"I'm not afraid," he exclaimed.
"Then why don't you want to go?"
He was silent for some time. A struggle was evidently going on in his mind. But the sneer on Hall's face determined him.
"I do want to go. I've changed my mind!"
"That's the style," said Hutton, patting him on the back. "I knew you were one of the right sort."
Hall, too, condescended to approve of his decision, and at once began to busy himself with preparations for our immediate start.
I, however, was by no means comfortable at what had taken place. It was plain to see Charlie had yielded against his better judgment, and that with whatever alacrity he might now throw himself into the scheme, his mind was not easy. Had I been less selfishly inclined towards my own pleasure, I should have sided with him in his desire not to engage in a questionable proceeding; but, alas! my wishes in this case had ruled my conscience. Still, I made one feeble effort on Archer's behalf.
"Hall," whispered I, as I stooped with him to disengage the ropes at the bottom of the boat, "what's the use of taking Charlie when he doesn't want to go? We may as well put him ashore if he'd sooner not go."
"Archer," said Hall, looking up from his ropes, "did you say you wanted to go, or not?"
The question was accompanied by a look which made it hard for the boy to reply anything but—
"I want to go."
"And it's your own free will, eh?"
So ended my weak effort. If only I had been more determined to do right; if, alas! I had imagined a thousandth part of what that day was to bring forth, I would have set Archer ashore, whether he would or not, even if to do so had cost me my life.
But this is anticipating.
For half an hour we were busy getting our boat trim for her voyage. She was a somewhat old craft, in which for many years past we had been wont to cruise down the seaward reaches of the Colven, carrying one lug-sail, and with thwarts for two pairs of oars. She was steady on her keel, and, as far as we had been able to judge, sound in every respect, and a good sailor. Certainly, on a day like this, a cockleshell would have had nothing to fear, and we were half sorry we had not a lighter boat than the one we were in to take us across to Shargle.
Hall, who assumed the command from the first, impressed us not a little by the businesslike way in which he set to work to get everything ship- shape before starting. He knew clearly the use of each rope and pulley; he knew precisely the necessary amount of ballast to be taken, and the proper place for stowing it; he discoursed learnedly on knots and hitches, and aroused our sympathy by his laments on the absence of a bowsprit and foresail. Hutton was sent ashore to buy provisions. Charlie was set to baling out the boat. I occupied myself with mopping the seats, and generally "swabbing her up," as Hall called it, so that in due time we were ready to sail, well provisioned and well equipped, on our eventful voyage.
Up went the sail; we watched it first flap wildly, and then swell proudly in the wind as the sheet rope was drawn in, and Hall's hand put round the helm. Then, after a little coquetting, as if she were loth to act as desired without coaxing, she rose lightly to the rippling waves, and glided forward on her way.
"Adams," said Hall, "you'd better make yourself snug up in the bows; Hutton, sit where you are, and be ready to help me with the sail when we tack. Charlie, old boy, come down astern, beside me; sit a little farther over, Hutton. Now she's trim."
Trim she was, and a strange feeling of exhilaration filled my breast as we now darted forward before the steady breeze, dancing over the waves with a merry splash, tossing them to either side of our prow, and listening to them as they gurgled musically under our keel.
"There's Neil!" cried Charlie, as we passed the coastguards' boathouse, "spying at us through the telescope."
"Let him spy," laughed Hall; "I dare say he'd like to be coming too. It's slow work for those fellows, always hanging about doing nothing."
"What's he waving about?" inquired I from the bows, for we could see that the sailor had put down his glass, and was apparently trying to catch our attention by his gesticulations.
Hall looked attentively for a moment, and then said—
"Oh, I see, he's pointing up at the flagstaff to show us the wind's in the north-east. I suppose he thinks no one knows that but himself."
"Let's see," said Hutton, "we are going north-west, aren't we?"
"Yes, so we shall be able to make use of the wind both ways, with a little tacking."
"He's shouting something now," said Charlie, with his eyes still on Neil.
"Oh, he's an old woman," said Hall, laughing; "he's always wanting to tell you this and that, as if no one knew anything about sailing but himself." And he took off his hat and waved it ceremoniously to the old sailor, who continued shouting and beckoning all the while, though without avail, for the only words that came to us across the water were "fresh" and "afternoon," and we were not much enlightened by them.
"I'm afraid he's fresh in the morning," laughed Hutton.
A short sail brought us to the bar mouth, over which, as the tide was in and the sea quiet, we passed without difficulty, although Hall had bade us have the oars ready in case of emergency, should it be necessary to lower our sail in crossing. But of this there was no need, and in a minute we were at last in the bay, and fairly at sea.
"Do you see Parkhurst over the trees there, you fellows?" cried Charlie, pointing behind us. "I never saw the place from the bay before."
"Nor I," I answered; "it looks better here than from any other side."
We were all proud of the old school-house, and fully impressed with its superiority over any other building of the kind in the kingdom.
The view in the bay was extremely beautiful, Shargle Head stood out opposite us, distinct and grand, towering up from the water, and sweeping back to join the moorland hills behind. On our left, close beside the bar mouth, rose Raven Cliff, where we so often had been wont to lie and look out on this very bay; and one by one we recognised the familiar spots from our new point of view, and agreed that from no side does a grand coast look so grand as from the sea.
Our boat scudded along merrily, Hall keeping her a steady course, well up to the wind. After a few lessons we got to know our respective duties (so we thought) with all the regularity of a trained ship's crew. With the wind as it was, right across our course, we had not much need to tack; but when the order to "stand by" did arrive, we prided ourselves that we knew how to act.
Hall let go the sheet, and Hutton lowered the sail, Charlie put round the helm, and I in the bows was ready to aid the others in shifting the canvas to the other side of the mast and hauling up the sail again. Then Hall resumed charge of the helm and drew in the sheet, Charlie and Hutton "trimmed" over to the other side of the boat, and once again our little craft darted forward.
We were all in exuberant spirits that lovely summer morning; even Charlie seemed to have forgotten his uneasiness at first starting, for he was now the life and soul of our party.
He told us wonderful stories about this very bay, gathered from some of his favourite histories. How, after the defeat of the Spanish Armada, when the proud vessels of Spain were driven partly by tempest, partly by the pursuit of our admiral, headlong along: this very coast, one of them had got into Colveston Bay, and there been driven ashore at the base of Raven Cliff, not one man of all her crew surviving that awful wreck. And he repeated one after another the legends connected with Druce Castle, whose ruined turrets we could discern away behind us, and of all the coves and crags and caves as we passed them, till, in our imagination, the bay became alive once more with ships and battle, and we seemed to watch the gleam of armour on the castle walls, and the glare of beacons on the headlands, and to hear the thunder of cannon from the beach; when presently Hall's cheery call to "stand by" wakened us into a sudden recollection of our present circumstances. And then what songs we sang! what famous sea stories Hall told us! how Hutton made us roar with his recitations! how the time seemed to fly, and the boat too, and we in it, until at last we found the Great Shargle towering over our heads, and knew we had all but reached our destination.
Hall looked at his watch.
"That was a good run, boys," said he; "not quite two hours—an uncommonly good run for an old tub like this. Now where shall we land?"
"I vote we land on Welkin Island," said Charlie.
Welkin Island was separate about three-quarters of a mile from the mainland, famous for its caves and shells.
"All serene," said Hall, putting the boat about; "stand by."
So we made our last tack, and very soon were close up at the island. After some cruising we selected an eligible creek for landing, into which Hall ran our boat as neatly as the most experienced helmsman in Her Majesty's Navy.
Then we landed, and dragging ashore our hamper of provisions, picnicked at the edge of the rocks, with the water on three sides of us, with Shargle Head across the narrow channel rising majestically above us, and the great amphitheatre of the bay extended like a picture beyond.
Need I say what a jovial repast it was; what appetites we had, what zest our situation lent to our meal, how each vied with each in merriment! But Charlie was the blithest of us all.
Then we wandered over that wonderful island. We waded into the caves, and climbed to the cliff tops; we filled our pockets with shells, we bathed, we aimed stones into the sea, we raced along the strand, we cut our names in a row on the highest point of the island, in commemoration of our expedition, and there they remain to this day.
"I say, I hope it's not going to rain," said Hutton, looking up at the clouds, which had for some time been obscuring the sun.
"Who cares if it does?" shouted Charlie. "Hullo, there goes my roof!" cried he, as a sudden gust of wind lifted his hat from his head, and sent it skimming down the rocks.
"I think it's time we started home," said Hall hurriedly.
There was something in the uneasy look of his face as he said this which made me uncomfortable.
So we turned to embark once more in our boat.
We could not conceal from ourselves, as we made our way to the creek where we had left her moored, that the weather, which had thus far been so propitious to our expedition, was not holding out as we could have wished. The wind, which had been little more than a steady breeze during the morning, now met us in frequent gusts, which made us raise our hands to our hats. A few ugly-looking black clouds on the horizon had come up and obscured the sun, threatening not only to shut out his rays, but to break over the bay in a heavy downpour of rain. Even on the half-sheltered side of the island where we were, the water, which had hitherto moved only in ripples, now began to heave restlessly in waves, which curled over as they met the breeze, and covered the sea with little white breakers. There was an uncanny sort of moan about the wind as it swept down the hollows of the rocks, and even the seagulls, as they skimmed past us on the surface of the now sombre water, seemed uncomfortable.
