"A grand place for fishing, this," observed Buttar, as he looked into the dark, clear water which went whirling by in eddies, and here and there formed deep calm pools and little bays, in which they could not help feeling sure many a trout lay hid.
"No time to think about it, though," answered Ernest. "We will come here, by all means, another day and try what we can do. Let us now see how we are to get across the river. Lay the scent thickly, that the hounds may not be in fault, or they may lose it altogether and give the chase up in despair."
While they were speaking they were following the countryman through the reeds and grass, which was already high in that moist situation. He stopped at the base of a fine large willow, which they saw bent very much over the water, though the bushes prevented them from seeing how far. There were some notches in its trunk, and up these he climbed. They followed him closely, and saw him descend on the opposite bank by means of a knotted rope which hung from the end of one of the limbs. They were delighted with the plan.
"Capital!" exclaimed Buttar. "What fun it will be to have all the hounds come scrambling over the old trunk, and letting themselves down by the rope, one after the other."
The countryman looked at the speaker with a puzzled gaze. "The owndes!" he exclaimed. "They'll ne'er trouble the rope, I'm thinking." He evidently could not settle it in his mind that his young companions were not mad. Buttar and Ernest laughed heartily at his look of astonishment.
"We speak of our schoolfellows, who pretend to be hounds, and we are hares leading them on," exclaimed Buttar. The countryman clapped his hands and rubbed them together to express his delight at the notion, while he joined in their laughter at his mistake.
"Well, that there be a jolly good game, I do think," he exclaimed. "I loikes it, that I do—No, no—I'll not take your money, young measters. I gets a good day's pay for a good day's work, and that's all I asks, and all I wishes for." Ernest, on hearing this sentiment, put out his hand and warmly shook that of the countryman. "I like to hear you say that, friend. It is what all of us should alone desire, and I am sure the world would be much happier if everybody in it were like you; but good-bye, good-bye; I've no time to talk now. I should like to fall in with you and have a chat another day. It's a good bit off to Fairway Tower, which we must round before we turn homeward."
"You bees a free spoken young genl'man, and I'd lief have a chat we ye," answered the countryman; "my name is John Hodge, and I live in Lowley Bottom; ye knows where that is, I'm thinking."
"That I do; very glad. I'll come and see you, John Hodge; good-bye, good-bye;" exclaimed Ernest, as he and Buttar set off at full speed across a grassy willow-bounded field towards Fairway Tower, which appeared full in sight on the downs above them. They had thoroughly regained their wind during the time they had spent with John Hodge, so now they went away once more at full speed. They had a number of broadish ditches to leap, but they easily sprang over them, laughing whenever they pictured to themselves any of their followers tumbling in, a catastrophe they thought very likely to occur at two or three places, where the bank they had to leap to was higher than the one they leaped from.
Once more they reached the foot of the downs. These downs rose on the opposite side of the broad stream they had crossed. Looking along the course of the river towards the sea, it appeared as if the silvery thread of water had cut the green hills in two parts, and that then they had slipped away from it on either side, leaving a broadish expanse covered with meadows and copses, and here and there a corn-field, and a cottage garden, and a potato-ground, with its small, low, straw-thatched, mud cottage.
Up—up the smooth, closely cropped side of the steep hill they climb, with just as good a heart as when they started. Steep as it was, they scarcely panted an instant. Ernest was in capital training; that is to say, he was in the condition in which a strong healthy boy ought always to be. So, indeed, was Buttar; for neither of them ever ate a particle more of food than they required, they eschewed tarts of all sorts, and kept all their limbs and muscles in full exercise. May English boys never cease to practise athletic sports, and more especially systematic gymnastics!
The hare and his companion soon reached the top of the downs, and turning round, spread out their arms with open palms, and gulped down a dozen draughts of the pure fresh breeze, which would now be somewhat behind them, though they had hitherto had it chiefly in their faces, an important advantage which Ernest had taken into consideration when he selected the course for the day.
Note it, all you who may have to do hare. Get the wind in your face as much as possible during your outward course, in cold as well as in hot weather, but more especially in hot. In cold weather, however, it is important, as you will, if you have the wind behind you when going, get very hot, and you will be apt to get chilled when leisurely returning, or be prevented, from fear of it, of sitting down and resting. Not that such an idea of catching cold ever entered into the imagination of the two schoolboys. Along the ridges of the smooth downs they went merrily, gazing down into the valley below, and more than once looking round to discover if the hounds were following. Nowhere were they to be seen.
The foot of Fairway Tower was reached at last. It was the keep of a castle of very ancient date, built in the centre of a Roman encampment. The walls were of enormous thickness, allowing a staircase to wind up within them.
"Let us give them a good view of the sea," cried Ernest. Up the well-worn stone steps they mounted. Up—up they sprung, laughing merrily and cheering loudly when they reached the top. Few people, after a run of nearly fifteen miles, would have liked to have followed their example. The view, Ernest declared, repaid them. It was expansive, and it gave, from its character, a pleasing, exhilarating sensation to the heart as it lay at their feet basking in sunshine. On either hand were the smiling undulating downs, dotted here and there with flocks of sheep. Before them the country sloped away for a couple of miles till it reached the bright blue dancing ocean, over which several white sails were skimming rapidly. Inland there was a beautifully diversified country. There were several rich woods surrounding gentlemen's seats, and here and there a hamlet and a church spire rising up among the trees, and some extensive homesteads, the gems of an English rural landscape; and there were wide pasture lands, and ploughed fields already getting a green tinge from the rising corn, and many orchards blushing with pink bloom, and white little cottages, and the winding river, and many a silvery stream which ran murmuring into it; but I need not go on with the description. Ernest and Buttar drank in its beauties as they did the cool breeze which blew on their cheeks, and then they looked round to try and discover the hounds.
"I see them," exclaimed Buttar, after a long scrutinising search. "There they are, just coming out of Beechwood; they look no bigger than a troop of ants. Well, we have got a fine start of them—let us give them a cheer. They won't hear us, but they may possibly see us." Ernest agreeing to Buttar's proposal, they got to the top of the highest pinnacle, and taking off their hats they waved them vehemently above their heads, shouting at the same time to their hearts' content at the top of their voices, Hurra, hurra, hurra; once more, hurra! They did not expect, however, that the sound could possibly reach their friends, so they shouted, it must be owned, for their own satisfaction and amusement. Having shouted and waved their hats till they were tired, they agreed that it should be time to commence their homeward way. They accordingly prepared to descend from their lofty perch to the world below. They did not go down by the staircase, but by the rugged projections in the wall, where a wide breach existed, made either by the hand of time or by Cromwell's cannons in the times of the Cavaliers and Roundheads. They laughed very much as they stuck bits of paper into the crevices in the walls, and scattered them on every spot where there was a chance of their remaining. They were not long in reaching the bottom, for they were fearless climbers, and made little of dropping down ten feet or so to a ledge below them, provided they felt sure that they could balance themselves when there, and not go head foremost lower still, as careless climbers are apt to do. After this every step would bring them nearer home; but still they endeavoured to make the course as interesting as possible. Having taken a turn round the tower, and dropped the scent thickly in their track, off they again set. Along the upper edge of the downs they went at an easy jog-trot, and then when compelled at last, with regret, to leave the breezy hills, they took their way across a succession of fields where oats, and turnips, and mangel wurtzel were wont to grow, till they descended into the richer pasture and wheat-producing lands. Still they had many a stream and deep ditch to leap.
"How do you feel, old fellow?" said Ernest, after they had made good play for a couple of miles or more without stopping.
"As fresh as one of the daisies we are treading on," answered Buttar. "Do you know, Bracebridge, I never like treading on wild flowers; it seems such wanton destruction of some of the most beautiful works of nature. I feel all the time as a donkey who has got into a flower-bed ought to feel,—that I am a very mischievous animal. I would always rather go out of my way than injure them, especially such graceful gems as the wood anemone, or the wild hyacinth, or the wood sorrel, or primroses and cowslips. I feel that I could not restore one of the hundreds my careless feet have injured, even if my life depended on it."
"The same sort of idea has crossed my mind, I own," replied Ernest; "but then I bethought me, that they have been given in such rich profusion that, although hundreds or thousands may fall victims to our careless steps, as you remark, thousands and tens of thousands remain to show the glory of God's works, and that year after year they come back to us as plentiful and lovely as ever. But I say, old fellow, it won't do to stop and philosophise. We are hares for the nonce, remember, and the hounds are in hot chase after us. By the by, apropos to the subject, I remember reading a capital Irish story of Lover's, which made me laugh very much. For some reason or other, a fox walks into the cottage of a keeper, who is absent, and sits down on a chair before the fire, putting his feet on the fender, and taking up a newspaper, resolved to make himself comfortable. 'A newspaper?' exclaimed the Irishman to whom the story is being narrated. 'What did he want with that?' 'Faith! how else could he tell where the hounds were going to meet in the morning?' is the answer."
Buttar laughed heartily at Ernest's anecdote.
"Do you know that I cannot help feeling sometimes, as I am running along, as if I were really and truly a two-legged hare," observed the latter.
