"A fair and truly attractive scene," said Ellis, turning to Ernest, who cordially agreed with him as they gazed at it together.
A gentleman who stood by turned round and watched the countenance of the speaker. "That is not a common boy, I am certain," he observed to a friend. "He is capable of doing much in the world, and I suspect will do it."
Ellis could not help hearing the last remark, and it gave him great encouragement.
Now came the time to prepare for the rural banquet. It was great fun unpacking the hampers, and carrying their contents to the tablecloths which had been spread on the grass. What number of chicken-pies, and veal-pies, and rounds of beef, and hams and tongues, and cold chickens and veal, and fruit-tarts and pies, and cakes of all shapes and sorts, and what heaps of fruit, strawberries and gooseberries, and currants and raspberries! indeed there was no lack of anything; and what was most wonderful, nothing was forgotten, and there was a fair proportion of each joint or dish. I have been at a pic-nic where, from want of a preconcerted plan, everybody brought veal-pies, or chicken-pies, or hams, and there was no bread, or salt, or mustard. Somebody had a French horn or cornopean, and at its sound people came trotting pretty quickly in from all directions through the woodland glades and up the avenues leading from the ruins, or bypaths coming from the side of the stream. The long drive and the exercise they had since taken had given them good appetites, and none lingered behind. The boys, especially, were in good time, and in the course of a few minutes everybody was seated in every possible attitude convenient for carrying food down their throats. Not that anybody sat quiet many minutes together. Somebody was always jumping up to help somebody else, or to go in search of some tongue for their chicken, or some chicken for their tongue, or for a glass of ale or wine, or for a piece of bread, or for some mustard or salt; indeed it seemed wonderful how many things were wanted to make out a dinner which are procured with so much ease in a dining-room, as things of course, that no one ever thinks about them. In this way the first course lasted a long time. Just at the end of it the servants brought some dishes of hot potatoes, which had been cooked gipsy fashion, and then several people began again for the sake of eating them. The tarts and fruit-pies were very good, but the juice of some had run out, and one or two had been tumbled into, and Tom Bouldon, in jumping across the tablecloth, had stepped exactly into the middle of one of them, splashing his trousers all over with currant juice, and considerably damaging the pie itself. It was in consequence the last consumed, but a facetious gentleman helped it out to the people who sat at the further end of the tablecloths, and knew nothing of the catastrophe. Then there was champagne, which some of the boys in their innocence called very good gooseberry wine, greatly to the disgust of the gentleman who brought it: the truth being, however, that they liked gooseberry wine just as much as the finest champagne to be procured. Healths were drunk, and toasts were given, and sentiments and speeches were made, which, if not very witty, caused a good deal of merriment and laughter; and at last the dinner part of the pic-nic came to a conclusion. Then, of course, the servants had to dine, which they did at a little distance from the spot their masters had chosen, and seemed to enjoy the fun, for they also drank toasts in ale, made speeches, and laughed heartily at all their jokes. The ladies and gentlemen, meantime, walked about, or sat down and admired the scenery, and the boys got ready for their games. Targets had already been erected. After the grown-up people began to get tired of looking at the views, the gentlemen marked off the distance, and the ladies taking their bows, shooting began. Ernest, Buttar, and some of the bigger boys joined them, but they soon voted it very slow work, and Bouldon proposed taking a roving expedition.
"We have not much time, so let us be off at once," said Ernest. "Nine shall be the game. Are you all provided with blunt-headed arrows? That is right. Twelve a-piece we should have. Let us take half-an-hour's turn round the wood, and then be back for the races. By that time the servants will have the dinner things cleared away and the ponies saddled for racing."
Away went the party whom Ernest had enlisted right merrily. First they fixed on an old oak-tree for their butt, and at a word given by Buttar, who was chosen leader, every one shot from the spot where they were standing. Some shafts hit the tree, others just glanced off, and others flew altogether wide of it. Buttar had his note-book out, and the distance each shaft had fallen from the tree was measured by the length of the bows, every boy measuring with his own, and noted in the book. They again ran on. "Halt!" said Buttar. "That elm, the third from the gate, shall be our target. Shoot!" Every one shot his best, but Ernest and Buttar only hit; Bouldon's arrow glanced off; no one else struck the tree. The distances being measured and noted, on again they went. A white post at a considerable distance was next fixed on as the mark. Ellis hit it, Ernest went near, and the shafts of the rest of the party flew wide or short of it.
"Ah, I calculated the range," observed Ellis. "I shot my arrow with a considerable curve, for I saw that the mark was further than my bow could send it at point-blank range."
"Why, Ellis, you will make a good artillery officer," said Buttar, laughing. "Whenever we shoot with sides, I shall know who to choose. I had no idea you were a scientific archer."
"I very seldom have shot before, but directly I got a bow I began to study the subject, and to learn all that has been said about it," answered Ellis. "I always read what I can about it when I begin anything which is new to me."
The half-hour spent in roving passed very quickly away. Those who had never shot before in that way agreed that it was far more amusing than shooting at a target, and that they found they learned to measure distances much better in the former than in the latter way. When they got back they found a variety of other sports going on. Some of their friends were playing quoits. It is a capital game for exercising the arms. Two iron pins or hobs were stuck in the ground, about eighteen yards apart. Quoits, as everybody ought to know, were derived from the ancient game of discus. They are circular plates of iron, with a hole in the centre, one side being flat and the other rounded. The game is played often with sides. The aim of each player is to pitch his quoit on the hob, or, if he cannot do that, as near it as possible, the parties throwing from one hob to another. Charles Bracebridge and Lemon were playing on opposite sides when the archers came up. First Charles threw. One quoit was close to the hob, and the other quoits he sent were within a few inches of it, and of each other. Then Lemon threw. His first quoit was just outside Charles', but nearer than any of his other quoits, but his other quoits fell outside the rest. Thus both only counted one. Had a second quoit of Lemon's fallen close to Charles' first, Lemon would have counted two, though his other quoits might have fallen to a greater distance. The nearest, it will be understood, count and cut out all outside them. The servants were amusing themselves during the interval with skittles and nine-pins, so that everybody of the party, high and low, old and young, were engaged; and in that I consider consists the chief zest of a pic-nic of the sort. Sometimes a pic-nic may take place at a spot of peculiar interest, where the party may find abundant matter of amusement without games of any sort; or in other instances people merely meet in a pretty spot, to dine in a pleasant unrestrained way in the open air, and generally manage to become better and more quickly acquainted than they can at a formal dinner-party. The boys, however, were most interested in the proposed pony races, and a general cry of "The race!—the race!—the race!" rose among them. It was echoed by others, both ladies and gentlemen, and all the ponies, and horses, and, we may say, four-legged animals the party could muster, were brought forth. As the race was entirely impromptu, no arrangements had before been made. It was first settled that everything was to run. The larger riding-horses were to have a longer distance to run, and were not to start so soon as the others; the carriage-horses came next, then the ponies, then the cart-horses, and lastly the donkeys. One very big, stout gentleman, who pleaded that he was not fit to be a jockey, and that his horse would run away with a lighter weight on him, undertook to clear the course. That was settled. Then came the question as to who were to be the riders.
"All the boys, except a few of the little ones," cried a sporting gentleman. "Of course they can all ride. Come up, youngsters. Mount— mount! let us see what you can do. You must have your proper colours. We can find scarfs and handkerchiefs enough to fasten round your caps."
No one liked to say that he could not ride. Much less did Ellis, though he had only mounted a quiet pony's back a few times in his life: still he thought that he could manage to stick on for a short distance, and was unwilling to confess how little experience he had had.
