'I've had enough of this,' said Taylor when they came into the playground after dinner. 'That scholarship boy is at the bottom of the whole thing, and we must get rid of him.'
'You've said that before,' grumbled Curtis.
'Yes, I know I have, and I hoped Morrison would persuade his pater to do the job for us, as he brought him in; but it don't seem as though he was going to move in the matter, and so I shall, and little Morrison must help me.'
'But what are you going to do?' asked Leonard.
'That's my business. All you've got to do is what I tell you, and to ask no questions.'
Curtis lifted his sleepy eyes and looked at Taylor with a little more interest.
'What is it to be?' he asked.
'Well, I mean to stink him out; it will all be done up in the stinkery.'
'The stinkery'—or stink-room, to give it its proper title—was a small slip-room divided from the laboratory by a close wooden partition with several ventilating shafts, under which noisome-smelling chemicals could be used without causing any annoyance to the students working in the general laboratory.
'That scholarship boy shall have enough of his precious slops. I'll let Skeats know whether he shall favour a fellow because the rest of us have sent him to Coventry!'
'Why, what has Skeats done?' asked one of the lads; for the science master was a favourite among most of the boys.
'Can't you see what he's doing every day? That sneak from the board school pretends to have "an idea," whatever that may be, and goes talking to old Skeats about it, and so he lets him go up to the "lab." every dinner-time to work at it. Don't you see the little game? We can't make him feel he is in Coventry, if he is taken out of our way. But I am going to upset this family party, and I mean little Morrison shall help me. It's only fair, as his father brought the fellow here, that he should be used to get rid of him.'
'What do you want me to do?' asked Leonard, turning pale, and heartily wishing himself out of the way.
'Why, you shall get the stuff we want. Your father is a doctor, and so it will be easy enough.'
'But the pater does not keep a store of chemicals,' said Leonard.
'Who said he did? I said he was a doctor, and I suppose you can't deny that, can you?'
Leonard looked offended, and was turning away, but Taylor soon fetched him back. 'Look here, little Morrison, it's no good funking. You can do this job better than anybody else, and you've got to do it. I don't want you to steal your father's stuff, but you must get two of his bottles, and go to get what I shall tell you, and if the people at the drug store ask you whether it is for your father, why, of course you must say, "Yes." Now mind, mum must be the word, for I'm not going to tell all the crowd what I'm going to do. Curtis is going to find half the money, and I'll find the other half. Here's half a sovereign. I don't know what the things will cost, any more than the man in the moon, but I shall want the things I have put down in this paper; and tell them to fasten them down tight, so that they don't leak out; for you'll have to keep 'em in your bag till I can use 'em to-morrow.'
'Must I get them to-night?' asked Leonard, wishing he could tell Taylor he would not do it.
'Yes, you must!' answered the 'cock of the walk' in a masterful tone. 'Now, mind you don't lose the money, and be sure you bring the right chemicals.'
NEWS FOR MRS. MORRISON.
'Oh dear, how late you are for luncheon! it always happens so, if I want you to come home early!'
'Can't help it, my dear,' said Dr. Morrison, as he began to take off his coat.
But his wife was too impatient to let him do it this time. 'Come in here while they put luncheon on the table,' she said, and she drew him into the little room. 'I have had a letter. Guess who it is from.'
But Dr. Morrison shook his head. 'I am too hungry to guess anything,' he said. 'Is it from the man in the moon?'
'Almost as wonderful,' said the lady. 'It is from Dick, dear old Dick! I feel ready to jump for joy.'
The doctor stood still and looked at his wife in blank amazement. 'From Dick? your brother Dick?' he said at last.
'Oh dear, don't speak like that, as though the poor fellow had ever done anything wicked! I have heard you say many times that he was only weak, not wicked.'
'Yes, yes, I know he is only weak; only too ready to say "Yes," and be led into mischief, when he ought to say "No," and stand to it. Think what his easy-going ways have cost us.'
'No, no, I can't think of that now,' interrupted the lady. 'I can only remember that he is my only brother, and I want you to take me to him at once. I have not seen him for five years,' she added, 'and he begs that you will go to him at once, because he has a friend with him who needs your attention at once. He says he met with him out in the wilds of Australia, and he has been the best friend he ever had—that this Mr. Howard has saved him body and soul. But he has fallen ill, through disappointment at not receiving a letter from his wife as soon as he landed. That he has not heard from her for years, because he had to leave England in a hurry, a great many years ago.'
'Why, that might be written of Dick himself,' said the doctor, with a smile. '"Birds of a feather," you know the old proverb!'
'Oh, but Dick must have altered, I am sure, for he says that he and Mr. Howard have both worked very hard, and made a moderate fortune, or they would not have come home to England again. That is not like the old Dick, is it?'
'No, my dear, for he generally let other people do the hard work, while he dreamed of what he would like to do. But now let me see this letter.'
'Luncheon is served, ma'am,' said the housemaid, tapping at the door at this moment.
The doctor and his wife were to have the meal alone to-day, and so the servant's service was dispensed with, that they might discuss this wonderful letter, for wonderful it was, even the doctor had to confess, when he had read it.
There was far more about his friend, whose wife and family he was anxious to find, than there was about the writer himself; but the most interesting piece of information was in the postscript.
'My friend has just heard that his wife went to live in the neighbourhood of your town. Can you make inquiries? She has two sons, Frederick and Horace. The latter would be about thirteen, I think.'
