The Cock-House at Fellsgarth
By Talbot Baines Reed For some reason this book was quite hard to convert to e-Book, so that if any error is detected by a reader I would be grateful if I could be told, either by email, or by using our Bulletin Board.
This is another story set in a nineteenth century boy's boarding school, and is quite similar to "The Fifth Form at Saint Dominic's".
At the time it was greatly acclaimed, and said to be very like a real boarding school, but things must have changed because I was at one such school only fifty years after this book was written, and I can't imagine any of it happening at my school. On the other hand I was also at a boarding school for boys aged 8 to 13, which was much more like the school in this story. As I say, things must have changed.
It takes about ten hours to play as an audiobook. There are a number of quite tense incidents, particularly when a party of boys decide to walk up a nearby mountain, and the weather turns very nasty. This is in chapters 17 to 19. But there are many other well-described incidents, so do read the book, remembering that boys' slang has changed greatly in the past hundred years. THE COCK-HOUSE AT FELLSGARTH
BY TALBOT BAINES REED
GREEN AND BLUE.
First-night at Fellsgarth was always a festive occasion. The holidays were over, and school had not yet begun. All day long, from remote quarters, fellows had been converging on the dear old place; and here they were at last, shoulder to shoulder, delighted to find themselves back in the old haunts. The glorious memories of the summer holidays were common property. So was not a little of the pocket-money. So, by rule immemorial, were the contents of the hampers. And so, as they discovered to their cost, were the luckless new boys who had to-day tumbled for the first time headlong into the whirlpool of public school life.
Does some one tell me he never heard of Fellsgarth? I am surprised. Where can you have been brought up that you have never heard of the venerable ivy-clad pile with its watch-tower and two wings, planted there, where the rivers Shale and Shargle mingle their waters, a mile or more above Hawkswater? My dear sir, Fellsgarth stood there before the days when Henry the Eighth, (of whom you may have possibly heard in the history books) abolished the monasteries and, some wicked people do say, annexed their contents.
There is very little of the old place standing now. A piece of the wall in the head-master's garden and the lower buttresses of the watch-tower, that is all. The present building is comparatively modern; that is to say, it is no older than the end of the Civil Wars, when some lucky adherent to the winning side built it up as a manor-house and disfigured the tower with those four pepper-castors at the corners. Successive owners have tinkered the place since then, but they cannot quite spoil it. Who can spoil red brick and ivy, in such a situation?
Not know Fellsgarth! Have you never been on Hawkswater then, with its lonely island, and the grey screes swooping down into the clear water? And have you never seen Hawk's Pike, which frowns in on the fellows through the dormitory window? I don't ask if you have been up it. Only three persons, to my knowledge (guides and natives of course excepted), have done that. Yorke was one, Mr Stratton was another, and the other—but that's to be part of my story.
First-night, as I have said, was a specially "go-as-you-please" occasion at the school. Masters, having called over their roll, disappeared into their own quarters and discreetly heard nothing. Dames, having received and unpacked the "night-bags," retired elsewhere to wrestle with the big luggage. The cooks, having passably satisfied the cravings of two hundred and fifty hungry souls, and having removed out of harm's way the most perishable of the crockery, shrugged their shoulders and shut themselves into the kitchens, listening to the noise and speculating on the joys of the coming term.
What a noise it was! Niagara after the rains, or an express train in a tunnel, or the north wind in a gale against the Hawk's Back might be able to beat it. But then Fellsgarth was not competing; each of the fellows was merely chatting pleasantly to his neighbours. It was hardly a fair trial. And yet it was not bad for the School. When Dangle, who owned the longest ear in the school, could not hear a word which Brinkman, who owned the loudest voice, shouted into it, it spoke somewhat for what Fellsgarth might do in the way of noise if it tried.
The only two persons who were not actively contributing to the general clamour were the two new boys who sat wedged in among a mass of juniors at one of the lower tables. They may have considered that the beating of their hearts was noisy enough. But people in this world are slow at hearing other people's hearts beat. No one seemed to notice it.
It is due to the stouter of these two young gentlemen to say that the beating of his heart, and the general state of amaze in which he found himself, did not interfere greatly with his appetite. He had brought that accomplishment, if no other, from home, and not being engaged like those around him in conversation, he contrived to put away really a most respectable meal. Indeed, his exploits in this direction had already become a matter for remark among his neighbours.
"It's all right," said one of the juniors, who answered to the name of D'Arcy; "his buttons are sewn on with wire. They'll hold."
"I suppose he's made of gutta-percha," observed another. "He'll stretch a little more before he's done."
"I say, what a bill he's running up! By the way, what do they charge for this kind of pudding?"
"It's a dear kind—and nothing like as good as the sort we get for regular. I never could understand why they make fellows shell out for what they eat first-night."
"It is a swindle," said D'Arcy, solemnly. "I've had to make a very light meal, because I've only half a crown, and I'm afraid there won't be much change left out of that."
The new boy was just laying butter on a roll, and preparing to close the proceedings of the meal with a good square turn of bread and butter. But as D'Arcy's words fell on his ears he suddenly stopped short and looked up.
"I say," said he, "isn't this dinner charged in the house bill then?"
D'Arcy laughed derisively.
"Well, you most be a muff. Don't you know school doesn't begin till to- morrow? They give you dinner to-night, but you're not obliged to eat it."
The new boy took a gulp of water, which he calculated would be gratis under any circumstances, and then gasped—"I say, I didn't know that."
D'Arcy looked solemn. "Jolly awkward," said he; "what have you had?"
Whereupon Master Ashby, the new boy, entered on a detailed confession, which D'Arcy, evidently an expert at mental arithmetic, "totted up" as he went along.
"How many times pudding did you say?" he asked towards the end, "Twice and a bit."
"Three and ten; I dare say he won't be stiff about the bit, three and ten; and that roll and butter—"
"I've not eaten them."
"No, but you've touched them. You'll be charged, unless you can get a fellow to take them off your hands."
"Will you have them?" asked Ashby.
Whereupon there was a laugh at D'Arcy's expense, which annoyed that young gentleman.
"I don't want your second-hand grub. You'd better take it round and see what you can get for it."
Ashby looked at the bread, and then glanced round the table.
"No," said he, "I'll have it and pay for it, if it comes to that."
"That'll be four bob."
Ashby gave a gulp of despair.
"I've not got so much."
"Then you'll get in a jolly row."
"Could you lend me one and six, I say?" asked the new boy.
Again D'Arcy got the worst of the laugh.
"Didn't you hear me say I'd only just got enough to pay for my own? But I tell you what; you can hide under the table. You're not known."
Ashby looked round, and felt about with his foot under the table to ascertain what room there might be there. Then he flushed up. "No, I shan't," said he; "I'd get into the row instead."
As his eye travelled round and marked the curious smile on every face it suddenly dawned upon him that he had been "done." His first sensation was one of immense relief. He should not have to pay for his dinner after all! His second was a cunning device for getting out of the dilemma.
"I thought you'd begin to laugh soon," said he to D'Arcy. "I knew you couldn't keep it up."
D'Arcy turned very red in the face and glared at this audacious youngster in deserved wrath.
"What do you mean, you young ass? You know you've swallowed it all."
"He swallowed all the grub anyhow," said another.
"No, I've not," said Master Ashby. "I'd have another go-in now. I knew he'd have to laugh in the end."
It was hopeless to deal seriously with a rebel of this sort. D'Arcy tried to ride off on the high horse; but it was not a very grand spectacle, and Ashby, munching up the remains of his roll, was generally held to have scored. The relief with which he hailed the discovery of his mistake was so genuine, and the good spirits and appetite the incident put into him were so imperturbable, as to disarm further experiment at his expense, and he was left comparatively free to enjoy the noise and imbibe his first impression of Fellsgarth in his own way.
The other new boy, meanwhile, was not altogether without his difficulties.
Fisher minor, to which name this ingenuous young gentleman answered, would probably have been the first to pour contempt on the verdure of his companion. He had come up to Fellsgarth determined that, in whatever respect he failed, no one should lightly convict him of being green. He had wormed out of his brother in the Sixth a few hints of what was considered the proper thing at Fellsgarth, and these, with the aid of his own brilliant intellect and reminiscences of what he had read in the books, served, as he hoped, both to forewarn and forearm him against all the uncomfortable predicaments into which the ordinary new boy is apt to fall.
It must be confessed that as he sat and listened to the noise, and marked how little Fellsgarth appeared to recognise his existence, he felt a trifle uneasy and nervous. He wasn't sure now that he knew everything. All these fellows seemed to be so thoroughly at home, and to know so exactly what to do; he wished he could do the same.
He wished, for instance, he could spin a fork round with his first finger and thumb while he talked, as Yorke, the captain, was doing. He did once privately try, while he was not talking, but it was a dismal failure. The fork fell with a great clatter to the floor and attracted general attraction his way. He picked the weapon up with as easy an air as he could assume, whistling sotto voce to himself as he did it, so as to appear unconcerned.
