- chapter: THE LAST STROKE. CHAPTER I. SOMETHING WRONG.
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THE LAST STROKE.
IT was a May morning in Glenville. Pretty, picturesque Glenville, low lying by the lake shore, with the waters of the lake surging to meet it, or coyly receding from it, on the one side, and the green-clad hills rising gradually and gently on the other, ending in a belt of trees at the very horizon's edge.
There is little movement in the quiet streets of the town at half-past eight o'clock in the morning, save for the youngsters who, walking, running, leaping, sauntering or waiting idly, one for another, are, or should be, on their way to the school-house which stands upon the very southernmost outskirts of the town, and a little way | | 2 up the hilly slope, at a reasonably safe remove from the willow-fringed lake shore.
The Glenville school-house was one of the earliest public buildings erected in the village, and it had been "located" in what was confidently expected to be the centre of the place. But the new and late-coming impetus, which had changed the hamlet of half a hundred dwellings to one of twenty times that number, and made of it a quiet and not too fashionable little summer resort, had carried the business of the place northward, and its residences still farther north, thus leaving this seat of learning aloof from, and quite above the newer town, in isolated and lofty dignity, surrounded by trees; in the outskirts, in fact, of a second belt of wood, which girdled the lake shore, even as the further and loftier fringe of timber outlined the hilltops at the edge of the eastern horizon and far away.
"Les call 'er the 'cademy?" suggested Elias Robbins, one of the builders of the school-house, and an early settler of Glenville. "What's to hinder?"
"Nothin'," declared John Rote, the village oracle. "Twill sound first-rate."
They were standing outside the building, just completed and resplendent in two coats of yellow paint, and they were just from the labour of putting in, "hangin'" the new bell.| | 3
All of masculine Glenville was present, and the other sex was not without representation.
"Suits me down ter the ground!" commented a third citizen; and no doubt it would have suited the majority, but when Parson Ryder was consulted, he smiled genially and shook his head.
"It won't do, I'm afraid, Elias," he said. "We're only a village as yet, you see, and we can't even dub it the High School, except from a geographical point of view. However, we are bound to grow, and our titles will come with the growth."
The growth, after a time, began; but it was only a summer growth; and the school-house was still a village school-house with its master and one under, or primary, teacher; and to-day there was a frisking group of the smaller youngsters rushing about the school-yard, while the first bell rang out, and half a dozen of the older pupils clustered about the girlish under-teacher full of questions and wonder; for Johnny Robbins, whose turn it was to ring the bell this week, after watching the clock, and the path up the hill, alternately, until the time for the first bell had come, and was actually twenty seconds past, had reluctantly but firmly seized the rope and began to pull.
"'Taint no use, Miss Grant; I'll have to do it He told me not to wait for nothin', never, when 'twas half- | | 4 past eight, and so"--cling, clang, cling--"I'm bound"--cling--"ter do it!" Clang. "You see"--cling--"even if he aint here--" Clang, clang, clang.
The boy pulled lustily at the rope for about half as long as usual, and then he stopped.
"You don't s'pose that clock c'ud be wrong, do yo', Miss Grant? Mr. Brierly's never been later'n quarter past before."
Miss Grant turned her wistful and somewhat anxious eyes toward the eastern horizon, and rested a hand upon the shoulder of a tall girl at her side.
"He may be ill, Johnny," she said, reluctantly, "or his watch may be wrong. He's sure to' come in time for morning song service. Come, Meta, let us go in and look at those fractions."
Five-ten--fifteen minutes passed and the two heads bent still over book and slate. Twenty minutes, and Johnny's head appeared at the door, half a dozen others behind it.
"Has he come, Johnny?"
"No'm; sha'n't I go an' see--"
But Miss Grant arose, stopping him with a gesture "He would laugh at us, Johnny." Then, with another look at the anxious faces, "wait until nine o'clock, at least."
Johnny and his followers went sullenly back to the porch, and Meta's lip began to quiver.| | 5
"Somethin's happened to him, Miss Grant," she whimpered; "I know somethin' has happened!"
"Nonsense," said Miss Grant. But she went to the window and called to a little girl at play upon the green.
"Nellie Fry! Come here, dear."
Nellie Fry, an a, b, c student, came running in, her yellow locks flying straight out behind her.
"What is it, Miss Grant?"
"Nellie, did you see Mr. Brierly at breakfast?"
"Why--I guess so. He talked just like he does always, and asked the blessin'. He--he ate a lot, too--I 'member ma speakin' of it."
"You remember, Nellie."
Grant kissed the child and walked to her desk, bending over her roll call, and seeming busy over it until the clock upon the opposite wall struck the hour of nine, and Johnny's face appeared at the door, simultaneously with the last stroke.
"Sh'll I ring, Miss Grant?"
"Yes." The girl spoke with sudden decision. "Ring the bell, and then go at once to Mrs. Fry's house, and ask if anything has happened to detain Mr. Brierly. Don't loiter, Johnny."| | 6
There was an unwonted flush now upon the girl's usually pale cheeks, and sudden energy in her step and voice.
