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Bert Lloyd's Boyhood
Chapter XXIII. Prize Winning and Losing

THERE were many ways in which the methods employed at Dr. Johnston’s school were unique. The system of registering attendance, proficiency, and conduct has been already fully explained. It was hardly possible that this could have been more perfect. No boy could be absent without being missed, and an explanation or excuse of a thoroughly satisfactory nature was required the next day. No mistake could occur as to the standing of the pupils in the different classes. The record of each day was all comprehensive. It constituted a photograph, so to speak, of each pupil’s doings, in so far as they related to his school, and the doctor was exceedingly proud of the journals, which he kept with scrupulous care and neatness.

Another feature of the school, peculiar to itself, was the system by which a knowledge of arithmetic was fostered, and the faculty of using it quickly was developed. The whole of one morning each week was devoted to this. The scholars were grouped in classes according to their varying proficiency, care being taken to give each one a fair chance by associating him with those who were about as far advanced as himself. These classes were then arranged upon seats very much after the fashion of a Sunday school, save that instead of a teacher being in their centre, they were placed around a backless chair, in such a manner that it was equally convenient of access to all. Each boy had his slate and pencil in readiness.

The school having been called to order, the doctor then proceeded to read out to the senior class a problem in proportion or compound interest, or whatever it might be, and this they hurriedly scribbled down on their slates. If they did not understand it fully at first, he would read it again, but of course never gave any explanations. So soon as a scholar had clearly grasped the problem to be solved he set to work at its solution with all his might, and it was a most interesting spectacle to watch when the whole class, with heads bent close to the slates, made their squeaking, scratching pencils fly over them. Every possible shade of mental condition, from confident knowledge to foreboding bewilderment, would be expressed in their faces. The instant one of them had completed his work, he banged his slate down upon the backless chair, with the writing turned under. The others followed as best they could, and all the slates being down, they awaited the doctor’s coming around to their class again.

When Dr. Johnston had completed the round of the classes, and given each a problem, he would, after a pause, call upon each in turn to read the answers as set down upon the slate. The boy whose slate was first on the chair, and therefore at the bottom of the pile, would read his answer first. If it were correct, he scored a point, and none of the others were called upon. If incorrect, the next to him would read his answer, and so on until a correct answer was given, and a point scored by somebody. Only one point could be made each round, and so the unsuccessful ones had to console themselves with the hope of having better luck next time. Not more than four or five rounds would be had each day, and it rarely happened that the same boy would be successful in all of them. Three points were considered a very good day’s work, and if a boy made four points he was apt to feel that the prize in that class was as good as his, until some other boy made four points also, and thereby lessened his chances.

It did not always happen that being first down with his slate assured the scholar of scoring a point. A slight mistake in his addition, subtraction, or division might have thrown him off the track, and then number two, or maybe number three, would come in with a correct answer and triumphantly score the point, success being all the sweeter, because of being somewhat unexpected.

Now this kind of competition suited Bert thoroughly. He was as quick as any of his companions, cooler than many of them, and had by this time acquired a very good understanding of the chief principles of arithmetic. He greatly enjoyed the working against time, which was the distinctive feature of the contest. It brought out his mental powers to their utmost, and he looked forward to “arithmetic day,” with an eagerness that was not caused entirely by what his father had promised him in the event of his being successful in carrying off a prize.

In the same class with him were Frank Bowser, Ernest Linton, and a half-dozen other boys of similar age and standing in the school. He had no fear of Frank or Ernest. They were no match for him either as to knowledge, or rapidity of work; but there was a boy in the class who seemed fully his equal in both respects. This was Levi Cohen, a dark-skinned, black-haired chap, whose Jewish features were in entire harmony with his Jewish name. He was indeed a Jew, and, young though he was, had all the depth, self-control, and steadfastness of purpose of that strange race. He also had, as the sequel will show their indifference as to the rightness of the means employed so long as the end in view was gained.

The school had been in session for more than a month, and those who were particularly interested in the arithmetic competitions were already calculating their chances of success. In Bert’s class it was clear beyond a doubt that the contest lay between him and Levi Cohen. It rarely happened that they did not monopolise the points between them, and so far, they had divided them pretty evenly. One day Bert would score three and Levi two, and then the next week Levi would have three, and Bert two, and so it went on from week to week.

As the second month drew to a close, Bert began to gain upon his rival. He nearly always made the majority of the points, and was now at least six ahead. Then suddenly the tide turned and Levi seemed to have it all his own way. The quickness with which he got the answers was bewildering. Nay, more, it was even suspicious. One familiar with the details of the problems given, and the amount of work a full working out would require, could not help being struck by the fact that Cohen seemed to arrive at his answer after a remarkably small expenditure of slate-pencil. Time and again he would have his slate down at least half-a-minute before Bert did his, although previous to this sudden change in his fortunes, the difference in time between them had been rarely more than a few seconds. Then again it was noticeable that he took the utmost care that none of the others should see what was on his slate. He did his work in a corner, hunched up over it so that it was well concealed, and he snatched his slate away from the pile at the very first opportunity.

