[Frontispiece: "His eyes were greedily fixed on the book; then he would write a little, then look again, then write again. He was cribbing."—WILTON SCHOOL, page 33.]
HARRY CAMPBELL'S REVENGE.
FRED. E. WEATHERLY, B.A.,
AUTHOR OF "MURIEL, AND OTHER POEMS."
W. P. NIMMO, HAY, & MITCHELL
[Transcriber's note: In the original book, each page had its own header. In this e-book, each chapter's headers have been collected into an introductory paragraph at the start of that chapter.]
My Little Brothers,
ALFRED, ARTHUR, HERBERT,
LEWIS, AND CECIL,
I.—A LONG GOOD-BYE II.—WHY THE SAD GOOD-BYE WAS GIVEN III.—SAD INFORMATION IV.—WILTON SCHOOL V.—MOTHER AND SON VI.—INJURED INNOCENCE VII.—A BOY FIGHT AT SCHOOL VIII.—FRIENDS IN MISFORTUNE IX.—HARRY PUT ON TRIAL X.—SUNLIGHT XI.—MOVING HOME XII.—BULLYING XIII.—FLIGHT XIV.—AT SLEEP AT LAST XV.—THE BITERS BIT XVI.—BLEWCOME'S ROYAL MENAGERIE XVII.—THE LOST FOUND XVIII.—FATHER AND SON XIX.—AT WILTON ONCE MORE XX.—AVENGED AT LAST
"His eyes were greedily fixed on the book; then he would write a little, then look again, then write again. He was cribbing." . . . . . . . . . Frontispiece
"'Leave him to me,' said Warburton, a tall ungainly boy of fourteen, as boy after boy was eager to take the quarrel to himself."
"There he was, safe on the ground at last."
"He never uttered a word, but ate his breakfast, and enjoyed it thoroughly."
A LONG GOOD-BYE.
Gathering shadows—Harry's wonder—Ambiguous—A long good-bye—The anchor's weighed.
It was a sad evening in the little farm by the church of Wilton, yet very sweet and summer-like without. Very sad it was in the low, dim, oak-panelled parlour, whose diamonded window looked across the quiet churchyard, with its swinging wicket, its gravel-path beneath green aisles of lindens, and all the countless
"Grassy barrows of the happier dead."
Very sad were those three sitters in the summer twilight, there, at the farm; for a good-bye had to be said—a long, long farewell between that weeping pale woman, and the stout sailor, her husband. And Harry, their blue-eyed, sunny-haired boy, did not understand what it all meant;—why papa did not cheer mamma with hopes of soon coming home again—why mamma did not try to console herself by saying, over and over, that he would soon come back, as she always used in the old days when papa had to go to sea. She had never cried so bitterly before, although these good-byes had come so often. And now it made her cough; she seemed scarcely to have strength to cry. And papa, who was always so brave and stern, why was it even he could not stop the tears from rolling down his bronzed cheeks? And so Harry sat in the window-seat, quite unable to understand the meaning of all the sorrow, and looked out of the window at the farmer's wife nursing her last baby in the orchard, and then at the old sexton in the churchyard throwing up the red earth, and wondered why he always whistled such a jovial tune, while he himself felt so sad.
And the evening drew on over the straggling village, weary with its long day's work. The last loaded waggon had passed down the lane by the farm; the last troop of tired hay-makers had trudged gaily homewards; and with the deepening dusk the winds grew cooler, blowing in fresh, along the valley, from the sea.
And, all this while, poor Harry sat with his face pressed closely against the window-pane; and his papa and mamma, apparently unheeding him, sat talking in the far dim corner of the room, while ever anon her great sobs broke the train of comforting words her husband strove to utter.
Presently, he got up, moved to the window, and without saying a word, took Harry's hand and led him across the room to his mother's side. Then his faltering lips said:
"Harry, my boy, mamma is going away soon—before I come back;—I shall not see her again."
"Not see her again, papa?" cried Harry in amazement. "And why is mamma going away, with her cough so bad, too?"
"Mamma's cough won't trouble her long, my boy. You'll take care of her for me, won't you, Harry? and see her safe off on her journey?"
He spoke very quietly now; but if he had not used those ambiguous sentences, he would have broken down, he knew.
And then the good-bye was said. He kissed Harry tenderly, and then gathered his weeping wife to his breast. And with an earnest "God guard you!" that well-nigh seemed to break the bursting heart from whence the words arose, he moved quickly from the room. So it was all over now! The long good-bye had been said.
"Take care of her and the boy, Mrs Valentine," he said to the farmer's wife, as she came hurrying up from the orchard to see him before he left, "and God will reward you. It will not be for long, I fancy. The boy must stay with you till I come back."
"I will, I will sir; bless her dear heart!" the farmer's wife cried, while the tears started to her eyes. "Poor soul, poor soul!" she murmured after him, as he passed bravely down the lane, villagewards.
And there, in the little farm by the church, sat the pale wife weeping over her wondering boy, while the shadows of the summer night stole ghost-like over the lands, till the window was but a faint dim square in the sad darkness that was within.
That night the Queen's good ship "Thunderer" weighed anchor from the roadstead where she had been lying off Wilton, and with canvass stretched, and engines at full speed, swung down the Bristol channel on the ebb tide, to join the flying squadron on a six months' cruise. And though many a heart, of seamen and officer alike, felt heavy at parting from sweetheart or wife, in none was there the dull, hopeless agony that dwelt behind the stern face of Chief-engineer Campbell, as he talked on deck with his fellow-officers, or issued his orders to his men below.
WHY THE SAD GOOD-BYE WAS GIVEN.
In commission—At home in Malta—After long years—Settled at Wilton—Unwelcome tidings—Unavailing skill.
Fourteen years ago, amid the mists of Scotland, there was a bonny wedding at a hill-side kirk; the bride, a sweet young English girl, who had left her southern home to pay a visit to her uncle, the old village-pastor; the bridegroom, a stout sailor, home from sea for a short while at his native village. And after a six weeks' happy wooing, a happy wedding took the two away, far from the heathery hills and the mountain lochs; far from the moors and fells of Scotland.
A brief honeymoon of quiet, unmarred happiness, and Alan Campbell received instructions to join his ship, ordered to Malta for three years. His wife, of course, could not sail with him, so he took a berth for her in one of the ordinary passenger steamers that run from Southampton to the island. And after seeing her safe on board one rainy April afternoon, her tearful face itself like April weather, he took the evening mail-train to Plymouth, and the following morning was on board his ship. It was not long before his impatience was gratified, and the "Thunderer" steamed out into the English Channel.
Thus over the great waves, through time of sun and stars, through storm and shine, sailed the two parted many miles of heaving sea; Minnie, pale and trembling in her little cabin, with the noise of the waters ever sounding in her sleepless ears; Alan pacing to and fro in the heat and throbbing of the engines of the "Thunderer."
It was a joyful meeting at the island-fortress in the blue Mediterranean. Alan obtained leave to sleep on shore, and took a little white cottage that overlooked the bay, where the good ship "Thunderer" lay at anchor; and there, at her outhanging window, every evening Minnie would sit, looking so anxiously across the bay towards the great black hull of the vessel, till a gig would put off that brought Alan home to her.
So the days and weeks went on. The spring died into the summer's flowery lap; the summer ripened and mellowed unto the golden autumn; and when the year's late last months were come, there was another inmate in the little cottage by the bay; another pair of eyes, blue as the mother's, to greet Alan as he came home at night; another pair of hands to hold and call his own.
The time ran as quickly as it ran happily. The three years passed, and again Alan had to put his wife on board a passenger steamer bound for England—this time with her boy Harry to bear her company, a sturdy young gentleman of somewhat over two years; while he himself sailed for Plymouth in the "Thunderer." And so it came to pass, that after many such changes of abode, and many voyages over the dangerous waters, twelve years from the date of their marriage, they came to Wilton. They found lodgings at Mrs Valentine's farm, near the old church—a strange contrast after the home on the blue waters of the Mediterranean, but a very nice contrast withal. And it seemed, at last, as if poor Mrs Campbell had found a climate that suited her, and that put new life and strength into her failing, fragile form. For those happy and treacherous nights, spent in looking over the bay at Malta for her husband's home-coming, had sown the seeds of a consumption, that each month now seemed to be increasing its wasting, rapid strides.
Yet at Wilton she seemed revived and better than she had been for long; and Alan grew more cheerful and hopeful that, if God pleased, her life, with care and watching, might be spared. So he took rooms at the farm for a length of time; sent his boy, now grown into a young image of his stout father, to a grammar-school in the village, and determined that, as the place agreed with her so well, Minnie should make it her home, even when he went to sea.
And once more their happiness lost the cloud of doubt and anxiety that for long had been hanging over it. But the dream was soon to be snapt.
One evening Alan came home to find his wife much worse than she had ever been. He learnt the cause. She had been sitting with a sick person, and from the hot, sickroom had passed out into the damp evening air. And this was the result.
The village-doctor was sent for at once; and when, on the next morning, Alan anxiously, tremblingly, asked him the candid truth, it was with an open letter in his hand, with which his fingers nervously played. It was marked "On Her Majesty's Service." He must hold himself in readiness to sail within a fortnight. And the doctor's answer was a fearful crowning to this unexpected tidings.
"She may linger on for a month," he said, "six weeks at most. You will have to bid her good-bye for ever when you go. No skill can make her live till you come home."
Alan never uttered a word, but his face was very pale, and a great shudder passed over his frame.
