Part 5 out of 6
The pursuer reached the gate, and no longer hearing footsteps in front
of him, he paused. He went a little distance up the hedge on both sides
and held up his light, but did not detect the cowering boys, and at last
giving up the search in despair, went slowly home. They heard him
plodding back over the field, and it was not until the sound of his
footsteps had died away, that Eric cautiously broke cover, and looked
over the hedge. He saw the man's light gradually getting more distant,
and said, "All right now, Charlie. We must make the best of our
"Are you sure he's gone?" said Wildney, who had not yet recovered from
"Quite; come along. I only hope Pietrie and Graham ain't caught."
They got back about half-past four, and climbed in unheard and
undetected through the window pane. They then stole up stairs with
beating hearts, and sat in Eric's room to wait for the other two. To
their great relief they heard them enter the lavatory about ten
"Were you twigged?" asked Wildney eagerly.
"No," said Graham; "precious near it though. Old Gordon and some men
were after us, but at last we doubled rather neatly, and escaped them.
It's all serene, and we shan't be caught."
"Well, we'd best to bed now," said Eric; "and, to my thinking, we should
be wise to keep a quiet tongue in our heads about this affair."
"Yes, we had better tell _no one_." They agreed, and went off to bed
again. So, next morning, they all four got up quite as if nothing had
happened, and made no allusion to the preceding night, although, they
could not help chuckling inwardly a little when the Gordonites came to
morning school, brimful of a story about their house having been
attacked in the night by thieves, who, after bagging some pigeons, had
been chevied by Gordon and the servants. Wildney professed immense
interest in the incident, and asked many questions, which showed that
there was not a shadow of suspicion in any one's mind as to the
Carter, the school servant, didn't seem to have noticed that the
lavatory door was unlocked, and Mr. Harley never alluded again to his
disturbance in the night. So the theft of the pigeons remained
undiscovered, and remains so till this day. If any old Roslyn boy reads
this veracious history, he will doubtless be astounded to hear that the
burglars on that memorable night were Brio, Pietrie, Graham,
SOWING THE WIND
Crura vacillanti, tardescit lingua, madet mens,
LUCR. iii. 417.
Next evening, when preparation began, Pietrie and Graham got everything
ready for a carouse in their class-room. Wildney, relying on the chance
of names not being called over (which, was only done in case any one's
absence was observed), had absented himself altogether from the
boarders' room, and helped busily to spread the table for the banquet.
The cook had roasted for them the fowls and pigeons, and Billy had
brought an ample supply of beer and some brandy for the occasion. A
little before eight o'clock everything was ready, and Eric, Attlay, and
Llewellyn were summoned to join the rest.
The fowls, pigeons, and beer had soon vanished, and the boys were in the
highest spirits. Eric's reckless gaiety was kindled by Wildney's
frolicsome vivacity, and Graham's sparkling wit; they were all six in a
roar of perpetual laughter at some fresh sally of fun elicited by the
more phlegmatic natures of Attlay or Llewellyn, and the dainties of
Wildney's parcel were accompanied by draughts of brandy and water, which
were sometimes exchanged for potations of the raw liquor. It was not the
first time, be it remembered, that the members of that young party had
been present at similar scenes, and even the scoundrel Billy was
astonished, and alarmed occasionally at the quantities of spirits and
other inebriating drinks that of late had found their way to the
studies. The disgraceful and deadly habit of tippling had already told
physically on both Eric and Wildney. The former felt painfully that he
was losing his clear-headedness, and that his intellectual tastes were
getting not only blunted but destroyed; and while he perceived in
himself the terrible effects of his sinful indulgence, he saw them still
more indisputably in the gradual coarseness which seemed to be
spreading, like a grey lichen, over the countenance, the mind, and the
manners of his younger companion. Sometimes the vision of a Nemesis
breaking in fire out of his darkened future, terrified his guilty
conscience in the watches of the night; and the conviction of some
fearful Erynnis, some discovery dawning out of the night of his
undetected sins, made his heart beat fast with agony and fear. But he
fancied it too late to repent. He strangled the half-formed resolutions
as they rose, and trusted to the time when, by leaving school, he should
escape, as he idly supposed, the temptations to which he had yielded.
Meanwhile, the friends who would have rescued him had been alienated by
his follies, and the principles which might have preserved him had been
eradicated by his guilt. He had long flung away the shield of prayer,
and the helmet of holiness, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the
word of God; and now, unarmed and helpless, Eric stood alone, a mark for
the fiery arrows of his enemies, while, through the weakened inlet of
every corrupted sense, temptation rushed in upon him perpetually
As the class-room they had selected was in a remote part of the
building, there was little immediate chance of detection. So the
laughter of the party grew louder and sillier; the talk more foolish and
random; the merriment more noisy and meaningless. But still most of them
mingled some sense of caution with their enjoyment, and warned Eric and
Wildney more than once that they must look out, and not take too much
that night for fear of being caught. But it was Wildney's birth-day, and
Eric's boyish mirth, suppressed by his recent troubles, was blazing out
unrestrained. In the riot of their feasting, the caution had been
utterly neglected, and the boys were far from being sober when the sound
of the prayer-bell ringing through the great hall, startled them into
"Good heavens!" shouted Graham, springing up; "there's the prayer-bell;
I'd no notion it was so late. Here, let's shove these brandy bottles and
things into the cupboards and drawers, and then we must run down."
There was no time to lose. The least muddled of the party had cleared
the room in a moment, and then addressed themselves to the more
difficult task of trying to quiet Eric and Wildney, and conduct them
steadily into the prayer-room.
Wildney's seat was near the door, so there was little difficulty in
getting him to his place comparatively unobserved. Llewellyn took him by
the arm, and after a little stumbling, helped him safely to his seat,
where he assumed a look of preternatural gravity. But Eric sat near the
head of the first table, not far from Dr. Rowlands' desk, and none of
the others had to go to that part of the room. Graham grasped his arm
tight, led him carefully down stairs, and, as they were reaching the
door, said to him, in a most earnest and imploring tone--"Do try and
walk sensibly to your place, Eric, or we shall all be caught."
It was rather late when they got down. Everybody was quietly seated, and
most of the Bibles were already open, although the Doctor had not yet
come in. Consequently, the room was still, and the entrance of Graham
and Eric after the rest attracted general notice. Eric had just sense
enough to try and assume his ordinary manner; but he was too giddy with
the fumes of drink to walk straight, or act naturally.
Vernon was sitting next to Wright, and stared at his brother with great
eyes and open lips. He was not the only observer.
"Wright," whispered he, in a timid voice; "just see how Eric walks. What
can be the matter with him? Good gracious, he must be ill!" he said,
starting up, as Eric suddenly made a great stagger to one side, and
nearly fell in the attempt to recover himself.
Wright pulled the little boy down with a firm hand.
"Hush!" he whispered; "take no notice; he's been drinking, Verny, and I
fear he'll be caught."
Vernon instantly sat down, and turned deadly pale. He thought, and he
had hoped, that since the day at the "Jolly Herring," his brother had
abandoned all such practices, for Eric had been most careful to conceal
from him the worst of his failings. And now he trembled violently with
fear for his discovery, and horror at his disgraceful condition.
The sound of Eric's unsteady footsteps had made Mr. Rose quickly raise
his head; but at the same moment Duncan hastily made room for the boy
on the seat beside him, and held out his hand to assist him. It was not
Eric's proper place; but Mr. Rose, after one long look of astonishment,
looked down at his book again, and said nothing.
It made other hearts besides Vernon's ache to see the unhappy boy roll
to his place in that helpless way.
Dr. Rowlands came in, and prayers commenced. When they were finished,
the names were called, and Eric, instead of quietly answering his
"adsum," as he should have done, stood up, with a foolish look, and
said, "Yes, Sir." The head master looked at him for a minute; the boy's
glassy eyes, and jocosely stupid appearance, told an unmistakable tale;
but Dr. Rowlands only remarked, "Williams, you don't look well. You had
better go at once to bed."
It was hopeless for Eric to attempt getting along without help, so
Duncan at once got up, took him by the arm, and with much difficulty
(for Eric staggered at every step) conducted him to his bed-room.
Wildney's condition was also too evident; and Mr. Rose, while walking up
and down the dormitories, had no doubt left on his mind that both Eric
and Wildney had been drinking. But he made no remarks to them, and
merely went to the Doctor to talk over the steps which were to be taken.
"I shall summon the school," said Dr. Rowlands, "on Monday, and by that
time we will decide on the punishment. Expulsion, I fear, is the only
course open to us."
"Is not that a _very_ severe line to take?"
"Perhaps; but the offence is of the worst character I must consider the
"Poor Williams!" sighed Mr. Rose, as he left the room.
The whole of the miserable Sunday that followed was spent by Eric and
his companions in vain inquiries and futile restlessness. It seemed
clear that two of them at least were detected, and they were
inexpressibly wretched with anxiety and suspense. Wildney, who had to
stay in bed, was even more depressed; his head ached violently, and he
was alone with his own terrified thoughts. He longed for the morrow,
that at least he might have the poor consolation of knowing his fate. No
one came near him all day. Eric wished to do so, but as he could not
have visited the room without express leave, the rest dissuaded him from
asking, lest he should excite further suspicion. His apparent neglect
made poor Wildney even more unhappy, for Wildney loved Eric as much as
it was possible for his volatile mind to love any one; and it seemed
hard to be deserted in the moment of disgrace and sorrow by so close
At school the next morning the various masters read out to their forms a
notice from Dr. Rowlands, that the whole school were to meet at ten in
the great schoolroom. The object of the summons was pretty clearly
understood; and few boys had any doubt that it had reference to the
drinking on Saturday night. Still nothing had been _said_ on the subject
as yet; and every guilty heart among those 250 boys beat fast lest _his_
sin too should have been discovered, and he should be called out for
some public and heavy punishment.
The hour arrived. The boys thronging into the great school-room, took
their places according to their respective forms. The masters in their
caps and gowns were all seated on a small semicircular bench at the
upper end of the room, and in the centre of them, before a small table,
sate Dr. Rowlands.
The sound of whispering voices sank to a dead and painful hush. The
blood was tingling consciously in many cheeks, and not even a breath
could be heard in the deep expectation of that anxious and
Dr. Rowlands spread before him the list of the school, and said, "I
shall first read out the names of the boys in the first-fifth, and
This was done to ascertain formally whether the boys were present on
whose account the meeting was convened; and it at once told Eric and
Wildney that _they_ were the boys to be punished, and that the others
The names were called over, and an attentive observer might have told,
from the sound of the boys' voices as they answered, which of them were
afflicted with a troubled conscience.
