HOW NAT GOT HIS LEARNING.
AN EXAMPLE FOR YOUTH.
WILLIAM M. THAYER,
AUTHOR OF "THE POOR BOY AND MERCHANT PRINCE," "THE POOR GIRL AND TRUE WOMAN," "FROM POOR-HOUSE TO PULPIT," "TALES FROM THE BIBLE," ETC., ETC.
BOSTON: J. E. TILTON AND COMPANY. 1862.
Entered according to Act of Congress; in the year 1860, by J. E. TILTON AND COMPANY,
In the Clerk's Office of the District Court for the District of Massachusetts.
University Press, Cambridge: Printed by Welch, Bigelow, and Company.
The design of this volume is to show the young how "odd moments" and small opportunities may be used in the acquisition of knowledge. The hero of the tale—NAT—is a living character, whose actual boyhood and youth are here delineated—an unusual example of energy, industry, perseverance, application, and enthusiasm in prosecuting a life purpose.
The conclusion of the story will convince the reader, that the group of characters which surround Nat are not creations of the fancy, and that each is the bearer of one or more important lessons to the young. While some of them forcibly illustrate the consequences of idleness, disobedience, tippling, and kindred vices, in youth, others are bright examples of the manly virtues, that always command respect, and achieve success.
W. M. T.
A GOOD BEGINNING.
The patch of squashes—counting chickens before they are hatched—ifs—ducks, and the bright side—explanation—hopeful Nat—Nathaniel Bowditch—Sir Humphrey Davy—Buxton—benefit of hopefulness—the squashes coming up—Frank Martin—"all play and no work"—Ben Drake—scene when Nat was four years old—"thinking on his own hook"—men of mark think for themselves—"niggers' work"—great men not ashamed of useful work—the harvest-day—Frank's surprise—Nat as a peddler—his sister—his drawings—Samuel Budgett, Dr. Kitto, and the rich merchant peddling—"creep before you can walk"—the errand-boy and his success—what his culture of squashes shows 1-17
UPWARD AND ONWARD.
Winter—in school—proposition to declaim—the dialogue, "Alexander the Great and a Robber"—Nat is the robber—his reason—sympathy for the poor and unfortunate—the dialogue learned and spoken—Nat's eloquence—some boys who declaim poorly at first make orators at last—Demosthenes—Daniel Webster—Nat declaiming before visitors—the petition for shorter lessons—Nat won't sign it—Sam Drake's predicament—the teacher hears of the movement—his remarks about dull scholars—Newton, Dr. Barrows, Adam Clarke, Chatterton, Napoleon, etc.—necessity of application 17-27
The bright summer-time—sport at Frank's—the dog "Trip" playing hy-spy—the boys hiding—Trip finding them—the result of the first game—the second game—the court scene—talk about it with Sylvester Jones—Nat goes to court—the prisoners are two of his schoolmates—his sympathy for them—examination of witnesses—the remarks of the justice—Nat proposes to plead their case—the sensation and result—what was said of it—another instance of Nat's sympathy—what it foreshadowed—Howard—Wilberforce—Buxton 28-37
THE WILD CHERRIES.
The excursion—John's proposition—decision to go—the cherry-tree—is it wild?—a discussion—filling their caps—surprised by the owner—their escape—Nat's and Frank's caps left behind—the owner carries them to the house—Nat's resolve to go to his house—rapping at the door—his explanation and confession—the caps restored with a plenty of cherries—the end thereof 38-47
Bathing—a passion for it—a particular swim—Nat the best swimmer—swimming under water—a trial—a game of ball—Nat the best player—the result of the game—remarks of spectators—the fastest runner—a principle to be best—excelled in athletic sports through same elements of character that made him excel in school—the best shoe-black—Reynolds made every picture best—Buxton's sports in boyhood, and Sir Walter Scott's—Wellington's remark—Nat's remark twenty-five years after—Nat saving a boy from drowning—his picture of the scene—how he used his experience in athletic games 48-56
Winter school again—the skating proposition—the proposed grammar class—Nat does not accede—discussion on the way to the pond—Nat the best skater—the palm yielded to him—home to supper—teacher's remarks next day about grammar—advice to Nat and Charlie—his reference to Benjamin Franklin and Patrick Henry—Nat and Charlie join the class—conversation among the boys, and with Nat in particular—Sam put into the objective case, and his mischief-making propensity—tying a tin-pail to a dog's tail—the delight of Sam—the sorrow of Nat, and verdict of the boys—Sam an improper noun—the end of school 57-68
Proposed visit to Prospect Hill—a hundred churches—situation and description of the hill—view from the top—Trip accompanies them—meeting with Sam and Ben Drake—Sam's assault upon Trip—Frank's feelings—Nat's love of nature—this characterizes youth generally who become renowned—Sir Francis Chantrey—Robert Burns—Hugh Miller—more hope of boys who love the beautiful of nature and art—reaching the summit—a fire in the city—Sam's anger—counting the churches—Sam kicks Trip down the precipice—Frank and Nat crying—Sam's ridicule—Sam and Ben leave—Nat tells a story—carrying dead Trip home 69-82
THE END OF SCHOOL-DAYS.
The agent of the factory wants Nat—picker-boy in Lowell a short time—his home-sickness—a good sign for boys to love home, and why—bad boys do not love home—the young man in prison—such lads sneer at home-sickness—interview of Nat's father and mother on the subject—their conclusion to put him into the factory—end of school-days 83-89
OPENING THE SUBJECT.
Nat coming home—telling the sad news to his mother—sifting Sam Drake's character—going to Frank's to bury Trip—asking permission of parents—how some take advantage—Frank's arrangement for the burial—Trip's coffin—buried in the garden—Nat's funeral oration—going to supper—the difficult lesson in arithmetic—stunned by the announcement—his objection—his mother suggested that the operatives had a library—the result, and Nat's last thoughts at night 90-99
THE NEW CALL.
Monday morning—prompt boys—not a lazy bone in Nat—how the bell called him—his first appearance at the factory—remark of the overseer—meeting with Charlie Stone there—Charlie's character—making use of knowledge acquired and difference in boys—talk with the agent about the library—his advice about spare moments—William Cobbett's account of his own privations in early life—Nat's first noon-time—his work as bobbin boy—takes the life of Dr. Franklin out of the library—meets with David Sears—punctuality a cardinal virtue—how the factory bell cultivates punctuality—here the beginning of his student life—read through life of Franklin before Saturday night 100-112
THE LOFTY STUDY.
Nat's proposition for systematic study—Charlie goes to his house—his study in the attic—Dr. Kitto's study not so good—nor St. Pierre's—they read and discuss Franklin and Patrick Henry—copy of Franklin's rules—Patrick Henry's faculty of observation—Nat like him—studying men and things—the case of Shakspeare—Nat the best penman in the mill—choice between study and the party—obliged to deny himself for the sake of study—some disarrangements—thinks he can never know much—the poor not so good a chance as the rich—wealth of character 113-123
A hall to be dedicated—Nat's conversation with Frank about it, and removal of the library—going to the dedication—the address on Count Rumford—a sketch of the address to show why Nat was so deeply interested—Count Rumford's origin, boyhood, rise, learning, benevolence, and fame—conversation with his mother about it—conversation with Charlie at the factory—a life-long impression made on his mind by it 124-133
A SCHOOL SCENE.
A difficulty with Sam Drake in school—Nat hears of it—a true account—Sam writes a letter about the teacher—the teacher discovers it—many words spelled incorrectly—a copy of the letter—Sam called into the floor—made to spell the words he has spelled wrong—spells Alpheus, Coombs, knife, bargain, spectacles—merriment it occasioned in school—Sam refuses to spell more—he is punished and conquered—spells again—then he is ferruled—sent to his seat—advice to the school—a good teacher—his case before the committee—expelled—what the incident teaches 134-141
The Federalist—Jefferson and the Democrat—the four votes—studied with all his soul—Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence—reading it—difference between Jefferson and Adams —Jefferson's views of slavery—extract from his writings—another extract—why Nat adopted these principles—his early sympathies—the life of Jefferson made lasting impression on his mind—case of Guido—Cotton Mather's "Essays to do Good"—Dr. Franklin—Jeremy Bentham and greatest good to greatest number—Alfieri and "Plutarch's Lives"—Loyola and "Lives of the Saints"—a picture made—Dr. Guthrie 142-155
THREE IMPORTANT EVENTS.
Frank in the factory—bad to be poor—worse to be mean—great men generally poor—dispute with Dr. Franklin—intimate friendship with Frank—the poor sympathize with each other—so with the rich—influence of kindred occupation—the new comer—his poverty—who Marcus was—the kind letter that brought trial—proposition to leave home—talk with his mother—reminded of Marcus—decision to leave home—departure and new field—gone three years—his return 156-164
FINDING A LOST OPPORTUNITY.
Odd moments at grammar—making up for a lost opportunity—confession of an error—inquiry after Sam Drake—his bad character—Ben Drake—mastering grammar alone—nothing dry in which we are interested—Nat's literary pocket—Roger Sherman's pocket—Napoleon's pocket—Hugh Miller's pocket—Elihu Burritt's pocket—many boys carry only a jack-knife in their pocket—value of one hour a day—ten years of study in half a century—lost opportunities not found—the proposed debating club—Marcus again 165-173
A spare day—visit to Boston bookstores—shoe-leather cheap and the proposed walk—conversation with Charlie and Frank—the walk to Boston—what would attract some boys there—the book-stores drew Nat—conversation with a bookseller—purchase of "Locke's Essay on the Understanding"—his examination of books—bits of knowledge—Dr. Kitto and the book-stall—homeward bound—Monday morning with Charlie—influence of Locke's Essay on him—its influence was such on Robert Burns, Samuel Drew, and Mendelssohn—it aids the speaker to understand the laws of human nature—more visits to Boston 174-182
THE DEBATING SOCIETY.
