Title: The Cadets of Flemming Hall
Author: Anna Chapin Ray
Release date: March 4, 2019 [eBook #59005]
Credits: Produced by MWS, Peter Vachuska, Chris Curnow, Barry
Abrahamsen, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
The cover image was created by the transcriber and is placed in the public domain.
“A quiet sly humor, a faculty of investing every-day events with a dramatic interest, a photographic touch which places her characters before the reader, and a high moral tone are to be remarked in Miss Ray.”
Their guests proceeded to seat themselves as their tastes
From the days of “Tom Brown at Rugby” to his more modern brothers, the American “New Senior at Andover,” and the French “Straight On,” stories of boy school life have gone on multiplying and still the tale is not all told. Every school has its slightly different atmosphere, and calls for its different historian. For that reason, I offer this picture of life at Flemming Hall.
Though Irving Wilde and the doctor may not be portraits, still the school life of each one of us has known one or more similar teachers, from whom we have gained the inspiration to do broader, truer work, inspiration which, although unconsciously received, perhaps unconsciously given, has yet left its stamp upon all our later work in life.
It is to the courtesy of one such teacher that I owe the Harrow song with which my story closes. So far as I know, it has never been in print, on this side of the Atlantic. My preface, too, would be incomplete without an expression of my indebtedness to the boy friend who criticised my athletics, and above all to the kindness of the artist, Mr. Clephane, whose thorough and practical knowledge of cadet life has been invaluable to me.
It is to be hoped that I have done no harm to the cause of Yale athletics, in making use of the incident of Captain “Phil” Allen’s daring leap, during the Yale-Atalanta race, in May, eighteen hundred and ninety. I can claim no originality in the climax of my regatta; it is the mere telling of an historical fact.
If, in spite of my long list of assistants, my boy readers can find a single line of my story which shall bring me into closer touch with them, I shall be more than satisfied.
Third January, 1892.
|II.||Flemming and its Ways||24|
|III.||Leon’s First Day at Flemming||40|
|IV.||The Boniface Rebellion||57|
|V.||War in the Color-Guard||75|
|VII.||How Leon spent his Thanksgiving||110|
|VIII.||Max makes a Treaty of Peace||124|
|IX.||In the Storm||142|
|XIII.||The Course of True Love||218|
|XV.||On the Lake||247|
|XVI.||In the Ravine||259|
“There comes the stage!”
At the word, four or five boys came leaping down the flight of steps and joined the lad watching at the gate, as the old coach crept slowly up the hill. The powerful, iron-gray horses, tired out with their long climb, plodded onward, quite unconscious of the eager faces above them. Suddenly a smooth brown head was popped out of the stage window, followed by an arm that waved vigorously in answer to the ringing cheer which greeted the owner’s coming.
“Hurrah, there’s Hal!”
The stage turned in under the arching gateway, and the horses, quickening their pace as they reached their journey’s end, toiled up the gravel driveway leading to the steps. Before they had fairly stopped, out jumped a boy of sixteen, dressed in a gray uniform, resplendent with brass buttons. He was immediately seized and surrounded by his schoolmates, all talking at once.
“Glad to see you back, old boy!”
“So late I was afraid you had cut Flemming Hall for good!”
“Why didn’t you wait till Christmas, and done with it?”
“Where’ve you been all summer?”
“Lots of new fellows here and our new teacher; you just ought to see him!”
Without deigning to reply to the shower of questions, as soon as he had shaken hands all round, the new-comer turned back to the stage and said,—
“Come, Leon, step out and show yourself.”
