Eric, or Little by Little, by Rev Canon F.W. Farrar.
This famous book tells the story of a boy at a boarding school on the Isle of Man, which lies between England and Ireland, and within sight of Scotland. The boy succumbs to various forms of ill-behaviour, with illicit trips to a bar in the near-by town. There are various scary episodes. Overcome with shame at something he has done Eric runs away to sea, which he finds so horrible an experience that when he is next in England he jumps ship, makes his way home, by now very ill, and dies.
Author's Preface (Farrar was Headmaster of Marlborough College).
The story of 'Eric' was written with but one single object—the vivid inculcation of inward purity and moral purpose, by the history of a boy who, in spite of the inherent nobleness of his disposition, falls into all folly and wickedness, until he has learnt to seek help from above. I am deeply thankful to know—from testimony public and private, anonymous and acknowledged—that this object has, by God's blessing, been fulfilled.
The fact that new editions are still called for thirty-one years after its publication, shows, I trust, that the story has been found to be of real use. I have not thought it right to alter in any way the style or structure of the narrative, but I have so far revised it as to remove a few of the minor blemishes. I trust that the book may continue to live so long—and so long only—as it may prove to be a source of moral benefit to those who read it.
April 21, 1889.
___________ ERIC, OR LITTLE BY LITTLE, BY REV CANON F.W. FARRAR.
VOLUME ONE, CHAPTER ONE.
Ah dear delights, that o'er my soul On memory's wing like shadows fly! Ah flowers that Joy from Eden stole, While Innocence stood laughing by. Coleridge.
"Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!" cried a young boy, as he capered vigorously about, and clapped his hands. "Father and mother will be home in a week now, and then we shall stay here a little time, and then, and then, I shall go to school."
The last words were enunciated with immense importance, as he stopped his impromptu dance before the chair where his sober cousin Fanny was patiently working at her crochet; but she did not look so much affected by the announcement as the boy seemed to demand, so he again exclaimed, "And then, Miss Fanny, I shall go to school."
"Well, Eric," said Fanny, raising her matter-of-fact quiet face from her endless work, "I doubt, dear, whether you will talk of it with quite as much joy a year hence."
"Oh ay, Fanny, that's just like you to say so; you're always talking and prophesying; but never mind, I'm going to school, so, hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!" and he again began his capering,—jumping over the chairs, trying to vault the tables, singing and dancing with an exuberance of delight, till, catching a sudden sight of his little spaniel Flo, he sprang through the open window into the garden, and disappeared behind the trees of the shrubbery; but Fanny still heard his clear, ringing, silvery laughter, as he continued his games in the summer air.
She looked up from her work after he had gone, and sighed. In spite of the sunshine and balm of the bright weather, a sense of heaviness and foreboding oppressed her. Everything looked smiling and beautiful, and there was an almost irresistible contagion in the mirth of her young cousin, but still she could not help feeling sad. It was not merely that she would have to part with Eric, "but that bright boy," thought Fanny, "what will become of him? I have heard strange things of schools; oh, if he should be spoilt and ruined, what misery it would be. Those baby lips, that pure young heart, a year may work sad change in their words and thoughts!" She sighed again, and her eyes glistened as she raised them upwards, and breathed a silent prayer.
She loved the boy dearly, and had taught him from his earliest years. In most things she found him an apt pupil. Truthful, ingenuous, quick, he would acquire almost without effort any subject that interested him, and a word was often enough to bring the impetuous blood to his cheeks, in a flush of pride or indignation. He required the gentlest teaching, and had received it, while his mind seemed cast in such a mould of stainless honour, that he avoided most of the weaknesses to which children are prone. But he was far from blameless. He was proud to a fault; he well knew that few of his fellows had gifts like his, either of mind or person, and his fair face often showed a clear impression of his own superiority. His passion, too, was imperious, and though it always met with prompt correction, his cousin had latterly found it difficult to subdue. She felt, in a word, that he was outgrowing her rule. Beyond a certain age no boy of spirit can be safely guided by a woman's hand alone.
Eric Williams was now twelve years old. His father was a civilian in India, and was returning on furlough to England, after a long absence. Eric had been born in India, but had been sent to England by his parents at an early age, in charge of a lady friend of his mother. The parting, which had been agony to his father and mother, he was too young to feel; indeed the moment itself passed by without his being conscious of it. They took him on board the ship, and, after a time, gave him a hammer and some nails to play with. These had always been to him a supreme delight, and while he hammered away, Mr and Mrs Williams, denying themselves, for the child's sake, even one more tearful embrace, went ashore in the boat and left him. It was not till the ship sailed that he was told he would not see them again for a long, long time. Poor child, his tears and cries were piteous when he first understood it; but the sorrows of four years old are very transient, and before a week was over, little Eric felt almost reconciled to his position, and had become the universal pet and plaything of every one on board, from Captain Broadland down to the cabin-boy, with whom he very soon struck up an acquaintance. Yet twice a day at least his mirth would be checked as he lisped his little prayer, kneeling at Mrs Munro's knee, and asked God "to bless his dear, dear father and mother, and make him a good boy."
When Eric arrived in England, he was entrusted to the care of a widowed aunt, whose daughter, Fanny, had the main charge of his early teaching. At first, the wayward little Indian seemed likely to form no accession to the quiet household, but he soon became its brightest ornament and pride. Everything was in his favour at the pleasant home of Mrs Trevor. He was treated with motherly kindness and tenderness, yet firmly checked when he went wrong. From the first he had a well-spring of strength against temptation, in the long letters which every mail brought from his parents; and all his childish affections were entwined round the fancied image of a brother born since he had left India. In his bedroom there hung a cherub's head, drawn in pencil by his mother, and this winged child was inextricably identified in his imagination with his "little brother Vernon." He loved it dearly, and whenever he went astray, nothing weighed on his mind so strongly as the thought, that if he were naughty he would teach little Vernon to be naughty too when he came home.
And Nature also—wisest, gentlest, holiest of teachers—was with him in his childhood. Fairholm Cottage, where his aunt lived, was situated in the beautiful Vale of Ayrton, and a clear stream ran through the valley at the bottom of Mrs Trevor's orchard. Eric loved this stream, and was always happy as he roamed by its side, or over the low green hills and scattered dingles which lent unusual loveliness to every winding of its waters. He was allowed to go about a good deal by himself, and it did him good. He grew up fearless and self-dependent, and never felt the want of amusement. The garden and orchard supplied him a theatre for endless games and romps, sometimes with no other companion than his cousin and his dog, and sometimes with the few children of his own age whom he knew in the hamlet. Very soon he forgot all about India; it only hung like a distant golden haze on the horizon of his memory. When asked if he remembered it, he would say thoughtfully, that in dreams and at some other times, he saw a little boy, with long curly hair, running about in a flower-garden, near a great river, in a place where the air was very bright. But whether the little boy was himself or his brother Vernon, whom he had never seen, he couldn't quite tell.
But, above all, it was happy for Eric that his training was religious and enlightened. With Mrs Trevor and her daughter, religion was not a system but a habit—not a theory but a continued act of life. All was simple, sweet, and unaffected, about their charity and their devotions. They loved God, and they did all the good they could to those around them. The floating gossip and ill-nature of the little village never affected them; it melted away insensibly in the presence of their cultivated minds; so that friendship with them was a bond of union among all, and from the vicar to the dairyman every one loved and respected them, asked their counsel, and sought their sympathy.
They called themselves by no sectarian name, nor could they have told to what "party" they belonged. They troubled themselves with no theories of education, but mingled gentle nurture with "wholesome neglect." There was nothing exotic or constrained in the growth of Eric's character. He was not one of the angelically good children at all, and knew none of the phrases of which infant prodigies are supposed to be so fond. But to be truthful, to be honest, to be kind, to be brave, these lessons had been taught him, and he never quite forgot them; nor amid the sorrows of after life did he ever quite lose the sense—learnt at dear quiet Fairholm—of a present loving God, of a tender and long-suffering Father.
As yet he could be hardly said to know what school was. He had been sent indeed to Mr Lawley's grammar school for the last half-year, and had learned a few declensions in his Latin grammar. But as Mr Lawley allowed his upper class to hear the little boys their lessons, Eric had managed to get on pretty much as he liked. Only once in the entire half-year had he said a lesson to the dreadful master himself, and of course it was a ruinous failure, involving some tremendous pulls of Eric's hair, and making him tremble like a leaf. Several things combined to make Mr Lawley terrific to his imagination. Ever since he was quite little, he remembered hearing the howls which proceeded from the "Latin-school" as he passed by, whilst some luckless youngster was getting caned; and the reverend pedagogue was notoriously passionate. Then, again, he spoke so indistinctly with his deep gruff voice, that Eric never could and never did understand a word he said, and this kept him in a perpetual terror.
Once Mr Lawley had told him to go out, and see what time it was by the church clock.
Only hearing that he was to do something, too frightened to ask what it was, and feeling sure that even if he did, he should not make out what the master meant, Eric ran out, went straight to Mr Lawley's house, and, after having managed by strenuous jumps to touch the knocker, informed the servant "that Mr Lawley wanted his man."
"What man?" said the maid-servant, "the young man? or the butler? or is it the clerk?"
Here was a puzzler! all Eric knew was, that he was in the habit of sending sometimes for one or other of these functionaries; but he was in for it, so with a faltering voice he said "the young man" at hazard, and went back to the Latin-school.