"I congratulate you, Ellis," said Ernest, nodding to him when he saw him mounted. "You seem to have got hold of a clever little animal. He'll go, depend on that. If I had not my own little Mousey to ride, I should like to have had that pony. He belongs to Mr Seagrave, does he? Oh! he always has good animals. If you do not win, you'll be in one of the first, I'm pretty certain of that." So Ernest ran on.
Buttar came up and congratulated Ellis in the same way, and gave him a hint or two how to sit and manage his steed, which he saw that he wanted.
"Ah, ah, capital, capital!" exclaimed Tom Bouldon, as he rode up on a big carriage-horse. "Really, Ellis, you are to be envied. That is just the little beast I should like to have had. How I am ever to make my fellow go along I don't know. You won't change, will you?"
Ellis laughed. He certainly did not wish to change. At the same time, had it not been for the observations of his friends, he felt that it would have been wise not to have ridden the race at all.
Instead of a bell, a horn was used to guide the proceedings. The horn sounded, and the steward of the course requested the spectators to arrange themselves on either side of a wide, open glade, at the further end of which there was a clump of trees. Round this clump the racers were to go, and to come back to a tree near where the party had dined, which was to represent the winning-post. The next thing was to place the racers at their proper distances. All were at last arranged. Ernest, Buttar, and Bouldon, who could ride well, were in high glee, and it must be confessed that they thought very little about poor Ellis. The gigantic steward of the course having ridden over it, to see that all was clear, retired on one side, and taking his horn, blew a loud blast; that was for the donkeys to start. Away they went, kicking up their heels, but making good progress. Two blasts started the cart-horses, three the carriage-horses, four the ponies. They, of course, afforded the chief amusement. Whips and heels were as busy in urging them on as if the safety of a kingdom depended on their success. The riding-horses came last. The owners had entered them more for the sake of increasing their numbers than for any wish to beat the rest, which they believed they could easily do. Away, away they all went; if not as fleet as the racers at the Derby, affording far more amusement, and as much excitement, in a much more innocent way. The pony on which Ellis was mounted did not belie the good opinion Ernest and the rest had formed of him. As soon as the horn, the signal of the ponies to start, was sounded, off he set, and very soon distanced all, except Ernest's and Buttar's steeds, which kept up close behind him.
"Bravo," shouted Ernest, delighted at his friend's success. "Keep him up to it, and you'll win the prize. I knew you'd ride well when you tried."
Ernest was, however, not quite right in his conjectures. Ellis stuck on very well, but as to guiding the pony, he had no notion of it. As long, however, as the donkeys, and cart and carriage-horses, were before them, he went very well, but they were caught up before they reached the clump of trees round which they were to turn. They reached the clump, but Ellis, to his friend's dismay, shot past it. The pony's home lay in that direction, and seeing a long green glade right before him, he got his bit between his teeth, and away he went, scampering off as hard as he could lay his feet to the soft springy grass. Ellis held on with all his might. He in vain tried to turn the pony's head. He felt that he was run away with, and had lost all control over the animal.
Ernest saw the pony bolt. At first he was inclined to laugh. Then he recollected with dismay that there was a very steep hill just outside the wood, and a little beyond it a deep chalk-pit, with precipitous sides, down which he feared that the pony, if it became alarmed by anything, might in its excitement plunge. How to stop Ellis was the question! To follow him he knew would only increase the speed of the pony. There was, he remembered, a short cut to the precipice through a green narrow path to the right. Without a moment's hesitation he galloped down it. Buttar, divining his object, followed. The rest, not seeing where they had gone, fancied that they had turned the clump, and continued the race.
Mousey, Ernest's pony, behaved magnificently. On he galloped, as if he knew that a matter of importance depended on his speed. Some boys running out of the wood fancied that he was running away, and, clapping their hands, tried to turn him aside, but he heeded them not. The wood was at length cleared. Ernest looked up the road to his left, in the hopes of seeing Ellis coming along it, but he was afraid that he had already passed. On the ground were the marks of hoofs, which looked, he thought, very like those made by a pony at full speed; so he and Buttar galloped along the road they thought he must have taken. Down the steep hill they went at full speed, keeping a tight rein, however, on the mouths of their little steeds. They thought they made out poor Ellis in the distance.
"He sticks on bravely, at all events," cried Ernest. "He's a fellow to be proud of as a friend. Oh! he must not come to harm."
Away they went. They thought that they were too far off to frighten Ellis's pony, and as Ernest knew the country well, he hoped that they might still overtake him by cutting across some fields. The gate leading into them was shut, so they knew that Ellis had not gone that way. A boy was sitting whistling on a stile hard by. Ernest asked him if he had seen a young gentleman on a pony going fast along the road. He nodded, made a sign that he was going very fast indeed, but showed that it had never entered his head to try to stop the pony. Ernest forced open the gate without waiting for the lout to do so, and they galloped through and along over the turf. There were two or three slight hedges, but they forced their way through them. The road, after winding considerably, crossed directly before the path they were taking. They heard a horse's hoofs come clattering along the hard road. They were just in time to be too late to meet Ellis. He passed them a moment before they could open the gate. His cap had fallen off; his hair was streaming wildly, and he was holding on by the mane with one hand, though he still tugged at the rein with the other. He saw them. He did not shout or cry for help, but his eye showed that he understood their object. Now was the most dangerous time. They were approaching the chalk-pit. If they followed too close they might frighten the pony, and produce the catastrophe they were anxious to avert. With great presence of mind they pulled suddenly up, and Ernest believed that their so doing had the effect of decreasing the speed of the runaway pony. They then trotted slowly on, till they trusted that Ellis had passed the point of extreme danger. Once more they put their ponies to their full speed. They almost dreaded to approach the spot, lest what they feared might have occurred. Ernest rode close to the brink of the pit. To his joy, there was no sign of the pony having gone near it, and they thought that they saw him in the distance. On they pushed after him.
Ellis himself, when he found that he was run away with, determined to do his best to stick on, hoping that by going up some hill or other the pony might be brought up. He forgot how high the forest was situated, and that it was chiefly downhill the pony would have to go. He did stick on, and bravely too, but very frequently he thought it would be in vain, and that he must be thrown off. He felt happier when he saw the attempts made by his friends to overtake him, even though they failed to accomplish their object.
At last Ernest despaired of catching the runaway, when he saw him at the commencement of a long straight road, with no short cut to it, by which he could hope to get ahead of Ellis. Still he and Buttar pursued. Ellis went on, how many miles he could not possibly tell; he thought a great number. He was getting very weary; his knees ached; so did his shoulders. The road was picturesque, overhanging with trees. There were houses ahead—a village, he thought. A boy in a field heard the pony coming along the road. He had on a white pinafore. As he jumped over the gate, it fluttered in the pony's face: that made him start, and poor Ellis was thrown with considerable violence against some palings on the opposite side of the road. His foot remained in the stirrup. On he was dragged, when a gentleman, hearing the cry of the little boy with the pinafore, came to the gate at the moment the pony was passing, and caught his head. The little country-lad came to assist, and held the pony while the gentleman disengaged Ellis's foot, and carried him into his cottage, which stood near the road. Not long after, Ernest and Buttar rode by.
"Are you companions of a young gentleman whose pony ran away just now?" asked a voice from the shrubbery.
They said yes, and were requested to come in.
