A Dog with a Bad Name
By Talbot Baines Reed The story opens in a rather run-down school. There is an unfortunate incident in which a boy is almost killed, and a boy of the name of Jeffreys, not a very popular chap, is held to have been responsible.
Thus the dog acquires a bad name. Throughout the next few years of Jeffreys' life this incident is brought up against him. He is brought lower and lower, till eventually he finds somewhere to live in the utmost poverty, amongst the very poor. Here by a twist of fortune he ends up looking after some abandoned children. There is a fire, and he rescues somebody, but it is only when he gets that person back to his room that he realises it is the very person whom he had almost killed all those years before.
This book is very well written. I have been wondering whether it is a book for teenagers, or a book for adults, and have come to the conclusion that it's for teenagers, but only the really bright ones, as there is so much food for thought in it. NH. A DOG WITH A BAD NAME
BY TALBOT BAINES REED
Bolsover College was in a bad temper. It often was; for as a rule it had little else to do; and what it had, was usually a less congenial occupation.
Bolsover, in fact, was a school which sadly needed two trifling reforms before it could be expected to do much good in the world. One was, that all its masters should be dismissed; the other was, that all its boys should be expelled. When these little changes had been effected there was every chance of turning the place into a creditable school; but not much chance otherwise.
For Bolsover College was afflicted with dry-rot. The mischief had begun not last term or the term before. Years ago it had begun to eat into the place, and every year it grew more incurable. Occasional efforts had been made to patch things up. A boy had been now and then expelled. A master had now and then "resigned." An old rule had now and then been enforced. A new rule was now and then instituted. But you can't patch up a dry-rot, and Bolsover crumbled more and more the oftener it was touched.
Years ago it had dropped out of the race with the other public-schools. Its name had disappeared from the pass list of the University and Civil Service candidates. Scarcely a human being knew the name of its head- master; and no assistant-master was ever known to make Bolsover a stepping-stone to pedagogic promotion. The athletic world knew nothing of a Bolsover Eleven or Fifteen; and, worse still, no Bolsover boy was ever found who was proud either of his school or of himself.
Somebody asks, why, if the place was in such a bad way, did parents continue to send their boys there, when they had all the public-schools in England to choose from? To that the answer is very simple. Bolsover was cheap—horribly cheap!
"A high class public-school education," to quote the words of the prospectus, "with generous board and lodging, in a beautiful midland county, in a noble building with every modern advantage; gymnasium, cricket-field, and a full staff of professors and masters," for something under forty pounds a year, was a chance not to be snuffed at by an economical parent or guardian. And when to these attractions was promised "a strict attention to morals, and a supervision of wardrobes by an experienced matron," even the hearts of mothers went out towards the place.
After all, argues many an easy-going parent, a public-school education is a public-school education, whether dear Benjamin gets it at Eton, or Shrewsbury, or Bolsover. We cannot afford Eton or Shrewsbury, but we will make a pinch and send him to Bolsover, which sounds almost as good and may even be better.
So to Bolsover dear Benjamin goes, and becomes a public-school boy. In that "noble building" he does pretty much as he likes, and eats very much what he can. The "full staff of professors and masters" interfere very little with his liberty, and the "attention to morals" is never inconveniently obtruded. He goes home pale for the holidays and comes back paler each term. He scuffles about now and then in the play-ground and calls it athletics. He gets up Caesar with a crib and Todhunter with a key, and calls it classics and mathematics. He loafs about with a toady and calls it friendship. In short, he catches the Bolsover dry- rot, and calls it a public-school training:
What is it makes Benjamin and his seventy-nine school-fellows (for Bolsover had its full number of eighty boys this term) in such a particularly ill-humour this grey October morning? Have his professors and masters gently hinted to him that he is expected to know his lessons next time he goes into class? Or has the experienced matron been overdoing her attention to his morals? Ask him. "What!" he says, "don't you know what the row is? It's enough to make anybody shirty. Frampton, this new head-master, you know, he's only been here a week or two, he's going to upset everything. I wish to goodness old Mullany had stuck on, cad as he was. He let us alone, but this beast Frampton's smashing the place up. What do you think?—you'd never guess, he's made a rule the fellows are all to tub every morning, whether they like it or not. What do you call that? I know I'll get my governor to make a row about it. It won't wash, I can tell you. What business has he to make us tub, eh, do you hear? That's only one thing. He came and jawed us in the big room this morning, and said he meant to make football compulsory! There! You needn't gape as if you thought I was gammoning. I'm not, I mean it. Football's to be compulsory. Every man Jack's got to play, whether he can or not. I call it brutal! The only thing is, it won't be done. The fellows will kick. I shall. I'm not going to play football to please a cad like Frampton, or any other cad!"
What Benjamin says is, for a wonder, the truth. A curious change had come over Bolsover since the end of last term. Old Mr Mullany, good old fossil that he was, had resigned. The boys had heard casually of the event at the end of last term. But the old gentleman so seldom appeared in their midst, and when he did, so rarely made any show of authority, that the school had grown to look upon him as an inoffensive old fogey, whose movements made very little difference to anybody.
It was not till the holidays were over, and Mr Frampton introduced himself as the new head-master, that Bolsover awoke to the knowledge that a change had taken place. Mr Frampton—he was not even a "Doctor" or a "Reverend," but was a young man with sandy whiskers, and a red tie—had a few ideas of his own on the subject of dry-rot. He evidently preferred ripping up entire floors to patching single planks, and he positively scared his colleagues and pupils by the way he set to work. He was young and enthusiastic, and was perhaps tempted to overdo things at first. When people are being reformed, they need a little breathing time now and then; but Mr Frampton seemed to forget it.
He had barely been in his post a week when two of the under-masters resigned their posts. Undaunted he brought over two new men, who shared his own ideas, and installed them into the vacancies. Then three more of the old masters resigned; and three more new men took their places. Then the "experienced matron" resigned, and Mrs Frampton took her place. No sooner was that done than the order went out that every boy should have a cold bath every morning, unless excused by the doctor. The school couldn't resign, so they sulked, and gasped in the unwelcome element, and coughed heart-rendingly whenever they met the tyrant. The tyrant was insatiate. Before the school could recover from his first shock, the decree for compulsory football staggered it.
Compulsory football! Why, half the fellows in the school had never put their toes to a football in their lives, and those who had had rarely done more than punt the leather aimlessly about, when they felt in the humour to kick something, and nobody or nothing more convenient was at hand. But it was useless to represent this to Mr Frampton.
"The sooner you begin to play the better," was his reply to all such objections.
But the old goal posts were broken, and the ball was flabby and nearly worn-out.
"The new goals and ball are to arrive from London to-day."
But they had not got flannels or proper clothes to play in.
"They must get flannels. Every boy must have flannels, and meanwhile they must wear the oldest shirts and trousers they had."
Shirts and trousers! Then they weren't even to be allowed to wear coats and waistcoats this chilly weather! Hadn't they better wait till next week, till they could ask leave of their parents, and get their flannels and practise a bit?
"No. Between now and Saturday they would have two clear days to practise. On Saturday, the Sixth would play the School at three o'clock."
And Mr Frampton, there being nothing more to say on this subject, went off to see what his next pleasant little surprise should be. Bolsover, meanwhile, snarled over the matter in ill-tempered conclaves in the play-ground.
"It's simple humbug," said Farfield, one of the Sixth. "I defy him to make me play if I don't choose."
"I shall stand with my hands in my pockets, and not move an inch," said another.
"I mean to sit down on the grass and have a nap," said a third.
"All very well," said a youngster, called Forrester; "if you can get all the other fellows to do the same. But if some of them play, it'll look as if you funked it."
"Who cares what it looks like?" said Farfield. "It will look like not being made to do what they've no right to make us do—that's all I care about."
"Well, I don't know," said Pridger, another of the Sixth; "if it came to the School licking us, I fancy I'd try to prevent that."
"And if it came to the Sixth licking us," said young Forrester, who was of the audacious order, "I fancy I'd try to put a stopper on that."
There was a smile at this, for the valiant junior was small for his age, and flimsily built. Smiles, however, were not the order of the day, and for the most part Bolsover brooded over her tribulations in sulky silence.
The boys had not much in common, and even a calamity like the present failed to bring them together. The big boys mooned about and thought of their lost liberties, of the afternoons in the tuck-shop, of the yellow- backed novels under the trees, of the loafings down town, and wondered if they should ever be happy again. The little boys—some of them—wept secretly in corners, as they pictured themselves among the killed and wounded on the terrible football field. And as the sharp October wind cut across the play-ground, they shuddered, great and small, at the prospect of standing there on Saturday, without coats or waistcoats, and wondered if Frampton was designedly dooming them to premature graves.
A few, a very few, of the more sensible ones, tried to knock up a little practice game and prepare themselves for the terrible ordeal. Among these were two boys belonging to the group whose conversation the reader has already overheard.
One of them, young Forrester, has already been introduced. Junior as he was, he was a favourite all over Bolsover, for he was about the only boy in the school who was always in good spirits, and did not seem to be infected with the universal dry-rot of the place. He was a small, handsome boy, older indeed then he looked (for he was nearly fifteen), not particularly clever or particularly jocular. To look at him you would have thought him delicate, but there was nothing feeble in his manner. He looked you straight in the face with a pair of brown saucy eyes; he was ready to break his neck to oblige any one; and his pocket- money (fancy a Bolsover boy having pocket-money!) was common property. Altogether he was a phenomenon at Bolsover, and fellows took to him instinctively, as fellows often do take to one whose character and disposition are a contrast to their own. Besides this, young Forrester was neither a prig nor a toady, and devoted himself to no one in particular, so that everybody had the benefit of his good spirits, and enjoyed his pranks impartially.
