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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Doctor: A Tale Of The Rockies - Chapter 5. The New Teacher
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The Doctor: A Tale Of The Rockies - Chapter 5. The New Teacher Post by :angiecook Category :Long Stories Author :Ralph Connor Date :May 2012 Read :3008

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The Doctor: A Tale Of The Rockies - Chapter 5. The New Teacher


The new teacher was distinctly phenomenal from every point of view. Her beauty was a type quite unusual where rosy-cheeked, deep-chested, sturdy womanhood was the rule. Even the smallest child was sensible of the fascination of her smile, which seemed to emanate from every feature of her face, so much so that little Ruby Ross was heard to say: "And do you know, mother, she smiles with her nose!" The almost timid appeal in her gentle manner stirred the chivalry latent in every boy's heart. Back of her appealing gentleness, however, there was a reserve of proud command due to the strain in her blood of a regnant, haughty, slave-ruling race. But in her discipline of the school she had rarely to fall back upon sheer authority. She had a method unique, but undoubtedly effective, based upon two fundamental principles: regard for public opinion, and hope of reward. The daily tasks were prepared and rendered as if in the presence of the great if somewhat vague public which at times she individualized, as she became familiar with her pupils, in the person of father or mother or trustee, as the case might be. And with marvellous skill she played this string, albeit occasionally she struck a false note.

"What would your father think, Lincoln?" she inquired reproachfully of little Link Young. Link's father was a typical Down Easterner, by name Jabez Young or, as he was more commonly known, "Maine Jabe," for his fondness of his reminiscence of his native State. "What would your father think if he saw you act so rudely?"

"Dad wouldn't care a dang."

Instantly conscious of her mistake, she hastened to recover.

"Well, Lincoln, what do you think I think?"

Link's Yankee assurance sank abashed before this direct personal appeal. He hung his head in blushing silence.

"Do you know, Lincoln, you might come to be a right clever gentleman if you tried hard." A new idea lodged itself under Link's red thatch of hair and a new motive stirred in his shrewd little soul. Here was one visibly present whose good opinion he valued. At all costs that good opinion he must win.

The whole school was being consciously trained for exhibition purposes. The day would surely come when before the eyes of the public they would parade for inspection. Therefore, it behooved them to be ready.

But more important in enforcing discipline was the hope of reward. This principle was robbed of its more sordid elements by the nature of the reward held forth. A day of good conduct and of faithful work invariably closed with an hour devoted to histrionic and musical exercise. To recite before the teacher and to hear the teacher recite was worth considerable effort. To sing with the teacher was a joy, but to hear the teacher sing to the accompaniment of her guitar was the supreme of bliss. It was not only an hour of pleasure to the pupils, but an hour of training as well. She initiated them into the mysteries of deep breathing, chest tones, phrasing, and expression, and such was their absorbing interest in and devotion to this study, that in a few weeks truly remarkable results were obtained. The singing lesson invariably concluded with a plantation song from the teacher; and with her memory-gates wide open to the sunny South of her childhood, and with all her soul in her voice, she gave them her best, holding them breathless, laughterful, or tear-choked, according to her mood and song.

It was by such a song that Mr. Jabez Young, driving along the road on his way to the store, was suddenly arrested and rendered incapable of movement till the song was done. In amazed excitement he burst forth to old Hector Ross, the Chairman of the Trustee Board, who happened to be in the store:

"Gol dang my cats! What hev yeh got in the school up yonder? Say! I couldn't git my team to move past that there door!"

"What's matter, Mr. Young?"

"Why, dang it all! I'll report to the Reeve. Fust thing yeh know there'll be a string-a-teams from here to the next concession blockin' that there road in front of the school!"

"Why, what's the matter with the school, Mr. Young?" inquired old Hector, in anxious surprise.

"Why, ain't ye heard her? Say! down in Maine I paid a dollar one 'time to hear a big singer, forgit her name, but she was 'lowed to be the dangdest singer in all them parts. But, Gol dang my cats to cinders! she ain't any more like that there teacher of yours than my old Tom cat's like the angel that leads the choir in Abram's bosom!"

"That is very interesting, Mr. Young. And I suppose you won't mind paying a little extra school rate now," said Hector, with a shrewd twinkle in his eye.

"Extra school rate! I tell yeh what, I'll charge up my lost time to the trustees! But danged if I wouldn't give a day's pay to hear that song again!"

