THE DASH FOR KHARTOUM:
A TALE OF THE NILE EXPEDITION.
G. A. HENTY,
Author of "With Clive in India;" "True to the Old Flag;" "Bonnie Prince Charlie;" "By Sheer Pluck;" "Facing Death;" "One of the 28th;" &c.
WITH TEN PAGE ILLUSTRATIONS BY JOSEPH NASH, R.I. AND JOHN SCHOeNBERG.
BLACKIE & SON, LIMITED, 49 OLD BAILEY, E.C. GLASGOW, EDINBURGH, AND DUBLIN.
MR. HENTY'S HISTORICAL TALES.
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LONDON: BLACKIE & SON, LIMITED; GLASGOW AND EDINBURGH.
MY DEAR LADS,
The story of the Nile Expedition is so recent that no word of introduction is necessary to the historical portion of the tale. The moral, such as it is, of the story of the two lads brought up as brothers is—Never act in haste, for repentance is sure to follow. In this case great anxiety and unhappiness were caused through a lad acting as he believed for the best, but without consulting those who had every right to a voice in the matter. That all came right in the end in no way affects this excellent rule, for all might have gone wrong. We are often misled by a generous impulse, more often perhaps than by an evil one, but the consequences may be just as serious in the one case as the other. When in trouble you should always go freely to your best friends and natural advisers, and lay the case fully before them. It may be that, if the trouble has arisen from your own fault, you will have to bear their temporary displeasure, but this is a small thing in comparison with the permanent injury that may arise from acting on your own impulse. In most cases, cowardice lies at the bottom of concealment, and cowardice is of all vices the most contemptible; while the fear of the displeasure of a parent has ruined many a boy's life. Therefore, when you are in serious trouble always go to your best friend, your father, and lay the case frankly and honestly before him; for you may be sure that present displeasure and even punishment are but small things in comparison with the trouble that may arise from trying to get out of the difficulty in other ways.
G. A. HENTY
I. MIXED! 11
II. AT CHELTENHAM, 27
III. GONE, 47
IV. BACK AT SCHOOL, 65
V. ENLISTED, 84
VI. EGYPT, 97
VII. EL-TEB, 116
VIII. TAMANIEB, 134
IX. THE CAMEL CORPS, 144
X. AN UNEXPECTED MEETING, 165
XI. ABU KLEA, 183
XII. METEMMEH, 201
XIII. ABU KRU, 218
XIV. A SLAVE, 235
XV. BAD NEWS, 253
XVI. IN DISGUISE, 270
XVII. A RUNAWAY SLAVE, 288
XVIII. THE ZAREBA, 306
XIX. A LONG SEARCH, 325
XX. FOUND! 340
XXI. HOME! 359
"THE WOMAN PLACED HERSELF IN HIS WAY," 50
"EDGAR STRUCK HIM WITH ALL HIS STRENGTH," 102
"WITH A DESPERATE RUSH THEY REACHED THE SAILORS," 123
TOWING THE BOATS UP THE NILE, 163
AT THE WELLS OF GAKDUL, 184
"THE ARABS WITH WILD YELLS CHARGED UPON THE SQUARE," 196
"GOOD-BYE, LAD, AND GOD BLESS YOU!" 210
"A SHOT HAD PASSED THROUGH HER BOILER," 263
THE ARMY OF HICKS PASHA ON THE MARCH, 342
"IT IS RUPERT'S VOICE, BUT IT CANNOT BE RUPERT!" 357
* * * * *
Plan—Port of Suakim, 122
" Battle of El-teb, 29th Feb. 1884, "
" Battle of Abu Klea, 17th Jan. 1885, 138
" Battle of Tamai, 13th Mar. 1884, "
THE DASH FOR KHARTOUM: A TALE OF THE NILE EXPEDITION.
In a room in the married non-commissioned officers' quarters in the cantonments at Agra, a young woman was sitting looking thoughtfully at two infants, who lay sleeping together on the outside of a bed with a shawl thrown lightly over them. Jane Humphreys had been married about a year. She was the daughter of the regimental sergeant-major, and had been a spoilt child. She was good looking, and had, so the wives and daughters of the other non-commissioned officers said, laid herself out to catch one of the young officers of the regiment, and was bitterly disappointed at the failure of her efforts.
The report may have been untrue, for Jane Farran was by no means popular with the other women, taking far too much upon herself, as they considered, upon the strength of her father's rank, and giving herself airs as if she were better than those around her. There were girls in the regiment just as good looking as she was without any of her airs and tempers. Why should she set herself up above the rest?
When, however, Sergeant-major Farran died suddenly of sunstroke after a heavy field-day, whatever plans and hopes his daughter may have entertained came to an end. Her name and that of her mother were put down among the women to be sent, with the next batch of invalids, home to England, and she suddenly accepted the offer of marriage of young Sergeant Humphreys, whose advances she had previously treated with scorn. They were married six weeks later, on the day before her mother was to go down by train with a party of invalids to Calcutta. The universal opinion of the women in the regiment was that the sergeant had got a bad bargain.
"No man of spirit," one of them said, "would have taken up with a girl who only accepted him because she could not do any better. She has got her temper written in her face, and a nice time of it he is likely to have."
It may have been true that Jane Humphreys had during her father's lifetime had her ambitions, but she was a clever woman and adapted herself to her circumstances. If, as the sergeant-major's daughter, she had given herself airs, and had thrown herself in the way of the young officers, and had been light and flighty in her manner, all this was changed as soon as she was married, and even the most censorious were obliged to admit that she made Sergeant Humphreys a better wife than they had expected. His home was admirably kept, the gay dresses that had been somewhat beyond her station were cut up and altered, and she dressed neatly and quietly.
She was handy with her fingers, her things always fitted her well, and she gained the approbation of the officers' wives, who had previously looked upon her with some disfavour as a forward young person. She made every effort to get on good terms with the wives of the other non-commissioned officers, and succeeded at last in overcoming the prejudice which, as Jane Farran, she had excited. There was no doubt that she was a clever woman, and it was equally beyond doubt that she completely managed her husband. She was much his superior in education, and possessing far greater abilities could twist him round her little finger, although she did it so cleverly that he never suspected that he was the victim of such an operation.
A month previous to the opening of the story she had been confined of a boy, and two days later Mrs. Clinton, the wife of the captain of her husband's company, also became a mother. Before the week was over Mrs. Clinton was taken dangerously ill, and as it was impossible for her to nurse her child, the surgeon of the regiment recommended that it should be given into the charge of the sergeant's wife, as she, being a strong and healthy young woman, could very well nurse it as well as her own. It was a month after this that Sergeant Humphreys, returning to his quarters, found his wife sitting by the side of the bed on which the two infants were asleep.
"They are as alike as two peas," he said as he looked at them. "I am sure I wonder, Jane, that you know which is which!"
Mrs. Humphreys' answer did not seem to the point. "Captain Clinton is a rich man, is he not, John?"
"Yes; they say he came into a grand estate two years ago when his father died, and that like enough he will leave the regiment when it goes home next year."
"Then one of those babies will be a rich man, and the other—" and she stopped.
"The other will, I hope, be a non-commissioned officer in the 30th Foot one of these days," the sergeant said. Jane looked up at her husband. There was no touch of envy or discontent in his voice. She was about to speak but checked herself.
"Which is yours, John?" she asked a moment later, returning to his first remark.
"I am sure I could not tell," he said with a laugh. "Babies are mostly pretty much alike, and as these two are just the same age, and just the same size, and have both got gray eyes and light coloured hair—if you can call it hair,—and no noses to speak of, I don't see a pin's point of difference."
A month later a small party were assembled in Captain Clinton's bungalow. Mrs. Humphreys was standing with a baby in each arm. Mrs. Clinton was lying upon a sofa crying bitterly. Captain Clinton was walking up and down the room, hot and angry. The surgeon of the regiment was standing grave and sympathetic by Mrs. Clinton. Sergeant Humphreys was in the attitude of attention by the door, with an anxious troubled expression on his face.
"What in the world is to be done, doctor?" Captain Clinton asked. "I never heard of such a thing, it is a most serious business."
"I can quite see that," the doctor replied. "When Mrs. Humphreys came to me and asked me to break the news to you, I told her at once that it was a terrible business. I own that I do not see that she is altogether to blame, but it is a most unfortunate occurrence. As I have just told you, she had, when she put the children to bed, put your child in one of her baby's night-gowns, as it happened there were none of your child's clean. In the morning she took them out and laid them on a rug on the ground before beginning to wash and dress them. She went out to the canteen to get something for her husband's breakfast, and when she returned she could not remember the order in which she had taken them out of bed and laid them down, and could not distinguish her own child from yours."
"You must remember, Mrs. Humphreys," Captain Clinton broke in; "think it over, woman. You must remember how you laid them down."
"Indeed, I do not, sir; I have been thinking all the morning. I had nursed them two or three times during the night, and of course had changed their position then. I never thought about their having the same night-gowns on. If I had, of course I should have been more careful, for I have said to my husband over and over again that it was only by their clothes that I should know them apart, for if they had been twins they could not be more alike.
