The Adventures of a Three-Guinea Watch
By Talbot Baines Reed This is really a most unusual book. Told, we must imagine, by the watch, we are led through the owner's days at a boys' boarding school, to being stolen, pawned, auctioned, taken to quite another small town, given to a brilliant local boy when he left for Cambridge, lost in a field, found, and through further adventures being taken to India to fight in a battle near Lucknow, finally making its way into the pocket of its original owner, whose life was saved by the watch having deflected a bullet.
It's well-told, too, and not too long, at under ten hours.
The copy we worked from was very browned, and it was not too easy to do the transcription, but we have done our best: if you find anything obviously wrong, don't hesitate to tell us about it. NH. THE ADVENTURES OF A THREE-GUINEA WATCH
BY TALBOT BAINES REED
MY INFANCY AND EDUCATION—HOW I WAS SOLD AND WHO BOUGHT ME.
"Then you can guarantee it to be a good one to go?"
"You couldn't have a better, sir."
"And it will stand a little roughish wear, you think?"
"I'm sure of it, sir; it's an uncommon strong watch."
"Then I'll take it."
These few sentences determined my destiny, and from that moment my career may be said to have begun.
I am old, and run down, and good for nothing now; but many a time do I find my thoughts wandering back to this far-off day; and remembering all that has befallen me since that eventful moment, I humbly hope my life has not been one to disgrace the good character with which I went out into the world.
I was young at the time, very young—scarcely a month old. Watches however, as every one knows, are a good deal more precocious in their infancy than human beings. They generally settle down to business as soon as they are born, without having to spend much of their time either in the nursery or the schoolroom.
Indeed, after my face and hands had once been well cleaned, and a brand- new shiny coat had been put on my back, it was years before I found myself again called upon to submit to that operation which is such a terror to all mortal children.
As to my education, it lasted just a week; and although I am bound to say, while it lasted, it was both carefully and skilfully managed, I did not at all fancy the discipline I was subjected to in the process. I used to be handed over to a creature who took me up and examined me (as if he were a policeman and a magistrate combined), and according as I answered his questions he exclaimed, "You're going too fast," or "You're going too slow," and with that he set himself to "regulate" me, as he called it. I was ordered to turn round, take off my coat, and submit my poor shoulders to his instrument of correction. But why need I describe this experience to boys? They know what "regulating" means as well as I do!
Well in due time I profited by the instructions received, and one day my tutor, after the usual examination, grumpily told me, "You're right at last; you can go." And I did go, and I've been going ever since.
The troubles of my infancy however were not all over. I discovered at a very early age that the one thing a watch is never allowed to do is to go to sleep. They'd as soon think of leaving an infant to starve as of letting a watch go to sleep.
But to my story. Ever since I had left school—or, in other words, gone through my due course of regulation—I had remained shut up under a glass-case, lying comfortably upon a bed of purple velvet, and decorated with a little white label bearing the mysterious inscription, "Only Three Guineas." From this stately repose I was only once a day disturbed in order to be kept from sleeping, and had all the rest of my time to look about me and observe what went on in the world in which I found myself.
It was not a big world indeed, but I could see I was not the only inhabitant. All around me were watches like myself, some of a golden complexion, and some—of which I was one—of a silvery. Some were big, and made an awful noise, and some were tiny, and just whispered what they had to say. Some were very proud, and showed off their jewels and chains in a way which made me blush for the vanity of my fellow- creatures—"dear" watches, the ladies called these, and others were as plain as plain could be.
Every now and then our case would be opened, and one of my neighbours taken out and never put back. Then we knew he had been sold, and we who were left spent our time in gossiping about what had become of him, and speculating whose turn would come next. A gold repeater near me was very confident the turn would be his, and so impressed us with the sense of his "striking" importance and claims, that when the next time our glass house was entered, and a hand came groping in our direction, I at once concluded it was his summons into publicity and honour. Imagine my astonishment, then, when the hand, instead of reaching my gold neighbour, took hold of me and cautiously drew me out of the case! My heart leaped to my mouth—or whatever part of a watch's anatomy corresponds with that organ—and I was ready to faint with excitement. I had always imagined I was to lie in that case for years, but now, when I was barely a month old, here was I going out into the world.
It made me quite bashful to listen to all the flattering things my master said of me. I was worth twice the price he was selling me at, he said; in fact, if trade had been good he would not have parted with me under three times that price. It was a relief to think the repeater could not overhear this, or he would have sneered in a way to extinguish me altogether. As it was, no other watch was by, so that I was not very much embarrassed.
After turning me over, and feeling my pulse, and listening to the beating of my heart, and taking off my coat and waistcoat to inspect my muscle, my master's customer at last laid me down on the counter and pronounced the sentences with which I have begun my story.
"Then I'll take it," he said, and pulled out his purse. "Stop a bit, though!" exclaimed he; "I'd better have a chain too, my little chap will think more of that than the watch. Let me see some silver chains, will you?"
So my master went and fetched a tray containing a large number of tempting-looking chains.
While he was gone my new owner took me up again in his hand and turned me over and put me to his ear; then as he laid me down again he smiled to himself and murmured.
"Bless his little heart! how proud he'll be!"
I was quite taken aback. Who was this taking upon himself to bless my little heart and prophesy that I should be proud? Then all of a sudden it occurred to me this remark may have been intended to refer not to me, but to the "little chap" the gentleman had just now spoken of. So I recovered my composure, especially when I saw what a kind, gentle face my purchaser had.
He chose a neat, strong silver chain which was forthwith, in accordance with the barbarous practice of the age, fixed to my poor neck. I could not help sighing as I felt for the first time the burden of bondage.
What had I done to be thus chained like a Roman captive, like a dog, like a parrot? But it was no use being in a rage. I swallowed my indignation as well as I could, and consoled myself with the reflection that every watch, even gold repeaters themselves, are subject to the same hardship.
Ah! I was young then, and my knowledge of the world was small. Many a time since I have blessed the chain that held me, just as the ship, could it speak, would bless the cable that saved it from the rocks. Take the advice of an old ticker, you young watches, and instead of rebelling against your chains, rather hope they may be strong and sound in every link!
"That will be just five pounds, won't it?" said my purchaser. "Here is a bank note. Never mind about doing it up, I'll just slip it into my pocket. Good-morning."
And with that I was conscious of being lowered into a dark, deep pit, and without time to bid my comrades good-bye, or to take a last look at my old master, I felt myself hurried away I knew not whither.
This, then, was my first step into the world.
I lay untouched and apparently forgotten for several hours. Gradually getting my eyes accustomed to the darkness, and looking about me as far as I was able, I heard a ticking going on in a pocket not very far from the one I was in, which I at once concluded to proceed from the watch of my new master. Thinking I might be able to gain some information from him, I groped about till I found a small hole in my lodgings through which I was able to peep, and call.
"Tick!" said I, as loud as I could, to secure the attention of my fellow-watch.
"Who's that?" at once exclaimed the other.
"I'm a new watch, bought to-day."
"Humph! How much?"
"Chain and all?"
"No; five pounds with the chain."
"Humph, I cost thirty guineas. Never mind, you're for the boy."
"The governor's. I heard him say he was going to get him one. That boy will be spoiled, as sure as I go on springs; he's made such a lot of. Have you been regulated?"
"I should think I have!" exclaimed I, in indignant recollection of my education.
"All right; keep your temper. What time are you?"
"Seven minutes to six."
"Wrong! It's seven and three-quarters!"
"How do you know?"
"Because that's what I make it."
"How do you know you are right?" I asked, wondering at my own impudence in thus questioning an old ticker.
"Look here, young fellow," said the other in an awful voice; "you don't seem to know you are addressing a gold watch that has neither gained nor lost a minute for five years! There! You may think yourself clever; but you're too fast."
"I'm sure I beg your—"
"That'll do!" said the offended veteran. "I want no more words."
I was completely shut up at this, and retired back to my pocket very crestfallen.
Presently I began to feel drowsy; my nerves seemed to get unstrung, and my circulation flagged. It was long after the time I had generally been in the habit of being wound up; and I began to be afraid I was really going to be left to go to sleep. That, by this time, I knew would be nothing short of a calamity. I therefore gave a slight tug at my chain.
"What's the matter?" it said, looking down.
"I've not been wound up."
"I can't help that," said the chain.
"Can't you let him know somehow?" I gasped, faintly.
"How can I? He's busy packing up books."
"Couldn't you catch yourself in his fingers or something? I'm in a bad way."
"I'll see," said the chain.
Presently I felt an awful tug at my neck, and I knew the chain had managed to entangle itself somehow with his fingers.
"Hullo!" I heard my master exclaim, "I mustn't smash Charlie's chain before I give it to him. I'd better put it and the watch away in my drawer till the morning. Heigho! it'll be a sad day for me to-morrow!"
As he spoke he drew me from the pocket, and, disengaging the chain from his button-hole, he laid us both in a drawer and shut it up. I was in despair, and already was nearly swooning from weakness.
He had shut the drawer, and his hand was still on the knob, when all of a sudden he exclaimed,—
"By the way, I must wind it up, or it'll stop!"
