Doctor Jolliffe's Boys
by Lewis Hough ___________ This a very enjoyable book about life in a boy's boarding school in the late nineteenth century. Despite school-rules, the boys get out of bounds for a number of reasons, for instance visiting a forbidden tuck shop; engaging in various cruel country sports, like rat baiting; going skating on a frozen lake, especially near the thin ice; poaching on a large nearby estate; and suchlike attractions.
Every scene is beautifully drawn, and I have wondered many times why the author did not write more, and indeed why this book is not more well known than it is. Until I found a copy in an old book shop I had never heard of either the author or of the book.
The characters of the various principal actors in the story are very well drawn, and one feels one knows them all quite well by the end of the book.
There was in fact another contemporary author of the same name, who was an expert in economic and currency affairs, and who also wrote using, and about, a novel way of getting books printed. N.H. ___________
DOCTOR JOLLIFFE'S BOYS
BY LEWIS HOUGH
A TALE OF WESTON SCHOOL.
WESTON versus HILLSBOROUGH.
"Well cut, Saurin, well cut! Run it out! Four!" The ball was delivered again to the bowler, who meditated a shooter, but being a little tired, failed in his amiable intention, and gave the chance of a half-volley, which the batsman timed accurately, and caught on the right inch of the bat, with the whole swing of his arms and body thrown into the drive, so that the ball went clean into the scorer's tent, as if desirous of marking the runs for itself.
"Well hit indeed! Well hit!"
The Westonians roared with delight, and their voices were fresh, for they had had little opportunity of exercising them hitherto. Crawley, the captain of their eleven, the hero in whom they delighted, had been declared out, leg before wicket, when he had only contributed five to the score. Only two of the Westonians believed that the decision was just, Crawley himself, and the youth who had taken his place, and was now so triumphant. But he hated Crawley, and rejoiced in his discomfiture, even though it told against his own side, so his opinion went for nothing.
Well, no more did anybody's else except the umpire's, who after all is the only person capable of judging.
"Saurin has got his eye in; we may put together a respectable score yet."
"He is the best player we have got, when he only takes the trouble; don't you think so?" said Edwards, who believed in Saurin with a faith which would have been quite touching if it had not been so irritating.
"He thinks so himself at any rate," replied the boy addressed, "and we are a shocking bad lot if he is right. Anyhow he seems to be in form to-day, and I only hope that it will last."
The batsman under discussion hoped so too. If he could only make an unprecedented score, restore the fortunes of the day, and show the world what a mistake it was to think Crawley his superior in anything whatever, it would be a glorious triumph. He was not of a patriotic disposition, and did not care for the success of his school except as it might minister to his own personal vanity and gain, for he had a bet of half-a-crown on his own side. But his egotism was quite strong enough to rival the public spirit of the others, and raise his interest to the general pitch.
The match between Weston and Hillsborough was an annual affair, and excited great emulation, being for each school the principal event of the cricketing season. One year it was played at Weston and the next at Hillsborough, and it was the Westonians' turn to play on their own ground on this occasion.
Hillsborough went in first and put together 94 runs. Then Weston went to the wickets and could make nothing of it. There was a certain left- handed Hillsburian bowler who proved very fatal to them; it was one of his twists which found Crawley's leg where his bat should have been. Result, eight wickets down for twenty, and then Saurin went in and made the 9 we have witnessed.
Between ourselves the cut was a fluke, but the half-volley was a genuine well-played hit, which deserved the applause it got. The next ball came straight for the middle stump, but was blocked back half-way between the creases, and another run was stolen.
The new bowler went in for slows. The first, a very tempting ball, Saurin played forward at, and hit it straight and hard into the hands of long field on, who fumbled and dropped it, amidst groans and derisive cheers.
Warned by this narrow shave he played back next time, and seemed to himself to have missed a really good chance. This feeling induced hesitation when the next ball was delivered, and the result of hesitation was that the insidious missile curled in somehow over his bat and toppled his bails off. Saurin was so much mortified as he walked back to the tent that he could not even pretend to assume a jaunty careless air, but scowled and carried his bat as if he would like to hit someone over the head with it. Which, indeed, he would.
There was one consolation for him, he had made ten, and that proved to be the top score.
For the first time within living memory Weston had to follow its innings!
Now when you consider that the presidents of Oxford and Cambridge Clubs kept an eye on this match with a view to promising colts, you may imagine the elation of the Hillsburians and the dejection of the Westonians when Crawley and Robarts walked once more to the wickets. Their schoolmates clapped their hands vigorously indeed, and some of them talked about the uncertainty of cricket, but the amount of hope they had would not have taken the room of a pair of socks in Pandora's box.
But Crawley was a bowler as well as a batsman, and Robarts was the Westonian wicket-keeper, so that both were somewhat fagged when they first went in, whereas they were now quite fresh. Again, the Hillsburian bowling champion found his dangerous left arm a little stiff, and his eyesight not so keen as it had been an hour before. One is bound to find a cause for everything, so these may be the reasons why the pair, after defending their wickets cautiously for an over or two, began to knock the bowling about in great style.
"What a jealous brute that Crawley is!" said Saurin, sitting down by Edwards.
"Awful!" replied Edwards, not at all knowing why, but following Saurin blindfold, as he always did.
"I was the only one who made any stand in the first innings, and yet he does not send me in early. He will keep me to the last, I daresay."
The wonderful stand spoken of had not lasted two overs, but Edwards only observed:
"Not that I care," said Saurin.
"Of course not."
"Only I do hate spite and jealousy."
"He ought not to be captain."
"Bah! the soft-spoken humbug; it's a wonder to me that fellows don't see through him."
"It is strange," echoed the complacent Edwards.
The number 30 went up amidst a storm of clapping, and Saurin relapsed into prudent silence, but he thought "hapes," like the Irishman's dumb parrot. The dinner-bell rang, the pair were not separated, and the score stood at 50.
"It will be a match yet," was the general opinion on the Weston side, and their opponents also thought that the affair did not look quite such a certainty, and agreed that they must not throw a chance away, though they hoped much from dinner, which sometimes puts a batsman off his play, the process of digestion inducing, especially in hot weather, a certain heaviness which impairs that clearness of brain necessary for timing a ball accurately. At the same time the bowlers would get a good rest, and the left-handed artist, who had been acting as long-stop, might reasonably be expected to regain his cunning. True that the midday meal tells most upon the field, which very generally grows sluggish after eating: but the Hillsborough boys fancied that would not matter so much, if they could only separate those two.
But "those two" had a due sense of their responsibilities, and ate a very moderate meal, which they washed down with nothing stronger than water. They also played very careful cricket on first going in again, and risked nothing until they had got their hands in. Item, Crawley had mastered the left-handed bowler's favourite ball, and by playing very forward hit it away before it took the dangerous twist. It looked very risky, and the Hillsborough wicket-keeper was in constant hope of stumping him, but he never missed, and scored off every ball of that sort which came to him. When the same twisters came to Robarts he played back, contenting himself with simply guarding his wickets with an upright bat.
Altogether the two put 85 together before Robarts was caught at point.
As they were going in to dinner Crawley had said to Saurin:
"You go in the first wicket down. You showed good form in the first innings, and it was a very unlucky ball that settled you so soon. But you will have a good chance again presently." Which speech had the unintended effect of making Saurin more exasperated than ever. "Confound his patronising!" he said to himself; but he could not find any excuse for any audible utterance except the conventional "All right," and he now drew on his gloves, took up his bat, and issued from the tent.
"Play careful cricket, Saurin," said Robarts as he passed him; "the great thing is to keep Crawley at the wicket as long as we can."
"A likely story!" he thought to himself as he strode across the turf, "to make myself a mere foil and stop-gap for that conceited brute! Not I." Far from practising the abstinence of the other two, he had eaten as much as he could stuff and drunk all the beer he could get, and this, combined with resentment at Robarts' words, caused him to go in for slogging just to show that he was not to be dictated to.
The first ball he got he hit as hard as he could, and well on to the ground, but it was cleverly stopped before a run could be made. The second he sent into the hands of the fielder standing at mid-wicket, who stuck to it, fast as it came, and threw it up amidst the cheers of his friends. Saurin stalked away with his duck's egg.
Four more wickets fell before Crawley was run out, by which time he had scored 90 off his own bat, the total standing at 150. Thirty more was added before the Westonians were all out, and the score stood—first innings, 40; second, 180; total, 220, against 94. So that Hillsborough now had to make 126 to tie, and 127 to win.
