There was a corrosive malice in this speech so intense that Kenrick never saw Mackworth without recalling the shame and anguish it had caused. Fresh from home, full of quick sensibility, feeling ridicule with great keenness, Kenrick was too much pained by these words even for anger. He had hung his head and slunk away. For days after, until, at his most earnest entreaty, his mother had incurred much privation to afford him a new and better suit, he had hardly dared to lift up his face. He had fancied himself a mark for ridicule, and the sense of shabbiness and poverty had gone far to crush his spirit. After a time he recovered, but never since that day had he deigned to speak to Mackworth a single word.
He was surprised, therefore, at the obtrusive impertinence of these two fellows, and when next he passed them, he surveyed them from head to foot with a haughty and indignant stare. The moment after he heard them burst into a laugh, and begin talking very loudly.
"It was the rummiest vehicle you ever saw," he heard Jones say; "a cart, I assure you—nothing more or less, and drawn by the very scraggiest scarecrow of a blind horse."
He caught no more as the distance between them lessened, but he heard Jones bubbling over with a stupid giggle at some remark of Mackworth's about glare-eyes being drawn by a blind horse.
"How rude those fellows are, Ken," said Whalley; "what do they mean by it?"
"Dogs!" said Kenrick, stamping angrily, while his face was scarlet with rage.
"If they're trying to annoy you, Ken," said Whalley, who was a very gentle, popular boy, "don't give them the triumph of seeing that they succeed. They're only Varnish and White-Feather—we all know what they're like."
"Dogs!" said Kenrick again; "I should like to pitch into them."
"Let's leave them, and go and sit by the river, Ken."
"No, Whalley. I'm sure they mean to insult me, and I want to hear how, and why."
There was no difficulty in doing this, for Jones and his ally were again approaching, and Jones was talking purposely loud.
"I never could bear the fellow; gives himself such airs."
"Yes; only fancy going to meet his friends in a hay-waggon! What a start! He! he! he!"
"It's such impudence in a low fellow like that..." and here Kenrick lost some words, for, as they passed, Jones lowered his voice; but he heard, only too plainly, the words "father" and "dishonest parson"—the rest he could supply with fatal facility.
For half an instant he stood paralysed, his eyes burning with fury, but his face pale as ashes. The next second he sprang upon Jones, seized with both hands the collar of his coat, shook him, flung him violently to the ground, and kicked his hat, which had fallen off in the struggle, straight into the river.
"What the deuce do you mean by that?" asked Jones, picking himself up. "I'll just give you—fifth-form, or no fifth-form—the best licking you ever had."
"You'll just not presume to lay upon him the tip of your finger," said Whalley, who was quite as big as Jones, and was very fond of Kenrick.
"Not for flinging me down and kicking my hat into the water?"
"No, Jones," said Whalley, quietly. "I don't know what you were talking about, but you clearly meant to insult him, from your manner."
"What's the row? what's up?" said a number of boys, who began to throng round.
"Only a plebeian splutter of rage from our well-bred friend there," said Mackworth, pointing contemptuously at Kenrick, who stood with dilated nostrils, still heaving with rage.
"But what about?"
"Heaven only knows apropos of just nothing."
"You're a liar," said Kenrick impetuously. "You know that you told lies and insulted me; and if you say it again, I'll do the same again."
"Only try," said Jones, in a surly tone.
"Insulted you?" said Mackworth in bland accents. "We were talking about a dishonest parson, as far as I remember. Pray, are you a dishonest parson?"
"You'd better take care," said Kenrick with fierce energy.
"Take care of what? We didn't ask you to listen to our conversation; listeners hear no—"
"Bosh!" interposed Whalley; "you know you were talking at the top of your voices, and we couldn't help hearing you."
"And what then? Mayn't we talk as loud as we like?—I assure you, on my word of honour," he said, turning to the group around them, "we didn't even mention Kenrick's name. We were merely talking about a certain dishonest parson who rode in hay-carts, when the fellow sprang on Jones like a tiger-cat. I'm sure, if he's any objection to our talking of such unpleasant people we won't do so in his hearing," said Mackworth, in an excess of venomous politeness.
"French Varnish," said Whalley, with honest contempt, moved beyond his wont with indignation, though he did not understand the cause of Kenrick's anger. "I wonder why Kenrick should even condescend to notice what such fellows as you and Jones say. Come along, Ken; you know what we all think about those two;" and, putting his arm in Kenrick's, he almost dragged him from the scene, while Jones and Mackworth (conscious that there was not a single other boy who would not condemn their conduct as infamous when they understood it) were not sorry to move off in another direction.
But when Whalley had taken Kenrick to a quiet place by the river side, and asked him "what had made him so furious?" he returned no answer, only hiding his face in his hands. He had indeed been cruelly insulted, wounded in his tenderest sensibilities; he felt that his best affections had been wantonly and violently lacerated. It made him more miserable than he had ever felt before, and he could not tolerate the wretched thought that his father's sad history, probably in some distorted form, had been, by some means or other, bruited about among unsympathising hearers, and made the common property of the school. He knew well indeed the natural delicacy of feeling which would prevent any other boy, except Jones or Mackworth, from ever alluding to it even in the remotest way. But that they should know at all the shameful charge which had broken his father's heart, and brought temporary suspicion and dishonour on his name, was gall and wormwood to him.
Yet, by what possible means could, this have become known to them? Kenrick knew of one way only. He thought over what Jones had said. "A cart and blind horse—ah! I see; there is only one person who could have told him about that. So, Walter Evson, you amuse yourself and Jones by making fun of our being poor, and by ridiculing what you saw in our house; a very good laugh you've all had over it in the dormitory, I've no doubt."
Kenrick did not know that Jones had seen them from the window of the railway-carriage, and that as he had been visiting an aunt at no great distance, he had heard there the particulars of Mr Kenrick's history. He clutched angrily at the conclusion, that Walter had betrayed him, and turned him into derision. Naturally passionate, growing up during the wilful years of opening boyhood without a father's wise control, he did not stop to inquire, but leapt at once to a false and obstinate inference. "It must be so; it clearly is so," he thought; "yet I could not have believed it of him;" and he burst into a flood of bitter and angry tears.
The fact was that Kenrick, though he would hardly have admitted it even to himself, was in a particularly ready mood to take offence. He had observed that Walter disapproved of his manner towards his mother, and his sensitive pride had already been ruffled by the fact that Walter had exercised the moral courage of pointing out, though in the most delicate and modest way, the brusquerie which he reprobated. At the time he had said little, but in reality this had made him very, very angry; and the more so because he was jealous enough to fancy that he now stood second only, or even third, in Walter's estimation, and that Power and Henderson had deposed him from the place which he once held as his chief friend; and that Walter had also usurped his old place in their affections. This displeased him greatly, for he was not one who could contentedly take the second place. He could not have had a more excellent companion than the manly and upright Whalley; but in his close intimacy with him he had rather hoped to pique Walter, and show him that his society was not indispensable to his happiness. But Walter's open and generous mind was quite incapable of understanding this unworthy motive, and with feelings far better trained than those of Kenrick, he never felt the slightest qualm of this small jealousy.
"Never mind, my dear fellow," said Whalley, patting him on the back; "why should you care so much because two such fellows as White-feather and Varnish try to be impudent. I shouldn't care the snap of a finger for anything they could say."
"It isn't that, Whalley, it isn't that," said Kenrick proudly, drying his tears. "But how did those fellows know the things they were hinting at? Only one person ever heard them, and he must have betrayed them to laugh at me behind my back. It's that that makes me miserable."
"But whom do you mean?"
"The excellent Evson," said Kenrick bitterly. "And mark me, Whalley, I'll never speak to him again."
"Evson," said Whalley, "I don't believe he's at all the fellow to do it. Are you certain?"
"Quite. No one else could know the things."
"But surely you'll ask him first?"
"It's no use," answered Kenrick, gloomily; "but I will, in order that he may understand that I have found him out."
CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.
A BROKEN FRIENDSHIP.
Everard, Everard, which was the truest, God in the future, and Time will show, Ne'er will I stoop to defence or excuses— If you despise me—be it so! But, my Everard, still (for I love you) This to the end my prayer shall be— Ne'er may you be so sternly treated, Never be judged as you judge me.—F.
Kenrick did not happen to meet Walter during the remainder of that Sunday, because Walter was chiefly sitting in Mr Percival's room, but the next day, still nursing the smouldering fire of his anger, he determined to get the first opportunity he could of meeting him, in order that he might tax him with his supposed false friendship and breach of confidence.