"It is very, very sad for you," said the little doctor, "I pity you from my heart." And then he jolted away down the lane in his shaky trap, drawn by his broken-winded pony.
And Alan turned into the farm, and was soon by his wife's side.
So the fortnight passed, and the good-bye was said; and this is why that good-bye was so unutterably sad; and this is all that Harry could not understand.
Mother and son—Returning fortitude—Self-devoted.
It was drawing close upon the half-yearly examination at the Grammar School, and Harry was beginning to grow very frightened and nervous, for a new boy had been put into his class since the last examination, and he feared the newcomer would supplant him, and get to the head.
So, as soon as the sad good-bye, told of in the first chapter of this little tale, was said, and Harry had tried in vain to comfort his mother, he got his books and set to work. And the clock ticked, and Harry pored over his delectus; and in the corner Mrs Campbell sat and wept.
Presently she called Harry to her.
"Harry, dear, I am better now; I won't cry any more. Come and sit by me."
And so Harry went. And then she talked quietly to him about his work at school, and how she hoped that one day he would be able to go to Oxford. It was well for her, poor thing, she had these little makeshifts for conversation. That which lay nearest her heart, was now too much well-nigh for words to express.
"You are young now, dear boy, but still old enough to know that your after-life depends on yourself; and if you work steadily on, you can win a scholarship."
"What is a scholarship, mamma?"
"A sum of money, dear, which is allowed you every year while you are at Oxford, to help to pay your expenses. Because, you know, papa couldn't afford to pay all the money it would cost while you were there."
"And why couldn't you pay it, mamma?"
"I shall not be here then, dear boy," said Mrs Campbell, very softly.
"But you will be wherever I am, mamma."
"I shall be sleeping in the churchyard, darling boy; over yonder, under the tall, grey tower."
Harry burst out impetuously:
"No, you shan't die, mamma! Why should you die? I won't let you go!"
And Harry sobbed as though his heart would break. For his sake, Mrs Campbell seemed to win strength and quietness. And taking him gently by the hand she led him upstairs to bed, sat by him till he was heavily asleep, his face all stained with tears, and then went wearily downstairs again, took her writing desk, and began a letter to her husband.
The examination—Wilton school—Harry's class-room—Absorbed—Prized possessions—Too busy—Cribbing—Misplaced sympathy—Harry blushes.
The morning sun shone brightly over Wilton as Harry started to school; brightly over the dancing waters of the roadstead; and the seawind sang gaily through the wave-washed piles of the pier. The school-bell was ringing lustily as Harry passed through the iron gates into the playground. Everything was in bustle and confusion. Bats and balls were laid aside; jackets thrust on hastily; rough heads smoothed by hot hands. From their different house-doors the masters were emerging, putting on, as they came, gowns, some brand-new, some rusty and worn. The whole stream was setting in one and the same direction, towards the doors of the school-buildings. And by the time the bell's last clang had ceased, masters and boys were duly assembled in their respective places in the big school-room. Prayers over, Dr Palmer announced, amid breathless silence, the regulations respecting the examination, which was unexpectedly to begin, in part, that morning. Who does not remember those anxious, nervous days, before the examination; the anticipation worse, if possible, than the actual realisation; the visions of questions unanswered, translations sent up full of mistakes, sums that never would come out right, problems that never would be proved?
For the first few days questions, to be answered on paper, would be set to the whole school according to their respective work and classes. On the fifth day the examiner would arrive; he would commence at the bottom of the school, and, taking two classes each day, examine them viva voce.
This was the substance of Dr Palmer's speech; and then the business of the morning began.
The different classes and their masters filed away into their particular rooms, Dr Palmer and the senior form being left alone in the big school-room.
The greater portion of the school-buildings, it should be stated, had been converted some years ago from the remains of an old monastery. Standing on a slight eminence, and backed by a deep belt of firs, broad meadows sloped from it, straight down to a grey shingly beach, where the boys used to bathe. Three sides only had left their ruins behind; and these were accordingly rebuilt, as closely after the original style as was possible. There was the shadowy row of cool cloisters, edging the square smooth-shaven plot of grass, which no boy was allowed to cross. Then all round the building above the cloisters were various class-rooms; and at the end of one wing stood the chapel, and at the other, the big school-room.
Harry's class-room was in one corner, and consequently was darker than most of the others; but this the boys liked in the summer; it was such a contrast after the glaring sun that streamed in through the windows of the big school-room. And Harry's place, too, in the room, he specially liked; close to the window, he could look out, through its ivied frame, across the smooth green lawn, away down the meadows to the distant sea. And who can wonder that the sight of the heaving billows brought thoughts of his father to him many a time and oft? But many a time, too, those dreams were snapt by the voice of Mr Prichard, his master—
"Campbell, attend to your work;" or, "Campbell, don't look out of the window;" or, when in a facetious mood, "Campbell, you cannot learn your delectus by the light of nature."
But this morning, Harry was far too occupied to stare about. Not that he was thinking specially of what his mother had told him the night before, that she would soon be gone away from him; childlike, he had almost forgotten that, or at any rate the examination, for the time being, absorbed his whole attention. And like us all, he could not realise the sorrow his mother's words conveyed. Who of us, indeed, does not feel, even when standing over the grave of some dear one dead, even when decking the green mound with flowers—feel it is well-nigh impossible fully to realise that those hands, now laid white beneath the mould, will never again be clasped in ours on earth. So it is no wonder that Harry was in his usual good spirits; with this only difference, that the examination into whose depths he had now plunged, was filling him with nervous excitement and terrified interest.
Each boy had a desk and stool to himself, and to the little boys the desk-key was a proud possession. The sixteen desks were ranged in even rows, Mr Prichard's being at the opposite end, it so happened, to Harry's place. By Harry sat Egerton the new boy, the dreaded rival; and as they bent, side by side, over their desks, their pens and inky fingers scrambling as hard as possible over their papers, many eyes were turned upon them, to see which appeared to be getting on best.
Harry himself was too busy to take any notice of Egerton; and the morning was half-gone, and he had scarcely looked from his desk. But a sudden impulse or wish to rest awhile, made him pause and lay down his pen. And this is what met his eyes. Mr Prichard was standing with his back to the boys, writing some directions on the class notice-board, not hurrying himself, and quite lost in what he was doing. He was an absent man, was Mr Prichard. All the boys were busy writing, or scratching their heads (a process commonly supposed to assist meditation), save one, and that was Egerton. But he was not idle. He was busy, a great deal too much so.
In his lap lay an open book. His desk, of course, concealed this from Mr Prichard, and from the rest of the room, except Harry; who, as he sat in the same row with him, alone could see; for Egerton's jacket, carefully pulled forward, screened his proceedings from the boy on his other side. His eyes were greedily fixed on the book; then he would write a little, then look again, then write again. He was cribbing.
Harry was so thunderstruck that he stared open-mouthed at him. Just then he heard Mr Prichard's voice, sterner than usual: "Campbell, what are you looking at, sir?" Poor Harry's heart sank within him. He could not, would not, tell; that would be sneaking. And yet he knew from the way in which Mr Prichard spoke that he suspected him of looking over Egerton's paper. The fact was, Mr Prichard had turned round suddenly, and catching Harry's eyes strained eagerly in the direction of Egerton's desk, had naturally imagined that he, and not Egerton, was taking an unfair advantage. Those few words of his sowed a crop of prejudice among the boys against Harry. "Campbell's been caught cribbing off Egerton," was what rose to the mind and lips of all; and a sort of sympathy grew up in favour of the true culprit, because it appeared that he had been the sufferer.
Naturally enough, there was a slight commotion in the room, and this gave Egerton ample opportunity to hide his book by sitting on it, or—but we must not anticipate.
Soon after, Harry finished his paper, folded it, and walked to Mr Prichard's desk; in his hurry, leaving his own open at the time. As he handed in his work he said, stammering: "I wasn't looking at Egerton's paper, sir; indeed I wasn't," and then blushed crimson. Mr Prichard said nothing, but looked very hard at him, and this made Harry blush the more. Then he went back to his desk (which he never noticed was now closed), locked it, and sat quietly till the class was dismissed; and shortly after was running home to his mother.
MOTHER AND SON.
Very miserable—Past hope—Mother and son—Breaking down—Resignation—"It is well."
The doctor's carriage with the broken-winded pony was standing at the door of the farm. Mrs Valentine had just come out, and was talking to the doctor's little boy, who sat holding the reins.
"Hallo, Harry," he cried, "home from school?"
"Hush, Master Bromley, don't make such a noise!" interposed Mrs Valentine.
Without taking any notice of Master Bromley, Harry exclaimed nervously to Mrs Valentine—
"Is mamma worse, Mrs Valentine?"
"Yes, dear," the good farmer's wife answered; "you mustn't go in now. She's very bad, indeed. Mr Bromley is with her."
So Harry ran into the orchard, and sitting down under a tree, felt very miserable. His mamma was worse—was she really dying now? The terrible examination—he remembered her words about his work, and going to Oxford. What was he to do? Was he to get leave from school, and give up the chance of getting the prize, and stay at home with mamma instead? But wouldn't that vex her, and perhaps make her worse? Besides, what use could he be at home? Ah! but if she were to die when he was away? No, no; he could not go away and leave her. He must stay with her now! The examination was nothing!
Such were the thoughts that coursed through Harry's brain; for though only thirteen years old, he was, in point of mind, far beyond his years, not in his school work, but in his ideas and feelings on general subjects of every-day life; and the reason of this was his having had, for so long, his mother as his only companion.
