"Dr Lane wants you," said the Famulus, just in time to save the tired boys from their remorseless questioners. They went at once to the headmaster's house. He received them with a stately yet sincere kindness; questioned them on the occurrences of the day; warned them for the future against excursions so liable to accident as the winter ascent of Appenfell; and then spoke a few friendly words to each of them. For both Kenrick and Power he had a strong personal regard, and for the latter especially a feeling closely akin to friendship and affection. After they were gone he kept Walter behind, and said, "I am indeed most sincerely rejoiced, Evson, to meet you again under circumstances so widely different from those in which I saw you last. I have heard for some time past how greatly you have improved, and how admirably you are now doing. I am glad to have the opportunity of assuring you myself how entirely you have succeeded in winning back my approbation and esteem." Walter attended with a glistening eye, and the master shook hands with him as he bowed and silently withdrew.
"Tea has been ordered for you in Master Power's study," said the footman, as they left the master's house.
THE GOOD RESOLVE.
"Am I my brother's keeper?"
Genesis chapter 4, verse 9.
"Let's come and see Dubbs before tea," said Walter, on rejoining the other two. "Henderson told me he was ill in bed, poor fellow."
They went at once to the cottage, detached from the rest of the school buildings, to which all invalids were removed, and they were allowed to go to Daubeny's room; but although he was expecting their visit he had fallen asleep. They noticed a worn and weary expression upon his countenance, but it was pleasant to look at him; for although he was a very ordinary-looking boy, with somewhat heavy features, yet whatever beauty can be infused into any face by honesty of purpose and innocence of heart, was to be found in his, and you could not speak to Daubeny for five minutes without being attracted by the sense that you were talking to one whose character was singularly free from falsehood or vanity, and singularly unstained by evil thoughts.
"There lies one of the best and worthiest fellows in the school," whispered Power, as he raised the candle to look at him.
Low as he had spoken, the sound awoke the sleeper. He opened his eyes dreamily at first, but with full recognition afterwards, and said, "O, you fellows, I'm so delighted to set you; when I saw Henderson last, he told me that you hadn't come back, and that people were beginning to fear some accident; and I suppose that's the reason why I've been dreaming so uneasily, and fancying that I saw you tumbling down the rift, and all kinds of things."
"Well, we were very near it, Dubbs, but, thanks to Walter, we escaped all right," said Power.
Daubeny looked up inquiringly. "We must tell you all about it to-morrow," said Power. "How are you feeling?"
"O, I don't know; not very well, but it's no matter; I daresay I shall be all right soon."
"Hush, you young gentlemen," said the nurse; "this'll never do; you oughtn't to have awoke Master Daubeny just as he was sleeping so nice."
"Very sorry, nurse; good-night, Dubbs; hope you'll be all right to-morrow," said they, and then adjourned to Power's study.
The gas was lighted in the pretty little room, and the matron, regarding them as heroes, had sent them a very tempting tea. They ate it almost in silence, for they were quite tired out. It seemed an age since they had started in the morning with Henderson and Daubeny. Directly tea was finished, Kenrick, exhausted with fatigue and excitement, fell asleep in his chair, with his head thrown back and his lips parted.
"There, I think that's a sign that we ought to be going to bed," said Walter, laughing as he pointed at him.
"O no," said Power, "not yet; it's so jolly sitting here; don't wake him, but come and draw your chair next to mine by the fire and have a chat."
Walter obeyed the invitation, and for a few minutes they both sat gazing into the fire, reading faces in the embers, and pursuing their own thoughts. Each of them was happy in the other's presence; and Walter, though more than a year Power's junior, and far below him in the school, was delighted with the sense of fully possessing, in the friendship of this most promising and gifted boy, a treasure which any one in the world might well have envied him.
"It's been a strange day, hasn't it, Walter?" said Power at last, laying his hand on Walter's, and looking at him. "I shall never forget it; you have thrown a new light on one's time here."
"Have I, Power? How? I didn't know it."
"Why, on the top of Appenfell there, you opened my eyes to the fact that I've been living here a very selfish life. I know that I get the credit of being very conceited and exclusive, and all that sort of thing; but being naturally shy, I thought it better to keep rather aloof from all but the very few towards whom I felt at all drawn. I see now," he said sadly, "that at the bottom this was mainly selfishness. Why, Walter, all the time I've been here, I haven't done as much for any single boy as you, a new fellow, have done for little Eden this one half-year. But there's time to do better yet; and by God's help I'll try. I'll give Eden the run of my study to-morrow; and as there's plenty of room, I'll look out for some other little chap who requires a refuge for the destitute."
"Thank you, for Eden's sake," said Walter; "I'm sure you'll soon begin to like him, if he gets at home with you."
"But that's the worst of it," continued Power; "so few ever do get at home with me. I suppose my manner's awkward—or something; but I'd give anything to make fellows friendly in five minutes as you do. How do you manage it?"
"I really don't know; I never think about my own manner or anything else. I suppose if one feels the least interest in any fellow, that he will probably feel some interest in me; and so, somehow, I'm on the best terms with all I care to know."
"Well, Ken and I had a long talk after you left us, to cross the Devil's Way; and I hope that the memory of that may make us three friends firm and fast, tender and true, as long as we live. We were in a horrible fright about you, and I suppose that, joined to our own danger, gave a solemn cast to our conversation; but we agreed that if we three, as friends, were united in the silent resolution to help others, and especially new fellows and young, as much as ever we can, we might do a great deal. Tell me, Walter, didn't you find it a very hard thing when you first came, to keep right among All sorts of temptations?"
"Yes, I did, Power, very hard; and I confess, too, that I sometimes wondered that not one boy, though there are, as I see now, lots of thoroughly good and right fellows here, ever said one word, or did one thing to help me."
"It's all wrong, all wrong," said Power; "but it was you first who made me see it. Walter, I shall pray to-night that God, Who has kept us safe, may teach and help us here to live less for ourselves. Who knows what we might not do for the school?"
They both sat for a short time in thoughtful silence. Boys do not often talk openly together about prayer or religion, though perhaps they do so even more than men do in common life. It is right and well that it should be so; it would be unnatural and certainly harmful were it otherwise. And these boys would probably never have talked to each other thus, if a common danger had not broken down completely the barriers of conventional reserve. Never again from this day did they allude to this sacred resolution; but they acted up to it, or strove to do so, not indeed unwaveringly, yet with manful courage, in the strength of that pure, strong, beautiful unity of heart and purpose which this day had cemented between them for the rest of their school-life.
"But you seem to aim higher than I do, Power," said Walter; "I certainly found lots of wickedness going on here, but I never hoped to change that. All I hoped to do was to save one or two fellows from being cruelly bullied and spoiled. We can't alter the wrong tone which nearly all the fellows have on some matters."
"Yet," said Power, "there was once a man, a single man, in a great corrupted host, who stood between the living and the dead, and the plague was stayed."
"Then rose up Phinees and prayed, and so the plague ceased," whispered Walter to himself.
All farther conversation was broken by Kenrick, who at this moment awoke with a great yawn, and looking at his watch, declared that they ought to have been in bed long ago.
"Good-night, Ken; I hope we shall sleep as sound as you," said Power.
"Walter here will dream of skeletons and moonlit precipices, I bet," said Kenrick.
"Not I, Ken; I'm far too tired. Good-night, both."
Sleepy as they were, two of those boys did not fall asleep that night till they had poured out with all the passion of full hearts, words of earnest supplication for the future, of trembling gratitude for the past. Two of them—for Kenrick, with all the fine points of his character, was entirely destitute of any sense of religion, and had in many points the standard of a schoolboy rather than that of a Christian.
When Walter reached his room, the rest were asleep, but not Eden. He sat up in his bed directly Walter entered, and his eyes were sparkling with animation and pleasure.
"O Walter," he said, "I couldn't go to sleep for joy; Every one's praising you to the skies. I am so proud of you, and it is so very good of you to be friends with me."
"Tush, Arty," said Walter smiling; "one would think I'd done something great to hear you talk, whereas really it was nothing out of the way. I meant to have taken you with us, but I thought it would be too far for you."
"Taken me with you, and Kenrick, and Power!" said Eden, opening his large eyes; "how kind of you, Walter! but only fancy Power or Kenrick walking with me!"
"Why not, Arty? Power's going to ask you to-morrow to sit in his study, and learn your lessons there whenever you like."
"Power ask me!"
"You! Why not?"
"Why, he's such a swell."
"Well, then, you must try and be a swell too."
"No, no, Walter; I'm doing ten times as well as I did, but I shall never be a swell like Power," said the child simply. "And I know it's all your doing, not his. O, how shall I ever learn to thank and pay you for all you do for me?"
"By being a good and brave little boy, Arty. Good-night, and God bless you."
Impositique rogis juvenes ante ora parentum.
Georgic Four, 1 71.