It was a good match; anybody's game. During the remainder of the afternoon Saurin behaved disgracefully. His temper had completely mastered him, and he was sulky and careless to an extent which made even Edwards ashamed for him. He let balls pass with hardly an attempt to stop them, picked them up and threw them in in a leisurely manner, which gave more than one run to the other side, and showed such indifference that he was hissed.
For every run was of importance. The fact was that Weston that year was decidedly weak in the bowling, Crawley being the only one to be depended upon, and he could not be kept at it for ever; and, though the fielding generally was good, the Hillsburians scored fast. At seven o'clock they were 100 for seven wickets, and the excitement was very great when Crawley, who had had an hour's interval, went on once more to bowl.
His first ball was cut for five. His second took the middle stump clean. His third came back into his hands. His fourth, the nastiest of shooters, glided under the bat into the wicket. Three wickets in three consecutive balls—something like a sensational over!
The match was over, and Weston had won by 21 runs.
There could be no doubt to whom the victory was due, and Crawley was pounced upon, hoisted, and carried home in triumph amidst the most enthusiastic cheering.
"All right!" he said, colouring and laughing as they put him down; "I am glad we won, but that last ball was the most awful fluke I ever made in my life. I lost my balance as I delivered it, and nearly came down. To tell the truth, I feared it would be wide, and could hardly believe my eyes when I saw the bails off."
One would have imagined that Saurin's evil genius was taking part in the events of the day, and piling success upon the rival he hated in order to exasperate him to madness. His state of mind, indeed, was little short of that as he went sullenly to his tutor's house, with the sight of Crawley, raised on his comrades' shoulders, in his eyes, their cheers ringing in his ears, and the thoughts of Cain in his heart.
"I shall give up cricket," he said to Edwards next day; "it's a beastly game."
"I don't care for it myself," replied his friend; "only, what is one to do?"
"Lots of things; you don't know Slam's. I tell you what—I'll take you there."
"Thank you; that will be very jolly; only don't you think if one were caught, you know—eh?"
"We should get into a jolly row, no doubt; but there is no fear of being caught. And, as you say, if one does not play cricket, what is one to do?"
One thing which induced Saurin to relinquish the game which he had at one time practised with some hope of success, was that he shrewdly suspected that, after what occurred, he would no longer be retained in the eleven. And he was right, for at the very next meeting of the committee it was unanimously agreed that a fellow who failed so utterly to keep his temper was of no use at all, even if he were a much better player than Saurin; and this opinion was intimated to him without any squeamishness in the choice of terms. Had Weston lost the match his conduct on the occasion might have resulted in his being sent to Coventry; but success is the parent of magnanimity, and, since his lack of public spirit had not proved fatal, it was condoned. But it certainly did not increase his popularity. The whole affair was most unfortunate. Saurin was a disappointing sort of fellow. He was rather good-looking, and on ordinary occasions his manners were those of a gentleman. His abilities were certainly above the average, and his eye and hand worked together in a manner which was calculated to ensure success in all games, especially as he was fleet of foot and muscular. Thus he was always giving promise of distinguishing himself, and dying away to nothing. The explanation is that he was very vain and very indolent, and his vanity induced him to engage in different pursuits which would excite admiration, while his indolence prevented him from persevering long enough for success. Directly anything bored him he dropped it. Self-indulgence seemed to him the only true wisdom. He never resisted the whim of the moment except through fear of the consequences, and unfortunately many of his propensities were vicious.
He had taken up cricket rather warmly, and seemed less inclined to get tired of it than of most healthy and innocent diversions, and cricket kept him out of mischief; so it was very unlucky, both for himself and for those over whom he had influence, that his jealousy of Crawley had led him to make such an idiot of himself.
About a mile from Weston College there was a dilapidated old house with a large yard and an orchard. There had been a farm attached to it once, but the land had been taken into the next estate, and the old homestead let separately many years before. The landlord would gladly have got rid of the present tenant, but he had a long lease, and, while he paid his rent, he was secure, and could snap his fingers at the squire, the clergyman, the magistrates, and all other people who did not appreciate him. Not that he ever did so snap his fingers; on the contrary, Mr Slam, though practically defiant, was remarkably civil, not to say obsequious, in his demeanour when he came into contact with the gentry. By profession he was a rat-catcher, and he had an intimate knowledge of the habits and frailties of all the small predatory animals of Great Britain, and knew well how to lure them to their destruction. In a game-preserving community such talents ought, one would imagine, to have met with appreciative recognition; but unfortunately Slam was suspected of being far more fatal to pheasants, hares, and rabbits than to all the vermin he destroyed. He protested his innocence, and was never caught in the act of taking game; but if anyone wanted to stock his preserves, Slam could always procure him a supply of pheasants' eggs, and more than one village offender who had been sent to expiate his depredations in jail was known to have paid visits to Slam's yard.
Slam was a dog-fancier as well as a rat-catcher, and therefore doggy boys were attracted to his premises, which, however, were sternly interdicted. In the first place they were out of bounds, though this of itself did not go for very much. There was no town very near Weston, and so long as the boys made their appearance at the specified hours they were not overmuch interfered with. Paper chases, or hare and hounds as they are sometimes called, were openly arranged and encouraged; and if boys liked to take walks in the country, they could do so with a minimum of risk. If they were awkward enough to meet a master face to face when out of bounds, he could hardly help turning them back and giving them a slight imposition; but if they saw him coming, and got out of his way, he would not look in their direction.
But to enter an inn, or to visit Slam's, was a serious offence, entailing severe punishment, and even expulsion, if repeated.
Yet one beautiful warm summer's evening, when the birds were singing and the grasshoppers chirruping, and all nature invited mankind to play cricket or lawn-tennis, if there were no river handy for boating, four youths might have been seen (but were not, luckily for them) approaching the forbidden establishment. A lane with high banks, now covered with ferns and wild flowers, and furrowed with ruts which were more like crevasses, ran up to the house; but they left this and went round the orchard to the back of the yard, in the wall of which there was a little door with a bell-handle beside it. On this being pulled there was a faint tinkle, followed by a canine uproar of the most miscellaneous description, the deep-mouthed bay of the blood-hound, the sharp yap-yap of the toy terrier, and a chorus of intermediate undistinguishable barkings, some fierce, some frolicsome, some expectant, being mixed up with the rattling of chains. Then an angry voice was heard amidst the hubbub commanding silence, and a sudden whine or two seemed to imply that he had shown some practical intention of being obeyed. A bolt was drawn, the door opened, and a short wiry man, dressed in fustian and velveteen, with a fur cap on his head and a short pipe in his mouth, stood before them.
"Come in, gents," said he. "Your dawg's at the other end of the yard, Mr Stubbs, that's why you don't see him. He's had an orkardness with Sayres, Mr Robarts' dog, as was in the next kennel, and I thought they'd have strangled themselves a-trying to get at one another, and so I had to separate them."
"Will it be safe to let him loose?" asked Stubbs.
"No fear; he will never go near the other while he's loose and the other one chained up; besides, he'll be took up with seeing you, he will."
It was very pleasant to the feelings of Stubbs that his dog knew him, which he evidently did, for he danced on his hind-legs, and wagged his tail, and whimpered, and did all that a bull-terrier can do in the way of smiling, when his proprietor approached for the purpose of freeing him from his chain. Their interviews were not as frequent as either dog or boy would have desired, but then they were very pleasant, for they brought the former a short spell of liberty, a meal of biscuit or paunch, and sometimes—oh, ecstasy!—the worrying of a rat, while Stubbs enjoyed the sense of proprietorship, and the knowledge that he was doing what was forbidden. He had dreams of leaving school and taking Topper home with him, and owning him as his friend before all the world, and he talked to Topper of that happy prospect, and Topper really quite seemed to understand that Stubbs was his master, who had paid money for him, and was now put to considerable expense for his board and lodging, let alone the danger he ran in coming to visit him. To an outsider, calmly reflecting, it did not seem a very good bargain for Stubbs, but still very much better than that of Perry, his friend and present companion, who kept a hawk, and vainly endeavoured to teach the bird to know him and perch on his wrist. But Perry was fond of hawks, and much regretted that the days were gone by when hawking was a favourite pastime.
The other two visitors at Slam's that evening were Saurin and Edwards. Edwards had never been there before, and consequently his feelings were curiously compounded of fear and pleasurable expectation. He had looked from a distance at the place, the entrance to which was so sternly forbidden, and imagined all sorts of delightful wickedness—how delightful or why wicked he had no idea—going on inside. He was considerably disappointed to find himself in a dirty yard full of kennels, to which dogs of all sorts and sizes were attached, none of whom looked as if it would be safe to pat them. There were a good many pigeons flying about, but he did not care for pigeons except in a pie. Perry's hawk was only interesting to Perry. There was a monkey on a pole in a corner, but he was a melancholy monkey, who did nothing but raise and lower his eyebrows.