The doctor dropped the letter and gazed at his wife. 'I wonder whether it is the father of that scholarship boy!' he almost gasped.
'What scholarship boy?' asked Mrs. Morrison impatiently.
'Why, the one that was sent from the board school to Torrington's. His father was entered as a traveller, I believe, and he was said to be abroad. My dear, put your things on, and we will drive round and see this Mrs. Howard. She lives at that old-fashioned cottage just outside the town.'
'Oh, but I want to go and see Dick!' said the lady.
'And we will go, if possible; but I shall have to see Warren first, and we must do as Dick wishes, and inquire for his friend's wife before we go.'
Dr. Morrison was not a man to let the grass grow under his feet, and so the carriage was ordered at once, and in half an hour they were on their way to the cottage.
A very few words convinced the doctor that he had found the lady he was seeking; and when she had read all that was said about her husband she readily agreed to go with the doctor and Mrs. Morrison to London. While the doctor went to his friend Warren, she wrote a letter explaining something of what had happened, and that she was going with Dr. Morrison to London. This she sent by a messenger to Fred at his work, asking him to tell Horace something of what had occurred, and also to meet his brother when he came home to tea.
Fred was not a little puzzled when he received this letter, but he asked to be allowed to leave a little earlier, and so managed to reach home just as Horace appeared at the bend of the lane.
'I tried to get here before you, but you were too quick for me,' he said, when his brother rushed in at the garden gate.
'Where's mother?' asked Horace, when he saw Fred take the street-door key from his pocket.
'Come indoors, and I'll tell you all I know. Let me light the fire first,' he added. Fred had learned to be very handy about the house, and he soon had the fire blazing under the kettle; and while it boiled he told Horace that a letter had been sent to him early in the afternoon from his mother, saying that she had just received news of his father, who was ill in London. 'Dr. Morrison came and told her all about it, and he has gone to London with her.'
'Dr. Morrison!' repeated Horace. 'Why, Morrison is in my class at school; and the doctor is his father, I know.'
'What sort of a fellow is young Morrison?' asked Fred. He was handing cups and saucers to Horace, who was setting them ready for tea.
'Oh, Morrison is all right,' said Horace, who was clattering the cups and saucers; for he did not want to discuss his school troubles with his brother. 'I don't see much of him, because he likes to go with the bigger boys. I say, Fred, do you remember our father?' said Horace; 'he's been gone away such a long time. We used to have a nice house and servants when he stayed at home with us, didn't we?'
'Then you remember him, Horry?' said Fred.
But Horace shook his head. 'No, I don't remember a bit about him, only that we had a nice house a long time ago.'
'Well, I only remember a little,' said Fred. 'But I know he was a tall gentleman, and I think he was a doctor. He went away to travel, I have heard mother say, and she thought he must be dead until Dr. Morrison came this afternoon. I have brought home some sausages,' announced Fred, who wanted to change the conversation.
He knew so little and remembered so little about his father and those former days; but as he had grown older he had grown angry that his father should leave his mother as he had, without cause—so far as Fred knew—and without explanation, he had heard, and simply gone abroad to travel, leaving them to battle with poverty as they could.
As time went on he had spoken less and less of his father, but he had become certain that there must have been some cause for his father's disappearance, though his mother might not know it; but in his own mind there was a lurking fear that some disgrace might lie hidden below the long silence. And so, as soon as tea was over, he said—
'I am going out to get some things for breakfast.'
So Horace was left to the comfort of his books and the study of his lessons.
When Leonard reached home that same afternoon, Florence met him with the information that father and mother had both gone out, and Mary the housemaid did not know what time they would be home.
'Where have they gone?' asked Leonard, for it was a rare occurrence for both to be away at the same time.
Florence shook her head. 'Mary says that James was sent with a letter to Mr. Warren, and so I should think father had asked him to look after some of his patients.'
'Very likely,' answered her brother; and then he took his satchel to the little room where lessons were studied and sat down to think.
He did not know whether he was glad or sorry to hear that his father had gone out. As he came along he had made up his mind that it would be impossible to get bottles from his father's dispensing-room, for he was never allowed to go there, and it was just possible that his father had locked the door before going out, in which case he could tell Taylor that it was impossible to get the chemicals for him, and there would be an end of it.
But, although he said this, he knew there would not be an end of it, and if he refused at last to get what was wanted, he would be sent to Coventry, at least by those whose society he desired.
So after washing his hands before going to tea he went to the dispensing-room, to find out whether the door could be opened, and found that it yielded at once. He went in and closed the door, lest one of the servants should come that way and see him, when they would be sure to remind him that he was not allowed to go there.
After closing the door he looked round to see what he could find, and there by the sink was a row of glass-stoppered bottles, evidently filled with water for washing them. He selected two that he thought would hold about half a pint each, and pouring out the water he took them to the study and hid them in a corner out of sight, in case Florence should decide to do her lessons with him this evening.
But it seemed as though everything was to favour him in what he knew was wrong-doing. His sister told him at tea-time that she must do her lessons in her own room, for she had an extra piece of history to study, as she was working for the history prize to be given at Christmas.
'Oh, all right,' said Leonard, with his mouth full of bread and jam. 'It's all a girl can do, I suppose, get a prize now and then.'
