"Preserve us a', body and soul!" cried the Crimean veteran, as he brought the Bailie to an equilibrium. "Could onybody have expected this?" And then, with much presence of mind, he closed the door of the Latin class-room and conducted the Bailie down-stairs to his cab, while the magistrate remonstrated that the Rector was coming with him, and that both were going to discuss the higher education of youth at the Black Bull.
"Na, na, Bailie," said the sergeant. "It's no to the Black Bull, or ony other bull, ye're to go this afternoon, but back to yir ain hoose. If ye maun taste, would it no have been more respectable to keep indoors, instead of making an exhibeetion of yourself afore the Seminary? It's no becomin' in a magistrate, and it's michty bad for the laddies."
It was the sergeant who delivered the astonishing figure at the blameless home of Bailie MacConachie, although it is right to say that this visit was not at all in the plan, and called forth a vigorous protest from the Bailie's substitute. And to the day of his death, the real and proper Bailie spent odd moments of his spare time in explaining to an incredulous public that he had never "tasted" in his life, and that on the day in question he had been transacting private business in Dundee.
THE TRIUMPH OF THE SEMINARY
As the East is distant from the West, so far was Muirtown Seminary removed in its manners and customs from an English public school; but at one point they met on common ground, and that was the "tuck-shop." It does not matter that an English house master be careful to provide an ample supply of wholesome food for his boys, and even add, on occasion, toothsome dainties, such as jam at Sunday tea, and sausages for a Saturday supper, they will agree unanimously, and declare aloud, that they can hardly recall such a thing as breakfast, so ghostly has it grown, and that they would be ashamed to offer their dinner to the beasts which perish. They will write such descriptions home, and hold such conferences with friends spending the holidays with them, and they will all vie with one another in applying such weird and fearsome adjectives to the butter, milk, coffee, meat, potatoes, and pudding—but at the mention of pudding they will simply look at one another and be silent, despairing of the English language—that their horrified parents will take counsel together by the hour whether their poor boy ought not to be taken from school and surrounded by home comforts. When the emaciated invalid hears of this drastic measure, he protests strongly, and insists that it would ruin him for life; for, to do the ruffians justice, a boy may be half-starved and swished every second day, and bullied between times, till his life is hardy worth living, he will still stand by his school, and prefer it as a place of residence to his home. Neither ample meals, nor the pretty bedroom with white curtains, nor the long lie in the morning, nor a party in the evening, nor all his mother's petting, will make up to this savage for the racket of the dormitories, and the fight at the bathroom, and the babel at the dinner-table, and the recreations which enliven "prep," and the excitement of a house match, and the hazardous delights of football, and the tricks on a new boy, and the buttered eggs—a dozen at least between two at a study supper. It only remains therefore that his father should write a pathetic letter to the Standard, and that other parents should join in, for a fortnight, explaining to the English public that the manhood of the country is being destroyed in its early years, and the boys at school will read the letters aloud with much unction, and declare that "Pater has warmed up old Skinny properly," while their mother sends them generous remittances that they may obtain nourishing food to supplement their starvation rations. This money will be spent rapidly, but also shrewdly, at the "tuck-shop," where some old servant of the school is making a small fortune in providing for the boys such meat as their souls love, and for a fortnight Tom and his friends, for he is not a fellow to see his chums die before his eyes, will live on the fat of the land, which, upon the whole, means cocoa, sardines, sausages, and eggs.
Seminary boys had their meals at home, and were very soundly fed with porridge and milk in the morning, followed by tea and ham, if their conduct had been passably decent. Scots broth and meat for dinner, with an occasional pudding, and a tea in the evening which began with something solid and ended with jam, made fair rations, and, although such things may very likely be done now, when we are all screaming about our rights, no boy of the middle Victorian period wrote to the Muirtown Advertiser complaining of the home scale of diet. Yet, being boys, neither could they be satisfied with the ordinary and civilised means of living, but required certain extra delicacies to help them through the day. It was not often that a Seminary lad had a shilling in his pocket, and once only had gold been seen—when Dr. Manley paid Speug a medical fee for his advice in Bulldog's sickness—but there were few in the Seminary who were not able to rattle some pennies together, and, in the end, every penny found its way to the till of that comprehensive merchant and remarkable woman, Mrs. McWhae. Her shop and the other old houses beside it have been pulled down long ago, to make room for a handsome block of buildings, and I think her exact site is occupied by the plate-glass windows and gorgeous display of the "Breadalbane Emporium," where you can buy everything from a frying pan to a drawing-room suite, but where you cannot get a certain delicacy called "gundy," which Mrs. McWhae alone could make as it ought to be made, and at the remembrance thereof the very teeth begin to water. Mrs. McWhae did not sell books nor clothes, nor any other effeminate luxury of life, but she kept in stock everything that was really necessary to the life of a well-living and high-minded boy. There he could obtain marbles from the common clay, six for a halfpenny, on to the finer "streakies," six for a penny, till you came to large marbles with a red and blue pattern on a white ground, which were a halfpenny each, and