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XVIII
SCHOOLdayswereeagerlyanticipatedbyFrancie.Shewantedallofthethingsthatshe
thoughtcamewithschool.Shewasalonelychildandshelongedforthecompanionshipof
otherchildren.Shewantedtodrinkfromtheschoolwaterfountainsintheyard.Thefaucets
wereinvertedandshethoughtthatsodawatercameoutinsteadofplainwater.Shehadheard
mamaandpapaspeakoftheschoolroom.Shewantedtoseethemapthatpulleddownlikea
shade.Mostofall,shewanted"schoolsupplies";anotebookandtabletandapencilboxwitha
slidingtopfilledwithnewpencils,aneraser,alittletinpencilsharpenermadeintheshapeofa
cannon,apenwiper,andasix-inch,softwood,yellowruler.
Beforeschool,therehadtobevaccination.Thatwasthelaw.Howitwasdreaded!Whenthe
healthauthoritiestriedtoexplaintothepoorandilliteratethatvaccinationwasagivingofthe
harmlessformofsmallpoxtoworkupimmunityagainstthedeadlyform,theparentsdidn't
believeit.Alltheygotoutoftheexplanationwasthatgermswouldbeputintoahealthychild's
body.Someforeign-bornparentsrefusedtopermittheirchildrentobevaccinated.Theywere
notallowedtoenterschool.Thenthelawofafterthemforkeepingthechildrenoutofschool.A
freecountry?theyasked.Youshouldlivesolong.What'sfreeaboutit,theyreasonedwhenthe
lawforcesyoutoeducateyourchildrenandthenendangerstheirlivestogetthemintoschool?
Weepingmothersbroughtbawlingchildrentothehealthcenterforinoculation.Theycarriedon
asthoughbringingtheirinnocentstotheslaughter.Thechildrenscreamedhystericallyatthe
firstsightoftheneedleandtheirmothers,waitingintheanteroom,threwtheirshawlsovertheir
headsandkeenedloudlyasifwailingforthedead.
FranciewassevenandNeeleysix.KatiehadheldFranciebackwishingbothchildrentoenter
schooltogethersothattheycouldprotecteachotheragainsttheolderchildren.Onadreadful
SaturdayinAugust,shestoppedinthebedroomtospeaktothembeforeshewentofftowork.
Sheawakenedthemandgaveinstructions.
"Nowwhenyougetup,washyourselvesgoodandwhenitgetstobeeleveno'clock,goaround
thecornertothepublichealthplace,tellthemtovaccinateyoubecauseyou'regoingtoschool
inSeptember."
Franciebegantotremble.Neeleyburstintotears.
"Youcomingwithus,Mama?"Franciepleaded.
"I'vegottogotowork.Who'sgoingtodomyworkifIdon't?"askedKatiecoveringupher
consciencewithindignation.
Franciesaidnothingmore.Katieknewthatshewaslettingthemdown.Butshecouldn'thelpit,
shejustcouldn'thelpit.Yes,sheshouldgowiththemtolendthecomfortandauthorityofher
presencebutsheknewshecouldn'tstandtheordeal.Yet,theyhadtobevaccinated.Herbeing
withthemorsomewhereelsecouldn'ttakethatfactaway.Sowhyshouldn'toneofthethreebe
spared?Besides,shesaidtoherconscience,it'sahardandbitterworld.They'vegottoliveinit.
Letthemgethardenedyoungtotakecareofthemselves.
"Papa'sgoingwithusthen,"saidFranciehopefully.
"Papa'satHeadquarterswaitingforajob.Hewon'tbehomeallday.You'rebigenoughtogo
alone.Besides,itwon'thurt."
Neeleywailedonahigherkey.Katiecouldhardlystandthat.Shelovedtheboysomuch.Part
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ofherreasonfornot,goingwiththemwasthatshecouldn'tbeartoseetheboyhurt...noteven
byapinprick.Almostshedecidedtogowiththem.Butno.Ifshewentshe'dlosehalfaday's
workandshe'dhavetomakeituponSundaymorning.Besides,she'dbesickafterwards.
They'dmanagesomehowwithouther.Shehurriedofftoherwork.
