Bracebridge said a great deal more to the same effect. Indeed, whenever he got on the subject of his father's excellences, he was always enthusiastic. Not without ample reason, I believe, for Mr Bracebridge was a man possessed of very rare qualities; and Oaklands, his place, was one of the most delightful houses to visit at in the country, or probably, in all England; that is to say, young men and boys, and indeed young people, generally, found it so. Ernest knew that it would do poor Ellis a great deal of good to go there. From what he could make out, Ellis's father and mother were advanced in life and great invalids, and Edward, their only son, had been considerably over-petted and over-coddled, though, as they had a good deal of sense with regard to many important matters, they had not spoilt him. They had corrected him as a child when he deserved it, and watching the growth of bad propensities, had endeavoured to eradicate them before they had attained any size. They were themselves very shy, diffident people, and thinking little of themselves, thought very little of their son, and brought him up to think very little of himself. Certainly, if they erred, they erred on the right side.
Ellis was not weak; he was not a boy at all likely to be imposed upon by a bad person; his principles were, as far as could be seen, good, and his sympathies appeared to be always on the right side. Thus he was undoubtedly particularly fortunate in falling in with a boy like Ernest Bracebridge, whom he could admire, and who could, at the same time, enter into his feelings, and take an interest in him. Still Ernest did not think that he was doing anything out of the way in encouraging him. There was something so natural and unpretending about his character, and so free was he from anything like conceit or vanity, that he was scarcely conscious that he was superior to his companions; or, if he was conscious of the fact, that it was anything on which he should be justified in priding himself. Of one thing I am sure, that he had not found out that, by his own force of character and talents, he had already become one of the most popular boys in the school, and that, had he made the experiment, he would have had more followers than any boy even in the first class. The way he had tackled Blackall the evening of the kite-race had become known, though neither he nor Ellis had talked of it; and this gained him many admirers, especially among those over whom the bully was accustomed to tyrannise. At last Blackall began to be twitted with it, even by the fellows of his own age. It became at last a joke among his compeers to ask him how his ears were—how he liked to have an old man of the woods on his back, and how he could allow himself to be thrashed by a fellow half a head shorter than himself, and so much younger. He dared not attack either Ernest or Ellis openly, but he resolved to take his revenge on them as soon as possible. He had not long to wait for an opportunity. Before our drilling lessons were over, Sergeant Dibble used to arm us all with basket-hilted sticks, which served the purpose of broadswords; and, forming in two parties on opposite sides of the parade-ground, we were ordered to advance and attack, and defend ourselves, delivering or receiving so many cuts each time the two lines passed each other. Blackall, who prided himself on being a good swordsman, thought this would be a fine opportunity for inflicting a severe revenge on Bracebridge, whom he dared not now bully as formerly, and kick and cuff whenever he met him.
"Now, young gentlemen, prepare for the broadsword exercise," the Sergeant sung out in his clear, sharp voice. "Fall in line; fall in!"
Ellis had begun to learn the broadsword exercise, though it was a sore trial to him, for he found great difficulty in recollecting the proper guards or strokes, and he was always receiving some severe cuts across the head or shoulders or legs, and getting into trouble by giving the wrong strokes, and making his opponents, who were not prepared for them, suffer accordingly. Bracebridge had hit upon a plan to save him somewhat from this, by taking him as his opponent; and when he saw him making the wrong stroke, he was ready with the proper guard; and when he saw that Ellis had not his right guard, he either hit him softly, or hit at the guard presented to him. This was very good practice to Ernest, though it made Sergeant Dibble sing out, every now and then—
"Mr Bracebridge! Mr Bracebridge! can you never remember to listen to the word of command, sir? When I say cut two, I often see you cut four; and when I say third guard, you are apt to use the first or second guard. How is this, sir? Mr Ellis, you are not attentive either, sir, permit me to observe. When I say defend, draw up the hand smartly, and from the first guard. Be smart!—second guard! third guard! Remember, if you have a big, ugly fellow, with a sword sharp enough to divide a bolster, who happens to wish to cut your head off, he doesn't stop to consider which is the right guard to make, or thrust to deliver. He'd whip off your head before you had time to look round, and then what would you think of yourself, I should like to know?"
Ernest never replied, while exercising, to these or any similar remarks, but he and Sergeant Dibble soon understood each other, and the Sergeant was convinced that Ernest was a better swordsman than he had supposed.
"But, Mr Bracebridge, it will never do to let Mr Ellis go on in that way. Now that he has a little more confidence, we must make him run his chance with the rest," he urged. "A few cuts with a hazel stick won't do him any harm, and will make him open his eyes a little."
To this, of course, Ernest agreed, and the present day was one of the first poor Ellis had to look out for himself.
Blackall had meantime watched Ernest; and hearing him found fault with, and seeing him and Ellis make a mess of it, as he thought, he held his swordsmanship in very low estimation. This made him confident that he could do what he liked with him. It required some management to get placed opposite to him, but he succeeded, and felt highly delighted at the thoughts of the revenge he was about to enjoy.
"Draw swords, gentlemen;" sung out Sergeant Dibble. "Both parties advance. Mr Jones's party assault with the second cut; Mr Smith's defend with the second guard. Now hit hard and sharp, gentlemen. If the proper guards are up you can do no harm." Blackall was in the Jones's party, and purposed fully to carry out the order. Bracebridge saw that he was opposite to him, and assumed a look of perfect indifference. The bully expected to see him turning pale and looking alarmed. "March!" sung out the Sergeant. "Double quick!"
On rushed the two squadrons, for so they could not help fancying themselves, and, as I believe, the Sergeant for the moment fancied them also. They met with a hostile clash. Blackall, not knowing that the Sergeant's eye was on him, shifted to the third cut, hoping to give Ernest a severe blow across the legs, but Ernest's eye was as quick as his, and catching the movement of the arm, he had the third guard ready to receive the blow.
The Sergeant made no remark, but kept a watch on Blackall's movements, "Very well, gentlemen; very well!" he exclaimed. "Now let Mr Smith's party assault with the fourth cut. Bravo! performed with perfect precision." And so he went on. Each time, however, that Jones's division had to assault, he saw that Blackall endeavoured to take some undue advantage of Ernest, who with equal regularity contrived quietly to foil him. Ernest kept his eye on his opponent's, but said nothing, and in no other way showed that he was aware of his evil intentions. Blackall at length began to lose his temper at his own failures: he ground his teeth and turned savage glances towards Bracebridge, who met them with a quiet look, free, at the same time, from scorn or anger. Not once did Blackall succeed in inflicting a blow, and though Ernest at last might have bestowed several very severe ones, he rightly refrained from so doing.
"I know perfectly well that even had he hit me, I ought not to have hit him back," he said to himself; "much more then ought I to refrain when he has not succeeded in his object. I should like to try the plan of heaping coals of fire on his head. I might soften him, but I should have less hope with him than with any one. I will try. It matters not what may happen to me, but I am resolved, at the same time, I will not let him go on bullying any fellow whom I can defend." When the drill was over, Sergeant Dibble called up Ernest.
"I saw it all, sir," he said. "You did capitally. I never saw a young gentleman keep his temper as you did. Why he wants to hurt you I don't know, but I will put you up to a trick or two which will place him in your power. You are getting on famously with your fencing. He piques himself on being a first-rate fencer. He is not bad; and he does very well when he fences with Mr Jay, or any one he knows. Now, though I do not teach fencing, I can fence; and, what is more, I have learned several tricks which people do not generally know. I once saved a wounded Frenchman's life and took him prisoner, and nursed him as I ought to have done, and then I found he was a master of the science of defence and attack. I never saw a man who could use a small sword as he did. Well, as a mark of his gratitude, he taught me all he knew, and, especially, how to disarm an opponent. It is simple, but requires practice. There is no one in the fencing-room; come with me there and I will show it to you. Practise the trick till I come again, whenever you have an opportunity, either by yourself or with a friend you can trust, like Ellis or Buttar. I'll answer for it that you will be perfect in a couple of weeks at most. If you lead Blackall to it, he is certain to challenge you before long. Disarm him three times running, and I do not think that he'll ever wish to attack you again in any way."
Ernest could not resist the offer the Sergeant made him. He thought that the knowledge might be of the greatest importance to him during his life, so he at once went with the Sergeant into the fencing-room. "You see, Mr Bracebridge," observed his instructor, "if you had a real sword in your hand, you would give your opponent such a cut round the wrist that he would probably be unable to hold a weapon again for many a month afterwards."
Ernest set to work at once in his usual way, and Sergeant Dibble taking great pains to instruct him, he quickly acquired the trick.
"You see, sir," observed the Sergeant, "though a foil does not cut, the button, if the leather is off, as I often see is the case, will give a very ugly scratch round the wrist, and if this is repeated two or three times, a fencer will rather stand clear of the man who can do it. Just do you try it on Blackall, and you'll see if my word don't come right."
After the Sergeant was gone, Ernest thought over what he had said. He did not, however, half like the idea of taking the advantage which had been given him over Blackall.
"No, no!" he exclaimed to himself. "I'll tell him beforehand what I am going to do. If I was going to engage with him in mortal combat, the matter would be different; I should feel as if I was going to commit a murder; but now I feel as if I was going to inflict on him a very deserved punishment and take down his pride a little." So Ernest set to work, and practised the trick Sergeant Dibble had taught him. After a day or two he took Buttar and Ellis into his confidence, and they all practised it together. Ellis, however, could not manage to accomplish the turn of the wrist in a way to be effective, but Buttar, who had resolved to be a soldier, and took a deep interest in all military exercises, was never weary in practising it. When Sergeant Dibble came again, he told Ernest that he would be perfect in another week, and complimented Buttar also on his proficiency.