"Why have you been so long?" roared Mr Lawley, as he timidly entered.
Fear entirely prevented Eric from hearing the exact question, so he answered at random, "He's coming, sir." The master seeing by his scared look that something was wrong, waited to see what would turn up.
Soon after in walked "the young man," and coming to the astonished Mr Lawley, bowed, scraped, and said, "Master Williams said you sent for me, sir."
"A mistake," growled the schoolmaster, turning on Eric a look which nearly petrified him; he quite expected a book at his head, or at best a great whack of the cane; but Mr Lawley had naturally a kind heart, soured as it was, and pitying perhaps the child's white face, he contented himself with the effects of his look.
The simple truth was, that poor Mr Lawley was a little wrong in the head. A scholar and a gentleman, early misfortunes and an imprudent marriage had driven him to the mastership of the little country grammar school; and here the perpetual annoyance caused to his refined mind by the coarseness of clumsy or spiteful boys, had gradually unhinged his intellect. Often did he tell the boys "that it was an easier life by far to break stones by the roadside than to teach them;" and at last his eccentricities became too obvious to be any longer overlooked.
The denouement of his history was a tragic one, and had come a few days before the time when our narrative opens. It was a common practice among the Latin-school boys, as I suppose among all boys, to amuse themselves by putting a heavy book on the top of a door left partially ajar, and to cry out, "Crown him!" as the first luckless youngster who happened to come in received the book thundering on his head. One day, just as the trap had been adroitly laid, Mr Lawley walked in unexpectedly. The moment he entered the schoolroom, down came an Ainsworth's Dictionary on the top of his hat, and the boy, concealed behind the door, unconscious of who the victim was, enunciated with mock gravity, "Crown him, three cheers!"
It took Mr Lawley a second to raise from his eyebrows the battered hat, and recover from his confusion; the next instant he was springing after the boy who had caused the mishap, and who, knowing the effects of the master's fury, fled with precipitation. In one minute the offender was caught, and Mr Lawley's heavy hand fell recklessly on his ears and back, until he screamed with terror. At last, by a tremendous writhe, wrenching himself free, he darted towards the door, and Mr Lawley, too much tired to pursue, snatched his large gold watch out of his fob, and hurled it at the boy's retreating figure. The watch flew through the air;—crash! it had missed its aim, and, striking the wall above the lintel, fell smashed into a thousand shivers.
The sound, the violence of the action, the sight of the broken watch, which was the gift of a cherished friend, instantly awoke the master to his senses. The whole school had seen it; they sate there pale and breathless with excitement and awe. The poor man could bear it no longer. He flung himself into his chair, hid his face with his hands, and burst into hysterical tears. It was the outbreak of feelings long pent-up. In that instant all his life passed before him—its hopes, its failures, its miseries, its madness. "Yes!" he thought, "I am mad."
Raising his head, he cried wildly, "Boys, go, I am mad!" and sank again into his former position, rocking himself to and fro. One by one the boys stole out, and he was left alone. The end is soon told. Forced to leave Ayrton, he had no means of earning his daily bread; and the weight of this new anxiety hastening the crisis, the handsome proud scholar became an inmate of the Brerely Lunatic Asylum. A few years afterwards, Eric heard that he was dead. Poor broken human heart! may he rest in peace.
Such was Eric's first school and schoolmaster. But although he learnt little there, and gained no experience of the character of others or of his own, yet there was one point about Ayrton Latin-School which he never regretted. It was the mixture there of all classes. On those benches gentlemen's sons sat side by side with plebeians, and no harm, but only good, seemed to come from the intercourse. The neighbouring gentry, most of whom had begun their education there, were drawn into closer and kindlier union with their neighbours and dependants, from the fact of having been their associates in the days of their boyhood. Many a time afterwards, when Eric, as he passed down the streets, interchanged friendly greetings with some young glazier or tradesman whom he remembered at school, he felt glad that thus early he had learnt practically to despise the accidental and nominal differences which separate man from man.
VOLUME ONE, CHAPTER TWO.
A NEW HOME.
Life hath its May, and all is joyous then The woods are vocal, and the flowers breathe odour, The very breeze hath mirth in't. Old Play.
AT last the longed-for yet dreaded day approached, and a letter informed the Trevors that Mr and Mrs Williams would arrive at Southampton on 5th July, and would probably reach Ayrton the evening after. They particularly requested that no one should come to meet them on their landing. "We shall reach Southampton," wrote Mrs Williams, "tired, pale, and travel-stained, and had much rather see you first at Fairholm, where we shall be spared the painful constraint of a meeting in public. So please expect our arrival at about seven in the evening."
Poor Eric! although he had been longing for the time ever since the news came, yet now he was too agitated for enjoyment. Exertion and expectation made him restless, and he could settle down to nothing all day, every hour of which hung most heavily on his hands.
At last the afternoon wore away, and a soft summer evening filled the sky with its gorgeous calm. Far-off they caught the sound of wheels; a carriage dashed up to the door, and the next moment Eric sprang into his mother's arms.
"O mother! mother!"
"My own darling, darling boy!"
And as the pale sweet face of the mother met the bright and rosy child-face, each of them was wet with a rush of unbidden tears. In another moment Eric had been folded to his father's heart, and locked in the arms of his little brother Vernon. Who shall describe the emotions of those few moments? they did not seem like earthly moments; they seemed to belong not to time, but to eternity.
The first evening of such a scene is too excited to be happy. The little party at Fairholm retired early, and Eric was soon fast asleep with his arm round his new-found brother's neck.
Quiet steps entered the chamber, and noiselessly the father and mother sat down by the bedside of their children. Earth could have shown no scene more perfect in its beauty than that which met their eyes. The pure moonlight flooded the little room, and showed distinctly the forms and countenances of the sleepers, whose soft regular breathing was the only sound that broke the stillness of the July night. The small shining flower-like faces, with their fair hair—the trustful loving arms folded round each brother's neck—the closed lids and parted lips— made an exquisite picture, and one never to be forgotten. Side by side, without a word, the parents knelt down, and with eyes wet with tears of joyfulness, poured out their hearts in passionate prayer for their young and beloved boys.
Very happily the next month glided away; a new life seemed opened to Eric in the world of rich affections which had unfolded itself before him. His parents—above all, his mother—were everything that he had longed for; and Vernon more than fulfilled to his loving heart the ideal of his childish fancy. He was never tired of playing with and patronising his little brother, and their rambles by stream and hill made those days appear the happiest he had ever spent. Every evening (for having lived all his life at home, he had not yet laid aside the habits of early childhood) he said his prayers by his mother's knee; and at the end of one long summer's day, when prayers were finished, and full of life and happiness he lay down to sleep, "Oh, mother," he said, "I am so happy—I like to say my prayers when you are here."
"Yes, my boy, and God loves to hear them."
"Aren't there some who never say prayers, mother?"
"Very many, love, I fear."
"How unhappy they must be! I shall always love to say my prayers."
"Ah, Eric, God grant that you may."
And the fond mother hoped he always would. But these words often came back to Eric's mind in later and less happy days—days when that gentle hand could no longer rest lovingly on his head—when those mild blue eyes were dim with tears, and the poor boy, changed in heart and life, often flung himself down with an unreproaching conscience to prayer-less sleep.
It had been settled that in another week Eric was to go to school in the Isle of Roslyn. Mr Williams had hired a small house in the town of Ellan, and intended to stay there for his year of furlough, at the end of which period Vernon was to be left at Fairholm, and Eric in the house of the head-master of the school. Eric enjoyed the prospect of all things, and he hardly fancied that Paradise itself could be happier than a life at the sea-side with his father and mother and Vernon, combined with the commencement of schoolboy dignity. When the time for the voyage came, his first glimpse of the sea, and the sensation of sailing over it with only a few planks between him and the deep waters, struck him silent with admiring wonder. It was a cloudless day; the line of blue sky melted into the line of blue wave, and the air was filled with sunlight. At evening they landed, and the coach took them to Ellan. On the way Eric saw for the first time the strength of the hills, so that when they reached the town and took possession of their cottage, he was dumb with the inrush of new and marvellous impressions.
Next morning he was awake early, and jumping out of bed, so as not to disturb the sleeping Vernon, he drew up the window-blind, and gently opened the window. A very beautiful scene burst on him, one destined to be long mingled with all his most vivid reminiscences. It had been too dark on their arrival the evening before to get any definite impression of their residence, so that this first glimpse of it filled him with delighted surprise. Not twenty yards below the garden, in front of the house, lay Ellan Bay, at that moment rippling with golden laughter in the fresh breeze of sunrise. On either side of the bay was a bold headland, the one stretching out in a series of broken crags, the other terminating in a huge mass of rock, called from its shape The Stack. To the right lay the town, with its grey old castle, and the mountain stream running through it into the sea; to the left, high above the beach, rose the crumbling fragment of a picturesque fort, behind which towered the lofty buildings of Roslyn School. Eric learnt the whole landscape by heart, and thought himself a most happy boy to come to such a place. He fancied that he should never be tired of looking at the sea, and could not take his eyes off the great buoy that rolled about in the centre of the bay, and flashed in the sunlight at every move. He turned round full of hope and spirits, and, after watching for a few moments the beautiful face of his sleeping brother, awoke him with boisterous mirth.
