Paul Prescott's Charge/Chapter XVI
Paul found the sexton's dwelling very different from his last home, if the Poorhouse under the charge of Mr. and Mrs. Mudge deserved such a name. His present home was an humble one, but he was provided with every needful comfort, and the atmosphere of kindness which surrounded him, gave him a feeling of peace and happiness which he had not enjoyed for a long time.
Paul supposed that he would be at once set to work, and even then would have accounted himself fortunate in possessing such a home.
But Mr. Cameron had other views for him.
"Are you fond of studying?" asked the sexton, as they were all three gathered in the little sitting room, an evening or two after Paul first came.
"Very much!" replied our hero.
"And would you like to go to school?"
"What, here in New York?"
"Oh, very much indeed."
"I am glad to hear you say so, my lad. There is nothing like a good education. If I had a son of my own, I would rather leave him that than money, for while the last may be lost, the first never can be. And though you are not my son, Paul, Providence has in a manner conducted you to me, and I feel responsible for your future. So you shall go to school next Monday morning, and I hope you will do yourself much credit there."
"Thank you very much," said Paul. "I feel very grateful, but----"
"You surely are not going to object?" said the sexton.
"Well, Paul, go on," seeing that the boy hesitated.
"Why," said our hero, with a sense of delicacy which did him credit, "If I go to school, I shall not be able to earn my board, and shall be living at your expense, though I have no claim upon you."
"Oh, is that all?" said the sexton cheerfully, "I was afraid that it was something more serious. As to that, I am not rich, and never expect to be. But what little expense you will be will not ruin me. Besides, when you are grown up and doing well, you can repay me, if I ever need it."
"That I will," said Paul.
"Mind, if I ever need it,--not otherwise. There, now, it's a bargain on that condition. You haven't any other objection," seeing that Paul still hesitated.
"No, or at least I should like to ask your advice," said Paul. "Just before my father died, he told me of a debt of five hundred dollars which he had not been able to pay. I saw that it troubled him, and I promised to pay it whenever I was able. I don't know but I ought to go to work so as to keep my promise."
"No," said the sexton after a moment's reflection, "the best course will be to go to school, at present. Knowledge is power, and a good education will help you to make money by and by. I approve your resolution, my lad, and if you keep it resolutely in mind I have no doubt you will accomplish your object. But the quickest road to success is through the schoolroom. At present you are not able to earn much. Two or three years hence will be time enough."
Paul's face brightened as the sexton said this. He instinctively felt that Mr. Cameron was right. He had never forgotten his father's dying injunction, and this was one reason that impelled him to run away from the Almshouse, because he felt that while he remained he never would be in a situation to carry out his father's wishes. Now his duty was reconciled with his pleasure, and he gratefully accepted the sexton's suggestions.
The next Monday morning, in accordance with the arrangement which had just been agreed upon, Paul repaired to school. He was at once placed in a class, and lessons were assigned him.
At first his progress was not rapid. While living in Wrenville he had an opportunity only of attending a country school, kept less than six months in the year, and then not affording advantages to be compared with those of a city school. During his father's sickness, besides, he had been kept from school altogether. Of course all this lost time could not be made up in a moment. Therefore it was that Paul lagged behind his class.
There are generally some in every school, who are disposed to take unfair advantage of their schoolmates, or to ridicule those whom they consider inferior to themselves.
There was one such in Paul's class. His name was George Dawkins.
He was rather a showy boy, and learned easily. He might have stood a class above where he was, if he had not been lazy, and depended too much on his natural talent. As it was, he maintained the foremost rank in his class.
"Better be the first man in a village than the second man in Rome," he used to say; and as his present position not only gave him the pre-eminence which he desired, but cost him very little exertion to maintain, he was quite well satisfied with it.
This boy stood first in his class, while Paul entered at the foot.
He laughed unmercifully at the frequent mistakes of our hero, and jeeringly dubbed him, "Young Stupid."
"Do you know what Dawkins calls you?" asked one of the boys.
"No. What does he call me?" asked Paul, seriously.
"He calls you `Young Stupid.'"
Paul's face flushed painfully. Ridicule was as painful to him as it is to most boys, and he felt the insult deeply.