"Look out, I say; you mustn't whistle at meal-times, it's bad manners," said a voice at his side.
He turned round and perceived a pleasant-looking youth of the species junior, in a red tie and wrist studs to match.
This youth evidently knew what was what at Fellsgarth; and a further glance at him convinced Fisher minor that he had met him in a good hour. For all dinner-time he had been exercised as to whether it was the thing to wear the jacket opened or buttoned. Yorke wore his buttoned, so did a good many of the Sixth; and Fisher minor had consequently buttoned up too. But his new friend, who was pronounced in all his ways and evidently an authority on etiquette, wore his open. Fisher minor therefore furtively slipped his fingers down and opened his coat.
"You're a new kid, I suppose," said he of the red necktie.
"Yes, I'm Fisher minor."
"What, son of Fisher the boat-builder? I didn't know he had one so old."
"No, oh no. That's my brother up there, talking to the Dux."
"The who? I don't see any ducks."
"I mean Yorke, you know, the captain."
"Why ever do you call him ducks? You'd better let him catch you calling him names like that. Oh, you're a brother of old Fisher? You look it."
Fisher minor was alarmed at the tone in which this observation was made. It seemed to imply that Fisher major was not quite all that could be desired, and yet the younger brother did not exactly know what it was in the elder which called for repudiation. However, he was spared the pain of deciding by a new voice on his other side.
"What's that, Wally? Does this kid say he belongs to Fisher? Oh, my stars, what form we're coming to!"
Fisher minor glanced round, and experienced a shock as he did so.
For the new speaker was so like the last that he was tempted to suppose the latter had suddenly changed seats and contrived to substitute a blue necktie for a red, and button his jacket during the feat. But when he looked back, the owner of the red tie was still in his place. After considerable wagging of his head, he was forced to admit that he was seated between two different persons.
"Why, he can't help that," said the gentleman addressed as Wally.
Fisher minor laughed feebly, and really wished his brother would pay a little more attention to the "form."
"Of course," said Wally, talking across to his twin brother, "fellows can't tell what asses they look until they're told. Don't you remember the chap last term who always wore his trousers turned up, till the prefects made him turn them down or go on the Modern side."
"Catch us taking any of your cast-off louts on our side," retorted the other brother, who evidently belonged to the slighted side; "yes— shocking bad form it was—and when he turned them down at last, they found seventy-four nibs, fifty matches, and nobody knows how many candle-ends."
All this time Fisher minor, with panic at his heart, was furiously trying to turn down his trouser-ends with his feet. What a lucky escape for him to get this warning in time! During the walk round the grounds he had turned his ends up, and had quite forgotten to put them down again when he came in. Now, no coaxing would get them down without manual assistance. He sat clawing with one foot after another, lacerating his shins and his garments in vain. At length in despair he dropped his fork again, and under cover of this diversion attempted to stoop and adjust the intractable folds.
In his flurry he naturally forgot the fork; so that when, after a minute and a half, he emerged without it into the upper world, his two companions were not a little perplexed.
"What have you been up to down there? Do you generally eat your grub under the table?" asked Wally. "All I can say is, it's the best place for him if he wears his hair like that," said the other in tones of alarm. "Young kid, I never noticed that before! Whatever induces you to part it on the right? Did you ever hear of a Fellsgarth fellow— Oh, I say, what a wigging you'll get! Look at me and Wally and Yorke and all of 'em. Whew! it makes one ill to see it! Just look round for yourself."
As more than half of those present appeared to have no parting at all, and most of the rest parted on the left, Fisher minor realised with horror that he had been guilty of a terrible solecism.
The alarm depicted in the faces of both the twins was proof enough that the matter was a critical one. It was no time for shuffling. He had had enough of that over his trouser-ends. He must throw himself on the mercy of his critics.
"I quite forgot—of course," said he hurriedly; "I—I—"
"Look here," said Wally, hurriedly shoving a pocket-comb into his hands; "you'd better go downstairs again and change it sharp, or you'll be spotted. Cut along."
So Fisher minor began with shame to look once more for his fork, and in doing so crawled well under the table, and sitting down proceeded nervously and painfully to open up a parting on the left side of his head. It was an arduous task, and not made easier by the unjustifiable conduct of the twins, who having got their man safe under hatches began to kick out in an unceremonious fashion and basely betray his retreat to their friends and neighbours.
"Pass him on!"
"Hack it through!"
"Ware cats!" was the cry, in the midst of which the luckless Fisher minor, finding a return to his old place effectually barred, and wearying of the ceremony of running a gauntlet of all the legs along the table before it was half over, made a hasty selection of what seemed to him the mildest pair within reach, and clutching at them convulsively, hung on for dear life.
The owner of the limbs in question was Ranger, a prefect of his house and more or less of a grandee at Fellsgarth. As he was unaware of the cause of the excitement around him, this sudden assault from below took him aback, and he started up from his chair in something as near a panic as a Fellsgarth prefect could be capable of. Naturally his parasite followed him.
To Ranger's credit, he took in the situation rapidly, and did not abuse his opportunities.
"What's this?" he demanded, lifting up Fisher minor, with his hair all on end and the pocket-comb still in his hand, by the coat-collar. "Who does this belong to?"
No one in particular owned the object in question.
"What are you?" asked the prefect.
"I'm Fisher minor; I got under the table, somehow."
"So I should suppose. Afraid of the draughts, I suppose."
"It was Wally and his brother put me there. I didn't mean—"
"Oh—Wally, was it? Here, young Wheatfield, you shouldn't leave your property about like this. It's against rules. Here, hook on, and don't go chucking it about any more."
"All serene," said the twin. "Come along, kid. Done with my comb? You look ever so much better form now; doesn't he, you chaps? How came you to lose your way downstairs?"
Fisher minor owned himself utterly unable to account for the misadventure, and discreetly remained silent until the signal was given to return thanks and separate every boy to his own house.
As he was wandering across the court, very dismal and apprehensive of what more was in store for him, a lean youth with a pale face and very showily attired accosted him.
"Hullo, kid, are you a new chap?"
"Yes," replied Fisher minor, eyeing the stranger suspiciously.
"What side are you on?"
Fisher stared interrogatively.
"Well, then, are you Modern or Classic?"
"I don't know, really," said Fisher minor, wishing he knew which he ought to proclaim himself. Then making a bold venture, he said, "I believe Modern."
"Good job for you," said the youth; "saves me the trouble of kicking you. Can you lend me a bob? I'll give it you back to-morrow as soon as I've unpacked."
It did strike Fisher minor as queer that any one should pack shillings up in a trunk, but he was too pleased to oblige this important and fashionable-looking personage to raise any question.
"Yes. Can you give me change out of a half-crown? Or you can pay me the lot back to-morrow, I shan't be wanting it till then," said he.
"All serene, kid; I'm glad you are our side. I shall be able to give you a leg-up with the fellows. Whose house are you in?"
"Wakefield's, the same as my brother."
"What—then you must be a Classic! They're all Classics at Wakefield's. Why can't you tell the truth when you're asked, instead of a howling pack of lies?"
"I didn't know, really, I thought—"
"Come, that's a good one. Any idiot knows what side he's on at Fellsgarth."
Fisher minor was greatly confused to stand convicted thus of greenness.
"You see," said he, putting on a little "side" to cover his shame, "I was bound to be stuck on the same side as my brother, you know."
"Nice for you. Not a gentleman among them. All paupers and prigs," said this young Modern, waxing eloquent. "You'll suit them down to the ground." Considering that Fisher minor had just lent the speaker half a crown, these taunts struck him as not exactly grateful. At the same time he writhed under the reproach, and felt convinced that Classics were not at all the "form" at Fellsgarth.
"Why," pursued the other, pocketing his coin in order to release his hands for a little elocution, "we could boy 'em up twice over. The workhouse isn't in it with Wakefield's. There's not a day but they come cadging to us, wanting to borrow our tin, or our grub, or something. There, look at that chap going across there! He's one of 'em. Regular casual-ward form about him. He's the meanest, stingiest lout in all Fellsgarth."
"Why," exclaimed Fisher minor, looking in alarm towards this prodigy of baseness, "why, that's—that's Fisher, my brother!"
The Modern youth's jaw fell with a snap, and his cheeks lost what little colour they had.
"What? Why didn't you tell me! Look here, you needn't tell him what I said. It was quite between ourselves, you know. I must be cutting, I say. See you again some day."
And he vanished, leaving Fisher minor considerably more bewildered, and poorer by a cool half-crown, than he had been five minutes ago.