The days that followed, as the boys resumed the regular routine of school work, passed by very rapidly and pleasantly—rapidly, because the long-expected Christmas holidays were approaching; pleasantly, because the boys were thoroughly occupied in working up the subjects for the final examination. For Walter especially, those days were lighted up with the warm glow of popularity and success. He was aiming with boyish eagerness to win one more laurel by gaining the first place in his form, and whenever he was not taking exercise, either in some school game or by a ramble along his favourite cliffs and sands, he was generally to be found hard at work in Mr Percival's rooms, learning the voluntary repetitions, or going over the trial subjects with Henderson, who had now quite passed the boundary line which separated the idle from the industrious boys.
One morning Henderson came in chuckling and laughing to himself. "So Power's taking a leaf out of your book, Walter. I declare he's becoming a regular sociable grosbeak."
"Sociable grosbeak? what do you mean?"
"O, don't you know that I'm writing a drama called the 'Sociable Grosbeaks,' in which you and Ken and I are introduced? I didn't mean to introduce Power, he wasn't gregarious enough; but I shall now, and he shall prologise."
"But why is he more sociable now?"
"Why, he's actually let one of the—oh, I forgot, I mustn't call names— well, he's given Eden the run of his study."
"O yes; I knew that," said Walter smiling. "At first, it was the funniest thing to see them together, they were both so shy; but after a day or two they were quite friends, and now you may find Eden perched any day in Power's window-seat, grinding away at his Greek verbs, and as happy as a king. Power helps him in his work, too. It'll be the making of the little fellow. Already he's coming out strong in form."
"Hurrah for the grosbeaks," said Henderson. "I did mean to chaff Power about it, but I won't, for it really is very kind of him."
"Yes, and so it is of Percival to let us sit here; but I wish that dear old Dubbs could be doing trial-work here with us."
"He's very ill," said Henderson, looking serious; "very ill, I'm afraid. I saw him to-day for a minute, but he seemed too weak to talk."
"Is he? poor fellow! I knew that he was staying out, but I'd no notion that it was anything dangerous."
"I don't know about dangerous, but he's quite ill. Poor Daubeny! you know how very very patient and good he is, yet even he can't help being sad at falling ill just now. You know he was to have been confirmed to-morrow week, and he's afraid that now he won't be well enough, and will have to put it off."
"Yes, he's mentioned his confirmation to me several times. Lots of fellows are going to be confirmed this time—about a hundred, I believe—but I don't suppose one of them thinks of it so solemnly as dear old Dubbs—unless, indeed, it's Power, who also is to be confirmed."
The confirmation was to take place on a Sunday, and the candidates had long been engaged in a course of preparation. The intellectual preparation was carefully undertaken by Dr Lane and the tutors of the boys; but this answer of the lips was of comparatively little value, except in so far as it tended to guide, and solemnise, and concentrate the preparation of the heart. In too many this approaching responsibility produced no visible effect in the tenor of outward life— they talked and thought as lightly as before, and did not elevate the low standard of schoolboy morality; but there were some hearts in which the dreary and formless chaos of passion and neglect then first felt the divine stirring of the brooding wings, and some spiritual temples were from that time filled more brightly than before with the Shechinah of the Presence, and bore, as in golden letters on a new entablature, the inscription, "Holiness to the Lord."
To this confirmation some of the best boys, like Power and Daubeny, were looking forward, not with any exaggerated or romantic sentimentality, but with a deep humility, a manly exultation, an earnest hope. They were ready and even anxious to confirm their baptismal vow, and to be confirmed in the sacred strength which should enable them for the future more unswervingly to fulfil it. Of these young hearts the grace of God took early hold, and in them reason and religion ran together like warp and woof to frame the web of a sweet and exemplary life. Bound by the most solemn and public recognition of, and adhesion to, their Christian duty, it would be easier for them thenceforth to confess Christ before men—easier to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with their God.
"Do you think it would be possible to see Dubbs? I should so like to see him," said Walter.
"Let's ask Percival, he's in the next room; and if Dubbs is well enough I know he'd give anything to see you."
"Please, sir," said Walter, after knocking for admission at the door of the inner room, "do you think that Henderson and I might go to the cottage and see Daubeny?"
"I don't know, Walter. But I want very much to see him myself, if Dr Keith will let me, so I'll come with you and enquire."
Mr Percival walked with the two boys to the cottage, and, after an injunction not to stay too long, they were admitted to the sick boy's bedside. At first, in the darkened room, they saw nothing; but Daubeny's voice—weak and low, but very cheerful—at once greeted them.
"O, thank you, sir, for coming to see me. Hallo! Walter, and Flip, too; I'm so glad to see you—you in a sickroom again, Flip!"
"We would have come before if we had known that we might see you," said the master. "How are you feeling, my dear boy?"
"Not very well, sir; my head aches sadly sometimes, and I get so confused."
"Ah, Daubeny, it's the overwork. Didn't I entreat you, my child, to slacken the bent bow a little? You'll be wiser in future, will you not?"
"In future—O yes, sir; if ever I get well, I'm afraid," he said, with a faint smile, "that you'll find me stupider than ever."
"Stupid, my boy! none of us ever thought you that. It is not the stupid boys that get head removes as you have done the last term or two. I should very much enjoy a talk with you, Daubeny, but I mustn't stay now the doctor says, so I'll leave these two fellows with you, and give them ten minutes—no longer—to tell you all the school news."
"In future wiser—in future," repeated Daubeny in a low voice to himself once or twice; "ah, yes, too late now. I don't think he knows how ill I am, Walter. My mother's been sent for; I expect her this evening. I shall at least live to see her again."
"O, don't," said Henderson, whose quick and sensitive nature was easily excited; "don't talk like that, Daubeny; we can't spare you; you must stay for our sake."
"Dear old fellow," said Daubeny, "you'll have nobody left to chaff; but you can spare me easily enough," and he laid his fevered hand kindly on Henderson's, who immediately turned his head and brushed away a tear. "O, don't cry," he added, in a pained tone of voice, "I never meant to make you cry. I'm quite happy, Flip."
"O Daubeny! we can't get on without you!" said Henderson.
"Daubeny! I hardly know the name," said the sick boy, smiling. "No, Flip, let it be Dubbs, as of old—a nice heavy name to suit its owner; and you gave it me, you know, so it's your property, Flip, and I hardly know myself by any other now."
"O Dubbs, I've plagued you so," said Henderson, sobbing as if his heart would break; "I've never done anything but teaze you, and laugh at you, and you've always been so good and so patient to me. Do forgive me."
"Pooh!" said Daubeny, trying to rally him. "Listen to him, Walter; who'd think that Flip was talking? Teased me, Flip?" he continued, as Henderson still sobbed at intervals, "not you! I always enjoyed your chaff, and I knew that you liked me at heart. You've all been very kind to me. Walter, I'm so glad I got to know you before I—. It's so pleasant to see you here. Give me your hand; no, Flip, let me keep yours too; it's getting dark. I like to have you here. I feel so happy. I wish Power and Ken would come too, that I might see all my friends."
"Good-night, Daubeny; I can't stay, I mustn't stay," said Henderson; and, pressing his friend's hand, he hurried out of the room to indulge in a burst of grief which he could not contain; for, under his trifling and nonsensical manner, Henderson had a very warm and susceptible and feeling heart, and though he had always made Daubeny a subject of ridicule, he never did it with a particle of ill-nature, and felt for him—dissimilar as their characters were—a most fervent and deep regard.
"Look after him when I am gone, Walter," said Daubeny sadly, when he had left the room. "He is a dear good fellow, but so easily led. Poor Flip; he's immensely changed for the better since you came, Walter."
"I have been very fond of him all along," said Walter; "he is so full of laughter and fun, and he's very good with it all. But, Dubbs, you are too desponding; we shall have you here yet for many pleasant days."
"I don't know; perhaps so, if God wills. I am very young. I should like to stay a little longer in the sunshine. Walter, I should like to stay with you. I love you more, I think, than any one except Power," and as he spoke, a quiet tear rolled slowly down Daubeny's face.
Walter only pressed his hand. "You can't think how I pitied you, Walter, in that accident about Paton's manuscript. When all the fellows were cutting you, and abusing you, my heart used to bleed for you; you used to go about looking so miserable, so much as if all your chances of life were over. I'm afraid I did very little for you then, but I would have done anything. I felt as if I could have given you my right-hand."
"But, Dubbs, you were the first who spoke to me after that happened, the first who wasn't ashamed to walk with me. You can't think how grateful I felt to you for it; it rolled a cold weight from me. It was like stretching a saving hand to one who was drowning; for every one knew how good a fellow you were, and your countenance was worth everything to me just then."
"You really felt so?" said Daubeny, brightening up, while a faint flush rested for a moment on his pale face; "O Walter, it makes me happy to hear you say so." There was a silence, and, with Walter's hand still in his, he fell into a sweet sleep, with a smile upon his face. When he was quite asleep, Walter gently removed his hand, smoothed his pillow, looked affectionately at him for a moment, and stole silently from the room.
"How did you leave him?" asked Henderson eagerly, when Walter rejoined him in Mr Percival's room.
"Sleeping soundly. I hope it will do him good. I did not know how much you cared for him, Flip."
