– Chapter Three: Kiss the Girl –
Comedy of Errors may also be purchased from Main Point Books in Wayne,
When Stewart turned seven his parents had to take their son out of second grade at Montgomery School and enroll him in a public school near their home in Broomall. Stewart didn’t miss his old school all that much. He had finished quickly all of the pages in his arithmetic book and was reading at a fourth-grade level. His class at Montgomery had only eight students in it, while his new school had 25. During the school year he had developed a crush on a girl, Lilly, who left Montgomery School shortly after the Christmas holiday due to her father’s job-related transfer to Florida.At Montgomery School Stewart sat in the first row directly in front of his teacher’s desk, and he would constantly make excuses to turn around to look at Lilly, who sat two desks behind him. One day when the teacher had left the room, Bruce, a brazen child who always seemed to have a runny nose and who sat next to Stewart, challenged his classmate to a dare. Knowing that Stewart liked Lilly, he offered his fellow pupil a nickel if he’d kiss Lilly in front of the class. In 1954, a nickel was a lot of money, but Stewart didn’t need an incentive to accept the challenge. Without letting Lilly know what he was going to do, he walked to an empty chair desk, climbed up on the seat and, without explanation, asked Lilly to stand up on the small seat with him. Lilly didn’t know why he asked, but quickly agreed to Stewart’s proposal. When she had climbed next to him, he put his hands on her shoulders, turned her towards him, and kissed her on the lips. Just as the other kids began laughing and encouraging him to kiss her again, their teacher, Miss Warnock, walked in.
Montgomery School was started by a minister, the Reverend Gibson Bell, in 1915 as a preparatory school for boys. It didn’t become co-educational until 1943. Miss Warnock was an unmarried woman in her mid-50s when Stewart attended her class, and she was quite shocked when she walked into the room and saw the two young children kissing in front of her class.
“Get down from there immediately and go to your desks...all of you!”
she commanded. “And Stewart, I don’t even know what to say to you. You have so greatly disappointed me!”
Stewart wasn’t ashamed of what he’d done. In fact, he was quite pleased to have kissed Lilly, and quite proud to have been cheered on by the class. So he stayed quiet, not having any idea what Miss Warnock planned to do about his action. He looked down at his feet, still flushed with pride when his eyes slid over to Billy, who was trying to keep from laughing. Teddy, another classmate who had his eyes crossed while trying to control his own
laugh, let out a fart that made the whole class crack up and just increased Miss Warnock’s anger.
“What is wrong with all of you? This is a place of learning, not a bawdy house!” she shouted after getting a yardstick from the blackboard and waving it at Stewart. No one in the classroom knew what a bawdy house was, but remembered it so they could look the term up later.
“First of all,” continued Miss Warnock, “I want you to apologize to Lilly for your actions, and then I want you to go out to the hall and think about what you’ve done. I’ll address this issue later, when your mother picks you up.”
Stewart didn’t know what to say, since his mother never picked him up;
a cab did.
Before he left for the hall, Miss Warnock brought her face very near to
his and then nudged him over to Lilly’s desk with the yardstick, as if he was
too repulsive to touch. Lilly was afraid of Miss Warnock, but not of Stewart,
whom she liked a lot. When standing on the desk, she had even kissed him
back. But now she just sat at her desk with her hands clasped together and
her head facing straight ahead, not knowing what else would happen.
Stewart walked over to Lilly’s desk, and stood next to her. “Hello, Lilly,” he began. “I’m sorry about kissing you, but I really enjoyed it...”
“No!!!!” Miss Warnock shouted. “Just leave the room, Stewart, and stay in the hall until we finish class.”
She then turned to her seven other pupils, struck the yardstick on Lilly’s desk sharply and exclaimed, “This is in no way funny, and I never want something like this to ever happen again in my class. Do you hear me?”
Familiar with the correct answer, the class in unison said, “Yes, Miss
“Yes, what?” she shouted, and Billy waved his hand in the air, knowing
the answer. Miss Warnock pointed to him with the yardstick and he proudly
replied, “We’re not ever suppose to kiss a girl in class.”
Billy was pleased with himself and the teacher was about to respond,
when he raised his hand and in a quite innocent way asked his teacher,
“Where can we kiss a girl? And when?”
“No one of you should ever kiss a girl until you’re older.”
“What about my mother?” asked Teddy, who sat next to Billy.
“That’s different,” she said trying to calm herself.
“I’ll take this up with Dr. Martin, and maybe he can put some sense into
all of you.”