"I'd fight him if I were you," was the volunteered advice of his informant.
"No," said Paul. "That wouldn't mend the matter. Besides, I don't know but he has some reason for thinking so."
"Don't call yourself stupid, do you?"
"No, but I am not as far advanced as most boys of my age. That isn't my fault, though. I never had a chance to go to school much. If I had been to school all my life, as Dawkins has, it would be time to find out whether I am stupid or not."
"Then you ain't going to do anything about it?"
"Yes, I am."
"You said you wasn't going to fight him."
"That wouldn't do any good. But I'm going to study up and see if I can't get ahead of him. Don't you think that will be the best way of showing him that he is mistaken?"
"Yes, capital, but----"
"But you think I can't do it, I suppose," said Paul.
"You know he is at the head of the class, and you are at the foot."
"I know that," said Paul, resolutely. "But wait awhile and see."
In some way George Dawkins learned that Paul had expressed the determination to dispute his place. It occasioned him considerable amusement.
"Halloa, Young Stupid," he called out, at recess.
Paul did not answer.
"Why don't you answer when you are spoken to?" he asked angrily.
"When you call me by my right name," said Paul, quietly, "I will answer, and not before."
"You're mighty independent," sneered Dawkins. "I don't know but I may have to teach you manners."
"You had better wait till you are qualified," said Paul, coolly.
Dawkins approached our hero menacingly, but Paul did not look in the least alarmed, and he concluded to attack him with words only.
"I understand you have set yourself up as my rival!" he said, mockingly.
"Not just yet," said Paul, "but in time I expect to be."
"So you expect my place," said Dawkins, glancing about him.
"We'll talk about that three months hence," said Paul.
"Don't hurt yourself studying," sneered Dawkins, scornfully.
To this Paul did not deign a reply, but the same day he rose one in his class.
Our hero had a large stock of energy and determination. When he had once set his mind upon a thing, he kept steadily at work till he accomplished it. This is the great secret of success. It sometimes happens that a man who has done nothing will at once accomplish a brilliant success by one spasmodic effort, but such cases are extremely rare.
"Slow and sure wins the race," is an old proverb that has a great deal of truth in it.
Paul worked industriously.
The kind sexton and his wife, who noticed his assiduity, strove to dissuade him from working so steadily.
"You are working too hard, Paul," they said.
"Do I look pale?" asked Paul, pointing with a smile to his red cheeks.
"No, but you will before long."
"When I am, I will study less. But you know, Uncle Hugh," so the sexton instructed him to call him, "I want to make the most of my present advantages. Besides, there's a particular boy who thinks I am stupid. I want to convince him that he is mistaken."
"You are a little ambitious, then, Paul?"
"Yes, but it isn't that alone. I know the value of knowledge, and I want to secure as much as I can."
"That is an excellent motive, Paul."
"Then you won't make me study less?"
"Not unless I see you are getting sick."
Paul took good care of this. He knew how to play as well as to study, and his laugh on the playground was as merry as any. His cheerful, obliging disposition made him a favorite with his companions. Only George Dawkins held out; he had, for some reason, inbibed a dislike for Paul.
Paul's industry was not without effect. He gradually gained position in his class.
"Take care, Dawkins," said one of his companions--the same one who had before spoken to Paul--"Paul Prescott will be disputing your place with you. He has come up seventeen places in a month."
"Much good it'll do him," said Dawkins, contemptuously.
"For all that, you will have to be careful; I can tell you that."
"I'm not in the least afraid. I'm a little too firm in my position to be ousted by Young Stupid."
"Just wait and see."
Dawkins really entertained no apprehension. He had unbounded confidence in himself, and felt a sense of power in the rapidity with which he could master a lesson. He therefore did not study much, and though he could not but see that Paul was rapidly advancing, he rejected with scorn the idea that Young Stupid could displace him.
This, however, was the object at which Paul was aiming. He had not forgotten the nickname which Dawkins had given him, and this was the revenge which he sought,--a strictly honorable one.
At length the day of his triumph came. At the end of the month the master read off the class-list, and, much to his disgust, George Dawkins found himself playing second fiddle to Young Stupid.