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SUDDEN DEPARTURE OF MASTER LURVEY
IF the first day of school, under Master Lurvey, had been tumultuous, the second proved even more so. We soon had earnest that his "rule" against whisperers would be enforced. Reading from the Testament had scarcely concluded that morning when he made a sudden rush up one of the aisles to the long back seat and collaring Newman Darnley (who was certainly whispering to his seat-mate) dragged him down the aisle to the open floor of the room. Newman made some feeble efforts at resistance, but was whirled around in a circle, his heels nearly knocking down the stove, then trounced smartly on the floor, shaken nearly out of his jacket and finally shoved back up the aisle and fairly flung into his seat — a much rumpled Newman!
Clearly Master Lurvey was a powerful youth, physically.' Moreover, he appeared to enjoy the fracas; his face grew very red, but took on an aspect of glee. As he marched back to his desk, he faced around to the school and said, "I'll serve the next one I catch whispering in the same way!"
This menace was probably directed to the boys, but he was facing the entire room and said, "the next one!" The thought that he might pull out a young lady of sixteen into the floor and shake her as he had shaken Newman astounded us for a time. Addison appeared greatly amused, although he was looking into a book. At the forenoon recess, too, three of the boys having delayed a little in returning indoors after the bell was rung, Master Lurvey expedited their movements by seizing them, one after another as thee' appeared in the doorway and throwing them headlong to their seats. The room was very quiet during all the remainder of the day; in fact, we sat in a kind of breathless expectancy waiting some fresh manifestation of the master's rigor in discipline. Although we had our books well in hand, we were not studying exactly, but watching out.
At recess that afternoon Newman, who was much incensed by the trouncing which he had received, declared that he would be one of four to put the master out of the house. William Tibbetts and Edgar Merrill said the same, but Addison dissuaded them.
Alfred Batchelder, generally a bad boy at school himself, perfidiously reported this to the master as we went home from school that night. In consequence of this bit of tale-bearing we witnessed a fresh evidence of the master's prowess the following morning. After reading in the Testament (stopping long enough to count four after every sentence) Master Lurvey remarked that there was a little business to be transacted before beginning lessons. "I understand that three of you talk of carrying me out of school," said he. "If that's so, now is a good time to begin. I'm all ready. Come on now and carry me." He squared himself in the floor and clenched his fist.
No one cared to accept the challenge. I do not think that there were four boys in school who could have put him out of the room. "Well," said he at length, "if you are not going to tackle me, I've got a little bone to pick with you. Newman Darnley, come out into the floor."
"Start!" shouted the master, "or I'll come after you again."
Newman came out, reluctantly enough, and the master "feruled" him on both hands, very severely; in fact, he applied the ruler with all his strength. William Tibbetts and Edgar Merrill were then called out in turn and punished in the same manner; both cried out from the pain. Their hands after a few moments puffed up white and became much swollen. It was cruel punishment.
"Does anybody else want to carry me out of school?" demanded the master, exultantly, striding forward past the stove, ruler in hand. Several of the little fellows began to whimper. Then, to our amazement, Catherine Edwards exclaimed, "Yes, I do. I think you are a hateful tyrant!"
The master rushed toward her, his eyes blazing with rage. We all thought he was about to strike her. If he had done so, there would have been a general entente. I think that we would all have fought him, tooth and nail. Kate was as white as paper. She was wofully frightened. Afterwards she said that she hardly knew how she came to say what she did. She faced the master, however, with a species of desperation in her eyes, and he evidently thought it better not to attempt her chastisement.
"You sassy piece!" he growled and turning, went back to his desk, where he made a number of marks in his record, saying, "I'll give you the lowest rank in school."
During the last two days of the week our rigorous instructor developed a very unpleasant habit of using his foot on the floor to enforce his orders. If any pupil did not start, or reply, instantly when spoken to, he would stamp with his foot so heavily as to jar the whole house. He heard lessons quickly, spending very little time upon them, and rarely asking a question concerning them. During most of the time he sat watching us, evidently to surprise some one in the act of breaking a "rule." No one dared ask him a question, much less carry a "hard sum" to him. He had terrorized us.