Presently Mrs Valentine came out to him. Her eyes were very red, for she had been crying.
"You can come in now, Master Harry."
"Mrs Valentine, is mamma dying? What can I do? She mustn't die. Can't Mr Bromley do anything for her?" cried Harry.
"No, dear boy. Mr Bromley can't do anything for her, poor dear; nor any one else either, for the matter of that. He can only make her easier for the time, like."
"But will mamma die before papa comes home?"
"She may die very—very soon," sobbed Mrs Valentine.
By this time they were at the door, and Mrs Valentine left Harry to run quietly upstairs to his mother's room. He found her in bed, looking fearfully white, saving two red hectic spots glowing in her wasted cheeks. Her hands were dry and hot; and when she began to speak, a fit of coughing made utterance impossible. Harry sat by the bedside, and burst out crying. After a few minutes, Mrs Campbell said in a low voice, but so cheerfully—
"Well, Harry dear, how did the examination go off?"
"It's not over, mamma; and, please, don't talk about that. Are you really going to die, mamma? Tell me, is it really true?"
"Yes, darling boy, I am really going away from you now, and soon, too—very soon."
"What shall I do when you are gone, mamma? How shall I——" and here Harry fairly broke down; he could speak no more.
"Don't cry, Harry; it makes me so sad. Don't you know I am going to heaven, and there will be no pain there. I shall not cough any more. You mustn't cry so. Tell me about school; I like to hear it all. I am not going to die to-day, darling boy. We shall have a little longer together. Tell me about the examination."
How Harry longed to pour his story out to her, of Egerton and Mr Prichard. But he wouldn't do so now. He would bear it by himself. He had run home so quickly, meaning to tell her all, and knowing she would believe and pity him, and tell him what to do. But how could he distress her now? So he only answered very quietly—
"I did the paper pretty well, mamma; I think; the examiner doesn't come for two or three days; but—but—you won't be here—then," and back came the memory of the fateful message, back came the fears at the thought that he would be alone in the world then.
"How hot the room is," sighed Mrs Campbell. "It makes me feel so weak."
"Ah! the air isn't like it was at Malta; is it, mamma? You told me it was so cool and sweet there; didn't you, mamma?"
"Yes, dear boy; but those cool winds have made me like this. It was sitting out, in the evenings there, that first gave me my cough. But it was God's will," she said half to herself, "and why should one look to second causes?"
"Go and have your dinner, Harry dear or you will be late for school," she said to him.
"Must I go to school, mamma, and leave you?"
"Yes, dear," she answered, "it is far better for you to go, as usual. They shall send for you if—if— Go down now, dear," she added, falteringly.
And when Harry hesitatingly left the room, Mrs Campbell turned her face to the wall, and prayed to God, to guard the motherless child; to guard the toilers on the sea; and then she thought of her girlhood, of her bright, strong, healthy days; and then of her marriage in the ominous Scotch mists, of the sojourning at Malta, of the journeyings to and fro; and chiefly of her husband's love, and of her happy life; and from the depths of her heart she thanked God for it all, and confessed that it had indeed "been well."
A surprise—Public opinion—Questioned—Circumstantial evidence—Inexorable.
With a heavy heart Harry set out for school; but it was a walk of a mile, and his spirits were very elastic; so that by the time he had settled to his afternoon's work, all his old interest and excitement in the examination had returned. Again the class sat writing in their corner-classroom, with busy fingers and hushed voices.
At half-past four Mr Prichard rose, contrary to his ordinary custom, to collect the papers. Harry had just opened his desk hastily for some blotting paper, and as he took the piece from its wonted corner, what was his astonishment to see Egerton's crib lying there. As he was making assurance doubly sure, that it really was the delectus-crib, he felt a hand on his shoulder, and starting suddenly, found Mr Prichard standing, looking over him into his desk.
"Give me your paper, Campbell," said Mr Prichard; "and that book!" he added, sternly.
Harry's heart seemed to rise into his mouth. He was too frightened to utter a word, but gave up the book immediately with his paper. The whole affair had so astonished him that he scarcely knew whether he stood on his head or his heels.
"Stay after school-prayers, Campbell," said Mr Prichard, as he passed on, collecting the papers as he went.
Shortly after, the whole class rose, and many were the murmurs, "Sneak! cribber!" that greeted Harry's burning ears as they all hurried along towards the big schoolroom.
Poor boy! he felt in a sad strait, for he well knew how hard it would be to clear himself. However, the consciousness of his innocence gave him a brave heart. His mother had always told him that, no matter what the consequences were, so long as his conscience told him he was in the right, it was all well; and that seeming misfortunes would but work to his final good.
Prayers over, Harry took up his position at Mr Prichard's desk. It so happened no boys were kept in that evening, so the rest of the masters were soon gone; but somehow or other the room did not clear so speedily as usual. Harry's class especially was among the lingerers. The report had soon spread through the school. And the boys (the younger ones chiefly), always glad of a row when not themselves concerned, stood peeping through the open doors.
"Leave the room at once, all of you," shouted Mr Prichard, "unless you want an imposition?"
Waiting calmly and deliberately till the room was clear, and the doors shut, while Harry longed, and yet dreaded for him to begin, Mr Prichard turned and said—
"Well, Campbell, what have you to say for yourself? This morning, I catch you in the act of copying, or attempting to copy, from Egerton's paper; and, now, this afternoon, I find you with a book in your possession, which, you know, you have no business whatever to have. I suppose this will account for the correctness of your work during the past half-year? Do you feel very proud of your performance," he added, sneeringly, "when none of it was your own labour or cleverness?"
Meek-hearted Harry was in tears long before this oration was concluded; and the streaming face and crimson blushes only tended to confirm Mr Prichard's conviction of his guilt.
"Please, sir, I wasn't copying off Egerton this morning," sobbed Harry; "I wasn't copying off him; and it isn't my book. It's—it's—it isn't mine, sir!"
"It isn't yours, sir?" cried Mr Prichard, indignantly. "Have you the face to contradict me flatly, sir, and say the book does not belong to you? Whose name is that?" he cried, holding the delectus-translation, open at its fly-leaf, to Harry.
And there plain enough it was—Harry Campbell.
"No, sir, no; it isn't mine," persisted Harry, through his tears. "It isn't mine. I never saw it till this morning."
"You are only adding to your wrong conduct, Campbell," said Mr Prichard very gravely. "It is bad enough for you to take unfair advantage of your school-fellows; but you make the whole matter ten times worse by telling a deliberate falsehood. The book is yours. Your name is in it."
In vain Harry protested his innocence; Mr Prichard remained inexorable.
"You will come with me to Dr Palmer to-morrow," and putting the book into his pocket, he stalked from the room.
A BOY FIGHT AT SCHOOL.
Lynch law—At bay—Bully Warburton—Single combat—The deciding round—Harry is victorious.
If Harry felt heavy-hearted when he started for home that afternoon, what must he have felt now? Deeper than ever he was plunged in the trouble from which he knew not how to extricate himself. His thoughts, however, soon flew to his mother. He knew that there he would find comfort, that there, at least, he would be believed. So carefully wiping away all traces of his tears, and putting on as brave a face as he could, he strapped his books together, and ran down the broad stone stairs into the lobby.
For some time, however, he could not find his cap. It did not need much reflection to tell him what this meant or foreboded. It was the beginning of persecution. But after rumaging about among the boxes kept in the lobby, his patience was at length rewarded. There, in a corner, was the missing cap; but torn and dirty and much injured. Nothing daunted, he cleaned it as well as he could, and, putting it on, emerged into the play-ground.
Just as he was fairly in the open, walking quickly towards the gates, and not looking about him, he heard a burst of voices that bore no pleasant meaning; and then a body of tennis-balls flew all round him—some hitting him smartly, some whizzing within an ace of him.
As soon as he had recovered from the first shock of his astonishment, stung and bruised, he looked to see who were his assailants, and there he saw about twenty boys, mostly of his own age and size, in fact, belonging to his form; though several of the crowd stood out from the rest, as older and bigger.
Harry's weakness was now turned to indignation.
"You beastly cowards!" he cried, "what have I done to you?"
"Thought to get the prize by cribbing, did you, you sneak?"
"I did not crib," shouted Harry, who had not stirred from where he was first hit by the balls.
"You little liar, you did. Give it him again," cried one of the bigger boys; and then another shower of balls fell thick about him.
"I'm not a liar. It's you're the liars, and the cowards too," he cried, coming nearer the crowd; and then the boys, too, crowded nearer to him.
"Do you mean to call me a liar? Do you mean to call me a coward?" cried one after the other—the bigger boys now being louder and more threatening in their tones.
"Yes, I do," answered Harry, "if you say I cribbed, when I didn't. And you are cowards to all set on one."
"Leave him to me," said Warburton, a tall, ungainly boy of fourteen, as boy after boy was eager to take the quarrel to himself. "I'll teach him. Now, you young brute," he cried, advancing to Harry. "Do you mean to call me a liar and a coward?"
"Yes, I do," persisted Harry, as Warburton came nearer, and shook his fist in his face. "It wasn't my crib; and you'd better not hit me!"
"Better not hit you," jeered Warburton; while the group echoed, "Better not hit him, indeed! Give him a good licking for his cheek, Warburton; I would if I were you!"
