This little bit of oddness began as another school assignment: in our lit. books junior year, we had a short-story-like excerpt from Edna Ferber's book So Big, in which Selina--a naively idealistic city girl--comes to a small Dutch farming community to teach and ends up with Pervus Dejong, a handsome but somewhat simple farmer. In the actual book, their meeting and courtship are apparently fairly unimportant; I think the main plot revolves around events after Pervus dies, widdowing Selina and leaving her to care for their young son. However, the excerpt simply ended with Selina and Pervus meeting rather oddly, and Selina agreeing to teach Pervus to read, without any real resolution as to what would become of the characters. My teacher assigned us to write our own endings. Being the sadist that I am, I decided to crush Selina's idealism, and...well, I had fun.
Two months after the social, Selina glared at a paper Pervus had left behind and crumpled it in her fist. Apparently she wasn't meant to be a teacher. Yes, that must be it, for surely this wasn't entirely her fault.
She flattened the paper out and studied it, as if it could offer some sort of clue. But no: there were only the few words he had scrawled across the paper. Write out the alphabet and then a simple sentence, she had told him—after two months of instruction she'd thought it wouldn't be so difficult.
Well, the alphabet was there, certainly—huge, shaky letters that wandered across the paper with no regard for the lines, but they were there. Half a page below was Pervus' excuse for a sentence: I cart cat. Three words she'd taught him a month ago, but she'd hoped he'd learned something since. After that, it seemed, he had given up, because the next line contained his name. Twice.
Selina crumpled the paper again and flung it into the corner. Pervus wasn't learning a thing—wasn't even giving her a hint of hope that he could learn—and her younger pupils at the school weren't doing much better. They all understood just enough English to inform Selina that they didn't know what she was trying to tell them, and she'd gathered just enough Dutch to know when they insulted each other. Two students had managed to read through the first page of the first primer, and three others had figured out that two and two did indeed equal four, but the rest of her students had merely perfected the art of staring blankly at their teacher.
"I wasn't meant to be a teacher," Selina declared to her empty room. "Wasn't meant, I tell you."
Two days later, High Prairie's city-girl teacher disappeared. From several respectable sources came news of family tragedies, strange illnesses, and sundry other emergencies that might have called Miss Peake away. Eventually that particular topic of gossip wore out its interest, and Selina faded from the town's collective memory. The more worldly-minded of the people, however, heard odd things on their infrequent trips to the city—a young woman had returned from a long sojourn in the country, and no one seemed to know who she was. She had either withdrawn into seclusion or been committed to an asylum—the stories were a bit unclear on that point—shortly after her arrival. All the tales agreed on one thing, however: the woman wouldn't talk to anyone, but now and then she would mutter, "Wasn't meant to be a teacher…wasn't meant, I tell you…"