Going out — making Bows — Boys coming in — Girls going out and coming in
THE young are proverbially ignorant of the value of time. There is one portion of it, however, which they well know how to appreciate. They feel it to be a wealth both to body and soul. Its few moments are truly golden ones, forming a glittering spot amid the drossy dullness of in-school duration. I refer to the forenoon and afternoon recess for "going out." Consider that we came from all the freedom of the farm, where we had the sweep of acres — hills, valleys, woods, and waters, and were crowded, I may say packed, into the district box. Each one had scarcely more space than would allow him to shift his head from an inclination to one shoulder to an inclination to the other, or from leaning on the right elbow, to leaning on the left. There we were, the blood of health bouncing through our veins, feeding our strength, swelling our dimensions; and there we must stay, three hours on a stretch, with the exception of the aforementioned recess. No wonder that we should prize this brief period high, and rush tumultuously out doors to enjoy it.
There is one circumstance in going out which so much amuses my recollection that I will venture to describe it. It is the making of our bows, or manners, as it is called. If one wishes to see variety in the doing of a single act, let him look at school-boys, leaving their bows at the door. Tell me not of the diversities and characteristics, of the gentilities and the awkwardnesses in the civility of shaking hands. The bow is as diversified and characteristic, as awkward or genteel, as any movement many-motioned man is called on to make. Especially in a country school, where fashion and politeness have not altered the tendencies of nature by forming the manners of all after one model of propriety. Besides, the bow was before the shake, both in the history of the world, and in that of every individual man. No doubt the world's first gentleman, nature-taught, declined his head in some sort, in saluting for the first time the world's first lady, in primitive Eden. And no doubt every little boy has been instructed to make a "nice bow," from chubby Cain, Abel, and Seth, down to the mannered younglings of the present day.
Well, then, it is near half-past ten A.M., but seemingly eleven to the impatient youngsters; anticipation rather than reflection, being the faculty most in action just now. At last the master takes out his watch, and gives a hasty glance at the index of the hour. Or, if this premonitory symptom does not appear, watching eyes can discern the signs of the time in the face relaxing itself from severe duty, and in the moving lips just assuming that precise form necessary to pronounce the sentence of liberation. Then, make ready, take aim, is at once the order of every idler. "The boys may go out." The little white heads on the little seat, as it is called, are the foremost, having nothing in front to impede a straight-forward sally. One little nimble-foot is at the door in an instant; and, as he lifts the latch, he tosses off a bow over his left shoulder, and is out in a twinkling. The next perhaps squares himself towards the master with more precision, not having his attention divided between opening the door and leaving his manners. Next comes the very least of the little, just in front of the big-boy rush behind him, tap-tapping and tottering along the floor, with his finger in his nose; but, in wheeling from his bow, he blunders head first through the door, in his anxiety to get out of the way of the impending throng of fists and knees behind, in avoiding which he is prostrated under the tramp of cowhide.
Now come the Bigs from behind the writing benches. Some of them make a bow with a jerk of the head and snap of the neck possible only to giddy-brained, oily jointed boyhood. Some, whose mothers are of the precise cast, or who have had their manners stiffened at a dancing-school, will wait till the throng is a little thinned; and then they will strut out with their arms as straight at their sides as if there were no such things as elbows, and will let their upper person bend upon the middle hinge, as if this were the only joint in their frames. Some look straight at their toes, as the face descends toward the floor. Others strain a glance up at the master, displaying an uncommon proportion of that beauty of the eye, — the white. Lastly come the tenants of the extreme back seat, the Anaks of the school. One long-limbed, lank-sided, back-bending fellow of twenty is at the door at four strides; he has the proper curve already prepared by his ordinary gait, and he has nothing to do but swing round towards the master, and his manners are made. Another, whose body is developed in the full proportions of manhood, turns himself half way, and just gives the slightest inclination of the person. He thinks himself too much of a man to make such a ridiculous popping of the pate as the younglings who have preceded him. Another, with a tread that makes the floor tremble, goes straight out through the open door, without turning to the right or left; as much as to say, "I am quite too old for that business."
There are two in the short seat at the end of the spelling-floor who have almost attained to the glorious, or rather vain-glorious age of twenty-one. They are perhaps even more aged than the venerable Rabbi of the school himself. So they respect their years, and put away childish things, inasmuch as they do not go out as their juniors do. One of them sticks to his slate. It is his last winter; and, as he did not catch flying time by the forelock, he must cling to his heel. The other unpuckers his arithmetical brow, puts his pencil between his teeth, leans his head on his right palm, with his left fingers adjusts his foretop, and then composes himself into an amiable gaze upon the fair remainder of the school. Perhaps his eyes leap at once to that damsel of eighteen in the furthermost seat, who is the secret mistress of his heart.
How still it is in the absence of half the limbs and lips of the domain! That little girl who has been buzzing round her lesson like a bee round a honey-suckle, off and on by turns, is now sipping its sweets, if any sweets there be, as closely and stilly as that same bee plunged in the bell of the flower. The secret of the unwonted silence is, the master knows on which side of the aisle to look for noise and mischief now.
It is time for the boys to come in. The master raps on the window as a signal. At first they scatter in one by one, keeping the door on the slam, slam. But soon, in rush the main body, pell-mell, rubbing their ears, kicking their heels, puffing, panting, wheezing. Impelled by the temporary chill, they crowd round the fire, regaining the needed warmth as much by the exercise of elbows as by the heat of fuel. "Take your scats, you that have got warm," says the master. No one starts. "Take your seats, all of you." Tramp, tramp, how the floor trembles again, and the seats clatter. There goes an inkstand. Ben pinches Tom to let him know that he must go in first. Torn stands back; but gives Ben a kick on the shins as he passes, to pay for that pinch.
"The girls may go out." The noise and confusion are now of the feminine gender. Trip, trip, rustle, rustle. Shall I describe the diversities of the courtesy? I could pen a trait or two, but prefer to leave the subject to the more discriminating quill of the courtesying sex. The shrill tones and gossiping chatter of girlhood now ring from without. But they do not stay long. Trip, trip, rustle, rustle back again. Half of them are sucking a lump of snow for drink. One has broken an icicle from the well-spout, and is nibbing it as she would a stick of candy. See Sarah jump. The ice-eater's cold, dripping hand has mischievously sprinkled her neck. Down goes the melting little cone, and is scattered in shivers. "Take your seats," says authority with soft command. He is immediately obeyed; and the dull routine rolls on toward noon.