One That Ruleth Well His Own House
From: Glengarry Schooldays
The news of the school trouble ran through the section like fire through
a brule. The younger generations when they heard how Thomas Finch had
dared the master, raised him at once to the rank of hero, but the heads
of families received the news doubtfully, and wondered what the rising
generation was coming to.
The next day Billy Jack heard the story in the Twentieth store, and with
some anxiety waited for the news to reach his father's ears, for to tell
the truth, Billy Jack, man though he was, held his father in dread.
"How did you come to do it?" he asked Thomas. "Why didn't you let Don
begin? It was surely Don's business."
"I don't know. It slipped out," replied Thomas. "I couldn't stand
Jimmie's yelling any longer. I didn't know I said anything till I found
myself standing up, and after that I didn't seem to care for anything."
"Man! it was fine, though," said Billy Jack. "I didn't think it was in
you." And Thomas felt more than repaid for all his cruel beating. It was
something to win the approval of Billy Jack in an affair of this kind.
It was at church on the Sabbath day that Donald Finch heard about his
son's doings in the school the week before. The minister, in his sermon,
thought fit to dwell upon the tendency of the rising generation to
revolt against authority in all things, and solemnly laid upon parents
the duty and responsibility of seeing to it that they ruled their
It was not just the advice that Donald Finch stood specially in need of,
but he was highly pleased with the sermon, and was enlarging upon it
in the churchyard where the people gathered between the services, when
Peter McRae, thinking that old Donald was hardly taking the minister's
advice to himself as he ought, and not knowing that the old man was
ignorant of all that had happened in the school, answered him somewhat
"It is good to be approving the sermon, but I would rather be seeing you
make a practical application of it."
"Indeed, that is true," replied Donald, "and it would not be amiss for
more than me to make application of it."
"Indeed, then, if all reports be true," replied Peter, "it would be well
for you to begin at home."
"Mr. McRae," said Donald, earnestly, "it is myself that knows well
enough my shortcomings, but if there is any special reason for your
remark, I am not aware of it."
This light treatment of what to Peter had seemed a grievous offense
against all authority incensed the old dominie beyond all endurance.
"And do you not think that the conduct of your son last week calls for
any reproof? And is it you that will stand up and defend it in the face
of the minister and his sermon upon it this day?"
Donald gazed at him a few moments as if he had gone mad. At length he
replied, slowly, "I do not wish to forget that you are an elder of the
church, Mr. McRae, and I will not be charging you with telling lies on
me and my family--"
"Tut, tut, man," broke in Long John Cameron, seeing how the matter
stood; "he's just referring to yon little difference Thomas had with the
master last week. But it's just nothing. Come away in."
"Thomas?" gasped Donald. "My Thomas?"
"You have not heard, then," said Peter, in surprise, and old Donald only
shook his head.
"Then it's time you did," replied Peter, severely, "for such things are
a disgrace to the community."
"Nonsense!" said Long John. "Not a bit of it! I think none the less of
Thomas for it." But in matters of this kind Long John could hardly be
counted an authority, for it was not so very long ago since he had been
beguiled into an affair at the Scotch River which, while it brought
him laurels at the hands of the younger generation, did not add to his
reputation with the elders of the church.
It did not help matters much that Murdie Cameron and others of his set
proceeded to congratulate old Donald, in their own way, upon his son's
achievement, and with all the more fervor that they perceived that it
moved the solemn Peter to righteous wrath. From one and another the tale
came forth with embellishments, till Donald Finch was reduced to such a
state of voiceless rage and humiliation that when, at the sound of the
opening psalm the congregation moved into the church for the Gaelic
service, the old man departed for his home, trembling, silent, amazed.
How Thomas could have brought this disgrace upon him, he could not
imagine. If it had been William John, who, with all his good nature, had
a temper brittle enough, he would not have been surprised. And then the
minister's sermon, of which he had spoken in such open and enthusiastic
approval, how it condemned him for his neglect of duty toward his
family, and held up his authority over his household to scorn. It was a
terrible blow to his pride.
"It is the Lord's judgment upon me," he said to himself, as he tramped
his way through the woods. "It is the curse of Eli that is hanging over
me and mine." And with many vows he resolved that, at all costs, he
would do his duty in this crisis and bring Thomas to a sense of his
It was in this spirit that he met his family at the supper-table, after
their return from the Gaelic service.
"What is this I hear about you, Thomas?" he began, as Thomas came in and
took his place at the table. "What is this I hear about you, sir?" he
repeated, making a great effort to maintain a calm and judicial tone.