"Well, so do I," replied Buttar. "And when I have been doing a hound, I have so completely fancied myself one, as I have been scrambling through hedges and ditches, that I have felt more inclined to bark than to speak, and should certainly have claimed fellowship with a harrier had I encountered one."
"However that may be, as I do not feel inclined to sup on grass or raw cabbage, and should much rather prefer a good round of beef and some bread and cheese, let us now take the shortest cut home," observed Ernest, who was getting hungry.
"Agreed! agreed!" cried Buttar. "I don't think, though, that the hounds can be far behind us. It's my belief, when they come in, that they'll all declare they never have had such a day's run since they came to school."
The huntsman, and whipper-in, and hounds were left on the ledge of rock, looking out for a way by which to reach the bottom of the cliff. At last Tom Bouldon espied a bit of paper sticking in a crevice above where they were standing. He climbed up to it and seeing another, and another, clearly defined the path the hare had taken.
"Tally ho! tally ho!" he shouted.
"Tally ho! tally ho!" cried the huntsman, and sounded his horn.
In an instant, like shipwrecked sailors escaping from a wreck, all the boys were scrambling along the face of the cliff. Then they began to drop down, one after the other, fearless of broken limbs, and very soon they were assembled in the valley below. Once more they burst away in full cry. Across many a marsh they had to wade, and over many a stream to jump, into which more than one tumbled, and had to be hauled out by the rest. Indeed, had not Tom kept them up to their work, several of the hounds would have given up and turned back. Then Lemon cheered them on with his horn, and waved before them his flag, and, shouting together, they surmounted all difficulties, and seldom for more than a minute at a time lost the scent, till they came to the passage of the river. Here for a few minutes they were fairly puzzled. They got into the island, but how to get out again they could not tell. Round and round it they ran, till the scent was discovered by Lemon on the stem of the old willow.
"Tally ho! tally ho!" he shouted, springing along the leaning stem, and disappearing among the branches.
Tom whipped in the hounds, wondering what had become of their leader, till he was seen on the grass on the opposite bank, having come down, not having discovered the rope, rather more rapidly than he intended. Some had already descended in the same rapid way, coming down on all-fours, or with all-fours upwards, and there lay on the soft grass, kicking and sprawling in delightful confusion, before the rope was discovered. The rest got down by the rope, followed by the whipper-in, and then they all picked themselves up, and set off at full speed after the hare. I need not follow them. Continually this indefatigable whipper-in had to keep them up to their work, and very often had to help out those who had tumbled into ditches and trenches, or stuck fast in hedges.
"Well, I do declare we never have had such a run since I came to school," cried Tom, enthusiastically. "Bracebridge deserves a cup, that he does."
The sentiment was echoed by all hands, from Lemon downwards.
"Now, let us see if we can catch him before he reaches home."
Vain was the notion. The active hares kept well ahead of them, and when they reached the school, not a little tired, and as hungry as hounds should be, were found, seated at table, in clean dry garments, and enjoying a hearty supper. The two hares were speedily joined by huntsman, whipper-in, and hounds; and the Doctor and two or three of the bigger boys came in to superintend the feast, and to hear them "fight their battles o'er again." The hares said very little of their exploits; but it is surprising what wonderful accounts some of the hounds gave of what they had done, what hair-breadth escapes they had had, what hills they had climbed, what streams and ditches they had leaped.
ERNEST'S NEW FRIEND.
After the Easter holidays, several new boys came. One of them was called Edward Ellis. He had a remarkably quiet and subdued manner. The general remark was, that he looked as if he was cowed. He was certainly out of spirits. He spoke very little, avoided making friends, or, at all events, confidants, and seldom entered into any of our games. He seemed prepared to suffer any amount of bullying, even from little fellows, and if he was struck, he never struck again. He had been at school before, but he never said where. Probably, however, he had been there for some time, for he was already fourteen, though not big or strong for his age. With such a disposition and habits as I have described, of course he could not be a favourite with any one; at the same time, it could not be said that he was positively disliked. Ernest, seeing how solitary and melancholy he appeared, compassionated the poor fellow, and never lost an opportunity of speaking kindly to him. This conduct had its due effect, and Ellis took pains to show his gratitude.
Ernest had no little difficulty in defending his new friend, both from attacks made with the fists and those levelled with that still sharper weapon, the tongue. Ellis was much exposed to the latter, especially on account of his ungainly appearance and uncouth manners. Of course Blackall took especial delight in bullying him, as there was no fear of a retort, by word, look, or deed. This conduct especially excited Ernest's indignation, and he resolved to defend Ellis, at every personal risk, from the attacks of the bully.
"Oh, I have always been an unfortunate, unhappy fellow!" exclaimed poor Ellis one day, in the bitterness of his spirit, after he had been more than usually bullied. "Unfortunate I have been, and unfortunate I expect to be to the end of my days!"
"Oh, nonsense!" answered Ernest. "It is positively wrong to give way to such feelings. Just rouse yourself, and come and play like other fellows, and practise your limbs, and run and leap, and you'll soon get on as well as anybody else. Put yourself under the drill-sergeant and gymnastic master, and learn to dance, and you'll do as well as anybody."
"Me dance!" cried Ellis, with a doleful expression. "Tell me, Bracebridge, did you ever see a bear attempt to practise the Terpsichorean art. I should be very like the monster if I were to try it. But it is not that—there is something I cannot tell you about which makes me so unhappy, that I never expect to get over it. Nobody here knows anything about it, but some day they may, and then I shall be worse off than I am now."
"Well, I don't want you to tell me," replied Ernest, for he had an innate dislike to petty confidences. "But, I repeat, come and join us in our games. Just practise cricket, for instance, every day for a month or so, with single wickets, and you'll be able to join in our matches, and play as well as any one, I dare say."
"Oh, no! I've no hopes of myself. I'm sure I shall never play cricket," said Ellis, shaking his head.
"We'll see about that," observed Ernest, laughing at his friend's lugubrious expression of countenance. "But I'll tell you what you can do; you can play a game of rounders. It is not often that I play now, but I will get up a game for your sake."
Ellis was easily persuaded to accept Ernest's offer. They went out into the playground, and the latter was not long in finding plenty of players ready to join the game. Everybody was very much surprised when they saw Ernest select Ellis on his side.
"Why, Bracebridge, you'll never do with that fellow; he'll be out directly," cried several boys.
"Never mind; he'll play better than you suppose in a little time," was the answer. "Everybody must make a beginning."
Five of a side were chosen, and the ground was marked out. Five sticks were run into the earth, about sixteen yards apart, the lines between them forming the sides of a pentagon, with one stick in the centre. The centre was the place for the feeder.
"Those are what we call bases," said Ernest to Ellis, pointing out the spots where the sticks were placed. Then he drew a circle round one of them, which he pointed out as the "home."
Buttar, Bouldon, Dawson, and other fellows of the same age, were playing. Bouldon was on one side, Ernest on the other. The latter selected Buttar, and the former Dawson. They tossed up who was to go in first; Ernest won. He went in first; Tom had to feed him. Dawson kept a sharp look-out behind him, as did the other three players in different parts of the field. There is more science in the game than many people are aware of, though not, of course, to be compared to cricket, any more than the short bat which is used is to a cricket-bat.
"Now, Bouldon, give me a fair ball, you sly fox," cried Ernest, for Tom was notorious for his tricks and dodges of every sort. If a good hoax was played on the school, or on any individual, its authorship was generally traced to him. To do him credit, they were never ill-natured. He generally, when found out, bore his blushing honours meekly, and if not discovered, contented himself by laughing quietly in his sleeve.
"All fair and above board," cried Tom, bowling. "Look out!"
Ernest hit the ball a fine blow, and sent it flying away over the heads of all the out-players. Away he ran from base to base. He had already reached the third from the home—two distances more only had to be run— when Reynolds, a boy who could heave as far as any one in the school, got hold of the ball. One more run he thought he could attempt, for Reynolds could scarcely hit him at that distance. Reynolds, seizing the ball, rushed on with it. Ernest reached the fourth base. He wished to make Reynolds heave it; he pretended to spring forward; Reynolds threw the ball; Ernest watched its course, and as it bounded by him, he changed his feint into a reality, and reached the home. The next time he hit the ball still harder, and ran the whole round of the bases.
"Now, Ellis, you may have to go in before long," he sang out. "Don't attempt a rounder, though. Get to the first or second base easily; that will do. Come, feed away, Tommy."
Bouldon fed him, and though he sent the ball to a good distance, he only reached the fourth base. When he got there, he called out to Ellis to go in. Ellis seized the bat with a convulsive clutch, as if he was about to fight a battle with it, or was going to perform some wonderful undertaking. Even Ernest could scarcely help laughing at the curious contortions of countenance in which he indulged. However, remembering Ernest's advice, he kept his eye on the ball, and hit it so fairly, and with such good force, that he sent it flying away to a considerable distance.
"Capital!" cried Ernest, clapping his hands at the success of his pupil. "Run! run!—two bases at least."
Ellis did the distance with ease, and Ernest sprang into the home.
