First Day of School

by Susan Moore

 

“Hannibal and Jedediah! You two are late again! You’ve got to quit playing on your way to school, boys. Take your seats quickly!” The teacher tapped some empty seats towards the front of the class. “You’ve missed the introduction of a new student, Susan, from Missouri. I’m sure you’ve made a real good first impression,” she added sarcastically.

A little girl smiled very shyly at the dark headed boy and his blond curly headed companion as they slid into their seats one immediately in front of her and one to her left.

“We’re going to start today’s lessons with arithmetic. I hope everyone has their pencils ready.”

Susan began searching through the things she brought with her but to no avail. She could not locate the pencil she was sure she had packed along. She glanced to her right to see that Martha, a girl about her own age, had her pencil and paper out ready to begin the lesson. Hannibal, on her left, was busy digging around in his pockets obviously in need of his own pencil, if he ever found it. But Jedediah thumped a couple of pencils lightly on his desk. She leaned forward ever so slightly and whispered in his ear, “Do you have an extra pencil that I may borrow?”

Hannibal stopped his digging and looked up at the same time that Jedediah passed one of the pencils back towards him. Susan’s face turned crimson as she saw the pencil pass to her left.

It was an automatic thing for Jed to supply his older cousin with the little necessities. Hannibal was usually busy solving some bigger problem in his head that he didn’t always remember the little items needed to accomplish the task. It wasn’t until after Jed handed the pencil backwards that he realized it was a feminine voice that had made the request.

“Jedediah! What is going on? Hannibal, aren’t you prepared again today?” the teacher rapped on Hannibal’s desk.

“Well, yes Ma’am, I’m prepared, Miss Stone,” eyeing his own pencil in his desk he produced it for his teacher to see. Susan’s mouth opened to speak and she weakly waved her hand. This wasn’t going to look good for her to start at a new school unprepared. But… then she was halted from confessing by Hannibal as he continued, “It seems as though Susan dropped her pencil and Jed was just returning it.” Hannibal smiled an incredible wicked smile that bore the dimples deep into his young cheeks. “He just naturally figgered it was me that lost it.”

Miss Stone glanced at the dark headed boy who did indeed have two pencils, one in each hand. Somehow she didn’t quite believe the story he told but then there was Susan across from him without any pencil and Jed in front of her was still holding a pencil of his own. She raised an eyebrow as she took the pencil Hannibal offered and asked of her new pupil, “Is this your pencil, Susan?”

“Well, ah…” Susan wasn’t very good at fibbing but she caught a wink from the dark brown eyes of the older boy.

“It must be hers, Miss Stone,” Jed spoke up for her, his blue eyes twinkling.

The teacher handed the pencil to Susan giving the two boys a I-don’t-know-what-you-are-up-to-but-know-its-something-look. “Turn around, Jed,” she instructed before heading back to her favorite spot in front of the class.

Susan shyly glanced sideways at Hannibal to see him still looking at her. She carefully mouthed “Thank you!” from behind her hand then obediently stared at the teacher as she presented the arithmetic lesson.

The rest of the morning went well and before long it was time for a break, the first recess. All the kids hurried from their desks to stretch their legs and work off some energy in the warming morning sun. All that is but Susan. Susan followed the others from the room but instead of joining them she aimlessly wandered towards a big oak away from the group of kids playing tag. She sat down on the cool grass under the tree and began idly plucking at the taller grass growing there as she watched the other children running and laughing.

“What’s Missouri like?”

“Huh?” gasped the startled girl as she looked up to see Hannibal standing behind her.

“Miss Stone said you’re from Missouri, what’s it like?” Hannibal repeated his question.

“It’s like here,” Susan answered. “Doesn’t look much different from where I come from ‘cept maybe the grounds flattening out more here. I just come from across the border. Not far at all.”

“Oh.” He squatted down to look at the clover leaves growing at his feet. She didn’t seem like any devil, though that’s what he’d heard lived in Missouri. He faced her and looked hard into her brown eyes. Nope. Didn’t look like no devil.

Susan stared back at the boy beside her. Did he want a staring contest? She was good at staring, she could stare down the best of them. But this one was a Kansan and well, she had heard hard things about some of them. But he didn’t look like a monster.

Just then their concentration was interrupted by a rush of bodies. Jed was tagged just as he slowed up to speak to them. “Why don’t you come play tag, Hannibal? You, too, Susan. I need someone to help me. Every time I tag someone then that person always comes right back for me.”

“Didn’t you call no tag backs?” Hannibal stood and asked with hands firmly planted on his hips.

Jed squirmed as a line of children taunted him from a safe distance. Jed looked sheepishly at his cousin, reached out and tapped Susan’s head lightly while declaring, “No tag backs!” then ran through the line of disappointed kids. Shocked Susan looked up to see the line scatter, only one little boy paused long enough to stick his tongue out at her.

“You better go tag one of them,” Hannibal suggested as he looked down at the little brown haired girl. She looked up at him with fear in her eyes. “They don’t bite, even though they are Kansans. You know how to run, don’t you?”

“Sure,” she said rising from the ground. About half way up she reached over and tagged Hannibal behind the knee. “No tag backs!” she announced as she ran off in the direction of the waiting children who scattered in all directions. “Hannibal is it!” she told them as they ran from her and Hannibal, who was just a few steps behind her.

Heyes chased Martha with much enthusiasm. After he tagged her she quickly turned around and tagged Jed. Too soon the teacher called them back inside and instructed them to get their primers out. Susan was sure she had heard a low moan rattle in the back of Jed’s throat. Hannibal sat at his desk then flashed a charming smile at someone just past Susan. She turned in time to see Martha wrinkle her nose and turn away. So Hannibal was sweet on Martha! She mentally tried to see the two of them together, Heyes with his dark features and coloring and Martha with her long straw colored curls, blue eyes and freckles. Martha became aware of Susan looking at her and gave her squinted look that Susan expected would have been accompanied by another tongue sticking out if they weren’t in school. Susan passed her a quick smile before looking away with a homesick feeling in the pit of her stomach.