The other boy, who appeared to be about eighteen or nineteen, was of a different kind. He, too, was a cut above the average Bolsoverian, for he was clever, and had a mind of his own. But he acted almost entirely on antipathies. He disliked everybody, except, perhaps, young Forrester, and he found fault with everything. Scarfe—that was his name was a Sixth Form boy, who did the right thing because he disliked doing what everybody else did, which was usually the wrong. He disliked his school-fellows, and therefore was not displeased with Mr Frampton's reforms; but he disliked Mr Frampton and the new masters, and therefore hoped the school would resist their authority. As for what he himself should do, that would depend on which particular antipathy was uppermost when the time came.
Curiously enough, Bolsover by no means disliked Scarfe. They rather respected a fellow who had ideas of his own, when they themselves had so few; and as each boy, as a rule, could sympathise with his dislike of everybody else, with one exception, he found plenty of adherents and not a few toadies.
Forrester was about the only boy he really did not dislike, because Forrester did not care twopence whether any one liked him or not, and he himself was quite fond of Scarfe.
"What do you think the fellows will do?" said the junior, after attempting for the sixth time to "drop" the ball over the goal without success.
"Why, obey, of course," said Scarfe scornfully.
"I suppose so."
"Why, I thought you were going to stick out."
"No doubt a lot of the fellows would like it if I did. They always like somebody else to do what they don't care to do themselves."
"Well, you and I'll be on different sides," said the youngster, making another vain attempt at the goal. "I'm sorry for you, my boy."
"So am I; I'd like to see the Sixth beaten. But there's not much chance of it if the kicking's left to you."
"I tell you what," said Forrester, ignoring the gibe. "I'm curious to know what Cad Jeffreys means to do. We're bound to have some fun if he's in it."
"Cad Jeffreys," said Scarfe, with a slight increase of scorn in his face and voice, "will probably assist the School by playing for the Sixth."
"I hear he nearly drowned himself in the bath the first day, and half scragged Shrimpton for grinning at him. If he gets on as well at football, Frampton will have something to answer for. Why, here he comes."
"Suppose you invite him to come and have a knock up with the ball," suggested the senior.
The figure which approached the couple was one which, familiar as it was to Bolsover, would have struck a stranger as remarkable. A big youth, so disproportionately built as to appear almost deformed, till you noticed that his shoulders were unusually broad and his feet and hands unusually large. Whether from indolence or infirmity it was hard to say, his gait was shambling and awkward, and the strength that lurked in his big limbs and chest seemed to unsteady him as he floundered top- heavily across the play-ground. But his face was the most remarkable part about him. The forehead, which overhung his small, keen eyes, was large and wrinkled. His nose was flat, and his thick, restless lips seemed to be engaged in an endless struggle to compel a steadiness they never attained. It was an unattractive face, with little to redeem it from being hideous. The power in it seemed all to centre in its angry brow, and the softness in its restless mouth. The balance was bad, and the general impression forbidding. Jeffreys was nineteen, but looked older, for he had whiskers—an unpardonable sin in the eyes of Bolsover—and was even a little bald. His voice was deep and loud. A stranger would have mistaken him for an inferior master, or, judging from his shabby garments, a common gardener.
Those who knew him were in no danger of making that mistake. No boy was more generally hated. How he came by his name of Cad Jeffreys no one knew, except that no other name could possibly describe him. The small boys whispered to one another that once on a time he had murdered his mother, or somebody. The curious discovered that he was a lineal descendant of Judge Jeffreys, of hanging celebrity. The seniors represented him as a cross between Nero and Caliban, and could not forgive him for being head classic.
The one thing fellows could appreciate in him was his temper. A child in arms, if he knew the way, could get a rise out of Cad Jeffreys, and in these dull times that was something to be thankful for.
Forrester was perhaps the most expert of Jeffreys' enemies. He worried the Cad not so much out of spite as because it amused him, and, like the nimble matador, he kept well out of reach of the bull all the time he was firing shots at him.
"Hullo, Jeff!" he called out, as the Cad approached. "Are you going to play in the match on Saturday?"
"No," said Jeffreys.
"You're not? Haven't you got any old clothes to play in?"
Jeffreys' brow darkened. He glanced down at his own shabby garments, and then at Scarfe's neat suit.
"I've got flannels," he said.
"Flannels! Why don't you play, then? Do you think you won't look well in flannels? He would, wouldn't he, Scarfe?"
"I don't see how he could look better than he does now," replied Scarfe, looking at the figure before him. Then noticing the black looks on his enemy's face, he added—
"Forrester and I were having a little practice at kicking, Jeff. You may as well join us, whether you play in the match or not."
"Why, are you going to play?" asked Jeffreys, not heeding the invitation. "Frampton has no right to make us do it."
"Why not? He's head-master. Besides, you can get a doctor's certificate if you like."
"No, I can't; I'm not ill."
"Then you'll have to play, of course. Everybody will, and you'd better come and practise with us now. Do you know how to play?"
"Of course I do," said Jeffreys, "I've played at home."
"All serene. Have a shot at the goal, then."
The Cad's experience of football at home must have been of a humble description, for his attempt at a kick now was a terrible fiasco. He missed the ball completely, and, losing his balance at the same time, fell heavily to the ground.
"Bravo!" cried Forrester, "I wish I'd learnt football at home; I couldn't do that to save my life."
"I slipped," said Jeffreys, rising slowly to his feet, and flushing crimson.
"Did you?" said the irreverent youth. "I thought it was part of the play. Stand out of the way, though, while I take a shot."
Before, however, Jeffreys could step aside, a neat and, for a wonder, accurate drop-kick from Forrester sent the ball violently against the side of the unwieldy senior's head, knocking off his hat and nearly precipitating him a second time to the earth.
The storm fairly burst now. As the fleet-footed junior darted past him the other struck out wildly; but missing his blow, he seized the ball and gave a furious kick in the direction of the retreating enemy.
It was a fine drop-kick, and soared far over the head of its intended victim, straight between the goal posts, an undoubted and brilliant goal.
Forrester stopped his retreat to applaud, and Scarfe scornfully joined. "Awfully good," said he; "you certainly must play on Saturday. We've nobody can kick like that."
"I meant it to hit Forrester," said Jeffreys, panting with his effort, and his lips nearly white with excitement.
"Would you like another shot?" called out the young gentleman in question.
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself, losing your temper like that," said Scarfe bitterly. "Couldn't you see he hit you by accident?"
"He did it on purpose," said Jeffreys savagely.
"Nonsense. He was aiming at the goal and missed. You did the same thing yourself, only you aimed at him."
"I wish I had hit him!" growled Jeffreys, glaring first at Scarfe, than at Forrester, and finally shambling off the ground.
"There's a nice amiable lamb," said Forrester, as he watched the retreating figure. "I'm sometimes half ashamed to bait him, he does get into such tantrums. But it's awfully tempting."
"You'd better keep out of his way the rest of the day," said Scarfe.
"Oh, bless you, he'll have worked it off in half an hour. What do you bet I don't get him to do my Latin prose for me this afternoon?"
Forrester knew his man; and that afternoon, as if nothing had happened, the junior sat in the Cad's study, eating some of the Cad's bread and jam while the Cad wrote out the junior's exercise for him.
A FOOTBALL TRAGEDY.
The two days' grace which Mr Frampton had almost reluctantly allowed before putting into execution his new rule of compulsory athletics told very much in his favour.
Bolsover, after the first shock, grew used to the idea and even resigned. After all, it would be a variety, and things were precious dull as they were. As to making a rule of it, that was absurd, and Frampton could hardly be serious when he talked of doing so. But on Saturday, if it was fine, and they felt in the humour—well, they would see about it.
With which condescending resolution they returned to their loafings and novels and secret cigarettes, and tried to forget all about Mr Frampton.
But Mr Frampton had no idea of being forgotten. He had the schoolmaster's virtue of enthusiasm, but he lacked the schoolmaster's virtue of patience. He hated the dry-rot like poison, and could not rest till he had ripped up every board and rafter that harboured it.
Any ordinary reformer would have been satisfied with the week's work he had already accomplished. But Mr Frampton added yet another blow at the very heart of the dry-rot before the week was out.
On the day before the football match Bolsover was staggered, and, so to speak, struck all of a heap by the announcement that in future the school tuck-shop would be closed until after the dinner hour!
Fellows stared at one another with a sickly, incredulous smile when they first heard the grim announcement and wondered whether, after all, the new head-master was an escaped lunatic. A few gifted with more presence of mind than others bethought them of visiting the shop and of dispelling the hideous nightmare by optical demonstration.
Alas! the shutters were up. Mother Partridge was not at the receipt of custom, but instead, written in the bold, square hand of Mr Frampton himself, there confronted them the truculent notice, "The shop will for the future be open only before breakfast and after dinner."
"Brutal!" gasped Farfield, as he read it. "Does he mean to starve us as well as drown us?"
"Hard lines for poor old Mother Partridge," suggested Scarfe.
This cry took. There was somehow a lurking sense of shame which made it difficult for Bolsover to rise in arms on account of the injury done to itself. Money had been wasted, appetites had been lost, digestions had been ruined in that shop, and they knew it.