Plans carried out—its object—how it must be conducted—the organization—rule to make it respectable—his desire to make all things respectable—the fire company reformed—the first discussion—the question—an evening without a question—how they got over it—Nat's speech—curiosity to hear—tremendous compliments—Nat wards them off—contends that a man may become what he wants to be—this the view of Buxton and others—influence of the debating society on Nat—a similar society influenced Curran, the Irish orator—and a living American statesman—Canning, the English statesman—and Henry Clay—interesting account of a similar society in Boston 183-195
COMING AND GOING.
Ben Drake's visit—the welcome of Frank—Mrs. Martin's questions—surprise at learning that Ben is a Christian—going to the prayer-meeting—Frank surprised to hear Ben speak—goes to tell Nat the next morning—their conversation—Ben calls around—announcement that Webster would speak in Boston—Nat's resolve to hear him—the walk to Boston—the speech—Nat's observation and remarks—power of the human voice—hearing Edward Everett—walks to hear other speakers—learned much of the use of language and oratory by observation—so with Robert Bloomfield—the charm of the voice 196-205
Talk which Nat created—scene in the sewing circle—use of spare moments—boys who read their leisure moments not get into mischief—old Mrs. Lane on education—her ideas about his going to hear Webster and Everett and the book in his pocket—how much time he saves a day for reading—wants more boys like Nat—his going to the party—sympathy for the slighted—explanation of the scene—waiting upon the slighted girls—the effect of it—Nat's decision, independence, and kind-hearted nature enabled him to do it—like Robert Burns in this respect 206-213
GOING TO THE THEATRE.
Nat's desire to witness a tragedy played—resolve to go and hear Booth—talk with his companions—what would be said—the evening of his visit—the play—after conversation with his companions—the bar—why vices connected with theatres—can they be severed from it—Nat wants to hear more—at home at one o'clock—outside remarks afterwards—his course criticized—went a number of times thereafter—his object in going good—yet it was not safe—-the Roman youth at the amphitheatre—so with theatre-goers—theatres always been schools of vice—acts of Congress against—vain attempt to make theatres respectable in Boston—the legend of Tertullian—the actor Macready exposed the vice of theatres—Judge Bulstrode's charge—Sir Matthew Hale's experience in boyhood—opinion of the infidel Rousseau 214-225
THE DRAMATIC SOCIETY.
The proposition—how it was met—they undertake it—how the theatre creates love of such amusement—the nephew who became an actor by hearing—playing Macbeth—make their own scenery—Nat wrote constitution—evening of the organization—evening of the first play—a success—remarks of Mr Graves adverse to such performances—talk in the village—remarks of old Mrs. Lane—why Nat does it—conversation with Charlie—Nat opposed to being an actor—desire to be a statesman 226-234
The news—discussion in the town lyceum—occasioned by the dramatic society—the question "Are dramatical exhibitions beneficial to society?"—the evening of the debate—Nat goes—Mr. Bryant's remarks on the low origin of theatres—remarks of another on the immorality of actors—of another on the profane and vulgar parts of plays—seven thousand indecent sentences in English plays—King James the First—Addison's view—the class of persons who patronize theatres—Nat's excitement—Frank's question—Nat's attention—rises to speak—the surprise of the audience—his argument and eloquence astonished all—remark of Dr. Holt—reminds us of Patrick Henry—description of his first plea—his triumph—Charlie's view—Nat's argument changed no one's view—his eloquence they admired—invited to join town lyceum—the dramatic society dead 235-250
Making a new study—conversation with Charlie—Nat's new plans—study furniture—manual labor—Charlie's opinion—excessive reading bad—using what is learned—Coleridge's description of readers—difference between Nat and Charlie—Burke's Essay on the Sublime and Beautiful—a bit of humor—using the library of Harvard College—his walks thither—power of concentrating thoughts—Hugh Miller fighting imaginary battles with shells—Cary made a missionary by reading voyages of Captain Cook—Nat's invincible purpose 251-259
EULOGY BY JOHN QUINCY ADAMS.
Working on the mill-dam—news of the eulogy on Madison—how much he would sacrifice to hear him—general regard for personal appearance—goes in his workshop dress—a view of him in the crowd—talk in the machine-shop—Nat back again—his views of the eulogy—conversation—his leading traits of character seen here 260-265
THE TEMPERANCE SOCIETY.
Beginning of the total abstinence movement—Nat espouses the cause—talk with his companions about forming a society—James Cole opposes—making a beast of one's self—the gutter theory—customary for youth to drink then—drinking usages—the decision to organize a society—preparations—evening of the organization—Nat's speech and presentation of constitution—the choice of officers—Frank Martin president, and Charlie Stone secretary—important event for that time—sensation in the village—scene in a grog-shop—signing away liberty—Nat invited to give a lecture before the society—the decision and firmness required then to advocate total abstinence 266-276
THE TEMPERANCE LECTURE.
News of the lecture flies—scene in Miles's grog-shop—the rumseller resolves to go—a crowd to hear the lecture—"The Fifteen Gallon Law" was his subject—portrayed the evils of intemperance—showed that the proposed law would remove the evil among the poor—showed that it introduced no new principle of legislation—discussed other topics—the lecture gained him much applause—the rumseller Miles was reached and resolved to quit selling liquor—Johnson his customer attacking him next morning—their battle of words—the result—delivered the lecture in neighboring towns—delivered others at home 277-286
Nat's position—worked for it—bobbin boy father of the orator—so with other men—Sir James Mackintosh—Audubon—Benjamin West—Eli Whitney, and what his sister said—poem of Longfellow—interest in politics—urged to address political bodies—conversation with Charlie—decides to speak—does so at home and abroad—the adventure of a political committee, and a good joke—Nat's speech and their arrangement 287-297
THE EARLY VICTIM.
News that James Cole is frozen—Frank's version of the affair—made drunk at a grog-shop—lay senseless in the street all night—his previous character—his good abilities—all sorts of rumors abroad—he revives, but is still very sick—what the physician says—nearly three months pass—a funeral described—the last of James Cole—the sexton's view—the youthful drunkard's grave 298-304
A quarter of a century passed—what and where is Nat and his associates—the drunkard—Sam and Ben Drake in prison—power of early vicious habits—Frank Martin at the head of a public institution—Charlie Stone agent of one of the wealthiest and best known manufacturing companies of New England—Marcus Treat a highly distinguished lawyer in his adopted State—Nat governor of the best State in the Union—the change—appeal to youth 305-310
A GOOD BEGINNING.
A little patch of ground enclosed by a fence, a few adjacent trees, Nat with his hoe in hand, his father giving directions, on one of the brightest May mornings that was ever greeted by the carol of birds, are the scenes that open to our view.
"There, Nat, if you plant and hoe your squashes with care, you will raise a nice parcel of them on this piece of ground. It is good soil for squashes."
"How many seeds shall I put into a hill?" inquired Nat.
"Seven or eight. It is well to put in enough, as some of them may not come up, and when they get to growing well, pull up all but four in a hill. You must not have your hills too near together,—they should be five feet apart, and then the vines will cover the ground all over. I should think there would be room for fifty hills on this patch of ground."
"How many squashes do you think I shall raise, father?"
"Well," said his father, smiling, "that is hard telling. We won't count the chickens before they are hatched. But if you are industrious, and take very good care indeed of your vines, stir the ground often and keep out all the weeds, and kill the bugs, I have little doubt that you will get well paid for your labor."
"If I have fifty hills," said Nat, "and four vines in each hill, I shall have two hundred vines in all; and if there is one squash on each vine, there will be two hundred squashes."
"Yes; but there are so many ifs about it that you may be disappointed after all. Perhaps the bugs will destroy half your vines."
"I can kill the bugs," said Nat.
"Perhaps dry weather will wither them all up."
"I can water them every day if they need it."
"That is certainly having good courage, Nat," added his father, "but if you conquer the bugs, and get around the dry weather, it may be too wet and blast your vines, or there may be such a hail storm as I have known several times in my life, and cut them to pieces."
"I don't think there will be such a hail storm this year; there never was one like it since I can remember."
"I hope there won't be," replied his father. "It is well to look on the bright side, and hope for the best for it keeps the courage up. It is also well to look out for disappointment. I know a gentleman who thought he would raise some ducks. So he obtained a dozen eggs, and put them under a hen, and then he hired a man, to make a small artificial pond in his garden, which he could fill from his well, for the young ducks to swim in. The time came for the ducks to appear, but not one of the eggs hatched, and it caused much merriment among the neighbors, and the man has never heard the last of counting ducks before they are hatched. I have heard people in the streets and stores say, when some one was undertaking a doubtful enterprise, 'he is counting ducks.' Now, possibly, your squashes may turn out like the gentleman's ducks, though I do not really think it will be so. I speak of it that you may think of these things."
A sly sort of smile played over Nat's expressive countenance at this mention of the ducks, but it did not shake his confidence in the art of raising squashes. He had become a thorough believer in squashes,—they were now a part of his creed. He could see them on the vines before the seeds were planted. Some of them were very large,—as big as a water-pail, and his glowing imagination set him to work already, rolling them into a wheelbarrow. He cared little for the bugs, though they should come in a great army, he could conquer them, infantry, artillery, and all.