Wakefield's house, as Fisher minor entered it under his brother's wing, hardly seemed to the new boy as disreputable a haunt as his recent Modern friend had led him to expect. Nor did the sixty or seventy fellows who clustered in the common room strike him as exactly the lowest stratum of Fellsgarth society. Yorke, the captain, for instance, with his serene, well-cut face, his broad shoulders and impressive voice hardly answered to the description of a lout. Nor did Ranger, of the long legs, with speed written in every inch of his athletic figure, and gentleman in every line of his face, look the sort of fellow to be mistaken for a cad. Even Fisher major, about whom the younger brother had been made to feel decided qualms, could hardly have been the hail- fellow-well-met he was with everybody, had he been all the new boy's informant had recently described him.
Indeed, Fisher minor, when presently he gathered himself together sufficiently to look round him, was surprised to see so few traces of the "casual-ward" in his new house. True, most of the fellows might be poor—which, of course, was highly reprehensible; and some of them might not be connected with the nobility, which showed a great lack of proper feeling on their part. But as a rule they held up their heads and seemed to think very well of themselves and one another; while their dress, if it was not in every case as fashionable as that of the temporary owner of Fisher minor's half-crown, was at least passably well fitting.
Fisher minor, for all his doubts about the company he was in, could not help half envying these fellows, as he saw with what glee and self- satisfaction they entered into their own at Wakefield's. They were all so glad to be back, to see again the picture of Cain and Abel on the wall, to scramble for the corner seat in the ingle-bench, to hear the well-known creak on the middle landing, to catch the imperturbable tick of the dormitory clock, to see the top of Hawk's Pike looming out, down the valley, clear and sharp in the falling light.
Fisher minor and Ashby, as they sat dismally and watched all the fun, wondered if the time would ever come when they would feel as much at home as all this. It was a stretch of imagination beyond their present capacity.
To their alarm, Master Wally Wheatfield presently recognised them from across the room, and came over patronisingly to where they sat.
"Hullo, new kids! thinking of your mas, and the rocking-horses, and Nurse Jane, and all that? Never mind, have a good blub, it'll do you good."
Considering how near, in strict secrecy, both the young gentlemen addressed were to the condition indicated by the genial twin, this exhortation was not exactly kind.
They tried to look as if they did not mind it, and Fisher minor naturally did his best to appear knowing.
"I don't mind," said he, with a snigger; "they're all milksops at home. I'd sooner be here."
"I wouldn't," put in the sturdy Ashby. "I think it's horrid not to see a face you know."
"There you are; what did I say! Screaming for his mammy," gibed Wally.
"And if I was," retorted Master Ashby, warming up, "she's a lot better worth it than yours, so now!"
Master Wally naturally fired up at this. Such language was hardly respectful from a new junior to an old.
"I'll pull your nose, new kid, if you cheek me."
"And I'll pull yours, if you cheek my mother."
"Booh, booh, poor baby! Who's cheeking your mother? I wouldn't cheek her with a pair of tongs. Something better to do. I say, are both you kids Classics?"
"Yes," they replied.
"I thought you must be Moderns, you're both so precious green. All right, there'll be lamb's singing directly, then you'll have to sit up."
"What's lamb's singing?" said Ashby.
"Don't you know?" replied Wally, glad to have recovered the whip hand. "It's this way. Every new kid has to sing in his house the first-night. You'll have to."
"Oh," faltered Ashby, "I can't; I don't know anything."
"Can't get out of it; you must," said the twin, charmed to see the torture he was inflicting. "So must you, Hair-parting."
Fisher minor was too knowing a hand to be caught napping. He had had the tip about lamb's singing from his brother last term, and was prepared. He joined in, therefore, against Ashby.
"What, didn't you know that, kid? You must be green. I knew it all along."
"That's all right," said Wheatfield. "Now I'm going. I can't fool away all my evening with you. By the way, mind you don't get taking up with any Modern kids. It's not allowed, and you'll get it hot if you do. My young brother," (each twin was particularly addicted to casting reflections on his brother's age) "is a Modern. Don't you have anything to do with him. And whatever you do, don't lend any of them money, or there'll be a most awful row. That's why we always call up subscriptions for the house clubs on first-night. It cleans the fellows out, and then they can't lend any to the Moderns. You'll have to shell out pretty soon, as soon as Lamb's singing is over. Ta, ta."
This last communication put Fisher minor in a terrible panic. He had evidently committed a gross breach of etiquette in lending that Modern boy (whose name he did not even know) a half-crown; and now, when the subscriptions were called for, he would have to declare himself before all Wakefield's a pauper.
"I say," said he to Ashby, dropping the patronising for the pathetic, "could you ever lend me half-a-crown? I've—I've lost mine—I'll pay it you back next week faithfully."
"I've only got five bob," said Ashby; "to last all the term, and half a crown of that will go in the clubs to-night."
"But you'll get it back in a week—really you will," pleaded Fisher minor, "and I'll—"
But here there was a sudden interruption. Every one, from the captain down, looked towards the new boys, and a shout of "lamb's singing," headed by Wally Wheatfield, left little doubt as to what it all meant.
"Pass up the new kids down there," called one of the prefects. Whereupon Fisher minor and Ashby, rather pale and very nervous, were hustled up to the top of the room, where sat the grandees in a row round the table on which the sacrifice was to take place.
For the benefit of the curious it may be explained that "lamb's singing," the name applied to the musical performances of new boys at Fellsgarth on first-night, is supposed to have derived its title from the frequency with which these young gentlemen fell back upon "Mary had a little lamb" as their theme on such occasions.
"Isn't one of them your minor?" asked Yorke of Fisher senior.
"Yes," said the latter rather apologetically; "the one with the light hair. He's not much to look at. The fact is, I only know him slightly. They say at home he's a nice boy."
"Does he spend much of his time under tables, as a rule?" asked Ranger, recognising the lost property which had hung on to his legs at dinner- time. "If so, I'll take the other one for my fag."
"He's bagged already," said Denton. "Fisher and I put our names down for him an hour ago."
"Well, that's cool. If Fisher wanted a fag he might as well have taken his own minor."
"Fisher major knew better," said the gentleman in question. "It might raise awkward family questions if I had him."
"Wouldn't it be fairer to toss up?" suggested the captain. "Or I don't mind swopping Wally Wheatfield for him; if you really—"
"No, thank you, I draw the line at Wally. I wouldn't deprive you of him for the world. I suppose I must have this youngster. Let's hear him sing first."
"Yes, lamb's singing. Now, you two, one at a time. Who's first? Alphabetical order."
Ashby, with an inward groan, mounted the rostrum. If anything could have been more cruel than the noise which greeted his appearance, it was the dead silence which followed it. Fellows sat round, staring him out of countenance with critical faces, and rejoicing in his embarrassment.
"What's the title!" demanded some one.
"I don't know any songs," said Ashby presently, "and I can't sing."
"Ho, ho! we've heard that before. Come, forge ahead."
"I only know the words of one that my con—somebody I know—sings, called the Vigil. I don't know the tune."
"That doesn't matter—out with it."
So Ashby, pulling himself desperately together, plunged recklessly into the following appropriate ditty; which, failing its proper tune, he manfully set at the top of his voice, and with all the energy he was capable of, to the air of the Vicar of Bray—
The stealthy night creeps o'er the lea, My darling, haste away with me. Beloved, come I see where I stand, With arms outstretched upon the strand.
The night creeps on; my love is late, O love, my love, I wait, I wait; The soft wind sighs mid crag and pine; Haste, O my sweet; be mine, be mine!
This spirited song, the last two lines of which were aught up as a chorus, fairly brought down the house; and Ashby, much to his surprise, found himself famous. He had no idea he could sing so well, or that the fellows would like the words as much as they seemed to do. Yet they cheered him and encored him, and yelled the chorus till the roof almost fell in.
"Bravo," shouted every one, the captain himself included, as he descended from the table; "that's a ripping song."
"That sends up the price of our fag, I fancy," said Denton to his chum. "Your young brother won't beat that."
"Next man in," shouted Wheatfield, hustling forward Fisher minor. "Now, kid, lamm it on and show them what you can do."
"Title! title!" cried the meeting.
Now, if truth must be told, Fisher minor had come to Fellsgarth determined that whatever else he failed in, he would make a hit at "lamb's singing." He had made a careful calculation as to what sort of song would go down with the company and at the same time redeem his reputation from all suspicion of greenness; and he flattered himself he had hit upon the exact article.
"Oh," said he, with an attempt at offhand swagger, in response to the demand. "It's a comic song, called Oh no."
It disconcerted him a little to see how seriously everybody settled down to listen, and how red his brother's face turned as he took a back seat among the seniors. Never mind. Wait till they heard his song. That would fetch them!
He had carefully studied not only the song but the appropriate action. As he knew perfectly well, there is one invariable attitude for a comic song. The head must be tilted a little to one side. One eyebrow must be raised and the opposite corner of the mouth turned down. One knee should be slightly bent; the first finger and thumb of one hand should rest gracefully in the waistcoat pocket, and the other hand should be free for gesture.
