The Village Teacher
Half hidden behind the maple grove which shaded the village school-house, was a group of children, between the ages of four and sixteen, interested in discussing the merits of the expected new teacher, whom none but Saul Summers, the ugliest boy in the village, had been fortunate enough to meet. She lived at Brownsville, a village about five miles distant, where Saul and some of the other large boys frequently went on errands of mischief; for "fun," as they were pleased to term it. And because he knew something of the coming teacher, he was for once gladly welcomed among the inquisitive group, who listened eagerly to all he had to say in regard to it; but when he began to boast of the tricks he meant to play off on her, and laughingly assert that he wasn't afraid of a girl like her, and that she dare not undertake to punish him, they heartily wished him somewhere else; for well they knew that he, with some of his evil associates, had been the means of breaking up the two previous schools; and, in fact, not a teacher, for several years past, had pursued his vocations without being greatly annoyed by "ugly Saul," as he was usually called. Saul would not study, and only went to school to gratify his mischievous disposition ; for it is doubtful about his ever having been sent, unless it was to get him out of the way, for surely no one cared enough for the child's welfare to send him for the sake of his having an education. If any mischief was done in the village, all knew Saul to be the author of it, and he never denied anything laid to his charge; either because he gloried in an evil name, or be-cause he thought it would not be believed if he did, for it was sometimes found out after the charges were made, that he was not guilty.
Saul Summers' mother died when he was very small, and some of the neighbors whispered among themselves that she died of a broken heart. True it is, that her life with John Summers was not what she in her trusting girlhood days had anticipated; for she gave him all her wealth of love, but it proved that she, in return, had only a cold, harsh, exacting husband. When she died, all said, "It is well with her;" and none grieved for the husband, left companionless, but they sighed for the little baby boy, left in care of so stern a master. Yet, some said, perhaps grief would soften his hard heart, and he would become a better man. But not so: he only became more gloomy and still more stern and sullen. His child grew up under the charge of hired help, knowing but little about his father, and caring still less; for he was seldom called into his presence but to receive chastisement, all of which failed to make him a lovable boy. In truth, he seldom received a kind word from any source: everybody seemed to dislike him, and he, in return, disliked everybody, and appeared to cherish a kind of hatred toward all mankind.
She came among that group of children the new mistress a beautiful, blue-eyed, golden haired girl, of scarce seventeen summers. No wonder the director hesitated about accepting the services of one so young, to take a place where so many older and wiser-looking ones had failed ; for he could not see beneath that delicate exterior, the strong, true heart, full of high hopes and noble resolves, and the firm determination to accomplish well the task she was undertaking.
A few weeks passed very pleasantly. The scholars loved their teacher as they never had loved ohe before. Her lovely face, graceful manners, and sweet voice, which never was heard but in tones of love and tenderness, quite captivated their young hearts, and they vied with each other in trying to anticipate and gratify her every wish.
The people thought she must possess some unaccountable charm to keep Saul Summers in his place so long; for he had not been punished once since she had been there.
The child's evil disposition at last predominated, and he refused to take his place in one of his classes. The teacher mildly told him he might remain in his seat, then: but at the close of school she wished him to stop a few moments with her. After school, he was sullenly leaving, contrary to her desire, when she stepped before him, and fixing her calm blue eyes upon his face, said in a grieved tone, "Are you going, Saul?" The boy felt that a stronger will than his own was there, and he did not choose to disobey.
When all the others were gone, the teacher sat down beside him, and gently said: "Saul Summers, will you please tell me in what way I have injured you. I assure you I would not intentionally wrong you. .1 feel a deep interest in your welfare, and will be your best friend, if you will let me. I wish you to become a great, a good and noble man, such an one as you are capable of becoming, if you will only try as hard to help yourself, as I will try to help you. I have a short story I would like to tell you: Will you listen?"
As Saul nodded his assent, she saw that tears glistened in his eyes, and she knew that her object was gained; that she had touched his heart, but she went on:
"In the beautiful village of Fairfield there dwelt a very happy family, consisting of the parents and two children, both girls, but several years' difference in their ages. No pains or expense was spared to make their home beautiful and these children happy. The elder of these girls had hardly a wish ungratified until she arrived at the age of sixteen; then there came a change. That great .crash of banks, which brought destruction to so many firms, threw so many out of employment, and devastated so many homes, crushed to atoms the wealth of this family, and they were left penniless. This severe stroke of fortune was too much for the fond father, and he was stricken with- brain fever, which came near terminating his life, and from which he has not yet wholly re-covered. The support and care of this family during the past year has devolved upon the mother and elder daughter, and these two, seemingly so unfitted for labor, have toiled early and late to obtain a living, and supply the invalid husband and father with necessary comforts and medical treatment. A short time since the elder daughter obtained a school, the avails of which, should she be successful, will greatly help the loved ones at home, for whom she is toiling. Now, this teacher's success depends upon one boy, and he the oldest one in her school. Surely, he would not deprive her of his help, his sympathy, in her labor of love?"
