By IAN MACLAREN Author of "Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush"
NEW YORK Dodd, Mead and Company 1910
Copyright, 1899 and 1900, By The Curtis Publishing Company, as A SCOTS GRAMMAR SCHOOL.
Copyright, 1900, By The Curtis Publishing Company.
Copyright, 1901, By Dodd, Mead and Company.
First Edition, Published October, 1901
A FAMOUS VICTORY 59
HIS PRIVATE CAPACITY 85
THE DISGRACE OF MR. BYLES 103
THE COUNT 121
A TOURNAMENT 139
A LAST RESOURCE 183
A PLEASANT SIN 205
GUERILLA WARFARE 223
THE FALL OF GOLIATH 245
THE BAILIE'S DOUBLE 261
THE TRIUMPH OF THE SEMINARY 281
BULLDOG'S RECOMPENSE 305
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
"Nestie was standing in the centre of the large entrance hall." Frontispiece
"Peter dared not lift his head." 36
"'You are an ill-bred c-cad.'" 50
"Seized an excellent position behind two Russian guns." 66
"Nestie whispered something in Speug's ear." 92
"Speug was dragged along the walk." 96
"They were so friendly that they gathered round the party." 114
"They were brought in a large spring cart." 118
"Watching a battle royal between the tops." 134
"Before the hour the hall was packed." 158
"Thomas John next instant was sitting on the floor." 170
"The school fell over benches and over another." 174
"His hand closed again upon the sceptre of authority." 202
"They drank without any cup." 218
"Before him stood London John bearing the seductive advertisement." 240
"A bottle of ferocious smelling-salts was held to the patient's nose." 252
Muirtown Seminary was an imposing building of the classical order, facing the north meadow and commanding from its upper windows a fine view of the river Tay running rapidly and cleanly upon its gravel bed. Behind the front building was the paved court where the boys played casual games in the breaks of five minutes between the hours of study, and this court had an entrance from a narrow back street along which, in snow time, a detachment of the enemy from the other schools might steal any hour and take us by disastrous surprise. There were those who wished that we had been completely walled up at the back, for then we had met the attack at a greater advantage from the front. But the braver souls of our commonwealth considered that this back way, affording opportunities for ambushes, sallies, subtle tactics, and endless vicissitudes, lent a peculiar flavour to the war we waged the whole winter through and most of the summer, and brought it nearer to the condition of Red Indian fighting, which was our favourite reading and our example of heroism. Again and again we studied the adventures of Bill Biddon, the Indian spy, not only on account of his hairbreadth escapes when he eluded the Indians after a miraculous fashion and detected the presence of the red varmint by the turning of a leaf on the ground, but also in order to find out new methods of deceit by which we could allure our Indians into narrow places, or daring methods of attack by which we could successfully outflank them on the broader street and drive them into their own retreats with public ignominy.
Within the building the glory of the Seminary was a massive stone stair, circular in shape, and having a "well" surrounded on the ground floor by a wall some three feet high. Down this stair the masters descended at nine o'clock for the opening of the school, with Bulldog, who was the mathematical master and the awful pride of the school, at their head, and it was strictly forbidden that any boy, should be found within the "well." As it was the most tempting of places for the deposit of anything in the shape of rubbish, from Highland bonnets to little boys, and especially as any boy found in the well was sure to be caned, there was an obvious and irresistible opportunity for enterprise. Peter McGuffie, commonly called the Sparrow, or in Scotch tongue "Speug," and one of the two heads of our commonwealth, used to wait with an expression of such demureness that it ought to have been a danger signal till Bulldog was halfway down the stair, and a row of boys were standing in expectation with their backs to the forbidden place. Then, passing swiftly along, he swept off half a dozen caps and threw them over, and suddenly seizing a tempting urchin landed him on the bed of caps which had been duly prepared. Without turning his head one-eighth of an inch, far less condescending to look over, Bulldog as he passed made a mental note of the prisoner's name, and identified the various bonnetless boys, and then, dividing his duty over the hours of the day, attended to each culprit separately and carefully. If any person, from the standpoint of this modern and philanthropic day, should ask why some innocent victim did not state his case and lay the blame upon the guilty, then it is enough to say that that person had never been a scholar at Muirtown Seminary, and has not the slightest knowledge of the character and methods of Peter McGuffie. Had any boy of our time given information to a master, or, in the Scotch tongue, "had clyped," he would have had the coldest reception at the hands of Bulldog, and when his conduct was known to the school he might be assured of such constant and ingenious attention at the hands of Speug that he would have been ready to drown himself in the Tay rather than continue his studies at Muirtown Seminary.
Speug's father was the leading horsedealer of the Scots Midlands, and a sporting man of established repute, a short, thick-set, red-faced, loud-voiced, clean-shaven man, with hair cut close to his head, whose calves and whose manner were the secret admiration of Muirtown. Quiet citizens of irreproachable respectability and religious orthodoxy regarded him with a pride which they would never confess; not because they would have spoken or acted as he did for a king's ransom, and not because they would have liked to stand in his shoes when he came to die—considering, as they did, that the future of a horsedealer and an owner of racing horses was dark in the extreme—but because he was a perfect specimen of his kind and had made the town of Muirtown to be known far and wide in sporting circles. Bailie McCallum, for instance, could have no dealings with McGuffie senior, and would have been scandalised had he attended the Bailie's kirk; but sitting in his shop and watching Muirtown life as it passed, the Bailie used to chuckle after an appreciative fashion at the sight of McGuffie, and to meditate with much inward satisfaction on stories of McGuffie's exploits—how he had encountered southern horsedealers and sent them home humbled with defeat, and had won hopeless races over the length and breadth of the land. "It's an awfu' trade," McCallum used to remark, "and McGuffie is no' the man for an elder; but sall, naebody ever got the better o' him at a bargain." Among the lads of the Seminary he was a local hero, and on their way home from school they loitered to study him, standing in the gateway of his stables, straddling his legs, chewing a straw, and shouting his views on the Muirtown races to friends at the distance of half a street. When he was in good humour he would nod to the lads and wink to them with such acuteness and drollery that they attempted to perform the same feat all the way home and were filled with despair. It did not matter that we were fed, by careful parents, with books containing the history of good men who began life with 2s. 11d., and died leaving a quarter of a million, made by selling soft goods and attending church, and with other books relating pathetic anecdotes of boys who died young and, before they died, delighted society with observations of the most edifying character on the shortness of life. We had rather have been a horsedealer and kept a stable.
Most of us regarded McGuffie senior as a model of all the virtues that were worthy of a boy's imitation, and his son with undisguised envy, because he had a father of such undeniable notoriety, because he had the run of the stables, because he was on terms of easy familiarity with his father's grooms, and because he was encouraged to do those things which we were not allowed to do, and never exhorted to do those things which he hated to do. All the good advice we ever got, and all the examples of those two excellent young gentlemen, the sons of the Rev. Dr. Dowbiggin, were blown to the winds when we saw Speug pass, sitting in the high dogcart beside his father, while that talented man was showing off to Muirtown a newly broken horse. Speug's position on that seat of unique dignity was more than human, and none of us would have dared to recognise him, but it is only just to add that Peter was quite unspoiled by his privileges, and would wink to his humble friends upon the street after his most roguish fashion and with a skill which proved him his father's son. Social pride and the love of exclusive society were not failings either of Mr. McGuffie senior or of his hopeful son. Both were willing to fight any person of their own size (or, indeed, much bigger), as well as to bargain with anybody, and at any time, about anything, from horses to marbles.
Mrs. McGuffie had been long dead, and during her lifetime was a woman of decided character, whom the grooms regarded with more terror than they did her husband, and whom her husband himself treated with great respect, a respect which grew into unaffected reverence when he was returning from a distant horse-race and was detained, by professional duties, to a late hour in the evening. As her afflicted husband refused to marry again, in decided terms, Peter, their only child, had been brought up from an early age among grooms and other people devoted to the care and study of horses. In this school he received an education which was perhaps more practical and varied than finished and polite. It was not to be wondered, therefore, that his manners were simple and natural to a degree, and that he was never the prey, either in any ordinary circumstances, of timidity or of modesty. Although a motherless lad, he was never helpless, and from the first was able to hold his own and to make his hands keep his head.
His orphan condition excited the compassion of respectable matrons, but their efforts to tend him in his loneliness were not always successful, nor even appreciated to the full by the young McGuffie. When Mrs. Dowbiggin, who had a deep interest in what was called the "work among children," and who got her cabs from McGuffie's stable, took pity on Peter's unprotected childhood, and invited him to play with her boys, who were a head taller and paragons of excellence, the result was unfortunate, and afforded Mrs. Dowbiggin the text for many an exhortation. Peter was brought back to the parental mansion by Dr. Dowbiggin's beadle within an hour, and received a cordial welcome from a congregation of grooms, to whom he related his experiences at the Manse with much detail and agreeable humour. During the brief space at his disposal he had put every toy of the Dowbiggins' in a thorough state of repair, and had blacked their innocent faces with burnt cork so that their mother did not recognise her children. He had also taught them a negro melody of a very taking description, and had reinforced their vocabulary with the very cream of the stable. From that day Mrs. Dowbiggin warned the mothers of Muirtown against allowing their boys to associate with Speug, and Speug could never see her pass on the street without an expression of open delight.
