Frederic William Farrar
Part 2 out of 6
said; "I shall write and thank Mrs. Williams directly we get to Roslyn."
They had a fine bright voyage, and arrived that night. Eric, as a new
comer, was ushered at once into Dr. Rowlands' drawing-room, where the
head master was sitting with his wife and children. His greeting was
dignified, but not unkindly; and, on saying "good night," he gave Eric a
few plain words of affectionate advice.
At that moment Eric hardly cared for advice. He was full of life and
spirits, brave, bright, impetuous, tingling with hope, in the flush and
flower of boyhood. He bounded down the stairs, and in another minute
entered the large room where all Dr. Rowlands' boarders assembled, and
where most of them lived, except the few privileged sixth form, and
other boys who had "studies." A cheer greeted his entrance into the
room. By this time most of the Rowlandites knew him, and were proud to
have him among their number. They knew that he was clever enough to get
them credit in the school, and, what was better still, that he would be
a capital accession of strength to the cricket and football. Except
Barker, there was not one who had not a personal liking for him, and on
this occasion even Barker was gracious.
The room in which Eric found himself was large and high. At one end was
a huge fire-place, and there was generally a throng of boys round the
great iron fender, where, in cold weather, a little boy could seldom
get. The large windows opened on the green playground; and iron bars
prevented any exit through them. This large room, called "the boarders'
room," was the joint habitation of Eric and some thirty other boys; and
at one side ran a range of shelves and drawers, where they kept their
books and private property. There the younger Rowlandites breakfasted,
dined, had tea, and, for the most part, lived. Here, too, they had to
get through all such work as was not performed under direct supervision.
How many and what varied scenes had not that room beheld! had those dumb
walls any feeling, what worlds of life and experience they would have
acquired! If against each boy's name, as it was rudely cut on the oak
panels, could have been also cut the fate that had befallen him, the
good that he had there learnt, the evil that he had there suffered--what
_noble_ histories would the records unfold of honor and success, of
baffled temptations and hard-won triumphs; what _awful_ histories of
hopes blighted and habits learned, of wasted talents and ruined lives!
The routine of school-life was on this wise:--At half-past seven the
boys came down to prayers, which were immediately followed by breakfast.
At nine they went into school, where they continued, with little
interruption, till twelve. At one they dined, and, except on
half-holidays, went into school again from two till five. The lock-up
bell rang at dusk; at six o'clock they had tea--which was a repetition
of breakfast, with leave to add to it whatever else they liked--and
immediately after sat down to "preparation," which lasted from seven
till nine. During this time one of the masters was always in the room,
who allowed them to read amusing books, or employ themselves in any
other quiet way they liked, as soon as ever they had learnt their
lessons for the following day. At nine Dr. Rowlands came in and read
prayers, after which the boys were dismissed to bed.
The arrangement of the dormitories was peculiar. They were a suite of
rooms, exactly the same size, each opening into the other; six on each
side of a lavatory, which occupied the space between them, so that, when
all the doors were open, you could see from one end of the whole range
to the other. The only advantage of this arrangement was, that one
master walking up and down could keep all the boys in order while they
were getting into bed. About a quarter of an hour was allowed for this
process, and then the master went along the rooms putting out the
lights. A few of the "study-boys" were allowed to sit up till ten, and
their bedrooms were elsewhere. The consequence was, that in these
dormitories the boys felt perfectly secure from any interruption. There
were only two ways by which a master could get at them; one up the great
staircase, and through the lavatory; the other by a door at the extreme
end of the range, which led into Dr. Rowlands' house, but was generally
In each dormitory slept four or five boys, distributed by their order in
the school list, so that, in all the dormitories, there were nearly
sixty; and of these a goodly number were, on Eric's arrival, collected
in the boarders' room, the rest being in their studies, or in the
classrooms which some were allowed to use in order to prevent too great
a crowd in the room below.
At nine o'clock the prayer-bell rang. Immediately all the boarders took
their seats for prayers, each with an open Bible before him; and when
the school servants had also come in, Dr. Rowlands read a chapter, and
offered up an extempore prayer. While reading, he generally interspersed
a few pointed remarks or graphic explanations, and Eric learnt much in
this simple way. The prayer, though short, was always well suited to the
occasion, and calculated to carry with it the attention of the
Prayers over, the boys noisily dispersed to their bed rooms, and Eric
found himself placed in a room immediately to the right of the lavatory,
occupied by Duncan, Graham, Llewellyn, and two other boys named Bull and
Attlay, all in the same form with himself They were all tired with their
voyage, and the excitement of coming back to school, so that they did
not talk much that night, and before long Eric was fast asleep,
dreaming, dreaming, dreaming that he should have a very happy life at
Roslyn school, and seeing himself win no end of distinctions, and make
no end of new friends.
"We are not worst at once; the course of evil
Begins so slowly, and from such slight source,
An infant's hand might stop the breach with clay;
But let the stream grow wider, and Philosophy--
Ay, and Religion too--may strive in vain
To stem the headlong current!"--ANON.
With intense delight Eric heard it announced next morning, when the new
school-list was read, that he had got his remove into the "Shell," as
the form was called which intervened between the fourth and the fifth.
Russell, Owen, and Montagu also got their removes with him, but his
other friends were left for the present in the form below.
Mr. Rose, hiss new master, was in every respect a great contrast with
Mr. Gordon. He was not so brilliant in his acquirements, nor so vigorous
in his teaching, and therefore clever boys did not catch fire from him
so much as from the fourth-form master. But he was a far truer and
deeper Christian; and, with no less scrupulous a sense of honor, and
detestation of every form of moral obliquity, he never yielded to those
storms of passionate indignation which Mr. Gordon found it impossible to
control. Disappointed in early life, subjected to the deepest and most
painful trials, Mr. Rose's fine character had come out like gold from
the flame. He now lived in and for the boys alone, and his whole life
was one long self-devotion to their service and interests. The boys felt
this, and even the worst of them, in their worst moments, loved and
honored Mr. Rose. But he was not seeking for gratitude, which he neither
expected nor required; he asked no affection in return for his
self-denials; he worked with a pure spirit of human and self-sacrificing
love, happy beyond all payment if ever he were instrumental in saving
one of his charge from evil, or turning one wanderer from the error
of his ways.
He was an unmarried man, and therefore took no boarders himself, but
lived in the school-buildings, and had the care of the boys in Dr.
Such was the master under whom Eric was now placed, and the boy was
sadly afraid that an evil report would have reached his ears, and given
him already an unfavorable impression. But he was soon happily
undeceived. Mr. Rose at once addressed him with much kindness, and he
felt that, however bad he had been before, he would now have an
opportunity to turn over a new leaf, and begin again a career of hope.
He worked admirably at first, and even beat, for the first week or two,
his old competitors, Owen and Russell.
From the beginning, Mr. Rose took a deep interest in him. Few could look
at the boy's bright blue eyes and noble face without doing so, and the
more when they knew that his father and mother were thousands of miles
away, leaving him alone in the midst of so many dangers. Often the
master asked him, and Russell, and Owen, and Montagu, to supper with him
in the library, which gave them the privilege of sitting up later than
usual, and enjoying a more quiet and pleasant evening than was possible
in the noisy rooms. Boys and master were soon quite at home with each
other, and in this way Mr. Rose had an opportunity of instilling many a
useful warning without the formality of regular discipline or
Eric found the life of the "boarders' room" far rougher than he had
expected. Work was out of the question there, except during the hours of
preparation, and the long dark winter evenings were often dull enough.
Sometimes, indeed, they would all join in some regular indoor boys' game
like "baste the bear," or "high-cockolorum;" or they would have amusing
"ghost-hunts," as they called them, after some dressed-up boy among the
dark corridors and staircases. This was good enough fun, but at other
times they got tired of games, and could not get them up, and then
numbers of boys felt the idle time hang heavy on their hands. When this
was the case, some of the worse sort, as might have been expected, would
fill up their leisure with bullying or mischief.
For some time they had a form of diversion which disgusted and annoyed
Eric exceedingly. On each of the long iron-bound deal tables were placed
two or three tallow candles in tin candlesticks, and this was the only
light the boys had. Of course, these candles often, wanted snuffing, and
as snuffers were sure to be thrown about and broken as soon as they
were brought into the room, the only resource was to snuff them with the
fingers, at which all the boys became great adepts from necessity. One
evening Barker, having snuffed the candle, suddenly and slyly put the
smouldering wick unnoticed on the head of a little quiet inoffensive
fellow named Wright, who happened to be sitting next to him. It went on
smouldering for some time without Wright's perceiving it, and at last
Barker, highly delighted, exclaimed--
"I see a chimney," and laughed.
Four or five boys looked up, and very soon every one in the room had
noticed the trick except little Wright himself, who unconsciously wrote
on at the letter he was sending home.
Eric did not like this; but not wishing to come across Barker again,
said nothing, and affected not to have observed. But Russell said
quietly, "There's something on your head, Wright," and the little boy
putting up his hand, hastily brushed off the horrid wick.
"What a shame!" he said, as it fell on his letter, and made a smudge.
"Who told you to interfere?" said Barker, turning fiercely to Russell.
Russell, as usual, took not the slightest notice of him, and Barker,
after a little more bluster, repeated the trick on another boy. This
time Russell thought that every one might be on the look out for
himself, and so went on with his work. But when Barker again chanted
"I see a chimney," every boy who happened to be reading or writing,
uneasily felt to discover this time he was himself the victim or no; and
so things continued for half an hour.
Ridiculous and disgusting as this folly was, it became, when constantly
repeated, very annoying. A boy could not sit down to any quiet work
without constant danger of having some one creep up behind him and put
the offensive fragment of smoking snuff on his head; and neither Barker
nor any of his little gang of imitators seemed disposed to give up their
One night, when the usual exclamation was made, Eric felt sure, from
seeing several boys looking at him, that this time some one had been
treating him in the same way. He indignantly shook his head, and sure
enough the bit of wick dropped off. Eric was furious, and springing up,
"By Jove! I _won't_ stand this any longer."