This scene was enacted about thirty-five years ago, not a thousand miles from Boston, when Nat was about ten years old, a bright, active, energetic, efficient, hopeful little fellow. His father gave him the use of a piece of ground for raising squashes, and the boy was to have the proceeds of the crop with which to line his new purse. Nat was wont to look on the bright side of things, and it was generally fair weather with him. For this reason, he expected a good crop of squashes, notwithstanding his father's adverse hints. It was fortunate for him that he was so hopeful, for it inspired him with zeal and earnestness, and made him more successful than he otherwise would have been. All hopeful persons are not successful, but nearly all the successful ones, in the various callings of life, were hopeful from the beginning. This was true of Nathaniel Bowditch, the great mathematician, who was a poor boy when he commenced his studies. He said that whenever he undertook any thing "it never occurred to him for a moment that he could fail." This quality thus encouraged him to press on from one success to another. Hence, in later life, his counsel to youth was, "Never undertake any thing but with the feeling that you can and will do it. With that feeling success is certain, and without it failure is unavoidable." He once said that it had been an invariable rule with him, "to do one thing at a time, and to finish whatever he began." The same was true of Sir Humphrey Davy. His biographer says that he never made any provision for failures, "that he undertook every experiment as if success were certain." This put life and soul into his acts; for when a man believes that he shall certainly succeed in a given work, his success is half secured. Grave doubts about it diminish energy, and relax the force of the will. Buxton, the distinguished English philanthropist, is another example of this quality. He was just as confident that his efforts in behalf of the oppressed would succeed, as he was of his own existence. He knew that God and truth were on his side, and therefore he expected to triumph,—and he did. We shall see that Nat was often helped by his hopefulness.
It was a happy day to Nat when he saw his squashes coming forth to seek the genial light. Frank Martin was with him when the discovery was made, and it brightened Nat's hope considerably, if it be possible to make a bright thing brighter.
"Here, Frank, they are coming. There is one—two—three—"
"Sure enough," answered Frank, "they will all show themselves soon. You will raise a lot of squashes on this patch of ground. You will have to drive a team to Boston market to carry them, likely as not."
"I hardly think father expects to see any squashes of my raising," said Nat.
"Why not?" inquired Frank.
"Oh, he is expecting the bugs will eat them up, or that it will be too wet or too dry, or that a hail storm will cut them to pieces, or something else will destroy them; I hardly know what."
"You will fare as well as other folks, I guess," added Frank. "If anybody has squashes this year, you will have them; I am certain of that. But it will take most of your time out of school to hoe them, and keep the weeds out."
"I don't care for that, though I think I can take care of them mornings by getting up early, and then I can play after school."
"Then you mean to play some yet?"
"Of course I do. I shouldn't be a boy if I didn't play, though father says I shouldn't believe in all play and no work."
"You don't. If you work in the morning and play at night, that is believing in both, and I think it is about fair."
"Ben Drake was along here when I was planting my squashes," said Nat, "and he told me that I was a fool to worry myself over a lot of squash vines, and have no time to play. He said he wouldn't do it for a cart-load of squashes."
"And what did you tell him?" asked Frank.
"I told him that father thought it was better for boys to work some, and form the habit of being industrious, and learn how to do things; for then they would be more successful when they became men."
"What did Ben say to that?"
"'Just like an old man!' he said. 'It is time enough to work when we get to be men. I should like to see myself taking care of a garden when the other boys are playing.' By this time," continued Nat, "I thought I would put in a word, so I told him that it would be good for him to work part of the time, and I had heard a number of people say so. He was quite angry at this, and said, 'it was nobody's business, he should work when he pleased.' 'So shall I,' I replied, 'and I please to work on these squashes part of my time, whether Ben Drake thinks well of it or not.'"
We shall see hereafter what kind of a boy this Ben was (everybody called him Ben instead of Benjamin), and what kind of a man he made.
Nat expressed his opinion rather bluntly, although he was not a forward, unmannerly boy. But he usually had an opinion of his own, and was rather distinguished for "thinking (as a person said of him since) on his own hook." When he was only four years old, and was learning to read little words of two letters, he came across one about which he had quite a dispute with his teacher. It was INN.
"What is that?" asked his teacher.
"I-double n," he answered.
"What does i-double n spell?"
"Tavern," was his quick reply.
The teacher smiled, and said, "No; it spells INN. Now read it again."
"I-double n—tavern," said he.
"I told you that it did not spell tavern, it spells INN. Now pronounce it correctly."
"It do spell tavern," said he.
The teacher was finally obliged to give it up, and let him enjoy his own opinion. She probably called him obstinate, although there was nothing of the kind about him, as we shall see. His mother took up the matter at home, but failed to convince him that i-double n did not spell tavern. It was not until some time after, that he changed his opinion on this important subject.
That this incident was no evidence of obstinacy in Nat, but only of a disposition to think "on his own hook," is evident from the following circumstances. There was a picture of a public-house in his book against the word INN, with the old-fashioned sign-post in front, on which a sign was swinging. Near his father's, also, stood a public-house, which everybody called a tavern, with a tall post and sign in front of it, exactly like that in his book; and Nat said within himself, if Mr. Morse's house (the landlord) is a tavern, then this is a tavern in my book. He cared little how it was spelled; if it did not spell tavern, "it ought to," he thought. Children believe what they see, more than what they hear. What they lack in reason and judgment, they make up in eyes. So Nat had seen the tavern near his father's house, again and again, and he had stopped to look at the sign in front of it a great many times, and his eyes told him it was just like that in the book; therefore it was his deliberate opinion that i-double n spelt tavern, and he was not to be beaten out of an opinion that was based on such clear evidence. It was a good sign in Nat. It is a characteristic of nearly every person who lives to make a mark upon the world. It was true of the three men, to whom we have just referred, Bowditch, Davy, and Buxton. From their childhood they thought for themselves, so that when they became men, they defended their opinions against imposing opposition. True, a youth must not be too forward in advancing his ideas, especially if they do not harmonize with those of older persons. Self-esteem and self-confidence should be guarded against. Still, in avoiding these evils, he is not obliged to believe any thing just because he is told so. It is better for him to understand the reason of things, and believe them on that account.
But to return to Ben Drake. To Nat's last remark he replied, endeavoring to ridicule him for undertaking an enterprise on so small a scale,
"If I was going to work at all, I wouldn't putter over a few hills of squashes, I can tell you. It is too small business. I'd do something or nothing."
"What great thing would you do? asked Nat.
"I would go into a store, and sell goods to ladies and gentlemen, and wear nice clothes."
"And be nothing but a waiter to everybody for awhile. Fred Jarvis is only an errand-boy in Boston."
"I know that, but I wouldn't be a waiter for anybody, and do the sweeping, making fires and carrying bundles; I don't believe in 'nigger's' work, though I think that is better than raising squashes."
"I don't think it is small business at all to do what Fred Jarvis is doing, or to raise squashes," replied Nat. "I didn't speak of Fred because I thought he was doing something beneath him. I think that 'niggers' work is better than laziness;" and the last sentence was uttered in a way that seemed rather personal to Ben.
"Well," said Ben, as he cut short the conversation and hurried away, "if you wish to be a bug-killer this summer, you may for all me, I shan't."
Ben belonged to a class of boys who think it is beneath their dignity to do some necessary and useful work. To carry bundles, work in a factory, be nothing but a farmer's boy, or draw a hand-cart, is a compromise of dignity, they think. Nat belonged to another class, who despise all such ridiculous notions. He was willing to do any thing that was necessary, though some people might think it was degrading. He did not feel above useful employment, on the farm, or in the workshop and factory. And this quality was a great help to him. For it is cousin to that hopefulness which he possessed, and brother to his self-reliance and independence. No man ever accomplished much who was afraid of doing work beneath his dignity. Dr. Franklin was nothing but a soap-boiler when he commenced; Roger Sherman was only a cobbler, and kept a book by his side on the bench; Ben Jonson was a mason and worked at his trade, with a trowel in one hand and a book in the other; John Hunter, the celebrated physiologist, was once a carpenter, working at day labor; John Foster was a weaver in his early life, and so was Dr. Livingstone, the missionary traveller; an American President was a hewer of wood in his youth, and hence he replied to a person who asked him what was his coat of arms, "A pair of shirt sleeves;" Washington was a farmer's boy, not ashamed to dirty his hands in cultivating the soil; John Opie, the renowned English portrait painter, sawed wood for a living before he became professor of painting in the Royal Academy; and hundreds of other distinguished men commenced their career in business no more respectable; but not one of them felt that dignity was compromised by their humble vocation. They believed that honor crowned all the various branches of industry, however discreditable they might appear to some, and that disgrace would eventually attach to any one who did not act well his part in the most popular pursuit. Like them, Nat was never troubled with mortification on account of his poverty, or the humble work he was called upon to do. His sympathies were rather inclined in the other direction, and, other things being equal, the sons of the poor and humble were full as likely to share his attentions.
We are obliged to pass over much that belongs to the patch of squashes—the many hours of hard toil that it cost Nat to bring the plants to maturity,—the two-weeks' battle with the bugs when he showed himself a thorough Napoleon to conquer the enemy,—the spicy compliments he received for his industry and success in gardening,—the patient waiting for the rain-drops to fall in dry weather, and for the sun to shine forth in his glory when it was too wet,—the intimate acquaintance he cultivated with every squash, knowing just their number and size,—and many other things that show the boy.
The harvest day arrived,—the squashes were ripe,—and a fine parcel of them there was. Nat was satisfied with the fruit of his labor, as he gathered them for the market.
"What a pile of them!" exclaimed Frank, as he came over to see the squashes after school. "You are a capital gardener, Nat; I don't believe there is a finer lot of squashes in town."
"Father says the bugs and dry weather couldn't hold out against my perseverance," added Nat, laughing. "But the next thing is to sell them."
"Are you going to carry them to Boston?" asked Frank.
"No; I shall sell them in the village. Next Saturday afternoon I shall try my luck."
"You will turn peddler then?"
"Yes; but I don't think I shall like it so well as raising the squashes. There is real satisfaction in seeing them grow."
"If you can peddle as well as you can garden it, you will make a real good hand at it; and such handsome squashes as those ought to go off like hot cakes."
Saturday afternoon came, and Nat started with his little cart full of squashes. He was obliged to be his own horse, driver, and salesman, in which threefold capacity he served with considerable ability.