Another slight pause, and breathless hush.
"Eric Williams and Charles Wildney, stand forward."
The boys obeyed. From his place in the fifth, where he was sitting with
his head propped on his hand, Eric rose and advanced; and Wildney, from
the other end of the room, where the younger boys sat, getting up, came
and stood by his side.
Both of them fixed their eyes on the ground, whence they never once
raised them; and in the deadly pallor of their haggard faces, you could
scarcely have recognized the joyous high-spirited friends, whose laugh
and shout had often rung so merrily through the play-ground, and woke
the echoes of the rocks along the shore. Every eye was on them, and
they were conscious of it, though they could not see it--painfully
conscious of it, so that they wished the very ground to yawn beneath
their feet for the moment, and swallow up their shame. Companionship in
disgrace increased the suffering; had either of them been alone, he
would have been less acutely sensible to the trying nature of his
position; but that they, so different in their ages and position in the
school, should thus have their friendship and the results of it
blazoned, or rather branded, before their friends and enemies added
keenly to the misery they felt. So, with eyes bent on the floor, Eric
and Charlie awaited their sentence.
"Williams and Wildney," said Dr. Rowlands in a solemn voice, of which
every articulation thrilled to the heart of every hearer, "you have been
detected in a sin most disgraceful and most dangerous. On Saturday night
you were both drinking, and you were guilty of such gross excess, that
you were neither of you in a fit state to appear among your
companions--least of all to appear among them at the hour of prayer. I
shall not waste many words on an occasion like this; only I trust that
those of your schoolfellows who saw you staggering and rolling into the
room on Saturday evening in a manner so unspeakably shameful and
degrading, will learn from that melancholy sight the lesson which the
Spartans taught their children by exhibiting a drunkard before them--the
lesson of the brutalising and fearful character of this most ruinous
vice. Eric Williams and Charles Wildney, your punishment will be public
expulsion, for which you will prepare this very evening. I am unwilling
that for a single day either of you--especially the elder of
you--should linger, so as possibly to contaminate others with the danger
of so pernicious an example."
Such a sentence was wholly unexpected; it took boys and masters equally
by surprise. The announcement of it caused an uneasy sensation, which
was evident to all present, though no one spoke a word; but Dr. Rowlands
took no notice of it, and only said to the culprits--
"You may return to your seats."
The two boys found their way back instinctively, they hardly knew how.
They seemed confounded and thunderstruck by their sentence, and the
painful accessories of its publicity. Eric leaned over the desk with his
head resting on a book, too stunned even to think; and Wildney looked
straight before him with his eyes fixed in a stupid and
Form by form the school dispersed, and the moment he was liberated Eric
sprang away from the boys, who would have spoken to him, and rushed
wildly to his study, where he locked the door. In a moment, however, he
re-opened it, for he heard Wildney's step, and, after admitting him,
locked it once more.
Without a word Wildney, who looked very pale, flung his arms round
Eric's neck, and, unable to bear up any longer, burst into a flood of
tears. Both of them felt relief in giving the reins to their sorrow.
"O my father! my father!" sobbed Wildney at length. "What will he say?
He will disown me, I know; he is so stern always with me when he thinks
I bring disgrace on him."
Eric thought of Fairholm, and of his own far-distant parents, and of the
pang which _his_ disgrace would cause their loving hearts; but he could
say nothing, and only stroked Wildney's dark hair again and again with
a soothing hand.
They sat there long, hardly knowing how the time passed; Eric could not
help thinking how very, very different their relative positions might
have been; how, while he might have been aiding and ennobling the young
boy beside him, he had alternately led and followed him into wickedness
and disgrace. His heart was full of misery and bitterness, and he felt
almost indifferent to all the future, and weary of his life.
A loud knocking at the door disturbed them. It was Carter, the school
"You must pack up to go this evening, young gentlemen."
"O no! no! no!" exclaimed Wildney; "_cannot_ be sent away like this. It
would break my father's heart. Eric, _do_ come and entreat Dr. Rowlands
to forgive us only this once."
"Yes," said Eric, starting up with sudden energy; "he _shall_ forgive
us--_you_ at any rate. I will not leave him till he does. Cheer up,
Charlie, cheer up, and come along."
Filled with an irresistible impulse, he pushed Carter aside, and sprang
down stairs three steps at a time, with Wildney following him. They went
straight for the Doctor's study, and without waiting for the answer to
their knock at the door, Eric walked up to Dr. Rowlands, who sate
thinking in his arm-chair by the fire, and burst out passionately, "O
sir, forgive us this once."
The Doctor was completely taken by surprise, so sudden was the
intrusion, and so intense was the boy's manner. He remained silent a
moment from astonishment, and then said with asperity--
"Your offence is one of the most dangerous possible. There could be no
more perilous example for the school, than the one you have been
setting, Williams. Leave the room," he added, with an authoritative
gesture, "my mind is made up."
But Eric was too excited to be overawed by the master's manner; an
imperious passion blinded him to all ordinary considerations, and,
heedless of the command, he broke out again--
"O sir, try me but once, _only_ try me. I promise you most faithfully
that I will never again commit the sin. O sir, do, do trust me, and I
will be responsible for Wildney too."
Dr. Rowlands, seeing that in Eric's present mood he must and would be
heard, unless he were ejected by actual force, began to pace silently up
and down the room in perplexed and anxious thought; at last he stopped
and turned over the pages of a thick school register, and found
"It is not your first offence, Williams, even of this very kind. That
most seriously aggravates your fault."
"O sir! give us one more chance to mend. O, I feel that I _could_ do
such great things, if you will be but merciful, and give me time to
change. O, I entreat you, sir, to forgive us only this once, and I will
never ask again. Let us bear _any_ other punishment but this. O sir," he
said, approaching the doctor in an imploring attitude, "spare us this
one time for the sake of our friends."
The head-master made no reply for a time, but again paced the room in
silence. He was touched, and seemed hardly able to restrain his emotion.
"It was my deliberate conclusion to expel you, Williams. I must not
weakly yield to entreaty. You must go."
Eric wrung his hands in agony. "O, sir, then, if you must do so, expel
me only, and not Charlie, _I_ can bear it, but do not let me ruin him
also. O I implore you, sir, for the love of God do, do forgive him. It
is I who have misled him;" and he flung himself on his knees, and lifted
his hands entreatingly towards the Doctor.
Dr. Rowlands looked at him--at his blue eyes drowned with tears, his
agitated gesture, his pale, expressive face, full of passionate
supplication. He looked at Wildney, too, who stood trembling with a look
of painful and miserable suspense, and occasionally added his wild word
of entreaty, or uttered sobs more powerful still, that seemed to come
from the depth of his heart. He was shaken in his resolve, wavered for a
moment, and then once more looked at the register.
"Yes," he said, after a long pause, "here is an entry which shall save
you this time. I find written here against your name, 'April 3. Risked
his life in the endeavor to save Edwin Russell at the Stack.' That one
good and noble deed shall be the proof that you are capable of better
things. It may be weak perhaps--I know that it will be called weak--and
I do not feel certain that I am doing right; but if I err it shall be on
the side of mercy. I shall change expulsion into some other punishment.
You may go."
Wildney's face lighted up as suddenly and joyously as when a ray of
sun-light gleams for an instant out of a dark cloud.
"O thank you, thank you, sir," he exclaimed, drying his eyes, and
pouring into the words a world of expression, which it was no light
pleasure to have heard. But Eric spoke less impulsively, and while the
two boys were stammering out their deep gratitude, a timid hand knocked
at the door, and Vernon entered.
"I have come, sir, to speak for poor Eric," he said in a low voice, and
trembling with emotion, as, with downcast eyes, he modestly approached
towards Dr. Rowlands, not even observing the presence of the others in
the complete absorption of his feelings. He stood in a sorrowful
attitude, not venturing to look up, and his hand played nervously with
the ribbon of his straw hat.
"I have just forgiven him, my little boy," said the Doctor kindly,
patting his stooping head; "there he is, and he has been speaking
"O, Eric, I am so, so glad, I don't know what to say for joy. O Eric,
thank God that you are not to be expelled;" and Vernon went to his
brother, and embraced him with the deepest affection.
Dr. Rowlands watched the scene with moist eyes. He was generally a man
of prompt decision, and he well knew that he would incur by this act the
charge of vacillation. It was a noble self-denial in him to be willing
to do so, but it would have required an iron heart to resist such
earnest supplications, and he was more than repaid when he saw how much
anguish he had removed by yielding to their entreaties.
Once more humbly expressing their gratitude, the boys retired.
They did not know that other influences had been also exerted in their
favor, which, although ineffectual at the time, had tended to alter the
Doctor's intention. Immediately after school Mr. Rose had been strongly
endeavoring to change the Doctor's mind, and had dwelt forcibly on all
the good points in Eric's character, and the promise of his earlier
career. And Montagu had gone with Owen and Duncan to beg that the
expulsion might be commuted into some other punishment. They had failed
to convince him; but, perhaps, had they not thus exerted themselves, Dr.
Rowlands might have been unshaken, though he could not be unmoved by
Vernon's gentle intercession and Eric's passionate prayers.
Wildney, full of joy, and excited by the sudden revulsion of feeling,
only shook Eric's hand with all his might, and then darted out into the
playground to announce the happy news. The boys all flocked round him,
and received the intelligence with unmitigated pleasure. Among them all
there was not one who did not rejoice that Eric and Wildney were yet to
continue of their number.
But the two brothers returned to the study, and there, sorrowful in his
penitence, with his heart still aching with remorse, Eric sat down on a
chair facing the window, and drew Vernon to his side. The sun was
setting behind the purple hills, flooding the green fields and silver
sea with the crimson of his parting rays. The air was fall of peace and
coolness, and the merry sounds of the cricket field blended joyously
with the whisper of the evening breeze. Eric was fond of beauty in every
shape, and his father had early taught him a keen appreciation of the
glories of nature. He had often gazed before on that splendid scene, as
he was new gazing on it thoughtfully with his brother by his side. He
looked long and wistfully at the gorgeous pageantry of quiet clouds,
and passed his arm more fondly round Vernon's shoulder.
"What are you thinking of, Eric? Why, I declare you are crying still,"
said Vernon playfully, as he wiped a tear which had overflowed on his
brother's cheek, "aren't you glad that the Doctor has forgiven you?"