"This is downright maddening!" Captain Clinton exclaimed, pacing up and down the room. "And is there no mark nor anything by which they can be recognized? Why, bless me, woman, surely you as a mother ought to know your own child!"
Mrs. Humphreys shook her head. "I have nursed them both, sir, and which is mine and which is yours I could not say to save my life."
"Well, put the children down on that sofa," Captain Clinton said, "and take yourself off for the present; you have done mischief enough for a lifetime. I will let you know what we decide upon later on."
"Well, doctor, what on earth is to be done?" he asked after the door had closed upon the sergeant and his wife. "What do you think had best be done, Lucy?"
But Mrs. Clinton, who was but just recovering from her illness, was too prostrated by this terrible blow to be able to offer any suggestion.
"It is a terrible business indeed, Clinton," the doctor said, "and I feel for you most deeply. Of course the possibility of such a thing never entered my mind when I recommended you to let Mrs. Humphreys act as its foster-mother. It seemed at the time quite a providential circumstance that she too should be just confined, and in a position to take to your baby. The only possible suggestion I can offer is that you should for a time bring up both boys as your own. At present they are certainly wonderfully alike, but it is probable that as they grow up you will see in one or other of them a likeness to yourself or your wife, and that the other will take after its own parents. Of course these likenesses do not always exist, but in nine cases out of ten some resemblance can be traced between a boy and one or other of his parents."
"That certainly seems feasible," Captain Clinton said in a tone of relief. "What do you say, dear? It is only bringing up the two children for a time till we are able to be certain which is our own. The other will have had the advantage of a good education and so on, and of course it will be our business to give him a good start in life."
"It will be awful having the two children, and not knowing which is our own."
"It will be very unpleasant," Captain Clinton said soothingly; "but, you see, in time you will come to care for them both just as if they had been twins."
"That will be almost as bad," Mrs. Clinton cried feebly. "And suppose one gets to love the wrong one best?"
"We won't suppose that, dear; but if we love them both equally, we will, when we find out which is ours, treat the other as an adopted child and complete his education, and start him in life as if he were so. Fortunately the expense will be nothing to us."
"But this woman has a right to one of them."
"She does not deserve to have one," Captain Clinton said angrily; "but of course we must make some arrangement with her. She is bound to do her best to repair the terrible mischief her carelessness has caused. Well, doctor, we will think it over for an hour or two, but certainly your suggestion seems by far the best for us to adopt."
"The hussy!" the doctor said as he walked away to his quarters. "I am more than half inclined to believe that she has done it on purpose. I never liked the jade before she married, though I own that she has turned out better than I expected. But I always thought her a designing and artful young woman, and gave her credit for plenty of brains, and what could suit her purpose better than this change of children? She would see that in the first place she would get her own boy well brought up, and perhaps provided for, with all sorts of chances of making money out of the affair. It may have been an accident, of course, but if so, it was a wonderfully fortunate one for her."
Such was the opinion among the women of the regiment when the news became known, and Jane Humphreys was speedily made aware of the fact by the change in their manner towards her. They had, however, but small opportunity for demonstrating their opinion, for Mrs. Humphreys remained shut up as much as possible in her room, and the one or two women who were inclined to take a favourable view of the matter and so called upon her, reported that she was completely prostrated by the occurrence. Among the officers and their families the greatest commiseration was felt for Captain Clinton and his wife, and the matter was discussed at tiffin that day with great animation.
"Don't you think, doctor, that a woman must know her own child?" a young ensign asked.
"Not at all, Arbuthnot; that is to say, not if you mean that she would know it by any sort of maternal instinct. There is no such thing. She has no more means of telling her own infant out of a dozen others of similar complexion, age, and appearance, than she would have of picking out her own pocket-handkerchief out of a dozen others of similar pattern if they were all unmarked."
"But a sheep can pick out his own lamb among a hundred, doctor, and I am sure they are alike as so many peas. Surely that must be maternal instinct?"
"Not in the smallest degree, Arbuthnot. The sheep and other animals possess in a very high degree a sense which is comparatively rudimentary in human beings. I mean, of course, the sense of smell. A sheep knows her lamb, and a cow knows her calf, neither by the sense of hearing or by that of sight. She recognizes it solely and wholly by her sense of smell, just as a dog can track its master's footsteps out of a thousand by the same sense. The two babies are as alike as twins; and I am not surprised that, if they really got mixed, this woman should not be able to detect one from the other."
"It is an awful thing for Clinton," the major said. "Here he has got a splendid estate, and he will never be certain whether his own son or a stranger is going to inherit it after him. It is enough to make a man go out of his mind."
"I don't see that that would be likely to mend matters," the doctor said dryly; "in fact it would lessen the one chance that exists of ever setting the matter straight. As I have told him, though these children are very much alike at present—and indeed most babies are—it is probable that as they grow up there will no longer be any resemblance whatever, and that his own child will develop a likeness either to him or Mrs. Clinton, while the other child will resemble the sergeant or his wife."
"We must hope it will be so," the major said, "though there are lots of fellows who don't resemble in the least either of their parents. But what is Clinton going to do about it?"
"He has not settled yet. His wife was in no condition to discuss the matter, poor lady! My suggestion was that he should bring up both the children as if they were his own, until one or other of them develops this likeness that I was speaking of."
"I suppose that is the best thing they can do, doctor; but it will be an awful business if, as they grow up, no likeness to anybody can be detected in either of them."
"Well, major, although at present it does seem an awful thing, it won't seem so bad at the end, say, of twenty years. They will naturally by that time be as fond of one as the other. The boys, in fact, will be like twins; and I suppose the property can be divided in some such way as it would be were they really in that relation to each other."
"But, you see, doctor," one of the captains said, "Mrs. Humphreys has to be considered to a certain extent too. It is hard on Mrs. Clinton; but if she gets both boys she is certain at any rate that one of them is her son, and Mrs. Humphreys will, by that arrangement, have to lose her child altogether. That seems to me pretty rough on her."
"Well, she brought it on herself," the doctor replied. "The whole thing has arisen from her carelessness."
"Do you think it was carelessness, doctor?" the major asked.
"That is a matter on which I will give no opinion, major. It is one upon which one man can form a judgment as well as another. The thing may very well have happened in the way she describes; and again it may be a very cunningly devised plot on her part. It is evident she had everything to gain by such an accident. She would get her child taken off her hands, educated, and provided for. She would calculate no doubt that she would be their nurse, and would expect, in return for giving up her claim to one or other of them, some very distinct monetary advantages. I do not at all say that the affair was not an accident. Upon the contrary, I admit that it was an accident which might very well happen under the circumstances. What I do say is, nothing could have turned out better for her."
Just as tiffin was finished, Captain Clinton's soldier-servant came into the mess-room with the request that Dr. Parker should go across to his master's bungalow. "Well, doctor," Captain Clinton said as he entered, "in the first place I want you to go up and see my wife, and give her a sedative or something, for she is terribly upset over this affair; and in the next place I want to tell you that we have agreed to take your advice in the matter, and to bring up the two children as our own until we can make out which of the two is our child; then I want your advice as to whether they can be weaned without any damage to their health. My wife is determined upon that point. They shall not be brought up by Mrs. Humphreys There is no other woman, is there, in the regiment with a young baby?"
The doctor shook his head. "There are one or two with babies, but not with babies young enough for her to take to these. It would certainly be far better that they should have the natural nourishment, but I do not say that they would necessarily suffer from being weaned. Still, you see, Clinton, there is a question whether this woman will consent to part with both the children."
"I quite see that, doctor, and of course I shall be ready to make any money arrangements that will content her."
"I would see the husband, if I were you," the doctor said. "He is a steady, well-conducted young fellow, and however this matter has come about, I quite acquit him of having any share in it. I think you will find it more easy to deal with him than his wife. Unfortunately, you see, there is always a difficulty with adopted children. A father cannot sell away his rights; he may agree to do so, but if he changes his mind afterwards he can back out of his agreement. However he may bind himself never to interfere with it, the fact remains that he has a legal right to the custody of his child. And though Sergeant Humphreys might keep any agreement he might make, the mother might give you no end of trouble afterwards."
"I see all that, doctor, but of the two evils I think the one we propose is the least. My wife says she could not bear to see this woman about the children, and I have a good deal of the same feeling myself. At any rate in her present state of health I wish to spare her all trouble and anxiety as much as I can, and therefore it is better to buy this woman off for the present, even though we may have to run the risk of trouble with her afterwards. Anyhow, something must be done at once. The children have both been squalling for the last hour, though I believe that they have had some milk or something given to them. So I had better send across for Humphreys, the sooner the matter is got over the better."
The young sergeant presently appeared.
"Sit down, sergeant. I want to have a talk with you over this terribly painful business. In one respect I quite understand that it is as painful for you and Mrs. Humphreys as it is for us, but in other respects you are much better off than I am. Not only do I not know which is my child, but I do not know which is heir to my estate; which is, as you will understand, a most serious matter."
"I can quite understand that, sir," the sergeant said quietly.
