The Willoughby Captains
By Talbot Baines Reed This is one of this author's famous school stories. Like a new boy or girl at a school, you will be faced with learning the names of a great many youngsters, and to an extent, their characters. However, by the time you get half-way through the book you will be familiar enough with the principal characters.
Of course, there are numerous small dramas being acted out as the book proceeds, but the main one concerns a boat-race between two of the Houses. Along the course there is a very tight bend. The boat on the outside of the bend is slightly in the lead but will probably lose this due to the inside boat having less far to travel to the next straight.
At a most crucial moment, when maximum power is being exerted by the cox on the rudder-lines, one of them snaps, and the boat goes out of control. The cox shouts the instructions for an emergency stop, and to back water. The other boat proceeds to the end of the course. It can now be seen that the rudder-line had been deliberately half cut through, so that it would snap at that tight bend on the river.
For the rest of the book people are trying to work out who had done this deed. At one stage we think we know the answer. We become quite convinced we know the answer, in fact. But we are wrong, and we do not find out till almost the end of the book. And it is to be hoped that at that point the promised re-row takes place.
There is some confusion with names in respect of Merrison and Morrison, but I suspect that to be a printer's error. It is not of great importance, since he is (or they are) not front-line characters in the action.
The punctuation becomes very difficult in the reporting of the proceedings of the school parliament, because not only do you have the current speaker, but interspersed with it are comments by the raconteur and by the noisier of the boys. The printed book settled for a simplified version here, but we have done our best to give you a version that is more according to rule. THE WILLOUGHBY CAPTAINS
BY TALBOT BAINES REED
THE LAST OF THE OLD CAPTAIN.
Something unusual is happening at Willoughby. The Union Jack floats proudly over the old ivy-covered tower of the school, the schoolrooms are deserted, there is a band playing somewhere, a double row of carriages is drawn up round the large meadow (familiarly called "The Big"), old Mrs Gallop, the orange and sherbert woman, is almost beside herself with business flurry, and boys are going hither and thither, some of them in white ducks with favours on their sleeves, and others in their Sunday "tiles," with sisters and cousins and aunts in tow, whose presence adds greatly to the brightness of the scene.
Among these last-named holiday-making young Willoughbites no one parades more triumphantly to-day than Master Cusack, of Welch's House, by the side of his father, Captain Cusack, R.N. Cusack, ever since he came to Willoughby, has bored friend and foe with endless references to "the gov., captain in the R.N., you know," and now that he really has a chance of showing off his parent in the flesh his small head is nearly turned. He puffs along like a small steam-tug with a glorious man-of- war in tow, and is too anxious to exhibit his prize in "The Big" to do even the ordinary honours of the place to his relative.
Captain Cusack, R.N., the meekest and most amiable of men, resigns himself pleasantly to the will of his dutiful conductor, only too pleased to see the boy so happy, and pardonably gratified to know that he himself is the special object of that young gentleman's jubilation. He had come down, hoping for a quiet hour or two to see his boy and inspect Willoughby, but he finds that, instead, he is to be inspected himself, and, though he wouldn't thwart the lad for the world, he would just as soon have dropped in at Willoughby on a rather less public occasion.
Young Cusack, as is the manner of small tugs, assumes complete control of his parent and rattles away incessantly as he conducts him through the grounds, past the school, towards the all-attracting "Big."
"That's Welch's," he says, pointing to the right wing of the long Tudor building before them—"that's Welch's on the right, and Parrett's in the middle, and the schoolhouse on the left. Jolly rooks' nests in the schoolhouse elms, only Paddy won't let us go after them."
"Who is Paddy?" inquires the father.
"Oh, the doctor, you know—Dr Patrick. You'll see him down in 'The Big,' and his dame, and—"
"And what's written up over the door there?" inquires Captain Cusack, pointing up to the coat-of-arms above the great doorway.
"Oh, some Latin bosh! I don't know. I say, we'd better look sharp, father, or they'll have started the open hurdles."
"What are the open hurdles?" mildly inquires the somewhat perplexed captain, who has been at sea so long that he is really not up to all the modern phrases.
"Why, you know, it's the sports, and there are two open events, the hurdles and the mile, and we've got Rawson, of the London Athletic, down against us in both; but I rather back Wyndham. He made stunning time in the March gallops, and he's in prime form now."
"Is Wyndham a Willoughby boy?"
"Rather. He's our cock, you know, and this will be his last show-up. Hullo! you fellows," he cries, as two other small boys approach at a trot; "what's on? Have the hurdles started? By the way, this is my father, you know; he came down."
The two small boys, who are arrayed in ducks and running-shoes, shake hands rather sheepishly with the imposing visitor and look shyly up and down.
"And are you running in any of the races, my men?" says Captain Cusack, kindly.
He couldn't have hit on a happier topic. The two are at their ease at once.
"Yes, sir, the junior hundred yards. I say, Cusack, your gov—your father's just in time for the final heat. In the first I had a dead heat with Watkins, you know," continues he, addressing the captain. "Watkins was scratch, and I had five yards, and the ruck got ten. It was a beastly shame giving Filbert ten, though—wasn't it, Telson?— after his running second to me in the March gallops; they ought to have stuck him where I was. But I ran him down all the same, and dead-heated it with Watkins, and Telson here was a good second in his heat."
"I was sure of a first, but that young ass Wace fouled me," puts in Telson.
"And now it's dead-even which of us two wins. We both get five yards on Watkins, and he'll be pumped with the long jump, and none of the others are hot men, so it's pretty well between us two, isn't it, Telson?"
"Rather, and I think I back you to do it, Parson, old man," rejoins the generous Telson.
"Oh, I don't know," says Parson, dubiously; "you're a better man on the finish, I fancy."
"All depends on how I take off. Gully's such a boshy starter, you know; always puts me out. Why can't they let Parrett do it?"
And off they rattle, forgetting all about Cusack and his gallant father, and evidently convinced in their own minds that the flags and the carriages and the rosettes and all the festivities are solely in honour of the final heat of the junior hundred yards, in which they two are to take part.
Captain Cusack, with a smile on his face, watches them trot off, and asks his son, "Who are those two nice young fellows?"
"Oh, a couple of kids—not in our house," replies Master Cusack, by no means cordially. "Jolly cheek of them talking to you like that, though!"
"Not at all," says the captain. "I'd like to see their race, Harry."
But Harry has no notion of throwing his father away upon the "junior hundred yards," and as they are now in "The Big," in the midst of the festive assembly there congregated, he is easily able to shirk the question.
An important event is evidently just over. The company has crowded into the enclosure, and boys, ladies, gentlemen, masters are all mixed up in one great throng through which it is almost impossible for even so dexterous a tug as young Cusack to pilot his worthy relative.
The band is playing in the pavilion, distant cheers are audible in the direction of the tents, a shrill uproar is going on in the corner where the junior hundred yards is about to begin, and all around them is such a buzz of talking and laughing that Captain Cusack is fairly bewildered.
He would like to be allowed to pay his respects to the Doctor and Mrs Patrick, and to his boy's master, and would very much like to witness the exploits of those two redoubtable chums Telson and Parson; but he is not his own master, and has to do what he is told. Young Cusack is shouting every minute to acquaintances in the crowd that he has got his father here. But every one is so wedged up that the introductions chiefly consist of a friendly nodding and waving of the hand at the crowd indefinitely from the gallant father, who would not for the world be anything but gracious to his son's friends, but who cannot for the life of him tell which of the score of youthful faces darting sidelong glances in their direction is the particular one he is meant to be saluting. At last in the press they stumble upon one boy at close quarters, whom Cusack the younger captures forthwith.
"Ah, Pil, I was looking for you. Here's the—my father, I mean—R.N., you know."
"How are you, captain?" says the newcomer. He had heard Captain Cusack was coming over, and had mentally rehearsed several times what it seemed to him would be the most appropriate salutation under the circumstances.
The captain says he is very well, and likes the look of Mr "Pil" (whose real name is Pilbury), and looks forward to a little pleasant chat with his son's friend. But this hope is doomed to be a disappointment, for Pil is in a hurry.
"Just going to get the house tubs ready," he says; "I'll be back in time for the mile."
"Then is the hurdles over?"
"Rather!" exclaims Pil, in astonishment. "Why, where have you been? Of course you know who won?"
"No," says Cusack, eagerly—"who?"
"Why, Wyndham! You never saw such a race! At the fourth hurdle from home Wyndham, Bloomfield, Game, Tipper, and Rawson were the only ones left in. Game and Tipper muffed the jump, and it was left to the other three. Bloomfield had cut out grandly. He was a yard or two ahead, then Wyndham, and the London man lying out, ten yards behind. He had been going pretty easily, but he lammed it on for the next hurdle, and pulled up close. The three went over almost even, and then Bloomfield was out of it. My eye, Cusack! you should have seen the finish after that! The London fellow fancied he was going to win in a canter, but old Wyndham stuck to him like a leech, and after the last fence ran him clean down—the finest thing you ever saw—and won by a yard. Wasn't it prime? Ta, ta! I'm off now; see you again at the mile;" and off he goes.
The glorious victory of Willoughby at the hurdles has evidently been as much of a surprise as it has been a triumph, and everyone is full of hope now that the result of the "mile" may be equally satisfactory. In the midst of all the excitement and enthusiasm it suddenly occurs to the business-like Master Cusack that he had better secure a good position for the great race without delay, and accordingly he pilots his father out of the crush, and makes for a spot near the winning-post, where the crowd at the cords has a few gaps; and here, by a little unscrupulous shoving, he contrives to wedge himself in, with his father close behind, at about the very best spot on the course, with a full view of the last two hundred yards, and only a few feet from the finish.
