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Duck Lake
Chapter III. Back to Nature

THE stipend offered for teaching school B at Duck Lake was not such as induced men to be numerous amongst the applicants. But this year there had been one man, and he had been successful in securing the appointment. This man was Sheldon Green. Tall, thin, hollow-cheeked, he had come to Muskoka for his health. Threatened with consumption, he had been told that the Highlands of Ontario had the atmosphere to restore his health, if he would make proper use of it. So he had therefore applied, and was successful in being appointed to the Duck Lake school.

Mr. Green opened his school, and began to teach in the stereotyped way. His physicians had given him explicit instructions to keep out in the open air as much as possible, and urged him to cultivate sport and other outdoor attractions. But he was under contract to put in a certain number of hours at school with his scholars, and he did so faithfully—at first.

He began his educational career at Duck Lake with a bare dozen of indifferent scholars —rough, shy, and ill-kempt—and, adopting the old-fashioned methods, he had the usual success with rebellious scholars. Within a few weeks, however, his methods, learned in good, model schools, underwent considerable alteration in his hands. When the sessions for intermission came he went out with his pupils, taught them games, and took part in them. In the freer conversation of the play-hour he found that some of the boys who were apparently the most stupid at their lessons were very well informed in the facts of Nature. The answers of these young woodsmen interested him greatly, and by them much instruction in natural history, botany, and woodcraft was received and imparted.

These outside conversations of the teacher and scholars became eagerly anticipated by all concerned, and the intermissions on fine days were considerably lengthened. The flora of the country was searched, and grasses and mosses, ferns and flowers, were made to yield hostages to these searchers after truth.

The settlers wondered at their children’s eagerness to get away to school, and older boys and girls began to ask permission to attend school once more. In this way the attendance increased to a score, and was now well on into the second score.

One day Chubb almost disorganized the school and suddenly enlarged the teacher’s horizon of efforts and work.

Chubb did not arrive at school that day until recess. He then appeared, driving a little black and white animal. Around its neck and left shoulder was a rope. With a stick Chubb kept it moving reluctantly towards the school.

As soon as they saw him the children ran and gathered around the pair.

‘Look out!’ said Chubb to some who, he thought, were getting too close. ‘Look out, or he’ll shoot you!’

‘What have you got there, Chubb?’ asked the teacher.

‘A new subject to study,’ said Chubb, adopting the teacher’s language.

The teacher came rather boldly and suddenly forward, and Chubb’s little animal crouched, and his dark brown hairs were almost lost in a forest of white bristles.

‘A porcupine,’ said one of the boys.

The teacher touched it with the toe of his boot, and got a slap on his leg with its tail that sent one or two of the quills into his ankle. With an exclamation of pain and surprise he drew back his foot and picked the quills out of his shin. Chubb was rather dismayed that the teacher had been hurt, and feared that he would suffer greater punishment for being late.

‘Where did you get him?’ asked the teacher, kindly.

The tone of voice relieved Chubb’s fear somewhat.

‘Roped him in the lake.’

'Roped him in the lake!’ exclaimed the teacher.

‘Yes. I was paddling over to school, and I saw him swimming towards an island. I paddled around him until I tired him a bit. Then I slipped this rope around him and brought him to land. He walked awful slow, and so made me late.’

The teacher first smiled and then suddenly grew stern.

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘you are very late to-day. Would you have got here in time if you had come right through?’

‘Yes, sir.' said Chubb, eagerly, for he thought there was some hope of pardon in the masters voice; ‘been here in lots of time.’

‘Did you know that you were running a risk of being late?’

‘Never thought of it till I saw you. I was so busy with the porcupine.’

‘And when you saw me you expected that I would punish you?’

‘Dunno. You know when a fellow has caught a good thing.’

‘Yes, indeed, Chubb,’ said the teacher, laughing, ‘I do. And I also know when to forgive a pupil for being late, and so I forgive you.’

Chubb was greatly pleased at these words, and vowed that he would fight for that teacher whenever he was called upon.

‘But, Chubb,’ added the teacher, ‘what are you going to do with your porcupine?’

‘He’s for you to box up and teach us about.’

‘Well' said the teacher, rubbing his chin in some dismay, ‘we’ll see about it. It is now time to go in to school. Tie your porcupine to a tree, and come in.'

Chubb did as he was bid. Ere he entered the schoolhouse he looked back, and saw the poor tired little animal settle down to rest. So he went contentedly to his lessons.

The noon hour was one of great excitement. The boys were eager to establish a menagerie, and determined to press their idea upon their teacher. They ate their lunches around the porcupine, and told each other all the stories they had ever heard about porcupines. Some morsels of food were given to the little captive, but none were so acceptable as the bits of rind that Chubb cut off the slabs of pork that were in his roughly made sandwiches.

There was no recess in the afternoon, and so Chubb did not get out until four o’clock. When he and the others came out they saw no porcupine. There was the rope tied around the tree, neatly cut in two at the loop. Master porcupine’s sharp teeth had cut through the rope, and he had escaped again to his freedom in the woods.

Chubb was much chagrined. But the teacher consoled him by telling him that it was wrong to kill porcupines or to take them from their native haunts. They could live where other animals could not, and many a hunter had been saved from starving to death by coming across a porcupine in a barren land. Then he promised the boys that, while he could not see his way to set up a menagerie, he would try to help them start a small museum. For a few months during his college course he had stayed with the taxidermist of the university, and had learned something of his art.

With the assistance of some of the boys he built a hunter’s lodge in the forest, about two or three miles from the schoolhouse. With traps and snares he caught many birds and four-footed animals. The boys delighted to help their teacher, and it became an object of rivalry amongst them who was to spend the night with the teacher in his hunting-lodge.

Chubb’s turn came. He handled the tools with skill, and mastered the use of the ‘medicines,’ as the boys called them, with which the teacher ‘doctored’ the skins. Proving himself an adept at this work, Chubb was longer and more frequently at the teacher’s lodge than any of the other boys.

Thus it was that Chubb had been missed by the teacher, and his absence from the lodge so keenly marked. The teacher was glad to welcome back his most enthusiastic pupil in taxidermy.

The evening of Chubb’s return to the lodge was also marked by a visit from Jonas. The Indian was greatly interested in what he saw. He had many questions to ask the teacher, and he stored up many more, to ask Chubb in the greater freedom of the woods. Near the close of the evening’s visit, Jonas suggested to Chubb—

‘Give bear-meat for medicine.'

So the boy told Mr. Green that he and Jonas would like to get some of his chemicals to cure a hide, and offered some bear-meat in exchange. To this the teacher readily agreed, and so some ‘medicine’ was wrapped up and given to Jonas.

That night Chubb imposed on his friendship with the teacher to borrow, without asking leave, some of his sewing needles and his big book on taxidermy, with its numerous illustrations and coloured plates. Having secured these ere the teacher rose, and after placing on the table a large piece of bear-meat, he slipped away into the forest, and was not seen again by the teacher for some time.

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