In the midst of all this disturbance, and scheming, and distress, we can picture the poor, confused, sickly boy seeking refuge in his books, shrinking from the angry bustle of the court, and spending his days with his grave tutors in quiet study. Reluctantly, once and again, he was forced to come out from his retreat to give the sanction of his authority to some act of his ambitious nobles. With what trembling hand would he sign the death warrants they presented! with what weariness would he listen to their wrangles and accusations! with what distress would he hear discussions as to who was to wear that crown of his when he himself should be in the grave!
That time was not long in coming. He was not fifteen when an attack of smallpox laid him on his deathbed; and while all the court was busy plotting and counterplotting as to the disposal of the crown, the poor boy-king lay there almost neglected, or watched only by those who waited the moment of his death with impatience. As the disease took deeper and fatal hold of him, all forsook him save an incompetent quack nurse; and how far she may have helped on the end no one can tell.
But for him death was only a happy release from a world of suffering. A few hours before his end he was heard to speak something; and those who listened discovered that the boy, thinking himself alone, was praying. One has recorded those closing words of that strange, sad life: "Lord, deliver me out of this wretched and miserable life, and take me among Thy chosen: howbeit not my will, but Thine be done. Lord, I commit my spirit to Thee. O Lord, Thou knowest how happy it were for me to be with Thee; yet, for the sake of Thy chosen, send me life and health, that I may truly serve Thee. O my Lord God, bless Thy people, and save Thine inheritance. O Lord God, save Thy chosen people of England. O my Lord God, defend this realm from papistry, and maintain Thy true religion, that I and my people may praise Thy holy name, for Thy Son Jesus Christ's sake."
And with these words on his lips, and these prayers for England in his heart, the good young king died. Who knows if by his piety and his prayers he may not have brought more blessing to his country than many a battle and many a law of less Godfearing monarchs?
What he would have done for England had he been spared to manhood, it is not possible to say. A diary which he kept during his life affords abundant proof that even at his tender age he possessed not a little of the sagacity and knowledge necessary to good kingship; and a manhood of matured piety and wisdom might have materially altered the course of events in the history of England of that time.
One boon at least he has left behind him, besides his unsullied name and example. Scattered about the counties of England are not a few schools which bear his name. It is possible that a good many of my readers are to be found among the scholars of the Bluecoat School, and of the King Edward Grammar Schools in various parts of the country. They, at least, will understand the gratitude which this generation owes to the good young king who so materially advanced the learning of which he himself was so fond, by the establishment of these schools. He was one of the few of his day who saw that the glory of a country consists not in its armies and exchequers, but in the religious and moral enlightenment of its people; and to that glory his own life was, and remains still, a noble contribution.
HENRY STUART, THE BOY WHOM A NATION LOVED.
In the courtyard of a Scottish castle, over which floated the royal banner, a curious scene might have been witnessed one morning nearly three centuries ago. The central figures of the scene were a horse and a boy, and the attendant crowd of courtiers, grooms, lackeys; while from an open window, before which every one in passing bowed low, an ungainly-looking man watched what was going on with a strangely anxious excitement. The horse was saddled and bridled, but, with an ominous roll of his eyes, and a savage expansion of his nostrils, which bespoke only too plainly his fierce temper, defied every attempt on the part of the grooms to hold him steady. The boy, scarcely in his teens, was evidently a lad of distinction, as might be inferred from his gallant dress, and the deferential demeanour of those who now advanced, and endeavoured to dissuade him from a rash and perilous adventure.
"Beware, my lord," said one, "how you peril your life in this freak!"
"The animal," said another, "has never yet been ridden. See how even now he nearly pulls the arms of the grooms from their sockets."
"Lad," cried the ungainly man from the window, "dinna be a fool, I tell ye! Let the beast be."
But the boy laughed gaily at them all.
"Such a fuss about an ordinary horse! Let him go, men, and leave him to me."
And he advanced and boldly took the rein, which the grooms unwillingly relinquished.
There was something about the resolute bearing of the boy which for a moment seemed to impress the horse himself, for, pricking his ears and rolling his bloodshot eyes upon him, he desisted from his struggles and stood still.
The lad put out a hand and patted his neck, and in doing so secured a firm clutch of the mane in his hand; the next instant his foot was in the stirrup, and the next he had vaulted into the saddle, before the horse had recovered from his astonishment.
Once in, no effort of the untamed beast could succeed in ousting him from his seat. In vain it reared and plunged; in vain it pulled and careered round the yard; he stuck to his seat as if he grew there, and with cool eye and quiet smile seemed even to enjoy his position. After many unavailing efforts the horse seemed to yield his vicious will to the stronger will of his rider, and then the boy, lashing him into a gallop, fairly put him through his paces before all the spectators, and finally walked him quietly up to the window at which the ungainly man, trembling, and with tears in his eyes, had all the while watched his exploit. Here he halted, and beckoning to his attendants, dismounted and gave back the horse to their charge, saying as he did so—
"How long shall I continue a child in your opinion?"
Such is one of the recorded characteristic anecdotes of Prince Henry Stuart, eldest son of James the First of England.
Henry was only nine years old when a certain event entirely changed the prospects and circumstances of his early home. Instead of being the poor king of a poverty-stricken country, his father suddenly became monarch of one of the richest and most powerful countries of Europe. In other words, on the death of Queen Elizabeth James the Sixth of Scotland found himself James the First of England.
He came to the throne amid the mingled joy and misgivings of his new subjects. How soon he destroyed the one and confirmed the other, history has recorded, and we are not going to dwell upon that here, except to say that one of the few redeeming points about James the First in the eyes of the people was that he had a son who promised to make up by his virtues for all the vice and silliness of his father. They could endure the whims of their ill-conditioned king all the better for knowing that after him was to come a prince after their own heart, one of English sympathies and English instincts; one who even as a boy had won their hearts by his pluck, his frankness, and his wit, and who, as he grew up, developed into a manhood as vigorous and noble as that of his father was mean and imbecile.
Henry was, as we have said, emphatically an English boy—not in birth, for his father was Scotch and his mother a Dane—but in every other respect in which an English boy has a distinctive character. He was brave and honest, and merry and generous; his delight was in athletic exercise and manly sports; the anecdote we have quoted will testify to his skill and pluck. We read of him living at one time at Richmond, and swimming daily in the Thames; of his riding more than 100 miles in one day; of his hunting, and tennis playing, and shooting. The people could not fail to love one who so thoroughly entered into their sports, or to admire him all the more for his proficiency in them.
But, unlike some boys, Henry did not cultivate physical exercises at the expense of his mind. Many stories are related of his wit and his learning. A joke at his expense was generally a dangerous adventure, for he always got the best at an exchange of wit. Among his friends were some of the greatest and best men of the day, notably Raleigh; and in such society the lad could not fail to grow up imbued with principles of wisdom and honour, which would go far to qualify him for the position he expected to hold.
His ambition was to enter upon a military career, such as those in which so many of his predecessors had distinguished themselves. In this he received more encouragement from the people than from his own timid father, who told him his brother Charles would make a better king than he, unless Henry spent more time at his books and less at his pike and his bow. The people, on the other hand, were constantly comparing their young prince with the great Henry the Fifth, the hero of Agincourt, and predicting of him as famous deeds as those recorded of his illustrious namesake. However, as it happened, there was no war into which the young soldier could enter at that time, so that he had to content himself with martial exercises and contests at home, which, though not so much to his own taste, made him no less popular with his father's subjects.
In Henry Stuart the old school of chivalry had nearly its last representative. The knightly Kings of England had given place, after the Wars of the Roses, to sovereigns whose strength lay more in the council chamber than on the field of battle; but now, after a long interval, the old dying spirit flickered up once more in the person of this boy. Once again, after many, many years, the court went to witness a tournament, when in the tiltyard of Whitehall, before king and queen, and lords and ladies, and ambassadors, the Prince of Wales at the head of six young nobles defended the lists against all comers. There is something melancholy about the record—the day for such scenes had gone by, and its spirit had departed from the nation. The boy had his sport and his honestly earned applause; but when it was all over the old chivalry returned to the grave, never to appear again.
Henry himself only too soon, alas! sunk into that grave also. The closing years of his life leave many a pleasing trace of kindness, and justice, and earnestness. The boy was no mere boisterous schoolboy. He pondered and prepared himself for what he thought was his path in life; he foresaw its responsibilities, and he faced its duties, and set himself like a man to bear his part as a true king should.
It was not to be. Suddenly his health failed him—the tall boy had overgrown his strength before he knew it. Heedless of fatigue and exposure, he pursued his vigorous exercises, and what had been his life became his death. A cold taken during a game of tennis, when he was in his eighteenth year, developed into a fever, and for days he lay between life and death. The nation waited with strange anxiety for the issue, and a cloud seemed to fall over the length and breadth of the land.
Then he became worse.
"My sword and armour!" he cried; "I must be gone!" and after that the brave boy died.
The people mourned him as their own son; and years after, when England was plunged deep in the miseries and horrors of civil war, many there were who cried in their distress,—
"If but our Henry had lived, all this had not been!"
CHAPTER THIRTY ONE.
THE TROUBLES OF A DAWDLER.
