Power's home was a statelier one than Walter's. His father, Sir Lawrence Power, was a baronet, the owner of broad acres, whose large and beautiful mansion stood on one of the undulations in a park shadowed by ancestral trees, under whose boughs the deer fed with their graceful fawns around them. Through the park flowed a famous river, of which the windings were haunted by herons and kingfishers, and the pleasant waters abounded in trout and salmon. And to this estate and title Power was heir; though of course he did not tell them this while he spoke of the lovely scenery around the home where his fathers had so long lived.
Henderson, again, was the son of a rich merchant, who had two houses— one city and one suburban. He was a regular little man of the world. After the holidays he had always seen the last feats of Saltori, and heard the most recent strains of Tiralirini. He always went to a round of entertainments, and would make you laugh by the hour while he sang the songs or imitated the style of the last comic actor or Ethiopian minstrel.
While they were chatting over their holiday amusements and occupations, Kenrick said little; and, wondering at his silence, Mr Percival asked him in what part of the world he lived.
"I, sir?" he said, as though awaked from a reverie; "Oh, I live at Fuzby, a village on the border of the fens, and in the very middle of the heavy clays." And Kenrick turned away his head.
"Don't abuse the clay," said Walter to cheer him up; "I'm very fond of the clay; it produces good roses and good strawberries—and those are the two best things going, in any soil."
"Half-past ten, youngsters," said Mr Percival, holding up his watch; "off with you to bed. Let yourselves in through the grounds; here's the key. Good-night to you. Walter," he said, calling him back as he was about to leave, "one word with you alone; you three wait for him a moment outside. I wanted to tell you that, although I have seemed harsh to you, I dare say, of late, yet now I hear that you are making the most honourable efforts, and I have quite forgotten the past. My good opinion of you, Walter, is quite restored; and whenever you want to be quiet to learn your lessons, you may always come and sit in my room."
Mr Percival was not the only Saint Winifred's master who thus generously abridged his own leisure and privacy to assist the boys in what he felt an interest. Walter thanked him with real gratitude, and rejoined the other three. "He's let me sit in his room," said Walter.
"Has he?" said Henderson; "so he has me. How jolly! we shall get on twice as well."
"What's that?" said Power, pointing upwards, as they walked through the garden to their house door.
Glancing in the direction, Walter saw a light suddenly go out in his dormitory, and a great bundle (apparently) disappear inside the window, which was then shut down.
"I'll go and see," he said. "Good-night, you fellows."
All was quiet when he reached his room, but one of the candles, ineffectually extinguished, was still smoking, and when he looked to Eden's bed he saw by the gaslight that shone through the open door, that the child was awake, and crying bitterly.
"What's the matter, Eden?" he said kindly, sitting down upon his bed.
"If you peach," said Harpour and Jones together; "you know what you'll get."
"Have you fellows been bullying poor little Eden?" asked Walter indignantly.
"I've not," and "I've not," said Anthony and Franklin, who were better than the rest in every way; and "I haven't touched the fellow, Evson," said Cradock, who meant no harm, and at Walter's earnest request had never again annoyed Eden since the first night.
"Poor little Eden—poor little fiddlestick," said Jones, "it does the young cub good."
"Send him home to his grandmamma, and let him have his bib and his night-cap," growled Harpour; "is he made of butter, and are you afraid of his melting, you Evson, that you make such a fuss with him? You want your lickings yourself, and shall have them if you don't look out."
"I don't care what you do to me, Harpour," rejoined Walter, "and I don't think you'll do very much. But I do tell you that it's a blackguard shame for a great big fellow like you to torment a little delicate chap like Eden; and what's more, you shan't do it."
"Shan't! my patience. I like that I why, who is to prevent me?"
"I suppose he'll turn sneak, and peach," said Jones; "he'd do anything that's mean, we all know."
Walter was always liable to that taunt now. It was a part of his punishment, and the one which lasted longest. From any other boy he might have winced under it; but really, coming from Jones, it was too contemptible to notice.
"You shut up, Jones," he said angrily; "you shan't touch Eden again, I can tell you, whatever Harpour does, and he'd better look out what he does."
"Look out yourself," said Harpour, flinging a football boot at Walter's head.
"You'll find your boot on the grass outside to-morrow morning," said Walter, opening the window, and dropping it down. He wasn't a bit afraid, because he always went on the instinctive and never-mistaken assumption, that a bully must be a coward in his inmost nature. Cruelty to the weaker is incompatible with the generosity of all true courage.
"By Jove, I'll thrash you for that to-morrow," shouted Harpour.
"To-morrow!" said Walter with great contempt.
"Oh, don't make him angry, Walter," whispered Eden; "you know what a strong fellow he is," (Eden shuddered, as though he had reason to know); "and you can't fight him; and you mustn't get a thrashing for my sake. I'm not worth that. I'd rather bear it myself, Walter—indeed I would."
"Good-night, poor little Eden," said Walter; "you're safe to-night at any rate. Why, how cold you are! What have they been doing to you?"
"I daren't tell you to-night, Walter; I will to-morrow," he answered in a low tone, shivering all over.
"Well, then, go to sleep now, my little man; and don't you be afraid of Harpour or any one else. I won't let them bully you if I can help it."
Eden squeezed Walter's hand tight, and sobbed his thanks, while Walter gently smoothed the child's pillow and dried his tears.
Poor Eden! as I said before, he was too weak, too delicate, too tenderly nurtured, and far, far too young for the battle of life in a public school. For even at Saint Winifred's, as there are and must be at all great schools, there were some black sheep in the flock undiscovered, and therefore unseparated from the rest.
MY BROTHER'S KEEPER.
"'Tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are gardens to the which our wills are gardeners."
Othello, Act One Scene 3.
As Walter lay awake for a few quiet moments before he sent his thoughts to rest, he glanced critically, like an Indian gymnosophist, over the occurrences of the day. He could not but rejoice that the last person for whom he felt real regard had forgiven him his rash act, and that his offence had thus finally been absolved on earth as in heaven. He rejoiced, too, that Mr Percival's kind permission to learn his lessons in his room would give him far greater advantages and opportunities than he had hitherto enjoyed. Yet Walter's conscience was not quite at ease. The last scene had disturbed him. The sobs and shiverings of little Eden had fallen very reproachfully into his heart. Walter felt that he might have done far more for him than he had done. He had, indeed, even throughout his own absorbing troubles, extended to the child a general protection, but not a special care. It never occurred to him to excuse himself with the thought that he was "not his brother's keeper." The truth was that he had found Eden uninteresting, because he had not taken the pains to be interested in him, and while one voice within his heart reproved him of neglect and selfishness, another voice seemed to say to him, in a firm yet kindlier tone, "Now that thou are converted, strengthen thy brethren."
For indeed as yet Eden's had been a very unhappy lot. Bullied, teased, and persecuted by the few among whom accident had first thrown him, and judged to belong to their set by others who on that account considered him a boy of a bad sort, he was almost friendless at Saint Winifred's. And the loneliness, the despair of this feeling, weighing upon his heart, robbed him of all courage to face the difficulties of work, so that in school as well as out of it, he was always in trouble. He was for ever clumsily scrawling in his now illegible hand the crooked and blotted lines of punishment which his seeming ignorance or sluggishness brought upon him; and although he was always to be seen at detention, he almost hailed this disgrace as affording him at least some miserable shadow of occupation, and a refuge, however undesirable, from the torments of those degraded few to whom his childish tears, his weak entreaties, his bursts of impotent passion, caused nothing but low amusement. Out of school his great object always was to hide himself; anywhere, so as to be beyond the reach of Jones, Harpour, and other bullies of the same calibre. For this purpose he would conceal himself for a whole afternoon at a time up in the fir-groves, listlessly gathering into heaps the red sheddings of their umbrage, and pulling to pieces their dry and fragrant cones; or, when he feared that these resorts would be disturbed by some little gang of lounging smokers, he would choose some lonely place, under the shadow of the mountain cliffs, and sit for hours together, aimlessly rolling white lumps of quartz over the shingly banks. Under continued trials like these he became quite changed. The childish innocence and beauty of countenance, the childish frankness and gaiety of heart, the childish quickness and intelligence of understanding, were exchanged for vacant looks, stupid indifference, and that half-cunning expression which is always induced by craven fear. Accustomed, too, to be waited upon and helped continually in the home where his mother, a gay young widow, had petted and spoiled him, he became slovenly and untidy in dress and habits. He rarely found time or heart to write home, and even when he did, he so well knew that his mother was incapable of sympathy or comprehension of his suffering, that the dirty and ill-spelt scrawl rarely alluded to the one dim consciousness that brooded over him night and day—that he couldn't understand life, and only knew that he was a very friendless, unhappy, unpitied little boy. If he could have found even one to whom to unfold and communicate his griefs, even one to love him unreservedly, all the inner beauty and brightness of his character would have blown and expanded in that genial warmth. He once thought that in Walter he had found such an one, but when he saw that his dullness bored Walter, and that his listless manners and untidy habits made him cross, he shrank back within himself. He was thankful to Walter as a protector, but did not look upon him as a friend in whom he could implicitly confide. The flower without sunshine will lose its colour and its perfume. Six weeks after Arthur Eden, a merry, bright-eyed child, alighted from his mother's carriage at the old gate of Saint Winifred's school, no casual stranger would have recognised him again in the pale and moping little fellow who seemed to be afraid of every one whom he met.