As he spoke, a boy two or three years younger than himself stepped down from the stage and joined the group, a little shyly, it must be confessed. But Harry laid a protecting hand on his shoulder, as he said by way of introduction,—
“See here, you fellows, this kid is my brother, Leon Arnold. He’s a good fellow, plucky enough to make up for his small size, and I know you’ll like him. Now come on, one at a time, and I’ll tell Leon who you all are, so you can start fair and square. This is Louis Keith,” he went on, turning to a slender lad of fifteen whose dark olive skin and blue-black hair were suggestive of Japan or China, rather than American birth; “we call him Ling Wing, or Wing for short. He’s the dude of Flemming Hall, and immensely proud of himself when he gets on his dress uniform. This next one,” he added, pointing to a yellow-haired, roly-poly youth of about the same age; “is Max Eliot. Look out for him; he’ll get you into all sorts of mischief.”
“Don’t you worry, young Arnold; I’ll get you out again, and that’s more than Hal does for his friends. Ask him about the night Max and Louis went after the pies,” interrupted the tallest of the group, a sixteen-year-old giant who was already past his six feet and was still stretching upward, while his small sandy head and blue eyes looked ridiculously boyish at the top of his manly figure.
“This, Leon,” his brother explained, without paying the slightest heed to the interruption; “is Jack Howard, popularly known as Baby. He’s a good fellow, but an awful drain on the family purse, for the tailor always charges him double for his uniforms.”
During the laugh that greeted this sally, a young man drew near the group, a well-built, athletic-looking young man dressed in army blue, whose brown eyes brightened behind their spectacles as he put out his hand, saying cordially,—
“Harry, I am glad to see you at last. We had almost given you up.”
Regardless of Leon and of his introductions, Harry whirled around quickly and grasped the outstretched hand.
“Lieutenant Wilde! Are you really back here? How jolly!”
“Back again, as well as ever and delighted to be with my boys once more, after six months of rest. They were all here but you, and the doctor and I were beginning to be afraid you were not coming, after all. Is this the brother you wrote about?”
“Oh, yes, this is Leon. Leon, Leon, this is Lieutenant Wilde,” he added, eagerly pulling his brother by the sleeve.
Lieutenant Wilde looked at the lad with interest. Harry Arnold was one of his favorites, and on that account he was the more curious to see Harry’s younger brother. Very different were the two boys who were standing there in the glare of the September sun, under their teacher’s gaze. Harry’s broad shoulders, round face, quiet gray eyes and firm lips seemed to tell of a more lasting strength than the thin, wiry figure of Leon, his laughing, restless brown eyes and mobile mouth; but the boyish hearts were the same in their quick, impulsive generosity, in their firm adherence to a strict code of honor, and in their keen sense of fun. Though apparently the more yielding of the two, Leon ruled his brother with an iron rod, and in spite of the difference in age, he was respected and admired by Harry, who willingly became his abject slave.
“And so you are Leon,” Lieutenant Wilde was saying. “I am glad to welcome you to Flemming Hall, and I hope you may stay with us as long and like us as well as Harry has done. The doctor is waiting for me now, and I must go; but bring your brother to my room this evening at eight, Harry; I want to have a talk with him, so I can tell into what class he is to be put.”
“All right, sir.”
And as Lieutenant Wilde walked away, the boys all gave him the stiff military salute.
“Well done, young Arnold,” remarked Jack Howard condescendingly. “You do that very respectably for a new fellow.”
Leon laughed outright.
“That’s Hal’s work. He’s been coaching me all summer, so I shouldn’t disgrace him when I came. It’s been nothing but salute, present arms, recover arms and all that, till I could do it to suit him.” And the boy made a few quick turns with his tightly-rolled umbrella, in place of a more dangerous weapon.
“There, Leon,” interposed his brother good-naturedly, “you’re telling family secrets. Come and see our quarters now. Don’t go off, Paul,” he continued, as one of the group started to turn away; “there’s room for you all and more too, and I have some fine grub in my trunk.”
What boy could withstand such an invitation? With one consent, the lads followed Harry as he led the way up the steps, into the broad hall and up the oak stairs that wound along three sides of the wall.
“What room are you going to have?” inquired Max, as he brought up the rear of the procession, with Harry’s bag in his hand.