When Mr. McGuffie senior brought his son, being then ten years old, to the Seminary for admittance, it was a chance that he was not refused and that we did not miss our future champion. Mr. McGuffie's profession and reputation were a stumbling-block to the rector, who was a man of austere countenance and strict habits of life, and Peter himself was a very odd-looking piece of humanity and had already established his own record. He was under-sized and of exceptional breadth, almost flat in countenance, and with beady black eyes which on occasion lit up his face as when one illuminates the front of a house, but the occasions were rarely those which would commend themselves to the headmaster of a public school. How the dealer in horses removed the rector's difficulties was never accurately known, but boys passing the door of the rector's retiring-room when he was closeted with Mr. McGuffie overheard scraps of the conversation, and Muirtown was able to understand the situation. It was understood that in a conflict of words the rector, an absent-minded scholar of shrinking manner, was not likely to come off best, and it is certain that the head of the school ever afterwards referred to Mr. McGuffie as "a man of great resolution of character and endowed with the gift of forcible speech." As regards the son, his affectionate father gave him some brief directions before leaving, and in the presence of his fellow-scholars, of which this only was overheard, and seemed, indeed, to be the sum and substance: "Never give in, ye de'il's buckie." With these inspiriting words Mr. McGuffie senior departed through the front door amid a hush of admiration, leaving Peter to his fate not far from that "well" which was to be the scene of many of his future waggeries.
With the progress of civilisation school life in Scotland has taken on a high degree of refinement, and rumour has it—but what will people not say?—that a new boy will come in a cab to the Seminary and will receive a respectful welcome from the generation following Peter, and that the whole school will devote itself to his comfort for days—showing him where to hang his cap, initiating him into games, assisting him with his lessons, and treating his feelings with delicate respect. It has been my own proud satisfaction, as a relic of a former barbarian age, to read the rules, which, I believe, are now printed in black letters with red capitals and hung in the rooms of Muirtown Seminary. My feelings will not allow me to give them all, but the following have moved me almost to tears:—
Rule 1.—That every boy attending this school is expected to behave himself in speech and deed as a gentleman.
Rule 2.—That anyone writing upon a wall, or in any way marking the school furniture, will be considered to have committed an offence, and will be punished.
Rule 3.—That every boy is exhorted to treat every other with courtesy, and anyone guilty of rudeness to a fellow-scholar is to be reported to the headmaster.
Rule 4.—That it is expected of every boy to cultivate neatness of appearance, and especially to see that his clothes, collars, cuffs, and other articles of clothing be not soiled.
These admirable rules suggest a new atmosphere and one very different from that in which we passed our stormy youth, for no sentiment of this kind softened life in earlier days or affected our Spartan simplicity. The very sight of a newcomer in a speckless suit, with an irreproachable tie and both tails on his glengarry bonnet, excited a profound emotion in the school and carried it beyond self-control. What could be expected of a fellow so bedecked and preserved as if he had just stepped out of a bandbox or a tailor's shop? Left alone in his pride and perfection—the very beginning of a Pharisee—he would only go from bad to worse and come at last to a sad end. We hardly claimed to be philanthropists, but we did feel it was our duty to rescue this lad. It might be, of course, that we could not finally save him, but he ought at least to have a chance, and Speug had a quite peculiar satisfaction in at once removing the two offensive tails by one vigorous pull, while the rumpling of a collar was a work of missionary zeal. No system of philanthropy is successful with all cases, and we had our failures, which we think about unto this day, and which have only justified our sad predictions. Boys like the two Dowbiggins never improved, and were at last given up in despair even by Speug, their tails being renewed day by day and their faces remaining in all circumstances quite unmoved; but within a month the average boy had laid aside the last remnant of conventionality, and was only outdone by Peter himself in studied negligence of attire.
Peter's own course of discipline was sharp, but it did not last long, for certain practical reasons.
"What business have you here, ye son of a horse-couper?" was the encouraging salutation offered by a solicitor's son to the stumpy little figure bereft of its father and left to fight its battles alone.
"Mair business than you, spindleshanks, ye son o' a thievin' lawyer," and although Peter was four years younger and small for his age, he showed that he had not learned boxing from his father's grooms without profit, and his opponent attended no more classes that day. This encounter excited the deepest interest and revived the whole life of the school. One lad after another experimented on Peter and made as much of it as drawing a badger. He was often hurt, but he never uttered any cry. He gave rather more than he got, and lads going home in the afternoon could see him giving an account of the studies of the day to an admiring audience in the stable-yard. By-and-by he was left severely alone, and for the impudence of him, and his courage, and his endurance, and his general cockiness, and his extraordinary ingenuity in mischief, he was called "Speug," which is Scotch for a sparrow, and figuratively expressed the admiration of the school.
It would be brazen falsehood to say that Peter was a scholar, or, indeed, gave any voluntary attention to the course of learning laid down by the authorities of Muirtown Seminary. He sat unashamed at the foot of every class, maintaining a certain impenetrable front when a question came his length, and with the instinct of a chieftain never risking his position in the school by exposing himself to contempt. When Thomas John Dowbiggin was distinguishing himself after an unholy fashion by translating Caesar into English like unto Macaulay's History, Speug used to watch him with keen interest, and employ his leisure time in arranging some little surprise to enliven the even tenor of Thomas John's life. So curious a being, however, is a boy, and so inconsistent, that as often as Duncan Robertson answered more promptly than Thomas John, and obtained the first place, Speug's face lit up with unaffected delight, and he was even known to smack his lips audibly. When the rector's back was turned he would convey his satisfaction over Thomas John's discomfiture with such delightful pantomime that the united class did him homage, and even Thomas John was shaken out of his equanimity; but then Duncan Robertson's father was colonel of a Highland regiment, and Duncan himself was a royal fighter, and had not in his Highland body the faintest trace of a prig, while Thomas John's face was a standing reproof of everything that was said and done outside of lesson time in Muirtown School.
Peter, however, had his own genius, and for captivating adventures none was to be compared with him. Was it not Speug who floated down the tunnel through which a swift running stream of clean water reached the Tay, and allured six others to follow him, none of whom, happily, were drowned? and did not the whole school, with the exception of the Dowbiggins, await his exit at the black mouth of the tunnel and reward his success with a cheer? Was it not Speug, with Duncan Robertson's military assistance, who constructed a large earth-work in a pit at the top of the Meadow, which was called the Redan and was blown up with gunpowder one Saturday afternoon, seven boys being temporarily buried beneath the ruins, and Peter himself losing both eyebrows? And when an old lady living next the school laid a vicious complaint against Speug and some other genial spirits for having broken one of her windows in a snowball fight, he made no sign and uttered no threat, but in the following autumn he was in a position to afford a ripe pear to each boy in the four upper forms—except the Dowbiggins, who declined politely—and to distribute a handful for a scramble among the little boys. There was much curiosity about the source of Peter's generosity, and it certainly was remarkable that the pear was of the same kind as the old lady cultivated with much pride, and that her fruit was gathered for her in the course of one dark night. Speug was capable of anything except telling a lie. He could swim the Tay at its broadest and almost at its swiftest, could ride any horse in his father's stable, could climb any tree in the meadows, and hold his own in every game, from marbles and "catch the keggie," a game based on smuggling, to football, where he was a very dangerous forward, and cricket, where his batting was fearsome for its force and obstinacy. There was nothing he could not do with his hands, and no one whom he was not ready to face.
Speug was a very vigorous barbarian indeed, and the exact type of a turbulent Lowland Scot, without whom the Seminary had missed its life and colour, and who by sheer force of courage and strength asserted himself as our chief captain. After many years have passed, Speug stands out a figure of size and reality from among the Dowbiggins and other poor fleeting shadows. Thomas John, no doubt, carried off medals, prizes, certificates of merit, and everything else which could be obtained in Muirtown Seminary by a lad who played no games and swatted all evening at next day's work. The town was weary of seeing Thomas John and his brother—each wearing the same smug expression, and each in faultlessly neat attire—processing up in turn to receive their honours from the hands of the Lord Provost, and the town would cheer with enthusiasm when Duncan Robertson made an occasional appearance, being glad to escape from the oppression of the Dowbiggin regime. Nor was the town altogether wrong in refusing to appreciate the Dowbiggins at their own value, and declining to believe that the strength of the country was after their fashion. When Thomas John reached the University he did not altogether fulfil the expectations of his family, and by the time he reached the pulpit no one could endure his unredeemed dulness. When last I heard of him he was secretary to a blameless society which has for its object the discovery of the lost Ten Tribes, and it occurs to me that it would have been a good thing for Thomas John to have been blown up in the destruction of the Redan: he might have become a man.
After the Seminary had done its best for Speug he retired upon his laurels and went to assist his father in the business of horsedealing, to which he brought an invincible courage and a large experience in bargaining. For years his old fellow-scholars saw him breaking in young horses on the roads round Muirtown, and he covered himself with glory in a steeplechase open to all the riders of Scotland. When Mr. McGuffie senior was killed by an Irish mare, Peter sold the establishment and went into foreign parts in search of adventure, reappearing at intervals of five years from Australia, Texas, the Plate, Cape of Good Hope, assured and reckless as ever, but always straightforward, masterful, open-handed, and gallant. His exploits are over now, and all England read his last, how he sent on in safety a settler's household through a narrow pass in Matabele Land, and with a handful of troopers held the savages in check until pursuit was vain.
