William earned the grudging respect of the other students attending the Kursteiner School. He punched and kicked his way through most of them, rarely being the clear winner but never backing down and always managing a sneer of superiority at fight’s end. “Half-breed,” which technically he was not, gave way to more satisfactory sobriquets.
William’s essay “Why and How We Should Kill the Indians” won him even greater acceptance among the boys who loved the gruesome and unforgiving depictions of half imaginary soldiers and their foes brutalizing and outwitting each other. Mr. Finney was less impressed, having become active in the latest Indian welfare movement after the excitement of saving freed Negro souls had waned.
Students also enjoyed the strange debates between pupil and master over Indian policy. In the eyes of the ten-year-olds, William was a god. First because he wasted hours of valuable learning time and second because he had been with soldiers and knew things.
Mr. Finney with his spectacles, congested breathing and monotonous lectures on the Constitution was at a great disadvantage from the start.
Finally, William won over his classmates with Handsome, the horse his father had bought for his mother, and the reckless way William rode him. The horse was lathered up in a thick froth every afternoon when the boys were not off hunting with a cache of stolen rifles and revolvers from one of the boy’s family collections. It was in fact a fire set up by this troupe of hunters to cook or scorch their rabbits and squirrels that had put an end to the old mill.
Mr. Finney noted the change in the dynamics of the class. William stretched out long and lean now, casting a shadow over the boys who had once mocked him. Mr. Finney preferred the Willy of the fall who struggled and suffered. In May William had become formidable, looking far older than his years.
“Master Weldon knows something of the Indians for he shares their noble blood,” Finney said one day in irritation.
“Mr. Finney, not all Indians are noble,” William said.
“You should not think so poorly of yourself, young man.”
The classroom buzzed.
“I should say the same to you, sir. You’re white, and I don’t blame you for every slave or every death of an Indian. I bet you never had slaves or fought to free them.”
“I fought in spirit, helped in any way I could,” Finney stated, taking off his spectacles to polish them with his bad breath, causing a sprinkling of suppressed laughter. He looked like a blind opossum without the gold frames and a few boys took advantage by passing notes and continuing an earlier battle of flying bits of chalk.
“Indians are just like the Irish and the Germans and the plain old whites. If they’re bad they should be killed,” William continued.
One boy clapped in delight, just as Mr. Finney placed his spectacles upon the bridge of his nose. The boy received a ferocious stare.
Finney turned back to Weldon. “I am not at all surprised that you adhere to the justice of a soldier, young man, but that is why we have learned men in government, judges and the like…”
“The government’s what makes all the Indians mad, and they even give the Indians guns—not even just the scouts on our side! So the soldiers have to go off and kill them when the stupid ones shoot somebody when they’re stealing things…One time there was a soldier who got caught by some Indians…”
“Not another story, William.”
The students sent up hoots of protest convincing Finney their attention to studies could only be secured if he relented. “All right, go on.”
“Well, the poor soldier was nearly at the small fort’s door and safety, but a band of Indians, I forget which type, took the soldier—an officer—and made him dig a hole and get into it up to his neck, and they buried him in front of all the soldiers in the fort, but there wasn’t enough soldiers to fight those Indians so they could just watch and hope for the best.”
Mr. Finney rolled his eyes. “Pure propaganda.”
“No, I don’t think it was that tribe. I never heard of them.”
“Anyway, these Indians kept these stinging ants or maybe the ants were in a hill right there, but they scalped the officer and set the ants on him—on his head! And the officer cried like a baby with the soldiers looking on and wanting to help. I bet they really wanted to kill some Indians after that or the time when the Indians came along wearing the scalps of two women settlers—the hair still in fancy clips and combs…”
“William Weldon, that is quite enough!”
“Well, we beat them, and they should all do as they’re told.”
“William you need to do as you are told and be quiet. The Indian problem is more complicated than a fight on the grounds of school with a winner and loser, but you are too immature to grasp…”
“It’s real easy, sir, if you ever have met Indians. It’s like when you’re getting licked outside of school; even if your mother or auntie comes along and breaks it up and brings you home and washes your face—you’re still licked through and through. It’s done and then when you come back the next day you have to accept you’re never gonna be in charge, and you have to be careful.”
“But your logic, young man, is faulty. You, for example were ‘licked’ as you say, many a time—I witnessed it from this very window, but you don’t seem ready to give up the fight. You are no more careful or beaten.”
“But Willy became like us,” piped in a timid friend in the last row who was rarely heard from. “We don’t have to fight him now that he’s one of us.”
“And, may I ask, for purely scientific reasons, how did he become like you? What changed?” Finney guiltily wished it would change back.
William gave him a smug, open look. “We have the same enemy now.”
The boys all turned back to their compositions, heads down.
Finney was unprepared for such brazenness. The totality of the silence and the bowed heads upset the teacher’s image of himself as tough and serious, but liked well enough by the boys. Finney had his suspicions that William led a few students in the pranks and mishaps of class, but now he saw written on William’s face that he had the backing of the entire class.
***The fully re-edited version of my novel THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD is now available on Kindle and Amazon. Enjoy some tasty bits:
PART ONE HERE
PART TWO HERE
PART THREE HERE
PART FOUR HERE
PART FIVE HERE
PART SIX HERE
PART SEVEN HERE
PART EIGHT HERE
PART NINE HERE
PART TEN HERE
PART ELEVEN HERE
PART TWELVE HERE
PART THIRTEEN HERE
PART FOURTEEN HERE
PART FIFTEEN HERE
PART SIXTEEN HERE
PART SEVENTEEN HERE
PART EIGHTEEN HERE
PART NINETEEN HERE
PART TWENTY HERE
PART TWENTY ONE HERE
PART TWENTY TWO HERE
PART TWENTY THREE HERE
PART TWENTY FOUR HERE