"I like that," said Henderson, laughing, "considering that this is your second visit, and only my first. I've been telling Walter about the meeting."
"The credit—if there is any—is yours, Flip; you broke the ice, and showed the Harpourites that they weren't going to carry it all their own way, as they fancied."
"I'm so glad you came out strong, Power," said Walter; "Flip says you took them all by storm."
"That's Flip's humbug," said Power; "but," he whispered, "if I did any good, it's all through you, Walter."
"How do you mean?"
"Why, first of all, I wasn't going to hear animals like Mackworth abuse you; and next, but for you I should have continued my old selfish way of keeping aloof from all school concerns. It cost me an effort to conquer my shyness, but I remembered our old talk on Appenfell, Walter."
Walter smiled gratefully, and Power continued, "But I've come to tell you both a bit of news."
"What's that?" they asked eagerly.
"Why, there's a notice on the board, signed by Somers, to say that 'All the school are requested to stay in their places after the master has left the room at two o'clock calling-over.'"
"Whew! what a row we shall have!" said Henderson.
"How I wish I were well enough to be out now," said Walter. "I hate to be shut up while all this is going on."
"Poor fellow, with that face?" said Power. "No; you must be content to wait and get well."
"It isn't the face that keeps me in, Power; it's the bang on the head, Keith says."
"Yes, and Keith says that he doesn't know when you will be well if these young chatterboxes stay with you," said the good-humoured doctor, entering at the moment. "Vanish both of you!"
The boys smiled and bade Walter good-bye, as they wished him speedy relief from Dr Keith's prison. "And when do you think poor little Eden may come and sit in my study again?" asked Power. "I miss him very much."
"You mustn't think of that for a long time," answered the doctor.
"How about this two o'clock affair?" said Henderson, as they left the room.
"Upon my word I don't know. Sit next to me, Flip, in case of a row."
"Are the monitors strong enough, do you think?"
"We shall see."
The school was in a fever of excitement and curiosity. At dinner-time nothing else was talked of by the lower boys, but the upper forms kept a dignified silence.
Two o'clock came. The names of all the school were called over, and amid perfect silence the master of the week left the hall. Then Somers stood up in the dais and said—
"Is Harpour here?—the rest please to keep their places."
"I'm here—what do you want of me?" said Harpour sulkily, as he stood up in his place.
"First of all, I want to tell you before the whole school that you have been behaving in the most shamefully cruel and blackguard way, and in a way that has produced disastrous consequences to one of the little fellows. A big fellow like you ought to be thoroughly ashamed of such conduct. If you were capable of a blush you ought to blush for it. It is our duty as monitors, and my duty as Head of the school, to punish you for this conduct, as Dr Lane has left it in our hands; and I am going to cane you for it. Stand out."
"I won't. I'll see you damned first."
A sensation ran through the school at this open defiance; but Somers, quite unmoved, repeated—
"I take no notice of your words further than to tell you that if you swear again you will have an additional punishment; but once again I tell you to stand out."
Harpour quailed a little at his firm tone, and at the total absence of all support from his followers; but he again flatly refused to stand out.
"Very well," said Somers; "you have already defied the authority of one monitor, and that is an aggravation of your original offence. I should have been glad to have avoided a scene, but if your common sense doesn't make you bear the punishment coolly, you shall bear it by force. Will you stand out?—no?—then you shall be made. Fetch him here, some one," he said, turning to the sixth-form.
The second monitor, Danvers, quietly seized Harpour's right arm, and Macon, one of the biggest fellows in the fifth-form, of his own accord got up and seized the other, Harpour's heart sank at this, for Danvers and the other were with him in the cricket eleven, and he was not as strong as either of them singly.
"Now mark," said Somers; "caned you shall be, to redeem the character of the school; but unless you take it without being made to take it, your name shall also be immediately struck off the school list, and you shall leave Saint Winifred's this evening. You'll be no great loss, I take it. So much I may tell you as a proof that the Headmaster has left us to vindicate the name of Saint Winifred's."
Seeing that resistance was useless, Harpour accordingly stood out in the centre of the room, but not until he had cast an inquiring look among those who embraced his side; and these, who, as we have seen, were tolerably numerous, all looked at Kenrick that he might give some hint as to what they should do. Thus appealed to, Kenrick rose and said—
"I protest against this caning."
"You!" said Somers, turning contemptuously in that direction; "who are you?"
The general titter which these words caused made Kenrick furious, and he cried out angrily—
"It is against the opinion of the majority of the school."
"We shall see," said Somers, with stinging sang froid; "meanwhile, you may sit down, and let the majority of the school speak for themselves, otherwise you may be requested to occupy a still more prominent position. I shall have something to say to you presently."
"Let's rescue him," said Kenrick, springing forward, and several fellows stirred in answer to the appeal; but Macon, seizing hold of Tracy with one arm, and Mackworth with the other, thrust them both down on the floor, and Danvers, catching hold of Kenrick, swung him over the form, and pinned him there. The general laugh with which this proceeding was received showed that only a small handful of the school were really opposed to the monitors, and that most boys thoroughly concurred with them, and held them to be in the right. So Macon quietly boxed Jones's ears, since Jones was making a noise, and then told him and the others that they might return to their places.
Crimsoned all over with shame and anger, Kenrick sat down, and Somers proceeded to administer to Harpour a most severe caning. That worthy quite meant to stretch to the utmost his powers of endurance, and made several scornful remarks after each of the first blows. But Somers had no intention to let him off too easily; each sneer was followed by a harder cut, and the remarks were very soon followed by a silent but significant wince. It was not until a writhe had been succeeded by a sob, and a sob by a howl, that Somers said to him—
"Now you may go."
And Harpour did go to his seat, in an agony of mingled pain and shame. He had boasted repeatedly that he would never take a thrashing from anyone; but he had taken it, and succumbed to it, and that too in the presence of the whole school. He was tremendously ashamed; he never forgot the scene, and determined never to lose an opportunity of revenging it.
The school felt it to be an act of simple justice, and that the punishment was richly deserved. They looked on in stern silence, and those lower boys who had in the morning determined to interfere, gazed with some discomfiture upon their champion's fall.
"And now, Master Kenrick, you stand here—what, no!—Stand here, sir."
Kenrick only glared defiance.
"Danvers, hand him here;" but Danvers stepped up to Somers and whispered, "Don't be too sharp on him, Somers, or you'll drive him to despair. Remember he's high in the fifth, and has been a distinguished fellow. Don't make too much of this one escapade."
"All right. Thanks, Danvers," said Somers; and added aloud, in a less sarcastic tone—"Come here, Kenrick; I merely wish to speak a word with you;" and then Danvers kindly but firmly took the boy's hand, and led him forward.
"You said the majority of the school denied our right to interfere."
"Do you consider yourself in person to be the majority of the school, pray?"
"We are all perfectly aware, sir, of your meeting, and of your precious casting vote. But you must be informed that a rabble of shell and fourth-form boys do not constitute the school in any sense of the word. And understand too, that even if the majority of the school had been against us, we monitors are not quite so ignorant of our solemn duty as to make that any reason for letting a brutal and cowardly act of bullying go unpunished. You have been very silly, Kenrick, and have been just misled by conceit. Yes, you may look angry; but you know me of old; you've never received anything but kindness at my hands since the day you were my fag, and I tell you again that you've just been misled by conceit. Think rather less of yourself, my good fellow. You ought to have known better. Your friend Power has shown you an infinitely more sensible example. You may sit down, sir, with this warning; and, in the name of the monitors, I beg to thank the other fellows, especially Evson and Henderson, who did their best to protect little Eden. They behaved like thorough gentlemen, and it would be well if more of you younger boys were equally alive to the true honour of the school."
"I wish he'd be more conciliatory," whispered Dimock to Danvers; "he's plucky and firm, but so very dictatorial and unpersuasive. Besides, he's forgotten to thank Power."
"Yes," said Danvers, "his tone spoils all. Somers," he said, "you've omitted to mention Power, and the fellows will be gone in a minute."
"I've been talking so much, you say it."
"Not I; I'm no speaker. Here, Dimock will."
"Ay, that'll do. One minute more, please," called Somers, raising his hand to the boys, who, during this rapidly whispered conversation, were beginning to leave their places.
"Somers wishes me to add," said Dimock, "that all the monitors and many of the sixth and fifth forms wish to express our best thanks to Power for the exceedingly honourable and fearless way in which he this morning maintained the rights and duties which belong to us. You younger fellows know very well that we monitors extremely dislike to interfere, that we do so only on the rarest occasions, and that we are always most anxious to avoid caning. You know that we never resort to it unless we are obliged to do so by the most flagrant offences, which would otherwise sap the honour and character of the school. Let us all be united and work together for the good of Saint Winifred's. Don't let any interested parties lead you to believe that we either do or wish to tyrannise. Our authority is for your high and direct advantage; I appeal to you whether you do not know it?"
"Yes, yes, Dimock," answered many voices; and before they streamed out of the ball, they gave "three cheers for the monitors," which were so heartily responded to, that the hissing of Harpour, Kenrick, and others, only raised a laugh, which filled to the very brim the bitter cup of hate and indignation which Kenrick had been forced that day to drink. To be addressed like that before the whole school—snubbed, reproved, threatened—it was intolerable; that he, Kenrick, high in the school, brilliant, promising, successful, accustomed only to flattery and praise, should be publicly set down among a rabble of lower boys—it made him mad to think of it.
"A nice tell-tale mess you've made of this business, Power," he said savagely, the red spot still lingering on his cheek, as he confronted his former friend; "I hope you're ashamed of yourself."
"I, Ken? no."
"Then you ought to be."
"Honestly, Ken, who ought to be most ashamed—you, the advocate of Harpour and his set, or I, who merely defended my best friend for behaving most honourably—as he always does?"
