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Title: The Brown Mouse
Author: Quick, Herbert, 1861-1925
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Brown Mouse" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



THE BROWN MOUSE

By
HERBERT QUICK

Author of
Aladdin & Company, The Broken Lance
On Board the Good Ship Earth, Etc.

INDIANAPOLIS
THE BOBBS-MERRILL COMPANY
PUBLISHERS



Copyright 1915
The Bobbs-Merrill Company

Printed in the United States of America

PRESS OF
BRAUNWORTH & CO.
BOOK MANUFACTURERS
BROOKLYN, N. Y.



CONTENTS

CHAPTER
      I  A Maiden's "Humph"                   1
     II  Reversed Unanimity                  24
    III  What Is a Brown Mouse               38
     IV  The First Day of School             48
      V  The Promotion of Jennie             55
     VI  Jim Talks the Weather Cold          65
    VII  The New Wine                        75
   VIII  And the Old Bottles                 89
     IX  Jennie Arranges a Christmas Party   99
      X  How Jim Was Lined Up               111
     XI  The Mouse Escapes                  122
    XII  Facing Trial                       132
   XIII  Fame or Notoriety                  147
    XIV  The Colonel Takes the Field        164
     XV  A Minor Casts Half a Vote          188
    XVI  The Glorious Fourth                203
   XVII  A Trouble Shooter                  218
  XVIII  Jim Goes to Ames                   235
    XIX  Jim's World Widens                 242
     XX  Think of It                        248
    XXI  A School District Held Up          258
   XXII  An Embassy From Dixie              277
  XXIII  And So They Lived----              295



THE BROWN MOUSE



CHAPTER I

A MAIDEN'S "HUMPH"


A Farm-hand nodded in answer to a question asked him by Napoleon on the
morning of Waterloo. The nod was false, or the emperor misunderstood--and
Waterloo was lost. On the nod of a farm-hand rested the fate of Europe.

This story may not be so important as the battle of Waterloo--and it may
be. I think that Napoleon was sure to lose to Wellington sooner or later,
and therefore the words "fate of Europe" in the last paragraph should be
understood as modified by "for a while." But this story may change the
world permanently. We will not discuss that, if you please. What I am
endeavoring to make plain is that this history would never have been
written if a farmer's daughter had not said "Humph!" to her father's hired
man.

Of course she never said it as it is printed. People never say "Humph!" in
that way. She just closed her lips tight in the manner of people who have
a great deal to say and prefer not to say it, and--I dislike to record
this of a young lady who has been "off to school," but truthfulness
compels--she grunted through her little nose the ordinary "Humph!" of
conversational commerce, which was accepted at its face value by the
farm-hand as an evidence of displeasure, disapproval, and even of
contempt. Things then began to happen as they never would have done if the
maiden hadn't "Humphed!" and this is a history of those happenings.

As I have said, it may be more important than Waterloo. _Uncle Tom's
Cabin_ was, and I hope--I am just beginning, you know--to make this a much
greater book than _Uncle Tom's Cabin_. And it all rests on a "Humph!"
Holmes says,

                "Soft is the breath of a maiden's 'Yes,'
                Not the light gossamer stirs with less."

but what bard shall rightly sing the importance of a maiden's "Humph!"
when I shall have finished telling what came of what Jennie Woodruff said
to Jim Irwin, her father's hired man?

Jim brought from his day's work all the fragrances of next year's meadows.
He had been feeding the crops. All things have opposite poles, and the
scents of the farm are no exception to the rule. Just now, Jim Irwin
possessed in his clothes and person the olfactory pole opposite to the
new-mown hay, the fragrant butter and the scented breath of the lowing
kine--perspiration and top-dressing.

He was not quite so keenly conscious of this as was Jennie Woodruff. Had
he been so, the glimmer of her white piqué dress on the bench under the
basswood would not have drawn him back from the gate. He had come to the
house to ask Colonel Woodruff about the farm work, and having received
instructions to take a team and join in the road work next day, he had
gone down the walk between the beds of four o'clocks and petunias to the
lane. Turning to latch the gate, he saw through the dusk the white dress
under the tree and drawn by the greatest attraction known in nature, had
re-entered the Woodruff grounds and strolled back.

A brief hello betrayed old acquaintance, and that social equality which
still persists in theory between the work people on the American farm and
the family of the employer. A desultory murmur of voices ensued. Jim Irwin
sat down on the bench--not too close, be it observed, to the piqué
skirt.... There came into the voices a note of deeper earnestness,
betokening something quite aside from the rippling of the course of true
love running smoothly. In the man's voice was a tone of protest and
pleading....

"I know you are," said she; "but after all these years don't you think you
should be at least preparing to be something more than that?"

"What can I do?" he pleaded. "I'm tied hand and foot.... I might have
..."

"You might have," said she, "but, Jim, you haven't ... and I don't see any
prospects...." "I have been writing for the farm papers," said Jim; "but
..."

"But that doesn't get you anywhere, you know.... You're a great deal more
able and intelligent than Ed ---- and see what a fine position he has in
Chicago...."

"There's mother, you know," said Jim gently.

"You can't do anything here," said Jennie. "You've been a farm-hand for
fifteen years ... and you always will be unless you pull yourself loose.
Even a girl can make a place for herself if she doesn't marry and leaves
the farm. You're twenty-eight years old."

"It's all wrong!" said Jim gently. "The farm ought to be the place for the
best sort of career--I love the soil!"

"I've been teaching for only two years, and they say I'll be nominated for
county superintendent if I'll take it. Of course I won't--it seems
silly--but if it were you, now, it would be a first step to a life that
leads to something."

"Mother and I can live on my wages--and the garden and chickens and the
cow," said Jim. "After I received my teacher's certificate, I tried to
work out some way of doing the same thing on a country teacher's wages. I
couldn't. It doesn't seem right."

Jim rose and after pacing back and forth sat down again, a little closer
to Jennie. Jennie moved away to the extreme end of the bench, and the
shrinking away of Jim as if he had been repelled by some sort of negative
magnetism showed either sensitiveness or temper.

"It seems as if it ought to be possible," said Jim, "for a man to do work
on the farm, or in the rural schools, that would make him a livelihood. If
he is only a field-hand, it ought to be possible for him to save money and
buy a farm."

"Pa's land is worth two hundred dollars an acre," said Jennie. "Six months
of your wages for an acre--even if you lived on nothing."

"No," he assented, "it can't be done. And the other thing can't, either.
There ought to be such conditions that a teacher could make a living."

"They do," said Jennie, "if they can live at home during vacations. _I_
do."

"But a man teaching in the country ought to be able to marry."

"Marry!" said Jennie, rather unfeelingly, I think. "_You_ marry!" Then
after remaining silent for nearly a minute, she uttered the
syllable--without the utterance of which this narrative would not have
been written. "_You_ marry! Humph!"

Jim Irwin rose from the bench tingling with the insult he found in her
tone. They had been boy-and-girl sweethearts in the old days at the
Woodruff schoolhouse down the road, and before the fateful time when
Jennie went "off to school" and Jim began to support his mother. They had
even kissed--and on Jim's side, lonely as was his life, cut off as it
necessarily was from all companionship save that of his tiny home and his
fellow-workers of the field, the tender little love-story was the sole
romance of his life. Jennie's "Humph!" retired this romance from
circulation, he felt. It showed contempt for the idea of his marrying. It
relegated him to a sexless category with other defectives, and badged him
with the celibacy of a sort of twentieth-century monk, without the honor
of the priestly vocation. From another girl it would have been bad enough,
but from Jennie Woodruff--and especially on that quiet summer night under
the linden--it was insupportable.

"Good night," said Jim--simply because he could not trust himself to say
more.

"Good night," replied Jennie, and sat for a long time wondering just how
deeply she had unintentionally wounded the feelings of her father's
field-hand; deciding that if he was driven from her forever, it would
solve the problem of terminating that old childish love affair which still
persisted in occupying a suite of rooms all of its own in her memory; and
finally repenting of the unpremeditated thrust which might easily have
hurt too deeply so sensitive a man as Jim Irwin. But girls are not usually
so made as to feel any very bitter remorse for their male victims, and so
Jennie slept very well that night.

Great events, I find myself repeating, sometimes hinge on trivial things.
Considered deeply, all those matters which we are wont to call great
events are only the outward and visible results of occurrences in the
minds and souls of people. Sir Walter Raleigh thought of laying his cloak
under the feet of Queen Elizabeth as she passed over a mud-puddle, and all
the rest of his career followed, as the effect of Sir Walter's mental
attitude. Elias Howe thought of a machine for sewing, Eli Whitney of a
machine for ginning cotton, George Stephenson of a tubular boiler for his
locomotive engine, and Cyrus McCormick of a sickle-bar, and the world was
changed by those thoughts, rather than by the machines themselves. John D.
Rockefeller thought strongly that he would be rich, and this thought, and
not the Standard Oil Company, changed the commerce and finance of the
world. As a man thinketh so is he; and as men think so is the world. Jim
Irwin went home thinking of the "Humph!" of Jennie Woodruff--thinking with
hot waves and cold waves running over his body, and swellings in his
throat. Such thoughts centered upon his club foot made Lord Byron a great
sardonic poet. That club foot set him apart from the world of boys and
tortured him into a fury which lasted until he had lashed society with the
whips of his scorn.

Jim Irwin was not club-footed; far from it. He was bony and rugged and
homely, with a big mouth, and wide ears, and a form stooped with labor. He
had fine, lambent, gentle eyes which lighted up his face when he smiled,
as Lincoln's illuminated his. He was not ugly. In fact, if that quality
which fair ladies--if they are wise--prize far more than physical beauty,
the quality called charm, can with propriety be ascribed to a field-hand
who has just finished a day of the rather unfragrant labor to which I have
referred, Jim Irwin possessed charm. That is why little Jennie Woodruff
had asked him to help with her lessons, rather oftener than was necessary,
in those old days in the Woodruff schoolhouse when Jennie wore her hair
down her back.

But in spite of this homely charm of personality, Jim Irwin was set off
from his fellows of the Woodruff neighborhood in a manner quite as
segregative as was Byron by his deformity. He was different. In local
parlance, he was an off ox. He was as odd as Dick's hatband. He ran in a
gang by himself, like Deacon Avery's celebrated bull. He failed to
matriculate in the boy banditti which played cards in the haymows on rainy
days, told stereotyped stories that smelled to heaven, raided melon
patches and orchards, swore horribly like Sir Toby Belch, and played pool
in the village saloon. He had always liked to read, and had piles of
literature in his attic room which was good, because it was cheap. Very
few people know that cheap literature is very likely to be good, because
it is old and unprotected by copyright. He had Emerson, Thoreau, a John B.
Alden edition of Chambers' _Encyclopedia of English Literature_, some
Franklin Square editions of standard poets in paper covers, and a few
Ruskins and Carlyles--all read to rags. He talked the book English of
these authors, mispronouncing many of the hard words, because he had never
heard them pronounced by any one except himself, and had no standards of
comparison. You find this sort of thing in the utterances of self-educated
recluses. And he had piles of reports of the secretary of agriculture,
college bulletins from Ames, and publications of the various bureaus of
the Department of Agriculture at Washington. In fact, he had a good
library of publications which can be obtained gratis, or very cheaply--and
he knew their contents. He had a personal philosophy, which while it had
cost him the world in which his fellows lived, had given him one of his
own, in which he moved as lonely as a cloud, and as untouched of the life
about him.

He seemed superior to the neighbor boys, and felt so; but this feeling was
curiously mingled with a sense of degradation. By every test of common
life, he was a failure. His family history was a badge of failure. People
despised a man who was so incontestably smarter than they, and yet could
do no better with himself than to work in the fields alongside the tramps
and transients and hoboes who drifted back and forth as the casual market
for labor and the lure of the cities swept them. Save for his mother and
their cow and garden and flock of fowls and their wretched little rented
house, he was a tramp himself.

His father had been no better. He had come into the neighborhood from
nobody knows where, selling fruit trees, with a wife and baby in his old
buggy--and had died suddenly, leaving the baby and widow, and nothing else
save the horse and buggy. That horse and buggy were still on the Irwin
books represented by Spot the cow--so persistent are the assets of
cautious poverty. Mrs. Irwin had labored in kitchen and sewing room until
Jim had been able to assume the breadwinner's burden--which he did about
the time he finished the curriculum of the Woodruff District school. He
was an off ox and odd as Dick's hatband, largely because his duties to his
mother and his love of reading kept him from joining the gangs whereof I
have spoken. His duties, his mother, and his father's status as an outcast
were to him the equivalent of the Byronic club foot, because they took
away his citizenship in Boyville, and drove him in upon himself, and, at
first, upon his school books which he mastered so easily and quickly as to
become the star pupil of the Woodruff District school, and later upon
Emerson, Thoreau, Ruskin and the poets, and the agricultural reports and
bulletins.

All this degraded--or exalted--him to the position of an intellectual
farm-hand, with a sense of superiority and a feeling of degradation. It
made Jennie Woodruff's "Humph!" potent to keep him awake that night, and
send him to the road work with Colonel Woodruff's team next morning with
hot eyes and a hotter heart.

What was he anyhow? And what could he ever be? What was the use of his
studies in farming practise, if he was always to be an underling whose
sole duty was to carry out the crude ideas of his employers? And what
chance was there for a farm-hand to become a farm owner, or even a farm
renter, especially if he had a mother to support out of the twenty-five or
thirty dollars of his monthly wages? None.

A man might rise in the spirit, but how about rising in the world?

Colonel Woodruff's gray percherons seemed to feel the unrest of their
driver, for they fretted and actually executed a clumsy prance as Jim
Irwin pulled them up at the end of the turnpike across Bronson's Slew--the
said slew being a peat-marsh which annually offered the men of the
Woodruff District the opportunity to hold the male equivalent of a sewing
circle while working out their road taxes, with much conversational gain,
and no great damage to the road.

In fact, Columbus Brown, the pathmaster, prided himself on the Bronson
Slew Turnpike as his greatest triumph in road engineering. The work
consisted in hauling, dragging and carrying gravel out on the low fill
which carried the road across the marsh, and then watching it slowly
settle until the next summer.

"Haul gravel from the east gravel bed, Jim," called Columbus Brown from
the lowest spot in the middle of the turnpike. "Take Newt here to help
load."

Jim smiled his habitual slow, gentle smile at Newton Bronson, his helper.
Newton was seventeen, undersized, tobacco-stained, profane and proud of
the fact that he had once beaten his way from Des Moines to Faribault on
freight trains. A source of anxiety to his father, and the subject of many
predictions that he would come to no good end, Newton was out on the road
work because he was likely to be of little use on the farm. Clearly,
Newton was on the downward road in a double sense--and yet, Jim Irwin
rather liked him.

"The fellers have put up a job on you, Jim," volunteered Newton, as they
began filling the wagon with gravel.

"What sort of job?" asked Jim.

"They're nominating you for teacher," replied Newton.

"Since when has the position of teacher been an elective office?" asked
Jim.

"Sure, it ain't elective," answered Newton. "But they say that with as
many brains as you've got sloshing around loose in the neighborhood,
you're a candidate that can break the deadlock in the school board."

Jim shoveled on silently for a while, and by example urged Newton to earn
the money credited to his father's assessment for the day's work.

"Aw, what's the use of diggin' into it like this?" protested Newton, who
was developing an unwonted perspiration. "None of the others are heatin'
themselves up."

"Don't you get any fun out of doing a good day's work?" asked Jim.

"Fun!" exclaimed Newton. "You're crazy!"

A slide of earth from the top of the pit threatened to bury Newton in
gravel, sand and good top soil. A sweet-clover plant growing rankly beside
the pit, and thinking itself perfectly safe, came down with it, its dark
green foliage anchored by the long roots which penetrated to a depth below
the gravel pit's bottom. Jim Irwin pulled it loose from its anchorage, and
after looking attentively at the roots, laid the whole plant on the bank
for safety.

"What do you want of that weed?" asked Newton.

Jim picked it up and showed him the nodules on its roots--little white
knobs, smaller than pinheads.

"Know what they are, Newt?"

"Just white specks on the roots," replied Newton.

"The most wonderful specks in the world," said Jim. "Ever hear of the use
of nitrates to enrich the soil?"

"Ain't that the stuff the old man used on the lawn last spring?"

"Yes," said Jim, "your father used some on his lawn. We don't put it on
our fields in Iowa--not yet; but if it weren't for those white specks on
the clover-roots, we should be obliged to do so--as they do back east."

"How do them white specks keep us from needin' nitrates?"

"It's a long story," said Jim. "You see, before there were any plants big
enough to be visible--if there had been any one to see them--the world was
full of little plants so small that there may be billions of them in one
of these little white specks. They knew how to take the nitrates from the
air----"

"Air!" ejaculated Newton. "Nitrates in the air! You're crazy!"

"No," said Jim. "There are tons of nitrogen in the air that press down on
your head--but the big plants can't get it through their leaves, or
their roots. They never had to learn, because when the little
plants--bacteria--found that the big plants had roots with sap in them,
they located on those roots and tapped them for the sap they needed.
They began to get their board and lodgings off the big plants. And in
payment for their hotel bills, the little plants took nitrogen out of
the air for both themselves and their hosts."

"What d'ye mean by 'hosts'?"

"Their hotel-keepers--the big plants. And now the plants that have the
hotel roots for the bacteria furnish nitrogen not only for themselves but
for the crops that follow. Corn can't get nitrogen out of the air; but
clover can--and that's why we ought to plow down clover before a crop of
corn."

"Gee!" said Newt. "If you could get to teach our school, I'd go again."

"It would interfere with your pool playing."

"What business is that o' yours?" interrogated Newt defiantly.

"Well, get busy with that shovel," suggested Jim, who had been working
steadily, driving out upon the fill occasionally to unload. On his return
from dumping the next load, Newton seemed, in a superior way, quite
amiably disposed toward his workfellow--rather the habitual thing in the
neighborhood.

"I'll work my old man to vote for you for the job," said he.

"What job?" asked Jim.

"Teacher for our school," answered Newt.

"Those school directors," replied Jim, "have become so bullheaded that
they'll never vote for any one except the applicants they've been voting
for."

"The old man says he will have Prue Foster again, or he'll give the school
a darned long vacation, unless Peterson and Bonner join on some one else.
That would beat Prue, of course."

"And Con Bonner won't vote for any one but Maggie Gilmartin," added Jim.

"And," supplied Newton, "Haakon Peterson says he'll stick to Herman
Paulson until the Hot Springs freeze over."

"And there you are," said Jim. "You tell your father for me that I think
he's a mere mule--and that the whole district thinks the same."

"All right," said Newt. "I'll tell him that while I'm working him to vote
for you."

Jim smiled grimly. Such a position might have been his years ago, if he
could have left his mother or earned enough in it to keep both alive. He
had remained a peasant because the American rural teacher is placed
economically lower than the peasant. He gave Newton's chatter no
consideration. But when, in the afternoon, he hitched his team with others
to the big road grader, and the gang became concentrated within talking
distance, he found that the project of heckling and chaffing him about his
eminent fitness for a scholastic position was to be the real entertainment
of the occasion.

"Jim's the candidate to bust the deadlock," said Columbus Brown, with a
wink. "Just like Garfield in that Republican convention he was nominated
in--eh, Con?"

"Con" was Cornelius Bonner, an Irishman, one of the deadlocked school
board, and the captain of the road grader. He winked back at the
pathmaster.

"Jim's the gray-eyed man o' destiny," he replied, "if he can get two votes
in that board."

"You'd vote for me, wouldn't you, Con?" asked Jim.

"I'll try annything wance," replied Bonner.

"Try voting with Ezra Bronson once, for Prue Foster," suggested Jim.
"She's done good work here."

"Opinions differ," said Bonner, "an' when you try annything just for
wance, it shouldn't be an irrevocable shtip, me bye."

"You're a reasonable board of public servants," said Jim ironically. "I'd
like to tell the whole board what I think of them."

"Come down to-night," said Bonner jeeringly. "We're going to have a board
meeting at the schoolhouse and ballot a few more times. Come down, and be
the Garfield of the convintion. We've lacked brains on the board, that's
clear. They ain't a man on the board that iver studied algebra, 'r that
knows more about farmin' than their impl'yers. Come down to the
schoolhouse, and we'll have a field-hand addriss the school board--and
begosh, I'll move yer illiction mesilf! Come, now, Jimmy, me bye, be game.
It'll vary the program, anny-how."

The entire gang grinned. Jim flushed, and then reconquered his calmness of
spirit.

"All right, Con," said he. "I'll come and tell you a few things--and you
can do as you like about making the motion."



CHAPTER II

REVERSED UNANIMITY


The great blade of the grading machine, running diagonally across the road
and pulling the earth toward its median line, had made several trips, and
much persiflage about Jim Irwin's forthcoming appearance before the board
had been addressed to Jim and exchanged by others for his benefit.

To Newton Bronson was given the task of leveling and distributing the
earth rolled into the road by the grader--a labor which in the interests
of fitting a muzzle on his big mongrel dog he deserted whenever the
machine moved away from him. No dog would have seemed less deserving of a
muzzle, for he was a friendly animal, always wagging his tail, pressing
his nose into people's palms, licking their clothing and otherwise making
a nuisance of himself. That there was some mystery about the muzzle was
evident from Newton's pains to make a secret of it. Its wires were curled
into a ring directly over the dog's nose, and into this ring Newton had
fitted a cork, through which he had thrust a large needle which protruded,
an inch-long bayonet, in front of Ponto's nose. As the grader swept back,
horses straining, harness creaking and a billow of dark earth rolling
before the knife, Ponto, fully equipped with this stinger, raced madly
alongside, a friend to every man, but not unlike some people, one whose
friendship was of all things to be most dreaded.

As the grader moved along one side of the highway, a high-powered
automobile approached on the other. It was attempting to rush the swale
for the hill opposite, and making rather bad weather of the newly repaired
road. A pile of loose soil that Newton had allowed to lie just across the
path made a certain maintenance of speed desirable. The knavish Newton
planted himself in the path of the laboring car, and waved its driver a
command to halt. The car came to a standstill with its front wheels in the
edge of the loose earth, and the chauffeur fuming at the possibility of
stalling--a contingency upon which Newton had confidently reckoned.

"What d'ye want?" he demanded. "What d'ye mean by stopping me in this kind
of place?"

"I want to ask you," said Newton with mock politeness, "if you have the
correct time."

The chauffeur sought words appropriate to his feelings. Ponto and his
muzzle saved him the trouble. A pretty pointer leaped from the car, and
attracted by the evident friendliness of Ponto's greeting, pricked up its
ears, and sought, in a spirit of canine brotherhood, to touch noses with
him. The needle in Ponto's muzzle did its work to the agony and horror of
the pointer, which leaped back with a yelp, and turned tail. Ponto, in an
effort to apologize, followed, and finding itself bayonetted at every
contact with this demon dog, the pointer definitely took flight, howling,
leaving Ponto in a state of wonder and humiliation at the sudden end of
what had promised to be a very friendly acquaintance. I have known
instances not entirely dissimilar among human beings. The pointer's master
watched its strange flight, and swore. His eye turned to the boy who had
caused all this, and he alighted pale with anger.

"I've got time," said he, remembering Newton's impudent question, "to give
you what you deserve."

Newton grinned and dodged, but the bank of loose earth was his undoing,
and while he stumbled, the chauffeur caught and held him by the collar.
And as he held the boy, the operation of flogging him in the presence of
the grading gang grew less to his taste. Again Ponto intervened, for as
the chauffeur stood holding Newton, the dog, evidently regarding the
stranger as his master's friend, thrust his nose into the chauffeur's
palm--the needle necessarily preceding the nose. The chauffeur behaved
much as his pointer had done, saving and excepting that the pointer did
not swear.

It was funny--even the pain involved could not make it otherwise than
funny. The grading gang laughed to a man. Newton grinned even while in the
fell clutch of circumstance. Ponto tried to smell the chauffeur's
trousers, and what had been a laugh became a roar, quite general save for
the fact that the chauffeur did not join in it.

Caution and mercy departed from the chauffeur's mood; and he drew back his
fist to strike the boy--and found it caught by the hard hand of Jim
Irwin.

"You're too angry to punish this boy," said Jim gently,--"even if you had
the right to punish him at all!"

"Oh, cut it out," said a fat man in the rear of the car, who had hitherto
manifested no interest in anything save Ponto. "Get in, and let's be on
our way!"

The chauffeur, however, recognized in a man of mature years and full size,
and a creature with no mysterious needle in his nose, a relief from his
embarrassment. Unhesitatingly, he released Newton, and blindly, furiously
and futilely, he delivered a blow meant for Jim's jaw, but which really
miscarried by a foot. In reply, Jim countered with an awkward swinging
uppercut, which was superior to the chauffeur's blow in one respect
only--it landed fairly on the point of the jaw. The chauffeur staggered
and slowly toppled over into the soft earth which had caused so much of
the rumpus. Newton Bronson slipped behind a hedge, and took his infernally
equipped dog with him. The grader gang formed a ring about the combatants
and waited. Colonel Woodruff, driving toward home in his runabout, held up
by the traffic blockade, asked what was going on here, and the chauffeur,
rising groggily, picked up his goggles, climbed into the car; and the
meeting dissolved, leaving Jim Irwin greatly embarrassed by the fact that
for the first time in his life, he had struck a man in combat.

"Good work, Jim," said Cornelius Bonner. "I didn't think 'twas in ye!"

"It's beastly," said Jim, reddening. "I didn't know, either."

Colonel Woodruff looked at his hired man sharply, gave him some
instructions for the next day and drove on. The road gang dispersed for
the afternoon. Newton Bronson carefully secreted the magic muzzle, and
chuckled at what had been perhaps the most picturesquely successful bit of
deviltry in his varied record. Jim Irwin put out his team, got his supper
and went to the meeting of the school board.

The deadlocked members of the board had been so long at loggerheads that
their relations had swayed back to something like amity. Jim had scarcely
entered when Con Bonner addressed the chair.

"Mr. Prisidint," said he, "we have wid us t'night, a young man who nades
no introduction to an audience in this place, Mr. Jim Irwin. He thinks
we're bullheaded mules, and that all the schools are bad. At the proper
time I shall move that we hire him f'r teacher; and pinding that motion, I
move that he be given the floor. Ye've all heared of Mr. Irwin's ability
as a white hope, and I know he'll be listened to wid respect!"

Much laughter from the board and the spectators, as Jim arose. He looked
upon it as ridicule of himself, while Con Bonner regarded it as a tribute
to his successful speech.

"Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Board," said Jim, "I'm not going to
tell you anything that you don't know about yourselves. You are simply
making a farce of the matter of hiring a teacher for this school. It is
not as if any of you had a theory that the teaching methods of one of
these teachers would be any better than or much different from those of
the others. You know, and I know, that whichever is finally engaged, or
even if your silly deadlock is broken by employing a new candidate, the
school will be the same old story. It will still be the school it was when
I came into it a little ragged boy"--here Jim's voice grew a little
husky--"and when I left it, a bigger boy, but still as ragged as ever."

There was a slight sensation in the audience, as if, as Con Bonner said
about the knockdown, they hadn't thought Jim Irwin could do it.

"Well," said Con, "you've done well to hold your own."

"In all the years I attended this school," Jim went on, "I never did a bit
of work in school which was economically useful. It was all dry stuff
copied from the city schools. No other pupil ever did any real work of the
sort farmers' boys and girls should do. We copied city schools--and the
schools we copied are poor schools. We made bad copies of them, too. If
any of you three men were making a fight for what Roosevelt's Country Life
Commission called a 'new kind of rural school,' I'd say fight. But you
aren't. You're just making individual fights for your favorite teachers."

Jim Irwin made a somewhat lengthy speech after the awkwardness wore off,
so long that his audience was nodding and yawning by the time he reached
his peroration, in which he abjured Bronson, Bonner and Peterson to study
his plan of a new kind of rural school,--in which the work of the school
should be correlated with the life of the home and the farm--a school
which would be in the highest degree cultural by being consciously useful
and obviously practical. There sharp spats of applause from the useless
hands of Newton Bronson gave the final touch of absurdity to a situation
which Jim had felt to be ridiculous all through. Had it not been for
Jennie Woodruff's "Humph!" stinging him to do something outside the round
of duties into which he had fallen, had it not been for the absurd notion
that perhaps, after they had heard his speech, they would place him in
charge of the school, and that he might be able to do something really
important in it, he would not have been there. As he sat down, he felt
himself a silly clodhopper, filled with the east wind of his own conceit,
out of touch with the real world of men. He knew himself a dreamer. The
nodding board of directors, the secretary, actually snoring, and the bored
audience restored the field-hand to a sense of his proper place.

"We have had the privilege of list'nin'," said Con Bonner, rising, "to a
great speech, Mr. Prisidint. We should be proud to have a borned orator
like this in the agricultural pop'lation of the district. A reg'lar
William Jennin's Bryan. I don't understand what he was trying to tell us,
but sometimes I've had the same difficulty with the spaches of the Boy
Orator of the Platte. Makin' a good spache is one thing, and teaching a
good school is another, but in order to bring this matter before the
board, I nominate Mr. James E. Irwin, the Boy Orator of the Woodruff
District, and the new white hope, f'r the job of teacher of this school,
and I move that when he shall have received a majority of the votes of
this board, the secretary and prisidint be insthructed to enter into a
contract with him f'r the comin' year."

The seconding of motions on a board of three has its objectionable
features, since it seems to commit a majority of the body to the motion in
advance. The president, therefore, followed usage, when he said--"If
there's no objection, it will be so ordered. The chair hears no
objection--and it is so ordered. Prepare the ballots for a vote on the
election of teacher, Mr. Secretary. Each votes his preference for teacher.
A majority elects."

For months, the ballots had come out of the box--an empty
crayon-box--Herman Paulson, one; Prudence Foster, one; Margaret
Gilmartin, one; and every one present expected the same result now.
There was no surprise, however, in view of the nomination of Jim Irwin by
the blarneying Bonner when the secretary smoothed out the first
ballot, and read: "James E. Irwin, one." Clearly this was the Bonner
vote; but when the next slip came forth, "James E. Irwin, two," the Board
of Directors of the Woodruff Independent District were stunned at the
slowly dawning knowledge that they had made an election! Before they had
rallied, the secretary drew from the box the third and last ballot,
and read, "James E. Irwin, three."

President Bronson choked as he announced the result--choked and stammered,
and made very hard weather of it, but he went through with the motion, as
we all run in our grooves.

"The ballot having shown the unanimous election of James E. Irwin, I
declare him elected."

He dropped into his chair, while the secretary, a very methodical man,
drew from his portfolio a contract duly drawn up save for the signatures
of the officers of the district, and the name and signature of the
teacher-elect. This he calmly filled out, and passed over to the
president, pointing to the dotted line. Mr. Bronson would have signed his
own death-warrant at that moment, not to mention a perfectly legal
document, and signed with Peterson and Bonner looking on stonily. The
secretary signed and shoved the contract over to Jim Irwin.

"Sign there," he said.

Jim looked it over, saw the other signatures, and felt an impulse to dodge
the whole thing. He could not feel that the action of the board was
serious. He thought of the platform he had laid down for himself, and was
daunted. He thought of the days in the open field, and of the untroubled
evenings with his books, and he shrank from the work. Then he thought of
Jennie Woodruff's "Humph!"--and he signed!

"Move we adjourn," said Peterson.

"No 'bjection 't's so ordered!" said Mr. Bronson.

The secretary and Jim went out, while the directors waited.

"What the Billy--" began Bonner, and finished lamely! "What for did you
vote for the dub, Ez?"

"I voted for him," replied Bronson, "because he fought for my boy this
afternoon. I didn't want it stuck into him too hard. I wanted him to have
_one_ vote."

"An' I wanted him to have wan vote, too," said Bonner. "I thought mesilf
the only dang fool on the board--an' he made a spache that airned wan
vote--but f'r the love of hivin, that dub f'r a teacher! What come over
you, Haakon--you voted f'r him, too!"

"Ay vanted him to have one wote, too," said Peterson.

And in this wise, Jim became the teacher in the Woodruff District--all on
account of Jennie Woodruff's "Humph!"



CHAPTER III

WHAT IS A BROWN MOUSE


Immediately upon the accidental election of Jim Irwin to the position of
teacher of the Woodruff school, he developed habits somewhat like a
ghost's or a bandit's. That is, he walked of nights and on rainy days.

