VOGUE LA GALERE.
Ah! Diamond, thou little knowest what mischief thou hast done.
Life of Sir I. Newton.
That afternoon Mr Paton, going into the Combination Room, where the masters often met, threw himself into one of the armchairs with an unwonted expression of vexation and disgust on his usually placid features.
"Why, what's the matter with you, Paton?" asked Mr Robertson. "Is to-day's Times too liberal for your notions, or what?"
"No," said Mr Paton; "but I have just been caning Evson, a new boy, and the fellow's stubborn obstinacy and unaccountable coolness annoy me exceedingly."
"O yes; he's a pupil of mine, I'm sorry to say, and he has never been free from punishment since he came. Even your Procrustean rule seems to fail with him, Paton. What have you been obliged to cane him for?"
Mr Paton related Walter's escapade.
"Well, of course you had no choice but to cane him," replied his colleague, "for such disobedience; but how did he take it?"
"In the oddest way possible. He came in with punctilious politeness, obviously assumed, with sarcastic intentions. When I took up the cane he stood with arms folded, and a singularly dogged look; in fact, his manner disarmed me. You know I detest caning, and I really could not do it, never having had occasion for it for months together. I gave him two cuts, and then left off. 'May I go, sir?' he asked. 'Yes,' I said, and he left the room with a bow and a 'Thank you, sir.' I am really sorry for the boy; for as I was obliged to send him to Dr Lane, he will probably get another flogging from him."
"What a worthless boy he must be," answered Mr Robertson.
"No, not exactly worthless; there's something about him I can't help liking; but most impudent and stubborn."
"Excuse me," said Mr Percival, another of the masters, who had been listening attentively to the conversation; "I humbly venture to think that you're both mistaken in that boy. I like him exceedingly, and think him as promising a lad as any in the school. I never knew any boy behave more modestly and respectfully."
"Why, how do you know anything of him?" asked Mr Robertson in surprise.
"Only by accident. I had once or twice noticed him among the detenus, and being sorry to think that a new boy should be an habitue of the extra schoolroom, I asked him one day why he was sent. He told me that it was for failing in a lesson, and when I asked why he hadn't learnt it, he said, very simply and respectfully, 'I really did my very best, sir; but it's all new work to me.' Look at the boy's innocent, engaging face, and you will be sure that he was telling me the truth.
"I'm afraid," continued Mr Percival, "you'll think this very slight ground for setting my opinion against yours; but I was pleased with Evson's manner, and asked him to come and take a stroll on the shore, that I might know something more of him. Do you know, I never found a more intelligent companion. He was all life and vivacity; it was quite a pleasure to be with him. Being new to the sea, he didn't know the names of the commonest things on the shore, and if you had seen his face light up as he kept picking up whelk's eggs, and mermaid's purses, and zoophytes, and hermit-crabs, and bits of plocamium or coralline, and asking me all I could tell him about them, you would not have thought him a stupid or worthless boy."
"I don't know, Percival; you are a regular conjuror. All sorts of ne'er-do-wells succeed under your manipulation. You're a first-rate hand at gathering grapes from thorns, and figs from thistles. Why, even out of that Caliban, old Woods, you used to extract a gleam of human intelligence."
"He wasn't a Caliban at all. I found him an excellent fellow at heart; but what could you expect of a boy who, because he was big, awkward, and stupid, was always getting flouted on all sides? Sir Hugh Evans is not the only person who disliked being made a 'vlouting-stog.'"
"You must have some talisman for transmuting boys if you consider old Woods an excellent fellow, Percival. I found him a mass of laziness and brute strength. Do give me your secret."
"Try a little kindness and sympathy. I have no other secret."
"I'm not conscious of failing in kindness," said Mr Robertson drily. "My fault, I think, is being too kind."
"To clever, promising, bright boys—yes; to unthankful and evil boys (excuse me for saying so)—no. You don't try to descend to their dull level, and so understand their difficulties. You don't suffer fools gladly, as we masters ought to do. But, Paton," he said, turning the conversation, which seemed distasteful to Mr Robertson, "will you try how it succeeds to lay the yoke a little less heavily on Evson?"
"Well, Percival, I don't think that I've consciously bullied him. I can't make my system different to him and other boys."
"My dear Paton, forgive my saying that I don't think that a rigid system is the fairest; summa lex summa crux. Fish of very different sorts and sizes come to our nets, and you can't shove a turbot through the same mesh that barely admits a sprat."
"I'll think of what you say; but I must leave him in Dr Lane's hands now," said Mr Paton.
"Who, I heartily hope, won't flog him," said Mr Percival.
"Why? I don't see how he can do otherwise."
"Because it will simply drive him to despair; because, if I know anything of his character, it will have upon him an effect incalculably bad."
"I hope not," said Mr Paton.
The conversation dropped, and Mr Percival resumed his newspaper.
When Walter went to Dr Lane in the evening, the Doctor inquired kindly and carefully into the nature of his offence. This, unfortunately, was clear enough, and Walter was far too ingenuous to attempt any extenuation of it. Even if he had not been intentionally idle, it was plain, on his own admission, that he had been guilty of the greatest possible insubordination and disrespect. These offences were rare at Saint Winifred's, and especially rare in a new boy. Puzzled as he was by conduct so unlike the boy's apparent character, and interested by his natural and manly manner, yet Dr Lane had in this case no alternative but the infliction of corporal punishment.
Humiliated again, and full of bitter anger, Walter returned to the great schoolroom, where he was received with sympathy and kindness by the others in his class. It was the dark part of the evening before tea-time, and the boys, sitting idly round the fire, were in an apt mood for folly and mischief. They began a vehement discussion about Paton's demerits, and called him every hard name they could invent. Walter took little part in this, for he was smarting too severely under the sense of oppression to find relief in mere abuse; but, from his flashing eyes and the dark scowl that sat so ill on his face it was evident that a bad spirit had obtained the thorough mastery over all his better and gentler impulses.
"Can't we do something to serve the fellow out?" said Anthony, one of the boys in Walter's dormitory.
"But what can we do?" asked several.
"What, indeed?" asked Henderson, mockingly; and as it was his way to quote whatever he had last been reading, he began to spout from the peroration of a speech which he had seen in the paper—"Aristocracy, throned on the citadel of power, and strong in—"
"What a fool you are, Henderson," observed Franklin, another of the group; "I'll tell you what we can do: we'll burn that horrid black book in which he enters the detentions and impositions."
"Poor book!" said Henderson; "what pangs of conscience it will suffer in the flames! Give it not the glory of such martyrdom. Walter," he continued, in a lower voice, "I hope that you'll have nothing to do with this humbug?"
"I will though, Henderson; if I'm to have nothing but canings and floggings, I may just as well be caned and flogged for something as for nothing."
"The desk's locked," said Anthony; "we shan't be able to get hold of the imposition-book."
"I'll settle that," said Walter; "here, just hand me the poker, Dubbs."
"I shall do no such thing," said Daubeny quietly, and his reply was greeted with a shout of derision.
"Why, you poor coward, Dubbs," said Franklin, "you couldn't get anything for handing the poker."
"I never supposed I could, Franklin," he answered; "and as for being a coward, the real cowardice would be to do what's absurd and wrong for fear of being laughed at or being kicked. Well, you may hit me," he said quietly, as Franklin twisted his arm tightly round, and hit him on it, "but you can't make me do what I don't choose."
"We'll try," said Franklin, twisting his arm still more tightly, and hitting harder.
"You'll try in vain," answered Daubeny, though the tears stood in his eyes at the violent pain.
"Drop his arm, you Franklin," indignantly exclaimed Henderson, who, though he was always teasing Daubeny, was very fond of him; "drop his arm, or, by Jove! you'll find that two can play at that. Dubbs is quite right, and you're a set of asses if you think you'll do any good by burning the punishment book. I've got the poker, and you shan't have it to knock the desk open. I suppose Paton can afford sixpence to buy another book; and enter a tolerable fresh score against you for this besides."
"But he won't remember my six hundred lines, and four or five detentions," said Walter. "Here, give me the poker."
"Pooh! pooh! Evson, of course he'll remember them. Here, I'll help you with the lines; I'll do a couple of hundred for you, and the rest you can write with two pens at a time; it won't take you an hour. I'll show you the two-pen dodge; I'll admit you into the two-pen-etralia. Like Milton, you shall 'touch the slender tops of various quills.' No, no," he continued, in a playful tone in order not to make Walter in a greater passion than he was, "you can't have the poker; anyone who wants that must take it from me vi et armis."
"It doesn't matter; this'll do as well; and here goes," said Walter, seizing a wooden stool. "There's the desk open for you," he said, as he brought the top of the stool with a strong blow against the lid, and burst the lock with a great crash.
"My eyes! we shall get into a row," said Franklin, opening his eyes to illustrate his exclamation.
"Well, what's done's done; let's all take our share," said Anthony, diving his hand into the desk. "Here's the imposition-book for you, and here goes leaf number one into the fire; you can tear out the next if you like, Franklin."
"Very well," said Franklin; "in for a penny in for a pound; there goes the second leaf."
"And here the third; over ankles over knees," said Barton, another of those present.
