The Crofton Boys, by Harriet Martineau.
Crofton is the name of a boarding school which takes in boys aged from eight to perhaps thirteen. Such a school is known in the UK as a Prep School, and it is normal for well-bred boys to attend such a school, as I and my brothers all did.
Hugh is packed off to school from his comfortable home in the Strand, London. His older brother is already at the school, and can give him some guidance, but on the whole he is on his own. Boys can be very cruel to one another, and Hugh gets his fair share of the bullying, the fights, the unfair masters, and the small squabbles over borrowed money. One day in the playground there is an episode which little Hugh tries to escape from by climbing over a wall. He is pulled back, and the very heavy loose coping stone on the top of the wall falls from onto his foot, crushing it so badly that it has to be amputated. That's about half-way through the book.
How Hugh endures the operation, recovers, and rebuilds his life with the other boys at school, his family relations and the school staff takes up the rest of the book, which is well and sensitively written, coming as it does from a talented authoress who is no stranger to personal problems.
THE CROFTON BOYS, BY HARRIET MARTINEAU.
ALL THE PROCTORS BUT PHIL.
Mr Proctor, the chemist and druggist, kept his shop, and lived in the Strand, London. His children thought that there was never anything pleasanter than the way they lived. Their house was warm in winter, and such a little distance from the church, that they had no difficulty in getting to church and back again, in the worst weather, before their shoes were wet. They were also conveniently near to Covent Garden market; so that, if any friend dropped in to dinner unexpectedly, Jane and Agnes could be off to the market, and buy a fowl, or some vegetables or fruit, and be back again before they were missed. It was not even too far for little Harry to trot with one of his sisters, early on a summer's morning, to spend his penny (when he happened to have one) on a bunch of flowers, to lay on papa's plate, to surprise him when he came in to breakfast. Not much farther off was the Temple Garden, where Mrs Proctor took her children every fine summer evening to walk and breathe the air from the river; and when Mr Proctor could find time to come to them for a turn or two before the younger ones must go home to bed, it seemed to the whole party the happiest and most beautiful place in the whole world,—except one. They had once been to Broadstairs, when the children were in poor health after the measles: and for ever after, when they thought of the waves beating on the shore, and of the pleasures of growing strong and well among the sea-breezes, they felt that there might be places more delightful than the Temple Garden: but they were still very proud and fond of the grass and trees, and the gravel walks, and the view over the Thames, and were pleased to show off the garden to all friends from the country who came to visit them.
The greatest privilege of all, however, was that they could see the river without going out of their own house. There were three back windows to the house, one above another; and from the two uppermost of these windows there was what the children called a view of the Thames. There was a gap of a few yards wide between two high brick houses: and through this gap might be seen the broad river, with vessels of every kind passing up or down. Outside the second window were some leads, affording space for three or four chairs: and here it was that Jane and Agnes liked to sit at work, on certain hours of fine days. There were times when these leads were too hot, the heat of the sun being reflected from the surrounding brick walls; but at an earlier hour before the shadows were gone, and when the air blew in from the river, the place was cool, and the little girls delighted to carry their stools to the leads, and do their sewing there. There Philip would condescend to spend a part of his mornings, in his Midsummer holidays, frightening his sisters with climbing about in dangerous places, or amusing them with stories of school pranks, or raising his younger brother Hugh's envy of the boys who were so happy as to be old enough to go to school at Mr Tooke's, at Crofton.
The girls had no peace from their brothers climbing about in dangerous places. Hugh was, if possible, worse than Philip for this. He imitated all Philip's feats, and had some of his own besides. In answer to Jane's lectures and the entreaties of Agnes, Hugh always declared that he had a right to do such things, as he meant to be a soldier or a sailor; and how should he be able to climb the mast of a ship, or the walls of a city, if he did not begin to practise now? Agnes was almost sorry they had been to Broadstairs, and could see ships in the Thames, when she considered that, if Hugh had not seen so much of the world, he might have been satisfied to be apprenticed to his father, when old enough, and to have lived at home happily with his family. Jane advised Agnes not to argue with Hugh, and then perhaps his wish to rove about the world might go off. She had heard her father say that, when he was a boy, and used to bring home news of victories, and help to put up candles at the windows on illumination nights, he had a great fancy for being a soldier; but that it was his fortune to see some soldiers from Spain, and hear from them what war really was, just when peace came, and when there was no more glory to be got; so that he had happily settled down to be a London shop-keeper—a lot which he would not exchange with that of any man living. Hugh was very like papa, Jane added; and the same change might take place in his mind, if he was not made perverse by argument. So Agnes only sighed, and bent her head closer over her work, as she heard Hugh talk of the adventures he meant to have when he should be old enough to get away from Old England.
There was one person that laughed at Hugh for this fancy of his;—Miss Harold, the daily governess, who came to keep school for three hours every morning. When Hugh forgot his lesson, and sat staring at the upper panes of the window, in a reverie about his future travels; or when he was found to have been drawing a soldier on his slate instead of doing his sum, Miss Harold reminded him what a pretty figure a soldier would cut who knew no geography, or a sailor who could not make his reckonings, for want of attending early to his arithmetic Hugh could not deny this; but he was always wishing that school-hours were over, that he might get under the great dining table to read Robinson Crusoe, or might play at shipwreck, under pretence of amusing little Harry. It did make him ashamed to see how his sisters got on, from the mere pleasure of learning, and without any idea of ever living anywhere but in London; while he, who seemed to have so much more reason for wanting the very knowledge that they were obtaining, could not settle his mind to his lessons. Jane was beginning to read French books for her amusement in leisure hours; and Agnes was often found to have covered two slates with sums in Practice, just for pleasure, while he could not master the very moderate lessons Miss Harold set him. It is true, he was two years younger than Agnes: but she had known more of everything that he had learned, at seven years old, than he now did at eight. Hugh began to feel very unhappy. He saw that Miss Harold was dissatisfied, and was pretty sure that she had spoken to his mother about him. He felt that his mother became more strict in making him sit down beside her, in the afternoon, to learn his lessons for the next day; and he was pretty sure that Agnes went out of the room because she could not help crying when his sum was found to be all wrong, or when he mistook his tenses, or when he said (as he did every day, though regularly warned to mind what he was about) that four times seven is fifty-six. Every day these things weighed more on Hugh's spirits; every day he felt more and more like a dunce; and when Philip came home for the Midsummer holidays, and told all manner of stories about all sorts of boys at school, without describing anything like Hugh's troubles with Miss Harold, Hugh was seized with a longing to go to Crofton at once, as he was certainly too young to go at present into the way of a shipwreck or a battle. The worst of it was, there was no prospect of his going yet to Crofton. In Mr Tooke's large school there was not one boy younger than ten; and Philip believed that Mr Tooke did not like to take little boys. Hugh was aware that his father and mother meant to send him to school with Philip by-and-by; but the idea of having to wait—to do his lessons with Miss Harold every day till he should be ten years old, made him roll himself on the parlour carpet in despair.
Philip was between eleven and twelve. He was happy at school: and he liked to talk all about it at home. These holidays, Hugh made a better listener than even his sisters; and he was a more amusing one—he knew so little about the country. He asked every question that could be imagined about the playground at the Crofton school, and the boys' doings out of school; and then, when Philip fancied he must know all about what was done, out came some odd remark which showed what wrong notions he had formed of a country life. Hugh had not learned half that he wanted to know, and his little head was full of wonder and mysterious notions, when the holidays came to an end, and Philip had to go away. From that day Hugh was heard to talk less of Spain, and the sea, and desert islands, and more of the Crofton boys; and his play with little Harry was all of being at school. At his lessons, meantime, he did not improve at all.
One very warm day, at the end of August, five weeks after Philip had returned to school, Miss Harold had stayed full ten minutes after twelve o'clock to hear Hugh say one line of the multiplication-table over and over again, to cure him of saying that four times seven is fifty-six; but all in vain: and Mrs Proctor had pegged her not to spend any more time to-day upon it.
Miss Harold went away, the girls took their sewing, and sat down at their mother's work-table, while Hugh was placed before her, with his hands behind his back, and desired to look his mother full in the face, to begin again with "four times one is four," and go through the line, taking care what he was about. He did so; but before he came to four times seven, he sighed, fidgetted, looked up at the corners of the room, off into the work-basket, out into the street, and always, as if by a spell, finished with "four times seven is fifty-six." Jane looked up amazed—Agnes looked down ashamed; his mother looked with severity in his face. He began the line a fourth time, when, at the third figure, he started as if he had been shot. It was only a knock at the door that he had heard; a treble knock, which startled nobody else, though, from the parlour-door being open, it sounded pretty loud.
