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A short story by Harriet S. Caswell

The Old Schoolhouse

Title:     The Old Schoolhouse
Author: Harriet S. Caswell [More Titles by Caswell]

I lately visited the time-worn building, where for a lengthened period, during my early years, I studied the rudiments of education; and what a host of almost forgotten memories of the past came thronging back upon my mind as I stood alone--in that well remembered room. I seemed again to hear the hum of youthful voices as they conned or recited their daily tasks, and, as memory recalled the years that had passed since we used there to assemble, I could not avoid saying mentally: "My schoolmates, where are they?" Even that thought called to mind an amusing story related by a much loved companion who for a time formed one of our number.

He was older than most of the other boys, and was a general favourite with all. He was famous for relating funny stories, of which he had a never-failing supply; and when the day was too stormy to allow of out-of-door sports, during the noon hour, we used to gather around the large stove which stood in the centre of the room and coax H. M. to tell us stories. The story which recurred to my mind was of a poor Irishman, who, in describing a visit which he paid to the home of his childhood after a long absence, said: "At the sober hour of twilight, I entered the lonely and desarted home uv me forefathers, an' as I gazed about the silent walls, I said, 'me fathers, where are they?' an' did not echo answer, 'Is that you Pathrick O'Flannigan, sure?'"

I was in no mood for laughter, and yet I could not repress a smile, as memory recalled the comical voice and inimitable gestures with which young H. M. related the story. He was beloved by us all, and when he left school we parted from him with real sorrow. As I walked around, and looked upon the worn and defaced desks, I observed the initials of many once familiar names which many years before had been formed with a knife, which were not so much obliterated but I could easily decipher the well known letters. That desk in the corner was occupied by two brothers who when they grew up removed to one of the Eastern States, where they enlisted as soldiers in the war between the North and South. One of the brothers received his death-wound on the battlefield. In a foreign hospital he lingered in much suffering for a brief period, when he died and was buried, far from his home and kindred. The younger brother was naturally of a tender constitution and was unable to endure the hardships and privations of a soldier's life. His health failed him, and he returned to his friends, who had left their Canadian home, and removed to the State of Massachusetts; but all that the most skilful physicians could do, aided by the most watchful care of his tender mother, failed to check the ravages of disease. Consumption had marked him for its prey, and he died a few months after leaving the army; and, as his friends wept over his grave, they could see with their mind's eye another nameless grave in a far-away Southern State, where slept the other son and brother. The desk on my left hand was occupied by a youth, who has been for many years toiling for gold in California; and I have learned that he has grown very rich. I often wonder if, in his eager pursuit after riches, in that far-off clime, he ever thinks of the little brown school-house by the butternut trees, and of the smiling eager group who used daily to meet there. One large family of brothers and sisters, who attended this school for several years, afterward removed with their parents to one of the Western States, and years have passed away since I heard of them; but along with many others they were recalled to mind by my visit to the old School-House.

On the opposite side of the room is the range of desks which were occupied by the girls, and I could almost fancy that I again saw the same lively, restless group who filled those desks in the days of long-ago. Again I saw the bright smile which was often hidden from the searching eye of our teacher, behind the covers of the well-worn spelling-book, again I saw the mischievous glances, and heard the smothered laughter when the attention of the teacher was required in some other part of the room. But these happy careless days of childhood are gone never to return. Were I inclined, I could trace the after-history of most of the companions whom I used daily to meet in this school-room. With many of them "life's history" is done, and they sleep peacefully in the grave. Others have gone forth to the duties of life; some far distant, others near their paternal homes. Many of the number have been successful in life, and prospered in their undertakings, while others have met with disappointment and misfortune. It seemed somewhat singular to me that, as I stood alone in that room (after the lapse of so many years), I could recollect, by the name, each companion I used to meet there; yet so it was, and it seemed but as yesterday since we used daily to assemble there; and, when I reflected for a moment on the many changes to which I have been subjected since that period, I could hardly realize that I was one and the same. I lingered long at the old School-House, for I expected never to behold it again, having been informed that it was shortly to give place to a building of a larger size, and of more modern structure.

[The end]
Harriet S. Caswell's short story: Old Schoolhouse