"Proverbial Fool-osophy," observed Henderson, contemptuously, as Burton handed him the book. "Shall I be a silly sheep like the rest of you, and leap over the bridge because your leader has? I suppose I must, though it's very absurd." He wavered and hesitated; sensible enough to disapprove of so useless a proceeding, he yet did not like to be thought afraid. He minded what fellows would think.
"Do what's right," said Daubeny, "and shame the devil. Here, give me the book. Now, you fellows, you've torn out these leaves, and done quite mischief enough. Let me put the book back, and don't be like children who hit the fender against which they've knocked their heads."
"Or dogs that bite the stick they've been thrashed with," said Henderson. "You're right, Dubbs, and I respect you; ay, you fellows may sneer if you like, but I advised you not to do it, and I won't make myself an idiot because you do."
"Never mind," drawled Howard Tracy. "I hate Paton, and I'll do anything to spite him," whereupon he snatched the book from Daubeny, and threw it entire into the flames. Poor Tracy had been even in more serious scrapes with Mr Paton than Walter had; his vain manner was peculiarly abhorrent to the master, who took every opportunity of snubbing him; but nothing would pierce through the thick cloak of Tracy's conceit, and fully satisfied with himself, his good looks, and his aristocratic connections, he sat down in contented ignorance, and despised learning too much to be in the least put out by being invariably the last in his form.
"What, is there nothing left for me to burn?" said Walter, who sat glowering on the high iron fender, and swinging his legs impatiently. "Let's see what else there is in the desk. Here are a pack of old exercises, apparently; they'll make a jolly blaze. Stop, though, are they old exercises? Well, never mind; if not, so much the better. In they shall go."
"Stop! what are you doing, Walter?" said Henderson, catching him by the arm; "you know these can't be old exercises. Paton always puts them in his waste-paper basket, not in his desk. Oh, Walter, what have you done?"
"The outside sheets were exercises anyhow," said Walter gloomily. "Here, it's no good trying to save them now, whatever they were" (for Henderson was attempting to rake them out between the bars); "they're done for now," and he pressed down the thick mass of foolscap into the reddest centre of the fire, and held it there until nothing remained of it but a heap of flaky crimson ashes.
A dead silence followed, for the boys felt that now, at any rate, they were "in for it."
The sound of the tea-bell prevented further mischief; and as Henderson thrust his arm through Walter's, he said, "Oh, Evson, I wish you hadn't done that! I wish I'd got you to come away before. What a passionate fellow you are!"
"Well, it's done now," said Walter, already beginning to soften, and to repent of his fatuity.
"What can we do?" said Henderson anxiously.
"Take the consequences, that's all," answered Walter.
"Hadn't you better go and tell Paton about it at once instead of letting him find it out?"
"No," said Walter; "he's done nothing but bully me, and I don't care."
"Then let me go," said his friend earnestly. "I know Paton well; I'm sure he'd be ready to forgive you, if I explained it all to him."
"You're very good, Flip; but don't go:—it's too late."
"Well, Walter, you mustn't think that I had no share in this because of being afraid. I was one of the group, and I'll share the punishment with you, whatever it is. I hope for your sake it won't be found out."
But if Henderson had seen a little deeper he would have hoped that it would be found out, for there is nothing that works quicker ruin to any character than undiscovered sin. It was happy for Walter that his wrong impulses did not remain undiscovered; happy for him that they came so rapidly to be known and to be punished.
It was noised through the school in five minutes that Evson, one of the new fellows, had smashed open Paton's desk and burned the contents. "What an awful row he'll get into!" was the general comment. Walter heard Kenrick inquiring eagerly about it as they sat at tea; but Kenrick didn't ask him about it, though they sat so near each other. After the foolish, proud manner of sensitive boys, Walter and Kenrick, though each liked the other none the less, were not on speaking terms. Walter, less morbidly proud than Kenrick, would not have suffered this silly alienation to continue had not his attention been occupied by other troubles. Neither of them, therefore, liked to be the first to break the ice, and now in his most serious difficulty Walter had lost the advice and sympathy of his most intimate friend.
The fellows seemed to think that he must inevitably be expelled for this fracas. The poor boy's thoughts were very, very bitter as he laid his head that night on his restless pillow, remembered what an ungovernable fool he had been, and dreamt of his happy and dear-loved home. How strangely he seemed to have left his old, innocent life behind him, and how little he would have believed it possible, two months ago, that he could by any conduct of his own have so soon incurred, or nearly incurred, the penalty of expulsion from Saint Winifred's School.
He had certainly yielded very quickly to passion, and he felt that in consequence he had made his position more serious than that of other boys who were in every sense of the word twice as bad as himself. But what he laid to the score of his ill-luck was in truth a very happy providence by which punishment was sent speedily and heavily upon him, and so his evil tendencies, mercifully nipped in the bud, crushed with a tender yet with an iron hand before they had expanded more blossoms and been fed by deeper roots. He might have been punished less speedily had his faults been more radical, or his wrong-doings of a deeper dye.
THE BURNT MANUSCRIPT.
All All my poor scrapings, from a dozen years Of dust and desk-work.
It may be supposed that during chapel the next morning, and when he went into early school, Walter was in an agony of almost unendurable suspense; and this suspense was doomed to be prolonged for some time, until at last he could hardly sit still. Mr Paton did not at once notice that his desk was broken. He laid down his books, and went on as usual with the morning lesson.
At length Tracy was put on. He stood up in his usual self-satisfied way, looking admiringly at his boots, and running his delicate white hand through his scented hair. Mr Paton watched him with a somewhat contemptuous expression, as though he were thinking what a pity it was that any boy should be such a little puppy. Henderson, with his usual quick discrimination, had nicknamed Tracy the "Lisping Hawthornbud."
"Your fifth failure this week, Tracy; you must do the usual punishment," said Mr Paton, taking up his key to unlock the desk.
"Now for it," thought all the form, looking on with great anxiety.
The key caught hopelessly in the broken lock. Mr Paton's attention was aroused; he pushed the lid off the desk, and saw at once that it had been broken open.
"Who has broken open my desk?"
He looked very grave, but said nothing, looking for his imposition-book.
"Where is my imposition-book?"
"And where is my—?"
Mr Paton stopped, and looked with the greatest eagerness over every corner of the desk.
"Where is the manuscript I left here with my imposition-book?" he said in a tone of the most painful anxiety.
"I do hope and trust," he said, turning pale, "that none of you have been wicked enough to injure it," and here his voice faltered. "When I tell you that it was of the utmost value, I am sure that if any of you have concealed or taken it, you will give it back at once."
There was deep silence.
"Once again," he asked, "where is my imposition-book?"
"Burnt, sir; burnt, sir," said one or two voices, hardly above a whisper.
"And my manuscript?" he asked, in a louder voice, and in still greater agitation. "Surely, surely, you cannot have been so thoughtless, so incredibly unjust as to—"
Walter stood up in his place, with his head bent, and his face covered with an ashy whiteness. "I burnt it, sir," he said, in an almost inaudible voice, and trembling with fear.
"Come here," said Mr Paton impetuously; "I can't hear what you say. Now, then," he continued, as Walter crept up beside his desk.
"I burnt it, sir," he said, in a whisper.
"You—burnt—it!" said Mr Paton, starting up in uncontrollable emotion, which changed into a burst of anger as he gave Walter a box on the ear which sounded all over the room, and made the boy stagger back to his place. But the flash of rage was gone in an instant; and the next moment Mr Paton, afraid of trusting himself any longer, left his desk and hurried out, anxious to recover in solitude the calmness of mind and action which had been so terribly disturbed.
Mr Percival, who taught his form in another part of the room, seeing Mr Paton box Walter so violently on the ear, and knowing that this was the very reverse of his usual method, since he had never before touched a boy in anger, walked up to see what was the matter, just as Mr Paton, with great hurried strides, had reached the door.
"What is the matter with Mr Paton?" he asked.
There was a general murmur through the form, out of which Mr Percival caught something about Mr Paton's papers having been burnt.
Anxious to fend him, to ask what had happened, Mr Percival, leaving the room, caught sight of him pacing with hasty and uneven steps along a private garden walk which belonged to the masters.
"I hope nothing unpleasant has occurred," he said, overtaking him.
"Oh, nothing, nothing," said Mr Paton, with quivering lip, as he turned aside. And then, suppressing his emotion by a powerful effort of self-control, "It is only," he said, "that the hard results of fifteen years' continuous labour are now condensed into a heap of smut and ashes in the schoolroom fire."
"You don't mean to say that your Hebrew manuscripts are burnt?" asked Mr Percival in amazement.
"You know how I have been toiling at them for years, Percival; you know that I began them before I left college, that I regarded them as the chief work of my life, and that I devoted to them every moment of my leisure. You know, too, the pride and pleasure which I took in their progress, and the relief with which I turned to them from the vexations and anxieties of one's life here. To work at them has been for years my only recreation and delight. Well, they were finished at last; I was only correcting them for the press; they would have gone to the printer in a month, and I should have lived to complete a toilsome and honourable task. Well, the dream is over, and a handful of ashes represents the struggle of my best years."