Accordingly, when school was over next day, he went with Whalley to look for him in the playground. Walter was walking with Henderson, never dreaming that anything unpleasant was likely to happen. Henderson was the first to catch sight of them, and as he never saw Whalley without chaffing him in some ridiculous way or other—for Whalley's charming good humour made him a capital subject for a joke—he at once began, as might have been expected, to sing—
"O Whalley, Whalley up the bank, And Whalley, Whalley down the brae, And Whalley, Whalley, by yon burnside—"
whereupon his song was interrupted by Whalley's giving chase to him, which did not end till he had been led a dance half round the school buildings, while the ground was left clear for Kenrick's expostulations.
Walter came up to him as cordially as usual, but stopped short in surprise, when he caught the scornful lowering expression of his friend's face; but as Kenrick did not speak at once, he took him by the hand, and said, "Why, Ken, what's the matter?"
Kenrick very coldly withdrew his hand.
"Evson, I came to ask you if—whether—if you've been telling to any of the fellows all about me; all I told you about my father?"
As Walter instantly remembered that he had mentioned the story to Power, he could not at once say "No," but was about to explain.
"Telling any of the fellows all about you and your father?" he repeated; "I didn't know—"
"Please, I don't want any excuses. If you haven't, it's easy to say 'No'; if you have, I only want you to say 'Yes.'"
"But you never told me that I wasn't to—"
"Yes or no?" said Kenrick, with an impatient gesture.
"Well, I suppose I must say 'Yes,' then; but hear me explain. I only mentioned it to—"
"That's enough, thank you. I don't want to hear any more. I don't want to know whom you mentioned it to;" and Kenrick turned short on his heel, and began to walk off.
"But hear me, Ken," said Walter eagerly, walking after him, and laying his hand on his shoulder.
"My name's Kenrick," said he, shaking off Walter's hand. "You may apologise if you like; but even then I shan't speak to you again."
"I have nothing to apologise for. I only told—"
"I tell you I don't care whom you 'only' told. It's 'only' all over the school. And it's not the 'only' time you've behaved dishonourably."
"I don't understand you," said Walter, who was rapidly getting into as great a passion as Kenrick.
"Betraying confidence is almost as bad as breaking open desks, and burning—" Such a taunt, coming from Kenrick, was base and cruel, and he knew it to be so.
"Thank you for the allusion," said Walter; "I deserve it, I own, but I'm surprised, Kenrick, that you, of all others; should make it. That, I admit, was an act of sin and strange folly for which I must always feel humiliated, and implore to be forgiven. And every generous person has long ago forgiven me and forgotten it. But in this case, if you weren't in such a silly rage, I could show you that I've done nothing wrong. Only I know you wouldn't listen now, and I shan't condescend—"
"Condescend! I like that," said Kenrick, interrupting him with a scornful laugh, which made Walter's blood tingle. "You condescend to me, forsooth." Higher words might have ensued, but at this moment Henderson, still pursued by Whalley, came running up, and seeing that something had gone wrong, he said to Kenrick—
"Hallo, Damon! what has Pythias been saying to you?"
Kenrick vouchsafed no answer, but turning his back on them, went off abruptly.
"He's very angry with you, Evson," said Whalley, "because he thinks you've been telling Jones and that lot his family secrets."
"I've done nothing whatever of the kind," said Walter, indignantly. "I admit that I did thoughtlessly mention it to Power; and one other overheard me. It never occurred to me for a moment that Kenrick would mind. You know I wouldn't dream of speaking about it ill-naturedly, and if that fellow wasn't blind with rage I could have explained it to him in about five minutes."
"If you merely mentioned it to Power, I'm sure Kenrick would not so much mind. I'll tell him about it when he's cooler," said Whalley.
"As you like, Whalley; Kenrick has no business to suspect me in that shameful way, and to abuse me, and treat me as if I was quite beneath his notice, and cast old faults in my teeth," answered Walter, with deep vexation. "Let him find out the truth for himself. He can, if he takes the trouble."
Both the friends were thoroughly angry with each other; each of them imagined himself deeply wronged by the other, and each of them, in his irritation, used strong and unguarded expressions which lost nothing by repetition. Thus the "rift of difference" was cleft deeper and deeper between them; and, chiefly through Kenrick's pride and precipitancy, a disagreement which might at first have been easily adjusted became a serious, and threatened to become a permanent, quarrel.
"Power, did you repeat what I told you about Kenrick to any one?" asked Walter, next time he met him.
"Repeat it?" said Power; "why, Walter, do you suppose I would? What do you take me for?"
"All right, Power; I know that you couldn't do such a thing; but Kenrick declares I've spread it all over the school, and has just been abusing me like a pickpocket." Walter told him the circumstances of the case, and Power, displeased for Walter's sake, and sorry that two real friends should be separated by what he could not but regard as a venial error on Walter's part, advised him to write a note to Kenrick and explain the true facts of the case again.
"But what's the use, Power?" said Walter; "he would not listen to my explanation, and said as many hard things of me as he could."
"Yes, in a passion. He'll be sorry for them directly he's calm; for you know what a generous fellow he is. You can forgive them, I'm sure, Walter, and win the pleasure of being the first to make an advance."
Walter, after a little struggle with his resentment, wrote a note, and gave it to Whalley to give to Kenrick next time he saw him. It ran as follows:—
"My dear Kenrick,—I think you are a little hard upon me. Who can have told Jones anything about you and your home secrets I don't know. He could not have learnt them through me. It's true I did mention something about your father to Power when I was talking in the most affectionate way about you. I'm very sorry for this, but I never dreamt it would make you so angry. Power is the last person to repeat such a thing. Pray forgive me, and believe me always to be—
"Your affectionate friend, Walter Evson."
Kenrick's first impulse on receiving this note was to seek Walter on the earliest occasion, and "make it up" with him in the sincerest and heartiest way he could. But suddenly the sight of Jones and Mackworth vividly reminded his proud and sensitive nature of the scene that had caused him such acute pain. He did not see how Jones could have learnt about the vehicle, at any rate, without Walter having laughed over it to some one. Instead of seeking further explanation, or thinking no evil and hoping all things, he again gave reins to his anger and suspicion, and wrote:—
"I am bound to believe your explanation as far as it goes. But I have reason to know that something more must have passed than what you admit yourself to have said. I am astonished that you should have treated me so unworthily. I would not have done so to you. I will try to forget this unpleasant business; but it is only in a sense that I can sign myself again.
"Your affectionate friend. H. Kenrick."
Walter had not expected this cold, ungracious reply. When Whalley gave him Kenrick's note he tore it open eagerly, anticipating a frank renewal of their former friendship; but a red spot rose to his cheeks as he saw the insinuation that he had not told the whole truth, and as he tore up the note, he indignantly determined to take no further step towards a reconciliation.
Yet as he thought how many pleasant hours they had spent together, and how firmly on the whole Kenrick had stood by him in his troubles, and how lovable a boy he really was, Walter could not but grieve over this difference. He found himself often yearning to be on the old terms with Kenrick; he felt that at heart he still loved him well; and after a few days he again stifled all pride, and wrote:—
"Dear Ken,—Is it possible that you will not believe my word? If you still feel any doubt about what I have said, do come and see me in Power's study. I am sure that I would convince you in five minutes that you must be under some mistake; and if I have done you any wrong, or if you think that I have done you any wrong, Ken, I'll apologise sincerely without any pride or reserve. I miss your society very much, and I still am and shall be, whatever you may think and whatever you may say of me.—Yours affectionately, W.E."
As he naturally did not wish any third person to know what was passing between them he did not entrust this note to any one, but himself placed it between the leaves of an Herodotus which he knew that Kenrick would use at the next school. He had barely put it there when a boy who wanted an Herodotus happened to come into the classroom, and seeing Kenrick's lying on the table, coolly walked off with it, after the manner of boys, regardless of the inconvenience to which the owner might be put. As this boy was reading a different part of Herodotus from that which Kenrick was reading, Walter's note lay between the leaves where it had been placed, unnoticed. When the book was done with, the boy forgot it, and left it in school, where, after kicking about for some days unowned, it was consigned, with other stray volumes, to a miscellaneous cupboard, where it lay undisturbed for years. Kenrick supposed that it was lost, or that some one had "bagged" it; and, unknown to Walter, his note never reached the hands for which it had been destined. In vain he waited for a reply; in vain he looked for some word or sign to show that Kenrick had received his letter. But Kenrick still met him in perfect silence, and with averted looks; and Walter, surprised at his obstinate unkindness, thought that he could do nothing more to disabuse him of his false impression, and was the more ready to forego a friendship which by every honourable means he had endeavoured to retain.