Thomas remained silent, partly because he usually found speech
difficult, but chiefly because he dreaded his father's wrath.
"What is this that has become the talk of the countryside and the
disgrace of my name?" continued the father, in deepening tones.
"No very great disgrace, surely," said Billy Jack, lightly, hoping to
turn his father's anger.
"Be you silent, sir!" commanded the old man, sternly. "I will ask for
your opinion when I require it. You and others beside you in this house
need to learn your places."
Billy Jack made no reply, fearing to make matters worse, though he found
it hard not to resent this taunt, which he knew well was flung at his
"I wonder at you, Thomas, after such a sermon as yon. I wonder you are
able to sit there unconcerned at this table. I wonder you are not hiding
your head in shame and confusion." The old man was lashing himself into
a white rage, while Thomas sat looking stolidly before him, his slow
tongue finding no words of defense. And indeed, he had little thought of
defending himself. He was conscious of an acute self-condemnation, and
yet, struggling through his slow-moving mind there was a feeling that in
some sense he could not define, there was justification for what he had
"It is not often that Thomas has grieved you," ventured the mother,
timidly, for, with all her courage, she feared her husband when he was
in this mood.
"Woman, be silent!" blazed forth the old man, as if he had been waiting
for her words. "It is not for you to excuse his wickedness. You are too
fond of that work, and your children are reaping the fruits of it."
Billy Jack looked up quickly as if to answer, but his mother turned her
face full upon him and commanded him with steady eyes, giving, herself,
no sign of emotion except for a slight tightening of the lips and a
touch of color in her face.
"Your children have well learned their lesson of rebellion and deceit,"
continued her husband, allowing his passion a free rein. "But I vow unto
the Lord I will put an end to it now, whatever. And I will give you
to remember, sir," turning to Thomas, "to the end of your days, this
occasion. And now, hence from this table. Let me not see your face till
the Sabbath is past, and then, if the Lord spares me, I shall deal with
Thomas hesitated a moment as if he had not quite taken in his father's
words, then, leaving his supper untouched, he rose slowly, and without
a word climbed the ladder to the loft. The mother followed him a moment
with her eyes, and then once more turning to Billy Jack, held him with
calm, steady gaze. Her immediate fear was for her eldest son. Thomas,
she knew, would in the mean time simply suffer what might be his lot,
but for many a day she had lived in terror of an outbreak between
her eldest son and her husband. Again Billy Jack caught her look, and
commanded himself to silence.
"The fire is low, William John," she said, in a quiet voice. Billy Jack
rose, and from the wood-box behind the stove, replenished the fire,
reading perfectly his mother's mind, and resolving at all costs to do
At the taking of the books that night the prayer, which was spoken in a
tone of awful and almost inaudible solemnity, was for the most part an
exaltation of the majesty and righteousness of the government of God,
and a lamentation over the wickedness and rebellion of mankind. And
Billy Jack thought it was no good augury that it closed with a petition
for grace to maintain the honor of that government, and to uphold that
righteous majesty in all the relations of life. It was a woeful evening
to them all, and as soon as possible the household went miserably to
Before going to her room the mother slipped up quietly to the loft and
found Thomas lying in his bunk, dressed and awake. He was still puzzling
out his ethical problem. His conscience clearly condemned him for his
fight with the master, and yet, somehow he could not regret having stood
up for Jimmie and taken his punishment. He expected no mercy at his
father's hands next morning. The punishment he knew would be cruel
enough, but it was not the pain that Thomas was dreading; he was dimly
struggling with the sense of outrage, for ever since the moment he had
stood up and uttered his challenge to the master, he had felt himself to
be different. That moment now seemed to belong to the distant years
when he was a boy, and now he could not imagine himself submitting to
a flogging from any man, and it seemed to him strange and almost
impossible that even his father should lift his hand to him.
"You are not sleeping, Thomas," said his mother, going up to his bunk.
"And you have had no supper at all."
"I don't want any, mother."
The mother sat silent beside him for a time, and then said, quietly,
"You did not tell me, Thomas."
"No, mother, I didn't like."
"It would have been better that your father should have heard this
from--I mean, should have heard it at home. And--you might have told me,
"Yes, mother, I wish now I had. But, indeed, I can't understand how it
happened. I don't feel as if it was me at all." And then Thomas told his
mother all the tale, finishing his story with the words, "And I couldn't
help it, mother, at all."
The mother remained silent for a little, and then, with a little tremor
in her voice, she replied: "No, Thomas, I know you couldn't help it, and
I--" here her voice quite broke--"I am not ashamed of you."
