the other, showing his teeth, grinning, and going through other performances. This time the laughing was louder than before, because more children saw the show. I must record here that a funnier sight I never have witnessed.

The teacher looked up once more, and rapped on her desk quite indignantly. “James Collins,” she said, with severe authority, “come here, this moment. If you cannot sit in your seat without laughing, come and stand by me. You, too, Walter, and Solomon. And you, Martha  Hapgood. I am astonished at your conduct.”

The recusant children ranged themselves before the teacher, who seemed to think she had now quenched the rebellion. I noticed that they managed to stand so they could have a good view of the window, as if they expected, or even hoped for, another occasion for laughing.

And they didn’t wait long, either. In a minute or two the monkey appeared for the third time; and on this occasion he came wholly into sight, chain and all, and began to dance up and down in his peculiar way, bowing and nodding to the spectators. By this time all the children had found out—by the usual school telegraph, I suppose—what was going on, and joined in a loud and universal laugh.

“Sakes alive!” exclaimed Aunt Thankful, jumping up and seizing her ruler; “what’s got into the children?” Whether the monkey thought the flourish which the teacher’s ruler took was a signal for a fight or not, I never knew; but certain it is he began to scream and shake his chain. The children laughed louder than ever. Aunt Thankful turned round, saw what the trouble was, and raised her hands. The monkey construed this as an act of war, and with a single jump landed on the desk. Here for a few moments he made the papers fly pretty nimbly. He upset the inkstand, scattered the sandbox and pens, screaming all the while like mad. After he had experimented long enough, he gave another jump out of the window; and that was the last we saw of him.

Aunt Thankful looked as white as a sheet. She was taken by surprise, and seemed really frightened.

“Marcy on us,” she said, as soon as she could find words, “what a dreadful creature! You may go to your seats, children; I guess you can be excused for laughing.”

The poor lady proceeded to pick up her papers, and set matters to rights. It was quite a task. The ink had run over all her papers and into her desk. For years after, that ink spot was pointed out by the children to the new comers, and the story of the monkey had to be related.

Before noon the organ grinder had wakened from his after-dinner sleep, and finding out that his monkey had been into mischief, concluded that it was best to be off. He was not seen in the village any more.

Aunt Thankful kept school afterwards for several years, and then age compelled her to give up her office. About that time, and just when she wanted it most, one of the inhabitants of our village left her three thousand dollars in his will, as a “mark of his esteem.” Surely never was charity more properly bestowed, or more gratefully received. I don’t think there was a person in the world who envied her the gift, or thought it undeserved.