However, the sea was not rough, and though the sun happened to be hidden from us, we could see it shining brightly away in the direction of Parkhurst. The wind, too, though stronger than it had been in the morning, was still not violent, and we had little doubt of making as quick, if not a quicker passage back than we had already made.
So, although in our secret hearts each one of us would perhaps have preferred the weather of the earlier part of the day to have continued, we did not let our uneasiness appear to our fellows, or allow it to interfere with our show of good spirits.
"I tell you what," said Charlie, laughing, as we came down to our boat, "it would be a real spree to have a little rough water going back, just for the fun of seeing old Hutton seasick."
"I shall be very pleased to give you some amusement," replied Hutton; "and perhaps Adams will assist, for I saw him looking anxiously over the bows once or twice as we were coming."
"So did I," said Charlie; "he must have seen a ghost in the water, for he looked awfully pale."
"Shut up, you fellows," cried I, who was notoriously a bad sailor, and easily disturbed by a rough sea; "perhaps we shall all—"
"I say," called out Hall from the boat, where he was busy tying up a reef in our sail, "I wish you fellows would lend a hand here, instead of standing and chaffing there."
We obeyed with alacrity, and very soon had our boat ready for starting.
"Now, Adams and Hutton, take the oars, will you? and pull her out of this creek: we had better not hoist our sail till we are clear of these rocks."
As we emerged from our little harbour the boat "lumped" heavily over the waves that broke upon the rocks, and we had a hard pull to get her clear of these and turn her with her stern to Shargle.
"Now stand by," shouted Hall.
We shipped our oars, and in a moment the sail, shortened by one reef, was hauled up, and the boat began to scud swiftly forward.
"You'll have to sit right over, you two," said Hall to Hutton and me, "to keep her trim. Look sharp about it!"
As he spoke a gust took the sail, and caused the boat to heel over far on to her side. She righted herself in an instant, however, and on we went, flying through the water.
"How do you feel, Adams?" called out Charlie mischievously, from his end of the boat.
"Pleasant motion, isn't it?" put in Hutton, laughing.
"Look here, you fellows," said Hall abruptly, "stop fooling now, and look after the boat."
"Why, what's the row?" said Hutton, struck with his unusually serious tone. "It's all right, isn't it?"
"It's all right," said Hall curtly, "if you'll only attend to the sailing."
Our merriment died away on our lips, for it was plain to be seen Hall was in no jesting humour.
Then several things struck us which we had not previously noticed. One was that the wind had shifted farther north, and was blowing hard right into the bay, gathering strength every minute. Hall, we noticed, was sailing as close as possible up to it, thus making our course far wider than that which had brought us in the morning.
"Why are you steering out like that?" I ventured to ask.
"Because if I didn't— Look out!" he exclaimed, as a sudden gust caught the boat, making her stagger and reel like a drunken man. In an instant he had released the sheet rope, and the sail flapped with a tremendous noise about the mast. It was but an instant, however, and then we saw him coolly tighten the cord again, and put back the helm to its former course. After that I did not care to repeat my question.
Reader, have you ever found yourself at sea in an open boat, a mile or so from land, in a gathering storm; with the wind in your teeth and the sea rising ominously under your keel; with the black clouds mustering overhead, and the distant coastline whitening with breakers? Have you marked the headlands change from white to solemn purple? Have you listened to that strange hiss upon the water, and that moaning in the wind? Have you known your boat to fly through the waves without making way, and noted anxiously by some landmark that she is rather drifting back with the current, instead of, as it seems, tearing before the wind?
If so, you can imagine our feelings that afternoon.
It was useless to pretend things were not as bad as they looked; it was useless not to admit to ourselves we were fairly in for it now, and must brave it out as best we could; it was useless to maintain we had not been foolish, wickedly foolish, in starting on so venturesome an expedition; it was useless to deny that it would have been better had we remained at Shargle, or returned to Parkhurst by land.
We were in for it now.
The one thing which gave us confidence was Hall's coolness, now that the danger was unmistakable. He neither allowed himself to get flurried nor alarmed, but sat with closed lips watching the sail—one hand on the tiller and the other grasping the sheet, ready to let it go at a moment's notice.
As for us, we wished we could do anything more active than sit still and trim the boat. But even that was some use, and so we remained, watching anxiously the clouds as they rolled down the sides of the hills and half obscured Shargle Head from our view.
Presently, however, Hall said—
"Get the oars out, will you? we haven't made any way for an hour."
No way for an hour! Had we then been all that time plunging through the waves for nothing? With what grim earnestness we set to work to row through this unyielding current!
But to no effect—or scarcely any. The little white cottage on Shargle, which we looked round at so anxiously from time to time, to ascertain what progress had been made, remained always in the same position, and after twenty minutes' desperate pulling it seemed as if the total distance gained had been scarcely half a dozen yards.
It was disheartening work, still more so as the sea was rising every minute, and the rain had already begun to fall.
"We're in for a gale," said Hall, as a wave broke over the side, drenching Hutton and me, and half-filling the bottom of the boat with water. "Look sharp, Charlie, and bale out that before the next comes."
Charlie set to work with a will, and for a time we rowed steadily on, without saying a word.
"What's the time?" I asked presently of Hall, as I saw him take out his watch.
"Five," said he.
It was an hour after the time we had expected to be back at Parkhurst, and we were not yet clear of Shargle. The same thought evidently crossed the minds of the other three, for they all glanced in the direction of Raven Cliff, now scarcely visible through the heavy rain.
"I wish we were safe home," muttered Hutton, the most dispirited of our crew. "What fools we were to come!"
We said nothing, but pulled away doggedly at the oars.
Now it really seemed as if we were making some progress out of that wretched current, for the white cottage on the cliff appeared farther astern than it had done since we began to row, and we were beginning to congratulate ourselves on our success, when Hall, who had for some time been anxiously watching the shore, cried out—
"For goodness' sake pull hard, you fellows! we are drifting in fast. Here, Charlie, take the helm, and keep her the way she is, while I get down the sail. It's no use now. Mind your heads, but don't stop rowing," he shouted to us, as he let down the sail suddenly, and lowered the mast. "Keep her head out, Charlie, whatever you do. Let go that rope beside you. That's right. Now take hold of that end of the mast and slip it under the seat."
So saying he managed to get down the mast and stow it away without impeding either the rowing or the steering, and immediately the advantage of the step was manifest in the steadier motion of the boat, although we groaned inwardly at the thought of having now all the distance to row. At least I groaned inwardly. Hutton was hardly as reserved.
"I tell you what," he said to me, stopping rowing, "I don't know what you and the other fellows intend to do, but I can't row any more. I've been at it an hour together."
"What are we to do, then?" inquired I.
"Why shouldn't Hall take a turn? He's been doing nothing."
"He's been steering," replied I, "and he's the only fellow who knows how, and Charlie's not strong enough to row."
"Well, all I can say is, I don't mean to row any longer."
All this had been said in an undertone to me, but now Hall cried out—
"What are you shopping for, Hutton? Pull away, man, or we shall never get out of this."
"Pull away yourself!" said Hutton sulkily. "I've had enough of it. You brought us here, you'd better take us back!"
Hall's face at that moment was a study. I fancy if this had been a ship and he the skipper, he would not have hesitated an instant how to deal with this unexpected contingency. But now he did hesitate. It was bitter enough punishment to him to be there exposed to all the dangers of a sudden storm, with the safety, and perhaps the life, not only of himself, but of us whom he had induced to accompany him, on his hands; but to have one of those comrades turn against him in the moment of peril was more than he had looked for.
"I'll take an oar," said Charlie, before there was time to say anything.
"No," said Hall, starting up; "take the helm, Charlie. And you," added he, to Hutton, "give me your oar and get up into the bows."
The voice in which this was spoken, and the look of scorn which accompanied it, fairly cowed Hutton, who got up like a lamb and crawled into the bows, leaving Hall and me to row.
"Keep her straight to the waves, whatever you do! it's all up if she gets broadside on!" said the former to Charlie.
And so for another half-hour we laboured in silence; then almost suddenly the daylight faded, and darkness fell over the bay.
I rowed on doggedly in a half-dream. Stories of shipwrecks and castaways crowded in on my mind; I found myself wondering how and when this struggle would end. Then my mind flew back to Parkhurst, and I tried to imagine what they must think there of our absence. Had they missed us yet? Should I ever be back in the familiar house, or—but I dared not think of that. Then I tried to pray, and the sins of my boyhood came up before my mind as I did so in terrible array, so that I vowed, if but my life might be spared, I would begin a new and better life from that time forward. Then, by a strange impulse, my eyes rested on Charlie, as he sat there quietly holding the tiller in his hands and gazing out ahead into the darkness. What was it that filled me with foreboding and terror as I looked at the boy? The scene of the morning recurred to my mind, and my halfhearted effort to prevent him from accompanying us. Selfish wretch that I had been! what would I not now give to have been resolute then? If anything were to happen to Charlie, how could I ever forgive myself?