"The only plan that I can see," Captain Clinton went on, "is that for the present I shall adopt both children, and shall bring them up as my own. Probably in time one of them will grow up with some resemblance to myself or Mrs. Clinton, and the other will show a likeness to you or your wife. In that case I should propose to finish the education of your boy, and then to provide for him by putting him into the army, or such other profession as he may choose; for it would be very unfair after bringing him up and educating him as my own to turn him adrift. Thus, you see, in any case my adoption of him would be greatly to his benefit. I can, of course, thoroughly understand that it will be very hard for you and Mrs. Humphreys to give up your child. Very hard. And I am quite ready to make any pecuniary arrangement with you and her that you may think right. I may say that I do not think that it would be desirable that Mrs. Humphreys should continue as their nurse. I want to consider the boys as my own, and her presence would be constantly bringing up unpleasant remembrances. In the second place I think that it would be better for her that she should not act as their nurse. She would know that one of them is her own, and the separation when it came would be very much more painful than it would be at present. Of course I do not expect an answer from you just at this moment. You will naturally wish to talk it over with her, but I shall be glad if you will let us have an answer as soon as you can, as it is necessary that we should obtain another nurse without loss of time."
"What you say seems to me very fair, Captain Clinton," the sergeant said. "I would give anything, sir, that this shouldn't have happened. I would rather have shot myself first. I can answer for myself, sir, that I accept your offer. Of course, I am sorry to lose the child; but a baby is not much to a man till it gets to know him and begins to talk, and it will be a satisfaction to know that he is in good hands, with a far better look-out than I could have given him. I will see my wife, sir, and let you know in half an hour."
"Do you think that she will consent, Humphreys?"
"I am sure she will," the sergeant said briefly, and then added, "There is nothing else she could do," and saluting he went out of the room.
"He suspects his wife of having done it on purpose," Dr. Parker said, speaking for the first time since the sergeant had entered the room. "I don't say he knows it, but he suspects it. Did you notice how decidedly he said that she would consent? And I fancy up to now she has had her own way in everything."
"Well, what do they say?" Mrs. Humphreys asked as her husband entered the door. He told her shortly the offer that had been made. She laughed scornfully. "A likely thing that! So they are to have both children, and I am not to be allowed even to see them; and they are to pick and choose as to which they like to say is theirs, and we are to be shouldered out of it altogether! It is just as bad for me not to know which is my boy as it is for that woman; but they are to take the whole settlement of things in their hands, my feelings to go for nothing. Of course you told them that you would not let them do such a thing?"
"I did not tell them anything of the sort. I told them that I accepted their proposal, and that I could answer for your accepting it too."
"Then you were never more wrong in your life, John Humphreys!" she said angrily; "I won't consent to anything of the sort. Luck has thrown a good thing in our hands, and I mean to make the most of it. We ought to get enough out of this to make us comfortable for life if we work it well. I did not think that you were such a soft!"
"Soft or not soft, it is going to be done as they propose," her husband said doggedly. "It is burden enough as it is—we have lost our child. Not that I care so very much about that; there will be time enough for more, and children do not add to the comfort of close little quarters like these. But whether we like it or not, we have lost the child. In the next place we shall never hear the end of it in the regiment, and I shall see if I cannot manage to get transferred to another. There will be no standing the talk there will be."
"Let them talk!" his wife said scornfully. "What do we care about their talk!"
"I care a great deal," he said. "And I tell you why, because I know what they will say is true."
"What do you mean?" she asked quickly.
"I mean, Jane, that I know you mixed up those children on purpose."
"How dare you say so!" she exclaimed making a step forward as if she would strike him.
"I will tell you why I say so. Because I went to the drawer this morning before going to parade, and I saw some of Mrs. Clinton's baby's night-gowns in it. Yes, I see they are all in the wash-tub now; but they were there this morning, and when I heard you say you had put the child into one of our baby's night-gowns because it had no clean ones of its own, I knew that you were lying, and that you had done this on purpose."
The woman was silent a moment and then burst out, "You are a greater fool than ever I thought you! I did tell a lie when I gave that reason for putting the child into our baby's gown. When I took the two clean ones out of the drawer I did not notice until I put them on that they were both ours, and then I thought it was not worth while changing again just as the child had got quiet and comfortable. Then when I found what had happened in the morning, I had to make some excuse or other, and that occurred to me as the best. When I came back I did put them all into the wash-tub, clean and dirty, in case any one should come here to see about them. What harm was there in that, I should like to know?"
"You have acknowledged you have told one lie over it; after that you may say what you like, but you need not expect me to believe you."
"Well, why don't you go at once and tell them that you believe that I changed the children on purpose?"
"Because in the first place I cannot prove it, and because in the second case you are my wife, Jane. I took you for better or worse, and whatever you have done it is not for me to round on you. Anyhow, I will do all I can to set this matter straight, and the only way that I see it can be set straight is by doing as Captain Clinton says—by letting him have the two children until they grow up, and then see which of the two is like them and which is like us. What do you want done? I suppose you don't want to have the care of them both. I suppose you don't want to get paid for letting them keep them both, and to have every man and woman in the regiment asking the question, Who sold their child? What is it you do want?"
"I want to go as their nurse."
"Well, then, you cannot do it. It is evident that Mrs. Clinton hates the sight of you, and no wonder; and she won't have you at any price. You had best be contented with what you have got."
"What have I got?" she asked sullenly.
"Well, you have got the trouble of the child off your hands, you have got the knowledge that it will be well taken care of and provided for and made a gentleman of. That ought to be a satisfaction to you anyhow."
"What is that when we might make a nice little fortune out of it?"
"I can see no way of making a fortune," he said, "unless you do know which is which, and offer to tell them if they will pay you for it. In which case, instead of making a fortune you would be likely to find yourself inside a prison for years—and serve you right."
The woman was silent for some time, then she said, "Very well, then, I will agree to their terms; but mind you, I will make money out of it yet." And so Sergeant Humphreys went across to Captain Clinton's bungalow and told him that his wife agreed to give up both children.
"It is by far the best thing for the little chap whichever he may be, and you will be able to do a deal more for him than I ever could. My wife did not quite see the matter at first, but she has come round to my way of thinking. No, sir, we do not want to be paid," as Captain Clinton was about to speak; "as long as I am fit for service we want nothing. Some day, perhaps, when I get past service I may ask you to give me a job as a lodge-keeper or some such post, where I can earn my living."
And so the matter was settled. One of the other officers' wives had already lent her ayah to take care of the children until one could be found for them.
The ready manner in which Sergeant Humphreys had done the only thing in his power to obviate the effects of his wife's carelessness restored him at once to the good opinion of his fellow sergeants and the men, as it was generally allowed that he had done the right thing, and that no one could do more. Opinion, however, was less favourable as to his wife. It was soon evident to all who lived in the non-commissioned officers' quarters that things were not going on well between Sergeant Humphreys and his wife. There were frequent and violent quarrels. The sergeant was often down at the canteen drinking more than was good for him.
One day Captain Clinton sent for him. "Sergeant, I am sorry to say that I hear from the sergeant-major that you were drunk last night, and that you have several times been the worse for liquor. It is not a formal complaint, but I thought it better to talk to you. You have always been a very steady man, and I should be sorry in the extreme if any thing should happen which would cause you to be brought before the colonel. I have no doubt this affair has troubled you greatly, and that it is entirely owing to that that you have become unsettled. Try to pull yourself round, man. You know that nobody attributes the slightest shadow of blame to you in the matter."
"Thank you, sir. I was coming to see you if you hadn't sent for me, to say that I wished to give up my stripes and return to the ranks. I know I shall be degraded if I don't do it of my own free-will, and I would rather go down than be sent down."
"But what will your wife do? It would be a great change to her, Humphreys."
"My wife has made up her mind to go home, sir, and I think it is the best thing she can do. She will never be comfortable in the regiment, and to say the truth we are not comfortable together. She says that she has friends in England she will go and stay with, and I think it is best to let her go. I would rather cut my hand off than ask for any thing for myself, but as I am sure that it is for the best that she should go, and as I don't hear of any invalids or women going home at present, I should be very much obliged if you would lend me twenty pounds. I have got thirty laid by, and fifty will be enough to send her across by rail to Bombay, pay her passage home, and leave her twenty pounds in hand when she gets there. I will pay it off so much a month."
"You are welcome to twenty pounds without any talk of repayment, Humphreys. But I wouldn't take any hasty step if I were you. If your wife and you have had a quarrel she may change her mind in a day or two, and think better of it."
"No, sir; I think we are pretty well agreed on the point that she had best go home. People make mistakes sometimes, and I think we both made a mistake when we got married. Anyhow, we have both agreed that it is best to part for a time."
Accordingly three or four days later Mrs. Humphreys left Agra for Bombay, and was seen no more in the regiment. Sergeant Humphreys gave up his stripes and returned to the ranks, and for two years remained there. After his wife had left him he gradually gave up the habit into which he had fallen, and at the end of the two years again became a non-commissioned officer. He was never heard to speak of his wife after she left him, nor so far as his comrades knew did he ever receive a letter from her. Soon after he had again got his stripes the regiment returned to England, and a month later Captain Clinton sent in his papers and retired from the service.