"Can I sell you some squashes to-day?" said Nat to the first neighbor on whom he called.
"Squashes! where did you find such fine squashes as those?" asked the neighbor, coming up to the cart, and viewing the contents.
"I raised them," said Nat; "and I have a good many more at home."
"What! did you plant and hoe them, and take the whole care of them?"
"Yes, sir; no one else struck a hoe into them, and I am to have all the money they bring."
"You deserve it, Nat, every cent of it. I declare, you beat me completely; for the bugs eat mine all up, so that I did not raise a decent squash. How did you keep the bugs off?"
"I killed thousands of them," said Nat. "In the morning before I went to school I looked over the vines; when I came home at noon I spent a few moments in killing them, and again at night I did the same. They troubled me only about two weeks."
"Well, they troubled me only two weeks," replied the neighbor, "and by that time there was nothing left for them to trouble. But very few boys like to work well enough to do what you have done, and very few have the patience to do it either. With most of the boys it is all play and no work. But what do you ask for your squashes?"
Nat proceeded to answer: "That one is worth six cents; such a one as that eight; that is ten; and a big one like that (holding up the largest) is fifteen."
The neighbor expressed his approval of the prices, and bought a number of them, for which he paid him the money. Nat went on with his peddling tour, calling at every house in his way; and he met with very good success. Just as he turned the corner of a street on the north side of the common, Ben Drake discovered him, and shouted, "Hurrah for the squash-peddler! That is tall business, Nat; don't you feel grand? What will you take for your horse?"
Nat made no reply, but hastened on to the next house where he disposed of all the squashes that he carried but two. He soon sold them, and returned home to tell the story of his first peddling trip. Once or twice afterwards he went on the same errand, and succeeded very well. But he became weary of the business, for some reason, before he sold all the squashes, and he hit upon this expedient to finish the work.
"Sis," said he to a sister younger than himself, "I will give you one of my pictures for every squash you will sell. You can carry three or four at a time easy enough."
Sis accepted the proposition with a good deal of pleasure; for she was fond of drawings, and Nat had some very pretty ones. He possessed a natural taste for drawing, and he had quite a collection of birds, beasts, houses, trees, and other objects, drawn and laid away carefully in a box. For a boy of his age, he was really quite an artist. His squashes were not better than his drawings. His patience, perseverance, industry, and self-reliance, made him successful both as a gardener and artist.
In a few days, "Sis" had sold the last squash, and received her pay, according to the agreement. The sequel will show that peddling squashes was the only enterprise which Nat undertook and failed to carry through. His failure there is quite unaccountable, when you connect it with every other part of his life.
We are reminded that many men of mark commenced their career by peddling. The great English merchant, Samuel Budgett, when he was about ten years old, went out into the streets to sell a bird, in order that he might get some funds to aid his poor mother. The first money that Dr. Kitto obtained was the proceeds of the sale of labels, which he made and peddled from shop to shop. One of the wealthiest men we know, a Christian man distinguished for his large benevolence, commenced his mercantile career by peddling goods that he carried in a band-box from one milliner's shop to another. "You must creep before you can walk," is an old maxim, and the lives of all distinguished men verify the proverb. He who creeps well, will walk so much the better by and by; but he who is ashamed to creep, must never expect to walk. We know a successful merchant who commenced the work of an errand-boy in a large mercantile house, when he was about twelve years old. He was not mortified to be caught with a bundle in hand in the street, nor to be seen sweeping the store. Not feeling above his business, he discharged his duties as well as he could. When he swept he swept,—every nook and corner was thoroughly cleaned out. When he carried a bundle, he carried it,—nimbly, manfully, promptly, and politely he went and delivered it. He performed these little things so well that he was soon promoted to a more important post. Here, too, he was equally faithful and thorough, and his employers saw that he possessed just the qualities to insure success. They promoted him again; and before he was twenty years old he was the head clerk of the establishment. He was not much past his majority when he was admitted as a partner to the firm; and now he stands at the head of the well-known house, a man of affluence, intelligence, and distinction. Had he been ashamed to carry a bundle or sweep a store when he was a boy, by this time his friends would have had abundant reason to be ashamed of him.
This chapter of Nat's early experience in squash culture, was quite unimportant at the time. It is still only a memorial of boyish days; but it was a good beginning. It shows as clearly as the most distinguished service he afterwards rendered to his fellow men, that hopefulness, industry, perseverance, economy of time, self-reliance, and other valuable traits, were elements of his character.
UPWARD AND ONWARD.
It was winter,—about three months after the sale of the squashes. The district school was in progress, and a male teacher presided over it.
"Scholars," said the teacher one day, "it is both pleasant and profitable to have an occasional declamation and dialogue spoken in school. It will add interest, also, to our spelling-school exercises in the evening. Now who would like to participate in these exercises?"
Nat was on his feet in a moment; for he was always ready to declaim, or perform his part of a dialogue. The teacher smiled to see such a little fellow respond so readily, and he said to Nat,
"Did you ever speak a piece?"
"Yes, sir, a good many times."
"Do you like to declaim?"
"Yes, sir, and speak dialogues too."
"What piece did you ever speak?"
"'My voice is still for war,'" replied Nat.
"A great many boys have spoken that," added the teacher, amused at Nat's hearty approval of the plan.
"Will you select a piece to-night, and show it to me to-morrow morning?" he asked.
"Yes, sir; and learn it too," answered Nat.
Only four or five scholars responded to the teacher's proposition, and Frank Martin was one, Nat's "right hand man" in all studies and games. The teacher arranged with each one for a piece, and the school was dismissed. As soon as school was out.
"Frank," said Nat, "will you speak 'ALEXANDER THE GREAT AND A ROBBER' with me?"
"Yes, if the teacher is willing. Which part will you take?"
"The 'robber,' if you are willing to be great Alexander."
Frank agreed to the proposition, and as the dialogue was in Pierpont's First Class Book, which was used in school, they turned to it, and showed it to the teacher before he left the school-house. It was arranged that they should speak it on the next day, provided they could commit it in so short a time.
"Going to speak a dialogue to-morrow," said Nat to his mother, as he went into the house.
"What are you going to speak?"
"Alexander the Great and a Robber," replied Nat. "And I shall be the robber, and Frank will be Alexander."
"Why do you choose to be the robber?" inquired his mother. "I hope you have no inclination that way."
"I like that part," replied Nat, "because the robber shows that the king is as much of a robber as himself. The king looks down upon him with scorn, and calls him a robber; and then the robber tells the king that he has made war upon people, and robbed them of their property, homes, and wives and children, so that he is a worse robber than himself. The king hardly knows what to say, and the last thing the robber says to him is, 'I believe neither you nor I shall ever atone to the world for half the mischief we have done it.' Then the king orders his chains to be taken off, and says, 'Are we then so much alike? Alexander like a robber?'"
"That is a very good reason, I think, for liking that part," said his mother. "Many people do not stop to think that the great can be guilty of crimes. They honor a king or president whether he has any principle or not."
"That is what I like to see exposed in the dialogue," said Nat. "It is just as bad for a king to rob a person of all he has, in war, as it is for a robber to do it at midnight."
Nat always felt strongly upon this point. He very early learned that rich men, and those occupying posts of honor, were thought more of by many people, whether they were deserving or not, and it seemed to him wrong. He thought that one good boy ought to stand just as high as another, though his parents were poor and humble, and that every man should bear the guilt of his own deeds whether he be king or servant. Out of this feeling grew his interest in the aforesaid dialogue, and he was willing to take the place of the robber for the sake of the pleasure of "showing up" the king. It was this kind of feeling that caused him to sympathize, even when a boy, with objects of distress and suffering,—to look with pity upon those who experienced misfortune, or suffered reproach unjustly. It was not strange that he became a professed Democrat in his youth, as we shall see; for how could such a democratic little fellow be other than a true Jeffersonian Democrat?
Nat's part of the dialogue was committed on that evening before eight o'clock. He could commit a piece very quick, for he learned any thing easily. He could repeat many of the lessons of his reading book, word for word. His class had read them over a number of times, so that he could repeat them readily. At the appointed time, on the next afternoon, both Nat and Frank were ready to perform.
"I have the pleasure this afternoon," said the teacher, "to announce a dialogue by two of the boys who volunteered yesterday. Now if they shall say it without being prompted, you will all concede that they have done nobly to commit it so quickly Let us have it perfectly still. The title of the dialogue is 'Alexander the Great and a Robber.' Now boys, we are ready."
Frank commenced in a loud, pompous, defiant tone, that was really Alexander-like. It was evident from the time he uttered the first sentence that, if he could not be "Alexander the Great," he could be Alexander the Little.
Nat responded, and performed his part with an earnestness of soul, a power of imitation, and a degree of eloquence that surprised the teacher. The scholars were not so much surprised because they had heard him before, but it was the first time the teacher had seen him perform.
"Very well done," said the teacher, as they took their seats. "There could not be much improvement upon that. You may repeat the dialogue at the spelling-school on Friday evening; and I hope both of you will have declamations next week."
"I will, sir," said Nat.
The teacher found a reluctance among the boys to speak, and one of them said to him,
"If I could speak as well as Nat, I would do it."
This remark caused him to think that Nat's superiority in these rhetorical exercises might dishearten some of his pupils; and the next time he introduced the subject to the school, he took occasion to remark,
"Some of our best orators were very poor speakers when they began to declaim in boyhood. It is not certain that a lad who does not acquit himself very well in this exercise at first, will not make a good orator at last. Demosthenes, who was the most gifted orator of antiquity, had an impediment in his speech in early life. But he determined to overcome it, and be an orator in spite of it. He tried various expedients, and finally went to a cave daily, on the sea-shore, where, with pebble-stones in his mouth, he declaimed, until the impediment was removed. By patience and perseverance he became a renowned orator. It was somewhat so, too, with Daniel Webster, whom you all know as the greatest orator of our land and times. The first time he went upon the stage to speak, he was so frightened that he could not recall the first line of his piece. The second time he did not do much better; and it was not until he had made several attempts, that he was able to get through a piece tolerably well. But a strong determination and persevering endeavors, finally gave him success."