Mrs Proctor spread a handkerchief over the stockings in her work-basket; Jane put back a stray curl which had fallen over her face; Agnes lifted up her head with a sigh, as if relieved that the multiplication-table must stop for this time; and Hugh gazed into the passage, through the open door, when he heard a man's step there. The maid announced Mr Tooke, of Crofton; and Mr Tooke walked in.
Mrs Proctor had actually to push Hugh to one side,—so directly did he stand in the way between her and her visitor. He stood, with his hands still behind his back, gazing up at Mr Tooke, with his face hotter than the multiplication-table had ever made it, and his eyes staring quite as earnestly as they had ever done to find Robinson Crusoe's island in the map.
"Go, child," said Mrs Proctor: but this was not enough. Mr Tooke himself had to pass him under his left arm before he could shake hands with Mrs Proctor. Hugh was now covered with shame at this hint that he was in the way; but yet he did not leave the room. He stole to the window, and flung himself down on two chairs, as if looking into the street from behind the blind; but he saw nothing that passed out of doors, so eager was his hope of hearing something of the Crofton boys,— their trap-ball, and their Saturday walk with the usher. Not a word of this kind did he hear. As soon as Mr Tooke had agreed to stay to dinner, his sisters were desired to carry their work elsewhere,—to the leads, if they liked; and he was told that he might go to play. He had hoped he might be overlooked in the window; and unwillingly did he put down first one leg and then the other from the chairs, and saunter out of the room. He did not choose to go near his sisters, to be told how stupidly he had stood in the gentleman's way; so, when he saw that they were placing their stools on the leads, he went up into the attic, and then down into the kitchen, to see where little Harry was, to play at schoolboys in the back yard.
The maid Susan was not sorry that Harry was taken off her hands; for she wished to rub up her spoons, and fill her castors afresh, for the sake of the visitor who had come in. The thoughtful Jane soon came down with the keys to get out a clean tablecloth, and order a dish of cutlets, in addition to the dinner, and consult with Susan about some dessert; so that, as the little boys looked up from their play, they saw Agnes sitting alone at work upon the leads.
They had played some time, Hugh acting a naughty boy who could not say his Latin lesson to the usher, and little Harry punishing him with far more words than a real usher uses on such an occasion, when they heard Agnes calling them from above their heads. She was leaning over from the leads, begging Hugh to come up to her,—that very moment. Harry must be left below, as the leads were a forbidden place for him. So Harry went to Jane, to see her dish up greengage plums which he must not touch: and Hugh ran up the stairs. As he passed through the passage, his mother called him. Full of some kind of hope (he did not himself know what), he entered the parlour, and saw Mr Tooke's eyes fixed on him. But his mother only wanted him to shut the door as he passed; that was all. It had stood open, as it usually did on warm days. Could his mother wish it shut on account of anything she was saying? It was possible.
"O Hugh!" exclaimed Agnes, as soon as he set foot on the leads. "What do you think?—But is the parlour-door shut? Who shut it?"
"Mother bade me shut it, as I passed."
"O dear!" said Agnes, in a tone of disappointment; "then she did not mean us to hear what they were talking about."
"What was it? Anything about the Crofton boys? Anything about Phil?"
"I cannot tell you a word about it. Mamma did not know I heard them. How plain anyone can hear what they say in that parlour, Hugh, when the door is open! What do you think I heard mamma tell Mrs Bicknor, last week, when I was jumping Harry off the third stair?"
"Never mind that. Tell me what they are talking about now. Do, Agnes."
Agnes shook her head.
"Now do, dear."
It was hard for Agnes to refuse Hugh anything, at any time; more still when he called her "dear," which he seldom did; and most of all when he put his arm round her neck, as he did now. But she answered—
"I should like to tell you every word; but I cannot now. Mamma has made you shut the door. She does not wish you to hear it."
"Me! Then will you tell Jane?"
"Yes. I shall tell Jane, when we are with mamma at work."
"That is too bad!" exclaimed Hugh, flinging himself down on the leads so vehemently that his sister was afraid he would roll over into the yard. "What does Jane care about Crofton and the boys to what I do?"
"There is one boy there that Jane cares about more than you do, or I, or anybody, except papa and mamma. Jane loves Phil."
"O, then, what they are saying in the parlour is about Phil."
"I did not say that."
"You pretend you love me as Jane loves Phil! And now you are going to tell her what you won't tell me! Agnes, I will tell you everything I know all my whole life, if you will just whisper this now. Only just whisper.—Or, I will tell you what. I will guess and guess; and you can nod or shake your head. That won't be telling."
"For shame, Hugh! Phil would laugh at you for being a girl if you are so curious. What mamma told Mrs Bicknor was that Jane was her right-hand. What do you think that meant exactly?"
"That Jane might give you a good slap when you are so provoking," said Hugh, rolling over and over, till his clothes were covered with dust, and Agnes really thought once that he was fairly going over the edge into the yard.
"There is something that I can tell you, Hugh; something that I want to tell you, and nobody else," said Agnes, glad to see him stop rolling about, and raise himself on his dusty elbow to look at her.
"Well, come, what is it?"
"You must promise beforehand not to be angry."
"Angry! When am I angry, pray? Come, tell me."
"You must—you really must—I have a particular reason for saying so— you must learn how much four times seven is. Now, remember, you promised not to be angry."
Hugh carried off his anger by balancing himself on his head, as if he meant to send his heels over, but that there was no room. From upside downs his voice was heard saying that he knew that as well as Agnes.
"Well, then, how much is it?"
"Twenty-eight, to be sure. Who does not know that?"
"Then pray do not call it fifty-six any more. Miss Harold—"
"There's the thing," said Hugh. "When Miss Harold is here, I can think of nothing but fifty-six. It seems to sound in my ears, as if somebody spoke it, 'four times seven is fifty-six.'"
"You will make me get it by heart too, if you say it so often," said Agnes. "You had better say 'twenty-eight' over to yourself all day long. You may say it to me as often as you like. I shall not get tired. Come, begin now—'four times seven'—"
"I have had enough of that for to-day—tiresome stuff! Now, I shall go and play with Harry again."
"But wait—just say that line once over, Hugh. I have a reason for wishing it. I have, indeed."
"Mother has been telling Mr Tooke that I cannot say my multiplication-table! Now, that is too bad!" exclaimed Hugh. "And they will make me say it after dinner! What a shame!"
"Why Hugh! You know mamma does not like—you know mamma would not—you know mamma never does anything unkind. You should not say such things, Hugh."
"Ay, there! You cannot say that she has not told Mr Tooke that I say my tables wrong."
"Well—you know you always do say it wrong to her."
"I will go somewhere. I will hide myself. I will run to the market while the cloth is laying. I will get away, and not come back till Mr Tooke is gone. I will never say my multiplication table to him!"
"Never?" said Agnes, with an odd smile and a sigh. "However, do not talk of running away, or hiding yourself. You will not have to say anything to Mr Tooke to-day."
"How do you know?"
"I feel sure you will not. I do not believe Mr Tooke will talk to you, or to any of us. There you go! You will be in the water-butt in a minute, if you tumble so."
"I don't care if I am. Mr Tooke will not come there to hear me say my tables. Let me go!" he cried, struggling, for now Agnes had caught him by the ankle. "If I do tumble in, the water is not up to my chin, and it will be a cool hiding-place this hot day."
"But there is Susan gone to lay the cloth; and you must be brushed; for you are all over dust. Come up, and I will brush you."
Hugh was determined to have a little more dust first. He rolled once more the whole length of the leads, turned over Jane's stool, and upset her work-basket, so that her thimble bounded off to a far corner, and the shirt-collar she was stitching fell over into the water-butt.
"There! What will Jane say?" cried Agnes, picking up the basket, and peeping over into the small part of the top of the water-butt which was not covered.
"There never was anything like boys for mischief," said the maid Susan, who now appeared to pull Hugh in, and make him neat. Susan always found time, between laying the cloth and bringing up dinner, to smooth Hugh's hair, and give a particular lock a particular turn on his forehead with a wet comb.
