PORTVILLE

AT length the stage reached its destination. With a flourish the driver
drew up in front of the Portville House, a hotel of moderate size, yet
large enough to accommodate all the travelers likely to stand in need of
shelter.

Walter got out, and taking his carpetbag, which was handed down from the
roof, where it had been stored with other parcels, entered the inn.
General Wall and his son retained their places, and the driver, after a
short pause, set out to leave them at their own house.

Walter entered the barroom, which was at the same time the office, and
asked if he could be accommodated with a room.

“You can have your choice of half a dozen,” said the landlord. “We ain’t
crowded just at present.”

“Put me in any. I am not particular as long as it’s comfortable.”

“Will you go up now?”

“Yes, I think so. How soon will supper be ready?”

“In half an hour.”

“Very well, I’ll be down.”

Walter entered himself in the hotel register as Gilbert Howard, the name
he had assumed. It was the name of a schoolmate at the Essex Classical
Institute, and the first one that had occurred to him. It was not
altogether agreeable to Walter to pass under an assumed name. It seemed
like sailing under false colors. He had, however, a great respect for
the judgment of Mr. Shaw, and the circumstances seemed to require it.
Under his own name he realized that it would be impossible to learn
anything of Mr. Wall’s fraudulent purposes. Now there seemed a very good
chance of doing so. Indeed, he had already learned something from the
conversation he had overheard in the stage.

After washing his face and hands, he descended to the public room, and
in a short time supper was ready. It was not a luxurious supper, but a
good, plain meal, to which his appetite enabled him to do full justice.

There were five other guests besides himself. These, however, were
regular boarders. On the opposite side of the table were a man of middle
age and his wife. These Walter learned were Mr. and Mrs. Carver. The
former had something to do with a manufacturing establishment recently
opened, and was boarding at the hotel with his wife, until he could find
a suitable house. There were also a young man, employed as clerk in one
of the village stores, and his sister. His name was Jones–a young man
with nothing striking about him. His sister wore ringlets, and doted on
the poets, of whom she did not know much. The fifth guest was a tall
young man, of sickly appearance. He was narrow-chested and had inherited
a consumptive tendency. His lungs being weak, he had left Vermont for
the West, in the hope that the more equable climate might be favorable
to his health. Unfortunately it did not produce the desired effect. He
coughed at intervals during the meal, and the hard, dry cough had an
alarming sound.

“You have a hard cough,” said Walter, who sat beside him at the table.

“Yes, it seems to be getting worse,” said the young man. “I came out
here, thinking I might be benefited by the change of climate.”

“Then you are not a native of Wisconsin?”

“I was born and brought up in Vermont.”

“And I am from the State of New York.”

“Indeed. Have you just arrived from the East?”

“It is several months since I left home. I have been traveling in Ohio.”

“I am glad to meet one who comes from near home. Will you come up into
my room after supper?”

“I shall be glad to do so. I have no friends or acquaintances here, and
I might be rather dull by myself.”

“What may I call you?”

“Gilbert Howard.”

“My name is Allen Barclay.”

“Have you boarded at this hotel long?”

“Ever since I came to Portville. That is four months since. By way of
further introduction, I will mention that I am a teacher, and keep the
grammar school in the village.”

Walter was glad to hear this. He felt that he should take more pleasure
in his companion’s society since their tastes were probably somewhat
similar. Though his life for a few months had been an active one, he had
by no means lost his relish for study, nor had he given up his intention
of resuming his studies at some time. In case he should realize five per
cent. on the mining shares, this would amount to five thousand dollars,
a sum with which he would be justified in continuing his preparation for
college, and a four years’ collegiate course. He estimated that his
expenses as a student would not average more than five hundred dollars a
year, and as the interest would amount to considerable–three hundred
dollars the first year–he concluded that he could educate himself, and
have considerably more than half his capital left to start in life with,
when his education was complete. I mean, of course, his college
education, for, strictly speaking, one’s education is never complete,
and those who attain eminence in any branch are willing to confess
themselves perpetual learners.

But, while these speculations were very pleasant, the five thousand
dollars were not yet in his possession. To gain them he must learn more
of General Wall and his schemes, and to this object he resolved to
devote himself in earnest. He had no settled plan. Indeed, without
considerably more knowledge of how the land lay it was impossible to
decide upon any. He must be guided by circumstances, ready to avail
himself of any favorable turn which affairs might take.

“This way, please,” said Allen Barclay, leading the way out of the
dining-room.

His room was on the second floor, and though hotel chambers are in
general–at any rate, in country towns–the reverse of pleasant or
comfortable, this room looked both. There was an open fire in the grate
which blazed pleasantly. Before the fire a cosy armchair was drawn up.
Next to it was a table covered with books. Two or three pictures hung on
the walls, and books and pictures do a great deal to give a homelike
appearance to an apartment.

“You look very comfortable here, Mr. Barclay,” said Walter.

