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whether the boats are bringing any more fellows; we shall be starting in
a few minutes."

"Ha! there's Russell," said Eric, springing to the gangway, and warmly
shaking his friend's hand as he came on board.

"Have your father and mother gone, Eric?" said Russell, after a few
minutes' talk.

"Yes," said Eric, turning away his head, and hastily brushing his eyes.
"They are on their way back to India."

"I'm so sorry," said Russell; "I don't think anyone has ever been so
kind to me as they were."

"And they loved you, Edwin, dearly, and told me, almost the last thing,
that they hoped we should always be friends. Stop! they gave me
something for you." Eric opened his carpet-bag, and took out a little
box carefully wrapped up, which he gave to Russell. It contained a
pretty silver watch, and inside the case was engraved - "Edwin Russell,
from the mother of his friend Eric."

The boy's eyes glistened with joyful surprise. "How good they are," he
said; "I shall write and thank Mrs. Williams directly we get to Roslyn."

They had a fine bright voyage, and arrived that night. Eric, as a new
comer, was ushered at once into Dr. Rowlands' drawing-room, where the
head master was sitting with his wife and children. His greeting was
dignified, but not unkindly; and, on saying "good night," he gave Eric a
few plain words of affectionate advice.

At that moment Eric hardly cared for advice. He was full of life and
spirits, brave, bright, impetuous, tingling with hope, in the flush and
flower of boyhood. He bounded down the stairs, and in another minute
entered the large room where all Dr. Rowlands' boarders assembled, and
where most of them lived, except the few privileged sixth form, and
other boys who had "studies." A cheer greeted his entrance into the
room. By this time most of the Rowlandites knew him, and were proud to
have him among their number. They knew that he was clever enough to get
them credit in the school, and, what was better still, that he would be
a capital accession of strength to the cricket and football. Except
Barker, there was not one who had not a personal liking for him, and on
this occasion even Barker was gracious.

The room in which Eric found himself was large and high. At one end was
a huge fire-place, and there was generally a throng of boys round the
great iron fender, where, in cold weather, a little boy could seldom
get. The large windows opened on the green playground; and iron bars
prevented any exit through them. This large room, called "the boarders'
room," was the joint habitation of Eric and some thirty other boys; and
at one side ran a range of shelves and drawers, where they kept their
books and private property. There the younger Rowlandites breakfasted,
dined, had tea, and, for the most part, lived. Here, too, they had to
get through all such work as was not performed under direct supervision.
How many and what varied scenes had not that room beheld! had those dumb
walls any feeling, what worlds of life and experience they would have
acquired! If against each boy's name, as it was rudely cut on the oak
panels, could have been also cut the fate that had befallen him, the
good that he had there learnt, the evil that he had there suffered - what
_noble_ histories would the records unfold of honor and success, of
baffled temptations and hard-won triumphs; what _awful_ histories of
hopes blighted and habits learned, of wasted talents and ruined lives!

The routine of school-life was on this wise: - At half-past seven the
boys came down to prayers, which were immediately followed by breakfast.
At nine they went into school, where they continued, with little
interruption, till twelve. At one they dined, and, except on
half-holidays, went into school again from two till five. The lock-up
bell rang at dusk; at six o'clock they had tea - which was a repetition
of breakfast, with leave to add to it whatever else they liked - and
immediately after sat down to "preparation," which lasted from seven
till nine. During this time one of the masters was always in the room,
who allowed them to read amusing books, or employ themselves in any
other quiet way they liked, as soon as ever they had learnt their
lessons for the following day. At nine Dr. Rowlands came in and read
prayers, after which the boys were dismissed to bed.

The arrangement of the dormitories was peculiar. They were a suite of
rooms, exactly the same size, each opening into the other; six on each
side of a lavatory, which occupied the space between them, so that, when
all the doors were open, you could see from one end of the whole range
to the other. The only advantage of this arrangement was, that one
master walking up and down could keep all the boys in order while they
were getting into bed. About a quarter of an hour was allowed for this
process, and then the master went along the rooms putting out the
lights. A few of the "study-boys" were allowed to sit up till ten, and
their bedrooms were elsewhere. The consequence was, that in these
dormitories the boys felt perfectly secure from any interruption. There
were only two ways by which a master could get at them; one up the great
staircase, and through the lavatory; the other by a door at the extreme
end of the range, which led into Dr. Rowlands' house, but was generally
kept locked.