It is half an hour before the race is due, and, by way of beguiling the time, Cusack shouts to one and another of his acquaintances opposite, and introduces his father to the crowd generally. The course has not yet been cleared, so there is plenty of variety as the stream of passers-by drifts along. Among the last, looking about anxiously for a place to stand and watch the big race, are Telson and Parson, arm-in- arm.
Captain Cusack hails them cheerily.
"Well, who won, my boys? who won?"
The dejected countenances of the two heroes is answer enough.
"Watkins won," says Parson, speaking in a subdued voice. "The fact is, my shoe-lace came undone just when I was putting it on at the end."
"And the swindle is," puts in Telson, "that just as I was spurting for the last twenty yards Watkins took my water. I could have fouled him, you know, but I didn't care to."
"Fact is," says Parson, insinuating himself under the cords, greatly to the indignation of some other small boys near, "it's a chowse letting Watkins enter for the juniors. I'm certain he's not under thirteen—is he, Telson?"
"Not a bit of him!" says Telson, who has also artfully squeezed himself into the front rank hard by; "besides, he's a Limpet, and Limpets have no right to run as juniors."
"What is a Limpet?" asks Captain Cusack of his son.
"I don't know what else you call him," says young Cusack, rather surlily, for he is very wroth at the way Telson has sneaked himself into a rather better position than his own; "he's—he's a Limpet, you know."
"Limpets," says a gentleman near, "are the boys in the middle school."
"Rather a peculiar name," suggests the captain.
"Yes; it means an inhabitant of Limbo, the Willoughby name for the middle school, because the boys there are supposed to be too old to have to fag, and too young to be allowed to have fags."
"Ha, ha!" laughs Captain Cusack, "a capital name;" and he and the gentleman get up a conversation about their own school days which beguiles the time till the bell sounds for the great race of the day.
The starting-point is a little below where our friends are standing, and the race is just three times round the course and a few yards at the end up to the winning-post. Only four runners are starting, three of whom have already distinguished themselves in the hurdle-race. Wyndham, the school captain, is that tall, handsome fellow with the red stripe in front of his jersey, who occupies the inside "berth" on the starting- line. Next to him is Ashley; also wearing the school stripe; and between Ashley and the other schoolboy, Bloomfield, is Rawson, the dreaded Londoner, a practised athlete, whose whiskered face contrasts strangely with the smooth, youthful countenances of his competitors.
"Ashley's to cut out the running for Willoughby this time," says Telson, "and he'll do it too; he's fresh."
So he is. At the signal to start he rushes off as if the race was a quarter of a mile instead of a mile, and the Londoner, perplexed by his tactics, starts hard also, intending to keep him in hand. Bloomfield and Wyndham, one on each side of the track, began rather more easily, and during the first lap allow themselves to drop twelve or fifteen yards behind. The Londoner quickly takes in the situation, but evidently doesn't quite know whether to keep up to Ashley or lie up like the others. If he does the latter, the chances are the fresh man may get ahead beyond catching, and possibly win the race; and if he does the former—well, has he the wind to hold out when the other two begin to "put it on"? He thinks he has, so he keeps close up to Ashley.
The cheers, of course, all round the field are tremendous, and nowhere more exciting than where Telson and Parson are located. As the runners pass them at the end of the first lap the excitement of these youths breaks forth into terrific shouts.
"Well run, Ashley; keep it up! He's blowing! Put it on there, Wyndham; now's your time, Bloomfield!" And before the cries have left their lips the procession has passed, and the second lap has begun.
Towards the end of the second lap Ashley shows signs of flagging, and Bloomfield is quickening his pace.
"Huzza!" yells Parson; "Bloomfield's going to take it up now. Jolly well-planned cut-out, eh, Telson?"
"Rather!" shrieks Telson. "Here they come! Whiskers is ahead. Now, Willoughby—well run indeed! Lam it on, Bloomfield, you're gaining. Keep it up, Ashley. Now, Wyndham; now!"
Ashley drops gradually to the rear, and before the final lap is half over has retired from the race, covered with glory for his useful piece of work. But anxious eyes are turned to the other three. The Londoner holds his own, and Bloomfield's rush up seems to have come to nothing. About a quarter of a mile from home an ominous silence drops upon the crowd, and for a few moments Willoughby is too disheartened to cheer. Then at last there rises a single wild cheer somewhere. What is it? The positions are still the same, and— No! Both Wyndham and Bloomfield are gaining; and as the discovery is made there goes up such a shout that the rooks in the elms start away from their nests in a panic.
Never was seen such a gallant spurt in that old meadow. Foot by foot the two Willoughby boys pull up and lessen the hateful distance which divides them from the leader. He of course sees his danger, and answers spurt for spurt. For a few yards he neither gains nor loses, then, joyful sight, he loses!
"Look at them now!" cries Telson, as they approach—"look at them both. They're both going to win! Ah, well run, Willoughby—splendidly run; you're going like mad—keep it up! Huzzah! level. Keep it up! Wyndham's ahead; so's Bloomfield. Both ahead! Well run both. Keep it up now. Hurrah!"
Amid such shouts the race ends. Wyndham first, Bloomfield a yard behind, and the Londoner, dead beat, a yard behind Bloomfield.
What wonder if the old school goes mad as it swarms over the cords and dashes towards the winner? Telson actually forgets Parson, Cusack deserts even his own father in the jubilation of the moment, each striving to get within cheering distance of the heroes of the day as they are carried shoulder-high round the ground amid the shouts and applause of the whole multitude.
So ended, in a victory unparalleled in its glorious annals, the May Day races of 19— at Willoughby; and there was not a fellow in the school, whether athlete or not, whose bosom did not glow with pride at the result. That the school would not disgrace herself everyone had been perfectly certain, for was not Willoughby one of the crack athletic schools of the country, boasting of an endless succession of fine runners, and rowers, and cricketers? But to score thus off a picked London athlete, beating him in two events, and in one of them doubly beating him, was a triumph only a very few had dared to anticipate, and even they were considerably astonished to find their prophecy come true.
Perhaps the person least excited by the entire day's events was the hero of the day himself. Wyndham, the old captain, as he now was—for this was his last appearance at the old school—was not the sort of fellow to get his head turned by anything if he could help it. He hated scenes of any sort, and therefore took a specially long time over his bath, which his fag had prepared for him with the most lavish care. Boys waylaid his door and the schoolhouse gate for a full hour ready to cheer him when he came out; but he knew better than to gratify them and finally they went off and lionised Bloomfield instead, who bore his laurels with rather less indifference.
The old captain, however, could not wholly elude the honours destined for him. Dinner in the big hall that afternoon was crowded to overflowing. And when at its close the doctor stood up and, in accordance with immemorial custom, proposed the health of the old captain, who, he said, was not only head classic, but facile princeps in all the manly sports for which Willoughby was famed, you would have thought the old roof was coming down with the applause. Poor Wyndham would fain have shirked his duty, had he been allowed to do it. But Willoughby would as soon have given up a week of the summer holiday as have gone without the captain's speech.
As he rose to his feet deafening cries of "Well run, sir; well run!" drowned any effort he could have made at speaking; and he had to stand till, by dint of sheer threats of violence, the monitors had reduced the company to order. Then he said, cheers interrupting him at every third word, "I'm much obliged to the doctor for speaking so kindly about me. You fellows know the old school will get on very well after I've gone. (No! no!) Willoughby always does get on, and any one who says, 'No! no!' ought to know better."
The applause at this point was overpowering; and the few guilty ones tried hard, by joining in it, to cover their shame.
"I've had a jolly time here, and am proud of being a Willoughby captain. I shouldn't be a bit proud if I didn't think it was the finest school going. And the reason it's the finest school is because the fellows think first of the school and next of themselves. As long as they do that Willoughby will be what she is now. Thank you, doctor, and you, fellows."
These were the last words of the old captain. He left Willoughby next day, and few of the boys knew what they had lost till he had gone.
How he was missed, and how these parting words of his came often to ring in the ears of the old school during the months that were to follow, this story will show.
FOUR HOURS IN A FAG'S LIFE.
Willoughby wore its ordinary work-a-day look on the morning following the eventful May races. And yet any one who had seen the old school just then would have admitted that a more picturesque place could hardly have been found. It was one of those lovely early summer days when everything looks beautiful, and when only schoolboys can have the heart to lie in bed. The fresh scent of the sea came up with the morning air across the cliff-bound uplands; and far away, from headland to headland of Craydle Bay, the waters glowed and sparkled in the sunlight. Inland, too, along by the river, the woods were musical with newly-awakened birds, and the downs waved softly with early hay. And towering above all, amid its stately elms, and clad from end to end with ivy, stood the old school itself, glowing in morning brightness, as it had stood for two centuries past, and as those who know and love it hope it may yet stand for centuries to come.
But though any one else could hardly have failed to be impressed with the loveliness of such a morning in such a spot, on Master Frederick Parson, head monitor's fag of Parrett's House, as he kicked the bedclothes pensively off his person, and looked at the watch under his pillow, the beauties of nature were completely lost. Parson was in a bad frame of mind that morning. Everything seemed against him. He'd been beaten in the junior hundred yards yesterday, so had Telson. Just their luck. They'd run in every race for the last two years, and never won so much as a shilling penknife yet. More than that; just because he had walked across the quadrangle to see Telson home after supper last night (Telson belonged to the SchoolHouse) he had been caught by a monitor and given eight French verbs to write out for being out-of- doors, after lock-up. What harm, Parson would like to know, was there in seeing a friend across the quad? Coates, the monitor, probably had no friend—he didn't deserve to have one—or he wouldn't have been down on Parson for a thing like that.