"I think we've made some way," he cried out cheerily. "Not much," said Hall gloomily; "that light there is just under Shargle Head."
"Had we better keep on as we are?" I asked. "I don't see what else is to be done. If we let her go before the wind, we shall get right on to the rocks."
"You've a lot to answer for," growled Hutton from where he lay, half- stupid with terror, in the bows.
Hall said nothing, but dashed his oar vehemently into the water and continued rowing.
"I wonder if that light is anywhere near Parkhurst?" presently asked Archer. "Do you see?"
We looked, and saw it; and then almost instantly it vanished. At the same time we lost sight of the lights on Shargle Head, and the rain came down in torrents. "A mist!" exclaimed Hall, in tones of horror. Well indeed might he and we feel despair at this last extinguisher of our hopes. With no landmark to steer by, with wind and sea dead in our teeth, with the waves breaking in over our sides, and one useless mutineer in our midst, we felt that our fate was fairly sealed. Even Hall for a moment showed signs of alarm, and we heard him mutter to himself, "God help us now!" Next moment a huge wave came broadside on to us and emptied itself into our boat, half filling us with water. In the sudden shock my oar was dashed from my hand and carried away overboard!
"Never mind," said Hall hurriedly, "it would have been no use; put her round, Charlie, quick—here, give me the tiller!"
In a moment the boat swung round to the wind (not, however, before she had shipped another sea), and then we felt we were simply flying towards the fatal rocks.
"Bale out, all of you!" shouted Hall; and we obeyed, including even Hutton, who seemed at last, in very desperation, to be awakening to a sense of his duty.
The next few minutes seemed like an age. As we knelt in our half- flooded boat scooping up the water there in our hats, or whatever would serve for the purpose, we could hear ahead of us the angry roar of breakers, and knew every moment was bringing us nearer to our doom.
By one impulse we abandoned our useless occupation. What was the use of baling out a boat that must inevitably in a few minutes be dashed to pieces on the rocks? Hutton crawled back into the bows, and Charlie and I sat where we were on the seat and waited.
I could not fail, even in such a situation, to notice and admire Hall's self-possession and coolness. Desperate as our case was, he kept a steady hand on the helm, and strained his eyes into the mist ahead, never abating for a moment either his vigilance or his courage. But every now and then I could see his eyes turn for a moment to Charlie, and his face twitch as they did so, with a look of pain which I was at no loss to understand.
"How far are we from the rocks?" asked Charlie.
"I can't say; a quarter of an hour, perhaps."
"Whereabouts are we?" I asked.
"When the lights went out we were opposite Raven Cliff," replied Hall.
We were silent for another minute; then Hall took out his watch.
"Eight o'clock," said he.
"They'll be at prayers at Parkhurst," said Charlie; and in the silence that followed, need I say that we too joined as we had never done before in the evening prayers of our schoolfellows?
"Charlie, old boy," said Hall, presently, "come and sit beside me, will you?"
Poor Hall! had it been only his own life that was at stake, he would never have flinched a muscle; but as he put his arm round the boy whom he had led into danger he groaned pitiably.
"I wonder if Neil's out looking for us," Hutton said from the bows.
"Not much use," said Hall. "If only this mist would lift!"
But it did not lift. For another five minutes we tore through the waves, which as we neared the shore became wilder and rougher. Our boat, half full of water, staggered at every shock, and more than once we believed her last plunge had been taken.
On either side of us, for the little distance we could see through the mist, there was nothing but white foam and surging billows; behind us rushed the towering waves, overtaking us one by one, tossing us aloft and dashing us down, till every board of our boat creaked and groaned. Above us the rain poured in torrents, dashing on to our bare heads, and blinding us whenever we turned our faces back.
Then Hall cried out, "Listen! those must be breakers behind us!"
Assuredly they were! On either side we could hear the deafening thunder of the surf as it dashed over the rocks.
"Then, thank God!" exclaimed Hall, "we must have got in between two reefs; perhaps we shall go aground on the sand!"
The next two minutes are past description. Hutton crawled down beside me where I sat, and I could feel his hand on my arm, but I had no eyes except for Charlie, who sat pale and motionless with Hall's arm round him.
"Now!" shouted Hall, abandoning the tiller, and tightening his hold on the boy.
There was a roar and a rush behind us, our boat swooped up with the wave, and hung for a moment trembling on its crest, then it fell, and in an instant we were in the water.
Hutton was beside me as the rush back of that huge wave swept us off our feet. I seized him by the arm, and next moment we were struggling to keep our heads up. Then came another monster, and lifted us like straws, flinging us before it on to the strand, and then rolling and foaming over us as we staggered to our feet.
Hutton, half stunned, had been swept from my hold, but mercifully was still within reach. Clutching him by the hair, I dragged him with all my might towards the land, before the returning wave should once more sweep us back into the sea. By a merciful Providence, a solitary piece of rock was at hand to aid us; and clinging to this we managed to support that terrific rush, and with the next wave stagger on to solid ground.
But what of Charlie? Leaving my senseless companion, I rushed wildly back to the water's edge, and called, shouted, and even waded back into the merciless surf. But no answer: no sign. Who shall describe the anguish of the next half-hour? I was conscious of lights and voices; I had dim visions of people hurrying; I felt something poured down my throat, and some one was trying to lift me from where I sat. But no! I would not leave that spot till I knew what had become of Charlie, and in my almost madness I shrieked the boy's name till it sounded even above the roaring waves.
Presently the lights moved all to one spot, and the people near me moved too. Weak as I was, I sprang to my feet and followed.
Good heavens! what did I see? Two sailors, half naked, stooped over something that lay on the sand between them, What, who was it? I cried; and the crowd made way for me as I fought my way to the place.
Two figures lay there; the smaller locked in the arms of his protector! But dead or living? Oh, if I could but hear some voice say they were not dead! Another person was kneeling over them beside me. Even in that moment of confusion and terror I could recognise his voice as that of the Parkhurst doctor.
"Look after this one here," he said; "he has a broken arm. Carry up the little fellow to the cottage."
Then I knew Charlie was dead!
It was weeks before I was sufficiently recovered in body or mind to hear more than I knew. Then the doctor told me:—
"Hall is getting better. He broke his arm in two places, trying to shield the boy from the rocks. He will not speak about it himself, and no one dares mention Archer's name to him. There was neither bruise nor scratch on the little fellow's body, which shows how heroically the other must have tried to save him."
I soon recovered, but Hall was ill for many weeks—ill as much from distress of mind as from the injuries he had received. He and I are firm friends to this day; and whenever we meet, we speak often of little Charlie Archer. Hall is a sea captain now, and commands his own vessel in distant seas; but though he has been through many a peril and many a storm since, I can confidently say he never showed himself a better sailor than he did the night we sailed back from the Shargle.
"FIVERS" VERSUS "SIXERS" AT PARKHURST.
"I tell you what it is, you fellows, I shall learn to swim!" The speaker was Bobby Jobson, a hero of some thirteen summers, who, in company with four of us, his schoolfellows, sat on the bank of the Colven, under some willows, dabbling his shins in the clear water of the river.
The summer had been tremendously hot. Cricket was out of the question, and boating equally uninviting. The playground had been left deserted to bake and scorch under the fierce sun, and the swings and poles in the gymnasium had blistered and cracked in solitude. The only place where life was endurable was down by the river, and even there it was far too hot to do anything but sit and dabble our feet under the shelter of the trees, and think of icebergs!
A few of the fellows, to our unbounded envy, bathed. They could swim, we could not; and if any rule at Parkhurst was strict, it was the rule which forbade any boy who could not swim to bathe in the river, except with special leave and under the care of a master. And so, like so many small editions of Tantalus, we sat on the bank and kicked our heels in the water, and bemoaned the fate which had brought us into the world without web-feet.
Young donkeys that we were! The idea of learning to swim had never occurred to any of us till Bobby Jobson, in a happy moment, gave birth to the idea in his ejaculation, "I tell you what it is, you fellows, I shall learn to swim!"
"How?" I inquired.
"How?" said Jobson; "why, you know, how does every body learn?" and then he was polite enough to call me a duffer.
"I'll tell you the way," said Ralley, one of our set. "Lie across a desk on your stomach, two or three hours every day, and kick out with your arms and legs."
"Corks and bladders," mildly suggested some one else.
"Get old Blades," (that was the boatman) "to tie a rope round your middle and chuck you into the Giant's Pool," kindly proposed another.
"Just tumble in where you are," said Ralley, "and see if it doesn't come naturally."
"Ugh!" said Jobson, with a grimace, giving a sidekick in the water in the direction of the last speaker. "I'm not sure that that dodge would pay."
While he spoke, to our unbounded horror, the bank on which he and his next neighbour were sitting suddenly gave way, and next moment, with a shout and a splash, our two comrades were floundering helplessly in five feet of water!
Help, happily, was at hand, or there is no saying what might have been the end of the adventure. We did all we could by reaching out our hands and throwing them our jackets to help them, while, with our shouts, we summoned more effective aid. Old Blades, who providentially happened to be passing, was with us in less than a minute, and fished out the two poor half-drowned boys, scarcely a moment before they needed it. They were more frightened, I fancy, than damaged; anyhow, we smuggled them home, dripping as they were, and helped them to bed; and when, next morning, they turned up as usual, nothing the worse for their first swimming lesson, we were, as you may imagine, infinitely relieved.
