Part 3 out of 6
From peril to peace,
But the savage sea between!"--EDWIN ARNOLD.
The Easter holidays at Roslyn lasted about ten days, and as most of the
boys came from a distance, they usually spent them at school. Many of
the usual rules were suspended during this time, and the boys were
supplied every day with pocket-money; consequently the Easter holidays
passed very pleasantly, and there was plenty of fun.
It was the great time for excursions all over the island, and the boys
would often be out the whole day long among the hills, or about the
coast. Eric enjoyed the time particularly, and was in great request
among all the boys. He was now more gay and popular than ever, and felt
as if nothing were wanting to his happiness. But this brilliant
prosperity was not good for him, and he felt continually that he cared
far less for the reproaches of conscience than he had done in the hours
of his trial; sought far less for help from God than he had done when he
was lonely and neglected.
He always knew that his great safeguard was the affection of Russell.
For Edwin's sake, and for shame at the thought of Edwin's disapproval,
he abstained from many things into which he would otherwise have
insensibly glided in conformation to the general looseness of the school
morality. But Russell's influence worked on him powerfully, and tended
to counteract a multitude of temptations.
Among other dangerous lessons, Upton had taught Eric to smoke; and he
was now one of those who often spent a part of his holidays in lurking
about with pipes in their mouths at places where they were unlikely to
be disturbed, instead of joining in some hearty and healthy game. When
he began to "learn" smoking, he found it anything but pleasant; but a
little practice had made him an adept, and he found a certain amount of
enjoyable excitement in finding out cozy places by the river, where he
and Upton might go and lounge for an hour to enjoy the forbidden luxury.
In reality he, like most boys, detested the habit; but it seemed a fine
thing to do, and to some, at any rate, it was a refuge from vacuity.
Besides, they had a confused notion that there was something "manly" in
it, and it derived an additional zest from the stringency of the rules
adopted to put it down. So a number of the boys smoked, and some few of
them to such excess as to get them into great mischief, and form a habit
which they could never afterwards abandon.
One morning of the Easter holidays, Eric, Montagu, and Russell started
for an excursion down the coast to Rilby Head. As they passed through
Ellan, Eric was deputed to go and buy Easter eggs and other provisions,
as they did not mean to be back for dinner. In about ten minutes he
caught up the other two, just as they were getting out of the town.
"What an age you've been buying a few Easter eggs," said Russell,
laughing; "have you been waiting till the hens laid?"
"No; they are not the _only_ things I've got."
"Well, but you might have got all the grub at the same shop."
"Ay; but I've procured a more refined article. Guess what it is?"
The two boys didn't guess, and Eric said, to enlighten them, "Will you
have a whiff, Monty?"
"A whiff! Oh! I see you've been wasting your tin on cigars--_alias_,
rolled cabbage-leaves. Oh fumose puer!"
"Well, will you have one?"
"If you like," said Montagu, wavering; "but I don't much care to smoke."
"Well, _I_ shall, at any rate," said Eric, keeping off the wind with his
cap, as he lighted a cigar, and began to puff.
They strolled on in silence; the smoking didn't promote conversation,
and Russell thought he had never seen his friend look so ridiculous, and
entirely unlike himself, as he did while strutting along with the weed
in his mouth. The fact was, Eric didn't guess how much he was hurting
Edwin's feelings, and he was smoking more to "make things look like the
holidays," by a little bravado, than anything else. But suddenly he
caught the expression of Russell's face, and instantly said--
"O, I forgot, Edwin; I know you don't like smoking;" and he instantly
flung the cigar over the hedge, being really rather glad to get rid of
it. With the cigar, he seemed to have flung away the affected manner he
displayed just before, and the spirits of all three rose at once.
"It isn't that I don't _like_ smoking only, Eric, but I think it
wrong--for _us_ I mean."
"O, my dear fellow! surely there can't be any harm in it. Why everybody
"It may be all very well for men, although I'm not so sure of that. But,
at any rate, it's wrong and ridiculous in boys. You know yourself what
harm it does in every way."
"O, it's a mere school rule against it. How can it be wrong? Why, I even
know clergymen who smoke."
Montagu laughed. "Well, clergymen ain't immaculate," said he; "but I
never met a man yet who didn't tell you that he was _sorry_ he'd
acquired the habit."
"I'm sure you won't thank that rascally cousin of mine for having taught
you," said Russell; "but seriously, isn't it a very moping way of
spending the afternoon, to go and lie down behind some hay-stack, or in
some frowsy tumble-down barn, as you smokers do, instead of playing
racquets or football?"
"O, it's pleasant enough sometimes," said Eric, speaking rather against
his own convictions.
"As for me, I've nearly left it off," said Montagu, "and I think Rose
convinced me that it was a mistake. Not that he knows that I ever did
smoke; I should be precious sorry if he did, for I know how he despises
it in boys. Were you in school the other day when he caught Pietrie and
"Well, when Brooking went up to have his exercise corrected, Rose smelt
that he had been smoking, and charged him with it. Brooking stoutly
denied it, but after he had told the most robust lies, Rose made him
empty his pockets, and there, sure enough, were a pipe and a cigar-case
half full! You _should_ have heard how Rose thundered and lightened at
him for his lying, and then sent him to the Doctor. I never saw him so
"You don't mean to say you were convinced it was wrong because Brooking
was caught, and told lies--do you? _Non sequitur_."
"Stop--not so fast." Very soon after Rose twigged Pietrie, who at once
confessed, and was caned. I happened to be in the library when Rose sent
for him, and Pietrie said mildly that "he didn't see the harm of it."
Rose smiled in his kind way, and said, "Don't see the _harm_ of it! Do
you see any good in it?"
"Well, isn't it forbidden?"
"And doesn't it waste your money?"
"And tempt you to break rules, and tell lies to screen yourself?"
"Yes, sir," said Pietrie, putting his tail between his legs.
"And don't your parents disapprove it? And doesn't it throw you among
some of the worst boys, and get you into great troubles? Silly child,"
he said, pulling Pietrie's ear (as he sometimes does, you know), "don't
talk nonsense; and remember next time you're caught I shall have you
punished." So off went Pietrie, [Greek: achreian idon] as our friend
Homer says. And your humble servant was convinced."
"Well, well," said Eric laughing, "I suppose you're right. At any rate,
I give in. Two to one ain't fair; [Greek: ards duo o Aerachlaes], since
you're in a quoting humor."
Talking in this way they got to Rilby Head, where they found plenty to
amuse them. It was a splendid headland, rising bluff four hundred feet
out of the sea, and presenting magnificent reaches of rock scenery on
all sides. The boys lay on the turf at the summit, and flung innocuous
stones at the sea-gulls as they sailed far below them over the water,
and every now and then pounced at some stray fish that came to the
surface; or they watched the stately barks as they sailed by on the
horizon, wondering at their cargo and destination; or chaffed the
fishermen, whose boats heaved on the waves at the foot of the
promontory. When they were rested, they visited a copper-mine by the
side of the head, and filled their pockets with bits of bright quartz or
red shining spar, which they found in plenty among the rocks.
In the afternoon they strolled towards home, determining to stop a
little at the Stack on their way. The Stack formed one of the
extremities of Ellan Bay, and was a huge mass of isolated schist,
accessible at low water, but entirely surrounded at high tide. It was a
very favorite resort of Eric's, as the coast all about it was bold and
romantic; and he often went there with Russell on a Sunday evening to
watch the long line of golden radiance slanting to them over the water
from the setting sun--a sight which they often agreed to consider one
of the most peaceful and mysteriously beautiful in nature.
They reached the Stack, and began to climb to its summit. The sun was
just preparing to set, and the west was gorgeous with red and gold.
"We shan't see the line on the waters this evening," said Eric; "there's
too much of a breeze. But look, what a glorious sunset!"
"Yes; it'll be stormy tomorrow," answered Russell, "but come along,
let's get to the top; the wind's rising, and the waves will be
"Ay, we'll sit and watch them; and let's finish our grub; I've got
several eggs left, and I want to get them out of my pocket."
They devoured the eggs, and then stood enjoying the sight of the waves,
which sometimes climbed up the rock almost to their feet, and then fell
back, hissing and discomfited. Suddenly they remembered that it was
getting late, and that they ought to gat home for tea at seven.
"Hallo!" said Russell, looking at his watch, "it's half-past six. We
must cut back as hard as we can. By the bye, I hope the tide hasn't been
coming in all this time."
"Good God!" said Montagu, with a violent start, "I'm afraid it has,
though! What asses we have been, with our waves and sunsets. Let's set
off as hard as we can pelt."
Immediately they scrambled, by the aid of hands and knees, down the
Stack, and made their way for the belt of rock which joined it to the
mainland; but, to their horror, they at once saw that the tide had come
in, and that a narrow gulf of sea already divided them from the shore.
"There's only one way for it," said Eric; "if we're plucky we can jump
that; but we musn't wait till it gets worse. A good jump will take us
_nearly_ to the other side--far enough, at any rate, to let us flounder
As fast as they could they hurried along down to the place where the
momentarily increasing zone of water seemed as yet to be narrowest; and
where the rocks on the other side were lower than those on which they
stood. Their situation was by no means pleasant. The wind had been
rising more and more, and the waves dashed into this little channel with
such violence, that to swim it would have been a most hazardous
experiment, particularly as they could not dive in from the ledge on
which they stood, from their ignorance of the depth of water.
Eric's courage supported the other two. "There's no good _thinking_
about it," said he, "jump we _must_; the sooner the better. We can but
be a little hurt at the worst. Here, I'll set the example."
He drew back a step or two, and sprang out with all his force. He was a
practised and agile jumper, and, to their great relief, he alighted near
the water's edge, on the other side, where, after slipping once or twice
on the wet and seaweed-covered rocks, he effected a safe landing, with
no worse harm than a wetting up to the knees.
"Now then, you too," he shouted; "no time to lose."
"Will you jump first, Monty?" said Russell; "both of you are better
jumpers than I, and to tell the truth I'm rather afraid."
"Then I won't leave you," said Montagu; "we'll both stay here."
"And perhaps be drowned or starved for our pains No, Monty, _you_ can
clear it, I've no doubt."
"Couldn't we try to swim it together, Edwin?"
"Madness! look there." And as he spoke, a huge furious wave swept down
the whole length of the gulf by which they stood, roaring and surging
along till the whole water seethed, and tearing the seaweeds from their
roots in the rock.
"Now's your time," shouted Eric again. "What _are_ you waiting for? For
God's sake, jump before another wave comes."