"Now, Verny," he cried, as the little boy sprang eagerly out of bed, "don't look till I tell you," and putting his hands over Vernon's eyes, he led him to the window. Then he threw up the sash, and embodied all his sensations in the one word—"There!"
To which apostrophe Vernon, after a long gaze, could make no other answer than, "Oh, Eric! oh, I say!"
That day Eric was to have his first interview with Dr Rowlands. The school had already re-opened, and one of the boys passed by the window while they were breakfasting. He looked very happy and engaging, and was humming a tune as he strolled along. Eric started up and gazed after him with the most intense curiosity. At that moment the unconscious schoolboy was to him the most interesting person in the whole world, and he couldn't realise the fact that, before the day was over, he would be a Roslyn boy himself. He very much wondered what sort of a fellow the boy was, and whether he should ever recognise him again, and make his acquaintance. Yes, Eric, the thread of that boy's destiny is twined for many a day with yours; his name is Montagu, as you will know very soon.
At nine o'clock Mr Williams started towards the school with his son. The walk led them by the sea-side, over the sands, and past the ruin, at the foot of which the waves broke at high tide. At any other time Eric would have been overflowing with life and wonder at the murmur of the ripples, the sight of the ships in the bay or on the horizon, and the numberless little shells, with their bright colours and sculptured shapes, which lay about the beach. But now his mind was too full of a single anxiety; and when, after crossing a green playground, they stood by the head-master's door, his heart fluttered, and it required all his energy to keep down the nervous trembling which shook him.
Mr Williams gave his card, and they were shown into Dr Rowlands's study. He was a kind-looking gentlemanly man, and when he turned to address Eric, after a few minutes' conversation with his father, the boy felt instantly reassured by the pleasant sincerity and frank courtesy of his manner. A short examination showed that Eric's attainments were very slight as yet, and he was to be put in the lowest form of all, under the superintendence of the Reverend Henry Gordon. Dr Rowlands wrote a short note in pencil, and giving it to Eric, directed the servant to show him to Mr Gordon's schoolroom.
The bell had just done ringing when they had started for the school, so that Eric knew that all the boys would be by this time assembled at their work, and that he should have to go alone into the middle of them. As he walked after the servant through the long corridors and up the broad stairs, he longed to make friends with him, so as, if possible, to feel less lonely. But he had only time to get out, "I say, what sort of a fellow is Mr Gordon?"
"Terrible strict, sir, I hear," said the man, touching his cap with a comic expression, which didn't at all tend to enliven the future pupil. "That's the door," he continued, "and you'll have to give him the Doctor's note," and, pointing to a door at the end of the passage, he walked off.
Eric stopped irresolutely. The man had disappeared, and he was by himself in the great silent building. Afraid of the sound of his own footsteps, he ran along the passage, and knocked timidly. He heard a low, a very low murmur in the room, but there was no answer. He knocked again a little louder; still no notice; then, overdoing it in his fright, he gave a very loud tap indeed.
"Come in!" said a voice, which to the new boy sounded awful; but he opened the door, and entered. As he came in every head was quickly raised, he heard a whisper of "New fellow," and the crimson flooded his face, as he felt himself the cynosure of some forty intensely-inquisitive pairs of eyes.
He found himself in a high airy room, with three large windows opening towards the sea. At one end was the master's throne, and facing it, all down the room, were desks and benches, along which the boys were sitting at work. Every one knows how very confusing it is to enter a strange room full of strange people, and especially when you enter it from a darker passage. Eric felt dazzled, and not seeing the regular route to the master's desk, went towards it between two of the benches. As these were at no great distance from each other, he stumbled against several legs on his way, and felt pretty sure that they were put out on purpose to trip him, especially by one boy, who pretended to be much hurt, drew up his leg, and began rubbing it, ejaculating sotto voce, "Awkward little fool."
In this very clumsy way he had at last reached the desk, and presented his missive. The master's eye was on him, but all Eric had time to observe was, that he looked rather stern, and had in his hand a book which he seemed to be studying with the deepest interest. He glanced first at the note, and then looked full at the boy, as though determined to read his whole character by a single perusal of his face.
"Williams, I suppose?"
"Yes, sir," said Eric, very low, still painfully conscious that all the boys were looking at him, as well as the master.
"Very well, Williams, you are placed in the lowest form—the fourth. I hope you will work well. At present they are learning their Caesar. Go and sit next to that boy," pointing towards the lower end of the room; "he will show you the lesson, and let you look over his book. Barker, let Williams look over you!"
Eric went and sat down at the end of a bench by the boy indicated. He was a rough-looking fellow with a shock head of black hair, and a very dogged look. Eric secretly thought that he a very nice-looking specimen of Roslyn School. However, he sate by him, and glanced at the Caesar which the boy shoved about a quarter of an inch in his direction. But Barker didn't seem inclined to make any further advances, and presently Eric asked in a whisper—
"What's the lesson?"
The boy glanced at him, but took no further notice.
Eric repeated, "I say, what's the lesson?"
Instead of answering, Barker stared at him, and grunted—
"What's your name?"
"Eric—I mean Williams."
"Then why don't you say what you mean?" Eric moved his foot impatiently at this ungracious reception; but as he seemed to have no redress, he pulled the Caesar nearer towards him.
"Drop that; 'tisn't yours."
Mr Gordon heard a whisper, and glanced that way. "Silence!" he said, and Barker pretended to be deep in his work, while Eric, resigning himself to his fate, looked about him.
He had plenty to occupy his attention in the faces round him. He furtively examined Mr Gordon, as he bent over his high desk, writing, but couldn't make out the physiognomy. There had been something reserved and imperious in the master's manner, yet he thought he should not dislike him on the whole. With the countenances of his future school-fellows he was not altogether pleased, but there were one or two which thoroughly attracted him. One boy, whose side face was turned towards him as he sat on the bench in front, took his fancy particularly, so, tired of doing nothing, he plucked up courage, and leaning forward, whispered, "Do lend me your Caesar for a few minutes." The boy at once handed it to him with a pleasant smile, and as the lesson was marked, Eric had time to hurry over a few sentences, when Mr Gordon's sonorous voice exclaimed—
"Fourth-form, come up!"
Some twenty of the boys went up, and stood in a large semicircle round the desk. Eric of course was placed last, and the lesson commenced.
"Russell, begin," said the master; and immediately the boy who had handed Eric his Caesar began reading a few sentences, and construed them very creditably, only losing a place or two. He had a frank open face, bright intelligent fearless eyes, and a very taking voice and manner. Eric listened admiringly, and felt sure he should like him.
Barker was put on next. He bungled through the Latin in a grating, irresolute sort of way, with several false quantities, for each of which the next boy took him up. Then he began to construe;—a frightful confusion of nominatives without verbs, accusatives translated as ablatives, and adverbs turned into prepositions, ensued, and after a hopeless flounder, during which Mr Gordon left him entirely to himself, Barker came to a full stop; his catastrophe was so ludicrous, that Eric could not help joining in the general titter. Barker scowled.
"As usual, Barker," said the master, with a curl of the lip. "Hold out your hand!"
Barker did so, looking sullen defiance, and the cane immediately descended on his open palm. Six similar cuts followed, during which the form looked on, not without terror; and Barker, squeezing his hands tight together, went back to his seat.
"Williams, translate the piece in which Barker has just failed."
Eric did as he was bid, and got through it pretty well. He had now quite recovered his ordinary bearing, and spoke out clearly and without nervousness. He afterwards won several places by answering questions, and at the end of the lesson was marked about half-way up the form. The boys' numbers were then taken down in the weekly register, and they went back to their seats.
On his desk Eric found a torn bit of paper, on which was clumsily scrawled, "I'll teach you to grin when I'm turned, you young brute."
The paper seemed to fascinate his eyes. He stared at it fixedly, and augured ominously of Barker's intentions, since that worthy obviously alluded to his having smiled in form, and chose to interpret it as an intentional provocation. He felt that he was in for it, and that Barker meant to pick a quarrel with him. This puzzled and annoyed him, and he felt very sad to have found an enemy already.
While he was looking at the paper the great school-clock struck twelve; and the captain of the form getting up, threw open the folding doors of the schoolroom.
"You may go," said Mr Gordon; and leaving his seat, disappeared by a door at the farther end of the room.
Instantly there was a rush for caps, and the boys poured out in a confused and noisy stream, while at the same moment the other schoolrooms disgorged their inmates. Eric naturally went out among the last; but just as he was going to take his cap, Barker seized it, and flung it with a whoop to the end of the passage, where it was trampled on by a number of the boys as they ran out.
Eric, gulping down his fury with a great effort, turned to his opponent, and said coolly, "Is that what you always do to new fellows?"
"Yes, you bumptious young owl, it is, and that too;" and a tolerably smart slap on the face followed—leaving a red mark on a cheek already aflame with anger and indignation,—"should you like a little more?"
He was hurt and offended, but was too proud to cry. "What's that for?" he said, with flashing eyes.
"For your conceit in laughing at me when I was caned."
Eric stamped. "I did nothing of the kind, and you know it as well as I do."
"What? I'm a liar, am I? Oh, we shall take this kind of thing out of you, you young cub; take that;" and a heavier blow followed.
