Ernest Bracebridge, School Days, by William H G Kingston.
A very well-written book—one of Kingston's best. It is about various events and personalities in a Victorian school. The boy after whom the book is named is such a heroic character that one can't help wondering if he is really either Kingston's own son, or maybe the son whom Kingston would have liked to have.
In one of the last chapters it so happens that some of the boys pay a visit to another school, which happens to be the one your reviewer was at. It was astonishing to me to read of institutions and customs at that school just exactly as they were in my day, seventy years and more later.
It makes a very good audiobook.
ERNEST BRACEBRIDGE, SCHOOL DAYS, BY WILLIAM H G KINGSTON.
THE SCHOOL, THE MASTER, AND HIS BOYS.
It was a half-holiday. One of our fellows who had lately taken his degree and passed as Senior Wrangler had asked it for us. He had just come down for a few hours to see the Doctor and the old place. How we cheered him! How proudly the Doctor looked at him! What a great man we thought him! He was a great man! for he had won a great victory,—not only over his fellow-men, not only over his books, by compelling them to give up the knowledge they contained,—but over his love of pleasure; over a tendency to indolence; over his temper and passions; and now Henry Martin was able to commence the earnest struggle of life with the consciousness, which of itself gives strength, that he had obtained the most important of all victories—that over self.
There he stood, surrounded by some of the bigger boys who had been at school with him; a pleasant smile on his countenance as he looked about him on the old familiar scenes. Then he shook hands with the fellows standing near him, and we all cheered again louder than ever. He thanked us, and said that he hoped he should often meet many of us in the world, and that he should always look back with pleasure to the days he had spent in that place. At last he once more waved his hand and went back into the house.
The instant dinner was over, out we all rushed into the playground. Those were happy times when, directly after it, we could stand on our heads, play high-cock-o'lorum, or hang by our heels from the cross-bars of our gymnastic poles without the slightest inconvenience.
Our school was a good one; I ought to speak well of it. I have, indeed, a very small opinion of a boy who does not think highly and speak highly of his own school, and feel thoroughly identified with it, provided it is a good one. Our school, at all events, was first-rate, and so was our master. We were proud of him, and believed firmly that there were very few men in England, or in the world, for that matter, who were equal to him. He won the affections of all of us, and as it seemed, with wonderful ease. How he did it we did not trouble ourselves to consider. I have since, however, often thought over the subject, and have had no difficulty in guessing the cause of his influence. He was a ripe scholar, and thoroughly understood what he professed to teach: then he was always just, and although he was strict, and could be very severe on occasions, he was one of the kindest-hearted men I ever met. We all thought so; and boys are not bad judges of their elders. He was a tall, fine man, with a florid complexion. His eyes were large and clear, and full of intelligence and expression. And then his voice!—how rich and mellow it sounded when he exerted it. His smile, too, was particularly pleasing; and, old as he was, at least as we thought him, he entered heartily into many of our games and amusements; and it was a fine thing to see him stand up with a bat in his hand, and send the ball flying over the hedge into the other field. He had been a great cricketer at College, and had generally been one of the eleven when any University match was played, so we heard; and that made him encourage all sorts of sports and pastimes. He pulled a capital oar; and we heard that he had been very great at football, though he had long since given up playing: indeed, I doubt if there was any game which he had not played well, and could not still play better than most people, had he chosen. Such was Doctor Carr—the Doctor, as we called him—of Grafton Hall.
Grafton Hall was a fine old place, situated on a healthy spot, and surrounded by good-sized grounds: indeed, no place could be more admirably fitted for a first-rate gentleman's school.
The house was a large Elizabethan building, with a number of good-sized airy rooms, and passages, and staircases. The hall served, for what it was originally intended, as a dining-hall.
The Doctor had built a wing, in which was situated our school-room, and a lofty, well-ventilated room it was. We had several lecture-rooms besides; and then the large old courtyard served as a capital playground in wet weather, as well as a racket-court; and in one corner of it we had our gymnasium, which was one of the many capital things belonging to the school.
A fine wide glade in the park, which had been thoroughly drained, served us as a magnificent cricket-ground; and there was, not far from it, a good-sized pond, through which ran a stream of clear water, where we bathed in the summer. It was kept clean and free from weeds, and even in the deepest parts we could, on a sunny day, see the bright pebbles shining at the bottom.
I need not now give a further description of the dear old place. We were most of us as fond of it as if it had been our father's property. I do not mean to say that it was a perfect paradise. I do not fancy such a place exists in the world; and if it did, I must own that schoolboys are not, as a rule, much like angels. Still the Doctor did his best to make it a happy place, and an abode fit for boys of refined minds and gentlemanly habits and ideas. It was generally our own faults if anything went wrong.
When a new boy arrived, the Doctor took him into the school-room, and lecture-rooms, and dining-hall, and through the sleeping-rooms, and playground, and gardens; indeed, all round the place.
"Now, my lad," he used to say, "you will remark that everything is well arranged, and clean, and neat. I trust to your honour to refrain from injuring anything in any way, and to do your best to keep the place in the good order in which you see it."
On no occasion had he ever to speak again on the subject; for we all took a pride in the handsome, gentlemanly appearance of the house and grounds, and effectually prevented any mischievously inclined boy from injuring them. All the other arrangements of the establishment were equally good with those I have described.
The Doctor's wife was a first-rate person; so kind, and gentle, and considerate. We were all very fond of her; and so we were of the good matron, Mrs Smith, who kept all the people under her in such excellent order.
The ushers, too, were all very good in their way, for the Doctor seldom made a mistake in selecting them. They were good scholars and gentlemen, and generally entered with zest into most of our sports and games. But it is time that I should return to that memorable half-holiday.
The Doctor had not long before erected a gymnasium, which was at this time all the rage among us. We never grew tired of practising on it. The moment we came out of the dining-hall the greater number of us assembled round it.
Some swarmed up the poles; others the ropes which hung from the bars above; several performed various exercises on the parallel bars; while four seized the ropes which hung from a long perpendicular pole, and were soon seen, with giant strides, rotating round it, till they scarcely touched the ground with their feet.
Numbers were likewise hanging on to the horizontal bar; sitting on it, swinging by it, circling it, kicking it, hanging to it by the legs or the feet, performing, indeed, more movements than I can well describe.
There were also several wooden horses, or rather logs of wood on legs, on which the boys were mounting and dismounting, vaulting on to them, leaping along them or over them, kneeling on them, jumping off them, and, indeed, going through a variety of movements which might give them confidence on horseback.
Several swings were in full action. Very few boys were sitting on them; most of them were standing upright; some were holding on with two hands, others only with one; some standing on one foot, and holding on by one rope; others leaning with perfect composure against one rope; but all were moving rapidly in one way or another; indeed, the effect to a person unaccustomed to the scene must have been very curious.
One of the most active fellows we had at that time was Richard Blackall. He was not quite the cock of the school, though, for his size, he was very strong; but at all gymnastic feats he beat nearly everybody. His chief rival was Miles Lemon, who could perform most of the exercises he could, and did some of them better. Lemon was not so strong as Blackall, but he had a more correct eye, and a calmer temper; both very important qualifications, especially in most athletic exercises. He was, in consequence, a better cricketer, and a still better fencer. Even at the broadsword exercise, although at first it might appear that Blackall was far superior to Miles, the latter had more than once given proof that it was hard work for any one to gain a victory over him.
Blackall's great fault was a strong inclination to bully. He was a tyrant, and utterly indifferent to the feelings of others. If he wanted a thing done, he did not consider what trouble and annoyance it might give others, but, confiding in his strength, he made all the smaller boys do what he wanted. If they refused, he thrashed them till they promised to obey him. He was a great talker, and a never-ceasing boaster of what he had done, and of what he could do and would do. As he certainly could do many of the things he talked about, it was believed that he could do everything. Some believed in him, but others did not. Such a person was, however, sure to have a number of followers and ardent admirers, who quoted him on all occasions,—stuck by him through thick or thin, right or wrong, and looked upon him as one of the finest fellows in existence.
Among the most constant of his followers was Robert Dawson—Bobby Dawson he was always called. He was not a badly inclined little fellow, but he had no confidence in himself, and, consequently, wanted to lean on somebody else. Unfortunately he chose Blackall as his supporter.
Among the smaller boys who aspired to be considered something above the common was Tommy Bouldon. He was a determined, independent little fellow. He was very active, and could perform more feats of activity than any other boy of his size. He was a fair cricketer, and was sometimes chosen by some of the bigger fellows to play in their matches. This made Tommy rather cocky at times; but he was a good-natured chap, and managed to live on good terms with everybody.