"Monty, you _must_ jump now," said Russell, "if only to help me when I
Montagu went back as far as he could, which was only a few steps, and
leapt wildly forward. He lighted into deep water, nearly up to his neck,
and at first tried in vain to secure a footing on the sharp slippery
schist; but he stumbled forwards vigorously, and in half a minute, Eric
leaning out as far as he could, caught his hand, and just pulled him to
the other side in time to escape another rush of tumultuous and
"Now, Edwin," they both shouted, "it'll be too late in another minute.
Jump for your life."
Russell stood on the rock pale and irresolute. Once or twice he prepared
to spring, and stopped from fear at the critical instant. In truth, the
leap was now most formidable; to clear it was hopeless; and the fury of
the rock-tormented waves rendered the prospect of a swim on the other
side terrible to contemplate. Once in the grasp of one of those billows,
even a strong man must have been carried out of the narrow channel, and
hurled against the towering sweep of rocks which lay beyond it.
"Oh Edwin, Edwin--dear Edwin--_do_ jump," cried Eric with passionate
excitement. "We will rush in for you."
Russell now seemed to have determined on running the risk; he stepped
back, ran to the edge, missed his footing, and with a sharp cry of pain,
fell heavily forward into the water. For an instant, Eric and Montagu
stood breathless,--but the next instant, they saw Russell's head emerge,
and then another wave foaming madly by, made them run backwards for
their lives, and hid him from their view. When it had passed, they saw
him clinging with both hands, in the desperate instinct of
self-preservation, to a projecting bit of rock, by the aid of which he
gradually drew himself out of the water, and grasping at crevices or
bits of seaweed, slowly and painfully reached the ledge on which they
had stood before they took the leap. He presented a pitiable spectacle;
his face, pale as death, was dabbled with blood; his head drooped on his
breast; his clothes were torn, and streamed with the salt water; his cap
was gone, and the wet hair, which he seemed too exhausted to push aside,
hung over his forehead and eyes. He was evidently dizzy, and in pain;
and they noticed that he only seemed to use one foot.
While he was regaining the ledge, neither of the boys spoke, lest their
voices should startle him, and make him fall; but now, they both cried
out, "Are you hurt, Edwin?"
He did not answer, but supported his pale face on one hand, while he put
the other to his head, from which the blood was flowing fast.
"O Edwin, for the love of God, try once more," said Montagu; "you will
die if you spend the night on that rock."
They could not catch the reply, and called again. The wind and waves
were both rising fast, and it was only by listening intently, that they
caught the faint words, "I can't, my leg is hurt." Besides, they both
saw that a jump was no longer possible; the channel was more than double
the width which it had been when Eric leaped, and from the rapid ascent
of rocks on both sides, it was now far out of depth.
"O God, what can we do," said Montagu, bursting into tears. "We can
never save him; and all but the very top of the Stack is covered at
Eric had not lost his presence of mind. "Cheer up, Edwin," he shouted;
"I _will_ get back to you somehow. If I fail, crawl up to the
Again the wind carried away the reply, and Russell had sunk back on the
"Monty," said Eric, "just watch for a minute or two. When I have got
across, run to Ellan as hard as you can tear, and tell them that we are
cut off by the tide on the Stack. They'll bring round the life-boat.
It's our only chance."
"What are you going to do?" asked Montagu, terrified. "Why, Eric, it's
death to attempt swimming that. Heavens!" And he drew Eric back hastily,
as another vast swell of water came rolling along, shaking its white
curled mane, like a sea-monster bent on destruction.
"Monty, it's no use," said Eric hastily, tearing off his jacket and
waistcoat; "I'm not going to let Russell die on that ledge of rock. I
shall try to reach him, whatever happens to me. Here; I want to keep
these things dry. Be on the look out; if I get across, fling them over
to me if you can, and then do as I told you."
He turned round; the wave had just spent its fury, and knowing that his
only chance was to swim over before another came, he plunged in, and
struck out like a man. He was a strong and expert swimmer, and as yet
the channel was not more than a dozen yards across. He dashed over with
the speed and strength of despair, and had just time to clutch the rocks
on the other side before the next mighty swirl of the tide swept up in
its white and tormented course. In another minute he was on the ledge by
He took him tenderly in his arms, and called to Montagu for the dry
clothes. Montagu tied them skilfully with his neck-handkerchief round a
fragment of rock, adding his own jacket to the bundle, and then flung it
over. Eric wrapped up his friend in the clothes, and once more shouted
to Montagu to go on his errand. For a short time the boy lingered,
reluctant to leave them, and then started off at the run. Looking back
after a few minutes, he caught, through the gathering dusk, his last
glimpse of the friends in their perilous situation. Eric was seated
supporting Russell across his knees; when he saw Montagu turn he waved
his cap over his head as a signal of encouragement, and then began to
carry Edwin higher up the rock for safety. It soon grew too dark to
distinguish them, and Montagu at full speed flew to Ellan, which was a
mile off. When he got to the harbor he told some sailors of the danger
in which his friends were, and then ran on to the school. It was now
eight o'clock, and quite dark. Tea was over, and lock-up time long past,
when he stood excited, breathless, and without his jacket, at Dr.
"Good gracious! Master Montagu," said the servant; "what's the matter;
have you been robbed?"
He pushed the girl aside, and ran straight to Dr. Rowlands' study. "O
sir!" he exclaimed, bursting in, "Williams and Russell are on the Stack,
cut off by the tide."
Dr. Rowlands started up hastily. "What! on this stormy night? Have you
raised the alarm?"
"I told the life-boat people, sir, and then ran on."
"I will set off myself at once," said the Doctor, seizing his hat. "But,
my poor boy, how pale and ill you look, and you are wet through too. You
had better change your clothes at once, or go to bed."
"O no, sir," said Montagu, pleadingly; "do take me with you."
"Very well; but you must change first, or you may suffer in consequence.
Make haste, and directly you are dressed, a cup of tea shall be ready
for you down here, and we will start."
Montagu was off in an instant, and only stopped on his way to tell
Duncan and the others of the danger which threatened their companions.
The absence of the three boys from tea and lock-up had already excited
general surmise, and Montagu's appearance, jacketless and wet, at the
door of the boarders' room, at once attracted a group round him. He
rapidly told them how things stood, and, hastening off, left them nearly
as much agitated as himself. In a very short time he presented himself
again before Dr. Rowlands, and when he had swallowed with difficulty the
cup of tea, they sallied out.
It was pitch dark, and only one or two stars were seen at intervals
struggling through the ragged masses of cloud. The wind howled in fitful
gusts, and as their road led by the sea-side, Montagu shuddered to hear
how rough and turbulent the sea was, even on the sands. He stumbled once
or twice, and then the Doctor kindly drew his trembling arm through his
own, and made him describe the whole occurrence, while the servant went
on in front with the lantern. When Montagu told how Williams had braved
the danger of reaching his friend at the risk of his life, Dr. Rowlands'
admiration was unbounded. "Noble boy," he exclaimed, with enthusiasm; "I
shall find it hard to believe any evil of him after this."
They reached Ellan, and went to the boat-house.
"Have you put out the life-boat?" said Dr. Rowlands anxiously.
"Ill luck, sir," said one of the sailors, touching his cap; "the
life-boat went to a wreck at Port Vash two days ago, and she hasn't been
brought round again yet."
"Indeed! but I do trust you have sent out another boat to try and save
those poor boys."
"We've been trying, sir, and a boat has just managed to start; but in a
sea like that it's very dangerous, and it's so dark and gusty that I
doubt it's no use, so I expect they'll put back."
The Doctor sighed deeply. "Don't alarm any other people," he said; "it
will merely raise a crowd to no purpose. Here, George," he continued to
the servant, "give me the lantern; I will go with this boy to the Stack;
you follow us with ropes, and order a carriage from the King's Head.
Take care to bring anything with you that seems likely to be useful."
Montagu and Dr. Rowlands again started, and with difficulty made their
way through the storm to the shore opposite the Stack. Here they raised
the lantern and shouted; but the wind was now screaming with such
violence that they were not sure that they heard any answering shout.
Their eyes, accustomed to the darkness, could just make out the huge
black outline of the Stack rising from the yeast of boiling waves, and
enveloped every moment in blinding sheets of spray. On the top of it
Montagu half thought that he saw something, but he was not sure.
"Thank God, there is yet hope," said the Doctor, with difficulty making
his young companion catch his words amid the uproar of the elements; "if
they can but keep warm in their wet clothes, we may perhaps rescue them
Again he shouted to cheer them with his strong voice, and Montagu joined
his clear ringing tones to the shout. This time they fancied that in one
of the pauses of the wind they heard a faint cheer returned, was sound
more welcome, and as they paced up and down they shouted at intervals,
and held up the lantern, to show the boys that friends and help
Eric heard them. When Montagu left, he had carried Russell to the
highest point of the rock, and there, with gentle hands and soothing
words, made him as comfortable as he could. He wrapped him in every
piece of dry clothing he could find, and held him in his arms, heedless
of the blood which covered him. Very faintly Russell thanked him, and
pressed his hand; but he moaned in pain continually, and at last
Meanwhile the wind rose higher, and the tide gained on the rocks, and
the sacred darkness came down. At first Eric could think of nothing but
storm and sea. Cold, and cruel, and remorseless, the sea beat up,
drenching them to the skin continually with, its clammy spray; and the
storm shrieked round them pitilessly, and flung about the wet hair on
Eric's bare head, and forced him to plant himself firmly, lest the rage
of the gusts should hurl them from their narrow resting-place. The
darkness made everything more fearful, for his eyes could distinguish
nothing but the gulfs of black water glistening here and there with
hissing foam, and he shuddered as his ears caught the unearthly noises
that came to him in the mingled scream of weltering tempest and plangent
wave. It was fearful to be isolated on the black rent rock, and see the
waves gaining on them higher, higher, higher, every moment and he was in
ceaseless terror lest they should be swept away by the violence of the
breakers. "At least," thought he, as he looked down and saw that the
ledge on which they had been standing had long been covered with deep
and agitated waves, "at least I have saved Edwin's life." And he bravely
made up his mind to keep up heart and hope, and weather the comfortless
night with Russell in his arms.
And then his thoughts turned to Russell, who was still unconscious; and
stooping down he kissed fondly the pale white forehead of his friend. He
felt _then_, how deeply he loved him, how much he owed him; and no
mother could have nursed a child more tenderly than he did the fainting
boy. Russell's head rested on his breast, and the soft hair, tangled
with welling blood, stained his clothes. Eric feared that he would die,
his fainting-fit continued so long, and from the helpless way in which
one of his legs trailed on the ground he felt sure that he had received
some dangerous hurt.
At last Russell stirred and groaned. "Where am I?" he said, and half
opened his eyes; he started up frightened, and fell-back heavily. He saw
only the darkness; felt only the fierce wind and salt mist; heard only
the relentless yell of the blast. Memory had no time to wake, and he
screamed and fainted once more.