With what joy and relief I saw the drawer again opened, and felt myself taken out and wound up! Instantly new life seemed to infuse itself through my frame; my circulation revived, my nerves were strung again, and my drooping heart resumed its usual healthy throb. Little did my master think of the difference this winding up made to my health and comfort.
"Now you're happy!" said the chain, as we found ourselves once more in the drawer.
"Yes; I'm all right now, I'm glad to say," said I. "What's going to happen to us to-morrow?" I asked presently.
"We're going to be given to the boy, and he's going to school;" so the silver chain told me. "Nice time we shall have of it, I expect."
After that he went to sleep, and I fell to counting the seconds, and wondering what sort of life I was destined to lead.
About an hour after I heard two voices talking in the room.
"Well," said one, and I recognised it at once as my master's, "the packing's all finished at last."
"Ah, Charles," said the other, and it seemed to be a woman's voice speaking amid tears, "I never thought it would be so hard to part with him."
"Tut, tut!" said the first, "you mustn't give way, Mary. You women are so ready to break down. He'll soon be back;" but before my master had got to the end of his sentence he too had broken down.
For a long time they talked about their boy, their fine boy who had never before left his parents' roof, and was about now to step out into the treacherous world. How they trembled for him, yet how proudly and confidently they spoke of his prospects; how lovingly they recalled all their life together, from the days when he could first toddle about, down to the present.
Many tears were mingled with their talk, and many a smothered sob bespoke a desperate effort to subdue their common sorrow. At last they became quieter, then I heard my master say,—
"I positively have never shown you the watch I got for him," and with that he opened the drawer and produced me.
"Oh, Charles," cried the mother, "how delighted he will be, and what a capital watch it is!"
And she looked at me affectionately for a long time, for her son's sake, smiling through her tears, and then put me back.
Need I say that as these two knelt together that night, their only son was not forgotten in their prayers?
So ended the first day of my adventures.
HOW I WAS PRESENTED TO A BOY, AND OF A CERTAIN JOURNEY WE TOOK TOGETHER.
Very early next morning, when my hands scarcely pointed to five o'clock, the little household was astir. There was a noise of hurried going and coming, and of trunks being carried down stairs, and for the first time I heard mingled with the sedate voices of my master and his wife, another voice, cheery and musical, which I at once guessed to belong to my future lord and master.
It was not till after this bustle had been going on for a good while that I was taken out of the drawer and put back into the pocket in which I had spent so many anxious hours the day before. But here I was destined not to remain long, as will be seen.
Breakfast was a sad meal to that little family. Even the gay, high- spirited boy was sobered in anticipation of the coming parting, and as to his parents, they dared not open their lips for fear of breaking down.
Then there was a rumbling of wheels in the street, and a banging about of boxes at the hall door; then a last long embrace between mother and son. She no longer resisted her grief, and he for the time forgot everything but her he was leaving; then father and son stepped into the cab and drove away.
I felt the father's heart beating quicker and his chest heaving deeper as we proceeded. Presently his hand stole to the pocket where I lay hid, and he said—
"Charlie, boy, I've said all I have to say to you. You will remember our talk last night, I am sure, and I shall remember it too. I have no greater wish than to see my boy brave and honest and true to himself. Remember always I am your father, and never hesitate to tell me whenever you are in trouble, or danger, or—and I hope this won't often be—in disgrace. See here," said he, drawing me forth, "this is a watch which your mother and I have got for you. Think of us when you use it; and mind this, Charlie, make the best use of time, or time will become your enemy."
The poor man faltered out these words with a half-broken heart, as he handed me to his son.
The boy's eyes brightened and his face became radiant at the sight of his unexpected treasure. What boy does not covet a watch of his own at some time or other?
"Oh, father!" he cried, "how good and kind of you! What a beauty!"
The father smiled to see his son's delight, and helped to fasten the chain to his button-hole.
"You and mother are bricks!" exclaimed Charlie, feasting his eyes upon me, and half wild with delight. "How did you know I was longing to have one?"
"Were you?" inquired the father.
"Of course I was, and you knew it. What a swell I shall be! And it will always be sure to remind me of home."
While this talk was going on I had leisure to examine my new owner. Picture to yourselves a curly-haired, bright-eyed boy of thirteen with honest, open face, good features, and winning smile. He is big for his age, and strongly built. At present his form is arrayed in a brand-new suit of grey; his collar is new and his tie is new, his boots are new and his socks are new; everything is new about him, down to the very guard of his hat, and he himself is the newest and purest of all. Was ever such a radiant young hero turned loose into the world?
And now, over and above his other glories, he had me to crown all. The graceful curve of my chain on his waistcoat gave that garment quite a distinguished appearance, and the consciousness of a silver watch in his pocket made him hold his head even higher than usual.
"He is a beauty!" again he broke out, "exactly the kind I like most. I'll take ever such a lot of care of him." And so saying, he began to swing me at the end of the chain, till I suddenly came sharply into collision with the door of the cab.
"Hullo," exclaimed my young master, "that won't do. I'll put him away now. It was good of you, father."
With that we reached the railway station, and in the bustle that ensued I was for the time forgotten.
Charlie's trunks were duly labelled for Randlebury, and then came the hardest moment of all, when father and son must part.
"I wonder if you'll be altered, Charlie, when I see you again."
"Not for the worse I hope, anyhow," replied the boy, laughing.
"Tickets, please!" demanded the guard.
"There goes the bell," said Charlie, pulling me out of his pocket. "They're very punctual. Hullo, we're off! Good-bye, father."
"Good-bye, boy, and God bless you."
And there was a close grasp of the hand, a last smile, a hasty wave from the window; and then we were off.
How many grown-up men are there who cannot recall at some time or other this crisis in their lives, this first good-bye from the home of their childhood, this stepping forth into the world with all that is familiar and dear at their backs, and all that is strange and unknown and wonderful stretching away like a vast landscape before them? How many are there who would not give much to be back once more at that threshold of their career; and to have the chance of living over again the life they began there with such bright hopes and such careless confidence? Ah, if some of them could have seen whither that flower-strewn path was to lead them, would they not rather have chosen even to die on the threshold, than take so much as the first step forth from the innocent home of childhood!
But I am wandering from my story. For half an hour after that last good-bye Charlie leaned back in the corner of his carriage and gave himself up to his loneliness, and I could feel his chest heaving to keep down the tears that would every now and then rise unbidden to his eyes.
But what boy of thirteen can be in the dumps for long? Especially if he has a new watch in his pocket. Charlie was himself again before we had well got clear of London, and his reviving spirits gradually recalled to his memory his father's parting gift, which had for a while been half forgotten amid other cares.
Now again I was produced, I was turned over and over, was listened to, was peeped into, was flourished about, was taken off my chain, and put on again with the supremest satisfaction. At every station we came to, out I came from his pocket, to be compared with the railway time. By the clock at Batfield I was a minute slow—a discrepancy which was no sooner discovered than I felt my glass face opened, and a fat finger and thumb putting forward my hand to the required time. At Norbely I was two minutes fast by the clock, and then (oh, horrors!) I found myself put back in the same rough-and-ready way. At Maltby I was full half a minute behind the great clock, and on I went again. At the next station the clock and I both gave the same time to a second, and then what must he do but begin to regulate me! After a minute calculation he made the astounding discovery that I had lost a minute and a quarter in four hours, and that in order to compensate for this shortcoming it would be necessary for him to move my regulator forward the two hundred and fortieth part of an inch. This feat he set himself to accomplish with the point of his scarf-pin while the train was jolting forward at the rate of thirty miles an hour!
I began to grow nervous. If this was a sample of what I was to expect, I had indeed need be the healthy, hardy watch I was represented to be by my maker.
And yet I could not be angry with my brave, honest little tormentor.
It was a sight to see him during that long journey, in all the glory of a new suit, with a high hat on his head for the first time, and a watch in his pocket. In his pocket, did I say? I was hardly ever so lucky. Every five minutes he whipped me out to see how the time was going. If he polished me up once with his handkerchief, he did it twenty times, and each time with such vigour that I was nearly red-hot under the operation. And no sooner was he tired of polishing me, than he took to paying his hat the same attention, till that wretched article of decoration must have trembled for its nap. Then he would take to whistling and singing (what boy can help doing one or the other in a train?) and as I heard all his little artless songs and gay chirping, I thought it the pleasantest music one could possibly listen to. And, not to let his hands be less busy than his throat, he would bring out the wonderful six-bladed knife his uncle had given him, and exploring all its wonders, and opening all its blades at the same time, together with the corkscrew, the gimlet, the pincers, and the button-hook, at different angles, would terrify the lives out of his fellow-passengers by twirling the awful bristling weapon in his fingers within a foot or so of their faces.
"Mind, dear," said an old lady on the seat opposite, "you'll cut your fingers off, I'm certain."
"Oh, no, I won't," exclaimed he, taking out his handkerchief, and beginning to polish the blades one after another.
The old lady trembled as she watched him, and sighed with relief when the operation was over.
Presently, having nothing particular to do, he stared at her. "Would you like to know the time, ma'am?" he inquired.