'You can't do that if you are a boy!' retorted Florence; and then there was a little more sparring and wrangling, until the housemaid appeared to clear the table. Florence went upstairs to her lesson then, and Leonard sauntered off to the little study and lighted the gas, for it was getting dusk.
When the gas was lighted he went to look at his bottles, and then saw in the corner, near where he had hidden them, an old leather bag of his father's. He remembered now that he had been told he might have it for his books when the satchel was worn out; and he decided to take it at once. 'This is good fortune indeed! Taylor says he'll take care nobody finds out, if I only get the stuff there. Taylor is a smart fellow, and so is his father, or he could not have made a big fortune in a year or two, as Taylor says he did. My dad won't make one in a life-time, I'm afraid, and I shall just have to go plodding on at hard work, unless I can learn a thing or two from Taylor by-and-by.'
While he had been speaking to himself he had been wrapping each bottle up separately in a piece of old newspaper and putting them into the bag. Then he took the written paper given him by Taylor and the half-sovereign, and decided to go at once and get his bottles filled. He must tell the chemist to seal the stoppers down securely, or there would be such a smell from the bag that it would betray them before it could be got into 'the stinkery' at school. He put a book in the bag as well as the bottles, so that if his sister should discover that he had been out, he could say he had been to borrow a book from one of his schoolfellows.
He went out by the back gate, for he did not want anyone to know he was going if he could help it, and Florence might hear him shut the front door. He knew where to go, and as he brought his father's private bottles and half-a-sovereign to pay for what he had, the chemist served him without demur. He wondered a little what the doctor could want the chemicals for, but reflected that as Leonard was old enough to sign his poison-book in the regular way, and as Mr. Morrison was a well-known practitioner in the town, there could be no harm done in letting him have what he wanted.
So Leonard walked home in triumph with the bottles securely wrapped up in the bag. On his way back he met Taylor walking arm-in-arm with Curtis, and both smoking cigarettes.
'Hullo, little Morrison!' he said in a patronising tone, as Leonard stopped them, for they would have passed without noticing him.
'This is a piece of luck!' exclaimed the boy. 'You can take the bag now, Taylor. The bottles and stuff are in it safe enough.'
'What bottles? What stuff?' he said, stepping back a pace, as if the proffered bag would bite him.
'You know what it is,' said Leonard in a tone of surprise.
'Oh no, I don't! I know nothing until you bring me the stuff I told you about. Ta-ta! little Morrison. Don't forget the bag in the morning;' and the 'cock of the walk' and his friend went on their way laughing, leaving the boy transfixed with anger and amazement. His first thought was that he would go and throw the bottles in the canal just as they were, give Taylor the change out of the half-sovereign, and tell him where he would find the bottles if he wanted them. He went so far as to walk down the canal road, but his courage evaporated before he had gone any distance, and although he was still very angry over the treatment he had received from his chosen friend, he turned his steps homeward, still carrying the bottles, but half decided that he would not take them to Taylor in the morning.
As he was going in at the back gate one of the servants met him.
'Dear me, Mr. Leonard! how you made me jump! There's a telegram come for you, and Miss Florence has been hunting all over the house to find you, for the boy said he was to wait for an answer.'
The importance of having a telegram sent to him soothed Leonard's ruffled feelings, and he hurried in to find his sister and learn what the message could be. 'Mother and I cannot come home to-night—coming to-morrow.' This was what the mysterious yellow envelope contained by way of a message, and Leonard read it with Florence looking over his shoulder.
'There's no answer to go back,' said Leonard, when he saw Mary looking at him. 'Go and tell the boy Father has just sent to say that he is not coming home to-night;' and then he went and carried the bag to the little room, leaving Florence to read the telegram over for her own satisfaction—as if that would give her any more information.
She followed her brother to the study and said, 'Where do you think they have gone, Len?'
'How can I tell? I never heard of a rich uncle, did you?'
His sister shook her head. 'Daddy was an only son, I know,' she said. 'But I think mother had a brother.'
'Was he a millionaire?' asked Leonard.
'He was a doctor, which is quite as good, I am sure, for that is——'
'Flo, you're a duffer,' interrupted her brother. 'There's nothing like millionaires in these days, and so I hope this uncle, whoever he may be, has made his pile, and will leave it all to us.'
'But you don't know it is an uncle they have gone to see. Father had friends in London, and this telegram came from Westminster, and I know that is in London.'
'Well, we shall hear all about it when they come, I dare say. Now run away, little girl, for I want to get on with my lessons, now I have got the book I wanted.'
'Oh, that was what you wanted! You boys are so careless. It is a good job you can borrow of each other;' and Florence went away, leaving Leonard to do his lessons or reflect upon the strange events of the evening.
After a few angry thoughts concerning Taylor and his behaviour towards him that evening, he began wondering once more whether it was an uncle his parents had gone to see, and then whether he was rich, and would make them wealthy too. He had never thought so much of money and what it could do for its possessor until lately, but Taylor and Curtis both belonged to wealthy families, and he thought of what they could do. He called to mind the half-sovereign and the cigarettes he had seen them smoking, and he had no doubt they were going to a famous billiard-room in the town. Billiards, cigars, and half-sovereigns made up an entrancing picture to the boy, and he sat and dreamed of these things, and wished he had plenty of money, until half the evening was gone; and although he declined to go to bed at the usual hour, he only half knew his lessons when he did go.
