TOMMY REMINGTON’S BATTLE
TOMMY REMINGTON FINDS A CIRCUS POSTER
Lessons were ended for the day, and an unwonted noise and bustle filled the little school-house as the children caught up their books and hats, eager to breathe again the fresh air with the keen scent of the woods in it, to revel in the bright sunshine bathing hill and valley.
“Good-by, Miss Bessie.”
Three or four of the girls had lingered for the parting greeting, and then they, too, hurried away, while Miss Andrews stood in the school-house door and looked after the little figures as they tripped down the narrow path toward the group of coal-grimed houses which made the town of Wentworth, and she sighed unconsciously as they passed from sight behind an ugly pile of slack. It was not a pretty scene, this part along the river which man had made, with its crazy coal-tipples, its rows of dirty little cabins, its lines of coke-ovens, and the grime of coal-dust over everything.
How different was that part of nature’s handiwork which had been left unmarred! Mountain after mountain, clothed in green to the very summit, towered up from the narrow valley where New River picked its difficult way along, over great boulders and past beetling cliffs. How many centuries had it taken the little stream to cut for itself this pathway through the very heart of the Alleghanies! With what exhaustless patience had it gone about the task, washing away a bit of earth here, undermining a great rock there, banking up yonder behind some mountain wall which it could not get around, until it overtopped it and began the work of eating it away—so had it labored on, never wearying, never resting, never growing discouraged, seeking always the easiest way around the mountain-foot, but when no such way could be found, attacking the great wall before it with undaunted courage, singing at its work and splashing brightly in the sunshine—until at last it had conquered, as such perseverance always must, and springing clear of the hills, dashed joyously away across the level plains which would lead it to the sea.
And all this labor had not been in vain, for nature’s work had rendered man’s much easier when the time came to build a railroad over these mountains in order that the great wealth of coal and iron and other minerals which lay buried under them might be brought forth and so become of value to the world. The engineers who were sent forward to find a way for the road soon saw that the New River valley had been placed there, as it were, by Providence, for this very purpose, and when the road was built, it did not attempt to go straight forward, as railroads always like to do, but crept patiently along the river’s edge, following every winding, until the mountains were left behind. And the great men who built the road were very thankful for this little stream’s assistance.
It was not at the mountains nor at the river that Bessie Andrews looked, but at the grimy cabins of the miners, scattered along the hillside, and she thought with a sigh how little successful she had been in winning the hearts of their occupants. She had come from Richmond in a flush of happiness at her good fortune in getting the school, and determined to make a success of it, but she found it “uphill work” indeed.
Her story was that of so many other Southern girls coming of families old and one time wealthy, but ruined by the Civil War. The father, who had gone forth to battle in the strength of his young manhood, left his right arm on the bloody field at Gettysburg, and came home, at last, to find himself quite ruined. He could get no laborers to cultivate his fields, rank with the weeds of four years’ neglect; his stock had been seized by one or other of the armies, for both had fought back and forth across his land, with a necessity of need that knew no law; his people had been freed, and, excepting two or three of the older house-servants who had grown gray in the family’s service, had drifted away no one knew whither. For three years he struggled to bring order out of this desolation, but the task was greater than his strength. So the plantation was sold for a mere fraction of its worth before the war, and the family had moved to Richmond, in the hope that life there would be easier. There, ten years after the city fell before Grant’s army, Bessie Andrews was born; and there, some twelve years later, her father died, gray before his time, bowed down with care, so broken by his grim battle with the world that disease found him an easy victim.
So Bessie Andrews had never known the luxury and kindliness and easy hospitality of the old plantation life, but its influences and traditions lived still in her blood. She was a gentlewoman, with all a gentlewoman’s shrinking from the tragic and sordid and mean things in life; so it was only after a struggle with herself, as well as with her widowed mother, that she had ventured forth into the world to attempt to add something to the scanty income left them by her father. She had been educated with some care, at home for the most part, so she tried to secure a position as teacher in the public schools, deciding that it was this she was best fitted for; but there were no vacancies. Yet the superintendent, impressed by her earnestness, promised to keep her in mind, and one day sent for her.
“I have a letter here,” he said, “from one of the directors of a little school near Wentworth, in the mining district. He wants me to send him a teacher. Do you think you would care for the place?”
Miss Andrews gasped. She had not thought of leaving home. Yet she could do even that, if need be.
“I think I should be very glad to have the place,” she said. “Do you know anything about it, sir?”
He shook his head.
“Very little. I do not imagine the region is attractive, but the salary is fair, and the director who has written me this letter, and who seems to be a competent man, will board you without extra expense. Think it over and let me know your decision to-morrow.”
There was a very tearful interview between mother and daughter that night, but it was evident to both of them that the place must be accepted.
“If I could only go with you,” said her mother, at last. But Bessie silenced her with an imperative little gesture.
“Absurd!” she cried. “Do you think I would let you go with me into that wilderness, little mother? Besides,” she added, laughing, “I doubt very much if the director would consent to board the whole family. My one appetite may appal him and make him repent his bargain. And I shall not be gone very long—only until June.”
So it was settled, and the next day the superintendent formally recommended Miss Elizabeth Andrews as the teacher for the Wentworth school. In due time came the reply, directing her to report for duty at once, and she arrived at her journey’s end one bright day in late September.
She had determined from the first to make the people love her, but she found them another race from the genial, cultured, open-hearted Virginians who live along the James. Years of labor in the mines had marred their brains no less than their bodies; both, shut out from God’s pure air, and blue sky, and beautiful, green-clad world, grew crooked and misshapen, just as everything must do that has life in it.
She had gone to work among them with brave face but trembling heart. There was no lack of children in the grimy cabins; it made her soul sick to look at them. She asked that she might be permitted to teach them. But she encountered a strange apathy. The parents looked at her with suspicion. She was not one of them; why should she wish to meddle? Besides, the boys must help the men; the girls must help the women—even a very small girl can take care of a baby, and so lift that weight from the mother’s shoulders.
“But have the children never been sent to school?” she asked.
No, they said, never. The other teachers didn’t bother them. Why should she? The children could grow up as their parents had. They had other things to think about besides going to school. There was the coal to be dug.
A few of the better families sent their children, however—the superintendent, the school directors, the mine bosses, the fire bosses,—in the mines, every one is a “boss” who is paid a fixed monthly wage by the company,—but Bessie Andrews found herself every day looking over the vacant forms in the little schoolhouse and telling herself that she had failed—that she had not reached the people who most needed it.
More than once had she been tempted to confess her defeat, resign the place, and return to Richmond; yet the sympathy and encouragement of Jabez Smith, the director who had secured her appointment, gave her strength to keep up the fight. A simple, homely man, a justice of the peace and postmaster of Wentworth, he had welcomed her kindly, and she had found his house a place of refuge.
“You’ll git discouraged,” he had said to her the first day, “but don’t you give up. Th’ people up here ain’t th’ kind you’ve been used to, an’ it takes ’em some little time t’ git acquainted. You jest keep at it, an’ you’ll win out in the end.”
There was another, too, who spoke words of hope and comfort—the Rev. Robert Bayliss, minister of the little church on the hillside, who had come, like herself, a pilgrim into this wilderness.
“You are doing finely,” he would say. “Why, look at me. I’ve been here four years, and am almost as far from my goal as you are; but I’m not going to give up the fight till I get every miner and every miner’s wife into that church. As yet, I haven’t got a dozen of them.”
And as she glanced askant at his firm mouth and determined chin, she decided inwardly that this was the kind of man who always won his battles, whether of the spirit or of the flesh.
As she stood there in the school-house door, thinking of all this and looking out across the valley, she heard the whistle blow at the drift-mouth, a signal that no more coal would be weighed that day; and in a few moments she saw a line of men coming down the hillside toward her. She waited to see them pass,—grimy, weary, perspiring, fresh from the mine and the never-ending battle with the great veins of coal,—and she noted sadly how many boys there were among them. Some of them glanced at her shyly and touched their hats, but the most went by without heeding her, the younger, the driver-boys, laughing and jesting among themselves, the older tramping along in the silence of utter fatigue. She watched them as they went, and then turned slowly back into the room and picked up her hat.
“SHE TURNED QUICKLY AND SAW STANDING THERE ONE OF THE BOYS.”
“Please, ma’am—” said a timid voice at the door.
She turned quickly and saw standing there one of the boys who had passed a moment before.
“Yes?” she questioned, encouragingly. “Come in, won’t you?”
The boy took off his cap and stepped bashfully across the threshold.
“Sit down here,” she said, and herself took the seat opposite. “Now what can I do for you?”
He glanced up into her eyes. There was no mistaking their kindliness, and he gathered a shade more confidence.
“Please, ma’am,” he said, “I wanted t’ ask you t’ read this bill t’ me,” and he produced from his pocket a gaudy circus poster. “They’s been put up down at th’ deepot,” he added, in explanation, “but none of us boys kin read ’em.”
She took the bill from him with quick sympathy.
“Of course I’ll read it to you,” she cried. And she proceeded to recount the wonders of “Bashford’s Great and Only Menagerie and Hippodrome” as described by the poster. Most of the high-flown language was, of course, quite beyond the boy’s understanding, but he sat with round eyes fixed on her face till she had finished. It was a minute before he could speak.
“What is that thing?” he asked at last, pointing to a great, unwieldy beast with wide-open mouth.
“That’s a hippopotamus.”
“A—a what?” he asked wonderingly.
“A hippopotamus—a river-horse.”
“A river-horse,” he repeated; and his eyes grew rounder than ever. “A horse what lives in th’ river? But it ain’t a horse,” he added, looking at it again to make certain. “It ain’t nothin’ like a horse.”
“No,” said Miss Andrews, smiling, “it’s not a horse. That’s only a name for it. See, here it is,” and she pointed to the line below the picture. “‘The Hippopotamus, the Great African River Horse.’”
He gazed at the line a moment in silence. Then he sighed.
“I must go,” he said, and reached out his hand for the bill.
“But you haven’t told me your name yet,” she protested. “What is your name?”
“Tommy Remington,” he answered, his shyness back upon him in an instant.
“And your father’s a miner?”
He nodded. She looked at him a moment without speaking, rapidly considering how she might say best what she wished to say.
“Tommy,” she began, “wouldn’t you like to learn to read all this for yourself—all these books, all these stories,” and she waved her hand toward the little shelf above her desk. “It is a splendid thing—to know how to read!”
He looked at her with eyes wide opened.
“But I couldn’t!” he gasped incredulously. “None of th’ boys kin. Why, even none of th’ men kin—none I know.”
“Oh, yes, you could!” she cried. “Any one can. The reason none of the other boys can is because they have never tried, and the men probably never had a good chance. Of course you can’t learn if you don’t try. But it’s not at all difficult, when one really wants to learn. If you’ll only come and let me teach you!”
He glanced again at her face and then out across the valley. The shadows were deepening along the river, and above the trees upon the mountain-side great columns of white mist circled slowly upward.
“Promise me you’ll come,” she repeated.
The boy looked back at her, and she saw the light in his eyes.
“My father—” he began, and stopped.
“I’ll see your father,” she said impetuously. “Only you must tell him you want to come, and ask him yourself. Promise me you’ll do that.”
There was no resisting her in her great earnestness.
“I promise,” he whispered, and stooped to pick up his cap, which had fallen from his trembling fingers.
“If he refuses, I will see him to-morrow myself,” she said. “Remember, you are going to learn to read and write and to do many other things. Good night, Tommy.”
“Good night, ma’am,” he answered with uncertain voice, and hastened away.
She watched him until the gathering darkness hid him, and then turned back, picked up her hat again, locked the door, and hurried down the path with singing heart. It was her first real victory—for she was certain it would prove a victory—and she felt as the traveler feels who, toiling wearily across a great waste of Alpine snow and ice,—shivering, desolate,—comes suddenly upon a delicate flower, looking up at him from the dreary way with a face of hope and comfort.
THE FIRST SHOT OF THE BATTLE
Tommy Remington, meanwhile, trudged on through the gathering darkness, his heart big with purpose. Heretofore the mastery of the art of reading had appeared to him, when he considered the subject at all, as a thing requiring such tremendous effort as few people were capable of. Certainly he, who knew little beyond the rudiments of mining and the management of a mine mule, could never hope to solve the mystery of those rows of queer-looking characters he had seen sometimes in almanacs and old newspapers, and more recently on the circus poster he carried in his pocket. But now a new and charming vista was of a sudden opened to him. The teacher had assured him that it was quite easy to learn to read,—that any one could do so who really tried,—and he rammed his fists deep down in his pockets and drew a long breath at the sheer wonder of the thing.
It is difficult, perhaps, for a boy brought up, as most boys are, within sound of a school bell, where school-going begins inevitably in the earliest years, where every one he knows can read and write as a matter of course, and where books and papers form part of the possessions of every household, to understand the awe with which Tommy Remington thought over the task he was about to undertake. Such a boy may have seen occasionally the queer picture-writing in front of a Chinese laundry or on the outside of packages of tea, and wondered what such funny marks could possibly mean. To Tommy English appeared no less queer and difficult than Chinese, and he would have attacked the latter with equal confidence—or, more correctly, with an equal lack of confidence.
But he had little time to ponder over all this, for a few minutes’ walk brought him to the dingy cabin on the hillside which—with a similar dwelling back in the Pennsylvania coal-fields—was the only home he had ever known. His father had thrown away his youth in the Pennsylvania mines while the industry was yet almost in its infancy and the miners’ wages were twice or thrice those that could be earned by any other kind of manual labor—the high pay counter-balancing, in a way, the great danger which in those days was a part of coal-mining. Mr. Remington had, by good fortune, escaped the dangers, and had lived to see the importation of foreign laborers to the Pennsylvania fields,—Huns, Slavs, Poles, and what not,—who prospered on wages on which an Anglo-Saxon would starve. Besides, the dangers of the work had been very materially reduced, and to the mine-owner it seemed only right that the wages should be reduced with them, especially since competition had become so close that profits were cut in half, or sometimes even wiped out altogether.
It was just at the time when matters were at their worst that the great West Virginia coal-fields were discovered and a railroad built through the mountains. Good wages were offered experienced miners, and Mr. Remington was one of the first to move his family into the new region—into the very cabin, indeed, where he still lived, and which at that time had been just completed. The unusual thickness of the seams of coal, their accessibility, and the ease with which the coal could be got to market, together with the purity and value of the coal itself, all combined to render it possible for the miner to make good wages, and for a time Remington prospered—as much, that is, as a coal-miner can ever prosper, which means merely that he can provide his family with shelter from the cold, with enough to eat, and with clothes to wear, and at the same time keep out of debt. But the discovery of new fields and the ever-growing competition for the market had gradually tended to decrease wages until they were again almost at the point where one man could not support a family, and his boys—mere children sometimes—went into the mines with him to assist in the struggle for existence—the younger ones as drivers of the mine mules, which hauled the coal to “daylight,” the older ones as laborers in the chambers where their fathers blasted it down from the great seams.
Tommy mounted the steps of the cabin to the little porch in front, and paused for a backward glance down into the valley. The mountains had deepened from green to purple, and the eddying clouds of mist showed sharply against this dark background. The river splashed merrily along, a ribbon of silver at the bottom of the valley. The kindly night had hidden all the marks of man’s handiwork along its banks, and the scene was wholly beautiful. Yet it was not at mountains or river that the boy looked. He had seen them every day for years, and they had ceased to be a novelty long since. He looked instead at a little white frame building just discernible through the gloom, and he thought with a strange stirring of his blood that it was perhaps in that building he was to learn to read and write. A shrill voice from the house startled him from his reverie.
“Tommy,” it called, “ain’t you ever comin’ in, or air you goin’ t’ stand there till jedgment? Come right in here an’ wash up an’ git ready fer supper. Where’s your pa?”
“Yes’m,” said Tommy, and hurried obediently into the house. “Pa went over t’ th’ store t’ git some bacon. He said he’d be ’long in a minute.”
Mrs. Remington sniffed contemptuously and banged a pan viciously down on the table.
“A minute,” she repeated. “I guess so. Half an hour, most likely, ef he gits t’ talkin’ with thet shif’less gang thet’s allers loafin’ round there.”
Tommy deemed it best to make no reply to this remark, and in silence he took off his cap and jumper and threw them on a chair. Even in the semi-darkness it was easy to see that the house was not an inviting place. Perched high up on the side of the hill, it had been built by contract as cheaply as might be, and was one of a long row of houses of identical design which the Great Eastern Coal Company had constructed as homes for its employees. Three rooms were all that were needed by any family, said the company—a kitchen and two bedrooms. More than that would be a luxury for which the miners could have no possible use and which would only tend to spoil them. Perhaps the houses were clean when they were built, but the grime of the coal-fields had long since conquered them and reduced them to a uniform dinginess. Mrs. Remington had battled valiantly against the invader at first; but it was a losing fight, and she had finally given it up in despair. The dust was pervading, omnipresent, over everything. It was in the water, in the beds, in the food. It soaked clothing through and through. They lived in it, slept in it, ate it, drank it. Small wonder that, as the years passed, Mrs. Remington’s face lost whatever of youth and freshness it had ever had, and that her voice grew harsh and her temper most uncertain.
“Now hurry up, Tommy,” she repeated. “Wash your hands an’ face, an’ then fetch some water from th’ spring. There ain’t a drop in the bucket.”
“All right, ma,” answered the boy, cheerfully. And he soon had his face and hands covered with lather. It was no slight task to cleanse the dust from the skin, for it seemed to creep into every crevice and to cling there with such tenacious grip that it became almost a part of the skin itself. But at last the task was accomplished, as well as soap and water could accomplish it, and he picked up the bucket and started for the spring.
The air was fresh and sweet, and he breathed it in with a relish somewhat unusual as he climbed the steep path up the mountain-side. He placed the bucket under the little stream of pure, limpid water that gushed from beneath a great ledge of rock, summer and winter, fed from some exhaustless reservoir within the mountain, and sat down to wait for it to fill. A cluster of lights along the river showed where the town stood, and he heard an engine puffing heavily up the grade, taking another train of coal to the great Eastern market. Presently its headlight flashed into view, and he watched it until it plunged into the tunnel that intersected a spur of the mountain around which there had been no way found. What a place it must be,—the East,—and how many people must live there to use so much coal! The bucket was full, and he picked it up and started back toward the house. As he neared it, he heard his mother clattering the supper-things about with quite unnecessary violence.
“Your pa ain’t come home yit,” she cried, as Tommy entered. “He don’t need t’ think we’ll wait fer him all night. I’ll send Johnny after him.” She went to the front door. “John-ny—o-o-o-oh, Johnny!” she called down the hillside.
“Yes’m,” came back a faint answer.
“Come here right away,” she called again; and in a moment a little figure toddled up the steps. It was a boy of six—Tommy’s younger brother. All the others—brothers and sisters alike—lay buried in a row back of the little church. They had found the battle of life too hard amid such surroundings, and had been soon defeated.
“Where you been?” she asked, as he panted up, breathless.
“Me an’ Freddy Roberts found a snake,” he began, “down there under some stones. He tried t’ git away, but we got him. I’m awful hungry,” he added, as an afterthought.
But his mother was not listening to him. She had caught the sound of approaching footsteps down the path.
“Take him in an’ wash his hands an’ face, Tommy,” she said grimly. “Look at them clothes! I hear your pa comin’, so hurry up.”
Johnny submitted gracefully to a scrubbing with soap and water administered by his brother’s vigorous arm, and emerged an almost cherubic child so far as hands and face were concerned, but no amount of brushing could render his clothes presentable. His father came in a moment later, a little, dried-up man, whose spirit had been crushed and broken by a lifetime of labor in the mines—as what man’s would not? He grunted in reply to his wife’s shrill greeting, laid a piece of bacon on the table, and calmly proceeded with his ablutions, quite oblivious of the storm that circled about his head. Supper was soon on the table, a lamp, whose lighting had been deferred to the last moment for the sake of economy, was placed in the middle of the board, and Mrs. Remington, finding that her remarks upon his delay met with no response, sat down behind the steaming coffee-pot to show that she would wait no longer.
Hard labor and mountain air are rare appetizers, and for a time they ate in silence. At last Johnny, having taken the edge off his hunger, began to relate the story of his thrilling encounter with the snake, and even his mother was betrayed into a smile as she looked at his dancing eyes. Tommy, who had been vainly striving to muster up courage to broach the subject nearest his heart, saw his father’s face soften, and judged it a good time to begin.
“Pa,” he remarked, “there’s a circus comin’, ain’t they?”
“Yes,” said his father; “I see some bills down at the mine.”
“When’s it comin’?”
“I don’t know. You kin ask somebody. Want t’ go?”
Mrs. Remington snorted to show her disapproval of the proposed extravagance.
“No, it ain’t that,” answered Tommy, in a choked voice. “I don’t keer a cent about th’ circus. Pa, I want t’ go t’ school.”
Mr. Remington sat suddenly upright, as though something had stung him on the back, and rubbed his head in a bewildered way. His brother stared at Tommy, awe-struck.
“Go t’ school!” repeated his father, at last, when he had conquered his amazement sufficiently to speak. “What on airth fer?”