"You'll have to sit it then," said Barker.
"O, it was _you_ who did it, was it? Then take that;" and, seizing one
of the tin candlesticks, Eric hurled it at Barker's head. Barker dodged,
but the edge of it cut open his eyebrow as it whizzed by, and the blood
"I'll kill you for that," said Barker, leaping at Eric, and seizing him
by the hair.
"You'll get killed yourself then, you brute," said Upton, Russell's
cousin, a fifth-form boy, who had just come into the room--and he boxed
his ears as a premonitory admonition. "But, I say, young un," continued
he to Eric, "this kind of thing won't do, you snow. You'll get into
rows if you shy candlesticks at fellows' heads at that rate."
"He has been making the room intolerable for the last month by his
filthy tricks," said Eric hotly; "some one must stop him, and I will
somehow, if no one else does."
"It wasn't I who put the thing on your head, you passionate young fool,"
"Who was it then? How was I to know? You began it."
"You shut up, Barker," said Upton; "I've heard of your ways before, and
when I catch you at your tricks, I'll teach you a lesson. Come up to my
study, Williams, if you like."
Upton was a fine sturdy fellow of eighteen, immensely popular in the
school for his prowess and good looks. He hated bullying, and often
interfered to protect little boys, who accordingly idolised him, and did
anything he told them very willingly. He meant to do no harm, but he did
great harm. He was full of misdirected impulses, and had a great notion
of being manly, which he thought consisted in a fearless disregard of
all school rules, and the performance of the wildest tricks. For this
reason he was never very intimate with his cousin Russell, whom he liked
very much, but who was too scrupulous and independent to please him.
Eric, on the other hand, was just the boy to take his fancy, and to
admire him in return; his life, strength, and pluck, made him a ready
pupil in all schemes of mischief, and Upton, who had often noticed him,
would have been the first to shudder had he known how far his example
went to undermine all Eric's lingering good resolutions, and ruin for
ever the boy of whom he was so fond.
From this time Eric was much in Upton's study, and constantly by his
side in the playground. In spite of their disparity in age and position
in the school, they became sworn friends, though, their friendship was
broken every now and then by little quarrels, which united them all the
more closely after they had not spoken to each other perhaps for a week.
"Your cousin Upton has 'taken up' Williams," said Montagu to Russell one
afternoon, as he saw the two strolling together on the beach, with
Eric's arm in Upton's.
"Yes, I am sorry for it."
"So am I. We shan't see so much of him now."
"O, that's not my only reason," answered Russell, who had a rare habit
of always going straight to the point.
"You mean you don't like the 'taking-up' system."
"No, Montagu; I used once to have fine theories about it. I used to
fancy that a big fellow would do no end of good to one lower in the
school, and that the two would stand to each other in the relation of
knight to squire. You know what the young knights were taught, Monty--to
keep their bodies under, and bring them into subjection; to love God,
and speak the truth always. That sounds very grand and noble to me. But
when a big fellow takes up a little one _you_ know pretty well that
_those_ are not the kind of lessons he teaches"
"No, Russell; you're quite right. It's bad for a fellow in every way.
First of all, it keeps him in an unnatural sort of dependence; then ten
to one it makes him conceited, and prevents his character from really
coming out well. And besides, the young chap generally gets paid out in
kicks and abuse from the jealousy and contempt of the rest; and if his
protector happens to leave, or anything of that kind, woe betide him!"
"No fear for Eric in that line, though," said Russell; "he can hold his
own pretty well against any one. And after all, he is a most jolly
fellow. I don't think even Upton will spoil him; it's chiefly the soft
self-indulgent fellows, who are all straw and no iron, who get spoilt by
being 'taken up.'"
Russell was partly right. Eric learnt a great deal of harm from Upton,
and the misapplied hero-worship led to bad results. But he was too manly
a little fellow, and had too much self-respect, to sink into the
effeminate condition which usually grows on the young delectables who
have the misfortune to be "taken up."
Nor did he in the least drop his old friends, except Owen. A coolness
grew up between the latter and Eric, not unmingled with a little mutual
contempt. Eric sneered at Owen as a fellow who did nothing but grind all
day long, and had no geniality in him; while Owen pitied the love of
popularity which so often led Eric into delinquencies, which he himself
despised. Owen had, indeed, but few friends in the school; the only boy
who knew him well enough to respect and like him thoroughly was Russell,
who found in him the only one who took the same high, ground with
himself. But Russell loved the good in every one, and was loved by all
in return, and Eric he loved most of all, while he often mourned over
his increasing failures.
One day as the two were walking together in the green playground, Mr.
Gordon passed by; and as the boys touched their caps, he nodded and
smiled pleasantly at Russell, but hardly noticed, and did not return
Eric's salute. He had begun to dislike the latter more and more, and had
given him up altogether as one of the reprobates.
"What a surly devil that is," said Eric, when he had passed; "did you
see how he purposely cut me?"
"A surly ...? Oh Eric, that's the first time I ever heard you swear."
Eric blushed. He hadn't meant the word to slip out in Russell's hearing,
though similar expressions were common enough in his talk with other
boys. But he didn't like to be reproved, even by Russell, and in the
ready spirit of self-defence, he answered--
"Pooh, Edwin, you don't call that swearing, do you? You're so strict, so
religious, you know. I love you for it, but then, there are none like
you. Nobody thinks anything of swearing here."
Russell was silent.
"Besides, what can be the harm of it? it means nothing. I was thinking
the other night, and I concluded that you and Owen are the only two
fellows here who don't swear."
Russell still said nothing.
"And, after all, I didn't swear; I only called that fellow a surly
"O, hush! Eric, hush!" said Russell sadly. "You wouldn't have said so
Eric knew what he meant. The image of his father and mother rose before
him, as they sate far away in their lonely Indian home, thinking of him,
praying for him, centring all their hopes in him. In him!--and he knew
how many things he was daily doing and saying, which would cut them to
the heart. He knew that all his moral consciousness was fast vanishing,
and leaving him a bad and reckless boy.
In a moment, all this passed through his mind. He remembered how shocked
he had been at swearing at first; and even when it became too familiar
to shock him, how he determined never to fall into the habit himself.
Then he remembered how gradually it had become quite a graceful sound in
his ears; a sound of entire freedom and independence of moral restraint;
an open casting off, as it were, of all authority, so that he had begun
to admire it, particularly in Duncan, and above all, in his new hero,
Upton; and he recollected how, at last, an oath had one day slipped out
suddenly in his own words, and how strange it sounded to him, and how
Upton smiled to hear it, though conscience had reproached him bitterly;
but now that he had done it once, it became less dreadful, and gradually
grew common enough, till even conscience hardly reminded him that he was
He thought of all this, and hung his head. Pride struggled with him for
a moment, but at length he answered, "O Edwin, I fear I am getting
utterly bad; I wish I were more like you," he added, in a low sad tone.
"Dear Eric, I have no right to say it, full of faults as I am myself;
but you will be so much happier, if you try not to yield to all the bad
things round us. Remember, I know more of school than you."
The two boys strolled on silently. That night Eric knelt at his bedside,
and prayed as he had not done for many a long day.
"DEAD FLIES," OR "YE SHALL BE AS GODS"
"In the twilight, in the evening, in the black and dark night." PROV.
At Roslyn, even in summer, the hour for going to bed was half-past nine.
It was hardly likely that so many boys, overflowing with turbulent life,
should lie down quietly, and get to sleep. They never dreamt of doing
so. Very soon after the masters were gone, the sconces were often
relighted, sometimes in separate dormitories, sometimes in all of them,
and the boys amused themselves by reading novels or making a row. They
would play various games about the bedrooms, vaulting or jumping over
the beds, running races in sheets, getting through the windows upon the
roofs, to frighten the study-boys with sham ghosts, or playing the
thousand other pranks which suggested themselves to the fertile
imagination of fifteen. But the favorite amusement was a bolstering
match. One room would challenge another, and, stripping the covers off
their bolsters, would meet in mortal fray. A bolster well wielded,
especially when dexterously applied to the legs, is a very efficient
instrument to bring a boy to the ground; but it doesn't hurt very much,
even when the blows fall on the head. Hence these matches were excellent
trials of strength and temper, and were generally accompanied with
shouts of laughter, never ending until one side was driven back to its
own room. Many a long and tough struggle had Eric enjoyed, and his
prowess was so universally acknowledged, that his dormitory, No. 7, was
a match for any other, and far stronger in this warfare than most of the
rest. At bolstering, Duncan was a perfect champion; his strength and
activity were marvellous, and his mirth uproarious. Eric and Graham
backed him up brilliantly; while Llewellyn and Attlay, with sturdy
vigor, supported the skirmishers. Bull, the sixth boy in No. 7, was the
only _faineant_ among them, though he did occasionally help to keep off
the smaller fry.
Happy would it have been for all of them if Bull had never been placed
in No. 7; happier still if he had never come to Roslyn school. Backward
in work, overflowing with vanity at his supposed good looks, of mean
disposition and feeble intellect, he was the very worst specimen of a
boy that Eric had ever seen. Not even Barker so deeply excited Eric's
repulsion and contempt. And yet, since the affair of Upton, Barker and
Eric were declared enemies, and, much to the satisfaction of the latter,
never spoke to each other; but with Bull--much as he inwardly loathed
him--he was professedly and apparently on good terms. His silly love of
universal popularity made him accept and tolerate the society even of
this worthless boy.
Any two boys talking to each other about Bull would probably profess to
like him "well enough," but if they were honest, they would generally
end by allowing their contempt.
"We've got a nice set in No. 7, haven't we?" said Duncan to Eric one
"Capital. Old Llewellyn's a stunner, and I like Attlay and Graham."
"Don't you like Bull then?"
"O yes; pretty well."
The two boys looked each other in the face, then, like the confidential
augurs, burst out laughing.
"You know you detest him," said Duncan.