Poor Eric knew not what to do but to shelter him to the best of his
power, and when he showed any signs of consciousness again, he bent over
him, and said, "Don't you remember, Edwin? We're quite safe. I'm with
you, and Monty's gone for help."
"Oh! I daren't jump," sobbed Russell; "oh mother, I shall be drowned.
Save me! save me! I'm so glad they're safe, mother; but my leg hurts
so." And he moaned again. He was delirious.
"How cold it is, and wet too! where's Eric? are we bathing? run along,
we shall be late. But stop, you're smoking. Dear Eric, don't smoke.
Poor fellow, I'm afraid he's getting spoilt, and learning bad ways. Oh
save him." And as he wandered on, he repeated a prayer for Eric, which
evidently had been often on his lips.
Eric was touched to the heart's core, and in one rapid lightning-like
glance, his memory revealed to him the faultful past, in all its
sorrowfulness. And _he_, too, prayed wildly for help both for soul and
body. Alone on the crag, with the sea tumbling and plashing round them,
growing and gaining so much on their place of refuge, that his terror
began to summon up the image of certain death; alone, wet, hungry, and
exhausted, with the wounded and delirious boy, whose life depended on
his courage, he prayed as he had never prayed before, and seemed to grow
calmer by his prayer, and to feel God nearer him than ever he had done
in the green cricket-field, or the safe dormitories of Roslyn school.
A shout startled him. Lights on the water heaved up and down, now
disappearing, and now lifted high, and at intervals there came the sound
of voices. Thank God! help was near; they were coming in a boat to
But the lights grew more distant; he saw then disappearing towards the
harbor. Yes! it was of no use; no boat could live in the surf at the
foot of the Stack cliffs, and the sailors had given it up in despair.
His heart sank again, all the more for the glimpse of hope, and his
strength began to give way. Russell's delirium continued, and he grew
too frightened even to pray.
A light from the land. The sound of shouts--yes, he could be sure of
it; it was Dr. Rowlands' voice and Montagu's. He got convinced of this,
and summoned all his strength to shout in return. The light kept moving
up and down on the shore, not a hundred yards off. His fear vanished;
they were no longer alone. The first moment that the tide suffered any
one to reach them they would be rescued. His mind grew calm again, and
he determined to hold up for Russell's sake until help should come; and
every now and then, to make it feel less lonely, he answered the shouts
which came from the friendly voices in the fitful pauses of the storm.
But Dr. Rowlands and Montagu paced up and down, and the master soothed
the boy's fears, and talked to him so kindly, so gently, that Montagu
began to wonder if this really could be the awful head-master, whose
warm strong hand he was grasping, and who was comforting him as a father
might. What a depth of genuine human kindness that stern exterior
concealed! And every now and then, when the storm blew loudest, the
Doctor would stand still for a moment, and offer up a short intense
prayer, or ejaculation, that help and safety might come to his beloved
charge in their exposure and peril.
Six or seven hours passed away; at last the wind began to sink, and the
sea to be less violent. The tide was on the turn. The carriage drove up
with, more men and lights, and the thoughtful servant brought with him
the school surgeon, Dr. Underhay. Long and anxiously did they watch the
ebbing tide, and when it had gone out sufficiently to allow of two
stout planks being laid across the channel, an active sailor ventured
over with a light, and in a few moments stood by Eric's side. Eric saw
him coming, but was too weak and numb to move; and when the sailor
lifted up the unconscious Russell from his knees, Eric was too much
exhausted even to speak. The man returned for him, and lifting him on
his back crossed the plank once more in safety, and carried them both to
the carriage, where Dr. Underhay had taken care to have everything
likely to revive and sustain them. They were driven rapidly to the
school, and the Doctor raised to God tearful eyes of gratitude as the
boys were taken to the rooms prepared for them. Mrs. Rowlands was
anxiously awaiting their arrival, and the noise of wheels was the signal
for twenty heads to be put through the dormitory windows, with many an
anxious inquiry, "Are they safe?"
"Yes, thank God!" called Dr. Rowlands; "so now, boys, shut the windows,
and get to sleep."
Russell was carefully undressed, and put to bed in the Doctor's own
house, and the wound in his head was dressed. Eric and Montagu had beds
provided them in another room by themselves, away from the dormitory:
the room was bright and cheerful, with a blazing fire, and looked like
home and when the two boys had drank some warm wine, and cried for
weariness and joy, they sank to sleep after their dangers and fatigues,
and slept the deep, calm, dreamless sleep of tired children.
So ended the perilous adventure of that eventful night of the Easter
THE SILVER CORD BROKEN
"Calm on the bosom of thy God,
Fair spirit, rest thee now!
E'en while with us thy footsteps trod,
His seal was on thy brow."--MRS. HEMANS.
They did not awake till noon. Montagu opened his eyes, and at first
could not collect his thoughts, as he saw the carpeted little room, the
bright fire, and the housekeeper seated in her arm-chair before it. But
turning his head, he caught a glimpse of Eric, who was still asleep, and
he then remembered all. He sprang out of bed, refreshed and perfectly
well, and the sound of his voice woke Eric; but Eric was still languid
and weak, and did not get up that day, nor was he able to go to work
again for some days; but he was young and strong, and his vigorous
constitution soon threw off the effects of his fast and exposure.
Their first inquiry was for Edwin. The nurse shook her head sadly. "He
is very dangerously ill."
"Is he?" said they both, anxiously. And then they preserved a deep
silence; and when Montagu, who immediately began to dress, knelt down to
say his prayers, Eric, though unable to get up, knelt also over his
pillow, and the two felt that their young earnest prayers were mingling
for the one who seemed to have been taken while they were left.
The reports grew darker and darker about Edwin, At first it was thought
that the blow on his head was dangerous, and that the exposure to wet,
cold, fear, and hunger, had permanently weakened his constitution; and
when his youth seemed to be triumphing over these dangers, another
became more threatening. His leg never mended; he had both sprained the
knee badly, and given the tibia an awkward twist, so that the least
motion was agony to him.
In his fever he was constantly delirious. No one was allowed to see him,
though many of the boys tried to do so, and many were the earnest
inquiries for him day by day. It then became more fully apparent than
ever, that, although Edwin was among them without being _of_ them, no
boy in the school was more deeply honored and fondly loved than he. Even
the elastic spirits of boyhood could not quite throw off the shadow of
gloom which his illness cast over the school.
Very tenderly they nursed him. All that human kindness could do was done
for him by the stranger hands. And yet not all; poor Edwin had no
father, no mother, hardly any relatives. His only aunt, Mrs. Upton,
would have come to nurse him, but she was an invalid, and he was often
left alone in his delirium and agony.
Alone, yet not alone. There was One with him--always in his thoughts,
always leading, guiding, blessing him unseen--not deserting the hurt
lamb of his flock; one who was once a boy himself, and who, when he was
a boy, did his Father's business, and was subject unto his parents in
the obscure home of the despised village. Alone! nay, to them whose
eyes were opened, the room of sickness and pain was thronged and
beautiful with angelic presences.
Often did Eric, and Upton, and Montagu, talk of their loved friend.
Eric's life seemed absorbed in the thought of him, and in passionate,
unspeakable longings for his recovery. Now he valued more than ever the
sweet remembered hours spent with him; their games, and communnings, and
walks, and Russell's gentle influence, and brave, kindly rebukes. Yet he
must not even see him, must not whisper one word of soothing to him in
his anguish; he could only pray for him, and that he did with a depth
At last Upton, in virtue of his relationship, was allowed to visit him.
His delirium had become more infrequent, but he could not yet even
recognise his cousin, and the visits to his sick-room were so sad and
useless, that Upton forbore. "And yet you should hear him talk in his
delirium," he said to Eric; "not one evil word, or bad thought, or
wicked thing, ever escapes him. I'm afraid, Eric, it would hardly be so
with you or me."
"No" said Eric, in a low and humble tone; and guilty conscience brought
the deep color, wave after wave, of crimson into his cheeks.
"And he talks with such affection of you, Eric. He speaks sometimes of
all of us very gently; but you seem to be always in his thoughts, and
every now and then he prays for you quite unconsciously."
Eric turned his head to brush away a tear. "When do you think I shall be
allowed too see him?"
"Not just yet, I fear."
After a week or two of most anxious suspense, Russell's mind ceased to
wander, but the state of his sprain gave more cause for alarm. Fresh
advice was called in, and it was decided that the leg must be amputated.
When Eric was told of this, he burst into passionate complaints. "Only
think, Monty, isn't it hard, isn't it cruel? When we see our brave,
bright Edwin again, he will be a cripple." Eric hardly understood that
he was railing at the providence of a merciful God.
The day for the operation came. When it was over, poor Russell seemed to
amend, and the removal of the perpetual pain gave him relief. They were
all deeply moved at his touching resignation; no murmur, no cry escaped
him; no words but the sweetest thanks for every little office of
kindness done to him. A few days after, he asked Dr. Underhay "if he
might see Eric?"
"Yes, my boy," said the doctor kindly, "you may see him, and one or two
other of your particular friends if you like, provided you don't excite
yourself too much. I trust you will get better now."
So Eric and Montagu were told by Dr. Rowlands that at six they might go
and see their friend. "Be sure," he added, "that you don't startle or
They promised, and after school on that beautiful evening of early
summer they went to the sick-room door Stopping, they held their breath,
and knocked very gently. Yes! it was the well-known voice which gave the
answer, but it was faint and low. Full of awe, they softly opened the
door, which admitted them into the presence of the dear companion whom
they had not seen for so long. Since then it seemed as though gulfs far
deeper than the sea had been flowing between him and them.
Full of awe, and hand in hand, they entered the room on tiptoe--the
darkened room where Russell was What a hush and oppression there seemed
to them at first in the dim, silent chamber; what an awfulness in all
the appliances which showed how long and deeply their schoolfellow had
suffered. But all this vanished directly they caught sight of his face.
There he lay, so calm, and weak, and still, with his bright, earnest
eyes turned towards them, as though to see whether any of their
affection for him had ceased or been forgotten!
In an instant they were kneeling in silence by the bed with bowed
foreheads; and the sick boy tenderly put his hands on their heads, and
pushed the frail white fingers through their hair, and looked at them
tearfully without a word, till they hid their faces with their hands,
and broke into deep suppressed sobs of compassion.
"Oh hush, hush!" he said, as he felt their tears dropping on his hands
while they kissed him. "Dear Eric, dear Monty, why should you cry so for
me? I am very happy."
But they caught the outline of his form as he lay on the bed, and had
now for the first time realized that he was a cripple for life; and as
the throng of memories came on them--memories of his skill and fame at
cricket, and racquets, and football--of their sunny bathes together in
sea and river, and all their happy holiday wanderings--they could not
restrain their emotion, and wept uncontrollably. Neither of them could
speak a word, or break the holy silence; and as he patted their heads
and cheeks, his own tears flowed fast in sympathy and self-pity. But he
felt the comforting affection which they could not utter; he felt it in
his loneliness, and it did him good.
