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The two years of Archibald Munro's regime were the golden age of the school, and for a whole generation "The Section" regarded that period as the standard for comparison in the following years. Munro had a genius for making his pupils work. They threw themselves with enthusiasm into all they undertook--studies, debate nights, games, and in everything the master was the source of inspiration.
And now his last examination day had come, and the whole Section was stirred with enthusiasm for their master, and with grief at his departure.
The day before examination was spent in "cleaning the school." This semi-annual event, which always preceded the examination, was almost as enjoyable as the examination day itself, if indeed it was not more so. The school met in the morning for a final polish for the morrow's recitations. Then after a speech by the master the little ones were dismissed and allowed to go home though they never by any chance took advantage of this permission. Then the master and the bigger boys and girls set to work to prepare the school for the great day. The boys were told off in sections, some to get dry cedar boughs from the swamp for the big fire outside, over which the iron sugar-kettle was swung to heat the scrubbing water; others off into the woods for balsam-trees for the evergreen decorations; others to draw water and wait upon the scrubbers.
It was a day of delightful excitement, but this year there was below the excitement a deep, warm feeling of love and sadness, as both teacher and pupils thought of to-morrow. There was an additional thrill to the excitement, that the master was to be presented with a gold watch and chain, and that this had been kept a dead secret from him.
What a day it was! With wild whoops the boys went off for the dry cedar and the evergreens, while the girls, looking very housewifely with skirts tucked back and sleeves rolled up, began to sweep and otherwise prepare the room for scrubbing.
The gathering of the evergreens was a delightful labor. High up in the balsam-trees the more daring boys would climb, and then, holding by the swaying top, would swing themselves far out from the trunk and come crashing through the limbs into the deep, soft snow, bringing half the tree with them. What larks they had! What chasing of rabbits along their beaten runways! What fierce and happy snow fights! And then, the triumph of their return, laden with their evergreen trophies, to find the big fire blazing under the great iron kettle and the water boiling, and the girls well on with the scrubbing.
Then, while the girls scrubbed first the benches and desks, and last of all, the floors, the boys washed the windows and put up the evergreen decorations. Every corner had its pillar of green, every window had its frame of green, the old blackboard, the occasion of many a heartache to the unmathematical, was wreathed into loveliness; the maps, with their bewildering boundaries, rivers and mountains, capes, bays and islands, became for once worlds of beauty under the magic touch of the greenery. On the wall just over his desk, the master wrought out in evergreen an arching "Welcome," but later on, the big girls, with some shy blushing, boldly tacked up underneath an answering "Farewell." By the time the short afternoon had faded into the early evening, the school stood, to the eyes of all familiar with the common sordidness of its everyday dress, a picture of artistic loveliness. And after the master's little speech of thanks for their good work that afternoon, and for all their goodness to him, the boys and girls went their ways with that strangely unnameable heart-emptiness that brings an ache to the throat, but somehow makes happier for the ache.
The examination day was the great school event of the year. It was the social function of the Section as well. Toward this event all the school life moved, and its approach was attended by a deepening excitement, shared by children and parents alike, which made a kind of holiday feeling in the air.
The school opened an hour later than ordinarily, and the children came all in their Sunday clothes, the boys feeling stiff and uncomfortable, and regarding each other with looks half shy and half contemptuous, realizing that they were unnatural in each other's sight; the girls with hair in marvelous frizzes and shiny ringlets, with new ribbons, and white aprons over their home-made winsey dresses, carried their unwonted grandeur with an ease and delight that made the boys secretly envy but apparently despise them. The one unpardonable crime with all the boys in that country was that of being "proud." The boy convicted of "shoween off," was utterly contemned by his fellows. Hence, any delight in new clothes or in a finer appearance than usual was carefully avoided.