"Now look out, old fellow, to run right in, or, at all events, to the fourth base," he sang out to Ellis, whose spirits rose at his success; and he looked as eager as any one, and ready for anything. Tom tossed the ball to Ernest in a way somewhat difficult to hit, and when he struck it, he was nearly caught out. He, however, ran over a couple of bases, and Ellis stopped short at the fourth. This brought in a new player at the home. He sent the ball but a short way, and Ellis was very nearly struck out. The ball grazed him, but he was well in the home. Had he been struck out, he very likely would never have played well again. Tom now fed him. He hit the ball, and with all his might, and sent it as far as Ernest or Bouldon had ever done.
"Capital! well done, Ellis!" shouted many of the fellows, both players and lookers-on; and away he ran, and performed a whole circle.
Ernest determined to play his best, so as to keep Ellis in as long as possible. He was sure, from what he saw, that his success would give him encouragement, not only to play other games, but to mix more sociably with his schoolfellows. Ernest played capitally, but Ellis scored almost as many, to the surprise of those who fancied that he could not play at all. Few would have believed that he was the same awkward, shy boy, who was usually creeping about the play-ground, as they saw him, with a high colour and full of animation, hitting ball after ball with all his might, and cutting away round the bases. At last, one of their side was caught out, and Buttar went in. He was a good player, and added considerably to the numbers scored by his side. Still, as both Dawson and Bouldon were capital players, and so were most of their side, Ernest did his utmost to get as many runs as possible, at the same time that he wanted to make Ellis feel that he had himself contributed largely to the victory. Every time Ellis made a good hit, he praised him loudly, and certainly felt more pleasure than if he had done well himself. Poor Ellis had never been so happy since he was a child. He began to feel that, after all, he need not fancy himself less capable than his companions to enter into the usual sports of the school. At last, Buttar was struck out, and so was another player, and Ernest and Ellis alone were kept in. The latter could scarcely believe his senses, when he found himself the only person to help Ernest to keep up the game. Ernest was in the home; Ellis was on the base at the opposite side. He knew that he must run hard, or he would put Ernest out as well as himself.
"Now, Tom, two fair hits for the rounder," exclaimed Ernest.
The proposal was agreed to. Bouldon kept tossing the ball several times, but Ernest refused to hit. At last he hit, but did not run, and Ellis very nearly got out by attempting to do so. The next time he hit, and hit hard indeed. Away flew the ball further than ever, to the very end of the field.
"Now, Ellis, run! run!" he sang out.
Ellis moved his legs faster than he had ever before done, and shouted and shrieked with delight when Ernest made the round in safety. Thus the game continued. Ellis appeared to have a charmed existence as far as the game was concerned. Nothing could put him out. More than once his balls seemed to slip through the very fingers of those about to catch them.
"I say, Bracebridge, are you going to be out or not, this evening?" exclaimed Tom, getting positively tired of feeding.
"Not if Ellis and I can help it," was the answer. "We've taken a fancy to have a long innings, do you see?"
So it seemed, in truth; and the tea-bell positively rang while they were still in. By the custom of our school, a game of that minor description was then considered over; and the two new friends went into the tea-room together in a very triumphant state of mind.
"I told you, Ellis, you could do whatever you tried, just as well as other fellows," said Ernest, as he sat by him at tea. "Now I must show you how to play cricket, and hockey, and football, and fives, and all sorts of games. To-morrow we'll have a little quiet practice at cricket with single wicket, and I'll wager by the summer that you'll be able to play in a match with any fellows of our size."
Ellis thanked Ernest most warmly. He felt a new spirit rising in him— powers he had never dreamed of possessing coming out. He might yet stand on equal terms with his companions at school and with his fellow-men in the world.
"As I told you before, old fellow, what you want is a course of drilling. Our old sergeant will set you up and make you look like a soldier in a very few months. Just go and talk to the Doctor about it. He'll be glad to find you wish to learn. You'll like old Sergeant Dibble amazingly. It's worth learning for the sake of hearing him tell his long stories about his campaigning days—what his regiment did in the Peninsular, and how they drove all Napoleon's generals out of Spain and Portugal."
Ernest grew quite enthusiastic when speaking about Sergeant Dibble, with whom he was a great favourite. He succeeded in inspiring Ellis with a strong desire to learn drilling.
"Who knows but what after all I may one day be considered fit to go into the army!" exclaimed Ellis, after listening to a somewhat long oration in praise of Sergeant Dibble.
"I wish you would go into it," said Ernest. "I believe that I am to be a soldier, but my father will never tell any of us what professions he intends us for. He tells us we must get as much knowledge as we can obtain, and that we must perfect ourselves in all physical exercises, and then that we shall be fit to be bishops, or generals, or lord chancellors, or admirals, or aldermen, or whatever may be our lot in life. Of course, he is right. My elder brother came out Senior Wrangler at Cambridge, and pulls one of the best oars and plays cricket as well as any man in the University. If I can do as well as he has done I shall be content. He is now going to study the law, and then to look after the family property. I have to make my own way in the world somehow or other."
"Well, so have I to make my own way," observed Ellis. "I don't fancy that I shall ever have any property coming to me, and I thought that I should never get on, but always have to stick at the bottom of the tree; but do you know, that from what you have said to me, I begin to hope that I may be able to climb like others, if not to the top, at least to a comfortable seat among the branches?"
"Bravo! capital! that you will!" cried Ernest, who was delighted to find the effect his lessons were producing. He was not himself aware of the benefits he was reaping from having some one to watch over and assist. Ernest was undoubtedly very clever, but he was very far from perfect. He could not help feeling that he was superior to most—indeed, to all the boys of his own age at school. This did not make him vain or conceited in any objectionable way, but he was somewhat egotistical. He thought a good deal about himself—what people would say of him, what they would think of him. He was perhaps rather ambitious of shining simply for the sake of shining—a very insufficient reason, all must agree, if they will but consider how very very pale a light the brightest genius can shed forth when his knowledge comes to be measured with that which is required to comprehend a tenth part of the glories which the universe contains.
The half drew on. Blackall did not relax in his tyranny over the younger boys, though more than once it brought him into trouble. At last the Doctor heard of his bullying, and he was confined within bounds for a month, and had no end of impositions to get up. He promised amendment; but the punishment did not cure him, and in a short time he was as bad as ever. He began, as usual, upon those less likely to complain, and Ellis was one of his first victims. He seemed to take a peculiar delight in making the poor fellow's existence miserable, and every day he found some fresh means of torture. Ernest saw this going on day after day, and at last felt that he could stand it no longer. "I must get Ellis to stick up to him, or I must do so alone," he exclaimed to himself.
Although Ellis fancied that he could not play at games, he was very ingenious, and could make all sorts of things—little carriages of cardboard, with woodwork, and traces and harness complete, which he painted and varnished; and boats and vessels, which he cut out of soft American pine, and scooped out and put decks into them, and cut out their sails, and rigged them with neat blocks. Sometimes the blocks had sheaves in them, and the sails were made to hoist up and down, and his yachts sailed remarkably well and could beat any of those opposed to them. Then he made little theatres capitally, and painted the scenes and cut out the characters, and stuck tinsel on to them; and if not as good as a real play, they afforded a vast amount of amusement. These talents, however, were not discovered for some time.
We did not disdain to fly kites at our school, but they were very large, handsome kites, and we used to vie with each other in trying which could get the largest and strongest and most finely ornamented, and make them fly the highest.
Our French master, Monsieur Malin, was a great hand at kite-flying. He did not like cricket, or football, or hockey, or any game in which he might get hurt, because, as he used to say, "Vat you call my sins are not manufactured of iron. You petits garcons don't mind all sorts of knocks about, but for one poor old man like me it is not good." Had he been an Englishman, we might have despised him for not playing cricket or football, but we thought it was only natural in a Frenchman. As he played rounders, and prisoners' base, and hoops, and every game of skill, in capital style, and was very good-natured and ready to do anything anybody asked him, which he had it in his power to do, he was deservedly a very general favourite. It was great fun to hear him sing out, "Chivie! chivie! chivie!" when playing at prisoners base, and to see his legs with short steps moving along twice as fast as anybody else.
The weather was getting rather too hot for most of our running games which we played in the spring and autumn—with the exception, of course, of cricket, the most delightful of all summer amusements—when Monsieur Malin proposed a grand kite-flying match. Two different objects were to be tried for. There were two equal first prizes. One was to be won by the kite which rose the highest, or rather, took out the longest line; the other prize was to be given to the owner of the kite which could pull the heaviest weights the fastest. Two other prizes were to be bestowed, one on the handsomest kite, and the other to the most grotesque, provided they were not inferior in other qualities.
For two or three weeks before, preparations were being made for the match, and every day parties were seen going out to the neighbouring heath to try the qualities of the kites they had manufactured. Clubs were formed which had one or two kites between them, for the expense of the string alone was considerable. It was necessary to have the lightest and strongest line to be procured, which would also run easily off the reel.
