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The New Master








From: Glengarry Schooldays

Right in front of the school door, and some little distance from it, in
the midst of a clump of maples, stood an old beech-tree with a dead top,
and half-way down where a limb had once been and had rotted off, a
hole. Inside this hole two very respectable but thoroughly impudent red
squirrels had made their nest. The hole led into the dead heart of the
tree, which had been hollowed out with pains so as to make a roomy, cosy
home, which the squirrels had lined with fur and moss, and which was
well stored with beechnuts from the tree, their winter's provisions.

Between the boys and the squirrels there existed an armed neutrality. It
was understood among the boys that nothing worse than snowballs was to
be used in their war with the squirrels, while with the squirrels it
was a matter of honor that they should put reasonable limits to their
profanity. But there were times when the relations became strained, and
hence the holidays were no less welcome to the squirrels than to the
boys.

To the squirrels this had been a day of unusual anxiety, for the school
had taken up again after its two weeks' holidays, and the boys were a
little more inquisitive than usual, and unfortunately, the snow happened
to be good for packing. It had been a bad day for nerves, and Mr. Bushy,
as the boys called him, found it impossible to keep his tail in one
position for more than one second at a time. It was in vain that his
more sedate and self-controlled partner in life remonstrated with him
and urged a more philosophic mind.

"It's all very well for you, my dear," Mr. Bushy was saying, rather
crossly I am afraid, "to urge a philosophic mind, but if you had the
responsibility of the family upon you--Goodness gracious! Owls and
weasels! What in all the woods is that?"

"Can't be the wolves," said Mrs. Bushy, placidly, "it's too early for
them."

"Might have known," replied her husband, quite crossly; "of course it's
those boys. I wonder why they let them out of school at all. Why can't
they keep them in where it is warm? It always seems to me a very silly
thing anyway, for them to keep rushing out of their hole in that stupid
fashion. What they do in there I am sure I don't know. It isn't the
least like a nest. I've seen inside of it. There isn't a thing to eat,
nor a bit of hair or moss. They just go in and out again."

"Well, my dear," said his wife, soothingly, "you can hardly expect them
to know as much as people with a wider outlook. We must remember they
are only ground people."

"That's just it!" grumbled Mr. Bushy. "I only wish they would just keep
to themselves and on the ground where they belong, but they have the
impudence to come lumbering up here into our tree."

"Oh, well," replied his partner, calmly, "you must acknowledge they do
not disturb our nest."

"And a good thing for them, too," chattered Mr. Bushy, fiercely,
smoothing out his whiskers and showing his sharp front teeth, at which
Mrs. Bushy smiled gently behind her tail.

"But what are they doing now?" she inquired.

"Oh, they are going off into the woods," said Mr. Bushy, who had
issued from his hole and was sitting up on a convenient crotch. "And I
declare!" he said, in amazed tones, "they haven't thrown one snowball at
me. Something must be badly wrong with them. Wonder what it is? This is
quite unprecedented."

At this Mrs. Bushy ventured carefully out to observe the extraordinary
phenomenon, for the boys were actually making their way to the gate, the
smaller ones with much noisy shouting, but the big boys soberly enough
engaged in earnest conversation. It was their first day of the new
master, and such a day as quite "flabbergastrated," as Don Cameron said,
even the oldest of them. But of course Mr. and Mrs. Bushy knew nothing
of this, and could only marvel.

"Murdie," cried Hughie to Don's big brother, who with Bob Fraser, Ranald
Macdonald, and Thomas Finch was walking slowly toward the gate, "you
won't forget to ask your pa for an excuse if you happen to be late
to-morrow, will you?"

Murdie paid no attention.

"You won't forget your excuse, Murdie," continued Hughie, poking him in
the back.

Murdie suddenly turned, caught him by the neck and the seat of his
trousers, and threw him head first into a drift, from which he emerged
wrathful and sputtering.

"Well, I hope you do," continued Hughie, "and then you'll catch it. And
mind you," he went on, circling round to get in front of him, "if you
want to ask big Bob there for his knife, mind you hold up your hand
first." Murdie only grinned at him.

The new master had begun the day by enunciating the regulations under
which the school was to be administered. They made rather a formidable
list, but two of them seemed to the boys to have gone beyond the limits
of all that was outrageous and absurd. There was to be no speaking
during school hours, and if a boy should desire to ask a question of his
neighbor, he was to hold up his hand and get permission from the master.
But worse than all, and more absurd than all, was the regulation that
all late comers and absentees were to bring written excuses from parents
or guardians.