Poor Kenrick! he felt as much as Walter did that he had lost one of his truest and most pleasant friends, and he, too, often yearned for the old intercourse between them. Even his best friends, Power, Henderson, and Whalley, all thought him wrong; and in consequence a coolness rose between them and him. He felt thoroughly miserable, and did not know where to turn; yet none the less he ostentatiously abstained from making the slightest overture to Walter; and whereas the two boys might have enjoyed together many happy hours, they felt a continual embarrassment at being obliged to meet each other very frequently in awkward silence, and apparent unconsciousness of each other's presence. This silent annoyance recurred continually at all hours of the day. They threw away the golden opportunity of smoothing and brightening for each other their schoolboy years. It is sad that since true friends are so few, such slight differences, such trivial misunderstandings, should separate them for years. If a man's penitence for past follies be humble and sincere, his crimes and failings may well be buried in a generous oblivion; but, alas! his own friends, and they of his own household, are too often the last to forgive and to forget. Too often they do not condone the fault till years of unhappiness and disappointment have intervened; till the wounds which they have inflicted are cicatrised; till the sinner's loneliness has taught him to look for other than human sympathy; till he is too old, too sorrowful, too heartbroken, too near the Great White Throne, to expect any joy from human friendship, or any consolation in human love.
Twice did chance throw the friends into situations in which a reconciliation would have been easy. Once, when the school was assembled to hear the result of some composition prizes, they found themselves accidentally seated, one on each side of Power. The mottoes on the envelopes which were sent in with the successful exercises were always read out before the envelope was opened, and in one of the prizes for which there had been many competitors, the punning motto, Ezousiazo, told them at once that Power had again achieved a brilliant success. The Great Hall was always a scene for the triumphs of this happy boy. Both Walter and Kenrick turned at the same moment to congratulate him, Walter seizing his right-hand and Kenrick his left. Power, after thanking them for their warm congratulations, grasped both their hands, and drew them towards each other. Kenrick was aware of what he meant, and his heart fluttered as he now hoped to regain a lost friend; but just at that moment Walter's attention happened to be attracted by Eden, who, though sitting some benches off, wished to telegraph his congratulations to Power. Unfortunately, therefore, Walter turned his head away, before he knew that Kenrick's hand was actually touching his. He did not perceive Power's kind intention until the opportunity was lost; and Kenrick, misinterpreting his conduct, had flushed with sudden pride, and hastily withdrawn his hand. On the second occasion Walter had gone up the hill to the churchyard, by the side of which was a pleasant stile, overshadowed by aged elms, on which he often sat reading or enjoying the breeze and the view. It suddenly occurred to him that he would look at Daubeny's grave, to see if the stone had yet been put up. He found that it had just been raised, and he was sorrowfully reading the inscription, when a footstep roused him from his mournful recollections. A glance showed him that Kenrick was approaching, evidently with the same purpose. He came slowly to the grave and read the epitaph. Their eyes met in a friendly gaze. A sudden impulse to reconciliation seized them both, and they were on the verge of shaking hands, when three boys came sauntering through the churchyard—one of them was the ill-omened Jones. The association jarred on both their minds, and turning away without a word they walked home in different directions.
CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.
Et tibi quae Samios diduxit littera ramos, Surgentem dextro monstravit limite callem.
Pers. three 56.
There has the Samian Y's instructive make, Pointed the road thy doubtful foot should take; There warned thy raw and yet unpractised youth, To tread the rising right-hand path of truth.
They went home in different directions, and morally too their paths henceforth were widely diverse. The Pythagoreans chose the letter Y as their symbol for a good and evil life. The broad, sloping, almost perpendicular left-hand stroke is an apt emblem for the facile downward descent into Avernus; the precipitous and narrow right-hand stroke aptly presents the slippery, uphillward struggle of a virtuous course I remember to have seen, as a child, another and a similar emblem which impressed me much. On the one side of the picture a snail was slowly creeping up a steep path; on the other a stag rushed and bounded unrestrained down the sheer proclivities of a wide and darkening hill. Improvement is ever slow and difficult; degeneracy is too often startling rapid. From henceforth, as we shall have occasion to see hereafter, Walter was progressing from strength to strength, adding to faith virtue, and to virtue temperance, and to temperance knowledge, and to knowledge brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness charity—
"Springing from crystal step to crystal step Of the bright air—;"
while our poor Kenrick was gradually descending deeper and deeper into darkness and despair.
Yet he loved Walter, and sighed for the old intimacy, while he was daily abusing his character and affecting to scorn his conduct. In short, a change came over Kenrick. There had always been a little worm at the root of his admiration of and affection for Walter. It was jealousy. He did not like to hear him praised so loudly by his friends and schoolfellows; and besides this he was vexed that Walter, Henderson, and Power, were more closely allied to each other than to him. He had struggled successfully against these unworthy feelings so long as Walter was his friend, but now that he had allowed himself to seek a quarrel with him they grew up with tremendous luxuriance. And he was so thoroughly in the wrong, and so obstinate in persisting to misunderstand and misrepresent his former friend, that gradually, by his pertinacity and injustice, he alienated the regard of all those who had once been his chosen companions. Even Whalley grew cool towards him. He had to look elsewhere for associates, and unhappily he looked in the wrong direction.
Meanwhile Walter, although he constantly grieved at the loss of a friend, was otherwise very happy. The boys at Saint Winifred's were not overworked; there was enough work to stimulate but not to oppress them, and Walter's work grew more promising every day. He was fond of praise, and Mr Percival, while he always took care so to praise him as to obviate the danger of conceit, was not so scant of his approbation as most men are. His warm and generous appreciation encouraged and rewarded Walter's exertions, so that he was quite the "star" of his form. Many other boys did well under Mr Percival. There was a bright and cheerful emulation among them all, and they took especial pains with their exercises, which Mr Percival varied in every possible way, so as to call out the imagination and the fancy, to exercise both the reason and the understanding, and to test the powers of attention and research. His method was so successful that it was often a real pleasure to look over the exercises of his form, and he had adopted one plan for keeping up the boys' interest in them, which was eminently useful. All the best exercises, if they attained to any positive excellence, were sent to Dr Lane; and at the end of the half-year, a number, printed opposite to the boy's name, showed how often he had thus been "sent up for good." If in one fortnight four separate exercises were so sent up, the form obtained, by this proof of industry, the remission of an hour's work, and as this honour could never be cheaply won it was highly prized. Now two or three times Walter's unusually brilliant exercises had been the chief contribution towards winning these remitted hours, and this success caused him double happiness, because it necessarily made him a general favourite with the form. Henderson (who had only got a single remove at the beginning of the term, but had worked so hard in his new form that he had succeeded in his purpose of winning a remove during the term, and so being again in the same division with Walter) did his best to earn the same distinction, but he only succeeded when the exercise happened to be an English one, and on a subject which gave some opportunity for his sense of the ludicrous. He generally contrived to introduce some purely fictitious "Eastern Apologue" as he called it; and as he rarely managed to keep the correct Oriental colouring, his combinations of Sultans, Tchokadars, Odaliques, and white bears, were sometimes so inexpressibly absurd that Mr Percival, to avoid fits of laughter, was obliged to look over his exercises alone. Nor were his eccentricities always confined to his English themes; his Latin verses were occasionally no less extraordinary, and in one set, on the suicide of Ajax, the last few lines consisted of fragmentary words interspersed here and there with numerous stars—a phenomenon which he explained to Mr Percival in the gravest manner possible, by saying that here the voice of Ajax was interrupted by sobs!
Happy in his work, Walter was no less happy in his play. The glorious mid-day bathes on the hard sparkling yellow sands when the sea was smooth as the blue of heaven, and clear as transparent glass—the long afternoons on the green and sunny cricket field—the strolls over the mountains, and lazy readings under a tree in the fragrant fir-groves— all invigorated him, and gave to his face the health, and to his heart the mirth, which told of an innocent life and a vigorous frame.
But it must not be supposed that he escaped troubles of his own, and his first trouble rose out of the kind boyish protectorate which he had established over little Eden's interests.
His rescue of Eden from the clutches of a bad lot was one of Walter's proudest and gladdest reminiscences. Instead of moping about miserable and lonely, and rapidly developing into a rank harvest the evil seeds which his tormentors had tried to plant in his young heart, Eden was now the gayest of the gay. Secure from most annoyances by possessing the refuge of Power's study, and the certainty of Walter's help, he soon began to assert his own position among all the boys of his own age and standing. No longer crushed and intimidated by bullying and bad companions, he was lively, happy, and universally liked, but never happier than when Walter and Power admitted him, as they constantly did, into their own society.