This little adventure was the origin of the Parkhurst Swimming Club. The doctor, on hearing of the affair, took the proper course; and, instead of forbidding us the river, he secured the services of one or two instructors, and had us all taught the art of swimming. For three months, every day of the week, the School Creek was full of sputtering, choking youngsters. Every new boy was hunted down to the river in turn, and by the end of the year there was hardly a boy at Parkhurst who could not keep his chin up in deep waters.
But this is a long introduction.
One day, two summers after that in which young Jobson and his friend had tumbled into the Colven, a large party of us were down at the bathing- place, indulging in what had now become a favourite summer pastime. It so happened that our party was made up entirely of boys in the two senior classes of the school—the fifth and the sixth. Most of us were landed and dressing, and while so occupied had leisure to watch the performances of those who still remained in the water.
Two of these specially interested us, who were swimming abreast about a hundred yards from the landing-place, evidently racing home. One of these chanced to be a sixth-form boy and the other a fifth, and a sudden impulse seized us of the latter class to cheer our man vehemently, and back him to be the first to reach home. The sixth-form fellows, thus challenged, became equally excited in backing their man, and so, without premeditation, a regular match was made. The two swimmers, hearing our shouts, entered into the spirit of the thing, and a desperate race ensued. They came on, neck and neck, towards us, cheered like mad by their respective supporters, both sides deeming the honour of his form at stake in the event. Within a yard or two of the finish they were still level, when the sixth-form man put on a terrific spurt, to our huge disgust, and just landed himself in a nose ahead.
Of course, we were not going to be beaten thus, and there and then demanded our revenge. Whereupon the company—half of them in a very elementary stage of dressing, and the other half in no stage at all— resolved itself into a meeting on the spot, and fixed that day week for a formal trial of prowess between the two classes. Three events were to be contested—a half-mile race, a hundred yards, and a duck hunt—and, of course, the winner of two out of the three would carry the day.
Then, in great excitement, we finished our toilets and hurried back to the school, where, naturally, the news of the coming contest spread like wildfire and caused a great commotion. The school divided itself forthwith into two factions, calling themselves the "fivers" and "sixers." The selection of representatives to compete in the races was a matter of almost as much excitement as the races themselves, and I need hardly say it was a proud day for me when I was informed I was to act in the capacity of "hunter" for the fifth in the duck hunt. I accepted the honour with mingled pride and misgivings, and spent a busy week practising for my arduous duties.
Well, the eventful day came at last, and nearly the whole school mustered at Cramp Corner to see the sport. For the half-mile race, which was to come off first, there were only two fellows competing. Our man was Barlow—of paper-chase celebrity—while the sixth were very confident of winning with Chesney, a hero nearly six feet high. Certainly, as the two stood on the spring-board waiting the signal to go, there seemed very little chance for the small Jim against his lanky antagonist, although some of us comforted ourselves with the contemplation of our man's long arms and the muscles in his legs. The course was to be once up Cramp Reach and back—just half a mile. The swimmers were at liberty to swim in any manner they chose, and bound only to one rule—to keep their right side.
They were not long kept waiting in their scanty attire on the planks. The doctor himself gave the signal to start, and at the word they darted with two "swishes" into the water. Jim's head was up first, and off he started at a steady chest-stroke, meaning business. Chesney's dive was a long one, and, considering he had a half-mile race before him, a foolish one, for he taxed his breath at the outset, which might have been avoided, had he thought less about elegance and more about the race. However, he did not seem at first to be any the worse off for he took a slight lead of Jim, going through the water swiftly and easily, with as pretty a side-stroke as any fellow's at the school. In point of style there was no comparison between the two. Jim pounded along monotonously, but steadily, with a square front, preserving all along the same regular stroke, the same pace, and the same dogged expression of countenance with which he had entered the water. His rival, on the other hand, delighted the spectators by all kinds of graceful variety. Now he darted forward on his side, now on his back. Sometimes he refreshed himself by a swift dive, and sometimes he swung his arms like a windmill. In fact, there was scarcely any accomplishment possible in rapid swimming which he did not give us the benefit of.
But it was evident some of his friends did not approve of his style. I heard one of them, running near me, growl, "I wish he would give over his capers and swim like a rational animal."
"Rational or not, he's keeping his lead," said another, and so he was. Plodding Jim, with his everlasting chest-stroke, was half a dozen yards or so behind, and did not look like picking up either. Nevertheless, we cheered him like mad, and kept up our hopes that he would "stay out" the better of the two.
When both turned at the top of the reach, Chesney gave up his fanciful swimming, and, to our alarm, settled down to a side-stroke, which for a time looked powerful and effective. But he had been too confident all along, and now, when he reckoned on shaking off his opponent and getting a clear lead, he found out he was destined to do just the reverse. What long faces the "sixers" pulled as their man began to puff and slacken pace! A half-mile race is no joke, believe me; and so Chesney began to find out. Before half the distance back was covered he showed unmistakable signs of going to pieces, and—a very ominous sign—took to changing from one side to another at very frequent intervals.
Of course we "fivers" howled with delight! Our man had never turned a hair, and was now pulling up at every stroke. As he drew level, Chesney gathered up all his remaining strength for a spurt. But it came to nothing. Jim held on his way almost remorselessly, and headed his man fifty yards from the winning-post; and the next thing we saw was Chesney pulling up dead, and making for the bank in a very feeble condition. Jim quietly swam on amid our frantic plaudits, and landed pretty nearly as fresh as when he started.
So far so good. Loud and long were our exultations, for we had hardly expected to win this race; we had put our chief confidence on the hundred yards, which was to follow. In this race three a side were entered, and of our three we knew no one in the school who could beat Halley at a hundred yards. It was rumoured, indeed, that Payne, one of the three "sixers," had been doing very well in training, but the reports of him were not sufficiently decided to shake our faith in our own hero.
It was an anxious moment as they stood there waiting for the doctor's signal. If only we could win this race, we should have our two races out of the three in hand without further combat.
"Go!" cried the doctor; and at the word six youthful forms plunge into the water, and for a second are lost to sight. But the moral of the half-mile race has evidently been taken to heart by these six boys. They waste neither time nor wind under the surface, but rising quickly, dash to their work. After the first few strokes Payne showed in front, greatly to the delight of the "sixers," who felt that everything depended on their man. We, however, were glad to see our man sticking close up, and keeping stroke for stroke after his rival. Of the others, one only—little Watson—of the sixth seemed to hold his own, and that was a good three yards in the rear of Halley: while the three others fell off hopelessly from the very beginning.
The race was short, but eventful. To our delight, Halley overhauled Payne before half-way was reached, and we felt now absolutely sure of the race. It never occurred to us to think of young Watson at all. But all of a sudden it became apparent that that young man meant business. He changed his front, so to speak, in a very unexpected manner, and just as we were beginning to exult over our man's certain victory, he lay over on his side, and, with a peculiar, jerky side-stroke, began to work his little carcase through the water at a wonderful pace.
Before long he had overtaken his fellow-"sixer," and almost immediately drew up to our champion. We were in consternation. Twenty yards more would end the race, and if only our man could hold out and keep his lead, we were all right. At first it looked as if he would, for, encouraged by our cheers, and seeing his peril, he spurted, and kept a good yard ahead of this audacious young "sixer." But the latter put one spurt on to another, and drew up inch by inch. Ten yards from home they were level; then, for a stroke or two, there was a frantic struggle; then the "sixers" sent forth a shout that must have frightened the very fishes; and well they might, for their man had won the race, a yard and a half clear ahead of our champion.
One race each! And now for the "duck hunt" to settle the match. But before I go further I ought to explain, for the benefit of those who have not been initiated into the mysteries of the pastime, how a duck hunt was managed at Parkhurst.
The part of the river selected was close to the mouth, where the stream at high water is about a quarter of a mile broad. Two boundary boats, one above and one below, were anchored at half a mile distance, and between these limits the hunt was to take place. The "duck" was provided with a little punt, about five feet long and pretty wide, in which he was to escape as best he might from a cutter manned by four rowers and a coxswain, and carrying in its bows a "hunter." As long as he chose, or as long as he could, the duck might dodge his pursuers in his punt; but when once run down he would have to take to the water, and by swimming make good his escape from his pursuers, whose "hunter" would be ready at any moment to jump overboard and secure him. If, however, after twenty minutes the duck still remained uncaught, he was to be adjudged winner.
Such was the work cut out for us on this memorable afternoon. The duck on the present occasion was a sixth-form fellow called Haigh, one of the best divers and swimmers in the school, while, as I have already said, I had been selected to act as hunter on behalf of the fifth.
The duck, arrayed in the slightest of costumes, was not long in putting in an appearance in his little punt, which, being only five feet long, was so light that it seemed to jump through the water at every stroke of the oars; while a single stroke either way sufficed to change its course in a moment. The cutter, in the prow of which I (as slenderly attired as the duck) was stationed, was also a light boat, and of course, with its four rowers, far swifter than the punt; but when it came to turning and dodging, it was, because of its length, comparatively unwieldy and clumsy.
