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THE HERO OF GARSIDE SCHOOL
J. HARWOOD PANTING
Author of "Clive of Clair College," "The Two Runaways," etc.
With Original Illustrations
London Frederick Warne & Co., Ltd. and New York (All rights reserved)
Printed In Great Britain
I THE MOTHER'S PRAYER
II THE MESSAGE
III THE CRY OF THE PSALMIST
IV SHADOWS OF THE EVENING
V THE LITTLE HUNCHBACK
VI HARRY MONCRIEF ARRIVES AT GARSIDE
VII A BAD COMMENCEMENT FOR THE TERM
VIII FOR THE SAKE OF A CHUM
IX GOOD ADVICE
X TORN FROM THE BLACK BOOK
XI FOR THE HONOUR OF THE FORM
XII THE FORUM
XIII A CHALLENGE FROM ST. BEDE'S
XIV THE CHAMPION OF HIS FORM
XV WHAT HAPPENED AT THE SAND-PIT
XVI "HE MIGHT HAVE BEEN A LEPER"
XVII THE "GARGOYLE RECORD"
XVIII PAUL WRITES A LETTER
XIX THE SCHOOL OF ADVERSITY
XX WYNDHAM AGAIN TO THE RESCUE
XXI THE CHASM WIDENS
XXII HATCHING A PLOT, AND WHAT CAME OF IT
XXIII THE LAST BOND OF FRIENDSHIP
XXIV THE RAFT ON THE RIVER
XXV ON A VOYAGE OF ADVENTURE
XXVI WHAT HAPPENED ON THE RAFT
XXVII THE OLD FLAG
XXVIII HIBBERT ASKS STRANGE QUESTIONS
XXIX AN UNEXPECTED VISITOR ARRIVES AT GARSIDE
XXX HIBBERT FINISHES HIS STORY
XXXI A MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE
XXXII HOW THE OLD FLAG WAS TAKEN FROM GARSIDE
XXXIII FRIEND AND FOE
XXXIV THE MYSTIC ORDER OF BEETLES
XXXV A REMARKABLE DISCOVERY
XXXVI THE "FOX-HOLE"
XXXVII THE LETTERS AT THE TUCK-SHOP
XXXVIII "FORGIVE, AND YE SHALL BE FORGIVEN"
XXXIX THE MISSING FLAG
XL HOW THE FLAG FOUND ITS WAY BACK TO THE TURRET
XLI FRIENDS IN COUNCIL
XLII UNEXPECTED TIDINGS
XLIII THE STORM BREAKS
XLIV IN THE GARDEN
XLV HOW THE VOTE WAS CARRIED
XLVI WATERMAN DOES A STRANGE THING
XLVII IN THE FOX'S HOLE
XLVIII THE BURNING SHIP
XLIX THE PETITION—WHAT BEFELL IT
L FOUND OUT
FALCON WAS DEAD.... TO MAKE GOOD HIS ESCAPE, NO TIME MUST BE LOST.
"'I AM MR. MONCRIEF,' SAID THAT GENTLEMAN, STEPPING FORWARD."
"AS ILL-LUCK WOULD HAVE IT, HIBBERT RAN FULL TILT AGAINST MR. WEEVIL, JUST AS HE REACHED THE OUTER DOOR."
"SLIGHTLY RAISING HIMSELF FROM HIS POSITION ON THE ROOF, CRICK LIFTED THE FLAGSTAFF FROM ITS SOCKET, AND DREW IT QUICKLY BENEATH THE TRAP-DOOR."
"THE BOY WAS KNEELING BESIDE HIM,—IT WAS MONCRIEF MINOR.... 'ARE YOU ALL RIGHT?' CAME IN A WHISPER FROM THE BOY."
THE HERO OF GARSIDE SCHOOL
THE MOTHER'S PRAYER
"God grant that it may never happen, Paul; God grant that England may never be invaded, that her foes may never land upon our shores."
And the lips of Mrs. Percival moved in silent prayer. Paul regarded the loved face of his mother for a minute or two thoughtfully, as though he were longing to put to her many questions, but dared not. At length he said, breaking the silence:
"Did father ever speak of it?"
It was one of the greatest griefs of Paul's life that he had never known his father. He had been a captain in the Navy, but was unfortunately cut off in the prime of his career by a brave attempt to save the life of a man who had flung himself overboard. The man was saved, but Captain Percival was drowned, leaving a widow and son to lament his loss. Paul at that time was only a year old, so that it was not till the years went on he understood the greatness of his loss. Often and often his thoughts turned to the father who had been snatched from him by a sudden and untimely death, especially when he saw the boys of his school who were fortunate enough to possess both parents; but often as his thoughts went to his father, he rarely spoke of him to his mother. He could see that the pain and sorrow of his death were still with her—that the awful moment when the news came of that sudden, swift catastrophe had written itself upon her heart and memory in writing which would never be effaced.
Paul did not find out all that he had become to his mother till some time after his father's death—not, in fact, till his first term at school had ended. He had never been away from home so long before, and he never forgot how she pressed him to her, and with what tender earnestness she said, "Ah, dear, you do not know how I have missed you."
That same night, when she had thought him fast asleep, she entered his room, looked long and earnestly in his face by the light of a candle, and then stole gently out. And that Sunday, when he went to the old church with her, he felt her hand steal into his as the vicar read the Litany; and the pressure of her hand waxed closer as the vicar's voice sounded through the church: "From lightning and tempest; from plague, pestilence, and famine; from battle and murder, and from sudden death." Then rose the fervent response from the congregation, "Good Lord, deliver us." And none prayed it more fervently than the widow as she knelt by the side of her son.
It was not only that Mrs. Percival had lost her husband at sea, but she had lost a brother, a promising young lieutenant in the Navy, while on active service in China; and Paul's grandfather had lost his life many years back while fighting under Nelson at Copenhagen. It is little to be wondered at, therefore, that Mrs. Percival rarely spoke about the sea to Paul. She feared its fascination; she was anxious to keep his thoughts from it. He was all that was now left to her, and she had no wish that he should go into the service in which the lives of three near and dear relatives had been sacrificed.
"Yes, your father sometimes spoke of it," Mrs. Percival answered. "His father—that is to say, your grandfather—lived in the time when there was such a great scare about wicked Napoleon invading England; but that is long ago, and it was all ended by Nelson's last great victory at Trafalgar. Ah, Paul, these scares and wars are terrible. I sometimes think that it must be monsters ruling the world rather than men. If the prayers of mothers and wives and orphans could only be heard, I am sure that war, and the danger of war, would soon be over. But why are you worrying about an invasion?"
"Well, Great Britain has a good many enemies, you know, mother, and people are talking about a possible invasion. Besides, I've got to write something about it next term, and it won't do for the son of a captain to make a mess of it altogether."
"Write something?" questioned Mrs. Percival, turning pale. Ah, the terrible fascination of the sea! Was it going to claim her son as it had claimed her husband? "How is that?"
"A prize has been offered for the best paper on 'The Invasion of Great Britain.' I may as well have a cut in."
"By all means, Paul; but for my sake—for my sake"—placing her hand upon his shoulder—"don't think too much about the sea."
She leant forward and kissed him; then went hurriedly from the room. Paul knew that it was his duty to do as his mother told him, but he found it very hard. He was a stalwart lad of fifteen, with the blood of two generations of seamen in his veins, so that it seemed as though his very blood were part of the brine of the ocean.
He stood by the window, looking from the old Manor House in which he lived to the road. Presently he saw Job Brice, who did odd jobs about the house and garden, walking across the grounds to the paddock. Job had been a seaman in the Navy at the same time as his father, and for that reason had been given employment, to add to his pension, at the Manor House; but he rarely spoke about his seafaring life to our hero. Paul suspected that this, in a large measure, was due to his mother, for whenever Job did speak, he always dwelt on the most unattractive side of a sailor's life.
So soon as Paul caught sight of Job, he seized his cap, and went after him. He came up with him just as he had entered the paddock.
"I say, Brice, I've just been talking to mother about father. I don't like to question her too much, for I can see it gives her pain."
"Quite right, Master Paul; it does give her pain," said Job, turning his scarred, weather-beaten face to the boy; "and it's very good of you to think of her. It ain't all boys who're so thoughtful of their mother."
"Oh, don't butter me, Brice, for I'm long chalks from deserving it. But perhaps you wouldn't mind answering me a question I could never quite make out. I've heard that father died in saving another man. And that is all I do know, for mother never speaks of it, and I can't keep boring her with questions. How did it happen?"
"Well, no one knows exactly. So far as could be made out, some pirate—some furrin sneak—got into his cabin while we were in port, and got at his private despatches. He was imprisoned in the hold by the captain's orders. The next day we were to make for Gibraltar, where the spy was to be tried by court-martial. The next night was a dirty one—no rain to speak of, but dark and blustery. While it was at its height, the prisoner in the hold managed to escape, and jumped overboard. Your father was one of the first to see him, and leapt after him. He reached the poor wretch and held him till the boat put out; then a fiercer gust of wind came, and they were separated. The spy was swept in the direction of the boat. Your father was swept away from it. The spy was caught up and dragged into it. Your father was never seen again. He'd saved the spy's life at the expense of his own. There wasn't a man on board the ship but esteemed—yes, loved your father. He was one of the best skippers that ever walked a deck. What we felt afterwards, Master Paul, can't be described. We felt just sick that he'd gone, and that that sneaking, shivering furrin rascal had been saved. Some of the boys would ha' lynched him, I think, only that he looked purty sick at that time hisself, and they knew a court-martial was awaitin' him at Gibraltar. Well, he were taken to Gib."
"And what happened?" asked the lad, as the old salt paused.
"What happened? Why, he got clean off!" cried the old salt indignantly. "There was little or no evidence agen him. The one who knew all about him, and what he'd been up to, was your father, and—and——"
Job Brice came to a dead stop as the back of his big, rough hand went across his eyes.
"My father had gone to the bottom! Yes, yes, I understand it all!" said Paul in a choking voice. "So they were obliged to release the man, and he got off scot-free?"
"You've just guessed it, Master Paul! It makes me blood boil when I think of it!"
Then he ended up, as he always did: "Ah, it's a dog's life, is the sea! Don't you ever think of the sea, Master Paul!"