"If you please," replied the good old soul.
"Well, it's just seventeen minutes and nineteen seconds past three by my watch. Would you like to see for yourself, ma'am?"
And, pleased to have a confidant of his possessions, he loosed my chain, and flourished me bodily before the eyes of his new friend.
She took me kindly, and said, "What a fine watch you've got, dear?"
"Yes," replied he, with lofty condescension; "like to see his works?"
"You should be careful, you know," she said, "watches so easily get out of order."
"Oh, I won't hurt it," said he, proceeding to take off my coat and waistcoat. "There! there are his works. Don't breathe hard, or you'll damp them."
So the old lady held her breath and peeped in, much to my young master's gratification.
"And so you're going to school, my man?" said she presently.
"Yes; who told you! Did my father tell you?"
"No, I guessed."
"Did you though? Can you guess what the name of the school is?"
"No, I can't do that."
"Have a try."
"Well, then, I guess Randlebury, because my boy is there, and it's the only one I can think of."
The boy stared at her. "How ever did you know that?"
"What!" she exclaimed, "you don't mean to tell me you are going to Randlebury?"
"I am, though."
"Well, I never," cried the good old soul, "who would have believed it! Think of your going to the same school as my Tom."
"Is Tom your boy's name?"
"Is he a nice boy?"
Such a question to ask any one's mother!
The old lady burst into tears instead of answering—a proceeding which greatly alarmed and disconcerted my master.
"Don't cry," he said excitedly. "Look here! I didn't mean—oh, don't! Look here, shall I tell you the time? It's—it's sixteen minutes to four—I didn't mean, you know. Of course he's a nice boy—oh, don't cry!"
And he got into such a state that the old lady dried her eyes at once.
"Never mind me, dear," said she, "it wasn't you made me cry: it was thinking of my Tom. You'll be a good friend to him, won't you, dear?"
"Perhaps he won't like me."
"Now I'm sure he will," exclaimed the lady warmly; so warmly that I quite loved her for my little master's sake. Both were silent for some time, and then Charlie asked,—
"I say, has he got a watch?"
"Oh, never mind," said he, in a tone of evident relief, "I can tell him the time, you know, whenever he wants to know."
"To be sure you can."
Then Charlie took to polishing me and the chain up again, an occupation which lasted until we arrived at Gunborough Junction, where passengers changed for Randlebury.
"Good-bye, dear," said the old lady, as Charlie proceeded to get together his things.
"Good-bye," said he. "Would you like to know the time before I go? It's eight past five. Good-bye."
"May I give you a kiss?" said she.
Charlie blushed, but offered his cheek hurriedly.
"And you promise to be a good friend to Tom," said she, kissing him, "won't you?"
"All right," said the boy, jumping out on to the platform, and running to see after his luggage.
In a moment however he returned to the window and put his head in.
"I say," said he, "what's his name—Tom what?"
"Drift," said the old lady, "Tom Drift!"
"Oh!" replied my master, "all right, good-bye;" and next minute the train went on, and he was left standing surrounded by his luggage in the middle of the platform, like a lighthouse in the middle of an island.
HOW MY MASTER AND I REACH RANDLEBURY IN STATE, AND OF A GREAT CALAMITY.
My master and I had nearly an hour to wait on the platform at Gunborough before the Randlebury train came up. Part of this interval Charlie, for fear he might forget to do it at night, devoted to winding me up; an experiment which nearly closed my career for ever, for he first began to turn the key the wrong way; then, when he had discovered his mistake, he started in the other direction with a sudden dash, and finally overwound me to such an extent that I expected every second to hear my heart break with the strain.
Then he sat on his boxes, whistling to himself and drumming his heels on the platform. The train came up at last, and in he jumped, finding himself and a grave elderly gentleman in joint possession of the carriage.
Charlie was too busy staring out of the window, whistling, and brushing the dust off his new hat, to take much notice of his companion until the train was fairly started; then, observing the gentleman look at his watch, the boy at once recognised a bond of sympathy and pulled out me.
"I wonder if I'm the same as you?" he said eagerly.
"I hope you are not," said the gentleman, "for I'm a quarter of an hour fast."
"Are you though?" said the boy, in astonishment.
"Why don't you put it right? I would."
"It's a bad thing to put a watch back, my boy; besides, I rather like keeping mine a little fast."
"Do you? I say, do you think my watch is a good one?" said Charlie, thrusting me into the hands of his astonished travelling companion.
"I can't say, my boy. I know nothing about watches. It looks a nice one."
"Yes, father gave it me. I say, are you going to Randlebury?"
"Do you know the school? I'm going there."
"Oh, yes; I know the school. And you are going there, are you?" inquired the gentleman, with interest.
"Yes, I'm a new boy, you know."
"And how do you like going to school?"
"Oh, all right; only I don't know what it'll be like. Eat I say, I don't suppose there's many of the boys my age have got watches, do you?"
The gentleman laughed. "I dare say not," he said. Charlie was silent for a time, and then asked,—
"I say, what sort of fellow's the head master; do you know?"
"I've seen him now and then," said the gentleman.
"Is he awfully stuck-up and strict?" asked the boy anxiously.
"I really don't know," said the gentleman, biting his lips; "I hope not."
"So do I. I wish my father was the head master," said Charlie, the tears for a moment starting to his eyes at the bare thought of such happiness.
The gentleman looked at him very kindly, and said,—
"Cheer up, my little man; perhaps it won't be so bad after all."
Charlie smiled again as he said,—
"Oh, yes, I've got to be brave, you know, because I promised father. But I say, if you ever come to the school, ask for me—my name's Charlie Newcome—will you? because I don't know any of the fellows; and besides," added he, brightening at the idea, "we can see if our watches are going the same, you know."
The gentleman promised, and soon after this the train arrived at Randlebury. The boy bid his companion farewell, and went off as before to look after his belongings.
As he was standing surrounded by his baggage, a man in the dress of a coachman came up to him and said,—
"Are you the young party from London for the school?"
"Yes," replied the boy.
"It's all right," said the man; "give us hold of these things, and jump inside my trap."
"How far is it?" he asked of the man.
"Better of three miles."
"Is it, though? I say, can't you put the things inside, and then I can ride on the box?"
"All square," said the man; "hop up, my young bantam."
The young bantam did hop up, and they were soon on their way to the school.
I need hardly say it was not long before Charlie and the driver were on confidential terms. The boy duly produced first me and then his six- bladed knife to the admiring eyes of his new companion, insisting on his taking both into his hands, and demanding his candid opinion on their merits.
Presently a wholly new idea seemed to strike him.
"I say, driver, what's your name?"
"Jim, if you want to know," replied that public servant.
"Well, Jim, I wish you'd just get inside and look after the luggage, and let me drive; will you?"
The man opened his eyes and his mouth at the proposition, and then bursting out laughing.
"Hark at him!" he exclaimed; "did you ever hear the like? Me get inside and let a young shaver like him drive me—ho! ho!"
"Come along, Jim; I know the way; and it would be a lark. Come on, dear Jim."
And the boy got quite affectionate in his eagerness.
"Dear Jim," who was one of those easy-going men who don't take much persuading when they're approached the right way, at length consented to hand over the reins to Charlie; and after waiting some time to see for himself that the boy could really manage, after a fashion, to drive the horse, he further gratified him by descending from the box, and leaving him in sole possession of the coveted position.
"Get inside, Jim," cried the boy, with beaming face.
Jim, his face all one grin, obeyed, saying, as he did so,—
"Well, if you ain't a queer one! That's the house there, on the top of that hill. Mind how you go, now."
"All right; you get inside. And I say, Jim," added the boy, leaning down from his perch, "make yourself comfortable, you know, and don't bother about me. I want to drive all by myself, and you aren't to help me a bit, mind."
So the driver got inside, and seating himself among the luggage, proceeded to make himself "comfortable," as instructed.
Meanwhile my master, as proud as an emperor, lashed his steed into a canter, and rattled off in the direction of the school.
"That'll astonish some of them caps and gowns, I reckon," I heard cabby say to himself. "You see, if he don't drive us right up to the front door, as comfortable as if we was the sheriff of the county."
You may imagine what was the astonishment of the grave and reverend authorities at Randlebury School when they perceived, coming up the carriage drive, a cab with a boy of thirteen perched on the box, tugging at the reins, hallooing to the horse, and making his whip crack like so many fireworks; while inside, comfortably lounging amid a pile of luggage, reclined cabby at his ease, grinning from ear to ear.
The young Jehu, perfectly innocent of the sensation he was making, pursued his triumphant career at full speed up to the very hall door, pulling up his steed with such a sudden jerk as almost to bring him into a sitting position, while the piled-up luggage inside fell all about the cab with the shock, to the imminent risk of cabby's life.
"Well, if that ain't one way of doing it, I don't know what is!" exclaimed that astonished charioteer, emerging from his precarious quarters. "Down you jump, young un."
Charlie descended, all jubilant with triumph, and pulling out me, exclaimed, "We did that three miles in half an hour—not bad, was it?"