Oh, if we knew how rare, how sweet, how deep human love can be, how easily, yet how seldom it is gained, how inexpressible the treasure is when once it has been gained, we should not trample on human hearts as lightly as most men do! Any one who in that hard time had spoken a few kindly words to Eden—any one who would have taken him gently for a short while by the hand, and helped him over the stony places that hurt his unaccustomed feet—any one who would have suffered, or who would have invited him, to pour his sorrows into their ears and assist him to sustain them—might have won, even at that slight cost, the deepest and most passionate love of that trembling young heart. He might have saved him from hours of numbing pain, and won the rich reward of a gratitude well-deserved and generously repaid. There were many boys at Saint Winifred's gentle-hearted, right-minded, of kindly and manly impulses; but all of them, except Walter, lost this golden opportunity of conferring pure happiness by disinterested good deeds. They did not buy up the occasion, which goes away and burns the priceless books she offers, if they are not purchased unquestioningly and at once.
And Walter regretfully felt that he was very very nearly too late; so nearly, that perhaps in a week or two more Eden might have lost hopelessly, and for ever, all trace of self-respect—might have been benumbed into mental imbecility by the torpedo-like influence of helpless grief. Walter felt as if he had been selfishly looking on while a fellow-creature was fast sinking in the water, and as if it were only at the last possible moment that he had held out a saving hand. But, by God's grace, he did hold out the saving hand at last, and it was grasped firmly, and a dear life was saved. Years after when Arthur Eden had grown into—but stop, I must not so far anticipate my story. Suffice it to say, that Walter's kindness to Eden, helped to bring about long afterwards one of the chief happinesses of his own life.
"Come a stroll, Eden, before third school, and let's have a talk," he said, as they came out from dinner in hall the next day.
Eden looked up happily, and he was proud to be seen by Walter's side in the throng of boys, as they passed out, and across the court, and under the shadow of the arch towards Walter's favourite haunt, the seashore. Walter never felt weak or unhappy for long together, when the sweetness of the sea-wind was on his forehead, and the song of the sea waves in his ear. A run upon the shore in all weathers, if only for five minutes, was his daily pleasure and resource.
They sat down; the sea flashed before them a mirror of molten gold, except where the summits of the great mountain of Appenfell threw their deep broad shadows, which seemed purple by contrast with the brightness over which they fell. Walter sat, full of healthy enjoyment as he breathed the pure atmosphere, and felt the delicious wind upon his glowing cheeks; and Eden was happy to be with him, and to sit quietly by his side.
"Eden," said Walter, after a few moments, "I'm afraid you've not been happy lately."
The poor child shook his head, and answered, "No one cares for me here; every one looks down on me, and is unkind; I've no friends."
"What, don't you count me as a friend, then?"
"Yes, Walter, you're very kind; I'm sure I couldn't have lived here if it hadn't been for you; but you're so much above me, and—"
Walter would not press him to fill up the omission, he could understand the rest of the sentence for himself.
"You mustn't think I don't feel how good you've been to me, Walter," said the boy, drawing near to him, and taking his hand; "but—"
"Yes, yes," said Walter; "I understand it all. Well, never mind, I will be a friend to you now."
A tear trembled on Eden's long eyelashes as he looked up quickly into Walter's face. "Will you, Walter? thank you, I have no other friend here; and please—"
"Well, what is it?"
"Will you call me Arthur, as they do at home?"
Walter smiled. "Well now," he said, "tell me what they were doing to you last night?"
"You won't tell them I told you, Walter," he answered, looking round, with the old look of decrepit fear usurping his face, which had brightened for the moment.
"No, no," said Walter, impatiently; "why, what a little coward you are, Eden."
The boy shrank back into himself as if he had received a blow, and relaxed his grasp of Walter's hand; but Walter, struck with the sensitive timidity which unkindness had caused, and sorry to have given him pain in all his troubles, said kindly—
"There, Arty, never mind; I didn't mean it; don't be afraid; tell me what they did to you. I saw a light in our dormitory as I was coming back from Percival's, and I saw something dragged through the window. What was it?"
"That was me," said Eden naively.
"Yes; poor me. They let me down by a sheet which they tied round my waist."
"What, from that high window? I hope they tied you tight."
"Only one knot; I ever so nearly slipped out of it last night, and that's what frightened me so, Walter."
"How horribly dangerous," said Walter indignantly.
"I know it is horribly dangerous," said Eden, standing up, and gesticulating violently, in one of those bursts of passion which flashed out of him now and then, and were the chief amusement of his persecutors; "and I dream about it all night," he said, bursting into tears, "and I know, I know that some day I shall slip, or the knot will come undone, and I shall fall and be smashed to atoms. But what do they care for that? and I sometimes wish I were dead myself, to have it all over."
"Hush, Arty, don't talk like that," said Walter, as he felt the little soiled hand trembling with passion and emotion in his own. "But what on earth do they let you down for?"
"To go to—but you won't tell?" he said, looking round again. "Oh, I forgot, you didn't like my saying that. But it's they who have made me a coward, Walter; indeed it is."
"And no wonder," thought Walter to himself. "But you needn't be afraid any more," he said aloud; "I promise you that no one shall do anything to you which they'd be afraid to do to me."
"Then I'm safe," said Eden, joyfully. "Well, they made me go to—to Dan's."
"Dan's? what, the fisherman's just near the shore."
"But don't you know, Arty, that Dan's a brute, and a regular smuggler, and that if you were caught going there, you'd be sent away?"
"Yes; you can't think, Walter, how I hate, and how frightened I am to go there. There's Dan, and there's that great lout of a wicked son of his, and they're always drunk, and the hut—ugh! it's so nasty; and last night Dan seized hold of me with his horrid red hand, and wanted me to drink some gin, and I shrieked." The very remembrance seemed to make him shudder.
"Well, then, after that I was nearly caught. I think, Walter, that even you would be a coward if you had such long long frights. You know that to get to Dan's, after the gates are locked, the only way is to go over the railing, and through Dr Lane's garden, and I'm always frightened to death lest his great dog should be loose, and should catch hold of me. He did growl last night. And then as I was hurrying back—you know it was rather moonlight last night, and not very cold—and who should I see but the Doctor himself walking up and down the garden. I crouched in a minute behind a thick holly-tree, and I suppose I made a rustle, though I held my breath, for the Doctor stopped and shook the tree, and said 'shoo,' as though he thought a cat were hidden there. I was half dead with fright, though I did hope, after all, that he would catch me, and that I might be sent away from this horrid place. But when he turned round, I crept away, and made the signal, and they let down the sheet, and then, as they were hauling me up, I heard voices—I suppose they must have been yours and Kenrick's; but they thought it was some master, and doused the glim, and oh! so nearly let me fall; so, Walter, please don't despise me, or be angry with me because you found me crying and shivering in bed. The cold made me shiver, and I couldn't help crying; indeed I couldn't."
"Poor Arty, poor Arty," said Walter, soothingly. "But have they ever done this before?"
"Yes, once, when you were at the choir-supper, one night."
"They never shall again, I swear," said Walter, frowning, as he thought how detestably cruel they had been. "But what did they send you for?"
"For no good," said Eden.
"No; I knew it would be for no good, if it was to Dan's that they sent you."
"Well, Walter, the first time it was for some drink; and the second time for some more drink," he said, after a little hesitation.
Walter looked serious. "But don't you know, Arty," he said, "that it's very wrong to get such things for them? If they want to have any dealings with that beast Dan, who's not fit to speak to, let them go themselves. Arty, it's very wrong; you mustn't do it."
"But how can I help it?" said the boy, looking frightened and ashamed. "Oh, must I always be blamed by every one," he said, putting his hands to his eyes. "It isn't my sin, Walter, it's theirs. They made me."
"Nobody can ever make anyone else do what's wrong, Arty."
"Oh, yes; it's all very easy for you to say that, Walter, who can fight anybody, and who are so strong and good, and whom no one dares bully, and who are not laughed at, and made a butt of, as I am."
"Look at Power," said Walter, "or look at Dubbs. They came as young as you, Arty, and as weak as you, but no one ever made them do wrong. Power somehow looks too noble to be bullied by anyone; they're afraid of him, I don't know why. But what had Dubbs to protect him? Yet not all the Harpours in the world would ever make him go to such a place as Dan's."
Poor Eden felt it hard to be blamed for this; he was not yet strong enough to learn that the path of duty, however hard and thorny, however hedged in with difficulties and antagonisms, is always the easiest and the pleasantest in the end.
"But they'd half kill me, Walter," he said plaintively.
"They'll have much more chance of doing that as it is," said Walter. "They'd thrash you a little, no doubt, but respect you more for it. And surely it would be better to bear one thrashing, and not do what's wrong, than to do it and to go two such journeys out of the window, and get the thrashings into the bargain? So even on that ground you ought to refuse. Eh, Arty?"
