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My First and Last School by Caroline F. Preston (pseudonym of Horatio Alger, Jr.)

Author: Alger, Horatio, 1832-1899.
Title: My First and Last School.
In: Gleason's Literary Companion. Boston : F. Gleason. v. 6, no. 31 (Aug. 5, 1865).
Format: 4 columns ; 28 cm.
Horatio Alger Collection.
Other Title: Frank Leslie's illustrated newspaper.
Location: PS 1029 .A3 M (Special Collections)
Optically scanned and encoded by Mark A. Williams
Horatio Alger Digital Repository Project, Northern llinois University Libraries
DeKalb, IL
30-March-2000


I never taught school but once, and goodness knows I never want to again.

This is the way it happened.

I was a girl of sixteen when I left off school. I had alway been a good scholar, and this, I suppose, was the reason that in the fall of the same year I received an application to teach the winter term of the school at Dogs Misery. How this beautiful name originated I don't know, but can guess, having seen several dogs during my brief sojourn, parading the street with tin kettles fastened to their caudal appendages.

The "deestrict" agent offered me the munificent sum of a dollar and a quarter a week and board. The last teacher had received more, but I was a green hand, as he elegantly observed, and could not expect so much. I meekly consented to the terms, and when the time arrived took the village stage, and in due season was set down in the deestrict known as Dogs Misery.

I was to board with Mrs. Abijah Higginson. I give the lady's name, for the gentleman was of very little account, and I was not brought much into connection with him.

I judged from Mrs. Higginson's appearance that when she was built, material was plenty. She would weigh, probably not less than two hundred pounds.

"We shan't treat you with no ceremony. Miss Preston," said she. "You must make yourself at home."

"Certainly," said I.

"We aint got no spare room, but I guess you can sleep between Amanda and Hepsy Ann."

These were two girls of twelve and fourteen, built after their mother's model. I said nothing, but the prospect filled me with dismay, particularly when I surveyed the accommodations destined for me.

On Monday morning I went over to the school-house, a red building of one story, which might have answered very well for a woodshed, but not so well for a nursery of learning.

Collected in front was a parcel of urchins, probably thirty in number, who surveyed me with considerable curiosity, as I advanced, with as stately and dignified a pace as I could command, toward them.

"Is that the schoolma'am?" I heard one of them say.

"She don't look very strong. Guess she can't lick very hard," said another.

To tell the truth I had a secret misgiving of the same kind myself. There was some pretty large boys who looked, to my dismayed eyes, as if they might be tough customers.

My desk consisted of a ricketty table. In a draw I found a small bell, which I rang with as much energy as I could muster. The scholars came trooping in, making as much noise as they conveniently could. When all were seated I commenced a speech which I had composed for the occasion.

"Scholars," said I, "education is one of the noblest gifts of God to man. Without it— Here my speech was interrupted by a piercing howl from one of the boys.

"What's the matter?" I demanded hastily.

"Tom Smith pinched me."

"Thomas, did you pinch him?" I asked of a stout boy who sat next the victim.

"I guess it didn't hurt him much. I only did it in fun."

"It's a very poor kind of fun—besides, you are here to study and not to play. Ahem! besides, as I was saying, 'Education is one of the noblest gifts of God to man Without it—' "

Here one of the girls giggled convulsively.

Supposing she might be laughing at my speech I stopped and looked sternly at the offender.

"What are you laughing at?" I asked " 'Cause Melissa Thompson tickled me."

"Melissa, what made you tickle her?"

"Please, ma'am, she tickled me first."

"I shall allow no tickling in school. I shall punish the next one who tickles another.

Again I commenced my speech.

"Scholars, education is the noblest gift of God to man. Without it—"

Here one of the little girls laughed. "Come here to me," I said angrily. The little girl came up looking rather frightened.

"What were you laughing at?"

"I don't know ma'am."

"Yes, you do know. Tell me instantly."

"Please ma'am, I hope you wont be mad. I was laughing because you told us that three times."

I sent the girl to her seat, and decided to omit my speech. I have it still in manuscript, and will sell it cheap to any one who is thinking of school teaching.

The next hour was spent in arranging classes, a work more difficult than interesting. One girl wanted to be in the highest class in geography. I accordingly decided to examine her.

"Where is Europe?"

"In Asia," she said hesitatingly.

"Entirely wrong ; try again."

"It's a town on the Mississippi river."

I thought I would come nearer home.

"Where is Cape Cod?"

"It's an island on the Mediterranean Sea."