"Let that alone," said Hugh, as Agnes peeped into the butt after the drowning collar. "I will have the top off this afternoon, and it will make good fishing for Harry and me."
Agnes had to let the matter alone; for Hugh was so dusty that she had to brush one side of him while Susan did the other. Susan gave him some hard knocks while she assured him that he was not going to have Harry up on the leads to learn his tricks, or to be drowned. She hardly knew which of the two would be the worst for Harry. It was lucky for Hugh that Susan was wanted below directly, for she scolded him the whole time she was parting and smoothing his hair. When it was done, however, and the wet lock on his forehead took the right turn at once, she gave him a kiss in the very middle of it, and said she knew he would be a good boy before the gentleman from the country.
Hugh would not go in with Agnes, because he knew Mr Tooke would shake hands with her, and take notice of anyone who was with her. He waited in the passage till Susan carried in the fish, when he entered behind her, and slipped to the window till the party took their seats, when he hoped Mr Tooke would not observe who sat between Agnes and his father. But the very first thing his father did was to pull his head back by the hair behind, and ask him whether he had persuaded Mr Tooke to tell him all about the Crofton boys.
Hugh did not wish to make any answer; but his father said "Eh?" and he thought he must speak; so he said that Phil had told him all he wanted to know about the Crofton boys.
"Then you can get Mr Tooke to tell you about Phil, if you want nothing else," said Mr Proctor.
Mr Tooke nodded and smiled; but Hugh began to hand plates with all his might, he was so afraid that the next thing would be a question how much four times seven was.
The dinner went on, however; and the fish was eaten, and the meat, and the pudding; and the dessert was on the table, without any one having even alluded to the multiplication-table. Before this time, Hugh had become quite at his ease, and had looked at Mr Tooke till he knew his face quite well.
Soon after dinner Mr Proctor was called away upon business; and Hugh slipped into his father's arm-chair, and crossed one leg over the other knee, as he leaned back at his leisure, listening to Mr Tooke's conversation with his mother about the sort of education that he considered most fit for some boys from India, who had only a certain time to devote to school-learning. In the course of this conversation some curious things dropped about the curiosity of children from India about some things very common here;—their wonder at snow and ice, their delight at being able to slide in the winter, and their curiosity about the harvest and gleaning, now approaching. Mr Proctor came back just as Mr Tooke was telling of the annual holiday of the boys at harvest-time, when they gleaned for the poor of the village. As Hugh had never seen a corn-field, he had no very clear idea of harvest and gleaning; and he wanted to hear all he could. When obliged to turn out of the arm-chair, he drew a stool between his mother and Mr Tooke: and presently he was leaning on his arms on the table, with his face close to Mr Tooke's, as if swallowing the gentleman's words as they fell. This was inconvenient; and his mother made him draw back his stool a good way. Though he could hear very well, Hugh did not like this, and he slipped off his stool, and came closer and closer.
"And did you say," asked Mr Proctor, "that your youngest pupil is nine?"
"Just nine;—the age of my own boy. I could have wished to have none under ten, for the reason you know of. But—"
"I wish," cried Hugh, thrusting himself in so that Mr Tooke saw the boy had a mind to sit on his knee,—"I wish you would take boys at eight and a quarter."
"That is your age," said Mr Tooke, smiling and making room between his knees.
"How did you know? Mother told you."
"No; indeed she did not,—not exactly. My boy was eight and a quarter not very long ago; and he—"
"Did he like being in your school?"
"He always seemed very happy there, though he was so much the youngest. And they teased him sometimes for being the youngest. Now you know, if you came, you would be the youngest, and they might tease you for it."
"I don't think I should mind that. What sort of teasing, though?"
"Trying whether he was afraid of things."
"What sort of things?"
"Being on the top of a wall, or up in a tree. And then they sent him errands when he was tired, or when he wanted to be doing something else. They tried too whether he could bear some rough things without telling."
"And did he?"
"Yes, generally. On the whole, very well. I see they think him a brave boy now."
"I think I could. But do not you really take boys as young as I am?"
"Such is really my rule."
It was very provoking, but Hugh was here called away to fish up Jane's work out of the water-butt. As he had put it in, he was the proper person to get it out. He thought he should have liked the fun of it; but now he was in a great hurry back, to hear Mr Tooke talk. It really seemed as if the shirt-collar was alive, it always slipped away so when he thought he had it. Jane kept him to the job till he brought up her work, dripping and soiled. By that time tea was ready,—an early tea, because Mr Tooke had to go away. Whatever was said at tea was about politics, and about a new black dye which some chemist had discovered; and Mr Tooke went away directly after.
He turned round full upon Hugh, just as he was going. Hugh stepped back, for it flashed upon him that he was now to be asked how much four times seven was. But Mr Tooke only shook hands with him, and bade him grow older as fast as he could.
WHY MR TOOKE CAME.
After tea the young people had to learn their lessons for the next day. They always tried to get these done, and the books put away, before Mr Proctor came in on his shop being shut, and the business of the day being finished. He liked to find his children at liberty for a little play, or half an hour of pleasant reading; or, in the winter evenings, for a dance to the music of his violin. Little Harry had been known to be kept up far too late, that he might hear the violin, and that his papa might enjoy the fun of seeing him run about among the rest, putting them all out, and fancying he was dancing. All believed there would be time for play with papa to-night, tea had been so much earlier than usual. But Agnes soon feared there would be no play for Hugh. Though Jane pored over her German, twisting her forefinger in the particular curl which she always twisted when she was deep in her lessons; though Agnes rocked herself on her chair, as she always did when she was learning by heart; and though Mrs Proctor kept Harry quiet at the other end of the room with telling him long stories, in a very low voice, about the elephant and Brighton pier, in the picture-book, Hugh could not learn his capital cities. He even spoke out twice, and stopped himself when he saw all the heads in the room raised in surprise. Then he set himself to work again, and he said "Copenhagen" so often over that he was not likely to forget the word; but what country it belonged to he could not fix in his mind, though Agnes wrote it down large on the slate, in hopes that the sight of the letters would help him to remember. Before he had got on to "Constantinople," the well-known sound was heard of the shop-boy taking the shop-shutters out of their day-place, and Mr Proctor would certainly be coming presently. Jane closed her dictionary, and shook back her curls from over her eyes; Mrs Proctor put down Harry from her lap, and let him call for papa as loud as he would; and papa came bustling in, and gave Harry a long toss, and several topplings over his shoulder, and yet Hugh was not ready.
"Come, children," said Mr Proctor to Agnes and Hugh, "we have all done enough for to-day. Away with books and slates!"
"But, papa," said Agnes, "Hugh has not quite done. If he might have just five minutes more, Miss Harold—"
"Never mind what Miss Harold says! That is, you girls must; but between this and Michaelmas—"
He stopped short, and the girls saw that it was a sign from their mother that made him do so. He immediately proceeded to make so much noise with Harry, that Hugh discovered nothing more than that he might put away his books, and not mind Miss Harold this time. If she asked him to-morrow why he had not got down to "Constantinople," he could tell her exactly what his father had said. So merry was Hugh's play this evening. He stood so perfectly upright on his father's shoulders, that he could reach the top of his grandmamma's picture, and show by his finger-ends how thick the dust lay upon the frame: and neither he nor his father minded being told that he was far too old for such play.
In the midst of the fun, Hugh had a misgiving, more than once, of his mother having something severe to say to him when she should come up to his room, to hear him say his prayer, and to look back a little with him upon the events of the day. Besides his consciousness that he had done nothing well this day, there were grave looks from his mother which made him think that she was not pleased with him. When he was undressing, therefore, he listened with some anxiety for her footsteps, and, when she appeared, he was ready with his confession of idleness. She stopped him in the beginning, saying that she had rather not hear any more such confessions. She had listened to too many, and had allowed him to spend in confessions some of the strength which should have been applied to mending his faults. For the present, while she was preparing a way to help him to conquer his inattention, she advised him to say nothing to her, or to any one else, on the subject; but this need not prevent him from praying to God to give him strength to overcome his great fault.
"Oh, mother! Mother!" cried Hugh, in an agony, "you give me up! What shall I do if you will not help me any more?"
His mother smiled, and told him he need not fear any such thing. It would be very cruel to leave off providing him with food and clothes, because it gave trouble to do so; and it would be far more cruel to abandon him to his faults, for such a reason. She would never cease to help him till they were cured: but, as all means yet tried had failed, she must plan some others; and meantime she did not wish him to become hardened to his faults, by talking about them every night, when there was no amendment during the day.
