The Hamilton Academy, under the charge of Rev. Dr. Euclid, stands on an eminence about ten rods back from the street, in the town of the same name. It is a two-story building, surmounted by a cupola, or belfry, and, being neatly painted brown and well cared for, is, on the whole, an ornament to the village.
It was a quarter of nine, when a boy of sixteen, rather showily dressed, ascended the academy hill and entered the front door, which was already open. He swung a small light cane in his hand--rather an unusual article for a schoolboy to carry--and it was clear, from his general appearance and bearing, that he had a high opinion of himself.
"I am early," he said to himself. "I shall have a chance to look over my Latin before Dr. Euclid comes."
It may be supposed from this speech that Herbert Ross was an earnest student, but this would be altogether a mistake. The fact is, he had been playing with some companions till a late hour the previous evening, and this had prevented his paying the necessary attention to his lessons in Virgil.
As Dr. Euclid was strict in his requirements, and very slow to accept excuses, Herbert, to avoid trouble, wished to have, at any rate, a superficial acquaintance with the lesson.
As he entered the schoolroom he was met by a cloud of dust. A boy of about his own age was sweeping the floor. He had nearly completed his task, and was just about to sweep the pile of accumulated dust into the entry when Herbert Ross presented himself. The boy who was wielding the broom, the young janitor of the academy, being our hero, we may as well stop here and describe him.
His name was Andrew Gordon, commonly changed by his friends to Andy. He was a stout, well-made boy, with a face not exactly handsome, but bold, frank and good-humored; but about the mouth there were lines indicating firmness and resolution. He was evidently a boy who had a respect for himself.
It may be said, further, that Andy received his tuition free and a dollar a week for his services in taking care of the schoolhouse. He was the son of a widow, who was in receipt of a pension of twenty dollars a month from the government, as the widow of an officer who had surrendered his life during the Civil War on the field of Gettysburg. This, with what Andy could earn, was nearly all she and he had to live upon.
It may easily be supposed, therefore, that the dollar a week which Andy received from Dr. Euclid, or, rather, from the trustees of the academy, was an appreciable help in their frugal household.
Herbert Ross was the only son of the village lawyer, a man of private fortune, who lived in a style quite beyond the average mode of living among his neighbors. Herbert was impressed, as many boys are under such circumstances, with an idea of his consequence, and this made itself felt in his intercourse with his school fellows.
In particular he looked down upon Andy Gordon, the first in rank in his class, because he was poor and filled the position of school janitor, which he regarded as menial.
Andy knew very well how his proud classmate regarded him, but it did not materially diminish his happiness or cause him to lose even a minute's sleep.
"What are you kicking up such a dust for, Andrew Gordon?" asked Herbert, considerably ruffled in temper, for some of the dust had settled upon his clothing.
"I am sweeping the schoolroom, Herbert," said Andy, "as you see."
"You needn't cover me with your confounded dust," said Herbert, testily.
"I didn't see you coming in," said Andy, good-naturedly, "or I would have stopped a minute. The fact is, I am rather late this morning, or my job would be over."
"I'll give you a lesson to teach you to be more careful next time," said Herbert, who was getting more and more ill-natured, and, as is usual with young bullies, got more impudent on account of Andy's good nature.
As he spoke, he drew back his foot and kicked at the pile of dust which Andy had carefully swept to the doorway, spreading it over a considerable portion of the floor.
Good-humored as he was, Andy's eye grew stern, and his voice was quick and imperative, as he demanded:
"What did you do that for, Herbert Ross?"
"I told you already," said Herbert. "I am a gentleman, and I don't mean to let a servant cover me with dust."
"I am the janitor of this academy," said Andy, "and if that is being a servant, then I am one. But there is one thing I tell you, Herbert. I won't allow any boy, gentleman or not, to interfere with my work."
"How can you help yourself?" asked Herbert, with a sneer.
"Take this broom and sweep up the pile of dust you have scattered," said the young janitor.
As he spoke he tendered the broom to Herbert.
"What do you mean?" demanded the young aristocrat, his dark face growing darker still with anger.