Ellis, meantime, was making great advances in the use of the broadsword, and the Sergeant assured him that if he would go on and persevere, he would very soon be far superior to many idle fellows who now sneered at him, and would not practise unless the master was present.
A FISHING EXPEDITION.
"I say, Bracebridge, we must try our new rod before we break up," said Ellis, one Saturday, just before the boys were going in to dinner. "It's a capital afternoon for fishing, cloudy and soft. I'll see about bait if you will promise to come. Buttar and Bouldon say they will, and so will Gregson; so we shall be a jolly party, and shall gain something even if we don't catch fish." Ernest, who always appeared to have more spare time than any one else, consented to go, provided he had half-an-hour's reading after dinner, to get up some work. Ellis had learned to be almost as eager as his friend in anything he was about. He now hurried off to send Jim, a lame boy, who was allowed to go on errands for the young gentlemen, to prepare the baits for the fishing-party. They all assembled at the appointed hour, with capital rods in hand, with the exception of Gregson, who declared that he always made his own rods, and that his, though uncouth in appearance, would catch as many fish as all the rest put together. The young fishermen had very little excuse for not catching fish. There was a large pond, about two miles off, with a clear full stream running into it. In the stream were trout, grayling, roach, and dace, and the pond was full of fine carp, and tench, and perch, while occasionally the other fish from the stream condescended to swim into it. The fishing belonged to a gentleman in the neighbourhood, who took a great interest in the Doctor and his school, and always allowed a dozen boys at a time to fish there. They had to go to the Doctor or one of the masters for leave, and as seldom more than a dozen wished to go at a time, it was not often that any were disappointed. Off they set, with their fishing-rods over their shoulders, singing away as merrily as crickets. There were one or two ponds and streams in the way, where they proposed to try their fortune for a few minutes, as it was reported that sometimes very fine fish were caught in them. The first they came to was a quiet dark pond, shaded by trees. Gregson declared that he thought it must be full of fish, and he was considered an authority on such matters. Ellis, who knew also a good deal about fishing, rather doubted that such was the case.
"Come and try," said Gregson; "there is no great harm in doing that, at all events." Gregson prevailed, and no one perceived a quiet chuckle in the tone of his voice. He persuaded them all to fish with very small hooks and red worms, which he gave them. They had not fished long before Bouldon exclaimed, "I've a bite, I've a bite!" His float began to bob; down it went, and up he whisked his rod. "A fine fish," he cried out; "but, hillo, it has legs—four legs, I declare! Why, it's a monster; a terrible monster. Hillo! Ellis, Gregson, Buttar, come and help me. Will it bite, I wonder?" Gregson ran laughing up to Bouldon to see what was the matter.
"Why, it is a water-newt!" he exclaimed. "A harmless, curious little creature—there, don't hurt it! It has not swallowed the hook. I'll put it into my basket and take it home. It will live in a tub of water for a long time. Look! it is something like a lizard, but it has a flat tail made for swimming. What curious little feet and legs! Now, though the newt has four legs, it lays eggs; and to guard them from injury, wraps them up in the leaves of water plants, with its four paws. When the young newt is hatched, it is very like a tadpole. It is like a fish, for it breathes through gills; but as it increases in size the gills go away and the front legs appear, and then the hind ones. In a frog-tadpole the hind legs appear first, and then the front ones."
"Curious sort of fellows," observed Tom Bouldon, who had been listening attentively to Gregson's account; "but, I say, I thought fellows, when they grew bigger, took to gills instead of throwing them aside."
"Oh! Tommy, Tommy, what a pun!" was the general cry.
"What a good pun, or what a bad one?" asked Bouldon with perfect simplicity. "But, I say, Gregson, are there any other fish but your friends, the newts, in this pond, do you think? because if there are not, I vote we move on."
"I never heard of any; but I wanted a newt, and so I proposed that we should fish here."
On hearing this, there was a general proposal that he should be left behind to catch newts by himself; but he promised faithfully to show them where the best fish were to be caught, if they would forgive him. On these conditions he very easily obtained pardon for his trick.
"I say, did you ever catch a fresh-water lobster?" asked Gregson. No one had, and no one believed that there was such a thing. "I'll soon show you one," said Gregson; and when they came to a shallow stream with highish banks, pulled off his shoes and stockings, tucked up the sleeves of his shirt and the legs of his trousers, and was soon busy feeling under the banks, just below water.
"Why, he has got one; he has indeed!" shouted Bouldon, as Gregson produced, by the antennae, a crayfish, which, to prevent himself from being bitten, he caught by the back; its claws, though they stretched wide open, as if they had the cramp very badly, being utterly harmless.
"This is a Crustacea," cried Gregson, holding him up in pride; "and if not a lobster, it may well be called one. I have often caught two or three dozens of them, and found them capital for tea or breakfast. In my opinion, if a person has his senses about him, and will but study natural history, he would be able to live entirely on the herbs and fruits of the field, the birds of the air, and the animals of the earth and water."
"Ho, ho! a pretty sort of existence that would be!" exclaimed Bouldon. "I suppose you would have us to eat grass, like sheep or cows, or snails, or vermin, or tadpoles."
"No, no! Tom, but I will undertake to place a capital dinner before you; and, except the trouble of catching the animals, it shall cost nothing beyond a halfpenny, which I will expend in mustard and pepper. I cannot grow the pepper, so I shall buy a farthing's-worth of that and a farthing's-worth of mustard seed, which I would grow, and could then give you mustard to eat, and also a salad."
"What would you do for salt?" asked Buttar.
"I would make that very quickly by the seaside. A few pails of salt-water thrown into any clean hollow of a rock would soon evaporate and leave some excellent salt," answered Gregson. "Then I would give you several sorts of fish, and crayfish, and, if I can get to the sea, fish of all sorts, and lobsters, and crabs, and shrimps, and oysters, and every variety of shell-fish, and sea-weeds also, some of which are excellent and very nutritious; but I can do very well without going to the sea. Of animals in England there are not many; but I can snare rabbits, and so I could hares, but that would be poaching, and therefore I cannot give you hares; but you shall have all sorts of birds—larks, and blackbirds, and sparrows, and young rooks, and wildfowl, and many others; and then there is no end of vegetables. Nettle-tops, when well boiled, are excellent, and so are a number of other plants which are looked upon as weeds; and you have no idea of the number of roots which grow in the fields, and hedges, and hill-sides, which are fit to eat. Then, to give flavour to our birds and rabbits, I can find mushrooms in abundance, and, indeed, several flavoury seeds and roots. While I think of it, I can do without pepper; we have some native pepper. I can make several teas which have a very nice taste, and I can produce very fair coffee from the root of the dandelion. If I was in Canada, I could manufacture excellent sugar from the maple-tree. Here I could make it out of beetroot, but it would be troublesome. I can give you as a dessert some delicious strawberries, and raspberries, and filberts, and I could get plenty of chestnuts, and no one would accuse me of stealing them; indeed, with a little consideration and trouble, I could place before you a first, second, and third course, which ought to satisfy the taste of the most fastidious. For my own part, I do not object to frog's legs and snails; and if I was hungry, and could get nothing else, I would eat a snake without hesitation; but I do not ask others to entertain my views."
"Oh, oh! Greggy, you cannibal! you would eat grubs and caterpillars, I suppose? Why, you are no better than an Australian savage," exclaimed Bouldon, with a look of ineffable disgust.
"That is the worst of you, Gregson, you go into extremes," observed Ernest. "We tried once, at home, for curiosity's sake, just the dinner you describe, and a very good dinner we had, though it was more suited to a Frenchman's than an Englishman's taste. My father says that if people studied the subject, many more things would be found fit for food than are now used. For instance, if two people were cast on shore on an uninhabited island, or were travelling through the wilds of America or Australia, one might starve from ignorance of what was fit to eat, while the other, from having a thorough knowledge of botany and natural history generally might find an abundant supply of nutritious food. When fruits are not in season, there are nearly always roots to be found under ground, and various herbs, and even the leaves, and gum, and stems or bark of trees. The inhabitants of Terra del Fuego live on mushrooms which are found growing on the stems of the evergreen beech; indeed, I might multiply instances without end. The naturalist not only knows that such things exist, but, from having studied their habits, knows exactly where to look for them. I have often read of poor fellows starving in the midst of plenty, simply from their ignorance that food was close around them. Others have been afraid to eat what they found for fear of being poisoned. I tell you what, Greggy, I think that you are perfectly right, only you should take care not to disgust people by talking of being ready to eat things for which they may have an antipathy. We know that locusts, and sea-slugs, and bird? nests, are considered great delicacies in some countries, and so are dogs by several people, and really I do not see why a dog should not be as delicate as a pig."
"Well! I declare that it is next door to cannibalism to eat a dog, man's faithful friend and protector," cried Buttar, who was more of a sportsman than any of the rest of the party. "I would sooner starve than eat my old dog, Ponto."
"I am not at all an advocate for the practice of dog eating," said Ernest. "But I do argue that civilised and educated people, as we profess to be, should obtain a far greater knowledge of the productions of the earth than we possess." Gregson was glad to find himself so well supported, and the rest finally agreed that they would get books and try and pick up some knowledge on the subject.