Paul knew from what quarter the final moral, with which Job invariably favoured him, came. Usually he smiled; but there was no smile on his face now. He could understand his mother's feelings as he had never understood them before. He could understand why she so rarely spoke of that time—why she never referred to his father's death.
"You can't remember the man's name, I suppose?"
"No, I can't remember that," answered Job, rubbing his head thoughtfully, "'cept that it was a foreign one—Zuker, I think it was, or some such name as that. Don't think no more about it. Thinking about it don't do no good."
"Poor, poor father!" said Paul, as he turned once more towards the house. "He must have been a brave man. Oh, that I could have seen him, and known him, so that I might be able to remember him as he was in life, instead of carrying about a dead image in my heart!"
Still, it was a comfort to know that his father had been loved by those under him—that he had died a brave death. Better, far better, to die a brave death than to live on in shame and infamy, as the man had probably lived whom his father had saved.
And yet this mean, despicable spy might have turned over a new leaf from the day his father had sacrificed his life to save him. He might have begun a new and nobler life. If so, the sacrifice had not been in vain.
The long autumn holiday was drawing to a close. In a couple of days' time Paul would be back again at the old school—back again at Garside House. He had had a pretty good time during the "vac.," but, none the less, he should not be sorry to meet again the fellows of his Form. School wasn't such a bad place, after all.
"Fact, if it wasn't for that wretched science master, Weevil—why wasn't he christened Weazel?—one might put up with a lot of it. Don't know how it is, but he always puts my back up."
Paul was returning home across the fields, and had just alighted over a five-barred gate into a lane which wound round the side of the Manor House into the main road, when he was arrested by a cry of distress.
"Hallo! What's that? Some one down? My—down it is!"
A horseman had come a cropper a little distance down the lane. Paul immediately ran to his assistance.
"What's wrong, sir? A tumble?"
"Yes; Falcon slipped, and before I quite knew where I was I was out of the saddle. But I don't think I'm hurt very much."
Paul extended a hand to the fallen rider. He grasped it, and tried to rise; a spasm of pain crossed his face.
"I'm afraid that you are hurt, sir."
"A little more than I thought," said the gentleman, as he leaned against the saddle. "Poor old Falcon," patting the horse, "don't look so grieved. It wasn't so much your fault as my carelessness."
Then the caressing movement of the hand ceased, and he stood listening as one who fears pursuit. He tried to mount to the saddle, but failed.
"Heaven help me!" he murmured. And then, as though Heaven had inspired him, he turned to Paul suddenly with a hopeful light in his eye: "Can you ride, my lad?"
"Rather! I learnt to ride almost as soon as I could walk," smiled Paul.
It was no empty boast. Paul had been taught riding at a very early age, and was as much at home in the saddle as on his feet.
"I seem to have sprained my leg, and it is getting more painful every moment. I've got a message of the utmost importance that must reach Redmead to-night. You know Redmead?"
"Will you take a message for me? I ask it as a great favour, my lad."
He spoke with great earnestness, and waited eagerly for Paul's answer. Paul did not at once respond. Redmead was seven miles distant; it was getting dusk; the journey to Redmead and back would take him close upon two hours; his mother would wonder at his absence.
"You won't refuse me, lad. You don't know what it means to me, and others."
Paul liked the stranger's face. He was a man of about thirty-seven or thirty-eight, with clear, honest eyes, and an open, gentlemanly bearing. It was plain that the business on which he wished Paul to go was important. The boy's sympathies were with him, but still he hesitated.
"Whereabouts in Redmead?"
"To Oakville, the house of Mr. Moncrief."
"Moncrief!" cried Paul. "I've a chum at school named Moncrief—Stanley Moncrief."
"He's my son. The gentleman living at Redmead is Stanley's uncle. What is your name?"
"I've often heard my boy speak of you. Glad to make your acquaintance, though I wish our introduction had taken place under happier circumstances."
His chum's father! Paul was all aglow. He hesitated no longer.
"Give me your message, sir. I shall only be too pleased to do anything for Stan's father."
Mr. Moncrief wrote rapidly on a sheet from his pocket-book:
"Enclosed fragments have come to hand. It is a letter from Zuker, the German Jew, who is in England. Take care. Be on guard!"
When he had finished this brief note, Mr. Moncrief took from his pocket-book several fragments of torn paper, bearing on them, as it appeared to Paul, mysterious hieroglyphics. He put these inside an envelope together with the note he had written. Then he sealed it down and handed it to Paul.
"You are my boy's chum, I feel that I can trust you. Give this to my brother, Mr. Walter Moncrief—in no one else's hands. I cannot tell you how much may depend upon those pieces of paper reaching him. You will not part with them whatever happens?"
"God helping me," said Paul, impressed with the earnestness of Mr. Moncrief's words and manner. "There is my house, sir"—pointing to the Manor House. "You will find rest there, and perhaps you wouldn't mind telling my mother where I've gone."
Paul mounted to the saddle. Falcon, as though anxious to resume its journey, sped along the lane into the open road. Though it was getting dusk, it mattered little to Paul, for he was well acquainted with every inch of the country for miles around. He could not help thinking of the strangeness of the adventure.
"Stan's father—only fancy! I'm glad that I was able to help him and take his message. Shan't I have something to tell old Stan when I get back to school!"
Then he began to wonder what the torn fragments of paper, with the hieroglyphics on them, could mean, and what could be the message of which he was the bearer. Had he seen it, his wonder would assuredly have grown.
The cool breeze of evening fell upon his face. The shadows began to lengthen. The leaves rustled beneath Falcon's feet. It was a noble, intelligent horse, and seemed as conscious of the importance of the message upon which it was going as Paul himself.
"Good horse—good Falcon!" cried Paul, stroking its neck. "I wouldn't mind a horse like you. I wonder how many times Stan has ridden you."
By this time they had reached an open common. It had been a perilous place to ride over in years gone by, when robbers abounded, but those days had gone, and no thought of danger occurred to Paul as he reached it. There were two ways of going to his destination—one was by taking the road by the side of the common and skirting it, the other, by the more solitary but nearer road across it. Paul selected the latter, urging his horse to a gallop as he did so. Falcon immediately responded to the call of its young rider, and soon they were speeding across the common.
When they reached the other side the road leading to Redmead stretched before them. It had grown suddenly darker. The road was bounded on either side by hedges, and the branches of trees interlaced each other in an arch-way overhead. Whether from the sudden darkness or that he had scented some hidden danger, Falcon slackened speed.
"What's wrong, Falcon?" cried Paul. "Get on—the sooner our journey's ended, the sooner you'll have your supper. Now, then, old boy."
The horse was about to speed forward again, but scarcely were the words from Paul's lips than a man sprang from the hedge and seized the bridle.
"Stop!" came a sharp, decisive voice, with a foreign accent, "Stop!"
Paul just caught a glimpse of the man's face in the half light. The cheekbones were somewhat high, but narrowed down sharply at the chin. He wore eyeglasses on the eyes, which seemed to Paul, in that swift glance he caught of them, of a steely blue. He had a thick, military moustache, drawn out to fierce points; but his chin was clean-shaven. Directly he stopped the horse, a second man sprang to the other side of it. Paul immediately concluded they were robbers.
"What do you want? I've got no money—at least, only a few coppers. You're welcome to those, if you'll only let me ride on."
"We're not robbers," said the first man, who seemed to be the master of the two, "and, therefore, we don't want your coppers. We've got one or two questions to put to you. If you'll only answer them civilly, we'll let you go your way. If you don't answer them——"
He broke off with a shrug of the shoulders to indicate the terrible fate which might await the boy in the event of his declining to answer the questions put to him.
"You're riding Mr. Moncrief's horse, Falcon?"
Paul wondered who the man was, and how he had come by his information.
"Yes, that's right. What of it?"
"How is it you are riding Falcon instead of Mr. Moncrief?"
Paul did not at once answer. He wondered whether by answering he would be doing wrong. Yet what wrong could he do by speaking the truth. Paul was an honest boy—as honest as the day—and detested falsehood of any kind.
"Mr. Moncrief met with an accident—that's why," he answered doggedly.
"An accident"—the stranger exchanged glances with the other man. "That's the reason he's been left behind, is it? You've come in his stead—eh?"
Paul nodded. He felt somehow that he was giving Mr. Moncrief away, but he could not help himself.
"Thought so. You're going to Mr. Walter Moncrief, his brother—eh?"
Paul remained silent. He felt that he had said too much already.
"Tongue-tied—eh? Well, I won't trouble you to answer, for I know well enough my information's right. All you need do is just to hand over to me the packet you're taking to Mr. Walter Moncrief. I'll take care of it."
The stranger's information was only too accurate; Paul marvelled at its accuracy; but nevertheless Mr. Moncrief's words, "I feel that I can trust you. You will not part with the letter, whatever happens," came to him, and he determined not to give up the packet without a struggle.
"You're not deaf as well as tongue-tied—eh? Quick! quick! hand over the packet," came the imperious voice of the stranger.
Paul saw that he was in a desperate situation—one from which it would only be possible to extricate himself by strategy. He put his hand to the inner pocket where the packet lay, and drew it a little way from his pocket. This movement disarmed the man who held the bridle. He slackened his hold. As he did so Paul brought down his riding-whip—or, rather, Mr. Moncrief's riding-whip—sharply on the other man's face.
With a cry of mingled rage and pain the man dropped the bridle.
"Good Falcon—good. Now!" cried Paul, urging the horse forward.
The second man made a lunge at the horse. Falcon, as though fully alive to the need of getting away, bounded forward like a dart along the road. It went forward at a breakneck speed, quivering in every limb, as though feverishly anxious to place as great a distance as possible between Paul and his pursuers.
"Thank God, thank God!" Paul murmured, overjoyed at their escape. "What a noble horse it is. That man is a foreigner, I'm sure of it—one who would stop at nothing to gain his ends. Who is he, I wonder?"
If Paul had only known! But all was dark to him, as dark as the road along which he was speeding. Only one thing was clear—that these men were the enemies of Mr. Moncrief; that they were anxious to get from him the packet of which he was the bearer. More and more Paul wondered what could be the meaning of it all—what could be the meaning of the curious hieroglyphics in his pocket.