"Gladder, far gladder than I can say, Verny. O Verny, Verny, I hope your
school-life may be happier than mine has been. I would give up all I
have, Verny, to have kept free from the sins I have learnt. God grant
that I may yet have time and space to do better."
"Let us pray together, Eric," whispered his brother reverently, and they
knelt down and prayed; they prayed for their distant parents and
friends; they prayed for their schoolfellows and for each other, and for
Wildney, and they thanked God for all his goodness to them; and then
Eric poured out his heart in a fervent prayer that a holier and happier
future might atone for his desecrated past, and that his sins might be
forgiven for his Saviour's sake.
The brothers rose from their knees calmer and more light-hearted, and
gave each other a solemn affectionate kiss, before they went down again
to the play-ground. But they avoided the rest of the boys, and took a
stroll together along the sands, talking quietly, and happily, and
hoping bright hopes for future days.
WHOM THE GODS LOVE DIE YOUNG
"Oh is it weed, or fish, or floating hair?
A tress of maiden's hair,
Of drowned maiden's hair,
Above the nets at sea?"--KINGSLEY.
Eric and Wildney were flogged and confined to gates for a time instead
of being expelled, and they both bore the punishment in a manly and
penitent way, and set themselves with all their might to repair the
injury which their characters had received. Eric, especially, seemed to
be devoting himself with every energy to regain, if possible, his long
lost position, and by the altered complexion of his remaining
school-life, to atone in some poor measure for its earlier sins. And he
carried Wildney with him, influencing others also of his late companions
in a greater or less degree. It was not Eric's nature to do things by
halves, and it became obvious to all that his exertions to resist and
abandon his old temptations were strenuous and unwavering. He could no
longer hope for the school distinctions, which would have once lain so
easily within his reach, for the ground lost during weeks of idleness
cannot be recovered by a wish; but he succeeded sufficiently, by dint of
desperately hard work, to acquit himself with considerable credit, and
in the Easter examination came out sufficiently high, to secure his
remove into the sixth form after the holidays.
He felt far happier in the endeavor to fulfill his duty, than he had
ever done during the last years of recklessness and neglect, and the
change for the better in his character tended to restore unanimity and
good will to the school. Eric no longer headed the party which made a
point of ridiculing and preventing industry; and, sharing as he did the
sympathy of nearly all the boys, he was able quietly and unobtrusively
to calm down the jealousies and allay the heartburnings which had for so
long a time brought discord and disunion into the school society.
Cheerfulness and unanimity began to prevail once more at Roslyn, and
Eric had the intense happiness of seeing how much good lay still within
So the Easter holidays commenced with promise, and the few first days
glided away in innocent enjoyments. Eric was now reconciled again to
Owen and Duncan, and, therefore, had a wider choice of companions more
truly congenial to his high nature than the narrow circle of his late
"What do you say to a boat excursion to-morrow?" asked Duncan, as they
chatted together one evening.
"I won't go without leave," said Eric; "I should only get caught, and
get into another mess. Besides, I feel myself pledged now to strict
"Ay, you're quite right. We'll get leave easily enough though, provided
we agree to take Jim the boatman with us; so I vote we make up a party."
"By the bye, I forgot; I'm engaged to Wildney to-morrow."
"Never mind. Bring him with you, and Graham too, if you like."
"Most gladly," said Eric, really pleased; for he saw by this that Duncan
observed the improvement in his old friends, and was falling in with the
endeavor to make all the boys really cordial to each other, and destroy
all traces of the late factions.
"Do you mind my bringing Montagu?"
"Not at all. Why should I?" answered Eric, with a slight blush. Montagu
and he had never been formally reconciled, nor had they, as yet, spoken
to each other. Indeed Duncan had purposely planned the excursion to give
them an opportunity of becoming friends once more, by being thrown
together. He knew well that they both earnestly wished it, although,
with the natural shyness of boys, they hardly knew how to set about
effecting it. Montagu hung back lest he should seem to be patronising a
fallen enemy, and Eric lest he should have sinned too deeply to
The next morning dawned gloriously, and it was agreed that they should
meet at Starhaven, the point where they were to get the boat, at ten
o'clock. As they had supposed, Dr. Rowlands gave a ready consent to the
row, on condition of their being accompanied by the experienced sailor
whom the boys called Jim. The precaution was by no means unnecessary,
for the various currents which ran round the island were violent at
certain stages of the tide, and extremely dangerous for any who were not
aware of their general course.
Feeling that the day would pass off very unpleasantly if any feeling of
restraint remained between him and Montagu, Eric, by a strong effort,
determined to "make up with him" before starting, and went into his
study for that purpose after breakfast. Directly he came in, Montagu
jumped up and welcomed him cordially, and when, without any allusion to
the past, the two shook hands with all warmth, and looked the old proud
look into each other's faces, they felt once more that their former
affection was unimpaired, and that in heart they were real and loving
friends. Most keenly did they both enjoy the renewed intercourse, and
they found endless subjects to talk about on their way to Starhaven,
where the others were already assembled when they came.
With Jim's assistance they shoved a boat into the water, and sprang into
it in the highest spirits. Just as they were pushing off they saw Wright
and Vernon running down to the shore towards them, and they waited to
see what they wanted. "Couldn't you take us with you?" asked Vernon,
breathless with his run.
"I'm afraid not, Verny," said Montagu; "the boat won't hold more than
six, will it, Jim?"
"No, sir, not safely."
"Never mind, you shall have my place, Verny," said Eric, as he saw his
brother's disappointed look.
"Then Wright shall take mine," said Wildney.
"O dear no," said Wright, "we wouldn't turn you out for the world.
Vernon and I will take an immense walk down the coast instead, and will
meet you here as we come back."
"Well, good bye, then; off we go;" and with light hearts the boaters and
the pedestrians parted.
Eric, Graham, Duncan, and Montagu took the first turn at the oars, while
Wildney steered. Graham's "crabs," and Wildney's rather crooked
steering, gave plenty of opportunity for chaff, and they were full of
fun as the oar-blades splashed and sparkled in the waves. Then they made
Jim sing them some of his old sailor songs as they rowed, and joined
vigorously in the choruses. They had arranged to make straight for St.
Catherine's Head, and land somewhere near it to choose a place for their
pic-nic. It took them nearly two hours to get there, as they rowed
leisurely, and enjoyed the luxury of the vernal air. It was one of the
sunniest days of early spring; the air was pure and delicious, and the
calm sea breeze, just strong enough to make the sea flame and glister in
the warm sunlight, was exhilarating as new wine. Underneath them the
water was transparent as crystal, and far below they could see the green
and purple sea-weeds rising like a many-colored wood, through which
occasionally they saw a fish, startled by their oars, dart like an
arrow. The sky overhead was a cloudless blue, and as they kept not far
from shore, the clearly cut outline of the coast, with its rocks and
hills standing out in the vivid atmosphere, made a glowing picture, to
which the golden green of the spring herbage, bathed in its morning
sunlight, lent the magic of enchantment. Who could have been otherwise
than happy in such a scene and at such a time? but these were boys with
the long bright holiday before them, and happiness is almost too quiet a
word to express the bounding exultation of heart, the royal and tingling
sense of vigorous life, which made them shout and sing, as their boat
rustled through the ripples, from a mere instinct of inexpressible
They had each contributed some luxury to the pic-nic, and it made a very
tempting display as they spread it out, under a sunny pebbled cave, by
St. Catherine's Head; although, instead of anything more objectionable,
they had thought it best to content themselves with a very moderate
quantity of beer. When they had done eating, they amused themselves on
the shore; and had magnificent games among the rocks, and in every
fantastic nook of the romantic promontory. And then Eric suggested a
bathe to wind up with, as it was the first day when it had been quite
warm enough to make bathing pleasant.
"But we've got no towels."
"Oh! chance the towels. We can run about till we're dry." So they
bathed, and then getting in the boat to row back again, they all agreed
that it was the very jolliest day they'd ever had at Roslyn, and voted
to renew the experiment before the holidays were over, and take Wright
and Vernon with them in a larger boat.
It was afternoon,--and afternoon still warm and beautiful,--when they
began to row home; so they took it quietly, and kept near the land for
variety's sake, laughing, joking, and talking as merrily as ever.
"I declare I think this is the prettiest or anyhow the grandest bit of
the whole coast," said Eric, as they neared a glen through whose narrow
gorge a green and garrulous little river gambolled down with noisy
turbulence into the sea. He might well admire that glen; its steep and
rugged sides were veiled with lichens, moss, and wild-flowers, and the
sea-birds found safe refuge in its lonely windings, which were colored
with topaz and emerald by the pencillings of nature and the rich
stains of time.
"Yes," answered Montagu, "_I_ always stick up for Avon Glen as the
finest scene we've got about here. But, I say, who's that gesticulating
on the rock there to the right of it? I verily believe it's Wright,
apostrophising the ocean for Vernon's benefit. I only see one of
"I bet you he's spouting
'Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean--roll!
Ten thousand fleets, etc.'"
said Graham laughing.
"What do you say to putting in to shore there?" said Duncan; "it's only
two miles to Starhaven, and I dare say we could make shift to take them
in for that distance. If Jim says anything we'll chuck him overboard."
They rowed towards Avon Glen, and to their surprise Wright, who stood
there alone (for with a pocket telescope they clearly made out that it
_was_ Wright), still continued to wave his arms and beckon them in a
manner which they at first thought ridiculous, but which soon make them
feel rather uneasy. Jim took an oar, and they soon got within two
hundred yards of the beach. Wright had ceased to make signals, but
appeared to be shouting to them, and pointing towards one corner of the
glen; but though they caught the sound of his voice they could not hear
what he said.
"I wonder why Vernon isn't with him," said Eric anxiously; "I hope--why,
what _are_ you looking at, Charlie?"
"What's that in the water there?" said Wildney, pointing in the
direction to which Wright was also looking.
Montagu snatched the telescope out of his hand and looked. "Good God!"
he exclaimed, turning pale; "what can be the matter?"
"O _do_ let me look," said Eric.
"No! stop, stop, Eric, you'd better not, I think; pray don't, it may be
all a mistake. You'd better not--but it looked--nay, you really
_mustn't,_ Eric," he said, and, as if accidentally, he let the telescope
fall into the water, and they saw it sink down among the seaweeds at
Eric looked at him reproachfully. "What's the fun of that, Monty? you
let it drop on purpose."