FrancietriedtoconsoletheterrifiedNeeley.Someolderboyshadtoldhimthattheycutyour
armoffwhentheygotyouintheHealthCenter.Totakehismindoffthething,Francietookhim
downintotheyardandtheymademudpies.Theyquiteforgottowashasmamahadtoldthem
to.
Theyalmostforgotabouteleveno'clock,themudpiemakingwassobeguiling.Theirhandsand
armsgotverydirtyplayinginthemud.Attentoeleven,Mrs.Gaddishungoutthewindowand
yelleddownthattheirmotherhadtoldhertoremindthemwhenitwasneareleveno'clock.
Neeleyfinishedoffhislastmudpie,wateringitwithhistears.Francietookhishandandwith
slowdraggingstepsthechildrenwalkedaroundthecorner.
Theytooktheirplaceonabench.NexttothemsataJewishmamawhoclutchedalarge
six-year-oldboyinherarmsandweptandkissedhisforeheadpassionatelyfromtimetotime.
Othermotherssattherewithgrimsufferingfurrowedontheirfaces.Behindthefrostedglass
doorwheretheterrifyingbusinesswasgoingon,therewasasteadybawlingpunctuatedbya
shrillscream,resumptionofthebawlingandthenapalechildwouldcomeoutwithastripof
purewhitegauzeabouthisleftarm.Hismotherwouldrushandgrabhimandwithaforeign
curseandashakenfistatthefrosteddoor,hurryhimoutofthetorturechamber.
Franciewentintrembling.Shehadneverseenadoctororanurseinallofhersmalllife.The
whitenessoftheuniforms,theshinycruelinstrumentslaidoutonanapkinonatray,thesmell
ofantiseptics,andespeciallythecloudysterilizerwithitsbloodyredcrossfilledherwith
tongue-tiedfright.
Thenursepulleduphersleeveandswabbedaspotcleanonherleftarm.Franciesawthe
whitedoctorcomingtowardsherwiththecruelly-poisedneedle.Heloomedlargerandlarger
untilheseemedtoblendintoagreatneedle.Sheclosedhereyeswaitingtodie.Nothing
happened,shefeltnothing.Sheopenedhereyesslowly,hardlydaringtohopethatitwasall
over.Shefoundtoheragony,thatthedoctorwasstillthere,poisedneedleandall.Hewas
staringatherarmindistaste.Francielookedtoo.Shesawasmallwhiteareaonadirtydark
brownarm.Sheheardthedoctortalkingtothenurse.
"Filth,filth,filth,frommorningtonight.Iknowthey'repoorbuttheycouldwash.Waterisfree
andsoapischeap.Justlookatthatarm,nurse."
Thenurselookedandcluckedinhorror.Franciestoodtherewiththehotflamepointsofshame
burningherface.ThedoctorwasaHarvardman,interningattheneighborhoodhospital.Once
aweek,hewasobligatedtoputinafewhoursatoneofthefreeclinics.Hewasgoingintoa
smartpracticeinBostonwhenhisinternshipwasover.Adoptingthephraseologyofthe
neighborhood,hereferredtohisBrooklyninternshipasgoingthroughPurgatorywhenhewrote
tohissociallyprominentfiancéeinBoston.
ThenursewasaWilliamsburggirl.Youcouldtellthatbyheraccent.ThechildofpoorPolish
immigrants,shehadbeenambitious,workeddaysinasweatshopandgonetoschoolatnight.
Somehowshehadgottenhertraining.Shehopedsomedaytomarryadoctor.Shedidn'twant
anyonetoknowshehadcomefromtheslums.
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Afterthedoctor'soutburst,Franciestoodhangingherhead.Shewasadirtygirl.That'swhatthe
doctormeant.Hewastalkingmorequietlynowaskingthenursehowthatkindofpeoplecould
survive;thatitwouldbeabetterworldiftheywereallsterilizedandcouldn'tbreedanymore.Did
thatmeanhewantedhertodie?Wouldhedosomethingtomakeherdiebecauseherhands
andarmsweredirtyfromthemudpies?
