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Under the Lilacs

Speaking Pieces
The first of September came all too soon, and school began. Among the boys and girls
who went trooping up to the "East Corner knowledge-box," as they called it, was our
friend Ben, with a pile of neat books under his arm. He felt very strange, and decidedly
shy; but put on a bold face, and let nobody guess that, though nearly thirteen, he had
never been to school before. Miss Celia had told his story to Teacher, and she, being a
kind little woman, with young brothers of her own, made things as easy for him as she
could. In reading and writing he did very well, and proudly took his place among lads of
his own age; but when it came to arithmetic and geography, he had to go down a long
way, and begin almost at the beginning, in spite of Thorny's efforts to "tool him along
fast." It mortified him sadly, but there was no help for it; and in some of the classes he
had dear little Betty to console with him when he failed, and smile contentedly when he
got above her, as he soon began to do, -- for she was not a quick child, and plodded
through First Parts long after sister Bab was flourishing away among girls much older
than herself.
Fortunately, Ben was a short boy and a clever one, so he did not look out of place among
the ten and eleven year olders, and fell upon his lessons with the same resolution with
which he used to take a new leap, or practise patiently till he could touch his heels with
his head. That sort of exercise had given him a strong, elastic little body; this kind was to
train his mind, and make its faculties as useful, quick and sure, as the obedient muscles,
nerves and eye, which kept him safe where others would have broken their necks. He
knew this, and found much consolation in the fact that, though mental arithmetic was a
hopeless task, he could turn a dozen somersaults, and come up as steady as a judge.
When the boys laughed at him for saying that China was in Africa, he routed them
entirely by his superior knowledge of the animals belonging to that wild country; and
when "First class in reading" was called, he marched up with the proud consciousness
that the shortest boy in it did better than tall Moses Towne or fat Sam Kitteridge.
Teacher praised him all she honestly could, and corrected his many blunders so quietly
that he soon ceased to be a deep, distressful red during recitation, and tugged away so
manfully that no one could help respecting him for his efforts, and trying to make light of
his failures. So the first hard week went by, and though the boy's heart had sunk many a
time at the prospect of a protracted wrestle with his own ignorance, he made up his mind
to win, and went at it again on the Monday with fresh zeal, all the better and braver for a
good, cheery talk with Miss Celia in the Sunday evening twilight.
He did not tell her one of his greatest trials, however, because he thought she could not
help him there. Some of the children rather looked down upon him, called him "tramp"
and "beggar," twitted him with having been a circus boy, and lived in a tent like a gypsy.
They did not mean to be cruel, but did it for the sake of teasing, never stopping to think
how much such sport can make a fellow-creature suffer. Being a plucky fellow, Ben
pretended not to mind; but he did feel it keenly, because he wanted to start afresh, and be
like other boys. He was not ashamed of the old life; but, finding those around him