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Chapter 16 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 o_ourteen. He had always been studious and ambitious to excel. His father, being a printer, employed in an office where books were printed, often brough_ome new books in sheets, which Henry was always glad to read. Mr. Fosdick ha_een, besides, a subscriber to the Mechanics' Apprentices' Library, whic_ontains many thousands of well-selected and instructive books. Thus Henry ha_cquired 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 naturall_obust. All this, however, fitted him admirably for the office to which Dic_ad appointed him,—that of his private instructor.
  • The two boys drew up their chairs to the rickety table, and spread out th_aper before them.
  • "The exercises generally Commence with ringin' the bell," said Dick; "but as _int got none, we'll have to do without."
  • "And the teacher is generally provided with a rod," said Fosdick. "Isn't ther_ 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 yo_lready know. Can you read any?"
  • "Not enough to hurt me," said Dick. "All I know about readin' you could put i_ 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 'e_ll 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'_gree with me."
  • "Did you get punished?"
  • "Awful," said Dick.
  • "What for?"
  • "For indulgin' in a little harmless amoosement," said Dick. "You see the bo_hat was sittin' next to me fell asleep, which I considered improper i_chool-time; so I thought I'd help the teacher a little by wakin' him up. So _ook a pin and stuck into him; but I guess it went a little too far, for h_creeched awful. The teacher found out what it was that made him holler, an_hipped me with a ruler till I was black and blue. I thought 'twas about tim_o 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 an_alled 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 til_olks began to laugh."
  • "Well, Dick, if you'll only study well, you won't be liable to make suc_istakes."
  • "I hope so," said Dick. "My friend Horace Greeley told me the other day tha_e'd get me to take his place now and then when he was off makin' speeches i_y edication hadn't been neglected."
  • "I must find a good piece for you to begin on," said Fosdick, looking over th_aper.
  • "Find an easy one," said Dick, "with words of one story."
  • Fosdick at length found a piece which he thought would answer. He discovere_n trial that Dick had not exaggerated his deficiencies. Words of tw_yllables he seldom pronounced right, and was much surprised when he was tol_ow "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 wit_ore letters than they need to have. But it's the fashion, and we must follo_t."
  • 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 u_is mind he must know more, and was not disposed to complain of the difficult_f his task. Fosdick had occasion to laugh more than once at his ludicrou_istakes; but Dick laughed too, and on the whole both were quite interested i_he 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 lear_o read well."
  • "Will I?" asked Dick with an expression of satisfaction. "I'm glad of that. _on't want to be ignorant. I didn't use to care, but I do now. I want to gro_p 'spectable."
  • "So do I, Dick. We will both help each other, and I am sure we can accomplis_omething. 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 i_he 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 neve_ind occasion to use."
  • "I'm glad of that," said Dick; "for I don't expect to live to be more'n _undred, 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 unles_hey made haste they would have to undress in the dark. They accordingly dre_ff 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 wa_etter adapted to Dick's comprehension than one from an older person woul_ave been. Dick felt more free to ask questions, and the example of his ne_riend, for whom he was beginning to feel a warm attachment, had considerabl_ffect upon him. When, therefore, Fosdick asked again if he should teach him _rayer, Dick consented, and his young bedfellow did so. Dick was not naturall_rreligious. If he had lived without a knowledge of God and of religiou_hings, it was scarcely to be wondered at in a lad who, from an early age, ha_een thrown upon his own exertions for the means of living, with no one t_are for him or give him good advice. But he was so far good that he coul_ppreciate goodness in others, and this it was that had drawn him to Frank i_he first place, and now to Henry Fosdick. He did not, therefore, attempt t_idicule his companion, as some boys better brought up might have done, bu_as willing to follow his example in what something told him was right. Ou_oung hero had taken an important step toward securing that genuin_espectability which he was ambitious to attain.
  • Weary with the day's work, and Dick perhaps still more fatigued by the unusua_ental effort he had made, the boys soon sank into a deep and peacefu_lumber, 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 o_aking Fosdick as a room-mate. He found that she had no objection, provided h_ould allow her twenty-five cents a week extra, in consideration of the extr_rouble 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 ha_ore of a business turn than Henry, and less shrinking from publicity, so tha_is earnings were greater. But he had undertaken to pay the entire expenses o_he room, and needed to earn more. Sometimes, when two customers presente_hemselves at the same time, he was able to direct one to his friend. So a_he end of the week both boys found themselves with surplus earnings. Dick ha_he satisfaction of adding two dollars and a half to his deposits in th_avings Bank, and Fosdick commenced an account by depositing seventy-fiv_ents.
  • On Sunday morning Dick bethought himself of his promise to Mr. Greyson to com_o the church on Fifth Avenue. To tell the truth, Dick recalled it with som_egret. He had never been inside a church since he could remember, and he wa_ot much attracted by the invitation he had received. But Henry, finding hi_avering, urged him to go, and offered to go with him. Dick gladly accepte_he offer, feeling that he required someone to lend him countenance under suc_nusual circumstances.
  • Dick dressed himself with scrupulous care, giving his shoes a "shine" s_rilliant that it did him great credit in a professional point of view, an_ndeavored 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 strikin_ontrast in its quietness to the noise and confusion of ordinary week-days, a_ar as Union Square, then turned down Fourteenth Street, which brought them t_ifth Avenue.
  • "Suppose we dine at Delmonico's," said Fosdick, looking towards that famou_estaurant.
  • "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 bee_ade. They stood outside, a little abashed, watching the fashionably attire_eople who were entering, and were feeling a little undecided as to whethe_hey 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 yo_rought 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."