Tommy, like Blackall, was rather apt to boast of what he had done, or he purposed doing; but in one respect he was different;—he never exaggerated in his descriptions of his past exploits, and seldom failed to perform whatever he undertook to do.
The boys I have described were among the many who were exercising away with all their might and main on the gymnastic poles.
Blackall was going up a ladder hand over hand, without using his feet, while Lemon was swarming up a pole. When they reached the top, giddy as was the height, they crossed each other and descended, one by the pole and the other by the rope, head foremost; then, without stopping, each climbed on some horizontal bars.
Lemon first hung by his hands to the bar he had seized, and then he drew himself up until his chest touched the bar; then, lowering himself, he passed one of his feet through his hands, and hitched his knee over the bar; then he swung backwards, and came up sitting on the bar with one leg; it was easy enough to draw the other leg after him. Throwing himself off, he caught the bar again by his hands, and curled his body over it.
"That's all very fine," exclaimed Blackall, who had been sitting on a bar observing him; "but, old fellow, can you do this?"
Blackall, as he spoke, threw himself off the bar, grasping it with both hands; then he passed the left knee through the right arm, so as to let the knee rest in the elbow; then he passed the right knee over the instep of the left foot, and letting go his left hand, he grasped his right foot with it. Thus he hung, suspended by his right hand, and coiled up like a ball. After hanging thus for a couple of minutes, he caught the bar by his other hand, and, uncoiling himself, brought his feet between his arms and allowed them to drop till they nearly touched the ground. Then he turned back the same way. Once more lifting himself up, he threw his legs over the bar, and dropping straight down, hung by his bent knees, with his head towards the ground. A little fellow passing at the moment, he called him, and lifted him off the ground; a feat which called forth the loud applause of all his admirers. This excited him to further efforts, and he was induced to continue still longer when he found that Lemon did not seem inclined to vie with him.
While the exercises I have described were going forward, the Doctor made his appearance at the door of the yard, accompanied by a boy who looked curiously round at what was taking place. After waiting a minute or so, the Doctor led him on through the grounds.
"I wonder who that chap is!" observed Tommy Bouldon. "He looks a regular-built sawney."
"Oh, don't you know? He's the new fellow," answered Bobby Dawson. "I heard something about him from Sandon, who lives in the same county, ten or a dozen miles from his father's house. The families visit,—that is to say, the elders go and stay at each other's houses,—but Sandon has never met this fellow himself, so he could only tell me what he had heard. One thing he knows for certain, that he has never been at school before, so he must be a regular muff, don't you see. His father is a sort of philosopher—brings up his children unlike anybody else; makes them learn all about insects and flowers, and birds and beasts, and astronomy, and teaches them to do all sorts of things besides, but nothing that is of any use in the world that I know of. Now I'll wager young Hopeful has never played football or cricket in his life, and couldn't if he was to try. Those sort of fellows, in my opinion, are only fit to keep tame rabbits and silkworms."
Master Bobby did not exactly define to what sort of character he alluded; and it is possible he might have been mistaken as to his opinion of the new boy.
"Well, I agree with you," observed Tommy Bouldon, drawing himself up to his full height of three feet seven inches, and looking very consequential. "I hate those home-bred, missy, milk-and-water chaps. It is a pity they should ever come to school at all. They are more fit to be turned into nursery-maids, and to look after their little brothers and sisters."
This sally of wit drew forth a shout of laughter from Bobby Dawson, who forthwith settled in his mind that he would precious soon take the shine out of the new boy.
"But, I say, what is the fellow's name?" asked Tommy.
"Oh, didn't I tell you?" answered Bobby. "It's Bracebridge; his Christian name is—let me see, I heard it, I know it's one of your fancy romantic mamma's pet-boy names—just what young ladies put in little children's story-books. Oh, I have it now—Ernest—Ernest Bracebridge."
"I don't see that that is so very much out of the way either," observed Bouldon; "I've known two or three Ernests who were not bad sorts of fellows. There was Ernest Hyde, who was a capital cricketer, and Ernest Eastgate, who was one of the best runners I ever met; still from what you tell me, I fully expect that this Ernest Bracebridge will turn out no great shakes."
While the lads were speaking, the subject of their remarks returned to the playground. An unprejudiced person would certainly not have designated him as a muff. He was an active, well-built boy, of between twelve and thirteen years old. He had light-brown hair, curling slightly, with a fair complexion and a good colour. His mouth showed a good deal of firmness, and he had clear honest eyes, with no little amount of humour in them. He was dressed in a dark-blue jacket, white trousers, and a cloth cap. Dawson and Bouldon eyed him narrowly. What they thought of him, after a nearer scrutiny, they did not say. He stood at a little distance from the gymnasium, watching with very evident interest the exercises of the boys. He had, it seemed, when he first came in with the Doctor, been attracted with what he had seen, and had come back again as soon as he was at liberty. He drew nearer and nearer as he gained more and more confidence, till he got close up to where Dawson and Bouldon were swinging lazily on some cross-bars. Blackall was at that moment playing off some of his most difficult feats, such as I have already described.
"I say, young fellow, can you do anything like that?" said Tommy, addressing Ernest, and pointing at Blackall. "Dawson here swears there isn't another fellow in England who can come up to him."
"I beg your pardon, did you speak to me?" asked Ernest, looking at Tommy as if he considered the question had not been put in the most civil way.
"Yes, of course, young one, I did. There's no one behind you, is there?" answered Tommy. "What's more, too, I expect an answer."
"Perhaps I might, with a little practice," answered the new boy carelessly. "I'm rather fond of athletic exercises."
"I'll be content to see you get up that pole, young 'un," observed Tommy, putting his tongue in his cheek. "Take care you don't burn your fingers as you come down."
"I'll try, if I may," replied the new boy quietly.
He advanced towards the pole, but another boy got hold of it—rather a bungler he seemed; so Ernest left him to puff and blow by himself in his vain efforts at getting up, and went on to one of the swinging ropes. He seized it well above his head, and pressing his knees and feet against it, steadily drew himself up, to the surprise of Bouldon and Dawson and several other lookers-on, till he reached the lofty cross-bar. Was he coming down again? No. He sprang up and ran along the beam with fearless steps till he came to the part into which the top of the pole was fixed. Most of the boys thought that he would come down by the ladder; but, stooping down, he swung himself on to the pole and slid down head first to the ground. There he stood, looking as cool and unconcerned as if he had not moved from the spot. The feat he had performed, though not difficult, was one which neither Dawson nor Bouldon had yet attempted. It raised him wonderfully in the opinion of those young gentlemen.
"Very well, young one," exclaimed Tommy in a patronising tone. "I did not think you'd have done it half as well. However, I suppose it's the trick you have practised. You couldn't do, now, what that big fellow there, Blackall, is about?"
"Oh, yes," said Ernest quietly. "I can kick the bar, or swing on it, or circle it, or do the grasshopper, or hang by my legs, or make a true lover's knot, or pass through my arms, or hang by my feet. You fancy that I am boasting, but the fact is this, my father won't let us do anything imperfectly. If we do it at all, he says, we must do it well."
"Oh, I dare say that's all right, young one," observed Tommy, turning away with Dawson. "I see how it is. He has been coached well up in gymnastics, but when he comes to play cricket or football it will be a very different affair. A fellow may learn one thing or so at home very well, but he soon breaks down when he comes to practice work."
A few only of the boys had remarked Ernest's performances. Most of them were too much engaged in their own exercises to think of him. He felt rather solitary when left to himself, and wished that Dawson and Bouldon would have stopped to talk to him, not that he particularly admired their manners. He was well prepared, however, to meet all sorts of characters. School and its inner life had been described to him by his father with faithful accuracy.
Although at the time few, if any, private schools were to be found superior to Grafton Hall, Ernest did not expect to find it as happy a place as his own home, much less a paradise. A number of little boys were playing a game of ring-taw in a corner of the yard. Ernest walked up to them. No one took any notice of him, but went on with their game. "Knuckle down," was the cry. A sturdy little fellow, with a well-bronzed hand, was peppering away, knocking marble after marble out of the ring with his taw, and bid fair to win all that remained. Ernest had long ago given up marbles himself, but he did not pretend to forget how to play with them. He thought that if he offered to join them it might serve as an introduction.
"If you will let me, I shall like to play with you," he said quietly, catching the eye of the sturdy player.
"With all my heart," was the answer.
"Thank you. But I must buy a taw and some marbles," said Ernest. "I did not think of bringing any."
"Oh, I will lend you some," answered the boy. "Here, this taw is a prime one; it will win you half the marbles in the ring if you play well."
