the Ninth Concession
Chapter XXI - The Crisis at the Spelling-match
ONE day in March, just two months
before Colin reached his seventeenth birthday, there was a spelling-match.
It was on Friday, and it was often the custom to hold spelling-matches on
Fridays, just before the school was let out for the week.
The practice was to appoint two
captains and call sides; then the master would alternate from side to side
in giving words to spell. The side that survived the longest won, and the
pupil that was last on the floor enjoyed unusual distinction. It happened
this day that Katie and Colin were on opposite sides, and that they were
the last two on the floor. They did not, however, mind being rivals in
this way, for they could both spell well and each would have rejoiced to
see the other win, although they both did their best. There were, perhaps,
no two scholars in the school whom Simon was less anxious to see win the
honours of the match, and the jealousy he felt, was beginning to exhibit
itself in the way he gave out the words.
"Now, Katie, I want you to spell
imminent," said Simon.
"E-m-i-n-e-n-t," spelled Katie.
"Wrong," said Simon; "step down."
"Would you mind repeating the word?"
said Katie, for she was confident that she had spelled the word correctly.
Simon was growing very angry and was not going to
give Katie the information, when Colin broke in :
"Its imminent, Katie, that he
means, something near or impending, not eminent."
"Oh," said Katie, "I could spell
that word," which she immediately did.
But the storm of Simons wrath,
which he had repressed for a longer time "than wis his usual," as Auld
Peggy would say, burst out in unrestrained fury. He made for Colin with a
wild rush, when poor Katie, whose sympathy and fear for the lad fairly
carried her away, stepped in between them.
The blow with the burnt taws that
Simon had aimed at Colins head fell with stinging effect across poor
Katies face and eyes. The girl, half dazed and smarting with the
frightful pain, dropped into a seat. Colin leaped to her side, his face
pale and agitated.
"Are you hurt very badly, Katie
dear?" he said, as he raised her childlike form in his arms. But Katie
only sobbed convulsively in answer.
When Colin satisfied himself that
Katie was not in danger, he turned to Simon, whose face was ablaze with
malice, and who seemed anxious to vent his wrath on the lad.
"You aimed that blow at me," said
Colin, walking up to Simon in a manner which caused the master to wince.
He had never seen that look on Colins face before, and it made him feel
uneasy. His wrath began to subside rapidly.
"Yes," answered Simon, for he felt
he was before a presence that compelled an answer.
"Well," said Colin, slowly, and with
deliberation, "had it struck me, you might have escaped the consequences,
but your time had to come sooner or later, and it is just as well that it
should come now. You have been a brute, sir, yes, a brute. I am surprised
that I did not kill you long ago. Do you see those marks on my neck?" said
Colin, loosening his shirt collar and exposing a series of black and blue
streaks. "Those were made by your cruel taws. It had to come to an end
sooner or later, and Im glad that the end has come. Here," said Colin,
savagely, "give me those taws !"
Simon perceived the purpose that was
in Colins mind, and he began to tremble like the coward that he was.
"Here, Jamie McMannus, run for the
trustees," he said, fear taking possession of him, for Colin was quite as
big as he, and had the advantage of being much younger.
But Jamie, staunch friend that he
was of Colins, and remembering how his champion had defended him under
"the poplars" when he thrashed Dannie, refused to budge an inch.
"Well, Dannie, you go," said Simon.
But Dannie, who had recently been hearing murmurings at home that
satisfied him that the master was not all he should be, also refused to
Simon then appealed to Pete Pepper,
the meanest boy in school; but when Pete was about to start, Colin stopped
him. "Pete," he said, "if you budge an inch, Ill trounce you." This
threat had the desired effect, and Simon realised that he must face his
"Hand me those taws!" again demanded
Colin. But Simon, realising what Colin intended to do, refused, and was
making towards the door, when Colin rushed at him, and with overmastering
strength tore the instrument of torture out of his hands.
Several of the larger boys,
encouraged by Colins example, were rolling up their sleeves, preparing to
help him if necessary, and this thoroughly frightened the craven Simon.
The rest of the boys and girls in the school gazed on the spectacle,
awe-stricken, and even Katie forgot her pain and was also a trembling
spectator of the struggle.
It was beyond comprehension to see
the authority of this tyrant defied right in the schoolhouse, and to see
him chased about the room and brought to bay at last by the aroused and
determined Colin. With a strength that amazed himself, and with the blood
coursing his veins like fire, Colin dragged the master up the aisle to the
front of the school.
"Now, Simon," he said, "I want you
to take off your coat!"
Simon, of course, did not do so,
whereat Colin went at him like a tiger and tore the garment from his
back. The menacing attitude of the big boys, who were prepared to assist
Cohn if necessary, seemed to deprive the master of any courage to resist.
Then, swinging the taws aloft, Colin
brought them down with terrific force upon Simons back. The tyrant cried
out with pain, but it seemed a labour of love to Colin, so thoroughly
possessed was he with the idea of settling an old score and wiping out
years of humiliation, which he and the other scholars had suffered at
Simons hands. The taws continued to descend upon Simons head and back
with unabated vigour, and it was only when Colins arm grew tired, and
when he had beaten the tyrant till he roared for mercy that he desisted,
and flinging the taws contemptuously in the face of the dazed, cowering
wretch who stood before him, said : "I think, Simon, that we are now
quits, and I take my leave of you forever!"
"Come, Katie," he said kindly,
turning to his pale and trembling sweetheart, "let us be going," and with
Katie by his side, Colin strode out of the schoolhouse.
He felt as he left the portals that
he had passed an important milestone in life, and he seemed to realise
that his school days were ended, as indeed they were, for he never again
returned to the school in the settlement. It often brings a feeling of
sadness as one realises that milestones such as these are passed, and that
for us they will never be encountered again. And so, after all, it was
with a heavy heart that Colin returned to the widows.
It is true he had administered a
well-deserved punishment to Simon, but he felt that he might be regarded
as a bully. A strange depression took possession of him. He began to feel,
after vengeance had been taken, that there is something unsatisfying about
it, and that, as Mrs. McNabb had said, "God knew far more about it than we
poor mortals when he said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will repay."
He spent another sleepless night.
Thoughts of the days events and of the future that lay before him were
coursing through his mind. After he had told Mrs. McNabb all his feelings,
and she had talked long and earnestly with him, he lay until the suns
morning rays lighted up his room. Then he rose softly, and as it was still
early, he strolled away down the lane to the woods.
Seeking a clump of balsams, which
was his favourite resort, he threw himself upon the dead twigs. At length
peace came to him. He resolved that he would never again undertake to
administer the vengeance that "belongeth unto the Lord." He washed himself
at the spring, and returned to the house just in time to join the others
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