climbed to "glassies" at a penny each; and there was one glass leviathian which contained all colours within its sphere, and which was kept only to be handled and admired. Tops were there, too, from polished little beauties with shining steel tips, which were intended only for amusement, and were spun with fine white cord, to unadorned, massive, vicious-looking warriors with sharpened projecting points, which were intended for the battlefield, and were spun with rough, strong twine, and which, dexterously used, would split another top from head to foot as when you slice butter with a knife. Her stock of kites in the season was something to see, and although she did not venture upon cricket-bats, which were sold by the hair-dresser, nor cricket-balls, she had every other kind of ball—solid gutta-percha balls, for hasty games in the "breaks," white skin-covered rounder balls, and hollow india-rubber balls, which you could fill with water at the lade, and then use with much success as a squirt. Girls, we noticed, employed this "softie" in silly games of their own, trying whether they could make it rebound a hundred times from the ground, but we had no doubt about its proper use in the purposes of Creation. And Mrs. McWhae—peace to her ashes!—provided all things in meat and drink which a boy could desire; unless, of course, on some great occasion he wished to revel imperially—then he went to Fenwick's rock-shop, where generations have turned their eager feet, and beyond which nothing is left to desire. Fenwick's, however, was rather for our fathers than for ourselves, and we were almost content with Mrs. McWhae, where you could get ginger-beer of her own making at a penny a bottle, better than that which they sold at the Muirtown Arms at sixpence; and treacle-beer also at a penny, but in this case the bottle was double the size and was enough for two fellows; and halfpenny rolls, if you were fiercely hungry and could not get home to dinner, so tough that only a boy's teeth could tear them to pieces; and tarts, so full that it required long skill to secure every drop of the jam, and your fingers were well worth licking afterwards; and peppermint balls of black and white, one of which would keep your mouth sweet for an hour of Latin—that is, if you only sucked gently and didn't crunch. But the glory of the establishment was the "gundy." There was a room behind the shop where Mrs. McWhae, who was a widow, elderly and not prepossessing, lived and slept, and dressed herself, and cooked her food, and, perhaps, on rare occasions, washed, and there she prepared her tempting meats and drinks for the Seminary. We lived in a pre-scientific age, and did not go curiously into the origin of things, being content to take the Creation as it stood, and to use the gifts of the gods in their finished form. But I believe that "gundy" was made of the coarsest and cheapest sugar, which our hostess boiled to a certain point, and then with her own fair hands, which it was said she wetted with her lips, drew out and out, till at last, by the constant drawing, it came to a light brown colour; after which she cut the finished product into sticks of a foot long, and wrapped it up in evil-looking brown paper, twisting the two ends. And, wonders of wonders! all within that paper, and the paper itself, you could have for one halfpenny! Good! There is no word for it, as the preachers say, "humanly speaking." The flavour thereof so rich, so satisfying, so stimulating, and the amount thereof so full and so tenacious. Why, that "gundy" would so cling to your teeth and hide itself about your mouth, and spread itself out, that he was a clever fellow who had drained its last resources within an hour. Mrs. McWhae was a widow of a military gentleman, who, it was understood, had performed prodigies of valour in the Black Watch, and she was a woman of masculine vigour, who only dealt upon a cash basis, and in any case of dispute was able to use her hands effectively. Like most women she was open to blandishments, and Nestie Molyneux, with his English tongue and pretty ways, could get round the old lady, and she had profound though inexpressed respect for Speug, whom she regarded as a straightforward fighter, and the two friends would sometimes be allowed the highest privilege in her power, to see her make a brew of "gundy." And it is from hints dropped by those two favoured customers that the above theory of the making of this delectable sweet has been formed.
It was possible, with a proper celerity, to visit Mrs. McWhae's during the "breaks," and to spend three minutes in those happy precincts and not be absolutely late for the next class; and during the dinner-hour her shop was crowded, and the steps outside and the very pavement were blocked by the Seminary, waiting for their "gundy" and ginger-beer. Little boys who had been fortunate enough to get their provisions early, and were coming out to enjoy the "gundy" in some secret place, hid their treasure within their waistcoats, lest a bigger fellow should supply himself without the trouble of waiting his turn, and defer payment to the end of the year. And one of the lords of the school would on occasion clear out a dozen of the small fry, in order that he might select his refreshments comfortably. It was indeed the Seminary Club, with its bow-window like other clubs, and the steps on which the members could stand, and from the steps you commanded three streets, so that there were many things to see, and in snowball time many things to do. McWhae's had only one inconvenience, and that was that the line of communication could be cut off by raiding parties from the "Pennies" and other rival schools. When the snow was deep on the ground, and the enemy was strong on the field, it was necessary to bring down supplies under charge of a convoy, and if anything could have added to the flavour of the "gundy," it was that you had fought your way up Breadalbane Street to get it, and your way back to enjoy it, that you had lost your bonnet in a scrimmage, and that the remains of a snow ball were trickling down your back. Precious then was the dainty sweet as the water which the mighty men brought to David from the well of Bethlehem.