Ernest thanked his new friend, and took the taw and a dozen marbles with a smile. He was amused at finding himself about to play marbles with some boys most of whom were so much younger than himself. His new friend had cleared the ring, and a fresh game was about to begin. He put down eight of his marbles, and, as there were several players, a large number were collected. The first player had shot out four or five marbles, when his taw remaining in the ring, he had to put them all back and go out. Ernest was kneeling down to take his turn, when Blackall, tired of his gymnastic exercises, came sauntering by.
"What are you about there, you fellows? I'll join you," he exclaimed. "How many down? Eight. Oh, very well."
Without more ado he was stooping down to shooting from the offing, when Ernest observed that he had taken his turn.
"Who are you, I should like to know, you little upstart?" cried Blackall, eyeing the new-comer with great disdain. "Get out of my way, or I will kick you over."
"Indeed I shall not," exclaimed Ernest, who had never been spoken to in that style before, but whose whole spirit rose instantly in rebellion against anything like tyranny or injustice. Without speaking further, he stooped down and shot his taw with considerable effect along the edges of the ring of marbles. It knocked out several, and stopped a little way outside.
"Didn't you hear me?" exclaimed Blackall furiously. "Get out of my way, I say."
Ernest did not move, but took his taw and again fired, with the same effect as before. Blackall's fury was now at its highest pitch. He rushed at Ernest, and lifting him with his foot sent him spinning along the ground. Ernest was not hurt, so he got up and said, "I wonder you can treat a stranger so. However, the time will come when you will not dare to do it."
"Shame! shame!" shouted several of the little fellows, snatching up their marbles and running away, for they were accustomed to be treated in that way by Blackall.
Ernest was left with his first acquaintance standing by his side, while the bully walked on, observing—
"Very well; you'll catch it another time, let me promise you."
"That's right!" exclaimed Ernest's companion. "I'm glad you treated him so. It's the only way. If I was bigger I would, but he thrashes me so unmercifully whenever I stick up against him that I've got rather sick of opposing him."
"Help me," said Ernest, "and we'll see what can be done."
The other boy put out his hand, and pressing that of the new-comer, said, "I will." The compact was then and there sealed, not to be broken; and the boys felt that they understood each other.
"What is your name?" said Ernest. "It is curious that I should not know it, and yet I feel as if I was a friend of yours."
"My name is John Buttar," answered the boy. "I have heard yours. You are to be in our room, for the matron told me a new boy was coming to-day, though I little thought what sort of a fellow he was to be. But come along, I'll show you round the bounds. We may not go outside for the next three weeks, for some of the big fellows got into a row, and we have been kept in ever since."
So Johnny Butter, as he was called, ran on. He let Ernest into the politics of the school, and gave him a great deal of valuable information.
Ernest listened attentively, and asked several questions on important points, all of which Buttar answered in a satisfactory way.
"This is a very jolly place altogether, you see," he remarked; "what is wrong is generally owing to our own faults, or rather to that of the big fellows. For instance, the Doctor knows nothing of the bullying which goes forward; if he knew what sort of a fellow Blackall is he would very soon send him to the right-about, I suspect. We might tell of him, of course, but that would never do, so he goes on and gets worse and worse. The only way is to set up against him as you did to-day. If everybody did that we should soon put him down."
Ernest was very much interested in all he saw. Notwithstanding the example he had just had, he thought that it might be a very good sort of place. Buttar introduced him to several boys, who, he said, were very nice fellows; so that before many hours had passed Ernest found himself with a considerable number of acquaintances, and even Dawson and Bouldon condescended to speak rationally to him.
A number of boys having collected, a game of Prisoners' Base was proposed. Ernest did not know the rules of the game, but he quickly learnt them, and soon got as much excited as any one. His new friend John Buttar was captain on one side, while Tommy Bouldon was leader of the opposite party. Each chose ten followers. A hedge formed their base, two plots being marked out close to it, one of which was occupied by each party. Two circles were formed, about a hundred yards off, for prisons.
"Chevy, chevy, chevy!" shouted Buttar, rushing out.
Bouldon gave chase after him. They were looked upon as cocks of their set, and the chase was exciting. Bouldon was very nearly catching Buttar, when Ernest darted out to his rescue. Now, Tommy, you must put your best leg foremost or you will be caught to a certainty. What twisting and turning, what dodging there was. Now Bouldon had almost caught up Buttar, but the latter, stooping down, was off again under his very hands, and turning suddenly, was off once more behind his back.
"'Ware the new boy; 'ware young Bracebridge," was the shout from Bouldon's side.
Tommy was in hot chase after Buttar, and there seemed every probability of his catching him. On hearing the cry, he looked over his shoulder and saw Ernest close to him. He had now to think of his own safety. From what he had observed of the new boy, he saw, that though he was a new boy, and had never been at school before, he was not to be despised. He had therefore to imitate Buttar's tactics, and to dodge away from his pursuer.
Ernest had evidently been accustomed chiefly to run straight forward; he was very fleet of foot, but had not practised the art of twisting and turning. Another boy of Bouldon's side now ran out in pursuit of Ernest, who, having executed his purpose of rescuing Buttar, returned in triumph to his base, while one of his side ran out, and, touching the boy who had gone out against him, carried him off to the prison.
Several others were taken; Bouldon at length was caught, so was Buttar, but he was quickly rescued by Ernest, whose side was at length victorious, having committed every one of the others to prison.
Ernest, who had contributed very largely to this success, pronounced it a capital game. He gained also a good deal of credit by the way he had played it, especially when it was known that it was for the first time, and that he had never been at school before. The way in which his companions treated him put him in very good spirits, and he became sufficiently satisfied with himself and with everything around him. He felt that he could do a number of things, but he was diffident from not knowing of what value they might be considered by other boys. He had heard that some savages despised the purest pearls, while they set a high value on bits of glittering glass, and so he thought that some of his accomplishments might be very little thought of by other boys. However, by the time the tea-bell rang, he had fully established himself in the good opinions of most of the younger boys; even two or three of the elder ones pronounced him to be a plucky little chap.
The evening was spent in a fine large hall which had been fitted up for playing. Before each breaking-up a platform was raised at one end, and speeches were delivered from it, and more than once it had been fitted up as a theatre, and the boys had got up, with some effect, some well-selected plays. There were some tables and desks at one end, and rows of shelves on which were placed boxes and baskets, and cages with birds and tame mice, and indeed all sorts of small pets. A few of the quieter boys went in that direction, but the greater number began to play a variety of noisy games.
"I say, who's for a game of high-cock-o'lorum?" exclaimed Bouldon.
"I, I, I," answered several voices.
"Come along, Bracebridge, try your hand at it."
Ernest declined at first, for he did not much admire having a number of fellows jumping over his head and sitting on his shoulders, but Tommy pressed him so hard that at last he consented to try. His side was to leap.
"Go on, go on!" shouted Buttar.
Ernest had for some time practised vaulting; he ran, measuring his distance, and sprang over the heads of all the boys right up to the wall.
"Bravo!" cried Buttar, delighted, "you'll do, I see; there's no fear of you now."
Ernest felt much pleased by the praise bestowed on him by his new friend, and turning round he waved to the other boys to come on. The last boy failed, and his side had to go under. He proved as staunch, however, with two heavy boys on his shoulders, as any of the most practised players, and his side were much oftener riders than horses.
"I say, though, you don't mean to say, Bracebridge, that you have never been to school before?" said Buttar, as they were summoned away to their bedrooms. "I should have thought, from the way you do things, that you were an old boy."
Ernest assured him that he had never been in any school whatever, and that he had associated very little with any boys, except his own brothers.
"I'll tell you how it is," he continued; "my father says we should do everything on principle. He has made us practise all sorts of athletic exercises, and shown us how we can make the best use of our muscles and bones. The balls of the foot and toes are given us, for instance, as pads from which we may spring, and on which we may alight, but clumsy fellows will attempt to leap from their heels or jump down on them; however, I'll tell you what I know about the matter another time. He has us taught to row and swim, and climb and ride. He says that they are essential accomplishments for people who have to knock about the world, as all of us will have to do. He has always told us that we must labour before we can be fed; it is the lot of humanity. If we by any chance neglected to do what he ordered, we had to go without our dinner or breakfast, as the case might be; so you see we have learned to depend a good deal upon ourselves, and to feel that if we do not try our best to get on, no one else will help us."
"Oh, yes! I understand now why you are so different to most new boys," answered Buttar. "Well, your father is a sensible man, there's no doubt of it. I got on pretty well when I first came, much from the same reason. My mother never let us have our own way, always gave us plenty to do, and taught us to take care of ourselves without our nurses continually running after us. Now I have seen big fellows come here, who cried if they were hit, were always eating cakes and sweet things, and sung out when they went to bed for the maid-servant to put on their night-caps; these sort of fellows are seldom worth much, either in school or out of it. They fudge their lessons and shirk their work at play; regular do-nothing Molly Milksops, I call them."