"Does the gentleman want a dawg?" asked Slam.
"He will see," replied Saurin; "if there is a real good one that takes his fancy he may buy him. It's all right; he's a friend of mine. Have you got that tobacco for me?"
"To be sure; you will find it in your drawer."
Saurin went to a little wooden outhouse which contained a table, a chest of drawers, a cask of dog-biscuits, cages of rats, and other miscellaneous articles, and opening a locker which seemed to be appropriated to him, he took out a meerschaum pipe and a tobacco-pouch, and came out presently, emitting columns of blue fragrant smoke from his mouth. Edwards looked at his friend with increased respect, the idea of being intimate with a fellow who could smoke like that made him feel an inch taller.
"I think it's beginning to colour, eh?" asked Saurin.
"Beautifully, I should say," replied Edwards.
"Won't you try?"
"Thanks; I think I should rather like," said Edwards, who began to feel ambitious, "but I have not got anything to smoke."
"Oh, Slam will let you have a pipe, or a cigar if you like it better."
Edwards, calling to mind that cigars smelt nicer than pipes, thought he should prefer one.
"Slam, my friend wants a cigar."
"Well, sir, as you know, I can't sell such things without a licence; but if the gent likes to have a few rats for one of the dawgs to show a bit of sport, I'll give him a cigar with pleasure. It's sixpence for half a dozen."
"And, by the by, Edwards, it is usual to stand some beer to pay your footing. A couple of quarts of sixpenny will do."
"That will make eighteenpence altogether," responded Edwards cheerfully, producing that sum.
"I'll send out for the beer at once," said Mr Slam, taking the money and going towards the house.
Where he sent to is a mystery, for there was no public-house within a mile, and yet the can of beer arrived in about five minutes. It is much to be feared that Slam set the excise law at defiance when he felt perfectly safe from being informed against.
"Rats for Topper!" exclaimed Stubbs. "Oh, I say, Edwards, you are a brick, you know. I have been hard up lately, and he has not had a rat for ever so long. You won't mind my letting them out for him, will you? You see, I should like him to think it was I who gave him the treat, if you don't mind."
Edwards had no objection to become a party to this innocent deception, and the cage of rats was brought out from some mysterious place where there was an unlimited supply of those vermin. Whereupon every individual dog in the establishment went off his head with excitement, and began barking and tearing at his chain in a manner to soften the hardest heart. That rats should be so near and yet so far! The building, which was once a stable, had been fitted up expressly as an arena, where dogs might exhibit their prowess, and thither the cage was now carried by Stubbs, Topper going almost the whole way on his hind- legs, with his nose close to the wires. Considering the amount of excitement the entertainment did not last long; the rats were turned out into the arena, where Topper pounced upon them one after the other with a nip and a shake which was at once fatal. In a couple of minutes there were six fewer rats in the world, and Topper was extremely anxious to diminish the number still further. Doctor Johnson, the compiler of the dictionary, said he had never in his life had as many peaches and nectarines as he could eat, and that was Topper's feelings with regard to rats. Edwards did not enjoy the spectacle quite as much as he felt that he ought. Besides, he was engaged in desperate efforts to light his cigar. Match after match did he burn, sucking away all the time like a leech, but no smoke came into his mouth.
"Let us go into the orchard and finish the beer," said Saurin.
The orchard was surrounded by so thick a hedge that it was just as private as the yard. A cobby horse was cropping the grass, an ungroomed, untrimmed animal, very much better than he looked, his master, for reasons of his own, being as anxious to disguise his merits as most proprietors of the noble animal are to enhance them as much as possible. There were possibilities of recreation here, though they were somewhat of a low order. Quoits hung up on several large nails driven into a wall, and there was a covered skittle alley. For there were a good many small farmers of the class just above that of the a labourer in the neighbourhood, and some of them frequented Slam's, and were partial to skittles.
The four boys and the proprietor of the establishment seated themselves on benches in this orchard and gulped the beer.
"Your cigar does not seem to draw well," said Saurin.
"No," replied Edwards; "I can't think what is the matter with it; I never smoked a cigar like this before."
Which was perfectly true, as it was the first he had ever put into his mouth.
"Let me look at it. Why, you have not bitten the end off! You might as well expect smoke to go up a chimney that is bricked up at the top. Here, I'll cut it for you with my penknife; now you will find it go all right. What a row that hawk of yours makes, Perry!"
"Yes, he ought to be hooded, you know. Hateful times we live in, don't we! How jolly it must have been when education meant learning to ride, fly a hawk, train a hound, shoot with the bow, and use the sword and buckler, instead of mugging at abominable lessons."
"Right you are, sir," said Mr Slam; "why, even when I was a lad a fight or a bit of cocking could be brought off without much trouble, but nowadays the beaks and perlice are that prying and interfering there's no chance hardly. And as for them times Mr Perry was speaking of, why, I've heard tell that the princes and all the nobs used to go to see a prize-fight in a big building all comfortable, just as they goes now to a theayter. And every parish had to find a bull or a bear to be bated every Sunday. Ah! them was the good old times, them was."
Edwards did not find his cigar very nice. The smoke got down his throat and made him cough till his eyes watered, and the taste was not so pleasant as the smell. However, Saurin seemed to like it, so there must be some pleasure about it if he only persevered.
He laboured under a delusion here, for Saurin would rather not have smoked, as a matter of fact, though he had a great object in view, the colouring of his pipe, which supported him. His real motive in this, as in all other matters, was vanity. Other boys would admire him for smoking like a full-grown man, and so he smoked. He would never have done it alone, without anyone to see him, being too fond of himself to persevere in anything he did not like, out of whim, or for the sake of some possible future gratification, of the reality of which he was not very well assured.
"Did you ever play at quoits, Edwards?" asked Saurin presently.
"Yes, I have played at home; we have some."
"Suppose we have a game, then. Why, hulloa, how pale you look! don't smoke any more of that cigar."
"I do fee—feel a little queer," said Edwards, who certainly did not exaggerate his sensations. A cold sweat burst out on his forehead, his hands were moist and clammy, and though it was a warm evening he shivered from head to foot, while he had a violent pain in his stomach which prevented his standing upright.
"Come, man alive, don't give way. We must be getting back soon," said Saurin, who was rather dismayed at the idea of taking his friend to his tutor's in that condition, and the consequent risk of drawing suspicion on himself. "Would not a drop of brandy be a good thing, Slam?"
"Well, no, not in this here case," said Slam. "The missus shall mix him a little mustard and warm water; that's what he wants."
"You are sure it's only the cigar," groaned Edwards. "I am not poisoned or anything?"
"Poisoned! how can you be? You have taken nothing but the beer, and we have all drunk that. No, it's the tobacco; it always makes fellows rather seedy at first, and I expect you swallowed a lot of the smoke."
"Well, then, drink this and you will be all right presently."
Edwards took the emetic, which had the effect peculiar to that description of beverage. It was not a pleasant one; indeed, he thought he was going to die; but after a while the worst symptoms passed off, and he was able to walk home.
Saurin and Edwards lodged at the same tutors, and they went up to the room of the latter without attracting attention. Here Edwards, under the other's directions, washed his face, cleaned his teeth, changed his jacket and neck-tie, and put some scented pomatum on his hair, and then lay down on his bed till the supper-bell should ring.
"I shall not be able to eat," he remonstrated. "Do you think I need go down?"
"Oh, yes; come and have a try, or else it will excite suspicion. You would have to show at prayers directly afterwards, you know, so it will not make much difference. You have nothing to do with old Cookson between this and supper—no exercise or anything?"
"No, thank goodness!"
"That's all right. You have a good hour for a nap, and your head will be better then. I must go and sweeten myself now."
I regret to say that "old Cookson" was the shockingly disrespectful way in which this flagitious youth spoke of his reverend and learned tutor.
Weston College was a polishing-up establishment. Boys were not admitted under the age of fourteen, or unless they showed a certain proficiency in Greek and Latin, in the first book of Euclid, in arithmetic and algebra up to simple equations. And the entrance examination, mind you, was no farce. If a candidate was not well grounded they would not have him; and it was necessary to be particular, because the first or lowest form assumed a certain amount of knowledge in the commencement of that course which proposed to land the neophyte in the Indian Civil Service, the army, or a good scholarship at one of the universities.