In application of this principle of reward for merit, the teacher introduced a subordinate principle which proved effective when all else failed. The school was made corporately and jointly responsible for the individual. The offence of one was the offence of all, the merit of one the merit of all. Thus every pupil was associated with her in the business of securing good lessons and exemplary conduct. As the day went on each misdemeanour was gravely, and in full view of the school, marked down upon the blackboard. The merits obtained by any pupil were in like manner recorded. The day closing with an adverse balance knew no hour of song. Woe to the boy who, dead to all other motives of good conduct, persisted in robbing the school of its hour of delight. In the case of Ab Maddock, big, impudent, and pachydermous, it took Dugald Robertson, the minister's son, just half an hour's hard fighting to extract a promise of good behaviour. Dugald was in the main a thoughtful, peaceable boy, the most advanced pupil in the entrance class, and a great mathematician. At first he was inclined to despise the teacher, setting little store by her beautiful face and fascinating smile, for on the very first day he discovered her woful mathematical inadequacy. Arithmetic was her despair. With algebraic formulae and Euclid's propositions her fine memory saved her. But with quick intuition she threw herself frankly upon the boy's generosity, and in the evenings together they, with Margaret's assistance, wrestled with the bewildering intricacies of arithmetical problems. Her open confession of helplessness, and her heroic attempts to overcome her defects, made irresistible appeal to the chivalrous heart of the little Highland gentleman. Thenceforth he was her champion for all that was in him.

But the teacher's weakness in mathematics was atoned for, if atonement there be for such a weakness, by the ample strength of her endowments in those branches of learning in which imagination and artistic sensibility play any large part. And a far larger part, and far more important, do these Divine gifts play than many wise educationists conceive. The lessons in history, in geography, and in reading ceased to be mere memory tasks and became instinct with life. The whole school would stay its ordinary work to listen while the teacher told tales of the brave days of old to the history class, or transformed the geography lessons into excursions among people of strange tongues dwelling in far lands. But it was in the reading lessons that her artistic talents had full play. The mere pronouncing and spelling of words were but incidents in the way of expression of thought and emotion. After a whole week of drilling which she would give to a single lesson, she would arrest the class with the question, "What is the author seeing?" and with the further question, "How does he try to show it to us?" Reading, to her, consisted in the ability to see what the author saw and the art of telling it, and to set forth with grace that thing in the author's words.

In the writing class her chief anxiety was to avoid blots. Every blot might become an occasion of humiliation to teacher and pupils alike. "Oh, this will never do! They must not see this!" she would cry, rubbing out with infinite care and pains the blot, and rubbing in the horror of such a defilement being paraded before the eyes of the vague but terrible "they."

Thus the pathway trodden in the school routine was, perchance, neither wide nor far extended, but it was thoroughly well trodden. As a consequence, when the day for the closing exercises came around both teacher and pupils had become so thoroughly familiar with the path and so accustomed to the vision of the onlooking public that they faced the ordeal without dread, prepared to give forth whatever of knowledge or accomplishment they might possess.

A fortunate rainy day, making the hauling of hay or the cutting of fall wheat equally impossible, filled the school with the parents and friends of the children. The minister and the trustees were dutifully present. Of the mill people Dick and his mother appeared, Dick because his mother insisted that a student should show interest in the school, his mother because Dick refused to go a step without her. Barney came later, not because of his interest in the school, but chiefly, he declared to himself, conscious of the need of a reason, because there was nothing much else to do. The presence of "Maine" Jabe might be taken as the high water mark of the interest aroused throughout the section in the new teacher and her methods.