"O never mind; I'll get Wildney another. I really daren't let you look,
for fear you should _fancy_ the same as I did, for it must be fancy. O
_don't_ let us put in there--at least not all of us."
What _was_ that thing in the water?--When Wright and Vernon left the
others, they walked along the coast, following the direction of the
boat, and agreed to amuse themselves in collecting eggs. They were very
successful, and, to their great delight, managed to secure some rather
rare specimens. When they had tired themselves with this pursuit, they
lay on the summit of one of the cliffs which formed the sides of Avon
Glen, and Wright, who was very fond of poetry, read Vernon a canto of
Marmion with great enthusiasm.
So they whiled away the morning, and when the canto was over, Vernon
took a great stone and rolled it for amusement over the cliff's edge. It
thundered over the side, bounding down till it reached the strand, and a
large black cormorant, startled by the reverberating echoes, rose up
suddenly, and flapped its way with protruded neck to a rock on the
further side of the little bay.
"I bet you that animal's got a nest somewhere near here," said Vernon
eagerly. "Come, let's have a look for it; a cormorant's egg would be a
jolly addition to our collection."
They got up, and looking down the face of the cliff, saw, some eight
feet below them, a projection half hidden by the branch of a tree, on
which the scattered pieces of stick clearly showed the existence of a
rude nest. They could not, however, see whether it contained eggs or no.
"I must bag that nest; it's pretty sure to have eggs in it," said
Vernon, "and I can get at it easy enough." He immediately began to
descend towards the place where the nest was built, but he found it
harder than he expected.
"Hallo," he said, "this is a failure. I must climb up again to
reconnoitre if there isn't a better dodge for getting at it." He reached
the top, and, looking down, saw a plan of reaching the ledge which
promised more hope of success.
"You'd better give it up, Verny," said Wright. "I'm sure it's harder
than we fancied, _I_ couldn't manage it, I know."
"O no, Wright, never say die. Look; if I get down more towards the right
the way's plain enough, and I shall have reached the nest in no time."
Again his descended in a different direction, but again he failed. The
nest could only be seen from the top, and he had lost the right route.
"You must keep more to the right."
"I know," answered Vernon; "but, bother take it, I can't manage it, now
I'm so far down. I must climb up _again_."
"_Do_ give it up, Verny, there's a good fellow. You _can't_ reach it,
and really it's dangerous."
"O no, not a bit of it. My head's very steady, and I feel as cool as
possible. We mustn't give up; I've only to get at the tree, and then I
shall be able to reach the nest from it quite easily."
"Well, do take care, that's a dear fellow."
"Never fear," said Vernon, who was already commencing his third attempt.
This time he got to the tree, and placed his foot on a part of the root,
while with his hands he clung on to a clump of heather. "Hurrah!" he
cried, "it's got two eggs in it, Wright;" and he stretched downwards to
take them. Just as he was doing so, he heard the root on which his foot
rested give a great crack, and with a violent start he made a spring for
one of the lower branches. The motion caused his whole weight to rest
for an instant on his arms;--unable to sustain the wrench, the heather
gave way, and with a wild shriek he fell headlong down the surface of
With, a wild shriek!--but silence followed it.
"Vernon! Vernon!" shouted the terrified Wright, creeping close up to the
edge of the precipice. "O Vernon! for heaven's sake speak!"
There was no answer, and leaning over, Wright saw the young boy
outstretched on the stones three hundred feet below. For some minutes he
was horrorstruck beyond expression, and made wild attempts to descend
the cuff and reach him. But he soon gave up the attempt in despair.
There was a tradition in the school that the feat had once been
accomplished by an adventurous and active boy, but Wright at any rate
found it hopeless for himself. The only other way to reach the glen was
by a circuitous route which led to the entrance of the narrow gorge,
along the sides of which it was possible to make way with difficulty
down the bank of the river to the place where it met the sea. But this
would have taken him an hour and a half, and was far from easy when the
river was swollen with high tide. Nor was there any house within some
distance at which assistance could be procured, and Wright, in a tumult
of conflicting emotions, determined to wait where he was, on the chance
of seeing the boat as it returned from St. Catherine's Head. It was
already three o'clock, and he knew that they could not now be longer
than an hour at most; so with eager eyes he sat watching the headland,
round which he knew they would first come in sight. He watched with wild
eager eyes, absorbed in the one longing desire to catch sight of them;
but the leaden-footed moments crawled on like hours, and he could not
help shivering with agony and fear. At last he caught a glimpse of them,
and springing up, began to shout at the top of his voice, and wave his
handkerchief and his arms in the hope of attracting their attention.
Little thought those blithe merry-hearted boys in the midst of the happy
laughter which they sent ringing over the waters, little they thought
how terrible a tragedy awaited them.
At last Wright saw that they had perceived him, and were putting inland,
and now, in his fright, he hardly knew what to do; but feeling sure that
they could not fail to see Vernon, he ran off as fast as he could to
Starhaven, where he rapidly told the people at a farm-house what had
happened, and asked them to get a cart ready to convey the wounded boy
to Roslyn school.
Meanwhile the tide rolled in calmly and quietly in the rosy evening,
radiant with the diamond and gold of reflected sunlight and transparent
wave. Gradually gently it crept up to the place where Vernon lay; and
the little ripples fell over him wonderingly, with the low murmur of
their musical laughter, and blurred and dimmed the vivid splashes and
crimson streaks upon the white stone on which his head had fallen, and
washed away some of the purple bells and green sprigs of heather round
which his fingers were closed in the grasp of death, and played softly
with his fair hair as it rose, and fell, and floated on their
undulations like a leaf of golden-colored weed, until they themselves
were faintly discolored by his blood. And then, tired with their new
plaything, they passed on, until the swelling of the water was just
strong enough to move rudely the boy's light weight, and in a few
moments more would have tossed it up and down with every careless wave
among the boulders of the glen. And then it was that Montagu's
horror-stricken gaze had identified the object at which they had been
gazing. In strange foreboding silence they urged on the boat, while Eric
at the prow seemed wild with the one intense impulse to verify his
horrible suspicion. The suspicion grew and grew:--it _was_ a boy lying
in the water;--it was Vernon;--he was motionless;--he must have fallen
there from the cliff.
Eric could endure the suspense no longer. The instant that the boat
grated on the shingle, he sprang into the water, and rushed to the spot
where his brother's body lay. With a burst of passionate affection, he
flung himself on his knees beside it, and took the cold hand in his
own--the little rigid hand in which the green blades of grass, and fern,
and heath, so tightly clutched, were unconscious of the tale they told.
"Oh Verny, Verny, darling Verny, speak to me!" he cried in anguish, as
he tenderly lifted up the body, and marked how little blood had flowed.
But the child's head fell back heavily, and his arms hung motionless
beside him, and with a shriek, Eric suddenly caught the look of dead
fixity in his blue open eyes.
The others had come up. "O God, save my brother, save him, save him from
death," cried Eric, "I cannot live without him. Oh God! Oh God! Look!
look!" he continued, "he has fallen from the cliff with his head on this
cursed stone," pointing to the block of quartz, still red with
blood-stained hair; "but we must get a doctor. He is not dead! no, no,
no, he _cannot_ be dead. Take him quickly, and let us row home. Oh God!
why did I ever leave him?"
The boys drew round in a frightened circle, and lifted Vernon's corpse
into the boat; and then, while Eric still supported the body, and
moaned, and called to him in anguish, and chafed his cold pale brow and
white hands, and kept saying that he had fainted and was not dead, the
others rowed home with all speed, while a feeling of terrified anxiety
lay like frost upon their hearts.
They reached Starhaven, and got into the cart with the lifeless boy, and
heard from Wright how the accident had taken place. Few boys were about
the play-ground, so they got unnoticed to Roslyn, and Dr. Underhay, who
had been summoned, was instantly in attendance. He looked at Vernon for
a moment, and then shook his head in a way that could not be mistaken.
Eric saw it, and flung himself with uncontrollable agony on his
brother's corpse. "O Vernon, Vernon, my own dear brother! oh God, then
he is dead." And, unable to endure the blow, he fainted away.
I cannot dwell on the miserable days that followed, when the very sun
in heaven seemed dark to poor Eric's wounded and crushed spirit. He
hardly knew how they went by. And when they buried Vernon in the little
green churchyard by Russell's side, and the patter of the earth upon the
coffin--that most terrible of all sounds--struck his ear, the iron
entered into his soul, and he had but one wish as he turned away from
the open grave, and that was, soon to lie beside his beloved little
brother and to be at rest.
THE LAST TEMPTATION
[Greek: 'Ae d' Atae sthenazae te chai 'aztipos sunecha pasas
Pollou 'upechpzotheei, phthaneei d' de te pasan ep' aiach
Blaptous' anthxopous.] Hom Il. ix. 505.
Time, the great good angel, Time, the merciful healer, assuaged the
violence of Eric's grief, which seemed likely to settle down into a
sober sadness. At first his letters to his parents and to Fairholm were
almost unintelligible in their fierce abandonment of sorrow; but they
grew calmer in time,--and while none of his school-fellows ever ventured
in his presence to allude to Vernon, because of the emotion which the
slightest mention of him excited, yet he rarely wrote any letters to his
relations in which he did not refer to his brother's death, in language
which grew at length both manly and resigned.
A month after, in the summer term, he was sitting alone in his study in
the afternoon (for he could not summon up spirit enough to play
regularly at cricket), writing a long letter to his aunt. He spoke
freely and unreservedly of his past errors,--more freely than he had
ever done before,--and expressed not only deep penitence, but even
strong hatred of his previous unworthy courses. "I can hardly even yet
realize," he added, "that I am alone here, and that I am writing to my
aunt Trevor about the death of my brother, my noble, only brother,
Vernon. Oh how my whole soul yearns towards him. I _must_ be a better
boy, I _will_ be better than I have been, in the hopes of meeting him
again. Indeed, indeed, dear aunt, though I have been so guilty, I am
laying aside, with all my might, idleness and all bad habits, and doing
my very best to redeem the lost years. I do hope that the rest of my
time at Roslyn will be more worthily spent than any of it has been
He finished the sentence, and laid his pen down to think, gazing quietly
on the blue hills and sunlit sea. A feeling of hope and repose stole
over him;--when suddenly he saw at the door, which was ajar, the leering
eyes and villainously cunning countenance of Billy.
"What do you want?" he said angrily, casting at the intruder a look of
"Beg pardon, sir," said the man, pulling his hair. "Anything in my line,
"No!" answered Eric, rising up in a gust of indignation. "What business
have you here? Get away instantly."