"No, I don't. He never did me any harm that I know of."
"Him!--well, _I_ detest him."
"Well!" answered Eric, "on coming to think of it, so do I. And yet he is
popular enough in the school. I wonder how that is."
"He's not _really_ popular. I've often noticed that fellows pretty
generally despise him, yet somehow don't like to say so."
"Why do you dislike him, Duncan?"
"I don't know. Why do you?"
"I don't know either."
Neither Eric nor Duncan meant this answer to be false, and yet if they
had taken the trouble to consider, they would have found out in their
secret souls the reasons of their dislike.
Bull had been to school before, and of this school he often bragged as
the acme of desirability and wickedness. He was always telling boys what
they did at "his old school," and he quite inflamed the minds of such as
fell under his influence by marvellous tales of the wild and wilful
things which he and his former school-fellows had done. Many and many a
scheme of sin and mischief, at Roslyn was suggested, planned, and
carried out on the model of Bull's reminiscences of his previous life.
He had tasted more largely of the tree of the knowledge of evil than any
other boy, and strange to say, this was the secret why the general odium
was never expressed. He claimed his guilty experience so often as a
ground of superiority, that at last the claim was silently allowed. He
spoke from the platform of more advanced iniquity, and the others
listened first curiously, then eagerly to his words.
"Ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." Such was the temptation
which assailed the other boys in dormitory No. 7; and Eric among the
number. Bull was the tempter. Secretly, gradually, he dropped into their
too willing ears the poison of his polluting acquirements.
In brief, Bull was cursed with a degraded and corrupting mind.
I hurry over a part of my subject inconceivably painful; I hurry over
it, but if I am to perform my self-imposed duty of giving a true picture
of what school life _sometimes_ is, I must not pass it by altogether.
The first time that Eric heard indecent words in dormitory No. 7, he was
shocked beyond bound or measure. Dark though it was, he felt himself
blushing scarlet to the roots of his hair, and then growing pale again,
while a hot dew was left upon his forehead. Bull was the speaker; but
this time there was a silence, and the subject instantly dropped. The
others felt that "a new boy" was in the room; they did not know how he
would take it; they were unconsciously abashed.
Besides, though they had themselves joined in such conversation before,
they did not love it, and on the contrary, felt ashamed of yielding
Now, Eric, now or never! Life and death, ruin and salvation, corruption
and purity, are perhaps in the balance together, and the scale of your
destiny may hang on a single word of yours. Speak out, boy! Tell these
fellows that unseemly words wound your conscience; tell them that they
are ruinous, sinful, damnable; speak out and save yourself and the rest.
Virtue is strong and beautiful, Eric, and vice is downcast in her awful
presence. Lose your purity of heart, Eric, and you have lost a jewel
which the whole world, if it were "one entire and perfect chrysolite,"
Good spirits guard that young boy, and give him grace in this his hour
of trial! Open his eyes that he may see the fiery horses and the fiery
chariots of the angels who would defend him, and the dark array of
spiritual foes who throng around his bed. Point a pitying finger to the
yawning abyss of shame, ruin, and despair that even now perhaps is being
cleft under his feet. Show him the garlands of the present and the past,
withering at the touch of the Erinnys in the future. In pity, in pity
show him the canker which he is introducing into the sap of the tree of
life, which shall cause its root to be hereafter as bitterness, and its
blossom to go up as dust.
But the sense of sin was on Eric's mind. How _could_ he speak? was not
his own language sometimes profane? How--how could he profess to reprove
another boy on the ground of morality, when he himself said did things
less ruinous perhaps, but equally forbidden?
For half an hour, in an agony of struggle with himself, Eric lay silent.
Since Bull's last words nobody had spoken. They were going to sleep. It
was too late to speak now, Eric thought. The moment passed by for ever;
Eric had listened without objection to foul words, and the irreparable
harm was done.
How easy it would have been to speak! With the temptation, God had
provided also a way to escape. Next time it came, it was far harder to
resist, and it soon became, to men, impossible.
Ah Eric, Eric! how little we know the moments which decide the destinies
of life. We live on as usual. The day is a common day, the hour a common
hour. We never thought twice about the change of intention, which by one
of the accidents--(accidents!)--of life determined for good or for evil,
for happiness or misery, the color of our remaining years. The stroke of
the pen was done in a moment which led unconsciously to our ruin; the
word was uttered quite heedlessly, on which turned for ever the decision
of our weal or woe.
Eric lay silent. The darkness was not broken by the flashing of an
angel's wing, the stillness was not syllabled by the sound of an angel's
voice; but to his dying day Eric never forgot the moments which passed,
until, weary and self-reproachful, he fell asleep.
Next morning he awoke, restless and feverish. He at once remembered what
had passed. Bull's words haunted him; he could not forget them; they
burnt within him like the flame of a moral fever. He was moody and
petulant, and for a time could hardly conceal his aversion to Bull. Ah
Eric! moodiness and petulance cannot save you, but prayerfulness would;
one word, Eric, at the throne of grace--one prayer before you go down
among the boys, that God in his mercy would wash away, in the blood of
his dear Son, your crimson stains, and keep your conscience and
The boy knelt down for a few minutes, and repeated to himself a few
formal words. Had he stayed longer on his knees, he might have given way
to a burst of penitence and supplication--but he heard Bull's footstep,
and getting up, he ran down stairs to breakfast; so Eric did not pray.
Conversations did not generally drop so suddenly in dormitory No. 7. On
the contrary, they generally flashed along in the liveliest way, till
some one said "Good night;" and then the boys turned off to sleep. Eric
knew this, and instantly conjectured that it was only a sort of respect
for him, and ignorance of the manner in which he would consider it, that
prevented Duncan and the rest from taking any further notice of Bull's
remark. It was therefore no good disburdening his mind to any of them;
but he determined to speak about the matter to Russell in their
They usually walked together on Sunday. Dr. Rowlands had discontinued
the odious and ridiculous custom of the younger boys taking their
exercise under a master's inspection. Boys are not generally fond of
constitutionals, so that on the half-holidays they almost entirely
confined their open-air exercise to the regular games, and many of them
hardly left the play-ground boundaries once a week. But on Sundays they
often went walks, each with his favorite friend or companion. When Eric
first came as a boarder, he invariably went with Russell on Sunday, and
many a pleasant stroll they had taken together, sometimes accompanied by
Duncan, Montagu, or Owen. The latter, however, had dropped even this
intercourse with Eric, who for the last few weeks had more often gone
with his new friend Upton.
"Come a walk, boy," said Upton, as they left the dining-room.
"O excuse me to-day, Upton," said Eric, "I'm going with your cousin."
"Oh _very_ well," said Upton, in high dudgeon, and, hoping to make Eric
jealous, he went a walk with Graham, whom he had "taken up" before he
Russell was rather surprised when Eric came to him and said, "Come a
stroll to Fort Island, Edwin--will you?"
"O yes," said Russell cheerfully; "why, we haven't seen each other for
some time lately! I was beginning to fancy that you meant to drop
He spoke with a smile, and in a rallying tone, but Eric hung his head,
for the charge was true. Proud of his popularity among all the school,
and especially at his friendship with so leading a fellow as Upton, Eric
had _not_ seen much of his friend since their last conversation about
swearing. Indeed, conscious of failure, he felt sometimes uneasy in
He faltered, and answered humbly, "I hope you will never drop _me_,
Edwin, however bad I get? But I particularly want to speak to
In an instant Russell had twined his arm in Eric's, as they turned
towards Fort Island; and Eric, with an effort, was just going to begin,
when they heard Montagu's voice calling after them--
"I say, you fellows, where are you off to! may I come with you?"
"O yes, Monty, do," said Russell, "It will be quite like old times; now
that my cousin Horace has got hold of Eric, we have to sing 'When shall
we three meet again?'"
Russell only spoke in fun; but, unintentionally, his words jarred in
Eric's heart. He was silent, and answered in monosyllables, so the walk
was provokingly dull. At last they reached Fort Island, and sat down by
the ruined chapel looking on the sea.
"Why what's the row with you, old boy," said Montagu, playfully shaking
Eric by the shoulder, "you're as silent as Zimmerman on Solitude, and as
doleful as Harvey on the Tombs. I expect you've been going through a
select course of Blair's Grave, Young's Night Thoughts, and Drelincourt
To his surprise Eric's head was still bent, and, at last, he heard a
deep suppressed sigh.
"My dear child, what is the matter with you?" said Russell,
affectionately taking his hand, "surely you're not offended at my
Eric had not liked to speak while Montagu was by, but now he gulped down
his rising emotion, and briefly told them of Bull's vile words the night
before. They listened in silence.
"I knew it must come, Eric," said Russell at last, "and I am so sorry
you didn't speak at the time."
"Do the fellows ever talk in that way in either of your dormitories?"
"No," said Russell.
"Very little," said Montagu.
A pause followed, during which all three plucked the grass and looked
"Let me tell you," said Russell solemnly; "my father (he is dead now you
know, Eric), when I was sent to school, warned me of this kind of thing.
I had been brought up in utter ignorance of such coarse knowledge as is
forced upon one here, and with my reminiscences of home, I could not
bear even that much of it which was impossible to avoid. But the very
first time such talk was begun in my dormitory I spoke out. What I said
I don't know, but I felt as if I was trampling on a slimy poisonous
adder, and, at any rate, I showed such pain and distress that the
fellows dropped it at the time. Since then I have absolutely refused to
stay in the room if ever such talk is begun. So it never is now, and I
do think the fellows are very glad of it themselves."
"Well," said Montagu, "I don't profess to look on it from the religious
ground, you know, but I thought it blackguardly, and in bad taste, and
said so. The fellow who began it, threatened to kick me for a conceited
little fool, but he didn't; and they hardly ever venture on that
"It is more than blackguardly--it is deadly," answered Russell; "my
father said it was the most fatal curse which could ever become rife in
a public school."
"Why do masters never give us any help or advice on these matters?"
asked Eric thoughtfully.