Though fourteen was the age of possible admission, very few boys were qualified until they were at least a year older, and consequently there was no organised system of fagging, and flogging was a very rare and extreme measure; but otherwise the system somewhat resembled that of the large public schools. The head-master and three other masters each had a house full of boarders, whose preparation of lessons on certain subjects he superintended; and every boy had a separate apartment, which was his study and bedroom.
It was an expensive school, and the discipline of Dr Jolliffe was more lax than many parents and guardians quite liked; and yet few of the boys who went there were rich. It was very rarely, that is, that one of them had not to make his own way in the world. And the number, which was limited, was always complete. For results speak for themselves, and the examination lists showed triumphant successes for Weston. It is true that if they only took boys of considerable proficiency, and got rid of all who made no progress, they might be expected to show a good average; but then, on the other hand, there was no cramming, and every encouragement was given to healthy athletic exercise. Three or four years were taken to do the work which is too often jammed into a few months. That was the secret; and, though of course there were failures, it answered well on the whole.
This is an explanatory digression, just to let you know what sort of stage our characters are acting upon.
It was Saturday afternoon, and a half-holiday, and there was only one boy left in Dr Jolliffe's house. His name was Buller, and he was neither sick nor under punishment. His window was wide open, for it was very hot and stuffy in his little room, into which the sun poured, and on the other side of a lane which ran underneath was the cricket-field, from which the thud of balls struck by the bat, voices, and laughter resounded in a way to tempt any fellow out of his hole. But there he stuck with his elbows on the table and his head in his hands, forcing himself to concentrate his attention upon a book which lay open before him.
"Because a divided by b equals c divided by d," he murmured, "the first quotients m m are equal. Yes, I see that; again, since a divided by b equals m plus x divided by b, and c divided by d equals m plus r divided by d, hum, hum, why, in the name of all that's blue—oh, yes! I see. But then—oh, a thousand blisters on the idiot who invented this rot! But I won't be licked."
And he began again and again, sticking to it for another half-hour, when he suddenly cried out, "I have it! What a double-distilled ass I am! Of course it is simple enough. If a divided by b equals c divided by d, and a and b be prime to each other, c and d are equimultiples of a and b. Of course they are; how could they be anything else? The other fellows saw it at once, no doubt. What a lot of trouble it gives one to be a fool! Now, I'll go and practise bowling."
Buller was no fool; indeed he would not have thought himself one if he had been; but he was slow at everything—learning, games, accomplishments—though he had this compensation, no slight one either, that when he had once mastered a thing he had got it for ever. His school-fellows called him a duffer, but it did not vex him in the least, for he considered it a mere statement of a patent fact, and was no more offended than if they had said that he had two legs. But he had a strong belief that perseverance, sticking, he called it, could make up in a great measure for want of natural ability. The fable of the hare and tortoise had given him great encouragement, and, finding in practice that he passed boys who had far more brilliant parts than himself, he never gave way to despair, however hopeless the task before him might seem.
His ambition—never expressed, however, to anyone—was to get into the eleven. Had it been known it would have been thought the very height of absurdity, and have become such a standing joke that its realisation would have been rendered well nigh impossible. It proved that Buller had sound sense that he was able to see this. He did not much expect to succeed, but he meant to try all he knew, ever since the day he was called "old butter-fingers" in a game in which he showed especial incapacity to catch the ball. He began by mastering that; whenever he could he got fellows to give him catches. He practised throwing the ball up in the air and catching it again. When he went home for the holidays he would carry a tennis-ball in his pocket, and take every opportunity of throwing it against a wall and taking it at the rebound with both hands, with the right hand, and with the left. At last he got quite dexterous—and sinistrous, too, for that matter.
But the mere fact of being able to manipulate the ball smartly, though it is of supreme importance in cricket, would never gain him admission into the eleven of his house, let alone that of the school. For that, as he well knew, he must cultivate a speciality, and he decided upon bowling. Wicket-keeping could only be practised in a regular game, and no side would agree to let him fill the post—it was not likely. Batting everyone wanted to practise, and it would be very rarely that he would be able to get a good bowler to bowl for him. There was a professional, indeed, who was always in the cricket-fields during the season, but his services were generally in request, and, besides, they were expensive, and Tom Buller had not much pocket-money. But there was almost always some fellow who was glad to get balls given to him, and, if not, you can set a stump up in front of a net and bowl at that.
To have worked all this out in his mind did not look like lack of intelligence or observation, and to act upon it steadily, without saying a word about it to anybody, showed considerable steadfastness and resolution. He now put his algebra and papers into his bureau, took out his cricket-ball and ran down-stairs and round to the fields. At first it seemed as if he would be obliged to have recourse to his solitary stump, for, it being the Saturday half-holiday, there were two matches going on, and those present not taking part in them were playing lawn- tennis. But presently he espied Robarts, who had been in and out again in the game he was engaged in, and was now waiting for the innings of his side to be over, standing in front of a net, bat in hand, with two boys bowling to him.
"May I give you a ball, Robarts?" he asked.
"Of course you may, Buller; the more the merrier," was the reply; "only, if you are so wide as to miss the net, you must go after the ball yourself." And Robarts raised his bat, prepared for a good swipe if the ball came within reach, which he did not much expect.
Buller measured his distance, took a short run, and sent the ball in with the energy begotten of long mugging at algebra on a fine afternoon. Every muscle in his body seemed to long for violent exertion; the pent- up strength in him, like steam, demanded an outlet, and, with his hand rather higher than the shoulder, he sent the ball in with a will.
"By Jove! that was straight enough, and a hot one too!" exclaimed Robarts, who had only just managed to block it. "It made my hands tingle."
The two others delivered their balls, which were hit away right and left, and then Buller came again with another which had to be blocked. The other bowlers who had been playing, and were going in again presently, were glad to stop and leave Buller to work away alone, which he did in a deliberate, determined manner, proving that his first attempts were not chance shots. Twice he sent the wickets down, and once, when the ball was driven back to him, he caught it with the left hand, high up.
"Well," said Robarts when he was called away to go and field, "and you are the fellow they called a duffer! Why, it is like magic! Were you playing dark last year, or what?"
"No; but I have been practising."
"You have practised to some purpose, then. If you could only vary your bowling a little more you would be very dangerous. You see, if you always send the same sort of ball, a fellow knows how to meet it after a bit."
Robarts as an all-round player was only reckoned inferior to Crawley, and his words of approval were very gratifying to Buller, who felt himself a step nearer one particular goal. He did not indulge in daydreams, however, not being of an imaginative disposition. The actual difficulty which he had to master at the time took up all his thoughts and energies, and the distant object to be attained, though never absolutely lost sight of, was never dwelt upon or brooded over.
He at once looked about for someone else to bowl for, and found his particular chum, Penryhn, who, after fagging out through the heat of the day, had gone to the wicket with the sun in his eyes, and been clean bowled the first ball.
"Will you really bowl for me?" he said eagerly in reply to Buller's offer. "What a good fellow you are!"
"Why? for doing what I want? That is laying in a stock of good works cheap. You won't mind a few wides, I hope; Robarts says there is too great a sameness about my bowling, so I want to practise twisters and shooters. You won't mind if I bowl at your legs?"
"Not a bit; ignis via—fire away."
The necessity for violent exertion had been taken out of Buller, indeed it was now oozing away from every pore of his skin. So he did not try fast bowling, except now and then when he attempted to put in a shooter, but concentrated his attention principally upon placing his ball, or on pitching it to leg with an inward twist towards the wicket. He constantly failed; sent easy ones which were hit about to the peril of neighbouring players; cut Penryhn over once on the knee-cap and once on the ankle. But he never once delivered the ball carelessly, or without a definite object. And when his arm got so tired that his mind could no longer direct it, he left off and Penryhn bowled in turn to him, his great object then being to keep an upright bat rather than to hit.
"I'll tell you what, Tom, you have improved in your cricket awfully," said Penryhn as they strolled back in the dusk. "Why, you took Robarts' wickets twice."
"Yes, but I should not have done it in a game; fellows step out and hit recklessly in practice."
"No matter for that; you are quite a different bowler from what you were."
"The fact is it takes me all my time to learn to do what comes to other fellows naturally."
"That's a bit too deep for me; some fellows can do one thing easily and others another, and every fellow has to work hard to learn those things which belong, as it were, to the other fellows. There are chaps, I suppose, like the Admirable Crichton, who are born good all round, and can play the fiddle, polish off Euclid, ride, shoot, lick anyone at any game, all without the slightest trouble, but one does not come across them often, thank goodness. I say, do you know what genius is?"