Joel Pierson, while boarding at the Old Squire's the previous winter, had been very genial with the young folks, and assisted them with their studies, in the sitting-room, during the long evenings. Master Lurvey held himself aloof and scarcely spoke to us at home, nor we to him.
I overheard Theodora talking of the school to Addison Friday evening; she was lamenting that we bade fair to make no progress.
"Yes, he is a pill," Addison replied; "but I guess we shall have to make the best of him."
The fact was that many of the parents in the district had gained an idea that Master Lurvey must be a pretty good teacher, because he had feruled the boys who talked of putting him out of the house. He was no doubt aware that he was incompetent to teach scholars like Theodora, Catherine or Addison; but he knew that he possessed the brute strength to repress anything like rebellion, and he resolved to rule by the strong arm and keep us in fear of him. He was sufficiently coarse in disposition to enjoy the exercise of his absolute power. I never saw so quiet a schoolroom as ours during Friday and Saturday that week, — for we had a holiday in our district school only on every second Saturday of the term.
On Saturday our new master began to display another odd trait. When any one of us in the classes recited, or made even a simple statement of a rule, or a fact, he now called out, "Sure of that, sir?" or "Do you know that is so?"
He was, in truth, far more ignorant of dates, the names of capital cities, the location of countries, and of historical events, than we suspected, but he was crafty about committing himself to any statement of his own, until he had looked in the book.
One of the town School Committee usually visited the schools twice each term, once during the opening week and once near the end of the term. We looked for the "committee man" on Thursday and on Friday. It then transpired that Glinds, the school agent, had neglected to notify the Committee that the term had begun.
The second week opened with little change for the better. It was Master Lurvey's first taste of the sweets of absolute power, and he was of the stuff that Neroes and Caligulas are fashioned from; he enjoyed witnessing the fear that he inspired. Very likely it was his idea of a well-governed school — where every pupil jumped at the master's nod and listened, when he spoke, in awed expectancy.
Addison alone had preserved his ordinary easy demeanor, attending to his studies without much reference to the master, but addressing him whenever he desired. Addison, indeed, was never disorderly in school; he was much too busy with his books. He alone of us all would now raise his hand to attract the master's attention and then address him in ordinary tones during school hours. Although Master Lurvey must have been aware that Addison was the most friendly to him of any one in the room, it soon began to be apparent that he did not like to see even Addison unterrified. Perhaps he deemed him a bad example to the others. Be that as it may, he determined to humble him and watched for a pretext to do so. In the utter quiet of the room he could hear the least whisper in any part of it, and while sitting in his desk Tuesday afternoon, the sound of communicating lips reached his ear from the direction of the long seat where Alfred, Halstead and Addison now sat. Pick-: ing up his ruler he strode along in front of that seat, and looking at Addison, said, Were you whisper-' ing?"
No, sir," replied Addison.
"I think I heard you!" exclaimed the master.
"I repeat that I was not whispering," replied Addison firmly.
The fact was that Halstead had whispered to Addison but the latter had not replied.
"Somebody whispered here!" shouted the master. "Was it you?" pointing his ruler at Halse.
I regret to say that my kinsman could not always, under pressure, be relied on to tell the truth.
"No, sir," replied Halse.
"Was it you, then?" demanded the master, pointing at Alfred.
"No, it was not," said Alfred. "I haven't whispered this week."
"Who was it then?" asked the master.
"I don't know," said Alfred. "I did not hear anybody."
This may have been falsehood number two.
"One of you three has lied to me!" cried the master in a loud tone; "and I think it is you!" pointing at Addison.
"You are entirely mistaken, Mr. Lurvey. I have not broken a rule of your school thus far," rejoined Addison, with great distinctness.
"Then which of those two boys did whisper?" exclaimed the master, pointing at Halse and Alf.
"It is not my business to spy on, or report, other scholars," replied Addison, with great spirit. "I do not think you have any right to ask me to do it. I will be spy and informer to no teacher."
This resolute attitude nonplussed the inexperienced master somewhat; he was staggered by the firm stand which Addison took on the question and did not press that point.