"Guardian," Thomas Finch had grunted, "what's that?"

"Your grandmother," whispered Don back.

It was not Don's reply that brought Thomas into disgrace this first
day of the new master's rule, it was the vision of big Murdie Cameron
walking up to the desk with an excuse for lateness, which he had
obtained from Long John, his father. This vision breaking suddenly in
upon the solemnity of Thomas Finch's mind, had sent him into a snort of
laughter, not more to the surprise of the school than of himself. The
gravity of the school had not been greatly helped by Thomas sheepish
answer to the master's indignant question, "What did you do that for,
sir?"

"I didn't; it did itself."

On the whole, the opening day had not been a success. As a matter of
fact, it was almost too much to expect that it should be anything but
a failure. There was a kind of settled if unspoken opinion among the
children that no master could ever fill Archibald Munro's place in the
school. Indeed, it was felt to be a kind of impertinence for any man to
attempt such a thing. And further, there was a secret sentiment among
the boys that loyalty to the old master's memory demanded an attitude of
unsympathetic opposition to the one who came to take his place. It did
not help the situation that the new master was unaware of this state of
mind. He was buoyed up by the sentiments of enthusiastic admiration
and approval that he carried with him in the testimonials from his last
board of trustees in town, with which sentiments he fully agreed, and
hence he greeted the pupils of the little backwoods school with an airy
condescension that reduced the school to a condition of speechless and
indignant astonishment. The school was prepared to tolerate the man who
should presume to succeed their former master, if sufficiently humble,
but certainly not to accept airy condescension from him.

"Does he think we're babies?" asked Don, indignantly.

"And did you see him trying to chop at recess?" (REE'cis, Hughie called
it.) "He couldn't hit twice in the same place."

"And he asked me if that beech there was a maple," said Bob Fraser, in
deep disgust.

"Oh, shut up your gab!" said Ranald, suddenly. "Give the man a chance,
anyway."

"Will YOU bring an excuse when you're absent, Ranald?" asked Hughie.

"And where would I be getting it?" asked Ranald, grimly, and all the
boys realized the absurdity of expecting a written excuse for Ranald's
absence from his father. Macdonald Dubh was not a man to be bothered
with such trifles.

"You might get it from your Aunt Kirsty, Ranald," said Don, slyly. The
boys shouted at the suggestion.

"And she could do it well enough if it would be necessary," said Ranald,
facing square round on Don, and throwing up his head after his manner
when battle was in the air, while the red blood showed in his dark cheek
and his eyes lit up with a fierce gleam. Don read the danger signal.

"I'm not saying she couldn't," he hurried to say, apologetically, "but
it would be funny, wouldn't it?"

"Well," said Ranald, relenting and smiling a little, "it would be
keeping her busy at times."

"When the deer are running, eh, Ranald," said Murdie, good-naturedly.
"But Ranald's right, boys," he continued, "give the man a chance, say
I."

"There's our bells," cried Thomas Finch, as the deep, musical boom of
the Finch's sleigh-bells came through the bush. "Come on, Hughie, we'll
get them at the cross." And followed by Hughie and the boys from the
north, he set off for the north cross-roads, where they would meet
the Finch's bob-sleighs coming empty from the saw-mill, to the great
surprise and unalloyed delight of Mr. and Mrs. Bushy, who from their
crotch in the old beech had watched with some anxiety the boys' unusual
conduct.

"There they are, Hughie," called Thomas, as the sleighs came out into
the open at the crossroads. "They'll wait for us. They know you're
coming," he yelled, encouragingly, for the big boys had left the smaller
ones, a panting train, far in the rear, and were piling themselves
upon the Finch's sleighs, with never a "by your leave" to William
John--familiarly known as Billy Jack--Thomas' eldest brother, who drove
the Finch's team.

Thomas' home lay a mile north and another east from the Twentieth
cross-roads, but the winter road by which they hauled saw-logs to the
mill, cut right through the forest, where the deep snow packed hard
into a smooth track, covering roots and logs and mud holes, and making
a perfect surface for the sleighs, however heavily loaded, except where
here and there the pitch-holes or cahots came. These cahots, by the way,
though they became, especially toward the spring, a serious annoyance
to teamsters, only added another to the delights that a sleigh-ride held
for the boys.