"Always?" sneered Kenrick.
Power turned on him his clear bright eye, and said nothing for a moment; but then he laid his arm across his shoulder in the old familiar manner, and said, "You are not happy now, Ken, as you used to be."
"Why the devil not?"
Power shook his head. "Because your heart is nobler than your acts; your nature truer than your conduct; and that is and will be your punishment. Why do you nurse this bad feeling till it has so mastered you?"
Kenrick stood still, his cheeks flushed, his eyes downcast; and Power, as he turned away, sadly repeated, half to himself the wonderful verse—
"Virtutem videant, intabescantque relicta."
Kenrick understood it; it came to his heart like an arrow, and rankled there; it made a wound, the faithful wound of a friend, better than the kisses of an enemy—but the time of healing was far-off yet.
CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT.
Oh deeper dole! That so august a spirit, sphered so fair, Should from the starry sessions of his peers, Decline to quench so bright a brilliancy In hell's sick spume. Ay me, the deeper dole!
It was generally on Sundays that boys walked in the croft with those who were, and whom they wished to be considered as, their most intimate and confidential friends. To one who knew anything of the boys' characters, it was most curious and suggestive to observe the groups into which they spontaneously formed themselves. The sets at Saint Winifred's were not very exclusive or very accurately defined; and one boy might, by virtue of different sympathies or accomplishments, belong to two or three sets at once. Still there were some sets whose outermost circles barely touched each other; and hitherto the friends among whom Kenrick had chiefly moved would never have associated intimately with the fellows among whom Harpour was considered as the leading spirit.
It was therefore with no little surprise that Mr Percival, who with Mr Paton passed through the croft on his Sunday stroll, observed Kenrick— not with his usual companions, Power or Walter or Whalley—but arm in arm with Harpour and Tracy, and accompanied by one or two other boys of similar character. It immediately explained to him much that had taken place. He had heard vague rumours of the part Kenrick had taken at the meeting; he had heard both from him and from Walter that they were no longer on good terms with each other; but now it was further plain to him that Kenrick was breaking loose from all his old moorings, and sailing into the open sea of wilfulness and pride.
"What are you so much interested about?" asked Mr Paton, as his colleague followed the boys with his glance.
"I am wondering how and why this change has come over Kenrick."
"Don't you see with whom he is walking? Oh, I forgot that you never notice that kind of outer life among the boys; on the other hand, I always do; it helps me to understand these fellows, and do more for them than I otherwise could."
"You observe them to some purpose, Percival, at any rate, for your influence among them is wonderful—as I have occasion to discover every now and then."
"But Kenrick puzzles me. 'Nemo repente fuit turpissimus' one used to think; yet that boy has dropped from the society of such a noble fellow as Power, with his exquisite mind and manners, plumb into the abyss of intimacy with Harpour. There must be something all wrong."
A very little observation showed Mr Percival that his conjectures about Kenrick were correct. Clever as he was, his work deteriorated rapidly; the whole expression of his countenance changed for the worse; he was implicated more than once in very questionable transactions; he lost caste among the best and most honourable fellows, and proportionately gained influence among the worst and lowest lot in the school, whose idol and hero he gradually became. His descent was sudden, because his character had always been unstable. The pride and passion which were mollified and restrained as long as he had moved with wise and upright companions, broke forth with violence when once he fancied himself slighted, and had committed himself to a course which he well knew to be wrong. There was one who conjectured much of this at a very early period. It was Kenrick's mother; his letters always indicated the exact state of his thoughts and feelings; and Mrs Kenrick knew that the coldness and recklessness which had lately marked them were proofs that her boy was going wrong. The violence, too, with which he spoke of Evson, and the indications that he had dropped his old friends and taken up with new and worse companions, filled her mind with anxiety and distress; yet what could she do, poor lady, in her lonely home? There was one thing only that she could do for him in her weakness; and those outpourings of sorrowful and earnest prayer were not in vain.
Mr Percival tried to make some effort to save Kenrick from the wrong courses which he had adopted; he asked him quietly to come and take a glass of wine after dinner; but the interview only made matters worse. Kenrick, not undated by his popularity among the lower forms as a champion of the supposed "rights" of the school, chose to adopt an independent and almost patronising tone towards his tutor; he entered in a jaunty manner, and glancing carelessly over the table, declined to take any of the fruit to which the master invited him to help himself. He determined to be as uncommunicative as possible; avoided all conversation, and answered Mr Percival's questions on all subjects by monosyllables, uttered in a disrespectful and nonchalant tone. Yet all the while he despised himself and was ill at ease. He knew the deep kindness of the master's intentions, and felt that he ought to be grateful for the interest shown towards him; but it required a stronger power and a different method from his own, to exorcise from his heart the devil of self-will; and besides this, it cannot be denied that in the first bloom and novelty of sin, in the free exercise of an insolent liberty, there is a sense of pleasure for many hearts; it is the honey on the rim of the poison-cup, the bloom on the Dead Sea apple, the mirage on the scorching waste.
Mr Percival understood him thoroughly, and saw that he must be left to the bitter teachings of experience. Always fond of Kenrick, he had never been blind to his many faults of character, and was particularly displeased with his present manner, which he knew to be only adopted on purpose to baffle any approach to advice or warning.
"Good morning, Kenrick," he said, rising rather abruptly, while a slight smile of pity rested on his lips.
"Good morning, sir," said Kenrick; and as he rose in an airy manner to leave the room, Mr Percival put a hand on each of the boy's shoulders, and looked him steadily in the face. Kenrick tried to meet the look, not with the old open gaze of frank and innocent confidence, but with an expression half shrinking, half defiant. His eyes fell immediately, and satisfied by this perusal of his features that Kenrick was going wrong, Mr Percival said only this—
"Your face, my boy, is as a book where men May read strange matters."
Kenrick had tried to be off-hand and patronising in manner, but the attempt had failed egregiously, and he felt very uncomfortable as he left the room where he had so often met with kindness, and which he never entered on the same terms again.
Meanwhile our two invalids, Walter and Eden, recovered but slowly. But for the kindness of every one about them their hours would have passed very wearily in the sickroom. Their tedium was enlivened by constant visits from Henderson and Power, who never failed to interest Walter by their school news, and especially by telling of those numerous little incidents which tended to show that although after the late excitements there was a certain detumescence, still the general effect had been to arouse a spirit of opposition to all constituted authority. Kenrick's name was sometimes on their lips, but as they could not speak of him favourably, and as the subject was a painful one, they rarely talked much about him.
Among other visitors was Dr Lane, who, as well as Mrs Lane, showed great solicitude about them. The Doctor, who had been told by Dr Keith that, but for Walter's tender nursing, Eden's case might have assumed a far more dangerous complexion, lent them interesting books and pictures, and often came for a few minutes to exchange some kind words with them. Mrs Lane asked them to the Lodge, read to them, sang to them, played chess and draughts with them, and often gave them drives in her carriage. These little gracious acts of simple kindness won the hearts of both the boys, and hastened their convalescence.
Sometimes Walter was allowed to take Eden for a stroll on the shore during school hours, when there was no danger of their being excited or interrupted by the boisterous society of other boys. There was one favourite spot where the two often sat reading and talking. It was by the mouth of the little river—a green knoll sheltered under the rising hills, to the very feet of which the little waves came rippling musically as the summer tide flowed in. And here Eden would lie down at full length on the soft grass, and doze quietly, while the gentle breeze lifted his fair hair from his forehead with refreshful coolness; or he would listen while Walter read to him some stirring ballad or pleasant tale.
And thus in the course of a fortnight Walter was himself again, and Eden, not long after, was so far recovered as to be allowed to join his schoolfellows in the usual routine. He was, however, removed with Walter, and Henderson, and Power, to another dormitory, which they had to themselves; and the promise of this, relieving his mind from a constant source of dread, helped him to recover. The boys, too, conscious how great a wrong had been done to him, received him back among them with unusual consideration and delicate kindness. They pitied him heartily. It was impossible not to do so when they looked at his wan, sad face, so changed in expression; and when they observed his timid, shrinking manner, and the tremor which came over him at any sudden sight or sound. So every voice was softened when they spoke to him, and the manner of even the roughest boys became to him affectionate and even caressing. If any had felt inclined to side with Harpour against the monitors before, the sight of Eden went far to alter their convictions.
Yet the poor child was never happy except when he was in Walter's society, and in Power's study. Even there he was changed. The bright merry laugh which once rang out incessantly was rarely or never heard now; and a somewhat sad smile was all that could be elicited from him. He seemed, too, to have lost for a time all his old interest in work. The form competition had no further attraction for him; the work seemed irksome, and he had no spirits to join in any game. Once Power kindly rallied him on his general listlessness, but Eden only looked up at him appealingly, and said, while the weak tears overflowed his eyes, "Don't be angry with me, Power, I can't help it; I don't feel quite, right yet. O, Power, I'm afraid you'll never like me again as you did."
"Why, Arty, your illness is all the more reason why I should."
"But, Power, I shall never be the same as I once was. It seems as if some light had gone out and left me in the dark."
"Nonsense, Arty; the summer holidays will bring you round again."
But Eden only shook his head, and muttered something about Colonel Braemar not being kind to him and his little sister.
"Do you think they would let you come and stay part of the holidays with us?"
Eden brightened up in a moment, and promised to write and ask.
CHAPTER TWENTY NINE.
Such delights As float to earth, permitted visitants, When in some hour of solemn jubilee The massy gates of Paradise are thrown Wide open.
Coleridge Religious Musings.