"In sermons they do. Don't you remember Rowlands' sermon not two weeks
ago on Kibroth-Hattaavah? But I for one think them quite right not to
speak to us privately on such subjects, unless we invite confidence.
Besides, they cannot know that any boys talk in this way. After all, it
is only a very few of the worst who ever do."
They got up and walked home, but from day to day Eric put off performing
the duty which Russell had advised, viz.--a private request to Bull to
abstain from his offensive communications, and an endeavor to enlist
Duncan into his wishes.
One evening they were telling each other stories in No. 7. Bull's turn
came, and in his story the vile element again appeared. For a while Eric
said nothing, but as the strain grew worse, he made a faint
"Shut up there, Williams," said Attlay, "and don't spoil the story."
"Very well. It's your own fault, and I shall shut my ears."
He did for a time, but a general laugh awoke him. He pretended to be
asleep, but he listened. Iniquity of this kind was utterly new to him;
his curiosity was awakened; he no longer feigned indifference, and the
poison flowed deep into his veins. Before that evening was over, Eric
Williams was "a god, knowing good from evil."
O young boys, if your eyes ever read these pages, pause and beware. The
knowledge of evil is ruin, and the continuance in it hell. That little
matter--that beginning of evil,--it will be like the snowflake detached
by the breath of air from the mountain-top, which, as it rushes down,
gains size, and strength, and impetus, till it has swollen to the mighty
and irresistible avalanche that overwhelms garden, and field, and
village, in a chaos of undistinguishable death.
Kibroth-Hattaavah! Many and many a young Englishman has perished there!
Many and many a happy English boy, the jewel of his mother's
heart,--brave, and beautiful, and strong,--lies buried there. Very pale
their shadows rise before us--the shadows of our young brothers who have
sinned and suffered. From the sea and the sod, from foreign graves and
English churchyards, they start up and throng around us in the paleness
of their fall. May every schoolboy who reads this page be warned by the
waving of their wasted hands, from that burning marle of passion, where
they found nothing but shame and ruin, polluted affections, and an
[Greek: Aspasiae trillistos hepaeluths nux herebennae.]
For a few days after the Sunday walk narrated in the last chapter, Upton
and Eric cut each other dead. Upton was angry at Eric's declining the
honor of his company, and Eric was piqued at Upton's unreasonableness.
In the "taking up" system, such quarrels were of frequent occurrence,
and as the existence of a misunderstanding was generally indicated in
this very public way, the variations of good will between such friends
generally excited no little notice and amusement among the other boys.
But both Upton and Eric were too sensible to carry their differences so
far as others similarly circumstanced; each thoroughly enjoyed the
other's company, and they generally seized an early opportunity for
effecting a reconciliation, which united them more firmly than ever.
As soon as Eric had got over his little pique, he made the first
advances, by writing a note to Upton, which he slipped under his study
door, and which ran as follows:--
"Dear Horace--Don't let us quarrel about nothing. Silly fellow, why
should you be angry with me because for once I wanted to go a walk with
Russell, who, by the bye, is twice as good a fellow as you? I shall
expect you to make it up directly after prayers.--Yours, if you are not
The consequence was, that as they came out from prayers, Upton seized
Eric's hand, and slapped him on the back, after which they had a good
laugh over their own foolish fracas, and ran up stairs chattering
"There's to be an awful lark in the dormitories tonight," said Eric;
"the doctor's gone to a dinner-party, and we're going to have no end
"Are you? Well, if it gets amusing, come to my study and tell me, I'll
come and look on."
"Very well; depend upon it, I'll come." And they parted at the foot of
the study stairs.
It was Mr. Rose's night of duty. He walked slowly up and down the range
of Dormitories until every boy seemed ready to get into bed, and then he
put out all the candles. So long as he was present, the boys observed
the utmost quiet and decorum. All continued quite orderly until he had
passed away through the lavatory, and one of the boys following him as a
scout, had seen the last glimmer of his candle disappear round the
corner at the foot of the great staircase, and heard the library door
close behind him.
After that, particularly as Dr. Rowlands was absent, the boys knew that
they were safe from disturbance, and the occupants of No. 7 were the
first to stir.
"Now for some fun," said Duncan, starting up, and by way of initiative
pitching his pillow at Eric's head.
"I'll pay you out for that when I'm ready," said Eric, laughing; "but
give us a match, first."
Duncan produced some vestas, and no sooner had they lighted their
candle, than several of the dormitory doors began to be thrown open, and
one after another all requested a light, which Duncan and Eric conveyed
to them in a sort of emulous lampadephoria, so that a length all the
twelve dormitories had their sconces lit, and the boys began all sorts
of amusement, some in their night-shirts and others with their trousers
slipped on. Leap-frog was the prevalent game for a time, but at last
Graham suggested theatricals, and they were agreed on.
"But we're making a regular knock-me-down shindy," said Llewellyn;
"somebody must keep cave."
"O, old Rose is safe enough at his Hebrew in the library; no fear of
disturbing him if we were dancing hippopotami," answered Graham.
But it was generally considered safest to put some one at the top of the
stairs, in case of an unexpected diversion in that direction, and little
Wright consented to go first. He had only to leave the lavatory door
open; and stand at the top of the staircase, and he then commanded for a
great distance the only avenue in which danger was expected. If any
master's candle appeared n the hall, the boys had full three minutes'
warning, and a single loudly-whispered "cave" would cause some one in
each dormitory instantly to "douse the glim," and shut the door; so that
by the time of the adversary's arrival, they would all be (of course)
fast asleep in bed, some of them snoring in an alarming manner. Whatever
noise the master might have heard, it would be impossible to fix it on
any of the sleepers.
So at the top of the stairs stood little Wright, shoeless, and shivering
in his night-gown, but keenly entering into the fun, and not
unconscious of the dignity of his position. Meanwhile the rest were
getting up a scenic representation of Bombastes Furioso, arranging a
stage, piling a lot of beds together for a theatre, and dressing up the
actors in the most fantastic apparel.
The impromptu Bombastes excited universal applause, and just at the end
Wright ran in through the lavatory.
"I say," said the little fellow, "it's jolly cold standing at the top of
the stairs. Won't some one relieve guard?"
"O, I will," answered Eric, good-naturedly; "it's a shame that one
fellow should have all the bother and none of the fun;" and he ran to
take Wright's post.
After watching a minute or two, he felt sure that there was no danger,
and therefore ran up to Upton's study for a change.
"Well, what's up?" said the study-boy, approvingly, as he glanced at
Eric's laughing eyes.
"O, we've been having leap-frog, and then Bombastes Furioso. But I'm
keeping 'cave' now; only it's so cold that I thought I'd run up to
"Little traitor; we'll shoot you for a deserting sentinel."
"O no;" said Eric, "it's all serene; Rowley's out, and dear old Rose'd
never dream of supposing us elsewhere than in the arms of Morpheus.
Besides the fellows are making less row now."
"Well! look here! let's go and look on, and I'll tell you a dodge; put
one of the tin washing-basins against the iron door of the lavatory, and
then if any one comes he'll make clang enough to wake dead; and while
he's amusing himself with this, there'll be lots of time to 'extinguish
the superfluous abundance of the nocturnal illuminators.' Eh?"
"Capital!" said Eric, "come along."
They went down and arranged the signal very artistically, leaving the
iron door ajar a little, and then neatly poising the large tin basin on
its edge, so as to lean against it. Having extremely enjoyed this part
of the proceeding, they went to look at the theatricals again, the boys
being highly delighted at Upton's appearance among them.
They at once made Eric take a part in some very distant reminiscences of
Macbeth, and corked his cheeks with whiskers and mustachios to make him
resemble Banquo, his costume being completed by a girdle round his
nightshirt, consisting of a very fine crimson silk handkerchief, richly
broidered with gold, which had been brought to him from India, and which
at first, in the innocence of his heart, he used to wear on Sundays,
until he acquired the sobriquet of "the Dragon." Duncan made a
They were doing the dagger-scene, which was put on the stage in a most
novel manner. A sheet had been pinned from the top of the room, on one
side of which stood a boy with a broken dinner knife, the handle end of
which he was pushing through a hole in the middle of the sheet at the
shadow of Duncan on the other side.
Duncan himself, in an attitude of intensely affected melodrama, was
"Is this a dagger which I see before me?
The handle towards me now? come, let me clutch thee;"
And he snatched convulsively at the handle of the protruded knife; but
as soon as he nearly touched it, this end was immediately withdrawn, and
the blade end substituted, which made the comic Macbeth instantly draw
back again, and recommence his apostrophe. This scene had tickled the
audience immensely, and Duncan, amid shouts of laughter, was just
drawing the somewhat unwarrantable conclusion that it was
"A dagger of the mind, a false creation,"
when a sudden grating, followed by a reverbrated clang, produced a dead
"Cave," shouted Eric, and took a flying leap into his bed. Instantly
there was a bolt in different directions; the sheet was torn down, the
candles dashed out, the beds shoved aside, and the dormitories at once
plunged in profound silence, only broken by the heavy breathing of
sleepers, when in strode--not Mr. Rose or any of the under
masters--but--Dr. Rowlands himself!
He stood for a moment to survey the scene. All the dormitory doors were
wide open; the sheet which had formed the stage curtain lay torn on the
floor of No. 7; the beds in all the adjoining rooms were in the
strangest positions; and half-extinguished wicks still smouldered in
several of the sconces. Every boy was in bed, but the extraordinary way
in which the bed clothes were huddled about told an unmistakeable tale.
He glanced quickly round, but the moment he had passed into No. 8, he
heard a run, and, turning, just caught sight of Upton's figure vanishing
into the darkness of the lavatory, towards the study stairs.
He said not a word, but stalked hastily through all dormitories, again
stopping at No. 7 on his return.
He heard nothing but the deep snores of Duncan, and instantly fixed on
him as a chief culprit.
No reply; but calm stertorous music from Duncan's bed.
