Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 25

A PENNY PASS-BOOK


Elspeth conveyed the gift to Tommy in a brown paper wrapping, and when
it lay revealed as an aging volume of _Mamma's Boy_, a magazine for the
Home, nothing could have looked more harmless. But, ah, you never know.
Hungrily Tommy ran his eye through the bill of fare for something choice
to begin with, and he found it. "The Boy Pirate" it was called. Never
could have been fairer promise, and down he sat confidently.

It was a paper on the boys who have been undone by reading pernicious
fiction. It gave their names, and the number of pistols they had bought,
and what the judge said when he pronounced sentence. It counted the
sensational tales found beneath the bed, and described the desolation of
the mothers and sisters. It told the color of the father's hair before
and afterwards.

Tommy flung the thing from him, picked it up again, and read on
uneasily, and when at last he rose he was shrinking from himself. In
hopes that he might sleep it off he went early to bed, but his
contrition was still with him in the morning. Then Elspeth was shown the
article which had saved him, and she, too, shuddered at what she had
been, though her remorse was but a poor display beside his, he was so
much better at everything than Elspeth. Tommy's distress of mind was so
genuine and so keen that it had several hours' start of his admiration
of it; and it was still sincere, though he himself had become gloomy,
when he told his followers that they were no more. Grizel heard his tale
with disdain, and said she hated Miss Ailie for giving him the silly
book, but he reproved these unchristian sentiments, while admitting that
Miss Ailie had played on him a scurvy trick.

"But you're glad you've repented, Tommy," Elspeth reminded him,
anxiously.

"Ay, I'm glad," he answered, without heartiness.

"Well, gin you repent I'll repent too," said Corp, always ready to
accept Tommy without question.

"You'll be happier," replied Tommy, sourly.

"Ay, to be good's the great thing," Corp growled; "but, Tommy, could we
no have just one michty blatter, methinks, to end up wi'?"

This, of course, could not be, and Saturday forenoon found Tommy
wandering the streets listlessly, very happy, you know, but inclined to
kick at any one who came near, such, for instance, as the stranger who
asked him in the square if he could point out the abode of Miss Ailie
Cray.

Tommy led the way, casting some converted looks at the gentleman, and
judging him to be the mysterious unknown in whom the late Captain Stroke
had taken such a reprehensible interest. He was a stout, red-faced man,
stepping firmly into the fifties, with a beard that even the most
converted must envy, and a frown sat on his brows all the way, proving
him possibly ill-tempered, but also one of the notable few who can think
hard about one thing for at least five consecutive minutes. Many took a
glint at him as he passed, but missed the frown, they were wondering so
much why the fur of his heavy top-coat was on the inside, where it made
little show, save at blasty corners.

Miss Ailie was in her parlor, trying to give her mind to a blue and
white note-book, but when she saw who was coming up the garden she
dropped the little volume and tottered to her bedroom. She was there
when Gavinia came up to announce that she had shown a gentleman into the
blue-and-white room, who gave the name of Ivie McLean. "Tell him--I
shall come down--presently," gasped Miss Ailie, and then Gavinia was
sure this was the man who was making her mistress so unhappy.

"She's so easily flichtered now," Gavinia told Tommy in the kitchen,
"that for fear o' starting her I never whistle at my work without
telling her I'm to do't, and if I fall on the stair, my first thought is
to jump up and cry, 'It was just me tum'ling.' And now I believe this
brute'll be the death o' her."

"But what can he do to her?"

"I dinna ken, but she's greeting sair, and yon can hear how he's
rampaging up and down the blue-and-white room. Listen to his thrawn
feet! He's raging because she's so long in coming down, and come she
daurna. Oh, the poor crittur!"

Now, Tommy was very fond of his old school-mistress, and he began to be
unhappy with Gavinia.

"She hasna a man-body in the world to take care o' her," sobbed the
girl.

"Has she no?" cried Tommy, fiercely, and under one of the impulses that
so easily mastered him he marched into the blue-and-white room.