To Hughie, the ride this evening was blissful to an unspeakable degree.
He was overflowing with new sensations. He was going to spend the night
with Thomas, for one thing, and Thomas as his host was quite a new and
different person from the Thomas of the school. The minister's wife,
ever since the examination day, had taken a deeper interest in Thomas,
and determined that something should be made out of the solemn, stolid,
slow-moving boy. Partly for this reason she had yielded to Hughie's
eager pleading, backing up the invitation brought by Thomas himself
and delivered in an agony of red-faced confusion, that Hughie should be
allowed to go home with him for the night. Partly, too, because she
was glad that Hughie should see something of the Finch's home, and
especially of the dark-faced, dark-eyed little woman who so silently and
unobtrusively, but so efficiently, administered her home, her family,
and their affairs, and especially her husband, without suspicion on his
part that anything of the kind was being done.

In addition to the joy that Hughie had in Thomas in his new role as
host, this winter road was full of wonder and delight, as were all roads
and paths that wound right through the heart of the bush. The regular
made-up roads, with the forest cut back beyond the ditches at the sides,
were a great weariness to Hughie, except indeed, in the springtime, when
these ditches were running full with sun-lit water, over the mottled
clay bottom and gravelly ripples. But the bush roads and paths, summer
and winter, were filled with things of wonder and of beauty, and this
particular winter road of the Finch's was best of all to Hughie, for it
was quite new to him, and besides, it led right through the mysterious,
big pine swamp and over the butternut ridge, beyond which lay the
Finch's farm. Balsam-trees, tamarack, spruce, and cedar made up the
thick underbrush of the pine swamp, white birch, white ash, and black
were thickly sprinkled through it, but high above these lesser trees
towered the white pines, lifting their great, tufted crests in lonely
grandeur, seeming like kings among meaner men. Here and there the rabbit
runways, packed into hard little paths, crossed the road and disappeared
under the thick spruces and balsams; here and there, the sly, single
track of the fox, or the deep hoof-mark of the deer, led off into
unknown depths on either side. Hughie, sitting up on the bolster of the
front bob beside Billy Jack, for even the big boys recognized his right,
as Thomas' guest, to that coveted place, listened with eager face and
wide-open eyes to Billy Jack's remarks upon the forest and its strange
people.

One thing else added to Hughie's keen enjoyment of the ride. Billy
Jack's bays were always in the finest of fettle, and pulled hard on the
lines, and were rarely allowed the rapture of a gallop. But when the
swamp was passed and the road came to the more open butternut ridge,
Billy Jack shook the lines over their backs and let them out. Their
response was superb to witness, and brought Hughie some moments of
ecstatic rapture. Along the hard-packed road that wound about among the
big butternuts, the rangey bays sped at a flat gallop, bounding clear
over the cahots, the booming of the bells and the rattling of the chains
furnishing an exhilarating accompaniment to the swift, swaying motion,
while the children clung for dear life to the bob-sleighs and to each
other. It was all Billy Jack could do to get his team down to a trot by
the time they reached the clearing, for there the going was perilous,
and besides, it was just as well that his father should not witness
any signs on Billy Jack's part of the folly that he was inclined to
attribute to the rising generation. So steadily enough the bays trotted
up the lane and between long lines of green cordwood on one side and
a hay-stack on the other, into the yard, and swinging round the big
straw-stack that faced the open shed, and was flanked on the right by
the cow-stable and hog-pen, and on the left by the horse-stable, came to
a full stop at their own stable door.

"Thomas, you take Hughie into the house to get warm, till I unhitch,"
said Billy Jack, with the feeling that courtesy to the minister's son
demanded this attention. But Hughie, rejecting this proposition with
scorn, pushed Thomas aside and set himself to unhitch the S-hook on the
outside trace of the nigh bay. It was one of Hughie's grievances, and
a very sore point with him, that his father's people would insist
on treating him in the privileged manner they thought proper to his
father's son, and his chief ambition was to stand upon his own legs
and to fare like other boys. So he scorned Billy Jack's suggestion, and
while some of the children scurried about the stacks for a little romp
before setting off for their homes, which some of them, for the sake of
the ride, had left far behind, Hughie devoted himself to the unhitching
of the team with Billy Jack. And so quick was he in his movements,
and so fearless of the horses, that he had his side unhitched and was
struggling with the breast-strap before Billy Jack had finished with his
horse.