The nurse broke in upon the scene, which she feared would agitate Edwin
too much; and with red eyes and heavy hearts the boys left, only
whispering, "We will come again to-morrow, Edwin!"
They came the next day, and many days, and got to talk quite cheerfully
with him, and read to him. They loved this occupation more than any
game, and devoted themselves to it. The sorrow of the sick-room more
than repaid them for the glad life without, when they heard Russell's
simple and heartfelt thanks. "Ah! how good of you, dear fellows," he
would say, "to give up the merry playground for a wretched cripple," and
he would smile cheerfully to show that his trial had not made him weary
of life. Indeed, he often told them that he believed they felt for him
more than he did himself.
One day Eric brought him a little bunch of primroses and violets. He
seemed much better, and Eric's spirits were high with the thoughts and
hopes of the coming holidays. "There, Edwin," he said, as the boy
gratefully and eagerly took the flowers, "don't they make you glad? They
are one of our _three_ signs, you know, of the approaching holidays. One
sign was the first sight of the summer steamer going across the bay;
another was May eve, when these island-fellows light big gorse fires all
over the mountains, and throw yellow marsh-lilies at their doors to keep
off the fairies. Do you remember, Eddy, gathering some last May eve, and
sitting out in the playground till sunset, watching the fires begin to
twinkle on Cronck-Irey and Barrule for miles away? What a jolly talk we
had that evening about the holidays; but my father and mother were here
then, you know, and we were all going to Fairholm. But the third
sign--the first primrose and violet--was always the happiest. You can't
think how I _grabbed_ at the first primrose this year; I found it by a
cave on the Ness. And though these are rather the last than the first,
yet I knew you'd like them, Eddy, so I hunted for them everywhere. And
how much better you're looking too; such shining eyes, and, yes! I
positively declare, quite a ruddy cheek like your old one. You'll soon
be out among us again, that's clear----"
He stopped abruptly: he had been rattling on just in the merry way that
Russell now most loved to hear, but, as he was talking, he caught the
touch of sadness on Russell's face, and saw his long, abstracted, eager
look at the flowers.
"Dear fellow, you're not worse, are you?" he said quickly. "What a fool
I am to chatter so; it makes you ill."
"No, no, Eric, talk on; you can't think how I love to hear you. Oh, how
very beautiful these primroses are! Thank you, thank you, for bringing
them." And he again fixed on them the eager dreamy look which had
startled Eric--as though he were learning their color and shape
"I wish I hadn't brought them, though," said Eric, "they are filling
your mind with regrets. But, Eddy, you'll be well by the holidays--a
month hence, you know--or else I shouldn't have talked so gladly
"No, Eric," said Russell sadly, "these dear flowers are the last spring
blossoms that I shall see--_here_ at least. Yes, I will keep them, for
your sake, Eric, till I die."
"Oh don't talk so," said Eric, shocked and flustered, "why everybody
knows and says that you're getting better."
Russell smiled and shook his head. "No, Eric, I shall die. There stop,
dear fellow, don't cry," said he, raising his hands quietly to Eric's
face; "isn't it better for me so? I own it seemed sad at first to leave
this bright world and the sea--yes, even that cruel sea," he continued
smiling; "and to leave Roslyn, and Upton, and Monty, and, above all, to
leave _you_, Eric, whom I love best in all the world. Yes, remember I've
no home, Eric, and no prospects. There was nothing to be sorry for in
this, so long as God gave me health and strength; but health went for
ever into those waves at the Stack, where you saved my life, dear,
gallant Eric; and what could I do now? It doesn't look so happy to
_halt_ through life. Oh Eric, Eric, I am young, but I am dying--dying,
Eric," he said solemnly, "my brother; let me call you brother; I have no
near relations, you know, to fill up the love in my yearning heart, but
I _do_ love _you_. Kiss me, Eric, as though I were a child, and you a
child. There, that comforts me; I feel as if I _were_ a child again, and
had a dear brother;--and I _shall_ be a child again soon, Eric, in the
courts of a Father's house."
Eric could not speak. These words startled him; he never dreamt
_recently_ of Russell's death, but had begun to reckon on his recovery,
and now life seemed darker to him than ever.
But Russell was pressing the flowers to his lips. "The grass
withereth," he murmured, "the flower fadeth, and the glory of its beauty
perisheth; but--_but_ the word of the Lord endureth for ever." And here
he too burst into natural tears, and Eric pressed his hand, with more
than a brother's fondness, to his heart.
"Oh Eddy, Eddy, my heart is full," he said, "too full to speak to you.
Let me read to you;" and with Russell's arm round his neck he sat down,
beside his pillow, and read to him about "the pure river of water of
life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the
Lamb." At first sobs choked his voice, but it gathered firmness as
he went on.
"In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was
there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded
her fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing
of the nations.
"And there shall be no more curse"--and here the reader's musical voice
rose into deeper and steadier sweetness--"but the throne of God and of
the Lamb shall be in it; and his servants shall serve him; and they
shall see his face; and his name shall be in their foreheads."
"And they shall see his face," murmured Russell, "_and they shall see
his face_" Eric paused and looked at him; a sort of rapture seemed to be
lighted in his eyes, as though they saw heavenly things, and his
countenance was like an angel's to look upon. Eric closed the book
reverently, and gazed.
"And now pray for me, Eric, will you?" Eric knelt down, but no prayer
would come; his breast swelled; and his heart beat fast, but emotion
prevented him from uttering a word. But Russell laid his hand on his
head and prayed.
"O gracious Lord God, look down, merciful Father on us, two erring,
weak, sinful boys; look down and bless us, Lord, for the love thou
bearest unto thy children. One thou art taking; Lord, take me to the
green pastures of thy home, where no curse is; and one remains--O Lord!
bless him with the dew of thy blessing; lead and guide him, and keep him
for ever in thy fear and love, that he may continue thine for ever, and
hereafter we may meet together among the redeemed, in the immortal glory
of the resurrection. Hear us, O Father, for thy dear Son's sake.
The childlike, holy, reverent voice ceased, and Eric rose. One long
brotherly kiss he printed on Russell's forehead, and, full of sorrowful
forebodings, bade him good night.
He asked Dr. Underhay whether his fears were correct. "Yes," he said,
"he may die at any time; he _must_ die soon. It is even best that he
should; besides the loss of a limb, that blow on the head would
certainly affect the brain and the intellect if he lived."
Eric shuddered--a long cold shudder.
The holidays drew on; for Russell's sake, and at his earnest wish, Eric
had worked harder than he ever did before. All his brilliant abilities,
all his boyish ambition, were called into exercise; and, to the delight
of every one, he gained ground rapidly, and seemed likely once more to
dispute the palm with Owen. No one rejoiced more in this than Mr. Rose,
and he often gladdened Russell's heart by telling him about it; for
every day he had a long visit to the sick boy's room, which refreshed
and comforted them both.
In other respects, too, Eric seemed to be turning over a new leaf. He
and Upton, by common consent, had laid aside smoking, and every bad
habit or disobedient custom which would have grieved the dying boy, whom
they both loved so well. And although Eric's popularity, after the
romantic Stack adventure and his chivalrous daring, was at its very
zenith,--although he had received a medal and flattering letter from the
Humane Society, who had been informed of the transaction by Dr.
Rowlands,--although his success both physical and intellectual was
higher than ever,--yet the dread of the great loss he was doomed to
suffer, and the friendship which was to be snapped, overpowered every
other feeling, and his heart was ennobled and purified by contact with
his suffering friend.
It was a June evening, and he and Russell were alone; he had drawn up
the blind, and through the open window the summer breeze, pure from the
sea and fragrant from the garden, was blowing refreshfully into the sick
boy's room. Russell was very, very happy. No doubt, no fear, assailed
him; all was peace and trustfulness. Long and earnestly that evening did
he talk to Eric, and implore him to shun evil ways, striving to lead him
gently to that love of God which was his only support and refuge now.
Tearfully and humbly Eric listened, and every now and then the sufferer
stopped to pray aloud.
"Good night, Eric," he said, "I am tired, _so_ tired. I hope we shall
meet again; I shall give you my desk and all my books, Eric, except a
few for Horace, Owen, Duncan, and Monty. And my watch, that dear watch
your mother, _my_ mother, gave me, I shall leave to Rose as a
remembrance of us both. Good night, brother."
A little before ten that night Eric was again summoned with Upton and
Montagu to Russell's bedside. He was sinking fast; and as he had but a
short time to live, he expressed a desire to see them, though he could
see no others.
They came, and were amazed to see how bright the dying boy looked. They
received his last farewells--he would die that night. Sweetly he blessed
them, and made them promise to avoid all evil, and read the Bible, and
pray to God. But he had only strength to speak at intervals. Mr. Rose,
too, was there; it seemed as though he held the boy by the hand, as
fearlessly now, yea, joyously, he entered the waters of the dark river.
"Oh, I should _so_ like to stay with you, Monty, Horace, dear, dear
Eric, but God calls me. I am going--a long way--to my father and
mother--and to the light. I shall not be a cripple there--nor be in
pain." His words grew slow and difficult. "God bless you, dear fellows;
God bless you, dear Eric; I am going--to God."
He sighed very gently; there was a slight sound in his throat, and he
was dead. A terrible scene of boyish anguish followed, as they kissed
again and again the lifeless brow. But quietly, calmly, Mr. Rose checked
them, and they knelt down with streaming eyes while he prayed.
"O far beyond the waters
The fickle feet may roam,
But they find no light so pure and bright
As the one fair star of home;
The star of tender hearts, lady,
That glows in an English home,"
That night when Eric returned to No. 7, full of grief, and weighed down
with the sense of desolation and mystery, the other boys were silent
from sympathy in his sorrow. Duncan and Llewellyn both knew and loved
Russell themselves, and they were awestruck to hear of his death; they
asked some of the particulars, but Eric was not calm enough to tell them
that evening. The one sense of infinite loss agitated him, and he
indulged his paroxysms of emotion unrestrained, yet silently. Reader, if
ever the life has been cut short which you most dearly loved, if ever
you have been made to feel absolutely lonely in the world, then, and
then only, will you appreciate the depth of his affliction.
