"Boys," said Mr. Burrows, one Monday afternoon, "you may lay aside your books; I want to have a talk with you."
Books were hurriedly gathered and piled in their places, and the boys sat up with folded arms, ready for whatever their teacher had to offer.
Mr. Burrows drew out his arm-chair from behind the desk, and sat down for a chat.
"Who will tell me what an acrostic is?"
Several hands were raised.
"Well, Howard, let us hear what you think about it."
"It's a piece of poetry, sir, where the first letter of every line spells another word."
"Do you mean the first letter alone spells a word?"
The boys laughed, and Howard explained promptly. "No, sir; I mean the first letters of each line taken together form a name."
"Must an acrostic always be written in poetry?"
This question called forth several answers, and made a good deal of talk; but it was finally decided that there could be acrostics in prose as well as in rhyme; and Mr. Burrows asked,—
"How many understand now what an acrostic is?"
A few more hands were raised, but many of the boys did not understand yet; it must be made plainer.
"Howard," said Mr. Burrows, "come to the board and give us an acrostic on the word boy."
Howard sprang up. "Must it be a sensible one, sir?"
"Sense or nonsense, just as you please, so as it shows us what an acrostic is."
"I can take my parsing-book and give you one, I think, sir."
And Howard came forward and wrote rapidly,—
"B But you shall hear an odd affair, indeed,
O Of which all Europe rings from side to side"—
Then he paused, turning the leaves of his parsing-book eagerly.
"I can't find anything in Y to finish this up with," he said at last.
"Can't you give us a line from your own brain?"
And at this Howard's eye brightened with fun, and, turning to the board after a moment of thought, he dashed off the closing line,—
"Y You who can finish this may have the job;"—
then took his seat amid bursts of laughter from the boys, who all began to understand what an acrostic was.
Ellis Holbrook's hand was up, and his eyes were full of questions.
"Mr. Burrows, why is that called by such a queer name as acrostic?"
His teacher smiled.
"You must study Greek, Ellis. We get it from two words in the Greek, or from one word made up of two others, which mean extreme, or beginning and order. In an acrostic the beginnings of the lines are arranged in order. Do you understand how we get that word now?"
"Well, now, you would all like to know what this talk is for. I want every boy in school who can write, to bring an acrostic on his own name for his next composition."
The boys groaned, and exclaimed, "They couldn't do it, they were sure; they couldn't begin to do it!"
"Yes, you can," said Mr. Burrows; "I don't give my scholars any work that they can't do. You may quote it, or make it original, as you please; but I want every one of you to try."
Johnny Thorpe, the smallest boy in school who could write, now seemed in trouble, and stretched up his arm to its full length.
"Well, Johnny, what will you have?" asked his teacher.
"If you please, sir, I don't know what you mean by quote."
Mr. Burrows laughed pleasantly.
"I must remember, I see, to speak plain English; I mean you may borrow your essay from a book, or a dozen books, if you like, so that you don't try to make us believe the thoughts are your own. You may write in poetry or not, as you please; but I want each to choose a subject, and stick to it better than Howard did just now. I have given you something to do that will keep you hard at work, but you will succeed at last."
Tip went home in a tumult. What could he do? He had never written a composition in his life, having made it a point to run away from school on composition-day; but running away was done with now. It didn't seem possible that he could write anything: certainly not in such a new, queer way as Mr. Burrows wished them to.
Supper and wood-splitting were hurried over for that evening, and Tip took his way very early to the seat under the elm-tree down by the pond. He wanted to think, to see how he should meet this new trouble; it was a real trouble to him, for he had set out to do just right, and he saw no way of getting out of this duty, and thought he saw no way of doing it.
"There is no place on the road so dark but this lamp will light you through, if you give it a chance."
This is what Mr. Holbrook had said when he gave Tip his Bible. And Tip had thought of his words very often, had already proved them true more than once; but he didn't see how it could help him now.
He took it out, and slowly turned the leaves; it couldn't write his composition for him, that was certain. But oh, the bright thought that came to Tip just then! Why not find his acrostic in the Bible, and write it out? among so many, many verses, he would be sure to find what he wanted. But then, how very queer it would be for him, Tip Lewis, to copy anything from the Bible! What would the boys think? What would Bob Turner say? Still, what else could he do? Besides his spelling-book and a worn arithmetic, it was the only book that he had in the world.
"I don't care," he said suddenly, after a few moments of troubled thought. "I guess I ain't ashamed of my Bible,—it's the only thing I've got that I needn't be ashamed of. I'll do it. The boys have got to know that I've turned over a new leaf. I wish they did; the sooner they know it the better. I say, my lamp shall help me out of this scrape, that's as true as can be; it helps me whenever I give it a chance."