"From the account of prisoners we learn," wrote the war correspondent, "that Captain McGuffie, of the Volunteer Horse, fought on after his men had been all killed and his last cartridge fired. With his back to a rock in a narrow place he defended himself with such skill and courage that the Matabele declared him the best fighting man they had ever met, and he was found with a mound of dead at his feet." Only last week two Seminary men were reading that account together and recalling Peter, and such is the inherent wickedness of human nature, that the death (from apoplexy) of Thomas John Dowbiggin would have been much less lamented. "That is just how Speug would have liked to die, for he dearly loved a fight and knew not fear." They revived the ancient memories of Peter's boyhood, and read the despatch of the commanding officer, with his reference to the gallant service of Captain McGuffie, and then they looked at Peter's likeness in the illustrated papers, the eyes as bold and mischievous as ever. "Well done, Speug!" said a doctor of divinity—may he be forgiven!—"well done, Speug, a terrier of the old Scots breed."
Peter's one rival in the idolatry of the school was Duncan Ronald Stewart Robertson, commonly known as Dunc, and Dunc was in everything except honesty, generosity, and courage, the exact opposite of Peter McGuffie. Robertson's ancestors had been lairds of Tomnahurich, a moor in Rannoch, with half a dozen farms, since the Deluge, as they believed, and certainly since history began. For hundreds of years they had been warriors, fighting other clans, fighting among themselves, fighting for Prince Charlie, and for more than a century fighting for England as officers in the Highland regiments. The present laird had been in the Crimean war and the Mutiny, besides occasional expeditions, and was colonel of the Perthshire Buffs. When he came to our examination in full uniform, having first inspected the local garrison on the meadow, it was the greatest day in our time. We cheered him when he came in, counting the medals on his breast, amidst which we failed not to notice the Victoria Cross. We cheered him in the class-rooms, we cheered him when he mounted his horse outside and rode along the terrace, and Peter led a detachment by the back way up to Breadalbane Street to give him one cheer more. Robertson was a tall, well-knit, athletic lad, with red hair, blue eyes, and a freckled face, not handsome, but carrying himself with much dignity and grace. Speug always appeared in tight-fitting trousers, as became Mr. McGuffie's son, but Robertson wore the kilt and never looked anything else but a gentleman, yet his kilt was ever of the shabbiest, and neither had his bonnet any tails. His manners were those of his blood, but a freer and heartier and more harum-scarum fellow never lived. It is a pleasant remembrance, after many years, to see again a group of lads round the big fire in the winter time, and to hear Duncan Robertson read the stirring ballad, "How Horatius kept the bridge in the brave days of old," till Peter can contain himself no longer, and proposes that a select band shall go instantly to McIntyre's Academy and simply compel a conflict. Dunc went into his father's regiment and fell at Tel-el-Kebir, and there is one Seminary man at least who keeps the portraits of the two captains—Peter McGuffie, the Scot, the horsedealer's son, and a very vulgar varlet indeed, and Duncan Robertson, the Celt, a well-born man's son, and a gentleman himself from head to foot—in remembrance of a school which was rough and old-fashioned, where, indeed, softness and luxury were impossible, but where men were made who had the heart in them to live and die for their country.
The headmaster of a certain great English school is accustomed to enlarge in private on the secret of boy management, and this is the sum of his wisdom—Be kind to the boy, and he will despise you; put your foot on his neck, and he will worship you. This deliverance must, of course, as its eminent author intends, be read with sense, and with any modification it must be disappointing to philanthropists, but it is confirmed by life. Let a master, not very strong in character and scholarship, lay himself out to be a boy's friend—using affectionate language, overseeing his health, letting him off impositions, sparing the rod, and inciting him to general benevolence—and the boy will respond, without any doubt, but it will be after his own fashion. The boy will take that master's measure with extraordinary rapidity; he will call him by some disparaging nickname, with an unholy approximation to truth; he will concoct tricky questions to detect his ignorance; he will fling back his benefits with contempt; he will make his life a misery, and will despise him as long as he lives. Let a man of masculine character and evident ability set himself to rule and drill boys, holding no unnecessary converse with them, working them to the height of their powers, insisting on the work being done, not fearing to punish with severity, using terrible language on occasion, dealing with every boy alike without favour or partiality, giving rare praise with enthusiasm, and refraining always from mocking sarcasm—which boys hate and never forgive—and he will have his reward. They will rage against him in groups on the playing-fields and as they go home in companies, but ever with an intense appreciation of his masterliness; they will recall with keen enjoyment his detection of sneaks and his severity on prigs; they will invent a name for him to enshrine his achievements, and pass it down to the generation following; they will dog his steps on the street with admiration, all the truer because mingled with awe. And the very thrashings of such a man will be worth the having, and become the subject of boasting in after years.
There was a master once in Muirtown Seminary whose career was short and inglorious, as well as very disappointing to those who believed in the goodness of the boy. Mr. Byles explained to Mrs. Dowbiggin his idea of a schoolmaster's duty, and won the heart of that estimable person, although the Doctor maintained an instructive silence, and afterwards hinted to his spouse that Mr. Byles had not quite grasped the boy nature, at least in Muirtown.
"Yes, Mrs. Dowbiggin, I have always had a love for boys—for I was the youngest of our family, and the rest were girls—seven dear girls, gentle and sweet. They taught me sympathy. And don't you think that boys, as well as older people, are ruled by kindness and not by force? When I remember how I was treated, I feel this is how other boys would wish to be treated. Muffins? Buttered, if you please. I dote on muffins! So I am a schoolmaster."
"You are needed at the Seminary, Mr. Byles, I can tell you, for the place is just a den of savages! Will you believe me, that a boy rolled James on the ground till he was like a clay cat yesterday—and James is so particular about being neat!—and when I complained to Mr. MacKinnon, he laughed in my face and told me that it would do the laddie good? There's a master for you! Thomas John tells me that he is called 'Bulldog,' and although I don't approve of disrespect, I must say it is an excellent name for Mr. MacKinnon. And I've often said to the Doctor, 'If the masters are like that, what can you expect of the boys?'"
"Let us hope, Mrs. Dowbiggin, that there will soon be some improvement; and it will not be my fault if there isn't. What I want to be is not a master, but the boys' friend, to whom the boys will feel as to a mother, to whom they will confide their difficulties and trials," and Mr. Byles' face had a soft, tender, far-away look.
It was only for one winter that he carried on his mission, but it remains a green and delectable memory with old boys of the Seminary. How he would not use the cane, because it brutalised boys, as he explained, but kept Peter McGuffie in for an hour, during which time he remonstrated with Peter for his rude treatment of James Dowbiggin, whom he had capsized over a form, and how Peter's delighted compatriots climbed up one by one to the window and viewed him under Mr. Byles' ministrations with keen delight, while Speug imitated to them by signs that they would have to pay handsomely for their treat. How he would come on Jock Howieson going home in a heavy rain, and ostentatiously refusing even to button his coat, and would insist on affording him the shelter of an umbrella, to Jock's intense humiliation, who knew that Peter was following with derisive criticism. How, by way of conciliation, Mr. Byles would carry sweets in his coat-tail pocket and offer them at unsuitable times to the leading anarchists, who regarded this imbecility as the last insult. It is now agreed that Mr. Byles' sudden resignation was largely due to an engineering feat of Peter's, who had many outrages to avenge, and succeeded in attaching no less than three squibs to the good man's desk; but it is likely that an exhortation from Bulldog, overheard by the delighted school, had its due effect.
"Humanity or no humanity, my man, it's no peppermint drops nor pats on the head that'll rule Muirtown birkies; their fathers were brought up on the stick, and the stick'll make the sons men. If ye'll take my advice, Mr. Byles, adverteese for a situation in a lassies' school. Ye're ower dainty for Muirtown Seminary."
This was not a charge which his worst enemy could bring against Mr. Dugald MacKinnon, and because he was the very opposite—a most unflinching, resolute, iron man—he engraved himself on the hearts of three generations of Muirtown men. They were a dour, hard-headed, enterprising lot—a blend from the upland braes of Drumtochty and the stiff carse of Gowrie and the Celts of Lock Tay, with some good south country stuff—and there are not many big cities on either side of the Atlantic where two or three Muirtown men cannot this day be found. They always carry in their hearts the "Fair City"—which lieth in a basin among the hills, beside the clean, swift-running river, like a Scots Florence; and they grow almost eloquent when they start upon their home, but the terminus of recollection is ever the same. When they have dallied with the swimming in the Tay, and the climbing of the hill which looks down on the fair plain as far as Dundee, and the golf on the meadows, and the mighty snow fights in days where there were men (that is, boys) in the land, and memory is fairly awake, some one suddenly says, "Bulldog." "Ah!" cries another, with long-drawn pleasure, as one tasting a delicate liquor; and "Bulldog," repeats the third, as if a world of joy lay in the word. They rest for a minute, bracing themselves, and then conversation really begins, and being excited, they drop into the Scots tongue.