But, like all affliction, it purified and sanctified. To Eric, as he
rested his aching head on a pillow wet with tears, and vainly sought for
the sleep whose blessing he had never learned to prize before, how
odious seemed all the vice which he had seen and partaken in since he
became an inmate of that little room. How his soul revolted with
infinite disgust from the language which he had heard, and the open
glorying in sin of which he had so often been a witness. The stain and
the shame of sin fell heavier than ever on his heart; it rode on his
breast like a nightmare; it haunted his fancy with visions of guilty
memory, and shapes of horrible regret. The ghosts of buried misdoings,
which he had thought long lost in the mists of recollection, started up
menacingly from their forgotten graves, and made him shrink with a sense
of their awful reality. Behind him, like a wilderness, lay years which
the locust had eaten; the intrusted hours which had passed away, and
been reckoned to him as they past.
And the thought of Russell mingled with all--Russell, as he fondly
imagined him now, glorified with the glory of heaven, crowned, and in
white robes, and with a palm in his hand. Yes, he had walked and talked
with one of the Holy Ones. Had Edwin's death, quenched his human
affections, and altered his human heart? If not, might not he be there
even now, leaning over his friend with the beauty of his invisible
presence? The thought startled him, and seemed to give an awful lustre
to the moonbeam which fell into the room. No; he could not endure such a
presence now, with his weak conscience and corrupted heart; and Eric hid
his head under the clothes, and shut his eyes.
Once more the pang of separation entered like iron into his soul. Should
he ever meet Russell again? What if _he_ had died instead of Edwin,
where would he have been? "Oh, no! no!" he murmured aloud, as the
terrible thought came over him of his own utter unfitness for death, and
the possibility that he might never, never again hear the beloved
accents, or gaze on the cherished countenance of his school friend.
In this tumult of accusing thoughts he fell asleep; but that night the
dew of blessing did not fall for him on the fields of sleep. He was
frightened by unbidden dreams, in all of which his conscience obtruded
on him his sinfulness, and his affection called up the haunting
lineaments of the dear dead face. He was wandering down a path, at the
end of which Russell stood with open arms inviting him earnestly to join
him there; he saw his bright ingenuous smile, and heard, as of old, his
joyous words, and he hastened to meet him; when suddenly the boy-figure
disappeared, and in its place he saw the stern brow, and gleaming
garments, and drawn flaming sword of the Avenger. And then he was in a
great wood alone, and wandering, when the well-known voice called his
name, and entreated him to turn from that evil place; and he longed to
turn,--but, whenever he tried, ghostly hands seemed to wave him back
again, and irresistible cords to drag him into the dark forest, amid the
sound of mocking laughs. Then he was sinking, sinking, sinking into a
gulf, deep and darker even than the inner darkness of a sin-desolated
heart; sinking, helplessly, hopelessly, everlastingly; while far away,
like a star, stood the loved figure in light infinitely above him, and
with pleading hands implored his deliverance, but could not prevail; and
Eric was still sinking, sinking, infinitely, when the agony awoke him
with a violent start and stifled scream.
He could sleep no longer. Whenever he closed his eyes he saw the pale,
dead, holy features of Edwin, and at last he fancied that he was praying
beside his corpse, praying to be more like _him_, who lay there so white
and calm; sorrowing beside it, sorrowing that he had so often rejected
his kind warnings, and pained his affectionate heart. So Eric began
again to make good resolutions about all his future life. Ah! how often
he had done so before, and how often they had failed. He had not yet
learned the lesson which David learned by sad experience; "Then I said,
it is mine own infirmity, _but I will remember the years of the right
hand of the Most High_."
That, too, was an eventful night for Montagu. He had grown of late far
more thoughtful than before; under Edwin's influence he had been laying
aside, one by one, the careless sins of school life, and his tone was
nobler and manlier than it had ever been. Montagu had never known or
heard much about godliness; his father, a gentleman, a scholar, and a
man of the world, had trained him in the principles of refinement and
good taste, and given him a high standard of conventional honor; but he
passed through life lightly, and had taught his son to do the same.
Possessed of an ample fortune, which Montagu was to inherit, he troubled
himself with none of the deep mysteries of life, and
"Pampered the coward heart
With feelings all too delicate for use;
Nursing in some delicious solitude
His dainty love and slothful sympathies."
But Montagu in Edwin's sick-room and by his death bed; in the terrible
storm at the Stack, and by contact with Dr. Rowlands' earnestness, and
Mr. Rose's deep, unaffected, sorrow-mingled piety; by witnessing Eric's
failures and recoveries; and by beginning to take in his course the same
heartfelt interest which Edwin taught him--Montagu, in consequence of
these things, had begun to see another side of life, which awoke all his
dormant affections and profoundest reasonings. It seemed as though, for
the first time, he began to catch some of
"The still gad music of humanity,"
and to listen with deep eagerness to the strain. Hitherto, to be well
dressed, handsome, agreeable, rich, and popular, had been to him a
realised ideal of life; but now he awoke to higher and worthier aims;
and once, when Russell, whose intelligent interest in his work exceeded
that of any other boy, had pointed out to him that solemn question of
"[Greek: Ohiei su tous thanontas o Nichaezate
Tzuphaes hapasaes metalabontas en bips
Pepheugenai to theion];"
he fell into a train of reflection, which made a lasting impression upon
The holidays were approaching. Eric, to escape as much, as possible from
his sorrow, plunged into the excitement of working for the examination,
and rapidly made up for lost ground. He now spent most of his time with
the best of his friends, particularly Montagu, Owen, and Upton; for
Upton, like himself, had been much sobered by sorrow at their loss. This
time he came out _second_ in his form, and gained more than one prize.
This was his first glimpse of real delight since Russell's death; and
when the prize-day came, and he stood with his companions in the
flower-decorated room, and went up amid universal applause to take his
prize-books, and receive a few words of compliment from the governor who
took the chair, he felt almost happy, and keenly entered into the
pleasure which his success caused, as well as into the honors won by his
friends. One outward sign only remained of his late bereavement--his
mourning dress. All the prize-boys wore rosebuds or lilies of the valley
in their button-holes on the occasion, but on this day Eric would not
wear them. Little Wright, who was a great friend of theirs, had brought
some as a present both to Eric and Montagu, as they stood together on
the prize-day morning; they took them with thanks, and, as their eyes
met, they understood each other's thoughts.
"No," said Eric to Wright, "we won't wear these to-day, although we have
both got prizes. Come along I know what we will do with them."
They all three walked together to the little green, quiet churchyard,
where, by his own request, Edwin had been buried. Many a silent visit
had the friends paid to that grave, on which the turf was now green
again, and the daisies had begun to bloom. A stone had just been placed
SACRED TO THE MEMORY
WHO DIED AT ROSLYN SCHOOL, MAY 1847,
AGED FIFTEEN YEARS.
* * * * *
"_Is it well with the child? It is well_."
2 KINGS iv. 26.
The three boys stood by the grave in silence and sorrow for a time.
"He would have been the gladdest at our success. Monty," said Eric; "let
us leave the signs of it upon his grave."
And, with reverent hand, scattering over that small mound the choice
rosebuds and fragrant lilies with their green leaves, they turned away
without another word.
The next morning the great piles of corded boxes which crowded the
passage were put on the coach, and the boys, gladly leaving the deserted
building, drove in every sort of vehicle to the steamer. What joyous
triumphant mornings those were! How the heart exulted and bounded with,
the sense of life and pleasure, and how universal was the gladness and
good humor of every one. Never were voyages so merry as those of the
steamer that day, and even the "good-byes" that had to be said at
Southpool were lightly borne. From thence the boys quickly scattered to
the different railways, and the numbers of those who were travelling
together got thinner and thinner as the distance increased. Wright and
one or two others went nearly all the way with Eric, and when he got
down at the little roadside station, from whence started the branch rail
to Ayrton, he bade them merry and affectionate farewell. The branch
train soon started, and in another hour he would be at Fairholm.
It was not till then that his home feelings woke in all their intensity.
He had not been there for a year. At Roslyn the summer holidays were
nine weeks, and the holidays at Christmas and Easter were short, so that
it had not been worth while to travel so far as Fairholm, and Eric had
spent his Christmas with friends in another part of the island. But now
he was once more to see dear Fairholm, and his aunt, his cousin Fanny,
and above all, his little brother. His heart was beating fast with joy,
and his eyes sparkling with pleasure and excitement. As he thrust his
head out of the window, each well-remembered landmark gave him the
delicious sensation of meeting again an old friend. "Ah! there's the
white bridge, and there's the canal, and the stile; and _there_ runs the
river, and there's Velvet Lawn. Hurrah! here we are." And springing out
of the train before it had well stopped, he had shaken hands heartily
with the old coachman, who was expecting him, and jumped up into the
carriage in a moment.
Through the lanes he knew so well, by whose hedgerows he had so often
plucked sorrel and wild roses; past the old church with its sleeping
churchyard; through, the quiet village, where every ten yards he met old
acquaintances who looked pleased to see him, and whom he greeted with
glad smiles and nods of recognition; past the Latin school, from which
came murmurs and voices as of yore (what a man he felt himself now by
comparison!);--by the old Roman camp, where he had imagined such heroic
things when he was a child; through all the scenes so rich with the
memories and associations of his happy childhood, they flew along; and
now they had entered the avenue, and Eric was painfully on the look-out.
Yes! there they were all three--Mrs. Trevor, and Fanny, and Vernon, on
the mound at the end of the avenue; and the younger ones ran to meet
him. It was a joyous meeting; he gave Fanny a hearty kiss, and put his
arm round Vernon's neck, and then held him in front to have a look
"How tall you've grown, Verny, and how well you look," he said, gazing
proudly at him; and indeed the boy was a brother to be justly proud of.
And Vernon quite returned the admiration as he saw the healthy glow of
Eric's features, and the strong graceful development of his limbs.
And so they quickly joined Mrs. Trevor, who embraced her nephew with a
mother's love: and, amid all that nameless questioning of delightful
trifles, that "blossoming vein" of household talk, which gives such an
incommunicable charm to the revisiting of home, they all three turned
into the house, where Eric, hungry with his travels, did ample justice
to the "jolly spread" prepared for him, luxurious beyond anything he had
seen for his last year at school. When he and Vernon went up to their
room at night--the same little room in which they slept on the night
when they first had met--they marked their heights on the door again,
which showed Eric that in the last year he had grown two inches, a fact
which he pointed out to Vernon with no little exultation. And then they
went to bed, and to a sleep over which brooded the indefinite sensation
of a great unknown joy;--that rare heavenly sleep which only comes once
or twice or thrice in life, on occasions such as this.
He was up early next morning, and, opening his window, leaned out with
his hands among the green vine-leaves which encircled it. The garden
looked beautiful as ever, and he promised himself an early enjoyment of
those currants which hung in ruby clusters over the walls. Everything
was bathed in the dewy balm of summer morning, and he felt very happy
as, with his little spaniel frisking round him, he visited the great
Newfoundland in his kennel, and his old pet the pony in the stable. He
had barely finished his rounds when breakfast was ready, and he once
more met the home-circle from which he had been separated for a year.