"That's because I always made him a butt," said Henderson, remorsefully; "but I didn't really think he minded it, or I wouldn't have done so. I hardly knew myself that I liked him so. It was a confounded shame of me to worry him as I was always doing. Conceited donkey that I was, I was always trying to make him seem stupid; yet all the while I could have stood by him cap in hand. O Walter, I hope he is not going to die!"
"O no, I hope not; and don't be miserable at the thought of teasing him, Flip; it was all in fun, and he was never wounded by any word of yours. Remember how he used to tell you that he was all the time laughing at you, not you at him. Come a turn on the shore, and let's take Power or Ken with us."
"Sociable grosbeaks, again," said Henderson, laughing in the midst of his sorrow.
"Yes," said Walter; "never mind. There are but few birds of the sort after all."
They found Eden with his feet up, and his hands round his knees, on the window-seat, perfectly at his ease, and chattering to Power like a young jackdaw. A thrill of pleasure passed through Walter's heart as a glance showed him how well his proposal had succeeded. Power evidently had had no reason to repent of his kindness, and Eden looked more like the bright and happy child which he had once been, than ever was the case since he had come to Saint Winifred's. He was now clean and neat in dress, and the shadows of fear and guilt which had begun to darken his young face were chased away.
Power readily joined them in their stroll along the shore, and listened with affectionate sympathy to their account of Daubeny.
"What is it that has made him ill?" he asked.
"There's no doubt about that," answered Walter; "it's overwork which has brought on a tendency to brain fever."
"I was afraid so, Walter," and then Power repeated half to himself the fine lines of Byron on Kirke White—
"So the struck eagle stretched upon the plain, No more through rolling clouds to soar again, Viewed his own feather on the fatal dart, And winged the barb that quivered in his heart; Keen were his pangs, but keener far to feel. He nursed the pinion that impelled the steel; While the same plumage that had warmed his nest, Drank the last life blood of his bleeding breast."
"What grand verses!" said Walter. "Poor, poor Daubeny!"
"I've never had but one feeling about him myself," said Power, "and that was a feeling almost like reverence. I hope and trust that he'll be well enough for to-morrow week. I always looked forward to kneeling next to him when we were confirmed."
"All, you loved him, Power," said Henderson, "because your tastes were like his. But I owe a great deal to him—more than I can ever tell you. I don't feel as if I could tell you now, while he lies there so ill, poor fellow. He has saved me more than once from vigorous efforts to throw myself away. But for him I should have gone to the devil long, long ago. I was very near it once." He sighed, and as they walked by the violet margent of the evening waves, he offered up in silence an earnest prayer that Daubeny might live.
The blind old poet would have said that the winds carried the prayer away and scattered it. But no winds can scatter, no waves can drown, the immortal spirit of one true prayer. Unanswered it may be—but scattered and fruitless, not!
To me the thought of death is terrible, Having such hold of life; to you it is not More than the sudden lifting of a latch; Nought but a step into the open air, Out of a tent already luminous With light that shines through its transparent fold.
Longfellow's Golden Legend.
"I've got a good piece of news for you, Master Daubeny," said the kind old school-nurse.
"What is it? is my mother here?" he said eagerly. "O! let her come and see me."
She was at the door, and the next moment his arms were round her neck in a long embrace. "Darling, darling mother," he exclaimed, "now I shall be happy, now that you have come. Nay, you mustn't cry, mother," he said, as he felt one of her fast flowing tears upon his forehead; "you've come to help me in bearing up."
"Dearest Johnny," she said, "I trust yet that God will spare the widow's only son; He Who raised the son of the widow of Nain will pity us."
"His ways are not ours, mother dear; I do not think that I shall recover. My past life hangs before me like a far-off picture already; I lie and look at it almost as if it were not mine, and my mind is quite at peace; only sometimes my head is all confused."
"God's will be done, Johnny," sobbed the poor lady. "But I do not think I can live, if you be taken from me."
"Taken—but not for ever, mother," he said, looking up into her face.
"O Johnny, why, why did you not spare yourself, and work less? It is the work which has killed you."
"Only because it fell heavier on me than on other boys. They got through it quickly, but I was not so clever, and it cost me more to do my duty. I tried to do it, mother dear, and God helped me. All is well as it is. O my head, my head!"
"You must rest, darling. My visit and talk has excited you. Try to go to sleep."
"Then sit there, mother, opposite me, so that I may see you when I wake."
She kissed his aching brow, and sat down, while he composed himself to rest. She was a lady of about fifty, with bands of silver hair smoothed over her calm forehead, and in appearance not unlike her son. But there was something very sweet and matronly about her look, and it was impossible to see her without feeling the respect and honour which was her due.
And she sat there, by the bedside, looking upon her only son, the boy who had been the light of her life; and she knew that he was dying—she knew that he was fading away before her eyes. Yet there was a sweet and noble resignation in her anguish; there was a deep and genuine spirit of submission to the will of heaven, and a perfect faith in God's love, whatever might be the issue, in every prayer she breathed, as with clasped hands, and streaming eyes, and moving lips, she gazed upon his face. He might appear dull and heavy to others, but to her he was dear beyond all thought; and now she was to lose him. In her inmost heart she knew that she must suffer that great pang; that God was taking to Himself the son who had been so good and true to her, so affectionate, so sweet-tempered, so unselfish, that even from his gentle and quiet infancy he had never by his conduct caused her a moment's pain. She had long been looking forward to the strong and upright manhood which should follow this pure boyhood; but that dear boy was not destined to be the staff of her declining years; her hands were to close his eyes in the last long sleep, and she was to pass alone under the overshadowing rocks that close around the valley of human life. God help the mother's heart who must pass through scenes like this!
Poor Daubeny could not sleep. Brain fever is usually accompanied by delirium, and as he turned restlessly upon his pillow, his mind began to wander away to other days and scenes.
"Stupid, sir? yes, I know I am, but I can't help it; I've really done my best. I was up at five o'clock this morning, trying, trying so hard to learn this repetition. Indeed, indeed, I'm not idle, sir. I'll try to do my duty if I can. O Power, I wish I were like you; you learn so quickly, and you never get abused as I do after it all."
And then the poor boy fancied himself sitting under the gas-lamp in the passage as he had so often done, and trying to master one of his repetition lessons, repeating the lines fast to himself as he used to do—
"'Hac arte Pollux et vagus Hercules, Enisus—enisus arces—enisus arces attigit igneas, Quos inter Augustus—'
"How does it go on?
"'Hac arte Pollux et vagus Hercules, Enisus arces attigit igneas, attigit igneas, Quos inter Augustus recumbens—'"
"Oh, what does come next?" and he stopped with an expression of pain on his face, pressing his hands tight over his brow. "Don't go on with the repetition, Johnny, dear," said the poor mother. "I'm sure you know it enough now."
"O, no! not yet, mother; I shall be turned, I know I shall to-morrow, and it makes him so angry; he'll call me idle and incorrigible, and all kinds of things." And then he began again—
"'Sed quid Typhoeus aut validus Mimas, Aut quid minaci Porphyrion statu, Quid Rhoetus—Rhoetus—quid Rhoetus—'
"Oh, I shall break down here, I know I shall," and he burst into tears. "It's no good trying to help me, Power, I can't learn it."
"Leave off for to-night at least, Johnny," said his mother, in a tone of anguish; "you can learn the rest to-morrow. Oh, what shall I do?" she asked, turning to the nurse; "I cannot bear to hear him go on like this."
"Be comforted, ma'am," said the nurse, wiping away her own tears. "He's a dear good lamb, and he'll come to hisself soon afore he goes off."
"Must he die, then?" she asked, trembling in every limb.
"Hush, good lady! we never know what God may please to do in His mercy. We must bow to His gracious will, ma'am, as you knows well, I don't doubt. He's fitter to die than many a grown man is, poor child, and that's a blessing. I wish though he wasn't a repeating of that there heathenish Latin."
But Daubeny's voice was still humming fragments of Horace lines, sometimes with eager concentration, and then with pauses at parts where his memory failed, at which he would grow distressed and anxious—
"'Quid Rhoetus... quid Rhoetus evulsisque truncis, Enceladus.'
"Oh, I cannot learn this; I think I'm getting more stupid every day. Enceladus—"
"If you love me, Johnny, give it up for to-night, that's a darling boy," said his mother.
"But, mother, it's my duty to know it; you wouldn't have me fail in duty, mother dear, would you? Why, it was you who told me to persevere, and do all things with my might. Well, I will leave it for to-night." Then, still unconscious of what he was doing, the boy got up and prayed, as it was evident that he had done many a time, that God would strengthen his memory and quicken his powers, and enable him to do his duty like a man. It was inexpressibly touching to see him as he knelt there—thin, pale, emaciated, the shadow of his former self, kneeling in his delirium to offer up his old accustomed prayer.
And when he got into bed again, although his mind still wandered, he was much calmer, and a new direction seemed to have been given to his thoughts. The prayer had fallen like dew on his aching soul. He fancied himself in Power's study, where for many a Sunday the two boys had been used to sit, and where they had often learnt or read to each other their favourite hymns. Fragments of these hymns he was now repeating, dwelling on the words with an evident sense of pleasure and belief—
"'A noble army—men and boys, The matron and the maid, Around the Saviour's throne rejoice, In robes of light arrayed. They climbed the steep ascent of heaven, 'Mid peril, toil, and pain; O God, to us may strength be given, To follow in their train.'