Warburton's jeer was very forced, but the voices of the rest gave him courage. So he rushed at Harry. The latter, however, seeing what to expect, threw away his books, and then flew at Warburton, who, from sheer astonishment at having actually to fight when he thought to administer an easy licking, began the combat at rather a disadvantage. Both hit very wildly at first, and not much damage was done. Of the two, Warburton was most out of breath, for he had been hitting furiously at Harry, who, not being strong enough to ward off the blows with his arms, had been forced to dodge and duck his head.
Presently they got into a corner close to the lobby-door, and Harry was beginning to flag. Not a word all this time had been uttered by the on-lookers. They would not back Harry; and to cheer on Warburton would be ridiculous. "Of course he would lick him all to pieces in a minute," they said.
But the minute had been a good long one, and all in their hearts were somewhat surprised. Just then Egerton came up; and Harry could scarcely believe his ears, when one voice alone came out of the crowd, cheering him on, and saying, "Go it, Campbell! Well fought! I'll back you, after all." And the voice was Egerton's.
At that moment Warburton was making a furious charge at him, when Harry stepped sharply aside, and gathering all his remaining force into one blow, hit his foe on the jaw: at the same instant Warburton slipped, and the blow and the false step terminated the fight, for he fell violently through the open lobby-door upon the stone floor.
"Well fought, Campbell! well fought!" cried Egerton.
No one else uttered a word.
Waiting till Warburton was on his feet again, his mouth bleeding, his face very crestfallen, Harry picked up his books, and shaking off Egerton's congratulations and friendly words, for he felt he was far more his enemy than Warburton, started home.
A good bathe in the lavatory set the mouth to rights; but Warburton was utterly cowed, and had learnt a lesson, which the rest had learnt too, that meek-hearted boys may bear a good deal of bullying, but that even to their endurance there is a certain limit.
FRIENDS IN MISFORTUNE.
Ominous words—A visitor—Harry breaks down—A confused story—What is to be done?—In good keeping.
Harry reached the farm about six o'clock—later than his usual time, and he knew his mother would be sure to inquire the reason; and, besides, his hair was very rough, and there was a suspicious-looking red mark on his left cheekbone. However, he was no sooner inside the house than he ran straight up-stairs to his mother. Her bedroom door was just ajar, and hearing a strange voice proceeding from the room. Harry knew some one was with her; so he sat down on the stairs, hoping that it would not be long before he might go in to see her. His heart was bursting to tell her all. He could keep it a secret no longer. To-morrow was the dreaded day when he was to be taken before Dr Palmer, and what the punishment might be, he dared not think. Expulsion, perhaps: certainly the loss of his place in his class, and nothing scarcely could be worse than that. Poor boy, he was in ignorance (and happily so) of the extent of the fault of cribbing. Most boys would have said: "I shall get a good caning, but I can get my crib again soon enough."
It was a lady who was with Mrs Campbell; so Harry knew from the voice, which was soft and sweet. She was talking quietly to his mother about her death; and as the words fell upon the silence. Harry listened eagerly for every syllable, nervous and trembling, and grew more miserable as each minute stole wearily by.
"It wouldn't have been so hard to die," Mrs Campbell was saying, "if he could only have been with me till the last. Dear Alan! I wonder where he is now?"
"Yet think, dear Mrs Campbell, how he is spared the pain of seeing you suffer," said the doctor's wife, for it was she. "You love him well enough, I know, to enable you to think this, don't you?"
"Oh, yes! yes!" answered the dying wife. "God knows what is for our good. It may have saved him much pain and sorrow. Dear Alan!" and her voice grew very low. She was talking half to herself. Then, as the new thought flashed across, she said again aloud, "But what will become of Harry when I am gone, and Alan out at sea?"
And Harry, where he sat on the stairs in the deepening dusk, burst into tears. His mother's quick ears caught the sound of his sobs, and she exclaimed:
"Why, there is Harry crying on the stairs? Tell him to come in, will you, Mrs Bromley?"
Harry needed no telling. He was soon in the room, at his mother's bedside, and clasped in her arms.
"Don't cry, Harry, darling," the weak voice said. "Don't cry so!"
"You aren't really going to die, mamma? What shall I do without you?—all alone—and—and Dr Palmer won't believe me. I know he won't," sobbed Harry.
"Dr Palmer won't believe you? What is it, dear? and what is the matter with your face? Oh, Harry, you haven't been fighting, have you?" she added, and her voice bore shadow of reproach in it.
"Yes, mamma, I have," answered Harry, "but I didn't begin; they all set on me, and shied balls at me, and said I cribbed, and called me a liar and a coward, and I fought Warburton, and licked him," and then came the English schoolboy's triumphant glance, through his tearful eyes.
"Said you cribbed? When, dear? How?" asked Mrs Campbell. "Tell me all about it."
And, then, when the two had at length succeeded in quieting Harry, he began his story. Through excitement, it was naturally very confused at first, but, by degrees, he had made everything plain.
"But why don't you tell Dr Palmer that it was Egerton's crib? and all that you saw in morning school?" said Mrs Campbell.
"Yes," chimed in the doctor's wife, "you can tell him you distinctly saw Egerton using the book."
"That's no good, mamma," answered Harry, despondingly. "He wouldn't believe me. He'd say I put it off on Egerton, because he was next me in class."
"What is to be done?" said Mrs Bromley. "I quite see what the poor boy means."
"Never mind, Harry, dear, tell the truth, as I know you will," said Mrs Campbell, "and it will all go well with you. Egerton will be found out sooner or later, and Dr Palmer will be sorry if he has punished you for nothing."
"I shall tell Mr Bromley to go and speak to Dr Palmer. That horrid boy, Egerton! I could give him a good shaking!" said Mrs Bromley, excitedly. "And now, dear Mrs Campbell, I must go. I will try and send you round some grapes in the morning. They will be so good for your thirst. I shall come and see you again soon. Keep up," she added, in a whisper. "Think of what we have been saying. God is but calling you to a better country, and He will guard your motherless boy!"
"He will! He will, I know! Good-bye. You are so good and kind to me. Come again soon, won't you?"
"Come, Harry," said the doctor's wife, turning to him, "come down with me, and Mrs Valentine will give you your tea."
"And ask her to bathe your face, dear boy," added Mrs Campbell, "and put a vinegar pad on it."
And then Mrs Bromley, kissing her affectionately, led Harry from the room, looking wistfully at his mother as he went.
"Ah, Alan, darling Alan!" she sighed, when she was alone in the silent twilight of the room, "if you were only here, it would be so much easier to die! Just to say good-bye once more. And you'll only see my grave when you come home. Oh, God," she prayed, "forgive me, and take me to Thyself." And then her words grew wandering. "Scotland with uncle Robert—how rough the waves are!—when shall we get to Malta—Alan! Alan! when will Alan come?—Alan, darling, don't be long!—I am so tired!" and so she fell into a broken slumber.
HARRY PUT ON TRIAL.
The geography paper—Before Dr Palmer—The accusation—Sentenced—The doctor's study—William's reminiscences—The doctor—Enter Egerton—Punishment—A hasty summons—Heart-stricken.
Not a single word greeted Harry on his entering the playground the following morning; neither was there any symptom of the persecution of the previous evening. No murmured words flung at him; no hissing; but only a few stares of wonder, almost, at his recent achievement. He was treated as a mere cypher,—sent to Coventry in fact. But this he did not mind; it certainly was preferable to positive persecution; and as he wished to keep calm for his coming ordeal, he was glad that nothing ensued to cause another fight—a contingency he had been fully prepared to expect. Warburton scowled at him. Egerton turned his face away as they passed. This, however, did not make the slightest impression on Harry; he felt proud of his victory over the former, and despised the meanness of the latter.
He was allowed to proceed with the examination; but his place had been changed, and he now sat close to Mr Prichard. The reason was evident, and he asked himself wearily, as he bent over his paper, when would he ever be set clear in the eyes of the masters and his schoolfellows?
Strangely enough, one of the questions (it was a geography paper) was, "What do you know of Malta?" Harry here felt at an advantage. He remembered, of course, nothing from his own experience; but he had heard his mother's description, and as his pen ran quickly, echoing in boyish language her words whom he loved so well, it is not much to be wondered that his interest almost banished from his mind the memory of his sorry plight.
But "like a dream, when one awaketh," he came back suddenly to a recollection of how he was situated. He was going to be put, as it were, on trial, and the charge against him was a difficult one to disprove.
Being a half-holiday, prayers were read at the end of morning-school. And now the time was come. Harry walked to Mr Prichard's desk, who conducted him at once across the room to Dr Palmer. The latter looked over his spectacles, surprised. Indeed, Harry had always been one of the "model boys."
"What is the matter, Mr Prichard?" he inquired. "Has Campbell been misbehaving himself?"
"Yesterday morning, sir," answered Mr Prichard, "during the examination, I detected Campbell deliberately looking over Egerton's paper, who you know at present stands next to him in class."
"No, sir, indeed I wasn't," burst in Harry.
"Silence, sir!" sharply said Dr Palmer.
"Had this been all," resumed Mr Prichard, "I should have punished him myself, severely, without troubling you; but, in the afternoon, as I was collecting the papers, and passing close by Campbell's desk, which was open at the time, I found this book in it," and he handed the delectus-crib. "And Campbell says—"
"It isn't mine, sir!" pleaded Harry. "Some one must have put it there!"
"Silence, sir!" said Dr Palmer, sharply again. "You will have to answer presently. Well, Mr Prichard?"
"Campbell makes the matter, as I told him, far worse by persistently denying that he is the owner of the book. And yet his name is in it."
