The first day in the city’s school was torturous for Mary. She had never attended school other than in the rural district. Everything was strange and everybody so different that she felt like rushing back to her uncle’s house and remaining there. Her Aunt Ethel had gone with her the day before to register, but here she was alone, and she did not know where to go nor what to do. A number of students passed her in the halls. Some only gave her a glance, while others made rude remarks. Some of them passing by would jeer at her and say to others, “Look; a regular hayseed,” and these remarks would reach her ears.
She was ready to burst into tears when one of the teachers passed by her and, after conversing with her, led her to the assembly room. How lonesome and fearful she felt, and so out of place! She could not be ashamed of her clothing for she was as well dressed as any of them. Her uncle had been careful to see to that. But all the other students acted free and unassuming, while she felt cramped and awkward.
The first day passed by; the second was not so bad; and by the end of the week Mary had begun to see things differently. Although she was very awkward for awhile, she adapted herself rapidly to surroundings and soon felt very much at home in the city schoolroom.
As she had left school when she was nine years old, she was far behind others of her age, and one great embarrassment was her being in a room with so many younger than herself. But she had a quick brain and went to work so that at the close of the first year of school she had advanced two grades.
Needless to say she was a favorite among all her teachers and all took a special interest in her. This made her schooling pleasant, although she met with many jeers and jestings on the part of the other pupils. At the close of her first term of school she enrolled among the students who attended the summer term and in this way was enabled to take a higher course at the opening of the fall term.
Otis was in school also. His uncle was well pleased with the progress he was making. But his schooling kept him away from home, as he could not make the trip to and from school alone. So he remained in the school, having permission to be home every two weeks. At first Mary could scarcely pass the two weeks by, for since Otis’ birth she had spent very few nights away from him and she missed him. But as her studies increased they occupied so much of her time that she had very little time left to think of Otis being gone. In a few weeks she could look forward to something good when he returned home, for Otis was also being educated in music and his fingers were becoming quite nimble as he swept them over the keyboard of the piano. He delighted in music, so made rapid progress. Mary took instruction also from Aunt Ethel. She could not make the progress Otis made, although she soon could play the hymns they sang at church services. But Mary used her voice and practiced hard. She sang special songs at their church services and in their school assemblies that were greatly appreciated. Roy and Ethel would often look on these two children with all the pride of fond, devoted parents, and thank God that they had taken the rough diamond and tried to polish it. The children were truly endeared to their hearts. All could see Roy had made more room than necessary in his heart for his curly-headed Peachy girl.
Four years passed since Mary and Otis came to live with their uncle and aunt in the city. Roy, Ethel, and Otis were sitting with many other relatives in the large assembly hall, facing a curtained platform. It was Mary’s graduation day, and she was to be valedictorian of her class. Behind that curtain somewhere was Roy’s “Peachy girl.” He leaned forward anxiously as the curtain arose. Yes, there she sat in the front row of seats, her white dress bringing out the blackness of the curls which played about her forehead and temples. She scanned the crowd with her dark eyes, as though searching for some familiar face, and as she caught the wave of her Aunt Ethel’s hand she nodded her head in recognition.
The orchestra played a lively number, as printed programs were distributed among the audience. As Roy scanned its pages he found what made his heart beat a rat-a-tat-tat in his bosom, for there was the name of the one so dear to him—Elsie’s daughter, the one who had crept into his heart when she was only a baby and who now occupied a place there almost equal to that of his companion. He had sacrificed many things. The task had been a difficult one. But as Mary arose before that large audience to render the valedictory address, Roy was delighted and all these things faded away, for the dream of many years’ standing was being realized.
There were other renditions before Mary stepped before that large audience to deliver her oration, “Success, a Lure to Youth.” From the first word to the closing one, Roy sat open-mouthed while tears streamed down his cheeks. “Peachy girl” had chosen a good topic. In opening her address she pictured the future before her hearers, as viewed by the eyes of youth, in such a way that those before her could feel the same longings and desires surging within their own bosoms. A feeling of pride and admiration swept over them as she illustrated her thought with the story of a boy handicapped in his youth, crippled, homeless, penniless, and destitute of what youth might deem necessary to make success. Through it all he followed on after that bright star of hope which ever shone before him, and through constant perseverance reached the success dreamed of in his early youth. Then followed the names of many prominent statesmen and financiers who overcame difficulties, lured on by the bright star, Hope, in making success. Then she paused.
All eyes were centered upon her. None could have recognized in her the awkward country girl, who four years before had entered their city school. She stood before them free and unassuming, seemingly as much at home as though sitting alone with her aunt and uncle in their own home. The audience waited, straining their ears to catch the conclusion of her oration. She stepped to one side gracefully and, leaning toward the audience, elevated her voice as she said, “But some will say there are many noble men and women of whom the world has never heard, and this may be true, but I want to say to you that true greatness of soul and of spirit, though it be clothed in tatters and rags, and nursed in direst poverty, cannot be thwarted in its purpose nor overcome in its determination.”
She lowered her voice as she continued, “In the little city of Bethlehem a Baby was born in a stable, cradled in a manger and lulled to slumber by the lowing of the oxen and the bleating of the sheep.” Then followed a description of the early life of the lowly Galilean, a carpenter’s helper, a wanderer without any place to lay His head and no plot of ground which He could call His own or which might rest His body when it was carried from Golgotha’s hill. “But did He make a success of life?” The question came ringing out over the audience, and many leaned forward to catch the next words. “I say again greatness, though it be clothed in direst poverty, cannot be thwarted nor overcome. His path lay across the pathway of kings and governors, but He could not he stopped. As we look at the innumerable host of earth’s millions who, in catching a glimpse of Golgotha’s hill, fall down and render homage unto the lowly Man of Galilee, we are made to cry out, ‘He succeeded.’ ” She then turned to her classmates and, motioning with her hand to emphasize her statement, said, “We, too, can succeed, for when we are partakers of His goodness and clothed in His greatness that star of hope will lure us on. When we shall have passed from time, and eternity dawns before us, others will say of us as we now say of Him, ‘Theirs was a successful life.’ ”
Mary took her place again among her classmates on the platform while the audience applauded. Roy and Ethel sat still, looking first one way and then another over the audience, while a deafening roar filled the auditorium. Roy could scarcely wait for the conclusion of the program to get to his “Peachy girl,” for she had surely carried off the honors of the day in the rendition of that oration.
But the program was concluded, the diplomas were presented, and Mary was surrounded by her loved ones and many classmates. Friends also crowded around her to congratulate her on the rendition of her address. Among them was Edwin Wheeler, a young minister, who smilingly tendered his congratulations, presenting her with a book also. As Mary smiled into his face, all could see there was a mutual friendliness between them.