Teach Him His Place

By Laura Schiller

Based on: Kilmeny of the Orchard

Copyright: The heirs of L. M. Montgomery

"You have been too kind to the boy, Kilmeny," said Thomas Gordon, shaking his head and frowning. "And he's got presumtuous. It's time we taught him his place."

Neil, standing in the hallway, clenched his fists and glared through the crack between door and wall. If not for Kilmeny, whom he did not want to frighten, he would burst through and demand to know what his adopted father meant by that – but instead he whirled away and rushed headlong down the corridor, slamming the door to his small room without caring if anybody heard it.

Teach him his place. He cursed under his breath. He had heard that, and worse things, quite often during his life in backwater Lindsay, from stuffed-shirt farmers who never saw farther than their own fat noses. Staring at him with hard eyes, blocking their silver cabinets and keeping an eye on their children and livestock. A heathen, that was what they called him. A foreigner. He, who had spent every second of his life in this village and loved every tree, field and rock in its environs. He dressed, talked and worked just like every other Lindsay farmboy. Yet to them he was the Italian peddlers' son and always would be.

Was it his fault his mother had died giving birth to him and his father had abandoned him? Was there something wrong with him, to be rejected by his own flesh and blood? He looked down at his hands, rough and callused, darker than the hands of anyone he knew. Far across the ocean, in Italy, would he finally belong? Or would he still be an outsider there, because all he knew was Prince Edward Island?

What pained him the most, when all was said and done. Mr. Gordon, for all he addressed him by the title, was like a father to him. He had taught him his prayers, how to look after the farm; he had listened to Neil's violin playing with grave attention for many long evenings, always with a faint but unmistakable look of pride and affection. So Mr. Gordon saw him as a foreigner too – as if his birth were some kind of stain on him that nothing could wash out. He was not of their class. He was alien. He was inferior, and had no right to be treated as an equal.

As for Kilmeny, he would have cut off his right hand to know her reply. Just the thought of her these days made his eyes sting and his throat ache. Sweet Kilmeny, who used to accept his gifts of flowers with laughing eyes and sit with her head on his shoulder for hours, dreaming. Beautiful Kilmeny, with her eyes like an evening sky and her face like a white rose. Kilmeny who listened to his music with a puzzled frown, as if his violin spoke a foreign language. Kilmeny who now looked right through him, as if he weren't even there, and came back from her trysts with Eric Marshall glowing like a sunset.

Perhaps she, too, thought him low-born and foreign.

He jumped off the bed and stormed outside, in order to attack the wood-pile with his axe as if every log wore Eric Marshall's face. How he hated that smug, superior, condescending man with his handsome, white face and disdainful contempt for a desperate boy half out of his mind with heartbreak. If he were like Marshall, respectable and confident and Lindsay-approved and normal, how easy life would be.

He swung and chopped, sweat running down his back in the glaring afternoon sun. I hate you...I'll make you sorry!

A savage, they had called him. He could be savage with a vengeance. Why follow the rules of a society which barred him out and sneered behind his back? How would it be, to take a swing at that white throat and watch the blood spatter out, as it did when he killed a chicken to roast for supper?

A moment later, he was horrified at himself. Whatever he might be, he was a murderer. He shoved the idea away, like some monstrous creature he was afraid to look at. But all the same, it had taken root in his brain like a stubborn weed and could not be pulled out.

Teach him his place. Oh, he knew it, all right. Tangible or intangible, no matter – Neil Gordon's place was forever behind bars.