“Susan, would you like to read for us?” Miss Stone prompted then instructed her as to what page to begin on. Susan loved to read but was too shy to do a good job of reading out loud. She nervously attempted to accomplish the task that had been given her, halting and stumbling over words her brain knew but her tongue refused to pronounce. She could feel about 20 pairs of eyes on her, especially the ones to her right. She took a deep breath and charged on with a new determination to impress at least one person in the class. The nervousness slowly faded from her voice and she managed to get through several paragraphs without stumbling. Finally the teacher said, “Thank you, Susan. That was a nice job. You read very well!”

Susan felt like crying but managed to just nod behind her book as the next student began trudging their way through the text. And then the next. With each one Susan’s own confidence grew as she realized that they weren’t much different then herself. They struggled some, too and were almost as nervous as she.

“Jedediah, I haven’t heard you read for awhile. Seems like the last time you made an attempt you nearly died of a coughing fit. I haven’t heard you cough today so I take it that you are healthy enough to give it a try.” There were a couple of stifled giggles about the room and Susan witnessed the tips of Jed’s ears turn red as the unruly golden curls didn’t quite hide them.

“No, ma’am, I don’t have a cough today but my throat is a little sore…,” he grasped his throat with a hand.

“I believe you shall be fine, Jed. Please continue with the reading,” Miss Stone prodded.

“Yes, ma’am.” Jed cleared his throat just for good measure, then began reading. With a finger leading him along he struggled through first one sentence then another. Occasionally he would stop completely while he worked at making sense of the letters before him. Hannibal squirmed slightly in his seat and Jed looked quickly at him. Susan witnessed Hannibal mouthing the word.

“Hannibal, it is not your turn. Let him be, he is doing fine.” Miss Stone reprimanded.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Miss Stone helped Jed sound the word out while sitting at her desk, all of her concentration focused on the syllables she and Jed were sounding out. Suddenly, Hannibal was out of his seat, grabbed the reader from Jed’s hand slamming it shut and tossing it on the floor.

“Missed!” Hannibal hissed as he grabbed the book and began scrambling along the floor whacking the book against the boards in a rather random fashion.

“Hannibal! Do you mind explaining this outrage!” Miss Stone was now standing and the rest of the students had become animated as well.

“Spider, Miss Stone. Great big one! Didn’t you see it?” He stopped momentarily at the front of Martha’s desk and looked up at her. “Did you feel it, Martha?”

Martha shot out of her chair and deftly climbed on top of the chair shaking her skirt and petticoats with vigor.

“Guess not. No, never mind, Martha, there it goes!” Hannibal scooted across the floor smacking the book as he went.

Jed joined in by directing Hannibal, “There Han, there it goes!” and they worked their way towards a bookcase where it would be impossible to discern whether the spider existed or not. Girls screamed and backed away as the two boys quickly worked their way past them and most of the boys were more than mildly curious and cheering both of the boys on. Susan watched from her seat wondering if every day is this exciting. It was a lot livelier than her old school.

“That’s enough, Hannibal Heyes! Jedediah Curry!” Miss Stone was nearly shouting to be heard above the slamming book and the squealing children. The book stopped in mid air as Hannibal looked back over his shoulder at his teacher and the bedlam he had left behind him. Jed stood silently beside him. Hannibal glanced up at his younger cousin and gave him a slow faint smile.

“Take your seats, boys! To think you have the audacity to disrupt this classroom AGAIN with your shenanigans! I’ve just about had enough of this kind of behavior! You two shall make up this wasted time at lunch! You can stay in here and think about how inappropriately you have been acting! Class dismissed for lunch!” Miss Stone’s face was as red as the tips of Jed’s ears had been just a short while ago. Perspiration beaded on her forehead and the ringlets of hair seemed to have lost their bounce. Well, it was a warm fall day, Susan reasoned. Surely Hannibal and Jed didn’t cause her that much distress that her hair would uncurl. But then again if this was a normal day…

Students snatched their lunch pails and satchels, some scurried from the room so as to not get caught in the brewing storm, others lagged to see how the scenario played out. Susan slowly gathered her own lunch and reluctantly followed Martha out of the class but she parked herself just outside the door so she could hear what transpired within. She could even see back in through a small crack in the door.

“No lunch? Miss Stone, I’m really, really sorry, I thought there was a spider! I didn’t mean to disrupt the whole class. I was just concerned….” Hannibal turned a most sorrowful and repenting face to the teacher who seemed callous to its effect. “You know how Jed gets when he don’t eat, Miss Stone. He’ll get powerful hungry, then he won’t be able to concentrate for the rest of the afternoon ‘cause his stomach will be growlin’ and rumblin’ something awful. Then won’t any of us be able to study properly. Just make me miss lunch, Miss Stone. I’ll…,” the 10 year old eyes worked at the boy’s teacher, “You can make me miss mine twice. I’ll stay in recesses, too.” The pleading was winding up and to Susan’s amazement the teacher had not stopped him during his dissertation. Indeed she seemed rather amused by it.

“Sit down, Hannibal. And be quiet.” The teacher stood close to the boy’s desk and directed him there with a fingertip. “You may practice your handwriting. You may start with ‘I will not disrupt class with silly schemes.’ And you, Jed…,” she turned on the younger boy who had sunk back into his own chair. “You may write ‘I will not be bad in class.’ Perhaps both of you will think better of doing this again,” then under her breath added, “But I doubt it.”

Susan slowly unwrapped her lunch and began eating, every once in awhile glancing through the crack to see the two boys busy writing sentences. Occasionally Jed would look towards the shelf where the lunches were stored and hungrily gnaw on the end of his pencil. Susan felt compelled to help them somehow but how? She stared at the remainder of her lunch, a half of a sandwich, an apple, and a piece of spice cake. She wasn’t that hungry, she could share but how? Suddenly she did not feel so good. She got up and went towards the outhouse.

“Miss Stone?” a very pale Susan stood in the door way of the school. “Miss Stone, I don’t feel so good.” Susan walked towards the teacher’s desk, staggering on wobbly legs. She passed between her own desk and Hannibal’s dropping the rest of her sandwich on the top of his desk. As she tottered pass Jed’s desk she slapped her left hand over her mouth and deposited the wrapper with the apple and cake next to Jed’s hand. The teacher jumped to Susan’s side grasping her about the shoulders to steady the girl.