Dr. Martin was the new principal of Montgomery School and, like the founder of the school, was an ordained minister in the Episcopal Church, and already had his hands full trying balance a dwindling budget while wondering how to settle a matter with Stewart’s father, who still owed the school money for a tuition payment from last semester and hadn’t come up with the final payment for the previous year. Stewart’s father had tried
to explain the problem, which had something to do with money not yet transferred into Stewart’s father’s account from oil rights he apparently
Miss Warnock refocused her eyes onto Stewart as she directed him with the yardstick to the door that opened to the hallway. On his way, he saw that the hands on the large clock behind his teacher’s desk read 2:15, so the cab would be picking him up at 3:00. There was nothing for him to do during the 45 minutes he was to remain in the hallway except listen to the sound
of Miss Warnock trying to restore order to her class and return to the lesson
At five minutes to three, the bell rang and the kids left their desks and headed out the door to the hall, where they found Stewart sitting crosslegged
on the floor next to a trashcan. They knew that Miss Warnock would soon follow, so they hurried past Stewart not looking towards him except for
Lilly, who whispered to him, “I’m sorry!”
Still wielding her yardstick, the teacher marched Stewart around the corner and down the stairs to Dr. Martin’s office on the first floor. The door was closed, so the teacher knocked and called out, when asked who was there, “Margaret Warnock.” She entered with Stewart walking in front of her and her hands on his shoulders in much the way Stewart had held Lilly
when kissing her, except that his teacher wasn’t facing him. She lead into her version of the event by saying, “I needed to take care of a personal matter, Dr. Martin, and I left my class with my mimeographed sheets of vocabulary words for them to study, and when I got back I found Master Little and Miss White standing on a chair of an unused empty desk in a suggestive embrace while kissing.”
Looking warily over at Stewart, Dr. Martin addressed the boy. “What was
the occasion that caused the upheaval in Ms. Warnock’s class, young man?”
In a matter-of-fact manner, Stewart tried to explain the incident from his standpoint. “We have only two girls in our class, Dr. Martin, and Lilly is the prettier of the two. I think all of the boys like her, but no one admits to it... except for me. Sometimes I think the boys are jealous, and other times they just like to make fun of the fact that I like girls. When Miss Warnock left the room, Bruce said that he’d give me a nickel if I kissed Lilly. The only time I ever kissed a girl was last Christmas when my uncle wanted to take a picture of me kissing my younger cousin on the cheek. It wasn’t much fun, but I did it, and then she wiped the kiss away and looked disgusted. But I like Lilly, and I know that she likes me, so I thought it was okay to get a nickel for kissing her. But then Ms. Warnock came in.”
“Well, Master Stewart, I think you can see now that school is not the place to kiss a girl.”
“Yes sir. I am aware that I made a mistake, and will try not to make the same mistake again.”
Dr. Martin got up from his chair and walked around to the front of the desk and stood between the teacher and her student. “I would like you to apologize to Miss Warnock for disrupting her class and promise her you will never do what you did in her class ever again.”
Ms. Warnock looked confused, as Dr. Martin looked first at her and then back to Stewart, who seemed to understand that although it had appeared that he had done something wrong, Dr. Martin wasn’t terribly angry with him.
Stewart turned to face his teacher, saying, “I apologize, Miss Warnock. I’m really sorry that I caused a problem in your class. I will try to be the best
student for you that I can, and never kiss another girl in front of you.”
“Hold on!!” said Ms. Warnock. “That doesn’t sound like an apology to me. Does it to you, Dr. Martin?”
“I think it is enough of one for now, but Stewart...” He looked over at the boy. “I don’t want you to appear before me again because of any incident involving your teacher. She’s a good woman who takes pride in her work and
in her interactions with her students. If I hear about anything that you’ve done that will displease your teacher again, I will be forced to confront your parents.
“I understand,” said Stewart, not really aware of which problems the principal was referring to.
“Good, now run and get your coat and books. I see the cab’s waiting outside to pick you up. And Miss Warnock, will you stay a moment after Stewart leaves so we can talk?”
Stewart ran off and left the principal and his teacher silently watching him as he grabbed his things and headed for the cab.
“I’m sorry that you and Stewart have had a bit of an issue with each other,” began Dr. Martin. “I don’t condone what he did, but I have sometimes wondered if Master Stewart was less masculine in his manner than the other
boys in his class. It’s hard to tell at an early age, but it’s nice to see that he’s, how should I say it... normal?”
“No, Dr. Martin. I don’t exactly get your point,” responded the teacher.
“Let’s just say that it’s comforting for me to know that Master Stewart likes girls rather than... boys.”
“Oh?” said Ms. Warnock, who was not really prepared to address that
issue, either then, or anytime in the foreseeable future.