All now was ready for the chase. The duck was to get a minute's clear start, and at the signal off he darted up the stream. The minute seemed to us in the cutter as if it were never going to end, and we watched with dismay the pace at which our lively fugitive was "making tracks."
"Ready all, in the cutter!" cries the doctor. "Off!" and next moment we are flying through the water in full cry. As we gradually pull up to the duck he diminishes his pace, and finally lies on his oars and coolly waits for us.
"Put it on, now!" calls out our coxswain, and our boat shoots forward. When within a few yards, the duck, apparently alive to his danger, dashes his oars into the water and darts ahead. But we are too fast for him. Another two strokes and we shall row him down.
"Now then!" cries our coxswain.
Ah! At a tremendous pace our boat flew forward over the very place where, a second before, our duck had been. But where was he? By a turn of the hand he had twisted round his punt, and as our fellows dug their oars wildly into the water and tried to pull up, there was he, calmly scuttling away in an opposite direction, and laughing at us!
In due time we had swung round, and were after him again, the wiser for this lesson.
Next time we overhauled him we made our approach in a far more gingerly manner. We kept as little way as possible on our boat, determined not to lose time again by overshooting our mark. As long as he could, our duck led us down stream, then, when we had all but caught him, he made a feint of swooping off to the right, a manoeuvre which our coxswain promptly followed. But no sooner was our rudder round than the rogue deftly brought his punt sharp to the left, and so once more escaped us.
This sort of thing went on for a long time, and I was beginning to think the hunt was likely to prove a monotonous affair after all, when our coxswain suddenly called to me down the boat—
"Be ready, Adams."
Then it began gradually to dawn on me our coxswain after all knew what he was about. There was a rather deep bay up near the top of the course, bounded by two prominent little headlands, and into this bay the duck, in a moment of carelessness, had ventured. It was a chance not to be let slip. A few strokes brought our cutter up to the spot, and once there, our cunning coxswain carefully kept us pointed exactly across the bay. The duck, seeing his danger, made a dash to one corner, hoping to avoid us; but he was too late, we were there before him, and before he could double and make the other corner our boat had back-watered to the spot. Thus gradually we hemmed him in closer and closer to the shore, amid the cheers of our friends, until at last it was evident to every one the punt was no longer of use.
Still, he let us sidle close up to him before he abandoned his craft; then with a sudden bound he sprang overboard and disappeared from view.
It was no use going after him, I knew, till I could see where he would rise, and so I waited, ready for a plunge, watching the water where he would probably turn up. Several seconds passed, but there were no signs of him. He was a good diver, we all knew, but this was surely a very long dive. Had an accident happened to him? A minute elapsed, two, and yet he never appeared! We in the boat were aghast; he must have come to grief. Ah! what were the people on the bank laughing at? Could there be some trick? Next instant the coxswain called out, laughing—
"He's hanging on to the rudder; over you go, Adams!"
At the word I slipped overboard and gave chase. And now began an exciting pursuit. Haigh, though perfectly at home in the water, was not a rapid swimmer; but in point of diving and dodging he had a tremendous advantage over any of his pursuers. The moment I got near him, and just as I was thinking to grab him, he would disappear suddenly and come up behind me. He would dive towards the right and come up towards the left. He would dodge me round the boat, or swim round me in circles, but no effort of mine could secure him. The time was getting on, and I was no nearer having him than before. With all his dodges, too, he never seemed to take his eyes off me for an instant, either above or below the water.
Once, as I was giving him chase, he suddenly dived, and the next intimation I had of his whereabouts was a sly pinch of my big toe as he came up behind me. This was adding insult to injury, so I dashed round, and made at him. Again he dived; and this time, without waiting an instant, I dived too. I could see him distinctly under the water, scuttling away in a downward direction just below me. Shutting my lips tight, I dug my way down after him; but, alas! under water I was no match for Haigh. I felt an irresistible temptation to gasp; my nose smarted, and the water round my head seemed like lead. As quickly as possible I turned my hands up, and struck out for the surface.
What ages it seemed before I reached it! A second—half a second longer, and I should have shipped a mouthful, perhaps a chestful of water. I reached the surface at last, and, once above water, felt all right again. I looked about anxiously for my duck. But he was still down below. I reckoned, from the direction in which he had dived, that he would not be able to go far to either side, and therefore would rise close to me, probably exhausted, and if so, I had a good chance at last of catching him. So I waited and watched the place, but he never came.
Remembering my own sensations, and how nearly I had come to grief, I took a sudden fright, and concluding he must be in straits down below, shouted to the boat to come to the place, and then dived. I groped about, and looked in all directions, but saw no sign of him, and finally, in a terrible fright, made once more for the surface.
The first thing I was conscious of, on getting my head up, was a great shouting and laughing, and then I caught sight of that abominable duck, who had come up behind me, and had been laughing all the while behind my back, while I had been hunting for him in a far more serious way than I need ever have done!
Before I could turn and make towards him "Time!" was shouted from the bank; and so the Parkhurst Swimming Contest ended in a lamentable, though not disgraceful, defeat of the "fivers."
ATHLETIC SPORTS AT PARKHURST.
The last Saturday before the summer holidays was invariably a great day at Parkhurst. The outdoor exercises of the previous ten months culminated then in the annual athletic sports, which made a regular field-day for the whole school. Boys who had "people" living within a reasonable distance always did their best to get them over for the day; the doctor—an old athlete himself—generally invited his own party of friends; and a large number of spectators from Parkhurst village and the neighbourhood were sure to put in an appearance, and help to give importance to the occasion. Athletic sports without spectators (at least, so we boys thought) would be a tame affair, and we were sure to get through our day's performances all the better for a large muster of outsiders on the ground.
The occasion I am about to recall was specially interesting to me, as it was the first athletic meeting in which I, a small boy just entering my teens, ever figured. I was only down to run in one of the races, and that was the three-legged race; and yet I believe there was not a boy in the school so excited at the prospect of these sports as I was. I thought the time would never come, and was in positive despair when on the day before it a little white cloud ventured to appear in the blue sky. A wet day, so I thought, would have been as great a calamity as losing the whole circle of my relatives, and almost as bad as having my favourite dog stolen, or my fishing-rod smashed; and I made a regular fool of myself in the morning of the eventful day by getting up first at two a.m., then at three, then at four, and four or five times more, to take observations out of the window, till at last my bedfellow declared he would stand it no longer, and that since I was up, I should stay up.
Ah! he was an unsympathetic duffer, and knew nothing of the raptures of winning a three-legged race.
Well, the day was a splendid one after all—a little hot, perhaps, but the ground was in grand order, and hosts of people would be sure to turn up. My race yoke-fellow and I went out quite early for a final spin over the course, and found one or two of the more diligent of our schoolfellows taking a similar advantage of the "lie-abeds." Of course, as we were of opinion that the three-legged race was the most important and attractive of all the day's contests, we paid very little heed to what others were doing, but sought out a retired corner for ourselves, where, after tying our inside legs together, and putting our arms round one another's necks in the most approved fashion, we set to and tore along as fast as we could, and practised starts and falls, and pick-ups and spurts, and I don't know what else, till we felt that if, after all, we were to be beaten, it would not be our faults. With which comfortable reflection we loosed our bonds and strolled back to breakfast.
Here, of course, the usual excitement prevailed, and one topic engrossed all the conversation. I sat between a fellow who was in for the Junior 100 yards, and another who was down for the "hurdles." Opposite me was a hero whom every one expected to win in throwing the cricket-ball, and next to him a new boy who had astonished every one by calmly putting his name down for the mile race before he had been two hours at Parkhurst. In such company you may fancy our meal was a lively one, and, as most of us were in training, a very careful one.
The first race was to be run at twelve, and we thought it a great hardship that the lower school was ordered to attend classes on this of all days from nine to eleven. Now I am older, it dawns on me that this was a most wholesome regulation; for had we small chaps been allowed to run riot all the morning, we should have been completely done up, and fit for nothing when the races really began. We did not do much work, I am afraid, at our desks that morning, and the masters were not particularly strict, for a wonder. The one thing we had to do was to keep our seats and restrain our ardour, and that was no easy task.
Eleven came at last, and off we rushed to the mysteries of the toilet. What would athletic sports be like without flannel shirts and trousers, or ribbons and canvas shoes? At any rate, we believed in the importance of these accessories, and were not long in arraying ourselves accordingly. I could not help noticing, however, as we sallied forth into the field, that fine feathers do not always make fine birds. There was Tom Sampson, for instance, the biggest duffer that ever thought he could run a step, got up in the top of the fashion, in bran-new togs, and a silk belt, and the most gorgeous of scarlet sashes across his shoulders; while Hooker, who was as certain as Greenwich time to win the quarter-mile, had on nothing but his old (and not very white) cricket clothes, and no sash at all. And there was another thing I noticed about these old hands: they behaved in the laziest of manners. They sprawled on the grass or sat on the benches, appearing disinclined for the slightest exertion; while others, less experienced, took preliminary canters along the tracks, or showed off over the hurdles. Fine fellows, no doubt, they thought themselves; but they had reason to be sorry for this waste of energy before the day was out.
