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MASTER JOEL PIERSON
WE went home from the schoolhouse that Monday morning with our books and baskets of uneaten lunch, elated, but in a very uncertain, disturbed state of mind. School had terminated in so doubtful a manner that none of us knew what to think of it. Theodora could hardly refrain from shedding tears. "It is all the chance we have in a whole year to go to school," she lamented. "And now I am afraid we shall have no more school. I wanted so much to get a good start this winter. I am fifteen and know hardly anything."
"Well, I am glad that Lurvey has gone!" exclaimed Catherine fervently. "I would rather study alone at home than have such a master! I wish Addison would keep school awhile."
"But he is scarcely older than we are and in the same classes with us," said Theodora.
"But he knows more, all the same, and he has such a nice way. Addison!" she called back to him, for the boys were coming on a little behind Theodora and Catherine. "Addison, we are going to elect you schoolmaster!"
"Not if I know it!" replied Addison. "I want to go to school myself. Besides, I helped keep school one forenoon, you know; I didn't enjoy it."
"I guess you enjoyed it as well as Mr. Lurvey did, yesterday afternoon," replied Catherine, laughing. "Oh, that repaid me for all the hateful snubs that fellow has put on us. Andre you see Mr. Furness, laughing to himself? At first he did not understand it, but when he perceived what was going on, the corners of his mouth began to twitch. When Addison explained why Abraham Lincoln looked so careworn, I know he wanted to shout. He hurried to the window."
"But now we shall have no school at all," repeated Theodora mournfully.
"Oh, we shall get another teacher," said Addison. "What say to getting up a strong petition to have Joel Pierson again?"
"That would be good, but you know he is at Bates College," Catherine remarked. "The term there does not close till Christmas."
"Well, we can wait. Let's all go in for it," Addison said. "Let's get up a petition to have him come back here.
"Of course, Joel was a little peculiar," Addison continued, "but he is a good teacher, well-informed on a great many subjects, and you know he brought maps and pictures for the schoolroom. What nice talks he used to give us, too!"
"I will carry a petition around for names in the district, if you will draw one up," replied Catherine.
"It's a bargain," said Addison. "Let's see, how shall we word it. What say to this? — 'Now that our school has terminated in an unsatisfactory manner, we, the undersigned, believe that it would be well to wait a few weeks and secure the services of Mr. Joel Pierson as teacher.' "
"That's good," cried Catherine and Theodora.
"Well, then, you call over at our house to-morrow morning and I will have the petition ready," Addison said. "We will all sign it, and I will write a letter this very night to Joel and ask him to take the school. I don't believe Glinds can refuse, after what has happened, if we all go in strong for Joel again."
The petition was drawn up and during the afternoon, Tuesday, Catherine circulated it, securing the names of fully three-fourths of the people in the district.
Two days later Addison received a letter from Mr. Pierson, stating that, although he had had the offer of three other schools, he would prefer to teach ours again, since we were all desirous of it.
Tibbetts had said nothing, and Agent Glinds wrote to arrange the matter of wages with Master Pierson. Higher wages we knew would have necessarily to be paid him, and the school would be shortened in consequence. Joel Pierson was a young man who had his own expenses to defray at college, and he was known to look out sharply for good wages. We had supposed that he might be willing to accept thirty dollars per month, that being the sum which had been paid him the previous winter.
A day or two later, however, Glinds called to consult with the Old Squire, having received a letter from Pierson, stating that thirty-eight dollars per month with board was the lowest sum which he would be willing to accept, since he had already received, an offer of a little more than that. At this rate, with other expenses, there was school money enough for only about eight weeks, and the most of the people, Glinds said, were unwilling to pay so much.
Addison was present and strongly favored hiring Joel Pierson at his own price, his argument being that a short good school was better than a long poor one. Enough additional money, he urged, might be raised to lengthen the school to eleven or twelve weeks. In his earnestness he almost as good as pledged himself to raise at least thirty dollars extra, and largely on the strength of this, Glinds wrote to engage Joel.
Next day, Addison drew up a subscription paper and, going to the Corners, began canvassing the district, to raise money for the school. He met with indifferent success, however, in fact, no success. Some rumor of his intention had preceded him, and Tibbetts, always unfriendly, had been forming an opposition party. Not only did he sarcastically decline to contribute anything himself, but he had, Addison learned, been about in advance of him, to dissuade others from doing so, his argument being that this was a scheme to benefit us at the Old Squire's at the expense of the rest of the district.