"I'll find out some way who whispered here," he exclaimed wrathily, and turning walked to his desk and for a long time sat there staring hard at Addison again. Theodora and I, all the scholars, in fact, were also looking furtively at Addison. He was a little flushed, but I did not see that he smiled. Mr. Lurvey appeared to think differently, however; for he suddenly strode toward him again and shook his fist at him. "Don't you grin at me!" he exclaimed, at shouting pitch. "I still think you are the one who whispered. If I find out you did, I'll ferule you till you can't get your hands to your head! I'll take that grin off your face!"
Addison did not change countenance; he looked the master in the eye as he uttered his threat, and said, "Very well, Mr. Lurvey."
We expected that the master would collar him for that, but for some reason he did not. Addison resumed his algebra (which he was taking without assistance, at odd hours, and kept very busy during the rest of the afternoon.
After school that night Newman Darnley again sounded Addison as to whether he would join a party to put the master out of the house by force, but Addison strongly advised them to mind the rules of school and give up that project. He would not let them know that he resented the master's language, but Theodora and I knew him well enough to feel pretty sure that Mr. Lurvey would live to regret his threat.
The master did not speak to any of us that night, and the Old Squire noticed that something had gone wrong, although none of us had said anything concerning the school at home. Next morning as I was pumping water at the barn, the old gentleman asked me privately if the master had taken offense at anything.
"He is pretty savage with us all," I replied, but did not like to tell him of Addison's trouble.
"Savage, is he?" said the Old Squire, with a chuckle; he still held old-time ideas about order in the schoolroom.
About twelve o'clock the following night, Master Lurvey was taken very ill. Gram heard him crying out dolorously and set herself to care for his ailment. At length, she judged it necessary to administer an emetic of mustard and water, the result of which gave evidence that her patient had been partaking very freely from a sack of dried apple which hung in the passage, leading to his room. In consequence of this imprudent refreshment, he not only came near expiring intra dies, from congestion of the stomach, but was unable to appear at breakfast, or go to the schoolroom till near eleven o'clock.
Not knowing when our tyrant might appear on the scene, however, we all repaired to the schoolhouse at the usual hour, and after waiting awhile, Catherine proposed that Addison should keep school till the master came. To this all agreed. Addison, however, declined; but the others insisting, he at length called the school to order and laid himself out to do his best. For awhile he kept a bright eye out at the window for Mr. Lurvey's approach, intending to take his seat before the master should come in. But there were numbers of hard examples to be worked in arithmetic, and Addison solved several, one after the other on the blackboard. Presently he became absorbed in his task and was cyphering away at the board on a tough example in Cube Root, explaining it as he did so in a loud, clear voice, when the door opened softly and in walked Master Lurvey, looking far from well and decidedly sour. How long he had been listening outside, no one could say. Instead of enjoying Addison's confusion and thanking him for the pains he was taking, he seemed far from pleased and his first words were, "So you think you can take my place, do you?"
Addison brushed the chalk off his fingers. "No, Mr. Lurvey," said he. "I should never try to take your place.
"I was only doing a few examples for some of the scholars, while we waited," he added, seeing that the master's face was growing very black. He started to go to his seat, but Mr. Lurvey suddenly stepped in front of him. "You seem to think that you can do just as you've a mind to here!" he cried in an angry tone. You think you can set yourself up for a pattern for me to keep school by! A big schoolmaster you would make! Let's see now how you would look. Take a seat in the desk. I want them all to look at ye!"
For an instant Addison flushed and looked rebellious. I think that he was half minded to resist. If he had done so every boy in the room would have sprung to assist him. Whether we could have overcome the master is uncertain. He was a powerful youth. Muscle was his one strong point. "Take your seat in my desk!" he shouted, advancing on Addison, while the rest of us sat breathless.
It had taken Addison but that one moment to think twice and rise above his first rash impulse.
"Why, certainly, Mr. Lurvey," he replied in a cordial tone, "if you think we need two teachers here. But you are so well able to govern a school that I never thought of our needing another." He went to the desk and took the master's seat there, and then looked around at us all with a queer smile.
"That is the great schoolmaster!" exclaimed Mr. Lurvey, pointing at, him in derision. "Isn't he a big one?"
We laughed, but rather at the master than at Addison who laughed, too; the master himself had put on a grin, for Ad's ambiguous compliment to him on his ability to govern the school had pleased him and disarmed his temper somewhat.