If you had put the question to any one of the boys who crowded down, hungry after their bath, to breakfast on the day of the football match, he would have told you that Frampton was as great a brute as ever, and that it was a big shame to make fellows play whether they liked it or not. For all that, he would tell you, he was going to play, much as he hated it, to avoid a row. And if you had pressed him further he would have confided to you that it was expected the School would beat the Sixth, and that he rather hoped, as he must play, he would get a chance at the ball before the match was over. From all which you might gather that Bolsover was reluctantly coming round to take an interest in the event.
"Fortune favours the brave," said Mr Steele, one of his assistants, to the head-master at dinner-time. "You have conquered before you have struck, mighty Caesar."
Mr Frampton smiled. He was flushed and excited. Two days ago he had seemed to be committed to a desperate venture. Now, a straight path seemed to open before him, and Bolsover, in his enthusiastic imagination, was already a reformed, reinvigorated institution.
"Yes, Steele," said he, as he glanced from the window and watched the boys trooping down towards the meadow. "This day will be remembered at Bolsover."
Little dreamed the brave head-master how truly his prophecy would be fulfilled.
An arrangement had been made to give the small boys a match of their own. The young gladiators themselves, who had secretly wept over their impending doom, were delighted to be removed beyond the reach of the giants of the Sixth. And the leaders of the School forces were devoutly thankful to be disencumbered of a crowd of meddlesome "kids" who would have spoiled sport, even if they did not litter the ground with their corpses.
The sight of the new goal posts and ball, which Mr Freshfield, a junior master, was heard to explain was a present from the head-master to the school, had also a mollifying effect. And the bracing freshness of the air and the self-respect engendered by the sensation of their flannels (for most of the players had contrived to provide themselves with armour of this healthy material) completed their reconciliation to their lot, and drove all feelings of resentment against their tyrant, for the present at any rate, quite out of their heads.
In a hurried consultation of the seniors, Farfield, who was known to be a player, was nominated captain of the senior force; while a similar council of war among the juniors had resulted in the appointment of Ranger of the Fifth to lead the hosts of the School.
Mr Freshfield, with all the ardour of an old general, assisted impartially in advising as to the disposition of the field on either side; and, for the benefit of such as might be inexperienced at the game, rehearsed briefly some of the chief rules of the game as played under the Rugby laws.
"Now, are you ready?" said he, when all preliminaries were settled, and the ball lay, carefully titled, ready for Farfield's kick-off.
"Wait a bit," cried some one. "Where's Jeffreys?"
Where, indeed? No one had noticed his absence till now; and one or two boys darted off to look for him.
But before they had gone far a white apparition appeared floundering across the meadow in the direction of the goals; and a shout of derisive welcome rose, as Jeffreys, arrayed in an ill-fitting suit of white holland, and crowned with his blue flannel cap, came on to the scene.
"He's been sewing together the pillow-cases to make his trousers," said some one.
"Think of a chap putting on his dress shirt to play football in," cried another.
"Frampton said we were to wear the oldest togs we'd got," said a third, "not our Sunday best."
Jeffreys, as indeed it was intended, heard these facetious remarks on his strange toilet, and his brow grew heavy.
"Come on," said Scarfe, as he drew near, "it wasn't fair to the other side for you not to play."
"I couldn't find my boots," replied the Cad shortly, scowling round him.
"Perhaps you'll play forward," said Farfield, "and if ever you don't know what to do, go and stand outside those flag posts, and for mercy's sake let the ball alone."
"Boo-hoo! I am in such a funk," cried Forrester with his mocking laugh. "Thank goodness I'm playing back."
"Come now," called Mr Freshfield impatiently, "are you ready? Kick off, Farfield. Look out, School."
Next moment the match had begun.
As might have been expected, there was at first a great deal more confusion than play. Bolsover was utterly unused to doing anything together, and football of all games needs united action.
There was a great deal of scrimmaging, but very few kicks and very few runs. The ball was half the time invisible, and the other half in touch. Mr Freshfield had time after time to order a throw-in to be repeated, or rule a kick as "off-side." The more ardent players forgot the duty of protecting their flanks and rear; and the more timid neglected their chances of "piling up" the scrimmages. The Sixth got in the way of the Sixth, and the School often spoiled the play of the School.
But after a quarter of an hour or so the chaos began to resolve itself, and each side, so to speak, came down to its bearings. Mr Frampton, as he walked across from the small boys' match, was surprised as well as delighted to notice the business-like way in which the best players on either side were settling down to their work. There was Farfield, flushed and dogged, leading on his forwards, and always on the ball. There was Scarfe, light and dodgy, ready for a run or a neat drop-kick from half-back. There was Ranger and Phipps of the Fifth, backing one another up like another Nisus and Euryalus. There was young Forrester, merry and plucky, saving his goal more than once by a prompt touch-down. There, even, was the elephantine Jeffreys, snorting and pounding in the thick of the fray, feeling his feet under him, and doing his clumsy best to fight the battle of his side.
The game went hard against the School, despite their determined rallies and gallant sorties. Young Forrester in goal had more than one man's share of work; and Scarfe's drops from the rear of the Sixth scrimmage flew near and still nearer the enemy's goal.
Once, just before half-time, he had what seemed a safe chance, but at the critical moment Jeffreys' ungainly bulk interposed, and received on his chest the ball which would certainly have carried victory to his side.
"Clumsy lout!" roared Farfield; "didn't I tell you to stand out of the way and not go near the ball—you idiot! Go and play back, do."
Jeffreys turned on him darkly.
"You think I did it on purpose," said he. "I didn't."
"Go and play back!" repeated Farfield—"or go and hang yourself."
Jeffreys took a long breath, and departed with a scowl to the rear.
"Half-time!" cried Mr Freshfield. "Change sides."
It was a welcome summons. Both sides needed a little breathing space to gird themselves for the final tussle.
The School was elated at having so far eluded actual defeat, and cheerily rallied their opponents as they crossed over. Jeffreys, in particular, as he made moodily to his new station, came in for their jocular greetings.
"Thanks awfully, Cad, old man!" cried one; "we knew you'd give us a leg up."
"My word! doesn't he look pleased with himself!" said another. "No wonder!"
"Is that the way they taught you to play football at home?" said young Forrester, emphasising his question with an acorn neatly pitched at the Cad's ear.
Jeffreys turned savagely with lifted arm, but Forrester was far beyond his enemy's reach, and his hand dropped heavily at his own side as he continued his sullen march to the Sixth's goal.
"Are you ready?" shouted Mr Freshfield. "Kick off. Ranger! Look out, Sixth!"
The game recommenced briskly. The School, following up the advantage of their kick-off, and cheered by their recent luck, made a desperate onslaught into the enemy's territory, which for a while took all the energy of the Sixth to repel.
Phipps and Ranger were irrepressible, and had it not been for the steady play of Scarfe and the Sixth backs, that formidable pair of desperadoes might have turned the tide of victory by their own unaided exertions.
In the defence of the seniors, Jeffreys, it need hardly be said, took no part. He stood moodily near one of the posts, still glaring in the direction of his insulters, and apparently heedless of the fortunes, of the game.
His inaction, however, was not destined to last long.
The second half game had lasted about a quarter of an hour, and the School was still stubbornly holding their advanced position in the proximity of the enemy's goal, when the ball suddenly, and by one of those mysterious chances of battle, burst clear of the scrimmage and darted straight to where Jeffreys stood.
"Pick it up and run—like mad!" shouted Farfield.
With a sudden swoop which astonished his beholders the Cad pounced on the ball and started to run in the direction of the ill-protected goal of the School.
Till they saw him in motion with an almost clear field ahead, no one had had any conception how powerfully he was built or how fast he could run. The School, rash and sanguine of victory, had pressed to the front, leaving scarcely half a dozen behind to guard their rear.
Three of these Jeffreys had passed before the School was well aware what he was doing. Then a shout of consternation arose, mingled with the frantic cheers of the Sixth.
"Collar him! Have him over! Stop him there! Look out in goal!"
But Jeffreys was past stopping. Like a cavalry charger who dashes on to the guns heedless of everything, and for the time being gone mad, so the Bolsover Cad, with the shouts behind him and the enemy's goal in front, saw and heard nothing else. The two men who stepped out at him were brushed aside like reeds before a boat's keel; and with half the field before him only one enemy remained between him and victory.
That enemy was young Forrester! There was something almost terrible in the furious career of the big boy as he bore down on the fated goal. Those behind ceased to pursue, and watched the result in breathless suspense.
Even the saucy light on Forrester's face faded as he hesitated a moment between fear and duty.
"Collar him there!" shouted the School.
"He'll pass him easily," said the Sixth.
Forrester stepped desperately across his adversary's path, resolved to do his duty, cost what it might.
Jeffreys never swerved from his course, right or left.
"He's going to charge the youngster!" gasped Farfield.
Forrester, who had counted on the runner trying to pass him, became suddenly aware that the huge form was bearing straight down upon him.
The boy was no coward, but for a moment he stood paralysed.
That moment was fatal. There was a crash, a shout! Next moment Jeffreys was seen staggering to his feet and carrying the ball behind the goal. But no one heeded him. Every eye was turned to where young Forrester lay on his back motionless, with his face as white as death.
It would be difficult to picture the horror and dismay which followed the terrible termination to the football match described in our last chapter.
For a second or two every one stood where he was, as if rooted to the ground. Then with an exclamation of horror Mr Freshfield bounded to the side of the prostrate boy.
