Follow My leader The Boys of Templeton
By Talbot Baines Reed Having now read all of this author's books about school life - rather dated even to me - I feel that this book is the one I have enjoyed the most. It was not published as a book until seven or eight years after the author's death, but that was because the book had been published in serialised form in the Boy's Own Paper.
While the original text looked quite nice it suffered from having been typeset either by an apprentice or by someone rather eccentric. For example words with an apostrophe representing the "o" of "not" had the apostrophe consistently in the wrong place, for example "would'nt" instead of "wouldn't". We have very carefully cleaned up this class of error, and hope no more are to be found.
We have heard the audiobook, and it is good.
The main heroes of the story are all lovable gentle little chaps, but dreadful things happen, like a boat they have used goes missing, and a folding pencil one of them desperately desires in the stationer's shop goes missing from the shop. Thus throughout the book there is a constant tension as to whether the police will be called, and eventually one of the boys sends for his father to help sort matters out, as they had got far beyond his own ability to deal with things. FOLLOW MY LEADER THE BOYS OF TEMPLETON
BY TALBOT BAINES REED
THE BOYS OF TEMPLETON.
HOW OUR HEROES ENTER UPON MORE THAN ONE CAREER.
On a raw, damp morning in early spring, a rather forlorn group of three youngsters might have been seen on the doorstep of Mountjoy Preparatory School, casting nervous glances up and down the drive, and looking anything but a picture of the life and spirits they really represented.
That they were bound on an important journey was very evident. They were muffled up in ulsters, and wore gloves and top hats—a vanity no Mountjoy boy ever succumbed to, except under dire necessity. Yet it was clear they were not homeward bound, for no trunks encumbered the lobby, and no suggestion of Dulce Domum betrayed itself in their dismal features. Nor had they been expelled, for though their looks might favour the supposition, they talked about the hour they should get back that evening, and wondered if Mrs Ashford would have supper ready for them in her own parlour. And it was equally plain that, whatever their destination might be, they were not starting on a truant's expedition, for the said Mrs Ashford presently came out and handed them each a small parcel of sandwiches, and enjoined on them most particularly to keep well buttoned up, and not let their feet get wet.
"It will be a cold drive for you, boys," said she; "I've told Tom to put up at Markridge, so you will have a mile walk to warm you up before you get to Templeton."
A waggonette appeared at the end of the drive, and began to approach them.
"Ah, there's the trap; I'll tell Mr Ashford—"
Mr Ashford appeared just as the vehicle reached the door.
"Well, boys, ready for the road? Good bye, and good luck. Don't forget whose son Edward the Fifth was, Coote. Keep your heads and you'll get on all right. I trust you not to get into mischief on the way. All right, Tom."
During this short harangue the three boys hoisted themselves, one by one, into the waggonette, and bade a subdued farewell to their preceptor, who stood on the doorstep, waving to them cheerily, until they turned a corner and found themselves actually on the road to Templeton.
Not to keep the reader further in suspense as to the purpose of this important expedition, our three young gentlemen, having severally attained the responsible age of fourteen summers, and having severally absorbed into their systems as much of the scholastic pabulum of Mountjoy House as that preparatory institution was in the habit of dispensing to boys destined for a higher sphere, were this morning on their way, in awe and trembling, to the examination hall of Templeton school, there to submit themselves to an ordeal which would decide whether or not they were worthy to emerge from their probationary state and take their rank among the public schoolboys of the land.
Such being the case, it is little wonder they looked fidgety as they caught their last glimpse of Mr Ashford, and realised that before they came in sight of Mountjoy again a crisis in the lives of each of them would have come and gone.
"Whose son was he?" said Coote, appealingly, in about five minutes.
His voice sounded quite startling, after the long, solemn silence which had gone before.
His two companions stared at him, afterwards at one another; then one of them said—
"Whose son was he?" said Coote, turning with an air of desperation to the other.
"Richard the Third's," said the latter.
Coote mused, and inwardly repeated a string of names.
"Doesn't sound right," said he. "Are you sure, Dick?"
"Who else could it be?" said the young gentleman addressed as Dick, whose real name was Richardson.
"Hanged if I know," said the unhappy Coote, proceeding to write an R and a 3 on his thumb-nail with a pencil. "It doesn't look right I believe because your own name's Richardson, you think everybody else is Richard's son too."
And the perpetrator of this very mild joke bent his head over his learned thumb-nail, and frowned.
It was a point of honour at Mountjoy always to punish a joke summarily, whether good, bad, or indifferent. For a short time, consequently, the paternity of Edward the Fifth was lost sight of, as was also Coote himself, in the performance of the duty which devolved on Richardson and his companion.
This matter of business being at last satisfactorily settled, and Tom, the driver, who had considerately pulled up by the road-side during the "negotiations," being ordered to "forge ahead," the party returned to its former attitude of gloomy anticipation.
"It's a precious rum thing," said Richardson, "neither you nor Heathcote can remember a simple question like that. I'd almost forgot it, myself."
"I know I shan't remember anything when the time comes," said Heathcote. "I said my Latin Syntax over to Ashford, without a mistake, yesterday, and I've forgotten every word of it now."
"What I funk is the viva voce Latin prose," said Coote. "I say, Dick, what's the gender of 'Amnis, a river?'"
Dick looked knowing, and laughed.
"None of your jokes," said he, "you don't catch me that way—'Amnis,' a city, is neuter."
Coote's face lengthened, as he made a further note on his other thumb- nail.
"I could have sworn it was a river," said he. "I say, whatever shall I do? I don't know how I shall get through it."
"Through what—the river?" said Heathcote. "Bless you, you'll get through swimmingly."
There was a moment's pause. Richardson looked at Coote; Coote looked at Richardson, and between them they thought they saw a joke.
Tom pulled up by the road-side once more, while Heathcote arranged with his creditors on the floor of the waggonette. When, at length, the order to proceed was given, that trusty Jehu ventured on a mild expostulation. "Look'ee here, young gem'an," said he, touching his hat. "You've got to get to Templeton by ten o'clock, and it's past nine now. I guess you'd better save up them larks for when you're coming home."
"None of your cheek, Tom," said Richardson, "or we'll have you down here, and pay you out, my boy. Put it on, can't you? Why don't you whip the beast up?"
The prospect of coming down to be paid out by his vivacious passengers was sufficiently alarming to Tom to induce him to take their admonition seriously to heart; and for the rest of the journey, although several times business transactions were taking place on the floor of the vehicle, the plodding horse held on its course, and Markridge duly hove in sight.
With the approaching end of the journey, the boys once more became serious and uncomfortable.
"I say," said Coote, in a whisper, as if Dr Winter, at Templeton, a mile away, were within hearing, "do tell me whose son he was. I'm certain he wasn't Richard the Third's. Don't be a cad, Dick; you might tell a fellow. I'd tell you, if I knew."
"I've told you one father," said Dick, sternly, "and he didn't have more. If you want another, stick down Edward the Sixth."
Coote's face brightened, as he produced his pencil and cleaned his largest unoccupied nail.
"That sounds more—, Oh, but, I say, how can Edward the Sixth be Edward the Fifth's father? Besides, he had no family and— Oh, what a howling howler I shall come!"
His friends regarded him sympathetically, and assisted him to dismount.
"We shall have to step out," said Richardson; "it's five-and-twenty to ten, and it's a good mile. Look here, Tom; you've got to come and fetch us at the school, do you hear? We're not going to fag back here after the exam."
"My orders was to wait here till you pick me up, young gentlemen," said Tom, grinning. "Mind what you're up to in them 'saminations."
With which parting sally our heroes found themselves alone, with their faces towards Templeton.
To any wayfarers less overwhelmed with care, that mile walk from Markridge to Templeton over the breezy downs, with the fresh sea air meeting you, with the musical hum of the waves on the beach below, and the glimmer of the spring sun on the ocean far ahead, would have been bracing and inspiriting. As it was, it was not without its attractions even for the three boys; for did they not stand on the precincts of that enchanted ground occupied and glorified by the heroes of Templeton? Was not this very road along which they walked a highway along which Templeton walked, or peradventure raced, or it may be bicycled? Were not these downs the hunting-ground over which the Templeton Harriers coursed in chase of the Templeton hares? Was not that square tower ahead the very citadel of their fortress? and that distant bell that tolled, was it not a voice which spoke to Templeton in tones of familiar fellowship every hour?
They trembled as they heard that bell and came nearer and nearer to the grand square tower. They eyed furtively everyone who passed them on the road, and imagined every man a master and every boy a Templetonian.
A shop with "mortar-boards" displayed in its window seemed like a temple crowded with shrines; and a confectioner's shop, in which two young gentlemen in gowns sat and refreshed themselves, was like a distant glimpse of Olympus where the gods banqueted.
