Steeds 17

11 04 2017

Lee rode within sight of the Fairview School, located on section 16 of the township of Pleasant Valley. There, on a foundation of field stones, citizens had erected a small, simple, yet sturdy building using black oak for its frame, white pine for its siding, and red cedar for its roof. On the roof above the front door stood a belfry containing a cast-iron bell. Through the roof at the other end of the building poked a rectangular brick chimney.

Lee had his horse approach at a walk. Because of the warmth of the day, the school’s front door and windows lining two walls had all been opened. The gentle breeze blowing through the building carried the sound of the teacher’s voice outside. Lee stopped at the steps providing easy access to the front door. After dismounting, he tied his horse to one of the handrails. He studied the steps.

Normally, Lee concerned himself little about the noise his footfalls made. Indeed, he preferred the sound his riding boots made when hammering the boardwalks in Uttica; he wanted his stride to resonate candor and authority. Here, however, he wanted to cause as little disturbance as possible. He tiptoed slowly up the steps and entered the school, where he immediately stopped and stood in the cloakroom to await being noticed by the teacher.

“Sheriff Leall?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Lee removed his broad-brimmed riding hat.

All twenty pupils turned in their seats to look at him.

“What may we do for you today, sir?” the teacher asked.

“I would like to speak with you for a few minutes, please,” Lee said. “I can wait for a suitable break in your instruction.”

“Mae. Catherine. Come forward.”

Two of the oldest girls left their desks.

“Work with the youngest children. Mae, you handle addition and subtraction. Catherine, you handle rehearsals of the multiplication and division tables. The remainder of you older children, attend to the problems I have written on the chalkboard. As I was saying, these are of increasing difficulty; I don’t expect all of you to solve them correctly, but I want each of you to try.”

Problem 1: Find the cost of 6720 pounds of coal at $5.10 per ton.

Problem 2: A wagon box is 2 feet deep, 10 feet long, and 3 feet wide; how many bushels of wheat will it hold?

Problem 3: What is the price of a square parcel of land measuring 170 rods per side and costing $15 per acre?

Problem 4: A load of barley weighs 3942 pounds; if the load includes 1020 pounds of tare, and if the grain fetches a price of 40¢ per bushel, what is the load worth?

Problem 5: Lumber for the construction of a barn costs $512.60; if the farmer borrows the money and pays it back in 8 months and 18 days at an interest rate of 7%, what is the cost of the loan?

“I will speak with the sheriff now, but note that I will be watching and listening from the back of the room. Proceed.”

The children did not. They watched their teacher walk along the center of the room toward the main door. Once there, she turned and looked at them. “Proceed,” she repeated.

Lee took a couple steps away from the inner door so that he could not be seen by the pupils. “Miss Judith DeHavilland, I believe.” Lee spoke softly.

“Yes, sir.” She remained in the middle of the inner doorway.

“I’m on my way to Chastain’s Farm Equipment to conduct an inquiry.”

“I heard two of their horses have been stolen.”

“Two in addition to the seven in the county that have disappeared within the last six weeks or so. As my deputies and I investigate the apparent crimes, we seek information from citizens who may have already seen or heard something of significance, or who may see or hear something significant in the future.”

“I understand.”

“In your case, I wonder if you might learn something from your pupils.”

“You don’t think that school children are stealing horses.”

“I think school children see and hear things from adults that they then discuss among themselves. For example, a child may brag about the gift of a horse from parents or relatives, people you―as a teacher who interacts with the child’s elders―people whom you know cannot afford such a gift. For another example, a child may brag about certain exploits reported by elders within his extended family. The exploits may not have been told to him, but he may have heard stories being told among them. For a third example, a child may come to you seeking advice about what to do with knowledge regarding wrong behavior on the part of a family member or friend.”

“You are asking me to spy on my pupils?”

“I daresay, Miss De Havilland, that you already attend closely to the words of your pupils. You listen to every sentence, clause, and phrase, every word, syllable, and letter, every phoneme and every oral punctuation mark. You do teach the use of trigraphs, sub vocals, diphthongs, cognate letters, linguals, and diacritical marks.”


“That requires paying close attention to determine whether your pupils have understood your teaching and whether they are reading, writing, and speaking correctly.”


“You distinguish between correct and incorrect, and you let each child know the difference.”


“Indeed, dare I infer that, if you had Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in your school, you would endeavor to correct their language?”

Judith put a hand to her mouth to stifle a giggle. Removing it, she said, “I would endeavor to induce Master Sawyer and Master Finn to have a command of English as strong as Mr. Twain’s.”

“Are you familiar with the story of Achan?”

“Yes, sir, though it has been some time since I’ve read it or heard it cited in a sermon.”

“Why did God punish Achan’s household for the crimes he committed?”

“I still wonder about that, actually.”

“Can it be that they, too, were guilty? Yes, Achan’s wife and children were under his authority as the patriarch of his family. A superintending precept, however, is this: we must obey God rather than men. This was true under the Law of Moses, and this is true within the Age of Grace. Under the circumstances, it is unlikely Achan’s wife and children knew nothing of his thefts. They said nothing. Saying nothing put the entire community in jeopardy. As it is written, ‘Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.’

“The Chastains have lost two horses. They used them to haul new implements from the train depot in Uttica to their dealership outside Dartford. They used them to test the implements on their farm, and to demonstrate the implements to farmers of the entire county. They have two more horses, yes. They may be able to afford buying two new horses.

“However, we have children of a farm family in the township of Utley who are now out of school and pulling implements because their horse was stolen. We have a tradesman in Uttica who cannot pull his tinker’s wagon after the theft of his horse, so he now has to conduct business by walking to and from customers while carrying tools and wares on his back.

“I am not asking you to become a tattletale or engage in gossip. I am asking you to be a teacher and address that which you may discern to be incorrect. If you can accomplish correction yourself, please do. If, however, you need my professional service, which I suspect would be likely, do not hesitate to contact me.”

“I will do my best, Sheriff Leall.”

“Thank you.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Lee put on his hat.

“Is it necessary for you to leave immediately?” Judith asked.

“No, I don’t believe so.”

“Please, as long as you’re here, would you address the children? As you have seen, they are presently engaged in arithmetic. As you may remember, for most pupils, it is a dull subject. A presentation by you would be a treat on a day when all would rather be out of doors.”

“So you want me to come indoors and suffer with them.”

“You jest, sir.”

“I do. But what shall I say?”

“I admit, this is short notice. Tell a story or two. If nothing else, let them ask questions.”

“You see I am armed.”

“As if any of them has never seen a gun. Besides, you are wearing your badge.”

“My horse is armed, as well.”

“Your horse?”

“She is packing a 20-gauge shotgun. Depending upon what happens later, if necessary, please assist in keeping all the children away from my horse.”




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