And the two boys laughed heartily at the picture Buttar had so well drawn.
Off each room was a washing-place, well supplied with running water, and a bath for those boys who could not bathe in the pond. Ernest's bed was pointed out to him. Approaching it, he knelt down, and while most of the boys were washing, said his prayers. Only one boy in a shrill voice cried out in the middle of them, Amen. When Ernest rose up he looked round to try and discover who had used the expression. All were silent, and pretended to be busily employed in getting into bed; two or three were chuckling as if something witty had been said.
"I will not ask who said, Amen," remarked Ernest in a serious voice. "But remember, school-fellows, you are mocking, not a poor worm like me, but God Almighty, our Maker." Saying this, he placed his head on his pillow.
"A very odd fellow," observed two or three of the boys; "I wonder how he will turn out."
ERNEST'S FIRST DAYS AT SCHOOL.
The next morning, when he got up, Ernest was told, after prayers, to take his seat on a vacant bench at the bottom of the school, till the Doctor had time to examine him. He felt rather nervous about his examination, for he had been led to suppose it a very awful affair. At last the Doctor called him up and asked him what books he had read. Ernest ran through a long list; Sir Walter Scott's novels, and Locke on the Human Understanding, were among them. The Doctor smiled as he enumerated them.
"I fear that they will not stand you in good stead here, my man; the books I mean are Greek and Latin books. What have you read of them?"
"None, sir, right through. I know a great number of words, and can put them together, and papa and I sometimes talk Latin and Greek together, just as easily as we do French and German and Italian."
"I have no doubt that you will do in the end," observed Doctor Carr. "I make a rule, however, to put boys who have not read certain books in the class in which those books are about to be read, and let them work their way up. I reserve the power of removing a boy up as rapidly as I think fit, so that if you are diligent I have no doubt that you will rapidly rise in the school."
Ernest thanked the Doctor, and in the forenoon went up with his new class. He felt rather ashamed at finding himself among so many little boys, and still more at the bungling, hesitating way in which they said their lessons. They were just beginning Caesar. He found that he could quickly turn it into English, but he took his dictionary that he might ascertain the exact meaning of each word. The Doctor called up his class that day, though he generally heard only the upper classes. Ernest began at the bottom, but before the lesson was over he had won his way to the top of the class.
"Very good indeed, Bracebridge," said the Doctor with an approving smile; "you may read as much Caesar as you like every day. I will beg Mr Johnson to hear you, and when you have got through it you shall be moved into the next class."
Many of the boys thought this a very odd sort of reward, and were much surprised to hear Ernest thank the Doctor for his kindness. They would have considered it a greater reward to be excused altogether from their lessons. Much more surprised were they to find Ernest working away day after day at his Caesar, and translating as much as Mr Johnson had time to listen to. He read on so clearly and fluently that most of the boys declared that he must have known all about it before. A few felt jealous of him, and tried to interrupt him; but he went steadily working on, pretending to take no notice of these petty annoyances launched at him. In the course of a fortnight he was out of the class and placed in the next above it. This he got through in less than a month, and now he found himself in the same with Buttar, Dawson, and Bouldon. They welcomed him very cordially, though they could not exactly understand how he managed so quickly to get among them. The two latter, however, were especially indignant when they discovered his style of doing his work.
"It's against all school morality," exclaimed Tommy, with a burst of virtuous anger. "How should we be ever able to get through half our lessons if we were to follow your plan? You must give it up, old fellow; it won't do."
"I am sorry that I cannot, to please you," answered Ernest. "You see, I want to read through all these books, that I may get to higher ones which are more interesting; and then I want to get to College as soon as possible, that I may begin life. Our days in this world are too short to allow us to waste them. If I get through school twice as fast as any of you, I shall have gained so many years to my life. That is worth working for—is it not?"
"My notion is, that we should do as few lessons and amuse ourselves as much as we can," answered Tom Bouldon. "When we are grown up there will be time enough to think of employing time; I do not see any use in looking forward to the future, which is so far off."
"What are we sent into this world for, do you think?" asked Ernest.
"I'm sure I don't know," answered Bouldon.
"To spend the money which is left us, or to go into professions to make our fortunes," observed Dawson.
"I should think rather to prepare for the future," remarked Ernest. "So my father has always told me, and I am very sure that he is right. We are just sent into this world to prepare for another, and that preparation is to be made by doing our duty to the best of our power in that station of life in which we are placed. It is our duty when we are boys to prepare for being men, by training our minds and bodies, and by laying in as large a share of knowledge as we can obtain."
"Oh, that's what the saints say!" exclaimed Dawson, with a laugh. "We shall very soon christen you the saint, Bracebridge, if you talk in that way."
"I don't mind what you may call me," said Ernest, quietly; "I only repeat what a sensible man has told me; I am very certain that he has only said what he knows to be the truth."
Neither Dawson nor Bouldon would be convinced that Ernest was talking sense, but Buttar, who was listening, drank in every word he said. He had at first felt an inclination to patronise the new boy, but he now tacitly acknowledged him as his superior in most respects, except perhaps a small amount of the details of school knowledge.
Ernest, however, had been too carefully trained by his father to presume on this superiority. He, of course, could not help feeling that he did many things better than most of his companions, but then he was perfectly conscious that if they had possessed the advantages his father had given him, they would probably have done as well.
With the ushers he was a favourite, especially with his own master, who was under the impression that the rapid progress he made was owing to his instruction; while Doctor Carr soon perceived that he was likely to prove a credit to the school. Ernest, however, was not perfect, and he had trials which were probably in the end good for him. Some of the elder boys were jealous of the progress he made, and called him a conceited little puppy. Blackall, who was only in the third class, and had from the first taken a dislike to him, did not like to see him catching him up, as he called it. With mere brute force Ernest could not contend, so that he got many a cuff and kick from the ill-disposed among the elder boys, which he was obliged to take quietly, though he might have felt the inclination to resent the treatment he received.
At length he began to prefer the hours spent in school, because he was there certain of being free from the annoyances in the playground. The bigger boys did not condescend to play with hoops, but Ernest was very fond of all games played with them. Buttar and he were generally on one side, opposed to Dawson and Bouldon.
"Who's for prisoners' base?" exclaimed Buttar coming out from school into the playground with his hoop in his hand.
Plenty of boys were ready to join, and soon there was a tremendous clattering away with hoop-sticks and hoops, while Ernest was seen with a light thin hoop, dodging in noiselessly among them. His hoop-stick was as light as his hoop, which he never beat. He merely pressed the stick against it, and in an instant, by placing the stick on the top, could either stop or turn, while he kept it under the most perfect command. The sides were soon arranged. Out he darted with his swift hoop towards the enemy's prison, which he circled round; and though Tom Bouldon was on the watch to catch him, he kept dodging about till another of his own side ran out, in the hope of knocking down Bouldon's hoop. Bouldon was in honour bound to follow Ernest till he touched his hoop, or drove him back to his base. Ernest drove on his hoop to a considerable distance, with Tommy after him. Jones, one of Ernest's side, pursued Tommy, Dawson pursued Jones, and Dawson, in his turn, was followed by Buttar, and so on, till every one playing was out with the double work of having to try and make a prisoner, and, at the same time, to escape from the boy pursuing him. To a spectator not knowing the game, it might have appeared as if all was confusion: but those playing knew exactly what they were about, and felt that all their energies and science were required to enable them to play well. Ernest's great aim was to lead Bouldon into such a position that Jones might catch him. This he at last succeeded in doing, and Tommy and his hoop were sent into prison, and as no one was at the base, there he had every chance of remaining some time. Meantime, Ernest rushed to the base, to be ready to capture any one who might get back on the opposite side and endeavour to rescue Bouldon. He was joined speedily by Jones, who had only to look out so as to escape from Dawson. Dawson might have caught him, but, being himself pursued, he had to take care of his own safety. When Dawson saw that Jones had escaped him, he could with honour return to his camp; but his pursuer was nimble of foot, and had a light hoop, and just before he reached his base, he, or rather his hoop, was touched, and he had to take up his place in the prison. Thus the game continued with great animation, victory appearing now to lean to one side, now to the other; but on each occasion when their side got the worst of it, Ernest and Buttar made such well-directed efforts that they speedily restored the day. Now, all but three on their side were captured. Out sprung Ernest with his hoop, flying like the wind; and while his opponents were looking on at the rapidity of his movements, Buttar, who had thrown himself on the ground, as if exhausted, leaped up, and dashing along, had recovered a prisoner before any one could overtake him. Ernest in like manner regained another, and wheeling round as soon as he had entered the base, he was off again, and had sent an opponent to prison, and rescued another friend, without for a moment stopping. Sometimes he would tell Buttar exactly what he was going to do, and so well were his plans laid, that he seldom failed to accomplish his design. This gave him confidence in himself, and gained him the perfect confidence of his companions. At length Ernest and Buttar succeeded in putting every one of their opponents in prison, and loud shouts from their side proclaimed that they had won the well-contested victory. The game was over; the light hoops were laid aside, and Dawson proposed that they should play at English and French. Their chargers, as they called their heavy hoops, were brought out from the play-room, and the two parties, joined by a good many more, drew up on opposite sides of the field. Even some of the bigger fellows condescended to join in the game. It was generally supposed to depend more on strength than skill. The strongest hoops were used, and if a hoop was once down, the owner was obliged to retire from the field. Just as they were about to begin, Blackall passed by. Dawson instantly called to him—
"I say, Blackall—there's a good fellow—do come and be our captain. Here's my biggest hoop—it's a stunner! Under your guidance it is sure to gain us the victory."