Mr Percival knew well that his coadjutor had been working for years at a commentary on the Hebrew text of the Four Greater Prophets. It had been the cherished and chosen task of his life; he had brought to it great stores of learning, accumulated in the vigour of his powers, and the enthusiasm of a youthful ambition, and he had employed upon it every spare hour left him from his professional duties. He looked to it as the means of doing essential service to the church of which he was an ordained member, and, secondarily, as the road to reputation and well-merited advancement. And in five minutes the hand of one angry boy had robbed him of the fruit of all his hopes.
"If they wanted to display the hatred which I well know that they feel," said Mr Paton bitterly, "they might have chosen any way, literally any way, but that. They might have left me, at least, that which was almost my only pleasure and object in life, and which had no connection with them or their pursuits." And his face grew haggard as he stopped in his walk, and tried to realise the extent of what he had lost. "I would rather have seen everything I possess in the whole world destroyed than that," he said slowly, and with strong emotion.
"And was it really Evson who did this?" asked Mr Percival, filled with the sincerest pity for his colleague's wounded feelings.
"It matters little who did it, Percival; but, yes, it was your friend Evson."
"The little, graceless, abominable wretch!" exclaimed Mr Percival with anger, "he must be expelled. But can't you recommence the task?"
"Recommence?" said Mr Paton, in a hard voice; "and who will give me back the hope and vigour of the last fifteen years? how shall I have the heart again to toil through the same long trains of research and thought? where are the hundreds of references which I had sought out and verified with hours of heavy midnight labour? how am I to have access again to the scores of books which I consulted before I began to work? The very thought of it sickens me. Youth and hope are over. No, Percival, there is no more to be said. I am robbed of a life's work. Leave me, please, alone for a little, until I have learnt to say less bitterly, 'God's will be done.'"
"'He needeth not Either man's work or his own gifts; who best Bear his mild yoke they please him best,'"
said Mr Percival, in a tone of kind and deep sympathy, as he left him to return to the schoolroom.
But once in sight of Mr Paton's open and rifled desk, Mr Percival's pent-up indignation burst forth into clear flame. Stopping in front of Mr Paton's form, he exclaimed, in a voice that rang with scorn and sorrow—
"You boys do not know the immense mischief which your thoughtless and worthless spite and folly have caused. I say 'boys,' but I believe, and rejoice to believe, that one only of you is guilty, and I rejoice too, that that one is a new boy, who must have brought here feelings and passions more worthy of an ignorant and ill-trained plough-boy than of a Saint Winifred's scholar. The hand that would burn a valuable manuscript would fire a rick of hay."
"O sir," said Henderson, starting up and interrupting him, "we were all very nearly as bad. It was the rest of us that burnt the imposition-book; Evson had nothing to do with that." Henderson had forgotten for the moment that he at least had had no share in burning the imposition-book, for his warm quick heart could not bear that these blows should fall unbroken on his friend's head.
But his generous effort failed; for Mr Percival, barely noticing the interruption, continued, "The imposition-book? I know nothing about that. If you burnt it you were very foolish and reckless; you deserve no doubt to be punished for it, but that was comparatively nothing. But do you know, bad boy," he said, turning again to Walter, "do you know what you have done? Do you know that your dastardly spitefulness has led you to destroy writings which had cost your master years and years of toil that cannot be renewed? He treated you with unswerving impartiality; he never punished you but when you deserved punishment, and when he believed it to be for your good, and yet you turn upon him in this adder-like way; you break open his desk like a thief, and, in one moment of despicable ill-temper, you rob him and the world of that which had been the pursuit and object of his life. You, Evson, may well hide your face"—for Walter had bent over the desk, and in agonies of shame and remorse had covered his face with both hands—"you may well be ashamed to look either at me or at any honest and manly and right-minded boy among your companions. You have done a wrong for which it will be years hence a part of your retribution to remember that nothing you can ever do can repair it, or do away with its effects. I am more than disappointed with you. You have done mischief which the utmost working of all your powers cannot for years counterbalance, if, instead of being as base and idle as you now appear to be, you were to devote your whole heart to work. I don't know what will be done to you; I, for my part, hope that you will not be suffered to remain with us; but, if you are, I am sure that you will receive, as you richly deserve, the reprobation and contempt of every boy among your schoolfellows who is capable of one spark of honour or right feeling."
Every word that Mr Percival had said came to poor Walter with the most poignant force; all the master's reproaches pierced his heart and let blood. He sat there not stirring, stunned and crushed, as though he had been beaten by the blows of a hammer. He quailed and shuddered to think of the great and cruel injustice, the base and grievous injury into which his blind passion had betrayed him, and thought that he could never hold up his head again.
Mr Percival's indignant expostulation passed over the other culprits who heard it like a thunderstorm. There was a force and impetuosity in this gentleman's manner, when his anger was kindled, which had long gained for him among the boys, with whom he was the most popular of all the masters, the half-complimentary soubriquet of "Thunder-and-lightning." But none of them had ever before heard him speak with such concentrated energy and passion, and all except generous little Henderson were awed by it into silence. But Henderson at that moment was wholly absorbed in Walter's sorrows.
"Tell him," said he in Walter's ear, "tell him it was all a mistake, that you thought the papers were old exercises. Dear Walter, tell him before he goes."
But Walter still rested with his white cheeks on his hands upon the desk, and neither moved nor spoke. And Mr Percival, turning indignantly upon his heel, with one last glance of unmitigated contempt, had walked off to his own form.
"Walter, don't take it to heart so," said Henderson, putting his arm round his neck; "you couldn't help it; you made a sad mistake, that's all. Go and tell Paton so, and I'm sure he'll forgive you."
A slight quiver was all that showed that Walter heard. Henderson would have liked to see his anguish relieved by a burst of tears; but the tears did not come, and Walter did not move.
At last a hand touched him, and he heard the voice of the head boy say to him, "Get up, Evson; I'm to take you to Dr Lane with a note from Mr Percival."
He rose and followed mechanically, waiting in the headmaster's porch while the monitor went in.
"Dr Lane won't see you now," said Somers, coming out again. "Croft," (addressing the school Famulus), "Dr Lane says you're to lock up Mr Evson by himself in the private room."
Walter followed the Famulus to the private room, a little room at the top of the house, where he knew that boys were locked previous to expulsion, that they might have no opportunity for doing any mischief before they went.
The Famulus left him here, and returned a few minutes after with some dry bread and milk, which he placed on the deal table, which, with a wooden chair, constituted the sole furniture of the room; he then locked the door, and left Walter finally to his own reflections.
Then it was that flood after flood of passionate tears seemed to remove the iron cramp which had pained his heart. He flung himself on the floor, and as he thought of the irreparable cruelty which he had inflicted on a man who had been severe indeed, but never unkind to him, and of the apparent malignity to which all who heard it would attribute what he had done, he sobbed and sobbed as though his heart would break.
At one o'clock the Famulus returned with some dinner. He found Walter sitting at a corner of the room, his head resting against the angle of the wall, and his eyes red and inflamed with long crying. The morning's meal still lay untasted on the table.
He looked round with a commiserating glance. "Come, come, Master Evson," he said, "you've no call to give way so, sir. If you've done wrong, the wrong's done now, and frettin' won't help it. There's them above as'll forgive you, and make you do better next time, lad, if you only knew it. Here, you must eat some of this dinner, Master Evson, and leave off cryin' so; cryin's no comfort, sir."
He stood by and waited on Walter with the greatest kindness and respect, till he had seen him swallow some food, not without difficulty, and then with encouraging and cheerful words left him, and once more locked the door.
The weary afternoon wore on, and Walter sat mournfully alone with nothing but miserable thoughts—miserable to whatever subject he turned them, and more miserable the longer he dwelt on them. As the shades of evening drew in he felt his head swimming, and the long solitude made him feel afraid as he wondered whether they would leave him there all night. And then he heard a light step approach the door, and a gentle tap. He made no answer, for he thought he knew the step, and he could not summon up voice to speak for a fit of sobbing which it brought on. Then he heard the boy stoop down, and push a note under the door.
He took it up when he heard the footsteps die away, and by the fast failing light was just able to make it out. It ran thus—
"Dear Walter,—You can't think how sorry, how very, very sorry I am for you. I wish I could be with you and take part of your punishment. Forgive me for being cold and proud to you. I have been longing to speak to you all the time, but felt too shy. It was all my fault. I will never break with you again. Good-bye, dear Walter, from your ever and truly affectionate, Harry Kenrick."
"He will never break with me again," thought Walter. "If I'm to go to-morrow I'm afraid he'll never have the chance." And then his saddest thoughts reverted to the home which he had left so recently for the first time, and to which he was to return with nothing but dishonour and disgrace.
At six o'clock the kind-hearted Famulus brought him a lamp, some tea, and one or two books, which he had no heart to read. No one was allowed to visit the private room under heavy penalties, so that Walter had no other visitor until eight, when Somers, the monitor who had taken him to Dr Lane, looked in and icily observed, "You're to sleep in the sickroom, Evson; come with me."
"Am I expelled, Somers?" he faltered out.
"I don't know," said Somers in a freezing tone; "you deserve to be."