"Not had much custom from you lately, sir," said the man.
"What do you mean by having the insolence to begin talking to me? If you
don't make yourself scarce at once, I'll--"
"O well," said the man; "if it comes to that, I've business enough.
Perhaps you'll just pay me this debt," he continued, changing his
fawning manner into a bullying swagger. "I've waited long enough."
Eric, greatly discomfited, took the dirty bit of paper. It purported to
be a bill for various items of drink, all of which Eric _knew_ to have
been paid for, and among other things, a charge of L6 for the dinner at
the "Jolly Herring."
"Why, you villain, these have all been paid. What! six pounds for the
dinner! Why Brigson collected the subscriptions to pay for it before it
"That's now't to me, sir. He never paid me; and as you was the young
gen'lman in the cheer, I comes to you."
_Now_ Eric knew for the first time what Brigson had meant by his
threatened revenge. He saw at once that the man had been put up to act
in this way by some one, and had little doubt that Brigson was the
instigator. Perhaps it might be even true, as the man said, that he had
never received the money. Brigson was quite wicked enough to have
embezzled it for his own purposes.
"Go," he said to the man; "you shall have the money in a week."
"And mind it bean't more nor a week. I don't chuse to wait for my money
no more," said Billy, impudently, as he retired with an undisguised
chuckle, which very nearly made Eric kick him down stairs.
What was to be done? To mention the subject to Owen or Montagu, who were
best capable of advising him, would have been to renew the memory of
unpleasant incidents, which he was most anxious to obliterate from the
memory of all. He had not the moral courage to face the natural
consequences of his past misconduct, and was now ashamed to speak of
what he had not then been ashamed to do. He told Graham and Wildney, who
were the best of his old associates, and they at once agreed that _they_
ought to be responsible for at least a share of the debt. Still, between
them they could only muster three pounds out of the six which were
required, and the week had half elapsed before there seemed any prospect
of extrication from the difficulty; so Eric daily grew more miserable
A happy thought struck him. He would go and explain the source of his
trouble to Mr. Rose, his oldest, his kindest, his wisest friend. To him
he could speak without scruple and without reserve, and from him he knew
that he would receive nothing but the noblest advice and the
He went to him after prayers that night, and told his story.
"Ah, Eric, Eric!" said Mr. Rose; "you see, my boy, that sin and
punishment are twins."
"O but, sir, I was just striving so hard to amend, and it seems cruel
that I should receive at once so sad a check."
"There is only one way that I see, Eric. You must write home for the
money, and confess the truth to them honestly, as you have to me."
It was a hard course for Eric's proud and loving heart to write and tell
his aunt the full extent of his guilt. But he did it faithfully,
extenuating nothing, and entreating her, as she loved him, to send the
money by return of post.
It came, and with it a letter full of deep and gentle affection. Mrs.
Trevor knew her nephew's character, and did not add by reproaches to the
bitterness which she perceived he had endured; she simply sent him the
money, and told him, that in spite of his many failures, "she still had
perfect confidence in the true heart of her dear boy."
Touched by the affection which all seemed to be showing him, it became
more and more the passionate craving of Eric's soul to be worthy of that
love. But it is far, far harder to recover a lost path than to keep in
the right one all along; and by one more terrible fall, the poor erring
boy was to be taught for the last time the fearful strength of
temptation, and the only source in earth and heaven from which
deliverance can come. Theoretically he knew it, but as yet not
practically. Great as his trials had been, and deeply as he had
suffered, it was God's will that he should pass through a yet fiercer
flame ere he could be purified from pride and passion and
self-confidence, and led to the cross of a suffering Saviour, there to
fling himself down in heart-rending humility, and cast his great load of
cares and sins upon Him who cared for him through all his wanderings,
and was leading him back through thorny places to the green pastures and
still waters, where at last he might have rest.
The money came, and walking off straight to the Jolly Herring, he dashed
it down on the table before Billy, and imperiously bade him write a
receipt. The man did so, but with so unmistakable an air of cunning and
triumph that Eric was both astonished and dismayed. Could the miscreant
have any further plot against him? At first he fancied that Billy might
attempt to extort money by a threat of telling Dr. Rowlands; but this
supposition he banished as unlikely since it might expose Billy himself
to very unpleasant consequences. Eric snatched the receipt, and said
contemptuously, "Never come near me again; next time you come up to the
studies I'll tell Carter to turn you out."
"Ho, ho, ho!" sneered Billy. "How mighty we young gents are all of a
sudden. Unless you buy of me sometimes, you shall hear of me again;
never fear, young gen'lman." He shouted out the latter words, for Eric
had turned scornfully on his heel, and was already in the street.
Obviously more danger was to be apprehended from this quarter. At first
the thought of it was disquieting, but three weeks glided away, and
Eric, now absorbed heart and soul in school work, began to remember it
as a mere vague and idle threat. But one afternoon, to his horror, he
again heard Billy's step on the stairs, and again saw the hateful
iniquitous face at the door.
"Not much custom from you lately, sir," said Billy, mockingly. "Anything
in my line to-day."
"Didn't I tell you never to come near me again, you foul villain? Go
this instant, or I'll call Carter;" and, opening the window, he prepared
to put his threat into execution.
"Ho, ho, ho! Better look at summat I've got first." It was a printed
notice to the following effect--
"FIVE POUNDS REWARD.
"WHEREAS some evil-disposed persons stole some pigeons on the evening of
April 6th from the Rev. H. Gordon's premises; the above reward will be
given for any such information as may lead to the apprehension of the
Soon after the seizure of the pigeons there had been a rumor that Gordon
had offered a reward of this kind, but the matter had been forgotten,
and the boys had long fancied their secret secure, though at first they
had been terribly alarmed.
"What do you show me that for?" he asked, reddening and then growing
Billy's only answer was to pass his finger slowly along the words "Five
"I thinks I knows who took them pigeons."
"What's that to me?"
"Ho, ho, ho! that's a good un," was Billy's reply; and he continued to
cackle as though enjoying a great joke.
"Unless you gives me five pound, anyhow, I knows where to get 'em. I
know who them evil-disposed persons be! So I'll give ye another week
Billy shambled off in high spirits; but Eric sank back into his chair.
Five pounds! The idea haunted him. How could he ever get them? To write
home again was out of the question. The Trevors, though liberal, were
not rich, and after just sending him so large a sum, it was impossible,
he thought, that they should send him five pounds more at his mere
request. Besides, how could he be sure that Billy would not play upon
his fears to extort further sums? And to explain the matter to them
fully was more than he could endure. He remembered now how easily his
want of caution might have put Billy in possession of the secret, and
he knew enough of the fellow's character to feel quite sure of the use
he would be inclined to make of it. Oh how he cursed that hour of folly!
Five pounds! He began to think of what money he could procure. He
thought again and again, but it was no use; only one thing was clear--he
_had_, not the money, and could not get it. Miserable boy! It was too
late then! for him repentance was to be made impossible; every time he
attempted it he was to be thwarted by some fresh discovery. And, leaning
his head on his open palms, poor Eric sobbed like a child.
Five pounds! And all this misery was to come upon him for the want of
five pounds! Expulsion was _certain_, was _inevitable_ now, and perhaps
for Wildney too as well as for himself. After all his fine promises in
his letters home,--yes, that reminded him of Vernon. The grave had not
closed for a month over one brother, and the other would be _expelled_.
Oh misery, misery! He was sure it would break his mother's heart. Oh how
cruel everything was to him!
Five pounds--he wondered whether Montagu would lend it him, or any other
boy? But then it was late in the quarter, and all the boys would have
spent the money they brought with them from home. There was no chance of
any one having five pounds, and to a master he _dare_ not apply, not
even to Mr. Rose. The offence was too serious to be overlooked, and if
noticed at all, he fancied that, after his other delinquencies, it
_must_, as a matter of notoriety, be visited with expulsion. He could
not face that bitter thought; he could not thus bring open disgrace upon
his father's and his brother's name; this was the fear which kept
recurring to him with dreadful iteration.
By the bye, he remembered that if he had continued captain of the
school eleven, he would have had easy command of the money by being
treasurer of the cricket subscriptions. But at Vernon's death he lost
all interest in cricket for a time, and had thrown up his office, to
which Montagu had been elected by the general suffrage.
He wondered whether there was as much as five pounds of the
cricketing-money left? He knew that the box which contained it was in
Montagu's study, and he also knew where the key was kept. It was merely
a feeling of curiosity--he would go and look.
All this passed through Eric's mind as he sat in his study after Billy
had gone. It was a sultry summer day; all the study-doors were open, and
all their occupants were absent in the cricket-field, or bathing. He
stole into Montagu's study, hastily got the key, and took down the box.
"O put it down, put it down, Eric," said Conscience; "what business have
you with it?"
"Pooh! it is merely curiosity; as if I couldn't trust myself!"
"Put it down," repeated Conscience authoritatively, deigning no longer
to argue or entreat.
Eric hesitated, and did put down the box; but he did not instantly leave
the room. He began to look at Montagu's books, and then out of the
window. The gravel play-ground was deserted, he noticed, for the
cricket-field. Nobody was near, therefore. Well, what of that? he was
doing no harm.
"Nonsense! I _will_ just look and see if there's five pounds in the
cricket-box." Slowly at first he put out his hand, and then, hastily
turning the key, opened the box. It contained three pounds in gold, and
a quantity of silver. He began to count the silver, putting it on the
table, and found that it made up three pounds ten more. "So that,
altogether, there's six pounds ten; that's thirty shillings more than
...and it won't be wanted till next summer term, because all the bats
and balls are bought now. I daresay Montagu won't even open the box
again. I know he keeps it stowed away in a corner, and hardly ever looks
at it, and I can put back the five pounds the very first day of next
term, and it will save me from expulsion."
Very slowly Eric took the three sovereigns and put them in his pocket,
and then he took up one of the heaps of shillings and sixpences which he
had counted, and dropped them also into his trousers; they fell into the
pocket with a great jingle....
"Eric, you are a thief!" He thought he heard his brother Vernon's voice
utter the words thrillingly distinct; but it was conscience who had
borrowed the voice, and, sick with horror, he began to shake the money
out of his pockets again into the box. He was only just in time; he had
barely locked the box, and put it in its place, when he heard the sound
of voices and footsteps on the stairs. He had no time to take out the
key and put it back where he found it, and had hardly time to slip into
his own study again, when the boys had reached the landing.