Harpour and Jones, in their hatred against Walter, had an especial reason to keep Eden as far as they could under subjection, in addition to their general propensity to bully and domineer. They did not care to torment him when Walter was present, because with him, in spite of their hostility, they felt it wise to maintain an armed neutrality. But whenever Walter was absent, they felt themselves safe. None of the other boys in their dormitory interfered except Henderson, and his interposition, though always generous, was both morally and physically weaker than Walter's. He would not, indeed, allow any positive cruelty, but he was not thoughtful or stable enough to see the duty of interfering to prevent other and hardly less tolerable persecutions.
It so happened that at a game of cricket Walter by accident had received a blow on the knee from the cricket-ball bowled by Franklin, who was a tremendously hard and swift bowler. The hurt which this had caused was so severe that he was ordered by Dr Keith to sleep on the ground-floor in the cottage for a fortnight, in order to save him the exertion of running up and down so many stairs. The opportunity of this prolonged absence was maliciously seized by the tyrants of Number 10; but Eden bore up far more manfully than he had done in the old days. He was quite a different, and a far braver little fellow, thanks to Walter, than he had been the term before; and, looking forward to his friend's speedy return, he determined to bear his troubles without saying a word about them. He was far more bullied during this period than Henderson knew of, for some of the threats and commands by which he was coerced were given in Henderson's absence, as he was allowed to sit up half an hour later than those in the form below. For instance, Eden was ordered never to look at a book or to finish learning his lessons in the bedroom; and he was strictly forbidden to get up until the second bell rang in the morning. If he disobeyed these orders, he was soused with water, pelted with shoes, and beaten with slippers, and on the whole he found it better to be content to lose place in form, and to get impositions for missing chapel, than to attempt to brave these hindrances. When, however, he had been late two mornings running, Henderson got the secret out of him, and at once entreated Harpour and Jones to abandon this cruelty, throwing out hints that if they refused, he would take some measures to get it stopped by one of the monitors. If Eden had been plucky enough to embrace his natural right of obtaining protection from one of his own schoolfellows in the sixth, he would have been efficiently defended. Appealing to a monitor in order to secure immunity from disgraceful and wholly intolerable bullying is a very different thing from telling a master; and although the worst boys tried to get it traditionally regarded as an unmitigated form of sneaking, yet the public opinion of the best part of the school would have been found to justify it. But the two bullies knew that Eden would never have the heart to venture on this appeal; and although they desisted from this particular practice at Henderson's request, they knew that he was too wavering a character, and too fond of popularity to be easily induced to make them his open enemies. If Eden had only told Walter, he knew that Walter would have sheltered him from unkindness at all hazards; but he was a thoroughly grateful child, and did not wish to get Walter into any difficulties on his account. So, in schoolboy phrase, there was nothing left for him but to "grin and bear it;" which he heroically did, earnestly longing for Walter's return to the dormitory as for some golden age. But his trials were not over yet.
Is there in human nature an instinctive cruelty? That there is in it—when ill-trained—an absorbing selfishness, a total absence of all tenderness and delicate consideration, is abundantly obvious. But besides this, there is often an astonishing and almost incredible tendency to take positive pleasure in the infliction of pain. Now it so happens that Jones and Harpour were bad boys, as I have shown already, in the worst sense of the word, and yet the real enjoyment which they felt in making little Eden's life miserable is an inexplicable phenomenon. One would have thought that the mere sight of the little boy, his tender age; his delicate look, his extreme gentleness and courtesy of manner, and the mute appealing glance in his blue eyes, would have sufficed to protect him from wanton outrage. It did suffice with most boys; but if anything, it added zest and piquancy to the persecutions of those two big bullies.
Reader, have you ever been "taken prisoner?" that is to say, have you ever been awaked from a sweet sleep by feeling an intolerable agony in your right toe, and finding that it is caused by somebody having tied a string tight round it without waking you, and then pulling the said string with all his force? If not, congratulate yourself thereupon, and accept the assurance of one who has undergone it, that the pain caused by this process is absolutely excruciating. It was this pain which made Eden start up with a scream during one of the nights I speak of, and the cry rose in intensity as he grew fully awake to the sensation.
"Hallo! what's the row, Eden?" said Henderson, starting up in bed; but the child could only continue his screams, and Henderson, springing out of bed stumbled against the string, and instantly (for the trick was a familiar one) knew what was being done. As quick as thought he seized the string with his right-hand and, by pulling it towards Eden, slackened the horrible tension of it, while with his left-hand he rapidly took out a knife from his coat pocket and cut the cord in two.
Jones and Harpour, tittering at the success of their machination, were standing with the string in their hands just outside the door in the passage, and the sudden jerk showed them that the string was severed.
"I'll tell you what it is," said Henderson to them, with the most deliberate emphasis, "I don't care if you do lick me for telling you the truth, but you two are just a couple of the greatest brutes in the school."
"What's the matter, Flip?" asked Franklin, from his bed, in a drowsy tone.
"Matter! why those two brutes," said Henderson, with strong indignation, "have been taking poor little Eden prisoner, and hurting him awfully."
"What a confounded shame!" said Franklin and Anthony in one voice; for they, too, though they were sturdy fellows, had had some experience of the bullies in their earlier school days; and of late, following Walter's example, they had always energetically opposed this maltreatment of Eden.
"Draw it mild, you three, or we'll kick you," said Harpour.
"But we won't draw it mild," said Franklin; "it's quite true; you and Jones are brutes to bully that poor little fellow so. He never hurt you."
"What an uppish lot you nips are," said Harpour; "it's all that fellow Evson's doing. Hang me, if I don't take it out of you;" and he advanced with a slipper in his hand towards Franklin.
"Touch him if you dare," said Henderson; "if you do Anthony and I will stick by him; and, Cradock, you'll see fair play, won't you?"
"Pooh," said Cradock. "I'm asleep. Fight it out by yourselves."
"Never mind these little fools, Harpour," said Jones; "they're beneath your notice. Besides, it's time to turn off to sleep." For Jones had earned his soubriquet by always showing a particularly large white feather when there was any chance of a fray.
"Phew, Jones; none of us would give much for you," said Henderson contemptuously. "Little fools, indeed! You know very well that you daren't lay a finger on the least of us, whether we're beneath your notice or no. An ostrich is a big bird, but its white feathers are chiefly of use in helping it to run away." He went to Eden's bedside, for the child was still sobbing with pain, and was evidently in a great state of nervous agitation.
"Never mind, Eden," he said, in a kind and soothing voice; "think no more of it; we won't let them take you prisoner again." And as he spoke he took his place by Eden's side, and looked with angry defiance at the two bullies.
"Those fellows hurt me so," said Eden, in an apologetic tone, bravely trying to check his tears. "Oh, I wish Evson would come back."
"He is coming back in a night or two; his knee is nearly well. I haven't helped you enough, poor little fellow. I'm so sorry. I say, you brutes," he continued, raising his voice, "next time you bully Eden, I'll tell Somers as sure as fate."
"Tell away then," jeered Harpour; "better go and tell him before your shoes wear out."
"Ah, you'll change your tone, Master Harpour, when you've been well whopped," answered Henderson.
"I should like to see Somers or any one else whop me," said Harpour, in an extremely "Ercles vein"; "by Jove! Lane himself shouldn't do it."
"I'll 'oh, indeed,' you!" said Harpour, getting out of bed; but here Cradock interfered, seized Harpour with his brawny arm, and said—
"There, that's badgering enough for one night. Do let a fellow go to sleep."
Harpour got into bed again, and Henderson, once more reassuring Eden that he should not be again molested, followed his example. But, half with fright and half with pain, the poor boy lay awake most of the night, and when he did fall asleep he constantly started up again with troubled dreams.
Next morning the two parties in the dormitory would hardly speak to each other. They rose at daggers drawn, and in the highest dudgeon. Henderson was glad Anthony and Franklin had openly espoused the right side, and was pleased at anything which drew them out of the pernicious influence of the other two. This wasn't by any means a pleasant state of things for Jones and Harpour, and it made them hate Eden, the innocent cause of it, more than ever. Moreover, Harpour who was not accustomed to be openly bearded, did not choose to let the reins of despotism slip so easily out of his hands, and he determined to avenge himself yet, and to show that neither entreaties nor threats should prevent him from being as great a bully as he chose.