True! oh lofty and pitiless Somers. But is that all which you could find to say to the poor boy in his distress? And if we all had our deserts...?
"At any rate," Somers added, "I for one won't have you as a fag any longer, and I shouldn't think that anyone else would either."
With which cutting remark he left Walter to his reflections.
"If hearty sorrow Be a sufficient ransom for offence, I tender it here; I do as truly suffer As e'er I did commit."
Two Gentlemen of Verona.—Act five, scene 4.
Next morning Walter was reconducted to the private room, and there, with a kind of dull pain in head and heart, awaited the sentence which was to decide his fate. His fancy had left Saint Winifred's altogether; it was solely occupied with Semlyn, and the dear society at home. Walter was rehearsing again and again in his mind the scene of his return; what he should say to his father; how he should dry his mother's tears; and how he should bear himself, on his return, towards his little brothers and sisters. Would he, expelled from Saint Winifred's, ever be able to look anyone in the face again at home?
While he was brooding over these fancies, someone, breathless with haste, ran up to his room, and again a note was thrust underneath the door. He seized it quickly, and read—
"Dear Walter,—I am so glad to be the first to tell you that you are not to be expelled. Paton has begged you off. No time for more. I have slipped away before morning school to leave you this news, and can't stay lest I should be caught. Good-bye, from your ever affectionate friend,
The boy's heart gave one bound of joy as he read this. If he were not expelled he was ready to bear meekly any other punishment appointed to his offence. But his banishment from the school would cause deep affliction to others besides himself, and this was why he had dreaded it with such a feeling of despair.
Alone as he was in the little room, he fell on his knees, and heartily and humbly thanked God for this answer to his earnest, passionate, reiterated prayer; and then he read Kenrick's note again.
"Paton has begged you off." He repeated this sentence over and over again, aloud and to himself, and seemed as if he could never realise it. Paton—Paton, the very man whom he had so deeply and irreparably injured—had begged him off, and shielded him from a punishment which no one could have considered too severe for his fault. Young and inexperienced as Walter Evson was, he could not, of course, fully understand and appreciate the amount of the loss, the nature and degree of the injury which he had inflicted; but yet, he could understand that he had done something which caused greater pain to his master than even the breaking of a limb, or falling ill of a severe sickness. And he never prayed for himself without praying also that Mr Paton's misfortune might in some way be alleviated; and even, impossible as the prayer might seem, that he, Walter, might himself have some share in rendering it more endurable.
It may seem strange that Walter should be apparently excessive in his own self-condemnation. A generous mind usually is; but Walter, it may be urged, never intended to do the harm he had done. If he mistook the packet for a number of exercises the fault was comparatively venial, comparatively—yes; for though it will be admitted that to break open a private desk and throw its contents into the fire is bad enough in a schoolboy under any circumstances, still it would be a far less aggravated sin than the wilful infliction of a heavy damage out of a spirit of revenge. But here lay the gravamen of Walter's fault; he knew—though he had not said so—in his inmost heart he knew that the packet did not, and could not, consist merely of old exercises, like the outer sheets, which were put to keep it clean. When he threw it into the fire and thrust it down until it blazed away, he felt sure—and at that wicked moment of indulged passion he rejoiced to feel sure—that what he was consuming was of real value. Henderson's voice awoke in a moment his dormant conscience; but then, however keen were the stings of remorse, what had been done could never be undone. And "Paton had begged him off"! It was all the more wonderful to him, and he was all the more deeply grateful for it, because he knew that, in Mr Paton's views, the law of punishment for every offence was as a law of iron and adamant—a law as undeviating and beneficial as the law of gravitation itself.
A slow and hesitating footstep—the sound of the key turning in the door—a nervous hand resting on the handle—and Mr Paton stood before him.
In an instant Walter was on his knees beside him, his head bent over his clasped hands. "Oh, sir," he exclaimed, "please forgive me! I have been longing to see you, sir, to implore you to forgive me; for when you have forgiven me I shan't mind anything else. Oh, sir, forgive me, if you can."
"Do you know, Evson, the extent of what you have done?" said Mr Paton, in a constrained voice.
"Oh, sir, indeed I do," he exclaimed, bursting into tears. "Mr Percival said I had destroyed years and years of hard work, and that I can never, never, never make up for it, or repair it again. Oh, sir, indeed I didn't know how much mischief I was doing; I was in a wicked passion then, but I would give my right-hand not to have done it now. Oh, sir, can you ever forgive me?" he asked, in a tone of pitiable despair.
"Have you asked God's forgiveness for your passionate and revengeful spirit, Evson?" said the same constrained voice.
"Oh, sir, I have, and I know God has forgiven me. Indeed I never knew, I never thought before, that I could grow so wicked in a day. Oh, sir, what shall I do to gain your forgiveness; I would do anything, sir," he said, in a voice thick with sobs; "and if you forgave me, I could be almost happy."
All this while Walter had not dared to look up in Mr Paton's face. Abashed as he was, he could not bear to meet the only look which he expected to find there, the old cold unpitying look of condemnation and reproach. Even at that moment he could not help thinking that if Mr Paton had understood him better, he would not have seemed to him so utterly bad as then he must seem, with so recent an act of sin and folly to bear witness against him.
He dared not look up through his eyes swimming with tears; but he had not expected the kind and gentle touch of the trembling hand that rested on his head as though it blessed him, and that smoothed again and again his dark hair, and wiped the big drops away from his cheeks. He had not expected the arm that raised him up from his kneeling position, and the fingers that pushed back his hair from his forehead, and gently bent back his head; or the pitying eyes, themselves dim, as though they were about to well over with compassion—that looked so sorrowfully, yet so kindly, into his own. He could not bear this. If Mr Paton had struck him, as he did in the first moment of overwhelming anger; if he had spurned him away, and ordered him any amount of punishment, it would have been far easier to bear than this Christian gentleness; this ready burying in pity and oblivion of the heaviest and most undeserved calamity which the master had ever undergone at the hands of man. Walter could not bear it; he flung himself on his knees again in a passion of weeping, and clasped Mr Paton's knees, uttering in broken sentences, "I can never make up for it, never repair it as long as I live."
For a moment more the kind hand again rested on the boy's head, and gently smoothed his dark hair; and then Mr Paton found voice to speak, and lifting him up, and seating him upon his knee, said to him—
"I forgive you, Walter, forgive you freely and gladly. It was hard, I own, at first to do so, for I will not disguise from you that this loss is a very bitter thing to bear. I have been sleepless, and have never once been able to banish the distress of mind which it has caused since it occurred. And yet it is a loss which I shall not feel fully all at once, but most and for many a long day when I sit down again, if God gives me strength to do so, to recover the lost stores and rearrange the interrupted thoughts. But I, too, have learnt a lesson, Walter; and when you have reached my age, my boy, you too, I trust, will have learnt to control all evil passions with a strong will, and to bear meekly and patiently whatever God sends. And you too, Walter, learn a lesson. You have said that you would give anything, do anything, to undo this wrong, or to repair it; but you can do nothing, my child, give nothing, for it cannot be undone. Wrong rarely can be mended. Let this very helplessness teach you a truth that may remain with you through life. Let it check you in wilful impetuous moments; for what has once been done remains irrevocable. You may rue for years and years the work of days or of moments, and you may never be able to avoid the consequences, even when the deed itself has been forgotten by the generous and forgiven by the just." And all this so kindly, so gently, so quietly spoken; every word of it sank into Walter's heart never to be forgotten, as his tears flowed still but with more quiet sadness now.
"Yes, Walter, this occurrence," continued Mr Paton in a calm, low voice, "may do us both good, miserable as it is. I will say no more about it now, only that I have quite forgiven it. Man is far too mean a creature to be justified in withholding forgiveness for any personal wrong. It is far more hard to forgive one's-self when one has done wrong. I have determined to bury the whole matter in oblivion, and to inflict no punishment either on you or on any of the other boys who were concerned in this folly and sin. I will not forgive by halves. But, Walter, I will not wrong you by doubting that from this time forward you will advance with a marked improvement. You will have something to bear, no doubt, but do not let it weigh on you too heavily; and as for me, I will try henceforth to be your friend."
What could Walter do but seize his hand and clasp it earnestly, and sob out the broken incoherent thanks which were more eloquent than connected words.
"And now, Walter, you are free," said Mr Paton. "From us you will hear no more of this offence. It is nearly dinner-time. Come; I will walk with you to hall."
He laid his hand on the boy's shoulder, and they walked downstairs and across the court. Walter was deeply grateful that he did so, for he had heard rumours of the scorn and indignation with which the news of his conduct had been received by the elder and more influential portions of the school. He had dreaded unspeakably the first occasion when it would be necessary to meet them again, but he felt that Mr Paton's countenance and kindness had paved the way for him, and smoothed his most formidable trial. It had been beyond his warmest hopes that he should be able to face them so. He had never dared to expect this open proof, that the person who had suffered chiefly from this act would also be the first to show that he had not cast him off as helpless or worthless, but was ready to receive him into favour once again.