I was born a dawdler. As an infant, if report speaks truly, I dawdled over my food, over my toilet, and over my slumbers. Nothing (so I am told) could prevail on me to stick steadily to my bottle till it was done; but I must needs break off a dozen times in the course of a single meal to stare about me, to play with the strings of my nurse's cap, to speculate on the sunbeams that came in at the window; and even when I did bring myself to make the effort, I took such an unconscionable time to consume a spoonful that the next meal was wellnigh due before I had made an end of a first.
As to dressing me in the morning, it took a good two hours. Not that I rebelled and went on strike over the business, but it was really too much of an effort to commit first one foot and then the other for the reception of my socks, and when that operation was accomplished a long interval always elapsed before I could devote my energy to the steering of my arms into sleeves, and the disposal of my waist to the adjustment of a sash. Indeed, I believe I am doing myself more than justice when I put forward two hours as the time spent in personal decoration during those tender years.
But of all my infant duties the one I dawdled over most was going to sleep. The act of laying me in my little cot seemed to be the signal for waking me to a most unwonted energy. Instead of burying my nose in the pillows, as most babies do, I must needs struggle into a sitting posture, and make night vocal with crows and calls. I must needs chew the head of my indiarubber doll, or perform a solo on my rattle— anything, in fact, but go to sleep like a respectable, well-conducted child.
If my mother came and rocked my cradle, I got alarmingly lively and entered into the sport with spirit. If she, with weary eyes and faltering voice, attempted to sing me to sleep, I lent my shrill treble to aid my own lullaby; or else I lay quiet with my eyes wide open, and defied every effort to coax them into shutting.
Not that I was wilfully perverse or bad—I am proud to say no one can lay that to my charge; but I was a dawdler, one who from my earliest years could not find it in me to settle down promptly to anything—nay, who, knowing a certain thing was to be done, therefore deferred the doing of it as long as possible.
Need I say that as I grew older and bequeathed my long clothes and cot to another baby, I dawdled still?
My twin brother's brick house was roofed in before my foundations were laid. Not that I could not build as quickly and as well as he, if I chose. I could, but I never chose. While he, with serious face and rapt attention, piled layer upon layer, and pinnacle upon pinnacle, absorbed in his architectural ambition, I sat by watching him, or wondering who drew the beautiful picture on the lid of my box, or speculating on the quantity of bricks I should use in my building, but always neglecting to set myself to work till Jim's shout of triumph declared his task accomplished. Then I took a fit of industry till my tower was half built, and by that time the bricks had to be put away.
When we walked abroad with nurse I was sure to lag behind to look at other children, or gaze into shops. Many a time I narrowly escaped being lost as the result. Indeed, one of my earliest recollections is of being conducted home in state by a policeman, who had found me aimlessly strolling about a churchyard, round which I had been accompanying the nurse and the perambulator, until I missed them both, a short time before.
My parents, who had hitherto been inclined to regard my besetting sin (for even youngsters of four may have besetting sins) as only a childish peculiarity, at last began to take note of my dawdling propensities, and did their best to cure me of them. My father would watch me at my play, and, when he saw me flagging, encourage me to persevere in whatever I was about, striving to rouse my emulation by pitting me against my playmates. For a time this had a good effect; but my father had something better to do than always preside at our nursery sports, and I soon relapsed into my old habits.
My mother would talk and tell stories to us; and always, whenever my attention began to fail, would recall me to order by questions or direct appeals. This, too, as long as it was fresh, acted well; but I soon got used to it, and was as bad as ever. Indeed, I was a confirmed dawdler almost before I was able to think or act for myself.
When I was eight, it was decided to send me and Jim to school—a day school, near home, presided over by a good lady, and attended by some dozen other boys. Well, the novelty of the thing pleased me at first, and I took an interest in my spelling and arithmetic, so that very soon I was at the top of my class. Of course my father and mother were delighted. My father patted me on the head, and said, "I knew he could be diligent, if he chose."
And my mother kissed me, and called me her brave boy; so altogether I felt very virtuous, and rather pitied Jim, who was six from the top, though he spent longer over his sums than I did.
But, alas! after the first fortnight, the novelty of Mrs Sparrow's school wore off. Instead of pegging along briskly to be in time, I pulled up once or twice on the road to investigate the wonders of a confectioner's window, or watch the men harness the horses for the omnibus, till suddenly I would discover I had only five minutes to get to school in time, and so had to run for my life the rest of the way, only overtaking Jim on the very doorstep. Gradually my dawdling became more prolonged, until one day I found myself actually late. Mrs Sparrow frowned, Jim looked frightened, my own heart beat for terror, and I heard the awful sentence pronounced, "You must go to the bottom of the class."
I made up my mind this should be the last occasion on which such a penalty should be mine. But, alas! the very next day the confectioner had a wonderful negro figure in his window made all of sweets, his face of liquorice and his shirt of sugar, his lips of candy and his eyes of brandy-balls. I was spellbound, and could not tear myself away. And when I did, to add to my misfortunes, there was a crowd outside the omnibus stables to watch the harnessing of a new and very frisky horse. Of course I had to witness this spectacle, and the consequence was I got to school half an hour late, and was again reprimanded and stood in the corner.
This went on from bad to worse. Not only did I become unpunctual, but I neglected my lessons till the last moment, and then it was too late to get them off, though I could learn as much in a short time as any of the boys. All this grieved poor Mrs Sparrow, who talked to my parents about it, who talked very seriously to me. My father looked unhappy, my mother cried; Mrs Sparrow (who was present at the interview) was silent, and I wept loudly and promised to reform—honestly resolving I would do so.
Well, for a week I was a model of punctuality and industry; but then the confectioner changed his sugar negro for an elephant made all of toffee, and I was once more beguiled. Once more from top of my class I sank to the bottom; and though after that I took fits and starts of regularity and study, I never was able for long together to recover my place, and Mrs Sparrow fairly gave me up as a bad job.
What was to be done? I was growing up. In time my twelfth birthday arrived, and it was time I went to boarding school.
I could see with what anxiety my parents looked forward to the time, and I inwardly reproached myself for being the cause of their trouble. "Perhaps," thought I, "I shall get all right at Welford," and having consoled myself with that possibility I thought no more about it. My father talked very earnestly to me before I left home for the first time in my life. He had no fears, he said, for my honesty or my good principles; but he had fears for my perseverance and diligence. "Either you must conquer your habit of dawdling," he said, "or it will conquer you." I was ready to promise any sacrifice to be cured of this enemy; but he said, "No, lad, don't promise, but remember and do!" And then he corded up my trunk and carried it downstairs. I cannot to this day recall my farewell with my mother without tears. It is enough to say that I quitted the parental home determined as I never was before to do my duty and fight against my besetting sin, and occupied that doleful day's journey with picturing to myself the happiness which my altered habits would bring to the dear parents whom I was leaving behind.
I pass over my first week at Welford. It was a new and wonderful world to me; very desolate at first, but by degrees more attractive, till at last I went the way of all schoolboys, and found myself settled down to my new life as if I had never known another.
All this time I had faithfully kept my resolution. I was as punctual as clockwork, and as diligent as an ant. Nothing would tempt me to abate my attention in the preparation of my lessons; no seductions of cricket or fishing would keep me late for "call over." I had already gained the approval of my masters, I had made my mark in my class, and I had written glowing letters home, telling of my kept resolutions, and wondering why they should ever before have seemed difficult to adhere to.
But as I got better acquainted with some of my new schoolfellows it became less easy to stick steadily to work. I happened to find myself in hall one evening, where we were preparing our tasks for next day, seated next to a lively young scapegrace, whose tongue rattled incessantly, and who, not content to be idle himself, must needs make every one idle too.
"What a muff you are, Charlie," he said to me once, as I was poring over my Caesar and struggling desperately to make out the meaning of a phrase—"what a muff you are, to be grinding away like that! Why don't you use a crib?"
"What's a crib?" I inquired.
"What, don't you know what a crib is? It's a translation. I've got one. I'll lend it to you, and you will be able to do your Caesar with it like winking."
I didn't like the notion at first, and went on hunting up the words in the dictionary till my head ached. But next evening he pulled the "crib" out of his pocket and showed it to me. I could not resist the temptation of looking at it, and no sooner had I done so than I found it gave at a glance the translation it used to take me an hour to get at with the dictionary. So I began to use the "crib" regularly; and thus, getting my lessons quickly done, I gradually began to relapse into my habits of dawdling.
Instead of preparing my lessons steadily, I now began to put off preparation till the last moment, and then galloped them off as best I could. Instead of writing my exercises carefully, I drew skeletons on the blotting-paper; instead of learning off my tenses, I read Robinson Crusoe under the desk, and trusted to my next-door neighbour to prompt me when my turn came.
For a time my broken resolutions did not effect any apparent change in my position in the classes or in the eyes of my masters. I was what Evans (the boy who lent me the "crib") called lucky. I was called on to translate just the passages I happened to have got off, or was catechised on the declensions of my pet verb, and so kept up appearances.
But that sort of thing could not go on for ever, and one day my exposure took place.
I had dawdled away my time the evening previously with one thing and another, always intending to set to work, but never doing so. My books had lain open before me untouched, except when I took a fancy to inscribing my name some scores of times on the title-page of each; my dictionary remained shot and unheeded, except when I rounded the corners of the binding with my penknife. I had played draughts clandestinely with Evans part of the time, and part of the time I had lolled with my elbows on the desk, staring at the head of the fellow in front of me.