"Duncan!" he said, still louder and more sternly, "you sleep soundly,
sir, too soundly; get up directly," and he laid his hand on the
"Get away, you old donkey," said Duncan sleepily; "'t, aint time to get
up yet. First bell hasn't rung."
"Come, sir, this shamming will only increase your punishment;" but the
imperturbable Duncan stretched himself lazily, gave a great yawn, and
then awoke with such an admirably feigned start at seeing Dr. Rowlands,
that Eric, who had been peeping at the scene from over his bed-clothes,
burst into an irresistible explosion of laughter.
Dr. Rowlands swung round on his heel--"What! Williams! get out of bed,
sir, this instant."
Eric, forgetful of his disguise, sheepishly obeyed; but when he stood on
the floor, he looked so odd in his crimson girdle and corked cheeks,
with Dr. Rowlands surveying him in intense astonishment, that the scene
became overpoweringly ludicrous to Duncan, who now in his turn was
convulsed with a storm of laughter, faintly echoed in stifled titterings
from other beds.
"_Very_ good," said Dr. Rowlands, now thoroughly angry, "you will hear
of this to-morrow;" and he walked away with a heavy step, stopping at
the lavatory door to restore the tin basin to its proper place, and then
mounting to the studies.
Standing in the passage into which the studies opened, he knocked at
one of the doors, and told a boy to summon all their occupants at once
to the library.
Meanwhile, the dormitory-boys were aghast, and as soon as they heard the
doctor's retreating footsteps, began flocking in the dark to No. 7, not
daring to relight their candles.
"Good gracious!" said Attlay, "only to think of Rowley appearing! How
could he have twigged?"
"He must have seen our lights in the window as he came home," said Eric.
"I say, what a row that tin-basin dodge of yours made! What a rage the
Doctor will be in to-morrow?"
"Won't you just catch it!" said Barker to Duncan, but intending the
remark for Eric.
"Just like your mean chaff," retorted Duncan. "But I say, Williams," he
continued, laughing, "you _did_ look so funny in the whiskers."
At this juncture they heard all the study-boys running down stairs to
the library, and, lost in conjecture, retired to their different rooms.
"What do you think he'll do to us?" asked Eric.
"I don't know," said Duncan uneasily; "flog us, for one thing, that's
certain. I'm so sorry about that basin, Eric; but it's no good fretting.
We've had our cake, and now we must pay for it, that's all."
Erie's cogitations began to be unpleasant, when the door opened, and
somebody stole noiselessly in.
"Upton. I've come to have a chat. The Doctor's like a turkey-cock in
sight of a red handkerchief. Never saw him in such a rage."
"Why, what's he been saying?" asked Eric, as Upton came and took a seat
on his bed.
"Oh! he's been rowing us like six o'clock," said Upton, "about 'moral
responsibility,' 'abetting the follies of children,' 'forgetting our
position in the school,' and I don't know what all; and he ended by
asking who'd been in the dormitories. Of course I confessed the soft
impeachment, whereon he snorted 'Ha! I suspected so. Very well, Sir, you
don't know how to use a study; you shall be deprived of it till the end
"Did he really, Horace?" said Eric. "And it's all my doing that you've
got into the scrape. Do forgive me."
"Bosh! My dear fellow," said Upton, "it's twice as much my fault as
yours; and, after all, it was only a bit of fun. It's rather a bore
losing the study, certainly; but never mind, we shall see all the more
of each other. Good night; I must be off."
Next morning, prayers were no sooner over than Dr. Rowlands said to the
boys, "Stop! I have a word to say to you"
"I find that there was the utmost disorder in the dormitories yesterday
evening. All the candles were relighted at forbidden hours, and the
noise made was so great that it was heard through the whole building. I
am grieved that I cannot leave you, even for a few hours, without your
taking such advantage of my absence; and that the upper boys, so far
from using their influence to prevent these infractions of discipline,
seem inclined rather to join in them themselves. On this occasion I have
punished Upton, by depriving him of a privilege which he has abused; and
as I myself detected Duncan and Williams, they will be flogged in the
library at twelve. But I now come to the worst part of the proceeding.
Somebody had been reckless enough to try and prevent surprise by the
dangerous expedient of putting a tin basin against the iron door. The
consequence was, that I was severely hurt, and _might_ have been
seriously injured in entering the lavatory. I must know the name of the
Upton and Eric immediately stood up. Dr. Rowlands looked surprised, and
there was an expression of grieved interest in Mr. Rose's face.
"Very well," said the Doctor, "I shall speak to you both privately."
Twelve o'clock came, and Duncan and Eric received a severe caning.
Corporal punishment, however necessary and desirable for some
dispositions, always produced on Eric the worst effects. He burned, not
with remorse or regret, but with shame and violent indignation, and
listened, with a glare in his eye, to Dr. Rowlands' warnings. When the
flogging was over, he almost rushed out of the room, to choke in
solitude his sense of humiliation, nor would he suffer any one for an
instant to allude to his disgrace. Dr. Rowlands had hinted that Upton
was doing him no good; but he passionately resented the suggestion, and
determined, with obstinate perversity, to cling more than ever to the
boy whom he had helped to involve in the same trouble with himself.
Any attempt on the part of masters to interfere in the friendships of
boys is usually unsuccessful. The boy who has been warned against his
new acquaintance not seldom repeats to him the fact that Mr. So-and-so
doesn't like seeing them together, and after that they fancy themselves
bound in honor to show that they are not afraid of continuing their
connection. It was not strange, therefore, that Eric and Upton were
thrown more than ever into each other's society, and consequently, that
Eric, while he improved daily in strength, activity, and prowess,
neglected more and more his school duties and honorable ambitions.
Mr. Rose sadly remarked the failure of promise in his character and
abilities, and did all that could be done, by gentle firmness and
unwavering kindness, to recal his pupil to a sense of duty. One night he
sent for him to supper, and invited no one else. During the evening he
drew out Eric's exercise, and compared it with, those of Russell and
Owen, who were now getting easily ahead of him in marks. Eric's was
careless, hurried, and untidy; the other two were neat, spirited, and
painstaking, and had, therefore, been marked much higher.
"Your exercises _used_ to be far better--I may say incomparably better,"
said Mr. Rose; "what is the cause of this falling off?"
Eric was silent.
Mr. Rose laid his hand gently on his head. "I fear, my boy, you have not
been improving lately. You have got into many scrapes, and are letting
boys beat you in form who are far your inferiors in ability. That is a
very bad _sign_, Eric; in itself it is a discouraging fact, but I fear
it indicates worse evils. You are wasting the golden hours, my boy, that
can never return. I only hope and trust that no other change for the
worse is going on in your character."
And so he talked on till the boy's sorrow was undisguised. "Come," he
said gently, "let us kneel down together before we part."
Boy and master knelt down humbly side by side, and, from a full heart,
the young man poured out his fervent petitions for the child beside him.
Eric's heart seemed to catch a glow from his words, and he loved him as
a brother. He rose from his knees full of the strongest resolutions, and
earnestly promised amendment for the future.
But poor Eric did not yet know his own infirmity. For a time, indeed,
there was a marked improvement; but daily life flowed on with its usual
allurements, and when the hours of temptation came, his good intentions
melted away, so that, in a few more weeks, the prayer, and the vows that
followed it, had been obliterated from his memory without leaving any
traces in his life.
ERIC IN COVENTRY
"And either greet him not
Or else disdainfully, which shall shake him more
Than if not looked on."--TROILUS AND CRESSIDA, iii. 3.
Upton, expatriated from his study, was allowed to use one of the smaller
class-rooms which were occupied during play-hours by those boys who were
too high in the school for "the boarders' room," and who were waiting to
succeed to the studies as they fell vacant. There were three or four
others with him in this class-room, and although it was less pleasant
than his old quarters, it was yet far more comfortable than the
Pandemonium of the shell and fourth-form boys.
As a general rule, no boys were allowed to sit in any of the class-rooms
except their legitimate occupants. The rule, however, was very generally
overlooked, and hence Eric, always glad of an opportunity to escape from
the company of Barker and his associates, became a constant frequenter
of his friend's new abode. Here they used to make themselves very
comfortable. Joining the rest, they would drink coffee or chocolate, and
amuse themselves over the fire with Punch, or some warlike novel in a
green or yellow cover. One of them very often read aloud to the rest:
and Eric, being both a good reader and a merry, intelligent listener,
soon became quite a favorite among the other boys.
Mr. Rose had often seen him sitting there, and left him unmolested; but
if ever Mr. Gordon happened to come in and notice him, he invariably
turned him out, and after the first offence or two, had several times
set him an imposition. This treatment gave fresh intensity to his now
deeply-seated disgust at his late master, and his expressions of
indignation at "Gordon's spite" were loud and frequent.
One day Mr. Gordon had accidentally come in, and found no one there but
Upton and Eric; they were standing very harmlessly by the window, with
Upton's arm resting kindly on Eric's shoulder as they watched with
admiration the net-work of rippled sunbeams that flashed over the sea.
Upton had just been telling Eric the splendid phrase [Greek: anerithmon
gelasma pontion], which he had stumbled upon in an Aeschylus lesson that
morning, and they were trying which would hit on the best rendering of
it. Eric stuck up for the literal sublimity of "the innumerable laughter
of the sea," while Upton was trying to win him over to "the
many-twinkling smile of ocean." They were enjoying the discussion, and
each stoutly maintaining his own rendering, when Mr. Gordon entered.
On this occasion he was particularly angry; he had an especial dislike
of seeing the two boys together, because he fancied that the younger had
grown more than usually conceited and neglectful, since he had been
under the fifth-form patronage; and he saw in Eric's presence there, a
new case of wilful disobedience.
"Williams, here _again!_" he exclaimed sharply. "Why, sir, you seem to
suppose that you may defy rules with impunity! How often have I told you
that no one is allowed to sit here, except the regular occupants?"
His voice startled the two boys from their pleasant discussion.
"No other master takes any notice of it, sir," said Upton.
