Story type: Literature
“Doctor, what shall I do? My father wants me to tend bar on Sunday. I am doing it nights, but Sunday–I don’t want to. What shall I do?”
The pastor of Olivet Church looked kindly at the lad who stood before him, cap in hand. The last of the Sunday-school had trailed out; the boy had waited for this opportunity. Dr. Schauffler knew and liked him as one of his bright boys. He knew, too, his home–the sordid, hard-fisted German father and his patient, long-suffering mother.
“What do you think yourself, Karl?”
“I don’t want to, Doctor. I know it is wrong.”
“All right then, don’t.”
“But he will kick me out and never take me back. He told me so, and he’ll do it.”
The boy’s face flushed. At fourteen, to decide between home and duty is not easy. And there was his mother. Knowing him, the Doctor let him fight it out alone. Presently he squared his shoulders as one who has made his choice.
“I can’t help it if he does,” he said; “it isn’t right to ask me.”
“If he does, come straight here. Good-by!”
Sunday night the door-bell of the pastor’s study rang sharply. The Doctor laid down his book and answered it himself. On the threshold stood Karl with a small bundle done up in a bandana handkerchief.
“Well, I am fired,” he said.
“Come in, then. I’ll see you through.”
The boy brought in his bundle. It contained a shirt, three collars, and a pair of socks, hastily gathered up in his retreat. The Doctor hefted it.
“Going light,” he smiled. “Men fight better for it sometimes. Great battles have been won without baggage trains.”
The boy looked soberly at his all.
“I have got to win now, Doctor. Get me a job, will you?”
Things moved swiftly with Karl from that Sunday. Monday morning saw him at work as errand-boy in an office, earning enough for his keep at the boarding-house where his mother found him at times when his father was alone keeping bar. That night he registered at the nearest evening school to complete his course. The Doctor kept a grip on his studies, as he had promised, and saw him through. It was not easy sledding, but it was better than the smelly saloon. From the public school he graduated into the Cooper Institute, where his teachers soon took notice of the wide-awake lad. Karl was finding himself. He took naturally to the study of languages, and threw himself into it with all the ardor of an army marching without baggage train to meet an enemy. He had “got to win,” and he did. All the while he earned his living working as a clerk by day–with very little baggage yet to boast of–and sitting up nights with his books. When he graduated from the Institute, the battle was half won.
The other half he fought on his own ground, with the enemy’s tents in sight. His attainments procured for him a place in the Lenox Library, where his opportunity for reading was limited only by his ambition. He made American history and literature his special study, and in the course of time achieved great distinction in his field. “And they were married and lived happily ever after” might by right be added to his story. He did marry an East Side girl who had been his sweetheart while he was fighting his uphill battle, and they have to-day two daughters attending college.
It is the drawback to these stories that, being true, they must respect the privacy of their heroes. If that were not so, I should tell you that this hero’s name is not Karl, but one much better befitting his fight and his victory; that he was chosen historian of his home State, and held the office with credit until spoils politics thrust him aside, and that he lives to-day in the capital city of another State, an authority whose word is not lightly questioned on any matter pertaining to Americana. That is the record of the East Side boy who was driven from home for refusing to tend bar in his father’s saloon on Sunday because it was not right.
He never saw his father again. He tried more than once, but the door of his home was barred against him. Not with his mother’s consent; in long after years, when once again Dr. Schauffler preached at Olivet, a little German woman came up after the sermon and held out her hand to him.
“You made my Karl a man,” she said.
“No,” replied the preacher, soberly, “God made him.”