All these points Fisher minor attended to now as carefully as his nervousness would permit, and felt half amused at the thought of how comic the fellows must think him.
"Do you—" he began.
But at this point Ranger unfeelingly interrupted, and put the vocalist completely out.
"Did you say 'Oh no' or 'How now'?"
"Oh no," repeated the singer.
"You mean h-o-w n-o-w?"
"Oh no; it's o-h n-o."
"Thanks—sorry to interrupt. Fire away." Fisher tried to get himself back into attitude, and began again in a thin treble voice;—
Do you think I'm just as green as grass! Oh no!
Do you take me for a silly ass! Oh no! Do you think I don't know A from B! Do you think I can't tell he from she! Do you think I swallow all I see?
Oh no—not me! He was bewildered by the unearthly silence of his audience. No one stirred a muscle except Wheatfield, who was apparently wiping away a tear. Was the song too deep for them, or perhaps he did not sing the words distinctly, or perhaps they had laughed and he had not noticed? At any rate he would try the next verse, which was certain to amuse them. He looked as droll as he could, and by way of heightening the effect, stuck his two thumbs into the armholes of his waistcoat and wagged his hands in time with the song.
Do you think I lie abed all day?
Oh no! Do you guess I skate on ice in May?
Oh no! Do you think I can't tell what is what? Do you think I don't know pepper's hot? Or whereabouts my i's to dot?
Oh no, no rot!
As he concluded, Fisher minor summoned up enough resolution to shake his head and lay one finger to his nose in the most approved style of comedy, and then awaited the result.
Fellows apparently did not take in that the song was at an end, for they neither cheered nor smiled. So Fisher minor made an elaborate bow to show it was all over. The result was the same. A gloomy silence prevailed, in the midst of which the singer, never more perplexed in his life, descended from the table and proceeded to look out for the congratulations of his admirers.
"Beautiful song," said Wally, still mopping his face.
"I never thought I could be so touched by anything. We generally get comic songs on first-night."
"This is a comic one," said Fisher minor.
"Go on," said Wheatfield; "tell that to D'Arcy here—he'll believe you— eh, D'Arcy?" D'Arcy looked mysterious.
"It's no laughing matter, young Wheatfield," said he, in a loud whisper, evidently intended for the eager ears of Fisher minor. "I heard Yorke just now ask Denton if he thought Fisher's minor was all there. Denton seemed quite cut up, and said he hadn't known it before, but it must be a great family trouble to the Fishers. It accounted for Fisher major's frequent low spirits. You know," continued D'Arcy confidentially, "I can't help myself thinking it's a little rough on Fisher major for his people to send a minor who's afflicted like this to Fellsgarth. They might at least have put him on the Modern side. He'd have been better understood there."
This speech Fisher minor listened to with growing perplexity. Was D'Arcy in jest or earnest? He seemed to be in earnest, and the serious faces of his listeners looked like it too. Had the captain really made that remark to Denton? Suppose there was something in it! Suppose, without his knowing, he was really a little queer in his head! His people might have told him of it. And Fisher major, his brother—even he hadn't heard of it! Oh dear! oh dear! How was he ever to recover his reputation for sanity? Whatever induced him to sing that song?
Poor Fisher minor devoutly wished himself home again, within reach of his mother's soothing voice and his sisters' smiles. They understood him. These fellows didn't. They knew he was not an idiot. These fellows didn't.
Further reflection was cut short by a loud call to order and cheers, as Yorke, the captain, rose to his feet.
Every one liked Yorke. As captain of the School even the Moderns looked up to him, and were forced to admit that he was a credit to Fellsgarth. In Wakefield's, his own house, he was naturally an idol. Prodigious stories were afloat as to his wisdom and his prowess. Examiners were reported to have rent their clothes in despair at his answers; and at football, rumour had it that once, in one of the out-matches against Ridgmoor, he had run the ball down the field with six of the other side on his back, and finished up with a drop at the goal from thirty yards.
But his popularity in his own house depended less on these exploits than on his general good-nature and incorruptible fairness. He scorned to hit an opponent when he was down, and yet he would knock down a friend as soon as a foe if the credit of the School required it. A few, indeed, there were whose habit it was to sneer at Yorke for being what they called "a saint." The captain of Fellsgarth would have been the last to claim such a title for himself; yet those who knew him best knew that in all he did, even in the common concerns of daily school life, he relied on the guidance and help of a Divine Friend, and was not ashamed to own his faith.
The one drawback to his character in the eyes of certain of his fellow- prefects and others at Wakefield's was that in the standing feud between Classics and Moderns he would take no part. He demanded the allegiance of all parties on behalf of the School, and if any man refused it, Yorke was the sort of person who would make it his business to know the reason why.
Now as he got up and waited for the cheers to cease, no one could deny that he wasn't as fine a captain as Wakefield's could expect to see for many a day. And for the first time some of those who even feared him realised with a qualm that this was the last "first-night" on which he would be there to make the usual speech.
"Gentlemen," he said, "we are all glad to be back in the old place," (cheers). "At any rate I am," (loud cheers). "On first-night, as you know, we always combine business with pleasure. We have just had the pleasure," (laughter, in the midst of which Fisher minor pricked up his ears and wondered if his song wasn't going to be appreciated after all). "The lambs have bleated and done their level best, I'm sure," (renewed laughter, and cries of "How now?"). "Now for the business. Gentlemen, the house clubs demand your support." (Fisher minor turned deadly green as he remembered the Modern boy and his half-crown. He looked round wildly for Ashby, but Ashby was standing between Wally and D'Arcy, and the proximity was not encouraging for Fisher's purpose. The idea occurred to him of appealing to his brother. But Fisher major, pen in hand, sat at the receipt of custom, and he dare not approach). "We hope there will be no shirking. Every fellow in the house is expected to back up the clubs. If the House clubs are not kept up to the mark, the School clubs are sure to go down," (cheers). "We don't ask much. The seniors pay 5 shillings, the middle-boys 3 shillings 6 pence, and the juniors 2 shillings 6 pence." (Fisher minor glanced frantically in the direction of the door, and began to edge that way.) "Now, gentlemen, one word more. You know, last term, there was a lot of bad blood between Classics and Moderns," (great cheers and three groans for the Moderns). "Of course it's open to any idiot who likes to make a fool of himself, and quarrel with anybody he likes. He's welcome to do it up to a certain point, if it gives him pleasure. But I want to say this—and I'd say it if the whole of the school was here—that if these rows once begin to interfere with the honour of the School in sports or anything else, as they nearly did last term, the fellows who indulge in them will be dropped on pretty heavily, no matter what side or what house they belong to."
The captain looked so uncommonly like meaning what he said, that D'Arcy, who had already made an appointment to fight Lickford, a Modern boy, at the Three Oaks before breakfast to-morrow, quailed under his eye, and wondered if he could with dignity "scratch" the engagement.
A general movement towards the table at which Fisher major sat with his pen and account-book followed the captain's speech. Of all the company present, only one failed to enrol himself. He was a new boy called Fisher minor, who, evidently worn out by the fatigues of the day and unversed in the etiquette of first-night, had sought the dame at a somewhat early hour, and received her permission to go to bed.
Such at least was that lady's version when Fisher major, having missed his minor, made inquiries respecting his absence.
"Best thing he could do, to make himself scarce, after such a performance," said the elder brother to Denton, who accompanied him.
"Yes, indeed, I envy Ranger his fag. It's a lucky thing we bagged the other one in time."
"The young donkey couldn't be in better hands," said Fisher; "but I say, Den, didn't the captain come down rather heavy with his thunder to- night? What does it all mean?"
"Bows, I expect," said Denton. "He's not going to stand what went on last term, and I'm jolly glad of it. We must back him up."
"If he means I'm not to feel inclined to kick Dangle whenever I see him, I can't promise him much."
"Dangle's a good quarter-mile man, and a good long-stop. If your kicking him prevents his playing for the School, you'll have to mind your eye, my boy. That's what he means."
"Oh!" grunted Fisher major, "I suppose the rows will begin to-morrow, when we elect the officers for the School clubs. Those fellows are sure to want to stick their own men in."
"At any rate you're safe enough for treasurer, old man. But come, I'm dead sleepy to-night. Time enough for rows to-morrow and the next day."
When Fisher major woke early next morning he had the curious sensation of something on his mind without knowing what it was.
He was not out of sorts. The private supper of which he and Denton and Ridgway had partaken last night in Ranger's study had been wholesome, if miscellaneous. Ranger's people had given him a hamper to bring back, containing a good many good things—cake, biscuits, potted meats, jam, Worcester sauce, pickles, coffee, and other groceries intended to diversify the breakfasts of the half. By some error of judgment this valuable article of luggage had come from town in the van, where it had apparently been placed at the very bottom of the baggage. The consequence was, that when it came to be opened, its several ingredients were found to have got loose, and fused together in a most hopeless way. Jam, and pickles, and Liebig's extract, and moist sugar were indistinguishable. The only thing seemed to be to attack the concoction en masse, without needless delay, and to that end Ranger had summoned the assistance of his friends and neighbours. Fisher major was unable to attribute any part of the weight on his mind to this perfectly wholesome and homely refreshment.