Monsieur Malin was working away at his kite in his room, and he said that he would allow no one to see it till it was completed. Many of the bigger fellows condescended to take an interest in the matter, as did Lemon and Ernest and others, and even Blackall gave out that he intended to try the fortune of his kite. He stated that he should not bother himself by making one, but that he had written to London to have the largest and best ever made sent down to him. Many of the fellows, when they heard this, said that they thought there would be very little use in trying to compete with him. Dawson especially remarked that he should give up. "Blackall has everything of the best, you know, always in tip-top style," he remarked; "and you see, if he gets a regular-made kite from a first-rate London maker, what chance can any of us possibly have?" Blackall himself seemed to be of the same opinion, and boasted considerably of the wonders his kite was going to perform. Monsieur Malin smiled when he heard him boasting; Ernest said nothing, but looked as if he thought that he might be mistaken; while Buttar laughed and observed that Bully Blackall seemed to think that a large amount of credit was to be gained by buying a good kite. He might congratulate himself still more if he could buy at as cheap a rate a good temper and a good disposition.
Ernest, meantime, going on the principle he had adopted of doing his utmost to encourage Ellis, proposed to join him in the share of a kite. Ellis said that he should be very glad, and that he would undertake to make it himself.
"What! can you make kites?" exclaimed Ernest. "I never dreamed of that."
"Oh, I have made all sorts of kites, and know how to fly them well," answered Ellis. "I have the materials for one in my box now. I did not like to produce them, because the other boys would only laugh at me for proposing to fly a kite. I have ample line, though we may add another ball or two. All I want are two thin but strong laths, nine and eight feet long."
"What! are you going to make the kite nine feet high!" exclaimed Ernest. "That will be big, indeed."
"Yes; nine feet high, and eight from wing to wing," said Ellis.
"Why, what a whacking big fellow it will be!" exclaimed Ernest. "And I say, what a lot of paper it will take to make it!"
"Not a particle," answered Ellis. "It is all made of silk, which is lighter and stronger than any other material. Come with me to the carpenter's and get the laths, and we'll have it made by the evening, so as to fly it, if there is a breeze, to-morrow."
"I'll go with pleasure to the carpenter's; but if you are pretty certain that your kite will do well, do not let us fly it till the day of trial. It will astonish every one so much to see you come out with a great big kite, which, I doubt not, will beat all the others."
"Oh, no! I'm afraid that it won't do that. It will scarcely be equal to Monsieur Malin's, and probably Blackall will get something very grand down from London," answered Ellis, always diffident about anything connected with himself.
"We'll see," said Ernest quietly. "And now, as we have so grand a kite, let us go and see old Hobson about the carriage which we must make it drag. Any shape and any plan is allowable, remember, provided it can carry two. Now I have a design in my head which I think will answer capitally. You see old gentlemen and ladies steering themselves, with a person pushing behind, in an arm-chair. I propose having a sort of a skeleton of a chair, with two big wheels and one small one in front, with a very long front part,—one seat behind for the person who manages the kite, and one in front for the steerer. There must be a bar in front with a block to it, through which the line must pass, and then I would have a light pole with a hook at one end, while the butt-end should be secured to the centre of the carriage. Suppose you were to sit in front and steer; I would sit behind and have a reel to haul in or let out the line, and with the pole and hook I could bring the kite on one side of the carriage or the other, as might be required to assist you to guide it. It is my opinion that we can make the carriage go on a wind, as yachtsmen say. That is to say, if the wind is from the north or south, we may make the carriage go east or west. Now, if other fellows have not thought of that, and the wind should change a few points, we may be able to go on in our proper course while they may be obliged to stop, and so we shall win the prize."
"Capital!" repeated Ellis, clapping his hands and hugging himself in his delight in a peculiarly grotesque way which always made his friend smile, though he determined some day quietly to tell him of the habit, and to advise him to get over it. "Capital!" repeated Ellis. "I've heard of something of the sort in Canada, where, on the lakes and rivers, what are called ice-boats are used. They are, however, placed on great skates or iron runners, and have sails just like any other boats, only the sails are stretched quite flat, like boards. They have a long pole out astern with an iron at the end of it, which cuts into the ice and serves as a rudder. They sail very fast, and go, I understand, close on a wind."
"What fun to sail in them!" cried Ernest. "I've often thought I should like to go to Canada, and that would be another reason. But, I say, Ellis, I fancy from the way you talk you know something about yachting. I'm very fond of it; you and I will have some sailing together one of these days."
Ellis said that he had frequently yachted with some of his relations, and that he should be delighted to take a cruise with Ernest when they could afford to have a boat. They talked away till they got to the shop of old Hobson the carpenter. He was a clever workman, with a natural mechanical turn, so he comprehended the sort of carriage they wanted, and willingly undertook to make it.
Towards the end of April, the rising sun ushered in a fine breezy morning, with every promise of a strong wind during the day. It was a half-holiday; but on grand occasions of the sort—for it was the day fixed for the kite-race—the boys were allowed to get up and begin lessons an hour earlier than usual. The Doctor always encouraged early rising, and he was, besides, anxious to show us that he took an interest in our amusements, by making such regulations as might facilitate them.
Ernest and Ellis had constantly been to old Hobson's to see how their carriage was getting on. "Never you mind, young gen'men, it's all right," was his answer for some days. "I won't disappoint you; but you see several has come here who wants such fine painted affairs, that I must get on with them. There's Mr Blackall, now, who has been and ordered a carriage which I tells him will take six horses to drag; but he says that he has got a kite coming which will pull one along ten miles an hour, twice as big as this, so of course I've nothing more to say."
A large flat case arrived in the morning of the race day for Blackall, just as we were going in to lessons after breakfast; so he had no time to open it. It was not as large as he expected, but still he was very confident that all was right.
Lessons over, we went in to dinner—and that meal got through, with more speed than usual, we all assembled to see the kites and the carriages which had been prepared.
The carpenters were in attendance with the vehicles they had got ready according to orders received. They were of all shapes and plans. Several, among whom was Blackall's, were very finely painted, but the greater number were mere boxes on wheels, put together at very little expense—which few boys were able to afford, even when clubbing together.
First appeared Monsieur Malin's kite; it represented a wonderful Green Dragon, twisting and turning about in the most extraordinary way—the tail of the kite being merely the small end of the tail of the dragon. It had great big red eyes, glowing with tinsel, and wings glittering all over, and a tongue which looked capable of doing a large amount of mischief. Loud shouts of applause welcomed the green dragon, as Monsieur Malin held it up like a shield before him, and moved about the playground, hissing, and howling, and making all sorts of dreadful noises.
Tommy Bouldon had joined a club, which produced a magnificent Owl, with a large head, and huge goggling eyes; and never did owl hiss more loudly than did their owl as it met Monsieur Malin's terrific dragon. They at last rushed at each other with such fury, that Tommy's head very nearly went through the owl's body, which would effectually have prevented it from flying at the match.
Lemon and Buttar had fraternised, and in front of them marched a Military Officer, magnificent in a red coat, vast gold epaulets, and no end of gold braiding and trimming, which glittered finely in the sun, while his richly ornamented cocked hat, set across his head, had on the top of it a waving plume of feathers, and a drawn sword in his hand shone in the sunbeams. He looked very fiercely at the dragon and the owl, as he did at everybody, for his eyes were large, and round, and dark.
The Dragon roared, and the Owl hissed at him, when he growled out, "I'll eat you," which produced loud shouts of laughter from both of them, while they quietly replied, "You can't."
After the General had shown himself, Ellis walked in, bearing a long thin pole, wrapped round, it appeared, by a flag. Ernest accompanied him, carrying a reel of fine but very strong twine. Some boys stared, and others laughed derisively, and asked if he thought that thing was going to fly. "You'll see—you'll see," he answered very quietly.
"Fly!—Dat it will—higher dan any of ours, I tell you, boys," observed Monsieur Malin, who had eyed it attentively.
Ernest and Ellis marched across the playground, into the field beyond, out of sight, and in less than two minutes returned, bearing aloft a magnificent Knight in silver armour, with a glittering shield on his arm, a plume on his helmet, and a spear in his hand. His visor was up, and his countenance, with a fine black beard and moustache, looked forth fiercely beneath it, while a band of roses, which was thrown over his shoulder, hung down and formed a very magnificent tail, glittering with jewels. No sooner did the gallant knight make his appearance than the derisive laughter and sneers were changed into shouts of applause. All were agreed that never had a more beautiful kite appeared.
"All very well," cried Dawson, who was expecting Blackall's kite to come forth, "but it is a question with me whether such a gimcrack-looking affair will fly."
Blackall had meantime been busily employed in unpacking his kite, which was to create so much astonishment, and do such mighty things. He undid the strings and brown paper, and laths, which surrounded it, with eager haste. A number of boys were looking on, all curious to see what was to be produced. Dawson was among the most sanguine, expecting that something very fine was to appear. At last Blackall was seen to scratch his head, and to look somewhat annoyed.
"Come, come, Blackall," exclaimed Sandford, one of the biggest fellows, and certainly no friend of his; "let us see this precious kite of yours. Out with it, man."
"Mind your own business, Sandford," answered the bully, sulkily. "I'll show the kite when I feel inclined."