Bedtime came, and I had not looked at my work.
"I'll wake early and cram it up," thought I, as I turned in.
I did wake up, but though the book was under my pillow I let the half- hour before getting up slip away unused. At breakfast I made an effort to glance at the lesson, but the boy opposite was performing such wonderful tricks of balancing with his teaspoon and saucer and three bread-crusts, that I could not devote attention to anything else. The bell for classes rang ominously. I rushed to my place with Caesar in one hand and the "crib" in the other. I got flurried; I could not find the place, or, when I found the place in the Caesar, I lost it in the "crib."
The master, to add to my misery, was cross, and began proceedings by ordering Evans to learn twenty lines for laughing in school-time. I glanced at the fellows round me. Some were taking a last peep at their books. Others, with bright and confident faces, waited quietly for the lesson to begin. No one that I could see was as badly off as I. Every one knew something. I knew nothing. Just at the last moment I found the place in the "crib" and in the Caesar at the same time, but scarcely had I done so when the awful voice of the master spoke:
"Stand up!" All dictionaries and notes had now to be put away; all except the Latin books.
I had contrived to get off the first two lines, and only hoped the master might pitch on me to begin. And he did pitch on me.
"Charles Smith," I heard him say, and my heart jumped to my mouth, "stand forward and begin at 'jamque Caesar.'"
"Please, sir, we begin at 'His et aliis,'" I faltered.
"You begin where I tell you, sir," sternly replied he.
A dead silence fell over the class, waiting for me to begin. I was in despair. Oh, if only I had not dawdled! I would give all my pocket- money for this term to know a line of that horrid Caesar.
"Come, sir, be quick," said the master.
Then I fetched a sigh very like a sob, and began—
"Que, and—" I heard the master's foot scrape ominously on the floor.
"Que, and—" I repeated.
"And what, sir?" thundered the master, rising in his seat and leaning across his desk towards me. It was awful. I was never more miserable in my life.
"Caesar, Caesar," I stammered. Here at least was a word I could translate, so I repeated it—"Que, and—Caesar, Caesar."
A dead silence, scarcely broken by a titter from the back desks.
"Jam," I chokingly articulated, and there stuck.
"Well, sir, and what does jam mean?" inquired the voice, in a tone of suppressed wrath.
"Jam"—again I stuck.
Another dead silence.
"Que, and—Caesar, Caesar; jam"—It was no use; the only jam I knew of I was certain would not do in this case, so I began again in despair; "Que, and—Caesar, Caesar; jam—jam—jam."
The master shut his book, and I knew the storm had burst.
"Smith, have you prepared this lesson?"
"No, sir," I replied, relieved to be able to answer any questions, however awful.
"Why not, sir?"
Ah! that I could not answer—not to myself, still less to him. So I was silent.
"Come to me after school," he said. "The next boy come forward."
After school I went to him, and he escorted me to the doctor. No criminal at the Old Bailey trembled as I did at that interview. I can't remember what was said to me. I know I wildly confessed my sins—my "cribbing," my wasting of time—and promised to abjure them one and all.
The doctor was solemn and grave, and said a great deal to me that I was too overawed to understand or remember; after which I was sent back to my class—a punished, disgraced, and marked boy.
Need I describe my penitence: what a humble letter I wrote home, making a clean breast of all my delinquencies, and even exaggerating them in my contrition? With what grim ceremony I burned my "crib" in my study fire, and resolved (a resolution, by the way, which I succeeded in keeping) that, come what might, I would do my lessons honestly, if I did them at all!
I gave Evans to understand his company at lesson times was not desirable, and was in a rage with him when he laughed. I took to rising early, to filling every spare moment with some occupation, and altogether started afresh, like a reformed character, as I felt myself to be, and determined this time, at any rate, my progress should know no backsliding. How soon I again fell a victim to dawdling the sequel will show.
I had a long and painful struggle to recover my lost ground at Welford.
When a boy has once lost his name at school, when his masters have put him on the black book, when his schoolfellows have got to consider him as a "fellow in a row," when he himself has learnt to doubt his own honesty and steadiness—then, I say, it is uphill work for him to get back to the position from which he has fallen. He gets little sympathy, and still less encouragement. In addition to the natural difficulty of conquering bad habits, he has to contend against prejudices and obstacles raised by his own former conduct; no one gives him credit for his efforts, and no one recognises his reform till all of a sudden, perhaps long after its completion, it makes itself manifest.
And my reform, alas! consequently never arrived at completion at Welford.
For a few weeks all went well enough. My lessons were carefully prepared; my exercises were well written, and my master had no more attentive pupil than I. But, alas! I too soon again grew confident and self-satisfied. Little by little I relaxed; little by little I dawdled, till presently, almost without knowing it, I again began to slip down the hill. And this was in other matters besides my studies.
Instead of keeping up my practice at cricket and field sports, I took to hulking about the playground with my hands in my pockets. If I started on an expedition to find moths or hunt squirrels, I never got half a mile beyond the school boundaries, and never, of course, caught the ghost of anything. If I entered for a race in our school sports, I let the time go without training, and so was beaten easily by fellows whom I had always thought my inferiors. The books I read for my amusement out of school hours were all abandoned after a chapter or two; my very letters home became irregular and stupid, and often were altogether shelved.
And all this time (such is the blindness of some people) I was imagining I had quite retrieved my lost reputation! I shall never forget, however, how at last I discovered that my time at Welford had been wasted, and that, so far from having got the better of my enemy, I had become a more confirmed dawdler than ever.
I had come to my last half-year at school, being now seventeen. My great desire was to go to Cambridge, which my father had promised I should do if I succeeded in obtaining a scholarship, which would in part defray the cost of my residence there. On this scholarship, therefore, my heart was bent (as much as a dawdler's heart can be bent on anything) and I made up my mind to secure it.
The three fellows who were also going in for it were all my juniors, and considerably below me in the doctor's class; so I had little anxiety as to the result.
Need I say that this very confidence was fatal to me? While they were working night and day, early and late, I was amusing myself with boxing- gloves and fishing-rods. While they, with wet towels round their heads, burnt the midnight oil, I sprawled over a novel in my study. Of course, now and then I took a turn at my books, and each inspection tended to satisfy me with myself better than ever. "Those duffers will never be able to get up all that Greek in the time," I said to myself, "and not one of them knows an atom of mechanics."
Well, the time drew near. My father had written rejoicing to hear of my good prospects, and saying how he and mother were constantly thinking of me in my hard work, and so on.
"Yes," thought I, "they'll be pleased, I know." About a week before the examination I looked at my books rather more frequently, and, now and then (though I would not acknowledge it even to myself), felt my confidence a trifle wavering. There were a few things I had not noticed before, that must be got up with the rest of the subjects, "However, a day's work will polish them off," said I; "let's see, I've promised to fish with Wilkins to-morrow—I'll have a go in at them on Thursday."
But Thursday found me fishing too, and on Friday there was a cricket- match. However, the examination was not till Tuesday, so there was half a week yet.
Saturday, of course, was a half-holiday, and though I took another look at some of my books, and noted one or two other little things that would have to be got up, I determined that the grand "go in" at, and "polishing off" of, these subjects should take place on Monday.
On Monday accordingly I set to work.
Glancing from my window—as I frequently did while I was at work—whom should I see, with a fly-net over his shoulder, but Wilton, one of the three fellows in against me for the scholarship! And not long after him who should appear arm-in-arm in cricket costume, but Johnson and Walker, the other two!
"Ho! ho!" said I to myself, "nice boys these to be going in for an exam.! How can they expect to do anything if they dawdle away their time in this way! I declare I quite feel as if I were taking an unfair advantage of them to be grinding away up here!"
Had I realised that these three fellows had been working incessantly for the last month, and were now taking a breath of fresh air in anticipation of the ordeal of the following day, I should have been less astonished at what I saw, and more inclined to work, at any rate this day, like mad.
But I allowed my benevolent desire not to take an unfair advantage to prevail, and was soon far up the stream with my fishing-rod.
So Monday passed. In the evening I had another turn at my books, but an unsatisfactory one.
"What's the use of muddling my brain? I had better take it easy, and be fresh for to-morrow," thought I, as I shut them up and pushed my chair back from the table.
Next morning brought me a letter from my father:
"This will reach you on the eventful day. You know who will be thinking of their boy every moment. We are happy to know your success is so sure; but don't be too confident till it's all well over. Then we shall be ready to rejoice with you. I have already heard of rooms at Cambridge for you; so you see mother and I are counting our chickens before they are hatched! But I have no fears, after what you have told me."
This letter made me unhappy; the sight of my books made me unhappy; the sight of Wilton, Johnson, and Walker, fresh and composed, made me unhappy; the sight of the doctor wishing me good morning made me unhappy. I was, in fact, thoroughly uncomfortable. The list of those one or two little matters that I had intended to polish off grew every time I thought of them, till they wellnigh seemed to eclipse the other subjects about which I felt sure. What an ass I had been!
"The candidates for the Calton Scholarship are to go to the doctor's class-room!"
To the doctor's class-room we four accordingly proceeded.
On the way, not to appear nervous, I casually inquired of Wilton if he had caught any specimens yesterday.
"Yes," he said gaily. "I got one splendid fellow, a green-winged moth. I'll show him to you in my study after the exam, is over."