In each dormitory slept four or five boys, distributed by their order in
the school list, so that, in all the dormitories, there were nearly
sixty; and of these a goodly number were, on Eric's arrival, collected
in the boarders' room, the rest being in their studies, or in the
classrooms which some were allowed to use in order to prevent too great
a crowd in the room below.

At nine o'clock the prayer-bell rang. Immediately all the boarders took
their seats for prayers, each with an open Bible before him; and when
the school servants had also come in, Dr. Rowlands read a chapter, and
offered up an extempore prayer. While reading, he generally interspersed
a few pointed remarks or graphic explanations, and Eric learnt much in
this simple way. The prayer, though short, was always well suited to the
occasion, and calculated to carry with it the attention of the
worshippers.

Prayers over, the boys noisily dispersed to their bed rooms, and Eric
found himself placed in a room immediately to the right of the lavatory,
occupied by Duncan, Graham, Llewellyn, and two other boys named Bull and
Attlay, all in the same form with himself They were all tired with their
voyage, and the excitement of coming back to school, so that they did
not talk much that night, and before long Eric was fast asleep,
dreaming, dreaming, dreaming that he should have a very happy life at
Roslyn school, and seeing himself win no end of distinctions, and make
no end of new friends.



CHAPTER VIII

"TAKING UP"


"We are not worst at once; the course of evil
Begins so slowly, and from such slight source,
An infant's hand might stop the breach with clay;
But let the stream grow wider, and Philosophy -
Ay, and Religion too - may strive in vain
To stem the headlong current!" - ANON.

With intense delight Eric heard it announced next morning, when the new
school-list was read, that he had got his remove into the "Shell," as
the form was called which intervened between the fourth and the fifth.
Russell, Owen, and Montagu also got their removes with him, but his
other friends were left for the present in the form below.

Mr. Rose, hiss new master, was in every respect a great contrast with
Mr. Gordon. He was not so brilliant in his acquirements, nor so vigorous
in his teaching, and therefore clever boys did not catch fire from him
so much as from the fourth-form master. But he was a far truer and
deeper Christian; and, with no less scrupulous a sense of honor, and
detestation of every form of moral obliquity, he never yielded to those
storms of passionate indignation which Mr. Gordon found it impossible to
control. Disappointed in early life, subjected to the deepest and most
painful trials, Mr. Rose's fine character had come out like gold from
the flame. He now lived in and for the boys alone, and his whole life
was one long self-devotion to their service and interests. The boys felt
this, and even the worst of them, in their worst moments, loved and
honored Mr. Rose. But he was not seeking for gratitude, which he neither
expected nor required; he asked no affection in return for his
self-denials; he worked with a pure spirit of human and self-sacrificing
love, happy beyond all payment if ever he were instrumental in saving
one of his charge from evil, or turning one wanderer from the error
of his ways.

He was an unmarried man, and therefore took no boarders himself, but
lived in the school-buildings, and had the care of the boys in Dr.
Rowlands' house.

Such was the master under whom Eric was now placed, and the boy was
sadly afraid that an evil report would have reached his ears, and given
him already an unfavorable impression. But he was soon happily
undeceived. Mr. Rose at once addressed him with much kindness, and he
felt that, however bad he had been before, he would now have an
opportunity to turn over a new leaf, and begin again a career of hope.
He worked admirably at first, and even beat, for the first week or two,
his old competitors, Owen and Russell.

From the beginning, Mr. Rose took a deep interest in him. Few could look
at the boy's bright blue eyes and noble face without doing so, and the
more when they knew that his father and mother were thousands of miles
away, leaving him alone in the midst of so many dangers. Often the
master asked him, and Russell, and Owen, and Montagu, to supper with him
in the library, which gave them the privilege of sitting up later than
usual, and enjoying a more quiet and pleasant evening than was possible
in the noisy rooms. Boys and master were soon quite at home with each
other, and in this way Mr. Rose had an opportunity of instilling many a
useful warning without the formality of regular discipline or
stereotyped instruction.

