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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGlengarry Schooldays - Chapter 8. Foxy's Partner
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Glengarry Schooldays - Chapter 8. Foxy's Partner Post by :JuvioSuccess Category :Long Stories Author :Ralph Connor Date :May 2012 Read :2647

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Glengarry Schooldays - Chapter 8. Foxy's Partner

CHAPTER VIII. FOXY'S PARTNER

It was an evil day for Hughie when he made friends with Foxy and became his partner in the store business, for Hughie's hoardings were never large, and after buying a Christmas present for his mother, according to his unfailing custom, they were reduced to a very few pennies indeed. The opportunities for investment in his new position were many and alluring. But all Hughie's soul went out in longing for a pistol which Foxy had among his goods, and which would fire not only caps, but powder and ball, and his longing was sensibly increased by Foxy generously allowing him to try the pistol, first at a mark, which Hughie hit, and then at a red squirrel, which he missed. By day Hughie yearned for this pistol, by night he dreamed of it, but how he might secure it for his own he did not know.

Upon this point he felt he could not consult his mother, his usual counselor, for he had an instinctive feeling that she would not approve of his having a pistol in his possession; and as for his father, Hughie knew he would soon make "short work of any such folly." What would a child like Hughie do with a pistol? He had never had a pistol in all his life. It was difficult for the minister to realize that young Canada was a new type, and he would have been more than surprised had any one told him that already Hughie, although only twelve, was an expert with a gun, having for many a Saturday during the long, sunny fall roamed the woods, at first in company with Don, and afterwards with Don's gun alone, or followed by Fusie or Davie Scotch. There was thus no help for Hughie at home. The price of the pistol reduced to the lowest possible sum, was two dollars and a half, which Foxy declared was only half what he would charge any one else but his partner.

"How much have you got altogether?" he asked Hughie one day, when Hughie was groaning over his poverty.

"Six pennies and two dimes," was Hughie's disconsolate reply. He had often counted them over. "Of course," he went on, "there's my XL knife. That's worth a lot, only the point of the big blade's broken."

"Huh!" grunted Foxy, "there's jist the stub left."

"It's not!" said Hughie, indignantly. "It's more than half, then. And it's bully good stuff, too. It'll nick any knife in the school"; and Hughie dived into his pocket and pulled out his knife with a handful of boy's treasures.

"Hullo!" said Foxy, snatching a half-dollar from Hughie's hand, "whose is that?"

"Here, you, give me that! That's not mine," cried Hughie.

"Whose is it, then?"

"I don't know. I guess it's mother's. I found it on the kitchen floor, and I know it's mother's."

"How do you know?"

"I know well enough. She often puts money on the window, and it fell down. Give me that, I tell you!" Hughie's eyes were blazing dangerously, and Foxy handed back the half-dollar.

"O, all right. You're a pretty big fool," he said, indifferently. "'Losers seekers, finders keepers.' That's my rule."

Hughie was silent, holding his precious half-dollar in his hand, deep in his pocket.

"Say," said Foxy, changing the subject, "I guess you had better pay up for your powder and caps you've been firing."

"I haven't been firing much," said Hughie, confidently.

"Well, you've been firing pretty steady for three weeks."

"Three weeks! It isn't three weeks."

"It is. There's this week, and last week when the ink-bottle bust too soon and burnt Fusie's eyebrows, and the week before when you shot Aleck Dan, and it was the week before that you began, and that'll make it four."

"How much?" asked Hughie, desperately, resolved to know the worst.

Foxy had been preparing for this. He took down a slate-pencil box with a sliding lid, and drew out a bundle of crumbled slips which Hughie, with sinking heart, recognized as his own vouchers.

"Sixteen pennies." Foxy had taken care of this part of the business.

"Sixteen!" exclaimed Hughie, snatching up the bunch.

"Count them yourself," said Foxy, calmly, knowing well he could count on Hughie's honesty.

"Seventeen," said Hughie, hopelessly.

"But one of those I didn't count," said Foxy, generously. "That's the one I gave you to try at the first. Now, I tell you," went on Foxy, insinuatingly, "you have got how much at home?" he inquired.

"Six pennies and two dimes." Hughie's tone indicated despair.

"You've got six pennies and two dimes. Six pennies and two dimes. That's twenty--that's thirty-two cents. Now if you paid me that thirty-two cents, and if you could get a half-dollar anywhere, that would be eighty-two. I tell you what I would do. I would let you have that pistol for only one dollar more. That ain't much," he said.

