"Are you going to the examination to-day, mother?" asked Harry, at breakfast.
"I should like to go," said Mrs. Walton, "but I don't see how I can. To-day's my bakin' day, and somehow my work has got behindhand during the week."
"I think Harry'll get the prize," said Tom, a boy of ten, not heretofore mentioned. He also attended the school, but was not as promising as his oldest brother.
"What prize?" asked Mrs. Walton, looking up with interest.
"The master offered a prize, at the beginning of the term, to the scholar that was most faithful to his studies."
"What is the prize?"
"Do you think you will get it, Harry?" asked his mother.
"I don't know," said Harry, modestly. "I think I have some chance of getting it."
"When will it be given?"
"Toward the close of the afternoon."
"Maybe I can get time to come in then; I'll try."
"I wish you would come, mother," said Harry earnestly. "Only don't be disappointed if I don't get it. I've been trying, but there are some other good scholars."
"You're the best, Harry," said Tom.
"I don't know about that. I shan't count my chickens before they are hatched. Only if I am to get the prize I should like to have mother there."
"I know you're a good scholar, and have improved your time," said Mrs. Walton. "I wish your father was rich enough to send you to college."
"I should like that very much," said Harry, his eyes sparkling at merely the suggestion.
"But it isn't much use hoping," continued his mother, with a sigh. "It doesn't seem clear whether we can get a decent living, much less send our boy to college. The cow is a great loss to us."
Just then Mr. Walton came in from the barn.
"How do you like the new cow, father?" asked Harry.
"She isn't equal to our old one. She doesn't give as much milk within two quarts, if this morning's milking is a fair sample."
"You paid enough for her," said Mrs. Walton.
"I paid too much for her," answered her husband, "but it was the best I could do. I had to buy on credit, and Squire Green knew I must pay his price, or go without."
"Forty-three dollars is a great deal of money to pay for a cow."
"Not for some cows. Some are worth more; but this one isn't."
"What do you think she is really worth?"
"Thirty-three dollars is the most I would give if I had the cash to pay."
"I think it's mean in Squire Green to take such advantage of you," said Harry.
"You mustn't say so, Harry, for it won't do for me to get the squire's ill will. I am owing him money. I've agreed to pay for the cow in six months."
"Can you do it?"
"I don't see how; but the money's on interest, and it maybe the squire'll let it stay. I forgot to say, though, that last evening when I went to get the cow he made me agree to forfeit ten dollars if I was not ready with the money and interest in six months. I am afraid he will insist on that if I can't keep my agreement."
"It will be better for you to pay, and have done with it."
"Of course. I shall try to do it, if I have to borrow the money. I suppose I shall have to do that."
Meantime Harry was busy thinking." Wouldn't it be possible for me to earn money enough to pay for the cow in six months? I wish I could do it, and relieve father."
He began to think over all the possible ways of earning money, but there was nothing in particular to do in the town except to work for the farmers, and there was very little money to earn ill that way. Money is a scarce commodity with farmers everywhere. Most of their income is in the shape of farm produce, and used in the family. Only a small surplus is converted into money, and a dollar, therefore, seems more to them than to a mechanic, whose substantial income is perhaps less. This is the reason, probably, why farmers are generally loath to spend money. Harry knew that if he should hire out to a farmer for the six months the utmost he could expect would be a dollar a week, and it was not certain he could earn that. Besides, he would probably be worth as much to his father as anyone, and his labor in neither case provide money to pay for the cow. Obviously that would not answer. He must think of some other way, but at present none seemed open. He sensibly deferred thinking till after the examination.
"Are you going to the school examination, father?" asked our hero.
"I can't spare time, Harry. I should like to, for I want to know how far you have progressed. 'Live and learn,' my boy. That's a good motto, though Squire Green thinks that 'Live and earn' is a better."
"That's the rule he acts on," said Mrs. Walton. "He isn't troubled with learning."
"No, he isn't as good a scholar probably as Tom, here."
"Isn't he?" said Tom, rather complacently.
"Don't feel too much flattered, Tom," said his mother.
"You don't know enough to hurt you."
"He never will," said his sister, Jane, laughing.
"I don't want to know enough to hurt me," returned Tom, good humoredly. He was rather used to such compliments, and didn't mind them.
"No," said Mr. Walton; "I am afraid I can't spare time to come to the examination. Are you going, mother?"
It is quite common in the country for husbands to address wives in this manner.
"I shall try to go in the last of the afternoon," said Mrs. Walton.
"If you will come, mother," said Harry, "we'll all help you afterwards, so you won't lose anything by it."
"I think I will contrive to come."
The examination took place in the afternoon. Mr. Burbank preferred to have it so, for two reasons. It allowed time to submit the pupils to a previous private examination in the morning, thus insuring a better appearance in the afternoon. Besides, in the second place, the parents were more likely to be at liberty to attend in the afternoon, and he naturally liked to have as many visitors as possible. He was really a good teacher, though his qualifications were limited; but as far as his knowledge went, he was quite successful in imparting it to others.
In the afternoon there was quite a fair attendance of parents and friends of the scholars, though some did not come in till late, like Mrs. Walton. It is not my intention to speak of the examination in detail. My readers know too little of the scholars to make that interesting. Ephraim Higgins made some amusing mistakes, but that didn't excite any surprise, for his scholarship was correctly estimated in the village. Tom Walton did passably well, but was not likely to make his parents proud of his performances. Harry, however, eclipsed himself. His ambition had been stirred by the offer of a prize, and he was resolved to deserve it. His recitations were prompt and correct, and his answers were given with confidence. But perhaps he did himself most credit in declamation. He had always been very fond of that, and though he had never received and scientific instruction in it, he possessed a natural grace and a deep feeling of earnestness which made success easy. He had selected an extract from Webster--the reply to the Hayne--and this was the showpiece of the afternoon. The rest of the declamation was crude enough, but Harry's impressed even the most ignorant of his listeners as superior for a boy of his age. When he uttered his last sentence, and made a parting bow, there was subdued applause, and brought a flush of gratification to the cheek of our young hero.
"This is the last exercise," said the teacher "except one. At the commencement of the term, I offered a prize to the scholar that would do the best from that time till the close of the school. I will now award the prize. Harry Walton, come forward."
Harry rose form his seat, his cheeks flushed again with gratification, and advanced to where the teacher was standing.
"Harry," said Mr. Burbank, "I have no hesitation in giving you the prize. You have excelled all the other scholars, and it is fairly yours. The book is not of much value, but I think you will find it interesting and instructive. It is the life of the great American philosopher and statesman, Benjamin Franklin. I hope you will read and profit by it, and try like him to make your life a credit to yourself and a blessing to mankind."
"Thank you, sir," said Harry, bowing low. "I will try to do so."
There was a speech by the chairman of the school committee, in which allusion was made to Harry and the prize, and the exercises were over. Harry received the congratulations of his schoolmates and others with modest satisfaction, but he was most pleased by the evident pride and pleasure which his mother exhibited, when she, too, was congratulated on his success. His worldly prospects were very uncertain, but he head achieved the success for which he had been laboring, and he was happy.