Frank's seat in the schoolroom was directly in front of that occupied by John Haynes. Until the announcement of the prize John and he had been on friendly terms. They belonged to the same class in Latin, and Frank had often helped his classmate through a difficult passage which he had not the patience to construe for himself. Now, however, a coolness grew up between them, originating with John. He felt envious of Frank's success; and this feeling brought with it a certain bitterness which found gratification in anything which he had reason to suppose would annoy Frank.
On the morning succeeding the distribution of the prizes, Frank arrived at the schoolhouse a few minutes before the bell rang. John, with half a dozen other boys, stood near the door.
John took off his hat with mock deference. "Make way for the great prize essayist, gentlemen!" he said. "The modern Macaulay is approaching."
Frank colored with annoyance. John did not fail to notice this with pleasure. He was sorry, however, that none of the other boys seemed inclined to join in the demonstration. In fact, they liked Frank much the better of the two.
"That isn't quite fair, John," said Frank, in a low voice.
"I am always glad to pay my homage to distinguished talent," John proceeded, in the same tone. "I feel how presumptuous I was in venturing to compete with a gentleman of such genius!"
"Do you mean to insult me?" asked Frank, growing angry.
"Oh, dear, no! I am only expressing my high opinion of your talents!"
"Let him alone, John!" said Dick Jones, "It isn't his fault that the teacher awarded the prize to him instead of you."
"I hope you don't think I care for that!" said John, snapping his fingers. "He's welcome to his rubbishing books; they don't amount to much, anyway. I don't believe they cost more than two dollars at the most. If you'd like to see what I got for my essay, I'll show you."
John pulled out his portemonnaie, and unrolled three new and crisp bank-notes of ten dollars each.
"I think that's pretty good pay," he said, looking about him triumphantly. "I don't care how many prizes Rathburn chooses to give his favorite. I rather think I can get along without them."
John's face was turned toward the door, otherwise he would have observed the approach of the teacher, and spoken with more caution. But it was too late. The words had been spoken above his ordinary voice, and were distinctly heard by the teacher. He looked sharply at John Haynes, whose glance fell before his, but without a word passed into the schoolroom.
"See if you don't get a blowing-up, John," said Dick Jones.
"What do I care!" said John, but in a tone too subdued to be heard by any one else. "It won't do Rathburn any harm to hear the truth for once in his life."
"Well, I'm glad I'm not in your place, that's all!" replied Dick.
"You're easily frightened!" rejoined John, with a sneer.
Nevertheless, as he entered the schoolroom, and walked with assumed bravado to his seat in the back part of the room, he did not feel quite so comfortable as he strove to appear. As he glanced stealthily at the face of the teacher, who looked unusually stern and grave, he could not help thinking, "I wonder whether he will say anything about it."
Mr. Rathburn commenced in the usual manner; but after the devotional exercises were over, he paused, and, after a brief silence, during which those who had heard John's words listened with earnest attention, spoke as follows:
"As I approached the schoolroom this morning I chanced to catch some words which I presume were not intended for my ear. If I remember rightly they were, 'I don't care how many prizes Rathburn gives his favorite!' There were several that heard them, so that I can be easily corrected if I have made any mistake. Now I will not affect to misunderstand the charge conveyed by these words. I am accused of assigning the prizes, or at least, one of them, yesterday, not with strict regard to the merit of the essays presented, but under the influence of partiality. If this is the real feeling of the speaker, I can only say that I am sorry he should have so low an opinion of me. I do not believe the scholars generally entertain any such suspicion. Though I may err in judgment, I think that most of you will not charge me with anything more serious. If you ask me whether a teacher has favorites, I say that he cannot help having them. He cannot help making a difference between the studious on the one hand, and the indolent and neglectful on the other. But in a matter like this I ask you to believe me when I say that no consideration except that of merit is permitted to weigh. The boy who made this charge is one of my most advanced scholars, and has no reason to believe that he would be treated with unfairness. I do not choose to say any more on this subject, except that I have decided to offer two similar prizes for the two best compositions submitted within the next four weeks. I shall assign them to the best of my judgment, without regard to the scholarship of the writer."
Mr. Rathburn spoke in a quiet, dignified manner, which convinced all who heard him of his fairness. I say all, because even John Haynes was persuaded against his own will, though he did not choose to acknowledge it. He had a dogged obstinacy which would not allow him to retract what he had once said. There was an unpleasant sneer on his face while the teacher was speaking, which he did not attempt to conceal.
"The class in Virgil," called Mr. Rathburn.
This class consisted of Frank Frost, John Haynes, and Henry Tufts. John rose slowly from his seat, and advanced to the usual place, taking care to stand as far from Frank as possible.
"You may commence, John," said the teacher.
It was unfortunate for John that he had been occupied, first, by thoughts of his rejected essay, and afterward by thoughts of the boat which he proposed to buy with the thirty dollars of which he had become possessed, so that he had found very little time to devote to his Latin. Had he been on good terms with Frank, he would have asked him to read over the lesson, which, as he was naturally quick, would have enabled him to get off passably. But, of course, under the circumstances, this was not to be thought of. So he stumbled through two or three sentences, in an embarrassed manner. Mr. Rathburn at first helped him along. Finding, however, that he knew little or nothing of the lesson, he quietly requested Frank to read, saying, "You don't seem so well prepared as usual, John."
Frank translated fluently and well, his recitation forming a very favorable contrast to the slipshod attempt of John. This John, in a spirit of unreasonableness, magnified into a grave offense, and a desire to "show off" at his expense.
"Trying to shine at my expense," he muttered. "Well, let him! Two or three years hence, when I am in college, perhaps things may be a little different."
Frank noticed his repellent look, and it made him feel uncomfortable. He was a warm-hearted boy, and wanted to be on good terms with everybody. Still, he could not help feeling that in the present instance he had nothing to reproach himself with.
John went back to his seat feeling an increased irritation against Frank. He could not help seeing that he was more popular with his schoolmates than himself, and, of course, this, too, he considered a just cause of offense against him.
While he was considering in what way he could slight Frank, the thought of the boat he was about to purchase entered his mind. He brightened up at once, for this suggested something. He knew how much boys like going out upon the water. At present there was no boat on the pond. His would hold six or eight boys readily. He would invite some of the oldest boys to accompany him on his first trip, carefully omitting Frank Frost. The slight would be still more pointed because Frank was his classmate.
When the bell rang for recess he lost no time in carrying out the scheme he had thought of.
"Dick," he called out to Dick Jones, "I am expecting my boat up from Boston next Tuesday, and I mean to go out in her Wednesday afternoon. Wouldn't you like to go with me?"
"With all the pleasure in life," said Dick, "and thank you for the invitation."
"How many will she hold?"
"Eight or ten, I expect. Bob Ingalls, would you like to go, too?"
The invitation was eagerly accepted. John next approached Henry Tufts, who was speaking with Frank Frost.
Without even looking at the latter, he asked Henry if he would like to go.
"Very much," was the reply.
"Then I will expect you," he said. He turned on his heel and walked off without taking any notice of Frank.
Frank blushed in spite of himself.
"Don't he mean to invite you?" asked Henry, in surprise.
"It appears not," said Frank.
"It's mean in him, then," exclaimed Henry; "I declare, I've a great mind not to go."
"I hope you will go," said Frank hastily. "You will enjoy it. Promise me you will go."
"Would you really prefer to have me?"
"I should be very sorry if you didn't."
"Then I'll go; but I think he's mean in not asking you, for all that."