Then, further than that, he (Parson) had not looked at his Caesar, and Warton had promised to report him to the doctor next time he showed up without preparation. Bother Warton! bother the doctor! bother Caesar! what did they all want to conspire together for against a wretched junior's peace? He'd have to cram up the Caesar from Telson's crib somehow, only the nuisance was Bloomfield had fixed on this particular morning for a turn on the river with Game, and Parson would of course have to steer for them. Just his luck again! He didn't mind steering for Bloomfield, of course, and if he must fag he'd as soon fag for him as anybody, especially now that he would be captain of the eleven and of the boats; but how, Parson wanted to know, was he to do his Caesar and his French verbs, and steer Bloomfield and Game up the river at one and the same time? He couldn't take the books in the boat.
Well, he supposed he'd have to get reported; and probably "Paddy" would give it him on the hands. He was always getting it on the hands, far oftener than Telson, who was Riddell's fag, and never had to go and steer boats up the river. In fact, Riddell, he knew, looked over Telson's lessons for him—catch Bloomfield doing as much for Parson!
All these considerations tended greatly to impair the temper of Master Parson this beautiful morning. But the worst grievance of all was that he had to get up that moment and call Bloomfield, or else he'd get a licking. That would be worse any day than getting it on the hands from the doctor.
So he kicked off the clothes surlily, and put one foot out of bed. But the other was a long time following. For Parson was fagged. He'd dreamt all night of that wretched hundred yards, and wasn't a bit refreshed; and if he had been refreshed, he'd got those eight French verbs and the Caesar on his mind, and he could have done them comfortably in bed. But—
A sudden glance at the watch in his hand cut short all further meditation. Parson is out of his bed and into his flannels in the twinkling of an eye, and scuttling down the passage to his senior's room as if the avenger of blood was at his heels.
Bloomfield, if truth must be told, is as disinclined to get up as his fag has been; and Parson has almost to use personal violence before he can create an impression on his lord and master.
"What's the time?" demands the senior.
"Six—that is, a second or two past," replies Parson.
"Why didn't you call me punctually?" asks Bloomfield, digging his nose comfortably into the pillow. "What do you mean by a second or two?"
"It's only seven past," says Parson, in an injured tone.
"Very well; go and see if Game's up."
Parson skulks off to rouse Game, knowing perfectly well that Bloomfield will be sound asleep again before he is out of the door, which turns out to be the case. After super-human efforts to extract from Game an assurance that he's getting up that moment, and Parson needn't wait, the luckless fag returns to find his master snoring like one of the seven sleepers. The same process has to be repeated. Shouts and shakes, and an occasional sly pinch, have no effect. Parson is tempted to leave his graceless lord to his fate, and betake himself to his French verbs; but a dim surmise as to the consequences prevents him. At last he braces himself up for one desperate effort. With a mighty tug he snatches the clothes off the bed, and, dragging with all his might at the arm of the obstinate hero, yells out, "I say, Bloomfield, it's half-past six, and you wanted to be up at six. Get up!"
The effect of these combined efforts is that Bloomfield sits up in bed, rubbing his eyes, and demands, "Half-past six! Why didn't you call me at six, you young cad, eh?"
"So I did."
"Don't tell crams. If you'd called me at six I should have been up, shouldn't I?" exclaimed Bloomfield. "I tell you I did call you," retorts the fag.
"Look here," says Bloomfield, becoming alarmingly wide-awake, "I don't want any of your cheek. Go and see if Game's up, and then see if the boat's ready. The tub-pair, mind; look sharp!"
"Please, Bloomfield," says Parson, meekly, "do you mind if I get Parks to cox you? I've not looked at my Caesar yet, and I've got eight French verbs to do besides for Coates."
"Do you hear me? Go and see if Game's up," replies Bloomfield. "If you choose not to do your work overnight, and get impositions for breaking rules into the bargain, it's not my lookout, is it?"
"But I only went—" begins the unfortunate Parson.
"I'll went you with the flat of a bat if you don't cut," shouts Bloomfield. Whereat his fag vanishes.
Game, of course, is fast asleep, but on him Parson has no notion of bestowing the pains he had devoted to Bloomfield. Finding the sleeper deaf to all his calls, he adopts the simple expedient of dipping the end of a towel in water and laying it neatly across the victim's face, shouting in his ear at the same time, "Game, I say, Bloomfield's waiting for you down at the boats." Having delivered himself of which, he retreats rather hastily, and only just in time.
The row up the river that morning was rather pleasant than otherwise. When once they were awake the morning had its effect on the spirits of all three boys. Even Parson, sitting lazily in the stern, listening to the Sixth Form gossip of the two rowers, forgot about his Caesar and French verbs, and felt rather glad he had turned out after all.
The chief object of the present expedition was not pleasure by any means as far as Bloomfield and Game were concerned. It was one of a series of training practices in anticipation of the school regatta, which was to come off on the second of June, in which the rival four-oars of the three houses were to compete for the championship of the river. The second of June was far enough ahead at present, but an old hand like Bloomfield knew well that the time was all too short to lick his crew into shape. Parrett's boat, by all ordinary calculation, ought to win, for they had a specially good lot of men this year; and now Wyndham had left, the schoolhouse boat would be quite an orphan. Bloomfield himself was far away the best oar left in Willoughby, and if he could only get Game to work off a little of his extra fat, and bully Tipper into reaching better forward, and break Ashley of his trick of feathering under water, he had a crew at his back which it would be hard indeed to beat. This morning he was taking Game in hand, and that substantial athlete was beginning to find out that "working off one's extra fat" in a tub-pair on a warm summer morning is not all sport.
"I wonder if Tipper and Ashley will show, up," said Bloomfield, who was rowing bow for the sake of keeping a better watch on his pupil. "They promised they would. Ashley, you know—(do keep it up, Game, you're surely not blowed yet)—Ashley's about as much too light as you are too fat—(try a little burst round the corner now; keep us well out, young 'un)—but if he'll only keep his blade square till he's out of the water—(there you go again! Of course you're hot; that's what I brought you out for. How do you suppose you're to boil down to the proper weight unless you do perspire a bit?)—he'll make a very decent bow. Ah, there are Porter and Fairbairn in the schoolhouse tub—(you needn't stop rowing, Game; keep it up, man; show them how you can spurt). I never thought they'd try Porter in their boat. They might as well try Riddell. Just shows how hard-up they must be for men. How are you?" he cried, as the schoolhouse tub went clumsily past, both rowers looking decidedly nervous under the critical eye of the captain of Parrett's.
Poor Game, who had been kept hard at it for nearly a mile, now fairly struck, and declared he couldn't keep it up any longer, and as he had really done a very good spell of work, Bloomfield consented to land at the Willows and bathe; after which he and Game would run back, and young Parson might scull home the tub.
Which delightful plan Master Parson by no means jumped at. He had calculated on getting at least a quarter of an hour for his Caesar before morning chapel if they returned as they had come. But now, if he was expected to lug that great heavy boat back by himself, not only would he not get that, but the chances were he would get locked out for chapel altogether, and it would be no excuse that he had had to act as galley-slave for Bloomfield or anybody else.
"Look alive!" cries Bloomfield from the bank, where he is already stripped for his header. "And, by the way, on your way up go round to Chalker's and tell him only to stick up one set of cricket nets in our court; don't forget, now. Be quick; you've not too much time before chapel."
Saying which, he takes a running dive from the bank and leaves the luckless Parson to boil over inwardly as he digs his sculls spitefully into the water and begins his homeward journey.
Was life worth living at this rate? If he didn't tell Chalker about the nets that imbecile old groundsman would be certain to stick up half a dozen sets, and there'd be no end of a row. That was 7:30 striking now, and he had to be in the chapel at five minutes to eight, and Chalker's hut was a long five minutes from the boat-house. And then those eight French verbs and that Caesar—
It was no use thinking about them, and Parson lashed out with his sculls, caring little if that hulking tub went to the bottom. He'd rather like it, in fact, for he wanted a swim. He hadn't even had time to tub that morning, and it was certain there'd be no time now till goodness knew when—not till after second school, and then probably he'd be spending a pleasant half-hour in the doctor's study.
At this point he became aware of another boat making down on him, manned by three juniors, who were making up in noise and splashing what they lacked in style and oarsmanship.
Parson knew them yards away. They were rowdies of Welch's house, and he groaned inwardly at the prospect before him. The boy steering was our old acquaintance Pilbury, and as his boat approached he shouted out cheerily, "Hullo, there, Parson! mind your eye! We'll race you in—give you ten yards and bump you in twenty! Pull away, you fellows! One, two, three, gun! Off you go! Oh, well rowed, my boat! Now you've got him! Wire in, now! Smash him up! scrunch him into the bank! Hooroo! two to one on us! Lay on to it, you fellows; he can't go straight! Six more strokes and you're into him! One, two, three—ha, ha! he's funking it!—four, five—now a good one for the last—six! Hooroo! bump to us! Welch's for ever!"
So saying, the hostile boat came full tilt on to the stern of the Parrett's tub, and the outraged Parson found himself next moment sprawling on his back, with the nose of his boat firmly wedged into the clay bank of the river, while his insulting adversaries sped gaily away down stream, making the morning hideous with their shouts and laughter.
This little incident, as may be supposed, did not tend to compose the fluttered spirits of the unhappy Frederick. To say nothing of the indignity of being deliberately run down and screwed into the bank by a crew of young "Welchers," the loss of time involved in extricating his boat from the muddy obstacle which held her by the nose, put all chance of getting in in time to go round to Chalker's before chapel out of the question. Indeed, it looked very like a shut-out from chapel too, and that meant no end of a row.
By a super-human effort he got his boat clear, and sculled down hard all, reaching the boat-house at seven minutes to eight. He had just presence of mind enough to shout the message for Chalker to the boat- boy, with a promise of twopence if he delivered it at once; and then with a desperate rush he just succeeded in reaching the chapel and squeezing himself in at the door as the bell ceased ringing.