"Yes, Walter," he said, casting down his eyes.
"Well; next time either Harpour, or any one else, tries to make you do what's wrong, remember they can't make you, if you don't choose; and say flatly 'No!' and stick to it in spite of everything, like a brave little man, will you?"
"I did say 'No!' at first, Walter; but they threatened to frighten me," he said. "They knew I daren't hold out."
Yes; there was the secret of it all. Walter saw that they had played on this child's natural terrors with such refinement of cruelty, that fear had become the master principle in his mind; they had only to touch that spring and he obeyed them mechanically like a puppet, and because of his very fear, was driven to do things that might well cause genuine fear, till he lived in such a region of increasing fear and dread, that Walter's only surprise was that he had not been made an idiot already. Poor child! it was no wonder that he was becoming more stupid, cunning, untidy, and uninteresting, every day. And all this was going on under the very eyes of many thoroughly noble boys, and conscientious masters, and yet they never saw or noticed it, and looked on Eden as an idle and unprincipled little sloven. O our harsh human judgments! The Priest and the Levite still pass the wounded man, and the good Samaritans are rare on this world's highways.
What was Walter to do? He did not know the very name of psychology, but he did know the unhinging, desolating power of an overmastering spirit of fear. He knew that fear hath torment, but he had no conception by what means that demon can be exorcised. Yet he thought, as he raised his eyes for one instant to heaven in silent supplication, that there were few devils who would not go out by prayer, and he made a strong resolve that he would use every endeavour to make up for his past neglectfulness, and to save this poor unhappy child.
"I'm not blaming you, Arthur," he said, "but I like you, and don't want to see you go wrong, and be a tool in bad boys' hands. I hope you ask God to help you, Arthur?"
Eden looked at him, but said nothing. He had been taught but little, and by example he had been taught nothing of the Awful Far-off Friend Who is yet so near to every humble spirit, and Who even now had sent His angel to save this lamb who knew not of His fold.
"Listen to me, Arthur—ah! there I hear the third school-bell, and we must go in—but listen! I'll be your friend; I want to be your friend. I'll try and save you from all this persecution. Will you always trust me?"
Eden's look of gratitude more than repaid him, and Walter added, "And, Arty, you must not give up your prayers. Ask God to help you, and to keep you from going wrong, and to make you brave. Won't you, Arty?"
The little boy's heart was full even to breaking with its weight of happy tears; it was too full to speak. He pressed Walter's hand for one moment, and walked in by his side, without a word.
La Genie c'est la Patience.
I suppose that no days of life are so happy as those in which some great sorrow has been removed. Certainly Walter's days as his heart grew lighter and lighter with the consciousness that Mr Paton had forgiven him, that all those who once looked on him coldly had come round, that his difficulties were vanishing before steady diligence, and that, young as he was, he was winning for himself a name and a position in the school, were very full of peace. O pleasant days of boyhood! how mercifully they are granted to prepare us, to cheer us, to make us wise for the struggles of future life. To Walter at this time life itself was an exhilarating enjoyment. To get up in the morning bright, cheerful, and refreshed, with thoughts:
"Pleasant as roses in the thickets blown, And pure as dew bathing their crimson leaves;"
to get over his lessons easily and successfully, and receive Mr Paton's quiet word of praise; to shake with laughing over the flood of nonsense with which Henderson always deluged everyone who sat near him at breakfast-time; to help little Eden in his morning's work, and to see with what intense affection and almost adoration the child looked up to him; to stroll with Kenrick under the pine woods, or have a pleasant chat in Power's pretty little study, or read a book in the luxurious retirement of Mr Percival's room, or, if it were a half-holiday, to join in the skating, hare and hounds, football, or whatever game might be on hand—all these things were to Walter Evson one long unbroken pleasure. At this time he was the brightest, and pleasantest, and happiest of all light-hearted and happy English boys.
The permission to go whenever he liked to Mr Percival's room was his most valued privilege. There he could always secure such immunity from disturbance as enabled him to learn his lessons in half the time he would otherwise have been obliged to devote to them; and there too he could always ask the master's assistance when he came to any insuperable difficulty, and always enjoy the society of Henderson and the one or two other boys who were allowed by Mr Percival's kindness to use the same retreat. From the bottom of his form he rapidly rose to the top, and at last was actually placed first. A murmur of pleasure ran through the form on the first Sunday when his name was read out in this honourable position, and it gave Walter nearly as much satisfaction to hear Henderson's name read out sixth on the same day; for before Walter came, Henderson was too volatile ever to care where he stood in form, and usually spent his time in school in drawing caricatures of the masters, and writing parodies of the lesson or epigrams on other boys; up till this time Daubeny had always been first in the form, and he deserved the place if any boy did. He was not a clever boy, but nothing could exceed his well-intentioned industry. Like Sir Walter Raleigh he "toiled terribly." It was an almost pathetic sight to see Dubbs set about learning his repetitions; it was a noble sight, too. There was a heroism about it which was all the greater from its being unnoticed and unrecorded. Poor Dubbs had no privacy except such as the great schoolroom could afford, and there is not much privacy in a room, however large, which is the common habitation of fifty boys. Nevertheless, the undaunted Daubeny would choose out the quietest and loneliest corner of the room, and with elbows on knees and hands over his ears to shut out the chaotic noises which surrounded him, would stay repeating the lines to himself with attention wholly concentrated and absorbed, until, after perhaps an hour's work, he knew enough of them to enable him to finish mastering them the next morning. Next morning he would be up with the earliest dawn, and would again set himself to the task with grand determination, content if at the end of the week he gained the distinguished reward of being head in his form, and could allow himself the keen pleasure of writing home to tell his mother of his success.
When Daubeny had first come to Saint Winifred's, he had been forced to go through very great persecution. As he sat down to do his work he would be pelted with orange peel, kicked, tilted off the form on which he sat, ridiculed, and sometimes chased out of the room. All this he had endured with admirable patience and good humour; in short, so patiently and good-humouredly that all boys who had in them a spark of sense or honour very soon abandoned this system of torment, and made up for it as far as they could by respect and kindness, which always, however, took more or less the form of banter. It is not to be expected that boys will ever be made to see that steady, strenuous industry, even when it fails, is a greater and a better thing than idle cleverness, but those few who were so far in advance of their years as to have some intuition of this fact, felt for the character of Daubeny, a value which gave him an influence of a rare and important kind. For nothing could daunt this young martyr—not even failure itself. If he were too much bullied and annoyed to get up his lesson overnight, he would be up by five in the morning working at it with unremitting assiduity. Very often he overdid it, and knew his lesson all the worse in proportion as he had spent upon it too great an amount of time. Without being positively stupid, his intellect was somewhat dull, and as his manner was shy and awkward he had not been quite understood at first, and no master had taken him specially in hand to lighten his burdens. His bitterest trial, therefore, was to fail completely every now and then, and be reproached for it by some master who little knew the hours of weary work which he had devoted to the unsuccessful attempt. This was particularly the case during his first half-year, during which he had been in Mr Robertson's form. It happened that, from the very weariness of brain induced by his working too hard, he had failed in several successive lessons, and Mr Robertson, who was a man of quick temper and stinging speech, had made some very cutting remarks upon him, and sent him, moreover, to detention—a punishment which caused to his sensitive mind a pain hardly less acute than the master's pungent and undeserved sarcasm. This mishap, joined to his low weekly placing, very nearly filled him with despair, and this day might have turned the scale, and fixed him in the position of a heavy and disheartened boy, but for Power, who had come to Saint Winifred's at the same time with Daubeny, and who, although in his unusually rapid progress he had long left Daubeny behind, was then in the same form and the same dormitory with him, and knew how he worked. Power used always to say to his friends that Dubbs was the worthiest, the bravest, the most upright and conscientious boy in all Saint Winifred's school. Daubeny, on the other hand, had for Power the kind of adoration of the savage for the sun; he was the boy's beau-ideal of a perfect scholar and a perfect being.—It was a curious sight to see the two boys together Power with his fine and thoughtful face beaming with intelligence, Dubbs with large, heavy features and awkward gait; Power sitting down with his book and perfectly mastering the lesson in a quarter of an hour, and then turning round to say, with a bright arch look, "Well, Dubbs, I've learnt the lesson; how far are you?"
"Learnt the lesson? O, lucky fellow. I only know one stanza and that not perfectly; let me see—'Nam quid Typhoeus et validus Mimas nam quid'—no; I don't know even that, I see."
"Here, let me hear you."
Whereupon Dubbs would begin again, and flounder hopelessly at the end of the third line, and then Power would continue it all through with him, fix the sense of it in his memory, read it over, suggest little mnemonic dodges and associations of particular words and lines, and not leave him until he knew it by heart, and was ready with gratitude enough to pluck out his right eye and give it to Power, if needed, there and then.
