By Horatio Alger
Public Domain Books
Chapter XVI. The First Lesson
Fortunately for Dick, his young tutor was well qualified to instruct him. Henry Fosdick, though only twelve years old, knew as much as many boys of fourteen. He had always been studious and ambitious to excel. His father, being a printer, employed in an office where books were printed, often brought home new books in sheets, which Henry was always glad to read. Mr. Fosdick had been, besides, a subscriber to the Mechanics’ Apprentices’ Library, which contains many thousands of well-selected and instructive books. Thus Henry had acquired an amount of general information, unusual in a boy of his age. Perhaps he had devoted too much time to study, for he was not naturally robust. All this, however, fitted him admirably for the office to which Dick had appointed him,–that of his private instructor.
The two boys drew up their chairs to the rickety table, and spread out the paper before them.
“The exercises generally Commence with ringin’ the bell,” said Dick; “but as I aint got none, we’ll have to do without.”
“And the teacher is generally provided with a rod,” said Fosdick. “Isn’t there a poker handy, that I can use in case my scholar doesn’t behave well?”
“’Taint lawful to use fire-arms,” said Dick.
“Now, Dick,” said Fosdick, “before we begin, I must find out how much you already know. Can you read any?”
“Not enough to hurt me,” said Dick. “All I know about readin’ you could put in a nutshell, and there’d be room left for a small family.”
“I suppose you know your letters?”
“Yes,” said Dick, “I know ’em all, but not intimately. I guess I can call ’em all by name.”
“Where did you learn them? Did you ever go to school?”
“Yes; I went two days.”
“Why did you stop?”
“It didn’t agree with my constitution.”
“You don’t look very delicate,” said Fosdick.
“No,” said Dick, “I aint troubled much that way; but I found lickins didn’t agree with me.”
“Did you get punished?”
“Awful,” said Dick.
“For indulgin’ in a little harmless amoosement,” said Dick. “You see the boy that was sittin’ next to me fell asleep, which I considered improper in school-time; so I thought I’d help the teacher a little by wakin’ him up. So I took a pin and stuck into him; but I guess it went a little too far, for he screeched awful. The teacher found out what it was that made him holler, and whipped me with a ruler till I was black and blue. I thought ’twas about time to take a vacation; so that’s the last time I went to school.”
“You didn’t learn to read in that time, of course?”
“No,” said Dick; “but I was a newsboy a little while; so I learned a little, just so’s to find out what the news was. Sometimes I didn’t read straight and called the wrong news. One mornin’ I asked another boy what the paper said, and he told me the King of Africa was dead. I thought it was all right till folks began to laugh.”
“Well, Dick, if you’ll only study well, you won’t be liable to make such mistakes.”
“I hope so,” said Dick. “My friend Horace Greeley told me the other day that he’d get me to take his place now and then when he was off makin’ speeches if my edication hadn’t been neglected.”
“I must find a good piece for you to begin on,” said Fosdick, looking over the paper.
“Find an easy one,” said Dick, “with words of one story.”
Fosdick at length found a piece which he thought would answer. He discovered on trial that Dick had not exaggerated his deficiencies. Words of two syllables he seldom pronounced right, and was much surprised when he was told how “through” was sounded.
“Seems to me it’s throwin’ away letters to use all them,” he said.
“How would you spell it?” asked his young teacher.
“T-h-r-u,” Said Dick.
“Well,” said Fosdick, “there’s a good many other words that are spelt with more letters than they need to have. But it’s the fashion, and we must follow it.”
But if Dick was ignorant, he was quick, and had an excellent capacity. Moreover he had perseverance, and was not easily discouraged. He had made up his mind he must know more, and was not disposed to complain of the difficulty of his task. Fosdick had occasion to laugh more than once at his ludicrous mistakes; but Dick laughed too, and on the whole both were quite interested in the lesson.
At the end of an hour and a half the boys stopped for the evening.
“You’re learning fast, Dick,” said Fosdick. “At this rate you will soon learn to read well.”
“Will I?” asked Dick with an expression of satisfaction. “I’m glad of that. I don’t want to be ignorant. I didn’t use to care, but I do now. I want to grow up ’spectable.”
“So do I, Dick. We will both help each other, and I am sure we can accomplish something. But I am beginning to feel sleepy.”
“So am I,” said Dick. “Them hard words make my head ache. I wonder who made ’em all?”
“That’s more than I can tell. I suppose you’ve seen a dictionary.”
“That’s another of ’em. No, I can’t say I have, though I may have seen him in the street without knowin’ him.”
