“Obey what?” the teacher inquired.
“Law,” somebody ventured.
“Correct; we’re studying law—every one of us—the laws of grammar, of arithmetic, of reading, and so on. We are learning to obey them. Now I am going to ask you what is the greatest law in the world?”
There was a moment of silence. Then the teacher wrote these words in large letters on the blackboard; “Thou shalt not lie.”
“There is the law of laws,” said the teacher, solemnly. “Better never have been born than not learn to obey it. If you always tell the truth, you needn’t worry about any other law. Words are like money—some are genuine, some are counterfeit. If a man had a bag of counterfeit money and kept passing it, in a little while nobody would take his money. I knew a man who said he killed four bears at one shot. There’s some that see too much when they’re looking over their own gun-barrels. Don’t be one of that kind. Don’t ever kill too many bears at a shot.”
After that, in the Linley district, a man who lied was said to be killing too many bears at a shot.
Good thoughts spread with slow but sure contagion. There were some who understood the teacher. His words went home and far with them, even to their graves, and how much farther who can say? They went over the hills, indeed, to other neighbourhoods, and here they are, still travelling, and going now, it may be, to the remotest corners of the earth. The big boys talked about this matter of lying and declared the teacher was right.
“There’s Tunk Hosely,” said Sam Price. “Nobody’d take his word for nuthin’.”
“‘Less he was t’ say he was a fool out an’ out,” another boy suggested.
“Dunno as I’d b’lieve him then,” said Sam. “Fer I’d begin t’ think he knew suthin’.”
A little girl came in, crying, one day.
“What is the trouble?” said the teacher, tenderly, as he leaned over and put his arm around her.
“My father is sick,” said the child, sobbing.
“Very sick?” the teacher inquired.
For a moment she could not answer, but stood shaken with sobs.
“The doctor says he can’t live,” said she, brokenly.
A solemn stillness fell in the little schoolroom. The teacher lifted the child and held her close to his broad breast a moment.
“Be brave, little girl,” said he, patting her head gently. “Doctors don’t always know. He may be better to-morrow.”
He took the child to her seat, and sat beside her and whispered a moment, his mouth close to her ear. And what he said, none knew, save the girl herself, who ceased to cry in a moment but never ceased to remember it.
A long time he sat, with his arm around her, questioning the classes. He seemed to have taken his place between her and the dark shadow.
Joe Beach had been making poor headway in arithmetic.
“I’ll come over this evening, and we’ll see what’s the trouble. It’s all very easy,” the teacher said.