In the course of the winter Nat spoke a number of pieces, among which were "Marco Bozzaris," "Speech of Catiline before the Roman Senate on Hearing his Sentence of Banishment," and "Dialogue from Macbeth," in all of which he gained himself honor. His taste seemed to prefer those pieces in which strength and power unite. At ten and twelve years of age, he selected such declamations and dialogues as boys generally do at the age of sixteen or eighteen years. It was not unusual for the teacher to say, when visitors were in school,
"Come, Master —— [Nat], can you give us a declamation?" and Nat was never known to refuse. He always had one at his tongue's end, which would roll off, at his bidding, as easily as thread unwinds from a spool.
About this time there was some complaint among the scholars in Nat's arithmetic class, and Samuel Drake persuaded one of the older boys to write a petition to the teacher for shorter lessons. This Samuel Drake was a brother of Ben, a bad boy, as we shall see hereafter, known in the community as Sam. When the petition was written, Sam signed it, and one or two other boys did the same; but when he presented it to Nat, the latter said,
"What should I sign that for? The lessons are not so long as I should like to have them. Do you study them any in the evening?"
"Study in the evening!" exclaimed Sam. "I am not so big a fool as that. It is bad enough to study in school."
"I study evenings," added Nat, "and you are as able to study as I am. The lessons would be too long for me if I didn't study any."
"And so you don't mean to sign this petition?" inquired Sam.
"Of course I don't," replied Nat. "If the lessons are not too long, there is no reason why I should petition to have them shorter."
"You can sign it for our sakes," pleaded Sam.
"Not if I think you had better study them as they are."
"Go to grass then," said Sam, becoming angry, "we can get along without a squash peddler, I'd have you know. You think you are of mighty consequence, and after you have killed a few more bugs perhaps you will be."
"I won't sign your petition," said Frank, touched to the quick by this abuse of Nat.
"Nor I," exclaimed Charlie Stone, another intimate associate of Nat's, and a good scholar too.
Nat was sensitive to ridicule when it proceeded from certain persons, but he did not care much for it when its author was Sam Drake, a boy whom every teacher found dull and troublesome. He replied, however, in a pleasant though sarcastic manner, addressing his remark to Frank and Charlie,
"Sam is so brilliant that he expects to get along without study. He will be governor yet."
Sam did not relish this thrust very much, but before he had a chance to reply, Frank added, "I suppose you will make a speech, Sam, when you present your petition." All laughed heartily at this point, and turned away, leaving Sam to bite his lips and cogitate.
Sam was certainly in a predicament. He had several signers to his petition, but they were all the lazy, backward scholars, and he knew it. To send a petition to the teacher with these signatures alone, he knew would be little less than an insult. If Nat, Frank, and Charlie, would have signed it, he would not have hesitated. As it was, he did not dare to present it, so the petition movement died because it couldn't live.
The teacher, however, heard of the movement, and some days thereafter, thinking that his dull scholars might need a word of encouragement, he embraced a favorable opportunity to make the following remarks:—
"It is not always the case that the brightest scholars in boyhood make the most useful or learned men. There are many examples of distinguished men, who were very backward scholars in youth. The great philosopher Newton was one of the dullest scholars in school when he was twelve years old. Doctor Isaac Barrow was such a dull, pugnacious, stupid fellow, that his father was heard to say, if it pleased God to remove any one of his children by death, he hoped it would be Isaac. The father of Doctor Adam Clarke, the commentator, called his boy 'a grievous dunce.' Cortina, a renowned painter, was nicknamed, by his associates, 'Ass' Head,' on account of his stupidity, when a boy. When the mother of Sheridan once went with him to the school-room, she told the teacher that he was 'an incorrigible dunce,' and the latter was soon compelled to believe her. One teacher sent Chatterton home to his mother as 'a fool of whom nothing could be made.' Napoleon and Wellington were both backward scholars. And Sir Walter Scott was named the 'The Great Blockhead' at school. But some of these men, at a certain period of youth, changed their course of living, and began to apply themselves with great earnestness and assiduity to the acquisition of knowledge, while others, though naturally dull, improved their opportunities from the beginning, and all became renowned. No one of them advanced without close application. It was by their own persevering efforts that they finally triumphed over all difficulties. So it must be with yourselves. The dullest scholar in this room may distinguish himself by application and dint of perseverance, while the brightest may fail of success, by wasting his time and trusting to his genius. The motto of every youth should be 'UPWARD AND ONWARD.'"
The bright summer-time had come again, when the sweet-scented blossoms beautified the gardens, and the forming fruits gave promise of a rich golden harvest. The school-bell sent out its merry call to the laughing children, and scores of them daily went up to the temple of knowledge for improvement. Saturday afternoon was a season of recreation, when the pupils, released from school, engaged in various sports, or performed some light labor for their parents.
On a certain Saturday afternoon, Nat, Charlie, Frank, and one or two other boys, arranged for a "good time" at the house of one of the number. They were all there promptly at the appointed time, together with Frank's little dog Trip—a genuine favorite with all the boys who had any regard for dog-brightness and amiability.
"Look here, Frank, has Trip forgot how to play hy-spy?" asked Charlie.
"No; he will play it about as well as you can. Let us try it."
"You can't learn him to touch the goal, can you?" inquired another boy.
"No," replied Frank; "but I expect he will before he takes his degree. He is nothing but a Freshman now."
"Did he ever petition you for shorter lessons?" asked Nat.
Charlie and Frank laughed; for they thought of Sam Drake's petition at the winter school.
"Never," answered Frank; "but he has asked me for longer ones a great many times. He never gets enough at any sport. He will play 'hide and seek' or 'ball' as long as you will want to have him, and then wag his tail for more."
Trip sat by looking wistfully up into his little master's face as if he perfectly understood the praise that was lavished upon him, and was patiently waiting to give an exhibition of his skill in athletic games.
"Let us try his skill," said Charlie. "Come, Frank, give him his post."
"Here, Trip," said Frank, "come here; nice fellow,—does want to play 'hide and seek;' so he shall;" and he patted him on his head, for which kindness Trip voted him thanks as well as he could.
"Now, boys, we'll all run and hide, and Trip will find us in short metre."
Off they started, some round the barn and house, and some over the wall, while Trip stood wagging his tail, in the spot assigned him. At length a loud shrill "whoop," "whoop," "whoop," one after another, saluted Trip's ears, and off he ran to find them. Bounding over the wall, he came right upon Charlie, who laughed heartily at the result, while Trip extended his researches round the barn, where he discovered Nat under a pile of boards, and one or two of the other boys. When they all returned to the goal, Trip perceived that his master was not found, and off he bounded a second time.
"Sure enough," exclaimed Charlie, "he knows that Frank is not here, and he has gone to find him. Isn't he a knowing dog?"
"I don't believe he will find him," said Nat, "for he is up on a beam in the shed."
Nat had scarcely uttered these words, before a shout from Frank and a bark from Trip announced that the former was discovered.
"There," said Frank, as he came up to the goal with Trip skipping and jumping at his side, "wasn't that well done? I told you he would find you, and none of us could do it quicker."
"Let us try it again," said one of the boys, "I guess I'll puzzle him this time."
Again they all sought hiding-places, while Trip waited at the goal for the well-known signal—"whoop;" "whoop;" "whoop." None of the boys knew the meaning of this better than he, although he was only a dog.
Soon the signal was given, and away went Trip in high glee. Over the wall—around the barn—into the shed—back of the house—behind the woodpile—under the boards—here and there—he ran until every boy was found. Again and again the experiment was tried, and Trip won fresh laurels every time.
"You've torn your pants, Nat," said Frank.
"I know it. I did it getting over the fence. I haven't done such a thing before, I don't know when."
While exhausting "hy-spy" of its fun, Sylvester Jones came along with a bit of news.
"Going to court, Nat?" he inquired.
"Going where?" replied Nat, not understanding him.
"To court! They have taken up Harry Gould and Tom Ryder, and the court is coming off at the hall."
"What have they taken Harry and Tom for?" asked Nat, becoming deeply interested in the event.
"I don't know exactly; but it is something about disturbing the exhibition."
The facts in the case were these. There was an exhibition in the hall owned by the manufacturing company, and these two boys climbed up on the piazza and looked into the window, thereby disturbing the exercises. An action was brought against them, and they were to be tried before a justice of the town.
"It is too bad," replied Nat, "to take up such little boys for that—they didn't know any better. What will be done with them, do you expect?"
"Perhaps they will send them to jail. Father says it is a serious matter to disturb a meeting of any kind."
"Yes," replied Nat, "it is a mean act in anybody, but I don't believe that Harry and Tom understood it. It will be too bad to send them to prison for that. Perhaps they would never do such a thing again."
"Come," added Sylvester, "let us go to the trial and see. They have begun before this time."
Nat's sympathies were intensely wrought upon by these tidings; for Harry and Tom were among his school-fellows. The idea of trying such little boys in a court of justice excited him very much. He forgot all about the games projected and the rent in his pantaloons, and seizing his cap, he said to Frank,
"Will you go?"
"Yes, I've played about enough," answered Frank. "I would like to go to a court."
The boys hurried away to the hall; and they found that the court had opened, and that the room was well filled with people. Nat edged his way along through the crowd until he found himself directly in front of the table where the justice sat. Sure enough, there the two young prisoners were, Harry and Tom, looking as if they were half frightened out of their wits. How Nat pitied them! It seemed strange to him that men could deal thus with boys so small. He listened to the examination, of witnesses with great emotion, and watched Harry and Tom so closely that he could read their very thoughts. He knew just how badly they felt, and that if they could get clear this time, they never would be caught in such wrong-doing again.