In his excitement he had not observed that the door of the house had opened, and that these words, instead of being addressed to the cabby, had been spoken to a stately female who stood in the portal before him.
Now however he caught sight of her, and not knowing exactly what was the proper thing to do under the circumstances, stared at her.
"What do you say, young man?" inquired she, in a solemn voice.
"Oh," said the boy, "I didn't know it was you. I was telling Jim we had come from the station in half an hour. You know we started at 6.2 by my watch, and it's just 6.33 now. Would you like to see for yourself, marm?" added he, preparing to unfasten the chain.
"I know what the time is, young man," replied she sternly; "and pray, who is Jim?" she asked, looking down in solemn perplexity at this queer boy.
"Oh, he's the driver is Jim, and he got inside, you know, and I've driven nearly all the way up by myself; haven't I, Jim?"
"Come inside, sir," said the matron hurriedly, "and don't stand talking to vulgar cabmen and calling them by their Christian names. Your name is Charles Newcome, I suppose? Come this way."
Charlie followed her in, his enthusiasm rather damped at this somewhat frigid greeting, and sorry in his heart he had not been allowed an opportunity of bidding farewell to his friend the driver.
And now I could hear the little fellow's heart begin to beat quicker as he found himself at length for the first time in his life inside a public school. The rows of caps in the corridors, the distant hum of voices through half-opened doors, the occasional shout from the playground, and the fleeting vision of a master in cap and gown, all had for him the deepest and most mysterious interest. As he sat waiting in the matron's room while that worthy lady went to superintend the bringing in of his luggage, his mind became full of wonderings and misgivings. I who lay so near the seat of his emotions could tell what was going on in his breast. He wondered if the pair of socks lying on the table with a hole in each heel, which appeared to be waiting their turn for mending, belonged to the son of the old lady he had met in the train. He wondered if the footsteps in the passage belonged to the head master, and whether that awful being was being fetched to punish him for his crime of driving the cab. He wondered who the boy was who put his head in at the door and drew it back again. With what reverential eyes he followed that hero's retreating form, and how he hung on his whistling.
When would he, he wondered, be sufficiently hardy to whistle within those awful walls? Then he wondered if he was the only new boy, and if so, whether every one would stare at him and laugh at his new coat. He wished he'd got his old one on, then he wouldn't have felt so brand-new. And then—and then...
But here, tired-out with his long journey and the excitement of the day, a drowsy fit came over him, and without another thought he dropped off to sleep, where he sat. In this attitude the housekeeper found him when she returned.
She could not help feeling rather more than a common interest in this curly-haired, tired-out little fellow, as he sat there in his new clothes, huddled up, with his little hat slipping from his head, and his hand clasping his precious six-bladed knife. Accustomed as she was to boys and their rude ways, this matron had a good deal of softness left in her heart, and I dare say she thought as she watched Charlie that afternoon that if she had ever had a son of her own she would have liked a boy something like the little fellow before her. She went softly up to him, took his hat from its perilous situation, and, lifting him in her strong arms so gently as not to wake him, laid him on her own sofa, and left him there to enjoy his well-merited sleep, while she busied herself about making tea.
It was at this moment that a calamity befell me, which, in my inexperience of the ways and natures of watches, I imagined to be nothing short of fatal. The excitement through which I had passed, and the rough-and-ready usage to which I had been subjected during the day, seemed all of a sudden to overpower me. In some unaccountable way I found my hands caught together in a manner I had never known them to be before; no effort of mine could disengage them, and the exertion thus required, added to the fatigues of the day, produced a sort of paralysis of my whole system without quite losing consciousness. I could feel my circulation become slower and finally stop; my nerves and energies became suspended, and my hands grew numb and powerless. Even my heart ceased to beat, and the little cry of alarm which I gave just before my powers left me failed to bring me any help. I was ill, very ill indeed; to me it seemed as if my last moment had come, and I could not bear the thought of thus early being taken from my young master, whom already I had learned to love as my best, though my roughest friend.
How long I lay thus, speechless and helpless, I cannot say. Once I was just conscious of a slight jerk from my chain as he peeped in and whispered,—
"What are you so quiet about down there?"
Of course I could not answer.
"Do you hear? What are you so quiet about?"
It only added to my misery to know that there was a fellow-being so close at hand, and yet that I was powerless to make him aware of my condition. My silence offended him, for he turned away, muttering to himself,—
"Sulky humbug! I declare some people haven't so much as the manners of a kitchen clock."
After that I was left to myself, in agony and suspense, to wait the moment of my dissolution.
A long time passed before my master stirred, and when he did the housekeeper's tea was cold. She bustled about to make him some more, and was so kind in buttering his toast and hunting for some jam, that the drooping spirits of the tired-out boy revived wonderfully. Indeed, as the meal proceeded he became on friendly and confidential terms even with so awful a personage as Mrs Packer.
"Would you like to see my knife, ma'am?" he asked.
"Bless me, what a knife it is," cried the lady. "You'll go doing yourself some harm with it."
"That's what the other old lady in the train said," replied Charlie, unconscious of wounding the feelings of his hostess, who fondly imagined she was not more than middle-aged; "but then, you know, she thought it was a fine knife, and I think so too, don't you? I say, marm, do you know Tom Drift?"
The change of subject was so sudden that Mrs Packer stared at the boy, half wondering whether he was not talking in his sleep.
"What about him?" she inquired.
"Oh, only the old lady was his mother, and I promised her—at least she said—do you know Tom Drift, ma'am?"
"To be sure; he's one of the boys here."
"Yes—I say, ma'am, might I see Tom Drift, do you think? I've got something to say to him."
Mrs Packer, wholly at a loss to understand her youthful guest, but at the same time disposed to be indulgent to his little whims, said Tom would be at lessons now, and she didn't think he would be able to come.
"Wouldn't it do in the morning?"
"Oh no," said Charlie, with the gravest face. "I must see him to-night, please, if you don't mind."
The housekeeper concluded that Charlie had some important message from the mother to her son, and therefore rang for a servant, whom she despatched with a message to Master Drift that some one wanted to see him.
In a very little time that hero made his appearance; and as he was the first Randlebury boy Charlie had set eyes on, he appeared for a moment a very awful and a very sublime personage in that little new boy's eyes. But Charlie was too intent on his mission to allow himself to be quite overawed.
"Here's a new boy, Master Drift, wants to speak to you."
"What do you want, young un—eh?"
"Oh, it's all right, Tom Drift; only I saw your mother, you know, in the train, and she said you were a nice boy, and she sent her love, and I told her I'd let you know the time whenever you wanted, because you ain't got a watch, you know, and I have. I say, would you like to know the time now, Tom Drift?"
All this was rattled out with such eager volubility, that Tom Drift, hero as he was, was fairly taken aback, and looked quite sheepish, as the beaming boy proceeded to pull me out of his pocket.
"Well, it's just—hullo!"
He saw in an instant something was wrong.
"Why, it says only half-past six—that must be wrong!"
"It's eight o'clock by the hall clock," said Mrs Packer; "it's just now struck."
Charlie looked at me, opened me, held me to his ear, and then exclaimed,—
"Oh! my watch has stopped! My watch has stopped! What shall I do?" and the poor boy, overwhelmed with his misfortune, held me out appealingly, and scarcely restrained the tears which started to his eyes.
HOW I WAS CURED OF MY AILMENTS, AND HOW MY MASTER BEGAN LIFE AT RANDLEBURY.
All this while Tom Drift had said nothing, but had stood regarding first my master, and then me, with mingled amusement, pity, and astonishment. At last, when poor Charlie fairly thrust me into his hands, that he might see with his own eyes the calamity which had befallen the watch that had been destined to minister such consolation to his time- inquiring mind, he took me gingerly, and stared at me as if I had been a toad or a dead rat.
"Can't you make it go, Tom Drift? Please do."
"How can I make him go? I don't know what's the row."
"Do you think it would be a good thing to wind it up?" asked Charlie.
"Don't know; you might try."
Charlie did wind me up; but that was not what I wanted. Already I had had that done while waiting at Gunborough Junction.
"What do you say to shaking him?" asked Tom Drift presently. Most people spoke of me as "it," but Tom Drift always called me "him."
"I hardly like," said Charlie; "you try."
Tom took me and solemnly shook me; it was no use. I still remained speechless and helpless.
"Suppose we shove his wheels on?" next suggested that sage philosopher.
Charlie demurred a little at this; it seemed almost too bold a remedy, even for him; however he yielded to Tom's superior judgment.
The heir of the house of Drift accordingly took a pin from the lining of his jacket, and, taking off my coat and waistcoat, proceeded first to prod one of my wheels and then another, but in vain. They just moved for an instant but then halted again, as stiff end lifeless as ever.
For a moment the profound Tom seemed baffled, and then at last a brilliant idea occurred to him.
"I tell you what, I expect he's got damp, or cold, or something. We'd better warm him!"
And the two boys knelt before the fire with me between them, turning me at the end of my chain so as to get the warmth on all sides, like a leg of mutton on a spit.
