Marco Paul on the Erie Canal

Chapter VI - Honesty

AFTER Forester and Marco had finished their breakfast, they rambled about for a time to see the village of Canajoharie. They were very much interested in examining some stone arches on the canal side of the river. These arches were evidently part of an unfinished work, which was then in process of building, though Forester could not tell exactly what the work was.

At one place Marco and Forester saw a woman weeding in a garden. They stopped and looked over the fence. The corn in this garden was much higher than the other corn which Marco and Forester had seen along the canal; and as Forester thought the woman seemed pleased to have them notice her garden, he said to her, "Your corn has grown very well."

The woman looked up and smiled, and said something in reply; but neither Forester nor Marco could understand her. It seemed to be only a single word that she spoke, but they could not understand what the word was; so, after looking at the garden a minute or two longer, they walked on.

They came, a moment afterward, to the house to which the garden belonged. There was a little shop in one corner of the house; over the door was a sign, with a boot and a shoe painted upon it, and also some words which Forester thought were Dutch or German.

"Ah !" said Forester, "I presume that woman is a German, and does not understand English; and so she did not know what I said when I spoke to her. I recollect now that I have heard that there are a great many Germans in the valley of the Mohawk, and that some of these green meadows are called German flats."

Forester and Marco walked along, and being at length tired of rambling, they concluded to go to the railroad station, and to wait there until the cars should come. They accordingly went down the stairs at the end of the bridge, to the broad and level area which extended up and down the river, under the end of the bridge, on which the tracks of the railway were laid.

There were three or four tracks at this place, as is usual at stopping-places on railroads.This made the road very wide. On the side opposite to the river, the land rose abruptly toward the village. On the other side there was a narrow space of level land, and then there was a rocky descent down toward the water. On this narrow space was a small building, with a piazza before it. There was a room within to accommodate passengers while waiting for the trains.

Forester and Marco had just finished examining this locality, when suddenly they heard the noise of an engine approaching. It was coming down the road, and presently it appeared with the train which it was drawing, under the bridge; for the office where Forester and Marco were standing was on the lower side of the bridge. This train consisted of such cars as are used by workmen along the road. They looked like square carts on railroad wheels, only instead of being open behind, like a farmer's cart, each one was open at the side. There was a workman seated upon each of these cars, at the open side, with his feet hanging down between the wheels. This train passed rapidly by down the road, and was soon out of sight.

Just at this time, Marco happened to observe a small sail-boat with some boys in it, out upon the river. While he was looking at it, two other boys came down the railroad, under the bridge, and when they got to the corner of the office where Forester and Marco were standing, they saw it too. One of these boys was much smaller than the other, and wore a straw hat.

"See," said the small boy, "there are some fellows out there that have got a boat."

"Yes," said the other boy, "let's go and have a sail with them."

"They won't let us get in," said the small boy.

The boys looked at the boat a minute or two in silence, and then they crept down the bank, near some bushes, where they could see it better. Still they were not so far off as to prevent Marco and Forester from hearing their conversation.

"I'll tell you what we'll do," said the large boy; "we'll cut some poles here in the bushes, and go down to the bank, opposite to where they are, and call out to them to let us come on board; and then you know they'll-see our poles and think they are fishing-poles. Then they'll come and take us on board, because they'll want to see us fish."

"Well," said the small boy, "I will lend you my knife."

So he took out his knife, and the boys both went into the bushes.

In a few minutes they came out again with their poles.

"Where is the boat ?" said the small boy.

"I see it," said the other.

"They have gone down the river," said the small boy. "We will go along down till we get opposite to them."

So the boys walked off with their poles over their shoulders.

The Stratagem

"Let us go too," said Marco, "and see if the boat will come ashore for them."

"No," said Forester, "we will go up the steps to the bridge, and then we can see."

When Marco and Forester got to the top of the stairs they could see the boat very distinctly, and also the two boys with their poles, who were just going down the bank to the edge of the water to try the effect of their stratagem. They could also hear their voices, though they could not distinguish what they said.