Shelookedatthenurse.ToFrancie,allwomenweremamaslikeherownmotherandAunt
SissyandAuntEvy.Shethoughtthenursemightsaysomethinglike:
"Maybethislittlegirl'smotherworksanddidn'thavetimetowashhergoodthismorning,"or,
"Youknowhowitis,Doctor,children
will
playindirt."Butwhatthenurseactuallysaidwas,"I
know.Isn'titterrible?Isympathizewithyou,Doctor.Thereisnoexcuseforthesepeopleliving
infilth."
Apersonwhopullshimselfupfromalowenvironmentviatheboot-straproutehastwochoices.
Havingrisenabovehisenvironment,hecanforgetit;or,hecanriseaboveitandneverforgetit
andkeepcompassionandunderstandinginhisheartforthosehehasleftbehindhiminthe
cruelupclimb.Thenursehadchosentheforgettingway.Yet,asshestoodthere,sheknewthat
yearslatershewouldbehauntedbythesorrowinthefaceofthatstarvelingchildandthatshe
wouldwishbitterlythatshehadsaidacomfortingwordthenanddonesomethingtowardsthe
savingofherimmortalsoul.Shehadtheknowledgethatshewassmallbutshelackedthe
couragetobeotherwise.
Whentheneedlejabbed,Francieneverfeltit.Thewavesofhurtstartedby thedoctor'swords
wererackingherbodyanddroveoutallotherfeeling.Whilethenursewasexpertlytyingastrip
ofgauzearoundherarmandthedoctorwasputtinghisinstrumentinthesterilizerandtaking
outafreshneedle,Franciespokeup.
"Mybrotherisnext.Hisarmisjustasdirtyasminesodon'tbesurprised.Andyoudon'thaveto
tellhim.Youtoldme."Theystaredatthisbitofhumanitywho,hadbecomesostrangely
articulate.Francie'svoicewentraggedwithasob."Youdon'thavetotellhim.Besidesitwon't
donogood.He'saboyandhedon'tcareifheisdirty."Sheturned,stumbledalittleandwalked
outoftheroom.Asthedoorclosed,sheheardthedoctor'ssurprisedvoice.
"Ihadnoideashe'dunderstandwhatIwassaying."Sheheardthenursesay,"Oh,well,"ona
sighingnote.
Katiewashomeforlunchwhenthechildrengotback.Shelookedattheirbandagedarmswith
miseryinhereyes.Franciespokeoutpassionately.
"Why,Mama,why?Whydotheyhaveto...to...saythingsandthenstickaneedleinyour
arm?"
"Vaccination,"saidmamafirmly,nowthatitwasallover,"isaverygoodthing.Itmakesyoutell
yourlefthandfromyourright.Youhavetowritewithyourrighthandwhenyougotoschooland
thatsorewillbetheretosay,uh-uh,notthishand.Usetheotherhand."
ThisexplanationsatisfiedFranciebecauseshehadneverbeenabletotellherlefthandfrom
herright.Sheate,anddrewpictureswithherlefthand.Katiewasalwayscorrectingherand
transferringthechalkortheneedlefromherlefthandtoherright.Aftermamaexplainedabout
vaccination,Franciebegantothinkthatmaybeitwasawonderfulthing.Itwasasmallpriceto
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payifitsimplifiedsuchagreatproblemandletyouknowwhichhandwaswhich.Franciebegan
usingherrighthandinsteadoftheleftafterthevaccinationandneverhadtroubleafterwards.
Francieworkedupafeverthatnightandthesiteoftheinjectionitchedpainfully.Shetoldmama
whobecamegreatlyalarmed.Shegaveintenseinstructions.
"You'renottoscratchit,nomatterhowitbitesyou."
"Whycan'tIscratchit?"
"Becauseifyoudo,yourwholearmwillswellupandturnblackanddroprightoff.Sodon't
scratchit."
Katiedidnotmeantoterrifythechild.She,herself,wasbadlyfrightened.Shebelievedthat
blood-poisoningwouldsetinifthearmweretouched.Shewantedtofrightenthechildintonot
scratchingit.
Franciehadtoconcentrateonnotscratchingthegainfullyitchingarea.Thenextday,shotsof
painwereshootingupthearm.Whilepreparingforbed,shepeeredunderthebandage.Toher
horror,theplacewheretheneedlehadenteredwasswollen,dark-greenandfestering,yellowly.
