THE MYSTERY

THE result of his conflict with the new teacher mortified Peter not a
little. Had it been a close contest he would not have minded it so much,
but the advantage was all on Walter’s side from the first, and, what was
worse, all the scholars could see it. Peter had been tripped up by
Phineas Morton, as we know, but the difference in size was such that it
was no mortification. Now he recalled his boasts that he could “lick the
master,” with some shame, since it had turned out that he was no match
for him.

When school was over, Peter slipped off alone, not caring for the
company of his school companions. He was afraid they would twit him with
his defeat. Defeat is a test of friendship, and even John Wall, since
the ignominious failure of Peter, was disposed to be less intimate with
him. He had been drawn toward him by the hope that he could successfully
rebel against Walter’s authority. John was no less anxious for the new
teacher’s failure, but he saw that Peter was not the one to bring it
about.

The next day Peter was walking slowly along to school, not quite decided
whether he would not play truant, when he heard himself called by name.
Looking around, he recognized the last one he wished to meet–the
teacher.

“He wants to crow over me,” he thought, hastily.

But Walter advanced, smiling cordially.

“Good-morning, Peter,” he said.

“Morning,” muttered Peter.

“I suppose you are on your way to school. I am glad to have your
company.”

“Are you?” asked Peter, superciliously, walking unwillingly by the side
of his victor.

Walter saw his feelings, and was resolved to change them, if possible.

“You mustn’t bear a grudge against me, Peter, for our little difficulty
yesterday.”

“You wouldn’t have thrown me, if you hadn’t known how to box,” said
Peter.

“No, I don’t believe I should,” said Walter, frankly. “You are pretty
strong, Peter.”

“I thought I was strong as you,” said Peter, thawing a little.

“I think you are, but strength isn’t everything. Do you know anything
about boxing?”

“No; I never had no chance to learn.”

“I don’t pretend to know much about it myself,” said Walter. “Still, I
know something about the first principles. I will teach you all I know,
if you want to learn.”

“Will you?” asked Peter, astonished.

“With pleasure. It will be good practice for me.”

“I shouldn’t think you would want to,” said Peter.

“Why not?”

“Because you can lick me now; but if I knew as much about boxing as you,
perhaps you couldn’t.”

“Oh,” said Walter, laughing, “there won’t be any need of it.”

“Why not?”

“Because you are going to be my friend.”

“How do you know?” said Peter; but Walter saw a difference in his tone.

“Because there is no reason why we should not be. I am a boy like
yourself, and the only difference between us is that I have a better
education.”

“I don’t know very much,” said Peter.

“But you want to know more, don’t you?”

“Ye-es,” said Peter, hesitatingly.

“Of course you do. You want to rise in the world, and you won’t be
likely to do it without education. It’s the same way with me.”

“Don’t you know enough?” asked Peter.

“Far from enough. I want to go through college, but I must earn money
enough, first. My father failed, or I should still have been studying.
Now, Peter, as long as I remain here, I will do all I can to help you
on, if you will work yourself.”

Peter was not wholly bad. There was something in him that responded to
this magnanimity of the teacher, whom he had striven to annoy.

“I shouldn’t think you’d be so kind to me, Mr. Howard,” he said, “when I
tried to trouble you so much.”

“Oh, that’s gone by, Peter! I depend upon the older scholars, such as
you and Phineas Morton, to help me, instead of hindering me. Will you do
it, Peter?”

“Yes, I will,” said Peter.

“That’s right. Then we are friends.”

He offered his hand to Peter, and the latter took it. He felt flattered
at being classed with Phineas Morton. It gave him a feeling of
importance to be called upon by the master for help.

“If any of the boys make trouble, I’ll help you, Mr. Howard,” he
volunteered.

“Thank you, Peter. With you and Phineas on my side, I am not afraid of
any trouble.”

“When will you give me the first boxing lesson?” asked Peter.

“To-night, after school, if you like.”

