WHILE the class was circling the room, the monitor
from the principal's office brought Miss Mason a note.
Miss Mason read it several times and studied it
thoughtfully for a while. Then she clapped her hands.
"Attention, class. Everyone back to their seat."
When the shuffling of feet had stopped and the
room was still and quiet, Miss Mason said, "I have a
letter from Wanda's father that I want to read to you."
Miss Mason stood there a moment and the
silence in the room grew tense and expectant. The
teacher adjusted her glasses slowly and deliberately.
Her manner indicated that what was coming - this
letter from Wanda's father - was a matter of great
importance. Everybody listened closely as Miss
Mason read the brief note.
My Wanda will not come to your school any more. Jake
also. Now we move away to big city. No more holler 'Pollack'.
No more ask why funny name. Plenty of funny names in
the big city.
A deep silence met the reading of this letter.
Miss Mason took off her glasses, blew on them and
wiped them on her soft white handkerchief. Then
she put them on again and looked at the class.
When she spoke her voice was very low.
"I am sure that none of the boys and girls in
Room Thirteen would purposely and deliberately
hurt anyone's feelings because his or her name
happened to be a long, unfamiliar one. I prefer
to think that what was said was said in
thoughtlessness. I know that all of you feel the way
I do, that this is a very unfortunate thing to have
happened - unfortunate and sad, both. And I want
you all to think about it."
The first period was a study period. Maddie tried
to prepare her lessons, but she could not put her
mind on her work. She had a very sick feeling in the
bottom of her stomach. True, she had not enjoyed
listening to Peggy ask Wanda how many dresses she
had in her closet, but she had said nothing. She had
stood by silently, and that was just as bad as what
Peggy had done. Worse. She was a coward. At least
Peggy hadn't considered they were being mean but
she, Maddie, had thought they were doing wrong.
She could put herself in Wanda's shoes.
Goodness! Wasn't there anything she could do?
If only she could tell Wanda she hadn't meant to
hurt her feelings. She turned around and stole a
glance at Peggy, but Peggy did not look up. She
seemed to be studying hard. Well, whether Peggy
felt badly or not, she, Maddie, had to do something.
She had to find Wanda Petronski. Maybe she had
not yet moved away. Maybe Peggy would climb the
Heights with her, and they would tell Wanda she
had won the contest, that they thought she was
smart and the hundred dresses were beautiful.
When school was dismissed in the afternoon,
Peggy said, with pretended casualness, "Hey, let's
go and see if that kid has left town or not."
So Peggy had had the same idea! Maddie glowed.
Peg was really all right.
The two girls hurried out of the building, up the
street toward Boggins Heights, the part of town that
wore such a forbidding air on this kind of a
November afternoon, drizzly, damp and dismal.
"Well, at least," said Peggy gruffly, "I never did
call her a foreigner or make fun of her name. I
never thought she had the sense to know we were
making fun of her anyway. I thought she was too
dumb. And gee, look how she can draw!"
Maddie could say nothing. All she hoped was that
they would find Wanda. She wanted to tell her that
they were sorry they had picked on her, and how
wonderful the whole school thought she was, and
please, not to move away and everybody would be nice.
She and Peggy would fight anybody who was not nice.
The two girls hurried on. They hoped to get to
the top of the hill before dark.
"I think that's where the Petronskis live," said
Maddie, pointing to a little white house. Wisps of
old grass stuck up here and there along the pathway
like thin kittens. The house and its sparse little
yard looked shabby but clean. It reminded Maddie
of Wanda's one dress, her faded blue cotton dress,
shabby but clean.
There was not a sign of life about the house.
Peggy knocked firmly on the door, but there was no
answer. She and Maddie went around to the back
yard and knocked there. Still there was no answer.
There was no doubt about it. The Petronskis were
gone. How could they ever make amends?
They turned slowly and made their way back
down the hill.
"Well, anyway," said Peggy, "she's gone now, so
what can we do? Besides, when I was asking her
about all her dresses, she probably was getting good
ideas for her drawings. She might not even have
won the contest, otherwise."
Maddie turned this idea carefully over in her
head, for if there were anything in it she would not
have to feel so badly. But that night she could not
get to sleep. She thought about Wanda and her faded
blue dress and the little house she had lived in. And
she thought of the glowing picture those hundred
dresses made - all lined up in the classroom. At
last Maddie sat up in bed and pressed her forehead
tight in her hands and really thought. This was the
hardest thinking she had ever done. After a long,
long time, she reached an important conclusion.