AndFranciehadnotscratchedit!
Sheknewshehadnotscratchedit
.Butwait!Maybeshehad
scratcheditinhersleepthenightbefore.Yes,shemusthavedoneitthen.Shewasafraidtotell
mama.Mamawouldsay,"ItoldyouandItoldyouandstillyouwouldn'tlisten.Nowlook."
ItwasSundaynight.Papawasoutworking.Shecouldn'tsleep.Shegotupfromhercotand
wentintothefrontroomandsatatthewindow.Sheleanedherheadonherarmsandwaitedto
die.
AtthreeinthemorningsheheardaGrahamAvenuetrolleygrindtoastoponthecorner.That
meantsomeonewasgettingoff.Sheleanedoutthewindow.Yes,itwaspapa.Hesauntered
downthestreetwithhislightdancer'sstepwhistling"MySweetheart'stheManintheMoon."
Thefigureinitstuxedoandderbyhat,witharolled-upwaiter'saproninaneatpacketunderits
arm,seemedlikelifeitselftoFrancie.Shecalledtohimwhenhegottothedoor.Helookedup
andtippedhishatgallantly.Sheopenedthekitchendoorforhim.
"Whatareyoudoingupsolate,PrimaDonna?"heasked."It'snotSaturdaynight,youknow."
"Iwassittingatthewindow,"shewhispered,"waitingformyarmtodropoff."
Hechokedbackalaugh.Sheexplainedaboutthearm.Heclosedthedoorleadingintothe
bedroomsandturnedupthegas.Heremovedthebandageandhisstomachturnedoverat
sightoftheswollenfesteringarm.Butheneverletherknow.Heneverletherknow.
"Why,Baby,that'snothingatall.justnothingatall.YoushouldhaveseenmyarmwhenIwas
vaccinated.Itwastwiceasswollenandred,whiteandblueinsteadofgreenandyellowand
nowlookhowhardandstrongitis."Heliedgallantlyforhehadneverbeenvaccinated.
Hepouredwarmwaterintoabasinandaddedafewdropsofcarbolicacid.Hewashedtheugly
soreoverandoveragain.ShewincedwhenitstungbutJohnnysaidthatstingingmeantcuring.
Hesangafoolishsentimentalsonginawhisperashewashedit.
Henevercarestowanderfromhisownfireside.
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Henevercarestorambleortoroam...
Helookedaroundforacleanbitofclothtoserveasabandage.Findingnone,hetookoffhis
coatandshirtdicky,pulledhisundershirtoffoverhisheadanddramaticallyrippedastripof
clothfromit.
"Yourgoodundershirt,"sheprotested.
"Aw,itwasallfullofholesanyhow."
Hebandagedthearm.TheclothsmelledofJohnny,warmandcigarish.Butitwasacomforting
thingtothechild.Itsmelledofprotectionandlove.
"There!You'reallfixedup,PrimaDonna.Whatevergaveyoutheideayourarmwasgoingto
dropoff?"
"MamasaiditwouldifIscratchedit.Ididn'tmeantoscratchitbutIguessIdidwhileIwas
sleeping."
"Maybe."Hekissedherthincheek."Nowgobacktobed."Shewentandsleptpeacefullythe
restofthenight.Inthemorning,thethrobbinghadstoppedandinafewdaysthearmwas
normalagain.
AfterFranciehadgonetobed,Johnnysmokedanothercigar.Thenheundressedslowlyand
gotintoKatie'sbed.Shewassleepilyawareofhispresenceandinoneofherrareimpulsesof
affection,shethrewherarmacrosshischest.Heremoveditgentlyandedgedasfarawayfrom
herashecould.Helayclosetothewall.Hefoldedhishandsunderhisheadandlaystaring
intothedarknessalltherestofthatnight.
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XIX
FRANCIEexpectedgreatthingsfromschool.Sincevaccinationtaughtherinstantlythe
differencebetweenleftandright,shethoughtthatschoolwouldbringforthevengreater
miracles.Shethoughtshe'dcomehomefromschoolthatfirstdayknowinghowtoreadand
write.Butallshecamehomewithwasabloodynosegainedby anolderchildslammingher
headdownonthestonerimofthewatertroughwhenshehadtriedtodrinkfromthefaucets
thatdidnotgushforthsodawaterafterall.