"Campbell," said Dr Palmer, gravely, "this is a most serious charge against you. I had always thought you were an honourable boy. You always have been very industrious, and your work has been well done, as I hear; but this matter alters the whole case. It shows how one can be deceived in a boy."
As he paused a moment, Harry broke in with the same denials he had used before. He could not yet bring himself to try his last resource of affirming who was the rightful owner of the book, and he feared even that would but make his case worse.
"Go into my study, and wait till I come," added Dr Palmer.
And Harry, knowing what that meant, went away trembling; for no boy on the eve, or in the midst of, a caning, feels much consolation in a consciousness of his innocence.
How he got to Dr Palmer's study he knew not. The playground seemed so very long, and the boys who crowded to watch him pass, to have doubled or trebled their number. And he was almost glad, if such a feeling is compatible with his position, when he reached the room of horrors, as the Doctor's sanctum really was to the boys; for none set foot therein save those who were "in for a row."
Crossing the hall he met Dr Palmer's butler, an old man, most familiar to everybody, who never even said "Sir" to his master; but then he had known him from a boy. So it is no wonder his greeting to Harry was so blunt.
"What? 's that you, Campbell? Well, to be sure! In for a caning, I s'pose. What have you been and done now?"
"Nothing, William. I haven't done nothing," sobbed Harry, regardless of grammar. "I'm going to be caned for nothing."
"Oh no! nothing at all. That's what they all say, the young rascals," ejaculated William, half aloud, as he hurried away, partly about his business, but chiefly because he didn't like the sight of the boy's tears.
It made him think of the time when he used to steal apples (he would tell them in the kitchen), and his mother used to hold him up by his ears while his father thrashed him.
Harry had scarcely taken his seat upon the edge of one of Dr Palmer's crimson-morocco-covered chairs when he heard the fatal footstep in the hall, and the next moment the Doctor entered.
The first thing he did was to take down one of the canes that lay on the top of the bookshelves, Harry narrowly watching him the while, and then he said—
"Campbell, I am exceedingly sorry to be obliged to punish you."
Harry shivered; the doctor was a powerful man; and the cane looked very lithe and lissome.
"But I cannot pass over such a serious fault, even though you have always hitherto, so far as I have seen, conducted yourself well. There can be not the slightest doubt that the book is yours. It was found in your desk, and has your name in it."
"It isn't mine, sir. I declare it isn't. Some one must have put it there; and I saw,"—and here Harry paused.
Dr Palmer looked at him narrowly.
"Some one must have put it there? And do you mean to say, then, that you accuse one of your schoolfellows, not only of putting it there, but also of—"
Harry could endure no longer, and with excited and stammering tones, he told the whole tale.
"This is a most serious charge for you to bring," said Dr Palmer, laying down the cane and ringing the bell. "Send Master Egerton here," he said, when William appeared.
After a pause of about three minutes, which seemed like an hour to Harry, and during which not a word was uttered, Egerton entered, cool and collected, and said respectfully to Dr Palmer:
"William said I was wanted, sir."
"Campbell tells me he saw you using this book,"—holding out the delectus-crib—"in yesterday-morning school. The conclusion, therefore is, that it is yours, and that you put it into his desk. What have you to say to this, Egerton?"
"No, sir, I declare the book isn't mine," answered Egerton, positively, and still quite coolly. "I suppose Campbell's tried to put it off on me, because I'm next him in class."
"Oh, Egerton, how can you say so!" ejaculated Harry. "You know you were using it."
"Ask Evans, sir; he sat on the other side of me," said Egerton.
Evans was sent for.
"No, he never saw Egerton using the book. He sat close to him, and couldn't have helped seeing if he was cribbing."
Egerton again positively and solemnly declaring he knew nothing whatever of the matter, and Evans' evidence so far bearing him out, Dr Palmer dismissed them both, and then turned to Harry.
"Campbell, you have now had every chance. You have been detected in a most dishonourable act, and you have added to your fault by telling a lie. Bend down," he concluded, taking his cane.
In vain Harry protested his innocence. In vain he begged Dr Palmer to believe him. Twenty times the strong arm rose, twenty times the cane whished through the air, and twenty times Harry felt the sting. By the time it was all over, he was perfectly numbed and stiff with pain. But the bodily suffering was nothing when compared with the mental agony he felt at thus being punished when innocent. His whole frame was convulsed with sobs, and Dr Palmer was giving him a few words of concluding rebuke, when a hasty knock came at the door; and William, without waiting for the customary "Come in," hurried into the room, and said in his blunt way:
"Campbell's wanted home. His mother's bad."
Doctor Palmer's sternness and severity vanished in a moment. So it was always with him. Strict as he was, severe as he was, directly the punishment had been duly administered, he was kind-hearted and genial to the culprit long before he had recovered the effects of his punishment.
"Campbell, your mother is ill." He knew nothing more than that Mrs Campbell was a confirmed invalid. "Go and get your cap; I will come with you. Perhaps I can be of some use."
But Harry's heart was too stricken to accept those well-meant words; and the sudden change in the Doctor made Harry say what at another time he would never have dared to say.
"No," he sobbed. "I'll go alone. She doesn't want you. She believes me, and you don't. She won't speak to you." And he rushed from the room, leaving the doctor far too affected and moved to attempt to stop him or call him back.
Ministering friends—Watching—Past all tears—Taken home—The dark valley.
The summer sunlight lay thick about the room where Mrs Campbell was dying. There was a square of deep blue sky, edged by the window frame, glistening before her eyes—eyes that now were lighted up with the fervour of a holy death—eyes that glowed in sweet anticipation of that pure light which shines forever on the hills of heaven.
The silence of the room was only broken now and then by the few soothing words the doctor's wife would say or read. Mrs Valentine sat on the farther side of the bed, her eyes red with weeping; and, from time to time, tried to get some nourishment into the poor weak lips, though she knew well the while that all these tender ministerings were in vain. It was a lonely death for the dying one, even though she had these two good friends with her. He who had loved, and loved her still, so well, could not be there to hear her last words on earth. She must lay her head in other arms than his, and give up her soul to God, without a farewell word from him, without one prayer together uttered, that God would hasten the time of their meeting in that land where partings are unknown. No! She must die without the presence of her nearest, dearest one on earth, while he was beating out upon the great waters of the ocean.
In the morning after Harry had started for school, Mrs Campbell, in a violent fit of coughing, had broken a blood-vessel. In her present state this meant speedy and certain death. And Dr Bromley, when he returned home, after having seen her, had told his wife that Mrs Campbell could not last more than two or three hours. So, sending at once to the Grammar-School to request Doctor Palmer to allow Harry to go home immediately, the tender-hearted Mrs Bromley started for the farm.
And there she sat reading and speaking words of comfort to the dying wife, watching and fearing each moment would be the last. She was Mrs Campbell's only friend save Mrs Valentine. It is true the vicar had been to visit her several times, but under such painful circumstances the absence of one so near and dear as her husband made her almost inconsolable. Her parents had both been dead some years, and she was their only child. And as it often happens, while so many people have relations in numbers almost too abundant, she had none. Her only great friends were in Malta, friends whom she had known in the dear old days, when all seemed so bright and hopeful before her. It was therefore but natural that she should cling to the doctor's good wife; and thus their friendship, born as it was of a time of sorrow and suffering, was one of pure and holy comfort to them both.
And the morning crept on, with words of heaven softly uttered by the living, and drunk in with eager ears by the dying; and outside the birds sang, and the green trees whispered, stretching out their tiny leaf-hands to the caressant breezes, and all was summery there without,—all was sunshine and gladness. And through the heedless village ran Harry, heart-broken and afraid, and entered, from the brightness, his mother's peaceful room of death. He was past all crying now. The tears seemed dried up in one great burning spot within his brain. He stood quietly by the bed, longing to hear that well-known voice, but not daring to speak; she lay so still he scarcely knew whether she were alive or really dead.
"Here is Harry, dear Mrs Campbell," said the doctor's wife; "he has come from school. Don't you know him? Here he is."
She turned her large grey eyes upon her boy for some time without recognising him. Then, at last, opening her arms, said:
"Harry, darling, is that you? I'm going away now—going to heaven. You'll always be a good boy, won't you?"
"Mamma, mamma, you do believe I'm innocent, don't you?" said Harry. He could not let her die without hearing once more from own lips her trustful confidence in him.
"Yes, darling boy, I know you have spoken the truth. Kiss me now," she whispered, her voice growing weaker. "Good-bye, darling Harry; God bless you! Good-bye, dear Mrs Bromley. Good-bye, Mrs Valentine. God will reward you!" And then her voice was hardly audible as she murmured to herself, "Buried at Wilton, and Alan will come and see my grave. Alan, darling Alan, God is taking me home." And then as a heavenly light shone through her eyes, her voice regained its strength. "Into thy hand, O Lord I commend my spirit!" and so she died.
Harry's face was pressed close to hers, and his burning tears now fell thick upon the lifeless cheek.
"Oh! mamma, mamma," he sobbed, "what shall I do? what shall I do?"
And, sinking on the floor, he wept as though his heart would break. Mrs Bromley and the farmer's wife were too much wrapt in their own grief to stir to comfort him. So the three wept there together, in the quiet little farm beside old Wilton church; while she, for whom they wept, now henceforth knew no more sorrow, no more pain, nor any tears; and still outside the birds sang on unwitting, and, from without, the summer brightness mocked the darkness that was within—the darkness of the valley of the shadow of death.
School again—Leaving the farm—Like father, like son—Tea for two—The doctor retires—Miss Parker's oration.