The next morning he started for school in good time, for fear he should miss Taylor, and be compelled to have those bottles on his mind all the morning. But Taylor was looking out for him at the corner of the road where they usually met. He was in a different mood this morning, and flattered and praised the lad for having got the chemicals without anyone finding out what he had done.
'You carry the bag to the gate, and I'll take it of you there, and no one will ever see those bottles again, I can promise you.'
'But how are you going to manage?' asked Leonard.
'Oh, I have made my plans! I have to work in "the stinkery" this morning, so the thing will be easy enough when I have once got your bottles up in the "lab.," and they'll go in my pockets for me to take them up there. Oh, never fear! we shall get rid of that board school beggar this time, for Skeats is awfully particular about his stuff, and he'll never forgive him for using chemicals like these away from "the stinkery." I know where to put them till I want them, so you can give them to me in a minute, and I will put them into the pockets of this dust-coat I am carrying; I brought it with me on purpose.'
Leonard breathed a sigh of relief when the bottles were safely transferred from the bag to the inside pockets of the fashionable coat.
'If the stopper should come out of that bottle of sulphuric acid, your coat won't be worth much,' he said, as Taylor swung the coat over his arm.
'The stoppers are all right, I can see,' he said; but still he carried the coat carefully, and went at once to hang it up when he got to the school.
The laboratory had been built at a later date than the main body of the school, and was reached by a flight of steps from the playground. The room below it was used for coats and hats and other impedimenta the boys might bring with them, each boy having his own peg and place on the shelf for bag or lunch basket. They passed through this room on their way to the laboratory, and so it would be easy for Taylor to take down his coat, and carry it up with him when he went for his practical chemistry lesson, and he did this without any notice being aroused among the other boys.
At twelve o'clock, when school was over, the science master went to the playground to look for Howard, who was eating his sandwiches as he walked up and down. 'You won't be long before you go up to the laboratory, I suppose, Howard?' he said, when he saw the lad.
'No, sir, I'm going in a minute,' said the boy.
'I have left three boys there finishing their work. Just see they leave their things all right, when you go in.'
Horace frequently performed such small services for the science master, and readily promised to do this. But just as Mr. Skeats turned away, Warren came up, and the two stood talking for two or three minutes before Howard went to the laboratory. He ran up the steps, and was surprised to find the door closed, but not locked, as boys usually locked it when they were left to do some work after school hours. When he opened the door, he was struck by the peculiar smell of almonds that pervaded the place. He closed the door, but did not lock it. 'I say, what have you fellows been using?' he said, as he went to the further end of the room. There lay one boy stretched out on the floor near a bench, and close to another lay a second. He tried to rouse the one nearest to him, and then seized him by the legs and dragged him across the room out on to the landing. There he shouted 'Help! help!' and ran back to pull out the others, for he knew the deadly nature of that almond-like smell. He managed to get another to the door, where he would get fresh air, and then returned for the third. He found him lying near 'the stinkery,' and thought he would open that door, for the better ventilation of the outer room; but as he passed his own bench, which stood near, he was overpowered by the fumes pouring out of a flask standing there, from which acid also was boiling over on to the bench and floor. He reeled, and before he could reach the door fell insensible to the ground, one hand falling helplessly into the pool of burning liquid there. But by this time the fresh air had revived the first boy he had dragged out, and he called to a lad in the playground.
'What's the row?' said Warren—for it happened to be that young gentleman. 'Oh, what a stink!' he said the next minute, and putting his head in, he saw Howard and the other lad lying on the floor at the further end of the room. He knew that the fumes were dangerous, and stuffing his pocket-handkerchief into his mouth and up his nostrils, he dashed in and tried to drag both boys at once to the door, but had to drop one just as Mr. Skeats rushed up. He picked up Horace, and carried him down, and then sent for the head master and other lads to carry out those who, although somewhat revived, were still lying on the landing at the top of the steps.
'You must have a doctor, sir,' said Warren, pushing his way through the crowd of boys who had gathered round to know what was the matter.
'Yes, yes,' said the master; and Warren rushed off to the gate and ran hastily down the road. He knew his father was often in the neighbourhood about that time of the day, and, to his great joy, he saw him driving in his gig. The boy ran and shouted, and speedily attracted the doctor's attention when his son shouted, 'Something wrong in the "lab!"'
He ran into the playground, and there half-a-dozen voices called, 'They have carried them all to the master's house.'
Here he found two of the boys well-nigh recovered, but the third one was still unconscious, and Horace seemed even worse. His hand and arms were badly burned with the acid, and there were splashes of it on his face.
The masters were doing what they could to get the deadly poison out of his lungs, but it seemed as though Horace and the third lad had inhaled so much of the gas that all their efforts were in vain. The doctor looked grave when Mr. Skeats told him the boys had been breathing hydro-cyanic acid gas. The application of artificial respiration was redoubled, but it was not until nearly four o'clock that Horace began to revive, and what Leonard felt during those awful hours of suspense could be better imagined than described! The laboratory had been locked up, as soon as it was known what had happened, so that the affair might be inquired into. No boy was allowed to go home either, although Taylor had complained of being very ill, and had wanted to leave early.
Not until it was known that Horace was out of all immediate danger was there a word spoken, and then Dr. Mason said, 'I am ready to hear any explanation that you may wish to give me as to the cause of what has happened. I have heard all about the attendant circumstances and the rescue of these lads. What I want to know is, who caused the disaster?'