On fine days, he worked in Colonel Woodruff's fields as of yore. Had he
been appointed to a position attached to a salary of fifty thousand
dollars a year, he might have spent six months on a preliminary vacation
in learning something about his new duties. But Jim's salary was to be
three hundred and sixty dollars for nine months' work in the Woodruff
school, and he was to find himself--and his mother. Therefore, he had to
indulge in his loose habits of night walking and roaming about after hours
only, or on holidays and in foul weather.

The Simms family, being from the mountings of Tennessee, were rather
startled one night, when Jim Irwin, homely, stooped and errandless,
silently appeared in their family circle about the front door. They had
lived where it was the custom to give a whoop from the big road before one
passed through the palin's and up to the house. Otherwise, how was one to
know whether the visitor was friend or foe?

From force of habit, Old Man Simms started for his gun-rack at Jim's
appearance, but the Lincolnian smile and the low slow speech, so much like
his own in some respects, ended that part of the matter. Besides, Old Man
Simms remembered that none of the Hobdays, whose hostilities somewhat
stood in the way of the return of the Simmses to their native hills, could
possibly be expected to appear thus in Iowa.

"Stranger," said Mr. Simms, after greetings had been exchanged, "you're
right welcome, but in my kentry you'd find it dangersome to walk in
thisaway."

"How so?" queried Jim Irwin.

"You'd more'n likely git shot up some," replied Mr. Simms, "onless you
whooped from the big road."

"I didn't know that," replied Jim. "I'm ignorant of the customs of other
countries. Would you rather I'd whoop from the big road--nobody else
will."

"I reckon," replied Mr. Simms, "that we-all will have to accommodate
ourse'ves to the ways hyeh."

Evidently Jim was the Simms' first caller since they had settled on the
little brushy tract whose hills and trees reminded them of their
mountains. Low hills, to be sure, with only a footing of rocks where the
creek had cut through, and not many trees, but down in the creek bed, with
the oaks, elms and box-elders arching overhead, the Simmses could imagine
themselves beside some run falling into the French Broad, or the Holston.
The creek bed was a withdrawing room in which to retire from the eternal
black soil and level corn-fields of Iowa. What if the soil was so poor, in
comparison with those black uplands, that the owner of the old wood-lot
could find no renter? It was better than the soil in the mountains, and
suited the lonesome Simmses much more than a better farm would have done.
They were not of the Iowa people anyhow, not understood, not their
equals--they were pore, and expected to stay pore--while the Iowa people
all seemed to be either well-to-do, or expecting to become so. It was much
more agreeable to the Simmses to retire to the back wood-lot farm with the
creek bed running through it.

Jim Irwin asked Old Man Simms about the fishing in the creek, and whether
there was any duck shooting spring and fall.

"We git right smart of these little panfish," said Mr. Simms, "an' Calista
done shot two butterball ducks about 'tater-plantin' time."

Calista blushed--but this stranger, so much like themselves, could not see
the rosy suffusion. The allusion gave him a chance to look about him at
the family. There was a boy of sixteen, a girl--the duck-shooting
Calista--younger than Raymond--a girl of eleven, named Virginia, but
called Jinnie--and a smaller lad who rejoiced in the name of McGeehee, but
was mercifully called Buddy.

Calista squirmed for something to say. "Raymond runs a line o' traps when
the fur's prime," she volunteered.

Then came a long talk on traps and trapping, shooting, hunting and the
joys of the mountings--during which Jim noted the ignorance and poverty of
the Simmses. The clothing of the girls was not decent according to local
standards; for while Calista wore a skirt hurriedly slipped on, Jim was
quite sure--and not without evidence to support his views--that she had
been wearing when he arrived the same regimentals now displayed by
Jinnie--a pair of ragged blue overalls. Evidently the Simmses were wearing
what they had and not what they desired. The father was faded, patched,
gray and earthy, and the boys looked better than the rest solely because
we expect boys to be torn and patched. Mrs. Simms was invisible except as
a gray blur beyond the rain-barrel, in the midst of which her pipe glowed
with a regular ebb and flow of embers.

On the next rainy day Jim called again and secured the services of Raymond
to help him select seed corn. He was going to teach the school next
winter, and he wanted to have a seed-corn frolic the first day, instead of
waiting until the last--and you had to get seed corn while it was on the
stalk, if you got the best. No Simms could refuse a favor to the fellow
who was so much like themselves, and who was so greatly interested in
trapping, hunting and the Tennessee mountains--so Raymond went with Jim,
and with Newt Bronson and five more they selected Colonel Woodruff's seed
corn for the next year, under the colonel's personal superintendence.

In the evening they looked the grain over on the Woodruff lawn, and the
colonel talked about corn and corn selection. They had supper at half past
six, and Jennie waited on them--having assisted her mother in the cooking.
It was quite a festival. Jim Irwin was the least conspicuous person in the
gathering, but the colonel, who was a seasoned politician, observed that
the farm-hand had become a fisher of men, and was angling for the souls of
these boys, and their interest in the school. Jim was careful not to flush
the covey, but every boy received from the next winter's teacher some
confidential hint as to plans, and some suggestion that Jim was relying on
the aid and comfort of that particular boy. Newt Bronson, especially, was
leaned on as a strong staff and a very present help in time of trouble. As
for Raymond Simms, it was clearly best to leave him alone. All this talk
of corn selection and related things was new to him, and he drank it in
thirstily. He had an inestimable advantage over Newt in that he was
starved, while Newt was surfeited with "advantages" for which he had no
use.

"Jennie," said Colonel Woodruff, after the party had broken up, "I'm
losing the best hand I ever had, and I've been sorry."

"I'm glad he's leaving you," said Jennie. "He ought to do something except
work in the field for wages."

"I've had no idea he could make good as a teacher--and what is there in it
if he does?"

"What has he lost if he doesn't?" rejoined Jennie. "And why can't he make
good?"

"The school board's against him, for one thing," replied the colonel.
"They'll fire him if they get a chance. They're the laughing-stock of the
country for hiring him by mistake, and they're irritated. But after seeing
him perform to-night, I wonder if he can't make good."

"If he could _feel_ like anything but an underling he'd succeed," said
Jennie.

"That's his heredity," stated the colonel, whose live-stock operations
were based on heredity. "Jim's a scrub, I suppose; but he acts as if he
might turn out to be a Brown Mouse."

"What do you mean, pa," scoffed Jennie--"a Brown Mouse!"

"A fellow in Edinburgh," said the colonel, "crossed the Japanese waltzing
mouse with the common white mouse. Jim's pedling father was a waltzing
mouse, no good except to jump from one spot to another for no good reason.
Jim's mother is an albino of a woman, with all the color washed out in one
way or another. Jim ought to be a mongrel, and I've always considered him
one. But the Edinburgh fellow every once in a while got out of his
variously-colored, waltzing and albino hybrids, a brown mouse. It wasn't a
common house mouse, either, but a wild mouse unlike any he had ever seen.
It ran away, and bit and gnawed, and raised hob. It was what we breeders
call a Mendelian segregation of genetic factors that had been in the
waltzers and albinos all the time--their original wild ancestor of the
woods and fields. If Jim turns out to be a Brown Mouse, he may be a bigger
man than any of us. Anyhow, I'm for him."

"He'll have to be a big man to make anything out of the job of a country
school-teacher," said Jennie.

"Any job's as big as the man who holds it down," said her father.

Next day, Jim received a letter from Jennie.

                   *       *       *       *       *

"Dear Jim," it ran. "Father says you are sure to have a hard time--the
school board's against you, and all that. But he added, 'I'm for Jim,
anyhow!' I thought you'd like to know this. Also he said, 'Any job's as
big as the man who holds it down,' And I believe this also, _and I'm for
you, too!_ You are doing wonders even before the school starts in getting
the pupils interested in a lot of things, which, while they don't belong
to school work, will make them friends of yours. I don't see how this will
help you much, but it's a fine thing, and shows your interest in them.
Don't be too original. The wheel runs easiest in the beaten track. Yours.
Jennie."

Jennie's caution made no impression on Jim--but he put the letter away,
and every evening took it out and read the italicized words, _"I'm for
you, too!"_ The colonel's dictum, "Any job's as big as the man who holds
it down," was an Emersonian truism to Jim. It reduced all jobs to an
equality, and it meant equality in intellectual and spiritual development.
It didn't mean, for instance, that any job was as good as another in
making it possible for a man to marry--and Jennie Woodruff's "Humph!"
returned to kill and drag off her "I'm for you, too!"



CHAPTER IV

THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL


I suppose every reader will say that genius consists very largely in
seeing Opportunity in the set of circumstances or thoughts or impressions
that constitute Opportunity, and making the best of them.

Jim Irwin would have said so, anyhow. He was full of his Emerson's
_Representative Men_, and his Carlyle's _French Revolution_, and the other
old-fashioned, excellent good literature which did not cost over
twenty-five cents a volume; and he had pored long and with many thrills
over the pages of Matthews' _Getting on in the World_--which is the best
book of purely conventional helpfulness in the language. And his view of
efficiency was that it is the capacity to see opportunity where others
overlook it, and make the most of it.

All through his life he had had his own plans for becoming great. He was
to be a general, hurling back the foes of his country; he was to be the
nation's master in literature; a successful drawing on his slate had
filled him with ambition, confidently entertained, of becoming a
Rubens--and the story of Benjamin West in his school reader fanned this
spark to a flame; science, too, had at times been his chosen field; and
when he had built a mousetrap which actually caught mice, he saw himself a
millionaire inventor. As for being president, that was a commonplace in
his dreams. And all the time, he was barefooted, ill-clad and dreamed his
dreams to the accompaniment of the growl of the plow cutting the roots
under the brown furrow-slice, or the wooshing of the milk in the pail. At
twenty-eight, he considered these dreams over.

As for this new employment, he saw no great opportunity in it. Of any
spark of genius he was to show in it, of anything he was to suffer in it,
of those pains and penalties wherewith the world pays its geniuses, Jim
Irwin anticipated nothing. He went into the small, mean, ill-paid task as
a part of the day's work, with no knowledge of the stirring of the nation
for a different sort of rural school, and no suspicion that there lay in
it any highway to success in life. He was not a college man or even a
high-school man. All his other dreams had found rude awakening in the fact
that he had not been able to secure the schooling which geniuses need in
these days. He was unfitted for the work geniuses do. All he was to be was
a rural teacher, accidentally elected by a stupid school board, and with a
hard tussle before him to stay on the job for the term of his contract. He
could have accepted positions quite as good years ago, save for the fact
that they would have taken him away from his mother, their cheap little
home, their garden and their fowls. He rather wondered why he had allowed
Jennie's sneer to sting him into the course of action which put him in
this new relation to his neighbors.

But, true to his belief in honest thorough work, like a general preparing
for battle, he examined his field of operations. His manner of doing this
seemed to prove to Colonel Woodruff, who watched it with keen interest as
something new in the world, that Jim Irwin was possibly a Brown Mouse. But
the colonel knew only a part of Jim's performances. He saw Jim clothed in
slickers, walking through rainstorms to the houses in the Woodruff
District, as greedy for every moment of rain as a haymaker for shine; and
he knew that Jim made a great many evening calls.

But he did not know that Jim was making what our sociologists call a
survey. For that matter, neither did Jim; for books on sociology cost more
than twenty-five cents a volume, and Jim had never seen one. However, it
was a survey. To be sure, he had long known everybody in the district,
save the Simmses--and he was now a friend of all that exotic race; but
there is knowing and knowing. He now had note-books full of facts about
people and their farms. He knew how many acres each family possessed, and
what sort of farming each husband was doing--live stock, grain or mixed.
He knew about the mortgages, and the debts. He knew whether the family
atmosphere was happy and contented, or the reverse. He knew which boys and
girls were wayward and insubordinate. He made a record of the advancement
in their studies of all the children, and what they liked to read. He knew
their favorite amusements. He talked with their mothers and sisters--not
about the school, to any extent, but on the weather, the horses, the
automobiles, the silo-filling machinery and the profits of farming.

I suppose that no person who has undertaken the management of the young
people of any school in all the history of education, ever did so much
work of this sort before his school opened. Really, though Jennie Woodruff
did not see how such doings related to school work, Jim Irwin's school was
running full blast in the homes of the district and the minds of many
pupils, weeks and weeks before that day when he called them to order on
the Monday specified in his contract as the first day of school.

Con Bonner, who came to see the opening, voiced the sentiments of the
older people when he condemned the school as disorderly. To be sure, there
were more pupils enrolled than had ever entered on a first day in the
whole history of the school, and it was hard to accommodate them all. But
the director's criticism was leveled against the free-and-easy air of the
children. Most of them had brought seed corn and a good-sized corn show
was on view. There was much argument as to the merits of the various
entries. Instead of a language lesson from the text-book, Jim had given
them an exercise based on an examination of the ears of corn.

The number exercises of the little chaps had been worked out with ears and
kernels of corn. One class in arithmetic calculated the percentage of
inferior kernels at tip and butt to the full-sized grains in the middle of
the ear.

All the time, Jim Irwin, awkward and uncouth, clad in his none-too-good
Sunday suit and trying to hide behind his Lincolnian smile the fact that
he was pretty badly frightened and much embarrassed, passed among them,
getting them enrolled, setting them to work, wasting much time and
laboring like a heavy-laden barge in a seaway.

"That feller'll never do," said Bonner to Bronson next day. "Looks like a
tramp in the schoolroom."

"Wearin' his best, I guess," said Bronson.

"Half the kids call him 'Jim,'" said Bonner.

"That's all right with me," replied Bronson.

"The room was as noisy as a caucus," was Bonner's next indictment, "and
the flure was all over corn like a hog-pin."

"Oh! I don't suppose he can get away with it," assented Bronson
disgustedly, "but that boy of mine is as tickled as a colt with the whole
thing. Says he's goin' reg'lar this winter."

"That's because Jim don't keep no order," said Bonner. "He lets Newt do as
he dam pleases."

"First time he's ever pleased to do anything but deviltry," protested
Bronson. "Oh, I suppose Jim'll fall down, and we'll have to fire him--but
I wish we could git a _good_ teacher that would git hold of Newt the way
he seems to!"



CHAPTER V

THE PROMOTION OF JENNIE


If Jennie Woodruff was the cause of Jim Irwin's sudden irruption into the
educational field by her scoffing "Humph!" at the idea of a farm-hand's
ever being able to marry, she also gave him the opportunity to knock down
the driver of the big motor-car, and perceptibly elevate himself in the
opinion of the neighborhood, while filling his own heart with something
like shame.

The fat man who had said "Cut it out" to his driver, was Mr. Charles
Dilly, a business man in the village at the extreme opposite corner of the
county. His choice of the Woodruff District as a place for motoring had a
secret explanation. I am under no obligation to preserve the secret. He
came to see Colonel Woodruff and Jennie. Mr. Dilly was a candidate for
county treasurer, and wished to be nominated at the approaching county
convention. In his part of the county lived the county superintendent--a
candidate for renomination. He was just a plain garden or field county
superintendent of schools, no better and no worse than the general
political run of them, but he had local pride enlisted in his cause, and
was a good politician.

Mr. Dilly was in the Woodruff District to build a backfire against this
conflagration of the county superintendent. He expected to use Jennie
Woodruff to light it withal. That is, while denying that he wished to make
any deal or trade--every candidate in every convention always says
that--he wished to say to Miss Woodruff and her father, that if Miss
Woodruff would permit her name to be used for the office of county
superintendent of schools, a goodly group of delegates could be selected
in the other corner of the county who would be glad to reciprocate any
favors Mr. Charles J. Dilly might receive in the way of votes for county
treasurer with ballots for Miss Jennie Woodruff for superintendent of
schools.

Mr. Dilly never inquired as to Miss Woodruff's abilities as an educator.
That would have been eccentric. Miss Woodruff never asked herself if she
knew anything about rural education which especially fitted her for the
task; for was she not a popular and successful teacher--and was not that
enough? Mr. Dilly merely asked himself if Miss Woodruff's name could
command strength enough to eliminate the embarrassing candidate in his
part of the county and leave the field to himself. Miss Woodruff asked
herself whether the work would not give her a pleasanter life than did
teaching, a better salary, and more chances to settle herself in life. So
are the officials chosen who supervise and control the education of the
farm children of America.

This secret mission to effect a political trade accounted for Mr. Dilly's
desire that his driver should "cut out" the controversy with Newton
Bronson, and the personal encounter with Jim Irwin--and it may account for
Jim's easy victory in his first and only physical encounter. An office
seeker could scarcely afford to let his friend or employee lick a member
of a farmers' road gang. It certainly explains the fact that when Jim
Irwin started home from putting out his team the day after his first call
on the Simms family, Jennie was waiting at the gate to be congratulated on
her nomination.

"I congratulate you," said Jim.

"Thanks," said Jennie, extending her hand.

"I hope you're elected," Jim went on, holding the hand; "but there's no
doubt of that."

"They say not," replied Jennie; "but father says I must go about and let
the people see me. He believes in working just as if we didn't have a big
majority for the ticket."

"A woman has an advantage of a man in such a contest," said Jim; "she can
work just as hard as he can, and at the same time profit by the fact that
it's supposed she can't."

"I need all the advantage I possess," said Jennie, "and all the votes. Say
a word for me when on your pastoral rounds."

"All right," said Jim, "what shall I say you'll do for the schools?"

"Why," said Jennie, rather perplexed, "I'll be fair in my examinations of
teachers, try to keep the unfit teachers out of the schools, visit schools
as often as I can, and--why, what does any good superintendent do?"

"I never heard of a good county superintendent," said Jim.

"Never heard of one--why, Jim Irwin!"

"I don't believe there is any such thing," persisted Jim, "and if you do
no more than you say, you'll be off the same piece as the rest. Your
system won't give us any better schools than we have--of the old sort--and
we need a new kind."

"Oh, Jim, Jim! Dreaming as of yore! Why can't you be practical! What do
you mean by a new kind of rural school?"

"A truly-rural rural school," said Jim.

"I can't pronounce it," smiled Jennie, "to say nothing of understanding
it. What would your tralalooral rural school do?"

"It would be correlated with rural life," said Jim.

"How?"

"It would get education out of the things the farmers and farmers' wives
are interested in as a part of their lives."

"What, for instance?"

"Dairying, for instance, in this district; and soil management; and
corn-growing; and farm manual training for boys; and sewing, cooking and
housekeeping for the girls--and caring for babies!"

Jennie looked serious, after smothering a laugh.

"Jim," said she, "you're going to have a hard enough time to succeed in
the Woodruff school, if you confine yourself to methods that have been
tested, and found good."

"But the old methods," urged Jim, "have been tested and found bad. Shall I
keep to them?"

"They have made the American people what they are," said Jennie. "Don't be
unpatriotic, Jim."

"They have educated our farm children for the cities," said Jim. "This
county is losing population--and it's the best county in the world."

"Pessimism never wins," said Jennie.

"Neither does blindness," answered Jim. "It is losing the farms their
dwellers, and swelling the cities with a proletariat."

For some time, now, Jim had ceased to hold Jennie's hand; and their
sweetheart days had never seemed farther away.

"Jim," said Jennie, "I may be elected to a position in which I shall be
obliged to pass on your acts as teacher--in an official way, I mean. I
hope they will be justifiable."

Jim smiled his slowest and saddest smile.

"If they're not, I'll not ask you to condone them," said he. "But first,
they must be justifiable to me, Jennie."

"Good night," said Jennie curtly, and left him.

Jennie, I am obliged to admit, gave scant attention to the new career upon
which her old sweetheart seemed to be entering. She was in politics, and
was playing the game as became the daughter of a local politician. The
reader must not by this term get the impression that Colonel Woodruff was
a man of the grafting tricky sort of which we are prone to think when the
term is used. The West has been ruled by just such men as he, and the West
has done rather well, all things considered. Colonel Albert Woodruff went
south with the army as a corporal in 1861, and came back a lieutenant. His
title of colonel was conferred by appointment as a member of the staff of
the governor, long years ago, when he was county auditor. He was not a
rich man, as I may have suggested, but a well-to-do farmer, whose wife did
her own work much of the time, not because the colonel could not afford to
hire "help," but for the reason that "hired girls" were hard to get.

The colonel, having seen the glory of the coming of the Lord in the
triumph of his side in the great war, was inclined to think that all
reform had ceased, and was a political stand-patter--a very honest and
sincere one. Moreover, he was influential enough so that when Mr. Cummins
or Mr. Dolliver came into the county on political errands, Colonel
Woodruff had always been called into conference. He was of the old New
England type, believed very much in heredity, very much in the theory that
whatever is is right, in so far as it has secured money or power.

He had hated General Weaver and his forces; and had sometimes wondered how
a man of Horace Boies' opinions had succeeded in being so good a governor.
He broke with Governor Larrabee when that excellent man had turned against
the great men who had developed Iowa by building the railroads. He was
always in the county convention, and preferred to serve on the committee
on credentials, and leave to others the more showy work of membership in
the committee on resolutions. He believed in education, provided it did
not unsettle things. He had a good deal of Latin and some Greek, and lived
on a farm rather than in a fine house in the county seat because of his
lack of financial ability. As a matter of fact, he had been too strictly
scrupulous to do the things--such as dealing in lands belonging to eastern
speculators who were not advised as to their values, speculating in county
warrants, buying up tax titles with county money, and the like--by which
his fellow-politicians who held office in the early years of the county
had founded their fortunes. A very respectable, honest, American tory was
the colonel, fond of his political sway, and rather soured by the fact
that it was passing from him. He had now broken with Cummins and Dolliver
as he had done years ago with Weaver and later with Larrabee--and this
breach was very important to him, whether they were greatly concerned
about it or not.

Such being her family history, Jennie was something of a politician
herself. She was in no way surprised when approached by party managers on
the subject of accepting the nomination for county superintendent of
schools. Colonel Woodruff could deliver some delegates to his daughter,
though he rather shied at the proposal at first, but on thinking it over,
warmed somewhat to the notion of having a Woodruff on the county pay-roll
once more.



CHAPTER VI

JIM TALKS THE WEATHER COLD


"Going to the rally, James?"

Jim had finished his supper, and yearned for a long evening in his attic
den with his cheap literature. But as the district schoolmaster he was to
some extent responsible for the protection of the school property, and
felt some sense of duty as to exhibiting an interest in public affairs.

"I guess I'll have to go, mother," he replied regretfully. "I want to see
Mr. Woodruff about borrowing his Babcock milk tester, and I'll go that
way. I guess I'll go on to the meeting."

He kissed his mother when he went--a habit from which he never deviated,
and another of those personal peculiarities which had marked him as
different from the other boys of the neighborhood. His mother urged his
overcoat upon him in vain--for Jim's overcoat was distinctly a bad one,
while his best suit, now worn every day as a concession to his scholastic
position, still looked passably well after several weeks of schoolroom
duty. She pressed him to wear a muffler about his neck, but he declined
that also. He didn't need it, he said; but he was thinking of the
incongruity of a muffler with no overcoat. It seemed more logical to
assume that the weather was milder than it really was, on that sharp
October evening, and appear at his best, albeit rather aware of the cold.
Jennie was at home, and he was likely to see and be seen of her.

"You can borrow that tester," said the colonel, "and the cows that go with
it, if you can use 'em. They ain't earning their keep here. But how does
the milk tester fit into the curriculum of the school? A decoration?"

"We want to make a few tests of the cows in the neighborhood," answered
Jim. "Just another of my fool notions."

"All right," said the colonel. "Take it along. Going to the speakin'?"

"Certainly, he's going," said Jennie, entering. "This is my meeting,
Jim."

"Surely, I'm going," assented Jim. "And I think I'll run along."

"I wish we had room for you in the car," said the colonel. "But I'm going
around by Bronson's to pick up the speaker, and I'll have a chuck-up
load."

"Not so much of a load as you think," said Jennie. "I'm going with Jim.
The walk will do me good."

Any candidate warms to her voting population just before election; but
Jennie had a special kindness for Jim. He was no longer a farm-hand. The
fact that he was coming to be a center of disturbance in the district, and
that she quite failed to understand how his eccentric behavior could be
harmonized with those principles of teaching which she had imbibed at the
state normal school in itself lifted him nearer to equality with her. A
public nuisance is really more respectable than a nonentity.

She gave Jim a thrill as she passed through the gate that he opened for
her. White moonlight on her white furs suggested purity, exaltation, the
essence of womanhood--things far finer in the woman of twenty-seven than
the glamour thrown over him by the schoolgirl of sixteen.

Jim gave her no thrill; for he looked gaunt and angular in his skimpy,
ready-made suit, too short in legs and sleeves, and too thin for the
season. Yet, as they walked along, Jim grew upon her. He strode on with
immense strides, made slow to accommodate her shorter steps, and
embarrassing her by his entire absence of effort to keep step. For all
that, he lifted his face to the stars, and he kept silence, save for
certain fragments of his thoughts, in dropping which he assumed that she,
like himself, was filled with the grandeur of the sparkling sky, its vast
moon, plowing like an astronomical liner through the cloudlets of a
wool-pack. He pointed out the great open spaces in the Milky Way,
wondering at their emptiness, and at the fact that no telescope can find
stars in them.

They stopped and looked. Jim laid his hard hands on the shoulders of her
white fur collarette.

"What's the use of political meetings," said Jim, "when you and I can
stand here and think our way out, even beyond the limits of our
Universe?"

"A wonderful journey," said she, not quite understanding his mood, but
very respectful to it.

"And together," said Jim. "I'd like to go on a long, long journey with you
to-night, Jennie, to make up for the years since we went anywhere
together."

"And we shouldn't have come together to-night," said Jennie, getting back
to earth, "if I hadn't exercised my leap-year privilege."

She slipped her arm in his, and they went on in a rather intimate way.

"I'm not to blame, Jennie," said he. "You know that at any time I'd have
given anything--anything--"

"And even now," said Jennie, taking advantage of his depleted stock of
words, "while we roam beyond the Milky Way, we aren't getting any votes
for me for county superintendent."

Jim said nothing. He was quite, quite reestablished on the earth.

"Don't you want me to be elected, Jim?"

Jim seemed to ponder this for some time--a period of taking the matter
under advisement which caused Jennie to drop his arm and busy herself with
her skirts.

"Yes," said Jim, at last; "of course I do."

Nothing more was said until they reached the schoolhouse door.

"Well," said Jennie rather indignantly, "I'm glad there are plenty of
voters who are more enthusiastic about me than you seem to be!"

More interesting to a keen observer than the speeches, were the unusual
things in the room itself. To be sure, there were on the blackboards
exercises and outlines, of lessons in language, history, mathematics,
geography and the like. But these were not the usual things taken from
text-books. The problems in arithmetic were calculations as to the feeding
value of various rations for live stock, records of laying hens and
computation as to the excess of value in eggs produced over the cost of
feed. Pinned to the wall were market reports on all sorts of farm
products, and especially numerous were the statistics on the prices of
cream and butter. There were files of farm papers piled about, and racks
of agricultural bulletins. In one corner of the room was a typewriting
machine, and in another a sewing machine. Parts of an old telephone were
scattered about on the teacher's desk. A model of a piggery stood on a
shelf, done in cardboard. Instead of the usual collection of text-books in
the desk, there were hectograph copies of exercises, reading lessons,
arithmetical tables and essays on various matters relating to agriculture,
all of which were accounted for by two or three hand-made hectographs--a
very fair sort of printing plant--lying on a table. The members of the
school board were there, looking on these evidences of innovation with
wonder and more or less disfavor. Things were disorderly. The text-books
recently adopted by the board against some popular protest had evidently
been pitched, neck and crop, out of the school by the man whom Bonner had
termed a dub. It was a sort of contempt for the powers that be.

Colonel Woodruff was in the chair. After the speechifying was over, and
the stereotyped, though rather illogical, appeal had been made for voters
of the one party to cast the straight ticket, and for those of the other
faction to scratch, the colonel rose to adjourn the meeting.

Newton Bronson, safely concealed behind taller people, called out, "Jim
Irwin! speech!"

There was a giggle, a slight sensation, and many voices joined in the call
for the new schoolmaster.

Colonel Woodruff felt the unwisdom of ignoring the demand. Probably he
relied upon Jim's discretion and expected a declination.

Jim arose, seedy and lank, and the voices ceased, save for another
suppressed titter.

"I don't know," said Jim, "whether this call upon me is a joke or not. If
it is, it isn't a practical one, for I can't talk. I don't care much about
parties or politics. I don't know whether I'm a Democrat, a Republican or
a Populist."

This caused a real sensation. The nerve of the fellow! Really, it must in
justice be said, Jim was losing himself in a desire to tell his true
feelings. He forgot all about Jennie and her candidacy--about everything
except his real, true feelings. This proves that he was no politician.

"I don't see much in this county campaign that interests me," he went
on--and Jennie Woodruff reddened, while her seasoned father covered his
mouth with his hand to conceal a smile. "The politicians come out into the
farming districts every campaign and get us hayseeds for anything they
want. They always have got us. They've got us again! They give us
clodhoppers the glad hand, a cheap cigar, and a cheaper smile after
election;--and that's all. I know it, you all know it, they know it. I
don't blame them so very much. The trouble is we don't ask them to do
anything better. I want a new kind of rural school; but I don't see any
prospect, no matter how this election goes, for any change in them. We in
the Woodruff District will have to work out our own salvation. Our
political ring never'll do anything but the old things. They don't want
to, and they haven't sense enough to do it if they did. That's all--and I
don't suppose I should have said as much as I have!"

There was stark silence for a moment when he sat down, and then as many
cheers for Jim as for the principal speaker of the evening, cheers mingled
with titters and catcalls. Jim felt a good deal as he had done when he
knocked down Mr. Billy's chauffeur--rather degraded and humiliated, as if
he had made an ass of himself. And as he walked out of the door, the
future county superintendent passed by him in high displeasure, and walked
home with some one else.

Jim found the weather much colder than it had been while coming. He really
needed an Eskimo's fur suit.



CHAPTER VII

THE NEW WINE


In the little strip of forest which divided the sown from the Iowa sown
wandered two boys in earnest converse. They seemed to be Boy Trappers, and
from their backloads of steel-traps one of them might have been Frank
Merriwell, and the other Dead-Shot Dick. However, though it was only
mid-December, and the fur of all wild varmints was at its primest, they
were bringing their traps into the settlements, instead of taking them
afield. "The settlements" were represented by the ruinous dwelling of the
Simmses, and the boy who resembled Frank Merriwell was Raymond Simms. The
other, who was much more barbarously accoutered, whose overalls were
fringed, who wore a cartridge belt about his person, and carried hatchet,
revolver, and a long knife with a deerfoot handle, and who so studiously
looked like Dead-Shot Dick, was our old friend of the road gang, Newton
Bronson. On the right, on the left, a few rods would have brought the boys
out upon the levels of rich corn-fields, and in sight of the long rows of
cottonwoods, willows, box-elders and soft maples along the straight roads,
and of the huge red barns, each of which possessed a numerous progeny of
outbuildings, among which the dwelling held a dubious headship. But here,
they could be the Boy Trappers--a thin fringe of bushes and trees made of
the little valley a forest to the imagination of the boys. Newton put down
his load, and sat upon a stump to rest.

Raymond Simms was dimly conscious of a change in Newton since the day when
they met and helped select Colonel Woodruff's next year's seed corn.
Newton's mother had a mother's confidence that Newton was now a good boy,
who had been led astray by other boys, but had reformed. Jim Irwin had a
distinct feeling of optimism. Newton had quit tobacco and beer, casually
stating to Jim that he was "in training." Since Jim had shown his ability
to administer a knockout to that angry chauffeur, he seemed to this
hobbledehoy peculiarly a proper person for athletic confidences. Newton's
mind seemed gradually filling up with interests that displaced the
psychological complex out of which oozed the bad stories and filthy
allusion. Jim attributed much of this to the clear mountain atmosphere
which surrounded Raymond Simms, the ignorant barbarian driven out of his
native hills by a feud. Raymond was of the open spaces, and refused to
hear fetid things that seemed out of place in them. There was a dignity
which impressed Newton, in the blank gaze with which Raymond greeted
Newton's sallies that were wont to set the village pool room in a roar;
but how could you have a fuss with a feller who knew all about trapping,
who had seen a man shot, who had shot a bear, who had killed wild turkeys,
who had trapped a hundred dollars' worth of furs in one winter, who knew
the proper "sets" for all fur-bearing animals, and whom you liked, and who
liked you?