"Books are all very well, and very important indeed; but they alone won't do; you must study and examine for yourselves. Books will, by themselves, never give you a practical knowledge of natural history." This conversation lasted till the merry party arrived at the stream where they proposed to fish. They all set to work, each in his own way. Ernest was the only fly-fisher of the party. There was a light breeze which just rippled some of the deep pools in the stream, and as he walked up it, passing his companions one after the other, he seldom passed ten minutes without getting a rise and catching a fish.
"Hillo, Gregson," said Bouldon; "I thought you, with your stick, were going to catch more than any of us. There's Bracebridge far ahead of you already; you'll be beaten, old fellow."
"Wait a bit," answered Gregson quietly. "My fish have not begun to bite yet. I am thinking of trying the pond for an hour or so. I ground-baited it as I came by, and I have no doubt I shall catch something." Bouldon, who was the worst fisherman of the party, in consequence chiefly of his want of patience, accompanied Gregson in the hopes that he might benefit by the ground-bait.
"What is it you put in?" he asked. The young naturalist showed him some balls which looked like balls of clay with some red seams, but they were composed of clay and bran, and gentles, and red worms, and one or two other ingredients, which Gregson averred would attract all sorts of fish. "You must not interfere with my sport, but you shall have a spot to yourself; and I'll answer for it before long that you will have plenty." Gregson himself, as he spoke, threw in his line, and as Tom looked on, caught several perch and roach in rapid succession.
"Oh, I can't stand that; I must go and see what I can do," exclaimed Bouldon, moving on.
"Very well, just go a little on this side of that willow," said Gregson; "you will find a deepish hole there. Throw in your ground-bait, and before long you are very likely to get some bites. See; I've caught another. What a whacking big perch! Three pounds' weight, I should say. I'll have him out soon; don't stay for me, I can tackle him." This success of Gregson's made Bouldon still more anxious to be off to try and catch some fish. Hitherto he had got nothing. Having thrown in all the ground-bait he had got, he baited his hook with the full expectation of catching a basket-full. He cast in his line and stood patiently watching his float. It would not bob. He altered the depth of the hook several times; the worm wriggled, as at first, untouched. He began to grow very impatient.
"This will never do," he muttered; "I must shift my ground till I find the fish more inclined to be caught." He looked round towards Gregson, who was pulling up fish as fast as he could. "His basket must be already nearly full, and I have not caught even a wretched gudgeon."
On this Tom went round the pond, throwing in his line here and there with the same want of success. At last he got a bite; "A big fish," he thought to himself. "I'm sure it is; hurra! perhaps my one fish may weigh as much as all Gregson's and Bracebridge's together." He hooked his fish, which after one or two tugs, poked his nose to the surface just to see who was at the other end of the line, which somehow or other had got hold of his lips.
"A grand, magnificent pike!" shouted Tom with delight, letting go his reel as the fish began to pull, and darted off into the centre of the pond. Bouldon stood ready to turn him as soon as he began to slacken his pace. Never had he felt so eager about catching a fish, for never had he held a bigger one at the end of his line. It would have been better for him had it been much smaller. There was a quantity of weeds in the pond; and numerous large flat leaves of the beautiful white water-lily floating near, moored to long tough stems, among which he was in a dreadful fright that the fish would get, when he felt sure it would contrive to carry line and hook and float away. The pike, if pike it was, seemed fully aware of the advantage it possessed, and darted about in every direction.
"The hook must have caught the very edge of the upper lip, or it would have bitten through my line long ago," thought Tom. "What can I do? I wish Gregson were here to help me. He would know some dodge to get this fellow on shore. I'm sure I don't. Hillo! Greggy! Ellis! Do come and help me. Any of you fellows there?" He dared not for a moment turn his eye away from the water, lest the fish should take the opportunity of getting off.
"Hillo! does no one hear? Hillo, I say! Come, my good fellows, lend a hand to land this monster!" No one answered. The fish had run out with the whole of his line; the rod was bending almost double. He advanced to the very edge of the pond; he thought that he might give a little more scope by going to the right hand, where there was what he supposed to be a projection of the bank. So there was, but it was only of grass, and had nothing under it. He put his foot on it; the fish pulled harder than ever; he never dreamed of letting go his rod, and over he went, the impetus of his fall, and the pulling of the fish, carrying him a considerable distance from the shore. His head went under water, and he got a good quantity of it in his mouth; but at last he came up to the surface, spluttering and blowing, and trying to strike out, but still, like a true Briton, keeping fast hold of his rod. He now shouted out with all his might, his shout becoming a sharp cry for help, for he felt very truly that life was in imminent danger. The water was deep; he had thick heavy shoes and trousers on, and he could not make up his mind to lose his rod. For some time he positively swam away from the shore, not knowing what he was about, but fortunately at last he found out what he was doing, and tried to get back. His heart sank within him when he found how far off he was from the land. His clothes were pressing him down, and the long slimy stems of the weeds began to twist and turn round his legs. "Oh, I shall be drowned—I shall be drowned!" he cried out in an agony of fear. "Help—help!—help, oh help!" he shouted, struggling to keep himself above water. His eye looked on either side of the pond. He saw some one approaching the spot where he had stood, but coming leisurely, and evidently not aware that he had tumbled into the water. "Help, help;" he again shouted, and he felt that in another minute he must go down, for the more he attempted to approach the shore, the more his legs became entangled by the fatal weeds. He thought that he recognised the gaunt figure of Ellis.
"Oh, if it had been Bracebridge now! he swims so well, he might have got me out," he thought to himself; but he had very little confidence that Ellis would help him. Just then his last cry must have reached the ear of the person approaching, for he set off running towards the spot as fast as his legs would carry him. Bouldon began to hope once more that he might be saved. Then he saw that it was Ellis.
"Keep up, keep up!" shouted Ellis; "I'll be with you." He disencumbered himself of his basket as he ran, and the moment he reached the spot he threw off his shoes and his jacket, and, rod in hand, having broken off the hook from his line, plunged into the water without an instant's hesitation. All the time, however, he shouted, "Help! help! help!" He swam out bravely towards Bouldon, poking his rod before him till the end reached his struggling school-fellow. "Catch hold of this—catch hold of this!" he sang out lustily. Bouldon heard him, but his senses were becoming confused, and he could not exert himself to reach the point of the rod. Ellis swam on still further, but he saw the weeds, and he knew that, should his legs once become entangled in them, he should be unable to help his friend, and should probably lose his own life.
"Oh! come nearer, come nearer!" gasped out poor Bouldon, making vain efforts to get free.
Ellis, against his better judgment, generously made the attempt. He instantly felt that he, too, was among the weeds. He tried to get back. His only consolation was to see that Tom had got hold of the end of his rod. Ellis exerted himself to the utmost. Move forward he dared not; but throwing himself on his back, he lifted up his legs, and endeavoured to disentangle them from the weeds which were round them. At last he felt that he could strike out with them; and paddling with one hand at the same time, he gently pulled on his rod, so as to tow Bouldon towards him. The weeds had, however, got so completely round poor Tom's legs, that Ellis found that he was not moving him.
"I'm sinking, I'm sinking!" Tom cried out.
Ellis struck away with all his might. "Hold on to the rod, whatever happens, that's all," he cried out, tugging and tugging away. "I'm moving you, I'm moving you!"
So he was, but it was only so far as the weeds would allow him to go. Tom had followed his example, and thrown himself on his back. Just then a shout was heard, and soon afterwards Ellis caught the words he had been himself using, "Keep up, keep up!—never fear!" He thought it was Bracebridge's voice; so it was. He was up to them in an instant.
Now, Bracebridge, by his father's advice, never went out on any expedition without a supply of stout twine. Producing some from his fishing-basket, he fastened one end of it to a drooping branch of the willow-tree, which overhung the pond, and the other on to his own rod, and, having thrown off his clothes, he boldly plunged into the water, knowing that the weeds would have much less power over his naked legs, than if he had kept on his trousers. He reached poor Tom with the end of his rod just as he was sinking. Tom grasped it convulsively, and Ernest holding on to the part of the line made fast to the tree had sufficient force to drag him out from among the weeds. Ernest, meantime, told Ellis to try and get to shore, so as to be able to help him to draw in Bouldon. Ellis was not long in doing so; and climbing up the bank, he hauled in the line Ernest had so thoughtfully made fast to the tree. In a short time, by careful pulling, Bouldon was hauled clear of the weeds, and Ernest was able to take hold of his arm, and to support him while Ellis towed them both up to the bank. By this time Bouldon was unconscious, but, notwithstanding, he still with one hand held fast hold of the butt-end of his rod, and the rod had evidently something else at the other end of it. They drew him up the bank still holding on his rod.
The change of atmosphere from the warm water of the pond, perhaps, to the cooler air, revived him, and opening his eyes he looked up at Bracebridge.
"You, Ernest! I thought it was Ellis. Is he safe?"
"Yes, yes; all right, old fellow!" answered Ellis.
"Oh, thank you, thank you! Then do try and get my fish on shore," were the first words exchanged between the party when they had got safe to land.
"It's a whacking big pike, that I know," cried Tom. "Oh! Bracebridge, don't let him go; that's all."
"I only hope no stranger will come near and find me, like a picture in the 'Boy's Own Book,' fishing in statu quo," said Ernest, laughing, "But quick, Ellis, bring the landing-net; I shall have him directly, I believe."