"My word!" cried Speug, who was winding up the dinner-hour with Nestie Molyneux, on the upper step of the club-house, "if there isn't the 'Bumbees' driving in a four-in-hand!" and the brake of the Muirtown Arms passed, with a dozen smart and well-set-up lads rejoicing openly, and, wheeling round by the corner of the Cathedral, disappeared up the road which ran to Drumtochty. "And where think ye have their royal highnesses been?"
If the name of a school be St. Columba's, and the boys call themselves Columbians, it is very profane to an absolutely respectable Scots saint, and very rude to a number of well-behaved lads, to call them "Bumbees"; but Speug was neither reverent nor polite, and the Seminary, although mainly occupied with local quarrels, yet harboured a distant grudge against the new public school at St. Columba's, which had been recently started in a romantic part of Perthshire. Its founders were a number of excellent and perhaps slightly superior persons, who were justly aghast at the somewhat rough life and unfinished scholarship of the Scots grammar schools, and who did not desire that Scots lads of the better class should be sent of necessity to the English public schools. Their idea was to establish a public school after the English method in Scotland, and so St. Columba's kept terms, and had dormitories, and a chapel, and playing-fields, and did everything on a smaller scale which was done at Rugby and Harrow. The masters of St. Columba's would have nothing to do with such modest men as the staff of the Seminary. The Columbians occasionally came down to Muirtown and sniffed through the town. Two or three boys had been taken from the Seminary, because it was vulgar, and sent to St. Columba's, in order to get into genteel society. And those things had gradually filtered into the mind of the Seminary, which was certainly a rough school, but at the same time very proud and patriotic, and there was a latent desire in the mind of the Seminary that the Columbians should come down in snow-time and show their contempt for the Muirtown grammar school, when that school would explain to the Columbians what it thought of them and all their works. As this pleasure was denied the Seminary, and the sight of the brake was too much for Speug's uncultured nature, he forgot himself, and yelled opprobrious names, in which the word "Bumbee" was distinct and prominent.
"Your m-manners are very b-bad, Speug, and I am a-ashamed of you. D-don't you know that the 'B-bumbees' have been p-playing in England and w-won their match? Twenty-two runs and s-seven wickets to fall. G-good s-sport, my Speug; read it in the newspaper."
"It wasna bad. I didna think the 'Bumbees' had as muckle spunk in them; seven wickets, did ye say, against the English? If I had kenned that, Nestie, ye little scoundrel, I would have given them a cheer. Seven wickets—they did the job properly." And Speug took his "gundy" with relish.
"Speug!"—and Nestie spoke with much impressiveness—"I have an idea. Why shouldn't the Seminary challenge the 'Bumbees' to a match next s-summer? We could p-practice hard all this summer, and begin s-soon next year and t-try them in July."
"It would be juist michty," said Speug, who was cheered at the thought of any battle, and he regarded Nestie with admiration, and then his face fell and he declared it of no use.
"They wouldna come, dash them for their cheek! and if they came they'd lick us clean. They have a professional and they play from morning till night. We're light-weights, Nestie. If they went in first, we'd never get them oot; and if we went in, they'd have us oot in half an 'oor."
"For shame, Speug, to run down the Seminary as if you were a 'Penny'! Didn't the county professional say that Robertson was the b-best young player he'd seen for t-ten years? And Bauldie hits a good b-ball, and no b-bowler can get you out, Speug, and there are other chaps just want p-practice. We might be b-beaten, but we'd make a stiff fight for the old Seminary."
"Ye can bowl, Nestie," said Speug generously, as they went back to school at the trot; "ye're the trickiest overhand I ever saw; and Jock Howieson is a fearsome quick and straicht bowler; and for a wicket-keeper Dunc Robertson is no easy to beat. Gosh!" exclaimed Speug, as they wheeled into the back-yard, "we'll try it."
The Seminary were slow to move, but once they took fire they burned gloriously; and when Dunc Robertson and Nestie Molyneux, who had been sent up to St. Columba's as the most presentable deputation, returned and informed the school assembled round the Russian guns that the "Bumbees" would send down their second eleven, since the first was too old for the Seminary, and play a single innings match on a Saturday afternoon in the end of July, next year, the Seminary lifted up their voice in joyful anticipation.
It did not matter that the "Bumbees" had only consented in terms of condescension by way of encouraging local sport, as they had tried to organise a Drumtochty eleven, or that it was quite understood that the result would be a hopeless defeat for the Seminary. They were coming, and the Seminary had a year to make ready; and if they were beaten in cricket, well, it couldn't be helped, but it was the first time Bulldog's boys had been beaten in anything, and they would know the reason why.
Special practice began that evening and continued that evening, and every other evening except Sundays as long as light lasted and on till the middle of October, when football could no longer be delayed. Practice began again a month before the proper season and continued on the same lines till the great day in July. The spirit of the Seminary was fairly up, and from the Rector who began freely to refer to the Olympian games, to the little chaps who had just come from a dame's school and were proud to field balls at bowling practice, the whole school was swept into the excitement of the coming event, and it is said that Bulldog stumped over every evening after dinner to watch the play and was the last to leave.
"B-Bully's fairly on the job, Speug, and he's j-just itching to have a bat himself. Say, Speug, if we get badly licked, he'll be ill again; but if we p-pull it off, I bet he'll give a rippin' old supper."
