"It was a very wrong spirit," replied Louis; "the fact is, Reginald, I have not been serving God lately, though at first I did not know it myself. I thought I did a great many things when I came back to school, because it would glorify God; when, I really believe now, the reason was—to be praised for it. Every one seemed to think so much of me, and that every thing I did was right. I have wished so many times lately, that all the trouble of last half-year might come again if I should be so happy. But, Reginald, when the boys would not speak to me, then I knew by my angry feelings that I only cared for myself; and I saw that I had not been serving God, and I became afraid to pray. Sometimes so strangely, when I knew I was in the wrong, and that I ought to pray for help to be better, yet I wanted to look grand, and to show I didn't care, and I never used the time I had, and that's very little here, Reginald. I have been thinking of myself almost ever since I came back—I have been thinking of glorifying myself!" He paused, and then added, in a lower tone, "I fancied I was not selfish, but now I know I am!"
When Reginald went away, Louis had long and quiet time to trace the reason of his sad falling away, and to make his peace with Him whose great name he had so dishonored. Earnestly, humbly, and sorrowfully did he confess his faults. How bowed to the earth he felt, in the consciousness of his utter impotence! He remembered how confident he had been in his good name; and now he became aware, in this silent self-examination, how mixed his motives had been, how full of vanity and vain-glory he had been, how careless in waiting for "more grace," how little he had thought of pressing forward, how wanting he had been in that single heart that thought only of doing the work committed to him regardless of the approbation of men—that only desired to know what was right in order fearlessly to follow it; and unutterable were the tearful desires of his heart that he might be strengthened for the time to come to walk more worthy of the vocation wherewith he was called.
"I will heal their backslidings, I will love them freely; for mine anger is turned away from him. Ephraim shall say, What have I to do any more with idols?"—Hosea xiv. 4, 8.
"I will hear what God the Lord will speak: for He will speak peace to His people, and to His saints, but let them not turn again to folly."—Psalm lxxxv. 8.
Louis awoke from a calm, sound sleep very early the next morning, with a dim, indistinct recollection of having, when half awake during the night, seen Dr. Wilkinson standing by him, and of a consciousness of a hand being laid on his forehead and his hands; but, as he did not feel certain, much less suppose it likely, he settled that he must have dreamed it. It was quite dark when he awoke, and it was some few minutes before the events of the preceding day ranged themselves in any order in his mind; and then his thoughts flew to that rest whence they had been so long absent.
In about half an hour, several of his school-fellows began to rouse themselves, and, a candle or two being lighted, dressing was hastily accomplished; and, rolling themselves up in counterpanes and blankets, shawl fashion, they proceeded to pore over the books they had brought up the night before.
"I don't mean to get up," growled Frank; "it's a great deal more comfortable in bed. Clifton, bring me my candle here, and put it on that chair—I shall make a studium of my couch."
"Dr. Wilkinson asked if we read with candles near the beds," said Clifton. "He said he wouldn't have us read in bed unless it were daylight, Digby."
"Well, we'll suppose he didn't," said Frank, "so come along."
"No, I won't," said Clifton, sitting down, near a chest of drawers, on which was a candle, the joint property of himself, Reginald, and Louis.
"You won't, won't you?" said Frank, coolly; "Reginald, my candle's near you, I'll trouble you for it."
"You must take the consequences, then," said Reginald, "for I heard the doctor say so."
"I didn't," said Frank, snuffing his candle, and opening a book; "Meredith, I'd advise you to follow my example."
"I followed it yesterday, and fell asleep in uncomfortable snoozes till the bell rang," yawned Meredith. "Reading one word and dreaming six may be entertaining, but it is certainly not instructive."
There was very little noise, and Louis lay for some time in deep thought. At length he moved as if with the intention of getting up, when Reginald started up and planted his beaming face over him so as to prevent his rising:
"Awake at last, Louis?"
"Yes, I have been awake a long time."
"You've been very quiet."
"How happy you look!" said Louis; "I could almost fancy you had something to tell."
"What will you give me for my news?"
"I am afraid I can offer nothing but thanks," replied Louis, smiling.
"What should you say if I were to tell you Casson was gone?"
"Casson gone!" exclaimed Louis, starting up in spite of his brother's incubian overseership. "Where? When? How? Was he ill? What was the matter?"
"He went home yesterday evening by the London coach. He was in perfect bodily health. The matter was, that the magister wouldn't keep him."
"What! expelled, Reginald?" said Louis, aghast.
"Expelled, Louis," Reginald replied, gravely; "don't look so frightened; he deserved it."
"Oh, Reginald! it is so terrible! But how—why was it so sudden?"
"Ah, Beauty!" said Frank, "a few wonders have happened while your ladyship has been sleeping there. What will you say to Harris going, too?"
