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burst into an irresistible explosion of laughter.

Dr. Rowlands swung round on his heel - "What! Williams! get out of bed,
sir, this instant."

Eric, forgetful of his disguise, sheepishly obeyed; but when he stood on
the floor, he looked so odd in his crimson girdle and corked cheeks,
with Dr. Rowlands surveying him in intense astonishment, that the scene
became overpoweringly ludicrous to Duncan, who now in his turn was
convulsed with a storm of laughter, faintly echoed in stifled titterings
from other beds.

"_Very_ good," said Dr. Rowlands, now thoroughly angry, "you will hear
of this to-morrow;" and he walked away with a heavy step, stopping at
the lavatory door to restore the tin basin to its proper place, and then
mounting to the studies.

Standing in the passage into which the studies opened, he knocked at
one of the doors, and told a boy to summon all their occupants at once
to the library.

Meanwhile, the dormitory-boys were aghast, and as soon as they heard the
doctor's retreating footsteps, began flocking in the dark to No. 7, not
daring to relight their candles.

"Good gracious!" said Attlay, "only to think of Rowley appearing! How
could he have twigged?"

"He must have seen our lights in the window as he came home," said Eric.

"I say, what a row that tin-basin dodge of yours made! What a rage the
Doctor will be in to-morrow?"

"Won't you just catch it!" said Barker to Duncan, but intending the
remark for Eric.

"Just like your mean chaff," retorted Duncan. "But I say, Williams," he
continued, laughing, "you _did_ look so funny in the whiskers."

At this juncture they heard all the study-boys running down stairs to
the library, and, lost in conjecture, retired to their different rooms.

"What do you think he'll do to us?" asked Eric.

"I don't know," said Duncan uneasily; "flog us, for one thing, that's
certain. I'm so sorry about that basin, Eric; but it's no good fretting.
We've had our cake, and now we must pay for it, that's all."

Eric's cogitations began to be unpleasant, when the door opened, and
somebody stole noiselessly in.

"Who's there?"

"Upton. I've come to have a chat. The Doctor's like a turkey-cock in
sight of a red handkerchief. Never saw him in such a rage."

"Why, what's he been saying?" asked Eric, as Upton came and took a seat
on his bed.

"Oh! he's been rowing us like six o'clock," said Upton, "about 'moral
responsibility,' 'abetting the follies of children,' 'forgetting our
position in the school,' and I don't know what all; and he ended by
asking who'd been in the dormitories. Of course I confessed the soft
impeachment, whereon he snorted 'Ha! I suspected so. Very well, Sir, you
don't know how to use a study; you shall be deprived of it till the end
of term.'"

"Did he really, Horace?" said Eric. "And it's all my doing that you've
got into the scrape. Do forgive me."

"Bosh! My dear fellow," said Upton, "it's twice as much my fault as
yours; and, after all, it was only a bit of fun. It's rather a bore
losing the study, certainly; but never mind, we shall see all the more
of each other. Good night; I must be off."

Next morning, prayers were no sooner over than Dr. Rowlands said to the
boys, "Stop! I have a word to say to you."

"I find that there was the utmost disorder in the dormitories yesterday
evening. All the candles were relighted at forbidden hours, and the
noise made was so great that it was heard through the whole building. I
am grieved that I cannot leave you, even for a few hours, without your
taking such advantage of my absence; and that the upper boys, so far
from using their influence to prevent these infractions of discipline,
seem inclined rather to join in them themselves. On this occasion I have
punished Upton, by depriving him of a privilege which he has abused; and
as I myself detected Duncan and Williams, they will be flogged in the
library at twelve. But I now come to the worst part of the proceeding.
Somebody had been reckless enough to try and prevent surprise by the
dangerous expedient of putting a tin basin against the iron door. The
consequence was, that I was severely hurt, and _might_ have been
seriously injured in entering the lavatory. I must know the name of the

Upton and Eric immediately stood up. Dr. Rowlands looked surprised, and
there was an expression of grieved interest in Mr. Rose's face.

"Very well," said the Doctor, "I shall speak to you both privately."

