“Industry and Idleness,” by William L. Williams (from Student and Schoolmate, November 1864; pp. 142-145)
“Stubbs, bring that to me!”
Stephen Stubbs, looking very sheepish, arose slowly from his desk, and reluctantly handed his teacher a “Dime Novel.” Mr. Libby took the mischievous book, opened the stove door, and laid it on the red-hot coals. A curling wreath of smoke enveloped it, which quickly gave place to fiery tongues of roaring flame, and finally a heap of feathery cinders chasing each other through the funnel, conveyed the dismal tale to Stephen’s heart, that his book which he had so foolishly given ten cents for, and brought to school, had forever vanished from his sight.
“You have no right to burn my book,” commenced Stephen.
“Stop, Stephen!” exclaimed Mr. Libby; “you know the rules of the school, and if you disobey them, what the consequences will be. I think that I have discovered now the cause of the imperfect recitations you have had lately. Have you learned your Arithmetic lesson this morning?”
“Yes, sir,” answered Stubbs, but in a tone which lacked that clearness and confidence imparted by truth.
“Very well—go to your seat, and in five minutes I will hear the class.”
Stephen Stubbs went to his seat feeling decidedly uncomfortable. He
regretted the loss of his book, which prevented him from knowing the fate of a murderous desperado who had fastened a whole family down in the cellar, while he pillaged the house. He regretted having told Mr. Libby a lie in saying that he had learned his Arithmetic lesson, when he had hardly looked at it. In five minutes the truth would be known. Stephen looked at the sums, and knowing that Mr. Libby usually began at either one end or the other of the class, and knowing that he was the sixth boy from one end and the seventh from the other, he went to work and ciphered out the sixth and seventh sums, thinking he could save himself from detection.
At the time appointed, the class took its place, and much to Stephen’s joy, the first sum was given to the first boy, who did it in good style. The second boy was then called upon, but being unprepared, he failed, and the sum was given to Number Three. This quite disconcerted Stephen, who saw with dismay that the fifth sum would come to him, and he was wholly incapable of explaining it. He nudged the boy next him, and tried to get him to tell him; but Charley Haskell was one of the best boys in the school, and never broke the rules; so he would not whisper in reply to Stephen, although out of school hours he would have gladly assisted him. Stubbs’ turn came, and with it his disgrace. He hung his head and went back to his seat to study the lesson. There was no recess for him that day, and he had to stay half an hour after school.
Mr. Libby walked along with him a little way on his road homeward, and he talked with him concerning the importance of studying in school.
“I am sorry, Stephen,” said he, “that you are not more attentive to your studies. Your lessons are seldom perfectly recited, and your time seems to be wholly taken up with some trashy novels, or some silly game. You may think it is fun now, but by and by when you are a man, and will want to take a respectable station in society, you will find that education will be the passport required, and you will then regret neglecting the opportunity of taking it when you had it offered to you. You are too fond of playing. Now, there is Charley Haskell, who likes to read books and play games as well as any one; but you never see him doing either of them in the school room. He waits till the proper time.”
Mr. Libby talked in this manner to Stephen, until he was obliged to bid him good by to turn down another street. Stephen walked home to dinner, feeling uncomfortable, and vexed with himself. But he made no effort to reform, and by the next day his kind teacher’s advice was forgotten.
Two years after this, Stephen Stubbs and Charles Haskell graduated
from the High School; Charles with high honor and distinction, but Stephen with none at all. Several members of the class intended to pursue a collegiate course; but these two boys being the sons of parents who could not afford to give them any better education than the public schools provided, were now to commence their business life at the lowest round of the ladder, and ascend, if they chose, to the top.
They were now to learn how to earn their own living, and their bst means were the lessons received at the school they had just bade farewell to forever. Few boys realize what an era it is in their lives, when they pack up their books and turn their backs on the old school house. They think it is something grand to leave school and be no more under the master’s eagle eye; to close the old Algebra and Grammar and lay them away in the garret, to become dusty and forgotten. But in after years, when corroding cares harrass them, they will long for such halcyon days, and dwell on the memory of them with pleasure.
A few days after the boys had left school, Charley Haskell was going down the street, when he heard Stephen Stubbs’ voice accosting him.
“Hallo, Charley! where are you going?”
Stephen was looking from the window of a barn chamber, where he had been pitching hay down for the cattle.
“I am going down to Dr. Sambuci’s, the Apothecary. He has advertised for a boy, and perhaps I may suit him,” replied Charley.
“Wait for me,” said Stephen; “I will go too, and if you don’t get the place, perhaps I can;” and Stephen soon joined Charley in the street.
Charles had no desire for Stephen’s company, but as he saw no way of avoiding it, he quietly submitted.
“Do you believe you will like to be an apothecary?” asked Stephen.
“If I could be a good one I should like it,” replied Charley.
“There’s one good thing about it, you could have as much candy and as many cigars as you wanted, for old Sambuci keeps them, I know,” said Stephen.
“I suppose I could, if I had money enough to pay for them,” replied Charley.
“Ho! you would n’t have to pay anything. Sambuci would n’t care.”
“Would n’t he care if I took ten cent pieces and coppers out of the drawer?” asked Charley.
“That ’s a different thing,” said Stephen.
“Not a bit; candy and cigars cost him money, and I should consider that I had no right to touch them for my own use,” said Charley.
Here the boys arrived at the Doctor’s shop. Stephen entered first,
and Charles following close behind, was not a little astonished, to see him walk up to Dr. Sambuci’s desk, and apply for the situation himself.
“What is your name?” inquired the apothecary.
“Stephen Stubbs,” was the reply.
“How many scruples make one dram?” was the Doctor’s next question.
Stephen looked a little flustered, stood on one foot and then on the other, felt very warm in the face, and finally stammered out in a weak voice, “Sixteen, sir.”
“And if I sell eleven and a half ounces of medicine, at ten and a half cents an ounce, how much will it amount to?” continued Dr. Sambuci.
Stephen began to wish he had never entered the shop. He turned redder than ever, scratched his head, and finally asked for a pencil and paper to figure on. For nearly ten minutes he fussed over that sum, and finally gave a decidedly wrong answer. Dr. Sambuci kindly gave him another chance, and after a long spell of nervous penciling, Stephen announced “one dollar and twenty-one cents” as the result.
“Not exactly,” said the Doctor; and then looking at Charley, he said, “You look as if you had it; can you tell?”
“Yes, sir. It is one dollar and twenty cents and three quarters of a cent,” replied Charles, promptly.*
“That ’s right,” said the old Apothecary, heartily. “You ought to have applied for this situation.”
“I should like it, sir, if you think I’ll do,” was Charles’ reply.
In a few minutes the bargain was made, and Charles was engaged by the Doctor. Stephen was advised to return to school and make up for lost time. But he felt ashamed to do this, and consequently, not being smart enough to do light, pleasant work, he was obliged to take up with heavy, laborious jobs which required but little mental exertion. A few years after, when Dr. Sambuci died, Charles Haskell was able to succeed him in the business, and became a well-off and respected citizen. Stephen was always behind hand, shifting about from one employment to another, and literally earning his bread “by the sweat of his brow.” He knew well enough the cause of his ill-success, and often sighed when he thought of the golden hours he so foolishly squandered in school, reading novels and playing.
* It may be well to remark here that perhaps nineteen out of twenty boys, or men either, would give the same answer as Stephen did the second time. The error is in multiplying the fractions together twice; this can be proved by using decimals.