The Bad Boy of Blanktown School

- June 25, 2008

Lucy Maud Montgomery studied literature at Dalhousie College in 1895-96.

While a Dalhousie student, Lucy Maud Montgomery was beginning to get her stories and poems published. For this story, published in the Dalhousie Gazette in 1896, she draws on her experience as a schoolteacher.

His shadow darkened over my path on the very first day on which I was installed as mistress of Blanktown school. The trustees said that the children were pretty easy to manage, but solemnly warned me that I would have serious trouble with “George.” They added that I might depend on them to back me in any emergency that might arise in my dealings with that obstreperous youth.

For the next two months though, George did not materialize, I heard enough about him to drive any teacher, just entering on professional life, to the verge of insanity. Not a day passed but some of George’s characteristics were impressed upon me. In the first place, he was reputed to be “not all there.” There was something terrible in the vagueness of this; and I never could see the point because, when I did fall in with George, I rather thought there was a little too much of him there for my peace of mind. George’s grandfather had killed a man; George’s father had a most unsavory reputation; and George would appear to have inherited all the shining virtues of his ancestors, with a few of his own thrown in. I was informed that he had been expelled form the school regularly once a year, since his A, B, C days after many desperate conflicts with the reigning pedagogue, and that he was a thief, a liar, braggart and bully, all in one. In short, so far as I could discover, George’s mission in life seemed to be to keep school teachers in perpetual remembrance of the fact that earth is not their home. George evidently did not shine in the haunts of civilized life, for weeks passed by and I saw him not. I had almost begun to think that George was some mythical bugbear for frightening inexperienced schoolma’ms, when on gloomy November day, he came.

I was trying to impress on a five-year-old the ancient and immemorial fact that “the cat caught the mouse,” when the door was thrown violently open, and a tall, loose-jointed, raw-boned lad strode into the room, slammed his books on a desk, and flung himself into a seat with an expression that said, “Here I am, and there you are. Which of us is going to come off best?”

I have always been proud of the fact that I kept calm at this trying crisis. I disposed of my small student leisurely, and then sailed down the aisle to interview George, who awaited me with an appalling grin. George’s physiognomy was not exactly prepossessing, but it had the merit of uniqueness. Nobody ever looked quite like George. Freckles! You never saw so many large, well-developed, healthy-looking freckles on any one face in your life. His eyes could look three ways at once, his hair stood straight up on end in aggressive defiance, and as for his mouth—you could have cut mouths for a dozen boys from it and still have a good piece left over. He generally went about with it wide open; it was hard on your nerves till you got used to it. Once in a while he would remember and shut it. If, through the hum of the school-room, came now and then a sharp sudden snap, suggestive of a rat-trap going off, everybody knew it was George closing his mouth, and didn’t stop to investigate. George’s voice, however, was his main attraction. It was of great compass, was cracked in three distinct places, and regularly fell all to pieces at the end of every sentence, when he was reading.

"Freckles! You never saw so many large, well-developed, healthy-looking freckles on any one face in your life. His eyes could look three ways at once, his hair stood straight up on end in aggressive defiance, and as for his mouth—you could have cut mouths for a dozen boys from it and still have a good piece left over. He generally went about with it wide open; it was hard on your nerves till you got used to it."

I thought I had been sufficiently warned about George, but ere long I discovered that the half had not been told me. When George entered one door of Blanktown school, peace and order and law fled out of the other. George’s most striking peculiarity was a passionate love of fighting. George considered that day wasted on which he didn’t have a good, solid, all-round, impartial fight. Not long after his arrival, I entered the schoolroom one morning to find George and another boy in a furious tussle on the floor. The other boys stood around in glee, and the girls were shrieking on the tops of their desks. As nobody paid the least attention to my questions or commands, my only resource was to fly at the cloud of dust and drag the combatants apart by their coat-collars. While I lectured the first, George wriggled from my grasp, and at roll-call I missed him. I appointed a deputy to govern in my absence, and went in search of him. I found him sulking in a corner of the porch.

Now, I was really very sorry for George. He had had no chances, and his training had been sadly deficient. I was honestly desirous of reforming him. In how many hundreds of Sunday-school books had I not read how bad boys, influenced by their teachers, turned from their evil ways, and grew up to be governors and bank-presidents, and a credit to their country generally. So I talked to George just beautifully—you’d be surprised. I didn’t altogether expect him to burst into penitential tears, and develop into a wingless angel on the spot, but I didn’t see how he could help being impressed. I never was more surprised in my life than when George, have heard me through, looked me squarely in the face and remarked, “You are a confounded fool,” in a tone of infinite contempt!

Polite wasn’t it? Encouraging, too! I went back to the school-room a sadder and a wiser girl; I thought there must be something astray in the logic of Sunday-school books. Since moral suasion had so poor an effect on George, I though the birch might bring the argument more forcibly home to him; though I hated to think of using it. So a few days afterwards when he had thrown a smelt at one of the girls, I called him up to my desk and said, “Hold out your hand,” in a very terrible tone of voice that quite concealed my inward quaking. I didn’t expect to be obeyed. In fact, I rather expected to be instantly annihilated. It was the second great surprise of my life when George quietly held out his dirty paw and took his punishment without a word. Then he went home, and for a month we saw no more of him. I fondly hoped he had gone for good.

But, alas! Just as the remembrance of his misconduct had begun to fade away like a bad dream, George returned, as cheerful and irrepressible as ever, and in a mood that reminded me of the man in the scripture, whose house had been swept and garnished. From that out George’s record was phenomenal. He really surpassed himself. Our mutual conflicts became so common that the pupils hardly stopped their work to look on. George’s sole merit was punctuality—he never missed a day—and you may well believe I almost regarded it as an additional vice.

Finally, matters reached a climax, just in time to save my reason. One morning I took upon myself, without consulting George, to change the seats of the fourth class further front. When he came in, rather late, he emphatically informed me that he didn’t approve of this arrangement. We had a sharp argument, my patience suddenly gave way, and I curtly informed him that I would see the trustees at once, and have him expelled from the school again.

George’s dignity was mortally offended. He snatched his cap, knocked over a bench, shied his slate at an inoffensive pupil who was wrestling with decimals in a remote corner, kicked over a pile of wood by the stove, and shook the dust of that unhallowed place from his feet, never to return to it while I was teacher in Blanktown school! He was a very peculiar youth—that George.


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