Clouds and sunshine, sunshine and clouds. So runs the world away. Equally necessary, sorrow and gladness are as the rains and sunbeams for the fruits of the earth. Were it all sadness the world would grow morose and torpid; were it all gladness men would be selfish and hard-hearted.
Four days had now elapsed since Mrs Campbell died; and it was the evening of the funeral-day, a sad, rainy evening, and Harry was waiting while Mrs Valentine packed his things, for that night he was to go to the Grammar-School to sleep; to be there as a boarder, at any rate till his father returned. He scarcely spoke a word, and what he did say seemed to choke him. His mother dead; his father away at sea; himself sent back to the school he had left but a few days since, smarting with the pain of his undeserved punishment and accusation; his plight was indeed a sad one. Mrs Valentine tried to cheer him as well as she might, but she felt the blow that left Harry motherless too bitterly herself to be of much comfort to him.
At half-past seven William appeared with a light cart of Dr Palmer's, to take Harry and his luggage to school. Perhaps the bluntness of the old butler was more opportune now than ever. It prevented the lengthening of a parting that could not be otherwise than utterly sad and wretched to Harry. There was the good kind Mrs Valentine to leave; and the dear old farm, where he had spent so many joyous days in happy ignorance of the blow which now had stricken him. And there was the churchyard to say good-bye to, which now he could see but seldom, and when he was near her grave, his mother did not seem to him to be so far away.
But William was not unkindly blunt. Yet the sight of him brought back to Harry's mind the recollection of all that had occurred at school on the last occasion he had seen William's obese person. The crib found in his desk, the fight, the caning, and then—then, back came the recollection that he was indeed alone.
"Good-bye, my dear, good-bye," said Mrs Valentine; "be sure you come and see me when you can. Papa'll be home soon, maybe," though she feared she was but holding out false hopes in this.
"There, that'll do, missis," said William, interrupting the moist embraces of the good farmer's wife; and he flicked the fat pony across his sleek shoulder; and, with Harry and his boxes, was soon away down the lane, Mrs Valentine gazing after them, her long print apron at her eyes.
"Just like his father, dear boy, as brave and composed like. But 'tis harder a'most for all that." And who would say that her moralising was wrong?
As a special favour, and "in consideration of his late deplorable affliction," as Miss Parker, the matron, phrased it, Harry was to have his tea in Doctor Palmer's study that night, a favour Harry by no means saw in the light intended. He would far rather have had his tea with the rest; though, for the matter of that, he didn't want any tea at all. He was too miserable to eat. But his face was quiet and composed when he reached Doctor Palmer's hall, and was ushered into the study.
The tea was all ready,—two cups, two saucers, two plates,—so Harry was prepared for a tete-a-tete with the Doctor. Everything looked very nice and tempting, at least, it would have looked so on any other occasion; but now there was that numerical horror staring him in the face; those two cups, those two saucers, those two plates! It must be for Doctor Palmer and himself that all the preparations were made. But he was not left long in doubt, for, at that moment, the Doctor entered. He greeted Harry most kindly, and told him to take a seat at the table, which Harry did in silence; and then the Doctor poured out a cup of tea for him, and helped him to some cold meat. Harry watching every motion the while; and then, taking a cup for himself, drank it standing.
Harry hated all this kindness. He would almost have preferred angry words; but he ate what he had, and enjoyed it, though he said nothing more than "yes," or "no, thank you," or "please," to the Doctor's various remarks.
It was becoming unbearable, and he longed for the distant etiquette which school-life sets between boys and masters. He was in no mood for a master to try to play the parent, especially when now the contrast seemed so great, and lying, as he was, under false imputations.
But he was soon relieved, for Doctor Palmer said:
"I have to go out now, Campbell. Don't hurry over your tea, but when you have quite finished you can go to bed. You need not wait up for prayers."
"Thank you, sir," answered Harry, brighter for the first time. Relief was come at last, and the study-door closing over the Doctor's portly form was the welcomest sight Harry had seen for many days.
Once alone, he lingered over his tea. He knew he wouldn't be interrupted, and the contents of the table seemed doubly good now. He even looked at some books, and at last became so absorbed in one, that he went on reading, regardless of time, till he heard the boarders' prayer-bell ringing, at the sound of which he hurried off to bed. On the stairs he met the matron.
"Oh, Master Campbell, I was looking for you. You're changed into No. 7 dormitory. I put your box by your bed, so you'll know where you're to sleep. How are you now, dear," she added, kindly, "have you heard from your papa? when's he coming home? You'll try and be a good boy, won't you? You must think how it would vex your dear ma; and you won't give Doctor Palmer cause to cane you again, I know," and Miss Parker smoothed her apron, and took breath after her long-winded oration.
There it was at last. Harry feared it would come sooner or later, this allusion to the crib. He burst out indignantly,—
"Mamma believed me, Miss Parker, if nobody else did. She knew I didn't crib; but I won't bear it, I won't," he cried passionately, as he ran up-stairs to his new destination.
"Gas out."—The new boy's turn—"To err is human"—Resistance—Persecution—I'll run away.
"Well, there now," ejaculated Miss Parker, "I never! That boy's not a bit brought down by his mother's death. He sticks to it, just as indignant as ever."
But Harry was out of hearing, and was sitting on his bed, staring into his box which he had just opened. Presently, there was a sound of footsteps scurrying up-stairs and along the passages, and the door of No. 7 dormitory burst open, and its sixteen boys rushed in one after another, huddling together like a flock of sheep.
The first thing that met their eyes was Harry, who didn't quite know whether they would speak to him or not. So he waited till one or two greeted him with a shake of the hand, and a "how-de-do, Campbell?" two or three more with a cold "hallo, Campbell!" and the rest with only a stare.
Amongst the latter were Egerton and Warburton. In about five minutes a step was heard on the landing-place below.
"Gas out," cried Egerton, "there's Lea coming."
"Lea" was a house-master.
No one moved to obey the order.
"Now, then," cried Warburton, "who's new boy?" Harry, where he knelt at his bedside saying his prayers, knew he was meant; but he had not jumped up from his knees to obey the order, when a slipper came hard at him. He, however, first put out the gas, and was on his knees again, finishing his prayers, when Mr Lea entered. All being quiet, and the light out, he retired. As soon as his last step was heard below, one or two voices exclaimed—
"I say, Jackson, go on with your story, where you left off last night."
"Oh, no," answered Jackson, the boy appealed to, "I ain't new boy now. I've done my turn."
The majority of the boys did not quite like to tell Harry plainly it was his turn to provide the usual nightly amusement of a story, for they felt some sort of compunction towards him, because of his mother's death, even though they had not spoken to him; but they did not hesitate to talk pointedly about its being the new boy's turn; that Jackson had done his turn; he was the last new boy, and so on.
But as Harry took no notice of these remarks, Egerton solved the difficulty by saying curtly,—
"Campbell, it's your turn to tell a story, so look sharp, and begin."
"I haven't got one to tell," answered Harry, as he sat, still undressed, on his bed, unlacing his boots.
"Can't help that," said Egerton, "you must make up one. You're a good hand at that, aren't you?" he sneered, brutally.
Those few words clenched the feeling of hatred that had been gradually growing in Harry's breast towards Egerton. Then first sprang up within him a great desire of revenge, which in after years increased with Harry's growth—of revenge on one who had thus blasted his reputation, it seemed for ever. It is true, he had but shortly risen from his knees. But do not call his prayers hypocritical, because these angry, revengeful thoughts had taken such root in him so soon. If we had not these passions we should be divine. The only strange thing is, he was so young; for "vengeance" is usually only the cry of those of mature age. But a consideration of the circumstances in which he was placed, and the advanced temperament of his mind, will make the wonder vanish.
Harry took no notice of Egerton's speech as far as an answer was concerned. He went on unlacing his boots in silence; but he felt his face burn white with anger.
"Now then, Campbell," cried Egerton, "none of your sulks; it won't do. Are you going to tell a story or not?"
"No," answered Harry, bluntly and firmly.
"But it's your turn, Campbell," expostulated some of the others, wanting the story, but yet not wanting a row.
"I'd have tried to, if Egerton hadn't said that," answered Harry to the last speakers, whose tone seemed somewhat consolatory to him.
"Hadn't said what?" they asked.
"Why, said that I knew how to tell stories. You know what he meant, and it's beastly bullying, it is," went on Harry, impetuously and indignantly, "and he knows he's the liar, and not me," waxing bold from the apparent sympathy the silence of the room seemed to augur. But in that silence the anger of Egerton, and of a number of his special friends, was gathering; and the words were scarcely out of Harry's mouth, when a boot came through the darkness, hitting him on the shoulder, and then another, and another.
Harry sat on his bed, boiling with rage. He did not feel in the mood for fighting, and besides, in the dark it was impossible.
Then came another ominous silence; and suddenly a scuffle of feet sounded near his bed, and before he knew where he was, his bed was suddenly dragged out into the middle of the room, turned over, and clothes, boots, sponges, wet towels, and pillows heaped upon him.
Harry was maddened: he longed to find some one to hit, but the darkness prevented that. He heard suppressed voices laughing at him, but could see not a sign of any one; the bedclothes entangled his movements; he was wet with the sponges and bruised from the boots. What could he do? Where could he find help? "Not at school, not at school," he said to himself. "If I tell, I shan't be believed;" and then the idea came across him—"I'll run away." The thought was no sooner in his head, than his mind was firmly resolved. Yes, he would run away from this horrid place; anywhere, anywhere, rather than stay here.