In scenes like these, part sunshine and part storm, the half-year rolled round, and brought the long-desired summer holidays. Once more the end of the half-year saw Power as usual brilliantly successful, and Walter again at the head of his form. Henderson, too, although he could not proceed with Walter pari passu, was among the first six, and had gained more than one school distinction. But Kenrick this time had failed as he had never done before; he was but fourth in his form, and although this was the natural fruit of his recent idleness, it caused him cruel mortification.
The end of term did not pass off quite so smoothly and pleasantly as it generally did. The opposition to monitorial authority which Harpour had commenced, and Kenrick abetted, did not pass away at once; it left a large amount of angry feeling in the minds of numerous boys who had, each of them, influence in their several ways. Kenrick himself always went to the verge of impertinence whenever he could possibly do so in dealing with any of the sixth, and to Somers his manner was always intentionally rude, although he just managed to steer clear of any overt insubordination. He could, of course, act thus without the risk of incurring any punishment, and without coming to any positive collision. Many boys were unfortunately but too ready to imitate his example.
These dissensions did not positively break out on the prize day, but they made the proceedings far less pleasant and unanimous than they would have been. The cheers usually given to the head of the school were purposely omitted, from the fear of provoking any counter-demonstration, and there remained an uneasy feeling in many minds. The success of the concert which was yearly given by the school choir after the distribution of prizes was also marred by traces of the same dissension. In this concert Walter had a solo to sing, and although he sang it remarkably well in his sweet ringing voice, he was vexed to hear a few decided hisses among the plaudits which greeted him. Altogether the prize day—a great day at Saint Winifred's—was less successful than it had ever been known to be.
It brought, however, one pleasure to Walter, in the acquaintance of Sir Lawrence and Lady Power, who had heard of him so often in their son's letters, that they begged to be introduced to him as soon as they arrived. He was a great deal with them during the day, and he helped Power to show them all that was interesting about the school and its environs. They saw Eden too, and Lady Power kindly pressed her invitation on Mrs Braemar, who was also present, and who was not sorry that Arty could stay with a family so well connected, and of such high position. When Walter left them, Power earnestly asked his mother what she thought of his friend.
"He is the most charming boy I ever saw," said Lady Power, "and I rejoice that you have chosen him as a friend. But you don't tell me anything about Kenrick, of whom you were once so fond; how is that?"
"I am still fond of him, mother, but he has changed a good deal lately." At that moment Kenrick passed by arm in arm with Harpour, as though to confirm Power's words, and recognised him with an ostentatiously careless nod.
It was thus that Walter's first year at Saint Winifred's ended; and in spite of all drawbacks he felt that it had been a distinguished and happy year. He was now yearning for home, and he felt that he could meet his dear ones with honest pride. He made arrangements to correspond with Henderson and Eden in the holidays, and Power promised again to visit him at Semlyn, on condition that he would come back with him and spend a week at Severn Park, so that there might be a double bond of union between them.
Very early the next morning the boys were swarming into coaches, carriages, brakes, and every conceivable vehicle which could by any possibility convey them to the nearest station. A hearty cheer accompanied each coach as it rolled off with its heavy and excited freight; by nine o'clock not a boy was left behind. The great buildings of Saint Winifred's were still as death; the footfall of the chance passer-by echoed desolately among them. A strange, mournful, conscious silence hung about the old monastic pile. The young life which usually played like the sunshine over it, was pouring unwonted brightness into many happy English homes.
It was late in the afternoon when Walter found himself on the top of the hill which looks down over Semlyn Lake. The water lay beneath him a sheet of placid silver; the flowers were scattered on every side in their beds of emerald and sunlit moss; the air, just stirred by the light breeze, was rich and balmy with the ambrosial scent of the summer groves; and high overhead the old familiar hills reared their magnificent summits into the deep unclouded blue. But Walter's bright eye was fixed on one spot only of the enchanting scene—the spot where the gables of his father's house rose picturesquely on the slope above the lake, and where a little bay in the sea of dark green firs gave him a glimpse of their garden, in which he could discover the figures of his brothers and sisters at their play. A sense of unspoken, unspeakable happiness flowed into the boy's warm heart, and if at the same moment his eyes were suffused with tears, they were the tears that always spring up when the fountain of the heart is stirred by any strong emotion to its inmost depths—the tears that come even in laughter to show that our very pleasures have their own alloy.
The coach was still behind him toiling slowly up the ascent. Leaving it to convey his luggage up to the house, he plunged down a green winding path, ankle-deep in soft grasses and innumerable flowers, which led to his home by a short cut down, the valley, along the burnside, and under the waving woods. That sweet woodland path, cool and fragrant on the most burning summer-day, where he had often gathered the little red ripe wild strawberries that peeped out here and there from between the scented spikes of golden agrimony, and under the white graceful flowers of the circoea, was familiar and dear to him from the earliest childhood. He plunged into it with delight, and springing along with joyous steps, reached in ten minutes the wicket-gate which led into his father's grounds. The first thing to see and recognise him was a graceful pet fawn of his sister's, which at his whistle came trotting to him with delight, jingling the little silver bell which was tied by a blue riband round its neck. Barely stopping to caress the beautiful little creature's head, he bounded through the orchard into the garden, and the next instant the delighted shout of his brothers and sisters welcomed him back, as they ran up, with all the glee of innocent and happy childhood, to greet him with their repeated kisses.
"Ah, there are papa and mamma," he cried, breaking away from the laughing group, as his mother advanced with open arms to meet him, and pressed him to her heart in a long embrace.
"I'm first in my form, papa," he said, looking joyously up into his father's face. "Head remove again."
"Are you, Walter? I am so happy to hear it. Few things could give me more pleasure."
"But that's nothing to being at home," he said, shouting aloud in the uncontrolled exuberance of his spirits, and hardly knowing which way to turn in the multiplicity of objects which seemed to claim his instant attention.
"Do come the rounds with me, Charlie," he said to his favourite brother, "and let me see all the dear old places again. We shall be back in a few minutes."
"And then, I dare say, you'll be glad of some tea," said his mother.
"Rather!" said Walter; "let's have it out here on the lawn, mother."
The proposal was carried by acclamation, and very soon the table was laid under the witch elm before the house, while Walter's little sisters had heaped up several dishes with freshly plucked fruit, laid in the midst of flowers and vine leaves, and Walter, his face beaming and his eyes dancing with happiness, was asking and answering a thousand incessant questions, while yet he managed to enjoy very thoroughly a large bunch of grapes, and an immense plate of strawberries and cream.
And when tea was over they still sat out in the lovely garden until the witch elm had ceased to chequer their faces with its rain of flickering light; and until the lake had paled from pure gold to rose-colour, and from rose-colour to dull crimson, and from dull crimson to silver grey, and rippled again from silver grey into a deep black blue, relieved by a thousand flashing edges of molten silver and quivering gold, under the crescent moon and the innumerable stars. And the bats had almost ceased to wheel, and in the moist air of early night the flowers were diffusing their luscious sweetness, and the nightingale was flooding the grove with her unimaginable rapture, and the eager talk had hushed itself into a delicious calm of happy silence, before they moved. It was a beautiful picture—the father and mother still youthful enough to enjoy life to the full, happy at heart, and proud of their eldest boy; his two young brothers looking up to him with such eager hope and love; the little sisters with their arms twined round his neck, and their fair hair falling over his shoulders; the noble, mirthful, fearless, thrice happy boy himself—a family circle unseparated by distance, unshadowed by sorrow, unbroken by death, seated in this exquisite scene on the lawn of their own happy English home.
Thrice happy! yes, in spite of sin and sorrow, and retribution and remorse, there are hours when the cup sparkles in our hands, filled to the brim; not (as often) with earthly waters; not with the intoxicating wine that flames in the magic bowl of pleasure; not with the red and ragged lees of wrath and satiety; but with the crystal rivers of the water of life itself. There are such hours at any rate for some. Whether they come to all mankind I know not; whether the squalid Andaman or the hideous Fuegian ever feel them I know not; nay, I know not whether they ever come, whether they ever can come, to the wretched outcasts of earth's abject poverty and fathomless degradation; whether they ever come, whether they ever can come, to the cruel and the proud, to the malicious and the mean, to the cynical and discontented; yet, if they come not to these, God help them! for they are the surest pledges of our immortality; and to the young and innocent—ay, and even to the young and guilty—they do sometimes come—these hours of absorbing limitless enjoyment; these glimpses of dimly remembered paradise; these odours snatched from a primal Eden, from a golden age when justice still lived upon the earth, and crime was as yet unknown. There are such hours, and for this English family this hour was one of them.
Thrice happy Walter! and almost like a dream of happiness these holidays at home—and at such a home—flew by. Every day and hour was a change from pleasure to pleasure; among the hills, in the boat on the sunlit lake, plunging for his cool morning swim in the fresh waters, cricketing, riding, fishing, walking with his father and mother and brothers, sitting and talking at the cool nightfall in the moonlit garden, Walter was as happy as the day was long. And when Power came to spend a week with them, again charming every one whom he saw with his cheerful unselfishness and engaging manners, and himself charmed beyond expression with all he saw at Walter's home, they agreed that nothing was wanting to make their happiness "an entire and perfect chrysolite."
Power, we have seen, was something of a young poet, and on the day he left Semlyn with Walter, who was to accompany him home, he sat a long time silent in the train, and then tore out a leaf of his pocket-book, on which he had scribbled the following lines on Semlyn Lake.
If earthly homes can shine so fair With sky and wave so purely blue, Beneath the balmy purple air, If hills can don so rich a hue;
If fancy fails to paint a scene In Eden's soft and floral glades, Where azure clear and golden green More sweetly blend with silver shades;
If marked and flecked with sinful stains, Earth hath not lost her power to bless, But still, beneath the cloud, remains So steeped in perfect loveliness;
Merged, as we are, in doubt and fear, Yet, when we yearn for realms of bliss, We scarce can dream, while lingering here, Of any fairer heaven than this.