"Harris! no, surely not, Frank? Tell me, do tell me what's been the matter."
"We promised to let Hamilton tell the story," said Reginald. "He has been, in a great measure, the cause of finding all out; so make haste and go to him, for I want you back again."
Louis did not need any further bidding—he hurried his toilette, and flew to the room that Hamilton enjoyed to himself. Hamilton was up. An open Bible lay near him, which he closed as Louis entered.
"How are you, foolish boy, this morning?" he said, kindly—very kindly, Louis thought, as he squeezed his hand.
"I am very well, thank you. Reginald's been telling me strange news this morning."
"News?" said Hamilton. "He promised me—"
"Oh! I only know that Casson's gone, and Harris going, but he would not tell me any more."
"Well, then, I will."
"Hamilton," said Louis, gently laying his hand on Hamilton's, "may I ask one thing?"
"What is it?"
"Will you read a little of this with me first?" he said, timidly, touching the Bible. "I have neglected it so lately. It would be so pleasant before we begin any thing else. You do not know how difficult it is in our room to be a minute quiet."
Hamilton had opened the Bible before Louis had finished, and bade him select a chapter, which he asked him to read aloud.
Louis read the 7th Psalm, and the 14th of Hosea; and when he had finished, he and his friend remained very silent.
Hamilton felt for Louis, though he did not know how soothingly the sweet words fell on the soul of the erring boy; how unspeakably precious had been the promise, that the backslider should be healed, and the dew of the Spirit refresh him, and make him grow in grace. Louis felt a wish to prolong those gracious words, "Ephraim shall say, What have I any more to do with idols? I have heard and observed him; I am like a green fir-tree, from me is thy fruit found!"
"Dear Hamilton," he said, at length, "I have a very great favor to beg of you—would you let me come in a little every morning to read with you? It would do me so much good."
"By all means," said Hamilton, perhaps a little shily; but it was promise enough to call forth Louis' heartfelt thanks.
Hamilton then made Louis don a cloak of his, and stretching his own legs, so as to rest them comfortably on the window where Louis was sitting, he entered into a minute detail of the events of yesterday afternoon, equally surprising and interesting to Louis.
It appeared that Hamilton, acting on his own strong suspicions, went immediately after dinner to Dr. Wilkinson, whom, strange to say, he found equally inclined to listen to them; for he confessed to Louis that he did not exactly know what had made Dr. Wilkinson so suddenly take such a decided view of Casson's character as he appeared to have done. They went to the stable and examined it very carefully. They found the door unfastened; but on further consideration, discovered that the staple, which was rusty, had been broken off, so that, though the key had been turned, it could be opened as easily as if it had had no lock. They went up through the trap-door, but found nothing to assist them, till, just as they were descending, Hamilton picked up part of a Greek exercise. It was very small, not more than two inches square; a more careless observer might not have noticed it, but Hamilton seized it as a treasure, and, with the doctor's advice, set to work to discover whose handwriting it was.
The few words he deciphered carried him to the second class for the owner: "And oh, Louis! Dr. Wilkinson looked so grave when I told him it was Kenrick. But I knew it was not your writing. With very little trouble, and without discovering any thing, I soon found Harris to have been the writer. Having settled this point about an hour after school had begun, I took the first opportunity of informing the doctor, who immediately entered the school-room, suspended all business, summoned every one, and in an able speech, as the papers would say, prefaced the proceedings by declaring how painful it had been to him to discover that any of his pupils were not trustworthy, et cetera; and his determination to arrive at some conclusion on the point, to know whether his orders were or were not to be obeyed. He then mentioned having found you, and his firm belief, that even supposing you had gone there for the purpose of abstracting the apples, which he could not believe, you must have been tempted and persuaded to it by older hands; he called upon the offenders to come forward and clear the matter. Well, no one answered; and then the doctor just alluded to you, and what you had suffered last half, and said that he had determined that every one should be aware of the grounds of accusation, and he desired, if any one knew of any thing that would throw a light on the matter, he would come forward.
"Then, to every one's surprise, comes up Charles Clifton, and tells him coolly, that he was sure you had not stolen the apples, and that it was very likely to be Harris, Casson, and Churchill, and that Sally Simmons had, in his presence, given them apples, and they joked about the place where they came from. Sally was called, and at last confessed that she had let Casson know where the apples were kept; and they frightened her, or something, for she tried to bring you in as an accomplice, only Clifton was so manful, and braved her with so much spirit, that she soon quitted that ground, and departed under sentence of dismissal."
"Oh, poor Sally! I am very sorry."
"She is a bad girl," said Hamilton; "I never liked Clifton so well as I did yesterday: there is a great deal of truthful independence about him."