“Number fifteen, of course,” said Harry, as he turned down a side hall. “It’s the largest of the double rooms and I spoke for it long ago; didn’t you know that? I shall take Leon in with me for a term, anyway. Then, if he gets sick of me, he’s welcome to change. Come in, all of you, and I’ll have the provisions out in a jiffy.”
While the boys were delaying below, the trunks had been brought up-stairs, and now stood conveniently planted in the middle of the floor. Harry and Leon each fell upon one of them, tugging at the straps and impressively jingling their large bunches of keys, most of which, it must be explained, were slipped on the rings for effect, since they and their locks had long ago parted company, never to meet again. In the meantime, their guests proceeded to seat themselves as their tastes suggested, perching on any lofty point that presented itself. Jack Howard arranged himself on the footboard of the bed, with his long legs curled up until his knees nearly touched his chin; Louis and Max each took a chair-back, while Paul Lincoln, a slender, brown-eyed, rosy-cheeked fellow of seventeen, settled himself in the high window-seat, with his feet on the table near by.
“Glad you’re going to have this room,” remarked Louis, as he passed a caressing hand over the strap adorning his shoulder. “Max and I are right across the hall. We couldn’t imagine who was coming in here, when we saw the room was engaged. Nobody thought of you, for we supposed you were booked for a single room.”
“So I was,” responded Harry, as he succeeded in opening his trunk and tossed a pile of clothing out upon the floor; “but early in July father decided to send Leon here, so I wrote to the doctor, and he said that the Vernons weren’t coming back and we could have fifteen. Where are you now? Oh, here you are!”
This apostrophe was addressed to a box of goodly proportions that soon came to light, and was opened amid the admiring murmurs of the boys who had learned, in past terms, to know and appreciate the boxes packed by Mrs. Arnold.
“Your mother is a trump, Hal!” said Max, diving into the box to seize a piece of cake in one hand and a chicken wing in the other. “I just wish she’d show herself here. We fellows would make her our best bow, wouldn’t we, Stan?” he continued, turning to a boy of fourteen who had not yet spoken, though his rapidly changing expressions had shown him no uninterested listener to the conversation.
While the boy addressed nodded in answer to the question, Harry interrupted,—
“Now tell me all the news. Who is back of the old boys? Who is there that’s new? Didn’t you say there was a new teacher?”
At the last question, Max rolled up his eyes and groaned. It was Jack who answered,—
“Most of the old boys are back, and there are about twenty new ones, none of them much account but my young cousin, Harold King. He must be about Leon’s age, by the looks of him, and he’s a first-rate little fellow, too. But this new teacher is the worst I’ve seen.”
“What’s his name?” inquired Harry, while he passed the box of sponge cake to Stanley Campbell.
“Boniface. Luke is his first name, but the fellows call him Bony. He deserves the name, too.”
“Looks as if he were made of three or four old skeletons patched together,” remarked Max; and Louis added scornfully, with a satisfied glance down at his own well-fitting uniform,—
“His clothes are loose where they ought to be tight, and tight where they ought to be loose. I don’t see how the doctor ever came to pick up such a man.”
“They say he knows most everything, though,” put in Stanley, rising to the defence of the absent teacher.
“How old is he?” asked Leon.
“Not so old as he looks,” answered Paul; “but when you see him, you’ll think he is about fifty, that he’s lost his last friend and never expects to have another—”
“And doesn’t want any more, either,” Max went on. “He acts as if he couldn’t bear us boys; not a bit like Lieutenant Wilde, but as if all he wanted was to get his salary, without caring for us at all.”
“Show Hal the way he looks, Max,” said Jack, clasping his hands around one of his knees, as he still sat on the footboard of the bed.
Max ran both hands through his soft yellow hair, until it stood rampant and disorderly on his head. Then he raised his eyebrows, rolled up his merry blue eyes and drew down the corners of his mouth into a mournful curve.
“That’s just about it, Hal,” laughed Paul. “Max kept doing that this morning when he was talking to us, and it was all we could do to keep from shouting.”