Poor verses, and showing too delicate a sensibility to be healthy in any boy; yet dear to me and dear to Walter for Power's sake, and because they show the strange charm which Semlyn has for those who have the gift of appreciating those natural treasures with which earth plentifully fills her lap.
OLD AND NEW FACES.
Pudorem, amicitiam, pudicitiam, divina atque humana promiscum, nihil pensi neque moderati habere.
And now, gentle or ungentle reader, we must imagine that two whole years have passed since the conclusion of those summer holidays, before we again meet our young friends of Saint Winifred's.
The two years—as what years are not?—have been full of change. Walk across the court with me, and let us discover what we can about the present state of things.
The first we meet are Walter and Power—taller and manlier looking than they were, but otherwise little changed in appearance. Walter, with his dark hair and blue eyes, his graceful figure and open face, is still the handsome, attractive-looking boy we used to see. Power, too, has the same refined, thoughtful look, the same delicate yet noble features, the same eyes, which we recognise at once as the clear and bright index of a beautiful and unstained soul.
And neither of these boys has failed in their promise of their earlier days, and the warm friendship with which they regarded each other has done much to bring about this result. Each in his own way has rejoiced in his youth, has passed an innocent and happy boyhood, stored with pleasant reminiscences for after days, filled with high hopes and manly principles, with habits well-regulated, and that fine self-control which had taught them—
"Rapt in reverential awe, To sit, self-governed in the fiery prime Of youth, obedient at the feet of law."
They have enjoyed the gifts of early years without squandering them in wasteful profusion; they have felt and known that the purest pleasures were also the sweetest and the most permanent. Their minds are well cultivated, their bodies are in vigorous health, their hearts are glowing with generous impulse and warm enthusiasm; and if sorrow should ever darken their after years, it can never drive them to despair, for they have wandered in the pleasant paths of wisdom, they have drunk the pure cup of innocence, they will carry out of the torrid zone of youth clear consciences, unremorseful memories, and unpolluted minds.
Who is this who saunters across the playground, talking in loud, self-confident tones with two or three fellows round him, his hands in his pockets, his air haughty and nonchalant, and his cap a little on one side? He is still pleasant looking, his face still shows the capabilities for good and great things, but we are obliged to say of him:
"Quantum mutatus ab illo Hectore!"
Yes, Kenrick—for it is he—is altered for the worse. Something or other has left, in its traces upon his face, the history of two degenerate years. His cheek does not look as if it were capable any longer of an ingenuous blush, and there is a curl about his lip and nostril which speaks of perpetual unhealthy scorn, that child of mortified vanity and conceit, which brazens out the reproaches of self-distrust and self-reproach. See with what a careless, almost patronising, air he barely notices the master who is passing by him. He has just flung a slight nod to Power, studiously taking care not to notice Walter at all. Look, too, at the boys who are with him; they are not boys with whom we like to see him; they are an idle lot, precocious only in folly and in vice. And that little fellow, who seems to be his especial favourite, is not at all to our taste; he seems the coolest of them all. For during the last few years Kenrick has entirely lost his balance; he has deserted his best friends for the adulation of younger boys, who fed his vanity, and the society of elder boys, who perverted his thoughts, and vitiated his habits. He has slackened in the career of honourable industry, he has deflected from the straight paths of integrity and virtue. Already the fresh eagerness of youth has palled into satiety, already some of its sparkling-wine for him is bitter as vinegar; with him already pleasure has become hectic fever instead of a healthy glow. Alas! he is not happy. Within these two years he has lost—and his countenance betrays the fact in its ruined beauty—he has lost the true joys of youth, and known instead of them the troubles of the envious, the fears of the cowardly, the heaviness of the slothful, the shame of the unclean. He has lost something of the instinctive shrinking, even in thought, from all that is vile and base, the loathing of falsehood, the kindness that will not willingly give pain, the humility which has lowly thoughts of its own worth; he has lost his joy in things lovely, and excellent, and of good report; he has changed them for the mirth of fools, which is like crackling thorns—changed them for the feet that go down to death, for the steps that lay hold of hell. It is a mean price for which he has sold his peace of conscience—"the sweetness of the cup that is charged with poison, the beauty of the serpent whose bite is death."
Eden, who is seated reading on one of the benches by the wall, has recovered from his illness, but he is not, and never will be, what, but for Harpour's brutality, he might have been. He is a nervous, timid, intellectual boy. No game, unfortunately, has any attraction for him. The large liquid eyes, swimming sometimes with strange lustre, and often varying in colour, the delicate flush which any pulse of emotion drives glowing into the somewhat pale face, give to him an almost girlish aspect, and tell the tale of a weakened constitution. Eden's development has been quite altered by his fright; most of the vivacity and playfulness of his character has vanished; and although it flashes out with pleasant mirth when he is alone with his few closest friends, such as Walter and Power, his manner is, for the most part, very quiet and reserved. Yet Eden has a position of his own in the school; and unobtrusive as he is, his opinion is always listened to with kindness and respect. When he came into school again after his recovery he was received, as I have said already, with almost brotherly affection by all the boys, who felt how much he had been wronged. He became the child and protege of the school, and any cruelty to him would, after this, have been violently resented. Devoting himself wholly to work and reading, he became very successful in his progress, and is now in the second fifth. But what chiefly marks him is his extreme gentleness, and the eager way in which he strives to help all the younger and most helpless boys. Experience of suffering has given him a keen sympathy with the oppressed, and young as he is he is still doing a useful work.
There is Harpour playing rackets, and he is playing remarkably well. He is now nineteen, and a personage of immense importance in the school, for he is head of the cricket eleven, Walter being head of the football. Harpour is quite unchanged, and if he was doing mischief when we knew him two years ago, he is doing twice as much mischief now. His influence is unmitigatedly pernicious. With just enough cunning skill to escape detection, he yet signalises himself by complicity in every form of wrong which goes on in the school, and some new wrongs he introduces and invents. But nothing delights him so much as to instigate other boys to resist the authority of the masters. They know him to be a nucleus of disorder and wickedness, but he has acted with such consummate ingenuity as to avoid even laying himself open to any distinct proof of his many offences.
He is just now stopping for a minute in his game to talk to those three boys, who have been strutting up and down the court arm in arm, and whom we easily recognise. The one with the red puffy face, with an enormous gold pin in his cravat, a bunch of charms hanging to his chain, and a ring on his hand, which he loses no opportunity of displaying, is our friend Jones, with vulgarity as usual stamped on every feature, and displayed in every movement which he makes; the tall slim fellow, with an air of feeble fastness, an indecisive mouth, a habit of running his hand through his light-coloured hair, and a gaze which usually settles in fixed admiration on his faultless boots, can be no one but Howard Tracy; the third, a fellow with far more meaning and strength in his face, betrays himself to be Mackworth, by the insinuating plausibility and Belial-like grace of his manner and aspect. A dangerous serpent this; one never sees him, or hears him speak, or observes the dark glitter of his eye, without being reminded of a cerastes lythely rustling through the dry grass towards its victim.
And there at last—I thought we should never see him—is our dear young joker of jokes, the same unaltered Flip whom we know, running down the school steps. His face is overflowing with mirth and fun, and now he is stopping and holding both his sides for laughter, while, with little touches of his own, he retails some of the strange blunders which Bliss has made in the viva voce examination that morning; to which his friend Whalley listens with the same good-humoured smile which he had of old. Henderson is a perfect mimic, but never uses his powers of mimicry in an ill-natured spirit; and his imitation of Bliss's stolid perplexity and Dr Lane's comments are very ludicrous. While he is in the middle of this narrative, Bliss himself appears on the scene and relieves his feelings by delivering the only pun he ever made in his life, and observing, in a solemn tone of voice—
"Flip, don't be flippant;" a remark which he has substituted for the "I'll lick you, Flip," of old days.
"You dear old Blissidas, I think I've heard that pun once or twice before," observes Henderson, calmly pulling undone the bow of Bliss's necktie, and running off to escape retaliation, followed at his leisure by Whalley, who knows Bliss to be much too lazy to pursue the chase very far.
Let us come and hear—for we have put on our cap of darkness and are invisible, coming and going where we like, unobserved—what our four fast friends at the racket-court are talking about.
"We shall have lots of larks this half," observes Harpour, leaning on his racket.
"Yes; such fun, old boy," answers Jones.
"I declare this dull old place was getting quite lively before last holidays," says Mackworth; "we shall soon get things all right here."
"Fancy that fellow Power head of the school," said Harpour, bursting into a roar of scornful laughter, echoed in faint sniggerings by Jones and Tracy.
"Might as well have a jug of milk and water head of the school," sneered Mackworth.
"Or a bottle of French polish, I should think," casually suggests Henderson, who, en passant, has heard the last remark.
"Damn that fellow," says Mackworth, stamping, "by Jove, I'll be even with him some day."
"Is he one of the new monitors?" asks Jones.
"Yes," says Tracy, "and Evson's another;" and at Walter's name the faces of all four grew darker; "and Kenrick's a third."
"O, Kenrick is, is he? that's all right. Jolly fellow is Ken," observes Harpour, approvingly. "Yes, quite up to snuff," adds Jones; "and a thorough gentlemanly chap," assents Mackworth; for, amazing to relate, Kenrick is on good terms with these fellows now, though he has never spoken to Walter yet.
"Of good family, too, on the mother's side," drawls Tracy, with his hand lifting his locks.
"I say, old fellows," says Harpour, with many knowing looks and winks, and poking of his friends in the ribs. "I say, stunning tap at Dan's, you know, eh? I say;" whereupon the others laugh, and Belial Mackworth observes, "And let those monitors try to peach if they dare. We'll soon have them under our thumb."