News spread through the town that the Seminary was to fight the "Bumbees" for the glory of the Fair City, and enthusiasm began to kindle in all directions. Our cricket club had played upon the Meadow as best it could; but now the Council of the city set apart a piece of ground, and six of the leading dignitaries paid to have it cut and rolled, so that there might be a good pitch for playing and something worth seeing on the day of battle. There were half a dozen good players in Muirtown in those days, two of whom were in the All Scotland eleven, and they used to come along in spare evenings and coach the boys, while the county professional now and again dropped in, just to see whether he could bowl Speug out, and after half an hour's hopeless attack upon that imperturbable youth, the professional declared the Seminary had a chance. But the word was passed round that there should be no boasting, and that Muirtown must be prepared for a hopeless and honourable defeat. Mr. McGuffie senior was the only man on the morning of the match who was prepared to bet on even terms, and his offers were refused by the citizens, first because betting was sinful, and, second, it was possible, though not likely, they might lose.
The Columbians came down as usual in a brake, with only two horses this time, and made a pretty show when they were dressed in their white flannels and school colours, and every one admitted that they were a good-looking and well-set-up eleven; they brought half a dozen other fellows with them, to help to cheer their victory and to keep their score, and a master to be umpire. The Seminary eleven were in all colours and such dress as commended itself to their taste. Robertson and Molyneux and one or two others in full flannels, but Speug in a grey shirt and a pair of tight tweed trousers of preposterous pattern, which were greatly admired by his father's grooms—and, for that matter, by the whole school; and although Jock Howieson had been persuaded into flannel bags, as we called them then, he stuck to a red shirt of outrageous appearance, which was enough to frighten any bowler. Jack Moncrieffe, the Muirtown cricket crack and bowler of the All Scotland, was umpire for the Seminary, and the very sight of him taught the first lesson of respect to the "Bumbees"; and when they learned that Jim Fleming, the other Muirtown crack, had been coaching the Seminary all the summer, they began to feel that it might be a real match, not merely a few lessons in the manly game of cricket given to encourage a common school, don't you know.
There was a representative turn-out of Muirtown men, together with a goodly sprinkling of Muirtown mothers and sisters. Bulldog took up his position early, just in front of the tent, and never moved till the match was over; nor did he speak, save once; but the Seminary knew that he was thinking plenty, and that the master of mathematics had his eye upon them. Some distance off, the Count—that faithful friend of his Seminary "dogs"—promenaded up and down a beat of some dozen yards, and spent the time in one long excitement, cheering with weird foreign accent when a good hit was made, swearing in French when anything went wrong, bewailing almost unto tears the loss of a Seminary wicket, and hurrying to shake hands with every one of his eleven, whether he had done well or ill, when he came in from the wicket. Mr. McGuffie moved through the crowd from time to time, and finally succeeded in making a bet on the most advantageous terms with that eminent dignitary, the Earl of Kilspindie's coachman, who was so contemptuous of the Seminary from the Castle point of view that he took the odds of five to one in sovereigns that they would be beaten. And on the outskirts of the crowd, half ashamed to be there and doubtful of his reception, hovered Bailie MacConachie.
The Seminary won the toss, and by the advice of Jim Fleming sent the Columbians in, and there was no Seminary lad nor any Muirtown man, for the Frenchman did not count—who denied that the strangers played a good, clean game—pretty form, and brave scoring; and on their part the Columbians were not slow to acknowledge that the Seminary knew how to field, wherever they had learned it. No ball sliding off the bat, could pass Dunc Robertson, and as for byes they were impossible with Speug as long-stop, for those were the days when there were long-stops. Cosh had his faults, and they were not few, but the Seminary thought more of him after a miraculous catch which he made at long-off; and Bauldie, at square-leg, might not be able to prevent a two occasionally, but he refused to allow fours. Jock Howieson was a graceless bowler and an offence to the eye, but his balls were always in the line of the middle stump, and their rate that of an express train; and Nestie not only had a pretty style, but a way of insinuating himself among the wickets which four Columbians had not the power to refuse. There was a bit of work at long-field, which even the Columbians could not help cheering, though it lost them a wicket, and the way in which a ball was sent up from cover-point to Dunc Robertson, and so took another wicket, wrung a word of private praise from the Columbian umpire. Still, the Seminary was fighting against heavy odds, an uphill, hopeless battle, and when the visitors went out with a hundred and one to their score, Mr. McGuffie senior was doubtful of his sovereign; and only the Count prophesied triumph, going round and shaking hands individually with every one of his "dogs," and magnifying their doings unto the sky. Bailie MacConachie, by this time was lost in the crowd, working his way gradually to the front, and looking as if he would have liked to cheer, but thinking it better not to call attention to his presence. Then the Seminary went in, and there is no question but that they had hard times at the hands of the Columbians, who were well trained and played all together. Robertson, who was the hope of the Seminary, went out for twenty, and Bauldie for ten; Nestie played carefully, but only managed twelve, and the other fellows were too easily bowled or caught out, each adding something, but none doing much, till at last the score stood at sixty-nine; with the last two of the Seminary in. Things were looking very black, and even the Count was dashed, while Bulldog's face suggested that next Monday the whole school would be thrashed, and that a special treat would be reserved for the eleven. Mr. McGuffie, however, with a sportsman's instinct, seized the opportunity to make another bet with his lordship's coachman, and increased the odds from five to ten, and the dignitary declared it was simply robbing McGuffie of his money.