"Not exactly; that is, I could not define it."
"Well, I have heard my father say that some very clever chap has said that it is 'an infinite capacity for taking pains,' and if that's true, by Jove, you must be a genius, Tom!"
And they both burst out laughing at the notion, and went in and changed their flannels. And Buller lit his candle and mugged at a German exercise till the supper-bell rang.
Half-holidays did not necessarily preclude work in the tutor's pupil- rooms, which was preparatory to that in school, though practically the hours of recreation were never interfered with in fine weather. But after the hour of "All In," as the local phrase went, when the roll was called, and every boy had to be in for the night, an hour which varied with the time of the year, it was different. And on this Saturday evening Mr Cookson had some arrears of Historical Theme correction to make up. For since history plays a considerable part in modern competitive examinations, every boy had to read up a certain portion of some standard work every week, and write a theme upon it, without the book, in the pupil-room. This theme was looked over with him by his tutor before being sent in to the head-master, and if it did not reach a certain standard it was torn up, and he had to read the subject again and write another one. Edwards was one of the essayists whose paper had not yet been examined, and he stood at this tutor's elbow while he read it over. "'After he had been some years in England Sir Elijah Impey was tried by Doctors' Commons.'" "House of Commons, boy," said Mr Cookson, "people are not impeached at Doctors' Commons, that's where wills are proved," and he made a correction,—"'and proved he hadn't murdered the rajah. And so Sir Philip Francis, the author of a book called Junius, the writer of which was never discovered,'"—"why, that's a bull;" Mr Cookson could not help chuckling as he made a dash and a correction,—"'and deaf Burke,'"—"'I never heard that he was deaf—oh, that was another man, a prize-fighter, ho, ho, ho, ahem!'"—"'and Burke were very much ashamed of themselves, and were hissed, and never alluded to the subject, from which originated the phrase of "burking the question,"'"—"Pooh, pooh, never make shots like that:"—"'and Sir Elijah Impey was found Not Guilty, and all his property was taken from him to pay the lawyers with.'" "Well, well, it's not so bad," said Mr Cookson, signing his name at the bottom of the last page. "And now, Edwards," he added, turning and looking the boy straight in the eyes, "I have a good mind to have you flogged."
"Me, sir!" exclaimed Edwards, turning pale; "what for, sir?"
"Doctor Jolliffe does not flog for many things, but there are certain offences he never fails to visit with the utmost severity. Smoking is one of them."
"I assure you, sir, I have not—"
"Lying is another, so do not finish your sentence. I can smell the stale tobacco."
And indeed Edwards was wearing the jacket in which he had indulged in that emetical luxury, his first cigar, two evenings previously.
"But really, sir, it is no lie," he urged; "I have not been smoking, and I cannot tell where the smell comes from, unless it is my jacket, which I wore in the holidays, when I sat in the room with my father when he was having his cigar sometimes, and which has been in my box till the other day. I am certain it cannot be my breath or anything else."
"Come nearer; no, your breath and hair are free from the taint. Well, it may be as you say, and I am loth to suspect you of falsehood. But listen to me, my boy; I am not assuming that you have been smoking, mind, but only, as we are on the subject, that you might do so. It may seem very arbitrary that the rules against it are so very severe, considering how general the practice is, but they are wise for all that. However harmless it may be for those who have come to their full growth, smoking tobacco is certainly very injurious to lads who are not matured. And indeed until the habit is acquired—it affects the digestion and the memory of every one. Now, in these days of competitive examinations, when every young fellow on entering life has to struggle to get his foot on the first rung of the ladder, and all his future prospects depend on his doing better than others, how inexpressibly silly it is for him to handicap himself needlessly by taking a narcotic which confuses his brain and impairs his memory, and which affords him no pleasure whatever. I treat you as a rational being, and appeal to your common sense, and speak as your friend. Now, go."
Edwards was not such a ready liar as you may think him, though he certainly prevaricated. He had worn that jacket in his father's smoking-room, and it had lain in his box during the early part of the term. He had not smoked again since the occasion commemorated, and that was two days previously, and he persuaded himself that his tutor's question applied to that day. But he knew in his heart that it didn't, and with the kind tones of his tutor's voice ringing in his ears he felt as if he ought to be kicked.
But when he went up to his room he found Saurin there, and any feelings of self-reproach he had had soon melted away.
"What's up, now?" asked his friend. "You look as if you had seen a ghost."
"I nearly got into an awful row, I can tell you!" replied Edwards. "My tutor smelt my jacket of smoke while he was correcting my theme."
"By Jove! And how did you get out of it?"
"I told him I had worn the jacket in my father's smoking-room."
"Ha, ha, ha! that was a good un. Well done, old fellow! I did not think you had so much presence of mind. You will make your way yet."
Edwards was on the point of protesting that what he said was the fact, but his guide, philosopher, and friend seemed so much pleased with the ingenuity of his plea that he could not bear to rob himself of the credit of it, and so he looked as knowing as he conveniently could, and chuckled, taking a pride in what five minutes before he was ashamed of.
"That's the worst of cigar-smoking, the smell clings so to the clothes and hair. Now, a pipe is much easier to get sweet again after, unless, of course, you carry it about in your pocket. Wore the jacket in your father's smoking-room about a month ago! and old Cookson was soft enough to swallow that. How old Slam would chuckle! I must tell him."
"Do you know, I am not quite certain that my tutor did altogether believe that I had not been smoking," said Edwards, his conscience stirring again a little bit now that he saw the man who had spoken so kindly to him incurring the terrible risk of forfeiting Saurin's esteem through a false imputation of too great credulity. "You see, he's a good-natured chap, and I think he wanted to believe if he could, and as my hair and breath did not smell, he gave me the benefit of the doubt."
"Thought it would bring discredit on his house if it were known to contain a monster who smoked tobacco," said Saurin, "and so was glad to pretend to believe the papa-smoking-room story. Well, it is possible; old Cookson may not be so great a fool as he looks. Anyhow, I am glad for your sake that he did not report you; old Jolliffe would not have been humbugged. He would have said, 'Your jacket stinks of tobacco, and jackets don't smoke of themselves.' And you would have got it hot, old fellow, for Jolliffe is mad against smoking."
AN OUTSIDE PROFESSOR.
Saurin's master passion of vanity caused him to be fond of low company. This may sound odd to some, because many vain people are sycophants, who will do anything to be seen in the company of persons of title or high social position, and who cut the acquaintance of old friends, and even benefactors when they dare and can do without them, when they are of inferior grade. These are contented to shine with a reflected light; but Saurin's pride was of a different description, and he chafed at being a satellite, and always wanted to figure as a sun, the centre of his companions, who must revolve around him. How small a sun did not matter. And so, though really possessed of considerable abilities, he was happier when in the company of boors and clodhoppers, who owned his superiority and deferred to all he said, than he was with his equals, who presumed to question his opinions, differ in their tastes, and laugh at his failures. This natural disposition had, unfortunately, been fostered by circumstances. He was an only child, born in India, and had been sent over to England in his early infancy, and committed to the care of an uncle. His parents died before they could come home, and he never knew them. His uncle and guardian lost his wife very soon after the boy was sent to him. He was older and had settled in life very much earlier than his brother, and his two children (girls) were married and living, at a distance. He resided nominally in the country, but after his wife's death lived a great deal in London. So there was no one to look properly after the orphan, who associated with grooms and gamekeepers, and played with the village boys. Unfortunately the best of these went to work, and it was only the idle good-for-nothings who were available as playmates. When his uncle had an inkling of what was going on he sent him to school, where he did not get on badly so far as learning was concerned, but unfortunately he did not unlearn the lessons taught him by bumpkin ne'er-do-weels, and when he went home for the holidays he renewed his acquaintance with them with fresh zest. He had a good voice, and would sing to the revellers at harvest homes and other rural festivities as they sipped their ale, and delighted in their applause and wonder at his cleverness, and in the deference they paid him. When he went to Weston his ambition took at first a higher flight, and he dreamed of dominating the school. With this idea he began to study with some ardour, and his natural ability enabled him to make good progress. At all the games in which success brought consideration he also tried to attain proficiency, and he endeavoured in every way he could think of to court popularity. But there were others as clever and cleverer than himself, as good and better at football, running, and cricket, and very many whose manners and disposition were more attractive. He had not got the patient persistency of Tom Buller, or with his superior quickness he might have gone far towards success. But he wanted to establish his position at a jump, and every failure discouraged and irritated him. And so his efforts became more and more spasmodic, and he confined himself to trying to become the head of a clique. But his overbearing vanity and selfishness would show itself too glaringly at times, and many who accepted him as a leader at first grew weary of him, and Edwards was his only really faithful follower. Therefore he fell back upon Slam's, where certain young farmers of the neighbourhood, for whom he sometimes provided drink, applauded his songs and jokes, and fooled him to the top of his bent. But he none the less chafed at his want of appreciation in the school, and bitterly hated Crawley, who in a great measure filled the place which he coveted.