"Ho, ho, ho!" replied Sandford, laughing; and knowing perfectly well that Blackall dared not retaliate, stooping down, he lifted the kite, and held it up to the view of the whole school. There was a picture of a big ugly boy daubed in the commonest ochre, and bearing evident marks of its toy-shop origin, though Tommy Bouldon and others declared that they recognised in it a strong likeness to Blackall himself. Blackall seemed to think that some trick had been played him, though it was very clear that the likeness was accidental.
"It's pretty plain who's got the ugliest and most stupid looking kite," said Buttar, as he passed by. "Very like himself. I wonder if it will fly."
"Yes, if it can find a small kite up in the sky to thrash," observed Bouldon. "But, I say, let us give three cheers for Blackall's toy-shop kite. I wonder if he will take it as a compliment."
A boisterous, if not a hearty, cheer was quickly raised, which barely served to cover a chorus of hisses and groans uttered by a number of little fellows, who had been in the habit of receiving gratuitous kicks and cuffs from their amicable companion.
There were several ordinary kites, remarkable chiefly for their size, being made of newspapers; but there were others contributing an ingenious variety of devices—bats, and frogs, and fish of curious shapes. The flying-fish especially looked very natural as they glittered in the sunbeams, only people could not help inquiring how they came to be up so high in the air.
At last all were ready to set forth; some pushed the carriages, and others carried the kites. Ernest and Ellis rolled up theirs, and carried it along very easily. The Doctor led the way, accompanied by two or three of the biggest fellows; but he would every now and then stop, and call up some of the smaller ones to have a talk with them.
The ground chosen for the trial of the kites was a high, downy table-land, with a fine flat surface. It was a very pretty sight to see all the boys, with their carriages and gaily-coloured kites, assembled together. There were nearly fifty kites, for many brought small kites, with which they had no intention to contend for a prize. All the masters, and several friends of the Doctor's and some of the boys, attended to act as umpires. At last everything was arranged.
The kite-flyers formed one long line, with the wind in their backs. The first point to be decided was the beauty of the kites. Lemon had his horn, which was to be used as a signal. He blew three shrill blasts. At the sound of the third, up they all flew, some starting rapidly upwards; others wavering about before ascending; a few refusing to mount altogether beyond a few yards off the ground. However, the greater number mounted rapidly, their brilliant colours flashing in the sunbeams. The spectators clapped their hands loudly, as a mark of their approbation, and then set to work to make notes, that they might decide when called on to declare on whom the prizes ought to be bestowed.
Monsieur Malin's Green Dragon came in for a large share of praise, so did the General Officer; but Ellis's Knight of the Silver Shield was decided to be the most elegant and beautiful of all the kites, and the owner was called forth to receive his meed of applause.
Many were surprised when they saw Ellis, with his awkward gait, shuffling out from among the crowd; and, more especially, when he announced himself, in a hesitating tone, not only as the maker, but as the designer of the Knight of the Silver Shield.
One kite went up some way, just sufficient to exhibit its ugliness, but wavered and rolled about in the most extraordinary manner, evidently showing that it was lop-sided. It received shouts, but they were not of applause, and they were accompanied by hisses, which the Doctor, however, repressed. The kite received in this unflattering way was Blackall's boasted toy-shop production. He was highly indignant, and walked about stamping with rage.
Buttar and Bouldon were much amused, and expressed a hope that he would expend his fury on his kite, and cut it to pieces. He drew out his knife, evidently with that intention, but he had not the heart to attack it.
"I'll tell you what it is, Bobby," said he to Dawson, who was standing by not a little disgusted, "it pulls terrifically hard, and in my opinion, if it is altered a little, and has a heavier wing put on the right side, it will yet do magnificently, and make all those howling monkeys change their tone. That dolt Ellis, and that conceited chap Bracebridge, will soon find that their finely-bedizened machine is cut out. My carriage is, I know, such a first-rate one, that it will go along with anything."
Dawson was in great hopes that Blackall was right, for he had staked his reputation, as he said, on the success of his patron and his imported kite, and he had no fancy to find himself laughed at. In what Master Bobby Dawson's reputation consisted he did not stop to inquire, and certainly anybody else would have been very puzzled to say.
The rest of the kite-flyers troubled themselves very little about Blackall and his ill success. They were all intent on making their own kites perform their best. After the kites had flown for some time, the Doctor advanced from the group of spectators and umpires, and summoned Ellis and Monsieur Malin, and, with an appropriate address, bestowed on them the two first prizes, complimenting them on their design, and the beauty of the execution.
And now the time arrived to try which kites could fly the highest. All were hauled in, and the boys stood as before in a row. The signal was given by Lemon, and up they went, soaring far away into the blue sky. This time Ernest had a kite as well as Ellis. It was a good large kite, with remarkably strong string. The device was that of a man-at-arms, with a gleaming battle-axe over his shoulder, or, as Ernest called it, the Squire.
"Why, Bracebridge! what do you expect that kite to do, eh?" exclaimed Lemon. "It is too heavy-looking to fly, and not large enough to drag a carriage."
"I hope that at all events he will do his duty, and prove a faithful Squire," answered Bracebridge.
"I wonder what he means?" said several boys who overheard him.
Away soared the kites; some of them appeared as if they would never come down again. The Green Dragon rose very high, and must have astonished the birds and beasts of the field, if it did not the human beings in the valley below. The Silver Knight also played his part well up in the skies, so did the General, and many others. Up, up went the Green Dragon, and high soared the Silver Knight; Excelsior was his motto; but high as he went, the Green Dragon went higher.
"Hilloa, Bracebridge, you and your friend should have chosen a different motto for your knight, for the Green Dragon is beating him, and the old Owl is not far behind," exclaimed Lemon, who, while manoeuvring his kite, found himself not far from Ernest.
"Stay a bit," answered Ernest, in a good-natured tone; "perhaps our knight may yet prove that his motto was not ill-chosen. We have not yet got to the end of our line."
Monsieur Malin kept easing out his line, and his monster went slowly upward, but it was evident that the weight of string it had already to bear was almost too much for it, and that it would not carry much more. It was a brave dragon, however, and in the French master's skilful hands, it is extraordinary how high it got up. At last it was evident that it was stationary, and required a great deal of manoeuvring to be kept at the height it had attained.
"Now, Bracebridge," cried Ellis, who had worked the Silver Knight up almost as high, "let me have your line."
"All right," answered Bracebridge, hauling down his kite till it was within thirty feet of the ground. "Hook on."
On this Ellis brought the end of his line up to Bracebridge, who fastened it to the string of the Squire, which immediately shot upward, while higher and higher flew the Silver Knight. He reached the Green Dragon, and floated proudly past him. Up he went, higher and higher, till a glittering spot could alone be seen in the blue heavens. Shouts of applause broke from the spectators.
"Now," cried Bracebridge triumphantly, "has not our knight chosen his motto with judgment, Excelsior? See, up he goes higher and higher."
Higher he did go, indeed; and in a short time the glittering spot was lost to view.
"We could easily get our Squire out of sight also, if we could find a line light enough and strong enough to bear the strain of the two kites together, but no string we have got here could bear the strain that would be put upon it," observed Ernest to those who came round to observe the wonder which had been wrought.
Some declared that it was not fair, and that they had no right to fasten the string of one kite to that of another.
"Oh! that's all nonsense, and you fellows know it well," answered Ernest. "The question to be decided is, which kite can reach the farthest from the earth, and ours has done so. Unless another gets higher, we shall win the prize."
No other kite got even so high as the Green Dragon, so the Silver Knight was most justly declared to be the winner of the prize.
"Froggy Malin's and those fellows' kites may fly high, but they will not be able to pull anything along," growled out Blackall. "Before they think that they are going to carry off all the prizes, let us see what my kite can do. He looks like a strong, tough fellow, who can pull hard at all events."
Dawson and a few of Blackall's admirers echoed these sentiments, fully believing that he did not boast without reason of what he would do.
The carriages were now brought forward from a chalk-pit, where they had been concealed, and formed a line in front of the spectators. Blackall's was certainly the largest, and not the least gay and gaudy, but more than one person smiled at the notion of its being dragged along by a single kite. None of the carriages could boast of much beauty, but some were very finely painted, and were admired accordingly. When Ernest brought out his vehicle, it was much laughed at, for it had such an odd, spider-like, skeleton look. Still the knowing ones acknowledged that it might have a great deal of go in it.
Most of the line of the kites was now hauled in and wound up. Ernest and Ellis got down the Silver Knight, and fastened some light lines to each of his wings, and brought them down to the carriage. Two or three boys stood round each carriage holding it. At a signal, given by Lemon on his horn, to prepare, they all jumped in. At another, all hands were taken off the carriages, and away most of them went at a fair speed. One did not move—it was Blackall's. Who could picture his wrath and indignation? He pulled and pulled at the line; the kite rose somewhat, but wavered about terribly: now it darted to one side, now to the other.