“T’ learn how t’ read,” said Tommy, gathering courage from his father’s dismay. “Pa, I want t’ know how t’ read an’ write. Why, I can’t even read th’ show-bill!”
“Well,” said his father, “neither kin I.”
Tommy stopped a moment to consider his words, for he felt he was on delicate ground. In all his fourteen years of life, he had never been so desperate as at this moment.
But his mother came unexpectedly to his rescue.
“Well, an’ if you can’t read, Silas,” she said sharply, “is thet any reason th’ boy shouldn’t git a chance? Maybe he won’t hev t’ work in th’ mines ef he gits a little book-l’arnin’. Heaven knows, it’s a hard life.”
“Yes, it’s a hard life,” assented the miner, absently. “It’s a hard life. Nobody knows thet better ’n me.”
Tommy looked at his mother, his eyes bright with gratitude.
“I stopped at th’ school-house t’ git th’ teacher t’ read th’ bill t’ me,” he said, “an’ she told me thet anybody kin learn t’ read—thet ’tain’t hard at all. It’s a free school, an’ it won’t cost nothin’ but fer my books. I’ve got purty near three dollars in my bank. Thet ort t’ pay fer ’em.”
“But who’ll help me at th’ mine?” asked his father. “I’ve got t’ hev a helper, an’ I can’t pay one out of th’ starvation wages th’ company gives us. What’ll I do?”
“I tell you, pa,” said Tommy, eagerly. “I kin help you in th’ afternoons, an’ all th’ time in th’ summer when they ain’t no school. I’ll jest go in th’ mornin’s, an’ you kin keep on blastin’ till I git there t’ help y’ load. I know th’ boss won’t keer. Kin I go?”
His face was rosy with anticipation. His father looked at him doubtfully a moment.
“Of course you kin go,” broke in his mother, sharply. “You’ve said yourself, Silas, many a time,” she added to her husband, “thet th’ minin’ business’s gittin’ worse an’ worse, an’ thet a man can’t make a livin’ at it any more. Th’ boy ort t’ hev a chance.”
Tommy shot another grateful glance at his mother, and then looked back at his father. He knew that from him must come the final word.
“You kin try it,” said his father, at last. “I reckon you’ll soon git tired of it, anyway.”
But Tommy was out of his chair before he could say more, and threw his arms about his neck.
“I’m so glad!” he cried. “You’ll see how I’ll work in th’ afternoons. We’ll git out more coal ’n ever!”
“Well, well,” protested Silas, awkwardly returning his caress, “we’ll see. I don’t know but what your ma’s right. You’ve been a good boy, Tommy, an’ deserve a chance.”
And mother and father alike looked after the boy with unaccustomed tenderness as he ran out of the house and up the mountain-side to think it all over. Up there, with only the stars to see, Tommy flung himself on the ground and sobbed aloud in sheer gladness of heart.
THE DAWNING OF A NEW DAY
When Bessie Andrews came within sight of the door of the little schoolhouse next morning, she was surprised to see a boy sitting on the step; but as she drew nearer, she discovered it was her visitor of the evening before. He arose when he saw her coming and took off his cap. Cap and clothes alike showed evidence of work in the mines, but face and hands had been polished until they shone again. Her heart leaped as she recognized him, for she had hardly dared to hope that her talk with him would bear such immediate and splendid fruit. Perhaps this was only the beginning, she thought, and she hurried forward toward him, her face alight with pleasure.
“Good morning,” she said, holding out her hand. “Your father said yes? I’m so glad!”
He placed his hand in hers awkwardly. She could feel how rough and hard it was with labor—not a child’s hand at all.
“Yes’m,” he answered shyly. “Pa said I might try it.”
“Come in”; and she unlocked the door and opened it. “Sit down there a minute till I take off my things.”
He sat down obediently and watched her as she removed her hat and gloves. The clear morning light revealed to him how different she was from the women he had known—a difference which, had it been visible the evening before, might have kept him from her. His eyes dwelt upon the fresh outline of her face, the softness of her hair and its graceful waviness, the daintiness of her gown, which alone would have proclaimed her not of the coal-fields, and he realized in a vague way how very far she was removed from the people among whom he had always lived.
“SHE HURRIED FORWARD TOWARD HIM, HER FACE ALIGHT WITH PLEASURE.”
“Now first about the studies,” she said, sitting down near him. “Of course we shall have to begin at the very beginning, and for a time you will be in a class of children much younger than yourself. But you mustn’t mind that. You won’t have to stay there long, for I know you are going to learn, and learn rapidly.”
She noticed that he was fumbling in his pocket and seemed hesitating at what to say.
“What is it?” she asked.
“I’ll need some books, I guess,” he stammered. “Pa’s been givin’ me a quarter of a dollar every week fer a long time fer helpin’ him at th’ mine, an’ I’ve got about three dollars saved up.”
With a final wrench he produced from his pocket a little toy bank, with an opening in the chimney through which coins could be dropped inside, and held it toward her.
“Will that be enough?” he asked anxiously.
The quick tears sprang to her eyes as she pressed the bank back into his hands.
“No, no,” she protested. “You won’t need any books at all at first, for I will write your lessons on the blackboard yonder. After that, I have plenty of books here that you can use. Keep the money, and we’ll find a better way to spend it.”
He looked at her doubtfully.
“A better way?” he repeated, as though it seemed impossible there could be a better way.
“Yes. You’ll see. You’ll want something besides mere school-books before long. Put your bank in your pocket,” she added. “Here come the other children.”
He put it back reluctantly, and in a few minutes had made the acquaintance of the dozen children which were all that Miss Andrews had been able to bring together. Most of them belonged to the more important families of the neighborhood. Tommy, of course, had never before associated with them, and he felt strangely awkward and embarrassed in their presence. He reflected inwardly, however, that he could undoubtedly whip the biggest boy in the crowd in fair fight; but all the reassurance that came from his physical strength was presently taken out of him when he heard some of them, much younger than himself, reading with more or less glibness from their books.
He himself had his first struggle with the alphabet, and before the hour ended had mastered some dozen letters. He rejoiced when he learned that there were only twenty-six, but his heart fell again when he found that each of them had two forms, a written and a printed form, and that there were two variations of each form, capitals and small letters. Between these he was, as yet, unable to trace any resemblance or connection; but he kept manfully at work, attacking each new letter much as a great general attacks each division of the enemy’s army, until he has overcome them all. And it is safe to say that no general ever felt a greater joy in his conquests.
It is not an easy thing for a boy totally unused to study to undertake a task like this, and more than once he found his attention wandering from the board before him, where the various letters were set down. He wondered how his father was getting along at the mine without him; he caught himself gazing through the window at the cows on the hillside opposite; he had an impulse to run to the door and watch the New York express whirl by. The hum of the children about him, reciting to the teacher or conning their lessons at their desks, set his head to nodding; but he sat erect again heroically, rubbed his eyes, and went back to his task. The teacher was watching him, and smiled to herself with pleasure at this sign of his earnestness.
I think the greatest lesson he learned that morning—the lesson, indeed, which it is the end of all education to teach—was the value of concentration, of keeping his mind on the work in hand. The power he had not yet acquired, of course,—very few people, and they only great ones, ever do acquire it completely,—yet he made a long stride forward, and when at last noon came and school was dismissed, he started homeward with the feeling that he had won a victory.
That afternoon, as he worked beside his father in the mine, loading the loosened coal into the little cars, and pushing them down the chamber to be hauled away, he kept repeating the letters to himself, and from time to time he took from his pocket the soiled circus poster, and holding it up before his flickering lamp, picked out upon it the letters that he knew, to make certain he had not forgotten them. His father watched him curiously, but made no comment, being somewhat out of humor from having to work alone all the morning. Yet this passed in time, for Tommy labored with such purpose and good will that when the whistle blew their output was very nearly as large as it ever was.
After supper that evening, Tommy hurried forth to the hillside, and flinging himself face downward on the ground, spread out the bill before him and went over and over it again so long as the light enabled him to distinguish one letter from another, until he was quite certain he could never forget them.
At the end of a very few days he knew his alphabet, but, to his dismay, he found this was only the first and very easiest step toward learning to read. Those twenty-six letters were capable of an infinite number of combinations, and each combination meant a different thing. It was with a real exultation he conquered the easiest forms,—“cat” and “dog” and “ax” and “boy,”—and after that his progress was more rapid.
“HE PICKED OUT THE LETTERS HE KNEW, TO MAKE CERTAIN HE HAD NOT FORGOTTEN THEM.”
It is always the first steps which are the most difficult, and as the weeks passed he was regularly promoted from one class to another. The great secret of his success lay in the fact that he did not put his lessons from him and forget all about them the moment the school door closed behind him, but kept at least one of his books with him always. His mother even went to the unprecedented extravagance of keeping a lamp burning in the evening that he might study by it, and hour after hour sat there with him, sewing or knitting, and glancing proudly from time to time at his bowed head. They were the only ones awake, for husband and younger child always went to bed early, the one worn out by the day’s work, the other by the day’s play.
To Tommy those days and evenings were each crowded with wonders. He learned not only that the letters may be combined into words, but that the ten figures may be combined into numbers. The figures, indeed, admitted of even more wonderful combinations, for they could be added and subtracted and multiplied and divided one by another, something that could not be done with letters at all, which seemed to him a very singular thing.
The first triumph came one evening when, after questioning his father as to the amount of coal he had mined that day and the price he was paid for each ton of it, he succeeded in demonstrating how much money he had earned, reaching exactly the same result that his father had reached by means of some intricate method of reckoning understood only by himself. It was no small triumph, for from that moment his father began dimly to perceive that all of this book-learning might one day be useful. So when winter and spring had passed, and the time drew near for dismissing the school for the summer, Tommy could not only read fairly well and write a little, but could do simple sums in addition and subtraction, and knew his multiplication-table as high as seven. Small wonder his mother looked at him proudly, and that even his father was a little in awe of him!
It was about a week before the end of the term that Miss Andrews called him to her.
“You remember, Tommy,” she asked, “that I told you we would use your money for something better than buying mere school-books?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said; “I remember.”
“Well, bring me one dollar of it, and I will show you what I meant when I told you that.”
So the next day he placed the money in her hands, and a few days later she called him again.
“I have something for you,” she said, and picked up a package that was lying on her desk. “Unwrap it.”
He took off the paper with trembling fingers, and found there were four books within.
“They are yours,” she said. “They were bought with your money, and you are to read them this summer. This one is ‘Ivanhoe,’ and was written by a very famous man named Sir Walter Scott; this is ‘David Copperfield,’ and was written by Charles Dickens; this is ‘Henry Esmond,’ and was written by William Makepeace Thackeray; and this last one is ‘Lorna Doone,’ by Richard Doddridge Blackmore. They are among the greatest stories that have ever been written in the English language, and I want you to read them over and over. You may not understand quite all of them at first, but I think you will after a time. If there is anything you find you cannot understand, go to Mr. Bayliss at the church, and ask him about it. He has told me that he will be glad to help you.”
Tommy tied up his treasures again, too overcome by their munificence to speak, and when he started for home that noon, he was holding them close against his breast.
Miss Andrews looked after him as he went, and wondered, for the hundredth time, if the books she had given him had been the wisest selection. His first youth was past, she had reasoned, and he must make the most of what remained. So she had finally decided upon these four masterpieces. She sighed as she turned away from the door, perhaps with envy at thought of the rare delights which lay before him in the wonderful countries he was about to enter.
TOMMY ROAMS IN AN ENCHANTED LAND
And what delights they were, when once he found time to taste of them! He was kept busy at his studies until school closed, as it did one Friday in early June, and that afternoon he said good-by to his teacher and saw her whisked away eastward to the home she loved. He went from the station to the mine with heavy heart, and labored there with his father until evening came. He did not open his books that night, for he was just beginning to realize all that his teacher had been to him and how he had come to rely upon her for encouragement and help. All day Saturday he worked in the mine with his father. But Sunday dawned clear and bright, and as soon as he had eaten his breakfast, he climbed high up on the hillside to his favorite nook, with only “Lorna Doone” for company. There, in a grassy spot, he lay down and opened the book before him.
He read it stumblingly and haltingly; as his teacher had foreseen, many of the words were quite beyond him; but it was written in English so pure, so clear, so simple, that little of importance escaped him. And what a world of enchantment it opened to him!—the wide moorlands of Exmoor, the narrow Doone valley, the water-slide, the great London road. And what people, too!—the lawless Doones, Captain, Counselor, Carver, who, for all their villainy, had something attractive about them, Lorna, and great John Ridd. Of course he did not see the full beauty of the book, but its magic he caught some glimpses of, and it bore him quite away from the eventless valley of New River to that other valley where the Doones reigned in all their insolence and pride, and kept Lorna prisoner to be a bride to Carver.
Hunger warned him of the dinner-hour, but he begrudged the time it took to go down to the house, swallow his food, and get back again to his place on the hillside. The afternoon passed almost before he knew it, and the lengthening shadows warned him that evening was at hand. Still he read on, glancing up only now and then to mark how the light was fading, and when it failed altogether it left John just in the midst of his adventures in London. Tommy lay for a long time looking down the valley and thinking over what he had read, and at last, with a sigh, picked up the book and started homeward.
What need to detail further? All summer long he walked in a land of enchantment, whether with John Ridd on Exmoor, with David Copperfield in London, with Richard Lion-heart in Sherwood Forest, or with Henry Esmond at Castlewood. As he went onward he grew stronger in his reading, and so found the way less difficult, and at last acquired such proficiency that he would read portions of his books aloud to his wondering parents and to Johnny.
Mr. Bayliss found them sitting so one Sunday afternoon, and paused at the porch to listen. Tommy was reading of that last desperate struggle between John Ridd and Carver Doone:
“The black bog had him by the feet; the sucking of the ground drew on him like the thirsty lips of death. In our fury, we had heeded neither wet nor dry, nor thought of earth beneath us. I myself might scarcely leap, with the last spring of o’erlabored legs, from the engulfing grave of slime. He fell back with his swarthy breast (from which my gripe had rent all clothing) like a hummock of bog-oak standing out the quagmire; and then he tossed his arms to heaven, and they were black to the elbow, and the glare of his eyes was ghastly. I could only gaze and pant, for my strength was no more than an infant’s, from the fury and the horror. Scarcely could I turn away, while, joint by joint, he sank from sight.”
For an instant there was silence. Then, with a sigh, Tommy’s father relaxed his attitude of strained attention and dropped back in his chair.
“Jee-rusalem!” he said at last. “Ter think of it! Th’ bog swallered him up. Good fer him! He ort t’ got worse ’n thet fer killin’ Lorna.”
Tommy smiled to himself, in his superior knowledge.
“That ain’t all,” he said. “There’s another chapter.”
“Another chapter!” cried his father. “Maybe Lorna ain’t dead, then. It’ll tell about her funeral, anyway. Go on, Tommy.”
And as Tommy turned to the book again, Mr. Bayliss stole away down the path, convinced that this was not the time to make his presence known. On his homeward way he pondered deeply the scene he had just witnessed. Its significance moved him strongly, for he saw a ray of hope ahead for the success of his ministry among this people. Five years before, when he was a senior at the Princeton Theological Seminary, he had chanced upon an open letter in a mission magazine which stated that for miles and miles along this valley there was not a single minister nor church, and that hundreds of people, from year-end to year-end, never heard the Word of God. He had decided that this should be his field of labor, and so soon as he had been ordained he had journeyed to Wentworth. At first he had held services in an old cabin; gradually he succeeded in interesting charitable people in his work, and finally secured enough money to build a small church, and to purchase and consecrate a piece of ground behind it for a burying-place.
But in matters of religion, as in matters of education, he had found the people strangely apathetic. They came to him to be married, and sent for him sometimes in sickness; it was he who committed their bodies to the grave: but marriages and deaths aside, he had small part in their lives. He had thought sometimes that the reason of failure must be some fault in himself, and had his moments of discouragement, as all men have; but the scene he had just witnessed gave him a clue to one cause of failure. He saw that some degree of education must come before there could be deep and genuine spiritual awakening. He had realized the truth of this more than once in his ministry, but most deeply shortly after his arrival, when he had undertaken to distribute some Bibles among the squalid cabins on the hillside.
“We-uns don’t need no Bible,” said the woman in the first house he entered.
“Do not need one?” he echoed. “Why? Have you one in the house already?”
“No, we ain’t got none. What could we-uns do with one?”
“Do with it? Read it, of course.”
“But we can’t read,” said the woman, sullenly. “They ain’t no chance t’ learn. It’s work, work, from sun-up t’ dark.”
Mr. Bayliss stood for a moment nonplussed.
“Not read!” he repeated at last. “But, surely, some of the miners or their families can read.”
The woman shook her head.
“Not many,” she said. “How kin we?” she continued, more fiercely. “What chance d’ we hev? We ain’t knowed nothin’ but work all our lives. A man don’t stop t’ learn t’ read when he needs bread t’ eat.”
She paused to look darkly at her visitor. He was so moved with pity and distress that he could find no answer. Perhaps she read his thought in his eyes, for she grew more gentle.
“Thet’s one reason we-uns don’t come down t’ them meetin’s o’ yourn,” she went on. “By th’ time Sunday comes, we’re too tired t’ care fer anything but rest. And then,” she added defiantly, “most of us has got so we don’t care, noway.”
Mr. Bayliss went back to his study with his Bibles still under his arm. He felt that he was just beginning to understand the problem which confronted him, and he had sought vainly for a solution to it. Since the miners could not read, he had visited such of them as would permit him and had read to them, but they had received him for the most part with indifference. He had labored patiently, though sometimes despairingly. And now, of a sudden, after these years, he saw a glimmering of light. It was only a miner’s boy reading to his parents—a little thing, perhaps, yet even little things sometimes lead to great ones. And the minister determined to do all he could for that boy, that he might serve as a guide to others.
He found he could do much. He helped the boy over difficult places in his books, gave him a dictionary that he might find out for himself the meaning of the words, and taught him how to use it. Gradually, as he came to know him better, the project, which at first had been very vague, began to take shape in his mind. Why should not this boy become a helper to his own people? Who could understand them and minister to them as one who had sprung from among them? But of this he said nothing to any one, only pondered it more and more.
It was quite a different Tommy from the one she had known that Miss Andrews found awaiting her when she returned in September to open her school again. His eyes had a new light in them. It was as if a wide, dreary landscape had been suddenly touched and glorified by the sun. On his face, now, glowed the sunlight of intelligence and understanding—a light which deep acquaintance with the books Tommy had been reading will bring to any face. She had a talk with him the very first day.
“And you liked the books?” she asked.
His sparkling eyes gave answer.
“Which hero did you like the best?”
“Oh, John Ridd,” he cried. “John Ridd best of all. He was so big, so strong, so brave, so—”
He paused, at loss for a word.
“So steadfast,” she said, helping him, “so honest, so good, so true. Yes, I think I like him best, too—better than David or Ivanhoe or Henry Esmond. And now, Tommy,” she continued, more seriously, “I want you to do something for me—something I am sure you can do, and which will help me very much.”
“Oh, if I could!” he cried, with bright face.
“I am sure you can. How many children do you suppose there are in that row of houses where you live?”
He stopped for a moment to compute them.
“About twenty-five,” he said at last.
“And how many of them come to school?”
“None of them but me.”
“Don’t you think they ought to come? Aren’t you glad that you came?”
“Oh, yes!” cried Tommy.
“Well, I have tried to get them to come, and failed,” she said. “Perhaps I didn’t know the right way to approach them. Now I want you to try. I believe you will know better how to reach them than I did. You may fail, too, but at least you can try.”
“I will try,” he said, and that evening he visited all the cabins in the row, one after another. What arts he used was never known—what subtleties of flattery and promise. He met with much discouragement; for instance, he could get none of the men to consent to send to school any of the boys who were old enough to help them in the mines. But when he started to school next morning, six small children accompanied him, among them his brother Johnny. And what a welcome the teacher gave him! She seemed unable to speak for a moment, and her eyes gleamed queerly, but when she did speak, it was with words that sent a curious warmth to his heart.
That half-dozen children was only the first instalment to come from the cabins. Tommy, prizing above everything his teacher’s gratitude, kept resolutely at work, and soon the benches at the schoolroom began to assume quite a different appearance from that they had had at the opening of school; and one day when Jabez Smith came down to look the school over, he declared that it would soon be necessary to put in some new forms.
“And you were gittin’ discouraged,” he said, half jestingly, to Miss Andrews. “Didn’t I tell you t’ stick to it an’ you’d win?”
“Oh, but it wasn’t I who won!” she cried. And in a few words she told him the story of Tommy’s missionary work, and of his connection with the school.
“Which is th’ boy?” he asked quickly, when the story was finished, and she pointed out Tommy where he sat bending over his book.
Mr. Smith looked at him for some moments without speaking.
“There must be somethin’ in th’ boy, Miss Bessie,” he said at last. “We must do somethin’ fer him. When you’re ready, let me know. Mebbe I kin help.” And he went out hastily, before she could answer him.
But the words sang through her brain. “Do something for him”—of course they must do something for him; but what? The question did not long remain unanswered.
It was when she met Mr. Bayliss one Sunday in a walk along the river, and related to him the success of Tommy’s efforts, that he broached the project he had been developing.