Of course that had no effect. What was to be done? No winding up, no shaking, no irritation of my wheels with a pin, no warming of me at the fire, could avail anything. They were ready to give me up. Suddenly, however, Tom, who had been examining my face minutely, burst into a loud laugh.
"What a young donkey you are!" he cried. "Don't you see his hands are caught? That's what's the matter. The minute-hand's got bent, and can't get over the hour hand. You're a nice chap to have a watch!"
It might have occurred to Charlie (as it did to me) that whatever sort of watch-owner the former might be, a boy who successively shook, tickled, and roasted me to get me to go, was hardly the one to lecture him on his failings; but my master was too delighted at the prospect of having his treasure cured to be very critical of the physician. And this time, at last, Tom Drift had found the real cause of my indisposition. In endeavouring to pass one another at half-past six, my two hands had become entangled, and refusing to proceed in company, had stopped where they were stopping my circulation and indeed my animation at the same time.
Once more the astute Tom produced his pin; and sticking it under the end of my minute-hand, disengaged it from its fellow and bent it back into its proper position. Instantly, as if by magic, the life rushed back into my body; my circulation started afresh, and my heart beat its old beat. Charlie set up a shout of jubilation, and almost hugged Tom in his gratitude. The latter looked very wise and very condescending—as had he not a right?—and, handing me back to my master, said, with the air of a physician prescribing a course of treatment for a convalescent patient,—
"You'd better shove him on to the right time, and then keep him quiet, young un."
This Charlie did, and it would be hard to say which of us two was the happier at that moment.
I had scarcely been deposited once more into my accustomed pocket, when a loud bell sounded down the corridors, and made Tom Drift jump as if he had been shot.
"I say, that's the prayer-bell! Come on! unless you want to get into a jolly row."
And without further words he seized the astonished Charlie by the arm, and ran with him at full speed along one or two empty passages, dashing at last in through a big door, which was in the very act of closing as the two reached it.
Charlie was so confused, and so out of breath with this astonishing and frantic race, that for a minute he did not know whether he was standing on his head or his heels.
There was, however, no time for solving the problem just then, for Tom Drift, still retaining his grasp on his arm, dragged him forward, whispering,—
"This way; wasn't that a close shave? Get in here, and don't make a noise."
Charlie obeyed, and found himself in a pew, one of a congregation of some two hundred boys, assembled in the school chapel for evening prayers. At the far end of the chapel he could hear a man's voice, reading; but what it said it was impossible for him to make out, owing to the talking that was going on around him.
He looked eagerly and curiously down the long rows of his new schoolfellows, feeling half afraid at the sight of so many new faces, and half proud of being a Randlebury boy, with a right to a seat in the chapel. And as he looked he saw some faces he thought he should like, and some that he thought he would dislike; there were merry, bright-eyed boys, like himself, and there were ill-tempered, sullen-looking boys; there were boys haggard with hard-reading, and boys who looked as if their heads were altogether empty.
But what puzzled and troubled Charlie not a little was to notice, that though the school was supposed to be at prayers, and though most of them must have been within hearing of the reader's voice, a considerable proportion of the boys before him were neither listening nor evincing in their behaviour the slightest sign of reverence for the service in which they were engaged.
He was sorry to see that Tom Drift was laughing and whispering with his companions; entertaining them with an account of the way in which he had set the new "young un's" watch to rights, and what a shave they had from being shut out from prayers. (Charlie wondered, as he noticed all this, whether, after all, he would have lost much good if that misfortune had happened.) And one or two boys were chewing toffee; at least, Charlie thought it must be toffee, their mouths were so brown, and they made such a noise over the process of mastication; some, with their hands in their pockets, were listlessly staring up at the roof; and some were reading books, anything but prayer-books, under the desk.
Charlie did his best to attend to what the invisible and inarticulate voice was saying, and tried to recall what his father had told him about not letting new scenes and new companions tempt him to forget of neglect the lessons of duty and religion which he had learned at his parents' home; but it was not easy work, and to him it was a relief when all was over, and the boys proceeded to file out of the chapel.
"Where are they all going?" he inquired, turning round to where Tom Drift had been standing.
That young man, however, was no longer there. He had gone off to enjoy the questionable luxury of roast potatoes in a friend's study, entirely forgetting his young and forlorn charge.
Charlie was puzzled. He was sure he could never find his way back to Mrs Packer's through such a maze of passages, and he knew not where else to go.
As he stood watching in despair the last remnant of his fellow- worshippers passing out, and wondering what was to become of him, he became aware of two big boys stopping in front of him and looking at him.
"That's him!" said one, whose grammar was perhaps not his strongest point at this moment.
"Why, he's only a kid!" said the other, who, being sixteen, felt fully justified in so designating my young master.
"I can't help that, I know it's him," said the first.
"I say, you fellow," added he, addressing Charlie, "wasn't it you drove up to the front door in a cab this afternoon?"
Charlie trembled in his shoes. More than once had his heart misgiven him, he had committed an unpardonable offence in the mode of his advent to Randlebury; and now, with these two awful accusers before him, he felt as if his doom was come.
"I'm very sorry," he began; "yes, it was—I didn't mean, I'm sure."
"What did you do it for, if you didn't mean, you young muff?—why don't you go off to bed?"
"Because I don't know where to go, and Tom Drift—"
"Do you know Tom Drift?"
"Yes—that is, I met his mother," stammered Charlie, becoming more and more embarrassed.
Both the big boys burst out laughing. "What a treat for his mother!" said one. "I suppose she told you Tom was a real nice boy?"
"I thought so; so he is, isn't he, Joe?" and both boys laughed again.
"And she gave you a kiss to take to him?"
"No," said Charlie, blushing scarlet; "she did give me a kiss, but not for him."
It was a hard effort for the poor boy to come out with this admission, but candour compelled it.
"Oh, she gave you one for yourself, did she?" and again they laughed. "What a dear old noodle she must be!"
"She was very kind to me," said Charlie, not liking to hear his friend made fun of.
Just then a master came by.
"What are you three boys doing here?" he asked.
"Please, sir, this is a new boy," replied he who had been called Joe, "and he doesn't know where to go."
"Hum!" said the master, "I thought Mrs Packer would have seen after that. Let me see. You had better take him to your dormitory to-night, Halliday; there's a vacant bed there. Bring him to the doctor's room after breakfast to-morrow," and he passed on.
"Here's a treat!" exclaimed Joe, with a not ill-natured grin. "This comes of stopping and talking to young scarecrows. Come along, youngster; think yourself lucky you've been handed over to me. I wear patent leather boots, and they don't need as much blacking as some of the fellows'."
Charlie was at a loss to understand what the material of Master Halliday's boots had to do with his own alleged good fortune in falling into the hands of such a guardian; but he said nothing, and, reassured by the good-humoured face of his conductor, followed him cheerfully from the chapel.
"Hullo, Joe! got a donkey at last?" cried some one, as the two wended their way up the stairs leading to the dormitories.
"Looks like it," was Joe's reply.
It was not very long before Charlie learned that the four-footed beast thus vaguely referred to was a polite term which the big boys at Randlebury used to designate their fags.
"Come in here," said his conductor, turning in at a small door.
Charlie found himself inside a small apartment, measuring about ten feet square, lighted by a small window, warmed by a small fire, decorated with a small bookcase, and furnished with a small table, two small chairs, and a small cupboard.
"This is my den; and mind when you clean the window you don't crack that pane more than it is; and when you brush my things, you know, see the shelf isn't dirty, because I sometimes keep my worms there—do you hear? And now come along to bed; they put out lights at half-past nine."
The mention of the time recalled me instinctively to Charlie's thoughts. He could not resist the temptation, suggested half by anxiety and half by vanity, of taking me out and looking at me.
"Hullo! What, have you got a watch?"
"Yes," said Charlie meekly, not exactly knowing whether his companion would be admiring or indignant with him.
"More than I have," was all Joe's rejoinder.
Charlie's generosity was at once touched.
"Oh, never mind, we can go shares sometimes, if you like, you know," said he, not without an effort.
"I don't want your watch," was Master Halliday's somewhat ungracious reply. "Let's have a look at it, will you?"
He took me, and examined me; and evidently would not have objected to be the possessor of a watch himself, though he tried to make it appear it was a matter of indifference to him.
"Why don't you get your father to give you one?" asked Charlie innocently.
"Because I haven't got a father."
"Not got a father! Oh, I am sorry!" and the starting tears in the little fellow's eyes testified only too truly to his sincerity. "Look here," he added, "do take the watch, please; perhaps you would like it, and my father would give me another."
Joe Halliday gazed at his young fag in amazement.
"Why, you are a queer chap," he said. "I wouldn't take your watch for anything; but I tell you what, I'll ask you the time whenever I want to know."
"Will you really?" cried the delighted Charlie. "How jolly!"
"And look here," continued Halliday, "take my advice, and don't go offering your watch to everybody who hasn't got a father, or some of them might take you at your word, and then you'd look foolish. Come along now."
And he led the boy into the dormitory, where there were about twenty beds, most of them already occupied by boys, and the rest waiting for occupants, who were rapidly undressing in different parts of the room.
