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LUKE LARKIN'S LUCK
BY HORATIO ALGER, JR.
THE WATERBURY WATCH
One Saturday afternoon in January a lively and animated group of boys were gathered on the western side of a large pond in the village of Groveton. Prominent among them was a tall, pleasant-looking young man of twenty-two, the teacher of the Center Grammar School, Frederic Hooper, A. B., a recent graduate of Yale College. Evidently there was something of importance on foot. What it was may be learned from the words of the teacher.
"Now, boys," he said, holding in his hand a Waterbury watch, of neat pattern, "I offer this watch as a prize to the boy who will skate across the pond and back in the least time. You will all start together, at a given signal, and make your way to the mark which I have placed at the western end of the lake, skate around it, and return to this point. Do you fully understand?"
"Yes, sir!" exclaimed the boys, unanimously.
Before proceeding, it may be well to refer more particularly to some of the boys who were to engage in the contest.
First, in his own estimation, came Randolph Duncan, son of Prince Duncan, president of the Groveton Bank, and a prominent town official. Prince Duncan was supposed to be a rich man, and lived in a style quite beyond that of his neighbors. Randolph was his only son, a boy of sixteen, and felt that in social position and blue blood he was without a peer in the village. He was a tall, athletic boy, and disposed to act the part of boss among the Groveton boys.
Next came a boy similar in age and physical strength, but in other respects very different from the young aristocrat. This was Luke Larkin, the son of a carpenter's widow, living on narrow means, and so compelled to exercise the strictest economy. Luke worked where he could, helping the farmers in hay-time, and ready to do odd jobs for any one in the village who desired his services. He filled the position of janitor at the school which he attended, sweeping out twice a week and making the fires. He had a pleasant expression, and a bright, resolute look, a warm heart, and a clear intellect, and was probably, in spite of his poverty, the most popular boy in Groveton. In this respect he was the opposite of Randolph Duncan, whose assumption of superiority and desire to "boss" the other boys prevented him from having any real friends. He had two or three companions, who flattered him and submitted to his caprices because they thought it looked well to be on good terms with the young aristocrat.
These two boys were looked upon as the chief contestants for the prize offered by their teacher. Opinions differed as to which would win.
"I think Luke will get the watch," said Fred Acken, a younger boy.
"I don't know about that," said Tom Harper. "Randolph skates just as well, and he has a pair of club skates. His father sent to New York for them last week. They're beauties, I tell you. Randolph says they cost ten dollars."
"Of course that gives him the advantage," said Percy Hall. "Look at Luke's old-fashioned wooden skates! They would be dear at fifty cents!"
"It's a pity Luke hasn't a better pair," said Harry Wright. "I don't think the contest is a fair one. Luke ought to have an allowance of twenty rods, to make up for the difference in skates."
"He wouldn't accept it," said Linton Tomkins, the son of a manufacturer in Groveton, who was an intimate friend of Luke, and preferred to associate with him, though Randolph had made advances toward intimacy, Linton being the only boy in the village whom he regarded as his social equal. "I offered him my club skates, but he said he would take the chances with his own."
Linton was the only boy who had a pair of skates equal to Randolph's. He, too, was a contestant, but, being three years younger than Luke and Randolph, had no expectation of rivaling them.
Randolph had his friends near him, administering the adulation he so much enjoyed.
"I have no doubt you'll get the watch, Randolph," said Sam Noble. "You're a better skater any day than Luke Larkin."
"Of course you are!" chimed in Tom Harper.
"The young janitor doesn't think so," said Randolph, his lips curling.
"Oh, he's conceited enough to think he can beat you, I make no doubt," said Sam.
"On those old skates, too! They look as if Adam might have used them when he was a boy!"
This sally of Tom's created a laugh.
"His skates are old ones, to be sure," said Randolph, who was quick-sighted enough to understand that any remark of this kind might dim the luster of his expected victory. "His skates are old enough, but they are just as good for skating as mine."
"They won't win him the watch, though," said Sam.
"I don't care for the watch myself," said Randolph, loftily. "I've got a silver one now, and am to have a gold one when I'm eighteen. But I want to show that I am the best skater. Besides, father has promised me ten dollars if I win."
"I wish I had ten dollars," said Sam, enviously.
He was the son of the storekeeper, and his father allowed him only ten cents a week pocket-money, so that ten dollars in his eyes was a colossal fortune.
"I have no doubt you would, Sam," said Tom, joyously; "but you couldn't be trusted with so much money. You'd go down to New York and try to buy out A. T. Stewart."
"Are you ready, boys?" asked Mr. Hooper.
Most of the boys responded promptly in the affirmative; but Luke, who had been tightening his straps, said quickly: "I am not ready, Mr. Hooper. My strap has broken!"
"Indeed, Luke, I am sorry to hear it," said the teacher, approaching and examining the fracture. "As matters stand, you can't skate."
Randolph's eyes brightened. Confident as he professed to feel, he knew that his chances of success would be greatly increased by Luke's withdrawal from the list.
"The prize is yours now," whispered Tom.
"It was before," answered Randolph, conceitedly.
Poor Luke looked disappointed. He knew that he had at least an even chance of winning, and he wanted the watch. Several of his friends of his own age had watches, either silver or Waterbury, and this seemed, in his circumstances, the only chance of securing one. Now he was apparently barred out.
"It's a pity you shouldn't skate, Luke," said Mr. Hooper, in a tone of sympathy. "You are one of the best skaters, and had an excellent chance of winning the prize. Is there any boy willing to lend Luke his skates?"
"I will," said Frank Acken.
"My dear boy," said the teacher, "you forget that your feet are several sizes smaller than Luke's."
"I didn't think of that," replied Frank, who was only twelve years old.
"You may use my skates, Luke," said Linton Tomkins. "I think they will fit you."
Linton was only thirteen, but he was unusually large for his age.
"You are very kind, Linton," said Luke, "but that will keep you out of the race."
"I stand no chance of winning," said Linton, "and I will do my skating afterward."
"I don't think that fair," said Randolph, with a frown. "Each boy ought to use his own skates."
"There is nothing unfair about it," said the teacher, "except that Luke is placed at disadvantage in using a pair of skates he is unaccustomed to."
Randolph did not dare gainsay the teacher, but he looked sullen.
"Mr. Hooper is always favoring that beggar!" he said in a low voice, to Tom Harper.
"Of course he is!" chimed in the toady.
"You are very kind, Linny," said Luke, regarding his friend affectionately. "I won't soon forget it."
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