Programmes! With what excitement I seized mine and glanced down it! There it was! "Number 12. Three-legged Race, 100 yards, for boys under 15. 1, Trotter and Walker (pink); 2, White and Benson (green); 3, Adams and Slipshaw (blue)." Reader, have you ever seen your name in print for the first time? Then you may imagine my sensations!
Things now begin to look like business. The doctor has turned up, and a party of ladies. The visitors' enclosure is fast filling up, and there is a fair show of carriages behind. Those big fellows in the tall hats are old Parkhurstians, come to see the young generation go through its paces, and that little knot of men talking together in the middle of the ground consists of the starter, judge, and umpire. Not a few of us, too, turn our eyes wistfully to that tent over yonder, where we know are concealed the rewards of this day's combats; and in my secret heart I find myself wondering more than once how it will sound to hear the names "Adams and Slipshaw" called upon to receive the first prize for the three-legged race.
Hark! There goes a bell, and we are really about to begin. "Number 1, Junior 100 yards, for boys under 12," and 24 names entered! Slipshaw and 1, both over 12, go off to have a look at "the kids," and a queer sight it is. Of course, they can't all, 24 of them, run abreast, and so they are being started in heats, six at a time. The first lot is just starting. How eagerly they toe the line and look up at the starter!
"Are—" he begins, and two of them start, and have to be called back. "Are you ready?" he says. Three of them are off now, and can't understand that they are to wait for the word "Off!" But at last the starter gets to the end of his speech and has them fairly off. The little fellows go at it as if their lives depended on it. Their mothers and big brothers are looking on, their "chums" are shouting to them along the course, and the winning-post is not very far ahead. On they go, but not in a level row. One has taken the lead, and the others straggle behind him in a queer procession. It doesn't last long. Even a Junior 100 yards must come to an end at last, and the winner runs, puffing, into the judge's arms, half a dozen yards ahead of the next boy, and 50 yards ahead of the last. The other three heats follow, and then, amid great excitement, the final heat is run off, and the best man wins.
For the Senior 100 yards which followed only three were entered, and each of these had his band of confident admirers. Slipshaw and I were very "sweet" on Jackson, who was monitor of our dormitory, and often gave us the leavings of his muffins, but Ranger was a lighter-built fellow, and seemed very active, while Bruce's long legs looked not at all pleasant for his opponents. The starter had no trouble with them, but it was no wonder they all three looked anxious as they turned their faces to him; for in a 100 yards' race the start is everything, as poor long-legged Bruce found out, for he slipped on the first spring, and never recovered his lost ground. Between Ranger and Jackson the race was a fine one to within twenty yards of home, when our favourite's "fat" began to tell on him, and though he stuck gallantly to work he could not prevail over the nimble Ranger, who slipped past him and won easily by a yard.
This was a damper for Slipshaw and me, who, as in duty bound, attended our champion back to where he had left his coat, and so missed the throwing of the cricket-ball, which was easily won by the favourite.
But though we missed that event, we had no notion of missing the high jump, which promised to be the best thing (next to the three-legged race) that day. Four fellows were in for it, and of these Shute and Catherall were two of the best jumpers Parkhurst had ever had; and it was well known all over the school that in practice each had jumped exactly 5 foot 4 inches. Who would win now? The two outsiders were soon got rid of, one at 4 foot 10 inches, and the other at 5 foot; and the real interest of the event began when Shute and Catherall were left alone face to face with the bar. Shute was a tall fellow, of slight make and excellent spring. Catherall was short, but with the bounce of an india-rubber ball in him, and a wonderful knack of tucking his feet up under him in jumping. It was a pretty sight to watch them advance half-inch by half-inch, from 5 foot to 5 foot 3 inches. There seemed absolutely nothing to choose between them, they both appeared to clear the bar so easily. At 5 foot 31/2 inches. Shute missed his first jump, greatly to the dismay of his adherents, who saw Catherall clear it with complete ease. If he were to miss the second time, he would be out of it, and that would be a positive tragedy. So we all watched his next jump with breathless anxiety. He stood looking at the bar for a second or two, as if doubting his own chance. Then his face cleared up, and he sprang towards it. To our delight he rose beautifully and cleared it easily. At 5 foot 4 inches both missed the first jump, but both cleared it at the second trial. And now for the tug of war. Both had accomplished the utmost he had ever hitherto achieved, and it remained to be seen whether the excitement of the occasion would assist either or each to excel himself. Shute came to grief altogether at 5 foot 41/2 inches, and again, to our dismay, Catherall bounded over the bar at his first effort. Shute's friends were in despair, and if that hero had been a nervous fellow he might have been the same. But he was a very cool fish, and instead of losing his nerve, sat down on the grass and tightened the lace of his shoe. Then he slowly rose to his feet and faced his task. At that moment I forgot all about the three-legged race, and gave my whole heart up to the issue of this jump. He started to run at last, slow at first, but gathering pace for his final leap. Amid breathless silence he sprang forward and reached the bar, and then—then he coolly pulled up and walked back again. This looked bad; but better to pull up in time than spoil his chance. He kept us waiting an age before he was ready to start again, but at last he turned for his last effort. We could tell long before he got to the bar that this time, at any rate, he was going to jump, whether he missed or no. Jump he did, and, to our unbounded delight, just cleared the bar—so narrowly that it almost shook as he skimmed over it. That was the end of the high jump; for though both attempted the 5 foot 5 inches, neither accomplished it, and the contest was declared to be a dead heat.
After this several unimportant races followed, which I need hardly describe. Number 12 on the list was getting near, and I was beginning to feel a queer, hungry sort of sensation which I didn't exactly like. However, the mile was to be run before our turn came, and that would give me time to recover.
For this race we had many of us looked with a curious interest, on account of the new boy, of whom I have spoken, being one of the competitors in it. He didn't look a likely sort of fellow to win a race, certainly, for he was slightly bow-legged and thick-set, and what seemed to us a much more ominous sign, was not even arrayed in flannels, but in an ordinary white shirt and light cloth trousers. However, he took his place very confidently at the starting-post, together with three rivals, wearing respectively black, red, and yellow for their colours.
The start for a mile race is not such a headlong affair as for a hundred yards, and consequently at the word "Off!" there was comparatively little excitement among us spectators.
Yellow went to the front almost immediately, with red and black close behind, while the new boy seemed to confirm our unfavourable impression by keeping considerably in the rear. The mile was divided into three laps round the field, and at the end of the first the positions of the four were the same as at starting. But it was soon evident yellow was not destined to continue his lead, for before the half distance was accomplished, red and black, who all along had been neck and neck, were up to him and past him, and by the end of the lap the new boy had also overtaken him.
And now we became considerably more interested in the progress of this new boy, who, it suddenly occurred to us, seemed to be going very easily, which was more than could be said of red, who was dropping a little to the rear of black. A big boy near me said, "That fellow's got the wind of a balloon," and I immediately began to think he was not far wrong. For in this third lap, when two of the others were slacking pace, and when the third was only holding his own, the new boy freshened up remarkably. We could watch him crawl up gradually nearer and nearer to red, till a shout proclaimed him to be second in the running. But black was still well ahead, and in the short space left, as the big boy near me said, "He could hardly collar his man."
But see! The fellow is positively beginning to tear along! He seems fresher than when he started. "Look out. Black!" shout twenty voices. All very well to say, "Look out!" Black is used up, and certainly cannot respond to this tremendous spurt. Thirty yards from home the new boy is up to his man, and before the winning-post is reached he is a clear ten yards ahead.
"Bellows did it," said the big boy; "look at his chest"; and then for the first time I noticed where the secret of this hero's triumph lay.
But, horrors! the next race is Number 12, and Slipshaw and I scuttle off as hard as we can go, to get ready.
How miserable I felt then! I hated athletic sports, and detested "three-legged races." As we emerged from the tent, we and the other two couples, ambling along on our respective three legs, a shout of laughter greeted our appearance. I, for one, didn't see anything to laugh at, just then.
"Adams," said Slipshaw, as we reached the starting-place, "take it easy, old man, and mind you don't go over."
"All right," said I, feeling very much inclined to go over at that instant. Then that awful starter began his little speech.
"Are you ready?" he asked.
"Not at all," inwardly ejaculated I.
"Off!" he cried; and almost before I knew where I was, Slipshaw and I were hopping along on our three legs amid the cheers of the crowd.
"Steady!" said he, as I stepped out rather too fast.
Alas! we were last. The other two couples were pounding along ahead at a wonderful pace.
"Steady!" growled Slipshaw again, as I began to try to run, and nearly capsized him.
You may laugh, reader, but it was no joke, that three-legged race. The others ahead of us showed no signs of flagging; they were going hard, one couple close at the heels of the other, and we a full five yards behind. I was giving one despairing thought to the pots and prizes in the tent, when a great roar of laughter almost made me forget which foot to put forward.
What could it be?—and Slipshaw was laughing too!
"Steady, now," he said, "and come along!"
The laughter continued, and looking before me, I suddenly detected its cause. The leading couple in a moment of over-confidence had attempted to go too fast, and had come on their noses on the path, and the second couple, too close behind them, had not had time to avoid the obstacle, but had plunged headlong on to the top of them! It was all right now! Slipshaw and I trotted triumphantly past the prostrate heap, and after all won our prize! You may fancy I was too excited to think of much else after that, except indeed the hurdle race, which was most exciting, and won most cleverly by Catherall, who, though he came to grief at the last hurdle, was able to pick himself up in time to rush in and win the race by a neck from the new boy, whom we found to be almost as good at jumping as he was at running.