"Stand back and give him air!" cried the master, as the school closed round and gazed with looks of terror on the form of their companion. He lay with one arm above his head just as he had fallen. His cap lay a yard or two off where he had tossed it before making his final charge. His eyes were closed, and the deathly pallor of his face was unmoved by even a quiver of life.
"He's dead!" gasped Farfield.
Mr Freshfield, who had been hastily loosening Forrester's collar, and had rested his hand for an instant on his heart, looked up with a face almost as white as the boy's and said—
"Go for the doctor!—and some water."
Half a dozen boys started—thankful to do anything. Before the ring could close up again the ungainly form of Jeffreys, still panting from his run, elbowed his way to the front. As his eyes fell on the form of his victim his face turned an ashy hue. Those who watched him saw that he was struggling to speak, but no words came. He stood like one turned suddenly to stone.
But not for long.
With a cry something resembling a howl, the school by a sudden simultaneous movement turned upon him.
He put up his hand instinctively, half-deprecatingly, half in self- defence. Then as his eyes dropped once more on the motionless form over which Mr Freshfield was bending, he took half a step forward and gasped, "I did not—"
Whatever he had intended to say was drowned by another howl of execration. The sound of his voice seemed to have opened the floodgates and let loose the pent-up feelings of the onlookers. A score of boys rushed between him and his victim and hustled him roughly out of the ring.
"Murderer!" cried Scarfe as he gave the first thrust.
And amidst echoes of that terrible cry the Cad was driven forth.
Once he turned with savage face, as though he would resist and fight his way back into the ring. But it was only for a moment. It may have been a sudden glimpse of that marble face on the grass, or it may have been terror. But his uplifted hand fell again at his side, and he dragged himself dejectedly to the outskirts of the crowd.
There he still hovered, his livid face always turned towards the centre, drinking in every sound and marking every movement, but not attempting again to challenge the resentment of his school-fellows by attempting to enter the awe-struck circle.
It seemed an age before help came. The crowd stood round silent and motionless, with their eyes fixed on the poor lifeless head which rested on Mr Freshfield's knee; straining their eyes for one sign of animation, yearning still more for the arrival of the doctor.
Mr Freshfield did not dare to lift the form, or even beyond gently raising the head, to move it in any way. How anxiously all watched as, when the water arrived, he softly sponged the brow and held the glass to the white lips!
Alas! the dark lashes still drooped over those closed eyes, and as each moment passed Bolsover felt that it stood in the shadow of death.
At last there was a stir, as the sound of wheels approached in the lane. And presently the figure of the doctor, accompanied by Mr Frampton, was seen running across the meadow.
As they reached the outskirts of the crowd, Jeffreys laid his hand on the doctor's arm with an appealing gesture.
"I did not mean—" he began.
But the doctor passed on through the path which the crowd opened for him to the fallen boy's side.
It was a moment of terrible suspense as he knelt and touched the boy's wrist, and applied his ear to his chest. Then in a hurried whisper he asked two questions of Mr Freshfield, then again bent over the inanimate form.
They could tell by the look on his face as he looked up that there was hope—for there was life!
"He's not dead!" they heard him whisper to Mr Frampton.
Still they stood round, silent and motionless. The relief itself was terrible. He was not dead, but would those deep-fringed eyes ever open again?
The doctor whispered again to Mr Frampton and Mr Freshfield, and the two passed their hands under the prostrate form to lift it. But before they could do so the doctor, who never took his eyes off the boy's face, held up his hand suddenly, and said "No! Better have a hurdle," pointing to one which lay not far off on the grass.
A dozen boys darted for it, and a dozen more laid their coats upon it to make a bed. Once more, amid terrible suspense, they saw the helpless form raised gently and deposited on the hurdle. A sigh of relief escaped when the operation was over, and the sad burden, supported at each corner by the two masters, Scarfe and Farfield, began to move slowly towards the school.
"Slowly, and do not keep step. Above all things avoid a jolt," said the doctor, keeping the boy's hand in his own.
The crowd opened to let them pass, and then followed in mournful procession.
As the bearers passed on, Jeffreys, who all this time had been forgotten, but who had never once turned his face from where Forrester lay, stepped quickly forward as though to assist in carrying the litter.
His sudden movement, and the startling gesture that accompanied it, disconcerted the bearers, and caused them for a moment to quicken their step, thus imparting an unmistakable shock to the precious burden.
The doctor uttered an exclamation of vexation and ordered a halt. "Stand back, sir!" he cried angrily, waving Jeffreys back; "a jolt like that may be fatal!"
An authority still more potent than that of the doctor was at hand to prevent a recurrence of the danger. Jeffreys was flung out of reach of the litter by twenty angry hands and hounded out of the procession.
He did not attempt to rejoin it. For a moment he stood and watched it as it passed slowly on. A cold sweat stood on his brow, and every breath was a gasp. Then he turned slowly back to the spot where Forrester had fallen, and threw himself on the ground in a paroxysm of rage and misery. It was late and growing dark as he re-entered the school. There was a strange, weird silence about the place that contrasted startlingly with the usual evening clamour. The boys were mostly in their studies or collected in whispering groups in the schoolrooms.
As Jeffreys entered, one or two small boys near the door hissed him and ran away. Others who met him in the passage and on the stairs glared at him with looks of mingled horror and aversion, which would have frozen any ordinary fellow.
Jeffreys, however, did not appear to heed it, still less to avoid it. Entering the Sixth Form room, he found most of his colleagues gathered, discussing the tragedy of the day in the dim light of the bay window. So engrossed were they that they never noticed his entrance, and it was not till after standing a minute listening to their talk he broke in, in his loud tones—
"Is Forrester dead?"
The sound of his voice, so harsh and unexpected, had the effect of an explosion in their midst.
They recoiled from it, startled and half-scared. Then, quickly perceiving the intruder, they turned upon him with a howl.
But this time the Cad did not retreat before them. He held up his hand to stop them with a gesture almost of authority.
"Don't!" he exclaimed. "I'll go. But tell me, some one, is he dead?"
His big form loomed out in the twilight a head taller than any of his companions, and there was something in his tone and attitude that held them back.
"You will be sorry to hear," said Scarfe, one of the first to recover his self-control, and with a double-edge of bitterness in his voice, "that he was alive an hour ago."
Jeffreys gave a gasp, and held up his hand again.
"Is there hope for him, then?"
"Not with you in the school, you murderer!" exclaimed Farfield, advancing on the Cad, and striking him on the mouth.
Farfield had counted the cost, and was prepared for the furious onslaught which he felt certain would follow.
But Jeffreys seemed scarcely even to be aware of the blow. He kept his eyes on Scarfe, to whom he had addressed his last question, and said—
"You won't believe me. I didn't mean it."
"Don't tell lies," said Scarfe, "you did—coward!"
Jeffreys turned on his heel with what sounded like a sigh. The fury of his companions, which had more than once been on the point of breaking loose in the course of the short conference, vented itself in a howl as the door closed behind him. And yet, some said to themselves, would a murderer have stood and faced them all as he had done?
The long night passed anxiously and sleeplessly for most of the inhabitants of Bolsover. The event of the day had awed them into something like a common feeling. They forgot their own petty quarrels and grievances for the time, and thought of nothing but poor Forrester.
The doctor and Mr Frampton never quitted his room all night. Boys who, refusing to go to bed, sat anxiously, with their study doors open, eager to catch the first sound proceeding from that solemn chamber, waited in vain, and dropped asleep where they sat as the night gave place to dawn. Even the masters hovered restlessly about with careworn faces, and full of misgivings as hour passed hour without tidings.
At length—it was about ten o'clock, and the school bell was just beginning to toll for morning chapel—the door opened, and Mr Frampton stepped quickly out of the sick-room.
"Stop the bell at once!" he said.
Then Forrester must still be living!
"How is he?" asked a dozen voices, as the head-master passed down the corridor.
"There is hope," said Mr Frampton, "and, thank God! signs of returning consciousness."
And with that grain of comfort wearied Bolsover filed slowly into church.
As Mr Frampton reached his study door he found Scarfe and Farfield waiting for him.
"Well?" said he wearily, seeing that they had something to say. "Come in."
They followed him into the room.
"Is there really hope?" said Scarfe, who truly loved the injured boy.
"I think so. He never moved or showed sign of life, except the beating of his heart, till an hour ago. Then he moved his head and opened his eyes."
"Did he know you, sir?"
"The doctor thinks he did. But everything depends now on quiet and care."
"We wanted to speak to you, sir, about the—the accident," said Farfield with a little hesitation.
"Yes. I have hardly heard how it happened, except that he fell in attempting to collar Jeffreys. Was it not so?"
"Yes, sir," replied Farfield. "But—"
"Well, what?" asked Mr Frampton, noticing his hesitation.
"We don't feel sure that it was altogether an accident," said Farfield.
"What! Do you mean that the boy was intentionally injured?"
"Jeffreys might easily have run round him. Anybody else would. He had the whole field to himself, and no one even near him behind."
"But was it not Forrester who got in front of him?"
"Of course he tried to collar him, sir," said Scarfe; "but he's only a little boy, and Jeffreys is a giant. Jeffreys might have fended him off with his arm, as he did the other fellows who had tried to stop him, or he might have run round him. Instead of that,"—and here the speaker's voice trembled with indignation—"he charged dead at him, and ran right over him."
Mr Frampton's face clouded over.
"Jeffreys is a clumsy fellow, is he not?" he asked.
"Yes," said Scarfe; "and if it had been any one else than Forrester, we should all have put it down to his stupidity."
"You mean," said the head-master, "that he had a quarrel with Forrester?"
