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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesFrom Canal Boy To President; Or, The Boyhood And Manhood Of James A. Garfield - Chapter 5. An Important Conversation
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From Canal Boy To President; Or, The Boyhood And Manhood Of James A. Garfield - Chapter 5. An Important Conversation Post by :Sangel Category :Long Stories Author :Horatio Alger Date :May 2012 Read :1507

Click below to download : From Canal Boy To President; Or, The Boyhood And Manhood Of James A. Garfield - Chapter 5. An Important Conversation (Format : PDF)

From Canal Boy To President; Or, The Boyhood And Manhood Of James A. Garfield - Chapter 5. An Important Conversation

CHAPTER V. AN IMPORTANT CONVERSATION

"I've taught school myself," said Captain Letcher, complacently. "I taught for three winters in Indiana."

James, who, even then, had a high opinion of learning, regarded the canal-boat captain with increased respect.

"I didn't know that," he answered, duly impressed.

"Yes, I've had experience as a teacher. Now, if you don't mind, I'll ask you a few questions, and find out how much you know. We've got plenty of time, for it's a long way to Pancake Lock."

"Don't ask me too hard questions," said the boy. "I'll answer the best I know."

Upon this Captain Letcher, taking a little time to think, began to question his young cousin in the different branches he had enumerated. The questions were not very hard, for the good captain, though he had taught school in Indiana, was not a profound scholar.

James answered every question promptly and accurately, to the increasing surprise of his employer.

The latter paused.

"Haven't you any more questions?" asked James.

"No, I don't think of any."

"Then may I ask you some?"

"Yes, if you want to," answered the captain, rather surprised.

"Very well," said James. "A man went to a shoemaker and bought a pair of boots, for which he was to pay five dollars. He offered a fifty-dollar bill, which the shoemaker sent out and had changed. He paid his customer forty-five dollars in change, and the latter walked off with the boots. An hour later he ascertained that the bill was a counterfeit, and he was obliged to pay back fifty dollars in good money to the man who had changed the bill for him. Now, how much did he lose?"

"That's easy enough. He lost fifty dollars and the boots."

"I don't think that's quite right," said James, smiling.

"Of course it is. Didn't he have to pay back fifty dollars in good money, and didn't the man walk off with the boots?"

"That's true; but he neither lost nor made by changing the bill. He received fifty dollars in good money and paid back the same, didn't he?"

"Yes."

"Whatever he lost his customer made, didn't he?"

"Yes."

"Well, the man walked off with forty-five dollars and a pair of boots. The other five dollars the shoemaker kept himself."

"That's so, Jim. I see it now, but it's rather puzzling at first. Did you make that out yourself?"

"Yes."

"Then you've got a good head--better than I expected. Have you got any more questions?"

"Just a few."

So the boy continued to ask questions, and the captain was more than once obliged to confess that he could not answer. He began to form a new opinion of his young cousin, who, though he filled the humble position of a canal-boy, appeared to be well equipped with knowledge.

"I guess that'll do, Jim," he said after a while. "You've got ahead of me, though I didn't expect it. A boy with such a head as you've got ought not to be on the tow-path."

"What ought I to be doing, cousin?"

"You ought to keep school. You're better qualified than I am to-day, and yet I taught for three winters in Indiana."

James was pleased with this tribute to his acquirements, especially from a former schoolmaster.

"I never thought of that," he said. "I'm too young to keep school. I'm only fifteen."

"That is rather young. You know enough; but I aint sure that you could tackle some of the big boys that would be coming to school. You know enough, but you need more muscle. I'll tell you what I advise. Stay with me this summer--it won't do you any hurt, and you'll be earning something--then go to school a term or two, and by that time you'll be qualified to teach a district school."

"I'll think of what you say, cousin," said James, thoughtfully. "I don't know but your advice is good."

It is not always easy to say what circumstances have most influence in shaping the destiny of a boy, but it seems probable that the conversation which has just been detailed, and the discovery that he was quite equal in knowledge to a man who had been a schoolmaster, may have put new ideas into the boy's head, destined to bear fruit later.

For the present, however, his duties as a canal-boy must be attended to, and they were soon to be resumed.

About ten o'clock that night, when James was on duty, the boat approached the town of Akron, where there were twenty-one locks to be successively passed through.

The night was dark, and, though the bowman of the _Evening Star did not see it, another boat had reached the same lock from the opposite direction. Now in such cases the old rule, "first come, first served," properly prevailed.

The bowman had directed the gates to be thrown open, in order that the boat might enter the lock, when a voice was heard through the darkness, "Hold on, there! Our boat is just round the bend, ready to enter."

"We have as much right as you," said the bowman.

As he spoke he commenced turning the gate.

My young reader will understand from the description already given that it will not do to have both lower and upper gates open at the same time. Of course, one or the other boat must wait.

Both bowmen were determined to be first, and neither was willing to yield. Both boats were near the lock, their head-lights shining as bright as day, and the spirit of antagonism reached and affected the crews of both.

Captain Letcher felt called upon to interfere lest there should be serious trouble.

He beckoned to his bowman.

"Were you here first?" he asked.

"It is hard to tell," answered the bowman, "but I'm bound to have the lock, anyhow."

The captain was not wholly unaffected by the spirit of antagonism which his bowman displayed.

"All right; just as you say," he answered, and it seemed likely that conflict was inevitable.

James Garfield had been an attentive observer, and an attentive listener to what had been said. He had formed his own ideas of what was right to be done.

"Look here, captain," he said, tapping Captain Letcher on the arm, "does this lock belong to us?"

"I really suppose, according to law, it does not; but we will have it, anyhow."

"No, we will not," replied the boy.

"And why not?" asked the captain, naturally surprised at such a speech from his young driver.

"Because it does not belong to us."

The captain was privately of opinion that the boy was right, yet but for his remonstrance he would have stood out against the claims of the rival boat. He took but brief time for considerations, and announced his decision.

"Boys," he said to his men, "Jim is right. Let them have the lock."

Of course there was no more trouble, but the bowman, and the others connected with the _Evening Star_, were angry. It irritated them to be obliged to give up the point, and wait humbly till the other boat had passed through the lock.

The steersman was George Lee. When breakfast was called, he sat down by James.

"What is the matter with you, Jim?" he asked.

"Nothing at all."

"What made you so for giving up the lock last night?"

"Because it wasn't ours. The other boat had it by right."

"Jim, you are a coward," said Lee contemptuously. "You aint fit for a boatman. You'd better go back to the farm and chop wood or milk cows, for a man or boy isn't fit for this business that isn't ready to fight for his rights."

James did not answer. Probably he saw that it would be of no use. George Lee was for his own boat, right or wrong; but James had already begun to reflect upon the immutable principles of right or wrong, and he did not suffer his reason to be influenced by any considerations touching his own interests or his own pride.

As to the charge of cowardice it did not trouble him much. On a suitable occasion later on (we shall tell the story in due season) he showed that he was willing to contend for his rights, when he was satisfied that the right was on his side.

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