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THE accidental call of the travellers at the house of the farmer, as narrated in our opening chapter, formed an era in the life of Locke Amsden. By that call, new thoughts had been suggested to his mind — new feelings and hopes awakened in his bosom ; and, as the slumbering energies of his intellectual and moral nature became thus aroused, young ambition began to point him upward to the temple of science, over whose distanced-hallowed pinnacles floated the mystic banner of fame. At first, every word of the revered stranger was recalled, every position revolved over and over in mind, and every argument carefully weighed; and the result of the process was faith and conviction. Then came the inspiriting words of the beautiful little being, who, in angel shape, had thus appeared in his path to incite him onward; and, “I would be a scholar, Locke,” continued to ring in his ears. “Ay, and I will be a scholar !” he at length mentally ejaculated; “and then I will go where she lives, and she shall know that I have worthily done her bidding, and justified the good opinion of her father. But where does she live?— yes, where 2° For he now recollected, that he had not learned from her, or her father, the place of their residence; and, under the proud and joyous impulse which his reverie had imparted, he flew to his parents with the inquiry. But neither of them could answer it. They had not ascertained even the family name of their visiters. Mr. Amsden had thought of asking the man these particulars; but, it occurring to him that his wife would naturally find them out from the little girl, he desisted. And this Mrs. Amsden had intended to do ; but her attention was so much engrossed in the cares of preparing the dinner, that she had neglected it, till the return of the gentleman into the house deprived her of the opportunity of doing so, without appearing obtrusive. The Christian name of the girl, therefore, with the fact, that she and her father came from a place some fifty miles to the south, and were destined to another nearly as far to the north, was all that had been ascertained concerning them, other than what their personal appearance indicated. But, although our young hero was thus left in ignorance of the names, residence, character, and calling of his new friends, and for many years was doomed to remain so, yet the event of their visit was not the less destined to exercise an important influence on his future life and fortunes. It seemed to be, indeed, one of those trifling incidents which so often seem to change the fate of individuals, and impart an enduring impulse towards a destiny to which, in all human probability, they otherwise would never have been called. Such an impulse had been imparted, in the present instance, by the mere call of two entire strangers; and that simple incident would probably have been sufficient of itself, had no other grown out of it, to give a new and continuing direction to the energies of him on whom it so peculiarly operated. But there yet remained to be added another occurrence arising from the circumstances of the first, which was directly calculated to strengthen every impulse already received, and every resolution formed under it. • About a month from the time the incidents we have been sketching transpired, a strong board box, directed to Master Locke Amsden, was left at the door by a teamster; who, saying he had received it from another teamster, with directions to leave it at this place, went on his way, without giving any further information respecting it, or those who sent it. Wondering what might be the contents of the box, the receipt of which was so unexpected to him, though partly anticipating the source from which it must have come, Locke flew for his hammer, and knocked off the cover ; when, to his joyful surprise, he found the box filled with books, upon the top of which lay a neatly folded and superscribed little billet, directed to himself. Eagerly snatching up the paper, he opened it, and read, in the finely-traced characters of an unsettled female hand, the laconic contents: —
“A lot of old, musty volumes, in return for your nice little present. Father has picked them out from his old college books, and given them to me to send to you, saying you would like them. If you think, as he says, about them, I shall be pleased to have you accept them from “Your friend, * MARY.”
With a low shout of irrepressible joy, he now hastily caught up his treasure, rushed into the house, and, calling on his mother to come and witness his good fortune, fell to unpacking the books, greedily running over the title-pages of each, as, with many a half-suppressed exclamation of pleasure, he successively took out the different volumes, which, to the number of eight or ten, the box contained, and spread them around him on the floor. The collection consisted of a complete set of mathematics, from common arithmetic to fluxions; a standard work on natural philosophy; another on astronomy; together with separate treatises upon geology, mineralogy, and chemistry; while the whole was accompanied by a good set of mathematical instrumentS.
|From what we have already shown the reader of the
THE SCHOOL.MASTER, 29
character and inclinations of Locke, it may be easily imagined with what rapture he doted on this munificent and appropriate present, not only from its intrinsic value, and the untold advantages which he was to reap from it, but for the fair giver, and her prompting father, by whom it had been so delicately and flatteringly bestowed, - with what pleasure he looked forward to the time when he should be allowed to devote himself wholly to the great, but coveted task, which, in these books, he now saw set before him. By most others, perhaps, the course of mathematics here presented, had been viewed only as a labor of almost endless toil and difficulty. He, however, looked upon it but as a labor of delight, so much the better for its promised length, since that would add so much the more to the fund of his happiness. For the first week, his leisure was given to looking over the subject matter on which the volumes of his prized little library severally treated, and arranging the order, in which his own good sense and discrimination rightly taught him they should be studied. Having settled this, and accordingly determined to make mathematics his first study, while he should proceed with geology and the like as his light reading, he began with algebra, assiduously, and with his usual systematic perseverance, devoting to it every hour he could snatch from his customary employments on the farm. And thus, making what progress he could, in the brief intervals allowed him for the purpose, and leaving all knotty points to be thought over and solved while at work in the field, he alone, unassisted and unprompted, steadily pursued the course he had marked out for himself, neither seeking nor asking any other recreation or pleasure than what his studies afforded. But, although this course was a source of constant pleasure to Locke, not so did it soon become to his honest but simple-minded father, who, rightly enough attributing his son's growing inadvertencies in business to these books, often wished, in his heart, the whole collection at the bottom of the sea. And these inadvertencies, which so naturally grew out of the course he was pursuing, were, it must be confessed, not unfrequently of a character to cause vexation to a business man of a less petulant turn than Mr. Amsden. For, if the latter had reason to complain of his son in this respect before, he had much more cause for doing so now ; since, with the greatest willingness and undoubted capacities for work, the boy too often effected but little, and as often did that little wrong. In those kinds of labor, to be sure, where he could induce his father to task him, he would apply every energy of body and mind, till his task was completed, which was generally by noon ; when, for the remainder of the day, he might be seen lying on the grass, under some shady tree, with his book and instruments spread before him. But in work which would not admit of this, the problems that he took with him in his head into the field, often led to singular oversights in the business about which his hands were employed. If he was sent on an errand to some other part of the farm, he would sometimes wholly forget what he went for. Sometimes he would leave the bars down, the cows unmisked, or the hogs unfed; and sometimes, when hoeing alone in the cornfield, and when some mathematical question occurred to his mind which he wished to solve, he would stop work, and making a smooth bed of earth to serve for slate or paper, fall to figuring or making diagrams with his finger in the place he had thus prepared, and think no more of his hoeing, perhaps, till roused from his study by the loud note of the tin house-trumpet summoning him home to his mid-day or evening meal. All these, as innocently done as they were, cost him, as may well be supposed, many a scolding and fretful expostulation from his impatient and driving father, who, as the season of outdoor labor drew to a close, expressed himself heartily