Eric found the life of the "boarders' room" far rougher than he had
expected. Work was out of the question there, except during the hours of
preparation, and the long dark winter evenings were often dull enough.
Sometimes, indeed, they would all join in some regular indoor boys' game
like "baste the bear," or "high-cockolorum;" or they would have amusing
"ghost-hunts," as they called them, after some dressed-up boy among the
dark corridors and staircases. This was good enough fun, but at other
times they got tired of games, and could not get them up, and then
numbers of boys felt the idle time hang heavy on their hands. When this
was the case, some of the worse sort, as might have been expected, would
fill up their leisure with bullying or mischief.

For some time they had a form of diversion which disgusted and annoyed
Eric exceedingly. On each of the long iron-bound deal tables were placed
two or three tallow candles in tin candlesticks, and this was the only
light the boys had. Of course, these candles often, wanted snuffing, and
as snuffers were sure to be thrown about and broken as soon as they
were brought into the room, the only resource was to snuff them with the
fingers, at which all the boys became great adepts from necessity. One
evening Barker, having snuffed the candle, suddenly and slyly put the
smouldering wick unnoticed on the head of a little quiet inoffensive
fellow named Wright, who happened to be sitting next to him. It went on
smouldering for some time without Wright's perceiving it, and at last
Barker, highly delighted, exclaimed -

"I see a chimney," and laughed.

Four or five boys looked up, and very soon every one in the room had
noticed the trick except little Wright himself, who unconsciously wrote
on at the letter he was sending home.

Eric did not like this; but not wishing to come across Barker again,
said nothing, and affected not to have observed. But Russell said
quietly, "There's something on your head, Wright," and the little boy
putting up his hand, hastily brushed off the horrid wick.

"What a shame!" he said, as it fell on his letter, and made a smudge.

"Who told you to interfere?" said Barker, turning fiercely to Russell.
Russell, as usual, took not the slightest notice of him, and Barker,
after a little more bluster, repeated the trick on another boy. This
time Russell thought that every one might be on the look out for
himself, and so went on with his work. But when Barker again chanted
maliciously -

"I see a chimney," every boy who happened to be reading or writing,
uneasily felt to discover this time he was himself the victim or no; and
so things continued for half an hour.

Ridiculous and disgusting as this folly was, it became, when constantly
repeated, very annoying. A boy could not sit down to any quiet work
without constant danger of having some one creep up behind him and put
the offensive fragment of smoking snuff on his head; and neither Barker
nor any of his little gang of imitators seemed disposed to give up their
low mischief.

One night, when the usual exclamation was made, Eric felt sure, from
seeing several boys looking at him, that this time some one had been
treating him in the same way. He indignantly shook his head, and sure
enough the bit of wick dropped off. Eric was furious, and springing up,
he shouted -

"By Jove! I _won't_ stand this any longer."

"You'll have to sit it then," said Barker.

"O, it was _you_ who did it, was it? Then take that;" and, seizing one
of the tin candlesticks, Eric hurled it at Barker's head. Barker dodged,
but the edge of it cut open his eyebrow as it whizzed by, and the blood
flowed fast.

"I'll kill you for that," said Barker, leaping at Eric, and seizing him
by the hair.

"You'll get killed yourself then, you brute," said Upton, Russell's
cousin, a fifth-form boy, who had just come into the room - and he boxed
his ears as a premonitory admonition. "But, I say, young un," continued
he to Eric, "this kind of thing won't do, you snow. You'll get into
rows if you shy candlesticks at fellows' heads at that rate."

"He has been making the room intolerable for the last month by his
filthy tricks," said Eric hotly; "some one must stop him, and I will
somehow, if no one else does."

"It wasn't I who put the thing on your head, you passionate young fool,"
growled Barker.

"Who was it then? How was I to know? You began it."

"You shut up, Barker," said Upton; "I've heard of your ways before, and
when I catch you at your tricks, I'll teach you a lesson. Come up to my
study, Williams, if you like."