Though she spoke very kindly, and kissed him before she went away, Hugh felt that he was punished. He felt more unhappy than if his mother had told him all she thought of his idleness. Though his mother had told him to go to sleep, and blessed him, he could not help crying a little, and wishing that he was a Crofton boy. He supposed the Crofton boys all got their lessons done somehow, as a matter of course; and then they could go to sleep without any uncomfortable feelings or any tears.
In the morning all these thoughts were gone. He had something else to think about; for he had to play with Harry, and take care of him, while Susan swept and dusted the parlour: and Harry was bent upon going into the shop—a place where, according to the rule of the house, no child of the family was ever to set foot till it was old enough to be trusted; nor to taste anything there, asked or unasked. There were some poisonous things in the shop, and some few nice syrups and gums; and no child could be safe and well there who could not let alone whatever might be left on the counter, or refuse any nice taste that a good-natured shopman might offer. Harry was, as yet, far too young; but, as often as the cook washed the floor-cloth in the passage, so that the inner shop-door had to be opened, Master Harry was seized with an unconquerable desire to go and see the blue and red glass bowls which he was permitted to admire from the street, as he went out and came in from his walks. Mr Proctor came down this morning as Hugh was catching Harry in the passage. He snatched up his boys, packed one under each arm, and ran with them into the yard, where he rolled Harry up in a new mat, which the cook was going to lay at the house-door.
"There!" said he. "Keep him fast, Hugh, till the passage-door is shut. What shall we do with the rogue when you are at Crofton, I wonder?"
"Why, papa! He will be big enough to take care of himself by that time."
"Bless me! I forgot again," exclaimed Mr Proctor, as he made haste away into the shop.
Before long, Harry was safe under the attraction of his basin of bread and milk; and Hugh fell into a reverie at the breakfast-table, keeping his spoon suspended in his hand as he looked up at the windows, without seeing anything. Jane asked him twice to hand the butter before he heard.
"He is thinking how much four times seven is," observed Mr Proctor: and Hugh started at the words.
"I tell you what, Hugh," continued his father; "if the Crofton people do not teach you how much four times seven is when you come within four weeks of next Christmas-day, I shall give you up, and them too, for dunces all."
All the eyes round the table were fixed on Mr Proctor in an instant.
"There now!" said he, "I have let the cat out of the bag. Look at Agnes!" and he pinched her crimson cheek.
Everybody then looked at Agnes, except Harry, who was busy looking for the cat which papa said had come out of mamma's work-bag. Agnes could not bear the gaze, and burst into tears.
"Agnes has taken more pains to keep the secret than her papa," said Mrs Proctor. "The secret is, that Hugh is going to Crofton next month."
"Am I ten, then?" asked Hugh, in his hurry and surprise.
"Scarcely; since you were only eight and a quarter yesterday afternoon," replied his father.
"I will tell you all about it by-and-by, my dear," said his mother. Her glance towards Agnes made all the rest understand that they had better speak of something else now. So Mr Proctor beckoned Harry to come and see whether the cat had not got into the bag again, as she was not to be seen anywhere else. It is true, the bag was not much bigger than a cat's head; but that did not matter to Harry, who never cared for that sort of consideration, and had been busy for half an hour, the day before, in trying to put the key of the house-door into the key-hole of the tea-caddy.
By the time Agnes had recovered herself, and the table was cleared, Miss Harold had arrived. Hugh brought his books with the rest, but, instead of opening them, rested his elbow on the uppermost, and stared full at Miss Harold.
"Well, Hugh!" said she, smiling.
"I have not learned quite down to 'Constantinople,'" said he. "Papa told me I need not, and not to mind you."
"Why, Hugh! Hush!" cried Jane.
"He did,—he said exactly that. But he meant, Miss Harold, that I am to be a Crofton boy,—directly, next month."
"Then have we done with one another, Hugh?" asked Miss Harold, gently. "Will you not learn any more from me?"
"That is for your choice, Miss Harold," observed Mrs Proctor. "Hugh has not deserved the pains you have taken with him: and if you decline more trouble with him now he is going into other hands, no one can wonder."
Miss Harold feared that he was but poorly prepared for school, and was quite ready to help him, if he would give his mind to the effort. She thought that play, or reading books that he liked, was less waste of time than his common way of doing his lessons; but if he was disposed really to work, with the expectation of Crofton before him, she was ready to do her best to prepare him for the real hard work he would have to do there. His mother proposed that he should have time to consider whether he would have a month's holiday or a month's work, before leaving home. She had to go out this morning. He might go with her, if he liked; and as they returned, they would sit down in the Temple Garden, and she would tell him all about the plan.
Hugh liked this beginning of his new prospects. He ran to be made neat for his walk with his mother. He knew he must have the wet curl on his forehead twice over to day, but he comforted himself with hoping that there would be no time at Crofton for him to be kept standing, to have his hair done so particularly, and to be scolded all the while, and then kissed, like a baby, at the end.
Hugh was about to ask his mother, again and again during their walk, why Mr Tooke let him go to Crofton before he was ten; but Mrs Proctor was grave and silent; and though she spoke kindly to him now and then, she did not seem disposed to talk. At last they were in the Temple Garden; and they sat down where there was no one to overhear them; and then Hugh looked up at his mother. She saw, and told him, what it was that he wanted to ask.
"It is on account of the little boys themselves," said she, "that Mr Tooke does not wish to have them very young, now that there is no kind lady in the house who could be like a mother to them."
"But there is Mrs Watson. Phil has told me a hundred things about Mrs Watson."
"Mrs Watson is the housekeeper. She is careful, I know, about the boys' health and comfort; but she has no time to attend to the younger ones, as Mrs Tooke did,—hearing their little troubles, and being a friend to them like their mothers at home."
"There is Phil—"
"Yes. You will have Phil to look to. But neither Phil, nor any one else, can save you from some troubles you are likely to have from being the youngest."
"Such as Mr Tooke told me his boy had;—being put on the top of a high wall, and plagued when he was tired: and all that. I don't think I should much mind those things."
"So we hope, and so we believe. Your fault is not cowardice—"
Mrs Proctor so seldom praised anybody that her words of esteem went a great way. Hugh first looked up at her, and then down on the grass,— his cheeks glowed so. She went on—
"You have faults,—faults which give your father and me great pain; and though you are not cowardly about being hurt in your body, you sadly want courage of a better kind,—courage to mend the weakness of your mind. You are so young that we are sorry for you, and mean to send you where the example of other boys may give you the resolution you want so much."
"All the boys learn their lessons at Crofton," observed Hugh.
"Yes; but not by magic. They have to give their minds to their work. You will find it painful and difficult to learn this, after your idle habits at home. I give you warning that you will find it much more difficult than you suppose; and I should not wonder if you wish yourself at home with Miss Harold many times before Christmas."
Mrs Proctor was not unkind in saying this. She saw that Hugh was so delighted about going that nothing would depress his spirits, and that the chief fear was his being disappointed and unhappy when she should be far away. It might then be some consolation to him to remember that she was aware of what he would have to go through. He now smiled, and said he did not think he should ever wish to say his lessons to Miss Harold as long as he lived. Then it quickly passed through his mind that, instead of the leads and the little yard, there would be the playground; and instead of the church bells, the rooks; and instead of Susan, with her washing and combing, and scolding and kissing, there would be plenty of boys to play with. As he thought of these things, he started up, and toppled head over heels on the grass, and then was up by his mother's side again, saying that he did not care about anything that was to happen at Crofton;—he was not afraid,—not even of the usher, though Phil could not bear him.
"If you can bring yourself to learn your lessons well," said his mother, "you need not fear the usher. But remember it depends upon that. You will do well enough in the playground, I have no doubt."
After this, there was only to settle the time that was to pass—the weeks, days, and hours before Michaelmas-day; and whether these weeks and days should be employed in preparing for Crofton under Miss Harold, or whether he should take his chance there unprepared as he was. Mrs Proctor saw that his habits of inattention were so fixed, and his disgust at lessons in the parlour so strong, that she encouraged his doing no lessons in the interval. Hugh would have said beforehand that three weeks' liberty to read voyages and travels, and play with Harry, would have made him perfectly happy; but he felt that there was some disgrace mixed up with his holiday, and that everybody would look upon him with a sort of pity, instead of wishing him joy; and this spoiled his pleasure a good deal. When he came home from his walk, Agnes thought he looked less happy than when he went out; and she feared his spirits were down about Crofton.
