St Winifred's, or The World of School, by Frederic W. Farrar.
The story is another one about the intimate details of a life in a boys' boarding school in late Victorian England. Farrar, having himself attended such a school, then later been an assistant master at another, Harrow School, then Head Master of Marlborough College, was well placed to write about such a school, and in some ways it is a better book than his much more famous "Eric".
There are a number of very well-written and moving episodes in this book, and the only thing that spoils the books is Farrar's habit of putting quotations from Latin and Greek into his books. Because of the problem of rendering Greek script into European script, to no great purpose, we have omitted all the longer Greek quotations at the start of some of the chapters.
We have thoroughly enjoyed creating this e-book for you, and we hope that you will enjoy it as much as we have. We made a transcription during March and April 2003, and then made a second transcription using a different edition, in January 2008.
ST. WINIFRED'S, OR, THE WORLD OF SCHOOL, BY FREDERIC W. FARRAR.
The merry homes of England! Around their hearths by night, What gladsome looks of household love, Meet in the ruddy light!
"Good-bye, Walter; good-bye, Walter dear! good-bye!" and the last note of this chorus was "Dood-bye," from a blue-eyed, fair-haired girl of two years, as Walter disengaged his arms from his mother's neck, and sprang into the carriage which had already been waiting a quarter of an hour to convey him and his luggage to the station.
It is the old, old story: Mr Evson was taking his son to a large public school, and this was the first time that Walter had left home. Nearly every father who deigns to open this little book has gone through the scene himself; and he and his sons will know from personal experience the thoughts, and sensations, and memories, which occupied the minds of Walter Evson and his father, as the carriage drove through the garden gate and the village street, bearing the eldest boy of the young family from the sacred and quiet shelter of a loving home, to a noisy and independent life among a number of strange and young companions.
If you have ever stood on the hill from which Walter caught a last glimpse of the home he was leaving, and waved his final farewell to his mother, you are not likely to have forgotten the scene which was then spread before your eyes. On the right-hand side, the low hills, covered with firs, rise in gentle slopes one over the other, till they reach the huge green shoulder of a mountain, around whose summits the clouds are generally weaving their awful and ever-changing diadem. To the left, between the road and a lower range of wooded undulations, is a deep and retired glen, through which a mountain stream babbles along its hurried course, tumbling sometimes in a noisy cataract and rushing wildly through the rough boulder stones which it has carried from the heights, or deepening into some quiet pool, bright and smooth as glass, on the margin of which the great purple loosestrife and the long fern-leaves bend down as though to gaze at their own reflected beauty. In front, and at your feet, opens a rich valley, which is almost filled as far as the roots of the mountains by a lovely lake. Beside this lake the white houses of a little village cluster around the elevation on which the church and churchyard stand; while on either shore, rising among the fir-groves that overshadow the first swellings of the hills, are a few sequestered villas, commanding a prospect of rare beauty, and giving a last touch of interest to the surrounding view.
In one of these houses—that one with the crowded gables not a hundred feet above the lake, opposite to which you see the swans pluming their wings in the sunlight, and the green boat in its little boathouse—lived the hero of our story; and no boy could have had a dearer or lovelier home. His father, Mr Evson, was a man in easy, and almost in affluent circumstances, who, having no regular occupation, had chosen for himself this quiet retreat, and devoted all his time and care to the education of his family, and the ordinary duties of a country gentleman.
Walter was the eldest child, a graceful, active, bright-eyed boy. Up to this time—and he was now thirteen years old—he had had no other teaching but that of his father, and of a tutor, who for the last year had lived in the house. His education, therefore, differed considerably from that of many boys of his own age, and the amount of book knowledge which he had acquired was small as yet; but he was full of that intelligent interest in things most worth knowing, which is the best and surest guarantee for future progress.
Let me pause for a moment to relate how a refined and simple-hearted gentleman had hitherto brought up his young boys. I do not pronounce whether the method was right or wrong; I only describe it as it was, and its success or failure must be inferred from the following pages.
The positive teaching of the young Evsons did not begin too early. Till they were ten or twelve years old nearly all they did know had come to them either intuitively or without any conscious labour. They were allowed almost to live in the open air, and nature was their wise and tender teacher. Some object was invented, if possible, for every walk. Now it was to find the shy recesses of the wood where the wild strawberries were thickest, or where the white violets and the rarest orchis flowers were hid; or to climb along the rocky sides of the glen to seek the best spot for a rustic meal, and find mossy stones and flower-banks for seats and tables near some waterfall or pool.
When they were a little older their father would amuse and encourage them until they had toiled up even to the very summit of all the nearest hills, and there they would catch the fresh breeze which blew from the far-off sea, or gaze wonderingly at the summer lightning flashing behind the chain of hills, or watch, with many playful fancies, the long gorgeous conflagration of the summer sunset. And in such excursions their father or mother would teach them without seeming to teach them, until they were thoroughly familiar with the names and properties of all the commonest plants, and eagerly interested to secure for their little collections, or to plant in their gardens, the different varieties of all the wild flowers that were found about their home. Or, again, when they sat out in the garden, or wandered back in the autumn twilight from some gipsy party, they were taught to recognise the stars and planets, until Mars and Jupiter, Orion and Cassiopeia, the Pleiads and the Northern Crown, seemed to look down upon them like old and beloved friends.
It was easy, too, and pleasant, to teach them to love and to treat tenderly all living things—to observe the little black-eyed squirrel without disturbing him while he cracked his nuts; to watch the mistle-thrush's nest till the timid bird had learned to sit there fearlessly, and not scurry away at their approach; and to visit the haunts of the moorhen without causing any consternation to her or her little black velvet progeny. Visitors who stayed at the house were always delighted to see how all creatures seemed to trust the children: how the canary would carol in its cage when they came into the room; how the ponies would come trotting to the boys across the field, and the swans float up and plume their mantling wings, expecting food and caresses, whenever they came in sight.
The lake was a source of endless amusement to them; summer and winter they might have been seen bathing in its waters, till they were bold swimmers, or lying to read their books in the boat under the shade of the trees, or rowing about till the little boy of six years was allowed to paddle himself alone to the other side, and even when the waves were rough, and the winds high, the elder ones were not afraid to venture out. In short, they were healthy and manly mountain-boys, with all their senses admirably exercised, and their powers of observation so well trained, that they sometimes amazed their London cousins by pointing to some falcon poised far-off above its prey, which was but a speck to less practised eyes, or calling attention to the sweetness of some wood-bird's note, indistinguishable to less practised ears.
Even in such lessons as these they would have made but little progress if they had not been trained in the nursery to be hardy, modest, truthful, unselfish, and obedient. This work had effectually been done when alone it can be effectually done, in the earliest childhood, when the sweet and plastic nature may acquire for all that is right and good the powerful aid of habit, before the will and the passions are fully conscious of their dangerous and stubborn power.
Let no one say that I have been describing some youthful prodigies. There are thousands such as I describe in all happy and well-ordered English homes; there might be thousands more if parents spent a more thoughtful care upon the growth of their children; there will be many, many thousands more as the world, "in the rich dawn of an ampler day," in the gradual yet noble progress of social and moral improvement, becomes purer and holier, and more like Him Who came to be the ideal of the loftiest, yet the lowliest, of the most clear-sighted, yet the most loving, of the most happy, and yet the most humble manhood.
Gay Hope is theirs by Fancy led, Less pleasing when possess'd, The tear forgot as soon as shed, The sunshine of the breast.
Walter's destination was the school of Saint Winifred. Let me here say at once that if any reader set himself to discover what and where the school of Saint Winifred is, he will necessarily fail. It is impossible, I suppose, to describe any school without introducing circumstances so apparently special as to lead some readers into a supposed identification. But here, and once for all, I distinctly and seriously repudiate all intention of describing any particular foundation. I am well aware that for some critics this disclaimer will be insufficient. But every honourable reader and critic may rest assured that in describing Saint Winifred's I have not intended to depict any one school, and that no single word dictated by an unworthy personality will find a place in the following pages.
Saint Winifred's School stands by the seaside, on the shores of a little bay embraced and closed in by a range of hills whose sweeping semicircle is only terminated on either side by the lofty cliffs which, in some places, are fringed at the base by a margin of sand and shingle, and in others descend with sheer precipices into the ever-boiling surf. Owing to the mountainous nature of the country, the railroad cannot approach within a distance of five miles, and to reach the school you must drive through the dark groves which cover the lower shoulder of one of the surrounding mountains. When you reach the summit of this ascent, the bay of Saint Winifred lies before you; that line of white houses a quarter of a mile from the shore is the village, and the large picturesque building of old grey stone, standing in the angle where the little river reaches the sea, is Saint Winifred's School.