"I have nothing to do with other masters, Williams, you will bring me
the fourth Georgic, written out by Saturday morning, for your repeated
disobedience. Upton, I have a great mind to punish you also, for
tempting him to come here."
This was a mistake on Mr. Gordon's part, of which Upton took immediate
"I have no power to prevent it, sir, if he wishes it. Besides," he
continued, with annoying blandness of tone, "it would be inhospitable;
and I am too glad of his company."
Eric smiled, and Mr. Gordon frowned. "Williams, leave the room
The boy obeyed slowly and doggedly. "Mr. Rose never interferes with me,
when he sees me here," he said as he retreated.
"Then I shall request Mr. Rose to do so in future; your conceit and
impertinence are getting intolerable."
Eric only answered with a fiery glance; the next minute Upton joined him
on the stairs, and Mr. Gordon heard them laughing a little
ostentatiously, as they ran out into the playground together. He went
away full of strong contempt, and from that moment began to look on the
friends as two of the worst boys in the school.
This incident had happened on Thursday, which was a half-holiday, and
instead of being able to join in any of the games, Eric had to spend
that weary afternoon in writing away at the fourth Georgic; Upton
staying in a part of the time to help him a little, by dictating the
lines to him--an occupation not unfrequently interrupted by storms of
furious denunciation against Mr. Gordon's injustice and tyranny; Eric
vowing "that he would pay him out somehow yet."
The imposition was not finished that evening, and it again consumed some
of the next day's leisure, part of it being written between schools in
the forbidden class-room. Still it was not quite finished on Friday
afternoon at six, when school ended, and Eric stayed a few minutes
behind the rest to scribble off the last ten lines; which done, he
banged down the lid of his desk, not locking it, and ran out.
The next morning an incident happened which involved considerable
consequences to some of the actors in my story.
Mr. Rose and several other masters had not a room to themselves, like
Mr. Gordon, but heard their forms in the great hall. At one end of this
hall was a board used for the various school notices, to which there
were always affixed two or three pieces of paper containing
announcements about examinations and other matters of general interest.
On Saturday morning (when Eric was to give up his Georgic), the boys, as
they dropped into the hall for morning school, observed a new notice on
the board, and, thronging round to see what it was, read these words,
written on a half-sheet of paper, attached by wafers to the board--
"GORDON IS A SURLY DEVIL."
As may be supposed, so completely novel an announcement took them all
very much by surprise, and they wondered who had been so audacious as to
play this trick. But their wonder was cut short by the entrance of the
masters, and they all took their seats, without any one tearing down the
After a few minutes the eye of the second master, Mr. Ready, fell on the
paper, and, going up, he read it, stood for a moment transfixed with
astonishment, and then called Mr. Rose.
Pointing to the inscription, he said: "I think we had better leave that
there, Rose, exactly as it is, till Dr. Rowlands has seen it. Would you
mind asking him to step in here?"
Just at this juncture Eric came in, having been delayed by Mr. Gordon
while he rigidly inspected the imposition. As he took his seat, Montagu,
who was next him, whispered--
"I say, have you seen the notice-board?"
"Why, some fellow has been writing up an opinion of Gordon not very
"And serve him right, too, brute!" said Eric, smarting with the memory
of his imposition.
"Well, there'll be no end of a row; you'll see."
During this conversation, Dr. Rowlands came in with Mr. Rose. He read
the paper, frowned, pondered a moment, and then said to Mr. Rose--"Would
you kindly summon the lower school into the hall? As it would be painful
to Mr. Gordon to be present, you had better explain to him how
"Halloa! here's a rumpus!" whispered Montagu; "he never has the lower
school down for nothing."
A noise was heard on the stairs, and in flocked the lower school. When
they had ranged themselves on the vacant forms, there was a dead silence
and hush of expectation.
"I have summoned you all together," said the Doctor, "on a most serious
occasion. This morning, on coming into the school-room, the masters
found that the notice-board had been abused for the purpose of writing
up an insult to one of our number, which is at once coarse and wicked.
As only a few of you have seen it, it becomes my deeply painful duty to
inform you of its purport; the words are these--'Gordon is a surly
devil.'"--A _very_ slight titter followed this statement, which was
instantly succeeded by a sort of thrilling excitement; but Eric, when he
heard the words, started perceptibly, and colored as he caught Montagu's
eye fixed on him.
Dr. Rowlands continued--"I suppose this dastardly impertinence has been
perpetrated by some boy out of a spirit of revenge. I am perfectly
amazed at the unparalleled audacity and meanness of the attempt, and it
may be very difficult to discover the author of it. But, depend upon it,
discover him _we will_, at whatever cost. Whoever the offender may be,
and he must be listening to me at this moment, let him be assured that
he shall _not_ be unpunished. His guilty secret shall be torn from him.
His punishment can only be mitigated by his instantly yielding
No one stirred, but during the latter part of this address Eric was so
uneasy, and his cheek burned with such hot crimson, that several eyes
were upon him, and the suspicions of more than one boy were awakened.
"Very well," said the head master, "the guilty boy is not inclined to
confess. Mark, then; if his name has not been given up to me by to-day
week, every indulgence to the school will be forfeited, the next whole
holiday stopped, and the coming cricket-match prohibited."
"The handwriting may be some clue," suggested Mr. Ready. "Would you have
any objection to my examining the note-books of the Shell?"
"None at all. The Shell-boys are to show their books to Mr. Ready
The head-boy of the Shell collected the books, and took them to the
desk; the three masters glanced casually at about a dozen, and suddenly
stopped at one. Eric's heart beat loud, as his saw Mr. Rose point
"We have discovered a handwriting which remarkably resembles that on the
board. I give the offender one more chance of substituting confession
No one stirred; but Montagu felt that his friend was trembling
"Eric Williams, stand out in the room."
Blushing scarlet, and deeply agitated, the boy obeyed
"The writing on the notice is exactly like yours. Do you know anything
of this shameful proceeding?"
"Nothing, sir," he murmured in a low tone.
"Nothing whatever, sir."
Dr. Rowlands' look searched him through and through, and seemed to burn
into his heart. He did not meet it, but hung his head. The Doctor felt
certain from his manner that he was guilty. He chained him to the spot
with his glance for a minute or two, and then said slowly, and with a
"Very well; I _hope_ you have spoken the truth; but whether you have or
no, we shall soon discover. The school, and especially the upper boys,
will remember what I have said. I shall now tear down the insulting
notice, and put it into your hands, Avonley, as head of the school, that
you may make further inquiries." He left the room, and the boys resumed
their usual avocation till twelve o'clock. But poor Eric could hardly
get through his ordinary pursuits; he felt sick and giddy, until
everybody noticed his strange embarrassed manner, and random answers.
No sooner had twelve o'clock struck, than the whole school broke up into
knots of buzzing and eager talkers.
"I wonder who did it," said a dozen voices at once.
"The writing was undoubtedly Williams'," suggested some.
"And did you notice how red and pale he got when the Doctor spoke to
him, and how he hung his head?"
"Yes; and one knows how he hates Gordon."
"Ay; by the bye, Gordon set him a Georgic only on Thursday, and he has
been swearing at him ever since."
"I noticed that he stayed in after all the rest last night," said
"Did he? By Jove, that looks bad."
"Has any one charged him with it?" asked Duncan.
"Yes," answered one of the group: "but he's as proud about it as
Lucifer, and is furious if you mention it to him. He says we ought to
know him better than to think him capable of such a thing."
"And quite right, too," said Duncan. "If he did it, he's done something
totally unlike what one would have believed possible of him."
The various items of evidence were put together, and certainly they
seemed to prove a strong case against Eric. In addition to the
probabilities already mentioned, it was found that the ink used was of a
violet color, and a peculiar kind, which Eric was known to patronise;
and not only so, but the wafers with which the paper had been attached
to the board were yellow, and exactly of the same size with some which
Eric was said to possess. How the latter facts had been discovered,
nobody exactly knew, but they began to be very generally whispered
throughout the school.
In short, the almost universal conviction among the boys proclaimed that
he was guilty, and many urged him to confess it at once, and save the
school from the threatened punishment. But he listened to such
suggestions with the most passionate indignation.
"What!" he said, angrily, "tell a wilful lie to blacken my own innocent
The consequence was, they all began to shun him. Eric was put into
Coventry. Very few boys in the school still clung to him, and maintained
his innocence in spite of appearances, but they were the boys whom he
had most loved and valued, and they were most vigorous in his defence.
They were Russell, Montagu, Duncan, Owen, and little Wright.
On the evening of the Saturday, Upton had sought out Eric, and said in a
very serious tone, "This is a bad business, Williams. I cannot forget
how you have been abusing Gordon lately, and though I won't believe you
guilty, yet you ought to explain."
"What? even _you_, then suspect me?" said Eric, bursting into proud
tears. "Very well. I shan't condescend to _deny_ it. I won't speak to
you again till you have repented of mistrusting me;" and he resolutely
rejected all further overtures on Upton's part.
He was alone in his misery. Some one, he perceived, had plotted to
destroy his character, and he saw too clearly how many causes of
suspicion told against him. But it was very bitter to think that the
whole school could so readily suppose that he would do a thing which
from his soul he abhorred. "No," he thought, "bad I may be, but I
_could_ not have done such a base and cowardly trick."
Never in his life had he been so wretched. He wandered alone to the
rocks, and watched the waves dashing against them with the rising tide.
The tumult of the weather seemed to relieve and console the tumult of
his heart. He drank in strength and defiance from the roar of the
waters, and climbed to their very edge along the rocks, where every
fresh, rush of the waves enveloped him in white swirls of angry loam.
The look of the green, rough, hungry sea, harmonised with his feelings,
and he sat down and stared into it, to find relief from the torment of
At last, with a deep sigh, he turned away to go back, and meet the crowd
of suspicious and unkindly companions, and brood alone over his sorrow
in the midst of them. He had not gone many steps, when he caught sight
of Russell in the distance. His first impulse was to run away and
escape; but Russell determined to stop him, and when he came up, said,
"Dear Eric, I have sought you out on purpose to tell you that _I_ don't
suspect you, and have never done so for a moment. I know you too well,
my boy, and be sure that _I_ will always stick to you, even if the whole
school cut you."