"Only a dollar more," said Hughie, calculating rapidly. "But where would I get the fifty cents?" The dollar seemed at that moment to Hughie quite a possible thing, if only the fifty cents could be got. The dollar was more remote, and therefore less pressing.

Foxy had an inspiration.

"I tell you what. You borrow that fifty cents you found, and then you can pay me eighty-two cents, and--and--" he hesitated--"perhaps you will find some more, or something."

Hughie's eyes were blazing with great fierceness.

Foxy hastened to add, "And I'll let you have the pistol right off, and you'll pay me again some time when you can, the other dollar."

Hughie checked the indignant answer that was at his lips. To have the pistol as his own, to take home with him at night, and to keep all Saturday--the temptation was great, and coming suddenly upon Hughie, was too much for him. He would surely, somehow, soon pay back the fifty cents, he argued, and Foxy would wait for the dollar. And yet that half-dollar was not his, but his mother's, and more than that, if he asked her for it, he was pretty sure she would refuse. But then, he doubted his mother's judgment as to his ability to use firearms, and besides, this pistol at that price was a great bargain, and any of the boys might pick it up. Poor Hughie! He did not know how ancient was that argument, nor how frequently it had done duty in smoothing the descent to the lower regions. The pistol was good to look at, the opportunity of securing it was such as might not occur again, and as for the half-dollar, there could be no harm in borrowing that for a little while.

That was Foxy's day of triumph, but to Hughie it was the beginning of many woeful days and nights. And his misery came upon him swift and sure, in the very moment that he turned in from the road at the manse gate, for he knew that at the end of the lane would be his mother, and his winged feet, upon which he usually flew from the gate home, dragged heavily.

He found his mother, not at the door, but in the large, pleasant living-room, which did for all kinds of rooms in the manse. It was dining-room and sewing-room, nursery and playroom, but it was always a good room to enter, and in spite of playthings strewn about, or snippings of cloth, or other stour, it was always a place of brightness and of peace, for it was there the mother was most frequently to be found. This evening she was at the sewing-machine busy with Hughie's Sunday clothes, with the baby asleep in the cradle beside her in spite of the din of the flying wheels, and little Robbie helping to pull through the long seam. Hughie shrank from the warm, bright, loving atmosphere that seemed to fill the room, hating to go in, but in a moment he realized that he must "make believe" with his mother, and the pain of it and the shame of it startled and amazed him. He was glad that his mother did not notice him enter, and by the time he had put away his books he had braced himself to meet her bright smile and her welcome kiss.

The mother did not apparently notice his hesitation.

"Well, my boy, home again?" she cried, holding out her hand to him with the air of good comradeship she always wore with him. "Are you very hungry?"

"You bet!" said Hughie, kissing her, and glad of the chance to get away.

"Well, you will find something pretty nice in the pantry we saved for you. Guess what."

"Don't know."

"I know," shouted Robbie. "Pie! It's muzzie's pie. Muzzie tept it for 'oo."

"Now, Robbie, you were not to tell," said his mother, shaking her finger at him.

"O-o-o, I fordot," said Robbie, horrified at his failure to keep his promise.

"Never mind. That's a lesson you will have to learn many times, how to keep those little lips shut. And the pie will be just as good."

"Thank you, mother," said Hughie. "But I don't want your pie."

"My pie!" said the mother. "Pie isn't good for old women."

"Old women!" said Hughie, indignantly. "You're the youngest and prettiest woman in the congregation," he cried, and forgetting for the moment his sense of meanness, he threw his arms round his mother.

"Oh, Hughie, shame on you! What a dreadful flatterer you are!" said his mother. "Now, run away to your pie, and then to your evening work, my boy, and we will have a good lesson together after supper."

Hughie ran away, glad to get out of her presence, and seizing the pie, carried it out to the barn and hurled it far into the snow. He felt sure that a single bite of it would choke him.

If he could only have seen Foxy any time for the next hour, how gladly would he have given him back his pistol, but by the time he had fed his cow and the horses, split the wood and carried it in, and prepared kindling for the morning's fires, he had become accustomed to his new self, and had learned his first lesson in keeping his emotions out of his face. But from that night, and through all the long weeks of the breaking winter, when games in the woods were impossible by reason of the snow and water, and when the roads were deep with mud, Hughie carried his burden with him, till life was one long weariness and dread.

And through these days he was Foxy's slave. A pistol without ammunition was quite useless. Foxy's stock was near at hand. It was easy to write a voucher for a penny's worth of powder or caps, and consequently the pile in Foxy's pencil-box steadily mounted till Hughie was afraid to look at it. His chance of being free from his own conscience was still remote enough.