“The boy must be given a chance,” he said. “I believe he could do a great work among these people—greater, surely, than I have been able to do.” And he sighed as he thought of his years of effort and of the empty seats which confronted him at every service. “See how he has helped you. Now he must help me.”
“But how?” she asked. And old Jabez Smith’s promise again recurred to her.
“I haven’t thought it out fully, but in outline it is something like this. We will teach him here all that we can teach. Then we’ll send him to the preparatory school at Lawrenceville for the final touches. Then he will enter Princeton, and—if his bent lies as I believe it does—the seminary. Think what he could do, coming back here equipped as such a course would equip him, and having, too, a perfect understanding of the peculiar people he is to work among! Why, I tell you, it would almost work a miracle from one end of this valley to the other.” And he paused to contemplate for a moment this golden-hued picture which his words had conjured up.
His companion caught the glow of his enthusiasm.
“It would,” she cried; “it would! But can he take such a polish? Is he strong enough? Is it not too late?”
“I believe he is strong enough. I believe it is not too late. The only trouble,” he added reflectively, “will be about the cost.”
“Yes. There will be no question of that after he gets to Princeton, for I can easily get him a scholarship, and there are many ways in which a student can earn money enough to pay his other expenses. But at Lawrenceville it is different.”
Miss Andrews looked up at him with dancing eyes.
“About what will the expense at Lawrenceville be?” she asked.
He paused a moment to consider.
“Say three hundred dollars a year. I think I can arrange for it not to cost more than that, if I can get him one of the Foundation Scholarships, as I am certain I can.”
“And the course?”
“Is four years—but we may be able to cut it down to three. Let us count on three.”
“Nine hundred dollars,” she said, half to herself. Then of a sudden, “Mr. Bayliss, I believe I can provide the money.”
“You!” he cried in astonishment.
“Oh, not I myself,” she laughed. “One of my friends. I will talk it over with him.”
He looked at her, still more astonished.
“Talk it over?” he repeated. “Do you mean to say that we have a philanthropist in our midst?”
“But I shall not tell you his name,” she said, her eyes alight. “Not just yet, at any rate. Let us get on to other particulars. I see another rock ahead in the person of his father. Do you think he will consent?”
“I had thought of that,” answered the minister, slowly. “That will be another great difficulty. But I believe he will consent if we go about it carefully. He is beginning to take a certain pride in the boy,—so is the mother,—and I shall appeal to that. It is worth trying.”
“Yes, it is worth trying,” she repeated, “and we will try.”
Tommy, who lay in his favorite spot high up on the mountain, reading for the tenth time of John Ridd’s fight for Lorna, saw them walking together along the river path. He watched them pacing slowly back and forth, deep in converse, but he had no thought that they were planning his life for him.
JABEZ SMITH MAKES A BUSINESS PROPOSITION
When one is fired with an idea, the wisest thing is to work it out immediately, and Miss Andrews lost no time in carrying through her part of the bargain. She knew Jabez Smith’s habits from a year’s observation, and that evening, after supper, she hunted him out where he sat on the back porch of the house, reflectively smoking his pipe. His preference for the back porch over the front porch was one of his peculiarities. From the front porch one could see the whole sweep of the valley, with its ever-changing beauties of light and shade. From the back one, nothing was visible but the imminent hillside mounting steeply upward.
To be sure, if one leaned forward in his chair, a glimpse might be had of the mouth of a coal-mine high up on the hillside, and his sister said that it was to look at this that Jabez sat on the back porch. It seemed likely enough, for it was from that drift that he had drawn enough money to make his remaining years comfortable. Jabez Smith had come into these mountains while they were yet a wilderness, unknown, or almost so, to white men, save where the highroads crossed them scores of miles apart. What circumstance had driven him from his home near Philadelphia was never known, but certain it was that he had plunged alone into the mountains, and battled through them until he had reached the New River valley. Caprice, or perhaps the beauty of the place, moved him to make his home here. He bought two hundred acres of land for half as many dollars, built himself a rude log cabin, and settled down, apparently to spend the remainder of his life in solitude.
Then came the discovery of the great beds of coal, and the building of the railroad through this very valley. His two hundred acres jumped in value to a thousand times what he had paid for them, and when the Great Eastern Coal Company was organized to develop the mines, he sold to them all of the land except a few acres which he reserved for his home. There he had built a comfortable house, and had sent for his widowed sister to come and live with him. He gradually grew to be something of a power in the place, and had been postmaster ever since an office had been established there. It was he who had secured money for the erection of the school-house, and he had been the only local contributor to Mr. Bayliss’s church. Still, he was a peculiar man, and bore the reputation of being harsh. Women said that was because he had never married. Men wondered why, with all his wealth, he should be content to spend his life in this humdrum and unattractive place. But he seemed to pay no heed to all these comments. He formed habits of peculiar regularity, and one of these was, as has been already said, to sit on the back porch after supper and smoke an evening pipe.
It was there he was that Sunday evening, and he turned as he heard steps on the porch behind him.
“Ah, Miss Bessie, good evenin’,” he said cordially. “Won’t y’ take a cheer?” And he waved his hand toward a little low rocker that stood in one corner. “I hope y’ don’t object t’ terbaccer,” he added, as she brought the chair forward and sat down.
“Do you suppose I should have come here to disturb you if I did?” she retorted laughingly. “I want you to keep on smoking. I know a man is always more inclined to grant a favor when he’s smoking.”
He glanced at her quickly, with just a trace of suspicion in his eyes, and moved uneasily in his chair.
“What’s th’ favor?” he asked.
“You remember I was telling you the other day about Tommy Remington,” she began, “and you said something must be done for the boy, and that you wished to help.”
“’Twasn’t exactly thet,” he corrected, smiling in spite of himself, “but thet’ll do.”
“Well, we have a plan,” she continued, “a good plan, I believe”; and she told him of her talk with Mr. Bayliss.
He sat silent for a long time after she had finished, smoking slowly, and looking at the hillside.
“I dunno,” he said at last. “I dunno. It’s a resky thing t’ send a boy out thet way. But mebbe it’ll turn out all right. As I understan’, it’ll take nine hunderd dollars t’ put it through.”
“Nine hundred,” she nodded.
He took a long whiff and watched the smoke as it circled slowly upward.
“Nine hunderd,” he repeated. “Thet’s a lot o’ money—a good bit o’ money. I’m afeard I ain’t got thet much t’ give away, Miss Bessie. I don’ believe in givin’ people money, anyways.”
He glanced at her and saw how her face changed. Her voice was trembling a little when she spoke.
“Very well, Mr. Smith,” she said. “Of course it is a lot of money. I had no right to ask you.” And she rose to go. “I’ll tell Mr. Bayliss, and we will find some other plan.”
“Set down!” he interrupted, almost roughly. “Set down, an’ wait till I git through.”
She sat down again, looking at him with astonishment not unmixed with fear.
“Now,” he continued, “I said I didn’t hev thet much money t’ give away, but thet ain’t sayin’ I ain’t got it t’ loan. Now I’m a business man. I don’ believe in fosterin’ porpers. If this yere Tommy o’ yourn shows he’s got th’ stuff in him t’ make a scholar, an’ you git his father t’ consent t’ his goin’ away, I’ll tell you what I’ll do, jest as a business proposition. I’ll loan him three hunderd dollars at five per cent., t’ be paid back when he earns it. Thet’ll pay fer one year, an’ I reckon I kin make th’ same proposition when th’ second an’ third years come round, pervided, of course, th’ boy turns out th’ way you expect. Ef ’t takes four years, why, all right.”
He stopped to get his pipe going again, and his hearer started from her chair with glistening eyes.
“Oh, Mr. Smith,” she began, but he waved her back.
“Set down, can’t yer?” he cried, more fiercely than ever; and she sank back again, beginning at last to understand something of this man. “I ain’t through yet. When you git ready fer the money, you come t’ me an’ I’ll make out th’ note. You kin take it t’ him an’ let him sign it. But I don’ want no polly-foxin’ roun’ me. I won’t stan’ it. You tell th’ boy t’ keep away from me, an’ don’ you let anybody else know about it, er I won’t loan him a cent.”
She sat looking at him, her lips trembling.
“Now you mind,” he repeated severely, shaking his pipe at her, but not daring to meet her eyes. “I won’t have no foolin’. Promise you’ll keep this t’ yourself.”
She was laughing now, her eyes bright with unshed tears.
“I promise,” she cried. “But oh, Mr. Smith, you can’t prevent my thinking, though you may prevent my talking. Do you want to know what I think of what you’ve done?”
He shook a threatening finger, but she was bending over him and looking down into his eyes.
“No, you can’t frighten me! I’m not in the least afraid of you, for I think you’re a dear, dear, dear!”
He half started from his chair, but she turned and fled into the house, casting one sparkling glance over her shoulder as she went. He sank back into his seat with a face quite the reverse of angry, and started up his pipe again, and as he gazed out at the hillside he was tasting one of the great sweetnesses of life.
That evening, at the close of the service in the little church, Miss Andrews waited for the minister, to tell him her good news.
“And who is this Good Samaritan?” he asked, when she had finished. “It may be business, as he says, but it’s rather queer business, it seems to me, to lend a boy nine hundred dollars, with no security but his own, and with an indefinite time in which to repay it. What could have persuaded him to do it?”
“Well,” she said thoughtfully, “he saw the boy.”
“And the boy had you to plead his cause,” he added, smiling at her. “Come, I’ll not ask you again who this mysterious benefactor is. Perhaps I suspect. I think I’ve had some dealings with him myself.”
“I knew it!” she cried, clapping her hands in her excitement. “I knew this was not the first time, the moment he began to talk harshly to me. Oh, you should have heard him!”
“I have heard him,” he laughed. “Yes, and felt him, too.”
He shook his head.
“He would not like it. Besides, I promised not to.”
“But you will mention no names,” she protested. “You will not tell me who he is. Surely, he could not object to that!”
“I fear that is a dangerous subtlety,” he said, smiling; “but it can do no harm, since you already know.”
Here is the story—with a few details about himself which the minister somehow neglected to give.
Three years before, there had been a strike in the mines of the Great Eastern Coal Company. What caused it is no matter now—some grievance, real or fancied, on the part of the miners. They had demanded redress, the company had refused to make any change in the existing order of things, and, in consequence, one morning, when the whistle blew, not a single man answered it, and the mines were shut down.
For a time things went much as usual in New River valley. The miners sat in front of their houses smoking, or gathered in little groups here and there to talk over the situation. But by degrees the appearance of contentment disappeared. None of the men had saved much money; many had none at all; still more were already in debt at the company store—they had got into the habit of exceeding their earnings there, of receiving, at the end of every month, instead of a pay envelope, a “snake statement,” with a zigzag line drawn from indebtedness to credit given. Further credit at the store was refused, and it was whispered about that the company meant to starve them into subjection. The faces of the men began to show an ominous scowl; the groups became larger and the talk took on a menacing tone. The reporters who had hurried to the scene telegraphed their papers that there would soon be trouble in the New River valley.
During all this time Mr. Bayliss had worked unceasingly to bring the strike to an end. He had labored with the officials of the company, and with the men. Both sides were obdurate. The men threatened violence; the company responded that in the event of violence it would call on the law to protect its property, and that the muskets of the troops would be loaded with ball. In the meantime the wives and children of the miners had no food, and things were growing desperate.
Just when matters were at their worst, a strange thing happened. One of the miners one morning found a sack of flour on his doorstep; another found a side of bacon; a third a basket of potatoes; a fourth, a measure of meal. Whence the gifts came no one knew; and no one tried to probe the mystery, for it was whispered about that it was bad luck to try to discover the giver, since he evidently wished to remain unknown. Word of all this came, of course, to Mr. Bayliss, and he wondered like the rest.
He was called, one night, to a cabin on the mountain-side, where a miner’s wife lay ill. It was not till long past midnight that she dropped asleep, and after comforting the husband and children as well as lay in his power, he left the cabin and started homeward. It was a clear, starlit night in late October, and he lingered on the way to breathe in the sweet, fresh fragrance of the woods—a pleasant contrast to the close cabin he had just left. As he paused for a moment to look along the valley, and wonder anew at its beauty, he heard footsteps mounting the path toward him, and glancing down, he saw a man approaching apparently carrying a heavy load. Wondering who it could be abroad at this hour, he stood where he was and awaited the stranger’s approach. But he did not come directly to him. He turned up a path which led to a cabin, and the watcher saw him place a bundle on the doorstep. With leaping heart, he understood. It was the man who had been saving the miners’ families from starvation.
His pulse was beating strangely as he saw the man return to the main path and again mount toward him. As he came opposite him, the minister stepped out of the shadow.
“My friend,” he said gently.
The stranger started as though detected in the commission of some crime, dropped the sacks he was carrying, and sprang upon the other.
“What d’ y’ mean?” he cried hoarsely, clutching him fiercely by the shoulders. “Spyin’, was y’?”
The minister smiled into his face, despite the pain his rough clasp caused him.
“No, I was not spying, Mr. Smith,” he said. “I came this way quite by accident. But I thank God for the accident that has made you known to me.”
Jabez Smith dropped his hands.
“The preacher!” he muttered, and looked at him shamefacedly. “Promise me you’ll fergit about this, Mr. Bayliss.”
“How can I promise what I can never do?” asked the other, with a smile. “I shall remember it night and morning in my prayers.”
“At least,” said Jabez, imploringly, “promise me you’ll tell nobody, sir. If y’ do tell,” he added fiercely, “it’ll stop right here!”
The minister smiled at him through a mist of tears.
“I’ll promise to tell no one, Mr. Smith,” he said.
“That’ll do,” growled Jabez. “Good night.” And he turned to pick up his bundles.
“Nay,” said the minister, quickly, “not yet. Let me help you. That is too heavy a load for one man, however light his heart may be.” And he stooped and picked up two of the sacks.
The other grumbled a little, but saw it was of no use to protest, and they toiled up the hill together. At last every one of the bundles had been left behind, and they turned homeward.
“Mr. Smith,” began the minister, softly, “I can’t tell you how my heart has been moved to-night.”
“Stop!” cried the other. “Stop! I won’t have it!”
“At least, let me ease you of this night toil,” persisted the minister. “You must not tax your strength like this, night after night. I can guess what joy it gives you, but you will kill yourself, or at best bring on serious illness.”
The other shook his head and walked on in silence.
“But I may help you as I have to-night,” the minister pleaded. “Let me do that. I should love to do it. I take no credit to myself, but I should love to do it.”
It was only after much persuasion that Jabez consented even to this. But consent he did, finally, and every night after that they went forth together on their errand of mercy, until at last miners and mine-owners reached a compromise and the strike ended. Since then, other cases of great need had been helped in the same way—only worthy cases, though, and in no instance had he helped the lazy or wilfully idle. A man who would not work, declared Jabez, sternly, deserved to starve.
When Miss Andrews that evening ran up the steps which led to the door of the Smith homestead, her lips still quivering from the story she had heard, she caught a glimpse of the owner. It was only a glimpse, for when he saw her coming he dived hastily indoors.
MISS ANDREWS ACCEPTS AN INVITATION
Life in New River valley, full of toil as it was, full of the stern, trying struggle for existence, had still its moments of relaxation, and in these, as she came to know the people better, the little schoolmistress was summoned to take a part—first in the church “socials,” which Mr. Bayliss organized from time to time in his unceasing efforts to bring the people within his doors and to get nearer to them; then at the informal little gatherings which took place at the homes of the wealthier families in the long winter evenings. Wealth is only a comparative term, and a man considered wealthy in the coal-fields may still be close to poverty; but most of them were honest and hospitable and open-hearted, and the lonely girl found many friends among them.
And they, when they saw her so thoroughly in earnest, regarded her with an admiration and respect which grew gradually to affection. To the men, roughened by labor in the mines and by year-long contact with the unlovely side of life, this delicate and gentle girl was singularly attractive, and their voices instinctively took a softer tone than usual when they spoke to her. To the women she was a revelation of neatness and refinement, and any suspicion or envy with which they may have regarded her at first was soon forgotten when they found her so eager to help them in every way she could, so free from guile and selfishness, so willing to give them of her best. Gradually, a keen observer might have noted, the hats of the women and girls of her acquaintance became less gaudy; gradually dresses of flaming greens and yellows disappeared; slowly certain rudiments of good taste began to be apparent. Of all the battles Bessie Andrews waged—and they numbered many more than may be set down in this short history—this one against the liking for garish things in dress was not the least heroic, requiring such patience, tact, and gentle resolution as few possess.
It was at a little party one evening at the home of George Lambert, superintendent of one of the larger mines, that her host swung suddenly around upon her with a proposition which for a moment took her breath away.
“You’ve been here nearly a year now, Miss Bessie,” he began, “and you’ve seen about everything the valley’s got to show. You’ve been on top of Old Nob—”
“Oh, yes; Mr. Bayliss and two of the boys took me up there last spring.”
“And you’ve been down to the falls?”
“Yes; we had a picnic there, you know.”
“But there’s one place you haven’t been.”
“And where is that, Mr. Lambert?”
“That’s back in our mine.”
For a moment she did not answer, and Mrs. Lambert laughed a little as she looked at her.
“That’s a great honor, Miss Bessie,” she said. “George is very particular about whom he asks to go through the mine. He thinks it’s the loveliest place on earth.”
Still she hesitated. It was one of the things she had longed yet feared to do. She had sometimes thought it was her duty to go, that she could not hope to wholly understand this people unless she saw them at their daily toil. But the black openings yawning here and there in the mountain-side frightened her; they called into life weird imaginings; it seemed so terrible to walk back into them, away from the air and the sunlight.
“Why,” laughed Lambert, reading her thoughts in her face, “to look at you one would think you could never hope to get out alive! There hasn’t been an accident—a really bad accident—in our mine for over eight years. It’s perfectly safe or I wouldn’t ask you to go. A coal-mine is a mighty interesting thing to see, Miss Bessie.”
There was something so encouraging in his eyes and voice, so reassuring in his confidence, that her fears slipped from her.
“Of course it is interesting,” she said, “and thank you for the invitation, sir. I shall be very glad to go.”
“And how about you, Mr. Bayliss?” asked Lambert.
“Why, yes; I should like to go, too. I’ve been through the mine three or four times, but it has a great fascination for me.”
“That’s good. Suppose we say Saturday morning. Will that suit you, Miss Bessie?”
“It will suit me very well, sir,” answered the girl, a little faintly, remembering that Saturday was only two days away.
“All right; Mr. Bayliss and I will stop for you. And say—there’s one thing; you want to wear the oldest dress you’ve got—a short skirt, you know.”
“Very well,” she smiled. “I think I have a gown that will answer.”
Whatever misgivings she may have experienced in the meantime, they were not apparent on her face when she came out to meet the two men bright and early that Saturday morning.
“That’s the stuff!” said Lambert, looking approvingly at her natty costume of waterproof. “That’s just the thing.”
“Yes; I think this will defy even a coalmine,” she answered, laughing. “It has withstood a good many mountain storms, I know.”
“Well, if you’re ready we are,” said Lambert, and set off along the railroad track that led to the big tipple.
“And you’re going to tell me everything about it?” she asked.
“Of course; that’s what I’m for. Mr. Bayliss maybe’ll help me a little if I get hoarse,” he added slyly.
“Not I!” cried that gentleman. “In the science of coal-mining I am still in the infant class. I’ll let you do the talking, Mr. Lambert, and will be very glad to listen myself.”
Lambert strode on, chuckling to himself. He was certainly qualified, if any one was, to tell her “everything.” He had made the mine a study and life-work, and regarded it with pride and affection. Every foot of its many passages was as familiar to him as those of his own home. The men knew that with him in charge the mine was as safe as skill and care could make it; in hours of trouble, which were certain to come at times, his clear eyes and cheery voice, his quick wit and indomitable will, were mighty rocks of refuge to cling to and lean against until the storm was past. As he walked along beside them this bright morning, alert, head erect, his two companions glanced admiringly at him more than once, knowing him for a man who did things worth doing.
“Well,” he said at last, as they reached the great wooden structure stretching above the track, “here we are at the tipple, and we might as well begin here, though it’s sort of beginning at the wrong end. Let’s go up to the top first, though,” and he led the way up a steep little stair. “Now, Miss Bessie, we have come to the first lesson in the book. The coal is let down from the mine on that inclined railway to this big building, which is built out over the railroad track so the coal can be dumped right into the cars without any extra handling. The coal, as it comes down, is in all sizes, called ‘run of mine’—big lumps and little, and a lot of dirt. So it is dumped out here on this screen,—the bars are an inch and a half apart, you see,—and all the coal that passes over it to that bin yonder is called ‘lump.’ The coal that goes through falls on that other screen down there, with bars three quarters of an inch apart, and all that passes over it is called ‘nut.’ All that falls through is called ‘slack,’ and is hauled away to those big piles you see all around here. Understand all that?”
“Oh, yes; that’s as clear as it can be.”
“That’s good. Now we’ll go up to the mine. Let’s get into this empty car. It’s not as clean as a Pullman, nor as big, but it’s the only kind we run on this road.”
They helped her in, and one sat on either side to steady her, as the tipple-hands coupled it to the cable and the trip up the steep grade began.