But suddenly, just as he was congratulating himself on the distance he had placed between himself and his pursuers, Falcon slackened speed, and began to breathe hard. What was the meaning of it? Had an accident befallen him, or had he grown weary? Paul knew enough of the animal to know that it would not readily slacken speed through weariness. Falcon was one of those sterling animals who would take every inch from himself before he would give in through weariness.
If he could only get it a little farther on the road, it might be possible to keep the advantage he had gained on his pursuers. Once more he encouraged the horse to go forward; and once more it made a desperate effort to obey him.
Then it reeled again. Paul had just time to extricate his feet from the stirrups when Falcon fell with a crash by the roadside.
Paul hurt one of his legs by the fall, but he had no thought for himself as he bent over the horse.
"Heaven help us!" was his fervent prayer, for in that one brief glance he could tell that poor Falcon was dying, and he knew that not long would elapse before his pursuers reached him.
"What is it, old fellow? Good Falcon—good!"
Once more Falcon responded to the call; it made desperate efforts to rise; but almost immediately slackened. Paul's hand went to its neck. It was bathed in perspiration and foam. What had happened to it? In the uncertain light it was impossible to tell. Had it injured a foot or leg? All at once Paul recalled the way in which the man had lunged at the horse at the moment of their escape. He must have injured it in some way.
THE CRY OF THE PSALMIST
Yes; poor Falcon was dying. A crimson stream was running from a wound in its flank, and Paul knew that the horse had not many minutes to live.
"The scoundrel!" he said to himself between his clenched teeth, as he thought of the man who had wrought this cruel deed. Paul was one of those brave lads who would never wittingly have done an act of cruelty, least of all to one of God's dumb creatures. It touched him to the quick to see the poor horse dying. He knelt by its side, and his hand went caressingly over it. Falcon turned to him with such a look of pathos in its eyes that a big lump rose in the boy's throat, as though he were choking.
"I can do nothing for you, old fellow. I wish I could!"
There was no help near, and it was clear to see that if there had been it would have been useless. Falcon was breathing hard, in its last stern fight with death. Paul could not bear to see its pain. His hand moved up to its head. It soothed the horse. For a minute it lay perfectly still, and then, as though in that brief interval of rest it had been collecting its strength for a last great effort, it tried to rise to its feet again. It rose a little way, then fell. Again it turned its head to Paul, and looked at him with glazed eyes. A shiver went over every limb; then the noble horse lay quite still, and Paul knew that it was dead.
Tears came to his eyes. It was as though he had been standing by the death-bed of a human being. And, now that he was in the presence of death, he scarcely knew how to act. Suddenly the sound of distant voices roused him from the stupor into which he had fallen. For the moment, in his grief at Falcon's death, he had forgotten that he was being pursued—forgotten the message of which he was the bearer.
The sound of voices recalled him to his duty. If he remained there, his pursuers would soon discover him, and wrest from him the letter with which he had been entrusted. Falcon was dead. He could do no good by remaining. To make good his escape, no time must be lost. By God's good help, he might yet succeed in eluding his pursuers.
So he pulled himself together, resolved to go forward at all hazards.
"It is for Stan's father," he said to himself, as he tried to run. But he soon found that another misfortune had befallen him. The injury to his leg prevented him from running. It was only with an effort he could walk at any speed, and at every step he took he felt that his pursuers were gaining ground.
Redmead was close upon three miles away. How could he hope to reach it without being overtaken by the men who were so keenly pursuing him? Instinctively came to his memory the words he had so often heard in the village church—"The wicked oppress me—compass me about. They now compass me in my footsteps." And the cry of the Psalmist rose to his lips:
"Hold up my goings in Thy paths, that my footsteps slip not. Show Thy marvellous loving kindness, O Thou that savest by Thy right hand them which put their trust in Thee. Hide me under the shadow of Thy wings from the wicked that oppress me, from my deadly enemies, who compass me about. Arise, O Lord, disappoint him, cast him down."
With renewed strength he pressed on; but he had not gone far before he was compelled to slacken his pace. He realized that it was hopeless for him to evade his pursuers unless he could find some hiding-place. He looked around. There was no house near. But just a little ahead of him, to the right of the road, were the ruins of an old house which had been burned almost to the ground, and never been re-built.
As a drowning man clutches at a straw, Paul made his way to the ruins. But he had not gone more than a few paces through what had once been the garden of the house, when a voice cried:
"Hallo! Who are you? What are you doing here?"
Paul was somewhat startled, for he thought the place deserted. He found himself mistaken, however, for a boy came from the ruins and faced him. He was slightly taller than Paul, and of slimmer build; but he was none the less well proportioned, and his limbs moved with the easy movement of a young athlete. In spite of the dusk, Paul recognized him. He was one of the senior boys of St. Bede's—the scholars of which were the deadly rivals of Paul's school. There had been a perpetual feud between St. Bede's and Garside for many years. Sometimes it would be patched up for a week or two; then it would break out with greater violence than ever. Just before the vacation, the feud had burst out stronger than ever. There is no telling to what length it might have been carried, but, fortunately, the vacation came on, and hostilities were suspended. The boy before him was Wyndham, one of the ringleaders on the other side. The recognition was simultaneous.
"You're one of the bounders of Garside, aren't you?"
"Yes," Paul candidly admitted; "and you—you're one of the Bede's, aren't you? I haven't time to talk. There's some one after me. Can you put me up to a place to hide in?—quick, there's a good fellow!"
"Running away—eh?" said the other contemptuously, without moving. "That's like you Garside fellows!"
"I wish I had only the time to teach you better," retorted Paul indignantly. Then, remembering all that was at stake, he suppressed his indignation, and in quick, earnest tones: "I'm not sneaking—on my word of honour. I'm the bearer of an important paper, belonging to a chum's father. Two men are following me up to try to get it from me. If I can't steer clear of them they will take it from me. You know this place. Hide me somewhere!"
The earnest tones of Paul appealed to Wyndham.
"I don't know of any hiding-place, except——"
"Except what?" cried Paul eagerly, as he again caught the sound of voices from the roadway.
"The old well."
"The old well! How is it possible to hide there?"
"Well, I can let you down in the bucket, if you care to run the risk. I've been down it myself—but I'm not a Garside fellow."
It was as much as to say that "a Garside fellow" was not capable of doing what a "St. Bede fellow" could do.
"I'd run any risk—quick! I can near them coming! Where's the well?"
It was only a few paces from where they were standing. Wyndham led the way.
"I'll let you down a little way; then draw you up again directly the men have gone—that is to say, if they should come this way."
"They are coming this way. I feel sure of it, and there's no time to lose."
"Here you are, then. Keep steady, and don't make a sound. They won't think of you stowed away down there."
Paul got into the bucket. The chain was somewhat rusty, but though it was the worse for disuse, and creaked as it was lowered, it held firm. When Wyndham had lowered Paul a short distance, he made firm the chain; so that he was suspended half-way between the water and the top. It wasn't a very pleasant situation. A dank smell came from below, and it seemed the abode of darkness as the boy above shut out the last remnant of light by placing the cover a little way over the well.
Not a moment too soon, for he had only just finished when a man darted up to him and seized him by the collar.
"Ha! Got you at last, have I? A nice chase you've led us."
"What's the matter? That's my collar when you've done with it. Drop it, please!"
"Hand over that paper."
"The paper you're taking to Redmead. Quick—out with it!"
Wyndham, though he did not appreciate the man's grip on his collar, was enjoying the joke. He could see what had happened. The man had mistaken him for "that Garside fellow" down the well.
"I would like to oblige you, but I really don't know what you're talking about. I haven't any paper."
By this time the second man had arrived on the scene. His sharp, ferrety eyes, which—like the eyes of a cat—seemed capable of seeing in the darkness, immediately went to Wyndham's face.
"Hi, Brockman! Hi! What are you doing? You have got hold of the wrong boy!"
"The wrong boy!" exclaimed the man addressed as Brockman. "Are you sure?"
"Certain! Where are your eyes?"
"They're not quite so sharp as yours, Mr. Zuker, I know; but I made sure I'd tracked the youngster here."
Paul could hear distinctly every word that passed from his uncomfortable position down the well. As the name Zuker fell upon his ears he trembled so that he nearly over-balanced himself and fell into the water below. It was not with fear. Zuker! That name was one he was never likely to forget so long as memory lasted. It was the name of the man for whom his poor father had sacrificed his life!
Could it be the same? It was not a common name, and though the man spoke English readily, it was with a German accent. Instinctively Paul felt that it was the same, instinctively he felt that the man who had been in pursuit of him was the man whom his father had tried to save from the sea so long ago. As a recompense for what the father had done he was hunting down the son!
"Thank you; it's very kind of you," said Wyndham, as Brockman released his hold. "Seems to me you're a little too hasty with your hands! The next time you take any one by the collar you'd better make sure first that you're going for the right one!"
Brockman turned away without deigning to reply. Zuker was about to follow his example, but, suddenly checking himself, he asked:
"Have you seen any one pass this way—a boy about your size—no, not quite so tall," as the sharp eyes took note of Wyndham's height.
"About my own size—not quite so tall? Let me see." Wyndham paused as though trying to remember.
"Make haste!" cried Zuker impatiently. "We haven't any time to lose. Surely you can remember."
"I'm trying to. You see, there are a good number of boys pass along this road during the day."
"I'm not speaking about the daytime—within the last quarter of an hour!"
"A quarter of an hour. Let me think."
"You'll get nothing from that blockhead, sir!" cried Brockman. "We're losing valuable time!"
Zuker had drawn near the well. His hand rested upon the handle. Wyndham was a cool boy, whom it took a great deal to disturb, but it must be confessed that he required all his coolness and self-possession at that moment. He was fearful lest Zuker might catch a glimpse of Paul down the well. But, fortunately, he was too intent on questioning Wyndham. So, after asking him one or two more questions, he said cuttingly:
"You're a sharp youth. You will set the Thames on fire some day—ugh!"
He looked for the moment as though he would spurn Wyndham with his foot; but instead of doing so he gave a vicious twist to the well-handle—to the no small alarm of Wyndham—and hastened after his tool and servant, Brockman.
Wyndham leapt to the windlass. The twist given by the German had set the bucket in motion. Paul was rapidly descending in the bucket to the bottom! He seized the handle in his hand and held on to it with all his strength. It vibrated as though it were a live thing. He feared that the sudden strain upon the chain might snap it in twain, but it held firm.