A boy with a towel over his shoulder lounged past them, and surveyed them listlessly as he went by.
How they cowered and trembled beneath that scrutiny! How they dreaded lest their jackets might be too long, or that the studs in their shirts might not be visible! How they hated themselves for blushing, and wished to goodness they knew what to do with their hands!
How their legs shook beneath them as they came under the shadow of the great tower and looked nervously for the porter's lodge! They would have liked to look as if they knew the place; it seemed so foolish to have to ask any one where the porter lived.
"Just go and see if it's up that passage," said Richardson to Coote, pointing out a narrow opening on one side of the tower.
Coote looked at the place doubtfully.
"Hadn't we better all try?" said he.
"What's the good? Beckon if it's right, and we'll come."
The unfortunate Coote departed on his quest much as a man who walks into a cave where a bear possibly resides.
His companions meanwhile occupied themselves with examining the gateway and trying to appear as if architectural curiosity and nothing else had been the object of their passing visit to Templeton.
In a few minutes Coote reappeared with a long face.
"Well? is it right?"
"No; it's a dust-bin."
The great clock above them began to boom out ten.
"We must find out somehow," said Richardson. "We'd better ask at this door."
And, to the alarm of his companions, he boldly tapped on a door under the gate.
A man in uniform opened it.
"Well, young gentlemen, what's your pleasure?"
"Please can you tell us where the porter's lodge is?" said Richardson, in his most persuasive tone.
"I can. I'm the porter, and this is the lodge. What do you want?"
"Please we're Mr Ashford's boys, come for the examination. Here's a note from Mr Ashford for Dr Winter."
The porter took the note, and bade the panic-stricken trio follow him across the quadrangle.
What a walk that was! Across that noble square, with its two great elm- trees laden with noisy rooks; with its wide-fenced lawn and sun-dial; with its cloisters and red brick houses; with its sculptures and Latin mottoes.
And even all these were as nothing to the few boys who loitered about in its enclosure—some pacing arm-in-arm, some hurrying with books under their arms, some diverting themselves more or less noisily, some shouting or whistling or singing—all at home in the place; and all unlike the three trembling victims who trotted in the wake of the porter towards the dreadful hall of examination.
At the door, Richardson felt a frantic clutch on his arm.
"Oh! I say, Dick," gasped Coote, holding out a shaking ringer, with a legend on its nail, "whatever is this the date for—1476? I put it down, and— Oh! I say, can't you remember?"
But Richardson, though he scorned to show it, was too agitated even to suggest an event to fit the disconsolate date, and poor Coote had to totter up the stairs, hopelessly convinced that he had nothing at his fingers' ends after all.
They found themselves walking up a long, high-ceilinged room, with desks all round and a few very appalling oil portraits ranged along the walls, to a table where sat a small, handsome gentleman in cap and gown.
He took Mr Ashford's letter, and the boys knew they stood in the presence of Dr Winter.
"Richardson, Heathcote, Coote," said the Doctor. "Answer to your names—which is Richardson?"
"I am, please, sir."
"I am, sir, please."
"I am, if you please, sir."
"Richardson, go to desk 6; Heathcote, desk 13; Coote, desk 25."
Coote groaned inwardly. It was all up with him now, and he might just as well throw up the sponge before he began. With a friend within call he might yet have struggled through. But what hope was there when the nearer of them was twelve desks away?
For two hours a solemn silence reigned in that examination hall, broken only by the scratching of pens and the secret sighs of one and another of the victims. The pictures on the walls, as they looked down, caught the eye of many a wistful upturned face, and marked the devouring of many a penholder, and the tearing of many a hair.
In vain Coote searched his nails from thumb to little finger. No question fitted to his painfully collected answers. Edward the Fifth was ignored, the sex of "Amnis" was not even hinted at, and "1476" never once came to his rescue. And yet, he reminded himself over and over again, he and Heathcote had said their Latin syntax to Mr Ashford only the day before without a mistake.
"Cease writing," said the Doctor, as the clock struck two, "and the boys at desks 1 to 10 come up here."
This was the signal for the cruellest of all that day's horrors. If the written examination had slain its thousands, the viva voce slew its tens of thousands. Even Richardson stumbled; and Heathcote, when his turn came, gave himself up for lost. The Doctor's impassive face betrayed no emotion, and gave no token, either for joy, or hope, or despair. He merely said "That will do" after each victim had performed; and even when Coote, after a mighty effort, rendered "O tempora! O mores!" as "Oh, the tempers of the Moors," he quietly said, "Thank you; now the next boy."
At last it was all over, and they found themselves standing once more in the great quadrangle, not very sure what had happened to them, but feeling as if they had just undergone a surgical operation not unlike that of flaying alive.
However, once outside the terrible portal of Templeton, their hearts gradually thawed within them. The confectioner's shop, now crowded with "gods," held them in awe for a season, and as long as the road was specked with mortar-boards they held their peace, and meditated on their shirt-studs. But when Templeton lay behind them, and they stepped once more on to the breezy heath, they shook off the nightmare that weighed on their spirits and were themselves again.
"Precious glad it's over," said Richardson. "Beast, that arithmetic paper was."
"I liked it better than the English," said Coote. "I say, is 'for' a preposition or an adverb? I couldn't remember."
"Oh, look here! shut up riddles now," said Richardson, "we've had enough of them. Let's talk about our three and not your 'for,' you Coote you."
Whereupon Richardson started to run, a proceeding which at once convinced his companions that his last observation had been intended as a joke. As in duty bound they gave chase, but the fleet-footed Dick was too many for them; and when at last they came up with him he was strongly intrenched on the box-seat of the empty waggonette at Markridge, with Tom's whip in his hand, beyond all attack.
"I say," said he, after his pursuers had taken breath and granted an amnesty, "it would be great fun to drive home by ourselves. Tom's not here. I asked them. He's gone to see his aunt, or somebody, and left word he'd be back at three o'clock. Like his cheek. I vote we don't wait for him."
"All serene," said the others, "but we shall want the horse, shan't we?"
"Perhaps we shall," said Dick, with a grin, "unless you'd like to pull the trap. The horse is in the stable, and we can tip the fellow to put him in for us."
The "fellow" was quite amenable to this sort of persuasion, and grinningly complied with the whim of the young gentlemen; secretly enjoying the prospect of Tom's dismay.
"'Taint no concern of mine," said he, philosophically. "If you tells me to do it, I does it."
"And if we tells you to open your mouth and shut your eyes, and you'll find sixpence in your hand,—you'll find it there," said Dick.
"Of course you knows how to drive," said the stableman.
"Rather! Do you think we're babies? Here, shy us the reins. Come along, you fellows, there's room for all three on the box. Now then, Joe, give her her head. Come up, you beast! Swish! See if we don't make her step out. Let her go!"
With some misgivings, Joe obeyed, and next moment the waggonette swayed majestically out of the yard very much like a small steam-tug going out of harbour in half a cap of wind.
"Rum, the way she pitches," said Dick presently; "she didn't do it when we came."
"Looks to me as if the horse wasn't quite sober," suggested Coote.
"Perhaps, if you pulled both reins at the same time, instead of one at a time," put in Heathcote, "she wouldn't wobble so much."
"You duffer; she'd stop dead, if I did that."
"Suppose you don't pull either," said Heathcote.
Richardson pooh-poohed the notion, but acted on it all the same, with highly satisfactorily results. The trap glided along smoothly, and all anxiety as to the management of the mare appeared to be at an end.
"I left word for Tom," said Richardson, "if he stepped out, he'd catch us up. Ha, ha! Won't he be wild?"
"Wonder if he'll get us in a row with Ashford?" said Heathcote.
"Not he. What's the harm? Just a little horse-play, that's all."
Heathcote and Coote became grave.
"Look here," said the former, "we let you off last time, but you'll catch it now. Collar him that side, Coote, and have him over."
"Don't be an idiot, Heathcote," cried the Jehu, as he found himself suddenly seized on either hand. "Let go, while I'm driving. Do you hear, Coote; let go, or there'll be a smash!"
But as "letting go" was an accomplishment not taught at Mountjoy House, Richardson had to adopt stronger measures than mere persuasion in order to clear himself of his embarrassments.
Dropping the reins and flinging his arms vehemently back, he managed to dislodge his assailants, though not without dislodging himself at the same time, and a long and somewhat painful creditors' meeting down in the waggonette was the consequence.
The mare, whose patience had been gradually evaporating during this strange journey, conscious of the riot behind her, and feeling the reins dropping loosely over her tail, took the whole matter very much to heart, and showed her disapproval of the whole proceedings by taking to her heels and bolting straight away.