What was it? It was not Denton. He had come back as loyal and festive as ever, threatening to work hard this half, and determined to have Fisher major as his guest at the rectory on the lake for the Christmas vac.
Nor was it the captain's speech last night that bothered him. True, it was not altogether conciliatory to those, who, like Fisher major, were resolved to have no truce with the enemy. Of course it was the right thing for Yorke to say. But Yorke knew, as well as anybody, that the Classics meant to keep their house Cock-House at Fellsgarth.
Nor was it the accounts; although Fisher minor had to own to himself he was not a grand hand at finance, and that if he was appointed treasurer of the School clubs, as well as of his House clubs, he would have his work cut out for him to keep both funds clear and solvent.
What then was it? His young brother? He supposed it must be. The young donkey had made a bad beginning at Fellsgarth—which was bad enough. But had the elder brother done quite the decent thing in half disowning him, and letting him run on his fate in the way he had? A little brotherly backing up, a word or two of warning, and, if needs be, a little timely intimidation, might have made all the difference to the youngster, and would not have done the senior much harm.
Yes; it was this precious minor of his who was on Fisher major's mind. It was too late, of course, to pick up the milk already spilled. But it might be worth while to give him a word of admonition as to his future conduct.
With this view he sent Ashby (who, with all the alacrity of a brand-new fag, punctually presented himself for orders before getting-up bell had ceased ringing) to summon Fisher minor to his brother's room.
"Well, kid," said the elder brother, commencing his toilet, "how did you get on? Sleep well?"
"Middling," said Fisher minor. "Some of the fellows had put pepper on the blankets, and it got into my eyes—that's all."
"It's a good job they did nothing worse."
"Well," said Fisher minor, who was evidently in a limp state, and had not at all enjoyed his night, "they did tease a good deal."
"Well, there was that boy they call—"
"Stop," said Fisher major, turning round fiercely in the middle of brushing his hair; "do you mean to say you don't know that it's only cads who sneak about one another?"
"But you asked me."
"Of course I did, and made sure you wouldn't let out. I hope they'll give you a few more lively nights, to teach you better."
The young brother's lips gave an ominous quiver at this unfeeling speech, and he horrified Fisher major by betraying imminent symptoms of tears.
"Look here, Joey," said the senior, rather more soothingly, "you've made a jolly bad start, and that can't be helped. The mistake you made is in thinking you know everything, whereas you're about as green as they make them. Why ever do you pretend not to be? Look at that other new kid— the other one who sang. He's green too; but, bless you, it's no crime, and all the fellows take to him because he doesn't put on side like you. Why, that song you sang—oh, my stars!—what on earth put that rot into your head?"
This finished up poor Fisher minor. The recollection of his performance last night was more than he could stand, and he began to whimper.
"Come, old chap," said Fisher major, kindly, patting him on the shoulder; "perhaps it's not all your fault. I suppose I ought to have given you a leg-up, and prevented you making a fool of yourself. You'll get on right enough if you don't swagger. And in any case, don't blubber."
"I shall never get on here," said the new boy. "All the fellows are against me. Besides—I didn't know it was wrong; and—oh, Tom?—I lent a fellow half a crown, and now I've nothing to pay for the clubs!"
Fisher major laughed.
"I thought from your tones you were going to confess a murder, at least. You'd better look alive and get the half-crown back."
"That's just it. I lent it in the dark to a—a Modern chap; and I don't know his name."
"Upon my honour, Joey, you are a— Well, it's no good saying what you are. I hope you'll see your money again, that's all."
Fisher minor groaned.
"Would you ever mind lending me half-a-crown for the clubs, just this once?" he pleaded.
"Very convenient arrangement. I suppose I shall have to. At least I'll mark you as paid; and if you've not got back what you've lent your friend before I have to shell out, I shall have to pay it for you."
"Thanks, Tom; you're an awful brick," said the younger brother, brightening up rapidly. "I say, I wish I could be your fag. Couldn't I?"
"Ranger's bagged you—you'll get on better with him than me. He won't stand as much nonsense as I might. There! he is calling. Cut along, and don't go making such an ass of yourself again. You'll have to get on the best you can with your fellows; I can't interfere with them unless they break rules, you know. You can come in here, of course, any time you like, and if you want a leg-up with preparation, and Ranger's busy, you may as well do your work here."
After this Fisher major felt a little easier in his conscience, and was able to face the tasks of the day with a lighter mind than if he had had the care of his minor upon it all the time.
The school work of the day was not particularly onerous. Dr Ringwood, the head-master, held a sort of reception of the Sixth, and delivered, as was his wont, a little lecture on the work to be taken up during the ensuing half, interspersed with a few sarcastic references to the work of the previous half, and one or two jokes, which scoffers like Ridgway used to say must have cost him many serious hours during the holidays to develop.
"Aristophanes," said the head-master, after calling attention to the particular merits of the Greek play to be undertaken, "did not write solely for the Sixth form of a public school. I am afraid some of you, last term, thought that Euripides did. He will require more than usual attention. I am sure he can easily receive it. I would not, if I were you boys, be too chary this term of extra work. Some of you are almost painfully conscientious in your objection to overdo a particular study. Aristophanes is an author with whom liberties may safely be taken in this respect. The test of a good classical scholar, remember, is not the work he is obliged to do, but what he is not obliged to do—his extra work; I advise you not to be afraid to try it. The Sanatorium has been unusually free of cases of over-pressure lately. A quarter of an hour's extra work a day by the Sixth is not at all likely to tax its capacity," etcetera.
This was the doctor's pleasant style, delivered with a severe face and downcast eyes.
Then ensued a little lecture to the prefects on their duties and responsibilities, which was respectfully listened to. To judge by it, such a thing as any rumour of dissensions between rival sides and houses in the school had never reached his ears. And yet the knowing ones said the doctor knew better than the captain himself everything that went on in Fellsgarth, and could at any moment lay his hand on an offender. But he preferred to leave the police of the place to his head boys; and on the whole it was perhaps better for the School that he did.
To a larger or less degree the other forms, Classic and Modern, were lectured in similar strains by their respective masters. The new boys among the junior division were, perhaps, the only ones who listened attentively to what Mr Stratton, the young, cheery athlete who presided over their studies, had to say. And even the irrespectful admiration was a good deal distracted by the babel of voices which was going on all round them.
"Never mind him," said D'Arcy; "he's a kid of a master, and don't know any better. It's all rot. Bless you, we get the same thing—"
"D'Arcy," said the master, suddenly, "I was recommending the value of extra work, especially for clever boys. Perhaps you will try the experiment with fifty lines of Virgil by this time to-morrow."
"There you are," said D'Arcy, appealing to his neighbours; "didn't I tell you he talked rot? Did you ever hear such a stale joke as that?"
The two new boys were tremendously impressed by this sudden swoop of vengeance, and gazed open-mouthed at the master for the rest of the class, stealing only now and again a hasty glance at D'Arcy to see how he was bearing up against his sore afflictions.
D'Arcy, to do him justice, appeared to be bearing up very well. He was, in truth, engaged in a mental calculation as to how, during the coming term, he could most economically "job" out the impositions which usually fell to his share. If his countenance now and then brightened as he met the awe-struck gaze of the two new boys, it was because in them he thought he discerned a lively hope of solving the problem creditably to himself and not unprofitably to them.
"Come along," said he as soon as the class was released; "let's get out into the fresh air and have a cool. Hullo, Wally," as the owner of that name trotted up, "what's up?"
"Up?" said Wally in tones of injured innocence; "one would think you didn't know it was School club elections on in an hour, and all the chaps to whip up! If the Moderns turn up in force, it'll be touch-and- go if they don't carry every man. I can't stop now—mind you bring those kids."
And off he went with all the importance of captain's fag on his electioneering tour.
"Wally's right," said D'Arcy. "It'll be a close shave to carry our men. You see, kids," added he condescendingly, "it's just this way. The Moderns are going to try to carry the clubs to-day, and if they do, the whole of us aren't going to stand it, and there'll be such a jolly row in Fellsgarth as—well, wait till you see."
This sounded very awful. Fisher minor would have liked to know what sort of clubs were to be carried, but did not like to ask. Ashby, however, more honest, demanded further particulars.
"I don't know what you mean," said he.
"Don't suppose you do. Whose fault is that? All you've got to do is to yell for our side and vote for our men."
That seemed simple enough, if D'Arcy would only vouchsafe to tell them when to begin.
"Come along," said the latter. "We've half an hour yet to canvass. You know Wally's and my study?"
