Being a teacher and student, I really like this story and remind me of our school hood.
I show my friend to read. But as the article in English, they are reluctant to read no matter how much I urge. So I typed and shared whoever visit to my site. Hopefully I make a smile on your face. 🙂
A chapter from the autobiography The Silver Crest by Kornei Chukovsky
Translated from the Russian by Beatrice Stillman
Illustrated by Jan Brett
(From At the Edge of the World, ODYSSEY , An HBJ Literature Program , Second Edition)
Sam Leaton Sebesta
This is a true story. It begins in the year 1893 in the south of Russia, in a seaport town named Odessa.
In those days, the basic school which young people between the ages of nine and seventeen attended –that is , if
their parents could afford to pay for the tuition, their books and the special uniforms they had to wear — was called
a gymnasium. Despite its name, a gymnasium was not a room
where sports were performed. It was a strict, demanding school in which the students had to
study Latin and Greek on top of all their other subjects. And, like all students everywhere,
then and now, they often wished they were somewhere else.
Zuyev pulled a dozen little pictures of saints1 out of his schoolbag– copper ones, tin ones, wood and paper ones — spread them out on his desk and began kissing them one after other, in a business-like way. He didn’t skip even one saint, for fear it might get insulted and play some nasty trick on him.
It wasn’t for nothing that Zuyev was praying. In another few minutes our class was going to be given a test — a very scary test in
dictation — that we had been expecting for eleven days. Eleven days ago our principal, Mr. Burgmeister (We call him “Six-Eyes” ), came into our room clacking his bootheels and read us an announcement in a stern, solemn voice, as if he was reading poetry.
“The Honorable Trustee of the Education District,
Count Nicolai Ferdinandovich von Lustig,
will shortly afford our class the honor of a visit,
and may perhaps express the desire to attend the Russian
lesson during the period of dictation.”
And now the day was here. I felt specially sorry for my best friend. Timosha Makarov, who sat in the row behind me. He was just back in school after being sick with typhoid fever, and he was way behind the rest of us. When I glanced back at him, I saw a look of deathly fear on his freckled face. Poor Timosha! Suddenly I had a brilliant idea.
I was considered the champion diction taker in our class. I didn’t understand it myself. From the age of seven, I could write the most complicated phrases without a mistake. I had a perfect record on commas. In other subjects I wasn’t that great, but in Russian I use to get straight 5s ( even though right alongside of the 5 they used to put down a 1 on account of my blots.) At that time I just couldn’t get the hang of writing without blots. After every dictation my fingers would be so smeared up with ink that it looked as if I had dipped them into the inkwell on purpose.
“Timosha — wait a minute — I have it!” I said.
I pulled a kite string out from under my shirt, tied it to my shoe, and handed the other end of it to Timosha.
“Tie it on your leg, Make it tight!.”
Then, while he was busy tying the knots, I explained the code to him. “If I pull the string once, that means comma. Two pulls is an exclamation mark. Three pulls– question mark. Four pulls is a colon. Get it?”
Timosha nodded cheerfully and tried to tell me something. But he couldn’t control his stuttering, so the only thing that came out of his mouth was a little spray of spit.
Next to Timosha sat a short, curly-haired, quick-moving fellow, Munya Blokhin. Munya dove under the desk to extend the “telephone” line. He wasn’t about to let such an opportunity pass him by, no sir! A student who had flunked last year and had to take the whole year over again – Sasha Bugai– was sitting just in back of Timosha. We passed the line on to him too.
Munya pulled a piece of twine out of his pocket and stretched it tight from Timosha to Sasha, who then tied it to his right leg. Next to Bugai was Zuzya Kozelsky, the worst student in our class. He was also a crybaby, a coward, and a beggar who always wanted something. If we didn’t put him into our telephone system he would start sniveling and whining and give us all away.
Behind Zuzya, way off by the wall in the corner of the room we called “Siberia,” where the Babenchikov brothers, famous throughout the school as loafers and louts. Their fists were as heavy as lead weights. We had no choice but to extend our line to them too.
Blokhin coached the signals. “Don’t forget, now,” he said. “One: comma. Two: exclamation mark. Three: question mark. Four: colon. Got it straight?”