As the reason for Newton's improvement in manner of living, Raymond, out
of his own experience, would have had no hesitation in naming the school
and the schoolmaster.

"I wouldn't go back on a friend," said Newton, seated on the stump with
his traps on the ground at his feet, "the way you're going back on me."

"You got no call to talk thataway," replied the mountain boy. "How'm I
goin' back on you?"

"We was goin' to trap all winter," asseverated Newton, "and next winter we
were goin' up in the north woods together."

"You know," said Raymond somberly, "that we cain't run any trap line and
do whut we got to do to he'p Mr. Jim."

Newton sat mute as one having no rejoinder.

"Mr. Jim," went on Raymond, "needs all the he'p every kid in this
settlement kin give him. He's the best friend I ever had. I'm a pore
ignerant boy, an' he teaches me how to do things that will make me
something."

"Darn it all!" said Newton.

"You know," said Raymond, "that you'd think mahgty small of me, if I'd
desert Mr. Jim Irwin."

"Well, then," replied Newton, seizing his traps and throwing them across
his shoulder, "come on with the traps, and shut up! What'll we do when the
school board gets Jennie Woodruff to revoke his certificate and make him
quit teachin', hey?"

"Nobody'll eveh do that," said Raymond. "I'd set in the schoolhouse do'
with my rifle and shoot anybody that'd come to th'ow Mr. Jim outen the
school."

"Not in this country," said Newton. "This ain't a gun country."

"But it orto be either a justice kentry, or a gun kentry," replied the
mountain boy. "It stands to reason it must be one 'r the otheh, Newton."

"No, it don't, neither," said Newton dogmatically.

"Why should they th'ow Mr. Jim outen the school?" inquired Raymond. "Ain't
he teachin' us right?"

Newton explained for the tenth time that his father, Mr. Con Bonner and
Mr. Haakon Peterson had not meant to hire Jim Irwin at all, but each had
voted for him so that he might have one vote. They were all against him
from the first, but they had not known how to get rid of him. Now,
however, Jim had done so many things that no teacher was supposed to do,
and had left undone so many things that teachers were bound by custom to
perform, that Newton's father and Mr. Bonner and Mr. Peterson had made up
up their minds that they would call upon him to resign, and if he
wouldn't, they would "turn him out" in some way. And the best way if they
could do it, would be to induce County Superintendent Woodruff, who didn't
like Jim since the speech he made at the political meeting, to revoke his
certificate.

"What wrong's he done committed?" asked Raymond. "I don't know what
teachers air supposed to do in this kentry, but Mr. Jim seems to be the
only shore-enough teacher I ever see!"

"He don't teach out of the books the school board adopted," replied
Newton.

"But he makes up better lessons," urged Raymond. "An' all the things we do
in school, he'ps us make a livin'."

"He begins at eight in the mornin'," said Newton, "an' he has some of us
there till half past five, and comes back in the evening. And every
Saturday, some of the kids are doin' something at the schoolhouse."

"They don't pay him for overtime, do they?" queried Raymond. "Well, then,
they orto, instid of turnin' him out!"

"Well, they'll turn him out!" prophesied Newton. "I'm havin' more fun in
school than I ever--an' that's why I'm with you on this quittin'
trapping--but they'll get Jim, all right!"

"I'm having something betteh'n fun," replied Raymond. "My pap has never
understood this kentry, an' we-all has had bad times hyeh; but Mr. Jim an'
I have studied out how I can make a betteh livin' next year--and pap says
we kin go on the way Mr. Jim says. I'll work for Colonel Woodruff a part
of the time, an' pap kin make corn in the biggest field. It seems we
didn't do our work right last year--an' in a couple of years, with the
increase of the hawgs, an' the land we kin get under plow...."

Raymond was off on his pet dream of becoming something better than the
oldest of the Simms tribe of outcasts, and Newton was subconsciously
impressed by the fact that never for a moment did Raymond's plans fail to
include the elevation with him of Calista and Jinnie and Buddy and Pap and
Mam. It was taken for granted that the Simmses sank or swam together,
whether their antagonists were poverty and ignorance, or their ancient
foes, the Hobdays. Newton drew closer to Raymond's side.

It was still an hour before nine--when the rural school traditionally
"takes up"--when the boys had stored their traps in a shed at the Bronson
home, and walked on to the schoolhouse. That rather scabby and weathered
edifice was already humming with industry of a sort. In spite of the
hostility of the school board, and the aloofness of the patrons of the
school, the pupils were clearly interested in Jim Irwin's system of rural
education. Never had the attendance been so large or regular; and one of
the reasons for sessions before nine and after four was the inability of
the teacher to attend to the needs of his charges in the five and a half
hours called "school hours."

This, however, was not the sole reason. It was the new sort of work which
commanded the attention of Raymond and Newton as they entered. This
morning, Jim had arranged in various sorts of dishes specimens of grain
and grass seeds. By each was a card bearing the name of the farm from
which one of the older boys or girls had brought it. "Wheat, Scotch Fife,
from the farm of Columbus Smith." "Timothy, or Herd's Grass, from the farm
of A. B. Talcott." "Alsike Clover, from the farm of B. B. Hamm." Each lot
was in a small cloth bag which had been made by one of the little girls as
a sewing exercise; and each card had been written as a lesson in
penmanship by one of the younger pupils, and contained, in addition to the
data above mentioned, heads under which to enter the number of grains of
the seed examined, the number which grew, the percentage of viability, the
number of alien seeds of weeds and other sorts, the names of these
adulterants, the weight of true and vitalized, and of foul and alien and
dead seeds, the value per bushel in the local market of the seeds under
test, and the real market values of the samples, after dead seeds and
alien matter had been subtracted.

"Now get busy, here," cried Jim Irwin. "We're late! Raymond, you've a
quick eye--you count seeds--and you, Calista, and Mary Smith--and mind,
next year's crop may depend on making no mistakes!"

"Mistakes!" scoffed Mary Smith, a dumpy girl of fourteen. "We don't make
mistakes any more, teacher."

It was a frolic, rather than a task. All had come with a perfect
understanding that this early attendance was quite illegal, and not to be
required of them--but they came.

"Newt," suggested Jim, "get busy on the percentage problems for that
second class in arithmetic."

"Sure," said Newt. "Let's see.... Good seed is the base, and bad seed and
dead seed the percentage--find the rate...."

"Oh, you know!" said Jim. "Make them easy and plain and as many as you can
get out--and be sure that you name the farm every pop!"

"Got you!" answered Newton, and in a fine frenzy went at the job of
creating a text-book in arithmetic.

"Buddy," said Jim, patting the youngest Simms on the head, "you and
Virginia can print the reading lessons this morning, can't you?"

"Yes, Mr. Jim," answered both McGeehee Simms and his sister cheerily.
"Where's the copy?"

"Here," answered the teacher, handing each a typewritten sheet for use as
the original from which the young mountaineers were to make hectograph
copies, "and mind you make good copies! Bettina Hansen pretty nearly cried
last night because she had to write them over so many times on the
typewriter before she got them all right."

The reading lesson was an article on corn condensed from a farm paper, and
a selection from _Hiawatha_--the Indian-corn myth.

"We'll be careful, Mr. Jim," said Buddy.

Half past eight, and only half an hour until school would officially be
"called."

Newton Bronson was writing in aniline ink for the hectographs, such
problems as these:

"If Mr. Ezra Bronson's seed wheat carries in each 250 grains, ten cockle
grains, fifteen rye grains, twenty fox-tail seeds, three iron-weed seeds,
two wild oats grains, twenty-seven wild buckwheat seeds, one wild
morning-glory seed, and eighteen lamb's quarter seeds, what percentage of
the seeds sown is wheat, and what foul seed?"

"If in each 250 grains of wheat in Mr. Bronson's bins, 30 are cracked,
dead or otherwise not capable of sprouting, what per cent, of the seed
sown will grow?"

"If the foul seed and dead wheat amount to one-eighth by weight of the
mass, what did Mr. Bronson pay per bushel for the good wheat, if it cost
him $1.10 in the bin, and what per cent, did he lose by the adulterations
and the poor wheat?"

Jim ran over these rapidly. "Your mathematics is good, Newton," said the
schoolmaster, "but if you expect to pass in penmanship, you'll have to
take more pains."

"How about the grammar?" asked Newton. "The writing is pretty bad, I'll
own up."

"The grammar is good this morning. You're gradually mastering the art of
stating a problem in arithmetic in English--and that's improvement."

The hands of Jim Irwin's dollar watch gradually approached the position
indicating nine o'clock--at which time the schoolmaster rapped on his desk
and the school came to order. Then, for a while, it became like other
schools. A glance over the room enabled him to enter the names of the
absentees, and those tardy. There was a song by the school, the recitation
in concert of _Little Brown Hands_, some general remarks and directions by
the teacher, and the primary pupils came forward for their reading
exercises. A few classes began poring over their text-books, but most of
the pupils had their work passed out to them in the form of hectograph
copies of exercises prepared in the school itself.

As the little ones finished their recitations, they passed to the dishes
of wheat, and began aiding Raymond's squad in the counting and classifying
of the various seeds. They counted to five, and they counted the fives.
They laughed in a subdued way, and whispered constantly, but nobody seemed
disturbed.

"Do they help much, Calista?" asked the teacher, as the oldest Simms girl
came to his desk for more wheat.

"No, seh, not much," replied Calista, beaming, "but they don't hold us
back any--and maybe they do he'p a little."

"That's good," said Jim, "and they enjoy it, don't they?"

"Oh, yes, Mr. Jim," assented Calista, "and the way Buddy is learnin' to
count is fine! They-all will soon know all the addition they is, and a lot
of multiplication. Angie Talcott knows the kinds of seeds better'n what I
do!"



CHAPTER VIII

AND THE OLD BOTTLES


The day passed. Four o'clock came. In order that all might reach home for
supper, there was no staying, except that Newt Bronson and Raymond Simms
remained to sweep and dust the schoolroom, and prepare kindling for the
next morning's fire--a work they had taken upon themselves, so as to
enable the teacher to put on the blackboards such outlines for the
morrow's class work as might be required. Jim was writing on the board a
list of words constituting a spelling exercise. They were not from the
text-book, but grew naturally out of the study of the seed
wheat--"cockle," "morning-glory," "convolvulus," "viable," "viability,"
"sprouting," "iron-weed" and the like. A tap was heard at the door, and
Raymond Simms opened it.

In filed three women--and Jim Irwin knew as he looked at them that he was
greeting a deputation, and felt that it meant a struggle. For they were
the wives of the members of the school board. He placed for them the three
available chairs, and in the absence of any for himself remained standing
before them, a gaunt shabby-looking revolutionist at the bar of settled
usage and fixed public opinion.

Mrs. Haakon Peterson was a tall blonde woman who, when she spoke betrayed
her Scandinavian origin by the northern burr to her "r's," and a slight
difficulty with her "j's," her "y's" and long "a's." She was slow-spoken
and dignified, and Jim felt an instinctive respect for her personality.
Mrs. Bronson was a good motherly woman, noted for her housekeeping, and
for her church activities. She looked oftener at her son, and his friend
Raymond than at the schoolmaster. Mrs. Bonner was the most voluble of the
three, and was the only one who shook hands with Jim; but in spite of her
rather offhand manner, Jim sensed in the little, black-eyed Irishwoman the
real commander of the expedition against him--for such he knew it to be.

"You may think it strange of us coming after hours," said she, "but we
wanted to speak to you, teacher, without the children here."

"I wish more of the parents would call," said Jim. "At any hour of the
day."

"Or night either, I dare say," suggested Mrs. Bonner. "I hear you've the
scholars here at all hours, Jim."

Jim smiled his slow patient smile.

"We do break the union rules, I guess, Mrs. Bonner," said he; "there seems
to be more to do than we can get done during school hours."

"What right have ye," struck in Mrs. Bonner, "to be burning the district's
fuel, and wearing out the school's property out of hours like that--not
that it's anny of my business," she interposed, hastily, as if she had
been diverted from her chosen point of attack. "I just thought of it,
that's all. What we came for, Mr. Irwin, is to object to the way the
teachin's being done--corn and wheat, and hogs and the like, instead of
the learnin' schools was made to teach."

"Schools were made to prepare children for life, weren't they, Mrs.
Bonner?"

"To be sure," went on Mrs. Bonner, "I can see an' the whole district can
see that it's easier for a man that's been a farm-hand to teach farm-hand
knowledge, than the learnin' schools was set up to teach; but if so be he
hasn't the book education to do the right thing, we think he should get
out and give a real teacher a chance."

"What am I neglecting?" asked Jim mildly.

Mrs. Bonner seemed unprepared for the question, and sat for an instant
mute. Mrs. Peterson interposed her attack while Mrs. Bonner might be
recovering her wind.

"We people that have had a hard time," she said in a precise way which
seemed to show that she knew exactly what she wanted, "want to give our
boys and girls a chance to live easier lives than we lived. We don't want
our children taught about nothing but work. We want higher things."

"Mrs. Peterson," said Jim earnestly, "we must have first things first.
Making a living is the first thing--and the highest."

"Haakon and I will look after making a living for our family," said she.
"We want our children to learn nice things, and go to high school, and
after a while to the Juniwersity."

"And I," declared Jim, "will send out from this school, if you will let
me, pupils better prepared for higher schools than have ever gone from
it--because they will be trained to think in terms of action. They will go
knowing that thoughts must always be linked with things. Aren't your
children happy in school, Mrs. Peterson?"

"I don't send them to school to be happy, Yim," replied Mrs. Peterson,
calling him by the name most familiarly known to all of them; "I send them
to learn to be higher people than their father and mother. That's what
America means!"

"They'll be higher people--higher than their parents--higher than their
teacher--they'll be efficient farmers, and efficient farmers' wives.
They'll be happy, because they will know how to use more brains in farming
than any lawyer or doctor or merchant can possibly use in his business.
I'm educating them to find an outlet for genius in farming!"

"It's a fine thing," said Mrs. Bonner, coming to the aid of her fellow
soldiers, "to work hard for a lifetime, an' raise nothing but a family of
farmers! A fine thing!"

"They will be farmers anyhow," cried Jim, "in spite of your
efforts--ninety out of every hundred of them! And of the other ten, nine
will be wage-earners in the cities, and wish to God they were back on the
farm; and the hundredth one will succeed in the city. Shall we educate the
ninety-and-nine to fail, that the hundredth, instead of enriching the
rural life with his talents, may steal them away to make the city
stronger? It is already too strong for us farmers. Shall we drive our best
away to make it stronger?"

The guns of Mrs. Bonner and Mrs. Peterson were silenced for a moment, and
Mrs. Bronson, after gazing about at the typewriter, the hectograph, the
exhibits of weed seeds, the Babcock milk tester, and the other
unscholastic equipment, pointed to the list of words, and the arithmetic
problems on the board.

"Do you get them words from the speller?" she asked.

"No," said he, "we got them from a lesson on seed wheat."

"Did them examples come out of an arithmetic book?" cross-examined she.

"No," said Jim, "we used problems we made ourselves. We were figuring
profits and losses on your cows, Mrs. Bronson!"

"Ezra Bronson," said Mrs. Bronson loftily, "don't need any help in telling
what's a good cow. He was farming before you was born!"

"Like fun, he don't need help! He's going to dry old Cherry off and fatten
her for beef; and he can make more money on the cream by beefing about
three more of 'em. The Babcock test shows they're just boarding on us
without paying their board!"

The delegation of matrons ruffled like a group of startled hens at this
interposition, which was Newton Bronson's effective seizing of the
opportunity to issue a progress bulletin in the research work on the
Bronson dairy herd.

"Newton!" said his mother, "don't interrupt me when I'm talking to the
teacher!"

"Well, then," said Newton, "don't tell the teacher that pa knew which cows
were good and which were poor. If any one in this district wants to know
about their cows they'll have to come to this shop. And I can tell you
that it'll pay 'em to come too, if they're going to make anything selling
cream. Wait until we get out our reports on the herds, ma!"

The women were rather stampeded by this onslaught of the irregular
troops--especially Mrs. Bronson. She was placed in the position of a woman
taking a man's wisdom from her ne'er-do-well son for the first time in her
life. Like any other mother in this position, she felt a flutter of
pride--but it was strongly mingled with a motherly desire to spank him.
The deputation rose, with a unanimous feeling that they had been scored
upon.

"Cows!" scoffed Mrs. Peterson. "If we leave you in this yob, Mr. Irwin,
our children will know nothing but cows and hens and soils and grains--and
where will the culture come in? How will our boys and girls appear when we
get fixed so we can move to town? We won't have no culture at all, Yim!"

"Culture!" exclaimed Jim. "Why--why, after ten years of the sort of school
I would give you if I were a better teacher, and could have my way, the
people of the cities would be begging to have their children admitted so
that they might obtain real culture--culture fitting them for life in the
twentieth century--"

"Don't bother to get ready for the city children, Jim," said Mrs. Bonner
sneeringly, "you won't be teaching the Woodruff school that long."

All this time, the dark-faced Cracker had been glooming from a corner,
earnestly seeking to fathom the wrongness he sensed in the gathering. Now
he came forward.

"I reckon I may be making a mistake to say anything," said he, "f'r we-all
is strangers hyeh, an' we're pore; but I must speak out for Mr. Jim--I
must! Don't turn him out, folks, f'r he's done mo' f'r us than eveh any
one done in the world!"

"What do you mean?" asked Mrs. Peterson.

"I mean," said Raymond, "that when Mr. Jim began talking school to us, we
was a pore no-'count lot without any learnin', with nothin' to talk about
except our wrongs, an' our enemies, and the meanness of the Iowa folks.
You see we didn't understand you-all. An' now, we have hope. We done got
hope from this school. We're goin' to make good in the world. We're
getting education. We're all learnin' to use books. My little sister will
be as good as anybody, if you'll just let Mr. Jim alone in this school--as
good as any one. An' I'll he'p pap get a farm, and we'll work and think at
the same time, an' be happy!"



CHAPTER IX

JENNIE ARRANGES A CHRISTMAS PARTY


The great party magnates who made up the tickets from governor down to the
lowest county office, doubtless regarded the little political plum shaken
off into the apron of Miss Jennie Woodruff of the Woodruff District, as
the very smallest and least bloomy of all the plums on the tree; but there
is something which tends to puff one up in the mere fact of having
received the votes of the people for any office, especially in a region of
high average civilization, covering six hundred or seven hundred square
miles of good American domain. Jennie was a sensible country girl. Being
sensible, she tried to avoid uppishness. But she did feel some little
sense of increased importance as she drove her father's little
one-cylinder runabout over the smooth earth roads, in the crisp December
weather, just before Christmas.

The weather itself was stimulating, and she was making rapid progress in
the management of the little car which her father had offered to lend her
for use in visiting the one hundred or more rural schools soon to come
under her supervision. She rather fancied the picture of herself, clothed
in more or less authority and queening it over her little army of
teachers.

Mr. Haakon Peterson was phlegmatically conscious that she made rather an
agreeable picture, as she stopped her car alongside his top buggy to talk
with him. She had bright blue eyes, fluffy brown hair, a complexion
whipped pink by the breeze, and she smiled at him ingratiatingly.

"Don't you think father is lovely?" said she. "He is going to let me use
the runabout when I visit the schools."

"That will be good," said Haakon. "It will save you lots of time. I hope
you make the county pay for the gasoline."

"I haven't thought about that," said Jennie. "Everybody's been so nice to
me--I want to give as well as receive."

"Why," said Haakon, "you will yust begin to receive when your salary
begins in Yanuary."

"Oh, no!" said Jennie. "I've received much more than that now! You don't
know how proud I feel. So many nice men I never knew before, and all my
old friends like you working for me in the convention and at the polls,
just as if I amounted to something."

"And you don't know how proud I feel," said Haakon, "to have in county
office a little girl I used to hold on my lap."

In early times, when Haakon was a flat-capped immigrant boy, he had earned
the initial payment on his first eighty acres of prairie land as a hired
man on Colonel Woodruff's farm. Now he was a rather richer man than the
colonel, and not a little proud of his ascent to affluence. He was a
mild-spoken, soft-voiced Scandinavian, quite completely Americanized, and
possessed of that aptitude for local politics which makes so good a
citizen of the Norwegian and Swede. His influence was always worth fifty
to sixty Scandinavian votes in any county election. He was a good party
man and conscious of being entitled to his voice in party matters. This
seemed to him an opportunity for exerting a bit of political influence.

"Yennie," said he, "this man Yim Irwin needs to be lined up."

"Lined up! What do you mean?"

"The way he is doing in the school," said Haakon, "is all wrong. If you
can't line him up, he will make you trouble. We must look ahead. Everybody
has his friends, and Yim Irwin has his friends. If you have trouble with
him, his friends will be against you when we want to nominate you for a
second term. The county is getting close. If we go to conwention without
your home delegation it would weaken you, and if we nominate you, every
piece of trouble like this cuts down your wote. You ought to line him up
and have him do right."

"But he is so funny," said Jennie.

"He likes you," said Haakon. "You can line him up."

Jennie blushed, and to conceal her slight embarrassment, got out for the
purpose of cranking her machine.

"But if I can not line him up?" said she.

"I tank," said Haakon, "if you can't line him up, you will have a chance
to rewoke his certificate when you take office."

So Jim Irwin was to be crushed like an insect. The little local gearing of
the big party machine was to crush him. Jennie dimly sensed the tragedy of
it, but very dimly. Mainly she thought of Mr. Peterson's suggestion as to
"lining up" Jim Irwin as so thoroughly sensible that she gave it a good
deal of thought that day. She could not help feeling a little resentment
at Jim for following his own fads and fancies so far. We always resent the
necessity of crushing any weak creature which must needs be wiped out. The
idea that there could be anything fundamentally sane in his overturning of
the old and tried school methods under which both he and she had been
educated, was absurd to Jennie. To be sure, everybody had always favored
"more practical education," and Jim's farm arithmetic, farm physiology,
farm reading and writing, cow-testing exercises, seed analysis, corn clubs
and the tomato, poultry and pig clubs he proposed to have in operation the
next summer, seemed highly practical; but to Jennie's mind, the fact that
they introduced dissension in the neighborhood and promised to make her
official life vexatious, seemed ample proof that Jim's work was visionary
and impractical. Poor Jennie was not aware of the fact that new truth
always comes bringing, not peace to mankind, but a sword.

"Father," said she that night, "let's have a little Christmas party."

"All right," said the colonel. "Whom shall we invite?"

"Don't laugh," said she. "I want to invite Jim Irwin and his mother, and
nobody else."

"All right," reiterated the colonel. "But why?"

"Oh," said Jennie, "I want to see whether I can talk Jim out of some of
his foolishness."

"You want to line him up, do you?" said the colonel. "Well, that's good
politics, and incidentally, you may get some good ideas out of Jim."

"Rather unlikely," said Jennie.

"I don't know about that," said the colonel, smiling. "I begin to think
that Jim's a Brown Mouse. I've told you about the Brown Mouse, haven't
I?"

"Yes," said Jennie. "You've told me. But Professor Darbishire's brown mice
were simply wild and incorrigible creatures. Just because it happens to
emerge suddenly from the forests of heredity, it doesn't prove that the
Brown Mouse is any good."

"Justin Morgan was a Brown Mouse," said the colonel. "And he founded the
greatest breed of horses in the world."

"You say that," said Jennie, "because you're a lover of the Morgan
horse."

"Napoleon Bonaparte was a Brown Mouse," said the colonel. "So was George
Washington, and so was Peter the Great. Whenever a Brown Mouse appears he
changes things in a little way or a big way."

"For the better, always?" asked Jennie.

"No," said the colonel. "The Brown Mouse may throw back to slant-headed
savagery. But Jim ... sometimes I think Jim is the kind of Mendelian
segregation out of which we get Franklins and Edisons and their sort. You
may get some good ideas out of Jim. Let us have them here for Christmas,
by all means."

In due time Jennie's invitation reached Jim and his mother, like an
explosive shell fired from a distance into their humble dwelling--quite
upsetting things. Twenty-five years constitute rather a long wait for
social recognition, and Mrs. Irwin had long since regarded herself as
quite outside society. To be sure, for something like half of this period,
she had been of society if not in it. She had done the family washings,
scrubbings and cleanings, had made the family clothes and been a woman of
all work, passing from household to household, in an orbit determined by
the exigencies of threshing, harvesting, illness and child-bearing. At
such times she sat at the family table and participated in the
neighborhood gossip, in quite the manner of a visiting aunt or other
female relative; but in spite of the democracy of rural life, there is and
always has been a social difference between a hired woman and an invited
guest. And when Jim, having absorbed everything which the Woodruff school
could give him in the way of education, found his first job at "making a
hand," Mrs. Irwin, at her son's urgent request, ceased going out to work
for a while, until she could get back her strength. This she had never
succeeded in doing, and for a dozen years or more had never entered a
single one of the houses in which she had formerly served.

"I can't go, James," said she; "I can't possibly go."

"Oh, yes, you can! Why not?" said Jim. "Why not?"

"You know I don't go anywhere," urged Mrs. Irwin.

"That's no reason," said her son.

"I haven't a thing to wear," said Mrs. Irwin.

"Nothing to wear!"

I wonder if any ordinary person can understand the shock with which Jim
Irwin heard those words from his mother's lips. He was approaching thirty,
and the association of the ideas of Mother and Costume was foreign to his
mind. Other women had surfaces different from hers, to be sure--but his
mother was not as other women. She was just Mother, always at work in the
house or in the garden, always doing for him those inevitable things which
made up her part in life, always clothed in the browns, grays, gray-blues,
neutral stripes and checks which were cheap and common and easily made.
Clothes! They were in the Irwin family no more than things by which the
rules of decency were complied with, and the cold of winter turned
back--but as for their appearance! Jim had never given the thing a thought
further than to wear out his Sunday best in the schoolroom, to wonder
where the next suit of Sunday best was to come from, and to buy for his
mother the cheap and common fabrics which she fashioned into the garments
in which alone, it seemed to him, she would seem like Mother. A boy who
lives until he is nearly thirty in intimate companionship with Carlyle,
Thoreau, Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Emerson, Professor Henry, Liberty H.
Bailey, Cyril Hopkins, Dean Davenport and the great obscurities of the
experiment stations, may be excused if his views regarding clothes are
derived in a transcendental manner from _Sartor Resartus_ and the
agricultural college tests as to the relation between Shelter and
Feeding.

"Why, mother," said he, "I think it would be pretty hard to explain to the
Woodruffs that you stayed away because of clothes. They have seen you in
the clothes you wear pretty often for the last thirty years!"

                   *       *       *       *       *

Was a woman ever quite without a costume?

Mrs. Irwin gazed at vacancy for a while, and went to the old bureau. From
the bottom drawer she took an old, old black alpaca dress--a dress which
Jim had never seen. She spread it out on her bed in the alcove off the
combined kitchen, parlor and dining-room in which they lived, and smoothed
out the wrinkles. It was almost whole, save for the places where her body,
once so much fuller than now, had drawn the threads apart--under the arms,
and at some of the seams--and she handled it as one deals with something
very precious.

"I never thought I'd wear it again," said she, "but once. I've been saving
it for my last dress. But I guess it won't hurt to wear it once for the
benefit of the living."

Jim kissed his mother--a rare thing, save as the caress was called for by
the established custom between them.

"Don't think of that, mother," said he, "for years and years yet!"



CHAPTER X

HOW JIM WAS LINED UP


There is no doubt that Jennie Woodruff was justified in thinking that they
were a queer couple. They weren't like the Woodruffs, at all. They were of
a different pattern. To be sure, Jim's clothes were not especially
noteworthy, being just shiny, and frayed at cuff and instep, and short of
sleeve and leg, and ill-fitting and cheap. They betrayed poverty, and the
inability of a New York sweatshop to anticipate the prodigality of Nature
in the matter of length of leg and arm, and wealth of bones and joints
which she had lavished upon Jim Irwin. But the Woodruff table had often
enjoyed Jim's presence, and the standards prevailing there as to clothes
were only those of plain people who eat with their hired men, buy their
clothes at a county seat town, and live simply and sensibly on the fat of
the land. Jim's queerness lay not so much in his clothes as in his
personality.

On the other hand, Jennie could not help thinking that Mrs. Irwin's
queerness was to be found almost solely in her clothes. The black alpaca
looked undeniably respectable, especially when it was helped out by a
curious old brooch of goldstone, bordered with flowers in blue and white
and red and green--tiny blossoms of little stones which looked like the
flowers which grow at the snow line on Pike's Peak. Jennie felt that it
must be a cheap affair, but it was decorative, and she wondered where Mrs.
Irwin got it. She guessed it must have a story--a story in which the
stooped, rusty, somber old lady looked like a character drawn to harmonize
with the period just after the war. For the black alpaca dress looked more
like a costume for a masquerade than a present-day garment, and Mrs. Irwin
was so oppressed with doubt as to whether she was presentable, with
knowledge that her dress didn't fit, and with the difficulty of behaving
naturally--like a convict just discharged from prison after a ten years'
term--that she took on a stiffness of deportment quite in keeping with the
idea that she was a female Rip Van Winkle not yet quite awake. But Jennie
had the keenness to see that if Mrs. Irwin could have had an up-to-date
costume she would have become a rather ordinary and not bad-looking old
lady. What Jennie failed to divine was that if Jim could have invested a
hundred dollars in the services of tailors, haberdashers, barbers and
other specialists in personal appearance, and could for this hour or so
have blotted out his record as her father's field-hand, he would have
seemed to her a distinguished-looking young man. Not handsome, of course,
but the sort people look after--and follow.

"Come to dinner," said Mrs. Woodruff, who at this juncture had a hired
girl, but was yoked to the oar nevertheless when it came to turkey and the
other fixings of a Christmas dinner. "It's good enough, what there is of
it, and there's enough of it such as it is--but the dressing in the turkey
would be better for a little more sage!"

The bountiful meal piled mountain high for guest and hired help and family
melted away in a manner to delight the hearts of Mrs. Woodruff and Jennie.
The colonel, in stiff starched shirt, black tie and frock coat, carved
with much empressement, and Jim felt almost for the first time a sense of
the value of manner.

"I had bigger turkeys," said Mrs. Woodruff to Mrs. Irwin, "but I thought
it would be better to cook two turkey-hens instead of one great big
gobbler with meat as tough as tripe and stuffed full of fat."

"One of the hens would 'a' been plenty," replied Mrs. Irwin. "How much did
they weigh?"

"About fifteen pounds apiece," was the answer. "The gobbler would 'a'
weighed thirty, I guess. He's pure Mammoth Bronze."

"I wish," said Jim, "that we could get a few breeding birds of the wild
bronze turkeys from Mexico."

"Why?" asked the colonel.

"They're the original blood of the domestic bronze turkeys," said Jim,
"and they're bigger and handsomer than the pure-bred bronzes, even.
They're a better stock than the northern wild turkeys from which our
common birds originated."

"Where do you learn all these things, Jim?" asked Mrs. Woodruff. "I
declare, I often tell Woodruff that it's as good as a lecture to have Jim
Irwin at table. My intelligence has fallen since you quit working here,
Jim."

There came into Jim's eyes the gleam of the man devoted to a Cause--and
the dinner tended to develop into a lecture. Jennie saw a little more
plainly wherein his queerness lay.

"There's an education in any meal, if we would just use the things on the
table as materials for study, and follow their trails back to their
starting-points. This turkey takes us back to the chaparral of
Mexico----"

"What's chaparral?" asked Jennie, as a diversion. "It's one of the words I
have seen so often and know perfectly to speak it and read it--but after
all it's just a word, and nothing more."

"Ain't that the trouble with our education, Jim?" queried the colonel,
cleverly steering Jim back into the track of his discourse.

"They are not even living words," answered Jim, "unless we have clothed
them in flesh and blood through some sort of concrete notion. 'Chaparral'
to Jennie is just the ghost of a word. Our civilization is full of
inefficiency because we are satisfied to give our children these ghosts
and shucks and husks of words, instead of the things themselves, that can
be seen and hefted and handled and tested and heard."

Jennie looked Jim over carefully. His queerness was taking on a new
phase--and she felt a sense of surprise such as one experiences when the
conjurer causes a rose to grow into a tree before your very eyes. Jim's
development was not so rapid, but Jennie's perception of it was. She began
to feel proud of the fact that a man who could make his impractical
notions seem so plausible--and who was clearly fired with some sort of
evangelistic fervor--had kissed her, once or twice, on bringing her home
from the spelling school.