The business meeting inside stood forthwith adjourned. With scared faces, the boys struggled to their feet, and, holding on to the rail of the box-seat, peered over to ascertain the cause of this alarming diversion.
"It's a bolt!" said Richardson, the only one of the three who retained wits enough to think or speak. "Hang on, you fellows; I'll try and get the reins. Help me up!"
As well as the swaying of the vehicle would allow it, they helped him hoist himself up on to the box. But for a long time all his efforts to catch the reins were in vain, and once or twice it seemed as if nothing could save him from being pitched off his perch on to the road. Luckily the mare kept a straight course, and at length, by a tremendous stretch, well supported from the rear by his faithful comrades, the boy succeeded in reaching the reins and pulling them up over the mare's tail.
"Hang on now!" said he; "we're all right if I can only guide her."
HOW OUR HEROES FALL OUT AND YET REMAIN FRIENDS.
Mountjoy House had a narrow escape that afternoon of losing three of its most promising pupils.
The boys themselves by no means realised the peril of their situation. Indeed, after the first alarm, and finding that, by clinging tightly to the rail of the box-seat, they could support themselves on their feet on the floor of the swinging vehicle, Heathcote and Coote began almost to enjoy it, and were rather sorry one or two of the Templeton boys were not at hand to see how Mountjoy did things.
Richardson, however, with the reins in his hands, but utterly powerless to check the headlong career of the mare, or to do anything but guide her, took a more serious view of the situation, and heartily wished the drive was at an end.
It was a flat road all the way to Mountjoy—no steep hill to breathe the runaway, and no ploughed field to curb her ardour. It was a narrow road, too, so narrow that, for two vehicles to pass one another, it was necessary for one of the two to draw up carefully at the very verge. And as the verge in the present case meant the edge of rather a steep embankment, the prospect was not altogether a cheering one for an inexperienced boy, who, if he knew very little about driving, knew quite well that everything depended on his own nerve and coolness.
And Richardson not only had a head, but knew how to keep it. With a rein tightly clutched in each hand, with his feet firmly pressed against the footboard, with a sharp eye out over the mare's ears, and a grim twitch on his determined mouth, he went over the chances in his own mind.
"If she goes on like this, we shall get to Mountjoy in half an hour. What a pace! We're bound to smash up before we get there! Perhaps these fellows had better try and jump for it. Hallo! lucky we didn't go over that stone! Wonder if I could pull her up if I got on her back? She might kick up and smash the trap! Wonder if she will pull up, or go over the bank, or what? Tom—Tom will have to run hard to catch us. Whew! what a swing! I could have sworn we were over!"
This last peril, and the involuntary cry of the two boys clinging on behind him, silenced even this mental soliloquy for a bit. But the waggonette, after two or three desperate plunges, righted itself and continued its mad career at the heels of the mare.
"What would happen if we went over? Jolly awkward to get pitched over on to my head or down among the mare's feet! She'd kick, I guess! Those fellows inside could jump and— By Jove! there comes something on the road! We're in for it now! Either a smash, or over the bank, or— Hallo! there's a gate open!"
This last inward exclamation was caused by the sight of an open gate some distance ahead, through which a rough cart-track branched off from the road towards the sand-hills on the left. Richardson, with the instinct of desperation, seized upon this as the only way of escape from the peril which threatened them.
"Look out, you fellows!" cried he; "hang on tight on the right side while we turn, and jump well out if we go over."
They watched him breathlessly as they came towards the gate. The vehicle which was meeting them and their own were about equal distance from the place, and it was clear their fate must be settled in less than a minute.
Richardson waved to the driver of the approaching cart to pull up, and at the same time edged the mare as far as he could on to the off-side of the road, so as to give her a wide turn in.
"Now for it!" said he to himself, pulling the left rein; "if this don't do, I'll give up driving."
The mare, perhaps weary, perhaps perplexed at the sight of the cart in front, perhaps ready for a new diversion, obeyed the lead and swerved off at the gate. For a moment the waggonette tottered on its left wheel, and, but for the weight of the two passengers on the other side, would have caught the gate post and shattered itself to atoms in the narrow passage.
As it was, it cleared the peril by an inch, and then, plunging on to the soft, rough track, capsized gently, mare and all, landing its three occupants a yard or two off with their noses in the mud.
It was an undignified end to an heroic drive, and Richardson, as he picked himself up and cleared the mud from his eyes, felt half disappointed that no bones were broken or joints dislocated after all. Coote did certainly contribute a grain of consolation by announcing that he believed one of his legs was broken. But even this hope of glory was short-lived, for that young hero finding no one at leisure to assist him to his feet rose by himself, and walked some distance to a grass bank where he could sit down and examine for himself the extent of his injuries.
"Wal, young squire," said a voice at Dick's side, as that young gentleman found eyesight enough to look about him, "you've done it this time."
The owner of the voice was the driver of the cart, and the tones and looks with which he made the remark were anything but unflattering to Richardson.
"It was a close squeak through the gate," said the latter, "not six inches either side; and if it hadn't been for the ruts we should have kept up all right till now. I say, do you think the trap's damaged, or the mare?"
The mare was lying very comfortably on her side taking a good breath after her race, and not offering to resume her feet. As for the waggonette it was lying equally comfortably on its side, with one wheel up in the air.
"Shaft broken," said the driver, "that's all."
"That's all!" said Dick, dolefully, "we shall catch it, and no mistake."
The man grinned.
"You can't expect to play games of that sort without scratching the varnish off," said he. "No fault of yours you haven't got your necks broke."
"Suppose we try to get her up?" said Richardson, looking as if this last information had very little comfort in it.
So among them they unharnessed the mare and managed to disengage her from the vehicle and get her to her feet.
"She's all sound," said the man, after a careful overhauling.
"She's a cad," said Dick, "and I shouldn't have been sorry if she'd broken her neck. Look at the smash she's made."
The trap was indeed far worse damaged than they supposed as first. Not only was a shaft broken, but a wheel was off, and the rail all along one side was torn away. It was clear there was no more driving to be got out of it that afternoon, and the boys gave up the attempt to raise it in disgust.
"Do you know Tom, our man—Ashford's man?" said Dick.
"Who? Tom Tranter? Yes, I knows him."
"Well, you'll meet him on the road between here and Markridge, walking, or perhaps running. Tell him we've had a spill and he'd better see after the trap, will you? We'll go on."
"What about the horse, though?" said Heathcote.
"I suppose we shall have to take the beast along with us. We can't leave her here."
"I think we'd better stop till Tom comes, and all go on together," suggested Heathcote.
"I suppose you funk it with Ashford," said Dick whose temper was somewhat ruffled by misfortune. "I don't. If you two like to stop you can. I'll go on with the mare."
"Oh, no, we'll all come," said Heathcote. "I'm not afraid, no more is Coote."
"All serene then, come on. Mind you tell Tom, I say," added he to the carter. "Good-bye, and thanks awfully."
And they departed in doleful procession, Dick, with the whip in his hand, leading the mare by the mouth, and Heathcote and Coote following like chief mourners, just out of range of the animal's heels.
"What shall we say to Ashford?" asked Heathcote, after a little.
"Say? What do you mean?" said Dick.
"He's sure to ask us what has happened."
"Well, we shall tell him, I suppose."
"There'll be an awful row."
"Of course there will."
"We shall get licked."
"Of course we shall. What of it?"
"Only," said Heathcote, with a little hesitation, "I suppose there's no way of getting out of it?"
"Not unless you tell lies. You and Coote can tell some if you like—I shan't."
"I'm not going to tell any," said Coote, "I've told quite enough in my exam. papers."
"Oh, of course, I don't mean telling crams," said Heathcote, who really didn't exactly know what he did mean. "I'll back you up, old man."
"Thanks. I say, as we are in a row, mightn't we just as well take it out of this beastly horse? If Coote led him you and I could take cock shots at him from behind."
"Oh, yes," said Coote, "and hit me by mistake; not if I know it."
"We might aim at Coote," suggested Heathcote, by way of solving the difficulty, "and hit the mare by mistake."
"Perhaps it would be rather low," said Dick. "I don't see, though, why she shouldn't carry us. She's a long back; plenty of room for all three of us."
"The middle for me," said Coote.
"Think she'd kick up?" asked Heathcote.
"Not she, she couldn't lift with all of us on her. Come on. Whoa! you beast. Give us a leg up, somebody. Whoa! Hold her head, Coote, and keep her from going round and round. Now then. By Jove! what a way up it is!"
By a mighty effort of combined hoisting and climbing, the boys, one after the other, scaled the lofty ridge, and perched themselves, as securely as they could, well forward on the mare's long back.