The corridor was full of boys waiting for the dinner bell, and they divided respectfully to leave a passage for Mr Paton, and touched their hats as he passed them with his hand still on Walter's shoulder, while Walter walked with downcast eyes beside him, not once daring to look up. And as the boy passed them, humbled and penitent, with Mr Paton's hand resting upon him, there was not one of those who saw it that did not learn from that sight a lesson of calm forgiveness as noble and as forcible as any lesson which they could learn at Saint Winifred's School.
Walter sat at dinner pale and crying, but unpitied. "Alas for the rarity of Christian charity under the sun!"—the worst construction had assiduously been put upon what he had done, and nearly all the boys hastily condemned it, not only as an ungentlemanly, but also as an inexcusable and unpardonable act. One after another, as they passed him after dinner, they cut him dead. Several of the masters, including Mr Percival, whom Walter had hitherto loved and respected more than any of them, because he had been treated by him with marked kindness, did the same. Walter met Mr Percival in the playground and touched his cap; Mr Percival glanced at him contemptuously for a moment, and then turned his head aside without noticing the salute. It may seem strange, but we must remember that to all who hear of any wrong act by report only, it presents itself as a mere naked fact—a bare result without preface or palliation. The subtle grades of temptation which led to it—the violent outburst of passion long pent-up which thus found its consummation—are unknown or forgotten, and the deed itself, isolated from all that rendered it possible, receives unmitigated condemnation. All that anyone took the trouble to know or to believe about Walter's scrape was, that he had broken open a master's private desk, and in revenge had purposely burnt a most valuable manuscript; and for this, sentence was passed upon him broadly and in the gross.
Poor Walter! those were dark days for him; but Henderson and Kenrick stuck fast by him, and little Arthur Eden still looked up to him with unbounded gratitude and affection, and he felt that the case was not hopeless. Kenrick, indeed, seemed to waver once or twice. He sought Walter and shook hands with him at once, but still he was not with him, Walter fancied, so much as he had been or might have been, till, after a short struggle, his natural impulse of generosity won the day. As for Henderson, Walter thought he could have died for him, so much he loved him for his kindness in this hour of need; and Eden never left his side when he could creep there to console him by merry playfulness, or to be his companion when he would otherwise have been alone.
The boys had been truly sorry to hear of Mr Paton's loss; it roused all their most generous feelings. That evening as they came out of chapel they all gathered round the iron gates. The intention had been to groan at poor Walter. He knew of it perfectly well, for Henderson had prepared him for it, and expressed his determination to walk by his side. It was for him a moment of keen anguish, and that anguish betrayed itself in his scared and agitated look. But he was spared this last drop in the cup of punishment. The mere sight of him showed the boys that he had suffered bitterly enough already. When they looked at him they had not the heart to hurt and shame him any more. Mr Paton's open forgiveness of that which had fallen most severely on himself changed the current of their feelings. Instead of groaning Walter they let him pass by, and waited till Mr Paton came out of the chapel door, and as he walked across the court the boys all followed him with hearty cheers.
Mr Paton did not like the demonstration, although he appreciated the kindly and honourable motives which had given rise to it. He was not a man who courted popularity, and this external sign of it was, as he well knew, the irregular expression of an evanescent feeling. So he took no further notice of the boys' cheers than by slightly raising his cap, and by one stately inclination of the head, and then he walked on with his usual quiet dignity of manner to his own rooms. But after this he every now and then took an opportunity to walk with Walter; and almost every Sunday evening he might have been seen with him pacing, after morning chapel, up and down the broad walk of the masters' garden, while Walter walked unevenly beside him, in vain endeavours to keep step with his long slow stride.
A letter from Dr Lane brought Walter's father to Saint Winifred's the next day. Why dwell on their sad and painful meeting? But the pain of it soon wore off as they interchanged that sweet and frank communion of thoughts and sympathies that still existed as it had ever done between them. They had a long, long walk upon the shore, and at every step Walter seemed to in-breathe fresh strength, and hope, and consolation, and Mr Evson seemed to acquire new love for, and confidence in, his unhappy little son, so that when in the evening he kissed him and said "good-bye," at the top of the same hill where they had parted before, Mr Evson felt more happily and gratefully secure of his radical integrity, now that the boy had acquired the strength which comes through trial, through failure, and through suffering, than he had done before when he had left him only with the strength of early principle and untested innocence of heart.
But long years after, when Walter was a man, and when he had been separated for years from all intelligence of Mr Paton, there emanated from a quiet country vicarage a now celebrated edition of the "Major Prophets," an edition which made the author a high reputation, and secured for him in the following year the Deanery of —. And in the preface to that edition the reader may still find the following passage, which, as Walter saw even then, those long years after, he could not read without a thrill of happy, yet penitent emotion. It ran thus—
"This edition of the 'Major Prophets' has been the chosen work of the author's leisure, and he is almost afraid to say how many of the best years of his life have been spent upon it. A strange fortune has happened to it. Years ago it was finished, and it was written out, and ready for the press. At that time it was burnt—no matter under what circumstances—by a boy's hand. At first, the author never hoped to have the courage or power to resume and finish the task again. But it pleased God, Who sent him this trial, to provide him also with leisure, and opportunity, and resolution, so that the old misfortune is now at last repaired. It is for the sake of one person, and one person only, that these private matters are intruded on the reader's notice; but that person, if his eye should ever fall on these lines, will know also why the word 'repaired' has been printed in larger letters. And I would also tell him with all kindness, that it has pleased God to bring out of the rash act of his boyhood nothing but good. The following commentary is, I humbly trust, far more worthy of its high subject, now that it has received the maturer consideration of my advancing years, than it would have been had it seen the light at Saint Winifred's long ago. I write this for the sake of the boy who then wept for what seemed an irreparable fault; and I add thankfully, that never for a moment have I retracted my then forgiveness; that I think of his after efforts with kindliness and affection; and that he has, and always will have, my best prayers for his interest and welfare.
"But that Conscience makes me firm. The boon companion, who her strong breastplate Buckles on him that feels no guilt within, And bids him on and fear not."
Dante, c. xxviii.
"Qui s'excuse s'accuse." "If a character can't defend itself, it's not worth defending." "No one was ever written down, except by himself." These, and proverbs like these, express the common and almost instinctive feeling, that self-defence under calumny is generally unsuccessful, and almost always involves a loss of dignity. Partly from this cause, and partly from penitence for his real errors, and partly from scorn at the malice that misrepresented him, and the Pharisaism of far worse offenders that held aloof from his misfortune, Walter said nothing to exculpate his conduct, or to shield himself from the silent indignation, half real and half affected, which weighed heavily against him.
The usual consequences followed; the story of his misdoing was repeated and believed in the least mitigated form, and this version gained credence and currency because it was uncontradicted. The school society bound his sin upon him; they retained it, and it was retained. It burdened his conscience with a galling weight, because by his fellows it remained long unforgiven. At the best, those were days of fiery trial to that overcharged young heart. He had not only lost all immediate influence, but as he looked forward through the vista of his school-life, he feared that he should never entirely regain it. Even if he should in time become a monitor, he felt as if half his authority must be lost while this stigma was branded so deeply on his name.
Yet it was a beautiful sight to see how bravely and manfully this young boy set himself to re-establish the reputation he had destroyed, and since he could not "build upon the foundations of yesterday," to build upon its ruins; to see with what touching humility he accepted undeserved scorn, and with what touching gratitude he hailed the scantiest kindness; to see how he bore up unflinchingly under every difficulty, accepted his hard position among unsympathising schoolfellows, and made the most of it, without anger and without complaint. He could see in after years that those days were to him a time of unmitigated blessing. They taught him lessons of manliness, of endurance, of humility. The necessity of repairing an error and recovering a failure became to him a more powerful stimulus than the hope of avoiding it altogether. The hour of punishment, which was bitter as absinthe to his taste, became sweet as honey in his memory. Above all, these days taught him, in a manner never to be forgotten, the invaluable lesson that the sense of having done an ill deed is the very heaviest calamity that an ill deed ensures, and that in life there is no single secret of happiness comparable to the certain blessing brought with it by a conscience void of all offence.
Perhaps the strain would have been too great for his youthful spirits, and might have left on his character an impress of permanent melancholy, derived from thus perpetually being reminded that he had gone wrong, but for a school sermon which Mr Paton preached about this time, and which Walter felt was meant in part for him. It was on the danger and unwisdom of brooding continually on what is over; and it was preached upon the text, "I will restore to you the years which the locust hath eaten, the canker-worm, the caterpillar, and the palmerworm, my great army."