"Hi, hi!" he cried below. "Are you all right?"
A moment of intense silence—a moment which seemed interminable to the boy clinging to the handle of the windlass; then, to his great relief, the voice of Paul came faintly up the well:
"All right! But—but it's been a near thing!"
"Hold tight. I'm going to haul you up!"
Slowly he hauled Paul to the top of the well; and, with an inexpressible feeling of thankfulness, Paul stepped from the bucket.
"Have they gone?" he asked eagerly.
"Yes. A near thing, you said; what happened?"
"You just stopped me within about a foot of the water, and the sudden jerk nearly pitched me out of the bucket. The scoundrels have gone, you say?"
"Yes," smiled Wyndham; "they've gone in hot pursuit of you. They little dreamt you were down that well! You couldn't have had a better hiding-place."
"Better! Well, perhaps you're right; but it was a bit musty and uncomfortable! I'm much obliged to you, all the same. You seem a decent fellow, though you are a Beetle!"
Beetle was the nickname given by the Garside boys to the boys of St. Bede's.
Wyndham laughed. Paul glanced round the melancholy, deserted ruin. He could see no sign of human habitation.
"And you seem a decent fellow, though you are a Gargoyle." (Gargoyle was the nickname given by the St. Bede boys to the boys of Garside School.) "What's your name?"
"Paul Percival. I have often seen you amongst the other Beetles; but you don't live about here, do you?"
"Not now." And there was a deep note of melancholy in Wyndham's voice. "You can see, it's a ruin; but before it was a ruin I lived here with my mother and youngest brother, Archie. He's gone—now."
Wyndham nodded, and Paul understood too well what "gone" meant. Wyndham's brother was dead; but he wondered what his death could have to do with the ruined house. There was a painful silence between them for some moments.
"I think you said you were going to Redmead?"
"Yes; Oakville, that's the house I want."
"I know it. Mr. Moncrief lives there. He's a big man at Chatham Dockyard, and has a lot to do with the defences of the Medway and the Thames, so I've heard. He designs things, too, for the Admiralty. I'm going partly that way if you don't mind walking with a Beetle."
Paul laughed, and remarked that he could put up for once with a Beetle if the Beetle could put up with a Gargoyle.
So they started together, and Wyndham told Paul by the way the reason of the ruined house.
His father and mother had taken the house soon after they were married. He, Gilbert, was born there; so was his younger brother Archie. Three years after the birth of Archie, God visited upon them a great misfortune by calling to Himself Mr. Wyndham. Gilbert had by this time started on his school career, for he was several years older than his brother. The second misfortune occurred while he was away at school, three years after the death of his father.
Little Archie was the idol of his mother, and a great pet with old Martha, the housekeeper, who had been in the household ever since the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Wyndham. Early one morning Mrs. Wyndham awoke with a feeling of suffocation. On looking, half dazed, around the bedroom, she found it full of smoke. Her first thought was of Archie. She made her way to his bed. It was empty! She went to the landing; that was full of smoke also. She called for her boy. No answer came. The bewildered mother imagined that he must have escaped from the burning house while she slept.
By God's providence she got out. She found that the two servants had managed to escape from the burning house; but there were no signs of little Archie! The distracted mother would have entered the burning house again to search for him, but she was held back. It was a merciful thing that she became unconscious, and did not see the end of the homestead where she had spent so many happy, peaceful hours. It was burnt almost to the ground, and amongst the ruins in the kitchen were found the charred remains of Archie.
The little fellow was fond of watching old Martha when she lit the fires. It was believed, therefore, that he had stolen out of bed that fatal morning and tried to light the fire in the kitchen on his own account. The lighted match set fire to his bedgown, the bedgown to some curtains, and so the fire had spread. Archie joined his father in heaven.
"I was away at school at the time," said Wyndham, when he had finished his painful story. "You can judge what a homecoming that was for me!"
"It must indeed have been sad," said Paul feelingly.
"My mother was ill for a long time, but at length she got well again. I was the only one left to her. After that we lived in a house about a mile from here. The ruins of the old house still remain, as you have seen. Some day my mother may build again, but she hasn't the heart for it at present."
The story of little Archie Wyndham is perfectly true. It is not fiction. It happened precisely in the way I have described. I know the terrible fascination that fire has for children. Unfortunately they do not understand its danger. When, therefore, my dear boy or girl, you are tempted to play with fire, will you remember the sad fate of little Archie Wyndham? That will enable you, by God's help, to put the temptation from you.
All at once Paul came to a dead stop. His hand went to his coat-pocket. Absorbed in Wyndham's story, he had forgotten all about the letter he was to take to Mr. Walter Moncrief.
"What's the matter?" asked Wyndham.
Paul's face had turned to an ashen hue. His hand was still searching his pocket.
"The letter!" he exclaimed.
"The letter—well, what about it?"
"Gone!" echoed Wyndham scarce able to believe his ears.
SHADOWS OF THE EVENING
But too true—the letter had gone. No wonder Paul was bewildered, stupefied. He had risked so much to get that letter to its destination—had braved more than one peril, and come safely through—that it seemed heart-breaking to find the letter gone.
"Have you searched all your pockets?" asked Wyndham.
"All," answered Paul. "It was in this one—here"—he placed his hand upon his breast-pocket. "I put it here when it was given me, and I haven't shifted it."
"Where, then, can it have gone?"
Where? Paul knew well enough that it was in his possession when he left poor Falcon by the roadside, for he had felt in his pocket, and found it there. He must, therefore, have lost it since; but where—where? That was the question he kept repeating to himself without finding an answer. Of a sudden it came to him. It must have been jerked from his pocket at the moment Wyndham caught the handle of the windlass, nearly precipitating him from the bucket to the water.
"I believe it's in the well."
"What?" cried Wyndham. "In the well? How can that be?"
"You must be right," said Wyndham thoughtfully, when the explanation was ended. "Well, there's one consolation—it's better for the letter to be in the well than you. It's a pity, but it can't be helped. What will you do?"
Paul had been thinking. He could go forward to Mr. Moncrief at Redmead, and explain to him that he had lost the letter, or he could go back, and explain to the other Mr. Moncrief that he had failed in his embassy. Neither alternative was very palatable to him. Duty was before him as a pole-star. A still small voice was ever whispering to him, "Paul, thy duty. Do that in spite of anything that may happen to you. Place that first and foremost, even before self." What, then, was his duty? To confess to failure and defeat? No, never! That was the coward's part. He would not rest satisfied until he had made an effort to recover the letter he had lost, and he told Wyndham so.
"I like your pluck; 'pon my word I do. Didn't think a Gargoyle had so much—really I didn't," said Wyndham; "but it's no use being foolhardy. If the letter's at the bottom of the well, how, in the name of wonder, are you going to get it up again?"
"I don't believe it's at the bottom. The water was pretty thick, I'm certain, by the odour. There would be vegetable stuff, and that sort of thing floating on the top of it. Well, if that's so, the letter wouldn't sink. The gravity of the water would be greater than the weight of the letter."
"Oh, the Gargoyles do go in a bit for physics—eh?" smiled Wyndham. "Fire away. I believe you're right. What's the next step?"
"The next step is to go down the well again, and prove whether I'm right or wrong. Is it asking too much of you to go back with me?"
"You mean going down the well again?"
"If you'll oblige me by again turning the handle."
Wyndham was by this time thoroughly interested in Paul and his mission, and he couldn't help admiring still further his pluck and determination. He never imagined that a despised "Gargoyle" had so much of those qualities. He willingly fell in with Paul's suggestion, and soon they were back again at the well.
"I've forgotten one thing," said Paul. "I haven't a light."
"Luckily I can lend you one. Wait here for a moment."
Paul waited while Wyndham disappeared among the ruins. Presently he returned with a lantern, which he lighted and handed to Paul. Thus equipped, he once more took his position in the bucket.
"Pay out slowly, and I'll tell you when to stop."
The bucket slowly descended till Paul was within a foot or two of the water.
"Stop!" he shouted.
The bucket stopped, then Paul leaned over the side, and flashed the light of the lantern on the water. There, to his great joy, was the missing letter, floating on the weeds. He cautiously leaned forward, and grasping the letter, returned it once more in safety to his pocket.
"Haul away!" he cried.
And Wyndham hauled away, so that a minute later Paul was again at the brink of the well.
"Found it?" asked Wyndham eagerly.
For answer Paul produced the letter. It was slightly damp, but little the worse otherwise for its immersion.
"Well, you deserve it. I'm jolly glad you've found it."
"I should never have got it hadn't it been for you. It was very good of you to turn back with me, and I hope if at any time I can do you a service, you'll let me know."
The two boys tramped on once more to their destination. Wyndham wished Paul good-night at the entrance to Redmead, his home lying in another direction. It was not long before Paul came in sight of Oakville. It was a fine old country house. A light was shining from its gabled front. By its light Paul could see that there was a man hovering about the house. He could not get a clear glimpse of him, but he was certain, from the man's figure and gait, that it was Brockman, the confederate of Zuker, the German spy. Knowing that Paul must come to the house, he had evidently been on the watch for him.
Now that he had come so far, Paul did not intend being foiled at the last moment. He saw that it was useless trying to enter by the front of the house, so he crept round to the back.
A light was coming from one of the windows. Paul made for this window, and looked through. He was scarcely prepared for what he saw. It was evidently a play-room. There was a large rocking-horse in one corner. A trapeze was slung up in the centre. There were single-sticks and foils on the wall, dumb-bells, Indian-clubs, a parallel-bar, and a vaulting-horse stowed away in another part of the room. But it was not so much these things which attracted the attention of Paul as the occupants of the room. A middle-aged gentleman was kneeling. He was praying aloud. Near him was a lady. On either side of her was a girl and boy—the boy about twelve, the girl a couple of years older. In line with them were a couple of maidservants and a governess. Paul could see that they were at family prayers. He guessed that the gentleman who was praying was Mr. Walter Moncrief, the gentleman he had come in search of by his likeness to his brother.
When they had finished prayers, the lady went to the piano, and the little group joined heartily in a hymn Paul had often heard at school:
"Now the day is over, Night is drawing nigh, Shadows of the ev'ning Steal across the sky."