Here was a fellow who could calmly contemplate the end of this day's ordeal. I dared not do as much as that!
The doctor affably welcomed us to his room, and bade us be seated. Several quires of blank paper, one or two pens, a ruler, and ink, were provided at each of our four desks.
Then a printed paper of questions was handed to each, and the examination began.
I glanced hurriedly down my paper. Question 1 was on one of those subjects which had escaped my observation. Question 2 was a piece of translation I did not recognise as occurring in the Greek book I had got up, and yet I thought I had been thoroughly through it. Question 3— well, no one would be able to answer that. Question 4—oh, horrors! another of those little points I had meant to polish off. Thus I glanced from top to bottom of the paper. Here and there I fancied I might be able to give some sort of answer, but as for the rest, I was in despair. I dashed my pen into the ink, and wrote my name at the head of a sheet of paper, and ruled a line underneath it. Then I dug my fingers in my hair, and waited for an inspiration. It was a long time coming. In the meantime I glanced round at the other three. They were all writing hard, and Wilton already had one sheet filled. Somehow the sight of Wilton reminded me of the moth he had spoken of. I wondered if it was a finer specimen than I had got at home—mine had blue wings and a horn. Funny insects moths were! I wondered if the doctor used to collect them when he was a boy. The doctor must be nearly sixty now. Jolly to be a doctor, and have nothing to do but examine fellows! I wondered if Walker's father had written him a letter, and what sort of nib he (Walker) must be writing with, with such a peculiar squeak— rather like a frog's squeak. I wouldn't mind being a frog for some things; must be jolly to be equally at home on dry ground or in water! Fancy eating frogs! Our French master was getting more short-tempered than ever.
And so I rambled on, while the paper in front of me remained empty.
The inspirations never came. The hours whizzed past, and my penholder was nibbled half away. In vain I searched the ceilings, and my thumb- nails; they gave me no help. In vain I read over the examination paper a score of times. It was all question and no answer there. In vain I stared at the doctor as he sat quietly writing; he had no ideas for me. In vain I tried to count, from where I sat, how many sheets Johnson had filled; that did not help to fill mine. Then I read my questions over again, very closely, and was in the act of wondering who first decided that p's should turn one way in print and q's another, when the doctor said, "Half an hour more!"
I was electrified. I madly began answering questions at random. Anything to get my paper filled. But, fast as I wrote, I could not keep pace with Wilton, whose pen flew along the paper; and he, I knew, was writing what would get him marks while I was writing rubbish. Presently my attention was diverted by watching Walker gather up and pin together his papers. I looked at my watch. Five minutes more. At the same time the doctor took out his. I could not help wondering if it was a Geneva or an English watch, and whether it had belonged to his father before him, as mine had. Ah! my father, my poor father and mother!
"Cease work, please, and hand in your papers."
I declined Wilton's invitation to come and see his moth, and slunk to my room miserable and disgusted.
Even now I do not like to recall the interval which elapsed between the examination and the declaration of the result. To Johnson, Wilton and Walker it was an interval of feverish suspense; to me it was one of stolid despair. I was ashamed to show my face among my schoolfellows; ashamed to write home; ashamed to look at a book. The nearer the day came the more wretched I grew; I positively became ill with misery, and begged to be allowed to go home without waiting for the result.
I had a long interview with the doctor before I quitted Welford; but no good advice of his, no exhortations, could alter my despair.
"My boyhood has been a failure," I said to him, "and I know my manhood will be one too."
He only looked very sorrowful, and wrung my hand.
The meeting with my parents was worst of all; but over that I draw a veil.
For months nothing could rouse me from my unhappiness, and in indulging it I dawdled more than ever. My prospects of a college life were blighted, and I had not the energy to face business. But, as was always the case, I could not for long together stick to anything; and in due time I emerged from my wretchedness, an idle, dawdling youth, with no object in life, no talents to recommend me, nothing to do.
It was deplorable, and my father was nearly heart-broken. Heroically he strove to rouse me to activity, to interest me in some pursuit. He did for me what I should have done for myself—sought occupation for me, and spent days and days in his efforts to get me settled in life. At last he succeeded in procuring a nomination to a somewhat lucrative government clerkship; and, for the first time since I left Welford, my father and mother and I were happy together. Despite all my demerits, I was now within reach of a position which many a youth of greater ability and steadier character might well have envied; and I believe I was really thankful at my good fortune.
"I will go with you to-morrow," said my father, "when you have to appear before the head of the department."
"All right," said I; "what time is it?"
"Well, I must meet you at the place, then, for I promised to see Evans early in the morning."
"Better go to him to-day," said my mother; "it would be a thousand pities to be late to-morrow."
"Oh, no fear of that," said I, laughing; "I've too good an eye to my own interests."
Next morning I went to see Evans, and left him in good time to meet my father at the stated hour. But an evil spirit of dawdling seized me as I went. I stopped to gaze into shops, to chat with a passing acquaintance, and to have my boots blacked. Forgetting the passage of time altogether, I strolled leisurely along, stopping at the slightest temptation, and prolonging my halts as if reluctant to advance, when suddenly I heard the deep bell of Westminster clock chime a quarter. "A quarter past eleven," thought I; "I must look sharp." And I did look sharp, and reached the place of appointment out of breath. My father was at the door. His face was clouded, and his hand trembled as he laid it on my shoulder, and said, "Charlie, will nothing save you from ruin?"
"Ruin!" said I, in amazement; "what do you mean? What makes you so late?"
"Late! it's not half-past yet; didn't you tell me half-past eleven was the time?"
"I did; and it is now just half-past twelve! The post you were to have had was filled half an hour ago by one of the other applicants."
I staggered back in astonishment and horror. Then it flashed on me that I had dawdled away an hour without knowing it, and with it the finest opening I ever had in my life.
I must pass over the next two years, and come to the conclusion of my story. During those two years I entered upon and left no less than three employments—each less advantageous than the former. The end of that time found me a clerk in a bank in a country town. In this capacity my besetting sin was still haunting me. I had several times been called into the manager's room, and reprimanded for unpunctuality, or cautioned for wasting my time. The few friends who on my first coming to the town had taken an interest in me had dropped away, disgusted at my unreliable conduct, or because I myself had neglected their acquaintance. My employers had ceased to entrust me with any commissions requiring promptitude or care; and I was nothing more than an office drudge—and a very unprofitable drudge too. Such was my condition when, one morning, a telegram reached me from my mother to say—"Father is very ill. Come at once."
I was shocked at this bad news, and determined to start for London by the next train.
I obtained leave of absence, and hastened to my lodgings to pack up my few necessaries for the journey. By the time I arrived there, the shock of the telegram had in some way abated, and I was able to contemplate my journey more calmly. I consulted a time-table, and found that there was one train which, by hurrying, I could just catch in a quarter of an hour, and that the next went in the afternoon.
By the time I had made up my mind which to take, and inquired where a lad could be found who would carry down my portmanteau to the station, it was too late to catch the first train, and I therefore had three hours to spare before I could leave. This delay, in my anxious condition, worried me, and I was at a loss how to occupy the interval. If I had been wise, I should never have quitted that station till I did so in the train. But, alas! I decided to take a stroll instead. It was a sad walk, for my father's image was constantly before my eyes, and I could hardly bear to think of his being ill. I thought of all his goodness and forbearance to me, and wondered what would become of us if he were not to recover. I wandered on, broken-hearted, and repenting deeply of all my ingratitude, and the ill return I had made him for his love to me, and I looked forward eagerly to being able to throw myself in his arms once more, and beg his forgiveness.
Thus I mused far into the morning, when it occurred to me to look at my watch. Was it possible? It wanted not half an hour of the time for the train, and I was more than two miles from the place. I started to walk rapidly, and soon came in sight of the town. What fatal madness impelled me at that moment to stand and look at a ploughing match that was taking place in a field by the roadside? For a minute or two my anxiety, my father, the train, all were forgotten in the excitement of that contest. Then I recovered myself and dashed on like the wind. Once more (as I thought but for an instant) I paused to examine a gipsy encampment on the border of the wood, and then, reminded by a distant whistle, hurried forward. Alas! as I dashed into the station the train was slowly turning the corner and I sunk down in an agony of despair and humiliation.
When I reached home at midnight, my mother met me at the door.
"Well, you are come at last," she said quietly.
"Yes, mother; but father, how is he?"
"Come and see him."
I sprang up the stairs beside her. She opened the door softly, and bade me enter.
My father lay there dead.
"He waited for you all day," said my mother, "and died not an hour ago. His last words were, 'Charlie is late.' Oh, Charlie, why did you not come sooner?"
Then she knelt with me beside my dead father. And, in that dark lonely chamber, that night, the turning-point of my life was reached.
Boys, I am an old man now; but, believe me, since that awful moment I have never, to my knowledge, dawdled again!
CHAPTER THIRTY TWO.
A NIGHT ON SCAFELL PIKE.
Off at last! Hard work to get off, though; as if a fellow of fifteen wasn't old enough to take care of himself. Mother cut up as much as if I'd asked leave to go to my own funeral—said I was too young, and knew nothing of the world, and all that sort of thing. But I don't see what knowing the world has to do with a week's tramp in the Lakes; not much of the world there—anyhow, where I mean to go.
