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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : CHAPTER IX. THE NEW PUPILS.

David Elginbrod by George MacDonald

CHAPTER IX. THE NEW PUPILS.

Think you a little din can daunt mine ears?

Have I not in my time heard lions roar?

And do you tell me of a woman's tongue,

That gives not half so great a blow to hear,

As will a chestnut in a farmer's fire?

Tush! tush! fear boys with bugs.

Taming of the Shrew.

DURING the whole of his first interview with Falconer, which lasted so long that he had been glad to make a bed of Falconer's sofa, Hugh never once referred to the object for which he had accepted MacPherson's proffered introduction; nor did Falconer ask him any questions. Hugh was too much interested and saddened by the scenes through which Falconer led him, not to shrink from speaking of anything less important; and with Falconer it was a rule, a principle almost, never to expedite utterance of any sort.

In the morning, feeling a little good-natured anxiety as to his landlady's reception of him, Hugh made some allusion to it, as he sat at his new friend's breakfast-table.

Falconer said:

|What is your landlady's name?|

|Miss Talbot.|

|Oh! little Miss Talbot? You are in good quarters -- too good to lose, I can tell you. Just say to Miss Talbot that you were with me.|

|You know her, then?|

|Oh, yes.|

|You seem to know everybody.|

|If I have spoken to a person once, I never forget him.|

|That seems to me very strange.|

|It is simple enough. The secret of it is, that, as far as I can help it, I never have any merely business relations with any one. I try always not to forget that there is a deeper relation between us. I commonly succeed worst in a drawing-room; yet even there, for the time we are together, I try to recognise the present humanity, however much distorted or concealed. The consequence is, I never forget anybody; and I generally find that others remember me -- at least those with whom I have had any real relations, springing from my need or from theirs. The man who mends a broken chair for you, or a rent in your coat, renders you a human service; and, in virtue of that, comes nearer to your inner self, than nine-tenths of the ladies and gentlemen whom you meet only in what is called society, are likely to do.|

|But do you not find it awkward sometimes?|

|Not in the least. I am never ashamed of knowing any one; and as I never assume a familiarity that does not exist, I never find it assumed towards me.|

Hugh found the advantage of Falconer's sociology when he mentioned to Miss Talbot that he had been his guest that night.

|You should have sent us word, Mr. Sutherland,| was all Miss Talbot's reply.

|I could not do so before you must have been all in bed. I was sorry, but I could hardly help it.|

Miss Talbot turned away into the kitchen. The only other indication of her feeling in the matter was, that she sent him up a cup of delicious chocolate for his lunch, before he set out for Mr. Appleditch's, where she had heard at the shop that he was going.

My reader must not be left to fear that I am about to give a detailed account of Hugh's plans with these unpleasant little immortals, whose earthly nature sprang from a pair whose religion consisted chiefly in negations, and whose main duty seemed to be to make money in small sums, and spend it in smaller. When he arrived at Buccleuch Crescent, he was shown into the dining-room, into which the boys were separately dragged, to receive the first instalment of the mental legacy left them by their ancestors. But the legacy-duty was so heavy that they would gladly have declined paying it, even with the loss of the legacy itself; and Hugh was dismayed at the impossibility of interesting them in anything. He tried telling them stories even, without success. They stared at him, it is true; but whether there was more speculation in the open mouths, or in the fishy, overfed eyes, he found it impossible to determine. He could not help feeling the riddle of Providence in regard to the birth of these, much harder to read than that involved in the case of some of the little thieves whose acquaintance he had made, when with Falconer, the evening before. But he did his best; and before the time had expired -- two hours, namely, -- he had found out, to his satisfaction, that the elder had a turn for sums, and the younger for drawing. So he made use of these predilections to bribe them to the exercise of their intellect upon less-favoured branches of human accomplishment. He found the plan operate as well as it could have been expected to operate upon such material.

But one or two little incidents, relating to his intercourse with Mrs. Appleditch, I must not omit. Though a mother's love is more ready to purify itself than most other loves -- yet there is a class of mothers, whose love is only an extended, scarcely an expanded, selfishness. Mrs. Appleditch did not in the least love her children because they were children, and children committed to her care by the Father of all children; but she loved them dearly because they were her children.