"You brutal cowardly bully," shouted Eric; and in another moment he would have sprung upon him. It was lucky for him that he did not, for Barker was three years older than he, and very powerful. Such an attack would have been most unfortunate for him in every way. But at this instant some boys hearing the quarrel ran up, and Russell among them.
"Hallo, Barker," said one; "what's up?"
"Why, I'm teaching this new fry to be less bumptious, that's all."
"Shame!" said Russell, as he saw the mark on Eric's cheek; "what a fellow you are, Barker. Why couldn't you let him alone for the first day at any rate?"
"What's that to you? I'll kick you too if you say much."
"Cave! cave!" whispered half a dozen voices, and instantly the knot of boys dispersed in every direction, as Mr Gordon was seen approaching. He had caught a glimpse of the scene without understanding it, and seeing the new boy's red and angry face, he only said, as he passed by, "What, Williams! fighting already? Take care."
This was the cruellest cut of all. "So," thought Eric, "a nice beginning! it seems both boys and masters are against me," and very disconsolately he walked to pick up his cap.
The boys were all dispersed on the playground at different games, and as he went home he was stopped perpetually, and had to answer the usual questions, "What's your name? Are you a boarder or a day scholar? What form are you in?" Eric expected all this, and it therefore did not annoy him. Under any other circumstances, he would have answered cheerfully and frankly enough; but now he felt miserable at his morning's rencontre, and his answers were short and sheepish, his only desire being to get away as soon as possible. It was an additional vexation to feel sure that his manner did not make a favourable impression.
Before he had got out of the playground, Russell ran up to him. "I'm afraid you won't like this, or think much of us, Williams," he said. "But never mind. It'll only last a day or two, and the fellows are not so bad as they seem; except that Barker. I'm sorry you've come across him, but it can't be helped."
It was the first kind word he had had since the morning, and after his troubles kindness melted him. He felt half inclined to cry, and for a few moments could say nothing in reply to Russell's soothing words. But the boy's friendliness went far to comfort him, and at last, shaking hands with him, he said—
"Do let me speak to you sometimes, while I am a new boy, Russell."
"Oh yes," said Russell, laughing, "as much as ever you like. And as Barker hates me pretty much as he seems inclined to hate you, we are in the same box. Good-bye."
So Eric left the field, and wandered home, like Calchas in the Iliad, "sorrowful by the side of the sounding sea." Already the purple mantle had fallen from his ideal of schoolboy life. He got home later than they expected, and found his parents waiting for him. It was rather disappointing to them to see his face so melancholy, when they expected him to be full of animation and pleasure. Mrs Williams drew her own conclusions from the red mark on his cheek, as well as the traces of tears welling to his eyes; but, like a wise mother, she asked nothing, and left the boy to tell his own story,—which in time he did, omitting all the painful part, speaking enthusiastically of Russell, and only admitting that he had been a little teased.
VOLUME ONE, CHAPTER THREE.
Give to the morn of life its natural blessedness. Wordsworth.
Why is it that new boys are almost invariably ill-treated? I have often fancied that there must be in boyhood a pseudo-instinctive cruelty, a sort of "wild trick of the ancestral savage," which no amount of civilisation can entirely repress. Certain it is, that to most boys the first term is a trying ordeal. They are being tested and weighed. Their place in the general estimation is not yet fixed, and the slightest circumstances are seized upon to settle the category, under which the boy is to be classed. A few apparently trivial accidents of his first few weeks at school often decide his position in the general regard for the remainder of his boyhood. And yet these are not accidents; they are the slight indications which give an unerring proof of the general tendencies of his character and training. Hence much of the apparent cruelty with which new boys are treated is not exactly intentional. At first, of course, as they can have no friends worth speaking of; there are always plenty of coarse and brutal minds that take a pleasure in their torment, particularly if they at once recognise any innate superiority to themselves. Of this class was Barker. He hated Eric at first sight, simply because his feeble mind could only realise one idea about him, and that was the new boy's striking contrast with his own imperfections. Hence he left no means untried to vent on Eric his low and mean jealousy. He showed undisguised pleasure when he fell in form, and signs of disgust when he rose; he fomented every little source of disapproval or quarrelling which happened to arise against him; he never looked at him without a frown or a sneer; he waited for him to kick and annoy him as he came out of, or went in to, the schoolroom. In fact, he did his very best to make the boy's life miserable, and the occupation of hating him seemed in some measure to fill up the vacuity of an ill-conditioned and degraded mind.
Hatred is a most mysterious and painful phenomenon to the unhappy person who is the object of it, and more especially if he have incurred it by no one assignable reason. Why it happens that no heart can be so generous, no life so self-denying, no intentions so honourable and pure, as to shield a man from the enmity of his fellows, must remain a dark question for ever. But certain it is, that to bear the undeserved malignity of the evil-minded, to hear unmoved the sneers of the proud and the calumnies of the base, is one of the hardest lessons in life. And to Eric this opposition was peculiarly painful; he was utterly unprepared for it. In his bright joyous life at Fairholm, in the little he saw of the boys at the Latin-school, he had met with nothing but kindness and caresses, and the generous nobleness of his character had seemed to claim them as a natural element. "And now, why," he asked impatiently, "should this bulldog sort of fellow have set his whole aim to annoy, vex, and hurt me?" Incapable himself of so mean a spirit of jealousy at superior excellence, he could not make it out; but such was the fact, and the very mysteriousness of it made it more intolerable to bear.
But it must be admitted that he made matters worse by his own bursts of passion. His was not the temper to turn the other cheek; but, brave and spirited as he was, he felt how utterly hopeless would be any attempt on his part to repel force by force. He would have tried some slight conciliation, but it was really impossible with such a boy as his enemy. Barker never gave him even so much as an indifferent look, much less a civil word. Eric loathed him, and the only good and happy part of the matter to his own mind was, that conscientiously his only desire was to get rid of him, and be left alone, while he never cherished a particle of revenge.
While every day Eric was getting on better in form, and winning himself a very good position with the other boys, who liked his frankness, his mirth, his spirit, and cleverness, he felt this feud with Barker like a dark background to all his enjoyment. He even had to manoeuvre daily how to escape him, and violent scenes were of constant occurrence between them.
Eric could not, and would not, brook his bullying with silence. His resentment was loud and stinging, and, Ishmaelite as Barker was, even his phlegmatic temperament took fire when Eric shouted his fierce and uncompromising retorts in the hearing of the others.
Meanwhile Eric was on the best of terms with the rest of the form, and such of the other boys as he knew, although, at first, his position as a home-boarder prevented his knowing many. Besides Russell, there were three whom he liked best, and respected most—Duncan, Montagu, and Owen. They were very different boys, but all of them had qualities which well deserved his esteem. Duncan was the most boyish of boys, intensely full of fun, good nature, and vigour; with fair abilities, he never got on well, because he could not be still for two minutes; and even if, in some fit of sudden ambition, he got up high in the form, he was sure to be put to the bottom again before the day was over, for trifling or talking. But out of school he was the soul of every game; whatever he took up was sure to be done pleasantly, and no party of amusement was ever planned without endeavouring to secure him as one of the number.
Montagu's chief merit was, that he was such a thorough little gentleman; "such a jolly little fellow," every one said of him. Without being clever or athletic, he managed to do very fairly both at work and at the games, and while he was too exclusive to make many intimate friends, everybody liked walking about or talking with him. Even Barker, blackguard as he was, seemed to be a little uneasy when confronted with Montagu's naturally noble and chivalrous bearing. In nearly all respects his influence was thoroughly good, and few boys were more generally popular.
Owen, again, was a very different boy. His merit was a ceaseless diligence, in which it was doubtful whether ambition or conscientiousness had the greatest share. Reserved and thoughtful, unfitted for or indifferent to most games, he was anything but a favourite with the rest, and Eric rather respected than liked him. When he first came he had been one of the most natural butts for Barker's craving ill-nature, and for a time he had been tremendously bullied. But gradually his mental superiority asserted itself. He took everything without tears and without passion, and this diminished the pleasure of annoying him. One day when Barker had given him an unprovoked kick, he quietly said—
"Barker, next time you do that I'll tell Mr Gordon."
"Sneak! do it if you dare." And he kicked him again; but the moment after he was sorry for it, for there was a dark look in Owen's eyes, as he turned instantly into the door of the master's room, and laid a formal complaint against Barker for bullying.
Mr Gordon didn't like "telling," and he said so to Owen, without reserve. An ordinary boy would have broken into a flood of explanations and palliations, but Owen simply bowed, and said nothing. "He stood there for justice," and he had counted the cost. Strong-minded and clear-headed, he calculated correctly that the momentary dislike of his school-fellows, with whom he well knew that he never could be popular, would be less unbearable than Barker's villainous insults. The consequence was, that Mr Gordon caned Barker soundly, although, with some injustice, he made no attempt to conceal that he did it unwillingly.
Of course the fellows were very indignant with Owen for sneaking, as they called it, and for a week or two he had the keen mortification of seeing "Owen is a sneak" written up all about the walls. But he was too proud or too cold to make any defence till called upon, and bore it in silence. Barker threatened eternal vengeance, and the very day after had seized Owen with the avowed intention of "half murdering him." But before he could once strike him, Owen said in the most chill tone, "Barker, if you touch me, I shall go straight to Dr Rowlands." The bully well knew that Owen never broke his word, but he could not govern his rage, and first giving Owen a violent shake, he proceeded to thrash him without limit or remorse.