"Man," hurries in the first, "a' see him stannin' at his desk in the mornin' watchin' the laddies comin' in ower the top o' his spectacles, an' juist considerin' wha wud be the better o' a bit thrashin' that day."
"Sax feet high gin he wes an inch," bursts in the second, "an' as straight as a rush, though a'm thinkin' he wes seventy, or maybe eighty, some threipit (insisted) he was near ninety; an' the een o' him—div ye mind, lads, hoo they gied back an' forward in his head—oscillatin' like? Sall, they were fearsome."
"An' the rush to get in afore the last stroke o' nine"—the third man cannot be restrained—"an' the crack o' his cane on the desk an' 'Silence'; man, ye micht hae heard a moose cross the floor at the prayer."
"Div ye think he keekit oot atween his eyelids, Jock?"
"Him? nae fear o't," and Howieson is full of contempt. "Ae day I pit a peen into that smooth-faced wratch Dowbiggin, juist because I cudna bear the look o' him; an' if he didna squeal like a stuck pig. Did Bulldog open his een an' look?"
The audience has no remembrance of such a humiliating descent.
"Na, na," resumes Jock, "he didna need; he juist repeated the first sentence o' the prayer ower again in an awfu' voice, an' aifter it wes dune, doon he comes to me. 'Whatna prank wes that?'"
"Wes't nippy?" inquires Bauldie with relish, anticipating the sequel.
"Michty," replies Jock; "an' next he taks Dowbiggin. 'Who asked you to join in the prayer?' an' ye cud hae heard his yowls on the street. Bulldog hed a fine stroke." And the three smoked in silent admiration for a space.
"Sandie, div ye mind the sins in the prayer? 'Lord deliver the laddies before Thee from lying——'"
"'Cheating,'" breaks in Bauldie.
"'Cowardice,'" adds Sandie.
"'And laziness, which are as the devil,'" completes Jock.
"An' the laist petition, a' likit it fine, 'Be pleased to put common sense in their heads, and Thy fear in their hearts, and——'"
"'Give them grace to be honest men all the days of their life,'" chant the other two together.
"It wes a purpose-like prayer, an' a' never heard a better, lads; he walkit up to his words, did Bulldog, an' he did his wark well." And as they thought of that iron age, the railway president and the big banker and the corn merchant—for that is what the fellows have come to—smack their lips with relish and kindly regret.
It may be disappointing, but it remains a fact, that the human history of the ages is repeated in the individual, and the natural boy is a savage, with the aboriginal love of sport, hardy indifference to circumstances, stoical concealment of feelings, irrepressible passion for fighting, unfeigned admiration for strength, and slavish respect for the strong man. By-and-by he will be civilised and Christianised, and settle down, will become considerate, merciful, peaceable—will be concerned about his own boys having wet feet, and will preside at meetings for the prevention of cruelty to animals; but he has to go through his process of barbarism. During this Red Indian stage a philanthropist is not the ideal of the boy. His master must have the qualities of a brigand chief, an autocratic will, a fearless mien, and an iron hand. On the first symptom of mutiny he must draw a pistol from his belt (one of twenty), and shoot the audacious rebel dead on the spot. So perfectly did Bulldog fulfil this ideal that Bauldie, who had an unholy turn for caricature, once drew him in the costume and arms of Chipanwhackewa, an Indian chief of prodigious valour and marvellous exploits. This likeness was passed from hand to hand, to be arrested and confiscated by its subject when in Jock Howieson's possession, and although Jock paid the penalty, as was most due, yet it was believed that Bulldog was much pleased by the tribute, and that he kept the picture in his desk.
His achievements in his own field, which extended from the supervision of handwriting to instruction in mathematics, were sustained and marvellous. When a boy was committed to his care at or about the age of eight, before which age he attended a girls' school and fed his imagination on what was in store for him under Bulldog, the great man wrote at the head of his copy-book, in full text and something better than copper-plate, "He that spareth his rod hateth his son." With this animating sentiment the neophyte made a fearful beginning, and his master assisted him to transcribe it for years to come through half text and small text, till he could accomplish it with such delicate up-strokes and massive down-strokes, such fine curves and calculated distances, that the writing could hardly be distinguished from the original, and might be exhibited to the Lord Provost and bailies at the annual examination. It is said now that no school of any name in the land would condescend to teach writing, and that boys coming from such high places can compass their own signatures with difficulty, and are quite illegible after a gentlemanly fashion; but it was otherwise in one old grammar school. So famous was the caligraphy produced at the Seminary that Muirtown bankers, lawyers, and other great personages used to drop in of an afternoon, and having snuffed with the master, would go over the copy-books and pick out suitable lads for their offices. And it is a solemn fact that one enterprising Muirtown clerk went up to London without a single introduction and obtained a situation in the great firm of Brancker, Copleston, Goldbeater & Co., on the strength of a letter and sheet of figures he sent to old Fyler, the manager, whose reason was giving way under the scrawling of the junior clerks. Bulldog considered that his pupils' handwriting steadily deteriorated from the day of their departure. When they came to see him at school from Glasgow, London, and beyond the sea, as they all did, on their visits to Muirtown, besides giving them an affectionate welcome, which began at the door and ended at the desk, he never failed to produce their letters and point out the decadence in careful detail, while the school rejoiced greatly.
Any lad who showed some aptitude, or whose father insisted on the higher education, was allured into geometry and raised to the dignity of the blackboard, where he did his work in face of the school with fear and trembling. This was public life, and carried extremes of honour and disgrace. When Willie Pirie appeared at the board—who is now a Cambridge don of such awful learning that his juniors, themselves distinguished persons, can only imagine where he is in pure mathematics—the school, by tacit permission, suspended operations to see the performance. As Willie progressed, throwing in an angle here and a circle there, and utilising half the alphabet for signs, while he maintained the reasoning from point to point in his high, shrill voice, Bulldog stood a pace aside, a pointer in one hand and in the other a cloth with which at a time he would wipe his forehead till it was white with chalk, and his visage was glorious to behold. When the end came, Bulldog would seize the word out of Pirie's mouth and shout, "Q. E. D., Q ... E ... D. Splendid. Did ye follow that, laddies?" taking snuff profusely, with the cloth under one arm and the pointer under the other. "William Pirie, ye'll be a wrangler if ye hae grace o' continuance. Splendid!"
It was otherwise when Jock Howieson tried to indicate the nature of an isosceles triangle and confused it with a square, supporting his artistic efforts with remarks which reduced all the axioms of Euclid to one general ruin. For a while the master explained and corrected, then he took refuge in an ominous silence, after which, at each new development, he played on Jock with the pointer, till Jock, seeing him make for the cane, modestly withdrew, but did not reach his place of retreat without assistance and much plain truth.
"It's a shame to take any fee from your father, Jock Howieson, and it's little use trying to give ye any education. Ye've the thickest head and the least sense in all the schule. Man, they should take you home and set ye on eggs to bring out chickens; ye micht manage that wi' care. The first three propositions, Jock, before ye leave this room, without a slip, or ma certes!" and Jock understood that if he misused his time his instructor would make good use of his.
It was Bulldog's way to promenade the empty schoolroom for ten minutes before the reassembling at two, and it was rare indeed that a boy should be late. When one afternoon there were only nineteen present and forty-three absent, he could only look at Dowbiggin, and when that exemplary youth explained that the school had gone up to the top of the Meadow for a bathe, and suggested they were still enjoying themselves, Bulldog was much lifted.
"Bathing is a healthy exercise, and excellent for the mind, but it's necessary to bring a glow to the skin aifterwards, or there micht be a chill," and he searched out and felt a superior cane kept for the treatment of truants and other grievous offenders.
It was exactly 2.15 when the door opened and a procession of forty-two entered panting and breathless, headed by Dunc Robertson, who carried his head erect, with a light in his eye, and closed by Peter, whose hair was like unto that of a drowned rat, and whose unconcealed desire was for obscurity. The nineteen could only smack their lips with expectation and indicate by signs the treat awaiting their comrades.
"I've had chairge of the departments of writing, arithmetic, and mathematics in the Muirtown Seminary," began Bulldog, "for fifty-five years laist Martinmas, and near eighteen hundred laddies hae passed through my hands. Some o' them were gude and some were bad"—Mr. MacKinnon spoke with a judicial calmness that was awful—"some were yir grandfathers, some were yir fathers; but such a set of impudent, brazen-faced little scoundrels——" Then his composure failed him as he looked at the benches. "What have ye got to say for yirselves, for it will be three weeks afore I'm over ye all?"
For a while no one moved, and then Dunc Robertson rose in his place and made speech for his fellows like a gentleman's son.
"We are sorry for being late, sir, but it was not our blame; we had been bathing in the golfers' pool, and were dressing to run down to school in good time. Little Nestie—I mean Ernest Molyneux, sir—had stayed in a little longer, and someone cried, 'Nestie's drowning!' and there the little chap was, being carried away by the current."
"Is 'Nestie'—drowned?" and they all noticed the break in Bulldog's voice, and remembered that if he showed indulgence to anyone it was to the little English lad that had appeared in Muirtown life as one out of due place.
