Hurrah for Pete!
"BOY, oh, boy! Look at that, Marola! The silence of the sixth-grade room was pierced by Pete's outburst as he thrust his report card before the astonished eyes of Marola West who sat in front of him.
To the surprise of the pupils, their teacher, Miss Burke, did not reprove him for his interruption while she was passing out the report cards for the six weeks just ended, for when she saw the look of eager triumph in his eyes, instead of the veiled despair, and the flush of happiness on his face rather than the usual stoic chagrin at such times, she could not. Her eyes filled with quick tears, while her heart was singing. At last she had touched the soul of this gangling boy she had despaired of for the six months she had been his teacher.
Her thoughts raced back to the morning of her first day of teaching in the Lakeside School when the principal had hurriedly entered her room just before time for the bell and had said, "Just one more thing, Miss Burke, you will get the school's problem lad this year, Pete Garfield. No one has been able to reach him thus far. He's a dull, apathetic student, but quick enough in mischief. Take a firm stand from the start and remember I am back of you in anything you do."
She had resented the principal's words, and had decided to give the boy every encouragement. She had been instinctively drawn to him that first day when she had called on him to take his turn in reading aloud, and had seen the mute pleading in his eyes, which turned to agony as Rodney Hebdon, one of the most forward students, had said, "Pete can't read. Didn't you know?"
He had stumbled through a short paragraph, missing most of the words and had heaved an audible sigh and wiped the perspiration from his forehead when he took his seat.
From that very day she had given him special help outside of school hours and found, to her surprise, that he soon mastered the big words when she taught them to him as she would to the first grader through story, pictures, and dramatization, but the little words bothered him. She had gone to his home two nights a week, and now, after long months, he was able to go rather haltingly through about one-sixth of the regular class assignments. A month ago had come the inspiration to tell him that, if he did the small assignments she gave him from then on, he would receive the same grade as if he had completed all the work. How he had toiled! Apathy had disappeared, and he had begun going to her boarding house for additional help on Saturdays.
She was recalled to the present by Marola's voice, "Miss Burke, I can't understand! Pete's marks are as high as mine, and surely you know ...."
She stopped embarrassed, not knowing how to go on, and Miss Burke answered quickly, "Yes, I know. I am sure we are all proud of his achievement." Then she added quietly to Marola, "Will you help me pass out the art materials at recess, please?" And her eyes smiled a challenge for silence.
AROLA, her brightest student, understood and was her usual sweet self as she answered, "I shall be glad to, Miss Burke." At recess she quickly put the paper and paints on the desks, then came and stood by her teacher's desk and said, "Miss Burke, I'm sorry if I was unkind, but I was so startled to see Pete had all A's the same as I, when he is dreadfully slow and never gets all his work, and doesn't even know all the words yet, that I called out before I thought."
"I know, dear." Miss Burke's voice was tender. "I know. Good has been very good to you, Marola. He has blessed you with a high degree of intelligence--with an alert mind. It is eary for you to get your work. Pete has worked much, much harder than you have, and he has learned the three spelling words I've assigned him each day this last month, and the two problems in arithmetic and the half page of reading, so don't you feel he should know the joy of succeeding when he has done his best? Remember, dear, to be grateful for what God has given you, but never feel superior to one who has not been so highly blessed."
Marola's eyes were filled with a new light, as she said, "I'm glad you gave Pete all A's. Truly I am. Thank you for making me see. From now on I shall be his champion, too."
The next morning she was waiting at Miss Burke's gate to walk to school with her.
"How nice to have someone to walk with this beautiful spring morning!" Miss Burke put Marola at ease at once, for she sensed there was a reason for her going out of her way to accompany her to school.
After a few seconds of silence, Marola spoke. "I told Dad and Mother all about Pete's report card and what you said to me, and they wish there were more teachers like you. Dad told me that Pete is the smartest boy in town in some things, that not another boy his age or even older can handle a team like he can; that he knows how to harness a team and plow as well as a man. Mother said that even though I might have a quicker brain to get school lessons, she guessed things were pretty well evened up when God was giving out the talents. I wanted to tell you this to make up for my rudeness yesterday."