“What does he teach?” Harry asked.
“Latin and Greek, in Mr. Winston’s place. Mr. Winston is going to New York to study to be a doctor, and this man has come to take his classes. He isn’t as cross as Mr. Winston used to be; but he’s sort of dismal, perpetual mullygrubs, you know, and I don’t believe he’ll ever get much out of the boys.” And Louis slipped down from his chair-back and moved across the room to join Paul in the window.
“The seniors are all down on him,” added Max; “and most of the juniors don’t like him. If many more of the boys get to hate him, I don’t believe the doctor will keep him more than a term.”
“I wish the whole school would get after him, then,” remarked Paul vindictively. “He uses words a mile long, but I don’t believe he knows so very much, Stan; and even if he does, the boys won’t learn half as much from him as they would from somebody that was a little less like a walking funeral. For my part, I like a man that has some fun and life in him, like Lieutenant Wilde.”
“Who is there that isn’t back?” asked Harry, while he began to unpack his possessions, dropping his collars and cuffs in a pile on the floor, and carefully placing his tennis racket and bat on the bed.
“All our class are back but Williams and Sothern,” answered Jack. “How is it with the juniors, Stan?”
“There have five or six fellows dropped out of our class,” replied Stanley; “Boothby and Allen and Crane and the Vernons; not much loss, any of them except Crane, though. He was one of the best in ninety-two.”
Stanley’s remark ended in a most unmelodious croak, for he had just come to the age when his voice was changing, and the feats that his throat performed at times, surprised even its owner and covered him with confusion. It was not so trying when, as now, he was alone with his friends; but Stanley’s voice was no respecter of persons, and whether he was in the class-room or on the parade-ground, in the midst of a Greek exercise or giving some military command, his tone would suddenly change from a manly bass to a piping falsetto, and poor Stanley would blush and long to hide his diminished head in some safe retreat where he could not see the knowing smiles and glances of his companions.
“Isn’t this a new racket?” asked Max, pouncing on it as soon as it appeared.
“New in August,” answered Harry proudly. “I won it in a tournament at Lenox. There were about a dozen of us played, and I took it in doubles. Leon took the first prize in singles, though, and he was one of the smallest that played.”
“Good for you, young Arnold,” said Paul. “You are the fellow for Flemming, if you like that kind of thing. What can you do in football?”
“A little of everything,” replied Leon, with his head in his trunk as he wrestled with a pile of books. “I’ve played centre rush for the little fellows and quarter back for the large ones.”
“You ought to see him get over the ground, though,” remarked Harry, in a confidential aside to Jack Howard. “He’s fine in an end play, and a first-class man for almost any place you want to put him. What’s the prospect for the season?” he went on, turning to Paul.
“The second team is a strong one, for the juniors have some splendid men, and the new fellows are a good-looking set. We are only fair, now Williams has gone and Brewster has strained his knee and can’t play. Stan is to play quarter back on second, and Louis and Osborn are half backs. There isn’t anybody in the second class to help us out, unless your brother is there. Where are you going to be, Leon?”
“I don’t know yet; second, I think. Lieutenant Wilde is going to tell me to-night,” answered Leon who, at the beginning of the football discussion, had abandoned his unpacking and seated himself on the table with his feet on the edge of his open trunk.
“I hope you will, for Hal seems to think you would be a good man, and our first team is decidedly weak,” said Jack, uncoiling his long legs and straightening his shoulders.
“How can I get first team, if I am only second class?” inquired Leon. “I thought I could only get on second.”
“We used to divide up according to our playing, but that let the games all end the same way. Then we took juniors and seniors against firsts and seconds, and that wasn’t much fairer, for it put all the little fellows against the big ones. Now we have juniors and firsts against seniors and seconds, so it’s a little more even. We have our great game of the year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and we begin training next week. I’m captain of the first, and if you are a good man, I want you, even if you are small.” And Paul smiled benignly down upon his new schoolmate, with the air of being vastly older and wiser and taller than he.