They were Duncan and Montagu, and as they passed the door, Eric
pretended to be plunged in books.
"Hallo, Eric! grinding as usual," said Duncan, good-humoredly; but he
only got a sickly smile in reply.
"What! are you the only fellow in the studies?" asked Montagu. "I was
nearly sure I heard some one moving about as we came up stairs."
"I don't think there's any one here but me," said Eric, "and I'm going a
He closed his books with, a bang, flew down stairs, and away through the
play-ground towards the shore But he could not so escape his thoughts.
"Eric, you are a thief! Eric, you are a thief!" rang in his ear. "Yes,"
he thought; "I am even a thief. Oh, good God, yes, _even_ a _thief_, for
I _had_ actually stolen the money, until I changed my mind. What if they
should discover the key in the box, knowing that I was the only fellow
up stairs? Oh, mercy, mercy, mercy!"
It was a lonely place, and he flung himself, with his face hid in the
coarse grass, trying to cool the wild burning of his brow. And as he
lay, he thrust his hand into the guilty pocket. Good heavens! there was
something still there. He pulled it out; it was a sovereign! Then he WAS
a thief, even actually. Oh, everything was against him; and, starting to
his feet, he flung the accursed gold over the rocks far into the sea.
When he got home he felt so inconceivably wretched that, unable to work,
he begged leave to go to bed at once. It was long before he fell asleep;
but when he did, the sleep was more terrible than the haunted
wakefulness. For he had no rest from tormenting and horrid dreams.
Brigson and Billy, their bodies grown to gigantic proportions, and their
faces fierce with demoniacal wickedness, seemed to be standing over him,
and demanding five pounds on pain of death. Flights of pigeons darkening
the air, settled on him, and flapped about him. He fled from them madly
through the dark midnight, but many steps pursued him. He saw Mr. Rose,
and running up, seized him by the hand, and implored protection. But in
his dream Mr. Rose turned from him with a cold look of sorrowful
reproach. And then he saw Wildney, and cried out to him, "O Charlie,
save me;" but Charlie ran away, saying, "Williams, you are a thief!" and
then a chorus of voices took up that awful cry, voices of expostulation,
voices of contempt, voices of indignation, voices of menace; they took
up the cry, and repeated and re-echoed it; but, most unendurable of all,
there were voices of wailing and voices of gentleness among them, and
his soul died within him as he caught, amid the confusion of condemning
sounds, the voices of Russell and Vernon, and they, too, were saying to
him, in tender pity and agonized astonishment, "Eric, Eric, you are
REAPING THE WHIRLWIND
"For alas! alas! with me
The light of life is o'er;
No more--no more--no more
(Such language holds the solemn sea
To the sands upon the shore)
Shall bloom the thunder-blasted tree,
Or the stricken eagle soar!"
EDGAR A. POE.
The landlord of the Jolly Herring had observed during his visits to
Eric, that at mid-day the studies were usually deserted, and the doors
for the most part left unlocked. He very soon determined to make use of
this knowledge for his own purposes, and as he was well acquainted with
the building (in which for a short time he had been a servant), he laid
his plans without the least dread of discovery.
There was a back entrance into Roslyn school behind the chapel, and it
could be reached by a path through the fields without any chance of
being seen, if a person set warily to work and watched his opportunity.
By this path Billy came, two days after his last visit, and walked
straight up the great staircase, armed with the excuse of business with
Eric in case any one met or questioned him. But no one was about, since
between twelve and one the boys were pretty sure to be amusing
themselves out of doors; and after glancing into each of the studies,
Billy finally settled on searching Montagu's (which was the neatest and
best furnished), to see what he could get.
The very first thing which caught his experienced eye was the
cricket-fund box, with the key temptingly in the lock, just where Eric
had left it when the sounds of some one coming had startled him. In a
moment Billy had made a descent on the promising-looking booty, and
opening his treasure, saw, with lively feelings of gratification, the
unexpected store of silver and gold. This he instantly transferred to
his own pocket, and then replacing the box where he had found it,
decamped with the spoil unseen, leaving the study in all other respects
exactly as he had found it.
Meanwhile the unhappy Eric was tossed and agitated with apprehension and
suspense. Unable to endure his misery in loneliness, he had made several
boys to a greater or less degree participators in the knowledge of his
difficult position, and in the sympathy which his danger excited, the
general nature of his dilemma with Billy (though not its special
circumstances) was soon known through the school.
At the very time when the money was being stolen, Eric was sitting with
Wildney and Graham under the ruin by the shore, and the sorrow which lay
at his heart was sadly visible in the anxious expression of his face,
and the deep dejection of his attitude and manner.
The other two were trying to console him. They suggested every possible
topic of hope; but it was too plain that there was nothing to be said,
and that Eric had real cause to fear the worst. Yet though their
arguments were futile, he keenly felt the genuineness of their
affection, and it brought a little alleviation to his heavy mood.
"Well, well; at least _do_ hope the best, Eric," said Graham.
"Yes!" urged Wildney; "only think, dear old fellow, what lots of worse
scrapes we've been in before, and how we've always managed to get out of
"No, my boy; not worse scrapes," answered Eric. "Depend upon it this is
the last for me; I shall not have the chance of getting into another at
"Poor Eric! what shall I do if you leave?" said Wildney, putting his arm
round Eric's neck. "Besides it's all my fault, hang it, that you got
into this cursed row."
"'The curse is come upon, me, cried
The Lady of Shallott,'
"those words keep ringing in my ears," murmured Eric.
"Well, Eric, if _you_ are sent away, I know I shall get my father to
take me too, and then we'll join each other somewhere. Come, cheer up,
old boy--being sent isn't such a very frightful thing after all."
"No" said Graham; "and besides, the bagging of the pigeons was only a
lark, when one comes to think of it. It wasn't like stealing, you know;
_that_'d be quite a different thing."
Eric winced visibly at this remark, but his companions did not notice
it. "Ah," thought he, "there's _one_ passage of my life which I never
shall be able to reveal to any human soul."
"Come now, Eric," said Wildney, "I've got something to propose. You
shall play cricket to-day; you haven't played for an age, and it's high
time you should. If you don't you'll go mooning about the shore all day,
and that'll never do, for you'll come back glummer than ever."
"No!" said Eric, with a heavy sigh, as the image of Vernon instantly
passed through his mind; "no more cricket for me."
"Nay, but you _must_ play to-day. Come, you shan't say no. You won't say
no to me, will you, dear old fellow?" And Wildney looked up to him with
that pleasant smile, and the merry light in his dark eyes, which had
always been so charming to Eric's fancy.
"There's no refusing you," said Eric with the ghost of a laugh, as he
boxed Wildney's ears. "O you dear little rogue, Charlie, I wish I
"Pooh! pooh! now you shan't get sentimental again. As if you wern't
fifty times better than me every way. I'm sure I don't know how I shall
ever love you enough, Eric," he added more seriously, "for all your
kindness to me."
"I'm so glad you're going to play, though," said Graham; "and so will
everybody be; and I'm certain it'll be good for you. The game will
divert your thoughts."
So that afternoon Eric, for the first time since Verny's death, played
with the first eleven, of which he had been captain. The school cheered
him vigorously as he appeared again on the field, and the sound lighted
up his countenance with some gleam of its old joyousness. When one
looked at him that day with his straw hat on and its neat light-blue
ribbon, and the cricket dress (a pink jersey and leather belt, with a
silver clasp in front), showing off his well-built and graceful figure,
one little thought what an agony was gnawing like a serpent at his
heart. But that day, poor boy, in the excitement of the game he half
forgot it himself, and more and more as the game went on.
The other side, headed by Montagu, went in first, and Eric caught out
two, and bowled several. Montagu was the only one who stayed in long,
and when at last Eric sent his middle wicket flying with a magnificent
ball, the shouts of "well bowled! well bowled _indeed_," were universal.
"Just listen to that, Eric," said Montagu; "why, you're out-doing every
body to-day, yourself included, and taking us by storm."
"Wait till you see me come out for a duck," said Eric laughing.
"Not you. You're too much in luck to come out with a duck," answered
Montagu. "You see I've already become the Homer of your triumphs, and
vaticinate in rhyme."
And now it was Eric's turn to go in. It was long since he had stood
before the wicket, but now he was there, looking like a beautiful
picture as the sunlight streamed over him, and made his fair hair shine
like gold. In the triumph of success his sorrows were flung to the
winds, and his blue eyes sparkled with interest and joy.
He contented himself with blocking Duncan's balls until his eye was in;
but then, acquiring confidence, he sent them flying right and left. His
score rapidly mounted, and there seemed no chance of getting him out, so
that there was every probability of his carrying out his bat.
"Oh, _well_ hit! _well_ hit! A three'r for Eric," cried Wildney to the
scorer; and he began to clap his hands and dance about with excitement
at his friend's success.
"Oh, well hit! well hit in--deed!" shouted all the lookers on, as Eric
caught the next ball half-volley, and sent it whizzing over the hedge,
getting a sixer by the hit.
At the next ball they heard a great crack, and he got no run, for the
handle of his bat broke right off.
"How unlucky!" he said, flinging down the handle with vexation. "I
believe this was our best bat."
"Oh, never mind," said Montagu; "we can soon get another; we've got lots
of money in the box."
What had come over Eric? if there had been a sudden breath of poison in
the atmosphere he could hardly have been more affected than he was by
Montagu's simple remark. Montagu could not help noticing it, but at the
time merely attributed it to some unknown gust of feeling, and made no
comment. But Eric, hastily borrowing another bat, took his place again
quite tamely; he was trembling, and at the very next ball, he spooned a
miserable catch into Graham's hand, and the shout of triumph from the
other side proclaimed that his innings was over.
He walked dejectedly to the pavilion for his coat, and the boys, who
were seated in crowds about it, received him, of course, after his
brilliant score, with loud and continued plaudits. But the light had
died away from his face and figure, and he never raised his eyes from
"Modest Eric!" said Wildney chaffingly, "you don't acknowledge your
Eric dropped his bat in the corner, put his coat across his arm, and
walked away. As he passed Wildney, he stooped down and whispered again
in a low voice--
"'The curse has come upon me, cried
The Lady of Shallott.'"
"Hush, Eric, nonsense," whispered Wildney; "you're not going away," he
continued aloud, as Eric turned towards the school. "Why, there are only
two more to go in!"
"Yes, thank you, I must go."
"Oh, then, I'll come too."
Wildney at once joined his friend. "There's nothing more the matter, is
there?" he asked anxiously, when they were out of hearing of the rest.