Ranald always hated new clothes. He felt them an intolerable burden. He did not mind his new homespun, home-made flannel check shirt of mixed red and white, but the heavy fulled-cloth suit made by his Aunt Kirsty felt like a suit of mail. He moved heavily in it and felt queer, and knew that he looked as he felt. The result was that he was in no genial mood, and was on the alert for any indication of levity at his expense.
Hughie, on the contrary, like the girls, delighted in new clothes. His new black suit, made down from one of his father's, with infinite planning and pains by his mother, and finished only at twelve o'clock the night before, gave him unmixed pleasure. And handsome he looked in it. All the little girls proclaimed that in their shy, admiring glances, while the big girls teased and petted and threatened to kiss him. Of course the boys all scorned him and his finery, and tried to "take him down," but Hughie was so unfeignedly pleased with himself, and moved so easily and naturally in his grand attire, and was so cheery and frank and happy, that no one thought of calling him "proud."
Soon after ten the sleighloads began to arrive. It was a mild winter day, when the snow packed well, and there fluttered down through the still air a few lazy flakes, large, soft, and feathery, like bits of the clouds floating white against the blue sky. The sleighs were driven up to the door with a great flourish and jingle of bells, and while the master welcomed the ladies, the fathers and big brothers drove the horses to the shelter of the thick-standing pines, and unhitching them, tied them to the sleigh-boxes, where, blanketed and fed, they remained for the day.
Within an hour the little school-house was packed, the children crowded tight into the long desks, and the visitors on the benches along the walls and in the seats of the big boys and girls. On the platform were such of the trustees as could muster up the necessary courage--old Peter MacRae, who had been a dominie in the Old Country, the young minister and his wife, and the schoolteacher from the "Sixteenth."
First came the wee tots, who, in wide-eyed, serious innocence, went through their letters and their "ox" and "cat" combinations and permutations with great gusto and distinction. Then they were dismissed to their seats by a series of mental arithmetic questions, sums of varying difficulty being propounded, until little white-haired, blue-eyed Johnnie Aird, with the single big curl on the top of his head, was left alone.
"One and one, Johnnie?" said the master, smiling down at the rosy face.
"Three," promptly replied Johnnie, and retired to his seat amid the delighted applause of visitors and pupils, and followed by the proud, fond, albeit almost tearful, gaze of his mother. He was her baby, born long after her other babies had grown up into sturdy youth, and all the dearer for that.
Then up through the Readers, till the Fifth was reached, the examination progressed, each class being handed over to the charge of a visitor, who forthwith went upon examination as truly as did the class.
"Fifth class!" In due order the class marched up to the chalk line on the floor in front of the master's desk, and stood waiting.
The reading lesson was Fitz-Greene Halleck's "Marco Bozzaris," a selection of considerable dramatic power, and calling for a somewhat spirited rendering. The master would not have chosen this lesson, but he had laid down the rule that there was to be no special drilling of the pupils for an exhibition, but that the school should be seen doing its every-day work; and in the reading, the lessons for the previous day were to be those of the examination day. By an evil fortune, the reading for the day was the dramatic "Marco Bozzaris." The master shivered inwardly as he thought of the possibility of Thomas Finch, with his stolidly monotonous voice, being called upon to read the thrilling lines recording the panic-stricken death-cry of the Turk: "To arms! They come! The Greek! The Greek!" But Thomas, by careful plodding, had climbed to fourth place, and the danger lay in the third verse.
"Will you take this class, Mr. MacRae?" said the master, handing him the book. He knew that the dominie was not interested in the art of reading beyond the point of correct pronunciation, and hence he hoped the class might get off easily. The dominie took the book reluctantly. What he desired was the "arith-met-ic" class, and did not care to be "put off" with mere reading.
"Well, Ranald, let us hear you," he rather growled. Ranald went at his work with quiet confidence; he knew all the words.
"Page 187, Marco Bozzaris.
"At midnight in his guarded tent, The Turk lay dreaming of the hour When Greece, her knee in suppliance bent, Should tremble at his power."
And so on steadily to the end of his verse.