“You see, the loaded cars going down pull up the empty ones,” he said. “We make gravitation do all the work. It’s a simple way, and mighty convenient.”
The loaded car, heaped high with coal, passed them midway, and in a moment they were at the mouth of the mine. To her surprise, she saw that there were two openings, one much smaller than the other.
“That smaller one’s the airway,” said Lambert. “Just inside there’s a big wheel, or fan, made very much like the wheel of a windmill, going around about a hundred times a minute, and blowing about a thousand cubic feet of air out of the mine at every revolution.”
“Out of the mine!” exclaimed Miss Andrews.
“Yes. The airway is connected with the gangway there, away back at the farthest limit of the mine. So what happens?”
He was smiling down at her, relishing intensely this novel chance to test the wits of the school-teacher.
“Why,” she began slowly, “if so much air is pumped out, just so much more must rush in to take its place through the other opening.”
“The gangway—yes. And since the only open break-through between them is away at the other end of the mine?”
“The fresh air must go clear through the mine before it can start out again.”
“That’s it—that’s it exactly!” and Lambert slapped his thigh with pleasure at her quickness. “That’s the whole secret, Miss Bessie, of ventilating coal-mines: get your fresh air, and plenty of it, clear back to the end, through every chamber, before it starts out again. So long as you do that, there’s mighty little danger from fire-damp and choke-damp, or any of the other gases the coal is always throwing off.”
“But it isn’t always so simple as this, is it?”
“No. You see, there are three ways of opening a coal-mine, Miss Bessie, of which this is the very simplest. The river, there, has cut down through the seams of coal and left them exposed, so all we have to do is to hunt up those most favorably located and work right back into them. That sort of entrance is called a drift, and is the cheapest as well as simplest, because every blow of the pick brings down so much coal. That’s the great advantage of all the mines along this river—along almost any river, for that matter. Sometimes the seams don’t come to the surface, and then we have to tunnel in horizontally through earth and rock to reach them; that’s the second way. The third way is where the coal is buried deep in the earth, and a vertical opening called a shaft has to be sunk to it, and the gangways started out horizontally from the shaft-foot. That is the most expensive way of all, and the most difficult. This main entrance is called the gangway or entry, and the side workings from it are called butt entries. Well, let’s go in.”
Just inside the entrance a boy supplied them with little smoking tin lamps with hooks to hold them to their hats, and then the trip into the mine began. The darkness that fell upon them almost instantly appalled the girl for a moment. She felt that every step forward must carry her down into a bottomless abyss. She clutched nervously at her companions; but the feeling passed, and soon she was able to advance with greater confidence. The gangway seemed quite level, though Lambert told her it sloped upward slightly so as to throw out all the water that gathered in the mine, and along either side of it ran a narrow wooden track. On one track the loaded cars were brought out of the mine, and on the other the empty cars were taken back again. Mules furnished the motive power, and each of them was driven by a grimy boy. The sight of them going ceaselessly back and forth aroused the old bitterness in her.
“I think it is such a terrible thing,” she said, “that children have to work in the mines!”
“It’s not pleasant,” assented her guide, grimly, “but it’s a case of bread and butter—and mighty little butter. They’re not in any danger, though,” he added, “except from being kicked or bitten by the mules. Some of them are vicious brutes, but the boys soon learn how to handle ’em.”
The rattle of an approaching “trip” of cars drowned his voice, and they stepped aside to let it pass. For a moment they could see nothing; then the mule flashed into view, with a boy lying flat on its back to escape the roof, the flame of his lamp streaming thinly out behind; then four loaded cars, rocking and swaying on the narrow track.
“You see, the slope of the gangway helps get the loaded cars to daylight,” observed Lambert, “as well as throw out the water—and there’s lots of water in a mine.”
That was evident enough. Everywhere about them the black walls were dripping with moisture, and every angle shone bright in the rays of their lamps. From low roof and sides alike gleamed thousands of scintillating points, until it seemed almost that they must be in a mine of diamonds. Along the center of the gangway a row of heavy props had been placed to support the roof and render it quite safe. As they went on, Bessie Andrews began to think it all some dreadful illusion. Mules loomed up suddenly before her; swarthy faces, with no apparent bodies, gleamed for an instant out of the darkness; a constant rumble of cars was in her ears; the lamps sputtered and flared in the strong air-current, and seemed each instant about to go out and leave them in darkness—such a darkness as exists nowhere else. On they went,—miles, as it seemed to her, but really only a few hundred yards,—and came at last to a door, beside which a small boy sat. He jumped up and opened it for them, and they passed through. For a moment they walked on between two narrow walls which opened suddenly before them.
“Now we are in a chamber,” said her guide. “Here we will see the miners at work.”
Far ahead she could see dimly four lights bobbing about in a seemingly senseless way. Suddenly three of them came toward her; she heard somewhere in the distance the cry of “Fire!” repeated over and over. The three lights disappeared; the fourth drew rapidly near, then disappeared also. She felt Lambert catch her by the arm to steady her; there was a sudden beating of the air against her face, the dull rumble of an explosion, the crash of falling coal, and then a moment’s breathless silence.
THE GOOD WORLD!
“It was only a blast,” said Lambert, smiling down into the white face his flickering lamp disclosed to him. “Let us go up to the face of the room and see it.”
The four lights ahead had reappeared again and were bobbing about distractedly, and as they went forward toward them through a cloud of acrid smoke, she saw two men rapidly filling a mine car, while the other two were busy setting a new prop under the roof. These last two were the master-miners, her guide told her, and she watched them with interest while they set a post of hard wood upright and secured it in place by driving a broad wedge between it and the roof.
“That big wedge gives the post more purchase on the roof, you know,” Lambert explained. “See, the car is full; it holds a little over a ton.”
The two laborers pushed it down the track to the foot of the chamber, where a driver-boy would pick it up on his next trip out.
“Every car has a tag on it to show which room it comes from,” went on the superintendent, “and when it gets outside, the coal is weighed and credited to the men who mined it. The men usually work in pairs,—butties, they call them,—and each man has a helper whom he has to pay out of his earnings. That’s the reason so many of the men make their boys work for them.”
The props needed to support the roof were set, the coal brought down by the blast cleared out of the way, the dirt and debris scraped to one side, and the two miners looked carefully over the wall of coal before them and held a little consultation. Then one of them removed his lamp from his cap and lay down on his side, and with a sharp pick began to cut in the coal a deep horizontal groove about a foot above the floor. The other miner lighted him at his work, and when he grew tired, as he soon did because of the strained position, changed places with him.
“We might as well go,” said Lambert, at last. “There won’t be anything more to see here for a good while. They’ve got to cut that groove about two feet deep all the way across the face before they can begin blasting again. You see, the bottom layer of coal is slaty, and the powder needed to blast it out would break the good coal above it into little bits. So they take out the good coal first. That’s just one of the tricks of the trade—there’s a thousand more.”
He was busy guiding her safely down the chamber, and Mr. Bayliss, left to his own devices, suddenly found himself stumbling wildly over the high caps in which the wooden rails of the track were laid. Lambert rescued him, laughing, and they reached the foot of the room just in time to see a driver-boy bring in his mule, hitch it to the loaded car, pull it out to the main track, and attach it to his trip. The door closed behind them instantly as they went out.
“What is the door for?” asked Miss Andrews.
“To keep the air-current from going along that entry. If it wasn’t closed, the current would take a shortcut through there back to the airway, and the rooms farther on wouldn’t get any. The door shuts off the in-current, and so the air doesn’t get to those rooms over there till it’s on its way out.”
“And how many of these rooms are there?”
“We’re working about thirty now.”
“With four men in each one?”
“Yes; there’s nearly a hundred and fifty men and boys at work. We’ve worked out about a hundred rooms to the right, here, drawn back the ribs, and closed them up.”
“‘Drawn back the ribs’?”
“Yes; you see, when the rooms are first opened we have to leave pillars about twelve feet thick between them to hold up the roof. Well, when the seam has been worked out to the limit, or as far as we can go profitably from the main entry, we take out these pillars, too, before we close up the working. That’s called ‘drawing back the ribs.’”
“But you said the pillars were needed to hold up the roof.”
“Then when you take them out doesn’t the roof fall?”
“It does sometimes,” said Lambert, grimly, “but we do the work as quickly and carefully as we can, and put in a lot of extra posts. It’s dangerous, I admit, but it has to be done, or there wouldn’t be much profit in coal-mining. You see, Miss Bessie, our rooms are only twenty-one feet wide—that’s as wide as it’s safe to make them. Well, if we leave walls twelve feet thick between them, we lose over one third of the coal in the mine. And remember that every ton of this last third can be got out without any additional initial expense—for gangways, tracks, tipple, and so on, you know. We can’t afford to waste all that; if we did, we’d lose our profit and would have to shut up shop.”
She did not answer, but walked along beside him, deep in thought. It seemed such a savage irony that men must risk their lives in order to render the business profitable!
“There is the opening into the old part of the mine,” said Lambert, pointing to a tight door upon which had been painted in great flaming letters.
“Does that mean there’s a fire in there?” she asked.
“Well,” said her guide, “there isn’t any fire there now, but there probably would be—and a big explosion, too—if anybody went through there with a lighted lamp. We blow the place out every once in a while,—the law compels us to,—but in those old workings the fire-damp collects pretty fast.”
“I’ve heard stories about fire-damp ever since I’ve been old enough to read the newspapers,” she said. “What is it, Mr. Lambert?”
“The chemists call it light carbureted hydrogen; most people know it as ‘marsh-gas,’ because you can see it bubbling up whenever you stir the water of a marsh; but the miner calls it ‘fire-damp.’ There’s a lot of it in coal, especially soft coal, and after every blast more or less of it is released. If the air-current is good, this is blown away before it can do any harm. If the ventilation is bad, the gas collects gradually at the top of a room. Pretty soon it will get low enough to touch the flame in one of the lamps, and then usually there is a big explosion which wrecks all that part of the mine. If there isn’t enough of it to explode, it catches fire and rolls back and forth across the roof, and if the miners aren’t burnt to death, they’re pretty likely to be suffocated by the after-damp.”
“That’s another word.”
“Yes; after-damp or choke-damp is only the miner’s word for the carbonic-acid gas generated by the combustion of fire-damp. It is heavier than atmospheric air, and so settles at once to the floor of the room. Two breaths of it will cause death, and the miner who has thrown himself on the floor to protect himself from the fire hasn’t much chance unless he gets up and out pretty quickly.”
Miss Andrews drew a long breath of dismay.
“And is that all?” she asked at last.
“Oh, no”; and the superintendent laughed at her tone. “There are other kinds. There is white-damp, more deadly than either of the others, but much less common; and even coal-dust itself forms a very violent explosive under certain conditions. The one great protection against them all is perfect ventilation—only mighty few things are perfect in this world, and mine ventilation isn’t one of them. But here I’m yawping away like a man on a lecture platform; aren’t you getting tired of listening?”
“No, indeed!” she answered warmly, and they went on along other entries, into other rooms. Everywhere the same nerve-straining, muscle-tearing toil was in progress; blast followed blast; the coal was carried away, out to daylight—the first daylight it had ever seen; everywhere was the rumble of the cars, the shouts of the driver-boys.
“So you have been through a coalmine,” said her guide, when he had brought them at last back to the entrance. “There’s not many women in this great country can say as much. And now I’ll have to leave you—Mr. Bayliss is a pretty fair guide for the open air. Will you ride down?”
“No, thank you,” she said. “We’d prefer to walk, I think. And sometime I’ll thank you properly for your kindness; just now I’m too dazed, too astonished by it all, to think clearly.”
“That’s all right,” he said, laughing. “I’ll bet I enjoyed it more than you did”; and waving his hand to them, he turned back into the mine.
They went slowly down the path along the mountain-side, breathing in deep drafts of the pure, sweet air, looking about with new delight on the beauties of hill and valley.
“Oh, Mr. Bayliss,” she burst out at last, “I never before quite realized what a good, beautiful world it is!”
“No,” he answered, smiling at her emotion and understanding it; “I think it would do most of us good to spend an hour in a coal-mine now and then, if only for the joy of coming out.”
“But to stay there!” she said, with a little shudder. “To labor there day after day—it is too horrible!”
“It is horrible,” he assented, quite grave now. “Yet it is difficult to see how it can be avoided. The world needs coal, just as it needs iron and lead and silver and many other things which must be dug up out of its depths.”
“But the world is so selfish!”
“Yes; it certainly rewards very poorly the men who do this labor for it. Yet I think that in a few more years mining will be no more dangerous than any other manual labor. Every year, almost, some new step is taken to lessen its dangers, and I believe I shall live to see the time when every mine will be lighted from end to end with electricity, and the hardest part of the work will be done by steam, or compressed air, or some other power.”
“Let us hope so, at least,” she said fervently, “and in the meantime—”
“And in the meantime do all that we can to make up for the world’s selfishness.”
“Yes—by being patient and helpful; that is just what you have been here. I have seen it and rejoiced in it, Miss Andrews.”
She looked away from him with a little gesture of protest, but he did not heed her.
“And I know,” he went on, “that you can understand something of the feeling and purpose that kept me here for those four years before you came; you know I had practically no success at all till then.”
“Oh, yes, you had!” she cried. “You had done so much! I think the field was ready.”
“For instance,” he went on quietly, “I should never have found Tommy Remington.”
“I did not find him—he came to me of his own accord.”
“I had been here four years, but he never thought of coming to me. And no doubt there are many others who will come, as time goes on—though, I fancy, few quite like him. I have great hopes for him.”
“Yes—I know; and so have I. And I am sure we are not going to be disappointed—”
“Since Jabez Smith has made the way so smooth for us.”
“What a splendid man he is!” she cried. “Who would have thought that here—in this place—”
She looked about her at the sordid details of the scene,—the grimy cabins, the piles of slack,—and left the sentence uncompleted. But she had proved for herself one great and hopeful truth—that no corner of the world is so small or mean but that love and helpfulness may be found there.
GOOD-BY TO NEW RIVER VALLEY
The passing days dulled somewhat her memory of the terrors of the mine, and brought her to a truer view of it than had been possible in those first moments. After all, she reflected, there is none of the great, strenuous occupations of life which has not its peculiar dangers. The sailor, the engineer, the builder, the fireman—each must look death boldly in the face at times, and each, no doubt, comes strengthened out of the hour of trial. To the miner that daily journey into the darkness becomes one of life’s commonplaces, and is in no way nerve-disturbing—just as the master-builder will walk calmly and unhesitatingly across a narrow beam high in air, where another man would falter and grow sick.
And then the work, warm under her hand, was growing ever more absorbing, for the task of building up Tommy’s education had begun in earnest. In this she found the minister a devoted helper. How carefully the boy’s studies were mapped out between them! They did not tell him the whole plan, but only so much of it as would serve to give him ambition to get on, without appalling him at the work which lay before him. It was not an easy thing to compress into one year the studies which ordinarily must have taken four or five, but the boy developed a great willingness and capacity for work, and if there were times when his teachers despaired, there were others when the way seemed bright before them. I think they both took pleasure in watching his growth and development from week to week,—almost, indeed, from day to day,—in noting the birth of new thoughts and the power of grasping new ideas. To cultured minds there is no occupation more delightful, so the devoted labor of this man and woman was not wholly without reward. But at last such progress had been made that Mr. Remington’s consent must be obtained before they could venture on further steps.
Mr. Bayliss went about the task one Sunday afternoon, as the only time he could find the boy’s father at home and not wholly worn out with fatigue. He approached the cabin with great inward misgiving, but with determination to win if it were possible to do so. He found the family, as he had found it once before, listening to Tommy’s reading, only this time the reader proceeded with much greater fluency. He stopped as Mr. Bayliss knocked, and welcoming him warmly, placed a chair for him. The minister greeted the other members of the family, and plunged at once into his business, before his courage should fail him.
“You enjoy your son’s reading a great deal, do you not?” he asked.
“Ya-as,” assented the miner, slowly. “It’s a great thing. I hed no idee there was such books in th’ world.”
“There are thousands of them.” And the minister smiled. “Not all, perhaps, quite so good and worthy as the ones you have been reading, but many of more direct value. There are books that tell about the sciences—about the stars and the earth and the flowers, and about animals and man. There are books that tell about the different countries of the earth, written by men who have traveled through all these countries. There are others that tell the history of the earth and of all the peoples that have ever lived on it, so far as it is known. There are hundreds which tell of the lives of great men—of kings and emperors and great generals and statesmen; yes, and of the men who have written the great books. Many of these are written in the English language, but there are many, too, in Latin and Greek, and French, and Italian, and German, and Spanish, which are no less valuable.”
The miner and his wife sat staring with starting eyes at the speaker.
“But—but nobody ever read ’em all!” gasped the latter.
“Certainly no one man ever read them all.” And the minister smiled again. “But any man may read and understand a great part of the best of them. Tommy might, if he had the chance.”
Tommy sat suddenly bolt upright in his chair, and the blood flew to his face.
“Th’ chance?” repeated his mother, slowly. “What d’ you mean by th’ chance, Mr. Bayliss?”
“I mean that after he had learned all that Miss Andrews and I could teach him, he would have to go away for a time to study—to Princeton, say, where I went, where there are men who devote their whole lives to teaching.”
Mr. Remington stirred impatiently in his chair.
“What fer?” he demanded. “S’pose he could read all th’ books in th’ world, what good ’d it do him?”
The minister perceived that there was only one argument which would be understood—the utilitarian one, the one of dollars and cents, of earning a living.
“When a man has learned certain things,” he explained, “he can teach them to others. A man who can teach things well can always command a good position. It would rescue your son from the mines, and, I believe, would make him better and happier.”
The miner sat for a moment, turning this over in his mind.
“Mebbe ’twould, an’ then ag’in mebbe ’twouldn’t,” he said at last. “Anyway,” he added, with an air of finality, “it ain’t t’ be thort of. How kin I pay fer him t’ go away t’ school? It must cost a heap o’ money. Why, I can’t hardly keep my fambly in bread an’ meat an’ clothes.”
It was the objection the minister had been waiting for, and he seized upon it eagerly.
“We’ll provide for all that, Mr. Remington,” he said. “It sha’n’t cost you a cent. Of course I know the struggle you have to get along—that every miner has. But every big college has hundreds of scholarships for deserving young men, and there are many ways in which the students can make money enough to pay all their expenses.”
He glanced at Tommy, and saw that his lips were trembling. Mrs. Remington was nervously clasping and unclasping her hands. Even her husband was more moved than he cared to show.
“I’m not going to press you for a decision now,” added the minister. “It’s too grave a question to decide hastily. Yet, if you consider your son’s welfare, I don’t see how you can decide against him. Send him to me to-morrow with your decision. It will be a great thing for him if he can go,” he concluded, and took his leave.
There was silence for a few minutes in the little room. Mrs. Remington continued knitting her fingers together, while her husband stared moodily through the window at the visitor’s retreating form. Tommy sat glued to his chair, hopeful and despairing by turns, not daring to speak. No such momentous crisis had ever before appeared in his life.
“Well, Silas,” said his mother, at last, “it’s like th’ preacher says. It’s a great chance fer th’ boy. He wouldn’t be a-takin’ all this trouble ef he didn’t think th’ boy was worth it.”
The miner turned slowly away from the window and glanced at her and then at their son.
“Would y’ like t’ go, Tommy?” he asked.
There was a tone in his voice which told that the battle was already won. The boy recognized its meaning in an instant.
“Oh, father!” he cried, and his arms were about his neck.
“All right, Tommy,” he said, in a voice not very steady. “I’m not th’ man t’ stand in my boy’s light. Mebbe ef I’d hed a chance like this when I was a boy, I could ’a’ give you a show myself. But I can’t.”
The mother hastily brushed away a tear that was trickling down her wrinkled cheek.
“Come here, Tommy,” she said, and when she had him in her arms: “Your pa ain’t hed much chance, thet’s so,” she said, “but he’s done th’ best he could, an’ he’s been a good man t’ me. Don’t y’ fergit thet, an’ don’t y’ ever be ashamed o’ your pa.”
“You hush, mother,” protested her husband; but there was a tenderness in his voice which made the command almost a caress. After all, not even the slavery of the mines can kill love in the heart, so it be pure and honest, and that little mountain cabin was a shrine that afternoon.
Bright and early the next morning, Tommy, with shining face, took the good news to the minister, and together they rejoiced at it, as did Miss Andrews when she heard. Then work began with new earnestness. Both of them recognized the fact that no education could be sound which was not firmly grounded on the rudiments, the “three R’s,” so they confined themselves to these foundation-stones, and budded them as strongly as they could. There was no more question of working in the mine in the afternoon. His father labored there without a helper, doing two men’s work, blasting down the coal and then loading it on the cars—at what a sacrifice no one unacquainted with the mines can understand. For there is a great social gulf between the miner and the laborer: each has his certain work to do, and does only that. But the father conquered his pride and dared to step down for a time to the lower scale; not without qualm and hesitation and moments of vexation; but there was another light with him besides the smoking oil one that flickered in his cap—a light which came from the heart and made the wearing labor almost easy.