"All right; now you," pointing to Ashby, "you hang outside that door. That's the Modern minors' class. Collar one of them as they come out, or two if you can; and fetch 'em up to my room. You," pointing to Fisher minor, "go and prowl about the kids' gymnasium and fetch any one with a blue ribbon on his hat, as many as you can bag. I'm going to see if I can find some of 'em near the tuck-shop. Kick twice on my door and say 'Balbus,' so that I shall know it's you. Go on; off you go. Don't muff it, whatever you do, or it'll be your fault if Fellsgarth goes to pot."
Ashby, whose uncle was an M.P., had had some little experience in general elections, but he never remembered canvassing of this kind before. However, D'Arcy had an authoritative air about him, and as the School was evidently in peril, and there was no suspicion of practical joking in the present case, he marched off sturdily to the Modern minors' class-room, and sheltering himself conveniently behind the door, waited the turn of events.
He had not to wait long. He could hear the master announcing the lesson for preparation, and the general shuffle which precedes the dismissal of a class. Then his heart beat a little faster as he distinguished footsteps and heard the unsuspecting enemy approaching his way.
Now Ashby, although a new boy, was man enough to calculate one or two things. One was that his best chance was either to attack the head or the tail of the procession; and secondly, that as the head boys in a form are usually those nearest the front, and conversely, the lowest are usually nearest to the door, the smallest boys would probably be the first to come out. For all of which reasons he decided to make his swoop at once, and if possible abscond with his booty before the main body arrived on the scene.
The event justified his shrewdness. The moment the door opened, two small Moderns scampered out clean into the arms of the expectant kidnapper, who before they had time so much as to inquire who he was or what he wanted, had a grip on the coat-collar of each, and was racing them as hard as their short legs could carry them across the grass.
"Let go, you cad!" squeaked one, presently. "What we you doing!"
"It's only fun," said Ashby, encouragingly; "come along."
The other prisoner was more practical. He tried to bite his captor's hand, and when he failed in that, he tried to kick. But though he succeeded better in this, the pace was kept up and the grip on his collar, if anything, tightened. Whereupon he attempted to sit down. But that, though it retarded the progress, was still insufficient to arrest it. The pace dropped to a quick walk, and in due time, greatly to Ashby's relief, the portal of Wakefield's was reached.
Here, of course, all was safe. If any of the few boys hanging about had been inclined to concern themselves in the affair, the colour of the ribbon on the victims' hats was quite sufficient reason for allowing the law to take its course; and Ashby, who began to grow very tired of his burden (which insisted on sitting down on either side all the way upstairs), arrived at length at Messrs. D'Arcy and Wally's door without challenge.
He had no need to knock, or say "Balbus," as the room was empty. The other canvassers had evidently not yet returned.
With a sigh of relief he deposited his loads on the carpet and locked the door.
"Let us go, you cad!" yelled the prisoners. "What do you want bringing us here into this place for?"
"Fun," said Ashby. "You'll know presently."
"If you don't let us out, we'll yell till a master comes."
"Will you?—we're used to yelling here. Yell away; it'll do you good."
To the credit of the two "voters" they did their best, and made such a hideous uproar that Ashby began to grow uneasy, and was immensely relieved when presently he heard outside a sound as of coals being carelessly carried up the staircase. Some one was evidently coming up with a good load.
Ashby was prudent enough not to open the door till an irregular double kick and a breathless cry of "Balbus, look sharp," apprised him that another of the electioneering agents had returned. He then cautiously opened the door, and in tumbled D'Arcy, gasping, yet triumphant, under the weight of three fractious youngsters.
"Bully for us," said he, surveying the harvest. "Five for our side. Jolly well done of you, kid—you're a stunner. Two of mine are new kids—they came easy enough; but the other's a regular badger."
The badger in question seemed determined to maintain his reputation, for he flew upon his captor, calling upon his fellow-prisoners to do the same. All but the new boys obeyed, and the two "canvassers" were very hard put to it for a while, and might have fared yet worse, had not D'Arcy astutely hung out a flag of truce. "Look here," said he; "I never knew such idiots as you Modern kids are. Here I've done my best to be friends and invited you to a spread in my room; and now you won't even let me go to the cupboard and get out the black currant jam and cake."
"You're telling crams; that's not why you brought us here. You're a howling—"
"Yes, really," said D'Arcy, in quite a friendly tone, "Cry pax for one minute, and if I don't hand out the things you may go; honour bright. I've a good mind to kick you out without giving you anything."
The caged animals sullenly fell back and eyed the cupboard which D'Arcy leisurely opened. A row of half a dozen pots on a top shelf, a segment of a plum-cake, and something that looked very like honey in the comb, met their greedy eyes.
"There you are," said D'Arcy. "What did I tell you! They belong to Wally; he'll be here directly. You'll be all right—all except you," said he, singling out his principal assailant. "You don't know how to behave, like these other kids. I shall advise Wally not to waste any of his stuff on you."
"I didn't know it was a feast," said the youth, much softened. "I thought you were only humbugging; really I did."
"I've a good mind to do what you think. You'd better mind your eye, I can tell you—I wish Wally would come. There's five o'clock striking— I'll go and look for him. Ashby, you see if he's in the library; you kids, stay here, and lock the door, and don't let anybody in but Wally. Do you hear? If you do, you'll get it pretty hot for being out of your house. And look here, if Wally doesn't come by half-past, you can help yourselves."
"Thanks awfully," said the party.
"Mind! honour bright you don't touch a thing till the clock strikes the half. When you've done, stay here till one of us comes to fetch you, and we'll see you safe out. Don't go without, as our chaps are awfully down on Moderns this term, and you'll get flayed alive. If they've seen you come in, they'll try to get at you, be sure; so lock yourselves in, whatever you do, and don't make the room in too great a mess. Come along, Ashby; let's look for Wally."
"Cut hard," said he, as soon as they stood outside, and had heard the lock within duly turned. "We've only just time to get over; that's five votes lost to their side! Real good business! I wonder where the other new kid is? He was bound to make a mess of it. That's why I sent him to the gymnasium; it's closed to-day."
"Hooray for the Cock-House!" shouted Ashby, as, side by side with his now admiring patron, he entered the School Hall, where the ceremony of club elections was just beginning.
At the door they encountered Wheatfield.
"Such games!" whispered D'Arcy, clapping him joyously on the back. "We've got five Modern kids boxed up in our room, waiting for the clock to strike the half-hour before they have a tuck in at our empty jam- pots."
"Ha, ha!" said Wheatfield; "splendid joke!" and vanished.
D'Arcy's countenance suddenly turned pale as he gripped his companion by the arm.
"What's the matter?" inquired Ashby, alarmed for his friend's health. "What's up?"
"It's all up! We're regularly done. My, that is a go!"
"Whatever do you mean?"
"Why, you blockhead, didn't you see that was the wrong Wheatfield—not Wally, but the Modern one! And now he's gone to let those chaps out, and we're clean done for!"
"Whew! what is to be done?" groaned Ashby, almost as pale as his friend.
A CLOSE ELECTION.
Ever since certain well-meaning governors, two years ago, had succeeded in forcing upon Fellsgarth the adoption of a Modern side, the School had been rent by factions whose quarrels sometimes bordered on civil war. When people squabble about the management of a school outside, the boys are pretty sure to quarrel and take sides against one another inside.
The old set, consisting mostly of the Classical boys, felt very sore on the question. It was a case of sentiment, not argument. If boys, said they, wanted to learn science and modern languages, let them; but don't let them come fooling around at Fellsgarth and spoiling the reputation of a good old classical school. There were plenty of schools where fellows could be brought up in a new-fangled way. Let them go to one of these, and leave Fellsgarth in peace to her dead authors.
The boys who used such arguments, it is fair to say, were not always the most profound classical scholars. Most of them, like D'Arcy and Wally Wheatfield, had a painful acquaintance with the masterpieces of old- world literature in the way of impositions, but there their interest frequently ended. The upper Classical boys, however, though not so noisily hostile, had their own strong opinions about the new departure; and when it was discovered that the new Modern side had not only alienated one or two of their old comrades, but, so far from being apologetic, were disposed to claim equal rights with, and in certain cases superior privileges to, the old boys, the relations became strained all round.
As it happened, the Modern set consisted of a number of moderate athletes who could not be wholly ignored in the School sports, and had no intention of being ignored. And to add to their crimes they numbered among them a good number of rich boys, who boasted in public of their wealth with a freedom which was particularly aggravating to the Classical seniors, who were for the most part boys to whose parents money was an important consideration.
As has been said, the rivalry had been growing acute all last term, and but for Yorke's determined indifference, it might long ago have come to a rupture. Now, every one felt that at any moment the peace might be broken, and civil war break out between the two sides at Fellsgarth.
The School clubs offered a rare opportunity for an exhibition of party feeling, for they were the common ground on which every one was bound to meet every one else on level terms.