There was a broad laugh as Ellis put the net under the fish—for fish there undoubtedly was. "Why, Tommy, your big pike has turned into a perch after all," cried Ernest; "a good-sized one though. But how did you come to fancy it a pike?"
"Because he pulled so horribly; and when I saw his big jaws above water, I thought nothing but a pike could possess such a pair of gills," answered Tom, with much simplicity.
Ernest and Ellis laughed heartily at Bouldon's pike. Ellis took off his clothes, and wrung them dry, and assisted Tom, who was getting rapidly well, to do the same; and while Ernest put on some of his garments, he lent the remainder to clothe his companions, while theirs were drying. They very quickly got their fishing gear to rights again, and were soon, as eager as before, engaged in their sport.
The disturbance they had made in the water had not frightened away the fish, and they each of them caught several large perch. When they at last got their clothes dry enough to put on, and worked their way up to where Gregson was fishing, they found that he had actually filled his basket completely full; fulfilling his promise that with his old stick, as he called it, he would catch more fish than all the rest put together. He bought his hooks, though he could make them; but the rod, line, and float he had entirely manufactured himself, as he had all the rest of the gear, and thus he certainly had reason to be proud of his achievements.
He was horrified when he heard how nearly two of his companions had lost their lives, while all the time he had been so close at hand. When, however, they were joined by Lemon and Buttar, and Bouldon described the way Ellis had come to his rescue, everybody was loud in their praises of him except Ernest. He said nothing at the time, but as they were walking home, he took Ellis's hand, and pressing it warmly, remarked, "You have behaved very gallantly to-day, my dear fellow. I was certain that when the opportunity offered, you would do so. No one could have done better, or shown more coolness or courage. Had it not been for you, Bouldon would have lost his life; of that I am certain. He was almost gone when I came up."
"Why, Bracebridge, I considered that you saved both our lives," exclaimed Ellis, in a tone of surprise at hearing himself so praised. "Had you not come up, we should both have been lost."
"Oh! I only used a little judgment, and followed one of the many bits of good advice my father has given me from time to time," said Ernest. "I neither ought nor will take any of the credit which belongs to you; so pray, my dear fellow, do not talk of what I have done."
Ellis, however, argued the point; but Ernest took care that the way he had behaved should be thoroughly known and well understood by all the boys, as well as by the Doctor.
The fishing-party had a very pleasant walk home, and seldom had fuller baskets of fish been brought to the school.
That evening, after prayers, the Doctor called up Ellis, and, placing him on his right hand, said that he wished to compliment him, among all his companions, for his bravery and coolness, which had enabled him to have the inestimable gratification of saving the life of a fellow-creature, a school-fellow, and a friend; "and," added the Doctor, turning to Ernest, "I feel that you, Bracebridge, deserve not less credit for the generous way in which you have acted in the matter."
Ernest did not obtain less credit, and Ellis found himself in a very different position to what he had before held in the school.
TRIALS OF EDWARD ELLIS—A GAME AT GOLF.
The summer holidays were over, and nearly all the boys had collected at school. Most of them loved their homes; but really our school was so pleasant a place, that very few regretted returning to it. Several new boys came. One of them was called Andrew Barber. He was somewhat of a noisy overbearing character, and showed from the first a strong disposition to bully, and to quarrel with those who did not agree with him. He had, however, a box full of valuables, and a couple of bats, a set of wickets, and two first-rate footballs, and a set of hockey-sticks, so that with a pretty large class he was rather popular. Dawson very quickly made up to him, and Blackall condescended to allow him to cultivate his acquaintance. I write about him from recollection. Perhaps when he first came, the defects I recollect in his character may not have been so apparent. Bracebridge came back quiet and gentlemanly as ever. He had not been idle during the holidays. It is extraordinary how much he had seen, and done, and learned. He had been reading pretty hard both Greek and Latin, and Mathematics. He had made a tour through the manufacturing districts, the commencement of a series his father promised to take him, to show him the true source of English wealth. He had had a very pleasant yachting expedition, and had learned a good deal more about a vessel, and how to sail her, than he had before known. He had become a proficient in archery, and had filled a book full of sketches. Then he had read through a History of France, and made a synopsis of the work, as well as two or three biographies; and he had fished and ridden, and botanised and geologised, and seemed to have seen and talked with a great number of interesting people. Even Buttar, to whom he gave this account of himself, was surprised; and yet Buttar was one of the hardest readers in the school.
"How I can possibly get through so much, do you ask?" said Ernest. "Why, I will tell you. I am never idle. I always arrange beforehand what I want to do, and when I am at work, I give all my mind to that work, and never allow myself a moment to think of anything else. I have the gift, and a valuable one it is, I feel, of being able to concentrate my thoughts on the particular subject in which I am engaged, while I never allow them to be drawn off by anything else. I believe that my mind is so constituted that I should do this of my own accord; but my father has strongly urged on me the importance of the habit, and I accordingly practise it systematically. Whenever I find my mind wandering away from the subject on which I am engaged, I bring it back forcibly, just as if it were a truant, or a deserter from his colours. Some people can think of two things at the same moment; but my father says it is much better to think of one thing well at a time, as likewise to do one thing well; so, as you may have observed, I never attempt more. The consequence of this system is, that I gain some credit, more or less, for nearly everything I undertake."
"Indeed, you do," exclaimed Buttar enthusiastically. "I wish that I were like you; but my thoughts are constantly wool-gathering, whatever I am about. Now, Ellis is like you. He can keep his mind fixed on his work, whether mental or physical; and see how rapidly he has got on. I wonder when he is coming. It is extraordinary how I took to liking that fellow; I quite long to have him back among us."
"He wrote me word a few days ago that he expected to be here to-morrow. He tells me that he looks forward to coming back with great pleasure, though formerly it was always with pain and dread that he approached the school."
"I am glad of it," remarked Buttar. "There is a good deal in that fellow. I did not fancy so at first, but I am now convinced that he could beat most of us at anything he tries. He is a right honest good chap into the bargain. I hope that he will be here soon."
Poor Ellis would have had his spirits much raised, had he been aware how those whom he most esteemed among his schoolfellows talked of him.
The Doctor made a rule of examining all the boys when they returned after the holidays, to ascertain what progress they had made during the time. They had also a holiday task; but they all, except the very idle ones, found it a very easy matter.
Ernest found himself at once put up a class, and the very first day he went up, he took a good place in that class. Bracebridge could not be otherwise than a favourite with the Doctor, and with all the masters. Monsieur Malin especially liked him. He took so much pains to acquire French, and to pronounce it properly, and would repeat words over and over again till he had caught the right sound: then he at once understood the necessity of attending to the idioms of the language, and did not fancy that he was speaking French when he literally translated English into French, as did most of his companions. He moreover (and the Frenchman fully appreciated his delicacy) never allowed a smile to appear on his countenance, however absurd the mistake his master might make when speaking English.
Monsieur Malin was a great linguist, and took a pleasure in imparting a knowledge of his attainments to Ernest, who in that way began to study Italian, German, and Spanish, and found, to his surprise, a wonderful ease in picking them up. He always carried in his pocket a little book, in which he entered the words he wished to learn. When he walked out, he used to learn as many of these words as he could remember. One day he devoted to one language, one to another, and he found that he acquired all three with very little more exertion of mind than was necessary to learn one. He had learned Latin and Greek with his father in the same way, and at an early age he had had a very large vocabulary; indeed, there was scarcely a word in English which he could not readily translate into those languages when he came to school. In consequence, directly he learned a rule of grammar, he was able to apply it. Other boys, following the old system, went hammering and hammering away at their grammar without understanding it, and without being able to apply its rules, and lost their own time and patience, and that of their unfortunate masters.
However, I am not writing an account of the lesson hours of my schoolboy days, but rather of the play-hours. At the same time, I believe that they are more connected, and the importance of the latter is greater than some people are apt to suppose.
Bracebridge, Buttar, Bouldon, and Gregson were waiting to welcome Ellis when he got down from the coach, which passed through the village, half-a-mile from the house. They all, as they walked home, had a great deal to say, and a great deal to tell him. Each one was eager to describe where he had been, and what he had done in the holidays, and to know all that had happened to Ellis during the same period. They then had to tell him of all the changes which had occurred at the school.
"We have loads of new fellows," exclaimed Bouldon. "There is Milman, and Bishop, and Lloyd, and Taylor, and a fellow named Barber, and Cooper, and Lindsay; and there are five or six little fellows, whose names I don't know, and several more are coming, and they say two or three big fellows, who will be especially under the Doctor. A capital increase for one half, though, to be sure, several have left in the upper class. It shows, however, that the school is getting up."
"I know that I wish one fellow had left," said Buttar. "The school suffers in consequence of him. I wouldn't have a younger brother of mine come as long as he is here, that I know, to be bullied by him; to be kicked, and cuffed, and abused is bad enough, but to hear him talk— to have to listen to his foul language and stories, and all sorts of ideas which come into his abominable mind, is infinitely worse."
"You are right, Buttar," exclaimed Bracebridge, warmly. "That fellow Blackall and his tongue is a pest to society. If he simply bullied he could do very little harm; but, I say, what is the matter with Ellis? how pale and wretched he looks!"
"Bracebridge," said Ellis, coming round to him hurriedly, "who is this fellow Barber? Where does he come from? Do you know? Oh, tell me!"
"From Doctor Graham's at Hampstead. I know for certain. He told me so this morning," replied Bracebridge. "But, my dear fellow, what is the matter with you?"