"The past is past," said the preacher; "its sins and sorrows are irrevocably over; why dwell upon it now? Do not waste the present, with all its opportunities, in a hopeless and helpless retrospect. The worst of us need not despair, much less those who may have been betrayed into sudden error by some moment of unguarded passion. There lies the future before you; onwards then, and forwards! it is yet an innocent, it may be a happy, future. Take it with prayerful thankfulness, and fling the withered part aside. Thus, although thus only, can you recover your neglected opportunities. Do this in hope and meekness, and God will make up to you for the lost past; He Who inhabiteth eternity will stretch forth out of His eternity a forgiving hand, and touch into green leaf again the years which the locust hath eaten." How eagerly Walter Evson drank in those words! That day at least he felt that man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
If Walter had been old enough to be an observer of character, he might have gathered out of his difficulties the materials for some curious observation on the manner in which he was treated by different boys. Many, like Harpour and Cradock, made, of course, no sort of difference in their behaviour towards him, because they set up no pretence of condemnation; others, like Anthony and Franklin, had been nearly as bad as himself in the matter, and therefore their relations to him remained quite unaltered. But there were many boys who, like Jones, either cut him or were cold to him, not because they really felt any moral anger at a fault which was much less heinous in reality than many which they daily committed, but because he was, for the time, unpopular, and they did not care to be seen with an unpopular boy. On the other hand, through a feeling, which at the time they could not understand, a few of the very best boys, some of the wisest, the steadiest, the noblest, seemed drawn to him by some new tie; and in a very short time he began to know friends among them in whose way he might not otherwise have been thrown. Daubeny, for instance, than whom, although the boys chose to make him something of a butt, there was no more conscientious fellow at Saint Winifred's, sought Walter out on every possible occasion, and when they were alone spoke to him, in his gentle and honest way, many a cheering and kindly word. Another friend of this sort (whom Walter already knew slightly through Kenrick, who was in the form below him), was a boy named Power. There was something in Power most attractive: his clear eyes, and innocent expression of face, his unvarying success in all school competitions, his quiet and graceful manners, and even the coldness and reserve which made him stand somewhat aloof from the herd of boys, mixing with very few of them, firmly and unobtrusively assuming an altogether higher tone than theirs, and bestowing his confidence and friendship on hardly any—all tended to make him a marked character, and to confer on his intimacy an unusual value. Walter, to whom as yet he had hardly spoken, thought him self-centred and reserved, and yet saw something beautiful and fascinating even in his exclusiveness; he felt that he could have liked him much, but, as he was several forms lower than Power, never expected to become one of his few associates. But during his troubles Power so openly showed that he regarded him with respect and kindness, and was so clearly the first to make advances, that Walter gladly and gratefully accepted the proffered friendship.
It happened thus: One day, about a fortnight after his last escapade, Walter was amusing himself alone, as he often did, upon the shore. The shore was very dear to him. I almost pity a boy whose school is not by the seaside. He found on the shore both companionship and occupation. He never felt lonely there. He could sit there by the hour, either in calm or storm, watching the sea-birds dip their wings which flashed in the sunlight, as they pounced down on some unwary fish; or listening to the silken rustle and sweet monotony of the waves plashing musically upon the yellow sands on some fine day. On this evening the tide was coming in, and Walter had amused himself by standing on some of the lumps of granite tossed about the shore until the advancing waves encroached upon and surrounded his little island, and gave him just room to jump to land. He was standing on one of these great stones watching the sunset, and laughing to himself at the odd gambols of two or three porpoises that kept rolling about in a futile manner across the little bay, when he heard a pleasant voice say to him—
"I say, Evson, are you going to practise the old style of martyrdom—tie yourself to a stake and let the tide gradually drown you?"
Looking round he was surprised to see Power standing alone on the sands, and to see also that his little island was so far surrounded that he could not get to shore without being wet up to the knees.
"Hallo!" he said; "I see I must take off my shoes and stockings, and wade."
But on the slippery piece of rock upon which he was standing he had no room to do this without losing his balance and tumbling over; so Power had in a moment taken off his own shoes and stockings, turned up his trousers above the knees, and waded up to him.
"Now," he said, "get on my back, and I'll carry you in unwetted."
"Thanks, Power," he said, as Power deposited him on the sand; "I'm much obliged."
Not knowing whether Power would like to be seen with him or not, he looked at him shyly, and was walking off in another direction, when Power, who was putting on his stockings again, said to him playfully—
"What, Walter; haven't you the grace to wait for me, after my having delivered you from such a noyade? Excuse my calling you Walter; I hear Kenrick and Henderson do it, and somehow you're one of those fellows whom one meets now and then, whose Christian name seems to suit them more naturally than the other."
"By all means call me Walter, Power; and I'll wait for you gladly if you like," said Walter, blushing as he added, "I thought you might not like to walk with me."
"Not like? Nonsense. I should like it particularly. Let's take a turn along the shore; we shall just have time before roll-call."
Walter pointed out to him the droll porpoises which had absorbed his attention, and while they stood looking and laughing at them, Henderson came up unobserved, and patting Walter on the back, observed poetically—
"Why are your young hearts sad, oh beautiful children of morning? Why do your young eyes gaze timidly over the sea?"
"Where did you crib that quotation from, Flip," asked Power laughing; "your mind's like a shallow brook, and the colour of it always shows the stratum through which you have been flowing last."
"Shallow brook, quotha?" said Henderson; "a deep and mighty river, sir, you mean; irresistible by any Power."
"Oh, do shut up. Why was I born with a name that could be punned on? No more puns, Flip, if you love me," said Power; and they all three walked under the noble Norman archway that formed the entrance to the school.
"By the powers," said Henderson to Walter, as the other left them, "you have got a new friend worth having, Walter. He doesn't make himself at home with every one, I can tell you; and if he and Dubbs cultivate you, I should think it's about time for anyone else to be ashamed of cutting you, my boy."
"I'm quite happy now," said Walter; "with you and Kenrick and him for friends. I don't care so much for the rest. I wonder why he likes me?"
"Well, because he thinks the fellows a great deal too hard on you for one thing. How very good and patient you've been, Walter, under it all."
"It is hard sometimes, Flip, but I deserve it. Only now and then I'm afraid that you and Ken will get quite tired of me, I've so few to speak to. Harpour and that lot would be glad enough that I should join them, I know, and but for you and Ken I should have been driven to do it."
"Never mind, Walter, my boy; the fellows'll come round in time."
So, step by step, with the countenance of some true and worthy friends, and by the help of a stout and uncorrupted heart, by penitence and by kindliness, did our brave little Walter win his way. He was helped, too, greatly, by his achievements in the games. At football he played with a vigour and earnestness which carried everything before it. He got several bases, and was the youngest boy in the school who ever succeeded in doing this. Gradually but surely his temporary unpopularity gave way; and even before he began to be generally recognised again, he bade fair ultimately to gain a high position in the estimation of all his schoolfellows.
There was one scene which he long remembered, and which was very trying to go through. One fine afternoon the boys' prize for the highest jump was to be awarded, and as the school were all greatly interested in the competition, they were assembled in a dense circle in the green playground, leaving space for the jumpers in the middle. The fine weather had also tempted nearly all the inhabitants of Saint Winifred's to be spectators of the contest, and numbers of ladies were present, for whom the boys had politely left a space within the circle. When the chief jumping prize had been won by an active fellow in the sixth-form, another prize was proposed for all boys under fifteen.
Bliss, Franklin, and two other boys at once stepped into the circle as competitors, and threw off their jackets.
"You must go in for this, Walter," said Henderson. "You're sure to get it."
"Not I. I won't go in, Flip," said Walter, who was naturally in a desponding mood, as he looked round on those four hundred faces, and saw among them all scarcely one sympathising glance. "You go in and win. And never mind talking to me up here, Henderson; it can't be pleasant for you, I know, when all the other fellows are cutting me."
"Pooh! Walter. They're in the wrong box; not you and I. 'Athanasius contra mundum,' as Power says. Do go in for the prize."
Walter shook his head gloomily. "I don't like to, before all these fellows. They'd hiss me or something."
"Well, if you won't, I won't; that's flat."
"O do, Henderson. I'm sure you'd get it. Don't ask me to go in, that's a good fellow."
"None but these four going in for the little jump? What, only four?" said one of the young athletes, who carried little blue flags, and arranged the preliminaries. "Come in some more of you."
"Here are two more," said Henderson; "stick down our names—Henderson and Evson"; and pulling Walter forward with him inside the circle, he sat down and began to take off his shoes, that he might run and jump more easily on the turf.
Thus prominently mentioned, Walter could hardly draw back, so putting the best face on it he could, he, too, flung off his jacket and shoes.
The movable spar of wood over which the boys jumped was first put at a height of three feet, which they could all easily manage, and the six, one after another, cleared it lightly. Even then, however, it was pretty easy to judge by their action which was the best jumper, and the connoisseurs on the field at once decided that the chance lay between Henderson and Walter; Walter was by far the most active and graceful jumper, but Henderson had the advantage of being a little the taller of the two.
The spar was raised half an inch each time, and when it had attained the height of three feet and a half, two of the candidates failed to clear it after three trials.
Bliss was the next to break down. His awkward jumps had excited a great deal of laughter, and when he finally failed, Henderson found time even then to begin a line or two of his monody on Blissidas, which was a standing joke against poor Bliss, who always met it by the same invariable observation of "I'll lick you afterwards, Flip."
Only three competitors were now left—Franklin, Henderson, and Walter— and they jumped on steadily till they had reached the height of four feet and one inch, and then Franklin broke down, but recovered himself in the second chance.
The struggle now became very exciting, and as Franklin and Henderson again cleared the bar at the height of four feet four, each of them were loudly clapped. But Walter—who jumped last always, because he had been the last candidate to come forward—although he cleared it with an easy bound, received no sign of encouragement from any of the boys. He cleared it in perfect silence, only broken by Mr Paton, who was looking on with a group of other masters, and who said encouragingly, "Very well done, Evson; capital!"