"I think we lose so much time in school," Jim went on, "while the children
are eating their dinners."

"Well, Jim," said Mrs. Woodruff, "every one but you is down on the human
level. The poor kids have to eat!"

"But think how much good education there is wrapped up in the school
dinner--if we could only get it out."

Jennie grew grave. Here was this Brown Mouse actually introducing the
subject of the school--and he ought to suspect that she was planning to
line him up on this very thing--if he wasn't a perfect donkey as well as a
dreamer. And he was calmly wading into the subject as if she were the
ex-farm-hand country teacher, and he was the county superintendent-elect!

"Eating a dinner like this, mother," said the colonel gallantly, "is an
education in itself--and eating some others requires one; but just how
'larnin' is wrapped up in the school lunch is a new one on me, Jim."

"Well," said Jim, "in the first place the children ought to cook their
meals as a part of the school work. Prior to that they ought to buy the
materials. And prior to that they ought to keep the accounts of the school
kitchen. They'd like to do these things, and it would help prepare them
for life on an intelligent plane, while they prepared the meals."

"Isn't that looking rather far ahead?" asked the county
superintendent-elect.

"It's like a lot of other things we think far ahead," urged Jim. "The only
reason why they're far off is because we think them so. It's a
thought--and a thought is as near the moment we think it as it will ever
be."

"I guess that's so--to a wild-eyed reformer," said the colonel. "But go
on. Develop your thought a little. Have some more dressing."

"Thanks, I believe I will," said Jim. "And a little more of the cranberry
sauce. No more turkey, please."

"I'd like to see the school class that could prepare this dinner," said
Mrs. Woodruff.

"Why," said Jim, "you'd be there showing them how! They'd get credits in
their domestic-economy course for getting the school dinner--and they'd
bring their mothers into it to help them stand at the head of their
classes. And one detail of girls would cook one week, and another serve.
The setting of the table would come in as a study--flowers, linen and all
that. And when we get a civilized teacher, table manners!"

"I'd take on that class," said the hired man, winking at Selma Carlson,
the maid, from somewhere below the salt. "The way I make my knife feed my
face would be a great help to the children."

"And when the food came on the table," Jim went on, with a smile at his
former fellow-laborer, who had heard most of this before as a part of the
field conversation, "just think of the things we could study while eating
it. The literary term for eating a meal is discussing it--well, the
discussion of a meal under proper guidance is much more educative than a
lecture. This breast-bone, now," said he, referring to the remains on his
plate. "That's physiology. The cranberry-sauce--that's botany, and
commerce, and soil management--do you know, Colonel, that the cranberry
must have an acid soil--which would kill alfalfa or clover?"

"Read something of it," said the colonel, "but it didn't interest me
much."

"And the difference between the types of fowl on the table--that's
breeding. And the nutmeg, pepper and cocoanut--that's geography. And
everything on the table runs back to geography, and comes to us linked to
our lives by dollars and cents--and they're mathematics."

"We must have something more than dollars and cents in life," said Jennie.
"We must have culture."

"Culture," cried Jim, "is the ability to think in terms of life--isn't
it?"

"Like Jesse James," suggested the hired man, who was a careful student of
the life of that eminent bandit.

There was a storm of laughter at this sally amidst which Jennie wished she
had thought of something like that. Jim joined in the laughter at his own
expense, but was clearly suffering from argumentative shock.

"That's the best answer I've had on that point, Pete," he said, after the
disturbance had subsided. "But if the James boys and the Youngers had had
the sort of culture I'm for, they would have been successful stock men and
farmers, instead of train-robbers. Take Raymond Simms, for instance. He
had all the qualifications of a member of the James gang when he came
here. All he needed was a few exasperated associates of his own sort, and
a convenient railway with undefended trains running over it. But after a
few weeks of real 'culture' under a mighty poor teacher, he's developing
into the most enthusiastic farmer I know. That's real culture."

"It's snowing like everything," said Jennie, who faced the window.

"Don't cut your dinner short," said the colonel to Pete, "but I think
you'll find the cattle ready to come in out of the storm when you get good
and through."

"I think I'll let 'em in now," said Pete, by way of excusing himself. "I
expect to put in most of the day from now on getting ready to quit eating.
Save some of everything for me, Selma,--I'll be right back!"

"All right, Pete," said Selma.



CHAPTER XI

THE MOUSE ESCAPES


Jennie played the piano and sang. They all joined in some simple Christmas
songs. Mrs. Woodruff and Jim's mother went into other parts of the house
on research work connected with their converse on domestic economy. The
colonel withdrew for an inspection of the live stock on the eve of the
threatened blizzard. And Jim was left alone with Jennie in the front
parlor. After the buzz of conversation, they seemed to have nothing to
say. Jennie played softly, and looked at nothing, but scrutinized Jim by
means of the eyes which women have concealed in their back hair. There was
something new in the man--she sensed that. He was more confident, more
persuasive, more dynamic. She was used to him only as a static force.

And Jim felt something new, too. He had felt it growing in him ever since
he began his school work, and knew not the cause of it. The cause,
however, would not have been a mystery to a wise old yogi who might
discover the same sort of change in one of his young novices. Jim Irwin
had been a sort of ascetic since his boyhood. He had mortified the flesh
by hard labor in the fields, and by flagellations of the brain to drive
off sleep while he pored over his books in the attic--which was often so
hot after a day of summer's sun on its low thin roof, that he was forced
to do his reading in the midmost night. He had looked long on such women
as Helen of Troy, Cleopatra, Isabel, Cressida, Volumnia, Virginia,
Evangeline, Agnes Wickfleld and Fair Rosamond; but on women in the flesh
he had gazed as upon trees walking. The aforesaid spiritual director, had
this young ascetic been under one, would have foreseen the effects on the
psychology of a stout fellow of twenty-eight of freedom from the toil of
the fields, and association with a group of young human beings of both
sexes. To the novice struggling for emancipation from earthly thoughts, he
would have recommended fasting and prayer, and perhaps, a hair shirt. Just
what his prescription would have been for a man in Jim's position is, of
course, a question. He would, no doubt, have considered carefully his
patient's symptoms. These were very largely the mental experiences which
most boys pass through in their early twenties, save, perhaps that, as in
a belated season, the transition from winter to spring was more sudden,
and the contrast more violent. Jim was now thrown every day into contact
with his fellows. He was no longer a lay monk, but an active member of a
very human group. He was becoming more of a boy, with the boys, and still
more was he developing into a man with the women. The budding womanhood of
Calista Simms and the other girls of his school thrilled him as Helen of
Troy or Juliet had never done. This will not seem very strange to the
experienced reader, but it astonished the unsophisticated young
schoolmaster. The floating hair, the heaving bosom, the rosebud mouth, the
starry eye, the fragrant breath, the magnetic hand--all these disturbed
the hitherto sedate mind, and filled the brief hours he was accustomed to
spend in sleep with strange dreams. And now, as he gazed at Jennie, he was
suddenly aware of the fact that, after all, whenever these thoughts and
dreams took on individuality, they were only persistent and intensified
continuations of his old dreams of her. They had always been dormant in
him, since the days they both studied from the same book. He was quite
sure, now, that he had never forgotten for a moment, that Jennie was the
only girl in the world for him. And possibly he was right about this. It
is perfectly certain, however, that for years he had not consciously been
in love with her.

Now, however, he arose as from some inner compulsion, and went to her
side. He wished that he knew enough of music to turn her sheets for her,
but, alas! the notes were meaningless to him. Still scanning him by means
of her back hair, Jennie knew that in another moment Jim would lay his
hand on her shoulder, or otherwise advance to personal nearness, as he had
done the night of his ill-starred speech at the schoolhouse--and she rose
in self-defense. Self-defense, however, did not seem to require that he be
kept at too great a distance; so she maneuvered him to the sofa, and
seated him beside her. Now was the time to line him up.

"It seems good to have you with us to-day," said she. "We're such old, old
friends."

"Yes," repeated Jim, "old friends .... We are, aren't we, Jennie?"

"And I feel sure," Jennie went on, "that this marks a new era in our
friendship."

"Why?" asked Jim, after considering the matter.

"Oh! everything is different, now--and getting more different all the
time. My new work, and your new work, you know."

"I should like to think," said Jim, "that we are beginning over again."

"Oh, we are, we are, indeed! I am quite sure of it."

"And yet," said Jim, "there is no such thing as a new beginning.
Everything joins itself to something which went before. There isn't any
seam."

"No?" said Jennie interrogatively.

"Our regard for each other," Jennie noted most pointedly his word
"regard"--"must be the continuation of the old regard."

"I hardly know what you mean," said Jennie.

Jim reached over and possessed himself of her hand. She pulled it from him
gently, but he paid no attention to the little muscular protest, and
examined the hand critically. On the back of the middle finger he pointed
out a scar--a very tiny scar.

"Do you remember how you got that?" he asked.

Because Jim clung to the hand, their heads were very close together as she
joined in the examination.

"Why, I don't believe I do," said she.

"I do," he replied. "We--you and I and Mary Forsythe were playing
mumble-peg, and you put your hand on the grass just as I threw the
knife--it cut you, and left that scar."

"I remember, now!" said she. "How such things come back over the memory.
And did it leave a scar when I pushed you toward the red-hot stove in the
schoolhouse one blizzardy day, like this, and you peeled the skin off your
wrist where it struck the stove?"

"Look at it," said he, baring his long and bony wrist. "Right there!"

And they were off on the trail that leads back to childhood. They had
talked long, and intimately, when the shadows of the early evening crept
into the corners of the room. He had carried her across the flooded slew
again after the big rain. They had relived a dozen moving incidents by
flood and field. Jennie recalled the time when the tornado narrowly missed
the schoolhouse, and frightened everybody in school nearly to death.

"Everybody but you, Jim," Jennie remembered. "You looked out of the window
and told the teacher that the twister was going north of us, and would
kill somebody else."

"Did I?" asked Jim.

"Yes," said Jennie, "and when the teacher asked us to kneel and thank God,
you said, 'Why should we thank God that somebody else is blowed away?' She
was greatly shocked."

"I don't see to this day," Jim asserted, "what answer there was to my
question."

In the gathering darkness Jim again took Jennie's hand, but this time she
deprived him of it.

He was trembling like a leaf. Let it be remembered in his favor that this
was the only girl's hand he had ever held.

"You can't find any more scars on it," she said soberly.

"Let me see how much it has changed since I stuck the knife in it," begged
Jim.

Jennie held it up for inspection.

"It's longer, and slenderer, and whiter, and even more beautiful," said
he, "than the little hand I cut; but it was then the most beautiful hand
in the world to me--and still is."

"I must light the lamps," said the county superintendent-elect, rather
flustered, it must be confessed. "Mama! Where are all the matches?"

Mrs. Woodruff and Mrs. Irwin came in, and the lamplight reminded Jim's
mother that the cow was still to milk, and that the chickens might need
attention. The Woodruff sleigh came to the door to carry them home; but
Jim desired to breast the storm. He felt that he needed the conflict. Mrs.
Irwin scolded him for his foolishness, but he strode off into the whirling
drift, throwing back a good-by for general consumption, and a pathetic
smile to Jennie.

"He's as odd as Dick's hatband," said Mrs. Woodruff, "tramping off in a
storm like this."

"Did you line him up?" asked the colonel of Jennie.

The young lady started and blushed. She had forgotten all about the
politics of the situation.

"I--I'm afraid I didn't, papa," she confessed.

"Those brown mice of Professor Darbishire's," said the colonel, "were the
devil and all to control."

Jennie was thinking of this as she dropped asleep.

"Hard to control!" she thought. "I wonder. I wonder, after all, if Jim is
not capable of being easily lined up--when he sees how foolish I think he
is!"

And Jim? He found himself hard to control that night. So much so that it
was after midnight before he had finished work on a plan for a cooperative
creamery.

"The boys can be given work in helping to operate it," he wrote on a
tablet, "which, in connection with the labor performed by the teacher,
will greatly reduce the expense of operation. A skilled butter-maker, with
slender white hands"--but he erased this last clause and retired.



CHAPTER XII

FACING TRIAL


A distinct sensation ran through the Woodruff school, but the schoolmaster
and a group of five big boys and three girls engaged in a very unclasslike
conference in the back of the room were all unconscious of it. The
geography classes had recited, and the language work was on. Those too
small for these studies were playing a game under the leadership of Jinnie
Simms, who had been promoted to the position of weed-seed monitor.

The game was forfeits. Each child had been encouraged to bring some sort
of weed from the winter fields--preferably one the seed of which still
clung to the dried receptacles--but anyhow, a weed. Some pupils had
brought merely empty tassels, some bare stalks, and some seeds which they
had winnowed from the grain in their father's bins; and with them they
played forfeits. They counted out by the "arey, Ira, ickery an'" method,
and somebody was "It." Then, in order, they presented to him a seed, stalk
or head of a weed, and if the one who was It could tell the name of the
weed, the child who brought the specimen became It, and the name was
written on slates or tablets, and the new It told where the weed or seed
was collected. If any pupil brought in a specimen the name of which he
himself could not correctly give, he paid a forfeit. If a specimen was
brought in not found in the school cabinet--which was coming to contain a
considerable collection--it was placed there, and the task allotted to the
best penman in the school to write its proper label. All this caused
excitement, and not a little buzz--but it ceased when the county
superintendent entered the room.

For it was after the first of January, and Jennie was visiting the
Woodruff school.

The group in the back of the room went on with its conference, oblivious
of the entrance of Superintendent Jennie. Their work was rather absorbing,
being no more nor less than the compilation of the figures of a cow census
of the district.

"Altogether," said Mary Talcott, "we have in the district one hundred and
fifty-three cows."

"I don't make it that," said Raymond Simms. "I don't get but a hundred and
thirty-eight."

"The trouble is," said Newton Bronson, "that Mary's counting in the Bailey
herd of Shorthorns."

"Well, they're cows, ain't they?" interrogated Mary.

"Not for this census," said Raymond.

"Why not?" asked Mary. "They're the prettiest cows in the neighborhood."

"Scotch Shorthorns," said Newton, "and run with their calves."

"Leave them out," said Jim, "and to-morrow, I want each one to tell in the
language class, in three hundred words or less, whether there are enough
cows in the district to justify a cooperative creamery, and give the
reason. You'll find articles in the farm papers if you look through the
card index. Now, how about the census in the adjoining districts?"

"There are more than two hundred within four miles on the roads leading
west," said a boy.

"My father and I counted up about a hundred beyond us," said Mary. "But I
couldn't get the exact number."

"Why," said Raymond, "we could find six hundred dairy cows in this
neighborhood, within an hour's drive."

"Six hundred!" scoffed Newton. "You're crazy! In an hour's drive?"

"I mean an hour's drive each way," said Raymond.

"I believe we could," said Jim. "And after we find how far we will have to
go to get enough cows, if half of them patronized the creamery, we'll work
over the savings the business would make, if we could get the prices for
butter paid the Wisconsin cooperative creameries, as compared with what
the centralizers pay us, on a basis of the last six months. Who's in
possession of that correspondence with the Wisconsin creameries?"

"I have it," said Raymond. "I'm hectographing a lot of arithmetic problems
from it."

"How do you do, Mr. Irwin!" It was the superintendent who spoke.

Jim's brain whirled little prismatic clouds before his vision, as he rose
and shook Jennie's extended hand.

"Let me give you a chair," said he.

"Oh, no, thank you!" she returned. "I'll just make myself at home. I know
my way about in this schoolhouse, you know!"

She smiled at the children, and went about looking at their work--which
was not noticeably disturbed, by reason of the fact that visitors were
much more frequent now than ever before, and were no rarity. Certainly,
Jennie Woodruff was no novelty, since they had known her all their lives.
Most of the embarrassment was Jim's. He rose to the occasion, however,
went through the routine of the closing day, and dismissed the flock, not
omitting making an engagement with a group of boys for that evening to
come back and work on the formalin treatment for smut in seed grains, and
the blue-vitriol treatment for seed potatoes.

"We hadn't time for these things," said he to the county superintendent,
"in the regular class work--and it's getting time to take them up if we
are to clean out the smut in next year's crop."

They repeated Whittier's _Corn Song_ in concert, and school was out.

Alone with her in the old schoolhouse, Jim confronted Jennie in the flesh.
She felt a sense of his agitation, but if she had known the power of it,
she would have been astonished. Since that Christmas afternoon when she
had undertaken to follow Mr. Peterson's advice and line Yim Irwin up, Jim
had gone through an inward transformation. He had passed from a late,
cold, backward sexual spring, into a warm June of the spirit, in which he
had walked amid roses and lilies with Jennie. He was in love with her. He
knew how insane it was, how much less than nothing had taken place in his
circumstances to justify the hope that he could ever emerge from the state
in which she would not say "Humph!" at the thought that he could marry her
or any one else. Yet, he had made up his mind that he would marry Jennie
Woodruff .... She ought never have tried to line him up. She knew not what
she did.

He saw her through clouds of rose and pink; but she looked at him as at a
foolish man who was making trouble for her, chasing rainbows at her
expense, and deeply vexing her. She was in a cold official frame of mind.

"Jim," said she, "do you know that you are facing trouble?"

"Trouble," said Jim, "is the natural condition of a man in my state of
mind. But it is going to be a delicious sort of tribulation."

"I don't know what you mean," she replied in perfect honesty.

"Then I don't know what you mean," replied Jim.

"Jim," she said pleadingly, "I want you to give up this sort of teaching.
Can't you see it's all wrong?"

"No," answered Jim, in much the manner of a man who has been stabbed by
his sweetheart. "I can't see that it's wrong. It's the only sort I can do.
What do you see wrong in it?"

"Oh, I can see some very wonderful things in it," said Jennie, "but it
can't be done in the Woodruff District. It may be correct in theory, but
it won't work in practise."

"Jennie," said he, "when a thing won't work, it isn't correct in theory."

"Well, then, Jim," said she, "why do you keep on with it?"

"It works," said Jim. "Anything that's correct in theory will work. If the
theory seems correct, and yet won't work, it's because something is wrong
in an unsuspected way with the theory. But my theory is correct, and it
works."

"But the district is against it."

"Who are the district?"

"The school board are against it."

"The school board elected me after listening to an explanation of my
theories as to the new sort of rural school in which I believe. I assume
that they commissioned me to carry out my ideas."

"Oh, Jim!" cried Jennie. "That's sophistry! They all voted for you so you
wouldn't be without support. Each wanted you to have just one vote. Nobody
wanted you elected. They were all surprised. You know that!"

"They stood by and saw the contract signed," said Jim, "and--yes, Jennie,
I _am_ dealing in sophistry! I got the school by a sort of shell-game,
which the board worked on themselves. But that doesn't prove that the
district is against me. I believe the people are for me, now, Jennie. I
really do!"

Jennie rose and walked to the rear of the room and back, twice. When she
spoke, there was decision in her tone--and Jim felt that it was hostile
decision.

"As an officer," she said rather grandly, "my relations with the district
are with the school board on the one hand, and with your competency as a
teacher on the other."

"Has it come to that?" asked Jim. "Well, I have rather expected it."

His tone was weary. The Lincolnian droop in his great, sad, mournful mouth
accentuated the resemblance to the martyr president. Possibly his feelings
were not entirely different from those experienced by Lincoln at some
crises of doubt, misunderstanding and depression.

"If you can't change your methods," said Jennie, "I suggest that you
resign."

"Do you think," said Jim, "that changing my methods would appease the men
who feel that they are made laughing-stocks by having elected me?"

Jennie was silent; for she knew that the school board meant to pursue
their policy of getting rid of the accidental incumbent regardless of his
methods.

"They would never call off their dogs," said Jim.

"But your methods would make a great difference with my decision," said
Jennie.

"Are you to be called upon to decide?" asked Jim.

"A formal complaint against you for incompetency," she replied, "has been
lodged in my office, signed by the three directors. I shall be obliged to
take notice of it."

"And do you think," queried Jim, "that my abandonment of the things in
which I believe in the face of this attack would prove to your mind that I
am competent? Or would it show me incompetent?"

Again Jennie was silent.

"I guess," said Jim, "that we'll have to stand or fall on things as they
are."

"Do you refuse to resign?" asked Jennie.

"Sometimes I think it's not worth while to try any longer," said Jim. "And
yet, I believe that in my way I'm working on the question which must be
solved if this nation is to stand--the question of making the farm and
farm life what they should be and may well be. At this moment, I feel like
surrendering--for your sake more than mine; but I'll have to think about
it. Suppose I refuse to resign?"

Jennie had drawn on her gloves, and stood ready for departure.

"Unless you resign before the twenty-fifth," said she, "I shall hear the
petition for your removal on that date. You will be allowed to be present
and answer the charges against you. The charges are incompetency. I bid
you good evening!"

"Incompetency!" The disgraceful word, representing everything he had
always despised, rang through Jim's mind as he walked home. He could think
of nothing else as he sat at the simple supper which he could scarcely
taste. Incompetent! Well, had he not always been incompetent, except in
the use of his muscles? Had he not always been a dreamer? Were not all his
dreams as foreign to life and common sense as the Milky Way from the
earth? What reason was there for thinking that this crusade of his for
better schools had any sounder foundation than hia dream of being
president, or a great painter, or a poet or novelist or philosopher? He
was just a hayseed, a rube, a misfit, as odd as Dick's hatband, an off ox.
He _was_ incompetent. He picked up a pen, and began writing. He wrote, "To
the Honorable the Board of Education of the Independent District of ----"
And he heard a tap at the door. His mother admitted Colonel Woodruff.

"Hello, Jim," said he.

"Good evening, Colonel," said Jim. "Take a chair, won't you?"

"No," replied the colonel. "I thought I'd see if you and the boys at the
schoolhouse can't tell me something about the smut in my wheat. I heard
you were going to work on that to-night."

"I had forgotten!" said Jim.

"I wondered if you hadn't," said the colonel, "and so I came by for you. I
was waiting up the road. Come on, and ride up with me."

The colonel had always been friendly, but there was a new note in his
manner to-night. He was almost deferential. If he had been talking to
Senator Cummins or the president of the state university, his tone could
not have been more courteous, more careful to preserve the amenities due
from man to man. He worked with the class on the problem of smut. He
offered to aid the boys in every possible way in their campaign against
scab in potatoes. He suggested some tests which would show the real value
of the treatment. The boys were in a glow of pride at this cooperation
with Colonel Woodruff. This was real work! Jim and the colonel went away
together. It had been a great evening.

"Jim," said the colonel, "can these kids spell?"

"You mean these boys?"

"I mean the school."

"I think," said Jim, "that they can outspell any school about here."

"Good," said the colonel. "How are they about reading aloud?"

"Better than they were when I took hold."

"How about arithmetic and the other branches? Have you sort of kept them
up to the course of study?"

"I have carried them in a course parallel to the text-books," said Jim,
"and covering the same ground. But it has been vocational work, you
know--related to life."

"Well," said the colonel, "if I were you, I'd put them over a rapid review
of the text-books for a few days--say between now and the twenty-fifth."

"What for?"

"Oh, nothing--just to please me .... And say, Jim, I glanced over a
communication you have started to the more or less Honorable Board of
Education."

"Yes?"

"Well, don't finish it .... And say, Jim, I think I'll give myself the
luxury of being a wild-eyed reformer for once."

"Yes," said Jim, dazed.

"And if you think, Jim, that you've got no friends, just remember that I'm
for you."

"Thank you, Colonel."

"And we'll show them they're in a horse race."

"I don't see ..." said Jim.

"You're not supposed to see," said the colonel, "but you can bet that
we'll be with them at the finish; and, by thunder! while they're getting a
full meal, we'll get at least a lunch. See?"

"But Jennie says," began Jim.

"Don't tell me what she says," said the colonel. "She's acting according
to her judgment, and her lights and other organs of perception, and I
don't think it fittin' that her father should try to influence her
official conduct. But you go on and review them common branches, and keep
your nerve. I haven't felt so much like a scrap since the day we stormed
Lookout Mountain. I kinder like being a wild-eyed reformer, Jim."



CHAPTER XIII

FAME OR NOTORIETY


The office of county superintendent was, as a matter of course, the least
desirable room of the court-house. I say "room" advisedly, because it
consisted of a single chamber of moderate size, provided with office
furniture of the minimum quantity and maximum age. It opened off the
central hall at the upper end of the stairway which led to the court room,
and when court was in session, served the extraordinary needs of justice
as a jury room. At such times the county superintendent's desk was removed
to the hall, where it stood in a noisy and confusing but very democratic
publicity. Superintendent Jennie might have anticipated the time when,
during the March term, offenders passing from the county jail in the
basement to arraignment at the bar of justice might be able to peek over
her shoulders and criticize her method of treating examination papers. On
the twenty-fifth of February, however, this experience lurked unsuspected
in her official future.

Poor Jennie! She anticipated nothing more than the appearance of Messrs.
Bronson, Peterson and Bonner in her office to confront Jim Irwin on
certain questions of fact relating to Jim's competency to hold a teacher's
certificate. The time appointed was ten o'clock. At nine forty-five
Cornelius Bonner and his wife entered the office, and took twenty-five per
cent. of the chairs therein. At nine fifty Jim Irwin came in, haggard,
weather-beaten and seedy as ever, and looked as if he had neither eaten
nor slept since his sweetheart stabbed him. At nine fifty-five Haakon
Peterson and Ezra Bronson came in, accompanied by Wilbur Smythe,
attorney-at-law, who carried under his arm a code of Iowa, a compilation
of the school laws of the state, and _Throop on Public Officers_. At nine
fifty-six, therefore, the crowd in Jennie's office exceeded its seating
capacity, and Jennie was in a flutter as the realization dawned upon her
that this promised to be a bigger and more public affair than she had
anticipated. At nine fifty-nine Raymond Simms opened the office door and
there filed in enough children, large and small, some of them accompanied
by their parents, and all belonging to the Woodruff school, to fill
completely the interstices of the corners and angles of the room and
between the legs of the grownups. In addition there remained an overflow
meeting in the hall, under the command of that distinguished military
gentleman, Colonel Albert Woodruff.

"Say, Bill, come here!" said the colonel, crooking his finger at the
deputy sheriff.

"What you got here, Al!" said Bill, coming up the stairs, puffing. "Ain't
it a little early for Sunday-school picnics?"

"This is a school fight in our district," said the colonel. "It's Jennie's
baptism of fire, I reckon ... and say, you're not using the court room,
are you?"

"Nope," said Bill.

"Well, why not just slip around, then," said the colonel, "and tell Jennie
she'd better adjourn to the big room."

Which suggestion was acted upon instanter by Deputy Bill.

"But I can't, I can't," said Jennie to the courteous deputy sheriff. "I
don't want all this publicity, and I don't want to go into the court
room."

"I hardly see," said Deputy Bill, "how you can avoid it. These people seem
to have business with you, and they can't get into your office."

"But they have no business with me," said Jennie. "It's mere curiosity."

Whereupon Wilbur Smythe, who could see no particular point in restricted
publicity, said, "Madame County Superintendent, this hearing certainly is
public or quasi-public. Your office is a public one, and while the right
to attend this hearing may not possibly be a universal one, it surely is
one belonging to every citizen and taxpayer of the county, and if the
taxpayer, _qua_ taxpayer, then certainly _a fortiori_ to the members of
the Woodruff school and residents of that district."

Jennie quailed. "All right, all right!" said she. "But, shall I have to
sit on the bench!"

"You will find it by far the most convenient place," said Deputy Bill.

Was this the life to which public office had brought her? Was it for this
that she had bartered her independence--for this and the musty office, the
stupid examination papers, and the interminable visiting of schools,
knowing that such supervision as she could give was practically worthless?
Jim had said to her that he had never heard of such a thing as a good
county superintendent of schools, and she had thought him queer. And now,
here was she, called upon to pass on the competency of the man who had
always been her superior in everything that constitutes mental ability;
and to make the thing more a matter for the laughter of the gods, she was
perched on the judicial bench, which Deputy Bill had dusted off for her,
tipping a wink to the assemblage while doing it. He expected to be a
candidate for sheriff, one of these days, and was pleasing the crowd. And
that crowd! To Jennie it was appalling. The school board under the lead of
Wilbur Smythe took seats inside the railing which on court days divided
the audience from the lawyers and litigants. Jim Irwin, who had never been
in a court room before, herded with the crowd, obeying the attraction of
sympathy, but to Jennie, seated on the bench, he, like other persons in
the auditorium, was a mere blurry outline with a knob of a head on its
top.

She couldn't call the gathering to order. She had no idea as to the proper
procedure. She sat there while the people gathered, stood about whispering
and talking under their breaths, and finally became silent, all their eyes
fixed on her, as she wished that the office of county superintendent had
been abolished in the days of her parents' infancy.

"May it please the court," said Wilbur Smythe, standing before the bar.
"Or, Madame County Superintendent, I should say ..."

A titter ran through the room, and a flush of temper tinted Jennie's face.
They were laughing at her! She wouldn't be a spectacle any longer! So she
rose, and handed down her first and last decision from the bench--a rather
good one, I think.

"Mr. Smythe," said she, "I feel very ill at ease up here, and I'm going to
get down among the people. It's the only way I have of getting the
truth."

She descended from the bench, shook hands with everybody near her, and sat
down by the attorney's table.

"Now," said she, "this is no formal proceeding and we will dispense with
red tape. If we don't, I shall get all tangled up in it. Where's Mr.
Irwin? Please come in here, Jim. Now, I know there's some feeling in these
things--there always seems to be; but I have none. So I'll just hear why
Mr. Bronson, Mr. Peterson and Mr. Bonner think that Mr. James E. Irwin
isn't competent to hold a certificate."

Jennie was able to smile at them now, and everybody felt more at ease,
save Jim Irwin, the members of the board and Wilbur Smythe. That
individual arose, and talked down at Jennie.

"I appear for the proponents here," said he, "and I desire to suggest
certain principles of procedure which I take it belong indisputably to the
conduct of this hearing."

"Have you a lawyer?" asked the county superintendent of the respondent.

"A what?" exclaimed Jim. "Nobody here has a lawyer!"

"Well, what do you call Wilbur Smythe?" queried Newton Bronson from the
midst of the crowd.

"He ain't lawyer enough to hurt!" said the thing which the dramatists call
A Voice.

There was a little tempest of laughter at Wilbur Smythe's expense, which
was quelled by Jennie's rapping on the table. She was beginning to feel
the mouth of the situation.

"I have no way of retaining a lawyer," said Jim, on whom the truth had
gradually dawned. "If a lawyer is necessary, I am without protection--but
it never occurred to me ..."

"There is nothing in the school laws, as I remember them," said Jennie,
"giving the parties any right to be represented by counsel. If there is,
Mr. Smythe will please set me right."

She paused for Mr. Smythe's reply.

"There is nothing which expressly gives that privilege," said Mr. Smythe,
"but the right to the benefit of skilled advisers is a universal one. It
can not be questioned. And in opening this case for my clients, I desire
to call your honor's attention--"

"You may advise your clients all you please," said Jennie, "but I'm not
going to waste time in listening to speeches, or having a lot of lawyers
examine witnesses."

"I protest," said Mr. Smythe.

"Well, you may file your protest in writing," said Jennie. "I'm going to
talk this matter over with these old friends and neighbors of mine. I
don't want you dipping into it, I say!"

Jennie's voice was rising toward the scream-line, and Mr. Smythe
recognized the hand of fate. One may argue with a cantankerous judge, but
the woman, who like necessity, knows no law, and who is smothering in a
flood of perplexities, is beyond reason. Moreover, Jennie dimly saw that
what she was doing had the approval of the crowd, and it solved the
problem of procedure.

There was a little wrangling, and a little protest from Con Bonner, but
Jennie ruled with a rod of iron, and adhered to her ruling. When the
hearing was resumed after the noon recess, the crowd was larger than ever,
but the proceedings consisted mainly in a conference of the principals
grouped about Jennie at the big lawyers' table. They were talking about
the methods adopted by Jim in his conduct of the Woodruff school--just
talking. The only new thing was the presence of a couple of newspaper men,
who had queried Chicago papers on the story, and been given orders for a
certain number of words on the case of the farm-hand schoolmaster on trial
before his old sweetheart for certain weird things he had done in the home
school in which they had once been classmates. The fact that the old
school-sweetheart had kicked a lawyer out of the case was not overlooked
by the gentlemen of the fourth estate. It helped to make it a "good
story."

