"They must have had an earthquake down at Lewis's this morning," Howard Minturn said to the boys who were gathered around the schoolroom door. "The first bell has not rung yet, and there comes Tip up the hill."
Up the hill came Tip, sure enough, with a firm, resolute step. The summer vacation was over. The fall term was to commence this morning, and among the things which Tip had resolved to do was this one, to come steadily and promptly to school during the term, which was something that he had never done in his life. The public school was the best one in the village, so he had the best boys in town for school companions, as well as some of the worst.
"Hallo, Tip!" said Bob Turner, coming partly down the hill to meet him. "How are you, old fellow?"
Bob had been away during most of the vacation, and knew nothing of the changes which there had been in his absence. Tip winced a little at his greeting; shivered a little at the thought of the temptation which Bob would be to him.
The two had been linked together all their lives in every form of mischief and wrong; they seemed almost a part of each other,—at least, they had seemed so until within these few weeks. Now, Tip felt rather than knew how far separated they must be.
The bell rang, and the boys jostled and tumbled against each other to their seats.
Bob Turner, as usual, seated himself beside Tip; but then Bob only came to school about two forenoons in a week, so perhaps they might get along.
When the Bible reading commenced, Tip hesitated, and his face flushed; he had never owned a Bible to read from before, but this morning his new one lay in his pocket. The question was, Had he courage to take it out? What would the boys think? What would they say? How should he answer them?
He began to think he would wait until tomorrow morning; then he grew hot and ashamed as he saw that he was already trying to hide his colours. Suddenly he drew out his Bible, and began very hurriedly to turn the leaves.
Bob heard the rustling, and, glancing around, puckered his lips as if he were going to whistle, and, snatching the book, read the name which Mr. Holbrook had written therein; then he whispered, "You don't say so! When did we steal a Bible, and turn saint?"
The blood growing hotter and redder in Tip's cheeks was his only answer; but he felt that his temptation had begun. The next thing was to read; when he had finally found the place, even though there were more than fifty voices reading those same words, yet poor Tip imagined that his would be louder than all the rest, and he choked and coughed, and made more than one trial before he forced his voice to join, even in a whisper, at the words, "And they clothed Him with purple, and plaited a crown of thorns and put it about His head."
It did not help him in his reading that Bob made his lips move with the rest, but said, loud enough for him to hear,—
"The man in the moon
Came down too soon,"
and continued to repeat some senseless or wicked rhymes, through the reading of the beautiful chapter.
How thankfully Tip bowed his head that morning; his heart had taken in some of the sweet words. That sacred head had been crowned with thorns, indeed, but he knew it was crowned with glory now,—and he knew that Christ had suffered and died for him! He joined with his whole heart in Mr. Burrows's prayer; and, though Bob pulled his hair and tickled his foot and stepped on his toes, the bowed head was not lifted, and his spirit gathered strength.
But Tip never forgot the trials of that day, nor the hard work which he had to endure them. Bob was, as usual, overflowing with mischief, and, failing in finding the willing helper which he had expected in his old companion, took revenge in aiming a great many of his pranks at him. Such senseless, silly things as he did to annoy! Tip spread his slate over with a long row of figures which he earnestly tried to add, and, having toiled slowly up the first two columns, Bob's wet finger was slyly drawn across it, and no trace of the answer so hardly earned appeared.
Then, too, he had his own heart to struggle against: he was so used to whispering to this and that boy seated near him, to eating apples when the teacher's back was turned, to making an ugly-looking picture on a piece of paper and pinning it on the back of a small boy before him. He was so unused to sitting still, and trying to study.
What hard work it was to study, any way! It seemed to him that he could never get that spelling-lesson in the world; the harder he tried, the more bewildered he grew. A dozen times he spelled the two words, receive and believe, standing so closely together, each time sure he was right, and each time discovering that the i's and e's must change places; he grew utterly provoked and disheartened, and would have fairly cried, had not Bob been beside him to see the tears, and grow merry over them.