"Look sharp and tumble in," said Joe, pointing out the bed Charlie was to have. "There's only five minutes more."
Charlie, with all the naturalness of innocence, knelt, as he was always used to do, and said his prayers, adding a special petition for his dear absent parents, and another for the poor boy who hadn't got a father.
He was wholly unaware of the curiosity he had excited by his entrance into the dormitory, still less did he imagine the sensation which his simple act of devotion was creating. Twenty pairs of eyes stared at the unwonted spectacle of a boy saying his prayers, and many were the whispered comments which passed from lip to lip. No one however (had any been so inclined) stirred either to disturb or molest him—an immunity secured to him as much perhaps by the fact of his being under the protection of so redoubtable a champion as Halliday as by any special feeling of sympathy for his act.
The good example was not, however, wholly lost, for that same night, after the lights were out, and when silence reigned in the room, more than one boy covered his head with his sheet and tried to recall one of the early prayers of his childhood.
As for Charlie, with me and the knife under his pillow, he slept the sleep of the just, and dreamt of home; and I can answer for it his weary head never turned once the livelong night.
HOW MY MASTER ENTERED AND QUITTED THE HEAD MASTER'S STUDY TWICE IN ONE MORNING.
Charlie's first care in the morning was, as I need hardly say, to pull me out from under his pillow, and consult me as to the time. None of his companions were astir, so that, not having anything particular to do, he lay still, and abandoned himself to the luxury of an idle half- hour in bed.
His spirits were so greatly revived by his night's rest that he forgot both the novelty and the loneliness of his position, and fell to polishing first his knife and then me as merrily as if he were at home. What a difference a sound sleep often makes in the aspect of our affairs! Twelve hours ago he had felt as if he could never be sufficiently bold as to whistle within the walls of Randlebury, and now the first sight and sound which greeted Halliday's returning senses, as he sat up and rubbed his eyes, was his young protege whistling to himself like a lark, and brightening me up with all his might with the corner of his blanket till I glowed again at nearly a red heat.
"Who's that kicking up that row whistling?" growled a voice from the far end of the room; "because I'd like to shy a boot at his head."
At this Charlie subsided, not desiring to gratify his unknown auditor in his benevolent desire, and very soon after jumped up and dressed himself.
"Look here, youngster," said Joe, "you'd better do my study now, as you mayn't have time after breakfast to-day. You know which room it is—the sixth on your right when you get downstairs. Cut along, look sharp, you've a good half-hour."
Charlie made his way down to the lion's den, meeting on his way several other discontented fags, bound on similar errands. He set himself to clean the window, tidy the cupboard, and generally put things square, and had succeeded fairly well in this endeavour by the time his patron made his appearance.
"What's the time?" inquired that lord of creation, running his eye rapidly round the room at the same time, to notice how his fag had done his duty.
"It's five minutes to eight," replied Charlie, after consulting me, and highly delighted to be thus appealed to.
"Come along to breakfast, then. You'll have to sit at a different table from me; but mind and wait for me afterwards, for I've got to take you to the doctor."
So Charlie was conducted down to the hall to breakfast, and provided with a humble seat at the foot of the lowest table, while Joe Halliday made his way with all the dignity that became his years to a distinguished place at the highest.
My master found himself among a set of noisy little boys, who amused themselves during the greater part of the meal by interchanging volleys of bread pellets, which much oftener missed their marks than reached them, in consequence of which he himself came in for the brunt of the cannonade. Once he ventured to return one of the random shots which had found its way to his fingers. Fortune favoured his aim, and his shaft hit the boy it was intended for full in the eye.
"Who did that?" cried the wounded hero sharply.
"I did," replied Charlie, quite proud of his achievement.
"All right, I'll punch your head for it when we get outside."
This was by no means what Charlie had expected. He had imagined the wound would be received in the same spirit of jest in which it was aimed.
"It was only in fun," he explained; "did it hurt you?"
"Of course it did," exclaimed the injured youth, who till Charlie's arrival had been the junior pupil of the school, and was now delighted to find some one below himself in the scale of seniority. "Of course it did, and you'll catch it."
All the other boys laughed, and Charlie, who could not find it in him to be overawed by even so majestic a hero as little Master Johnny Walker, made the best of his position.
"Look here," he said, "I'll give you three shots at my mouth, and if you—"
"There's too much talking at table six!" exclaimed an awful voice, and instantly every voice was hushed, including Charlie's, who blushed to the roots of his hair, and felt as if he had been singled out before the whole school as a rioter. He gulped down his breakfast without further argument with Master Walker, and was relieved, when the meal was over, to find that that doughty warrior appeared to have altered his mind about punching his youthful head.
After some time he saw Halliday beckoning to him from the other side of the room.
"Now you've got to go to the doctor," said he; "come along."
This was the first time my master had fully realised the solemn nature of the approaching interview, and I felt his heart flutter as he inquired,—
"I say, what will he say to me?"
"Oh, all sorts of things; you'd better mind what you're up to, I can tell you," was the reassuring reply.
"Do you think I shall get in a row for driving the cab yesterday?" faltered Charlie.
"Shouldn't wonder," was the reply.
"Oh, dear! And do you think he saw me hit Johnny Walker in the eye at breakfast?"
"What, were you the boy who was kicking up all that row? My eye! you're in for it! Here you are; I'll knock for you."
And giving the poor trembling boy not so much as an instant in which to collect his flurried ideas, Joe gave a rap at the door, which was answered at once by a sharp "Come in!" from within.
"Now then," said Halliday, "in you go."
Charlie's knees shook under him, and he hung back from that awful door in mute terror.
"Come in!" again cried the voice.
"Do you hear, you young muff?" exclaimed Halliday. "Won't you catch it! Go in, will you?"
And opening the door himself he fairly pushed my poor master into the head master's study.
Fancy the agony of the poor boy, fully believing himself a doomed miscreant, entering for the first time the awful presence of the head master of Randlebury School.
He stood there with downcast eyes, not daring to speak, and rooted to the spot.
"Why, what's the matter, my boy?"
At the words Charlie started like one electrified. He had surely heard that voice before somewhere! He looked up, and what was his astonishment to find in his dreaded principal no other than the gentleman with whom he had yesterday spent such a friendly hour in the train between Gunborough and Randlebury!
And his face was as kind as ever, and his voice encouraging, as he repeated,—
"What's the matter, my man? has the watch stopped."
"Oh, sir," said Charlie, running up to him, "I am glad it's you, and I'm so sorry I drove the cab, and hit Walker in the eye. I'll never do it again!"
"Tut, tut," said the head master; "if you never do any worse than that, you won't go far wrong. I didn't tell you who I was yesterday, because I wanted you to manage for yourself, and fight your own battle on first arriving. Now tell me how you have got on."
And Charlie faithfully recounted to him everything, including my sudden indisposition, and my cure by Tom Drift.
Dr Weldon (for that was his name) listened to his story, and then said,—
"Well, you've made a pretty good beginning. Now try to remember this: your father has sent you here for two reasons; one is that your head may be furnished, and the other is that your character may be trained. I and your teachers can undertake the first; but it depends chiefly on you how the second succeeds. You will constantly be having to choose for yourself between what is right and what is wrong, and between what is true and what is false. Take the advice of one who has passed through all the temptations you are likely to meet here—rely always on a wisdom that is better than your own, and when once you see which way duty calls, follow that way as if your life depended on it. Do this, and you'll turn out a far better man than the man who is talking to you. Whenever you are in trouble come to me, I shall always be glad to see you. I promised you, you know, I would ask for you occasionally, didn't I? And now let's see what you've got in your head."
And then followed a brief examination, conducted in a way which put Charlie quite at his ease, and so enabled him to acquit himself with a fair amount of credit and win from his master a commendation, which he prized not a little, for it was that his father's efforts had not been wasted on him.
"You will be put in the second-form," said the doctor, "and if you work hard, I see no reason why you should not get up into the third next midsummer. Now, good-bye. I hope you won't find the head master of Randlebury is as 'stiff and stuck-up a fellow' as you dreaded, and I trust I shall find you as honest and brave a fellow as I hoped you would turn out the first time I saw you. Good-bye."
Charlie rose to leave with overflowing heart. He even forgot in the midst of his pleasant emotion to inquire, as he had fully intended to do, after the doctor's watch, and if it was still a quarter of an hour fast.
As he left the room he could not help contrasting with thankfulness his present state of mind with that in which he had entered it an hour ago. He laughed at himself for all his foolish fears then, and as for the future, that seemed now ever so much easier and brighter.
Outside the door he found Tom Drift passing along the corridor in a state of great excitement.
"The very chap, I declare," cried he. "I say, lend us your watch, young un, will you?"
"What for?" asked Charlie.
"Only a time race. Tom Shadbolt says he can run a mile in 4.40. I say he can't do it under 4.50, and we've got a bet of half-a-crown a side upon it. So lend us your watch to time him by."