One day Hugh gave Master Appleditch a smart slap across the fingers, as the ultimate resource. The child screamed as he well knew how. His mother burst into the room.

|Johnny, hold your tongue!|

|Teacher's been and hurt me.|

|Hold your tongue, I say. My head's like to split. Get out of the room, you little ruffian!|

She seized him by the shoulders, and turned him out, administering a box on his ear that made the room ring. Then turning to Hugh,

|Mr. Sutherland, how dare you strike my child?| she demanded.

|He required it, Mrs. Appleditch. I did him no harm. He will mind what I say another time.|

|I will not have him touched. It's disgraceful. To strike a child!|

She belonged to that class of humane parents who consider it cruel to inflict any corporal suffering upon children, except they do it themselves, and in a passion. Johnnie behaved better after this, however; and the only revenge Mrs. Appleditch took for this interference with the dignity of her eldest born, and, consequently, with her own as his mother, was, that -- with the view, probably, of impressing upon Hugh a due sense of the menial position he occupied in her family -- she always paid him his fee of one shilling and sixpence every day before he left the house. Once or twice she contrived accidentally that the sixpence should be in coppers. Hugh was too much of a philosopher, however, to mind this from such a woman. I am afraid he rather enjoyed her spite; for he felt it did not touch him, seeing it could not be less honourable to be paid by the day than by the quarter or by the year. Certainly the coppers were an annoyance; but if the coppers could be carried, the annoyance could be borne. The real disgust in the affair was, that he had to meet and speak with a woman every day, for whom he could feel nothing but contempt and aversion. Hugh was not yet able to mingle with these feelings any of the leaven of that charity which they need most of all who are contemptible in the eye of their fellows. Contempt is murder committed by the intellect, as hatred is murder committed by the heart. Charity having life in itself, is the opposite and destroyer of contempt as well as of hatred.

After this, nothing went amiss for some time. But it was very dreary work to teach such boys -- for the younger came in for the odd sixpence. Slow, stupid, resistance appeared to be the only principle of their behaviour towards him. They scorned the man whom their mother despised and valued for the self-same reason, namely, that he was cheap. They would have defied him had they dared, but he managed to establish an authority over them -- and to increase it. Still, he could not rouse them to any real interest in their studies. Indeed, they were as near being little beasts as it was possible for children to be. Their eyes grew dull at a story-book, but greedily bright at the sight of bull's eyes or toffee. It was the same day after day, till he was sick of it. No doubt they made some progress, but it was scarcely perceptible to him. Through fog and fair, through frost and snow, through wind and rain, he trudged to that wretched house. No one minds the weather -- no young Scotchman, at least -- where any pleasure waits the close of the struggle: to fight his way to misery was more than he could well endure. But his deliverance was nearer than he expected. It was not to come just yet, however.

All went on with frightful sameness, till sundry doubtful symptoms of an alteration in the personal appearance of Hugh having accumulated at last into a mass of evidence, forced the conviction upon the mind of the grocer's wife, that her tutor was actually growing a beard. Could she believe her eyes? She said she could not. But she acted on their testimony notwithstanding; and one day suddenly addressing Hugh, said, in her usual cold, thin, cutting fashion of speech:

|Mr. Sutherland, I am astonished and grieved that you, a teacher of babes, who should set an example to them, should disguise yourself in such an outlandish figure.|

|What do you mean, Mrs. Appleditch?| asked Hugh, who, though he had made up his mind to follow the example of Falconer, yet felt uncomfortable enough, during the transition period, to know quite well what she meant.

|What do I mean, sir? It is a shame for a man to let his beard grow like a monkey.|

|But a monkey hasn't a beard,| retorted Hugh, laughing. |Man is the only animal who has one.|

This assertion, if not quite correct, was approximately so, and went much nearer the truth than Mrs. Appleditch's argument.

|It's no joking matter, Mr. Sutherland, with my two darlings growing up to be ministers of the gospel.|

|What! both of them?| thought Hugh. |Good heavens!| But he said:

|Well, but you know, Mrs. Appleditch, the Apostles themselves wore beards.|

|Yes, when they were Jews. But who would have believed them if they had preached the gospel like old clothesmen? No, no, Mr. Sutherland, I see through all that. My own uncle was a preacher of the word. -- As soon as the Apostles became Christians, they shaved. It was the sign of Christianity. The Apostle Paul himself says that cleanliness is next to godliness.|

Hugh restrained his laughter, and shifted his ground.

|But there is nothing dirty about them,| he said.

|Not dirty? Now really, Mr. Sutherland, you provoke me. Nothing dirty in long hair all round your mouth, and going into it every spoonful you take?|

|But it can be kept properly trimmed, you know.|

|But who's to trust you to do that? No, no, Mr. Sutherland; you must not make a guy of yourself.|

Hugh laughed, and said nothing. Of course his beard would go on growing, for he could not help it.

So did Mrs. Appleditch's wrath.

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