"Well, I don't mind helping you," answered Blackall, carelessly, eyeing, however, Ernest and Buttar, for both of whom he had an especial dislike.
"That won't do," observed Buttar, who was one of the captains of his party. "Stay, I'll get Lemon to join us. He won't mind taking a hoop-stick to help us; and he, and you, and I, together with a few other good fellows and true, will be able to hold our own against Dawson and Tommy, even though they have Bully Blackall with them."
Buttar soon found Miles Lemon, who, though he was reading an interesting book, jumped up with the most good-natured alacrity, and undertook to act as the leader of their party.
"Oh, you fellows were afraid to take care of yourselves!" exclaimed Blackall, when he saw Lemon and Buttar approaching. "Well, we will see what we can do."
There were full thirty boys on each side—nearly half the school. None of the bigger boys, of course, condescended to play with hoops. Blackall and Lemon, indeed, made it understood that they only joined as leaders, and on no account for their own amusement, while there were a good many small boys who were considered too weak to take part in so rough a sport. The armies were drawn up in double line, one at each end of the gravel playground. At a signal given, they rushed forward to the deadly strife, some striking away at their heavy hoops with all their might, and using clubs rather than hoop-sticks. Ernest offered a great contrast to those heavy chargers. He entered the battle with his light hoop and hoop-stick, and when the signal was given, rushed forward in the van to commence the strife. On came Blackall, highly indignant to see a new boy taking the lead in so prominent a way. He struck his hoop with a force sufficient to overthrow not only Ernest's hoop, but Ernest himself; but the young champion knew well what he was about. Instead of waiting for the blow, by a dexterous turn he brought the edge of his light hoop against the side of Blackall's, which went reeling away among the following crowd, and was instantly upset. Ernest was in time to treat another hoop of the second line in the same fashion, and then he sprang on with a shout of victory to the end of the ground. Several times the two parties changed sides, and each time five or six hoops went down, sometimes more. It was a regular tournament, such as was fought by the knights of old, only hoops were used instead of horses, and hoop-sticks in lieu of lances; but the spirit which animated the breasts of the combatants was the same, and probably it was enjoyed as keenly. Blackall stood on one side, eyeing with revengeful feelings the success which attended Ernest wherever he moved. Backwards and forwards he went; and although constantly charged and marked out for destruction by the biggest fellows on the opposite side, always avoiding them, and seldom failing to strike down one or more hoops in every course. Blackall could not understand how it was. He was not aware what a well-practised eye, good nerves, and a firm will could accomplish. Ernest's father had instilled into him the principle, that whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing as well as it can be done. So, when he took a hoop in his hand, he considered how he could use it to the best advantage; and from the first, he never played with it without endeavouring to perfect himself in some method of turning it here or there, of stopping it suddenly, or of twirling it round.
A second time that day did Ernest's party come off victorious. Some said that it was owing to Lemon having joined them: but Lemon himself confessed that he had not done half as much execution as had young Bracebridge. From that day Lemon noticed Ernest in a very marked way, and when he spoke to him treated him as an equal in age. Some of his first companions declared that, to a certainty, Bracebridge would be very much cocked up by the attention shown him; but they were mistaken, for he pursued the even tenor of his way without showing that he by any means thought himself superior to his companions.
The Easter holidays arrived. Those who lived near enough to the school went home; but as the boys were generally collected from widely separated parts of England, Scotland, and Ireland, the greater number remained. They had greater liberty than at any other time, and were allowed to make long excursions with one of the masters, or with some of the bigger boys who, from their good principles and steadiness, were considered fit to be entrusted with them. Lemon was high enough in the school to have that honour, and so Ernest and Buttar always endeavoured to belong to his party. Lemon was very glad to have them, as he found them more companionable than many of the bigger fellows, and he had no difficulty in keeping them in order. Tom Bouldon was also frequently of their party. He had tried others, but after some experience he found their society by far the most satisfactory. Blackall, although a bully, stood pretty well with the masters. He had cleverness sufficient to get through his lessons with credit, and he had sense enough to keep himself out of mischief generally. Doctor Carr now and then had uncomfortable feelings about him. He was not altogether satisfied with his plausible answers; nor did he like the expression of his countenance, that almost sure indicator of the mind within. Still the Doctor hoped that he might be mistaken, and did not forbid Blackall, who was appointed to the office by one of the masters, to take out a party of youngsters. Far better would it have been for the boys had they been kept shut up within the walls of the school-room on the finest days of the year than have been allowed to go out with such an associate. Blackall wanted to be considered a man, and he thought the sure way to become so was to imitate the vices and bad habits of men. Too well do I remember the poison he poured into the ears of his attentive and astonished hearers. About five miles off there was a village with a few small shops in it. One of them contained books and stationery, and cigars and snuff. It was much patronised by Blackall, not for the former, but for the latter articles. He thought it very manly not only to have his cigar-case, but his snuff-box. Lemon never failed to ridicule him to the other boys for his affectation of manliness. He did this to prevent them from following so pernicious an example.
"See that fellow, now, making a chimney of his mouth and a dust-hole of his nose," observed Lemon, when one day he and his party passed him, with several of his companions, lying on the grass on a hill side, three or four miles from the school. Blackall had a huge cigar in his mouth, and a small boy sat near him, looking pale as death, and evidently suffering dreadfully.
"What's the matter, Eden?" asked Lemon, kindly, as he passed him.
"Oh—oh! it's that horrid tobacco! I thought I should like it; but I'm going to die—I know that I am. Oh dear! oh dear!" answered the little fellow.
"I hope that you are not going to die," said Lemon; "but you will not get well sitting there in the hot sun. Jump up, and come with us. Bracebridge and Buttar and I will help you along. There's a stream of clear cold water near here; a draught of that will do you much good. Think how pleasant it will be trickling down your throat, and putting out the fire which I know you feel burning within you."
The picture that Lemon thus wisely drew was so attractive, that the little fellow got slowly up, and tried to walk along with him.
"Where are you going to take Eden to?" shouted Blackall, when he saw what was occurring.
"Out of mischief," answered Lemon. "We are going to the seaside, and— some fresh air will do him good."
"He is under my charge, and you have no business to take him away from me," said Blackall.
Lemon had become much interested in poor little Eden, who was a promising boy, and who he saw would be ruined if left much in Blackall's society. He therefore, like a true-hearted, conscientious person, resolved by all means to save him. He did not say, like some people, after a few slight efforts, "I have done my duty. I warned him of the consequences, and I am not called on to do any more." When he wanted to draw a boy out of danger, he made him his friend; he worked and worked away; he talked to him; he showed him the inevitable result of his folly; he used arguments of all sorts; he worked on all the better feelings the boy might possess; and what was of still more avail, he did not trust to his own strength for success—he prayed earnestly at the Throne of Grace—at that Throne where such prayers are always gladly heard—that his efforts might avail: and others wondered, more than Lemon himself, how it was when Lemon took a fellow in hand that he always turned out so well. For this important object he struggled hard to obtain popularity in the school, and succeeded; for no boy of his age and size was so popular among all the right-thinking and well-disposed boys as he was. On this occasion he resolved not to leave Eden in Blackall's power.
"If he wishes to come, I shall certainly allow him," said Lemon.
"He was committed to my charge by Mr Ogilby, and you have no business to take him away," cried Blackall, still leaning lazily on his arm, and continuing to smoke.
"To make him sick and wretched; to teach him to smoke and to drink beer and spirits, and to listen to your foul conversation—you reprobate!" answered Lemon calmly, as he stopped and faced Blackall.