"Come along, Blackall, come along," shouted several of the racers, as they moved on, and left him trying all sorts of useless experiments to make the kite pull and the carriage move. Neither one nor the other could he accomplish. Shouts of laughter reached his ear, and he was conscious that they were caused by his ill success. This only increased his rage and bitterness. He stamped in his anger and impatience till he knocked his feet through the boards which formed the bottom of his carriage. He lost all command over himself. He hallooed; he shouted at his kite; and then he swore great, horrible oaths at the kite, and the carriage, and at the wind, till the voice of the Doctor sounded in his ear, ordering him sternly to get out of the carriage and drag it out of the way. He sulkily obeyed, and wound up the string of his kite, and betook himself to the background, trembling lest the Doctor should have overheard his expressions.
"I say, Dawson,—I say, Smith,—do you think the old one heard what I said?" he asked, as he was going off, and they stood, not liking to desert him altogether, and yet wishing to go on and see the fun.
"I believe you he did, my boy," answered Smith, who had but little of the milk of human kindness in his composition. "You spoke loud enough to be heard half-a-mile off."
"But I say, Bobby, do you think so? Did he hear me? By Jove, I shall get a pretty jobation if he did!" exclaimed the bully, appealing in a whining tone to Dawson.
The wretched, cowardly lad forgot that there was another—a great Omniscient Being—who, at all events, heard him; and that every evil word he had uttered had assuredly been registered in a book whence it would never be erased till the Day of Judgment, when it would be made known to thousands and tens of thousands of astonished and mourning listeners. But such an idea never crossed Blackall's mind. Had it, perhaps it might have prevented him from uttering the expressions of which he so frequently made use.
Fearful only of the immediate disagreeable consequences should the Doctor have heard him, he retired by himself from the ground; while Dawson, and the few other boys who had hitherto adhered to him, set off in pursuit of the racers.
With shouts of laughter the racers went on. At first the Green Dragon took the lead, followed closely by the Owl, for both the carriages were very light, and the kites were skilfully managed. Each of them had a second kite attached; for, unless there had been a very strong wind, one would scarcely have dragged them on. Monsieur Malin had selected two boys to manage his carriage, and he ran by their side to direct them; for his own weight would have been too great for it. The Knight and Squire followed closely on the first two carriages. They were flying, on starting, somewhat too high; but Ernest hauled in the lines, and the effect was soon perceptible. On went their daddy-long-legs, as he and Ellis called their car, and soon got up to the Owl.
"To-hoo, to-hoo, to-hoo!" cried the directors of the Owl, but the Knight and his Squire pulled away, and the Owl was left astern, and very soon the Green Dragon was overtaken. They, of course, were assailed with the most horrible hisses, and roars, and strange noises of all sorts; but these did not daunt the Knight and his Squire, who went bravely on.
"Excelsior! excelsior! Hurra! hurra!" shouted Ernest and Ellis, as their car took the lead. Gradually, but surely, it increased its distance from the rest. Monsieur Malin did his best to manoeuvre his kites; so did Lemon and the rest; but they could not manage to overtake the Knight and his Squire, though they hissed, and roared, and shouted with merry peals of laughter between the intervals, calling them to stop, and not go ahead so fast.
"Old Hobson did not deceive us," observed Ellis; "really this carriage goes along capitally."
"He has done us justice, certainly," answered Ernest. "But remember, Ellis, our success is entirely owing to your talent and judgment. You think too little of yourself. Now, hurrah! we shall soon be at the winning-post if the wind holds."
Never were there more merry or noisy racers; except, perhaps, in a donkey race, when the winner is the donkey which comes in last.
"Very easy to win that sort of race," some one will say.
Not at all, though.
In ordinary races, each jockey wishes the horse he rides to win; but, in donkey races,—which I hold to be superior to all others, whether at Goodwood, or Ascot, or Epsom,—each jockey rides his opponent's donkey, so each is anxious to get in before the other, and, if possible, to leave his own behind.
The wind blew fair; the kites drew capitally; the Green Dragon was, after all, not very far behind the Knight and Squire; and the Owl came too-hooing, close upon the Dragon's tail; while the General Officer seemed in a great hurry to catch the Owl, and kept singing out "Halt! halt! right-about-face," and other expressions evidently from a somewhat scanty vocabulary of military terms. The rest of the racers came up pretty thickly one after the other.
As they reached the winning-post, where one of the masters stood ready to mark the time of their arrival, there was a general shout for Blackall and his fat boy.
"Oh, he was last seen in the chalk-pit, hacking him to pieces with his knife, while he seemed inclined to treat his wonderful carriage much in the same way." A boy who had just come up gave this news.
A few expressions of commiseration were uttered by Dawson and others; but in their hearts no one really pitied the bully. How could they? What had he ever done to win the affection, or regard, or esteem of any one of his school-fellows? Certainly, to those with whom he associated and whom he patronised, he had ever done far more harm than good; and of this most of them were aware at the time, though they might not be willing to acknowledge it to themselves; and bitterly were they conscious of it before many years were past, when they reaped the fruits of his pernicious example. Several sunk into early and dishonoured graves: others lived, ruined in health and constitution, to bemoan the fate which their folly and vice had brought on them. But to return to our merry racers.
They were called up forthwith to receive their prizes. The most valuable were some serviceable fishing-rods, reels, lines, fishing-baskets, a couple of bows, and the various accoutrements required in archery, a good bat or two, and similar things valued by boys.
The Doctor made a very neat speech, and complimented them all on the skill and talent displayed both in kites and carriages.
"Especially I must compliment you, Bracebridge, on the beauty of your kites, and the skill with which you have managed them."
"Not me, sir, but Ellis deserves the praise," answered Ernest in a clear, loud voice, so that every one might hear. "He is a very clever fellow, sir, only he does not know it. He thought of the carriages and the kites, and, indeed, of every thing; I merely helped him. I joined him because I knew that by himself he would be too diffident to carry out his own plans. I was his assistant, that was all."
"I am glad to hear you thus speak of Ellis, but you equally deserve the prize, although you only aided him in carrying out his plans. I have, therefore, to present you with this bow, and all the equipments complete; and you, Ellis, with this fishing-rod, and all the accompanying gear."
Ernest, who was perfectly free from timidity, and always expressed himself well, made a very appropriate reply; and, at poor Ellis's earnest request, spoke for him also, and said a great deal more in his favour than he would have done himself.
Monsieur Malin seemed as much pleased at getting a prize as were any of the boys. A capital fishing-rod was presented to him; and he invited all who had rods to accompany him some day on a grand fishing expedition. Altogether, the kite-flying was most successful; and a stout old gentleman, one of the umpires, expressed a hope that next year they might all enjoy a similar treat; and that he was not at all certain that he should not try to get half-a-dozen kites and a carriage, with which he might join in the race. Several merry voices shouted "We hope you will, sir,—we hope you will." And that made him so enthusiastic that he promised, if he possibly could, to do as he had proposed.
They all went back to a capital, grand half-holiday tea, which was very different to the ordinary meal of bread-and-butter; and consisted of cakes, and sandwiches, and meat-pies, and sausages, and all sorts of substantial productions likely to satisfy the appetites of hungry boys.
The only person who did not enjoy the day was Blackall. He came back expecting every instant to be called up by the Doctor; but bed-time came, and he was not summoned. As he was on his way to his room he met Ellis, who was about to pass him without looking at him, or in any way taking notice of him.
"What do you mean by grinning at me, you young scamp?" exclaimed Blackall suddenly.
"I did not intentionally alter a muscle of my countenance," answered Ellis quietly. "Did you, however, address me?"
"If that's intended for impudence, take that," cried Blackall, dealing a heavy blow with his fist on Ellis's head. "I allow no young jackanapes like you to treat me with contempt."
"But if we feel contempt, how do you expect to be treated?" exclaimed a brisk, confident voice close at his elbow.
Blackall turned round to see who had dared thus to beard him. He saw Bracebridge standing close to him, in an attitude which showed that he was prepared for an attack.
"You want to get it, do you?" exclaimed Blackall, furiously, at finding his authority disputed by a boy of Ernest's size. "You shall have more than you expect."
"Now, run off, Ellis; run off," cried Ernest; "I'll tackle this fellow."
Ellis did not run, though Blackall let him go and advanced towards Ernest; but Ernest's undaunted bearing completely staggered him. He stood irresolute; while his opponent fixed his eye boldly on him. He feared some trick. He thought that some big fellow must be behind, ready to back up Bracebridge; or that he knew the Doctor was coming. He judged of other people by what he knew himself to be. He had no conception of the existence of the spirit which animated Ernest.
"Well, what are you going to do?" said Ernest, as he stood with clenched fist before him. "If you are going to strike me, do it at once, and get it over. I have no wish to stay here all night, waiting to be attacked by you."
While Ernest was speaking, Blackall was considering what he would do. At last, seeing no one coming, he plucked up courage, and made a dash at Ernest, who, springing aside, adroitly, warded off the blow.
Poor Ellis, meantime, stood by, trembling with agitation. He knew from sad experience that the bully hit very hard; and every blow he saw aimed at his friend he felt as if it had hurt him ten times as much as if it had been struck at himself.
