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This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 283 pages of information about The Best American Humorous Short Stories.

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

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