"By God! I'll thrash you for that as soundly as you ever were in your life," exclaimed Blackall, taking his cigar out of his mouth, and rising to his feet.
Earnest's heart rose to his mouth; Buttar clenched his fists tightly. Putting Eden behind them, they sprang to Lemon's side, and looked defiantly at the approaching bully. None of the other boys of either party stirred. Blackall did not like the aspect of affairs. He knew that though, from his greater strength and weight, he could thrash Lemon, he could not hope at any time to gain an easy victory; and from what he had observed of Ernest, he suspected that if he did strike, he would strike very hard and sharp. Buttar also, when once he was attempting to thrash him, had given him such a hit in the eye that the mark had remained for a fortnight at least, to the no small satisfaction of those whom he had been accustomed to bully. He therefore stopped just before he got up to Lemon.
"Come," he said, "I don't want to quarrel. Let Eden remain, and I'll cry pax."
"Certainly not, Blackall, you've let Eden do what is forbidden; you are setting him a bad example. I shall therefore be glad to take him away from you. He wishes to accompany me, and I shall let him do so," was the answer.
"Oh, you're a puritanical saint, Lemon,—all the school knows that," said Blackall with a sneer with which he hoped to cover his own retreat. He had been telling the fellows around him that he felt very seedy, and as he looked at the firm front of his three antagonists he had no fancy to commence a desperate fight with them.
"I wish to deserve the good opinion of my schoolfellows, and I do not believe that they will agree with you," said Lemon. "If hating vice and despising the low practices in which you indulge will make me a saint, I am ready to acknowledge the impeachment, and I can only say that I hope the poor little fellows may see the hideousness of sin, and loathe it as much as they do the vile tobacco-leaves you give them to suck, and the spirits and beer which you teach them to drink. Stop! hear me out. There is nothing immoral in drinking a glass of beer or in smoking, but in our case they are both forbidden by the Doctor, whom we are bound to obey. Both become vices when carried to excess, as you, Blackall, carry them, and would teach your pitiable imitators to carry them; and I warn you and them that such practices can only bring you disgrace and misery at last."
Lemon, without saying another word, turned on his heel, and, accompanied by his two sturdy supporters, was walking away.
"Do you mean to say that I drink?" shouted Blackall, with an oath, as soon as he could recover from the astonishment into which this unusual style of address had thrown him.
Lemon turned round, looked him full in the face, and said, "I do." Then he went on the way he had been going. Blackall did not say another word, but staggered back to the bank on which he had been sitting, and endeavoured to re-light the end of the cigar he had dropped when he got up. He knew that Lemon had spoken the truth. Already he had that day stopped at more than one road-side ale-house and drunk several glasses of beer. "In vino-veritas," is a true saying. Blackall when sober might pass for a very brave fellow: his true character came out when he was drunk, and he showed himself an arrant coward, as he had done on this occasion. The boys who remained with him looked very foolish, and some of them felt heartily ashamed of their leader. Some resolved to break from him altogether, but he had thrown his chains too firmly over others to allow them to hope or even to wish to get free from him. Lemon, Ernest, Buttar, and their companions continued their walk, carrying poor little Eden along with them. He confessed to having chewed a piece of the cigar and swallowed it, before he discovered that it was not intended to be eaten. Happily for him, he became violently sick, and then, having washed his face in a brook and taken a draught of cold water, he was able to enjoy the beautiful coast scenery the party ultimately reached.
"Is not this much better than sitting smoking and boozing with that thick-headed fellow, Blackall, and his set?" said Ernest, addressing young Eden.
"Indeed it is," was the answer. "I'm sure if Lemon will let me come with him, I will gladly promise never to go out with Blackall any more."
"Stick to that resolution, my boy," replied Ernest. "I'll undertake that Lemon will let you accompany him; and now let us go down on the beach. These sands look very tempting."
The whole party were soon on the sands, strolling along and picking up the various marine curiosities they found in their way. Most of the party wondered at the odd-shaped things they picked up, but had not the slightest notion of their names, or even whether they were animal or vegetable. Ernest knew very little on the subject, though he had read a book or so about the wonders of the sea-shore; but Lemon was able to give his party nearly all the information they required. One of their number was called John Gregson. He was looked upon by the school generally as rather stupid. He seldom joined in any of their games; and when he did, played them very badly, unless they were such as required more judgment than practice. Now, however, he showed that he possessed some knowledge which the others did not. Ernest had picked up a roundish object with a hole through it, and partly covered with spines, which Tom Bouldon stoutly declared to be a fish's egg.
"It must have been a very large fish, then," observed Ernest. "Those prickles, too, are puzzling. Perhaps they grew after the egg was laid."
The general opinion was that Gregson knew something about all sorts of out-of-the-way matters.
"I say, Gregson, this is a regular-built egg; isn't it?" said Bouldon, as soon as he could be found. He was discovered up to his knees in a pool among the rocks, with a hammer and chisel in hand, working perseveringly under water.
"No; you first make a statement totally at variance with the truth, and then ask a question," answered the young naturalist, looking up from his occupation, but apparently not well pleased at being interrupted. "That is the Echinus esculentus, or sea-urchin. Just let me finish knocking off this magnificent anemone, and I'll tell you all about it."
"Anemone! Oh, I know—one of those curious coloured sea-weedy things I've seen girls collect at watering-places," observed Bouldon, whose knowledge of natural history was not very extensive. "I'd save you all that trouble; let me cut it off with my knife."
"Not for the world; you'd kill it, to a certainty," exclaimed Gregson. "See, I have knocked off a piece of the rock to which it is sticking, and I may now put it into my jar. Now I could cut off any portion of it, and the part cut off will turn into a new anemone, but if I were to injure the base the animal would quickly die. They belong to the class scientifically called Anthozoa or living flowers, because from their external appearance they seem to partake of the vegetable nature. Just look into that part of the pool which I have left undisturbed. See, there are two of them feeding. Look how they stretch out their long tentacles to catch hold of their food. Ah! that one has got hold of a tiny shrimp, and is tucking it into his hungry maw, which is just in the middle of its flower-like body. Is he not a handsome fellow? What beautiful colours he presents! Ah! I thought that I should see something else in the pool that you would think curious. Look down close. There are three or more little globular bodies floating about like balloons. The animal is the berve. It has ciliated bands round it, like the marks on a melon. What a beautiful iridescent light plays over them! They enable it to move over the water, while with its long tentacles it fishes for its food. At night those cilia shine with a phosphorescent light, and have a very beautiful appearance. Stop! oh, don't go away without looking more particularly at this submarine forest. The woods of America in autumn do not present more gorgeous colours. That beautiful pink weed is the Delesseria sanguinea. Let us pull up some and take it with us to dry it. It will keep its colour for years and its smell for months. See, those are shrimps cruising in and about those delicate branches, and crabs crawling round their stems, and sandskippers darting about; ah, and there comes a goby! Did any of you ever see a goby? Look at him!—what bright eyes he has got! He is hardly bigger than a shrimp, but he is their deadly enemy. He eats up their eggs and the young shrimps, as well as sandhoppers, and indeed anything living which he can get into his big mouth. In his way he is just as terrific a fellow as the shark. He is very hardy, too, and will live in an aquarium with perfect contentment provided he can get enough to eat."
"Well, I had no notion that so many curious things were to be found in a little pool of water," observed Bouldon. "I've looked into hundreds, but never found anything that I know of."
"Oh, I have not mentioned a quarter of the things to be found even in this pool," answered Gregson. "Ah, look at that soldier-crab now! He has just come out from among the sea-weed with his stolen shell in which he has stowed away his soft tail. I'll tell you all about him—"
"Not now, Greggy, thank you," exclaimed Bouldon, who was getting somewhat tired of the naturalist's accounts. When Gregson once began on his favourite subject he was never inclined to stop. Nor was that surprising, for no subject is more interesting and absorbing to those who once take it up—nothing affords more pure or unmixed delight.
"But I say, Greggy, you promised to tell us about this sea-egg, or whatever it is called," said Buttar. "Come, I want to hear."
"Well, look at this starfish," answered Gregson, drawing a five-fingered jack from his jar. Then, taking the echinus in his hand,—"These two fellows are first cousins, very nearly related, though you may not be inclined to believe the fact. The thing you call an egg was as much a living being, capable of feeding itself and producing young, as this starfish. If I was to bend round the rays of the starfish and fill up the interior, I could produce an animal very like the echinus. Both of them have also a mouth at the lower part, and their internal structure is very similar. It is curious that as the echinus grows he continually sends forth a substance from the interior which simultaneously increases the sides of all the plates which form his shell, and thus he never finds his coat too small for him. The spines which appear so rigid when he is dead, he can move when alive in any direction, and they are an excellent substitute for feet; while he can put forth tentacles from the centre orifice, which serve him as hands. Did you ever see a starfish walk? Well, he can get very rapidly over the ground and up steep rocks. He can bend his body into any shape, and the lower surface is covered with vast numbers of tentacles, with which he can work his onward way; and it is extraordinary what long journeys he is able to accomplish by perseverance."