"Were you present at the exhibition?" inquired the justice of one of the witnesses.
"I was," he answered.
"Did the prisoners disturb the exercise?"
"How do you know that Harry and Tom were the boys?"
"Because I went out to send them away, and found them on the piazza."
"Did you speak to them, and call them by name, so that you could not be mistaken?"
"I did, and they responded to their names."
"Then you can swear that these two boys, the prisoners, disturbed the meeting?"
"Yes, I am positive of it."
Two or three other witnesses were examined, when the justice said,
"It appears to be a clear case, boys, that you are guilty of the charges alleged against you. You are very young to begin to disturb the public peace. Even if it was nothing but thoughtlessness, boys are getting to be so rude, that it is high time some check was put upon their mischief. Now, boys, have you any thing to say for yourselves?"
Harry and Tom were more frightened than ever, and Nat could see them struggle to keep from crying outright.
"Have you any one to speak for you?" asked the justice.
Nat could withstand it no longer, and he stepped forward, with his cap in his hand, his bright eyes beaming with sympathy for the prisoners, and said,
"Please, sir, I will speak for them, if you are willing," and without waiting for the justice to reply, he proceeded:
"Harry and Tom would never do the like again. They knew it was wrong for them to disturb the exhibition, but they didn't think. They will think next time. I know they feel sorry now for what they have done, and will try to be good boys hereafter. Can you not try them, if they will promise? This is the first time they have done so, and they will promise, I know they will (turning to the boys), won't you, Tom?"
The boys both nodded assent, and the justice looked pleased, astonished, and not a little puzzled. It was really a scene for the artist, Nat standing before the court with cap in hand, and his pantaloons torn in the play of the afternoon, his heart so moved with pity for the juvenile offenders that he almost forgot where he was, making a touching plea for the boys, as if their destiny depended upon his own exertions. The hall was so still that the fall of a pin might be heard while Nat was pleading the case. Everybody was taken by surprise. They could hardly believe their senses.
"Their brother," answered one man, in reply to the inquiry, "Who is that lad?" He did not know himself, but he thought that possibly a brother might plead thus for them.
The justice was not long in deciding the case, after such a plea. He simply reprimanded the two boys, gave them some wholesome counsel, and discharged them, much to the gratification of Nat, and many others.
"That was the youngest lawyer I ever heard plead a case," said Mr. Payson, after the court adjourned.
"The most impudent one, I think," replied Mr. Sayles, to whom the remark was addressed. "If I had been in the place of the justice, I would have kicked him out of the hall. Little upstart! to come in there, and presume to speak in behalf of two reckless boys!"
"You misjudge the boy entirely, Mr. Sayles. There is nothing of the 'upstart' about Nat. He is a good boy, a good scholar, and very amiable indeed. The neighbors will all tell you so. It was his sincere pity for the boys that led him to plead for them. He did not mean to conceal their guilt, but he thought, as I do, that such small boys better be reproved and tried again, before they suffer the penalty of the law."
"I hope it is so," replied Mr. S.
"I know it is so," continued Mr. P. "Nat is very kind and sympathizing, and he cannot endure to see a dog abused. It might seem bold and unmannerly for him to address the court as he did, but Nat is not such a boy. He is very mannerly for one of his age, and nothing but his deep pity for Harry and Tom induced him to speak. The act has elevated him considerably in my estimation, though I thought well of him before."
Mr. Payson took the right view of the matter. In addition to his sympathy for his school-fellows, Nat felt that it was hardly right to take those little boys before a court for the offence charged, since they were not vagrants, and were not known as bad boys. If Ben and Sam Drake had been there instead of Harry and Tom, he would not have volunteered a plea to save them from the clutches of the law. But he felt that it was dealing too severely with them, and this emboldened him, so that when he witnessed the distress of the boys, and saw them try to conceal their emotions, his heart overflowed with pity for them, and forced him to speak.
If we knew nothing more of Nat, this single act would lead us to anticipate that, in later life, he would espouse the cause of the oppressed in every land, and lift his voice and use his pen in defence of human rights. At the age of ten or twelve years, John Howard, the philanthropist, was not distinguished above the mass of boys around him, except for the kindness of his heart, and boyish deeds of benevolence. It was so with Wilberforce, whose efforts in the cause of British emancipation gave him a world-wide fame. Every form of suffering, misfortune, or injustice, touched his young heart, and called forth some expression of tender interest. Carefully he would lay off his shoes at the door of a sick chamber, and often divide a small coin, received as a present, between his own wants and some poor child or man he chanced to meet. And Buxton, whose self-sacrificing spirit in behalf of suffering humanity is everywhere known, was early observed by his mother to sympathize with the down-trodden and unfortunate, and she sought to nurture and develop this feeling as a hopeful element of character. When his fame was at its zenith, he wrote to his mother, "I constantly feel, especially in action and exertion for others, the effects of principles early implanted by you in my mind."
THE WILD CHERRIES
Nat, Charlie, and Frank planned a pleasure excursion one Saturday afternoon, when cherries were in their prime. They did not even think of the cherries, however, when they planned the trip. They thought more of the fields and forests through which they proposed to go. But just at this point one of their associates came up, and said,
"Let us go over beyond Capt. Pratt's and get some cherries. There is a large tree there, and it hangs full."
"Yes; and have the owner in your hair," answered Charlie.
"No, no," replied John, the name of the boy who made the proposition. "They are wild cherries, a half a mile from any house, and of course the owner considers them common property. I have got cherries there a number of times."
"That is no evidence you didn't steal them," said Nat, half laughing.
"If you do no worse stealing than that," answered John, "you will not be sent to jail this week."
It was therefore agreed, that the cherry-tree should be visited, even if they allowed the cherries to remain unmolested. Without further discussion they proceeded to execute their purpose, and lost no time in finding the famous tree. John's glowing description of the crop had caused their mouths to water long before they came in sight of them.
"John is hoaxing us," said Nat, smiling, before they were half way there. "I don't believe as good cherries as he tells about ever grow wild."
"Wait and see," responded John. "If you won't believe me, I guess you will your eyes. Wild or not wild, I hardly think you will keep your hands off, when you have a peak at them."
"I tell you what it is, Nat," said Frank, "if it should turn out that the cherries are tame, you might not get off so easy as Harry and Tom did for disturbing the exhibition."
"I shouldn't deserve to," answered Nat.
The conversation kept up briskly as the boys crossed the fields and scaled the walls and fences. At length they came in sight of the tree, standing apart from any garden, nursery, or orchard, a full half mile from the nearest house.
"There it is," said John, pointing to it. "If that is not a wild cherry-tree, then no tree is wild."
"I should think it would be as wild as the beasts, so far from any house," added Frank.
They were surprised, on approaching the tree, to find it loaded with cherries of so nice a quality. They were much larger than the common wild cherries, a sort of "mazards," similar to the kind that is cultivated in gardens.
"That is not a wild-cherry tree, I know," said Charlie. "It may have come up here, but the owner of this land would never fail to gather such cherries as these. They would sell for ninepence a quart in the village as quick as any cherries."
"I think so too," said Nat; "and if we strip the tree, the first thing we shall know, the constable will have us up for stealing."
"Pshaw!" exclaimed John. "You are more scared than hurt. I don't mean that these cherries are not like some that grow in gardens; but the tree came up here of itself—nobody ever set it out—and so it is wild; and why are not the cherries common property as much as that smaller kind which people get over there by the river?"
This last argument of John was more convincing. All the boys knew that anybody gathered the common wild cherries from trees that grew much nearer dwelling-houses than this, so that there was some force in John's last suggestion.
"If John is right," added Nat, "it is best to be on the safe side, and ask leave of the owner. If he does not mean to pick the cherries, he will be willing that we should have them; and if he does want them, he will put us into the lock-up for stealing them."
"Who is going half a mile to find the owner?" said John, "and then perhaps he will be away from home. I shall not run my legs off upon any such Tom Fool's errand. If you are a mind to do it, I have no objections, and I will pick the cherries while you are gone."
The matter was discussed a little longer, and finally all concluded to try the cherries. It required a pretty forcible argument to stand against the appeal of the luscious fruit to their eyes. Into the tree they went, and, in due time filled their caps with the tempting fruit. Having loaded their caps, they descended and set them on the ground under the tree, and then returned to fill their stomachs.
"Hark!" said Frank hurriedly, "do I not hear some one calling?"
"Yes," answered John, from the top of the tree, where he was regaling himself with the dessert, "true as I am alive, there is the owner coming full speed, and yelling like a good one. Let us clear."
They all dropped upon the ground instantly, and bounded over the nearest wall like frightened sheep, and soon were seen scampering a hundred rods off.
"There, now, if that isn't smart," exclaimed Nat; "we've left our caps under the tree, Frank."
John set to laughing to see the two capless boys; and he was more inclined to laugh because Charlie and himself had presence of mind enough to take theirs.
"If it was you, John, I shouldn't care a snap," said Frank. "You led the way, and made us believe that they were wild cherries, and I wish your cap was there."
John could only laugh, in reply, at his bareheaded companions.
"I don't see why we should run at all," said Nat, just apprehending the folly of their course. "We are not thieves,—we didn't mean to steal. We shouldn't have taken the cherries if we had known, the owner wanted them."
"What can we do without our hats?" asked Frank.
"I shall go and get mine," answered Nat, "and tell the man just as it was, and, if he is reasonable he will overlook it."
"I am beat now," exclaimed John; "the old fellow is certainly carrying off your caps."
The boys looked, and to their amazement, the man was returning to his house with the caps. Nat and Frank were more perplexed than ever.
"Never mind," said John; "you are both big enough to go bareheaded. What will you take for your caps?" and again he laughed at their predicament.
"What shall we do?" inquired Frank.