By the time at which gathering darkness made it necessary for the bailiff
to light the lamps, the parties had agreed on the facts. Jim admitted most
of the allegations. He had practically ignored the text-books. He had
burned the district fuel and worn out the district furniture early and
late, and on Saturdays. He had introduced domestic economy and manual
training, to some extent, by sending the boys to the workshops and the
girls to the kitchens and sewing-rooms of the farmers who allowed those
privileges. He had used up a great deal of time in studying farm
conditions. He had induced the boys to test the cows of the district for
butter-fat yield. He was studying the matter of a cooperative creamery. He
hoped to have a blacksmith shop on the schoolhouse grounds sometime, where
the boys could learn metal working by repairing the farm machinery, and
shoeing the farm horses. He hoped to install a cooperative laundry in
connection with the creamery. He hoped to see a building sometime, with an
auditorium where the people would meet often for moving picture shows,
lectures and the like, and he expected that most of the descriptions of
foreign lands, industrial operations, wild animals--in short, everything
that people should learn about by seeing, rather than reading--would be
taught the children by moving pictures accompanied by lectures. He hoped
to open to the boys and girls the wonders of the universe which are
touched by the work on the farm. He hoped to make good and contented
farmers of them, able to get the most out of the soil, to sell what they
produced to the best advantage, and at the same time to keep up the
fertility of the soil itself. And he hoped to teach the girls in such a
way that they would be good and contented farmers' wives. He even had in
mind as a part of the schoolhouse the Woodruff District would one day
build, an apartment in which the mothers of the neighborhood would leave
their babies when they went to town, so that the girls could learn the
care of infants.

"An' I say," interposed Con Bonner, "that we can rest our case right here.
If that ain't the limit, I don't know what is!"

"Well," said Jennie, "do you desire to rest your case right here?"

Mr. Bonner made no reply to this, and Jennie turned to Jim.

"Now, Mr. Irwin," said she, "while you have been following out these very
interesting and original methods, what have you done in the way of
teaching the things called for by the course of study?"

"What is the course of study?" queried Jim. "Is it anything more than an
outline of the mental march the pupils are ordered to make? Take reading:
why does it give the children any greater mastery of the printed page to
read about Casabianca on the burning deck, than about the cause of the
firing of corn by hot weather? And how can they be given better command of
language than by writing about things they have found out in relation to
some of the sciences which are laid under contribution by farming?
Everything they do runs into numbers, and we do more arithmetic than the
course requires. There isn't any branch of study--not even poetry and art
and music--that isn't touched by life. If there is we haven't time for it
in the common schools. We work out from life to everything in the course
of study."

"Do you mean to assert," queried Jennie, "that while you have been doing
all this work which was never contemplated by those who have made up the
course of study, that you haven't neglected anything?"

"I mean," said Jim, "that I'm willing to stand or fall on an examination
of these children in the very text-books we are accused of neglecting."

Jennie looked steadily at Jim for a full minute, and at the clock. It was
nearly time for adjournment.

"How many pupils of the Woodruff school are here?" she asked. "All rise,
please!"

A mass of the audience, in the midst of which sat Jennie's father, rose at
the request.

"Why," said Jennie, "I should say we had a quorum, anyhow! How many will
come back to-morrow morning at nine o'clock, and bring your school-books?
Please lift hands."

Nearly every hand went up.

"And, Mr. Irwin," she went on, "will you have the school records, so we
may be able to ascertain the proper standing of these pupils?"

"I will," said Jim.

"Then," said Jennie, "we'll adjourn until nine o'clock. I hope to see
every one here. We'll have school here to-morrow. And, Mr. Irwin, please
remember that you state that you'll stand or fall on the mastery by these
pupils of the text-books they are supposed to have neglected."

"Not the mastery of the text," said Jim. "But their ability to do the work
the text is supposed to fit them for."

"Well," said Jennie, "I don't know but that's fair."

"But," said Mrs. Haakon Peterson, "we don't want our children brought up
to be yust farmers. Suppose we move to town--where does the culture come
in?"

                   *       *       *       *       *

The Chicago papers had a news item which covered the result of the
examinations; but the great sensation of the Woodruff District lay in the
Sunday feature carried by one of them.

It had a picture of Jim Irwin, and one of Jennie Woodruff--the latter
authentic, and the former gleaned from the morgue, and apparently the
portrait of a lumber-jack. There was also a very free treatment by the
cartoonist of Mr. Simms carrying a rifle with the intention of shooting up
the school board in case the decision went against the schoolmaster.

                   *       *       *       *       *

"When it became known," said the news story, "that the schoolmaster had
bet his job on the proficiency of his school in studies supposed and
alleged to have been studiously neglected, the excitement rose to fever
heat. Local sports bet freely on the result, the odds being eight to five
on General Proficiency against the field. The field was Jim Irwin and his
school. And the way those rural kids rose in their might and ate up the
text-books was simply scandalous. There was a good deal of nervousness on
the part of some of the small starters, and some bursts of tears at
excusable failures. But when the fight was over, and the dead and wounded
cared for, the school board and the county superintendent were forced to
admit that they wished the average school could do as well under a similar
test.

"The local Mr. Dooley is Cornelius Bonner, a member of the 'board.' When
asked for a statement of his views after the county superintendent had
decided that her old sweetheart was to be allowed the priceless boon of
earning forty dollars a month during the remainder of his contract, Mr.
Bonner said, 'Aside from being licked, we're all right. But we'll get this
guy yet, don't fall down and fergit that!'

"'The examinations tind to show,' said Mr. Bonner, when asked for his
opinion on the result, 'that in or-r-rder to larn anything you shud shtudy
somethin' ilse. But we'll git this guy yit!'"

                   *       *       *       *       *

"Jim," said Colonel Woodruff, as they rode home together, "the next heat
is the school election. We've got to control that board next year--and
we've got to do it by electing one out of three."

"Is that a possibility?" asked Jim. "Aren't we sure to be defeated at
last? Shouldn't I quit at the end of my contract? All I ever hoped for was
to be allowed to fulfill that. And is it worth the fight?"

"It's not only possible," replied the colonel, "but probable. As for being
worth while--why, this thing is too big to drop. I'm just beginning to
understand what you're driving at. And I like being a wild-eyed reformer
more and more."



CHAPTER XIV

THE COLONEL TAKES THE FIELD


Every Iowa county has its Farmers' Institute. Usually it is held in the
county seat, and is a gathering of farmers for the ostensible purpose of
listening to improving discussions and addresses both instructive and
entertaining. Really, in most cases, the farmers' institutes have been
occasions for the cultivation of relations between a few of the
exceptional farmers and their city friends and with one another. Seldom is
anything done which leads to any better selling methods for the farmers,
any organization looking to cooperative effort, or anything else that an
agricultural economist from Ireland, Germany or Denmark would suggest as
the sort of action which the American farmer must take if he is to make
the most of his life and labor.

The Woodruff District was interested in the institute however, because of
the fact that a rural-school exhibit was one of its features that year,
and that Colonel Woodruff had secured an urgent invitation to the school
to take part in it.

"We've got something new out in our district school," said he to the
president of the institute.

"So I hear," said the president--"mostly a fight, isn't it?"

"Something more," said the colonel. "If you'll persuade our school to make
an exhibit of real rural work in a real rural school, I'll promise you
something worth seeing and discussing."

Such exhibits are now so common that it is not worth while for us to
describe it; but then, the sight of a class of children testing and
weighing milk, examining grains for viability and foul seeds, planning
crop rotations, judging grains and live stock was so new in that county as
to be the real sensation of the institute.

Two persons were a good deal embarrassed by the success of the exhibit.
One was the county superintendent, who was constantly in receipt of
undeserved compliments upon her wisdom in fostering really "practical work
in the schools." The other was Jim Irwin, who was becoming famous, and who
felt he had done nothing to deserve fame. Professor Withers, an extension
lecturer from Ames, took Jim to dinner at the best hotel in the town, for
the purpose of talking over with him the needs of the rural schools. Jim
was in agony. The colored waiter fussed about trying to keep Jim in the
beaten track of hotel manners, restored to him the napkin which Jim failed
to use, and juggled back into place the silverware which Jim
misappropriated to alien and unusual uses. But, when the meal had
progressed to the stage of conversation, the waiter noticed that gradually
the uncouth farmer became master of the situation, and the well-groomed
college professor the interested listener.

"You've got to come down to our farmers' week next year, and tell us about
these things," said he to Jim. "Can't you?"

Jim's brain reeled. He go to a gathering of real educators and tell his
crude notions! How could he get the money for his expenses? But he had
that gameness which goes with supreme confidence in the thing dealt with.

"I'll come," said he.

"Thank you," said the Ames man, "There's a small honorarium attached, you
know."

Jim was staggered. What was an honorarium? He tried to remember what an
honorarium is, and could get no further than the thought that it is in
some way connected with the Latin root of "honor." Was he obliged to pay
an honorarium for the chance to speak before the college gathering? Well,
he'd save money and pay it. The professor must be able to understand that
it couldn't be expected that a country school-teacher would be able to pay
much.

"I--I'll try to take care of the honorarium," said he. "I'll come."

The professor laughed. It was the first joke the gangling innovator had
perpetrated.

"It won't bother you to take care of it," said he, "but if you're not too
extravagant it will pay you your expenses and give you a few dollars
over."

Jim breathed more freely. An honorarium was paid to the person receiving
the honor, then. What a relief!

"All right," he exclaimed. "I'll be glad to come!"

"Let's consider that settled," said the professor. "And now I must be
going back to the opera-house. My talk on soil sickness comes next. I tell
you, the winter wheat crop has been--"

But Jim was not able to think much of the winter wheat problem as they
went back to the auditorium. He was worth putting on the program at a
state meeting! He was worth the appreciation of a college professor,
trained to think on the very matters Jim had been so long mulling over in
isolation and blindness! He was actually worth paying for his thoughts.

Calista Simms thought she saw something shining and saint-like about the
homely face of her teacher as he came to her at her post in the room in
which the school exhibit was held. Calista was in charge of the little
children whose work was to be demonstrated that day, and was in a state of
exaltation to which her starved being had hitherto been a stranger.
Perhaps there was something similar in her condition of fervent happiness
to that of Jim. She, too, was doing something outside the sordid life of
the Simms cabin. She yearned over the children in her care, and would have
been glad to die for them--and besides was not Newton Bronson in charge of
the corn exhibit, and a member of the corn-judging team? To the eyes of
the town girls who passed about among the exhibits, she was poorly
dressed; but if they could have seen the clothes she had worn on that
evening when Jim Irwin first called at their cabin and failed to give a
whoop from the big road, they could perhaps have understood the sense of
wellbeing and happiness in Calista's soul at the feeling of her whole
clean underclothes, her neat, if cheap, dress, and the "boughten" cloak
she wore--and any of them, even without knowledge of this, might have
understood Calista's joy at the knowledge that Newton Bronson's eyes were
on her from his station by the big pillar, no matter how many town girls
filed by. For therein they would have been in a realm of the passions
quite universal in its appeal to the feminine soul.

"Hello, Calista!" said Jim. "How are you enjoying it?"

"Oh!" said Calista, and drew a long, long breath. "Ah'm enjoying myse'f
right much, Mr. Jim."

"Any of the home folks coming in to see?"

"Yes, seh," answered Calista. "All the school board have stopped by this
morning."

Jim looked about him. He wished he could see and shake hands with his
enemies, Bronson, Peterson and Bonner: and if he could tell them of his
success with Professor Withers of the State Agricultural College, perhaps
they would feel differently toward him. There they were now, over in a
corner, with their heads together. Perhaps they were agreeing among
themselves that he was right in his school methods, and they wrong. He
went toward them, his face still beaming with that radiance which had
shone so plainly to the eyes of Calista Simms, but they saw in it only a
grin of exultation over his defeat of them at the hearing before Jennie
Woodruff. When Sim had drawn so close as almost to call for the extended
hand, he felt the repulsion of their attitudes and sheered off on some
pretended errand to a dark corner across the room.

They resumed their talk.

"I'm a Dimocrat," said Con Bonner, "and you fellers is Republicans, and
we've fought each other about who we was to hire for teacher; but when it
comes to electing my successor, I think we shouldn't divide on party
lines."

"The fight about the teacher," said Haakon Peterson, "is a t'ing of the
past. All our candidates got odder yobs now."

"Yes," said Ezra Bronson. "Prue Foster wouldn't take our school now if she
could get it"

"And as I was sayin'," went on Bonner, "I want to get this guy, Jim Irwin.
An' bein' the cause of his gittin' the school, I'd like to be on the board
to kick him off; but if you fellers would like to have some one else, I
won't run, and if the right feller is named, I'll line up what friends I
got for him." "You got no friend can git as many wotes as you can," said
Peterson. "I tank you better run."

"What say, Ez?" asked Bonner.

"Suits me all right," said Bronson. "I guess we three have had our fight
out and understand each other."

"All right," returned Bonner, "I'll take the office again. Let's not start
too soon, but say we begin about a week from Sunday to line up our
friends, to go to the school election and vote kind of unanimous-like?"

"Suits me," said Bronson.

"Wery well," said Peterson.

"I don't like the way Colonel Woodruff acts," said Bonner. "He rounded up
that gang of kids that shot us all to pieces at that hearing, didn't he?"

"I tank not," replied Peterson. "I tank he was yust interested in how
Yennie managed it."

"Looked mighty like he was managin' the demonstration," said Bonner. "What
d'ye think, Ez?"

"Too small a matter for the colonel to monkey with," said Bronson. "I
reckon he was just interested in Jennie's dilemmer. It ain't reasonable
that Colonel Woodruff after the p'litical career he's had would mix up in
school district politics."

"Well," said Bonner, "he seems to take a lot of interest in this
exhibition here. I think we'd better watch the colonel. That decision of
Jennie's might have been because she's stuck on Jim Irwin, or because she
takes a lot of notice of what her father says."

"Or she might have thought the decision was right," said Bronson. "Some
people do, you know."

"Right!" scoffed Bonner. "In a pig's wrist! I tell you that decision was
crooked."

"Vell," said Haakon Peterson, "talk of crookedness wit' Yennie Woodruff
don't get wery fur wit' me."

"Oh, I don't mean anything bad, Haakon," replied Bonner, "but it wasn't an
all-right decision. I think she's stuck on the guy."

The caucus broke up after making sure that the three members of the school
board would be as one man in maintaining a hostile front to Jim Irwin and
his tenure of office. It looked rather like a foregone conclusion, in a
little district wherein there were scarcely twenty-five votes. The three
members of the board with their immediate friends and dependents could
muster two or three ballots each--and who was there to oppose them? Who
wanted to be school director? It was a post of no profit, little honor and
much vexation. And yet, there are always men to be found who covet such
places. Curiously there are always those who covet them for no
ascertainable reason, for often they are men who have no theory of
education to further, and no fondness for affairs of the intellect. In the
Woodruff District, however, the incumbents saw no candidate in view who
could be expected to stand up against the rather redoubtable Con Bonner.
Jim's hold upon his work seemed fairly secure for the term of his
contract, since Jennie had decided that he was competent; and after that
he himself had no plans. He could not expect to be retained by the men who
had so bitterly attacked him. Perhaps the publicity of his Ames address
would get him another place with a sufficient stipend so that he could
support his mother without the aid of the little garden, the cows and the
fowls--and perhaps he would ask Colonel Woodruff to take him back as a
farm-hand. These thoughts thronged his mind as he stood apart and alone
after his rebuff by the caucusing members of the school board.

"I don't see," said a voice over against the cooking exhibit, "what there
is in this to set people talking? Buttonholes! Cookies! Humph!"

It was Mrs. Bonner who had clearly come to scoff. With her was Mrs.
Bronson, whose attitude was that of a person torn between conflicting
influences. Her husband had indicated to the crafty Bonner and the subtle
Peterson that while he was still loyal to the school board, and hence
perforce opposed to Jim Irwin, and resentful to the decision of the county
superintendent, his adhesion to the institutions of the Woodruff District
as handed down by the fathers was not quite of the thick-and-thin type.
For he had suggested that Jennie might have been sincere in rendering her
decision, and that some people agreed with her: so Mrs. Bronson, while
consorting with the censorious Mrs. Bonner evinced restiveness when the
school and its work was condemned. Was not her Newton in charge of a part
of this show! Had he not taken great interest in the project? Was he not
an open and defiant champion of Jim Irwin, and a constant and enthusiastic
attendant upon, not only his classes, but a variety of evening and
Saturday affairs at which the children studied arithmetic, grammar,
geography, writing and spelling, by working on cows, pigs, chickens,
grains, grasses, soils and weeds? And had not Newton become a better
boy--a wonderfully better boy? Mrs. Bronson's heart was filled with
resentment that she also could not be enrolled among Jim Irwin's
supporters. And when Mrs. Bonner sneered at the buttonholes and cookies,
Mrs. Bronson, knowing how the little fingers had puzzled themselves over
the one, and young faces had become floury and red over the other, flared
up a little.

"And I don't see," said she, "anything to laugh at when the young girls do
the best they can to make themselves capable housekeepers. I'd like to
help them." She turned to Mrs. Bonner as if to add "If this be treason,
make the most of it!" but that lady was far too good a diplomat to be
cornered in the same enclosure with a rupture of relations.

"And quite right, too," said she, "in the proper place, and at the proper
time. The little things ought to be helped by every real woman--of
course!"

"Of course," repeated Mrs. Bronson.

"At home, now, and by their mothers," added Mrs. Bonner.

"Well," said Mrs. Bronson, "take them Simms girls, now. They have to have
help outside their home if they are ever going to be like other folks."

"Yes," agreed Mrs. Bonner, "and a lot more help than a farm-hand can give
'em in school. Pretty poor trash, they, and I shouldn't wonder if there
was a lot we don't know about why they come north."

"As for that," replied Mrs. Bronson, "I don't know as it's any of my
business so long as they behave themselves."

Again Mrs. Bonner felt the situation getting out of hand, and again she
returned to the task of keeping Mrs. Bronson in alignment with the forces
of accepted Woodruff District conditions.

"Ain't it some of our business?" she queried. "I wonder now! By the way
Newtie keeps his eye on that Simms girl, I shouldn't wonder if it might
turn out your business."

"Pshaw!" scoffed Mrs. Bronson. "Puppy love!"

"You can't tell how far it'll go," persisted Mrs. Bonner. "I tell you
these schools are getting to be nothing more than sparkin' bees, from the
county superintendent down."

"Well, maybe," said Mrs. Bronson, "but I don't see sparkin' in everything
boys and girls do as quick as some."

"I wonder," said Mrs. Bonner, "if Colonel Woodruff would be as friendly to
Jim Irwin if he knew that everybody says Jennie decided he was to keep his
certif'kit because she wants him to get along in the world, so he can
marry her?"

"I don't know as she is so very friendly to him," replied Mrs. Bronson;
"and Jim and Jennie are both of age, you know."

"Yes, but how about our schools bein' ruined by a love affair?"
interrogated Mrs. Bonner, as they moved away. "Ain't that your business
and mine?"

Instead of desiring further knowledge of what they were discussing, Jim
felt a dreadful disgust at the whole thing. Disgust at being the subject
of gossip, at the horrible falsity of the picture he had been able to
paint to the people of his objects and his ambitions, and especially at
the desecration of Jennie by such misconstruction of her attitude toward
him officially and personally. Jennie was vexed at him, and wanted him to
resign from his position. He firmly believed that she was surprised at
finding herself convinced that he was entitled to a decision in the matter
of his competency as a teacher. She was against him, he believed, and as
for her being in love with him--to hear these women discuss it was
intolerable.

He felt his face redden as at the hearing of some horrible indecency. He
felt himself stripped naked, and he was hotly ashamed that Jennie should
be associated with him in the exposure. And while he was raging inwardly,
paying the penalty of his new-found place in the public eye--a publicity
to which he was not yet hardened--he heard other voices. Professor
Withers, County Superintendent Jennie and Colonel Woodruff were making an
inspection of the rural-school exhibit.

"I hear he has been having some trouble with his school board," the
professor was saying.

"Yes," said Jennie, "he has."

"Wasn't there an effort made to remove him from his position?" asked the
professor.

"Proceedings before me to revoke his certificate," replied Jennie.

"On what grounds?"

"Incompetency," answered Jennie. "I found that his pupils were really
doing very well in the regular course of study--which he seems to be
neglecting."

"I'm glad you supported him," said the professor. "I'm glad to find you
helping him." "Really," protested Jennie, "I don't think myself--"

"What do you think of his notions?" asked the colonel.

"Very advanced," replied Professor Withers. "Where did he imbibe them
all?"

"He's a Brown Mouse," said the colonel.

"I beg your pardon," said the puzzled professor. "I didn't quite
understand. A--a--what?"

"One of papa's breeding jokes," said Jennie. "He means a phenomenon in
heredity--perhaps a genius, you know."

"Ah, I see," replied the professor, "a Mendelian segregation, you mean?"

"Certainly," said the colonel. "The sort of mind that imbibes things from
itself."

"Well, he's rather wonderful," declared the professor. "I had him to lunch
to-day. He surprised me. I have invited him to make an address at Ames
next winter during farmers' week."

"He?"

Jennie's tone showed her astonishment. Jim the underling. Jim the off ox.
Jim the thorn in the county superintendent's side. Jim the country
teacher! It was stupefying.

"Oh, you musn't judge him by his looks," said the professor. "I really do
hope he'll take some advice on the matter of clothes--put on a cravat and
a different shirt and collar when he comes to Ames--but I have no doubt he
will."

"He hasn't any other," said the colonel.

"Well, it won't signify, if he has the truth to tell us," said the
professor.

"_Has_ he?" asked Jennie.

"Miss Woodruff," replied the professor earnestly, "he has something that
looks toward truth, and something that we need. Just how far he will go,
just what he will amount to, it is impossible to say. But something must
be done for the rural schools--something along the lines he is trying to
follow. He is a struggling soul, and he is worth helping. You won't make
any mistake if you make the most of Mr. Irwin."

Jim slipped out of a side door and fled. As in the case of the
conversation between Mrs. Bronson and Mrs. Bonner, he was unable to
discern the favorable auspices in the showing of adverse things. He had
not sensed Mrs. Bronson's half-concealed friendliness for him, though it
was disagreeably plain to Mrs. Bonner. And now he neglected the colonel's
evident support of him, and Professor Withers' praise, in Jennie's
manifest surprise that old Jim had been accorded the recognition of a
place on a college program, and the professor's criticism of his dress and
general appearance.

It was unjust! What chance had he been given to discover what it was
fashionable to wear, even if he had had the money to buy such clothes as
other young men possessed? He would never go near Ames! He would stay in
the Woodruff District where the people knew him, and some of them liked
him. He would finish his school year, and go back to work on the farm. He
would abandon the struggle.

He started home, on foot as he had come, A mile or so out he was overtaken
by the colonel, driving briskly along with room in his buggy for Jim.

"Climb in, Jim!" said he. "Dan and Dolly didn't like to see you walk."

"They're looking fine," said Jim.

There is a good deal to say whenever two horse lovers get together. Hoofs
and coats and frogs and eyes and teeth and the queer sympathies between
horse and man may sometimes quite take the place of the weather for an
hour or so. But when Jim had alighted at his own door, the colonel spoke
of what had been in his mind all the time.

"I saw Bonner and Haakon and Ez doing some caucusing to-day," said he.
"They expect to elect Bonner to the board again."

"Oh, I suppose so," replied Jim.

"Well, what shall we do about it?" asked the colonel.

"If the people want him--" began Jim.

"The people," said the colonel, "must have a choice offered to 'em, or how
can you or any man tell what they want? How can they tell themselves?"

Jim was silent. Here was a matter on which he really had no ideas except
the broad and general one that truth is mighty and shall prevail--but that
the speed of its forward march is problematical.

"I think," said the colonel, "that it's up to us to see that the people
have a chance to decide. It's really Bonner against Jim Irwin."

"That's rather startling," said Jim, "but I suppose it's true. And much
chance Jim Irwin has!"

"I calculate," rejoined the colonel, "that what you need is a champion."

"To do what?"

"To take that office away from Bonner."

"Who can do that?"

"Well, I'm free to say I don't know that any one can, but I'm willing to
try. I think that in about a week I shall pass the word around that I'd
like to serve my country on the school board."

Jim's face lighted up--and then darkened.

"Even then they'd be two to one, Colonel."

"Maybe," replied the colonel, "and maybe not. That would have to be
figured on. A cracked log splits easy."

"Anyhow," Jim went on, "what's the use? I shan't be disturbed this
year--and after that--what's the use?"

"Why, Jim," said the colonel, "you aren't getting short of breath are you?
Do I see frost on your boots? I thought you good for the mile, and you
aren't turning out a quarter horse, are you? I don't know what all it is
you want to do, but I don't, believe you can do it in nine months, can
you?"

"Not in nine years!" replied Jim.

"Well, then, let's plan for ten years," said the colonel. "I ain't going
to become a reformer at my time of life as a temporary job. Will you stick
if we can swing the thing for you?"

"I will," said Jim, in the manner of a person taking the vows in some
solemn initiation.

"All right," said the colonel. "We'll keep quiet and see how many votes we
can muster up at the election. How many oan you speak for?"

Jim gave himself for a few minutes to thought. It was a new thing to him,
this matter of mustering votes--and a thing which he had always looked
upon as rather reprehensible. The citizen should go forth with no
coercion, no persuasion, no suggestion, and vote his sentiments.

"How many can you round up?" persisted the colonel.

"I think," said Jim, "that I can speak for myself and Old Man Simms!"

The colonel laughed.

"Fine politician!" he repeated. "Fine politician! Well, Jim, we may get
beaten in this, but if we are, let's not have them going away picking
their noses and saying they've had no fight. You round up yourself and Old
Man Simms and I'll see what I can do--I'll see what I can do!"



CHAPTER XV

A MINOR CASTS HALF A VOTE


March came in like neither a lion nor a lamb, but was scarcely a week old
before the wild ducks had begun to score the sky above Bronson's Slew
looking for open water and badly-harvested corn-fields. Wild geese, too,
honked from on high as if in wonder that these great prairies on which
their forefathers had been wont fearlessly to alight had been changed into
a disgusting expanse of farms. If geese are favored with the long lives in
which fable bids us believe, some of these venerable honkers must have
seen every vernal and autumnal phase of the transformation from boundless
prairie to boundless corn-land. I sometimes seem to hear in the
bewildering trumpetings of wild geese a cry of surprise and protest at the
ruin of their former paradise. Colonel Woodruff's hired man, Pete, had no
such foolish notions, however. He stopped Newton Bronson and Raymond Simms
as they tramped across the colonel's pasture, gun in hand, trying to make
themselves believe that the shooting was good.

"This ain't no country to hunt in," said he. "Did either of you fellows
ever have any real duck-shooting?"

"The mountings," said Raymond, "air poor places for ducks."

"Not big enough water," suggested Pete. "Some wood-ducks, I suppose?"

"Along the creeks and rivers, yes seh," said Raymond, "and sometimes a
flock of wild geese would get lost, and some bewildered, and a man would
shoot one or two--from the tops of the ridges--but nothing to depend on."

"I've never been nowhere," said Newton, "except once to
Minnesota--and--and that wasn't in the shooting season."

A year ago Newton would have boasted of having "bummed" his way to
Faribault. His hesitant speech was a proof of the embarrassment his new
respectability sometimes inflicted upon him.

"I used to shoot ducks for the market at Spirit Lake," said Pete. "I know
Fred Gilbert just as well as I know you. If I'd 'a' kep' on shooting I
could have made my millions as champion wing shot as easy as he has. He
didn't have nothing on me when we was both shooting for a livin'. But
that's all over, now. You've got to go so fur now to get decent shooting
where the farmers won't drive you off, that it costs nine dollars to send
a postcard home."

"I think we'll have fine shooting on the slew in a few days," said
Newton.

"Humph!" scoffed Pete. "I give you my word, if I hadn't promised the
colonel I'd stay with him another year, I'd take a side-door Pullman for
the Sand Hills of Nebraska or the Devil's Lake country to-morrow--if I had
a gun."

"If it wasn't for a passel of things that keep me hyeh," said Raymond,
"I'd like to go too."

"The colonel," said Pete, "needs me. He needs me in the election
to-morrow. What's the matter of your ol' man, Newt? What for does he vote
for that Bonner, and throw down an old neighbor?"

"I can't do anything with him!" exclaimed Newton irritably. "He's all
tangled up with Peterson and Bonner."

"Well," said Pete, "if he'd just stay at home, it would help some. If he
votes for Bonner, it'll be just about a stand-off."

"He never misses a vote!" said Newton despairingly.

"Can't you cripple him someway?" asked Pete jocularly. "Darned funny when
a boy o' your age can't control his father's vote! So long!"

"I wish I _could_ vote!" grumbled Newton. "I wish I _could_! We know a lot
more about the school, and Jim Irwin bein' a good teacher than dad
does--and we can't vote. Why can't folks vote when they are interested in
an election, and know about the issues. It's tyranny that you and I can't
vote."

"I reckon," said Raymond, the conservative, "that the old-time people that
fixed it thataway knowed best."

"Rats!" sneered Newton, the iconoclast. "Why, Calista knows more about the
election of school director than dad knows."

"That don't seem reasonable," protested Raymond. "She's prejudyced, I
reckon, in favor of Mr. Jim Irwin."

"Well, dad's prejudiced against him,--er, no, he hain't either. He likes
Jim. He's just prejudiced against giving up his old notions. No, he hain't
neither--I guess he's only prejudiced against seeming to give up some old
notions he seemed to have once! And the kids in school would be prejudiced
right, anyhow!"

"Paw says he'll be on hand prompt," said Raymond. "But he had to be
p'swaded right much. Paw's proud--and he cain't read."

"Sometimes I think the more people read the less sense they've got," said
Newton. "I wish I could tie dad up! I wish I could get snakebit, and make
him go for the doctor!"

The boys crossed the ridge to the wooded valley in which nestled the Simms
cabin. They found Mrs. Simms greatly exercised in her mind because young
McGeehee had been found playing with some blue vitriol used by Raymond in
his school work on the treatment of seed potatoes for scab.

"His hands was all blue with it," said she. "Do you reckon, Mr. Newton,
that it'll pizen him?"

"Did he swallow any of it?" asked Newton.

"Nah!" said McGeehee scornfully.

Newton reassured Mrs. Simms, and went away pensive. He was in rebellion
against the strange ways grown men have of discharging their duties as
citizens--a rather remarkable thing, and perhaps a proof that Jim Irwin's
methods had already accomplished much in preparing Newton and Raymond for
citizenship. He had shown them the fact that voting really has some
relation to life. At present, however, the new wine in the old bottles was
causing Newton to forget his filial duty, and his respect for his father.
He wished he could lock him up in the barn so he couldn't go to the school
election. He wished he could become ill--or poisoned with blue vitriol or
something--so his father would be obliged to go for a doctor. He
wished----well, why couldn't he get sick. Mrs. Simms had been about to
send for the doctor for Buddy when he had explained away the apparent
necessity. People got dreadfully scared about poison---- Newton mended his
pace, and looked happier. He looked very much as he had done on the day he
adjusted the needle-pointed muzzle to his dog's nose. He looked, in fact,
more like a person filled with deviltry, than one yearning for the right
to vote.

"I'll fix him!" said he to himself.

"What time's the election, Ez?" asked Mrs. Bronson at breakfast.

"I'm goin' at four o'clock," said Ezra. "And I don't want to hear any more
from any one"--looking at Newton--"about the election. It's none of the
business of the women an' boys."

Newton took this reproof in an unexpectedly submissive spirit. In fact, he
exhibited his very best side to the family that morning, like one going on
a long journey, or about to be married off, or engaged in some deep dark
plot.

"I s'pose you're off trampin' the slews at the sight of a flock of ducks
four miles off as usual?" stated Mr. Bronson challengingly.

"I thought," said Newton, "that I'd get a lot of raisin bait ready for the
pocket-gophers in the lower meadow. They'll be throwing up their mounds by
the first of April."

"Not them," said Mr. Bronson, somewhat mollified, "not before May. Where'd
you get the raisin idee?"