"God only knows."
"Well, let's change the subject. You've being playing brilliantly, old
"I should just think so, only you got out in rather a stupid way."
"Ah well! it matters very little."
Just at this moment one of the servants handed Eric a kind note from
Mrs. Rowlands, with whom he was a very great favorite, asking him to tea
that night. He was not very surprised, for he had been several times
lately, and the sweet womanly kindness which she always showed him
caused him the greatest pleasure. Besides, she had known his mother.
"Upon my word, honors _are_ being showered on you!" said Wildney. "First
to get _the_ score of the season at cricket, and bowl out about half the
other side, and then go to tea with the head-master. Upon my word! Why
any of us poor wretches would give our two ears for such distinctions.
Talk of curse indeed! Fiddlestick end!"
But Eric's sorrow lay too deep for chaff, and only answering with a
sigh, he went to dress for tea.
Just before tea-time Duncan, and Montagu strolled in together. "How
splendidly Eric played," said Duncan.
"Yes, indeed. I'm so glad. By the bye, I must see about getting a new
bat. I don't know exactly how much money we've got, but I know there's
plenty. Let's come and see."
They entered his study, and he looked about everywhere for the key.
"Hallo," he said, "I'm nearly sure I left it in the corner of this
drawer, under some other things; but it isn't there now. What can have
become of it?"
"Where's the box?" said Duncan; "let's see if any of my keys will fit
it. Hallo! why _you're_ a nice treasurer, Monty! here's the key _in_
"No, is it though?" asked Montagu, looking serious. "Here, give it me; I
hope nobody's been meddling with it."
He opened it quickly, and stood in dumb and blank amazement to see it
"Phew-w-w-w!" Montagu gave a long whistle.
"By Jove!" was Duncan's only comment.
The boys looked at each other, but neither dared to express what was in
"A bad, bad business! what's to be done, Monty?"
"I'll rush straight down to tea, and ask the fellows about it. Would you
mind requesting Rose not to come in for five minutes? Tell him there's
He ran down stairs hastily and entered the tea-room, where the boys were
talking in high spirits about the match, and liberally praising
"I've got something unpleasant to say," he announced, raising his voice.
"Hush! hush! hush! what's the row?" asked half a dozen at once.
"The whole of the cricket money, some six pounds at least, has vanished
from the box in my study!"
For an instant the whole room was silent; Wildney and Graham
interchanged anxious glances.
"Does any fellow know anything about this?"
All, or most, had a vague suspicion, but no one spoke.
"Where is Williams?" asked one of the sixth form casually.
"He's taking tea with the Doctor," said Wildney.
Mr. Rose came in, and there was no opportunity for more to be said,
except in confidential whispers.
Duncan went up with Owen and Montagu to their study. "What's to be
done?" was the general question.
"I think we've all had a lesson once before not to suspect too hastily.
Still, in a matter like this," said Montagu, "one _must_ take notice of
"I know what you're thinking of, Monty," said Duncan.
"Well, then, did you hear anything when you and I surprised Eric
suddenly two days ago?"
"I heard some one moving about in your study, as I thought."
"I heard more--though at the time it didn't strike me particularly. I
distinctly heard the jingle of money."
"Well, it's no good counting up suspicious circumstances; we must _ask_
him about it, and act accordingly.'
"Will he come up to the studies again to-night?"
"I think not," said Owen; "I notice he generally goes straight to bed
after he has been out to tea; that's to say, directly after prayers."
The three sat there till prayer-time taciturn and thoughtful. Their
books were open, but they did little work, and it was evident that
Montagu was filled with the most touching grief. During the evening he
drew out a little likeness which Eric had given him, and looked at it
long and earnestly. "Is it possible?" he thought. "Oh Eric! can that
face be the face of a thief?"
The prayer-bell dispelled his reverie. Eric entered with the Rowlands,
and sat in his accustomed place. He had spent a pleasant, quiet evening,
and, little knowing what had happened, felt far more cheerful and
hopeful than he had done before, although he was still ignorant how to
escape the difficulty which threatened him.
He couldn't help observing that as he entered he was the object of
general attention; but he attributed it either to his playing that day,
or to the circumstances in which he was placed by Billy's treachery, of
which he knew that many boys were now aware. But when prayers were over,
and he saw that every one shunned him, or looked and spoke in the
coldest manner, his most terrible fears revived.
He went off to his dormitory, and began to undress. As he sat half
abstracted on his bed doing nothing Montagu and Duncan entered, and he
started to see them, for they were evidently the bearers of some serious
"Eric," said Duncan, "do you know that some one has stolen all the
"Stolen--what--_all_?" he cried, leaping up as if he had been shot. "Oh,
what new retribution is this?" and he hid his face, which had turned
ashy pale, in his hands.
"To cut matters short, Eric, do you know anything about it?"
"If it is all gone, it is not I who stole it," he said, not lifting his
"Do you know anything about it?"
"No!" he sobbed convulsively. "No, no, no! Yet stop; don't let me add a
lie.... Let me think. No, Duncan!" he said, looking up, "I do _not_ know
who stole it."
They stood silent, and the tears were stealing down Montagu's averted
"O Duncan, Monty, be merciful, be merciful," said Eric. "Don't _yet_
condemn me. _I_ am guilty, not of _this_, but of something as bad. I
admit I was tempted; but if the money really is all gone, it is _not_ I
who am the thief."
"You must know, Eric, that the suspicion against you is very strong, and
rests on some definite facts."
"Yes, I know it must. Yet, oh, do be merciful, and don't yet condemn me.
I have denied it. Am I a liar Monty? Oh Monty, Monty, believe me
But the boys still stood silent.
"Well, then," he said, "I will tell you all. But I can only tell it to
you, Monty. Duncan, indeed you mustn't be angry; you are my friend, but
not so much as Monty. I can tell him, and him only."
Duncan left the room, and Montagu sat down beside Eric on the bed, and
put his arm round him to support him, for he shook violently. There,
with deep and wild emotion, and many interruptions of passionate
silence, Eric told to Montagu his miserable tale. "I am the most
wretched fellow living," he said; "there must be some fiend that hates
me, and drives me to ruin. But let it all come; I care nothing, nothing,
what happens to me now. Only, dear, dear Monty, forgive me, and love
"O Eric, it is not for one like me to talk of forgiveness; you were
sorely tempted. Yet God will forgive you if you ask him. Won't you pray
to him to-night? I love you, Eric, still, with all my heart, and do you
think God can be less kind than man? And _I_, too, will pray for you,
Eric. Good night, and God bless you" He gently disengaged himself--for
Eric clung to him, and seemed unwilling to lose sight of him--and a
moment after he was gone.
Eric felt terribly alone. He knelt down and tried to pray, but somehow
it didn't seem as if the prayer came from his heart, and his thoughts
began instantly to wander far away. Still he knelt--knelt even until his
candle had gone out, and he had nearly fallen asleep, thought-wearied,
on his knees. And then he got into bed still dressed. He had been making
up his mind that he could bear it no longer, and would run away to sea
He waited till eleven, when Dr. Rowlands took his rounds. The Doctor
had been told all the circumstances of suspicion, and they amounted in
his mind to certainty. It made him very sad, and he stopped to look at
the boy from whom he had parted on such friendly terms so short a time
before. Eric did not pretend to be asleep, but opened his eyes, and
looked at the head-master. Very sorrowfully Dr. Rowlands shook his head,
and went away. Eric never saw him again.
The moment he was gone Eric got up. He meant to go to his study, collect
the few presents, which were his dearest mementos of Russell, Wildney,
and his other friends--above all, Vernon's likeness--and then make his
escape from the building, using for the last time the broken pane and
loosened bar in the corridor, with which past temptations had made him
He turned the handle of the door and pushed, but it did not yield. Half
contemplating the possibility of such an intention on Eric's part, Dr.
Rowlands had locked it behind him when he went out.
"Ha!" thought the boy, "then he, too, knows and suspects. Never mind. I
must give up my treasures--yes, even poor Verny's picture; perhaps it is
best I should, for I'm only disgracing his noble memory. But they shan't
prevent me from running away."
Once more he deliberated. Yes, there could be no doubt about the
decision. He _could_, not endure another public expulsion, or even
another birching; he _could_ not endure the cold faces of even his best
friends. No, no! he _could_ not face the horrible phantom of detection,
and exposure, and shame. Escape he must.
After using all his strength in long-continued efforts, he succeeded in
loosening the bar of his bed-room window. He then took his two sheets,
tied them together in a firm knot, wound one end tightly round the
remaining bar, and let the other fall down the side of the building. He
took one more glance round his little room, and then let himself down by
the sheet, hand under hand, until he could drop to the ground. Once
safe, he ran towards Starhaven as fast as he could, and felt as if he
were flying for his life. But when he got to the end of the playground
he could not help stopping to take one more longing, lingering look at
the scenes he was leaving for ever. It was a chilly and overclouded
night, and by the gleams of struggling moonlight, he saw the whole
buildings standing out black in the night air. The past lay behind him
like a painting. Many and many unhappy or guilty hours had he spent in
that home, and yet those last four years had not gone by without their
own wealth of life and joy. He remembered how he had first walked across
that playground, hand in hand with his father, a little boy of twelve.
He remembered his first troubles with Barker, and how his father had at
last delivered him from the annoyances of his old enemy. He remembered
how often he and Russell had sat there, looking at the sea, in pleasant
talk, especially the evening when he had got his first prize and head
remove in the lower fourth; and how, in the night of Russell's death, he
had gazed over that playground from the sick-room window. He remembered
how often he had got cheered there for his feats at cricket and
football, and how often he and Upton in old days, and he and Wildney
afterwards, had walked there on Sundays, arm in arm. Then the stroll to
Port Island, and Barker's plot against him, and the evening at the Stack
passed through his mind; and the dinner at the Jolly Herring, and, above
all, Vernon's death. Oh! how awful it seemed to him now, as he looked
through the darkness at the very road along which they had brought
Verny's dead body. Then his thoughts turned to the theft of the pigeons,
his own drunkenness, and then his last cruel, cruel experiences, and
this dreadful end of the day which, for an hour or two, had seemed _so_
bright on that very spot where he stood. Could it be that this (oh, how
little he had ever dreamed of it)--that this was to be the conclusion of
his school days?
Yes, in those rooms, of which the windows fronted him, there they lay,
all his schoolfellows--Montagu, and Wildney, and Duncan, and all whom he
cared for best. And there was Mr. Rose's light still burning in the
library window; and he was leaving the school and those who had been
with him there so long, in the dark night, by stealth, penniless and
broken-hearted, with the shameful character of a thief.