During these days, too, Foxy reveled in his power over his rival, and ground his slave in bitter bondage, subjecting him to such humiliation as made the school wonder and Hughie writhe; and if ever Hughie showed any sign of resentment or rebellion, Foxy could tame him to groveling submission by a single word. "Well, I guess I'll go down to-night to see your mother," was all he needed to say to make Hughie grovel again. For with Hughie it was not the fear of his father's wrath and heavy punishment, though that was terrible enough, but the dread that his mother should know, that made him grovel before his tyrant, and wake at night in a cold sweat. His mother's tender anxiety for his pale face and gloomy looks only added to the misery of his heart.

He had no one in whom he could confide. He could not tell any of the boys, for he was unwilling to lose their esteem, besides, it was none of their business; he was terrified of his father's wrath, and from his mother, his usual and unfailing resort in every trouble of his whole life, he was now separated by his terrible secret.

Then Foxy began to insist upon payment of his debts. Spring was at hand, the store would soon be closed up, for business was slack in the summer, and besides, Foxy had other use for his money.

"Haven't you got any money at all in your house?" Foxy sneered one day, when Hughie was declaring his inability to meet his debts.

"Of course we have," cried Hughie, indignantly.

"Don't believe it," said Foxy, contemptuously.

"Father's drawer is sometimes full of dimes and half-dimes. At least, there's an awful lot on Mondays, from the collections, you know," said Hughie.

"Well, then, you had better get some for me, somehow," said Foxy. "You might borrow some from the drawer for a little while."

"That would be stealing," said Hughie.

"You wouldn't mean to keep it," said Foxy. "You would only take it for a while. It would just be borrowing."

"It wouldn't," said Hughie, firmly. "It's taking out of his drawer. It's stealing, and I won't steal."

"Huh! you're mighty good all at once. What about that half-dollar?"

"You said yourself that wasn't stealing," said Hughie, passionately.

"Well, what's the difference? You said it was your mother's, and this is your father's. It's all the same, except that you're afraid to take your father's."

"I'm not afraid. At least it isn't that. But it's different to take money out of a drawer, that isn't your own."

"Huh! Mighty lot of difference! Money's money, wherever it is. Besides, if you borrowed this from your father, you could pay back your mother and me. You would pay the whole thing right off."

Once more Hughie argued with himself. To be free from Foxy's hateful tyranny, and to be clear again with his mother--for that he would be willing to suffer almost anything. But to take money out of that drawer was awfully like stealing. Of course he would pay it back, and after all it would only be borrowing. Besides, it would enable him to repay what he owed to his mother and to Foxy. Through all the mazes of specious argument Hughie worked his way, arriving at no conclusion, except that he carried with him a feeling that if he could by some means get that money out of the drawer in a way that would not be stealing, it would be a vast relief, greater than words could tell.

That night brought him the opportunity. His father and mother were away at the prayer meeting. There was only Jessie left in the house, and she was busy with the younger children. With the firm resolve that he would not take a single half-dime from his father's drawer, he went into the study. He would like to see if the drawer were open. Yes, it was open, and the Sabbath's collection lay there with all its shining invitation. He tried making up the dollar and a half out of the dimes and half-dimes. What a lot of half-dimes it took! But when he used the quarters and dimes, how much smaller the piles were. Only two quarters and five dimes made up the dollar, and the pile in the drawer looked pretty much the same as before. Another quarter-dollar withdrawn from the drawer made little difference. He looked at the little heaps on the table. He believed he could make Foxy take that for his whole debt, though he was sure he owed him more. Perhaps he had better make certain. He transferred two more dimes and a half-dime from the drawer to the table. It was an insignificant little heap. That would certainly clear off his whole indebtedness and make him a free man.

He slipped the little heaps of money from the table into his pocket, and then suddenly he realized that he had never decided to take the money. The last resolve he could remember making was simply to see how the dollar and a half looked. Without noticing, he had passed the point of final decision. Alas! like many another, Hughie found the going easy and the slipping smooth upon the down incline. Unconsciously he had slipped into being a thief.

Now he could not go back. His absorbing purpose was concealment. Quietly shutting the drawer, he was slipping hurriedly up to his own room, when on the stairway he met Jessie.

"What are you doing here, Jessie?" he asked, sharply.

"Putting Robbie off to bed," said Jessie, in surprise. "What's the matter with you?"

"What's the matter?" echoed Hughie, smitten with horrible fear that perhaps she knew. "I just wanted to know," he said, weakly.

He slipped past her, holding his pocket tight lest the coins should rattle. When he reached his room he stood listening in the dark to Jessie going down the stairs. He was sure she suspected something. He would go back and put the money in the drawer again, whenever she reached the kitchen. He stood there with his heart-beats filling his ears, waiting for the kitchen door to slam.