"Man! you're a regular farmer," said Billy Jack, admiringly, "only
you're too quick for the rest of us."

Hughie, still struggling with the breast-strap, found his heart swell
with pride. To be a farmer was his present dream.

"But that's too heavy for you," continued Billy Jack. "Here, let down
the tongue first."

"Pshaw!" said Hughie, disgusted at his exhibition of ignorance, "I knew
that tongue ought to come out first, but I forgot."

"Oh, well, it's just as good that way, but not quite so easy," said
Billy Jack, with doubtful consistency.

It took Hughie but a few minutes after the tongue was let down to
unfasten his end of the neck-yoke and the cross-lines, and he was
beginning at his hame-strap, always a difficult buckle, when Billy Jack
called out, "Hold on there! You're too quick for me. We'll make them
carry their own harness into the stable. Don't believe in making a horse
of myself." Billy Jack was something of a humorist.

The Finch homestead was a model of finished neatness. Order was its law.
Outside, the stables, barns, stacks, the very wood-piles, evidenced that
law. Within, the house and its belongings and affairs were perfect
in their harmonious arrangement. The whole establishment, without and
within, gave token of the unremitting care of one organizing mind, for,
from dark to dark, while others might have their moments of rest and
careless ease, "the little mother," as Billy Jack called her, was ever
on guard, and all the machinery of house and farm moved smoothly and to
purpose because of that unsleeping care. She was last to bed and first
to stir, and Billy Jack declared that she used to put the cats to sleep
at night, and waken up the roosters in the morning. And through it all
her face remained serene, and her voice flowed in quiet tones. Billy
Jack adored her with all the might of his big heart and body. Thomas,
slow of motion as of expression, found in her the center of his somewhat
sluggish being. Jessac, the little dark-faced maiden of nine years,
whose face was the very replica of her mother's, knew nothing in the
world dearer, albeit in her daily little housewifely tasks she felt
the gentle pressure of that steadfast mind and unyielding purpose. Her
husband regarded her with a curious mingling of reverence and defiance,
for Donald Finch was an obstinate man, with a man's love of authority,
and a Scotchman's sense of his right to rule in his own house. But while
he talked much about his authority, and made a great show of absolutism
with his family, he was secretly conscious that another will than
his had really kept things moving about the farm; for he had long ago
learned that his wife was always right, while he might often be wrong,
and that, withal her soft words and gentle ways, hers was a will like
steel.

Besides the law of order, another law ruled in the Finch household--the
law of work. The days were filled with work, for they each had their
share to do, and bore the sole responsibility for its being well done.
If the cows failed in their milk, or the fat cattle were not up to the
mark, the father felt the reproach as his; to Billy Jack fell the care
and handling of the horses; Thomas took charge of the pigs, and the
getting of wood and water for the house; little Jessac had her daily
task of "sorting the rooms," and when the days were too stormy or the
snow too deep for school, she had in addition her stent of knitting or
of winding the yarn for the weaver. To the mother fell all the rest. At
the cooking and the cleaning, and the making and the mending, all fine
arts with her, she diligently toiled from long before dawn till after
all the rest were abed. But besides these and other daily household
duties there were, in their various seasons, the jam and jelly, the
pumpkin and squash preserves, the butter-making and cheese-making, and
more than all, the long, long work with the wool. Billy Jack used to say
that the little mother followed that wool from the backs of her sheep
to the backs of her family, and hated to let the weaver have his turn
at it. What with the washing and the oiling of it, the carding and the
spinning, the twisting and the winding, she never seemed to be done. And
then, when it came back from the weaver in great webs of fulled-cloth
and flannel and winsey, there was all the cutting, shaping, and sewing
before the family could get it on their backs. True, the tailor was
called in to help, but though he declared he worked no place else as he
worked at the Finch's, it was Billy Jack's openly expressed opinion that
"he worked his jaw more than his needle, for at meal-times he gave his
needle a rest."