"Everything packed and ready, boys?"
"Yes, father, I think so."
"The dog-cart will be at the door at eleven. Be sure and be ready in time. It won't do to miss your train, you know. Well, you have had a pleasant holiday this time, haven't you?"
"Very," both boys replied together.
"It has been awfully jolly," one went on, "and that trip in Brittany was certainly the best thing we have done, though we have always enjoyed our holidays. It is ever so much nicer going to out-of-the-way sort of places, and stopping at jolly little inns without any crowd and fuss, than being in those great Swiss hotels as we were last year, where every one was English, and one had to be in at regular times and almost fight to get something to eat. I hope next year you will be able to take us to Norway, as you were saying yesterday. I should think it would be just the same sort of thing as Brittany, only, of course, different sort of scenery, and different language and different people. Madge, you will have to set to and get up Norse to act as our interpreter."
"You are very lazy boys. I had to do all the talking in Brittany. You are supposed to have learnt French longer than I have."
"Oh, yes; supposed. Nobody cares about their French lessons. They make no difference in your place in the school, and so no one takes the trouble to grind at them. Well, come along, let us take a turn round the place for an hour before we start." And the two boys and Madge, who was a year their junior, went out through the French window into the garden.
Captain Clinton walked to the window and looked after them. They were lads any father might be proud of, straight, well-built, handsome English lads of about sixteen. Rupert was somewhat taller than Edgar, while the latter had slightly the advantage in breadth of shoulders. Beyond the fact that both had brown hair and gray eyes there was no marked likeness between them, and their school-fellows often wondered that there should not be more similarity between twins. Both had pleasant open faces, and they were equally popular among their school-fellows. As to which was the cleverest, there were no means of ascertaining; for although both were at Cheltenham together, one was on the modern and the other on the classical side, Captain Clinton having made this arrangement purposely in order that there should be no rivalry between them, and the unpleasantness that sometimes arises when two brothers are at the same school, and one is more clever than the other, was thereby obviated. Rupert was the more lively of the two, and generally did the largest share of talking when they were together; but Edgar, although he talked less, had the more lively sense of humour, and the laughter that broke out in the garden was caused by some quiet remark of his. Captain Clinton turned sharply round upon hearing a sigh from his wife.
"Well, Lucy, I know what you are thinking: another holiday over, and we are no nearer to the truth. I own that our plan has failed so far, for I can't see in either of the boys a shadow of resemblance either to you or myself. Some people profess to see likenesses. Mr. Tomline remarked yesterday that he should have known Rupert anywhere as my son, but then Colonel Wilson said the day before that Edgar had got just your expression. I don't see a scrap of likeness either way, and I begin to think, dear, that I don't want to see it."
"No, I don't want to see it either, Percy; I love one as well as the other. Still I should like to know which is our own."
"I used to think so too, Lucy; but I have been doubting for some time about it, and now I am quite sure that I don't want to know. They are both fine lads, and, as you say, we love one just as well as the other. Parental instinct, you see, goes for nothing. I should like to know that one of them was my son, but on the other hand I should be very sorry to know that the other wasn't. I think, dear, that it is much better as it is. We have got two sons instead of one; and after all, the idea that there would be a great satisfaction in the real one inheriting all our landed property has very little in it. There is plenty for them both, and each of them will be just as happy on three thousand a year as he would on six.
"As matters stand now, I have divided the property as nearly as possible equally between them. Madge, of course, will have her share; and I have left it in my will that they shall draw lots which shall have the part with the house and park on it, while the other is to have a sum of money sufficient to build an equally good house on his share of the estate. We can only hope that chance will be wiser than we, and will give the old house to the right boy. However, whether our son or our adopted son, whichever be which, gets it, does not concern me greatly. There is enough for our son to hold a good position and be comfortable and happy. Beyond this I do not trouble. At any rate the grievance, if there is a grievance, is a sentimental one; while it would be a matter of real grief to me should either of them, after having always looked upon us as his parents, come to know that he does not belong to us, and that he has been all along in a false position, and has been in fact but an interloper here. That would be terribly hard for him—so hard that I have ceased to wish that the matter should ever be cleared up, and to dread rather than hope that I should discover an unmistakable likeness to either of us in one or other of them."
"You are right, Percy; and henceforth I will worry no more about it. It would be hard, dreadfully hard, on either of them to know that he was not our son; and henceforth I will, like you, try to give up wishing that I could tell which is which. I hope they will never get to know that there is any doubt about it."
"I am afraid we can hardly hope that," Captain Clinton said. "There are too many people who know the story. Of course it was talked about at every station in India at the time, and I know that even about here it is generally known. No, it will be better some day or other to tell it them ourselves, making, of course, light of the matter, and letting them see that we regard them equally as our sons, and love and care for them alike, and that even if we now knew the truth it could make no difference in our feelings towards them. It is much better they should learn it from us than from anyone else."
At eleven o'clock the dog-cart came to the door. The boys were ready. Captain Clinton drove them to the station four miles away, and in two hours after leaving home they arrived at Cheltenham with a large number of their school-fellows, some of whom had been in the train when they entered it, while others had joined them at Gloucester. At Cheltenham there was a scramble for vehicles, and they were soon at the boarding-house of Mr. River-Smith, which had the reputation of being the most comfortable of the Cheltenham boarding-houses.
There was a din of voices through the house, and in the pleasure of meeting again and of exchanging accounts of how the holidays had been spent, the few lingering regrets that school-time had come round again completely vanished. Then there was a discussion as to the football prospects and who would get their house colours in place of those who had gone, and whether River-Smith's was likely to retain the position it had won by its victories over other houses in the previous season; and the general opinion was that their chances were not good.
"You see," Skinner, the captain of the team, said to a party gathered in the senior boys' study, "Harrison and White will be better than last year, but Wade will of course be a great loss; his weight and strength told tremendously in a scrimmage. Hart was a capital half-back too, and there was no better goal-keeper in the college than Wilson. We have not got any one to take their places, and there are four other vacancies in the team, and in each case those who have left were a lot bigger and stronger than any of the young ones we have got to choose from. I don't know who they will be yet, and must wait for the trial matches before we decide; but I think there is plenty of good material to choose from, and we shall be nearly all up to last year's mark, except in point of weight—there is a terrible falling off there, and we have no one who can fill the place of Wade. He was as strong as a bull; yes, he is an awful loss to us! There was not a fellow in the college who could go through a grease as he could. You remember last year how he rolled those fellows of Bishop's over and carried the ball right through them, and then kicked the deciding goal? That was grand! Why don't some of you fellows grow up like him?" And he looked round reproachfully at his listeners. "Over thirteen stone Wade was, and there is not one of you above eleven and a half—anyhow, not more than a few pounds."
"Why don't you set us an example?" Edgar Clinton asked; and there was a laugh, for the captain of the team was all wire and muscle and could not turn ten stone.
"I am not one of that kind," he said; "but there is Wordsworth, who is pretty near six feet in length, and who, if he gave his mind to it and would but eat his food quietly instead of bolting it, might put some flesh on those spindle-shanks of his and fill himself out till he got pretty near to Wade's weight. A fellow ought to do something for his house, and I call it a mere waste of bone when a fellow doesn't put some flesh on him."
"I can run," Wordsworth said apologetically.
"Yes, you can run when you get the ball," Skinner said in a tone of disgust; "but if a fellow half your height runs up against you, over you go. You must lay yourself out for pudding, Wordsworth. With that, and eating your food more slowly, you really might get to be of some use to the house."
Wordsworth grumbled something about his having done his share last year.
"It all depends what you think your share is," Skinner said severely. "You did your best, I have no doubt, and you certainly got a good many goals, but that arose largely from the fact that there was nothing tangible in you. You see, you were something like a jointed walking-stick, and, naturally, it puzzled fellows. You have grown wider a bit since then, and must therefore try to make yourself useful in some other line. What we want is weight, and the sooner you put weight on the better. I see Easton has not come yet."
"He never comes until the evening train," another said. "He always declares it has something to do with cross lines not fitting in."
"It takes him so long," Skinner growled, "to fold up his things without a crease, to scent his pocket-handkerchief, and to get his hair to his satisfaction, that you may be quite sure he cannot make an early start. As he is not here, and all the rest that are left out of last year's team are, it is a good opportunity to talk him over. I did not like having him in the team last year, though he certainly did better than some. What do you think? Ought we to have him this year or not? I have been thinking a lot about it."
"I don't care for him," Scudamore said, "but I am bound to say he does put off all that finicking nonsense when he gets his football jersey on, and plays a good, hard game, and does not seem to mind in the least how muddy or dirty he gets. I should certainly put him in again, Skinner, if I were you."
There was a murmur of assent from three or four of the others.
"Well, I suppose he ought to play," Skinner said; "but it does rile me to see him come sauntering up as if it was quite an accident that he was there, and talk in that drawling, affected sort of way."
"It is riling," another said; "but besides that I do not think there is much to complain about him, and his making an ass of himself at other times does not affect us so long as he plays well in the team."