"Oh, Bracebridge, you'll know too soon," Ellis gasped out. They had dropped a little behind the rest of the party. "Yet you'll not think ill of me. You'll not believe what he says, will you? Promise me that, without proof, without better proof than he can give. However it may appear, I am not guilty; indeed I am not."
"What are you talking about?" exclaimed Ernest, thinking that poor Ellis had gone mad. "I have never heard a word against you. Nobody has said anything of which you might complain. Had anyone, I would not believe him, and I am sure your other friends would not. Everybody who really knows you likes you, trusts you, and believes you to be an excellent fellow. You have taken some fancy into your head. Get rid of it, do."
"It is no fancy, indeed it is not," said Ellis, more calmly. "Perhaps I was wrong to say anything about the matter. I know that there is a French saying, Qui s'excuse s'accuse. I'll not excuse myself more than I have done to you. Should anything be said against me, I may rest sure of your friendship at all events. More I do not desire."
"Indeed, my dear fellow, you may. Whatever others may say, I will not believe you capable of doing anything of which you need be ashamed," said Ernest, warmly pressing his friend's hand.
"Thankyou, thank you!" replied Ellis; "you make me feel less miserable. Still your friendship will be sorely tried. Of that I am certain."
Ernest, during all the time Ellis was speaking, was debating in his mind whether or not he was labouring under some strange hallucination. "Whatever it is that you fear, do not talk about it," he said, as soon as Ellis had ceased speaking. "It will do no good, and can only make people think things which are very likely far from the truth. I would advise you not to talk even to me about it. Come and have a good game of cricket, or take a turn at fencing, or broadsword, or come and learn golf. There is a Scotch fellow, Macgreggor, who has come this half, and has undertaken to teach us, and it has become all the rage. It's a capital game for summer, and gives one plenty of exercise. One game or the other will soon knock all such notions out of your head."
Poor Ellis smiled faintly as he replied, "I am afraid not, but I will try to follow your advice. I will keep up my spirits, and perhaps matters will turn out better than I have a right to expect. I should like to learn golf, if you are doing so. I have once or twice seen it played at Blackheath, and I should think that it would suit me better even than cricket."
"That's right, that's right," said Ernest. "I say, you fellows, Ellis has a great fancy to join us in learning golf. He is like me; he dislikes the same routine of games year after year, however good they may be. We'll get Macgreggor to give us a lesson this evening. He seems to be a very good-natured fellow, though he is so big and old."
Macgreggor was a private pupil of the Doctor's, who had lately come to prepare for Cambridge. He was a good specimen of a Highlander, who had never before been south of the Tweed. He spoke strong Scotch, but not broad Scotch; that is, Lowland Scotch, with the full forcible expressions which are to be found in such abundance in the language. He was a truly honourable, high-spirited fellow, and most kind-hearted and generous. Had Blackall's misdeeds come to his notice he would have doubled him up, as our Yankee cousins would say, in no time. The rest of the party willingly agreed to the proposal. As soon as they reached the house, Ellis had to go and present himself to the Doctor, who was struck by his grave and pale countenance.
"My dear boy, what is the matter with you?" asked the Doctor kindly.
"Nothing, sir; nothing," was the answer. "It is not because I am sorry to come back to school, because I am very happy to find myself here."
The Doctor looked pleased, and he knew that Ellis was not a boy to make a set speech for the purpose of paying a compliment. He was glad to find also that he had not spent his holidays in idleness, but had studied quite as hard as was wise, and had read a number of useful works.
"You have done very well indeed," said the Doctor. "If every boy would follow your plan, and read attentively a good history during the holidays, they would become very fair historians at a small expense of labour, and they would save their time which is now, in most instances, so miserably squandered. Most boys during their school-life have from fourteen to sixteen holidays, each about six weeks in length—in fact they are idle for two whole years of the most valuable period of their existence for acquiring knowledge. During that time they might acquire a thorough knowledge of the history of the whole world."
Ellis thanked the Doctor for his advice, and said that he would follow it, and try to persuade some of his schoolfellows to do so likewise.
Dinner was over, so some was sent in for Ellis, and then he and his friends set off, with Macgreggor and several other boys, to the neighbouring heath, where they were to play golf.
Macgreggor had brought with him a supply of golf sticks or bats, which he generously distributed among those who wished to play. He soon fixed on Bracebridge as being likely to prove one of the best players, and told him that he should be his opponent on this occasion, although he had received only three or four lessons from him.
Ernest chose Buttar, Ellis, and Knowles, who played already very well, and Macgreggor took Bouldon, Gregson, and Jackson, another not bad player, considering that he had only just taken a golf stick in hand. As the ground over which they had to play was very irregular, they marked their three holes in a triangle about a quarter of a mile apart.
"See, Ellis, what a beautiful golf stick Mac has given me," said Bracebridge, showing his golf club. It was a formidable-looking weapon, about three feet long, formed of ash, curved and massive towards the end, which was made of a lump of beech, the handle being neatly covered with velvet. The thick end of the club was loaded with four ounces of lead, and faced with hard bone. Altogether no weapon could have been designed better adapted for hitting a small ball with a powerful stroke. The golf ball itself was very small, not bigger than a small hen's egg. It was formed of white leather, which had been soaked in water, and stuffed full of feathers by means of a stick till it became perfectly hard. It was afterwards covered with four coats of fine white paint to increase its hardness.
"You observe, Ellis," said Bracebridge, "the great object is to get a ball both hard, light, strong, easily seen, and which will not be the worse for a wetting. All these qualifications are possessed by this little fellow. Why golf has gone out so much in England, I don't know. Two centuries ago it was a fashionable game among the nobility; and we hear of Prince Henry, eldest son of James the First, amusing himself with it. In those days it was called 'bandy-ball,' on account of the bowed or bandy stick with which it was played. We now only apply the term bandy to legs. Still farther back, in the reign of Edward the Third, the game was played, and known by the Latin name of Gambuca. Now, are we all ready?"
Macgreggor, who had just come up with his companions, replied that all his party were ready to begin. Each side was accompanied by two boys, carrying a number of other clubs, one of which was of iron, and some were shorter, and some longer, to enable the players to strike the ball out of any hole, or rut, or other place in which it might have got.
"These extra clubs are called putters, and the men who carry them cads, or caddies," Ernest remarked to Ellis. "This heavy iron club is, you see, to knock the ball out of a rut, which would very likely cause the fracture of one of our wooden clubs. Now you understand all about the matter. Follow me; I'll tell you what to do when Macgreggor is not near; otherwise, though he is playing against us, he will advise us what to do."
The ball was thrown up, and the game began. Macgreggor had the first stroke. He sent the ball a considerable distance towards the nearest hole.
Ernest had then to strike his ball. If he struck it very hard it might go beyond the hole, which would have thrown him back; and if he did not send it as far as the ball first struck, Macgreggor's party would have had the right to strike twice before his would again strike the ball.
Ellis at first thought that there was nothing in the game, but he soon perceived that there was a good deal of science required, and that nothing but constant practical experience could make a person a good player. He, however, as Bracebridge was doing, gave his mind entirely to it, and by listening to the remarks made by Macgreggor, he learned the rules and many of the manoeuvres golf players are accustomed to practise. He very soon got deeply interested in the game, as did, indeed, all the party; and perhaps had they been asked at the moment what they considered one of the most delightful things to do all day, they would all have pronounced in favour of playing golf.
Golf is a most difficult game to describe. I should liken it, in some respects, to billiards on a grand scale, except that the balls have to be put into holes instead of pockets; that they have to be struck with the side instead of with the end of a club, and that there is no such thing as cannoning.
Bracebridge sent his ball very cleverly a few yards only beyond Macgreggor's, which called forth the latter's warm approval. Then Gregson struck the ball, and sent it but a very short distance. Buttar next sent theirs nearly up to the hole, and Bouldon then going on, and being afraid of going beyond the hole, sent it not so far, as Buttar had struck their ball.
"Two, two," shouted Bracebridge. "Now, Knowles, hit very gingerly, and let me see if I cannot send our ball in."
Knowles rolled the ball within a few feet of the hole, and Ernest, who, in consequence of Bouldon's miss, was now allowed to strike, guided by his correct and well-practised eye, sent it clean into the hole, to the great delight of Macgreggor, who was pleased at having so apt a pupil.
Bracebridge now took his ball out of the hole, and struck it on. Macgreggor, however, was not long in catching him up, but Tom Bouldon was a great drawback to Macgreggor. He had not calmness enough to play the game well. He was continually missing the ball, or sending it beyond the hole, while Macgreggor, and Bracebridge, and Ellis especially, always considered how far it was necessary to send it, and took their measures accordingly.
Few games show the character of a person more than does that of golf, although all, more or less, afford some index to those who are attentively looking on. A boy, when playing, should endeavour to keep a watch over himself as much as on all other occasions, and he should especially endeavour to practise that very important duty of restraining his temper. Boys are too apt to fancy that they may say and do what they like, and often they abuse each other, and make use of language of which, it is to be hoped, they would be ashamed when out of the playground.
While the game was going on, and drawing near its completion, Bracebridge being ahead, a number of boys came out to see what was going forward. From their remarks, there was not much chance of the game becoming popular. There was not enough activity and bustle in it to please them. It was not to be compared for a moment with cricket, or rackets, or football, or even hockey.
Among the spectators were Blackall and Dawson, and the new fellow, Barber. His eye was ranging over the heath. Ernest and his party were then at a distance, playing up towards the last hole.