His spirits were up and down many times during the next three weeks. He thought these weeks would never be over. Every day dragged on more slowly than the last; at every meal he was less inclined to eat; and his happiest time was when going to bed, because he was a day nearer Crofton. His mother, foreseeing just what happened, wished to have kept the news from him till within a week of his departure, and had agreed with Mr Proctor that it should be so. But Mr Proctor hated secrets, and, as we see, let it out immediately.
At last, the day came;—a warm, sunny, autumn day, on which any one might have enjoyed the prospect of a drive into the country. The coach was to set off from an inn in Fleet Street, at noon, and would set Hugh down at his uncle's door in time for dinner, the distance being twenty-eight miles. His uncle's house was just two miles from the school. Phil would probably be there to meet his brother, and take him to Crofton in the afternoon.
How to get rid of the hours till noon was the question. Hugh had had everything packed up, over which he had any control, for some days. He had not left himself a plaything of those which he might carry: and it frightened him that his mother did not seem to think of packing his clothes till after breakfast this very morning. When she entered his room for the purpose, he was fidgeting about, saying to himself that he should never be ready. Agnes came with her mother, to help: but before the second shirt was laid in the box, she was in tears and had to go away; for every one in the house was in the habit of hiding tears from Mrs Proctor, who rarely shed them herself, and was known to think that they might generally be suppressed, and should be so.
As Hugh stood beside her, handing stockings and handkerchiefs, to fill up the corners of the box, she spoke as she might not have done if they had not been alone. She said but a few words; but Hugh never forgot them.
"You know, my dear," said she, "that I do not approve of dwelling upon troubles. You know I never encourage my children to fret about what cannot be helped."
There was nothing in the world that Hugh was more certain of than this.
"And yet I tell you," she continued, "that you will not be nearly so happy at Crofton as you expect—at least, at first. It grieves me to see you so full of expectation—"
"Does it indeed, mother?"
"It does indeed. But my comfort is—"
"You think I can bear it," cried Hugh, holding up his head. "You think I can bear anything."
"I think you are a brave boy, on the whole. But that is not the comfort I was speaking of; for there is a world of troubles too heavy for the bravery of a thoughtless child, like you. My comfort is, my dear, that you know where to go for strength when your heart fails you. You will be away from your father and me; but a far wiser and kinder parent will be always with you. If I were not sure that you would continually open your heart to Him, I could not let you go from me."
"I will—I always do," said Hugh, in a low voice. "Then remember this, my boy. If you have that help, you must not fail. Knowing that you have that help, I expect of you that you do your own duty, and bear your own troubles, like a man. If you were to be all alone in the new world you are going to, you would be but a helpless child: but remember, when a child makes God his friend, God puts into the youngest and weakest the spirit of a man."
"You will ask Him too, mother;—you will pray Him to make me brave, and—and—"
"And what else?" she inquired, fixing her eyes upon him.
"And steady," replied Hugh, casting down his eyes; "for that is what I want most of all."
"It is," replied his mother. "I do, and always will, pray for you."
Not another word was said till they went down into the parlour. Though it was only eleven o'clock, Miss Harold was putting on her bonnet to go away: and there was a plate of bread and cheese on the table.
"Lunch!" said Hugh, turning away with disgust. "Do eat it," said Agnes, who had brought it. "You had no breakfast, you know."
"Because I did not want it; and I can't eat anything now."
Jane made a sign to Agnes to take the plate out of sight: and she put some biscuits into a paper bag, that he might eat on the road, if he should become hungry.
Neither Miss Harold nor Hugh could possibly feel any grief at parting; for they had had little satisfaction together; but she said very kindly that she should hope to hear often of him, and wished he might be happy as a Crofton boy. Hugh could hardly answer her;—so amazed was he to find that his sisters were giving up an hour of their lessons on his account,—that they might go with him to the coach!—And then Susan came in, about the cord for his box, and her eyes were red:—and, at the sight of her, Agnes began to cry again; and Jane bent down her head over the glove she was mending for him, and her needle stopped.
"Jane," said her mother, gravely, "if you are not mending that glove, give it to me. It is getting late."
Jane brushed her hand across her eyes, and stitched away again. Then she threw the gloves to Hugh without looking at him, and ran to get ready to go to the coach.
The bustle of the inn-yard would not do for little Harry. He could not go. Hugh was extremely surprised to find that all the rest were going;—that even his father was smoothing his hat in the passage for the walk,—really leaving the shop at noon on his account! The porter was at his service too,—waiting for his box! It was very odd to feel of such consequence.
Hugh ran down to bid the maids good-bye. The cook had cut a sandwich, which she thrust into his pocket, though he told her he had some biscuits. Susan cried so that little Harry stood grave and wondering. Susan sobbed out that she knew he did not care a bit about leaving home and everybody. Hugh wished she would not say so, though he felt it was true, and wondered at it himself. Mr Proctor heard Susan's lamentations, and called to her from the passage above not to make herself unhappy about that; for the time would soon come when Hugh would be homesick enough.
Mr Blake, the shopman, came to the shop-door as they passed, and bowed and smiled; and the boy put himself in the way, with a broad grin: and then the party walked on quickly.
The sun seemed to Hugh to glare very much; and he thought he had never known the streets so noisy, or the people so pushing. The truth was, his heart was beating so he could scarcely see: and yet he was so busy looking about him for a sight of the river, and everything he wished to bid good-bye to, that his father, who held him fast by the hand, shook him more than once, and told him he would run everybody down if he could,—to judge by his way of walking. He must learn to march better, if he was to be a soldier; and to steer, if he was to be a sailor.
There were just two minutes to spare when they reached the inn-yard. The horses were pawing and fidgeting, and some of the passengers had mounted: so Mr Proctor said he would seat the boy at once. He spoke to two men who were on the roof, just behind the coachman; and they agreed to let Hugh sit between them, on the assurance that the driver would look to his concerns, and see that he was set down at the right place.
"Now, my boy, up with you!" said his father, as he turned from speaking to these men. Hugh was so eager, that he put up his foot to mount, without remembering to bid his mother and sisters good-bye. Mr Proctor laughed at this; and nobody wondered; but Agnes cried bitterly; and she could not forget it, from that time till she saw her brother again. When they had all kissed him, and his mother's earnest look had bidden him remember what had passed between them that morning, he was lifted up by his father, and received by the two men, between whom he found a safe seat.
Then he wished they were off. It was uncomfortable to see his sisters crying there, and not to be able to cry too, or to speak to them. When the coachman was drawing on his second glove, and the ostlers held each a hand to pull off the horse-cloths, and the last moment was come, Mr Proctor swung himself up by the step, to say one thing more. It was—
"I say, Hugh,—can you tell me,—how much is four times seven?"
Mrs Proctor pulled her husband's coat-tail, and he leaped down, the horses' feet scrambled, their heads issued from the gateway of the inn-yard, and Hugh's family were left behind. In the midst of the noise, the man on Hugh's right-hand said to the one on his left,—
"There is some joke in that last remark, I imagine."
The other man nodded; and then there was no more speaking till they were off the stones. When the clatter was over, and the coach began to roll along the smooth road, Hugh's neighbour repeated,—
"There was some joke, I fancy, in that last remark of your father's."
"Yes," said Hugh.
"Are you in the habit of saying the multiplication-table when you travel?" said the other. "If so, we shall be happy to hear it."
"Exceedingly happy," observed the first.
"I never say it when I can help it," said Hugh; "and I see no occasion now."
The men laughed, and then asked him if he was going far.
"To Crofton. I am going to be a Crofton boy," said Hugh.
"A what? Where is he going?" his companions asked one another over his head. They were no wiser when Hugh repeated what he had said; nor could the coachman enlighten them. He only knew that he was to put the boy down at Shaw's, the great miller's, near thirty miles along the road.
"Eight-and-twenty," said Hugh, in correction; "and Crofton is two miles from my uncle's."
"Eight-and-twenty. The father's joke lies there," observed the right-hand man.
