Symphony 104

“Evelyn saw him run by, and Glen heard you chewing him out beforehand. I heard from both of them before the hour was over. They weren’t spying. Its just that we help each other here, and we share information so everyone knows all about every student. It is the one advantage a small school has that offsets our lack of funds and personnel.

“When you didn’t come to me, I knew that you were trying to go it alone. I called Mrs. Herrera and asked how Jesse was doing. She told me about your midnight visit, and never knew that I hadn’t known of it.”

“You are one sneaky bastard,” Neil accused, with left-handed admiration.

“Only because you made me be. Why didn’t you come to me? And be straight with me; your career is riding on your answer.”

Once again, Neil caught a glimpse of the iron hand beneath the velvet glove. He was reminded of Dr. Watkins, only Bill Campbell was more straightforward about it.

Neil said, “I knew that you would have expelled him.”

“Yes, I would have. Are you telling me your motives were completely impersonal?”

“No. I was also afraid you would be angry because I sent him home instead of sending him to you. But that was a secondary consideration. My real reason was to keep him from being expelled.”

Bill nodded and sighed. He said, “Yes, I believe that.”

“May I ask why you believe me? I’m not sure I would.”

“I believe you because I seldom see people doing things that are out of character. It is your character, as I see it, to champion your students to the point of foolishness. Like you did when you tutored Alice Hamilton against your better judgement. And like you did here not an hour ago when you argued with me about Hector Van Vliet. It is a noble trait, and someday it is going to destroy you!”

“Hector didn’t even deserve the punishment he got.”

Bill slammed his hand down on the desk top in anger. “Damn it, Neil, do you think I don’t know that? So what? It won’t hurt him, and he will always remember it. The next time he starts to lose his temper, he will think twice. The real point is, what would have happened if I had let him go? These are just kids. They can’t weigh the fine points of justice like you and I do. They would just know that Hector got away with murder, and we would have a rash of misbehavior like you have never seen. If I had let him go unpunished, I would eventually have had to suspend twenty other students that I won’t have to suspend now.”

There was another period of silence, while Bill sat brooding.

Neil said, “If you follow that thinking to its logical conclusion, you have to punish me as well.”

“Don’t push your luck, Son. You are in the same position Jesse Herrera was in. The only thing I can do to you is fire you, and I don’t want to do that.”

“I was aware of the similarity of our positions.”

“Is that why you went out on a limb for him?”

“No.”

Bill Campbell made up his mind. He said, “Neil, if you know what you did wrong, tell me.”

“Of course, I know,” Neil replied bitterly. “It wasn’t because I endangered your authority. I kept you out of the line of fire by not telling you. I was wrong because if I had not championed Jesse Herrera, my classroom would have been more calm, my students would have learned more during these last weeks, and four innocent students would not have been suspended for attacking a devil I kept in their midst.” more tomorrow

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