"No, I do not know that it does, but all the same it is a nuisance when one fellow keeps himself to himself and never seems to go in for anything. I do not suppose Easton means to give himself airs, but there is nothing sociable about him."
"I think he is a kind-hearted fellow," Edgar Clinton said, speaking, however, with less decision than usual, as became one who was not yet in the first form. "When young Jackson twisted his ankle so badly last term at the junior high jump, I know he used to go up and sit with him, and read with him for an hour at a time pretty near every day. I used often to wish I could manage to get up to him, but somehow I never could spare time; but Easton did, though he was in the college four and was working pretty hard too. I have known two or three other things he has done on the quiet. I don't care for his way of dressing nor for his drawling way of talking, in fact, I don't care for him at all personally; but he is a good-natured fellow in spite of his nonsense."
"Well, then, we must try him again," Skinner said, "and see how he does in the trial matches. There is no certainty about him, that is what I hate; one day he plays up and does uncommonly well, then the next day he does not seem to take a bit of interest in the game."
"I have noticed several times," Scudamore said, "that Easton's play depends very much on the state of the game: if we are getting the best of it he seems to think that there is no occasion to exert himself, but if the game is going against us he pulls himself together and goes into it with all his might."
"He does that," Skinner agreed; "that is what riles me in the fellow. He can play a ripping good game when he likes, but then he does not always like. However, as I said, we will give him another trial."
Half an hour later the subject of the conversation arrived. He was in the first form on the classical side, and was going up at the next examination for Sandhurst. Easton was one of the monitors, but seldom asserted his authority or put himself out in any way to perform the duties of the office. He was dressed with scrupulous care, and no one from his appearance would have said that he had just come off a railway journey. He nodded all round in a careless way as he came in, and there was none of the boisterous friendliness that had marked the meeting of most of the others.
"Affected ass!" Skinner growled to Rupert who was next to him.
"You are a prejudiced beggar, Skinner," Rupert laughed. "You know very well he is not an ass, and I am not at all sure he is affected. I suppose it is the way he has been brought up. There is no saying what you might have been yourself if you had had nurses and people about you who always insisted on your turning out spick-and-span. Well, Easton, what have you been doing with yourself since we saw you last?"
"I have been on the Continent most of the time," Easton said, in the quiet, deliberate tone that was so annoying to Skinner. "Spent most of the time in Germany: had a week at Munich, and the same time in Dresden doing the picture-gallery."
"That must have been a treat," Skinner said sarcastically.
"Yes, it was very pleasant. The worst of it is, standing about so long makes one's feet ache."
"I wonder you did not have a bath-chair, Easton; delicate people go about in them, you know."
"It would be a very pleasant way, Skinner, only I don't think I could bring myself to it."
There was a laugh at his taking Skinner's suggestion seriously.
"What have you been doing, Skinner?"
"I have been up in Scotland climbing hills, and getting myself in good condition for football," Skinner replied shortly.
"Ah, football? Yes, I suppose we shall be playing football this term."
There was another laugh, excited principally by the angry growl with which Skinner greeted this indifference to what was to him the principal feature of the year.
"I shouldn't mind football," Easton went on, after looking round as if unable to understand what the others were laughing at, "if it wasn't for the dirt. Of course it is annoying to be kicked in the shins and to be squeezed horribly in the greases, but it is the dirt I object to most. If one could but get one's flannels and jerseys properly washed every time it would not matter so much, but it is disgusting to have to put on things that look as if they had been rolled in mud."
"I wonder you play at all, Easton," Skinner said angrily.
"Well, I wonder myself sometimes," Easton said placidly. "I suppose it is a relic of our original savage nature, when men did not mind dirt, and lived by hunting and fighting and that sort of thing."
"And had never learned the nuisance of stiff shirts and collars, and never heard of such a thing as a tailor, and did not part their hair in the middle, Easton, and had never used soap," Skinner broke in.
"No; it must have been beastly," Easton said gravely. "I am very glad that I did not live in those days."
"Ah, you would have suffered horribly if you had, wouldn't you?"
"Well, I don't know, Skinner; I suppose I should have done as other people did. If one does not know the comfort of a wash and a clean shirt, one would not miss it, you see. I have sometimes thought—"
"Oh, never mind what you thought," Skinner broke in out of all patience. "Come, let us go for a walk; it is no use stopping here all this fine afternoon. Let us take a good long spin. I can see half you fellows are out of condition altogether, and the sooner we begin work the better. Will you come, Easton? After lolling about looking at pictures a twelve-mile spin will do you good."
"Thank you, Skinner; I don't know that I want any good done to me. I should not mind a walk, if it is to be a walk; but a walk with you generally means rushing across ploughed fields and jumping into ditches, and getting one's self hot and uncomfortable, and splashing one's self from head to foot. It is bad enough in flannels, but it is downright misery in one's ordinary clothes. But I don't mind a game at rackets, if anyone is disposed for it."
"I will play you," Mossop said. "I want to get my hand in before the racket matches come off."
So they went and put on their flannels and racket shoes, while the rest of the party started for a long walk with Skinner.
"I am glad he has not come," the football captain said as they started; "he drives me out of all patience."
"I don't think you have much to drive out of you, Skinner," Rupert Clinton laughed. "I believe Easton puts about half of it on, on purpose to excite you. I am sure just now I saw a little amusement in his face when he was talking so gravely."
"He will find he has got in the wrong box," Skinner said angrily, "if he tries to chaff me."
A quiet smile was exchanged among the others, for Easton was tall and well built and had the reputation of being the best boxer in the school; and although Skinner was tough and wiry, he would have stood no chance in an encounter with him.
"Well, how did you get on, Mossop?" Scudamore asked as they sat down to tea.
"Easton beat me every game. I had no idea that he was so good. He says he does not intend to play for the racket, but if he did he would have a first-rate chance. I was in the last ties last year and I ought to have a good chance this, but either I am altogether out of practice or he is wonderfully good. I was asking him, and he said in his lazy way that they had got a decent racket-court at his place, and that he had been knocking the balls about a bit since he came home."
"If he is good enough to win," Pinkerton, the captain of the house, said, "he ought to play for the honour of the house. He has never played in any matches here before. I did not know he played at all."
"That is the way with Easton," Edgar Clinton said; "he is good all round, only he never takes trouble to show it. He could have been in the college cricket eleven last year if he liked, only he said he could not spare the time. Though Skinner doesn't think so, I believe he is one of the best in our football team; when he chooses to exert himself he is out and out the best chess player in the house; and I suppose he is safe to pass in high for Sandhurst."
"He is a queer fellow," Pinkerton said, "one never knows what he can do and what he can't. At the last exam Glover said that the papers he sent in were far and away the best, but that he had only done the difficult questions and hadn't sent in any answers at all to the easy ones, so that instead of coming in first he was five or six down the list. I believe myself he did not want to beat me, because if he had he would have been head of the house, and that would have been altogether too much trouble for him. Glover wanted him to go up for the last Indian Civil, and told him he was sure that he could get in if he tried, but Easton said he wasn't fond of heat and had no fancy for India."
"I suppose he was afraid to take the starch out of his collars," Edgar laughed. "Ah! here he is; late as usual."
Easton strolled quietly in and took his place, looking annoyingly fresh and clean by the side of those who had accompanied Skinner on his walk, and who, in spite of vigorous use of clothes brushes, showed signs of cross-country running.
"Have you had a pleasant walk?" he asked calmly.
"Very pleasant," Skinner said, in a tone that defied contradiction. "A delightful walk; just the thing for getting a little into condition."
There was a murmur of assent among the boys who had accompanied him, but there was no great heartiness in the sound; for indeed Skinner had pressed them all to a much higher rate of speed than was pleasant in their ordinary clothes, although they would not have minded it in flannels.
"You all look as if you had enjoyed it," Easton said, regarding them one by one with an air of innocent approval; "warmed yourselves up a bit, I should say. I remark a general disappearance of collars, and Rupert Clinton's face is scratched as if he had been having a contest with some old lady's cat."
"I went head-foremost into a hedge," Rupert laughed. "My foot slipped in the mud just as I was taking off, and I took a regular header into it."
"And what is the matter with your hand, Wordsworth?"
"A beast of a dog bit me. We were going across a field, and the brute came out from a farmhouse. My wind had gone, and I happened to be last and he made at me. Some fool has written in a book that if you keep your eyes fixed upon a dog he will never bite you. I fixed my eye on him like a gimlet but it did not act, and he came right at me and sprang at me and knocked me down and got my hand in his mouth, and I don't know what would have happened if Skinner hadn't pulled a stick out of the hedge, and rushed back and hit him such a lick across the back that he went off yelping. Then the farmer let fly with a double-barrelled gun from his garden; but luckily we were pretty well out of reach, though two or three shots hit Scudamore on the cheek and ear and pretty nearly drew blood. He wanted to go back to fight the farmer, but as the fellow would have reloaded by the time he got there, and there was the dog into the bargain, we lugged him off."
"Quite an adventurous afternoon," Easton said in a tone of cordial admiration, which elicited a growl from Skinner.