"He hated Forrester. Every one knew that. Forrester used to make fun of him and enrage him."
"And you mean to tell me you believe this big boy of nineteen, out of revenge, deliberately ran over young Forrester in the way you describe?"
"I'm sure of it, sir," said Farfield unhesitatingly.
"No one doubts it," said Scarfe.
Mr Frampton took an uneasy turn up and down the room. He hated tale- bearers; but this seemed a case in which he was bound to listen and inquire further.
"Scarfe and Farfield," said he, after a long pause, "you know of course as well as I do the nature of the charge you are bringing against your schoolfellow—the most awful charge one human being can bring against another. Are you prepared to repeat all you have said to me in Jeffreys' presence to-morrow, and before the whole school?"
"Certainly, sir," said both boys.
"It was our duty to tell you, sir," said Scarfe; "and only fair to poor young Forrester."
"Nothing less than a sense of duty could justify the bringing of such a terrible accusation," said the head-master, "and I am relieved that you are prepared to repeat it publicly—to-morrow. For to-day, let us thank God for the hope He gives us of the poor sufferer. Good-bye."
Much as he could have wished it, it was impossible for Mr Frampton, wearied out as he was with his night's watching, to dismiss from his mind the serious statement which his two senior boys had made. The responsibility which rested on him in consequence was terrible, and it required all his courage to face it.
That afternoon he sent for Mr Freshfield, and repeated to him the substance of the accusation against Jeffreys, asking him if he had noticed anything calculated to confirm the suspicion expressed by the boys.
Mr Freshfield was naturally very much startled.
"If you had not mentioned it," he said, "I should never have dreamed of such a thing. But I confess I have noticed that Forrester and Jeffreys were on bad terms. Forrester is a mischievous boy, and Jeffreys, who you know is rather a lout, seems to have been his special butt. I am afraid, too, that Jeffreys' short temper rather encouraged his tormentors."
"Yes, but about the accident," said Mr Frampton; "you were on the ground, you know. Did you notice anything then?"
"There was a little horseplay as the sides were changing over at half- time. Forrester, among others, was taunting Jeffreys with a bad piece of play, and threw something at him. I was rather struck by the look almost of fury which passed across Jeffreys' face. But it seemed to me he got better of his feelings with an effort and went on without heeding what was said to him."
"That was not long before the accident?"
"About a quarter of an hour. His run down the field at the last was really a good piece of play, and every one seemed surprised. But there was any amount of room and time to get past Forrester instead of charging right on to him. It's possible, of course, he may have lost his head and not seen what he was doing."
Mr Frampton shrugged his shoulders.
"Well," said he with a dejected look, "I wish you could have told me anything but what you have. At any rate, to-morrow morning the matter must be faced and decided upon. Jeffreys is unpopular in the school, is he not?"
"Most unpopular," said Mr Freshfield.
"That will make our responsibility all the greater," said the head- master. "He will have every one's hand against him."
"And you may be quite certain he will do himself injustice. He always does. But what of Forrester?"
"He is conscious, and has taken some nourishment; that is all I can say, except, indeed," added Mr Frampton, with a groan, "that if he lives the doctor says it will be as a cripple."
The day dragged wearily on, and night came at last. Most of the boys, worn-out with their last night's vigil, went to bed and slept soundly. The doctor, too, leaving his patient in the charge of a trained nurse, specially summoned, returned home, reporting hopefully of the case as he departed.
In two studies at Bolsover that night, however, there was no rest. Far into the night Mr Frampton paced to and fro across the floor. His hopes and ambitions had fallen like a house of cards. The school he had been about to reform and regenerate had sunk in one day lower than ever before. There was something worse than dry-rot in it now. But Mr Frampton was a brave man; and that night he spent in arming himself for the task that lay before him. Yet how he dreaded that scene to-morrow! How he wished that this hideous nightmare were after all a dream, and that he could awake and find Bolsover where it was even yesterday morning! The other watcher was Jeffreys. He had slept not a wink the night before, and to-night sleep seemed still more impossible. Had you seen him as he sat there listlessly in his chair, with his gaunt, ugly face and restless lips, you would have been inclined, I hope, to pity him, cad as he was. Hour after hour he sat there without changing his posture, cloud after cloud chasing one another across his brow, as they chased one another across the pale face of the moon outside.
At length, as it seemed, with an effort he rose to his feet and slipped off his boots. His candle had burned nearly out, but the moon was bright enough to light his room without it, so he extinguished it and softly opened the door.
The passage was silent, the only sounds being the heavy breathing somewhere of a weary boy, and the occasional creaking of a board as he crept along on tip-toe.
At the end of the passage he turned aside a few steps to a door, and stood listening. Some one was moving inside. There was the rustle of a dress and the tinkle of a spoon in a cup. Then he heard a voice, and oh, how his heart beat as he listened!
"I'm tired," it said wearily.
That was all. Jeffreys heard the smoothing of a pillow and a woman's soothing whisper hushing the sufferer to rest.
The drops stood in beads on his brow as he stood there and listened.
In a little all became quiet, and presently a soft, regular breathing told him that some one was sleeping.
He put his hand cautiously to the handle and held it there a minute before he dared turn it. At last he did so, and opened the door a few inches. The breathing went regularly on. Inch by inch he pushed the door back till he could catch a glimpse in the moonlight of the bed, and a dark head of hair on the pillow. An inch or two more, and he could see the whole room and the nurse dozing in the corner. Stealthily, like a thief, he advanced into the room and approached the bed. The sufferer was lying motionless, and still breathing regularly.
Jeffreys took a step forward to look at his face. At that moment the moonlight streamed in at the window and lit up the room. Then, to his terror, he noticed that the patient was awake, and lying with eyes wide open gazing at the ceiling. Suddenly, and before Jeffreys could withdraw, the eyes turned and met his. For an instant they rested there vacantly, then a gasp and a shriek of horror proclaimed that Forrester had recognised him.
In a moment he was outside the door, and had closed it before the nurse started up from her slumber.
He had not been in his study a minute when he heard a sound of footsteps and whispered voices without. The boy's cry had reached the wakeful ears of Mr Frampton, and already he was on his way to the sick-chamber.
Jeffreys sank down on his bed in an agony of terror and suspense. The boy's cry resounded in his ears and deafened him, till at last he could endure it no longer.
Next morning, when the school was gathered in the hall, after prayers, Mr Frampton, looking round him, missed the figure that was uppermost in his thoughts.
"Will some one tell Jeffreys to come here?" he said.
Mr Freshfield went, but returned suddenly to announce that Jeffreys' study was empty, and that a rope formed of sheets suspended from his window made it evident he had escaped in the night and quitted Bolsover.
On the evening following Jeffreys' departure from Bolsover, a middle- aged, handsome gentleman was sitting in his comfortable study in the city of York, whistling pleasantly to himself.
The house in which he lived was a small one, yet roomy enough for an old bachelor. And what it wanted in size it made up for in the elegance and luxury of its furniture and adornments.
Mr Halgrove was evidently a connoisseur in the art of making himself comfortable. Everything about him was of the best, and bespoke not only a man of taste but a man of means. The books on the shelves—and where can you find any furniture to match a well-filled bookcase?—were well chosen and well bound. The pictures on the walls were all works of art and most tastefully hung. The knickknacks scattered about the room were ornamental as well as useful. Even the collie dog which lay luxuriously on the hearthrug with one eye half open was as beautiful as he was faithful.
Mr Halgrove whistled pleasantly to himself as he stirred his coffee and glanced down the columns of the London paper.
If you had looked over his shoulder, you would have come to the conclusion that Mr Halgrove's idea of what was interesting in a newspaper and your own by no means coincided.
He was, in fact, reading the money article, and running his eye skilfully among the mazes of the stocks and shares there reported.
Suddenly there was a ring at the hall door and a man's voice in the hall. Next moment the study door opened, and amid the frantic rejoicings of Julius, John Jeffreys walked into the presence of his guardian. He was haggard and travel-stained, and Mr Halgrove, in the midst of his astonishment, noticed that his boots were nearly in pieces. Bolsover was fifty-five miles from York, and the roads were rough and stony. The guardian, whatever astonishment he felt at this unexpected apparition, gave no sign of it in his face, as he sat back in his chair and took several quiet whiffs of his weed before he addressed his visitor.
"Ah!" said he, "you've broken up early."
"No, sir," said Jeffreys. "Please may I have something to eat?"
"Help yourself to the bread and butter there," said Mr Halgrove, pointing to the remains of his own tea, "and see if you can squeeze anything out of the coffee-pot. If not, ring for some more hot water. Lie down, Julius!"
Jeffreys ate the bread and butter ravenously, and drank what was left in the coffee-pot and milk-jug.
Mr Halgrove went on with his cigar, watching his ward curiously.
"The roads are rough for walking this time of the year," observed he.
"Yes," said Jeffreys; "I've walked all the way."
"Good exercise," said Mr Halgrove. "How long did it take you?"
"I left Bolsover at half-past four this morning."
Mr Halgrove looked at his watch.
"Fifteen hours—a fairly good pace," said he.
A silence ensued, during which time guardian and ward remained eyeing one another, the one curiously, the other anxiously.
"Why not sit down," said Mr Halgrove, when it became evident his ward was not going to open the conversation, "after your long walk?"
Jeffreys dropped heavily into the chair nearest to him and Julius came up and put his head between his knees.
"Do you often take country walks of this sort?" said the guardian.
"No, sir; I've run away from Bolsover."
Mr Halgrove raised his eyebrows.