Upton was a fine sturdy fellow of eighteen, immensely popular in the
school for his prowess and good looks. He hated bullying, and often
interfered to protect little boys, who accordingly idolised him, and did
anything he told them very willingly. He meant to do no harm, but he did
great harm. He was full of misdirected impulses, and had a great notion
of being manly, which he thought consisted in a fearless disregard of
all school rules, and the performance of the wildest tricks. For this
reason he was never very intimate with his cousin Russell, whom he liked
very much, but who was too scrupulous and independent to please him.
Eric, on the other hand, was just the boy to take his fancy, and to
admire him in return; his life, strength, and pluck, made him a ready
pupil in all schemes of mischief, and Upton, who had often noticed him,
would have been the first to shudder had he known how far his example
went to undermine all Eric's lingering good resolutions, and ruin for
ever the boy of whom he was so fond.

From this time Eric was much in Upton's study, and constantly by his
side in the playground. In spite of their disparity in age and position
in the school, they became sworn friends, though, their friendship was
broken every now and then by little quarrels, which united them all the
more closely after they had not spoken to each other perhaps for a week.

"Your cousin Upton has 'taken up' Williams," said Montagu to Russell one
afternoon, as he saw the two strolling together on the beach, with
Eric's arm in Upton's.

"Yes, I am sorry for it."

"So am I. We shan't see so much of him now."

"O, that's not my only reason," answered Russell, who had a rare habit
of always going straight to the point.

"You mean you don't like the 'taking-up' system."

"No, Montagu; I used once to have fine theories about it. I used to
fancy that a big fellow would do no end of good to one lower in the
school, and that the two would stand to each other in the relation of
knight to squire. You know what the young knights were taught, Monty - to
keep their bodies under, and bring them into subjection; to love God,
and speak the truth always. That sounds very grand and noble to me. But
when a big fellow takes up a little one _you_ know pretty well that
_those_ are not the kind of lessons he teaches."

"No, Russell; you're quite right. It's bad for a fellow in every way.
First of all, it keeps him in an unnatural sort of dependence; then ten
to one it makes him conceited, and prevents his character from really
coming out well. And besides, the young chap generally gets paid out in
kicks and abuse from the jealousy and contempt of the rest; and if his
protector happens to leave, or anything of that kind, woe betide him!"

"No fear for Eric in that line, though," said Russell; "he can hold his
own pretty well against any one. And after all, he is a most jolly
fellow. I don't think even Upton will spoil him; it's chiefly the soft
self-indulgent fellows, who are all straw and no iron, who get spoilt by
being 'taken up.'"

Russell was partly right. Eric learnt a great deal of harm from Upton,
and the misapplied hero-worship led to bad results. But he was too manly
a little fellow, and had too much self-respect, to sink into the
effeminate condition which usually grows on the young delectables who
have the misfortune to be "taken up."

Nor did he in the least drop his old friends, except Owen. A coolness
grew up between the latter and Eric, not unmingled with a little mutual
contempt. Eric sneered at Owen as a fellow who did nothing but grind all
day long, and had no geniality in him; while Owen pitied the love of
popularity which so often led Eric into delinquencies, which he himself
despised. Owen had, indeed, but few friends in the school; the only boy
who knew him well enough to respect and like him thoroughly was Russell,
who found in him the only one who took the same high, ground with
himself. But Russell loved the good in every one, and was loved by all
in return, and Eric he loved most of all, while he often mourned over
his increasing failures.

One day as the two were walking together in the green playground, Mr.
Gordon passed by; and as the boys touched their caps, he nodded and
smiled pleasantly at Russell, but hardly noticed, and did not return
Eric's salute. He had begun to dislike the latter more and more, and had
given him up altogether as one of the reprobates.

"What a surly devil that is," said Eric, when he had passed; "did you
see how he purposely cut me?"

"A surly ...? Oh Eric, that's the first time I ever heard you swear."

Eric blushed. He hadn't meant the word to slip out in Russell's hearing,
though similar expressions were common enough in his talk with other
boys. But he didn't like to be reproved, even by Russell, and in the
ready spirit of self-defence, he answered -

"Pooh, Edwin, you don't call that swearing, do you? You're so strict, so
religious, you know. I love you for it, but then, there are none like
you. Nobody thinks anything of swearing here."

Russell was silent.

"Besides, what can be the harm of it? it means nothing. I was thinking
the other night, and I concluded that you and Owen are the only two
fellows here who don't swear."