"We learned it in school," answered Newton. "Jim had me study a bulletin
on the control and eradication of pocket-gophers. You use raisins with
strychnine in 'em--and it tells how."

"Some fool notion, I s'pose," said Mr. Bronson, rising. "But go ahead if
you're careful about handlin' the strychnine."

Newton spent the time from twelve-thirty to half after two in watching the
clock; and twenty minutes to three found him seated in the woodshed with a
pen-knife in his hand, a small vial of strychnine crystals on a stand
before him, a saucer of raisins at his right hand, and one exactly like
it, partially filled with gopher bait--by which is meant raisins under the
skin of each of which a minute crystal of strychnine had been inserted on
the point of the knife. Newton was apparently happy and was whistling _The
Glow-Worm_. It was a lovely scene if one can forget the gopher's point of
view.

At three-thirty, Newton went into the house and lay down on the horsehair
sofa, saying to his mother that he felt kind o' funny and thought he'd lie
down a while. At three-forty he heard his father's voice in the kitchen
and knew that his sire was preparing to start for the scene of battle
between Colonel Woodruff and Con Bonner, on the result of which hinged the
future of Jim Irwin and the Woodruff school.

A groan issued from Newton's lips--a gruesome groan as of the painful
death of a person very sensitive to physical suffering. But his father's
voice from the kitchen door betrayed no agitation. He was scolding the
horses as they stood tied to the hitching-post, in tones that showed no
knowledge of his son's distressed moans.

"What's the matter?"

It was Newton's little sister who asked the question, her facial
expression evincing appreciation of Newton's efforts in the line of
groans, somewhat touched with awe. Even though regarded as a pure matter
of make-believe, such sounds were terrible.

"Oh, sister, sister!" howled Newton, "run and tell 'em that brother's
dying!"

Fanny disappeared in a manner which expressed her balanced feelings--she
felt that her brother was making believe, but she believed for all that,
that something awful was the matter. So she went rather slowly to the
kitchen door, and casually remarked that Newton was dying on the sofa in
the sitting-room.

"You little fraud!" said her father.

"Why, Fanny!" said her mother--and ran into the sitting-room--whence in a
moment, with a cry that was almost a scream, she summoned her husband, who
responded at the top of his speed.

Newton was groaning and in convulsions. Horrible grimaces contorted his
face, his jaws were set, his arms and legs drawn up, and his muscles
tense.

"What's the matter?" His father's voice was stern as well as full of
anxiety. "What's the matter, boy?"

"Oh!" cried Newton. "Oh! Oh! Oh!"

"Newtie, Newtie!" cried his mother, "where are you in pain? Tell mother,
Newtie!"

"Oh," groaned Newtie, relaxing, "I feel awful!"

"What you been eating?" interrogated his father.

"Nothing," replied Newton.

"I saw you eatin' dinner," said his father.

Again Newton was convulsed by strong spasms, and again his groans filled
the hearts of his parents with terror.

"That's all I've eaten," said he, when his spasms had passed, "except a
few raisins. I was putting strychnine in 'em----"

"Oh, heavens!" cried his mother. "He's poisoned! Drive for the doctor,
Ezra! Drive!"

Mr. Bronson forgot all about the election--forgot everything save
antidotes and speed. He leaped toward the door. As he passed out, he
shouted "Give him an emetic!" He tore the hitching straps from the posts,
jumped into the buggy and headed for the road. Skilfully avoiding an
overturn as he rounded into the highway, he gave the spirited horses their
heads, and fled toward town, carefully computing the speed the horses
could make and still be able to return. Mile after mile he covered,
passing teams, keeping ahead of automobiles and advertising panic. Just at
the town limits, he met the doctor in Sheriff Dilly's automobile, the
sheriff himself at the steering wheel. Mr. Bronson signaled them to stop,
ignoring the fact that they were making similar signs to him.

"We're just starting for your place," said the doctor. "Your wife got me
on the phone."

"Thank God!" replied Bronson. "Don't fool any time away on me. Drive!"

"Get in here, Ez," said the sheriff. "Doc knows how to drive, and I'll
come on with your team. They need a slow drive to cool 'em off."

"Why didn't you phone me?" asked the doctor.

"Never thought of it," replied Bronson. "I hain't had the phone only a few
years. Drive faster!"

"I want to get there, or I would," answered the doctor. "Don't worry. From
what your wife told me over the phone I don't believe the boy's eaten any
more strychnine than I have--and probably not so much."

"He was alive, then?"

"Alive and making an argument against taking the emetic," replied the
doctor. "But I guess she got it down him."

"I'd hate to lose that boy, Doc!"

"I don't believe there's any danger. It doesn't sound like a genuine
poisoning case to me."

Thus reassured, Mr. Bronson was calm, even if somewhat tragic in calmness,
when he entered the death chamber with the doctor. Newton was sitting up,
his eyes wet, and his face pale. His mother had won the argument, and
Newton had lost his dinner. Haakon Peterson occupied an armchair.

"What's all this?" asked the doctor. "How you feeling, Newt? Any pain?"

"I'm all right," said Newton. "Don't give me any more o' that nasty
stuff!"

"No," said the doctor, "but if you don't tell me just what you've been
eating, and doing, and pulling off on us, I'll use this"--and the doctor
exhibited a huge stomach pump.

"What'll you do with that?" asked Newton faintly.

"I'll put this down into your hold, and unload you, that's what I'll do."

"Is the election over, Mr. Peterson?" asked Newton.

"Yes," answered Mr. Peterson, "and the votes counted."

"Who's elected?" asked Newton.

"Colonel Woodruff," answered Mr. Peterson. "The vote was twelve to
eleven."

"Well, dad," said Newton, "I s'pose you'll be sore, but the only way I
could see to get in half a vote for Colonel Woodruff was to get poisoned
and send you after the doctor. If you'd gone, it would 'a' been a tie,
anyhow, and probably you'd 'a' persuaded somebody to change to Bonner.
That's what's the matter with me. I killed your vote. Now, you can do
whatever you like to me--but I'm sorry I scared mother."

Ezra Bronson seized Newton by the throat, but his fingers failed to close.
"Don't pinch, dad," said Newton. "I've been using that neck an' it's
tired." Mr. Bronson dropped his hands to his sides, glared at his son for
a moment and breathed a sigh of relief.

"Why, you darned infernal little fool," said he. "I've a notion to take a
hamestrap to you! If I'd been there the vote would have been eleven to
thirteen!"

"There was plenty wotes there for the colonel, if he needed 'em," said
Haakon, whose politician's mind was already fully adjusted to the changed
conditions. "Ay tank the Woodruff District will have a junanimous school
board from dis time on once more. Colonel Woodruff is yust the man we have
needed."

"I'm with you there," said Bronson. "And as for you, young man, if one or
both of them horses is hurt by the run I give them, I'll lick you within
an inch of your life---- Here comes Dilly driving 'em in now---- I guess
they're all right. I wouldn't want to drive a good team to death for any
young hoodlum like him---- All right, how much do I owe you. Doc?"



CHAPTER XVI

THE GLORIOUS FOURTH


A good deal of water ran under the Woodruff District bridges in the weeks
between the school election and the Fourth of July picnic at Eight-Mile
Grove. They were very important weeks to Jim Irwin, though outwardly
uneventful. Great events are often mere imperceptible developments of the
spirit.

Spring, for instance, brought a sort of spiritual crisis to Jim; for he
had to face the accusing glance of the fields as they were plowed and sown
while he lived indoors. As he labored at the tasks of the Woodruff school
he was conscious of a feeling not very easily distinguished from a sense
of guilt. It seemed that there must be something almost wicked in his
failure to be afield with his team in the early spring mornings when the
woolly anemones appeared in their fur coats, the heralds of the later
comers--violets, sweet-williams, puccoons, and the scarlet prairie
lilies.

A moral crisis accompanies the passing of a man from the struggle with the
soil to any occupation, the productiveness of which is not quite so clear.
It requires a keenly sensitive nature to feel conscious of it, but Jim
Irwin possessed such a temperament; and from the beginning of the daily
race with the seasons, which makes the life of a northern farmer an eight
months' Marathon in which to fall behind for a week is to lose much of the
year's reward, the gawky schoolmaster slept uneasily, and heard the
earliest cock-crow as a soldier hears a call to arms to which he has made
up his mind he will not respond.

I think there is a real moral principle involved. I believe that this deep
instinct for labor in and about the soil is a valid one, and that the
gathering together of people in cities has been at the cost of an obscure
but actual moral shock.

I doubt if the people of the cities can ever be at rest in a future full
of moral searchings of conscience until every man has traced definitely
the connection of the work he is doing with the maintenance of his
country's population. Sometimes those vocations whose connection can not
be so traced will be recognized as wicked ones, and people engaged in them
will feel as did Jim--until he worked out the facts in the relation of
school-teaching to the feeding, clothing and sheltering of the world. Most
school-teaching he believed--correctly or incorrectly--has very little to
do with the primary task of the human race; but as far as his teaching was
concerned, even he believed in it. If by teaching school he could not make
a greater contribution to the productiveness of the Woodruff District than
by working in the fields, he would go back to the fields. Whether he could
make his teaching thus productive or not was the very fact in issue
between him and the local body politic.

These are some of the waters that ran under the bridges before the Fourth
of July picnic at Eight-Mile Grove. Few surface indications there were of
any change in the little community in this annual gathering of friends and
neighbors. Wilbur Smythe made the annual address, and was in rather finer
fettle than usual as he paid his fervid tribute to the starry flag, and to
this very place as the most favored spot in the best country of the
greatest state in the most powerful, intellectual, freest and most
progressive nation in the best possible of worlds. Wilbur was going
strong. Jim Irwin read the Declaration rather well, Jennie Woodruff
thought, as she sat on the platform between Deacon Avery, the oldest
settler in the district, and Mrs. Columbus Brown, the sole local
representative of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Colonel
Woodruff presided in his Grand Army of the Republic uniform.

The fresh northwest breeze made free with the oaks, elms, hickories and
box-elders of Eight-Mile Grove, and the waters of Pickerel Creek glimmered
a hundred yards away, beyond the flitting figures of the boys who
preferred to shoot off their own fire-crackers and torpedoes and
nigger-chasers, rather than to listen to those of Wilbur Smythe. Still
farther off could be heard the voice of a lone lemonade vender as he
advertised ice-cold lemonade, made in the shade, with a brand-new spade,
by an old maid, as a guaranty that it was the blamedest, coldest lemonade
ever sold. And under the shadiest trees a few incorrigible Marthas were
spreading the snowy tablecloths on which would soon be placed the
bountiful repasts stored in ponderous wicker baskets and hampers. It was a
lovely day, in a lovely spot--a good example of the miniature forests
which grew naturally from time immemorial in favored locations on the Iowa
prairies--half a square mile of woodland, all about which the green
corn-rows stood aslant in the cool breeze, "waist-high and laid by."

They were passing down the rough board steps from the platform after the
exercises had terminated in a rousing rendition of _America_, when Jennie
Woodruff, having slipped by everybody else to reach him, tapped Jim Irwin
on the arm. He looked back at her over his shoulder with his slow gentle
smile.

"Isn't your mother here, Jim?" she asked. "I've been looking all over the
crowd and can't see her."

"She isn't here," answered Jim. "I was in hopes that when she broke loose
and went to your Christmas dinner she would stay loose--but she went home
and settled back into her rut."

"Too bad," said Jennie. "She'd have had a nice time if she had come."

"Yes," said Jim, "I believe she would."

"I want help," said Jennie. "Our hamper is terribly heavy. Please!"

It was rather obvious to Mrs. Bonner that Jennie was throwing herself at
Jim's head; but that was an article of the Bonner family creed since the
decision which closed the hearing at the court-house. It must be admitted
that the young county superintendent found tasks which kept the
schoolmaster very close to her side. He carried the hamper, helped Jennie
to spread the cloth on the grass, went with her to the well for water and
cracked ice wherewith to cool it. In fact, he quite cut Wilbur Smythe out
when that gentleman made ponderous efforts to obtain a share of the favor
implied in these permissions.

"Sit down, Jim," said Mrs. Woodruff, "you've earned a bite of what we've
got. It's good enough, what there is of it, and there's enough of it, such
as it is!"

"I'm sorry," said Jim, "but I've a prior engagement."

"Why, Jim!" protested Jennie. "I've been counting on you. Don't desert
me!"

"I'm awfully sorry," said Jim, "but I promised. I'll see you later."

One might have thought, judging by the colonel's quizzical smile, that he
was pleased at Jennie's loss of her former swain.

"We'll have to invite Jim longer ahead of time," said he. "He's getting to
be in demand."

He seemed to be in demand--a fact that Jennie confirmed by observation as
she chatted with Deacon Avery, Mrs. Columbus Brown and her husband, and
the Orator of the Day, at the table set apart for the guests and notables.
Jim received a dozen invitations as he passed the groups seated on the
grass--one of them from Mrs. Cornelius Bonner, who saw no particular point
in advertising disgruntlement. The children ran to him and clung to his
hands; young girls gave him sisterly smiles and such trifles as chicken
drumsticks, pieces of cake and like tidbits. His passage to the numerous
groups at a square table under a big burr-oak was quite an ovation--an
ovation of the significance of which he was himself quite unaware. The
people were just friendly, that was all--to his mind.

But Jennie--the daughter of a politician and a promising one
herself--Jennie sensed the fact that Jim Irwin had won something from the
people of the Woodruff District in the way of deference. Still he was the
gangling, Lincolnian, ill-dressed, poverty-stricken Jim Irwin of old, but
Jennie had no longer the feeling that one's standing was somewhat
compromised by association with him. He had begun to put on something more
significant than clothes, something which he had possessed all the time,
but which became valid only as it was publicly apprehended. There was a
slight air of command in his down-sitting and up-rising at the picnic. He
was clearly the central figure of his group, in which she recognized the
Bronsons, those queer children from Tennessee, the Simmses, the Talcotts,
the Hansens, the Hamms and Colonel Woodruff's hired man, Pete, whose other
name is not recorded.

Jim sat down between Bettina Hansen, a flaxen-haired young Brunhilde of
seventeen, and Calista Simms--Jennie saw him do it, while listening to
Wilbur Smythe's account of the exacting nature of the big law practise he
was building up,--and would have been glad to exchange places with Calista
or Bettina.

The repast drew to a close; and over by the burr-oak the crowd had grown
to a circle surrounding Jim Irwin.

"He seems to be making an address," said Wilbur Smythe.

"Well, Wilbur," replied the colonel, "you had the first shot at us.
Suppose we move over and see what's under discussion."

As they approached the group, they heard Jim Irwin answering something
which Ezra Bronson had said.

"You think so, Ezra," said he, "and it seems reasonable that big
creameries like those at Omaha, Sioux City, Des Moines and the other
centralizer points can make butter cheaper than we would do here--but
we've the figures that show that they aren't economical."

"They can't make good butter, for one thing," said Newton Bronson
cockily.

"Why can't they?" asked Olaf Hansen, the father of Bettina.

"Well," said Newton, "they have to have so much cream that they've got to
ship it so far that it gets rotten on the way, and they have to renovate
it with lime and other ingredients before they can churn it."

"Well," said Raymond Simms, "I reckon they sell their butter fo' all it's
wuth; an' they cain't get within from foah to seven cents a pound as much
fo' it as the farmers' creameries in Wisconsin and Minnesota get fo'
theirs."

"That's a fact, Olaf," said Jim.

"How do you kids know so darned much about it?" queried Pete.

"Huh!" sniffed Bettina. "We've been reading about it, and writing letters
about it, and figuring percentages on it in school all winter. We've done
arithmetic and geography and grammar and I don't know what else on it."

"Well, I'm agin' any schoolin'," said Pete, "that makes kids smarter in
farmin' than their parents and their parents' hired men. Gi' me another
swig o' that lemonade, Jim!"

"You see," said Jim to his audience, meanwhile pouring the lemonade, "the
centralizer creamery is uneconomic in several ways. It has to pay
excessive transportation charges. It has to pay excessive commissions to
its cream buyers. It has to accept cream without proper inspection, and
mixes the good with the bad. It makes such long shipments that the cream
spoils in transit and lowers the quality of the butter. It can't make the
best use of the buttermilk. All these losses and leaks the farmers have to
stand. I can prove--and so can the six or eight pupils in the Woodruff
school who have been working on the cream question this winter--that we
could make at least six cents a pound on our butter if we had a
cooperative creamery and all sent our cream to it."

"Well," said Ezra Bronson, "let's start one."

"I'll go in," said Olaf Hansen.

"Me, too," said Con Bonner.

There was a general chorus of assent. Jim had convinced his audience.

"He's got the jury," said Wilbur Smythe to Colonel Woodruff.

"Yes," said the colonel, "and right here is where he runs into danger. Can
he handle the crowd when it's with him?"

"Well," said Jim, "I think we ought to organize one, but I've another
proposition first. Let's get together and pool our cream. By that, I mean
that we'll all sell to the same creamery, and get the best we can out of
the centralizers by the cooperative method. We can save two cents a pound
in that way, and we'll learn to cooperate. When we have found just how
well we can hang together, we'll be able to take up the cooperative
creamery, with less danger of falling apart and failing."

"Who'll handle the pool?" inquired Mr. Hansen.

"We'll handle it in the school," answered Jim.

"School's about done," objected Mr. Bronson.

"Won't the cream pool pretty near pay the expenses of running the school
all summer?" asked Bonner.

"We ought to run the school plant all the time," said Jim. "It's the only
way to get full value out of the investment. And we've corn-club work,
pig-club work, poultry work and canning-club work which make it very
desirable to keep in session with only a week's vacation. If you'll add
the cream pool, it will make the school the hardest working crowd in the
district and doing actual farm work, too. I like Mr. Bonner's
suggestion."

"Well," said Haakon Peterson, who had joined the group, "Ay tank we better
have a meeting of the board and discuss it."

"Well, darn it," said Columbus Brown, "I want in on this cream pool--and I
live outside the district!"

"We'll let you in, Clumb," said the colonel.

"Sure!" said Pete. "We hain't no more sense than to let any one in, Clumb.
Come in, the water's fine. We ain't proud!"

"Well," said Clumb, "if this feller is goin' to do school work of this
kind, I want in the district, too."

"We'll come to that one of these days," said Jim. "The district is too
small."

Wilbur Smythe's car stopped at the distant gate and honked for him--a
signal which broke up the party. Haakon Peterson passed the word to the
colonel and Mr. Bronson for a board meeting the next evening. The picnic
broke up in a dispersion of staid married couples to their homes, and
young folks in top buggies to dances and displays of fireworks in the
surrounding villages. Jim walked across the fields to his home--neither
old nor young, having neither sweetheart with whom to dance nor farm to
demand labor in its inexorable chores. He turned after crawling through a
wire fence and looked longingly at Jennie as she was suavely assisted into
the car by the frock-coated lawyer.

"You saw what he did?" said the colonel interrogatively, as he and his
daughter sat on the Woodruff veranda that evening. "Who taught him the
supreme wisdom of holding back his troops when they grew too wild for
attack?"

"He may lose them," said Jennie.

"Not so," said the colonel. "Individuals of the Brown Mouse type always
succeed when they find their environment. And I believe Jim has found
his."

"Well," said Jennie, "I wish his environment would find him some clothes.
It's a shame the way he has to go looking. He'd be nice-appearing if he
was dressed anyway."

"Would he?" queried the colonel. "I wonder, now! Well, Jennie, as his
oldest friend having any knowledge of clothes, I think it's up to you to
act as a committee of one on Jim's apparel."



CHAPTER XVII

A TROUBLE SHOOTER


A sudden July storm had drenched the fields and filled the swales with
water. The cultivators left the corn-fields until the next day's sun and a
night of seepage might once more fit the black soil for tillage. The
little boys rolled up their trousers and tramped home from school with the
rich mud squeezing up between their toes, thrilling with the electricity
of clean-washed nature, and the little girls rather wished they could go
barefooted, too, as, indeed, some of the more sensible did.

A lithe young man with climbers on his legs walked up a telephone pole by
the roadside to make some repairs to the wires, which had been whipped
into a "cross" by the wind of the storm and the lashing of the limbs of
the roadside trees. He had tied his horse to a post up the road, and was
running out the trouble on the line, which was plentifully in evidence
just then. Wind and lightning had played hob with the system, and the line
repairer was cheerfully profane, in the manner of his sort, glad by reason
of the fire of summer in his veins, and incensed at the forces of nature
which had brought him out through the mud to the Woodruff District to do
these piffling jobs that any of the subscribers ought to have known how to
do themselves, and none of which took more than a few minutes of his time
when he reached the seat of the difficulty.

Jim Irwin, his school out for the day, came along the muddy road with two
of his pupils, a bare-legged little boy and a tall girl with flaxen
hair--Bettina Hansen and her small brother Hans, who refused to answer to
any name other than Hans Nilsen. His father's name was Nils Hansen, and
Hans, a born conservative, being the son of Nils, regarded himself as
rightfully a Nilsen, and disliked the "Hans Hansen" on the school
register. Thus do European customs sometimes survive among us.

Hans strode through the pool of water which the shower had spread
completely over the low turnpike a few rods from the pole on which the
trouble shooter was at work, and the electrician ceased his labors and
rested himself on a cross-arm while he waited to see what the
flaxen-haired girl would do when she came to it.

Jim and Bettina stopped at the water's edge. "Oh!" cried she, "I can't get
through!" The trouble shooter felt the impulse to offer his aid, but
thought it best on the whole, to leave the matter in the hands of the lank
schoolmaster.

"I'll carry you across," said Jim.

"I'm too heavy," answered Bettina.

"Nonsense!" said Jim.

"She's awful heavy," piped Hans. "Better take off your shoes, anyhow!"

Jim thought of the welfare of his only good trousers, and saw that Hans'
suggestion was good; but a mental picture of himself with shoes in hand
and bare legs restrained him. He took Bettina in his arms and went slowly
across, walking rather farther with his blushing burden than was strictly
necessary. Bettina was undoubtedly heavy; but she was also wonderfully
pleasant to feel in arms which had never borne such a burden before; and
her arms about his neck as he slopped through the pond were curiously
thrilling. Her cheek brushed his as he set her upon her feet and felt,
rather than thought, that if there had only been a good reason for it,
Bettina would have willingly been carried much farther.

"How strong you are!" she panted. "I'm awful heavy, ain't I?"

"Not very," said Jim, with scholastic accuracy. "You're just right. I--I
mean, you're simply well-nourished and wholesomely plump!"

Bettina blushed still more rosily.

"You've ruined your clothes," said she. "Now you'll have to come home with
me and let me--see who's there!"

Jim looked up at the trouble shooter, and went over to the foot of the
pole. The man walked down, striking his spurs deep into the wood for
safety.

"Hello!" said he. "School out?"

"For the day," said Jim. "Any important work on the telephone line now?"

"Just trouble-shooting," was the answer. "I have to spend three hours
hunting these troubles, to one in fixing 'em up."

"Do they take much technical skill?" asked Jim.

"Mostly shakin' out crosses, and puttin' in new carbons in the arresters,"
replied the trouble man. "Any one ought to do any of 'em with five
minutes' instruction. But these farmers--they'd rather have me drive ten
miles to take a hair-pin from across the binding-posts than to do it
themselves. That's the way they are!"

"Will you be out here to-morrow?" queried the teacher.

"Sure!"

"I'd like to have you show my class in manual training something about the
telephone," said Jim. "The reason we can't fix our own troubles, if they
are as simple as you say, is because we don't know how simple they are."

"I'll tell you what I'll do, Professor," said the trouble man. "I'll bring
a phone with me and give 'em a lecture. I don't see how I can employ the
company's time any better than in beating a little telephone sense into
the heads of the community. Set the time, and I'll be there with bells."

Bettina and her teacher walked on up the shady lane, feeling that they had
a secret. They were very nearly on a parity as to the innocence of soul
with which they held this secret, except that Bettina was much more
single-minded toward it than Jim. To her he had been gradually attaining
the status of a hero whose clasp of her in that iron-armed way was
mysteriously blissful--and beyond that her mind had not gone. To Jim,
Bettina represented in a very sweet way the disturbing influences which
had recently risen to the threshold of consciousness in his being, and
which were concretely but not very hopefully embodied in Jennie Woodruff.

Thus interested in each other, they turned the corner which took them out
of sight of the lineman, and stopped at the shady avenue leading up to
Nils Hansen's farmstead. Little Hans Nilsen had disappeared by the simple
method of cutting across lots. Bettina's girlish instinct called for
something more than the casual good-by which would have sufficed
yesterday. She lingered, standing close by Jim Irwin.

"Won't you come in and let me clean the mud off you," she asked, "and give
you some dry socks?"

"Oh, no!" replied Jim. "It's almost as far to your house as it is home.
Thank you, no."

"There's a splash of mud on your face," said Bettina. "Let me--" And with
her little handkerchief she began wiping off the mud. Jim stooped to
permit the attention, but not much, for Bettina was of the mold of women
of whom warriors are born--their faces approached, and Jim recognized a
crisis in the fact that Bettina's mouth was presented for a kiss. Jim met
the occasion like the gentleman he was. He did not leave her stung by
rejection; neither did he obey the impulse to respond to the invitation
according to his man's instinct; he took the rosy face between his palms
and kissed her forehead--and left her in possession of her self-respect.
After that Bettina Hansen felt, somehow, that the world could not possibly
contain another man like Jim Irwin--a conviction which she still cherishes
when that respectful caress has been swept into the cloudy distance of a
woman's memories.

Pete, Colonel Woodruff's hired man, was watering the horses at the trough
when the trouble shooter reached the Woodruff telephone. County
Superintendent Jennie had run for her father's home in her little
motor-car in the face of the shower, and was now on the bench where once
she had said "Humph!" to Jim Irwin--and thereby started in motion the
factors in this story.

"Anything wrong with your phone?" asked the trouble man of Pete.

"Nah," replied Pete. "It was on the blink till you done something down the
road."

"Crossed up," said the lineman. "These trees along here are something
fierce."

"I'd cut 'em all if they was mine," said Pete, "but the colonel set 'em
out, along about sixty-six, and I reckon they'll have to go on
a-growin'."

"Who's your school-teacher?" asked the telephone man.

The county superintendent pricked up her ears--being quite properly
interested in matters educational.

"Feller name of Irwin," said Pete.

"Not much of a looker," said the trouble shooter.

"Nater of the sile," said Pete. "He an' I both worked in it together till
it roughened up our complexions."

"Farmer, eh?" said the lineman interrogatively. "Well, he's the first
farmer I ever saw in my life that recognized there's education in the
telephone business. I'm goin' to teach a class in telephony at the
schoolhouse to-morrow."

"Don't get swelled up," said Pete. "He has everybody tell them young ones
about everything--blacksmith, cabinet-maker, pie-founder, cookie-cooper,
dressmaker--even down to telephones. He'll have them scholars figurin' on
telephones, and writin' compositions on 'em, and learnin' 'lectricity from
'em an' things like that"

"He must be some feller," said the lineman. "And who's his star pupil?"

"Didn't know he had one," said Pete. "Why?"

"Girl," said the trouble-shooter. "Goes to school from the farm where the
Western Union brace is used at the road."

"Nils Hansen's girl?" asked Pete.

"Toppy little filly," said the lineman, "with silver mane--looks like
she'd pull a good load and step some."

"M'h'm," grunted Pete. "Bettina Hansen. Looks well enough. What about
her?"

Again the county superintendent, seated on the bench, pricked up her ears
that she might learn, mayhap, something of educational interest.

"I never wanted to be a school-teacher as bad," continued the shooter of
trouble, "as I did when this farmer got to the low place in the road with
the fair Bettina this afternoon when they was comin' home from school. The
water was all over the road----"

"Then I win a smoke from the roadmaster," said Pete. "I bet him it would
overflow."

"Well, if I was in the professor's place, I'd be glad to pay the bet,"
said the worldly lineman. "And I'll say this for him, he rose equal to the
emergency and caved the emergency's head in. He carried her across the
pond, and her a-clingin' to his neck in a way to make your mouth water.
She wasn't a bit mad about it, either."

"I'd rather have a good cigar any ol' time," said Pete. "Nothin' but a
yaller-haired kid--an' a Dane at that. I had a dame once up at Spirit
Lake----"

"Well, I must be drivin' on," said the lineman. "Got to get up a lecture
for Professor Irwin to-morrow--and maybe I'll be able to meet that
yaller-haired kid. So long!"

The county superintendent recognized at once the educational importance of
the matter, when one of her country teachers adopted the policy of calling
in everybody available who could teach the pupils anything special, and
converting the school into a local Chautauqua served by local lecturers.
She made a run of ten miles to hear the trouble shooter's lecture. She saw
the boys and some of the girls give an explanation of the telephone and
the use of it. She heard the teacher give as a language exercise the next
day an essay on the ethics and proprieties of eavesdropping on party
lines; and she saw the beginning of an arrangement under which the boys of
the Woodruff school took the contract to look after easily-remedied line
troubles in the neighborhood on the basis which paid for a telephone for
the school, and swelled slightly the fund which Jim was accumulating for
general purposes. Incidentally, she saw how really educational was the
work of the day, and that to which it led.

She had no curiosity to which she would have confessed, about the
relations between Jim Irwin and his "star pupil," that young
Brunhilde--Bettina Hansen; but her official duty required her to observe
the attitude of pupils to teachers--Bettina among them. Clearly, Jim was
looked upon by the girls, large and small, as a possession of theirs. They
competed for the task of keeping his desk in order, and of dusting and
tidying up the schoolroom. There was something of exaltation of sentiment
in this. Bettina's eyes followed him about the room in a devotional sort
of way; but so, too, did those of the ten-year-olds. He was loved, that
was clear, by Bettina, Calista Simms and all the rest--an excellent thing
in a school.

All the same, Jennie met Jim rather oftener after the curious conversation
between those rather low fellows, Pete and the trouble shooter. As autumn
approached, and the time came for Jim to begin to think of his trip to
Ames, Colonel Woodruff's hint that she should assume charge of the problem
of Jim's clothes for the occasion, came more and more often to her mind.
Would Jim be able to buy suitable clothes? Would he understand that he
ought not to appear in the costume which was tolerable in the Woodruff
District only because the people there were accustomed to seeing him
dressed like a tramp? Could she approach the subject with any degree of
safety? Really these were delicate questions; and considering the fact
that Jennie had quite dismissed her old sweetheart from the list of
eligibles--had never actually admitted him to it, in fact--they assumed
great importance to her mind. Once, only a little more than a year ago,
she had scoffed at Jim's mention of the fact that he might think of
marrying; and now she could not think of saying to him kindly, "Jim, you
really must have some better clothes to wear when you go to Ames!" It
would have been far easier last summer.

Somehow, Jim had been acquiring dignity and unapproachability. She must
sidle up to the subject. She did. She took him into her runabout one day
as he was striding toward town in that plowed-ground manner of his, and
gave him a spin over to the fair grounds and two or three times around the
half-mile track.

"I'm going to Ames to hear your speech," said she.

"I'm glad of that," said Jim. "More of the farmers are going from this
neighborhood than ever before. I'll feel at home, if they all sit together
where I can talk at them."

"Who's going?" asked Jennie.

"The Bronsons, Con Bonner and Nils Hansen and Bettina," replied Jim.
"That's all from our district--and Columbus Brown and probably others from
near-by localities."

"I shall have to have some clothes," said Jennie.

Jim failed to respond to this, as clearly out of his field. They were
passing the county fair buildings, and he began expatiating on the kind of
county fair he would have--a great county exposition with the schools as
its central thought--a clearing house for the rural activities of all the
country schools.

"And pa's going to have a suit before we go, too," said Jennie. "Here are
some samples I got of Atkins, the tailor. Which would be the most becoming
do you think?"

Jim looked the samples over carefully, but had little to say as to their
adaptation to Colonel Woodruff's sartorial needs. Jennie laid great stress
on the excellent quality of one or two samples, and carefully specified
the prices of them. Jim exhibited no more than a languid and polite
interest, and gave not the slightest symptom of ever having considered
even remotely the contingency of having a tailor-made suit. Jennie sidled
closer to the subject.

"I should think it would be awfully hard for you to get fitted in the
stores," said she, "you are so very tall."