“What’s the matter, Susan? Here! Sit down here on the floor next to my desk.” Miss Stone helped the girl down.

“My head hurts, and …,” beads of sweat were visible above Susan’s upper lip, “and my stomach doesn’t feel well.”

“Oh, dear!” Miss Stone squatted next to the girl and felt her forehead.

Hannibal stared at the sandwich on his desk then looked down at the girl beside the teacher’s desk. She looked up at him while the teacher fussed over her. Hannibal pointed at the sandwich then himself; Susan nodded ever so slowly.

“Do you think a drink of water might be helpful?” Miss Stone grabbed a hand fan from her desk and fanned the little girl. Jed stood up to get a better look at the sick girl.

“Oh, yes, Miss Stone! I think that would be most helpful!” Susan took her hand and wiped the moisture from her lip.

Miss Stone gathered her skirts in her hands and hurried from the room. “Watch her for me, boys.”

“Yes, ma’am!” Hannibal dutifully answered as the teacher exited the building.

“You really sick?” Jed asked the new girl.

She looked up at the cute blue eyed boy, smiled sweetly and whispered, “No, Jed, not really but I think I can get her out of the room long enough so you can eat the food I set on your desk.”

Jed looked at the parcel on his desk containing the red juicy apple and the slice of cake then at the girl on the floor. “Really? That would be great!” he whispered back as his stomach rumbled its desire for the gift.

Hannibal shushed them as Miss Stone entered the schoolroom with a dipper of water.

“Here you go, Susan. Nice cool water. Sip it slowly.” The teacher knelt beside the girl and suddenly Susan had a pang of guilt stab her in the gut. But she did as the teacher instructed with Hannibal watching calmly amazed and intrigued. Jed still stood watching, wondering how long it would be until Susan coaxed the teacher from the room again.

Suddenly Susan sputtered water, slapped a hand over her mouth and sprang from the floor. She wove in and out, bumping into desks as she headed for the outside and the outhouse. Miss Stone was close behind her.

As soon as the pair was through the door Jed tore the wrapper from the cake and began devouring the divine dessert. Hannibal picked up the sandwich and bit into it as he walked towards the window to see the pair walking more slowly now in the direction of the outhouse. He saw Susan stop, lean forward, then sit down in the grass just barely under the shade of an elm tree. She was good! It was going to be fun having her around!

By the time Miss Stone came back in with Susan and the rest of the students, Hannibal and Jed were in their seats busily writing sentences.

“Are you sure you are okay now, Susan?” the teacher much relieved with the girl’s rather sudden recovery.

“Yes, ma’am, I feel much better, thank you.” The girl gave her teacher a genuine smile as she noted the food missing from the desks of her two new friends.

“All right, class, it’s time to resume our lessons. It’s been an exceptional day, even for us, let’s see about getting back to lessons. Hannibal and Jedediah, you may stop writing sentences for now.” She collected their papers and smiled at the work they had produced despite the interruption they had had. “Let’s move on to history…”

The lessons resumed and the classroom was much more subdued from the morning activities. Susan even grew drowsy and found herself nodding several times. ‘Oh, please, Lord, don’t let me fall asleep on my first day as well!’ was her silent prayer. Never had she had such a day! She blinked her heavy eyelids and studied the curls on the back of Jedediah’s head. His mother must have a time getting those curls combed through! And she tugged at her own brown braids thinking how it hurt to have the brush pass through her thin, fine hair. Those curls must surely tangle easily.

“Susan? Are you feeling all right?” the teacher inquired.

Susan startled at the sound of her name and saw her hand poised just a minute space away from the honey colored curls in anticipation of her fingers pulling their way through them. Jed turned in his seat to check on the newcomer, forcing her to quickly bring her hand back to her own hair. “Uh, yes, ma’am. I’m fine.” She answered. And she was wide awake now!

Hannibal muffled a snicker and Martha allowed her another sample of her if-looks-could-kill repertoire. It seemed like it had been an extremely long afternoon. Wasn’t it time for a recess? Not that that would prove to be anymore exciting than class. But she needed to get up and move around. Maybe they would play tag again. She did not suffer much longer as Miss Stone soon dismissed them for an afternoon break. The children quickly scattered.

Susan stood, eager to exercise but suddenly overcome with an anxiety about whether she would be accepted into any games this time. She had presented herself a little odd in the last few hours. She strolled out into the sunlight. The others were gathered in smaller groups this time, some were organizing a game of marbles, a few of the younger girls were jumping rope, some of the boys had produced a ball and were playing a game. No one was playing tag.

“That Hannibal Heyes is intolerable!” Martha’s voice carried to where Susan was standing along the wall of the school. “He thinks he is sooo smart and sooo cute but he’s still just a farm boy.” She tossed her head enough to make her blond curls bounce and dance.

“But he is smart and cute!” countered another girl just slightly older and obviously wiser. Her green eyes glistened with enthusiasm of the selected topic.

“I wouldn’t ever go with a farm boy,” Martha recited as she smoothed out her store bought dress causing Susan to look down at her own homemade calico print dress. “But I do owe him an embarrassment for this morning.” She tapped her cheek with devious thought. “Spider! There was no more a spider than…,” she paused and looked up to see Susan listening in, “she was sick!” and she pointed at the new girl.

Susan’s face flushed as she looked the spiteful girl in the eye than turned and walked away.

“She’s just like them,” Martha declared. “A farm girl.”

“Martha! That wasn’t very nice!” and the green-eyed girl left the small ring of female students.

Susan pulled a leaf off of the tree as she walked under it and had proceeded to tear it along the fine veins when she heard the footsteps behind her.

“Susan? My name is Sarah. And I want to be your friend,” the green-eyed girl walked evenly with Susan. “Martha thinks she is so much but she doesn’t realize she lacks more than she has.”

Susan smiled at the older girl but didn’t quite understand what she was saying. Martha didn’t look like someone that lacked much.

“Is it always this exciting at this school?” Susan asked her new friend.

Sarah laughed a hearty laugh. “With Hannibal and Jed around things keep pretty interesting! They are good boys, at heart, they are just adventurous. Come on let’s teeter totter!” And Sarah ran toward the play equipment.

“But….,” Susan followed reluctantly.

“What’s wrong?” Sarah stopped, “Are you sick again?”