"Oh, Charlie's a very nice fellow!" said Louis, warmly. "Well, Hamilton."
"Well, Casson and Harris bullied, talked of characters defamed, and stoutly protested innocence. The doctor looked so indignant; I think I never saw him so thoroughly convinced of the evil-mindedness of any one, as he appeared to be of Casson's. He heard all they had to say, and spoke to them seriously of the crime they were adding. Harris looked abashed, but Casson declared there was not enough to convict him in the evidence of a 'liar like Sally, and a self-sufficient fellow like Clifton;' when, to my astonishment, Trevannion came forward, and gave his pocket-book open into the doctor's hands." Hamilton then proceeded to tell Louis what Trevannion had seen on the memorable Friday, and the great effect produced upon the school by the reading of the memorandum. Churchill confessed every thing, and cried, and begged pardon.
It seemed that they had gone no further than the gate leading to the field, on the Friday morning, as they saw some one in the distance; but that the plan had been renewed on Monday at twilight, when they were disturbed by a man with a lantern, coming into the yard as they left the stable, and, instead of going out the usual way, they scrambled over the wall, dropping the bag in their hurry, and had no opportunity the ensuing day to look for it.
"Harris," continued Hamilton, "turned as white as a sheet, and murmured something that no one could understand. The doctor spoke really beautifully. I hope something of what he said may remain with them, at least, be remembered at some future time."
"What did he say?" asked Louis.
"He spoke about the heinousness of the offences they had committed, and of his sorrow; and, Louis, he spoke as if he were sorry," said Hamilton, looking down, and speaking gravely. "I felt as if I were wrong in being so rejoiced at their detection. He spoke of the necessity he was under, not simply of making an example of such offenders, which was a duty he owed to the others under his charge, but of that of marking also to themselves the great abhorrence he entertained of their conduct. He then spoke of the consequences of unchecked sin, and, in a few words, mentioned a very sad history of a former pupil of his who turned out very ill—he is dead, Louis; the manner in which he spoke of that prayer of the Psalmist's, 'Make me not a rebuke unto the foolish,' was very solemn; I assure you there were very few dry eyes."
Louis' were filled with tears.
"Well, Hamilton," he said, slowly.
"He then desired Casson to go directly and make preparations for leaving his house in less than an hour, and told Harris that he should not allow him to return after the holidays. There was not a sound when Casson left the room, Louis, except the sobbing of one or two of the little boys. I think I never felt any thing so solemn. It is a serious, a very serious thing."
"Very, very," said Louis. "Did Casson seem sorry, Hamilton?"
"He was very pale and silent—I think frightened, not sorry. Harris stood like a statue while the doctor was speaking; but, when he told him he was not to return, I heard him sigh so deeply, it was quite painful."
"And Churchill?" said Louis, with difficulty.
"Churchill is to stay a week behind the others, and to write exercises every day till he goes home."
"Oh, Hamilton, Hamilton!" cried Louis, bursting fairly into tears, "I am not crying wholly for sorrow; for I am, and ought to be, thankful that I have not been made a 'rebuke unto the foolish.'"
Hamilton pressed his hand.
"I hope," he continued, "that this may be a blessing to me; but I am very much afraid of myself, Hamilton, for I am constantly making good resolutions and breaking them—but, Hamilton, do you think they would suppose I had told of them?"
"Dr. Wilkinson told them you would not break your promise and clear yourself by betraying them," replied Hamilton; "and he also said a great deal on the folly of rash promises, and the evil of covering sin. I wish you had heard it; but we must not talk any more, for here is Alfred, and we shall have the prayer-bell presently; so, if you have any thing to do before you go down, you had better make haste."
Louis dried his tears, and obeyed the hint, after submitting, with no very great reluctance, to a mighty hug from Alfred, who would have given vent to his delight in a great flow of words had not his brother been present and waiting for him. There was little time for talking when Louis returned to his dormitory; but he and his brother made the most of it, and, arm in arm, they issued forth when the summons was heard. All the way down stairs Louis received the congratulations of his school-fellows. Everybody, even Trevannion, seemed to have forgiven him, and Norman held out his hand at the hall-door with a "Shake hands, old fellow!"
Louis felt rather afraid of entering the school-room, but Dr. Wilkinson made no comment, and, as far as he could judge from the doubtful light of a few candles struggling with the coming daylight, scarcely looked at him. The names were called over. At Harris's name there was a pause—-some one answered, "Not here, sir;" and, as Dr. Wilkinson, without any comment, proceeded, Louis caught a few whispered words near him:
"He's been moaning nearly all night, poor fellow! he's in a terrible way now;" and then the reply, "Ah, the doctor never unsays any thing!"