I've got it all up in the guide-book, and written out my programme, and given them my address for every day, and promised to keep a diary, and always sleep between blankets, for fear the sheets shouldn't be aired— and what more can a fellow do?
Well, then mother said I must promise to keep in the valleys, and not attempt to climb any of the mountains. Oh, ah! lively work that would be. I might just as well stay at home and walk round Russell Square fifty times a day; and I said so, and repeated off from memory what the guide-book says about the way up Helvellyn. This last fetched them rather, and convinced them I wasn't undertaking what I didn't know all about. So at last father said, "Let the boy go, it may do him good and teach him self-reliance."
"But what'll be the good of that," sobs mother, "if my Bartholomew falls over a precipice and never comes home?"
"Oh, I'll promise not to fall over a precipice," said I.
And at last it was settled, and here I am in the train, half-way to Windermere.
Just been looking through my knapsack. Frightful nuisance! Had it weighed at Euston, and it weighs 4 pounds 8 ounces. I wanted to keep it under 4 pounds! Must be the spare shirt the girls insisted on my bringing, as if I couldn't wash the one I've got on in half a dozen waterfalls a day, and just run myself dry afterwards! Don't see what I can throw out. Must take the guide-book, and boot-laces, and needle and worsted for my blisters, and a collar for Sunday, and a match-box, and this diary book and a night-shirt. Bother that extra eight ounces.
I'm certain it will drag me down. By the way there are the sandwiches and apples! Suppose I eat them now, that'll make it all right. Good thought that. Here goes!
Getting near Windermere now—be there in an hour. May as well put on my knapsack, so as to be ready. By the way, I hope my money's all right, and I hope father's given me enough. He paid for my return ticket down here, and he's given me 6 shillings a day for the rest of the time. Says he did the Lakes once on 5 shillings a day when he was a boy. Somehow don't fancy there'll be much change for me out of the 6 shillings, if the guide-book says right; but you won't catch me spending more! Shan't ride anywhere where I can walk, and don't mean to tip any waiters all the time! Shall have to shut up now and look at the scenery at page 52 of the guide-book.
8 p.m., Ambleside.—The "Green Unicorn." Here at last, very fagged. I mean to have a row with the shoemaker when I get home about the hobs on my boots. Two of them are clean out, and all the rest are beginning to get worn already. Anyhow, I sold the coach people by walking. They thought I was bound to drive, but I didn't. Wouldn't have minded it, though, once or twice between Windermere and here, for of course I'm not in training yet.
Hope this inn isn't a dear one. It's the smallest I could find in the place, and I don't think they're likely to charge for attendance; if they do, it'll be a swindle, for I ordered eggs and bacon an hour ago, and they've not come yet. I wonder what they'll charge for the eggs and bacon. Suppose there are two eggs, that'll be 2 pence; and a slice of bacon, 2 pence; bread, 1 penny; tea, 1 penny; that's 7 pence; oughtn't to be more than 10 pence at the outside.
Ah, here it comes.
Good supper it was, too, and not much left at the end.
Mean to do Scafell to-morrow. Highest mountain in England, guide-book says. Two fellows in the inn are going, too; but I don't intend to hang on to them, as they seem to think no end of themselves. They're Cambridge fellows, and talk as if they could do anything. I'd like to take the shine out of them.
Tuesday, 8 a.m.—Just fancy, the swindlers here charged me 2 shillings for that tea, 2 shillings 6 pence for my bed, and 1 shilling for attendance—5 shillings 6 pence! I call it robbery, and told them so, and said they needn't suppose they could take me in. They said it was the usual charge, and they didn't make any difference for small boys, as they found they ate quite as much as grown-up people. The two Cambridge fellows seemed to find something to laugh at in this, and one of them said I didn't mind being taken in, but I didn't like being taken in and done for. I suppose he thought this was a joke. Some idiots can grin at anything.
I told the hotel people I should certainly not pay for attendance, as I didn't consider I had had any. The waiter said very well, my boots would do as well, and they would keep them till I settled the bill, and they had no time to stand fooling about with a whipper-snapper. Of course I had to shell out, as my boots were worth more than the whole bill—although my bootmaker has taken me in pretty well over the hobnails. I told them I should take good care to tell every one what sort of people they were, and I wouldn't have any breakfast there to pay them out.
Fancy this made them look rather blue, but the lesson will be good for them. Catch me getting done like that again! I'm going to start now, 8 a.m., as I want to get ahead of the Cambridge idiots. Page 54 of the guide-book has all about the scenery at Ambleside.
12 o'clock, Dungeon Ghyl.—Stopping here for lunch. Awful grind up the valley in the sun with an empty stomach. Going in for a 9 pence lunch here. The fellow says the weather is going to break this afternoon, and I'd better mind what I'm up to, going up Scafell Pike. He wants me to take a guide, that's his little dodge. As if I couldn't take care of myself! I've got it all up in the guide-book, and guess I could find the top blindfold. I'll laugh if I get up before the Cambridge fellows. They'll probably funk it, though, or miss the way, and have to get me to give them a leg up. It'll be a good lesson for them.
Don't think much of the inn here, so I'm glad I shan't be putting up here for the night. The waiter looks as if he expects to be tipped for everything. He seemed regularly cut up when I told him I was going on to Wastdale Head from the top, and shouldn't be staying here. Of course he tried to get me to come back, and said I could never get over to Wastdale this night. All stuff, I know, for it's no distance on the map. "Oh," he said, "don't you believe in the maps; they're no guide. Take my advice, and don't try to go to Wastdale, my boy." I was a good mind to be down on him for being so familiar, but what was the use? As if he knew better than the guide-books! Ah! here comes my lunch.
4 p.m., top of Rosset Ghyl.—Had to pay 1 shilling for that 9 pence lunch after all, as they charged 3 pence for attendance in the bill. Didn't care to have a row, as the Cambridge fellows turned up just that minute. Beastly the way they always grin when they see me. As if they couldn't grin at one another. I cleared out as soon as they came, and started up here.
There was a mile or so of pretty level path to the bottom of this ravine, and then it was a tremendous climb up to the top. You have to scramble nearly straight up among the rocks on each side of the waterfall, and if one of my hobnails went off, I'm certain half a dozen did. I'll tell my father not to pay that cobbler at all. I can't make out how the sheep manage to go up and down this place as they do. I know I'm glad I'm not coming back this way. I thought I was over once or twice as it was, owing to those wretched boots.
The Cambridge duffers caught me about half-way up, trying to look as if they weren't fagged. I knew better—never saw fellows so blown. They appeared to be greatly amused because I happened to slip backwards down a grass slope just as they passed, as if there was anything funny in that. One of them called out, "It's the other way up, youngster," and the other said, "We'll tell them you're on the way at the top." I was a good mind to shut them up, but I got some earth in my mouth at the moment, and as they didn't wait, it wasn't any use going after them. However, I expect I shall find them regularly done up when I get a little higher, and then perhaps they'll be sorry they cheeked me. All about the view from Rosset Ghyl in page 72 of the guide-book. Awful sell; it's coming on to rain, and quite misty, too. I'd better go on, or I shan't get the view from the top.
6 o'clock.—Don't exactly know where I am. Regular Scotch mist come down over the hills, and I can't see twenty yards. Only sitting down now because I'm not quite sure whether I'm right or wrong. Been looking it up in the guide-book, but there's not much to guide you there when you can't see your way. The only thing is, it says there are little cairns marking the way up to the top, every fifty yards or so. It would be rather a tip to find one of them.
The wind is making a noise, exactly like the sea, against the side of the mountain. I saw the side a little while ago, like a great black cliff, but it's too misty to see it now. Hope it'll clear up soon, or I may be late getting down to Wastdale. By the way, I wonder if they call this heap of stones I'm sitting on one of the cairns? Good idea! it must be.
Yes, it's all right; I left my traps here and went fifty yards further on up the slope, and there's another cairn there—very lucky! I had a job to find my way back here in the mist, though. However, I'm on the right track now. Wonder what's become of those Cambridge fellows. They're sure not to be up to my tips, and most likely they're wandering about lost. Poor duffers!
7 o'clock.—Hope I'm right, but it's getting more misty than ever, and I can hardly stand up in the wind. It's an awful job, too, feeling one's way along by these cairns; for you can't see one from the other, and the chances are you may now and then lose sight of both, and then you're lost. I've been lost several times, but luckily I've got into the track again. Fancy I must be getting on towards the top, for the rocks are getting bigger and tumbled about in all directions, and the guide-book says that's what the top of Scafell Pike is like. Shan't I be glad to get to the top! I'm frightfully cold and wet here, and there's scarcely a hob left on my wretched boots. I wish I had that cobbler here!
All about the view going up to the top of Scafell Pike on page 76 of the guide-book. Sounds rather like a joke when you can scarcely see your hand in front of you, to read that behind you stretches the beautiful vista of the Langdale Valley, with Wansfell in the distance, and an exquisite glimpse of the waters of Windermere sparkling in the sun; to your right Helvellyn towers amidst its lesser brethren, while to the left the gloomy dome of Coniston lends a serious grandeur to the scene. Sounds all very fine, but it's a pity they don't put in the view on a day like this as well.
