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"A Knight Without Reproach" from Saturday Evening Post

by Ellis Parker Butler
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from Saturday Evening Post
A Knight Without Reproach
by Ellis Parker Butler

That Daisy Oliver was thoroughly interested in the fascinating game known as the modern health crusade no one who had the privilege of two minutes of conversation with her could doubt. As a matter of fact, she had reached perfection in most of the eleven chores long before she reached the mature age of six years, for at three she was so passionately fond of tooth paste that Mrs. Oliver had the greatest difficulty in preventing her from eating it as one eats marshmallow whip or chocolate fudge. At that tender age she seemed to consider her toothbrush a variety of spoon, and -- Mrs. Oliver said -- it was really quite necessary to buy a variety of toothpaste that tasted less like a confection or Daisy would have bankrupted the family through overindulgence in the pleasant pink paste, and as for baths it was true that she screamed to be put into the bathtub and howled when she was taken out.

Mr. Oliver said he sometimes feared he had by some freak of Nature become the father of a fish. Not that fish scream or howl, but it must be admitted that they do love bathing.

'Are ye right sure ye took a glass of water, Micky?' she asked anxiously as he raised the first forkful to his mouth.

No one seeing Daisy start for school on a pleasant spring day could doubt that she was already by nature and training a knight of the white smile and an eminent exponent of the ideas of the modern health crusade. No one would ever think of wondering whether Daisy Oliver had washed her ears and neck and cleaned her finger nails as required by the knightly Chore Two. Each morning she started for school in a condition that may rightly be called immaculate, and she had always been so, but when Miss Curwin -- more often spoken of as Teacher -- told the school that any scholar might become a page and then a knight and then a glorious knight banneret by doing each day the simple health chores required Daisy Oliver became a really violent exponent of the principles of the modern knighthood.

It was Daisy who when the Sunday school teacher asked her what Moses brought down from the mountain answered, "A toothbrush."

Golden-haired, blue-eyed and rosy-cheeked, Daisy was from the first one hundred per cent perfect in her chore charts. When she took the ten slow breaths she took twenty of them and took them so slowly and deeply that the taking resembled a religious rite or the attempt of the frog to swell to the size of the ox. When she drank her glass of water before each meal she chose the largest glass and filled it so full that a pint or so ran over and made a puddle on the table and she held the glass upended above her rosy mouth until the last drop had trickled down her throat. There were not enough places on the chart to check the chore: "I took a full bath on each day of the week that is checked -- X."

The thought that there were 3,000,000 children in the United States enrolled in the modern health crusade and that she was perhaps the knight most perfect and most without reproach filled her with elation and made it easy for her to stand up straight. There were moments, when Miss Curwin commented enthusiastically upon the chore card of Miss Oliver, when Miss Oliver stood so straight that she was in danger of falling over backward.

And all the while an obscure knight, scorned by Miss Oliver, was slowly creeping upward in the chore scores, even threatening to equal the peerless champion. It might be said that out of the grime that had obscured his face and neck for years a Roland was emerging to challenge her Oliver, but the name of the knight was Mick Grogan.

Out of the obscurity that had -- so to speak -- covered his patched breeches and faded shirt Micky Grogan was first dragged by Knight Daisy Oliver the very day Miss Curwin proclaimed the six-row tourney.

"And so," said Miss Curwin, facing her six rows of boys and girls, "we are going to have a real tourney such as the knights had in days of old and I will keep the score of each row separate, and the row that wins will have an honor flag. The row that has the best score for the ten days will win. Now, are there any questions?"

There were six rows -- three of boys and three of girls -- and from them hands rose until it seemed to Miss Curwin that every hand was in the air.

"Now, now," said Bertha Kubelik excitedly; "now, Chore Eight says I got to be in bed ten hours or more every night, Miss Curwin, and -- now -- I ain't got no bed, because I sleep in a cot."

"A cot is the same as a bed," said Miss Curwin. "Whatever you usually sleep in is your bed."

"Miss Curwin," said Daisy Oliver, "I don't have to sleep with any windows open, do I, because I sleep outdoors on my sleeping porch -- and it don't have any windows, only screens. So I don't have to have any windows open, do I? Because Bertha she says --"

"Anyone who sleeps outdoors or on a sleeping parch can count as sleeping with the windows open," ruled Miss Curwin.

One by one the questions were answered and the hands fell. It was evident to Miss Curwin that the tourney would be a success. Already a fierce partisanship was developing between the rows. Across the narrow aisle between their seats the blond and inseparable Ferris twins were indulging in a whispered controversy.

"'Tis, too!"

"'Tain't either!"

"'Tis, and I'll tell teacher if you drink a single drop. You're a cheater if you say you didn't when you did!"

"Dorothy Ann! Gladys!" said Miss Curwin. "What is the trouble?"

