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Little Men

4. Stepping-Stones
When Nat went into school on Monday morning, he quaked inwardly, for now he
thought he should have to display his ignorance before them all. But Mr. Bhaer
gave him a seat in the deep window, where he could turn his back on the others,
and Franz heard him say his lessons there, so no one could hear his blunders or
see how he blotted his copybook. He was truly grateful for this, and toiled away
so diligently that Mr. Bhaer said, smiling, when he saw his hot face and inky
"Don't work so hard, my boy; you will tire yourself out, and there is time enough."
"But I must work hard, or I can't catch up with the others. They know heaps, and I
don't know anything," said Nat, who had been reduced to a state of despair by
hearing the boys recite their grammar, history, and geography with what he
thought amazing ease and accuracy.
"You know a good many things which they don't," said Mr. Bhaer, sitting down
beside him, while Franz led a class of small students through the intricacies of
the multiplication table.
"Do I?" and Nat looked utterly incredulous.
"Yes; for one thing, you can keep your temper, and Jack, who is quick at
numbers, cannot; that is an excellent lesson, and I think you have learned it well.
Then, you can play the violin, and not one of the lads can, though they want to do
it very much. But, best of all, Nat, you really care to learn something, and that is
half the battle. It seems hard at first, and you will feel discouraged, but plod
away, and things will get easier and easier as you go on."
Nat's face had brightened more and more as he listened, for, small as the list of
his learning was, it cheered him immensely to feel that he had anything to fall
back upon. "Yes, I can keep my temper father's beating taught me that; and I can
fiddle, though I don't know where the Bay of Biscay is," he thought, with a sense
of comfort impossible to express. Then he said aloud, and so earnestly that Demi
heard him:
"I do want to learn, and I will try. I never went to school, but I couldn't help it; and
if the fellows don't laugh at me, I guess I'll get on first rate you and the lady are
so good to me."
"They shan't laugh at you; if they do, I'll I'll tell them not to," cried Demi, quite
forgetting where he was.
The class stopped in the middle of 7 times 9, and everyone looked up to see
what was going on.
Thinking that a lesson in learning to help one another was better than arithmetic
just then, Mr. Bhaer told them about Nat, making such an interesting and
touching little story out of it that the good-hearted lads all promised to lend him a
hand, and felt quite honored to be called upon to impart their stores of wisdom to
the chap who fiddled so capitally. This appeal established the right feeling among
them, and Nat had few hindrances to struggle against, for every one was glad to
give him a "boost" up the ladder of learning.