But though Hughie, of course, knew nothing of this toiling and moiling,
he was distinctly conscious of an air of tidiness and comfort and
quiet, and was keenly alive to the fact that there was a splendid supper
waiting him when he got in from the stables with the others, "hungry as
a wild-cat," as Billy jack expressed it. And that WAS a supper! Fried
ribs of fresh pork, and hashed potatoes, hot and brown, followed by
buckwheat pancakes, hot and brown, with maple syrup. There was tea for
the father and mother with their oat cakes, but for the children no such
luxury, only the choice of buttermilk or sweet milk. Hughie, it is true,
was offered tea, but he promptly declined, for though he loved it well
enough, it was sufficient reason for him that Thomas had none. It took,
however, all the grace out of his declining, that Mr. Finch remarked
in gruff pleasantry, "What would a boy want with tea!" The supper was
a very solemn meal. They were all too busy to talk, at least so Hughie
felt, and as for himself, he was only afraid lest the others should
"push back" before he had satisfied the terrible craving within him.

After supper the books were taken, and in Gaelic, for though Donald
Finch was perfectly able in English for business and ordinary affairs
of life, when it came to the worship of God, he found that only in the
ancient mother tongue could he "get liberty." As Hughie listened to the
solemn reading, and then to the prayer that followed, though he could
understand only a word now and again, he was greatly impressed with the
rhythmic, solemn cadence of the voice, and as he glanced through his
fingers at the old man's face, he was surprised to find how completely
it had changed. It was no longer the face of the stern and stubborn
autocrat, but of an earnest, humble, reverent man of God; and Hughie,
looking at him, wondered if he would not be altogether nicer with
his wife and boys after that prayer was done. He had yet to learn how
obstinate and even hard a man can be and still have a great "gift in
prayer."

From the old man's face, Hughie's glance wandered to his wife's, and
there was held fascinated. For the first time Hughie thought it was
beautiful, and more than that, he was startled to find that it reminded
him of his mother's. At once he closed his eyes, for he felt as if he
had been prying where he had no right.

After the prayer was over they all drew about the glowing polished
kitchen stove with the open front, and set themselves to enjoy that hour
which, more than any other, helps to weave into the memory the thoughts
and feelings that in after days are associated with home. Old Donald
drew forth his pipe, a pleased expectation upon his face, and after
cutting enough tobacco from the black plug which he pulled from his
trousers pocket, he rolled it fine, with deliberation, and packed it
carefully into his briar-root pipe, from which dangled a tin cap; then
drawing out some live coals from the fire, he with a quick motion picked
one up, set it upon the top of the tobacco, and holding it there with
his bare finger until Hughie was sure he would burn himself, puffed with
hard, smacking puffs, but with a more comfortable expression than Hughie
had yet seen him wear. Then, when it was fairly lit, he knocked off the
coal, packed down the tobacco, put on the little tin cap, and sat back
in his covered arm-chair, and came as near beaming upon the world as
ever he allowed himself to come.

"Here, Jessac," he said to the little dark-faced maiden slipping about
the table under the mother's silent direction. Jessac glanced at her
mother and hesitated. Then, apparently reading her mother's face, she
said, "In a minute, da," and seizing the broom, which was much taller
than herself, she began to brush up the crumbs about the table with
amazing deftness. This task completed, and the crumbs being thrown into
the pig's barrel which stood in the woodshed just outside the door,
Jessac set her broom in the corner, hung up the dust-pan on its proper
nail behind the stove, and then, running to her father, climbed up
on his knee and snuggled down into his arms for an hour's luxurious
laziness before the fire. Hughie gazed in amazement at her temerity, for
Donald Finch was not a man to take liberties with; but as he gazed,
he wondered the more, for again the face of the stern old man was
transformed.

"Be quaet now, lassie. Hear me now, I am telling you," he admonished
the little girl in his arms, while there flowed over his face a look of
half-shamed delight that seemed to fill up and smooth out all its severe
lines.

Hughie was still gazing and wondering when the old man, catching his
earnest, wide-open gaze, broke forth suddenly, in a voice nearly jovial,
"Well, lad, so you have taken up the school again. You will be having a
fine time of it altogether."

The lad, startled more by the joviality of his manner than by the
suddenness of his speech, hastily replied, "Indeed, we are not, then."

"What! what!" replied the old man, returning to his normal aspect of
severity. "Do you not know that you have great privileges now?"

"Huh!" grunted Hughie. "If we had Archie Munro again."

"And what is wrong with the new man?"

"Oh, I don't know. He's not a bit nice. He's--"

"Too many rules," said Thomas, slowly.

"Aha!" said his father, with a note of triumph in his tone; "so that's
it, is it? He will be bringing you to the mark, I warrant you. And
indeed it's high time, for I doubt Archie Munro was just a little soft
with you."