However, Marco soon perceived that the cunning device of the two boys upon the shore was successful; for the boat very soon turned in, and proceeded rapidly toward the shore, making a very beautiful appearance.

"That was a good way," said Marco, "to make the boys let them get into their boat."

"Not very," said Forester.

"Why, I think it was very ingenious indeed," said Marco.

"Yes," said Forester, "it was ingenious; but an ingenious plan is not always a good plan."

"Why wasn't this a good plan ?" asked Marco.

"Why, those boys," said Forester, "deceived the others, and now they will not be trusted another time. They have gained one sail by their stratagem, but they have lost their character; and to lose one's character for the sake of a sail on a river in a sail-boat is a very bad bargain. Deception is not a wise tactic."

"It is never wise, is it ?" said Marco.

"Yes," said Forester.

"How ?" said Marco.

"Why, it is wise," said Forester, "to put a chalk egg under a hen, for a nest egg, and that is deception; it is deceiving the hen."

"O, I didn't mean that," said Marco.

"No; I know you did not mean that, but still, if I had said it was never right to attempt to gain any thing by deception, it would have included that. Whenever we say any thing in a sweeping and unqualified manner, we are ln great danger of including something which we don't intend."

"But," said Marco, Vit is never right to deceive men or boys, is what I mean."

"Very well," said Forester, "I don't dispute that."

"And yet, you deceived me once," said Marco.

"When ?" asked his cousin.

"Why, when you took me to the dentist's to have my tooth taken out, without letting me know where I was going."

Marco referred to an incident which occurred just before he left the city of New York with Forester, when Forester took him to the dentist's without letting him know where he was going, until he actually entered the dentist's room. * [Marco Paul in New York, chap. xii.]

"Do you think I deceived you then ?" asked Forester.

"Why, yes," said Marco; "didn't you?""

"We must make a distinction," said Forester, "between deception and concealment. I concealed from you the fact that we were going to a dentist's, but did I do any thing positively to deceive you ?"

"Why, no," said Marco. "I don't know that you did."

"I am very reluctant to resort even to concealment, in the government of a pupil," said Forester; "but I should think deception absolutely wrong. I don't think I shall ever attempt to deceive you; and I shall never attempt to conceal any thing from you, in such a way as I did then, unless it is absolutely necessary. I should have preferred some other mode, if it had been possible to adopt any other."

"What other mode ?" asked Marco.

"There are two plans which I should have preferred," replied Forester. "The best plan of all would have been for you to have told your mother that you would go at any time, of your own accord, and have the tooth extracted. But that you would not do."

"And what would have been the next best plan," said Marco.

"The next best plan would have been," said Forester, "for me to have told you frankly that you must go with me to the dentist's, even if you were unwilling, and then to have taken you there in an open manner."

"And why did you not adopt that plan?" asked Marco.

"Because," replied Forester, "I was afraid to run the risk of it. I did not know how far you would carry your opposition. I thought that perhaps you would absolutely refuse to go, or if I took you there in a carriage, refuse to get out, and so compel me to have you taken out by force. That would have been exceedingly unpleasant, you know. So I was compelled to conceal from you where I was going; but I was very careful not to do any thing to deceive you about it. That would have been more objectionable than the trouble of taking you out of the carriage by force."

"Why ?" said Marco.

"Because," replied Forester, "when you found that I deceived you, you would have distrusted me another time, and I am very unwilling that you should distrust me. I think it probable that you will sometimes attempt to deceive me; but I don't think I shall ever do any thing to deceive you. If that should be so, you will soon get into the habit of placing confidence in me, but I shall lose confidence in you."

"You don't seem to have much confidence in me now," said Marco, "if you think beforehand that I shall try to deceive you."

Forester smiled.

"I have heard," said Marco, "that persons ought to be thought innocent until they are proved guilty."

"No," said Forester, "that is not exactly the rule."

"What is the rule, then ?" asked Marco.

"People ought to be treated as if they were innocent," replied Forester, "until they are proved guilty."