And yet over all his happiness hung a sense of change and half
melancholy; they were not changed but _he_ was changed. Mrs. Trevor, and
Fanny, and Vernon were the same as ever, but over _him_, had come an
alteration of feeling and circumstance; an unknown or half-known
_something_ which cast a shadow between them and him, and sometimes made
him half shrink and start as he met their loving looks. Can no
schoolboy, who reads history, understand and explain the feeling which
By that mail he wrote to his father and mother an account of Russell's
death, and he felt that they would guess why the letter was so blurred.
"But," he wrote, "I have some friends still; especially Mr. Rose among
the masters, and Monty and Upton among the boys. Monty you know; he is
more like Edwin than any other boy, and I like him very much. You didn't
know Upton, but I am a great deal with him, though he is much older than
I am. He is a fine handsome fellow, and one of the most popular in the
school. I hope you will know him some day."
The very next morning Eric received a letter which he at once recognised
to be in Upton's handwriting He eagerly tore off the envelope,
"My dearest Eric--I have got bad news to tell you, at least, I feel it
to be bad news for me, and I flatter myself that you will feel it to be
bad news for you. In short, I am going to leave Roslyn, and probably we
shall never meet there again. The reason is, I have had a cadetship
given me, and I am to sail for India in September. I have already
written to the school to tell them to pack up and send me all my books
"I feel leaving very much; it has made me quite miserable. I wanted to
stay at school another year at least; and I will honestly tell you,
Eric, one reason: I'm very much afraid that I've done you, and Graham,
and other fellows, no good; and I wanted, if I possibly could, to undo
the harm I had done. Poor Edwin's death opened my eyes to a good many
things, and now I'd give all I have never to have taught or encouraged
you in wrong things. Unluckily it's too late;--only, I hope that you
already see, as I do, that the things I mean lead to evil far greater
than we ever used to dream of.
"Good-bye now, old fellow! Do write to me soon, and forgive me, and
believe me ever--Your most affectionate, HORACE UPTON."
"P.S.--Is that jolly little Vernon going back to school with you this
time? I remember seeing him running about the shore with my poor cousin,
when you were a home-boarder, and thinking what a nice little chap he
looked. I hope you'll look after him as a brother should, and keep him
out of mischief."
Eric folded the letter sadly, and put it into his pocket; he didn't
often show them his school letters, because, like this one, they often
contained allusions to things which he did not like his aunt to know.
The thought of Upton's leaving him made him quite unhappy, and he wrote
him a long letter by that post, indignantly denying the supposition that
his friendship had ever done him anything but good.
The postscript about Vernon suggested a thought that had often been in
his mind. He could not but shudder in himself, when he thought of that
bright little brother of his being initiated in the mysteries of evil
which he himself had learnt, and sinking like himself into slow
degeneracy of heart and life. It puzzled and perplexed him, and at last
he determined to open his heart, partially at least, in a letter to Mr.
Rose. The master fully understood his doubts, and wrote him the
"My dear Eric--I have just received your letter about your brother
Vernon, and I think that it does you honor. I will briefly give you my
"You mean, no doubt, that, from your own experience, you fear that
Vernon will hear at school many things which will shock his modesty, and
much language which is evil and blasphemous; you fear that he will meet
with many bad examples, and learn to look on God and godliness in a way
far different from that to which he has been accustomed at home. You
fear, in short, that he must pass through the same painful temptations
to which you have yourself been subjected; to which, perhaps, you have
"Well, Eric, this is all true. Yet, knowing this, I say, by all means
let Vernon come to Roslyn. The innocence of mere ignorance is a poor
thing; it _cannot_, under any circumstances, be permanent, nor is it at
all valuable as a foundation of character. The true preparation for
life, the true basis of a manly character, is not to have been ignorant
of evil, but to have known it and avoided it; not to hare been sheltered
from temptation, but to have passed through it and overcome it by God's
help. Many have drawn exaggerated pictures of the lowness of public
school morality; the best answer is to point to the good and splendid
men that have been trained in public schools, and who lose no
opportunity of recurring to them with affection. It is quite possible to
be _in_ the little world of school-life, and yet not _of_ it. The ruin
of human souls can never be achieved by enemies from without, unless
they be aided by traitors from within. Remember our lost friend; the
peculiar lustre of his piety was caused by the circumstances under which
he was placed. He often told me before his last hour, that he rejoiced
to have been at Roslyn; that he had experienced there much real
happiness, and derived in every way lasting good.
"I hope you have been enjoying your holidays, and that you will come
back with the 'spell of home affection' alive in your heart. I shall
rejoice to make Vernon's acquaintance, and will do for him all I can.
Bring him with you to me in the library as soon as you arrive.--Ever,
END OF PART I
"Sed revocare gradum."--VIRGIL.
* * * * *
[Greek: Phtheirousin aethae chraesth' omiliai kakai].--MENANDEB.
A year had passed since the events narrated in the last chapter, and had
brought with it many changes.
To Eric the changes were not for good. The memories of Russell were
getting dim; the resolutions made during his illness had vanished; the
bad habits laid aside after his death had been resumed. AH this took
place very gradually; there were many inward struggles, much occasional
remorse, but the struggles by degrees grew weaker, and remorse lost its
sting, and Eric Williams soon learned again to follow the multitude
to do evil.
He was now sixteen years old, and high in the fifth form, and, besides
this, he was captain of the school eleven. In work he had fallen off and
no one now expected the fulfilment of that promise of genius which he
had given when he first came. But in all school sports he had improved,
and was the acknowledged leader and champion in matters requiring
boldness and courage. His popularity made him giddy; favor of man led
him to forgetfulness of God; and even a glance at his countenance showed
a self-sufficiency and arrogance which ill became the refinement of his
features, and ill replaced the ingenuous modesty of former years.
And Vernon Williams was no longer a new boy. The worst had happened to
him, which Eric in his better moments could have feared. He had fallen
into thoroughly bad hands, and Eric, who should have been his natural
guardian and guide, began to treat him with indifference, and scarcely
ever had any affectionate intercourse with him. It is by no means
unfrequent that brothers at school see but little of each other, and
follow their several pursuits, and choose their various companions, with
small regard to the relationship between them.
Yet Eric could not overlook or be blind to the fact, that Vernon's chief
friend or leader was the most undesirable whom he could have chosen. It
was a new boy named Brigson. This boy had been expelled from one of the
most ill-managed schools in Ireland, although, of course, the fact had
been most treacherously concealed from the authorities at Roslyn; and
now he was let loose, without warning or caution, among the Roslyn boys.
Better for them if their gates had been open to the pestilence! the
pestilence could but have killed the body, but this boy--this fore-front
fighter in the devil's battle--did ruin many an immortal soul. He
systematically, from the very first, called evil good and good evil,
put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. He openly threw aside the
admission of any one moral obligation. Never did some of the Roslyn
boys, to their dying day, forget the deep, intolerable, unfathomable
flood of moral turpitude and iniquity which he bore with him; a flood,
which seemed so irresistible, and the influence of such boys as Montagu
and Owen to stay its onrush seemed as futile as the weight of a feather
to bar the fury of a mountain stream. Eric might have done much, Duncan
might have done much, to aid the better cause, had they tried; but they
resisted at first but faintly, and then not at all, until they too were
swept away in the broadening tide of degeneracy and sin.
Big, burly, and strong, though much younger than he looked (if he stated
his age correctly, which I doubt), Brigson, being low in the school,
naturally became the bully and the Coryphaeus of all the lower
forms--the bully if they opposed him, the Coryphaeus if they accepted
his guidance. A little army of small boys attended him, and were ever
ready for the schemes of mischief to which he deliberately trained them,
until they grew almost as turbulent, as disobedient, and as wicked, as
himself. He taught, both, by precept and example, that towards masters
neither honor was to be recognized, nor respect to be considered due. To
cheat them, to lie to them, to annoy them in every possible way--to
misrepresent their motives, mimic their defects, and calumniate their
actions--was the conduct which he inaugurated towards them; and for the
time that he continued at Roslyn the whole lower school was a
Pandemonium of evil passions and despicable habits.
Every one of the little boys became more or less amenable to his
influence, and among them. Vernon Williams. Had Eric done his duty this
would never have been; but he was half-ashamed to be often with his
brother, and disliked to find him so often creeping to his side. He
flattered himself that in this feeling he was only anxious that Vernon
should grow spirited and independent; but, had he examined himself, he
would have found selfishness at the bottom of it. Once or twice his
manner showed harshness to Vernon, and the little boy both observed and
resented it. Montagu and others noticed him for Eric's sake; but, being
in the same form with Brigson, Vernon was thrown much with him, and
feeling, as he did, deserted and lonely, he was easily caught by the
ascendancy of his physical strength and reckless daring. Before three
months were over, he became, to Eric's intolerable disgust, a ringleader
in the band of troublesome scapegraces, whose increasing numbers were
the despair of all who had the interests of the school at heart.
Unfortunately, Owen was now head of the school, and from his
constitutional want of geniality, he was so little of a boy that he had
no sympathy from the others, and little authority over them. He simply
kept aloof, holding his own way, and retiring into his own tastes and
pursuits, and the society of one or two congenial spirits in the school,
so as in no way to come in contact with the spreading corruption.
Montagu, now Owen's chief friend, was also in the sixth, and fearlessly
expressed at once his contempt for Brigson, and his dread of the evil he
was effecting. Had the monitorial system existed, that contagion could
have been checked at once; but, as it was, brute force the unlimited
authority. Ill indeed are those informed who raise a cry, and join in
the ignorant abuse of that noble safeguard of English schools. Any who
have had personal and intimate experience of how schools work _with_ it
and _without_ it, know what a Palladium it is of happiness and morality;
how it prevents bullying, upholds manliness, is the bulwark of
discipline, and makes boys more earnest and thoughtful, often at the
most critical period of their lives, by enlisting all their sympathies
and interests on the side of the honorable and the just.
Brigson knew at a glance whom he had most to fear; Bull, Attlay,
Llewellyn, Graham, all tolerated or even approved of him. Owen did not
come in his way, so he left him unmolested. To Eric and Duncan he was
scrupulously civil, and by flattery and deference managed to keep
apparently on excellent terms with them. Eric pretended to be ignorant
of the harm he was bringing about, and in answer to the indignant and
measureless invectives of Montagu and others, professed to see in
Brigson a very good fellow; rather wild, perhaps, but still a very
Brigson hated Montagu, because he read on his features the unvarying
glance of withering contempt. He dared not come across him openly, since
Montagu was so high in the school; and besides, though much the bigger
of the two, Brigson was decidedly afraid of him. But he chose sly
methods of perpetual annoyance. He nick-named him "Rosebud;" he talked
_at_ him whenever he had an opportunity; he poisoned the minds of the
gang of youngsters against him; he spread malicious reports about him;
he diminished his popularity, and embittered his feelings, by every
secret and underhand means which, lay in his power.