“I, well, I’ve never…” Susan stared at the board balanced on it’s frame.

“Hey, you want to teeter totter?” It was Hannibal’s voice that got her attention. “You’re not scared of it are you, Susan?”

“Well, yes. Kind of. I’ve never teeter tottered before. I think I’d probably fall off.” She was surprised at her casual confession.

“Naw, you won’t fall off,” Jed stated. “Han will hold you on. Won’t you, Han?”

“Sure, I will, if it will make you feel better.” Hannibal looked at her with sincerity in his dark eyes.

“And I’ll ride with Jed to balance things out,” Sarah announced. “That okay, Jed?”

“Sure, Sarah.” Jed held the board up so both of the girls could get on.

“Now hang on tight, Susan, and I’ll get on behind you and hold you on.” Hannibal straddled the board behind her then reached around to grab onto the handle, too. Suddenly Susan felt very safe and then they began going down, then up, very gently. Down. Then up. The boys gently pushed off from the ground while Hannibal kept his arms wrapped around Susan. Jed had gone to holding on to the board. As Susan became more relaxed Hannibal started to speed up the bouncing. Pretty soon they were bumping the ground making the couple at the other end jump into the air. The foursome was laughing and bouncing when the teacher called them in.

“Thanks, Hannibal, Sarah and Jed. That was really fun!” Susan glowed with a new exhilaration as they ran toward the schoolhouse.

The afternoon was filled with rules for using commas and other proper forms of punctuation. Jed had several questions about why you had to use commas so often and Hannibal tried explaining it to him. Martha told Jed to just be quiet and don’t question the teacher about why. Miss Stone told Martha that it was good for Jed to question why; that showed that he had a real desire to understand and that his learning would more complete if he understood. Martha gave Susan another mean look but Susan just smiled. Sarah, who sat behind Susan whispered to her that she would walk home with her. Surprised, Susan nodded her agreement without turning in her seat. And so Susan’s first day of school was coming to an end. It hadn’t been so bad. In fact some moments had been thrilling! Miss Stone dismissed the students for the day.

“I hope you had a good first day at our school, Susan,” Miss Stone patted Susan on the shoulder. “I’m so sorry you didn’t feel well, though.”

“I had a good day, Miss Stone. Thank you. And I feel just fine now. Must have been something I ate.” The little girl smiled at her teacher as she gathered her books to go home. She hurried to meet her new friend that was waiting at the door for her.

As she and Sarah walked down the road Jed and Hannibal joined them. “Mind if we walk with you?” Hannibal asked the two.

“Of course not, Hannibal,” Sarah smiled at the boy.

“You got lots of homework, Susan?” Jed asked as he noted the books she was carrying.

“Some,” she admitted. Suddenly she spun around and walked backwards so she could talk with the boy with the sky blue eyes. “Would you mind helping me?”

“Me?” Jed took on a worried look. “I ain’t much good with school work. You should ask Hannibal.”

Susan looked at the boy with the mahogany eyes. He gave her a quizzical stare then nodded for her to continue. “Jed, I figure Hannibal is not so good at what I need help with.” She hurried on before she lost her nerve, “I need someone to listen to me read. I need someone who doesn’t know all of the words already and won’t hurry me.” Well, maybe that wasn’t the best way to put it but… She held her breath waiting for his answer.

“I reckon you’re right. Sometimes he gets a might pushy. Sure I’ll help you. I’m a good listener,” and he smiled. Susan smiled back. And best of all, Hannibal smiled.

“That’s right nice of you, Jed, to help her like that,” Hannibal said knowing full well it would be his cousin benefiting from the tutoring.

“Hannibal?” Sarah had been pretty quiet. “What is it about Martha that you like?”

“Martha?” Hannibal was taken by surprise with Sarah’s question. “Martha has pretty hair, and nice clothes. I was thinking of asking her to be my girlfriend.”

“But she’s mean,” Jed blurted.

“Nice clothes and pretty hair are nice but Jed’s right,” Sarah kicked at a stick in the road.

“She can make some really mean faces,” Susan added. “My ma says nice girls don’t make mean faces.”

Hannibal looked at the trio, “You all are talking about my girlfriend to be.”

“I’d as soon ask a rattlesnake,” little Jed confessed.

“Don’t you think she likes me?” Hannibal was being quite serious. Susan understood the saying ‘love is blind’ now.

“I may be new here but I think if you ask her to be your girlfriend she will say yes,” Susan predicted. Hannibal smiled a big wide smile. “But I think you will be real sorry.” The smile faded.

“Why would I be sorry?” the boy pushed brown hair from his brow.

“Because you embarrassed her today and she wants to get back at you,” Susan was being uncharacteristically bold but she didn’t want to see her new friend get hurt by that girl.

“I embarrassed her?” Hannibal tried to remember. “Ohhh, the spider…” He kicked up some dust. “How would she hurt me?” he asked as he stared at the dirt road.

“I’m not sure, Hannibal, but I heard her say that she thinks you are horrid and that she would never go with a ‘farm boy’ except to get back at you. She would only be your girl to set you up to get hurt.”

“She’s a mean rattlesnake,” Jed repeated. Hannibal looked at him then at the other two girls. Shoot! They were just as cute as Martha and they were nice.

“You may be right, Jed. No use in rushing into this. Maybe I’ll just wait and see if she gets nicer.” Hannibal smiled and whistled a little tune as they walked along.

“This is my lane,” Susan pointed at the little wagon path that cut through the field. “Guess I’ll see you all tomorrow.” She halted at the turn off, then added, “I had a really good first day. I think I’m going to like Kansas.”

“Uh, Susan?” Hannibal questioned.

“Yes?”

“How’d you make yourself look so sick?” the boy had been pondering this all afternoon.

“Oh, that!” Susan blushed. “I went out by myself and twirled around in circles until I was dizzy. It was hot out there! Wasn’t hard to get that sweat. Or acting sick! I’m not a very good liar, I really didn’t feel well after that.” She smiled and the other three laughed.

“You’re all right for a Missourian,” Hannibal stated as he, Jed, and Sarah continued down the road. “See you tomorrow!”