"No, sir, Nestie's safe, and some women have taken him home; but he was very nearly gone," and Dunc was plainly shaken. "He's a good ween man, and—and it would have been terrible to see him die before our eyes."
"Who saved Nestie?" Bulldog's face was white, and Jock swore afterwards the tears were in his eyes—but that we did not believe.
"It was one of the boys, sir"—Robertson's voice was very proud—"and it was a gallant deed; but I can't give his name, because he made me promise not to tell."
The master looked round the school, and there was a flush on his cheek.
"John Howieson," with a voice that knew no refusal, and Jock stood in his place.
"Give me the laddie's name who savit Nestie."
"It was Speug, sir, an'—it wes michty; but a' wudna hae telt had ye no askit, an'—it's no my blame," and Jock cast a deprecatory glance where Peter was striving to hide himself behind a slate.
"Peter McGuffie, come out this moment," and Peter, who had obeyed this order in other circumstances with an immovable countenance, now presented the face of one who had broken a till.
"Tell the story, Duncan Robertson, every word of it, that each laddie in this room may remember it as lang as he lives."
"We had nearly all dressed, and some of us had started for school ... and when I got back McGuffie had jumped and was out in the current waiting for Nestie to come up. We saw his face at last, white on the water, and shouted to Peter, and ... he had him in a minute, and ... made for shore; big swimming, sir; not one of us could have done it except himself. A salmon-fisher showed us how to rub Nestie till he came round, and ... he smiled to us, and said, 'I'm all right; sorry to trouble you chaps.' Then we ran down as hard as we could lick, and ... that's all, sir."
"Ye're a leear, Duncan Robertson," suddenly broke out Speug, goaded beyond endurance; "ye helpit oot Nestie yirself, an' ye're ... as muckle tae blame as me."
"All I did, sir"—and Robertson's face was burning red—"was to meet Peter and take Nestie off his hands quite near the bank; he had the danger; I ... did nothing—was too late, in fact, to be of use."
Speug might have contested this barefaced attempt at exculpation, but Bulldog was himself again and gripped the reins of authority.
"Silence!" and his emotion found vent in thunder; "no arguing in my presence. You're an impudent fellow, Peter McGuffie, and have been all your days, the most troublesome, mischievous, upsetting laddie in Muirtown School," and the culprit's whole mien was that of a dog with a bad conscience.
"Ye've fought with your fists, and ye've fought with snowballs; ye've played truant times without number; and as for your tricks in school, they're beyond knowledge. And now ye must needs put the capper on the concern wi' this business!
"There's no use denying it, Peter, for the evidence is plain"—and now Bulldog began to speak with great deliberation. "Ye saw a little laddie out of his depth and likely to be drowned." (Peter dared not lift his head this time; it was going to be a bad case.)
"Ye micht have given the alarm and got the salmon-fishers, but, instead of acting like ony quiet, decent, well-brought-up laddie, and walking down to the school in time for the geometry" (the school believed that the master's eye rested on William Dowbiggin), "ye jumped clothes and all into the Tay." (There was evidently no extenuating feature, and Peter's expression was hopeless.)
"Nor was that all. But the wicked speerit that's in ye, Peter McGuffie, made ye swim out where the river was running strongest and an able-bodied man wouldna care to go. And what for did ye forget yirsel and risk yer life?" But for the first time there was no bravery left in Peter to answer; his wickedness was beyond excuse, as he now felt.
"Just to save an orphan laddie frae a watery death. And ye did it, peter; an' it ... beats a'thing ye've dune since ye came into muirtown academy? as for you, duncan robertson, ye may say what ye like, but it's my opinion that ye're no one grain better. Peter got in first, for he's a perfect genius for mischief—he's aye on the spot—but ye were after him as soon as ye could—you're art and part, baith o' ye, in the exploit." it was clear now that dunc was in the same condemnation and would share the same reward; whereat peter's heart was lifted, for robertson's treachery cried to heaven for judgment.
"Boys of Muirtown, do you see those tablets?"—and Bulldog pointed to the lists in gold of the former pupils who had distinguished themselves over the world—prizemen, soldiers, travellers, writers, preachers, lawyers, doctors. "It's a grand roll, and an honour to have a place in it, and there are two new names to be added.
"Laddies"—and Bulldog came down from his desk and stood opposite the culprits, whose one wish was that the floor might open beneath them and swallow them up—"you are the sons of men, and I knew you had the beginnings of men in you. I am proud ... to shake hands with you, and to be ... your master. Be off this instant, run like mad to yir homes and change yir clothes, and be back inside half an hour, or it will be the worse for ye! And, look ye here, I would like to know ... how Nestie is."
His walk through the room was always full of majesty, but on that day it passed imagination, and from time to time he could be heard in a soliloquy, "A pair of young rascals! Men of their hands, though, men of their hands! Their fathers' sons! Well done, Peter!" To which the benches listened with awe, for never had they known Bulldog after this fashion.
When the school assembled next Monday morning the boys read in fresh, shining letters—
"Peter McGuffie and Duncan R. S. Robertson, who at the risk of their own lives saved a schoolfellow from drowning."
It stood before the school, so that all could see; but if anyone dared to make a sign in that direction as he passed Speug's desk, his life was not worth living for seven days, and it was felt that Speug never completely recovered from the moral disgrace of that day.
It was understood that Nestie's mother was dead and that his father was the Baptist minister of Muirtown—a denomination whose adherents were few and whose practices were vaguely associated with the mill lade—and for two years before he appeared at school Nestie and his father were quite familiar to the boys. Nestie began his education at a ladies' school, not far from the Seminary, where he was much petted by the big girls, and his father could be seen waiting for him every afternoon at dismissal time. A gentle, timid little man, apt to blush on being spoken to, with a hesitating speech and a suggestion of lasting sorrow in his eyes, Mr. Molyneux would sooner have faced a cannon than Miss Letitia MacMuldrow's bevy of young women, and it was a simple fact that when, meditating his sermon one day in the North Meadow, he flopped into their midst and his son insisted on introducing him to the boarders and to Miss Letitia, the poor man went home to bed and left the pulpit next Sunday to an amateur exhorter. His plan of campaign was to arrive on the opposite side of the terrace about a quarter to three, and, as the hour drew near, reconnoitre the door from behind a clump of bushes at the foot of the garden. Nestie usually made his appearance with a bodyguard of maidens, who kissed him shamelessly, and then, catching sight of the anxious face peeping through the laburnums, he would dash down the walk and, giving his slaves a last wave, disappear round the corner. The minister used to take a hasty survey lest they should become a sport to the barbarians in a land where for a father to kiss his boy was synonymous with mental incapacity, and then—it was a cat of a girl who oversaw the meeting—they hugged one another for the space of a whole minute, in which time it is wonderful what can be done if your heart is in it and your hat is allowed to go without care. Had a Seminary boy seen the sight—but the savages were caged at that hour—his feet would have been glued to the ground with amazement, and he had gone away full of silent gratitude that Providence had cast his lot north of the Tweed; but of course he had not reckoned that the father and son had been separated for, say, six whole hours—or almost—and it was necessary to re-establish relations. When this had been done satisfactorily the two crossed a wooden bridge into the Meadow arm-in-arm—Mr. Molyneux unconsciously wearing his hat with a rakish air on the side of his head. Between this hour and sunset was their pleasure in the summer time, and the things they did were varied and remarkable. Sometimes they would disappear into the woods above Muirtown, and return home very dirty, very tired, very happy, laden with wild flowers and dank, earthy roots, which they planted in their tiny garden and watered together with tender solicitude. Other times they played what was supposed to be golf over a course of their own selection and creation at the top of the Meadow, and if by any chance the minister got a ball into a hole, then Nestie danced for a space and the minister apologised for his insolent success. Times there were—warm, summer days—when the minister would bring a book with him and read to Nestie as they lay in a grassy hollow together. And on these days they would fall a-talking, and it would end in a photograph being taken from a case, and after they had studied it together, both would kiss the face, which was as if Nestie had kissed himself. Regular frequenters of the North Meadow began to take an interest in the pair, so that the golfers would cry "Fore" in quite a kindly tone when they got in the way of the balls, and one day old Peter Peebles, the chief of the salmon-fishers and a man of rosy countenance, rowed them up to Woody Island, and then allowed the boat to drop down with the tide past the North Meadow and beneath the two bridges, and landed them at the South Meadow, refusing all recompense with fierce words. Motherly old ladies whose families were off their hands, and who took in the situation at a glance, used to engage Mr. Molyneux in conversation in order to warn him about Nestie's flannels and the necessity of avoiding damp at nightfall. And many who never spoke to them, and would have repudiated the idea of sentiment with scorn, had a tender heart and a sense of the tears of things as the pair, strange and lonely, yet contented and happy, passed them in the evening.
When the time came that Nestie had to leave Miss Letitia's, his father began to hang round the Seminary taking observations, and his heart was heavy within him. After he had watched a scrimmage at football—a dozen of the aboriginal savages fighting together in a heap, a mass of legs, arms, heads—and been hustled across the terrace in a rush of Russians and English, from which he emerged without his hat, umbrella, or book, and after he had been eyewitness of an encounter between Jock Howieson and Bauldie over a misunderstanding in marbles, he offered to teach Nestie at home.