Finally, he lost all patience with Bob, and, turning fiercely to him, after he had for the third time pitched the greasy old spelling-book upside down on the floor, said,—
"Look here, now, if you come that thing again, I'll pitch you out of the window quicker than wink!"
"Edward Lewis marked for whispering," said Mr. Burrows. "Edward, you have commenced the term as usual, I see,—the first one marked for bad conduct."
How Tip's ears burned! How untrue it was! He had not commenced this term as usual; how differently he had tried to commence it, only he and God knew. And now to fail thus early in the day! His head seemed to spin and his brain reel; he bowed himself on the seat again, but Bob's head went down promptly, and he whispered,—
"Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep!"
How often Tip had thought such things as these so very funny that he could not possibly help laughing; how silly and meaningless—yes, and cruel—did they seem to him now! Oh, Satan was struggling for Tip to-day: he was reaping the fruits of long weeks spent in evil company and folly.
He looked over to the back seats, where sat Howard Minturn and Ellis Holbrook, hard at work on their algebra lesson, nobody thinking of such a thing as disturbing them; and, as he looked, sighed heavily. If he had only gained such a place as they had in the school, how easily he could work to-day. They were very little older than he, yet here he was trying to do an example in addition, doing it over four times before it was right,—and they were at the head of the class in algebra. If he could only jump to where they were, and go on with them! And the hopelessness of this thought made his spelling-lesson seem harder; so it was no wonder, when the class formed, and he took his old place at the foot, and he stayed there, and spelled believe ei after all; nobody was surprised, but nobody knew how very, very hard he had tried.
The long day, crowded full of trouble and temptation to poor Tip, wore away. At recess he wandered off by himself, trying hard to get back some of the strong, firm hopes of the morning.
One more sharp trial was in store for him. Towards the close of the afternoon Bob's fun took the form of paper balls, which, at every turn of Mr. Burrows's back, spun through the room in all directions; two or three of the smaller scholars joined him, and a regular fire of balls was kept up. The boys complained—Mr. Burrows scolded.
At last he spoke this short, prompt sentence: "The next boy I catch throwing paper, or anything else, in this room to-day, I shall punish severely; and I shall expect any scholar who sees anything of this kind going on to inform me."
Not five minutes after that Mr. Burrows bent over his desk in search of something within, when—whisk! went the largest paper ball that had been thrown that day, and landed on the teacher's forehead. Some of the scholars laughed, some looked grave and startled, for Mr. Burrows was a man who always meant what he said.
"Does any one know who threw that ball?" he asked, closing his desk and speaking in a calm, steady tone.
No reply,—silence for a minute. Then, "Ellis Holbrook, do you know who threw that ball of paper?"
"Very well; I am waiting to be told."
"Tip Lewis threw it, sir."
This was a little too much for Tip. The first time in his life that he had ever been in school all day without throwing one, to be so accused! He sprang up in his seat with fire in his eyes.
"I didn't!" he almost screamed. "He knows I didn't! It is a mean, wicked lie!"
"Sit down," said Mr. Burrows. "Ellis, did you see him throw it?"
"Yes, sir, I did."
Mr. Burrows turned to Tip. "Edward, come here."
Tip was still standing.
"Say you won't," whispered Bob. "Say you won't stir a step for the old fellow. If he goes to make you, we'll see who'll beat."
But the command was repeated, and Tip went forward, fixing his steady eyes on Mr. Burrows as he spoke.
"Mr. Burrows, as sure as I live, I did not throw that paper ball."
And yet—poor Tip!—he knew he would not be believed; he knew his word could not be trusted; he knew he had often stood there and as boldly declared what was not true, and what had been proved in a few minutes to be false.
No, nobody believed Tip. He had earned, among other things in the school, the name of hardly ever speaking the truth; and now he must suffer for it. So he stood still and received the swift, hard blows of the ruler on his hands; stood without a tear or a promise. Mr. Burrows had not a doubt of his guilt, for had not Ellis Holbrook, whose word was law in the school, said he saw the mischief done? and did not Tip always deny all knowledge of such matters until made to own them?
