AT eight o’clock in the morning the new teacher sat at her desk, busily writing. It was the second day of the term, and she had arrived at the schoolhouse early to enter the names of her forty-four pupils in the Register.
Outside, in the boys’ yard, a goodly number of youngsters had already assembled. Faint echoes of shouts and laughter reached her ears, and she smiled. The new teacher liked boys and was always pleased when they were happy.
Slowly and squeakingly the door of Room 2 swung outward a few inches, and in the narrow opening a head appeared. It was a very round head, crowned with a luxuriant growth of paprika-colored hair, tufts of which stood upright here and there like the feathers of an Indian war-bonnet. The face beneath the hair was also very round, lighted by a pair of glassy greenish eyes, and decorated by a small snub nose and as many freckles as Nature could conveniently crowd upon the limited surface of cheeks and forehead.
The new teacher greeted the head pleasantly.
‘Good morning, Robbie. What can I do for you?’
The head advanced still farther into the room, and was followed by a rotund body and a pair of stumpy legs. Then the teacher noticed a flush beneath the freckles and a glint of excitement in the glassy eyes.
‘Is anything the matter with you?’ she inquired, pausing in her work with pen uplifted.
Robert Emmet Muldoon shook his rufous crest vigorously.
‘Naw, Missis Melville,’ he answered. ‘They ain’t nawthin’ wrong about me. It’s William the Kaiser I come ter youse about. He’s scrappin’ agin.’
Miss Melville bowed gravely.
‘ I’m sure it’s very kind of you, Robbie,’ she responded. ‘I had no time to read the paper, myself, this morning. Was it an important battle? Did the Germans win or the Allies?’
For a moment the round face exhibited bewilderment. Then comprehension dawned in the vitreous orbs.
‘Aw, I don’t mean the old guy over there,’ the boy rejoined. ‘Naw, Missis Melville, not him. I mean your William the Kaiser.’
‘My William the Kaiser?’ the teacher exclaimed. ’My William the Kaiser! ’ she repeated. ‘ Why, what do you mean, Robbie? Who is my William the Kaiser? ’
Robert Emmet pointed a stubby forefinger at a diminutive chair and desk in the front row of seats.
‘He’s the kid what sits there,’ he replied. ‘Him that wears the green sweater and the tan rubber boots, and is soft on Morris Samuelson’s big sister upstairs in the Second Grade.’
‘Oh, you mean little Willie Hartwigg!’ Miss Melville cried. ‘But whydo you call him William the Kaiser?’
‘’Cause he’s a German an’ thinks he can boss the earth,’ Robert returned promptly.
‘A German!’ echoed the teacher. ‘Are you centain of that? I imagine he is Swiss. There are several Swiss children in this room, you know.’
‘Sure I’m certain, Missis Melville.’ Robert Emmet nodded the war-bonnet positively. ‘He’s got tree uncles an’ two cousins, an’ the bunch of ’em is Fritzies, fightin’ in France. They ain’t no Swiss about that kid, no, ma’am.’
‘Well, but what has he done?’ inquired the teacher. ‘You say he has been scrapping, but I have heard no quarreling. You would better tell me the whole story.’
Robert straightened himself with modest pride.
‘On’y fer me youse would heard somethin’,’ he answered. ‘The Kaiser started in punchin’ the littlest Ginney kid, young Tony, when he seen me makin’ fer indoors an’ caught on I was comin’ in to put youse wise. So then he le. up. He ain’t no fool guy, the Kaiser ain’t. He won’t wrastle anny more till he’s sized youse up.’
‘Ah, indeed!' Miss Melville reflected a moment. ‘Well, my boy, you may return to the yard,’ she said at length, ‘and I will investigate later.’
As Robert Emmet, with a farewell bob of the war-bonnet, withdrew, she laughed aloud.
‘Bless the little innocents!’ she murmured. ‘They don’t know what they are talking about. The idea of that. Hartwigg baby being able to terrorize anyone!’
The new teacher was only nineteen, and her knowledge of children had been gained entirely by association with the model classes in the State Training School from which she had but recently been graduated.
At a quarter past nine, the preliminary morning exercises, consisting of songs and memory gems, having been disposed of, she formally opened her Court of Inquiry by summoning William Hartwigg to her desk.
Her austerely judicial expression involuntarily softened as the accused took his stand before the bar. He was a slender, graceful, neatly clad child of eight, with curling golden hair, peachy cheeks, and lips like the petals of a budding rose. He lifted to her face a pair of eyes, intensely blue and cloudless as the sky of a perfect day in June.