Charlie hesitated, and a pang passed through his breast. He knew that one of the things which he had promised his father was that he would have nothing to do with betting or gambling in any form, and how could he obey in this respect if he now lent me for the purpose for which I was required? And yet he owed Tom Drift no common gratitude for the good service he had done in setting me right yesterday, and surely if any one had a right to borrow me it was he. The struggle was a sore one, but soon decided.
"I can't lend it you, Tom Drift."
"Why ever not?" asked Tom sharply.
"I'm very sorry; if it had been anything else—but I promised father I would not gamble."
"Young ass! who wants you to gamble? I only want you to lend us your watch."
"You are gambling, though," said Charlie timidly.
"And what's that got to do with you, you young idiot," exclaimed Drift, fairly losing his temper, "if I am?"
"I'm very sorry," said Charlie, "especially as you put it all right. If it was anything else; but I can't for this."
"Look here," said Drift in a fury, "we've had fooling enough. Hand me the watch this moment, or I'll take it and smash it, and you into the bargain!"
"Oh, Tom Drift, don't do that. I would so gladly for anything else, but I promised father—"
"Once more, will you, or will you not?"
"Then take that!" and next moment Charlie received a blow full on the chest, which sent him staggering back against the wall.
Oh, how he wished that moment he had never owned me!
Tom came upon him with an angry oath, and seized him by the throat.
"Will you give it up?"
"No," replied Charlie.
He was fairly roused now; no boy—certainly no boy of his sort—can stand quietly by and receive undeserved blows. Tom tightened his grip on the boy's throat, and strove to snatch me from his pocket.
Quick as thought Charlie threw his arms round him, and, though the smaller boy of the two, extricated himself from the clutch of the bully, and sent him in turn staggering back. Livid with rage, Tom rushed at him; but Charlie eluded him, and left him to overbalance himself and fall sprawling on the paved floor. At this instant the doctor's door opened, and the head master stood gazing on the scene.
Poor Charlie! five minutes ago so full of bright hopes and brave resolutions, and now, under the eyes of the very man who had inspired in him those hopes and resolutions, engaged in a common fight with a schoolfellow!
"What is all this?" asked the doctor sternly. "Come in here, you two."
Charlie, with sinking heart, entered again that solemn room, and Drift followed, sulky, and with a black bruise on his forehead.
Charlie left his antagonist to tell his story after his own fashion, and was too dispirited either to contradict him or seek to justify himself. He felt ashamed of himself, and in his self-humiliation saw neither defence nor extenuation for his conduct.
Drift was dismissed with a few sharp words of reproof and warning. Charlie remained longer.
What the doctor said to him, and what he said to the doctor, I need not here repeat. Suffice it to say, the former was able to form a fairer estimate of my master's conduct than he himself was. He did not blame him; he even told him that no boy could expect to get through his school days without some blows, and advised him to see they were always on the right side. He talked to him long and seriously about home, and so comforted him in prospect of future difficulties and temptations, that when he left that study the second time, it was as a wiser, though perhaps a sadder boy than before.
HOW MY MASTER HAD BOTH HIS FRIENDS AND HIS ENEMIES AT RANDLEBURY.
The events of Charlie's first day at Randlebury had at least taught him one salutary lesson, and that was, to moderate his enthusiasm with regard to me, and consequently for the next few weeks I had a quiet time of it. True enough, my master would occasionally produce me in confidence to a select and admiring audience, and would ever and again proffer the use of me to his protector, Joe Halliday, but he gave up flourishing me in the face of every passer-by, and took to buttoning his jacket over the chain, I found my health all the better for this gentler usage, and showed my gratitude by keeping perfect time from one week's end to the other.
It is hardly necessary for me to say that Charlie was not long in making friends at Randlebury. Indeed some of his acquaintance looked upon this exceeding friendliness in the boy's disposition as one of his weak points.
"I do believe," said Walcot, who was only four from the head of the school, to his friend, Joe Halliday, one day, about a month after my master's arrival at Randlebury—"I do believe that young fag of yours would chum up to the poker and tongs if there were no fellows here."
"Shouldn't wonder," said Joe. "He's a sociable young beggar, and keeps my den uncommon tidy. Why, only the other day, when I was in no end of a vicious temper about being rowed about my Greek accents, you know, and when I should have been really grateful to the young scamp if he'd given me an excuse for kicking him, what should he do but lay wait for me in my den with a letter from his father, which he insisted on reading aloud to me. What do you think it was about?"
"I couldn't guess," said Walcot.
"Well, you must know he's lately chummed up very thick with my young brother Jim in the second, and—would you believe it?—he took it into his head to sit down and write to his governor to ask him if he would give Jim and me each a watch like the one he's got himself. What do you think of that?"
"Did he, though?" exclaimed Walcot, laughing. "I say, old boy, you'll make your fortune out of that youngster; and what did his father say?"
"Oh, he was most polite, of course; his boy's friends were his friends, and all that, and he finished up by saying he hoped we should both come and spend Christmas there."
"Ha! ha! and did he send the watches?"
"No; I suppose he wants to spy out the land first."
"Well," said Walcot, "the boy's all right with you, but he'll go making a fool of himself some day if he makes up to everybody he meets."
My master, in fact, was already a popular boy with his fellows. He had a select band of admirers among the youth of the Second-Form, who cackled round him like hens round a bantam. Together they groaned over their Latin exercises and wrestled with their decimals; together they heard the dreaded summons to the master's desk; and side by side, I am sorry to say, they held out their open palms to receive his cane. If a slate bearing on its surface an outline effigy of the gentleman who presided over the lessons of the class was brought to light, and the names of its perpetrators demanded, Charlie's hand would be seen among a forest of other upraised, ink-stained hands, and he would confess with contrition to having contributed the left eye of the unlucky portrait. And if, amid the solemn silence which attended a moral discourse from the master on the evils of gluttony, a sudden cataract of nuts, apples, turnips, and jam sandwiches on to the floor should drown the good man's voice, Charlie would be one of the ill-starred wights who owned to a partnership in the bag of good things which had thus miserably burst, and would proceed with shame first to crawl and grope on the dusty floor to collect his contraband possessions, and then solemnly to deposit the same jam, turnips, and all, on the desk of the offended dominie as a confiscated forfeit.
By these and many other like experiences Charlie identified himself with his comrades, and established many and memorable bonds of sympathy. He took the allegiance of his followers and the penalties of his masters in equal good part. He was not the boy to glory in his scrapes, but he was the boy to get into them, and once in, no fear of punishment could make a tell-tale, a cheat, or a coward of him.
With the elder boys he was also a favourite, for what big boy does not take pride in patronising a plucky, frank youngster? Patronising with Charlie did not mean humiliation. It is true he would quake at times in the majestic company of the heroes of the Sixth Form, but without hanging his head or toadying. It is one thing to reverence a fellow- being, and another to kneel and lick his boots.
Altogether Charlie had what is called "fallen on his feet" at Randlebury. By the end of two months he was as much at home there as if he had strutted its halls for two years. His whistle was as shrill as any in the lobbies, and Mrs Packer stuck her fingers in her ears when he burst into her parlour to demand a clean collar. He had already signalised himself too on the cricket field, having scored one run (by a leg-bye) in the never-to-be-forgotten match of First Form, First Eleven, against Second-Form, Second Eleven; and he had annihilated the redoubtable Alfred Redhead in the hundred yards hopping match, accomplishing that distance in the wonderfully short time of forty-five seconds!
But the dearest of all his friends was Jim Halliday, his lord and master's young brother. To Jim, Charlie opened his own soul, and me, and the knife; with Jim he laid his schemes for the future, and arranged, when he was Governor-General of India and Jim was Prime Minister, he would swop a couple of elephants for one of Ash and Tackle's best twenty-foot fishing-rods, with a book of flies complete. With Jim, Charlie talked about home and his father, and the coming holidays, till his face shone with the brightness of the prospect. Nor was the faithful Jim less communicative. He told Charlie all about his sisters down at Dullfield, where his father had once been clergyman, and gave it as his opinion that Jenny was the one Charlie had better marry; and to Charlie he imparted, as an awful secret not to be so much as whispered to any one, that he (Jim) was going to array his imposing figure for the first time in a tail-coat at Christmas.
With two friends on such a footing of confidence, is it a wonder they clave one to the other in mute admiration and affection? Many a sumptuous supper, provided at the imminent peril of embargo by the authorities on the one hand, and capture by hungry pirates on the other, did they smuggle into port and enjoy in company; on many a half-holiday did they fish for hours in the same pool, or climb the same tree for the same nest; what book of Jim's was there (schoolbooks excepted) that Charlie had not dog's-eared; and was not Charlie's little library annotated in every page by Jim's elegant thumbs? In short, these two were as one. David and Jonathan were nothing to them.
But in the midst of all his comfort and happiness one continually recurring thought troubled Charlie, that was about Tom Drift. He had promised the mother to be a friend to her son, and although he owned to himself he neither liked nor admired Tom, he could not be easy with this broken promise on his mind.
One day, about a month after the quarrel outside the head master's study, my master, after a hard inward struggle, conceived the desperate resolve of going himself to the lion in his den and seeking a reconciliation.
He walked quickly to Tom's study, for fear his resolution might fail him, and knocked as boldly as he could at the door.