I quite miss the dashing of the wind against the cliffs. They're far behind now, and the wind seems to dash against me instead. Whew! I'd better peg on, or the tea will be cold at Wastdale Head! No sign of the Cambridge fellows. Wonder where they are. Half wish I was with them— idiots as they are.
8:30 o'clock.—Top at last! I'm black and blue all over, with tumbling among those brutal rocks. Don't know however I got up, and now I'm up, don't know how I shall get down. It's just dark now, and I can scarcely see the paper I'm writing on. Jolly fix I'm in. Can't positively see the big cairn, though I'm sitting on it, and haven't a notion which way I came up to it, or which way I have to go down to Wastdale.
I wish those Cambridge fellows would turn up. They weren't bad fellows after all. In fact, I rather liked one of them. Don't know what to do. By the way, may as well eat one of the biscuits I have in my knapsack. Think of sitting up here on the highest spot of England eating a biscuit, and not knowing how to get home! Enough to make any one feel down in the mouth. Wish I was down in the valley. All about the view from the top on page— Bah! that's too much of a joke. Wish I could see anything! Only thing I can see is that I'm stuck here for the night, and shall probably be found frozen to death in the morning. What an ass I was to snub those jolly Cambridge fellows! Fancy how snug it would be to be sitting between them now. I suppose they're down at the hotel having a good tea before a blazing fire. My word, it makes one blue to—
11 o'clock.—Just had the presence of mind to wind up my watch. Had to sit on my hands a quarter of an hour before I could feel the key in my waistcoat pocket. Ugh! wish the wind would shut up. Never felt so up a tree all my life. Those Cambridge fellows will be curling up in bed now, I expect. Can't write more.
12 o'clock.—It suddenly occurred to me there was no absolute necessity, if I must stick up here all night, to stick at the tip-top. So I crawled down gingerly among the rocks on the side away from the wind and looked, or rather felt, for a sheltered place. Presently I slipped and toppled down between two great boulders and nearly killed myself. However, when I came to, it struck me I might as well stay here as anywhere else. It's right out of the wind and pretty dry, as the mist doesn't seem to be able to get down into it. Then the lucky idea occurred to me I had two candles in my knapsack and a box of matches, and I might as well light up. So I lit one of the candles, and I've been warming my fingers and toes at it for the last half-hour; also been reading the guide-book, and find that the Isle of Man is visible from this place. Jolly comforting to know it, when I can't even see the tip of my own nose. Got sick of the guide-book after that, and thought it would warm me to say over my Greek irregular verbs. Been through them once, but not quite successful 4,000 feet above the level of the sea. They remind a fellow rather too much of home. Wonder what they'd think there if they saw me up here. Wish I saw them, and could get a blanket! I promised them to sleep between blankets every night. It's awful not being able to keep one's promise.
The one thing that does comfort me is, I shan't have to pay anything for attendance to-night. In fact, I never spent such a cheap night anywhere... Booh! had to stop just now and sit on my hands again. Find it warmer even than the candle. How I wish those two Cambridge fellows were here! We could be quite jolly in here, and play round games, and that sort of thing. I've been trying one or two songs to pass the time, but they didn't come off. Made me homesick to sing, "Here in cool grot" and "Blow, gentle gales." That reminds me, the wind's dropped since I got in here. Sorry for it. It was some company to have it smashing all round one. Now it's so quiet it makes a fellow quite creepy. They do talk of mountain-tops being haunted. I know Scafell Pike is, and I'm the haunter. Wonder if there's any chance of anybody turning up? I've a good mind to go on to the cairn and howl and wave my candle about for a bit; it might fetch some one. The only thing is, it might frighten them away. I'll try it, anyhow, and I hope whoever comes will have some grub in his pocket and a pair of gloves.
1:30.—No go. Been howling like a hyena for half an hour till I've no voice left, and I'm all over spots of wax with the waving of my candle. Heard nothing but my own voice. Not an echo, or a dog barking, or anything. The mist lifted a bit, but I don't suppose any one could see the candle down at Wastdale. Ugh! ugh! Perhaps there'll be an article in a scientific paper about a curious phenomenon on the top of Scafell Pike. Wish I knew how to warm phenomenons! I've put on the spare shirt over my coat, and stuffed my feet into my knapsack, and wrapped last Friday's Daily News round my body and legs. Oh-h-h! why did I make a beast of myself to those two dear Cambridge fellows? Think of them now, with blankets tucked round their chins, and their noses in the pillow, snoring away; and their coats and bags lying idle about in the room. I do believe if I had their two suits on over my own I might keep warm. Hullo, what's that!
Never got such a fright. Thought it was thunder, or an earthquake, or the cairn coming down on the top of me, or something of that sort. Turned out to be the Daily News crackling under my clothes. Everything's so quiet, it startles one to move a foot. I'll give it up—I'll—there goes my last candle!
3:30.—Actually been asleep—at least, I don't know what's been going on the last two hours. That Daily News was rather a tip, after all. I might have been frozen to death without it. Hurrah for the Radicals! Rather crampy all the same about the joints, and must get up and shake myself, or I shall be no good for the rest of the day. Ugh! What a state my mother would be in if she heard that cough! I'm certain I hadn't caught it before I went to sleep.
Just been up to the top and had a look round. Mist is nearly all away, and there are some streaks in the sky that look like the beginning of morning. May hold out, after all. Never know what you can do till you try. I'll just put on my Daily News again and wait here another half- hour, and then try out again. Wish it was daylight. Mustn't go to sleep again if I can help it, as I might catch cold.
4:30.—Hurrah! Just seen the sun rise! No end of a fine show. Long bit of poetry about it in the guide-book, cribbed from Wordsworth or somebody. Can't say the page, as I tore out the leaf last night to put inside my boot, to help to keep my toes warm. Never expected to see the sun rise from the highest spot in England. Awful good score for me, though—very few do it, I fancy. Think of those lazy Cambridge fellows curled up in bed and missing it all; just the way with these fellows, all show off.
The sun's warm already, and I've left off my Daily News and spare shirt, and I'm just going to take the paper out of my boots; that is, if I can ever get down to my toes—but I'm so jolly stiff.
Never mind, I've done it, and—bother that cough, it's made me break the point of my pencil.
5 a.m.—Been sharpening the pencil with my teeth. Rather a poor breakfast; never mind, I shall have a rousing appetite when I get to the bottom. May tip that waiter possibly, if he brings the grub up sharp. Now I'm starting down. I shall go down to Dungeon Ghyl the way I came, I fancy. If I went down to Wastdale, I might meet those Cambridge fellows again, and I wouldn't care for that. It would mortify them too much to know what they've missed. Ta! ta! Scafell Pike, old man, keep yourself warm. I'll leave you my Daily News, in case you want it.
8 a.m.—Been all this time getting half-way down. Can scarcely crawl. Going up hill's nothing, but the bumping you get coming down, when you're as stiff as a poker, and coughing like an old horse, is a caution. Had a good mind to ask a shepherd I met half an hour ago to give me a leg down, but didn't like to; so I told him I'd just been to the top to see the sunrise, and it was a fine morning. All but added, "I suppose you haven't got a crust of bread in your pocket?" but pulled up in time. Pity to spoil my appetite for breakfast at Dungeon Ghyl. Ugh! if I sit here I shall rust up, and not be able to move. Must go on.
10 a.m.—Top of Rosset Ghyl. Not very swell time to get from the top of the Pike here in five hours. All a chance whether I get down at all, now—I'm about finished up. Wish those Cambridge fellows—
Here the diary ends abruptly; but, in case our readers are curious to know the end of our hero's adventure, they will be interested to learn that at the identical moment when the writer reached this point in his diary, the Cambridge fellows did turn up. They had, indeed, been out searching the hills from very early morning for the wanderer. As he did not arrive the night before at Wastdale, they had concluded he had given up the ascent, and returned to Dungeon Ghyl. But when early that morning a guide had come over from Dungeon Ghyl, and reported that the young gentleman had certainly not returned there, the two 'Varsity men became alarmed, and turned out to search. There was no sign of him on the Wastdale side of the mountain; and, getting more and more alarmed, they went on to the summit. There they discovered a crushed-up Daily News and two or three stained pages of a guide-book. Glad of any clue, they followed the track down towards Dungeon Ghyl, and at last came upon the poor fellow, fairly exhausted with hunger, fatigue, and rheumatism. They gave him what partially revived him, and then with the care and tenderness of two big brothers carried him down the steep side of Rosset Ghyl, and so on to the hotel. There they kept him under their special care, day and night, and never left him till he was well enough to return home to his anxious family.
Since then Bartholomew Bumpus has made several ascents of Scafell Pike, but he has never again, I believe, stayed up there all night to see the sunrise. Nor has he, when he could possibly help it, gone up unaccompanied by at least one Cambridge fellow.
CHAPTER THIRTY THREE.
VERY MUCH ABROAD.
Being the impressions of foreign travel, communicated chiefly to a particular friend by Thomas Hooker, minor, of Rugby, during the course of a Continental tour in France and Switzerland in the company of his brother, James Hooker, major, also of Rugby.
London, July 31.