"I mean what I say," responded Andy, resolutely. "You must repair the mischief you have done."
"Must? You low-lived servant!" Herbert burst forth. "Do you know who you are talking to?"
This was rather ungrammatical, but it is a common mistake, and Herbert was too angry to think of grammar.
"I am talking to a boy who has done a mean action," retorted Andy. "Take that broom and sweep up the dust you have scattered."
Herbert by this time was at white heat. He seized the broom which was extended toward him, but instead of using it as he was requested, he brought it down upon Andy's shoulders.
It was not the handle, but the broom end which touched the young janitor, and he was not hurt; but it is needless to say that he considered himself insulted. Under such circumstances, though far from quarrelsome, it was his habit to act promptly, and he did so now.
First he wrested the broom from Herbert; then he seized that young gentleman around the waist, and, despite his struggles, deposited him forcibly on the floor, which was thick with dust.
"Two can play at your game, Herbert," he said.
"What do you mean? you low hound!" screamed Herbert, as he rose from the floor.
"I think you can tell, without any explanation," said Andy, calmly.
Herbert looked as if he would like to annihilate the young janitor, but there was something in the strong grasp which he had just felt which convinced him that Andy was stronger than himself, and he hesitated.
"Do you know that my father is one of the trustees of the academy?" he shouted, shaking his fist. "I'll get you discharged from your place."
"You can do what you like," answered Andy, "but you'd better get out of the way, for I'm going to sweep. I'll let you off from sweeping up, as you have had a lesson already."
"You'll let me off!" exclaimed Herbert, passionately. "You--a servant--give me a lesson! You don't know your place, you young beggar!"
"No more talk like that, Herbert Ross, for I won't stand it!" said Andy, firmly.
"I'll call you what I please!" retorted Herbert.
"If you call me another name, I'll lay you down in the dirt again!" said Andy.
Just then, at the open door, appeared the tall, dignified figure of Dr. Euclid, who was in time to hear the last words spoken.
"What's the matter, boys?" he asked, looking keenly from Andy to Herbert.
Both boys were surprised to see Dr. Euclid, for it was ten minutes before his usual hour of coming.
It happened, however, that he had had occasion to go to the post office to deposit an important letter, and as it was so near the hour for commencing school, he had not thought it worth his while to go home again.
"What's the matter, boys?" repeated the doctor.
Herbert Ross, who was still fuming with anger, saw a chance to get the janitor into trouble, and answered, spitefully:
"That boy has insulted me!"
"How did he insult you?" inquired Dr. Euclid, rather surprised.
"He seized me, when I wasn't looking, and laid me down on the dirty floor!" exploded Herbert, looking at Andy as if he would like to wither him with a glance.
Dr. Euclid knew something of the character and disposition of Herbert, and reserved his judgment.
"What have you to say to this charge, Andrew?" he asked, mildly.
"It is true," said Andy--"all except my taking him unawares."
"What could induce you to make such an assault upon your fellow-student?" said the doctor.
In reply, Andy made a correct statement of the transaction, in mild and temperate language.
"Is this correct, Herbert?" asked the doctor. "Did you interfere with Andrew in the discharge of his duties?"
"I kicked the pile of dirt," Herbert admitted.
"Why did you do that?"
"Because I wanted to teach him a lesson."
"Not to cover a gentleman with dust when he entered the room," replied Herbert, in a pompous tone.
"By the word âgentleman' you mean to designate yourself, I presume," said Dr. Euclid.
Herbert colored, for though the doctor's words were plain and unemphasized, they seemed to him to imply sarcasm.
"Certainly, sir," he answered.
"Those who claim to be gentlemen must behave as such," said Dr. Euclid, calmly. "It is clear that your being covered with dust was accidental, and you had no occasion to resent it."
"Had he any right to throw me down?" asked Herbert, biting his lips.
"Did you not strike him first?"
"Then it appears to me that you are quits. I don't approve of fighting, but I hold to the right of self-defense. I don't think this affair calls for any interference on my part," and the doctor passed on to his desk.