"No, it does not," said Hugh. He thought he was among a set of very odd people,—none of them knowing what a Crofton boy was. A passenger who sat beside the coachman only smiled when he was appealed to; so it might be concluded that he was ignorant too; and the right and left-hand men seemed so anxious for information, that Hugh told them all he knew;— about the orchard and the avenue, and the pond on the heath, and the playground; and Mrs Watson, and the usher, and Phil, and Joe Cape, and Tony Nelson, and several others of the boys.
One of the men asked him if he was sure he was going for the first time,—he seemed so thoroughly informed of everything about Crofton. Hugh replied that it was a good thing to have an elder brother like Phil. Phil had told him just what to take to Crofton, and how to take care of his money, and everything.
"Ay! And how do the Crofton boys take care of their money?"
Hugh showed a curious little inner pocket in his jacket, which nobody would dream of that did not know. His mother had let him have such a pocket in both his jackets; and he had wanted to have all his money in this one now, to show how safely he could carry it. But his mother had chosen to pack up all his five shillings in his box,—that square box, with the new brass lock, on the top of all the luggage. In his pocket there was only sixpence now,—the sixpence he was to give the coachman when he was set down.
Then he went on to explain that this sixpence was not out of his own money, but given him by his father, expressly for the coachman. Then his right-hand companion congratulated him upon his spirits, and began to punch and tickle him; and when Hugh writhed himself about, because he could not bear tickling, the coachman said he would have no such doings, and bade them be quiet. Then the passengers seemed to forget Hugh, and talked to one another of the harvest in the north, and the hopping in Kent. Hugh listened about the hopping, supposing it might be some new game, as good as leap-frog; though it seemed strange that one farmer should begin hopping on Monday, and that another should fix Thursday; and that both should be so extremely anxious about the weather. But when he found it was some sort of harvest-work, he left off listening, and gave all his attention to the country sights that were about him. He did not grow tired of the gardens, gay with dahlias and hollyhocks, and asters: nor of the orchards, where the ladder against the tree, and the basket under, showed that apple-gathering was going on; nor of the nooks in the fields, where blackberries were ripening; nor of the chequered sunlight and shadow which lay upon the road; nor of the breezy heath where the blue ponds were ruffled; nor of the pleasant grove where the leaves were beginning to show a tinge of yellow and red, here and there among the green. Silently he enjoyed all these things, only awakening from them when there was a stop to change horses.
He was not thinking of time or distance when he saw the coachman glance round at him, and felt that the speed of the horses was slackening. Still he had no idea that this was any concern of his, till he saw something that made him start.
"Why, there's Phil!" he exclaimed, jumping to his feet.
"This is Shaw's mill, and there is Shaw; which is all I have to do with," said the coachman, as he pulled up.
Hugh was soon down, with his uncle and Phil, and one of the men from the mill to help. His aunt was at the window too; so that altogether Hugh forgot to thank his companions for his safe seat. He would have forgotten his box, but for the coachman. One thing more he also forgot.
"I say, young master," said the driver, "remember the coachman. Where's your sixpence?"
"Oh, my sixpence!" cried Hugh, throwing down what he held, to feel in his curious inner pocket, which was empty.
"Lest you find a hole in your pocket, here is a sixpence for you," cried the right-hand passenger, tossing him his own sixpence. "Thank you for teaching us the secret of such a curious pocket."
The coachman was impatient, got his money, and drove off, leaving Hugh to make out why he had been tickled, and how his money had changed hands. With a very red face, he declared it was too bad of the man: but the man was out of his hearing, and could never know how angry he was.
"A pretty story this is for our usher to have against you, to begin with," was Phil's consolation. "Every boy will know it before you show yourself; and you will never hear the last of it, I can tell you."
"Your usher!" exclaimed Hugh, bewildered.
"Yes, our usher. That was he on the box, beside coachee. Did not you find out that much in all these eight-and-twenty miles?"
"How should I? He never told me."
Hugh could hardly speak to his uncle and aunt, he was so taken up with trying to remember what he had said, in the usher's hearing, of the usher himself, and everybody at Crofton.
Mrs Shaw ordered dinner presently; and while it was being served, she desired Phil to brush his brother's clothes, as they were dusty from his ride. All the while he was brushing (which, he did very roughly), and all the first part of dinner-time, Phil continued to tease Hugh about what he had said on the top of the coach. Mrs Shaw spoke of the imprudence of talking freely before strangers; and Hugh could have told her that he did not need such a lecture at the very time that he found the same thing by his experience. He did wish Phil would stop. If anybody should ask him a question, he could not answer without crying. Then he remembered how his mother expected him to bear things; and he almost wished he was at home with her now, after all his longing to be away. This thought nearly made him cry again; so he tried to dwell on how his mother would expect him to bear things: but neither of them had thought that morning, beside his box, that the first trial would come from Phil. This again made him so nearly cry that his uncle observed his twitching face, and, without noticing him, said that he, for his part, did not want to see little boys wise before they had time to learn; and that the most silent companion he had ever been shut up with in a coach was certainly the least agreeable: and he went on to relate an adventure which has happened to more persons than one. He had found the gentleman in the corner, with the shaggy coat, to be a bear—a tame bear, which had to take the quickest mode of conveyance, in order to be at a distant fair in good time. Mr Shaw spun out his story, so that Hugh quite recovered himself, and laughed as much as anybody at his uncle having formed a bad opinion of Bruin in the early twilight, for his incivility in not bowing to the passenger who left the coach.
After dinner, Phil thought it time to be off to Crofton. He had missed something by coming away at all to-day; and he was not going to run the chance of losing the top of the class by not having time to do his Sallust properly. Mrs Shaw said they must have some of her plums before they went, and a glass of wine; and Mr Shaw ordered the gig, saying he would drive them, and thus no time would be lost, though he hoped Phil would not mind being at the bottom of every class for once to help his brother, seeing how soon a diligent boy might work his way up again. Phil replied that that was not so easy as people might think, when there was one like Joe Cape determined to keep him down, if he could once get him down.
"I hope you will find time to help Hugh up from the bottom, in a class or two," said Mr Shaw. "You will not be too busy about your own affairs to look to his, I suppose."
"Where is the use of my meddling?" said Phil. "He can't rise for years to come. Besides—"
"Why can't I rise?" exclaimed Hugh, with glowing cheeks.
"That is right, Hugh," said his uncle. "Let nobody prophesy for you till you show what you can do."
"Why, uncle, he is nearly two years younger than any boy in the school; and—"
"And there is little Page above you in algebra. He is about two years younger than you, Phil, if I remember right."
Hugh could not help clapping his hands at the prospect this held out to him. Phil took the act for triumphing over him, and went on to say, very insultingly, that a little fellow who had been brought up among the girls all his life, and had learned of nobody but Miss Harold, could not be expected to cut any figure among boys. Hugh looked so grieved for a moment, and then suddenly so relieved, that his kind uncle wondered what was in his mind. He took the boy between his knees and asked him.
Hugh loved his uncle already, as if he had always known him. He put his arms round his neck, and whispered in his ear what he was thinking of;— his mother's saying that God could and would, if He was sought, put the spirit of a man into the feeblest child.
"True!—quite true! I am very glad you know that, my boy. That will help you to learn at Crofton, though it is better than anything they can teach you in their school-room."
Mrs Shaw and Phil looked curious; but Mr Shaw did not repeat a word of what Hugh had said. He put the boy away from his knees, because he heard the gig coming round.
Mrs Shaw told Hugh that she hoped he would spend some of his Sundays with his uncle and her; and his uncle added that he must come on holidays as well as Sundays,—there was so much to see about the mill.
Phil was amused, and somewhat pleased, to find how exactly Hugh remembered his description of the place and neighbourhood. He recognised the duck-pond under the hedge by the road-side, with the very finest blackberries growing above it, just out of reach. The church he knew, of course, and the row of chestnuts, whose leaves were just beginning to fall; and the high wall dividing the orchard from the playground. That must have been the wall on which Mr Tooke's little boy used to be placed to frighten him. It did not look so very high as Hugh had fancied it. One thing which he had never seen or heard of was the bell, under its little roof on the ridge of Mr Tooke's great house. Was it to call in the boys to school, or for an alarm? His uncle told him it might serve the one purpose in the day, and the other by night; and that almost every large farm thereabouts had such a bell on the top of the house.
The sun was near its setting when they came in sight of the Crofton house. A long range of windows glittered in the yellow light, and Phil said that the lower row all belonged to the school-room;—that whole row.