"Those Scotch boys are very ... h-healthy, Nestie, and I am not sure whether you are quite ... fit for their ... habits. There is a master, too, called ... Bulldog, and I am afraid——" and Mr. Molyneux looked wistfully at his boy.
"Why, pater, you are very n-naughty, and don't d-deserve two lumps of sugar," for ever since they were alone he had taken his mother's place and poured out the tea. "Do you think I am a coward? A boy must learn to play games, you know, and they won't be hard on a little chap at first. I'll soon learn f-football and ... the other things. I can play golf a little now. Didn't you tell me, pater, that mother was as bwave as ... a s-soldier?"
"Of course she was, Nestie," and Mr. Molyneux fell into the innocent little snare. "If you had only seen the pony your mother used to ride on her father's farm in Essex, where I saw her first! Do you know, nobody could ride 'Gypsy' except its mistress. It r-reared and ... k-kicked, Nestie"—the little man spoke with awe—"and once ran away; but your mother could always manage it. She looked so handsome on 'Gypsy'; and you have her spirit. I'm very ... t-timid."
"No, you aren't, not one little bit, pater, if there's real d-danger." Nestie was now on his father's knee, with a hand round his neck. "Who faced the cow on the meadows when she was charging, and the nurse had left the child, eh? Now, pater, tell the truth."
"That was because ... the poor little man would have been killed ... anyone would have d-done that, and ... I d-did not think what I was d-doing...."
"Yes, I know," and Nestie mocked his father shamefully, even unto his face; "and everybody read in the paper how the child wasn't near the cow, and the cow was quite nice and well-behaved, and you ... ran away; for shame, now!
"Did you go to the people that had the dip ... dip ... in the throat, or not?—that's a word I can't manage yet, but I heard Miss Leti-titia and the girls say you were like the soldiers 'at got the Vic—Victoria Cwoss."
"That's d-different, Nestie; that's my d-duty."
"Well, it's my d-duty to go to the S-Seminary, pater;" and so he went.
"What's your name?" Nestie was standing in the centre of the large entrance hall where his father had left him, a neat, slim little figure in an Eton suit and straw hat, and the walls were lined by big lads in kilts, knickers, tweed suits, and tailless Highland bonnets in various stages of roughness and decay.
"Ernest Molyneux, and for short, Nestie," and he looked round with a bright little smile, although inwardly very nervous.
"Moly-havers," retorted Cosh, who had a vague sense that Nestie, with his finished little manner, his English accent, his unusual dress, and his high-sounding name, was an offence to the Seminary. "Get yir hat oot o' there," and Cosh sent Ernest's straw skimming into the forbidden "well."
Molyneux's face turned crimson, for he had inherited the temper which mistressed "Gypsy," and boys who remembered Speug's first exploit expected to see the newcomer spring at Cosh's face.
"You mean that for f-fun, I s'pose," he said an instant later, and he recovered his hat very neatly. "I can leap a little, you know, not m-much yet," and again he smiled round the ring.
Nothing quite like this had happened before in the Seminary, and there was a pause in the proceedings, which was the salvation of Nestie, and far more of Peter McGuffie. He had been arrested by the first sight of Nestie and had been considering the whole situation in silence. Peter had a sudden inspiration.
"Did ye say Nestie?" inquired Speug, with an almost kindly accent, moving a little forward as for purposes of identification.
"My pater calls me that, and ... others did, but perhaps you would like to say Molyneux. What is your name?"
"We 'ill call ye 'Nestie'; it's no an ill word, an' it runs on the tongue. Ma name is Peter McGuffie, or Speug, an' gin onybody meddle wi' ye gie's a cry." And to show the celerity of his assistance Peter sent the remains of Cosh's bonnet into the "well" just as Bulldog came down to his room.
"Bulldog's in," as that estimable man identified the owner of the bonnet and passed on to his class-room. "In aifter him, an' gie yir name, afore the schule comes."
"Will you come with me, P-Peter?" and that worthy followed him mechanically, while the school held their breath; "it would be kind of you to intwodoosh—it's a little difficult that word—me to the master."
"What's the meaning of this?" demanded Bulldog at the sight of the two, for speech was paralysed in Speug and he was aghast at his own audacity.
"A new laddie ... ca'ed Molly, Mol ... a' canna mind it ... Nestie ... he dinna know the way...." And Speug broke down and cast a despairing look at the cane.
"Peter pwotected me from the other boys, who were making fun of me, and I asked him to bwing me in to you, sir; he was very p-polite."
"Was he?" said Bulldog, regarding Speug's confusion with unconcealed delight; "that is quite his public character in this school, and there's nobody better known. My advice"—here Bulldog stopped, and looked from Speug to Nestie as one who was about to say something and had changed his mind—"is to ... be friends with Peter."
So when the school took their places Nestie was seated next to Speug, and it was understood in a week that Nestie was ready to take his fair share in any honest fun that was going, but that if one of the baser sort tried to play the blackguard with Nestie, he had to balance accounts with Speug, and that the last farthing would be faithfully exacted.
As Nestie had at once settled in his mind that Speug was a young gentleman of high conduct and excellent manners—and Nestie, with all his sweetness, was as obstinate as a mule—nothing remained for Speug but to act as far as he could up to his new character. With this example of diligence by his side, he was roused to such exertion that he emerged from long division and plunged into the rule of three, while Nestie marvelled at his accomplishments—"for I'm not a clever chap like you, P-Peter." Speug had also accumulated a considerable collection of pencil sketches, mostly his own, in which life at Muirtown Seminary was treated very broadly indeed, and as he judged this portfolio unlikely to be appreciated by Nestie, and began himself to have some scruple in having his own name connected with it, it was consigned to the flames, and any offer of an addition, which boys made to Speug as a connoisseur in Rabelaisean art, was taken as a ground of offence. His personal habits had been negligent to a fault, and Nestie was absurdly careful about his hands, so Peter was reduced to many little observances he had overlooked, and would indeed have exposed himself to scathing criticism had it not been that his sense of humour was limited and, so far as it went, of a markedly practical turn.
As Nestie never ceased to exalt this paladin of chivalry, and all the virtues which he had discovered at school, Mr. Molyneux hungered to see him, and so Speug was invited to tea on a Saturday evening—an invitation he accepted with secret pride and outward confusion of face. All the time which could be saved that day from the sermons was devoted by Mr. Molyneux and his son to the commissariat, and it was pretty to see the Molyneuxs going from shop to shop collecting the feast. With much cunning Nestie had drawn from Speug that fried sausages (pork) with mashed potatoes, followed up by jam tarts and crowned with (raisin) cake, was a meal to live for, and all this they had, with shortbread and marmalade, thrown in as relishes. When Nestie was not watching at the upper window for Peter's coming he was gloating over the table, and pater, putting last touches to his exposure of Infant Baptism, ran out and in to see that nothing had been forgotten, for they did not give many feasts, and this was one of gratitude. Peter was late, because he had gathered his whole establishment to dress him, including the old groom, who wished him to go in corduroy breeches and top boots, and Speug was polished to the extent of shining. He was also so modest that he would not speak, nor even look, and when Nestie began to discourse on his goodness he cast glances at the door and perspired visibly, on which occasions he wiped his forehead with a large red handkerchief. Amid all his experiences on land and water, on horseback and among boys—i. e., savages—he had never yet been exalted as a hero and a philanthropist, and he felt uncomfortable in his clothes. He was induced, however, to trifle with the tea, and in the end did very fairly, regaining his native composure so far as to describe a new horse his father had bought, and the diabolical wickedness of the tame fox at the stables. Afterwards Nestie took Speug to his room and showed him his various treasures—a writing-desk with a secret drawer; The Sandalwood Traders by Ballantyne; a box of real tools, with nails and tacks complete; and then he uncovered something hidden in a case, whereat Speug was utterly astonished.
"Yes, it's a watch; my mother left it to me, and some day I'll wear it, you know; your mother's g-gone, too, Peter, isn't she?"
"Aye," replied Peter, "but a' dinna mind o' her." And then, anxious to change the subject, he produced a new knife with six blades. Before leaving he promised to give Nestie a pair of rabbits, and to guide him in their upbringing after a proper fashion. Without having ventured into the field of sentiment, there is no doubt Peter had carried himself in a way to satisfy Mr. Molyneux, and he himself gave such an account of the tea to Mr. McGuffie senior, that night, that the horsedealer, although not given to Pharisaical observance of the Sabbath, attended the little Baptist chapel next day in state, sleeping through the sermon, but putting five shillings in the plate, while Peter, sitting most demurely at his father's side, identified two of his enemies of McIntyre's Academy and turned various things over in his mind.
If anyone, however, supposed that the spirit had gone out of Peter through his friendship with Nestie, he erred greatly, and this Robert Cosh learned to his cost. What possessed him no one could guess, and very likely he did not know himself, but he must needs waylay Nestie in Breadalbane Street one day after schooltime and speak opprobriously to him, finishing up—
"Awa' wi' ye; yir father's a meeserable yammering (stammering) dookie (Baptist) minister."
"My father's one of the best men living"—Nestie was in an honourable temper—"and you are an ill-bred c-cad."