"Isn't that beautiful, Power?
"'And when on upward wing. Cleaving the sky, Sun, moon, and stars forgot, Upwards I fly; Still all my song shall be, Nearer, my God, to Thee, Nearer to Thee.'"
And as he murmured to himself in a soothed tone of voice these verses, and lines of "Jerusalem the Golden," and "O for a closer walk with God," and "Rock of Ages," the wearied brain at last found repose, and Daubeny fell asleep.
He lingered on till the end of the week. On the Saturday he ceased to be delirious, and the lucid interval began which precedes death. It was then that he earnestly entreated to be allowed to see those school friends whose names had been so often on his lips—Power, Walter, and Henderson. The boys, who had daily and eagerly inquired for him, entered with a feeling of trembling solemnity the room of sickness. The near presence of death filled them with an indescribable awe, and they felt desolate at the approaching loss of a friend whom they loved so well.
"I sent to say good-bye," he said, smiling sweetly. "You must not cry and grieve for me. I am happier than I ever felt before. Good-bye, Walter. It's for a long, long, long time, but not for ever. Good-bye, my dear old Flip—naughty fellow to cry so, when I am happy; and when I am gone, Flip, think of me sometimes, and of talks we've had together, and take your side manfully for God and Christ. Good-bye, Power, my best friend; we meant to be confirmed together, you know, but God has ordered it otherwise." And then he whispered low—
"'Lord shall we come? come yet again? Thy children ask one blessing more; To come not now alone, but then When life, and death, and time are o'er; Then, then, to come, O Lord, and be Confirmed in heaven—confirmed by Thee.'
"O Power, that line fills me with hope and joy; think of it for me when I am dead," and his voice trembled with emotion as he again murmured, "'Confirmed in heaven—confirmed by Thee.' I'm afraid I'm too weak to talk any more. O, what a long, long good-bye it will be—for years, and years, and years; to think that when you have gone out of the room we shall never meet in life again, and I shall never hear your pleasant voices. O Flip, you make me cry against my will by crying so. It's hard to say, but it must be said at last. Good-bye, God bless you, with all my heart." He laid his hand on their heads as they bent over him, and once mere whispering the last "Good-bye," turned away his face, and made the pillow wet with his warm tears.
The sound of his mother's sobs attracted him. "Ah, mother, darling, we are alone now; you will stay with me till I die. I am tired."
"I feared that their visit would excite you too much, my child."
"O no, mother; I couldn't bear to die without seeing them, I loved them so much. Mother, will you sing to me a little—sing me my favourite hymn."
She began in a low, sweet voice,—
"My God, my Father, while I stray, Far from my home in life's rough way, O teach me from my heart to say, Thy will be done, Thy will be—"
She stopped, for sobs choked her voice. "I am sorry I cannot, Johnny. But I cannot bear to think how soon we must part."
"Only for a short time, mother, a short time. I said a long time just now, but now it looks to me quite short, and I shall be with God. I see it all now so clearly. Do you remember those lines—
"'The soul's dark cottage, battered and decayed, Lets in new light through chinks that time has made.'
"How true they are! Oh, darling mother, how very, very good you have always been to me, and I pay you with all my heart's whole love." He pressed upon her lips a long, long kiss, and said, "Good-night, darling mother. I am falling asleep, I think."
His arms relaxed their loving embrace, and glided down from her shoulder; his head fell back; the light faded from his soft and gentle eyes, and he was asleep.
Rightly he said "asleep"—the long sleep that is the sweetest and happiest in that it knows no waking here; the long sweet sleep that no evil dreams disturb; the sleep after which the eyes open upon the light of immortality, and the weary heart rests upon the bosom of its God. Yes, Daubeny had fallen asleep.
God help thee, widowed mother; the daily endearments, the looks of living affection, the light of the boy's presence, are for thee and for thy home no more. There lies the human body of thy son; his soul is with the white-robed, redeemed, innumerable multitude in the Paradise of God.
For hours, till the light faded into darkness, as this young life had faded into death, she sat fixed in that deep grief which finds no utterance, and knows of no alleviation, with little consciousness save of the dead presence, and of the pang that benumbed her aching heart. And outside rang the sound of games and health, and the murmur of boy-voices came to her forlorn ear. There the stream of life was flashing joyously and gloriously in the sunshine, while here, in this darkened room, it had sunk into the sands, and lost itself under the shadow of the dark boughs. But she was a Christian; and as the sweet voices of memory, and conscience, and hope, and promise whispered to her in her loneliness their angel messages, her heart melted and the tears came, and she knelt down and took the dead hand of her son in hers, and said, between her sobs, while her tear-stained eyes were turned to heaven, "O God, teach me to understand Thy will."
And through the night the great bell of the church of Saint Winifred's tolled the sound of death; and, mingled with it stroke for stroke, in long, tremulous, thrilling notes that echoed through the silent buildings, rang out the thin clear bell of Saint Winifred's School. The tones of that school-bell were usually only heard as they summoned the boys to lessons with quick and hurried beatings. How different now were the slow occasional notes—each note trembling itself out with undisturbed vibrations which quivered long upon the air—with which it told that for one at least whom it had been wont to warn, hurry was possible no longer, and there was boundless leisure now! There was a strange pulse of emotion in the hearts of the listening boys, when the sound of those two passing bells struck upon their ears as they sat at evening work, and told them that the soul of their schoolfellow had passed away, and that God's voice had summoned His young servant to His side.
"You hear it, Henderson?" said Walter, who sat next to him.
"Yes," answered Henderson in an awe-struck voice, "Daubeny is dead."
The rest of that evening the two boys sat silent and motionless, full of the solemn thoughts which can never be forgotten. And for the rest of that evening the deep church-bell tolled, and the shrill school-bell tolling after it, shivered out into the wintry night air its tremulous message that the soul of Daubeny had passed away.
"Be the day weary or be the day long At last it ringeth to even-song."
There was a very serious look on the faces of all the boys as they thronged into chapel the next morning for the confirmation service. It was a beautiful sight to see the subdued yet noble air, full at once of humility and hope, wherewith many of the youthful candidates passed along the aisle, and knelt before the altar, and with clasped hands and bowed heads awaited the touch of the hands that blessed. As those young soldiers of Christ knelt meekly in their places, resolving with pure and earnest hearts to fight manfully in His service, and praying with child-like faith for the aid of which they felt their need, it was indeed a spectacle to recall the ideal of virtuous and Christian boyhood, and to force upon the minds of many the contrast it presented with the other too familiar spectacle of a boyhood coarse, defiant, brutal, ignorant yet conceited, young in years but old in disobedience, in insolence, in sin.
When the good bishop, in the course of his address, alluded to Daubeny's death, there was throughout the chapel instantly that silence that can be felt—that deep, unbroken hush of expectation and emotion which always produces so indescribable an effect.
"There was one," he said, "who should have been confirmed to-day, who is not here. He has passed away from us; he will never be present at an earthly confirmation; he is 'confirmed in heaven—confirmed by God.' I hear, and I rejoice to hear, that for that confirmation he was indeed prepared, and that he looked forward to it with some of his latest thoughts. I hear that he was pre-eminent among you for the piety, the purity, the amiability of his life and character, and his very death was caused by the intense earnestness of his desire to use aright the talents which God had entrusted to him. O! such a death of one so young yet so fit to die is far happier than the longest and most prosperous of sinful lives. Be sobered but not saddened by it. It is a proof of God's merciful and tender love that this one of your schoolfellows was taken in the clear and quiet dawn of a noble and holy life, and not some other in the scarlet blossom of precocious and deadly sin. Be not saddened therefore at the loss, but sobered by the warning. The fair, sweet, purple flower of youth falls and fades, my young brethren, under the sweeping scythe of death, no less surely than the withered grass of age. O! be ready—be ready with the girded loins and the lighted lamp— to obey the summons of your God. Who knows for which of us next, or how soon, the bell of death may toll? Be ye therefore ready, for you know not at what day or at what hour the voice may call to you!"
The loss of a well-known companion whom all respected and many loved— the crowding memories of school-life—the still small voice of every conscience, gave strange meaning and force to the bishop's simple words. As they listened, many wept in silence, while down the cheeks of Walter, of Power, and of Henderson, the tears fell like summer rain.
In the evening Walter was seated thoughtfully by the fire in Power's study, while Power was writing at the table, stopping occasionally to wipe his glistening eyes.
"He was my earliest friend here," he said to Walter, almost apologetically, as he hastily brushed off the drop which had fallen and blurred the paper before him. "But I know it is selfish to be sorry," he added, as he pushed the paper towards Walter.
"May I read this, Power?" asked Walter.