After which, as their conversation is supremely repulsive, let us go and take a breath of delicious pure sea air, and seat ourselves by Walter and Power on the shore. Walter is in good, and even gay spirits, being fresh from Semlyn, but Power seems a little grave and depressed.
"Look, Walter," he says, shying a round stone at a bit of embedded rock about twenty yards before them, but missing it; "I believe it was that identical rock—"
"That identical rock," said Walter, taking a better shot, and hitting it; "well, what about it?"
"—On which you were standing one autumn evening three years ago, when the tide was coming in—"
"And to save me wet trousers you took off your shoes and stockings, and carried me in on your back," said Walter. "I remember it well, Rex; it was a happy day for me. I recollect I'd been very miserable; it was after the Paton affair, you know, and every one was cutting me. Your coming to speak to me was about the last thing in the world I expected and the best thing I could have hoped. I'd often wanted to know you, longed to have you as a friend; but I used to lock up to you as such a young swell in those days that I never thought we should meet each other."
"Pooh!" said Power; "but wasn't it good now of me to break the ice and speak first? I declare, I think I've never done it with any one else. You'd never have done it—now confess? Only fancy, we mightn't have known each other till this day."
"I shouldn't have done it at that time," said Walter, "because I was in Coventry; but—well, never mind, Rex, we understand each other. I was looking at some porpoises, I remember."
"Yes; happy days they were after that. I wish the time was back again! Fancy you a monitor, and me head of the school!"
"Fancy! we've got up the school so much faster than we used to expect."
"Yes; but I wish we could change places, and you be head and I sixth monitor as you are. You'll help me, Walter, won't you?"
"You don't doubt that, Rex, I'm sure; all the help I can give is yours."
"If it weren't for that, I think I would have left, Walter. I don't think, somehow, I've influence enough for head. I'm not swell enough at the games."
"You play though now, and enjoy them; and I don't half believe you, Rex, when you talked of having wished to leave. That would have been cowardice, you know, and you're not the boy to leave your post."
"Here I am then in my place, armour on, visor down, determined not to fly, like the Roman soldier whose skeleton was found in the sentry box at Pompeii," said Power, playfully getting up and assuming a military attitude.
"And here am I," said Walter, laughing, as he stood beside him with one foot advanced—"I, your sixth Hyperaspistes."
"The sixth!—the first you mean," said Power. "The four monitors, between you and me, won't, I fear, help us much. Browne is very short-sighted, and always shutting up with a headache; Smythe is a mere book-worm, and a regular butt even among the little fellows—worse than useless—no dignity or anything else; Kenrick (for Kenrick had so far kept the advantage of his original start that, much as he had fallen off in work, Walter had not yet got above him)—well, you know what Ken is!"
"Yes, I know what Ken is now—Hespemor en phthimenoir—he's our chief danger—a doubtful general in the camp. Hullo, Flip, you here?" said he, as Henderson came up and joined them.
"Myself, O Evides; who's the doubtful general in the camp?—not I, I hope."
"You, Flip? no; but Kenrick. We're talking about the monitors."
"A doubtful general!—a traitor, you mean, an enemy, a spy," said Henderson, hotly. "There, now, don't stop me, Power; abuse is a good safety-valve; the scream of the steam-engine letting off superfluous vapour. I should dislike him far worse if I bottled up against him a silent spite, hated him in the dark, and didn't openly abuse him sometimes."
Power's large and gentle mind, and Walter's generous temper prevented them from joining in Henderson's strong language; but they felt no less than he did that, if they were to work for the good of the school, Kenrick would be their most dangerous, though not their declared, opponent. A monitor who seemed to recognise none of a monitor's duties, who openly broke rules and defied discipline, who smoked and went to public-houses, and habitually associated with inferiors, and those the least creditable set in the school, did more to damage the authority of the upper boys than any number of external assaults on them if they were consistent and united among themselves.
"I foresee storms ahead," said Power, with a sigh. "Flip, you must stand by me as well as Walter."
"Never fear," said Henderson; "but remember I'm only the junior monitor of the lot, and I'm so quick-tempered, I'm always afraid of stirring up a commotion some day with the Harpoons"—as Henderson had christened the Harpour lot.
"You must be like the lightning-kite then," said Power, "and turn the flash away from us."
"'And dash the beauteous terror to the ground, Smiling majestic,'"
observed Henderson, parodying the gesture, and making the others laugh.
"Do you remember Somers, and Dimock, and Danvers? What big fellows the monitors used to be then!" said Power.
"And do you remember certain boys whom Somers, and Dimock, and Danvers praised on a certain occasion?" said Walter. "Come, Rex, don't despond. We weren't afraid then, why should we be now?"
"But then they had Macon, and fellows like that, to uphold them in the school."
"So have we," said Henderson; "first and foremost Whalley, who's now got his remove into the upper sixth; then there's dear old Blissidas, who has arms if he hasn't got brains, and who is as staunch as a rock; and best of all, perhaps, there's Franklin, second in both elevens, brave as a lion, strong as a bull. By the by, as I have a lightning-kite ready made for you no doubt; he's accustomed to the experiment."
"Why, Flip, you talk as if we were going to have a pitched battle," said Power, ignoring his joke about Franklin.
"So we are—practically and morally. Look out for skirmishes from the Harpour lot; especially the world, the flesh, and the devil, whom I just saw arm in arm."
"What do you mean, Flip?" asked Walter, laughing.
"Mean! nothing at all—only Tracy, Jones, and Mackworth. Tracy's the world, Jones is the flesh—raw flesh; and Mackworth's the other thing."
"I'll tell you of two more who won't let the school override us if they can help it," said Walter; "Cradock and Eden."
"Briareus and Paradise," said Henderson; "poor Eden, he can't do much for us except look on with large troubled eyes."
"Can't he though, Flip? he's got a good deal of power."
"He's got a great deal of good from Power, I know, but—"
"But don't be a donkey, Flip."
"Do shut up. Why should you two expect such a dead assault on the monitors this half?" said Power.
"Why, the fifth has in it a more turbulent lot just now than I ever knew before; big impudent fellows, with no good in them, and quite at the beck of the Harpour set," said Walter.
"Yes, and with that fellow Kenrick for a protagonist," said Henderson; "he and Harpour have always been at mischief about the monitors since they caught it so tremendously from Somers. Well, never mind; aide toi et ciel t'aidera. Why, look, there's Paradise, taking charge as usual of a little new fellow; who is it?"
"Look and see," said Walter, as a little fellow came up, with an unmistakable family resemblance—a pretty boy, with fresh round cheeks, and light hair, which shone like gold when the sunshine fell upon it.
"Why, Walter—why, this must be your brother. Well, I declare! an Evides secundus, Evides redivivus. Just what you were the day you came, and made Jones look small three years ago. How do you do, young 'un?" He shook him kindly by the hand and said, "You're a lucky little fellow to have a monitor brother, and Eden to look after you from the first. I wish I'd been so lucky, I know."
"O Walter, what a jolly place this is," said his little brother,—"jollier than Semlyn even."
"Wait a bit, Charlie; don't make up your mind too soon," said Walter; while Eden looked at the boy with a somewhat sad smile playing on his lips.
CHAPTER THIRTY ONE.
AMONG THE NOELITES.
But, I pray you, who is his companion? Is there no young squarer now that will make a voyage with him to the devil?
Much Ado about Nothing.
Etiam si quis a culpa vacuus in amicitiam ejus inciderat, quotidiano usu per similisque ceteris efficiebatur.—Sallust.
The changes described in the last chapter were not the only ones which seriously affected the prosperity of Saint Winifred's School, for the stall of masters was also partly altered during the last two years, and the alterations had not been improvements. Mr Paton—who had by this time manfully resumed his old theological labours, and who, to please Walter, had often employed him as a willing amanuensis in attempting to replace the burnt manuscript—had retired from his mastership to a quiet country living to which he had been presented by Sir Lawrence Power. Strange as it may seem, Mr Paton chiefly, though of course indirectly, owed this living to Walter, who had first talked to Sir Lawrence about Mr Paton, in terms of deep regard. The opportunity, therefore, which Walter had sought so earnestly, of atoning in some way for the mischief which he had done to his old master, was amply granted to him; and Mr Paton never felt more strongly, that even out of the deepest apparent evils God can bring about undoubted blessings. Saint Winifred's, however, was the loser by his promotion. The benefit of his impartial justice and stern discipline, and the weight of his firm and manly character in the councils of the school, was gone. And Saint Winifred's had suffered a still greater loss in the departure of Mr Percival, who had accepted, some months before, the offer of a tutorship in his own university. Had he continued where he was, his influence, his well-deserved popularity, his kind, wise, conciliatory manner, the gratitude which rewarded his ready and self-denying sympathy, would, in the troubled period which ensued, have been even more useful than his brilliant scholarship and successful method of teaching a form. These two masters had left amid the universal regret of the boys and of their colleagues, and their places had been filled up by younger, less able, and less experienced men.
And worse than this, Dr Lane, soon after the term began, was taken seriously ill, and was ordered to the German baths for two months, during which his work was done by another master, who had not the same influence. From all which causes, this half-year at Saint Winifreds was the most turbulent, the most riotous, and the most unhappy, ever known in that honourable and ancient school.
So little Charlie Evson soon found reason to revise and modify his opinion, that Saint Winifred's—as he then saw it—was jollier than even Semlyn itself. His name had been entered in the list of Mr Percival's house, before it was known that he was going to leave. Walter liked Mr Percival so much better than he did his own tutor, Mr Robertson, and had experienced from him so much more kindness, that he thought it would be an advantage for Charlie to be placed directly under so wise and kind a friend; and Mr Evson, afraid that his little son would be quite overshadowed by his elder brother, and that Walter's influence, which was very transcendent over Charlie's mind, would make him too dependent on another, and prevent him from developing his own natural character, was by no means averse to the arrangement. But since Mr Percival had left, Charlie, with the other boys in the house, was handed over to the charge of Mr Noel, a new master, who had to win his way and learn his work, neither of which he succeeded in doing until he had committed many mistakes.