And Alla Cook wiped away the tears that would come, in spite of every effort to restrain them, as she thought of the dear ones at home, for whom she wished to do so much.
When Saul looked into her face and saw the fast-falling tears, the fountains of his own heart seemed broken loose, and he sobbed, like a grieved infant, as he repeated, again and again : " Forgive me, Miss Cook ; oh, forgive me. I have been so ungrateful for all your kindness to me! No one ever before treated me so kindly as you have. I am very sorry for my conduct, but forgive me for this, and I am sure you shall have no cause to complain of me in the future."
Alla Cook did not forget at this time to direct her pupil's attention to the All Wise, for that strength which he needed to help him keep his noble resolves.
That evening Saul Summers went to his home hap-pier than he had ever been before in his life. There was one, at least, that felt an interest in his welfare.
His better nature had been awakened, and his whole soul responded to the awakening. There was a triumph of the pure over the impure in his nature, of virtue over vice, of love over hatred, in fact, his whole being changed, and he stood in a new world, surrounded by new creatures. He no longer looked upon mankind as his enemies, but all at once he loved everybody, cared for everybody and everybody loved and cared for him. The whole school and all the villagers could not fail to see the change in his character, and as he was trying to do right, every-body tried to help him, and no scholar in school was more attentive to his studies, or made more rapid progress than Saul Summers.
It was near the middle of the term. Alla had not been home since her school commenced. It was Friday, and she had been thinking all day how pleasant it would be to go home and stay over the Sabbath. But ^every penny she earned was so much needed for the family, that she decided to wait a while longer, and send a letter in-stead.
She sat down at her desk to write it, when suddenly a shadow darkened the doorway, and looking up she saw Saul entering; he had returned to tell her that he was going over to Brownville with a team, and thought, perhaps, she would like to go home, for well he knew that the expense of going by rail was what had kept her from there so long.
Saul was never prouder and happier than when he left his teacher that evening at the gate of her humble home, receiving many thanks from her, and a sweet kiss from the little blue-eyed Nellie, who ran down to the gate to greet her " dear, darling sister," as she lovingly called her.
Alla found her father's health much improved, and all enjoyed the meeting so much that Monday morning came all too soon. But with it came Saul to take her back to her school; and if he had not already won the good will of little Nellie, he did that morning by taking her and her papa out riding in his beautiful carriage.
Mr. Summers took great pride in his fine horses, and all wondered that he would let Saul drive them. But, perhaps the good reports of his son, that daily reached his ears, had softened his heart somewhat, and made him think of changing his own conduct. Certain it is that people noticed his face had lost something of its surly look of late and that he condescended to bestow a friendly nod, and sometimes a word-upon an acquaintance when he chanced to meet them.
It seemed necessary for Saul to go to Brownville quite often during the remainder of the summer, and Alla was always invited to accompany him, which invitation she gladly accepted, and though she half suspected that to take her home was his principal business, yet this was not entirely so. The laughing blue eyes and smiling face of Nellie had much to do with his going. It was so delightful to look into her happy face, lighted with animation and gratitude, as he put her into the carriage, while her convalescent father came slowly down the walk to join them. And sometimes, too, the careworn mother was persuaded to accompany them, and she would return feeling new life and vigor in her overtaxed system. This making others happy was quite a new pleasure to Saul, and he reveled in the joy it afforded. He felt, as every-one will feel who will get out of self enough to try it, that true happiness is only found in making others happy.
Eight years with their many changes have passed since Alla Cook commenced her labors as a teacher in the village of Newton. She dearly loved the occupation she had chosen, and for several years followed it with the greatest success. But we find her now happily settled in a home of her own, loving and beloved by all who know her. Old Mr. Summers has gone to his long home. But before his death, through the influence of his son, he be-came a Christian and died rejoicing that Christ could save even such as he, and that in heaven he should meet again his friends and be forgiven by her whom he had once so truly loved on earth, but whom he had so deeply wronged.
Saul being his only child, became the possessor of his father's great wealth. After graduating with the highest honors from one of the first colleges in the Eastern States, he returned for his little blue-eyed Nellie, and together they visited many of the noted places on the East-ern Continent. But at last, tired of wandering and sight-seeing they came back to settle down in what was once known as the old homestead of Nellie's father, which Saul had purchased for Alla's sake, knowing that it would be so pleasant for her when she should visit them, to wander through the rooms and shady walks where her child-hood hours were spent.
Finally, Nellie's father and mother consented to share this home with them, and on the front of the old Cook store appeared the names of Cook & Summers. As the whole family meet and talk of the dark days they have known, and the happiness they now enjoy, Saul asserts that he and Nellie owe all their joy to the Village Teacher, as he, no doubt, would have been now where everybody prophesied he would be, in a State prison, but for her.
( Originally Published 1887 )
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