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Bert Lloyd's Boyhood
Chapter XI. School Life at Mr. Garrison's

BERT had not been long at Mr. Garrison’s school before he discovered that it was conducted on what might fairly be described as “go-as-you-please” principles. A sad lack of system was its chief characteristic. He meant well enough by his pupils, and was constantly making spurts in the direction of reform and improvement, but as often falling back into the old irregular ways.

The fact of the matter was that he not only was not a schoolmaster by instinct, but he had no intention of being one by profession. He had simply adopted teaching as a temporary expedient to tide over a financial emergency, and intended to drop it so soon as his object was accomplished. His heart was in his profession, not in his school, and the work of teaching was at best an irksome task, to be got through with each day as quickly as possible. Had Mr. Lloyd fully understood this, he would never have placed Bert there. But he did not; and, moreover, he was interested in young Mr. Garrison, who had had many difficulties to encounter in making his way, and he wished to help him.

In the first place, Mr. Garrison kept no record of attendance, either of the whole school, or of the different classes into which it was divided. A boy might come in an hour after the proper time, or be away for a whole day without either his lateness or his absence being observed. As a consequence “meeching”—that is, taking a holiday without leave from either parents or teacher—was shamefully common. Indeed, there was hardly a day that one or more boys did not “meech.” If by any chance they were missed, it was easy to get out of the difficulty by making some excuse about having been sick, or mother having kept them at home to do some work, and so forth. Schoolboys are always fertile in excuses, and, only too often, indifferent as to the quantity of truth these may contain.

Another curious feature of Mr. Garrison’s system, or rather lack of system, was that he kept no record of the order of standing in the classes; and so, when the class in geography, for instance, was called to recite, the boys would come tumbling pell-mell out of their seats, and crowd tumultuously to the space in front of the desk, with the invariable result that the smaller boys would be sent to the bottom of the class, whether they deserved to be there or not. Then as to the hearing of the lesson, there was absolutely no rule about it. Sometimes the questions would be divided impartially among the whole class. Sometimes they would all be asked of a single boy, and if he happened to answer correctly,—which, however, was an extremely rare occurrence,—the class would be dismissed without one of the others being questioned.

Another peculiarity of Mr. Garrison’s was his going out on business for an hour or more at a time, and leaving the school in charge of one of the older boys, who would exercise the authority thus conferred upon him in a lax and kindly, or severe and cruel manner, according to his disposition. One of the boys generally chosen for this duty was a big, good-hearted fellow named Munro; another was an equally big, but sour-dispositioned chap named Siteman; and whenever Mr. Garrison showed signs of going out, there was always intense excitement among the boys, to see who would be appointed monitor, and lively satisfaction, or deep disappointment, according to the choice made.

It was a little while, of course, before Bert found all this out, and in the meantime he made good headway in the school, because his father took care that his lessons were well learned every evening before he went to bed; and Mr. Garrison soon discovered that whoever else might fail, there was one boy in Bert’s classes that could be depended upon for a right answer, and that was Bert himself.

There was another person who noticed Bert’s ready accuracy, and that was “Shorty” Bowser.

“Say, Bert,” said he one day, “how is it that you always have your lessons down so fine? You never seem to trip up at all.”

“Because father always sees that I learn ’em,” answered Bert. “If I don’t learn ’em in the evening, I’ve got to do it before breakfast in the morning.”

“I wish my dad ’ud do as much for me; but he don’t seem to care a cent whether I ever learn ’em or not,” said poor Shorty, ruefully. For he was pretty sure to miss two out of every three questions asked him, and Mr. Garrison thought him one of his worst scholars.

“Won’t your mother help you, then?” asked Bert, with interest.

“Got no mother,” was the reply, while Shorty’s eyes shone suspiciously. “Mother’s been dead this good while.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” said Bert, in tones of genuine sympathy that went right to Frank Bowser’s heart, and greatly strengthened the liking he had felt from the first for his new schoolmate.

It was not long before he gave proof of what he thought of Bert in a very practical way. They were for the most part in the same classes, and it soon became evident that Shorty felt very proud of his friend’s accuracy at recitation. That he should remain at the foot while Bert worked his way up steadily toward the head of the class, did not arouse the slightest feeling of jealousy in his honest heart; but, on the contrary, a frank admiration that did him infinite credit.

But it was just the other way with Bob Brandon, an overgrown, lanky boy, who seemed to have taken a dislike to Bert from the first, and seized every opportunity of acting disagreeably toward him. Being so much smaller, Bert had to endure his slights as best he could, but he found it very hard, and particularly so that Bob should prevent him from getting his proper place in his class. Again and again would Bert pass Bob, who, indeed, rarely knew his lessons ; but so sure as the class reassembled, Bob would roughly shoulder his way toward the top and Bert would have to take a lower position, unless Mr. Garrison happened to notice what was taking place and readjusted matters, which, however, did not often occur.