In this house were Kenrick and Mackworth—Kenrick, as monitor, was in some measure responsible for the character of the house, and he had Charlie as one of his fags. At this time, as I have already observed with sorrow, Kenrick's influence was not only useless for good, but was even positively bad. There was no other monitor who did not try to be of some use to his fags; many of the monitors, by quiet kindnesses and useful hints, by judicious help and unselfish sympathy, were of most real service to the boys who nominally "fagged" for them, but who, in point of fact, were required to do nothing except taking an occasional message, seeing that the study fires did not go out, and carrying up the tea and breakfast for a week each, in order of rotation. Few Saint Winifred's boys would have hesitated to admit that they would have been less happy, and would have had fewer chances in school-life, if they had not been fags at first, and thereby found friends and protectors in the boys for whom they fagged. Kenrick, however, did not follow the good example which had become almost traditional; for, filled as he was with the spirit of wilful pride, and on bad terms with the order to which he belonged, he either spoiled his fags by petting and pampering them, and letting them see his own disregard for duty, or, if they did not take his fancy, he snubbed and disregarded them—at any rate, did nothing whatever to help them.
Kenrick was quite willing to have placed Charlie Evson in the first of these classes, for he was a boy whom it was impossible to see and not to like. His antagonistic position towards most of his own body, made him the head of a sort of faction in the school, and he would have been proud beyond measure to have had any boy like Charlie as one of his followers. But Kenrick had better reasons for wishing to attach Charlie to himself. Deeply as he had degenerated, disgraceful as his present conduct was, Kenrick, in the secret depths of his soul, sighed and pined for better things; though vice, and folly, and pride had their attractions for him, he was still sick at heart for the purer atmosphere which he had left. He looked at Charlie with vague hopes, for through him he thought that he might yet perhaps, without lowering his pride by actually seeming to have made any advance, bring about a reconciliation with his best and earliest friends, bring about a return to his former and more upright course.
But this was not to be. When a boy goes wrong he strews every step of his downward career with obstacles against his own return; and he little dreams how difficult of removal some of these obstacles will be. The obstacle in this case was another little fag of Kenrick's, named Wilton. I am sorry to write of that boy. Young in years, he was singularly old in vice. A more brazen, a more impudent, a more hardened little scapegrace—in schoolboy language, "a cooler hand"—it would have been impossible to find. He had early gained the name of Raven from his artful looks. His manner was a mixture of calm audacity and consummate self-conceit. Though you knew him to be a thorough scamp, the young imp would stare you in the face with the effrontery of a man about town. He was active, sharp, and nice-looking, and there was nothing which he was either afraid or ashamed to do. He had not a particle of that modesty which in every good boy is as natural as it is graceful; he could tell a lie without the slightest hesitation or the faintest blush; nay, while he was telling it, though he knew that you knew it to be a lie, he would not abash for an instant the cold glance of his wicked dark eyes. Yet this boy, like Charlie, was only thirteen years old. And for all these reasons, Wilton was the idol of all the big bad boys in the school; and in spite of all these reasons—for the boy had in him the fascination of a serpent—he was the declared favourite of Kenrick too.
The three boys who gave the tone to Mr Noel's house, were Kenrick, Mackworth, and Wilton. They formed as it were an electric chain of bad influence, and as they were severally prominent in the chief divisions of the school, they had peculiar opportunities for doing harm. Kenrick's evil example told with extraordinary power through the whole house, and especially upon the highest boys, who naturally imitated him. I do not mean to say that Kenrick had sunk so low that wilfully and consciously he lowered the character of the house, which as monitor he ought to have improved and raised; but he did so whether with intention or not; he did so negatively by neglecting all his duties, and by giving no direct countenance to what was right; he did so positively by not openly discountenancing, and by actually practising, many things which he knew to be wrong. The bad work was carried on by Mackworth, who was the most prominent fifth-form boy in the house. This boy's ability, and strength of will, and keenness of tongue, gave him immense authority, and enabled him to carry out almost everything he liked. To complete the mischief, among the lower boys Wilton reigned supreme; and as Wilton was prouder of Kenrick's patronage than of anything else, and by flattery and cajolery could win over Kenrick to nearly anything, the worst part of the characters of these boys acting and reacting on each other, leavened the house through and through with all that is least good, or true, or lovely, or of a good report. The mischief began before Mr Percival left, but it never could have proceeded half so far, if Mr Noel's inexperience, and the very kindness which led him to relax the existing discipline, had not tempted the boys to unwonted presumption.
Such was the state of things when Charlie entered Mr Noel's house. Walter knew that Mr Percival's promotion had frustrated the plan he had formed when he advised his father to put Charlie in that house, but the step could not now be recalled, nor, indeed, was Walter or any other monitor aware how bad the state of things had become. For among other dangerous innovations, Mackworth and Wilton had brought about a kind of understanding, that the house should to some extent keep to itself, resent all intrusion into its own precincts, and maintain a profound silence about its own secrets. Besides all this, Walter bitterly and sorrowfully felt that for some reason, which he was unable to fathom, the whole school was just then in an unsatisfactory state, and that Charlie, for whom his whole heart yearned with brotherly love and pity, would be exposed to severe temptations in whatever house he should be placed. He hoped too that, as Charlie would always have the run of his and of Power's study, it would make little difference to him that he was under a different house master.
To Mackworth and Wilton the arrival of one or two new boys was a matter of some importance, but little anxiety. The new boys were necessarily young, and in the present united state of the house, it was tolerably certain that they would catch the prevalent spirit, and be quickly assimilated to the condition of the others. The task of moulding them— if they were at all difficult to manage—fell to Wilton, and he certainly accomplished it with astonishing success. A newcomer's sensibilities were not too quickly shocked. The Noelites, for their own purposes, behaved very kindly to him at first; they were first-rate hands at "destroying a boy by means of his best affections," at "seething a kid in its mother's milk." The bad language, the school trickeries and deceits, the dodges for breaking rules and escaping punishments, the agreed-on lies to avoid detection, the suppers, and brandy, and smoking parties, and false keys to get out after lock-up, and all the other detestable symptoms of a vitiated and depraved set, were carefully kept in abeyance at first. The new fellow was treated very kindly, was sounded and fathomed cautiously, was taught to get up a strong house feeling by perpetual endeavours to wake in him the esprit de corps, was gently ridiculed if he displayed any good principle, was tremendously bullied if he showed signs of recalcitrance, was according to his temperament led, or coaxed, or initiated, or intimidated, into the condition of wickedness required of him before the house could continue to go to the devil, as fast as it wished to do, and was doing before. This was Mackworth's work, and Wilton acted as his Azazel, and Kenrick did not interfere, though he knew or guessed all that was going on; he did not interfere, he did not prevent it, he did not even remonstrate at first, and afterwards he began by acquiescing, he ended by—yes, the truth must be told—he ended in joining in it all. O Kenrick, when human beings meet face to face before a certain judgment-seat, there are some young souls who will have a bill of indictment against you; the same who may point to Mackworth or to Wilton, and say, as of old, "The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat." Five new boys had come this half-year. Four of them had been sounded by the rest of the house; one of them, named Stone, had come from a large private school, and was prepared for whatever he might find in more senses than one. Another, Symes, was a boy ill-trained at home, of no particular principles, and quite ready to flow with the stream. A third, Hanley, had come meaning to be good; he had been shocked when he first heard oaths, and when he was first asked if he would mind telling any of the regular lies—"crams" the boys called them—in the event of any master questioning him; but his wounded sensibilities were very quickly healed, and he had passed with fatal facility from disgust to indifference, from indifference to toleration. The fourth, Elgood, was a timid child, for whom no one cared either way, and whom they took care to frighten into promising to do whatever he was ordered. A terrible state of things—was it not? But, ah me! it was so once upon a time. The fifth new boy in Mr Noel's house was Charles Evson; and with this fifth new boy the devil's agents knew instinctively that they would have a great deal of trouble. But they meant to bait their hook very carefully, and they did not at all despair. Their task was made peculiarly piquant by its very difficulty, and by the fact that Charlie was one in whom their declared enemy, Walter Evson, was so nearly concerned. They were determined by fair means or foul to win him over, and make him their proselyte, until he became as much a child of sin as they were themselves. But they proceeded to their task with the utmost caution, and endeavoured to charm Charlie over to their views by showing him great attention, by trying to make things pleasant for him, by flattering him with notice, and seeming to welcome him cordially as one of themselves. Their dissimulation was profound; at first the new boy found everything quite delightful, and before a week was over had caught, as they meant him to catch, the spirit of party, and always was ready to stick up for the Noelites as the best house in the school. So far so good; but this was only the first step of initiation into these Eleusinian mysteries.
So Master Wilton—Belial junior, as Henderson always called him— ingratiated himself into Charlie's favour, and tried, not without success, to make himself peculiarly agreeable. At first sight, indeed, Charlie felt an inward repulsion to him. He did not know why he did, for, so far from there being anything obviously repulsive in Wilton's look or manners, there were many who thought him the picture of innocence, and considered his manners quite perfection in their politeness and good breeding. Charlie therefore instantly conquered his first feeling of dislike as uncharitable and groundless; and as Wilton seemed to lay himself out for his friendship, he was oftener with him during the first fortnight than with any other boy. It was strange to see the two together, so utterly different were they in every respect, and so great was the contrast of Charlie's sweet, bright, modest face, with the indescribable dangerous coolness of Wilton's knowing smile.