The carriage stopped at the grand Norman archway of the court. The school porter—the Famulus as they classically called him—a fine-looking man, whose honest English face showed an amount of thought and refinement above his station, opened the gate, and, consigning Walter's play-box and portmanteau to one of the school servants, directed Mr Evson across the court and along some cloisters to the house of Dr Lane, the headmaster. The entering of Walter's name on the school books was soon accomplished, and he was assigned as private pupil to Mr Robertson, one of the tutors. Dr Lane then spoke a word of encouragement to the young stranger, and he walked back with his father across the court to the gate, where the carriage was still waiting to take Mr Evson to meet the next train.
"Please let us walk up to the top of the hill, papa," said Walter; "I shan't be wanted till tea-time, and I needn't bid good-bye to you here."
Mr Evson was as little anxious as Walter to hasten the parting. They had never been separated before. Mr Evson could look back for the rare period of thirteen years, during which they had enjoyed, by God's blessing, an almost uninterrupted happiness. He had begun life again with his young children; he could thoroughly sympathise alike with their thoughts and with their thoughtlessness, and by training them in a manner at once wise and firm, he had been spared the greater part of that anxiety and disappointment which generally spring from our own mismanagement. He deeply loved, and was heartily proud of, his eldest boy. There is no exaggeration in saying that Walter had all the best gifts which a parent could desire. There was something very interesting in his appearance, and very winning in his modest and graceful manners. It was impossible to see him and not be struck with his fine open face, and the look of fearless and noble innocence in his deep blue eyes.
It was no time for moral lectures or formal advice. People seem to think that a few Polonius-like apophthegms delivered at such a time may be of great importance. They may be, perhaps, if they be backed-up and enforced by previous years of silent and self-denying example; otherwise they are like seed sown upon a rock, like thistle-down blown by the wind across the sea. Mr Evson spoke to Walter chiefly about home, about writing letters, about his pocket-money, his amusements, and his studies, and Walter knew well beforehand, without any repetitions then, what his father wished him to be, and the principles in accordance with which he had endeavoured to mould his thoughts and actions.
The time passed too quickly for them both; they were soon at the top of the hill where the carriage awaited them.
"Good-bye, Walter. God bless you," said Mr Evson, shaking hands for the last time, and throwing deep meaning into those simple words.
"Good-bye, papa. My best love to all at home," said Walter, trying to speak cheerfully, and struggling manfully to repress his rising tears.
The carriage drove on. Walter watched it out of sight, and, turning round, felt that a new phase of his life had begun, and that he was miserably alone. It was natural that he should shed a few quiet tears as he thought of the dear friends with whom he had parted, and the four hundred strangers into whose society he was about to enter. Yet being brave and innocent he feared nothing, and, without any very definite religious consciousness, he had a clear and vivid sense that One Friend was ever with him.
The emotions of a boy are as transient as they are keen, and Walter's tears were soon dried. As he looked round, the old familiar voice of the mountains was in his ears. He gazed with the delight of friendship on their towering summits, and promised himself, many an exhilarating climb up their steep sides. And now, too, for the first time—for hitherto he had not much noticed the scenery around him—a new voice, the great voice of the sea, broke with its grand but awful monotony upon his listening ear. As he gazed upon the waves, glowing and flashing with the golden network of autumnal sunbeams, it seemed to dawn upon him like the discovery of a new sense, and he determined to stroll down to the beach before re-entering the gates of Saint Winifred.
He wandered there not only with a boy's delight, but with the delight of a boy whose eyes and ears have always been open to the beauty and wonder of the outer world. He longed to have his brother with him there. He picked up handfuls of the hard and sparkling sand; he sent the broad flat pebbles flying over the surface, and skimming through the crests of the waves; he half-filled his pockets with green and yellow shells, and crimson fragments of Delessaria Sanguinea for his little sisters; and he was full of pleasurable excitement when the great clock of Saint Winifred's, striking five, reminded him that he had better go in, and learn something, if possible, about the order of his future life.
Parolles.—I find my tongue is too foolhardy.
All's Well that Ends Well, Act four, scene 1.
The Famulus—"familiar"—as the boys called him, directed Walter across the court to the rooms of his housekeeper, who informed him about the places where his clothes and his play-boxes would be kept, and the dormitory where he was to sleep. She also gave him a key of the desk in the great schoolroom, in which he might, if he chose, keep his portable property. She moreover announced, with some significance, that she should be glad to do anything for him which lay in her humble power, and that the day after to-morrow was her birthday. Walter was a little puzzled as to the relevancy of the latter piece of information. He learnt it at a subsequent period, when he also discovered that Mrs Higgins found it to her interest to have periodical birthdays, recurring two or three times at least every half-year. The years which must have passed over that good lady's head during Walter's stay at Saint Winifred's—the premature rapidity with which old age must have subsequently overtaken her, and the vigour which she displayed at so advanced a period of life—were something quite extraordinary of their kind.
Towards the great schoolroom Walter accordingly directed his steps. The key turned out to be quite superfluous, for the hasp of the lock had been broken by Walter's predecessor, who had also left the trace of his name, his likeness, and many interesting though inexplicable designs and hieroglyphics, with a red-hot poker, on the lid. The same gentleman, to judge by appearances, must have had a curious entomological collection of spiders and earwigs under his protection, and had bequeathed to Walter a highly miscellaneous legacy of rubbish. Walter contemplated his bequest with some dismay, and began busily to dust the interior of the desk, and make it as fit a receptacle as he could for his writing materials and other personal possessions.
While thus engaged he could not help being secretly tickled by the proceedings of a group of boys standing round the large unlighted stove, and amusing themselves, harmlessly for the most part, with the inexperience and idiosyncrasies of various newcomers. After tiring themselves with the freaks of a mad Irish boy who had entered into the spirit of his own cross-examination with a high sense of buffoonery which refused to grow ill-tempered, they were now playing on the extreme gullibility of a heavy, open-mouthed, bullet-headed fellow, named Plumber, from whom the most astounding information could extract no greater evidence of sensation than a little wider stare of the eyes, and an unexcited drawl of "Really though?" One of the group, named Henderson, a merry-looking boy with a ceaseless pleasant twinkle of the eyes, had been taxing his own invention to the uttermost without in the least exciting Plumber's credulity.
"You saw the fellow who let you in at the school gates, Plumber?" said Henderson. "Yes; I saw someone or other."
"But did you notice him particularly?"
"No, I didn't notice him."
"Well, you should have done. That man's called 'the Familiar.' Ask anyone if he isn't? But do you know why?"
"No," said Plumber.
"It's because he's got a familiar spirit which waits on him," said Henderson mysteriously.
"Really though," said Plumber, and this time he looked so frightened that it was impossible for the rest to avoid bursting into a fit of laughter, during which Plumber, vaguely comprehending that he was considered a very good joke, retired with discomfiture.
"You fools," said Henderson; "if you'd only given me a little more time I'd have made him believe that Lane had a tail, and wore his gown to conceal it, except when he used it to flog with; and that before being entered he would have to sing a song standing on his head. You've quite spoilt my game by bursting out laughing."
"There's another new fellow," said Kenrick, one of the group. "Come here, you new fellow!" called two or three of them.
Walter looked up, thinking that he was addressed, but found that the summons was meant for a boy, rather good-looking but very slender, whose self-important attitude and supercilious look betrayed no slight amount of vanity, and who, to the apparent astonishment of the rest, was surveying the room and its appurtenances with a look of great affectation and disdain.
"So you don't much seem to like the look of Saint Winifred's," said Kenrick to him, as the boy walked up with a delicate air. "Not much," lisped the new boy; "everything looks so very common."
"Common and unclean to the last degree," said Henderson, imitating his manner.
"And is this the only place you have to sit in?"
"O, by no means," said Henderson; "each of us has a private apartment furnished in crimson and gold, according to the simple yet elegant taste of the owner. Our meals are there served to us by kneeling domestics on little dishes of silver."
"I suppose you intend that for wit," said the new boy languidly.
"Yes; to do you, to wit," answered Henderson; "but seriously though, that would be a great deal more like what you have been accustomed to, wouldn't it, my friend?"
"Very much more," said the boy.
"And would you politely favour this company," said Henderson, with obsequious courtesy, "by revealing to us your name?"
"My name is Howard Tracy."
"Oh, indeed!" said Henderson, with an air of great satisfaction, and making a low bow.
"I am called Howard Tracy because I am descended lineally from both those noble families."
"My goodness! are you really!" said Henderson, clasping his hands in mock transport. "My dear sir, you are an honour to your race and country! you are an honour to this school. By Jove, we are proud, sir, to have you among us!"
"Perhaps you may not know that my uncle is the Viscount Saint George," said Tracy patronisingly.
"Is he, though, by George!" said Henderson yawning. "Is that Saint George who—
"'Swinged the dragon, and e'er since Sits on his horseback at mine hostess' door?'"
But finding that the boy's vanity was too obtuse to be amusing any longer, he was about to leave him to the rest, when Jones caught sight of Walter, and called out:—
"Halloa, here's a new fellow grinning at the follies of his kind. Come here, you dark-haired chap. What's your name?"