The old man's tone was aggravating enough, but his reference to the old
master was too much for Hughie, and even Thomas was moved to words more
than was his wont in his father's presence.

"He has too many rules," repeated Thomas, stolidly, "and they will not
be kept."

"And he is as proud as he can be," continued Hughie. "Comes along with
his cane and his stand-up collar, and lifts his hat off to the big
girls, and--and--och! he's just as stuck-up as anything!" Hughie's
vocabulary was not equal to his contempt.

"There will not be much wrong with his cane in the Twentieth School, I
dare say," went on the old man, grimly. "As for lifting his hat, it is
time some of them were learning manners. When I was a boy we were made
to mind our manners, I can tell you."

"So are we!" replied Hughie, hotly; "but we don't go shoween off like
that! And then himself and his rules!" Hughie's disgust was quite
unutterable.

"Rules!" exclaimed the old man. "Ay, that is what is the trouble."

"Well," said Hughie, with a spice of mischief, "if Thomas is late for
school he will have to bring a note of excuse."

"Very good indeed. And why should he be late at all?"

"And if any one wants a pencil he can't ask for it unless he gets
permission from the master."

"Capital!" said the old man, rubbing his hands delightedly. "He's the
right sort, whatever."

"And if you keep Thomas home a day or a week, you will have to write to
the master about it," continued Hughie.

"And what for, pray?" said the old man, hastily. "May I not
keep--but--Yes, that's a very fine rule, too. It will keep the boys from
the woods, I am thinking."

"But think of big Murdie Cameron holding up his hand to ask leave to
speak to Bob Fraser!"

"And why not indeed? If he's not too big to be in school he's not too
big for that. Man alive! you should have seen the master in my school
days lay the lads over the forms and warm their backs to them."

"As big as Murdie?"

"Ay, and bigger. And what's more, he would send for them to their homes,
and bring them strapped to a wheel-barrow. Yon was a master for you!"

Hughie snorted. "Huh! I tell you what, we wouldn't stand that. And we
won't stand this man either."

"And what will you be doing now, Hughie?" quizzed the old man.

"Well," said Hughie, reddening at the sarcasm, "I will not do much, but
the big boys will just carry him out."

"And who will be daring to do that, Hughie?"

"Well, Murdie, and Bob Fraser, and Curly Ross, and Don, and--and Thomas,
there," added Hughie, fearing to hurt Thomas' feelings by leaving him
out.

"Ay," said the old man, shutting his lips tight on his pipestem and
puffing with a smacking noise, "let me catch Thomas at that!"

"And I would help, too," said Hughie, valiantly, fearing he had exposed
his friend, and wishing to share his danger.

"Well, your father would be seeing to that," said the old man, with
great satisfaction, feeling that Hughie's discipline might be safely
left in the minister's hands.

There was a pause of a few moments, and then a quiet voice inquired
gently, "He will be a very big man, Hughie, I suppose."

"Oh, just ordinary," said Hughie, innocently, turning to Mrs. Finch.

"Oh, then, they will not be requiring you and Thomas, I am thinking, to
carry him out." At which Hughie and Billy Jack and Jessac laughed aloud,
but Thomas and his father only looked stolidly into the fire.

"Come, Thomas," said his mother, "take your fiddle a bit. Hughie will
like a tune." There was no need of any further discussing the new
master.

But Thomas was very shy about his fiddle, and besides he was not in
a mood for it; his father's words had rasped him. It took the united
persuasions of Billy Jack and Jessac and Hughie to get the fiddle into
Thomas' hands, but after a few tuning scrapes all shyness and moodiness
vanished, and soon the reels and strathspeys were dropping from Thomas'
flying fingers in a way that set Hughie's blood tingling. But when the
fiddler struck into Money Musk, Billy Jack signed Jessac to him, and
whispering to her, set her out on the middle of the floor.

"Aw, I don't like to," said Jessac, twisting her apron into her mouth.

"Come away, Jessac," said her mother, quietly, "do your best." And
Jessac, laying aside shyness, went at her Highland reel with the same
serious earnestness she gave to her tidying or her knitting. Daintily
she tripped the twenty-four steps of that intricate, ancient dance of
the Celt people, whirling, balancing, poising, snapping her fingers,
and twinkling her feet in the true Highland style, till once more her
father's face smoothed out its wrinkles, and beamed like a harvest moon.
Hughie gazed, uncertain whether to allow himself to admire Jessac's
performance, or to regard it with a boy's scorn, as she was only a
girl. And yet he could not escape the fascination of the swift, rhythmic
movement of the neat, twinkling feet.