Since the cricket match in which he had figured so ignominiously, Saurin had become a confirmed loafer, and frequented the old reprobate's yard almost daily. And, indeed, a new attraction had been added to the establishment. Wobbler, the pedestrian, a candidate for the ten-miles championship of Somersetshire, was residing there during his training for that world-renowned contest. It cannot be correctly said that Wobbler was very good company, for indeed his conversational powers were limited, which was perhaps fortunate, seeing that his language was not very choice when he did speak. But he was a man of varied accomplishments; not only could he walk, but he could run, and swim, and box. Indeed he had only deserted the pugilistic for the pedestrian profession because the former was such a poor means of livelihood, closely watched as its members were by the police. Now, Saurin had long wished to learn to box, an art which was not included in the curriculum of the Weston gymnasium, and here was an opportunity. The professor's terms were half-a-crown a lesson, provided there was a class of at least four. The ordinary allowance of pocket-money at Weston was eighteenpence a week, plus tips, plus what was brought back to school after the holidays. In the words of Mr Slam, "it wouldn't run to it." There were seven occasional frequenters of the forbidden yard who were anxious to acquire the rudiments of the noble art of self- defence, but half-a-crown a lesson was a prohibitive tariff. Indeed it seemed contrary to principle to pay to learn anything. Saurin hit on a way out of the difficulty; he wrote this letter to his guardian:
"My dear Uncle,—I should like to learn gymnastics, fencing, boxing, and those things, but the regular man appointed to teach such things here is a duffer, and makes it a bore, keeping you at dumb-bells and clubs and such stupid work for ever, just to make the course last out, for the charges are monstrous. And so, hearing about this, Professor Wobbler, a first-rate instructor, I am told, has engaged a room in the neighbourhood, where he gives lessons at half-a-crown each, or a course of ten for one pound. It has to be kept secret, because the man appointed by the school would have the boys forbidden to go there if he knew. If you don't mind, will you please send the pound to me or to Professor Wobbler. I will send you his receipt if you pay him through me. Please do not mention the matter if it does not meet with your approval, as I should be very sorry to take the poor man's bread out of his mouth."
This part of the epistle, a cunning combination of the suppressio veri and suggestio falsi, was given to all the others who were in the plot to copy. I am sorry to say that in several instances, including those of Saurin and Edwards, it was successful, and the class was formed.
The professor was not beautiful to look at. His forehead was low and projecting, his eyes small, his nose flat, his lower jaw square and massive. Neither were his words of instruction characterised by that elegance which public lecturers often affect, but they were practical and to the point, which after all is the chief thing to be looked at.
"You stands easy like," he said to Saurin, who was taking his first lesson in an unfurnished room of Slam's house, the fine weather having terminated in a thunderstorm, and a wet week to follow. "Don't plant your feet as if you meant to grow to the floor, and keep your knees straight—no, not stiff like that, I mean don't bend them. You wants to step forwards or to step backwards, quick as a wink, always moving the rear foot first, or else you'd stumble over it and get off your balance, and that would give t'other a chance. You must be wary, wary, ready to step up and hit, or step back out of reach. Keep your heyes on t'other's, and that will help you to judge the distance. Take 'em off for a bit of a second and you'll have his mawley well on your nose at once. Now, your left arm and fut in advance, not too much; keep your body square to the front. Your right arm across, guarding what we calls the mark, that's just above the belt, where the wind is. Let your left play up and down free, your foot and body moving with it graceful like. That's better. Now, try to hit me in the face as hard as you can; you won't do it, no fear; I should like to bet a pound to a shilling on that every time, and I won't hold my hands up neither. It's just to show yer what judging the distance is."
Saurin hesitated at first, and hit gently; but urged to try his best he at last struck out sharply, but could not reach the professor's visage. Sometimes he turned it slightly to the right, sometimes to the left, and the blow went past his ear. Some times he just drew his head back, and the pupil's fist came to within an inch of what he called his nose, but never touched it. This was a way the professor had of showing his credentials—it was his unwritten diploma proving his efficiency to instruct in the noble art. After this the boxing gloves were put on, and the pupil was directed to walk round the professor in a springy manner, leading off at his face, the instructor throwing off the blows with an upward movement of the right arm. Next, after a pause for rest, they went on again, Saurin leading off, the professor parrying and returning the blow, slowly at first, then quicker as the pupil gained skill and confidence in warding off the hit. Then the instructor led off, and the pupil parried and returned. Then one, two, three, four. And so the first lesson ended, and Stubbs, who was another of the class, was taken in hand. Now Stubbs had naturally let his beloved Topper loose as he passed through the yard, and the dog followed him into the room where the lesson was going on. So long as Stubbs led off at the professor Topper was quiet and happy; his master he thought was worrying someone, it was his human equivalent to killing a rat; but when the professor led off at him, the case was different, and Topper, without warning, went straight at the supposed assailant's throat. Fortunately the professor had a bird's-eye handkerchief round his neck, which protected it from the dog's teeth, for Topper sprang right up and fixed him. It was frightful to look at, but Stubbs had the presence of mind to seize his animal round the throat with both hands immediately and drag him away; his teeth were so firmly set in the handkerchief that that came too. No one is a hero at all hours, and Wobbler came as near being frightened as a soldier or a pugilist can be supposed, without libel, to do. This made him angry, and he used language towards the dog and his anatomy, and his own anatomy, which is not customary in polite society. Stubbs carried the offender down to his kennel and chained him up, and on his return offered a peace-offering of beer, which was well meant but unkind, seeing that the professor was in training and restricted as to his potations. However, Topper's fangs had not broken the skin, thanks to the handkerchief, though certainly not to Topper. Mr Wobbler recovered his equanimity, and affably condescended to apologise for his remarks.
"I'm almost afeard as I swore, gents," he observed, and his fear was certainly well founded. "I was a trifled startled, you see, and expressed myself as I felt, strong. Bull-terriers is nice dogs, and I'm very partial to them, in their proper place, but that's not a hanging on to my wind pipe; at least that's my opinion. But I'm sorry if I spoke rough, which is not in my habits. Nobody can say that Job Wobbler is uncivil to his backers or his patrons."
A speech which was perhaps rather lacking in dignity for a professor. The lesson then went on, and was succeeded by others, sometimes in the room, sometimes in the orchard, according to the weather. And when the pupils had attained a certain degree of proficiency they were paired off against one another, first for leads-off, at the head, parry and return at the body, stop and return at the head, and so forth. Finally, for loose sparring, the professor standing by and stopping them when they got wild, or began punching indiscriminately. Saurin made considerable progress, and was a long way the best of the class—so much so, indeed, that he had to play lightly with the others, or they would not all set to with him. Even such a critic as Slam expressed his approval, and this superiority was sugar and sack to Saurin, being indeed the first consolation he had received since the mortification of being turned out of the eleven. But, alas! sparring was not a recognised item of Weston athletics, and he could not gain the applause of the whole school by his proficiency, which was only known to a very few of the initiated. Unless, indeed,—and here a thought which had long lain dormant in his mind, for the first time assumed a distinct shape. Suppose he happened to come to an open outbreak with Crawley, and it ended in a fight, what an opportunity it would be to gratify his ambition and his hatred at the same time! He did not actually plan anything of the kind, or say to himself that he would pick a quarrel. The idea was merely a fancy, a daydream. Man or boy must be bold as well as bad deliberately to form a scheme for bringing about an encounter with a formidable enemy, and Saurin was not particularly bold, certainly not rashly so, and Crawley would be likely to prove a very awkward customer. Instructors of any sort, whether they are professors of mathematics, or Hebrew, or of dancing, or boxing, have this in common, that they are sure to take a special interest in apt pupils; and so Mr Wobbler paid more attention to Saurin than to the others, and showed him certain tricks, feints, and devices which he did not favour everybody with. He also gave him some hints in wrestling, and taught him the throw called the cross-buttock. Saurin used likewise to go to the highroad along which the professor took his daily walks in preparation for his match, and sometimes held the stop-watch for him, and learned how to walk or run in a way to attain the maximum of speed with a minimum of exertion. The mere learning to box, and the necessary association with a man like Wobbler, would not have done the boys much harm of itself. The deception practised in order to obtain the money to pay him with, and the skulking and dodging necessary for approaching and leaving Slam's premises without being seen, were far more injurious to them, especially since the great freedom allowed to the boys at Weston was granted on the assumption that they would not take advantage of it to frequent places which were distinctly forbidden. And to do them justice, the great majority felt that they were on honour, and did not abuse the trust. But for Saurin, and for Edwards and a few others who followed Saurin's lead, the mischief did not end here. Mr Wobbler sometimes unbended— Mr Saurin was such a "haffable gent" there was no resisting him—and told anecdotes of his past experiences, which were the reverse of edifying. It was a curious fact that every action upon which he prided himself, or which he admired in his friends, was of a more or less fraudulent nature; and Mr Slam, who was always present on these occasions, shared these sentiments, and contributed similar reminiscences of his own. It was true that the boys looked upon these two, and upon the young sporting farmers who sometimes dropped in, and boasted of poaching, and horse-cheating exploits in a spirit of emulation, as "cads," who had a different code from their own; but it is very difficult to associate with persons of any station in life who think it clever to defraud others, and consider impunity as the only test of right or wrong, and to laugh at their dishonourable tricks, without blunting our own moral sense. We cannot touch pitch without being defiled.