Pale but unmoved, Owen got away, and walked straight to Dr Rowlands's door. The thing was unheard of, and the boys were amazed at his temerity, for the Doctor was to all their imaginations a regular Deus ex machina. That afternoon, again, Barker was publicly caned, with the threat that the next offence would be followed by instant and public expulsion. This punishment he particularly dreaded, because he was intended for the army, and he well knew that it might ruin his prospects. The consequence was, that Owen never suffered from him again, although he daily received a shower of oaths and curses, which he passed over with silent contempt.
Now, I do not recommend any boy to imitate Owen in this matter. It is a far better and braver thing to bear bullying with such a mixture of spirit and good-humour, as in time to disarm it. But Owen was a peculiar boy, and remember he had no redress. He bore for a time, until he felt that he must have the justice and defence, without which it would have been impossible for him to continue at Roslyn School.
But why, you ask, didn't he tell the monitors? Unfortunately at Roslyn the monitorial system was not established. Although it was a school of 250 boys, the sixth-form, with all their privileges, had no prerogative of authority. They hadn't the least right to interfere, because no such power had been delegated to them, and therefore they felt themselves merely on a par with the rest, except for such eminence as their intellectual superiority gave them. The consequence was, that any interference from them would have been of a simply individual nature, and was exerted very rarely. It would have done Owen no more good to tell a sixth-form boy than to tell any other boy; and as he was not a favourite, he was not likely to find any champion to fight his battles or maintain his just rights.
All this had happened before Eric's time, and he heard it from his best friend Russell. His heart clave to that boy. They became friends at once by a kind of electric sympathy; the first glance of each at the other's face prepared the friendship, and every day of acquaintance more firmly cemented it. Eric could not have had a better friend; not so clever as himself not so diligent as Owen, not so athletic as Duncan, or so fascinating as Montagu, Russell combined the best qualities of them all. And, above all, he acted invariably from the highest principle; he presented that noblest of all noble spectacles—one so rare that many think it impossible—the spectacle of an honourable, pure-hearted, happy boy, who, as his early years speed by, is ever growing in wisdom and stature, and favour with God and man.
"Did that brute Barker ever bully you as he bullies me?" said Eric one day, as he walked on the sea-shore with his friend.
"Yes," said Russell. "I slept in his dormitory when I first came, and he has often made me so wretched that I have flung myself on my knees at night in pretence of prayer, but really to get a little quiet time to cry like a child."
"And when was it he left off at last?"
"Why, you know, Upton in the fifth is my cousin, and very fond of me; he heard of it, though I didn't say anything about it, and told Barker that if ever he caught him at it, he would thrash him within an inch of his life; and that frightened him for one thing. Besides, Duncan, Montagu, and other friends of mine, began to cut him in consequence, so he thought it best to leave off."
"How is it, Russell, that fellows stand by and let him do it?"
"You see," said Russell, "Barker is an enormously strong fellow, and that makes the younger chaps, whom he fags, look up to him as a great hero. And there isn't one in our part of the school who can thrash him. Besides, people never do interfere, you know—at least not often. I remember once seeing a street-row in London, at which twenty people stood by, and let a drunken beast of a husband strike his wife without ever stirring to defend her."
"Well," sighed Eric, "I hope my day of deliverance will come soon, for I can't stand it much longer, and 'tell' I won't, whatever Owen may do."
Eric's deliverance came very soon. It was afternoon; the boys were playing at different games in the green playground, and he was waiting for his turn at rounders. At this moment Barker lounged up, and calmly snatching off Eric's cap, shied it over Dr Rowlands's garden-wall. "There, go and fetch that."
"You blackguard," said Eric, standing irresolutely for a few minutes; and then with tears in his eyes began to climb the wall. It was not very high, but boys were peremptorily forbidden to get over it under any circumstances, and Eric broke the rule not without trepidation. However, he dropped down on one of Mrs Rowlands's flower-beds, got his cap in a hurry, and clambered back undiscovered.
He thought this would have satisfied his tormentor for one day; but Barker was in a mischievous mood, so he again came up to Eric, and calling out, "Who'll have a game at football?" again snatched the cap, and gave it a kick; Eric tried to recover it, but every time he came up Barker gave it a fresh kick, and finally kicked it into a puddle.
Eric stood still, trembling with rage, while his eyes lightened scorn and indignation. "You hulking, stupid, cowardly bully,"—here Barker seized him, and every word brought a tremendous blow on the head; but blind with passion Eric went on—"you despicable bully, I won't touch that cap again; you shall pick it up yourself. Duncan, Russell, here! do help me against this intolerable brute."
Several boys ran up, but they were all weaker than Barker, who besides was now in a towering fury, and kicked Eric unmercifully.
"Leave him alone," shouted Duncan, seizing Barker's arm; "what a confounded bully you are—always plaguing some one."
"I shall do as I like; mind your own business," growled Barker, roughly shaking himself free from Duncan's hand.
"Barker, I'll never speak to you again from this day," said Montagu, turning on his heel, with a look of withering contempt.
"What do I care? puppy, you want taking down too," was the reply, and some more kicks at Eric followed.
"Barker, I won't stand this any longer," said Russell, "so look out," and grasping Barker by the collar, he dealt him a swinging blow on the face.
The bully stood in amazement, and dropped Eric, who fell on the turf nearly fainting, and bleeding at the nose. But now Russell's turn came, and in a moment Barker, who was twice his weight, had tripped him up,— when he found himself collared in an iron grasp.
There had been an unobserved spectator of the whole scene, in the person of Mr Williams himself, and it was his strong hand that now gripped Barker's shoulder. He was greatly respected by the boys, who all knew his tall handsome figure by sight, and he frequently stood a quiet and pleased observer of their games. The boys in the playground came crowding round, and Barker in vain struggled to escape. Mr Williams held him firmly, and said in a calm voice, "I have just seen you treat one of your school-fellows with the grossest violence. It makes me blush for you, Roslyn boys," he continued, turning to the group that surrounded him, "that you can even for a moment stand by unmoved, and see such things done. You know that you despise any one who tells a master, yet you allow this bullying to go on, and that, too, without any provocation. Now, mark; it makes no difference that the boy who has been hurt is my own son; I would have punished this scoundrel whoever it had been, and I shall punish him now." With these words, he lifted the riding-whip which he happened to be carrying, and gave Barker by far the severest castigation he had ever undergone; the boys declared that Mr Rowlands's "swishings" were nothing to it. Mr Williams saw that the offender was a tough subject, and determined that he should not soon forget the punishment he then received. He had never heard from Eric how this boy had been treating him, but he had heard it from Russell, and now he had seen one of the worst specimens of it with his own eyes.
He therefore belaboured him till his sullen obstinacy gave way to a roar for mercy, and promises never so to offend again.
At this crisis he flung the boy from him with a "phew" of disgust, and said, "I give nothing for your word; but if ever you do bully in this way again, and I see or hear of it, your present punishment shall be a trifle to what I shall then administer. At present, thank me for not informing your master." So saying, he made Barker pick up the cap, and, turning away, walked home with Eric leaning on his arm.
Barker, too, carried himself off with the best grace he could; but it certainly didn't mend matters when he heard numbers of fellows, even little boys, say openly, "I'm so glad; serves you right."
From that day Eric was never troubled with personal violence from Barker or any other boy. But rancour smouldered deep in the mind of the baffled tyrant, and, as we shall see hereafter, there are subtler means of making an enemy wretched than striking or kicking him.
VOLUME ONE, CHAPTER FOUR.
Et nos ergo manum ferulae subduximus.—Juvenal i. 15.
It must not be thought that Eric's year as a home-boarder was made up of dark experiences. Roslyn had a very bright as well as a dark side and Eric enjoyed it "to the finger-tips." School-life, like all other life, is an April day of shower and sunshine. Its joys may be more childish, its sorrows more trifling, than those of after years;—but they are more keenly felt.
And yet, although we know it to be a mere delusion, we all idealise and idolise our childhood. The memory of it makes pleasant purple in the distance, and as we look back on the sunlight of its blue far-off hills, we forget how steep we sometimes found them.
Upon Barker's discomfiture, which took place some three weeks after his arrival, Eric liked the school more and more, and got liked by it more and more. This might have been easily foreseen, for he was the type of a thoroughly boyish nature in its more genial and honourable characteristics, and his round of acquaintances daily increased. Among others, a few of the sixth, who were also day-scholars, began to notice and walk home with him. He looked on them as great heroes, and their condescension much increased his dignity both in his own estimation and that of his equals.
Now, too, he began to ask some of his most intimate acquaintances to spend an evening with him sometimes at home. This was a pleasure much coveted, for no boy ever saw Mrs Williams without loving her, and they felt themselves humanised by the friendly interest of a lady who reminded every boy of his own mother. Vernon, too, now a lively and active child of nine, was a great pet among them, so that every one liked Eric who "knew him at home." A boy generally shows his best side at home; the softening shadows of a mother's tender influence play over him, and tone down the roughnesses of boyish character. Duncan, Montagu and Owen were special favourites in the home circle, and Mrs Williams felt truly glad that her son had singled out friends who seemed, on the whole, so desirable. But Montagu and Russell were the most frequent visitors, and the latter became almost like one of the family; he won so much on all their hearts that Mrs Williams was not surprised when Eric confided to her one day that he loved Russell almost as well as he loved Vernon.