Still, this time the boy resolutely refused to confess that he had thrown a bit of paper that day, and went back to his seat with smarting hands and the stern words of his teacher ringing in his ears.
What a heavy, bitter heart the poor boy carried out from the schoolroom that afternoon, he felt as though he almost hated every scholar there,—quite hated Ellis Holbrook.
Mr. Burrows, catching a glimpse of his face, said to one of the other teachers, "That boy grows sullen; with all the rest, his good-nature was the only good thing which he had about him, and he is losing that."
Tip heard him, and felt that it was true. He had been punished many a time before, and taken it with the most provoking good humour. But to-day it was different; to-day, for the first time in his life, he had received a punishment which he did not deserve; this day of all others, in which he had tried with all his heart to do right!
"Why didn't you hold on, you simpleton?" Bob asked. "Never saw you get up so much pluck in my life. What made you back out, and be whipped like a baby?"
"Why didn't you own that you threw that plaguy paper ball, and not sit there like a coward, and see me take your whipping?"
"I own it! That's a good one! 'Pon honour, Tip, didn't you throw that ball? I thought you did; I was aiming one at Ellis Holbrook's head just then, and I didn't see what was going on behind me. Didn't you throw it—honour bright?"
"No, I didn't; and I'll throw you if you say so again."
And Tip turned suddenly in the opposite direction, but Satan still walked with him.
"It's no use," said this evil spirit, speaking out boldly,—"it's no use; don't you see it isn't? You might as well give it up first as last; the boys, and the teacher, and every one, think you're nothing in the world but a wicked young scamp, and you never can be anything else. You've been humbugging yourself these four weeks, making believe you had a great Friend to help you: why hasn't He helped you to-day? You've tried your best all day long, and He knows you have; yet you never had such a hard day in your life. If He cares anything at all about you, why didn't He help you to-day? You asked Him to."
Tip sat down on a log by the side of the road, and gave himself up for a little to Satan's guidance, and the wicked voice went on,—
"Now, you see, you've been cheated. You've tried hard for a whole month to be somebody, and no one thinks any more of you than they did before, and never will. Your mother scolds just as much, and your home looks just as dismal, and Kitty is just as hateful, and the respectable boys in the village have nothing to do with you. You might just as well lounge around and have a good time. Nobody expects you to be good, or will let you, when you want to be."
Softly there came another voice knocking at Tip's heart. At first he would not notice it, but it would be heard.
"What of all that?" it said; "suppose nobody cares for you, or helps you here. Jesus died, you know, and He is your friend. You know that is not a humbug; you know He has heard you when you knelt down and prayed. He has helped you. Then there's heaven, where all the beauty is, and He has promised to take you—yes, you—there by and by! Oh, you must not complain because people won't believe that such a bad boy as you have been has grown good so soon. Christ knows about it, so it's all right. Just keep on trying, and one of these days folks will see that you mean it; they will—God has promised. He has given you a lamp to light you. Why have not you looked at it all this day?"
"Oh," said Tip, "I can't; I can't be a Christian! I have not done right nor felt right to-day. I almost hate the boys, and Mr. Burrows too. I don't know what to do."
"Go on home," said Satan. "Let the lamp and these new notions and all go! Christ don't care anything about you; such a miserable, wicked, story-telling boy as you have been, do you expect Him to notice you?"
But Tip's hand was in his pocket, resting on his lamp, as he had learned to call it; and the low, sweet voice in his heart was urging him to let its light shine. He drew it out, and turned the leaves, and the same dear Helper stopped his eyes at the words, "Fear not, for I have redeemed thee; I have called thee by thy name; thou art Mine."
Then came hot, thankful tears. Oh, precious words, sinking right into the torn, troubled heart. Christ the Redeemer had called him by his name! He was—yes, he would be His! He glanced around. Nobody was to be seen; he was sitting in the hollow at the foot of the hill, and under the shade of a low branching tree. And there he knelt down to pray; and Satan drew himself away, for the spot around that kneeling boy was holy ground. Tip's soul had gained the victory.