Twelve o'clock came, and Duncan and Eric received a severe caning.
Corporal punishment, however necessary and desirable for some
dispositions, always produced on Eric the worst effects. He burned, not
with remorse or regret, but with shame and violent indignation, and
listened, with a glare in his eye, to Dr. Rowlands' warnings. When the
flogging was over, he almost rushed out of the room, to choke in
solitude his sense of humiliation, nor would he suffer any one for an
instant to allude to his disgrace. Dr. Rowlands had hinted that Upton
was doing him no good; but he passionately resented the suggestion, and
determined, with obstinate perversity, to cling more than ever to the
boy whom he had helped to involve in the same trouble with himself.

Any attempt on the part of masters to interfere in the friendships of
boys is usually unsuccessful. The boy who has been warned against his
new acquaintance not seldom repeats to him the fact that Mr. So-and-so
doesn't like seeing them together, and after that they fancy themselves
bound in honor to show that they are not afraid of continuing their
connection. It was not strange, therefore, that Eric and Upton were
thrown more than ever into each other's society, and consequently, that
Eric, while he improved daily in strength, activity, and prowess,
neglected more and more his school duties and honorable ambitions.

Mr. Rose sadly remarked the failure of promise in his character and
abilities, and did all that could be done, by gentle firmness and
unwavering kindness, to recal his pupil to a sense of duty. One night he
sent for him to supper, and invited no one else. During the evening he
drew out Eric's exercise, and compared it with, those of Russell and
Owen, who were now getting easily ahead of him in marks. Eric's was
careless, hurried, and untidy; the other two were neat, spirited, and
painstaking, and had, therefore, been marked much higher.

"Your exercises _used_ to be far better - I may say incomparably better,"
said Mr. Rose; "what is the cause of this falling off?"

Eric was silent.

Mr. Rose laid his hand gently on his head. "I fear, my boy, you have not
been improving lately. You have got into many scrapes, and are letting
boys beat you in form who are far your inferiors in ability. That is a
very bad _sign_, Eric; in itself it is a discouraging fact, but I fear
it indicates worse evils. You are wasting the golden hours, my boy, that
can never return. I only hope and trust that no other change for the
worse is going on in your character."

And so he talked on till the boy's sorrow was undisguised. "Come," he
said gently, "let us kneel down together before we part."

Boy and master knelt down humbly side by side, and, from a full heart,
the young man poured out his fervent petitions for the child beside him.
Eric's heart seemed to catch a glow from his words, and he loved him as
a brother. He rose from his knees full of the strongest resolutions, and
earnestly promised amendment for the future.

But poor Eric did not yet know his own infirmity. For a time, indeed,
there was a marked improvement; but daily life flowed on with its usual
allurements, and when the hours of temptation came, his good intentions
melted away, so that, in a few more weeks, the prayer, and the vows that
followed it, had been obliterated from his memory without leaving any
traces in his life.



"And either greet him not
Or else disdainfully, which shall shake him more
Than if not looked on." - TROILUS AND CRESSIDA, iii. 3.

Upton, expatriated from his study, was allowed to use one of the smaller
class-rooms which were occupied during play-hours by those boys who were
too high in the school for "the boarders' room," and who were waiting to
succeed to the studies as they fell vacant. There were three or four
others with him in this class-room, and although it was less pleasant
than his old quarters, it was yet far more comfortable than the
Pandemonium of the shell and fourth-form boys.

As a general rule, no boys were allowed to sit in any of the class-rooms
except their legitimate occupants. The rule, however, was very generally
overlooked, and hence Eric, always glad of an opportunity to escape from
the company of Barker and his associates, became a constant frequenter
of his friend's new abode. Here they used to make themselves very
comfortable. Joining the rest, they would drink coffee or chocolate, and
amuse themselves over the fire with Punch, or some warlike novel in a
green or yellow cover. One of them very often read aloud to the rest:
and Eric, being both a good reader and a merry, intelligent listener,
soon became quite a favorite among the other boys.

Mr. Rose had often seen him sitting there, and left him unmolested; but
if ever Mr. Gordon happened to come in and notice him, he invariably
turned him out, and after the first offence or two, had several times
set him an imposition. This treatment gave fresh intensity to his now
deeply-seated disgust at his late master, and his expressions of
indignation at "Gordon's spite" were loud and frequent.