One method of torment was most successful. As a study-boy, Montagu did
not come to bed till an hour later than _the_ lower part of the school,
and Brigson taught some of the little fellows to play all kinds of
tricks to his bed and room, so that, when he came down, it was with the
certainty of finding everything in confusion. Sometimes his bed would be
turned right on end, and he would have to put it to the ground and
remake it before he could lie down. Sometimes all the furniture in the
room would be thrown about in different corners, with no trace of the
offender. Sometimes he would find all sorts of things put inside the bed
itself. The intolerable part of the vexation was, to be certain that
this was done by Brigson's instigation, or by his own hand, without
having the means of convicting or preventing him. Poor Monty grew very
sad at heart, and this perpetual dastardly annoyance weighed the more
heavily on his spirits, from its being of a kind which peculiarly grated
on his refined taste, and his natural sense of what was gentlemanly
One night, coming down, as usual, in melancholy dread, he saw a light
under the door of his room. It struck him that he was earlier than
usual, and he walked up quickly and noiselessly. There they were at it!
The instant he entered, there was a rush through the opposite door, and
he felt convinced that one of the retreating figures was Brigson's. In a
second he had sprung across, so as to prevent the rest from running, and
with heaving breast and flaming eyes, glared at the intruders as they
stood there, sheepish and afraid.
"What!" he said angrily, "so _you_ are the fellows who have had the
cowardice to annoy me thus, night after night, for weeks; you miserable,
degraded young animals!" And he looked at the four or five who had not
made their escape. "What! and _you_ among them," he said with a start,
as he caught the eye of Vernon Williams--"Oh, this is too bad." His tone
showed the deepest sorrow and vexation, and for a moment he said no
more. Instantly Vernon was by him.
"_Do_ forgive me, _do_ forgive me, Montagu," he said; "I really didn't
know it teased you so much."
But Montagu shook him off, and at once recovered himself. "Wretched
boys! let me see what you have been doing to-night. Oh, as usual," he
said, glancing at the complete disorder which they had been effecting.
"Ha! but what is this? So Brigson has introduced another vile secret
among you. Well, he shall rue it!" and he pointed to some small, almost
invisible flakes of a whitish substance scattered here and there over
his pillow. It was a kind of powder, which if once it touched the skin,
caused the most violent and painful irritation.
"By heavens, this is _too_ bad!" he exclaimed, stamping his foot with
anger. "What have I ever done to you young blackguards, that you should
treat me thus? Have I ever been a bully? Have I ever harmed one of you?
And _you_, too, Vernon Williams!"
The little boy trembled and looked ashamed under his noble glance of
sorrow and scorn.
"Well, I _know_ who has put you up to this; but you shall not escape so.
I shall thrash you every one."
Very quietly he suited the action to the word, sparing none. They took
it patiently enough, conscious of richly deserving it; and when it was
over, Vernon said, "Forgive me, Montagu. I am very sorry, and will never
do so again." Montagu, without deigning a reply, motioned them to go,
and then sat down, full of grief, on his bed. But the outrage was not
over for that night, and no sooner had he put out the light than he
became painfully aware that several boys were stealing into the room,
and the next moment he felt a bolster fall on his head. He was out of
bed in an instant, and with a few fierce and indignant blows, had
scattered the crowd of his cowardly assailants, and driven them away. A
number of fellows had set on him in the dark--on _him_, of all others.
Oh, what a change must have happened in the school that this should be
possible! He felt that the contagion of Brigson's baseness had spread
He fought like a lion, and several of the conspirators had reason to
repent their miscalculation in assaulting so spirited an antagonist. But
this did not content him; his blood was up, and he determined to attack
the evil at its source. He strode through his discomfited enemies
straight into Brigson's room, struck a match, and said, "Brigson, get
out of bed this instant."
"Hullo!" grunted Brigson, pretending to be only just awake.
"None of that, you blackguard! Will you take a thrashing?"
"No!" roared Brigson, "I should think not."
"Well, then, take _that_!" he shouted, striking him in the face.
The fight that followed was very short. In a single round Montagu had
utterly thrashed, and stricken to the earth, and forced to beg for
mercy, his cumbrous and brutal opponent. He seemed to tower above him
with a magnificent superiority, and there was a self-controlled passion
about him which gave tremendous energy to every blow. Brigson was
utterly dashed, confounded, and cowed, and took without a word the
parting kick of ineffable contempt which Montagu bestowed on him.
"There," he said to the fellows, who had thronged in from all the
dormitories at the first hint of a fight, "I, a sixth-form fellow, have
condescended to thrash that base coward there, whom all you miserable
lower boys have been making an idol and hero of, and from whom you have
been so readily learning every sort of blackguardly and debasing trick.
But let me tell you and your hero, that if any of you dare to annoy or
lift a finger at me again, you shall do it at your peril. I despise you
all; there is hardly one gentlemanly or honorable fellow left among you
since that fellow Brigson has come here; yes, I despise you, and you
know that you deserve it." And every one of them _did_ shrink before his
just and fiery rebuke.
The scene was not over when the door suddenly opened, and Mr. Rose
appeared. He stood amazed to see Montagu there in his night-shirt, the
boys all round, and Brigson washing his nose, which was bleeding
profusely, at his basin.
Montagu instantly stepped up to him. "You can trust me, sir; may I ask
you kindly to say nothing of this? I have been thrashing some one that
deserved it, and teaching these fellows a lesson."
Mr. Rose saw and allowed for his excited manner. "I can trust you," he
said, "Montagu, and shall take no farther notice of this irregularity.
And now get instantly to your beds."
But Montagu, slipping on his clothes, went straight up to the studies,
and called the upper boys together. He briefly told them what had
occurred, and they rejoiced greatly, binding themselves for the future
to check, if they could, by all fair means, Brigson's pernicious
influence and abominable example.
But it was too late now; the mischief was done.
"O Eric," said Montagu, "why did you not make a stand against all this
before? Your own brother was one of them."
"Little wretch. I'll kick him well for it," said Eric.
"No, no!" said Montagu, "that'll do no good. Try rather to look after
him a little more."
"I hope _you_ will forgive him, and try and rescue him."
"I will do what I can," said Montagu, coldly.
Eric sighed, and they parted.
Montagu had hoped that after this Eric would at least break off all open
connection with Brigson; and, indeed, Eric had meant to do so. But that
personage kept carefully out of his way until the first burst of
indignation against him had subsided, and after a time began to address
Eric as if nothing had happened. Meanwhile he had completely regained
his ascendancy over the lower part of the school, which was not
difficult, because they were wincing under Montagu's contempt, and
mingled no little dislike with it; a dislike which all are too apt to
feel towards those whose very presence and moral superiority are a tacit
rebuke of their own failings. But while Montagu was hated, Eric was at
the zenith of popular favor, a favor which Brigson ostentatiously
encouraged. He was openly flattered and caressed, and if ever he got a
large score at cricket, it was chalked triumphantly over the walls. All
this he was weak enough to enjoy immensely, and it was one of the
reasons why he did not wish to risk his popularity by breaking with
Brigson. So, after a little constraint and coldness, he began to stand
in much the same relation to him as before.
The best-disposed of the upper boys disliked all this very much, and the
sixth and fifth forms began to be split up into two main parties--the
one, headed by Eric, and, to a much less degree, by Duncan, who devoted
themselves to the games and diversions of the school, and troubled
themselves comparatively little about anything else; the other, headed
by Montagu, who took the lead in intellectual pursuits, and endeavored,
by every means in their power, to counteract the pernicious effects of
the spreading immorality.
And so at Roslyn, owing mainly to the wickedness of one depraved boy,
and the weak fear of man which actuated others, all was disunion,
misery, and deterioration. The community which had once been peaceful,
happy, and united, was filled with violent jealousy and heart-burnings;
every boy's hand seemed to be against his neighbor; lying, bad language,
dishonesty, grew fearfully rife, and the few who, like Owen and Montagu,
remained uncontaminated by the general mischief, walked alone and
despondent amid their uncongenial and degraded schoolfellow.
"That punishment's the best to bear
That follows soonest on the sin,
And guilt's a game where losers fare
Better than those who seem to win."
At the beginning of this quarter Eric and Duncan had succeeded to one of
the studies, and Owen shared with Montagu the one which adjoined it.
Latterly the small boys, in the universal spirit of disobedience, had
frequented the studies a good deal, but it was generally understood that
no study-boy might ask any one to be a regular visitor to his room
without the leave of its other occupant.
So one evening Duncan said to Eric, "Do you know little Wildney?"
"You mean that jolly fearless-looking little fellow, with, the great
black eyes, who came at the beginning of the quarter? No, I don't
"Well, he's a very nice little fellow; a regular devil"
"Humph!" said Eric, laughing; "I shall bring out a new
Duncan-dictionary, in which. [Greek: chezchochezons chos] = very nice
"Pooh!" said Duncan; "you know well enough what I mean; I mean he's not
one of your white-faced, lily-hearted new boys, but has lots of fun
"Well, what of him?"
"Have you any objection to my asking him to sit in the study when he
"Not the least in the world."
"Very well, I'll go and fetch him now. But wouldn't you like to ask your
brother Vernon to come in too whenever he's inclined?"
"No," said Eric, "I don't care. He does come every now and then."
Duncan went to fetch Wildney, and while he was gone, Brie was thinking
_why_ he didn't give Vernon the free run of his study. He would not
admit to himself the true reason, which was, that he had too much ground
to fear that his example would do his brother no good.
Eric soon learned to like Wildney, who was a very bright, engaging,
spirited boy, with a dash of pleasant impudence about him which took
Eric's fancy. He had been one of the most mischievous of the lower
fellows, but, although clever, did little or nothing in school, and was
in the worst repute with the masters. Until he was "taken up" by Eric,
he had been a regular little hero among his compeers, because he was
game for any kind of mischief, and, in the new tone of popular morality,
his fearless disregard of rules made him the object of general
admiration. From this time, however, he was much in the studies, and
unhappily carried with him to those upper regions the temptation to a
deeper and more injurious class of transgressions than had yet
It was an ill day for General Wildney when he sent his idolised little
son to Roslyn; it was an ill day for Eric when Duncan first asked the
child to frequent their study.
It was past nine at night, and the lower school had gone to bed, but
there was Wildney quietly sitting on Eric's knee by the study fire,
while Duncan was doing some Arnold's verses for him to be shown up
"Bother these verses," said Duncan, "I shall have a whiff. Do you mind,
"No; not at all."
"Give me a weed, too," said Wildney.