"Well, my young friend, and what may you want?" asked Mr. McLean,
impatiently.

Tommy sat down and folded his arms. "I'm going to sit here and see what
you do to Miss Ailie," he said, determinedly.

Mr. McLean said "Oh!" and then seemed favorably impressed, for he added
quietly: "She is a friend of yours, is she? Well, I have no intention of
hurting her."

"You had better no," replied Tommy, stoutly.

"Did she send you here?"

"No; I came mysel'."

"To protect her?"

There was the irony in it that so puts up a boy's dander. "Dinna think,"
said Tommy, hotly, "that I'm fleid at you, though I have no beard--at
least, I hinna it wi' me."

At this unexpected conclusion a smile crossed Mr. McLean's face, but was
gone in an instant. "I wish you had laughed," said Tommy, on the watch;
"once a body laughs he canna be angry no more," which was pretty good
even for Tommy. It made Mr. McLean ask him why he was so fond of Miss
Ailie.

"I'm the only man-body she has," he answered.

"Oh? But why are you her man-body?"

The boy could think of no better reason than this: "Because--because
she's so sair in need o' are." (There were moments when one liked
Tommy.)

Mr. McLean turned to the window, and perhaps forgot that he was not
alone. "Well, what are you thinking about so deeply?" he asked by and
by.

"I was trying to think o' something that would gar you laugh," answered
Tommy, very earnestly, and was surprised to see that he had nearly done
it.

The blue and white note-book was lying on the floor where Miss Ailie had
dropped it. Often in Tommy's presence she had consulted this work, and
certainly its effect on her was the reverse of laughter; but once he had
seen Dr. McQueen pick it up and roar over every page. With an
inspiration Tommy handed the book to Mr. McLean. "It made the doctor
laugh," he said persuasively.

"Go away," said Ivie, impatiently; "I am in no mood for laughing."

"I tell you what," answered Tommy, "I'll go, if you promise to look at
it," and to be rid of him the man agreed. For the next quarter of an
hour Tommy and Gavinia were very near the door of the blue-and-white
room, Tommy whispering dejectedly, "I hear no laughing," and Gavinia
replying, "But he has quieted down."

Mr. McLean had a right to be very angry, but God only can say whether he
had a right to be as angry as he was. The book had been handed to him
open, and he was laying it down unread when a word underlined caught his
eye. It was his own name. Nothing in all literature arrests our
attention quite so much as that. He sat down to the book. It was just
about this time that Miss Ailie went on her knees to pray.

It was only a penny pass-book. On its blue cover had been pasted a slip
of white paper, and on the paper was written, in blue ink, "Alison
Cray," with a date nearly nine years old. The contents were in Miss
Ailie's prim handwriting; jottings for her own use begun about the time
when the sisters, trembling at their audacity, had opened school, and
consulted and added to fitfully ever since. Hours must have been spent
in erasing the blots and other blemishes so carefully. The tiny volume
was not yet full, and between its two last written pages lay a piece of
blue blotting-paper neatly cut to the size of the leaf.

Some of these notes were transcripts from books, some contained the
advice of friends, others were doubtless the result of talks with Miss
Kitty (from whom there were signs that the work had been kept a secret),
many were Miss Ailie's own. An entry of this kind was frequent: "If you
are uncertain of the answer to a question in arithmetic, it is advisable
to leave the room on some pretext and work out the sum swiftly in the
passage." Various pretexts were suggested, and this one (which had an
insufficient line through it) had been inserted by Dr. McQueen on that
day when Tommy saw him chuckling, "You pretend that your nose is
bleeding and putting your handkerchief to it, retire hastily, the
supposition being that you have gone to put the key of the
blue-and-white room down your back." Evidently these small deceptions
troubled Miss Ailie, for she had written, "Such subterfuge is, I hope,
pardonable, the object being the maintenance of scholastic discipline."
On another page, where the arithmetic was again troubling her, this
appeared: "If Kitty were aware that the squealing of the slate-pencils
gave me such headaches, she would insist on again taking the arithmetic
class, though it always makes her ill. Surely, then, I am justified in
saying that the sound does not distress me." To this the doctor had
added, "You are a brick."

