Adam Bede HTML version

21.The Night-School and the Schoolmaster
Bartle Massey's was one of a few scattered houses on the edge of a common,
which was divided by the road to Treddleston. Adam reached it in a quarter of an
hour after leaving the Hall Farm; and when he had his hand on the door-latch, he
could see, through the curtainless window, that there were eight or nine heads
bending over the desks, lighted by thin dips.
When he entered, a reading lesson was going forward and Bartle Massey merely
nodded, leaving him to take his place where he pleased. He had not come for the
sake of a lesson to-night, and his mind was too full of personal matters, too full of
the last two hours he had passed in Hetty's presence, for him to amuse himself
with a book till school was over; so he sat down in a corner and looked on with
an absent mind. It was a sort of scene which Adam had beheld almost weekly for
years; he knew by heart every arabesque flourish in the framed specimen of
Bartle Massey's handwriting which hung over the schoolmaster's head, by way of
keeping a lofty ideal before the minds of his pupils; he knew the backs of all the
books on the shelf running along the whitewashed wall above the pegs for the
slates; he knew exactly how many grains were gone out of the ear of Indian corn
that hung from one of the rafters; he had long ago exhausted the resources of his
imagination in trying to think how the bunch of leathery seaweed had looked and
grown in its native element; and from the place where he sat, he could make
nothing of the old map of England that hung against the opposite wall, for age
had turned it of a fine yellow brown, something like that of a well-seasoned
meerschaum. The drama that was going on was almost as familiar as the scene,
nevertheless habit had not made him indifferent to it, and even in his present
self-absorbed mood, Adam felt a momentary stirring of the old fellow-feeling, as
he looked at the rough men painfully holding pen or pencil with their cramped
hands, or humbly labouring through their reading lesson.
The reading class now seated on the form in front of the schoolmaster's desk
consisted of the three most backward pupils. Adam would have known it only by
seeing Bartle Massey's face as he looked over his spectacles, which he had
shifted to the ridge of his nose, not requiring them for present purposes. The face
wore its mildest expression: the grizzled bushy eyebrows had taken their more
acute angle of compassionate kindness, and the mouth, habitually compressed
with a pout of the lower lip, was relaxed so as to be ready to speak a helpful word
or syllable in a moment. This gentle expression was the more interesting
because the schoolmaster's nose, an irregular aquiline twisted a little on one
side, had rather a formidable character; and his brow, moreover, had that
peculiar tension which always impresses one as a sign of a keen impatient
temperament: the blue veins stood out like cords under the transparent yellow
skin, and this intimidating brow was softened by no tendency to baldness, for the