Chapel was not, under the circumstances, a very edifying service to Parson that morning. His frame of mind was not devotional, and his feelings of bottled-up wrath at what was past, and dejected anticipation of what was to come, left between them no room for interest in or meaning for the words in which his schoolfellows were joining. The only satisfaction morning prayers brought to him was that, for ten minutes at least, no one could harry him; and that at least was something to be grateful for.
Morning chapel at Willoughby was supposed to be at 7:15, and was at 7:15 all the months of the year except May, June, and July, when, in consideration of the early-morning rowing and bathing, it was postponed for three-quarters of an hour—a concession made up for by the sacrifice of the usual half-hour's interval between breakfast and first lesson.
This arrangement was all against Parson, who, if the half-hour had been still available, could at least have skimmed through his Caesar, and perhaps have begged a friend to help him with the French verbs, and possibly even have had it out with Pilbury for his morning's diversion. As it was, there was no opportunity for the performance of any one of these duties, and at the sound of the pitiless bell he slunk into first lesson, feeling himself a doomed man.
His one hope was Telson. Telson sat next him in class, and, he knew well, would help him if he could.
"Telson," he groaned, directly he found himself beside his faithful ally, "I've not looked at it!"
Telson whistled. "There'll be a row," he muttered, consolingly; "it's a jolly hard bit."
"Haven't you got the crib?"
Telson looked uncomfortable. "Riddell caught me with it and made me give it up."
"What on earth business has Riddell with your cribs, I'd like to know?" exclaimed Parson, indignant, not at all on the question of morality, but because the last straw on which he had relied for scrambling through his Caesar had failed him.
"He didn't take it, but he advised me to give it up."
"And you were fool enough to give in to him?"
"Well, he made out it wasn't honourable to use cribs," said Telson.
"Grandmother!" snarled Parson. "Why, Telson, I didn't think you'd have been such a soft!"
"No more did I, but somehow—oh! I'm awfully sorry, old man; I'll try and get it back."
"Doesn't much matter," said Parson, resignedly. "I'm in for it hot to- day."
"I'll prompt you all I can," said the repentant Telson.
"Thanks; I'd do the same to you if I could," replied Parson.
"It is a long lane that has no turning," as the proverb says, and Parson, after all, was destined to enjoy one brief glimpse of the smiles of fortune that day. The first boy put up to translate stumbled over a somewhat intricate point of syntax. Now Mr Warton, the master—as the manner of many masters is—was writing a little book on Latin Syntax, and this particular passage happened to be a superb example of a certain style of construction which till this moment had escaped his notice. Delighted with the discovery, he launched out into a short lecture on the subject generally, citing all the examples he had already got in his book, and comparing them with other forms of construction to be found scattered through the entire range of Latin classical literature.
How Parson and Telson enjoyed that lecture! They listened to it with rapt attention with hearts full of gratitude and faces full of sympathy. They did not understand a word of it, but a chapter out of "Midshipman Easy" could not have delighted them more; and when they saw that the clock had slowly worked round from nine to ten they would not have interrupted it for the world.
"Ah!" said Mr Warton, taking out his watch, "I see time's up. We've had more Syntax than Caesar to-day. Never mind, it's a point worth remarking, and sure to be useful as you get on in Latin. The class is dismissed."
Little he knew the joy his words carried to two small hearts in his audience.
"Jolly good luck that!" said Parson, as he strolled out into the passage arm-in-arm with his friend. "Now if I can only get those beastly verbs done before Coates asks for them! I say, Telson, do you know the dodge for sticking three nibs on one pen and writing three lines all at one time?"
"Tried it once," said Telson, "but it didn't pay. It took longer to keep sticking them in when they fell out, and measuring them to write on the lines, than to write the thing twice over the ordinary way. I'll write out part, old man."
"Thanks, Telson, you're an awful brick. I suppose Riddell wouldn't think it wicked of you to write another fellow's impot, would he?"
"I half fancy he would; but I won't tell him. Hullo! though, here comes Coates."
A monitor wearing his "mortar-board" approached.
"Where's your imposition, Parson?" he asked.
"I'm awfully sorry," said Parson, "but it's not quite done yet, Coates."
"How much is done?" demanded Coates.
"Not any yet," said Parson, with some confusion. "I was just going to begin. Wasn't I, Telson?"
"Won't do," said Coates; "you were up the river this morning, I saw you. If you can go up the river you can do your impositions. Better come with me to the captain."
Coming with a monitor to the captain meant something unpleasant. The discipline of Willoughby, particularly in outside matters, was left almost entirely in the hands of the monitors, who with the captain, their head, were responsible as a body to the head master for the order of the school. It was very rarely that a case had to go beyond the monitors, whose authority was usually sufficient to enable them to deal summarily with all ordinary offenders.
It was by no means the first time that Parson, who was reputed by almost every one but himself and Telson to be an incorrigible scamp, had been haled away to this awful tribunal, and he was half regretting that he had not met his fate over the Caesar after all, and so escaped his present position, when another monitor appeared down the passage and met them. It was Ashley.
"Hullo! Coates," said he, "I wish you'd come to my study and help me choose half a dozen trout-flies, there's a good fellow. I've had a book up from the town, and I don't know which are the best to use."
"All serene," said Coates, "I'll be there directly. I'm just going to take this youngster to the captain."
"Who is the captain?" said Ashley. "Wyndham's gone, and no one's been named yet that I know of. I suppose it's Bloomfield."
"Eh? I never thought of that. No, I expect it'll be a schoolhouse fellow. Always is, isn't it. Parson, you can go. Bring me twelve French verbs written out to my study before chapel to-morrow. Come on, Ashley."
And Parson departed, consoled in spirit, to announce to Telson and the lower school generally that Willoughby was at present without a captain.
THE VACANT CAPTAINCY.
Who was to be the new captain of Willoughby? This was a question it had occurred to only a very few to ask until Wyndham had finally quitted the school. Fellows had grown so used to the old order of things, which had continued now for two years, that the possibility of their bowing to any other chief than "Old Wynd" had scarcely crossed their minds. But the question being once asked, it became very interesting indeed.
The captains of Willoughby had been by long tradition what is known as "all-round men." There was something in the air of the place that seemed specially favourable to the development of muscle and classical proficiency at the same time, and the consequence was that the last three heads of the school had combined in one person the senior classic and the captains of the clubs. Wyndham had been the best of these; indeed he was as much ahead of his fellows in the classical school as he was in the cricket-field and on the river, which was saying not a little. His predecessors had both also been head boys in classics; and although neither of them actually the best men of their time in athletics, they had been sufficiently near the best to entitle them to the place of honour, which made the Willoughby captain supreme, not only in school, but out of it. So that in the memory of the present "generation"—a school generation being reckoned as five years—the Willoughby captain had always been cock of the school in every sense in which such a distinction was possible.
But now all of a sudden the school woke up to the fact that this delightful state of things was not everlasting. Wyndham had left and his mantle had fallen from him in two pieces.
The new head classic was Riddell, a comparatively unknown boy in the school, who had come there a couple of years ago from a private school, and about whom the most that was known was that he was physically weak and timid, rarely taking part in any athletic exercises, having very few chums, interfering very little with anybody else, and reputed "pi."—as the more irreverent among the Willoughbites were wont to stigmatise any fellow who made a profession of goodness. Such was the boy on whom, according to strict rule, the captaincy of Willoughby would devolve, and it need hardly be said that the discovery spread consternation wherever it travelled.
Among the seniors the idea was hardly taken seriously.
"The doctor would never be so ridiculous," said Ashley to Coates, as they talked the matter over in the study of the former. "We might as well shut up the school."
"The worst of it is, I don't see how he can help it," replied Coates.
"Help it! Of course he can help it if he likes. There's no written law that head classics are to be captains, if they can't hold a bat or run a hundred yards, is there?"
"I don't suppose there is. But who else is there?"
"Why, Bloomfield, of course. He's just the fellow for it, and the fellows all look up to him."
"But Bloomfield's low down in the sixth," said Coates.
"What's that to do with it? Felton was a muff at rowing, but he was made captain of the boats all the same while he was cock of the school."
At this point another monitor entered.
"Ah, Tipper," said Ashley, "what do you think Coates here is saying? He says Riddell is to be the new captain."
Tipper burst into a loud laugh.
"That would be a joke! Think of Riddell stroking the school eight at Henley, eh! or kicking off for us against Rockshire! I suppose Coates thinks because Riddell's a schoolhouse boy he's bound to be the man. Never fear. You'll see Parrett's come to the front at last, my boy!"
"Why, are you to be the new captain?" asked Coates, with a slight sneer.
Tipper was not pleased with this little piece of sarcasm. He was a good cricketer and a fine runner, but in school everybody knew him to be as poor a scholar as a fellow could be to be in the sixth at all.
"I dare say even I would be as good as any schoolhouse fellow you could pick out," said he. "But if you want to know, Bloomfield's the man."
"Just what I was saying," said Ashley. "But Coates says he's not far enough up in the school."
"All bosh," said Tipper. "What difference does it make if a fellow's first or twentieth in the school, as long as he's cock of everything outside! I don't see how the doctor can hesitate a moment between the two."
This was the conclusion come to at almost all the conclaves which met together during the day to discuss the burning question. It was the conclusion moreover to which Bloomfield himself came as he talked the matter over with a few of his friends after third school.
"You see," said he, "it's not that I care about the thing for its own sake. It would be a precious grind, I know, to have to be responsible for everything that goes on, and to have to lick all the kids that want a hiding. But for all that, I'd sooner do it than let the school run down."
"What I hope," said some one, "is that even if Paddy doesn't see it himself, Riddell will, and will have the sense to back out of it. I fancy he wouldn't be sorry."
"Not he," said Bloomfield. "I heard him say once he pitied Wyndham all the bother he had, especially when he was wanting to stew for the exams."