One day Mr. Gordon had accidentally come in, and found no one there but
Upton and Eric; they were standing very harmlessly by the window, with
Upton's arm resting kindly on Eric's shoulder as they watched with
admiration the net-work of rippled sunbeams that flashed over the sea.
Upton had just been telling Eric the splendid phrase [Greek: anêrithmon
gelasma pontiôn], which he had stumbled upon in an Aeschylus lesson that
morning, and they were trying which would hit on the best rendering of
it. Eric stuck up for the literal sublimity of "the innumerable laughter
of the sea," while Upton was trying to win him over to "the
many-twinkling smile of ocean." They were enjoying the discussion, and
each stoutly maintaining his own rendering, when Mr. Gordon entered.

On this occasion he was particularly angry; he had an especial dislike
of seeing the two boys together, because he fancied that the younger had
grown more than usually conceited and neglectful, since he had been
under the fifth-form patronage; and he saw in Eric's presence there, a
new case of wilful disobedience.

"Williams, here _again!_" he exclaimed sharply. "Why, sir, you seem to
suppose that you may defy rules with impunity! How often have I told you
that no one is allowed to sit here, except the regular occupants?"

His voice startled the two boys from their pleasant discussion.

"No other master takes any notice of it, sir," said Upton.

"I have nothing to do with other masters, Williams, you will bring me
the fourth Georgic, written out by Saturday morning, for your repeated
disobedience. Upton, I have a great mind to punish you also, for
tempting him to come here."

This was a mistake on Mr. Gordon's part, of which Upton took immediate

"I have no power to prevent it, sir, if he wishes it. Besides," he
continued, with annoying blandness of tone, "it would be inhospitable;
and I am too glad of his company."

Eric smiled, and Mr. Gordon frowned. "Williams, leave the room

The boy obeyed slowly and doggedly. "Mr. Rose never interferes with me,
when he sees me here," he said as he retreated.

"Then I shall request Mr. Rose to do so in future; your conceit and
impertinence are getting intolerable."

Eric only answered with a fiery glance; the next minute Upton joined him
on the stairs, and Mr. Gordon heard them laughing a little
ostentatiously, as they ran out into the playground together. He went
away full of strong contempt, and from that moment began to look on the
friends as two of the worst boys in the school.

This incident had happened on Thursday, which was a half-holiday, and
instead of being able to join in any of the games, Eric had to spend
that weary afternoon in writing away at the fourth Georgic; Upton
staying in a part of the time to help him a little, by dictating the
lines to him - an occupation not unfrequently interrupted by storms of
furious denunciation against Mr. Gordon's injustice and tyranny; Eric
vowing "that he would pay him out somehow yet."

The imposition was not finished that evening, and it again consumed some
of the next day's leisure, part of it being written between schools in
the forbidden class-room. Still it was not quite finished on Friday
afternoon at six, when school ended, and Eric stayed a few minutes
behind the rest to scribble off the last ten lines; which done, he
banged down the lid of his desk, not locking it, and ran out.

The next morning an incident happened which involved considerable
consequences to some of the actors in my story.

Mr. Rose and several other masters had not a room to themselves, like
Mr. Gordon, but heard their forms in the great hall. At one end of this
hall was a board used for the various school notices, to which there
were always affixed two or three pieces of paper containing
announcements about examinations and other matters of general interest.

On Saturday morning (when Eric was to give up his Georgic), the boys, as
they dropped into the hall for morning school, observed a new notice on
the board, and, thronging round to see what it was, read these words,
written on a half-sheet of paper, attached by wafers to the board -


As may be supposed, so completely novel an announcement took them all
very much by surprise, and they wondered who had been so audacious as to
play this trick. But their wonder was cut short by the entrance of the
masters, and they all took their seats, without any one tearing down the
dangerous paper.

After a few minutes the eye of the second master, Mr. Ready, fell on the
paper, and, going up, he read it, stood for a moment transfixed with
astonishment, and then called Mr. Rose.

Pointing to the inscription, he said: "I think we had better leave that
there, Rose, exactly as it is, till Dr. Rowlands has seen it. Would you
mind asking him to step in here?"

Just at this juncture Eric came in, having been delayed by Mr. Gordon
while he rigidly inspected the imposition. As he took his seat, Montagu,
who was next him, whispered -

"I say, have you seen the notice-board?"

"No. Why?"

"Why, some fellow has been writing up an opinion of Gordon not very

"And serve him right, too, brute!" said Eric, smarting with the memory
of his imposition.