Bert noticed all these things, and they perplexed him quite as much as Cohen’s rapid gain alarmed him.

He soon became convinced that there was something wrong, that Cohen was doing crooked work; but, puzzle his brains as he might, he could not get at the bottom of the mystery. Frank and Ernest fully shared his suspicions, and they had many a talk over the matter. Frank thought that Cohen must have the answers written on a piece of paper which he managed to peep at somehow while all the other boys were absorbed in working out the problems ; but although he on several occasions purposely refrained from doing anything himself in order to watch Cohen the more closely, he failed to find the slightest ground for his suspicions in that direction. Then Bert put forward his theory.

“I’ll tell what it is Frank: Cohen must learn the answers off by heart, and then he sets them down without working out the whole sum.”

“Shouldn’t wonder a bit,” said Frank. “He’s got a great memory, I know, and we always can tell from what part of the arithmetic Dr. Johnston is going to get the sums.”

“But how can we make sure of it, Frank?” inquired Bert, anxiously.

“The only way is to get hold of his slate, and see how he works his sums out,” replied Frank.

“Yes; but he takes precious good care not to let anybody see how he does them.”

“So he does; but we’ve got to find out some way, and I’m going to do it, so sure as my name’s Frank Bowser.”

“How’ll you manage it, Frank?” asked Bert, brightening up; for he really was a good deal troubled over Cohen’s continued success, particularly as he felt so strongly that there was something wrong at the bottom of it.

“I don’t know yet, Bert; but I’ll find out a way somehow. See if you can’t think of a plan yourself.”

“I’ll tell you what I’ll do: I’ll ask father about it,” said Bert, in a tone that implied perfect confidence in Mr. Lloyd’s ability to furnish a solution for any difficulty.

Accordingly, that evening, Bert laid the whole case before his father, who listened with judicial gravity, and then proceeded to ask a question or two:

“You feel quite sure that Cohen does not take the time to work out the sums properly?”

“Yes, father; perfectly sure.”

“Then why don’t you inform Dr. Johnston of your suspicions, and he will make an examination into the matter?”

“Oh, father!” exclaimed Bert, with a look of profound surprise. “You wouldn’t have me turn tattletale, would you?”

“No, Bert, dear; indeed, I would not, although you should lose a dozen prizes. I said that simply to see what you would think of it, and I am glad you answered me as I expected you would. But, Bert, you have asked my advice in this matter. Did you think of asking somebody else who is infinitely wiser than I am?”

Bert understood his father at once.

“No, father; I did not. I never thought of it,” he answered, frankly.

“Then had you not better do so when you are saying your prayers to-night?”

“I will, father. I’m so glad you reminded me.” And with that Bert dropped the subject for the time.

That night, ere he went to bed, Bert laid the matter before his Father in heaven, just as he had done before his father upon earth. He had imbibed his ideas of prayer from what he heard from his own father at family worship. Mr. Lloyd’s conception of prayer was that it could not be too simple, too straightforward. It often seemed as though God were present in the room, and he was talking with him, so natural, so sincere, so direct were his petitions. And Bert had learned to pray in the same manner. A listener might at times be tempted to smile at the frankness, the naivete of Bert’s requests; but they were uttered not more in boyish earnest than in truest reverence by the petitioner.

The next morning, when Bert came down to the breakfast-room, he was evidently in the best of spirits.

“It’s all right, father,” said he. “I asked God to show me what’s the best thing to do, and I’m sure He will.”

“That’s it, Bert; that’s the way to look at it,” replied Mr. Lloyd, with a smile of warm approval.

On reaching the school Bert found Frank awaiting him.

“I’ve got it! I’ve got it!” he shouted, so soon as Bert appeared. “I know how Levi manages it now.” “How is it?” asked Bert, eagerly.

“Why, he learns all the answers off by heart, and then doesn’t work out the sums at all, but just pretends to, and slaps down the answer before the rest of us fellows are half through,” explained Frank.

“To be sure, Frank; you know I thought of that before. But how are we going to stop him?”

“That’s just what I’m coming to. When the time comes to read the answers I’m going to take up the slates, just as if mine was down first; and then, if Levi’s been playing sharp on us, I’ll expose him.” “What a brick you are!” exclaimed Bert, admiringly, patting Frank on the back. “That’s a grand plan of yours, and I do believe it’s the way God is going to answer my prayer.”

“Answer your prayer, Bert? Why, what do you mean?” inquired Frank.

“Why, you know, Frank, last night when I was saying my prayers, I told God all about it, and now I believe He’s going to make it all right. You just see if He doesn’t.”

Frank was evidently very much struck with the idea of his being chosen by God to answer Bert’s prayer. It was quite a new thought, and made a deep impression upon him. He was a clear and strong, if not very rapid, reasoner, and his reasoning in this case led him to the conclusion that if God thought that much of him he certainly ought to think more of God. He did not talk about it to any one, but for many days his mind was occupied with thoughts of this nature, and their direct result was to lead him nearer to the kingdom.