“All right. I’ll stop.”

Great were the surprise and curiosity of the scholars assembled in front
of the schoolhouse when they saw Peter Groot and the “master” walking
together, and apparently on friendly terms. They had speculated upon
what course Peter would pursue, and whether he would venture to continue
his annoyances, but they were far from imagining that there would be
such a speedy reconciliation. Even now they hardly believed the evidence
of their senses. When Walter had entered the schoolhouse, they crowded
upon Peter with questions.

“Did he give you a scolding, Peter?” asked Charles Carney.

“Of course he didn’t,” said Peter.

“What did he say?”

“He promised to teach me to box.”

“He did?” exclaimed Charles, in astonishment.

“Yes, he’s goin’ to give me my first lesson to-night, after school.”

“And you don’t hate him any more?”

“No; he’s a tiptop feller. I’ll lick any boy that says he ain’t.”

Among those who listened with astonishment to this sudden change of tone
on Peter’s part was Phineas Morton, who had recovered from his headache,
and had just heard an account of what had taken place the afternoon
previous.

“That’s the way to talk, Peter,” said Phineas. “We’re together in that.
If we stand by Mr. Howard he’ll get along.”

“That’s what he told me,” said Peter, gratified at his rising
importance. “I’m goin’ to study hard, and see if I can’t be somebody.”

“Then you may count me your friend, Peter. We won’t laugh at each
other’s mistakes hereafter, but we’ll both see if we can’t improve.”

Thus was Peter confirmed in his good resolutions. Walter had managed to
strike the right chord, and produced a complete revulsion of feeling in
his once rebellious pupil.

There was one, however, who was not pleased at Peter’s change. This was
John Wall. He did not want the new teacher to secure friends, and he was
sorry for Peter’s defection. At recess he managed to speak to Peter
alone.

“It seems to me you’ve changed since yesterday, Peter,” he said, with a
sneer.

“So I have,” said Peter.

“Was it the licking the teacher gave you that changed you?” asked John,
with the same tone.

“Look here, John Wall,” said Peter, “if you say that again, I’ll knock
you over.”

“I didn’t think you were going back on me, after all you said. I thought
it must be because you was afraid.”

“I ain’t afraid of you, as you’ll find out. You’re a mean feller, and a
coward. You wanted me to get into a fight with the master, because you
hated him, and didn’t dare to fight him yourself. I like him a good deal
better than I do you.”

“You may if you want to,” said John, mortified. “I’m a gentleman’s son,
and I can get as many friends as I like.”

“You ain’t a gentleman yourself, that’s sure.”

John walked away in dudgeon. He saw that Peter had gone over to the
enemy, and that Walter had conquered. There was no hope now of breaking
down his authority. Whether he liked it or not, he must submit to be
taught by a boy, and one that he did not like.

Meanwhile Phineas Morton had gone up to the teacher’s desk.

“Have you recovered from your headache, Mr. Morton?” asked Walter.

“Yes, thank you, Mr. Howard. I find you gained a great victory while I
was away.”

Walter smiled.

“What surprises me is that Peter has turned over to your side. I heard
him threaten to lick any boy that said anything against you.”

“Did he say that?” asked Walter.

“Yes. How did you manage it, Mr. Howard?”

“By letting him see that I was his friend.”

“There’s a good deal in that,” said Phineas, thoughtfully. “But Peter’s
a hard case. I didn’t think you could manage him.”

“There is a good side to every one, if you can only find it.”

“You won’t have any more trouble now, Mr. Howard. Peter has been the
ringleader in all school disturbances, and now that you have won him
over all will go smoothly.”

Phineas Morton’s prediction was verified. For the remainder of the day,
and for weeks to come, Peter exhibited an astonishing change. He studied
well, and began to improve rapidly in his studies. He was a boy of good
capacity, but had been perversely unwilling to exert himself hitherto.
Walter encouraged him in every way, and strove to make him ambitious. He
carried out his promise, and taught Peter what he knew of boxing,
sending to a neighboring large town for boxing gloves. Peter learned
rapidly, but Walter also profited by the practice he obtained, and kept
a slight superiority over his pupil.