"It would be," said Jim, "if I had ever considered the matter of looks
very much. I guess I'm not constructed on any plan the clothing
manufacturers have regarded as even remotely possible. How about this
county fair idea? Couldn't we do this next fall? You organize the
teachers----"

Jennie advanced the spark, cut out the muffler and drowned the rest of
Jim's remarks in wind and dust.

"I give it up, dad," said she to her father that evening.

"What?" queried the colonel.

"Jim Irwin's clothes," she replied. "I think he'll go to Ames in a
disgraceful plight, but I can't get any closer to the subject than I have
done."

"Oh, then you haven't heard the news," said the colonel. "Jim's going to
have his first made-to-measure suit for Ames. It's all fixed."

"Who's making it?" asked Jennie.

"Gustaf Paulsen, the Dane that's just opened a shop in town." "A Dane?"
queried Jennie. "Isn't he related to some of the neighbors?"

"A brother to Mrs. Hansen," answered the colonel.

"Bettina's uncle!"

"Ratherly," said the colonel jocularly, "seeing as how Bettina's Mrs.
Hansen's daughter."

Clothes are rather important, but the difference between a suit made by
Atkins the tailor, and one built by Gustaf Paulsen, the new Danish
craftsman, could not be supposed to be crucially important, even when
designed for a very dear friend. And Jim was scarcely that--of course not!
Why, then, did the county superintendent hastily run to her room, and cry?
Why did she say to herself that the Hansens were very good people, and
well-to-do, and it would be a fine thing for Jim and his mother,--and then
cry some more? Colonel failed to notice Jennie's unceremonious retirement
from circulation that evening, and had he known all about what took place,
he would have been as mystified as you or I.



CHAPTER XVIII

JIM GOES TO AMES


The boat tipped over, and Jim Irwin was left struggling in the water. It
was in the rapids just above the cataract--and poor Jim could not swim a
stroke. Helpless, terrified, gasping, he floated to destruction, and
Jennie Woodruff was not able to lift a hand to help him. To see any human
being swept to such an end is dreadful, but for a county superintendent to
witness the drowning of one of her best--though sometimes it must be
confessed most insubordinate--teachers, under such circumstances, is
unspeakable; and when that teacher is a young man who was once that county
superintendent's sweetheart, and falls in, clothed in a new made-to-order
suit in which he looks almost handsome despite his manifest discomfort in
his new cravat and starched collar, the experience is something almost
impossible to endure. That is why Jennie gripped her seat until she must
have scratched the varnish. That is why she felt she must go to him--and
do something. She could not endure it a moment longer, she felt; and there
he floated away, his poor pale face dipping below the waves, his sad,
long, homely countenance sadder than ever, his lovely--yes, she must
confess it now, his eyes were lovely!--his lovely blue eyes, so honest and
true, wide with terror; and she unable to give him so much as a cry of
encouragement!

And then Jim began to swim. He cast aside the roll of manuscript which he
had held in his hand when the waters began to rise about him, and struck
out for the shore with strong strokes--wild and agitated at first, but
gradually becoming controlled and coordinated, and Jennie drew a long
breath as he finally came to shore, breasting the waves like Triton, and
master of the element in which he moved. There was a burst of applause,
and people went forward to congratulate the greenhorn who had really made
good.

Jennie felt like throwing her arms about his neck and weeping out her joy
at his escape, and his restoration to her. Her eyes told him something of
this; for there was a look in them which reminded him of fifteen years
ago. Bettina Hansen was proud of him, and Con Bonner shook his hand and
said that he agreed with him. Neither Bettina nor Con had noticed the
capsizing of the boat or saw the form of Jim as it went drifting toward
the cataract. But Jim knew how near he had been to disaster, and knew that
Jennie knew. For she had seen him turn pale when he came on the platform
to make his address at the farmers' meeting at Ames, had seen him begin
the speech he had committed to memory, had observed how unable he was to
remember it, had noted his confusion as he tried to find his manuscript,
and then his place of beginning in it--and when his confusion had
seemingly quite overcome him, had seen him begin talking to his audience
just as he had talked to the political meeting that time when he had so
deeply offended her, and had observed how he won first their respect, then
their attention, then apparently their convictions.

To Jennie's agitated mind Jim had barely escaped being drowned in the
ocean of his own unreadiness and confusion under trying conditions. And
she was right. Jim had never felt more the upstart uneducated farm-hand
than when he was introduced to that audience by Professor Withers, nor
more completely disgraced than when he concluded his remarks. Even the
applause was to him a kindly effort on the part of the audience to comfort
him in his failure. His only solace was the look in Jennie's eyes.

"Young man," said an old farmer who wore thick glasses and looked like a
Dutch burgomaster, "I want to have a little talk with you."

"This is Mr. Hofmyer of Pottawatomie County," said the dean of the
college.

"I'm glad to meet you," said Jim. "I can talk to you now."

"No," said Jennie. "I know Mr. Hofmyer will excuse you until after dinner.
We have a little party for Mr. Irwin, and we shall be late if we don't
hurry."

"Where can I see you after supper?" asked Mr. Hofmyer.

Easy it was to satisfy Mr. Hofmyer; and Jim was carried off to a dinner
given by County Superintendent Jennie to Jim, the dean, Professor Withers,
and one or two others--and a wonderfully select and distinguished company
it seemed to Jim. Jennie seized a moment's opportunity to say, "You did
beautifully, Jim; everybody says so."

"I failed!" said. Jim. "You know I failed. I couldn't remember my speech.
I can't stay here feasting. I want to get out in the snow."

"You made the best address of the meeting; and you did it because you
forgot your speech," insisted Jennie.

"Does anybody else think so?"

"Why, Jim! You must learn to believe in what you have done. Even Con
Bonner says it was the best. He says he didn't think you had it in ye!"

This advice from her to "believe in what you have done,"--wasn't there
something new in Jennie's attitude here? Wasn't his belief in what he was
doing precisely the thing which had made him such a nuisance to the county
superintendent? However, Jim couldn't stop to answer the question which
popped up in his mind.

"What does Professor Withers say?" he asked.

"He's delighted--silly!"

"Silly!" How wonderful it was to be called "silly"--in that tone.

"I shouldn't have forgotten the speech if it hadn't been for this darned
boiled shirt and collar, and for wearing a cravat," urged Jim in
extenuation.

"You ought to 've worn them around the house for a week before coming,"
said Jennie. "Why didn't you ask my advice?"

"I will, next time, Jennie," said Jim. "I didn't suppose I needed a
bitting-rig--but I guess I did!"

Jennie ran away then to ask Nils Hansen and Bettina to join their dinner
party. She had a sudden access of friendliness for the Hansens. Nils
refused because he was going out to see the college herds fed; but at
Jennie's urgent request, reinforced by pats and hugs, Bettina consented.
Jennie was very happy, and proved herself a beaming hostess. The dean
devoted himself to Bettina--and Jim found out afterward that this
inquiring gentleman was getting at the mental processes of a specimen
pupil in one of the new kind of rural schools, in which he was only half
inclined to believe. He thanked Jim for his speech, and said it was "most
suggestive and thought-provoking," and as the party broke up slipped into
Jim's hand a check for the honorarium. It was not until then that Jim felt
quite sure that he was actually to be paid for his speech; and he felt a
good deal like returning the check to the conscience fund of the State of
Iowa, if it by any chance possessed such a fund. But the breach made in
his financial entrenchments by the expenses of the trip and the
respectable and well-fitting suit of clothes overcame his feeling of
getting something for nothing. If he hadn't given the state anything, he
had at least expended something--a good deal in fact--on the state's
account.



CHAPTER XIX

JIM'S WORLD WIDENS


Mr. Hofmyer was waiting to give Jim the final convincing proof that he had
produced an effect with his speech.

"Do you teach the kind of school you lay out in your talk?" he asked.

"I try to," said Jim, "and I believe I do."

"Well," said Mr. Hofmyer, "that's the kind of education I b'lieve in. I
kep' school back in Pennsylvany fifty years ago, and I made the scholars
measure things, and weigh things, and apply their studies as fur as I
could."

"All good teachers have always done that," said Jim. "Froebel, Pestalozzi,
Colonel Parker--they all had the idea which is at the bottom of my work;
'learn to do by doing,' and connecting up the school with life."

"M'h'm," grunted Mr. Hofmyer, "I hain't been able to see how Latin
connects up with a high-school kid's life--unless he can find a Latin
settlement som'eres and git a job clerkin' in a store."

"But it used to relate to life," said Jim, "the life of the people who
made Greek and Latin a part of everybody else's education as well as their
own. Latin and Greek were the only languages in which anything worth much
was written, you know. But now"--Jim spread out his arms as if to take in
the whole world--"science, the marvelous literature of our tongue in the
last three centuries! And to make a child learn Latin with all that, a
thousand times richer than all the literature of Latin, lying unused
before him!"

"Know any Latin?" asked Mr. Hofmyer.

Jim blushed, as one caught in condemning what he knows nothing about.

"I--I have studied the grammar, and read _Cæsar_," he faltered, "but that
isn't much. I had no teacher, and I had to work pretty hard, and it didn't
go very well."

"I've had all the Latin they gave in the colleges of my time," said Mr.
Hofmyer, "if I do talk dialect; and I'll agree with you so far as to say
that it would have been a crime for me to neglect the chemistry,
bacteriology, physics, engineering and other sciences that pertain to
farmin'--if there'd been any such sciences when I was gettin' my
schoolin'."

"And yet," said Jim, "some people want us to guide ourselves by the
courses of study made before these sciences existed."

"I don't, by hokey!" said Mr. Hofmyer. "I'll be dag-goned if you ain't
right. I wouldn't 'a' said so before I heard that speech--but I say so
now."

Jim's face lighted up at this, the first convincing evidence that he had
scored.

"I b'lieve, too," went on Mr. Hofmyer, "that your idee would please our
folks. I've been the stand-patter in our parts--mostly on English and--say
German. What d'ye say to comin' down and teachin' our school? We've got a
two-room affair, and I was made a committee of one to find a teacher."

"I--I don't see how--" Jim stammered, all taken aback by this new breeze
of recognition.

"We can't pay much," said Mr. Hofmyer. "You have charge of the
dis-_cip_-line in the whole school, and teach in Number Two room.
Seventy-five dollars a month. Does it appeal to ye?"

Appeal to him! Why, eighteen months ago it would have been worth crawling
across the state after, and now to have it offered to him--it was
stupendous. And yet, how about the Simmses, Colonel Woodruff, the Hansens
and Newton Bronson, now just getting a firm start on the upward path to
usefulness and real happiness? How could he leave the little, crude, puny
structure on which he had been working--on which he had been merely
practising--for a year, and remove to the new field? Jim was in exactly
the same situation in which every able young minister of the gospel finds
himself sooner or later. The Lord was calling to a broader field--but how
could he be sure it was the Lord?

"I'm afraid I can't," said Jim Irwin, "but----"

"If you're only 'fraid you can't," said Mr. Hofmyer, "think it over. I've
got your post-office address on this program, and we'll write you a formal
offer. We may spring them figures a little. Think it over."

"You mustn't think," said Jim, "that we've _done_ all the things I
mentioned in my talk, or that I haven't made any mistakes or failures."

"Your county superintendent didn't mention any failures," said Mr.
Hofmyer.

"Did you talk with her about my work?" inquired Jim, suddenly very
curious.

"M'h'm."

"Then I don't see why you want me," Jim went on.

"Why?" asked Mr. Hofmyer.

"I had not supposed," said Jim, "that she had a very high opinion of my
work."

"I didn't ask her about that," said Mr. Hofmyer, "though I guess she
thinks well of it. I asked her what you are tryin' to do, and what sort of
a fellow you are. I was favorably impressed; but she didn't mention any
failures."

"We haven't succeeded in adopting a successful system of selling our
cream," said Jim. "I believe we can do it, but we haven't."

"Wal," said Mr. Hofmyer, "I d'know as I'd call that a failure. The fact
that you're tryin' of it shows you've got the right idees. We'll write ye,
and mebbe pay your way down to look us over. We're a pretty good crowd,
the neighbors think."



CHAPTER XX

THINK OF IT


Ames was an inspiration. Jim Irwin received from the great agricultural
college more real education in this one trip than many students get from a
four years' course in its halls; for he had spent ten years in getting
ready for the experience. The great farm of hundreds of acres, all under
the management of experts, the beautiful campus, the commodious classrooms
and laboratories, and especially the barns, the greenhouses, gardens,
herds and flocks filled him with a sort of apostolic joy.

"Every school," said he to Professor Withers, "ought to be doing a good
deal of the work you have to do here."

"I'll admit," said the professor, "that much of our work in agriculture is
pretty elementary."

"It's intermediate school work," said Jim. "It's a wrong to force boys and
girls to leave their homes and live in a college to get so much of what
they should have before they're ten years old."

"There's something in what you say," said the professor, "but some
experiment station men seem to think that agriculture in the common
schools will take from the young men and women the felt need, and
therefore the desire to come to the college."

"If you can't give them anything better than high-school work," said Jim,
"that will be so; but if the science and art of agriculture is what I
think it is, it would make them hungry for the advanced work that really
can't be done at home. To make the children wait until they're twenty is
to deny them more than half what the college ought to give them--and make
them pay for what they don't get."

"I think you're right," said the professor.

"Give us the kind of schools I ask for," cried Jim, "and I'll fill a
college like this in every congressional district in Iowa, or I'll force
you to tear this down and build larger."

The professor laughed at his enthusiasm.

More nearly happy, and rather shorter of money than he had recently been,
Jim journeyed home among the companions from his own neighborhood, in a
frenzy of plans for the future. Mr. Hofmyer had dropped from his mind,
until Con Bonner, his old enemy, drew him aside in the vestibule of the
train and spoke to him in the mysterious manner peculiar to politicians.

"What kind of a proposition did that man Hofmeister make you?" he
inquired. "He asked me about you, and I told him you're a crackerjack."

"I'm much obliged," replied Jim.

"No use in back-cappin' a fellow that's tryin' to make somethin' of
himself," said Bonner. "That ain't good politics, nor good sense. Anything
to him?"

"He offered me a salary of seventy-five dollars a month to take charge of
his school," said Jim.

"Well," said Con, "we'll be sorry to lose yeh, but you can't turn down
anything like that."

"I don't know," said Jim. "I haven't decided."

Bonner scrutinized his face sharply, as if to find out what sort of game
he was playing.

"Well," said he, at last, "I hope you can stay with us, o' course. I'm
licked, and I never squeal. If the rist of the district can stand your
kind of thricks, I can. And say, Jim"--here he grew still more
mysterious--"if you do stay, some of us would like to have you be
enough of a Dimmycrat to go into the next con'vintion f'r county
superintendent."

"Why," replied Jim, "I never thought of such a thing!"

"Well, think of it," said Con. "The county's close, and wid a pop'lar
young educator--an' a farmer, too, it might be done. Think of it."

It must be confessed that Jim was almost dazed at the number of
"propositions" of which he was now required to "think"--and that Bonner's
did not at first impress him as having anything back of it but blarney. He
was to find out later, however, that the wily Con had made up his mind
that the ambition of Jim to serve the rural schools in a larger sphere
might be used for the purpose of bringing to earth what he regarded as the
soaring political ambitions of the Woodruff family.

To defeat the colonel in the defeat of his daughter when running for her
traditionally-granted second term; to get Jim Irwin out of the Woodruff
District by kicking him up-stairs into a county office; to split the
forces which had defeated Mr. Bonner in his own school district; and to do
these things with the very instrument used by the colonel on that sad but
glorious day of the last school election--these, to Mr. Bonner, would be
diabolically fine things to do--things worthy of those Tammany politicians
who from afar off had won his admiration.

Jim had scarcely taken his seat in the car, facing Jennie Woodruff and
Bettina Hansen in the Pullman, when Columbus Brown, pathmaster of the road
district and only across the way from residence in the school district,
came down the aisle and called Jim to the smoking-room.

"Did an old fellow named Hoffman from Pottawatomie County ask you to leave
us and take his school?" he asked.

"Mr. Hofmyer," said Jim, "--yes, he did."

"Well," said Columbus, "I don't want to ask you to stand in your own
light, but I hope you won't let him toll you off there among strangers.
We're proud of you, Jim, and we don't want to lose you."

Proud of him! Sweet music to the underling's ears! Jim blushed and
stammered.

"The fact is," said Columbus, "I know that Woodruff District job hain't
big enough for you any more; but we can make it bigger. If you'll stay, I
believe we can pull off a deal to consolidate some of them districts, and
make you boss of the whole shooting match."

"I appreciate this, Clumb," said Jim, "but I don't believe you can do
it."

"Well, think of it," said Columbus. "And don't do anything till you talk
with me and a few of the rest of the boys."

"Think of it" again!

A fine home-coming it was for Jim, with the colonel waiting at the station
with a double sleigh, and the chance to ride into the snowy country in the
same seat with Jennie--a chance which was blighted by the colonel's
placing of Jennie, Bettina and Nils Hansen in the broad rear seat, and Jim
in front with himself. A fine ride, just the same, over fine roads, and
past fine farmsteads snuggled into their rectangular wrappages of trees
set out in the old pioneer days. The colonel would not allow him to get
out and walk when he could really have reached home more quickly by doing
so; no, he set the Hansens down at their door, took Jennie home, and then
drove the lightened sleigh merrily to the humble cabin of the rather
excited young schoolmaster.

"Did you make any deal with those people down in the western part of the
state?" asked the colonel. "Jennie wrote me that you've got an offer."

"No," said Jim, and he told the colonel about the proposal of Mr.
Hofmyer.

"Well," said the colonel, "in my capacity of wild-eyed reformer, I've made
up my mind that the first four miles in the trip is to make the rural
teacher's job a bigger job. It's got to be a man's size, woman's size job,
or we can't get real men and real women to stay in the work."

"I think that's a statesmanlike formulation of it," said Jim.

"Well," said the colonel, "don't turn down the Pottawatomie County job
until we have a chance to see what we can do. I'll get some kind of a
meeting together, and what I want you to do is to use this offer as a club
over this helpless school district. What we need is to be held up. Do the
Jesse James act, Jim!"

"I can't, Colonel!"

"Yes, you can, too. Will you try it?"

"I want to treat everybody fairly," said Jim, "including Mr. Hofmyer. I
don't know what to do, hardly."

"Well, I'll get the meeting together," said the colonel, "and in the
meantime, think of what I've said."

Another thing to think of! Jim rushed into the house and surprised his
mother, who had expected him to arrive after a slow walk from town through
the snow. Jim caught her in his arms, from which she was released a moment
later, quite flustered and blushing.

"Why, James," said she, "you seem excited. What's happened?"

"Nothing, mother," he replied, "except that I believe there's just a
possibility of my being a success in the world!"

"My boy, my boy!" said she, laying her hand on his arm, "if you were to
die to-night, you'd die the greatest success any boy ever was--if your
mother is any judge."

Jim kissed her, and went up to his attic to change his clothes. Inside the
waistcoat was a worn envelope, which he carefully opened, and took from it
a letter much creased from many foldings. It was the old letter from
Jennie, written when the comical mistake had been made of making him the
teacher of the Woodruff school. It still contained her rather fussy
cautions about being "too original," and the sage statement that "the
wheel runs easiest in the beaten track." It was written before the
vexation and trouble he had caused her; but he did not read the advice,
nor think of the coolness which had come between them--he read only the
sentence in which Jennie had told of her father's interest in Jim's
success, ending with the underscored words, "_I'm for you, too._"

"I wonder," said Jim, as he went out to do the evening's tasks, "I wonder
if she _is_ for me!"



CHAPTER XXI

A SCHOOL DISTRICT HELD UP


Young McGeehee Simms was loitering along the snowy way to the schoolhouse
bearing a brightly scoured tin pail two-thirds full of water. He had been
allowed to act as Water Superintendent of the Woodruff School as a reward
of merit--said merit being an essay on which he received credit in both
language and geography on "Harvesting Wheat in the Tennessee Mountains."
This had been of vast interest to the school in view of the fact that the
Simmses were the only pupils in the school who had ever seen in use that
supposedly-obsolete harvesting implement, the cradle. Buddy's essay had
been passed over to the class in United States history as the evidence of
an eye-witness concerning farming conditions in our grandfathers' times.

The surnameless Pete, Colonel Woodruff's hired man, halted Buddy at the
door.

"Mr. Simms, I believe?" he said.

"I reckon you must be lookin' for my brother, Raymond, suh," said Buddy.

"I am a-lookin'," said Pete impressively, "for Mr. McGeehee Simms."

"That's me," said Buddy; "but I hain't been doin' nothin' wrong, suh!"

"I have a message here," said Pete, "for Professor James E. Irwin. He's
what-ho within, there, ain't he?"

"He's inside, I reckon," said Buddy.

"Then will you be so kind and condescendin' as to stoop so low as to jump
so high as to give him this letter?" asked Pete.

Buddy took the letter and was considering of his reply to this remarkable
speech, when Pete, gravely saluting, passed on, rather congratulating
himself on having staged a very good burlesque of the dignified manners of
those queer mountaineers, the Simmses.

  "Please come to the meeting to-night," ran the colonel's note to Jim;
  "and when you come, come prepared to hold the district up. If we
  can't meet the Pottawatomie County standard of wages, we ought to
  lose you. Everybody in the district will be there. Come late, so you
  won't hear yourself talked about--I should recommend nine-thirty and
  war-paint."

It was a crisis, no doubt of that; and the responsibility of the situation
rather sickened Jim of the task of teaching. How could he impose
conditions on the whole school district? How could the colonel expect such
a thing of him? And how could any one look for anything but scorn for the
upstart field-hand from these men who had for so many years made him the
butt of their good-natured but none the less contemptuous ridicule? Who
was he, anyway, to lay down rules for these substantial and successful
men--he who had been for all the years of his life at their command,
subservient to their demands for labor--their underling? Only one thing
kept him from dodging the whole issue and remaining at home--the colonel's
matter-of-fact assumption that Jim had become master of the situation. How
could he flee, when this old soldier was fighting so valiantly for him in
the trenches? So Jim went to the meeting.

The season was nearing spring, and it was a mild thawy night. The windows
of the schoolhouse were filled with heads, evidencing the presence of a
crowd of almost unprecedented size, and the sashes had been thrown up for
ventilation and coolness. As Jim climbed the back fence of the
school-yard, he heard a burst of applause, from which he judged that some
speaker had just finished his remarks. There was silence when he came
alongside the window at the right of the chairman's desk, a silence broken
by the voice of Old Man Simms, saying "Mistah Chairman!"

"The chair," said the voice of Ezra Bronson, "recognizes Mr. Simms."

Jim halted in indecision. He was not expected while the debate was in
progress, and therefore regarded himself at this time as somewhat _de
trop_. There is no rule of manners or morals, however, forbidding
eavesdropping during the proceedings of a public meeting--and anyhow, he
felt rather shiveringly curious about these deliberations. Therefore he
listened to the first and last public speech of Old Man Simms.

"Ah ain't no speaker," said Old Man Simms, "but Ah cain't set here and be
quiet an' go home an' face my ole woman an' my boys an' gyuhls withouten
sayin' a word fo' the best friend any family evah had, Mr. Jim Irwin."
(Applause.) "Ah owe it to him that Ah've got the right to speak in this
meetin' at all. Gentlemen, we-all owe everything to Mr. Jim Irwin! Maybe
Ah'll be thought forrard to speak hyah, bein' as Ah ain't no learnin' an'
some may think Ah don't pay no taxes; but it will be overlooked, I reckon,
seein' as how we've took the Blanchard farm, a hundred an' sixty acres,
for five yeahs, an' move in a week from Sat'day. We pay taxes in our rent,
Ah reckon, an' howsomever that may be, Ah've come to feel that you-all
won't think hard of me if Ah speak what we-uns feel so strong about Mr.
Jim Irwin?"

Old Man Simms finished this exordium with the rising inflection, which
denoted a direct question as to his status in the meeting. "Go on!"
"You've got as good a right as any one!" "You're all right, old man!" Such
exclamations as these came to Jim's ears with scarcely less gratefulness
than to those of Old Man Simms--who stammered and went on.

"Ah thank you-all kindly. Gentlemen an' ladies, when Mr. Jim Irwin found
us, we was scandalous pore, an' we was wuss'n pore--we was low-down."
(Cries of "No--No!") "Yes, we was, becuz what's respectable in the
mountings is one thing, whar all the folks is pore, but when a man gets in
a new place, he's got to lift himse'f up to what folks does where he's
come to, or he'll fall to the bottom of what there is in that there
community--an' maybe he'll make a place fer himse'f lower'n anybody else.
In the mountings we was good people, becuz we done the best we could an'
the best any one done; but hyah, we was low-down people becuz we hated the
people that had mo' learnin', mo' land, mo' money, an' mo' friends than
what we had. My little gyuhls wasn't respectable in their clothes. My
childern was igernant, an' triflin', but I was the most triflin' of all.
Ah'll leave it to Colonel Woodruff if I was good fer a plug of terbacker,
or a bakin' of flour at any sto' in the county. Was I, Colonel? Wasn't I
perfectly wuthless an' triflin'?"

There was a ripple of laughter, in the midst of which the colonel's voice
was heard saying, "I guess you were, Mr. Simms, I guess you were,
but----"

"Thankee," said Old Man Simms, as if the colonel had given a really
valuable testimonial to his character. "I sho' was! Thankee kindly!
An'now, what am I good fer? Cain't I get anything I want at the stores?
Cain't I git a little money at the bank, if I got to have it?"

"You're just as good as any man in the district," said the colonel. "You
don't ask for more than you can pay, and you can get all you ask."

"Thankee," said Mr. Simms gravely. "What Ah tell you-all is right, ladies
and gentlemen. An' what has made the change in we-uns, ladies and
gentlemen? It's the wuk of Mr. Jim Irwin with my boy Raymond, the best boy
any man evah hed, and my gyuhl, Calista, an' Buddy, an' Jinnie, an' with
me an' my ole woman. He showed us how to get a toe-holt into this new
kentry. He teached the children what orto be did by a rentin' farmer in
Ioway. He done lifted us up, an' made people of us. He done showed us that
you-all is good people, an' not what we thought you was. Outen what he
learned in school, my boy Raymond an' me made as good crops as we could
last summer, an' done right much wuk outside. We got the name of bein'
good farmers an' good wukkers, an' when Mr. Blanchard moved to town, he
said he was glad to give us his fine farm for five years. Now, see what
Mr. Jim Irwin has done for a pack o' outlaws and outcasts. Instid o'
hidin' out from the Hobdays that was lay-wayin' us in the mountings, we'll
be livin' in a house with two chimleys an' a swimmin' tub made outen
crock'ryware. We'll be in debt a whole lot--an' we owe it to Mr. Jim Irwin
that we got the credit to git in debt with, an' the courage to go on and
git out agin!" (Applause.) "Ah could affo'd to pay Mr. Jim Irwin's salary
mysr'f, if Ah could. An' there's enough men hyah to-night that say they've
been money-he'ped by his teachin' the school to make up mo' than his
wages. Let's not let Mr. Jim Irwin go, neighbors! Let's not let him go!"

Jim's heart sank. Surely the case was desperate which could call forth
such a forlorn-hope charge as that of Old Man Simms--a performance on Mr.
Simms' part which warmed Jim's soul. "There isn't a man in that meeting,"
said he to himself, as he walked to the schoolhouse door, "possessed of
the greatness of spirit of Old Man Simms. If he's a fair sample of the
people of the mountains, they are of the stuff of which great nations are
made--if they only are given a chance!"

Colonel Woodruff was on his feet as Jim made his way through the crowd
about the door.

"Mr. Irwin is here, ladies and gentlemen," said he, "and I move that we
hear from him as to what we can do to meet the offer of our friends in
Pottawatomie County, who have heard of his good work, and want him to work
for them; but before I yield the floor, I want to say that this meeting
has been worth while just to have been the occasion of our all becoming
better acquainted with our friend and neighbor, Mr. Simms. Whatever may
have been the lack of understanding, on our part, of his qualities, they
were all cleared up by that speech of his--the best I have ever heard in
this neighborhood."

More applause, in the midst of which Old Man Simms slunk away down in his
seat to escape observation. Then the chairman said that if there was no
objection they would hear from their well-known citizen, whose growing
fame was more remarkable for the fact that it had been gained as a country
schoolmaster--he need not add that he referred to Mr. James E. Irwin. More
and louder applause.

"Friends and neighbors," said Jim, "you ask me to say to you what I want
you to do. I want you to do what you want to do--nothing more nor less.
Last year I was glad to be tolerated here; and the only change in the
situation lies in the fact that I have another place offered me--unless
there has been a change in your feelings toward me and my work. I hope
there has been; for I know my work is good now, whereas I only believed it
then."

"Sure it is!" shouted Con Bonner from a front seat, thus signalizing that
astute wire-puller's definite choice of a place in the bandwagon. "Tell us
what you want, Jim!"

"What do I want?" asked Jim. "More than anything else, I want such
meetings as this--often--and a place to hold them. If I stay in the
Woodruff District, I want this meeting to effect a permanent organization
to work with me. I can't teach this district anything. Nobody can teach
any one anything. All any teacher can do is to direct people's activities
in teaching themselves. You are gathered here to decide what you'll do
about the small matter of keeping me at work as your hired man. You can't
make any legal decision here, but whatever this meeting decides will be
law, just the same, because a majority of the people of the district are
here. Such a meeting as this can decide almost anything. If I'm to be your
hired man, I want a boss in the shape of a civic organization which will
take in every man and woman in the district. Here's the place and now's
the time to make that organization--an organization the object of which
shall be to put the whole district at school, and to boss me in my work
for the whole district."

"Dat sounds good," cried Haakon Peterson. "Ve'll do dat!"

"Then I want you to work out a building scheme for the school," Jim went
on. "We want a place where the girls can learn to cook, keep house, take
care of babies, sew and learn to be wives and mothers. We want a place in
which Mrs. Hansen can come to show them how to cure meat--she's the best
hand at that in the county--where Mrs. Bonner can teach them to make bread
and pastry--she ought to be given a doctor's degree for that--where Mrs.
Woodruff can teach them the cooking of turkeys, Mrs. Peterson the way to
give the family a balanced ration, and Mrs. Simms induct them into the
mysteries of weaving rag rugs and making jellies and preserves--you can
all learn these things from her. There's somebody right in this
neighborhood able to teach anything the young people want to learn.

"And I want a physician here once in a while to examine the children as to
their health, and a dentist to look after their teeth and teach them how
to care for them. Also an oculist to examine their eyes. And when Bettina
Hansen comes home from the hospital a trained nurse, I want her to have a
job as visiting nurse right here in the Woodruff District.

"I want a counting-room for the keeping of the farm accounts and the
record of our observation in farming. I want cooperation in letting us
have these accounts.

"I want some manual training equipment for wood-working and metal working,
and a blacksmith and wagon shop, in which the boys may learn to shoe
horses, repair tools, design buildings, and practise the best agricultural
engineering. So I want a blacksmith and handyman with tools regularly on
the job--and he'll more than pay his way. I want some land for actual
farming. I want to do work in poultry according to the most modern
breeding discoveries, and I want your cooperation in that, and a poultry
plant somewhere in the district.

"I want a laboratory in which we can work on seeds, pests, soils, feeds
and the like. For the education of your children must come out of these
things.

"I want these things because they are necessary if we are to get the
culture out of life we should get--and nobody gets culture out of any sort
of school--they get it out of life, or they don't get it at all.

"So I want you to build as freely for your school as for your cattle and
horses and hogs.

"The school I ask for will make each of you more money than the taxes it
will require would make if invested in your farm equipment. If you are not
convinced of this, don't bother with me any longer. But the money the
school will make for you--this new kind of rural school--will be as
nothing to the social life which will grow up--a social life which will
make necessary an assembly-room, which will be the social center, because
it will be the educational center, and the business center of the
countryside.

"I want all these things, and more. But I don't expect them all at once. I
know that this district is too small to do all of them, and therefore, I
am going to tell you of another want which will tempt you to think that I
am crazy. I want a bigger district--one that will give us the financial
strength to carry out the program I have sketched. This may be a
presumptuous thing for me to propose; but the whole situation here
to-night is presumptuous on my part, I fear. If you think so, let me go;
but if you don't, please keep this meeting together in a permanent
organization of grown-up members of the Woodruff school, and by pulling
together, you can do these things--all of them--and many more--and you'll
make the Woodruff District a good place to live in and die in--and I shall
be proud to live and die in it at your service, as the neighborhood's
hired man!"