Then he resolved he would wrap the money up in paper and put it safely away, and go down and see if Jessie knew. He found one of his old copybooks, and began tearing out a leaf. What a noise it made! Robbie would surely wake up, and then Jessie would come back with the light. He put the copy-book under the quilt, and holding it down firmly with one hand, removed the leaf with the other. With great care he wrapped up the dimes and half-dimes by themselves. They fitted better together. Then he took up the quarters, and was proceeding to fold them in a similar parcel, when he heard Jessie's voice from below.

"Hughie, what are you doing?" She was coming up the stair.

He jumped from the bed to go to meet her. A quarter fell on the floor and rolled under the bed. It seemed to Hughie as if it would never stop rolling, and as if Jessie must hear it. Wildly he scrambled on the floor in the dark, seeking for the quarter, while Jessie came nearer and nearer.

"Are you going to bed already, Hughie?" she asked.

Quickly Hughie went out to the hall to meet her.

"Yes," he yawned, gratefully seizing upon her suggestion. "I'm awfully sleepy. Give me the candle, Jessie," he said, snatching it from her hand. "I want to go downstairs."

"Hughie, you are very rude. What would your mother say? Let me have the candle immediately, I want to get Robbie's stockings."

Hughie's heart stood still.

"I'll throw them down, Jessie. I want the candle downstairs just a minute."

"Leave that candle with me," insisted Jessie. "There's another on the dining-room table you can get."

"I'll not be a minute," said Hughie, hurrying downstairs. "You come down, Jessie, I want to ask you something. I'll throw you Robbie's stockings."

"Come back here, the rude boy that you are," said Jessie, crossly, "and bring me that candle."

There was no reply. Hughie was standing, pale and shaking, in the dining-room, listening intently for Jessie's step. Would she go into his room, or would she come down? Every moment increased the agony of his fear.

At length, with a happy inspiration, he went to the cupboard, opened the door noisily, and began rattling the dishes.

"Mercy me!" he heard Jessie exclaim at the top of the stair. "That boy will be my death. Hughie," she called, "just shut that cupboard! You know your mother doesn't like you to go in there."

"I only want a little," called out Hughie, still moving the dishes, and hearing, to his great relief, Jessie's descending step. In desperation he seized a dish of black currant preserves which he found on the cupboard shelf, and spilled it over the dishes and upon the floor just as Jessie entered the room.

"Land sakes alive, boy! Will you never be done your mischief?" she cried, rushing toward him.

"Oh!" he said, "I spilt it."

"Spilt it!" echoed Jessie, indignantly, "you needn't be telling me that. Bring me a cloth from the kitchen."

"I don't know where it is, Jessie," cried Hughie, slipping upstairs again with his candle.

To his great relief he saw that Jessie's attention was so entirely taken up with removing the stains of the preserves from the cupboard shelves and dishes, that she for the moment forgot everything else, Robbie's stockings included.

Hurrying to his room, and shading the candle with his hand lest the light should waken his little brother, he hastily seized the money upon the bed quilt, and after a few moments' searching under the bed, found the strayed quarter.

With these in his hand he passed into his mother's room. Leaving the candle there, he came back to the head of the stairs and listened for a moment, with great satisfaction, to Jessie muttering to herself while she cleaned up the mess he had made. Then he turned, and with trembling fingers he swiftly made up the quarter-dollars into another parcel. With a great sigh of relief he put the two parcels in his pocket, and seizing his candle turned to leave the room. As he did so, he caught sight of himself in the glass. With a great shock of surprise he stood gazing at the terrified, white face, with the staring eyes.

"What a fool I am!" he said, looking at himself in the glass. "Nobody will know, and I'll pay this back soon."

His eyes wandered to a picture which stood on a little shelf beside the glass. It was a picture of his mother, the one he loved best of all he had ever seen of her.

There was a sudden stab of pain at his heart, his breath came in a great sob. For a moment he looked into the eyes that looked back at him so full of love and reproach.

"I won't do it," he said, grinding his teeth hard, and forthwith turned to go to his father's study.

But as he left the room he saw Jessie half-way up the stairs.

"What are you doing now?" she cried, wrathfully. "Up to some mischief, I doubt."

With a sudden, inexplicable rage, Hughie turned toward her.

"It's none of your business! You mind your own business, will you, and leave me alone." The terrible emotions of the last few minutes were at the back of his rage.

"Just wait, you," said Jessie, "till your mother comes. Then you'll hear it."