So matters stood when Walter gained some information that led to
important results.

AFTER his victory over Peter, Walter had no further trouble. Peter had
always been at the bottom of all opposition to the different teachers
who from time to time had been employed, and he had been instrumental in
getting rid of more than one. Now he was converted into a friend and
supporter of the administration, through Walter’s pluck and judicious
management, and things went on smoothly. It was the general testimony
that not for years had such an interest been manifested in study by the
pupils, or the discipline been more gentle, yet effectual, in securing
order. Our young hero won golden opinions from all.

He still boarded at the Portville House, occupying the same room which
his predecessor had left to him. Miss Melinda Athanasia Jones still
continued her attentions to the new teacher, and seemed disposed to get
up a flirtation with him. But Walter wisely thought that he was too
young for that, nor were the attractions of Miss Jones, who was more
than ten years his senior, sufficiently great to turn his head. Still,
he occasionally passed an evening in company with her and her brother,
and on such occasions was generally called upon to listen to some poetic
effusion from the prolific pen of Miss Jones. In general they were in
manuscript, editors generally not appreciating Miss Jones’ poems. One
evening, however, the poetess exhibited to her young visitor, with great
complacency, a copy of a small weekly paper published at a neighboring
township, in which appeared, in a conspicuous place:–

“LINES ON AN AUTUMN LEAF,”
BY MELINDA ATHANASIA JONES.”

These she had sent to the editor with a year’s subscription to the
paper, which perhaps operated upon the editor’s judgment, and led to a
flattering editorial reference to the verses. Miss Jones called Walter’s
attention to it.

“See what a kind notice the editor has of my poor verses,” she said,
reading aloud the following paragraph:

“We welcome to our columns this week ‘Lines on an Autumn Leaf,’ by Miss
Jones. The fair authoress will please accept our thanks.”

“Read the lines, Melinda,” said Ichabod, her brother.

“I don’t know but Mr. Howard will find them tiresome,” she said,
modestly.

“Please read them, Miss Jones,” said Walter, politely.

Thus invited, the young lady read, in an affected voice, the following
verses, which it is to be hoped the reader will admire:

“_O yellow dying leaf,
Thy life has been very brief,
Only a summer day,
And now thou art wasting away.
But yesterday thou wert green,
And didst grace the woodland scene,
And the song of the tuneful bird
Under thy shadow was heard.
Now thou art yellow and sere,
For it is the fall of the year,
And soon thou wilt fall from the tree,
And thy place will vacant be.
Thou wilt be trampled under foot,
Beneath the wayfarer’s boot.
Even such, it seems to me,
My journey of life must be.
Green in the early spring,
And the flowers their fragrance fling,
But when the autumn days appear,
Toward the close of the year,
Withered my roses will be,
And my leaves will fall from the tree,
And the winds will moan–will moan–
And I shall be overthrown!
Oh, it makes me pensive and sad,
As I view thee, dying leaf,
And sorrow rends my heart,
And sighs afford relief._”

“Melindy wrote that in half an hour, Mr. Howard,” said the admiring
Ichabod. “I timed her. I never knew her to do up a poem so quick before.
Generally she has to stop a long time between the verses, and rolls her
eyes, and bites the end of her pen-handle; but this time she wrote it
off like two-forty.”

“Because I gave my heart to it, Ichabod,” explained his sister. “The
lines seemed to flow right from my pen.”

“The muses inspired you,” suggested Walter.

“You are very kind to say so, Mr. Howard. I am too humble to think so.
The lines were written in a sad and pensive mood, as you will guess. But
I find it sweet to be sad at times–don’t you?”

“I don’t think I do,” said our hero.