“Yes, I have made the room pleasant. The books and pictures I brought
with me, and the armchair I bought in the village. I am sensitive to
cold, and so of late, as the weather has become colder, I have had a
fire lighted just before I come home in the afternoon.”

“Have you any scholars in Latin?” asked Walter, seeing a copy of
“Cæsar’s Commentaries” on the table.

“One–John Wall, the son of General Wall, the most prominent man in
Portville.”

“I have already made the young gentleman’s acquaintance,” said Walter,
smiling.

“Indeed!” returned Allen Barclay, in surprise.

“I met him in the stage. I don’t think we were either of us very
favorably impressed with the other.”

Here he gave a brief account of the altercation between himself and
John.

“What you say does not surprise me,” said the teacher. “John is a
thoroughly selfish, disagreeable boy, with a very lofty idea of himself
and his position as the son of a rich man. He considers himself entitled
to the best of everything. I am glad you did not give way to him.”

“I am too independent for that,” answered Walter. “I don’t allow myself
to be imposed upon if I can help it, though I hope I am not often
disobliging.”

“You had no call to yield to him to-day.”

“So I thought. What sort of a scholar is he?”

“John Wall? Very poor. He will never set the river on fire with his
learning or talents. In fact, if he were a better scholar, I might feel
different about teaching him. I have only had an academy education, and
have not been beyond Cæsar myself. However, I have no trouble in keeping
ahead of John.”

Here Mr. Barclay was seized with a violent attack of coughing, which
seemed to distress him.

“I don’t think I shall be able to keep on teaching,” he said, when the
fit was over. “The climate does not agree with me, and I shall not be
willing to run the risk of wintering here. If I could only find some one
to take my place as teacher, I would leave at once. It is the middle of
the term, and I don’t want the school closed.”

An idea came to Walter. He was a good English scholar–had been as far
in Latin as his companion–and was probably qualified to teach any
scholars he was likely to have. It was desirable that he should have
something to do, which would serve as a good excuse for remaining in
Portville. Why should he not offer to supply Barclay’s place, since he
thought it necessary to resign?

“HOW many scholars have you, Mr. Barclay?” inquired Walter.

“About fifty.”

“Are they mostly boys?”

“There are about thirty boys–rather more than half.”

“How do they vary in age?”

“From ten to eighteen. I have three boys, or young men I might almost
call them, of eighteen, two of seventeen, and three girls of sixteen and
upwards.”

“Are they hard to manage?”

“The older ones? No; the most troublesome age is from thirteen to
fifteen. Those who are older generally come to school for improvement,
and are inclined to obey the rules of the school.”

This was reassuring. Walter knew that, in case he should be accepted as
a teacher, he could not hope to cope with those two or three years older
than himself. But if he could rely on the co-operation of the older
pupils, he might get along.

“Mr. Barclay,” said he, after a moment’s thought, “do you think I would
be too young to undertake the school?”

“You look pretty young,” answered the teacher. “You are not yet
seventeen, I suppose?”

“I am not yet sixteen.”

“That is pretty young for a teacher. But then I was not much older than
that when I commenced teaching.”

“Where did you teach?”

“In my native town, in Vermont. It was a winter district school of about
forty scholars.”

“How did you get along?”

“Pretty well. I got the good will of the scholars, and they saw that I
wanted to help them on as fast as possible.”

“I think I know enough to pass the examination,” said Walter, “and I am
in search of some business to employ my time. If you want to give up the
school, and recommend me to try it, I will offer myself to the school
trustees.”



“What sort of a fellow are you, Mr. Howard–excusing the term I
accidentally used–but have you got grit? Do you generally succeed in
what you undertake?”

“I think I do,” said Walter, smiling. “I wouldn’t give it up, unless I
was obliged to.”

“I asked the question,” said the young man, “because grit weighs heavily
in this world. I have noticed that successful men are generally plucky,
which is about the same thing.”

“I haven’t had much chance to tell yet,” said Walter. “Until a few
months since everything was done for me, my father being rich; then I
was thrown upon my own resources, and so far I have been successful.”

Here he gave an account of his adventures as book agent, and detailed
the experiences of the night he passed in the cabin in the woods. But
one thing he thought it best not to mention–his father’s business
connection with General Wall, and the object of his present visit to
Portville. He would have been as willing to confide in Allen Barclay as
any one, but he thought his best course would be to make a confidant of
no one, but to work out his plans by himself.

“From what you have told me,” said Allen Barclay, “I think you have a
chance of succeeding, in spite of your youth. I shall be really glad to
be relieved of the school, for I feel that every day I spend here is
injurious to my health. I didn’t like to have the school closed,
however, in the middle of the term.”

“Are teachers so scarce about here,” asked Walter, “that you could not
find a substitute?”

“No, there is a good supply of teachers who can teach the ordinary
English branches; but General Wall insists upon a teacher who can teach
Latin, chiefly on account of his son, John.”