Franciewasdisappointedbecauseshehadtoshareaseatanddesk(meantonlyforone)with
anothergirl.Shehadwantedadesktoherself.Sheacceptedwithpridethepencilthemonitor
passedouttoherinthemorningandreluctantlysurrenderedittoanothermonitoratthree
o'clock.
Shehadbeeninschoolbuthalfadaywhen,sheknewthatshewouldneverbeateacher'spet.
Thatprivilegewasreservedforasmallgroupofgirls...girlswithfreshly-curledhair,crispclean
pinaforesandnewsilkhairbows.Theywerethechildrenoftheprosperousstorekeepersofthe
neighborhood.FrancienoticedhowMissBriggs,theteacher,beamedonthemandseated
theminthechoicestplacesinthefrontrow.Thesedarlingswerenotmadetoshareseats.Miss
Briggs'voicewasgentlewhenshespoketothesefortune-favoredfew,andsnarlingwhenshe
spoketothegreatcrowdofunwashed.
Francie,huddledwithotherchildrenofherkind,learnedmorethatfirstdaythansherealized.
ShelearnedoftheclasssystemofagreatDemocracy.Shewaspuzzledandhurtbyteacher's
attitude.Obviouslytheteacherhatedherandotherslikeherfornootherreasonthanthatthey
werewhattheywere.Teacheractedasthoughtheyhadnorighttobeintheschoolbutthatshe
wasforcedtoacceptthemandwasdoingsowithaslittlegraceaspossible.Shebegrudged
themthefewcrumbsoflearningshethrewatthem.Likethedoctoratthehealthcenter,shetoo
actedasthoughtheyhadnorighttolive.
Itwouldseemasifalltheunwantedchildrenwouldsticktogetherandbeoneagainstthethings
thatwereagainstthem.Butnotso.Theyhatedeachotherasmuchastheteacherhatedthem.
Theyapedteacher'ssnarlingmannerwhentheyspoketoeachother.
Therewasalwaysoneunfortunatewhomtheteachersingledoutandusedforascapegoat.
Thispoorchildwasthenaggedone,thetormentedone,theoneonwhomsheventedher
spinsterlyspleen.Assoonasachildreceivedthisdubiousrecognition,theotherchildrenturned
onhimandduplicatedtheteacher'storments.Characteristically,theyfawnedonthosecloseto
teacher'sheart.Maybetheyfiguredtheywerenearertothethronethatway.
Threethousandchildrencrowdedintothisuglybrutalizingschoolthathadfacilitiesforonlyone
thousand.Dirtystorieswenttheroundsofthechildren.OneofthemwasthatMissPfieffer,a
bleachedblondteacherwithahighgiggle,wentdowntothebasementtosleepwiththe
assistantjanitorthosetimeswhensheputamonitorinchargeandexplainedthatshehadto
"stepouttotheoffice."Another,passedaroundbylittleboyswhohadbeenvictims,wasthat
theladyprincipal,ahard-bitten,heavycruelwomanofmiddleyearswhowore
sequin-decorateddressesandsmelledalwaysofrawgin,gotrecalcitrantboysintoheroffice
andmadethemtakedowntheirpantssothatshecouldflaytheirnakedbuttockswitharattan
cane.(Shewhippedthelittlegirlsthroughtheirdresses.)
Ofcourse,corporalpunishmentwasforbiddenintheschools.Butwho,outside,knew?Who
wouldtell?Notthewhippedchildren,certainly.Itwasatraditionintheneighborhoodthatifa
childreportedthathehadbeenwhippedinschool,hewouldreceiveasecondhome-whipping
becausehehadnotbehavedinschool.Sothechildtookhispunishmentandkeptquiet,leaving
wellenoughalone.
Theugliestthingaboutthesestorieswasthattheywereallsordidlytrue.