"Yes, if you like," and he drew his chair by his, while Walter read in Power's small clear handwriting—
Never more! Like a dream when one awaketh Vanishing away; Like a billow when it breaketh Scattered into spray; Like a meteor's paling ray, Such is man, do all he can;— Nothing that is fair can stay. Sorrow staineth, man complaineth.
Sin remaineth ever more; Like a wake upon the shore Soundeth ever from the chorus Of the spirits gone before us, "Ye shall meet us, ye shall greet us In the sweet homes of earth, in the places of our birth, Never more again, never more!" So they sing, and sweetly dying Faints the message of their voices, Dying like the distant murmur, when a mighty host rejoices, But the echoes are replying with a melancholy sighing Never more again! never more!
Far-away Far far-away are the homes wherein they dwell, We have lost them, and it cost them Many a tear, and many a fear When God forbade their stay; But their sorrow, on the morrow Ceased in the dawning of a lighter, brighter day; And our bliss shall be certain, when death's awful curtain. Drawn from the darkness of mortal life away, To happy souls revealeth what it darkly now concealeth, Yielding to the glory of heaven's eternal ray. Far far-away are the homes wherein they dwell, But we know that they are blest, and ever more at rest, And we utter from our hearts, "It is well."
"May I keep them, Power?" he asked, looking up.
"Do, Walter, as a remembrance of to-day."
"And may I make one change, which the bishop's sermon suggested?"
"By all means," said Power; and Walter, taking a pencil, added after the line "Nothing that is fair can stay," these words, which Power afterwards copied, writing at the top, "In memoriam, J.D."
"Nothing that is fair can stay But while Death's sharp scythe is sweeping, We remember 'mid our weeping, That a Father-hand is keeping Every vernal bloom that falleth underneath its chilly sway. And though earthly flowers may perish There are buds His hand will cherish And the things unseen Eternal—these can never pass away; Where the angels shout Hosanna, Where the ground is dewed with manna, These remain and these await us in the homes of heaven for ay!"
The lines are in Walter's desk; and he values them all the more for the tears which have fallen on them, and blurred the neatness of the fine clear handwriting.
On the following Tuesday our boys saw the dead body of their friend. The face of poor Daubeny looked singularly beautiful with the placid lines of death, as all innocent faces do. It was the first time they had seen a corpse; and as Walter touched the cold cheek, and placed a spray of evergreen in the rigid hand, he was almost overpowered with an awful sense of the sad sweet mystery of death.
"It is God who has taken him to Himself," said Mrs Daubeny, as she watched their emotion. "I shall not be parted from him long. He has left you each a remembrance of himself, dear boys, and you will value them, I know, for my poor child's sake, and for his widowed mother's thanks to those who loved him."
For each of them he had chosen, before he died, one of his most prized possessions. To Power he left his desk; to Henderson, his microscope; to Kenrick, a little gold pencil-case; and to Walter, a treasure which he deeply valued, a richly-bound Bible, in which he had left many memorials of the manner in which his days were spent; and in which he had marked many of the rules which were the standard of his life, and the words of hope which sustained his gentle and noble mind.
The next day he was buried; only the boys in his own house, and those who had known him best, followed him to the grave. They were standing in two lines along the court, and the plumed hearse stood at the cottage door. Just at that moment the rest of the boys began to flock out of the school, for lessons were over. Each as he came out caught sight of the hearse, the plumes waving and whispering in the sea-wind, and the double line of mourners; and each, on seeing it, stood where he was, in perfect silence. Their numbers increased each moment, till boys and masters alike were there; and all by the same sudden impulse stopped where they were standing when first they saw the hearse, and stood still without a word. The scene was the more strangely impressive because it was accidental and spontaneous. Meanwhile, the coffin was carried downstairs, and placed in the hearse, which moved off slowly across the court between the line of bareheaded and motionless mourners. It was thus that Daubeny left Saint Winifred's, and passed under the Norman arch; and till he had passed through, the boys stood fixed to their places, like a group of statues in the usually noisy court. He was buried in the churchyard under the tower of the grand old church. It was a lovely spot; the torrent murmured near it; the shadows of the great mountains fell upon it; and as you stood there in the sacred silence of that memory-haunted field, you heard far-off the solemn monotone of the everlasting sea. There they laid him, and the stream of life, checked for a moment, flashed on again with turbulent and sparkling waves. Ah me!—yet why should we sigh at the merciful provision, which causes that the very best of us, when we die, leaves but a slight and transient ripple on the waters, which a moment after flow on as smoothly as before?
Mrs Daubeny left Saint Winifred's that evening; her carriage looked strange with her son's boxes and other possessions piled up in it. Who would ever use that cricket-bat or those skates again? Power and Walter shook hands with her at the door as she was about to start; and just at the last moment, Henderson came running up with something, which he put on the carriage seat without a word. It was a bird-cage, containing a little favourite canary, which he and Daubeny had often fed.
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.
Yonder there lies the village and looks how quiet and small, And yet bubbles o'er like a city with gossip and scandal and spite.
It was the last evening. The boys were all assembled in the great schoolroom to hear the result of the examination. The masters in their caps and gowns were seated round Dr Lane on a dais in the centre of the room; and every one was eager to know what places the boys had taken, and who would win the various form prizes. Dr Lane began from the bottom of the school, and at the last boy in each form, so that the interest of the proceedings kept on culminating to the grand climax. The first name that will interest us was Eden's, and both Walter and Power were watching anxiously to see where he would come out in his form. Power had been so kindly coaching him in his work that they expected him to be high; but it was as much to his surprise as to their gratification, that his name was read out third. Jones and Harpour were, as was natural, last in their respective forms.
At length Dr Lane got to Walter's form. Last but one came Howard Tracy, who was listening with a fine superiority to the whole announcement. Anthony and Franklin were not far from him. Henderson expected himself to be about tenth; but the tenth name, the ninth, and the eighth, all were read, and he had not been mentioned; his heart was beating fast, and he almost fancied that there must have been some mistake; but no; Dr Lane read on.
and Walter had hardly done patting him on the back, and congratulating him, when Dr Lane had read—
"First"—the Doctor always read the word "first" with peculiar emphasis, and then brought out the name of the boy who had attained that distinction with great empressement—"First, Evson."
Whereupon it was Henderson's turn to pat him on the back, which he did very vigorously; and not only so, but in his enthusiasm began to clap—a demonstration which ran like wildfire through all the ranks of the boys, and before Dr Lane could raise his voice to secure silence—for approbation on those occasions in the great schoolroom was not at all selon regle—our young hero had received a regular ovation. For since the day on Appenfell, Walter had been the favourite of the school, and they were only too glad to follow Henderson in his irregular applause. There was an intoxicating sweetness in this popularity. Could Walter help keenly enjoying the general regard which thus, defiant of rules, broke out in his honour into spontaneous acclamations?
Dr Lane's stern "Silence!" heard above the uproar, soon reduced the boys to order, and he proceeded with the list. Kenrick was read out first in his form, and Power, as a matter of course, again first in the second fifth, although in that form he was the youngest boy. Somers came out head of the school, by examination as well as by seniority of standing; and in his case, too, the impulse to cheer was too strong to be resisted. The head of the school was, however, tacitly excepted from the general rule, and Dr Lane only smiled while he listened to the clapping, which showed that Somers was regarded with esteem and honour by the boys, in spite of his cold manners and stern regime.
"Hurrah for the Sociable Grosbeaks!" said Henderson, as the boys streamed out of the room. "Why, we carry all before us! And only fancy me fourth! Why, I'm a magnificent swell, without ever having known it. You look out, Master Walter, or I shall have a scrimmage with you for laurels."
"Good," said Walter. "Meanwhile, come and help me to pack up my laurels in my box. And then for home! Hurrah!"
And he began to sing the exquisite air of:
"Domum, domum, dulce domum, Dulce, dulce, dulce domum;"
in which Power and Henderson joined heartily; while Kenrick walked on in silence.
Next day the boys were scattered in every direction to their various homes. It need not be said that Walter passed very happy holidays that Christmas time. Power came and spent a fortnight with him; and let every boy who has a cheerful and affectionate home imagine for himself how blithely their days passed by. Power made himself a universal favourite, always unselfish, always merry, and throwing himself heartily into every amusement which the Evsons proposed. He and they were mutually sorry when the time came for them to part.
From Semlyn Lake, Walter's home, to Fuzby, Kenrick's home, the change is great indeed; yet I must take the reader there for a short time, before we return to the noisy and often troubled precincts of Saint Winifred's School.
Before Power came to stay with the Evsons, Walter, with his father's full permission, had written to ask Kenrick to join them at the same time, and this is the answer he got in reply—
"My Dear Walter,—I can't tell you how much your letter tempted me. I should so like to come; I would give anything to come and see you. To be with you and Power at such a place as Semlyn must be—O Walter, it almost makes me envious to think of you there. But I can't come, and I'll tell you frankly the reason. I can't afford, or rather I mean that my mother cannot afford, the necessary travelling expenses. I look on you, Walter, as my best school friend, so I may as well say at once that we are very, very poor. If I could even get to you by walking some of the way, and going third-class the rest, I would jump at the chance, but—. Lucky fellow, you know nothing of the res angusta domi.