Paul listened reverently, with bowed head. How appropriate the words seemed to be. In very truth had the shadows been stealing across the sky that evening, and they had not yet dispersed. Brockman, the man without, was still hovering darkly, like a cloud, over that house. Again the singers within raised their voices:
"Through the long night-watches, May Thine angels spread Their white wings above us, Watching round each bed."
Paul echoed those words very earnestly in his heart as his hand clasped tightly the letter for which he had risked so much. The room was an addition to the house, and led by a separate door into the garden. When the singing had ended, Paul stepped softly to the door and knocked gently on it with his knuckles. It was opened by one of the servants. The light of the lamp fell upon Paul as the door opened, and the eyes of all in the room turned to him as he stood there, with the letter in his hand.
"Can I see Mr. Moncrief?"
"I am Mr. Moncrief. What is it you want with me, my lad?" said that gentleman stepping forward.
"I've brought a letter from your brother, Mr. Henry Moncrief. He couldn't bring it himself, because of an accident——"
"Nothing very serious, sir. A sprain, I think. He asked me to take the letter for him, and as he's the father of a school chum of mine, Stan Moncrief; I brought it along, and here it is," Paul explained rapidly, as he handed Mr. Moncrief the letter.
Paul had by this time entered the room. Directly Mr. Moncrief glanced at the letter his face became very grave. He went from the room, and his wife followed him, evidently as anxious as himself to know the contents. The servants retired, and Paul was thus left alone with the boy and girl.
There was not the least shyness about the former, for directly his parents left the room, he came forward and introduced himself.
"I'm Harry Moncrief—named after the uncle you brought that letter from. He was my godfather, you know. This is my sister, Connie." Connie, who was a pretty, fair girl, looked embarrassed at her brother's blunt method of introduction, but he rattled on. "Rather good for a girl. Not so slow as most of them. Can take a turn with the bells or clubs"—by bells and clubs was meant dumb-bells and Indian-clubs—"and she can scout at cricket. Didn't I hear you say you were a chum of cousin Stanley's?"
"Yes; we're in the same Form."
"What—at Garside School?" asked the boy eagerly.
"Hurrah!—hurrah!" cried Harry. "I'm going to Garside next term. I've left Gaffer Quelch's, thank goodness!"—Gaffer Quelch's was a college for juvenile scholars in the neighbourhood—"and I'm going to see life at Garside."
Paul could not help smiling at the boy's idea of "seeing life," and the high and exalted notion he seemed to have of Garside.
"Do you know young Plunger? He used to be my chum at Quelch's, but he left there a term ago, and went to Garside. That's another reason I'm going there. Things are awfully slow at Quelch's since Plunger left He's a big pot at Garside, isn't he?"
"Very," answered Paul drily.
Paul knew young Plunger well enough. He was in one of the junior Forms. Though he had been at Garside only a term, he had almost succeeded in creating a record for the number of scrapes into which he had got during that short period.
"Cousin Stan being so high up in the school, I don't want to let him down, you know, by making any mistakes when I get to Garside," Harry rattled on. "I want to do things in correct form, you see; for if I let myself down, I let Stan down. So I asked Plunger the right thing to do on going to Garside. Plunger's an awfully good sort of fellow, so he took the trouble to write down for me what ought to be done; but I wasn't to show it to any one here, for some of the things are school secrets, he tells me."
Connie had discreetly withdrawn from the room, leaving Paul and her brother together. The latter, however, glanced round to make sure they were quite alone before he drew from his pocket the mysterious document which Plunger had written for his instruction on entering Garside School.
"1. Trousers to be turned up at bottom three inches.
"2. Spats on boots (patents).
"3. White waistcoat. Eton jacket.
"4. Introduce yourself to Bax, the porter, by giving him two slaps on the back and a dig with right-hand forefinger in ribs. Give him following particulars: Age and weight. Whether vaccinated—show marks. Give also measurement of biceps and chest.
"5. On seeing Mrs. Trounce (matron) go down on right knee, and present her with your portrait (for school album). Write on bottom of card, in clear handwriting, 'With love and kind regards.'
"6. Two shillings to be left at Billiter's for 'footing,' etc."
Paul could scarcely refrain from smiling at the code of rules which the audacious Plunger had drawn up for his chum's instruction, the more so as Harry, who had never been to a public school, seemed to take them in all seriousness.
"You've been through it all, of course?" said Harry, as Paul handed the rules back to him. "Kind of Plunger to take so much trouble, isn't it?"
Paul was on the point of answering as Mr. Moncrief entered the room.
Harry hastily thrust the paper out of sight.
THE LITTLE HUNCHBACK
"What is your name, my lad?" Mr. Moncrief asked as he entered the room.
"Paul Percival," answered our hero.
"And he goes to the same school as Cousin Stan. Isn't that stunning, pa?" exclaimed Harry Moncrief.
"Many thanks for the great service you have done, Paul," said Mr. Moncrief earnestly. "You have not only done a great service for me and my brother, but for your country. A duty like that brings its own reward. But how was it you came by the back way?"
Paul then explained all that had happened since he had left Mr. Moncrief's brother. The stoppage on the way by the two men who had tried to wrest from him the letter, the death of poor Falcon, the loss of the letter and its recovery, his arrival at Oakville, and his discovery that Brockman was lying in wait for him at the house.
"The scoundrels!" cried Mr. Moncrief, with flashing eyes, as he paced rapidly to and fro the room. Then, pausing again, he clasped Paul by the hand.
"I gave you credit for a great deal, but I haven't given you half credit enough. So long as you do your duty as you have done it to-night, you have nothing to fear for the future. May God bless you, and have you always in His keeping, as He has had to-night. I will return with you home, and see that no harm befalls you by the way."
Mr. Moncrief had already given orders that his trap should be in readiness as quickly as possible, and shortly after the servant entered and announced that the coachman was awaiting his master.
"Good-bye, Paul! You'll look out for me at Garside, won't you?" cried Harry, as he went out.
"Oh, yes, I'll look out for you!" said Paul, as he thought with a smile of the instructions Plunger had given Harry on his introduction to Garside School.
Mrs. Moncrief kissed Paul as she wished him good-night, just as his mother did, and he could not help blushing. He wondered whether Connie Moncrief would do the same, and was much relieved on finding that she made no attempt to follow her mother's example.
Nothing was to be seen of the man Brockman when they got outside.
"He has smelt a rat, and when he found the horse was being harnessed, got away as quickly as possible," said Mr. Moncrief. "We shan't be troubled with him again to-night."
Mr. Moncrief's surmise turned out to be correct. No further adventure befel them on the homeward journey. Paul learned, by the way, that the man Zuker was a German Jew of great ability and cunning. He was suspected to be a spy in the service of a foreign Government—which Government Mr. Moncrief did not mention, but Paul guessed which was meant.
The spy's purpose in coming to England was to ascertain all he could as to the defences of the Thames and the Medway.
"Can't you have the man arrested?" Paul asked, deeply interested in all he heard, and feeling more and more convinced that this man Zuker was the spy whom his father had saved from the sea at the risk of his own life.
"He's too adroit. He's one of the craftiest spies the Admiralty has ever had to deal with. We can get no direct evidence against him. Neither do we know his exact whereabouts. He's like some nasty slug—you can only tell where he's been by the slime he leaves behind. Of course, he has one or two confederates to help him."
"I trust they aren't Englishmen, sir?" said Paul.
"I trust so, too. But I fear there are still Judases in the land—men who would betray their country, as Judas betrayed his Lord and Master, for money, though the price would be a great deal more than thirty pieces of silver. Our enemies would give a great deal to get a draft of some of the plans in the archives of the Admiralty, I can tell you, Paul."
By this time they had reached Paul's home, to the great relief of Mrs. Percival and Mr. Henry Moncrief, who had begun to fear that some mishap had befallen Paul by the way. By the latter's request nothing was said to his mother about the peril in which he had stood, for fear of alarming her.
The two brothers had a short interview together. Then, as Mr. Henry Moncrief's leg was still painful, it was decided that he should remain at Rosemore—Paul's home—that night, and return to his own home the next morning. His brother returned to Oakville that same night.
The next morning a carriage came for Mr. Henry Moncrief, to which he was able to limp by the assistance of a manservant.
"I shan't regret the accident which has introduced me to you and your son, madam," said he, as he wished Paul and his mother good-bye through the carriage window. "I have to thank you for your hospitality, and him for the great service he has done me. God bless him and you!"
It was almost an echo of words Paul had heard before, but they fell none the less sweetly on his ears. That night he dreamed he was hard at work on the prize essay, "The Invasion of Great Britain," and that just as he had finished it, a shadow fell across the room. He turned round to see whence the shadow came, and saw that it was—Zuker! Then he melted into thin air. When Paul turned to his essay he found that that had disappeared, too. In the shock of the discovery he awoke. Some one was bending over him, but it was not Zuker. It was his mother.
"What is it, dear?" she asked anxiously. "You cried out so loudly that I thought something dreadful had happened."
"Cried out! What?"
"Oh," said Paul, laughing, but shivering in spite of himself, "I was dreaming—that is all! I'm sorry to have disturbed you, mother."
The day following, the vacation was at an end, and Paul returned to Garside. It was an old, turreted building, dating a couple of centuries back. Flying from the west turret was a flag, known as the "old flag at Garside." It had a history which was dear to every boy in the school. It had been taken by Captain Talbot in the Crimea. The captain had formerly been a scholar at Garside. He died soon after of his wounds, and left the flag as a legacy to the school.
"Keep the flag flying at the old school," he said, almost with his last breath. And then God received his spirit.
The flag was very much stained, and had scarcely any of the original pattern remaining; but, none the less, the boys were prouder of that flag than any other decoration in the school.
Just as Paul came in sight of it flying from the turret, a timid voice sounded in his ear:
"Is that Garside, please?"
Paul, looking down at the speaker, saw a weak-looking, wizen-faced boy, with pale, thin cheeks, and one shoulder slightly higher than the other. In a word, he was a hunchback. Paul could not help a slight start as he looked at him. The boy was quick to notice it, and a slight wave of colour came to the pallid cheek. Paul was annoyed at himself for having betrayed astonishment, and answered kindly:
"Yes; that is Garside. Are you going there?"
The boy nodded.
"Very well; we'll go along together. Do you mind taking my arm? The fellows are rather a rough lot till you get to know them. Your first term, isn't it?"