In the midst of his explanations Phil stopped, and his manner grew more rough than ever—with a sort of shyness in it too. It was because some of the boys were within hearing, leaning over the pales which separated the playground from the road.
"I say; hollo there!" cried one. "Is that Prater you have got with you?"
"Prater the second," cried another. "He could not have had his name if there had not been Prater the first."
"There! There's a scrape you have got me into already!" muttered Phil.
"Be a man, Phil, and bear your own share," said Mr Shaw; "and no spite, because your words come back to you!"
The talk at the palings still went on, as the gig rolled quietly in the sandy by-road.
"Prater!" poor Hugh exclaimed. "What a name!"
"Yes; that is you," said his uncle. "You know now what your nick-name will be. Every boy has one or another: and yours might have been worse, because you might have done many a worse thing to earn it."
"But the usher, uncle?"
"What of him?"
"He should not have told about me."
"Don't call him 'Prater the third,' however. Bear your own share, as I said to Phil, and don't meddle with another's."
Perhaps Mr Shaw hoped that through one of the boys the usher would get a new nick-name for his ill-nature in telling tales of a little boy, before he was so much as seen by his companions. He certainly put it into their heads, whether they would make use of it or not.
Mr Tooke was out, taking his evening ride; but Mr Shaw would not drive off till he had seen Mrs Watson, and introduced his younger nephew to her, observing to her that he was but a little fellow to come among such a number of rough boys. Mrs Watson smiled kindly at Hugh, and said she was glad he had a brother in the school, to prevent his feeling lonely at first. It would not take many days, she hoped, to make him feel quite at home. Mr Shaw slipped half-a-crown into Hugh's hand, and whispered to him to try to keep it safe in his inner pocket Hugh ran after him to the door, to tell him he had five shillings already—safe in his box: but his uncle would not take back the half-crown. He thought that, in course of time, Hugh would want all the money he had.
Mrs Watson desired Phil to show his brother where he was to sleep, and to help him to put by his clothes. Phil was in a hurry to get to his Sallust; so that he was not sorry when Mrs Watson herself came up to see that the boy's clothes were laid properly in the deep drawer in which Hugh was to keep his things. Phil then slipped away.
"Dear me!" said Mrs Watson, turning over one of Hugh's new collars, "we must have something different from this. These collars tied with a black ribbon are never tidy. They are always over one shoulder or the other."
"My sisters made them; and they worked so hard to get them done!" said Hugh.
"Very well—very right: only it is a pity they are not of a better make. Every Sunday at church, I shall see your collar awry—and every time you go to your aunt's, she will think we do not make you neat. I must see about that. Here are good stockings, however—properly stout. My dear, are these all the shoes you have got?"
"I have a pair on."
"Of course; I don't doubt that. We must have you measured to-morrow for some boots fitter for the country than these. We have no London pavement here."
And so Mrs Watson went on, sometimes approving and sometimes criticising, till Hugh did not know whether to cry or to be angry. After all the pains his mother and sisters had taken about his things, they were to be found fault with in this way!
When his box was emptied, and his drawer filled, Mrs Watson took him into the school-room, where the boys were at supper. Outside the door the buzz seemed prodigious, and Hugh hoped that, in such a bustle, nobody would notice him. Here he was quite mistaken. The moment he entered there was a hush, and all eyes were turned upon him, except his brother's. Phil hardly looked up from his book; but he made room for Hugh between himself and another boy, and drew the great plate of bread within reach. Mrs Watson saw that Hugh had his basin of milk; and he found it a good thing to have something to do while so many eyes were upon him. He felt that he might have cried if he had not had his supper to eat.
The usher sat at the top of the table, reading. Mrs Watson called his attention to Hugh; and Hugh stood up and made his bow. His face was red, as much with anger as timidity, when he recognised in him the passenger who had sat beside the coachman.
"Perhaps, Mr Carnaby," said Mrs Watson, "you will find something for this young gentleman to do, when he has had his supper, while the rest are learning their lessons. To-morrow he will have his own lessons; but to-night—"
"There is always the multiplication-table," replied Mr Carnaby. "The young gentleman is partial to that, I fancy."
Hugh reddened, and applied himself to his bread and milk.
"Never mind a joke," whispered Mrs Watson. "We won't plague you with the multiplication-table the first evening. I will find you a book or something. Meantime, there is a companion for you—I forgot that."
The good lady went down the room, and brought back a boy who seemed to be doing all he could to stop crying. He dashed his hand over his eyes every minute, and could not look anybody in the face. He had finished his supper, and was at a loss what to do next, as he had only arrived that morning, and did not know anybody at Crofton. His name was Tom Holt, and he was ten years old.
When they had told their names and ages, and where they came from, the boys did not know what to say next; and Hugh wished Phil would stop murmuring over his Sallust and looking in the dictionary every minute; but Mrs Watson did not forget the strangers. She brought them Cook's Voyages out of the library, to amuse themselves with, on condition of their delivering the book to Mr Carnaby at bedtime.
The rest of the evening passed away very pleasantly. Hugh told Holt a great deal about Broadstairs and the South Sea Islands, and confided to him his own hopes of being a sailor, and going round the world; and, if possible, making his way straight through China,—the most difficult country left to travel in, he believed, except some parts of Africa. He did not want to cross the Great Desert, on account of the heat. He knew something of what that was by the leads at home, when the sun was on them. What was the greatest heat Holt had ever felt? Then came the surprise. Holt had last come from his uncle's farm; but he was born in India, and had lived there till eighteen months ago. So, while Hugh had chattered away about the sea at Broadstairs, and the heat on the leads at home, his companion had come fourteen thousand miles over the ocean, and had felt a heat nearly as extreme as that of the Great Desert! Holt was very unassuming too. He talked of the heat of gleaning in his uncle's harvest-fields, and of the kitchen when the harvest-supper was cooking; owning that he remembered he had felt hotter in India. Hugh heaped questions upon him about his native country and the voyage; and Holt liked to be asked: so that the boys were not at all like strangers just met for the first time. They raised their voices in the eagerness of their talk, from a whisper so as to be heard quite across the table, above the hum and buzz of above thirty others, who were learning their lessons half-aloud. At last Hugh was startled by hearing the words "Prater", "Prater the second." He was silent instantly, to Holt's great wonder.
Without raising his eyes from his book, Phil said, so as to be heard as far as the usher,—
"Who prated, of Prater the second? Who is Prater the third?"
There was a laugh which provoked the usher to come and see whereabouts in Sallust such a passage as this was to be found. Not finding any such, he knuckled Phil's head, and pulled his hair, till Hugh cried out—
"O, don't, sir! Don't hurt him so!"
"Do you call that hurting? You will soon find what hurting is, when you become acquainted with our birch. You shall have four times seven with our birch—Let us see,—that is your favourite number, I think."
The usher looked round, and almost everybody laughed.
"You see I have your secret;—four times seven," continued Mr Carnaby. "What do you shake your head for?"
"Because you have not my secret about four times seven."
"Did not I hear your father? Eh?"
"What did you hear my father say? Nobody here knows what he meant? And nobody need know, unless I choose to tell—which I don't.—Please don't teaze Phil about it, sir: for he knows no more about it than you do."
Mr Carnaby said something about the impertinence of little boys, as if they could have secrets, and then declared it high time that the youngsters should go to bed. Hugh delivered Cook's Voyages into his hands, and then bade Phil good-night. He was just going to put his face up to be kissed, but recollected in time that he was to leave off kissing when he went to school. He held out his hand, but Phil seemed not to see it, and only told him to be sure to lie enough on one side, so as to leave him room; and that he was to take the side of the bed next the window. Hugh nodded and went off, with Holt and two more, who slept in the same room.
The two who were not new boys were in bed in a minute; and when they saw Hugh wash his face and hands, they sat up in bed to stare. One of them told him that he had better not do that, as the maid would be coming for the light, and would leave him in the dark, and report of him if he was not in bed. So Hugh made a great splutter, and did not half dry his face, and left the water in the basin;—a thing which they told him was not allowed. He saw that the others had not kneeled down to say their prayers,—a practice which he had never omitted since he could say a prayer, except when he had the measles. He knew the boys were watching him; but he thought of his mother, and how she had taught him to pray at her knee. He hid himself as well as he could with the scanty bed-curtains, and kneeled. He could not attend to the words he said, while feeling that eyes were upon him; and before he had done, the maid came in for the candle. She waited; but when he got into bed, she told him that he must be quicker to-morrow night, as she had no time to spare waiting for the candle.
