Two Little Savages
By Ernest Thompson Seton
Public Domain Books
The Peace of Minnie
That night the two avoided each other. Yan ate but little, and to Mrs. Raften’s kindly solicitous questions he said he was not feeling well.
After supper they were sitting around the table, the men sleepily silent, Yan and Sam moodily so. Yan had it all laid out in his mind now. Sam would make a one-sided report of the affair; Guy would sustain him. Raften himself was witness of Yan’s violence.
The merry days at Sanger were over. He was doomed, and felt like a condemned felon awaiting the carrying out of the sentence. There was only one lively member of the group. That was little Minnie. She was barely three, but a great chatterbox. Like all children, she dearly loved a “secret,” and one of her favourite tricks was to beckon to some one, laying her pinky finger on her pinker lips, and then when they stooped she would whisper in their ear, “Don’t tell.” That was all. It was her Idea of a “seek-it.”
She was playing at her brother’s knee. He picked her up and they whispered to each other, then she scrambled down and went to Yan. He lifted her with a tenderness that was born of the thought that she alone loved him now. She beckoned his head down, put her chubby arms around his neck and whispered, ’Don’t tell,” then slid down, holding her dear innocent little finger warningly before her mouth.
What did it mean? Had Sam told her to do that, or was it a mere repetition of her old trick? No matter, it brought a rush of warm feeling into Yan’s heart. He coaxed the little cherub back and whispered, “No, Minnie, I’ll never tell.” He began to see how crazy he had been. Sam was such a good fellow, he was very fond of him, and he wanted to make up; but no–with Sam holding threats of banishment over him, he could not ask for forgiveness. No, he would do nothing but wait and see.
He met Mr. Raften again and again that evening and nothing was said. He slept little that night and was up early. He met Mr. Raften alone–rather tried to meet him alone. He wanted to have it over with. He was one of the kind not prayed for in the Litany that crave “sudden death.” But Raften was unchanged. At breakfast Sam was as usual, except to Yan, and not very different to him. He had a swelling on his lip that he said he got “tusslin’ with the boys somehow or nuther.”
After breakfast Raften said:
“Yahn, I want you to come with me to the schoolhouse.”
“It’s come at last,” thought Yan, for the schoolhouse was on the road to the railroad station. But why did not Raften say “the station”? He was not a man to mince words. Nothing was said about his handbag either, and there was no room for it in the buggy anyway.
Raften drove in silence. There was nothing unusual in that. At length he said:
“Yahn, what’s yer father goin’ to make of ye?”
“An artist,” said Yan, wondering what this had to do with his dismissal.
“Does an artist hev to be bang-up eddicated?”
“They’re all the better for it.”
“Av coorse, av coorse, that’s what I tell Sam. It’s eddication that counts. Does artists make much money?”
“Yes, some of them. The successful ones sometimes make millions.”
“Millions? I guess not. Ain’t you stretchin’ it just a leetle?”
“No, sir. Turner made a million. Titian lived in a palace, and so did Raphael.”
“Hm. Don’t know ’em, but maybe so–maybe so. It’s wonderful what eddication does–that’s what I tell Sam.”
They now drew near the schoolhouse. It was holiday time, but the door was open and on the steps were two graybearded men. They nodded to Raften. These men were the school trustees. One of them was Char-less Boyle; the other was old Moore, poor as a church mouse, but a genial soul, and really put on the Board as a lubricant between Boyle and Raften. Boyle was much the more popular. But Raften was always made trustee, for the people knew that he would take extremely good care of funds and school as well as of scholars.
This was a special meeting called to arrange for a new schoolhouse. Raften got out a lot of papers, including letters from the Department of Education. The School District had to find half the money; the Department would supply the other half if all conditions were complied with. Chief of these, the schoolhouse had to have a given number of cubic feet of air for each pupil. This was very important, but how were they to know in advance if they had the minimum and were not greatly over. It would not do to ask the Department that. They could not consult the teacher, for he was away now and probably would cheat them with more air than was needed. It was Raften who brilliantly solved this frightful mathematical problem and discovered a doughty champion in the thin, bright-eyed child.
“Yahn,” he said, offering him a two-foot rule, “can ye tell me how many foot of air is in this room for every scholar when the seats is full?”
“You mean cubic feet?”