“Is John Wall the only boy who studies Latin in school?”

“No, there is a class of four beginners, who have just commenced reading
easy sentences. This class consists of two girls and two boys.”

“I don’t claim to be a very good Latin scholar,” said Walter, “but from
what you say I think I know enough to teach John Wall.”

“How much have you read?”

“I was in the sixth book of Cæsar when I left the Essex Classical
Institute.”

“Then you have read more than I have, and I have had no difficulty in
teaching John. He is just commencing the second book.”

“I think I shouldn’t have any trouble, especially as I read the Latin
Reader through before commencing Cæsar. My father meant me to enter
Columbia College.”

“I will tell you what you had better do, Mr. Howard,” said the young
man. “Come and visit the school to-morrow, and stay all the forenoon.
The Latin recitations come then. Thus you will see the scholars, and
become acquainted with my way of management, and can form a better idea
of whether you would like to undertake it.”

This struck Walter as an excellent suggestion, and he at once accepted
the invitation.

“That will be much the best way,” he replied. “I suppose the school
commences at nine o’clock.”

“Yes, that is the usual time all over the country, I think.”

The conversation now passed to other subjects, and Walter spent quite a
pleasant evening with his new acquaintance. At half-past nine he rose to
withdraw.

“Don’t be in a hurry, Mr. Howard,” said Allen.

“Thank you, I don’t think I have been. I should have felt quite lonely
but for your kind invitation. I feel a little tired with traveling, and
shall go to bed as soon as I get to my room.”

“Good-night, then. We shall meet at breakfast, I suppose?”

“Yes, unless I oversleep myself,” said Walter, laughing.

Walter found his bed a comfortable one, and slept soundly. In the
morning he felt thoroughly refreshed, and was prepared to do justice to
a plentiful breakfast.

“At what time do you start?” he asked of Allen Barclay, who was again
seated next to him.

“At fifteen minutes of nine. The schoolhouse is only five minutes
distant, and this allows me plenty of time.”

“It will seem like going to school again myself. I can almost fancy
myself back again at the institute.”

“You will hardly find the scholars as far advanced,” said Barclay, “or
the teacher,” he added, with a smile.

“That would certainly be true if I were teacher,” returned Walter.

“What do you say to a little walk before it is time to go to school?”
asked the teacher. “I generally walk for half an hour or more, as an
offset to the long confinement of school.”

“I shall be very glad to accompany you, Mr. Barclay.”

The two put on their hats, and walked up the road slowly.

Portville contained about two thousand inhabitants. Of these the
majority lived in the village, while perhaps two-fifths were scattered
about within a radius of three miles. It was rather a flourishing place
on the whole, and most of the houses were neat and comfortable. There
were several shops or stores, of different kinds; for farmers came from
ten miles around to trade in Portville.

“It seems like a pleasant village,” said Walter to his companion.

“Yes,” said the teacher, “the town is pleasant, and I have found most of
the people pleasant also. I should be very well satisfied to remain if
my health would allow.”

“Whose house is that?” asked Walter, pointing to a residence larger and
more pretentious than he had yet seen.

“That is the nicest house in town, and it belongs to the man who is
reputed to be the richest man in town.”

“General Wall?” said Walter, inquiringly.

“The same.”

“What sort of a man is he?”

“You have seen him, so that I need not describe his personal appearance.
He is a popular man, and I think tries to make himself agreeable in
order to gain influence.”

“You say he is rich?”

“He is thought to be.”

“How did he gain his wealth?”

“He has been connected with mines, banks, real estate speculations, and,
in fact, with whatever has money in it. He is something of a politician,
and I hear that he hopes some day to go to Congress. In fact, he is a
pushing man, and likely to make his influence felt.”

“Is his son like him?”

“He will never be as popular as his father. General Wall may be as
selfish as his son, but he is too wise to show it as openly. John is
disagreeable by nature. He wouldn’t trouble himself to appear
agreeable.”

“From what I saw of him,” said Walter, “I should think it would be a
good deal of trouble for him to be agreeable.”

“I have no doubt you got the correct impression of him. I like him as
little as any of my scholars.”

While they were thus speaking, General Wall opened the front door of his
house, and they met him at a short distance from his front gate. He
bowed, as Walter thought, with an air of condescension, and said to the
teacher, “Good-morning, Mr. Barclay. You are taking an early walk, I
see.”

“Not very early, sir. I always take a short walk before school.”

“And how is the school? Is John getting on well with his Latin?”

“Tolerably well, General Wall.”

“Push him, Mr. Barclay, push him! I want my son to have a good
education.”

“I will do my best.”

General Wall walked on with a self-satisfied air, as if he took a good
deal of credit to himself for honoring the poor teacher with so much
notice. He glanced at Walter, whom he recognized as his fellow-traveler
of the night before, and concluded, from seeing him with Allen Barclay,
that he was a friend or relative of the teacher.