Luckily for them, the patient animal endured her burden meekly, and plodded on in a listless manner, pricking her ears occasionally at the riot which went on on her back, and once or twice rattling the bones of her riders by a mild attempt at a trot, but otherwise showing no signs of renewing her former more energetic protest.
In this manner, after a weary and not altogether refreshing journey, the three jaded, tightly-packed heroes came to a standstill at the door of Mountjoy House, where, one after the other, they slid sadly from their perches, and addressed themselves to the satisfying of Mrs Ashford's natural curiosity, only hoping the interview would not be protracted, and so defer for long the supper to which they all eagerly looked forward.
"Why, what's all this?" said the matron.
"Where's the waggonette, and Tom?" chimed in Mr Ashford, appearing at the same moment.
"Please, sir," said Dick, "we didn't wait for Tom, and drove home, and there was a little accident. I was driving at the time, sir. We got spilt, and the trap was a little damaged. We left word for Tom to see to it, and I'll write and get my father to pay for mending it. We're all awfully sorry, sir. Dr Winter sends his regards, and we shall hear the result of the exam. on Thursday. One of the wheels came off, but I fancy it will go on again. It was a rut did it. We were coming along at a very good pace, and should have been here an hour ago if it hadn't been for the accident. We're sorry to be late, sir."
After which ample explanation and apology the boys felt themselves decidedly aggrieved that they were not at once ushered in to supper. Mr Ashford, however, being a mortal of only limited perception, required a good deal more information; and a painful and somewhat petulant cross-examination ensued, the result of which was that our heroes were informed they were not to be trusted, that both Mr and Mrs Ashford were disappointed in them, that they ought to be ashamed of themselves, and that they would hear more about the matter to-morrow.
And what about the supper?—that glorious spread of coffee and hot toast, and eggs and bacon, the anticipation of which had borne them up in all the perils and fatigue of the day, and had shone like a beacon star to guide them home? The subject was ignored, basely ignored; and the culprits were ordered to join the ordinary school supper and appease their hunger on bread and cheese and cold boiled beef, and slake their thirst on "swipes."
Then did the spirits of Richardson, Heathcote and Coote wax fierce within them. Then did they call Mr Ashford a cad, and Mrs Ashford a sneak. Then did they kick all the little boys within reach, and scowl furiously upon the big ones. Then did they wish the mare was dead and Templeton a ruin!
As, when Jove frowns and Mercury and Vulcan scowl, the hills hide their heads and the valleys tremble beneath the storm, so did the youth of Mountjoy quake and cower that evening as it raised its eyes and beheld those three gloomy heroes devour their beef and drink their swipes. No one ventured to ask how they had fared, or wherefore they looked sad; but they knew something had happened. The little boys gazed with awe- struck wonder at the heroes who had that day been at Templeton, and contended for Templeton honours. The elder boys wondered if gloom was part of Templeton "form," and when their turn would come to look as black and majestic; and all marvelled at the supper those three ate, and at the chasm they left in the cold boiled beef!
"Come on, you fellows," said Richardson, as soon as the meal was finished. "I'm going to bed; I'm fagged."
"So am I," said Heathcote.
"So am I," said Coote.
And the triumvirate stalked from the room, leaving Mountjoy more than ever convinced something terrific had happened.
If Coote had had his way, he would rather have stayed up. He slept in a different room from Richardson and Heathcote, and it was rather slow going to bed by himself at half-past seven. But as it was evident from Dick's manner that this was the proper course to take under the circumstances, he took it, and was very soon dreaming that he and Edward the Fifth's father were trotting round the Templeton quadrangle on the mare, much to the admiration of the Templeton boys, who assembled in their thousands to witness the exploit.
Next day the uncomfortable topic of the mare and the waggonette was renewed in a long conference with Mr Ashford.
As supper was no longer pending, and as a night's rest had intervened, the boys were rather more disposed to enter into details. But they failed to satisfy Mr Ashford that they were not to blame for what had occurred.
"I am less concerned," said he, "about the damage done to the waggonette than I am to think I cannot trust you as fully as I ought to be able to trust my head boys. I hope during the week or two that remains of this term you will try to win back the confidence you have lost. I must, in justice to my other boys, punish you. Under the circumstances, I shall not cane you, but till the end of the term you must each of you lose your hour's play between twelve and one."
Mr Ashford paused. Perhaps he expected an outburst of gratitude. Perhaps he didn't exactly know what to say next. In either case, he found he had made a mistake.
The boys, with an instinct not, certainly, of self-righteousness, but of common justice, felt that they had had punishment enough already for their sin. Mr Ashford took no account of those few seconds when the waggonette was dashing through the gate and reeling to its fall. He reckoned as nothing the weary jolt home, the indignity of that supper last night, and the suspense of that early morning. He made no allowance for an absence of malice in what they had done, and gave them no credit—although, indeed, neither did they give themselves credit— for the regret and straightforwardness with which they had confessed it. He proposed to treat them, the head boys of Mountjoy, as common delinquents, and punish them as he would punish a cheat, or a bully, or mutineer.
It wasn't fair—they knew it; and if Ashford didn't know it, too—well, he ought.
"We'd rather be caned, sir," said Richardson, speaking for all three.
Mr Ashford regarded the speaker with sharp surprise.
"Richardson, kindly remember I am the best judge of what punishment you deserve."
"It's not fair to keep us in all the term," said Dick, his cheeks mounting colour with the desperateness of his boldness.
Mr Ashford changed colour, too, but his cheeks turned pale.
"Leave my sight, sir, instantly! How do you dare to use language like that to me!"
Fortunately for the dignity, as well as for the comfort, of the three boys, Dick made no attempt to prolong the argument. He turned and left the room, followed by his two faithful henchmen, little imagining that, if any one had scored in this unsatisfactory interview, he had.
Don't let the reader imagine that any mystical glory belongs to the schoolboy who happens to "score one" off his master. If he does it consciously, the chances are he is a snob for doing it. If he does it unconsciously, as Dick did here, then the misfortune of the master by no means means the bliss of the boy.
Dick felt anything but blissful as he stalked moodily to the schoolroom that morning and growled his injuries to his allies.
But Mr Ashford, as soon as his first burst of temper had evaporated, like an honest, sensible man, sat down and reviewed the situation; and it occurred to him, on reviewing it, that he had made a mistake. It was, of course, extremely painful and humiliating to have to acknowledge it; but, once acknowledged, it would have been far more humiliating to Mr Ashford's sense of honour to persist in it.
He summoned the boys once more to his presence, and they trooped in like three prisoners brought up on remand to hear their final sentence.
The master's mouth twitched nervously, and he half repented of the ordeal he had set before himself.
"You said just now, Richardson, that the punishment I proposed to inflict on you was not fair?"
"Yes, sir, we think so," replied Dick, simply.
"I think so, too," said Mr Ashford, equally simply, "and I shall say no more about it. Now you can go."
The boys gaped at him in mingled admiration and bewilderment.
"You can go," repeated the master.
Richardson took a hasty survey of his companions' countenances, and said—
"Will you cane us instead, please sir?"
"No, Richardson, that would not be fair either."
Richardson made one more effort.
"Please, sir, we think we deserve something."
"People don't always get their deserts in this world, my boy," said the master, with a smile. "Now please go when I tell you."
Mr Ashford rallied three waverers to his standard that morning. They didn't profess to understand the meaning of it all, but they could see that the master had sacrificed something to do them justice, and with the native chivalry of boys, they made his cause theirs, and did all they could to cover his retreat.
Two days later, a letter by the post was brought in to Mr Ashford in the middle of school.
Coote's face grew crimson as he saw it, and the faces of his companions grew long and solemn. A sudden silence fell on the room, broken only by the rustle of the paper as the master tore open the envelope and produced the printed document. His eyes glanced hurriedly down it, and a shade of trouble crossed his brow.
"We're gone coons," groaned Heathcote.
"Don't speak to me," said Dick.
Coote said nothing, but wished one of the windows was open on a hot day like this.
"This paper contains the result of the entrance examination at Templeton," said Mr Ashford. "Out of thirty-six candidates, Heathcote has passed fifteenth, and Richardson twenty-first. Coote, I am sorry to say, has not passed."
HOW OUR HEROES GIRD ON THEIR ARMOUR.
Our heroes, each in the bosom of his own family, spent a somewhat anxious Easter holiday.
Of the three, Coote's prospects were decidedly the least cheery. Mountjoy House without Richardson and Heathcote would be desolation itself, and the heart of our hero quailed within him as he thought of the long dull evenings and the dreary classes of the coming friendless term.