"You shut your mouth!" cried Hughie, his passion sweeping his whole being like a tempest. "You shut your mouth, you old cat, or I'll throw this candle at you." He raised the candle high in his hand as he spoke, and altogether looked so desperate that Jessie stood in terror lest he should make good his threat.

"Stop, now, Hughie," she entreated. "You will be setting the house on fire."

Hughie hesitated a moment, and then turned from her, and going into his room, banged the door in her face, and Jessie, not knowing what to make of it all, went slowly downstairs again, forgetting once more Robbie's stockings.

"The old cat!" said Hughie to himself. "She just stopped me. I was going to put it back."

The memory that he had resolved to undo his wrong brought him a curious sense of relief.

"I was just going to put it back," he said, "when she had to interfere."

He was conscious of a sense of injury against Jessie. It was not his fault that that money was not now in the drawer.

"I'll put it back in the morning, anyhow," he said, firmly. But even as he spoke he was conscious of an infinality in his determination, while he refused to acknowledge to himself a secret purpose to leave the question open till the morning. But this determination, inconclusive though it was, brought him a certain calm of mind, so that when his mother came into his room she found him sound asleep.

She stood beside his bed looking down upon him for a few moments, with face full of anxious sadness.

"There's something wrong with the boy," she said to herself, stooping to kiss him. "There's something wrong with him," she repeated, as she left the room. "He's not the same."

During these weeks she had been conscious that Hughie had changed in some way to her. The old, full, frank confidence was gone. There was a constraint in his manner she could not explain. "He is no longer a child," she would say to herself, seeking to allay the pain in her heart. "A boy must have his secrets. It is foolish in me to think anything else. Besides, he is not well. He is growing too fast." And indeed, Hughie's pale, miserable face gave ground enough for this opinion.

"That boy is not well," she said to her husband.

"Which boy?"

"Hughie," she replied. "He is looking miserable, and somehow he is different."

"Oh, nonsense! He eats well enough, and sleeps well enough," said her husband, making light of her fears.

"There's something wrong," repeated his wife. "And he hates his school."

"Well, I don't wonder at that," said her husband, sharply. "I don't see how any boy of spirit could take much pleasure in that kind of a school. The boys are just wasting their time, and worse than that, they have lost all the old spirit. I must see to it that the policy of those close-fisted trustees is changed. I am not going to put up with those chits of girls teaching any longer."

"There may be something in what you say," said his wife, sadly, "but certainly Hughie is always begging to stay at home from school."

"And indeed, he might as well stay home," answered her husband, "for all the good he gets."

"I do wish we had a good man in charge," replied his wife, with a great sigh. "It is very important that these boys should have a good, strong man over them. How much it means to a boy at Hughie's time of life! But so few are willing to come away into the backwoods here for so small a salary."

Suddenly her husband laid down his pipe.

"I have it!" he exclaimed. "The very thing! Wouldn't this be the very thing for young Craven. You remember, the young man that Professor MacLauchlan was writing about."

His wife shook her head very decidedly.

"Not at all," she said. "Didn't Professor MacLauchlan say he was dissipated?"

"O, just a little wild. Got going with some loose companions. Out here there would be no temptation."

"I am not at all sure of that," said his wife, "and I would not like Hughie to be under his influence."

"MacLauchlan says he is a young man of fine disposition and of fine parts," argued her husband, "and if temptation were removed from him he believes he would turn out a good man."

Mrs. Murray shook her head doubtfully. "He is not the man to put Hughie under just now."

"What are we to do with Hughie?" replied her husband. "He is getting no good in the school as it is, and we cannot send him away yet."

"Send him away!" exclaimed his wife. "No, no, not a child like that."

"Craven might be a very good man," continued her husband. "He might perhaps live with us. I know you have more than enough to do now," he added, answering her look of dismay, "but he would be a great help to Hughie with his lessons, and might start him in his classics. And then, who knows what you might make of the young man."

Mrs. Murray did not respond to her husband's smile, but only replied, "I am sure I wish I knew what is the matter with the boy, and I wish he could leave school for a while."

"O, the boy is all right," said her husband, impatiently. "Only a little less noisy, as far as I can see."

"No, he is not the same," replied his wife. "He is different to me." There was almost a cry of pain in her voice.

"Now, now, don't imagine things. Boys are full of notions at Hughie's age. He may need a change, but that is all."

With this the mother tried to quiet the tumult of anxious fear and pain she found rising in her heart, but long after the house was still, and while both her boy and his father lay asleep, she kept pouring forth that ancient sacrifice of self-effacing love before the feet of God.

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