There were two pages headed NEVER, which mentioned ten things that Miss
Ailie must never do; among them, "_Never_ let the big boys know you are
afraid of them. To awe them, stamp with the foot, speak in a loud
ferocious voice, and look them unflinchingly in the face."

"Punishments" was another heading, but she had written it small, as if
to prevent herself seeing it each time she opened the book. Obviously
her hope had been to dispose of Punishment in a few lines, but it would
have none of that, and Mr. McLean found it stalking from page to page.
Miss Ailie favored the cane in preference to tawse, which, "often flap
round your neck as yon are about to bring them down." Except in
desperate cases "it will probably be found sufficient to order the
offender to bring the cane to you." Then followed a note about rubbing
the culprit's hand "with sweet butter or dripping" should you have
struck too hard.

Dispiriting item, that on resuming his seat the chastised one is a hero
to his fellows for the rest of the day. Item, that Master John James
Rattray knows she hurts her own hand more than his. Item, that John
James promised to be good throughout the session if she would let him
thrash the bad ones. Item, that Master T. Sandys, himself under
correction, explained to her (the artistic instinct again) how to give
the cane a waggle when descending, which would double its nip. Item,
that Elsie Dundas offered to receive Francie Crabb's punishment for two
snaps. Item, that Master Gavin Dishart, for what he considered the honor
of his school, though aware he was imperilling his soul, fought Hendry
Dickie of Cathro's for saying Miss Ailie could not draw blood with one
stroke.

The effect on Miss Ailie of these mortifying discoveries could be read
in the paragraph headed A MOTHER'S METHOD, which was copied from a
newspaper. Mrs. E----, it seems, was the mother of four boys (residing
at D----), and she subjected them frequently to corporal chastisement
without permanent spiritual result. Mrs. E----, by the advice of another
lady, Mrs. K---- (mother of six), then had recourse to the following
interesting experiment. Instead of punishing her children physically
when they misbehaved, she now in their presence wounded herself by
striking her left hand severely with a ruler held in the right. Soon
their better natures were touched, and the four implored her to desist,
promising with tears never to offend again. From that hour Mrs.
E---- had little trouble with her boys.

It was recorded in the blue and white book how Miss Ailie gave this plan
a fair trial, but her boys must have been darker characters than Mrs.
E----'s, for it merely set them to watching each other, so that they
might cry out, "Pandy yourself quick, Miss Ailie; Gavin Dishart's
drawing the devil on his slate." Nevertheless, when Miss Ailie announced
a return to more conventional methods, Francie was put up (with threats)
to say that he suffered agonies of remorse every time she pandied
herself for him, but the thing had been organized in a hurry and Francie
was insufficiently primed, and on cross-examination he let out that he
thought remorse was a swelling of the hands.

Miss Ailie was very humble-minded, and her entries under THE TEACHER
TAUGHT were all admonitions for herself. Thus she chided herself for
cowardice because "Delicate private reasons have made me avoid all
mention of India in the geography classes. Kitty says quite calmly
that this is fair neither to our pupils nor to I---- M----. The
courage of Kitty in this matter is a constant rebuke to me." Except
on a few occasions Mr. McLean found that he was always referred to as
I---- M----.