"Has any one seen Riddell lately?" asked Game. "It wouldn't be a bad thing for some of us to see him, and put it to him, that the school would go to the dogs to a dead certainty if he was captain."
"Rather a blunt way of putting it," said Porter, laughing. "I'd break it to him rather more gently than that."
"Well, you know what I mean," replied Game, who was of the downright order.
"You see," said Bloomfield, who, despite his protestations, was evidently not displeased at the notion of his possible honours, "I don't profess to be much of a swell in school; but—I don't know—I fancy I could keep order rather better than he could. The fellows know me."
"They ought to, if they don't," said Wibberly, who was a toady.
"Fancy Riddell having to lick a junior," said Game. "Why he'd faint at the very idea."
"Probably take him off to his study and have a prayer-meeting with Fairbairn and a few more of that lot upon the top of him," said Gilks, a schoolhouse monitor, and not a nice-looking fellow.
"I guess I'd sooner get a hiding from old Bloomfield than that," laughed Wibberly.
"I hope," said Game, "snivelling's not going to be the order of the day. I can't stand it."
"I don't think you've any right to call Riddell a sniveller," said Porter. "He may be a muff at sports, but I don't fancy he's a sneak. And I don't see that it's against him, either, if he does go in for being what he professes to be."
"Hear! hear!—quite a sermon from Porter," cried Wibberly.
"Porter's right," said Bloomfield. "No one says it was against him. All I say is that I don't expect the fellows will mind him as much as they would a fellow who—well, who's better known, you know."
"Rather," said Game, "I know it would seem precious rum being a monitor under him."
"Well," said Bloomfield, "I suppose it will be settled soon. Meanwhile, Game, what do you say to another grind in the tub? You didn't half work this morning, you beggar."
Game groaned resignedly, and said "All right;" and hue and cry was forthwith made for Master Parson's services at the helm.
But Master Parson, as it happened, was not to be found. He was neither in the school nor in his house, and a search through the grounds failed to unearth him. He had not been seen since his escape from the monitorial fangs after morning school. The natural thing, of course, on not finding him at home in his own quarters, was to look for him in Telson's. But he was not there, nor, strange to say, was Telson himself. And, what was still more odd, when search came to be made, Bosher, another fag of Parrett's house, was missing, and so was Lawkins, and Pringle, and King, and Wakefield, and one or two others of the same glorious company. After a fruitless search, the oarsmen had finally to go down to the river without a fag at all, and impound the boat-boy to steer for them.
The fact was, Parson's miraculous release from the hands of the law that morning, and the reason which led to it, had suggested both to himself and the faithful Telson that the present was rather a rare opportunity for them in the annals of Willoughby. If there was no captain, there was no one to give them a licking (for the worst an ordinary monitor could do was to give an imposition), and that being so, it would surely be a waste of precious opportunity if they failed to signalise the event by some little celebration. And, as it happened, there was a little celebration which badly wanted celebrating, and for which only a chance like the present could have been considered favourable. In other words, there was a rather long score which the juniors of Parrett's were anxious to settle up with the juniors of Welch's. The debt was of long standing, having begun as far back as the middle of the Lent term, when the Welchers had played upon some of Parrett's with a hose from behind their own door, and culminating in the unprovoked outrage upon the luckless Parson on the river that very morning.
Now if there was one thing more than another the young Parretts prided themselves in, it was their punctuality in matters of business; and it had troubled them sorely that circumstances over which they had no control (in other words, the fear of Wyndham) should have prevented their settling scores with the Welchers at an earlier date.
Now, however, an opportunity was come, and, like all honest men, they determined at once to avail themselves of it.
So the reason why Bloomfield and Game could find no fags in Parrett's house to steer for them was because all the fags of Parrett's house, aided by Telson of the schoolhouse, were at that moment paying a business call at Welch's, and having on the whole rather a lively time of it.
The juniors of Welch's were, take them altogether, a rather more rowdy lot than the juniors of either of the two other houses, or, indeed, than those of both the other houses put together. Somehow Welch's was always the rowdy house of Willoughby. The honours of the school, whether in class or in field, always seemed to go in any direction but their own, and as, for five or six years at any rate, they had been unable to claim any one distinguished Willoughbite as a member of their house, they had come to regard themselves somewhat in the light of Ishmaelites. Everybody's hand seemed to be against them, and they therefore didn't see why their hand shouldn't be against every one.
It was this feeling which had prompted the assaults of which the youthful Parretts had come to complain, and which the Welchers distributed as impartially as possible among all their fellow Willoughbites.
The fact was, Welch's was a bad house. The fellows there rarely made common cause for any lawful purpose, certainly never for the credit of the school. They were split up into cliques and sets of all sorts, and the rising generation among them were left to grow up pretty much as they liked.
On the afternoon in question an entertainment on a small scale was going on in the study jointly occupied by Cusack and Pilbury. Captain Cusack, R.N., when he had parted from his dutiful son the night before, had put five shillings into his hand as a pleasant memento of his visit; and Master Cusack, directly after second school that morning, had skulked down into Shellport with his hat-box, and returned in due time with the same receptacle packed almost to bursting with dough-nuts, herrings, peppermint-rock, and sherbet. With these dainties to recommend him (and his possession of them soon got wind) it need hardly be said he became all of a sudden the most popular youth in Welch's. Fellows who would have liked to kick him yesterday now found themselves loving him like their own brother, and the enthusiasm felt for him grew to such a pitch that it really seemed as if not only his hat-box, but he himself, was in danger. However, by a little judicious manoeuvring he got safe into his study, and, after a hasty consultation with Pil, decided to ask Curtis, Philpot, Morrison, and Morgan, their four most intimate friends, to do them the pleasure of joining in a small "blow-out" after third school. These four worthies, who, by a most curious coincidence, happened to be loafing outside Cusack's study-door at the very moment when Pilbury started off to find them, had much pleasure in accepting their friend's kind invitation; and the rest, finding themselves out of it, yapped off disconsolately, agreeing inwardly that Cusack was the stingiest beast in all Willoughby.
If punctuality is a test of politeness, Curtis, Morgan, Philpot, and Morrison were that afternoon four of the politest young gentlemen in the land; for they were all inside Cusack's study almost before the bell dismissing third school had ceased to sound.
"Jolly brickish of you, old man," said Morrison, complacently regarding the unpacking of the magic hat-box. "I've not seen a dough-nut for years."
"I got these at a new shop," said Cusack, trying to rescue some of the sherbet which had fallen in among the herrings. "Gormon never has anything but red-currant jam in his. These are greengage."
"How jolly prime!" was the delighted exclamation.
"Three-halfpence each, though," said Cusack, laying the herrings out in a row on the table. "I say, I wish we'd got some forks or something to toast these with."
"Wouldn't the slate do to stick them on?" suggested Curtis.
"Might do, only Grange wrote out a lot of Euclid questions on it, and I've got to show them to him answered to-morrow, and I'd get in an awful row if it was rubbed out."
"Rather a bore. I tell you what, though," exclaimed Philpot, struck with the brilliant idea, "there's the pan in the chemistry-room they mix up the sulphur and phosphorus and that sort of thing in. I'll cut and get that. It's just the thing."
"All serene," said Cusack; "better give it a rub over in case it blows up, you know."
Philpot said "All right," and went, leaving the others to poke up the fire and get all ready for the reception of the pan.
He was a long while about it, certainly, considering that the chemistry- room was only just at the end of the passage.
"I wonder what he's up to?" said Pilbury, when after about three minutes he did not return.
"I wish he'd hurry up," said Curtis, whose special attraction was towards the dough-nuts, which of course could not come on till after the herrings.
"I wonder if he's larking about with some of the chemicals. I never knew such a fellow as he is for smells and blow-ups—"
"I'll blow him up if he's not sharp," said Cusack, losing patience and looking mournfully at the row of herrings on the table.
"Let's begin without him," said Pilbury.
"So we would if we had anything to do them on."
"I'll go and see if I can get a fork or two," said Morrison.
"Thanks, and wake up Philpot while you're out."
Morrison went, and the others kicked their heels impatiently and eyed the good things hungrily as they waited.
Cusack tried toasting a herring on one of the small forks, but the heat of the fire was too great for him to hold his hand at such close quarters, and he gave it up in disgust.
What was the matter with everybody this afternoon? Morrison was away ages and did not return.
"Oh, bother it all!" exclaimed Cusack, whose patience was now fairly exhausted, "if they don't choose to come I'm hung if they'll get anything now. I'll go and get the pan myself."
And off he went in high dudgeon, leaving his guests in charge of the feast.
"If he can't get the pan or a toasting-fork," said Curtis, disinterestedly, "wouldn't it be as well to have the dough-nuts now, and leave the herrings till supper, eh, Pil? Pity for them to get stale."
Pilbury said nothing, but broke off a little piece of the peppermint- rock in a meditative manner, and drummed his feet on the floor.
"Upon my word," he broke out after a good three minutes' waiting, "that blessed pan must be jolly heavy. There's three of them sticking to it now!"
"Wait a bit, I hear him coming," said Curtis, going to the door. He stepped out into the passage, Morgan following him.
Pilbury heard a sudden scuffling outside, and a sound of what did not seem like Welchers' voices. He hurried to the door to ascertain the cause, and as he did so he found himself caught roughly by the arm and slung violently against the opposite wall, while at the same moment Telson, Parson, Bosher, and half a dozen Parrett juniors rushed past him into the empty study, slamming and locking and barricading the door behind them!
