A lot of new selectors came and brought large families with them and murmured like the Israelites because the school was six miles from them. Dad became their Moses. He couldn’t see what they had to grumble about, but Dad always listened to people with a grievance. He went to work and agitated earnestly for a new school at our end of the district. Dad worked night and day to get them that school, and when at last it was granted and the building went up they murmured more because it was erected within a few feet of Dad’s land.
One day, a young man, overwhelmed with a collar—a lean stripling of a man, with no more hip than a “goanna,” a clean face, a “haw” in his voice, a cane in his hand, and a gorgeous band on his straw hat—mounted the veranda and announced himself to Dad as the teacher of the new school.
Dad scarcely heard him. He was confused. He stared and couldn’t think of anything to say. Had the Angel Gabriel, or the hangman, suddenly appeared before him, Dad’s equanimity couldn’t have been more disturbed. Dad was never himself in the presence of leading people, and the prig-pedagogue and the sage were one and the same to him.
The teacher bowed and said he believed Dad was Mr Rudd. His own name was Wood-Smyth—Mr Philip Wood-Smyth—and he handed Dad a card, and, sitting in an easy chair, began to talk of schools and curriculum in an earnest and learned manner. He believed in teaching a boy mathematics, and mentioned Napoleon Bonaparte and others whom Dad hadn’t heard of, but he condemned classics and the dead languages.
“What is the use of them?” he said. “What earthly use is Greek to you now on this farm, Mr Rudd?” (Dad looked along the veranda boards.) “Can you say you have ever found your Latin or your ethical problems in Shakespeare of any use to you since you left school?”
Dad, in tones of uneasiness, said he hadn’t.
Mother found her way to the veranda and Dad told the teacher she was Mrs. Rudd. They shook hands, and when Mr Wood-Smyth looked round to address Dad again he was gone.
The new teacher was a polite man and enjoyed society. Never before had there been anyone like him at Saddletop. Whenever he met Miss Wilkins or Gray’s daughters or Sarah he would smile and take off his hat and strike his knees with it. And it didn’t matter how far off they were, whether on a veranda a mile away or on horseback or carrying in sticks, he smiled and took his hat off just the same.
Dave regarded Mr Wood-Smyth with disfavour. The polish of him and his attention to girls annoyed Dave.
“He’s a goat, no matter how much he knows,” Dave said in the kitchen one day.
Sarah stood up for the ways of the pedagogue. She thought it proper such respect should be shown to her sex.
“Then you’re mighty fond o’ being noticed,” Dave answered cynically.
Young Bill was sitting at the table, having late dinner alone. He joined in.
“Not when they’re m-milkin’, Dave, an’ haven’t their stockin’s on” (Dave looked at him and grinned), “or ’n a tub.”
Bill struggled on the floor from a poke Mother gave him with the teapot.
“But it wouldn’t hurt you,” Sarah went on quietly, “to lift your hat.”
“No, it wouldn’t,” Dave snarled, “an’ it wouldn’t hurt anyone if I didn’t. An’ who wants t’ wear a hat out swingin’ it about as if he wanted t’ block a cow?” And Dave chuckled triumphantly and went out.
Mr Wood-Smyth was a frequent visitor at our place, and if he chanced to remain for a meal any time Dad would become agitated. He would lose his head and at the table make all kinds of mistakes. When he didn’t pass meat to someone who didn’t want any, he dropped the plate and spilt gravy about or mutilated his fingers with the carver.
But Dad usually contrived to avoid Wood-Smyth’s society. Dad had never received a great education himself, and the presence of so much learning annoyed him. But always when the teacher had left Dad talked favourably of him. Once Mother asked how much salary he thought Mr Wood-Smyth received, and Dad reckoned he would get “at least a thousand.”
Politeness was the broad plank in Wood-Smyth’s curriculum and he hammered it hard into his pupils.