"Well, to my mind, after all, it is only like a game of marbles, played with a little leathern ball instead of a stone, and a stick instead of one's knuckles," sneered Blackall.
Dawson echoed the sentiment. "How that fellow Bracebridge can find anything to like in it, I do wonder," he remarked. "In Macgreggor, who has been brought up to it, it is a different affair."
"Hollo! who is that fellow?" exclaimed Barber, as the players drew near.
"Which do you mean?" said Dawson. "That natty-looking fellow, who is taking the ball? He's a genius; and if you were to take him at his own valuation, there is not such another fellow in the school, or perhaps in the world."
Dawson never lost an opportunity of having a fling at Bracebridge, who had passed so rapidly by him in the school, and had beat him at all their games.
"No, no; I mean a lanky-limbed, long-faced fellow, who looks as if his face was made of butter. I think I know him," said Barber.
"Oh, you mean that miserable wretch Ellis," snarled Blackall. "He's a fellow born to be licked. He is of no other earthly use. I'll give you leave to thrash him as much as you like; it will save me the trouble, and I shall be much obliged to you."
It might well save Blackall trouble; for had he ventured to touch Ellis, he knew full well that he should have got into it.
"Yes; if Ellis is his name, I am certain it is him," observed Barber, as Ellis drew nearer. "He was at my last school, and I wish you fellows joy of him."
"Why, do you know anything against him?" asked Blackall, eagerly, thinking that he might have the satisfaction of annoying Bracebridge, and Ellis's other friends.
"Oh! you know we never say anything against a fellow out of school, however bad he may be," said Barber, looking virtuous. "All I can say is, he is not the sort of chap I should choose for my associate. He may have altered, you know. Few fellows remain always the same. When I see a fellow get into rows, smash windows, screw off knockers, and show that he has some spirit, I always have hopes of him; but that fellow was always a sneak, and, in the end, proved something a great deal worse. I'll not say anything more about him."
"Oh, I wish you would!" said Blackall. "If there is anything against a fellow, I like to know it. I am rather particular in my company; and though I do not associate with him now, I might be tempted to do so if he came back some week with a box full of grub, or with anything else worth having."
This sally of wit was fully appreciated by his auditors, who laughed heartily, or I should rather say loudly, at it.
Poor Ellis meantime had been so intent on watching the game, that he had not observed their approach, till the voices reached his ear. He looked up, and then he saw Barber watching him, with a sneer on his countenance. He recognised him at once as his old school-fellow.
Bracebridge was standing near. "I'll go and speak with him at once," he said quietly, "It may be that he will not think it necessary to repeat the vile story that was told of me at our former school. If I pass him by as a stranger, it will make him more inclined to think ill of me."
Ellis acted according to the impulse of the moment. He walked up to Barber, and, putting out his hand, said, "Don't you remember me, Barber!"
"Perfectly," said Barber, with great emphasis, and a sneer on his lips. "One remembers people sometimes whom one would rather forget."
"What do you mean, Barber?" said Ellis. "You are not so cruel, so unjust, as—"
"Put what construction you like on my meaning," answered Barber. "I am a straightforward fellow. I say what I think; and of all the characters I have ever met, I hate most that of a canting hypocrite. I never trust such an one. You know best what such a fellow is capable of doing."
Ellis stood by listening calmly, but not unmoved, to this cutting speech. He turned pale and red, and seemed to have difficulty in drawing his breath. He looked for a moment imploringly at Barber, but saw only a sneer on his countenance; so gulping down all the feelings which were rising in his bosom, and which, had he allowed them to break forth, would not have tended to harmony, he turned away and rejoined Bracebridge, who was waiting for him.
"There he goes," sneered Barber. "Just like him. Had any fellow spoken to me as I did to him, I would have knocked him over with my golf club; but he did not even move his hand as if he would have struck me."
After hearing these remarks, Blackall, Dawson, and other boys of that set, thought Barber a very fine spirited fellow, and came to the conclusion that Ellis was not only a regular sneak, but that he was probably a convicted thief, or liar, or something fully as bad, if not worse. He said nothing after rejoining his friends, but his spirits sank lower than Bracebridge had ever before seen them. He seemed incapable even of doing his ordinary lessons in the way he had been accustomed to get through them. Even the Doctor and the masters observed the change. By degrees, too, many of the boys with whom he had been accustomed to join in their various games began to look shy at him. One declined to play with him, and then another, and another, till at last he found that he was cut by the whole school, with the exception of the three or four friends who generally sided with Bracebridge—Buttar, Bouldon, Gregson, and little Eden. Poor fellow! it was a sore trial. Whatever the fault of which he had been guilty, he had long ago heartily repented of it. Of that, at all events, there could be no doubt. It seemed hard that he should be compelled to suffer, supposing even that he was guilty, when a new sphere was open to him; and the better disposed boys, even though they mostly went with the tide, could not help feeling that Barber had acted in a very ungenerous way in bringing tales from one school to another, and in injuring the character of one who had always proved himself so harmless and kind-hearted a fellow.
Bracebridge did not hesitate to show his opinion of Barber on all occasions, and took every opportunity of marking his regard for Ellis, and in showing his disbelief of the tales current against him. Thus the last half of the year drew on, and winter was once more approaching.
AN ATTEMPT TO INTRODUCE FAGGING—A GAME AT HOCKEY.
The half-year sped on much as usual. Not a gleam of sunshine burst forth to dispel the clouds which hung lowering over the fair fame of poor Ellis. He was either too proud or too indifferent as to what was said of him to take any notice of the various tales—different versions of the same story—flying about the school to his discredit. Now and then Bracebridge heard of them, but he invariably replied that he believed them to be utterly false, and he always treated the boy who ventured to begin to narrate them to him with the scorn which a tale-bearer deserves. The tales at last reached the ears of the masters, but in so indefinite a form that they could take no notice of them, much less report them to the Doctor; but they had the bad effect of making them look upon poor Ellis as a black sheep, and of inducing them to treat him with suspicion. Wrong motives were assigned to all he did, and, with one exception, no one spoke kindly or encouragingly to him. The exception was Monsieur Malin. Ellis's clever contrivance with the kite and carriage had won his regard; and though, to be sure, his reasoning might have been very incorrect, he could not fancy that so ingenious a boy could have been guilty of the conduct alleged against him, and which had brought him into such general disrepute. He talked the subject over with Bracebridge, who was delighted to find that Ellis had so powerful a friend. Monsieur Malin determined, therefore, to support Ellis. He called him up one day, and asked him if he would like to learn French.
Ellis said, "Yes, of him; if he could get leave."
"Well, if you cannot get leave, I will teach you myself in the play-hours, or at any odd times. You stay in so much, and play so little with the other boys, that you will not mind that, I know," he said, in a kind encouraging voice. "You will learn soon, I know, and then we will walk together, and talk French, and you will learn more rapidly than any one else."
"Thank you, sir! indeed, thank you!" said poor Ellis, the tears coming into his eyes. "It is very kind to take so much trouble with a person like me. I will do whatever you tell me."
"Then write home, and get leave to learn, and I will tell you what you shall do in the meantime," replied the French master. "Get into your head as large a vocabulary of words as you can collect. Put down in a little pocket-book the French and English of everything you can think of. Thus: write down, a boy, a man, a book, a desk, and I will show you how to pronounce them properly. Here is a book; accept it from me; I got it on purpose for you. Now write down a boy; now the French, garcon. The c you hear is soft. Roll the r well in your mouth. Repeat it frequently." Monsieur Malin made him write down numerous other words, and repeated them over to him frequently till he had caught their exact sounds. "Now, my boy, you have learned your first French lesson," he observed. "Every day add as many words as these to your vocabulary. Begin with the substantives; go on to the adjectives, next the verbs; then study the construction of the language; the simple rules of grammar; and lastly, in the same manner that you have learned single words, collect the idioms of the language. Read constantly aloud, and learn by heart interesting portions of modern French writings especially the speeches of the best orators of the present day, and I can promise you that in a very short time you will become a very fair French scholar."
Ellis saw the wisdom of Monsieur Malin's advice, and implicitly followed it. Bracebridge helped him, and they in a short time were able to converse together. In the meantime Ellis got leave to learn French, and some of the boys were very much surprised, and rather indignant, to find him put in one of the upper classes.
"That's the fellow who pretended that he did not know French, and has all the time been listening to us, and overhearing all we said," remarked Blackall, whose own knowledge of the language was so limited that, at all events, it would have puzzled a Frenchman to have comprehended him. "It's just like the sneak," he continued. "I wonder how a chap like Bracebridge can patronise him, or how a big fellow like Lemon can condescend to speak to him."