"You must be amused at the name of this place, Fuzby-le-Mud. What charming prospects the name opens, does it not? I assure you the name fits the place exactly. My goodness! how I do hate the place. You'll ask why then we live here? Simply because we must. Some misanthropic relation left us the house we live in, which saves rent.
"Yet, if you were with me, I think I could be happy even here. I don't venture to ask you. First of all, we couldn't make you one-tenth part as comfortable as you are at home; secondly, there isn't the ghost of an amusement here, and if you came, you'd go back to Saint Winifred's with a fit of blue devils, as I always do; thirdly, the change from Semlyn to Fuzby-le-Mud would be like walking from the Elysian fields and the asphodel meadows, into mere borboros as old Edwards would say. So I don't ask you; and yet if you could come—why, the day would be marked with white in the dull calendar of—Your ever affectionate—
As Fuzby lay nearly in the route to Saint Winifred's, Walter, grieved that his friend should be doomed to such dull holidays, determined, with Mr Evson's leave, to pay him a three-days' visit on his way to school. Accordingly, towards the close of the holidays, after a hopeful, a joyous, and an affectionate farewell to all at home, he started for Fuzby, from which he was to accompany Kenrick back to school; a visit fraught, as it turned out, with evil consequences, and one which he never afterwards ceased to look back upon with regret.
The railroad, after leaving far behind the glorious hills of Semlyn, passes through country flatter and more uninteresting at every mile, until it finds itself fairly committed to the fens. Nothing but dreary dykes, muddy and straight, guarded by the ghosts of suicidal pollards, and by rows of dreary and desolate mills, occur to break the blank grey monotony of the landscape. Walter was looking out of the window with curious eyes, and he was wondering what life in such conditions could be like, when the train uttered a despairing scream, and reached a station which the porter announced as Fuzby-le-Mud. Walter jumped down, and his hand was instantly seized by Kenrick with a warm and affectionate grasp.
"So you're really here, Walter. I can hardly believe it. I half repent having brought you to such a place; but I was so dull."
"I shall enjoy it exceedingly, Ken, with you. Shall I give my portmanteau to some man to take up to the village?"
"O, no; here's a—well, I may as well call it a cart at once—to take it up in. The curate lent it me, and he calls it a pony-carriage; but it is, you see, nothing more or less than a cart. I hope you won't be ashamed to ride in it."
"I should think not," said Walter gaily, mounting into the curious little oblong wooden vehicle.
"It isn't very far," said Kenrick, "and I daresay you don't know any one about here; so it won't matter."
"Pooh! Ken, as if I minded such nonsense." Indeed, Walter would not have thought twice about the conveyance, if Kenrick had not harped upon it so much, and seemed so much ashamed of it, and mortified at being obliged to use it. "Shall I drive?" asked Walter.
"Drive? Why, the pony is stone blind, and as scraggy as a scarecrow, so there's not much driving to be had out of him. Fancy if the aristocratic Power, or some other Saint Winifred's fellow saw us! Why, it would supply Henderson with jokes for six weeks," said Kenrick, getting up and touching the old pony with his whip. Both he and Walter were wholly unconscious that their equipage had been seen, and contemptuously scrutinised by one of their schoolfellows. Unknown to Walter, Jones was in the train; and, after a long stare at the pony-chaise, had flung himself back in his seat to indulge in a long guffaw, and in anticipating the malicious amusement he should feel in retailing at Saint Winifred's the description of Kenrick's horse and carriage. Petty malignity was a main feature of Jones's mind.
"That is Fuzby," said Kenrick laconically, pointing to a straggling village from which a few lights were beginning to glimmer; "and I wish it were buried twenty thousand fathoms under the sea."
Ungracious as the speech may seem, it cannot be wondered at. A single muddy road runs through Fuzby. Except along this road—muddy and rutty in winter, dusty and rutty in summer—no walk is to be had. The fields are all more or less impassable with ditches and bogs. Kenrick had christened it "The Dreary Swamp." Nothing in the shape of a view is to be found anywhere, and barely a single flower will deign to grow. The air is unhealthy with moisture, and the only element to be had there in perfection is earth.
All this, Kenrick's father—who had been curate of the village—had fancied would be at least endurable to any man upheld by a strong sense of duty. So when he had married, and had received the gift of a house in the village, he took thither his young and beautiful bride, intending there to live and work until something better could be obtained. He was right. Over the mere disadvantages of situation he might easily have triumphed, and he might have secured there, under different circumstances, a fair share of happiness, which lies in ourselves and not in the localities in which we live. But in making his calculation he had always assumed that it would be easy to get on with the inhabitants of Fuzby; and here lay his mistake.
The Vicar of Fuzby, a non-resident pluralist, only appeared at rare intervals to receive the adoration which his flock never refused to any one who was wealthy. His curate, having a very slender income, came in for no share at all of this respect. On the contrary, the whole population assumed a right to patronise him, to interfere with him, to annoy and to thwart him. There was at Fuzby one squire—a rich farmer, coarse, ignorant, and brutal. This man, being the richest person in the parish, generally carried everything in his own way, and among other attempts to imitate the absurdities of his superiors, had ordered the sexton never to cease ringing the church-bell, however late, until he and his family had taken their seats. A very few Sundays after Mr Kenrick's arrival the bell was still ringing eight minutes after the time for morning service, and sending to desire the sexton to leave off, he received the message that—
"Mr Hugginson hadn't come yet."
"I will not have the congregation kept waiting for Mr Hugginson or any one else," said the curate.
"O zurr, the zervus haint begun afore Muster Hugginson has come in this ten year."
"Then the sooner Mr Hugginson is made to understand that the hours of service are not to be altered at his convenience the better. Let the bell cease immediately."
But the sexton, a dogged, bovine, bullet-headed labourer, took no notice whatever of this injunction, and although Mr Kenrick went into the reading-desk, continued lustily to ring the bell until the whole Hugginson family, furious that their dignity should thus be insulted, sailed into church at the beginning of the psalms.
Next morning Mr Kenrick turned the sexton out of his place, and received a most wrathful visit from Mr Hugginson, who, after pouring on him a torrent of the most disgusting abuse, got scarlet in the forehead, shook his stick in Mr Kenrick's face, flung his poverty in his teeth, and left the cottage, vowing eternal vengeance.
With him went all the Fuzby population. It would be long to tell the various little causes which led to Mr Kenrick's unpopularity among them. Every clergyman similarly circumstanced may conjecture these for himself; they resolved themselves mainly into the fact that Mr Kenrick was abler, wiser, purer, better, more Christian, than they. His thoughts were not theirs, nor his ways their ways.
"He had a daily beauty in his life That made them ugly."
And so, to pass briefly and lightly, over an unpleasant subject, Fuzby was brimming over with the concentrated meanness of petty malignant natures, united in the one sole object of snubbing and worrying the unhappy curate. To live among them was like living in a cloud of poisonous flies. If Dante had known Fuzby-le-Mud, he could have found for a really generous and noble spirit no more detestable or unendurable inferno than this muddy English village.
The chief characteristic of Fuzby was a pestilential spirit of gossip. There was no lying scandal, there was no malicious whisper, that did not thrive with rank luxuriance in that mean atmosphere, which, at the same time, starved up every great and high-minded wish. There was no circumstance so minute that calumny could not insert into it a venomous claw. Mr Kenrick was one of the most exemplary, generous, and pure-minded of men; his only fault was quickness of temper. His noble character, his conciliatory manners, his cultivated mind, his Christian forbearance, were all in vain. He was poor, and he could not be a toady: these were two unpardonable sins; and he, a true man, moved like an angel among a set of inferior beings. For a time he struggled on. He tried not to mind the lies they told of him. What was it to him, for instance, if they took advantage of his hasty language to declare that he was in the constant habit of swearing, when he knew that even from boyhood no oath had ever crossed his lips? What was it to him that these uneducated boors, in their feeble ignorance, tried constantly to entrap him into something which they called unorthodox, and to twist his words into the semblance of fancied heresy? It was more painful to him that they opposed and vilified every one whom he helped, and whose interests, in pity, he endeavoured to forward. But still he bore on, he struggled on, till the denouement came. It is not worth while entering into the various schemes invented for his annoyance, but at last an unfortunate, although purely accidental, discrepancy was detected in the accounts of one of the parish charities which Mr Kenrick officially managed. Mr Hugginson seized his long-looked-for opportunity: he went round the parish, and got a large number of his creatures among the congregation to affirm by their signatures that Mr Kenrick had behaved dishonestly. This memorial he sent to the bishop, and disseminated among all the clergy with malicious assiduity. At the next clerical meeting Mr Kenrick found himself most coldly received. Compelled in self-defence to take legal proceedings against the squire, he found himself involved in heavy expenses. He won his cause, and his character was cleared; but the jury, attending only to the technicalities of the case, and conceiving that there was enough prima facie evidence to justify Mr Hugginson's proceedings, left each side to pay their own costs. These costs swallowed up the whole of the poor curate's private resources, and also involved him in debt. The agony, the suspense, the shame, the cruel sense of oppression and injustice, bore with a crushing weight on his weakened health. He could not tolerate that the merest breath of suspicion, however false, should pass over his fair and honourable name. He pined away over the atrocious calumny; it poisoned for him the very life-springs of happiness, and destroyed his peace of mind for ever. This young man, in the flower of youth—a man who might have been a leader and teacher of men—a man of gracious presence and high power—died of a broken heart. He died of a broken heart, and all Fuzby built his conspicuous tomb, and shed crocodile tears over his pious memory. Truly, as some one has said, very black stains lie here and there athwart the white conventionalities of common life!