‘You are the little boy whom your playmates call William the Kaiser, I believe?’ she began.
‘Yes, Missis Melville.’
The rose-leaf lips parted, displaying rows of tiny milk-white teeth beautiful as pearls.
‘ Why have they given you that name?’
‘Please, teacher, I don’t know.’ The smile faded and the corners of the rosepetal lips drooped plaintively. ‘It was Robert Emmet first called me that. He says I’m a German, but I ain’t.’
‘You are not a German? But Hartwigg is a German name. What are you, then? A Swiss boy?’
‘No, please, teacher, I am a Yankee.
I was born right here in Riverport. My mother is a Yankee, too. She was born in Boston.’
‘And your father? Is he a German?’
For the fraction of a second the goldfringed lids drooped and the peachbloom tint of the cheeks deepened to carmine. Then the beautiful eyes again looked at the teacher squarely.
‘I don’t know what my father is, Missis Melville. I never ast him.’
From the third row of seats a small white hand shot suddenly upward. Wladyslawa Polka, conscious of possessing valuable information, sprang to her feet, quite forgetting, in her eagerness, that she had not awaited permission to speak.
‘ I know what his father is,’ she piped, her pink-ribboned flaxen pig-tails vibrating with excitement. ‘He ain’t a Ger-man, at all. No, Missis Melville. He’s a rag-man. I’m sure, ’cause my Aunt Konstantina sold him twenty cents’ worth of rags before breakfast, yistiddy.’
‘Please, teacher, Mr. Hartwigg she is a German.’ Narcisse Boisvert waved a grimy fist, frantically. ‘An’ de Kaiser she pitch into me an’ a Wop an’ a Jennybool, las’ night, ’cause de French an’ de Wops an’ de Jennybools, dey is all fightin’ de Heinies. An’ de Kaiser knock from de Jennybool a front teet down her troat.’
The teacher’s puzzled eyes swept the faces of the feminine portion of her flock.
‘Jennie Boole?’ she questioned. ‘Is there a girl in this room by that name?’
‘No, ma ’am, she is not a girl, she is a boy,’ Narcisse explained. ‘She is de Eenglish, de Jennybool boy, an’ she sit in back of Robert Emmet. Her name it is Paircee Shatterton. You tell de teacher, Paircee, how de Kaiser make you eat a teet ’cause you is a Jennybool boy.’
‘It was this way,’ Percy Chatterton declared, nothing loath to add his mite to the general testimony. ‘ We was hall goin’ ’onto tergether when the Kaiser said as ’ow one Fritzie could lick two Tommy Hatkins in a minute. Hand I said one Tommy Hatkins could lick three Fritzies in ’arf a minute. Then ’e got mad hand punched me in the mug, hand my loose tooth come hout sudden hand ’opped down my throat. Hit was the tooth that uster be ’ere.’
Percy opened a capacious mouth and exhibited a yawning gap in the upper jaw.
Miss Melville turned to the accused.
‘What have you to say, Willie?’ she demanded.
The beautiful eyes grew suddenly hard.
‘I am a Yankee, but my father came from Germany,’ was the answer.
‘O Willie !’ The teacher’s voice was shocked. ‘You have just, said that you don’t know whether your father is German or not.'
‘ I said I ’d never ast him what he is, and I never did. I know he was born in Germany, but he got some papers since he came from the Fatherland, and I don’t know what he is now. He got the papers so that he could be a voter.’
‘Oh, I understand. He is a naturalized citizen of the United States.’ Miss Melville smiled kindly. ‘Now I think, Willie, that you would better not talk about the war with the other little boys. You are too young to realize what you are quarreling about. You are an American, like all the rest of us, and I am sure that you love your own country better than any other. Besides, it is very naughty and unkind to illtreat your playmates. I cannot permit wrangling and fighting among my children. Remember that. And now you may all take your boxes of letters and make at your desks the words that you see printed on the blackboard.’
Percy Chatterton drew a handkerchief from his pocket, and from behind its shelter breathed a question into Robert Emmet Muldoon’s interested ear.
‘Wot’ll you bet ’e don’t mind hanything she says?’
‘Betcher my two biggest alleys and my shinny stick,’ was the prompt reply. ‘That kid ain’t the fool baby that Missis Melville tinks he is. He ain’t goin’ ter mind nobuddy.'
But for three days it appeared that Robert Emmet would be forced to acknowledge himself a false prophet. Willie Hartwigg’s deportment was all that the most exacting teacher could demand. On the fourth day, however, clouds began to darken the school horizon.
