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Wilson's Border Tales
The Dominie's Class
Chapter 6


JOCK THE DUNCE

Many a score o’ times hae I said that Jock’s head was as impervious to learnin’ as a nether mill-stane. It would hae been as easy to hae driven Mensuration into the head o’ an ox, as instruction into the brain o’ Jock Mathewson. He was a born dunce. I fleeched him, and I coaxed him, and I kicked him, and I cuffed him; but I might as weel hae kicked my heel upon the floor, or fleeched the fireplace. Jock was knowledge-proof. All my efforts were o’ no avail. I could get him to learn nothing and to comprehend nothing. Often I had half made up my mind to turn him away from the school for I saw that I never would have any credit by the blockhead. But what was most annoying was, that here was his mother at me, every hand-awhile, saying—

"Mr. Grierson, I’m really surprised at ye. My son, John, is not comin’ on ava. I really wush ye wad tak mair pains wi’ him. It is an unco thing to be payin’ you guid money, and the laddie to be getting nae guid for it. I would hae ye to understand, that his faither doesna make his money sae easily—no by sitting on a seat, or walking up and down a room, as ye do. There’s such a ane’s son awa into the Latin nae less, I understand, and my John no out o’ the Testament. But, depend upon it, Mr. Grierson, if ye dinna try to do some thing wi’ him, I maun tak him awa from your school, and that is the short and the lang o’t.’

‘Do sae, ma’am,’said I, ‘and I’ll thank ye. Mercy me! it’s a bonny thing, indeed—do ye suppose that I had the makin’ o’ your son? If nature has formed his head out of a whinstane, can I transform it into marble? Your son would try the patience o’ Job—his head is thicker than a door-post, I can mak naething o’ him, I would sooner teach a hundred than be troubled wi’ him.’

‘Hundred here, hundred there!’ said she, in a tift; ‘but it’s a hard matter, Mr. Grierson, for his faither and me to be payin’ ye money for naething; an’ if ye dinna try to mak something o’ him I’ll tak him from your school, an’ that will be baith seen an’ heard tell o’!’

So saying, away she would drive, tossing her head wi’ the airs o’ my lady. Ye canna conceive, sir, what a teacher has to put up wi’. Thomson says—

‘Delightful task
To teach the young idea how to shoot!’

I wish to goodness he had tried it, and a month’s specimen o’ its delights would have surfeited him, and instead o’ what he has written, he would have said—

Degrading thought
To be each snivelling blockhead’s parent’s slave!

Now, ye’ll remember that Jock was perpetually sniftering and gaping wi’ his mouth, or even sucking his thumb like an idiot. There was nae keeping the animal cleanly, much less instructing him: and then, if he had the book in his hand, there he sat staring owre it, wi’ a look as vacant and stupid as a tortoise. Or, if he had the slate before him, there was he drawing scores on’t, or amusing himsel wi’ twirling and twisting the pencil in the string through the frame. Never had I such a lump o’ stupidity within the walls o’ my school.

After his leaving me, he was put as an apprentice to a bookseller. I thought, of all the callings under the sun, that which had been chosen for him was the least suited to a person o’ his capacity. But—would you believe it, sir?—Jock surprised us a’. He fairly turned the corner on a’ my calculations. When he began to look after the lassies, he also began to "smart up." He came to my night-school, when he would be about eighteen, and I was perfectly astonished at the change that had taken place, even in the appearance o’ the callant. His very nose, which had always been so stuffed and thick-like, was now an ornament to his face. He had become altogether a lively, fine-looking lad; and, more marvellous still, his whole heart’s desire seemed to be to learn; and he did learn with a rapidity that both astonished and delighted me. I actually thought the instructions which I had endeavoured to instil into him for years, and apparently without effect, had been lying dormant, as it were, in the chambers o’ his brain, like a cuckoo in winter—that they had been sealed up as fast as I imparted them, by some cause that I did not comprehend, and that now they had got vent, and were issuing out in rapid and vigorous strength, like a person refreshed after a sleep.

After he had been two years at the night school, so far from considering him a dunce, I regarded him as an amazing clever lad, from the instance I had had in him, I began to perceive that precocity o’ intellect was nae proof o’ its power. Well, shortly after the time I am speaking o’, he left Annan for Glasgow, and, after being a year or twa there he commenced business upon his own account. I may safely say, that never man was more fortunate. But, as his means increased, he did not confine himself to the business in which he had been brought up, but he became an extensive ship-owner; he also became a partner in a cotton-mill concern. He was elected a member of the town council, and was distinguished as a leading member and orator of the guild. Eventually, he rose to be one of the city magistrates. He is now also an extensive landed proprietor; and I even hear it affirmed, that it is in contemplation to put him in nomination for some place or another at the next election. Such things happen, doctor— and wha would hae thocht it o’ Jock the Dunce.

Now sir (added the dominie), so far as I have been able, I have given you the history o’ your class-fellows. Concerning you doctor, I have known less and heard less than o’ ony o’ them. You being so far away, and so long away, and your immediate relations about here being dead, so that ye have dropped correspondence, I have heard nothing concerning ye, and I have often been sorry on that account; for, believe me, doctor—(here the doctor pushed the bottle to him, and the old man, helping himself to another glass and drinking it, again continued)—I say, believe me, doctor, that I never had two scholars under my care, o’ whose talents I had greater opinion than o’ Solitary Sandy and yoursel’; and it has often vexed me that I could hear naething concerning ye, or whether ye were dead or living. Now, sir, if ye’ll favour me wi’ an account o’ your history, from the time o’ your going out to India, your auld dominie will be obliged to ye; for I like to hear concerning ye all, as though ye had been my ain bairns."

"There is little of interest in my history, sir," said the doctor; "but, so far as there is any, your wish shall be gratified." And he proceeded as is hereafter written.


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