Rita had just had her first real lesson
in English. Already, but without
giving her the reason why, except that it was incorrect, I
had taught her never to say “ain’t”
and “I seen”; also that “Gee,”
“Gosh” and “you bet your life”
were hardly ladylike expressions. She now understood
that two negatives made a positive and that she should
govern her speech accordingly.
She was an apt pupil; so anxious to
improve her way of talking that mine was not a task,
it was merely the setting of two little feet on a
road and saying, “This is your way home,”
and those two little feet never deviated from that
road for a single moment, never side-stepped, never
turned back to pick up the useless but attractive words
she had cast from her as she travelled.
How I marvelled at the great difference
the elimination of a few of the most common of her
slangy and incorrect expressions and the substitution
of plain phrases in their places made in her diction!
Already, it seemed to me as if she understood her English
and had been studying it for years.
How easy it was, after all, I fancied,
as I followed my train of thought, for one, simply
by elimination, to become almost learned in the sight
of his fellow men!
But now Rita had been introduced to
the whys and wherefores in their simplest forms, so
that she should be able, finally, to construct her
thoughts for herself, word by word and phrase by phrase,
into rounded and completed sentences.
At the outset, I had told her how
the greatest writers in English were not above reading
and re-reading plain little Grammars such as she was
then studying, also that the favourite book of some
of the most famous men the world ever knew, a book
which they perused from cover to cover, year in and
year out, as they would their family Bible, was
an ordinary standard dictionary.
I gave Rita her thin little Grammar
and a note book in which to copy her lessons, and
she slipped these into her bosom, hugging them to her
heart and laughing with pleasure.
She put out her hands and grasped
mine, then, in her sweet, unpremeditated way, she
threw her arms round my neck and drew my lips to hers.
Dear little girl! How very like
a child she was! A creature of impulse, a toy
in the hands of her own fleeting emotions!
“Say! George, I
just got to hug you sometimes,” she cried, “you
are so good to me.”
She stood back and surveyed me as
if she were trying to gauge my weight and strength.
As it so happened, that was exactly what she was doing.
“You aren’t scared of our Joe, are
you?” she asked.
“No!” I laughed. “What put
that funny question into your head?”
She became serious.
“Well, if I thought
you were, I wouldn’t come back for any more
“Why?” I asked.
“Joe’s not very well pleased
about it. Guess he thinks nobody should be able
to speak better’n he can.”
“Oh! never mind Joe,”
I exclaimed. “He’ll come round, and
your grand-dad’s consent is all you need anyway.”
“Sure! But I know, all
the same, that Joe’s got it in for you.
He hasn’t forgot the words you and he had.”
“When did you see him last, Rita?”
“He was in to-day. Wanted
to know where I was going. Grand-dad told him,
then Joe got mad. Says you’re ‘too
damned interfering.’ Yes! Joe said
it. He said to Grand-dad, ‘You ain’t
got no right lettin’ that kid go over there.
Girls ain’t got any business learnin’
lessons off’n men.’
“Grand-dad said, ’Aw!
forget it, Joe. She’s got my permission,
so let that end it. George Bremner’s all
“The settlers are arranging
for a teacher up here next summer. Why can’t
she wait till then and get her lessons from a reg’lar
professional, and no gol-durned amatoor,’
“‘See here, Mister man!’
I said, ’you’re sore, that’s
your trouble. But I’m not going to be bullied
by you, so there. I’m through
with you, Joe Clark; and, what’s
more, you needn’t take any interest in me any
more. I can look after myself.’
“He gripped my arm. It’s black and
blue yet. See!
“‘You ain’t goin’,’
said he, madder’n ever.
“‘Yes! I am,’ I said.
“’If you go, by God, I’ll
kill that son-of-a-gun. Watch me! I ain’t
forgot him, though maybe he’s fool enough to
think I have.’
“Then he got kind of soft.
“‘Don’t you go, Rita.’
“‘Why?’ I asked.
“‘Because I don’t want you to.’
“‘That’s no reason,’ I said.
“I’ll send you to a school
in Vancouver this winter, if you’ll wait,’
“You see, George, Joe
ain’t half bad sometimes. But I was scared
he might think I was givin’ in.
“‘Don’t want your
schooling. It’s too late,’ said I.
’I’ve arranged for myself, Joe Clark, so
“I ran out and left him.
“He’s pretty mad, but
I don’t care any more, now you’re goin’
to help me with this grammar.
“You’re sure you’re not scared of
Joe?” she repeated.
“I have a strong right arm,”
I declared, “and I have been taught to look
I went down to the boat with her,
and as she was stepping in she caught me by the shirt
“You and Joe aren’t goin’
to fight, George? Promise me you won’t
“I could not promise that, little
girl, for I cannot control the future. But I
promise you that I shall not seek any quarrel with
Joe. But, if he insulted you, for instance, or
tried to commit a bodily violence on me, I would fight
him without any hesitation. Wouldn’t that
be the right thing to do, Rita?”
Her head nodded wistfully. “Yes!
Guess it would,” she whispered, as I pushed
her boat out into the water where the darkness swallowed