The boy looked his gratitude as Paul took him by the arm.
"Yes; my first term," he said.
"Do you know anybody at the school?"
"Nobody. I'm quite a stranger."
He spoke with a foreign accent, and Paul wondered who he could be. At the same time he could not help pitying the solitary boy. He would have rather a sorry time of it amongst the other "Gargoyles."
"Well, youngster"—a junior was always "a youngster" in the eyes of his senior—"if I can be of help to you at any time, don't be afraid to come to me. What is your name?"
"Hibbert—Tim Hibbert. And—and if you don't mind, I'd like to know yours?"
Paul told him his name, and they entered the grounds together. A number of the boys had already arrived. Some stood in small groups, talking and laughing about incidents that had happened during the vacation. Others were playing at leapfrog, or chasing each other from pillar to post.
Those nearest to the gates paused in their games as Paul entered, and stared at the hunchback. Newall, a senior, said something about "Percival and his camel." The remark was as cruel as offensive. Paul did not mind for himself, but he did for his companion. He glanced at Hibbert, and again noticed the delicate colouring mount to the pale cheek. He had evidently caught the sense of Newall's remark, too.
"They have rough speech as well as rough ways, haven't they?" the boy remarked quietly.
"Some of them—yes; but you mustn't mind that. They're not such a bad lot, take them altogether."
Newall was one of the most arrogant boys at Garside. He had a rough tongue, and loved to domineer. You will always find your Newalls in every public school, no matter where it be. They are terrors to the nervous, sensitive boy; but they always succeed in attracting to themselves followers, lads of like dispositions to themselves.
Paul knew well enough that Newall intended the remark for his benefit, but he paid no heed to it. He looked round the ground in the hope of finding Stanley Moncrief, but saw nothing of him.
"Perhaps he's gone to meet that young cousin of his," he said to himself, as his mind went back to Oakville, and the never-to-be-forgotten evening on which he had met Harry Moncrief. Hibbert wished to be taken to Mr. Weevil the science master, as he was to receive his introduction to the school through that gentleman.
Paul accordingly took him to Mr. Weevil's rooms. He was fortunate enough to find the master in. He was a sallow-complexioned man, with thin, clean-shaven lips. He had a restless, hungry-looking pair of eyes, which went up quickly to Paul as he entered the room.
"What is it, Percival?"
"I've brought along a new boy, sir—Hibbert."
"Hibbert?" Mr. Weevil at once rose from his seat, and eyed the boy keenly; then his hand went out to the lad: "Welcome to Garside. You can leave us, Percival."
Thus summarily dismissed, Paul went out, leaving Hibbert and the science master together. It seemed as though the master were favourably impressed with the new boy—in spite of the fact that he was a hunchback.
"Bravo, Weevil! That's a point in your favour, at any rate. I didn't think that you had much pity for any one. Poor little chap!"
His heart went out in sympathy to the little hunchback. What a shadow his deformity must cast upon his life?
"They say that hunchbacks are spiteful, and I don't wonder at it. But Hibbert doesn't seem a spiteful sort of fellow. Where did he pick up that foreign accent, I wonder?"
As he thought of him, he could not help thinking how thankful he ought to be to God that he was healthy and straight of limb. It was not till he came in contact with poor, deformed creatures like Tim Hibbert that he understood God's goodness to himself.
"Not more than others I deserve, Yet Thou hast given me more,"
he said softly to himself as he returned to the ground.
He had not gone far before he saw Stanley Moncrief coming towards him. He was about Paul's age and height, with a like ruddy complexion, and frank, open face. The two chums were delighted to meet again, especially as so much had happened since their last meeting. Arm in arm they walked about the ground talking eagerly, when their conversation was suddenly interrupted by a shout of laughter from the other end of the ground.
"I say, Paul, that looks very much like my young cousin coming towards us," said Stanley, looking in the direction whence the laughter came. "What on earth has the little ass been doing with himself?"
HARRY MONCRIEF ARRIVES AT GARSIDE
Well might Stanley ask the question. His young cousin had attired himself in the most extraordinary fashion. His trousers—plaid ones—were turned up three or four inches at the bottom, as though for the purpose of displaying to the utmost advantage the white spats on his patent shoes, while surmounting the lower half of him was a gorgeous white waistcoat, cutaway jacket, and tall hat. Paul could not help smiling, for he at once saw the reason of this remarkable attire. Young Moncrief had followed out precisely the instructions sent him by his friend Plunger.
"He seems to have got himself up regardless of expense, Stan," smiled Paul. "He means making an impression on the school. But you needn't scowl so, old fellow. It's all done for your sake. He thinks it the correct form, and doesn't want to let you down."
"Correct form—don't want to let me down!" repeated Stanley, bewildered. "What on earth are you driving at?"
Thereupon Paul related to Stanley the conversation he had had with Harry on the day he had visited Oakville, and the mysterious document he had shown him from Plunger as to the correct way to dress, and what to do on entering Garside.
"And the little soft has nibbled at Plunger's bait," laughed Stanley. "It isn't a bad joke, and I suppose I mustn't spoil it."
So Stanley and Paul kept out of the way of the throng of boys who, with Harry Moncrief in their midst, were making their way across the grounds in the direction of the schoolhouse. Harry, with his arm linked in Plunger's—a dark boy, with mischief-sparkling eyes—seemed quite unconscious of the fact that the boys were laughing at him.
"Bax is busy with some of the other freshers," Plunger was saying; "so you'd better get over your introduction to Mrs. Trounce, and we'll hunt up old Bax after."
"All right, Freddy," answered Harry, quite elated at the thought that he had at last entered a public school where there were boys bigger and older than himself, and that he was being initiated into its mysteries and ways. "After that I suppose I can find my cousin?"
"And there's a chum of his I met at home during the vac.—Paul Percival. Do you know him?"
"Ra-ther. He's one of the seniors—in the same form as your cousin. I didn't know that you knew him."
"I've only met him once, but I should like to meet him again. Pater thinks no end of him."
"Oh, you'll see plenty of him at Garside—a good deal too much. Those Upper Form fellows think no end of themselves, I can tell you. This way to the divine Trounce. You haven't forgotten?"
"Of course not; I've got all the rules by heart. See, here's the photo."
He drew from his pocket a photograph of himself as he spoke, with some writing on the bottom, which he handed to Plunger. The boys following behind grew black in the face trying to choke down their laughter.
"Jolly good of you, Harry!" exclaimed Plunger, regarding the photograph admiringly. "I didn't know you were such an awfully good-looking fellow. Trounce will think a lot of it, I can tell you."
The matron's rooms were a modern addition to the school, at the end of the building. Mrs. Trounce, who was at heart rather an amiable woman, was busily engaged in her room sorting out an endless array of boys' wearing apparel. Her motherly face, therefore, wore an unusually severe and worried expression as the boys entered the room. The windows outside were suddenly darkened with innumerable faces peering through the window.
"I have the honour—the distinguished privilege," said Plunger, with an elaborate bow to the matron, "of presenting to you Master Henry Moncrief, of Oakville."
Upon this he gave Harry a nudge, and Harry promptly fell on his right knee before the matron, and drawing from his pocket the photograph he had just shown to Plunger, presented it to Mrs. Trounce with a bow, and "Allow me, madam."
A titter came from the faces pressed against the windows outside. Mrs. Trounce took the photograph. The severity of her face did not relax, nor did it soften when, looking from the photograph, she saw the words beneath it, "With love and kind regards."
She looked for the moment as though she were about to administer to Harry a sound box on the ears, but, altering her mind, she bestowed it instead on the ears of Master Plunger.
"With my love and kind regards, Master Plunger!" she exclaimed.
The titters outside grew louder.
"Oh, thanks—so much!" said Plunger, with his hand to his ear at this totally unexpected reception, which he had anticipated to be the portion of his chum. "Come along, Harry; we won't waste any more of Mrs. Trounce's time. She's very busy. I'll show you your sleeping quarters, and then we'll hunt up Bax."
He beat a hasty retreat from the room, half anticipating that if he stayed longer the matron might seek to balance matters by boxing the other ear.
"Why did she do that, Freddy?" asked Harry, when they had got safely from the room.
"It was your photo that did it, Hal; that's quite certain. I noticed how she changed colour when she looked at it. It must have reminded her of some unhung scoundrel she's met with in the course of her career, and she took it out of me. She knows I like to suffer for my friends. That's my great weakness. I hope you'll make a better impression on Bax."
He led the way as he spoke through a winding passage and up the staircase to the dormitories. He entered one on the door of which was painted "E." It was a good-sized room, with six cubicles, side by side, with their heads to the windows. Over each was a text of Scripture, while on a larger card, at one end of the dormitory, in illuminated letters, were the words, "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet." At the other end was a corresponding card, on which was printed, "Motto for the year, 'Be ye stedfast, unmovable.—1 Cor. xv. 58.'"
"There's your cubicle—next to mine; so that'll be jolly," said Plunger, pointing to a couple of beds at the end of the room. "The other fellows in the dorm. are Baldry, Sedgefield, and Viner."
"But that only makes three. There are four beds."
"Oh, yes! The fourth bed was Mellor's, but his pater took him away for some reason or other last term. He's gone over to the enemy."
"Don't you know who the enemy is? The Beetles—the bounders at St. Bede's. Pretty saints they are, too! You'll know enough of them before you've finished here, I warrant. They call us 'Gargoyles.' Cheeky bounders, aren't they?"
Before Hal had finished there! Lightly the words were spoken. Neither paid much heed to them. But how much was to happen before Hal Moncrief had finished at Garside. Neither could see into the future—behind that veil which young and old are ever trying to peer through, but which God in His infinite love and mercy keeps ever close drawn. That lamp of His—the lamp of which the card spoke at the end of the dormitory—is for ever burning, however, and there is no fear of our footsteps stumbling so long as we walk by its light. Then the dark veil which hides the future need have no terror for us, boys and girls; for we know that when it is at last lifted it will only reveal to us the still greater light beyond.
"Baldry and Sedgefield are decent fellows. I don't care much for Viner. He's rather deep, and does fagging now and then for Newall—a chap in the same form as your cousin. By the by, don't mention Newall to your cousin. It's like waving a red flag before a mad bull. They're this way."
He crossed his two forefingers as he spoke, as an indication of Stanley and Newall's attitude to each other.