Brutalizingistheonlyadjectiveforthepublicschoolsofthatdistrictaround1908and'09.Child
psychologyhadnotbeenheardofinWilliamsburginthosedays.Teachingrequirementswere
easy:graduationfromhighschoolandtwoyearsatTeachersTrainingSchool.Fewteachers
hadthetruevocationfortheirwork.Theytaughtbecauseitwasoneofthefewjobsopento
them;becauseitwasbetterpayingthanfactorywork;becausetheyhadalongsummer
vacation;becausetheygotapensionwhentheyretired.Theytaughtbecausenoonewantedto
marrythem.Marriedwomenwerenotallowedtoteachinthosedays,hencemostofthe
teacherswerewomenmadeneuroticbystarvedloveinstincts.Thesebarrenwomenspenttheir
furyonotherwomen'schildreninatwistedauthoritativemanner.
Thecruelestteacherswerethosewhohadcomefromhomessimilartothoseofthepoor
children.Itseemedthatintheirbitternesstowardsthoseunfortunatelittleones,theywere
somehowexorcizingtheirownfearfulbackground.
Ofcourse,notalloftheteacherswerebad.Sometimesonewhowassweetcamealong,one
whosufferedwiththechildrenandtriedtohelpthem.Butthesewomendidnotlastlongas
teachers.Eithertheymarriedquicklyandlefttheprofession,ortheywerehoundedoutoftheir
jobsbyfellowteachers.
Theproblemofwhatwasdelicatelycalled"leavingtheroom"wasagrimone.Thechildren
wereinstructedto"go"beforetheylefthomeinthemorningandthentowaituntillunchhour.
Therewassupposedtobeatimeatrecessbutfewchildrenwereabletotakeadvantageofthat.
Usuallythepressofthecrowdpreventedachild'sgettingnearthewashrooms.Ifhewaslucky
enoughtogetthere(wheretherewerebuttenlavatoriesforfivehundredchildren),he'dfindthe
placespre-emptedbythetenmostbrutalizedchildrenintheschool.They'dstandinthe
doorwaysandprevententrancetoallcomers.Theyweredeaftothepiteouspleasofthe
hordesoftormentedchildrenwhoswarmedbeforethem.Afewexactedafeeofapennywhich
fewchildrenwereabletopay.Theoverlordsneverrelaxedtheirholdontheswingingdoors
untilthebellclangedtheendofrecess.Nooneeverascertainedwhatpleasuretheyderived
fromthismacabregame.Theywereneverpunishedsincenoteachereverenteredthe
children'swashrooms.Nochildeversnitched.Nomatterhowyounghewas,heknewthathe
mustn'tsqueal.Ifhetattled,heknewhewouldbetorturedalmosttodeathbytheonehe
reported.Sothisevilgamewentonandon.
Technically,achildwaspermittedtoleavetheroomifheaskedpermission.Therewasa
systemofcoyevasion.Onefingerheldaloftmeantthatachildwishedtogooutbutashorttime.
Twofingersmeantdesireforalongerstay.Buttheharassedandunfeelingteachersassured
eachotherthatthiswas"justasubterfugeforachildtogetoutoftheclassroomforalittlewhile.
They
knew
thechildhadampleopportunityatrecessandatlunchtime.Thustheysettled.
thingsamongthemselves.
Ofcourse,Francienoted,thefavoredchildren,theclean,thedainty,thecared-forinthefront
seats,wereallowedtoleaveatanytime.Butthatwasdifferentsomehow.
Asfortherestofthechildren,halfofthemlearnedtoadjusttheirfunctionstotheteachers'ideas
ofsuchthingsandtheotherhalfbecamechronicpants-wetters.
ItwasAuntSissywhofixeduptheleaving-the-roombusinessforFrancie.Shehadnotseenthe
childrensinceKatieandJohnnyhadtoldhershewasnottovisitthehouseagain.Shewas
lonesomeforthem.Sheknewtheyhadstartedschoolandshejust
had
toknowhowtheywere
gettingalong.