Dear Gus,—Here's a spree! The pater's got an idea into his head that young fellows ought to see something of foreign parts, and store their minds with the beauties of Nature in her grandest—I forget what— anyhow, we backed him up; and Jim and I are to start abroad on our own hooks on Friday. How's that for luck? The pater has settled what hotels we go to in Paris and Switzerland, and he's sketched out a route for us every day we're away. The grind is, he's awfully particular we should write home every day and keep accounts. Jim will have to do that, and I'll keep you up. It really is a very good thing for fellows to travel and expand their minds, you know. We're starting from Holborn Viaduct at 9:30 on Friday. I'll write and let you know my impressions, as the pater calls it; and you might let your young sister see them too, if you like.
Yours truly, T. Hooker.
Paris, August 3.
Dear Gus,—We had an awful squeak for the train at Holborn, owing to Jim's hatbox falling off the cab and his insisting on going back to pick it up. It seems to me rather humbug taking chimneys at all, but he says that's all I know of foreign travel; so I caved in and brought mine too.
Another thing that nearly lost the train was a row about the luggage. The fellows wanted to do me out of two bob because they said my portmanteau was four pounds overweight! There was nearly a shindy, I can tell you, only Jim said we'd better walk into the chap on our way back. Anyhow, I wasn't going to be done, so I unlocked my portmanteau and took out my spare jacket and a pair of bags, and carried them over my arm, and that made the weight all right. The fellows tried to grin, of course, but I fancy they were rather blue about it.
Our tickets cost 45 shillings 6 pence each, not counting grub on the way, which about finished up a L5 note for the two of us.
Jim and I had a stunning time in the train. There was only one other old chap in the carriage. When the fellow came for the tickets outside Dover, Jim happened to be up on the luggage rack, and the fellow would never have spotted him if the rack hadn't given way. Then he got crusty, and we all but got left behind by the steamer.
Beastly tubs those steamers are! I wonder why they don't make some that go steady. And they ought to make the seats facing the side of the vessel, and not with your back to it. You miss such a lot of the view. I sat with my face to the side of the vessel most of the way. I don't exactly know what became of Jim. He said afterwards he'd been astern watching the English coast disappear. I suppose that accounted for his looking so jolly blue. We weren't sorry to clear out of that boat, I can tell you.
Jim was first up the gangway, and I was third, owing to dropping my spare bags half-way up and having to pick them up. There was an awfully civil French fellow at the top of the gangway, who touched his hat to me. I couldn't make out what he said, but I fancied he must be asking for a tip, so I gave him a copper. That seemed to make him awfully wild, and he wanted to know my name. I had to tell him, and he wrote it down; but as he didn't get my address, I hope there won't be a fuss about it. I didn't see any harm in tipping him, but I suppose it's against French law, and I don't mean to do it any more.
There was an awfully rum lot of chaps in our carriage between Calais and Paris. You'd have thought they had never seen a pair of bags before in their life; for they stared at mine all the way from Calais to Amiens, where we got out for refreshment. I thought it best to take my bags with me to the buffet, as they might have humbugged about with them if I'd left them in the carriage.
They ought to make English compulsory in French schools. The duffers in the buffet didn't even know what a dough-nut was! Not even when Jim looked it up in the dixy and asked for noix a pate. The idiot asked us if we meant "rosbif," or "biftik," or "palal"—that's all the English they seemed to know, and think English fellows feed off nothing else. However, we did get some grub, and paid for it too. When we got back to the carriage I took the precaution of sticking my bags on the rack above Jim's head; so all the fellows stared at him the rest of the way, and I got a stunning sleep.
We had an awful doing, as Bunker would call it—by the way, did he pull off his tennis match against Turner on breaking-up day?—when we got to Paris. The row at Holborn was a fool to it. Just fancy, they made Jim and me open both our portmanteaux and hat-boxes before they would let us leave the station! I can tell you, old man, I'm scarcely cool yet after that disturbance, and if it hadn't been for Jim I guess they'd have found out how a "Rug" can kick out! Jim says it's the regular thing, and they collar all the cigars they can find. All I can say is, it's robbery and cool cheek, and I wish you or some of the fellows would write to the Times or the Boy's Own Paper and get it stopped. We had to turn every blessed thing out on the counter, and pack up again afterwards. It's a marvel to me how the mater stowed all the things away. I couldn't get half of them back, and had to shove the rest into my rug and tie it up at the corners like a washerwoman's bundle. Jim's too easy-going by half. I'm certain, if he'd backed me up, we could have hacked over the lot of them; and I shouldn't have lost that spare pair of bags, which I forgot all about in the shindy. I hope there'll be a war with France soon. We were jolly fagged when we got to the inn, I can tell you. The old woman had got the pater's letter, so she expected us. She's rather an ass, and must have been getting up her English for our benefit, for she's called us "nice young Englese gentilman" about a hundred times already.
I don't think Jim's got over the blues he had watching the English coast yesterday. He's asleep still, so I'm writing this while I'm waiting for him to come to breakfast. I shall not wait much longer, I can tell you. Ta-ta! Remember me to any of the old crowd you see; also to your young sister.
Yours truly, Thomas Hooker.
P.S.—By the way, see what your French dixy says for doughnut, and let me know by return. We're going on to Switzerland in a day or two.
Paris, August 6.
Dear Gus,—The dictionary word of yours won't wash here. We've tried it all round Paris, and you might as well talk Greek to them. I don't believe there's any word in the language for dough-nut. Jim's not bad at French, either. We should be regularly floored if it wasn't for him. And I expect they guess by his accent he comes from Rugby, for fellows all touch their hats to him.
You know the pater gave us a list of places to go and see in Paris—the Louvre and the Luxembourg, and all that. Well, he never stuck down where they were, and we've had to worry it out for ourselves. Jim stopped a fellow this morning and asked him, "Ou est la chemin pour Luxembourg?" The fellow took off his hat and was awfully civil, and said, "Par ici, messieurs," and took us a walk of about three miles, and landed us at a railway station. He thought we wanted to go to Luxembourg in Germany, or wherever it is—fare about three cool sovs. The fellow hung about us most of the rest of the day, expecting a tip. Likely idea that, after the game he'd had with us! We couldn't shake him off till we bolted into one of the swimming baths on the river. That smoked him out. Most of these chaps draw the line at a tub. Would you believe it? at our inn, they never seem to have heard of soap in their lives, and we got quite tired of saying "savon" before we found some in a shop. Jim thinks they use it all up for soup. What we get at the inn tastes like it.
Jim is rather a cute beggar. We went to a cafe yesterday to get some grub, and he wanted a glass of milk. We had both clean forgotten the French for milk, and we'd left the dixy at the inn. We tried to make the fellow understand, but he was an ass. We pointed to a picture of a cow hanging on the wall and smacked our lips; and he grinned and rubbed his hands, and said, "Ah, oui. Rosbif! jolly rosbif!" Did you ever hear of such a born idiot? At last Jim had an idea and said, "Apportez- nous du cafe-au-lait sans le cafe." That fetched it. The fellow twigged at once. Not bad of Jim, was it?
Jolly slow place Paris. The swimming baths are the only place worth going to. Jim went in off the eight-foot springboard. You should have seen the natives sit up at the neat dive he made.
I hope the pater's not going to ask too much about the Louvre, because we scamped it. The fact is, there was a little unpleasantness with one of the fellows, owing to Jim's cane happening to scratch one of the pictures by a chap named Rubens. It was quite an accident, as we were only trying to spike a wasp on the frame, and Jim missed his shot. The fellow there made a mule of himself, and lost his temper. So we didn't see the fun of staying, and cut.
Montreux, Lake of Geneva, August 10.
Couldn't finish this before we left Paris. We meant to start for here on Friday, but settled to come on on Thursday night after all. You needn't go telling them at home, but between you and me it was a bit of a bolt.
The fact was, we went to a church called Notre Dame in the morning—not nearly such a snug place as Rugby Chapel, and they charge a penny apiece for the chairs. So we cut the inside and thought we'd go up to the top. It wasn't a bad lark, and you get a stunning view. The swimming baths looked about the size of a sheet of school paper. There was a door open into the belfry, and as nobody was about, we never thought it would be any harm to have a ring up. We couldn't get the big bell to go, but most of the others did, and it was enough to deafen you.
I suppose they must have heard the row below, for when we looked down we saw a regular crowd of fellows in the square underneath looking up our way. After that we thought we might as well shut up, and were just going to cut down, when a fellow belonging to the place, who had been somewhere on the top, came rushing round the parapet, flourishing a stick and yelling like a trooper in awfully bad French. We had a good start of him, especially as we shut the door at the top of the stairs behind us. Besides he was fat; so we easily pulled it off.
There was an old woman at the bottom who kept the ticket place. She twigged it was a bolt, and tried to stop us; but she couldn't get out of her box. So we strolled out easily and cabbed it back to the inn. It was an awful game to see the crowd still staring up at the tower as we drove off. The fat fellow got down just as we were turning the corner. I don't think he guessed we were cabbing it. Anyhow, we didn't see any one chasing the cab. Jim said we were rather well out of it; and we settled we might as well drive on to the swimming baths and stay there for an hour or so till things had quieted down, and then go on to Switzerland by the evening train, especially, Jim said, as the pater might not like to get his name mixed up in a French row.
Beastly uncomfortable carriages on the Swiss railway from Paris. There was the same humbug about the luggage at a little station in the middle of the night, but we were too fagged to cut up rough. We were jolly glad to get here at last, I can tell you.