The closing exercises were, with a single exception, a brilliantly flawless exhibition. That exception appeared in the Euclid of the entrance class. The mathematics were introduced early in the day. The arithmetic, which dealt chiefly with problems of barter and sale of the various products of the farm, was lightly and deftly passed over. The algebra class was equally successful. In the Euclid class it seemed as if the hitherto unbroken success would come to an unhappy end in the bewilderment and confusion of Phoebe Ross, from whom the minister had asked a demonstration of the pons asinorum. But the blame for poor Phoebe's bewilderment clearly lay with the minister himself, for in placing the figure upon the board with the letters designating the isosceles triangle he made the fatal blunder of setting the letter B at the right hand side of the base instead of at its proper place at the left, as in the book. The result was that the unhappy Phoebe, ignoring the figure upon the board and depending entirely upon her memory, soon plunged both the minister and herself into confusion hopeless and complete. But the quick eye of the teacher had detected the difficulty, and, going to the board, she erased the unfamiliar figure, saying, as she did so, in her gentle appealing voice, "Wait, Phoebe. You are quite confused, I know. We shall wipe the board clean and begin all over." She placed the figure upon the board with the designating letters arranged as in the book. "Now, take your time," she said with deliberate emphasis. "Let A, B, C be an isosceles triangle." And thus, with her feet set firmly upon the familiar path, little Phoebe slipped through that desperate maze of angles and triangles with an ease, speed, and dexterity that elicited the wonder and admiration of all present, the minister, good man, included. Upon Barney, however, who understood perfectly what had happened, the incident left a decidedly unpleasant impression. Indeed, the superficiality of the mathematical exercises as a whole awakened within him a feeling of pain which he could not explain.

When the reading classes were under review the school passed from the atmosphere of the superficial to that of the real. Never had such reading been heard in that or in any other common school. The familiar sing-song monotony of the reading lesson was gone and in its place a real and vivid picturing of the scenes described or enacted. It was all simple, natural, and effective.

The exercises attained an easy climax with the recitations and singing which closed the day. Here the artistic gifts of the teacher had full scope. There was an absence of all nervous dread in the performers. By some marvellous power she caught hold and absorbed their attention so that for her chiefly, if not entirely, they recited or sang. In the singing, which terminated the proceedings, the triumph of the day was complete. A single hymn, two or three kindergarten action songs, hitherto unheard in that community, a rollicking negro chorus; and, at the last, "for the children and the mothers," the teacher said, one soft lullaby in which for the first time the teacher's voice was heard, the low, vibrant tones filling the room with music such as in all their lives they had never listened to. It was a fine sense of artistic values that cut out the speeches and dismissed the school in the ordinary way. The full tide of their enthusiasm broke upon her as minister, trustees, parents, and all crowded about her, offering congratulations. Her air of shy grace with just a touch of nonchalant reserve served in no small degree to heighten the whole effect of the day.

The mill people walked home with the minister and Margaret.

"Isn't she a wonder?" cried Dick. "What has she done to those little blocks? Why, they don't seem the same children!"

"Yes, yes," replied the minister, "it is quite surprising, indeed."

"In their mathematics, though, there was some thin skating there for a while," continued Dick.

"Yes, yes, the little lassie became confused. But she recovered herself cleverly."

"Yes, indeed," said Dick, with a slight laugh. "That was a clever bit of work on the part of the teacher."

"Oh, shut up, Dick!" said Barney sharply.

"Oh, well," replied Dick, "no one expects mathematics from a girl, anyway."

"Do you hear the conceit of him?" said his mother indignantly, "and Margaret there can show all of you the way."

"Yes, that's true, mother, but Margaret is a wonder, too. But whatever you say, the reciting and singing were good. Even little Link Young was quite dramatic. They say that 'Maine' Jabe for the first time in his life is quite reckless in regard to the school rates."

"We will just wait a year," said his mother. "It is a new broom that sweeps clean."

"Now, mother, you are too hard to please."

"Perhaps," she replied, grimly closing her lips.

As they reached the manse gate the minister, who had evidently been pondering Dick's words, said, "Well, Mrs. Boyle, we have had a delightful afternoon, whatever, a remarkable exhibition. Yes, yes. And after all it is a great matter that the children should be taught to read and recite well. And it was no wonder that the poor thing would seek to make it easy for the little girl. And Margaret will need to take Dugald over his mathematics, I fear, before he goes up to the entrance." At which remark the painful feeling which the reciting and singing had caused Barney to forget for the time, returned with even greater poignancy.

But in all the section there was only one opinion, and that was that, at all costs, the teacher's services must be retained. For once, the trustees realised that no longer would they depend for popularity upon the sole qualification of their ability to keep down the school rate. It was, perhaps, not the most diplomatic moment they chose for the securing of the teacher's services for another year. It might be that they were moved to immediate action by the apparent willingness on her part to leave the matter of re-engagement an open question. On all hands, however, they were applauded as having done a good stroke of business when, there and then, they closed their bargain with the teacher, although at a higher salary, as it turned out, than had ever been paid in the section before.

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