"We'll see aboot that, my man, when the horses pass the line. I've seen many a race changed before the finish," and Mr. McGuffie took his position in the front row to see the end.
Thirty-three runs to make to win the match, and only one wicket to fall, and the Columbians discounted their victory in a gentlemanly fashion, while Jim Fleming looked very grave. "Give them no chances," he said to Howieson, as that stolid youth went in to join Speug, who had been at the wicket for some time, but had only scored ten. Any over might close the match, and perhaps the Columbians' bowlers grew careless, for three overs passed and the two friends of many a scrimmage were still in, and neither of them had shown any intention of going out. Quite the contrary, for Speug had broken into fours, and Howieson, who played with the gracefulness of a cow, would allow no ball to interfere with his wickets, and had run up a couple of twos on his own account.
"Juist beginnin'," said Speug's father. "Him oot sune? I tell you he's settlin' down for the afternoon and that laddie Howieson is a dour deevil. The fact is"—Mr. McGuffie took a circle of spectators into his confidence—"they're juist gettin' into the stride." The Count preened his plumage and plucked up heart again, while the Seminary lads, gathered in a solid mass to the left of the tent, were afraid to cheer lest they should invite defeat, and, while they pretended unconcern, could feel their hearts beating. "They couldn't be better matched," said Nestie. "Speug and Jock—they've had l-lots of things in hand together, and they'll d-do it yet. See!" and at that moment Speug sent a ball to the boundary. Now there were only seventeen, instead of thirty-three runs to make.
They were playing a game of the utmost carefulness, blocking the balls which were dangerous and could not be played; declining to give the faintest chance of a catch, and taking a run short rather than be run out, and so the score crept up with a two from Howieson, who had got into a habit of twos, and being a phlegmatic youth, kept to it, and a three and a four from Speug, and another two from Howieson, and a three from Speug.
Across the heads of the people McGuffie shouted to the coachman, "Take you again, Petrie—ten to one, five to one, three to one against the Seminary?" And when there was no answer, Mr. McGuffie offered to take it even from anybody, and finally appealed to the man, next him. It was Bailie MacConachie, who forgetful of the past and everything except the glory of Muirtown, was now standing beside Speug's father and did not care. "Speug's no dead yet Bailie"; and then, catching the look in MacConachie's face, "bygones are bygones, we're a' Muirtown men the day"; and then his voice rose again across the crowd "I'll give ye odds, coachman—two to one against the 'Bumbees'" for Howieson had scored another two, and two more runs would win the match for the Seminary.
Then a terrible thing happened, for Howieson, instead of stopping the ball with his bat, must needs stop it with his leg. "How's that?" cried the Columbian wicket-keeper, "how's that, umpire?" Was his leg before wicket or not? And for the moment every one, Seminary and Columbian, Bulldog, McGuffie, Bailie, men, women and children, held their breath. It would have been maddening to have been beaten only by one run, and after such a gallant fight.
"Not out!" replied the umpire in two seconds; but it seemed ten minutes, and a yell went up from the throats of the Seminary, and Bailie MacConachie took off his hat and wiped his forehead, which Mr. McGuffie noted with sympathy and laid up to the Bailie's credit. There was another crisis at hand which had been forgotten by Muirtown, but it was very keenly present to the minds of the Columbians. One over more and the time limit would be reached and the game closed. If the Seminary could make two runs, they would win; if the Columbians could get Speug's wicket, they would win. They put on their most dangerous man, whose ball had a trick of coming down just six inches in front of the block, and then, having escaped the attention of the batsman, of coming perilously near the wicket. His attack compelled the most watchful defence, and hardly allowed the chance of a run. Two balls Speug blocked, but could do no more with them; the third got past and shaved the wicket; the fourth Speug sent to slip but the fielding allowed no run; the fifth, full of cunning, he stopped with difficulty, and fear seized the heart of Muirtown that the last would capture the wickets and give the victory to the visitors. And it was the cleverest of all the balls, for it was sent to land inside the block, just so much nearer as might deceive the batsman accustomed to the former distance. No sooner had it left the bowler's hand then Fleming saw the risk and gnawed his moustache. Every eye followed the ball through the air on what seemed, for the anxiety of it, a course of miles. The Columbians drew together unconsciously in common hope. Robertson, the Seminary captain, dug his right heel into the ground, and opposite, between the field and the river, the leader of that rapscallion school, the "Pennies," stood erect, intent, open-mouthed with his crew around, for once silent and motionless. Speug took a swift stride forward and met the ball nearly three feet from the ground, and, gathering up all the strength in his tough little body, he caught that ball on the middle of the bat and sent it over square-leg's head, who had come in too near and made one hopeless clutch at it, and through the ranks of the "Pennies," who cleared out on every side to let it pass as they had never yielded to Speug himself; and ere Muirtown had found voice to cheer, the red-haired varlet who ruled the "Pennies" had flung his bonnet, such as it was, into the air, for, the ball was in the river, and the Seminary had won by three runs and one wicket.