"Are you not, mother?" said Thomas, sitting up suddenly in great
surprise. "Then I don't care. I couldn't make it out well."
"Never you mind, Thomas, it will be well," and she leaned over him and
kissed him. Thomas felt her face wet with tears, and his stolid reserve
"Oh, mother, mother, I don't care now," he cried, his breath coming in
great sobs. "I don't care at all." And he put his arms round his mother,
clinging to her as if he had been a child.
"I know, laddie, I know," whispered his mother. "Never you fear, never
fear." And then, as if to herself, she added, "Thank the Lord you are
not a coward, whatever."
Thomas found himself again without words, but he held his mother fast,
his big body shaking with his sobs.
"And, Thomas," she continued, after a pause, "your father--we must just
be patient." All her life long this had been her struggle. "And--and--he
is a good man." Her tears were now flowing fast, and her voice had quite
lost its calm.
Thomas was alarmed and distressed. He had never in all his life seen his
mother weep, and rarely had heard her voice break.
"Don't, mother," he said, growing suddenly quiet himself. "Don't you
mind, mother. It'll be all right, and I'm not afraid."
"Yes," she said, rising and regaining her self-control, "it will be all
right, Thomas. You go to sleep." And there were such evident reserves of
strength behind her voice that Thomas lay down, certain that all would
be well. His mother had never failed him.
The mother went downstairs with the purpose in her heart of having a
talk with her husband, but Donald Finch knew her ways well, and had
resolved that he would have no speech with her upon the matter, for he
knew that it would be impossible for him to persevere in his intention
to "deal with" Thomas, if he allowed his wife to have any talk with him.
The morning brought the mother no opportunity of speech with her
husband. He, contrary to his custom, remained until breakfast in his
room. Outside in the kitchen, he could hear Billy Jack's cheerful tones
and hearty laugh, and it angered him to think that his displeasure
should have so little effect upon his household. If the house had
remained shrouded in gloom, and the family had gone about on tiptoes
and with bated breath, it would have shown no more than a proper
appreciation of the father's displeasure; but as Billy Jack's cheerful
words and laughter fell upon his ear, he renewed his vows to do his duty
that day in upholding his authority, and bringing to his son a due sense
of his sin.
In grim silence he ate his breakfast, except for a sharp rebuke to
Billy Jack, who had been laboring throughout the meal to make cheerful
conversation with Jessac and his mother. At his father's rebuke Billy
Jack dropped his cheerful tone, and avoiding his mother's eyes, he
assumed at once an attitude of open defiance, his tones and words
plainly offering to his father war, if war he would have.
"You will come to me in the room after breakfast," said his father, as
Thomas rose to go to the stable.
"There's a meeting of the trustees at nine o'clock at the school-house
at which Thomas must be present," interposed Billy Jack, in firm, steady
"He may go when I have done with him," said his father, angrily, "and
meantime you will attend to your own business."
"Yes, sir, I will that!" Billy Jack's response came back with fierce
The old man glanced at him, caught the light in his eyes, hesitated a
moment, and then, throwing all restraint to the winds, thundered out,
"What do you mean, sir?"
"What I say. I am going to attend to my own business, and that soon."
Billy Jack's tone was quick, eager, defiant.
Again the old man hesitated, and then replied, "Go to it, then."
"I am going, and I am going to take Thomas to that meeting at nine
"I did not know that you had business there," said the old man,
"Then you may know it now," blazed forth Billy Jack, "for I am going.
And as sure as I stand here, I will see that Thomas gets fair play there
if he doesn't at home, if I have to lick every trustee in the section."
"Hold your peace, sir!" said his father, coming nearer him. "Do not give
me any impertinence, and do not accuse me of unfairness."
"Have you heard Thomas's side of the story?" returned Billy Jack.
"I have heard enough, and more than enough."
"You haven't heard both sides."
"I know the truth of it, whatever, the shameful and disgraceful truth of
it. I know that the country-side is ringing with it. I know that in the
house of God the minister held up my family to the scorn of the people.
And I vowed to do my duty to my house."
The old man's passion had risen to such a height that for a moment
Billy Jack quailed before it. In the pause that followed the old man's
outburst the mother came to her son.
"Hush, William John! You are not to forget yourself, nor your duty to
your father and to me. Thomas will receive full justice in this matter."
There was a quiet strength and dignity in her manner that commanded
immediate attention from both men.
The mother went on in a low, even voice, "Your father has his duty to
perform, and you must not take upon yourself to interfere."