Hal pondered over this information for a moment. His cousin, then, had his enemies? By the brief glimpse which Plunger had given him of the life at Garside, he could see that it was not all plain sailing. There were deeper currents than any he had seen at Gaffer Quelch's school. The waves beat with stronger force, and there were shoals and rocks.
"Who'll take the empty bed? Will it be left empty?"
"There's not much fear of that. I wish there would, but they're sure to put some fresher in it. I hope he's a decent chap, that's all! If he isn't, we must make it warm for him. But come along, let's get outside!"
They turned to the door, but as they did so it opened, and Mr. Weevil entered, followed by Hibbert, the weak little hunchback, whom we have already met with in the grounds. The deep-set eyes of the science master went to Plunger, from Plunger to Hal, whom he had never seen before.
"Who are you? What are you doing here, sir?"
He spoke in a sharp, quick voice, and Harry knew at once that he was in the presence of one of the masters, and the same instinct somehow told him that the master was Mr. Weevil, of whom he had heard, but never seen.
"I'm Harry Moncrief, cousin of Stanley Moncrief, sir."
"Oh!" The master half closed his eyes as he spoke. Hal thought that he was going off to sleep as he stood there. Plunger knew better. He knew that Mr. Weevil had the habit of seeing a good deal more through his half-closed eyes than when they were wide open, and that he was taking "full stock"—a mental inventory—of Harry. He kept them closed for so long that Harry felt more and more certain that he was going to sleep. When he thought he was right off, the master startled him by opening them to their widest extent, as much as to say, "Thought me napping, did you? But I'm not! I'm awake!—wide awake!—very much awake!"
"Glad to meet you!" he said in a softer voice. "Trust you will get on well at Garside. Your father is a gentleman of some distinction. I hope you will follow in his footsteps. This is Hibbert"—introducing the hunchback. "He also is a new boy. I trust you will be friends—close friends. He has no friends or relatives in England. His father is abroad on foreign service. That appeals to your sympathy, as it has appealed to mine—does it not?—and will draw you closer to Hibbert. He will occupy this dormitory—the bed vacated by Mellor." Then, turning to Hibbert: "I hope you will prove more loyal to Garside than your predecessor—Mellor, I mean—and that you will endeavour, along with Moncrief here, to keep up the best traditions of Garside. You see our motto for the year"—he pointed to the motto as he spoke—"'Be ye stedfast, unmovable.'"
"Keep to that, and you won't go far wrong."
When he had given this advice, the master left the dormitory with Hibbert, who, occupied in observing his new quarters and companions, had not spoken during the interview.
"A queer sort of chap, our new bedfellow, isn't it, Freddy?"
"And Weevil's a beastly fraud!" said Plunger, with a shrug of the shoulders. "But, come, we must hurry up! You haven't yet been introduced to good old Bax."
Soon they were in the grounds again. The same crowd of boys that had followed them to the matron's was hanging about the door as they went out, and began tittering again as Harry came in sight.
Harry did not notice them, nor did he notice the wink that Plunger gave them as he glanced in their direction.
"Great Scott!" he suddenly exclaimed. "There's Bax! Hurry up, Hal!"
And, linking his arm in Harry's, he hurried him in the direction of a short, somewhat corpulent man in buttons, who was just coming from the lodge.
"Is it the porter?" asked Harry.
"Yes, the porter. You haven't forgotten the rules? Hurry up!"
A BAD COMMENCEMENT FOR THE TERM
No need to tell Harry to hurry up. He was as anxious to introduce himself to the porter as Plunger could have been. So, running forward, he quickly gained the porter's side, and brought his hand down twice, vigorously, upon that worthy's shoulder, and, before Bax had recovered from his astonishment, dug the forefinger of his right hand sharply into his side, exclaiming:
"How do you do, Mr. Bax? Age, twelve—just turned; weight, five stone ten; biceps, eight inches; chest, twenty-eight; vaccinated, three places!"
The little porter grew purple in the face. He gasped for breath. When he had recovered, he returned the vigorous slaps he had received upon the back by a still more vigorous slap upon the head of Harry.
"Vaccinated in three places, are you, young gent. That will vaccinate you in four. Don't get practising any of your larks on Bax. He's not the one to stand it, young gent."
And, so saying, the porter strutted indignantly off. Harry had reeled under the vigorous blow of the porter; but just before he recovered, a hand came down on his top-hat, and crushed it over his ears, while a voice cried, amid roars of laughter, "Vaccinated in four places!"
As Harry with difficulty drew himself from under the crushed hat, he found himself confronted by the boy who had crushed it. It was Robert Newall—the boy who had taunted the hunchback. He was a big, strong-looking fellow, with sandy hair, prominent nose, prominent teeth, and bold, self-confident face.
"Vaccinated in four places!" repeated Newall, with a mocking laugh. "What asylum have you escaped from, kiddie?"
"Who are you? What did you do that for?" gasped Harry indignantly, smoothing out his hat, and looking round helplessly for his friend Plunger. But now that one of the Senior Form had taken up the baiting, Plunger had been compelled to give way to him. He was only a cipher in the mob of laughing, jeering boys who had gathered round Harry.
"Chest, twenty-eight inches. What a Samson it is!" jeered Newall. "All your own?" He tapped Harry smartly on the chest with his knuckles, as though he were testing it. "Yes, genuine article. You're a wonder—a perfect wonder! And what's the biceps! Eight inches! Why, it's a regular Hercules! It isn't every day that a marvel like you comes to Garside; so walk round and show your muscle, kid."
Harry now saw that they were poking fun at him. His face was scarlet; he was quivering with indignation. He was choking. The tears seemed very near the floodgates. It was only with a strong effort he kept them back. He did not answer his tormentor, but stared at him blank-eyed.
"Did you hear what I said?" went on Newall. "Come, wake up—walk!"
With a flip of his hand he sent the hat which Harry had been trying to smooth out whirling amongst the throng of boys. There was a shriek of laughter as the hat was caught, and sent whirling in turn to another part of the throng. This was the finishing stroke to Harry. He burst into a flood of passionate tears. The public school boy holds in contempt the boy who cries. He regards it as girlish, unmanly.
"Oh, the fresher's a soft!" came from one in the throng.
"A soft, a soft!" passed from lip to lip. Plunger alone was dumb. He had not wished that the joke which he had begun at Harry's expense should go so far; but now that it had been taken from his hands he was powerless to stop it.
"Oh, it's a squealer—a dear little squealer! Has it brought its bib and tuck and feeding-bottle?" went on Newall, amid the laughter of his companions.
Harry tried to choke back the scalding tears, which were coursing down his cheeks.
"You're—you're a cruel brute!" came bursting from his lips.
"Oh, the little squealer's got a tongue, and it can speak! Come, come, walk!"
Harry did not stir. So Newall gave him a push which sent him over to one side of the throng, where another push sent him quickly back again. The sport was only at its commencement, when it was suddenly checked by Stanley Moncrief forcing his way through the throng, closely followed by Paul Percival.
They had been in the fives court while Plunger and Harry had been inside the schoolhouse, and it was not till their return to the ground that they caught sight of the throng of boys, of which Harry was the centre. On making their way towards it, Paul soon saw what was happening.
"They're baiting a fresher!" he exclaimed.
"And it's my young cousin!" cried Stanley.
He had no objection to a little fun at Harry's expense. Indeed, it was the ordeal which every new-comer to Garside had to go through in some form or other. But this seemed more than fun—more than a joke. Otherwise, his cousin would not be in tears. And it was not only the sight of his cousin in tears—it was the sight of his tormentor—Newall, whom he cordially disliked.
"Stop that!" he cried, with flashing eyes and clenched fists, as he reached the centre of the throng. "He's my cousin!"
"Oh, your cousin, Moncrief!" answered Newall, resenting this intrusion on Stanley's part. "Nice little girl, isn't she? Heard her squeal?"
At a gesture from him, Viner—one of the boys who belonged to the dormitory in which Harry had been placed—stooped down at the back of the unsuspecting lad. Newall gave him a sudden push, with the result, of course, that he came to the ground over Viner's back. Unfortunately his head struck on the gravel, and when he scrambled to his feet again blood was flowing freely from a cut in his head.
Stanley Moncrief was a quick, hot-tempered lad, and his temper was now thoroughly aroused. Before Paul could check him, he sprang at Newall, when he saw what had happened to his cousin. The two wrestled for a moment, then separated.
Paul stepped in to stop fighting, but before he could do so Stanley had shot out his arm blindly. It passed over Paul's shoulder, caught Newall on the mouth, and sent him reeling to the ground.
Angry passions thus roused, it is impossible to say how the quarrel would have ended; but Mr. Weevil appeared on the scene, just as Newall had leapt to his feet, eager to return the blow Stanley had given him.
"What does this mean?" he demanded sternly. "Fighting?"
Not a word fell from the boys. The tumult had ceased as by magic.
"Do you hear me? I will stand no trifling! A nice commencement of the term. Taking advantage of the absence of Dr. Colville, eh?" came the stern voice of the science master, as his eyes went round the group. Dr. Colville, the Head of Garfield, had been taken ill during the vacation, and had been ordered complete rest from his duties for another month or so by his medical adviser. In his absence the reins of government had fallen into the hands of Mr. Weevil, as second in command.
Still no answer from the boys. They were as silent as before. It seemed as though they had been smitten with sudden dumbness.
"Lost your tongues, eh? They were going briskly enough a minute since!" went on the master grimly. Then he paused, and fixed his eyes upon Stanley. "Moncrief major! It was you who started this disturbance. You struck Newall!"
"Yes, sir, I struck Newall," assented Stanley.
"Ask Newall, sir."
"I am asking you, sir!" came the sharp retort. "Why did you strike Newall? Quick, your answer!"
Stanley waited for Newall to speak; but Newall's lips, bleeding and swollen from the blow, were tightly compressed. He scarcely heard the master's words. He could only think of the blow he had received. It was rankling in his mind, and turning to bitter hate the ill-feeling that already existed between him and Stanley. It was the first seed of hate that in the time to come was to bring forth a bitter harvest of tares. Ah, boys, beware of the first seeds of hate! Pluck them from you, as you would your hand from the fire. Otherwise they will spring up so quickly that they will wind themselves, like poisonous weeds, round every fibre of your being, blighting and strangling all the better impulses of your nature, killing, above all, the choicest blossom that comes to us from the Divine garden—the blossom of love. Where hate flourishes, love cannot be. There is no room for the two. Never since the world began have they ever flourished side by side—never since the seeds of hate were planted by the serpent in the first garden, the Garden of Eden. Beware, then, of the seeds of hate!