"Indeed! Was it for the fun of the thing, or for any special reason?"
"It was because I have killed a boy," said Jeffreys hoarsely.
It spoke volumes for Mr Halgrove's coolness that he took this alarming announcement without any sign of emotion.
"Have you?" said he. "And was that for fun, or for any special reason?"
"I didn't mean it; it was an accident," said Jeffreys.
"Is the story worth repeating?" asked the guardian, knocking the ash off the end of the cigar, and settling himself in his chair.
Jeffreys told the story in a blundering, mixed-up way, but quite clearly enough for Mr Halgrove.
"So you meant to run at him, though you didn't mean to kill him?" said he, when the narrative was ended.
"I did not mean to kill him," repeated the boy doggedly.
"Of course it would not occur to you that you were twice his size and weight, and that running over him meant—well manslaughter."
"I never thought it for a moment—not for a moment."
"Was the accident fatal, at once, may I ask?"
"No, sir; he was brought to the school insensible, and remained so for more than twelve hours. Then he became conscious, and seemed to be doing well."
"A temporary rally, I suppose?" observed the guardian.
Jeffreys' mouth worked uneasily, and his pale brow became overcast again.
"No, I believe if it hadn't been for me he might have recovered."
"Indeed," said the other, once more raising his eyebrows; "what further attention did you bestow on him—not poison, I hope?"
"No, but I went to his room in the middle of the night and startled him, and gave him a shock."
"Yes; playing bogey is liable to alarm invalids. I have always understood so," said Mr Halgrove drily.
"I didn't mean to startle him. I fancied he was asleep, and just wanted to see how he seemed to be getting on. No one would tell me a word about him," said Jeffreys miserably.
"And that killed him outright?"
"I'm afraid it must have," said Jeffreys. "The doctor had said the least shock would be fatal, and this was a very great shock."
"It would be. You did not, however, wait to see?"
"No; I waited an hour or two, and then I ran away."
"Did you say good-bye to the head-master before leaving?"
"No; nobody knew of my going."
"Of course you left your address behind you, in case you should be invited to attend the inquest."
"They know where I live," said Jeffreys.
"Indeed! And may I ask where you live?"
The ward's face fell at the question.
"Here, sir," faltered he.
"Pardon me, I think you are mistaken, John Jeffreys."
Jeffreys looked hard at his guardian, as if to ascertain whether or not he spoke seriously. His one longing at that moment was for food and rest. Since Saturday morning his eyes had never closed, and yet, strange as it may seem, he could take in no more of the future than what lay before him on this one night. The sudden prospect now of being turned out into the street was overwhelming.
"I think you are mistaken," repeated Mr Halgrove, tossing the end of his cigar into the fireplace and yawning.
"But, sir," began Jeffreys, raising himself slowly to his feet, for he was stiff and cramped after his long journey, "I've walked—"
"So you said," interrupted Mr Halgrove, incisively. "You will be used to it."
At that moment Jeffreys decided the question of his night's lodging in a most unlooked-for manner by doing what he had never done before, and what he never did again.
When he next was aware of anything he was lying in his own bed upstairs in broad daylight, and Mr Halgrove's housekeeper was depositing a tray with some food upon it at his side. He partook gratefully, and dropped off to sleep again without rousing himself enough to recall the events of the past evening. When, however, late in the afternoon, he awoke, and went over in his mind the events of the last few days, a dismal feeling of anxiety came over him and dispelled the comfort of his present situation. He got out of bed slowly and painfully, for he was very stiff and footsore. He knew not at what moment his guardian might return to the unpleasant topic of last night's conversation, and he resolved to end his own suspense as speedily as possible. He took a bath and dressed, and then descended resolutely but with sad misgivings to the library. Mr Halgrove was sitting where his ward had left him yesterday evening.
"Ah," said he, as the boy entered, "early rising's not your strong point, is it?"
"I only woke half an hour ago."
"And you are anxious, of course, to know whether you have been inquired for by the police?" said the guardian, paring his nails.
Jeffreys' face fell.
"Has some one been?" he asked. "Have you heard anything?"
"No one has been as yet except the postman. He brought me a letter from Bolsover, which will probably interest you more than it does me. It's there on the table."
Jeffreys took up a letter addressed in Mr Frampton's hand.
"Am I to read it?"
"As you please."
Jeffreys opened the letter and read:—
"Bolsover, October 12.
"S. Halgrove, Esq.
"Dear Sir,—I regret to inform you that your ward, John Jeffreys, left Bolsover secretly last night, and has not up to the present moment returned. If he has returned to you, you will probably have learned by this time the circumstances which led him to take the step he has. (Here Mr Frampton briefly repeated the story of the football accident.) The patient still lingers, although the doctors do not at present hold out much hope of ultimate recovery. I am not inclined to credit the statement current in the school with regard to the sad event, that the injury done to the small boy was not wholly due to accident. Still, under the grave circumstances, which are made all the more serious by your ward's flight, I suggest to you that you should use your authority to induce Jeffreys to return here—at any rate for as long as Forrester's fate remains precarious; or, failing that, that you should undertake, in the event of a legal inquiry being necessary, that he shall be present if required.
"Pleasant letter, is it not?" said Mr Halgrove as Jeffreys replaced it in its envelope and laid it again on the table.
"I can't go back to Bolsover," said he.
"No? You think you are not appreciated there?"
"But I will undertake to go there if—"
"If the coroner invites you, eh?"
"Yes," replied the boy.
"The slight difficulty about that is that it is I, not you, that am asked to make the undertaking."
"But you will, won't you?" asked Jeffreys eagerly.
"I have the peculiarity of being rather particular about the people I give undertakings for," said Mr Halgrove, flicking a speck of dust off his sleeve; "it may be ridiculous, but I draw the line at homicide."
"You're a liar!" exclaimed the ward, in a burst of fury, which, however, he repented of almost before the words had escaped him.
Mr Halgrove was not in the slightest degree disturbed by this undutiful outbreak, but replied coolly,—
"In that case, you see, my undertaking would be worth nothing. No. What do you say to replying to Mr Frampton's suggestion yourself?"
"I will write and tell him I will go whenever he wants me."
"The only objection to that," observed the guardian, "will be the difficulty in giving him any precise address, will it not?"
Jeffreys winced again.
"You mean to turn me adrift?" said he bluntly.
"Your perception is excellent, my young friend."
Mr Halgrove looked at his watch.
"I believe Mrs Jessop usually locks up about eleven. It would be a pity to keep her up after that hour."
Jeffreys gulped down something like a sigh and turned to the door.
"Not going, are you?" said the guardian. "It's early yet."
"I am going," replied the ward quietly.
"By the way," said Mr Halgrove, as he reached the door, "by the way, John—"
Jeffreys stopped with his hand on the latch.
"I was going to say," said the guardian, rising and looking for his cigar-case, "that the little sum of money which was left by your father, and invested for your benefit, has very unfortunately taken to itself wings, owing to the failure of the undertaking in which it happened to be invested. I have the papers here, and should like to show them to you, if you can spare me five minutes."
Jeffreys knew nothing about money. Hitherto his school fees had been paid, and a small regular allowance for pocket-money had been sent him quarterly by his guardian. Now his guardian's announcement conveyed little meaning to him beyond the fact that he had no money to count upon. He never expected he would have; so he was not disappointed.
"I don't care to see the papers," he said.
"You are a philosopher, my friend," said his guardian. "But I have sufficient interest in you, despite your financial difficulties, to believe you might find this five-pound note of service on your travels."
"No, thank you," said Jeffreys, putting his hand behind his back.
"Don't mention it," said his guardian, returning it to his pocket. "There is, when I come to think of it," added he, "a sovereign which really belongs to you. It is the balance of your last quarter's allowance, which I had been about to send to you this week. I would advise you to take it."
"Is it really mine?"
"Pray come and look over the accounts. I should like to satisfy you."
"If it is really mine I will take it," said the boy.
"You are sensible," said his guardian, putting it into his hand. "You are perfectly safe in taking it. It is yours. It will enable you to buy a few postage stamps. I shall be interested to hear of your success. Good-bye."
Jeffreys, ignoring the hand which was held out to him, walked silently from the room. Mr Halgrove stood a moment and listened to the retreating footsteps. Then he returned to his chair and rang the bell.
"Mrs Jessop," said he, "Mr Jeffreys is going on a journey. Will you kindly see he has a good meal before starting?"
Mrs Jessop went upstairs and found Jeffreys writing a letter.
"Master says you're going a journey, sir."
"Yes. I shall be starting in half an hour."
"Can't you put it off till to-morrow, sir?"
"No, thanks. But I want to finish this letter."
"Well, sir, there'll be some supper for you in the parlour. It's master's orders."
Jeffreys' letter was to Mr Frampton.
"Sir," he wrote, "I left Bolsover because I could not bear to be there any longer. I did not mean to injure Forrester so awfully, though I was wicked enough to have a spite against him. I am not a murderer, though I am as bad as one. If I could do anything to help Forrester get better I would come, but I should only make everything worse. My guardian has turned me away, and I shall have to find employment. But the housekeeper here, Mrs Jessop, will always know where I am, and send on to me if I am wanted. I should not think of hiding away till I hear that Forrester is better. If he dies I should not care to live, so I should be only too glad to give myself up. I cannot come back to Bolsover now, even if I wanted, as I have only a pound, and my guardian tells me that is all the money I have in the world. Please write and say if Forrester is better. I am too miserable to write more.