As Christmas approached, the boys began to take a lively interest in the half-year's prizes, and Eric was particularly eager about them. He had improved wonderfully, and as both his father and mother prevented him from being idle, even had he been so inclined, he had soon shown that he was one of the best in the form. Two prizes were given half-yearly to each remove; one for "marks," indicating the boy who had generally been highest throughout the half-year, and the other for the best proofs of proficiency in a special examination. It was commonly thought in the form that Owen would get the first of these prizes, and Eric the other; and towards the approach of the examination, he threw his whole energy into the desire to win. The desire was not selfish. Some ambition was of course natural; but he longed for the prize chiefly for the delight which he knew his success would cause at Fairholm, and still more to his own family.
During the last week an untoward circumstance happened, which, while it increased his popularity, diminished a good deal (as he thought) his chance of success. The fourth-form were learning a Homer lesson, and Barker, totally unable to do it by his own resources, was trying to borrow a crib. Eric, much to their mutual disgust, still sat next to him in school, and would have helped him if he had chosen to ask; but he never did choose, nor did Eric care to volunteer. The consequence was, that unless he could borrow a crib, he was invariably turned, and he was now particularly anxious to get one, because the time was nearly up.
There was a certain idle, good-natured boy, named Llewellyn, who had "cribs" to every book they did, and who, with a pernicious bonhommie, lent them promiscuously to the rest, all of whom were only too glad to avail themselves of the help, except the few at the top of the form, who found it a slovenly way of learning the lesson, which was sure to get them into worse difficulties than an honest attempt to master the meaning for themselves. Llewellyn sat at the farther end of the form in front, so Barker scribbled in the fly-leaf of his book, "Please send us your Homer crib," and got the book passed on to Llewellyn, who immediately shoved his crib in Barker's direction. The only danger of the transaction being noticed was when the book was being handed from one bench to another, and as Eric unluckily had an end seat, he had got into trouble more than once.
On this occasion, just as Graham, the last boy on the form in front, handed Eric the crib, Mr Gordon happened to look up, and Eric, very naturally anxious to screen another from trouble, popped the book under his own Homer.
"Williams, what are you doing?"
"Nothing, sir," said Eric, looking up innocently.
"Bring me that book under your Homer."
Eric blushed, hesitated—but at last, amid a dead silence, took up the book. Mr Gordon looked at it for a minute, let it fall on the ground, and then, with an unnecessary affectation of disgust, took it up with the tongs, and dropped it into the grate. There was a titter round the room.
"Silence!" thundered the master; "this is no matter for laughing. So, sir, this is the way you get up to the top of the form?"
"I wasn't using it, sir," said Eric.
"Not using it. Why, I saw you put it, open, under your Homer."
"It isn't mine, sir."
"Then whose is it?" Mr Gordon, motioning to Eric to pick up the book, looked at the fly-leaf, but of course no name was there; in those days it was dangerous to write one's name in a translation.
Eric was silent.
"Under the circumstances, Williams, I must punish you," said Mr Gordon. "Of course I am bound to believe you, but the circumstances are very suspicious. You had no business with such a book at all. Hold out your hand."
As yet Eric had never been caned. It would have been easy for him in this case to clear himself without mentioning names, but (very rightly) he thought it unmanly to clamour about being punished, and he felt nettled at Mr Gordon's merely official belief of his word. He knew that he had his faults, but certainly want of honour was not among them. Indeed, there were only three boys out of the twenty in the form who did not resort to modes of unfairness far worse than the use of cribs, and those three were—Russell, Owen, and himself; even Duncan, even Montagu, inured to it by custom, were not ashamed to read their lesson off a concealed book, or copy a date from a furtive piece of paper. They would have been ashamed of it before they came to Roslyn School, but the commonness of the habit had now made them blind or indifferent to its meanness. It was peculiarly bad in the fourth-form, because the master treated them with implicit confidence, and being scrupulously honourable himself, was unsuspicious of others. He was therefore extremely indignant at this apparent discovery of an attempt to overreach him in a boy so promising and so much of a favourite as Eric Williams.
"Hold out your hand," he repeated.
Eric did so, and the cane tingled sharply across his palm. He could bear the pain well enough, but he was keenly alive to the disgrace; he, a boy at the head of his form, to be caned in this way by a man who didn't understand him, and unjustly too! He mustered up an indifferent air, closed his lips tight, and determined to give no further signs. The defiance of his look made Mr Gordon angry, and he inflicted in succession five hard cuts on either hand, each one of which was more excruciating than the last.
"Now, go to your seat."
Eric did go to his seat, with all his bad passions roused, and he walked in a jaunty and defiant kind of way, that made the master really grieve at the disgrace into which he had fallen. But he instantly became a hero with the form, who unanimously called him a great brick for not telling, and admired him immensely for bearing up without crying under so severe a punishment. The punishment was most severe, and for some weeks after there were dark weals visible across Eric's palm, which rendered the use of his hands painful.
"Poor Williams," said Duncan, as they went out of school, "how very plucky of you not to cry."
"Vengeance deep brooding o'er the cane Had locked the source of softer woe And burning pride and high disdain Forbade the gentler tear to flow," said Eric, with a smile.
But he only bore up till he got home, and there, while he was telling his father the occurrence, he burst into a storm of passionate tears, mingled with the fiercest invectives against Mr Gordon for his injustice.
"Never mind, Eric," said his father; "only take care that you never get a punishment justly, and I shall always be as proud of you as I am now. And don't cherish this resentment, my boy; it will only do you harm. Try to forgive and forget."
"But, father, Mr Gordon is so hasty. I have indeed been rather a favourite of his, yet now he shows that he has no confidence in me. It is a great shame that he shouldn't believe my word. I don't mind the pain; but I shan't like him any more, and I'm sure now I shan't get the examination prize."
"You don't mean, Eric, that he will be influenced by partiality in the matter?"
"No, father, not exactly; at least I dare say he won't intend to be. But it is unlucky to be on bad terms with a master, and I know I shan't work so well."
On the whole the boy was right in thinking this incident a misfortune. Although he had nothing particular for which to blame himself, yet the affair had increased his pride, while it lowered his self-respect; and he had an indistinct consciousness that the popularity in his form would do him as much harm as the change of feeling in his master. He grew careless and dispirited, nor was it till in the very heat of the final competition that he felt his energies fully revived.
Half the form were as eager about the examination as the other half were indifferent; but none were more eager than Eric. He was much hindered by Barker's unceasing attempt to copy his papers surreptitiously; and very much disgusted at the shameless way in which many of the boys "cribbed" from books, and from each other, or used torn leaves concealed in their sleeves, or dates written on their wristbands and on their nails. He saw how easily much of this might have been prevented; but Mr Gordon was fresh at his work, and had not yet learned the practical lesson (which cost him many a qualm of sorrow and disgust), that to trust young boys to any great extent is really to increase their temptations. He did learn the lesson afterwards, and then almost entirely suppressed the practice, partly by increased vigilance, and partly by forbidding any book to be brought into the room during the time of examination. But meanwhile much evil had been done by the habitual abuse of his former confidence.
I shall not linger over the examination. At its close, the day before the breaking up, the list was posted on the door of the great schoolroom, and most boys made an impetuous rush to see the result. But Eric was too nervous to be present at the hour when this was usually done, and he had asked Russell to bring him the news.
He was walking up and down the garden, counting the number of steps he took, counting the number of shrubs along each path, and devising every sort of means to beguile the time, when he heard hasty steps, and Russell burst in at the back gate, breathless with haste and bright with excitement.
"Hurrah! old fellow!" he cried, seizing both Eric's hands; "I never felt so glad in my life," and he shook his friend's arms up and down, laughing joyously.
"Well! tell me," said Eric.
"First, Owen and Williams aequales," said he; "you've got head-remove, you see, in spite of your forebodings, as I always said you would; and I congratulate you with all my heart."
"No?" said Eric, "have I really?—you're not joking? Oh! hurrah!—I must rush in and tell them," and he bounded off.
In a second he was back at Russell's side. "What a selfish animal I am! Where are you placed, Russell?"
"Oh! magnificent; I'm third—far higher than I expected."
"I'm so glad," said Eric. "Come in with me and tell them. I'm head-remove, mother," he shouted, springing into the parlour where his father and mother sat.
In the lively joy that this announcement excited, Russell stood by for the moment unheeded; and when Eric took him by the hand to tell them that he was third, he hung his head, and a tear was in his eye.
"Poor boy! I'm afraid you're disappointed," said Mrs Williams kindly, drawing him to her side.
"Oh, no, no! it's not that," said Russell hastily, as he lifted his swimming eyes to her face.
"What's the matter, Russell?" asked Eric, surprised.
"Oh, nothing; don't ask me; I'm only foolish to-day," and with a burst of sorrow he bent down, and hid his face. Mrs Williams guessed the source of his anguish, and soothed him tenderly; nor was she surprised when, as soon as his sobs would let him speak, he kissed her hand, and whispered in a low tone, "It is but a year since I became an orphan."
"Dearest child," she said, "I know how to sympathise with you. But I am sure, my boy, that you have learnt to feel Who is the Father of the fatherless."