Quite early in the volume Miss Ailie knew that her sister's hold on life
was loosening. "How bright the world suddenly seems," Mr. McLean read,
"when there is the tiniest improvement in the health of an invalid one
loves." Is it laughable that such a note as this is appended to a recipe
for beef-tea? "It is surely not very wicked to pretend to Kitty that I
keep some of it for myself; she would not take it all if she knew I
dined on the beef it was made from." Other entries showed too plainly
that Miss Ailie stinted herself of food to provide delicacies for Miss
Kitty. No doubt her expenses were alarming her when she wrote this: "An
interesting article in the _Mentor_ says that nearly all of us eat and
drink too much. Were we to mortify our stomachs we should be healthier
animals and more capable of sustained thought. The word animal in this
connection is coarse, but the article is most impressive, and a
crushing reply to Dr. McQueen's assertion that the editor drinks. In the
school-room I have frequently found my thoughts of late wandering from
classwork, and I hastily ascribed it to sitting up during the night with
Kitty or to my habit of listening lest she should be calling for me.
Probably I had over-eaten, and I must mortify the stomach. A glass of
hot water with half a spoonful of sugar in it is highly recommended as a
light supper."

"How long ago it may seem since yesterday!" Do you need to be told on
what dark day Miss Ailie discovered that? "I used to pray that I should
be taken first, but I was both impious and selfish, for how could
fragile Kitty have fought on alone?"

In time happiness again returned to Miss Ailie; of all our friends it is
the one most reluctant to leave us on this side of the grave. It came at
first disguised, in the form of duties, old and new; and stealthily,
when Miss Ailie was not looking, it mixed with the small worries and
joys that had been events while Miss Kitty lived, and these it converted
once more into events, where Miss Ailie found it lurking, and at first
she would not take it back to her heart, but it crept in without her
knowing. And still there were I---- M----'s letters. "They are all I
have to look forward to," she wrote in self-defence. "I shall never
write to I---- M---- again," was another entry, but Mr. McLean found on
the same page, "I have written to I---- M----, but do not intend
posting it," and beneath that was, "God forgive me, I have posted it."

The troubles with arithmetic were becoming more terrible. "I am never
_really_ sure about the decimals," she wrote.

A Professor of Memory had appeared at the Muckley, and Miss Ailie admits
having given him half-a-crown to explain his system to her. But when he
was gone she could not remember whether you multiplied everything by ten
before dividing by five and subtracting a hundred, or began by dividing
and doing something underhand with the cube root. Then Mr. Dishart, who
had a microscope, wanted his boy to be taught science, and several
experiments were described at length in the book, one of them dealing
with a penny, _H_, and a piston, _X Y_, and you do things to the piston
"and then the penny comes to the surface." "But it never does," Miss
Ailie wrote sorrowfully; perhaps she was glad when Master Dishart was
sent to another school.

"Though I teach the girls the pianoforte I find that I cannot stretch my
fingers as I used to do. Kitty used to take the music, and I often
remember this suddenly when superintending a lesson. It is a pain to me
that so many wish to acquire 'The Land o' the Leal,' which Kitty sang so
often to I---- M---- at Magenta Cottage."

Even the French, of which Miss Ailie had once been very proud, was
slipping from her. "Kitty and I kept up our French by translating
I---- M----'s letters and comparing our versions, but now that this
stimulus is taken away I find that I am forgetting my French. Or is it
only that I am growing old? too old to keep school?" This dread was
beginning to haunt Miss Ailie, and the pages between which the
blotting-paper lay revealed that she had written to the editor of the
_Mentor_ asking up to what age he thought a needy gentlewoman had a
right to teach. The answer was not given, but her comment on it told
everything. "I asked him to be severely truthful, so that I cannot
resent his reply. But if I take his advice, how am I to live? And if
I do not take it, I fear I am but a stumbling-block in the way of true
education."

That is a summary of what Mr. McLean read in the blue and white book;
remember, you were warned not to expect much. And Tommy and Gavinia
listened, and Tommy said, "I hear no laughing," and Gavinia answered,
"But he has quieted down," and upstairs Miss Ailie was on her knees. A
time came when Mr. McLean could find something to laugh at in that
little pass-book, but it was not then, not even when he reached the end.
He left something on the last page instead. At least I think it must
have been he: Miss Ailie's tears could not have been so long a-drying.

You may rise, now, Miss Ailie; your prayer is granted.

James M. Barrie