They were in one of the many passages leading to the bedrooms, through which neither the masters nor servants often passed, so that Blackall knew that he was pretty secure from interruption. Ernest was aware of the same fact. He cared nothing at all about the thrashing he should get, and was only anxious to save Ellis. Ellis, however, would not move, and Blackall looked as if he would thrash both of them.
Still more angry at being baulked of his revenge, Blackall again struck at Ernest, and tried to catch him, but in the latter object he did not succeed, though he hurt Ernest's arm, so that he could with difficulty defend himself; and now blow succeeded blow with considerable rapidity.
Bracebridge disdained to fly, and as he could not hope to return the blows with much effect, he contented himself at first with standing on the defensive, waiting his opportunity to hit his powerful opponent in the eye or face, where he might leave a mark not easily effaced. He knew that if he succeeded, he should still further enrage the bully; but he also knew that it was very likely to prevent him from ever attacking him again. As Blackall hit out, he sprang back along the passage, then suddenly stopping, he leaped forward again, and put in the blow he desired.
Blackall's eyes struck fire, but he was too well accustomed to the use, or rather the misuse, of his fists to allow his opponent to escape him. Ernest was again retreating. Blackall caught him under his arm, and was about to inflict the most severe and disagreeable of punishments, by gibbing him, when poor Ellis, who had hitherto stood trembling at a distance, in obedience to Ernest's directions, could bear it no longer; and, throwing himself forward, leaped on Blackall's back, and held his arms with all his might and main, butting away at the same time, like a ram, with his head, and kicking furiously with his long legs, biting, it was said, the bully's ears and cheeks. However that may be, Blackall was compelled to let Ernest go, for the purpose of shaking off his new and ferocious assailant. This was not very easily done, for Ellis had remarkably long and strong arms, and held on like a vice. Ernest seeing this, resolved to bring the bully to terms.
"I say, Blackall, if Ellis lets you go, will you promise faithfully not to hurt him in any way, by word, look, or deed?" exclaimed Ernest.
Blackall did not deign to reply, but continued his impotent efforts to shake off his old man of the woods. He jumped and leaped, and backed against the walls, but to no purpose; he could not manage to get rid of his burden.
"Well, what is your determination?" asked Ernest again, advancing in a threatening attitude towards Blackall, on whom he could now, had he chosen, have inflicted a very severe punishment. "Will you promise faithfully, by all you hold sacred, not to touch or hurt Ellis in any way for this?"
"I should think you had better try to make a bargain for yourself first," said Blackall.
"Not I!" said Bracebridge, proudly; "I can stand a thrashing far better than Ellis. I am pretty well accustomed to your lickings, and they don't hurt me much. Therefore, again, I ask you, will you promise, or will you not?" As he spoke, he doubled his fists, and advanced on Blackall, whose face was completely exposed to an attack, while Ellis kept battering away at his head, and grasped his arms tighter than ever.
What might have been the consequences I do not know; Bracebridge, in all probability, would pretty severely have handled the bully, and, his anger being excited, would have left some marks not very easily eradicated on his countenance: when a light was seen in the passage, and a quick step advanced towards them. Bracebridge disdained to fly, and Blackall could not, so they waited the result.
"Ah! vat you garcons do there?" exclaimed Monsieur Malin, for it was the French master, holding up his candle. "Let me see! Ah, I understand! You, Blackall, are one very bad boy. You go to bed now. Bracebridge, Ellis, you come with me."
Ellis on this jumped off Blackall's back, and glad he was to do so, for his arms were beginning to ache terribly with his exertions.
Blackall sneaked off, vowing vengeance in his craven heart on his adversaries; and the kind-hearted Frenchman led the other two away, and urged them to keep clear of the bully. When, however, he heard how the affair had taken place, he was very much inclined to go and inform the Doctor, to try and get Blackall expelled, but they entreated aim not to do so, and declared that they did not fear him, and would not run the risk of thus injuring his prospects.
"Ah, you are brave garcons, brave garcons!" exclaimed Monsieur Malin.
At all events, they were true, right-feeling English boys.
OUR MILITARY EXERCISES.
Bracebridge had to press his advice on Ellis more than once before he could induce him to apply for leave to drill and to learn fencing and the broadsword exercise. All these sort of lessons were classed among the extras, so that the Doctor did not insist on the boys learning them unless by the express wish of their parents. If they themselves wished to learn them, they had to write home and get leave. This system, I fancy, made these branches of education far more popular than they would otherwise have been. The several masters, knowing that the number of their pupils depended on the interest they could excite in their respective sciences, did their utmost to make them attractive. They generally succeeded.
Monsieur Malin would, at all events, have been popular. He was a gentleman by birth and by education, of polished manners, and very good-natured, and as everybody liked him, everybody wished to learn French. Old Dibble, our drill-sergeant, was very unlike him in most respects, but still he won all our hearts. He was a kind-hearted man, and had an excellent temper, and he took great pains to teach us our drill and to make us like it. He was the very man to turn us all into soldiers, and, as Bracebridge had said of him, he never grew weary of recounting his deeds of arms to all whom he could find ready to listen. He was a tall man, somewhat stout, with a bald patch on the top of his head, and grey hair and whiskers, a thoroughly soldier-like hooked nose, and fine piercing grey eyes. Good-natured as he was, he would stand no nonsense or any skylarking; and we all agreed that when he was in the army he was certain to have kept all the men under him in capital order.
Our dancing-master was Mr Jay. He was a proficient in his art; and though he might not have been able to jump as high or to spin round on one leg as long as an opera-dancer, he was able to teach us to dance like gentlemen. He was also a professor of fencing and gymnastics, and a very good instructor he was. He understood thoroughly what the human body could do, and what it might do advantageously. He also taught boxing.
The Doctor was a great encourager of all athletic exercises, and allowed all the boys who wished it to take lessons in boxing once a week for half-an-hour at a time. The greater number availed themselves of the permission, and most of the school were very good boxers. The result was that, as a rule, we were a most peaceable set of boys, and I believe that fewer quarrels took place than among any equal number of boys in England. We had a riding-master, who used to come every Saturday with five or six ponies, and give us lessons in a paddock attached to the school-grounds. The Doctor used to say that his wish was to educate our hearts, our minds, and our bodies as far as he had the power, and that he found from experience that the greater variety of instruction he could give us, the more perfectly he could accomplish his object. He himself gave us instruction in swimming. I have described the pond in the grounds. He used a machine something like a large fishing-rod. A belt was fastened round the waist of a young swimmer, and by the belt he was secured to the end of a line hanging from the rod. The Doctor used to stand, rod in hand, and encourage and advise the boy till he gained confidence and knew how to strike out properly. He was anxious to prevent any one from getting into a bad way of striking out, for, as he used to say, it was as difficult to get rid of a bad habit as to acquire a good one. He was, therefore, always waging a deadly warfare against all bad habits from their very commencement, not only with regard to swimming, but in every other action of life. As soon as a boy had learned to strike out properly, he turned him over to the instruction of one of the bigger boys, who had especial charge of him in the water. He had always four or five boys whom he had taught to swim thoroughly well, and he made them swimming-masters. They benefited by having to give instruction to others, and by learning to keep their tempers. Nothing, perhaps, tries the temper so much as having to teach dull or inattentive boys. Blackall had been made one of the swimming-masters, but at the commencement of the bathing season the Doctor called him up, and without a word of explanation told him that he thought fit to dismiss him from the post. He lost, in consequence, several privileges attached to the office. To a person of Blackall's character, the mode of his dismissal was a considerable punishment. It showed him that the Doctor was aware of some of his misconduct, but of how much he was still left in ignorance, and he had to live on in fear that some more severe punishment was still in store for him. I am glad to say that there were very few other fellows at all like Blackall in the school. There were, of course, some few bullies and blackguards, or who would speedily have become so if left to their own devices, and there were cowards, and boys who carelessly told an untruth, or were addicted to the too common vice of prevarication. There were also vicious boys, or who would have been vicious had they not been watched and restrained. These were exceptions to the general rule. The Doctor's system, embracing the law of kindness, answered well, and brought forth good fruits.
"Come along, Ellis," said Ernest, one Saturday afternoon, when he found his friend busily working away at the model of a vessel he was cutting out of a piece of American pine; "there's Sergeant Dibble in the playground; I'll take you up to him, and tell him that he must turn you into a soldier before the holidays. He'll do it if you obey his directions." Sergeant Dibble was found in the middle of the playground, surrounded by a number of boys, who were listening eagerly to one of his stories with which he was amusing them till the hour to commence had arrived.
"The reason why we conquered was this, young gentlemen," he was saying. "Every man, from the highest to the lowest, knew his duty and did it. If they didn't know it and didn't do it, Lord Wellington sent them about their business, no matter who they were. Remember that when you grow up. Your duty, I take it, is to do your best in whatever station you may be placed; what you are certain will produce the best results and forward the objects in which you are engaged. It is not enough to say, 'Such were my orders;' you must try and discover the spirit of your orders. Above all things, you must never be afraid of responsibility. Never be afraid of being found fault with when you know that you've done what's right. I was going to tell you how we crossed the river Douro, in Portugal; how we surprised Marshal Soult, and how Lord Wellington ate the dinner which had been prepared for him and his staff. We very nearly made him and his whole army prisoners, and we followed them up so closely that they had no time to rest till they were clear out of Portugal; but the hour is up. Fall in, young gentlemen; fall in!"