"Never mind, old man," Dick had said, cheerily, as the "Firm" talked their prospects over on the day before the holidays, "you're bound to scrape through the July exam.; and then won't we have a jollification when you turn up?"
But all this was sorry comfort for the dejected Coote, who retired home and spent half his holidays learning dates, so determined was he not to be "out of it" next time.
As for Heathcote and Richardson, they were neither of them without their perturbations of spirit. Not that either of them realised—who ever does?—the momentous epoch in their lives which had just arrived, when childhood like a pleasant familiar landscape lies behind, and the hill of life clouded in mist and haze rises before, all unknown and unexplored.
Heathcote, who was his grandmother's only joy, and had no nearer relatives, did hear some remarks to this effect as he girded himself for the coming campaign. But he evaded them with an "Oh, yes, I know, all serene," and was far more interested in the prospect of a new Eton jacket and Sunday surplice than in a detailed examination of his past personal history.
The feeling uppermost in his mind was that Dick was going to Templeton too, and beyond that his anxieties and trepidations extended no further than the possibility of being called green by his new schoolfellows.
Richardson had the great advantage of being one of a real family circle.
He was the eldest of a large family, the heads of which feared God, and tried to train their children to become honest men and women.
How far they had succeeded with Dick, or—to give him his real Christian name, now we have him at home—with Basil, the reader may have already formed an opinion. He had his faults—what boy hasn't?—and he wasn't specially clever. But he had pluck and hope, and resolution, and without being hopelessly conceited, had confidence enough in himself to carry him through most things.
"Don't be in too great a hurry to choose your friends, my boy," said his father, as the two walked up and down the London platform. "You'll find plenty ready enough, but give them a week or two before you swear eternal friendship with any of them."
Dick thought this rather strange advice, and got out of it by saying—
"Oh, I shall have Georgie Heathcote, you know. I shan't much care about the other fellows."
"Don't be too sure. And, remember this, my boy, be specially on your guard with any of them that flatter you. They'll soon find out your weak point and that's where they'll have you."
Dick certainly considered this a little strong even for a parent. But somehow the advice stuck, for all that, and he remembered it afterwards.
"As to other matters," said the father, "your mother, I know, has spoken for us both. Be honest to everybody, most of all yourself, and remember a boy can fear God without being a prig— Ah, here's the train."
It was a dismal farewell, that between father and son, when the moment of parting really came. Neither of them had expected it would be so hard, and when at last the whistle blew, and their hands parted, both were thankful the train slipped swiftly from the station and turned a corner at once.
After the bustle and excitement of the last few days, Dick found the loneliness of the empty carriage decidedly unpleasant, and for a short time after leaving town, was nearer moping than he had ever been before.
It would be an hour before the train reached X—-, where Heathcote would get in. It would be all right then, but meanwhile he wished he had something to do.
So he fell to devouring the provisions his mother and sisters had put up for his special benefit, and felt in decidedly better heart when the meal was done.
Then he hauled down his hat-box, and tried on his new "pot," and felt still more soothed.
Then he extricated his new dressing-case from his travelling-bag, and examined, with increasing comfort, each several weapon it contained, until the discovery of a razor in an unsuspected corner completed his good cheer, and he began to whistle.
In the midst of this occupation the train pulled up, and Heathcote, with his hat-box and bag invaded the carriage.
"Hallo, old man," said Dick with a nod, "you've turned up, then? Look here, isn't this a stunning turnout? Don't go sitting down on my razor, I say."
"Excuse me a second," said Heathcote, putting down his traps and turning to the window, "grandma's here, and I've got to say good-bye."
"Good-bye, grandma," added the dutiful youth, holding out his hand to a venerable lady who stood by the window.
"Good-bye, Georgia. Give me a kiss, my dear boy."
Georgie didn't like kissing in public, especially when the public consisted of Dick. And, yet, he couldn't well get out of it. So he hurried through the operation as quickly as possible, and stood with his duty towards his relative and his interest towards the razor, wondering why the train didn't start.
It started at last, and after a few random flickings of his handkerchief out of the window, he was able to devote his entire attention to his friend's cutlery.
One exhibition provoked another. Heathcote's "pot" was produced and critically compared with Dick's. He had no dressing-case, certainly, but he had a silver watch and a steel chain, also a pocket inkpot, and a railway key. And by the way, he thought, the sooner that railway key was brought into play the better.
By its aid they successfully resisted invasion at the different stations as they went along, until at length Heathcote's watch told them that the next station would be Templeton. Whereat they became grave and packed up their bags, and looked rather wistfully out of the window.
"Father says," remarked Dick, "only the new boys go up to-day. The rest come to-morrow."
"Rather a good job," said Heathcote.
A long silence followed.
"Think there'll be any one to meet us?" said Dick. "Don't know. I wish Coote was to be there too."
"I expect they'll be jolly enough fellows," said Dick.
"Oh yes. They don't bully now in schools, I believe."
"No; they say it's going out. Perhaps it's as well."
"We shall be pretty well used to the place by to-morrow, I fancy."
"Yes. It'll be rather nice to see them all turn up."
"I expect, you know, they'll have such a lot to do, they won't bother about new fellows. I know I shouldn't."
"They might about the awful green ones, perhaps. Ha, ha! Wouldn't it be fun if old Coote was here!"
"Yes, poor old Coote! You know I'm half sorry to leave Mountjoy. It was a jolly old school, wasn't it?"
The shrieking of the whistle and the grinding of the brake put an end to further conversation for the present.
As they alighted, each with his hat-box and bag and umbrella, and stood on the platform, they felt moved by a sincere affection for the carriage they were leaving. Indeed, there is no saying what little encouragement would not have sufficed to send them back into its hospitable shelter.
"Here you are, sir—this way for the school—this cab, sir!"—cried half a dozen cabmen, darting whip in hand upon our heroes, as they stood looking about them.
"Don't you go along with them," said one confidentially. "They'll charge you half-a-crown. Come along, young gentlemen, I'll take you for two bob."
"Go on. You think the young gentlemen are greenhorns. No fear. They know what's what. They ain't agoin' to be seen drivin' up the Quad in a Noah's Ark like that. Come along, young gents; leave him for the milksops. The like of you rides in a hansom, I know."
Of course, this artful student of juvenile nature carried the day, and there was great cheering and crowing and chaffing, when the hansom, with the two trunks on the top, and the two anxious faces inside, peering over the top of their hat-boxes and bags rattled triumphantly out of the station.
As Templeton school was barely three minutes' drive from the station, there was very little leisure either for conversation or the recovery of their composure, before the gallant steed was clattering over the cobbles of the great Quadrangle.
They pulled up at a door which appeared to belong to a bell of imposing magnitude, which the cabman, alighting, proceeded to pull with an energy that awoke the echoes of that solemn square, and made our two heroes draw their breath short and sharp.
"Hop out, young gentlemen," said the cabman, helping his passengers and their luggage out. "It's a busy time, and I'm in a hurry. A shilling each, and sixpence a piece for the traps; that's two and three makes five, and leave the driver to you."
Considering the distance they had come, it seemed rather a long price, and Heathcote ventured very mildly to ask—
"The other man at the station said two shillings."
"Bah!" said the cabman in tones of unfeigned disgust, "you are green ones after all! He'd have charged a bob a piece for the traps, and landed you up to eight bob, and stood no nonsense too about it. Come, settle up, young gentlemen, please. The Templeton boys I'm used to always fork out like gentlemen."
Dick took out his purse, and produced five-and-sixpence, which he gave the driver, just as the door opened and the school matron presented herself.
"Is that your cab?" said she, pointing to the receding hansom.
"How much did he charge you?"
"Five shillings, ma'am."
The lady uttered an exclamation of mingled wrath and contempt. "It's double his right fare. Run quick, and you'll catch him."
Heathcote started to run, shouting meekly, and waving his hand to the man to stop.
But the man good-humouredly declined the invitation, raising his hat gallantly to the lady, and putting his tongue into his cheek, as he touched the horse up into a trot, and rattled out of the square.
Heathcote returned rather sheepishly, and the two friends followed the lady indoors feeling that their entry into Templeton had been anything but triumphant.
"The idea!" said the matron, partly to herself and partly to the boys, "of his landing you and all your luggage on the pavement like that, and then going off, before I came. He knew well enough I should have seen he only got his right fare. The wretch!"
The boys did not know at the time, but they discovered it afterwards, that Mrs Partlett, the matron, had a standing feud with all the cabmen of Templeton, whose delight it was to enjoy themselves at her expense—a pastime they could not more effectively achieve than by fleecing her young charges, so to speak, under her very nose.