Not a sound broke the silence of the school when the doctor had said this. Leonard was ready to tell of his share in the affair, but as he glanced at Taylor he received such a look of warning as made him cower in his seat, and the school broke up wondering what would happen next.
Warren volunteered the information that Howard's mother had gone away from home, and only his elder brother could take care of him, if he was sent there, so that it was decided that he should remain in the master's house for the present; and Warren went to let Fred know that his brother would not be home all night.
'Why, what is the matter?' asked the young carpenter anxiously.
'There was something wrong in the "lab." this dinner-time. Nobody knows just how it happened, but there'll be a jolly row about it to-morrow, I know.'
'I hope Horace had nothing to do with it,' said Fred.
'Oh, didn't he, though! Three boys would soon have been dead if he hadn't gone in. That's how he got hurt. You can go and see him, my father says, only you mustn't talk much.'
Fred was not long getting his tea; he was too anxious to go and hear more of what had happened to his brother, but he took care to wash himself and change his working clothes before presenting himself at the master's house.
He found Horace in bed, with both hands bandaged and looking very pale. He was able to tell him what had happened, but begged him not to say a word about it to his mother, as he felt sure he should be quite well in the morning. Fred hardly knew what to do, but at length agreed not to say a word about it when he wrote to his mother. When he had nearly reached his own home, he saw a boy waiting near the gate, and he said, 'Are you Howard's brother?'
'Yes. Who are you?' asked Fred.
'My name is Morrison, and I want to know if you think he will get well again.'
'I hope so. But why are you so anxious about it? Do you know how it happened?'
'I know a bit,' said the boy sheepishly, 'and I wondered whether I'd better tell my father.'
'Yes, yes—tell him by all means,' said Fred eagerly. 'Come in a minute, and if you like I will go home with you and break the ice. I've always been in the habit of telling my mother when I got into a scrape; but it made it a bit easier if Horace told her something about it first, so I know how you feel about telling your father.'
'We didn't mean to hurt the fellows, you know,' said Leonard eagerly, as he went into the little sitting-room. 'We didn't mean to hurt anybody; only make a jolly stink in the "lab.," and get somebody into a row.'
He did not say who the 'somebody' was, and Fred did not ask him. They went away together, and walked almost in silence, for Fred did not like to press the boy to tell him any more. It was a long walk round to Leonard's home, but Fred did not mind; and if the doctor had got back he might hear of his mother, and something of what had happened since she had been gone, for he had not had a letter from her, as he had expected.
When they got to the doctor's house, and Fred asked to see him, the servant said he had only just come home, and she was not sure that he could see anybody.
'I think he will see me, if you tell him that my name is Howard,' said Fred. 'I have come to see him about my brother, who was hurt at school to-day.'
The doctor was certainly mystified as to the meaning of the last part of the message, but he was glad to see Fred, for he had promised his mother he would see him as soon as possible.
The doctor rose from his seat and took Fred's hands as he entered the room. 'I am very glad to see you. I have some wonderful news for you. I left your father a few hours ago. Your mother wished me to tell you. Do you remember your father?'
'Yes, sir, a little,' answered Fred, quite forgetting what he actually had come for.
'You do remember him?' repeated the doctor.
'I know he was a gentleman,' said Fred, a little proudly.
'Yes, he has proved himself a steadfast, God-fearing, humble Christian. A true gentleman in these later years,' said Mr. Morrison; 'and I have promised him, and your mother too, that you shall hear something of what those years have been.'
'But I should like to know first why he went away and left us all alone,' said Fred, with reddening brow. 'It was not fair to my mother, or to any of us, and I am not sure that I shall ever want to see him again.' And then the tears filled Fred's eyes.
'Sit down, my lad,' said the doctor; 'your father knew that you must feel angry at what has happened, and, to use his own words, he does not deserve anything else at your hands, but I was to tell his story in as few words as possible, and leave the rest to you.
'Some time before he went away he had a patient named Taylor. He seems to have been a very fascinating sort of man, and your father was not a very strong one. Through this man he neglected his practice a great deal—he was a doctor, you know—his friend always seemed to have plenty of money, and they went about the country a good deal together enjoying themselves, doing no great harm, beyond your father neglecting his work and you at home.
'This lasted for some time, and then one day his friend begged him, as a great favour, to sign his name to a bill. Of course, by doing this your father became responsible for the whole amount of the debt, if his friend should fail to repay it within the time named; but he had such confidence in Mr. Taylor, and believed all he said about the wealth coming to him, that he signed it after a little persuasion, although it was for a very large amount of money.
'He never told your mother of this transaction, because he knew she disliked and mistrusted this Taylor.
'A few days before this bill became due your father found to his dismay that his friend had disappeared from his London house, and no one knew where he had gone. Still, your father said no word to your mother of what had happened, but when he was served with the notice that he must now pay the debt, he was seized with panic at the thought of the ruin he had brought upon himself and family, and, instead of bravely staying to do what he could to help those who were dependent upon him, he went out one morning, and took a passage to Australia by a vessel that was just leaving the docks.
'It must be said in excuse for him that just at the time there was a great talk of the rapid fortunes that were being made in the gold-fields, and he had heard that Taylor had gone there to make his fortune.