From a fine sense of honour, Stanley remained silent. Now that he had struck Newall he had no wish to implicate him. He began to feel some pity for him as he saw the blood slowly trickling from his mouth.
"Am I to understand that you refuse to speak, Moncrief?" demanded Mr. Weevil angrily. Stanley remained obstinately silent.
"Perhaps you will allow me to explain, sir!" began Paul.
Instantly Mr. Weevil swung round to him.
"Not a word, sir! Have the goodness to speak when you're spoken to. The explanation must first come from Moncrief. If he has not yet learned the lesson of obedience, he must begin to learn it. When he has given me his explanation, I shall be quite willing to hear whatever else has to be said. Now, Moncrief, I am waiting. It is your last chance."
He waited, but Stanley remained obstinately silent. Mr. Weevil's sallow face darkened.
"Very well; I'm very sorry, but I must teach you that I'm not to be defied simply because Dr. Colville is away. I must teach you that I mean to be obeyed during his absence. Perhaps a few hours in Dormitory X will bring you to your senses."
Dormitory X—a shortened form for "Extra Dormitory"—was a dormitory apart from all the rest in which, on rare occasions, a pupil was confined. It was not, as Mr. Weevil had said, a very good commencement for the term; but Stanley saw that it was useless rebelling, so he submitted to his fate as cheerfully as he could.
"You haven't acted very well over this matter," said Paul, crossing over to where Newall was standing, as Stanley walked away a prisoner.
"Acted very well!" exclaimed Newall, all the passion that had been rankling within him surging up. "How do you mean?"
"You ought to have spoken up. Moncrief was waiting for you to speak."
"Speak!" cried Newall contemptuously. "Why should I have spoken? I didn't want to speak. All I wanted was to get that blow back that Moncrief gave me; and I'll have it back yet, if—if I die for it!"
He turned on his heel and walked away. There was so much passion and hatred in the words that even the lightest-hearted amongst the boys were impressed by them.
"Newall's got his dander up," said Sedgefield, a rather good-looking, fair boy, another of the occupants of Harry's dormitory. "And Weevil looked as though he meant business. What a start for the term!"
They strayed away one by one. Paul, turning over in his mind what had happened, thought he was alone. But presently he was conscious that some one was standing by his side. It was Harry Moncrief.
"Have you forgotten me, Percival?" the boy asked timidly, for his confidence in himself had been shaken by the events of the last half-hour.
"Oh, no; I beg pardon for not speaking to you. I'm glad to see you at Garside."
"And I—I'm beginning to be very sorry that I ever came here. I've made an ass of myself, and got Stan into a mess in the bargain. What's to be done?"
"Nothing—just yet. It won't hurt Stanley to be by himself a little while. I'm as much to blame as anybody, perhaps, as I ought to have put you on your guard against Plunger. But it's bad form here to spoil the fun of any one, and that is why I was silent. We shall all survive it. It doesn't hurt us to be laughed at sometimes. Most of us have had our turn at it; so don't be down in the mouth."
He linked his arm in Harry's, and under the influence of Paul's cheerful talk the younger boy threw off the depression that had begun to steal over him, and was more cheerful. And all the time he was speaking a strong resolve was silently forming in Paul's breast. Whatever happened he would visit Stanley in Dormitory X that night!
FOR THE SAKE OF A CHUM
Nine—half-past! The clock in the tower had chimed the half-hour when lights were out in Paul's dormitory. In the senior dormitories there were only four beds—two less than in the junior. In that where Paul slept there were, therefore, three other occupants beside himself—Stanley Moncrief, Waterman, and Parfitt.
Parfitt was not on particularly good terms with most of the fellows. He was one of Newall's cronies. Waterman was an easy-going fellow, who was on friendly terms with everybody, so long as they did not disturb him too much. He was one of those indolent boys, with plenty of talent, if they only care to exercise it. The disposition to do so, however, only came by fits and starts. In another respect, too, he was like a great many other boys—ay, and girls, too—and that was—he would often go to a great deal more pains to avoid a difficulty than it would have caused him by boldly facing it. So true is the proverb that lazy people often take most pains.
Ten o'clock! Paul looked from his bed. There was the bed in which Stanley ought to have been sleeping—empty! Next to that, Waterman. He had been asleep for some time. Beyond his bed was Parfitt's.
Was he sleeping? Paul was not quite certain, but he thought he was. It would be better to wait a little longer, however. There was no hurry.
He could see in outline, on the wall beyond Parfitt's bed, the motto for the year, "Be ye stedfast, unmovable." He liked that motto. It had appealed to him when he had first seen it on the wall, and he had often repeated it to himself since. He had repeated it frequently to himself that night.
"Be ye stedfast"—stedfast to his friend.
The empty bed beside him made him sad. Stan ought to have been resting there. By the stern decree of Mr. Weevil he had been turned from his bed, and was at that moment a prisoner, in solitary confinement. For what? Simply because he had refused to speak. Oh, it was bitterly unjust. If any one ought to have been sent to Dormitory X it was Newall, but he had escaped without even a word of blame.
Half-past ten! Paul listened again. He felt certain that Parfitt was at last sleeping; so he slipped out of bed as he had slipped into it—with his trousers and stockings on. He drew on his coat; opened the dormitory door, and glanced along the corridor. As he did so, the figure in the end bed moved, and glanced in the direction of Paul; then breathed hard, as though it were sleeping.
Paul, unconscious that Parfitt had seen him, passed into the corridor. Dormitory X was in the room next to that occupied by Mr. Weevil, on the floor above. Paul crept up the stairs. They seemed to creak horribly, but it was the silence of the building that magnified the sound to Paul's ears. He glanced along the passage. A light was still burning in Mr. Weevil's room. He could see it stealing faintly through a crack in the door.
"Studying late. Trying some scientific experiment, I expect. The fellows say that he burns the midnight oil a lot. That's what gives him such a sleepy look sometimes, I suppose. No wonder he's such a dab at science."
Paul knew that it was useless to try to get to Stanley along the passage. He might succeed in getting past the master's room, but what then? The door would be locked, and he could not pass through a locked door. Dormitory X had a window looking on to the parapet outside, and it was by this window he hoped to gain Stanley's room. There was a small lavatory at the end of the corridor, and this likewise had a window leading to the roof.
"Be stedfast!" he whispered to himself, as he climbed through the window to the parapet. It was a rash thing to do—a wrong thing. Though Paul might have questioned the justice of what Mr. Weevil had done in putting his chum in Dormitory X., he had no right, from a chivalrous feeling of friendship, to run the risk of a foolhardy adventure at night. But Paul thought that he was right, and that, by visiting Stanley, he was interpreting in the best way he could the school motto, "Be stedfast."
There were but few stars in the heavens as he stepped on to the parapet. The wind blew freshly, and the clouds were scurrying quickly across the moon. It was a plain Gothic parapet, in keeping with the time-worn building. It rose a couple of feet above the gutter, and the latter, in turn, was nearly of the same width; so that there was not much difficulty in walking along it to the dormers.
Glancing along the gutter, Paul saw that the light was still burning in Mr. Weevil's room. The window beyond was in darkness. That was where Stanley was? Would it be possible for him to reach it without being seen by Mr. Weevil? He meant trying. Stealing cautiously along the gutter, he stopped within a yard or so of the master's window.
What was that? The sound of voices, and it came from Mr. Weevil's room.
"Chewing over science with one of the other masters," thought Paul. "It's jolly late to be talking that dry stuff. But hanged if I don't think Weevil talks it in his sleep; he's so hot on it. He ought to be amongst the fossils in the museum. I don't believe he's got any warm blood in him. He was never meant for a human being. Steady—steady."
He knelt on the gutter, and stretched himself along till he was just able to peer into the room. A lamp was burning on the table, on which were strewn a number of papers and documents. Over these two men were leaning, as though they were earnestly discussing their contents.
"Some musty old parchments from the Assyrians or the lost Ten Tribes, I expect," Paul told himself. "But who's the other fossil? I don't seem to know him. Not one of the masters here."
He could not see either of the faces very clearly as they bent over the documents; but one he knew to be Mr. Weevil's. The other was a stranger's.
"Why doesn't he look up?" Paul asked himself, growing curious.
The man was tracing something with his finger on the document before him, and Mr. Weevil was following the direction of his finger with the closest attention. Presently the man raised his head. In spite of himself Paul cried out. The men heard the cry, and he had only just time to draw back as they turned to the window.
Paul lay there breathing hard. Would he be found out? His heart beat violently as he heard footsteps approach the window. It was opened, and the head of the master thrust out. Paul thought that he must be found out. There seemed no help for it. He gave himself up for lost. Fortunately, the light of the moon was quite obscured at this moment, and Paul seemed only a part of the shadows that were flitting over parapet and roof.
"It sounded very much like the cry of a human being," said the master, peering out, "but it couldn't have been. It must have been the wind, or a night-bird."
Then, to Paul's inexpressible relief, he heard the window close. Some seconds elapsed, however, before he ventured to look up. He feared, in spite of the closed window, to find the eyes of the master fixed upon him. Should he turn back? No; that would be acting the coward's part. Besides, he must catch another glimpse of the face he had seen.
Presently he heard the murmur of voices within, and knew that the two had resumed their interrupted interview. So, taking his courage in both hands, Paul peeped once more into the room.
Yes, he was sure of it. The man with whom Mr. Weevil was talking was Israel Zuker, the German Jew—the man who had tried to wrest from him Mr. Moncrief's letter—the man for whom he believed his father had sacrificed his life!
Why had Zuker come there? Paul would have given a good deal to know what the two were talking about, but not a word of their conversation reached his ears. They were bending low, and spoke in little more than whispers. For one thing, that was an advantage. They were so earnestly engaged in conversation, that they were the less likely to notice anything that happened outside. Paul therefore determined not to put off any longer the effort to reach Stanley.
He crept quickly to the other side of the window, then waited. He could still hear the hum of voices, so he felt sure that he had not been seen.