Augustus Starr, the Privateer who turned Pedagogue — his New Crew mutiny, and perform a Singular Exploit
MY tenth winter, our school was put under the instruction of a person named Augustus Starr. He was a native of a neighboring town, and was acquainted with the committee. He had taught school some years before, but of late had been engaged in a business not particularly conducive to improvement in the art of teaching. He had been an inferior officer aboard a privateer in the late war, which terminated the previous winter. At the return of peace, he betook himself to land; and, till something more suitable to his tastes and habits should offer, he concluded to resume school-keeping, at least for one winter.
He came to our town; and, finding an old acquaintance seeking for a teacher, he offered himself, and was accepted. He was rather genteelly dressed, and gentlemanly in his manners.
Mr. Starr soon manifested that stern command, rather than mild persuasion, had been his method of preserving order, and was to be, still. This would have been put up with; but he soon showed that he could deal in blows as well as words, and these not merely with the customary ferule, or supple and tingling stick, but with whatever came to hand. He knocked one lad down with his fist, hurled a stick of wood at another, which missed breaking his head because it struck the ceiling, making a dent which fearfully indicated what would have been the consequence had the skull been hit. The scholars were terrified, parents were alarmed, and some kept their younger children at home. There was an uproar in the district. A school-meeting was threatened for the purpose of dismissing the captain, as he began to be called, in reference to the station he had lately filled, although it was not a captaincy. But he commanded the school-house crew: so, in speaking of him, they gave him a corresponding title. In consequence of these indications, our officer became less dangerous in his modes of punishment, and was permitted to continue still in command. But he was terribly severe, nevertheless; and in his words of menace, he manifested no particular respect for that one of the ten commandments which forbids profanity. But he took pains with his pupils, and they made considerable progress according to the prevailing notions of education.
Toward the close of the school, however, Starr's fractious temper, his cuffs, thumps, and cudgelings, waxed dangerous again. There were signs of mutiny among the large scholars, and there were provocations and loud talk among parents. The man of violence, even at this late period, would have been dismissed by the authority of the district, had not a sudden and less formal ejection overtaken him.
The captain had been outrageously severe, and even cruel, to some of the smaller boys. The older brothers of the sufferers, with others of the back seat, declared among themselves, that they would put him by force out of the school-house, if anything of the like should happen again. The very afternoon succeeding this resolution, an opportunity offered to put it to the test. John Howe, for some trifling misdemeanor, received a cut with the edge of the ruler on his head, which drew blood. The dripping wound and the scream of the boy were a signal for action, as if a murderer were at his fell deed before their eyes. Thomas Howe, one of the oldest in the school and the brother of the abused, and Mark Martin, were at the side of our privateer in an instant. Two others followed. His ruler was wrested from his hand, and he was seized by his legs and shoulders, before he could scarcely think into what hands he had fallen. He was carried, kicking and swearing, out of doors. But this was not the end of his headlong and horizontal career. "To the side hill, to the side hill," cried Mark, who had him by the head. Now it so happened that the hillside opposite the school-house door was crusted, and as smooth and slippery as pure ice, from a recent rain. To this pitch, then, he was borne, and in all the haste that his violent struggles would permit. Over he was thrust, as if he were a log; and down he went, giving one of his bearers a kick as he was shoved from their hands, which action of the foot sent him more swiftly on his way from the rebound. There was no bush or stone to catch by in his descent, and he clawed the unyielding crust with his nails, for the want of anything more prominent on which to lay hold. Down, down he went. Oh for a pile of stones or a thicket of thorns to cling to, even at the expense of torn apparel or scratched fingers! Down, down he went, until he fairly came to the climax, or rather anti-climax, of his pedagogical career.
When our master had come to a "period or full stop," to quote from the spelling-book, he lay a moment as if he had left his breath behind him, or as if querying whether he should consider himself alive or not; or perhaps whether it were really his own honorable self who had been voyaging in this unseamanlike fashion, or somebody else. He at length arose and stood upright, facing the ship of literature which he had lately commanded; and his mutinous crew, great and small, male and female, now lining the side of the road next to the declivity, from which most of them had witnessed his expedition. The movement had been so sudden, and the ejection so unanticipated by the school in general, that they were stupefied with amazement. And the bold performers of the exploit were almost as much amazed as the rest, excepting Mark, who still retained coolness enough for his joke. "What think of the coasting trade, captain?" shouted Mark; "is it as profitable as privateering?" Our coaster made no reply, but turned in pursuit of a convenient footing to get up into the road, and to the school-house again. While he was at a distance approaching his late station of command, Mark Martin stepped forward to hold a parley with him. "We have a word to say to you, sir, before you come much farther. If you will come back peaceably, you may come; but as sure as you meddle with any of us, we will make you acquainted with the heft and the hardness of our fists, and of stones and clubs too, if we must. The ship is no longer yours; so look out, for we are our own men now." Starr replied, "I do not wish to have anything more to do with the school; but there is another law besides club law, and that you have got to take." But when he came up and saw John Howe's face stained with blood, and his head bound up as if it had received the stroke of a cutlass, he began to look rather blank. Our spokesman reminded him of what he had done, and inquired, " which is the worse, a ride and a slide, or a gashed head?" "I rather guess that you are the one to look out for the law," said Thomas Howe, with a threatening tone and look. Whether this hint had effect, I know not, but he never commenced a prosecution. He gathered up his goods and chattels, and left the school-house. The scholars gathered up their implements of learning, and left likewise, after the boys had taken one more glorious slide down hill.
There were both gladness and regret in that dispersion; — gladness that they had no more broken heads, shattered hands, and skinned backs to fear; and regret that the season of schooling, and of social and delightful play, had been cut short by a week.
The news reached most of the district in the course of the next day, that our "man of war," as he was sometimes called, had sailed out of port the night before.