Read PART III : CHAPTER IV of The Soul of a Child, free online book, by Edwin Bjorkman, on

Keith could not remain isolated to the same extent as in the earlier schools. Inevitable community sprang from similarity of sex and age alone. In the same direction worked the system of teaching which called for the united attention of the entire class during every moment of the lesson. It was impossible to form a part of the class without being in contact with all its other members. The boy who read aloud or answered a question became subjected to the criticism or admiration of all the rest. Rivalry in any field of study was just as likely to arise between two boys at different ends of the room as between those sitting side by side. The spirit of Dally tended to assist this fusion of personalities in every way, and the boy who kept apart was sure sooner or later to run foul of his good-humoured but well-aimed sallies. His attitude implied no tyranny, and he strove for no deadening conformity. On the contrary, he always spoke of a strongly marked individuality as the object of all education, but he tried to develop it by fearless contact with others rather than by jealous withdrawal.

Keith for the first time found himself part of a society, and he liked it because the teacher’s insistence on scholarly achievement as the only standard of comparison gave him a chance to hold his own among a group of boys, most of whom counted themselves his superiors in every other respect. He was small and poor, of humble origin, without influential connections, without worldly advantages of any kind, but when mind was pitched against mind, he felt second to none except in mathematics, where he could compete neither with Davidson, the Jewish banker’s son who was primus, or with that gawky, cumbersome Anderson whose dullness in every other respect always kept him near the bottom of the class. For this reason Keith differed from most of the others by liking school better during the lessons than at any other time.

There were games in the schoolyard during the pauses, and some of these were played in large groups or by teams. This occurred particularly when echoes from some war abroad caused the whole school to divide into rival armies for the staging of regular battles, as during his second year, when all had to be Turks or Russians. But Keith didn’t like battles except in books, and mostly the pauses broke up the class communities into small coteries or pairs. And the moment this happened, Keith found himself outside. He belonged to no special group. His appearance in the yard raised no delighted hails. He had no chum of his very own with whom to exchange secrets or lay plans for common adventures. And but for Dally, he would probably have spent most of his free time in the classroom.

It was worse when the big pause came at eleven and every one went home for lunch, or when three o’clock brought school to a close for the day. Going to school alone was an experience shared by all, but on leaving it, the hurrying horde of youngsters, exuberant with freedom as so many colts, broke into little groups of two or three that had homes in the same neighbourhood. Now and then Keith would join a couple of other boys headed for the old City like himself, and they would not refuse his company, but there always was something between him and them that precluded real fellowship, and so he trudged his way homeward, alone most of the time. Then he was also sure of reaching home in the shortest possible time, so that his mother had no chance to become worried over him.

It happen now and then that a larger group was formed for some unusual exploit and that Keith became part of it by chance rather than choice. Once he accompanied such a group to that part of the harbour where tall-masted fullriggers with foreign flags lay nose by stern in unbroken line along the quay. Strange odours, fragrant or repulsive, filled the air. Jolly, loud-voiced men toiled mightily or lounged like monarchs among piles of casks and bags and boxes. For once Keith lost his usual timidity under such circumstances and threw himself whole-heartedly into anything the gang suggested. He even ventured to climb the mast of a ship as far as the foretop. When at last reluctantly he turned homeward, he felt like a hero, but when he caught sight of the tear-stained, fretted face of his mother, he knew at once that even such exaltation was not worth the price to be paid for it.

Unfortunately he had made himself popular that afternoon, and the next time a gang formed for a similar purpose, he was asked to join. But he shook his head, and being foolishly truthful by nature, he blurted out an embarrassed:

“My mother won’t let me.”

The answer was passed along. It was repeated in school the next day. Keith heard echoes of it for weeks. And it added a good deal to the invisible wall that seemed to rise about him wherever he went.

Yet he was not unhappy. There was in his nature a wonderful resiliency that never let his spirits drop beyond a certain point, and that always brought them back to highwater mark at the slightest encouragement.