"Evson," said Walter, quietly approaching them. Before getting any fun out of him it was necessary to see what kind of boy he was; and as Jones hardly knew what line to take, he began on the commonest and most vulgar tack of catechising him about his family and relations. "What's your father?"
"My father is a gentleman," said Walter, rather surprised at the rudeness of the question. "And where do you live?"
"And how old are you?"
"And how many sisters have you?"
Walter rather thought of asking, "What's that to you?" but as he saw no particular harm in answering the question, and did not want to seem too stiff-backed, he answered, "Three."
"And are they very beautiful?"
"I don't know; I never asked them. Are yours?" This last question was so perfectly quiet and unexpected, and Jones was so evidently discomfited by it, that the rest burst into a roar of laughter, and Henderson said, "You've caught a tartar, Jones. You can't drop salt on this bird's tail. You had better return to Plumber, or Saint George and the dragon. Here, my noble Viscount, what do you think of your coeval? Is he as common as the rest of us?"
"I don't think anything about him, if you mean me by Viscount," said Tracy peevishly, beginning at last to understand that they had been making a fool of him.
"Quite right, Saint George; he's beneath your notice." Tracy ran his hand through his scented hair, as if he rather Implied that he was; and being mortified at the contrast between his own credulous vanity and Walter's manly simplicity, and anxious if possible to regain his position, he said angrily to Walter, "What are you looking at me for?"
Not wishing to be rude, Walter turned away, while someone observed, "A cat may look at a king."
"Ay, a cat at a king, I grant you," answered Henderson; "but not a mere son of Eve at any Howard Tracy."
"You are laughing at me," said Tracy to Walter again, in a still angrier tone, seeing Walter smile at Henderson's remark.
"I've not the slightest wish to laugh at you," said Walter.
"Yes he has. Shy this at him," said Jones, putting a great bit of orange peel into Tracy's hand.
Tracy threw it at Walter, and he without hesitation picked it up, and flung it back in Tracy's face.
"A fight! a fight!" shouted the mischief-making group, as Tracy made a blind blow at Walter, which his antagonist easily parried.
"Make him fight you. Challenge him," said Jones. "Invite him to the milling-ground behind the chapel after first school to-morrow morning."
"Pistols for two, coffee for four, at eight to-morrow," said Henderson. "Trample on the Dragon's tail, someone, and rouse him to the occasion. What! he won't come to the scratch? Alack! alack!
"'What can ennoble fools or cowards Not all the blood of all the Tracys, Dragons, and Howards!'"
He continued mischievously, as he saw that Tracy, on taking note of Walter's compact figure, showed signs of declining the combat.
"Hush, Henderson," said Kenrick, one of the group who had taken no part in the talk; "it's a shame to be setting two new fellows fighting their first evening."
But Henderson's last remark had been too much for Tracy. "Will you fight?" he said, walking up to Walter with reddening cheeks. For Tracy had been to school before, and was no novice in the ways of boys.
"Certainly not," said Walter coolly, to everybody's great surprise.
"What! the other chap showing the white feather, too. All the new fellows are cowards it seems this time," said Jones. "This'll never do. Pitch into him, Tracy."
"Stop," said Kenrick; "let's hear first why he won't fight?"
"Because I see no occasion to," said Walter; "and because, in the second place, I never could fight in cold blood; and because, in the third place—"
"Well, what in the third place?" said Kenrick, interested to observe Walter's hesitation.
"In the third place," said Walter, "I don't say it from conceit—but that boy's no match for me."
To anyone who glanced at the figures of the two boys this was obvious enough, although Walter was a year the younger of the two. The rest began to respect Walter accordingly as a sensible little man, but Tracy was greatly offended by the last remark, and Jones, who was a bully and had a grudge against Walter for baffling his impertinence, exclaimed, "Don't you be afraid, Tracy. I'll back you. Give him something to heat his cold blood."
Fired at once by taunts and encouragements, Tracy did as he was bid, and struck Walter on the face. The boy started angrily, and at first seemed as if he meant to return the blow with compound interest, but suddenly changing his intention, he seized Tracy round the waist, and in spite of all kicking and struggling, fairly carried the humiliated descendant of the Howards and Tracys to a far corner of the room, where, amid a shout of laughter, he deposited him with the laconic suggestion, "Don't you be a fool."
Walter's blood was now up, and thinking that he might as well show, from the very first, that he was not to be bullied, or made a butt with impunity, he walked straight to the stove, and looking full at Jones (who had inspired him already with strong disgust), he said, "You called me a coward just now; I'm not a coward, though I don't like fighting for nothing. I'm not a bit afraid of you, though you forced that fellow to hit me just now."
"Aren't you? Saucy young cub! Then take that," said Jones, enforcing the remark with a box on the ear.
"And you take that," said Walter, returning the compliment with as much energy as if he had been playing at the game of Gif es wetter.
Jones, astonished beyond measure, sprang forward, clenched his two fists, squared, and blustered with great demonstrativeness. He was much Walter's senior, and was utterly taken by surprise at his audacity; but he seemed in no hurry to avenge the insult.
"Well," said Walter, heaving with indignation, "why don't you hit me again?"
Jones looked at his firm and determined little assailant with some alarm, slowly tucked up the sleeves of his coat, turned white and red, and—didn't return the blow. The tea-bell beginning to ring at that moment gave him a convenient excuse for breaking off the altercation. He told his friends that he was on the point of thrashing Walter when the bell rang, but that he thought it a shame to fight a new fellow—"and in cold blood, too," he added, adopting Walter's language, but not his sincerity.
"Don't call me a coward again then," said Walter to him as he turned away.
"I say, Evson, you're a regular brick, a regular stunner," said young Kenrick, delighted, as he showed Walter the way to the Hall where the boys had tea. "That fellow Jones is no end of a bully, and he won't be quite so big in future. You've taken him down a great many pegs."
"I say, Kenrick," shouted Henderson after them, "I bet you five to one I know what you're saying to the new fellow."
"I bet you don't," said Kenrick, laughing.
"You're saying—it's a quotation, you know, but never mind—you're saying to him, 'A sudden thought strikes me: let's swear an eternal friendship.'"
"Then you're quite out," answered Kenrick. "I was saying come and sit next me at tea."
"And go shares in jam," added Henderson: "exactly what I said, only in other words."
FRIENDS AND FOES.
"He who hath a thousand friends hath not one friend to spare, And he who hath one enemy shall meet him everywhere."
Already Walter had got someone to talk to, someone he knew; for in spite of Kenrick's repudiation of Henderson's jest, he felt already that he had discovered a boy with whom he should soon be friends. It doesn't matter how he had discovered it; it was by animal magnetism; it was by some look in Kenrick's eyes; it was his light-heartedness; it was by the mingled fire and refinement of his face which spoke of a wilful and impetuous, yet also of a generous and noble nature. Already he felt a sense of ease and pleasure in the certainty that Kenrick—evidently no cipher among his schoolfellows—was inclined to like him, and to show him the ways of the school.
They went into a large hall, where the four hundred had their meals. They sat at a number of tables arranged breadth-wise across the hall; twenty or thirty sat at each table, and either a master or a monitor (as the sixteen upper boys were called) took his place at the head of it.
"Now, mind you don't begin to smoke," said Henderson, as Walter went in, and found most of the boys already seated.
"Smoke?" said Walter, taking it for a bit of good advice; "do fellows smoke in Hall? I never have smoked."
"Why, you're smoking now," said Henderson, as Walter, entering among the crowd of strange faces and meeting so many pairs of eyes, began to blush a little.
"Don't teaze him, Flip," said Kenrick. "Smoking is the name fellows give to blushing, Evson; and if they see you given to blushing, they'll stare at you for the fun of seeing the colour mount up in your cheeks."
Accordingly, as he sat down, he saw that numerous eyes were turned upon him and upon Tracy, who happened to sit at the same table. Tracy, unaccustomed to such very narrow scrutiny, blushed all over; and, as he in vain looked up and down, this way and that, his cheeks grew hotter and hotter, and he moved about in the most uneasy way, to the great amusement of his many tormentors, until at last his eyes subsided finally into his teacup, from which he did not again venture to raise them until tea was over. But Walter was at once up to the trick, and felt thoroughly obliged to Henderson and Kenrick for telling him of it. So he waited till he saw that a good dozen fellows were all intently staring at him; and then, looking up very simply and naturally, he met the gaze of two or three of them steadily in succession, and stared them out of countenance with a quiet smile. This turned the laugh against them; and he heard the remark that he was "up to snuff, and no mistake." No one ever tried to make Walter smoke again, but for some time it used to be a regular joke to pass round word at tea-time, "Let's make Tracy smoke," and as Tracy always did smoke till he got thoroughly used to it, he was generally glad when tea-time was over.
In spite of Henderson, who poked fun at them all tea-time (till he saw that he really embarrassed them, and then he desisted), Kenrick sat by Walter, and took him more or less under his protection; for an "old boy" can always patronise a newcomer at first, even if they are of the same age.