"Look," said Henderson to Whalley, as he saw them together one day in the playground; "there go Ithuriel and Belial junior, very thick at present."
"Yes; I don't like to see it. I don't hear any good of that fellow Wilton."
"Good! I should rather think not!"
"Give young Evson a hint, Flip, will you, that Wilton's not a good friend for him. He looks a nice little fellow, and I don't like to tell him, because I don't know him."
"Never fear; when Charlie touches him with his spear, or sees him light on the top of Niphates—one of which things will happen soon enough— he'll not be slow to discover who he is. If not, I'll tell Walter, and he shall be Charlie's Uriel."
"Touches him with his spear!—what spear?—top of Niphates!—Uriel!" said Whalley, with ludicrous astonishment; "here, Power, you're just in time to help me to put a strait-waistcoat on Flip. He says that when Wilton lights on the top of Niphates, which he will do soon, young Evson will discover that he's a scamp. What does it all mean?"
"It only means that Flip and I have been reading the Paradise Lost," said Power, laughing, "and at present Flip's mind is a Miltonic conglomerate." And he proceeded to explain to Whalley that Ithuriel was one of the Cherubs who guarded Eden—
("Only that in this case Eden guards the cherub," observed Henderson, parenthetically.)
"—and who, by touching Satan with his spear, made him bound up in his original state, when he sat like a toad squat at the ear of Eve, and, moreover, that Uriel had recognised Satan through his mask, when, lighting on Niphates, his looks became 'Alien from heaven, with passions foul obscured.'"
"Seriously, though," said Henderson, "Uriel must be asleep, or he wouldn't let his little brother get under Belial's wings."
In fact, Wilton was forced to keep on the mask much longer than he had ever meant to do. He could find no joint in Charlie's armour. The boy was so thoroughly manly, so simple-hearted, so trustful and innocent, that Wilton could make nothing of him. If he tried to indoctrinate Charlie into the state of morality among the Noelites, either Charlie did not understand him, or else quite openly expressed his disapproval and even indignation; and when finally Wilton quite tired out, did throw off the mask, Charlie shook him away from him, turned with a sickening sensation from the unbared features of vice, and unfeignedly loathed the boy who had pretended to be his friend—loathed him all the more because he had tried to like him, but now saw the snare which was being spread in his sight.
Every now and then during their early intercourse Charlie had felt a certain restraint in talking to Wilton; he could not be at ease with him though he tried. He caught the gleam of the snake through the flowers that only half concealed his folds. And Wilton, too, had got very tired of playing a part. He could not help his real wickedness cropping out now and then, yet whenever it did, Charlie started in such a way that even Wilton was ashamed; and though generally the shafts of conscience glanced off from the panoply of steel and ice which cased this boy's heart, yet during these days they once or twice reached the mark, and made him smart with long-unwonted anguish. He was conscious that he was doing the devil's work, and doing it for very poor wages, he felt now and then Charlie's immense superiority to himself, and, in a mood of pity, when, as they were standing one day in Mr Noel's private room to say a lesson, he caught sight of their two selves reflected in the looking-glass over the mantelpiece, and realised the immense gulf which separated them—a gulf not of void chaos and flaming space, but the deeper gulf of warped affections and sinful thoughts—he had felt a sudden longing to be other than what he was, to have Charlie for a true friend, to give up trying to make him a bad boy, and to fall at his feet and ask his pardon. And when he had doggedly failed in his lesson, and got his customary bad mark, and customary punishment, and received his customary objurgation, that he was getting worse and worse, and that his time was utterly wasted—and when he saw the master's face light up with a pleased expression as Charlie went cheerfully and faultlessly through his work—a sudden paroxysm of penitence seized Wilton, and, once out of the room, he left Charlie and ran up the stairs to Kenrick's study, in which he was allowed to sit whenever he liked. No one was there, and throwing himself into a chair, Wilton covered his face with both hands, and burst into passionate tears. A long train of thoughts and memories passed through his mind—memories of his own headlong fall to what he was, memories of younger and of innocent days, memories of a father, now dead, who had often set him on his knee, and prayed, before all other things, that he might grow up a good and truthful boy, and with no stain upon his name. But while memory whispered of past innocence, conscience told him of present guilt; told him that if his father could have foreseen what he would become, his heart would have broken; told him, and he knew it, that his name was a proverb and a byeword in the school. But the prominent and the recurring thought was ever this—"Is it too late to mend? Is the door shut against me?" For Wilton remembered how once before his mind was harrowed by fear and guilt as he had listened to Mr Percival's parting sermon on that sad text—one of the saddest in all the Holy Book—"And the door was shut."
Suddenly he was startled violently from his reverie, for the door was shut with a bang, and Kenrick, entering, flung himself in a chair, saying, with a vexed expression of voice, "Too late."
It was but a set of verses which Kenrick had written for a prize exercise, and which he had just sent in too late. He had not lost all ambition, but he had no real friend now to inspirit or stimulate him, so that he often procrastinated, and was seldom successful with anything.
But his accidental words fell with awful meaning and strange emphasis on poor Wilton's ear. Wilton had never heard of the Bath Kol, he knew nothing of the power that wields the tongue amid the chances of destiny; but fear made him superstitious, and, forgetting his usual dissimulation, he looked up at Kenrick aghast, without wiping away the traces which unwonted tears had left upon his face.
"Why, Raven, boy, what's the matter?" asked Kenrick, looking at him with astonishment; "much you care for my having a set of iambics too late."
"Oh, is that all?" asked Wilton, still looking frightened.
"All? Yes; and enough, too, for me. But"—stopping suddenly—"why, Raven, what's the row? You've been crying, by all that's odd! Why, I didn't know you'd ever shed a tear since you'd been in the cradle. Raven crying—what a notion! Crocodile tears, eh?"
Wilton was ashamed to have been caught crying, and angry to be laughed at. He was leaving the room silently and in a pet, when Kenrick caught him, and, looking at him, said in a kindlier tone—
"Nonsense, Ra; don't mind a little chaff. What's happened? Nothing serious, I hope?"
But Wilton was angry and miserable just then, and struggled to get free. He did not venture to tell Kenrick what had really been passing through his mind. "Let me go," he said, struggling to get free.
"O, go, by all means," said Kenrick, with his pride all on fire in a moment; "don't suppose that I want you or care for you;" and he turned his back on Wilton, to whom he had never once spoken harshly before.
The current of Wilton's thoughts was turned; he really loved Kenrick, who was the only person for whom he had any regard at all. Besides, Kenrick's support and favour were everything to him just then, and he stopped irresolutely at the door, unwilling to leave him in anger.
"What do you want? Why don't you go?" asked Kenrick, with his back still turned.
Wilton came back to the window, and humbly took Kenrick's hand, looking up at him as though to ask forgiveness.
"How odd you are to-day, Raven," said Kenrick, relenting. "What were you crying about when I came in?"
"Well, I'll tell you, Ken. I was thinking how much better some fellows are than I am, and whether it was too late to begin afresh, and whether the door was open to me still, when you came in, and said, 'Too late,' and banged the door, which I took for an answer to my thoughts."
They were the first serious words Kenrick had ever heard from Wilton; but he did not choose to heed them, and only said, after a pause—
"Other fellows better than you? Not a bit of it. Less plucky, perhaps; greater hypocrites, certainly; but you are the jolliest of them all, Ra."
And with that silly, silly speech Wilton was reassured; a gratified smile perched itself upon his lips, and his eyes sparkled with delight; nor was he soon revisited by any qualms of conscience.
CHAPTER THIRTY TWO.
"How do you get on with the young Evson, Ra?" asked Mackworth of Wilton, with a sneer.
"Not at all," said Wilton. "He's awfully particular and strait-laced, just like that brother of his. No more fun while he's in the house."
"Confound him," said Mackworth, frowning darkly; "if he doesn't like what he sees, he must lump it. He's not worth any more trouble."
"So, Mack, you too have discovered what he's like."
"Yes, I have," answered Mackworth savagely. For all his polish, his courtesies, and civilities had not succeeded in making Charlie conceal how much he feared and disliked him. The young horse rears the first time it hears the adder's hiss, and the dove's eye trembles instinctively when the hawk is near. Charlie half knew and half guessed the kind of character he had to deal with, and made Mackworth hate him with deadly hatred by the way in which, without one particle of rudeness or conceit, he managed to keep him at a distance, and check every approach to intimacy.
With Kenrick the case was different. Charlie thought that he looked one of the nicest and best fellows in the house, but he could not get over the fact that Wilton was his favourite. It was Wilton's constant and daily boast that Ken would do anything for him; and Charlie felt that Wilton was not a boy whom Walter or Power at any rate would even have tolerated, much less liked. It was this that made him receive Kenrick's advances with shyness and coldness; and when Kenrick observed this, he at once concluded that Charlie had been set against him by Walter, and that he would report to Walter all he did and said. This belief was galling to him as wormwood. Suddenly, and with most insulting publicity, he turned Charlie off from being one of his fags, and from that time never spoke of him without a sneer, and never spoke to him at all.
Meanwhile, as the term advanced, Saint Winifred's gradually revealed itself to Charlie in a more and more unfavourable light. The discipline of the school was in a most impaired state; the evening work grew more and more disorderly; few of the monitors did their duty with any vigour, and the big idle fellows in the fifth set the example of insolence towards them and rudeness to the masters. All rules were set at defiance with impunity, and in the chaos which ensued, every one did what was right in his own eyes.
One evening, during evening work, Charlie was trying hard to do the verses which had been set to his form. He found it very difficult in the noise that was going on. Not half a dozen fellows in the room were working or attempting to work; they were talking, laughing, rattling the desks, playing tricks on each other, and throwing books about the room. The one bewildered new master, who nominally kept order among the two hundred boys in the room, walked up and down in despair, speaking in vain first to one, then to another, and almost giving up the farce of attempting to maintain silence. But seeing Charlie seriously at work he came up and asked if he could give him any assistance.