"He is not materially injured," said a lady, who had spoken to them as they dismounted. "My husband has gone off, however, for a surgeon, a clever man, who lives near, and my son is sitting by him while I came out to watch for you. His great anxiety was that you should not miss him. Now we will go in."
They found Ellis already in bed. He complained of a great pain in the neck, and shoulder, and head, and the lady seemed to fear that he might have dislocated his shoulder, and received a concussion of the brain, and injured his spine.
Ellis, however, seemed not to be alarmed about himself, and only expressed his regret that he was giving so much trouble.
After a little time the surgeon came, and pronounced that no bones were either dislocated or broken, though the patient had been terribly shaken, and ought not to be moved, but said that he thought that in a day or two he would be all to rights.
The gentleman and lady, who said that their names were Arden, begged Ernest and Buttar to remain with their friend; but at last it was arranged that Buttar should ride back, to announce what had become of the other two, and that Ernest should remain to help to look after Ellis.
In the evening, when Ellis went to sleep, the rest of the party, with the exception of Mr and Mrs Arden's son, who sat watching by his side, were in the drawing-room.
"You are not a stranger to us," said Mrs Arden to Ernest. "We have the pleasure of knowing your family; and, if I mistake not, my son and your companion are old friends. My son thought so when he saw him, but was afraid to ask, lest he should agitate him. The meeting is most fortunate. My son, who was at school with him, has long been wishing to find him, but he could not discover his address. He was the means of causing a most undeserved suspicion to be cast on your friend's character, though he had the satisfaction of knowing that his master fully exonerated him. It must be acknowledged that there were suspicious circumstances against Edward Ellis, but my son felt sure that he was altogether incapable of the act imputed to him."
Mrs Arden then told Ernest all the circumstances which he had already heard from Selby.
"Now comes the part of the story most grievous to my son. Many months afterwards, he discovered the money he had lost in the secret drawer of his desk, where he put it that he might carry some silver in his purse. The silver he spent, and he has no doubt that he dropped the purse when pulling out his knife and some string from his pocket, exactly at the place where it was found."
Ernest was overjoyed at hearing this. "I am certain Edward Ellis would consent gladly to be run away with a hundred times, and have his collar-bone broken each time, for the sake of hearing this," he exclaimed, warmly.
After a time Henry Arden came down, and expressed his sorrow at his carelessness, and earnest wish to make all the amends in his power; and Ernest told him that the best amends he could make would be to come to school, and thoroughly to exculpate Ellis by telling the whole story. This he promised to do, and when Mr and Mrs Arden heard an account of the school, they declared their intention of sending their son to remain there permanently.
I need not describe the heartfelt satisfaction of Ellis, when he got better, at meeting his old school-fellow, and hearing from him the explanation of the mysterious circumstance which had so long really embittered his existence. Those were truly happy holidays, and he looked forward eagerly to the time when he might return to school, and lift up his head among his companions without a sense of shame, or the slightest slur attached to his name.
ETON AND ITS AMUSEMENTS.
Edward Ellis felt very differently to what he had ever before done when he returned to Grafton Hall. He was one of the first. His particular friends had not come back, but the other boys, not knowing what had happened to him, could not help remarking the change. He walked with a firmer step, he held his head more erect, and seemed altogether a changed being; yet he was at the same time the like good-tempered, kind, gentle, generous-minded fellow he had always been. In a few days the whole school were collected, and Ernest, and Buttar, and Bouldon and others welcomed him with even more than their usual cordiality. A new boy also had arrived,—it was said, indeed, several had come, for the school was rapidly increasing; they had been seen and judged of, but this one had not made his appearance. At last it was known that he was an old school-fellow of Barber's and Ellis's. The morning after his arrival he entered the school-room, holding by the hand of the Doctor, who led him up to his desk.
"Silence, boys," said the Doctor; "I have to introduce to you a new pupil of mine, but before he takes his place in the school he has made it an especial request that he may endeavour to make amends for a great wrong he was unintentionally the cause of inflicting on one who has for some time been your school-fellow—Edward Ellis. He will now speak for himself."
On this Henry Arden, in a clear distinct voice, repeated the account I have already given of the cause which led to the suspicion that Ellis had stolen his purse; blaming himself, at the same time, for his own neglect and stupidity.
"Since then I find," he added, "that the money of which he was possessed was entrusted to him by a wealthy relative, who had formed the highest possible opinion of his integrity and judgment, that he might distribute it as he thought fit among objects of charity. From henceforth I hope that you will all think as highly of Edward Ellis as those who know him best do. Three cheers for Edward Ellis!"
Three cheers were given, the Doctor leading, and three hearty cheers they were, such as the Doctor delighted to hear his boys give on fit occasions. Ellis tried to get up and speak, but his heart was far too full. After two or three brave attempts he was obliged to sit down.
"Bracebridge," he said, "do you get up and tell them all I feel. You know." Ernest got up, and made a very fitting speech for his friend, which was loudly applauded, and then three cheers were given for Ernest, as the "Favourite of the School." Ernest himself was somewhat taken aback at this, but he was very well pleased, and replied in a way which gained him yet further applause. From this time Ellis made still more rapid progress than before, and many people thought him not much inferior in talent to Ernest Bracebridge. He got up several steps, one after the other, but his success did not make him less humble than he had ever been. Out of doors, he made as great progress in his amusements. Cricket was now in, and in that finest and most interesting of English manly games he soon gained considerable proficiency. He used to play, and then only occasionally, with two or three small boys at single wicket; now he entered boldly into the game, and played whenever he could. Ernest, who was becoming one of the best players in the school, always got him on his side when he could. Soon after the commencement of the half there was to be a game between the six best players in Ernest's class and five others from any class except the highest, whom they might choose on one side, and five of the second class and six others from any other class below them. No school in England could boast of a better cricket-field than did that of Grafton Hall. It was, too, a lovely day when that game was played, and there were a good many spectators. Ernest and Ellis, Buttar, Bouldon, and two others of their class, together with several good players from other classes, formed their side. They were all resolved to play their best, and to fear nothing. They had the first innings.
"Now, Ellis," said Ernest, "you remember our first game at rounders. You thought you could do nothing with that, but you tried, and did as well as anybody. So you can with cricket. You have had fair practice, you know the principles, and you have no vices to overcome."
"I'll do my best, depend on that," answered Ellis, resolving to exert himself to the utmost. He had thought over and thoroughly studied the principles of the game, and as his eye was specially correct, he played far better than many who had infinitely more practice. To make a good cricketer, a person must have physical powers for it; he must study the principles of the game; why he should stand in certain positions, and why his bat should be kept in a particular way; and also he should practise it frequently, so as to make his hands and arms thoroughly obedient to the will. Buttar and Bouldon first went in. They made some capital hits. Bouldon scored twelve by as many runs from four hits in succession.