Russell's eye brightened, but his only answer was a look of intelligence and gratitude, as he hastily dried his tears.
Gradually he grew calmer. They made him stay to dinner and spend the rest of the day there, and by the evening he had recovered all his usual sprightliness. Towards sunset he and Eric went for a stroll down the bay, and talked over the term and the examination.
They sat down on a green bank just beyond the beach, and watched the tide come in, while the sea-distance was crimson with the glory of evening. The beauty and the murmur filled them with a quiet happiness, not untinged with the melancholy thought of parting the next day.
At last Eric broke the silence. "Russell, let me always call you Edwin, and call me Eric."
"Very gladly, Eric. Your coming here has made me so happy." And the two boys squeezed each other's hands, and looked into each other's faces, and silently promised that they would be loving friends for ever.
VOLUME ONE, CHAPTER FIVE.
THE SECOND TERM.
Take us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil our vines; for our vines have tender grapes.—Cant. ii. 15.
The second term at school is generally the great test of the strength of a boy's principles and resolutions. During the first term the novelty, the loneliness, the dread of unknown punishments, the respect for authorities, the desire to measure himself with his companions—all tend to keep him right and diligent. But many of these incentives are removed after the first brush of novelty, and many a lad who has given good promise at first, turns out, after a short probation, idle or vicious, or indifferent.
But there was little comparative danger for Eric, so long as he continued to be a home-boarder, which was for another half-year. On the contrary, he was anxious to support in his new remove the prestige of having been head-boy; and as he still continued under Mr Gordon, he really wished to turn over a new leaf in his conduct towards him, and recover, if possible, his lost esteem.
His popularity was a fatal snare. He enjoyed and was very proud of it, and was half inclined to be angry with Russell for not fully sharing his feelings; but Russell had a far larger experience of school-life than his new friend, and dreaded with all his heart lest "he should follow a multitude to do evil."
The "cribbing," which had astonished and pained Eric at first, was more flagrant than even in the Upper-Fourth, and assumed a chronic form. In all the Repetition lessons one of the boys used to write out in a large hand the passage to be learnt by heart, and dexterously pin it to the front of Mr Gordon's desk. There any boy who chose could read it off with little danger of detection, and, as before, the only boys who refused to avail themselves of this trickery were Eric, Russell, and Owen.
Eric did not yield to it; never once did he suffer his eyes to glance at the paper when his turn to repeat came round. But although this was the case, he never spoke against the practice to the other boys, even when he lost places by it. Nay more, he would laugh when any one told him how he had escaped "skewing" (i.e. being turned) by reading it off; and he even went so far as to allow them to suppose that he wouldn't himself object to take advantage of the master's unsuspicious confidence.
"I say, Williams," said Duncan, one morning as they strolled into the school-yard, "do you know your Repetition?"
"No," said Eric, "not very well; I haven't given more than ten minutes to it."
"Oh, well, never mind it now; come and have a game at racquets. Russell and Montagu have taken the court."
"But I shall skew."
"Oh no, you needn't, you know. I'll take care to pin it upon the desk near you."
"Well, I don't much care. At any rate I'll chance it." And off the boys ran to the racquet-court, Eric intending to occupy the last quarter of an hour before school-time in learning his lesson. Russell and he stood the other two, and they were very well matched. They had finished two splendid games, and each side had been victorious in turn, when Duncan, in the highest spirits, shouted, "Now, Russell, for the conqueror."
"Get some one else in my place," said Russell; "I don't know my Repetition, and must cut and learn it."
"Oh, bother the Repetition," said Montagu, "somebody's sure to write it out in school, and old Gordon'll never see."
"You forget, Montagu, I don't deign to crib. It isn't fair."
"Oh ay, I forgot. Well, after all, you're quite right; I only wish I was as good."
"What a capital fellow he is," continued Montagu, leaning on his racquet and looking after him, as Russell left the court. "But I say, Williams, you're not going too, are you?"
"I think I must, I don't know half my lesson."
"Oh no, I don't go; there's Llewellyn; he'll take Russell's place, and we must have the conquering game."
Again Eric yielded; and when the clock struck, he ran into school, hot, vexed with himself and certain to break down, just as Russell strolled in, whispering, "I've had lots of time to get up the Horace, and know it pat."
Still he clung to the little thistledown of hope that he should have plenty of time to cram it before the form were called up. But another temptation waited him. No sooner was he seated than Graham whispered, "Williams, it's your turn to write out the Horace; I did last time, you know."
Poor Eric! He was reaping the fruits of his desire to keep up popularity, which had prevented him from expressing a manly disapproval of the general cheating. Everybody seemed to assume now that he at any rate didn't think much of it, and he had never claimed his real right up to that time of asserting his innocence. But this was a step farther than he had ever gone before. He drew back—
"My turn, what do you mean?"
"Why, you know as well as I do that we all write it out by turns."
"Do you mean to say Owen or Russell ever wrote it out?"
"Of course not; you wouldn't expect the saints to be guilty of such a thing, would you?"
"I'd rather not, Graham," he said, getting very red.
"Well, that is cowardly," answered Graham angrily; "then I suppose I must do it myself."
"Here, I'll do it," said Eric suddenly; "shy us the paper."
His conscience smote him bitterly. In his silly dread of giving offence, he was doing what he heartily despised, and he felt most uncomfortable.
"There," he said, pushing the paper from him in a pet; "I've written it, and I'll have nothing more to do with it."
Just as he finished, they were called up, and Barker, taking the paper, succeeded in pinning it as usual on the front of the desk. Eric had never seen it done so carelessly and clumsily before, and firmly believed, what was indeed a fact, that Barker had done it badly on purpose, in the hope that it might be discovered, and so Eric be got once more into a scrape. He was in an agony of apprehension, and when put on, was totally unable to say a word of his Repetition. But far as he had yielded, he would not cheat like the rest; in this respect, at any rate, he would not give up his claim to chivalrous and stainless honour; he kept his eyes resolutely turned away from the guilty paper, and even refused to repeat the words which were prompted in his ear by the boys on each side. Mr Gordon, after waiting a moment, said—
"Why, sir, you know nothing about it; you can't have looked at it. Go to the bottom, and write it out five times."
"Write it out," thought Eric; "this is retribution, I suppose," and, covered with shame and vexation, he took his place below the malicious Barker at the bottom of the form.
It happened that during the lesson the fire began to smoke, and Mr Gordon told Owen to open the window for a moment. No sooner was this done than the mischievous whiff of sea-air which entered the room began to trifle and coquet with the pendulous half-sheet pinned in front of the desk, causing thereby an unwonted little pattering crepitation. In alarm, Duncan thoughtlessly pulled out the pin, and immediately the paper floated gracefully over Russell's head, as he sat at the top of the form, and, after one or two gyrations, fluttered down in the centre of the room.
"Bring me that piece of paper," said Mr Gordon, full of vague suspicion.
Several boys moved uneasily, and Eric looked nervously round.
"Did you hear? fetch me that half-sheet of paper."
A boy picked it up, and handed it to him. Mr Gordon held it for a full minute in his hands without a word, while vexation, deep disgust, and rising anger, struggled in his countenance. At last, he suddenly turned full on Eric, whose writing he recognised, and broke out—
"So, sir! a second time caught in gross deceit. I should not have thought it possible. Your face and manners belie you. You have lost my confidence for ever. I despise you."
"Indeed, sir," said the penitent Eric, "I never meant—"
"Silence—you are detected, as cheats always will be. I shall report you to Dr Rowlands."
The next boy was put on, and broke down. The same with the next, and the next, and the next; Montagu, Graham, Llewellyn, Duncan, Barker, all hopeless failures; only two boys had said it right—Russell and Owen.
Mr Gordon's face grew blacker and blacker. The deep undisguised pain which the discovery caused him was swallowed up in unbounded indignation. "Deceitful, dishonourable boys," he exclaimed, "henceforth my treatment of you shall be very different. The whole form, except Russell and Owen, shall have an extra lesson every half-holiday; not one of the rest of you will I trust again. I took you for gentlemen. I was mistaken. Go." And so saying, he motioned them to their seats with imperious disdain.
They went, looking sheepish and ashamed. Eric, deeply vexed, kept twisting and untwisting a bit of paper, without raising his eyes, and even Barker thoroughly repented his short-sighted treachery; the rest were silent and miserable.
At twelve o'clock two boys lingered in the room to speak to Mr Gordon; they were Eric Williams and Edwin Russell, but they were full of very different feelings.
Eric stepped to the desk first. Mr Gordon looked up.
"You! Williams, I wonder that you have the audacity to speak to me. Go—I have nothing to say to you."
"But, sir, I want to tell you that—"
"Your guilt is only too clear, Williams. You will hear more of this. Go, I tell you."
Eric's passion overcame him; he stamped furiously on the ground, and burst out, "I will speak, sir; you have been unjust to me for a long time, but I will not be—"
Mr Gordon's cane fell sharply across the boy's back; he stopped, glared for a moment, and then saying, "Very well, sir! I shall tell Dr Rowlands that you strike before you hear me," he angrily left the room, and slammed the door violently behind him.
Before Mr Gordon had time to recover from his astonishment, Russell stood by him.
"Well, my boy," said the master, softening in a moment, and laying his hand gently on Russell's head, "what have you to say? You cannot tell how I rejoice, amid the vexation and disgust that this has caused me, to find that you at least are honourable. But I knew, Edwin, that I could trust you."