This sort of thing had been going on for some time, until at last one day Bert felt so badly over it that when he went back to his seat he buried his head in his hands and burst out crying, much to the surprise of Shorty, who at once leaned over and asked, with much concern:

“What’s the matter, Bert? Missed your lesson?” Bert checked his tears and told his trouble.

“Sho! that’s what’s the matter, hey? I guess I’ll fix Bob as sure as my name’s Bowser.”

“What’ll you do?” asked Bert. “Tell the master?”

“No, sir. No tattling for me,” replied Shorty, vigorously. “I’ll just punch his head for him, see if I don’t.”

And he was as good as his word. Immediately after the dismissal of the school, while the boys still lingered on the playground, Shorty stalked up to Bob Brandon, and told him if he didn’t stop shoving Bert Lloyd out of his proper place in the classes he would punch his head. Whereat Bob Brandon laughed contemptuously, and was rewarded with a blow on the face that fairly made him stagger. Then, of course, there was a fight, the boys forming a ring around the combatants, and Bert holding his champion’s coat and hat, and hardly knowing whether to cry or to cheer. The fight did not last long. Bob was the taller, but Frank the stouter of the two. Bob, like most bullies, was a coward, but Frank was as plucky as he was strong. Burning with righteous wrath, Frank went at his opponent hammer and tongs, and after a few minutes’ ineffective parrying and dodging, the latter actually ran out of the ring, thoroughly beaten, leaving Frank in possession of the field, to receive the applause of his companions, and particularly of Bert, who gave him a warm hug, saying gratefully:

“Dear, good Shorty. I’m so glad you beat him.”

That fight united the two boys in firmer bonds of friendship than ever, especially as it proved quite effective so far as Bob Brandon was concerned, as he needed no other lesson. It was curious how Bert and Frank reacted upon one another. At first the influence proceeded mainly from Bert to Frank, the latter being much impressed by his friend’s attention to his lessons and good behaviour in school, and somewhat stirred up to emulate these virtues. But after Bert had been going to the school for some little time, and the novelty had all worn off, he began to lose some of his ardour and to imitate Frank’s happy-go-lucky carelessness. Instead of being one of the first boys in the school of a morning, he would linger and loiter on the playground until he would be among those who were the last to take their places. He also began to take less interest in his lessons, and in his standing in the classes, and but for the care exercised at home would have gone to school very ill prepared.

Frank Bowser was not by any means a bad boy. He had been carelessly brought up, and was by nature of rather a reckless disposition, but he generally preferred right to wrong, and could, upon the whole, be trusted to behave himself under ordinary circumstances, at all events. His influence upon Bert, while it certainly would not help him much, would not harm him seriously. He did get him into trouble one day, however, in a way that Bert was long in forgetting.

The winter had come, and over in one corner of the playground was a slide of unusual length and excellence, upon which the Garrison boys had fine times every day before and after school. Coming up one morning early, on purpose to enjoy this slide, Bert was greatly disappointed to find it in possession of a crowd of roughs from the upper streets, who clearly intended to keep it all to themselves so long as they pleased. While Bert, standing at a safe distance, was watching the usurpers with longing eyes, Shorty came up, and, taking in the situation, said:

“Let ’em alone, Bert; I know of another slide just as good, a couple of squares off. Let’s go over there.”

“But, isn’t it most school time?” objected Bert.

“Why, no,” replied Shorty. “There’s ten minutes yet. Come along.” And thus assured, Bert complied.

The slide was farther away than Shorty had said, but proved to be very good when they did reach it, and they enjoyed it so much that the time slipped away unheeded, until presently the town clock on the hill above them boomed out ten, in notes of solemn warning.

“My sakes!” exclaimed Bert, in alarm. “There’s ten o’clock. What will we do?”

“Guess we’d better not go to school at all. Mr. Garrison will never miss us,” suggested Shorty.

“Do you mean to meech?” asked Bert, with some indignation.

“That’s about it,” was the reply. “What’s the harm?”

“Why, you know it ain’t right; I’m not going to do it if you are.” And Bert really meant what he said.

But, as luck would have it, on their way back to the school, what should they meet but that spectacle, one of the most attractive of the winter’s sights in the eyes of a Halifax schoolboy, a fireman’s sleigh drive. Driving gaily along the street, between lines of spectators, came sleigh after sleigh, drawn by four, six, or even eight carefully matched and brightly decked horses, and filled to overflowing with the firemen and their fair friends, while bands of music played merry tunes, to which the horses seemed to step in time.

Bert and Shorty had of course to stop and see this fine sight, and it chanced that when it was about one-half passed, one of the big eight horse teams got tangled up with a passing sleigh, and a scene of confusion ensued that took a good while to set right. When at length all was straightened out, and the procession of sleighs had passed, Shorty asked a gentleman to tell him the time.

“Five minutes to eleven, my lad,” was the startling reply.

