A Day in the Woods
by Timothy Shay Arthur
"School!" said Richard White, to himself. "School! I don't want to go to school. Why am I sent to school every day? What good is there in learning grammar, and arithmetic, and geography, and all them things? I don't like school, and I never did!"
"Dick!" called out a voice; and the lad, who had seated himself on a cellar door, and placed his satchel beside him, looked up, and met the cheerful face of one of his school-fellows.
"What are you sitting there for, Dick? Don't you hear the school bell?"
"Yes, I hear it, Bill."
"Then get up and come along, or you will be late."
"I don't care if I am. I don't like to go to school."
"No, indeed. I'd never go to school, if I could help it. What's the use of so much learning? I'm going to a trade as soon as I get old enough; and Pete Elder says that a boy who don't know the A-B-C's, can learn a trade just as well as one who does."
"I don't know anything about that," replied William Brown; "but father says, the more learning I get when a boy, the more successful in life will I be when a man; that is, if I make a good use of my learning."
"What good is grammar going to do a mechanic, I wonder?" said Richard, contemptuously. "What use will the double rule of three, or fractions, be to him?"
"They may be of a great deal of use. Father says we cannot learn too much while we are boys. He says he never learned anything in his life, that did not come of use to him at some time or other."
"Grammar, and geography, and double rule of three, will never be of any use to me!"
"Oh, yes, they will, Dick! So come along. The bell is nearly done ringing. Come, won't you?"
"No, I'm going out to the woods."
"Come, Richard, come! That will be playing truant."
"No, I've made my mind up not to go to school today."
"You'll be sorry for it, Dick, if you do stay away from school."
"Why will I?" said the boy, quickly. "Are you going to tell?"
"If I would be asked about you, I will not tell a lie; but I don't suppose anyone will inquire of me."
"Then why will I be sorry?"
"You'll be sorry when you're a man."
Richard White laughed aloud at the idea of his being sorry when he became a man, for having neglected his school when a boy.
"If you are not going, I am," said William Brown, starting off and running as fast as he could. He arrived at the door of the schoolhouse just as the bell stopped ringing. In stopping to persuade Richard not to play truant, he had come near to being late.
As soon as William left him, Richard White got up from the cellar door where he had been reclining lazily, and throwing his satchel over his shoulder, started for the woods. His books and satchel were in his way, and rather heavy to carry about with him for six or seven hours. But he did not think it prudent to leave them anywhere, for the person with whom they were left, would suspect him of playing truant, and through that means his fault might come to the knowledge of his parents.
After thinking over this, as he went on his way, it occurred to Richard that the satchel was as likely to betray him if carried along, as if left at some store to be called for on his return. Finally, he concluded to ask for a newspaper at a shop.
With this, he wrapped up his satchel, and taking it under his arm, went on without any more fears of betrayal from this source.
As soon as the foolish boy reached the woods, he hid his satchel, so as to get clear of the trouble it was to him, beside a large stone, and covered it with leaves and long grass. Then he felt free, and, as he thought, happy.
But it was not long before he got tired of rambling about alone. He listened, sometimes, to the birds, and sometimes tried, with stones, to kill the beautiful and innocent creatures. Then he thought how pleasant it would be to find a nest, and carry off the young ones; and he searched with great diligence for a long time, but could find no nest.
Once a little striped squirrel glided past him, and mounted a high tree. As it ran around and around the great trunk, appearing and disappearing at intervals, Richard tried to knock it off with stones. But his aim was not very true. Instead of hitting the squirrel, he managed to get a severe blow himself; for a stone which he threw very high, struck a large limb, and, bouncing back, fell upon his upturned face, and cut him badly.
From that moment, all the pleasure he had felt since entering the woods, was gone. The blood stained his shirt, and covered his hand when he put it up to his face. Of course, the wound, and the blood upon his shirt, would betray him. This was his first thought, as he washed himself at a small stream. But, then, all at once it occurred to him — for evil suggestions are sure to be made to us when we are in the way to receive them — that it would be just as easy to say that a boy threw a stone, which struck him as he was walking along the street — as to say that he got hurt while playing truant in the woods. And, without stopping to think how wicked it would be to tell a lie, Richard determined to make this statement when he got home.
The smarting of the wound, and the uneasiness occasioned by a sight of the blood, so disturbed Richard's feelings, that he was unable to regain enough composure of mind to enjoy his day of freedom in the woods. By twelve o'clock, he was tired and hungry, and heartily wished himself at home. But it would not do to go now; for if he were to do so, his father would understand that he had not been to school. There was no alternative for him but to remain out in the lonely woods, without anything to eat, for five hours longer. And a weary time it was for him.
At last the sun, which had been for a very long time, it seemed to him, descending toward the western horizon, sank so low that he was sure it must be after five o'clock, and then, with sober feelings, he started for home. The day had disappointed him. He was far from feeling happy. When he thought of the wound on his face and the blood upon his shirt, he felt troubled. If he told the truth, he knew he would be punished; and if he told a lie, and was found out, punishment would as certainly follow.
These were his thoughts and feelings, when he came to the place where he had concealed his satchel. But, lo! his books were gone. Someone had discovered and carried them off.
Sadly enough, now, did Richard White return home. We will not pain our young readers with an account of his reception. The father already knew that his son had not been to school, for a man had found the satchel in the woods. Richard's name was on it, and this led the man to bring it to his father, with whom he was acquainted.
Richard never went to school again. On the very next week, he was sent to learn a trade, and he soon found that there was a great difference between a school-boy and an apprentice.
William Brown continued to go to school two years longer, when he also went from home to learn a trade. He was then a good scholar, and had a fondness for books. Because he was learning a trade, he did not give up all other kinds of learning, but, whenever he had leisure time, he applied himself to his books. Both he and Richard were free from their apprenticeships about the same time. Richard had learned his trade well, and was as good a workman as William; but he had not improved his mind. He had not been able to see the use that learning was going to be to a mechanic.
Fifteen years have passed since these two lads completed their terms of apprenticeship, and entered the world as men; and how do they now stand? Why, William Brown has a large manufactory of his own, and Richard White is one of his workmen. By his superior intelligence and enterprise, the former is able to serve the public interests by giving direction to the labors of a hundred men, and his reward is in proportion to the service he thus renders; while the latter serves the public interest to the extent of only one man's labors, and his reward is in exact ratio thereto.
Did Richard White gain anything by his day in the woods? We think not. Is there any use in education to a mechanic? Let each of our young readers answer the question for himself.