Though these remarks, as it was intended they should, reached the ears both of Ernest and Lemon, they took no notice of them, and thus they did Ellis no further harm. It is very sad that I should not have to recount the pleasant sayings and doings of my schoolfellows; but as in the world the worst actions of people often come most prominently forward, so they do at school, and generally make the deepest impression. I know, however, that even at this time there were many pleasant things said, and amusing things done; that there was much good fellowship among us; that we entered into our games with thorough heartiness; that we made very satisfactory progress in our studies, and were generally happy and contented. Indeed, the school was thoroughly well-conducted and ably ruled. The dark spots I have been picturing arose entirely from the bad tempers, dispositions, and ill-conduct of those ruled. So it is with this world at large. It is admirably ordered, beautifully fashioned, ruled with unbounded love, regularity, and justice. Men, and men alone, have made all the blots and stains to be found in it; they have caused all the irregularities and disorders which abound; all the misery, all the suffering, all the wretchedness; we see they have themselves and themselves only to blame; that is to say, man alone is at fault; man, and sin which man introduced, beguiled by Satan. But up, boys! Do not suppose that you are to yield to this state of things; to say that so you find them, and that so you will let them be. No; far from that. You are sent into the world to fight against them, to overcome them, to strive with Satan, the prince of sin and lies, and all abominations, with all your might and main. It is a glorious contest; it is worth living for, if we did but understand it aright. The knights who went out, as we are told of old, armed cap-a-pie, to do battle with enchanters, and dragons, and monsters of all sorts, had not half so glorious, so difficult, so perilous a contest to engage in. The writers who invented those fables had, I suspect, a pretty clear notion of what is the true destiny of man. The enchanters were the spirits of evil; their necromancies the works of Satan; the dragons and monsters, the ills, the difficulties, the obstacles to all good works which have to be overcome. It was not the fashion to speak out great truths plainly in those days, as it has happily become at the present time; and so philosophers who held them wrapped them up in fables and allegories, the true import of which only the wisest and most sagacious could comprehend. The great truth that all men are sent into this world to work, to fight, to strive with might and main, the Doctor tried to impress on his pupils. He found it difficult, however, to make them understand the matter. Many of them thought that they knew better than he did on that subject. Some of them had been told at home, by ignorant servants or injudicious friends, that they were born heirs to good fortunes; that they were to go to school, and be good boys, and get through their lessons as well as they could, and then they would go to Oxford or Cambridge, because most gentlemen of any pretension went there; and then that they would be able to live at home and amuse themselves for the rest of their lives. Of course, such boys thought that what the Doctor was saying could have nothing at all to do with them, and could only refer to the children of poor people, who had nothing to give them. The Doctor, suspecting what was in their thoughts, surprised them very much by propounding the doctrine that no one was exempt from the rule; that all mankind, from the sovereign on his throne to the peasant in the field, are born to labour—to labour with the head or to labour with the hands, often with both; or if not, strictly speaking, with the hands, at all events with the mind and body.
"And what, think you, is the labour all men ought to engage in? What is the great present object of labour?" asked the Doctor. "Why, I reply, to do good to our fellow-creatures, to ameliorate their condition by every means in our power."
No boys took in these truths more eagerly than did Bracebridge and Ellis. They talked them over and over, and warmed with the glorious theme. To the former they were not new. His father had propounded the same to him long ago, but the Doctor's remarks gave them additional strength and freshness.
"It is grand, indeed," exclaimed Ernest, "to feel what victories we have to achieve, what enemies to overthrow; that if we do our duty we can never be entirely defeated; and that, though success may be delayed, we must be victorious at last; that there can be no hanging down of the hands, no lassitude, no idleness, no want of occupation through life, no want of excitement. I don't care what grumblers may say; I maintain, with my father, that this is a very glorious world to live in, with all its faults; and still more should we be grateful that we are placed in it, when we remember that it is the stepping-stone to eternity."
Ernest was, perhaps, somewhat beyond his years in his remarks, but it must be remembered that he was an unusual boy, and that there were not many like him. Still he was but a boy. Anybody observing him would probably have remarked that he was a good-looking, intelligent boy, but might have failed to discover any super-excellencies in him. Indeed I think that I have before remarked that he owed his success at school to the fact, that all the talents he possessed by nature had been judiciously cultivated, and allowed a full and free growth. Certainly no boy stood higher in the estimation both of his master and schoolfellows. He could not help discovering this, and he resolved by all means to maintain and deserve their good opinion. He had sometimes a difficult task in keeping to his resolution.
I have said that Blackall for some weeks had appeared to be much less dictatorial and inclined to bully; but by degrees his former habits returned with greater force, from having been put under some restraint for a time. Ellis and Eden, and even Bouldon and Buttar, came in for a share of his ill-treatment; so did a new boy, John Dryden by name, a sturdy, independent little fellow, who, for his size, was as strong as he was brave, but, of course, could not compete with a boy of so much greater bulk and weight.
A considerable number of fellows vowed that they would stand this conduct no longer; yet what could they do? Blackall alone might have been managed; but several big fellows had united with him, and had taken it into their heads that they should like to introduce fagging. They got, indeed, two or three fellows—Dawson, Barber, and others—to undertake to be fags, just to set the system going, those young gentlemen hoping very soon to become masters themselves. They talked very big about the matter; they thought it would be a very fine thing: their school was first-rate as it was, and if fagging were introduced it would be fully equal to any public school. Of course, the affair was to be kept a great secret. There could be no doubt that the Doctor would approve of it ultimately, but at first he might be startled; though he never hesitated to introduce any alterations which were improvements, he might possibly look upon fagging without that reverence which it deserved as a time-honoured institution. He could not fail to acknowledge that fagging was a very good thing; but then his school was not a public school, however first-rate it might be as a private establishment; and he might not wish to make it like a public school. Thus the important subject was discussed for some time, till at last it was decided that it would be wiser to begin quietly, at the same time in due form. The big fellows who had resolved to be the masters determined to draw up a paper, which the intended fags were to sign, agreeing to do duty and to serve their masters as fags, according to the custom established at all public and first-rate schools. Barber, Dawson, and other advocates of the system, signed the precious document willingly enough, and they managed to get some twenty other boys to do the same.
But when it was shown to Buttar and Bouldon, they turned it over and over, and asked what it meant.
"Oh, don't you know?" exclaimed Dawson. "It's a plan we have got up for becoming a public school."
"I'll tell you what," answered Buttar, bursting into a fit of laughter, "I look upon the affair as a bit of arrant tom-foolery; and so you may tell the donkeys who drew it up."
Dawson grew very red; but he had a respect for Buttar's knuckles, and so he held his tongue. Bouldon had, meantime, recognised Blackall's handwriting, and having a considerable amount of contempt for those whose signatures were attached, he exhibited it in an unmistakable, though certainly an unrefined manner, by holding up the paper, and spitting into the middle of it. Then he folded it up, and crammed it into Dawson's pocket. Dawson and he had had a set-to fight a little time before, and though Dawson was the biggest fellow of the two, he had ultimately declined continuing the combat. The action performed by Bouldon was equivalent to a declaration of war to the knife with Blackall and all the big fellows who supported the system he wished to introduce. Dawson turned redder than ever, and looked very fierce at him; but Tom closed his mouth, planted his feet firmly on the ground, and doubling his fists, said—
"You'd better not attempt it, Dickey; you know me now."
Dawson did know him, and so he blustered out—
"You're a beastly fellow, that I know; and so I'll go and tell Blackall what you say."
"Go, Dickey, and say I sent you," cried Bouldon; and, undaunted by the threat which had been uttered, he bestowed a parting kick of very considerable force on the portion of Dickey's body then turned towards him. Dawson ran off, vowing vengeance.
"You shouldn't have done that, Bouldon," said Buttar, who was a very gentlemanly, refined fellow. "The actions were expressive, and could leave no manner of doubt as to what our course of action must be; but perhaps we might have succeeded better had we left them in doubt, and waited till they commence operations."
"I dare say you are right, Buttar," said Bouldon; "but, in truth, all my English spirit was roused within me at the preposterous notion of those few big fellows proposing all of a sudden to make slaves of the rest of the school. However, what is to be done now?"
"Let us go and talk to Bracebridge, and hear what he says," said Buttar.
They soon found Bracebridge, and told him all that had occurred. He was just as indignant as Tom was, and he could not help laughing at the way in which he had exhibited his feelings, though he agreed with Buttar that a less demonstrative mode of proceeding might have been wiser. He was decidedly of opinion that immediate steps should be taken to put a stop to the proceedings of the big fellows, and that a counter-resolution should be drawn up, and sent round for the signature of those boys who had resolved not in any way to submit to fagging. He and Buttar immediately went into the school-room, and drew up the paper which they considered met the object. It was very temperate, and couched in the most simple language, as such documents always should be to be effectual. It ran, as far as I remember, much in the following words:—
"We, the undersigned, understanding that an attempt is being made by some of the big boys to introduce a system of fagging into the school, bind ourselves to resist such a proceeding by every means in our power, and under no consideration to obey any boy who may order any of us to fag for him."
"That will do," observed Bracebridge. "The sentence might be better rounded, but the document is short and explicit. We will see what effect it will have. Let Dawson have a sight of it before it is generally signed. Here, you and I will sign it, to show from whom it emanates. They will not begin to try on their tricks upon us, I suspect. They will not know who else has signed it; and we will put the little fellows up how to act, as circumstances may show us to be most advisable."
"Capital!" exclaimed Buttar, affixing his signature in a clear bold hand to the document. "Would it not be better to tell Lemon what we have done?"
"I think not," said Ernest. "The resolution emanates from us, so let us carry it out. There is nothing like independence and freedom of action to ensure success. Lemon will not wish to make anybody fag for him; but being a big fellow, he may not see the matter in the same light we do. If we bravely resist the attempt, he is much more likely to assist us in crushing it at the end, than if we were to go whining to him now for aid and advice."
Buttar agreed in this point also with Ernest, and undertook to let Dawson immediately have a look at the document. Dawson said he should like to show it to some of the big fellows.
"Catch a weasel asleep, and draw his teeth," answered Buttar. "No, no, Dickey! You may take a copy of it in pencil, and show it to anybody you like. You may say also, that all the school, with the exception of a few miserable sneaks, like some who shall be nameless, will sign it and stick by it. And now, just go and tell the fellows what you have seen."