He fumbled in his pocket and drew out an old stump of a pencil. The next thing was a piece of paper; he dived his hand down into another pocket, producing a rusty knife, pieces of string, a chestnut or two, and, finally, a crumpled piece of paper on which Bob Turner had scrawled what he called a likeness of Mr. Burrows, and given to Tip for a keepsake. He spread it out on a flat stone which lay near him, and began his work.
A long, slow work it was for Tip. Hours of that day, and the next, and the next, every day, until the fading light drove him home, did he sit under the elm-tree turning the leaves of his Bible, poring over its contents, writing words carefully now and then on his bit of paper. Remember it was new work to him.
At last, one evening, the sun went down in the bright red west, the stars shone out in all their twinkling, sparkling glory, the shadows began to fall thick and fast around the old tree, when Tip, with a little sigh of relief, folded the precious piece of paper, laid it carefully away in his Bible, and turned his steps homeward. His acrostic was finished, and into his heart had crept some of the beauty of those precious words, which he had found for the first time. Words they were which would go with him through all his life, and sweetly comfort some dark and weary hours.
The school-books were all piled neatly on the desks that Friday afternoon; the shades were dropped to shut out the low afternoon sun; and forty boys were still and expectant. The acrostics lay in a great white heap on Mr. Burrows' desk, not a name written on any of them. Mr. Burrows was to read, and the boys were to have the pleasure of spelling out the names of the owners as he read.
A merry time they had of it that afternoon. Some wonderful acrostics were read. Ellis Holbrook had a very clever one, arranged from his lesson in Virgil. Howard Minturn had borrowed from his father's library a copy of Shakespeare, and worked hard over his; the boys and their teacher thought it a success.
Even Bob Turner had written; the idea had happened to strike him as a very funny one, and Bob always did everything that he thought funny. He had found three lines in rhyme which just suited him, and by the time the eager boys had spelled out B O B,—which was the only name the boy saw fit to own,—the schoolroom fairly shook with their laughter.
Next to his lay a paper which Tip knew, and his heart beat so loudly when Mr. Burrows took it up, that he thought every one in the room must notice.
The room had now grown quiet, and Mr. Burrows, after opening the paper, announced the title,—
Then read slowly and reverently, while the wondering scholars spelled out the name.
"E Even the night shall lie light about thee.
D Depart from evil and do good.
W Whosoever cometh unto Me, I will in no wise cast out.
A A new heart will I give you.
R Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
D Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to thee.
"L Lo, I am with you always.
E Ever follow that which is good.
W Whosoever abideth in Him, sinneth not.
I I will go before thee, and make the crooked paths straight.
S So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper."
What a silent and astonished company listened to this reading, and spelled the name "Edward Lewis!"
"Edward," Mr. Burrows said at last, "who found those verses for you?"
"I found them, sir, in my Bible. I've got them all marked!" speaking eagerly, willing this time to bring proof that he was telling the truth.
Mr. Burrows' voice almost trembled as he answered,—
"It is a beautiful collection of some of the most precious verses in the Bible. It was a fine idea; I am very much surprised and pleased. I wish that you, and every scholar of mine, could feel in your hearts the full meaning of those words of Jesus."
"I can't to-night, Howard," said Ellis Holbrook, in answer to his friend's coaxings to accompany him home; "I've got something else to attend to. Hallo, Tip! Tip Lewis! Hold on a bit! I'm going your way. No, Howard, I'll come up in the morning; I really can't to-night."
Tip waited in wondering silence, while the boy, whom he counted an enemy, hurried towards him.
Ellis was a bold, prompt boy: when he had anything to say, he said it; so he came to the point at once.
"See here, Tip, did I blunder the other day when I told Mr. Burrows you threw paper? I thought I saw you."
"Yes," said Tip, "you did. I didn't throw a bit of paper that day."
"Well, father said he thought I was mistaken. I'm sure I supposed I was telling the truth. I'm sorry. I'll say so to Mr. Burrows and the boys, if you like, and let him find out who did it, and then was mean enough to see you whipped for it."
Tip struggled a little. "No," he said at last, "let it go. The whipping is done, and can't be undone; I don't want to make any more bother about it."
Ellis eyed him curiously.
"You're a queer fellow," he said at last. "I expect you had about the best acrostic, this afternoon, that can be written."
Tip's heart was throbbing with pleasure as he walked on home after Ellis had left him. For the first time in his life he had earnest, warm, hearty praise from his teacher. Ellis had said, "Father told me he thought I was mistaken." Mr. Holbrook, then, did believe and trust him. Besides, there was another thought which seemed delightful to him. Tip Lewis, the worthless, yes, wicked boy that everybody thought him, had walked down the main street side by side, and talking earnestly with Ellis Holbrook, the minister's son.