The next was "Betsy Dan," the daughter of Dan Campbell, of "The Island." Now, Betsy Dan was very red in hair and face, very shy and very nervous, and always on the point of giggles. It was a trial to her to read on ordinary days, but to-day it was almost more than she could bear. To make matters worse, sitting immediately behind her, and sheltered from the eye of the master, sat Jimmie Cameron, Don's youngest brother. Jimmie was always on the alert for mischief, and ever ready to go off into fits of laughter, which he managed to check only by grabbing tight hold of his nose. Just now he was busy pulling at the strings of Betsy Dan's apron with one hand, while with the other he was hanging onto his nose, and swaying in paroxysms of laughter.
Very red in the face, Betsy Dan began her verse.
"At midnight in the forest shades, Bozzaris--"
Pause, while Betsy Dan clutched behind her.
("Tchik! tchik!") a snicker from Jimmie in the rear.
"--his Suliote band, True as the steel of--"
("im-im,") Betsy Dan struggles with her giggles.
"Elizabeth!" The master's voice is stern and sharp.
Betsy Dan bridles up, while Jimmie is momentarily sobered by the master's tone.
"True as the steel of their tried blades, Heroes in heart and hand. There had the Persians thousands stood--"
("Tchik! tchik! tchik,") a long snicker from Jimmie, whose nose cannot be kept quite in control. It is becoming too much for poor Betsy Dan, whose lips begin to twitch.
("im-im, thit-tit-tit,") Betsy Dan is making mighty efforts to hold in her giggles.
"--had the glad earth (tchik!) drunk their blood, On old Pl-a-a-t-t-e-a-'s day."
"Elizabeth Campbell!" The master's tone was quite terrible.
"I don't care! He won't leave me alone. He's just--just (sob) pu--pulling at me (sob) all the time."
By this time Betsy's apron was up to her eyes, and her sobs were quite tempestuous.
"James, stand up!" Jimmie slowly rose, red with laughter, and covered with confusion.
"I-I-I di-dn't touch her!" he protested.
"O--h!" said little Aleck Sinclair, who had been enjoying Jimmie's prank hugely; "he was--"
"That'll do, Aleck, I didn't ask you. James is quite able to tell me himself. Now, James!"
"I-I-I was only just doing that," said Jimmie, sober enough now, and terrified at the results of his mischief.
"Doing what?" said the master, repressing a smile at Jimmie's woebegone face.
"Just-just that!" and Jimmie touched gingerly with the point of his finger the bows of Betsy Dan's apron-strings.
"Oh, I see. You were annoying Elizabeth while she was reading. No wonder she found it difficult. Now, do you think that was very nice?"
Jimmie twisted himself into a semicircle.
"Come here, James!" Jimmie looked frightened, came round the class, and up to the master.
"Now, then," continued the master, facing Jimmie round in front of Betsy Dan, who was still using her apron upon her eyes, "tell Elizabeth you are sorry."
Jimmie stood in an agony of silent awkwardness, curving himself in varying directions.
"Are you sorry?"
"Well, tell her so."
Jimmie drew a long breath and braced himself for the ordeal. He stood a moment or two, working his eyes up shyly from Betsy Dan's shoes to her face, caught her glancing at him from behind her apron, and began, "I-I-I'm (tchik! tchik) sor-ry," (tchik). Betsy Dan's look was too much for the little chap's gravity.
A roar swept over the school-house. Even the grim dominie's face relaxed.
"Go to your seat and behave yourself," said the master, giving Jimmie a slight cuff. "Now, Margaret, let us go on."
Margaret's was the difficult verse. But to Margaret's quiet voice and gentle heart, anything like shriek or battle-cry was foreign enough, so with even tone, and unmodulated by any shade of passion, she read the cry, "To arms! They come! The Greek! The Greek!" Nor was her voice to be moved from its gentle, monotonous flow even by the battle-cry of Bozzaris, "Strike! till the last armed foe expires!"