The school building contained but two rooms, beside the large hall, and the cloak rooms upon either side; and as the scholars trooped in, taking their respective places with more than their usual readiness, but with unusual bustle and exchange of whispers and inquiring looks, the slender girl went once more to the entrance and looked up and down the path from the village.
There was no one in sight, and she turned and put her hand upon the swaying bell-rope.
"Stop it, Johnny! There's surely something wrong! Go, now, and ask after Mr. Brierly. He must be ill!"
"He'd 'a sent word, sure," said the boy, with conviction, as he snatched his hat from its nail. But Miss Grant only waved him away and entered the south room, where the elder pupils were now, for the most part, assembled.
"Girls and boys," she said, the colour still burning in her cheeks, "something has delayed Mr. Brierly. I hope it will be for a short time only. In the meantime, until we know--know what to expect, you will, of course, keep your places and take up your studies. I am sure I can trust you to be as quiet and studious as if your teacher was here; and while we wait, and I | | 7 begin my lessons, I shall set no monitor over you. I am sure you will not need one."
The pupils of Charles Brierly were ruled by gentleness and love, and they were loyal to so mild a ruler. With whispers and words of acquiescence, they took up their books, and Miss Grant went back to her more restless small people, leaving the connecting door between the north and south rooms open.
Mrs. Fry's cottage was in the heart of the village, and upon the hillside, but Johnny stayed for nothing, running hither, hat in hand, and returning panting, and with a troubled face.
"Miss Grant," he panted, bursting into her presence with scant ceremony, "he aint there! Mrs. Fry says he came to school before eight o'clock. He went out while she was combin' Nellie's hair, an' she aint seen him since!"
Hilda Grant walked slowly down from her little platform, and advanced, with a waving movement, until she stood in the doorway between the two rooms. The colour had all faded from her face, and she put a hand against the door-pane as if to steady herself, and seemed to control or compose herself with an effort.
"Boys--children--have any of you seen Mr. Brierly this morning?"
For a moment there was an utter silence in the school- | | 8 room. Then, slowly, and with a sheepish shuffling movement, a stolid-faced boy made his way out from one of the side seats in Miss Grant's room, and came toward her without speaking. He was meanly dressed in garments ill-matched and worse fitting; his arms were abnormally long, his shoulders rounded and stooping, and his eyes were at once dull and furtive. He was the largest pupil, and the dullest, in Miss Grant's charge, and as he came toward her, still silent, but with his mouth half open, some of the little ones tittered audibly.
"Silence!" said the teacher, sternly. "Peter, come here." Her tone grew suddenly gentle. "Have you seen Mr. Brierly this morning?"
"Uh hum!" The boy stopped short and hung his head.
"That's good news, Peter. Tell me where you saw him."
"Down there," nodding toward the lake.
"How long ago, Peter?"
"'Fore school--hour, maybe."
"How far away, Peter?"
"Big ways. Most by Injun Hill."
" Ah! and what was he doing?"
"Set on ground--lookin'."
"Miss Grant!" broke in the boy Johnny. "He was | | 9 goin' to shoot at a mark; I guess he's got a new target down there, an' him an' some of the boys shoots there, you know. Gracious!" his eyes suddenly widening, "Dy'u s'pose he's got hurt, anyway?"
Miss Grant turned quickly toward the simpleton.
"Peter, you are sure it was this morning that you saw Mr. Brierly?"
"And, was he alone?"
"Who else did you see down there, Peter?"
The boy lifted his arm, shielding his eyes with it as if expecting a blow.
I bet some one's tried ter hit him!" commented Johnny.
"Hush, Johnny! Peter, what is it? Did some one frighten you?"
The boy wagged his head.
"Who was it?"
"N-Nothin'--" Peter began to whimper.
"You must answer me, Peter; was any one else by the lake? Whom else did you see?"
"A--a--ghost!" blubbered the boy, and this was all she could gain from him.
And now the children began to whisper, and some of the elder to suggest possibilities.| | 10
"Maybe he's met a tramp."
"P'r'aps he's sprained his ankle!"
"P'r'aps he's falled into the lake, teacher," piped a six-year-old.
"Poh!" retorted a small boy. "He kin swim like--anything."
"Children, be silent!" A look of annoyance had suddenly relaxed the strained, set look of the under teacher's white face as she recalled, at the moment, how she had heard Mr. Samuel Doran--president of the board of school directors--ask Mr. Brierly to drop in at his office that morning to look at some specimen school books. That was the evening before, and, doubtless, he was there now.
Miss Grant bit her lip, vexed at her folly and fright. But after a moment's reflection she turned again to Johnny Robbins, saying:
"Johnny, will you go back as far as Mr. Doran's house? Go to the office door, and if Mr. Brierly is there, as I think he will be, ask him if he would like me to hear his classes until he is at liberty."
Again the ready messenger caught up his flapping straw hat, while a little flutter of relief ran through the school, and Miss Grant went back to her desk, the look of vexation still upon her face.
Five minutes' brisk trotting brought the boy to Mr. | | 11 Doran's door, which was much nearer than the Fry homestead, and less than five minutes found him again at the school-house door.
"Miss Grant," he cried, excitedly, "he wa'n't there, nor haint been; an' Mr. Doran's startin' right out, with two or three other men, to hunt him. He says there's somethin' wrong about it."
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