The early failures we have been speaking of took place when Power had been staying out of school with a severe cold, and being in the sickroom had not seen Daubeny at all. He had come out again on the morning when, after Daubeny's failure, Mr Robertson had called him incorrigibly slothful and incapable, and after muttering some more invectives had said something about his being hopeless. As he listened to the master's remarks, although he knew that they only arose from misconception, Power's cheeks flushed up with painful surprise, and his eyes sparkled with indignation for his friend. He wanted Daubeny to tell Mr Robertson how many hours he had spent in being "incorrigibly slothful" over that particular lesson, but this at the time he could not get him to do. "Besides," said Daubeny, "if he knows me to be quite hopeless"— and here the poor boy grew scarlet as he recalled the undeserved insult—"it's no disgrace to me to fail."
When detention was over, Power sought out his friend, and found him sitting on the top of a little hill by the side of the river, alone, and with a most forlornly disconsolate air. Power saw that he had been crying bitterly, but had too much good taste to take any notice of the fact.
"Well, Power, you see what credit I get, and yet you know how I try. I'm a 'bad, idle boy,' it seems, and 'incorrigibly slothful,' and 'hardly fit for the school,' and 'I must be put down to a lower form if I don't make more effort'—oh! I forgot though, you heard it all yourself. So you know my character," he said, with a melancholy smile.
"Never mind, old fellow. You've done your best, and none of us can do more. You know the soldier's epitaph—'Here lies one who tried to do his duty'—a prince could not have better, and you deserve that if anyone ever did."
"I wish I were you, Power," said Daubeny; "you are so clever, you can learn the lessons in no time; everyone likes you, and you get no end of credit, while I'm a mere butt, and when I've worked hard it's a case of Kathedeitai honos, as the lesson-book says."
"Pooh, Dubbs," said Power, kindly putting his arm on his shoulder; "you're just as happy as I am. A fellow with a clear conscience can't be in low spirits very long. Don't you remember the pretty verse I read to you the other day, and which made me think of you while I read it—
"'Days that, in spite Of darkness, by the light Of a clear mind are day all night?'"
"Don't think I envy you, Power—you won't think that, will you?" said Dubbs with the tears glistening in his eyes.
"No, no, my dear old boy. Such a nature as yours can't envy, I know; I'm sure you're as happy when I succeed as when you succeed yourself. I think I've got the secret of it, Dubbs. You work too much; you must take more exercise—play games more—give less time to the work. I'm sure you'll do better then, for half is better than the whole sometimes. And Dubbs, I may say to you what I wouldn't say to any other boy in the whole school—but I've found it so true, and I'm sure you will too, and that is, Bene orasse est bene studuisse."
Dubbs pressed his hand in silence. The hard thoughts which had been gathering were dissipated in a moment, and as he walked back to the school and to new heroic efforts by Power's side, he felt that he had learnt a secret full of strength. He did better and better. He broke the neck of his difficulties one by one, and had soon surpassed boys who were far more brilliant, but less industrious, than himself. Thus it was that he fought his way up to the position of one of the steadiest and most influential boys among those of his own standing, because all knew him to be sterling in his virtues, unswerving in his rectitude, most humble, and most sincere. During all his school career he was never once overtaken in a serious fault. It may be that he had fewer temptations than boys more gifted and more mercurial; he was never exposed to the singularly powerful trials which compensated for the superiority of others to him in good looks, and popular manners, and quick passions; but yet his blamelessness had something in it very beautiful, and his noble upward struggles were remembered with fond pleasure in after days.
Walter, like all other sensible boys, felt for Daubeny a very sincere admiration and regard. Daubeny's fearless rectitude, on the night when his own indulged temper led him into such suffering, had left a deep impression on his mind, and, since then, Dubbs had always been among the number of his more intimate friends. Hence, when Walter wrested from him the head place, he was half sorry that he should cause the boy to lose his well-merited success, and almost wished that he had come out second, and left Daubeny first. He knew that there was not in his rival's nature a particle of envy, but still he feared that he might suffer some disappointment. But in this he was mistaken; Daubeny was a firm believer in the principle of La carriere ouverte aux talons; he was, under the circumstances, quite as happy to be second as to be first; and among the many who congratulated Walter, none did so with a heartier sincerity than this generous and single-minded boy.
People still retain the notion that boyish emulation is the almost certain cause of hatreds and jealousies. Usually, the fact is the very reverse. An ungenerous rivalry is most unusual, and those schoolfellows who dispute with a boy the prizes of a form are commonly his most intimate associates and his best friends. Certainly, Daubeny liked Walter none the less for his having wrested away from him with so much ease a distinction which had caused himself such strenuous efforts to win.
The pleasant excitement of contending for a weekly position made Daubeny work harder than ever. Indeed, the whole form seemed to have received a new stimulus lately. Henderson was astonishing everybody by a fit of diligence, and even Howard Tracy seemed less totally indifferent to his place than usual. So willingly did the boys work, that Mr Paton had not half the number of punishments to set, and perhaps his late misfortune had infused a little more tenderness and consideration into a character always somewhat stern and unbending. But, instead of rising, Daubeny only lost places by his increased work; he was making himself ill with work. At the end of the next week, instead of being first or second, he was only fifth; and when Mr Percival, who always had been his friend, rallied him on this descent, he sighed deeply, and complained that he had been suffering lately from headaches, and supposed that they had prevented him from doing so well as usual.
This remark rather alarmed the master, and on the Sunday afternoon he asked the boy to come a walk with him, for the express purpose of endeavouring to persuade him to relax efforts which were obviously being made to the injury of his health.
When they had once fairly reached the meadows by the riverside, Mr Percival said to him—
"You are overdoing it, Daubeny. I can see myself that your mind is in a tense, excited, nervous condition from work; you must lie fallow, my dear boy."
"O! I'm very strong, sir," said Daubeny; "I've a cast-iron constitution, as that amusing plague of mine, Henderson, always tells me."
"Never mind, you must really work less. I won't have that getting up at five in the morning. If you don't take care, I shall forbid you to be higher than twentieth in your form under heavy penalties, or I shall get Dr Keith to send you home altogether, and not let you go in to the examination."
"O! no, sir, you really mustn't do that. I assure you that I enjoy work. An illness I had when I was a child hindered and threw me back very much, and you can't think how eager I am to make up for that lost time."
"The time is not lost, my dear Daubeny, if God demanded it in illness for His own good purposes. Be persuaded, my boy; abandon, for the present, all struggle to take a high place until you feel quite well again, and then you shall work as hard as you like. Remember, knowledge itself is valueless in comparison with health."
Daubeny felt the master's kind intention; but he could not restrain his unconquerable eagerness to get on. He would have succumbed far sooner, if Walter and Power had not constantly dragged him out with them almost by force, and made him take exercise against his will. But, though he was naturally strong and healthy, he began to look very pale, and his best friends urged him to go home and take a holiday.
Would that he had taken that good and kind advice!
To breathe the difficult air Of the iced mountain top.
Fetzo auf den Schroffen Zinken Hangt sie, auf dem hochsten Grat, Wo die Felsen jah versinken, Und verschwunden ist der Pfad.
It was some weeks before the examination, and the close of the half-year, when one day Walter, full of glee, burst out of the schoolroom at twelve, when the lesson was over, to tell Kenrick an announcement just made to the forms, that the next day was to be a whole holiday.
"Hurrah!" said Kenrick, "what's it for?"
"O! Somers has got no end of a scholarship at Cambridge—an awfully swell thing—and Dr Lane gave a holiday directly he got the telegram announcing the news."
"Well done, old Somers!" said Kenrick. "What shall we do?"
"O! I've had a scheme for a long time in my head, Ken; I want you to come with me to the top of Appenfell."
"Whew-w-w! but it's a tremendous long walk, and no one goes up in winter."
"Never mind, all the more fun and glory, and we shall have the whole day before us. I've been longing to beat that proud old Appenfell for a long time. I'm certain we can do it."
"But do you mean that we two should go alone?"
"O, no; we'll ask Flip, to amuse us on the way."
"And may I ask Power?"
"If you like," said Kenrick, who was, I am sorry to say, not a little jealous of the friendship which had sprung up between Power and Walter.
"And would you mind Daubeny joining us?"
"Not at all; and he's clearly overworking himself. It'll do him good. Let me see—you, Power, Flip, Dubbs, and me; that'll be enough, won't it?"
"Well, I should like to ask Eden."
"Eden!" said Kenrick with the least little touch of contempt in his tone of voice.
"Poor little fellow," said Walter smiling sadly; "so you, too, despise him. No wonder he doesn't get on."
"O! let him come by all means, if you like," said Kenrick.
"Thanks, Ken—but now I come to think of it, it's too far for him. Never mind; let's go before dinner, and order some sandwiches for to-morrow, and forage generally, at Cole's."
Power and Daubeny gladly consented to join the excursion. At tea, Walter asked Henderson if he'd come with them, and he, being just then in a phase of nonsense which made him speak of everything in a manner intended to be Homeric, answered with oracular gravity—
"Him addressed in reply the laughter-loving son of Hender: Thou askest me, oh Evides, like to the immortals, Whether thee I will accompany, and the much-enduring Dubbs, And the counsellor Power, and the revered ox-eyed Kenrick, To the tops of thousand-crested many-fountained Appenfell."