ItwasinNovember.WorkwasslackandSissywaslaidoff.Shesauntereddowntheschool
streetjustasschoolwaslettingout.Ifthechildrenreportedmeetingher,itwouldseemlikean
accident,shefigured.ShesawNeeleyfirstinthecrowd.Abiggerboysnatchedhiscapoff,
trampledonitandranaway.Neeleyturnedtoasmallerboyanddidthesameto
his
cap.Sissy
grabbedNeeley'sarmbutwitharaucouscry,hetwistedlooseandrandownthestreet.With
poignancy,Sissyrealizedthathewasgrowingup.
FranciesawSissyandputherarmsaroundherrightthereonthestreetandkissedher.Sissy
tookherintoalittlecandystoreandtreatedhertoapennychocolatesoda.Thenshemade
Franciesitdownonastoopandtellherallaboutschool.Francieshowedhertheprimerandher
homeworkbookwithblocklettersinit.Sissywasimpressed.Shelookedlongintothechild's
thinfaceandnoticedthatshewasshivering.Shesawthatshewasinadequatelydressed
againsttherawNovemberdayinathreadbarecottondress,raggedlittlesweaterandthin
cottonstockings.Sheputherarmaroundherandheldherclosetoherownlifewarmth.
"Francie,baby,you'retremblinglikealeaf."
Franciehadneverheardthatexpressionanditmadeherthoughtful.Shelookedatthelittletree
growingoutoftheconcreteatthesideofthehouse.Therewerestillafewdriedleavesclinging
toit.Oneofthemrustleddrylyinthewind.Tremblinglikealeaf.Shestoredthephraseawayin
hermind.Trembling....
"What'sthematter?"Sissyasked."You'reicecold."
Franciewouldn'ttellatfirst.Butafterbeingcoaxed,sheburiedhershame-hotfaceinSissy's
neckandwhisperedsomethingtoher.
"Oh,my,"saidSissy."Nowonderyou'recold.Whydidn'tyouaskto...."
"Teacherneverlooksatuswhenweraiseourhands."
"Oh,well.Don'tworryaboutit.Itcouldhappentoanyone.IthappenedtotheQueenofEngland
whenshewasalittlegirl."
ButhadtheQueenbeensoshamedandsensitiveaboutit?Francieweptquietlyandrackingly,
tearsofshameandfear.Shewasafraidtogohome,afraidthatmamawouldmakescornful
shameofher.
"Yourmamawon'tscoldyou…suchanaccidentcouldhappentoanylittlegirl.Don'tsayItold
youbutyourmamawetherpantswhenshewaslittleandyourgrandmadidtoo.It'snothing
newintheworldandyou'renotthefirstoneithappenedto."
"ButI'mtoobig.Onlybabiesdothat.Mama'llmakeshameonmeinfrontofNeeley."
"Tellherrightoutbeforeshefindsoutforherselfandpromisenevertodoitagain.Shewon't
shameyouthen.""Ican'tpromisebecauseitmighthappenagainbecauseteacherdon'tletus
go."
"Fromnowon,yourteacherwillletyouleavetheroomanytimeyouhaveto.YoubelieveAunt
Sissy,don'tyou?"
"Y-e-e-es.Buthowdoyouknow?"
"I'llburnacandleinchurchaboutit."
Franciewasconsoledwiththepromise.WhenFranciewenthome,Katiedidalittleroutine
scoldingbutFranciewasarmoredagainstitinthelightofwhatSissyhadtoldheraboutthe
cycleofwetting.
Thenextmorning,tenminutesbeforeschoolstarted,Sissywasinthatclassroomconfronting
theteacher.
"There'salittlegirlnamedFrancieNolaninyourroom,"shestartedout.
"
Frances
Nolan,"correctedMissBriggs.
"Isshesmart?"
"Y-e-e-es."
"Isshegood?"
"Shehadbetterbe."
SissybroughtherfaceclosertoMissBriggs.Hervoicewentatonelowerandwasgentlerthan
before,butforsomereasonMissBriggsbackedaway."Ijustaskedyouissheagoodgirl?"
"Yes,sheis,"saidTeacherhurriedly.
"Ihappentobehermother,"liedSissy.
"No!"
"Yes!"
"Anythingyouwanttoknowaboutthechild'swork,Mrs.Nolan..."
"Diditeveroccurtoyou,"liedSissy,"thatFrancie'sgotkidneytrouble?"
"Kidneywhat?"