In the passage—Past the last door—Somebody coming—Across the lawn—A footstep—The doctor!
As luck would have it, Harry's bed was near the door. If he could but get out of the dormitory unobserved by the boys, that would be at least one rung mounted on the ladder of escape. He was fully dressed, his boots only being unlaced. So taking them off, he crept towards the door, and waiting cautiously, hidden by the now-welcome darkness, till a fresh noisy onset was made by his assailants on the bed where they supposed him to be, he stealthily lifted the latch and stood on the stairs. He was not long creeping down to the first landing—a narrow carpeted passage, full of numerous doors, and terminating in a window which looked over a shed where the boots and knives, etc., were cleaned. The stairs which led below, joined those of No. 7 dormitory at one end of the passage, exactly opposite to the window, the distance from the window to the stairs being about ten yards. When Harry left his room he had not the least notion how he was going to accomplish his purpose. He had only a vague idea that he was running away; and it was not till he alighted at the end of the passage mentioned, and saw from the other end the moonlight streaming in through the curtainless window, that it entered his head that there he might find means of escape.
So he stole cautiously along the passage, nervous, excited, fearing lest he should disturb any of the sleepers in the various rooms he passed. The whole place was so still, he could almost hear his heart thumping. The only thing besides that stirred the silence was the subdued monotonous snoring from the rooms. A waft of fresh summer night-air made his heart leap with delight and eagerness. The window was open. The rest seemed easy.
The last door was passed, and he stood at the ledge looking out into the moonlight. How quiet everything was! Far off, across the playground, he saw a few lights burning in the different masters' houses; but the Doctor's, in a wing of which he was, was quite dark. Of course, he remembered, the Doctor was out. How fortunate! and the kitchen-windows looked the other way. The roof of the boot-house was about six feet below the window-ledge. At the corner stood a water-butt, and, against that, a large empty box turned up on end. Everything appeared to be put there to further his escape. The boot-house stood in a yard, which opened into Dr Palmer's garden, and from that he knew escape would be easy enough.
He had just tied his boots together, and by the aid of his pocket-handkerchief dropped them on the roof. His hands were already on the window-ledge, and one leg over, when he heard a footstep on the stairs below. What should he do? To stay as he was, motionless, would be fatal. He was full in the moonlight. To crouch down in the corner, where the moonlight did not shine, might possibly screen him. Not a second was to be lost. His resolution was formed. Over went the other leg; and, hanging with his fingers to the outside of the window-ledge, afraid to drop to the roof lest the noise should be heard, he clung trembling, while he heard the step ascending to the top dormitory. He must be off,—right away, in a few minutes; for it would not now be long before he was missed. Down he dropped the remaining distance, picked up his boots, scrambled down the water-butt, on to the box, and there he was safe on the ground at last. The gate from the yard into the doctor's garden was always open. He ran noiselessly through, on his bootless feet, into the garden, and across the lawn; and, skirting along where the laurels cast a dark pathway of shadow over the moonlit grass, he made for a corner of the garden-wall, near which the high road ran, and which some few days ago he had noticed was either lower than elsewhere, or somewhat tumbled down. Into the laurels he darted, and soon found the spot he wished; and, then knowing he was quite hidden, and, moreover, in a place where no one would dream of searching for him, he sat down to regain his breath; and, as he put on his boots, listened eagerly to catch the slightest sound that might warn him that his absence was discovered. Nor was it more than two or three minutes before he heard voices in the playground, and the unlocking of various doors, and lights shone suddenly in several windows.
No more waiting was to be thought of. He must go on, if he meant really to escape; or be caught, and so have all the trouble and fright for nothing, or at least not for nothing. He knew if he were caught, his stay at school would only be a very short one; and better anything than be caned, and afterwards expelled.
So he scrambled up the garden-wall, and his eyes brightened as he saw the hard, highroad that would lead him away from this place of torture.
To right the road ran down towards the village: to left it led to the school, and to the entrance of Doctor Palmer's house; and, further on, to the neighbouring town.
He was preparing to jump down, when again the sound of a footstep checked and terrified him. If it were coming up from the village, the passer-by would of course see him. If it were coming from the school, the same result would be fatal to him. The only hope was, that it was a retreating step of some one who had passed while his attention was drawn off by the noise of those who were searching for him.
He stretched out his head and looked down the road. No one there. So far he was safe. He looked up the road; and there was a well-known figure, magnified and looking very gaunt in the moonlight. It was the Doctor. But—and Harry could scarcely believe his eyes for joy—he was going away from where his runaway pupil crouched trembling on the wall. He must have passed just before he climbed up. The Doctor seemed to be walking so perversely slow, actually strolling, Harry thought. When would he turn the corner?
Fainter, however, grew the footsteps, and at length the portly figure disappeared. And then, jumping hastily from the wall, with a slip on to the road, and scrambling to pick himself up, Harry ran as hard as his legs would carry him down towards Wilton village.
AT SLEEP AT LAST.
Mingled feelings—Sore perplexity—Cherishing vengeance—'Ware the dog—Want of reflection—In the churchyard—Footsteps—A strange bed.
He did not stop running till he had put nearly three-quarters of a mile between him and the school. And then two considerations brought him to a standstill. Firstly, he was out of breath; he could scarcely run a step farther; and secondly, he was now close into the heart of the village, and the groups of lounging figures he espied in the distance warned him he must be careful how he proceeded. About two hundred yards in advance was a public house—"The Blue Anchor;" and here, of course, was a goodly knot of men, some inside drinking, some outside smoking, and all making a most disreputable noise. There were also one or two women in amongst the crowd, evidently searching for truant sons or husbands, and Harry feared their inquisitive eyes even more than he feared the men. For he remembered he was covered with dust and dirt from his scramble; his hair all rough; hatless, and generally untidy. Besides, what business had a boy of his age and station in life to be wandering about a village, alone, at half-past nine?
So he retraced his steps a short distance, until he came to a stile leading to a lane which skirted the village; and which, running past the farm and the church, as before-mentioned, joined the highroad at the further end of the village.
Once in the lane, and safe from sight, he slackened his pace; and then, with the feeling of comparative safety, came very mingled feelings of exultation, loneliness, and fear—each striving to have the uppermost in the poor boy's heart.
Hitherto the excitement of achieving that vague performance of running away from school had pre-occupied him, and kept away all thoughts of the future. But the dangers of the escape were now all overcome, or at least Harry thought they were. What, then, was the next thing to be done? Should he go to Mrs Valentine? If he went there, perhaps she would send him back to school. And besides, the farm would be shut up, and every one gone to bed. How should he attract Mrs Valentine's attention; and make her come down and let him in? The dog was always loose at night, to keep intruders off. He would be sure to fly at him, if he attempted to go near the place.
So Harry was very sore perplexed, and began to think that running away was not such an easy thing after all. And he remembered that Egerton was the cause of all this trouble. Had it not been for him, he would have been at school; motherless, it is true, but not in disgrace as he was; sad at heart, but not hated and suspected by boys and masters. Egerton! Egerton had caused it all! And Harry longed for revenge. He would treasure up his hatred, his thirst for vengeance, and some day, perhaps, he would meet the one who had done him this wrong, and then the debt should be paid off. This feeling of revenge was already firmly rooted in his heart, already beginning to be the one purpose of his life.
He would go on towards the farm, at any rate, and see how things stood. Perhaps the dog was not loose that night, or if it were, might recognise him.
So, plucking up his spirits, he ran along the lane towards the little farm, where he had been so happy with his dear dead mother, and towards the quiet churchyard, whose coverlet of green was over her.
He was not long reaching the farm, and went cautiously up to the gate. Not a sound! not a light in any window! There was the great silver moon making everything as bright almost as day, and there was the slow munching of the cows in the adjoining orchard. Harry's heart rose higher. No dog! not a sign of him! He put his hand to open the gate. The latch stuck. He pushed harder; it flew open with a sharp click, and he had not time to listen whether the sound had been heard or no, when a dog's low growl solved the question.
He started back from the gate, which fell to with a loud crash. It was all up now. Out rushed the dog, barking fiercely, and off rushed Harry simultaneously. And naturally enough, too. It is not pleasant to be mauled by a huge mastiff.
Had the idea struck him, he would have kept at a respectful distance, and there waited in hopes that the baying of the dog would disturb the inmates of the house, and that on their coming out to discover the reason, he would gain his object of being let in.
But it is very doubtful whether a much older and, therefore, more thoughtful person than Harry would have considered anything but the fierceness of the dog, and the desirability of getting away as quickly, and as far, as possible.
So Harry bolted down the lane at headlong speed, while the dog, seeing the intruder depart, only uttered a few self-satisfied growls, and returned to his mat in the porch, conscious that he had done his duty. At the same moment, Mrs Valentine opened her window and put out a night-capped head into the moonlight, and craning it all round, to see what was the matter, and seeing nothing extraordinary, put it in again, with a slight shiver.
Good soul! how little she dreamt of the apparently-trifling episode enacted underneath her window! How gladly would she have welcomed the runaway frightened boy! And how different that boy's after life would have been had she but wakened sooner.
Meanwhile, Harry was stopping at the churchyard-gate. He longed to go in. He hesitated. On another occasion, and in his mother's lifetime, he would not have dared to go inside the wicket after dark. But now, now he was going away, he knew not where! Out into the world, and that seemed a very long way off to Harry. It was like another country. Besides, what would hurt him while she was there, he asked himself?