“I’d rather be jolly, a good deal,” said Ichabod.

“Tastes differ,” said the hostess. “I am of a pensive, thoughtful
temperament, and at times my thoughts go roaming away from the world
around me, and I seem to live in a world of my own. ’Twas so with Byron
and Mrs. Hemans, I have been told.”

“I am glad I ain’t a poet,” said Ichabod. “I shouldn’t like to feel so.”

“You never will, Ichabod,” said his sister. “You are not gifted with the
poetic temperament.”

“No more I am. I never could make a rhyme, to save my life. The first
line comes sort of easy, but it’s the second that is the sticker.”

“Strange what differences are found in the same family, Mr. Howard,”
said Melinda, with a calm superiority. “You see how different Ichabod
and I are.”

“Very true, Miss Jones,” said Walter; though, to tell the truth, he
preferred the illiterate and prosaic Ichabod, with his absence of
pretension, to his “gifted” sister.

“Have you provoked the muse lately, Mr. Howard?” she asked.

“No, Miss Jones. I find school teaching unfavorable to poetry. If I
should undertake to write verses after I get home from school, my mind
would certainly stray away to fractions, or the boundaries of States, or
something equally prosaic.”

“That is a pity. You should try to cultivate and develop your powers.
Perhaps the editor of this paper would insert some of your verses.”

“I don’t think I shall offer any. I must wait till I get more leisure.
Besides, I am afraid I could not reach the high standard which the paper
has attained since you became a contributor.”

“You are a sad flatterer, Mr. Howard,” said the delighted Melinda.

“I assure you, Miss Jones, that I could not write anything like the
lines on a ‘dying leaf.’”

“Oh, I am sure you could, Mr. Howard. You are too modest. Those lines
you once read me were so sweet.”

“Now it is you that flatters, Miss Jones.”

I am afraid Walter was not quite justifiable in so ministering to the
vanity of Miss Jones, since, of course, he was not sincere. He perhaps
thought it required by politeness, but it is desirable to be as sincere
as possible, of course avoiding rudeness.

Nine weeks of the school term had passed, and two more would bring a
vacation of a month. Nothing had been said to Walter about his teaching
the following term, but he presumed it would be offered him, since his
administration had been an undoubted success. In another way, however,
he had not yet succeeded. He had not been able to learn anything more of
the Great Metropolitan Mining Company, and this, as our readers know,
was the great object of his present visit to Portville. He was thinking
over this, and wondering what course it was best for him to take, when
Edward Atkins, one of his scholars, brought him a letter from the post
office.

“I was passing by, Mr. Howard,” he said, “and I thought I would bring
you this letter.”

“Thank you, Edward. You are very kind.”

He opened it hastily, for he saw by the postmark and the handwriting,
that it was from Mr. Shaw, his guardian.

“DEAR WALTER,” (it commenced):–“I am sorry you have not yet been able
to learn anything more definite about the affairs of the Mining Company,
as it would guide us in a decision which we shall soon be compelled to
make. I am in receipt of another letter from Mr. Wall, offering three
thousand dollars, or three dollars per share, for your interest in the
mine. He says that it will be necessary to decide at once, or the offer
will be withdrawn. Now my impression is that the last clause is only
meant to force us to a decision that may be prejudicial to our
interests. On the other hand, three thousand dollars, although far less
than the sum your father invested, are not lightly to be rejected. With
economy it would be more than enough to carry you through college, thus
putting you in a way to earn an honorable living. Still, it is not to be
lightly accepted. We do not want to be cheated by a designing man. I am
not sure whether it would not be a good idea for you to visit the mines
yourself, and form your own opinion from what you see. You might, at any
rate, report to me, and between us we would come to some decision. I
understand that you will have a vacation soon. Suppose you devote that
time to a journey to the mines, saying nothing, of course, in Portville,
of your design.