"Next," said the dominie, glad to get on with his task.
The master breathed freely, when, alas for his hopes, the minister spoke up.
"But, Margaret, do you think Bozzaris cheered his men in so gentle a voice as that?"
Margaret smiled sweetly, but remained silent, glad to get over the verse.
"Wouldn't you like to try it again?" suggested the minister.
Margaret flushed up at once.
"Oh, no," said his wife, who had noticed Margaret's flushing face. "Girls are not supposed to be soldiers, are they, Margaret?"
Margaret flashed a grateful look at her.
"That's a boy's verse."
"Ay! that it is," said the old dominie; "and I would wish very much that Mrs. Murray would conduct this class."
But the minister's wife would not hear of it, protesting that the dominie could do it much better. The old man, however, insisted, saying that he had no great liking for this part of the examination, and would wish to reserve himself, with the master's permission, for the "arith-met-ic" class.
Mrs. Murray, seeing that it would please the dominie, took the book, with a spot of color coming in her delicate, high-bred face.
"You must all do your best now, to help me," she said, with a smile that brought an answering smile flashing along the line. Even Thomas Finch allowed his stolid face a gleam of intelligent sympathy, which, however, he immediately suppressed, for he remembered that the next turn was his, and that he must be getting himself into the appearance of dogged desperation which he considered suitable to a reading exercise.
"Now, Thomas," said the minister's wife, sweetly, and Thomas plunged heavily.
"They fought like brave men, long--"
"Oh, Thomas, I think we will try that man's verse again, with the cries of battle in it, you know. I am sure you can do that well."
It was all the same to Thomas. There were no words he could not spell, and he saw no reason why he should not do that verse as well as any other. So, with an extra knitting of his eyebrows, he set forth doggedly.
Thomas's voice fell with the unvarying regularity of the beat of a trip-hammer.
"But, Thomas, wait a minute. You see you must speak these words, 'To arms! They come!' differently from the others. These words were shrieked by the sentries, and you must show that in your reading."
"Speak them out, man," said the minister, sharply, and a little nervously, fearing that his wife had undertaken too great a task, and hating to see her defeated.
"Now, Thomas," said Mrs. Murray, "try again. And remember the sentries shrieked these words, 'To arms!' and so on."
Thomas squared his shoulders, spread his feet apart, added a wrinkle to his frown, and a deeper note of desperation to his tone, and began again.
The master shuddered.
"Now, Thomas, excuse me. That's better, but we can improve that yet." Mrs. Murray was not to be beaten. The attention of the whole school, even to Jimmie Cameron, as well as that of the visitors, was now concentrated upon the event.
"See," she went on, "each phrase by itself. 'An hour passed on: the Turk awoke.' Now, try that far."
Again Thomas tried, this time with complete success. The visitors applauded.
"Ah, that's it, Thomas. I was sure you could do it."
Thomas relaxed a little, but not unduly. He was not sure what was yet before him.
"Now we will get that 'sentries shriek.' See, Thomas, like this a little," and she read the words with fine expression.
"You must put more pith, more force, into those words, Thomas. Speak out, man!" interjected the minister, who was wishing it was all over.
"Now, Thomas, I think this will be the last time. You have done very well, but I feel sure you can do better."
The minister's wife looked at Thomas as she said this, with so fascinating a smile that the frown on Thomas' face deepened into a hideous scowl, and he planted himself with a do-or-die expression in every angle of his solid frame. Realizing the extreme necessity of the moment, he pitched his voice several tones higher than ever before in his life inside a house and before people, and made his final attempt.
"An-hour-passed-on: the-Turk-awoke: That-bright-dream-was-his-last."
And now, feeling that the crisis was upon him, and confusing speed with intensity, and sound with passion, he rushed his words, with ever-increasing speed, into a wild yell.
"He-woke-to-hear-his-sentries-shriek-to-arms-they come-the-Greek- the-Greek!"