The bar was raised an inch, and again the three boys cleared it, and again the first two were greeted with applause, and Walter was left unnoticed except by Power and Kenrick, who applauded him heartily, and patted him on the back. But indeed their clapping only served to throw into stronger relief the loud applause which the others received. Walter almost wished that they would desist. He was greatly agitated; and his friends saw that he was trembling with emotion. He had been much mortified the first time to be thus pointedly scorned in so large a crowd of strangers, and made a marked object of reprobation before them all; but that this open shame should be thus steadily and continuously put upon him, made his heart swell with sorrow and indignation at the ungenerous and unforgiving spirit of his schoolfellows.
Once more the bar was raised an inch. The other two got over it amid a burst of applause, and this time Walter, who was unnerved by the painful circumstances in which he found himself, brushed against it as he came over, and knocked it off. The bar was replaced, and at his second trial (for three were allowed) he jumped so well that he flew easily over it. Always before, a boy who had recovered himself after a failure had been saluted with double cheering, but again Walter's proceedings were observed by that large crowd in dead silence, while he could not help overhearing the whispered queries which asked an explanation of so unusual a circumstance.
"Why don't they cheer him as well as the others?" asked a fair young girl of her brother. "He looks such a nice boy."
"Because he did a very shabby thing not long ago," was the reply.
He could stand it no longer. He glanced round at the speakers more in sorrow than in anger, and then, instead of returning to the starting-point, he turned hastily aside, and, declining the contest, plunged into the thickest of the crowd. "Evson's giving it up. What a pity!" said several boys.
"No wonder he's giving it up," said Power indignantly, "after the way you fellows treat him. Never mind them, Walter," he said, taking him by the arm; "they will be ashamed of themselves by and by."
"You're not going to withdraw, Evson?" asked one of the chief athletes, in a kind tone.
"Yes," said Walter, retiring still farther to hide himself amid the crowd.
"Nonsense!" said Henderson, who had heard the answer; "come, Walter, it'll spoil all the fun if you don't go on."
"I can't, Flip," said Walter, turning aside, and hastily brushing away the tears which would come into his eyes.
"Do, Walter, they all wish it," whispered Henderson; "be brave, and get the prize in spite of all; here's Paton coming round; I'm sure it's to cheer you up."
"Very well, Flip, I will, if it pleases you; but it's rather hard," he said, fairly bursting into tears. "Remember, it's only for your sake I do it, Flip."
"Go on, Walter; don't give way," said Mr Paton aloud, in his gentlest and most encouraging voice, as the boy hastily re-entered the arena, and took his place.
This time Franklin finally broke down, Henderson barely scrambled over, and Walter, nerved by excitement and indignation, cleared the bar by a brilliant flying leap. There was no mistake about the applause this time. The boys had seen how their coolness had told on him. They were touched by the pluck he showed in spite of his dejected look, and as though to make up for their former deficiency, they clapped him as loud as either of the others.
And now a spirited contest began between Henderson and Walter. Four feet six and a half they both accomplished—Walter the first time, and Henderson the third. When Henderson, at his last trial, barely succeeded, a loud shout rose from the field, quite enthusiastic enough to show that the wishes of the school were on his side. This decided Walter, for he too was anxious that Henderson, who had set his heart upon the prize, and was now quite eager with emulation, should be the successful competitor. At four feet seven, therefore, he meant to break down, but, at the same time, to clear the bar so nearly each time of trial, that it might not be obvious to any one that he was not putting forth his best strength. The first time, however, he jumped so carelessly that Henderson suspected his purpose, and, therefore, the second time he exerted himself a little more, and, to his own astonishment, accomplished the leap without having intended to do so. Henderson also just succeeded in managing it, and as Walter refused to try another half inch, the prize was declared, amid loud cheers, to be equally divided between them, after the best competition that ever had been known.
The boys and the spectators now moved off to the pavilion, where the prizes were to be distributed by Mrs Lane. But when Walter's name was called out with Henderson's, only the latter stepped forward. Walter had disappeared; and the boys were again made to feel, by his voluntary absence, what bitterness of heart their unkind conduct caused him.
Henderson took the prize for his friend, when he received his own. The prizes were a silver-mounted riding-whip, and a belt with a silver clasp, and Mrs Lane told Henderson that she was sorry for the other victor's absence, and that either of them might choose whichever prize he liked best. When the crowd had dispersed Henderson, knowing Walter's haunts, strolled with Kenrick to a little fir-grove on the slope of Bardlyn Hill, not far above the sea. Here, as they expected, they found Walter. He was sitting in a listless attitude, with his back towards them, and he started as he heard their footsteps.
"You let yourself be beaten, Evson Walter, And afterwards you proved a base defaulter,"
said Henderson, who was in high spirits, as he clapped his hands on Walter's shoulders, and continued—
"Behold I bring you now the silver prizes, Meant to reward your feets and exercises."
Even Walter could not help smiling at this sally, but he said at once, "You must keep both prizes, Flip; I don't mean to take either—indeed I won't; I shouldn't have gone in at all but for you."
"Oh, do take one," said Kenrick; "the fellows will think you too proud if you don't."
"I don't care what they think of me, Ken; you saw how they treated me. Flip, I'd take the prize in a minute to please you, but, indeed, it would only remind me constantly of this odious jumping, and I'd much rather not."
"I can't take both prizes, Walter," said Henderson.
"Well, I'll tell you what—give one to Franklin; he jumped very well, and he's not half a bad fellow. Don't press me, Flip; I can't refuse you anything if you do, because you've been so very, very kind; but you don't know how wretched I feel."
Henderson, who had looked annoyed, cleared up in a moment.
"All right, Walter; it shall be as you like. Franklin shall have it. You've had quite enough to bear already. So cheer up, and come along."
It was soon known in the school how Walter had yielded the prize to Franklin, and it was known, too, that next day he had gone to jump with Henderson, Franklin, and some others, and had cleared the bar at four feet eight, which none of them had been able to do. The boys admired his conduct throughout; and from that day forward many were as anxious to renew an acquaintance with him as they had previously been to break it off.
And there was an early opportunity of testing this; for a few days after the scene just described the champion race for boys under fifteen was tried for, and when Walter won it by accomplishing the distance in the shortest time that had yet been known, and by distancing the other runners, he was received with a cheer, which was all the more hearty because the boys were anxious to do him a tardy justice. If Walter had not been too noble to be merely patronised, and too reserved to be "hail-fellow-well-met" with every one, he would have fallen more easily and speedily into the position which he now slowly but honourably recovered.
It need hardly be said that, in his school work, Walter struggled with all his might to give satisfaction to Mr Paton, and to spare him from all pain. There was something really admirable in the way he worked, and taxed himself even beyond his strength, to prove his regret for Mr Paton's loss, by doing all that was required of him. Naturally quick and lively as he was, he sat as quiet and attentive in school, as if he had been gifted with a disposition as unmercurial as that of Daubeny himself. In order to make sure of his lessons, he went over them with Henderson (who entered eagerly into his wishes) with such care, that they, both of them, astonished themselves with their own improving progress. If they came to any insuperable difficulties, Kenrick or Power gladly helped them, and explained everything to them with that sympathetic clearness of instruction which makes one boy the best teacher to another. The main difficulty still continued to be the repetition, and grammar rules; but in order to know them, at least by rote, Walter would get up with the earliest gleam of daylight, and would put on his trousers and waistcoat after bed-time, and go and sit, book in hand, under the gaslight in the passage. This was hard work, doubtless; but it brought its own reward in successful endeavour and an approving conscience. Under this discipline his memory rapidly grew retentive; no difficulty can stand the assaults of such batteries as these, and Walter was soon free from all punishments, and as happy as the day was long.
One little cloud alone remained—the continued and obvious displeasure of his tutor, and one or two of Mr Paton's chief friends among the masters. One of these was Mr Edwards, who, among other duties, had the management of the chapel choir. But at length Mr Edwards gave him a distinguished proof of his returning respect. He sat near Walter in chapel, and the hymn happened to be one which came closely home to Walter's heart after his recent troubles. This made him join with great feeling in the singing, and the choirmaster was struck with the strength and rare sweetness of his voice. As he left the chapel, Mr Edwards said to him, "Evson, there is a vacancy for a treble in the choir; I heard you sing in chapel to-day, and I think that you would supply the place very well. Should you like to join?"
Walter very gladly accepted the offer, partly because he hailed the opportunity of learning a little about music, and because the choir boys were allowed several highly-valued and exceptional privileges; but chiefly because they were always chosen by the masters with express reference to character, and therefore the invitation to join their number was the clearest proof that could be given him that the past was condoned.
