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Colin of the Ninth Concession
Chapter XLIII - "The Master" begs for his Life


AS the spy was led out between two armed guards, his face was ghastly pale, and he looked the personification of craven misery.

"Why, as God lives!" exclaimed Colin, excitedly, "it’s Simon Smallpiece."

And sure enough it was Simon. The mean face of "the master" looked meaner than of old; the features, which had seemed offensive in the earlier days, now appeared disgusting. Colin afterwards said to me that he never read so startling and so plain a page of history as was printed on Simon’s face, as he walked that April morning to the place of execution.

Simon’s first impulse, upon seeing that he was discovered by the stern young officer, whom he instantly recognised as the pupil who had thrashed him, and as the one person upon earth whom he had hated above all other mortals, was to give no sign of recognition, but the craven nature of the man asserted itself. A sudden gleam of possible hope shot across his perturbed mind, and he exclaimed: "Oh, Colin McNabb, for God’s sake, save me! I’m innocent of the charge brought against me, as Heaven is my witness!"

Colin knew that this was a lie, for he had examined with his own eyes the documents found upon Simon. However, he did not care at such a moment to tell the miserable wretch that he lied. He gave command to stop the procession, being determined to have a word with Simon before he was shot. Willie joined him, and the two going close up to the victim, Colin said : "Simon, it is not within my power to save you. If it were, and I could honourably do it, I would not hesitate. You have been captured within our lines; a court-martial, after a fair hearing, has condemned you, and there is no power on earth, Simon, that can help you. The most that lies in my power to do for you is to delay your execution a few brief moments."

Simon pleaded piteously for mercy, appealing first to Colin and then to Willie to intercede with the commander on his behalf. "I can’t die as I am, boys," he said. "I’ve been an awful bad man, and unless I get time to repent, Kearstie’s soul (he had evidently heard of her fate) will rise up against me in hell and taunt me throughout eternity. I must be given time to repent. Oh, for God’s sake, boys, as you hope for mercy yourselves, try and save me!

Both young men knew it was hopeless to attempt any intercession. Throughout the entire war they had never known of a single case where a convicted spy was allowed to escape, and the evidence against Simon was absolutely conclusive.

"We assure you, Simon," said Colin, slowly and solemnly, "that it would be perfectly futile to make any effort to save you. We can only warn you to prepare for the doom that awaits you. May Heaven have mercy on your soul, Simon, and forgive you, as I do," added Cohn, sorrowfully, for he could not but pity the wretched man.

Simon’s face was horrible. He was about to make reply, when Colin advanced to his side and said:

"Simon, had I realised as a boy how terrible a thing the wrath of God is, and that it is wrong to anticipate His vengeance, I would not have thrashed you as I did that day in the school. I would not have taken the task out of His hands; I would have been content to wait. Could I have looked into the future and beheld your misery as I behold it to-day, could I have seen how fine the mills of the gods do grind, as I see they have done in your case, I would have rather let my right hand wither than raise it against you."

During Colin’s speech, malice and hatred were depicted in Simon’s countenance. He realised that his doom was sealed, and that pleadings would avail him naught. "Curse you, Colin Wasby!" he shrieked, and uttered a string of oaths and imprecations.

Realising that it was useless to prolong the talk, and that nothing could be done with or for Simon, Colin commanded the squad to guard the prisoner closely for a moment or two, while he sought the commanding officer. "Not knowing who the victim was," he said to him, "I accepted command of the firing squad to-day, but I know the man personally, and I beg to be relieved."

An officer was sent in his place, who, without a moment’s loss of time, gave the command, "Fall in! March!"

The squad marched down the valley, towards a little stream some five hundred yards distant.

"Halt!" commanded the adjutant, as the party reached a newly dug grave prepared for the execution. Willie and Colin followed at some distance.

The soldiers tied Simon’s hands behind his back and stood him in front of the grave. Simon gave a dreadful shudder, and his face was terrible to look upon as he peered into the gaping opening in the earth, which was to be his sepulchre. The firing party took up its position about fifty yards up the slope of the valley. The adjutant was cool and hard, and his voice rang out, "Ready "— a brief pause.

"Present " — another brief and awful pause.

"Fire!"

* * * * * * * * *

A dozen rifles cracked, Simon’s body reeled, and then suddenly collapsing, tumbled into the gaping pit. Colin and Willie walked sorrowfully away without pausing to witness the shovelling of the earth upon his miserable body.

When the word reached the Scotch Settlement, as it ultimately did, Auld Peggy exclaimed, as she sat down to a cup of tea at the widow’s : —"Losh me, Mustress McNabb, an’ is no’ yoan an’ awfu’ fate which hes overtook th’ maister. Weel, weel, Ah aye kent he wis bawd an’ thet bawd would come o’ hum, but wha would hae thocht sicna fate would overtak’ hum! But Ah’ll tall ‘e, Mustress McNabb, thet I hae aye nawticed thet th’ maun wha betrays an’ desearts a woman, maun come tae some bawd end. Ah’m jist waitin’ tae hear o’ McCallum bein’ haing’t in Wast Constant. Th’ hulk is shair tae meet some dreadfu’ doom f’r rinnin’ aff wi’ yoan hussy an’ desertin’ me an’ th’ twa bairns. Thus thing aboot Simon upsets me waur nor onything thet hes happened syne ‘the burnin’.’" And Auld Peggy puffed away at her pipe, as she reckoned confidently upon the fate which was sure to overtake her husband.


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