Things happened then which are beyond the pen of man, but it was freely said that the "Hurrah" of Bulldog, master of mathematics, drowned the hunting-cry of Mr. McGuffie, and that when the Count, in his joy over the victory of his "jolly dogs," knocked off Bailie MacConachie's hat, and would have apologised, the Bailie kicked his own hat in triumph. This is certain, that the Seminary carried Speug and Howieson both protesting, from the North Meadow, in through the big school door; that Bulldog walked at the head of the procession, like a general coming home in his glory; that he insisted on the Bailie walking with him; that, after all the cheering was over, Speug proposed one cheer more for Bailie MacConachie, and that when the eleven departed for Bulldog's house for supper half the Seminary escorted the Bailie home.
When the rumour flew through Muirtown in Spring that Bulldog was to resign at the close of the summer term it was laughed to scorn, and treated as an agreeable jest. Had it been the rector who was more a learned ghost than a human being, or the English master who had grown stout and pursey, or some of the other masters who came and went like shadows, Muirtown had not given another thought to the matter, but Bulldog retiring, it was a very facetious idea, and Muirtown held its sides. Perhaps it was delicate health was the cause; and then Dr. Manley stormed through half Muirtown, declaring that he had never known Dugald MacKinnon have an hour's sickness except once when that little scoundrel Speug, or rather he should say Sir Peter McGuffie, consulting physician, brought his master through triumphantly with a trifle of assistance from himself as a general practitioner. Was it old age that ailed Bulldog? Then Bailie MacConachie was constrained to testify in public places, and was supported by all the other Bailies except MacFarlane, who got his education at Drumtochty that the mathematical master of Muirtown Academy had thrashed them all as boys, every man jack of them, being then not much older than themselves, and that he was now—barring his white hair—rather fresher than in the days of their youth? Had success departed at last from the mathematical class-room, after resting there as in a temple of wingless victory for three generations? Was it not known everywhere that William Pirie, whose grandfather was a senior pupil when Bulldog took the reins fifty-eight years ago, had simply romped through Edinburgh University gathering medals, prizes, bursaries, fellowships, and everything else that a mathematician could lay his hands on, and then had won a scholarship at Trinity College, Cambridge, with papers that were talked about in the College for fourteen days, and were laid past by one examiner as a treasure of achievement. May be, and this was no doubt the very heart of the jest, Bulldog had lost control of the boys, and his right hand had forgotten its cunning! So the boys were insulted in their homes by sympathetic inquiries as to when they had their last interview with the tawse and whether the canings were as nippy as ever, for Muirtown was proud to think that its favourite master was an expert in every branch of his calling and dealt with the grandchildren as thoroughly as he had done with the grandfathers. And Bailie MacFarlane meeting Bulldog crossing the bridge one morning as alert in step and austere in countenance as ever, asked him how he was keeping with affected sympathy, and allowed himself the luxury of a chuckle as one who has made a jocose remark.
It came therefore with a shock to Muirtown when the following letter was read in the Town Council and was known next morning to every citizen from the Procurator Fiscal to London John.
To the Lord Provost, the Bailies, and the Council of Muirtown.
"Gentlemen,—I beg to resign, as from the close of the present term, the position of Master of Mathematics, Arithmetic and Writing, in Muirtown Seminary, and to thank the council for the trust which they have placed in me for fifty-eight years.
"I am, my Lord Provost and Gentlemen, "Your obedient servant, "Dugald MacKinnon."
When Muirtown recovered itself a conflict began between Bulldog and the citizens which lasted for four intense weeks in which the town was at fever heat and Bulldog was outwardly colder and calmer than ever. And he won all along the line. The Council passed a resolution of respectful admiration, studded with stately adjectives, and, for such a document, almost heated in feeling, to which Mr. MacKinnon sent a courteous but guarded reply. The Council intimated that they would consider his letter to be non-existent, and not even put him to the trouble of withdrawing, and Mr. MacKinnon intimated to the Town Clerk that in that case he must trouble the Council with an exact copy. The Council then appointed a deputation to wait on him, and Mr. MacKinnon declared himself unworthy of such an unprecedented honour, and declined to see them. And then the Council, in despair, and with a sad sense of the inevitable, strained their powers to the utmost with immense unanimity, and voted a handsome pension to "Dugald MacKinnon, Esq., Master of Arts, in grateful, although unworthy recognition of the unbroken, unwearied, and invaluable service he has rendered to the education of this ancient city for a period of more than half a century, during which time nearly two thousand lads have been sent forth equipped for the practical business of life in Muirtown, in the great cities of our land and unto the ends of the earth." Mr. MacKinnon explained in a letter of perfect handwriting that he was quite undeserving of such a resolution, as he had done nothing more than his duty, and that he could not accept any retiring allowance—first, because he was not sure that it was strictly legal, and, secondly, because he had made provision for his last years, but on this occasion he signed himself "Your most obliged servant." It was then determined to entertain this obdurate man at a banquet, and to make a presentation of plate to him. And Mr. MacKinnon was again most grateful for the kindness of his fellow citizens and the honour they proposed to do him, but he clearly indicated he would neither accept the banquet nor a piece of plate. It dawned gradually upon Muirtown, a city slow but sure of understanding, and with a silent sense of the fitness of things, that Mr. Dugald MacKinnon, having reigned like Caesar Augustus for fifty-eight years without contradiction and without conciliation, giving no favours and receiving none, but doing his part by the laddies of Muirtown with all his strength of mind and conscience and right arm, was not going to weaken at the end of his career. For him to rise at the close of a dinner and return thanks for a piece of plate would have been out of keeping with his severe and lonely past, and for him to be a pensioner, even of the Town Council, would have been an indignity. He had reigned longer and more absolutely than any master in the annals of the Seminary, and to the last day he had held the sceptre without flinching. As a king, strong, uncompromising and invincible, he would lay aside the purple, and disappear into private life. And Muirtown was proud of Bulldog.