'I need hardly tell you that he did not see his false friend again, although he heard of him more than once during his wanderings in the wilds of Australia.
'He wrote one short letter, telling your mother he would come home as soon as he had made his fortune; and he resolved in his own mind not to do so until he had accomplished this, for only in this way he thought he could atone for the past and prove that he was worthy of her confidence for the future.
'But he found the task much harder than he had supposed, and instead of making his fortune at the gold-fields he was robbed of the little he possessed, and was glad to get any sort of work that would provide him with a crust of bread.
'Then he met with Mrs. Morrison's brother, who was not unlike himself in many respects—easily led, weak to resist temptation—but in the hard school of affliction to which they had condemned themselves God met them, and showed them the folly and sin of which they had been guilty; and they sought and found pardon through the Lord Jesus Christ. Then, through the help of God's Holy Spirit, they began to struggle against the temptations by which they were beset, and in the struggle grew strong, strong enough to resist even the making of illegal gains; and so the fortune that was to restore them to home and country was a long time in the making, and meanwhile they clung to each other, and to God.'
'But my father might have written to us,' said Fred, still a little hardly.
'They both wrote to their nearest friends in England. But you must remember that your mother had left London, and I had left Liverpool, where I was living when my brother-in-law went away; so both letters were returned, and the wanderers could only work on in faith and hope that one day God would bring them to their dear ones again.'
Fred had listened with the greatest intentness to the doctor's story, and now he roused himself, remembering that the errand he had come upon had not yet been mentioned. 'Thank you, Dr. Morrison,' he said, 'for telling me this; but I cannot help thinking still that my father has been very cruel to us, although he may not have intended it; but I came to see you about something else. You have a son who goes to school with my brother; Horace has been hurt somehow, and is in bed at the master's house. Your son wishes me to tell you that he knows something of what happened. He did not mean to hurt anybody, but three boys might have died through what was done.'
'Ah, that is just it. Boys never intend wilfully to hurt each other, I believe, and it is only rarely that men do so; but they do it through their weakness and thoughtlessness, and bring untold misery upon friends, and all who love them. Your father's spoiled life, and my brother-in-law's almost wasted one, should teach all you lads a lesson. Ask God to make you strong to resist the first temptation—strong in the strength of the Lord Jesus Christ, for this alone can help you in the hour of trial. And remember that this time of trial must come to you sooner or later; and the sooner it comes in life the better, if only you go to the Strong for strength to sustain you.'
Then the doctor rang the bell, and told the servant to send Leonard to him. Fred rose to go, but the doctor told him to sit down again.
'We'll get this business over while you are here,' he said. And when Leonard appeared, he said, 'My friend, Mr. Fred Howard, says you have something to tell me. Yes, he is my friend, and I trust that you will make him yours also, if he will accept the friendship of a boy like you,' said the doctor, answering the look of perplexity on Leonard's face. 'This lad's father has saved your uncle's life more than once, it seems, while you have nearly killed his brother. Is that true?'
Leonard hung his head, and the tears slowly gathered in his eyes. 'Did Mr. Warren tell you that, father?' he said with a gasp.
'I have not seen Warren yet,' said Dr. Morrison. 'What is it you have to tell me? Do not be afraid, I want to hear all the truth from you. Now what is it you have to tell me, Len?' said the doctor, in a more tender tone. 'I hear you have got into some scrape at school, and somebody has got hurt.'
'Yes, father; the scholarship boy, and I was afraid he might die.'
'Well, what was your share of the mischief? Did you really wish your schoolfellow to die?'
'Father, we didn't mean to hurt him really. We only wanted to drive him away from the school.' And then, bit by bit, Mr. Morrison heard the whole story of what had been going on at Torrington's for the last few months.
Fred was as much astonished as Mr. Morrison. 'My brother never said a word about it at home,' he said.
'Your brother has the brave gallant spirit of a gentleman,' said the doctor. 'But what am I to say of my son and his cowardly companions? Go to your room, sir!' he said, addressing Leonard, for he was very angry.
'But, Mr. Morrison, that he should wish to come and tell you of it before it is known at the school who has done it, should not be forgotten,' said Fred, pleadingly.
'Certainly, certainly, it is something, as you say,' answered Mr. Morrison; but in truth he felt overwhelmed just now.
As Fred was leaving, a servant from Dr. Mason's arrived with a note, asking that Mr. Morrison would bring his son, and be at the school by nine o'clock.
'Mason has found out all about it, I expect,' he said, as he read the note. He gave orders for his carriage to be ready by half-past eight the following day, for he had a great deal to do before he started for London in the evening.
He went to see Leonard in his own room before he went to bed, and then told him something of his uncle's life, and why it was that he wished to befriend Horace Howard.
His father's talk made a deep impression on the boy's mind. 'Mamma told me something of this once but she did not say the "somebody" was my uncle.'
'My boy, she loved this brother as Florrie loves you, and how could she tell you all the miserable tale?'
'Oh, papa, I am so sorry! What can I do to make you believe that I do mean to try and do right always for the future? I wish I could do something for that poor Horace. His hands are awfully bad, and he won't be able to use them for ever so long. There's nobody to take care of him at home either. Don't you think he might come here, papa?'
Dr. Morrison looked at Leonard, and breathed a sigh of relief. 'My boy, could I trust you to be good to him if I fetched him here to-morrow?'