With an arm about the young girl's shoulders, Miss Burke said very gently, "You just didn't think, dear. But from now on, perhaps you can do more than you realize to get your classmates to accept Pete as one of them, as their equal, I mean. That would do him more good than anything else. A person needs the security of friends. Pete isn't dumb, for I've proved he can learn. I think, perhaps, teachers have just figured he was, and have put forth no special effort to help him."
"That is true, Miss Burke. You're the first teacher who has really made him see that he can learn. I know I've been sort of a snob, but I haven't really meant to be, and now I'm going to try and help Pete. Just you watch me! I'll have the rest of the class seeing the good in him, too--all but Rodney. He acts so superior, I'm sort of afraid of him."
"Don't be. He's a brilliant boy and has a heart of gold if he can only be made to see. Well, here we are at the schoolhouse."
AROLA joined her group, and Miss Burke went inside. All day in the back of her mind was the germ of an idea to help two boys develop into splendid men, and a plan began to evolve in which Pete could demonstrate his superiority in some things.
While he never reached the same depths of despair again, Pete's ascent to popularity, to being accepted, was slow. He continued to study, and within a short time was doing three problems and five words and reading an entire page.
In spite of Marola's efforts, Rodney would not recognize Pete as an equal, and when he saw how she favored him with her smiles and often drew him into conversation, he became almost insufferably rude in his attitude toward Pete. Always in class, innocently enough it appeared on the surface, he was showing up Pete's inability to do the work required of normal students, and on the playground he was even more insulting.
One afternoon recess when Rodney and Bill White were choosing up sides for a game of ball, and only Pete was left and it was Rodney's turn to choose, he said, with forced carelessness, to Bill, "It's my turn, but you can have him. He's no good, only to be the teacher's pet and get pitied by Marola."
There was no Pete at school the next day nor the next, so Miss Burke went to his home to inquire the reason.
From his mother she learned he was working for a farmer, Mr. Dalton, doing his spring plowing. She confided that he had tried to get Pete to help him before but he had refused by saying, "No, I wouldn't think of missing a day of school now, for I can really see I am learning." Continuing, his mother said, "But two nights ago he came home late and told me he wouldn't be going back to school for a while, for he would be plowing for John Dalton. I tried to talk him out of it, but couldn't."
As Miss Burke was leaving, Pete came in. When he saw her he flushed a deep crimson. She quickly put him at his ease by saying, "Your mother tells me you are plowing for Mr. Dalton. I've heard you are an expert at handling a team. In fact, one man told me you are the smartest boy in town when it came to hitching up and driving a team. Do you come home for your noon meal?"
"No, I eat dinner with the Daltons. I drive the team to their place at noon, where I water them and they eat while I do, then I drive them back to work. I'll be plowing on his acres a half mile the other side of the schoolhouse for awhile now, so I'll be passing by the school at noon or about twelve-thirty. If you want to see pretty horses, just be looking out the window tomorrow. I curry them every day, and they're real beauties, King and Sally are their names."
UDITH Burke had received the inspiration she needed to develop her idea into a workable plan. That night she decided that Rodney and the rest of her class should happen to be all together in front of the schoolhouse when Pete passed next day at noon driving his shining team.
To her surprise, Marola was again at her gate the next morning, and could hardly wait to begin speaking. "Miss Burke, I almost hate Rodney. I used to like him, but not now. Do you know why Pete is out of school?"
"Yes, dear, he is plowing for Mr. Dalton."
"But that isn't the real reason. The day before he stayed out, Rodney wouldn't choose him on his side and said all he was good for was to be your pet and get my pity. Honestly, Pete looked just awful, like he was sick."
"Oh, no! Not that!" Miss Burke spoke more to herself than to Marola. Then her mind began on a definite scheme to rebuild Pete's self-esteem and, at the same time, bring out the inherent goodness she felt sure was in Rodney.