Bulldog had beaten the magistrates of Muirtown in all their glory, and his fellow citizens united in one enthusiastic body, but he had not yet settled with the boys. They had not expressed in resolutions or any other way their appreciation of their master, and they had followed the futile attempts of their parents with silent contempt. It was wonderful that grown up people should be so far left to themselves as to suppose that Bulldog, their own Bulldog, would ever condescend to be dined by Bailies and stand at the close of dinner like a dithering idiot with a silver jug in his hands, or some such trash, while his hands were itching to thrash every one of his hosts as he had thrashed them long ago. When the boys heard their fathers raging at Bulldog's proud obstinacy they offered no remark, but when they got together they chortled with glee, and felt that there was comfort and compensation for many an honest thrashing, in the fact that Bulldog was as much ruler of Muirtown as he had been of the Seminary. No rebellion against him had ever had the faintest gleam of hope, and no rebel had ever escaped without his just punishment, but the boys, rascals to the last and full of devilry, agreed together by an instinct rather than a conference that they would close Bulldog's last term with a royal insurrection. He had governed them with an iron hand, and they had been proud to be governed, considering the wounds of Bulldog ten thousand times more desirable than the kisses of McIntyres', but they would have one big revenge and then Bulldog and his "fiddlers" would part for ever. They held long confabulations together in the Rector's class-room while that learned man was reading aloud some new and specially ingenious translation of an ode and in the class-room of modern languages, while Moossy's successor was trying to teach Jock Howieson how to pronounce a modified U, in the German tongue, in Mrs. McWhae's tuck-shop when the "gundy" allowed them to speak at all, and at the Russian guns where they gathered in the break instead of playing rounders. The junior boys were not admitted to those mysterious meetings, but were told to wait and see what they would see, and whatever plan the seniors formed not a word of it oozed out in the town. But the Seminary was going to do something mighty, and Bulldog would repent the years of his tyranny.
Funds were necessary for the campaign, since it was going to be a big affair, and Speug directed that a war chest should at once be established. No one outside the secret junta knew what was going to be done with the money, but orders were issued that by hook or crook every boy in school except the merest kids should pay sixpence a week to Jock Howieson, who was not an accomplished classical scholar nor specially versed in geometry but who could keep the most intricate accounts in his head with unerring accuracy, and knew every boy in the Seminary by head mark. And although he was not a fluent speaker, he was richly endowed with other powers of persuasion, and he would be a very daring young gentleman indeed, and almost indifferent to circumstances, who did not pay his sixpence to Jock before set of sun each Monday. Jock made no demands, and gave no receipts; he engaged in no conversation whatever, but simply waited and took. If any one tried to compound with Jock for threepence, one look at the miserable produced the sixpence; and when little Cosh following in the devious steps of his elder brother insinuated that he had paid already, Jock dropped him into the lade to refresh his memory. No one directly inquired what was to be done with the money, for every one knew it was safe with Jock, and that it would be well spent by the mighty four who now ruled the school: Jock, Bauldie, Nestie, and Speug—Dunc Robertson after a brief course at Sandhurst having got his commission in his father's regiment. And it was also known that every halfpenny was going to give a big surprise to Bulldog, so the boys, during those weeks treated their fathers with obsequious respect for commercial reasons, and coaxed additional pennies out of their mothers on every false pretence, and paid endearing visits to maiden aunts, and passed Mrs. McWhae's shop, turning away their eyes and noses from vanity, and sold to grinding capitalists their tops, marbles, young rabbits, and kites; and "as sure as death" every Monday the silent but observant treasurer received for eight weeks 5L 4s., at the rate of sixpence a head, from 208 boys. They kept their secret like an oyster, and there was not one informer among the 208; but curiosity grew hot, and there were many speculations, and it was widely believed that the money would be used in sending a cane of the most magnificent proportions to Bulldog, as a remembrance of his teaching days, and a mark of respect from his pupils. One boy, being left to himself, dared to suggest this to Speug; and when he looked round at some distance off, Speug's eye was still upon him, and he declared from his experience that it was not healthy to question Speug. Two hundred and four boys, however, with the observant faculties of Indian scouts, and intent upon discovery could not be altogether baffled, and various bits of reliable information were passed round the school. That the four had gone one evening into Bailie MacConachie's, who was now on terms of high popularity with the school; that the Count who was even then sickening for his death, and Mr. McGuffie, whom nothing but an accident could kill, had also been present; that at different times the Count had been seen examining the gold watches in Gillespie's shop, whose watches were carried by every man of standing in the Scots Midlands, and pronouncing his judgment on their appearance with vivacious gestures; that the Bailie had been seen examining the interior of a watch with awful solemnity while Councillor Gillespie hung upon his decision; and, to crown all, that Mr. McGuffie senior, after a lengthy interview with the head of the firm, during which he had given him gratuitous advice on three coming races, had left Gillespie's, declaring with pronounced language that if certain persons did not obtain certain things for L40 he, Mr. McGuffie, although not a person giving to betting, would wager ten to one that the place of business would close in a year. It was whispered therefore in the corridors, with some show of truth, that the Seminary was going to take vengeance on Bulldog with a gift, and that the gift, whatever it might be, was lying in Gillespie's shop. And the school speculated whether there was any one of their number, even Speug himself, who would dare to face Bulldog with a gift; and whether, if he did, that uncompromising man might not occupy his last week of mastership in thrashing the school one by one, from the oldest unto the youngest, for their blazing impertinence.