There was a moment of startled stillness, then, "tchik! tchik!" It was Jimmie again, holding his nose and swaying in a vain effort to control a paroxysm of snickers at Thomas' unusual outburst.
It was like a match to powder. Again the whole school burst into a roar of uncontrollable laughter. Even the minister, the master, and the dominie, could not resist. The only faces unmoved were those of Thomas Finch and the minister's wife. He had tried his best, and it was to please her, and she knew it.
A swift, shamed glance round, and his eyes rested on her face. That face was sweet and grave as she leaned toward him, and said, "Thank you, Thomas. That was well done." And Thomas, still looking at her, flushed to his hair roots and down the back of his neck, while the scowl on his forehead faded into a frown, and then into smoothness.
"And if you always try your best like that, Thomas, you will be a great and good man some day."
Her voice was low and soft, as if intended for him alone, but in the sudden silence that followed the laughter it thrilled to every heart in the room, and Thomas was surprised to find himself trying to swallow a lump in his throat, and to keep his eyes from blinking; and in his face, stolid and heavy, a new expression was struggling for utterance. "Here, take me," it said; "all that I have is thine," and later days brought the opportunity to prove it.
The rest of the reading lesson passed without incident. Indeed, there pervaded the whole school that feeling of reaction which always succeeds an emotional climax. The master decided to omit the geography and grammar classes, which should have immediately followed, and have dinner at once, and so allow both children and visitors time to recover tone for the spelling and arithmetic of the afternoon.
The dinner was an elaborate and appalling variety of pies and cakes, served by the big girls and their sisters, who had recently left school, and who consequently bore themselves with all proper dignity and importance. Two of the boys passed round a pail of water and a tin cup, that all the thirsty might drink. From hand to hand, and from lip to lip the cup passed, with a fine contempt of microbes. The only point of etiquette insisted upon was that no "leavings" should be allowed to remain in the cup or thrown back into the pail, but should be carefully flung upon the floor.
There had been examination feasts in pre-historic days in the Twentieth school, when the boys indulged in free fights at long range, using as missiles remnants of pie crust and cake, whose consistency rendered them deadly enough to "bloody" a nose or black an eye. But these barbaric encounters ceased with Archie Munro's advent, and now the boys vied with each other in "minding their manners." Not only was there no snatching of food or exhibition of greediness, but there was a severe repression of any apparent eagerness for the tempting dainties, lest it should be suspected that such were unusual at home. Even the little boys felt that it would be bad manners to take a second piece of cake or pie unless specially pressed; but their eager, bulging eyes revealed only too plainly their heart's desire, and the kindly waiters knew their duty sufficiently to urge a second, third, and fourth supply of the toothsome currant or berry pie, the solid fruit cake, or the oily doughnut, till the point was reached where desire failed.
"Have some more, Jimmie. Have a doughnut," said the master, who had been admiring Jimmie's gastronomic achievements.
"He's had ten a'ready," shouted little Aleck Sinclair, Jimmie's special confidant.
Jimmie smiled in conscious pride, but remained silent.
"What! eaten ten doughnuts?" asked the master, feigning alarm.
"He's got four in his pocket, too," said Aleck, in triumph.
"He's got a pie in his own pocket," retorted Jimmie, driven to retaliate.
"A pie!" exclaimed the master. "Better take it out. A pocket's not the best place for a pie. Why don't you eat it, Aleck?"
"I can't," lamented Aleck. "I'm full up."
"He said he's nearly busted," said Jimmie, anxiously. "He's got a pain here," pointing to his left eye. The bigger boys and some of the visitors who had gathered round shouted with laughter.
"Oh, pshaw, Aleck!" said the master, encouragingly, "that's all right. As long as the pain is as high up as your eye you'll recover. I tell you what, put your pie down on the desk here, Jimmie will take care of it, and run down to the gate and tell Don I want him."