Then followed a two-mile race—rather dull to watch—and with that the sports were at an end.
Need I say how proudly Slipshaw and I marched up arm-in-arm to receive the prize for our race, which consisted of a bat for me and a telescope for my companion?—or how the new boy was cheered?—or how Shute and Catherall were applauded?
Before I left Parkhurst I was an old hand at athletic sports, but I don't think I ever thought any of them so interesting as the day on which Slipshaw and I, with our legs tied together, came in first in the three-legged race!
Sneak! It's an ugly name, but not ugly enough, believe me, for the animal it describes.
Like his namesake, the snake, he may be a showy enough looking fellow at first sight, he may have the knack of wriggling himself into your acquaintance, and his rattle may amuse you for a time, but wait till he turns and stings you!
I am at a loss how to describe in a few words what I—and, I expect, most of us—mean when we talk of a sneak. He is a mixture of so many detestable qualities. There is a large amount of cowardice in his constitution, and a similar quantity of jealousy; and then there are certain proportions of falsehood, ingratitude, malice, and officiousness to complete his ugly anatomy, to say nothing of hypocrisy and self- conceit. When all these amiable ingredients are compounded together, we have our model sneak.
How we detest the fellow! how our toes tingle when he comes our way! how readily we go a mile round to avoid him! how we hope we may never be like him!
Let me tell you of one we had at our school. Any one who did not know Jerry would have said to himself, "That's a pleasant enough sort of fellow." For so he seemed. With a knack of turning up everywhere, and at all times, he would at first strike the stranger as only an extremely sociable fellow, who occasionally failed to see he wasn't as welcome as one would think he deserved to be. But wait a little. Presently he'd make up to you, and become very friendly. In your pleasure at finding some one to talk to after coming away from home to a new and lonely place, you will, in the innocence of your heart, grow confidential, and tell him all your secrets. You will perhaps tell him to whom your sister is engaged; how much pocket-money your father allows you. You'll show him a likeness of the little cousin you are over head and ears in love with, and tell him about the cake your old nurse has packed up among the schoolbooks in your trunk. He takes the greatest interest in the narration; you feel quite happy to have had a good talk about the dear home, and you go to bed to dream of your little sweetheart and your new friend.
In the morning, when you wake, there is laughter going on in the beds round you. As you sit up and rub your eyes, and wonder where you are— it's all so different from home—you hear one boy call out to another—
"I say, Tom, don't you wish you had a nurse to make you cakes?"
That somehow seems pointed at you, though addressed to another, for all the other boys look round at you and grin.
"Wouldn't I?" replies the Tom appealed to. "Only when a chap's in love, you know, he's no good at cakes."
"Cakes!" "in love!" They must be making fun of you; but however do they know so much about you? Listen! "If I had a sister, I'd take care she didn't go and marry a butter-man, Jack, wouldn't you?"
It must be meant for you; for you had told Jerry the evening before that your sister was going to marry a provision merchant! Then all of a sudden it flashes upon you. You have been betrayed! The secrets you have whispered in private have become the property of the entire school; and the friend you fancied so genial and sympathising has made your open-hearted frankness the subject of a blackguard jest, and exposed you to all the agony of schoolboy ridicule!
With quivering lips and flushed face, half shame, half anger, you dash beneath the clothes, and wish the floor would open beneath you. When the getting-up bell sounds, you slink into your clothes amid the titters of your companions. It is weeks before you hear the end of your nurse, your pocket money, your sister, and your sweetheart; and for you all the little pleasure of your first term at school has gone.
But what of Jerry? He comes to you in the morning as if nothing had happened, with a "How are you, old fellow?"
You are so indignant you can't speak; all you are able to do is to glare in scorn and anger.
"Afraid you're not well," remarks the sneak; "change of scene, you know. I hope you'll soon be better."
Just as he is going you manage, though almost bursting with the effort, to stammer out—"What do you mean by telling tales of me to all the fellows?" He looks perplexed, as if at a loss for your meaning. "Tell tales of you?" says he. "I don't know what you mean, old chap."
"Yes, you do. How did they all know all about me this morning, if you hadn't told them?"
Then, as if your meaning suddenly dawned upon him, he breaks into a forced laugh, and exclaims—
"Oh, the chaff between Tom and Jack! I was awfully angry with Jack for beginning it—awfully angry. We happened to be talking last night, you know, about home, and I just mentioned what you had told me, never thinking the fellow would be such a cad as to let it out."
You are so much taken aback at the impudence of the fellow, that you let him walk away without another word. If you have derived no other advantage from your first day at school, you have at least learned to know the character of Jerry. And you find it out better as you go on.
If you quarrel with him, and threaten him with condign punishment, he will report you to the doctor, and you'll get an imposition. If you sit up beyond hours reading, he'll contrive to let the monitors know, and your book will be confiscated; if you happen to be "spinning a yarn" with a chum in your study, you will generally find, if you open the door suddenly, that he is not very far from the keyhole; if you get up a party to partake of a smuggled supper in the dormitory, he will conduct a master to the scene, and get you into a row. There's no secret so deadly he won't get hold of; nothing you want kept quiet that he won't spread all round the school. In fact, there's scarcely anything he does not put his finger into, and everything he puts his finger into he spoils.
If, in a weak moment of benevolence, you take him back into your confidence and friendship, no one will be more humble and forgiving and affable; but he will just use your new favour as a weapon for paying back old grudges, and sorely will you repent your folly.
In fact, there is only one place for Jerry—that place is Coventry. That city is famous for one sneak already. Let Jerry keep him company. There he can tell tales, and peep and listen and wriggle to his heart's content. He'll please himself, and do no one any harm.
A sneak has not always the plea of self-interest for his meanness. Often enough his tale-bearing or his mischief-making can not only do his victims incalculable harm, but cannot do him any possible good.
What good did the snake in the fable expect who, having been rescued, and warmed and restored to life by the merciful woodcutter, turned on his deliverer and stung him? No wonder the good fellow knocked him on the head! I knew another sneak once who seemed to make a regular profession of this amiable propensity. He seemed to consider his path in life was to detect and inform on whatever, to his small mind, seemed a culpable offence. In the middle of school, all of a sudden his raspy voice would lift itself up in ejaculations like these, addressed to the master,—
"Please, sir," (he always prefaced his remarks with "Please, sir"), "Please, sir, Tom Cobb's eating an apple!"
"Please, sir, Jenkins has made a blot!"
"Please, sir, Allen junior is cutting his name on the desk!"
Perhaps the indignant Allen junior would here take occasion to acknowledge his sense of this attention by a private kick under the desk. Then it would be—
"All right, Joe Allen; I'll sneak of you, you see if I don't!"
No one could do it better.
Amiable little pet, how we all loved him!
Sneaking seems to be a sort of disease with some people. There's no other way of accounting for it. It sometimes seems as if the mere sight of happiness or success in others is the signal for its breaking out. As we have said, its two leading motives are cowardice and jealousy. Just as the cur will wait till the big dog has passed by, and then, slinking up behind, give a surreptitious snap at his heels, so the sneak, instead of standing face to face with his rival, and instead of entering into fair competition with him, creeps up unobserved and inflicts his wound on the sly.
Thus it has been with all traitors and spies and deserters and mischief- makers since the world began. What a list one could give of the sneaks of history, beginning at that arch-serpent who marred the happiness of Eden, down to some of the informers and renegades of the present day!
Boys cannot be too early on their guard against sneaking habits. No truly English boy, we are glad to think, is likely to fall into them; still, even among our own acquaintance, it is sad to think how many there are who are not wholly free from the reproach.
The child in the nursery who begins to tell tales to his mother of his little brothers and sisters will, if not corrected, grow up to be just such another sneak as Jerry; and Jerry, unless he cures himself of his vice, will become a mere odious meddler and scandalmonger in society, and may arrive at the unenviable distinction of being the most detested man of his generation.
Every disease has its cure. Be honest, be brave, be kind, and have always a good conscience, and you cannot be a sneak.
THE SULKY BOY.
We all know him. He might be a good-looking fellow, perhaps, if it weren't for the scowl over his eyes and the everlasting pout about his lips. He skulks about with his hands in his pockets, and his head hung down. We all make room for him, and give him a wide berth; no one is anxious to be chosen upon the same side with him at chevy, or to get the desk next his in school. It's a fact we are all afraid of him, though we all despise him. He makes everybody unhappy, by being miserable himself for no reason at all.
Sometimes, indeed, he can be jolly enough—when he chooses. No one could tell at such times that there was anything queer about him; but then all of a sudden he shows in his true colours (and dingy enough colours they are), and then it is all up with enjoyment till he takes himself off, which he generally does before long.
All this is very sad; and if I say a word or two about sulkiness now, it will be in the hope of inducing my readers to give no encouragement to so ugly a vice.