So, without more ado, he passed through the creaking gate, up the lime-tree avenue, heedless of the ghost-like shadows of the tombstones, and the rustle of the fragrant leaves.
It was soon found, that little grassy mound in the corner by the ivy-covered porch. And then he could bear up no longer. He burst into tears, and throwing himself on the dewy moonlit sward, wept bitterly.
"Oh, mamma, mamma, why did you die? why did you die? What shall I do?" he sobbed in a low, excited tone, "I'm so lonely, mamma! mamma!"
And the quiet night stole on, and the soft winds of June whispered over the motherless boy, weeping there alone in the churchyard.
The sound of footsteps! Harry jumped up and listened, eager, and frightened. The churchyard wicket was opened and shut again, and then he heard a steady measured tread of persons slowly approaching. He was riveted to the spot, and a cold perspiration broke upon his forehead. The steps were nearing, and then, rounding the corner of the tower, the new comers came into sight.
One look was enough, and Harry was off down the other path that led from the churchyard to the further end of the village.
It was only a funeral of a drowned man who had been picked up the previous night upon the shore of Wilton. But the dark, slow-moving figures of the bearers, and the flickering gleam of the lanthorns, made dim by the moonshine, froze his heart with terror, and drove him away from his mother's grave without one word of parting. Perhaps it was better so. It saved him the difficulty and sorrow of having to decide to say good-bye for ever to that grassy sleeping-place where slept the one so dear to him.
Away he ran, heedless, frightened, through the straggling remainder of the village. Not a light was burning, not a person stirring, which was fortunate, though he never paused to see; or think, but hastened on till he fancied he had gone miles; and then, seeing an inviting barn close by the roadside, turned in, and, worn out with fatigue and excitement, soon slept heavily in a low, broken manger full of hay—a strange but welcome bed.
THE BITERS BIT.
Excitement in school—Expecting a row—The doctor speaks—Deliberate falsehood—The truth comes out—The two culprits—Manly confession—Mr Franklyn speaks—Honest shame—Egerton convicted—The doctor's speech—Warburton caned—Egerton birched—Justification.
The bright fresh summer hour of seven, the following morning, was very different in the barn where Harry had taken up his abode to what it was at the grammar-school. In the former, it saw the tired lonely boy sleeping heavily, his face stained with tears; in the latter, a great stir and confusion. Campbell had run away. The search in the night had been fruitless; and to add to the general excitement, that morning the Examiner was to commence the viva voce part of the examination. The hour of preparation, from seven to eight, was not a very industrious one. Boys were too full of surmises, and Mr Prichard, who happened that morning to be in charge of the school-room, was too much disturbed about Harry's disappearance to pay much attention to the whispers which were spreading through the room. Breakfast, too, was by no means the usual ordinarily quiet meal.
The only boys who betrayed any symptoms of nervousness or uneasiness (all were excited, of course) were those who had joined Egerton and Warburton in their assault on Harry the previous night.
These looked guilty; but their ringleaders preserved the utmost coolness and indifference; and a casual observer, if asked, would have said, "Well, if there are two boys more than any others who certainly have nothing to do with the whole affair, those two are Egerton and Warburton."
So much for guilt, and the mask it can so well assume.
Before the nine o'clock bell had ceased ringing, every boy was in his place in the big school-room—a rare occurrence, indeed—waiting eagerly for the appearance of the Doctor. For boys like nothing better than a "row" when they themselves are not implicated. And remember, those who were so implicated were but an exceedingly small fraction of the whole number. What the guilty ones felt will best be known by those who have been in a similar position.
Dr Palmer entered with the Examiner, a fresh-coloured young man, in a very new gown, and a very new hood, thrown jauntily over his shoulders. The doctor was grave and stern, and looked at nobody. The Examiner played with his watch-chain, and looked at everybody, running his eyes rapidly along the different desks and forms. And the other masters followed in due order. And, when all were in their respective places, prayers were said, and Dr Palmer, amid breathless silence, spoke as follows:
"You are most of you, if not all, aware of what occurred last night. One of your number, Campbell, has, in a fit of rashness and haste, run away, and as yet has not been found. There must be some special reason for this;" and the Doctor paused and looked round the room. "I left him in my study at half-past seven last night, having his tea, and as happy as he could be under the sad circumstances of his mother's death." And his voice trembled; "On reaching home a few minutes after nine I find he has disappeared. The dormitory, in which he slept, is discovered in a disgraceful state of disorder and confusion. The boys who sleep there must have an explanation to give. On another matter with regard to Campbell, I shall have to speak presently." And again the dignified voice was broken with ill-concealed emotion. "Sit down, all of you, except those who sleep in No. 7 dormitory."
The order was obeyed, and the sixteen stood in their places, the observed of all eyes.
"Egerton, you are eldest in the dormitory. Did you do anything, or see anything done, that might provoke Campbell to this rash act?"
"No, sir; nothing at all," answered Egerton, fearlessly.
"You did not interfere with him in any way?"
Egerton hesitated. "No, sir, I didn't. I didn't even speak to him. It wasn't likely after what he said of me to you."
"That will do," said Doctor Palmer, in a strange tone. "You may sit down. Warburton!"
"Did you interfere with Campbell in any way last night?"
"No, sir, not at all," answered Warburton.
"Sit down!" again said the Doctor.
Two deliberate liars out of sixteen is a large proportion, and it is not to be supposed that there would be more such. The rest would either maintain a frightened silence or tell the truth. Fortunately, the boy next questioned was one of the latter class. And his fearless answer gave courage to the rest.
"Yes, sir, I did. I pulled his bed out into the room and upset it," answered Williams, when the same question was put to him. And before the Doctor could say a word, the remaining three implicated with Egerton, Warburton, and Williams, confessed their share in the matter. The rest denied, with truth, having done anything to Campbell, and were told to sit down.
Those who had confessed were then called into the centre of the room and further questioned as to who commenced the attack on Campbell, and what was the cause of it.
Williams looked at the other three who stood with him, and the three looked at Williams; and all got very red, and said nothing.
The Doctor repeated his question.
The boys hesitated, and looked doubtfully towards Egerton and Warburton, to see if they would come forward; but no! the two preserved the same stolid demeanour. So at length Williams told the whole story, not exculpating himself in the least degree, but only saying how sorry he was; and the others confirmed his statement.
"Egerton and Warburton, stand out. Do you hear what Williams says? Do you still deny the charge brought against you?"
The room was breathless. The two culprits turned deadly pale, and began to stammer out what was partially denial, partially excuse. And then in an abject tone implored forgiveness.
Doctor Palmer took no notice of their entreaties, but mentioned to them to stand by his desk. The other four he dismissed to their seats.
He then addressed the whole assemblage of boys and masters:
"I have now another matter of very serious moment to speak to you about. A great injustice has been done to Campbell—an injustice which has in a measure contributed, I fear, to his reasons for running away. To set you an example of the manliness of confession, I tell you openly, and Mr Prichard wishes me to say the same for him, that we—he and I—have made a great mistake, and judged and punished Campbell unjustly. You will understand that I am referring to the book found in his possession during the examination. At the same time, I wish you all fully to understand that appearances went decidedly against Campbell, and evidence proved his guilt. And it was acting upon these appearances and this evidence that we punished him. Mr Franklyn, however, will kindly explain the matter to you;" and the Doctor sat down overcome by excitement and emotion.
And then Mr Franklyn (the Examiner), after a preliminary "ahem!" spoke to the boys in a clear ringing voice, going straight to the point without any introductory remarks.
"On Tuesday last I received the papers done by you on Monday morning. With those of the Lower Third Form came a note from Mr Prichard, saying that he had sent with the papers a book—a Delectus translation ('Crib' as you would call it)—which he had found in Campbell's possession during the examination. And he requested me, and very properly, too, to take the necessary steps respecting Campbell's place in his class. Here, however, Mr Prichard begs me to plainly state the mistake he made. He did not compare the papers sent in, with the translation of the book. This would at once have acquitted Campbell. For I at once emphatically say that, even if the book were his, he never used it during the examination. His work was correct, but boyish in style. The rendering of the book is the work of a man. So much, then, is clear, that of the charge of using the book during the examination, Campbell is perfectly innocent; and I only wish he were here to hear me say so."
At these words all reverence for masters was thrown aside, and the vehement clapping of hands soon showed that Harry's good name was once more firmly established, and not only established, but that his clearance gave joy to the school.
"But," resumed Mr Franklyn, when the noise had abated, "to make assurance doubly sure, I will go a step further, and tell you who did use the book during the examination."
With a sort of presentiment of what was coming, all eyes were turned upon Egerton; while in the hearts of many a feeling of shame—honest, good-producing shame—sprang up for the unkind part they had played to Harry.
"On turning to Egerton's papers," continued Mr Franklyn, "I at once detected a strong similarity to the translation I had just examined; and on a close comparison found his translation coincided word for word with the book found in Campbell's possession, and which he was accused of using. Whether the book belongs to Egerton or not, I do not know; but this is evident, that it was he, and not Campbell, who was guilty of taking unfair advantage of his companions. How the book came into Campbell's desk I know not. But as Egerton has been, in these two matters, convicted of telling a wilful untruth, I am ready to believe him capable of any further deceitful conduct to screen himself. It rests with Doctor Palmer to conclude this most painful affair."
As Mr Franklyn ended, and resumed his seat, there was a mixed murmur, partly from pleasure at Harry's innocence, partly from an impulse, which seemed to take possession of all, of snatching the punishment of Egerton out of the lawful hands.