"Understand you, Henderson," he said, while they were dressing; "that I shall do exactly what I like to that little muff there."
Eden reddened and said nothing; but Henderson, looking up from his wash-hand basin, replied—"And understand you, Harpour, that if you bully him any more, I'll tell the head of the school."
Harpour made a spring at Henderson to thrash him for these words, but again the burly Cradock interposed by saying, good-humouredly, as he put himself in Harpour's way, "There, stop squabbling, for goodness' sake, you two, and let's have a little peace. Flip, you shut up."
CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.
TO THE RESCUE.
Alas! how easily things go wrong!
And there follows a mist and a weeping rain, And life is never the same again!
George Macdonald, Phantastes.
Eden felt an immeasurable delight when Walter was allowed to come back to the dormitory, and now he thought himself happy in a perfect security from further torment.
But the two tyrants had other views. Harpour, at once passionate and dogged, was not likely to forget that he had been thwarted and defied; and if he had been so inclined, Jones would have not allowed him to do so, but kept egging him on to show his contempt for the younger and weaker boys who had tried to check his bullying propensities. On the last occasion when he had ordered Eden to go to Dan's, Eden had taken Walter's advice, and firmly refused to go. Harpour did not think it safe to compel him, but he threw out some significant threats, which filled the little boy with vague alarm and weighed heavily on his spirits. He did not tell any one of these threats, hoping that they would end in nothing, and, in case of any emergency, trusting implicitly on Walter for a generous and efficient protection.
But the threats did not end in nothing.
One night, after the others had fallen asleep, Eden, feeling quite free from all anxiety, was sleeping more soundly and sweetly than he had done for a fortnight, when a blaze of light, flashing suddenly upon his eyes, made him start up in his bed. Harpour and Jones were taking this opportunity to fulfil their threat of frightening him. At the foot of his bed stood a figure in white, with a hideous, deformed head, blotched with scarlet; bending over him was another white figure, with an enormous black face, holding over its head a shining hand.
In an instant the boy fell back, pale as death, uttering a shriek so shrill and terrible, so full of wildness and horror, that every other boy in the dormitory sprang up, alarmed and wide awake.
Walter and Henderson leaped out of bed immediately; and to Walter, who was unprepared, the start of surprise at what he saw was so sudden, that for a moment he stood absolutely paralysed and bewildered, because the shock on the nerves had preceded the recognition, though by an infinitesimally short time. But Henderson, who knew how Jones and Harpour had been going on, and what their threats had been, instantly, and before the abrupt and unusual spectacle had power to unnerve him, saw the true state of the case, and, springing out upon the figure which stood at the end of Eden's bed, tore the mask away, stripped off the sheet, and displayed Jones's face before he had time to hide it, administering, as he did so, a hearty blow on Jones's chest, which made that hero stagger several paces back.
Although Walter saw almost at once the trick that was being played with masks, sheets, and phosphorus, yet the sudden shock upon his nerves not being absolutely co-instantaneous with the discovery, produced on him the effect of utter dizziness and horror. Henderson's prompt and vigorous onslaught aroused him to a sense of the position, and with a fierce expression of disgust and anger, he bounded upon Harpour, who, being thus suddenly attacked, dropped upon the floor the dark lantern which he held, and hastily retreated, flinging the sheet over Walter's head.
Walter had barely disentangled himself from the folds of the sheet, when an exclamation from Henderson attracted the notice of all the boys in the room, and brought them flocking round Eden's bed. Henderson had picked up the dark lantern, and was kneeling with it over the unconscious boy, whose face was so ashy white, and who, after several sharp screams, had sunk into so deep a swoon, that Henderson, unused to such sights, naturally exclaimed—
"Good God! you've killed him."
"Killed him?" repeated the others, standing aghast.
"Pooh! he's only fainted, you little fools," said Jones, who hurried up to look in Eden's face. "Here, we'll soon bring him too; Harpour, just get us some water."
"You shan't touch him, you shan't come near him," said Walter furiously; "stand back, you hateful bullies. Henderson and I will attend to him; and, depend upon it, you shall give account for this soon. What! you will come?" he continued, shaking Jones's arm violently, and then flinging him back as easily as though he had been a child; "if either you or Harpour come near the bed I'll fetch Robertson instantly. Eden would go off again in a swoon, if he saw such brutes as you when he recovered."
In such a mood Walter was not to be resisted. The two plotters, picking up their masks, retired somewhat crestfallen, and sat down on their beds, while the rest, with the utmost tenderness, adopted every means they knew to recall Eden's fluttered and agitated senses.
But his swoon was deeper than they could manage, and, growing too violently alarmed to trust themselves any longer, Henderson and Walker proposed to carry him to the sickroom, and put him at once under the care of Dr Keith. It was in vain that Jones and Harpour entreated, threatened, implored them to delay a little longer, lest by taking Eden to the sickroom, their doings should be discovered. Wholly disregarding all they said, the two boys uplifted their still fainting friend, and when Harpour attempted to interfere between them and the door, Cradock and Franklin, now thoroughly sickened by their proceedings, pulled him aside and let them pass.
Dr Keith instantly administered to Eden a restorative, and after receiving from Walter a hurried explanation of the circumstances, gently told the boys that they would be only in the way there, that Eden was evidently in a critical position, and that they had better return at once to their dormitories.
Walter and Henderson, when they returned, were assailed by the others with eager inquiries, to which they could only give gloomy and uncertain answers. They would not vouchsafe to take the slightest notice of Jones or Harpour, but met all their remarks with resolute silence. But before he went to sleep, Walter said, "I may as well let you fellows know that I intend to report you to Somers to-morrow."
"Then you'll be a damned sneak," observed Harpour.
"It is not sneaking to prevent brutal bullying like yours, by giving others the chance of stopping it, and preventing little chaps like poor Eden, whom you've nearly frightened to death, from being so shamefully treated. Anyhow, sneaking, or not, I'll do it."
"If you do tell Somers, look out for yourself—that's all."
"I'm not afraid," was the brief retort.
Harpour knew that he meant what he said, and, being now desperate, he got up half an hour earlier next morning to try and extort from him, by main force, a promise to hold his tongue about the affair of the night before. If he had at all understood Walter's character, he might have saved himself this very superfluous trouble.
Walter was awakened by a shake from Harpour, who, with Jones, was standing by his head. He saw what was coming, for Harpour, who had a pair of braces tightly knotted in his hand, briefly opened the proceedings by saying, "Are you going to sneak about me, or not?"
"To sneak—no; to tell the head of the school—yes."
"Then, by Jove, you shall have something worth telling; I'll take my revenge out of you beforehand. I shall be sent away—think of that."
"So much the better. One bully the less."
"Oh, that's your tune? Take that." The buckle of the brace descended sharply on Walter's back, drawing blood; the next instant he had wrested it out of Harpour's hand, and returned the blow.
The scuffle had awakened the rest. Walter jumped out of bed, and was hurrying on his trousers and slippers, when Harpour knocked him down.
"Fair play, Harpour," said Henderson and Franklin, angrily seizing Harpour's arms; "you're surely not going to fight him, Walter?"
"Yes; see fair play, you fellows; Cradock, you will, won't you? Fair play is all I want. Flip, you see that Jones tries no mean dodge. Now, Harpour, are you ready? Then take that."
Walter hit him a steady blow in the face, and the fight between these unequally-matched combatants—a boy not fifteen against a much stronger boy of seventeen—began. The result could not be dubious. Walter fought with indomitable pluck; it was splendid to see the sturdiness with which he bore up under the blows of Harpour's strong fist, which he could only return at intervals. He was tremendously punished, while Harpour was barely touched, except by one well-directed blow which flashed the fire out of his eyes. At last he dealt Walter a heavy blow full on the forehead; the boy reeled, caught hold of the wash-hand stand to stay his fall and dragged it after him on the floor with a thundering crash, dashing the jug and basin all to shivers.
The smash brought in Mr Robertson, whose rooms were nearest to Number 10. He opened his eyes in amazement as he came in. On one of the beds lay the two masks and dark lantern which had been used to frighten Eden; on the floor, supported by Franklin and Henderson, sat poor Walter, his nose streaming with blood, and his face horribly bruised and disfigured; Harpour sheepishly surveyed his handiwork; and Jones, on the first alarm, had rushed back to bed, covered himself with blankets, and lay to all appearance fast asleep.
"Evson! what's all this?" asked the master in astonishment.
Walter, sick and giddy, was in no condition to answer; but the position of affairs was tolerably obvious.
"Is this your doing?" asked Mr Robertson of Harpour, very sternly, pointing to Walter.