“A dictionary is a book containing all the words in the language.”
“How many are there?”
“I don’t rightly know; but I think there are about fifty thousand.”
“It’s a pretty large family,” said Dick. “Have I got to learn ’em all?”
“That will not be necessary. There are a large number which you would never find occasion to use.”
“I’m glad of that,” said Dick; “for I don’t expect to live to be more’n a hundred, and by that time I wouldn’t be more’n half through.”
By this time the flickering lamp gave a decided hint to the boys that unless they made haste they would have to undress in the dark. They accordingly drew off their clothes, and Dick jumped into bed. But Fosdick, before doing so, knelt down by the side of the bed, and said a short prayer.
“What’s that for?” asked Dick, curiously.
“I was saying my prayers,” said Fosdick, as he rose from his knees. “Don’t you ever do it?”
“No,” said Dick. “Nobody ever taught me.”
“Then I’ll teach you. Shall I?”
“I don’t know,” said Dick, dubiously. “What’s the good?”
Fosdick explained as well as he could, and perhaps his simple explanation was better adapted to Dick’s comprehension than one from an older person would have been. Dick felt more free to ask questions, and the example of his new friend, for whom he was beginning to feel a warm attachment, had considerable effect upon him. When, therefore, Fosdick asked again if he should teach him a prayer, Dick consented, and his young bedfellow did so. Dick was not naturally irreligious. If he had lived without a knowledge of God and of religious things, it was scarcely to be wondered at in a lad who, from an early age, had been thrown upon his own exertions for the means of living, with no one to care for him or give him good advice. But he was so far good that he could appreciate goodness in others, and this it was that had drawn him to Frank in the first place, and now to Henry Fosdick. He did not, therefore, attempt to ridicule his companion, as some boys better brought up might have done, but was willing to follow his example in what something told him was right. Our young hero had taken an important step toward securing that genuine respectability which he was ambitious to attain.
Weary with the day’s work, and Dick perhaps still more fatigued by the unusual mental effort he had made, the boys soon sank into a deep and peaceful slumber, from which they did not awaken till six o’clock the next morning. Before going out Dick sought Mrs. Mooney, and spoke to her on the subject of taking Fosdick as a room-mate. He found that she had no objection, provided he would allow her twenty-five cents a week extra, in consideration of the extra trouble which his companion might be expected to make. To this Dick assented, and the arrangement was definitely concluded.
This over, the two boys went out and took stations near each other. Dick had more of a business turn than Henry, and less shrinking from publicity, so that his earnings were greater. But he had undertaken to pay the entire expenses of the room, and needed to earn more. Sometimes, when two customers presented themselves at the same time, he was able to direct one to his friend. So at the end of the week both boys found themselves with surplus earnings. Dick had the satisfaction of adding two dollars and a half to his deposits in the Savings Bank, and Fosdick commenced an account by depositing seventy-five cents.
On Sunday morning Dick bethought himself of his promise to Mr. Greyson to come to the church on Fifth Avenue. To tell the truth, Dick recalled it with some regret. He had never been inside a church since he could remember, and he was not much attracted by the invitation he had received. But Henry, finding him wavering, urged him to go, and offered to go with him. Dick gladly accepted the offer, feeling that he required someone to lend him countenance under such unusual circumstances.
Dick dressed himself with scrupulous care, giving his shoes a “shine” so brilliant that it did him great credit in a professional point of view, and endeavored to clean his hands thoroughly; but, in spite of all he could do, they were not so white as if his business had been of a different character.
Having fully completed his preparations, he descended into the street, and, with Henry by his side, crossed over to Broadway.
The boys pursued their way up Broadway, which on Sunday presents a striking contrast in its quietness to the noise and confusion of ordinary week-days, as far as Union Square, then turned down Fourteenth Street, which brought them to Fifth Avenue.
“Suppose we dine at Delmonico’s,” said Fosdick, looking towards that famous restaurant.
“I’d have to sell some of my Erie shares,” said Dick.
A short walk now brought them to the church of which mention has already been made. They stood outside, a little abashed, watching the fashionably attired people who were entering, and were feeling a little undecided as to whether they had better enter also, when Dick felt a light touch upon his shoulder.
Turning round, he met the smiling glance of Mr. Greyson.
“So, my young friend, you have kept your promise,” he said. “And whom have you brought with you?”
“A friend of mine,” said Dick. “His name is Henry Fosdick.”
“I am glad you have brought him. Now follow me, and I will give you seats.”