By an old rule, every member of the House clubs was a member of the School clubs and had the privilege of electing the committee and officers for the year. It was this business which brought together the crowd that flocked into the Hall to-day; and it was in view of this critical event that Mr D'Arcy had carefully shut up five voters of the other side in his study until the election should be over.
"Whatever's to be done?" asked Ashby, with blank countenance.
"Nobody but a born idiot would begin to ask riddles just now!" retorted D'Arcy surlily. "Shut up; that's what's to be done."
"I expect it will be all right," persisted the dogged Ashby, venturing on a further remark. "They won't let him in, if he's not Wally; or if they do, they'll go for him."
"I hope they will. Anyhow we've done our best. Stick near the door. We may be able to bundle a few of 'em out before the voting comes on. Look out, Yorke's speaking. Yell as hard as you can."
Whereupon Ashby lay his head back and yelled until D'Arcy kicked him and told him it was time to shut up.
Yorke was moving a resolution that the captains, vice-captains, secretaries, and treasurers of each house should form the School sports committee, whose business it would be to arrange matches, keep the ground, make rules, and generally organise the athletics of Fellsgarth. He hoped every one would agree to this.
Clapperton, the Modern captain, and head of Forder's house, rose to second the motion.
"Howl away!" said D'Arcy, nudging his protege. Whereupon Ashby held on to a desk and howled till the windows shook.
"That'll do," shouted D'Arcy in his ear after a moment or two, and Ashby, thankful for the relief, shut off steam and awaited his next orders.
Clapperton was a big, smirking fellow, rather loudly dressed, with a persuasive voice and what was intended to be a condescending manner. Some fellows could never make out why Clapperton did not go down in Fellsgarth. He tried to be civil, he was lavish with his pocket-money, and always disclaimed any desire to quarrel with anybody. And yet no one oared for him, while of course the out-and-out champions of the rival side hated him. He seconded with pleasure the motion of "his friend Yorke,"—("Cheek!" exclaimed D'Arcy, sotto voce; "what business has he to call our captain his friend!") This was the old rule of Fellsgarth, and a very good rule. It meant hard work, but he was always glad to do what he could for the old School. (It always riled the Classics to hear a Modern talking about "the old School," and their backs went up at this.) He had been on this committee two years now, and had had the pleasure in a humble way of helping the clubs through one or two of their financial difficulties, and he should be glad to serve again. He seconded the motion.
It was a trial to one or two who had listened to see that the names were being put to the vote by Yorke en bloc, without giving them the chance of voting against anybody. Never mind, their chance for that would come!
The next business was the election of captain of the clubs; and of course Yorke was chosen by acclamation. No one dared oppose him. Even "his friend Clapperton," who had the pleasure of proposing him, was sure every one would be as glad as he would to see "his fellow-captain" (oh, how the Classics squirmed and ground their teeth at the expression!) at the head of the clubs.
The pent-up feelings of D'Arcy and those of his way of thinking found some relief in the demonstration which accompanied the carrying of this resolution. It was too good a chance to be lost, and for three minutes by the clock the Classics stood on their feet and cheered their champion, glaring defiantly as they did so at the Moderns, who having held up their hands and cheered a little, relapsed into silence and left the noise in the hands of the other side.
Then followed the election of vice-captain, which of course had to go to Clapperton. This time the Moderns had their demonstration amid the silence of the Classics, who thought they had never in their lives seen fellows make such asses of themselves.
It was twenty minutes past the hour, and D'Arcy and Ashby were both getting uncomfortable and impatient. What did these Modern idiots want to waste the time of everybody by standing there and bellowing! It was scandalous.
"Shut up—go on to the next vote," they cried, but in vain. The Moderns were going to have their full share, if not a little more, of the row, and to stop them before their time was hopeless.
"Disgusting exhibition, isn't it?" said D'Arcy; "never mind. Hullo, I say, there's some one at the door. It's those chaps!"
No, it was only Fisher minor, who, having waited meekly all this time outside the deserted gymnasium, now ventured, like a degenerate Casabianca, to desert his post and come and see what was going forward in the Hall.
As he tried to enter, a Modern boy, seeing by his ribbon that he was on the wrong side, put his foot against the door and tried to turn him back. But his little plot dismally failed. For D'Arcy and Ashby, shocked and horrified witnesses of this scandalous act of corruption, came to the rescue with a hubbub which even made itself heard above the shouting.
"Let him in!—howling cheat!—he's trying to shut out one of our side! Ya-boo! That's the way you elect your men, is it! Come in, Fisher minor. Let him in, do you hear? All right; come on, you fellows, and kick this Modern chap out for a wretched sneak—(that'll be seven off their side, counting Wheatfield; and one more to us—bully!) Yah, cheats! turn 'em out!"
Amid such cries of virtuous indignation, Fisher minor was hauled in, and his obstructor, by the same coup de main, excluded. Fisher minor might have had his head turned by this triumphal entry, had he not recognised in the ejected Modern boy the gentleman to whom he had lent his half-crown on the previous evening. Any reminder of yesterday's misfortunes was depressing to him, and his joy at finding himself on the right side of the door now was decidedly damped by the knowledge that his half-crown was on the wrong. However, there was no time for explanations, as the shouting had ceased, and an evidently important event was about to take place. This was the appointment of treasurer, for whom each of the rival sides had a candidate; that of the Classics being Fisher major, and that of the Moderns Brinkman of Forder's house, a particular enemy of the other side, and reputed to be rich and no gentlemen.
Both candidates were briefly proposed and seconded by boys of their own side, and both having declared their intention of going to the vote, a show of hands was demanded.
The excitement of our young friends at the end of the Hall while this tedious operation was in progress may well be imagined. The captain had sternly ordained silence during the voting; so that all they could do was to hold up their hands to the very top of their reach, and keep a wild look-out that they were being counted, and that none of the enemy was in any way, moral or physical, circumventing them. As for Fisher minor, he simply trembled with excitement as he cast his eyes round and calculated his brother's chances. He could not comprehend how any one could dare not to vote for Fisher major; and absorbed in that wonder he continued to hold up his hand long after the two tellers had agreed their figure, and the captain had ordered "hands down."
"Fisher major, one hundred and twenty-seven votes; now, hands up for Brinkman."
"Whew!" said D'Arcy, fanning himself with his handkerchief; "it'll be a close shave. I say, we'd better lean up hard against the door. It'll keep out the draughts."
"They've got it, I'm afraid," said Ashby, looking round at the forest of hands; "we hadn't as many as that."
"I say, that cad Brinkman is voting for himself," said some one.
"What a shame! My brother didn't. He's too honourable," said Fisher minor.
"Hullo! 'How now'—you there?" cried Wally.
Whereupon, amid great laughter, Fisher minor retired modestly behind the rest.
The counting seemed interminable, and every moment, to the guilty ears of Ashby, there seemed to be a sound of footsteps without. At last, however, the cry, "hands down," came once more, and you might have heard a pin drop.
"Fisher major, one hundred and twenty-seven votes; Brinkman, one hundred and twenty-two. Fisher majors elected."
Amid the terrific Classic cheers which greeted this announcement, D'Arcy and Ashby exchanged glances.
Those five voters, waiting patiently in Wally's room for the clock to strike the half-hour, would have turned the scale!
Ashby wished the majority had been greater or less. But he tried to be jubilant, and in response to D'Arcy's thumps on the back yelled and roared till he was black in the face.
As he did so, he caught sight through the window of a small procession of five or six boys emerging from the door of Wakefield's house and starting at a trot in the direction of Hall.
"I say," shouted he in D'Arcy's ear, "here they come!"
D'Arcy abruptly ceased shouting and descended from his form.
"Come and squash up near the front," said he, hurriedly; "more room, you know, up there."
"Hoo, hoo! nearly licked that time," shouted a Modern youth near the door, as they moved forward. "Served you right!"
"Never mind, we'll take it out of you, next vote," retorted D'Arcy. "Come on, kid; squash up." Then a happy thought struck him. The boys immediately near the door were mostly Moderns. What a fine bit of electioneering, if he could get them to shut out their own men! So he shouted, "Look out, our side! Mind they don't keep out any of our chaps. Just the sort of dodge they'd be up to."
Whereupon the Moderns set their backs determinedly against the door and wagged their heads at one another, and were obliged to D'Arcy for the tip.
"That'll do for 'em," said that delighted schemer; "they won't let 'em in, you bet. Look out—they're going to vote for secretary now."
The Classical side candidate for this important office was Ranger, almost as great an idol in his house as the captain himself. His Modern opponent was Dangle, a clever senior, reputed to be Clapperton's toady and man-of-all-work. It was felt that if he were secretary, there would be a strong Modern bias given to the clubs, which in the opinion of the Classic partisans would be disastrous.
The show of hands had been taken for Ranger, and every one was silent to hear the figures, when a hideous clamour arose at the door, with shouts of—
"Open the door I let us in. Cheats! Fair play!"