"Bravo, Tom!—bravo, Bouldon!" resounded on all sides. Bouldon got into high spirits; he felt as if the whole success of the game depended on him, that he could work wonders. He made one or two more capital hits, but every instant he was growing vainer and more confident. He began to hit wildly; to think more of hitting far than of where he sent the ball, or of how he guarded his wicket. Proper caution and forethought is required at cricket as well as in all the other affairs of life. A ball came swiftly and straight for his wicket. He hit it—off it flew, but the watchful eye of one of the other side was on it, and ere it reached the ground it was caught. Tom threw down his bat, and declared that he was always out of luck; that having done so well he hoped to have stayed in to the end. Another boy took his place. He also did good service to his side, but at length was bowled out. Buttar, who always played coolly, remained in. He got several runs, but seldom more than two at a time at the utmost. Ernest now went in. He had become a first-rate cricketer. He possessed strength, activity, eye, and judgment, all essential requisites to make a good player. Great things were therefore expected from him. He, of course wished to do his best. He quietly took up the bat, weighed it for a moment, and finding that he had a proper grasp, threw himself into the position ready for the ball. His first hit was a telling one. Often had he and Buttar played together, and they well knew what each could do. They ran three without risk. They looked at each other, to judge about trying a fourth one, but it was too much, they saw, to attempt. Had they, Ernest would have been out. Hit after hit was made, several, however, without getting runs, for the field was exerting itself to the utmost. If they could put these two players out quickly they might win easily; if not, they would have a hard struggle to beat them. Buttar played capitally, but at last he was growing weary, and a new bowler was sent in. The very first ball he delivered came curling round, and sprung in between the wicket and his bat, and down went his stumps. A very good player succeeded him, who, though he did not get many runs off his own bat, enabled Ernest to get them. He, however, after doing very well, made an imprudent run, and he was stumped out. Still Ernest kept in, and it was Ellis's turn to take the bat. All his former awkwardness of gait was gone. He stood well up to his bat. His first stroke showed that he was no despicable opponent, and he got four runs. This awakened up the field again, who had been expecting soon to get in. The two played capitally, and made their runs rapidly and fearlessly. They knew that the opposite side must play well to score as many as they had done. It was fine to see the two friends hitting away, and crossing each other as they made one run after another, almost insuring the success of their side. However, the best of players must be out at one time or the other. Ernest was caught out, and ultimately Ellis was run out by the next player who went in. At last the other side got their innings, and played well; but when the game was concluded it was found that Bracebridge's side scored thirty more than they had done,—an immense triumph to the lower class.
His success did Ellis a great deal of good, and he now made even more rapid progress than before, both in and out of school. It was the last time either he, or Ernest, or Buttar played in that class, for by Michaelmas they got another step, and by the Christmas holidays Ernest and Ellis got into the first class, distancing Buttar and Bouldon, who were only in the second. This rise was of the very greatest benefit to the school. The two first were now above Barber, and thus were able to exercise a considerable influence over him and fellows of his sort. They could look down also on Bobby Dawson, and several others who were inclined to patronise them when they first came to school. They also received all the support they could desire from Selby and other gentlemanly if not clever boys like him, and from warm-hearted enthusiastic ones like Arden and Eden. They completely, in the first place, put a stop to anything like systematic bullying. Of course, they could not at all times restrain the tempers of their companions, or prevent the strong from oppressing or striking the weak when no one was present. Bullies and tyrants, or would-be bullies and tyrants, are to be found everywhere; but when any little fellow complained to them, they never failed to punish the bully, and to bring to light any act of injustice, making the unjust doer right the wronged one. They did their utmost to put a stop to swearing or to the use of bad language. They at once and with the exertion of their utmost energy put down all indecent conversation; and if they found any boy employing it, they held him up to the reprobation and contempt of their companions. Falsehood of every description, either black lying or white lying, they exhibited in its true colours, as they did all dishonest or mean practices; indeed, they did their very utmost to show the faults and the weak points of what is too generally looked on as schoolboy morality. The system of fudging tasks, cribbing lessons, deception of every sort they endeavoured to overthrow. Some people might suppose that they undertook far more than they could perform, but this was not the case; all they undertook was to do their best. They did it, and succeeded even beyond their own expectations. Of course they at first met with a great deal of opposition. They knew well that they should do that. Some fellows even asked them for their authority in acting as they presumed to do.
"Here is our authority," answered Ellis, the colour coming into his cheeks and his eye flashing. He lifted up a Bible which he held in his hand. "We are ordered to do all the good we can in this world: we are doing it by trying to improve the character of the boys in the school. We are ordered to exert our power and influence to the utmost to do good: all the power and influence we possess we are exerting for that purpose. You see we are doing nothing strange; only our duty."
Some few of the boys sneered at Ellis behind his back for what he had said, but they were the meanest and worst boys in the school. No one uttered a word before his face; the greater number applauded him, and wished they could follow his example.
It is impossible to describe the various events which took place at Grafton Hall during the time Ernest was there. He gained more and more the good opinion of the Doctor, and of all the masters, and at length reached, more rapidly than any boy had before done, the head of the school. He gained this distinction by the employment to the best advantage of a bright, clear intellect; by steady application to study; by an anxious wish to do his duty; by never losing an opportunity of gaining information; and more especially, by not fancying himself a genius, and that he could get on without hard reading. Those were very happy days at Grafton Hall, both for him and his immediate friends, as also for the boys below him.
Another Christmas passed by, and another summer drew on. It was understood that he would leave at the end of another half. As the boys rose to the top of the school at Grafton Hall, they had many privileges and advantages which, of course, the younger ones did not possess. They had separate sleeping-rooms, where they might study, and they enjoyed a considerable amount of liberty. One day Bouldon came into Ernest's room in high glee.
"Come along, Bracebridge; it's all settled! You are to go, and so is Ellis. We are to be back in four days; but we will enjoy those four days thoroughly."
"I have no doubt that we shall," said Ernest quietly, looking up from his desk. "But where are we to go?—when are we to go?—what are we to do? Tell me all about it; you have not done so yet."
"To be sure I have not! How stupid of me!" said Bouldon, laughing. "I forgot that you did not know anything about a plan I formed long ago. You know that I have a brother at Eton—a jolly good fellow—a year older than I am. There is not a better brother in the United Kingdom than my brother Jack. Well, for the last two years, I should think, he has wanted me to go down to see him while he's at school; but as our holidays are much about the same time, I've not been able to manage it. Lately, he has been writing home about it; and, at last, he has persuaded our father to get leave for me to go from the Doctor, and to invite two friends. I fixed on you at once, and it was a toss up whether I should ask Buttar or Ellis; and I thought that the trip would be more novel and amusing to Ellis than to Buttar. The Doctor did not give in at first; but then he said you were both of you deserving of reward, and that if you wished to go you might. Of course, you'll wish to go; you'll enjoy it mightily."
Ernest thought that he should, and so did Ellis, who was quickly summoned to the conference; and the Doctor having been prepared to grant their request, gave them leave directly they asked it, giving them only some sound advice for their guidance during their stay among strangers. In high spirits they all set off for London, and were soon carried by the Great Western down to Eton. Tom had told his brother when to expect them, and Jack Bouldon was at the Windsor Station ready to receive them. He fully answered the description which had been given of him.
"I'm so glad you are come!" he exclaimed. "We have a fine busy time of it—lots to do. I've luncheon for you in my room. We are to dine at my tutor's, to meet our father, you know, Tom; and after it we'll go and see the boating. I belong to a boat; but I have sprained my arm, and mustn't pull, which is a horrid bore. Come along, though."
It is extraordinary how quickly Ernest and Ellis became acquainted with their new friend, and how fine a fellow they could not help thinking him, though he was scarcely older than either of them. They had not gone far when Jack stopped in front of Layton's the pastry-cook's.
"Come in here, by the by," he exclaimed, pulling Ernest by the arm. "I ordered some refreshment as I came along; we should not be able to do without it, do you see."
The visitors required but little persuasion to enter, and as soon as they appeared a supply of ices and strawberry messes were placed before them.
"No bad things!" they pronounced them.
"No, indeed!" said Jack, carelessly. "They slip down the throat pleasantly enough. We don't patronise anything that isn't good at Eton, let me assure you."