"Grotesque idiot," said Kenrick, laughing; "cease this weak, washy, everlasting flood of twaddle, and tell us whether you'll come or no."
"Him sternly eyeing, addressed in reply the mighty Henderides, Heavy with tea, with the eyes of a dog, and the heart of a reindeer! What word has escaped thee, the barrier of thy teeth? Contrary to right, not according to right, hast thou spoken."
"For goodness' sake shut up before you've driven us stark raving mad," said Walter, putting his hand over Henderson's lips. "Now, yes or no; will you come?"
"Thee will I accompany—" said Henderson, struggling to get clear of Walter, "to many-fountained Appenfell—"
"Hurrah! that'll do. We have got an answer out of you at last; and now go on spouting the whole Iliad if you like."
Full of spirits they started after breakfast the next morning, and as they climbed higher and higher up the steep mountainside, the keen air exhilarated them, and showed, as through a crystal glass, the exceeding glory of the hills flung on every side around them, and the broad living sparkle of the sea caught here and there in glimpses between the nearer peaks. Walter, Henderson, and Kenrick, were in front, while at some distance behind them, Power helped on Daubeny, who soon showed signs of fatigue.
"Look at that pappy fellow, Evson," said Daubeny, sighing; "how he is bounding along in front. How active he is."
"You seem out of spirits," said Power kindly; "what's the matter?"
"Oh, nothing. A little tired, that's all."
"You're surely not fretting about having lost the head place."
"Oh, no. 'Palmam qui meruit ferat.' As Robertson said the other day in his odd, fantastic way of expressing his thoughts—'In the amber of duty you must not always expect to find the curious grub success.'"
"Depend upon it, you'd be higher if you worked less, my dear fellow. Let me persuade you—don't work for examination any more."
"You all mistake me. It's not for the place that I work, but because I want to know, to learn; not to grow up quite stupid and empty-headed as I otherwise should do."
"What a love for work you have, Daubeny."
"Yes, I have now; but do you know it really wasn't natural to me. As a child, I used to be idle and get on very badly, and it used to vex my poor father, who was then living, very much. Well, one day, not long before he died, I had been very obstinate, and would learn nothing. He didn't say much, but in the afternoon, when we were taking a walk, we passed an old barn, and on the thatched roof was a lot of grass and stonecrop. He plucked a handful, and showed me how rank and useless it was, and then, resting his hand upon my head, he told me that it was the type of an idle, useless man—'grass upon the housetops, withered before it groweth up, wherewith the mower filleth not his hand, nor he that gathereth the sheaves his bosom.' Somehow, the circumstance took hold of my imagination; it was the last scene with my poor father which I vividly remember. I have never been idle since then."
Power mused a little, and then said—"But, dear Dubbs, you'll make your brain heavy by the time examination begins; you won't be able to do yourself justice."
He did not answer; but a weary look, which Power had often observed, with anxiety, came over his face.
"I'm afraid I must turn back, Power," he said; "I'm quite tired—done up."
"I've been thinking so, too. Let me turn back with you."
"No, no! I won't spoil your day's excursion. Let me go alone."
"Hi! you fellows," said Power, shouting to the three in front. They were too far in advance to hear him, so he told Daubeny to sit down while he overtook them, and asked if any of them would prefer to turn back.
"Dubbs is too tired to go any farther," he said, when he reached them, breathless with his run. "I don't think he's very well, and so I'll just go back with him."
"O, no; you really mustn't, I will," said each of the other three almost in a breath. Every one of the four was most anxious to get on, and reach the top of Appenfell, which was considered a very great feat among the boys even in summer, as the climb was dangerous and severe; and yet each generously wished to undergo the self-denial of turning back. As their wills were about equally strong, it would have ended in all of them accompanying Daubeny, had he not, when they reached him, positively refused to turn on such conditions, and suggested that they should decide it by drawing lots.
Power wrote the names on slips of paper, and Walter drew one at hazard. The lot fell on Henderson, so he at once took Daubeny's arm, relieving his disappointment by turning round, shaking his fist at the top of Appenfell, and saying, "You be hanged! I wish you were rolled out quite flat and planted with potatoes!"
"There," said Power laughing, "I should think that was about the grossest indignity the Genius of Appenfell ever had offered to him; so now you've had your revenge, take care of Dubbs. Good-bye."
"How very kind it is of you to come with me, Flip," said Daubeny; "I don't think I could manage to get home without your help; but I'm quite vexed to drag you back. Good-bye, you fellows."
Walter, Power, and Kenrick, found that to reach the cairn on the top of Appenfell taxed all their strength. The mountain seemed to heave before them a succession of huge shoulders, and each one that they surmounted showed them only fresh steeps to climb. At last, they reached the piled confusion of rocks, painted with every gorgeous and brilliant colour by emerald moss and golden lichen, which marked the approach to the summit; and Walter, who was a long way the first to get to the top, shouted to encourage the other two, and, after resting a few minutes, clambered down to assist their progress. Being accustomed to the hills, he was far less tired than they were, and could give them very efficient help.
At the top they rested for some time, eating their scanty lunch, chatting, and enjoying the matchless splendour of the prospect which stretched in a cloudless expanse before them on every side.
"Power," said Walter, in a pause of their talk, "I've long been meaning to ask you a favour."
"It's granted, then," said Power, "if you ask it, Walter."
"I'm not so sure; it's a very serious favour, and it isn't for myself; moreover, it's very cool."
"The greater it is, the more I shall know that you trust my friendship, Walter; and, if it's cool, it suits the time and place."
"Yet, I bet you that you'll hesitate when I propose it."
"Well, out with it; you make me curious."
"It is that you'd give little Eden the run of your study."
"Little Eden the run of my study! O, yes, if you wish it," said Power, not liking to object after what he had said, but flushing up a little, involuntarily. It was indeed a great favour to ask. Power's study was a perfect sanctum; he had furnished it with such rare good taste, that, when you entered, your eye was attracted by some pretty print or neat contrivance wherever you looked. It was Power's peculiar pride and pleasure to beautify his little room, and to sit there with any one whom he liked; but to give up his privacy, and let a little scapegrace like Eden have the free run of it, was a proposition which took him by surprise. Yet it was a good deal for Power's own sake that Walter had ventured to ask it. Power's great fault was his over-refinement; the fastidiousness which marred his proper influence, made him unpopular with many boys, and shut him up in a reserved and introspective habit of mind. By a kind of instinct, Walter felt that it would be good to disturb this epicurean indifference to the general interests of the school, and the kind of intellectualism which weakened the character of this attractive and affectionate, yet shy and self-involved boy. "Ah, I see," said Walter archly; "you're as bad as Kenrick; you Priests and Levites won't touch my poor little wounded traveller."
"But I don't see what I could do for him," said Power; "I shouldn't know what to talk to him about."
"O, yes, you would; you don't know how his gratitude would pay you for the least interest shown in him. He's been so shamefully bullied, poor little chap, I hardly like to tell you even the things that that big brute Harpour has made him do. He came here bright and neat, and merry and innocent; and now—" He would not finish the sentence, and his voice faltered; but checking himself, he added, more calmly—"This, remember, has been done to the poor little fellow here, at Saint Winifred's; and when I remember what I might have been myself by this time, but for—but for one or two friends, my heart quite bleeds for him. Anyhow, I think one ought to do what one can for him. I wish I'd a study, I know, and he shouldn't be the only little fellow who should share it. I've got so much good from being able to learn my own lessons in Percival's room, that I'd give anything to be able to do as much for some one else."
"He shall come, Walter," said Power, "with all my heart. I'll ask him directly we get back to Saint Winifred's."
"Will you? I thank you. That is good of you; I'm sure you won't be sorry in the long-run."
Power and Kenrick were both thinking that this new friend of theirs, though he had been so short a time at Saint Winifred's, was teaching them some valuable lessons. Neither of them had previously recognised the truth which Walter seemed to feel so strongly, that they were to some extent directly responsible for the opportunities which they lost of helping and strengthening the boys around them. Neither of them had ever done anything, worth speaking of, to lighten the heavy burden laid on some of the little boys at Saint Winifred's; and now they heard Walter talking with something like remorse about a child who had no special claim whatever on his kindness, but whom he felt that he might more efficiently have rescued from evil associates, evil words, evil ways, and all the heart-misery they cannot fail to bring. The sense of a new mission, a neglected duty, dawned upon them both.
They sat for a time silent, and then Kenrick, shaking off his reverie, pointed down the hill and said—
"Do look at those magnificent clouds; how they come surging up the hill in huge curving masses."
"Yes," said Power; "doesn't it look like a grand charge of giant cavalry? Why, Walter, my dear fellow, how frightened you look."
"Well, no," said Walter, "not frightened. But I say, you two, supposing those clouds which have gathered so suddenly don't clear away, do you think that you could find your way down the hill?"
"I don't know; I almost think so," said Kenrick dubiously.
