Eleventh Winter — Mr. Silverson, our First Teacher from College — his Blunder at Meeting on the Sabbath — his Character as a Schoolmaster
THIS winter, Major Allen was the commit- tee; and, of course, everybody expected a dear master, if not a good one; he had always expressed himself so decidedly against "your cheap trash." They were not disappointed. They had a dear master, high priced and not much worth. Major Allen sent to college for an instructor, as a young gentleman from such an institution must of course be qualified as to learning, and would give a higher tone to the school. He had good reason for the expectation, as a gentleman from the same institution had taught the two preceding winters in another town where Major Allen was intimately acquainted, and gave the highest satisfaction. But he was a very different sort of person from Mr. Frederic Silverson, of the city of — , member of the junior class in — College. This young gentleman did not teach eight weeks, at eighteen dollars per month, for the sake of the trifling sum to pay his college bills, and help him to rub a little more easily through. He kept for fun, as he told his fellow bucks; that is, to see the fashions of country life, to "cut capers" among folks whose opinion he didn't care for, and to bring back something to laugh about all the next term. The money, too, was a consideration, as it would pay a bill or two which he preferred that his very indulgent father should not know of.
Major Allen had written to some of the college authorities for an instructor, not doubting that he should obtain one of proved worth, or at least one who had been acquainted with country schools in his boyhood, and would undertake with such motives as would insure a faithful discharge of his duties. But a tutor, an intimate acquaintance of Silverson's family, was requested to aid the self-rusticating son to a school; so by this means this city beau and college buck was sent to preside over our district seminary of letters.
Well, Mr. Silverson arrived on Saturday evening at Capt. Clark's. Sunday, he went to meeting. He was, indeed, a very genteel-looking personage, and caused quite a sensation among the young people in our meeting-house, especially those of our district. He was tall, but rather slender, with a delicate skin, and a cheek whose roses had not been uprooted from their native bed by what, in college, is called hard digging. His hair was cut and combed in the newest fashion, as was supposed, being arranged very differently from that of our young men. Then he wore a cloak of many-colored plaid, in which flaming red, however, was predominant. A plaid cloak — this was a new thing in our obscure town at that period, and struck us with admiration. We had seen nothing but surtouts and greatcoats from our fathers' sheep and our mothers' looms. His cravat was tied behind; this was another novelty. We had never dreamed but that the knot should be made, and the ends should dangle beneath the chin. Then his bosom flourished with a ruffle, and glistened with a breast-pin, such as were seldom seen so far among the hills.
Capt. Clark unconsciously assumed a stateliness of gait unusual to him, as he led the way up the center aisle, introduced the gentleman into his pew, and gave him his own seat, that is, next the isle, and the most respectable in the pew. The young gentleman, not having been accustomed to such deference in public, was a little confused; and when he heard, "That is the new master," whispered very distinctly by some one near, and, on looking up, saw himself the center of an all-surrounding stare, he was smitten with a fit of bashfulness, such as he had never felt before. So he quiddled with his fingers, sucked and bit his lips, as a relief to his feelings, the same as those rustic starers would have done at a splendid party in his mother's drawing-rooms. During singing, he was intent on the hymn-book, in the prayer he bent over the pew-side, and during the sermon looked straight at the preacher — a churchlike deportment which he had never, perhaps, manifested before, and probably may never have since. He was certainly not so severely decorous in that meeting-house again. After the forenoon services, he committed a most egregious blunder, by which his bashfulness was swallowed up in shame. It was the custom in country towns then, for all who sat upon the center or broad aisle, as it was called, to remain in their pews till the reverend man of the pulpit had passed along by. Our city-bred gentleman was not apprised of this etiquette; for it did not prevail in the metropolis. Well, as soon as the last amen was pronounced, Capt. Clark politely handed him his hat; and, being next to the pew door, he supposed he must make his egress first. He stepped out, and had gone several feet down the aisle, when he observed old and young standing in their pews on both sides, in front of his advance, staring at him as if surprised, and some of them with an incipient laugh. He turned his head, and gave a glance back; and, behold, he was alone in the long avenue, with a double line of eyes aimed at him from behind as well as before. All seemed waiting for the minister, who by this time had just reached the foot of the pulpit stairs. He was confounded with a consciousness of his mistake. Should he keep on or return to the pew, was a momentary question. It was a dilemma worse than any in logic. But finally, back he was going, when, behold, Capt. Clark's pew was blocked up by the out-poured and out-pouring throng of people, with the minister at their head. What should he do now? He wheeled again, dropped his head, put his left hand to his face, and went crouching down the aisle, and out of the door, like a boy going out with the nose-bleed.
On the ensuing morning, our collegian commenced school. He had never taught, and had never resided in the country before. He had acquired a knowledge of the daily routine usually pursued in school, from a class-mate who
had some experience in the vocation; so he began things right end foremost, and finished at the other extremity in due order; but they were most clumsily handled all the way through. His first fault was exceeding indolence. He had escaped beyond the call of the morning prayer-bell, that had roused him at dawn, and he seemed resolved to replenish his nature with sleep. He was generally awakened to the consciousness of being a schoolmaster by the ringing shouts of his waiting pupils. Then a country breakfast was too delicious a contrast to college commons to be cut short. Thus that point of duration called nine o'clock, and school time, often approximated exceedingly near to ten that winter.
Mr. Silverson did not visit in the several families of the district, as most of his predecessors had done. He would have been pleased to visit at every house, for he was socially inclined; and what was more, he desired to pick up "food for fun " when he should return to college. But the people did not think themselves "smart" enough to entertain a collegian, and the son of the rich Mr. — , of the city of — , besides. Or, perhaps, what is coming nearer the precise truth, his habits and pursuits were so different from theirs, that they did not know exactly how to get at him, and in what manner to attempt to entertain him; and he, on the other hand, did not know how to fall into the train of their associations in his conversation, so as to make them feel at ease, and, as it were, at home with him. Another circumstance ought to be mentioned, perhaps. The people very soon contracted a growing prejudice against our schoolmaster, on account of his very evident unfitness for his present vocation, and especially his unpardonable indolence and neglect of duty.
So Mr. Silverson was not invited out, excepting by Major Allen, who engaged him, and by two or three others who chanced to come in contact with him, and to find him more sociably disposed, and a less formidable personage, than they anticipated. He spent most of his evenings, therefore, at his boarding-place, with one volume in his hand, generally that of a novel, and another volume issuing from his mouth, — that of smoke; and as his chief object was just to kill time, he was not careful that the former should not be as fumy, as baseless, and as unprofitable as the latter. As for the Greek, Latin, and mathematics, to which he should have devoted some portion of his time, according to the college regulations, he never looked at them till his return. Then he just glanced them over, and trusted luck when he was examined for two weeks' study, as he had done a hundred times before at his daily recitation.
What our young college buck carried back to laugh about all the next term, I do not know, unless it was his own dear self, for being so foolish as to undertake a business for which he was so utterly unfit, and from which he derived so little pleasure, compared with his anticipations.