Russell still said nothing.

"And, after all, I didn't swear; I only called that fellow a surly
devil."

"O, hush! Eric, hush!" said Russell sadly. "You wouldn't have said so
half-a-year ago."

Eric knew what he meant. The image of his father and mother rose before
him, as they sate far away in their lonely Indian home, thinking of him,
praying for him, centring all their hopes in him. In him! - and he knew
how many things he was daily doing and saying, which would cut them to
the heart. He knew that all his moral consciousness was fast vanishing,
and leaving him a bad and reckless boy.

In a moment, all this passed through his mind. He remembered how shocked
he had been at swearing at first; and even when it became too familiar
to shock him, how he determined never to fall into the habit himself.
Then he remembered how gradually it had become quite a graceful sound in
his ears; a sound of entire freedom and independence of moral restraint;
an open casting off, as it were, of all authority, so that he had begun
to admire it, particularly in Duncan, and above all, in his new hero,
Upton; and he recollected how, at last, an oath had one day slipped out
suddenly in his own words, and how strange it sounded to him, and how
Upton smiled to hear it, though conscience had reproached him bitterly;
but now that he had done it once, it became less dreadful, and gradually
grew common enough, till even conscience hardly reminded him that he was
doing wrong.

He thought of all this, and hung his head. Pride struggled with him for
a moment, but at length he answered, "O Edwin, I fear I am getting
utterly bad; I wish I were more like you," he added, in a low sad tone.

"Dear Eric, I have no right to say it, full of faults as I am myself;
but you will be so much happier, if you try not to yield to all the bad
things round us. Remember, I know more of school than you."

The two boys strolled on silently. That night Eric knelt at his bedside,
and prayed as he had not done for many a long day.



CHAPTER IX

"DEAD FLIES," OR "YE SHALL BE AS GODS"

"In the twilight, in the evening, in the black and dark night." PROV.
vii. 9.

At Roslyn, even in summer, the hour for going to bed was half-past nine.
It was hardly likely that so many boys, overflowing with turbulent life,
should lie down quietly, and get to sleep. They never dreamt of doing
so. Very soon after the masters were gone, the sconces were often
relighted, sometimes in separate dormitories, sometimes in all of them,
and the boys amused themselves by reading novels or making a row. They
would play various games about the bedrooms, vaulting or jumping over
the beds, running races in sheets, getting through the windows upon the
roofs, to frighten the study-boys with sham ghosts, or playing the
thousand other pranks which suggested themselves to the fertile
imagination of fifteen. But the favorite amusement was a bolstering
match. One room would challenge another, and, stripping the covers off
their bolsters, would meet in mortal fray. A bolster well wielded,
especially when dexterously applied to the legs, is a very efficient
instrument to bring a boy to the ground; but it doesn't hurt very much,
even when the blows fall on the head. Hence these matches were excellent
trials of strength and temper, and were generally accompanied with
shouts of laughter, never ending until one side was driven back to its
own room. Many a long and tough struggle had Eric enjoyed, and his
prowess was so universally acknowledged, that his dormitory, No. 7, was
a match for any other, and far stronger in this warfare than most of the
rest. At bolstering, Duncan was a perfect champion; his strength and
activity were marvellous, and his mirth uproarious. Eric and Graham
backed him up brilliantly; while Llewellyn and Attlay, with sturdy
vigor, supported the skirmishers. Bull, the sixth boy in No. 7, was the
only _fainéant_ among them, though he did occasionally help to keep off
the smaller fry.

Happy would it have been for all of them if Bull had never been placed
in No. 7; happier still if he had never come to Roslyn school. Backward
in work, overflowing with vanity at his supposed good looks, of mean
disposition and feeble intellect, he was the very worst specimen of a
boy that Eric had ever seen. Not even Barker so deeply excited Eric's
repulsion and contempt. And yet, since the affair of Upton, Barker and
Eric were declared enemies, and, much to the satisfaction of the latter,
never spoke to each other; but with Bull - much as he inwardly loathed
him - he was professedly and apparently on good terms. His silly love of
universal popularity made him accept and tolerate the society even of


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Online LibraryFrederic William FarrarEric → online text (page 5 of 22)