"Now," said she, when presently she had recovered her equanimity, "if you'll unlock these things, you can go and take a walk round the Quadrangle and look about you, while I unpack. The bell will ring for new boys' tea in half an hour."
They obeyed, and took a melancholy, but interested stroll round the great court. They read all the Latin mottoes, and were horrified to find one or two which they could not translate.
Fancy a Templeton boy not being able to understand his own mottoes!
They read the names on the different masters' doors; and dwelt with special reverence on the door-plate of Mr Westover, in whose house they were to reside. They deciphered the carvings on the great gate, and shuddered as they saw the name of one "Joe Bolt" cut rude and deep across the forehead of the cherub who stood sentinel at the chapel portal.
All was wonder in that strange walk. The wonder of untasted proprietorship. It was their school, their quadrangle, their chapel, their elm-trees; and yet they scarcely liked to inspect them too closely, or behave themselves towards them too familiarly.
One or two boys were taking solitary strolls, like themselves. They were new boys too—nearly all of them afflicted with the same uneasiness, some more, some less.
It was amusing to see the way these new boys held themselves one to another as they crossed and passed one another in that afternoon's promenade. There was no falling into one another's arms in bursts of mutual sympathy. There was no forced gaiety and indifference, as though one would say "I don't think much of the place after all." No. With blunt English pride, each boy bridled up a bit as a stranger drew near, and looked straight in front of him, till the coast was clear.
At length the bell above the matron's door began to toll, and there was a general movement among the stragglers in its direction.
About twenty boys, mostly of our heroes' age, assembled in the tea room. Their small band looked almost lost in that great hall, as they clustered, of one accord, for warmth and comfort, at one end of the long table.
The matron entered and said grace, and then proceeded to pour out tea for her hungry family, while the boys themselves, at her injunction, passed round the bread-and-butter and eggs.
A meal is one of the most civilising institutions going; and Dick, after two cups of Templeton tea, and several cubic inches of Templeton bread- and-butter, felt amiably inclined towards his left-hand neighbour, a little timorous-looking boy, who blushed when anybody looked at him, and nearly fainted when he heard his own voice answering Mrs Partlett's enquiry whether he wanted another cup.
Apart from a friendly motive, it seemed to Dick it would be good practice to begin talking to a youth of this unalarming aspect. He therefore enquired, "Are you a new boy?"
The boy started to hear himself addressed; then looking shyly up in the speaker's face, and divining that no mischief lurked there, he replied—
Dick took another gulp of tea, and continued, "Where do you live—in London?"
"No—I live in Devonshire."
Dick returned to his meal again, and exchanged some sentences with Heathcote before he resumed.
"What school were you at before?"
"I wasn't at any—I had lessons at home."
The boy blushed very much, and looked appealingly at Dick, as though to beg him to receive the disclosure he was about to make kindly.
"No—my mother taught me."
Dick did receive it kindly. That is, he didn't laugh. He felt sorry for the boy and what was in store for him when the news got abroad. He also felt much less reserved in continuing the conversation.
"Heathcote here and I were at Mountjoy; so we're pretty well used to kicking about," said he, patronisingly. "I suppose you didn't go in for the entrance exam, then?"
"Yes, I did," said the boy.
"Poor chap," thought Dick, "fancy a fellow who's never left his mammy's apron-strings going in for an exam. How did you get on?" he added, turning to his companion.
"Pretty well, I think," said the boy shyly.
"I was twenty-first out of thirty-six," said Dick, "and Heathcote here was fifteenth—where were you?"
Again the boy made a mute appeal for toleration, as he replied, "I was first."
Dick put down his cup, and stared at him.
"Go on!" said he.
"It was down on the list so," said the boy with an apologetic air. "They sent one with the names printed."
Dick made a desperate onslaught on the bread-and-butter, regarding his neighbour out of the corners of his eyes from time to time, quite at a loss to make him out.
"How old are you?" he demanded presently.
"What's your name?"
"Whose house are you going to live in?"
"Oh!" said Dick, abruptly ending the conversation, and turning round towards Heathcote.
In due time the meal was over, and the boys were told they could do as they liked for the next hour, until the matron was at leisure to show them their quarters.
So for another hour the promenade in the Quadrangle was resumed. Not so dismally, however, as before. The tea had broken the ice wonderfully, and instead of the studied avoidance of the afternoon, one group and another fell now to comparing notes, and rehearsing the legends they had heard of Templeton and its inmates. And gradually a fellow-feeling made every one wondrous kind, and the little army of twenty in the prospect of to-morrow's battles, drew together in bonds of self-defence, and felt all very like brothers.
Aspinall, however, who knew no one, and had not dared to join himself to any of the groups, paced in solitude at a distance, hoping for nothing better than that he might escape notice and be left to himself. But Dick, whose interest in him had become very decided, found him out before long and, much to his terror, insisted in introducing him to Heathcote and attaching him to their party.
"There's nothing to be in a funk about, young 'un," said he. "I know I don't mean to funk it, whatever they do to me."
"I'll back you up, old man, all I can," said Heathcote.
"I expect it's far the best way not to kick out, but just go through with it," said Dick. "That's what my father says, and he had a pretty rough time of it, he said, at first."
"Oh, yes; I'm sure it's all the worse for a fellow if he funks or gets out of temper."
All this was very alarming talk for the timorous small boy to overhear, and he longed, a hundred times, to be safe back in Devonshire.
"I'm afraid," he faltered. "I know—I shall be a coward."
"Don't be a young ass," said Dick. "Heathcote and I will back you up all we can, won't we, Georgie?"
"Rather," said Heathcote.
"If you do, it won't be half so bad," said the boy, brightening up a bit; "it's dreadful to be a coward."
"Well, why are you one?" said Dick. "No one's obliged to be one."
"I suppose I can't help it. I try hard."
"There goes the bell. I suppose that's for us to go in," said Dick, as the summons once more sounded.
They found the matron with a list in her hand, which she proceeded to call over, bidding each boy answer to his name. The first twelve were the new boys of Westover's house, and they included our two heroes and Aspinall, who were forthwith marched, together with their night apparel, across the court to their new quarters.
Here they were received by another matron, who presided over the wardrobes of the youth of Westover's, and by her they were escorted to one of the dormitories, where, for that night at any rate, they were to be permitted to sleep in the comfort of one another's society.
"New boys are to call on the Doctor after breakfast in the morning," announced she. "Breakfast at eight, and no morning chapel. Good- night!"
It was not long before the dormitory was silent. One by one, the tired boys dropped off, most of them with heavy hearts as they thought of the morrow.
Among the last was Dick, who, as he lay awake and went over, in his mind, the experiences of the day, was startled by what sounded very like a sob in the bed next to his.
He had half a mind to get up and go and say something to the dismal little Devonshire boy.
But on second thoughts he thought the kindest thing would be to let the poor fellow have his cry out, so he turned over and tried not to hear it; and while trying he fell asleep.
HOW OUR HEROES ARE PUT THROUGH THEIR PACES.
"The Assyrian came down like a wolf on the fold" early next day. The twenty innocent lambs whom, in the last chapter, we left sweetly folded in slumber had barely had time to arise and comb their hair when the advance-guard of the hungry tyrant appeared in their midst.
This was no other than a truck-load of trunks, portmanteaux, bags and hat-boxes sent up from the station, the owners of which, so the alarming rumour spread, were on the road.
It was an agitated meal our heroes partook of with the spectacle of that truck before their eyes, and many an anxious ear was pricked for the first sound of the approaching horde.
But the horde, being aware that nothing was expected of it till mid-day, by no means saw the fun of surrendering its liberty at 10 o'clock, and went down to bathe in the harbour on the way up, so that the fate which impended was kept for two good hours in suspense.
Meanwhile, the interview with the Doctor was accomplished. It was not very alarming. Your new boy would sooner face twenty doctors than one hero of the middle Fifth. The head master asked a few kindly questions of each boy, and, so to speak, took stock of him before adding his name formally to the school list. He also added a few words of advice to the company generally, and enlightened them as to a few of the chief school rules. The others, he said, they would learn soon enough.
Whereat they all said, "Thank you, sir," and retired.
Dick and Heathcote, with young Aspinall in tow, walked back to Westover's house together, and were nearly half-way there, when Aspinall suddenly clutched Dick's arm and whispered—
They all stood still and gazed as if it was a spectre, not a human being, they expected.
What they really did see was a rather nice-looking boy of sixteen or seventeen lounging in at the great gateway, looking about him with a familiar air, and apparently bending his steps straight for Westover's.
It was an awkward situation for our three new boys. Every step brought them nearer under the observation of the "Assyrian," and at every step they felt more awkward and abashed.