She was never going to stand by and say
If she ever heard anybody picking on someone
because they were funny looking or because they
had strange names, she'd speak up. Even if it meant
losing Peggy's friendship. She had no way of making
things right with Wanda, but from now on she would
never make anybody else that unhappy again.
On Saturday Maddie spent the afternoon with
Peggy. They were writing a letter to Wanda Petronski.
It was just a friendly letter telling about the contest
and telling Wanda she had won. They told her how
pretty her drawings were. And they asked her if
she liked where she was living and if she liked her
new teacher. They had meant to say they were sorry,
but it ended up with their just writing a friendly
letter, the kind they would have written to any good
friend, and they signed it with lots of X's for love.
They mailed the letter to Boggins Heights, writing
‘Please Forward' on the envelope.
Days passed and there was no answer, but the
letter did not come back, so maybe Wanda had
received it. Perhaps she was so hurt and angry she
was not going to answer. You could not blame her.
Weeks went by and still Wanda did not answer.
Peggy had begun to forget the whole business, and
Maddie put herself to sleep at night making speeches
about Wanda, defending her from great crowds of
girls who were trying to tease her with, "How many
dresses have you got?" And before Wanda could press
her lips together in a tight line, the way she did
before answering, Maddie would cry out, "Stop!"
Then everybody would feel ashamed the way she
used to feel.
Now it was Christmas time and there was snow
on the ground. Christmas bells and a small tree
decorated the classroom. On the last day of school
before the holidays, the teacher showed the class a
letter she had received that morning.
"You remember Wanda Petronski, the gifted little
artist who won the drawing contest? Well, she has
written me, and I am glad to know where she lives,
because now I can send her medal. I want to read
her letter to you."
The class sat up with a sudden interest and
Dear Miss Mason,
How are you and Room Thirteen? Please tell the girls they
can keep those hundred dresses, because in my new house
I have a hundred new ones, all lined up in my closet. I'd
like that girl Peggy to have the drawing of the green dress
with the red trimming, and her friend Maddie to have the
blue one. For Christmas, I miss that school and my new
teacher does not equalise with you. Merry Christmas to
you and everybody.
On the way home from school Maddie and Peggy
held their drawings very carefully. All the houses had
wreaths and holly in the windows. Outside the grocery
store, hundreds of Christmas trees were stacked, and
in the window, candy peppermint sticks and
cornucopias of shiny transparent paper were strung.
The air smelled like Christmas and light shining
everywhere reflected different colours on the snow.
"Boy!" said Peggy, "this shows she really likes
us. It shows she got our letter and this is her way of
saying that everything's all right. And that's that."
"I hope so," said Maddie sadly. She felt sad
because she knew she would never see the little
tight-lipped Polish girl again and couldn't ever really
make things right between them.
She went home and she pinned her drawing
over a torn place in the pink-flowered wallpaper in
the bedroom. The shabby room came alive from
the brilliancy of the colours. Maddie sat down on
her bed and looked at the drawing. She had stood
by and said nothing, but Wanda had been nice to
Tears blurred her eyes and she gazed for a long
time at the picture. Then hastily she rubbed her
eyes and studied it intently. The colours in the dress
were so vivid that she had scarcely noticed the face
and head of the drawing. But it looked like her,
Maddie! It really looked like her own mouth. Why it
really looked like her own self! Wanda had really
drawn this for her. Excitedly, she ran over to Peggy's.
"Peg!" she said, "let me see your picture."
"What's the matter?" asked Peggy, as they clattered
up to her room where Wanda's drawing was lying
face down on the bed. Maddie carefully raised it.
"Look! She drew you. That's you!" she exclaimed.
And the head and face of this picture did look like
"What did I say!" said Peggy, "She must have
really liked us, anyway."
"Yes, she must have," agreed Maddie, and she
blinked away the tears that came every time she
thought of Wanda standing alone in that sunny spot
in the school yard, looking stolidly over at the group
of laughing girls after she had walked off, after she
had said, "Sure, a hundred of the, all lined up."
The poet tells us that he feels more at home with animals than
humans, whom he finds complicated and false.
I think I could turn and live with animals, they are
so placid and self-contain'd,
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with
the mania of owning things,
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that
lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.
So they show their relations to me and I accept them,
They bring me tokens of myself, they evince
them plainly in their possession
I wonder where they get those tokens,
Did I pass that way huge times ago and negligently drop them?
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