It was not proposed to send Tommy to the preparatory school until mid-September, so there were ten months remaining for work at home. And it was astonishing what progress they made. He had grown through his early boyhood, his mind like a great blank sheet of paper, ready to show and to retain the slightest touch. The beginning had been good,—there had been no false start, no waste of energy, no storing the precious chamber of the mind with useless lumber,—and the progress was still better. Long and anxiously did his two teachers consult together over the best methods to pursue in this unusual case, and his progress proved the wisdom of their decisions.
So the months passed. Spring came, and summer, and at last it was time for Miss Andrews to close her school and return to her home. She was almost sorry to go, her work had grown so fascinating, her life so full and useful. She had come to look upon the world about her from a view-point altogether changed; she thought no longer of how it might affect her, but of how she might affect it. In a word, she had grown to a true woman’s stature, in mind as well as body. But Tommy’s studies were arranged for the summer, and she would be back again before he left for the East. He and the minister waved her good-by from the platform of the little yellow frame station, and turned back to their work. Those summer months were the hardest of them all, for his tutor was determined that the boy should make a good showing at the school, and so kept him close at work, watching carefully, however, to see he was not driven beyond his capacity and the edge taken from his eagerness for knowledge. But, despite the long hours of study, Tommy kept health and strength and freshness. All his life he had used his body only; now he was using his brain, with all the unspent energy of those boyish years stored up in it. And when his other teacher came back to her school she was astonished at his progress.
Mr. Bayliss had good news for her, too, of another sort.
“I have secured him a scholarship,” he said. “I knew I could count on the help of the head-master. It is an unusual concession, too, for the scholarships are rarely granted until the end of the first term. But they have never before had a case like this, and it appealed to them, as I knew it would. So three hundred dollars a year will see him through.”
“That is fine!” she cried. “I will see about the money at once.”
It was the evening after her return from Richmond that she sought out Jabez Smith in his accustomed seat on the back porch. He glanced at her wonderingly as she resolutely brought the low rocker forward, planted it near his chair, and sat down.
“Nice evenin’, ain’t it?” he observed, hitching one leg over the other and puffing his pipe uneasily, for he had developed a great shyness of her.
“Yes, it is a nice evening,” she assented, laughing to herself, for she felt that she knew this man through and through. “I’ve come to make my report, Mr. Smith.”
“Report?” he repeated.
“Yes—about Tommy Remington. He’s been working hard for almost a year, and has made wonderful progress. You wanted us to find out if he had the making of a scholar in him. Well, he has. He is fine enough to take almost any polish.”
Jabez grunted and looked out at the hillside.
“His father has consented, too,” she continued resolutely, “and Mr. Bayliss has secured him a scholarship, so you see we’ve performed our part of the bargain.”
“An’ now y’ want me t’ do mine,” he said. “Well, Jabez Smith never went back on a barg’in, an’ he ain’t a-goin’ t’ break thet record now.”
He took a great wallet from an inside pocket and slowly counted out a pile of bills.
“I was ready fer y’,” he said, and handed her the money. “I guessed you’d be a-comin’ after me afore long. There’s three hunderd dollars. An’ here’s th’ note; now don’t y’ fergit this is business—not a bit o’ sentiment about it. You git him t’ sign his name t’ th’ note, an’ then bring it back t’ me.”
She took the money and the paper with trembling hands.
“Well, ain’t thet all?” he asked, seeing that she still lingered.
“No, it is not all,” she cried impulsively. “I want to tell you something of the great good you’re doing—of how I feel about it.”
“Not a word,” he said sternly. “It’s business, I tell y’.”
“Business!” she echoed. “I suppose all the rest was business, too—the food for the miners’ families when they were starving, the—”
“Stop!” he interrupted fiercely. “D’ y’ want t’ spile my smoke?”
“I see through you!” she cried. “I know you! Be just as cross as you like; I can see the soft, warm heart beating under it all.”
He sprang from his chair as though to run away; but she caught him by the shoulders, pressed him back into it, printed a swift kiss on his forehead, and fled, leaving him staring bewilderedly at the hillside.
She gave Tommy the note next morning and asked him to sign it, telling him, too, of Jabez Smith’s kindness, and that he must make no effort at present to show his gratitude—that could come later. What his thoughts were she could only guess, for after he had signed, he sat for a long time, looking straight before him with eyes that saw nothing, and with lips held tight together to keep them from trembling.
Every period of waiting must have an end, and the day of departure came at last. Word of this new and wonderful venture into the unknown world had got about among the cabins, and quite a crowd gathered at the station to see him off. Opinion was divided as to the wisdom of the enterprise. Some thought it foolish. Others regarded it with a kind of awe. But all looked with interest at the little procession which presently emerged from the Remington cabin and came slowly down the path.
Tommy they hardly knew. His father, by working overtime and practising biting economy, had saved enough money to buy him a new suit of clothes, a new hat, and a new pair of shoes. The remainder of his wardrobe, prepared by his mother with loving fingers, disputed the possession of a small square trunk with the books which the minister had given him and which he would need at Lawrenceville. It was not a gay procession. To father and mother alike, this journey of five hundred miles seemed a tempting of Providence, and Tommy himself was awed at the trip before him. So little was said as they stood on the platform and waited for the train.
Miss Andrews and the minister kept up a desultory talk, but the gloom extended even to them. It is always a venturesome thing to take a boy from the sphere in which he is born and the environment in which he has grown up, and attempt to launch him upon some other plane of life. The responsibility of those who try to shape the lives of others is no little one, nor is it to be undertaken lightly. These two, who fancied they saw in this boy a capability for greater things than mere labor in the mines, fully understood all this, and for the moment it weighed upon them and was not to be shaken off.
At last, away down the track, sounded the whistle of the approaching train, and in a moment it whirled into sight. Mrs. Remington caught her boy in her arms and kissed him.
“Good-by, Tommy,” she said, and pressed him convulsively to her breast. “Be a good boy.”
All pretense of composure dropped from Tommy, and he turned to his father with streaming eyes.
“Good-by, father,” he sobbed.
His father hugged him close.
“Good-by, son,” he said with trembling voice. “Y’ must write to your ma an’ me. The preacher’ll read us th’ letters, an’ we’ll like t’ git ’em.”
“I will, oh, I will!” sobbed Tommy.
The train stopped at the platform with shrieking wheels.
“All aboard!” shouted the conductor. “Hurry up, there.”
Tommy shook hands tremulously with Miss Andrews and the minister. He caught a glimpse of Jabez Smith coming to get the mail, and started toward him with a vague intention of thanking him; but some one caught Tommy by the arm and pushed him up the steps and into the coach. The train was off. Through the window he caught one more glimpse of the little group on the platform, and then the train whirled him away into the great unknown.
A GLIMPSE OF A NEW WORLD
But Tommy’s sorrow did not endure long. How could it in face of the wonders to be seen every minute through the window? For a time the old familiar mountains closed in the view, but they assumed strange and unaccustomed shapes as they whirled backward past him, with the foreground all blurred and the more distant peaks turning in stately line, like mammoth soldiers. A hand on his shoulder brought him from the window.
“Let’s have your ticket, sonny,” said the conductor.
Tommy produced it from the inside pocket of his coat. The conductor took it, unfolded it, and then glanced in surprise from it to the boyish face.
“You’re going a good ways, ain’t you?” he remarked pleasantly. “You’ll have to change cars at Washington. We get there at three thirty-nine this afternoon. I’ll get somebody there to look out after you.”
“Thank you, sir,” answered Tommy. It was good to find that friendly and helpful people lived out in the big world.
“That’s all right,” and the conductor punched his ticket and handed it back to him. “You haven’t got a thing to do now but to sit here and look out the window. Got anything to eat?”
“Yes, sir,” said Tommy, and pointed to a box which his mother had filled for him.
“All right. You’ll find drinking water up there at the end of the car. Mind you don’t try to leave the car or get off when we stop, or you’ll be left.” And with this final warning, he passed on to his other duties.
But Tommy had no desire whatever to move from his seat. The train flew on past miners’ cabins and scattered hamlets, till at last the mines were left behind, and the mountains began to fall back from the river which they had crowded so closely. The great white inn at Clifton Forge, with its stately court and playing fountains, gave him a glimpse of fairyland. Soon he was looking out miles and miles across a wide valley, dotted like a great chess-board with fields of corn and barley, and with the white farm-houses here and there peeping through their sheltering groves of oaks and chestnuts. It seemed a peaceful, happy, contented country, and Tommy’s eyes dwelt upon it wistfully. Wide, level fields were something new to his experience, and he longed to have a good run across them. The mountains fell farther and farther away, until at last not one remained to mar the line where the sky stooped to the horizon.
At Charlottesville Tommy caught his first glimpse of what a great city may be. Now Charlottesville is not by any means a great city, but the crowds which thronged the long platform and eddied away into the streets drew from him a gasp of astonishment. And then the houses, built one against another in long rows that seemed to have no end! He had not thought that people could live so close together.
The train hurried on over historic ground, if Tommy had only known it,—Gordonsville, Culpeper, Manassas,—where thirty-five years before every house and fence and clump of trees had been contested stubbornly and bloodily by blue and gray. Another historic place they touched, Alexandria, where the church George Washington attended and the very pew he sat in still remain. Then along the bank of the Potomac, whose two miles or more of width made the boy gasp again, across a long bridge, and in a moment Tommy found himself looking out at a tall, massive shaft of stone that resembled nothing so much as a gigantic chimney, and beyond it great buildings, and still other great buildings, as far as the eye could reach.
“Washington!” yelled the brakeman, slamming back the door. “All out fo’ Washington!”
Tommy grasped his box convulsively,—it was the only part of his baggage that had been left to his care, for his trunk was ahead in the baggage-car,—and looked anxiously around for his friend the conductor. That blue-coated official had not forgotten him, and in a moment Tommy saw him coming.
“Now you stay right where you are,” he said, “till I get all the other passengers off, and then I’ll come back after you.”
“All right, sir,” answered Tommy, breathing a sigh of relief. “I’ll be right here, sir.”
The crowds at Charlottesville were nothing to those that hurried past him now, and he sat watching them, fascinated, until he heard the conductor calling from the door.
“Step lively, sonny,” he called, and as they jumped down together to the platform, he saw that Tommy was carrying the unopened box in which his dinner was. “Why, look here,” he said, “didn’t you eat anything?”
Tommy looked down at the box, and hesitated a moment in the effort at recollection.
“I don’t believe I did,” he said at last. “I forgot about it. I wasn’t hungry.”
“I’ll bet it’s the first time you ever forgot your dinner,” chuckled the conductor. “Here, now,” he added, as they entered the great waiting-room, “you sit down in this seat and wait for me. I have to go and make my report, but it won’t take me long.”
Tommy sat down obediently, and watched the crowds surging back and forth through the station and out upon the long stone platforms. It seemed to him that all the residents of Washington must be either leaving the trains or crowding into them. He wondered why so many people should have to travel, but before he could make any progress toward solving the question, the conductor was back again, bringing another official with him.
“This is the boy, Jim,” he said. “By the way, what’s your name, sonny?”
“Well, Tommy, Jim here is one of the callers. He’ll have to take the four-fifty for Trenton, Jim. Don’t let him miss it.”
“I won’t. I’ll look out for him.”
“All right. Good-by, Tommy.”
“Good-by, sir,” and Tommy placed his hand in the great paw that the good-natured official held out to him. “And thank you again, sir.”
“You’re welcome”; and he gave Tommy’s hand a squeeze that made him wince. “Wait a minute,” he added suddenly, turning to Jim. “An hour and a half is a long time for the boy to wait. Can’t he see some of the sights?”
“We might put him on the street-car,” said Jim, “and let him ride out to Georgetown and back. That’ll give him enough to think about for a week.”
“All right.” And the conductor slipped a dime into the other’s hand. “Here, you pay the car conductor and tell him to look out after the boy. I’ve sort o’ taken a liking to him,” he added shamefacedly, and hurried away toward the home where his wife and another little chap, not half so large as Tommy, were waiting to welcome him.
Jim went back to Tommy.
“Come on,” he said. “You’re going to take a street-car ride along the most famous street in the country. Here, give me the box. I’ll take care of it till you get back.”
Tommy handed over the box, and followed him to the entrance, where queer open cars, such as he had never seen before, were dashing up and departing every minute. Jim said a few words to the conductor of one of these, and gave him the dime.
“Jump up there on the front seat,” he said to Tommy, “and don’t get off the car till you get back here.”
Tommy scrambled up beside the motorman, who had been watching the proceeding with kindly interest, and in a moment the car turned out into Pennsylvania Avenue.
To those who visit Washington straight from the stately thoroughfares of Boston, New York, or Philadelphia, this famous street may at first prove something of a disappointment, although its beauty improves on closer acquaintance; but to this boy, coming straight from the West Virginia mountains, it seemed a very vision of loveliness, and he gazed at it with dazzled eyes. The broad avenue, thronged with handsome equipages and hurrying people, stretched straight before him, bathed in the brilliant afternoon sunshine.
“That’s the Post-office,” remarked the motorman, as they whirled past a great structure of gray granite. “This big building right ahead here is the United States Treasury. That’s where they keep all the money.”
Tommy gazed at it with respectful eyes as the car turned the corner and continued on past the building to the next block. There was another sharp turn, and in a moment they were passing what seemed to Tommy a great flower-garden, with a beautiful white mansion showing through the trees.
“That’s the White House,” said the motorman. “That’s where the President lives.”
As they passed in front of it, the trees opened into a wide vista, and the boy saw the stately portico with the wings on either side. Beyond the west wing extended a long glass structure which seemed crowded with flowers and whose use Tommy could not imagine. He had read somewhere that people who live in glass houses should not throw stones, but he had very much doubted if any one really lived in a glass house. Yet here was unmistakably a glass house, so perhaps people did live in them, after all. But they were past before he could reason this out any farther, and another tremendous stone building loomed ahead.
“That’s the War Department and the Navy,” said the motorman. “It’s the largest office building in the world.”
Tommy looked, and with beating heart saw two cannon frowning at him. But he had only a glimpse of them and the car had whirled by. There were no more great buildings after this, but the avenue grew lovelier, with its lines of graceful shade-trees, and behind them the beautiful residences nestling amid broad lawns. They circled about a little park with a statue in the center, a man on horseback,—Washington, the motorman said,—and then on down the street again. The car crossed a little creek which marked the boundary between Washington and Georgetown, and at the end of a few minutes ran into a building where several other cars were waiting their turn to be sent back over the line.
Five minutes later they started back again, over the same route by which they had come. Tommy was careful this time to get a better look at the cannon and the big anchor in front of the War and Navy Building, and at the White House through the vista of trees that stretched in front of it. As the car swung around the corner of the Treasury Building, he saw for the first time the full sweep of the avenue. Away at the end, high up against the sky, stood a fairy dome, gilded by the last rays of the declining sun. He had no need to ask what it was, for he had seen it pictured too often. It was the dome of the Capitol. He kept his eyes fixed on it until the car turned into the side street and stopped again at the station.
Jim was on the lookout for him, and led him back into the waiting-room.
“Well,” he asked, “what do you think of Washington?”
Tommy looked up at him, his eyes dark with excitement.
“Oh,” he began, “oh!” and sank speechless into a seat.
“Kind o’ knocked you out, hey?” And Jim laughed. “Well, I don’t wonder. Here’s your box. Your train will be ready pretty soon. You wait here till I come for you.”
For the first time that day, Tommy felt the pangs of hunger,—his body demanded sustenance after all this excitement,—and he opened his box and did full justice to the chicken sandwiches and cakes and cheese he found within. He was wrapping up the remains of the lunch when Jim called him.
“Come on, Tommy; here’s your train,” he said, and Tommy hurried out upon the platform, where a long train stood ready for its trip to New York. He entered the coach, bade Jim good-by, and sat down in one of the seats. Through the window he could see the crowd hurrying to and fro along the platform. A train puffed in on the adjoining track and disgorged its living freight. Great trucks, piled high with baggage, were wheeled by. Then came the far-away voice of the conductor, a scurrying of belated passengers, and the train glided slowly out of the station. Evening had come, and along the streets the electric lamps sprang suddenly alight. Great crowds of men and women were leaving the government buildings, with one more day’s labor accomplished. It was all new and strange; but even as he looked, a great weariness crept upon him,—the weariness which follows unaccustomed excitement,—his head fell back against the seat, and he was sound asleep. He was vaguely conscious of the conductor getting his ticket from him, but he knew no more until he felt some one roughly shaking him.
“Wake up, youngster,” called a voice in his ear. “We’ll be at Trenton in a minute. You have to get off there.”
Tommy sat up and rubbed his eyes. The bright lights in the coach dazzled him, but he was pulled to his feet and led toward the door.
“Wait a minute, now,” said the voice.
Then came the little shock that told that the brakes had been applied, and the train stopped.
“Now mind the steps,” said the voice, and Tommy was hustled down to the platform. “There you are.” And before he quite realized it, the train was speeding away again through the darkness. He looked about him. Back of him extended what seemed to be a long shed. The station was on the other side of the tracks, as he could see by the gleaming lights, but there seemed no way to get to it, for two high fences had been built to prevent passengers crossing.
“Where are you bound for, youngster?” asked a voice.
“Lawrenceville,” answered Tommy; and rubbing his eyes desperately, he finally managed to make out another man in blue uniform.
“This your baggage?” and the man picked up Tommy’s little trunk and threw it on his shoulder.
“Yes, sir; that’s mine.”
“All right. You’ve got to take the stage over here; it’s a six-mile drive. Come on.” And the man led the way down a steep flight of stone steps, along a tunnel which ran under the tracks, and up another flight of steps on the other side. “Here, Bill,” he called to a man who, whip in hand, was standing on the platform; “here’s a passenger fer you.”
The man with the whip hurried toward them.
“Is your name Thomas Remington?” he asked the boy.
“All right, then. They told me t’ look out fer you. Here’s th’ stage, out here.”
He led the way through the waiting-room to the street beyond, where the stage stood, the horses hitched to a convenient lamp-post. Tommy clambered sleepily aboard.
“Where’s your trunk-check?” asked the driver.
Tommy fumbled in his pocket and finally produced it.
The driver took it and went back into the station. Presently the boy saw him come out again, bearing the trunk on his shoulder. He placed it in the back part of the stage, unhitched his horses, and climbed up beside his passenger.
“Now we’re all right,” he said cheerily, and clucked to his horses.
“What time is it?” asked Tommy, for it seemed to him that he must have been traveling all night, and that the dawn could not be far distant.
“Nearly ten o’clock,” said the driver. “You’ll be at Lawrenceville in half an hour.”
By a supreme effort, Tommy kept his eyes open until they had left the town behind and were rumbling briskly along a wide, level road. Then his head fell back again, and he wakened only at the journey’s end.
“The boy’s been traveling all day,” said some one, “and is nearly dead for sleep. Take him up to twenty-one, Mr. Dean.” And he was led tottering away to bed.
AN EFFORT IN SELF-DENIAL
When Tommy opened his eyes the next morning, awakened by the ringing of a bell, he found himself lying in an iron bed, between the whitest of white sheets. It was a most comfortable bed, and he stretched himself luxuriously as he looked about the pleasant room. In an instant he found himself gazing straight into another pair of eyes, whose owner was sitting up in a bed just opposite his own.
“I say,” said the stranger, “where did you come from?”
“Wentworth, West Virginia,” answered Tommy, promptly.
“Never heard of it. What’s your name?”
“Tommy Remington. What’s yours?”
“I’m Jack Sexton. But, I say, I wouldn’t let myself be called ‘Tommy.’ That’s a kid’s name. Make ’em call you Tom.”
Tommy lay for a moment without replying. He had not thought of it before, but the stranger was right. “Tommy” was unquestionably a baby-name. Just then another bell rang.
“Hullo, there goes the second bell!” exclaimed Jack. “We’ve got to hustle if we want to get any breakfast.”
He sprang out of bed, and Tommy followed him. He picked up a great, soft towel, and vanished through a door at the farther end of the room. In a moment Tommy heard a prodigious splashing of water.
“Hurry up,” called Jack. “Bring your towel and come in here, or you’ll be late.”
Tommy picked up his towel and hurried into the other room. He paused an instant at the door in amazement. Jack stood under a wide stream of water, dancing fiendishly and rubbing his face and head.
“Come on in,” he sputtered. “It’s great fun.”
Tommy threw off his night-clothes, and in an instant was also under the stream. The water made him shiver when it first touched him, but his healthy vitality asserted itself, and that first shower-bath was enjoyed to the uttermost. Then out again, with the great towels around them, rubbing the skin until it glowed.
“Gee-crickety!” exclaimed Jack, casting an admiring glance at Tommy’s neck and shoulders. “You’re a good un. Let’s feel your arm.”
Tommy obligingly held out his arm and made the biceps swell.
“Hard as a rock,” said Jack, fingering it with great respect. “You must have been in training all your life.”
“In training?” repeated Tommy. “I don’t know. I’ve been digging coal pretty near all my life.”
Jack gave a low whistle of astonishment.
“Digging coal? In a mine? Well, I’d dig coal for a year if I could get a pair of shoulders like yours. You’re just the man we need for guard.”
