Cast Upon the Breakers/Chapter I
"Well, good by, Rodney! I leave school tomorrow. I am going to learn a trade."
"I am sorry to part with you, David. Couldn't you stay another term?"
"No: my uncle says I must be earning my living, and I have a chance to learn the carpenter's trade."
"Where are you going?"
"To Duffield, some twenty miles away. I wish I were in your shoes. You have no money cares, and can go on quietly and complete your education."
"I don't know how I am situated, David. I only know that my guardian pays my expenses at this boarding school."
"Yes, you are a star boarder, and have the nicest room in the institution. I am only a poor day scholar. Still I feel thankful that I have been allowed to remain as long as I have. Who is your guardian?"
"A Mr. Benjamin Fielding, of New York."
"Is he a business man?"
"I believe so."
"Do you know how much you will inherit when you come of age?" asked David, after a short pause.
"I haven't an idea."
"It seems to me your guardian ought to have told you."
"I scarcely know my guardian. Five years ago I spent a week at his home. I don't remember much about it except that he lives in a handsome house, and has plenty of servants. Since then, as you know, I have passed most of my time here, except that in the summer I was allowed to board at the Catkills or any country place I might select,"
"Yes, and I remember one year you took me with you and paid all my expenses. I shall never forget your kindness, and how much I enjoyed that summer."
Rodney Ropes smiled, and his smile made his usually grave face look very attractive.
"My dear David," he said, "it was all selfishness on my part. I knew I should enjoy myself much better with a companion."
"You may call that selfishness, Rodney, but it is a kind of selfishness that makes me your devoted friend. How long do you think you shall remain at school?"
"I don't know. My guardian has never told me his plans for me. I wish he would."
"I shall miss you, Rodney, but we will correspond, won't we?"
"Surely. You know I shall always feel interested in you and your welfare."
David was a plain boy of humble parentage, and would probably be a hard working mechanic. In fact he was looking for nothing better.
But Rodney Ropes looked to be of genteel blood, and had the air of one who had been brought up a gentleman. But different as they were in social position the two boys had always been devoted friends.
The boarding school of which Rodney was, as his friend expressed himself, a star pupil, was situated about fifty miles from the city of New York. It was under the charge of Dr. Sampson, a tall, thin man of fair scholarship, keenly alive to his own interest, who showed partiality for his richer pupils, and whenever he had occasion to censure bore most heavily upon boys like David Hull, who was poor.
Rodney occupied alone the finest room in the school. There was a great contrast between his comfortable quarters and the extremely plain dormitories occupied by less favored pupils.
In the case of some boys the favoritism of the teacher would have led them to put on airs, and made them unpopular with their school fellows. But Rodney had too noble a nature to be influenced by such considerations. He enjoyed his comfortable room, but treated his school fellows with a frank cordiality that made him a general favorite.
After David left his room Rodney sat down to prepare a lesson in Cicero, when he was interrupted by the entrance through the half open door of a younger boy.
"Rodney," he said, "the doctor would like to see you in his office."
"Very well, Brauner, I will go down at once."
He put aside his book and went down to the office of Dr. Sampson on the first floor.
The doctor was sitting at his desk. He turned slightly as Rodney entered.
"Take a seat, Ropes," he said curtly.
His tone was so different from his usual cordiality that Rodney was somewhat surprised.
"Am I in disgrace?" he asked himself. "Dr. Sampson doesn't seem as friendly as usual."
After a brief interval Dr. Sampson wheeled round in his office chair.
"I have a letter for you from your guardian, Ropes," he said. "Here it is. Do me the favor to read it here."
With some wonder Rodney took the letter and read as follows:
DEAR RODNEY--I have bad news to communicate. As you know, I was left by your father in charge of you and your fortune. I have never told you the amount, but I will say now that it was about fifty thousand dollars. Until two years since I kept it intact but then began a series of reverses in which my own fortune was swallowed up. In the hope of relieving myself I regret to say that I was tempted to use your money. That went also, and now of the whole sum there remains but enough to pay the balance of your school bills, leaving you penniless. How much I regret this I cannot tell you. I shall leave New York at once. I do not care at present to say where I shall go, but I shall try to make good the loss, and eventually restore to you your lost fortune. I may be successful or I may not. I shall do my best and I hope in time to have better news to communicate.
One thing I am glad to say. I have a casket containing your mother's jewels. These are intact. I shall send you the casket by express, knowing that you will wish to keep them out of regard for your mother's memory. In case you are reduced to the necessity of pawning or selling them, I am sure that your mother, could she be consulted, would advise you to do so. This would be better than to have you suffer from want.
There is nothing further for me to write except to repeat my regret, and renew my promise to make up your lost fortune if I shall ever to able to do so.
Rodney read this like one dazed. In an instant he was reduced from the position of a favorite of fortune to a needy boy, with his living to make.
He could not help recalling what had passed between his friend David and himself earlier in the day. Now he was as poor as David--poorer, in fact for David had a chance to learn a trade that would yield him a living, while he was utterly without resources, except in having an unusually good education.
"Well," said Dr. Sampson, "have you read your letter?"
"Your guardian wrote to me also. This is his letter," and he placed the brief epistle in Rodney's hands.
DR. SAMPSON--I have written my ward, Rodney Ropes, an important letter which he will show you. The news which it contains will make it necessary for him to leave school. I inclose a check for one hundred and twenty five dollars. Keep whatever is due you, and give him the balance.
"I have read the letter, but I don't know what it means," said Dr. Sampson. "Can you throw any light upon it?"
"Here is my letter, doctor. You can read it for yourself."
Dr. Sampson's face changed as he read Rodney's letter. It changed and hardened, and his expression became quite different from that to which Rodney had been accustomed.
"This is a bad business, Ropes," said the doctor in a hard tone.
He had always said Rodney before.
"That was a handsome fortune which your father left you."
"Yes, sir. I never knew before how much it amounted to."
"You only learn when you have lost it. Mr. Fielding has treated you shamefully."
"Yes, sir, I suppose he has, but he says he will try to make it up to me in the future."
"Pish! that is all humbug. Even if he is favored by fortune you will never get back a cent."
"I think I shall, sir."
"You are young. You do not know the iniquities of business men. I do."
"I prefer to hope for the best."
"Just as you please."
"Have you anything more to say to me?"
"Only that I will figure up your account and see how much money is to come to you out of the check your guardian has sent. You can stay here till Monday; then you will find it best to make new arrangements."
"Very well, sir."
Rodney left the room, realizing that Dr. Sampson's feelings had been changed by his pupil's reverse of fortune.
It was the way of the world, but it was not a pleasant way, and Rodney felt depressed.