Saturday, April 16, 2011

Bartholomew Goodfellow's Rule ...


The weathered, little schoolhouse had been standing idle for nearly two years ... although numerous souls had nobly taken on the often thankless task of educating the scores of children who funneled in from surrounding hills and hollows, some prevailing longer than others, but all eventually departing for the same reason ... a guileful bully by the name of Bartholomew Goodfellow ...

It was common practice during the days of one-room schoolhouses that just one teacher kept charge of pupils consisting of first through twelfth grades ... small youngsters intermingled with larger teens in a single classroom for an entire school year ... naturally, this combination brought together fickle elements liable for potential trouble ... Bartholomew Goodfellow had always been extremely adept at sowing seeds of discord which eventually developed into the desired fruits of his labor--that being his prolonged truancy from the dreaded learning institution of which he so vehemently detested ... achieved by simply "scaring away" any and all teachers ... now Mister Crabtree, a meek and refined, old gentleman, who had been an highly efficacious educator for the past thirty-five years or so, had undertaken the daunting endeavor of assuming the position of schoolmaster at the storied edifice, and was fully aware of the challenges at hand having spent many sleepless nights in operose thought trying to determine the best course of action for handling almost certain confrontation with Master Goodfellow ... consequently, he had settled on a theory--maybe if he were to give the young man the impression that he and his classmates were ultimately in charge of maintaining discipline and directly responsible for determining rules for good behavior, the ploy just might dissuade Bartholomew's intent from menace and mayhem to that of peace and placidity, after all, Mister Crabtree was certain that he could neither physically control nor forcefully restrain the boy's 'oft tetchiness and fits of hostility ... however, after enduring more than three and a half decades of successful adolescent didactics, Crabtree was known to be extremely proficient at psychological manipulation ... particularly at the juvenile level ...

Standing in the back of the room like a swaggering peafowl was a rugged fellow well over six feet tall ... a flannel shirt with rolled sleeves exposed strong, sinewy arms and scruffy locks of auburn hair lay crammed 'neath a well-worn newsboy hat ... more notable was the intimidatingly icy stare and persistent sneer on his sparsely whiskered face ... hovering around the imposing hulk was a group of smaller lads which in appearance seemed to be equally as tough ... however, truth be told ... they were terrified of him ... as were the rest of his classmates ... many grown men around those parts had no desire to tussle with this overgrown behemoth ... the infamous Bartholomew Goodfellow ...

Mister Crabtree cleared his throat, introduced himself to the class, then announced that he would be permitting each enrollee to offer up one proposed behavioral rule which upon approval by the entire student body would be adopted as official schoolhouse policy for the remainder of that year ... everyone seemed quite agreeable to this unusual course of action, especially Bartholomew Goodfellow--who figured he could use it to his advantage sometime in the very near future ... so each student scribbled their proposal on a small piece of scrap paper and Mister Crabtree collected each of them in an old cigar box ... he then read each suggestion aloud as the class voiced either a yea or a nay ... every rule was unanimously accepted ... even Bartholomew Goodfellow's rule, which was that anyone caught stealing was to receive three stinging blows across the bare back from a willow switch by whomsoever may have fallen victim to said theft ... no exceptions ... Mister Crabtree didn't like this rule in the least, but judged that the mere possibility of such severe punishment would likely deter any thoughts of thievery by any right-minded mortal ...

Although still early, the fall semester seemed to be moving along exceptionally well, there had been no grievous or life-threatening problems ... that is, until this particular afternoon ... there before the class stood a manifestly umbrageous Bartholomew Goodfellow, one hand grasping a long, thick willow switch with which he was methodically striking the wide palm of his other hand with loud, sinister smacks ... Bartholomew angrily announced that some despicable larcenist had committed an unpardonable act of outright villainy--some shifty-eyed culprit had pilfered his lunch and he was now demanding that the worthless vagabond be straightaway apprehended and brought to swift and sudden justice ... that being three stinging blows across the bare back from that willow switch ... no exceptions ... which he was menacingly waving through the air for all to behold ..... that which Mister Crabtree greatly feared had come to pass! ...