Manuel Silva, with tears in his eyes and a large bump upon his forehead, presented himself before Miss Melville at the opening of the morning session.
‘Please, teacher, it was the Kaiser,’ he sobbed. ‘He pushed me down where the road is magatomized ’cause the Portigees is fight in’ the Boches.’
‘No, Missis Melville.’ The accused was on his feet, his beautiful eyes beseeching justice. ‘I just runned into him by mistake when I was chasin’ my ball.’
He drew a small rubber ball from his pocket in mute testimony of the truth of his assertion.
‘No, ma’am, teacher, it ain’t so,’ wailed Manuel. ‘He bumped into me a purpose. You kin ask Morris Samuelson. He was with him.’
Morris Samuelson, on being questioned, proved to be rather an unsatisfactory witness.
‘ I was lookin’ down the other way,’he proclaimed in reply to Miss Melville’s interrogations. ‘I did n’t go to see how the tumble come on Manuel. Mebbe Willie did n’t go to hit him. I told him already often he better not put a hurt on nobuddy. I said to him, “Your father has his rags, sometimes, off Ginneys and Kanucks and Johnny Bulls and Portigees. If they get a mad on you, mebbe they don’t sell your father no more rags. They sell them, mebbe, to Pat Finnegan or Moses Abraham, and your father don’t know where to get rags enough.” No, ma’am, teacher, I did n’t see Willie put a bump on Manuel’s face.’
‘ He did, Missis Melville,’ Manuel protested. ‘But his big sister Rebeck give him some of the candy and peanuts and gum the Kaiser buy for her, and Morris give you the lie dope when he afraid he don’t git any more off her if he tell truth. Morris don’t buy no gum or candy or peanuts when the Kaiser give ’em to Rebeck. He put all his money in his bank.’
‘But, Manuel, you are not able to prove that Willie intended to hurt you,’ Miss Melville said gently. ‘And I cannot punish him unless I know positively that he was to blame.’
‘I ain’t lyin’, honest I ain’t,’ sobbed Manuel. ‘’Tis him that’s jollyin’ you. Him and the other Kaiser both is awful mean guys.’
Miss Melville delivered a five-minute lecture on the sinfulness of quarreling, untruthfulness, and backbiting, and the beauty of kindness and truth, and the incident closed. For the remainder of the week Peace held undisputed sway in Room 2. Willie Hartwigg took part in the patriotic exercises with a zest unrivalled by that of any other pupil. His clear sweet soprano led the singing of ‘America.’ He displayed the ‘poetry of motion’ when giving the flag-salute. Miss Melville, therefore, was quite unprepared for any further pro-German demonstrations on his part.
Yet, when Angelo Maccarone, Peter Petersen, and Karol Hop voluntarily remained after school on the following Monday afternoon, she knew, instinctively, that she had deceived herself.
‘ Please, if the Boches licks the Sammies, will we all have to change ourselves into Germans?’ queried Angelo, gazing into her face with big brown anguished eyes.
‘You cannot make a Heinie off me,’ asserted Peter Petersen stoutly. ‘ I am from Sweden when I was two years old. It is only the Swede and the Yankee words that I can talk. I cannot know what to talk back when the Kaiser kid make German talk to me. And I will not never drink the logger. I am a temp’rence boy in the Baptis’ church since I was very young,'
‘My dear children, what are you talking about?’ inquired the teacher.
‘ It is a big boy in Second Grade say what William the Kaiser tell him this morning,’ explained Karol Hop. ‘The Kaiser say, when the Boches have beat the world, all the Yankee mans and womens and boys and girls got to be Germans or they will be killed with the poison gas.’
‘Columbus find ’Merica when nobuddy not here but Indians,’ quavered Angelo. ‘An’ he was Italian man. The Fritzies never find any place here. Indians is dark like Italians, an’ I will go be one of them before the Fritzies come. An’ then I will fight the Germans with a bownarrer.’
‘ I have a bank where a monkey puts the pennies in,’ cried Peter. ‘I will break the monkey with a hammer an’ take my money out. Then I will go to Sweden and sail with my uncle Hans to Iceland. The Heinies cannot find me in Iceland. It is very far away.’
‘I cannot go nowheres,’ said Karol Hop with quivering lips. ‘ My father he take all money what I get any way to buy the beer. An’ I got no place to hide in. I cannot help if the Boches make me German.’
Miss Melville, with soothing words, calmed the agitation of the unhappy trio and finally dismissed them hopeful and smiling.