This had happened when our little Kenrick was eight years old; he never forgot the spectacle of his poor father's heartbreaking misery during the last year of his life. He never forgot how, during that year, sorrow and anxiety had aged his father's face, and silvered his hair, young as he was, with premature white, and so quenched his spirits, that often he would take his little boy on his knee, and look upon him so long in silence, that the child cried at the intensity of that long, mournful, hopeless gaze, and at the tears which he saw slowly coursing each other down his father's careworn and furrowed cheeks. Ever since then the boy had walked among the Fuzby people with open scorn and defiance, as among those whose slanders had done to death the father whom he so proudly loved. In spite of his mother's wishes, he would not stoop to pay them even the semblance of courtesy. No wonder that he hated Fuzby with a perfect hatred, and that his home there was a miserable home.
Yet, if any one could have made happy a home in such a place, it would have been Mrs Kenrick. Never, I think, did a purer, a fairer, a sweeter soul live on earth, or one more like the angels of heaven. The winning grace of her manners, the simple sweetness of her address, the pathetic beauty and sadness of her face, would have won for her, and had won for her, in any other place but Fuzby, the love and admiration which were her due.
"She had a mind that envy could not but call fair."
But at Fuzby, from the dominant faction of Hugginson, and the small vulgar-minded sets who always tried to brow-beat those who were poor, particularly if their birth and breeding were gentle, she found nothing but insulting coldness, or still more insulting patronage. When first she heard the marriage-bells clang out from the old church tower of her home, and had walked by the side of her young husband, a glad and lovely bride, she had looked forward to many happy years. With him, at any rate, it seemed that no place could be very miserable. Poor lady! her life had been one long martyrdom, all the more hard to bear because it was made up for the most part of small annoyances, petty mortifications, little recurring incessant bitternesses. And now, during the seven years of her widowhood, she had gained a calmer and serener atmosphere, in which she was raised above the possibility of humiliation from the dwarfed natures and malicious hearts in the midst of which she lived. They could hurt her feelings, they could embitter her days no longer. To the hopes and pleasures of earth she had bidden farewell. Still young, still beautiful, she had reached the full maturity of Christian life, meekly bearing the load of scorn, and disappointment, and poverty, looking only for that rest which remaineth to the people of God. In her lonely home, with no friend at Fuzby to whom she could turn for counsel or for consolation, shut up with the sorrows of her own lonely heart, she often mused at the slight sources, the little sins of others, from which her misery had sprung; she marvelled at the mystery that man should be to man "the sorest, surest ill." Truly, it is a strange thought! O! it is pitiable that, as though death, and want, and sin were not enough, we too must add to the sum of human miseries by despising, by neglecting, by injuring others. We wound by our harsh words, we dishonour by our coarse judgments, we grieve by our untender pride, the souls for whom Christ died; and we wound most deeply, and grieve most irreparably, the noblest and the best.
The one tie that bound her to earth was her orphan son—her hope, her pride; all her affections were centred in that beautiful boy. Now, if I were writing a romance, I should of course represent that yearning mother's affection as reciprocated with all the warmth and passion of the boy's heart. But it was not so. Harry Kenrick did indeed love his mother; he would have borne anything rather than see her suffer any great pain; but his manners were too often cold, his conduct wilful or thoughtless. He did not love her—perhaps no child can love his parents—with all the abandon and intensity wherewith she loved him. The fact is, a blight lay upon Kenrick whenever he was at home—the Fuzby blight he called it. He hated the place so much, he hated the people in it so much, he felt the annoyances of their situation with so keen and fretful a sensibility, that at Fuzby, even though with his mother, he was never happy. Even her society could not make up to him for the detestation with which he not unnaturally regarded the village and its inhabitants. At school he was bright, warm-hearted, and full of life; at home he seemed to draw himself into a shell of reserve and coldness; and it was a deep unspoken trial to that gentle mother's heart that she could not make home happy to the boy whom she so fondly loved, and that even to her he seemed indifferent; for his manners—since he had been to school and learned how very differently other boys were circumstanced, and what untold pleasures centred for them in that word "home"—were to her always shy and silent, appeared sometimes almost harsh.
I wish I could represent it otherwise; but things are not often truly represented in books; and is not this a very common as well as a very tragic case? Not even in her son could Mrs Kenrick look for happiness; even his society brought with it trials almost as hard to bear as those which his absence caused. Yet no mother could have brought up her child more wisely, more tenderly, with more undivided and devoted care. Harry's heart was true could she have looked into it; but at Fuzby a cold, repellent manner fell on him like a mildew. And Mrs Kenrick wept in silence, as she thought—though it was not true—that even her own son did not love her, or at least did not love her as she had hoped he would. It was the last bitter drop in that overflowing cup which it had pleased God that she should be called upon to drink.
The boys drove up to the door of the little cottage. It stood in a garden, but as the garden was overlooked by Fuzbeians on all sides, it offered few attractions, and was otherwise very small and plain. They were greeted by Mrs Kenrick's soft and pleasant voice.
"Well, dear Harry, I am delighted that you have brought back your friend."
Harry's mind was pre-occupied with the poverty-stricken aspect which he thought the house must present to his friend, and he did not answer her, but said to Walter—
"Well, Walter, here is the hut we inhabit. We have only one girl, as servant. I'll carry up the box. I do pretty nearly everything but clean the shoes."
Mrs Kenrick's eyes filled with sad tears at the bitter words; but she checked them to greet Walter, who advanced and shook her by the hand so cordially, and with a manner so respectfully affectionate, that he won her heart at once.
"Harry has not yet learned," she said playfully, "that poverty is not a thing to be ashamed of; but I am sure, Walter—forgive my using the name which my boy has made so familiar to me—that you will not mind any little inconveniences during your short stay with us."
"Oh, no, Mrs Kenrick," said Walter; "to be with you and him will be the greatest possible enjoyment."
"I wish you wouldn't flap our poverty in every one's face, mother," said Kenrick, almost angrily, when Walter had barely left the room.
"O Harry, Harry," said Mrs Kenrick, speaking sadly, "you surely forget, dear boy, that it is your mother to whom you are speaking. And was it I who mentioned our poverty first? O Harry, when will you learn to be contented with the dispensations of God? Believe me, dearest, we might make our poverty as happy as any wealth, if we would but have eyes to see the blessings it involves." The boy turned away impatiently, and as he ran upstairs to rejoin his friend, the lady sat down with a deep sigh to her work. It was long ere Kenrick learnt how much his conduct was to blame; but long after, when his mother was dead, he was reminded painfully of this scene, when he accidentally found in her handwriting this extract from one of her favourite authors—
"It has been reserved for this age to perceive the blessedness of another kind of poverty; not voluntary nor proud, but accepted and submissive; not clear-sighted nor triumphant, but subdued and patient; partly patient in tenderness—of God's will; partly patient in blindness—of man's oppression; too laborious to be thoughtful, too innocent to be conscious; too much experienced in sorrow to be hopeful— waiting in its peaceful darkness for the unconceived dawn; yet not without its sweet, complete, untainted happiness, like intermittent notes of birds before the daybreak, or the first gleams of heaven's amber on the eastern grey. Such poverty as this it has been reserved for this age of ours to honour while it afflicted; it is reserved for the age to come to honour it and to spare."
CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.
BIRDS OF A FEATHER.
What, man! I know them, yea, And what they weigh even to the utmost scruple; Scrambling, out-facing, fashion-monging boys, That lie, and cog, and flout, deprave, and slander.
Much Ado about Nothing, act 5, scene 1.
Walter could not help hearing a part of this conversation, and he was pained and surprised that Kenrick, whom he had regarded as so fine a character, should show his worst side at home, and should speak and act thus unkindly to one whom he was so deeply bound to love and reverence. And he was even more surprised when he went downstairs again and looked on the calm face of his friend's mother, so lovely, so gentle, so resigned, and felt the charm of manners which, in their natural grace and sweetness, might have shed lustre on a court. All that he could himself do was to show by his own manner to Mrs Kenrick the affection and respect with which he regarded her. When he hinted to Kenrick, as delicately and distantly as he could, that he thought his manner to his mother rather brusque, Kenrick reddened rather angrily, but only replied, "Ah, it's all very well for you to talk; but you don't live at Fuzby."
"Yet I've enjoyed my visit very much, Ken; you can't think how much I love your mother."
"Thank you, Walter, for saying so. But how would you like to live always at such a place?"
"If I did I should do my best to make it happy."