It was all so quickly done that the luckless Welchers could hardly believe their own senses. But when they heard the distant voice of Philpot shouting that he was locked up in the chemistry-room, and of Morrison complaining that he couldn't get out of his own study, and of Cusack demanding to be released from the lavatory; and when their combined assault on the door produced nothing but defiant laughter mingled with the merry frizzing of the herrings before the fire, they knew it was no dream but a hideous fact. They had presence of mind enough to release their incarcerated comrades and attempt another assault in force on the door. But it came to nothing. In vain they shouted, threatened, entreated, kicked. They only received facetious answers from inside, which aggravated their misery.
"Go it, you fellows," shouted one voice, very like Parson's, only the mouth was so full that it was hard to say for certain. "Jolly good dough-nuts these; have another, Bosher, you've only had four. I say, Cusack, where did you catch these prime herrings? Best I've tasted since I came here. Afraid your slate's a little damaged; awfully sorry, you ought to keep a toasting-fork—ha! ha!" and a chorus of laughter greeted the sally. Cusack groaned and fumed.
"You pack of young cads," he howled through the key-hole. "Come out of there, do you hear? you thieves you. I'll warm you, Parson, when I get hold of you."
"Just what we're doing to the bloaters," cried Telson. There was a pause. Then Pilbury cried in tones of feigned warning, "Here comes the doctor! We'll see what he says."
"Won't do," shouted Parson from within. "Won't wash, my boy. Paddy's down at Shellport. Any more sherbet left, King?"
"I'll go and tell the captain, that's what I'll do," said Pilbury.
"Won't wash again," cried Parson. "There's no captain to tell; I say, we're leaving something for you, aren't we, you fellows? There'll be all the heads of the herrings and the greengage stones— jolly blow-out for you."
It was no use attempting further parley, and the irate Welchers were compelled to lurk furiously outside the door while the feast proceeded, and console themselves with the prospect of paying the enemy out when it was all over.
But the skill which had accompanied the execution of the raid so far was not likely to omit all precautions possible to make good a retreat. While most of the party were making all the noise they could, and succeeding with jest and gibe in keeping the attention of those outside, the barricade against the door had been quietly removed, and decks cleared for the sortie.
"Now then, you fellows," cried Parson to his men, in a voice which those outside were intended to hear, "make yourselves comfortable. Here's a stunning lot of peppermint-rock here, pass it round. Needn't go home for half an hour at least!"
The watchers outside groaned. There was no help at hand; and for one of them to go and seek it was only to increase the odds against them. The only thing was to wait patiently till the enemy did come out. Then it would be their turn. So they leaned up against the door and waited. The revelry within became more and more boisterous, and the chances of a speedy retreat more and more remote, when all of a sudden there was a sharp click and the door swung back hard on its hinges, precipitating Cusack, Pilbury, and Curtis backwards into the room in among the very feet of the besieged as, in a compact body, they rushed out. Morrison, Philpot, and Morgan did what little they could to oppose them but they were simply run over and swept aside by the wily troop of Parretts, who with shouts of derisive triumph gained the staircase with unbroken ranks, and gave their pursuers the parting gratification of watching them slide down the banisters one by one, and then lounge off arm-in- arm, sated and jubilant, to their own quarters.
THE NEW CAPTAIN'S INTRODUCTION.
Of course a row was made, or attempted to be made, about the daring exploit of the fags of Parrett's House narrated in the last chapter. The matter was duly reported to the head monitor of Welch's by the injured parties. But the result only proved how very cunning the offenders had been in choosing this particular time for the execution of their raid.
The head of Welch's reported the matter to Bloomfield, as the head of Parrett's. But Bloomfield, who had plenty to do to punish offences committed in his own House, replied that the head of Welch's had better mention it to the captain of the school. He couldn't do anything. The head of Welch's pointed out that there was no captain of the school at present. What was he to do?
Bloomfield suggested that he had better "find out," and there the matter ended. Wherever the head Welcher took his complaint he got the same answer; and it became perfectly clear that as long as Willoughby was without a captain, law and order was at a discount.
However, such a state of things was not destined long to last. A notice went round from the doctor to the monitors the next day asking them to assemble directly after chapel the following morning in the library. Every one knew what this meant; and when later on it was rumoured that Riddell had gone to the doctor's that evening to tea, it became pretty evident in which direction things were going.
"Tea at the doctor's" was always regarded as rather a terrible ordeal by those who occasionally came in for the honour. Some would infinitely have preferred a licking in the library, and others would have felt decidedly more comfortable in the dock of a police-court. Even the oldest boys, whose conduct was exemplary, and whose conscience had as little to make it uneasy in the head master's presence as in the presence of the youngest fag in Willoughby, were always glad when the ceremony was over.
The reason of all this was not in the doctor. Dr Patrick was one of the kindest and pleasantest of men. He could not, perhaps, throw off the Dominie altogether on such occasions, but he always tried hard, and if there had been no one more formidable than "Paddy" to deal with the meal would have been comparatively pleasant and unalarming.
But there was a Mrs Patrick and a Mrs Patrick's sister, and before these awful personages the boldest Willoughbite quailed and trembled. From the moment the unhappy guest entered the parlour these two (who were always there) fastened their eyes on him and withered him. They spoke ceremoniously in the language in which the grand old ladies used to speak in the old story-books. If he chanced to speak, they sat erect in their chairs listening to him with all their ears, looking at him with all their eyes, freezing him with all their faintest of smiles. No one could sit there under their inspection without feeling that every word and look and gesture was being observed, probably with a view to recording it in a letter home; and the idea of being at one's ease with them in the room was about as preposterous as the idea of sleeping comfortably on a wasp's nest!
And yet, if truth were known, these good females meant well. They had their own ideas of what boys should be (neither having any of their own), and fondly imagined that during these occasional ceremonies in the doctor's parlour they were rendering valuable assistance in the "dear boy's" education by giving him some idea of the manners and charms of polite society!
It was in such genial company that Riddell, the head classic of Willoughby, was invited to bask for a short time on the evening of the day before the appointment of the new captain. He had been there once before when his father and mother had come over to visit him. And even with their presence as a set-off, the evening had been one of the most awful experiences of his life. But now that he was to go all alone to partake of state tea with those two, this shy awkward boy felt about as cheerful as if he had been walking helplessly into a lion's den.
"Well, Riddell," said the doctor, pleasantly, as after long hesitation the guest at last ventured to arrive, "how are you? My dear, this is Riddell, whom I believe you have seen before. Miss Stringer too I think you met."
Riddell coloured deeply and shivered inwardly as he advanced first to one lady then to the other and solemnly shook hands.
"I trust your parents are in good health, Mr Riddell," said Mrs Patrick in her most precise tones.
"Very well indeed, thank you," replied Riddell; "that is," he added, correcting himself suddenly, "my mother is very poorly, thank you."
"I regret to hear you say so," said Mrs Patrick, transfixing the unhappy youth with her eyes. "I trust her indisposition is not of a serious character."
"I hope she will, thank you, ma'am," replied Riddell, who somehow fancied his hostess had said, or had been going to say, she hoped his mother would soon recover.
"Er, I beg your pardon?" said Mrs Patrick, leaning slightly forward and inclining her head a little on one side.
"I mean, I beg your pardon," said Riddell, suddenly perceiving his mistake and losing his head at the same time, "I mean, quite so, thank you."
"You mean," interposed Miss Stringer at this point, in a voice a note deeper than her sister's, "that your mother's indisposition is of a serious character?"
"Oh no, not at all, I'm sure," ejaculated the hapless Riddell.
"I am glad to hear you say so, very," said Miss Stringer.
"Very," said Mrs Patrick.
At this point Riddell had serious thoughts of bolting altogether, and might have done so had not the servant just then created a diversion by bringing in the kettle.
"Sit down, Riddell," said the doctor, "and make yourself at home. What are the prospects for the regatta this year? Is the schoolhouse boat to win?"
"I'm sorry I can't say," replied Riddell. "I believe Parrett's is the favourite."
"Mr Riddell means Mr Parrett's, I presume?" asked Mrs Patrick in her sweetest tones, looking hard at the speaker, and emphasising the "Mr"
"I beg your pardon," he said, "I'm sorry."
"We shall miss Wyndham," said the doctor.
"Yes, thank you," replied Riddell, who at that moment was dodging vaguely in front of Miss Stringer as she stood solemnly waiting to get past him to the tea-table.
It was a relief when tea was at last ready, and when some other occupation was possible than that of looking at and being looked at by these two ladies.
"You're not very fond of athletics, Riddell?" asked the doctor.
"No, sir," answered Riddell, steadily avoiding the eyes of the females.
"I often think you'd be better if you took more exercise," said the doctor.
"Judging by Mr Riddell's looks," said Mrs Patrick, "it would certainly seem as if he hardly did himself justice physically."
This enigmatical sentence, which might have been a compliment or might have been a rebuke or might have meant neither, Riddell found himself quite unable to reply to appropriately, and therefore, like a sensible man, took a drink of tea instead. It was the first dawn of reviving presence of mind.
"Apart from your own health altogether," continued the doctor, "I fancy your position with the other boys would be better if you entered rather more into their sports."
"I often feel that, sir," said Riddell, with a touch of seriousness in his tones, "and I wish I could do it."
"I hope that there is no consideration as to health which debars you from this very desirable exercise, Mr Riddell," said Mrs Patrick. "I beg your pardon," said Riddell, who did not quite take it in. Mrs Patrick never liked being asked to repeat her speeches. She flattered herself they were lucid enough to need no second delivery. She therefore repeated her remark slowly and in precisely the same words and tone—
"I hope that there is no consideration as to health which debars you from this very desirable exercise, Mr Riddell?"
Riddell took half a moment to consider, and then replied, triumphantly, "I'm quite well, thank you, ma'am."
"I am pleased to hear that," said Mrs Patrick, rather icily, for this last observation had seemed to her a little rude. "Very," chimed in Miss Stringer.