Another great evil was the beer-drinking, at any time, whether they were thirsty or not, which went on. Worse still, spirits were sometimes introduced. The frequenters of Slam's spent all their pocket-money at that place in one way or another; and the pity of it was, that most of them would much rather, certainly at starting, have laid it out in oyster-patties, strawberry messes, and ices, than in forming habits which they would very probably give their right arms to be rid of in after-life. The best hope for them, next to being found out, was that their course of boxing lessons would soon be over, and Mr Wobbler would go away to walk his match and clear out of the neighbourhood, and that then they would give up frequenting this disreputable hole before the bad habits which they were so sedulously acquiring got a complete hold upon them. As it was at present, Topper was the only living being that had tried to do a good turn for them; if he had succeeded in worrying the professor, the whole clique would have broken up.
Many Weston boys who had nothing to do with Slam, who did not care for ratting, and saw no fun in being the proprietor of a dog that could only be seen occasionally and by stealth, took a perfectly legitimate interest in Wobbler as a competitor in the Somersetshire ten-miles championship, and when it became generally known that he was training in the neighbourhood (which was not for some time, nor until the number of boxing lessons subscribed for by the Saurin class had been pretty well exhausted), a good many repaired when time allowed to the nice bit of straight highroad some two miles off where the pedestrian pounded along daily, with his body inclined somewhat forward, his arms held in front of his chest, a little stick in his right hand, fair heel and toe, at a rate of over seven miles in the hour. A group, of which Penryhn was one, were walking in that direction one afternoon, when Buller overtook them at a sharp run, pulling up alongside his friend.
"So you have come then after all?" said Penryhn.
"Yes," replied Buller, mopping his forehead. "I finished the task I set myself directly after you started, and thought I could catch you up. But it's hot!"
"Is it true that you have been elected into the house eleven?"
"Yes," replied Buller; "it seems rum, doesn't it?"
"I don't know why it should. I am sure I am very glad, old fellow, for I know that you wished it."
"Well, yes I did. I am uncommonly fond of cricket, don't you see, and have tried hard to improve."
"That you must have done, by Jove! But how was it?"
"Well, Robarts said something to Crawley, and Crawley came up to me the day before yesterday and said he had heard that I could bowl a bit; would I come and give him a few balls. So I went and bowled to him for an hour, and the result was that he called a house meeting, and I was put into the eleven."
"You will be in the school eleven next year, you see."
"I don't know," replied Buller; "it depends on how I get on, you know. I might make a regular mull of it."
"Bosh! not you; you have gone on improving too steadily for that," said Penryhn confidently. "This is one of the milestones the chap comes to; he will be here presently if we wait. What's the row over there?"
"Oh! one of those men with images, and some of our fellows, Saurin, Edwards, and that lot, chaffing him."
An Italian with a large tray of plaster of Paris figures on his head was tramping from one town to another, and seeing the groups of boys gathered in different parts of the road, thought he might do a stroke of business, so taking down the tray he solicited attention.
"I makes them all myself; I am poor man, but artist."
"Ah! and how do you sell them?" asked Saurin.
"Sheap, oh mosh too sheap; what you like to give."
"Will you take a shilling for the whole lot?"
"Oh! young gentleman, you make fun, you joke. Ha, ha! One shilling for the beautiful little statues! What joke!"
"Too much, is it? I thought so; not but what they would make capital cockshies."
A large pile of flints, hammered into a convenient size and form for missiles, lay handy, ready for repairing the road, and the coincidence caused Saurin's idea to become popular at once.
"Let's have one for a cockshy. Here's Bismark."
"He's a German, and I hate German; most abominable language I have had to tackle yet. Stick Bismark up on that gate, and we will shy from the other side of the road. Stick him up, I say, you jabbering idiot."
"Oh! sare, what pity to throw stone at the beautiful cast! Buy him and take him home, no break him."
In spite of his remonstrances the great chancellor was set up on the five-barred gate, and the boys began to pelt him from the heap of stones on the opposite side of the road.
"And who is to pay me for my beautiful images?" asked the Italian, in some trepidation for his money, it being difficult to say which of all these eccentric young savages was the actual purchaser.
"Oh! whoever does not hit it shall owe you for it."
"But I should like that you pay now, before you throw."
"Why, you idiot, how can we tell who hits and who misses beforehand. Stand out of the way can't you!"
"Good shot!" "That was near." "That has got him!" and down went the bust in fragments. Then a Cupid was exposed to missiles far more substantial than his own, and succumbed. His mama was next sent up by these young Goths; fancy Venus herself being put in the pillory and stoned! What one thing after that could they be expected to respect? Not the infant Samuel, who, in spite of his supplicatory attitude, found no pity. Not Sir Garnet Wolseley, who was exposed to as hot a fire as he had ever been under before, with worse luck; not Mr Gladstone, nor Minerva, nor Tennyson. The spirit of mischief, the thirst for destruction, grew wilder by gratification, and soon the whole stock of models was reduced to a heap of plaster fragments.
"Ah! well, I have sell them all quick to-day," said the Italian, putting a good face on the business, which yet looked to him rather doubtful, and it is very rare for people to indulge in mischief at their own expense. "It is twenty shilling, one pound you owe me, sare," he added to Saurin.
"I owe you!" cried Saurin. "I like that! Why, I hit more of them than anyone else, and it was those who missed the lot who were to be responsible. Go to them, man."
"Oh! gentleman, kind gentleman, you are making fun of me. You speak to me first; you say, 'Put up the figures for shy.' I poor man, you gentleman. You laugh! Give me my money, you sare, or you, or you;" and the Italian grasped his long black hair with both hands, and danced about in a manner which amused his tormentors greatly, and their laughter put him a rage.
"You rob me," he cried, "I will go to the police; I will have you put in prison if you no pay me. Give me my money."
"We will make a cockshy of you if you don't look out," said one; and another actually threw a stone at him, an example which others were preparing to follow, when Crawley, with a group of boys who had seen nothing of the early part of the business, came up, and seemed inclined to take the Italian's part. The aggressors dropped their stones quietly and began to slip away.
"It's a beastly shame, and a disgrace to the school," said Crawley indignantly. Saurin heard him as he hurried off, and if he had had any money in his pocket he would have turned back, thrown it to the image man, and asked Crawley what he meant. But being without funds he was obliged to make off while he could, or the Italian would fix on him and follow him home. For to break away and show him a fair pair of heels across country would be impossible after an altercation with his school- fellow; it would be putting himself in too humiliating a position. So he walked on at a sharp pace, choking with suppressed passion.
"Where he live, that fellow; where he live?" cried the Italian. "Per Baccho, I will have the police to him! You know him, excellenza; tell me where he live?"
"I will not tell you that," said Crawley. "But here's half-a-crown for you."
A considerable number of boys had now collected, and as example, whether for good or evil, has an extraordinary effect on either boys or men, a collection was started. Some gave a shilling, some sixpence, and a sum of ten shillings was made up altogether, which was probably quite as much as the figures were worth. So the Italian calmed down and dried his eyes, for he had been crying like a child, and with a profusion of thanks took up his board and went his way. And it being time to go back to Weston, all the boys started off in that direction, leaving Mr Wobbler to tramp backwards and forwards between his milestones in solitude. Of course some kind friend told all this to Saurin, and it exasperated him still more, if that was possible. One thing he was determined upon, Crawley must be repaid the money he had given to the Italian figure-seller at once. After hunting in all his waistcoat pockets and his drawers he could only raise eighteenpence, so he went to Edwards' room.