"Ah, Ken, I suspect you haven't had as much experience of mountain-mists as I have. We may find our way somehow; but—"
"You mean," said Power, with strange calmness, "that there are lots of precipices about, and that shepherds have several times been lost on these hills?"
"Let's hope that the mist will clear away, then," said Walter; "anyhow, let's get on the grass, and off these awkward boulders, before we are surrounded."
"By all means," said Kenrick; "charges of cloud-cavalry are all very well in their way; but—"
IN THE CLOUDS.
The three boys scrambled with all their speed, Walter helping the other two down the vast primeval heap of many-tinted rock-fragments which form the huge summit of Appenfell, and found themselves again on the short slippery grass, hardened with recent frosts, that barely covered the wave-like sweep of the hill-side. Meanwhile, the vast dense masses of white cloud gathered below them, resting here and there in the hollows of the mountains like gigantic walls and bastions, and leaning against the abrupter face of the precipice in one great unbroken barrier of opaque, immaculate, impenetrable pearl. As you looked upon it the chief impression it gave you was one of immense thickness and crushing weight. It seemed so compressed and impermeable that one could not fancy how even a thunderbolt could shatter it, or the wildest blast of any hurricane dissipate its enormous depth. But as yet it had not enveloped the peaks themselves. On them the sun yet shone, and where the boys stood they were still bathed in the keen yet blue and sunny air, islanded far up above the noiseless billows of surging cloud.
This was not for long. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, the clouds stole upon them—reached out white arms and enfolded them in sudden whirls of thin and smoke-like mist; eddied over their heads and round their feet; swathed them at last as in a funeral pall, blotting from their sight every object save wreaths of dank vapour, rendering wholly uncertain the direction in which they were moving, and giving a sense of doubt and danger to every step they took. Kenrick had only told the master who had given them leave of absence from dinner that they meant to go a long walk. He had not mentioned Appenfell, not from any want of straightforwardness, but because they thought that it might sound like a vainglorious attempt, and they did not want to talk about it until they had really accomplished it. But in truth if they had mentioned this as their destination, no wise master would have given them permission to go, unless they promised to be accompanied by a guide; for the ascent of Appenfell, dangerous even in summer to all but those who well knew the features of the mountain, became in winter a perilous and foolhardy attempt. The boys themselves, when they started on their excursion, had no conception of the amount or extent of the risk they ran. Seeing that the morning gave promises of a bright and clear day, they had never thought of taking into account the possibility of mists and storms.
The position in which they now found themselves was enough to make a stout heart quail. By this time they were hopelessly enveloped in palpable clouds, and could not see the largest objects a yard before them. In fact, even to see each other they had to keep closely side by side; for once, when Kenrick had separated from them for a little distance, it was only by the sound of his shouts that they found him again. After this, they crept on in perfect silence, each trying to conceal from the other the terror which lay like frost on his own spirits; unsuccessfully, for the tremulous sound which the quick palpitation of their hearts gave to their breathing showed plainly enough that all three of them recognised the frightfulness of their danger.
Appenfell was one of those mountains, not unfrequent, which is on one side abrupt and bounded by a wall of almost fathomless precipice, and on the other descends to the plain in a cataract of billowy undulations. It had one feature which, although peculiar, is by no means unprecedented. At one point, where the huge rock wall towers up from the ghastly depth of a broad ravine, there is a lateral ridge—not unlike the Mickeldore of Scawfell Pikes—running right across the valley, and connecting Appenfell with Bardlyn, another hill of much lower elevation, towards which this ridge runs down with a long but gradual slope. This edge was significantly called the Razor, and it was so narrow that it would barely admit the passage of a single person along its summit. It was occasionally passed by a few shepherds, accustomed from earliest childhood to the hills, but no ordinary traveller ever dreamed of braving its real dangers, for, even had the path been broader, the horrible depth of fall on either side was quite sufficient to render dizzy the steadiest head, and if a false step were taken, the result, to an absolute certainty, was frightful death. For so nearly perpendicular were the sides of this curious partition, that the narrow valley below, offering no temptation to any one to visit it, had not, within the memory of man, been trodden by any human foot. To add to the honour inspired by the Razor, a shepherd had recently fallen from it in a summer storm; his body had been abandoned as unrecoverable, and the ravens and wild cats had fed upon him. Something—a dim gleam of uncertain white among the rank grass—was yet visible from one point of the ledge, and the bravest mountaineer shuddered when, looking down the gloomy chasm, he recognised in that glimpse the mortal remains of a fellow-man.
"Are you sure that we are on the right path, Walter?" asked Power, trying to speak as cheerfully and indifferently as he could.
"Certain," said Walter, pulling out of his pocket the little brass pocket-compass which had been his invariable companion in his rambles at home, and which he had fortunately brought with him as likely to be useful in the lonely tracts which surrounded Saint Winifred's. "The bay lies due west from here, and I'm sure of the general direction."
"But I think we're keeping too much to the right, Walter," said Kenrick.
"Look here," said Walter, stopping; "the truth is—and we may just as well be ready for it—that we're between two dangers. On the right is Bardlyn rift; on the left we have the sides of Appenfell, and no precipices, but—"
"I know what you're thinking of—the old mines."
"Yes; that's why I've been keeping to the right. I think even in this mist we could hardly go over the rift, for I fancy that we could at least discover when we were getting close to it; but there are three or four old mines; we don't knew in the least where they lie exactly, and one might stumble over one of the shafts in a minute."
"What in the world shall we do?" said Power, stopping, as he realised the full intensity of peril. "As it is we can't see where we're going, and very soon we shall have darkness as well as mist. Besides, it's so frightfully cold, now that we are obliged to go slowly."
"Let's stop and consider what we'd best do," said Kenrick. "Walter, what do you say?"
"We can only do one of two things. Either go on, and trust to God's mercy to keep us safe, or sit still here and hope that the mist may clear away."
"That last'll never do," answered Kenrick; "I've seen the mist rest on Appenfell for days and days."
"Besides," said Power, "unless we move on, at all hazards, night will be on us. A December night on Appenfell, without food or extra coverings, and the chance of being kept indefinitely longer—" the sentence ended in a shudder.
"Yes; I don't know what we should look like in the morning," said Kenrick. "Let's move on, at all events; better that than the chance of being frozen and starved to death."
They moved on again a little way through the clouds with uncertain and hesitating steps, when suddenly Walter cried out in an agitated voice, "Stop! God only knows where we are. I feel by a kind of instinct that we're somewhere near the rift. I don't know what else should make me tremble all over as I am doing; I seem to hear the rift somehow. For God's sake stop. Just let's sit down a minute till I try something."
"But's it's now nearly four o'clock," said Kenrick in a querulous tone, as he halted and pulled out his watch, holding it close to his face to make out the time. "An hour more and all daylight will be gone, and with it all chance of being saved. Surely, we'd better press on. That's uncertain danger, but to stop is certain—"
"Certain death," whispered Power.
"Just listen then, one second," said Walter, and, disembedding a huge piece of stone, he rolled it with all his force to their right, listening with senses acutely sharpened by danger and excitement. The stone bounded once, then they heard in their ears a rush, a shuffling of loose and sliding earth, the whirring sound of a heavy falling body, and then for several seconds a succession of distant crashes, startling with fright the rebounding mountain echoes, as the bit of rock whirled over the rift and was shattered into fragments by being dashed against the sides of the precipice.
"Good God!" cried Walter, clutching both the boys and dragging them hurriedly backwards, "we are standing at this moment on the very verge of the chasm. It won't do to go on; every step may be death."
A pause of almost unspeakable horror followed his words; after the fall of the rock had revealed to them how frightful was the peril which they had escaped, all three of them for a moment felt paralysed in every limb, and after looking close into each other's faces, blanched white by a deadly fear, Kenrick and Power sat down in an agony of despair.
"Don't give way, you fellows," said Walter, to whom they both seemed to look for help; "our only chance is to keep up our hope and spirits. I think that, after all, we must just stay here till the mist clears up. Don't be frightened, Ken," he said, taking the boy's hand; "nothing can happen to us but what God intends."
"But the night," whispered Kenrick, who was most overpowered of the three; "fancy a night spent here. Mist and cold, hunger and dark. O this horrible uncertainty and suspense. O for some light," he cried in an agony; "I could almost die if we had but light."
"O God, give us light," murmured Walter, echoing the words, and uttering aloud unconsciously his intense prayer; and then he fell on his knees, and the others, too, hid their faces in their hands as they stood upon the bleak mountainside, and prayed to Him Whom they knew to be near them, though they were there alone, and saw nothing save the ground they knelt upon, and the thick clammy fog moving slowly around and above them in aimless and monotonous change. To their excited imagination that fog seemed like a living thing; it seemed as though it were actuated with a cold and deathful determination, and as though it were peopled by a thousand silent spirits, leaning over them and chilling their hearts as they shrouded them in the gigantic foldings of their ghostly robes.