"You wish you had been with us, don't you?" he said, with what was meant to be a sneer.
"No, rackets was quite hard work enough for me; and I don't see much fun in either taking a header into a hedge, being bitten by a farmer's dog, or being peppered by the man himself. Still, no doubt these things are pleasant for those who like them. What has become of Templar?"
"He fell into a ditch," Wordsworth said; "and he just was in a state. He had to go up to the matron for a change of clothes. He will be here in a minute, I expect."
"Quite a catalogue of adventures. If I had known beforehand that there was going to be so much excitement I might have been tempted to go with you. I am afraid, Mossop, I have kept you out of quite a good thing."
"There, shut up Easton!" Pinkerton said, for he saw that Skinner was at the point of explosion; "let us have peace and quiet this first night. You have got the best of it, there is no doubt. Skinner would admit that."
"No I wouldn't," Skinner interrupted.
"Never mind whether you would or not, Skinner, it clearly is so. Now, let us change the conversation. For my part I cannot make out why one fellow cannot enjoy football and that sort of thing, and another like to lie on his back in the shade, without squabbling over it. If Skinner had his own way he would never sit quiet a minute, if Easton had his he would never exert himself to walk across the room. It is a matter of taste. I like half and half, but I do not want to interfere with either of your fancies. Now, it is about time to set to work. I expect there are a good many holiday tasks not perfect."
There was a chorus of assent, and the senior boys went off to their private studies, and the juniors to the large study, where they worked under the eye of the house-master.
Skinner's mournful anticipations as to the effect of the want of weight in the football team were speedily verified. The trial matches were almost all lost, the team being fairly borne down by the superior weight of their opponents. There was general exasperation at these disasters, for River-Smith's House had for some years stood high, and to be beaten in match after match was trying indeed. Skinner took the matter terribly to heart, and was in a chronic state of disgust and fury. As Easton observed to Edgar Clinton:
"Skinner is becoming positively dangerous. He is like a Scotch terrier with a sore ear, and snaps at every one who comes near him."
"Still it is annoying," Edgar, who thoroughly sympathized with Skinner, said.
"Well, yes, it is annoying. I am annoyed myself, and it takes a good deal to annoy me. I think we ought to do some thing."
"Well, it seems to me that we have been doing all we can," Edgar said. "I am sure you have, for it was only yesterday Skinner was holding you up as an example to some of us. He said, 'You ought all to be ashamed of yourselves. Why, look at that lazy beggar Easton, he works as hard as the whole lot of you put together. If it was not for him I should say we had better chuck it altogether.'"
"I observe that Skinner has been a little more civil to me lately," Easton said. "Yes, I do my best. I object to the whole thing, but if one does play one does not like being beaten. I think we had better have a talk over the matter together."
"But we are always talking over the matter," Edgar objected. "All the fellows who had a chance of turning out well have been tried, and I am sure we play up well together. Every one says that we are beaten just because we cannot stand their rushes."
That afternoon the house was badly beaten by the Greenites in the trial match, and as there was a special rivalry between Green's and River-Smith's the disgust not only of the members of the team but of the whole house was very great. Seven of the seniors met after tea in Skinner's study to discuss the situation.
"I don't see any thing to be done," Skinner said, after various possible changes in the team had been discussed; "it is not play we want, it is weight. The Greenites must average at least a stone and a half heavier than we do. I have nothing to say against the playing. We simply cannot stand against them; we go down like nine-pins. No, I suppose we shall lose every match this season. But I don't see any use in talking any more about it. I suppose no one has anything further to suggest."
"Well, yes, I have a few words to say," Easton, who had been sitting on the table and had hitherto not opened his lips, remarked in a quiet voice.
"Well, say away."
"It seems to me," Easton went on without paying any regard to the snappishness of Skinner's tone, "that though we cannot make ourselves any heavier, weight is not after all the only thing. I think we might make up for it by last. When fellows are going to row a race they don't content themselves with practice, they set to and train hard. It seems to me that if we were to go into strict training and get ourselves thoroughly fit, it ought to make a lot of difference. We might lose goals in the first half of the play, but if we were in good training we ought to get a pull in the second half. By playing up all we knew at first, and pumping them as much as possible, training ought to tell. I know, Skinner, you always said we ought to keep ourselves in good condition; but I mean more than that, I mean strict training—getting up early and going for a three or four mile run every morning, taking another run in the afternoon, cutting off pudding and all that sort of thing, and going in for it heart and soul. It is no use training unless one does a thing thoroughly."
"Well, one could but try," Skinner said. "There is no reason why one shouldn't train for football just as one does for rowing or running. You are the last fellow I should have expected to hear such a proposal from, Easton, but if you are ready to do it I am sure every one else will be."
There was a cordial exclamation of assent from the others.
"Well, of course it will be a horrible nuisance," Easton said regretfully; "but if one does go in for a thing of this sort it seems to me that it must be done thoroughly. And besides, it is very annoying just at the ticklish point of a game, when you would give anything to be able to catch the fellow ahead of you with the ball, to find that your lungs have given out, and that you haven't a cupful of wind left."
"I believe, Easton, that you are a downright humbug," Scudamore said; "and that while you pretend to hate anything like exertion, you are just as fond of it as Skinner is."
"Well, at any rate," Skinner broke in, "we will try Easton's suggestion. From to-night the team shall go into strict training. I will see River-Smith now and get leave for us to go out at six o'clock every morning. We will settle about the afternoon work afterwards. Of course pudding must be given up, and there must be no buying cakes or things of that sort. New bread and potatoes must be given up, and we must all agree never to touch anything to drink between meals. We will try the thing thoroughly. It will be a month before we play our next match with Green's. If we can but beat them I do not care so much about the others. There are two or three houses we should have no chance with if we were to train as fine as a university eight."
The rest of the team were at once informed of the determination that had been arrived at. Had it emanated only from Skinner several of the members might have protested against the hardship of going into training for football, but the fact that Easton had proposed it weighed with them all. If he was ready to take such trouble over the matter no one else could reasonably object, and the consequence was that, although not without a good deal of grumbling at being got up before daylight, the whole team turned out in their flannels and two thick jerseys punctually at six o'clock.
"Here is an egg and half cupful of milk for each of you," Skinner said as they gathered below. "Look sharp and beat up your egg with the milk. Here is a mouthful of biscuit for each. River-Smith said he did not like our going out without taking something before we started, and Cornish, who rowed in the trials at Cambridge, told me that egg and milk was the best thing to take."
Five minutes later, comforted by the egg and milk, the party started.
"We don't want to go at racing speed," Skinner said; "merely a good steady trot to make the lungs play. We don't want to pull ourselves down in weight. I don't think, after the last month's work, we have any fat among us. What we want is wind and last. To-morrow we will turn out with the heaviest boots we have got instead of running shoes. When we can run four miles in them, we ought to be able to keep up pretty fairly through the hardest game of football."
There was a good deal of lagging behind towards the last part of the run, a fact that Skinner pointed out triumphantly as a proof of want of condition, but after a wash and change of clothes all the party agreed that they felt better for the run.
Mr. River-Smith was as much concerned as the boys at the defeats of the house at football, and when they sat down to breakfast the members of the team found that a mutton-chop was provided for each of them. Strict orders had been issued that nothing was to be said outside the house of the football team going into training; and as, for the afternoon's exercise, it was only necessary that every member of the team should take part in football practice, and play up to the utmost, the matter remained a secret. In the first two or three matches played the training made no apparent difference.
"You must not be disheartened at that," Mr. Cornish, who was the "housemaster," told them. "Fellows always get weak when they first begin to train. You will find the benefit presently."
And this was the case. They won the fourth match, which was against a comparatively weak team. This, however, encouraged them, and they were victorious in the next two contests, although in the second their opponents were considered a strong team, and their victory had been regarded as certain.
The improvement in the River-Smithites' team became a topic of conversation in the college, and there were rumours that they had put themselves into regular training, and that some one had seen them come in in a body at seven in the morning after having been for a run. The challenge cup matches were now at hand, and as it happened they were drawn to meet the Greenites, and the match was regarded with special interest throughout the school. The rivalry between the two houses was notorious, and although the Greenites scoffed at the idea of their being defeated by a team they had before so easily beaten, the great improvement the latter had made gave promise that the struggle would be an exceptionally severe one. Skinner had for some days before looked after the team with extreme vigilance, scarcely letting one of them out of his sight, lest they might eat forbidden things, or in other ways transgress the rules laid down.
"We may not win," he admitted, as they talked over the prospect on the evening before the match, "but at any rate they will have all their work cut out to beat us. I know they are very confident, and of course their weight is tremendously in their favour. Now, mind, we must press them as hard as we can for the first half the game, and never leave them for a single moment. They are sure to get savage when they find they have not got it all their own way, and that will help to pump them. We shall have more left in us the second half than they will, and then will be our chance."
These tactics were followed out, and from the first the game was played with exceptional spirit on both sides; and as the Greenites failed, even by the most determined rushes, to carry the ball into their opponents' goal, the game became, as Skinner had predicted, more and more savage.