To D'Arcy's satisfaction, as from the safe shelter of a front place he peered down that way, the Moderns held their post at the door and refused to let it open. For a minute it looked as if they would succeed; when suddenly the irate Wally appeared on the scene, followed by Fisher minor, and shouting, "Cheats! cads! Let our fellows in!" went for the obstructionists.
"Stupid ass!" growled D'Arcy. "It's all up now. Why couldn't he have let them be?"
A short and sharp melee followed. The Classics were reinforced rapidly, and the Moderns, seeing their plot detected and fearing the intervention of the seniors, sullenly raised the blockade, and allowed the door to open.
Whereat in tumbled Percy Wheatfield with five young Moderns at his heels—the very five who had been waiting for the clock to strike in Wally's study.
"What do you mean by keeping us out!" demanded Percy of his brother, who chanced to be the first person he encountered.
"What are you talking about?" retorted Wally, extremely chagrined to discover who it was he had been helping. "We were the chaps who let you in! It was your own cads who were keeping you out. Ask them."
"We thought you were Classics," said one of the offenders, letting the cat out of the bag.
"Oh, you beauty! Wait till I get some of you outside," bellowed the outraged Percy.
"Order! Shut up, you kids down there!" was the cry from the front.
"Shut up, you kids down there!" echoed D'Arcy and Ashby on their own account.
"Ranger one hundred and twenty-three. Hands up for Dangle; and if the youngsters down there don't make less noise, I'll adjourn the meeting," said the captain. This awful threat secured silence while the counting proceeded. D'Arcy's face grew longer and longer, and Wally at the back began to breathe vengeance on the world at large.
The captain turned and said something to Clapperton; and Fisher major, who overheard what was said, looked very glum. Every one knew what was coming.
"Ranger one hundred and twenty-three votes, Dangle one hundred and twenty-four. Dangle is—"
The shouts of the Moderns drowned the last words, and the captain had to wait a minute before he could finish what he had to say.
"The votes are very close," said he. "If any one would like, we can count again."
"No, no!" cried Ranger. "It's all right. I don't dispute it."
"That concludes the elections," said the captain.
And amid loud cheers and counter-cheers the meeting dispersed.
The prefects of Wakefield's house met that evening in Yorke's study to talk over the events of the afternoon.
The captain was the only person present who appeared to regard the result of the elections with equanimity.
"After all," said he, "though I'm awfully sorry about old Ranger, it seems fairer to have the officers evenly divided. There's much less chance of a row than it we were three to their one."
"That's all very well," said Fisher, whose pleasure in his own election had been completely spoiled by the defeat of his friend, "if we could count on fair play. You know Dangle as well as I do. I'd sooner resign myself than have him secretary."
"What rot!" said Ranger. "You'd probably only give them another man. No, we shall have to see we get fair play."
"And give it, too," said the captain.
"They simply packed the meeting," said Dalton, "and fetched up five juniors at the very end, who turned the scale. If our fellows had done the same, we should have been all right."
"I don't see the use of growling now it's well over," said Yorke; "the great thing is to see we get the best men into the teams, and that they play up."
"We hardly need go outside Wakefield's for that," said Fisher major; "they've not a man worth his salt in a football scrimmage."
"Look out that they haven't more than we have, that's all," said the captain, gloomily. "I tell you what, you fellows," added he, with a touch of temper in his voice, "if our house is to be Cock-House at Fellsgarth, we can't afford to make fools of ourselves. The School's a jolly sight more important than any one house, and as long as I'm captain of the School clubs I don't intend to inquire what house a man belongs to so long as he can play. We can keep all our jealousy for the House club if you like; but if it's to be carried into the School sports we may as well dissolve the clubs and scratch all our matches at once."
"I wonder if Clapperton is giving vent to the same patriotic sentiments to his admirers," said Ridgway, laughing. "Fancy him, and Dangle, and Brinkman conspiring together for the glory of the School."
"Why not!" said the captain, testily. "Why won't you give anybody credit for being decent outside Wakefield's?"
"I'm afraid old Yorke hardly gives any one credit for being decent in it. For pity's sake don't lecture any more to-night, old man," said Dalton. "I'll agree to anything rather than that."
"There's just one more thing," said Yorke, "which you may take as lecture or not as you like. Clapperton said something about helping out the clubs with money. Fisher major, you are the treasurer; don't have any of that. Don't take more than the regular subscription from anybody, and don't take less. If there's a deficit let's all stump up alike. We don't want anybody's charity."
This sentiment was generally applauded, and restored the captain in the good opinion of every one present. After all, old Yorke's bark was always worse than his bite. He wasn't going to be put upon by the other side, however much he seemed to stick up for them.
Ranger waited a few minutes after the others had gone.
"Look here, Ranger," said the captain, "you must back me up in this. You can afford to do it, because you've been beaten. I only wish you were in my place. I know you hate those fellows, and are cut up to have lost the secretaryship."
"I'm not going to break my heart about that," said Ranger.
"Of course not. You're going to do what will be a lot more useful. You're going to work as hard for the School as if you were secretary and captain in one; and you're going to back me up in keeping the peace, aren't you?"
"Would you, if you were in my shoes?" said Ranger.
"I might find it hard, but I almost think I should try. And if I had your good temper, I should succeed too."
"I didn't think you went in for flattery, Yorke. Anyhow, I believe you are right. I'll be as affectionate as I can to those Modern chaps. Ugh! good night."
After the day's excitement Fellsgarth went to bed early. But no one dreamed, least of all the heroes of the exploit themselves, how much was to depend earing the coming months on those five small voters who had waited patiently in Wally Wheatfield's study that afternoon to hear the clock strike 5:30.
PERCY WHEATFIELD, ENVOY EXTRAORDINARY.
The misgivings of the Classics were justified. The Moderns did not accept their victory at Elections with a meekness which augured harmony for the coming half.
On the contrary, they executed that difficult acrobatic feat known as going off their heads, with jubilation.
For many terms they had groaned under a sense of inferiority, partly imagined but partly well founded, in their relations with the rival side. The Classics had given themselves airs, and, what was worse, proved their right to give them. In its early days the Modern side was not "in it" at Fellsgarth. Its few members were taught to look upon themselves as altogether a lower order of creation than the pupils of the old foundation, and had accepted the position with due humility. Then certain rebellious spirits had arisen, who dared to ask why their side wasn't as good as any other? The answer was crushing. "What can you do? Only French, and book-keeping and 'stinks'"—(the strictly Classical nickname for chemistry). "You can't put a man into the cricket or football field worth his salt; your houses are rowdy; your men do nothing at the University; two out of three of you are not even gentlemen." Whereupon the Moderns went in desperately for sports, and claimed to be represented in the School clubs. They maintained that they were as good gentlemen as any who talked Latin and Greek; and to prove it they jingled their money in their trouser-pockets, and asked what the Classics could do in that line. The Classics could do very little, and fell back on their moral advantages. By degrees the new side grew in numbers, and made themselves heard rather more definitely. They put into the field one or two men who could not honestly be denied a place in the School teams; and they began to figure also among the School prefects. The present seniors, Clapperton and his friends, carried the thing a step further, and insisted on equal rights with their rivals in all the School institutions. To their surprise they found an ally in Yorke, who, as we have already said, hurt the feelings of many of his admirers by his Quixotic insistence on fair play all round.
The proceedings yesterday had been the most recent instance of the flow in the tide of Modern progress at Fellsgarth. Reinforced by an unusual influx of new boys, they had aimed at, and succeeded in winning, their level half of the control of the School clubs; and Yorke had looked on and let them do it!
No wonder they went off their heads as they discoursed on their triumph, and no wonder they already pictured themselves masters of Fellsgarth!
It never does occur to some people that the mountain is not climbed till the top is reached.
"Really, you know," said Brinkman, "I felt half sorry for those poor beggars; they did look so sick when Dangle was elected."
"It's my opinion," said Clapperton, "you'd have been in too, if all our fellows had turned up. I saw four or five of our youngsters come in at the last moment."
"Yes—by the way," said Dangle, "that ought to be looked into. It's fishy, to say the least of it, and would have made all the difference to Brinkman's election."
"Do you know who the fellows were?" asked Clapperton.
"I believe your fag was one of them."
"Percy Wheatfield? Catch him being shut out of anything. But I'll ask about it. Fancy poor Yorke's feelings if we were to demand a new election!"
"I tell you what," said Dangle, "I don't altogether understand Yorke. He tries to pass off as fair, and just, and all that sort of thing; but one can't be sure he's not playing a game of his own."
"We shall easily see that when it comes to choosing the football fifteen against Rendlesham. I mean to send him in a list of fellows on our side. It's only fair we should have half of them our men."
"Half fifteen is seven and a half," said Fullerton, a melancholy senior who had not yet spoken; "how will you manage about that?"