Chapter 15




CHAPTER XV. THE USHER CONFIDES IN HECTOR.

Mr. Crabb acted rashly in siding with Hector, and speaking against Mr. Smith's nephew. Socrates showed his displeasure by a frigid demeanor, and by seeking occasions for snubbing his assistant. On the other hand, Hector felt grateful for his intercession, and an intimacy sprang up between them.

A few days afterward, on a half holiday, Mr. Crabb said: "Roscoe, I am going out for a walk. Do you care to accompany me?"

"I will do so with pleasure," said Hector, sincerely.

"Mr. Crabb," he said, after they were fairly on their way, "I am sorry to see that Mr. Smith has not forgiven you for taking my part against Jim."

"I would do it again, Roscoe," said the usher. "I could not sit silent while so great an injustice was being done."

"Do you think Jim was punished?"

"I am sure he was not. He is a boy after Mr. Smith's own heart, that is, he possesses the same mean and disagreeable qualities, perhaps in a greater degree. Has he interfered with you since?"

"No," answered Hector, smiling; "he probably found that I object to being bullied."

"You are fortunate in being strong enough to withstand his attacks."

"Yes," said Hector, quietly; "I am not afraid of him."

"Bullies are generally cowards," said the usher.

"I wonder, Mr. Crabb, you are willing to stay at Smith Institute, as usher to such a man as Mr. Smith."

"Ah, Roscoe!" said Mr. Crabb, sighing; "it is not of my own free will that I stay. Poverty is a hard task-master. I must teach for a living."

"But surely you could get a better position?"

"Perhaps so; but how could I live while I was seeking for it. My lad," he said, after a pause, "I have a great mind to confide in you; I want one friend to whom I can talk unreservedly."

"Mr. Crabb," said Hector, earnestly, "I shall feel flattered by your confidence."

"Thank you, Roscoe; or, rather, since we are going to be friends, let me distinguish you from the other boys and call you Hector."

"I wish you would, sir."

"I need not tell you that I am poor," continued Mr. Crabb; "you can read it in my shabby clothes. I sometimes see the boys looking at my poor suit, as if they wondered why I dressed so badly. Smith has more than once cast insulting looks at my rusty coat. It is not penuriousness, as some of the boys may think—it is poverty that prevents me from attiring myself more becomingly."

"Mr. Crabb, I sympathize with you," said Hector.

"Thank you, Hector. Of that I am sure."

"Mr. Smith ought to pay you enough to clothe yourself neatly. He makes you work hard enough."

"He pays me twenty dollars a month," said the usher; "twenty dollars and my board."

"Is that all?" asked Hector, in amazement. "Why, the girl in the kitchen earns nearly that."

"To be sure," answered the usher, bitterly; "but in Mr. Smith's estimation, I stand very little higher. He does not value education, not possessing it himself. However, you may wonder why, even with this sum, I cannot dress better. It is because I have another than myself to support."

"You are not married?" asked Hector, in surprise.

"No; but I have an invalid sister, who is wholly dependent upon me. To her I devote three-quarters of my salary, and this leaves me very little for myself. My poor sister is quite unable to earn anything for herself, so it is a matter of necessity."

"Yes, I understand," said Hector, in a tone of sympathy.

"You now see why I do not dare to leave this position, poor as it is. For myself, I might take the risk, but I should not feel justified in exposing my sister to the hazard of possible want."

"You are right, Mr. Crabb. I am very sorry now that you spoke up for me. It has prejudiced Mr. Smith against you."

"No, no; I won't regret that. Indeed, he would hesitate to turn me adrift, for he would not be sure of getting another teacher to take my place for the same beggarly salary."

"Something may turn up for you yet, Mr. Crabb," said Hector, hopefully.

"Perhaps so," answered the usher, but his tone was far from sanguine.

When they returned to the school, Hector carried out a plan which had suggested itself to him in the interest of Mr. Crabb. He wrote to a boy of his acquaintance, living in New York, who, he had heard, was in want of a private tutor, and recommended Mr. Crabb, in strong terms, for that position. He did this sincerely, for he had found the usher to be a good teacher, and well versed in the studies preparatory to college. He did not think it best to mention this to Mr. Crabb, for the answer might be unfavorable, and then his hopes would have been raised only to be dashed to the earth.

Later in the day, Hector fell in with Bates, already referred to as a special friend of Jim Smith. The intimacy, however, had been diminished since the contest in which Hector gained the victory. Bates was not quite so subservient to the fallen champion, and Jim resented it.

"I saw you walking out with old Crabb," said Bates.

"He isn't particularly old," said Hector.

"Oh, you know what I mean. Did you ever see such a scarecrow?"

"Do you refer to his dress?" asked Hector.

"Yes; he'll soon be in rags. I shouldn't wonder at all if that old suit of his was worn by one of Noah's sons in the ark."

"You don't suppose he wears it from choice, do you?"

"I don't know. He's stingy, I suppose—afraid to spend a cent."

"You are mistaken. He has a sister to support, and his salary is very small."

"I can believe that. Old Sock is mean with his teachers. How much does he pay Crabb?"

"It is very little, but I don't know that I ought to tell."

"I say, though, Roscoe, I wouldn't go to walk with him again."

"Why not?"

"The boys will say that, you are trying to get into his good graces, so he'll let you off easy in your lessons."

"I don't want him to let me off easy; I generally intend to be prepared."

"I know, but that's what they will say."

"Let them say what they please, and I will do what I please," said Hector, independently.

"Old Sock ain't any too fond of Crabb since he took your part the other day. Jim says the old man means to bounce him before long."

"I suppose that means discharge him."

"It means giving him his walking papers. Jim will see that he does it, too."

Hector did not reply, but he felt more than ever glad that he had written a letter which might possibly bring the poor usher more profitable and, at the same time, agreeable employment.

"Jim doesn't like you, either," added Bates.

"I never supposed he did. I can do without his favor."

"He will get you into a scrape if he can."

"I have no doubt whatever of his benevolent intentions toward me. I shall not let it interfere with my happiness."

Just then a sharp cry was heard, as of a boy in pain. It came from the school yard, which the two boys were approaching on their return from a walk.

"What's that?" asked Hector, quickly.

"I expect it's the new boy."

One had arrived the day before.

"Is he hurt, I wonder?" asked Hector, quickening his steps.

"Jim's got hold of him, probably," said Bates; "he said this morning he was going to give the little chap a lesson to break him into school ways."

"He did, did he?" said Hector, compressing his lips. "I shall have something to say to that," and he quickened his steps.



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