Dick did his best to put on a little swagger. He stuck one hand in his pocket, and twitched his hat a trifle on one side. Heathcote, too, instinctively let slip his jacket button so as to betray his watch- chain, and laughed rather loudly at something which nobody said. Poor young Aspinall attempted no such demonstration, but slipped under the lee of his protectors, and wondered what would become of him.
The old boy and the new foregathered just at the door of Westover's, and it was not till they actually stood face to face that the former gave any sign of being aware of the presence of the trio. He then honoured them with a casual survey as they stood back to let him enter first.
"New kids?" he asked.
The hero grunted and passed in, and they heard him shouting to the matron to ask if his traps had come from the station, and whether anybody had come yet.
Anybody come! He didn't count them, that was plain.
Not knowing exactly what to do, they determined on another walk round the Quad, preferring to be reconnoitred by the enemy in the open, and not indoors—possibly in a corner.
The enemy reconnoitred in force. After the first arrival, boys dropped in in twos and threes, in cabs, in omnibuses, in high spirits, in low spirits. The old square began to get lively. The echoes which had slept soundly for the past fortnight woke up suddenly, and the rooks in the elms began to grow uneasy, and summoned a cabinet council to discuss what was going on in the lower world.
"Hallo, Duff, old man," cried one boy near to our heroes, as he caught sight of a chum across the square. "Seen Raggles?"
"Yes; he's got a cargo down. He's asked me."
"Tell him I'm up, will you?"
"What's a cargo?" asked Heathcote, as the speaker went past.
"Goodness knows," said Dick—"perhaps it's a crib."
"My brother Will used to call a hamper a cargo," said Aspinall.
"Humph," said Dick, who never liked to be corrected, "there's something in that."
"I hope there is," said Heathcote.
It said a great deal for the solemnity of the occasion that Dick did not at once proceed to administer condign punishment. He took note of the offence, though, and punished the offender quietly in bed some days after. Just at the present moment, had he been inclined to square accounts, he had no leisure; for a sudden cry of "Dredger!" was raised, whereat they noticed a number of boys step off the pavement on to the grass. Before they could conjecture what this sudden manoeuvre might mean, a rush of steps arose behind, and next moment they were caught up in the toils of a net constructed of towels knotted together, stretching across the path, and held at each end by two swift runners who swept them along at a headlong pace, catching up a shoal of stray fish on the way until even the stalwart dredgers were compelled, from the very weight of their "take," to slacken speed.
A crowd collected to witness the emptying of the net. One by one the trembling small fry were grabbed and passed round to answer a string of questions such as—
"What's your name?"
"Are you most like your father or your mother?"
"Who's your hatter?"
"Can you swim?"
"Who was the father of Zebedee's children?"
"Are you a Radical or a Tory?"
All of which questions each luckless catechumen was required to answer truly, and in a loud, distinct voice, amid the most embarrassing cheers and jeers and hootings of the audience.
Dick got through his fairly well till he came to the political question, when he made the great mistake of saying he didn't know whether he was a Radical or a Tory. For, as he might have expected, every one was down on him, and he was sent forth a marked man to make up his mind on the question.
Heathcote, whose sorrow it was to be separated from his friend in the landing of the catch, was less lucky. He professed himself like his mother, which was greatly against him. His hatter also was a country artist instead of a Londoner, and that he discovered was an extremely grave offence. And as for his politics, he made a greater mistake even than Dick, for he professed himself imbued with opinions "between the two," an announcement which brought down a torrent of abuse and scorn, mingled with cries of "kick him for a half-and-half prig!" an observation which Heathcote was very sorry indeed to hear.
As the reader may guess, poor young Aspinall had a very bad time of it. He began to cry as soon as the first question was propounded. But this demonstration failed to shelter him. A general hiss greeted the sound of his whimper, and cries of, "Where's his bottle?"
"Hush-a-bye baby!" His ruthless tyrants, who knew no distinction between the tears of a crocodile and the tears of a terrified child, made him go through his catechism to the bitter end. They howled with delight when they heard him call himself Bertie, and paused in dead silence to hear him say whether he was like "papa or mamma"—"or nurse?" as some one suggested. He took refuge in tears again, with the result that his inquisitors were more than ever determined to get their answer.
"Hang it, you young ass," said one boy, whom the child, even in his flutter and misery, recognised as the boy who had accosted them at the door of Westover's that morning, "can't you answer without blubbering like that? Nobody's going to eat you up."
This friendly admonition served to set the boy on his feet, and he stammered out, "Mother."
"You weren't asked if you were like your mother," shouted some one, "are you most like 'papa or mamma?'"
"Mamma," faltered the boy. Whereat there was great jubilation, as there was also when he described his hatter as Mr. Smith of Totnes.
"Can you swim?"
"N-no, I'm afraid not."
"That's a pity, with the lot you blubber. You'll get drowned some day."
Terrific cheers greeted this sally, in the midst of which the boy was almost forgotten.
But the political test remained.
"Now, Bertie dear, are you a Radical or a Tory?" he was asked.
The boy took a deep breath, and said—
"I'm a Radical."
At which straightforward and unlooked-for reply there were great cheers and counter-cheers, in the midst of which the scared little Radical was hustled down from his perch and sent flying to join his friends, and calm the fluttering of his poor little heart.
It being evidently unsafe to remain longer in the Quadrangle, the dejected trio betook themselves with many misgivings, to their house.
Westover's presented a striking contrast to the quiet scene of yesterday evening. It being still a quarter to twelve, and term not being supposed to commence till mid-day, the short interval of freedom from school rules was being made use of to the best advantage.
The matron, shouted at and besieged on all sides, already stood at bay, with her hands to her ears, having abandoned any attempt to do anything for anybody. The house porter was in a similar condition of strike. He had once been knocked completely over by rival claimants on his assistance, and he had several times been nearly pulled limb from limb by disappointed employers. He, therefore, stood with his back to the wall and his arms folded, waiting till the storm should blow itself out.
Upstairs, in the studies, riot scarcely less exuberant was taking place. Bosom friends, reunited after three weeks' separation, celebrated their reunion with paeans of jubilation and war-whoops of triumph. "Cargoes" were being unladen here; Liddell-and-Scott was officiating as a cricket ball there; a siege was going on round this door, and a hand-to-hand scrimmage between the posts of that. A few of the placid ones were quietly unpacking in the midst of the Babel, and one or two were actually writing home.
Our heroes, fancying the looks neither of the matron's hall nor of the lobby upstairs, deemed it prudent to retreat as quickly as possible to the junior schoolroom, there to await, in the calm atmosphere of expectant scholarship, the ringing of the twelve o'clock bell.
Has the reader ever visited that famous resort of youth, the Zoo? Has he stood on that terrace five minutes before dinner-time and listened to the deep-mouthed growl of the lion, the barking of the wolf, the shriek of the hyaena, as they pace their cages and await their meal? Then, turning on his heel, has he quitted that stately scene and pushed back the door of the monkey house?
Even so it was with our heroes. The junior schoolroom was as the matron's hall and the studies thrown into one.—At first, to the untutored eyes of the visitors, it looked like a surging sea of unkempt heads and waving elbows; then, as their vision grew accustomed to the scene, they beheld faces and legs and boots; then, amid the general din, they distinguished voices, and perceived that the sea was made up of human beings.
At the which they would fain have retreated; but, as old Virgil says— and we won't insult our readers by translating the verses—
"Facilis descensus Averni, Sed revocare gradum Hoc opus, hic labor est."
Their retreat was cut off before they were well in the room, and, amid loud cries of "New kids!" "Bertie!" "Scrunch!" they were escorted to the nearest form, where they forthwith received a most warm and pressing welcome into their new quarters. The top boy of the form, in his emotion, planted his feet against the wall and began to push inwards. The bottom boy, equally overcome, planted his feet in the hollow of a desk and also pushed inwards. Every one else, in fellow-feeling, pushed inwards too, except our heroes, who, being in the exact centre, remained passive recipients of their schoolfellows' welcome until the line showed signs of rising up at the point where Aspinall's white face pointed the middle; whereupon the bottom boy considerately let go with his feet, and the occupants of the form were poured like water on the floor.
After being thus welcomed on some half-dozen forms, our heroes began to feel that even good fellowship may pall, and were glad, decidedly glad, to hear the great bell beginning to sound forth.
School that morning was rather a farce; the master was not in the humour for it, nor were the boys. After calling over names and announcing the subjects which would engage the attention of the different classes, and reading over, in case any one had forgotten them, the rules of Westover's house, the class was dismissed for the present, all except the new boys being permitted to go out into the court or playing-fields till dinner.
It was a welcome relief to our new boys to find themselves together once more with the enemy beyond reach.