The sympathies of the school were for the most part with River-Smith's, and the loud shouts of applause and encouragement with which their gallant defence of their goal was greeted, added to the irritation of the Greenites. When the half-play was called neither party had scored a point, and as they changed sides it was evident that the tremendous pace had told upon both parties.
"Now is our time," Skinner said to his team; "they are more done than we are, and our training will tell more and more every minute. Keep it up hard, and when we see a chance make a big rush and carry it down to their end."
But the Greenites were equally determined, and in spite of the efforts of their opponents, kept the ball at their end of the field. Then Skinner got it and made a rush. One of the heaviest of the Greenites charged down upon them at full speed, but was encountered by Easton before he reached him, and the two rolled over together. The River-Smithites backed up their leader well, and he was more than half-way down the ground before the Greenites had arrested his progress. Then there was a close scrimmage, and for a time the mass swayed backwards and forwards. But here weight counted for more than wind, and the Greenites were pushing their opponents back when the ball rolled out from the mass.
Edgar Clinton picked it up, and was off with it in a moment, dodging through those who attempted to check his course. He was down near the Greenites' goal before two of them threw themselves upon him together; but his friends were close behind, and after a desperate scrimmage the ball was driven behind the Greenite goal. Some loose play followed, and a Greenite who had the ball threw it forward to one of his own team, who caught it and started running. The River-Smithites shouted "Dead ball!" "Dead ball!" and claimed the point; but the holder of the ball, without heeding the shouts, ran right through followed by the rest of his team, and touched down behind the River-Smith goal. The ball was then brought out and a goal kicked. All this time the River-Smithites had not moved from behind the Greenite goal, but had remained there awaiting the result of their appeal to the umpire, who now at once decided in their favour. Not satisfied with this the Greenites appealed to the referee, who confirmed the decision of the umpire. Too angry to be reasonable, the captain refused to continue the game, and called upon his team to leave the field. They were going, when the derisive shouts of the lookers-on caused them again to alter their intentions, and the game was renewed.
There were ten minutes yet remaining, and for that time the game was played with a fury that caused it to be long memorable in the annals of Cheltenham football. But weight and strength could not prevail over the superior last and coolness of the defenders of the River-Smith goal. Every attempt was beaten off, every rush met, and as no point had been added to the score when time was called, the umpire decided that the game had been won by the River-Smithites by one touch down to nothing. The captain of the Greenites appealed from the umpire's and referee's decision to the football committee of the college, who gave it against him, and he then appealed to the Rugby Union, who decided that the umpire's decision was perfectly right, and the victory thus remained beyond further contention with the River-Smithites.
"Bravo, Clinton! Well done, indeed!" so shouted one of the big boys, and a score of others joined in in chorus.
"Which is Clinton?" a woman who was standing looking on at the game asked one of the younger boys.
The boy looked up at the questioner. She was a woman of about forty years old, quietly dressed in black with a gloss of newness on it.
"I will point him out to you directly. They are all mixed up again now."
"There are two of them, are there not?" the woman asked.
"Yes, that's the other; there—that one who has just picked up the ball and is running with it; there, that's the other, the one who is just charging the fellow who is trying to stop his brother."
"Well done!" he shouted, as Edgar's opponent rolled over.
The woman asked no more questions until the match was over, but stood looking on intently as the players came off the ground. Rupert and Edgar were together, laughing and talking in high spirits; for each had kicked a goal, and the town boys had been beaten by four goals to one. The boy to whom she had been speaking had long before strolled away to another part of the field, but she turned to another as the Clintons approached.
"Those are the Clintons, are they not?" she asked.
"Yes, and a good sort they are," the boy said heartily.
She stood looking at them intently until they had passed her, then walked away with her eyes bent on the ground, and made her way to a small lodging she had taken in the town. For several days she placed herself so that she could see the boys on their way to and fro between River-Smith's and the college, and watched them at football.
"I wonder who that woman is," Rupert said one day to his brother. "I constantly see her about, and she always seems to be staring at me."
"I thought she stared at me too," Edgar said. "I am sure I do not know her. I don't think I have ever seen her face before."
"She asked me whether you were Clinton the other day when you were playing football. It was just after you had made a run with the ball, and some one shouted, 'Well done, Clinton!' And she asked me which was Clinton, and whether there were not two of them. And of course I pointed you both out," a youngster said who was walking with them.
"That is rum, too," Rupert said. "I wonder who the woman is, Edgar, and what interest she can have in us."
"If she has any interest, Rupert, I suppose she will stop staring some day and speak. Perhaps it is some old servant, though I don't remember her. Well, it is no odds any way."
Jane Humphreys was much puzzled as to what step she should take first. During all these years she had waited she had always expected that she should have known which was her own child as soon as she set eyes on the boys, and was surprised and disappointed to find that even after a week's stay at Cheltenham, and examining their faces as closely as she could, she had not the slightest idea which was which. She had imagined that she should not only know, but feel an affection for the boy who was her own, and she had fully intended to place him in the position of Captain Clinton's heir, trusting to receive the promise of a large sum from him when he should come into possession.
Now it seemed to her that she cared no more for one than for the other, and that her best plan therefore was to place in the position of heir whichever of them was most likely to suit her purpose. But here, again, she was in a difficulty. If they resembled each other in no other point, they both looked thoroughly manly, straightforward, and honest lads, neither of whom would be likely to entertain any dishonourable proposition. Her intention had been to say to her son, "You are not really the twin brother, as you suppose, of the other. Captain and Mrs. Clinton do not know which of you two is their child." She wondered whether they already knew as much as that. Probably they did. So many people had known of that affair at Agra, that Captain Clinton had probably told them himself. She would tell the boy, "I am the only person in the world who can clear up the mystery. I have the key to it in my hand, and can place either you or the other in the position of sole heir to the estate. I shall expect to be paid a handsome sum from the one I put into possession. Remember, on one hand I can give you a splendid property, on the other I can show you to have been from the first a usurper of things you had no right to—an interloper and a fraud."
It had seemed to her a simple matter before she came down to Cheltenham. Surely no boy in his senses would hesitate a moment in accepting her offer. It had always been a fixed thing in her mind that this would be so, but now she felt that it was not so certain as she before imagined. She hesitated whether she should not defer it until the boys came of age, and the one she chose could sign a legal document; but she was anxious to leave England, and go right away to America or Australia. Besides, if she had the promise she could enforce its fulfilment. Which boy should she select? She changed her mind several times, and at last determined that she would leave it to chance, and would choose the one whom she next met.
It chanced that Edgar was the first she encountered after having taken this resolution, and it happened that he was walking by himself, having remained in the class-room a few minutes after the rest of the boys had left, to speak to the master respecting a difficult passage in a lesson. The woman placed herself in his way.
"Well, what is it?" he said. "You have been hanging about for the last week. What is it you want?"
"I want to speak to you about something very important."
"Oh, nonsense!" he said. "There is nothing important you can have to tell me."
"Yes, there is; something of the greatest importance. You do not suppose that I should have been here for a week waiting to tell it to you, if it was not."
"Well, I suppose you think it important," he said; "so fire away."
"I cannot tell you now," she said; "it is too long a story. Could you spare me half an hour, young sir? You will not be sorry for it afterwards, I promise you."
Edgar looked impatiently at his watch. He had nothing particular to do at the moment, and his curiosity was excited. "I can spare it you now," he said.
"I am staying at this address," she said, handing him a piece of paper. "It is not five minutes' walk from here. I will go on, if you will follow me."
"All right," Edgar said, looking at the paper; "though I expect it is some fooling or other." She walked away rapidly, and he sauntered after her. She was standing with the door open when he arrived, and he followed her into a small parlour. He threw himself down into a chair.
"Now, fire away," he said; "and be as quick as you can."
"Before I begin," she said quietly, "will you tell me if you know anything relating to the circumstances of your birth?"
He looked at her in astonishment. "No," he said. "What in the world should I know about the circumstances of my birth?"
"You know that you were born at Agra in India?"
"Of course I know that."
"And your father, Captain Clinton, has never spoken to you about the circumstances?"
Edgar shook his head. "No; I only know that I was born there."
"I should have thought that he would have told you the story," she said; "for there were many knew of it, and you would be sure to hear it sooner or later."
"I do not want to hear of it," he said, leaping to his feet. "If there was anything my father wanted me to know he would tell it to me at once. You do not suppose I want to hear it from anyone else?"
He was making for the door, when she said, "Then you do not know that you are not his son?"
He stopped abruptly. "Don't know I am not his son!" he repeated. "You must be mad."
"I am not mad at all," she said. "You are not his son. Not any relation in the world to him. Sit down again and I will tell you the story."