“Let me know your decision in the matter as soon as possible. I will
meanwhile write to Mr. Wall, postponing our decision, but promising to
make one speedily.

“Truly your friend,

“CLEMENT SHAW.”

Walter had scarcely finished reading this letter, when General Wall was
ushered into his room.

WALTER hastened to place a chair for his visitor.

“I am glad to see you, General Wall,” he said.

“Ahem! you are quite pleasantly situated, Mr. Howard,” said the great
man, sitting down.

“Yes, sir; I am quite satisfied with my boarding place.”

“I hope you like our town, also.”

“I have found my residence here very pleasant thus far.”

“I must do you the justice to say that your services as a teacher have
proved generally satisfactory.”

“I am glad to hear you say so.”

“You may depend upon it that public sentiment is strongly in your favor.
I have occasion to know from my official relation to the school.”

“Things have gone very smoothly. I believe the relations between the
scholars and myself have been very friendly. Peter Groot was at first
inclined to make trouble, but he is now one of my strongest supporters.”

“You have certainly succeeded remarkably well, Mr. Howard. I was at
first led to fear that, on account of your youth, you would be unable to
maintain the necessary discipline, though I knew that your scholarship
was all that was needed. But the result has proved that my fears were
groundless. How has John progressed?”

“He has made progress, General Wall, especially of late. I think he has
been dissatisfied with me at times, and thought me too strict, but I
wanted to make him thorough. He has good abilities, but at first he did
not apply himself sufficiently.”

“I think you are right, Mr. Howard,” said General Wall, who was a
sensible man. “You have pursued the right course with him. I want him to
become a thorough scholar. But my object in calling this evening was to
ask you if you would agree to take the school next term.”

“I hardly know what to say, General Wall. My plans are not fixed.”

“I hope you will agree to do so. I shall be willing to add five dollars
a month to your salary from my own purse.”

“That is liberal, General Wall, and I think it very possible that I may
be willing to remain here. How long will vacation be?”

“Four weeks. During that time, if you are willing to teach my son an
hour a day, I will pay your board here.”

“If I were intending to remain in Portville I would accept the offer,
but I shall spend the time in traveling.”

“Indeed! In what direction?”

Walter answered vaguely, for he was not willing to let General Wall know
that he meant to visit the mines, in which they were mutually
interested.

“Then,” said the visitor, rising to go, “I will consider that you are
engaged to teach the next term.”

“Yes, sir, on this condition, that if circumstances arise, rendering it
impossible, I may be released upon notifying you.”

“But such circumstances are not likely to arise, are they, Mr. Howard?”

“I think not.”

“Well, I will trust that nothing will occur to prevent your remaining
with us. Good-evening.”

“Good-evening, sir.”

Walter was gratified to receive so decided a mark of approval from the
chairman of the trustees. He had undertaken a task in which few boys of
his age would have succeeded, but his pluck and good judgment had
carried him through.

“What would my classmates at the Essex Classical Institute think, if
they should hear of my setting up as a Western schoolmaster? They would
be amused, I am sure,” he thought to himself. “We don’t know what we can
do till we try. I have heard that said often, and now I know it to be
so.”

Next his thoughts reverted to Mr. Shaw’s letter, given in the last
chapter, and he wrote the following answer:

“MY DEAR FRIEND, MR. SHAW:–I was very glad to get your letter, which I
have considered carefully. I like your plan for me to visit the mines
during my vacation, and I have decided to do so. I shall have four
weeks, and that will be quite sufficient. General Wall, the chairman of
the school trustees, has just called upon me, to engage me to teach the
next term. He offers to pay me five dollars a month extra out of his own
pocket. Of course, my success pleases me, especially as there was some
disposition to make trouble at first. But I conciliated the ringleader,
after beating him in a fair fight, and now he is my friend.

“If we can’t do any better, we will take the three thousand dollars; but
I hope that we may be able to obtain more. If I get it, I will devote it
to educating myself, as you suggest. I feel more and more anxious to
obtain a good education.