Charlie gratefully thanked him, and the master sat down to try and smooth some of his difficulties. His doing so was the sign for an audible titter, which there was no attempt to suppress; and when he had passed on, Wilton, whose conduct had been more impertinent than that of any one else, said to Charlie—
"I say, young Evson, how you are grinding."
"I have these verses to do," said Charlie simply.
"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed Wilton, as though he had made some good joke. "Here, shall I give you a wrinkle?"
"Yes, if it's allowed."
The answer was greeted with another laugh, and Wilton said, "I'll save you all further trouble, young 'un. Observe the dodge; we're all up to it."
He put up a white handkerchief to his nose, and walking to the master said, "Please, sir, my nose is bleeding. May I go out for a minute?"
"Your nose bleeding? That's the third time your nose has bled this week, and other boys have also come with their noses bleeding."
"Do you doubt my word, sir?" asked Wilton, his handkerchief still held up, and assuming an injured air.
"I should be sorry to do so until you give me reason," answered the master, courteously. "It seems a strange circumstance, but you may go."
It would have been very easy to see whether his nose was bleeding or not, but the master was trying, very unsuccessfully at present, whether implicit confidence would produce a sense of honour among the boys.
Wilton went out hardly concealing his laughter, and in ten minutes returned with the verses, finished and written out. "There," he said, "Ken did those for me; he knocked them off in five minutes. Ken's an awfully clever fellow, though he never opens a book. Don't bore yourself with verses any more; I'll get them done for you."
Charlie glanced at the paper, and saw at once that the verses were perfectly done. "Do you mean to show up that copy as your own, Wilton?"
"Of course I do."
"But we are marked for them."
"Hear! hear! thanks for the information. So much the better. I shall get a jolly good mark."
"Shut up, young innocence, and don't be a muff," said another Noelite. "We all do the same thing. Take what heaven sends you and be glad to get it."
"Thank you," said Charlie, looking round; "you may, but I'd rather not. It isn't fair."
"Oh, how good we are! how sweet we are! what an angel we are!" said Wilton, turning up the whites of his eyes, while the rest applauded him. But if they meant their jeers to tell on Charlie's resolution, they were mistaken. He looked quietly round at them all with his clear eyes, gravely handed the paper back to Wilton, and quietly resumed his work. They were angry to be so foiled, and determined that, if he would not copy the verses, he should at least do them in no other way. One of them took his paper and tore it, another split his quill pens by dashing them on the desk, while a third seized his dictionary. The master, observing that something was going on at that desk, came and stood by; and as long as he was there, Charlie managed to write out what he had done, while the others, cunningly inserting an occasional mistake, or altering a few epithets, copied out the verses which Kenrick had done for Wilton. But directly the master turned away again, a boy on the opposite side of the table, with the utmost deliberation, took hold of Charlie's fair copy, and emptied the inkstand over it in three or four separate streams.
Vexed as he was—for until this time he had never known unkindness—he took it quietly and good-humouredly. Next morning, before the rest of the boys in his dormitory, who were mainly in his own form, were aware of what he meant to do, he got up early and went to Walter's study, hoping to write out the verses there from memory. But he found the study in the possession of the housemaid; chapel-bell rang, and after chapel he went into morning school with the exercise unfinished. For this, he, the only boy in the form who had attempted to do his duty, received a punishment, while the rest looked on unabashed, and got marks for their stolen work. Wilton received nearly full marks for his. The master, Mr Paton's successor, thought it odd that Wilton could do his verses so much better than any of his other work, but he could not detect the cheating, and Wilton always assured him that the verses were entirely his own composition.
It was about time now, Wilton thought, to hoist his true colours; but, as he had abundance of brass, he followed Charlie out of the schoolroom, talked to him familiarly, as if nothing had happened, and finally took his arm. But this was too much; for the boy, who was as open as the day in all his dealings, at once withdrew his arm, and standing still, looked him full in the face.
"So!" said Wilton, "now take your choice—friends or enemies—which shall it be?"
"If you want me to cheat, and tell lies, and be mean—not friends."
"So! enemies then, mind. Look out for squalls, young Evson. One question, though," said Wilton, as Charlie turned away.
"Are you going to sneak about this to your brother?"
Charlie was silent. Without any intention of procuring Walter's interference, he had meant to talk to him about his difficulties, and to ask his advice. But if this was to be stigmatised as sneaking he felt that he had rather not do it, for there is no action a boy fears more, and considers more mean than this.
"Oh, I see," said Wilton; "you do mean to peach, blab, tell tales, do you? Well, it don't matter much; you'll find he can do precious little; and it will be all the worse for you in the long-run."
"I shan't tell him," said Charlie, shortly; and those words sealed his lips, as with a heavy heart he entered the breakfast-room, and meditated on troubles to come.
Which troubles came quite fast enough—very fast indeed. For the house, or rather the leading spirits in it, thought that they had wasted quite enough time, and with quite sufficient success in angling for the new boys, and determined to resume without any further delay their ordinary courses. If Charlie was fool enough to resist them, they said, so much the worse for him. During the day, indeed, he was saved from many of the annoyances which Walter had been obliged to endure, by escaping from the Great Schoolroom to the happy and quiet refuge of Walter's, or Power's or Eden's study. There he could always be unmolested, and enjoy the kindness with which he was treated, and the cheerful, healthy atmosphere which contrasted so strangely in its moral sweetness with the turbid and polluted air of Noelite society. But in the evening at Preparation, and afterwards in the dormitories, he was wholly at the mercy of that bad confederacy which had tried to mould him to its own will. He was in a large dormitory of ten boys, and as this was the principal room in Mr Noel's house, it formed the regular refuge every night for the idle and the mischievously inclined. When the candles were put out at bed-time it was seldom long before they were relit in this room—which was somewhat remote from the others, at the end of a long corridor, and of which the window opened on a secluded part of Dr Lane's garden. If a scout were placed at the end of the corridor he could give timely warning of any danger, so that the chance of detection was very small. Had the candles been relit only for a game of play, Charlie would have been the first to join in the fun. But the Noelites were far too vitiated in taste to be long content with mere bolstering or harmless games. It seemed to Charlie that the candles were relit chiefly for the purpose of eating and drinking forbidden things, of playing cards, or of bullying and tormenting those boys who were least advanced in general wickedness.
"I say, young Evson," said Wilton to him one night soon after the fracas above narrated, "we're going to have some fun to-night. Stone, like a brick as he is, has stood a couple of bottles of wine, and Hanley some cards. We shall have a smoke too."
All this was said in a tone of braggadocio, meant to be exceedingly telling, but it only made Charlie feel that he loathed this swaggering little boy with his premature savoir vivre, more and more. He understood, too, the hint that two of the new fellows had contributed to the house carousal, and fully expected that he would be asked next. He secretly, however, determined to refuse, because he knew well that a mere harmless feast was not intended, but rather a smoking and drinking bout. He had subscribed liberally to all the legitimate funds—the football, the racquet court, the gymnasium; but he saw no reason why he should be taxed for things which he disliked and disapproved. The result of that evening confirmed him in his resolution. It was a scene of drinking, gluttony, secret fear, endless squabbling, and joyless excitement.
"Of course you'll play, and put into the pool?" said Wilton.
"No, thank you."
"No, thank you," said Wilton, scornfully mimicking his tone. "Of course not; you'll do nothing except set yourself up for a saint, and make yourself disagreeable."
During the evening Stone brought him some wine, which Charlie again declined, with "No, thank you, Stone." Wilton again echoed the refusal, which was chorused by a dozen others; and from that time Charlie was duly dubbed with the nickname of "No-thank-you." He was forcibly christened by this new name, by being held in bed while half a wine-glass of port was thrown in his face. The wine poured down and stained his night-shirt, and then they all began to dread that it would lead to their being discovered, and threatened Charlie with endless penalties if he dared to tell. There was, however, little danger, as the Noelites had bribed the servants who waited on them and cleaned their rooms.
The same scene, with slight variations, was constantly repeated, and every fresh refusal was accompanied by a kick or a cuff from the bigger boys, a sneer or an insult from the younger; for Charlie himself was one of the youngest of them all. One night it was, "I say, you fellow—you, No-thank-you—will you fork out for some wine to-night? No? Well then, take that and that, and be hung to you for a little muff." Another time it would be, "Hi there, No-thank-you—we want sixpence for a pack of cards. Oh, you won't be so sinful as to part with sixpence for cards? Confounded little miser;" "Niggard," said another; "Skinflint," shouted a third. And a general cry of "Saint," which expressed the climax of villainy, ended the verbal portion of the contest. And then, some one would slap him on the cheek, with "take that", "and that," from another, "and that," from a third—the last being a boot or a piece of soap shied at his head.
It cannot be more wearisome to the reader than it is to me to linger in these coarse scenes; but, for Charlie, it was a long martyrdom most heroically borne. He was almost literally alone and single-handed against the rest of the house; yet he would not give way. Walter, and Power, and Henderson, all knew that he was bullied, sorely bullied; this they learnt far more from Eden, and from other sources, than from Charlie himself, for he, poor child, held himself bound by his promise to Wilton, and kept his lips resolutely sealed. But these friends knew that he was suffering for conscience sake; and Walter helped him with tender, brotherly affection, and Power with brave words and kindly sympathy, as well as by noble example, and Henderson by his cheering and playful manner; and this caused him much happiness all day long, until he felt that, with that short but heart-uttered prayer which he breathed so earnestly from "the altar of his own bedside," he had strength sufficient to meet and to conquer the trials which night brought.