The parish school master in the village of Tarbolton 50 or 60 years ago is a person of whom a few dim features only have descended to me; but all my life his sayings, and his advice have been so quoted in our family that I cannot refrain from giving him a short paragraph.
I can see him walking in a suit of decent black from his bachelor home, where the flowers grew so bonny, to the little school house on a mound close to the kirkyaird. He walked with a “hilch” and often explained to the weans how it was he was lame. Before the days of codes and Government inspectors, not only was there a large leisure for the reading of the bible and the conning of the catechism but the teacher could have long talks with his class on non-scholastic subjects without feeling he was endangering his “grant.”
So it came about that he was fond of telling how a careless servant lass let him fall when he was a child and broke his toe. In consequence of which he could never lift his foot properly. He would always end his story with the serious injunction to his young listeners “tae tell your mithers tae tak care o’ the weans.”
One of the chief lessons he taught them was thrift, with the homeliest of examples. He would tell them on how little they could live and what kinds of food would go farthest. Cheese he “likit for his dinner because there were nae banes in it.” But what appears to have made the deepest and most lasting impression on the infant mind of at least one of his scholars was that it was a criminal waste for one to throw away a “preen” or pass one without lifting it.
If they found a bent “preen” they were to post it carefully on a flag and “chap it straucht” with a hammer or stone “for,” he said, “thame that wastes preens ‘ill waste horn’t kye” and the crookit preens he found on the floor droppped from the lasses’ frocks he gravely straightened with the heft of his pen knife before their eyes.
No doubt, in his day, pins were of some value and thrift in minute things a necessity. But he might easily have given from the book a more imposing lesson of less value. To this day I frequently draw from a pin cushion a rippled pin bearing the marks of the hammer and I smile as I read in it the teaching of the Tarbolton school master.