There are two ways of showing anger, when one is unfortunate enough to be under the necessity of being angry. You can't always help it. Some people are never put out. However much you rile them, they are always good-humoured, always cool, always friendly. You might as well try to talk the sun behind a cloud as to get them in a rage. Happy the few who have this art! They always get the best of it, they always win the greatest respect, they always are the least likely people for any one to quarrel with.
I don't count these among the two classes of angry people, because they are not angry. But angry people are generally either in a rage or in the sulks. Neither is pleasant to meet, yet for my own part I would sooner have to do with the fellow in the rage. There's no deception about him; he's angry, and he lets you know it; he's got a grievance, and he blurts out what it is; he hits straight out from the shoulder, and you know what you've to expect. With such a one it is generally soon all over. Just as the April shower, sharp enough while it lasts, gives place in time to the sun, so Will Hothead generally gets all right as soon as he has let the steam off; and when he shakes hands and makes it up, you are pretty sure he thinks none the worse of you, and bears no malice.
Don't imagine I'm trying to justify exhibitions of temper. Far from it. I say every boy who can't control his temper has yet to learn one of the greatest lessons of life. What I want to show is that even passion, bad as it is, is not so bad as sulkiness.
For just consider what a miserable sort of boy this Tom Sulks, that we all of us know, is. Why, almost before he could speak he had learned to pout. If a toy was denied him, he neither bellowed like his little brother nor raved like his little sister, but toddled off and sulked in a corner all day long. When he grew a little older, if he was not allowed to play in the garden because it was damp, he refused to play in the nursery, he refused to come down to the dining-room, he refused to say his prayers at bedtime. When he was old enough to go to school, he would either play marbles the way he was used to (which was the wrong way), or not at all. If found fault with for not knowing his lesson, he pushed his books from him, and endured to be stood in the corner, or punished some other way, rather than learn his task. The vice only became worse and worse as time went on, and to-day Tom is an odious fellow. Look at him playing at cricket. He steps across the wickets to hit at a ball, but, instead, stops it with his foot. "How's that, umpire?" cries the bowler. "Out, leg before," is the answer.
Tom still keeps his place.
"Out, do you hear, leg before?"
"It wasn't!" growls Tom.
"The umpire gives it out," is the unanswerable reply.
Thereupon Tom's face clouds over, his eyebrows gather, and his lips shape themselves into a pout, as he drops his bat and walks from the wicket without a word. No one takes any notice of him, for the event is too common, alas, to occasion surprise. We know what his sulks mean. No one will get a word from him for hours, perhaps a day; no attempts at conciliation will tempt him back to the game, no friendly talk will chase the cloud from his face. There he goes, slouching up the playground into the house, and he will skulk upstairs to his study and slam the door, and that's all we shall see of Tom till suppertime.
Once, I remember, young Jim Friendly, a new boy, tried hard to coax Tom back into good humour. They had been having a match at something, I forget what, and Jim happened to say that something Tom did was against the rules. Tom, as usual, grew sulky and walked off.
"What, you aren't going in?" said Jim, disconcerted. No answer. "I didn't mean to offend you, old fellow; you may be right, after all." No answer. "I beg your pardon, Tom. I wouldn't have said it if I thought you'd have minded." No answer. "Don't be angry with a fellow, I didn't mean—"
No answer. And so Jim went on apologising, as if he had been all in the wrong and the other all in the right, and getting no word in reply, only the same scowl and uncompromising sullenness. "I'll take jolly good care not to stroke that fellow the wrong way again," said Jim, afterwards; "and if I should, I won't waste my time in stroking him the right way."
Just fancy what sort of man such a fellow as Tom is likely to turn out. Is he likely to have many friends? Unless he can get a few of his own sort, I'm afraid he'll be rather badly off in that respect. And then, oh, horrors! fancy half a dozen Tom Sulks together! What a happy family they would be! When Tom goes to business, he had better make up his mind to start a concern of his own, for I'm afraid he would have some difficulty in getting a partner, or, at any rate, keeping one. I could quite fancy some important question arising where Tom and his partner might hold different views. Tom insists he's right, the partner insists he's right. Tom consequently stays away for a week from the office, during which the poor partner has to manage as best he can.
Whatever Tom will do about marrying I don't know; and when he is married, what his wife will do, I know still less—it's no use speculating on such a matter. But now, letting Tom be, let us inquire whether the sulky boy is more to be blamed than pitied. That he is an odious, disagreeable fellow, there is no doubt. But perhaps it's not all his own fault. Some boys are of duller natures than others. The high-spirited, healthy, sanguine fellow will flare up at a moment's notice, and let fly without stopping to think twice of the injury done him, while the dull boy is altogether slower in his movements: words don't come to his lips so quickly, or thoughts don't rush into his mind as promptly as in others; he is like the snail who, when offended, shrinks back into its shell, leaving nothing but a hard, unyielding exterior to mark his displeasure. A great many boys are sulky because they have not the boldness to be anything else; and a great many others are so because to their small minds it is the grandest way of displaying their wrath. If only they could see how ridiculous they are!
I once knew two boys who for some time had been firm friends at school. By some unlucky chance a misunderstanding occurred which interrupted this friendship, and the grievance was, or appeared to be, so sore, that neither boy would speak to the other. Well, this went on for no less than six months, and became the talk of the whole school. These silly boys, however, were so convinced of the sublimity of their respective conducts that they never observed that every one was laughing at them. Daily they passed one another, with eyes averted and noses high in the air; daily they fed their memories with the recollection of their smart. For six months never a word passed between them. Then came the summer holidays, in the course of which it suddenly occurred to both these boys, being not altogether senseless boys, that after all they were making themselves rather ridiculous. And the more they thought of it, the more ashamed of themselves they grew, till at last one sat down and wrote,—
"Dear Dick, I'm sorry I offended you; make it up," to which epistle came, by return post, a reply,—
"Dear Bob, I'm sorry I offended you; let's be friends."
And the first day of next term these two met and shook hands, and laughed, and owned what fools they had both been.
A great many of the faults of this life come from the lack of a sense of humour. Certainly, if sulky boys had more of it, they would be inclined to follow the example of these two.
But, although there is a great deal about the sulky boy that merits pity rather than blame, there is much that deserves merciless censure. Why should one boy, by a whim of selfish resentment, mar the pleasure, not only of those with whom he has his quarrel, but with every one else he comes in contact with? "One dead fly," the proverb says, "makes the apothecary's ointment unsavoury"; and one sulky boy, in like manner, may destroy the harmony of a whole school. Isn't it enough, if you must be disagreeable, to confine your disagreeableness to those for whom it is meant, without lugging a dozen other harmless fellows into the shadow of it? Do you really think so much of your own importance as to imagine all the world will be interested in your quarrel with Smith, because he insisted a thing was tweedledum and you insisted it was tweedledee? Or, if you have the grace to confine your sulkiness to Smith alone, for his private benefit, do you imagine you will convince him of the error of his ways by shutting yourself up and never looking or speaking to him?
It used to be a matter of frequent debate at school what ought to be done to Tom Sulks.
"Kick him," said some. "Laugh at him," said others. "Send him to Coventry," put in a third. "Lecture him," advised others. "Let him alone," said the rest.
And this, after all, is the best advice. If a sulky fellow won't come round of his own accord, no kicks, or laughs, or snubs, or lectures will bring him.
Surely none of the readers of this chapter are sulky boys! It is not to be expected you will get through life without being put out—that is sure to happen; and then you've three courses open to you: either to take it like a man and a Christian, not rendering evil for evil, not carried away by revengeful impulse, but bearing what can honourably be borne with a good grace; and for the rest, if action is necessary, righting yourself without malice or vindictiveness; or else you can fly into a rage, and slog out blindly in wild passion; or you can sulk like a cur in a corner, heeded by no one, yet disliked by all, and without a friend—not even yourself.
You will know which of the three best becomes a British boy. Be assured, that which worst becomes him is sulking.
THE EASY-GOING BOY.
It is a common complaint in these degenerate days that we live harder than our fathers did. Whatever we do we rush at. We bolt our food, and run for the train; we jump out of it before it has stopped, and reach the school door just as the bell rings; we "cram" for our examinations, and "spurt" for our prizes. We have no time to read books, so we scuttle through the reviews, and consider ourselves up in the subject; we cut short our letters home, and have no patience to sit and hear a long story out. We race off with a chum for a week's holiday, and consider we have dawdled unless we have covered our thirty miles a day, and can name as visited a string of sights, mountains, lakes, and valleys a full yard long.
If such charges are just (and they are, we fear, not wholly unfounded), it is at least a satisfaction to know that there is one brilliant exception to the rule, and that is in the person of Master Ned Easy.
Whatever other folk do, he has no notion of hurrying himself. Some one once said of him that he was a fellow who looked as if he'd been born with his hands in his pockets. He takes his time about everything he does. If the breakfast bell rings before he is dressed, then—well, breakfast must wait. If breakfast is over before he has well begun, then everybody else must wait while he, in a leisurely way, polishes off his viands. In the classes, his is sure to be the last paper to be handed up; and when the boys are dismissed, he saunters forth to the playground in the rear of all the others. When he is one of a fishing- party, and everybody but he is ready, he keeps them all waiting till their patience is completely exhausted, while he gets together his tackle, laces his boots, and selects his flies.