"Well, there'll be no end of a row; you'll see."

During this conversation, Dr. Rowlands came in with Mr. Rose. He read
the paper, frowned, pondered a moment, and then said to Mr. Rose - "Would
you kindly summon the lower school into the hall? As it would be painful
to Mr. Gordon to be present, you had better explain to him how
matters stand."

"Halloa! here's a rumpus!" whispered Montagu; "he never has the lower
school down for nothing."

A noise was heard on the stairs, and in flocked the lower school. When
they had ranged themselves on the vacant forms, there was a dead silence
and hush of expectation.

"I have summoned you all together," said the Doctor, "on a most serious
occasion. This morning, on coming into the school-room, the masters
found that the notice-board had been abused for the purpose of writing
up an insult to one of our number, which is at once coarse and wicked.
As only a few of you have seen it, it becomes my deeply painful duty to
inform you of its purport; the words are these - 'Gordon is a surly
devil.'" - A _very_ slight titter followed this statement, which was
instantly succeeded by a sort of thrilling excitement; but Eric, when he
heard the words, started perceptibly, and colored as he caught Montagu's
eye fixed on him.

Dr. Rowlands continued - "I suppose this dastardly impertinence has been
perpetrated by some boy out of a spirit of revenge. I am perfectly
amazed at the unparalleled audacity and meanness of the attempt, and it
may be very difficult to discover the author of it. But, depend upon it,
discover him _we will_, at whatever cost. Whoever the offender may be,
and he must be listening to me at this moment, let him be assured that
he shall _not_ be unpunished. His guilty secret shall be torn from him.
His punishment can only be mitigated by his instantly yielding
himself up."

No one stirred, but during the latter part of this address Eric was so
uneasy, and his cheek burned with such hot crimson, that several eyes
were upon him, and the suspicions of more than one boy were awakened.

"Very well," said the head master, "the guilty boy is not inclined to
confess. Mark, then; if his name has not been given up to me by to-day
week, every indulgence to the school will be forfeited, the next whole
holiday stopped, and the coming cricket-match prohibited."

"The handwriting may be some clue," suggested Mr. Ready. "Would you have
any objection to my examining the note-books of the Shell?"

"None at all. The Shell-boys are to show their books to Mr. Ready

The head-boy of the Shell collected the books, and took them to the
desk; the three masters glanced casually at about a dozen, and suddenly
stopped at one. Eric's heart beat loud, as his saw Mr. Rose point
towards him.

"We have discovered a handwriting which remarkably resembles that on the
board. I give the offender one more chance of substituting confession
for detection."

No one stirred; but Montagu felt that his friend was trembling

"Eric Williams, stand out in the room."

Blushing scarlet, and deeply agitated, the boy obeyed

"The writing on the notice is exactly like yours. Do you know anything
of this shameful proceeding?"

"Nothing, sir," he murmured in a low tone.

"Nothing whatever?"

"Nothing whatever, sir."

Dr. Rowlands' look searched him through and through, and seemed to burn
into his heart. He did not meet it, but hung his head. The Doctor felt
certain from his manner that he was guilty. He chained him to the spot
with his glance for a minute or two, and then said slowly, and with a
deep sigh -

"Very well; I _hope_ you have spoken the truth; but whether you have or
no, we shall soon discover. The school, and especially the upper boys,
will remember what I have said. I shall now tear down the insulting
notice, and put it into your hands, Avonley, as head of the school, that
you may make further inquiries." He left the room, and the boys resumed
their usual avocation till twelve o'clock. But poor Eric could hardly
get through his ordinary pursuits; he felt sick and giddy, until
everybody noticed his strange embarrassed manner, and random answers.

No sooner had twelve o'clock struck, than the whole school broke up into
knots of buzzing and eager talkers.

"I wonder who did it," said a dozen voices at once.

"The writing was undoubtedly Williams'," suggested some.

"And did you notice how red and pale he got when the Doctor spoke to
him, and how he hung his head?"

"Yes; and one knows how he hates Gordon."

"Ay; by the bye, Gordon set him a Georgic only on Thursday, and he has
been swearing at him ever since."

"I noticed that he stayed in after all the rest last night," said

"Did he? By Jove, that looks bad."

"Has any one charged him with it?" asked Duncan.