Gregson wound up his lecture by promising to commence a salt-water aquarium, and most of his companions undertook to make another excursion with him for the purpose of conveying back a sufficient supply of salt-water and living curiosities to stock it. They all agreed that they had mightily enjoyed their day's excursion. Ernest, for the first time since he had come to school, felt rather ashamed of himself that he knew so little about natural history, especially of the sea, and he resolved to take every opportunity of making himself acquainted with the subject. Just before they reached home they passed through the field where they had left Blackall and his party. Most of the boys had gone away; but they saw three or four collected together at the bank where the bully had been sitting. He was there; and his companions were bending over him endeavouring to rouse him up. Several empty porter bottles lay near, which plainly told what was the matter with him—he was helplessly tipsy. Lemon, and Ernest, and Buttar went forward to help to drag him along. He looked a picture of imbecility and brutishness. He knew none of them; and only grinned horribly when they spoke to him. Though they felt he richly deserved punishment, it was a point of honour to endeavour to save a school-fellow from disgrace, so they hauled him along and got him into his room and put to bed without meeting any of the masters or the matron—an undertaking they could not have performed except in the holidays. Nearly all his companions next day looked very wretched and complained of headaches—a pretty strong proof of the ill effects of drinking. Alas, how many youths have been hopelessly ruined by the example and counsels of a wretch like Blackall!—and how many, in consequence of habits such as his, have sunk into an early and unhonoured grave, after continuing for a time a trouble and shame to all belonging to them! Let masters and parents watch carefully against the first steps taken, often through folly and idleness, towards so vile a habit; and most earnestly do I pray that none of my young readers may be tempted to adopt so destructive a practice.
OUR GRAND HARE HUNT.
"Who's for a jolly good game of hare and hounds?" exclaimed Tom Bouldon, rushing into the play-room, where a number of boys were assembled, soon after breakfast, on a lovely day during the Easter holidays. Nearly everybody replied, "I am, I, I, I."
"That's right; we couldn't have finer weather, and it's sure to last. I've been talking to young Bracebridge, and he has undertaken to do hare," observed Bouldon. "I know what some of you will say: he's a new fellow, and isn't fit for the work; but there isn't such a runner in the school. You see how he enters into all the games, though he has never played them before. I'll bet he'll make as good a hare as we've ever had, if not a better. That's my opinion."
This oration of Tommy's had the desired effect. With but few dissentient voices, Ernest was elected to the honour of acting hare. Tommy hurried out to inform him of the fact. Ernest was not well prepared for the undertaking. He had only entered two or three times before into the sport, but still he sufficiently understood what was required of him, to feel that he should make a very creditable hare. He, however, thought that it would be more satisfactory if he was to consult with Bouldon and Buttar, as to what line of country he should take. They told him that if they knew, it would spoil their fun; so they went and found Lemon, who gladly undertook to give him his advice on the subject.
In the meantime, all hands were busily employed in making scent; that is, tearing into the smallest possible pieces all the bits of paper they could lay hands on. Ernest's consultation with Lemon was soon over. Having put on his across-country boots, a short pair of loose trousers, and taken in his belt a hole or so, grasping a trusty stick in his hand, he set off by himself to have a look over the country.
The whole party of hounds numbered upwards of forty. There were some very good runners among them; and, what was of more consequence, several who knew the country thoroughly; so that Ernest knew that he must put forth all his energies. This, however, was what he took delight in doing.
No people but those who have played at hare and hounds, can fully appreciate the excitement, the interest, and the pleasure of the game; or the proud feeling of the hare, who finds that he is successfully baffling his pursuers when he is distancing them by the rapidity of his pace, or by the artfulness of his dodges; still all the time, whatever twists and turns he may make, knowing that he is bound to leave traces of his scent sufficiently strong to lead on the hounds.
The greater part of the day was consumed in preparations for the hunt. Everybody engaged looked out their easiest shoes, and their thickest worsted socks. Still a huntsman and a whipper-in were to be chosen: Buttar proposed asking Lemon, and Bouldon seconded the motion. But then it was suggested, that Ernest had consulted him as to the course he should pursue. One or two cried out for Blackall. "No, no; let us ask Lemon," said Buttar again; "if he knows too much about the course Bracebridge is to take, he will not go; but if he thinks it is right, he will. We can always trust Lemon's honour, you know."
No one dissented from this opinion. Probably Lemon himself was scarcely aware how popular he really was; and certainly he would have been fully satisfied with the grounds on which his popularity was founded. At last, Lemon was met coming into the playground. Several voices assailed him with "Will you be huntsman?"
"Will you be huntsman, Lemon?"
"I must take time to consider; it is a serious undertaking," he answered, laughing. "I will see what Tommy and Buttar have to say."
They expressed their own opinions, and mentioned all that had been said. "Very well, I can take the part very conscientiously," he added; "I merely advised Bracebridge in a general way, what course to take; and when he knows that I am to be huntsman, he will deviate sufficiently to prevent me from being able to follow him, unless I get hold of the scent."
In the evening, when Ernest came back, he expressed his perfect readiness to have Lemon as huntsman. Bouldon was chosen as whipper-in.
"And I'll try to be one of the fleetest hounds," said Dawson, "since I'm neither hare, nor huntsman, nor whipper-in."
Lemon possessed many qualifications for his office; and, among others, a capital horn, on which he could play very well. We always got up our games of hare and hounds in first-rate style. The huntsman, besides his horn, was furnished with a white flag, fastened to a staff shod with iron; while the whipper-in had a red flag. The hare had as large a bag as he could carry of white paper, torn into very small pieces. Frequently, too, the hounds dressed in blue or red caps and jackets, which gave the field a very animated appearance; far better in one respect than a real hunt with harriers, because we were certain that the hare was enjoying the fun as much as the hunters, and whether he was caught or escaped, would sit down afterwards to a capital dinner or tea with them, and "fight his battles o'er again."
The morning for the hunt arrived. It broke, bright and beautiful! with just enough frost in the air to give it freshness and briskness.
The boys were up soon after daybreak, and had breakfast at once, that they might be ready to start at an early hour, and have the whole day before them. They assembled, just outside the school-grounds, in a small wood, which would conceal the hare from them, when he broke cover, and enable him to get a good start.
The hunt was to be longer than any that had ever been run, and as there was every probability that all the scent would be expended, it was arranged that Buttar should accompany Ernest to carry an additional bag of paper.
The huntsman sounded his horn cheerily, and all the hounds came pouring into the woodland glade, accompanied by the Doctor, who seemed as eager as any one to see the sport.
"Now, Buttar, are you all ready?" said Ernest, as they buckled up their waist-belts, and grasped their leaping-poles. "Too—too—too," went the huntsman's horn.
"Off hare, off hare," cried the Doctor. "Ten minutes law will give you a fine start; you'll make play with it—away, away!" He clapped his hands. Off flew Ernest and Buttar, fleet as greyhounds, and very unlike the timid hares they pretended to represent.
The Doctor held his watch in his hand. The hounds meantime were getting ready to start; one pressing before the other, taking a last look at shoe-strings, tightening in their belts, rubbing their hands, in their eagerness to rush out of the wood and commence the pursuit. They kept looking up at the Doctor's countenance, to endeavour to ascertain by the expression it wore whether time was nearly up. Those who had watches were continually pulling them out for the same object. At last the Doctor was seen to put his into his pocket. Lemon gave a cheerful sound with his horn.
"Away, lads, away!" cried the Doctor, full of animation. The instant the order was issued, the hounds made a magnificent burst out of the wood, in full cry, led on by the huntsman, waving his flag, and followed by Tom Bouldon, as whipper-in; an office he performed most effectually. The Doctor stalked after them, enjoying the sport as much as anybody; and, I have no doubt, longing to enter more fully into it, and to run along with them.