Hugh was more tired than he had ever been in his life. This had been the longest day he had ever known. It seemed more like a week than a day. Yet he could not go to sleep. He had forgotten to ask Phil to be sure and wake him in time in the morning: and now he must keep awake till Phil came, to say this. Then, he could not but ask himself whether he liked, and should like, being at school as much as he expected; and when he felt how very unlike home it was, and how rough everybody seemed, and how Phil appeared almost as if he was ashamed of him, instead of helping him, he was so miserable he did not know what to do. He cried bitterly,—cried till his pillow was quite wet, and he was almost choked with his grief; for he tried hard not to let his sobs be heard. After awhile, he felt what he might do. Though he had kneeled he had not really prayed: and if he had, God is never weary of prayers. It was a happy thought to Hugh that his very best friend was with him still, and that he might speak to Him at any time. He spoke now in his heart; and a great comfort it was. He said—
"O God, I am all alone here, where nobody knows me; and everything is very strange and uncomfortable. Please, make people kind to me till I am used to them; and keep up a brave heart in me, if they are not. Help me not to mind little things; but to do my lessons well, that I may get to like being a Crofton boy, as I thought I should. I love them all at home very much,—better than I ever did before. Make them love me, and think of me every day,—particularly Agnes,—that they may be as glad as I shall be when I go home at Christmas."
This was the most of what he had to say; and he dropped asleep with the feeling that God was listening to him.
After a long while, as it seemed to him, though it was only an hour, there was a light and some bustle in the room. It was Phil and two others coming to bed.
"O Phil!" cried Hugh, starting bolt upright and winking with sleep,—"I meant to keep awake, to ask you to be sure and call me in the morning, time enough,—quite time enough, please."
The others laughed; and Phil asked whether he had not seen the bell, as he came; and what it should be for but to ring everybody up in the morning.
"But I might not hear it," pleaded Hugh.
"Not hear it? You'll soon see that."
"Well, but you will see that I really do wake, won't you?"
"The bell will take care of that, I tell you," was all he could get from Phil.
Hugh found, in the morning, that there was no danger of his not hearing the bell. Its clang clang startled him out of a sound sleep; and he was on his feet on the floor almost before his eyes were open. The boys who were more used to the bell did not make quite so much haste. They yawned a few times, and turned out more slowly; so that Hugh had the great tin wash basin to himself longer than the rest. There was a basin to every three boys; and, early as Hugh began, his companions were impatient long before he had done. At first, they waited, in curiosity to see what he was going to do after washing his face; when he went further, they began to quiz; but when they found that he actually thought of washing his feet, they hooted and groaned at him for a dirty brat.
"Dirty!" cried Hugh, facing them, amazed, "Dirty for washing my feet! Mother says it is a dirty trick not to wash all over every day."
Phil told him that was stuff and nonsense here. There was no room and no time for such home-doings. The boys all washed their heads and feet on Saturdays. He would soon find that he might be glad to get his face and hands done in the mornings.
The other boys in the room were, or pretended to be, so disgusted with the very idea of washing feet in a basin, that they made Hugh rinse and rub out the tin basin several times before they would use it, and then there was a great bustle to get down-stairs at the second bell. Hugh pulled his brother's arm, as Phil was brushing out of the room, and asked, in a whisper, whether there would be time to say his prayers.
"There will be prayers in the school-room. You must be in time for them," said Phil. "You had better come with me."
"Do wait one moment, while I just comb my hair."
Phil fidgeted, and others giggled, while Hugh tried to part his hair, as Susan had taught him. He gave it up, and left it rough, thinking he would come up and do it when there was nobody there to laugh at him.
The school-room looked chilly and dull, as there was no sunshine in it till the afternoon; and still Mr Tooke was not there, as Hugh had hoped he would be. Mrs Watson and the servants came in for prayers, which were well read by the usher; and then everybody went to business:— everybody but Hugh and Holt, who had nothing to do. Class after class came up for repetition; and this repetition seemed to the new boys an accomplishment they should never acquire. They did not think that any practice would enable them to gabble, as everybody seemed able to gabble here. Hugh had witnessed something of it before,—Phil having been wont to run off at home, "Sal, Sol, Ren et Splen," to the end of the passage, for the admiration of his sisters, and so much to little Harry's amusement, that Susan, however busy she might be, came to listen, and then asked him to say it again, that cook might hear what he learned at school. Hugh now thought that none of them gabbled quite so fast as Phil: but he soon found out, by a glance or two of Phil's to one side, that he was trying to astonish the new boys. It is surprising how it lightened Hugh's heart to find that his brother did not quite despise, or feel ashamed of him, as he had begun to think: but that he even took pains to show off. He was sorry too when the usher spoke sharply to Phil, and even rapped his head with the cane, asking him what he spluttered out his nonsense at that rate for. Thus ended Phil's display; and Hugh felt as hot, and as ready to cry, as if it had happened to himself.
Perhaps the usher saw this; for when he called Hugh up, he was very kind. He looked at the Latin grammar he had used with Miss Harold, and saw by the dogs'-ears exactly how far Hugh had gone in it, and asked him only what he could answer very well. Hugh said three declensions, with only one mistake. Then he was shown the part that he was to say to-morrow morning; and Hugh walked away, all the happier for having something to do, like everybody else. He was so little afraid of the usher, that he went back to him to ask where he had better sit.
"Sit! O! I suppose you must have a desk, though you have nothing to put in it. If there is a spare desk, you shall have it: if not, we will find a corner for you somewhere."
Some of the boys whispered that Mrs Watson's footstool, under her apron, would do: but the usher overheard this, and observed that it took some people a good while to know a new boy; and that they might find that a little fellow might be as much of a man as a big one. And the usher called the oldest boy in the school, and asked him to see if there was a desk for little Proctor. There was: and Hugh put into it his two or three school-books, and his slate; and felt that he was now indeed a Crofton boy. Then, the usher was kinder than he had expected; and he had still to see Mr Tooke, of whom he was not afraid at all. So Hugh's spirits rose, and he liked the prospect of breakfast as well as any boy in the school.
There was one more rebuff for him, first, however. He ran up to his room, to finish combing his hair, while the other boys were thronging into the long room to breakfast. He found the housemaids there, making the beds; and they both cried "Out! Out!" and clapped their hands at him, and threatened to tell Mrs Watson of his having broken rules, if he did not go this moment Hugh asked what Mrs Watson would say to his hair, if he went to breakfast with it as it was. One of the maids was good-natured enough to comb it for him, for once: but she said he must carry a comb in his pocket; as the boys were not allowed to go to their rooms, except at stated hours.
At last, Hugh saw Mr Tooke. When the boys entered school at nine o'clock, the master was at his desk. Hugh went up to his end of the room, with a smiling face, while Tom Holt hung back; and he kept beckoning Tom Holt on, having told him there was nothing to be afraid of. But when, at last, Mr Tooke saw him, he made no difference between the two, and seemed to forget having ever seen Hugh. He told them he hoped they would be good boys, and would do credit to Crofton; and then he asked Mr Carnaby to set them something to learn. And this was all they had to do with Mr Tooke for a long while.
This morning in school, from nine till twelve, seemed the longest morning these little boys had ever known. When they remembered that the afternoon would be as long, and every morning and afternoon for three months, their hearts sank. Perhaps, if any one had told them that the time would grow shorter and shorter by use, and at last, when they had plenty to do, almost too short, they would not have believed it, because they could not yet feel it. But what they now found was only what every boy and girl finds, on beginning school, or entering upon any new way of life.
Mr Carnaby, who was busy with others, found it rather difficult to fill up their time. When Hugh had said some Latin, and helped his companion to learn his first Latin lesson, and both had written a copy, and done a sum, Mr Carnaby could not spare them any more time or thought, and told them they might do what they liked, if they only kept quiet, till school was up. So they made out the ridiculous figures which somebody had carved upon their desks, and the verses, half rubbed out, which were scribbled inside: and then they reckoned, on their slates, how many days there were before the Christmas holidays;—how many school-days, and how many Sundays. And then Hugh began to draw a steamboat in the Thames, as seen from the leads of his father's house; while Holt drew on his slate the ship in which he came over from India. But before they had done, the clock struck twelve, school was up, and there was a general rush into the playground.