"Go to his house and get the caps, of course," said Nat. "The caps won't come to us that is certain."
"What will you tell the man?"
"Tell him the truth," replied Nat, "and it ought to get our caps, and shield us from punishment."
"Perhaps he is a crabbed fellow who will show us no favors; and he will say that our running away is evidence of our guilt."
"We were fools to run," said Nat; "and if I had stopped to think one moment I should have stayed there, and explained it to him."
Finally, it was decided that Nat and Frank should go after their caps, on which errand they started at once, while John and Charlie proceeded homeward. In the mean time the owner of the tree had reached his house very much amused at the flight of the capless boys. He was somewhat angry when he first saw the boys in his tree, but the possession of the two caps well filled with cherries modified his wrath considerably. It would take him two hours to pick that quantity of fruit. "Surely," he thought, "the boys have beaten the bush and I have caught the birds."
"You must go to the door and explain it," said Frank to Nat.
"I am going to, and convince him that we did did not mean to steal."
Nat gave a gentle rap at the door, to which a lady at once responded.
"Can we see the man who has our caps?" inquired Nat.
"I will see," she replied very kindly, and stepped back into the house to call her husband. He made his appearance promptly; and looked so much more pleasant than Nat expected, that he was very much emboldened.
"What is wanted, boys?" he asked.
"We have come," replied Nat, "to tell how it happened that we got your cherries, and to get our caps."
"I suppose it happened very much as it does every year with those cherries," said the man,—"the boys steal them."
"No, sir; I think I can convince you that we did not mean to steal. We thought they were wild cherries. John came along and told us about them, and we did not believe they were wild. Finally we consented to go and see, and when we got to the tree, we told him that the owner of such nice cherries would want them, and I told him that the best way would be to come and ask you, for if you did not want them, you would certainly give us permission to pick them. But he laughed at us, and said the tree was much further from any house than the wild cherries that any person gets down by the river, and therefore the cherries must be common property. We thought he was right, when he told us this, and so we went up into the tree."
"But why did you run when you saw me coming, if you did not mean to steal them?" he asked.
"I run, sir, because I did not stop to think. I told Frank, as soon as we stopped running, that we were very foolish, because we did not mean to steal, and I was sorry that we did run. But we were so surprised when we saw you coming that we ran before we thought. I don't think we did right, sir, though we did not mean to steal. It would have been better for us to have come and asked you for the cherries as I told John. Now we would like our caps, but we want you to be convinced first that we are not thieves."
"I am convinced," replied the man. "I guess you mean to be honest boys, and you shall have your caps."
The fact was, the man was much impressed with the sincerity and honesty of Nat before he got half through his explanation. He admired his frankness, and his manly, straight-forward way of telling his story. He went into the house and brought out the caps, just as he took them from the ground, full of cherries, and gave them caps, cherries, and all.
"You don't mean we shall have the cherries, do you?" inquired Nat.
"Certainly, you have worked hard enough for them," he replied. "And I like to see boys willing to own up when they do wrong. I don't think you meant to do wrong; but I am glad to see you make a clean breast of it, and not be so mean as to equivocate, and lie, to get out of a scrape. Boys always fare the best when they are truthful, and try to do right."
"We are much obliged to you," said Nat. "You will never catch us on your cherry-tree again without permission."
Having pocketed the cherries, they put on their caps, and hastened home, quite thoroughly convinced that all cherries which grow a half mile from any house are not wild.
"A swim to-night," shouted John to Frank, on his way home from school. "All hands be there."
"Will you come, Nat?" inquired Frank.
"Yes; and swim three rods under water," was Nat's reply.
At this period of Nat's boyhood, there was almost a passion among the boys for athletic sports, such as swimming, jumping, running, ball-playing, and kindred amusements. For some time they had received special attention, and no one of the boys enjoyed them more than Nat. It was one of the principles on which he lived, to do with all his heart whatever he undertook. In the school-room, he studied with a keen relish for knowledge, and on the play-ground he played with equal gusto. If he had work to do it was attended to at once, and thoroughly finished in the shortest possible time. In this way he engaged in athletic sports.
An hour before sunset, a dozen or more boys were at "the bathing place."
"Now, Nat, for your three rods under water," said Frank. "If I was half as long-winded as you are, I should keep company with the fishes pretty often."
"He swam more than three rods under water the other day," said Charlie. "I shouldn't want to risk myself so long out of sight. Suppose the cramp should seize you, Nat, I guess you'd like to see the dry land."
"You must remember," suggested John, who was usually ready to turn things over, and look at the funny side, "that doctors won't wade into the water after their patients."
One after another the boys plunged into the water, as if it were their native element. Most of them had practised swimming, diving, and other feats, until they were adepts in these water-arts. Some of them could swim a surprising distance, and feared not to venture a long way from the shore. Frank was very skilful in performing these water feats, but even he could not equal Nat.
"Now for a swim under water," exclaimed Nat, as he disappeared from the view of his companions. All stopped their sports to watch Nat, and see where he would make his appearance. Not a word was spoken as they gazed with breathless interest, and waited to see him rise.
"He's drowned," cried one of the boys.
"No, no," responded Frank. "We shall see him in a moment," and yet Frank began to fear.
"I tell you he is drowned," shouted John, much excited. By this time there was a good deal of consternation among the boys, and some of them were running out of the water. A man who was watching on the shore, was actually stripping his coat off to make a plunge for Nat, when up he came.
"He is safe," shouted half a dozen voices, and the welkin rang with cheer after cheer.
"There, young man, better not try that again," said the gentleman on the shore, as Nat swum around in that direction.
"That was more than three rods," said Frank.
"And more than four," added Charlie. "You beat yourself this time, Nat. You never swam so far under water before. We thought you were drowned."
"There is no use in trying to beat you," continued Frank. "If you had gills you would be a regular fish."
Everybody in the village heard of Nat's swimming feats under water, as well as on the water, and it was not unusual for spectators to assemble on the shore, when they knew that he was going to bathe.
Not far from this time, a little later in the year perhaps, there was to be a special game of ball on Saturday afternoon. Ball-playing was one of the favorite games with the boys, and some of them were remarkable players. When the time arrived it was decided that John and Charlie should choose sides, and it fell to the latter to make the first choice.
"I choose Nat," said he.
"I'll take Frank," said John.
It was usually the case that Nat and Frank were pitted against each other in this amusement. Nat was considered the best player, so that he was usually the first choice. Frank stood next, so that he was the second choice. In this way they generally found themselves playing against each other. It was so on this occasion.
The game commenced, and John's side had the "ins."
"You must catch," said Charlie to Nat. It was usually Nat's part to catch.
"And you must throw," responded Nat. "I can catch your balls best."
The very first ball that was thrown, John missed, though he struck with a well-aimed blow, as he thought, and Nat caught it.
"That is too bad," was the exclamation heard on one side, and "good," "capital," on the other.
Charlie took the bat, and was fortunate in hitting the ball the first time he struck. Now it was Nat's turn, and, with bat in hand, he took his place.
"Be sure and hit," said Charlie.
"I should like to see a ball go by him without getting a rap," answered Frank, who was now the catcher. "The ball always seems to think it is no use to try to pass him."
"There, take that," said Nat, as he sent the ball, at his first bat, over the heads of all, so far that he had time to run round the whole circle of goals, turning a somerset as he came in.
"A good beginning, Nat; let us see you do that again," said Frank.
"When the time comes I'll give you a chance," replied Nat.
We will not follow the game further, but simply say that, before it was half through, quite a number of men, old and young, were attracted to the place by the sport.
"What a fine player for so young a boy," said one bystander to another, as Nat added one after another to the tallies.
"Yes; no one can excel him; he never plays second fiddle to anybody. He will run faster, catch better, and hit the ball more times in ten, than any other boy. I saw him jump the other day, and he surpassed any thing I have seen of his age."
"If that is not all he is good for, it is well enough," replied the other.
"He is just as good at studying or working, as he is at playing ball; it seems to be a principle with him to be the best in whatever he undertakes. I was amused at his reply to one of the neighbors, who asked him how he managed to swim better than any one else. 'It is just as easy to swim well as poorly,' said he, and there is a good deal of truth in the remark. At another time he said, 'one might as well run fast as slow.'"
"Does he appear to glory in his feats?"
"Not at all. He does not seem to think there is much credit in being the best at these games. One of the boys said to him one day, 'Nat, you always get all the glory in our games.' He replied, 'I don't think there is much glory in playing ball well. If that is all a person is good for, he is not good for much.' He has very good ideas about such things."
This was really a correct view of Nat's case. He enjoyed athletic sports as much as any of the boys, and yet he actually felt that it was no particular credit to him to be a good swimmer, jumper, runner, or ball-player. He did not study to excel therein because he thought it was honorable to beat every other boy in these things. But what he did, he did with all his soul, and this is necessary to success. He had confidence in his ability to succeed in what he undertook. When he first went into the water, he knew he could learn to swim. When he took his stand to catch the ball, he knew he could catch it. Others did these things, and he could see no reason why he could not. He seemed to feel as one of the Rothschilds did, who said, "I can do what another man can." The same elements of character caused him to excel on the play-ground, that enabled him to bear off the palm in the school-room.
It is generally the case that a boy who does one thing well will do another well also. Employers understand this, and choose those lads who exhibit a disposition to be thorough. Said Samuel Budgett, "In whatever calling a man is found, he ought to be the best in his calling; if only a shoe-black, he ought to be the best shoe-black in the neighborhood." He acted upon this principle himself from his boyhood; and so did Nat, whether he was fully conscious of it or not. Sir Joshua Reynolds, the great painter, said that his success resulted mainly from one principle upon which he had acted, namely, "to make every picture the best."