All present fully concurred in this opinion, the food they were discussing being a strong argument in its favour; but at last the strawberry messes came to an end, and they continued their walk into Eton. Although the town itself did not exactly excite their admiration, they expressed their pleasure when they saw the college buildings, and the meadows, and the rapidly-flowing clear river, and the view of Windsor Castle, rising proudly above all, a residence worthy of England's sovereigns.
"Now," said Jack Bouldon, "come along to my tutor's. You'll want some rest before the fun of the day begins."
His tutor's house was a very comfortable, large one, not far from the college gates. Jack ushered them into his room. He was not a little proud of it. It was all his own, his castle and sanctum. It was not very richly furnished, but it looked thoroughly comfortable. There was a turn-up bedstead, and washhand-stand, which also shut up, and prevented it having too much the appearance of a bedroom. A good-looking, venerable oak bureau served to hold most of the occupant's clothes, below which, in the upper part, were his cups and saucers; and in the centre his writing materials. In one corner was a chest, containing a quantity of miscellaneous articles too numerous to name; and in another was a cricket-bat and fishing-rod, while the walls were adorned with some prints of sporting scenes, one or two heroes of the stage, and another of the Duke of Wellington; a table, an arm-chair, and three common chairs completing the furniture of the apartment.
"You are cozy here, Jack," said his brother, throwing himself into a seat, and pulling Ernest into the arm-chair. "There's nothing like independence!"
"As to that, we have enough of it, provided we stick to rules," answered the Etonian. "However, I don't find much difficulty in the matter. I like my tutor, and he is very considerate, so I get on very well."
"But, I say, Jack, what do you do? How do you amuse yourselves all the year round," asked Tom Bouldon. "You Eton fellows seemed to me, as far as I could make out, to do nothing else but play cricket and boat. All other games you vote as low, don't you?"
"Not at all," answered Jack. "Let me see. At the beginning of the year, between Christmas and Easter, we have fives. You know how to play it. We have very good fives-courts. We play fifteen up. Then we have hockey; that's a capital game. You play it at your school, don't you? But, after all, there is nothing like making up a party to go jumping across country. It is rare fun, scrambling through hedges, tearing across ploughed fields, leaping wide ditches and brooks, and seeing fellows tumbling in head over heels. Then we have running races in the play-fields, of about a hundred yards, which is enough considering the pace at which fellows go. Better fun still are our hurdle races; and a fellow must leap well to run in them. But the greatest fun of all are our steeple-chases, of about two and a-half miles, over a stiffish country, let me tell you. There are no end of ditches, streams, and brooks with muddy banks, into which half the fellows who run manage to tumble, and to come out very like drowned chimney-sweepers. Those are all good amusements for cold weather. From Easter to the end of July is our great time for games. Of course, cricket and boating are the chief. You understand that our playing-fields are divided between different clubs. Every fellow subscribes to one or the other of our clubs. The lowest is called the Sixpenny; that belongs to the lower boys; they are, you will understand, all those in the upper school below the fifth form. Then there is the Lower Club, to which those in the fifth form belong who are not considered to play well enough in the upper club. Only, of course, first-rate players can belong to that. It is the Grand Club to which the eleven belong, and those who play equally well, and will some day become one of them. There is another club called the Aquatics, which belongs exclusively to the members of the boats. Cricketing is fine work; but, for my part, I like boating even better. Here, before a fellow is allowed to go on the river, he is obliged to learn to swim. It is a very necessary rule, for formerly many fellows lost their lives in consequence of being unable to swim. There are numerous bathing places on our river devoted to our especial use, and at each of them is stationed, with his punt, a paid waterman belonging to the college, whose sole duty it is to teach the boys to swim. Twice every week during the summer one of the masters in turns examines into the swimming qualifications of the boys, and he gives a certificate of proficiency to those whom he considers can swim well enough to preserve their lives if capsized in a boat. After a boy is qualified he is allowed to boat on the river. The masters generally make him swim thirty-five yards up and down the stream, and then about ten across it, round a punt, and back again to the point from which he started. Some fellows very quickly do this, if they are strong and not afraid; in fact, if they feel that they can do it. Others never gain any confidence, and if they were capsized could do very little to help themselves. In most cases, the first thing a fellow does when he wants to begin to boat is to agree with some chum to take a boat between them. This costs them five pounds for the summer-half. It is called a lock-up, because when it is not being used it is supposed to be carefully locked up in the boat-house. Sometimes fellows who do not care so much about boating, and don't want to give five pounds, pay a smaller sum, and take any chance boat which may be disengaged. The boats we generally use are called tubs, tunnies, and outriggers. Besides these there are 'The Boats' especially so called. There are seven of them, all eight-oared. Anybody can join these who is in the fifth form. There are three upper and four lower boats; that is, three belong to the upper and four to the lower fifth form. Each has her captain, who fills up his crew from the candidates who present themselves. The higher boats have, of course, the first choice, according to their rank. Each crew wears a different coloured shirt from the others, and have different coloured ribbons on their straw hats. On grand occasions, as to-day, we all appear in full dress, and a very natty one I think you will agree that it is."
Ernest and Ellis listened attentively to the description, and could not for the moment help wishing that they also were Eton boys. Luncheon was soon over, for the ices and strawberry messes had somewhat damped their appetites. Then they went out into the playing-fields, where a cricket-match was going forward. Jack Bouldon pointed out some of their crack players with no little pride.
"There's Jeffcott; he's at my tutor's," he observed. "The tall fellow with the light hair; he's just going in. Did you see how beautifully Strangeways was caught out? See! Jeffcott is certain of making a good hit. I knew it! He'll get two runs at least. There's Osbaldiston, the fellow who is in with him. It's worth watching him. He's even a better player than Jeffcott, though he is still so young. There! I knew it! What a grand hit! Run! run! three times, you'll do it! Capital! He's at my tutor's. A first-rate fellow, and expects to be one of the eleven next half."
So Jack Bouldon ran on, his companions heartily joining in his enthusiasm. Then they went back to his tutor's, as dinner was to be early, to be over in time for the boating in the evening. They there found Mr Bouldon, who expressed himself much pleased at meeting Ernest and Ellis, as friends of his son's. Dinner they thought the slowest part of the day's amusements, and were very glad when the time came for them to repair to the Brocas. That is the name given to the field by the river whence the boats start.
The Brocas presented a very gay and animated appearance as the crews of the boats, and the other boys, and the visitors began to collect from all directions. As Jack Bouldon had said, the costume of the boats' crews was very natty. It consisted of a striped calico shirt of some bright colour; white trousers, with a belt round the waist; a coloured necktie, to suit the shirt; a straw hat, and a ribbon round it to match, the rest of the dress; silk stockings, and pumps with gold buckles. The ribbons round the hats had the name of the boats on them, with some appropriate device, and generally a wreath of flowers worked on them. Nothing, indeed, could well exceed the neatness and elegance of the boating dresses; so Ernest and his friends agreed.
The crews now quickly took their seats in the boats. They went about the business easily, as if they were going to take part in a naval review rather than in any serious engagement. The boats, as they were ready, began to leave the Brocas, the lowest boat going first, and laying off in the stream till all were ready. Then a signal was given, and away they started, the highest boat leading, and the rest in order taking one turn up and down before the Brocas, that the spectators might have the opportunity of admiring them.
At about three miles from Eton is a place called Surly. Here a repast, on tables spread in the open air, was prepared for them; and as the boats' crews were expected to be not a little thirsty after their long pull, some bottles of champagne were provided for each boat. After the boats had been sufficiently admired by the spectators on the Brocas, off they started, as fast as the pullers could bend to their oars, with long and sweeping strokes towards Surly, accompanied by a boat with a band of music playing enlivening strains.