'Yes, yes, papa; indeed I will try to make it up to him, if you will let him come. I am so sorry. I did not know it was going to be so bad, until I heard Mr. Skeats say he wondered they were not dead. That was why I wanted to see Howard's brother. I knew he was the worst, and I wanted them to know that I did not mean really to hurt him.'
'I can quite believe and sincerely hope that this will be a lesson you will never forget through your whole life. But if I forgive you it is more than you can expect Dr. Mason to do. I almost wonder he has not put it into the hands of the police, and had you all arrested. The punishment will be severe, I have no doubt; it ought to be, to make an impression upon the school; and remember, whatever it may be, I shall expect you to bear it patiently and bravely. I forgive you, but I shall not seek to lessen the punishment your schoolmaster may inflict. Now go to sleep as soon as you can, and I will take you to school in the carriage with me in the morning.'
Dr. Morrison was compelled to pay a visit to a patient on his way to the school the next day, so that when they arrived they found all the school assembled in the hall. Prayers were just over, and when Leonard entered with his father, he was directed to take his place beside Taylor and Curtis, who were standing in front of the platform, where Dr. Mason and the other masters were sitting. His father was asked to take a seat there beside two other gentlemen, whom he afterwards heard were Mr. Curtis and Mr. Taylor, who had come to hear what their sons were charged with.
'It might have been manslaughter,' said Dr. Mason severely, when one of the gentlemen asked this question rather angrily.
'Last night, before we separated, I asked if anyone wanted to make a statement about this matter,' said the master, addressing the school. 'No one answered then; now it is too late, and I can tell you myself all that happened. When the chemistry class left the laboratory yesterday morning, Mr. Skeats left three boys to finish what they were doing, believing that they were the only lads there. Just after he had gone they heard the stink-chamber door opened, and Taylor put something down on Howard's bench, which is close to that door. They took no notice of this at first, until the peculiar odour arrested their attention. Then one of them went round to see what it was, but coming in closer contact with the fumes was overcome by them, and fell down unconscious. Soon a second fell at his bench, and the third fell just as Howard opened the laboratory door and called to them. None were able to answer; but he pulled two out on to the landing, and then went back for the third, but fell unconscious himself, close to his own bench, and near the lad he was trying to save. Fortunately, his cry for help was heard, and both lives were saved, I am thankful to say, although Howard has been burned a great deal with the acid of the poison.'
There was a dead silence throughout the school while the master was speaking. After a pause he said, 'I do not suppose that either Taylor, Curtis, or Morrison knew what their act would be likely to cause. I am sure they were ignorant of the danger they caused to three or four of their schoolfellows. But I do know that for some time past these boys have been persecuting one of their companions; and this sort of thing shall never be allowed at this school. Therefore, to save this school from future disgrace and trouble, I am compelled to expel from the school those who have been the ringleaders in this persecution. Taylor! Curtis! your names will be removed from the school roll, and never again will you be admitted as scholars of Torrington's school. Morrison has been greatly to blame in the part he has taken in this business; but taking into consideration that he made a full confession to his father last night of all he had done, added to the fact that he is a younger and weaker boy than the others, I shall suspend him from attending this school for six months; and if at the end of that time he can bring a certificate of good conduct from any other school, he may possibly be reinstated at Torrington's. The honour of the school demands that these punishments should be strictly adhered to.' The master sat down, and before a boy could leave his place Dr. Morrison sprang to his feet.
'Dr. Mason, I am an old Torrington boy,' he said; 'and I thank you with all my heart for defending the honour of the dear old school. My son is one of the culprits, and I thank you in his name for giving him another chance to retrieve his character. I shall send him for the six months to one of the board schools in the town, where I hope and trust he may earn the right to come among you once more, and bring no further disgrace upon Torrington's school.'
The other two gentlemen did not say a word. They were exceedingly angry with the culprits, but could not complain that the master had been unduly severe with them. Before they left, Dr. Mason said that he must charge them with the cost of a new suit of clothes for Horace. 'Those he was wearing yesterday are burned into holes, so that the poor lad has nothing to wear when he is able to get up,' said Dr. Mason.
'I will see to that,' said Dr. Morrison.
'I understand you are going to charge yourself with the care of the lad until he is well,' said the master. 'I like justice all round, and it is only fair these gentlemen should buy the boy a new suit. Will you leave me to order it?' he said, addressing the two.
'Yes, yes, of course, and we will pay the bill,' both answered in a breath.
'Now, Morrison, you can go and tell the lad that he will soon have some new clothes, for I understand that is the chief trouble with him this morning—that he has spoiled his best jacket, and burned holes in his trousers. Mrs. Mason will give you something to take him home in, and I think it will do both lads good to know more of each other. The wisest thing you could do is what you have decided upon for Leonard, and I hope I shall see him back at Torrington's at the end of six months.'
Mr. Morrison found Fred was with his brother, but he readily agreed to his being taken home by the doctor. Horace himself did not know what to make of it. Fred had just told him what he had heard from Dr. Morrison about his father, and now the doctor assured him that Leonard was very anxious to make up to him for all the unkindness he had been guilty of in the past.
'For our father's sake you ought to give him this chance,' said Fred, for he knew he could not give his brother the care he needed.
'Thank you, doctor; I will go with you,' said Horace.