"Well, grape juice is a injurious drink, ain't it?" demanded Gladys. "Because Dorothy says it ain't, and it is, ain't it? And she can't either say she didn't drink a injurious drink if she drinks grape juice, can she? Because she drinks lots of grape juice."

At such moments one cannot hesitate.

"Grape juice is not an injurious drink," ruled Miss Curwin.

"Yah!" said the Dorothy Ann twin triumphantly to the Gladys twin; "just because you don't like it you think I got to stop drinking it!"

As the less violent knights subsided, their simple queries answered, it became evident that others were prepared to maintain the rights of their rows to the last bitter swish of toothbrush across tooth and to protest every irregularity that might benefit an opposing row.

"Miss Curwin, now," said Bertha Kubelik of the second row, "Rosa Lagomarcino she ain't wholesome when she now sleeps in her undershirt, is she?"

"I don't no such thing!" declared Rosa. "I don't sleep in it, because I don't wear none."

"She does too!" insisted Bertha. "Her mother, now, sews her into it."

"Only winters," Rosa declared. "Summers not. My mother she should take a chance I should maybe take off my undershirt and lose it winters and get sick by my lungs, Miss Curwin. But summers I don't wear none -- no, ma'am."

Does that answer your objection, Bertha?" asked Miss Curwin.

"If she don't believe it," said Rosa, her black eyes snapping, "she could come out in the hall and I show her once I ain't got no undershirt on but my skin."

Bertha seemed to be satisfied, and Miss Curwin -- glancing over her six militant rows -- had an inspiration.

"I am going to appoint a captain for each row," she said. " If there are any other questions that come up the knights may ask the captains and the captains may ask me. If there are any objections to anything or any protests they can be told to the captains and the captains can tell me."

She paused a moment while she let her eyes run over the faces before her.

"The captains will be," she said, "Row One, Rosa Lagomarcino; Row Two, Bertha Kubelik; Row Three, Daisy Oliver; Row Four, Michael Grogan; Row Five, Edward Petzoff; Row Six, John Schultz."

Instantly Miss Oliver's white and plump hand shot into the air.

"Daisy?" said Miss Curwin.

"Please, Miss Curwin, it ain't fair," said Miss Daisy, "because all my row has two hands to wash and Micky Grogan he only has one hand, so it ain't fair, because his row don't have to wash as many hands as my row does."

Miss Curwin looked from Daisy to where Micky Grogan sat, his left coat sleeve doubled at the elbow and its cuff fastened to his shoulder with a safety pin.

"Aw, gee!" said Micky scornfully. "If she's goin' to kick about dat I'll wash me hand twicet. I know what's eatin' her -- she's scared she'll be beat."

"I am not!" declared Daisy. "But his row hasn't got as many hands to wash."

"I am sure Michael would be glad to have another hand to wash," said Miss Curwin. "I shall rule that it is only necessary to wash as many hands as you have."

"It ain't fair!" declared Daisy.

Miss Curwin glanced along Daisy's row. In the mouths of many of Daisy's rowmates were great gaps where the first teeth had departed and the second had not yet come. Even in Daisy's pretty mouth there were gaps from which the pearls had fled.

"If we began making handicaps, Daisy," Miss Curwin said, "we would have to deduct quite a little from your row's score, too, because your row has so few teeth to brush. Your row has a great many teeth missing, Daisy."

"Well," said Daisy, turning to look at her row of lady knights, and then she took her seat suddenly and said no more. She was a wise captain -- the missing teeth vastly outnumbered the missing hand of Row Four. Captain Daisy knew when to file a protest, but she knew equally well when to let the protest go by default. Some of the mouths in Row Three seemed to call less for a toothbrush than for a vacuum cleaner, there being little but a vacuum to clean.

During the days of the tourney -- if never before -- the chore cards of the pupils of Miss Curwin's room reached perfection. For the moment health and hygiene surpassed Thrift Stamps and tin-foil gathering as matters of vital interest and sources of conversation.

There were incidents that shook the class to its center, as when Mamie Best came to school weeping because during the night she had fallen out of bed without wakening, and feared therefore that she had failed in Chore Eight, which required her to be in bed ten hours or more, while she had slept part of her ten hours on the floor.

As captains of Row Three and Row Four the pink-and-white Daisy Oliver and the red-and-freckled Micky Grogan held their respective rows so strictly to the spirit and letter of the eleven chores that before the morning that began the eighth day of the tourney it was evident that the honor flag would inevitably be won by Row Three or Row Four.

Knight Daisy had for the six little lady knights in Row Three a method of maintaining the proper morale that was different from that used by Knight Michael, for Micky's one fist -- however thoroughly it might be washed -- was hard and to be dreaded.