Aleck, with great care and considerable difficulty, extracted from his pocket a segment of black currant pie, hopelessly battered, but still intact. He regarded it fondly for a moment or two, and then, with a very dubious look at Jimmie, ran away on his errand for the master.
It took him some little time to find Don, and meanwhile the master's attention was drawn away by his duty to the visitors. The pie left to Jimmie's care had an unfortunately tempting fringe of loose pieces about it that marred its symmetry. Jimmie proceeded to trim it into shape. So absorbed did he become in this trimming process, that before he realized what he was about, he woke suddenly to the startling fact that the pie had shrunk into a comparatively insignificant size. It would be worse than useless to save the mutilated remains for Aleck; there was nothing for it now but to get the reproachful remnant out of the way. He was so busily occupied with this praiseworthy proceeding that he failed to notice Aleck enter the room, flushed with his race, eager and once more empty.
Arriving at his seat, he came upon Jimmie engaged in devouring the pie left in his charge. With a cry of dismay and rage he flung himself upon the little gourmand, and after a short struggle, secured the precious pie; but alas, bereft of its most delicious part--it was picked clean of its currants. For a moment he gazed, grief-stricken, at the leathery, viscous remnant in his hand. Then, with a wrathful exclamation, "Here, then, you can just take it then, you big pig, you!" He seized Jimmie by the neck, and jammed the sticky pie crust on his face, where it stuck like an adhesive plaster. Jimmie, taken by surprise, and rendered nerveless by the pangs of an accusing conscience, made no resistance, but set up a howl that attracted the attention of the master and the whole company.
"Why, Jimmie!" exclaimed the master, removing the doughy mixture from the little lad's face, "what on earth are you trying to do? What is wrong, Aleck?"
"He ate my pie," said Aleck, defiantly.
"Ate it? Well, apparently not. But never mind, Aleck, we shall get you another pie."
"There isn't any more," said Aleck, mournfully; "that was the last piece."
"Oh, well, we shall find something else just as good," said the master, going off after one of the big girls; and returning with a doughnut and a peculiarly deadly looking piece of fruit cake, he succeeded in comforting the disappointed and still indignant Aleck.
The afternoon was given to the more serious part of the school work--writing, arithmetic, and spelling, while, for those whose ambitions extended beyond the limits of the public school, the master had begun a Euclid class, which was at once his despair and his pride. In the Twentieth school of that date there was no waste of the children's time in foolish and fantastic branches of study, in showy exercises and accomplishments, whose display was at once ruinous to the nerves of the visitors, and to the self-respect and modesty of the children. The ideal of the school was to fit the children for the struggle into which their lives would thrust them, so that the boy who could spell and read and cipher was supposed to be ready for his life work. Those whose ambition led them into the subtleties of Euclid's problems and theorems were supposed to be in preparation for somewhat higher spheres of life.
Through the various classes of arithmetic the examination proceeded, the little ones struggling with great seriousness through their addition and subtraction sums, and being wrought up to the highest pitch of excitement by their contest for the first place. By the time the fifth class was reached, the air was heavy with the feeling of battle. Indeed, it was amazing to note how the master had succeeded in arousing in the whole school an intense spirit of emulation. From little Johnnie Aird up to Thomas Finch, the pupils carried the hearts of soldiers.
Through fractions, the "Rule of Three," percentages, and stocks, the senior class swept with a trail of glory. In vain old Peter MacRae strewed their path with his favorite posers. The brilliant achievements of the class seemed to sink him deeper and deeper into the gloom of discontent, while the master, the minister and his wife, as well as the visitors, could not conceal their delight. As a last resort the old dominie sought to stem their victorious career with his famous problem in Practice, and to his huge enjoyment, one after another of the class had to acknowledge defeat. The truth was, the master had passed lightly over this rule in the arithmetic, considering the solution of problems by the method of Practice as a little antiquated, and hardly worthy of much study. The failure of the class, however, brought the dominie his hour of triumph, and so complete had been the success of the examination that the master was abundantly willing that he should enjoy it.
