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Colin of the Ninth Concession
Chapter XVIII - The Schoolmaster


TEN years passed quietly away after my coming to the Scotch Settlement when an incident occurred in Colinís history which had some effect on his subsequent career. About this time there came to the settlement a man who applied to the school trustees for the position of teacher. It had been vacant for some months, owing to the sudden marriage of "the little missus," as the former schoolteacher was called by many of the settlers, to a young man who drifted into the settlement selling books. "The little missus took a shine to him," and together they "left for the States," which was at that period attracting many young Canadians.

Nothing was known of the new applicant beyond the fact that he gave the name of Simon Smallpiece, and professed to have taught school for some years in the vicinity of By Town (now Ottawa). Like many others, he drove into the settlement with John Malcolm, the beer pedlar, who was returning from one of his periodical trips along the Grand River. The teacher had heard from John that the Ninth Concession school was vacant. He was not long in making terms with the trustees, who, in view of the fact that he was a male teacher and likely to wield a firm hand with the sturdy and often rough children, decided to allow him thirty pounds a year, ó a sum which at that early period was deemed a very liberal salary.

Simon was a man slight in stature and below the average in height. His head was of that elongated cast which is sometimes mistaken for a sure sign of intelligence. His shoulders were narrow and drooping, his mouth exceedingly large, and his upper lip was so short that when he laughed his face appeared to be malformed. This, however, he seldom did, except at the expense of some child who was the object of his sarcasm.

In a back settlement like that in which our story is laid, the schoolmaster was usually an individual of much more than ordinary importance. By a great many people, every expression that fell from his lips was supposed to contain nuggets of wisdom, and there were always many ready to sit at his feet as -if he were a veritable law-giver. Even his ordinary talk was supposed to be intensely clever.

I never knew a teacher more ready than Simon Small-piece to claim his prerogative in this respect, so that it soon came to pass that he paraded about as if he held a mortgage on every homestead.

In his relations to the children he was guided by the financial circumstances and influence of their parents. When prizes were distributed at Christmas, although paid for by all the people, they were usually awarded to the sons and daughters of the trustees or to children of influential settlers. To the minister and elders he catered by teaching in the Sunday-school, and by a general display of religious zeal.

The children of the poorer settlers fared ill at his hands, and the parents were fearful of complaining either to him or to the trustees, lest he should revenge himself upon the youngsters. Besides, as long as Simon had the ear of the trustees, and they could be relied upon to stand by him, complaint was likely to prove of little avail.

Those children who, in addition to being poor, lacked a father to defend them, were the worst off of all. He was of course especially offensive to the Widow McNabbís children, above all to Colin. Colin had by this time grown to be a fine strapping lad of fourteen. He was a manly, straightforward, truthful boy, possessing a frankness and directness which a poor judge of human nature might mistake for bravado.

Such a nature was sure to provoke Simonís antagonism, and the latter adopted every possible means to humiliate the lad. He would even make covert references to Colinís antecedents, implying that he was the offspring of Wasby. To the credit of most of the children it must be said that they had no sympathy with Simon.

Many and many a time he belaboured Colin over his head and neck with long, seven-fingered taws, knotted and burned on the ends. Such brutal punishment, which raised welts on the boyís flesh inches in length, and which sometimes terminated in abrasures of the skin, was borne in silence by the lad.

Indeed, neither the widow nor I knew of the length to which Simon went in his treatment of Colin. Had I been at home he might have spoken to me of the masterís conduct to others, as well as to himself; but it was during the winter that he went to school, and at that time I was usually away in logging camps. The boy, too, had a sort of pride that kept him from complaining of a "licking" or asking for protection from future "lickings." He did not wish to distress the widow or involve her in trouble, so he said nothing to her of his own treatment, and he convinced Katie and the rest that they should not do so either. He did report Simonís treatment of some others, and a protest was made to the trustees, but they upheld Simon. It should be remembered that at this time a belief in the efficacy and necessity of frequent severe corporal punishment was still strong. "Spare the rod and spoil the child" was at that period supposed to be one of the wisest texts in the Scriptures.


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