Suddenly Mr. Rose's light moved, and, fearing discovery or interception,
he roused himself from the bitter reverie and fled to Starhaven through
the darkness. There was still a light in the little sailors' tavern;
and, entering, he asked the woman who kept it, "if she knew of any ship
which was going to sail next morning?"
"Why, your'n is, bean't it, Maister Davey!" she asked, turning to a
rough-looking sailor, who sat smoking in the bar.
"Ees," grunted the man.
"Will you take me on board?" said Eric.
"You be a runaway, I'm thinking?"
"Never mind. I'll come as cabin-boy--anything."
The sailor glanced at his striking appearance and neat dress. "Hardly in
the cabun-buoy line I should say."
"Will you take me?" said Eric. "You'll find me strong and willing
"Well--if the skipper don't say no. Come along."
They went down to a boat, and "Maister Davey" rowed to a schooner in the
harbor, and took Eric on board.
"There," he said, "you may sleep there for to-night," and he pointed to
a great heap of sailcloth beside the mast.
Weary to death, Eric flung himself down, and slept deep and sound till
the morning, on board the "Stormy Petrel."
THE STORMY PETREL
"They hadna sailed a league, a league,
A league, but barely three,
When the lift grew dark, and the wind grew high,
And gurly grew the sea."
SIR PATRICK SPENS.
"Hilloa!" exclaimed the skipper with a sudden start, next morning, as he
saw Eric's recumbent figure on the ratlin-stuff, "Who be this
"Oh, I brought him aboord last night," said Davey; "he wanted to be
"Precious like un _he_ looks. Never mind, we've got him and we'll use
The vessel was under way when Eric woke, and collected his scattered
thoughts to a remembrance of his new position. At first, as the Stormy
Petrel dashed its way gallantly through the blue sea, he felt one
absorbing sense of joy to have escaped from Roslyn. But before he had
been three hours on board, his eyes were opened to the trying nature of
his circumstances, which were, indeed, _so_ trying that _anything_ in
the world seemed preferable to enduring them. He had not been three
hours on board when he would have given everything in his power to be
back again; but such regrets were useless, for the vessel was now
fairly on her way for Corunna, where she was to lake in a cargo
There were eight men belonging to the crew; and as the ship was only a
little trading schooner, these were sailors of the lowest and meanest
grade. They all seemed to take their cue from the captain, who was a
drunken, blaspheming, and cruel vagabond.
This man from the first took a savage hatred to Eric, partly because he
was annoyed with Davey for bringing him on board. The first words he
addressed to him were--
"I say, you young lubber, you must pay your footing."
"I've got nothing to pay with. I brought no money with me."
"Well, then, you shall give us your gran' clothes. Them things isn't fit
for a cabin-boy."
Eric saw no remedy, and making a virtue of necessity, exchanged his good
cloth suit for a rough sailor's shirt and trowsers, not over clean,
which the captain gave him. His own clothes were at once appropriated by
that functionary, who carried them into his cabin. But it was lucky for
Eric that, seeing how matters were likely to go, he had succeeded in
secreting his watch.
The day grew misty and comfortless, and towards evening the wind rose to
a storm. Eric soon began to feel very sick, and, to make his case worse,
could not endure either the taste, smell, or sight of such coarse food
as was contemptuously flung to him.
"Where am I to sleep?" he asked, "I feel very sick."
"Babby," said one of the sailors, "what's your name?"
"Well, Bill, you'll have to get over your sickness pretty soon, _I_ can
tell ye. Here," he added, relenting a little, "Davey's slung ye a
hammock in the forecastle."
He showed the way, but poor Eric in the dark, and amid the lurches of
the vessel, could hardly steady himself down the companion-ladder, much
less get into his hammock. The man saw his condition, and, sulkily
enough, hove him into his place.
And there, in that swinging bed, where sleep seemed impossible, and out
of which, he was often thrown, when the ship rolled and pitched through
the dark, heaving, discolored waves, and with dirty men sleeping round
him at night, until the atmosphere of the forecastle became like poison,
hopelessly and helplessly sick, and half-starved, the boy lay for two
days. The crew neglected him shamefully. It was nobody's business to
wait on him, and he could procure neither sufficient food, nor any
water; they only brought him some grog to drink, which in his weakness
and sickness was nauseous to him as medicine.
"I say, you young cub down there," shouted the skipper to him from the
hatchway, "come up and swab this deck."
He got up, and after bruising himself severely, as he stumbled about to
find the ladder, made an effort to obey the command. But he staggered
from feebleness when he reached the deck, and had to grasp for some
fresh support at every step.
"None of that 'ere slobbering and shamming, Bill. Why, d---- you, what
d'ye think you're here for, eh? You swab the deck, and in five minutes,
or I'll teach you, and be d----d."
Sick as death, Eric slowly obeyed, but did not get through his task
without many blows and curses. He felt very ill--he had no means of
washing or cleaning himself; no brush, or comb, or soap, or clean linen;
and even his sleep seemed unrefreshful when the waking brought no change
in his condition. And then the whole life of the ship was odious to him.
His sense of refinement was exquisitely keen, and now to be called Bill,
and kicked and cuffed about by these gross-minded men, and to hear their
rough, coarse, drunken talk, and sometimes endure their still, more
intolerable familiarities, filled him with deeply-seated loathing.
His whole soul rebelled and revolted from them all, and, seeing his
fastidious pride, not one of them showed him the least glimpse of open
kindness, though he observed that one of them did seem to pity him
Things grew worse and worse. The perils which he had to endure at first,
when ordered about the rigging, were what affected him least; he longed
for death, and often contemplated flinging himself into those cold deep
waves which he gazed on daily over the vessel's side. Hope was the only
thing which supported him. He had heard from one of the crew that the
vessel would be back in not more than six weeks, and he made a deeply
seated resolve to escape the very first day that they again anchored in
an English harbor.
The homeward voyage was even more intolerable, for the cattle on board
greatly increased the amount of necessary menial and disgusting work
which fell to his snare, as well as made the atmosphere of the close
little schooner twice as poisonous as before. And to add to his
miseries, his relations with the crew got more and more unfavorable, and
began to reach their climax.
One night the sailor who occupied the hammock next to his heard him
winding up his watch. This he always did in the dark, as secretly and
silently as he could, and never looked at it, except when no one could
observe him; while, during the day, he kept both watch and chain
concealed in his trousers.
Next morning the man made proposals to him to sell the watch, and tried
by every species of threat and promise to extort it from him. But the
watch had been his mother's gift, and he was resolute never to part with
it into such hands.
"Very well, you young shaver, I shall tell the skipper and he'll soon
get it out of you as your footing, depend on it."
The fellow was as good as his word, and the skipper demanded the watch
as pay for Eric's feed, for he maintained that he'd done no work, and
was perfectly useless. Eric, grown desperate, still refused, and the man
struck him brutally on the face, and at the same time aimed a kick at
him, which he vainly tried to avoid. It caught him on the knee-cap, and
put it out, causing him the most excruciating agony.
He now could do no work whatever, not even swab the deck. It was only
with difficulty that he could limp along, and every move caused him
violent pain. He grew listless and dejected, and sat all day on the
vessel's side, eagerly straining his eyes to catch any sight of land, or
gazing vacantly into the weary sameness of sea and sky.
Once, when it was rather gusty weather, all hands were wanted, and the
skipper ordered him to furl a sail.
"I can't," said Eric, in an accent of despair, barely stirring, and not
lifting his eyes to the man's unfeeling face.
"Can't, d---- you. Can't. We'll soon see whether you can or no! You do
it, or _I_ shall have to mend your leg for you;" and he showered down a
storm of oaths.
Eric rose, and resolutely tried to mount the rigging, determined at
least to give no ground he could help to their wilful cruelty. But the
effort was vain, and with a sharp cry of suffering he dropped once
more on deck.
"Cursed young brat! I suppose you think we're going to bother ourselves
with you, and yer impudence, and get victuals for nothing. It's all
sham. Here, Jim, tie him up."
A stout sailor seized the unresisting boy, tied his hands together, and
then drew them up above his head, and strung them to the rigging.
"Why didn't ye strip him first, d---- you?" roared the skipper.
"He's only got that blue shirt on, and that's soon mended," said the
man, taking hold of the collar of the shirt on both sides, and tearing
it open with a great rip.
Eric's white back was bare, his hands tied up, his head hanging, and his
injured leg slightly lifted from the ground. "And now for some rope-pie
for the stubborn young lubber," said the skipper, lifting a bit of rope
as he spoke.
Eric, with a shudder, heard it whistle through the air, and the next
instant it had descended on his back with a dull thump, rasping away a
red line of flesh. Now Eric knew for the first time the awful reality of
intense pain; he had determined to utter no sound, to give no sign; but
when the horrible rope fell on him, griding across his back, and making
his body literally creak under the blow, he quivered like an aspen-leaf
in every limb, and could not suppress the harrowing murmur, "Oh God,
help me, help me."
Again the rope whistled in the air, again it grided across the boy's
naked back, and once more the crimson furrow bore witness to the violent
laceration. A sharp shriek of inexpressible agony rang from his lips, so
shrill, so heart-rending, that it sounded long in the memory of all who
heard it. But the brute who administered the torture was untouched. Once
more, and again, the rope rose and fell, and under its marks the blood
first dribbled, and then streamed from the white and tender skin.
But Eric felt no more; that scream had been the last effort of nature;
his head had dropped on his bosom, and though his limbs still seemed to
creep at the unnatural infliction, he had fainted away.
"Stop, master, stop, if you don't want to kill the boy outright," said
Roberts, one of the crew, stepping forward, while the hot flush of
indignation burned through his tanned and weather-beaten cheek. The
sailors called him "Softy Bob," from that half-gentleness of disposition
which had made him, alone of all the men, speak one kind or consoling
word for the proud and lonely cabin-boy.
"Undo him then, and be--," growled the skipper and rolled off to drink
"I doubt he's well-nigh done for him already," said Roberts, quickly
untying Eric's hands, round which the cords had been pulled so tight as
to leave two blue rings round his wrists. "Poor fellow, poor fellow!
it's all over now," he murmured soothingly, as the boy's body fell
motionless into his arms, which he hastily stretched to prevent him from
tumbling on the deck.
But Eric heard not; and the man, touched with the deepest pity, carried