Their ranks showed signs of severe conflict. One boy, who had rashly worn a light blue necktie in the morning, wore no necktie now; Heathcote's jacket was burst under the arm; Dick bore no scars in his raiment, but his nose was rather on one side and his face was rather grimy; Aspinall was white and hot, and the "skeery" look about his eyes proclaimed he had had almost enough for one day.
After dinner, at which our heroes rejoiced to find "the Assyrians" had something more serious to do than to heed them, Templeton went out into the fields to air itself. There was nothing special doing. A few enthusiastic athletes had donned their flannels, and were taking practice trots round the half-mile path. Another lot were kicking about a football in an aimless way. Others were passing round a cricket ball at long range. But most were loafing, apparently undecided what to turn themselves to thus early in the term.
One or two of the Fifth, however, appeared to have some business on hand, in which, much to their surprise, our new boys found they were concerned.
The senior whose arrival they had witnessed in the morning came up to where they were, and said:
"You're all three new boys, aren't you?"
"Yes," they replied.
"Well, go up to the flag-staff there, and wait for me."
With much inward trepidation they obeyed, wondering what was to happen.
Swinstead, for that was the name of the Fifth-form fellow, continued his tour of the field, accosting all the new boys in turn, and giving them the same order.
At length, the long-suffering twenty clustered round the flag-staff, and awaited their fate.
It was simple enough. Every new boy was expected to race on his first day at Templeton, and that was what was expected of them now.
"Let's have your names—look sharp," said one Fifth-form fellow, with a pencil and paper in his hand, who seemed to look upon the affair as rather a bore. "Come on. Sing out one at a time."
They did sing out one at a time.
"Twenty of them," said the senior, running down his list. "Four fives, I suppose?"
"Yes," said Swinstead. "Clear the course, somebody, and call the fellows."
So the course was cleared, and proclamation made that the new boys were about to race. Whereat Templeton lined the quarter-mile track; and showed a languid interest in the contest. Swinstead called over the first five names on his list.
"Take off your coats and waistcoats," said he.
They obeyed. Dick, who was not in the first heat, took charge of Heathcote's garments, and secretly bade him "put it on."
"Toe the line," said Swinstead. "Are you ready? Off!"
They started. It was a straggling procession. Two of the boys could scarcely use their legs, and of the other three Heathcote was the only one who showed any pace, and, greatly to Dick's delight, came in easily first.
Dick's turn came in the second round, and he, greatly to Heathcote's delight, won in a canter.
In the fourth heat Aspinall ran; but he, poor fellow, could scarcely struggle on to the end, and had literally to be driven the last fifty yards. For no new boy was allowed to shirk his race.
Templeton evinced a more decided interest in the final round. It had looked on as a matter of duty on the trial heats; but it got a trifle excited over the final. The winner of the fourth round, the youth who had been robbed of his light blue tie, commanded the most general favour. Swinstead on the other hand secretly fancied Dick, and one or two others were divided between Heathcote and the winner of the third round.
"Keep your elbows in, and don't look round so much," whispered Swinstead to Dick, as the four champions toed the line.
Dick nodded gratefully for the advice.
"Now then. Are you ready?
"Go!" cried the starter.
The hero of the blue tie led off amid great jubilation among the sportsmen. But Swinstead, who trotted beside the race, still preferred Dick, and liked the way he kept up to the leader's heels in the first hundred yards. Heathcote, in his turn, kept well up to Dick, and had nothing to fear from the other man.
"Pretty race," said some one.
"Good action number two," replied another.
"Swinstead fancies him, and he knows what's what."
"I should have said number three, myself."
Two hundred yards were done, and scarcely an inch had the position of the three runners altered.
Then Swinstead called.
"Now then, young 'un."
Dick knew the call was meant for him, and his spirit rose within him. He "waited on his man," as they say, and before the next hundred yards were done he was abreast, with Heathcote close on the heels of both.
Frantic were the cries of the sportsmen to their man. But his face was red, and his mouth was open.
"He's done!" was the cry of the disgusted knowing ones. And the knowing ones were right. Dick walked away, as fresh as a daisy, in the last hundred yards, while Heathcote blowing hard stepped up abreast of the favourite. It was a close run for second honours; but the Mountjoy boy stuck to it, and staggered up a neck in front, with ten clear yards between him and the heels of the victorious Dick.
HOW HEATHCOTE NEARLY CATCHES COLD.
Dick felt decidedly pleased with himself, as he walked back arm-in-arm with Heathcote, after his victory.
He felt that he had a right to hold up his head in Templeton already, and although he still experienced some difficulty in managing his hands and keeping down his blushes when he met one of the Fifth, he felt decidedly fortified against the inquisitive glances of the juniors.
In fact, in the benevolence of his heart, he felt so anxious lest any of these young aspirants to a view of the hero who had won the new boys' race should be disappointed, that he prolonged his walk, and made a circuit of the great square with his friend, so as to give every one a fair chance.
At tea, to which Templeton trooped in ravenously after their first afternoon's blow in the open air, he sat with an interesting expression of langour on his face, enduring the scrutiny to which he was treated with an air of charming unconsciousness, from which any one might suppose he harboured not the slightest desire to hear what Swinstead was saying to his neighbour, as they both looked his way. It was a pity he could not hear it.
"Look at that young prig," said Swinstead's neighbour. "He can't get over it. It's gone to his head."
"Young ass!" said Swinstead; "ran well too."
"It would be a good turn to take him down a peg."
"What's the use? He'll come down soon enough."
For all that, the two friends could not resist the temptation, when, after tea, they caught sight of Dick and his chum going out into the Quad, of beckoning to the former to come to them.
"Those fellows want me," said Dick to his friend, in a tone as much as to say, "I'm so used to holding familiar converse with the Fifth that it's really almost beginning to be a grind. But I don't like to disappoint them this time."
"Well, how do you feel?" said Swinstead.
"Oh, all right," replied Dick, showing unmistakeable signs of intoxication.
"Capital run you made," said the other. "Middling," said Dick, deprecatingly. "I hadn't my shoes, that makes a difference."
"It does," said the two elders.
"Rather a nice turf track you've got," said the boy presently, by way of filling up an awkward gap.
"Glad you like it. Some of the fellows growl at it; but we'll tell them you think it good."
It was rather an anxious moment to see how the fish would take it. But he swallowed it, hook and all.
"We used to run a good deal at our old school, you know," said he. "Some of us, that is."
"Ah, you're just the man we want for the Harriers. They're badly off for a whipper-in; and we had to stop hunting all last term because we hadn't got one."
"Oh!" said Dick.
"Yes. But it'll be all right if you'll take it—won't it be, Birket?"
"Rather!" said Birket. "He'd be a brick if he did."
"I don't mind trying," said Dick modestly.
"Will you really? Thanks, awfully! You know Cresswell? No, by the way, he's not here yet. He's in the Sixth, and has been acting as whipper-in till we got a proper chap. He'll be here in the morning. Any one will tell you where he hangs out. He'll bless you, I can tell you, for taking the job out of his hands. You never saw the pace he goes at when he tries to run, eh, Birket?"
"Rather not," said Birket. "It's a regular joke. A snail's nothing to him."
"How has he managed to whip in?" asked Dick, rather amused at the idea of this Sixth-form snail.
"Bless you, we've had no runs lately, that's why. But we shall make up now you've come."
Dick heartily wished he had run in his shoes that afternoon. He was sure he could have done the distance two or even three seconds better if he had.
"If you'll really go in for it," said Birket, "go to him early to- morrow, and tell him who you are; and say you are going to act as whipper-in, and that you have arranged it all with us."
Dick looked a little concerned.
"Hadn't you better come with me?" he asked, "I don't know him."
"We shall be in class. But he'll know if you mention our names. Say we sent you, and that you won the new boys' race. Do you twig?"
"All right," said Dick, beginning to feel he had something really big on hand.
"You're a young trump," said Birket, "and, I say don't forget to ask him to give you the whip. We might manage a run to-morrow. Good-night. Glad you've come to Templeton."
"Look here, by the way," said Swinstead, as they parted, "don't say anything about it to anybody. There's such a lot of jealousy over these things. Best to get it all settled first. Don't you think so?"
"Yes," said Dick, feeling a good deal bewildered, and doubtful whether after all he had not been foolish in undertaking so important a task.
He returned to his chum in an abstracted frame of mind. He had certainly expected his achievement that afternoon would give him a "footing" in Templeton, but in his wildest dreams he had not supposed it would give him such a lift as this.
Whipper-in of the Templeton Harriers was rapid promotion for a new boy on his first day. But then, he reflected, if they really were hard up for a fellow to take the office, it would be rather ungracious to refuse it.