He mechanically obeyed, feeling overwhelmed with the news he had heard. Then as she told him how the children had become mixed, and how Captain Clinton had decided to bring them up together until he should be able to discover by some likeness to himself or wife which was his son, Edgar listened to the story with a terrible feeling of oppression stealing over him. He could not doubt that she was speaking the truth, for if it were false it could be contradicted at once. There were circumstances too which seemed to confirm it. He recalled now, that often in their younger days his father and mother had asked casual visitors if they saw any likeness between either of the children to them; and he specially remembered how closely Colonel Winterbottom, who had been major in his father's regiment, had scrutinized them both, and how he had said, "No, Clinton, for the life of me I cannot see that one is more like you and your wife than the other." And now this woman had told him that he was not their son; and he understood that she must be this sergeant's wife, and that if he was not Captain Clinton's son she must be his mother.
"You are Mrs. Humphreys, I suppose?" he said in a hard, dry voice when she had ceased speaking.
"I am your mother," she said. He moved as if struck with sudden pain as she spoke, but said nothing.
"I sacrificed myself for your sake," she went on after a pause. "I had them both, and it seemed to me hard that my boy should grow up to be a boy of the regiment, with nothing better to look forward to than to enlist in it some day, while the other, no better in any respect than him, should grow up to be a rich man, with everything the heart could desire, and I determined that he should have an equal chance with the other. I knew that perhaps some day they might find out which was which by a likeness, but that was not certain, and at any rate you would get a good education and be well brought up, and you were sure to be provided for, and when the time should come, if there was still doubt, I could give you the chance of either having the half or all just as you chose. It was terrible for me to give you up altogether, but I did it for your good. I suffered horribly, and the women of the regiment turned against me. Your father treated me badly, and I had to leave him and come home to England. But my comfort has all along been that I had succeeded; that you were being brought up as a gentleman, and were happy and well cared for."
Edgar sat silent for some time. "How do you know," he asked suddenly, "that it is Rupert and not I who is the real son?"
"One of the infants," she said, "had a tiny mole no bigger than a pin's head on his shoulder, and I was sure that I would always know them apart from that."
"Yes, Rupert has a mark like that," Edgar admitted, for he had noticed it only a short time before.
"Yes," the woman said quietly. "Mrs. Clinton's child had that mark. It was very, very small and scarcely noticeable, but as I washed and dressed them when babies, I noticed it."
"Well, what next?" Edgar asked roughly.
"As I said, my boy,"—Edgar winced as she spoke—"it is for you to choose whether you will have half or all the property. If I hold my tongue you will go on as you are now, and they will never know which is their son. If you like to have it all, to be the heir of that grand place and everything else, I have only to go and say that my boy had a mole on his shoulder. There is nothing I would not do to make you happy."
"And I suppose," Edgar said quietly, "you will want some money for yourself?"
"I do not wish to make any bargain, if that is what you mean," she said in an indignant tone. "I know, of course, that you can give me no money now. I suppose that in either case you would wish to help a mother who has done so much for you. I don't expect gratitude at present. Naturally you are upset about what I have told you. Some day when you grow to be a man you will appreciate better than you can now what I have done for you, and what you have gained by it."
Edgar sat silent for a minute or two, and then he rose quietly and said, "I will think it all over. You shall have my answer in a day or two," and without another word left the room and sauntered off.
"What is the matter, Edgar?" Rupert asked two hours later. "I have been looking for you everywhere, and young Johnson has only just said that you told him to tell me you were feeling very seedy, and were going to lie down for a bit."
"I have got a frightful headache, Rupert," Edgar, who was lying with his face to the wall, said. "I am too bad to talk, old fellow; let me alone. I daresay I shall be all right when I have had a night's sleep. Tell River-Smith, will you, that I am seedy, and cannot come down to tea. I do not want the doctor or anything of that sort, but if I am not all right in the morning, I will see him."
Rupert went out quietly. It was something new Edgar's being like this, he never remembered him having a bad headache before. "I expect," he said to himself, "he got hurt in one of those scrimmages yesterday, although he did not say anything about it. I do hope that he is not going to be ill. The examinations are on next week, it will be a frightful nuisance for him to miss them." He went into Edgar's dormitory again the last thing. He opened the door very quietly in case he should be asleep.
"I am not asleep," Edgar said; "I am rather better now. Good-night, Rupert," and he held out his hand. Rupert was surprised at the action, but took his hand and pressed it.
"Good-night, Edgar. I do hope that you will be all right in the morning."
"Good-night, old fellow. God bless you!" and there was almost a sob in the lad's voice.
Rupert went out surprised and uneasy. "Edgar must be worse than he says," he thought to himself. "It is rum of him saying good-night in that way. I have never known him do such a thing before. I wish now that I had asked River-Smith to send round for the doctor. I daresay Edgar would not have liked it, but it would have been best; but he seemed so anxious to be quiet and get off to sleep, that I did not think of it."
The first thing in the morning Rupert went to his brother's dormitory to see how he was. He tapped at the door, but there was no answer. Thinking that his brother was asleep, he turned the handle and went in. An exclamation of surprise broke from him. Edgar was not there and the bed had not been slept in, but was just as he had seen it when Edgar was lying on the outside. On the table was a letter directed to himself. He tore it open.
"My dear Rupert," it began, "a horrible thing has happened, and I shall be off to-night. I have learned that I am not your brother at all, but that I was fraudulently put in that position. I have been writing this afternoon to father and mother. Oh! Rupert, to think that it is the last time I can call them so. They will tell you the whole business. I am writing this by the light of the lamp in the passage, and you will all be up in a few minutes, so I have no time to say more. I shall post the other letter to-night. Good-bye, Rupert! Good-bye, dear old fellow! We have been happy together, haven't we? and I hope you will always be so. Perhaps some day when I have made myself a name—for I have no right to call myself Clinton, and I won't call myself by my real name—I may see you again. I have taken the note, but I know that you won't grudge it me."
Rupert read the letter through two or three times, then ran down as he was, in his night-shirt and trousers, and passed in to the master's part of the private house. "Robert," he said to the man-servant whom he met in the passage, "is Mr. River-Smith dressed yet?"
"He is not finished dressing yet, Master Clinton; at least he has not come out of his room. But I expect he is pretty near dressed."
"Will you ask him to come out to me at once, please?" Rupert said. "It is a most serious business, or you may be sure I should not ask."
The man asked no questions, for he saw by Rupert's face that this must be something quite out of the ordinary way. "Just step into this room and I will fetch him," he said.
In a minute the master came in. "What is it, Clinton,—nothing serious the matter, I hope?"
"Yes, sir, I am afraid it is something very serious. My brother was not well yesterday evening. He said that he had a frightful headache, but he thought it would be all right in the morning, and he went and lay down on his bed. I thought that he was strange in his manner when I went in to say good-night to him; and when I went in this morning, sir, the bed hadn't been slept in and he was gone, and he has left me this note, and it is evident, as you will see, that he is altogether off his head. You see, he fancies that he is not my brother."
The master had listened with the gravest concern, and now glanced hastily through the letter.
"'Tis strange indeed," he said. "There is no possibility, of course, that there is anything in this idea of his?"
"No, sir, of course not. How could there be?"
"That I cannot say, Clinton. Anyhow the matter is most serious. Of course he could not have taken any clothes with him?"
"No, sir; at least he cannot have got any beyond what he stands in. I should think the matron would not have given him any out, especially as he must have told her that he was ill, or he could not have got into the dormitory."
"I had better see her first, Clinton; it is always well to be quite sure of one's ground. You go up and dress while I make the inquiries."
Rupert returned to the dormitory, finished dressing, and then ran down again. "He has taken no clothes with him, Clinton. The matron says that he went to her in the afternoon and said that he had a splitting headache, and wanted to be quite quiet and undisturbed. She offered to send for the doctor, but he said that he expected that he should be all right in the morning, but that if he wasn't of course the doctor could see him then. So she unlocked the door of the dormitory and let him in. I asked her if he had his boots on. She said no; he was going up in them, contrary to rule, when she reminded him of it, and he took them off and put them in the rack in the wood-closet. I have seen the boot-boy, and he says he noticed when he went there this morning early to clean them, No. 6 rack was empty. So your brother must have come down, after he had gone up to the dormitory, and got his boots.
"Now let us ask a few questions of the servants." He rang the bell, and sent for some of the servants. "Which of you were down first this morning?" he asked.
"I was down first, sir," one of the girls said.
"Did you find anything unusual?"
"Yes, sir. One of the windows downstairs, looking into the yard, was open, though I know I closed it and put up the shutters last night; and John says the door of the yard has been unbolted too, and that the lock had been forced."
The master went out, walked across the yard, and examined the lock.
"There would be no difficulty in opening that on this side," he said to Rupert; "it could be done with a strong pocket-knife easily enough."
"What is to be done, sir?" Rupert asked anxiously. "Shall I telegraph to my father?"
"I think you had better go and see him, Clinton. Your brother probably did not leave the house until twelve o'clock, though he may have gone at eleven. But whether eleven or twelve it makes no difference. No doubt he posted the letter he speaks of the first thing on leaving; but, you see, it is a cross post to your place, and the letter could not anyhow have got there for delivery this morning. You can hardly explain it all by telegram; and I think, as I said, it is better that you should go yourself. I will have breakfast put for you in my study, and I will have a fly at the door. You will be able to catch the eight-o'clock train into Gloucester, and you should be home by eleven."