 

 

First Day of School

written by Susan Moore

September 12, 2000

 

First Day of School

by Susan Moore

 

 

“Hannibal and Jedediah! You two are late again! You’ve got to quit playing on your way to school, boys. Take your seats quickly!” The teacher tapped some empty seats toward the front of the class. “You’ve missed the introduction of a new student – Susan, from Missouri. I’m sure you’ve made a real good first impression,” she added sarcastically.

A little girl smiled very shyly at the dark-haired boy and his blond curly-haired companion as they slid into their seats, one immediately in front of her and one to her left.

“We’re going to start today’s lessons with arithmetic. I hope everyone has their pencils ready.”

Susan began searching through the things she brought with her, but to no avail. She could not locate the pencil she was sure she had packed along. She glanced to her right to see that Martha, a girl about her own age, had her pencil and paper out ready to begin the lesson. Hannibal, on her left, was busy digging around in his pockets, obviously in need of his own pencil, if he ever found it. But Jedediah thumped a couple of pencils lightly on his desk.

She leaned forward ever so slightly and whispered in his ear, “Do you have an extra pencil that I may borrow?”

Hannibal stopped his digging and looked up at the same time that Jedediah passed one of the pencils back toward him. Susan’s face turned crimson as she saw the pencil pass to her left.

It was an automatic thing for Jed to supply his older cousin with the little necessities. Hannibal was usually busy solving some bigger problem in his head that he didn’t always remember the little items needed to accomplish the task. It wasn’t until after Jed handed the pencil back that he realized it was a feminine voice that had made the request.

“Jedediah! What is going on? Hannibal, aren’t you prepared again today?” the teacher asked as she rapped on Hannibal’s desk.

“Well, yes, ma’am, I’m prepared, Miss Stone,” eyeing his own pencil in his desk he produced it for his teacher to see.

 

 

Susan’s mouth opened to speak and she weakly waved her hand. This wasn’t going to look good for her to start at a new school unprepared. But then she was halted from confessing by Hannibal as he continued.

“It seems as though Susan dropped her pencil and Jed was just returning it.” Hannibal smiled an incredibly wicked smile that bore the dimples deep into his young cheeks. “He just naturally figgered it was me who lost it.”

Miss Stone glanced at the dark-haired boy who did indeed have two pencils, one in each hand. Somehow she didn’t quite believe the story he was telling, but then there was Susan across from him without any pencil and Jed in front of her was still holding a pencil of his own. She raised an eyebrow as she took the pencil Hannibal offered and asked of her new pupil, “Is this your pencil, Susan?”

“Well, ah. . .” Susan wasn’t very good at fibbing, but she caught a wink from the older boy.

“It must be hers, Miss Stone,” Jed spoke up for her, his blue eyes twinkling.

The teacher handed the pencil to Susan, giving the two boys a I-don’t-know-what-you're-up-to-but-know-it's-something look. “Turn around, Jed,” she instructed before heading back to her favorite spot in front of the class.

Susan shyly glanced sideways at Hannibal, finding him still looking at her. She carefully mouthed “Thank you!” from behind her hand, then obediently stared at the teacher as she presented the arithmetic lesson.

The rest of the morning went well and before long it was time for a break – the first recess. All the kids hurried from their desks to stretch their legs and work off some energy in the warming morning sun. All, that is, except Susan.

Susan followed the other children from the room, but instead of joining them, she wandered toward a big oak away from the group of kids playing tag. She sat down on the cool grass under the tree and began plucking at the taller grass growing there as she watched the other children running and laughing.

“What’s Missouri like?”

“Huh?” gasped the startled girl as she looked up to find Hannibal standing behind her.

“Miss Stone said you’re from Missouri. What’s it like?” he repeated his question.

“It’s like here,” Susan answered. “Doesn’t look much different from where I come from ‘cept maybe the grounds flattening out more here. I just come from across the border. Not far at all.”

“Oh.” He squatted down to look at the clover leaves growing at his feet. She didn’t look like any devil, though that’s what he’d heard lived in Missouri. He faced her and looked hard into her brown eyes. Nope. Didn’t look like no devil.

Susan stared back. Did he want a staring contest? She was good at staring, she could stare down the best of them. But this one was a Kansan and well, she had heard hard things about some of them. But he didn’t look like a monster.

Just then their concentration was interrupted by a rush of bodies. Jed was tagged just as he slowed up to speak to them. “Why don’t you come play tag, Hannibal? You, too, Susan. I need someone to help me. Every time I tag someone they always comes right back for me.”

 

“Didn’t you call no tag backs?” Hannibal asked as he stood, his hands firmly planted on his hips.

Jed squirmed as a line of children taunted him from a safe distance. He looked sheepishly at his cousin, reached out and tapped Susan’s head lightly while declaring, “No tag backs!” then ran through the line of disappointed kids.

Shocked, Susan looked up to see the line scatter, only one little boy paused long enough to stick his tongue out at her.

“You better go tag one of them,” Hannibal suggested as he looked down at the little brown-haired girl.

She looked up at him, fear in her eyes.

“They don’t bite, even though they are Kansans. You know how to run, don’t you?”

“Sure,” she said, rising from the ground. About halfway up she reached over and tagged Hannibal behind the knee. “No tag backs!” she announced as she ran off in the direction of the waiting children, who scattered in all directions. “Hannibal is it!” she told them as they ran from her and Hannibal, who was just a few steps behind her.

Heyes chased Martha, with much enthusiasm. After he tagged her she quickly turned around and tagged Jed. Too soon the teacher called them back inside and instructed them to get their primers out.

Susan was sure she had heard a low moan rattle in the back of Jed’s throat. Hannibal sat at his desk, then flashed a charming smile at someone just past Susan. She turned in time to see Martha wrinkle her nose and turn away. So Hannibal was sweet on Martha. She mentally tried to see the two of them together, Heyes with his dark features and coloring and Martha with her long straw-colored curls, blue eyes and freckles.

Martha became aware of Susan looking at her and gave her a squinted look that Susan expected would have been accompanied by another tongue sticking out if they weren’t in school. Susan passed her a quick smile before looking away with a homesick feeling in the pit of her stomach.

“Susan, would you like to read for us?” Miss Stone prompted, then instructed her as to what page to begin on.