Having finished this dismal letter, he packed up one or two of his things in a small handbag and descended to the parlour. There he found an ample supper provided for him by the tender-hearted Mrs Jessop, who had a pretty shrewd guess as to the nature of the "journey" that her master's ward was about to take. But Jeffreys was not hungry, and the announcement that the meal was there by the "master's orders" turned him against it.
"I can't eat anything, thank you," he said to Mrs Jessop, "you gave me such a good tea only a little while ago."
"But you've a long journey, Master John. Is it a long journey, sir?"
"I don't know yet," he said. "But I want you to promise to send me on any letter or message that comes, will you?"
"To the head post-office, here."
"Here? Then you're not going out of York?"
"Not at first. I'll let you know when I go where to send on the letters."
"Mr John," said the housekeeper, "the master's turned you away. Isn't that it?"
"Perhaps he's got a reason for it. Good-bye, Mrs Jessop."
"Oh, but Mr John—"
But John interrupted her with a kiss on her motherly cheek, and next moment was gone.
FREDDY AND TEDDY.
John Jeffreys, as he stood in the street that October evening, had no more idea what his next step was to be than had Mr Halgrove or the motherly Mrs Jessop. He was a matter-of-fact youth, and not much given to introspection; but the reader may do well on this particular occasion to take a hasty stock of him as he walked aimlessly down the darkening street.
He was nineteen years old. In appearance he was particularly ugly in face and clumsy in build. Against that, he was tall and unusually powerful whenever he chose to exert his strength. In mind he was reputed slow and almost stupid, although he was a good classical scholar and possessed a good memory. He was cursed with a bad and sometimes ungovernable temper. He was honest and courageous. He rarely knew how to do the right thing at the right time or in the right place. And finally he had a bad name, and believed himself to be a homicide. Such was the commonplace creature who, with a sovereign in his pocket and the whole world before him, paced the streets of York that Tuesday night.
On one point his mind was made up. He must remain in York for the present, prepared at a moment's notice to repair to Bolsover, should the dreaded summons come. With that exception, as I have said, his mind was open, and utterly devoid of ideas as to the future.
He directed his steps to the poor part of the town, not so much because it was poor, as because it was farthest away from his guardian's. He resolved that to-night at any rate he would indulge in the luxury of a bed, and accordingly, selecting the least repulsive-looking of a number of tenements offering "Cheap beds for Single Men," he turned in and demanded lodging. To the end of his days he looked back on the "cheap bed" he that night occupied with a shudder. And he was by no means a Sybarite, either. Happily, he had still some sleep to make up; and despite his foul bed, his unattractive fellow-lodgers, and his own dismal thoughts, he fell asleep, in his clothes and with his bag under his pillow, and slept till morning.
He partook of a cheap breakfast at a coffee-stall on one of the bridges, and occupied the remainder of the time before the opening of business houses in wandering about on the city walls, endeavouring to make up his mind what calling in life he should seek to adopt. He had not decided this knotty point when the minster chimes struck ten, and reminded him that he was letting the precious moments slip. So he descended into the streets, determined to apply for the first vacancy which presented itself.
Wandering aimlessly on, he came presently upon a bookseller's shop, outside which were displayed several trays of second-hand volumes which attracted his attention. Jeffreys loved books and was a voracious reader, and in the midst of his wearisome search for work it was like a little harbour of refuge to come upon a nest of them here. Just, however, as he was about to indulge in the delicious luxury of turning over the contents of the tempting trays, his eye was attracted by a half-sheet of note-paper gummed on to the shop window and bearing the inscription, "Assistant wanted. Apply within."
Next instant Jeffreys stood within.
"I see you want an assistant," said he to the old spectacled bookseller who inquired his business.
"Will you take me?"
The man glanced up and down at his visitor and said doubtfully,—
"Don't know you—are you in the trade?"
"No, I've just left school."
"What do you know about books?"
"I love them," replied the candidate simply.
The bookseller's face lit up and shot a glow of hope into the boy's heart.
"You love them. I like that. But take my advice, young fellow, and if you love books, don't turn bookseller."
Jeffreys' face fell.
"I'm not afraid of getting to hate them," said he.
The man beamed again.
"What's your name, my lad?"
"And you've just left school? What school?"
Alas! poor Jeffreys! It cost him a struggle to utter the name.
"Bolsover, eh? Do you know Latin?"
"Yes—and Greek," replied the candidate.
The bookseller took up a book that lay on the table. It was an old and valuable edition of Pliny's Epistles.
"Read us some of that."
Jeffreys was able fairly well to accomplish the task, greatly to the delight of the old bookseller.
"Capital! You're the first chap I ever had who could read Pliny off."
Jeffreys' face lit up. The man spoke as if the thing was settled.
"How will fifteen shillings a week and your meals suit you?" said he.
"Perfectly!" replied the candidate.
"Hum! you've got a character, of course?"
Poor Jeffreys' face fell.
"Do you mean testimonials?"
"No. You can refer to some one who knows you—your old schoolmaster, for instance."
"I'm afraid not," faltered the boy.
The man looked perplexed.
"Couldn't get a character from him—why not?"
"Because I ran away from school."
"Oh, oh! Did they ill-treat you, then, or starve you? Come; better tell the truth."
"No—it wasn't that. It was because—" Jeffreys gave one longing look at the shelves of beloved books, and an appealing glance at his questioner—"It was because I—nearly killed a boy."
The man whistled and looked askance at his visitor.
"Partly. Partly not. But I assure you—"
"That will do," said the man; "that's quite enough. Be off!"
Jeffreys departed without another word. Like Tantalus, the tempting fruit had been within reach, and his evil destiny had come in to dash it from his lips. Was it wonderful if he felt disposed to give it up and in sheer desperation go back to Bolsover?
The whole of the remainder of that day was spent in spiritless wandering about the streets. Once he made another attempt to obtain work, this time at a merchant's office. But again the inconvenient question of character was raised, and he was compelled to denounce himself. This time his confession was even more unfeelingly received than at the bookseller's.
"How dare you come here, you scoundrel?" exclaimed the merchant in a rage.
"Don't call me a scoundrel!" retorted Jeffreys, his temper suddenly breaking out.
"I'll call a policeman if you are not out of here in half a minute. Here, you boys," added he, calling his six or eight clerks, "turn this wretch out of the place. Do you hear?"
Jeffreys spared them the trouble and stepped into the street, determined to die before he laid himself open to such an indignity again.
His last night's experience at a common lodging-house did not tempt him to seek shelter again now, and as it was a fine mild night even at that time of year he trudged out of York into one of the suburbs, where at least everything was clean and quiet. He had the good fortune in a country lane to come across a wagon laid up by the roadside, just inside a field—a lodging far more tempting than that offered by Mr Josephs, and considerably cheaper. The fatigues and troubles of the day operated like a feather-bed for the worn-out and dispirited outcast, and he slept soundly, dreaming of Forrester, and the bookshop, and the dog Julius.
Next morning the weary search began again. Jeffreys, as he trudged back to the city, felt that he was embarked on a forlorn hope. Yet a man must live, and a sovereign cannot last for ever. He passed a railway embankment where a gang of navvies were hard at work. As he watched them he felt half envious. They had work to do, they had homes to return to at night, they had characters, perhaps. Most of them were big strong fellows like himself. Why should he not become one of them? He fancied he could wheel a barrow, and ply a crowbar, and dig with a spade, as well as any of them; he was not afraid of hard work any more than they were, and the wages that kept a roof over their heads would surely keep a roof over his.
As he sat on a bank by the roadside and watched them, he had almost resolved to walk across to the foreman and ask for a job, when the sound of voices close to him arrested him.
They were boys' voices, and their talk evidently referred to himself, "Come along, Teddy," said one. "He won't hurt."
"I'm afraid," said the other. "He's so ugly."
"Perhaps that's how he gets his living—scaring the crows," said the first speaker.
"He looks as if he meant to kill us."
"I shall fight him if he tries."
Jeffreys looked round and had a view of the valiant speaker and his companion.
They were two neatly dressed little fellows, hand-in-hand, and evidently brothers. The younger—he who considered his life in danger—was about eight, his intrepid brother being apparently about a year his senior. They had little satchels over their shoulders, and parti-coloured cricket caps on their little curly heads. Their faces were bright and shining, the knees of their stockings were elaborately darned, the little hands were unmistakably ink-stained, and their pockets were bulged out almost to bursting.
Such was the apparition which confronted the Bolsover "cad" as he sat slowly making up his mind to become a labourer.
The younger brother drew back and began to cry, as soon as he perceived that the terrible villain on the bank had turned and was regarding them.
"Freddy, Freddy, run!" he cried.
"I shan't," said Freddy with a big heave of his chest. "I'm not afraid." The fluttering heart beneath that manly bosom belied the words, as Freddy, dragging his brother by the hand, walked forward.
Jeffreys did not exactly know what to do. Were he to rise and approach the little couple the consequences might be disastrous. Were he to remain where he was or skulk away, he would be allowing them to believe him the ruffian they thought him, and that lane would become a daily terror to their little lives. The only thing was to endeavour to make friends.
"What are you afraid of?" said he, in as gentle a manner as he could. "I won't hurt you."
The sound of his voice caused the smaller boy to scream outright, and even the elder trembled a little as he kept himself full front to the enemy.
"You little donkeys, I'm a schoolboy myself," said Jeffreys. This announcement had a magical effect. The younger brother stopped short in his scream, and Freddy boldly took two steps forward.
"Are you a boy?" inquired the latter.