After this there was a silence, which Riddell devoutly hoped might last till it was time to go. Had the ladies not been there he would have liked very much to speak to the doctor about school matters, and the doctor, but for the same cause, would have wished to talk to his head boy. But it was evident this tea-table was not the place for such conversation.
"I hear," said the doctor, after the pause had continued some time, addressing his sister-in-law, "there is likely to be an election in Shellport before long; Sir Abraham is retiring."
"Indeed, you surprise me," said Miss Stringer. "It is unexpected," said the doctor, "but it is thought there will be a sharp contest for the seat."
"And are you a Liberal or a Conservative, Mr Riddell?" asked Mrs Patrick, thinking it time that unfortunate youth was again tempted into the conversation.
"A Liberal, ma'am," replied Riddell. "Oh! boys are generally Conservatives, are they not?" She asked this question in a tone as if she expected him to try to deceive her in his answer. However, he evaded it by replying bashfully, "I hope not."
"And pray," said Miss Stringer, putting down her cup, and turning full on her victim, "will you favour us with your reasons for such a hope, Mr Riddell?"
Poor Riddell! he little thought what he had let himself in for. If there was one subject the two ladies were rabid on it was politics. They proceeded to pounce upon, devour, and annihilate the unlucky head classic without mercy. They made him contradict himself twice or thrice in every sentence; they proved to him clearly that he knew nothing at all of what he was talking about, and generally gave him to understand that he was an impertinent, conceited puppy for presuming to have an opinion of his own on such matters!
Riddell came out of the ordeal very much as a duck comes out of the hands of the poulterer. Luckily, by the time the discussion was over it was time for him to go. He certainly could not have held out much longer. As it was, he was good for nothing after it, and went to bed early that night with a very bad headache.
Before he left, however, the doctor had accompanied him into the hall, and said, "There are a few things, Riddell, I want to speak to you about. Will you come to my study a quarter of an hour before morning chapel to-morrow?"
Had the invitation been to breakfast in that horrible parlour Riddell would flatly have declined it. As it was he cheerfully accepted it, and only wished the doctor had thought of it before, and spared him the misery of that evening with the two Willoughby griffins!
He could hardly help guessing what it was the doctor had to say to him, or why it was he had been asked to tea that evening. And he felt very dejected as he thought about it. Like most of the other Willoughbites, the idea of a new captain having to be appointed had never occurred to him till Wyndham had finally left the school. And when it did occur, and when moreover it began to dawn upon him that he himself was the probable successor, horror filled his mind. He couldn't do it. He was not cut out for it. He would sooner leave Willoughby altogether. The boys either knew nothing about him, or they laughed at him for his clumsiness, or they suspected him as a coward, or they despised him as a prig. He had wit enough to know what Willoughby thought of him, and that being so, how could he ever be its captain?
"I would much rather you named some one else," said he to the doctor at their interview next morning. "I know quite well I couldn't get on."
"You have not tried yet," said the doctor.
"But I've not the strength, and the boys don't like me," pleaded Riddell.
"You must make them like you, Riddell," said the doctor.
"How can I? They will dislike me all the more if I am made captain. I have no influence with them, indeed I have not."
"How do you know?" said the doctor again. "Have you tried yet?"
"I could never do what Wyndham did. He was such a splendid captain."
"Why?" asked the doctor.
"I suppose because he was a splendid athlete, and threw himself into all their pursuits, and—and set a good example himself."
"I think you are partly right and partly wrong," said the doctor. "There are several fine athletes in Willoughby who would make poor captains; and as for throwing oneself into school pursuits and setting a good example, I don't think either is beyond your reach."
Riddell felt very uncomfortable. He began to feel that after all he might be shirking a duty he ought to undertake. But he made one more effort.
"There are so many others would do it better, sir, whom the boys look up to already," he said. "Bloomfield, for instance, or—"
The doctor held up his hand.
"We will not go into that, Riddell," he said. "You must not suppose I and others have not considered the good of Willoughby in this matter. It remains for you to consider it also. As you grow older you will constantly find duties confronting you which may be sorely against your inclination, but which as an honest man you will know are not to be shirked. You have a chance of beginning now. I don't pretend to say you will find it easy or pleasant work, or that you are likely to succeed, at first at any rate, as well as others have done. But unless I am mistaken you will not give in on that account. Of course you will need to exert yourself. You know what boys look for in a captain; it's not mere muscle, or agility. Get them by all means if you can; but what will be worth far more than these will be sympathy. If they discover you are one with them, and that in your efforts to keep order you have the welfare of the school chiefly at heart, they will come out, depend upon it, and meet you half-way. It's worth trying, Riddell."
Riddell said nothing, but his face was rather more hopeful as he looked up at the doctor.
"Come," said the latter, "there's the bell for chapel. It's time we went in."
Riddell entered chapel that morning in a strangely conflicting frame of mind. The hope was still in his face, but the misgivings were still in his heart, and the whole prospect before him seemed to be a dream.
As the slight shy boy walked slowly up the floor to his place among the Sixth, the boys on either side eyed him curiously and eagerly, and a half-titter, half-sneer greeted his appearance.
Some regarded him with a disfavour which amounted to positive dislike, others with disdain and even contempt, and others thought of Wyndham and wondered what Willoughby was coming to. Even among the Sixth many an unfriendly glance was darted at him as he took his seat, and many a whispered foreboding passed from boy to boy. Only a few watched him with looks of sympathy, and of these scarcely one was hopeful.
Happily for Riddell, he could not see half of all this; and when in a moment the doctor entered and prayers began, he saw none of it. For he was one of a few at Willoughby to whom this early-morning service was something more than a mere routine, and who felt, especially at times like this, that in those beautiful familiar words was to be found the best of all preparations for the day's duties.
Telson, as he stood down by the door, with his hands in his pockets, beside his friend Parson, was void of all such reflections. What was chiefly occupying his lordly mind at that moment was the discovery suddenly made, that if Riddell was the new captain, he of course would be captain's fag. And he was not quite sure whether to be pleased or the reverse at his new dignity.
"You see," said he to his ally, in a whisper, "it's good larks marking the fellows off every morning as they come into chapel, but then, don't you twig that means I've got to be here the moment the bell begins ringing? and that's no joke."
"No, unless you got leave to ring the bell, too," said Parson. "Then of course they couldn't troop in till you were there. I'd come down and help with the bell, you know."
"Wouldn't do, I fancy," said Telson. "Then, of course, it's swell enough work to have to go about and tell the monitors what they've got to do, but I'm not so sure if it's a good thing to mix altogether with monitors—likely to spoil a chap, eh?"
"Rather," said Parson. "Look out, Porter's looking."
Whereupon this brief but edifying dialogue broke off for the present.
The monitors duly assembled in the doctor's library after chapel. They all of them knew what was coming, and their general attitude did not seem promising for the new regime. Each one possibly fancied he had the interests of Willoughby at heart, and all but one or two felt convinced that in putting Riddell into the position of captain the doctor was committing a serious mistake. Every one could have given good reasons for thinking so, and would have asserted that they had no personal ill-feeling towards the new captain, but for the sake of the school they were sure he was not the fit person. Whether each one felt equally sure that he himself would have filled the post better is a question it is not necessary to ask here.
The doctor was brief and to the point.
"I dare say you know why I have called you together," he said. "Wyndham—whom every one here liked and respected, and who did a great deal for the school"—("Hear, hear," from one or two voices)—"has left, and we shall all miss him. The captain of the school has always for a long time past been the head classical boy. It is not a law of the Medes and Persians that it should be so, and if there seemed any special reason why the rule should be broken through there is nothing to prevent that being done."
At this point one or two breathed rather more freely and the attention generally was intensified. After all, this seemed like the preface to a more favourable announcement. But those who thought so found their mistake when the doctor proceeded.
"In the present case there is no such reason, and Riddell here is fully aware of the duties expected of him, and is prepared to perform them. I look to you to support him, and am confident if all work heartily together no one need be afraid for the continued success of Willoughby."
The doctor ended his speech amid the silence of his audience, which was not broken as he turned and left the room. At the same moment, to the relief of no one more than of Riddell, the bell sounded for breakfast and the assembly forthwith broke up.
THE NEW CAPTAIN IS DISCUSSED ON LAND AND WATER.
The doctor's announcement was not long in taking effect. As soon as third school was over that afternoon the monitors assembled in the Sixth Form room to discuss the situation. Fortunately for Riddell's peace of mind, he was not present; but nearly all the others, whether friendly or otherwise, were there.
Game, with his usual downrightness, opened the ball.
"Well, you fellows," said he, "what are you going to do?"
"Let's have a game of leapfrog while the fags aren't looking," said Crossfield, a schoolhouse monitor and a wag in a small way.
"It's all very well for you to fool about," said Game, ill-temperedly. "You schoolhouse fellows think, as long as you get well looked after, Willoughby may go to the dogs."
"What do you mean?" said Fairbairn. "I don't think so."
"I suppose you'd like to make out that Riddell is made captain because he's the best man for the place, and not because the doctor always favours the schoolhouse," snarled Wibberly.
"He's made captain because he's head classic," replied Fairbairn; "it has nothing to do with his being a schoolhouse fellow."
"All very well," said Tucker, of Welch's, "but it's a precious odd thing, all the same, that the captain is always picked out of the schoolhouse."
"And it's a precious odd thing too," chimed in Crossfield, "that a head classic was never to be got out of Welch's for love or money!"
This turned the laugh against the unlucky Tucker, who was notoriously a long way off being head classic.
"What I say is," said Game, "we want an all-round man for captain—a fellow like Bloomfield here, who's well up in the Sixth, and far away the best fellow in the eleven and the boats. Besides, he doesn't shut himself up like Riddell, and give himself airs. I can't see why the doctor didn't name him. The only thing against him seems to be that he's not a schoolhouse gentleman."
"That's the best thing about him in my opinion," said Ashley.