Susan loved to read, but she was too shy to do a good job of reading out loud. She nervously attempted to accomplish the task that had been given her, halting and stumbling over words her brain knew, but her tongue refused to pronounce. She could feel about twenty pairs of eyes on her, especially the ones to her right. She took a deep breath and charged on with a new determination to impress at least one person in the class. The nervousness slowly faded from her voice and she managed to get through several paragraphs without stumbling.

Finally the teacher said, “Thank you, Susan. That was a nice job. You read very well!”

Susan felt like crying, but she managed to just nod behind her book as the next student began trudging their way through the text. And then the next. With each one Susan’s own confidence grew as she realized that they weren’t much different than herself. They struggled some, too, and were almost as nervous as she.

 

“Jedediah, I haven’t heard you read for a while. Seems like the last time you made an attempt you nearly died of a coughing fit. I haven’t heard you cough today, so I take it that you are healthy enough to give it a try.” There were a couple of stifled giggles about the room and Susan saw the tips of Jed’s ears turn red.

“No, ma’am, I don’t have a cough today, but my throat is a little sore.” He grasped his throat with a hand.

“I believe you shall be fine, Jed. Please, continue with the reading,” Miss Stone prodded.

“Yes, ma’am.” Jed cleared his throat just for good measure, then began reading, his finger leading him along he struggled through first one sentence, then another. Occasionally he would stop completely while he worked at making sense of the letters before him.

Hannibal squirmed slightly in his seat and Jed quickly looked at him. Susan saw Hannibal mouth the word.

“Hannibal, it is not your turn. Let him be, he is doing fine.” Miss Stone reprimanded.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Miss Stone helped Jed sound the word out while sitting at her desk, all of her concentration focused on the syllables she and Jed were sounding out. Suddenly, Hannibal was out of his seat, grabbed the reader from Jed’s hand slamming it shut and tossing it on the floor.

“Missed!” Hannibal hissed as he grabbed the book and began scrambling along the floor whacking the book against the boards in a rather random fashion.

“Hannibal! Do you mind explaining this outrage!” Miss Stone demanded, standing. The rest of the students had become animated as well.

“Spider, Miss Stone. Great big one! Didn’t you see it?” He stopped momentarily in front of Martha’s desk and looked up at her. “Did you feel it, Martha?”

Martha shot out of her chair and deftly climbed on top of it, shaking her skirt and petticoats with vigor.

“Guess not. No, never mind, Martha, there it goes!” Hannibal scooted across the floor smacking the book as he went.

Jed joined in by directing Hannibal, “There, Han, there it goes!” and they worked their way toward a bookcase where it would be impossible to discern whether the spider existed or not. Girls screamed and backed away as the two boys quickly worked their way past them and most of the boys were more than mildly curious and cheering both of the boys on.

Susan watched from her seat, wondering if every day was this exciting. It was a lot livelier than her old school.

“That’s enough, Hannibal Heyes! Jedediah Curry!” Miss Stone was nearly shouting to be heard above the slamming book and the squealing children. The book stopped in mid-air as Hannibal looked back over his shoulder at his teacher and the bedlam he had left behind him. Jed stood silently beside him. Hannibal glanced up at his younger cousin and gave him a slow faint smile.

“Take your seats, boys! To think you have the audacity to disrupt this classroom again with your shenanigans! I’ve just about had enough of this kind of behavior! You

two shall make up this wasted time at lunch! You can stay in here and think about how inappropriately you've been acting! Class dismissed for lunch!”

Miss Stone’s face was as red as the tips of Jed’s ears had been just a short while ago. Perspiration beaded on her forehead and her ringlets of hair seemed to have lost their bounce.

Well, it was a warm fall day, Susan reasoned. Surely Hannibal and Jed didn’t cause her so much distress that her hair would uncurl. But then again, if this was a normal day. . .

Students snatched their lunch pails and satchels, some scurried from the room so as to not get caught in the brewing storm, others lagged to see how the scenario played out. Susan slowly gathered her own lunch and reluctantly followed Martha out of the class, but she parked herself just outside the door so she could hear what transpired within. She could even see back in through a small crack in the door.

“No lunch? Miss Stone, I’m really, really sorry, I thought there was a spider! I didn’t mean to disrupt the whole class. I was just concerned.” Hannibal turned a most sorrowful and repentant expression on the teacher, who seemed callous to its effect. “You know how Jed gets when he don’t eat, Miss Stone. He’ll get powerful hungry, then he won’t be able to concentrate for the rest of the afternoon ‘cause his stomach will be growlin’ and rumblin’ something awful. Then won’t any of us be able to study properly. Just make me miss lunch, Miss Stone. I’ll–” The ten-year-old's eyes worked on the boy’s teacher. “You can make me miss mine twice. I’ll stay in recesses, too.”

The pleading was winding up and to Susan’s amazement the teacher had not stopped him during his dissertation. Indeed she seemed rather amused by it.

“Sit down, Hannibal. And be quiet.” The teacher stood close to the boy’s desk and directed him there with a fingertip. “You may practice your handwriting. You may start with ‘I will not disrupt class with silly schemes.’ And you, Jed. . .” She turned on the younger boy, who had sunk back into his own chair. “You may write ‘I will not be bad in class.’ Perhaps both of you will think better of doing this again.” Then under her breath she added, “But I doubt it.”

Susan slowly unwrapped her lunch and began eating, every once in awhile glancing through the crack to see the two boys busy writing sentences. Occasionally Jed would look toward the shelf where the lunches were stored and hungrily gnaw on the end of his pencil. Susan felt compelled to help them somehow, but how? She stared at the remainder of her lunch – half of a sandwich, an apple, and a piece of spice cake. She wasn’t that hungry, she could share, but how? Suddenly she did not feel so good. She got up and started toward the outhouse.

“Miss Stone?” A very pale Susan stood in the doorway of the school. “Miss Stone, I don’t feel so good.” She walked toward the teacher’s desk, staggering on wobbly legs. She passed between her own desk and Hannibal’s, dropping the rest of her sandwich on the top of his desk. As she tottered past Jed’s desk she slapped her left hand over her mouth and deposited the wrapper with the apple and cake next to Jed’s hand. The teacher rushed to Susan’s side, grasping her about the shoulders to steady the girl.