“Don’t go, Paul,” urged Harry, hospitably waving his hand towards the box on the table.
“Needs must when Bony drives,” sighed Paul. “He has given out an endless lesson in Homer for to-morrow, and I must get it, or be disgraced at once and forever. I’ll see you at supper-time.” And he strolled away, to be followed almost immediately by Jack and Stanley Campbell who was the head-boy in the junior class.
Max and Louis, who were not afflicted with too much conscience in the matter of lessons, remained in the Arnolds’ room, to watch the unpacking and to talk over any bits of school gossip which had been omitted, their summer frolics and their winter plans.
Far up among the hills, a short distance back from the Connecticut River, is the little village of Hilton. It is the smallest of farming towns, only one or two long streets shaded with tall, arching elms and bushy maples, and bordered with simple, old-fashioned houses clustered around the gray stone church and square town hall. At one end of the main street is the low building, also of stone, that serves for store and post-office, one corner being given up to the business of government, while the rest of the room is filled with a motley collection of dry goods, groceries and confectionery temptingly set forth in glass cases on the counter, or ranged on the rough pine shelves which line the walls. This building and the little village hotel that stands next it, are the favorite resorts of all the old farmers of the region, for whom the daily trip to the mail furnishes the main excitement of life. Although the hour for the coming of the stage and for the opening of the mail has never varied within the memory of that oldest inhabitant without whom any well-regulated village would be incomplete; on one pretext or another, the old men come driving up to the door fully an hour ahead of time, and are apparently much surprised to find that they are too early and must wait. In a leisurely fashion, they get down from their mud-bespattered wagons, tie their horses to the old posts whose uneven sides bear the marks of many an equine tooth, and go shuffling into the hotel whence they presently emerge, wiping their lips on their checkered shirt sleeves. Then they settle themselves in the store, where they while away the hour of waiting by puffing at their pipes and discussing the weather, the crops and other matters of local interest, with an indolent disregard of the fact that, at home, their wives and daughters are busy with many a task which they might help to lighten.
Into this peaceful community there came, some twelve years ago, the startling news that buildings were to be at once erected for a large school for boys; and before the sluggish minds of the farmers had grasped that main fact, the work was well under way. For a time the busy laborers and the fast-rising brick walls bade fair to rival the post office as an attraction for the villagers; but as the buildings drew near completion and became an old story, the farmers returned to their former seats in the hard arm-chairs and on the cracker-barrels of the store, and thought no more about the new school-house, save when some group of gray-coated lads stepped directly into their pathway.
This school was Flemming Hall, “a military and classical school for boys,” as ran the circular. It was an excellent school in all respects, and under the successful management of Dr. Flemming, its founder, it had gained so high a reputation for systematic work and discipline as to be overcrowded with applicants for admission. For this reason, the doctor was able to select his boys with care and, in general, the Flemming cadets were an honorable, manly set of fellows whose work was well done, and whose fun and mischief were of a pure, gentlemanly sort. To be sure, an occasional black sheep would find his way into the flock; but the moral tone of the place was good, and the real work of the school was thoroughly and intelligently carried on.
Dr. Flemming was the right man for the head of a boys’ school; he not only had a fine, well-trained mind, but over and above all that, he was genuinely fond of his boys and anxious to develop the best possibilities that lay in each one of them. In this work he was ably seconded by his nephew, Irving Wilde, who, at the close of his course at West Point, had resigned from active service, in order to take charge of the military training in his uncle’s school. Though still very young, during the three years he had been at Flemming Hall, Lieutenant Wilde had gained a strong influence over the lads in his care, who adored him for his quiet, even discipline during school hours, as well as for his apparent interest in all their games and sports, in which he often had a share.