“For guard?” And Tommy remembered the three men with Winchester rifles who watched the company’s safe at Wentworth on pay-days.
“Yes, for guard. You’re too big to play back of the line, you know. Come on. I’ll introduce you to the captain.”
Tommy followed him, wondering bewilderedly what it was he was expected to guard. Down the stairs they went, and into the cool, airy dining-room, where some twenty boys were gathered, under supervision of the house-master, Mr. Prime. Sexton introduced Tommy to the other boys, and though he felt somewhat shy at first, this wore off as the meal progressed. And such a meal it seemed to him!—the spotless napery, the shining table-service, the abundant, well-cooked food,—small wonder these boys seemed happy and brimming over with animal spirits!
It was not until after the simple little service in Edith Chapel, where the whole school gathered every morning to open the day’s work, that he met Captain Blake; for Blake, being in the fourth form, enjoyed the privilege of rooming in the great brick Upper House, apart from a house-master’s supervision. Blake shook hands with him, and then he and Sexton took him over to the gymnasium, stripped off his shirt, and looked him over. Tommy stood patiently while they examined him, and listened to Sexton’s enthusiastic praise.
“He’ll do,” said Blake, at last, nodding emphatically. “We haven’t another pair of shoulders and arms like that at Lawrenceville. The only question is, does he know how to use them? Now, Remington, what do you know about football?”
“I don’t know anything about it,” he said; “I never heard of it.”
“Well,” said Blake, smiling, “you won’t hear much else around here till after Thanksgiving. It’s a game, and we’re going to teach you how to play it. You bring him out this afternoon, Sexton, and we’ll give him his first practice.” And Blake hurried away to attend to some other of his multitudinous duties as captain of the school eleven.
That morning Tommy had an interview with the head-master, who questioned him closely about his studies and seemed much interested in him. The boy felt that here was a man upon whose kindly sympathy and encouragement he could rely.
“I think you will get along all right,” he said at last, “though it will not be easy for you. But, with study, you should be able to keep up with your classes. My friend Bayliss has written me much about you,” he added. “He thinks a great deal of you, and you must try not to disappoint him. Mr. King will arrange your studies,” he concluded; and Tommy was turned over to the tutor.
He found Mr. King a kindly though somewhat impatient young man, who probed his attainments to the bottom and soon decided just what classes he must join. His studies were scheduled, his text-books arranged, and the real work begun without delay—a routine much like that in all good preparatory schools.
Sexton carried him off immediately after lunch.
“I’ve got an extra suit,” he said, “I can lend you. I thought once that I could make the team myself, but I’m not heavy enough.” And he led the way to the gymnasium, where he opened a locker and produced the suit. And presently Tommy found himself arrayed in canvas jacket and great padded knickerbockers, long stockings, and shoes with heavy leather cleats on the bottom. Then he was taken out into the field, where he found some two dozen other boys similarly attired.
Blake nodded to them curtly.
“You give him his first lesson, Sexton,” he said. “Tell him what it’s all about, and let him watch the other fellows awhile, until he catches on a little.”
So Sexton told Tommy about the game: How it is played by two teams each of eleven members, whose object it is to force the ball, an oblong sphere of pigskin, down the field before them, until they carry it past the end of the field, or gridiron. This is called making a “touchdown,” and scores five points. How the ball is then taken out into the field again and kicked, and if it passes between the two uprights and over the bar which are fixed at the end of the field, it is called a “goal,” and scores another point. How if the ball is kicked over the bar from the field while it is in play, it is called “kicking a goal from field,” and also counts five points. Many other niceties of the game Sexton told him, which need not be set down here, and when the candidates for the team were ready to line up, he had a pretty good idea of what they were going to try to do. He watched them take their places and kick off the ball, and was soon shouting up and down the side-lines with the best of them. He had never seen such a game, and it appealed to his every instinct for good, hearty, honest strife and exertion.
“All right, Remington; come on out here,” called Blake, presently, and Tommy ran out. “Now you’re to play left guard,” continued Blake. “You stand right here next to the center. Now the minute you see the ball snapped back, you push this man opposite you out of the way, and charge ahead. If anybody else tries to tackle you, block him off this way with your elbows”; and Blake suited the action to the word. “Of course,” he added, “in a real game you wouldn’t be tackled unless they thought you had the ball, but just now I’m going to break you in a little, so that you’ll learn something about tackling for yourself.”
“All right,” said Tommy, and took his place in the line.
“Now keep your eye on the ball, fellows,” cautioned Blake. “One-six-eight-eleven.”
Tommy had no idea what the string of numbers meant, but he saw the ball snapped back, and he threw himself forward with all his strength. The man opposite him went down like a ninepin, and Tommy caught a glimpse of a little fellow jumping at him with extended arms, and wondered at his temerity. Somebody grasped him about the knees, clung to him with tenacious grip, and down they went in a heap. Two or three others fell over him, and then they slowly disentangled themselves.
“Good work, Remington. Good tackle, Reeves,” commented Blake, briefly; and Tommy saw it was the little fellow who had brought him down with such apparent ease.
“Say, that was game!” said Tommy.
Little Reeves smiled.
“Oh, it was easy enough. You weren’t going fast. Why didn’t you jump?”
“Yes. Whenever you see a fellow coming at you, and you haven’t room to dodge him, jump right at him. That will knock him over backwards, and even if he hangs on to you, and you fall, too, you have gained some ground, and maybe cleared the way for the man with the ball who’s coming after you.”
“Thanks,” said Tommy, gratefully. “I’ve got a lot to learn, you know. I’ll try it next time.”
“Hurry up, fellows; line up,” called Blake; and for the next hour Tommy was hauled around and kneaded and rolled on the ground. Then they gave him a lesson in falling on the ball,—it was wonderful how elusive and slippery it turned out to be,—and at the end Blake was pleased to commend him.
“You’ll do,” he said. “You’ll make a good guard after you learn the game. Mind you’re out to-morrow afternoon. It isn’t every man has such a chance.”
And Tommy retired to the gymnasium for a bath and a rub-down, feeling very good indeed. When he had got back to his room, it occurred to him that he ought to write a letter home, and he sat down to this duty. But how far away New River valley and the cramped, monotonous life there seemed! He had been away from it only a day, but it seemed ages off, and he reflected with satisfaction that he was going to escape it altogether. He shivered at the thought that he might never have escaped it—that he might have passed his whole life there, without knowing anything about the great, glorious outside world. He addressed the letter to his father, but it was really for his two old teachers that he wrote, and he told something of his trip and of his great good fortune in getting a chance on the team. He had an uneasy feeling that the letter was not so loving as it should have been, but he tried to make up for this with some affectionate words at the close.
Every afternoon, after that, Tommy donned his canvas suit, and soon began to have a fair idea of the game. Blake put his strongest man opposite him, and the remainder of the boys would throng the side-lines to see Remington and Smith fight it out. Both were unusually strong for their age,—Smith had been reared on a great cattle-ranch in the West,—and as it was nip and tuck between them, both grew stronger and better players, while Blake contemplated them with satisfaction, and congratulated himself on possessing the best pair of guards that had ever played together on a Lawrenceville team. But of a sudden his satisfaction was rudely blasted.
Tommy had been practising faithfully for three weeks or more, when he suddenly became aware that he was falling behind in his studies. He had not noticed it at first, so absorbed was he in his new surroundings; but one morning, at the recitation in history, he found that he did not at all understand what the lesson was about, for the reason that he had quite forgotten the events which led up to it. When the recitation was over, he went up to his room and did some hard thinking. It was evident at the outset that he could not afford any longer to spend the best part of every afternoon on the football field. These other boys had an immense advantage—all their lives they had been unconsciously absorbing knowledge which he must work out for himself. Their associations had always been with books and with educated people, and in consequence they were so far ahead of him that the only way he could keep up was by extra study. He knew that if he once fell very far behind he would never catch up again.
So that day after lunch, instead of hurrying into his football clothes, Tommy mounted resolutely to his room, opened his history at the very first, and went to work at it. It was not an easy task. He could hear the shouts of the boys from the field, and the bright sunshine tempted him to come out of doors; but he kept resolutely at work. Presently he heard some one running up the stairs, and Sexton burst into the room, and stopped astonished at sight of Tommy bending over his book.
“Oh, say,” he protested, “you can’t do that, you know, Remington. Blake is waiting for you before he begins practice. Hurry up and get into your football togs.”
But Tommy shook his head.
“I can’t do it, Jack,” he said. “I’m falling too far behind. Why, to-day, in history, I didn’t know what Mr. Knox was talking about.”
“Well, what of it?” he asked. “Neither did I. Don’t let a little thing like that worry you.”
Tommy shook his head again.
“It don’t matter with you so much,” he said. “You’ve got other things. But I’ve got only this. If I fail here, I’m done.”
Sexton grew suddenly grave, for he saw the case was more serious than he had thought.
“You don’t mean to say that you’re going to give up football altogether?” he asked incredulously.
“I’m afraid I’ll have to.”
“Don’t say that,” he protested. “Blake’ll excuse you from practice for a day or two till you catch up. I’ll tell him you’re feeling a little stale. How’ll that do?”
“A day or two won’t do any good, Jack,” said Tommy, resolutely. “You don’t know how much I’ve got to learn before I’ll be up with you fellows.”
Sexton paused a moment to consider how best to rally his forces.
“Now, see here, Remington,” he began, “you’re looking at this thing all wrong. Suppose you do fall behind in your studies for a while. The tutors won’t be hard on you, because they know how you’re needed on the team, and you can make it all up again later in the year by a little extra work. There’ll be a dozen of the fellows ready to help you. But if you drop out of the team now, just when the games are coming on, it’s all up with you at Lawrenceville. The only fellow who can possibly play in your place is Banker, and you know how weak he is. It’s Lawrenceville’s honor that’s concerned, old man, and if you quit now, half the fellows in the place will cut you dead.”
“Surely it won’t be so bad as that,” protested Tommy. “You won’t cut me, will you, Jack?”
Sexton’s face grew red.
“No, I won’t cut you,” he said. “But lots of the fellows will. They’ll make it as hard for you as they can.”
Tommy’s lips went together. His fighting spirit was aroused.
“Let them,” he said. “I’ve made up my mind. I can’t see but one thing to do, and I’m going to do it. Tell Blake I’m sorry.”
Sexton’s face grew stern, too, and he got up from his seat.
“Is that final?” he asked. “Remember, Blake won’t send for you a second time. He’s not that kind.”
“I’m sorry,” was all that Tommy could say.
Sexton stood looking at him a moment longer, and then went out and closed the door behind him.
Tommy, shutting all thought of the trouble from his mind as well as he could, turned again to his history. That evening, when he went down to dinner, it was with the comfortable consciousness that he was ready for the next day’s lesson. But his satisfaction was of short duration. As he took his seat at table, instead of the hearty welcome he had grown accustomed to, there was a frigid silence. One or two of the boys nodded to him as he looked up and down the board, but very distantly. Tommy felt a lump rise in his throat as he gulped down his food, and began to understand what his new resolution was going to cost him. Then his mouth tightened, and he looked around defiantly, as though daring them to do their worst.
A GLIMPSE OF PRINCETON
The days that followed were not pleasant ones for Tommy, and more than once he went to bed with sore heart, after a particularly trying day. It was not that he was persecuted or interfered with, or that anything was done to him that would call for the head-master’s interference; none of the boys descended to that, though he might have even welcomed a little persecution, for it was the other extreme that irked him. He was left to himself. He was taboo. At table, the talk excluded him. On the campus, no one saw him. In the class-room, no one seemed interested in whether he recited well or badly, or whether he recited at all. No one dropped in to chat with him in the evening, nor was he invited to any of the little gatherings the fellows were always having. Often, as he bent over his books in the evening, he would catch the tinkle of a banjo or a strain of college song, and his eyes blurred so with tears sometimes that he could not see the page before him. But it was only in the solitude of his room he permitted himself this weakness. To the world he showed a defiant face, and no one suspected how deeply he was hurt. After all, they were only boys, and it is not to be wondered at that, for the moment, victory on the football field appeared to them of more consequence than proficiency in class.
Two things comforted him somewhat. One was that he no longer went to his classes unprepared. Indeed, he worked at his books so savagely that he was soon in the first group of the class, and more than once the tutors went out of their way to commend him—though it was not for their commendation his heart was aching, but for that of his classmates. His other comfort was in a letter he had received from Mr. Bayliss in reply to the one he had written him telling of his quitting his football practice. The letter ran:
I need hardly tell you how I have rejoiced in your strength in making this decision and in sticking to it. Nothing would compensate for failure in your classes—not even the applause of the football field. But I can readily understand how much the decision must have cost you, and I think I can foresee how it will affect the bearing of your classmates toward you, for school-boys sometimes have a very exaggerated and false notion of school honor. Concerning this last, let me give you a word of advice. Next to success in study, there is no more precious thing in college life than class friendship. One can well afford to sacrifice much to gain it. So I would not have you antagonize your classmates unnecessarily. Be prepared to make some sacrifice for them—sacrifice of pride and convenience and time. Perhaps later in the year you may be so well up in your studies that you can afford again to take an active part in the school athletics. Do not hesitate to do so when you can.
“OFTEN, AS HE BENT OVER HIS BOOKS, HE WOULD CATCH THE TINKLE OF A BANJO OR A STRAIN OF COLLEGE SONG.”
Tommy read this letter over and over again, and drew much consolation from it. Gradually, too, some of the fellows began to unbend a little. Little Reeves, who had tackled him so gamely at that first day’s practice, was the first to show his friendship. It was one evening, while Tommy was wandering disconsolately about the campus, that he first became aware of Reeves’s feeling toward him.
“I say, Remington,” somebody called after him.
Tommy started at the unaccustomed sound of his name.
“Hullo, Reeves,” he said, as he turned and recognized him.
“How are you, old man?” and Reeves held out his hand and gave Tommy’s a hearty clasp that brought his heart into his throat. “Come up to my room awhile, can’t you, and let’s have a talk.”
“Of course I can,” said Tommy, and in a moment was stumbling after Reeves up the stairs of Hamill House with a queer mist before his eyes.
“This is my sanctum,” Reeves remarked, turning up the light. “Sit down here”; and he threw himself on the window-seat opposite. “Now tell me about it, old fellow. I’ve heard the fellows jawing, of course, but I want to know the straight of it.”
And Tommy opened the flood-gates of his heart and poured the story forth. Reeves listened to the end without interrupting by word or sign.
“But how does it come,” he asked at last, “that you can’t keep up and play football too? The other fellows do, and they don’t drive us so hard here. Hasn’t your prep been good?”
“Good?” echoed Tommy. “Why, man, three years ago I couldn’t read nor write.”
“Whew!” whistled Reeves, and sat up and looked at him. “Say, tell me about that. I should like to hear about that.”
So Tommy, who felt as though he were lifting a great load from his heart, told him the story, beginning, just as this story began, at the moment he entered the little Wentworth school-house with the circus poster in his hand. How far away it seemed to him now! He could scarcely believe that it had happened so recently. Some parts of the story he did not tell in detail; he did not dwell upon the grime and misery of the mines, nor upon the hard conditions of life in New River valley. Somehow they seemed strangely out of place in this airy, pleasant room, with this boy, who had been reared in luxury, for listener. So he hurried on to the time when he first looked into “Lorna Doone,” and then to the patient work of the two who had taught him and fitted him for Lawrenceville. Let us do him the justice to say that he paid them full tribute.
“Don’t you see,” he concluded, “I can’t disappoint those two people. I’ve just got to succeed. Besides, I can’t go back to the mines now. I’ve seen something of the world outside. It’d kill me to go back.”
Reeves came over and gave him his hand again.
“Right,” he said heartily. “You’re dead right. Say,” he added awkwardly, “let me help you, won’t you? I’d like to. Come up here in the evenings and we’ll tackle the books together. I don’t know very much, but maybe I can help a little. The master will consent, I know.”
“Will you?” cried Tommy. “Oh, will you? That’s just what I want; that’s just what I need! But maybe you’ve other things to do—I don’t want to spoil your evenings.”
“Nonsense!” growled Reeves. “I need the study as bad as you do—worse, I suspect. I’ve been loafing too much anyway, and going over the rudiments again will help me. It’s as much for my own sake as for yours.”
So it was settled, the master did consent, and every night found the two together. How great a help Reeves was to him need hardly be said. Yet I think the other profited as much—perhaps more. He profited in self-denial and in earnestness, and, in his eagerness to help Tommy on, himself devoted much more thought to the work than he would otherwise have done. Word got about that Reeves had taken Tommy’s side of the controversy, and for a time the others wondered. Some of them dropped in of an evening to see for themselves this remarkable sight of Reeves coaching Remington in the first-form work. The example proved a good one, and as time passed some of the other boys forgot their anger toward him, and admitted him again into their friendship. But it was to Reeves he clung closest of all.
“Say, Remington,” said the latter, one Saturday, “I’m going to walk over to Princeton to-morrow after morning service. I’ve got a big brother there in the sophomore class, and maybe he’ll show us around if he’s feeling good. How’d you like to go along?”
“I’d like it,” said Tommy, with conviction, for he had never yet had a glimpse of the great college whose achievements were being constantly dinned into his ears. “But can I get leave?”
“I’ll fix it for you,” answered Reeves, and he did.
It was a pleasant three-mile walk, that cool October morning, along the level road, shaded on either side by stately elms. The old post-road it used to be, a century and a half before, running from New York to Philadelphia, a gay place echoing to the coachman’s horn, and later, during the Revolution, to the tramp of armies. Only the memory of its former glory now remains, but its beauty is unchanged. They passed a row of old colonial residences, well back from the road, half hidden amid groves of trees and rows of formal hedge. Then into Nassau Street they turned, and so to the college campus.
“That’s Nassau Hall—‘Old North,’ they call it here,” said Reeves, pointing to a long three-storied gray stone building, half covered with ivy, stretching across the front campus. “It is so old that it was the largest building in America when it was built. During the Revolution, after Washington won the battle of Princeton, just below here, some of the British took refuge in the building; but Washington’s cannon soon brought them out. There was a picture of George III. inside in the big hall, and they say that Washington’s first cannon-ball went through the picture and cut off the head. They put a picture of Washington in the frame afterward.”
Tommy looked with respect at the old building, as solid and substantial now as it was the day it was erected. Back of it he caught a glimpse of many other buildings, but Reeves turned in at the first one.
“These are all dormitories,” he said. “This is Reunion Hall. Ralph’s room is up there on the second floor.”
They stumbled up the stairs, which were very dark, and presently Reeves knocked at a door. There was no response, and he tried the knob. The door opened.
“Come on,” said Reeves. “It’s not locked. Come in and have a look at his den.”
And for the first time Tommy caught a glimpse of a college room. Orange and black, the college colors, were everywhere. The walls were covered by signs, secured in divers places, and by means that would not bear too close scrutiny—all sorts of signs: “For Rent,” “Keep Off the Grass,” “Danger,” “Beware the Dog,” “This Way to the Menagerie,” “Monkey House,” and so on. A banjo and guitar stood in one corner. Above the fireplace were two crossed lacrosse-sticks, a set of boxing-gloves, and a pair of foils with masks. Everywhere there were embroidered sofa-cushions—the work of devoted and ill-rewarded feminine fingers—and photographs and books and a great miscellany of trash such as only a college boy knows how to gather together.
“Well, he’s not here,” said Reeves, after a glance around. “It’s no use to wait for him. Maybe we’ll meet him out on the campus. We’ll take a walk around, anyway.”
And take a walk around they did—past beautiful, many-arched Alexander Hall, where the commencement exercises are held; past the old gymnasium, with its bronze gladiator before it; past the observatory, with its great movable dome; past Blair Hall, with its lofty towers frowning down upon the little railway station; past Witherspoon Hall, the most luxurious of all the dormitories; past the two white marble buildings of the literary societies, Whig and Clio, with their high, many-columned, classic porticos. Reeves showed Tommy the cannon captured from the British, and planted, muzzle downward, in the center of the quadrangle, forming the hub about which the whole college world revolved, and where the class-day exercises were held at commencement. Then on they went to McCosh Walk, with its rows of stately elms; to Prospect, where the president lives; and back again past Marquand Chapel and the new library to the front campus, where they sat down under the elms in front of Old North to rest.
“It’s a great old building, isn’t it?” said Reeves. “See how covered with ivy it is. Every graduating class plants a piece at commencement; it’s one of the big exercises, with an oration and all that. The fellows here have great times, I tell you. We must come over some evening next spring and hear the senior singing; the whole class sits on the steps there, and sometimes the banjo and mandolin clubs come out too. Can you sing?”
“No,” said Tommy, “I can’t sing.”
“It’s a great thing to get on the glee club. But no matter; you’re certain to make the football team, and that’s better yet. Nothing’s too good for you if you’re on the team. Wait till you see the Yale game!”
Tommy drew a deep breath of joy and longing. Would it ever come true? Was it not all a dream, that would presently fade and vanish? He looked about again at the great buildings, the long, winding walks, the level, close-clipped campus.