Buxton, of whom we have spoken already, had as much force of character in his youth as almost any boy who ever lived. His determination was invincible, and his energy and perseverance were equal to his resolution. The consequence was that he became famous for boating, shooting, riding, and all sorts of fieldsports, though he cared little for any thing else. But when, at last, his attention was turned to self-improvement and philanthropy, by the influence of the Gurney family, he carried the same qualities with him there, and through them won a world-wide fame. It was thus with Sir Walter Scott, who was second to no one in his youth for his dexterity and proficiency in athletic, games, and the various forms of recreation. He could "spear a salmon with the best fisher on the Tweed, and ride a wild horse with any hunter in Yarrow." The same energy and unconquerable will helped him achieve that herculean labor afterwards, of paying off a debt of six hundred thousand dollars, with his pen. The Duke of Wellington acknowledged the same principle, when he said, as he stood watching the sports of boys on the play-ground of Eton, where he spent his juvenile years, "It was there that the battle of Waterloo was won."
Twenty-five years after Nat bore off the palm in athletic games, an early associate asked him to what he owed his success, and he answered, in a vein of pleasantry, "To swimming under water." Whatever may have been his meaning, it is not at all difficult to discover the same elements of character in squash-raising, declamation, and arithmetic, that appear in the games he played.
His skill in the water served him a good purpose one day, or rather, it served another boy well. Nat and two or three of his companions were at play near the factory, when some one cried out, "A boy in the water!"
In an instant Nat sprung, followed by his companions, and made for the water, when lo! a little boy was seen struggling to keep from sinking. He had carelessly ventured too near and fallen in, and must have perished but for the timely aid thus rendered him. Nat plunged in after him, and his play-fellows did the same, or brought rails, by which he was saved. He proved to be Charlie's younger brother.
This event made a deep impression upon Nat's mind, and he reflected upon his act with far more satisfaction than he did upon his superiority in swimming or playing ball. He had saved, or helped save, a lad from a watery grave, and that was an act worth performing. He went home, and after relating the incident with the greatest enthusiasm, he sat down and drew a picture representing the scene. There was the water and buildings near, a little boy struggling for life, and Nat and associates plunging in after him. It was really a good representation of the terrific scene; and Nat considered it quite an accession to his collection of drawings. Thus he used this bit of experience to advance himself in one branch of education. With his traits of character, he could not excel in innocent games, without receiving an impulse therefrom to excel in more important acquisitions.
Stern Winter locked the streams again. A snowy mantle covered the hills and valleys, and the bleak winds moaned through the naked trees. The merry sleigh-bells jingled in the streets, and merrier lads and lasses filled the village school-house. The skating grounds never presented more attractions to Nat and his circle of schoolmates.
"The ice is smooth as glass," said John. "I never saw better skating in my life. Will you try it right after school?"
These words were addressed to a group of school-boys at the afternoon recess, to which all but two responded in the affirmative. It was a snapping cold day, but youthful skaters mind nothing for that.
"George and I have promised to see the teacher after school about studying grammar," said Neander, "so that we can't go."
"He wants to form a new class in grammar for beginners, and our parents have told him that we must study it," said George.
"I will sell you what I know about it cheap, if you will go with us," said John, who had studied grammar a short time.
"I don't think he will be troubled to find use for as much as that," said Charlie, jocosely.
"You will find it dry as a chip," added John. "It fairly makes me thirsty to study it."
The bell rung, and the boys hurried to their seats. At the close of the school, the teacher took occasion to say, "that some scholars were desirous of beginning the study of grammar. I think there might be quite a large class formed of those who are old enough to begin. It is a very important science. It will teach you how to read and write the English language correctly. You cannot write a good letter even without some knowledge of this study. Those of you who are eleven or twelve years of age ought to commence it at once. Now, those of you who would like to join such a class may stop after the school is dismissed, and we will make the arrangements."
Three or four only remained—others passed out, Nat and Charlie among them. They had never studied grammar, and the teacher really expected they would remain. Their scholarship was so good that he inferred they would desire to unite with such a class, but he was mistaken.
"Shall you join the grammar class, Nat?" inquired Charlie, on their way to the pond.
"No; I think that other studies will be of more use to me. Grammar is a good branch for rich men's sons, who can go to school as long as they want to; but I am not a rich man's son, and I never expect to do any thing that will require a knowledge of grammar."
"That is my idea exactly," continued Charlie. "If I knew I should ever go into a store, or be a town officer, I should want to study it."
"According to the teacher's ideas, you will need it if you are nothing more than a wood-sawyer's clerk," said John.
"I didn't quite believe all the teacher said about writing letters," added Nat. "I have heard father say that grammar was not studied at all when he went to school, and that it has been introduced into school quite recently. Now I would like to know if people did not understand how to write letters in those days. Couldn't Washington and Jefferson, and other great men, write letters correctly?"
"I never thought of that," said Charlie. "I would ask the teacher, if I were in your place, to-morrow."
"For one," said John, "I should be willing to run my risk, if I could get rid of studying it. I can't make much out of it."
"I have no doubt," added Nat, "that it is a good study for those who will want to use it; but I(?) shall never want to use it, and it is better for me to study something else. Arithmetic is useful to everybody, if they never buy any thing but meat out of a butcher's cart."
By this time they had reached the pond, so that the subject of grammar was dropped, and skating taken up.
"I suppose you will bear off the palm as usual, Nat," said Frank, while he was putting on his skates.
"I don't know about that," replied Nat; "if a fellow can't skate some on this glare ice, he better give his skates to somebody who can."
Frank's remark was drawn out by the fact that Nat was already considered the best skater in the village. He could skate more rapidly, and perform more feats on his skates than any one else. His ability had been fully tested again and again; and by this time there seemed to be a sort of expectation among the boys that he would be "first best" in whatever he undertook. For this reason they hardly attempted to compete with him, but yielded the first place to him as a matter of course.
Away went Nat up the pond, and Charlie exclaimed,
"See him go! What a fellow Nat is! any thing he undertakes has to go. See him skate now on one foot, and now he is skating backwards!"
"And he does it just as easy as a boy knows his father," said John.
For nearly an hour skating was enjoyed, when all concluded that their suppers would be waiting, and so they separated for home.
On the following day, soon after school began in the morning, the teacher brought up the subject of a grammar class, evidently dissatisfied that certain boys did not remain after school, on the previous afternoon, to join it. He remarked "that there were several boys in school, who might study grammar as well as not," and he went on to call the names of some, and turning to Nat and Charlie, who sat together, he said, "Both of you need to begin this study at once. It would have been better if you had undertaken it before; but it is not too late now. You will never regret it hereafter. I want both of you to join the class," and he uttered the last sentence as if he meant it.
Neither Nat nor Charlie made any reply at the time; but at recess they went to the teacher and made known their feelings.
"We never expect to do any thing that will require a knowledge of grammar," said Nat. "It will do well enough for rich men's sons."
"Perhaps both of you will be lawyers, ministers, legislators, or governors yet," replied the teacher, smiling. "Poorer boys than you have risen to occupy as important places, and the like may happen again."
"None of the scholars like grammar," said Charlie; "they say it is dry and uninteresting, and hard to understand."
"If it is so," answered the teacher, "that is no reason why it should not be studied. We have to do some very unpleasant things in this world. If you live to become men, you will find that you cannot have every thing to your taste. You will be obliged to do some things, from the doing of which you would rather be excused. And as to your not expecting to occupy stations in future life, where you will find a knowledge of grammar useful, there is more prospect of it than there was that Benjamin Franklin would become distinguished. He had not half so good advantages as you have. His father was poor, and had a large family to support. He was compelled to take Benjamin out of school, when ten years old, and set him to making soap, which was not very popular business. But the boy did as well as he could, and made improvement though deprived of school advantages. Then he became a printer boy, and used all his spare moments to read and study, so that he advanced more rapidly than many of his companions did who continued in school. He always had to work, and had much more reason than you have, when he was of your age, to say that he should never occupy a position of influence. Yet he became, as you know, one of the most learned men of his age, a philosopher and statesman whose fame will never perish. And it was somewhat so with Patrick Henry. Though he had better advantages than Benjamin Franklin, and had a father who was able to assist him, yet no one thought he would ever become distinguished. It was rather thought by the people who knew him, that he would never accomplish much. Yet, when he came to improve the small opportunities he had, after his father had ceased to aid him, he rapidly advanced to fame. He became the most noted orator of his day, and a very popular statesman. When he was twelve years old, he had no idea of occupying such a place in manhood. He would have laughed at the suggestion. There are many such examples; and they show us that boys may rise to stations they never expect to hold, so that your plea for not studying grammar is a poor one. At any rate, both of you will have occasion to write letters, and perhaps you will be a town clerk or justice. I shall insist upon your studying grammar."
Nat and Charlie exchanged glances, as the teacher rung the bell for the boys to come in. They saw that it was no use to hold out against his wishes, for his last remark had settled the matter. Therefore they reluctantly yielded to his request.
This was the first instance in which Nat had exhibited any unwillingness to take up a new study. But he had made up his mind that it would not be of any use to him, so that he had little heart for the science. He commenced it, and recited his lessons, though rather mechanically, without clearly understanding them, at the same time excelling in arithmetic, declamation, and other exercises that engaged his attention. As his school days ended a few months after, his knowledge of grammar was very limited indeed. The sequel will disclose whether he was not finally convinced that the teacher was right, while he himself was wrong, and whether the failure to improve even one small opportunity does not become the occasion of future regret.
"Well, Nat, how do you like grammar?" inquired John, some weeks afterwards.
"As well as I can," replied Nat.
"So do I, and that isn't saying much. But I thought you was determined not to study it."
"I thought so too," replied Nat, "and you see what thought did."
"I suppose you concluded that you would want to write letters to your sweet-heart some time, and it would be a pity not to use the English language with propriety in such a case."
"I didn't think much about it; but when a boy can't do as he likes, there is no way left but to do as he must, and that is my case."