by Ruth Hammond Barrus
"Thank goodness the roads are dry today," Grace gratefully said to Katie as she hooked Mame to the buggy that took the four girls to Smithfield each school day. "I haven't enjoyed getting us to school through all that mud. We've mired down to the hubs more than once."
"Yes, and by the time we got to Smithfield the wheels looked just like two big pancakes running down the road, young Retta added. She was just finishing her fourth reader in school, and her little sister standing beside her in the back of the buggy was finishing her second reader. The older Grace and Katie were ending their last year in school.
"Don't you just hate to think about school stopping soon," Viola suggested to Retta.
"Well, I hate to leave Mr. Raymond's room," answered Retta. "He has been so nice after my last teacher. You can be glad Jimmie Lowe moved to Canada or you would have had him for a teacher this year then I'll bet you'd have been glad for school to stop."
"Was Mr. Lowe really awfully mean?" asked Viola, curiously.
"Well, you better not have got caught eating or whispering in his room or you had to put your hand out so he could hit it hard with a ruler," answered Retta, her eyes angrily popping with memory.
"But I believe he was meanest to Sylvia, Retta continued. "She was kind of big and had bushy hair, and when she couldn't answer the questions, he used to point his finger at her and say real loud, "You squaw!" Sylvia would cry and Rachel would reach down and take hold of my hand so we wouldn't cry too.
"Was he mean to you?" asked Viola, sympathetically.
"Well, he never hit me with a ruler; but I was awfully scared of him and I sure tried to be good. Bertha wasn't afraid, though. She used to bring carrots and apples to school just to see if she could get by with eating them when Mr. Lowe's back was turned."
"Are you going to play that April Fool's joke on Mr. Raymond today like Bertha wants you to?" asked Viola, coming back to the present.
"Maybe," hesitatingly came from Retta.
"Oh! Don't be so scared!" chided Viola. "Do it!"
When the buggy came near the school house Grace let the young girls out then she and Katie drove the buggy back of Carpenter's store where Mame could be unharnessed and fed.
Big, good-natured Bertha cornered Retta immediately. "The rest will do it, and you've just got to too, Retta," she eagerly explained.
"I - I guess so," falteringly said Retta.
The shy, sober-forced faces that filed into Mr. Raymond's room that day exposed an unwitting prelude to mischief but game Will Raymond conducted his school work very innocently and matter-of-factly. When the noon bell rang, boys and girls grabbed their lunch pails and ran for the out-of-doors. It was warm and dry enough that their teacher had allowed them to eat outside. Retta's friends, by agreement, met at their playhouse, an imaginary one outlined on the ground by logs and willows. Today they didn't even take time to count their cache store of hoarded pieces of broken china which they used for play dishes, but sat huddled on the logs whispering mysteriously.
Retta broke away from the group when she saw Viola near the murderously turbulent Smithfield Creek. "Viola, you know you aren't supposed to play near that creek," she hastily called, and catching up with her, pulled her back. The sound of the rushing water attracted the children sometimes beyond their control to resist.
"You played here last year, why can't I?" complained Viola.
"You know why!" came crossly from Retta. "Since the Harper children got drowned nobody can play here."
"Did they really get drowned just by watching the water?" unbelievingly asked Viola.
"Yes. A whole line of kids, hands together, dared each other to see who could look down at the moving water the longest without getting dizzy. The Harper boys got so dizzy they fell in and were drowned before they pulled them out."
"It goes awfully fast." shuddered Viola as she looked at the swift stream.
"Now come away before we get caught." Retta said, sharply. "You can finish your lunch with me." and the girls started toward the playhouse.
"Are you going to do it?" whispered Viola eagerly.
"Goody!" Viola returned.
Before time for the bell to ring calling them back to school, Retta's class met beyond the woodshed. Sentries were posted to make sure no teacher was in sight. On signal the class started filing in the woodshed. When about fifteen of the students had crowded into the shed the sentry signaled that someone was coming, and the door was hastily shut, leaving Retta and some of the other reluctant ones guiltily standing outside.
It was Grace's teacher, Mr. Price. The bell was ringing and he called to them to hurry or they would be late. Not daring to refuse they slowly dragged themselves into their classroom. Mr. Raymond grinned down at his greatly diminished class.
"Now, what has happened to the rest of the class?" he asked severely. Retta and the rest looked down at their slates, chagrined.
"I guess if nobody knows, I'll just have to find out." and he left the room.
Retta and the rest of the class ran to the window to watch their teacher. He quickly strode to the woodshed and snapped shut the lock on the door, returning immediately. The students scurried to their seats, trying to repress their troubled expressions.
Quietly, and with controlled voice, Mr. Raymond, without explanation, told his thinned class to turn to page ninety-six in their readers. Retta's ears were not listening to the reader, but were strained toward the woodshed. At first all was quiet, but as the minutes ticked by one heard a rattling, then a pounding, then a calling. When the noise could no longer be ignored, Mr. Raymond popped shut his book, and left the room, calling, "I'll be back in a minute."
Laughingly, he undid the latch and threw open the woodshed door. To the miserable and sheepish youngsters inside he yelled a cheery "April Fools!"
The children came out expressing mixed emotions, but Mr. Raymond's happy disposition was contagious enough to dispel all ill-humor and embarrassment.
Back in the classroom he pulled apples out of his desk drawer for his students and started an impromptu April Fool's program.
Mr. Price stuck his bright red head in the room, commenting, "I see the lost sheep are returned." After the laughter had cleared he asked if his room could join in the party.
I'm glad Mr. Price will be my teacher next year, thought Retta. She had never considered herself very clever, but Mr. Price had helped to make a joke of hers seem awfully funny. It was in the early fall and she had helped decorate the school for a special program by making some trailing pumpkin leaves and draped them over a picture above Mr. Prices' desk. Commenting on the decoration, he had said to Retta, "Those are very fine pumpkin leaves, Retta, but just where is the pumpkin?"
Retta, momentarily puzzled, answered, "It fell off."
The school children began to laugh, and it wasn't long until Mr. Price realized they were laughing at him. While talking he had been standing so that his carrot-red head was just below the vines. Putting his hands up to his bright head in mock horror, he said, "So it has, so it has fallen off."
Mr. Price is really fun, thought Retta.
"Is she dead?" asked the trembling Viola. "She looks so white, and why doesn't she say something?" The ashen of Retta's face framed by the tightly-drawn black braids, matched the white of her pinafore which covered her one red-lindsey school dress.
"She'll be all right," comforted Mr. Carpenter as he rubbed the limp hands of Retta.After tense moments Retta began to move. She opened her eyes only to have a sharp sickening pain sweep through her head and body. She could see Grace, Katie, and Viola, and wondered why she was lying in Mr. Carpenter's store. Then the pain became so intense that she fainted - - a pain that was to haunt and sear her many days in the years ahead of her.
"Grace, you better go get your pa, and Katie you and Viola help me carry Retta over to our house where we can lay her on a bed." directed Mr. Carpenter, alarmed over Retta unconscious condition.Hours later, Retta awakened to the feel of four roughened and gentle hands on her head, and the sound of father Hale's earnest voice, saying, "And we grant this blessing unto you by the power of the priesthood which we hold . . ." A warm feeling came over her as she looked up at the fine faces of her father and Brother Carpenter, and she realized that they were asking the Lord's blessing on her through administration. Looking next at the tear-stained eyes of her sisters she asked, puzzled, "What's the matter, what happened to me?"
"We'll tell you about it later," tenderly spoke father Hale. "You rest now. We must all thank our Father-In-Heaven that you are with us yet."