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HOME > Classical Novels > Boys of the Central > CHAPTER XVIII. GLADNESS FOR CLARK.
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 “Who enters here, leaves hope behind.”  
This legend, in huge, shaded letters, adorned the blackboard one morning, when a written examination in geometry was to take the place of the usual recitations.
Mr. Horton glanced at Dixon with a smile as he read the sentence, for Dixon was apt to get badly tangled up over those perplexing lines and angles, and was always in the depths of melancholy when an examination in geometry was impending.
Just then Dixon was saying:—
“Wish I could borrow your head this morning, Clark. You wouldn’t mind lending it, would you?”
Clark, buried in the depths of a big lexicon, answered in an absent-minded way:—
“Certainly not. Help yourself.”
The shout of laughter from the boys who had heard both question and answer brought Clark back to his surroundings, and he joined in the laugh against himself, while Dixon grumbled:—
“Only wish I could hold him to his word.”
When inkwells had been filled, pens and paper distributed, and the boys were taking last, lingering peeps at the knottiest theorems before their geometries should be collected, as was the custom, they were taken entirely by surprise, for, instead of telling two boys to bring the books to the desk, the teacher said:—
“Boys, we are going to carry the self-government principles into the examinations this year. If you will all promise to be perfectly fair and honorable in this examination, your books may remain on your desks, and I shall leave the room without a monitor until the examination is over. As many as would like me to do this will please rise.”
It seemed to Mr. Horton that every boy in the room was on his feet the next instant. In reality, several rose slowly, and only because they were not willing to say that they preferred not to be so trusted.
Mr. Horton looked much pleased, as he bade the boys be seated.
“I am very glad to have such an unanimous response,” he said, “and I shall leave you without the slightest doubt. I know that my boys can be trusted this year, and it is a pleasure to me to show you how thoroughly I do trust you. Now, has any one any question to ask about the examination before I leave the room?”
After answering a few questions, Mr. Horton went out, and the boys settled down to work. To many of them, it seemed strange to be left so. These were the boys who had been used to whisper, and take sly peeps at bits of paper which they had tucked into various pockets. More than one had such aids to memory about him at that very moment, but they were ashamed, now, to use them.
As the boys looked over the list of questions, many a sigh or frown showed that that list contained precisely the questions that one or another had hoped would not be there.
But most of the boys settled down at once to steady work, and for a while nothing was heard but the scratching of pens and the rattling of paper, or the uneasy movements of some lad who was trying in vain to recall a forgotten theorem.
As Gordon laid aside a written sheet, he happened to glance towards a seat occupied by Blake—one of the boys who had entered that year, and he saw Blake softly lift the lid of his desk, and peep at something on the inside.
Leaving his seat, Gordon marched directly to Blake’s, and, without a word, suddenly lifted the lid of his desk, in spite of the other’s efforts to prevent it On the inside of the lid was pinned a brief explanation of several of the toughest problems in the geometry.
With a look of scorn in his blue eyes, Gordon snatched the paper and tore it into bits; then, still without a word, he returned to his seat. As he did so, several boys, whose quick eyes had taken note of the whole performance, clapped their approval, and at this, Blake, who had started up angrily, dropped back into his seat, and went on with his work in sulky silence.
One or two other boys attempted to cheat that day, but their attempts were put down by the rest as promptly as Blake’s had been.
Blake tried to slip out of the room unnoticed after the examination was over, but Gordon had kept an eye on him, and speedily overtook him in the hall.
“Blake,” he said, “I’m sure you are glad, now, that you did your work honestly. You wouldn’t have liked Mr. Horton to know that you went back on your word.”
“He wouldn’t have known it, if you’d minded your own business,” growled Blake, “and I should have had a hundred on the examination, and now I shan’t get above eighty, thanks to your meddling.”
“I’m sorry for that, Blake, but I’d rather have an honest eighty than a dishonest hundred, and I’m sure Mr. Horton would say so, too.”
“Oh, you’re too high-toned in this school,” said Blake. “I never was in a school before where we[254] didn’t cheat in examinations. The teachers wink at it. They know we do it.”
“Well, I don’t believe in it,” said Gordon. “I mean to be honest after I leave school, and I don’t see why I shouldn’t be honest in school, too. I couldn’t respect myself, if I did mean, underhanded things.”