From Kenrick Walter learnt, rather to his dismay, that he really would have no place to sit in except the big schoolroom, which he would share with some fifty others, and that he would be placed in a dormitory with at least five or six besides himself.
"Have you been examined yet?" asked Kenrick.
"No; but Dr Lane asked me what books I had read, and he told me that I was to go and take my chance in Mr Paton's form. What form is that?"
"It's what we call the Virgil form. Have you ever read Virgil?"
"No; at least only a few easy bits."
"I wish you joy, then."
"Why? what sort of a fellow is Mr Paton?"
"Mr Paton? he's not a man at all; he's a machine; he's the wheel of a mill; he's a cast-iron automaton; he's—"
"The abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet," observed Henderson, who had caught a fragment of the conversation. "I'm in his form, too, worse luck!"
"Hush! shut up, Henderson, and don't be profane," said Kenrick. "Well, Evson, you'll soon find out what Paton's like; anything but 'a patten of bright gold' at any rate."
"Oh! oh! turn him out for his bad pun," said Henderson, hitting him with a pellet of bread, for which offence he immediately received "fifty lines" from the master at the other end of the table.
"Don't abuse Paton," said a boy named Daubeny, which name Henderson had long ago contracted into Dubbs. "I always found him a capital master to be under, and really very kind."
"Oh, you—yes," answered Kenrick; "if we were all gifted with your mouselike stillness in school, my dear old Dubbs—"
"And your metallic capacity of grind, my dear old Dubbs," added Henderson.
"And your ostrich-like digestion of crabbed rules, my dear old Dubbs; why, then," said Kenrick, "we should all be boys after Paton's heart."
"Or Paton's pattern," suggested Henderson; so it was now Kenrick's turn to shudder at a miserable attempt at a pun, and return Henderson's missile, whereupon he got a hundred lines, which made him pull a very long face.
"Who's to be your tutor, Evson?" he asked after this interlude.
"I suppose you're going to pick him to pieces, now," said Daubeny, smiling; "don't you believe half they say of him, Evson."
"Oh, if you're sharp, and successful, and polite, and gentlemanly, and jolly, and all that sort of thing, he'll like you very much, and be exceedingly kind to you; but if you are lazy, or mischievous, or stupid, or at all a pickle, he'll ignore you, snub you, won't speak to you. I wish you'd been in the same pupil-room with me."
"Depends on who he is, O virtuous Dubbs," said Henderson. "His end shall be 'pieces,' as Punch says, if he deserves it."
"He told me I was to be Mr Robertson's pupil," said Walter. "Hum-m!" observed Kenrick. "Why, what sort of a person is he?"
"Some of his pups detest him, others adore him."
"Who's your tutor, then?"
"Percival; there, the master who is chatting and laughing with those monitors. He's a regular brick. Plinthos estin as we say in Greek," said Kenrick. "Halloa! tea's over."
"And you've been chattering so much that the new fellow's had none," said Henderson, as a bell rang and one of the monitors read a short Latin grace.
The boys streamed out, and Kenrick helped his new friend to unpack his books and other treasures, and put them in his desk, for which they ordered a new lock. The rest of the evening was occupied with "Evening Work," a time during which all the boys below a certain form sat in the schoolroom, and prepared their lessons for the next day, while a master occupied the desk to superintend and keep order. As other boys who were in the same form with himself were doing no work, Walter did not suppose that any work would be expected of him the next morning, and he therefore occupied his time in writing a long letter home. When this was over he began talking to Henderson, of whom he had a thousand questions to ask, and whose chief amusement seemed to consist in chaffing everybody, and whom, nevertheless, everybody seemed to regard as a friend. At nine a bell rang, the whole school went to chapel, where a short evening service was held, and then all but the higher forms, and the boys who had separate rooms, went to bed. As Walter lay down to sleep, he felt at least a century older than he had done that morning. Everything was marvellously new to him, but on the whole he was inclined to take a bright view of things. Two of the things which had happened to him gave him special delight: the sight of the sea, and the happy dawn—for as such he regarded it—of a genuine, hearty, boyish friendship, both with Henderson and Kenrick. When the gas was turned off, tired out with his journey and his excitement, he quickly fell asleep.
And, falling asleep, he at once passed into the land of dreams. He was out on the sea with Kenrick and Henderson in a row-boat, and all three of them were fishing. First there was a pull at Henderson's line, and, tugging it up, he caught not a fish, but Jones, who, after a few flounderings, lay down in the fish-basket. As this did not in the least surprise any of them, and excited no remark whatever, they set to work again, and Kenrick had a bite this time, which proved to be Howard Tracy, whom they laid quietly in the bottom of the boat, Jones assisting. The third time Walter himself had a tug, and was in the act of hauling up Dubbs, when he became conscious that the boat was rocking very violently, and he felt rather surprised that he was not seasick. This seemed to give a new current to his thoughts, for all of a sudden he was out riding with someone, and his horse began to rear in the most uncomfortable manner, right on his hind legs. He kept his seat manfully—but no! that last rear was too much, and, suddenly waking, he was at once aware that his bed was rising and falling in a series of heavy shakes and bumps, whereby he was nearly flung off the mattress. He instantly guessed the cause, for indeed, Kenrick had given him a hint of such a possibility. He knew that someone, wishing to frighten him, had got under the bed, and was heaving it up and down with his back. All that he had noticed when he undressed was, that there were several big fellows in the dormitory, and he knew that the room had rather a bad reputation for disorder and bullying.
Being a strong little fellow, brave as a lion, and very active, Walter was afraid of no one; so springing up during a momentary cessation of the mysterious upheavals, he instantly made a dash under the bed, and seized someone by the leg. The leg kicked violently, and as a leg is a particularly strong limb, it succeeded in disengaging itself from Walter's hands, not, however, till it had left a slipper as a trophy; and with this slipper Walter pursued a dim white figure, which he could just see scuttling away through the darkness to the other side of the room. This figure he overtook just in time to give it some resounding smacks with the sole of the slipper; when the figure clutched a counterpane off the nearest bed, flung it over Walter, and made good an escape, while Walter was entangled, Agamemnon-like, in the voluminous folds. Walter, however, still kept possession of the slipper, and was determined next morning to discover the owner. He knew that it was probably some bigger fellow who had been playing this game, and his common sense told him that it was best to take it good-humouredly as a joke, and yet at the same time to make it as little pleasant as possible for the perpetrator, even if he got thrashed himself. A bully or a joker of practical jokes is not likely to do things which cause himself a certain amount of discomfort, even if he succeeds in causing a still greater amount to someone else.
Walter cared very little for this adventure. It certainly annoyed him a little, and it showed him that some of the others in his dormitory must be more or less brutes, if they could find it amusing to break the sleep and play on the fears of a new boy the very night of his arrival among them. But he thought no more about it, and was quite determined that it should not happen often.
Far different was the case with poor little Arthur Eden, another new boy, who, as Walter had observed, occupied the bed next to him. He had been roused from his first sweet sleep in the same way, about the same time as Walter. But no one had prepared him for this annoyance, and as he was a very timid child, it filled him with terror; he was even so terrified that he did not know what it was. He lay quite still, not daring to speak, or make a sound, only clinging to his mattress with both hands in an agony of dread. He was already worn and bewildered with the events of the day. He had fallen amongst the Philistines; at the very moment of his arrival he had got into bad hands, the hands of boys who made sport of his weakness, corrupted his feelings, and lacerated his heart. He was very young—a mere child of twelve—and in the innocence of his simplicity he had unreservedly answered all their questions, and prattled to them about his home, about his twin sister, about nearly all his cherished secrets. In that short space of time he had afforded materials enough for the coarse jeers of the brutal, and the poignant ridicule of the cruel for many a long day. Something of this derision had begun already, and he had found no secret place to hide his tears. That they would call him a milksop, a molly-coddle, and all kinds of horrid names, he knew, and he had tried manfully to bear-up under persecution. It was not until after many hot and silent drops had relieved the fever of his overwrought brain, that sleep had come to him, and now it was broken thus.
O parents and guardians—anxious, yet unwise class—why, tell me why, knowing all that you must know, do you send such children as this to school? Eden's mother, indeed, had opposed the step, but his guardian (for the boy's father was dead), seeing that he was being spoilt at home, and that he was naturally a shrinking and timid lad, had urged that he should be sent to Saint Winifred's, with some vague notion of making a man of him. He might as well have thrown a piece of Brussels lace into the fire with the intention of changing it into open iron-work. The proper place for little Eden would have been some country parsonage, where care and kindliness might have gradually helped him, as he grew older, to acquire the faculties which he had not; whereas, in this case, a public school only impaired for a time in that tender frame the bright yet delicate qualities which he had.