"Lemme look at yer neck, San. All right! Lemme see yer fingernails. All right! Lemme look at yer neck, Rocco. All right! An' don't you go an' fergit to wash yer ears like you did once, or you know what I'll give you, see?"

He illustrated with a swing of his right fist against his own jaw, but a tempered swing, not the short-arm jab his faithful knights knew they might expect if they neglected a chore. For Micky was a scrapper when there was need of scrapping. He had learned because it is unfortunately the pleasure of some small boys to pick on those who have lost a hand or are otherwise seemingly easy conquests. Micky had early learned that he must protect himself, and now he was usually left in peace, for he had also learned that one fist can be at a disadvantage against two, and he fought close in so that he could parry and block with his stump of an arm while his right gave short swift blows.

Knight Daisy on the other hand used all the social wiles.

"I guess my mamma'll let me have a party if my row wins, but I guess she won't if it don't. Anyway, I guess she wouldn't want me to 'sociate with anybody that didn't do her chores."

Before the eighth day of the tourney the party was an assured fact -- if all the little girls of Row Three bore themselves with knightly honor during the entire ten days. Nor was this difficult, for the chores were not hard -- especially for little girls. Row Three having duly impressed its parents with the necessity for a supernormal record bathed as it had never bathed before. Every day was checked by each and every child where the chart said, "I took a full bath on each day of the week that is checked -- X." They mourned that there were not more days to check.

For Micky Grogan's knights the schedule was somewhat more difficult to maintain. Micky himself had to wait until the shades of night had fallen before he could be sure of the washtub, for if he got up in the morning before his mother needed it to do her taken-in laundry work he would have had to cut short his ten hours in bed chore, his mother was such an early riser. Washing his hand did not bother him; he had long since learned how to give it a good cleaning by rubbing it on a scrubbing brush submerged in the hand basin. He could attend to his five fingernails with a stick pointed and stuck point up in any crack or crevice. His mother's unalterable objection to open windows he overcame by making his bed in a hammock on the small back porch, and the other chores were simple.

On the morning of the ninth day of the tourney Miss Curwin called the leaders of Row Three and Row Four before her.

"I wanted to tell you, Daisy and Micky," she said, "that your rows have made really wonderful scores thus far. Both of the rows are perfect for the first eight days. Unless you have some unreasonably bad scores today and tomorrow one of your two rows is pretty sure to win."

"Dere ain't nobody in my row goin' to make no bad score, I betcher!" said Micky. "He'd better not!"

"My row either!" said Daisy.

But after school Micky thought it as well to gather his faithful round him and give his final instructions.

"Nobody don't want to throw me down tomorrow, see?" he said. "Us an' them girls is scored up jess the same an' they ain't goin' to fall down, and if one of yous does we're goners, see? You got to wash your hands and everything. Don't none of yous go and fergit to drink a glass of water before each meal or nothing, or I got it in for yous. Git to bed early, see? 'Cause maybe the house might burn down or something. Don't take no chances. Do like the chart says."

"Aw! We're goin' to, ain't we? You do like the chart says yourself," said Bud Craggin. "You jaw too much."

"Don't you fret about me," said Micky. "I wouldn't skip a chore if you killed me. Not tomorrow, anyway."

Mrs. Grogan was herself deeply interested in the tourney by this time. When Micky came to supper she asked, "Have ye washed yer hand, Micky?" And demanded to see it before she would serve him. She listened with pride when he told her his row was jousting on even terms with Row Three for the honor flag.

"Are ye right sure ye took a glass of water, Micky?" she asked anxiously as he raised the first forkful to his mouth.

"Sure, I did! I ain't fergittin', you bet!" he answered.

"I left the tub on th' back porch for ye," she told him, "for yer bath, an' full of water it is at that. An' Micky --"

"Yes, ma?"

"I've got to be takin' Mis' Oliver's washin' home, so I'll be lockin' up th' house before I go. I've slang yer hammick on th' back porch for ye, thinkin' maybe ye'll be wantin' to go t' bed early t' git th' full tin hours' slape. I put yer toot'-brush on th' porch railin'."

"Yes, ma."

So Micky retired to his hammock after his bath for a night of the soundest of sleep, and his mother locked the doors and windows safely, and then -- as Fate would have it and as she had not deserved -- fell down Mrs. Oliver's back steps and broke her leg.

When Micky awakened and tumbled out of his hammock he knew by the slant of the sun that he had put in the full requirement of hours in bed -- and more, but his mother was not yet at work at her washtub. He beat on the back door, not knowing yet that she was on her back in one of the beds of the Westcote Hospital, and when she did not answer he decided to get that day's full bath out of the way. He filled the tub at the spigot under the back porch and plunged into it. He rubbed himself down with the towel that hung beside the kitchen door. He brushed his white teeth. He cleaned his fingernails. He took ten and then ten more deep breaths.