"Oh, sir, I come to speak for Eric—for Williams."
Mr Gordon's brow darkened again and the storm gathered, as he interrupted vehemently, "Not a word, Russell; not a word. This is the second time that he has wilfully deceived me; and this time he has involved others too in his base deceit."
"Indeed, sir, you wrong him. I can't think how he came to write the paper, but I know that he did not and would not use it. Didn't you see yourself, sir, how he turned his head quite another way when he broke down?"
"It is very kind of you, Edwin, to defend him," said Mr Gordon coldly, "but at present, at any rate, I must not hear you. Leave me; I feel deeply vexed, and must have time to think over this disgraceful affair."
Russell went away disconsolate, and met his friend striding up and down the passage, waiting for Dr Rowlands to come out of the library.
"Oh, Eric," he said, "how came you to write that paper?"
"Why, Russell, I did feel very much ashamed, and I would have explained it, and said so; but that Gordon spites me so. It is such a shame; I don't feel now as if I cared one bit."
"I am sorry you don't get on with him; but remember you have given him in this case good cause to suspect. You never crib, Eric, I know, so I can't help being sorry that you wrote the paper."
"But then Graham asked me to do it, and called me cowardly because I refused at first."
"Ah, Eric," said Russell, "they will ask you to do worse things if you yield so easily. I wouldn't say anything to Dr Rowlands about it, if I were you."
Eric took the advice, and, full of mortification, went home. He gave his father a true and manly account of the whole occurrence, and that afternoon Mr Williams wrote a note of apology and explanation to Mr Gordon. Next time the form went up, Mr Gordon said, in his most freezing tone, "Williams, at present I shall take no further notice of your offence beyond including you in the extra lesson every half-holiday."
From that day forward Eric felt that he was marked and suspected, and the feeling worked on him with the worst effects. He grew more careless in work, and more trifling and indifferent in manner. Several boys now got above him in form whom he had easily surpassed before, and his energies were for a time entirely directed to keeping that supremacy in the games which he had won by his activity and strength.
It was a Sunday afternoon, toward the end of the summer term, and the boys were sauntering about in the green playground, or lying on the banks reading and chatting. Eric was with a little knot of his chief friends, enjoying the sea-breeze as they sat on the grass. At last the bell of the school chapel began to ring, and they went in to the afternoon service. Eric usually sat with Duncan and Llewellyn, immediately behind the benches allotted to chance visitors. The bench in front of them happened on this afternoon to be occupied by some rather odd people, viz, an old man with long white hair,—and two ladies remarkably stout, who were dressed with much juvenility, although past middle age. Their appearance immediately attracted notice, and no sooner had they taken their seats than Duncan and Llewellyn began to titter. The ladies' bonnets, which were of white, trimmed with long green leaves and flowers, just peered over the top of the boys' pew, and excited much amusement; particularly when Duncan, in his irresistible sense of the ludicrous, began to adorn them with little bits of paper. But Eric had not yet learnt to disregard the solemnity of the place, and the sacred act in which they were engaged. He tried to look away and attend to the service, and for a time he partially succeeded, although, seated as he was between the two triflers, who were perpetually telegraphing to each other their jokes, he found it a difficult task, and secretly he began to be much tickled.
At last the sermon commenced, and Llewellyn, who had imprisoned a grasshopper in a paper cage, suddenly let it hop out. The first hop took it to the top of the pew; the second perched it on the shoulder of the stoutest lady. Duncan and Llewellyn tittered louder, and even Eric could not resist a smile. But when the lady, feeling some irritation on her shoulder, raised her hand, and the grasshopper took a frightened leap into the centre of the green foliage which enwreathed her bonnet, none of the three could stand it, and they burst into fits of laughter, which they tried in vain to conceal by bending down their heads and cramming their fists into their mouths. Eric, having once given way, enjoyed the joke uncontrollably, and the lady made matters worse by her uneasy attempts to dislodge the unknown intruder, and discover the cause of the tittering, which she could not help hearing. At last all three began to laugh so violently that several heads were turned in their direction, and Dr Rowlands's stern eye caught sight of their levity. He stopped short in his sermon, and for one instant transfixed them with his indignant glance. Quiet was instantly restored, and alarm reduced them to the most perfect order, although the grasshopper still sat imperturbable among the artificial flowers. Meanwhile the stout lady had discovered that for some unknown reason she had been causing considerable amusement, and attributing it to intentional ridicule, looked round, justly hurt. Eric, with real shame, observed the pained uneasiness of her manner, and bitterly repented his share in the transaction.
Next morning Dr Rowlands, in full academicals, sailed into the fourth-form room. His entrance was the signal for every boy to rise, and after a word or two to Mr Gordon, he motioned them to be seated. Eric's heart sank within him.
"Williams, Duncan, and LLewellyn, stand out!" said the Doctor. The boys, with downcast eyes and burning cheeks, stood before him.
"I was sorry to notice," said he, "your shameful conduct in chapel yesterday afternoon. As far as I could observe, you were making yourselves merry in that sacred place with the personal defects of others. The lessons you receive here must be futile indeed if they do not teach you the duty of reverence to God, and courtesy to man. It gives me special pain, Williams, to have observed that you, too, a boy high in your remove, were guilty of this most culpable levity. You will all come to me at twelve o'clock in the library."
At twelve o'clock they each received a flogging.
The pain inflicted was not great, and Duncan and Llewellyn, who had got into similar trouble before, cared very little for it, and went out laughing to tell the number of swishes they had received to a little crowd of boys who were lingering outside the library door. But not so Eric. It was his first flogging, and he felt it deeply. To his proud spirit the disgrace was intolerable. At that moment he hated Dr Rowlands, he hated Mr Gordon, he hated his school-fellows, he hated everybody. He had been flogged; the thought haunted him; he, Eric Williams, had been forced to receive this most degrading corporal punishment. He pushed fiercely through the knot of boys, and strode as quickly as he could along the playground, angry and impenitent.
At the gate Russell met him. Eric felt the meeting inopportune; he was ashamed to meet his friend, ashamed to speak to him, envious of him, and jealous of his better reputation. He wanted to pass him by without notice, but Russell would not suffer this. He came up to him and took his arm affectionately. The slightest allusion to his late disgrace would have made Eric flame out into a passion; but Russell was too kind to allude to it then. He talked as if nothing had happened, and tried to turn his friend's thoughts to more pleasant subjects. Eric appreciated his kindness, but he was still sullen and fretful, and it was not until they parted that his better feelings won the day. But when Russell said to him, "Good-bye, Eric, and don't be down in the mouth," it was too much for him, and seizing Edwin's hand, he wrung it hard, and exclaimed impetuously—
"How I wish I was like you, Edwin! If all my friends were like you, I should never get into these rows."
"Nay, Eric," said Russell, "it's I who ought to envy you; you are no end cleverer and stronger, and you can't think how glad I am that we are friends."
They parted by Mr Williams's door, and Russell walked home sad and thoughtful; but Eric, barely answering his brother's greeting, rushed up to his room, and, flinging himself on his bed, brooded alone over the remembrance of his disgrace. Still nursing a fierce resentment, he felt something hard at his heart, and, as he prayed neither for help nor forgiveness, it was pride and rebellion, not penitence, that made him miserable.
VOLUME ONE, CHAPTER SIX.
Keep the spell of home affection Still alive in every heart; May its power, with mild direction, Draw our love from self apart, Till thy children Feel that thou their Father art. School Hymn.
"I have caught such a lot of pretty sea-anemones, Eric," said little Vernon Williams, as his brother strolled in after morning school; "I wish you would come and look at them."
"Oh, I can't come now, Verny; I am going out to play cricket with some fellows directly."
"But it won't take you a minute; do come."
"What a little bore you are. Where are the things?"
"Oh, never mind, Eric, if you don't want to look at them," said Vernon, hurt at his brother's rough manner.
"First, you ask me to look, and then say 'never mind,'" said Eric impatiently; "here, show me them."
The little boy brought a large saucer, round which the crimson sea-flowers were waving their long tentacula in the salt water.
"Oh my; very pretty indeed. But I must be off to cricket."
Vernon looked up at his brother sadly.
"You aren't so kind to me, Eric, as you used to be."
"What nonsense! and all because I don't admire those nasty red-jelly things, which one may see on the shore by thousands any day. What a little goose you are, Vernon."
Vernon made no reply, but was putting away his sea-anemones with a sigh, when in came Russell to fetch Eric to the cricket.
"Well, Verny," he said, "have you been getting those pretty sea-anemones? come here and show me them. Ah, I declare you've got one of those famous white plumosa fellows among them. What a lucky little chap you are!"
Vernon was delighted.
"Mind you take care of them," said Russell. "Where did you find them?"
"I have been down the shore getting them."
"And have you had a pleasant morning?"
"Yes, Russell, thank you. Only it is rather dull being always by myself, and Eric never comes with me now."
"Hang Eric," said Russell playfully. "Never mind, Verny; you and I will cut him, and go by ourselves."
Eric had stood by during the conversation, and the contrast of Russell's unselfish kindness with his own harsh want of sympathy struck him. He threw his arms round his brother's neck, and said, "We will both go with you, Verny, next half-holiday."