The Prodigy: Part One

This is the first part of a fiction serial, in 796 words.
It was suggested by a first line supplied by Chris.

He hadn’t seen anything like it in twenty years of teaching. Not only did it seem incredible, and too good to be true, it gave him a shiver up his back. Roger read it again, realising he could hardly have written it himself, let alone have expected to read it as homework submitted by an eleven year-old girl.

It was the first month of the new school year, September 1968, and Roger had been assigned his classes, including his own form, G1. G for Gale, his surname, and 1 for the fact they were all first years. New uniforms, always a little too large, to allow growing room. The kids unfamiliar with the building, not used to regular homework assignments, and most getting to know classmates for the first time. Attempting to fit in, or make new friends.

Not Emily though. She sat with a remarkable self-assurance, her uniform immaculate, and exactly as it should be worn. Not for her the rebellion of sports shoes, or a skirt folded at the waist until it was too short for modesty. Her tie was in place, and her white shirt crisp and clean. That alone was enough to set her apart. As he asked questions during a lesson, her hand went up before he had finished speaking, earning her raised eyebrows from her classmates.

And her answers were not only correct, they were detailed, and well reasoned too.

Only a few days had passed before Emily had made herself very unpopular with her peers. But if she cared, there was no indication of that. Easing them in to the new regime and surroundings, Roger had waited until the second Friday to set homework. They would have all weekend to do it, and hand it in after the last period on Monday. It was simple enough. Give a description of a Motte and Bailey castle, with one example. He didn’t even ask for a diagram or drawing. History was a compulsory subject until they were fifteen, and one of the least popular with the kids.

Something wasn’t right. Not even the best encyclopedia could have provided so much background and detail, and instead of the one example he had asked for, Emily had given him ten, with drawings up to the standard of an architect. Not just an explanation of how they looked, but how they were built, why the sites were chosen, and even the names of the Norman lords who commissioned them and later occupied them. It must surely have taken her all weekend. If she had actually done the work of course.

During his three years at university, his time at Teacher Training College, and the subsequent twenty years at the school in the London suburbs, he had never seen any homework to compare with this, not even from a seventeen year-old hoping to go on to study History at a university. It was not possible that an eleven year old girl had produced this over one weekend.

Roger started to become angry.

Was this some kind of joke? Did the girl and her parents really believe he wouldn’t see through some obvious plagiarism? He was going to have to have sharp words with Emily tomorrow, perhaps ask for her parents to come into school and see him. He opened a bottle of cheap Liebfraumilch and poured a glass. Diana would have mocked his choice of wine, but luckily Diana was long gone.

Comparing the efforts of the rest of the kids’ homework made it even worse. Thomas Saunders had produced half a page, almost certainly copied from The Encyclopedia Britannica. He didn’t even care that his teacher would know he had used words he couldn’t possibly have understood, including Norman French, for God’s sake! After Emily, the brightest in the class was definitely Christine Hollingsworth. But the best she had managed was two sides of very large writing, and a half-page pencil sketch of a castle. The rest of the marking only took twenty minutes. They had all got a rough idea, but most had used examples of stone castles that were built a hundred years later.

Halfway down the second glass of Hock, Roger walked over to his bookcase. It took up one entire wall of his living room, and was a lifetime collection. He chose three books from one section at random, knowing they would all contain references to Motte and Bailey castles, then sat in the armchair and read the relevant sections as he smoked cigarettes.

Nothing. No comparison to Emily’s homework. Despite being written by leading authorities in the field, none of them compared to her work.

She had definitely created something totally original.

That night, the thought of that kept him awake.

56 thoughts on “The Prodigy: Part One

  1. I am a person of reasonable intelligence, though there were a handful of times in my teaching career when I would listen to a youngster and realize, “This child will be far more intelligent than me when his/her brain develops.” The Prodigy made me recall that thought.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. (1) Uncle Henry and Aunt Em want to thank Roger Gale for sending them his daughter, Dorothy, to raise. They also want to assure him that she is safe and sound in Kansas, but that she is prone to wild adventures.
    (2) Motte-and-Bailey Castle was owned by Nicholas de la Motte (who fenced a stolen diamond necklace to fund construction of his wing of the castle) and his best friend, Bill Bailey, who was something of a loose cannon, known for spending most of his time brawling in the pubs. That explains why de la Motte routinely entered those same drinking establishments pleading, “Won’t you come home, Bill Bailey? Won’t you please come home?”
    (3) Norman always considered the Bates Motel to be his castle. “Just call me Norman, lord of the castle!”
    (4) Roger was going to have some sharp words with Emily. “I’m going to cut to the chase. Your paper was not at all dull. In fact, it had an edgy quality that wounded my pride, as I could hardly have written it had I taken a stab at the assignment myself.”
    (5) The Encyclopedia Americana and the Encyclopedia Britannica once waged a war of words.
    (6) Christine Hollingsworth made a halfhearted effort to draw a half-page pencil sketch of a castle that was half built, half destroyed, and half forgotten.
    (7) Emily Gerard knows a lot about castles because she studied Transylvanian folklore.

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  3. Off to a great start, Pete…looking forward to seeing where this goes! In college I wrote a review of a legendary Paparazzi Photographer and my paper came back with an “A+” but the note: “are you sure you wrote this?” I was so offended I confronted the teacher, who said it seemed too well written for a college student…talk about a back-handed compliment.

    Liked by 2 people

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