"Do you want me to hear classes?" Addison asked after a few moments. "If I am going to be the master's assistant, I should like to make myself useful."
"If I want you to do anything, I'll tell you," replied Mr. Lurvey gruffly; he then called out a class in arithmetic and began to drill us on the verbatim recitation of rules again. Addison took up a book and read. After every few minutes, the Master would turn around and point at him, saying, "He thinks he's the schoolmaster." The joke was rather weak.
At the noon intermission Addison quietly withdrew from the desk and nothing more was said, but this affair had wounded his feelings even more than the previous threat to ferule him, and I think that from that moment he began to plot the master's downfall. Addison, however, was naturally a strategist and possessed the strategist's instinct to work quietly and to attack an enemy at his weak point. For that reason he would have nothing to do with any plan for carrying the master out of the schoolroom. He said nothing to the others and gave no hint of his intention.
School proceeded far from pleasantly all day, perhaps because the master was not yet feeling very well. He was more than usually fractious and overbearing with us. Is that so?" he would exclaim after nearly every answer which we gave in the classes. "How do you know that is so?" or "Give your reasons for that?" He even asked this latter question when Ellen said that Pekin was the capital of China! She replied that she did not know any reason, and he bade her be prepared to give a reason at next recitation.
When in the history class Newman Darnley replied that John Adams was the second President of the United States the master cried, "Are you sure of that?"
"Pretty sure," said Newman. "Why?" said the master.
"Because George Washington was the first and John Adams came next," replied Newman.
The master looked in the book. "You are not half as bright as you think you are," said he. "George Washington was the second President and the first President, too; he was President twice."
This was so fine a point that Addison as well as the rest of us laughed, and the master shouted, "Silence!" — in an awful voice and stamped on the floor.
Next afternoon, about half an hour after school began, one of the School Committee appeared, to visit the school. In our town there was then a School Committee consisting of three members to either one of whom an applicant for the position of teacher might apply to be examined, and obtain a certificate as to fitness. As is often the case in country towns, men were occasionally elected to the office who were not wholly competent to properly examine proposing teachers and who did so in a very superficial manner. One such person was on the board that year and it was from him that Master Lurvey had obtained his certificate to teach. But the member of the Committee who came to visit the school that day was the Congregationalist clergyman at the village, Mr. Lowell Furness, a young gentleman not more than twenty-four years of age, of good education and talented.
Mr. Furness had been in town but two years; he was elected on the Committee the previous spring and made chairman of the board, it being understood that he was better qualified than his fellow members. His personal appearance was unusually attractive; he was gentlemanly and had an animated, cheery way of speaking.
Having hitched his horse outside, he came in without rapping; and as he was a stranger to us all and to the teacher, he introduced himself and stated his business there, in a very genial happy manner. "I would like to hear the most of the classes," said he, "in order that at my second visit, near the end of the term, I may be able to judge of the progress made."
He conversed pleasantly with Master Lurvey for some moments; the latter then called the arithmetic classes, in order, one after another. When we of the more advanced class took our places, Mr. Furness inquired of each what progress we had made the previous winter, and asked a few questions. "Why, this ought to be a pretty good class," he said to the master.
"All they need is a review of the arithmetic. I should have them advance rapidly over the principal rules, dwelling on the more difficult ones only."
The master said something about learning the rules and showed him where he had given lessons in Reduction and Common Fractions.
"Well, that may be of some advantage," replied Mr. Furness doubtfully. "But I would not keep them back there long. This is a class that can go ahead. This class can master everything in the book this term."
It was plain that Master Lurvey did not like this advice very well; he did not reply to it.
The Fifth Reader class was presently called for a brief exercise. Catherine sat at the head of the class, and at a nod from Mr. Furness, she rose and read a section from the reading lesson for that day; and she took particular pains to stop long enough to count four at every period. As she read Mr. Furness at first appeared amused, then perplexed.
"Why, you read correctly," he said, when she had finished, "but why do you stop so long at every sentence?"
"So as to count four," replied Kate in a demure and melancholy tone.