Jack Bouldon, though he could not pull himself, had secured a boat for his father and his friend, and a crew to man her; and as soon as the boats had gone off, they all jumped into her, that they might follow and see the fun. Each boat had her sitter jealously guarding the exhilarating beverage.
They were not long in reaching Surly. The crews landed, and lost no time in seating themselves to enjoy their cold collation, or in quenching their thirst in the hissing, popping, sparkling champagne. The viands were quickly despatched and thoroughly relished, aided by music and champagne, and good appetites; and then toast after toast succeeded in rapid succession, all drunk with the greatest enthusiasm,—"The Queen," and "Floreat Etona," however, calling forth even a still greater amount of applause. Capacious as champagne bottles may be, their contents will come to an end; and this consummation having occurred, once more the crews embarked in their boats and commenced their homeward voyage, music, fun, and laughter enlivening the way.
It was dusk as they approached Eton, where, in the centre of the river, a vessel was moored, whence, as they began to pull round her, burst forth a magnificent display of fireworks. Then the crews of the boats stood up, and, waving their hats, cheered vociferously. Up went the rockets, surrounding them, as it were, with a sparkling dome of fire, and afterwards, in succession, burst forth Catherine wheels, spiral wheels, grand volutes, brilliant yew-trees, and showers of liquid fire, and a number of other productions of the pyrotechnic art too numerous to describe.
The boats continued pulling slowly round and round the vessel all the time of the exhibition, producing a very pretty and enlivening effect.
As Jack Bouldon and his friends walked back to his tutor's, of course he enlarged on the excellencies of Eton, and the amusements of the school.
"Oh, I wish that you would come back at the end of the half, and see our pulling matches, and swimming and diving matches! We have several of all sorts. We have a grand race between two sides of college, the upper and lower boats. Then there is a sculling sweepstakes, open to all the school. The prize is a cup and a pair of silver sculls, which the winner holds for a year, and on giving them up has his name inscribed on them; so that he has the honour of being known ever after as a first-rate sculler. Then there is a rowing sweepstakes for a pair of oars, which is also open to all the school; and each of the houses have their own private sweepstakes, when they draw lots for pairs. The distance we row is about two and a-half miles. Now I must tell you about the swimming matches which we have at the end of the half. There is one prize for the best swimmer in the school, and another for the best swimmer of those who have passed that half. In the diving matches we dive for chalk eggs, and out of fifteen thrown in, I have seen as many as twelve brought up. I have brought up nine myself, and I cannot boast of being first-rate. Another prize is given to the boy who takes the best header from a high bank; and those are all the prizes given. We have another grand day, called Election Saturday, the arrangements for which are very like to-day. The chief difference is, that the eight are chosen out of all the boats, and row by themselves, in their dress of Eton-blue shirts, and blue hat-bands and ties, as I have described to you."
It was nearly half-past ten when the boys got back to Jack's tutor's, and he had to leave them, while they went to the inn with Mr Bouldon, who had undertaken to see them off the following morning, on their return to Grafton Hall.
They all declared that they never had enjoyed so amusing a day as that spent at Eton.
"Had anybody told me when I came to this school that three years would so rapidly pass by, I would not have believed them," said Ernest, addressing Ellis, Buttar, and Bouldon, as the four old friends were walking up and down the playground, ready to form for proceeding to church the last Sunday they were to spend together at Grafton Hall before the summer holidays. "I should have been glad to have remained here another half, or even a year, but my father wishes me to read with a tutor whose exclusive occupation it is to prepare fellows for India; so I am to go to him in a few weeks. I intend to read hard, for I am resolved not to be idle wherever I go."
"Oh, I envy you!" exclaimed Bouldon, "for I know that you will get on; and I wish you may, that you may come back again safe and sound to old England."
"Oh, I must not think of coming back for years, I fear," answered Ernest. "The less one calculates in that way the better. I suspect that people are too apt to neglect the present when they allow their thoughts to dwell too much on the future. The great thing is, as my father says, to do our duty during the present, and to enjoy life as it was intended that we should enjoy it, and to allow the future to take care of itself. I do not mean to say that we are to neglect the future, but that we are not to fancy always that the future is to bring forth so much more happiness than the present time can afford. You understand what I mean, or rather what my father means. Now, Gregson is an example to the point. See how happy he always is. He is happy in doing his lessons, because he gives his whole mind to them; and though his talents are not brilliant, he always does them well. Then the moment they are done, he turns to his favourite pursuits. Then he is as happy as he can desire to be in this life. He is not idle for a moment; every book he opens on natural history gives him pleasure; every walk he takes he finds something new and delightful. The birds of the air, the beasts of the field, the creeping things on the earth and under the earth, the trees, the flowers, their numberless inhabitants, all are matters of intense interest to him. He cannot look into a horse-pond without finding subjects for study for days together. Every stream is a mine of wealth; and as for the ocean the smallest portion affords objects the study of which is inexhaustible. Depend upon it, that it would be worth living for the sake of enjoying the study of natural history alone. Then see what vast fields of interest does each branch of science exhibit. The more I inquire into these matters, the more convinced I am that life ought to be a very delightful state of existence, and that it is our own fault if it is not so."
Thus Ernest gave expression to his opinions. He laid considerable stress on mental occupation, but he did not altogether forget that man is susceptible of a very considerable amount of physical enjoyment, which he is too apt, through his own folly, to lose. It is not often that lads of Ernest's age think as he did, nor is it often that those who do have listeners so ready and eager to imbibe his opinions.
The signal was given, the boys fell into order, and marched off to church. It is matter for thought, and solemn thought too, when one feels that one is visiting a place of interest for the last time; but there should be something peculiarly affecting when one kneels for the last time in a place of worship where one has knelt for years, and offered up our prayers and petitions, and sung our songs of praise, to that great and good Being who is our life, our protector, our support, united with many hundreds of our fellow-creatures. Perhaps with not one of them may we ever kneel or pray again, but yet one and all of them we shall meet at that great and awful day when we stand before the judgment-seat of Heaven. How shall we all have been employing ourselves in the meantime? What will then be our doom? How vain, how frivolous will earthly ambition, wealth, or honours appear!
Such thoughts as these passed rapidly through Ernest's mind as he sat and listened to the good, the kind, and faithful minister of the parish.
Ernest had many last things to do before he left school. He had to play his last game of cricket, to climb the gymnastic pole for the last time, to take a walk over his favourite downs, to pay many last visits to rich and poor alike. John Hodge was not forgotten. The assistance given by Ellis, and him, and Buttar helped the poor man along till his strength returned, and once more, to his great satisfaction, he was able to resume work. Ernest could not feel altogether sad: that would not have been natural; and yet he was truly sorry to part from his friends and schoolfellows, and from the old familiar scenes he had known so long. He had, however, plenty of work to keep his mind employed. There were examinations to be gone through, speeches to be made, and prizes to be bestowed. The parents of the boys, and the residents in the neighbourhood who took an interest in the school, were invited to attend. All the examinations which admitted of it were viva voce, and took place in the lecture-halls, to which the visitors repaired as they felt interested in the subject, or in the boys who were undergoing their examinations. Several people followed Ernest through the whole course of his examinations, and were much struck by the clear, ready way in which he replied to all the questions put to him, and the evidence he gave of having entirely mastered all the subjects he had studied. All those capable of judging were convinced that, numerous as were the subjects he had studied, he was in no way crammed, but was thoroughly grounded in them all.