Meanwhile Zuyev, thought he went right on crossing himself and mumbling his prayers, watched Munya and me out of the corner of his eye. Suddenly he scooped up all his saints and threw them back into his schoolbag, ripped off a thread from around his neck, got down on his knees under his desk, and tied his string to my shoe.
Now the door to our room opened wide, and in walked — not our principal, Mr. Burgmeister, and not His Excellency Count von Lustig, whose name they had been scaring us with for eleven days, but some wooden-looking stranger with a face like a hatchet. Without a word, he started at once to read the dictation aloud.
Did my right let go to work! The whole time the dictation was going on, I jerked and jerked till I couldn’t see straight.
On that day (jerk!) when valiant Igor (jerk!), leading the troops out the forest and swamps (jerk!), noticed that in the field (jerk!), where the enemy was standing (jerk!), an ominous cloud of dust had risen (jerk!),he said ((jerk!jerk! jerk!jerk!):”How glorious to die for one’s fatherland (jerk!jerk!) !”
Our desks were shaking as if they had convulsions. I kept sending signals to Zuyev, Timosha and Munya. Timosha passed them on to Sasha, and Munya to Zuzya Kozelsky and the Babenchikov brothers.
When the diction came to an end, the wooden stranger with the hatchet face took our notebooks away from us and carried them away with him
to who knows where. As it later turned out, he was an official from Count von Lustig’s office.
And did they ever thank me, the seven fellows I rescued from disaster! Zuzya Kozelsky promised me one of his pigeons and the Babenchikov brothers offered me a whole capful of raisins. Their father owned the best sweetshop in town on Ekaterinskaya Street, where he sold dates, figs, coconut and halvah.
The next week the wooden stranger came to us again, together with our form master, Mr. Fleurov. He announced that, by order of the Honorable Trustee of the Education District, His Excellency Count von Lustig, the Commission for Verification of Education Progress had examined the notebooks in which our dictations were written down, and that the Commission had taken notice of a certain very peculiar thing.
The stranger started riffling through the notebooks.
“Let us, for example, take the case of Zuyev and Kozelsky. Might I invite to the blackboard?”
Zuyev and Kozelsky ran happily up to the blackboard and put on an air of dignified modesty, waiting to be praised. The stranger looked at them and suddenly, to the amazement of the class, he smiled just like a real live human being. And then he turned to the blackboard and worte the following sentence on it with chalk:
On that day when: valiant Igor leading? the troops out the forest and swamps noticed that in the field where? the enemy, was standing an ominous cloud, of dust!? had risen?
“That is the way third-year student Kozelsky wrote his dictation. For such a dictation a mark of 1 is too high. We hereby give Kozelsky a zero, just like Zuyev.”
We all burst out laughing, and someone whistled. The stranger tapped his wooden finger on the lectern and said — now without a trace of smile –” But there are some students among you who are unworthy even to receive a zero.
They are a Maxim and Alexander Babenchikov. Alexander Babenchikov wrote down his diction like this.” And he wrote the following on the board:
On that day when: valiant Igor lead,ing the troops out the for?est and sw,amps no:ticed that in the field where the en,emy was standing an ominous? cloud, of dust had! risen he said “How glor,ious to die: for one’s fath?erland?”
The cause of this disaster was– me . I gave the signals as I wrote. And it seems that I wrote more slowly than the rest. On top of that, the blots kept holding me up. By the time I got around to the third or fourth word, the other fellows were on their seventh, may be their ninth. Trusting blindly in my telephone, the boys sitting the farthest away from me stopped using their brains altogether. Operating by signals alone, they were ready to put a comma inside of every word even if it cut the word in half — something the stupidest moron on earth wouldn’t do.
After that day was over it was a long time before I could cough, or laugh, or sneeze, or sigh. That was how much my ribs hurt after my “pals” (mostly the Babenchikov brothers) expressed their gratitude to me for my services. It was no use at all trying to make them understand even the great invention on earth isn’t perfect for the first time it’s tried.
It was four days before I was in condition to come back to school. By that time, the rumors about our telephone system was buzzing through all the classroom and corridors. But Six-Eyes preferred to keep up the pretense that he knew nothing about it. Otherwise, he would have been forced to punish Zuyev and the Babenchikov brothers , who were special pets of his, for certain reasons of his own.