And soon, as though their passionate prayer had been heard, and an angel had been sent to rend the mist, the wind, rushing up from the ravine, tore for itself a narrow passage—and a gleam of wavering light broke in upon them through the white folds of that deathful curtain, showing them the wall of sunken precipice, and the dark outline of Bardlyn hill. If this had been a moment in which they could have admired one of Nature's most awfully majestic sights, they would have gazed with enthusiastic joy on the diorama of valley and mountain revealed through this mighty rent in the side of their misty pavilion, filled up by the blue far-off sky; but at this moment of dominant terror they had no room for any other thoughts but how to save their lives from the danger that, surrounded them.
"Light," cried Walter, springing up eagerly; "thank God! Perhaps the mist is going to clear away." But the hope was fallacious, for in the direction where their path lay all was still dark, and the chilly mist soon closed again, though not so densely, over the wound which the breeze from the chasm below them had momentarily made.
"Did you see that we are close to the Razor?" said Walter, who alone of the three maintained his usual courage, because custom had made him more familiar with the danger of the hills. "Now, a thought strikes me, Ken and Power. If you like we'll make an attempt to cross the Razor. The only thing will be not to lose one's footing; one can't miss the way, at any rate, and when once we get to Bardlyn it's as easy to get down to the road which runs round it to Saint Winifred's as it is to walk across the school court."
"Cross the Razor?" said Kenrick; "why, none but some few shepherds ever dare to do that."
"True, but what man has done, man can do. I'm certain it's our best chance."
"Not for me;" "Or for me," said the other two. "Well, look here," said Walter; "it would be very dangerous of course, but while we talk our chance of safety lessens. You two stay here. I'll try the Razor; if I get safe across I shall reach Bardlyn village in no time, and there I could get some men to come and help you over. Do you mind? I won't leave you if you'd rather not."
"Oh, Walter, Walter, don't run the risk," said Power; "it's too awful."
"It's lighter than ever on that side," said Walter; "I'm not a bit afraid. I'm certain we could not get safe down, the other way, and we should die of exposure if we spent the night here. Remember, we've only had one or two sandwiches apiece. It's the last chance."
"Oh, no, you really shan't, dear Walter. You don't know how terrific the Razor is. I've often heard men say that they wouldn't cross it for a bag of gold," said Power.
"Don't hinder me, Power; I've made up my mind. Good-bye, Power; good-bye, Ken," he said, wringing their hands hard. "If I get safe across the Razor, I shan't be more than an hour and a half at the very latest before I stand here with you again, bringing help. Good-bye; God bless you both. Pray for me, but don't fear."
So saying, Walter tore himself away from them, and with an awful sinking at heart they saw him pass through the spot where the mist was thinnest, and plant a steady step on the commencement of the Razor path.
ON THE RAZOR.
The brave boy knew well that the fate of the others, as well as his own, hung on his coolness and steadiness, and stopping for one moment to see that he would have light enough to make sure of his footing all along the path, he turned round, shouted a few cheery words to his two friends, and stepped boldly on the ledge.
He was accustomed to giddy heights, and his head had never turned as he looked down the cliffs at Saint Winifred's, or the valleys at home. But his heart began to beat very fast with the painful sense that every step which he accomplished was dangerous, and that the nerve which would readily have borne him through a brief effort would here have to be sustained for fully twenty minutes, which would be the least possible time in which he could make the transit. The loneliness, too, was frightful; in three minutes he was out of sight of his friends; and to be there without a companion, in the very heart of the mighty mountains, traversing this haunted and terrible path, with not an eye to see him if he should slip and be dashed to atoms on the unconscious rocks—this thought almost overmastered him, unmanned him, filled him with a weird sense of indescribable horror. He battled against it with all his might, but it came on him like a foul harpy again and again, sickening his whole soul, making his forehead glisten with the damp dews of anticipated death. At last he came to a stunted willow which had twisted its dry roots into the thin soil, and, clinging to the stem of it with both arms, he was forced to stop and close his eyes, and praying for God's help, he summoned together all the faculties of his soul, and buffeted this ghastly intruder away so thoroughly that it did not again return. As a man might shoot a vulture, and look at it lying dead at his feet, so with the arrow of a heartfelt supplication Walter slew the hideous imagination that had been flapping its wings over him; nor did he stir again till he was sure that it had lost its power. And then, opening his eyes, he bore steadily and cautiously on, till all of a sudden, in the fast fading sunlight, something glinted white in the valley beneath his feet. In a moment it flashed upon him that this was the unreached skeleton a thousand feet below, the sight of which imparted a superstitious horror to the Devil's Way, as the peasants called the narrow path along the Razor. Nor was this all: for some rags of the man's dress, torn off by his headlong fall, still fluttered on a stump of blackthorn not thirty feet below. And now, again, the poor boy's heart quailed with an uncontrollable emotion of physical and mental fear. For a moment he tottered, every nerve was loosened, his legs bent under him, and, dropping down on his knees, he clutched the ground with both hands. It was just one of those swift spasms of emotion on which, in moments of peril, the crisis usually depends. Had Walter's will been weak, or his conscience a guilty one, or his strength feeble, or his body unstrung by ill-health, he would have succumbed to the sudden terror, and, fainting first, would the next instant have rolled over the edge to sudden and inevitable death.
All these results were written before him as with fire, as he shut his eyes and clung with tenacious grasp to the earth. But happily his mind was strong, his conscience stainless, his powers vigorous, his body in pure health, and in a few moments, which seemed to him an age, he had recovered his presence of mind by one of those noble efforts which the will is ever ready to make for those who train it right. Before he opened his eyes he had braced himself into a thorough strength, and once more commending himself to God, he rose firm and cool to continue his journey, averting his glance from the spectacle of death which gleamed below.
He found that his best plan was to fix his eyes rigidly on the path, and not suffer them to swerve for a moment to either side. Whenever he did so, the wavering sensation came over him again, but so long as he trod carefully and never let his eyes wander off the place of his footsteps, he found that he got along securely and even swiftly. He had only one more difficulty with which to contend. In one place the sort of path which the Razor presented was broken and crumbled away, and here Walter's heart again sank despairingly within him, as his attention was suddenly arrested by the additional and unexpected peril. But to turn back was now out of the question, and as it seemed impossible to walk for these few feet, he again knelt down, and crawled steadily along on hands and knees, about the length of two strides, until the path was hard and firm enough for him to proceed as before. The end was now accomplished; in five minutes more he sprang on the broad firm side of Bardlyn hill, and shouting aloud to relieve his spirits from their tumult of joy and thankfulness, he raced down Bardlyn, gained very quickly the mountain road, and ran at the top of his speed till, just as the sun was setting, he reached the group of cottages which took their name from the hill on which they stood.
Knocking at the first cottage, he inquired for some guide or shepherd who was thoroughly acquainted with all the mountain paths, and was directed to the house of a man named Giles, who had been occupied for years among the neighbouring sheep-walks.
Giles listened to his story with open eyes. "Thee bi'st coom over t' Razor along Devil's Way," said he in amazement; "then thee bi'st just the plookiest young chap I've seen for many a day."
"We must get back over it, too, to reach them," said Walter.
"O ay; I be'ant afear'd of t' Razor; I've crossed him many a time, and I'll take a bit rope over and help they other chaps. We'll take a lantern, too. Don't you be afeared, sir, we'll get 'em all right," he said, observing how anxious and excited Walter seemed to be.
"Come, then," said Walter, "quick, quick! I promised to come back to them at once. You shall be well paid for your trouble."
"Tut, tut," said the man, "the pay's naught. Why, I'd come if it were only a dumb sheep in danger, let alone a brace of lads like you."
They set off with a lantern, a rope, and some food, and Giles was delighted at the quick and elastic step of the young mountaineer. The lantern they soon extinguished. It was not needed; for though the sun had now set, a glorious full moon had begun to pour her broad flood of silver radiance over the gloomy hills by the time they had reached Bardlyn rift.
"There ain't no call for you to cross again, sir," said the man; "I'll just go over by myself, and look after the young gentlemen."
"O, let me come, I must come!" said Walter. "The mist's quite off it now, so that it's just as easy under this moonlight as when I came; and, besides, if you take a coil of the rope in your hand I'll take hold of the other end."
"Well, you're the right sort, and no mistake," said the man. "God bless you for a brave young heart! And, truth tell, I'll be very glad to have ye with me, for they do say as how poor old Waul's ghost haunts about here, and it 'ud be fearsome at night. I know that there's One as keeps them as has a good conscience, but yet I'll be glad to have ye all the same."
The moonlight flung on every side the mysterious and gigantic shadows of rocks and hills, seeming to glimmer with a ghastly hue as it fell and struggled into the black depths of the untrodden rift; but habit made the Devil's Way seem nothing to the mountain shepherd, and he protected Walter (who twined round his wrist one end of the rope) from the danger of stumbling, as effectually as Walter protected him from all ghostly fears. When they reached the broken piece, the only difference he made was to walk with great caution, and plant his feet deeply into the earth, bidding Walter follow in the traces he made, and supporting him firmly with his hand. They got across in much less time than Walter had occupied in his first passage, and as they reached Appenfell they saw the two boys standing dimly on the verge of the moonlit mist, while all below them the rest of Appenfell was still wrapt, as in some great cerecloth, by the snowy folds of seething cloud.