Mr. Furness burst into a hearty laugh. "When did you take that up!" he exclaimed, still laughing.
"On the first day of this term," replied Kate, with sadness.
Mr. Furness rose hastily from his seat and walked to the window. We could see that he was still shaking, as he looked out. After a time he came back and, clapping his hand kindly on the master's shoulder, said in a low voice, "My dear young fellow, rules are good things, no doubt, but many of them are somewhat antiquated. It isn't best to insist upon them too closely."
But the master had grown very glum and morose by this time. He muttered something about teaching as he thought best, then abruptly dismissed the class. Mr. Furness regarded him with an inquiring eye for some moments, then begged his pardon if he had said anything to injure his feelings.
The master did not reply, but turned to call a geography class, and there was no more laughter on the part of any one after this; matters had already taken a serious turn, and Addison — the strategist — perceived that his opportunity had come.
The more advanced class in geography had the map of North America for a lesson that day, and Mr. Furness, perceiving that the master was offended, refrained from asking questions. Mr. Lurvey therefore heard the lesson himself.
"Where is Great Bear Lake situated?" he asked Addison, at length.
The latter purposely hesitated an instant, then replied in a rather uncertain manner, that it was situated in British America.
"'Sure of that!" exclaimed the master, brusquely.
"Perhaps I was wrong," replied Addison, with seeming candor. "I remember now that it is situated in the southern part of Mexico. Its outlet is the Snake River which flows into the Gulf of Georgia."
This astonishing answer struck amazement to all our minds. We glanced quickly at the master and saw his eyes wandering vaguely over the map of the book which he held in his hand. He did not find it and did not speak for several moments. We perceived instantly that he was all at sea, himself. Addison watched him, his lip curling in a scornful smile; and Mr. Furness glanced first at Addison, then at the master, who, to extricate himself from his dilemma, at once put another question to the next member of the class. Presently he came around to Addison again, and being, I think, a little suspicious that his former answer was not quite what it should have been, he took care this time to ask him a question which he was himself sure of, or thought that he was.
"Where does the St. Lawrence River rise?" he demanded; and we saw that he had put his forefinger on the Great Lakes.
"In the Great Lakes," replied Addison, "according to this book. But," he added with assured confidence, "it really rises in the Rocky Mountains! The waters find their way by a subterranean passage into Lake Superior. This passage is over a thousand miles long," he continued in a lower, matter-of-fact tone. "It was only recently discovered." Under his breath, he added, so that some of us sitting near him heard, "I discovered it myself."
The master looked at him hard, but helplessly. He did not like to acknowledge his ignorance of something which Addison and Mr. Furness might know to be a fact, and he was so illy informed that he did not know that Addison's burlesque answer was absurd and impossible. Determined at least not to commit himself he hurried on to the next question. By this time Catherine had divined what the game was to be; when her turn came next, she replied with a serene countenance that the Colorado River emptied into Great Salt Lake! — and we all saw the master looking in British America for it. He did not find it, and abruptly assigning a lesson for the next day, dismissed the class.
By this time Mr. Furness' face wore an aspect of intense dissatisfaction, but he leaned back and made no comment; he knit his brows occasionally, but a smile appeared to be hiding at the corners of his mouth.
The last class called was the class in United States History. We had begun the term with the chapter treating of the causes of the Revolutionary War, and that afternoon had for our lesson the one describing the campaign in the Carolinas and Georgia, also the chapter following it. One of the text books was handed to Mr. Furness by either Theodora or Catherine, but the master put the questions as set down at the margin of each page.
Presently the question, "What American officer took command in the Southern States?" came to Addison.
"General Lincoln," he replied.
"Sure of that?" demanded the master, for he had his eye on the paragraph and was therefore sure himself.
"Very sure," Ad replied, smiling; then bethinking himself that the given name of this officer was not set down in our school history, he added boldly, "It was Abraham Lincoln, the same who was afterwards President of the United States!" Mr. Lurvey looked hard at him, but did not dare to dispute it. He was ignorant to this gross extent.
"Seems to me that he must have become a very old man in 1860," remarked Mr. Furness, regarding Addison with a strange smile.
"Yes, sir," replied Addison with a smile equally strange. That is why his face always looks so deeply wrinkled on account of his great age."