"He hit me first."
"Liar," said Henderson, glaring up at him.
"Hush, sir; no such language in my presence," said Mr Robertson. "Cradock, do you mean to say that a big fellow like you could stand by, and see Harpour thus cruelly misuse a boy not nearly his size."
"It was a fight, sir."
"Fight!" said Mr Robertson; "look at those two boys, and don't talk nonsense to me."
"I oughtn't to have let them fight, I know," said Cradock; "and I wish, sir, you'd put Harpour and Jones into another room, they're always bullying Eden, and it was for him that Evson fought."
"Harpour," said Mr Robertson, "you are absolutely despicable; a viler figure than you present at this moment could not be conceived. I shall move you to another dormitory, where some monitor can restrain your brutality; and, meanwhile, I confine you to gates for a month, and you will bring me up one hundred lines every day till further notice."
He was leaving the room, but catching sight of Walter, he returned, and said kindly, "Evson, my poor boy, I'm afraid you're sadly hurt; I'm truly sorry for you; you seem to have been behaving in a very noble way, and I honour you. Henderson, I think you'd better go with him to Dr Keith," he continued; for Walter, though he heard what was said, was too much hurt and shaken to speak a word.
"Come, Walter," said Henderson, gently helping him to rise; "I hope you're not very much hurt, old fellow. That brute Harpour won't trouble you again, anyhow; nor his parasite Jones. Lean on my arm. Franklin, you come and give Walter your arm, too."
They helped him to the sickroom, for he could barely trail his legs after him. Dr Keith laid him down quietly on a sofa, put some arnica to the bruises on his face, and told him to lie still and go quietly to sleep. "He is not very much hurt," he said, in answer to the inquiries of the boys; "but the fall he has had is quite sufficiently serious in its consequences to render absolute rest necessary to him for some days. You may come and see him sometimes."
"And now, you fellow, Harpour," said Henderson, re-entering the dormitory; "as you've knocked up Evson, and half killed Eden, I'll tell Somers. Do you hear? and I hope he'll thrash you till you can't stand."
"He daren't; Robertson's punished me already."
"He dare, and will; you won't get off so lightly as all that."
"You're a set of sneaks; and I'll be even with you yet," growled Harpour, too much cowed to resent Henderson's defiance.
Henderson laughed scornfully; and Cradock said, "And I'll tell the whole school what bullies you've been, Harpour and Jones."
"And I," said Franklin; "I don't envy you two."
"The school doesn't consist altogether of such softs as your lot, luckily," answered Harpour.
"Softs or not, we've put a spoke in your wheel for the present," answered Franklin. "I congratulate you on the rich black eye which one of the softs, half your size, has given you."
"They're not worth snarling with, Franklin," said Henderson; "we shall be rid of him and Jones from Number 10 henceforth; that's one blessing."
CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.
A TURBULENT SCHOOL MEETING.
I hate when vice can bolt her arguments, And virtue have no tongue to check her pride.
Next morning, after second school, Power went to see how Eden and Walter were getting on. He opened the door softly, and they did not observe his entrance.
Eden, very pale, and with an expression of pain and terror still reflected in his face, lay in a broken and restless sleep. Walter was sitting as still as death at the head of the bed. A book lay on his knees, but he had not been reading. He was in a "brown study," and the dreamy far-off look with which his eyes were fixed upon vacancy showed how his thoughts had wandered. It was the same look which attracted Power's attention when he first saw Walter in chapel, and which had shown him that he was no common boy. It often made him watch Walter, and wonder what could be occupying his thoughts.
It was looking at poor little Eden that had suggested to Walter's mind the train of thought into which he had fallen. As he saw the child tossing uneasily about, waking every now and then to half-consciousness with a violent start, occasionally delirious, and to all appearances seriously ill—as he thought over Dr Keith's remark, that even when he was quite well again his nervous system would be probably found to have received a shock of which the effects would never be obliterated during life, he could not help fretting very bitterly over the injury and suffering of his friend. And his own spirits were greatly shaken. It was of little matter that every time he raised his hand to cool his forehead, or ease the throbbing of his head, he felt how much he was bruised, cut, and swollen, or that the looking-glass showed him a face so hideously disfigured; he knew that this would grow right in a day or two, and he cared nothing for it. But when Harpour's blow knocked him down, he had dashed his head with some violence on the floor, and this had hurt him so much and made him feel so ill, that Dr Keith was not without secret fears about the possibility of a concussion of the brain. Yet all the sorrow which Walter now felt was for Eden, and he was not thinking of himself.
He was mentally staring face to face at the mystery of human cruelty and malice. The little boy, whose fine qualities so few besides himself had discovered, was lying before him in pain and nervous prostration, solely because malignant unkindness seemed to give pleasure to two bad, brutal fellows. Walter had himself rescued Eden by his consistent kindness from being bullied, corrupted, tormented—yet apparently to little purpose. That the poor boy's powers would be decidedly injured by this last prank, was certain. Dr Keith had dropped mysterious hints, and Walter had himself heard how wild and incoherent were Eden's murmurs. If he should become an idiot? O God! that men and boys should have such hearts!
And then and there Walter, while yet a boy, solemnly and consciously recorded an unspoken vow that he at least, till death, would do all that lay in his own power to lighten, not to increase, the sum of human misery; that he would study all things that were kind, and gentle, and tender-hearted, in his dealings with others; that he would ever be on the watch against wounding thoughts, and uncharitable judgments, and unkind deeds; above all, that he would strive with all his power against the temptation to cutting and sarcastic words, against calumny, and misrepresentation, against envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness. These were the noble thoughts and high resolves which were passing through the boy's mind when Power's quiet footstep entered the room.
Power stopped for a minute to look at the somewhat saddening picture in the darkened room—Walter, still as death, deep in thought, his chin leaning on his hand, and his face presenting an uncouth mixture of shapes and colours as he sat by Eden's bedside; and Eden turning and moaning in an unrefreshing sleep.
Walter started from his reverie and smiled, as Power noiselessly approached.
"My poor Walter, how marked you are!"
"Oh, never mind, it's nothing. I had a good cause, and it's done good."
"Poor fellow! But how's Arty? He looks wretchedly ill."
"He's in a sad way I'm afraid, Power," said Walter, shaking his head.
"I hope he'll be all right soon."
"Yes, I hope so; but we shall have to take great care of him."
"Poor child, poor child!" said Power, bending over him compassionately.
"Has Flip told Somers of Harpour?" asked Walter.
"I don't know whether you are quite up to hearing school news yet."
"O yes! tell me all about it," said Walter eagerly.
"Well, I've no good news to tell. It's a case of ponos ponoo ponon pherei, as Percival said when I told him about you and Eden. By the by, he sent all sorts of kind messages, and will come and see you."
"Thanks; but about Harpour?"
"Well, Flip meant to tell Somers, but the whole thing spread over the school at once, before morning chapel was well over; so, Dimock being head of Robertson's house, thought it was his place to take it up. He sent for Harpour in the classroom, and told him he meant to cane him for his abominable, ruffianly conduct; but before he'd begun, Harpour seized hold of the cane, and wouldn't let it go. Luckily Dimock didn't fly into a rage, nor did he let himself down by a fight, which Harpour wanted to bring on. He simply let go of the cane quite coolly, and said, 'Very well, Harpour, it would have been a good deal the best for you to have taken quietly the caning you so thoroughly deserve; as you don't choose to do that, I shall put the matter in Somers' hands. I'm glad to be rid of the responsibility.'"
"Did it end there?"
"Not a bit of it; the school are in a ferment. You know the present monitors, and particularly Somers, aren't popular; now Harpour is popular, although he's such a brute, because he's a great swell at cricket and the games. I'm afraid we shall have a regular monitorial row. The monitors have convened a meeting this morning to decide about Harpour; and, to tell you the truth, I shouldn't wonder if the school got up a counter-meeting."
"Don't any of the masters know about Eden?"
"Not officially, though I should think some rumours must have got to them."
"But surely it's very odd that the school should side with Jones and Harpour, after the shameful mischief they've done?"
"Odd, a priori; but lots of things always combine to make up a school opinion, you know the fellows just catch up what they hear first. But who do you think is foremost champion on the school side—stirring them up to resist, abusing you, abusing Flip, abusing the monitors, and making light of Harpour's doings?"
Walter asked "Who?" but he knew beforehand that Power's answer would be—
After this he said nothing, but put his hand wearily to his head, which in his weak state, was aching violently with the excitement of the news which Power had told him.