"Of course I am. I was in the top form. I'm older than you, though."
"I'm ten," replied the proud owner of that venerable age.
"I'm nine in February," chimed in the still-fluttered junior.
"I'm about as old as you two put together. How old's that, Freddy?"
"Nineteen," said Freddy.
By this time Jeffreys had gradually descended the bank and stood close to the two small brothers.
"Bravo, young 'un, you can do sums, I see!"
"Compound division and vulgar fractions," said Freddy confidentially.
Jeffreys gave a whistle of admiration which won the heart of his hearer.
"Are you going to school now?" inquired the latter.
"No; I've left school," said Jeffreys, "last week."
"Last week! why, it's only the middle of the term. Were you sent away?"
Jeffreys began to feel uncomfortable in the presence of this small cross-examiner.
"I got into trouble and had to leave."
"I know why," said the younger brother, plucking up courage.
"Why?" inquired Jeffreys, with an amused smile.
"Because you were so ugly!"
Jeffreys laughed. "Thank you," said he.
"Was it because you killed the master?" asked the more matter-of-fact Freddy.
Poor Jeffreys winced before this random shot, and hastened to divert the conversation.
"Whose school do you go to?" he inquired.
"Trimble's; we hate her," said the two youths in a breath.
"Why? Does she whack you?"
"No; but she worries us, and young Trimble's worse still. Do you know the school?"
"No. What's the name of the house?"
"Oh, Galloway House, in Ebor Road. It wasn't so bad when Fison was there," continued the open-hearted Freddy; "but now he's gone. Trimble's a cad."
"We hate her," chimed in the original Teddy.
"We hope the new master will be like Fison, but I don't believe Trimble can get any one to come," said Freddy.
Jeffreys pricked up his ears and asked a good many questions about the school, which the youthful pair readily and gaily replied to, and then suggested that if Trimble was such a cad the boys had better not be late.
"Have some parliament cake?" said Freddy, opening his satchel and producing a large square of crisp gingerbread.
Jeffreys had not the heart to refuse a little piece of this delicacy, and enjoyed it more than the most sumptuous meal in an hotel. Teddy also insisted on his taking a bite out of his apple.
"Good-bye," said the little fellow, putting up his face in the most natural manner for a kiss. Jeffreys felt quite staggered by this unexpected attention, but recovered his presence of mind enough to do what was expected of him. Freddy, on the other hand, looked rather alarmed at his young brother's audacity, and contented himself with holding out his hand.
"Good-bye, little chap," said Jeffreys, feeling a queer lump in his throat and not exactly knowing which way to look.
Next moment the two little brothers were trotting down the road hand-in- hand as gay as young larks. Jeffreys thought no more about the navvies, or the delights of a labourer's life. A new hope was in him, and he strolled slowly back into York wondering to himself if angels ever come to men in the shape of little schoolboys.
It was still early when he reached the city. So he spent sixpence of his little store on a bath in the swimming baths, and another sixpence on some breakfast. Then, refreshed in body and mind, he called at the post-office. There was nothing for him there. Though he hardly expected any letter yet, his heart sunk as he thought what news might possibly be on its way to him at that moment. The image of Forrester as he lay on the football field haunted him constantly, and he would have given all the world even then to know that he was alive. Hope, however, came to his rescue, and helped him for a time to shake off the weight of his heart, and address himself boldly to the enterprise he had in hand.
That enterprise the acute reader has easily guessed. He would offer his services to the worthy Mrs Trimble, vice Mr Fison, resigned. He never imagined his heart could beat as quickly as it did when after a long search he read the words—"Galloway House. Select School for Little Boys," inscribed on a board in the front garden of a small, old- fashioned house in Ebor Road.
The sound of children's voices in the yard at the side apprised him that he had called at a fortunate time. Mrs Trimble during the play-hour would in all probability be disengaged.
Mrs Trimble was disengaged, and opened the door herself. Jeffreys beheld a stoutish harmless-looking woman, with a face by no means forbidding, even if it was decidedly unintellectual.
"Well, young man," said she. She had been eating, and, I regret to say, had not finished doing so before she began to speak.
"Can I see Mrs Trimble, please?" asked Jeffreys, raising his hat. The lady, finding her visitor was a gentleman, hastily wiped her mouth and answered rather lest brusquely.
"I am the lady," said she.
"Excuse me," said Jeffreys, "I called to ask if you were in want of an assistant teacher. I heard that you were."
"How did you hear that, I wonder? I suppose he's a friend of that Fison. Yes, young man, I am in want of an assistant."
"I should do my best to please you, if you would let me come," said Jeffreys. And then, anxious to avoid the painful subject of his character, he added, "I have not taught in a school before, and I have no friends here, so I can't give you any testimonials. But I am well up in classics and pretty good in mathematics, and would work hard, ma'am, if you would try me."
"Are you a steady young man? Do you drink?"
"I never touch anything but water; and I am quite steady."
"What wages do you expect?"
"I leave that to you. I will work for nothing for a month till you see if I suit you."
Mrs Trimble liked this. It looked like a genuine offer.
"Are you good-tempered and kind to children?" she asked.
"I am very fond of little boys, and I always try to keep my temper."
His heart sank at the prospect of other questions of this kind. But Mrs Trimble was not of a curious disposition. She knew when she liked a young man and when she didn't, and she valued her own judgment as much as anybody else's testimonials.
"You mustn't expect grand living here," she said.
"I was never used to anything but simple living," said he.
"Very well, Mr —"
"Mr Jeffreys, we'll try how we get on for a month; and after that I can offer you a pound a month besides your board."
"You are very kind," said Jeffreys, to whom the offer seemed a magnificent one. "I am ready to begin work at once."
"That will do. You'd better begin now. Come this way to the schoolroom."
My business-like readers have, I dare say, found fault with me for representing a business conference on which so much depended as having taken place on the front doorstep of Galloway House, and without occupying much more than five minutes in the transaction. How did Jeffreys know what sort of person Mrs Trimble was? She might have been a Fury or a Harpy. Her house might have been badly drained. Mr Fison might have left her because he couldn't get his wages. And what did Mrs Trimble know about the Bolsover cad? She never even asked for a testimonial. He might be a burglar in disguise, or a murderer, or a child-eater. And yet these two foolish people struck a bargain with one another five minutes after their first introduction, and before even the potatoes which Mrs Trimble had left on her plate when she went to the door had had time to get cold.
I am just as much surprised as the reader at their rashness, which I can only account for by supposing that they were both what the reader would call "hard up." Jeffreys, as we know, was very hard up; and as for Mrs Trimble, the amount of worry she had endured since Mr Fison had left was beyond all words. She had had to teach as well as manage, the thing she never liked. And her son and assistant, without a second usher to keep him steady, had been turning her hair grey. For three weeks she had waited in vain. Several promising-looking young men had come and looked at the place and then gone away. She had not been able to enjoy an afternoon's nap for a month. In short, she was getting worn-out. When, therefore, Jeffreys came and asked for the post, she had to put a check on herself to prevent herself from "jumping down his throat." Hence the rapid conference at the hall door, and the ease with which Jeffreys got his footing in Galloway House.
"Come and have a bite of mutton," said Mrs Trimble, leading the way into the parlour. "Jonah and I are just having dinner."
Jonah, who, if truth must be told, had been neglecting his inner man during the last five minutes in order to peep through the crack of the door, and overhear the conference in the hall between his mother and the stranger, was a vulgar-looking youth of about Jeffrey's age, with a slight cast in his eye, but otherwise not bad-looking. He eyed the new usher as he entered with a mingled expression of suspicion and contempt; and Jeffreys, slow of apprehension though he usually was, knew at a glance that he had not fallen on a bed of roses at Galloway House.
"Jonah, this is Mr Jeffreys; I've taken him on in Fison's place. My son, Mr Jeffreys."
Jonah made a face at his mother, as much as to say, "I don't admire your choice," and then, with a half-nod at Jeffreys, said,—
"Ah, how are you?"
"Jonah and I always dine at twelve, Mr Jeffreys," said Mrs Trimble, over whom the prospect of the afternoon's nap was beginning to cast a balmy sense of ease. "You two young men will be good friends, I hope, and look well after the boys."
"More than you do," said the undutiful Jonah; "they've been doing just as they please the last month."
"It's a pity, Jonah, you never found fault with that before."
"What's the use of finding fault? No end to it when you once begin."
"Well," observed the easy-going matron, "you two will have to see I don't have occasion to find fault with you."
Jonah laughed, and asked Jeffreys to cut him a slice of bread.
Presently Mrs Trimble quitted the festive board, and the two ushers were left together.
"Lucky for you," said young Trimble, "you got hold of ma and pinned her down to taking you on on the spot. What's she going to pay you?"
The question did not altogether please the new assistant, but he was anxious not to come across his colleague too early in their acquaintanceship.
"She pays me nothing the first month. After that, if I suit, I'm to have a pound a month."
"If you suit? I suppose you know that depends on whether I like you or not?"
"I hope not," blurted out Jeffreys—"that is," added he, seeing his mistake, "I hope we shall get on well together."
"Depends," said Trimble. "I may as well tell you at once I hate stuck- uppedness (this was a compound word worthy of a young schoolmaster). If you're that sort you'd better cry off at once. If you can do your work without giving yourself airs, I shall let you alone."
Jeffreys was strongly tempted after this candid avowal to take the youthful snob's advice and cry off. But the memory of yesterday's miserable experiences restrained him. He therefore replied, with as little contempt as he was able to put into the words,—