The big, clumsy ne'er-do-well of a boy, Cradock by name, who was choking with secret laughter as he tilted little Eden's bed—leaving a pause of frightful suspense now and then to let him recover breath and realise his situation—was as raw and ill-trained a fellow as you like, but he had nothing in him wilfully or diabolically wicked. If he had been similarly treated he would have broken into a great guffaw, and emptied his water-jug over the intruder; and yet if he could have seen the new boy at that moment, he would have seen that pretty little face—only meant as yet for the smiles of childhood—white with an almost idiotic terror, and he would have caught a staring and meaningless look in the glassy eyes which were naturally so bright and blue. But he really did not know—being merely an overgrown stupid fellow—the mischief he was doing, and the absolute horrible torment that his jest (?) was inflicting.
Finding that his joltings produced no apparent effect, and thinking that Eden might, by some strange somnolence peculiar to new boys, sleep through it all, he tilted the bed a little too high, and then indeed a wild shriek rang through the room as the mattress and clothes tumbled right over at the foot of the bed, and flung the child violently on the floor. Fortunately the heap of bed-clothes prevented him from being much hurt, and Cradock had just time to pick him up and huddle him into bed again, and jump back into his own bed, when the lamp of one of the masters, who had been attracted by Eden's cry, appeared through the door. The master, finding all quiet, and having come from a distant room, supposed that his ears had deceived him, or that the cry was some accidental noise outside the building. He merely walked round the room, and seeing Eden's bed-clothes rather tumbled, kindly helped the trembling child to replace them in a more comfortable order, and left the room.
"I say, that's quite enough for one night," said the voice of one of the boys, when the master had disappeared. "You new fellows can go to sleep. Nobody'll touch you again to-night." The speaker was Franklin, rather a scapegrace in some respects, but a boy of no unkindly nature.
The light and the noise had revealed to Walter something of what must have taken place. In his own case, he cared very little for the assurance that he would not be molested again that night, feeling quite sure that he could hold his own against anyone, and that his former enemy, at any rate, would not be likely to assault him again. But he was very, very glad for poor little Eden's sake, having caught a momentary glimpse of his scared and pitiable look.
Walter could not sleep for a long time, not till long after he heard from the regular breathings of the others that they were all in deep slumber. For there were sounds which came from Eden's bed which disturbed his heart with pity. His feelings bled for the poor little fellow, so young and fresh from home, a newcomer like himself, but evidently so little accustomed to this roughness and so little able to protect his own interests. For a long time into the night he heard the poor child crying and sobbing to himself, though he was clearly trying to stifle the sound. At last Walter could stand it no longer, and feeling sure that the rest were sound asleep, he whispered in his kindest tone, for he didn't know his neighbour's name—
"I say, you little new fellow."
The sound of sobbing was hushed for a moment, but the boy seemed afraid to answer; so Walter said again—"Are you awake?"
"Yes," said a weak, childish voice.
"Don't be afraid; I'm a new fellow, too. Tell me your name."
"Eden," he whispered tremulously, though reassured by the kindly tone of voice. "Hush! hush! you'll awake someone."
"No, I won't," said Walter. "Here, I'll come and speak to you;" and stepping noiselessly out of bed, he whispered in Eden's ear, "Never mind, my poor little fellow; don't be frightened; the boy didn't mean to hurt you; he was only shoving your bed up and down for a joke. Someone did the same to me, so I jumped up and licked him with a slipper."
"But I got so frightened. Oh, do you think they'll do it again to-night?"
"No, certainly, not again to-night," said Walter; "they're all asleep; and if anyone does it again another night, you must just slip out of bed and not mind it. It doesn't hurt."
"Thank you," whispered Eden; "you're very kind, and nobody else has been kind to me here. Will you tell me your name?"
"My name's Walter Evson. Do you know, your voice and look remind me of my little brother. There," he said, tucking him up in bed, "now good-night, and go to sleep."
The little fellow pressed Walter's hand hard, said good-night, and soon forgot his misery in a sleep of pure weariness. I do not think that he would have slept at all that night, but for the comforting sense that he had found, to lean upon, a stronger nature and a stronger character than his own. Walter heard him breathing peacefully, and then he too fell asleep, and neither woke nor dreamt (that he was aware of), until half-past seven the next morning, when a servant roused the boys by ringing a large hand-bell in their ears.
The sorrows of thy youthful day Shall make thee wise in coming years! The brightest rainbows ever play Above the fountains of our tears.
Walter jumped up and began to dress at once; Eden, still looking pale and frightened, soon followed his example, and recognised him with a smile of gratitude. None of the other five boys who occupied the room thought of stirring until the chapel-bell began to ring, which left them the ample space of a quarter of an hour for their orisons, ablutions, and all other necessary preparations!
Walter, who was now half-dressed, glanced at them as they got up, to discover the owner of the slipper, which he still kept in his possession. He watched for the one-sandalled enemy as eagerly as Pelias may be supposed to have done. First Jones tumbled out of bed, not even deigning a surly recognition, but Jones had his right complement of slippers. Then two other fellows, named Anthony and Franklin, not quite so big as Jones; their slippers were all right. Then Cradock, who looked a little shyly at Eden, and, after a while, told him that he was only playing a joke the night before, and was sorry for having frightened him; and last, Harpour, the biggest of the lot. Harpour was one of those fellows who are to be found in every school, and who are always dangerous characters: a huge boy, very low down in the forms, very strong, very stupid in work, rather good-looking, generally cut by the better sort, unredeemed by any natural taste or accomplishment, wholly without influence except among little boys (whom he alternately bullied and spoilt), and only kept at school by his friends, because they were rather afraid of him, and did not quite know what to do with him. They called it "keeping him out of mischief," but the mischief he did at school was a thousandfold greater than any which he could have done elsewhere; for, except at school, he would have been comparatively powerless to do any positive harm.
By the exhaustive process of reasoning, Walter had already concluded that Harpour must have been his nocturnal disturber; and, accordingly, after thrusting a foot into a slipper, Harpour began to exclaim, "Hallo! where's my other slipper? Confound it, I shall be late; I can't dress; where's my other slipper?"
Wishing to leave him without escape from the necessity of betraying himself to have been the author of last night's raid, Walter made no sign, until Harpour, who had not any time to lose, said to him—
"Hi! you new chap, have you got my slipper?"
"I've got a slipper," said Walter, blandly.
"The deuce you have. Then give it here, this minute."
"I captured it off someone's leg, who was under my bed last night," said Walter, giving it into Harpour's hand.
"The deuce you did!"
"Yes; and I smacked the fellow with it, as I will do again, if he comes again."
"The deuce you will! Then take that for your impudence," said Harpour, intending to bring down the slipper on his shoulder; but Walter dodged down, and parrying the blow with his arm, sent the slipper in a graceful parabola across the wash-hand-stand into Jones's basin.
"So, so," said Harpour, "you're a pretty cool hand, you are! Well, I've no time to settle accounts with you now, or I should be late for chapel. But—"
A significant pantomime explained the remainder of the sentence, and then Harpour, standing in his one slipper, hastily adjourned to his toilet. Walter, being dressed in good time, knelt down for a few moments of hearty prayer, helped poor Eden, who was as helpless as though he had been always dressed by a servant, to finish dressing, and ran across the court into the chapel just as the bell stopped. There were still two minutes before the door was shut, and he occupied them by watching the boys as they streamed in, many of them with their waistcoats only half buttoned, and others with the water-drops still dangling from their hastily combed hair. He saw Tracy saunter in very neat, but with a languid air of disapprobation, blushing withal as he entered; Eden, whose large eyes looked bewildered until he caught sight of Walter and sat down beside him; Kenrick, beaming as ever, who nodded to him as he passed by; Henderson, who, notwithstanding the time and place, found opportunity to whisper to him a hope that he had washed his desirable person in clear water; Plumber looking as if his credulity had been gorged beyond endurance; Daubeny, with eyes immovably fixed in the determination to know his lessons that day; and lastly, Harpour, who had just time to scuffle in hot, breathless, and exceedingly untidy, as the chaplain began the opening sentence.
"Where am I to go now?" asked Eden, when chapel was over.
"Well, Eden, I know as little as you. You'd better ask your tutor. Here, Kenrick," said Walter, "which of those black gowns is Mr Robertson?—this fellow's tutor and mine."
Kenrick pointed out one of the masters, to whom Eden went; and then Walter asked, "Where am I to go to Mr Paton's form?"
"Here, let me lead the victim to the sacrifice," said Henderson. "O for a wreath of cypress or funeral yew, or—"
"Nettles?" suggested Kenrick.
"Observe, new boy," said Henderson, "your eternal friend's delicate insinuation that you are a donkey. Here, come with me and I'll take you to be patted on." Henderson's exuberant spirits prevented his ever speaking without giving vent to slang, bad puns, or sheer good-humoured nonsense.
"Aren't you in that form, Kenrick?" asked Walter, as he saw him diverging to the right.