Ernest took this opportunity to go up to the Sergeant and to explain that he would find Ellis a very willing though, perhaps, a very awkward pupil, and begged that he would treat him accordingly, and not suppose that his awkwardness arose from carelessness or idleness.
Sergeant Dibble looked at Ellis for a few moments. "No fear, Master Bracebridge," he answered; "I've made a first-rate soldier out of far worse materials. If he's the will, he'll soon get them long arms and legs to do their duty. It's rather hard work to get a person who has no ear to march in time, but that's to be overcome by perseverance, and the eye must be made to do the work which the ear cannot. Fall in, Master Ellis, if you please."
Ellis had no notion of what falling in meant, so he shuffled about from place to place, looking up inquiringly at the Sergeant. "Take your place, I mean, in the awkward squad, Master Ellis."
"That's where I shall always have to be," thought poor Ellis. "Which are the awkwardest squad, Sergeant?" said he, looking up. "It strikes me that I should go there."
Whatever Ellis thought of himself, there were several other boys just as awkward, or at all events as unapt to learn military manners. Little Eden was one of them, that is to say, he always forgot what he had learned during his previous lesson. Gregson was another. He was not awkward in his movements, but while instruction was going forward he was always thinking of something else. One reason that Bracebridge succeeded so well in whatever he undertook was, that he had the power of concentrating his attention on whatever he was about; in the school-room or play-room, in the cricket-field or on the parade-ground, it was the same. It was his great talent. He had many other talents, and he also had, from his earliest days, been well trained. Had he been an only son, he might have been spoiled, but he had many brothers, and his temper had been tried, and he had been taught to command himself, and while he relied on his own energies for success, to obey his elders and to treat all his fellow-creatures with respect. Sergeant Dibble very soon pronounced him his best drill. The awkward squad had been standing by themselves for some minutes, looking very awkward, indeed, when Sergeant Dibble exclaimed—
"Fall out, Mr Bracebridge, and take charge of that squad. Exercise them in the balance step, and put them through their facings."
Ernest, not a little proud, obeyed, and while the rest of the young soldiers were marching up and down, taking open order, wheeling to the right or left, and going through a variety of manoeuvres, he placed himself in front of the boys I have described, with others, making altogether about a dozen. His first aim was to awaken them all up. "Attention!" he exclaimed in a sharp tone, which made them all spring up suddenly. He then explained very clearly what he wanted them to do, and put himself in the required attitude, taking care that they all did the same. Very few could not do the balance step. Chivey and other hopping games had taught them that. He kept them at it a very few minutes, and then telling them to practise it by themselves, went on to teach them their facings, explaining the object of each movement. He did it all in so patient and good-natured a manner that every boy in the squad expressed a hope that Bracebridge might be set to teach them again.
"I'll tell you what we will do; we will work away every day in the week, and when Sergeant Dibble comes next week we will show him what we can do." The idea was taken up enthusiastically, and even the least apt of the squad made great progress. In two or three weeks they were fully equal to those who had been drilling all the half. Sergeant Dibble was delighted, and foretold that if Master Bracebridge went into the army he would distinguish himself.
"I don't know what I am to be," replied Ernest; "I know that I am to do everything I am set to do as well as I can."
There were some twenty boys or more who were very far from perfect in their drill in the larger squad, and Sergeant Dibble managed to persuade them to put themselves, during the week, under Ernest's instruction. Some few, at first, kicked at the notion, but finally all agreed to obey his orders on the parade-ground during one hour every day. Others, of their own accord, joined, and in a short time he had quite a large army of volunteers. He spared no pains to perfect them. He got the Sergeant to bring him a "Manual of Drill Instruction," and every spare moment he spent in studying it attentively.
In a few weeks Ernest's squad surpassed that composed of the older boys in the accuracy and rapidity of their movement; and Sergeant Dibble, when he came, expressed his astonishment and delight on finding what could be done when all set to work with a will to do it.
Ernest, too, gained great popularity, and many who had before rather envied him now frankly acknowledged his talents and excellent qualities. He himself also behaved very well. He did not set himself up above the rest in consequence of what he had done and the applause he had gained, but the moment the drill was over he became like one of the rest, and took his hat, or his fishing-rod, or his hoop—though, by the by, he was getting rather out of hoops—and went off shouting and laughing with all the merry throng.
The greatest possible change was worked in Ellis. He no longer looked like the same boy. The alteration in his appearance was almost as striking as that which takes place in a country clown caught by a recruiting sergeant, half drunk at a fair, as he rolls on, looking every moment as if he was going to topple over, from public-house to public-house, and when he has been under the drill-sergeant's hands for a couple of years, and is turned into the trim, active, intelligent soldier. At first, few who saw poor Ellis's awkward attempts could possibly avoid laughing. How he rolled from side to side; how he stuck out one foot, and changed it again and again, finding that it was the wrong one; how, when the word "to the right-about" was given, he invariably found himself grinning in the face of his left-hand man, unless by good chance the latter had made the same mistake as himself, when he became suddenly inspired with the hope that he had, for a wonder, hit off the right thing. He soon found his hopes disappointed by being summoned to repeat the movement, with a caution to do it correctly. Then, on receiving the order to march, he nearly always started off with his right foot instead of his left, and when he did put out the left, he quickly changed it to the right, under the impression that he must have made a mistake. Still his perseverance was most praiseworthy. Bracebridge had assured him that in time he would become a good soldier if he wished it, and a good soldier he resolved to be, whether he followed up the profession or not. He read as hard as he had ever done, and found time to manufacture all sorts of things, and yet no one practised more than he did drilling, and games, and all sorts of athletic exercises. Before the change I have described was perceptible, the half was nearly over, and the summer holidays were about to begin. I have, in mentioning it, run on somewhat ahead of events. Ernest had advised him to learn to dance and to fence.
"Come, come, you are joking now, old fellow," was his reply, in his former melancholy tone of voice. "I may learn any rough affair, like drilling and gymnastics, and, perhaps, the broadsword exercises, and learn enough to cut a fellow's head off; but to hop and skip about to the sound of a fiddle, or to handle a thin bar of steel so as to prevent another fellow with a similar weapon running his into me, is totally beyond my powers. I know that I could not, if I was to try ever so much."
"So you thought about gymnastics, and so you thought about drilling, and yet you have succeeded very well in both. Remember the motto of our Silver Knight. Push on up the hill; work away at one thing, and then another. It is extraordinary how much may be learnt in a short time, if people will but give their minds to what they are about. I know a good number of things, and I can do a good number of things, and yet I have not spent more hours of my life with a book before me than have most boys of my age; but then, when I have had a book before me, I have been really busy, getting all I could out of it; I have not sat idling and frittering away my time as so many fellows do. I don't fancy that I cannot do a thing because it is difficult; I always try to find out where the difficulty lies, and then see how I can best get over it. I like difficulties, because I like to conquer them. This world is full of difficulties, which it is the business of men to conquer. A farmer cannot get a field of corn to grow without overcoming difficulties. He must dig up or plough up the ground; he must get rid of the weeds; he must trench it, and after a time manure it; and this he must do year after year, or it will not produce abundantly. And so it is throughout all the works to be done in this world: then why should we expect to get knowledge, to cultivate our minds, to get rid of the weeds growing up constantly in them, without labour, and hard labour, too? Now, I dare say, my dear fellow, you think that I am talking very learnedly, or you may say, very pedantically; but I do not even claim originality for my views. My father pointed them out to me and my brothers long ago. He threw difficulties in our way, and stood by till we overcame them, telling us it was the best practice we could have in the world. I cannot tell you how much we owe to our father. He is the wisest man I ever met. I dare say there are many cleverer people; men who can talk better, and have done more, and have written more, and who are thought much more of in the world; but my brother and I agree, for all that, that he is the wisest, and if not the most talented, which we don't say he is, that he makes the best use of the talents he has got. You must come and see him one of these days; I would say at once; but I think that you will like him, and that he will like you better by and by. I wrote to him about you, I must confess that, and he put me up to some of the advice I gave you. My brothers and I always write to him just as we write to one another; indeed, we generally pass our letters on to him, because we know that he likes to hear everything that we are doing. We have no secrets from him, as I find some fellows here have. We always go to him for advice about everything. He often tells us to act as we think best, and to let him know what we have done. Sometimes he tells us that he thinks we have acted very judiciously; at other times he tells us that, from the judgment he has been able to form, we ought to have done differently. He has never kept us in what might be called leading-strings; but has placed the same confidence in us that we do in him—that is to say, he knows we want to do what is right. Depend on it, Ellis, there is nothing like having the most perfect confidence between your father and yourself. I assure you that I should be miserable if I had not, and if I did not believe that he is the best friend I have on earth, or ever shall have."