This is the third of an 11-part short story based on the characters of author Susan K. Marlow’s Circle C Adventures and is posted on her blog https://circlecadventures.blogspot.com/

Part 3.

Thank God for Chad’s invitation.  I’ve looked forward to it all day.

The next day was awful.  It seemed everything went wrong.  Ellie had stayed up late pondering her apology to Mrs. Stewart, and was almost late to school the next morning.  And then school was terrible.  The Belstead children deliberately caused trouble, this time, real trouble.  The commotion they caused kept even the most determined pupils from concentrating.

After school, Ellie sat at her desk and felt like crying. It will turn around.  She told herself.  I just need to take charge, not take any nonsense, and give it a new approach.

I’ll start tomorrow. 

 Thank you; Lord, for Chad asking me to supper.  I don’t want another meal with Mrs. Stewart ever again.

A sudden shout outside made her blood run cold.  “Fight!  Fight!”

Ellie sprang to her feet and tore out of the schoolhouse. The sight that met her eyes turned her stomach over in fear.

Tom Belstead and another older boy were ganging up on Jimmy Morgan.  Beth was sobbing close by.  Already Ellie could see blood streaming from Jimmy’s nose and one eye looked dangerously swollen.  He was fighting gamely, however.

Ellie waded into the mess as her anger rose.  She caught Tom’s accomplice by the shoulder and threw him away from Jimmy.  As she tried to separate Tom and Jimmy, a figure grabbed both by their collars and jerked them apart.

Chad Carter was not smiling.

“Need help?”

Overcome by a combination of anger, breathlessness, and embarrassment, Ellie just nodded.  She wrapped an arm around Beth and led everybody inside.

Behind her desk, Ellie investigated grimly, like a judge in court.  “Beth, what happened?”

The little girl rubbed her eyes with her fists.  “Jimmy and I were going home when Tom called me teacher’s pet.”  She choked on a sob and her lower lip trembled.

Chad gripped Tom tighter, and Ellie could see anger building at the sight of the little girl’s tears.

“We tried to go home, but they wouldn’t let us.”  Beth continued.  Ellie noticed with regret that Tom’s friend had disappeared.  Oh, well. I’ll drag it out of Tom.  She flashed Tom a glance that made him shrink as he realized his danger.

Beth was sobbing again.  “Tom pushed me, and Jimmy got mad.  They started fighting and…and…”

“And that’s when I came out, Beth?”  Ellie inquired.

Beth and Jimmy nodded.

Ellie turned on the culprit.  “Tom,” He squirmed.  “explain yourself.”

Tom sulkily muttered something under his breath. Chad shook him.  “Repeat that louder.”  He commanded, scowling.  Tom tried to twist free, but couldn’t.  Finally he gave up.  “I said:  she is teacher’s pet!”  His voice was loud and defiant, but his eyes were pitiful.

Ellie’s heart burned with compassion.  She addressed Jimmy.  “I’m glad you stood up for your sister, but fighting is not always the answer, Jimmy.  You should come and tell me if something like that happens again, and I’m sure it won’t.”

“You bet it won’t.”  Chad growled.

Ellie shot him a warning glance.  “However, you did break a school rule, and you must be punished.”

Chad gave a startled grunt.  He obviously disagreed with her decision.

“You took a beating for your sister like a man, take the punishment you merited like one now.”

Jimmy stood up straighter.  “Yes, ma’am.”

Ellie took him aside and delivered five firm strokes with the switch.

“You and Beth may go home, now.”  Ellie told him.

Jimmy and Beth turned to leave, but Beth ran back and clung to her teacher.  Ellie stroked the bent head gently and Beth sobbed into her dress.  Chad looked on in silence as Ellie took out her handkerchief and knelt in front of Beth.  She wiped the tears from the little girl’s face and tucked the handkerchief into her hand. “You’ll be alright, I promise.” Ellie whispered, kissing her forehead.

When the twins had gone home, Ellie beckoned to Tom. “Come here.”

Tom shuffled to stand in front of his teacher, head bowed. Ellie looked up into his frightened eyes and held his gaze.  “Tom, I-“ Ellie broke off, at a loss for what to say.

Chad clearly wasn’t.  “Look here, boy.  If you ever, ever bully those kids again, I will personally tan your hide.  Clear?”

Tom nodded, too scared to say a word.

“Yes, sir!”  Chad prompted.

“Yes, sir.”

Ellie stood.  “Mr. Carter, would you mind looking outside for the other boy who was fighting?”  She asked meaningfully.

Chad nodded once and disappeared out the door.

Ellie sat down in her chair and just looked at Tom.  He scuffed his shoe on the floor.

Finally Ellie sighed.  “Tom, I’m sorry I had to punish you the first day of school.  I didn’t want to.”

Tom shrugged.  “I didn’t mind, teacher, I really didn’t.  But you punished Billy and Rose too, and-” His voice rose to a sobbing wail.  “They hadn’t done anything!”

Ellie leaned her head on her hand.  “I thought so.”

“Then why’d you do it?”  Tom cried.

Ellie brushed a piece of hair back.  “Because you all confessed.  Tom, I can’t just go by what I think.  If you all confess, I have to punish you all.  If I didn’t, I couldn’t keep any kind of order in this school. When I took this position, I told the school board I would do my best to teach all of the children not only the standard subjects, but also, perseverance, kindness, and biblical respect for authority.  How am I going to teach you to respect my authority, if I let my students get away with putting snakes in my desk and fighting each other?”

Tom considered this.  He sniffed.  “I guess you can’t.”

Ellie nodded.  “I’m going to have to punish you for what you did this afternoon.”

“I know.”  Tom whimpered.

A few minutes later, Ellie and Tom emerged from the schoolhouse.  Chad was waiting.  “I couldn’t find the other boy.”

Ellie watched Tom slowly making his way home, he was not anxious for his father to find out he’d been in a fight.

She shrugged.  “It doesn’t matter, Tom told me who it was.  Thank you, though.”

“No problem.”  Chad pointed to a buggy across the street.  “If you’re ready, we’ll head out to the ranch.”