Poor Nestie would have been half-killed before Cosh had done with him had not Speug arrived on the scene, having been in the gundy (candy) shop not far off, and then there were circumstances. Cosh had a poor chance at any time with Peter, but now that worthy's arm was nerved with fierce indignation, and Nestie had to beg for mercy for Cosh, whose appearance on arriving home was remarkable. His story was even more so, and was indeed so affecting, not to say picturesque, that Bailie Cosh came into Bulldog's room with his son two days afterwards to settle matters.
"A' called, Maister MacKinnon," he said, in tones charged with dignity, "to explain the cause of my son Robert's absence; he was in bed with a poultice on his face twenty-four hours, an' he'll no be himself for days."
"He is no in condeetion to lose time wi' his lessons, a' can tell ye, Bailie; ye're richt to bring him back as sune as ye could; was't toothache?"
"No, it wasna toothache, but the ill-usage o' one of your scholars, the maist impudent, ill-doing, aggravating scoondrel in Muirtown."
"Peter McGuffie, come out here," which showed Bulldog's practical acquaintance with affairs. "Did ye give Robert Cosh a licking?"
No answer from Speug, but a look of satisfaction that was beyond all evidence.
"Was that just yir natural iniquity, Peter, or had ye a justification?"
Dogged silence of Speug, whose code of honour had one article at least—never to tell on a fellow.
"Please, sir, may I speak?" cried Nestie, as he saw the preparations for Peter's punishment and could not contain himself.
"Were you in this job, too, Nestie? You didn't tell me that there were two at puir Robert, Bailie; if Nestie got his hand on your son, he's sic a veeciously inclined character that it's a wonder Robert's leevin.'
"Now, Bailie, we'll conduct a judeecial investigation. Robert Cosh, what have ye to say? Speak up like a man, an' I'll see justice done ye, be sure o' that; but mind ye, the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."
Robert Cosh declined to contribute even the smallest morsel of truth in any shape or form, and, in spite of strong encouragement from the magistrate, preserved an impenetrable silence.
"This," said Bulldog, with a shrewd glance, "is mair than ordinary modesty; we 'ill take another witness. Ernest Molyneux, what have ye got to say?"
"Cosh called my father names, and ... I lost my t-temper, and ... and ... I said things ... the pater's ill, sir, so I ... and Cosh stwuck me once or twice—but I don't mind that; only Peter, you see, sir, wanted to help me. I'm afraid he h-hurtit Cosh, but that was how it happened."
"Stand beside Nestie, Cosh ... so; half a head taller and much broader and four years older. Ye called his father names, and then cut his lip when he answered. Just so. There are some pretty little scratches on yir own face. That would be Peter. Well, Bailie, the case is pretty plain, and we 'ill go to judgment.
"Ernest Molyneux, yir father's a good man, and it does not matter two brass peens what Robert Cosh says about him, and ye're no an ill-disposed laddie yersel.' Ye may go to your seat.
"Peter McGuffie, ye're aye meddlin' wi' what doesna concern ye, and ye seem to think that Providence gave Nestie into yir chairge. One day ye pull him oot o' the river, and anither ye take him oot o' the hands o' Robert Cosh. But ye've done your wark sae neatly this time that I havena the heart to thrash ye. Ye may go to your seat, too; and, Peter, ma man, just one word of advice. Yir head is thick, but yir heart is richt; see that ye always use yir fists as well as ye did that day.
"Robert Cosh, ye've had a fair trial, and ye have been convicted of three heinous sins. First, ye miscalled a good man—for that three strokes with the cane; next, ye ill-used the quietest laddie in the whole school—for that three strokes; and, lastly, being moved of the devil, ye went home and told lies to a magistrate—for that six strokes. Three on each hand to-day and to-morrow will just settle the count. Right hand first."
"Mr. MacKinnon, I protest...."
"What?" and Bulldog turned on the magistrate; "would ye interfere with the course o' justice in another man's jureesdiction, and you a magistrate?" And Bulldog's eyes began to rotate in a fearsome manner.
The Bailie allowed it to be understood that he had changed his mind, and Robert, who had expected great things from the magistrate's protection, abandoned himself to despair and walked humbly for many days to come.
Next day Nestie was not in his place, and Bulldog, growing uneasy, called on his way home.
"Aye, aye," and the landlady's voice sank into the minor key of Scots sympathy, "Maister Mollynoox (for such an outlandish name was ever a trial) is far through wi't; the doctor says he never had much to come an' go on, and noo this whup o' inflammation is the feenish.
"The doctor doesna expect him to see mornin', an' he's verra sober (weak); but his head's clear, an' the laddie's wi' him. Ma hert is wae (sorry) for him, for the twa hev been that bund up thegither that a'm dootin' Nestie 'ill never get ower the pairtin'."
The gentle little minister was not far from his end, and Nestie was nursing him as best he could. He sponged his father's face—threatening to let the soap get into his eyes if he were not obedient—and dried it with a soft towel; then he brushed the soft, thin brown hair slowly and caressingly, as he had often done on Sundays when his father was weary. Turning round, he saw Bulldog, and instead of being afraid, Nestie smiled a pathetic welcome, which showed either what a poor actor the master was, with all his canings, or that his English scholar was a very shrewd little man.
"Th-thank you f-for coming to see father, sir; he was n-naughty and got cold, and he has been so ill; but he must get better, for you know there are ... just the two of us, and ... I would be ... lonely without the pater."
"Nestie does not wish to part with me, Mr. MacKinnon, for we h-have been ... dear friends, that's how it was, and we loved ... mother; but he is a ... brave little man, as you know, and mother and I will not forget him ... you came to ask for Nestie, and it was God's will, for I h-have a f-favour to ask of you."
Bulldog went over and sat down by the bed, but said nothing. Only he took the minister's hand in his and waited. He also put his other arm round Nestie, and never did he look fiercer.
"I have no relatives, and his m-mother's family are all dead; there is nobody to be g-guardian to Nestie, and he cannot live alone. C-could you get some family who would be ... where he might be at ... h-home?
"You know we are not rich, but we've s-saved a little, for Nestie is a famous little house-k-keeper; and maybe there's enough to keep him ... till he grows big; and I'll give you the receipt at the bank, and you'll ... manage for him, won't you?"
Bulldog cleared his throat to speak, but could not find his voice—for a wonder, but his hand tightened on the minister's, and he drew Nestie nearer to him.
"Of course, Mr. MacKinnon, I know that we have no c-claim on you, for we are strangers in Muirtown, and you ... have many boys. But you've been kind to Nestie, and he ... loves you."
The minister stopped, breathless, and closed his eyes.
"Mr. Molyneux," began Bulldog in a stern voice, "I'm willing to manage Nestie's estate, big or small, and I'll give an account of all intromissions to the Court, but I must decline to look out a home for Nestie.
"Nestie and me" (bad grammar has its uses, and some of them are very comforting) "are good freends. My house has just an auld schoolmaster and an housekeeper in it, and whiles we would like to hear a young voice."
Bulldog paused and then went on, his voice sterner than ever—in sound.
"Now Bell's bark is worse than her bite, and maybe so is mine (Nestie nodded), so if the wee man wouldna be feared to live wi' ... Bulldog—oh, I know fine what the rascals call me—he 'ill have a heart welcome, and ... I'll answer to ye baith, father and mother, for yir laddie at the Day o' Judgment."
"'What shall I render ... unto the Lord ... for all His benefits?' I cannot thank you ... (the minister was now very weak); but you will not ... miss your reward. May the God of the orphan.... Kiss me, Nestie."
For a short while he slept, and they watched for any sign of consciousness.
"It was too soon"—he was speaking, but not to them—"for Nestie ... to come, Maud; he must stay ... at school. He is a good boy, and ... his master will ... take care of him ... Nestie will grow to be a man, dear."
The minister was nearing the other side, and seeing the face he loved and had lost awhile.
"It's mother," whispered Nestie, and a minute later he was weeping bitterly and clinging with all his might to the schoolmaster, who came perilously near to tears himself.
"They're together now, and ... I'll be father and mother to ye, Nestie," said Mr. Dugald MacKinnon, master of mathematics in Muirtown Seminary, and known as Bulldog to three generations of Muirtown lads.
A FAMOUS VICTORY
The Seminary perfectly understood that, besides our two chief enemies, the "Pennies" and McIntyres, there were, in the holes and corners of the town, obscure schools where little companies of boys got some kind of education and were not quite devoid of proper spirit. During a really respectable snow-storm—which lasted for a month and gave us an opportunity of bringing affairs to a temporary settlement with our rivals, so that the town of Muirtown was our own for the next seven days—a scouting party from the Seminary in search of adventures had an encounter with a Free Kirk school, which was much enjoyed and spoken about for weeks beside the big fire. Speug began, indeed, to lay out a permanent campaign by which the boys going home southwards could look in from time to time on the Free Kirkers, and he indicated his willingness to take charge of the operation. It was also said that an Episcopal or Papist school—we made no subtile direct distinctions at the Seminary—in the northern district might afford some sport, and the leadership in this case was to be left to Duncan Robertson, the other captain of the commonwealth. Snow did not last the whole year round even in a Scots town; but it was wonderful what could be done in summer by the use of book-bags, well stuffed out with Caesar and Lennie's English Grammar, and at the worst there always remained our fists. The pleasure of planning these forays is still a grateful recollection, for it seemed to us that by spreading our forces we might have perpetual warfare from January to December and over the length and breadth of the town, so that no one would be compelled to return to his home of an evening without the hope of a battle, and every street of the town would be distinguished by conflict. Nothing came, however, of those spirited enterprises that year, because our two rivals, laying aside their mutual quarrels, which, we understood, were very bitter, and entering into a covenant of falsehood—their lying filled us with holy indignation—attacked us front and rear while we were having an innocent game of Russians and English on the North Meadow. Although taken unawares and poorly provided with weapons we made a good fight; but in the end we were scattered so completely that Speug never reached the school again that day, for which he was thrashed by Bulldog next morning, and Dunc came in with a front tooth gone and one black eye, for which he was soundly thrashed at once.