"Come in!" cried Tom inside.
Charlie entered, and found his late antagonist sprawling on two chairs, reading a yellow-backed novel.
At the sight of Charlie he scowled, and looked anything but conciliatory.
"What do you want?" he said angrily.
"Oh, Tom Drift!" cried Charlie, plunging at once into his subject, "I do wish you'd be friends; I am so sorry I hurt you."
This last was an ill-judged reference; Tom was vicious enough about that bruise on his forehead not to need any reminder of the injuries he had sustained in that memorable scuffle.
"Get off with you, you little beast!" he cried. "What do you mean by coming here?"
"I know I've no business, Tom Drift; but I do so want to be friends, because—because I promised your mother, you know."
"What do I care what you promised my mother? I don't want you. Come, off you go, or I'll show you the way."
Charlie turned to go, yet still lingered. A desperate struggle was taking place, I could feel, within him, and then he stammered out, "I say, Tom Drift, if you'll only be friends I'll give you my watch."
Poor boy! Who knows what that offer cost him? it was indeed the dearest bribe he had to give.
Tom laughed sneeringly. "Who wants your watch, young ass?—a miserable, second-hand, tin ticker; I'd be ashamed to be seen with it. Come, once more, get out of here or I'll kick you out!"
Charlie obeyed, miserable and disappointed.
He could stand being spoken roughly to, he could bear his disappointment, but to hear his father's precious gift spoken of as a "miserable, second-hand tin ticker," was more than he could endure, and he made his way back to his room conscious of having lost more than he had gained by this thankless effort at reconciliation.
"What are you in the sulks about?" inquired Halliday that evening, as Charlie was putting away his lord and master's jam in the cupboard.
"I don't want to be sulky," Charlie said, "but I wish I could make it up with Tom Drift."
"With who?" exclaimed Joe, who, as we have before observed, was subject to occasional lapses of grammar.
"Tom Drift, you know; we had a row the first day."
"I know," replied Joe; "about that everlasting watch of yours, wasn't it?"
"Yes," said Charlie, "I didn't like to lend it him, because—"
"I know all about that," said Halliday. "You were squeamish about something or other he wanted it for. Well, the watch belonged to you, I suppose, and you aren't obliged to lend it to anybody. What on earth do you want to go worrying about the thing any more for?"
"I'm not; only I wanted to be friends with Tom Drift."
"What for?" demanded Joe.
"Oh, because—because I promised his mother I would be," pleaded Charlie.
"All I can say is, you had no business to promise any one to be friends with a fellow you never saw."
"But she said he was a nice fellow; and besides he made my watch go when it had stopped," added Charlie, as a great argument.
"Why, Charlie, you are a greater little noodle than I took you for. Every one who calls that precious watch a good name is your master, and you're his slave."
"Not so bad as that, Joe," said Charlie; "but I say, isn't Tom Drift a nice boy, then?"
"Isn't he? that's all," replied the other. "I'm not going to abuse him behind his back, but take my advice, young un. You are better off as Tom's enemy than his friend, and don't you try to make up to him any more."
"Why not?" asked Charlie in bewilderment.
"Never you mind," was all Joe's reply; "and now hand me down my Liddell and Scott and make yourself scarce."
Charlie, sorely puzzled, did as he was bid.
He certainly was not in love with Tom Drift; but it was not easy for him to give up, without an effort, his promise to be his friend.
Tom, however, was by no means in need of friends. Not many weeks after the day when Charlie had left his study, disappointed and miserable, he might have been seen entertaining company of quite a different sort.
[My readers, let me here observe, must not be too curious to understand how it is I am able to speak of so many things which must have taken place beyond the range of my observation. They will find the reason all in good time.]
The supper party over which Tom presided consisted of four boys, including himself. One was Shadbolt, on whose account, it will be remembered, Tom had desired to borrow Charlie's watch. Shadbolt was an unwholesome-looking fellow of fifteen, with coarse features and eyes that could not look you straight in the face if they had tried. He was accompanied by his chum Margetson, who certainly had the advantage of his friend in looks, as well as in intellect. The quartet was completed by Gus Burke, one of the smallest and most vicious boys at Randlebury. He was the son of a country squire, who had the unenviable reputation of being one of the hardest drinkers and fastest riders in his county; and the boy had already shown himself only too apt a pupil in the lessons in the midst of which his childhood had been passed. He had at his tongue's tip all the slang of the stables and all the blackguardisms of the betting-ring; and boy—almost child—as he was, he affected the swagger and habits of a "fast man," like a true son of his father.
At Randlebury he had wrought incredible mischief. Tom Drift was not the only soft-minded vain boy whom he had infected by his pernicious example. Like all reckless swaggerers, he had his band of admirers, who marked every action and drank in every word that fell from their hero's lips.
It was just with such boys as Drift that his influence was most telling; for Tom was a boy not without aptitude to note and emulate a powerful example, whether it were good or bad, while his vanity rendered him as pliant as wax to the hand of the flatterer.
Such was the party which assembled surreptitiously in Tom's study that evening and partook of the smuggled supper.
Tom had had hard work to provide for his guests, and had succeeded only at the risk of grave penalties if detected.
"I say, Tom, old horse, this is a prime spread!" said Gus; "where did you get it?"
"Oh!" said Tom, "I had a new hat coming from Tiler's, so I got old Tripes (the butcher) to make a neat brown-paper parcel of the kidneys, and got them up in my gossamer. The old donkey might have done the thing better though, for the juice squeezed through, and the inside of my hat looks as if I had lately been scalped."
"Hard lines! But never mind, perhaps they'll put it down to the crack you got on your forehead."
Tom flushed scarlet; any reference to his inglorious scuffle with Charlie Newcome was odious to him, as Gus and the others knew well enough. He said nothing, however, only scowled angrily.
"What!" said Gus, "does it hurt you still then? Never mind, it was a good shot, and I wouldn't be ashamed of having floored you myself."
"He didn't floor me; I fell!" cried Tom indignantly.
"Did you? Rather a way fellows have when they get knocked down!"
"I was not knocked down, Gus, I tell you; and you'd better shut up!"
"All right, old horse! you mustn't mind a bit of chaff. I'm sure you've taken it all very well."
"Yes," said Margetson, "everybody thinks you must take after your mother; you're such a sweet-tempered chap."
"What do you know about my mother?" snarled Tom.
"Only what your young friend tells everybody about her."
"What business has he to go talking all over the school about my affairs?" exclaimed Tom furiously. "What's my mother to do with him?"
"A great deal, it seems," replied Margetson, "for he promised her, on the strength of her assertion that you were a nice boy, to be your friend, and now he's awfully hurt you won't let him."
"I thought it was Tom who was awfully hurt," put in Gus, by way of parenthesis.
"I tell you what it is, you fellows," said Tom, "it may be all very funny for you, but I've had quite enough of it. Ever since that young canting humbug came here I've led the life of a dog. If, instead of making a fool of me, you'd tell me how I can pay him out, I should be better pleased."
"All very fine," said Margetson; "why don't you pay your own bills?"
"If you want some one to punch his head," said Shadbolt the ugly, "I don't mind trying; my life is insured."
"Suppose we make him stupid," suggested Gus, "with milk punch, and shove him inside the doctor's study."
"Couldn't you get hold of his watch and boil it?" said Margetson, who had heard of the experiments practised on me in Mrs Packer's parlour.
"If I got hold of it I'd smash it into fifty pieces!" growled Tom between his teeth.
"Look here, you fellows, I've got a glorious plan!" exclaimed Gus suddenly.
"What is it?" they all cried.
But Gus's plan requires a new chapter.
HOW A PLEASANT TREAT IN STORE WAS PREPARED FOR MY MASTER.
Gus proceeded then to divulge his plan for giving Tom Drift his revenge on my master.
"Let's take him to Gurley races on Saturday," said he. "You know it's a holiday, and if we can only get him with us, well astonish his sanctimonious young soul. What do you say?"
"You'll never get him to come," said Margetson.
"Won't we? Well see about that," replied Gus, "he needn't know where he's going."
"But even so," said Drift, "you won't get him; he's not in love with me, and I don't fancy any of you are much in his line."
"Oh, you'll have to manage that part, Tom. You know how the young idiot's pining to make it up with you, for your dear old mother's sake!"
"Now you needn't start that nonsense again," put in Tom sulkily.
"All right; but don't you see, if you were to take a forgiving fit and make up to him, and talk about the old lady and his watch, and all that, he'd be out of his wits with joy? and then if you asked him to come for a day's fishing on Saturday, we could meet you somewhere on the road, and then he'd have to come whether he liked or not; and won't we astonish him!"
Tom mused a little.
"It's not a bad idea," said he presently, "if it would only work. But I can't make up to the young puppy as you think. Ten to one I should stop short in the middle and kick him."
"That would spoil all the fun. Try it on, any way, it'll be a nice little excitement to have young Innocent with us. And now, Tom, where are blacks and reds; I'm just in the humour for a rubber, aren't you?"
The host produced from a locked desk a dirty and much-worn pack of cards, and the party sat down to play.