"Well done, Jessac, lass," said her father, proudly. "But what would the
minister be saying at such frivolity?" he added, glancing at Hughie.

"Huh! he can do it himself well enough," said Hughie, "and I tell you
what, I only wish I could do it."

"I'll show you," said Jessac, shyly, but for the first time in his life
Hughie's courage failed, and though he would have given much to be able
to make his feet twinkle through the mazes of the Highland reel, he
could not bring himself to accept teaching from Jessac. If it had only
been Thomas or Billy Jack who had offered, he would soon enough have
been on the floor. For a moment he hesitated, then with a sudden
inspiration, he cried, "All right. Do it again. I'll watch." But the
mother said quietly, "I think that will do, Jessac. And I am afraid
your father will be going with cold hands if you don't hurry with those
mitts." And Jessac put up her lip with the true girl's grimace and went
away for her knitting, to Hughie's disappointment and relief.

Soon Billy Jack took down the tin lantern, pierced with holes into
curious patterns, through which the candle-light rayed forth, and went
out to bed the horses. In spite of protests from all the family, Hughie
set forth with him, carrying the lantern and feeling very much the
farmer, while Billy Jack took two pails of boiled oats and barley, with
a mixture of flax-seed, which was supposed to give to the Finch's team
their famous and superior gloss. When they returned from the stable they
found in the kitchen Thomas, who was rubbing a composition of tallow and
bees-wax into his boots to make them water-proof, and the mother, who
was going about setting the table for the breakfast.

"Too bad you have to go to bed, mother," said Billy Jack, struggling
with his boot-jack. "You might just go on getting the breakfast, and
what a fine start that would give you for the day."

"You hurry, William John, to bed with that poor lad. What would his
mother say? He must be fairly exhausted."

"I'm not a bit tired," said Hughie, brightly, his face radiant with the
delight of his new experiences.

"You will need all your sleep, my boy," said the mother, kindly, "for
we rise early here. But," she added, "you will lie till the boys are
through with their work, and Thomas will waken you for your breakfast."

"Indeed, no! I'm going to get up," announced Hughie.

"But, Hughie," said Billy Jack, seriously, "if you and Thomas are going
to carry out that man to-morrow, you will need a mighty lot of sleep
to-night."

"Hush, William John," said the mother to her eldest son, "you mustn't
tease Hughie. And it's not good to be saying such things, even in fun,
to boys like Thomas and Hughie."

"That's true, mother, for they're rather fierce already."

"Indeed, they are not that. And I am sure they will do nothing that will
shame their parents."

To this Hughie made no reply. It was no easy matter to harmonize the
thought of his parents with the exploit of ejecting the master from the
school, so he only said good night, and went off with the silent Thomas
to bed. But in the visions of his head which haunted him the night long,
racing horses and little girls with tossing curls and twinkling feet
were strangely mingled with wild conflicts with the new master; and it
seemed to him that he had hardly dropped off to sleep, when he was
awake again to see Thomas standing beside him with a candle in his hand,
announcing that breakfast was ready.

"Have you been out to the stable?" he eagerly inquired, and Thomas
nodded. In great disappointment and a little shamefacedly he made his
appearance at the breakfast-table.

It seemed to Hughie as if it must be still the night before, for it was
quite dark outside. He had never had breakfast by candle-light before
in his life, and he felt as if it all were still a part of his dreams,
until he found himself sitting beside Billy Jack on a load of saw-logs,
waving good by to the group at the door, the old man, whose face in the
gray morning light had resumed its wonted severe look, the quiet, little
dark-faced woman, smiling kindly at him and bidding him come again, and
the little maid at her side with the dark ringlets, who glanced at him
from behind the shelter of her mother's skirts, with shy boldness.

As Hughie was saying his good bys, he was thinking most of the twinkling
feet and the tossing curls, and so he added to his farewells, "Good
by, Jessac. I'm going to learn that reel from you some day," and then,
turning about, he straight-way forgot all about her and her reel, for
Billy Jack's horses were pawing to be off, and rolling their solemn
bells, while their breath rose in white clouds above their heads,
wreathing their manes in hoary rime.