Herbert Ross was very much mortified. He had confidently expected that Andy would get into trouble, and perhaps receive a punishment, certainly a reprimand, from the preceptor. As it was, he alone had incurred censure.
He nodded his head viciously, reflecting:
"This isn't the last of it. The doctor is partial to that young beggar, but the doctor isn't everybody. He's responsible to the trustees, and my father is the most important one. He'll find he's made a mistake."
Herbert was not at all improved in temper by a sharp reprimand from the doctor, when he came to recite his lesson, on the shabby character of his recitation.
When recess came, he stalked up to Andy, and said, menacingly:
"You look out, Andy Gordon! You'll get into trouble before you know it!"
"Thank you for telling me!" said Andy, calmly. "What sort of trouble will I get into?"
"You think you're all right because Dr. Euclid took your part this morning!" continued Herbert, not answering the question; "but that isn't the end of the matter, by a long shot! The doctor isn't so great a man as he thinks he is."
"I never knew that he considered himself a great man," answered Andy.
"Well, he does. He doesn't know how to treat a gentleman."
"Why don't he?"
"He upholds you in what you did."
"He thinks it right to act in self-defense."
"He may have to act in self-defense himself. My father is one of the trustees of this academy."
"You said that this morning."
"He can turn the doctor out of office, and put in another teacher," continued Herbert.
"That isn't anything to me," said Andy. "Still, I have one thing to say."
"What is that?" asked Herbert, suspiciously.
"That he will have a big job on his hands when he undertakes it," said Andy.
"He can do it," repeated Herbert, jerking his head emphatically; "but he won't begin with that."
"Won't he?" said Andy, indifferently.
"No; he'll begin with you. I'm going to tell him to-night all that has happened, and he'll have you discharged. You can make up your mind to that."
If Herbert expected to see Andy exhibit fear or alarm, he was not gratified. Our hero, on the other hand, looked provokingly indifferent.
"Don't you think you could get me off, Herbert?" asked Andy, with a smile, which the young aristocrat did not quite understand.
"If you will beg my pardon before the boys for what you did," he said, magnanimously, "I won't do anything about it."
"That is very kind. I suppose you will be willing to ask my pardon first for striking me with the broom and calling me bad names."
"No, I won't. I only did and said what was proper."
"Then you won't get any apology out of me," returned Andy.
"You will lose your place, and have to leave school."
"I don't think I shall."
"My father will have you turned out, and another janitor appointed."
"The janitor is not appointed by the trustees. Dr. Euclid always appoints the janitor."
This was news to Herbert. He had rather a vague idea of the powers of the trustees, and fancied that their authority extended to the appointment of so subordinate a person as the janitor.
"It doesn't make any difference," he declared, recovering himself. "The doctor will have to dismiss you, whether he wants to or not."
"You speak very positively," rejoined Andy, with a contemptuous smile, which Herbert resented.
"You'll find it's no laughing matter," said Herbert, hotly. "For a poor boy, you put on altogether too many airs."
Andy's manner changed.
"Herbert Ross," he said, "I've listened to your talk because it amused me, but I've heard enough of it. The only boy in school who puts on airs is yourself, and I, for one, don't mean to stand your impudence. Your father may be a very important person, but you are not. All your talk about Dr. Euclid's losing his place is ridiculous. You can go and talk to the doctor on the subject if you think it best."
Here Andy turned on his heel, and called out to Frank Cooper:
"Have a catch, Frank?"
The two boys began to throw a ball to each other, by way of improving their practice, for both belonged to a baseball club, and Andy's special and favorite position was that of catcher.
"You seem to have considerable business with Herbert Ross," said Frank. "I thought we should have no time for practice."
"Herbert thinks he has business with me," he said.
"I shouldn't think it was very pleasant business, by the way he looks," said Frank.
Andy smiled, but said nothing.
None of the boys had been present when the little difficulty of the morning took place, and he thought it not worth mentioning.
When Herbert left school at the close of the afternoon session, he was fully resolved to make it hot for the young janitor, and for Dr. Euclid, whose censure he had again incurred for a faulty Greek recitation.