"Make it happy!" said Kenrick; and as he turned away he muttered something about making a silk purse out of a sow's ear. Soon after he told Walter some of those circumstances about his father's life which we have recently related. When the three days were over the boys started for Saint Winifred's. They drove to the station in the pony-chaise before described, accompanied, against Kenrick's will, by his mother. She bore up bravely as she bade them good-bye, knowing the undemonstrative character of boys, and seeing that they were both in the merriest mood. She knew, too, that their gaiety was natural: the world lay before them, bright and seductive as yet, with no shadow across its light; nor was she all in all to Harry as he was to her. He had other hopes, and another home, and other ties; and remembering this she tried not to grieve that he should leave her with so light a heart. But as she turned away from the platform when the train had started, taking with it all that she held dearest in the world, and as she walked back to the lonely home which had nothing but faith—for there was not even hope—to brighten it, the quiet tears flowed fast over the fair face beneath her veil. Yet as she crossed over her lonely threshold her thoughts were not even then for herself, but they carried her on the wings of prayer to the throne of mercy for the beloved boy from whom she was again to be separated for nearly five long months.
The widowed mother wept; but the boy's spirits rose as he drew closer to the hills and to the sea, which told him that Saint Winifred's was near. He talked happily with Walter about the coming half—eager with ambition, with hope, with high spirits, and fine resolutions. He clapped his hands with pleasure when they reached the top of Bardlyn Hill and caught sight of the school buildings.
Having had a long distance to travel they were among the late arrivals, and at the great gate stood Henderson and Power ready to greet them and the other boys who came with them in the same coach. Among these were Eden and Bliss.
"Ah, Eden," said Henderson, "I've been writing a poem about you—
"I'm a shrimp, I'm a shrimp of diminutive size, Inspect my antennae and look at my eyes; Quick, quick, feel me quick, for cannot you see I'm a shrimp, I'm a shrimp, to be eaten with tea?"
"And who's this?—why," he said clasping his hands and throwing up his eyes in mock rapture, "this indeed is Bliss!"
"I'll lick you, Flip," said Bliss, only in a more good-humoured tone than usual, as he hit at him.
"I think I've heard that observation before," said Henderson, dodging away. "Ah, Walter, how do you do, my dear old fellow? I hope you're sitting on the throne of health, and reclining under the canopy of a well-organised brain."
"More than you are, Flip," said Walter laughing. "You seem madder than ever."
"That he is," said Power; "since his return he's made on an average fifteen thousand bad puns. You ought to be grateful, though, for he and I have got some coffee going for you in my study. Come along; the Familiar will see that your luggage is all right."
"Yes; and I shall make bold to bring in a shrimp to tea," said Henderson, seizing hold of Eden.
"All right. I meant to ask you, Eden," said Power, shaking the little boy affectionately by the hand; "have you enjoyed the holidays?"
"Not very much," said Eden.
"You're not looking as bright as I should like," said Power; "never mind; if you didn't enjoy the holidays you must enjoy the half."
"That I shall. I hope, Walter, you'll be in the same dormitory still. What shall I do if you're not?"
"O, how's that to be, Flip?" asked Walter; "you said you'd try to get some of us put together in one dormitory. That would be awfully jolly. I don't want to leave you, Eden, and would like you to be moved too; but I can't bear Harpour and that lot."
"I've partly managed it and partly failed," said Henderson. "You and the shrimp still stay with the rest of the set in Number 10, but as there was a vacant bed I got myself put there too."
"Hurrah!" said Walter and Eden both at once; "that's capital."
"Let me see," said Walter; "there are Jones and Harpour—brutes certainly both of them; and Cradock—well, he's rather a bargee, but he's not altogether bad; and Anthony, and Franklin, who are both far jollier than they used to be; indeed I like old Franklin very much; so with you and Eden we shall get on famously."
The first few days of term passed very pleasantly. The masters met the boys in the kindliest spirit, and the boys, fresh from home and with the sweet influences of home still playing over them, did not begin at once to reweave the ravelled threads of evil school tradition. They were all on good terms with each other and with themselves, full of good resolutions, cheerful, and happy.
All our boys had got their removes. Walter had won a double remove and was now under his friend Mr Percival. Kenrick was in the second fifth, and Power, young as he was, had now attained the upper fifth, which stands next to the dignity of the monitors and the sixth.
The first Sunday of term was a glorious day of early spring, and the boys, according to their custom, scattered themselves in various groups in the grounds about Saint Winifred's School. The favourite place of resort was a broad green field at the back of the buildings, shaded by noble trees, and half encircled by a bend of the river. Here, on a fine Sunday, between dinner and afternoon school, you were sure to find the great majority of the boys walking arm in arm by twos and threes, or sitting with books on the willow trunks that overhung the stream, or stretched out at full length upon the grass, and lazily learning Scripture repetition.
It was a sweet spot and a pleasant time; but Walter generally preferred his beloved seashore; and on this afternoon he was sitting there talking to Power, while Eden, perched on the top of a piece of rock close by, kept murmuring to himself his afternoon lesson. The conversation of the two boys turned chiefly on the holidays which were just over, and Power was asking Walter about his visit to Kenrick's house.
"How did you enjoy the visit, Walter?"
"Very much for some things. Mrs Kenrick is the sweetest lady you ever saw."
"But Ken is always abusing Fuzby—isn't that the name?"
"Yes; it isn't a particularly jolly place, certainly, but he doesn't make the best of it; he makes up his mind to detest it."
"O, I don't know. They didn't treat his father well. His father was curate of the place."
"As far as I've seen, Fuzby isn't singular in that respect. It's no easy thing in most places for a poor clergyman to keep on good terms with his people."
"Yes; but Ken's father does seem to have been abominably treated." And Walter proceeded to tell Power the parts of Mr Kenrick's history which Kenrick had told him.
When he had finished the story he observed that Eden had shut up his book and was listening intently.
"Hallo, Arty," said Walter, "I didn't mean you to hear."
"Didn't you? I'm so sorry. I really didn't know you meant to be talking secrets, for you weren't talking particularly low."
"The noise of the waves prevents that. But never mind; I don't suppose it's any secret. Ken never told me not to mention it. Only, of course, you mustn't tell any one, you know, as it clearly isn't a thing to be talked about."
"No," said Eden; "I won't mention it, of course. So other people have unhappy homes as well as me," he added in a low tone.
"What, isn't your home happy, Arty?" asked Power.
Eden shook his head. "It used to be, but this holidays mamma married again. She married Colonel Braemar—and I can't bear him." The words were said so energetically as to leave no doubt that he had some grounds for the dislike; but Power said—
"Hush, Arty, you must try to like him. Are you sure you know your Rep. perfectly?"
"Then let's take a turn till the bell rings."
While this conversation was going on by the shore, a very different scene was being enacted in the Croft, as the field was called which I above described.
It happened that Jones, and one of his set, named Mackworth, were walking up and down the Croft in one direction, while Kenrick and Whalley, one of his friends, were pacing up and down the same avenue in the opposite direction, so that the four boys passed each other every five minutes. The first time they met, Kenrick could not help noticing that Jones and Mackworth nudged each other derisively as he passed, and looked at him with a glance unmistakably impudent. This rather surprised him, though he was on bad terms with them both. Kenrick had not forgotten how grossly Jones had bullied him when he was a new boy, and before he had risen out of the sphere in which Jones could dare to bully him with impunity. He was now so high in the school as to be well aware that Jones would be nearly as much afraid to touch him as he always was to annoy any one of his own size and strength; and Kenrick had never hesitated to show Jones the quiet but quite measureless contempt which he felt for his malice and meanness. Mackworth was a bully of another stamp; he was rather a clever fellow, set himself up for an aristocrat on the strength of being second cousin to a baronet, studied "De Brett's Peerage," dressed as faultlessly as Tracy himself, and affected at all times a studious politeness of manner. He had been a good deal abroad, and as he constantly adopted the airs and the graces of a fashionable person, the boys had felicitously named him French Varnish. But Mackworth was a dangerous enemy, for he had one of the most biting tongues in the whole school, and there were few things which he enjoyed more than making a young boy wince under his cutting words. When Kenrick came to school, his wardrobe, the work of Fuzbeian artists, was not only well worn—for his mother was too poor to give him new clothes—but also of a somewhat odd cut; and accordingly the very first words Mackworth had ever addressed to Kenrick were—
"You new fellow, what's your father?"
"My father is dead," said Kenrick in a low tone.
"Then what was he?"
"He was curate of Fuzby."
"Curate was he; a slashing trade that," was the brutal reply. "Curate of Fuzby? are you sure it isn't Fusty?"
Kenrick looked at him with a strange glowing of the eyes, which, so far from disconcerting Mackworth, only made him chuckle at the success of his taunt. He determined to exercise the lancet of his tongue again, and let fresh blood if possible.
"Well, glare-eyes! so you didn't like my remark?"
Kenrick made no answer, and Mackworth continued—
"What charity-boy has left you his off-cast clothes? May I ask if your jacket was intended to serve also as a looking-glass? and is it the custom in your part of the country not to wear breeches below the knees?"