“Well,” said Mr. Tomkins, “I’ll be stepping on home.” Clapping his hat somewhat uncertainly onto his head, he rose to go. Mr. Jeminy accompanied him to the door.
“Good-night,” he said.
“Good-night,” said Mr. Tomkins. And off he went along the path, to tell his wife, as he got into bed, that she was a lucky woman. But Mr. Jeminy stood in the doorway, gazing out across the hills, like David over Hebron. Below him the last late lanterns of the village burned in the valley. He heard the shrill kreef kreedn kreedn of the tree frogs, the cheep of crickets, the lonely barking of a dog, ghostly and far away; he breathed the air of night, cold, and sweet with honeysuckle. Age was in bed; only the young moved and whispered in the shadows; youth, obscure and immortal; love and hope, love and sorrow. From the meadows ascended the choir of cicada: katy did, katy didn’t, katy did. . . .
Mr. Jeminy turned and went indoors.
SCHOOL LETS OUT
The next day being a holiday, Mr. Jeminy lay in bed, watching, through his window, the branches of an oak tree, which is last of all to leaf. When he finally arose, the morning was already bright and hot; the rooms were swept; all was in order.
Later in the day he followed Mrs. Grumble to the schoolhouse, carrying a pail, soap, a scrubbing brush, and a broom. After Mr. Jeminy had filled the pail with water at the school pump, Mrs. Grumble got down on her knees, and began to scrub the floor. The schoolmaster went ahead with the broom. “Sweep in all the corners,” she said. “For,” she added, “it’s in the corners one finds everything.” As she spoke, the brush, under her freckled hands, pushed forward a wave of soapy water, edged with foam, like the sea.
Mr. Jeminy swept up and down with a sort of solemn joy; he even took pride in the little mountain of brown dirt he had collected with his broom, and watched it leap across the threshold with regret. He would have liked to keep it. . . . Then he could have said, “Well, at least, I took all this dirt from under the desks.”
The truth is that Mr. Jeminy was not a very good teacher. Although, as a young man, he had read, in Latin and Greek, the work of Stoics, Gnostics, and Fathers of the Church, and although he had opinions about everything, he was unable to teach his pupils what they wished to learn, and they, in turn, were unable to understand what he wanted them to know. But that was not entirely his fault, for they came to school with such questions as: “How far is a thousand miles?”
“It is the distance between youth and age,” said Mr. Jeminy. Then the children would start to laugh.
“A thousand miles,” he would begin. . . .
By the time he had explained it, they were interested in something else.
This summer morning, a dusty fall of sunlight filled the little schoolroom with dancing golden motes. It seemed to Mr. Jeminy that he heard the voices of innumerable children whispering together; and it seemed to him that one voice, sweeter than all the rest, spoke in his own heart. “Jeminy,” it said, “Jeminy, what have you taught my children?”