"Look here, old fellow," he said; "lend me a shilling till Monday, I want it particularly."
"I'm awfully sorry," replied Edwards, "I have not got one."
"I'll pay you back on Monday, honour bright."
"I know you would; it isn't that. I assure you I am not making excuses; you should have it directly if it were possible; but I am as penniless as a fellow can be, not so much as a postage-stamp have I got."
"I must get a shilling somehow; whom to ask?"
"Ask Griffiths; he always has money," suggested Edwards.
"Hang the fellow, yes," said Saurin. "But he will make such a favour of it if he lends it, and he is just as likely as not to refuse. I have it, though! He offered me half-a-crown for my crossbow last term, and I would not let him have it; he shall now."
The crossbow in question was an ingenious little thing about six inches long, the bow of steel, the string of catgut, the stock and barrel of wood, and it projected marbles or spherical bullets with very considerable force. It would raise a bump on the head at twenty yards, and break a window at thirty. Griffiths also lived in Mr Cookson's house, so that Saurin had only to go to his own room, get out, dust, and rub up the article, which had lain in a corner forgotten, and go up the other staircase.
"I say, Griffiths," he began; "in turning out some old things I have just come across this little steel bow which you wanted to buy of me, you know. I am tired of it now, and so you can have it if you like. Half-a-crown, I think, you said that you would give, was it not?"
Griffiths coveted the toy as much or more than ever he had done, but he was a born dealer; and when he saw that the other was anxious to sell he assumed indifference in order to lower the price.
"Why, you see," he said, "last term is not this term. I was pretty flush just then, and had a fancy for the thing. Now the money has gone, and I don't so much care."
"You won't have it then? oh! very well; all right."
"Stop, don't be in a hurry; I'll give you eighteenpence for it."
"Make it two shillings," urged Saurin.
"No; eighteenpence or nothing," Griffiths persisted.
"You old Jew! Well, here it is then," said Saurin.
"Have you got a shilling?" asked Griffiths. "I have only got half-a- crown; but if you can give me change—"
Saurin took the coin, giving back a shilling without further remark. He was thinking that it would be more effective to offer Crawley the larger coin, instead of fumbling with small money, and the notion pleased him. Besides he was not particularly disappointed; so long as he got what he wanted at the moment, it was not his nature to look much further. But he did not sleep much that night. Again this Crawley had scored off him, by putting himself in the position of generous benefactor and chivalrous defender of the weak, with him (Saurin) for his foil. There was one comfort; he was not so much afraid of Crawley as he did not conceal from himself that he had once been. Hitherto he had feared that if it came to a quarrel, he would not get the best of it, and this had caused him to restrain himself on many occasions when he had longed to give vent to his feelings. But, now that he had skill and science on his side, the case was different, and the balance in his favour; and if this wonderful Crawley, whom everybody made such a fuss about, did not like what he had to say to him, he might do the other thing.
The boys were gathered about the quadrangle in groups, waiting to go in for eight o'clock school, for the different class-rooms were not open till the master of each came with his key and unlocked the door, by which time all the class were expected to be outside, ready to go in with him. And so it was the custom to assemble rather early, and now, though it was ten minutes to the hour by the big clock, the majority had arrived. Directly Saurin came he looked for Crawley, and saw him standing chatting with some other fellows. He walked straight up to him.
"Oh, Crawley!" he said, "I hear that you paid that Italian blackguard half-a-crown for his broken crockery yesterday, and since he made his claim upon me, though I owed him nothing, I don't choose to let it look as if you had paid anything for me, so here is your money back;" and he tendered the half-crown, which the other did not put his hand out to receive. This exasperated Saurin still more. "Take it," he said; "only I'll thank you not to be so confoundedly officious again."
"I don't want your money," said Crawley quietly. "You are entirely mistaken; I paid nothing for you. If I knew the image man's address I would forward him your half-crown, but I do not. So you must hunt it up for yourself if you want to make restitution."
"But you paid him the money."
"That was an act of private charity. The man whom you call a blackguard—I don't know why, for he had not been destroying any defenceless person's property—had had a scoundrelly trick played him, and I and some other fellows got up a subscription for him, as anyone with a spark of gentlemanly feeling would be inclined to do. I am sorry that your contribution is tendered too late, but so it is."
"So you call me a blackguard and a scoundrel, do you?" hissed Saurin, who was quite beside himself with rage; and certainly Crawley's speech was the reverse of soothing. "You stuck-up, hypocritical, canting, conceited prig, I should like to break your nose for you."
"Break away, my hearty," said Crawley, putting his hands up; "but I am not a plaster of Paris image, mind you, and can hit back."
The sneer was another spur to Saurin's passion; his temples throbbed as if they would burst, and his look was as evil as a painter, wanting a model for Mephistopheles, could have desired, as he sprang at his enemy with an inarticulate cry, and struck at him with all his force. The boys closed round them, eager, expectant, those at a distance running up. But blows were hardly exchanged before someone cried, "Look out; here's the Doctor!" and the combatants were separated, and the crowd dispersed in an instant.
"We will meet again, I hope," said Saurin.
"Any time you like," replied Crawley.
"On Saturday afternoon in The Dell, then."
"I shall be there, and I hope we shall not be interrupted." And they walked off in different directions, trying to look as if nothing was the matter, which was not so easy, Saurin being hardly able to restrain his excitement, and Crawley being flushed about the forehead, where the other's fist had struck him; otherwise he was no more discomposed than usual, and, being put on to construe soon after entering the school, acquitted himself very well and with the most perfect sang froid. Fortunately Saurin was not subjected to the same ordeal or he would have been considerably flustered, if not totally unable to fix his mind on the subject; and he might have excited suspicion as to something unusual going on, which again might have caused inquiry, and so spoiled sport. But he was not called up, the redness of Crawley's brow remained unnoticed, and all was satisfactory. This was Thursday, so there was a day's intermission before the fight, which was the general school topic. The weather, which had been very fine in the early part of the term, had broken up, the sodden grass was unfavourable for cricket and lawn- tennis, so that this little excitement came in just at the convenient time. I wonder why everything connected with fighting is so interesting! Little children love playing at soldiers best of all games, and delight in destroying whole tin armies with pea-shooting artillery. With what silent eagerness the newspapers are devoured in war-time when the details of a battle appear! If two cocks in a farm- yard get at one another the heaviest bumpkin from the plough-tail, who seems incapable of an emotion, grows animated. I suppose it is because of the animal nature of which we partake which frequently excites us to prey on other animals and quarrel with one another. Fights were very rare at Weston, but they took place occasionally, and there was even a traditional spot called the Fairies' Dell, or more commonly The Dell, where they were brought off. But for a boy of the standing and position of Crawley,—in the highest form, captain of the eleven, secretary and treasurer of the cricket and football clubs—to be engaged in such an affair was unprecedented, and the interest taken in it was so great as to set the whole school in a ferment. The dislike borne by Saurin to the other was well known, as also that he had attributed his expulsion from the eleven to him, though unjustly, since public opinion had been well nigh unanimous on the point. As for the chances of the combatants, only the small clique who frequented Slam's, most of whom had seen him sparring with the gloves, favoured that of Saurin. The general idea was that the latter was mad to try conclusions with one so superior to him in every way, and that Crawley would lick him into fits in about ten minutes. As for the champions themselves, they awaited the ordeal in very different frames of mind. To Crawley the whole thing was an unmitigated bore. It would get him into some trouble with the authorities probably; it was inconsistent with his position in the school, and was setting a bad example; then he could hardly expect to avoid a black eye, and it was only three weeks to the holidays, by which time his bruises would hardly have time to disappear. His family were staying for the summer at Scarborough, and his sisters wrote him enthusiastic accounts of the lawn-tennis parties there. How could he present himself in decent society, with one of his eyes in mourning? But he saw something comic in his own annoyance, and it did not affect him sufficiently to interfere with his studies or amusements. He neither feared the contest nor desired it. He had no wish to quarrel with Saurin, a fellow he did not care for, it is true, but whom he did not think sufficiently about to dislike. He thought rather better of him for having the pluck to attack him, and was a little ashamed of his own bitter words which had goaded the other into doing it. But really the fellow had addressed him in such an overbearing and insolent manner that he could not help replying as he did. After all, if he had to fight someone, he would rather it were Saurin than anyone else, since he appeared to hate him so much.