Just as he was being wrapped up Mr. Warren came in to see his patient, and was glad to learn that he was going home with Dr. Morrison.
'You will let Warren come and see me, won't you?' said Horace.
'Yes, yes, send him by all means; and I shall be glad if you can look in upon him yourself to-morrow, for I am obliged to go to London this evening, so that he must be left to the tender mercies of Len and the servants for a day or two.'
Horace was carried to the carriage where Leonard was seated, shedding a few quiet tears over the folly that had gained for him this suspension for the honour of the school. Still, he was thankful that he was allowed a chance of return, and resolved to do all he could—even in a board school—to earn the right to go back at the end of six months. He was glad enough to have Horace seated beside him, and the first words he said were,
'I hope you will forgive me for being such a fool. We must be friends, you know, and I hope to come back to Torrington's with you by-and by.'
'Yes, yes, we will be good friends if you like,' said Horace, with the tears shining in his eyes. 'Only I don't know what my mother will say when she comes home.'
'Oh, that will be all right,' answered Leonard. 'Your mother has gone to London with my mother. I dare say we shall know all about it presently. But father is too busy now, for he is going to London again this evening, and so I shall have to take care of you until he comes back. We'll ask Warren to come and see us as well, because I know you like Warren.'
This last proposal cost Leonard the most, for he wanted Horace to like him now. But it was a proof to Mr. Morrison that his son had learned to conquer himself; and he had more hope for him now than he had since he first heard of this school scandal.
The doctor had taken care to say as little as possible to the two boys about the fortune Mr. Howard had made while he was away, and it had made so little impression upon Horace, that when Mr. Morrison came back from London the next day, and told him that his mother wanted him to go to the sea-side as soon as he was able to go, Horace looked at him in mute wonder.
Could his mother afford to send him to the sea-side? he wondered, and he resolved to ask Fred what he thought about it when he came.
His brother came to sit with him for an hour every evening, and as soon as they were left to themselves that night Horace said, 'Have you heard that mother wants us to go to the sea-side—Leonard, and you and I? What does it mean, Fred? Has mother got money enough now to spend it like that?'
'I suppose she has,' said Fred, with something like a sigh; 'but I am not sure that it is going to make us any happier, Horry,' he added.
'Well, I suppose that will depend upon what we do with it, won't it?' said Horace simply.
'Well, then I don't know that I shall let them spend any of it on me,' said Fred, in an angry tone.
'Then you won't let mother be happy, though she may have more money, and not have to work for it now.'
'Now, Horace, you know it is on mother's account that I feel as I do. It was unkind and cruel of father to go away and leave her as he did for years and years, though he was making a fortune for us. I tell you that money has been bought too dearly, and for mother's sake I don't feel as though I could touch a penny of it.'
'Oh, Fred! think how unhappy she will be if you say that to her.'
'I have said it,' replied Fred bitterly. 'I wrote and told her that I hoped she would leave me to be a carpenter, and live on in the little cottage where she had worked so hard.'
'Oh, how could you—what did she say?' cried Horace, with the tears shining in his eyes.
Fred covered his face for a moment. 'She begged me to forgive my father for her sake, as though it was not for her sake I feel as I do.'
'Yes, yes, I know,' said Horace. 'But you will have to do as she says, or else we shall all be so unhappy. Oh, Fred, for mother's sake, for my sake, forgive father! for why should I lose my brother because my father has come home? I cannot help myself. I must let him help me, and if he did stay and work for this money just to prove that he was sorry for what he had done so long ago, I think we ought to forgive him, as mother has. He is ill, too, through the hardships he had to endure.'
'Oh, Horry, if only he hadn't gone away like that! To have to forgive your father, instead of looking up to him as Len Morrison does, is so bitter; and it might all have been so different if only he had kept on doing his duty and asking God to help him when things were a bit harder than usual.'
'Oh, Fred, ask God to help you now, to help you forgive him for mother's sake, and for Jesus Christ's sake!' cried Horace, in a passion of tears.
'I have, dear, I have! and I think I shall be able to do it soon; but I think God wanted me to see that making a fortune can't make up for not doing the right thing at the right time; no, not even to the people you may make the fortune for. I shall have to let my father know this before I can fully forgive him.'
It was a bitter lesson for the returned prodigals to learn, for Leonard Morrison took the same view concerning his uncle, having memories of days when his mother was too ill and too sad to be glad with them; and he heard now from his father that this was generally caused by some memory of the dearly loved brother who had fled from them under a cloud of disgrace.
At length, however, Fred wrote and assured his mother that for her sake, and for his brother's, he would do as they wished, and join them at the sea-side, when Horace went for a holiday before returning to school. His hands were better, thanks to the kind attention he received from everyone at Dr. Morrison's. Indeed, he was such good friends now with Leonard, that he begged to be allowed to go to the sea-side with him, in order to make the acquaintance of his mother and his father as well as of his own uncle, who was still staying with them to help the invalid.
Fred wrote this letter, and Mrs. Howard was greatly relieved to receive it. To her it had been easy enough to receive and pardon her husband for his long neglect, and she failed to understand why her elder son, who had always been so good to her, should assume such a hard, unforgiving demeanour towards his father.
But when they met some weeks later she learned to understand the lad better; and when she told her husband he said, 'It is better. He is young, and has all his life before him, and he is right in thinking that no fortune can make up for wasted opportunities and neglected duties.'
* * * * *