Read PART III : CHAPTER X of The Soul of a Child, free online book, by Edwin Bjorkman, on ReadCentral.com.

The school year was drawing to its close again Dally’s tone grew less bantering. On several occasions he delivered little impromptu sermons on the seriousness of life and the difficulties of living. One afternoon about two weeks before commencement he told them to close their books.

“I want each one of you to tell me what you expect to become in life, or what kind of a career your parents have chosen for you.”

A stir of excitement swept over the class.

Then Dally went on to explain why he wished to know. The first three grades were divided into A and B classes, but that had nothing to do with the teaching, which was the same in both classes. The fourth and fifth grades, on the other hand, were divided into a “Latin” and an “English” branch, with quite different curricula. Boys headed for the various professions ought to choose the former branch, while the second one led to more practical pursuits.

“You are going to be an officer, I understand.” Dally said, turning to primus.

“Yes, sir,” the young Jew answered with a self-importance that even Keith could not miss. “My father wants me to try for the General Staff, and so I have to specialize on mathematics.”

“Humph,” was Dally’s only audible comment as he made a note, but he looked as if he had tasted something unpleasant.

“And you, Wellander,” asked the teacher.

“I am going to be an explorer,” replied Keith without moment’s hesitation, and the whole class broke into a roar of laughter with Dally joining them.

Keith, as usual, blushed a deep crimson, but did not move.

“That’s neither a trade nor a profession,” said Dally after a while, still smiling. “I fear you are fuzzy-wuzzying again, Wellander. What do you mean by an explorer?”

“One who explores rivers and deserts and unknown countries and such things,” said Keith brazenly.

“And you really mean that you are going in for that sort of thing?”

“I do,” Keith insisted, while the whole class watched him in a hush that might easily turn either into derision or into approval.

“There isn’t much exploring left to be done,” Dally mused, looking intently at the small boy at the other end of the room. “Most of the globe is mapped already.”

“There is a lot left in Africa,” Keith retorted eagerly.

“And what does your father say about it,” was Dally’s next question.

There was a long pause broken only by some gigglings by the irrépressibles down at the bottom of the class.

“I have not asked him,” Keith admitted at last. “But I am going to be an explorer just the same.”

“In these days that means you have to become a scientist,” Dally remarked in a changed tone. “It is your only chance, and so I advise you to choose Latin. It is what I think a boy with your head should take anyhow.”

“All right, Sir,” assented Keith, flattered by the last part of Dally’s remark and utterly ignorant of what his choice implied.

That evening he told his father that he had been asked whether he wanted to enter the Latin or the English branch of the fourth grade, and that he had chosen the former.

“Why,” asked his father.

“Because Dally says I ought to,” replied Keith.

“Well, he ought to know,” said the father.

But when Keith appeared in the schoolyard during one of the pauses next day, he was met from every side by the cry:

“There’s the explorer! There’s the explorer!”

The younger boys jeered openly at him. The older ones pretended to ask him serious questions about his plans. For days he was the laughing stock of the whole school, and even on his way to and from school he was pursued by jibes and taunts. Through it all Keith stuck quietly to his guns, without a sign of retraction or evasion. And in the end his seriousness conquered. But from that day he was known to the entire school as “the explorer,” and he heard that term more often than his own name.