"Oh no! dear me, no!" said Henderson. "I am, but the eternal friend is at least two forms higher; he, let me tell you, is a star of no ordinary magnitude; he's in the Thicksides"—meaning the Thucydides' class. "You'll require no end of sky-climbing before you reach his altitude. And now, victim, behold your sacrificial priest," he said, placing Walter at the end of a table among some thirty boys who were seated in front of a master's desk in the large schoolroom, in various parts of which other forms were also beginning work under similar superintendence. When all the forms were saying lessons at the same time it may be imagined that the room was not very still, and that a master required good lungs who had to teach and talk there for hours.
Not that Mr Paton's form contributed very much to the quota of general noise. Although Henderson had chaffed Daubeny on his virtuous stillness, yet all the boys sat very nearly as quiet as Dubbs himself during school hours. Even Henderson and such mercurial spirits were awed into silence and sobriety. You would hardly have known that in that quarter of the room there was a form at all. Quicksilver itself would have lost its volatility under Mr Paton's manipulation.
It was hard at first sight to say why this was. Certainly Mr Paton set many punishments, but so did other masters, who had not half his success. The secret was that Mr Paton was something of a routinier, and that was the word which, if he had known it, Kenrick would have used to describe him. If he set an imposition, the imposition must be done, and must be done at a certain time, without appeal, and causa indicta. Mr Paton was as deaf as Pluto to all excuses, and as inexorable as Rhadamanthus in his retributive dispensations. Neither Orpheus nor Amphion would have moved him. Orpheus might have made all the desks and forms dance round as they listened to his song, but he could never have got Mr Paton to let off fifty lines; and Amphion would have been equally unsuccessful even if the walls of the court had come as petitioners in obedience to his strains. As for remitting a lesson, Mr Paton would not have done it if Saint Cecilia had offered him the whole wreath of red and white roses which the admiring angels twined in her golden hair.
Mr Paton's rule was not the leaden rule of Lesbos [Aristophanes, Nic. Eth., v. 14.]; it could not be bent to suit the diversities of individual character, but was a rule iron and inflexible, which applied equally to all. His measure was that of Procrustes; the cleverest boys could not stretch themselves beyond it, the dullest were mechanically pulled into its dimensions. Hence some fared hardly under it; yet let me hasten to say that, on the whole, with the great number of average boys, it was a success. The discipline which he established was perfect, and though many boys winced under it at the time, it was valuable to all of them, especially to those of an idle or sluggish tendency; and as it was rigid just as well as severe, they often learned to look back upon it with gratitude and respect.
After a time the form went up to say a lesson. Each boy was put on in turn. When it came to Walter's turn Mr Paton first inquired his name, which he entered with extreme neatness in his class-book—a book in which there was not a single blot from the first page to the last. He then put him on as he had put on the rest.
"I had no book, sir, and didn't know what the lesson was," said Walter.
"Excuses, sir, excuses!" said Mr Paton sternly. "You mean that you haven't learnt the lesson."
"A bad beginning, Evson; bring me no excuses in future. You must write the lesson out." And an ominous entry implying this fact was written by Walter's freshly-entered name. Most men would have excused the first punishment, and contented themselves with a word of admonition; but this wasn't Mr Paton's way. He held with Escalus that—
"Mercy is not itself that oft looks so! Pardon is still the nurse of second woe."
[Measure for Measure, act two, scene 1.]
Now it happened that Walter hated excuses, and had always looked on them as first cousins to lies, and he determined never again to render to Mr Paton any reason which could by any possibility be construed into an excuse. He therefore had to undergo a large amount of punishment, which he flattered himself could not by any possibility have been avoided.
On this occasion Henderson was also turned, and with him a boy named Bliss. It was quite impossible for Henderson to be unemployed on some nonsense, and heedless of the fact that he was himself Bliss's companion in misfortune, he opened a poetry-book, and taking Lycidas as his model, sat unusually still, while he occupied himself in composing a "Lament for Blissidas," beginning pathetically—
"Poor Blissidas is turned; turned ere his prime Young Blissidas, and hath not left his peer; Who would not weep for Blissidas? He knew Himself to say his Rep.—but give him time— He must not quaff his glass of watery beer Unchaffed, or write, his paper ruled and lined, Without the meed of some melodious jeer."
"I'll lick you, Flip, after school," said the wrathful Bliss, shaking his fist, as Henderson began to whisper to him this monody.
"Why do they call you Flip?" asked Walter laughing.
"Short for Flibberty-gibbet," said Bliss.
"Bliss, Henderson, and Evson, do me two hundred lines each," said Mr Paton; and so on this, his first morning in school, a second punishment was entered against Walter's name.
"Whew-w-w... abomination of... spoken of by... hush!" was Henderson's whispered comment. "I call that hard lines." But he continued his "Lament for Blissidas" notwithstanding, introducing Saint Winifred and other mourners over Bliss's fate, and ending with the admonition that in writing the lines he was—
"To touch the tender tops of various quills, And mind and dot his quaint enamelled i's."
When Walter asked his tutor for the paper on which to write his punishment, Mr Robertson said to him, "Already, Evson!" in a tone of displeasure, and with a sarcasm hardly inferior to that of Talleyrand's celebrated "Deja." "Two hundred lines and a lesson to write out already!" Bitter; with no sign of sympathy, without one word of inquiry, of encouragement for the future, or warning about the past; no advice given, no interest shown; no wonder that Walter never got on with his tutor.
The days that began for Walter from this time were days of darkness and disappointment. He was not deficient in natural ability, but he had undergone no special training for Saint Winifred's School, and consequently many things were new to him in which other boys had been previously trained. The practice of learning grammar by means of Latin rules was particularly trying to him. He could have easily mastered the facts which the rules were intended to impress, but the empirical process suggested for arriving at the facts he could not remember, even if he could have construed the crabbed Latin in which it was conveyed. His father, too, had never greatly cultivated his powers of memory, and hence he felt serious difficulty at first with the long lessons that had to be learnt by heart.
Mr Paton's system was simply this. If a boy failed in a lesson from any mundane cause whatever, he had to write it out; if he failed to bring it written out, he had to write it twice; if he was turned in a second lesson he was sent to detention, i.e., he was kept in during play hours; if this process was long-continued he was sent to the headmaster in disgrace, and ran the chance of being flogged as an incorrigible idler. Mr Paton, who was devoted to a system, made no allowance for difference of ability, or for idiosyncrasies of temperament; he was a truly good man, at bottom a really kind-hearted man, and a genuine Christian; but the system which he had adopted was his "idol of the cave," and, as we said before, the Kavwv molubdinos was unknown to him.
Now, the way the system worked on Walter was this: he failed in lessons because they were so new to him that he found it impossible to master them. He was not accustomed to work in such a crowded and noisy place as the great schoolroom, and the early hour for going to bed left little time for evening work. Accordingly he often failed, and whenever he did, the impositions, or detentions, or both, took away from his available time for mastering his difficulties, and as this necessitated fresh failures, every single punishment became frightfully accumulative, and, alas! before three weeks were over, Walter was "sent up for bad" to the headmaster. By this he felt degraded and discouraged to the last degree. Moreover, harm was done to him in many other ways. Conscious that all this disgrace had come upon him without any serious fault of his own, and even in spite of his direct and strenuous efforts, he became oppressed with a sense of injustice and undeserved persecution. The apparent uselessness of every attempt to shake himself free from these trammels of routine rendered him desperate and reckless, and the serious diminution of his hours for play and exercise made him dispirited and out-of-sorts. And all this brought on a bitter fit of homesickness, during which he often thought of writing home and imploring to be removed from the school, or even of taking his deliverance into his own hands, and running away himself. But he knew that his father and mother were already distressed beyond measure to hear of the mill-round of punishment and discredit into which he had fallen, and about which he frankly informed them; so for their sakes he determined to bear-up a little longer.
Walter was getting a bad name as an idler, and was fast losing his self-respect. And when that sheet-anchor is once lost, anything may happen to the ship; however gay its trim, however taut its sides, however delicate and beautiful the curve of its prow, it may drive before the gale, it may be dashed pitilessly among the iron rocks, or stranded hopelessly upon the harbour bar. A little more of this discipline, and a boy naturally noble-hearted and capable, might have been transformed into a mere moon-calf, like poor Plumber, or a cruel and vicious bully, like Harpour or Jones.
Happily our young Walter was saved by other influences from losing his self-respect. He was saved from it by one or two kindly and genial friendships; by success in other lines, and by the happy consciousness that his presence at Saint Winifred's was a help and comfort to some who needed such assistance with sore need.
One afternoon he was sitting disconsolately on a bench which ran along a blank wall on one side of the court, doing absolutely nothing. He was too disgusted with the world and with himself even to take up a novel. It was three o'clock, and the court was deserted for the playground, as a match had been announced that afternoon between the sixth-form and the school, at which all but a very few (who never did anything but loaf about), were either playing or looking on. To sit with his head bent down, on a bench in an empty court doing nothing while a game was going on, was very unlike the Walter Evson of six weeks before; but at that moment Walter was weary of detention, which was just over; he was burdened with punishments, he was half sick for want of exercise, and he was too much out of spirits to do anything. Kenrick and Henderson had noticed and lamented the change in him. Not exactly knowing the causes of his ill-success, they were astonished to find so apparently clever a boy taking his place among the sluggards and dunces. With this, however, they concerned themselves less than with the settled gloom which was falling over him, and which rendered him much less available when they wanted to refresh themselves by talking a little nonsense, or amusing themselves in any other way. On this day, guessing how it was likely to be, Kenrick had proposed not to join the game until detention was over, and then to make Evson come up and play; and Henderson had kindly offered to stay with him, and add his persuasions to his friend's.
