If he only had twenty-five cents more! Guy had opened his bank and poured the coins out upon the floor. There was a shining fifty cent piece that Uncle Ben had given film on his birthday. Besides this he found that he had one dime, two nickels, and five pennies. And the baseball in the store Window—just the kind the big teams used, but marked down because it was a year old and shopworn—cost one dollar!
To be sure, he had a small allowance, which his father gave him every week. If he saved that, the prize would soon be his. But there were always other things to tease the coins out of his pocket. Sometimes it was marbles; sometimes it was tops; sometimes it was fruit or popcorn. Last Saturday the savings of five weeks had gone for a water pistol. It was too hard work and too slow to save.
Besides his allowance his father gave him an extra nickel whenever he brought home perfect papers in arithmetic for three days in succession. Guy was clever with figures, but he was apt to be careless. Some nights he was too lazy to look over his examples. Some days he played too long and then hurried through his lesson. As a result, before the third day came he had left out a figure, or made a mistake in multiplying, or failed somewhere. So that way of leaking up what he lacked did not seem to be hopeful.
Just then he heard a voice in the yard.
Guy put his head out of the window. "Hello, Billy," he replied. "What's up?"
"Have you got a decent ball? Look at this!" And Billy held up a shapeless mass from which some bits of string were flying. "Aunt Polly thinks she knows a lot about balls. She bought this at a cheap store yesterday. Isn't it a beauty! And now Bob Nichols's nine has challenged ours to play after school, and not one of us has a ball that you can bat twice without making it look like a potato!"
"I wish I had," replied Guy ruefully, "but I haven't. I know what I can do, though," he added as a bright idea struck him "There's a league ball at old Barber's store that costs only a dollar. I've got seventy-five cents and I'll borrow the rest from Mother. You get the fellows out on the field and I'll be with you in ten minutes."
"Great!" exclaimed Billy. "Hurry up, though It's half past ten already, and I have to be home in time for dinner. If I'm late, I can't ride my bicycle the next day."
Billy vanished around the corner of the house. Guy could hear him calling for the other boys. Gathering up the little heap of coins, he stuffed them into his pocket and started downstairs.
"Mother!" he called. There was no answer.
"Mother! O bother! I remember. She went down town. And I can't wait! The fellows will be on the field in five minutes; and if we don't practice, we'll be beaten this afternoon!"
As he plunged into the living-room, he saw that his mother's desk was open. On it lay her purse. Just the thing! Without stopping to think, he opened the catch and poured out the contents. His mother had paid the milkman and the grocer that morning, and there were just forty-nine cents left.
Guy picked up a quarter, slipped it into his pocket, and started for the store. Then something stopped him. Had he any right to take the money? To be sure, he meant to borrow it, and pay it back out of his allowance. His mother, he felt sure, would be willing to help him. Still, she might object. Well, what was the use of telling her, then? The chances were that she would never miss that small amount of change. In any event, he must have the ball now. He could settle all these matters later. In five minutes the league ball was in his hand, and he was hailed with a shout by the members of his nine as he came running out upon the field.
That night his father came home smiling. "What do you think I've got for you, Guy?" he asked, putting his hand upon a bulging pocket. The next moment he brought out—a league ball, just the kind Guy had bought in the afternoon, only quite new!
"Bob, you will ruin us!" exclaimed his wife. "Just think what such balls cost! But it is just what Guy wanted, wasn't it?" And she patted Guy's tousled hair, for she was quite as happy over the gift as Father Bob.
"O—" stammered Guy, "thank you, father—ever so much! But—"
"But what? Is there anything wrong with it? There can't be. It is the best that money can buy. You see, Mother," he went on, "I want Guy to be a first-class ball player. When he goes to college, I hope he will play well enough to get on the nine. I planned to surprise him when I found that his old ball had lost its cover. Then on the way home to-day I met his teacher. He told me that Guy was doing much better. If he has not brought home perfect papers, they have nearly all been above ninety, and two this week were ninety-five. So I thought I would get the ball, even if I do have to walk to the office for a while and save car fares. By the way, Guy, whose ball were you playing with this afternoon? I saw you on the field as I came by. I thought none of the boys had a good one."
Guy's face turned crimson. "Well—you see—Father—that is—it was mine."
"Yours! How did you get it?"
"I—I had seventy-five cents in my bank," began Guy; "and old Barber—the man, you know, who keeps the little store around the corner—had a last year's ball that was only a dollar; and—and I bought it.
"Bought it! How did you buy a dollar ball for sevcnty-five cents?"
"I—well—I called Mother, and she wasn't here; and her purse lay on the desk, and—I borrowed the rest."
"Borrowed it! Without asking if you might? My boy, do you know that such an act is a kind of first cousin to stealing?"
Guy hung his head. "I meant to pay it back, Father," he said slowly; "I did, honestly."
"I know you did. I'm proud of you because you told me, and because I do not believe for one moment that my boy is a thief. It is only that when people want things as much as you wanted your ball, and are too impatient to wait to earn them, they make bad mistakes sometimes—mistakes that cost them terribly all their lives. I knew a man once that borrowed—so he said—some money out of the drawer in the store where he was working. But he never asked the owner whether he might do so, and as they caught him before he told, the police declined to believe him, and put him in jail. He never got over that. People tried to help him; but neither he nor they could forget, and the man's face was sad until he died."
Guy was silent for a moment. Then he said; "I'm sorry, Father. I won't do it again."
"I'm sure you won't But what shall I do with this new ball?"
"Take it back."
"And Mother's money?"
"I'll earn that! May I? I know I can get perfect papers in school if I work hard enough. And I'll run errands, and mow the lawn, and keep the weeds out of Mother's flowers, and do everything she asks me. May I? I'd take my ball back if I could; but I can't. It's all grass stains now."
"May he, Mother?" asked his father. "To be sure, Guy, you ought to run the errands and do all those things without being paid for them. We all have to work for each other in a home. Think! Mother has cooked all your meals and mended your clothes for the past year. She was up with you night after night when you had scarlet fever. Have you paid her for these?"
"O let him, Bob," exclaimed his mother. "He will earn the money, I am sure."
"I will, Father. I'll tell you! I'll pay Mother back twice what I borrowed," said Guy, looking up into his father's face eagerly.
"All right. Only no more borrowing of that kind, Guy! Never touch a penny that is not your own."
Guy was as good as his word. It took what seemed to him a long time to earn the money, but he did it.
One day as he and his father were passing the jail, he looked at the great stone walls, and the thick iron bars that covered the windows.
"Was it in there, Father," he asked.
For a moment his father could not think what Guy meant. Then he remembered.
"Yes. The man was there nearly a year."
Guy drew a long breath. A whole year! Neither spoke for a few minutes. Then Guy said; "Wasn't it a pity that somebody did not teach him to be honest when he was a boy!"
|—HENRY Hallam TWEEDY.|
They that deal truly are his delight.
—Proverbs xii. 22.