Shorty looked significantly at Bert. “Most too late now, don’t you think?”

Bert hesitated. He shrank from the ordeal of entering the crowded schoolroom, and being detected and punished by Mr. Garrison, in the presence of all the others. Yet he felt that it would be better to do that than not go to school at all—in other words, meech.

“Oh, come along, Bert,” said Shorty; “old Garrison can do without us to-day.”

Still Bert stood irresolute.

“Let’s go down and see the big steamer that came in last night,” persisted Shorty, who was determined not to go to school, and to keep Bert from going too.

Yielding more to Shorty’s influence than to the attraction of the steamer, Bert gave way, and spent the rest of the morning playing about, until it was the usual time for going home.

He said nothing at home about what he had done, and the next morning went back to school, hoping, with all his heart, that his absence had not been noted, and that no questions would be asked.

But it was not to be.

Soon after the opening of the school when all were assembled and quiet obtained, Mr. Garrison sent a thrill of expectation through the boys by calling out, in severe tones, while his face was clouded with anger:

“Frank Bowser and Cuthbert Lloyd come to the desk.”

With pale faces and drooping heads the boys obeyed, Frank whispering in Bert’s car as they went up:

“Tell him you were kept at home.”

Trembling in every nerve, the two culprits stood before their teacher. Mr. Garrison was evidently much incensed. A spasm of reform had seized him. His eyes had been opened to the prevalence of “meeching,” and he determined to put a stop to it by making an example of the present offenders. He had missed them both from school the day before, and suspected the cause.

“Young gentlemen,” said he, in his most chilling tones, “you were absent yesterday. Have you any reason to give?”

Frank without answering looked at Bert, while the whole school held their breath in suspense. Bert remained silent. It was evident that a sharp struggle was going on within. Becoming impatient, Mr. Garrison struck the desk with his hands, and said, sternly :

“Answer me this moment. Have you any excuse?”

With a quick, decided movement, Bert lifted his head, and looking straight into Mr. Garrison’s face with his big brown eyes, said, clearly:

“No, sir. I meeched.”

Quite taken aback by this frank confession, Mr. Garrison paused a moment, and then, turning to Frank, asked:

“And how about you, sir?”

Without lifting his head, Frank muttered, “I meeched, too,” in tones audible only to his questioner.

So pleased was Mr. Garrison with Bert’s honesty, that he would have been glad to let him off with a reprimand; but the interests of good discipline demanded sterner measures. Accordingly, he called to one of his monitors :

“Munro, will you please go over to the Acadian School and get the strap?”

For be it known that Mr. Garrison shared the ownership of a strap with his brother, who taught a school in an adjoining block, and had to send for it when a boy was to be punished.

While Munro was gone, Bert and Frank stood before the desk, both feeling deeply their position, and dreading what was yet to come. When Munro returned, bearing the strap—a business-like looking affair, about two feet in length—Mr. Garrison laid it on the desk, and seemed very reluctant to put it in use. At length, overcoming his disinclination, he rose to his feet, and, taking it up, said:

“Cuthbert Lloyd, come forward!”

Bert, his head drooping upon his breast, and his face flushed and pale by turns, moved slowly forward. Grasping the strap, Mr. Garrison raised it to bring it down upon Bert’s outstretched hand, when suddenly a thought struck him that brought a look of immense relief to his countenance, and he arrested the movement. Turning to the boys, who were watching him with wondering eyes, he said:

“Boys, I ask for your judgment. If Bert and Frank say, before you all, that they are sorry for what they have done, and will promise never to do it again, may I not relieve them of the whipping?”

A hearty and unanimous chorus of “Yes, sir,” “Yes, sir,” came from the school at once.

“Now, my lads, do you hear that?” continued Mr. Garrison in a kindly tone, turning to the two offenders. “Will you not say you are sorry, and will never meech again.”

“I am sorry, and promise never to do so again,” said Bert, in a clear distinct voice, as the tears gathered in his eyes.

“I’m sorry, and won’t do it again,” echoed Frank, in a lower tone.

“That’s right, boys,” said Mr. Garrison, his face full of pleasure. “I am sure you mean every word of it. Go to your seats now, and we will resume work.”

It took the school some little time to settle down again after this unusual and moving episode, the effect of which was to raise both Mr. Garrison and Bert a good deal higher in the estimation of every one present, and to put a check upon the practice of “meeching” that went far toward effecting a complete cure.

Although the result had been so much better than he expected, Bert felt his disgrace keenly, and so soon as he got home from school he told the whole story from the start to his mother, making no excuses for himself, but simply telling the truth.

His mother, of course, was very much surprised and pained, but knew well that her boy needed no further reproaches or censure to realise the full extent of his wrong-doing. Bidding him, therefore, seek forgiveness of God as well as of her, she said that she would tell his father all about it, which was a great relief to Bert, who dreaded lest he should have to perform this trying task himself; and so the matter rested for the time.

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