In consequence, many of the people in that quarter of the district listened but coldly to Addison's appeal, and he came home disheartened. At the dinner table we held an animated consultation as to what it was best to do. There was no doubt that "the folks on our road" (as we commonly spoke of the Edwardses, Wilburs, Murches, Batchelders and Sylvesters) would contribute, but Addison now took the ground that it would not be fair to ask them to do so.
"I am not going to coax them to furnish money to Tibbetts and his clique for schooling," he exclaimed.
Addison, in fact, was greatly disturbed, for he felt that after saying what he had to the agent, to induce him to hire Joel Pierson, he was in a manner bound to raise at least thirty dollars, and it was by no means easy to raise thirty dollars among young folks, in those days.
Addison tore up his subscription paper and looked quite the reverse of amiable for a day or two. At the supper table, the second evening, however, he suddenly looked across to the Old Squire and said, "Sir, I am in difficulties and would like to ask a favor of you."
"Certainly," replied the old gentleman with a smile, but not wholly at his ease, for I imagine that he thought Addison might be about to ask him to contribute money.
"Well, sir," said Addison, "you told us yesterday that we must improve these three or four weeks before school begins again to cut and draw the winter's wood pile, Now, sir, are you willing, after we get our own wood, to let me ask the boys on our road to come and help us chop seven or eight cords of wood in our wood lots? All you will have to furnish us, sir, is the wood on the stump. We will cut it, and then I propose to invite all the boys to ask their fathers for their ox teams, one day, to draw the wood down to market. I hear that we can get four dollars a cord for the wood and get cash. I shall only have to ask you for the use of our oxen and horses for one day."
The Old Squire looked relieved. "That is a very thrifty plan," said he. "I am willing."
If Addison had asked him for the thirty dollars outright, I do not think he would really have refused.
"That is a fine plan of yours, Ad, a splendid plan," Theodora exclaimed. "I wish we girls could help you. I think Tibbetts will feel a little ashamed when he hears that you have worked and earned the money for his boys to go to school."
"Don't you think it!" said Addison. "He isn't the kind of man to have any fine feelings of that sort. He will simply be glad that he has got it out of us for nothing, and brag of it."
"Well, if he does we need not care," said Theodora. "To be that sort of person is the worst kind of misfortune."
"That is a very true remark," said Gram.
"But I don't believe in letting such a man get the advantage, and keep it, and boast of it," exclaimed Addison, resentfully. "He took this course on purpose to spite us, and I will yet square accounts with him."
"You must learn to forgive your enemies, Addison," Gram replied.
The dear old lady was not, to state the entire truth, remarkably quick to forgive enemies, herself, till they had been properly humiliated.
"Oh, I will forgive him, Gram, I will forgive him — afterwards," said Addison, laughing. "But the fact is, that old reprobate needs discipline. He is a man who is always on the wrong side and carries as many other people with him as he can. His grocery business is and always has been a mere cloak to cover rum-selling. He gives the place a bad name and injures a great many people in this part of the town. In fact, he injures us all. He is a common enemy. Now, Gram, I don't believe in forgiving a man of that stamp, if by forgiving him you mean letting him alone, to do the worst he can."
"No more do I," exclaimed the old lady, firing up suddenly. "He is a mean scamp and ought to be punished!"
The Old Squire burst into a hearty laugh. "Ruth," said he, "there's no doubt, I guess, that Addison is a true grandson of yours."
Next morning the two wood-sleds were got down from the scaffold of the west barn and put together, and new leather brackets nailed to the sled beams, for the axes which were then brought forth from the wood-house and taken to the grind-stone. For an hour or more Halstead and I toiled at turning the stone, while the Old Squire and Addison applied the ax blades to it.
At length all was ready. The oxen were now yoked and we set off for the east wood-lot, Halstead and Addison driving and the Old Squire and I riding on the sleds — first down the lane, across the east field and adown the pasture side to the brook and the Little Sea, and thence on into the woods.
There was now about a foot of snow on the ground, and the morning was bright and cold, so cold that my fingers soon ached inside the woolen mittens with which Gram had provided me, my toes, too, inside my leather boots.