“Le’s see,” and Raften and Moore, after stabbing at the plans with huge forefingers and fumbling cumberously at the much-pawed documents, said together: “Yes, it says cubic feet.” Yan quickly measured the length of the room and took the height with the map-lifter. The three graybeards gazed with awe and admiration as they saw how surehe seemed. He then counted the seats and said, “Do you count the teacher?” The men discussed this point, then decided, “Maybe ye better; he uses more wind than any of them. Ha, ha!”
Yan made a few figures on paper, then said, “Twenty feet, rather better.”
“Luk at thot,” said Raften in a voice of bullying and triumph; “jest agrees with the Gover’ment Inspector. I towld ye he could. Now let’s put the new buildin’ to test.”
More papers were pawed over.
“Yahn, how’s this–double as many children, one teacher an’ the buildin’ so an’ so.”
Yan figured a minute and said, “Twenty-five feet each.”
“Thar, didn’t I tell ye,” thundered Raften; “didn’t I say that that dhirty swindler of an architect was playing us into the conthractor’s hands–thought we wuz simple–a put-up job, the hull durn thing. Luk at it! They’re nothing but a gang of thieves.”
Yan glanced at the plan that was being flourished in the air.
“Hold on,” he said, with an air of authority that he certainly never before had used to Raften, “there’s the lobby and cloak-room to come off.” He subtracted their bulk and found the plan all right–the Government minimum of air.
Boyle’s eye had now just a little gleam of triumphant malice. Raften seemed actually disappointed not to have found some roguery.
“Well, they’re a shcaly lot, anyhow. They’ll bear watchin’,” he added, in tones of self-justification.
“Now, Yahn, last year the township was assessed at $265,000 an’ we raised $265 with a school-tax of wan mill on the dollar. This year the new assessment gives $291,400; how much will the same tax raise if cost of collecting is same?”
“Two hundred and ninety-one dollars and forty cents,” said Yan, without hesitation–and the three men sat back in their chairs and gasped.
It was the triumph of his life. Even old Boyle beamed in admiration, and Raften glowed, feeling that not a little of it belonged to him.
There was something positively pathetic in the simplicity of the three shrewd men and their abject reverence for the wonderful scholarship of this raw boy, and not less touching was their absolute faith in his infallibility as a mathematician.
Raften grinned at him in a peculiar, almost a weak way. Yan had never seen that expression on his face before, excepting once, and that was as he shook hands with a noted pugilist just after he had won a memorable fight. Yan did not know whether he liked it or not.
On the road home Raften talked with unusual freeness about his plans for his son. (Yan began to realize that the storm had blown over.) He harped on his favourite theme, “eddication.” If Yan had only known, that was the one word of comfort that Raften found when he saw his big boy go down: “It’s eddication done it. Oh, but he’s fine eddicated." Yan never knew until years afterward, when a grown man and he and Raften were talking of the old days, that he had been for some time winning respect from the rough-and-ready farmer, but what finally raised him to glorious eminence was the hip-throw that he served that day on Sam.
Raften was all right, Yan believed, but what of Sam? They had not spoken yet. Yan wished to make up, but it grew harder. Sam had got over his wrath and wanted a chance, but did not know how.
He had just set down his two buckets after feeding the pigs when Minnie came toddling out.
“Sam! Sam! Take Minnie to ’ide,” then seeing Yan she added, “Yan, you mate a tair, tate hold Sam’s hand.”
The queen must be obeyed. Sam and Yan sheepishly grasped hands to make a queen’s chair for the little lady. She clutched them both around the neck and brought their heads close together. They both loved the pink-and-white baby between them, and both could talk to her though not to each other. But there is something in touch that begets comprehension. The situation was becoming ludicrous when Sam suddenly burst out laughing, then:
“Say, Yan, let’s be friends.”
“I–I want–to–be,” stammered Yan, with tears standing in his eyes. “I’m awfully sorry. I’ll never do it again,”
“Oh, shucks! I don’t care,” said Sam. “It was all that dirty little sneak that made the trouble; but never mind, it’s all right. The only thing that worries me is how you sent me flying. I’m bigger an’ stronger an’ older, I can heft more an’ work harder, but you throwed me like a bag o’ shavings, I only wish I knowed how you done it.”