Then followed the judging of the copy-books. The best and cleanest book in each class was given the proud distinction of a testimonial written upon the first blank page, with the date of the examination and the signatures of the examiners attached. It was afterwards borne home in triumph by the happy owner, to be stored among the family archives, and perhaps among the sacred things that mothers keep in their holy of holies.
After the copy-books had been duly appraised, there followed an hour in which the excitement of the day reached its highest mark. The whole school, with such of the visitors as could be persuaded to join, were ranged in opposing ranks in the deadly conflict of a spelling-match. The master, the teacher from the Sixteenth, and even the minister's wife, yielded to the tremendous pressure of public demand that they should enter the fray. The contest had a most dramatic finish, and it was felt that the extreme possibility of enthusiasm and excitement was reached when the minister's wife spelled down the teacher from the Sixteenth, who every one knew, was the champion speller of all the country that lay toward the Front, and had a special private armory of deadly missiles laid up against just such a conflict as this. The tumultuous triumph of the children was not to be controlled. Again and again they followed Hughie in wild yells, not only because his mother was a great favorite with them all, but because she had wrested a victory from the champion of the Front, for the Front, in all matters pertaining to culture and fashion, thought itself quite superior to the more backwoods country of the Twentieth.
It was with no small difficulty that the master brought the school to such a degree of order that the closing speeches could be received with becoming respect and attention. The trustees, according to custom, were invited to express their opinion upon the examination, and upon school matters generally. The chairman, John Cameron, "Long John," as he was called, broke the ice after much persuasion, and slowly rising from the desk into which he had compressed his long, lank form, he made his speech. Long John was a great admirer of the master, but for all that, and perhaps because of that, he allowed himself no warmer words of commendation than that he was well pleased with the way in which the children had conducted themselves. "They have done credit to themselves," he said, "and to their teacher. And indeed I am sorry he is leaving us, for, so far, I have heard no complaints in the Section."
The other trustees followed in the path thus blazed out for them by Long John. They were all well pleased with the examination, and they were all sorry to lose the master, and they had heard no complaints. It was perfectly understood that no words of praise could add to the high testimony that they "had heard no complaints."
The dominie's speech was a little more elaborate. Somewhat reluctantly he acknowledged that the school had acquitted itself with "very considerable credit," especially the "arith-met-ic" class, and indeed, considering all the circumstances, Mr. Munro was to be congratulated upon the results of his work in the Section. But the minister's warm expression of delight at the day's proceedings, and of regret at the departure of the master, more than atoned for the trustees' cautious testimony, and the dominie's somewhat grudging praise.
Then came the moment of the day. A great stillness fell upon the school as the master rose to make his farewell speech. But before he could say a word, up from their seats walked Betsy Dan and Thomas Finch, and ranged themselves before him. The whole assemblage tingled with suppressed excitement. The great secret with which they had been burdening themselves for the past few weeks was now to be out. Slowly Thomas extracted the manuscript from his trousers pocket, and smoothed out its many folds, while Betsy Dan waited nervously in the rear.
"Oh, why did they set Thomas to this?" whispered the minister's wife, who had a profound sense of humor. The truth was, the choice of the school had fallen upon Ranald and Margaret Aird. Margaret was quite willing to act, but Ranald refused point-blank, and privately persuaded Thomas to accept the honor in his stead. To this Thomas agreed, all the more readily that Margaret, whom he adored from a respectful distance, was to be his partner. But Margaret, who would gladly have been associated with Ranald, on the suggestion that Thomas should take his place, put up her lower lip in that symbol of scorn so effective with girls, but which no boy has ever yet accomplished, and declared that indeed, and she would see that Tom Finch far enough, which plainly meant "no." Consequently they had to fall back upon Betsy Dan, who, in addition to being excessively nervous, was extremely good-natured. And Thomas, though he would greatly have preferred Margaret as his assistant, was quite ready to accept Betsy Dan.
