When school was over the next day, Mary Ellen stopped at Miss Hunter's desk.
"Yes, Mary Ellen?"
"Can I please," Mary Ellen began.
Miss Hunter's right index finger rose in pure teacher fashion.
Mary Ellen corrected herself.
"May I please have some paper?"
"Yes, you may."
"Thank you, Miss Hunter," said Mary Ellen, "and thank you for not asking me what I want it for."
Two Saturdays afterwards, Miss Hunter was leafing through her advance subscriber's copy of The Junior Journal, which had arrived on Thursday,
but which she had been too busy to read.
Fifteen minutes later, after some quick pondering, she went to see Reverend Fordwick, carrying the magazine with her.
"Instead of my usual sermon," Reverend Fordwick said the next day, "I want to read a letter that was printed in this week's "Junior Journal."
The congregation stirred. Here was something different.
"I'm Mary Ellen Walton, " Reverend Fordwick read, [several heads turned to look at Mary Ellen] "and I'm writing to apologize for cheating in your poetry contest. I think you'll be glad to know my Daddy gave me the worst spanking I ever got in my life with a razor strop, and my Mama made me learn fifteen Bible verses."
Several people murmured:
"She deserved it."
"Served her right."
They felt a nudge of shame when Reverend Fordwick read the next line,
"The spanking really hurt, but I deserved it. But that's not the worst of it. The worst is how disappointed my family was when they found out I copied that poem from a newspaper.
And I'm disappointed in myself for cheating.
Mary Ellen Walton."
Reverend Fordwick stopped reading for a minute, and then went on, "And here is the editor's response.
"We believe that Mary Ellen Walton's apology is sincere," he read, "because with her letter she enclosed several sheets of paper on which she had written one hundred times, i will never cheat in any way again."
There was complete, total silence in the church.
And then, almost everyone, including her own family, turned to smile at Mary Ellen.