One day Dad was riding on the road and met the scholars returning home. Several raised their hats to him. Dad stared and went on. Some more hats. Dad scowled. Then Tom limped along, swinging a lizard by the tail.
“Hello, Dad.”—and up went his hat.
Dad turned the mare sharply and went after him. “Yer young devil!”—he shouted, striking at Tom round the base of a tree with a riding-switch.—“would y’ make sport o’ me, too?”
“’E tol’ us t’—” Tom whined.
“T’ mek fun o’ me?”
“No—t’—” Dad attempted to dismount and Tom dropped the lizard and escaped.
Boxing Night. A party at our place—Sarah’s party. Such a gathering! Every soul on Saddletop must have been present—everyone except the Careys. And the display of lights and lanterns would have almost blinded you. The verandas right round were hung thick with them. Two accordeon-players and a violinist were in attendance, and to hear the music they made when you reached the gate would make your heart jump.
Sarah flew about everywhere, met her female friends at the steps and hugged them, and escorted them in and took their hats and things and found sleeping places for the babies.
Joe looked after the men for her—warned them of the dog and the barbed wire, showed them where to put their horses, and conducted them to the ballroom and introduced them to any young ladies they didn’t know.
Dancing about to commence. Mr Wood-Smyth arrived. He came late and McGregor, a very old mate of Dad’s, strolled in about the same time. Dad hurried forward and seized Mcgregor by the hand and welcomed him boisterously. Dad hadn’t seen McGregor for a number of years and the pair sat together at a table and talked of old times. They talked for hours.
Intermission. The room containing Dad and McGregor became crowded and cake and coffee were being handed round.
A lull in the clatter of tongues. McGregor turned to Mr Wood-Smyth, who sat near him sipping coffee, and in a loud sonorous tone said, “N’ hoo’s th’ auld mon—quite weel, Phil?”
Dad stared and nudged McGregor. He thought his old mate was making a mistake.
But Wood-Smyth understood. He blushed and fidgeted, then forced a smile and answered, “He’s—ah—pretty well, indeed.”
“An’ auld Mick?”
Mr Wood-Smyth fidgeted more. He wished someone would come to the door and call him. The company appeared interested.
“Pretty well, I think,” he said, eyeing the door.
McGregor turned to Dad.
“Y’ ken,” McGregor said, “auld Micky, who cleanit the dustboxes i’ Dreeyton—uncle to this mon?” And he pointed his thumb at the teacher.
Dad drew himself up like a cockatoo, aroused. “Not his uncle!” he exclaimed, his eyes opening like a door.
“Yes, mon”—and McGregor laughed at Dad’s astonished look—“yes, Phil’s a son o’ auld Jem Smith, o’ Quartpot, is he nae? An’ wus nae auld Micky a brither o’ Jem’s?”
The discovery was too much for Dad. He stood up and stared at Wood- Smyth.
“Dammit!” he said. “I know y’.”
“Y’ couldna f’get auld Jemmy.” McGregor said.
“Remember him well,” Dad answered, his eyes shining with enthusiasm. And turning to the company, who, to the discomfort of the teacher, were all grinning, he said, with a ring of pride in his voice: “His father an’ me knew one another thirty year ago.”
“Eh! An’ th’ auld woman tae!” said McGregor.
“An’ his mother!” Dad answered.
“An’ y’ min’ th’ bannocks she used tae mak’ us a’?”
Dad burst into a loud laugh at mention of the “bannocks.” But Wood- Smyth didn’t. He only smiled, but his face was very red.
“An’ min’, too, th’ auld black hen she used to hae sittin’ wi’ eggs in the bed?”
Dad held his sides, and the tears ran down his furrowed cheeks.
“An’ the p-p-p—” (McGregor couldn’t speak for laughing) “the pig i’ the hoose wi’” (choked again)—“wi’ ribbon tied tae it!”
Dad gave a tremendous roar. The whole house exploded, and it was minutes before Joe’s voice could be heard yelling:
“S’lect your partners for a waltz!”