The distinguished pedagogue lamentably reminded the class that Bartholomew Goodfellow's rule had been agreed upon by one and all, and reluctantly demanded that whomsoever was responsible for the alleged theft should immediately stand to their feet, step forward and present themselves before the entire class to receive the prescribed punishment ... the old man unquietly hoped and prayed for the sake of the guilty party that he or she would simply remain quietly seated ... but to his dismay, little Melvin Proctor wearily rose to his feet and slowly plodded to the front of the room ... Melvin was a scrawny, underweight young boy who came from an unfortunately poor family which lived in a dilapidated shack near the head of Mill Hollow ... his father had been killed in a war that Melvin never had come to understand ... since his dad's untimely death, Melvin's mother had always told the skinny child that he was now the man of the house, and that he should conduct himself accordingly ... well, Melvin was now being that man, and conducting himself accordingly ... ragged clothes ... growling stomach ... hollow gaze and all ... he looked right up into the glaring eyes of Bartholomew Goodfellow and told him that he was sorry for taking his lunch, and that he would somehow make it right, he then added that there had been no food at his house for nearly a week, and that his baby sister had been awfully hungry and had cried herself to sleep each night ... Melvin went on to say that he could no longer bear to hear his little sister sobbing because of hunger, so he had swiped a lunch so she would have something to eat that night ... prepared to accept full responsibility for his actions, Melvin removed his threadbare shirt to reveal a skinny torso -- his spine and rib cage clearly protruding through thin, pale skin ... as he bent over to brace himself against Mister Crabtree's old oak desk the piteous sound of huge tears could be heard dropping onto the dusty planking of the classroom floor ...

Everyone sat breathlessly silent with tearful eyes awaiting Bartholomew Goodfellow's response ... with voice breaking for the first time ever, Bartholomew looked at Mister Crabtree and enquired if he should be permitted to make an amendment to his rule ... Mister Crabtree told him that it would only be permissible if the entire class consented, of which they hesitantly did ... so the hulking giant offered that if anyone were to step forward and stand in place of any guilty person, then they should receive any due punishment in their stead ... Mister Crabtree along with the rest of the class cautiously concurred ... Bartholomew then handed the sturdy switch to Mister Crabtree, leaned over and picked up the tattered shirt from off the dirty floor and gently placed it on Melvin's bony back as he led the terrified little boy back to his seat ... Bartholomew then returned to the front ... removed his shirt ... grabbed the corners of the desk ... and directed Mister Crabtree to administer Melvin Proctor's scourging to his own bare back ...

Henceforward and without fail Bartholomew Goodfellow fetched two lunches to school ... one for himself ... the other jam-packed with sufficient grub for Melvin Proctor to eat his fill of--along with enough to take home for his baby sister and mother ... fellow classmates regularly tossed in extra goodies too ... unbelievably, Bartholomew Goodfellow seemed to have a more considerate temperament ... he was becoming a man ... a man just like Melvin Proctor!


--sja

Share

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

WHOA!! I WAS NOT EXPECTING WHAT WAS TO BE THE END OF THIS STORY
SJA!! WONDERFUL JOB!

tahtimbo said...

That is just a fantastic story! I was hooked from the beginning and you wrote it so well, that I could actually imagine what the characters looked like. You did a terrific job! I shared this on Twitter :)

SomeGirl said...

What a wonderful story!!!

sja said...

Thank you Tahtimbo ... you too SomeGirl!

Swedish Yogagirl said...

That is a great story! Thanks for following me on Blogfrog, thats how I found you =)
Maria

sja said...

Thank you Swedish Yogagirl ... glad you enjoyed the story!

BARB said...

SJA...YOU'VE MADE ME CRY EVERY TIME YOU WRITE THIS STORY!!
AWESOME, ABSOLUTELY AWESOME!

sja said...

Thanks BARB!

PJ said...

Hey SJA! You8 did it again! Have me crying like a baby! Where do you come up with your stories?! This is a God Given Talent, you know that? God Bless!
PJ

Anonymous said...

sja wonderful out of the mouths of babes unless we become as a little child

WV/VA said...

SJA, AS ALWAYS, ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL WRITING. I'VE ALWAYS LOVED YOUR WORK. DON'T EVER STOP. :O)