“You will hear from me again as soon as I have any information to send.
Give my regards to Mrs. Shaw, and consider me, with many thanks for your
kind interest,

“Your sincere friend,

“WALTER CONRAD.”

The next evening Walter was seated in the public room of the inn, when
he overheard a conversation that interested him. It was between the
landlord and a stout man with red whiskers, whom he had not seen before.

“Have you seen General Wall yet, Mr. Carter?” asked the landlord.

“Not yet. I went over there this afternoon, but found he had driven over
to Plimpton. He wouldn’t have gone, if he had known I was coming,” he
said, in a satisfied way.

“I suppose you bring good news, then?” said the other.

“Yes, I do.”

“The mine is going to turn out well, then?”

“No doubt of it. It is an excellent mine, and between you and me, our
friend Wall is going to make a fortune, or he will, if he plays his
cards right.”

“Is that so?”

“There’s no doubt of it. Why, he has managed to buy in for himself and
friends about all the original shares, at two cents on a dollar, and he
controls the whole thing.”

“I shouldn’t have thought they would sell out.”

“Bless you, they knew nothing of the mine; thought it was bu’st up,
worth nothing. Most of them were glad to realize anything at all. You
see we’ve kept the thing quiet. We knew all the while that the mine was
good, but took good care not to find anything of value till we had run
down the stock, and bought it for a song. We needed the money of the
other stockholders to carry the thing on. Now we’re all ready to go
ahead. There is only one cause of delay.”

“What is that?”

“There is a party at the East that owns a thousand shares; we have tried
to secure it, offering three thousand dollars; but he fights shy.”

“It’s worth–how much is it worth?”

“We’ll give fifty dollars a share sooner than not get it. But there
won’t be any need of that. He don’t know the value of his shares, and
will sell out for five thousand sure. We don’t want to be too much in a
hurry about it, or it might excite suspicion.”

“Well, you’re in luck,” said the landlord. “I only wish I had some
shares myself. You wouldn’t give me the address of that Eastern party,
would you?”

“I rather think not,” said the red-whiskered man, slapping the landlord
on the shoulder. “You’re a deep one, but you don’t get round me quite so
easy.”

“I suppose you’ve got enough shares to make you independent, Mr.
Carter?”

“I had a hundred, but I managed to pick up five hundred more, at two
dollars apiece. I wouldn’t sell ’em for fifty dollars a share.”

“When are you going out to the mines again?”

“In a week or two. I’ve got to go home to St. Paul, to see my family and
transact a little business, and then I shall go back. I want to see
General Wall and ascertain if he has succeeded in buying up those
Eastern shares first.”

“To whom do they belong?”

“They were bought by a man named Conrad. He died, leaving a son–a mere
boy–in charge of a village lawyer as guardian. The lawyer is a slow,
cautious man, and we haven’t succeeded in getting him round yet, or
hadn’t, at last accounts from the general. I may have to go East and
interview him myself.”

“Are they working the mine now?”

“Yes; but we are not doing very much till that is decided. What time is
it?”

“Eight o’clock.”

“The general was to be home at eight–so his wife said. I think I will
go up there, as I want to be off in the morning stage, if possible. Can
you let me have breakfast at half-past six?”

“Certainly, Mr. Carter.”

“All right. Just send somebody in time to wake me up for it. I am liable
to oversleep myself.”

“I won’t forget.”

The man with the red whiskers rose, and, putting on his hat, took his
way to the residence of General Wall. It may be imagined with what
feelings Walter listened to the details of the plot by which he was to
have lost his property. It was clear that the despised mining stock was
worth fifty thousand dollars, and with the information he had acquired
he could doubtless obtain that sum. He would be rich once more! How this
would affect his plans he could not yet determine. One thing he did,
however. He wrote another letter to Mr. Shaw, giving him a full account
of what he had overheard, and asking his advice in the matter.