The interval of waiting while Thomas deliberately smoothed out the creases of the paper was exceedingly hard upon Betsy Dan, whose face grew redder each moment. Jimmie Cameron, too, who realized that the occasion was one of unusual solemnity, was gazing at Thomas with intense interest growing into amusement, and was holding his fingers in readiness to seize his nose, and so check any explosion of snickers. Just as Thomas had got the last fold of his paper straightened out, and was turning it right end up, it somehow slipped through his fingers to the floor. This was too much for Jimmie, who only saved himself from utter disgrace by promptly seizing his nose and holding on for dear life. Thomas gave Jimmie a passing glare and straightened himself up for his work. With a furious frown he cleared his throat and began in a solemn, deep-toned roar, "Dear teacher, learning with regret that you are about to sever your connection," etc., etc. All went well until he came to the words, "We beg you to accept this gift, not for its intrinsic value," etc., which was the cue for Betsy Dan. But Betsy Dan was engaged in terrorizing Jimmie, and failed to come in, till, after an awful pause, Thomas gave her a sharp nudge, and whispered audibly, "Give it to him, you gowk." Poor Betsy Dan, in sudden confusion, whipped her hand out from under her apron, and thrusting a box at the master, said hurriedly, "Here it is, sir." As Thomas solemnly concluded his address, a smile ran round the room, while Jimmie doubled himself up in his efforts to suppress a tempest of snickers.
The master, however, seemed to see nothing humorous in the situation, but bowing gravely to Thomas and Betsy Dan, he said, kindly, "Thank you, Thomas! Thank you, Elizabeth!" Something in his tone brought the school to attention, and even Jimmie forgot to have regard to his nose. For a few moments the master stood looking upon the faces of his pupils, dwelling upon them one by one, till his eyes rested upon the wee tots in the front seat, looking at him with eyes of innocent and serious wonder. Then he thanked the children for their gift in a few simple words, assuring them that he should always wear the watch with pride and grateful remembrance of the Twentieth school, and of his happy days among them.
But when he came to say his words of farewell, and to thank them for their goodness to him, and their loyal backing of him while he was their teacher, his voice grew husky, and for a moment wavered. Then, after a pause, he spoke of what had been his ideal among them. "It is a good thing to have your minds trained and stored with useful knowledge, but there are better things than that. To learn honor, truth, and right; to be manly and womanly; to be self- controlled and brave and gentle--these are better than all possible stores of learning; and if I have taught you these at all, then I have done what I most wished to do. I have often failed, and I have often been discouraged, and might have given up were it not for the help I received at my worst times from our minister and from Mrs. Murray, who often saved me from despair."
A sudden flush tinged the grave, beautiful face of the minister's young wife. A light filled her eyes as the master said these words, for she remembered days when the young man's pain was almost greater than he could bear, and when he was near to giving up.
When the master ceased, the minister spoke a few words in appreciation of the work he had done in the school, and in the whole Section, during his three years' stay among them, and expressed his conviction that many a young lad would grow into a better man because he had known Archibald Munro, and some of them would never forget what he had done for them.
By this time all the big girls and many of the visitors were openly weeping. The boys were looking straight in front of them, their faces set in an appearance of savage gloom, for they knew well how near they were to "acting like the girls."
After a short prayer by the minister, the children filed out past the master, who stood at the door and shook hands with them one by one. When the big boys, and the young men who had gone to school in the winter months, came to say good by, they shook hands silently, and then stood close about him as if hating to let him go. He had caught for them in many a close base-ball match; he had saved their goal in many a fierce shinny fight with the Front; and while he had ruled them with an iron rule, he had always treated them fairly. He had never failed them; he had never weakened; he had always been a man among them. No wonder they stood close about him and hated to lose him. Suddenly big Bob Fraser called out in a husky voice, "Three cheers for the captain!" and every one was glad of the chance to let himself out in a roar. And that was the last of the farewells.
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