As Jim sat down there was a hush in the crowded room, as if the people
were dazed at his assurance. There was no applause, until Jennie Woodruff,
now seen by Jim for the first time over next the blackboard, clapped her
gloved hands together and started it; then it swept out through the
windows in a storm. The dust rose from stamping feet until the kerosene
lamps were dimmed by it. And as the noise subsided, Jim saw standing out
in front the stooped form of B. B. Hamm, one of the most prosperous men in
the district.

"Mr. Chairman--Ezra Bronson," he roared, "this feller's crazy, an' from
the sound of things, you're all as crazy as he is. If this fool scheme of
his goes through, my farm's for sale! I'll quit before I'm sold out for
taxes!"

"Just a minute, B. B.!" interposed Colonel Woodruff. "This ain't as
dangerous as you think. You don't want us to do all this in fifteen
minutes, do you, Jim?"

"Oh, as to that," replied Jim, "I just wanted you to have in your minds
what I have in my mind--and unless we can agree to work toward these
things there's no use in my staying. But time--that's another matter.
Believe with me, and I'll work with you."

"Get out of here!" said the colonel to Jim in an undertone, "and leave the
rest to your friends."

Jim walked out of the room and took the way toward his home. A horse tied
to the hitching-pole had his blanket under foot, and Jim replaced it on
his back, patting him kindly and talking horse language to him. Then he
went up and down the line of teams, readjusting blankets, tying loosened
knots, and assuring himself that his neighbors' horses were securely tied
and comfortable. He knew horses better than he knew people, he thought. If
he could manage people as he could manage horses--but that would be wrong.
The horse did his work as a servant, submissive to the wills of others;
the community could never develop anything worth while in its common life,
until it worked the system out for itself. Horse management was despotism;
man-government must be like the government of a society of wild horses,
the result of the common work of the members of the herd.

Two figures emerged from the schoolhouse door, and as he turned toward his
home after his pastoral calls on the horses, they overtook him. They were
the figures of Newton Bronson and the county superintendent of schools.

"We were coming after you," said Jennie.

"Dad wants you back there again," said Newton.

"What for?" inquired Jim.

"You silly boy," said Jennie, "you talked about the good of the schools
all of the time, and never said a word about your own salary! What do you
want? They want to know?"

"Oh!" exclaimed Jim in the manner of one who suddenly remembers that he
has forgotten his umbrella or his pocket-knife. "I forgot all about it. I
haven't thought about that at all, Jennie!"

"Jim," said she, "you need a guardian!"

"I know it, Jennie," said he, "and I know who I want. I want----"

"Please come back," said Jennie, "and tell papa how much you're going to
hold the district up for."

"You run back," said Jim to Newton, "and tell your father that whatever is
right in the way of salary will be satisfactory to me. I leave that to the
people."

Newton darted off, leaving the schoolmaster standing in the road with the
county superintendent.

"I can't go back there!" said Jim.

"I'm proud of you, Jim," said Jennie. "This community has found its
master. They can't do all you ask now, nor very soon; but finally they'll
do just as you want them to do. And, Jim, I want to say that I've been the
biggest little fool in the county!"



CHAPTER XXII

AN EMBASSY FROM DIXIE


Superintendent Jennie sat at her desk in no very satisfactory frame of
mind. In the first place court was to convene on the following Monday, and
both grand jury and petit juries would be in session, so that her one-room
office was not to be hers for a few days. Her desk was even now ready to
be moved into the hall by the janitor. To Wilbur Smythe, who did her the
honor of calling occasionally as the exigencies of his law practise took
him past the office of the pretty country girl on whose shapely shoulders
rested the burden of the welfare of the schools, she remarked that if they
didn't soon build the new court-house so as to give her such
accommodations as her office really needed, "they might take their old
office--so there!"

"Fair woman," said Wilbur, as he creased his Prince Albert in a parting
bow, "should adorn the home!"

"Bosh!" sneered Jennie, rather pleased, all the same, "suppose she isn't
fair, and hasn't any home!"

This question of adorning a home was no nearer settlement with Jennie than
it had ever been, though increasingly a matter of speculation.

There were two or three men--rather good catches, too--who, if they were
encouraged--but what was there to any of them? Take Wilbur Smythe, now; he
would by sheer force of persistent assurance and fair abilities eventually
get a good practise for a country lawyer--three or four thousand a
year--serve in the legislature or the state senate, and finally become a
bank director with a goodly standing as a safe business man; but what was
there to him? This is what Jennie asked her paper-weight as she placed it
on a pile of unfinished examination papers. And the paper-weight echoed,
"Not a thing out of the ordinary!" And then, said Jennie, "Well, you
little simpleton, who and what are _you_ so out of the ordinary that you
should sneer at Wilbur Smythe and Beckman Fifield and such men?" And echo
answered, "What?"--and then the mail-carrier came in.

Down near the bottom of the pile she found this letter, signed by a
southern state superintendent of schools, but dated at Kirksville,
Missouri:

  "I am a member of a party of southern educators--state
  superintendents in the main," the letter ran, "_en tour_ of the
  country to see what we can find of an instructive nature in rural
  school work. I assure you that we are being richly repaid for the
  time and expense. There are things going on in the schools here in
  northeastern Missouri, for instance, which merit much study. We have
  met Professor Withers, of Ames, who suggests that we visit your
  schools, and especially the rural school taught by a young man named
  Irwin, and I wonder if you will be free on next Monday morning, if we
  come to your office, to direct us to the place? If you could
  accompany us on the trip, and perhaps show us some of your other
  excellent schools, we should be honored and pleased. The South is
  recreating her rural schools, and we are coming to believe that we
  shall be better workmen if we create a new kind rather than an
  improvement of the old kind."

There was more of this courteous and deferential letter, all giving Jennie
a sense of being saluted by a fine gentleman in satin and ruffles, and
with a plume on his hat. And then came the shock--a party of state
officials were coming into the county to study Jim Irwin's school! They
would never come to study Wilbur Smythe's law practise--never in the
world--or her work as county superintendent--never!--and Jim was getting
seventy-five dollars a month, and had a mother to support. Moreover, he
was getting more than he had asked when the colonel had told him to "hold
the district up!" But there could be no doubt that there was something
_to_ Jim--the man was out of the ordinary. And wasn't that just what she
had been looking for in her mind?

Jennie wired to her southerner for the number of his party, and secured
automobiles for the trip. She sent a note to Jim Irwin telling of the
prospective visitation. She would show all concerned that she could do
some things, anyhow, and she would send these people on with a good
impression of her county.

She was glad of the automobiles the next Monday morning, when at
nine-thirty the train discharged upon her a dozen very alert, very
up-to-date, very inquisitive southerners, male and female, most of whom
seemed to have left their "r's" in the gulf region. It was eleven when the
party parked their machines before the schoolhouse door.

"There are visitors here before us," said Jennie.

"Seems rather like an educational shrine," said Doctor Brathwayt, of
Mississippi. "How does he accommodate so many visitors in that small
edifice?"

"I am not aware," said Jennie, "that he has been in the habit of receiving
so very many from outside the district. Well, shall we go in?"

Once inside, Jennie felt a queer return of her old aversion to Jim's
methods--the aversion which had caused her to criticize him so sharply on
the occasion of her first visit. The reason for the return of the feeling
lay in the fact that the work going on was of the same sort, but of a more
intense character. It was so utterly unlike a school as Jennie understood
the word, that she glanced back at the group of educators with a little
blush. The school was in a sort of uproar. Not that uproar of boredom and
mischief of which most of us have familiar memories, but a sort of eager
uproar, in which every child was intensely interested in the same thing;
and did little rustling things because of this interest; something like
the hum at a football game or a dog-fight.

On one side of the desk stood Jim Irwin, and facing him was a smooth
stranger of the old-fashioned lightning-rod-agent type--the shallower and
laxer sort of salesman of the kind whose sole business is to get
signatures on the dotted line, and let some one else do the rest. In
short, he was a "closer."

Standing back of him in evident distress was Mr. Cornelius Bonner, and
grouped about were Columbus Brown, B. B. Hamm, Ezra Bronson, A. B. Talcott
and two or three others from outside the Woodruff District. With envelopes
in their hands and the light of battle in their eyes stood Newton Bronson,
Raymond Simms, Bettina Hansen, Mary Smith and Angie Talcott, the boys
filled with delight, the girls rather frightened at being engaged in
something like a debate with the salesman.

As the latest-coming visitors moved forward, they heard the schoolmaster
finishing his passage at arms with the salesman.

"You should not feel exasperated at us, Mr. Carmichael," said he in tones
of the most complete respect, "for what our figures show. You are
unfortunate in the business proposition you offer this community. That is
all. Even these children have the facts to prove that the creamery outfit
you offer is not worth within two thousand dollars of what you ask for it,
and that it is very doubtful if it is the sort of outfit we should need."

"I'll bet you a thousand dollars--" began Carmichael hotly, when Jim waved
him down.

"Not with me," said Jim. "Your friend, Mr. Bonner, there, knows what
chance there is for you to bet even a thousand cents with me. Besides, we
know our facts, in this school. We've been working on them for a long
time."

"Bet your life we have!" interpolated Newton Bronson.

"Before we finish," said Jim, "I want to thank you gentlemen for bringing
in Mr. Carmichael. We have been reading up on the literature of the
creamery promoter, and it is a very fine thing to have one in the flesh
with whom to--to--demonstrate, if Mr. Carmichael will allow me to say
so."

Carmichael looked at Bonner, made an expressive motion with his head
toward the door, and turned as if to leave.

"Well," said he, "I can do plenty of business with _men_. If you _men_
want to make the deal I offer you, and I can show you from the statistics
I've got at the hotel that it's a special deal just to get started in this
part of the state, and carries a thousand dollars of cut in price to you.
Let's leave these children and this he school-ma'am and get something
done."

"I can't allow you to depart," said Jim more gently than before, "without
thanking you for the very excellent talk you gave us on the advantage of
the cooperative creamery over the centralizer. We in this school believe
in the cooperative creamery, and if we can get rid of you, Mr. Carmichael,
without buying your equipment, I think your work here may be productive of
good."

"He's off three or four points on the average overrun in the Wisconsin
co-ops," said Newton.

"And we thought," said Mary Smith, "that we'd need more cows than he said
to keep up a creamery of our own."

"Oh," replied Jim, "but we mustn't expect Mr. Carmichael to know the
subject as well as we do, children. He makes a practise of talking mostly
to people who know nothing about it--and he talks very well. All in favor
of thanking Mr. Carmichael please say 'Aye.'"

There was a rousing chorus of "Aye!" in which Mr. Carmichael, followed
closely by Mr. Bonner, made his exit. B. B. Hamm went forward and shook
Jim's hand slowly and contemplatively, as if trying to remember just what
he should say.

"James E. Irwin," said he, "you've saved us from being skinned by the
smoothest grafter that I ever seen."

"Not I," said Jim; "the kind of school I stand for, Mr. Hamm, will save
you more than that--and give you the broadest culture any school ever
gave. A culture based on life. We've been studying life, in this
school--the life we all live here in this district."

"He had a smooth partner, too," said Columbus Brown. Jim looked at
Bonner's little boy in one of the front seats and shook his head at
Columbus warningly.

"If I hadn't herded 'em in here to ask you a few questions about
cooperative creameries," said Mr. Talcott, "we'd have been stuck--they
pretty near had our names. And then the whole neighborhood would have been
sucked in for about fifty dollars a name."

"I'd have gone in for two hundred," said B. B. Hamm.

"May I call a little meeting here for a minute, Jim?" asked Ezra Bronson.
"Why, where's he gone?"

"They's some other visitors come in," said a little girl, pulling her
apron in embarrassment at the teacher's absence.

Jim had, after what seemed to Jennie an interminable while, seen the
county superintendent and her distinguished party, and was now engaged in
welcoming them and endeavoring to find them seats,--quite an impossible
thing at that particular moment, by the way.

"Don't mind us, Mr. Irwin," said Doctor Brathwayt. "This is the best thing
we've seen on our journeyings. Please go on with the proceedin's. That
gentleman seems to have in mind the perfectin' of some so't of
organization. I'm intensely interested."

"I'd like to call a little meetin' here," said Ezra to the teacher.
"Seein' we've busted up your program so far, may we take a little while
longer?"

"Certainly," said Jim. "The school will please come to order."

The pupils took their seats, straightened their books and papers, and were
at attention. Doctor Brathwayt nodded approvingly as if at the answer to
some question in his mind.

"Children," said Mr. Irwin, "you may or may not be interested in what
these gentlemen are about to do--but I hope you are. Those who wish may be
members of Mr. Bronson's meeting. Those who do not prefer to do so may
take up their regular work."

"Gentlemen," said Mr. Bronson to the remains of Mr. Carmichael's creamery
party, "we've been cutting bait in this neighborhood about long enough.
I'm in favor of fishing, now. It would have been the biggest disgrace ever
put on this district to have been swindled by that sharper, when the man
that could have set us right on the subject was right here working for us,
and we never let him have a chance. And yet that's what we pretty near
did. How many here favor building a cooperative creamery if we can get the
farmers in with cows enough to make it profitable, and the equipment at
the right price?"

Each man held up a hand.

"Here's one of our best farmers not voting," said Mr. Bronson, indicating
Raymond Simms. "How about you, Raymond?"

"Ah reckon paw'll come in," said Raymond blushingly.

"He will if you say so," said Mr. Bronson.

Raymond's hand went up amid a ripple of applause from the pupils, who
seemed glad to have a voter in their ranks.

"Unanimous!" said Mr. Bronson. "It is a vote! Now I'd like to hear a
motion to perfect a permanent organization to build a creamery."

"I think we ought to have a secretary first," said Mr. Talcott, "and I
nominate Mr. James E. Irwin for the post."

"Quite correct," said Mr. Bronson, "thankee, A. B. I was about to forgit
the secretary. Any other nominations? No 'bjections, Mr. Irwin will be
declared unanimously elected. Mr. Irwin's elected. Mr. Irwin, will you
please assume the duties?"

Jim sat down at the desk and began making notes.

"I think we ought to call this the Anti-Carmichael Protective
Association," said Columbus Brown, but Mr. Bronson interrupted him, rather
frowningly.

"All in good time, Clumb," said he, "but this is serious work." So
admonished, the meeting appointed committees, fixed upon a time for a
future meeting, threw a collection of half-dollars on the desk to start a
petty cash fund, made the usual joke about putting the secretary under
bond, adjourned and dispersed.

"It's a go this time!" said Newton to Jim.

"I think so," said Jim, "with those men interested. Well, our study of
creameries has given a great deal of language work, a good deal of
arithmetic, some geography, and finally saved the people from a swindle.
Rather good work, Raymond!"

"My mother has a delayed luncheon ready for the party," said Jennie to
Jim. "Please come with us--please!"

But Jim demurred. Getting off at this time of day was really out of the
question if he was to be ready to show the real work of the school in the
afternoon session.

"This has been rather extraordinary," said Jim, "but I am very glad you
were here. It shows the utility of the right sort of work in
letter-writing, language, geography and arithmetic--in learning things
about farming."

"It certainly does," said Doctor Brathwayt. "I wouldn't have missed it
under any consideration; but I'm certainly sorry for that creamery shark
and his accomplice--to be routed by the Fifth Reader grade in farming!"

The luncheon was rather a wonderful affair--and its success was
unqualified after everybody discovered that the majority of those in
attendance felt much more at home when calling it dinner. Colonel Woodruff
had fought against the regiment of the father of Professor Gray, of
Georgia, in at least one engagement, and tentative plans were laid for the
meeting of the two old veterans "some winter in the future."

"What d'ye think of our school?" asked the colonel.

"Well," said Professor Gray, "it's not fair to judge, Colonel, on what
must have been rather an extraordinary moment in the school's history. I
take it that you don't put on a representation of 'The Knave Unmasked'
every morning."

"It was more like a caucus than I've ever seen it, daddy," said Jennie,
"and less like a school."

"Don't you think," said Doctor Brathwayt, "that it was less like a school
because it was more like life? It _was_ life. If I am not mistaken,
history for this community was making in that schoolroom as we entered."

"You're perfectly right, Doctor," said the colonel. "Columbus Brown and
about a dozen others living outside the district are calling Wilbur Smythe
in counsel to perfect plans for an election to consolidate a few of these
little independent districts, for the express purpose of giving Jim Irwin
a plant that he can do something with. Jim's got too big for the district,
and so we're going to enlarge the district, and the schoolhouse, and the
teaching force, and the means of educational grace generally. That's as
sure as can be--after what took place this morning."

"He's rather a wonderful person, to be found in such a position," said
Professor Gray, "or would be in any region I have visited."

"He's a native product," said the colonel, "but a wonder all the same.
He's a Brown Mouse, you know."

"A--a--?" Doctor Brathwayt was plainly astonished. And so the colonel was
allowed to tell again the story of the Darbishire brown mice, and why he
called Jim Irwin one. Doctor Brathwayt said it was an interesting
Mendelian explanation of the appearance of such a character as Jim. "And
if you are right, Colonel, you'll lose him one of these days. You can't
expect to retain a Cæsar, a Napoleon, or a Lincoln in a rural school, can
you?"

"I don't know about that," said the colonel. "The great opportunity for
such a Brown Mouse may be in this very school, right now. He'd have as big
an army right here as Socrates ever had. The Brown Mouse is the only judge
of his own proper place."

"I think," said Mrs. Brathwayt, as they motored back to the school, "that
your country schoolmaster is rather terrible. The way he crushed that Mr.
Carmichael was positively merciless. Did he know how cruel he was?"

"I think not," said Jennie. "It was the truth that crushed Mr.
Carmichael."

"But that vote of thanks," said Mrs. Brathwayt. "Surely that was the
bitterest irony."

"I wonder if it was," said Jennie. "No, I am sure it wasn't. He wanted to
leave the children thinking as well as possible of their victim, and
especially of Mr. Bonner; and there was really something in Mr.
Carmichael's talk which could be praised. I have known Jim Irwin since we
were both children, and I feel sure that if he had had any idea that his
treatment of this man had been unnecessarily cruel, it would have given
him a lot of pain."

"My dear," said Mrs. Brathwayt, "I think you are to be congratulated for
having known for a long time a genius."

"Thank you," said Jennie. And Mrs. Brathwayt gave her a glance which
brought to her cheek another blush; but of a different sort from the one
provoked by the uproar in the Woodruff school.

There could be no doubt now that Jim was thoroughly wonderful--nor that
she, the county superintendent, was quite as thoroughly a little fool. She
to be put in authority over him! It was too absurd for laughter.
Fortunately, she hadn't hindered him much--but who was to be thanked for
that? Was it owing to any wisdom of hers? Well, she had decided in his
favor, in those first proceedings to revoke his certificate. Perhaps that
was as good a thing to remember as was to be found in the record.



CHAPTER XXIII

AND SO THEY LIVED----


And so it turned out quite as if it were in the old ballad, that "all in
the merry month of May," and also "all in the merry green wood," there
were great doings about the bold little promontory where once stood the
cabin on the old wood-lot where the Simms family had dwelt. The brook ran
about the promontory, and laid at its feet on three sides a carpet of
blue-grass, amid clumps of trees and wild bushes. Not far afield on either
hand came the black corn-land, but up and down the bluffy sides of the
brook for some distance on both sides of the King-dragged highway, ran the
old wood-lot, now regaining much of the unkempt appearance which
characterized it when Jim Irwin had drawn upon himself the gentle rebuke
of Old Man Simms for not giving a whoop from the big road before coming
into the yard.

But Old Man Simms was gone, with all the Simmses, now thoroughly
established on the Blanchard farm, and quite happy in their new success.
The cabin was gone, and in its place stood a pretty little bungalow, about
which blossomed the lilacs and peonies and roses and other old-fashioned
flowers, planted there long ago by some pioneer woman, nourished back to
thriftiness by old Mrs. Simms, and carefully preserved during the
struggles with the builders of the bungalow by Mrs. Irwin. For this was
Mrs. Irwin's new home. It was, in point of fact, the teacher's house or
schoolmanse for the new consolidated Woodruff District, and the old Simms
wood-lot was the glebe-land of the schoolmanse.

Jim turned over and over in his mind these new applications of old,
historic, significant words, dear to every reader of
history--"glebe-land," "schoolmanse"--and it seemed to him that they
signified the return of many old things lost in Merrie England, lost in
New England, lost all over the English-speaking world, when the old
publicly-paid clergyman ceased to be so far the servant of all the people
that they refused to be taxed for his support. Was not the new kind of
rural teacher to be a publicly-paid leader of thought, of culture, of
progress, and was he not to have his manse, his glebe-land, and his
"living"? And all because, like the old clergymen, he was doing a work in
which everybody was interested and for which they were willing to be
taxed. Perhaps it was not so high a status as the old; but who was to say
that? Certainly not Jim Irwin, the possessor of the new kind of "living,"
with its "glebe-land" and its "schoolmanse." He would have rated the new
quite as high as the old.

From the brow of the promontory, a light concrete bridge took the pretty
little gorge in the leap of a single arch, and landed the eye at the
bottom of the front yard of the schoolhouse. Thus the new institution of
life was in full view of the schoolmanse veranda, and yet shut off from it
by the dry moat of the brook and its tiny meadow of blue-grass.

Across the road was the creamery, with its businesslike unloading
platform, and its addition in process of construction for the reception of
the machinery for the cooperative laundry. Not far from the creamery, and
also across the road, stood the blacksmith and wheelwright shop. Still
farther down the stream were the barn, poultry house, pens, hutches and
yards of the little farm--small, economically made, and unpretentious, as
were all the buildings save the schoolhouse itself, which was builded for
the future.

And even the schoolhouse, when one thinks of the uses to which it was to
be put--kitchen, nursery, kindergarten, banquet-hall, theater,
moving-picture hall, classrooms, manual training rooms, laboratory and
counting-room and what-not, was wonderfully small--Colonel Woodruff said
far too small--though it was necessarily so large as to be rather
astonishing to the unexpectant passer-by.

The unexpectant passer-by this May day, however, would have been
especially struck by the number of motor-cars, buggies and surreys parked
in the yard back of the creamery, along the roadside, and by the driveway
running to the schoolhouse. People in numbers had arrived by five o'clock
in the afternoon, and were still coming. They strolled about the place,
examining the buildings and grounds, and talking with the blacksmith and
the butter-maker, gradually drawing into the schoolhouse like a swarm of
bees into a hive selected by the queen. None of them, however, went across
the concrete bridge to the schoolmanse, save Mrs. Simms, who crossed,
consulted with Mrs. Irwin about the shrubbery and flowers, and went back
to Buddie and Jinnie, who were good children but natchally couldn't be
trusted with so many other young ones withouten some watchin'.

"They're coming! They're coming!"

This was the cry borne to the people in and about the schoolhouse by that
Hans Hansen who would be called Hans Nilsen. Hans had been to the top of
the little hill and had a look toward town. Like a crew manning the
rigging, or a crowd having its picture taken, the assemblage crystallized
into forms determined by the chances of getting a glimpse of the bungalow
across the ravine--on posts, fences, trees and hillocks. Still nobody went
across the bridge, and when McGeehee Simms and Johnny Bonner strayed to
the bridge-head, Mrs. Simms called them back by a minatory, "Buddy, what
did I _tell_ you? You come hyah!"

A motor-car came over the hillock, ran down the road to the driveway to
the schoolmanse and drew up at the door. Out of it stepped Mrs. Woodruff
and the colonel, their daughter, the county superintendent of schools, and
Mr. Jim Irwin. Jennie was dressed in a very well-tailored traveling
costume, and Jim in a moderately well-tailored business suit. Mrs. Irwin
kissed her son and Jennie, and led the way into the house. Jennie and Jim
followed--and when they went in, the crowd over across the ravine burst
forth into a tremendous cheer, followed by a three-times-three and a
tiger. The unexpectant passer-by would have been rather surprised at this,
but we who are acquainted with the parties must all begin to have our
suspicions. The fact that when they reached the threshold Jim picked
Jennie up in his arms and carried her in, will enable any good detective
to put one and one together and make a pair--which comes pretty near
telling the whole story.

By this time it was nearly seven, and Calista Simms came across the
charmed bridge as a despatch-bearer, saying that if Mr. Jim and Miss
Jennie didn't mind, dinner would be suhved right soon. It was cooked about
right, and the folks was gettin' right hungry--an' such a crowd! There
were fifteen in the babies' room, and for a while they thought the
youngest Hamm young one had swallowed a marble. She would tell 'em they
would be right over; good-by.

There was another cheer as the three elderly and the two young people
emerged from the schoolmanse and took their way over the bridge to the
school side of the velvet-bottomed moat; but it did not terminate in
three-times-three and a tiger. It was, in fact shut off like the vibration
of a bell dipped in water by the sudden rush of the shouters into the big
assembly-room, now filled with tables for the banquet--and here the
domestic economy classes, with their mothers, sisters, female cousins and
aunts, met them, as waiters, hat-snatchers, hostesses, floor-managers and
cooks, scoring the greatest triumph of history in the Woodruff District.
For everything went off like clockwork, especially the victuals--and such
victuals!

There was quantity in meats, breads, vegetables--and there was also savor.
There was plenty, and there was style. Ask Mrs. Haakon Peterson, who
yearned for culture, and had been afraid her children wouldn't get it if
Yim Irwin taught them nothing but farming. She will tell you that the
dinner--which so many thought of all the time as supper--was yust as well
served as it if had been in the Chamberlain Hotel in Des Moines, where she
had stayed when she went with Haakon to the state convention.

Why shouldn't it have been even better served? It was planned, cooked,
served and eaten by people of intelligence and brains, in their own house,
as a community affair, and in a community where, if any one should ask
you, you are authorized to state that there's as much wealth to the acre
as in any strictly farming spot between the two oceans, and where you are
perfectly safe--financially--in dropping from a balloon in the dark of the
moon, and paying a hundred and fifty dollars an acre for any farm you
happen to land on. Why shouldn't things have been well done, when every
one worked, not for money, but for the love of the doing, and the love of
learning to do in the best way?

Some of these things came out in the speeches following the repast--and
some other things, too. It was probably not quite fair for B. B. Hamm to
incorporate in his wishes for the welfare and prosperity and so forth of
Jim and Jennie that stale one about the troubles of life, but he wanted to
see Jennie blush--which as a matter of fact he did; but she failed to grow
quite so fiery red as did Jim. But B. B. was a good fellow, and a Trojan
in his work for the cause, and the schoolmaster and superintendent of
schools forgave him. A remark may be a little broad, and still clean, and
B. B. made a clean speech mainly devoted to the increased value of that
farm he at one memorable time was going to sell before Jim's fool notions
could be carried out.

Colonel Woodruff made most of the above points which I have niched from
him. He had begun as a reformer late in life, he said, but he would leave
it to them if he hadn't worked at the trade steadily after enlistment. He
had become a follower of Jim Irwin, because Jim's reform was like dragging
the road in front of your own farm--it was reform right at home, and not
at the county seat, or Des Moines, or Washington. He had followed Jim
Irwin as he had followed Lincoln, and Grant, and Blaine, and
McKinley--because Jim Irwin stood for more upward growth for the average
American citizen than the colonel could see any prospect of getting from
any other choice. And he was proud to live in a country like this, saved
and promoted by the great men he had followed, and in a neighborhood
served and promoted, if not quite saved, by Jim Irwin. And he was not so
sure about its not being saved. Every man and nation had to be saved anew
every so often, and the colonel believed that Jim Irwin's new kind of
rural school is just as necessary to the salvation of this country as
Lincoln's new kind of recognition of human rights was half a century ago.
"I am about to close my speech," said the colonel, "and the small service
I have been able to give to this nation. I went through the war,
neighbors--and am proud of it; but I've done more good in the peaceful
service of the last three years than I did in four of fighting and
campaigning. That's the way I feel about what we've done in Consolidated
District Number One." (Vociferous and long-continued applause.)

"Oh, Colonel!" The voice of Angie Talcott rose from away back near the
kitchen. "Can Jennie keep on bein' county superintendent, now she's
married?"

A great guffaw of laughter reduced poor Angie to tears; and Jennie had to
go over and comfort her. It was all right for her to ask that, and they
ought not to laugh at Angie, so there! Now, you're all right, and let's
talk about the new schoolhouse, and so forth. Jennie brought the smiles
back to Angle's face, just in time to hear Jim tell the people amid louder
cheers that he had been asked to go into the rural-school extension work
in two states, and had been offered a fine salary in either place, but
that he wasn't even considering these offers. And about that time, the
children began to get sleepy and cross and naughty, and the women set in
motion the agencies which moved the crowd homeward.

                   *       *       *       *       *

Before a bright wood fire--which they really didn't need, but how else was
Jim's mother to show off the little fireplace?--sat Jim and Jennie. They
had been together for a week now--this being their home-coming--and had
only begun to get really happy.

"Isn't it fine to have the fireplace?" said Jennie.

"Yes, but we can't really afford to burn a fire in it--in Iowa," said Jim.
"Fuel's too everlastingly scarce. If we use it much, the fagots and
deadwood on our 'glebe-land' won't last long."

"If you should take that Oklahoma position," said Jennie, "we could afford
to have open wood fires all the time."

"It's warmer in Oklahoma," said Jim, "and wood's more plentiful.
Yes"--contemplatively--"we could, dear."

"It would be nice, wouldn't it?" said Jennie.

"All right," said Jim briskly, "get me my writing materials, and we'll
accept. It's still open."

Jennie sat looking into the fire oblivious of the suggestion. She was
smiling. Jim moved uneasily, and rose.

"Well," he said, "I believe I can better guess where mother would put
those writing materials than you could, after all. I'll hunt them up."

As he passed, Jennie took him by the hand and pulled him down on the arm
of her chair.

"Jim," she said, "don't be mean to me! You know you wouldn't do such a
wicked, wicked thing at this time as to leave the people here."

"All right," said Jim, "whatever you say is the law."

When Jennie spoke again things had taken place which caused her voice to
emanate from Jim's shirt-front.

"Did you hear," said she, "what Angie Talcott asked?"

"M'h'm," said Jim.

"Well," said Jennie, "now that I'm married can I go on being county
superintendent?"

There was a long silence.

"Would you like to?" asked Jim.

"Kind of," said Jennie; "if I knew enough about things to do anything
worth while; but I'm afraid that by rising to my full height I shall
always just fail to be able to see over anything."

"You've done more for the schools of the county," said Jim, "in the last
year than any other county superintendent has ever done."

"And we shall need the money so like--so like the dickens," said Jennie.

"Oh, not so badly," laughed Jim, "except for the first year. I'll have
this little farm paying as much as some quarter-sections when we get
squared about. Why, we can make a living on this school farm, Jennie,--or
I'm not fit to be the head of the school."

There was another silence, during which Jennie took down her hair, and
wound it around Jim's neck.

"It will settle itself soon one of these days anyhow," said he at last.
"There's enough to do for both of us right here."

"But they won't pay me," she protested.

"They don't pay the ministers' wives," said Jim, "and yet, the ministers
with the right sort of wives are always the best paid. I guess you'll be
in the bill, Jennie."

Jim walked to the open window and looked out over the still landscape. The
untidy grounds appealed to him--there would be lessons in their
improvement for both the children and the older people. It was all good.
Down in the little meadow grew the dreaming trees, their round crowns
rising as from a sea not quite to the level of the bungalow, their thrifty
leaves glistening in the moonlight. Across the pretty bridge lay the
silent little campus with its twentieth-century temple facing its chief
priest. It was all good, without and within. He went across the hall to
bid his mother good night. She clung to him convulsively, and they had
their own five minutes which arranged matters for these two silent natures
on the new basis forever. Jennie was in white before the mantel when he
returned, smiling at the inscription thereon.

"Why didn't you put it in Latin?" she inquired. "It would have had so much
more distinction."

"I wanted it to have meaning instead," said Jim. "And besides, nobody who
was at hand was quite sure how to turn the Latin phrase. Are you?"

Jennie leaned forward with her elbows on her knees, and studied it.

"I believe I could," said she, "without any pony. But after all, I like it
better as it is. I like everything, Jim--everything!"

"LET US CEASE THINKING SO MUCH OF AGRICULTURAL EDUCATION, AND DEVOTE
OURSELVES TO EDUCATIONAL AGRICULTURE. SO WILL THE NATION BE MADE STRONG."

THE END





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