In the open exercises that morning when the row leaders were reporting absences and Clair Cole said, "Pete is absent again, but I don't know why," she explained by calmly saying, "Pete is out for a few days helping Mr. Dalton with his spring plowing. I've found out he's doing a good job, and I shall give him credit in agriculture for this work. You know there are other ways to learn and advance besides studying in the schoolroom, important as such study is. I've been informed that no other boy in town can harness and unharness a team as quickly and efficiently as can Pete."
Rodney shrugged his arrogant shoulders and spoke aloud, "Pooh! It doesn't take any brains to do that. Anybody can hitch up a team."
When school was dismissed at noon, Miss Burke surprised her students by saying cheerily, "All of you have your lunches eaten and be in front of the schoolhouse by twelve thirty. I brought my kodak today, and I'm going to take your picture as a group. I shall give each one of you a print before school is out for our summer vacation."
Promptly at twelve-thirty the entire class lined up in three rows on the front lawn and were looking their pleasantest when Miss Burke came out. She took a quick look up the road. There, sure enough, not far away was Pete, walking behind the team he had curry-combed till they fairly shone.
After Miss Burke had taken two snaps of the class, Marola, seeing Pete, cried out, "Oh, look, Miss Burke, there's Pete now. Let's take his picture driving the horses!"
"Yes, let's!" chorused the group, all but Rodney.
"All right. Pete, will you stop while I get a picture of you and those beautiful horses you are driving?" she called cheerfully.
"Whoa, King! Whoa, Sally! Whoa, there!" Pete called, suddenly feeling very important.
"Now face this way," Miss Burke requested.
After his picture was taken, Miss Burke said, "We talked about the work you are doing on the farm this morning, and we agreed you were very good at doing important work like plowing and handling a team. I think you will make a good farmer, and farmers must feed the world, you know."
This was too much for Rodney, who liked to be the center of attraction. He kicked at a pebble on the side of the road and said, "Anybody can farm and take care of a team."
ISS Burke hadn't expected things to take quite this turn, but she quickly saw her opportunity to help both boys and she spoke up clearly and with conviction. "All right! Boys and girls, you've heard what Rodney just said, but I don't believe it. It takes a smart boy to do what Pete is doing. Rodney, I challenge you to prove you can unharness and then harness this team as quickly and as well as can Pete here."
Before she could say more, the class cheered and clapped their approval and called "Hurrah for Pete! Come on, Rodney!"
Miss Burke continued, "You needn't worry, Pete. I'll make things right with Mr. Dalton. Boys, get out your watches and when I say 'Go!' start timing as Pete first unharnesses the team then puts the harness back on them again. Then you can time Rodney while he does the same. Ready, Pete?"
"Ready," he answered quickly.
"All right, go!" she called, and without the appearance of haste, Pete began taking off the harness. He placed it by the side of the road, then took it up and harnessed the team again, all in an incredibly short time.
"Now, it's your turn, Rodney," spoke up Marola, with a smile that contained a hint of malice. "Let's see you beat Pete's record."
Miss Burke knew Rodney was afraid and experiencing chagrin for perhaps the first time in his life. She could see it in his face, but she had to admire the way he stepped forward gallantly. Of course, there was nothing else he could do, for his honor was at stake.
He began undoing the wrong strap buckle, so Pete said, "Not that, Rod. Here's where you begin. Now you do this. Now this," and so on till the harness was by the side of the road, with Pete saying an occasional "Whoa, King," or "Whoa, Sally," to the horses who wondered what it was all about.
When Rodney started to reharness the team, he frankly asked Pete to tell him what to do and followed directions readily. Then in a friendly, sporting way, he held Pete's hand high and called, "All done," to the timekeepers, who, being quick to respond to good sportsmanship, called back encouragingly, "You only took five times as long as Pete."
Rodney then showed the substance of which he was made by holding out his hand to Pete, who had the lines and was ready to give the "giddap" signal. As Pete grasped it quickly and firmly, Rodney said, "Congratulations, Pete. You're great! See you in school tomorrow?"
"Sure thing!" answered Pete, with a feeling of pride and of belonging in his voice and in his heart. Then he went whistling joyously on his way, while his classmates looked at him as if really seeing him for the first time.