As they came out ready dressed for football, they caught sight of him.
"Come along, old fellow; you're surely going to fight for the school against the sixth," said Kenrick.
"Isn't it too late?"
"No; anyone is allowed a quarter of an hour's grace."
"Excuse number one bowled down," said Henderson.
"But I'm not dressed; I shan't have time to put on my Jersey."
"Never mind, you'll only want your cap and belt, and can play in your shirt-sleeves."
"There goes excuse number two; so cut along," said Henderson, "and get your belt. We'll wait for you here. Why, the eternal friend's getting as wasted with misery as the daughter of Babylon," said Henderson, as Walter ran off.
"Yes," said Kenrick. "I don't like to see that glum look instead of the merry face he came with. Never mind; the game'll do him good; I never saw such a player; he looks just like the British lion when he gets into the middle of the fray; plunges at everything, and shakes his mane. Here he is; come along."
They ran up and found a hotly-contested game swaying to and fro between the goals; and Walter, who was very active and a first-rate runner, was soon in the thick of it. As the evenness of the match grew more apparent the players got more and more excited. It had been already played several times, and no base had been kicked, except once by each side, when the scale had been turned by a heavy wind. Hence they exhibited the greatest eagerness, as school and sixth alike held it a strong point of honour to win, and a shout of approval greeted any successful catch or vigorous kick.
Whenever the ball was driven beyond the bounds, it was kicked straight in, generally a short distance only, and the players on both sides struggled for it as it fell. During one of these momentary pauses Kenrick whispered to Walter, "I say, Evson, next time it's driven outside I'll try to get it, and if you'll stand just beyond the crowd I'll kick it to you, and you can try a run."
"Thanks," said Walter eagerly, "I'll do my best." The opportunity soon occurred. Kenrick ran for the ball; a glance showed him where Walter was standing; he kicked it with precision, and not too high, so that there was no time for the rest to watch where it was likely to descend. Walter caught it, and before the others could recover from their surprise, was off like an arrow. Of course, the whole of the opposite side were upon him in a moment, and he had to be as quick as a deer, and as wary as a cat. But now his splendid running came in, and he was, besides, rather fresher than the rest. He dodged, he made wide detours, he tripped some and sprang past others, he dived under arms and through legs, he shook off every touch, wrenched himself free from one capturer by leaving in his hands the whole shoulder of his shirt, and got nearer and nearer to the goal. At last he saw that there was one part of the field comparatively undefended; in this direction he darted like lightning—charged and spilt, by the vehemence of his impulse, two fellows who stood with outstretched arms to stop him—seized the favourable instant, and by a swift and clever drop-kick, sent the ball flying over the bar amid deafening cheers, just as half the other side flung him down and precipitated themselves over his body.
The run was so brilliant and so plucky, and the last burst so splendid, that even the defeated side could hardly forbear to cheer him. As for the conquerors, their enthusiasm knew no bounds; they shook Walter by the hand, patted him on the back, clapped him, and at last lifted him on their shoulders for general inspection. As yet he was known to very few, and "Who's that nice-looking little fellow who got the school a base?" was a question which was heard on every side.
"That's Evson; Evson; Evson, a new fellow," answered Kenrick, Henderson, and all who knew him, as fast as they could, in reply to the general queries. They were proud to know him just then, and this little triumph occurred in the nick of time to raise poor Walter in his own estimation.
"Thanks, Kenrick, thanks," he said, warmly grasping his friend's hand, as they left the field. "They ought to have cheered you, not me, for if it hadn't been for you I should not have got that base."
"Pooh!" was the answer; "I couldn't have got it myself under any circumstances; and even if I could, it is at least as much pleasure to me that you should have done it."
Of all earthly spectacles few are more beautiful, and in some respects more touching, than a friendship between two boys, unalloyed by any taint of selfishness, indiscriminating in its genuine enthusiasm, delicate in its natural reserve. It is not always because the hearts of men are wiser, purer, or better than the hearts of boys, that "summae puerorum amicitia: saepe cum toga deponuntur."
A BURST OF WILFULNESS.
—Nunquamne reponam Vexatus toties?
Juvenal i. i.
Although Walter's football triumphs prevented him from losing self-respect and sinking into wretchlessness or desperation, they did not save him from his usual arrears of punishment and extra work. Besides this, it annoyed him bitterly to be always, and in spite of all effort, bottom, or nearly bottom, of his form. He knew that this grieved and disappointed his parents nearly as much as himself, and he feared that they would not understand the reason which, in his case, rendered it excusable—viz., the enormous amount of purely routine work for which other boys had been prepared by previous training, and in which, under his present discouragements and inconveniences, he felt it impossible to recover ground. It was hard to be below boys to whom he knew himself to be superior in every intellectual quality; it was hard for a boy really clever and lively, to be set down at once as an idler and dunce. And it made Walter very miserable. For meanwhile Mr Paton had taken quite a wrong view of his character. He answered so well at times, construed so happily, and showed such bright flashes of intelligence and interest in parts of his work, that Mr Paton, making no allowances for new methods and an untrained memory, set him down, by an error of judgment, as at once able and obstinate, capable of doing excellently, and wilfully refusing to do so. This was a phase of character which always excited his indignation; and it was for the boy's own sake that he set himself to correct it, if possible. On both sides, therefore, there was some misunderstanding, and a consequent exacerbation of mind which told injuriously on their daily intercourse.
Walter's vexation and misery reached its acme on the receipt by his father of his first school character, which document his father sent back for Walter's own perusal, with a letter which, if not actually reproachful, was at least uneasy and dissatisfied in tone.
For the character itself Walter cared little, knowing well that it was founded throughout on misapprehension; but his father's letter stirred the very depths of his heart, and made them turbid with passion and sorrow. He received it at dinner-time, and read it as he went across the court to the detention-room, of which he was now so frequent an occupant. It was a bright September day, and he longed to be out at some game, or among the hills, or on the shore. Instead of that, he was doomed for his failures to two long weary hours of mechanical pen-driving, of which the results were torn up when the two hours were over. He had had no exercise for the last week; all his spare time had been taken up with impositions; Mr Robertson had given him a severe and angry lecture that morning; even Mr Paton, who rarely used strong language, had called him intolerable and incorrigible, and had threatened a second report to the headmaster, because this was the tenth successive Greek grammar lesson in which he had failed. Added to all this, he was suffering from headache and lassitude. And now his father's letter was the cumulus of his misfortunes. A rebellious, indignant, and violent spirit rose in him. Was he always, for no fault of his own, to be bullied, baited, driven, misunderstood, and crushed in this way? If it was of no use trying to be good, and to do his duty, how would it do to try the other experiment—to fling off the trammels of duty and principle altogether; to do all those things which inclination suggested and the moral sense forbade; to enjoy himself; to declare himself on the side of pleasure and self-indulgence? Certainly this would save him from much unpleasantness and annoyance in many ways. He was young, vigorous, active; he might easily make himself more popular than he was with the boys; and as for the authorities, do what he would, it appeared that he could hardly be in worse disrepute than now. Vice bade high: as he thought of it all, his pen flew faster, and his pulse seemed to send the blood bounding through his veins as he tightened the grasp of his left-hand round the edge of the desk.
Hitherto the ideal which he had set before him, as the standard to be attained during his school-life, had been one in which a successful devotion to duty, and a real effort to attain to "godliness and good learning," had borne the largest share. But on this morning a very different ideal rose before him; he would abandon all interest in school work, and only aim at being a gay, high-spirited boy, living solely for pleasure, amusement, and self-indulgence. There were many such around him—heroes among their schoolfellows, popular, applauded, and proud. Sin seemed to sit lightly and gracefully upon them. Endowed as he was with every gift of person and appearance, to this condition at least he felt that he could easily attain. It was an ideal not, alas! unnatural to the perilous age:
"Which claims for manhood's vice the privilege Of boyhood—when young Dionysius seems All joyous as he burst upon the East A jocund and a welcome conqueror; And Aphrodite, sweet as from the sea She rose, and floated in her pearly shell A laughing girl; when lawless will erects Honour's gay temple on the Mount of God, And meek obedience bears the coward's brand; While Satan in celestial panoply With Sin, his lady, smiling by his side, Defies all heaven to arms."
Yes; he would follow the multitude to do all the evil which he saw being done around him; it looked a joyous and delightful prospect. He gazed on the bright vision of sin, on the iridescent waters of pleasure; and did not know that the brightness was a mirage of the burning desert, the iridescence a film of corruption over a stagnant pool.