"Git-ep, lads," said Billy Jack, hauling his lines taut and flourishing
his whip. The bays straightened their backs, hung for a few moments
on their tugs, for the load had frozen fast during the night, and then
moved off at a smart trot, the bells solemnly booming out, and the
sleighs creaking over the frosty snow.

"Man!" said Hughie, enthusiastically, "I wish I could draw logs all
winter."

"It's not too bad a job on a day like this," assented Billy Jack. And
indeed, any one might envy him the work on such a morning. Over the
treetops the rays of the sun were beginning to shoot their rosy darts
up into the sky, and to flood the clearing with light that sparkled and
shimmered upon the frost particles, glittering upon and glorifying snow
and trees, and even the stumps and fences. Around the clearing stood the
forest, dark and still, except for the frost reports that now and then
rang out like pistol shots. To Hughie, the early morning invested the
forest with a new beauty and a new wonder. The dim light of the dawning
day deepened the silence, so that involuntarily he hushed his voice in
speaking, and the deep-toned roll of the sleigh-bells seemed to smite
upon that dim, solemn quiet with startling blows. On either side
the balsams and spruces, with their mantles of snow, stood like
white-swathed sentinels on guard--silent, motionless, alert. Hughie
looked to see them move as the team drove past.

As they left the more open butternut ridge and descended into the depths
of the big pine swamp, the dim light faded into deeper gloom, and Hughie
felt as if he were in church, and an awe gathered upon him.

"It's awful still," he said to Billy Jack in a low tone, and Billy Jack,
catching the look in the boy's face, checked the light word upon his
lips, and gazed around into the deep forest glooms with new eyes. The
mystery and wonder of the forest had never struck him before. It had
hitherto been to him a place for hunting or for getting big saw-logs.
But to-day he saw it with Hughie's eyes, and felt the majesty of its
beauty and silence. For a long time they drove without a word.

"Say, it's mighty fine, isn't it?" he said, adopting Hughie's low tone.

"Splendid!" exclaimed Hughie. "My! I could just hug those big trees.
They look at me like--like your mother, don't they, or mine?" But this
was beyond Billy Jack.

"Like my mother?"

"Yes, you know, quiet and--and--kind, and nice."

"Yes," said Thomas, breaking in for the first time, "that's just it.
They do look, sure enough, like my mother and yours. They have both got
that look."

"Git-ep!" said Billy Jack to his team. "These fellows'll be ketchin'
something bad if we don't get into the open soon. Shouldn't wonder if
they've got 'em already, making out their mothers like an old white
pine. Git-ep, I say!"

"Oh, pshaw!" said Hughie, "you know what I mean."

"Not much I don't. But it don't matter so long as you're feelin' all
right. This swamp's rather bad for the groojums."

"What?" Hughie's eyes began to open wide as he glanced into the forest.

"The groojums. Never heard of them things? They ketch a fellow in places
like this when it's gettin' on towards midnight, and about daylight it's
almost as bad."

"What are they like?" asked Hughie, upon whom the spell of the forest
lay.

"Oh, mighty queer. Always crawl up on your back, and ye can't help
twistin' round."

Hughie glanced at Thomas and was at once relieved.

"Oh, pshaw! Billy Jack, you can't fool me. I know you."

"I guess you're safe enough now. They don't bother you much in the
clearing," said Billy Jack, encouragingly.

"Oh, fiddle! I'm not afraid."

"Nobody is in the open, and especially in the daytime."

"Oh, I don't care for your old groojums."

"Guess you care more for your new boss yonder, eh?" said Billy Jack,
nodding toward the school-house, which now came into view.

"Oh," said Hughie, with a groan, "I just hate going to-day."

"You'll be all right when you get there," said Billy Jack, cheerfully.
"It's like goin' in swimmin'."

Soon they were at the cross-roads.

"Good by, Billy Jack," said Hughie, feeling as if he had been on a long,
long visit. "I've had an awfully good time, and I'd like to go back with
you."

"Wish you would," said Billy Jack, heartily. "Come again soon. And don't
carry out the master to-day. It looks like a storm; he might get cold."

"He had better mind out, then," cried Hughie after Billy Jack, and set
off with Thomas for the school. But neither Hughie nor Thomas had any
idea of the thrilling experiences awaiting them in the Twentieth School
before the week was done.





Next: The Crisis

Previous: The Examination



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