"Yes," answered one of the group: "but he's as proud about it as
Lucifer, and is furious if you mention it to him. He says we ought to
know him better than to think him capable of such a thing."

"And quite right, too," said Duncan. "If he did it, he's done something
totally unlike what one would have believed possible of him."

The various items of evidence were put together, and certainly they
seemed to prove a strong case against Eric. In addition to the
probabilities already mentioned, it was found that the ink used was of a
violet color, and a peculiar kind, which Eric was known to patronise;
and not only so, but the wafers with which the paper had been attached
to the board were yellow, and exactly of the same size with some which
Eric was said to possess. How the latter facts had been discovered,
nobody exactly knew, but they began to be very generally whispered
throughout the school.

In short, the almost universal conviction among the boys proclaimed that
he was guilty, and many urged him to confess it at once, and save the
school from the threatened punishment. But he listened to such
suggestions with the most passionate indignation.

"What!" he said, angrily, "tell a wilful lie to blacken my own innocent
character? Never!"

The consequence was, they all began to shun him. Eric was put into
Coventry. Very few boys in the school still clung to him, and maintained
his innocence in spite of appearances, but they were the boys whom he
had most loved and valued, and they were most vigorous in his defence.
They were Russell, Montagu, Duncan, Owen, and little Wright.

On the evening of the Saturday, Upton had sought out Eric, and said in a
very serious tone, "This is a bad business, Williams. I cannot forget
how you have been abusing Gordon lately, and though I won't believe you
guilty, yet you ought to explain."

"What? even _you_, then suspect me?" said Eric, bursting into proud
tears. "Very well. I shan't condescend to _deny_ it. I won't speak to
you again till you have repented of mistrusting me;" and he resolutely
rejected all further overtures on Upton's part.

He was alone in his misery. Some one, he perceived, had plotted to
destroy his character, and he saw too clearly how many causes of
suspicion told against him. But it was very bitter to think that the
whole school could so readily suppose that he would do a thing which
from his soul he abhorred. "No," he thought, "bad I may be, but I
_could_ not have done such a base and cowardly trick."

Never in his life had he been so wretched. He wandered alone to the
rocks, and watched the waves dashing against them with the rising tide.
The tumult of the weather seemed to relieve and console the tumult of
his heart. He drank in strength and defiance from the roar of the
waters, and climbed to their very edge along the rocks, where every
fresh, rush of the waves enveloped him in white swirls of angry loam.
The look of the green, rough, hungry sea, harmonised with his feelings,
and he sat down and stared into it, to find relief from the torment of
his thoughts.

At last, with a deep sigh, he turned away to go back, and meet the crowd
of suspicious and unkindly companions, and brood alone over his sorrow
in the midst of them. He had not gone many steps, when he caught sight
of Russell in the distance. His first impulse was to run away and
escape; but Russell determined to stop him, and when he came up, said,
"Dear Eric, I have sought you out on purpose to tell you that _I_ don't
suspect you, and have never done so for a moment. I know you too well,
my boy, and be sure that _I_ will always stick to you, even if the whole
school cut you."

"Oh, Edwin, I am _so_ wretched. I needn't tell you that I am quite
innocent of this. What have I done to be so suspected? Why, even your
cousin Upton won't believe me."

"But he does, Eric," said Russell; "he told me so just now, and several
others said the same thing."

A transient gleam passed over Eric's face.

"O, I do so long for home again," he said. "Except you, I have no

"Don't say so, Eric. This cloud will soon blow over. Depend upon it, as
the Doctor said, we shall discover the offender yet, and the fellows
will soon make you reparation for their false suspicions. And you _have_
one friend, Eric," he continued, pointing reverently upwards.

Eric was overcome; he sat down on the grass and hid his face till the
tears flowed through his closed fingers. Russell sat silent and pitying
beside him, and let Eric's head rest upon his shoulder.

When they got home, Eric found three notes in his drawer. One was from
Mr. Gordon, and ran thus: -

"I have little doubt, Williams, that you have done this act. Believe me,
I feel no anger, only pity for you. Come to me and confess, and I
promise, by every means in my power, to befriend and save you."

This note he read, and then, stamping on the floor, tore it up furiously

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Online LibraryFrederic William FarrarEric → online text (page 7 of 22)