During all that summer we denounced the amazing meanness of the other side, and turned over plans for splitting the alliance, so that we might deal with each power separately and finally. Speug even conducted a negotiation—watchfully and across the street, for the treachery of the other side was beyond description—and tried to come to terms with the representative of our least hated opponent. He even thought, and Peter was not guileless, that he had secured their neutrality, when they suddenly burst forth into opprobrious language, being a very vulgar school indeed, and exposed Peter's designs openly. His feelings were not much hurt by the talk, in which, indeed, he scored an easy victory after he had abandoned negotiation and had settled down to vituperation, but Seminary boys whose homeward route took them past the hostile territories had to be careful all that summer. It was, indeed, a time of bitter humiliation to the premier school of Muirtown, and might have finally broken its spirit had it not have been for the historical battle in the beginning of November, when McGuffie and Robertson led us to victory, and the power of the allies was smashed for years. So great, indeed, was their defeat that in early spring Peter has been known to withdraw himself from marbles in the height of the season and of his own personal profit, for the simple purpose of promenading through the enemies' sphere of influence alone and flinging words of gross insult in at their gates.
One of the schools must have been a charity for the education of poor lads, since it was known to us as the "Penny School," and it was a familiar cry ringing through the yard of the Seminary, "The Pennies are coming!" when we promptly turned out to give them the welcome which, to do them justice, they ardently desired. Whether this was a penny a week or a penny a month we did not know, or whether, indeed, they paid a penny at all, but it pleased us to give this name, and it soon passed beyond the stage of correction. Our enemies came at last to wear it proudly, like many other people who have been called by nicknames and turned the nickname into an honour, for they would follow up a particularly telling snowball with the cry, "There's a penny for ye!" They were sturdy varlets, quite indifferent as to boots and stockings, and equally so as to blows. Through their very regardlessness the Pennies would have been apt to rout the Seminary—whose boys had given pledges to respectability, and who had to answer searching questions as to their personal appearance every evening—had it not been for stalwarts like McGuffie, whose father, being a horsedealer, did not apply an over strict standard of judgment to his son's manners or exploits, and Robertson, who lived in lodgings and, being a soldier's son, was supposed to be in a state of discipline for the Army.
Our feeling towards the Pennies was hardly cordial, but it was as nothing to our hatred of McIntyre's school, which called itself an academy, and had a Latin master and held examinations and affected social equality with the Seminary. Everyone knew that the Seminary had existed in the time of Queen Mary, and some said went back to the days of William Wallace, although we had some doubts as to whether the present building was then in existence. Everyone also knew that McIntyre's whole concern belonged to himself, and that he collected the fees in every class on Friday morning, that he took home what was over after paying his assistants, and that butcher meat for the McIntyre family next week depended on the result. McIntyre drew his supplies from the small tradesmen, and a Seminary lad, going in to get a new pair of boots at Meiklewham's would have a fine sense of pride in being measured by an old opponent whose face had often looked out on him from the mist of battle. This pretentious and windy institution even attempted the absurdity of a yearly prizegiving, when, instead of the Provost sitting in state and glaring before him with a Horace in his hands upside down, McIntyre's minister would hold forth on diligence and tidiness and courtesy and such like contemptible virtues. Had a Seminary boy been offered the painful choice, he would almost as soon have gone to the Pennies as to McIntyre, for in that case he had not been an impostor and a fraud.
For a week the weather had been hovering on frost, and on Wednesday afternoon the snow began to fall with that quiet and steady downpour which means a lasting storm. Speug went home in great spirits, declaring to an admiring circle of junior boys that if Providence were kind and the snow continued there would be something worth living for at the dinner hour on Friday. As the snowball war was a serious affair, and was conducted after a scientific fashion, it never commenced until there was a good body of snow upon the ground and pure snow could be gathered up without earth and stones. The unpardonable sin of our warfare was slipping a stone into a snowball: this was the same as poisoning the wells, and the miscreant who perpetrated this crime was cast out from every school. There was a general understanding between parties that the mercies were not to be wasted, and that the schools were to refrain themselves until there was a fair and lasting supply of ammunition. It was still snowing on Thursday morning, and there were some who said that war might now be declared; and Jock Howieson, ever a daring and rash spirit, declared we should repent it if we were not ready against one o'clock. Speug and Dunc were however of opinion that nothing was likely to take place that day except desultory skirmishes, and that the whole day ought to be spent in accumulating a store of snowballs against Friday, when there was no question that we should have to face the united schools in a decisive battle. This was the only instance where our captains ever made a mistake, and they atoned for their error of judgment by the valour and skill with which they retrieved what seemed a hopeless defeat.
As the hours wore on to one o'clock Speug could be seen glancing anxiously out at the window, and he secured an opportunity with Dunc for a hasty conference during the geometry lesson. About a quarter to one he turned from his slate and cocked his ear, and in two minutes afterwards every boy in Bulldog's class-room understood that the war had begun and that we had been taken by surprise. Scouts from McIntyre's, as we afterwards learned, had risked the danger of playing truant, which in a school like theirs cost nothing, and had visited our playground. They had carried back news that we were not yet prepared for battle, and our firm opinion was that the authorities of Penny's and McIntyre's had allowed their schools out at half-past twelve, in order to take us at a disadvantage. Before the bell rang and the senior classes were dismissed the Seminary knew that our enemies had seized the field of battle, but we did not know until we came out the extent of the disaster.
The Pennies had come down the back street and had established themselves opposite the narrow entrance between two sheds through which three only could walk abreast from our playground to the street. They had also sent a daring body of their lighter and more agile lads to the top of the sheds which separated our playground from the street, and they had conveyed down an enormous store of ammunition, so that the courtyard was absolutely at their mercy, and anyone emerging from the corridor was received with a shower of well-made and hard snowballs against which there was no standing. Even if we ran this risk and crossed the open space we could then be raked by the fire from the shed, and a charge through the narrow passage to the street would be in the last degree hazardous. There were twelve feet of passage, and there were not many who would care to face a stream of snowballs driven by the vigorous hands of the Pennies down this passage as through a pipe. Instead of meeting our enemies on the street, we had been penned up within our own school. McIntyre's had come down the terrace and seized an excellent position behind two Russian guns which stood opposite our school and about twenty feet from our front entrance. They had made these guns into a kind of fort, from behind whose shelter, reinforced by a slight barricade of jackets, they commanded our entrance, and had driven in the first boys who emerged, in hopeless discomfiture. It came upon us that we had been shut up back and front, and shut up with the poorest supply of snowballs and very little snow with which to repair our resources.
While the younger boys raged and stormed in the safety of the corridors, Dunc and Speug retired for consultation. In two minutes they came out and gave their orders to the mass of boys gathered together round the "well" and in the "well," and on the stairs and along the corridors. It was at this moment that Nestie Molyneux obtained a name which he covered with glory before the close of the day. As he had no class between twelve and one, he had been observing events, and with the aid of two or three other little boys had done what he could to repair the neglect of yesterday. In spite of a rain of snowballs he had availed himself of a sheltered corner in the playground and had worked without ceasing at the preparation of the balls. Every ball as it was made was dipped into a pail of water and then, half frozen, was laid in a corner where it was soon frozen altogether. "There'll be the feck o' two hundred balls ready. Ma certes! Nestie has a head on his shoulders. Now," said Speug, speaking from halfway up the stair, "we'll start with thae balls for a beginnin', and wi' them we'll fecht our way out to the open. As soon as we've cleared the background every ane o' the two junior classes is to mak' balls as hard as he can lick and bring them forward to the fighting line.
"We'll divide the senior school into three divisions; Dunc will take thirty of ye and drive McIntyre frae the guns and along the terrace till ye turn them into Breadalbane Street. Thirty o' ye—and I want nae Dowbiggins—'ll come with me, and we'll bring the Pennies aff the shed quicker than they got up, and drive them up the back streets till we land them wi' the rest in Breadalbane Street; and the juniors 'ill keep us well supplied with balls, else Dunc and me will ken the reason at two o'clock.
"Jock Howieson, ye're to tak' thirty swank fellows that can run and are no 'feart to be left alane. Ye'll rin round by the North Street and the Cathedral and come down the top of Breadalbane Street till ye cut off McIntyre's and the Pennies frae their schools. Dae nothin' till ye see Dunc and me drivin' the lot up Breadalbane Street, then come down from the back end of them wi' all your might, and I'm thinkin' they'll be wanting to be inside their ain yard afore a' be done."