“What’s the matter, Susan? Here! Sit down here on the floor next to my desk,” she said, helping the girl down.

“My head hurts, and. . .” Beads of sweat were visible above Susan’s upper lip, “and my stomach doesn’t feel well.”

“Oh, dear!” Miss Stone squatted next to the girl and felt her forehead.

Hannibal stared at the sandwich on his desk, then looked down at the girl beside the teacher’s desk. She looked up at him while the teacher fussed over her. He pointed at the sandwich, then himself. Susan nodded ever so slowly.

“Do you think a drink of water might be helpful?” Miss Stone grabbed a hand fan from her desk and fanned the little girl. Jed stood up to get a better look at the sick girl.

“Oh, yes, Miss Stone! I think that would be most helpful!” Susan took her hand and wiped the moisture from her lip.

Miss Stone gathered her skirts in her hands and hurried from the room. “Watch her for me, boys.”

“Yes, ma’am!” Hannibal dutifully answered as the teacher exited the building.

“You really sick?” Jed asked the new girl.

She looked up at the cute blue-eyed boy, smiled sweetly and whispered, “No, Jed, not really, but I think I can get her out of the room long enough so you can eat the food I set on your desk.”

Jed looked at the parcel on his desk containing the red juicy apple and the slice of cake, then at the girl on the floor. “Really? That would be great!” he whispered back as his stomach rumbled its desire for the gift.

Hannibal shushed them as Miss Stone entered the schoolroom with a dipper of water.

“Here you go, Susan. Nice cool water. Sip it slowly.” The teacher knelt beside the girl and suddenly Susan had a pang of guilt stab her in the gut. But she did as the teacher instructed with Hannibal watching, amazed and intrigued.

Jed still stood watching as well, wondering how long it would be until Susan coaxed the teacher from the room again.

Suddenly Susan sputtered water, slapped a hand over her mouth and sprang from the floor. She wove in and out, bumping into desks as she headed for the outside and the outhouse. Miss Stone was close behind her.

As soon as the pair was through the door Jed tore the wrapper from the cake and began devouring the divine dessert. Hannibal picked up the sandwich and bit into it as he walked to the window to see the pair walking more slowly now in the direction of the outhouse. He saw Susan stop, lean forward, then sit down in the grass just barely under the shade of an elm tree. She was good! It was going to be fun having her around!

By the time Miss Stone came back in with Susan and the rest of the students, Hannibal and Jed were in their seats busily writing sentences.

“Are you sure you are okay now, Susan?” the teacher much relieved with the girl’s rather sudden recovery.

“Yes, ma’am, I feel much better, thank you.” The girl gave her teacher a genuine smile as she noted the food missing from the desks of her two new friends.

“All right, class, it’s time to resume our lessons. It’s been an exceptional day, even for us; let’s see about getting back to lessons. Hannibal and Jedediah, you may

 

stop writing sentences for now.” She collected their papers and smiled at the work they had produced despite the interruption they had had. “Let’s move on to history.”

The lessons resumed and the classroom was much more subdued. Susan even grew drowsy and found herself nodding off several times. Oh, please, Lord, don’t let me fall asleep on my first day as well! was her silent prayer. Never had she had such a day! She blinked her heavy eyelids and studied the curls on the back of Jedediah’s head. His mother must have a time getting those curls combed through! And she tugged at her own brown braids, thinking how it hurt to have the brush pass through her thin, fine hair. Those curls must surely tangle easily.

“Susan? Are you feeling all right?” the teacher inquired.

Susan startled at the sound of her name and saw her hand poised just a minute space away from the honey-colored curls in anticipation of her fingers pulling their way through them. Jed turned in his seat to check on the newcomer, forcing her to quickly bring her hand back to her own hair.

“Uh, yes, ma’am. I’m fine,” she answered. And she was wide awake now!

Hannibal muffled a snicker and Martha allowed her another sample of her if-looks-could-kill repertoire. It seemed like it had been an extremely long afternoon. Wasn’t it time for a recess? Not that that would prove to be anymore exciting than class. But she needed to get up and move around. Maybe they would play tag again. She did not suffer much longer as Miss Stone soon dismissed them for an afternoon break. The children quickly scattered.

Susan stood, eager to exercise, but suddenly overcome with an anxiety about whether she would be accepted into any games this time. She had presented herself a little odd in the last few hours. She strolled out into the sunlight. The others were gathered in smaller groups this time, some were organizing a game of marbles, a few of the younger girls were jumping rope, some of the boys had produced a ball and were playing a game. No one was playing tag.

“That Hannibal Heyes is intolerable!” Martha’s voice carried to where Susan was standing along the wall of the school. “He thinks he is sooo smart and sooo cute, but he’s still just a farm boy.” She tossed her head enough to make her blond curls bounce and dance.

“But he is smart and cute!” countered another girl, just slightly older and obviously wiser. Her green eyes glistened with enthusiasm for the selected topic.

“I wouldn’t ever go with a farm boy,” Martha recited as she smoothed out her store-bought dress, causing Susan to look down at her own homemade calico print dress. “But I do owe him an embarrassment for this morning.” She tapped her cheek with devious thought. “Spider! There was no more a spider than–” She paused and looked up to see Susan listening in. “She was sick!” and she pointed at the new girl.

Susan’s face flushed as she looked the spiteful girl in the eye, then turned and walked away.

“She’s just like them,” Martha declared. “A farm girl.”

“Martha! That wasn’t very nice!” the green-eyed girl said, then left the small ring of female students.

Susan pulled a leaf off of the tree as she walked under it and had proceeded to tear it along the fine veins when she heard the footsteps behind her.

“Susan? My name's Sarah. And I want to be your friend,” the green-eyed girl said as she walked with Susan. “Martha thinks she is so much, but she doesn’t realize she lacks more than she has.”

Susan smiled at the older girl, but she didn’t quite understand what she was saying. Martha didn’t look like someone that lacked much.

“Is it always this exciting at this school?” Susan asked her new friend.

Sarah laughed a hearty laugh. “Hannibal and Jed keep things pretty interesting! They're good boys at heart, they're just adventurous. Come on, let’s teeter totter!” Sarah ran toward the play equipment.

“But–” Susan followed reluctantly.