The extent and complexity of the college world dazzled him. He began to understand what a great college really is, and his heart leaped to a faster measure at the thought that he would one day be a part of it. He watched the students sauntering along the walks, smoking and chatting, and wondered if any of them had come from such a place as New River valley. He was quite sure that none had—he did not know that these boys were gathered together from every quarter of the world, and that some of them had worked their way up from even lower depths than the coal-mines.
“Let’s have another try at locating Ralph,” said Reeves, after a time, and they again clambered up to his room in Reunion. They found a boy lolling lazily on the window-seat, gazing out across the campus. He looked around as they entered.
“Isn’t this Ralph Reeves’s room?” asked Reeves, hesitating on the threshold.
“Yep,” said the stranger. “At least, part of it is. The other part’s mine. I’m his room-mate. What do you want with him?”
“I want to see him. He’s my brother.”
“Oh, is he?” And the owner of the room looked at them with considerably more interest. “Well, I’m afraid you won’t see him. He went up to New York last night to see Mansfield. He can’t get back till this evening, and I don’t much expect him before to-morrow morning.”
Reeves concealed as well as he could the disappointment which this announcement caused him.
“Oh, all right,” he said carelessly. “Come on, Remington; we’d better start back to Lawrenceville.”
“Here, wait a minute,” called the other, as they turned away. “You kids can’t walk ’way back to Lawrenceville without something to eat. I was just thinking about going to lunch. Come along with me. I’m Holland, ’02,” he added, by way of introduction.
Perhaps at another time Reeves might have resented being called a “kid,” but just now his stomach was clamoring for refreshment and was not to be denied.
“All right; thank you, Mr. Holland,” said Reeves. “This is Remington,” he added, pulling Tommy forward. “He’s my chum down at Lawrenceville.”
Tommy turned scarlet with pleasure at this open avowal of friendship. Holland nodded to him, threw on a cap that was lying on the floor, and led the way down the stairs, across the campus, and to a boarding-house on University Place. Half a dozen other fellows were sitting about the table eating and talking, and Holland gave the two boys a general introduction. Tommy listened to the talk as he ate, but there was little of it he could understand, for such strange words as “poller,” “grind,” “trig,” “math,” “cuts,” and dozens of others equally incomprehensible, were constantly recurring. The meal over, they bade their host good-by, and started back to Lawrenceville, which they reached in time for supper.
The routine of the place went on day after day without incident; only more than once Tommy found himself fighting the same battle over again. Reeves scrupulously refrained from talking football to him, but he knew, nevertheless, that Sexton’s prophecy had been fulfilled, and that Banker was making a poor showing for left guard. That position was by far the weakest on the team, and more than once, as the season progressed, the opposing team made gains through it which defeated Lawrenceville. It seemed more and more certain, as the days went by, that they could not hope to win the great game of the season, that with the Princeton freshmen. Blake labored savagely with his men, but they seemed to have lost spirit. A deep gloom settled over the place, and the ill feeling against Tommy, which had bid fair to be forgotten, sprang into life again.
The crisis came one afternoon about a week before the day of the game. Tommy was plugging away at his books, as usual, when he heard the door open, and looking around, saw Reeves and Sexton enter. One glance at their faces told him that something more than usually serious had happened.
“What is it?” he asked quickly.
“It’s mighty hard luck, that’s what it is,” said Sexton, sitting down despondently. “Banker sprained a tendon in his ankle at practice this afternoon, and won’t be able to play any more this season. He wasn’t such a great player, but he was the best left guard we had, and there’s nobody to take his place.”
Tommy sat for a moment, silent, looking from one to the other. The last sentences of Mr. Bayliss’s letter were ringing in his ears.
“Is practice over yet?” he asked.
“No,” said Reeves. “It had just begun when Banker was hurt. Blake is hunting around for somebody to take his place.”
Tommy closed his book with a slam, pushed back his chair, and from one corner of the room pulled out his old football suit.
“What are you going to do?” cried Reeves, a great light in his eyes.
“I’m going to play left guard,” said Tommy, as calmly as he could, and trying to steady his hands, which were trembling strangely. “Wait till I get these togs on, will you?”
But Reeves and Sexton had him by the hands and were shaking them wildly.
“I knew it!” cried Reeves. “I knew it! I knew he wouldn’t fail us! I knew the stuff he was made of! We’ll beat those freshmen yet.”
“Beat them!” echoed Sexton, dancing wildly around Tommy; “we’ll beat the life out of them! Hurry up, Remington. Let go his hand, can’t you, Reeves, so he can get into his togs. Let the other fellows get a look at him! It’ll do them good!”
JOY AND SORROW
Meanwhile down on the football field an anxious consultation was in progress. Captain Blake and the manager of the team walked up and down together, talking earnestly. From their clouded faces it was easy to see how great their worry was. The players were grouped together uneasily, and the other students stood about, exchanging a curt word now and then, but for the most part silent. Gloom was on every face, desperation in every eye.
“There come Reeves and Sexton,” some one remarked, at last. “Wonder where they’ve been? Hullo, who’s that with them? By Jove, fellows, it’s Remington! He’s going to play, after all!”
A sudden galvanic shudder ran through the group. They watched Remington as he walked up to Blake, and strained their ears to catch his words.
“Captain Blake,” he said, “I’m ready to take Banker’s place—that is, if you want me.”
For an instant offended pride held Blake back. Then it melted away in a rush of surprise and joy. Even from where they stood, they could see his face light up.
“Want you, old man!” he said, and held out his hand. “I should say we do want you!”
One of the boys had his cap off and was waving it over his head.
“Now, fellows, three cheers for Remington!” he cried. “Are you ready? Hip—hip—”
There was a sudden rush of tears to Tommy’s eyes as that cheer floated to him across the field. How sweet it sounded with his name at the end! But Blake had no time for sentiment.
“Line up, men,” he called. “Hurry up. We’ve got some hard work ahead.”
His face lighted up with satisfaction as he saw the way the boys sprang into their places. It was the first time for days they had shown such enthusiasm. In a moment came the signal, and the scrimmage began. Tommy, recalling every bit of football he had ever learned, put his whole soul into the game. He was going to do his best to deserve that cheer. Blake gave them a long, hard practice, but when it was over his face was more cheerful than it had been for many days.
“We’ll be all right, I think,” he remarked to the manager. “I think our line can hold ’em now without much trouble. And the boys have got their old spirit back—did you notice?” The manager nodded. “Still, don’t be too sure,” Blake added, with a captain’s characteristic caution, “and don’t repeat that to any of the team. I want to keep them working.”
Keep them working he did; and how Tommy enjoyed it! What a reception he got at table! He was again admitted to the freemasonry of fellowship which forms so precious a part of school and college life. His heart grew warm from touching those of others, his life grew bright and more complete. He went to his books with clearer brain and keener zest. He was no longer afraid of falling behind. And the old life of New River valley seemed farther away than ever.
His attitude toward the old life is worth a moment’s attention. As the weeks passed he had found the work of writing letters to his father and mother increasingly difficult. How could he hope to make them understand his joys and sorrows, his hopes and ambitions, in this new life which was so far beyond their horizon? If he had not known that his letters would be read by Mr. Bayliss and Miss Andrews he would have broken down altogether in the effort at letter-writing. The task was the more unwelcome because it recalled to him the squalid conditions of the old life—the grimy house, the dingy beds, the dirty clothing, the ill-cooked food. He wondered how any one could ever stand it—how he had stood it and prospered as much as he had. He was never ashamed of his parents, though he never spoke of them to his classmates; it was only the home that shamed him, and he resolved to rescue the family from it and plant them in cleaner soil.
A week is not a long time when it comes to whipping a football team into shape for a great game, and that one passed all too quickly for Blake. Rumors reached him of the perfect condition of the Princeton freshmen eleven—of their great team work and perfect interference. He gloomily watched his own men at practice on that last day, and while he told himself he had done the best possible with them, he fancied he could detect a hundred weaknesses, and was anything but confident of the result. Still, they played good ball, he had a strong line, his backs were swift and game—well, Lawrenceville would have no reason to be ashamed of them. And just as he had hitherto hidden any satisfaction he may have felt, now, like a good captain, he concealed his doubts and affected a certainty of success he did not feel.
At noon of the great day came the Princeton team, accompanied by nearly the whole class—resplendent in orange and black, now they were away from the campus, where such decoration was forbidden, and where, on their return, the sophomores would call them sternly to account for their desecration of the college colors. They were seemingly quite confident of victory, and poured into the field with great halloo. Their team began at once a little preliminary practice, displaying a verve and agility that sent a chill to more than one Lawrenceville heart. But Captain Blake’s team got a hearty greeting, just the same, when it came running out upon the field, and for a time cheer followed cheer, until it seemed that they must split their throats. But the throats of school-boys and college men seem to be made of some unsplittable material, and in this case—as in all similar ones—there was no damage done.
Then came an instant’s breathless silence as the two captains waited for the referee to toss up a penny.
“Heads!” called Blake, as the coin spun in the air.
The referee stooped and looked at it.
“All right,” he said. “Heads it is. Choose your goal.”
Blake chose the north goal with the wind at his back, while Lawrenceville cheered again at this first piece of good luck.
“Take your places, men,” called the referee, and the players peeled off their sweaters and trotted out into the field, rejoicing that the hour was come. “Are you ready, Princeton?”
“All ready, sir.”
“Are you ready, Lawrenceville?”
“All ready,” answered Blake.
The referee waited an instant, then placed his whistle to his lips and blew a shrill blast. There was a swift rush, and the ball was whirling through the air. The game was on.
What pen has ever adequately described a football game, with its multitudinous features, its ever-changing tactics, its kaleidoscopic advances and retreats, its thousand and one individual plays? Certainly it shall not be attempted here.
It was evident after a few minutes of play that the teams were more evenly matched than Blake had dared to hope and that the score would be a close one. Blake’s face cleared as he realized that his opponents were not so terrible as they had been pictured.
“Steady, fellows, steady,” he panted, in an interval between two rushes. “Don’t you fumble that ball, Reeves. Watch your man there, Remington.”
Indeed, Tommy found he had his hands full watching his man. Some exaggerated story of his prowess must have got abroad, for the Princeton captain had placed the biggest and strongest man on his team against him. He was certainly bigger and heavier than Tommy, and in the first few rushes had decidedly the better of it. But as the game progressed Tommy saw with delight that his adversary was growing weaker, while he himself was just warming up to the work. After all, six years’ work in the mines will outweigh a few weeks’ training, every time. Before long, Blake rejoiced to see that Tommy was holding his man, and that he even got past him once or twice; but the first half ended without either side having been able to score.
The members of both teams received some pretty severe lecturing in the ten minutes’ intermission that followed, but, on the whole, the atmosphere in the Lawrenceville quarters was much the more hopeful. Princeton had entered the game quite confident of winning, and had met with an unexpected check, which served to dash her spirits. She had counted on carrying the ball down the field with a rush in the first few minutes of play, but, so far, had been unable seriously to threaten Lawrenceville’s goal. On the other hand, Lawrenceville had made a better showing than she had hoped for, and was correspondingly elated. Blake was especially happy, though he tried not to show it.
As a consequence of this change of spirit, when the second half opened, Princeton found herself pushed down the field for small but decisive gains. In vain she attempted to stem the tide of that advance. It seemed certain that Lawrenceville must score, and their partisans cheered themselves hoarse. But Princeton made a stand on her ten-yard line, rendered desperate by prospect of defeat, succeeded in getting the ball, and, by a long punt down the field, placed her goal out of danger. How Princeton cheered as that ball sailed twisting through the air!
For a time after that it was nip and tuck in the middle of the field, and, as the minutes passed, Blake knew that the time for play was getting dangerously short. If anything was to be done, it must be done without delay. He looked his men over with calculating eye. Undoubtedly Remington was the only man for the play, for he seemed quite fresh, despite the rough time he had been having with the man against him. Blake looked at his bright eyes, firm-set lips, and distended nostrils, and made up his mind on the instant. He took advantage of the first opportunity, during a moment’s intermission while one of the boys was rubbing a twisted ankle, to outline his plan.
“Now, Remington,” he said in a whisper, “I’m going to let you run with the ball. We’ll push it as far down the field as we can, then, after the third down, Reeves, here, will pass it to you. Put all your steam into your legs, old man. I’ll give the other boys the word.”
Tommy went back to his place with a queer tingling at his heart. Ordinarily the men in the line do not get a chance so to distinguish themselves. It is the half-backs and the full-back who make the so-called “grand-stand plays”—those long, zigzagging runs down the field with the ball which raise the spectators out of their seats, and send flags to waving and men to shouting. The average looker-on, knowing little of the inwardness of the game, does not appreciate the hard work which the men in the line are doing every minute of the time—there is nothing showy about it, nothing spectacular; it is merely downright hard work. So Tommy, knowing that this would be his one chance, determined to make the most of it.
Lawrenceville, nerved by the thought of a final effort, made three good gains, carrying the ball to Princeton’s twenty-five-yard line. But the Princeton captain had seen Blake’s conferences with his men, and suspecting that something was about to happen, passed the word around to his players to be on their guard. They made a desperate stand, and succeeded in holding Lawrenceville for the second and third downs. Reeves pinched Tommy’s leg to remind him that his time had come—as if he had any need of a reminder! He took a deep breath, there came a quick signal from Blake, and in an instant he was off, with the ball tucked snugly under his arm.
As he sprang forward, he saw the guard opposite him whirled violently to one side, and he knew that the other members of the team were clearing his way. He saw one of the Princeton backs before him, but he, too, was thrown aside; and then Tommy saw that it was Blake himself who was interfering for him. Away down the field in front he saw the Princeton full-back sweeping toward him, and behind him came the pounding of many feet. Whether they were friend or foe he did not know, and he dared not glance around, but they seemed ominously near. Dimly and confusedly he heard the cheering of the crowd. Then the full-back was upon him. Tommy remembered the advice little Reeves had given him, and sprang full at his opponent at the instant he stooped to the tackle. Together they were hurled to earth, Tommy clutching the ball with a grip only death would have loosened. He tried to hitch himself along toward the goal-post just ahead—so near he could almost touch it. He gained a foot—two feet—a yard—with those desperate hands still clinging to his legs; and then, just as a crushing avalanche of men fell on him, he stretched the ball forward at full-arm length and called:
There was an anxious minute as the referee untangled the heap in order to get at the ball. At the bottom he found Tommy still grasping it tightly, and Blake gave a yell of triumph as he saw it.
“It’s a touchdown, fellows!” he cried. “It’s six inches over the line!”
Tommy, gasping for breath, heard the words, and for an instant his head fell forward in the sheer exhaustion of joy. Then it seemed that a thousand hands were lifting him, and when he opened his eyes a minute later, he found himself on the shoulders of a yelling mob which was parading around the field. They paused for an instant to watch Reeves kick the goal, and then started off again like madmen.
“THEN THE FULL-BACK WAS UPON HIM.”
“Let me down, fellows!” cried Tommy, struggling against the hands which held him by leg and ankle. “Let me down. They’ll line up again in a minute.”
“No, they won’t,” yelled Sexton, who had charge of Tommy’s right leg. “Time’s up! You got the ball over in the last minute of play, old man.”
He had his cap off.
“Now three cheers for Remington!” he cried. “Are you ready? Hip—hip—”
But there was no response, for suddenly across the field they saw the head-master coming toward them.
“Does the old man want to congratulate him, too?” asked Sexton of the boy next to him. “I never saw him at a game before.”
But as he came nearer, and they saw his face, they fell silent. In his hand he held a sheet of yellow paper.
“Put him down, boys,” he said quietly, and Tommy was set on the ground again. “You must come with me at once, Remington,” he added. “I have bad news for you.”
Tommy glanced at the yellow paper and saw it was a telegram. Instinctively he understood.
“What is it, sir?” he gasped. “An accident at the mine?”
“Yes, an accident at the mine.”
So the old life was going to ruin the new life, after all!
“And father is hurt?”
“Very badly hurt,” said the head-master, tenderly. “You must start home at once.”
“But he is not dead?” cried Tommy.
“No, not dead—yet.” And he led the boy away, too crushed to question farther.
BACK TO NEW RIVER VALLEY
The hour which followed remained always in Tommy’s memory as some tremendous nightmare. He remembered going to the gymnasium, removing his football suit mechanically, taking a bath and rub-down, and getting into his other clothes. Then he made his way to his room, and Sexton, Reeves, and Blake came up and tried to tell him—each in his own way—how sorry they were, and to give him such crumbs of comfort as they could.
“Why, the fellows are all broken up,” said Reeves. “We were going to have a big celebration to-night, but that’s all off. There isn’t one of us feels like celebrating.”
“How could we?” added Blake. “It was Remington won the game. But it’s the first time in the history of Lawrenceville that we didn’t have a blow-out after whipping the freshmen.”
“Maybe it’s not so bad,” said Sexton, with an attempt at cheerfulness. “He’ll be coming back before long,—as soon as his father gets well, you know,—and we’ll have the celebration then.”
But Tommy heard little of all this. His thoughts were far away. He saw again the narrow valley, which seemed to shut out all the joy and warm, aspiring life of the outside world; the rows of squalid cabins, grimy with the dust of the mines; the bent, exhausted, perspiring men, laboring day after day far within the bowels of the earth, away from the pure air and the bright sunshine, able to earn but a bare livelihood, even by unceasing toil; and a shiver ran through him at the thought that it was to this he was returning. An hour ago the old existence had seemed so far away, there had been so much to live for, the path before him had seemed so bright; and here it was closing in upon him like a great black thundercloud which there was no evading.
Presently the head-master himself came in and told Tommy to pack up such clothing as he might need, and he would be driven over to Trenton at once to catch the six-o’clock train, which would get him to Wentworth early the next morning. The packing was soon done, and he went down to the buggy which was waiting. As he came out from the dormitory, he saw a sight which first made him stare in astonishment, and then brought a swift rush of tears to his eyes. The boys—all of them, first, second, third, and fourth year alike—were lined up along the path, and as he passed them, each gave him a hearty handclasp. Some even ventured upon a word of sympathy, awkwardly and shyly said, but none the less genuine. Tommy quite broke down before he reached the end of the line, and the tears were streaming down his face unrestrained as he clambered into the buggy. As the horse turned into the road, he glanced back and saw the fellows still standing there looking after him. In after days, when he thought of those first months at Lawrenceville, this parting scene was dearest of all to him.
It was only when he was in the train speeding southward, with no one to watch him or speak to him, that he dared put the future plainly before him. It was evident that if his father was killed, or so seriously injured that he could not go to work again in the mines, some arrangement must be made to provide for his mother and brother. He knew too well how little chance there was that his father had been able to save anything. Something, then, would have to be done at once. But what? He shrank from the answer that first occurred to him. He turned his face from it, and set his brain to work to find another way. But he was soon stumbling blindly among the intricacies of his own thoughts, and finally fell into a troubled sleep. But on the instant his eyes closed, as it seemed to him, some disturbing and terrible vision would dance before him and startle him awake again.
At Washington he had a half-hour wait, and looked for Jim, the train-caller who had befriended him before, but he saw nothing of him, for that official worked only in the daytime. Yet he no longer felt ignorant and dependent. The crowd—which even at midnight throngs the station at Washington—did not astonish him as it had before. He knew, somehow, that he was quite a different boy from the one who had made this same journey only three short months before. He felt quite able to look out for himself. But as he was clambering up the steps to his train, a cheery voice greeted him.
“Why, hello, youngster!” it said. “Going back home again?”
Tommy looked up and recognized his old friend the conductor.
“Yes, sir; back home,” he answered with a queer lump in his throat.
The conductor saw how his face had changed. It seemed older and thinner, and the eyes were darker.
“Something wrong, eh?” he said kindly. “Well, I’ll look you up after a while, and we’ll talk it all over.”
Tommy made his way into the coach, hardly knowing whether to be glad or sorry at this meeting. He was longing for a friend to talk to, and yet he was vaguely ashamed of the confession he might have to make. Could it be possible, he asked himself, that he no longer loved his father and his mother—that he was unwilling to make a sacrifice for them as they had done for him? But then, the sacrifice asked of him would be so much the greater. It was nothing to sacrifice the body, but to sacrifice the brain as well—that was another thing. His breast had never been torn by such a battle as was waging there now.
The conductor did not forget his promise. So soon as he had attended to his other duties, he dropped into the seat beside Tommy.
“Now, what is it?” he asked. “Tell me; it’ll do you good. Get into some trouble at school?”
Tommy shook his head.
“No,” he said, “it’s not that. Father was hurt in the mines—and maybe—won’t—get well.”
The conductor took the boy’s hands in both his ample ones and patted them softly.
“Don’t you worry,” he said. “It’ll turn out all right. These accidents always look worse at first than they are. You’ll soon be coming back again over this same road.”
Tommy felt that he must speak—the weight was too heavy for him to bear alone.
“I’m afraid I’ll never come back,” he said brokenly. “There’s nobody now but me to make a living. You’ve never worked in the mines. You don’t know what it is.”
The other looked down at him quickly, and in an instant understood. For a moment he sat silent, considering his words.
“It seems hard,” he said at last. “It always seems hard when we have to give up something we’ve been counting on. But maybe, after all, we don’t have to give it up; and even when we do, something better almost always comes in place of it. It seems, somehow, that nobody in this world is given more than he can bear. I’ve felt, often, just as you feel now; but when I’m particularly blue, I get out a book called ‘Poor Boys who Became Famous’; and when I read what a tough time most of them had, I come to think I’m pretty well off, after all. Ever read it?”