Billy Jack could hardly believe his ears. That his mother should desert
him, and should support what he knew she felt to be injustice and
tyranny, was more than he could understand. No less perplexed was her
As they stood there looking at each other, uncertain as to the next
step, there came a knock at the back door. The mother went to open it,
pausing on her way to push back some chairs and put the room to rights,
thus allowing the family to regain its composure.
"Good morning, Mrs. Finch. You will be thinking I have slept in your
barn all night." It was Long John Cameron.
"Come away in, Mr. Cameron. It is never too early for friends to come to
this house," said Mrs. Finch, her voice showing her great relief.
Long John came in, glanced shrewdly about, and greeted Mr. Finch with
"It's a fine winter day, Mr. Finch, but it looks as if we might have a
storm. You are busy with the logs, I hear."
Old Donald was slowly recovering himself.
"And a fine lot you are having," continued Long John. "I was just saying
the other day that it was wonderful the work you could get through."
"Indeed, it is hard enough to do anything here," said Donald Finch, with
"You may say so," responded Long John, cheerfully. "The snow is that
deep in the bush, and--"
"You were wanting to see me, Mr. Cameron," interrupted Donald. "I have a
business on hand which requires attention."
"Indeed, and so have I. For it is--"
"And indeed, it is just as well you and all should know it, for my
disgrace is well known."
"Disgrace!" exclaimed Long John.
"Ay, disgrace. For is it not a disgrace to have the conduct of your
family become the occasion of a sermon on the Lord's Day?"
"Indeed, I did not think much of yon sermon, whatever," replied Long
"I cannot agree with you, Mr. Cameron. It was a powerful sermon, and it
was only too sorely needed. But I hope it will not be without profit to
"Indeed, it is not the sermon you have much need of," said Long John,
"for every one knows what a--"
"Ay, it is myself that needs it, but with the help of the Lord I will be
doing my duty this morning."
"And I am very glad to hear that," replied Long John, "for that is why I
"And what may you have to do with it?" asked the old man.
"As to that, indeed," replied Long John, coolly, "I am not yet quite
sure. But if I might ask without being too bold, what is the particular
duty to which you are referring?"
"You may ask, and you and all have a right to know, for I am about to
visit upon my son his sins and shame."
"And is it meaning to wheep him you are?"
"Ay," said the old man, and his lips came fiercely together.
"Indeed, then, you will just do no such thing this morning."
"And by what right do you interfere in my domestic affairs?" demanded
old Donald, with dignity. "Answer me that, Mr. Cameron."
"Right or no right," replied Long John, "before any man lays a finger on
Thomas there, he will need to begin with myself. And," he added, grimly,
"there are not many in the county who would care for that job."
Old Donald Finch looked at his visitor in speechless amazement. At
length Long John grew excited.
"Man alive!" he exclaimed, "it's a quare father you are. You may be
thinking it disgrace, but the section will be proud that there is a boy
in it brave enough to stand up for the weak against a brute bully." And
then he proceeded to tell the tale as he had heard it from Don, with
such strong passion and such rude vigor, that in spite of himself old
Donald found his rage vanish, and his heart began to move within him
toward his son.
"And it is for that," cried Long John, dashing his fist into his open
palm, "it is for that that you would punish your son. May God forgive
me! but the man that lays a finger on Thomas yonder, will come into sore
grief this day. Ay, lad," continued Long John, striding toward Thomas
and gripping him by the shoulders with both hands, "you are a man, and
you stood up for the weak yon day, and if you efer will be wanting a
friend, remember John Cameron."
"Well, well, Mr. Cameron," said old Donald, who was more deeply moved
than he cared to show, "it maybe as you say. It maybe the lad was not so
much in the wrong."
"In the wrong?" roared Long John, blowing his nose hard. "In the wrong?
May my boys ever be in the wrong in such a way!"
"Well," said old Donald, "we shall see about this. And if Thomas has
suffered injustice it is not his father will refuse to see him righted."
And soon they were all off to the meeting at the school-house.
Thomas was the last to leave the room. As usual, he had not been able
to find a word, but stood white and trembling, but as he found himself
alone with his mother, once more his stolid reserve broke down, and he
burst into a strange and broken cry, "Oh, mother, mother," but he could
get no further.
"Never mind, laddie," said his mother, "you have borne yourself well,
and your mother is proud of you."
At the investigation held in the school-house, it became clear that,
though the insubordination of both Jimmie and Thomas was undeniable, the
provocation by the master had been very great. And though the minister,
who was superintendent of instruction for the district, insisted that
the master's authority must, at all costs, be upheld, such was the rage
of old Donald Finch and Long John Cameron that the upshot was that the
master took his departure from the section, glad enough to escape with
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