"Ah, I see, Walter, you're not quite well enough yet to be bothered. I'll leave you quiet. Good-bye."
"Good-bye. Do come again soon, and tell me how things go on."
Strolling out from the sad sickroom into the court, Power was attracted into the great schoolroom by the sound of angry voices. Entering, he found half the school, and all the lower forms, collected round the large desk at which the headmaster usually sat. A great many were talking at once, and every tongue was engaged in discussing the propriety, in this instance, of any monitorial interference.
"Order, order," shouted one or two of the few fifth-form fellows present; "let's have the thing managed properly. Who'll take the chair?"
There was a general call for Kenrick, and as he was one of the highest fellows in the room, he got into the chair, and amid a general silence delivered his views of the present affair.
"You all know," he said, "that Dimock meant to cane Harpour because he played off a joke against one of the fellows last night. Harpour refused to take the caning, and the monitors are holding a meeting this morning to decide what to do about Harpour. Now I maintain that they've no right to do anything; and it's very important that we shouldn't let them have just their own way. The thing was merely a joke. Who thinks anything of just putting on a mask in fun, to startle another fellow? One constantly hears of its being done merely to raise a laugh, and we must all have often seen pictures of it. Of course, in this case, every one is extremely sorry for the consequences, but it was impossible to foresee them, and nobody has any right to judge of the act because it has turned out so unluckily. I vote that we put the question—'Have the monitors any right to interfere?'"
Loud applause greeted the end of Kenrick's speech, and the little bit at the end about separating an act from its consequences told wonderfully among the boys. They raised an almost unanimous cry of "Well done, Ken", "Quite right", "Harpour shan't be caned."
Henderson had been watching Kenrick with an expression of intense anger and disdain. At the end of his remarks, he sprang, rather than rose, up and immediately began to pour out an impetuous answer. His first words, before the fellows had observed that he meant to speak, were drowned in the general uproar; and when they had all caught sight of him, an expression of decided disapprobation ran round the throng of listeners. It did not make him swerve in the slightest degree. Looking round scornfully and steadily, he said—
"I know why some of you hiss. You think I told Dimock of Harpour. As it happens I didn't; but I'm neither afraid nor ashamed to tell you all, as I told Harpour to his face, that I had fully intended to do it— or rather I meant to tell, not Dimock, but Somers. Will you let me speak?" he asked, angrily, as his last sentence was interrupted by a burst of groans, commenced by a few of those whose interests were most at stake, and taken up by the mass of ignorant boys.
Power plucked Henderson by the sleeve, and whispered, "Hush, Flip; go on, but keep your temper."
"I've as much right to speak—if this is meant for a school meeting—as Kenrick or any one else; and what I have to say is this: Kenrick has been merely throwing dust into your eyes, misleading you altogether about the true state of the case. It's all very fine, and very easy for him to talk so lightly of its being 'a joke,' and 'a bit of fun,' and so on; but I should like to ask him whether he believes that? and whether he's not just hunting for popularity, and mixing up with it a few private spites? and whether he's not thoroughly ashamed of himself at this moment? There! you may see that he is," continued Henderson, pointing at him; "see how he is blushing scarlet, and looking the very picture of degradation."
Here Kenrick started up and most irascibly informed Henderson that he wasn't going to sit there and be slanged by him, and that as he was in the chair, he would not let Henderson go on any more unless he cut short his abuse; and while Kenrick was saying this, in which he entirely carried the meeting with him, Power again whispered, "You're getting too personal, Flip; but go on, only say no more about Kenrick—though I'm afraid it's all true."
"Well, at any rate, I will say this," continued Henderson, whose flow of words was rather stopped by his having been pulled up so often—"and I ought to know, for I was in the room at the time, and I appeal to Anthony and Franklin, and all the rest of the dormitory, to say if it isn't true. It wasn't a joke. It wasn't meant for a joke. It was a piece of deliberate, diabolical—"
"Oh! oh! oh!" began a few of Harpour's claqueurs, and the chorus was again swelled by a score of others.
"I repeat it—of deliberate, diabolical cruelty, chosen just because there was nothing more cruel they dared to do. And," he said, speaking at the top of his voice, to make himself heard over the clamour, "the fellows who did it are a disgrace to Saint Winifred's, and they deserve to be caned by the monitors, if any fellows ever did."
He sat down amid a storm of disapprobation, but his look never quailed for an instant, as he glanced steadily round, and noticed how Kenrick, though in favour with the multitude, and so much higher in the school, did not venture to meet his eye. And he was more than compensated for the general disfavour, by feeling Power's hand rest on his shoulder, and hearing him whisper, "That's famous, Flip; you're a dear plucky fellow. Walter himself couldn't have done it more firmly."
Then Belial-like, rose Mackworth, perfectly at his ease, intending as much general mischief as lay in his power, and bent on saying as many unpleasant things as he could. In this, however, his benevolent views were materially frustrated by Henderson, who made his contemptuous comments in a tone sufficiently loud to be heard by many, and quite distinctly enough to disconcert Mackworth's oratory.
"As the gentleman who has just sat down has poured so many bottles of wrath—"
"Bottles of French varnish," suggested Henderson—"on our heads generally, I must be allowed to make a few remarks in reply. His speech consisted of nothing but rabid abuse; without a shred of argument."—"Rabid fact without a shred of fudge," interpolated Henderson.
"If for every trifling freak fellows were to be telling the monitors, we had better inaugurate at once the era of sneaks and cowards."
"Era of sham polish and fiddlestick ends," echoed Henderson; and Mackworth, who had every intention of making a very flourishing speech, was so disconcerted by this unwonted pruning of his periods, that he somewhat abruptly sat down, muttering anathemas on Henderson, and flustered quite out of his usual bland manner.
"Something has been said about cowardice and sneaking," said Whalley, getting up. "I should like to know whether you think it more cowardly to fight a fellow twice one's size, and to mark him pretty considerably too" (a remark which Whalley unceremoniously emphasised by pointing at Harpour's black eye), "or to lay a plot to frighten in the dark a mere child, very nervous and very timid, who has never harmed any one in his life."
Next, Howard Tracy, addressing the meeting, running his hand occasionally through his hair, "would put the question on a different footing altogether. As to what had been done to Eden, he stood on neutral ground, and gave no opinion. But who, he asked, were these monitors that they should thrash any one at all? He had never heard that they were of particularly good families, or that they had anything whatever which gave them a claim to interfere with other fellows. The question was, whether a parcel of monitors were to domineer over the school?"
"The question was nothing of the kind!" said Franklin very bluntly; "it was, whether big bullies, like Harpour, were to be at perfect liberty to frighten fellows into idiots or beat them into mummies, at their own will and pleasure? That was the only question. Harpour or Somers— bullies or monitors—which will you have, boys?"
And after this arose a perfect hubbub of voices. Some got up and ridiculed the monitors; others extolled Harpour, and tried to make out that he was misused for being called to account for a mere frolic; others taunted Evson and Henderson with a conspiracy against their private enemies. On the whole, they were nearly unanimous in agreeing that the school should prevent the monitors from any exercise of their authority.
And then, in the midst of the hubbub, Power rose, "in act more graceful," and there was an immediate and general call for silence. To the great majority of the boys, Power was hardly known except by name and by sight; but his school successes, his rare ability, his stainless character, and many personal advantages, commanded for him the highest admiration. His numerous slight acquaintances in the school all liked his pleasant and playful courtesy, and were proud to know him; his few friends entertained for him an almost extravagant affection. His ancient name, his good family, and the respect due to his high position in the school, would alone have been sufficient to gain him a favourable hearing; but, besides this, he had hitherto come forward so little, that there was a strong curiosity to see what line he would take, and how he would be able to speak. There were indeed a few who were most anxious to silence him as quickly as possible, knowing what effect his words would be likely to produce; and when he began, they raised several noisy interruptions; but Kenrick, for very shame, was obliged at first to demand for him the attention which, after the first sentence or two, his quiet, conciliatory, and persuasive manner effectually secured.
Reviewing the whole tumultuary discussion, he began by answering Kenrick. After alluding to the long course of bullying which had been ended in this manner, he appealed to the common sense of the meeting whether the thing could be regarded as a mere joke, when they remembered Eden's tender age and highly susceptible nature? Was it not certain, and must it not have been obvious to the bullies, that serious, if not desperately dangerous results must follow? What those results had been was well-known, and in describing what he had seen of them in the sickroom only half an hour before, Power made a warm appeal to their feelings of pity and indignation—an appeal which every one felt to be manly, and which could not fail of being deeply touching, because it was both simple and natural.