“Respect your grandmother!” muttered Blake, walking off at such a pace that Gordon did not attempt to keep up with him, but turned back to wait for Hamlin, who came down the stairs a moment later.
Hamlin was looking very happy.
“Such a relief to get that exam. over,” he said, as he joined Gordon; “and I knew every problem like a book. Wasn’t it fine, though, to have Bobby put the class on honor so!”
“Yes,” said Gordon, “though two or three didn’t live up to it.”
“Oh, of course not. There are always a few sneaks in every crowd, but on the whole they did splendidly, I think. But what’s the matter with St. John?”
“Matter? What do you mean?” asked Gordon.
“Why, he’s still pegging away up there, and usually he’s one of the first to finish up,” replied Hamlin.
“Haven’t you noticed how much slower he’s been[255] lately than he was the first of the year? I think the fellow’s worked out,” said Gordon. “Too bad, too, for it will spoil his whole year’s record, if he doesn’t get through these exams. in good shape.”
“Oh, he’ll get through all right enough,” said Hamlin, carelessly.
“Who else was up there when you left?” asked Gordon.
“Only Dixon, Freeman, Lee and Clark. Clark had handed in his paper and was waiting for Freeman. Here they come now.” And the two boys stopped and waited for the other two.
“Bobby certainly is working the self-government plan for all it is worth to-day,” said Freeman, as he and Clark joined the others.
“Anything new?” asked Hamlin.
“He’s left those three, St. John, Lee and Dixon, up there in the room to finish, and told ’em to put their papers in the lower drawer in his desk when they get through; and the last one is to lock the drawer and give him the key in the morning.”
“He certainly is putting them on honor,” said Gordon; “but I guess it’s safe enough with those three fellows.”
The three boys left in the class-room worked on in silence for half an hour. Then Lee had finished his work, and putting his paper in the drawer, he departed, followed a few minutes later by Dixon.[256] Both boys cast wondering glances at St. John, who was usually among the first to pass in his papers, but he paid no attention to them, not seeming even to notice when they left the room.
He had finished all but one of the problems given. That one he had tried in vain to solve. His tired brain would not recall the theorem required. As Dixon left the room, St. John dropped his head on his desk with a weary sigh, but in a moment he started up again, and bent over the question-paper.
“Why can’t I think of it?” he said half aloud. “Of course I know it. I’ve solved that problem no end of times.”
His eye fell on his geometry. He stretched his hand towards it, then drew it back, a hot flush burning on his cheek.
“On honor!” he murmured, and pushing the book aside, he tried again to think out the solution required, but in vain. For half an hour he sat there fighting against the temptation that assailed him. Once he folded his unfinished paper, and started to put it in the drawer; then, remembering how Gordon, Clark and Hamlin had gone off an hour before—with every question correctly answered, he was sure—he dropped back into his seat with a groan.
“I can’t let them get ahead of me, so,” he thought. “I’m really a better scholar than anyone of the lot. It’s just that my head is so dead tired[257]! I really do know every page of that geometry, if I only could think of it—if only I could.”
But he could not, try as he would. Then the janitor looked in at the door, and St. John knew that he wanted to clean the room. He began wearily to put away his papers. Suddenly he reached forward, snatched his geometry, and hurriedly turning the leaves, looked at the theorem that he had been trying to recall. Then, flinging the book aside, he hastily wrote out the explanation on his examination paper, folded it, and flung it carelessly into the drawer, and, forgetting entirely that he was to lock the drawer and keep the key until morning, he picked up his cap and left the room. His paper was all right, he was sure, but already he felt that he had paid too high a price for it.
The examinations that followed were conducted on the same principle as this first one, and Mr. Horton was so well satisfied with the result that he determined that he would never go back to the old watching method again. The Latin examination was held the next week, and, so far as was known, not one boy attempted underhanded methods.
St. John was so thoroughly at home in Latin, that he was among the first to complete his work, and he left the room with a sigh of relief that one more task was over, for he had reached that stage of mental and physical exhaustion when the smallest task[258] seems a load too heavy to be borne, and he was gathering all his energies to finish the Latin essay that was to decide who should hold first rank in the class.
For weeks he had been working ............
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