Master Swift’s head sank upon his breast, and he was silent, as if in a trance, but Jan dared not speak. The silence was broken by Rufus, who got up and stuffed his nose into the schoolmaster’s hand.
“Poor lad!” said his master, patting him. “Thou’rt a good soul, too! Well, Jan, I’m here, ye see. It didn’t kill me. I was off my head a bit, I believe, but they kept the school for me, and I got to work again. I’m rough pottery, lad, and take a deal of breaking. I’ve took up with dumb animals, too, a good deal. At least, they’ve took up with me. Most of ’em’s come, like Rufus, of themselves. Mangy puppies no one would own, cats with kettles to their tails, and so on. I’ve always had a bit of company to my meals, and that’s the main thing. Folks has said to me, ’Master Swift, I don’t know how you can keep on schooling. I reckon you can hardly abide the sight of boys now you’ve lost your own.’ But they’re wrong, Jan: it seemed to give me a kind of love for every lad I lit upon.
“Are ye thinking ambition was dead in the old man at last? It came to life again, Jan. After a bit, I says to myself, ’In a dull place like this there’s doubtless many a boy that might rise that never has the chance that I’d have given to mine. For what says the poet Gray? —
to their eyes her ample page,
Rich with the spoils of Time, did ne’er unroll."’
“I think, Jan, sometimes, I’m like Rachel, who’d rather have taken to her servant’s children than have had none. I thought, ’If there’s a genius in obscurity here, I’ll come across the boy, being schoolmaster, and I’ll do for him as I’d have done for my own.’ Jan, I’ve seen nigh on seven generations of lads pass through this school, but he’s never come! Society’s quit of that blame. There’s been no ‘mute, inglorious Miltons’ here since I come to this place. There’s been many a nice-tempered lad I’ve loved, for I’m fond of children, but never one that yearned to see places he’d never seen, or to know things he’d never heard of. There’s no fool like an old one, and I think I’ve been more disappointed as time went on. I submitted myself to the Lord’s will years ago; but I have prayed Him, on my knees, since He didn’t see fit to raise me and mine, to let me have that satisfaction to help some other man’s son to knowledge and to fame.