Mr. Furness cast a glance of pity at the master who stood regarding them both in angry perplexity. He was out of his depth, and really did not know what to make of it.
"Name some of the advantages of the French alliance?" was the next question. Theodora answered at considerable length, speaking of Lafayette, and of the French fleet and French army which were despatched to assist the Americans.
"Who can name any other advantage?" the master asked.
Addison raised his hand and said with a semblance of gravity, "One other great advantage was that the gay French officers taught the American ladies how to waltz and thus kept up their spirits through a gloomy period of the War. Another advantage was that in battle they could give orders in French which the British could not understand."
These manifest advantages pleased Mr. Furness so much that he again made an excursion to the window, ostensibly to see if his team was standing quietly, but Master Lurvey appeared to be considerably struck by the cogency of these suggestions.
The last question of the lesson was to name the principal battles of the Revolution. Thomas Edwards did so, and Mr. Furness, rising to take his coat and hat, remarked that Brandywine was an odd name for a battlefield. "Can any one tell why it was thus called?" he asked.
"Because," said Thomas, who also wanted to distinguish himself in the farce, "because on that occasion the British drank wine and the Americans brandy. That was before the Maine Law. The Americans took so much brandy that they were defeated in that battle. Washington paced his room all the following night. 'Oh, my bleeding country!' he cried, 'but don't let it happen again!' "
This was too broad even for Master Lurvey; he stamped his foot and bade Tom behave himself, intimating that he would settle with him after school. Mr. Furness made no comment, further than to remark that he saw that it was already past four o'clock, and that he hoped that we would excuse him for keeping us after school hours.
"I wish to see the school agent, to make a few inquiries as to the length of the term, etc.," he added; "and as I am a stranger in your district, will one of you boys kindly point out the way to his house?"
"I will do so," said Addison, and taking his hat and coat went out with him, while the rest of us lingered to lay aside our books and be dismissed in the regular order.
Mr. Furness and Addison were driving away from the schoolhouse as we came out, and as soon as they were fairly on the road and out of ear-shot (so Ad told us that evening) the young clergyman turned to him and asked, "What sort of a master have you got here?"
"Well, I am only a scholar," replied Addison, "but if you desire my opinion of Master Lurvey, I will give it."
"I would like your opinion of him," said Mr. Furness.
"Well, then, he is as ignorant as a horse and even more of a brute," replied Addison.
"That is a strong opinion," observed Mr. Furness, with a smile; "but from what I have seen, this afternoon, I am much inclined to accept it. At least, I am quite sure that he is unfit for the position."
Shortly after we had arrived home from school, Mr. Furness and school agent, Glinds, drove up and went into the house. Addison, Halse and I were busy with our night chores, but Theodora came out to inform us that they were holding a conversation with Master Lurvey in the sitting-room, behind closed doors.
"His goose is cooked," Ad exclaimed.
After some time Mr. Furness came out and drove away. Mr. Glinds also went away, after a talk with the Old Squire.
Nothing was said that evening, but next morning Master Sam Lurvey set off for home on foot, without saying anything to any one.
During the day, Saturday, it transpired that the committee and the agent had advised him to withdraw quietly from the school, and that he had probably gone home to consult his father.
We saw no more of him till Monday morning, when Mr. Lurvey senior, appeared with his promising son. We had repaired to the schoolhouse before nine o'clock. as usual, and were all in our seats, when at a quarter past, they drove up to the door. Master Sam then entered (while his father sat outside in the sleigh) and called the school to order. Instead of proceeding with the classes, however, he made us a pompous speech in which he asserted that he had just received an offer to go into business, so much more lucrative than school teaching that he had accepted it at once. Consequently, we would be obliged to get a new teacher. "My time is worth too much to me, to spend it in a school like this, at seventeen dollars a month," he added.
Without further farewell he took his books, walked out to his father's sleigh and they drove off.
Something that sounded very much like three groans followed him as soon as he was fairly outside the door. From the windows we saw that he heard them and that he shot a malignant look back at us; — and that was the last we saw of Master Sam Lurvey.
Theodora said that she pitied his father, but the most of us young folks wasted very little pity on father or son.