“No,” answered Tommy; “I never read it.”
“Wait till I get it for you. It’ll give you something to think about, anyway”; and the good-natured official, who had not yet lost the enthusiasms of his boyhood, hurried away to get the book.
Five minutes later Tommy had forgotten all about his own troubles. The first page of the book had opened another life to him, whose struggles made his own seem petty and unimportant. It was of George Peabody he was reading: born at Danvers, Massachusetts, in 1795, his parents so poor they could afford him little schooling; at the age of eleven sent out into the world to earn a living; for four years a clerk in a little grocery, giving every penny of his earnings to his mother; his father dying and leaving him to support the family; his well-nigh hopeless search for employment, his finding of a humble situation, his perseverance, energy, honesty—until, at last, he had built up for himself a mighty business. And then the great acts of benevolence which marked his later years: three hundred thousand dollars for the Peabody Institute at his native town, where a free library and a free course of lectures were to be maintained, in order that other poor boys might be helped to an education; one million dollars for an academy of music and an art-gallery at Baltimore; three millions for the purpose of building comfortable homes for the poor of London; three millions more for the education of the negroes, who had just been freed from slavery and who were groping blindly for the light; scores of smaller gifts to colleges and charitable institutions—until, at last, dead in London, he was mourned even by the Queen of England; Westminster Abbey was opened for his funeral; statesmen and noblemen bowed before his coffin; the noblest man-of-war in her Majesty’s navy was sent to bring the body back to his native land, which was in mourning for him from sea to sea; and, at the end, he was laid to rest beside the mother he had loved so tenderly, his life-work done, his name imperishable.
With a long sigh Tommy closed the book, and sat looking before him with eyes that saw nothing. But his task no longer seemed so difficult. This man had conquered even greater obstacles—why not he? The conductor came by and glanced at him, saw what was in his mind, and passed on without speaking.
At last he turned to the next biography: Bayard Taylor—walking sixty miles to get a poem printed, and failing; living in Europe on a few pennies a day, sometimes almost starving, but always writing, writing, writing, until at last came victory, and a niche in the hall of fame where the great literatures of the world live forever. He read of Watt, of Mozart, of Goldsmith, of Faraday, of Greeley, of Moody, of Childs, of Lincoln. What a galaxy of great names it was! And when at last he laid the book down he could see the dawn just breaking in the east. He sat for a long time looking out at it, watching the sky turn from black to gray, and from gray to purple. The book had stirred him to the very depths of his being.
“You haven’t finished it already, have you?” asked the conductor, coming up behind him.
“It’s a great book, isn’t it?” And the conductor dropped into the seat a moment and took up the book fondly. “It’s helped me over a lot of rough places. Maybe it will be of use to you. Will you keep it?”
Tommy looked at him, astonished.
“Keep it?” he repeated. “Do you mean you’ll give it to me?”
The other looked out of the window to avoid catching his eye. Somehow he found it no longer possible to patronize this boy. He had grown, had broadened; it was not the same boy he had met before, but one who interested him vastly more.
“I want you to have it, you see,” he explained awkwardly. “You can’t get a copy at Wentworth, while I can easily get another at Washington. I’d like you to have something to remember me by. My name’s on the fly-leaf. Will you take it?”
He read the answer in the boy’s eyes, and fairly pushed the book into his hands.
“Put it in your pocket,” he said, and jumped up hastily. “Now I’ve got to go. There, don’t thank me. I know how you feel”; and he hastened away down the aisle.
Tommy tucked the inspiring volume into his pocket, and turned again to the window. He was not at all sleepy—the hours had passed so quickly that they had left no fatigue behind them. He saw that the train was entering the mountains. Away and away they stretched, one behind another, steaming with mist as the sun’s first rays touched them. Mile after mile the train sped onward. The light grew, the earth waked; men could be seen working in the scant fields, women standing at the cabin doors, children playing about their feet.
And then the train flashed into country familiar to Tommy. He looked out again upon New River, churning its way along over its rocky and uneven bed, the mountains springing straight up on either hand and almost crowding the train into the torrent. The sun had not yet penetrated here, and the heaps of slack and tottering coal-tipples along the road looked inexpressibly dreary.
More and more familiar grew the landscape. Away up on the mountain-side he discerned the black opening that marked the mouth of the mine where his father had worked. There was the little school-house. He could hear the engine-bell clanging wildly.
“Wentworth!” cried the brakeman, slamming open the door. “Wentworth!”
And in an instant Tommy was on the platform, where his teacher was awaiting him.
“He is not dead?” he cried, looking anxiously into her face, dreading what he might read there. “Don’t say he is dead!”
“No, no,” protested Miss Andrews, smiling at him reassuringly. “He is not dead. He is not going to die. But he wants to see you so badly!”
Together they hurried up the steep, narrow path, Miss Andrews wondering within herself if this could be the same boy she had known. He seemed so changed—years older. As they neared the house, Tommy caught sight of a familiar figure standing in the doorway looking down at them, and he ran forward and up the steps to the porch.
“Oh, mother!” he cried, and nestled close against her breast as her arms strained him to her.
His mother said never a word, but the tears were streaming down her face as she bent over him and kissed him.
“Come in an’ see your pa,” she said. “He’s been askin’ fer you ever sence it happened.”
Tommy followed her into the little room,—how squalid it seemed now in comparison with the bright, airy rooms at Lawrenceville!—and stood for an instant, looking down at the wan figure on the bed.
“Tommy!” it gasped.
Whatever of coldness had grown into his heart melted away in that instant, and left him sobbing on his father’s breast. Then, suddenly remembering that his father was injured, he attempted to draw away; but those strong arms held him close.
“You’re not hurtin’ me, boy,” he said. “I ain’t hurt up here. It’s in th’ legs. One of ’em had t’ come off, Tommy. I’m ’feard my minin’ days is over.”
“There, now,” said Mrs. Remington, soothingly, “don’t you worry. All you’ve got t’ do is t’ git well. Now go t’ sleep. Come away, Tommy”; and she drew him from the bed.
It was only then, as they sat on the front porch with Miss Andrews, that he heard the story of the accident. His father, it seemed, had, by some chance, been working alone at the face of a new chamber, some distance from the other men. In some way a great mass of coal, loosened, perhaps, by a previous blast, had fallen upon him, pinning him to the floor. Fortunately, a pile of refuse at the side of the chamber had kept it from pressing with its full weight upon his head or body, but his legs had been crushed under it, and after trying in vain to extricate himself or attract the attention of some of the other men by hallooing, he had fainted from the pain and loss of blood. He had been discovered, at last, by a driver-boy, and it seemed quite certain he was dying. He was borne tenderly to his home, and it was then that Mr. Bayliss had sent the telegram to Tommy. A further examination showed, however, that only his legs had been injured. The left one had been crushed so badly that the surgeon found it necessary to amputate it just above the knee. The patient had rallied from the operation nicely, there were no bad symptoms, and it seemed certain he would recover.
There was a long silence when the story was told, and all of them sat looking down into the valley, each busy with his own thoughts. Suddenly Mrs. Remington’s housewifely instinct asserted itself.
“Good gracious!” she exclaimed. “What hev I been thinkin’ of? Tommy ain’t hed a bite o’ breakfast!”
“I’m not hungry, mother,” he protested. “I’ll wait till dinner. It’ll soon be noon. You can get it a little earlier than usual,” he added, seeing that she was still bent on making him eat. “I want to go up on the mountain awhile. I can’t be of any use here, can I?”
“No,” answered his mother, regarding him doubtfully. “Your pa’s asleep, and even if he wakes up, I kin ’tend t’ him.”
“All right. I won’t be gone long”; and anxious to get away with only his thoughts for company, he started quickly up the hill.
“Now I wonder—” began his mother, looking after his retreating figure.
“He has a battle to fight,” said Miss Andrews, softly, “and I’m certain he’s going to win it.”
The mother understood, and as she looked out across the valley her face grew gray and lined.
A BOY’S BATTLE
Up on the mountain-side Tommy was indeed fighting the battle of his life. He had made his way mechanically to the top of the ledge of rock from which the spring gushed forth, and had flung himself down upon the grass which crested it. He could see far down the valley, until at last, away in the distance, the purple mountains closed in and cut it off. The trees, which clothed them from foot to brow, had been touched by the first November frosts, and their foliage fused, as if by magic, from sober green to golden yellow and orange and flaming red.
He looked down upon it all, but not upon its beauty. For its beauty formed no part of the lives of the people who worked out their destinies here. The ugly places along the river were typical of their lives. For them it was only to dive deep into the earth and drag forth the black treasure that had been entombed there, to send it forth to warm and light the world and to move the wheels of industry—to do this at the sacrifice of health and strength and happiness, and, worse than all, of intellect. Brains grow atrophied and shrunken where only the muscles are used; for brain, no less than muscle, demands exercise, else it grows weak and flabby. A picture danced before his eyes of a group of stately buildings overlooking a wide and level campus, where men worked, not with their hands, but with their brains, with all the intellectual wealth of the world before them.
Let it not be inferred that there is aught in this to lessen the dignity and merit of manual toil. No man of real attainment ever thought to do that. It is only when that toil makes the man a machine, when it shuts out light from the mind, that it is detestable and a menace to human happiness.
Of all that the broader life meant, Tommy had just begun to understand the meaning. He had taken his first draught of the sweets of study and of intellectual fellowship, and the taste would linger in his mouth forever, making all others stale and insipid by comparison. Must he decide deliberately to turn away from the source of that enjoyment? Was there no other way?
And then, of a sudden, a thought came to him which stung him upright. He owed Jabez Smith three hundred dollars. He must not only provide for father and mother: he must also repay that money. He dropped back again upon the turf with tight-closed lips. What a tremendous sum it seemed! But other boys had done as much, and suddenly remembering his book, he drew it from his pocket and turned over the pages. It was under the name of Horace Greeley he found what he was seeking:
“He could go to school no longer, and must now support himself. From earliest childhood he had determined to be a printer; so, when eleven years of age, he walked nine miles to see the publisher of a newspaper and obtain a situation. The editor looked at the small, tow-headed boy, shook his head, and said, ‘You are too young.’ With a heavy heart, the child walked the long nine miles back again. But he must do something; and, a little later, with seventy-five cents in his pocket, and some food tied in a bundle, which he slung on the end of a stick over his shoulder, he walked one hundred and twenty miles back to New Hampshire, to see his relatives. After some weeks he returned, with a few more cents in his purse than when he started.”
“UP ON THE MOUNTAIN-SIDE TOMMY WAS INDEED FIGHTING THE BATTLE OF HIS LIFE.”
At last he succeeded in getting apprenticed to a printer, and was laughed at for wearing threadbare clothes. “Ah, they did not know that every penny was saved and sent to the father, struggling to clear a farm in the wilderness of Pennsylvania. During his four years’ apprenticeship he visited his parents twice, though six hundred miles distant, and walked most of the way.” But he was soon thrown out of work again.
“After trying various towns, he found a situation in Erie, taking the place of a workman who was ill, and for seven months he did not lose a day. Out of his wages—eighty-four dollars—he had used only six—less than one dollar a month! Putting fifteen dollars in his pocket, he took the balance of sixty-three in a note, and gave it to his father.”
And this man had become one of the greatest editors the country had ever seen, had been nominated for President, had left an indelible mark upon the nation’s history. Tommy closed the book and replaced it in his pocket. The struggle was quite over, and he went calmly down to the house.
His mother looked at him with anxious eyes as he entered, but the calmness of his face seemed to reassure her. The meal was on the table, and he sat down to it with a hunger born of his long fasting.
“Where’s Johnny?” he asked suddenly, seeing that his younger brother’s place at table remained vacant.
“Mis’ Jones took him,” answered his mother. “I didn’t want anybody t’ tend to but your pa after th’ accident. Mis’ Jones said she’d look out fer him fer a few days.”
“How is father?”
“Still asleep. A long sleep’ll do him good, th’ doctor says. But nothin’ can’t make his leg grow out ag’in.”
“No,” said Tommy, “nothing can do that.”
His mother went on with the meal in moody silence.
“I s’pose you hed a nice time out East?” she asked at last.
“Yes, a nice time. There were a lot of nice fellows there.”
“An’ could y’ keep up with them?”
“Yes; I managed to keep up. It was a little hard at first, but it grew easier after a while.”
There was a proud light in her eyes as she looked at him.
“Y’ mus’ go back,” she said, “soon ’s y’ kin. Y’ mustn’t fall behind. We’ll git along here some way.”
“We’ll see,” he answered simply. “I can’t go back till father’s out of danger. There’s no hurry. A whole year wouldn’t matter much.”
There was a tone in his voice which brought his mother’s eyes to his face, and a look in his face that held them there.
“You’re changed,” she faltered. “Y’ seem older.”
“I am older,” said Tommy. “I feel years older—old enough, certainly, to do a little work.”
She sat looking at him, dreading what would come next.
“Where are my old clothes?” he asked—“the clothes I used to work in?”
Then she understood.
“Not that!” she cried. “Oh, not that!” and would have come to him, but he waved her back, and she sank again into her chair. For an instant he felt immeasurably older than his mother.
“There’s no use trying to get around it,” he said, as calmly as he could. “I’ve got to go to work, and till something better shows up I’ve got to take father’s place in the mine. I can do the work, and I’m going to begin right away. Where are my clothes?”
She rose as one dazed, went to a closet, and drew out the grimy garments. He shuddered as he looked at them. His mother saw the movement of disgust, and understood it.
“It sha’n’t be!” she cried, and flung the garments back into the closet and shut the door.
But Tommy had already conquered the moment’s feeling.
“Come, mother,” he said, “we’re making a mountain out of a mole-hill. Why shouldn’t I go back to the mine? It’s only for a little while, till I can find something else. I’m sure I can soon find something else. Give me the clothes.”
She made no movement, and he opened the door and took them out himself.
“I’ll be back in a minute,” he said, and went into the other room.
His loathing came back upon him as he slowly donned the dirty garments. For three months he had been clean, and he had reveled in the luxury of cleanliness. But that was all over now. The coal-dust would conquer him as it had done before. But he shook the thought from him, and was quite himself when he came out again into the kitchen where his mother was. She was sitting on a chair, her lips quivering, her eyes misty with tears.
“Come here, Tommy,” she said. “Come an’ kiss me. You’re a good boy, Tommy.”
He went to her, and she put her arms convulsively about his neck. He stooped and kissed the trembling lips, then gently loosed her arms and stood away. His eyes were luminous with the joy of sacrifice.
“I must go,” he said. “The whistle will blow soon. Remember, I’ll be hungry for supper,” he added gaily.
“I’ll remember,” she answered, almost smiling. What a supper she would have for him!
She stood on the porch watching him as he went down the path and up the opposite hillside toward the mine. How often had she watched her husband so! He looked back just before he passed from sight and waved his hand to her. But there was a scene on the hillside she could not see, for as the boy turned away a harsh voice startled him.
“Ain’t you Tommy Remington?” it asked.
He looked up with a start and recognized Jabez Smith.
“Yes, sir,” said Tommy, quickly, “and I want to thank you, sir, for—”
“Stop!” cried Jabez, in a tremendous voice. “Not a word. Where you goin’ in them clothes?”
“To work,” faltered the boy, astonished at this unexpected outburst.
“Where?” asked Jabez, sternly.
“At the mine.”
“At the mine!” roared Jabez. “Well, I’ll be blowed! Es thet all your l’arnin’ amounts to? You go away t’ study, an’ then come hum an’ go t’ work ag’in in th’ mine!”
“We need money,” said the boy, timidly. “I can do this until I find something better.”
“Did your father an’ mother send you up here?”
Tommy colored at the tone of his voice.
“No, sir,” he answered quickly. “Father knows nothing about it. Mother tried to keep me from coming.”
Jabez stood and looked at him steadily for a full minute.
“I must go,” said Tommy. “I’ll be late if I don’t hurry.”
“Wait a minute”; and Jabez impressively drew a great wallet from an inner pocket. “You seem t’ fergit thet I’ve got somethin’ t’ say about this—thet I’ve got an int’rust in y’.” He opened the wallet and selected a strip of paper from the mass of documents with which it was crammed. “D’ y’ know what this is?” he asked, holding it out.
Tommy glanced at it, and blushed to his ears.
“Yes, sir, I know. It’s my note for three hundred dollars. That’s another reason I must get to work. I think I can pay you two dollars a week on it.”
But Jabez stopped him again.
“Who said anything about pay?” he demanded savagely. “I’m a business man. I’ve lent you this money at five per cent.—a good int’rust. I’d counted on keepin’ it out six or eight year anyway, an’ six hunderd dollars more on th’ same terms. What right ’ve you got t’ upset all them calcerlations?”
Tommy stared at him aghast. The thought crossed his mind that maybe Mr. Smith was mad.
“Oh, I can’t take any more of your money,” he faltered. “It’s not business.”
“It ain’t?” repeated Jabez, with fine irony. “What d’ y’ know about it? I say it is business.”
“But that’s not all,” protested Tommy. “Somebody’s got to take care of father and mother and Johnny.”
Jabez threw up his hands with a gesture of despair.
“What ails the boy?” he cried. “D’ y’ s’pose any man’s goin’ t’ starve in this free an’ enlightened country? Why, th’ superintendent up at the mine told me yesterday thet he counted on givin’ Remington a job es watchman.”
Now, the superintendent had really told him that, but only after much pressing, of which Jabez said never a word.
Tommy stood staring at the kindly eyes and severe face, trying to understand it.
“Now are y’ goin’ t’ stop interferin’ with my business?” demanded Jabez.
“I can’t,” faltered Tommy, again. “I’ve no claim.”
At that instant the mine whistle blew shrilly; but the boy felt an iron hand on his arm that held him to the spot.
“Don’t go,” said Jabez. “Come ’long with me down t’ th’ house, an’ I’ll show y’ whether there’s any claim. Come on.”
His voice was no longer harsh. It was soft, almost gentle. The boy began dimly to understand what was going on in this man’s heart, and followed him down the hill without a word, without a thought of resistance. Jabez led him straight to an upper room fitted up as a kind of office. Tommy caught a glimpse of another room beyond through the half-open door.
“Set down,” said Jabez, and unlocked a heavy chest which stood in one corner of the room. He took out a little case and handed it to Tommy.
“Look at it,” he said.
It was an old daguerreotype—a boy of ten or twelve, with bright face and wide-open, sparkling eyes.
“Thet’s me,” said Jabez.
Tommy glanced from the fresh face of the picture to the grizzled one opposite him.
“Ay, look,” growled the man. “You’d ha’ looked a long time afore you’d ’a’ knowed it. I spiled my life—no matter how. Now you’re goin’ t’ make me spile another. Don’t y’ reckon one’s enough?”
His voice was quivering with emotion.
“Don’t y’ reckon one’s enough?” he repeated. “I’ve allers wanted th’ chance t’ set some boy straight on th’ right road, but I hadn’t found the boy worth it. I’ve watched you from th’ time Miss Bessie showed y’ t’ me at the schoolhouse. I’ve heard ’em talkin’ about y’, an’ I’ve seen what was in y’. All th’ time y’ was studyin’ I was watchin’, an’ at last I said t’ myself: ‘Jabez Smith, thet’s th’ boy you’ve been lookin’ fer. You’ve spiled one life, but, with God’s help, you’re goin’ t’ make up fer it now.’ An’ I’ve lived in it, an’ gloried in it. It’s been meat an’ drink t’ me. An’ here you’re goin’ t’ snatch it away!”
He paused with a kind of sob in his voice that seemed to choke him, while Tommy sat staring at him, long past the power of reply. But the sob was echoed from the other room.
“I won’t be still!” cried a voice, and the door was thrown back and Bessie Andrews appeared on the threshold. “I’ve heard every word,” she continued through her tears. “I couldn’t help it. I was just coming to see you, Mr. Smith. I’m glad of it!”
Jabez slowly drew his handkerchief from his pocket and mopped his brow in a dazed way.
“Why don’t you speak to him?” cried the girl to Tommy. “But you don’t know all about him that I do. Come here with me this instant”; and she threw herself on her knees before the older man.
But he caught her and held her up.
“Don’t,” he protested brokenly. “I can’t stand it. Only make him listen. I’ve got a right t’ tell him what t’ do. If he only knowed how empty my heart is!”
There was something in the tone that brought the quick tears to the boy’s eyes. His boyish obstinacy and pride melted away as he gazed into the other’s tender face. He was drawn out of his chair by some power greater than himself, and in an instant was in the other’s arms, sobbing upon his breast. He knew that the problem had been solved.
“He’s pure gold,” said Jabez Smith, with his hand on Tommy’s shoulder; “he’s just pure gold. I knowed it when I seen him goin’ up t’ th’ mine with these here clothes on. An’ he sha’n’t stay in th’ rough. We’ll make him int’ the finest piece of work th’ colleges of this country kin turn out.”
But the girl, looking fondly at them, knew that they were both pure gold, and that the old, rough, world-worn nugget was more beautiful than the hand of man could make it.