Best American Humorous Short Stories HTML version

The Schoolmaster's Progress
By Caroline M.S. Kirkland (1801-1864)
[From The Gift for 1845, published late in 1844. Republished in the volume, Western
Clearings (1845), by Caroline M.S. Kirkland.]
Master William Horner came to our village to school when he was about eighteen years
old: tall, lank, straight-sided, and straight-haired, with a mouth of the most puckered and
solemn kind. His figure and movements were those of a puppet cut out of shingle and
jerked by a string; and his address corresponded very well with his appearance. Never did
that prim mouth give way before a laugh. A faint and misty smile was the widest
departure from its propriety, and this unaccustomed disturbance made wrinkles in the flat,
skinny cheeks like those in the surface of a lake, after the intrusion of a stone. Master
Horner knew well what belonged to the pedagogical character, and that facial solemnity
stood high on the list of indispensable qualifications. He had made up his mind before he
left his father's house how he would look during the term. He had not planned any smiles
(knowing that he must "board round"), and it was not for ordinary occurrences to alter his
arrangements; so that when he was betrayed into a relaxation of the muscles, it was "in
such a sort" as if he was putting his bread and butter in jeopardy.
Truly he had a grave time that first winter. The rod of power was new to him, and he felt
it his "duty" to use it more frequently than might have been thought necessary by those
upon whose sense the privilege had palled. Tears and sulky faces, and impotent fists
doubled fiercely when his back was turned, were the rewards of his conscientiousness;
and the boys--and girls too--were glad when working time came round again, and the
master went home to help his father on the farm.
But with the autumn came Master Horner again, dropping among us as quietly as the
faded leaves, and awakening at least as much serious reflection. Would he be as self-
sacrificing as before, postponing his own ease and comfort to the public good, or would
he have become more sedentary, and less fond of circumambulating the school-room
with a switch over his shoulder? Many were fain to hope he might have learned to smoke
during the summer, an accomplishment which would probably have moderated his
energy not a little, and disposed him rather to reverie than to action. But here he was, and
all the broader-chested and stouter-armed for his labors in the harvest-field.
Let it not be supposed that Master Horner was of a cruel and ogrish nature--a babe-eater--
a Herod--one who delighted in torturing the helpless. Such souls there may be, among
those endowed with the awful control of the ferule, but they are rare in the fresh and
natural regions we describe. It is, we believe, where young gentlemen are to be crammed
for college, that the process of hardening heart and skin together goes on most
vigorously. Yet among the uneducated there is so high a respect for bodily strength, that
it is necessary for the schoolmaster to show, first of all, that he possesses this
inadmissible requisite for his place. The rest is more readily taken for granted. Brains he