Away went the pack, cheering each other on, across a field in which they had found the scent. At the bottom of it ran a rapid brook, as they all well knew. There were stepping-stones across it. It required a firm foot and a steady eye not to fall in. It was a clever dodge of the hare to gain time, for only one could cross at a time. There was scent on each stone, to show he had crossed. Two or three slipped in, but were speedily picked out again by their companions; and forming rapidly, continued the chase on the other side, up a long green lane, with high hedges on either side. They had to keep their eyes about them to ascertain whether he had gone through the hedge, or kept up the lane. On, on they went! at last a pathway, over a stile, appeared on the right, leading through a thick copse. They dashed into it, but soon found that the pathway had not been kept; and through briar and underwood they had to force a passage; now losing the scent, now catching it again; a wide, dry, sunny field lay before them; along it, and two or three others of a similar character they had to go; and then across another brook, over which, one after the other, they boldly leapt. Once more they were in a green lane, with deep cart ruts in it. Before them was a mud cottage, with thatched roof, and a small, fully cultivated garden, enclosed by rough palings, in front of it.
An old couple looked out, surprised at the noise. "Oh, they be the young gentlemen from Grafton Hall. What can they be after?" they observed to one another.
"I say, good dame, have you seen a couple of hares running along this way?" exclaimed Tom Bouldon, striking his staff into the ground, for the hounds had lost the scent.
"No; but we seed two young gentlemen a scampering along here, and up that there lane. Bees they demented? We didn't like to stop them, though somehow we thought as how we ought."
"Lucky you didn't; they'd have kicked up a great row, let me tell you," answered Tommy, laughing heartily. He had not time to say more. The shout of "Tally ho!" and the merry sound of the huntsman's horn, put all the pack in motion. The lane led up hill, and then widened out on some wild open rounded downs, with here and there a white chalk-pit, showing the character of the soil. Up it they tore—for the scent was strong, and they were eager to make up for the time they had lost.
Every one was well warmed up now, and would have leaped across a chasm or down a precipice, or performed any other desperate achievement which they would not have attempted to do in their cooler moments. They breasted the steep downs in magnificent style. The scent led up some of the most difficult parts. For half a mile or more it led along the very summit of the ridge, but a fresh sweet breeze came playing around them, invigorating their muscles, and making them insensible to fatigue. The scent led over a high mound, along the edge of a chalk cliff. As they reached the summit, two figures were seen on the top of a similar height. All were of opinion that they were Ernest and Buttar. They looked scarcely half a mile off. The figures took off their caps, and waved them: this act dispelled all doubts on the subject. Some began to fear that they should catch the hares too easily, but Lemon assured them that there was no fear of that, and so they soon found. Down the steep they dashed, till he shouted to them to stop, and to turn off to the left. A long line of chalk cliffs intervened between them and the opposite height, and the scent led along their edge. Ernest and Buttar had, in the meantime, disappeared; after a run of a quarter of a mile, once more the scent was lost.
"Lost, lost!" shouted Lemon; and the hounds as they came up, went off in every direction to try and find it. In vain, for a long time, they hunted about, till a white spot was seen at the edge of the cliff, a little farther on. The cliff was here more practicable. They looked over; several pieces of paper appeared scattered on little green patches down the precipice. Fearlessly they began to descend, though to some people it would have been nervous work. The difficulty they found showed that Ernest and his companion had in no way lost ground, but had probably gained on them. Now they all reached a ledge, beyond which the descent seemed utterly impracticable. Still Ernest and Buttar evidently had got down.
"Where the hares have gone, we must follow," cried Lemon, to encourage his party. "Hunt about for a path—where there's a will there's a way! Hurra, now!"
The hounds kept examining the ledge in every direction, and at a distance they must have looked like a swarm of ants, so busy did they appear. Still without success; and some of the more fainthearted declared that they should have to climb up the cliff again, and find some other way down, or give up the chase.
"No, no, nonsense," said the huntsman. "There is a way down, and the way must be found."
I must now go back to describe the progress of the hare and his friend.
I have read of "the hare and many friends," but they were very unlike young Buttar; no one could desire a stouter or a stauncher friend. Before starting they had well laid their plans, and determined to give the hounds a good run. Ernest had provided himself with a good pocket compass, so that he could steer as direct a course as the ground would allow to the point he had selected to round before turning back towards home.
"Let us go along over the smooth ground at a good pace—we shall save time to spare when we come to the difficult places," observed Ernest to Buttar, as they were waiting for the Doctor's signal to start. It was given—and away they went; steady at first, but gradually increasing their speed as they found that they could easily draw breath. They met with no impediments in the way. They easily leaped the brooks they encountered. The old couple in Ashby-lane stared at them, and wondered where they could be going, leaving little bits of paper behind them. Then they came to Ashby-downs: it was hot work toiling up the steep side, with the hot sun striking down on them; but when they got to the summit, a fresh breeze and a clear blue air revived their strength, and they went along merrily, every now and then looking back to try and catch sight of the hounds, judiciously dropping their scent in places where it could be seen, and not blown away by the breeze. They had several points to attend to. They had been especially charged by the Doctor to avoid trespassing on any private ground; they had to select an interesting course, and one not too difficult, at the same time with every possible variety of country.
On they went, making good play over the short smooth turf of the downs. At last they came to the cliff. Buttar was for descending again, and crossing the ravine where it opened into the plain country.
"No, no," said Ernest, "we shall increase our distance if we can manage to get down the highest part of the cliff. Let us try what we can do before we give it up."
Down the cliff they began to descend. There were plenty of craggy, rugged spots, which facilitated their descent, but in most places there was only room for one person to descend at a time, so, as in the instance of the stepping-stones, their pursuers had to form in Indian file. They easily reached the ledge. Below it the way was, indeed, difficult. At the very end, however, Ernest observed several points of rock jutting out. By climbing up to them he saw that he could drop down on a broader ledge, well covered with soft turf, and could then descend under the very ledge on which they were standing.
Buttar agreed to make the attempt, feeling certain that Lemon would find that or some other means of overcoming the difficulty.
Ernest clutched the rock, and got along bravely, followed by Buttar. "Take care that you do not sprain your ankle as you drop," cried the latter, as Ernest prepared to let go so as to descend to the ledge. He reached it in safety. He caught his companion in his arms so as to break his fall, and sprinkling some paper under the long ledge, they pursued their way. Once Buttar had to let down Ernest with their handkerchiefs tied together, while Ernest again caught him. Safely they reached the bottom, and away they went across valleys, over streams, and up hills, never once dreaming of fatigue.
I need not follow them in the whole of their course. They were much delighted, on reaching a high mound, to see the hounds in hot pursuit of them, and still more when all the pack were assembled on the ledge trying to find a way down.
"I hope none of them will come to grief," said Buttar. "Do you know, I think that it would have been safer to have taken some other course: that is a difficult place."
"The very reason I was glad to find it," replied Ernest; "one of these days some of them may have a whole tribe of Red Indians or Caffres after them, and then they may be thankful that they learned how to get down a place of the sort. See! I think they are finding out the way. Let us push on." They rose up into view, and waving their caps, on they went. Next they found a descent, down which they trotted quickly, and then another cliff appeared before them; at the top some fine views were to be obtained. They did not hesitate; up they climbed Fairway Tower was in sight; a wide valley full of streams and rather difficult country was, however, between them and it. They pushed on along the downs; then they descended another steep hill, and on reaching the plain a rapid wide stream was before them. Ernest had expected to come down near a bridge, which he proposed crossing. He and Buttar looked at the broad stream with a puzzled expression. They were not quite certain whether the bridge was to the right or left. They decided on taking the left, going down the stream. At last they met a countryman. They inquired of him about the bridge.
"Oh; 'tis the other way, lads," he answered. "But, I say, young measters, bees you runnin' away from school in such a hurry?"
"No, no," answered Ernest, laughing. "We are running for the pleasure of making the school run after us. If we could get across the stream it may puzzle them to follow us. Can you show us any place where we may cross?"
"Yes; that I can," was the answer. "There bees a place with a sort of an island loike in the middle. There's a plank athwart one place, and a tree hangs over t'other. If ye be as active as ye looks, ye'll make no odds a getting over."
"Oh, thank you, thank you, my man, we shall be much obliged to you, and as your time is your money? here is what is your due," answered Ernest, handing the countryman a small coin. "But lead on; we have no time to lose."
"Noa, ma young ones, I'll no take your money. It's too much by half for just ten minutes' work. Come along though, if ye bees in a hurry," said the good-natured fellow, putting back the coin, and leading the way down the stream. "If so be when we gets wages, we never has them, ye know, till the work is done." He trudged on with his arms swinging before him, getting quickly over the ground, though his legs did not appear to move half so fast as those of the young gentlemen. He did not utter a word all the time, but seemed to concentrate all his energies in getting over the ground as rapidly as he could. Ernest and Buttar ran on by his side, dropping the paper here and there sufficiently thick to indicate their course. At last they reached the spot mentioned by the countryman. He showed them a narrow plank, partly hid by bushes, by which they crossed to a green island surrounded by willows, which hung over into the stream.