“Clara’s Medal,” by Christie Pearl (from Student and Schoolmate, September 1864; pp. 73-75)
“It ’s just as mean as it can be!”
“So I say.”
“Clara Norris has cheated this whole year. I have caught her at it ever so many times. She always reported more credits than she ought to have done. I know I have marked her slate in the spelling lesson when she sat before me, and her report would almost always be fewer words wrong than I marked. Of course I would n’t be mean enough to tell!”
“Then, Etta, don’t you remember that composition of hers, taken word for word from an old reader? The master found her out that time.”
“Did n’t she blush when he compared them? I ’ve seen her peeping into her book ever so many times, and then looking up again, so innocent! I know it ’s only by cheating she has got up so high, and it is not fair at all. She may look as fine as she pleases in her white kids and blue silk, but she does not deserve that medal hanging round her neck, or my name is not Addie Stearns!”
“Don’t you remember, Addie, that old story of the monks? The night before any one was appointed to die, in a certain monastery, a rose of warning was laid before him, that he might get ready for another world. Wherever the rose was found in the morning, at night the one before whom it lay, was dead. I wish there could be some such dispensation about medals, that by some magnetic attraction, those white and blue ribbons, and silver tokens, would encircle the necks only of those who deserve them.”
“Oh, that ’s a very fine sentiment. It ought to be in the valedictory. Can’t you tuck it in somewhere?”
“Too late, Addie,” replied her friend, flourishing the white manuscript in her hand.
This conversation took place in the hall of one of our school houses, at an exhibition. When Clara Norris ascended the platform to receive a medal from the hands of the chairman, no applause greeted her, like that which the appearance of some of her schoolmates had called forth. How did she feel? She knew that she had not deserved the medal, that only through a long course of duplicity which had never been discovered by her teachers, had she been able to retain her high rank. When she took her place with the others, she did not feel so glad or proud as she expected. There seemed to be a weight on her brain. She thought the warm weather made her uncomfortable, and waved her elegant little fan, consoling herself with the thought that she should feel better at the medal festival in the afternoon.
The Music Hall was crowded. The great organ stood revealed in all its majesty and grandeur, decorated with flags, and festoons, and vases of flowers. But who can tell the charming and beautiful effect of those human flowers, which blossomed so brightly before the audience? The girls were dressed mostly in white, and seated in tiers, which rose above each other. The boys in their more quiet costume, relieved the dazzling effect of the picture.
The organ filled the air with its grand cadences, the orchestra joined in, and twelve hundred children chanted together, the time-worn anthems which have waked the echoes in so many hearts. When the magnificent Hallelujah chorus was sung, and the walls resounded with the words, “King of kings and Lord of lords,” it almost seemed as if the triumphant strain had found a response above, and that the angels were looking down over the shining battlements of Heaven to listen. If there was any heart-music there, I think it was heard by Him whose listening ear catches the faintest echo of earthly praise.
Clara thought she was happy in all the excitement of the scene. But when the addresses were made, there was one remark which fixed her attention. “Remember that all rewards which you sport outwardly, but which are not approved by the judge in your heart, can give you no advantage, can do you no good, but will rather be silent accusers of guilt.”
Poor Clara! she placed her medal inside her sash. The ribbon choked her. It seemed as if the city of Boston, inscribed on the little silver circlet, was pulling her down with all its weight of literary, scientific and commercial interests; that those little silver spires of churches were so many fingers of derision pointed at her.
When she got home her gray-haired old father met her at the door. She threw her bouquet on the table, flung her medal on the floor and burst into tears.
“Take them away! take them away! I don’t want them. I have not deserved them. Can’t I send the medal back to the Committee? I have cheated all the year, and I ’m sorry. Oh dear me!”
“My daughter,” said her father, as he took up the medal, and laid his hand tremulously upon her head, “keep it as a reminder of your guilt, as a stimulus to help you overcome your habits of deception, which have grown upon you, and which have caused me many hours of sorrow.”
Clara only sobbed harder, as she laid her head on her arm; but she made a penitent resolve to be henceforward true and honest as truth itself; and I hope she thought of the One who alone can help every struggling soul break through the chain of evil habits.