“What is the matter?” asked Mrs. Hamlin. “What is hindering the work?”
Mr. Hamlin glanced up from his paper. “The work?” he said. “O, the old story; there are ‘giants’ in the land, and the committee feel like ‘grasshoppers’!”
It was Earle’s turn to look up. Earle was reading, but he generally had one ear for any conversation that was going on about him. His eyes went back to his book, but he kept wondering just what his father meant. Of course there were no giants in these days! He waited until his father was turning the paper to another page, then put in his question:—
“Father, what do you mean about ‘giants’ and ‘grasshoppers’?”
Mr. Hamlin laughed. “Your ears heard that, did they? Why, I meant what the ten spies did when they whined about giants, and called themselves ‘grasshoppers,’ instead of seizing their chance, as the other two wanted them to do. Don’t you remember the story? I fear you are not so well posted on Old Testament history as you are in your school history. The report of the spies makes very interesting reading; you would better look it up.”
“I remember about it now,” said Earle, “and I guess what you mean about the committee. There lots of giants around nowadays, aren’t there?”
“Plenty of them!” said his father. “Look out that none of them scare you away from an opportunity.”
Earle laughed, and went back to his book. He knew he was the sort of boy of whom the other boys said that he did not “scare worth a cent.”
It was nearly twenty-four hours afterward that he was in the dining-room, which was his evening study, bent over his slate, his pencil moving rapidly. His friend and classmate, Howard Eastman, sat on the arm of the large rocker, tearing bits from a newspaper wrapper and chewing them, while he waited for Earle.
“I do wish you would come on!” he said, between the bites of paper. “The boys will be waiting for us; I told them I would bring you right along, and the fun will all be over before we get there.”
“Bother!” said Earle, consulting his book. “That is not anywhere near right.”
“Of course it is not. I knew it would not be. There is not a fellow in the class, nor a girl, either, for that matter, who has got that example. Why, I know, because I heard them talking about that very one; and haven’t I done that seventy-five times myself? My brother Dick tried to do it for me, and he did not get it either; he said there was some catch about it.”
“I would like to find the catch,” said Earle, wistfully.
“Well, you can’t. I tell you there is not one of them who can. You need not think you are smarter than anybody else. We won’t get marked on that example; they do not expect us to have it. I heard Professor Bowen tell Miss Andrews that there would not be a pupil in the room who could conquer it.”
“Is that so?” said Earle, running his fingers through his hair, and looking wearily at the long rows of figures on his slate.
“I have not got it, that is certain; and I have tried it in every way I can think of. I do not know as there is any use of my going over it again.”
“Of course there is not! It is just one of those mean old catch problems that nobody is expected to get So just put up your tools, and come on. I know the boys are out of all patience with us for being so late.”
It happened that Cousin Carrol was in the library, which opened from the dining-room. Cousin Carrol was seventeen, and her thirteen-year-old cousin admired her extremely. He had known her but three weeks, and already they were the best of friends; he valued her good opinion next to his father’s and mother’s. At that moment her face appeared in the doorway, and she said in the sweetest and gentlest of tones:—
“And there we saw the giants.”
Howard Eastman made haste to take the wads of paper out of his mouth, and to get off the arm of the chair; but Miss Carrol’s face vanished, and they heard her open the hall door and pass out. Earle’s face, meantime, had reddened to his hair.
“What did she say?” inquired Howard, his eyes big with wonder.
“O, never mind what she said! She was talking to me. Look here, Howard Eastman, you may as well cut down to Timmy’s, and tell them I cannot come; they need not wait for me any longer. There is no use in talking; I am going to conquer that example if I have to sit up all night to do it. I am no grasshopper, and it has got to be done!”
“O, say now! I think that is mean!” growled Howard. “There won’t be half so much fun without you; and, besides—why, you almost got started. You began to put up your books.”
“I know I did; but I am not starting now, and there is no hope of me. Skip along, and tell the boys I am sorry, but it is not my fault; it is this old giant of a problem that is trying to beat me; and he can’t. I do not feel a bit like a grasshopper.”
“Say,” said Howard, “what have giants to do with that example? She said something about them.”