And still his mother did not open the kitchen door.

Micky sat on the back steps and waited. Now and then he looked over his shoulder at the closed door of the kitchen. He was getting hungry. He went to the faucet under the back porch and washed his hand. He did his duty by his fingernails. He took the cracked tumbler to the faucet and filled it with cold water and set it on the step. He did not mean to forget the glass of water before each meal on this most important morning.

And still his mother did not open the back door.

At half past eight Micky became restive. The duties of the captaincy of Row Four demanded -- he felt -- that he be at the schoolhouse gate to give his knights the once-over and to make sure that their faces and ears and necks had been chored beyond question. He pounded on the back door again and listened. His mother, he decided, was not in the house.

That she should not be in the house did not strike him as particularly strange; she sometimes went out washing and she might have gone early this morning. In that case he would have nothing to eat until noon. Even this did not dismay him; it had happened before. He turned from the door and went slowly down the steps and raised the glass of before-meal water and put the edge of the glass to his lips.

And then he paused.

How could he drink a glass of water before a breakfast that he was not going to have? Breakfast! He might have no dinner and no supper, and he visioned the eager captain of Row Three rising in her place in the class and holding up an imperative hand until Miss Curwin bade her speak. He could hear her saying: "It ain't fair, Miss Curwin, because Micky Grogan didn't drink a glass of water before his meals today because he didn't have any meals," and Miss Curwin saying: "Of course, if Micky didn't have any meals he could not drink a glass of water before them, so he did not do Chore Four and your row wins the honor flag, Daisy."

Micky put the glass of water beside him on the step and scowled at the back fence. A fine one the fellows would think him if he was the one to fail the row when he was captain and all! And then he had the great idea.

Four minutes later Daisy Oliver on her way to school stopped and stared over the low picket fence at Micky in the side yard. He had swallowed the glass of water and was having his breakfast on his hands and knees.

"Teacher," shrilled Daisy when school had assembled and her madly waving hand had drawn Miss Curwin's attention. "Teacher, grass ain't breakfast, is it?"

"Grass? Breakfast?" queried Miss Curwin, puzzled. "Whatever do you mean, Daisy?"

"Well, Micky he didn't have any breakfast, because his mother she fell down our steps and her leg it got broke and the amberlance it took her to the hospital, because she was coming to our house with the washing --"

"You asked something about breakfast? " said Miss

"Yes, ma'am, and Micky he drank a glass of water, but I was coming to school and I says, 'What you doing, Micky?' and he says, 'I'm having my breakfast, what you think I'm doing?' And grass ain't breakfast, is it, Miss Curwin?"

"Aw!" exclaimed Micky, his face reddening.

"You mean Micky was eating grass?" asked Miss Curwin, unable to believe her ears.

"Yes'm, like a horse," said Daisy. "On his hands and knees, chewing it in his side yard. And grass ain't breakfast, is it?"

Many difficult matters come before a teacher for settlement and the wise teacher thinks before she speaks. Miss Curwin hesitated.

"Just so he could say he drank a glass of water before breakfast!" said Daisy indignantly. "And grass ain't breakfast, is it? So he didn't do Chore Four, did he, Miss Curwin?"

"Didn't you have any breakfast, Micky?" asked Miss Curwin kindly.


"What did you have?"

"Grass," said Micky defiantly. "I got a right to eat grass if I want to."

"Did you forget to drink a glass of water before your regular breakfast, Micky?"

"Aw, chee! I didn't have no other breakfast. I didn't fergit nothin'. I got a right to eat grass if I want to. I ain't the only one what done it."

"You are too!" said Daisy.

"I ain't neither. King Neb -- Neb --"

"Nebuchadnezzar?" Miss Curwin aided.

"Yes'm, he done it," said Micky triumphantly. "An' if a king done it a feller can, can't he? "

"But why did you do it?" asked Miss Curwin.

"Well, I got to, ain't I, so I can drink me glass of water before it?" demanded Micky.

Miss Curwin opened her desk and took out her purse. She took a shining quarter dollar in her fingers.

"School!" she said, rapping on her desk with it for attention. "You have heard Micky and Daisy. Let me explain clearly then that Chore Four does not require meals, but only that if meals are eaten a glass of water must be taken before the meal. And I want you to be proud of Micky, even if he misunderstood the chore, because, Micky, you are a gallant, valiant knight without fear and without reproach, and I am proud of you. And now, Micky, I want you to take this quarter and go down and get a real breakfast at the restaurant at the corner."

She stepped down from the platform and laid the coin on Micky's desk.

"Aw, say!" said the Knight Without Fear and Without Reproach, "I can't swaller no more breakfast; I'm all fulled up with hay."



Saturday, October 07 at 1:19:34am USA Central
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