On the following morning William Hartwigg did not appear at school, but she interviewed the ‘ big boy in Second Grade,’ and learned that the reports of the Kaiser’s pro-German activities had not been exaggerated. The big boy, himself, confessed to having suffered from a bad dream of gas and machine-guns during the previous night.
Robert Emmet Muldoon added his mite to the general testimony.
‘Oh, but them Kaisers is the sassy guys!’ he confided, as he collected pencils at the close of the session. ‘An’ the kid Kaiser is the sassiest of ’em. Las’ teacher broke her rattan on him twicet an’ could n’t make him mind. When she licked him, he danced on her toes’ cause he knew she had awful corns. He says he likes youse better than her ’cause he can fool youse easier. An’ he
says youse won’t be here long annyway, fer, when the Boches gits America, all the teachers will be Germans. An’ he says us kids’ll have to kiss the German flag every day. An’ git run in by the cops if we sing “Three Cheers for the Red, White, and Blue.” He kicked me shins ’cause I said I ’d sing it right in them Fritzie cops’ faces.’
Miss Melville left the school at night, fully determined that Willie Hartwigg should obey her mandates in the future or suffer the full penalty of disobedience. Her resolve loomed large in her mind when she entered Room 2 on the following morning.
But Fate had decreed that it was not to be she who should accomplish the subjugation of William the Kaiser. Hardly had she unlocked her door, when the sweet face, wearing a meek and chastened expression, presented itself before her, and a small shapely hand deposited a letter upon her desk. The letter, which enclosed a dollar bill, read as follows: —
‘DERE TEECHER, —
‘Plese give Willie fore thrift Stamps. He Warnts to help the Sammys beet the kaiser
‘and oblige His mother
‘MRS. HANS HARTWIGG.’
Miss Melville, suppressing all outward signs of her inward astonishment, delivered the requested stamps and calmly continued to fold squares for a lesson in paper-cutting. Not until the session closed was the mystery made clear. Morris Samuelson lingered to escort her home, and volunteered an explanation.
‘It is the last night yistiddy’s paper that, has fixed him,’ he proclaimed. ‘In the paper my father read that all the German mans must go to the shief of the cops’ office an’ tell if they are for the Yankees or the Boches. So, when I heard that, I went over to Willie’s house an’ sat on his fence an’ talked. An’ Willie’s father an’ mother heard my talk, an’ they came out an’ ast me what I was sayin’, for they had not bought no paper. An’ when I told them what my father had read, Willie’s father said a damn very loud. An’ Willie’s mother begin to cry an’ said, “If you say you are for the Kaiser, the Yankees take your horse an’ team, mebbe, an’ put you some place far away.” An’ then him an’ her went back to the house, an’ Willie an’ I talk some more.
‘An’ I said for Willie not to let his father tell the shief that he was for the Heinies. I say to him, “If your father lose his team an’ go off from home your mother cannot get no rags to sell. An’ you cannot wear no more all-wool clothing. You have to wear the shoddy, an’ it is no good. It gets ragged soon already, an’ it does not go to take the dye like the all-wool does. An’ you cannot get to buy no velvet suits an’ corduroy pants like your father buy for you now.” An’ I say, “My sister Rebecca like the class. She gets all classy clothing for her dolls. She cannot like a boy what wear the shoddy an’, mebbe, the second-hand caps an’ shoes. Rebecca would feel shame to be walking with you if you showed no allwool an’ class. She would turn her face from you an’ smile at Isidore Silverstein. His looks are not as good as yours, but he has classy clothing an’ his father has bought a new limousine that is not secondhand. If you want to be my sister’s feller you will have your father tell the cop shief he thinks the Germans is no good.”
‘An’ me an’ Willie went in the house, an’ he cried an’ his mother cry some more, an’ his father say another two damns. An’ I say, “ It will be hard to make the teacher think that Willie is for the Yankces ’cause he has talked much for the Boches already. But if he would buy the thrift stamps off her she would, mebbe, forget what he has said.” So then his mother bust his bank an’ give him the dollar for the pennies. An’ his father put two nickels in the bank, an’ soon he will buy another stamp. An’ his father will tell the cop shief that he docs not want to fight for the Boches, for he thinks his three brothers is enough Fritzies for one family. An’ Willie will be a real Yankee, now, like the Ginneys, an’ Portigecs, an’ Kanucks, an’ Johnny Bulls. An’ my sister will not feel shame to be his girl. It is all right, Missis Melville, ain’t it already?’
‘It is all right,’ replied the teacher.
She smiled pleasantly. But, in the privacy of her room that night, she confided to the pages of her diary certain unspoken thoughts regarding the innocence of childhood.