The last to offer him the right-hand of forgiveness, but the best and warmest friend to him when once he had done so, was Mr Percival. He still passed him with only the coldest and most distant recognition, for he not only felt Mr Paton's loss with peculiar sorrow, but was also vexed and disappointed that a boy whose character he had openly defended should have proved so unworthy of his encomium. It happened that the only time that Walter was ever again sent to detention was for a failure in a long lesson, including much which had been learnt on the morning that he was out of school, which, in consequence, he found it impossible, with all his efforts, to master. Mr Paton saw how mortified and pained he was to fail, and when he sent him to detention, most kindly called him up, and told him that he saw the cause of his unsuccess, and was not in the least displeased at it, although, as he had similarly punished other boys, he could not make any exception to the usual rule of punishment. On this occasion, it was again Mr Percival's turn to sit with the detenus, and seeing Walter among them, he too hastily concluded that he was still continuing a career of disgrace.
"What! you here again?" he said with chilling scorn, as he passed the seat where Walter sat writing. "After what has happened, I should have been ashamed to be sent here, if I were you."
After his days and nights of toil, after his long, manly, noble struggle to show his penitence, after his heavy and disproportionate punishment, it was hard to be so addressed by one whom he respected, in the presence of all the idlest in the school, and in consequence of a purely accidental and isolated failure. Walter looked up with an appealing look in his dark blue eyes; but Mr Percival had passed on, and he bent his head over his paper with the old sense that the past could never be forgotten, the recollection of his disgrace never obliterated. No one was observing him; and as the feeling of despair grew in him, a large tear dropped down upon his paper; he wiped it quietly away, and continued writing, but another and another fell, and he could not help it. For Mr Percival was almost the only master whose goodwill he very strongly coveted, and whose approval he was most anxious to attain.
When next Mr Percival stopped and looked at Walter, he saw that his words had wounded him to the heart, and knew well why the boy's lines were blurred and blotted, when he showed them up with a timid hand and downcast look.
He was touched. "I have been too hard on you, Evson," he said; "I see it now. Come to tea with me after chapel this evening; I want to speak with you."
"Sir, you are one of those that will not serve God if the devil bid you."
Othello, act 1, scene 1.
When chapel was over, Walter, having brushed his hair, and made himself rather neater and more spruce than a schoolboy usually is at the middle of a long half, went to Mr Percival's room. Mr Percival, having been detained, had not yet come in; but Henderson, Kenrick, and Power, who had also been asked to tea, were there waiting for him when Walter arrived, and Henderson, as usual, amusing the others and himself with a flood of mimicry and nonsense.
"You know that mischievous little Penkridge," said Kenrick; "he nearly had an accident this morning. We were in the classroom, and Edwards was complaining of the bad smell of the room—"
"Bad smell!" interrupted Henderson, "I'll bet you what you like Edwards didn't say bad smell. He's not the man to call a spade a spade; he calls it an agricultural implement for the trituration of the soil."
"Why, what should he say?" asked Kenrick, "if he didn't say 'bad smell'?"
"Why, 'What a malodorous effluvium!'" said Henderson, imitating exactly the master's somewhat drawling tone; "'what a con-cen-trra-ted malarious miasma; what an unendurable'—I say Power, give us the Greek, or Hebrew, or Kamschatkan, for 'smell.'"
"Odwde," suggested Power.
"That's it to a T," said Henderson; "I bet you he observed, 'What an un-en-duu-rrable osus.' Now, didn't he? Confess the truth."
"Well, I believe he did say something of the kind," said Kenrick, laughing; "at least I know he called it Stygian and Tartarean. But, as I was saying, he set Penkridge (who happened to be going round with the lists) to examine the cupboards, and see if by chance some inopportune rat had died there; and Penkridge, opening one of them where the floor was very rotten, and poking about with his foot, knocked a great piece of plaster off the great schoolroom ceiling, and was as nearly as possible putting his foot through it."
"Fancy if he had," said Walter, "how astonished we should have been down below. I say, Henderson, what would Paton have said?"
"Oh! Paton," said Henderson, delighted with any opportunity for mimicry, "he'd have whispered quietly, in an emotionless voice, 'Penkridge, Penkridge, come here—come here, Penkridge. This is a very unusual method, Penkridge, of entering a room—highly irregular. If you haven't broken your leg or your arm, Penkridge, you must write me two hundred lines.'"
"And Robertson?" asked Kenrick.
"Oh! Robertson—he'd have put up his eye-glass," said Henderson, again exactly hitting off the master's attitude, "and he'd have observed, 'Ah! Penkridge has fallen through the floor; probably fractured some bones. Slippery fellow, he won't be able to go to the Fighting Cocks this afternoon, at any rate.' Whereupon Stevens would have gone up to him with the utmost tenderness, and asked him if he was hurt; and Penkridge, getting up, would, by way of gratitude, have grinned in his face."
"Well, you'd better finish the scene," said Power; "what would Percival have said?"
"Thunder-and-lightning? Oh! that's easy to decide; he'd have made two or three quotations; he'd have immediately called the attention of the form to the fact that Penkridge had been:—
"'Flung by angry Jove Sheer o'er the crystal battlements; from morn Till noon he fell, from noon till dewy eve; A winter's day, and as the tea-bell rang, Shot from the ceiling like a falling star On the great schoolroom floor.'"
"Would he, indeed?" said Mr Percival, pinching Henderson's ear, as he came in just in time to join in the laugh which this parody occasioned.
Tea at Saint Winifred's is a regular and recognised institution. There are few nights on which some of the boys do not adjourn after chapel to tea at the masters' houses, when they have the privilege of sitting up an hour and a half later. The masters generally adopt this method of seeing their pupils and the boys in whom they are interested. The institution works admirably; the first and immediate result of it is, that here boys and masters are more intimately acquainted, and being so, are on warmer and friendlier terms with each other than perhaps at any other school—certainly on warmer terms than if they never met except in the still and punishment-pervaded atmosphere of the schoolrooms; and the second and remoter result is, that not only in the matter of work already alluded to, but also in other and equally important particulars, the tone and character of Saint Winifred's boys is higher and purer than it would otherwise be. There is a simplicity and manliness there which cannot fail to bring forth its rich fruits of diligence, truthfulness, and honour. Many are the boys who have come from thence, who, in the sweet yet sober dignity of their life and demeanour, go far to realise the beautiful ideal of Christian boyhood. Many are the boys there who are walking, through the gates of humility and diligence, to certain, and merited, and conspicuous honour.
I know that there are many who believe in none of these things, and care not for them; who repudiate the necessity and duty of early godliness; who set up no ideal at all, because to do so would expose them to the charge of sentiment or enthusiasm, a charge which they dread more than that of villainy itself. These men regard the heart as a muscle consisting of four cavities, called respectively the auricles and the ventricles, and useful for no other purpose but to aerate the blood; all other meanings of the word they despise or ignore. They regard the world not as a scene of probation, not as a passage to a newer and higher life, but as a "convenient feeding-trough" for every low passion and unworthy impulse; as a place where they can build on the foundation of universal scepticism a reputation for superior ability. This degradation of spirit, this premature cynicism, this angry sneering at a tone superior to their own, this addiction to a low and lying satire, which is the misbegotten child of envy and disbelief, has infected our literature to a deplorable and almost hopeless extent. It might be sufficient to leave it, in all its rottenness and inflation, to every good man's silent scorn, if it had not also so largely tainted the intellect of the young. If, in popular papers or magazines, boys are to read that, in a boy, lying is natural and venial; that courtesy to, and love for, a master, is impossible or hypocritical; that swearing and corrupt communication are peccadilloes which none but preachers and pedagogues regard as discreditable—how can we expect success to the labours of those who toil all their lives, amid neglect and ingratitude, to elevate the boys of England to a higher and holier view? I have seen this taint of atheistic disregard for sin poison article after article, and infuse its bitter principle into many a young man's heart; and worse than this—adopted as it is by writers whom some consider to be mighty in intellect and leaders of opinion, I have seen it corrode the consciences and degrade the philosophy of far better and far worthier men.
It is a solemn duty to protest, with all the force of heart and conscience, against this dangerous gospel of sin, this "giving to manhood's vices the privilege of boyhood." It was not the gospel taught at Saint Winifred's; there we were taught that we were baptised Christian boys, that the seal of God's covenant was on our foreheads, that the oath of His service was on our consciences, that we were His children, and the members of His Son, and the inheritors of His kingdom; that His laws were our safeguard, and that our bodies were the temples of His Spirit. We were not taught—that was left for the mighty intellects of this age to discover—that as we were boys, a Christian principle and a Christian standard were above our comprehension, and alien from our possible attainments; we did not believe then, nor will I now, that a clear river is likely to flow from a polluted stream, or a good tree grow from bitter fibres and cankered roots.
Walter and the others spent a very happy evening with Mr Percival. When tea was over they talked as freely with him, and with each other in his presence, as they would have done among themselves; and the occasional society of their elders and superiors was in every way good for them. It enlarged their sympathies, widened their knowledge, and raised their moral tone.
Among many other subjects that evening they talked over one which never fails to interest deeply every right-minded boy—I mean their homes. It was no wonder that, as Walter talked of the glories of Semlyn lake and its surrounding hills, his face lighted up, and his eyes shone with pleasant memories. Mr Percival, as he looked at him, felt more puzzled than ever at his having gone wrong, and more confirmed than ever in the opinion that he had been hard and unjust to him of late, and that his original estimate of him was the right one after all.