I must shut up now, as I've got to write to pater. It's a regular go. We forgot he'd be sending the money to Paris, and now we've only got about half-a-sov. between us! Remember me to your young sister.
Yours truly, T. Hooker.
Montreux, August 10.
Dear Father,—We didn't see the Luxembourg, as a fellow directed us to the wrong place. We had several bathes in the Seine. Jim got on very well with his French, and I think we are both improved. We should be glad of some more money, as we are nearly out. I bought a present for you in Paris, which I think you will like when you see it. If you could send the money here by return it would do. I suppose what you sent to Paris missed us, as we came here a day sooner than we expected.
We went up Notre Dame the last day we were in Paris. There is a fine view from the top. It is surprising how few of the French you meet in the swimming baths. We had the place to ourselves one day. It's eight feet at the deep end. Jim and I both think foreign travel is good for a fellow, and we shall hope to have a reply to this by return.
Your loving son, Tom.
Montreux, August 11.
Dear Gus,—We're regularly stuck up, as the money hasn't come yet. I hope it will come soon, or the old girl at the inn here will think we're cadgers. We had a stunning row on the lake yesterday; the boats are only a bob an hour, so we thought we might go in for it. We raced a steamer for about half a mile, and weren't done then, only Jim's oar came off the pin (they haven't such things as row-locks here), and that upset us.
Of course it didn't matter, as we could swim; but the fellows in the steamer kicked up an awful shine about it, and came and hauled us up, boat and all. It was rather awkward, as we had nothing to tip them with. We got out at a dismal sort of place called Chillon. We told the captain if he was ever in London the pater would be glad to see him.
We had a grind getting back here with the boat, as it came on dark and misty, and we couldn't see where Montreux had got to. Jim got rather chawed up too by the cold, so I sculled. The wind was against us, and it was rather a hard pull, especially when you couldn't see the land at all. I managed to keep pretty warm with rowing, but old Jim's teeth chattered like a steam-engine. It came on a regular squall, and I didn't see the fun of sculling after about a couple of hours. So Jim and I huddled up to keep warm, and let her drift. We were jolly glad to see a light after a bit, and yelled to let them know where we were. They didn't hear, though, so we just stuck on and chanced it. The old tub drifted ashore all right, side on, though she upset just as we got to land. It was lucky the water was shallow, as we were too cold to swim. As it was, old Jim nearly came to grief. It was no end of a job hauling in the boat. She was rather knocked about. We had drifted back to Chillon, exactly where we started from.
The keeper of the castle put us up for the night and was no end of a brick. There was rather a row with the boat fellow when we got back to Montreux. He got crusty about the boat being damaged, and wanted about two sovs! As it happened, we hadn't got anything, as we gave the fellow at the castle five francs, and that cleared us out. We told the boat fellow to call at the inn to-morrow, and I hope to goodness the money will have turned up, as it's a bit awkward. Jim has a cold.
Yours truly T. Hooker.
Please remember me to your young sister.
Montreux, August 13.
Dear Father,—Thanks awfully for the money; it was jolly to get it, and mother's letter. It is very hilly about here. Jim's cold is getting better. Would you mind telegraphing to us who is the winner of the Australian cricket match to-morrow, and how many Grace scored? In haste, Your loving son, Tom.
Riffel Hotel, August 18.
Dear Gus,—We're awfully high up here—awful rum little inn it is. It was chock full, and Jim and I have to sleep under the table. There are about a dozen other fellows who have to camp out too, so it's a rare spree.
We're going to have a shot at the Matterhorn to-morrow if it's fine. It looks easy enough, and Jim and I were making out the path with a telescope this afternoon. It's rather a crow to do the Matterhorn. Some muffs take guides up, but they cost four or five pounds, so we're going without.
That boat fellow at Montreux got to be a regular nuisance. In fact, that's why we came on here a day earlier. He came up twice a day to the inn, and we couldn't shake him off. We gave him a sov., which was twice what he had a right to. He swore he'd have two pounds or bring up a policeman with him next time. So we thought the best way was to clear out by the early train next morning, and I guess he was jolly blue when he found us gone. I send with this a faint sketch of some of the natives! What do you say to their rig?
It was a pretty good grind up to Zermatt, and we walked it up the valley. There wasn't much to see on the way, and it's a frightfully stony road. There were some fellows playing lawn-tennis at the hotel at Zermatt. One of them wasn't half bad. His serves twisted to the leg and were awfully hard to get up. Jim and I wouldn't have minded a game, only the fellows seemed to think no one wanted to play but themselves. We may get a game to-morrow on our way to the Matterhorn. It was a tremendous fag getting up here from Zermatt. I don't know why fellows all come on, as there's no tennis court or anything up here.
There's an ice-field up here called a glacier, but it's an awful fraud if you want skating—rough as one of Bullford's fields at Rugby. A fellow told me it bears all the year round, but it's got a lot of holes, so we don't think we'll try it. I expect we shall be home next week, as the pater thinks we've run through our money rather too fast. Remember me to your people and your young sister.
Yours truly, T. Hooker.
Zermatt, August 20.
Dear Gus,—We didn't do the Matterhorn after all, as Jim screwed his foot. He's awfully unlucky, and if it hadn't been for the accident we might have got to the top; and of course it stops tennis too. We did get one game before we started up. Jim gave me fifteen in two games each set. I pulled off the first, but he whacked me the other two. It's a beastly rough court, though, and the mountain was awfully in the light.
We hadn't much difficulty finding the way to the Matterhorn, as there was a sign-post at the end of the village. We thought we might as well take the easy side, as the front of the hill is pretty stiff. Of course we had to take a good long round, which was a nuisance, as we meant to be back for table d'hote at seven. When we got properly on to the side we put it on, but it was a good long grind, I can tell you. We weren't sorry to get up to a snow slope and cool ourselves.
They ought to sweep a path across the snow, or fellows are very likely to lose their way. We lost ours, but we had a good lark on the snow snowballing. It got deep in one part, so we had to clamber up the rocks at the side to get to the top of the slope. It's rather deceptive, distance, on the snow, for it took us an hour to do what seemed only a few yards. We got on to a flat bit after awhile, and had another turn on the snow.
It was rather a game rolling things down the slope. They went at an awful pace. The nuisance is the snow has a way of slipping from under you, and that's how Jim and I came to grief. We were sitting on the edge of the slope watching a boulder slide, when we began to slide ourselves. We hadn't our spikes on, or we might have pulled up. As it was, we got up no end of a speed down that slope. It was no joke. I yelled to Jim to lie flat, and not sit up, or he might pitch on his head. I don't remember how we got on after that; I must have bumped my head, for when I pulled myself together I found I was sitting in the middle of a grass field with a jolly headache, and pretty well black and blue.
I was able to get up though, and looked about for old Jim. I can tell you it was no joke. I couldn't see him anywhere, and thought he must have been buried in the snow. I can tell you, old man, it was rough on me for a quarter of an hour or so. But I found him at last, about a quarter of a mile down the field. He rolled, he said; he couldn't get up, as his foot was screwed. So it was a pretty go, as I couldn't carry him. If I hadn't been quite so knocked about I might have tried; but Jim's a good nine stone, so I might have dropped him. Luckily, some fellows came—they'd come to look for us, in fact, as we'd told the waiter we were going up the Matterhorn, and might not be back in time for dinner; and when we didn't turn up, they guessed, I suppose, we might have come to grief. It was a good job they came, as Jim's foot was rather bad. All the hotel turned out to see us get back. I had to be carried too, the last bit of the way, as I got fagged. It's a sell we couldn't get to the top, as it's rather a crow to do the Matterhorn.
Jim's foot is better to-day, but he'll have to shut off tennis the rest of this season. I wish mother was here. She could look after Jim better than I can. In fact, the doctor here, rather a jolly fellow, says she and the pater had better come at once. I got him to write to the pater himself, as I was afraid it might make them think something was wrong if I did.
Please to remember me to your young sister.
Zermatt, August 22.
Dear Gus,—There's a telegram from the pater to say they'll be here to- morrow night. I'm rather glad, as Jim is feverish. The pater will have a good deal of tipping to do, as everybody here's no end civil. Can't write more, as I'm fagged. Remember me to your young sister.
P.S.—I fancy we shall spend next summer in England—Jim and I. We don't either of us think much of Switzerland.
CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR.
BILK'S FORTUNE—A GHOST STORY.
CHAPTER I. SUPERSTITION.
We had a fellow at Holmhurst School who rejoiced in the name of Alexander Magnus Bilk. But, as sometimes happens, our Alexander the Great did not in all respects resemble the hero to whom he was indebted for his name. Alexander the Great, so the school-books say, was small in stature and mighty in mind. Bilk was small in mind and lanky in stature. They called him "Lamp-post" as a pet name, and as regarded his height, his girth, and the lightness of his head, the term conveyed a very fair idea of our hero's chief characteristics. In short, Bilk had very few brains, and such as he had he occupied by no means to the best advantage. He read trashy novels, and believed every word of them, and, like poor Don Quixote of old, he let any one who liked make a fool of him, if he only took the trouble to get at his weak side.
I need hardly say the fellows at Holmhurst were not long in discovering that weak side and getting plenty of fun out of Alexander Magnus. He could be gammoned to almost any extent, so much so that after a term or two his persecutors had run through all the tricks they knew, and the unhappy youth was let alone for sheer want of an idea.