"Well," rejoined Marco, "is not that the same thing ?"

"No," said Forester. "There is a great difference between believing that people are innocent, and treating them as if they are innocent. Persons ought not to be punished or censured until they are proved to have done wrong, but we may suspect them, or even believe they are guilty, when we have reason to believe it, even without absolute proof. Now I have considerable reason to believe that you are not a perfectly honest boy. At the same time I have no positive proof of your dishonesty in any case that has occurred since you came under my care; and, therefore, I treat you as if you were innocent, do I not ?"

"Yes, sir," replied Marco.

"But then," continued Forester, "it would be very foolish for me to believe that you are honest, when I have no reason for believing it. That would be only to expose myself to be deceived."

Marco did not answer.

"Your mother believes that you are an honest boy, doesn't she ?" asked Forester.

"Yes," replied Marco. "I suppose she does."

"And isn't she exposed to be often deceived by you on that account ?"

Marco did not answer.

"Mothers are very unwilling to believe that their sons can deceive them. That is one reason why it is particularly wrong for a boy to attempt to deceive his mother. It is making a very ungrateful return for her kindness and confidence.

"Besides," continued Forester, after a short pause, "it is very unwise to attempt to gain any thing by any false pretenses; for such a course soon destroys one's character. And a good character will help a boy get a great many more enjoyments than any cunning. Cunning will last a little while, but soon exhausts itself; but character will last always. If you could establish a good character with me, so that I could trust you implicitly, I should be able to allow you a much greater degree of liberty than I could if I suspected your honesty. I had a boy with me once who lost his character by one single act of deception."

"What was it ?" asked Marco.

"Why, he knew another boy, who was going one afternoon into the woods a gunning. It was in raspberry time. There are a great many raspberries in the pastures and woods in Vermont."

"Is it raspberry time yet, in Vermont?" asked Marco.

"No," replied Forester. "Raspberry time will not come this month yet. Now Charles," continued Forester,--

"Was the boy's name Charles ?" said Marco.

"Yes," replied Forester, "and he wished to go into the woods with this boy to see him shoot birds. He also wished to fire the gun himself once or twice, if the boy that had the gun would let him."

"What was the boy's name that had the gun ?" asked Marco.

"Jeremiah," replied Forester. "So Charles came to me and asked me if he might go a raspberrying with Jeremiah. I told him, yes. And afterward I found that he had been a gunning."

"Is there any harm in going a gunning ?" asked Marco.

"It is too dangerous an amusement for boys," said Forester. "Charles knew very well that I should not have let him go, if I had known that there was to be a gun in the case."

"It seems to me that this was concealment, and not deception," said Marco.

"It was pretty near the line between the two," replied Forester; "and yet I think it was a decided case of deception. For when he asked me to let him go a raspberrying, he meant to lead me to suppose that that was really the object of the excursion."

"How did you find out that they went a gunning ?" asked Marco.

"Why, first," said Forester, "I noticed something in his air and manner when he asked me to let him go, which did not appear quite frank and open. I did not pay particular attention to it at the time, but I recollected it a few minutes afterward. Then I thought that I would go after him at a distance, so as to keep out of his sight, and yet see where he and Jeremiah would go, and what they would do."

"Well," said Marco, "and did you do it?"

"No," replied Forester; "on second thoughts I concluded that I would not resort to any secret means to discover the truth, but would proceed in a frank and open manner. So I did nothing about it till he came home that night, and then I took him with me to walk in the garden, and there I told him that I had some reason to suspect that he had not been quite honest with me, but that he had had some other object in view that afternoon, in going away with Jeremiah, than to get raspberries."

"And what did he say ?" asked Marco.

"Why, he held down his head and looked guilty, and then presently said that he had been a gunning."

Here there was a pause, during which Marco seemed to be seriously reflecting on what he had heard.

"It is always best to be honest," said Forester; "and I intend on my part always to be honest with you. Whether you will always be honest with me or not, time will show."

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