Thump your feet against the sled beam," the Old Squire said. "Thrash your hands about your shoulders. That will warm them up." He illustrated the process to me and I attempted it with some little success.
Following the "wood road," we entered a mixed growth of yellow birch, beech and rock maple, with occasional large white birches and a few hemlocks.
"Stop the teams. Here is a good place to get our winter's wood," the old gentleman called out. "This old growth has sixty cords to the acre. We will begin with that large birch and fall it down hill. Unhook the oxen and chain them up to those little beeches yonder. Then we will set at work."
Throwing off his coat, he tried the edge of an ax, then beat down the snow about the large birch and planting his feet, lumberman fashion, moistened his palms and struck the first blow — a blow which echoed afar through the frozen woodland.
I had taken an ax myself from a bracket and stood watching him as stroke followed stroke on the trunk of the forest giant, and great white chips began to leap forth from the scarf.
"Where shall I chop?" I asked him. The Old Squire stopped and laughed. "Anywhere, but on your toes," said he. "There is a good tree for you," pointing to a medium-sized white birch about a foot in diameter. "Down with that, my son, and let's see how handsome a scarf you can cut."
Thus exhorted I beat down the snow and essayed to fall my first tree. I had plied the ax on logs previously, but found it far more difficult to chop a scarf in an upright tree trunk. Halstead passed by and derided me, and even the Old Squire himself laughed a little as he observed the droll "scooch" which I gave my body with every blow. "But don't you be discouraged," he said. "Take your time. You will learn. Rest often. I will give you half an hour to fall that tree."
In point of fact I needed the half hour. I can scarcely describe how greatly the effort to cut into a standing tree tired my inexperienced muscles. I could strike but a few blows without stopping.
"Keep at it!" Halstead sang out to me. "You will nigger it down in time!"
Meantime the Old Squire's great birch fell with a prodigious crash and he began chopping up the trunk into logs eight feet long — since that was the length we commonly cut firewood in the wood-lot. Preparing it for the stoves and fire-places was done later in the winter at the house yard.
Now and then as the old gentleman stood erect on the fallen birch trunk — chopping it half off with a perpendicular scarf between his feet, first on one side, then the other — he cast a glance at my tree, to see if it were about to fall, for it leaned in his direction. But after a time he forgot it, I imagine, it was so long falling, and when at last it did go and I shouted to him, he had scanty time to get away.
"Why, you should have given me a little more notice!" he exclaimed. "Never fall a tree upon a man, without giving him ample notice."
"I gave you all the notice I had myself," I replied, humbly. "I thought it never would go."
He began to laugh and came along to look at my scarf, and when he saw the stump, he laughed still more. Addison and Halstead also came to share in the merriment. Instead of being square-cut in two half scarfs, my stump was cut all around, resembling a ragged cone. My chips resembled chankings. Addison surveyed it in silence a moment then said, "That certainly resembles beaver's work." This remark was quite enough to fit Halstead out with another nickname for me; he hailed me about as "the beaver" all the remainder of the week.
After a few days, however, I became able to do nearly or quite as well as he, which, however, was not saying very much; he was but an uncertain and indifferent axman himself.
Addison told me in confidence that night, that he had experienced much the same difficulty in falling trees when he first came to the farm. "How my left arm ached!" said he. "I knew just how you felt today."
I had next to cut my tree into eight-foot logs. "Let me see your ax a moment," the Old Squire said to me. He then compared the handle with his own and notched a two foot measure on it, so that I could lay off the logs correctly. "Cut them just eight feet from peak to scarf," he bade me, but it was not till I found opportunity to consult with Addison that I quite understood the meaning of that latter phrase.
I found it far easier to cut my tree into logs than to fall it, but I was still farther humiliated by being told that I swung my ax "like an old woman," and several days elapsed ere I caught the knack of properly swinging it high over my shoulder as I delivered the blows.
Next day we had James and Asa Doane to assist us; the latter, however, soon disabled himself on account of cutting his left foot. This accident led to a singular adventure which I shall relate presently. By the end of the second day a passably good wood-road was trodden, and tree after tree was felled, chopped into logs which were then rolled upon the sleds and drawn to the yard before the wood-house door, where four high piles soon grew to towering dimensions. From thirty to forty cords was the quantity usually required to properly warm the old farm-house through the winter and keep the kitchen stove supplied.