“They have not a thing to do with it,” said Earle with energy, “and I will prove that they have not. Now you skip, Howard, that’s a good fellow, and let me alone. I have a battle to fight.”
Howard groaned, and growled, and “skipped.” Next morning, just as the hour for recitation arrived, and the arithmetic class were filing in, company was announced.
“Just our luck!” muttered Howard Eastman. “Any other morning this term I should have been ready for them. Did you know they were coming, Earle?”
No, Earle did not. He looked up in surprise. There were not only his father and Cousin Carrol, but a stranger, a fine-looking man, who, it was presently telegraphed through the class, was Judge Dennison, of Buffalo, who used to attend this school when he was a boy. And then, behold, came Principal Bowen, who stood talking with his guests a moment, after which they all took seats and stayed through the entire hour.
Work went on well until that fatal thirty-ninth example was reached, and Howard Eastman was called upon to go to the board and perform it.
“I cannot do it, Miss Andrews,” he said, “I tried it as many as fifty times, I think, in fifty different ways, and I could not get near the answer.”
“That is very sad!” said Miss Andrews, trying not to laugh. “If you had not tried so many ways, but worked faithfully at one, you might have done better.”
Then she called on the boy next to him, with no better success. A long row of downcast eyes and blushing faces. Some of the pupils confessed that they had not even attempted the problem, but had been discouraged by the reports of others.
“Is there no one who is willing to go to the board,” said Miss Andrews, “and attempt the work, carrying it as far as he can?”
At just that moment she caught sight of Earle Hamlin’s face, and spoke to him.
“Will you try it, Earle?”
And Earle went. Silence in the class-room. All eyes on the blackboard, and the quick fingers of one boy handling the crayon. How fast he worked! Had be multiplied right?—No. Yes, that was right. O, but he had blundered in subtraction! No, he had not; every figure was right. Ah! now he had reached the place where none of them knew what to do next. But he knew! Without pause or confusion, he moved on, through to the very last figure, which he made with a flourish. Moreover, he knew how to explain his work, just what he did, and why he did it. As he turned to take his seat, the admiring class, whose honor he had saved, broke into applause, which the smiling teacher did not attempt to check.
“I think we owe Earle a vote of thanks,” she said. “I confess my surprise as well as pleasure in his work; I did not expect any of you to succeed. In truth, I gave you the example rather as a trial of patience than in the hope that you could conquer it. You remember, however, that I gave you permission to secure help if you utterly failed. Will you tell us, Earle, if you had any help?”
“Yes’m,” said Earle. “My Cousin Carrol helped me.”
And then Cousin Carrol’s astonishment suddenly broke into laughter.
“I have not the least idea what he means,” she said, in her clear, silvery voice. “I was so far from helping him that I tried all by myself to do the example, and failed.”
The class began to cheer again, but hushed suddenly to hear what Earle was saying.
“All the same, she helped me,” he said, sturdily. Then, seeing that he must explain, he added, hurriedly “We had been talking about the giants, you know, and the grasshoppers, just the night before, and I thought to myself then that I was not a grasshopper, anyhow; but I never thought about the example being a giant, and I was just going to quit it when Cousin Carrol came to the door and spoke about the giants, and then I went at it again.”
Some of the pupils looked hopelessly puzzled. Mr. Hamlin’s face was one broad smile. “Students of Old Testament history have the advantage here today, I fancy,” he said.
“Earle,” said Miss Andrews, “are you willing to tell us how long you worked on the example?”
“I began it at six o’clock,” said Earle, “and I got it just as the clock struck eleven.”
There was no use in trying to keep that class from cheering. They felt that their defeat had been forgotten in Earle’s victory.
Mr. Hamlin and Judge Dennison stood talking together after the class was dismissed.
“Do you know, I like best of all that word of his about his cousin’s helping him?” said Judge Dennison. “It was plucky in the boy to keep working, and it took brains to study out that puzzle; but that little touch which showed that he was not going to accept the least scrap of honor that did not belong to him was what caught me. You have reason to be proud of your son, Mr. Hamlin.”
—Pansy, by permission of Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co.