The schoolmaster leaves Hillsboro,
his work there seemingly at an end
Mr. Jeminy came slowly out of the post-office, and turned up the road leading to his house. In one hand, crumpled in his pocket, he held his dismissal from Hillsboro school: “On account of age,” it said. Next morning, at nine o’clock, the new teacher was coming to take over the little schoolhouse, with its splintered desks, the dusty blackboard, and the colored maps.
As he walked, the sun sank in the west, and evening crept up the road after him. The air was damp; he could see his breath pass out in fog before his face. The wind, blowing above his head, showered down the last dried, yellow leaves upon his path; before him he saw the chilly sky with its faint, lonely star, and over him the half moon, like a slice; and he heard the autumn wind, steady and cold. “You fields,” he said, “you trees, you meadows and little paths, I do not believe you wanted to dismiss me. You must have enjoyed the daisy chains my pupils used to weave for you in the spring. Now they will learn the use of figures and percents, and the names of cities I have forgot. I will never hear again the voices of children at the playhour come tumbling in through the school windows. For at my age one does not begin to teach again. But it is ridiculous to say that I am an old man.”
It grew darker and darker, the trees creaked and popped in the cold, or groaned like bass viols; and all along the roadside Mr. Jeminy could see the feeble glimmer of fireflies, fallen among the leaves. He said to them, “Little creatures, my flame is also spent. But I do not intend, like you, to lie by the roadside in the wind, and keep myself warm with memories. Now I am going where I can be of use to others. For I am brisk and tough, and do not hope to gain by my efforts more than I deserve.”
Thus, following his thoughts, Mr. Jeminy passed, without knowing it, the house where Mrs. Grumble, sitting by the stove, awaited his return. The moon, riding out the wind above his head, peered down at him between the branches, as he stepped from shadow into moonlight, and again into shadow. Under the trees the dry, fallen leaves stirred about his feet, and other leaves, which he could not see, fell near him in the dark. As he passed the little orchard belonging to Mrs. Wicket, he heard the ripe apples dropping in the night.
In the gray of dawn, he found himself approaching a farmhouse somewhere south of Milford, whose lighted lamp, pale yellow in the early twilight, drew him from the road, across the fields. As he turned through the tumbled gate, a woman came to the door, her dress billowing back from her in the breeze.
“Come in, old man,” she said.