When prayers were over, Dr. Wilkinson called Louis into the study, and kept him till breakfast-time with him. What passed, never transpired; but that it was something serious was conjectured from Louis' exceedingly humble manner and red eyes, when he left the room—though every one was sure, from the subsequent manner of both master and pupil, that all was entirely forgiven, and Louis reinstated fully in Dr. Wilkinson's good graces.
But I must hasten to finish my story. The prize day arrived. It was a dismal, wet, dreary day; but the boys cared nothing for that, except that the audience was smaller than usual. Charles Clifton carried away all the first prizes of his class, except that for French, which was, contrary to his expectation, adjudged to Louis. Hamilton having privately signified to the doctor his wish to withdraw all claim to the medal, it was likewise bestowed on Clifton. Reginald was not successful in any branch this half-year, having so recently entered the highest class. As for Frank and Hamilton, the poems were considered so equal—Hamilton's being the more correct, and Frank's displaying the greater talent and brilliancy—that they each received a prize exactly alike. The doctor passed a high encomium on Frank's industry, and that original young gentleman had the satisfaction of bearing away two prizes in addition to that already mentioned, leaving another for Hamilton, one for Ferrers, and one for Norman.
Just as the boys had dispersed, and Reginald and Louis were arranging a snug place in their carpet-bag for Louis' prize, a letter was put into the hand of the former.
"From home, Reginald?" cried Louis; "I suppose it is to say who is coming for us."
But, no;—it was to tell them of the illness of a lady who had been staying at Dashwood Priory, which had assumed so much the character of typhus fever, that Mr. Mortimer considered it unsafe for his boys to return; and the letter, which was from their mother, informed them, with many expressions of affectionate regret, that their father had written to ask Dr. Wilkinson to keep them a few days, till it could be decided how they were to be disposed of. Poor Louis was grievously disappointed, and Reginald, not less so, inveighed aloud on the folly and impertinence of ladies going to friends' houses to fall ill there and prevent their sons from enjoying their holidays, so long, that Louis at length could not help laughing.
"But what shall we do, Reginald? it will be so dull here."
"I shall die of the vapors, I think," said Reginald.
"Come home with me," said Salisbury, "both of you—I am sure my father and mother will be very glad to see you."
"I should like nothing better," replied Reginald; "provided your father and mother prove of the same accommodating opinion when you sound them."
"Charlie asked me last week to go with him, Reginald," said Louis; "if you go with Salisbury, I shall go with him; but if you remain here, I shall stay with you."
The brothers received invitations on all sides when their desolate condition was known, but none could be accepted without the consent of their parents, or in the mean time of Dr. Wilkinson, as their guardian. It was finally, settled, that as both Salisbury and Clifton lived in the neighborhood, their invitations might be accepted till further notice from Dashwood.
The lady proved very ill, though, as it was not any infectious disease, the brothers probably might have been sent for, had not a heavy fall of snow rendered the roads near Dashwood impassable.
Louis spent nearly the whole of his holidays very happily with Charles; becoming, during his stay with them, a great favorite with Mr. Clifton and his little girls, as well as their nurse. Salisbury had the benefit of Reginald's company for a fortnight, the rest of his time being bestowed upon Meredith.
When the holidays were over, Hamilton returned for his last half-year. The reflections induced by the preceding term were not transient. He struggled manfully with the constitutional indifference of his character; and though there were many failings, for the habits were too deeply rooted to be suddenly overcome, yet the effort was not without its use, both to himself and others. To Louis, he was a constant and useful friend, never flagging in his efforts to make him more manly and independent in his conduct, as regarded the opinion of others; and also quietly strengthening, by his example and encouragement, every good feeling and impression he noticed. There were no tears shed, but Louis felt very low when he bade good-bye to Hamilton, at the close of the next half-year.
"Oh, Hamilton! I owe you a great deal. What shall I do next half without you? Who will help me?"
"Thy God, whom thou servest," said Hamilton, reverentially. "The thanks are not to me for the help of the last few months, Louis. Good-bye, my dear fellow—our friendship does not end here; we are friends forever."
They shook hands warmly and parted.
Louis continued at school for two or three years longer, and passed through the ordeal of school-life with credit to himself and his relations. I would not be thought to mean that he never did wrong, or was always equally steady in his Christian course; for the Christian's whole life is a continued fight against the evil of his nature. He still retained his strong desire to enter the ministry of the Church, and his studies and pursuits were principally directed to that end. It was one of his fairest day-dreams, to be his father's curate when old enough to be ordained, and though that might not be, he still felt, wherever he might be placed, his language would be that of the Psalmist, when he said—
"My soul hath a desire and a longing to enter into the courts of the living God." "For I had rather be a door keeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness."
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