"Oh, Edwin, I am _so_ wretched. I needn't tell you that I am quite
innocent of this. What have I done to be so suspected? Why, even your
cousin Upton won't believe me."
"But he does, Eric," said Russell; "he told me so just now, and several
others said the same thing."
A transient gleam passed over Eric's face.
"O, I do so long for home again," he said. "Except you, I have no
"Don't say so, Eric. This cloud will soon blow over. Depend upon it, as
the Doctor said, we shall discover the offender yet, and the fellows
will soon make you reparation for their false suspicions. And you _have_
one friend, Eric," he continued, pointing reverently upwards.
Eric was overcome; he sat down on the grass and hid his face till the
tears flowed through his closed fingers. Russell sat silent and pitying
beside him, and let Eric's head rest upon his shoulder.
When they got home, Eric found three notes in his drawer. One was from
Mr. Gordon, and ran thus:--
"I have little doubt, Williams, that you have done this act. Believe me,
I feel no anger, only pity for you. Come to me and confess, and I
promise, by every means in my power, to befriend and save you."
This note he read, and then, stamping on the floor, tore it up furiously
into twenty pieces, which he scattered about the room.
Another was from Mr. Rose;
"Dear Eric--I _cannot, will_ not, believe you guilty, although
appearances look very black. You have many faults, but I feel sure that
I cannot be mistaken in supposing you too noble-minded for a revenge so
petty and so mean. Come to me, dear boy, if I can help you in any way. I
_trust you_, Eric, and will use every endeavor to right you in the
general estimation. You are innocent; pray to God for help under this
cruel trial, and be sure that your character will yet be
cleared.--Affectionately yours, WALTER ROSE."
"_P.S._--I can easily understand that just now you will like quiet; come
and sit with me in the library as much as you like."
He read this note two or three times with grateful emotion, and at that
moment would have died for Mr. Rose. The third note was from Owen, as
"Dear Williams--We have been cool to each other lately; naturally,
perhaps. But yet I think that it will be some consolation to you to be
told, even by a rival, that I, for one, feel certain of your innocence.
If you want company, I shall be delighted now to walk with you.--Yours
truly, D. OWEN."
This note, too, brought much comfort to the poor boy's lonely and
passionate heart. He put it into his pocket, and determined at once to
accept Mr. Rose's kind offer of allowing him to sit for the present in
There were several boys in the room while he was reading his notes, but
none of them spoke to him, and he was too proud to notice them, or
interrupt the constrained silence. As he went out he met Duncan and
Montagu, who at once addressed him in the hearing of the rest.
"Ha! Williams," said Duncan, "we have been looking everywhere for you,
dear fellow. Cheer up, you shall be cleared yet. I, for one, and Monty
for another, will maintain your innocence before the whole school."
Montagu _said_ nothing, but Eric understood full well the trustful
kindness of his soft pressure of the hand. His heart was too full to
speak, and he went on towards the library.
"I wonder at your speaking to that fellow," said Bull, as the two new
comers joined the group at the fire-place.
"You will be yourself ashamed of having ever suspected him before long,"
said Montagu warmly; "ay, the whole lot of you; and you are very unkind
to condemn him before you are certain."
"I wish you joy of your _friend_, Duncan," sneered Barker.
"Friend?" said Duncan, firing up; "yes! he is my friend, and I'm not
ashamed of him. It would be well for the school if _all_ the fellows
were as honorable as Williams."
Barker took the hint, and although he was too brazen to blush, thought
it better to say no more.
"A plot, a plot, a plot, to ruin all." TENNYSON, _The Princess_.
On the Monday evening, the head boy reported to Dr. Rowlands that the
perpetrator of the offence had not been discovered, but that one boy was
very generally suspected, and on grounds that seemed plausible. "I
admit," he added, "that from the little I know of him he seems to me a
very unlikely sort of boy to do it."
"I think," suggested the Doctor, "that the best way would be for you to
have a regular trial on the subject, and hear the evidence. Do you think
that you can be trusted to carry on the investigation publicly, with
good order and fairness?"
"I think so, sir," said Avonley.
"Very well. Put up a notice, asking all the school to meet by themselves
in the boarders' room tomorrow afternoon at three, and see what you can
do among you."
Avonley did as the Doctor suggested. At first, when the boys assembled,
they seemed inclined to treat the matter as a joke, and were rather
disorderly; but Avonley briefly begged them, if they determined to have
a trial, to see that it was conducted sensibly; and by general consent
he was himself voted into the desk as president. He then got up
"There must be no sham or nonsense about this affair. Let all the boys
take their seats quietly down the room."
They did so, and Avonley asked, "Is Williams here?"
Looking round, they discovered he was not. Russell instantly went to the
library to fetch him, and told him what was going on. He took Eric's arm
kindly as they entered, to show the whole school that he was not ashamed
of him, and Eric deeply felt the delicacy of his goodwill.
"Are you willing to be tried, Williams," asked Avonley, "on the charge
of having written the insulting paper about Mr. Gordon? Of course we
know very little how these kind of things ought to be conducted, but we
will see that everything done is open and above ground, and try to
manage it properly."
"There is nothing I should like better," said Eric.
He had quite recovered his firm, manly bearing. A quiet conversation
with his dearly loved friend and master had assured him in the
confidence of innocence, and though the color on his cheek had through
excitement sunk into two bright red spots, he looked wonderfully noble
and winning as he stood before the boys in the centre of the room. His
appearance caused a little reaction in his favor, and a murmur of
applause followed his answer.
"Good," said Avonley; "who will prosecute on the part of the school?"
There was a pause. Nobody seemed to covet the office.
"Very well; if no one is willing to prosecute, the charge drops."
"I will do it," said Gibson, a Rowlandite, one of the study boys at the
top of the fifth form. He was a clever fellow, and Eric liked the little
he had seen of him.
"Have you any objection, Williams, to the jury being composed of the
sixth form? or are there any names among them which you wish to
"No," said Eric, glancing round with confidence.
"Well, now, who will defend the accused?"
Another pause, and Upton got up.
"No," said Eric, at once. "You were inclined to distrust me, Upton, and
I will only be defended by somebody who never doubted my innocence."
Another pause followed, and then, blushing crimson, Russell got up. "I
am only a Shell-boy," he said, "but if Eric doesn't mind trusting his
cause to me, I will defend him, since no other fifth-form fellow stirs."
"Thank you, Russell, _I wanted_ you to offer, I could wish no better
"Will Owen, Duncan, and Montagu help me, if they can?" asked Russell.
"Very willingly," they all three said, and went to take their seats by
him. They conversed eagerly for a few minutes, and then declared
"All I have got to do," said Gibson, rising, "is to bring before the
school the grounds for suspecting Williams, and all the evidence which
makes it probable that he is the offender. Now, first of all, the thing
must have been done between Friday evening and Saturday morning; and
since the school-room door is generally locked soon after school, it was
probably done in the short interval between six and a quarter past. I
shall now examine some witnesses."
The first boy called upon was Pietrie, who deposed, that on Friday
evening, when he left the room, having been detained a few minutes, the
only boy remaining in it was Williams.
Carter, the school-servant, was then sent for, and deposed, that he had
met Master Williams hastily running out of the room, when he went at a
quarter past six to lock the door.
Examined by Gibson.--"Was any boy in the room when you did lock the
"Did you meet any one else in the passage?"
Cross-examined by Russell.--"Do boys ever get into the room after the
door is locked?"
"By what means?"
"Through the side windows."
"That will do."
Russell here whispered something to Duncan, who at once left the room,
and on returning, after a few minutes' absence, gave Russell a
Barker was next brought forward, and questioned by Gibson.
"Do you know that Williams is in the habit of using a particular kind of
"Yes; it is of a violet color, and has a peculiar smell."
"Could you recognise anything written with it?"
Gibson here handed to Barker the paper which had caused so much trouble.
"Is that the kind of ink?"
"Do you know the handwriting on that paper?"
"Yes; it is Williams' hand."
"How can you tell?"
"He makes his r's in a curious way."
"Turn the paper over. Have you ever seen those kind of wafers before?"
"Yes; Williams has a box of them in his desk."
"Has any other boy, that you are aware of, wafers like those?"
Cross-examined by Duncan.--"_How_ do you know that Williams has wafers
"I have seen him use them."
"For what purpose?"
"To fasten letters."
"I can't help remarking that you seem very well acquainted with what he
does. Several of those who know him best, and have seen him oftenest,
never heard of these wafers. May I ask," he said, "if any one else in
the school will witness to having seen Williams use these wafers?"
No one spoke, and Barker, whose malice seemed to have been changed into
uneasiness, sat down.
Upton was the next witness. Gibson began--"You have seen a good deal of
"Yes," said Upton smiling.
"Have you ever heard him express any opinion of Mr. Gordon?"
"Of what kind?"
"Dislike and contempt," said Upton, amidst general laughter.
"Have you ever heard him say anything which implied a desire to injure
"The other day Mr. Gordon gave him a Georgic as an imposition, and I
heard Williams say that he would like to pay him out."
This last fact was new to the school, and excited a great sensation.
"When did he say this?"
"On Friday afternoon."
Upton had given his evidence with great reluctance, although, being
simply desirous that the truth should come out, he concealed nothing
that he knew. He brightened up a little when Russell rose to
"Have you ever known Williams to do any mean act?"
"Do you consider him a boy _likely_ to have been guilty on this
"Distinctly the reverse. I am convinced of his innocence."
The answer was given with vehement emphasis, and Eric felt greatly
relieved by it.