After the examinations, the visitors and the boys assembled under a large awning, which had been spread for the purpose. At one end was a raised platform, where several of the most influential gentlemen, many of them clergymen, and others, as well as the head-master, took their seats with the boys of the first class, while the rest were arranged below. First an oration was spoken by several boys, candidates for a prize, to be bestowed on the best orator. Ernest, Buttar, Ellis, and several others tried for it. All spoke well, but Ernest was found to have double as many votes as any other boy. Then the gentleman who had been placed in the chair got up, and expressed his approbation of the system on which the school was managed, and his satisfaction at finding the very great progress it had made; and he concluded—"I consider those boys truly fortunate who are under such a master, and in so delightful an abode." Then the names of the boys who had gained prizes were called over, and one after the other, with looks of satisfaction, ascended the platform to receive them. Ernest came down literally loaded with prizes. He looked surprised as well as pleased. He was first in everything. The reason that he was so was simple enough. He had bestowed the same attention and energy on all the subjects he had studied; he had given them his entire mind; all his talents had been employed on them; consequently, he could scarcely fail to obtain a similar success in all.
The prizes consisted chiefly of books, mathematical instruments, and drawing materials. After they were distributed, the chairman once more rose, and congratulating Ernest on his success, complimented the Doctor on having educated so promising a pupil and on the admirable discipline of the school itself.
The visitors and boys repaired to the large dining-hall, where a handsome dinner was spread.
"Why, Doctor, you have given us a magnificent feast," exclaimed Mr Bouldon, who had come to see his son. "I suspect you youngsters don't get such a dinner as this every day."
"But indeed we do," shouted out Tom Bouldon. "Ask the Doctor; he'll not tell you an untruth."
"Your son states what is the case," replied the Doctor, "except, perhaps, with regard to quantity—we have certainly the same quality of food every day, and served in the same way. My object is to make my boys gentlemen in all the minor as well as in all the more important points of breeding. I believe that it is important for this object to give them from the first gentlemanly habits which can never be eradicated. They all, I hope, love their homes for their domestic ties, but for no other reason do I wish them to prefer any place to their school. The result is, I rejoice to say, that we have no Black Monday at Grafton Hall, and that I see as happy, smiling faces in most instances at the commencement of a half-year as I do at the end of it, when they are about to quit me."
Ernest had never made an impromptu speech before, but he could not now resist the impulse he felt, so rising, he exclaimed—
"What the Doctor says, ladies and gentlemen, is very true. I, as the head of the school, and just about to leave, may assuredly be considered good evidence. He has made the school a happy home to us all; he has made us like learning by the pleasant way in which he has imparted knowledge to us, at the same time that he has shown us the importance of working out most branches of it for ourselves. He has invariably treated us justly; and while he has acted towards us with strictness, he has also never failed in his kindness under all circumstances, and at all times. He has always been indulgent when he could, and has done everything to insure our health, our comfort, and amusement; I cannot say more. It is my belief that Grafton Hall is one of the happiest and best schools in England, and that Dr Carr has made it so. Heaven bless you, sir."
Amidst thundering rounds of applause from all his schoolfellows Ernest sat down. The Doctor was very much affected at the way Ernest had spoken. The party at last broke up. The next day the boys went home, and Ernest found himself no longer, properly speaking, a schoolboy. Still he was in no hurry to shake off his schoolboy's habits and feelings. After spending a few weeks at home, he went down to his new tutor at Ryde, in the Isle of Wight. The house stood high up, overlooking Portsmouth and Spithead, where England's proud fleets are wont to assemble at anchor. It was the yachting season, and the place was full of visitors.
The day after his arrival he went out, and one of the first people he encountered was Ellis. The friends were delighted to meet. The latter soon explained the cause of his being there. His father and mother had come to Ryde, and had secured a very nice little yacht for him, small compared to the large vessels which form the navy of the different clubs, but quite large enough to sail about in every direction on the waters of the Solent.
"It was one of my favourite amusements," said Ellis. "In truth it was the only one, till you taught me to like cricket and other games at school. Now you must come and learn about yachting with me."
Ernest said that he should like it much, but that he must read hard with his tutor.
"The very thing to help your reading," pleaded Ellis. "Ask him, and if he is a sensible man he will tell you that if you take a trip now and then on the water it will refresh your brains, and you will be able to read all the better for it."
To Ernest's surprise, his tutor fully agreed with the advice Ellis had given him, and it was not long before he found himself on the deck of the "Fairy." Such was the name Ellis had given to his yacht. Scarcely had Ernest stepped on board than he set to work to make himself acquainted with all the details of the vessel. The use of the helm and the way the wind acts on the sails he understood clearly. He had studied theoretically the principle of balancing the sails with the wind, and also the mode in which the water acts on the hull. He had read about leeway, and headway, and sternway; and now that he had an opportunity of examining the practical working of these theories, he hoped to master the subject thoroughly, so as never to forget it, and to be able, when called on, to make it of use. At first the old sailor, who acted as the master of the yacht, and for that matter crew also, for there was only a boy besides, seemed inclined to look on Ernest as a green hand, and to turn up his nose at him. Ernest, however, did not show that he perceived this, and went about very quietly, gaining all the information he required.
"What is this rope called?" he asked of the old man while Ellis was below, before he got under way.
"The main sheet, sir," was the answer.
Ernest made no other remark, but he examined where one end was secured; he ran his eye along it from block to block, and calculated how much of it was coiled away.
"These are the shrouds, I know; and this?" he asked.
"The backstay, sir," replied the old man.
He underwent a thorough examination.
"And this, I see, must be the topmast backstay; and this the forestay; and that the topmast stay. Is it not so?" he asked.
Thus he went on, rapidly learning not only the names, but the uses of all the ropes, and of everything on deck. By the time Ellis returned on deck he was surprised to find that Ernest had already made himself at home on board, and, as he said, was ready to lend a hand to pull and haul if required.
"The tide will soon have made, and we shall be able to get to the westward," said Ellis, looking about him. "We'll set the mainsail, Hobbs, and be all ready for a start."
Preparations were accordingly made to set the mainsail. The throat was hoisted nearly up; the peak was half hoisted; then the jib was bent on, and hauled out to the bowsprit end.
"Come, Ernest, bowse away on the bobstay," cried Ellis.
Ernest was for a moment at fault, but when he saw his friend hauling away on a rope forward, he took hold of it, and soon guessed its object.
"Let us tauten the bowsprit shrouds a bit," said Ellis. Ernest knew what that meant. The jib was hoisted and bowsed well up, then the backstays, and the topmast-stays were tautened. "Now, Hobbs, go to the helm; we'll get the foresail up." Ernest helped Ellis to hoist away on the fore-halliards; the old master overhauled the main sheet while Ellis overhauled the lee-runner and tackle. The throat he settled a little, that is, he let the inner end of the gaff drop a little, and then he and Ernest gave all their strength to hoisting the peak of the mainsail well up. The mainsail now stood like a board; the wind was light, so the gaff-topsail was set, and then, as Ellis wished to cast off-shore, he watched till the wind came on the port or left side of the foresail. Instantly he let go the moorings, and the Fairy's head turned towards the north, or across channel; the jib sheet was hauled in, so was the main sheet; the foresail was let draw, and the little vessel, feeling the full force of the breeze, glided swiftly along through the sparkling waters.