“What’s wrong?” Sarah stopped. “Are you sick again?”

“I, well, I’ve never. . .” Susan started, staring at the board balanced on it’s frame.

“Hey, you want to teeter totter?” It was Hannibal’s voice that got her attention. “You’re not scared, are you, Susan?”

“Well, yes. Kind of. I’ve never teeter tottered before. I think I’d probably fall off.” She was surprised at her casual confession.

“Naw, you won’t fall off,” Jed stated. “Han will hold you on. Won’t you, Han?”

“Sure I will, if it'll make you feel better.” Hannibal looked at her, his dark eyes sincere.

“And I’ll ride with Jed to balance things out,” Sarah announced. “That okay, Jed?”

“Sure, Sarah.” Jed held the board up so both of the girls could get on.

“Now hang on tight, Susan, and I’ll get on behind you and hold you on.” Hannibal straddled the board behind her, then reached around to grab onto the handle, too.

Susan felt very safe, and then they began going down, then up, very gently. Down. Then up. The boys gently pushed off from the ground while Hannibal kept his arms wrapped around Susan. Jed had gone to holding on to the board. As Susan became more relaxed Hannibal started to speed up the bouncing. Pretty soon they were bumping the ground making the couple at the other end jump into the air. They were still laughing and bouncing when the teacher called them in.

“Thanks, Hannibal, Sarah and Jed. That was really fun!” Susan glowed with a new exhilaration as they ran toward the schoolhouse.

The afternoon was filled with rules for using commas and other proper forms of punctuation. Jed had several questions about why you had to use commas so often and Hannibal tried explaining it to him.

Martha told Jed to be quiet and stop asking the teacher about why things were that way.

Miss Stone told Martha that it was good for Jed to question why things worked the way they did; that it showed that he had a real desire to understand and that his learning would be more complete if he understood.

Martha gave Susan another mean look, but Susan just smiled.

Sarah, who was sitting behind Susan, whispered to her that she would walk home with her. Surprised, Susan nodded her agreement without turning in her seat.

 

And so Susan’s first day of school came to an end. It hadn’t been so bad. In fact, some moments had been thrilling!

Miss Stone dismissed the students for the day. “I hope you had a good first day at our school, Susan,” she said as she patted Susan on the shoulder. “I’m so sorry you didn’t feel well, though.”

“I had a good day, Miss Stone. Thank you. And I feel just fine now. Must've been something I ate,” the little girl smiled as she gathered her books to go home. She hurried to meet her new friend who was waiting at the door for her.

As she and Sarah walked down the road, Jed and Hannibal joined them.

“Mind if we walk with you?” Hannibal asked the two girls.

“Of course not,” Sarah smiled at the boy.

“You got lots of homework, Susan?” Jed asked as he noted the books she was carrying.

“Some,” she admitted. She turned around and walked backwards so she could talk with the boy with the sky blue eyes. “Would you mind helping me?”

“Me?” Jed's expression took on a worried look. “I ain’t much good with schoolwork. You should ask Hannibal.”

Susan looked at the boy with the mahogany eyes. He gave her a quizzical stare, then nodded for her to continue.

“I figure Hannibal's not so good at what I need help with.” Susan hurried on before she lost her nerve. “I need someone to listen to me read. I need someone who doesn’t know all of the words already and won’t hurry me.” Well, maybe that wasn’t the best way to put it but . . . She held her breath waiting for his answer.

“I reckon you’re right. Sometimes he gets a mite pushy. Sure, I’ll help you. I’m a good listener,” he said, then smiled.

Susan smiled back. And best of all, Hannibal smiled.

“That’s right nice of you, Jed, to help her like that,” Hannibal said, knowing full well it would be his cousin benefiting from the tutoring.

“Hannibal?” Sarah said. “What is it about Martha that you like?”

“Martha?” Hannibal was taken by surprise with Sarah’s question. “Martha has pretty hair and nice clothes. I was thinking of asking her to be my girlfriend.”

“But she’s mean,” Jed blurted.

“Nice clothes and pretty hair are nice, but Jed’s right,” Sarah said, kicking a stick in the road.

“She can make some really mean faces,” Susan added. “My ma says nice girls don’t make mean faces.”

Hannibal looked at the trio. “You all are talking about my girlfriend-to-be.”

“I’d as soon ask a rattlesnake,” Jed confessed.

“Don’t you think she likes me?” Hannibal asked, seriously.

Susan decided that she understood the saying "love is blind" now.

“I might be new here, but I think if you ask her to be your girlfriend she'll say yes,” Susan predicted. Hannibal smiled. “But I think you'll be real sorry.”

The smile faded. “Why would I be sorry?” he asked, pushing brown hair off his brow.

“Because you embarrassed her today, and she wants to get back at you,” Susan said, being uncharacteristically bold. But she didn’t want to see her new friend get hurt by that girl.

“I embarrassed her?” Hannibal tried to remember. “Ohhh, the spider.” He kicked up some dust. “How would she hurt me?” he asked as he stared at the dirt road.

“I’m not sure," Susan admitted. "But I heard her say that she thinks you are horrid, and that she'd never go with a ‘farm boy’ – except to get back at you. She'd only be your girl to set you up to get hurt.”

“She’s a mean rattlesnake,” Jed repeated.

Hannibal looked at him, then at the other two girls. Shoot! They were just as cute as Martha, and they were nice.

“You might be right, Jed. No use in rushing into this. Maybe I’ll just wait and see if she gets any nicer.” Hannibal smiled and whistled a little tune as they walked along.

“This is my lane,” Susan said, pointing at the little wagon path that cut through the field. “Guess I’ll see you all tomorrow.” She halted at the turn off, then added, “I had a really good first day at school. I think I’m going to like Kansas.”

“Uh, Susan?” Hannibal questioned.

“Yes?”

“How’d you make yourself look so sick?” He'd been pondering that all afternoon.

“Oh, that!” Susan blushed. “I went out by myself and twirled around in circles until I was dizzy. It was hot out there! Wasn’t hard to get that sweat. Or acting sick! I’m not a very good liar, I really didn’t feel well after that.” She smiled and the other three laughed.

“You’re all right, for a Missourian,” Hannibal stated as he, Jed, and Sarah continued down the road. “See you tomorrow!”