The letter from home was his chief stumbling-block. He loved his father and mother with almost passionate devotion; he clung to his home with an intensity of concentrated love. He really had tried to please them, and to do his best; but yet they didn't seem to give him credit for it. Look at this cold reproachful letter; it maddened him to think of it.
There was only one thing which checked him. It was a little voice, which had been more silent lately, because other and passionate tones were heard more loudly; but yet even from a child poor Walter had been accustomed to listen with reverence to its admonitions. It was a voice behind him saying—"This is the way, walk ye in it," now that he was turning aside to the right-hand or to the left. But the noble accents in which it whispered of patience were drowned just now in the clamorous turbulence of those other voices of appeal.
The two hours of detention were over, and the struggle was over too. Walter drew his pen with a fierce and angry scrawl over the lines he had written, showed them up to the master in attendance with a careless and almost impudent air, and was hardly out of the room before he gave a shout of emancipation and defiance. Impatience and passion had won the day.
He ran up to the playground as hard as he could tear to work off the excitement of his spirits, and get rid of the inward turmoil. On a grass bank at the far end of it he saw two boys seated, whom he knew at once to be Henderson and Kenrick, who, for a wonder, were reading, not green novels, but Shakespeare!
"I'll tell you what it is, Henderson," he said; "I can't and I won't stand this any longer. It's the last detention breaks the boy's back. I hate Saint Winifred's, I hate Dr Lane, I hate Robertson, and I hate, hate, hate Paton!" he said, stamping angrily.
"Hooroop!" said Henderson; "so the patient Evson is on fire at last. Tell it not to Dubbs."
"Why, Walter, what's all this about?" asked Kenrick.
"Why, Ken," said Walter, more quietly, "here's a history of my life: Greek grammar, lines, detention, caning—caning, detention, lines, Greek grammar. I'm sick of it; I can't and I won't stand it any more."
"Whether," spouted Henderson, from the volume on his knee—
"'Whether 'twere nobler for the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arms against a sea of troubles. And by opposing end them!'"
"End them I will," said Walter; "somehow, I'll pay him out, depend upon it."
"Recte si possis si non quocunque modo," said Somers, the head of the school, whose fag Walter was, and who, passing by at the moment, caught the last sentence; "what is the excitement among you small boys?"
"The old story—pitching into Paton," said Kenrick indifferently, and rather contemptuously; for he was a protege of Somers, and felt annoyed that he should see Walter's unreasonable display, the more so as Somers had asked him already, "why he was so much with that idle new fellow who was always being placed lag in his form?"
"What's it all about?" asked Somers of Kenrick.
"Because he gets lines for missing his grammar, I suppose." There was something in the tone which was especially offensive to Walter; for it sounded as if Kenrick wanted to show him the cold shoulder before his great friend, the head of the school.
"Oh, that all? Well, my dear fellow, the remedy's easy; work at it a little harder;" and Somers walked on, humming a tune.
"I wonder what he calls harder," said Walter, shaking his fist; "when I first came I used to get up quite early in the morning, and learn it till I was half-stupid; I wonder whether he ever did as much?"
"Well, but it's no good abusing Paton," said Kenrick; "of course, if you don't know the lesson, he concludes you haven't learnt it."
"Thank you for nothing, Kenrick," said Walter curtly; "come along, Flip."
Kenrick was vexed; he was conscious of having shown a little coolness and want of sympathy; and he looked anxiously after Henderson and Walter as they walked away.
Presently he started up, and ran after them. "Don't be offended, Walter, my boy," he said, seizing his hand. "I didn't mean to be cold just now; but, really, I don't see why you should be so very wrathful with Paton; what can a master do if one fails in a lesson two or three times running? he must punish one, I suppose."
"Hang Paton," said Walter, shaking off his hand rather angrily, for he was now thoroughly out of temper.
"O, very well, Evson," said Kenrick, whose chief fault was an intense pride, which took fire on the least provocation, and which made him take umbrage at the slightest offence; "catch me making an advance to you again. Henderson, you left your book on the grass;" and turning on his heel, he walked slowly away—heavy at heart, for he liked Walter better than any other boy in the school, and was half ashamed to break with him about such a trifle.
Henderson, apart from his somewhat frivolous and nonsensical tone, was a well-meaning fellow. When he was walking with Walter, he had intended to chaff him about his sudden burst of ill-temper, and jest away his spirit of revenge; but he saw that poor Walter was in no mood for jokes, and he quite lacked the moral courage to give good advice in a sober or serious way, or to recommend any course because it was right. This, at present, was beyond Henderson's standard of good, so he left Walter and went back for his book.
And Walter, flinging into the schoolroom, found several spirits seven times more wicked than himself, and fed the fire of his wrath with the fuel of unbounded abuse, mockery, and scorn of Mr Paton, in which he was heartily abetted by the others, who hailed all indications that Walter was likely to become one of themselves. And that evening, instead of attempting to get up any of his work, Walter wasted the whole time of preparation in noise, folly, and turbulence; for which he was duly punished by the master on duty.
He got up next morning breathing, with a sense of defiance and enjoyment, his new atmosphere of self-will. He, of course, broke down utterly, more utterly than ever, in his morning lessons, and got a proportionately longer imposition. Going back to his place, he purposely flung down his books on the desk, one after another with a bang; and for each book which he had flung down, Mr Paton gave him a hundred lines, whereupon he laughed sarcastically, and got two hundred more. Conscious that the boys were watching with some amusement this little exhibition of temper and trial of wills, he then took out a sheet of paper, wrote on it, in large letters, the words Two Hundred Lines for Mr Paton, and, amid the tittering of the form, carried it up to Mr Paton's desk.
This was the most astoundingly impudent and insubordinate act which had ever been done to Mr Paton for years, and it was now his turn to be angry. But mastering his anger with admirable determination, he merely said, "Evson, you must be beside yourself this morning; it is very rarely, indeed, that a new boy is so far gone in disobedience as this. I have no hesitation in saying that you are the most audacious and impertinent new boy with whom I have ever had to deal. I must cane you in my room after detention, to which you will of course go."
"Thank you, sir," said Walter, with a smile of impudent sang froid; and the form tittered again as he walked noisily to his seat. But Mr Paton, allowing for his violent frame of mind, took no notice of this last affront.
Whereupon Walter, taking another large piece of paper, and a spluttering quill pen, wrote on it, with a great deal of scratching—
Due from Evson to Mr Paton.
For missing lesson... 100 lines. For laying down books... 300 lines. For laughing... 200 lines. For writing 200 lines... A caning.
Detention, of course. Thank you for nothing.
And on the other side of the sheet he wrote in large letters—"No Go!" Which, being done, he passed the sheet along the form pour encourager les autres.
"Evson," said Mr Paton, quietly, "bring me that paper."
Walter took it up—looking rather alarmed this time—but with the side "No go!" uppermost.
"What is this, Evson?"
"Number ninety, sir," said Walter, amid the now unconcealed laughter of the rest, who knew very well that he had intended it for "No go."
Mr Paton looked curiously at Walter for a minute, and then said, "Evson, Evson, I could not have thought you so utterly foolish. Well, you know that each fresh act must have its fresh punishment. You must leave the room now, and besides all your other punishments I must also report you to the headmaster. You can best judge with what result."
This was a mistake of Mr Paton's—a mistake of judgment only—for which he cannot be blamed. But it was a disastrous mistake. Had he been at all a delicate judge or reader of the phenomena of character, he would have observed at once that at that moment there was a wild spirit of anger, a rankling sense of injustice and persecution in Walter's heart, which no amount of punishment could have cowed. Walter just then might without the least difficulty have been goaded into some act of violence which would have rendered expulsion from the school an unavoidable consequence. So easy is it to petrify the will, to make a boy bad in spite of himself, and to spoil, with no intentions but those of kindliness and justice, the promise of a fair young life. For when the will has once been suffered to grow rigid by obstinacy—a result which is very easy to avoid—no power on earth can bend it at the time. Had Mr Paton sent Walter out of the room before; had he at the end said, "Evson, you are not yourself to-day, and I forgive you," Walter would have been in a moment as docile and as humble as a child. But as it was, he left the room quite coolly, with a sneer on his lips, and banged the door; yet the next moment, when he found himself in the court alone, unsupported by the countenance of those who enjoyed his rebelliousness, he seated himself on a bench in the courtyard, hung his head on his breast, and burst into a flood of tears. If any friend could have seen him at that moment, or spoken one word in season, how much pain the poor boy might have been saved! Kenrick happened to cross the court; the moment Walter caught sight of him he sat with head erect and arms folded, but Kenrick was not to be deceived. He had caught one glimpse of Walter first; he saw his eyes wet with tears, and knew that he was in trouble. He hung on his foot doubtfully for one moment—but then his pride came in; he remembered the little pettish repulse in the playground the day before; the opportunity was lost, and he walked slowly on. And Walter's heart grew as hard within him as a stone.