Ernest clapped his hands. "Oh, this is truly delightful," he exclaimed, after they had been skimming along for some time, enjoying the view of Spithead, where several large ships were at anchor; of Ryde, climbing up its steep hill; of Cowes, to the westward, and the wooded shores of the Solent extending in the same direction as far as the eye could reach. The wind freshened up again, and they had a magnificent sail, looking into Cowes harbour and standing through the roads, where some dozen fine yachts were at anchor, and some twenty more cruising about in sight. They passed Calshot Castle on the north, and beat on till they sighted Hurst Castle, at the entrance of the Solent passage to the westward, while the little town of Yarmouth appeared on the island shore, and Lymington on the mainland.
"The wind is likely to fall towards the evening, and if you young gentlemen wishes to get home before night, we had better be about," said old Hobbs, looking up at the sky on every side.
Although Ellis was very fond of anchoring whenever he felt inclined, or the tide and wind made it convenient, and of sleeping on board, or of keeping under way all night, Ernest was anxious to get back to read during the evening; the helm was therefore put up, the main sheet was eased away, and the "Fairy" ran off to the eastward before the wind.
Ellis was at the helm. "As we are in a hurry, we will make more sail, and see how fast the little barkie can walk along; Hobbs, get the square-sail on her."
"Ay, ay, sir," was the reply; and the sail being hauled up from forward, was bent on to its yard, and soon being swayed up, presented a fine wide field of snowy canvas to the breeze. Thus the little craft bowled along, till once more she approached her moorings off Ryde. Then the square-sail was taken in, and the jib being let fly, Ellis put down the helm, and shot her up to the buoy, which old Hobbs, boat-hook in hand, stood ready to catch hold of and haul on board.
"I have never enjoyed a day more," exclaimed Ernest; "now I must go home and read as hard as I can to make up for lost time."
"You will read all the better, as I said, and come as often as you can; we will do our best to get back so that you may not lose all the day." This was said by Ellis as they parted.
The next time Ernest came down to sail in the "Fairy" he found Arden, whom Ellis, having met at Ryde, had invited to join them. Arden was a very nice little fellow; the only and treasured child of his father and mother, and had always been delicately nurtured; too delicately, I suspect, for he had been prevented from engaging in many of the manly exercises which are so important in fitting a boy to meet the rough usage of the world. He could thus neither climb nor swim, and as Ellis said, was very much like a fish out of water on board a boat, though he was very unlike one in the water. He was, however, now anxious to remedy some of his defects, and finding sailing pleasant, was glad to accompany Ellis whenever he asked him.
The old schoolfellows got on board, as merry and happy as lads who feel conscious that they have been working hard and doing their duty can be. Those, I hold, who are viciously employed and neglecting their duty can never be happy. The wind was from the same quarter as the last time Ernest was on board, though there was rather more of it. The "Fairy" having been got under way, stood over to the north shore, and then tacked and stood towards Cowes. As she bounded buoyantly over the waves, the spirits of the three schoolfellows rose high. Ernest added considerably to his stock of nautical knowledge, while Arden was exercising his muscles by climbing up the rigging, hanging on to the shrouds by his hands, and swinging himself backwards and forwards. All this time the breeze freshening, the gaff-topsail had just been stowed; old Hobbs was at the helm, and Ellis himself was to windward, when Arden, in the pride of his newly-acquired accomplishment, as he was running forward on the lee-side, as he said, to take a swing on the shrouds, his foot slipped, he lost his balance, and before he could clutch a rope, over the slight bulwarks he went, head foremost into the water. Ernest was sitting on the same side of the little vessel. Quick as thought, before Ellis, who had been looking to windward, knew what had happened, or Arden could cry out, Ernest sprang overboard. He knew that every instant would increase the difficulty of saving his friend: he threw off neither shoes nor jacket; there was no time for that. Arden came to the surface, and stretching out his arms towards him shrieked out, "Save me, save me! O my mother!" Ernest struck out bravely through the water towards him, while the little cutter flew on; it seemed leaving them far behind: such was not the case, however. Old Hobbs giving a look behind his shoulder to see where they were, put down the helm, that he might put the vessel about as rapidly as possible, and heave-to, while Ellis could jump into the punt to their rescue.
Ernest had no time to consider what was to be done; his first aim was to get hold of Arden and to keep his head above water. The poor lad, unaccustomed to the water, quickly lost all presence of mind, and was striking out wildly and clutching at the air. Ernest saw the danger there would be in approaching him, and therefore, instead of swimming directly for him, took a circuit and then darted rapidly at him from behind. Grasping him by the collar, by a strong turn of his arm he threw him on his back, and then he held him while he himself trod water, and assisted himself to float with his left hand.
"Don't be alarmed, now, Arden, my dear fellow; keep your arms quiet and you will float easily," he exclaimed. "There, just look up at the sky; now you find that your face is perfectly out of the water; never mind if your head sinks a little; steady, so, all right, old fellow."
With words to give confidence and encouragement, Ernest tried to calm poor Arden's fears; yet he himself turned many an anxious glance towards the yacht.
The instant Ellis had heard Arden's cry and saw Ernest in the water, he leaped up and hauled the punt, towing astern, up alongside.
"Wait, sir, wait till we are about," said Hobbs; "you'll be nearer to them then, and on the same side they are."
Ellis saw this, and as the cutter came round he jumped into the punt and shoved off. Ernest saw his friend coming. He began to feel more anxious than before. The punt was small, and he was afraid, should Arden struggle, she also might be capsized. He therefore urged Arden to remain perfectly quiet, while Ellis hauled him in. The moment Ellis reached them he threw in his oars, and wisely leaning over the bows, caught hold of Arden's collar and lifted him partly out of the water, while Ernest swam round to the stern and climbed in over it. He now was able to come to Ellis's assistance, and together they hauled in poor Arden, more frightened than hurt, over the bows. They soon made him safe in the little cabin of the cutter, with his clothes stripped off, and he himself wrapped up in a blanket. The clothes quickly dried in the warm sun and air, and he was able to be the first to describe his accident to his parents, and to speak of Ernest's gallant conduct in saving him.
"My dear Arden," replied Ernest, when the former was overwhelming him with thanks, "I learned to swim, and know how to retain my presence of mind. Had you been able, you would have done the same for me; so say no more about it."
Young Arden did not say much more about it, nor did Mr Arden to Ernest himself; but he had powerful friends in India, and when, after some months Bracebridge arrived there, he found himself cordially welcomed, and placed in a position where he had full scope for the exercise of his talents.
For some time Ernest Bracebridge had not heard from any of his old schoolfellows. War was raging. His regiment, with others, was appointed to attack a stronghold of the enemy. He led on his men with a gallantry for which he had been ever conspicuous, but they met with a terrific opposition. Almost in vain they struggled on. Again and again they were beaten back, and as often encouraged by their brave leader, they charged the foe. At length he fell. His men rallied round him to carry him off, when there was a loud cheer—a fresh regiment was coming to their support. Ernest looked up. They were Queen's troops. He saw the face of the officer who led them, as, waving his sword, he dashed by. Ernest shouted, "Ellis—Ellis!" The enemy could not stand the shock of the British bayonets. They fled in confusion. Ernest heard the cry, "They run—they run." Then he sunk, exhausted from loss of blood.
At length the blood was stanched, a cordial was poured down his throat, and looking up, he saw the countenance of his old friend Edward Ellis bending anxiously over him. Ellis bore him to his tent, and nursed him with the care of a brother. Together in many a hard-fought fight they served their country, and often talked of their old schoolfellows, of the kind Doctor, and of the happy days they spent at Grafton Hall.