"Good heavens! but who are those?" said Walter, pointing to two shadowy and gigantic figures which also faced them. "O, who are those?" he asked wildly, and in such alarm that if the shepherd had not seized him firmly he must have fallen.
"There, there—don't be frighted," said Giles; "those be'ant no ghosts, but they be just our own shadows on the mist. It's a queer thing, but I've seen it often and often on these hills, and some scholards have told me as how that kind of thing be'ant uncommon on mountains."
"What a goose I was to be so horribly frightened," said Walter; "but I didn't know that there were any spectres of that sort on Appenfell. All right, Giles; go on."
Till Walter and the shepherd had taken their last step from the Devil's Way on to the side of Appenfell, the boys stood watching them in intense silence; but no sooner were they safe, than Power and Kenrick ran up to Walter, poured out their eager thanks, and pressed his hands in all the fervour of affectionate gratitude. They felt that his courage and readiness had, at the risk of his own life, saved them from such a danger as they had never in their lives experienced before. Already they were suffering with hunger and shuddering with the December air, their limbs felt quite benumbed, their teeth were chattering lugubriously, and their faces were blue and pinched with cold. They eagerly devoured the brown bread and potato-cake which the man had brought, and let him and Walter chafe a little life into their shivering-bodies. By this time fear was sufficiently removed to enable them to feel some sort of appreciation of the wild beauty of the scene, as the moonlight pierced on their left the flitting scuds of restless mist, and on their right fell softly over Bardlyn hill, making a weird contrast between the tender brightness of the places where it fell, and the pitchy gloom that hid the depths of the rift, and brooded in those undefined hollows over which the precipices leaned.
To return down Appenfell was (the experienced shepherd informed them) quite hopeless. In such a mist as that, which might last for an indefinite time, even he would be totally unable to find his way. But now that they were warm and satisfied with food, and confident of safety, they even enjoyed the feeling of adventure when Giles tied them together for their return across the Devil's Way. First he tied the rope round his own waist, then round Power's and Kenrick's, and finally, as there was not enough left to go round Walter's waist, he tied the end round his right arm. Thus fastened, all danger was tenfold diminished, if not wholly removed, and the two unaccustomed boys felt a happy reliance on the nerve and experience of Giles and Walter, who were in front and rear. It was a scene which they never forgot, as the four went step by step through the moonlight along the horrible ledge, safe only in each other's help, and awe-struck at their position, not daring to glance aside or to watch the colossal grandeur of their own shadows as they were flung here and there against some protruding rock. Power was next to Walter, and when they reached the spot beneath which the whiteness glinted and the rags fluttered in the wind, Walter, in spite of himself, could not help glancing down, and whispering "Look!" in a voice of awe. Power unhappily did look, and as all the boys at Saint Winifred's were familiar with the story of the shepherd's fate, and had even known the man himself, Power at once was seized with the same nervous horror which had agitated Walter—grew dizzy, stumbled, and slipped down, jerking Kenrick to his knees by the sudden strain of the rope. Happily the rope checked Power's fall, and Kenrick's scream of horror startled Giles, who, without losing his presence of mind, instantly seized Kenrick with an arm that seemed as strong and inflexible as if it had been hammered out of iron, while at the same moment Walter, conscious of his rashness, clutched hold of Power's hand and raised him up. No word was spoken, but after this the boys kept close to their guides, who were ready to grasp them tight at the first indication of an uneven footstep, and who almost lifted them bodily over every more difficult or slippery part. The time seemed very long to them, but at last they had all reached Bardlyn hill in safety, and placed the last step they ever meant to place on the narrow and dizzy passage of the Razor's edge.
And stopping there they looked back at the dangers they had passed—at Appenfell piled up to heaven with white clouds; at Bardlyn rift looming in black abysses beneath them; at the thin broken line of the Devil's Way. They looked:
"As a man with difficult short breath, Forespent with toiling, 'scaped from sea to shore Turns to the perilous wide waste, and stands At gaze."
They stood silent till Power said, in ejaculations of intense emphasis, "Thank God!"—and then pointing downwards with a shudder, "Oh, Walter!" and then once again, "Thank God!"—which Walter and Kenrick echoed; and then they passed on without another word. But those two words, so uttered, were enough.
The man, who was more than repaid by the sense that he had rendered them a most important aid, and who had been greatly fascinated by their manly bearing, entirely refused to take any money in payment for what he had done.
"Nay, nay," he said; "we poor folks are proud too, and I won't have none of your money, young gentlemen. But let me tell you that you've had a very narrow escape of your lives out there, and I don't doubt you'll thank the good God for it with all your hearts this night; and if you'll just say a prayer for old Giles, too, he'll vally it more than all your monies. So now, good-night to you, young gentlemen, for you know your way now easy enough. And if ever you come this way again, maybe you'll come in and have a chat for remembrance sake."
"Thank you, Giles, that we will," said the boys.
"And since you won't take any money you'll let me give you this," said Walter. "You must let me give you this; it's not worth much, but it'll show you that Walter Evson didn't forget the good turn you did us." And he forced on the old shepherd's acceptance a handsome knife, with several strong blades, which he happened to have in his pocket; while Power and Kenrick, after a rapid whispered consultation, promised to bring him in a few days a first-rate plaid to serve him as a slight reminder of their gratitude for his ready kindness. Then they all shook hands with many thanks, and the three boys, eager to find sympathy in their perils and deliverance, hastened to Saint Winifred's, which they reached at eight o'clock, just when their absence was beginning to cause the most serious anxiety.
They arrived at the arched gateway as the boys were pouring out of evening chapel, and as every one was doubtfully wondering what had become of them, and whether they had encountered any serious mishap. When the Famulus admitted them, the fellows thronged round them in crowds, pouring into their ears a succession of eager questions. The tale of Walter's daring act flew like wildfire through the school, and if any one still retained against him a particle of ill-feeling, or looked on his character with suspicion, it was this evening replaced by the conviction that there was no more noble or gallant boy than Walter among them, and that if any equalled him in merit it was one of those whose intimate friendship for him had on this day been deepened by the grateful knowledge that to him, in all human probability, they owed their preservation from an imminent and overpowering peril. Even Somers, in honour of whose academic laurel the whole holiday had been given, and who that evening returned from Cambridge, was less of a hero than either of the three who had thus climbed the peak of Appenfell and braved so serious an adventure; far less crowned with schoolboy admiration than the young boy who had thrice crossed and recrossed the Devil's Way, and who had crossed it first unaided and with full knowledge of its horrors, while the light of winter evening was dying away, and the hills around him reeked like a witch's caldron with wintry mists.
Walter, grateful as he was for each pat on the back and warm pressure of the hand, which told him how thoroughly and joyously his doings were appreciated, was not intoxicated by the enthusiasm of this boyish ovation. It was indeed a proud thing to stand among those four hundred schoolfellows, the observed of all observers, greeted on every side by happy, smiling, admiring faces, with every one pressing forward to give him a friendly grasp, every one anxious to claim or to form his acquaintance, and many addressing him with the kindliest greetings whose very faces he hardly knew; but the deeper and more silent gratitude of his chosen friends, and the manly sense of something bravely and rightly done, was more to him than this. Yet this was something very sweet. When the admiration of boys is fairly kindled it is the brightest, the most genial, the most generously hearty in the world. Few succeed in winning it; but he who has been a hero to others in manhood only, has had but a partial taste of the rich triumph experienced by him who has had the happiness in boyhood of being a hero among boys.
Here let me say how one or two people noticed Walter when first they saw him that evening.
While numbers of boys were shaking hands with him, whom he hardly saw or recognised in the crowd by the mingled moonlight and lamplight that streamed over the court where they stood, Walter felt one squeeze that he recognised and valued. Looking among the numerous faces, he saw that it was Henderson who was greeting him without a word. No nonsense or joke this time, and Walter noticed that the boy's lips were trembling with emotion, and that there was a light as of tears in his laughter-loving eyes.
"Ah, Henderson!" said Walter, in that tone of real regard and pleasure which is the truest sign and pledge of friendship, and which no art can counterfeit, "I'm so glad to see you again: how did you and Dubbs get on?"
"All right, Walter," said Henderson; "but he's gone to bed with a bad headache. Come in and see him before you go to bed. I know he'd like to say good-night."
"Well done. Evson—well done indeed," was the remark of Somers, as he noticed Walter for the first time since the scene of the private room.
"Excellent, my gallant little Walter," said Mr Percival, as he passed by. Mr Paton, who was with him, said nothing, but Walter knew all that he would have expressed when he caught his quiet approving smile, and felt his hand rest for a moment, as with the touch of Christian blessing, on his head.
It is happiness at all times to be loved, and to deserve the love; but happiest of all to enjoy it after sorrow and sin. But we must escape from this ordeal of prosperity, of flattering words and intoxicating fumes of praise, as soon as we can. Who would not soon be enervated in that tropical and luxurious atmosphere? If it be dangerous, happily it is not often that he or we shall breathe its heavy sweetness, but far other are the dangers we shall mostly undergo.