If Game and his friends had determined to do their best to gain friends for the new captain, this constant bringing-up of the rivalry between Parrett's house and the schoolhouse was the very way to do it. Many of the schoolhouse monitors had felt as sore as anybody about the appointments, but this sort of talk inclined not a few of them to take Riddell's side.
"I don't want any row made on my account," said Bloomfield. "If Paddy thinks Riddell's the best man, we have no choice in the matter."
"Haven't we, though!" said Wibberly. "We aren't going to have a fellow put over our heads against our will—at any rate, not without having a word in the matter."
"What can you do?" asked Coates.
"We can resign, I suppose?" said Tucker.
"Oh, yes!" said Crossfield. "And suppose Paddy took you at your word, my boy? Sad thing for Welch's that would be!"
"I don't know why you choose to make a beast of yourself whenever I speak," said Tucker, angrily; "I've as much right—"
"Shut up, Tucker, for goodness' sake!" said Bloomfield; "don't begin by quarrelling."
"Well, then, what does he want to cheek me for?" demanded Tucker. "He's a stuck-up schoolhouse prig, that's what he is!"
"And if I only had the flow of costermonger's talk which some people possess—" began Crossfield.
"Are you going to shut up or not?" demanded Bloomfield.
"Hullo! you aren't captain yet, old man!" replied the irrepressible Crossfield; "but if you want to know, I am going to shut up now till I want to speak again."
"We might get up a petition to the doctor, anyhow," suggested Game, returning to the subject; "he'd have to take notice of that."
"What will you say in the petition?" asked Porter.
"Oh! easy enough that. Say we don't consider Riddell fit to be captain, and we'd sooner have some one else."
"Better say we'd sooner have Bloomfield at once," said Wibberly.
"No; please don't mention my name," said Bloomfield.
"Wouldn't the best thing be to send Riddell back with a label, 'Declined, with thanks,' pinned on his coat-tail?" suggested Crossfield.
"Yes; and add, 'Try again, Paddy,'" said Coates, laughing.
"And just mention no schoolhouse snobs are wanted," said Tucker.
"And suggest, mildly, that a nice, clever, amiable, high-principled Welcher like Tom Tucker would be acceptable," added Crossfield.
"Look here," said Tucker, very red in the face, advancing towards his tormentor, "I've stood your impudence long enough, you cad, and I won't stand any more."
"Sit down, then," replied Crossfield, cheerfully, "plenty of forms."
"Look here, you fellows," said Bloomfield again, "for goodness' sake shut up. Have it out afterwards if you like, but don't fight here."
"I don't mind where I have it out," growled Tucker, "but I'll teach him to cheek me, see if I don't."
So saying, much to the relief of every one, he turned on his heel and left the room.
After this the discussion again got round to Riddell, and the question of a petition was revived.
"It would be quite easy to draw something up that would say what we want to say and not give offence to any one," said Ashley.
"But what do you want to say?" asked Fairbairn. "If you want to tell the doctor he's wrong, and that we are the people to set him right, I don't see how you can help offending him."
"That's not what we want to say at all," said Game. "We want to say that the captain of Willoughby has always been a fellow who was good all round, and we think the new captain ought to be of the same sort for the sake of the school."
"Hear, hear," said one or two of Parrett's house; "what could be better than that?"
"Well," said Porter, "I don't see much difference between saying that and telling the doctor he doesn't know what he's about."
"Of course you say so—that's your schoolhouse prejudice," replied Wibberly.
"It's nothing of the sort," said Fairbairn, warmly; "you know that as well as I do, Wibberly."
"I know it is," retorted Wibberly; "you'd put up with anybody as long as he wasn't a Parrett fellow."
And so the wrangle went on; and at the end of it the company was as near agreeing as they had been at the beginning.
Finally one or two of the schoolhouse fellows, such as Fairbairn, Coates, and Porter, withdrew, and the Parrett faction, having it then pretty much their own way, drew up the following petition:
"We the undersigned monitors respectfully hope you will reconsider your decision as to the New Captain. The captain has hitherto always been an 'all-round man,' and we think it would be best for the discipline of the school to have a fellow of the same sort now. We wish to say nothing against Riddell except that we do not think he is the best fellow for the position. We hope you will excuse us for stating our opinion."
To this extraordinary document all the monitors of Parrett's and Welch's houses present put their names, as well as Gilks and one or two others of the schoolhouse, and after deciding not to present it till next day, by which time it was hoped other signatures might be procured, the august assembly broke up.
The reign of Riddell had not, to say the least of it, opened auspiciously as far as his fellow-monitors were concerned. And outside that body, in Willoughby at large, things did not look much more promising.
The feeling in Parrett's house was of course one of unmingled wrath and mutiny. When once the heads of the house were known to have declared so unmistakably against the new captain, it was not much to be wondered at that the rank and file followed their lead in a still more demonstrative manner.
It happened that Parson and his friends, Telson (who, though a schoolhouse boy, seemed to live most of his life in Parrett's), King, Wakefield, and Lawkins, had planned a little expedition up the river between third school and "call-over" that afternoon, and the present state of affairs in the school formed a rather lively topic of discussion for these worthies as they pulled the Parrett's "Noah's Ark"—by which complimentary title the capacious boat devoted to the use of the juniors of the house was known—lazily up on the tide towards Balsham.
The river was pretty full, as usual at that time of day, and as one form which the wrath of the youthful Parretts took was to insult, and if opportunity arose, to run down the craft of either of the other houses, the discussion on the condition of Willoughby was relieved by more than one lively incident.
"Think of that chap being captain," said Parson, standing up on the back seat, with the rudder-lines in his hands so as to command a good view of the stream ahead. "He couldn't row as well as old Bosher there."
As "old Bosher" was at that moment engaged in super-human efforts to keep his balance with one hand, and extricate his oar, which had feathered two feet under the surface of the water, with the other, this illustration was particularly effective and picturesque.
"Oh, he's an awful cad," said Wakefield, who was rowing bow. "He reported me to Wyndham last term for letting off crackers in bed."
"What a beastly shame!" was the sympathising chorus.
"And you know—" added King.
But as Bosher fell rather violently backward into his lap at this instant, and let his oar go altogether, what King was going to say did not come out.
After a vast amount of manoeuvring, back-watering, shouting, and reaching to recover the lost oar, the voyage proceeded.
They had not proceeded far when the racing-boat of their house, manned by Bloomfield, Game, Tipper, and Ashley, and coached from the bank by Mr Parrett himself, spun past them in fine style and at a great rate. As became loyal Parretts, the juniors pulled into the bank to let the four-oar pass, and, not content with this act of homage, they volunteered a round of vehement applause into the bargain.
"Bravo! Well rowed, our house! Two to one on Parrett's! Three cheers for Bloomfield! Three cheers for the captain! Hooroo!"
With this gratifying salute the boat darted out of sight round the bend, leaving the juniors once more to continue on their festive way.
"Isn't old Bloomfield a stunner?" said Lawkins. "He's the sort of fellow for captain! Not that schoolhouse idiot, Riddell."
"Easy all there about the schoolhouse," shouted down Telson from his place at stroke. "I'll fight you if you say it again."
"Hurrah! let's land and have a mill!" cried King. "I back you, Telson, old man."
"Oh, I didn't mean to cheek you, Telson," said Lawkins, humbly. "I'll apologise, you know."
"Jolly good job," said Telson, grandly, "or I'd have licked you."
"All the same," said Lawkins, "old Bloomfield's—"
"Look out now!" suddenly broke in Parson, who had been gradually getting excited where he stood; "there's the Welchers coming! Pull hard, you fellows, or they'll cut us out. Now then! Row, Bosher, can't you, you old cow? Yah! hoo! Welchers ahoy!" he cried, raising his voice in tones of derisive defiance. "Yah! boo! herrings and dough-nuts, jolly cowards, daren't wait for us! Booh, funk-its!"
With such taunts the Hector of Parrett's endeavoured to incite the enemy to battle. And the enemy, if truth must be told, needed very little persuasion, especially as the crew in question consisted of Cusack, Pilbury, and the three other ill-starred victim of the raid of two days ago.
They lay on their oars and waited for the foe to come up, Cusack shouting meanwhile, "Who'd be afraid of a pack of thieves like you! I wouldn't! I dare you to land and fight us! Dare you to run into us! Dare you to stand still till we lick you! Dare you to do anything but steal other fellows' grub! Ye-ow!"
"Now, you fellows," cried Parson, "put it on."
A few strokes brought the two boats level, and then, as they lay side by side at oar's distance, ensued a notable and tremendous splashing match, which was kept up with terrific vigour on both sides, until not only was every combatant splashed through, but the two boats themselves were nearly swamped.
Then, after either side had insultingly claimed the victory, the boats separated, and the dripping warriors parted with a final broadside.
"There you are, take that, and go and tell the captain!" shouted Parson.
"You wouldn't dare do it if Bloomfield was captain," retorted the Welchers. "We'll have him captain, then see how you'll smile! Yah! bah!"
And, amid terrific cat-calling on either side, the crews parted.
This last taunt was a sore one for the young Parretts. It had never occurred to them that Bloomfield, if he were captain, might perhaps spoil their sport more than Riddell. But it was only a passing annoyance. After all they were Parretts, and Bloomfield was their man, whether he spoiled their sport or not. Telson had no objection to this sentiment as long as no one presumed "to cheek the schoolhouse" in uttering it. Whenever that was done he insisted on his unalterable determination to fight the offender unless he swallowed his words, which the offender usually did.
The tide was getting slack, and it was time for them to turn if they were to be in for "call-over." Just, however, as they were about to do so, a shout behind attracted them, and they became aware of another four-oared boat approaching with the schoolhouse flag in the prow. It came along at a fair pace, but with nothing like the style which had marked the Parretts' boat.