Friday Fiction "Phoebe at School"

This is another exerpt from my novel, A HOME FOR PHOEBE. It is her first day of school. She is very excited, but also nervous.

It wasn’t until Maseppa pulled into the schoolyard and Phoebe saw six or seven children clustered about, that she began to feel nervous. She knew Gabe Jenson, but he was a lot older and bigger than she was. He was playing rounders with Hector and some other boys. Alice was there, talking with her friends. A group of girls were singing and playing a clapping game on steps. They stopped and stared when Phoebe and Maseppa walked past them.

Inside was cool and dark. Phoebe smelled fresh paint. Soon her eyes accustomed to the dim light, and she saw they were in an entrance room with a long bench and rows of pegs along its sides. Masseppa took her hand and led her through another door.
The whole schoolroom wasn’t much bigger than Granny’s kitchen. The bright morning sun streamed through windows on the side walls. There were six rows of benches and desks on each side of a black pot-bellied stove.

At the front of the room, a thin young woman sat behind a tall desk. She looked up and smiled when they walked in. Phoebe liked her smile. Her eyes squinted up into sparkly slits. She had on a long, black simply-cut skirt and a light blue blouse with a gold brooch at her neck. Her golden brown hair was twisted up in the back.

“Good morning, my name is Miss Ruth Pratt. How are you today?”

Phoebe, overcome with shyness, looked down at her bare toes. Maseppa spoke first, which didn’t happen often.

“Good morning, I be Maseppa. This be Phoebe. She come to school to learn to read and learn many things.”

Phoebe remembered her manners. “Good morning, ma’am,” she said as she curtsied.

“I see you have some books. Have you studied them?”

“I’ve never been to school, but Granny Mackmin taught me to read, and Zeke showed me a smattering of ciphering.”

“Oh, don’t feel badly. Many of the children are also starting school.”

Phoebe held up the primer. “Granny showed me how to read this one, but I haven’t read the other one. Granny said that it was the one I should study now. She was once a teacher too.”

"Yes, I know Granny Mackmin. She’s a good woman,” Miss Pratt gave an assuring smile. She led them to the back of the room. “Let me show you where to put your lunch pail and bonnet in the hallway.”

A girl entered the building; Phoebe noticed that she limped as she walked between the desks. The sun shining on her hair made it glow like copper, especially with the yellow ribbons tied at the end of her braids.

“Penny?” said Miss Pratt, “I’d like you to meet Phoebe and Maseppa.”

“Good day,” she answered. Freckles sprinkled across her nose, and a dimple puckered in her right cheek when she smiled.

Miss Pratt thoughtfully put her finger on her cheek. “Since school has been in session for a couple weeks, I’ve already placed the children in their classes. Hmm… Penny? Would you mind moving closer to the front and sitting with Phoebe? You can show her how we do things for a few days until she gets used to our schedule.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Penny answered with a shy glance to Phoebe. She lifted the top of a middle desk, took two books and a stylus from it, and moved them to the front row.

While Miss Pratt asked Maseppa some questions, Penny motioned for Phoebe to join her. Phoebe put her books in the desk next to Penny’s and then looked around the room again. There was a big map on the back wall. Beneath it was a shelf with a few large books. She looked out the window at the boys playing ball. Penny stood next to her.

“That’s my brother, Elmer,” Penny whispered, so as not to disturb Miss Pratt and Maseppa. “He’s in the sixth class. Papa says he has to apprentice at the tannery next year. He’s twelve years; I’ve only eight years. How many years do you have?”

Phoebe had never been asked that question. “I don’t know. Maybe Maseppa knows; I’ll ask her.”

“Is she your servant or nanny?” asked Penny. Phoebe didn’t understand and was glad for the distraction of Maseppa touching her shoulders.

“I go now,” Maseppa said. “You walk with Gabe Jenson when school be done. You mind Miss Pratt, yes?”

“Yes, Masseppa.”

“You learn much, yes?”

Phoebe smiled. “Yes, Maseppa.”

Miss Pratt rang the bell. Phoebe watched Maseppa climb onto the buckboard and flick the reins at Ginger. Maseppa didn’t look back. She didn’t wave. Phoebe watched as they disappeared around the corner. Always Maseppa was nearby; always Maseppa was there when she needed her. Now, Maseppa was gone! Panic filled her throat and chest. A sudden urge to run after the wagon flooded over her! Maseppa, come back! Tears filled her eyes and it was hard to breathe.

The children filed into the room, laughing… staring… whispering. She sat next to Penny and put her head down on her arm as if to hide from them. Penny took her other hand and gently squeezed her fingers. Phoebe wiped her tears and tried to be brave.

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Sherri Ward said...

Vonnie, I enjoyed this - thanks for sharing!

Patty Wysong said...

Good excerpt, Vonnie! I really liked it!

Dee Yoder said...

How I love this time era and this character, Vonnie! I felt so sorry for poor Phoebe.

S.C.(S.Harricharan) said...

Ooooh! I never did get to read this far here. So glad to get another glimpse into Phoebe's world.

Shelley Ledfors said...

I'm a little late posting comments (had company over the weekend), but I really enjoyed this. You did a great job with the setting and forging a connection to the character. Very nice.


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