The closing day was a Thursday that year, and it was characteristic of Bulldog that he met his classes as usual on Wednesday, and when Howieson disgraced himself beyond usual in Euclid, having disgraced himself more moderately on four preceding days that he administered discipline on Jock with conscientious severity. Jock was the last boy Bulldog thrashed, and he was so lifted up as to be absolutely unendurable for the rest of the day, and boasted of the distinction for many a year. As four o'clock approached, the boys began to grow restless, and Bulldog's own voice was not perfectly steady when he closed the last problem with Q. E. D.
"Q. E. D.; yes, Q. E. D., laddies, we have carried the argument to its conclusion according to the principles of things, and the book is finished. There is still seven minutes of the hour remaining, we will spend it in revising the work of the Senior Algebra Class."
Their work has not been revised unto this day, for at that moment the door opened without any one knocking, and without any one offering an apology, and William Pirie, Master of Arts of Edinburgh, and scholar of Trinity College, Cambridge, and Duncan Robertson, 2nd Lieutenant in the Perthshire Buffs, made their appearance, accompanied by Bailie MacConachie, whose dignity was fearsome; the Count, who waved his hand gracefully to the school, and Mr. McGuffie, who included everybody in an affable nod; and behind this imposing deputation every boy of Muirtown Seminary who was not already in the mathematical class-room. Bulldog turned upon them like a lion caught in a snare, and if he had had only thirty seconds preparation, it is firmly believed he would have driven the whole deputation, old and young, out of the class-room and dealt with the conspirators who remained unto the setting of the sun. But it was a cunning plot, arranged and timed with minute care, and before Bulldog could say a word Pirie had begun, and he knew better than to say much.
"If we have offended you, sir, you will pardon us for it is our last offence, and we have this time a fair excuse. Your laddies could not let you leave that desk and go out of this room for the last time without telling you that they are grateful, because you have tried to make them scholars, and to make them men. If any of us be able in after years to do our part well, we shall owe it more than anything else to your teaching and your discipline."
Then Robertson, who was the other spokesman the four had chosen, began.
"Can't make a speech, sir, it is not in my line, but everything Pirie said is true, and we are proud of our chief."
"This," said Pirie, turning to the boys, "is the watch and chain which we ask the master to do us the honour of wearing through the days to come, and the inscription, sir," and now Pirie turned to the desk, "crowns our offence, but you will know how to read it!"
"TO BULLDOG, WITH THE RESPECT AND AFFECTION OF HIS LADDIES."
It was Bailie MacConachie—may everything be pardoned to him—who started the cheer; but it was Mr. McGuffie who led it over hedge and ditch, and it was of such a kind that the mathematical class-room had to be repaired before the beginning of next term. During the storm Bulldog stood with the watch in his hand, and his cheeks as white as his hair, and when at last there was silence he tried to speak, but the tender heart had broken the iron mask, and all he could say was "laddies."
The Count, with quick tact, led off the second cheer, and the boys filed out of the class-room. Bulldog sat down at the desk, the watch before him, and covered his face with his hands. When an hour later he walked across the North Meadow there was not a boy to be seen but Bailie MacFarlane, who met him on the bridge (and passed without speaking), noticed that Bulldog was wearing his laddies' gift.
Sitting in his garden that evening and looking down upon the plain, Bulldog called Nestie to his side, and pointed to the river. The evening sun was shining on the fields, ripening for harvest, and on the orchards, laden with fruit; and in the soft light, a rough weather-beaten coaster, which had fought her way through many a gale in the North Sea, and could not hold together much longer was dropping down with the tide. Newer and swifter vessels would take her place in the days to come, but the old craft had done her work well and faithfully, and now the cleanest and kindest of Scots rivers was carrying her gently to the eternal ocean.