At the very first opportunity Frank put his plan into execution. Arithmetic day came round, the class gathered in its place, the first sum was read out to them, and before Bert was half through working it out, Levi Cohen placed his slate softly upon the chair, and leaned back in his seat with a sly smile lurking in the corners of his mouth. Frank glanced up from his work, gave Bert a meaning look, and then dropped his slate upon Cohen’s with a loud bang. The others followed more slowly, and presently the time came for the answers to be read.

Before Cohen could leave his corner, Frank rose up, seized the pile of slates, turned them over, and examined the first intently, while Bert watched him with breathless expectancy, and Cohen, at first too surprised to act, sprang forward to wrest it from his hands. But Frank moved out of his reach, and at the same time, with a triumphant smile, exhibited the face of the slate to the rest of the class, saying, in a loud whisper:

“Look, boys, that’s the way he works them out.” Dr. Johnston noticed the slight commotion this created, but he was too far away to see clearly what it meant, so he called out:

“Why does not class six read their answers?” Cohen stood up, and held up his hand.

“Well, Cohen, what is it?” asked the doctor.

“Please, sir, Bowser has taken my slate, and won’t give it to me,” answered Cohen, in a whining voice.

“Bowser, what’s the meaning of this? What are you doing with Cohen’s slate?” demanded the doctor, frowning darkly.

Frank did not look a bit frightened, but still holding on to the slate, which Cohen was making ineffectual efforts to regain, replied, in respectful tones:

“May I hand you the slate first, sir?”

At these words Cohen turned ashy pale, and Dr. Johnston, realising that there must be something going on that required explanation, ordered Frank to bring all the slates up to him.

With radiant face Frank proceeded to obey, giving Bert a triumphant look as he passed by him, while Cohen shrank back into his corner, and bit his nails as though he would devour his finger tips. Taking up Cohen’s slate, the doctor scrutinised it carefully. One glance was sufficient. A deep flush spread over his dark face, his eyes lighted up threateningly, and in his sternest tones he called out:

“Cohen, come here!”

Amid the expectant hush of the school, none but class six knowing what was the matter, Cohen, looking as though he would give his right hand to be able to sink through the floor, walked slowly up into the dreadful presence of the angered master. Holding up the slate before him, Dr. Johnston asked:

“Is this your slate, sir?”

Cohen gave it a cowering glance, and said, faintly:

“Yes, sir.”

“How long has this been going on?” thundered the doctor.

Cohen made no reply.

“Answer me, sir, at once. How long has this been going on?” repeated the doctor.

“I don’t quite know, sir; but not very long,” faltered out Cohen.

With an exclamation of disgust, Dr. Johnston turned from him, and, holding the slate up high so that all the school might see it, relieved the curiosity of the scholars, now at fever pitch, by addressing them thus:

“Cohen has just been detected in one of the most contemptible tricks that has come under my observation since I have been master of this school. He has evidently been committing to memory the answers to the problems that would be given out, and instead of doing the work properly has been scratching down a few figures, then writing the answers, and so finishing long before any of the other scholars. I need hardly say that this is not only a most contemptible trick, as I have already said, but a serious blow at the principles of fair play and justice which should regulate the winning of prizes in this school. I therefore feel bound to express my indignation at Cohen’s offence in the most decided manner.”

Turning to Cohen: “You, sir, shall stand upon the floor for punishment. All the points scored by you already this term will be taken from you, and you will not be permitted to compete for any prize until I shall so determine.”

A kind of subdued whistle rose from the boys when they heard the doctor’s severe, and yet not too severe, sentence. Cohen was no favourite with them; and yet they could not help some pity for him, as thoroughly cowed and crushed he stood before them all, the very picture of misery. Bert’s tender heart was so touched by his abject appearance, that he half relented at his exposure. But Frank was troubled by no such second thoughts. The unexpectedly complete success of his scheme filled him with delight. It had accomplished two objects, both of which gave him keen pleasure. Bert’s most dangerous rival for the prize had been put out of the way, and Cohen, whom he cordially disliked, had been well punished for his knavery.

With Cohen disqualified, Bert had a comparatively easy time of it for the rest of the term. He usually managed to secure four out of the five points obtainable, and steadily added to his score until at last there was no chance of any one beating him, and he could look forward with comfortable confidence to the prize that meant so much in his case. A few days before Christmas the results were declared, and the prizes awarded, and although Bert gained only the one upon which his heart had been set, while other boys carried off two, and even three, he envied none of them. Their prizes meant nothing more perhaps than the brightly-bound books which the doctor selected with special reference to boyish preferences. But his prize meant more than a book. It meant a pony. And so if he was the happiest boy in all the land of Acadia it was not without good reason. Frank was hardly less jubilant, for he had gained his prize, and there was a hope taking strong hold upon his heart, that if fortune was kind to him, there might be a pony for him as well as for Bert.

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