"Thedoctorsaidthatifshewantstogoandsomepeopledon'tlethergo,she'sliabletodrop
rightdowndeadfromoverloadedkidneys."
"Surelyyou'reexaggerating."
"Howwouldyoulikehertodropdeadinthisroom?"
"Naturally,Iwouldn't,but..."
"Andhowwouldyouliketogetaridetothestationhouseinthepiewagonandstandupinfront
ofthisheredoctorandthejudgeandsayyouwouldn'tletherleavetheroom?"
WasSissylying?MissBriggscouldn'ttell.Itwasthemostfantasticthing.Yet,thewomanspoke
thesesensationalthingsinthecalmest,softestvoiceshehadeverheard.Atthismoment,Sissy
happenedtolookoutofthewindowandsawaburlycopsaunteringby.Shepointed.
"Seethatcop?"MissBriggsnodded."That'smyhusband."
"Frances'father?"
"Whoelse?"Sissythrewopenthewindowandyelled,"Yoo,hoo,Johnny."
Theastonishedcoplookedup.Sheblewhimagreatkiss.Forasplitsecond,hethoughtitwas
somelove-starvedold-maidteachergonecrazy.Thenhisnativemasculineconceitassured
himthatitwasoneoftheyoungerteacherswhohadlonghadacrushonhimandhadfinally
screwedupenoughcouragetomakeapassionateoverture.Herespondedtotheoccasion,
blewherareturnkisswithaham-yfist,tippedhishatgallantlyandsaunteredoffdownhisbeat
whistling"AttheDevil'sBall.""SureI'madivilamongsttheladies,"hethought."Iamthat.And
mewithsixkidsathome."
MissBriggs'eyesbuggedoutinastonishment.Hehadbeenahandsomecopand
strong
.Just
then,oneofthelittlegoldengirlscameinwithaberibbonedboxofcandyforTeacher.Miss
Briggsgurgledwithpleasureandkissedthechild'ssatinpinkcheek.Sissyhadamindlikea
freshly-honedrazor.Inaflash,shesawwhichwaythewindblew;shesawitblewagainst
childrenlikeFrancie.
"Look,"shesaid."Iguessyoudon'tthinkwegotlotsofmoney."
"I'msureInever..."
"We'renotpeoplethatputon.NowChristmasiscoming,"shebribed.
"Maybe,"concededMissBriggs,"Ihaven'talwaysseenFranceswhensheraisedherhand."
"Wheredoesshesitthatyoudon'tseehersogood?"Teacherindicatedadarkbackseat.
"Maybeifshesatupfrontmore,youcouldseeherbetter."
"Theseatingarrangementsareallset."
"Christmasiscoming,"warnedSissycoyly.
"I'llseewhatIcando."
"See,then.Andseethatyouseegood."Sissywalkedtothedoor,thenturned."Becausenot
onlyisChristmascoming,butmyhusbandwhoisacopwillcomeuphereandbeathelloutof
youifyoudon'ttreatherright."
Franciehadnomoretroubleafterthatparent-teacherconference.Nomatterhowtimorously
herhandwentup,MissBriggshappenedtoseeit.Sheevenlethersitinthefirstrow,firstseat
forawhile.ButwhenChristmascameandnoexpensiveChristmaspresentcamewithit,
Franciewasagainrelegatedtothedarkbackoftheroom.
NeitherFrancienorKatieeverlearnedofSissy'sschoolvisit.ButFranciewasnevershamed
againinthatwayandifMissBriggsdidnottreatherwithkindness,atleastshedidn'tnagather.
Ofcourse,MissBriggsknewthatwhatthatwomanhadtoldherwasridiculous.Yet,whatwas
theuseoftakingchances?Shedidn'tlikechildrenbutshewasnofiend.Shewouldn'twantto
seeachilddropdeadbeforehereyes.
Afewweekslater,Sissyhadoneofthegirlsinhershopwriteapostcardmessageforherto
Katie.Sheaskedhersistertoletby-gonesbeby-gonesandpermithertocometothehouseat
leasttoseethechildrenonceinawhile.Katieignoredthecard.
MaryRommelycameovertointercedeforSissy."Whatistherethatisbitterbetweenyouand
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