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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Hoosier Schoolboy - Chapter 15. An Attempt To Collect
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The Hoosier Schoolboy - Chapter 15. An Attempt To Collect Post by :geoall28 Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Eggleston Date :May 2012 Read :3433

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The Hoosier Schoolboy - Chapter 15. An Attempt To Collect

CHAPTER XV. AN ATTEMPT TO COLLECT

Three times a week the scholars of the "Greenbank Academy" met at the house of Dr. Lanham to receive instruction from Professor Susan, for the school trustees could not agree on a new teacher. Some of the people wanted one thing, and some another; a lady teacher was advocated and opposed; a young man, an old man, a new-fashioned man, an old-fashioned man, and no teacher at all for the rest of the present year, so as to save money, were projects that found advocates. The division of opinion was so great that the plan of no school at all was carried because no other could be. So Susan's class went on for a month, and grew to be quite a little society, and then it came to an end.

One evening, when the lessons were finished, Professor Susan said: "I am sorry to tell you that this is the last lesson I can give."

And then they all said "Aw-w-w-w-w!" in a melancholy way.

"I am going away to school myself," Susan went on. "My father thinks I ought to go to Mr. Niles's school at Port William."

"I shouldn't think you'd need to go any more," said Joanna Merwin. "I thought you knew everything."

"Oh, bless me!" cried Susan.

In former days the people of the interior--the Mississippi Valley--which used then to be called "the West," were very desirous of education for their children. But good teachers were scarce. Ignorant and pretentious men, incompetent wanderers from New England, who had grown tired of clock-peddling, or tin-peddling, and whose whole stock was assurance, besides impostors of other sorts, would get places as teachers because teachers were scarce and there were no tests of fitness. Now and then a retired Presbyterian minister from Scotland or Pennsylvania, or a college graduate from New England, would open a school in some country town. Then people who could afford it would send their children from long distances to board near the school, and learn English grammar, arithmetic, and, in some cases, a little Latin, or, perhaps, to fit themselves for entrance to some of the sturdy little country colleges already growing up in that region. At Port William, in Kentucky, there was at this time an old minister, Mr. Niles, who really knew what he professed to teach, and it was to his school that Dr. Lanham was now about to send Susan; Harvey Collins and Henry Weathervane had already entered the school. But for poor boys like Jack, and Bob Holliday, and Columbus, who had no money with which to pay board, there seemed no chance.

The evening on which Susan's class broke up, there was a long and anxious discussion between Jack Dudley and his mother.

"You see, Mother, if I could get even two months in Mr. Niles's school, I could learn some Latin, and if I once get my fingers into Latin, it is like picking bricks out of a pavement; if I once get a start, I can dig it out myself. I am going to try to find some way to attend that school."

But the mother only shook her head.

"Couldn't we move to Port William?" said Jack.

"How could we? Here we have a house of our own, which couldn't easily be rented. There we should have to pay rent, and where is the money to come from?"

"Can't we collect something from Gray?"

Again Mrs. Dudley shook her head.

But Jack resolved to try the hardhearted debtor, himself. It was now four years since Jack's father had been persuaded to release a mortgage in order to relieve Francis Gray from financial distress. Gray had promised to give other security, but his promise had proved worthless. Since that time he had made lucky speculations and was now a man rather well off, but he kept all his property in his wife's name, as scoundrels and fraudulent debtors usually do. All that Jack and his mother had to show for the one thousand dollars with four years' interest due them, was a judgment against Francis Gray, with the sheriff's return of "no effects" on the back of the writ of execution against the property "of the aforesaid Francis Gray." For how could you get money out of a man who was nothing in law but an agent for his wife?

But Jack believed in his powers of persuasion, and in the softness of the human heart. He had never had to do with a man in whom the greed for money had turned the heart to granite.

Two or three days later Jack heard that Francis Gray, who lived in Louisville, had come to Greenbank. Without consulting his mother, lest she should discourage him, Jack went in pursuit of the slippery debtor. He had left town, however, to see his fine farm, three miles away, a farm which belonged in law to Mrs. Gray, but which belonged of right to Francis Gray's creditors.

Jack found Mr. Gray well-dressed and of plausible manners. It was hard to speak to so fine a gentleman on the subject of money. For a minute, Jack felt like backing out. But then he contrasted his mother's pinched circumstances with Francis Gray's abundance, and a little wholesome anger came to his assistance. He remembered, too, that his cherished projects for getting an education were involved, and he mustered courage to speak.

"Mr. Gray, my name is John Dudley."

Jack thought that there was a sign of annoyance on Gray's face at this announcement.

"You borrowed a thousand dollars of my father once, I believe."

"Yes, that is true. Your father was a good friend of mine."

"He released a mortgage so that you could sell a piece of property when you were in trouble."

"Yes, your father was a good friend to me. I acknowledge that. I wish I had money enough to pay that debt. It shall be the very first debt paid when I get on my feet again, and I expect to get on my feet, as sure as I live."

"But, you see, Mr. Gray, while my mother is pinched for money, you have plenty."

"It's all Mrs. Gray's money. She has plenty. I haven't anything."

"But I want to go to school to Port William. My mother is too poor to help me. If you could let me have twenty-five dollars----"

"But, you see, I can't. I haven't got twenty-five dollars to my name, that I can control. But by next New Year's I mean to pay your mother the whole thousand that I owe her."

This speech impressed Jack a little, but remembering how often Gray had broken such promises, he said:

"Don't you think it a little hard that you and Mrs. Gray are well off, while my mother is so poor, all because you won't keep your word given to my father?"

"But, you see, I haven't any money, excepting what Mrs. Gray lets me have," said Mr. Gray.

"She seems to let you have what you want. Don't you think, if you coaxed her, she would lend you twenty-five dollars till New Year's, to help me go to school one more term?"

Francis Gray was a little stunned by this way of asking it. For a moment, looking at the entreating face of the boy, he began to feel a disposition to relent a little. This was new and strange for him. To pay twenty-five dollars that he was not obliged by any self-interest to pay, would have been an act contrary to all his habits and to all the business maxims in which he had schooled himself. Nevertheless, he fingered his papers a minute in an undecided way, and then he said that he couldn't do it. If he began to pay creditors in that way "it would derange his business."

"But," urged Jack, "think how much my father deranged his business to oblige you, and now you rob me of my own money, and of my chance to get an education."

Mr. Gray was a little ruffled, but he got up and went out of the room. When Jack looked out of the window a minute later, Gray was riding away down the road without so much as bidding the troublesome Jack good-morning.

There was nothing for Jack to do but to return to town and make the best of it. But all the way back, the tired and discouraged boy felt that his last chance of becoming an educated man had vanished. He told his mother about his attempt on Mr. Gray's feelings and of his failure. They discussed the matter the whole evening, and could see no chance for Jack to get the education he wanted.

"I mean to die a-trying," said Jack, doggedly, as he went off to bed.

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