WHEN the minister drove up to the
church on Sunday afternoon, he found his congregation, as usual, divided
into groups near the door of the edifice. They were discussing, with more
than their customary animation, the flogging incident, and canvassing the
Naturally, opinion was divided, but
the majority seemed to think that Simon, against whom the current had been
setting for some time, deserved the punishment he received. Most of the
scholars sympathised with Colin, and they had exerted quite an influence
upon their parents. Then there was that inevitable rush of opinion in the
direction in which the current suddenly commenced to flow strongly. Among
the groups about the church door which discussed the event that Sunday
afternoon, there were heard a great many instances of the master’s
cruelty, and other rumours calculated to discredit him.
"It sarves him d—d well right!"
exclaimed Jock, the drover, in loud tones, which were overheard by the
minister, who, unseen by the particular group in which Jock was the most
important figure, had just walked up the path.
"Ye’ll no’ get yer token, Jock,"
said Muckle Peter, with a twinkle in his eye. "Although Ah maun confess
thet if Ah hed been in Coalin’s place Ah’d ‘a’ knockit his d—d heed aff!"
"Hush, hush, Peter!" said Nathan
Larkins. "Yer always so profane that I feel uneasy sittin’ in the same
church with you."
"Weel, weel," responded Muckle
Peter, "if ye canna find comfort wi’ th’ people o’ Goad wha worship in
this kirk, then ye maun jist pit up a kirk yersel’ an’ worship under yer
ane vine an’ fig tree, es ye luv tad tell us aboot in yer lang prayers."
The sally at Nathan’s long prayers
shut the old man up pretty effectively, and he moved off to another group,
in the hope of finding more receptive soil for the views he entertained.
He was anxious to have his neighbours agree with him that the flogging was
an evidence of Colin’s depravity, and on every occasion when he put forth
that view he would wind up with the expression: —"Well, well, what else
could be expected from a boy who would defy his own schoolmaster, — a boy
that comes from nobody knows where, with a man like Wasby, and has no kin
but a stranger who says he is his uncle? Bad will come of him, mark my
words! He’ll come to no good end!"
But Nathan found few sympathisers,
and the few that he did find at first, soon melted away. It was not
regarded as singular that Simon did not turn up at church that day.
Indeed, scarcely anybody, including those who did not suspect he bore
evidence of the flogging, expected he would. The trustees had looked for a
visit from the master on Saturday, but as he did not put in an appearance,
they supposed that he had delayed till Sunday. Sunday however passed, and
still Simon did not appear.
Needless to say, there was a large
attendance at school on Monday morning, as every scholar was keyed to the
highest pitch of curiosity by hearing the comments at home. Half-past
eight, the hour at which Simon always arrived, came at length, but the
master was not on hand; a quarter to nine, and still no Simon; nine
o’clock struck, and the master was not there.
Then the scholars formed themselves
into groups, and eagerly discussed the situation. They waited around till
half-past nine, and as they saw Dooley, the blacksmith, coming down the
Concession, they hailed him and let him know the situation.
As Dooley was not a trustee, and was
never known to take any responsibility except in case of a sick horse, he
counselled the children to move cautiously, lest some complications which
might involve the settlement in difficulties, should ensue. Finally, he
told them to remain where they were, while he went and notified the
trustees. In half an hour these dignitaries were all on hand, and were
soon in solemn conclave in the schoolhouse.
"Here, Jamie McMannus," said Muckle
Peter, emerging from the schoolhouse, "you rin tae th’ Tenth (the Tenth
Concession) tae th’ maister’s boardin’-hoose, an’ see what’s cam o’ th’
maun. Dinna ye lat th’ grass grow unner yer feet, me maun," added Muckle
Peter, as he hurried Jamie away.
While Jamie was off on his errand,
the trustees discussed the situation; and the scholars, much too excited
to play ball, or any other game, continued in groups about the playground,
talking over the case, and wondering how it was all going to end.
Jamie returned in about
three-quarters of an hour, bringing the news that the master was nowhere
to be found. He had returned to the house where he was boarding on Friday
evening, and that night had gone out quietly, without saying a word to any
Mrs. Pepper (for it was at Pepper’s
the master then boarded), thinking Simon had only gone off somewhere for
the night, paid little attention to his absence. When he did not return
the following day, knowing what had happened at the spelling-match, Mrs.
Pepper "pit twa an’ twa taegether," to use her own words, and investigated
the master’s room.
She found that he had gathered up
the most valuable of his little belongings and had taken them with him.
But she was only quite sure of Simon’s intention when she "cam’ tae mak’
doon th’ spare bed" for a stray book pedlar who had dropped in upon her
for a night’s lodging. When she lifted the bolster she found a note from
Simon, which read thus : —
MRS. PEPPER: This will notify you
that I am leaving the settlement, and you can tell the people that I have
shaken the dust from my shoes and that they will never see me again. I
hate the place, anyway. I hate that low-bred murderer’s son, and if I live
long enough, I shall repay him for his conduct to me, curse him! I have
not left any money to pay my board. The trustees owe me some, and you can
get your pay from them. Tell any persons who may think of following me
that they may just as well save themselves the trouble, for I am not going
to be found, and they may just as well understand that first as well as
last. Besides, I have no money but what little is in my pocket, and that
would not do any one much good. I shall be far enough away by the time
this note falls into your hands. I hate most of the people in the
settlement, anyway, and especially do I hate the Ninth Concession school,
and I am not sorry to leave it.
(Signed) SIMON SMALLPIECE.
This was the note that Jamie carried
back from the "Tenth" with him and handed over to the trustees.
After debating its contents for some
time, Muckle Peter called upon Nathan Larkins to "state his policy."
Nathan, considerably embarrassed at being so unexpectedly called upon to
declare himself and formulate a policy, said with trepidation : —"I opine
that the best thing to do would be to send the children home, accept this
letter as the master’s resignation, and try to get John Malcolm to look us
up another master when he is at the front. I think also that it would be
well, and in the interests of sound discipline, to institute an
investigation into Colin’s conduct in this connection, for we would still
have had our master if that young upstart had not flogged him; and if an
example is not made of Colin, no other teacher may be found to risk
himself amongst us."
"Ah agree wi’ Jock, the drover,"
broke in Muckle Peter, "thet it sarved th’ maister daum weel richt, an’ es
Ah said at the kirk yestreen, uf Ah hed been in Coalin’s place, Ah’d ‘a’
knockit his daumed heed aff!"
This settled Nathan’s proposed
investigation, and the trustees went out, told the scholars what had
happened, and dismissed them. Then Muckle Peter locked the schoolhouse,
and putting the great key in his pocket, walked thoughtfully down the
Ninth Concession. When he came to the gate of the Widow McNabb he paused,
and after a few minutes’ deep thought he strode towards the house.