"Then," said Power, "the next speaker talked about sneaking and cowardice. Well, those charges had been sufficiently answered by Whalley, and, indeed, on behalf of his friends Evson and Henderson, he perhaps need hardly condescend to answer them at all. His friend Henderson had been long enough among them to need no defence, and if he did, it would be sufficiently supplied by the high courage, of which they had just seen a specimen. As for Evson, any boy who had given as many proofs of honour and manliness as he had done during his two terms at Saint Winifred's, certainly required no one's shield to be thrown over him. Would any of them show their courage by walking across the Razor on some dark foggy winter's night? and would they find in the school any other fellow of Evson's age who would not shrink from standing up in a regular fair fight with another of twice his own strength and size? Those charges he thought he might throw to the winds; he was sure that no one believed them; but there was, he admitted, one cowardice of which his two friends had often been guilty, and it was a cowardice for which they need not blush; he meant the cowardice, the arrant, the noble cowardice of being afraid not to do what they thought right, and of being afraid to do what they knew to be base and wrong."
In these remarks Power quite carried his audience away with him; the strain was of a higher mood than boys had often heard from boys, and it was delivered with an eloquence and earnestness that raised a continuous applause. This, however, Power checked by going on speaking until he was obliged to stop and take breath; but then it burst out in the most unmistakable and enthusiastic manner, and entirely drowned the few and timid counter-demonstrations of the Jones and Mackworth school.
"Now I have detained you too long," said Power, "and I apologise for it (Go on! go on! shouted the boys); but as so many have spoken on the other side, and so few on this, perhaps you will excuse me (Yes, yes!) Well, then, Tracy has asked, 'Who are the monitors? and what right have they to interfere?' I answer, that the monitors are our schoolfellows, and are simply representatives of the most mature form of public school opinion. They have all been lower boys; they have all worked their way up to the foremost place; they are, in short, the oldest, the cleverest, the strongest, and the wisest among us; And their right depends on an authority voluntarily delegated to them by the masters, by our parents, and by ourselves—a right originally founded on justice and common sense, and venerable by very many years of prestige and of success. At any rate, a fellow who behaves as Harpour has done, has the least right to complain of this exercise of a higher authority. If he had a right—and he has no right except brute strength, if that be a right—to bully, beat, torment, and perhaps injure for life a poor little inoffensive child, and by doing so to render the name of the school infamous, I maintain that the monitors, who have the interest of the school most at heart, who are ranged ex officio on the side of truth, of justice, and of honour, have infinitely more right to thrash him for it. Supposing that there were no monitors, what would the state of the school be? above all, what would be the condition of the younger and weaker boys? they would be the absolutely defenceless prey of a most odious tyranny. Let me say then, that I most distinctly and emphatically approve of the manner in which my friends have acted; that I envy and admire the moral courage which helped them to behave as they did; and that if the school attempts on this occasion to resist the legitimate and most wholesome exercise of the monitors' power, it will suffer a deep disgrace and serious loss. I oppose Kenrick's motion with every feeling of my heart, and with every sentiment of my mind. I think it dangerous, I think it useless, and I think it most unjust."
A second burst of applause followed Power's energetic words, and continued for several minutes. He had utterly changed the opinions of many who were present, and Kenrick felt his entire sympathy and admiration enlisted on behalf of his former friend. He would at the moment have given anything to get up and retract his previous remarks and beg pardon for them. But his pride and passion were too strong for him, and coldly rising, he put it to the meeting, "whether they decided that the monitors had the right to interfere or not."
Jones, Mackworth, Harpour, and others, were eagerly canvassing for votes, and when Kenrick demanded a show of hands, a good many were raised on their side. When the opposite question was put, at first only Power, Henderson, Whalley, and Franklin held up their hands; but they were soon followed by Bliss, then by Anthony and Cradock, and then by a great many more who took courage when they saw what champions were on their side. The hands were counted, and there was found to be an equal number on both sides. The announcement was received with dead silence.
"The chairman of course has a casting vote," said Mackworth.
Kenrick sat still for a moment, not without an inward conflict; and then, afraid to risk his popularity with those whom he had now adopted as his own set, he said, rising—
"And I give it against the right of the monitors."
A scene of eager partisanship and loud triumph ensued, during which Power once more stood forward, and observed—
"You must allow me to remind you that the present meeting in no way represents the sense of the school. I do not see a dozen boys present who are above the lowest fifth-form; and I do earnestly entreat those who have gained this vote not to disturb the peace and comfort of the school by attempting a collision between themselves and the monitors, who will certainly be supported by the nearly unanimous opinion of the upper fifth forms."
"We shall see about that," answered Kenrick in a confident tone. "At any rate, the vote is carried." He left the chair, and the boys broke up into various groups, still eagerly discussing the rights and wrongs of the question which had been stirred.
"So, Power," said Kenrick, with a sneer, which he assumed to hide his real feelings, "all your fine eloquence is thrown away, you see. We've carried the day after all, in spite of you."
"Yes, Ken," said Power, gently; "you've carried it quocunque modo. How comes Kenrick to be on the same side as Jones, Mackworth, and Harpour?"
CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN.
In the teeth of clenched antagonisms.
The meeting over, Henderson, who had not seen Walter since the morning, flew up to the sickroom to tell him the news, which he was sure would specially interest him. As he entered, the same spectacle was before him which Power had already seen—little Eden restless, and sometimes wandering—Walter seated silently by the bed watching him, his legs crossed, and his hands clasped over one knee. The curtains were drawn to exclude the glare. Walter could read but little, for his eyes were weak after the fight; but his thoughts and his nursing of his little friend kept him occupied. Henderson, fresh from the excitement of the meeting, was struck with the deep contrast presented by this painfully quiet scene.
He was advancing eagerly, but Walter rose with his finger on his lip, and spoke to him in a whisper, for Eden had just dropped off to sleep.
Henderson shook him warmly by the hand, and whispered—"I've such lots to tell you;" and, sitting down by Walter, he gave him an account of what had just taken place. "You should have heard Power, Walter; upon my word he spoke like an orator, and regularly bowled the Harpour lot off their legs. It's splendid to see him coming out so in the school— isn't it?"
"It is indeed; and thanks to you, too, Flip, for sticking up for me."
"Oh, what I did was nothing. But only fancy that fellow Kenrick fighting against us like this, and giving his casting vote against Harpour's being thrashed! You've no idea, Walter, how that fellow's changed."
He was interrupted, for Eden woke with a short scream, and, starting up in bed, looked round with a scared expression, shuddering and moaning as he fell back again on his pillow.
"Oh, don't, don't, don't frighten me," he said appealingly, while the perspiration burst out over his pale face; "please, Harpour, please don't. Oh, Walter, Walter, do help me."
"Hush, my poor, little fellow, I'm here," said Walter tenderly, as he smoothed his pillow; "don't be afraid, Arty, you're quite safe, and I'm staying with you. They only put on masks to frighten you; it was nothing but that."
Bending over the bed, he talked to him in a gentle, soothing voice, and tried to make him feel at ease, while the child flung both his arms round his neck, sobbing, and still clung tight to his hand when Walter had succeeded in allaying the sudden paroxysm of terror.
Henderson, deeply touched, had looked on with glistening eyes. "How kind you are, Walter," he said, taking his other hand, and affectionately pressing it. "I should just like to have Kenrick here, and show him what his new friends have done."
"Don't be indignant against him, Flip. I wish, indeed, he would but come into this room, and make it up with us, and be what he once was. But he did not even take the slightest notice of the letter I wrote him, entreating him to overlook any fault I had been guilty of, however unconsciously. I never meant to wrong him, and I love him as much as ever."
"Love him!" said Henderson, "I don't; his new line isn't half to my fancy. He must be jolly miserable, that's one comfort."
"Hush! he was our friend, Flip, remember; indeed, I feel as a friend to him still, whatever his feelings are for me. But why do you think he must be miserable?"
"Because you can see in his face and manner, that all the while he knows he's in the wrong, and is thoroughly ashamed at bottom."
"Well, let's hope he'll come round again all the sooner. Have you broken with him, then?"
"Well, nearly. We are barely civil to each other, that's all, and I don't suppose we shall be even that now: for I pitched into him to-day at the meeting."
Walter only sighed, and just then Power stole into the room.
"Hallo!" he said, "Flip, I believe you and I shall kill the invalids between us. I just met Dr Keith on the stairs, and he only gave me leave to come for five minutes, for he says they both need quiet. You, I suspect, Master Flip, took French leave."