One or two other boys were then called on as witnesses to the great
agitation which Eric had shown during the investigation in the
school-room, and then Gibson, who was a sensible, self-contained fellow,
said, "I have now done my part. I have shown that the accused had a
grudge against Mr. Gordon at the time of the occurrence, and had
threatened to be revenged on him; that he was the last boy in the room
during the time when the offence must have been committed; that the
handwriting is known to resemble his, and that the ink and wafers
employed were such as he, and he only, was known to possess. In addition
to all this, his behavior, when the matter was first publicly noticed,
was exactly such as coincides with the supposition of his guilt. I think
you will all agree in considering these grounds of suspicion very
strong; and leaving them to carry their full weight with you, I close
the case for the prosecution."
The school listened to Gibson's quiet formality with a kind of grim and
gloomy satisfaction, and when he had concluded, there were probably few
but Eric's own immediate friends who were not fully convinced of his
guilt, however sorry they might be to admit so unfavorable an opinion of
a companion whom they all admired.
After a minute or two, Russell rose for the defence, and asked, "Has
Williams any objection to his desk being brought, and any of its
contents put in as evidence?"
"Not the least; there is the key, and you will find it in my place in
The desk was brought, but it was found to be already unlocked, and
Russell looked at some of the note-paper which it contained. He then
began--"In spite of the evidence adduced, I think I can show that
Williams is not guilty. It is quite true that he dislikes Mr. Gordon,
and would not object to any open way of showing it; it is quite true
that he used the expressions attributed to him, and that the ink and
wafers are such as may be found in his desk, and that the handwriting is
not unlike his. But is it probable that a boy intending to post up an
insult such as this, would do so in a manner, and at a time so likely to
involve him in immediate detection, and certain punishment? At any rate,
he would surely disguise his usual handwriting. Now, I ask any one to
look at this paper, and tell me whether it is not clear, on the
contrary, that these letters were traced slowly and with care, as would
be the case with an elaborate attempt to imitate?" Russell here handed
the paper to the jury, who again narrowly examined it.
"Now the evidence of Pietrie and Carter is of no use, because Carter
himself admitted that boys often enter the room by the window; a fact to
which we shall have to allude again.
"We admit the evidence about the ink and wafers. But it is rather
strange that Barker should know about the wafers, since neither I, nor
any other friend of Williams, often as we have sat by him when writing
letters, have ever observed that he possessed any like them."
Several boys began to look at Barker, who was sitting very ill at ease
on the corner of a form, in vain trying to appear unconcerned.
"There is another fact which no one yet knows, but which I must mention.
It will explain Williams' agitation when Dr. Rowlands read out the words
on that paper; and, confident of his innocence, I am indifferent to its
appearing to tell against him. I myself once heard Williams use the very
words written on that paper, and not only heard them, but expostulated
with him strongly for the use of them. I need hardly say how very
unlikely it is, that remembering this, he should thus publicly draw my
suspicions on him, if he meant to insult Mr. Gordon, undiscovered. But,
besides myself, there was another boy who accidentally overheard that
expression. That boy was Barker.
"I have to bring forward a new piece of evidence which at least ought to
go for something. Looking at this half-sheet of note-paper, I see that
the printer's name on the stamp in the corner is 'Graves, York.' Now, I
have just found that there is no paper at all like this in Williams'
desk; all the note-paper it contains is marked 'Blakes, Ayrton.'
"I might bring many witnesses to prove how very unlike Williams' general
character a trick of this kind would be. But I am not going to do this.
We think we know the real offender. We have had one trial, and now
demand another. It is our painful duty to prove Williams' innocence by
proving another's guilt. That other is a known enemy of mine, and of
Montagu's, and of Owen's. We therefore leave the charge of stating the
case against him to Duncan, with whom he has never quarrelled."
Russell sat down amid general applause; he had performed his task with a
wonderful modesty and self-possession, which filled every one with
admiration, and Eric warmly pressed his hand.
The interest of the school was intensely excited, and Duncan, after a
minute's pause, starting up, said--"Williams has allowed his desk to be
brought in and examined. Will Barker do the same?"
The real culprit now saw at once that his plot to ruin Eric was
recoiling on himself. He got up, swore and blustered at Russell, Duncan,
and Williams, and at first flatly refused to allow his desk to be
brought. He was, however, forced to yield, and when opened, it was
immediately seen that the note-paper it contained was identical with
that on which the words had been written. At this he affected to be
perfectly unconcerned, and merely protested against what he called the
meanness of trying to fix the charge on him.
"And what have you been doing the whole of the last day or two," asked
Gibson, quietly, "but endeavoring to fix the charge on another?"
"We have stronger evidence against you," said Duncan, confronting him
with an undaunted look, before which his insolence quailed. "Russell,
will you call Graham?"
Graham was called, and put on his honor.
"You were in the sick-room on Friday evening?"
"Did you see any one get into the school-room through the side window?"
"I may as well tell you all about it. I was sitting doing nothing in the
sick-room, when I suddenly saw Barker clamber in to the school-room by
the window, which he left open. I was looking on simply from curiosity,
and saw him search Williams' desk, from which he took out something, I
could not make out what. He then went to his own place, and wrote for
about ten minutes, after which I observed him go up and stand by the
notice board. When he had done this he got out by the window again,
and ran off."
"Didn't this strike you as extraordinary?"
"No; I thought nothing more about it, till some one told me in the
sick-room about this row. I then mentioned privately what I had seen,
and it wasn't till I saw Duncan, half an hour ago, that I thought it
worth while to make it generally known."
Duncan turned an enquiring eye to Barker (who sat black and silent), and
then pulled some bits of torn paper from his pocket, put them together,
and called Owen to stand up. Showing him the fragments of paper, he
asked, "Have you ever seen these before?"
"Yes. On Saturday, when the boys left the schoolroom, I stayed behind to
think a little over what had occurred, feeling convinced that Williams
was _not_ guilty, spite of appearances. I was standing by the empty
fire-place, when these bits of paper caught my eye. I picked them up,
and, after a great deal of trouble, fitted them together. They are
covered apparently with failures in an attempt at forgery, viz., first,
'Gordon is a sur--' and then a stop, as though the writer were
dissatisfied, and several of the words written over again for practice,
and then a number of r's made in the way that Williams makes them."
"There you may stop," said Barker, stamping fiercely; "I did it all."
A perfect yell of scorn and execration followed this announcement.
"What! _you_ did it, and caused all this misery, you ineffable
blackguard!" shouted Upton, grasping him with one hand, while he struck
him with the other.
"Stop!" said Avonley; "just see that he doesn't escape, while we decide
on his punishment."
It was very soon decided by the sixth form that he should run the
gauntlet of the school. The boys instantly took out their handkerchiefs,
and knotted them tight. They then made a double line down each side of
the corridor, and turned Barker loose. He stood stock-still at one end,
while the fellows nearest him thrashed him unmercifully with the heavy
knots. At last the pain was getting severe, and he moved on, finally
beginning to run. Five times he was forced up and down the line, and
five times did every boy in the line give him a blow, which, if it did
not hurt much, at least spoke of no slight anger and contempt. He was
dogged and unmoved to the last, and then Avonley hauled him into the
presence of Dr. Rowlands. He was put in a secure room by himself, and
the next morning was first flogged and then publicly expelled.
Thenceforth he disappears from the history of Roslyn school.
I need hardly say that neither Eric nor his friends took any part in
this retributive act. They sat together in the boarders' room till it
was over, engaged in exciting discussion of the recent event. Most
warmly did Eric thank them for their trustfulness. "Thank you," he said,
"with all my heart, for proving my innocence; but thank you, even more a
great deal, for first believing it."
Upton was the first to join them, and since he had but wavered for a
moment, he was soon warmly reconciled with Eric. They had hardly shaken
hands when the rest came flocking in. "We have all been unjust," said
Avonley; "let's make up for it as well as we can. Three cheers for Eric
They gave, not three, but a dozen, till they were tired; and meanwhile,
every one was pressing round him, telling him how sorry they were for
the false suspicion, and doing all they could to show their regret for
his recent troubles. His genial, boyish heart readily forgave them, and
his eyes were long wet with tears of joy. The delicious sensation of
returning esteem made him almost think it worth while to have under gone
Most happily did he spend the remainder of that afternoon, and it was no
small relief to all the Rowlandites in the evening to find themselves
finally rid of Barker, whose fate no one pitied, and whose name no one
mentioned without disgust. He had done more than any other boy to
introduce meanness, quarrelling, and vice, and the very atmosphere of
the rooms seemed healthier in his absence. One boy only forgave him, one
boy only prayed for him, one boy only endeavored to see him for one last
kind word. That boy was Edwin Russell.
After prayers, Mr. Gordon, who had been at Dr. Rowlands' to dinner,
apologised to Eric amply and frankly for his note, and did and said all
that could be done by an honorable man to repair the injury of an unjust
doubt. Eric felt his generous humility, and from thenceforth, though
they were never friends, he and Mr. Gordon ceased to be enemies.
That night Mr. Rose crowned his happiness by asking him and his
defenders to supper in the library. A most bright and joyous evening
they passed, for they were in the highest spirits; and when the master
bade them "good night," he kindly detained Eric, and said to him, "Keep
an innocent heart, my boy, and you need never fear trouble. Only think
if you had been guilty, and were now in Barker's place!"
"O, I _couldn't_ be guilty, sir," said Eric, gaily.
"Not of such a fault, perhaps. But," he added solemnly, "there are many
kinds of temptation, Eric many kinds. And they are easy to fall into.
You will find it no light battle to resist them."
"Believe me, sir, I will try," he answered with humility.
"Jehovah-Nissi!" said Mr. Rose. "Let the Lord be your banner, Eric, and
you will win the victory. God bless you."
And as the boy's graceful figure disappeared through the door, Mr. Rose
drew his arm-chair to the fire, and sat and meditated long. He was
imagining for Eric a sunny future--a future of splendid usefulness, of
reciprocated love, of brilliant fame.
THE ADVENTURE AT THE STACK
"Ten cables from where green meadows
And quiet homes could be seen,
No greater space
Back to Full Books