"What! young un--you don't mean to say you smoke?" asked Eric in
"Don't I, though? let me show you. Why, a whole lot of us went and
smoked two or three pipes by Riverbend only yesterday."
"Phew!" said Eric, "then I suppose I must smoke too to keep you in
countenance;" and he took a cigar. It was the first time he had touched
one since the day at the Stack. The remembrance made him gloomy and
silent. "Tempora mutantur," thought he, "nos et mutamur in illis."
"Why, how glum you are," said Wildney, patting him on the head.
"O no!" said Eric, shaking off unpleasant memories. "Look," he
continued, pointing out of the window to change the subject, "what a
glorious night it is! Nothing but stars, stars, stars."
"Yes," said Duncan, yawning; "this smoking makes one very thirsty. I
wish I'd some beer."
"Well, why shouldn't we get some?" said Wildney "it would he very
"Get some! What! at this time of night?"
"Yes; I'll go now, if you like, to Ellan, and be back before ten."
"Nonsense," said Eric; "it aint worth while."
"I believe you think I'm afraid," said Wildney, laughing, and looking at
Eric with his dark eyes; "and what's more, I believe _you're_ afraid."
"Little whippersnapper!" said Eric, coloring, "as if I was afraid to do
anything _you_ dare do. I'll go with you at once, if you like."
"What are you thinking of?" asked Duncan. "I don't care twopence about
the beer, and I hope you won't go."
"But I will, though," said Eric, a little nettled that Wildney, of all
people, should think him wanting in pluck.
"But how will you get out?"
"Oh, _I'll_ show you a dodge there," said Wildney. "Come along. Have you
a dark lantern?"
"No, but I'll get Llewellyn's."
"Come along then."
So the little boy of twelve took the initiative, and, carrying the dark
lantern, instructed the two study-boys of sixteen in a secret which had
long been known to the lower part of the school.
"Ibant obscuri dubia sub luce." He led them quietly down stairs, stole
with them noiselessly past the library door, and took them to a window
in the passage, where a pane was broken.
"Could you get through that?" he whispered to Eric, "if we broke away
the rest of the glass?"
"I don't know. But, then, there's the bar outside."
"Oh, I'll manage that. But will you go and peep through the key-hole of
the library, and see who's there, Duncan?"
"No," said Duncan, bluntly, "no key-holes for me."
"Hush! then _I_ will," and he glided away, while Eric, as quietly as he
could, broke away the glass until it was all removed.
"There's only old Stupid," whispered he, irreverently designating an
under-master named Harley, "and he's asleep before the fire. Now, then,
just lift me up, Eric, will you?"
Eric lifted him, and he removed the nails which fastened the end of the
bar. They looked secure enough, and were nails an inch long driven into
the mortar; but they had been successfully loosened, and only wanted a
little pull to bring them out. In one minute Wildney had unfastened and
pushed down one end of the bar. He then got through the broken pane, and
dropped down outside. Eric followed with some little difficulty, for the
aperture would only just admit his passage; and Duncan, going back to
the study, anxiously awaited their return.
It was a bright moonlight night, and the autumn air was pleasant and
cool. But Eric's first thought, as he dropped on to the ground, was one
of shame that he should suffer his new friend, a mere child, so easily
to tempt him into disobedience and sin. He had hardly thought till then
of what their errand was to be, but now his couldn't help so strongly
disapproving of it, that he was half-inclined to turn back. He did not,
however, dare to suggest this, lest Wildney should charge him with
cowardice, and betray it to the rest. Besides, the adventure had its own
excitement, the stars looked splendid, and the stolen waters were sweet.
"I hope we shan't be seen crossing the play-ground," said Wildney. "My
eye, shouldn't we catch it!"
He was obviously beginning to be afraid, so Eric assumed an air of
nonchalance, and played the part of protector.
"Here, take my arm," he said; and as Wildney grasped it tight, instead
of feeling angry and ashamed at having been misled by one so much his
junior, Eric felt strongly drawn towards him by community of danger and
interest. Beaching Ellan, it suddenly struck him that he didn't know
where they were going to buy the beer. He asked Wildney.
"Oh, I see you're not half up to snuff," said Wildney, whose courage had
risen; "I'll show you."
He led to a little low public-house, whence tipsy songs were booming,
and tapped at a side door three times. As they looked in they saw some
sailors boozing in a dirty tap-room, and enveloped in tobacco-smoke.
The side-door was opened, and a cunning wicked-looking man held up a
light to see who they were.
"Hollo, Billy," said Wildney, confidentially, "all serene; give us two
bottles of beer--on tick, you know."
"Yessir--d'reckly," said the man, with a hateful twinkle of the eyes.
"So you're out for a spree," he continued, winking in a knowing way.
"Won't you walk into the back-parlor while I get them?" And he showed
them into a dingy horrid room behind the house, stale with smoke, and
begrimed with dust.
Eric was silent and disgusted, but Wildney seemed quite at home. The
man soon returned with the beer. "Wouldn't you like a glass of summat
now, young gen'lmen?" he asked, in an insinuating way.
"No, Billy! don't jabber--we must be off. Here open the door."
"Stop, I'll pay," said Eric. "What's the damage?"
"Three shilling, sir," said the man. "Glad to see a new customer, sir."
He pocketed the money, and showed them, out, standing to look after them
with a malicious leer as they disappeared, and jerking his left thumb
over his shoulder.
"Faugh!" said Eric, taking a long breath as they got out again into the
moonlight, "what a poisonous place! Good gracious, Charlie, who
introduced you there?"
"Oh, I don't think much of going _there_" said Wildney, carelessly; "we
go every-week almost."
"Oh, Brigson and a lot of us. We have a club there which we call the
'Anti-muffs,' and that's our smoking-room."
"And is that horrid beast the landlord?"
"Yes; he was an old school-servant, and there's no harm in him that I
But Eric only "phewed" again two or three times, and thought of Montagu.
Suddenly Wildney clutched him by the arm, and pulled him into the deep
shadow of a porch, whispering, in a low tone, "Look!"
Under a lamp-post, directly opposite them, stood Mr. Rose! He had heard
voices and footsteps a moment before, and, puzzled at their sudden
cessation in the noiseless street, he was looking round.
"We must run for it," whispered Wildney hastily, as Mr. Rose approached
the porch; and the two boys took to their heels, and scampered away as
hard as they could, Eric helping on Wildney by taking his hand, and
neither of them looking behind. They heard Mr. Rose following them at
first, but soon distanced him, and reached a place where two roads met,
either of which would lead to the school.
"We won't go by the road; I know a short cut by the fields. What fun!"
said Wildney, laughing.
"What an audacious little monkey you are; you know all sorts of dodges,"
They had no time to talk, but with, a speed winged by fear got to the
school, sprang on the buttress beneath the window, effected their
entrance, and vanished after replacing the bar--Eric to his study, and
Wildney to his dormitory.
"Here's a go!" said the latter, as they ran up stairs; "I've smashed one
of the beer-bottles in getting through the window, and my trousers are
deluged with the stuff."
They had hardly separated when Mr. Rose's step was heard on the stairs.
He was just returning from a dinner-party, when the sight of two boys
and the sound of their voices startled Mm in the street, and their
sudden disappearance made him sure that they were Roslyn boys,
particularly when they began to run. He strongly suspected that he
recognised Wildney as one of them, and therefore made straight for his
dormitory, which he entered, just as that worthy had thrust the
beer-stained trousers under his bed. Mr. Rose, walked up quietly to his
bedside, and observed that he was not asleep, and that he still had half
has clothes on. He was going away when he saw a little bit of the
trousers protruding under the mattress, and giving a pull, out they
came, wringing wet with the streams of beer. He could not tell at first
what this imported, but a fragment of the bottle fell out of the pocket
with, a crash on the floor, and he then discovered. Taking no notice of
Wildney's pretended sleep, he said, quietly, "Come to me before
breakfast tomorrow, Wildney," and went down stairs.
Eric came in soon after, and found the little fellow vainly attempting
to appear indifferent, as he related to his admiring auditors the
night's adventure; being evidently rather prouder of the "Erie and I,"
which he introduced every now and then into his story.
"Has he twigged you?"
"I don't know; we shall see to-morrow."
"I hope not," said Eric; "I'm sorry for you, Charlie."
"Can't be cured, must be endured," said Wildney.
"Well, good night! and don't lose heart."
Eric went back to Duncan in the study, and they finished the other
bottle of beer between them, though without much enjoyment, because they
were full of surmises as to the extent of the discovery, and the nature
of the punishment.
Eric went in to tell Montagu of their escapade.
He listened very coldly, and said, "Well, Eric, it would serve you right
to be caught. What business have you to be going out at night, at the
invitation of contemptible small fry, like this little Wildney?"
"I beg you won't speak of any friend of mine in those terms," said Eric,
drawing up haughtily.
"I hope you don't call a bad little boy like Wildney, who'd be no
credit to any one, _your_ friend, Eric?"
"Yes I do, though. He's one of the pluckiest, finest, most promising
fellows in the lower school."
"How I begin to hate that word plucky," said Montagu; "it's made the
excuse here for everything that's wrong, base, and unmanly. It seems to
me it's infinitely more 'plucky' just now to do your duty and not be
ashamed of it."
"You've certainly required _that_ kind of pluck to bear you up lately,
Monty," said Owen, looking up from his books.
"Pluck!" said Montagu, scornfully; "you seem to me to think it consists
in lowering yourself down to the level of that odious Brigson, and
joining hand and glove with the dregs of the school."
"Dregs of the school! Upon my word, you're cool, to speak of any of my
associates in that way," said Eric, now thoroughly angry.
"Associates!" retorted Montagu, hotly; "pretty associates! How do you
expect anything good to go on, when fellows high in the school like you
have such dealings with the refined honorable Brigson, and the exemplary
"You're a couple of confounded muffs," shouted Eric, banging the door,
and flinging into his own study again without farther reply.
"Hav'n't you been a little hard on him, considering the row he's in?"
Montagu's head was resting on his hand as he bent over the table.
"Perhaps I have, indeed. But who could help it, Owen, in the present
state of things? Yes, you're right," he said, after a pause; "_this_
wasn't the time to speak. I'll go and talk to him again. But how utterly
changed he is!"
He found Eric on the stairs going down to bed with an affectation of
noise and gaiety. He ran after him, and said--
"Forgive me my passion and sarcasm, Williams. You know I am apt to
express myself strongly." He could not trust himself to say more, but
held out his hand.
Eric got red, and hesitated for a moment.
"Come, Eric, it isn't _wholly_ my fault, is it, that we are not so warm
to each other as we were when ..."
"Oh, Monty, Monty!" said Eric, softened by the allusion; and warmly
grasped his friend's proffered hand.