Off went Dawson with the copy of the protest to his masters. They laughed scornfully.
"That upstart, conceited young monkey, Bracebridge, is at the bottom of all mischief," observed Blackall; and the opinion was echoed by two or three other fellows.
"I'll tell you what," said Blackall; "the only way will be to begin fagging at once, and to crush this proposed rebellion in the bud. We must parcel out the boys of the lower classes, so that each of us may have four or five fags a-piece. You see we have already each of us got a willing fag. They shall be head fags, and assist to keep the rest in order. We'll tell them that, and then they will help us to bring the rest under subjection."
Blackall's plan was willingly assented to by the rest of the big boys who had entered into this conspiracy against the liberties of their younger schoolfellows; and minor details being arranged, they considered everything ripe for carrying out their plans. All this time neither the Doctor nor masters suspected that anything out of the way was taking place. During the school hours matters went on in their ordinary routine. Some of the boys, who had been thinking over what was to be done, were less attentive than usual, and had more faults in their exercises. Games were got up and carried on by the boys with their accustomed spirit. Hockey and football had now come in. The Doctor did not prohibit any games, but he insisted that all should be played with good temper; and a few he only allowed to be played in the presence of a master. Hockey was one of these, and consequently it was not often played, except when a large number could join in it together. A great game of hockey was to be played one Saturday afternoon in November. Blackall came forward as the chief on one side. He called over the names of a number of boys, but only a few of the younger ones joined him. He remarked that they were entirely Dawson's companions. Another big fellow stood up to lead on the opposite side, but so few consented to play that he was obliged to throw up his leadership. Then Bracebridge, urged by several standing round him, stepped forward, and he instantly had forty or fifty boys ranged under him. Those who had previously ranged themselves under the other big fellow, Haddon, went over to Blackall.
The sides were now more equal, but still Blackall had not enough on his side. He cried out for followers, but still no one would go over to him. Bracebridge had at last to send off some of his side to make both parties equal. There were thus about forty on each side. Everybody knows what a hockey-stick is like. It is a tough fellow, made of oak or crab-apple tree, and turned up at the end in a crook, flattened somewhat at the convex side. It is a formidable weapon, and it is very disagreeable to receive a blow from it on the shins. In some places a cork bung is used, but I have always seen and played with a light ball made on purpose, and covered with leather. We were very particular at Grafton Hall about our hockey balls. Though late in the year, the weather was fine, so we played in the cricket-field. It was a fine wide extent. A line drawn twenty yards in advance of the hedge on either side formed the respective boundaries. It was nearly due north and south. Ernest's party were on the north side, and their goal consequently on the south side of the field. Bracebridge and Blackall tossed up to settle which side was to begin. "Heads!" cried Ernest. The shilling came down with the head up. It was considered low by the big boys to employ halfpence on such occasions. Blackall looked daggers at his opponent. Bracebridge took the ball, and placed it about a third of the distance away from his line. His side were arranged behind and on either hand of him. He planted his feet firmly, and lifting his stick above his head, cried "Play!" and, looking first at the point to which he intended to send it, gave a steady blow to the ball. Blackall and his side watched its approach, and rushed forward "to take it up," or, in other words, to impede its progress, and to send it back in the direction whence it had come. They were boldly met by Ernest's party, who once more "took up" the ball and drove it energetically back.
All Ernest's party were young boys. Few were more than a year or two older than he was, and scarcely any were taller or more active; indeed, he was the acknowledged best player of his set. On Blackall's side, on the contrary, were a number of big fellows, and all those who had undertaken to act as fags, as well as other hangers-on and chums of the big fellows, patronised especially by them because they were well supplied by injudicious friends at home with hampers of cakes and game, and hams and tongues. I've heard people say, "I'll send poor Tom a basket of good things, because it will enable him to gain the friendship of some of the bigger boys." Now, I will tell those silly friends that it will do no such thing. It will make some of the worst boys make up to him as long as his grub lasts, or while they think that he is likely to get any more; but they will do him much more harm than good, and their friendship he will not get. No; send a boy to school fitted as much as he can be, and let him win friends and work his way onward by his own intrinsic merits; but never let him think of buying favour with gifts of any sort. But we are in the middle of a game of hockey. It was, however, necessary to explain the class of boys who were ranged on either side. Those hockey-sticks looked formidable weapons as they were flourished about in the hands of the opposing parties. Again Blackall's party met the ball; a dozen hockey-sticks were at it, and one boy, calling off the others, struck it so clear a blow that he nearly sent it up to the goal across Ernest's line. However, he, Buttar, Bouldon, and some other of the most fearless and active boys rushed at it with their sticks, regardless of all the blows aimed at them by their opponents, and drove it back again into the middle of the ground. Then on they flew to drive it back still farther. Both parties met in the centre. There was a fierce tussle. The hockey-sticks kept striking each other, but none struck the ball. Blackall had gone farther back to catch the ball, should it be driven past the front rank of his party. Ernest had retired behind his friends for the same purpose. His eye, however, never left the ball. He saw a stick uplifted which he thought would strike it. So it did, and the ball came flying towards him. His quick eye saw it coming, and with unerring aim he struck it over the heads of both parties, who, not knowing what had become of it, broke asunder, and enabled him to pass between them. He reached the neighbourhood of the ball at the same moment that Blackall, having seen it coming, got close up to it. They eyed the ball, and they eyed each other for some moments; their eyes flashed fire.
"Out of my way, you rebellious young scamp!" shouted Blackall, irritated by what he considered Ernest's daring coolness. Ernest did not even look at him, but threw himself into a position to strike the ball. His eye was at the same time on Blackall's stick. He saw him lift it to strike, not the ball, but him. He had not learned the use of the single-stick for nothing, and throwing himself back, he warded off the blow, and then, quick as lightning, struck the ball, and sent it past his cowardly opponent. Blackall, not in the least ashamed of himself, attempted to repeat the blow while Ernest was unable to defend himself; but before his stick descended another actor had come into the field. It was Ellis, who had been close at hand, and now springing forward, he interposed his own stick, and saved his friend from the effects of the blow, drawing, of course, all Blackall's rage upon himself. Had any body seen his countenance, they could not have failed to observe the smile of satisfaction which lighted it up as Blackall showered heaps of virulent abuse on his head.
"Go on, I don't fear you; remember that," said Ellis quietly; and then hurried on, in the hopes of assisting Ernest to drive the ball on to the goal. The keen eye of Monsieur Malin, who was the master on duty on that afternoon, had observed this little piece of by-play. He noted it, but said nothing at the time. It required all Ernest's activity and the energetic support of his party to make head against the big, strong fellows of the opposite side. When he had very nearly driven the ball home to the goal, several of them threw themselves before him, and drove it some way back again; but Buttar, Bouldon, Gregson, and some others had now come up, and even little Eden rushed heroically in to stop its course and to drive it back, so that Ernest might once more get it within the power of his unerring stick. The big fellows of Blackall's party had rushed on, separating widely, and not observing, or rather regarding, little Eden, whom had they seen they would not have supposed daring enough to attempt to hit the ball. He did not hit it very far, certainly; but yet his stroke was one of the most important which had been given, for it enabled Tom Bouldon to send it up very nearly to the goal. Ernest saw it coming. He sprang forward; and almost before it had stopped, his stick had caught it and sent it triumphantly over the line. The big fellows were astonished when they saw how and by whom they had been defeated. Blackall especially was enraged.
"That young scamp, Bouldon, and that little shrimp, Eden, ought not to be allowed to play. There is no guarding against their sneaking, underhand ways," he observed. I believe, indeed, he made use of still more opprobrious epithets, with which I do not wish to defile my pages. Even some of his own side laughed at his anger, but still no one thought of rebuking him.
"Never mind, we'll beat them well the next turn," answered Rodwell, a big, good-natured fellow, on his side. "Now, young Bracebridge, you, sir, look out for yourself. We are not going to let you run over the course in this way again."
"Oh, we are not afraid of you; we shall do our best to win again, at all events," said Ernest, taking up the ball, and walking off with it to his side of the ground. "Now look out, old fellows."
"What's that the impudent young scamp says?" exclaimed Blackall. "We'll pay him and his sneaking set off before long, so let him look out."
Ernest heard what was said, but took no notice of the remark. He appeared to be entirely absorbed in considering in what direction he should drive the ball. He eyed the position of the various players, both on the other side and on his own. He called Bouldon up to him, and whispered various directions to him. Bouldon ran off, and immediately several of his side changed their places.
"Ah! that boy was born to become a general," observed Monsieur Malin, who was looking on at the game with deep interest.
The opposite side were rather astonished. They were not accustomed to so systematic a way of playing, still less to see directions issued by one boy so implicitly obeyed by others. They could not make it out. Ernest lifted up his stick, and struck the ball. Off it flew in a direction away from all the best players on the opposite side, but some of the most active of his party ran on, and hitting it before them, one after the other, drove it right through the ranks of their opponents. So quickly did one striker succeed the other, that none of Blackall's boys could get a stroke. He ran to the rescue, but this was one of the many occasions, as he frequently found to his cost, when mere animal strength could avail but little. The ball was carried on, struck rapidly past him, followed up by relays of Ernest's friends, and finally sent by Buttar, accompanied by a loud cheer from all his side, over the boundary. Such a victory could not have been expected under ordinary circumstances, had even the big boys been the conquerors, but the latter were doubly astounded, till Rodwell sang out—