I decided to refuse the young lady's application, not considering her fit for the advanced class.

By-and-by the class in spelling was called up.

"Tom Smith, you may spell onion."

"U-n un, y-u-n, onion," was the reply.

I will not give any further examples; this will serve as a specimen.

At length I got through the forenoon, and went home to a dinner of baked beans.

"How do you like the school?" asked Mrs. Higginson.

"Pretty well," said I dubiously.

"It's reckoned a pretty forrard school," said Mrs. H.

I thought it best not to say anything.

" 'Pears to me you don't like beans," she said after a pause.

"Not very well," said I. "I'll wait for the pudding."

"We aint got any. I don't often have pudding. It's so much trouble to make 'em."

With a sad heart and an empty stomach I went back to the school-house. The boys had stuffed the stove full of wood, and the heat was overpowering, which soon gave me the headache. After a while I discovered a boy stuffing a handkerchief into his mouth, apparently to keep from laughing.

"What is the matter now?" I demanded, "What are you laughing at?"

"Pat Hagan made me laugh."

"How did he make you laugh?"

" 'Cause he made a picture."

"Pat, let me see the picture."

Pat, a boy of ten, seemed very unwilling to show his artistic effort. He was finally compelled to do so. What I saw did not particularly please me. The "picture" represented a hideous ugly female with a nose of vast proportions. As I happen to have rather a long nose, I should have understood that the gifted young artist meant to represent me, even if he had not written below in printing letters not very properly spelled,

THE SKULE MARM.

"Did you mean this picture for me?" I demanded, very red in the face.

"I dunno."

"Well I do. Come out here."

"I don't want ter."

"I can't help what you want."

I seized the boy by the collar, and dragged him into the middle of the room.

"You let my brother alone!"

This came from Bridget Hagan, sister of Pat.

"It'll be your turn next," said I provoked.

I draw a veil over the scene. My offended pride demanded satisfaction and received it.

Both Pat and Bridget had an opportunity of ascertaining the hardness of my ruler, and both showed by the dismal loudness of their howls that they were gifted by Nature with lungs of extraordinary strength.

"There," said I, " I guess you wont want to make any more pictures of me."

I resumed my duties in triumph, and called out the next class with the air of a conqueror. But there was another trial in store for me before the day closed.

After recess I observed that neither Pat nor Bridget Hagan made their appearance. I inquired of the other scholars where they were.

"They've gone home, ma'am."

I inwardly resolved that I would give them another whipping the next day.

About twenty minutes later there was a furious knock at the door. One of the girls answered it.

"Tell the school-misthress I want to see her," I heard in a decided brogue.

I accordingly went to the door. I beheld before me a stout Irish woman, her face as red as fire, and her sleeves rolled up, displaying a pair of brawny arms which looked as if they might be endowed with considerable strength.

"Are you the misthress?"

"Yes. Who are you?"

"I'm Mrs. Hagan, the mother of the poor children you bate black and blue. What did you do it for? I'd like to know," and the woman put her arms akimbo.

"I didn't beat them black and blue. I punished them because they didn't behave themselves."

"Shure, an you've abused the darlints. They're the smartest childers in school, if it is their mother that says it, and I wont have 'em touched. Bad cess to the likes of you if you do it again."

"If they require it I shall do it again," said I in a burst of courage.

"Then, by the bones of St. Pathrick, I'll give you a taste of the same," exclaimed the virago, her eyes wild with rage, advancing towards me with fists doubled up.

As Mrs. Hagan was twice as big as myself, I should have stood a poor chance when opposed to her in single combat, but fortunately I retained my presence of mind.

"James!" I exclaimed to an imaginary boy in tones of thunder,"bring me my horse-pistol. This woman has threatened me, and the law will bear me out in using it."

No sooner had Mrs. Hagan heard these words than she broke and fled with a wild howl of dismay.

"She's a desperate cratur, sure enough," I heard her say.

She roused the whole neighborhood with her story of the school mistress' attempt upon her life. In the excess of her fright she reported that I had fired at her, and she had heard the ball whistling by her ear. In less than fifteen minutes another crowd had collected round the school-house. Terrified mothers insisted on immediately removing their children from the charge of a mistress who kept pistols in her desk! They declared that their darlings were not safe with such a character. It was more than intimated that I had been confined in the State Prison for an assault upon some person unknown. In short, such was the excitement in the "deestrict" that I was obliged to resign my office as teacher, and another teacher soon occupied my place. I have never kept school again, and never want to.