There was a stricken silence in the room which Polly mistook for a lack of interest and redoubled her efforts.
“We have twenty-four children altogether and they are all wanting a teacher to come. I came here to go to school, but if I can get a teacher to go back with me, I will go back. I thought I would try to learn quick and go back then, but when I saw all so many women able to read right off, and all looking so smart at learning, I thought I would ask you if one of you would please come. We give our teacher sixty-five dollars a month, and when you want to come home we will bring you to the station—it is only twenty miles—and the river is not deep only when it rains, and then even I know how to get through and not get in the holes; and if you will come we must go to-morrow, for the ice is getting rotten in the river and won’t stand much sun.”
That was the appeal of the country to the city; of the foreign-born to the native-born; of the child to the woman.
The first person to move was Miss Wheatly, who rose quietly and walked to the front of the room and faced the audience. “Madam President,” she began in her even voice, “I have been waiting quite a while for this, I think. I said to-day that if any one knew of a real, full-sized woman’s job, I would like to be led to it.... Well—it seems that I have been led”
She then turned to Polly and said, “I can read right off and am not afraid, not even of the river, if you promise to keep me out of the holes, and I believe I can find enough of a diploma to satisfy the department, and as you have heard the river won’t stand much sun, so you will kindly notice that my address has changed to Abilene Valley Post-Office.”
Polly held her firmly by the hand and they moved toward the door. Polly turned just as they were passing through the door and made her quaint and graceful curtsy, saying, “I am glad I came, and I guess we will be for going now.”
Just a little white-faced lad
Sitting on the “Shelter” floor;
Eyes which seemed so big and sad,
Watched me as I passed the door.
Turning back, I tried to win
From that sober face a smile
With some foolish, trifling thing,
Such as children’s hearts beguile.
But the look which shot me through
Said as plain as speech could be:
“Life has been all right for you!
But it is no joke for me!
I’m not big enough to know—
And I wonder, wonder why
My dear ‘Daddy’ had to go
And my mother had to die!
“You’ve a father, I suppose?
And a mother—maybe—too?
You can laugh and joke at life?
It has been all right for you?
Spin your top, and wave your fan!
You’ve a home and folks who care
Laugh about it those who can!
Joke about it—those who dare
—But excuse me—if I’m glum
I can’t bluff it off—like some!”