To Irving Wilde, his pupils were no mere thinking-machines, to be fed with so much material for their daily allowance. Instead of that, he watched and studied each lad separately, never content until he had mastered his subject and understood every boyish nature with all its vague, restless ambitions, its faults and its chances for a good and useful manhood. The boys never knew just how it was, but they soon ceased to be surprised when Lieutenant Wilde seemed to divine their thoughts, and spoke some word of encouragement for their nobler aims, or let fall a quiet remark of disapproval for some wild, boyish freak. It was impossible for them to resent any interference on the part of a man who was not only an excellent teacher, but a champion in all athletic sports as well, and always ready to join them in their expeditions up and down the valley and over the hills. Lieutenant Wilde was such good company that the boys could not afford to displease him, for fear he would go with them no more, and, reasoning in this way, the lads vied with one another to carry out his wishes until his will had become law for nearly all of his pupils. A more selfish man might have abused this power, a less conscientious man might have regarded it as of little importance; but Irving Wilde did neither. On the contrary, he did his best to increase it and to devote it, not to his own good, but to the best interests of the boys and of the school. A low fever and a slow convalescence had forced him to give up his work for a few months, and the woe of the boys at his going away was only consoled by the joy of his reappearance, at the time that our story opens.
Of the two other teachers, Herr Linden was an elderly German of majestic proportions who contented himself, as far as the boys were concerned, with instilling into them a generous amount of the French and German tongues. That done, and to his credit it must be distinctly stated that it was well done, he went his own way in calm unconcern of his pupils who, on their side, accepted his labors as a necessary evil and thought no more about him outside of school hours.
But the new teacher, Luke Boniface, though a very common type in northern New England, was a foreign element at Flemming Hall. The son of a poor country minister, he had early made up his mind to work his own way through college and fit himself for the life of a missionary to India. With this end kept constantly in view, the years of his boyhood had been years of hard labor and stern self-denial. By working through all his vacations, and occasionally giving up one year of study, in order to earn enough money to carry him through the next, he had toiled his way along until, at the age of twenty-eight, he had just completed the undergraduate course in a small inland college. Then more money must be had before he could take his special professional course, and to Luke Boniface it seemed that a year of teaching was the best and easiest way to gain that end. Some months of this work in a little country school, a few years before, gave him the right to call himself experienced; and with the help of friends, he asked and obtained the position of classical teacher at Flemming Hall, although his only practical knowledge of boys was that gained from teaching the overgrown striplings whose school life was limited to a few weeks of every winter, and the chubby, pinafored urchins of the A B C class. The boys at Flemming filled him with terror when they assembled before him, on the first morning of the term. So elegant and worldly-wise were they that, in comparison, he felt himself a mere child in their presence. His embarrassment made him appear even more awkward and constrained than ever, and long before the hour was over, he heartily wished himself away from Flemming Hall once more. Could he go through with it? His heart almost failed him; but Luke Boniface was not the man to abandon the set purpose of years, in the face of a roomful of rollicking boys. He would remain in his place and conquer them. During the summer he had often dreamed of the coming year, of the strong influence for good which he would exert over the boys, of the popularity he would gain. Now, as he glanced about the room, he instinctively tried to hide his large feet under his chair, and to pull down the sleeves of his best coat, which all of a sudden seemed to him to be pitiably mean and shabby. His years of toil and care had drawn anxious lines on the face that now flushed a deep, dark red, as he caught sight of Max who was roguishly imitating him for the benefit of his mates. The young man raised his eyebrows, and pressed firmly together his lips which had shaped themselves into a melancholy droop. It is a true old saying that “God makes the other features, man makes his own mouth.” In the midst of his petty anxieties and struggles, Luke Boniface had found neither time nor disposition to be genial; to him, life was all a hard, stern reality, and his mouth showed that he felt it to be so. Taken all in all, he was a man to be honored and respected rather than loved, sensitive and, like many sensitive people, fond of pulling himself up by the roots occasionally, to inspect his growth; conscientious and anxious for the good of those around him, nevertheless he was ill at ease, cold and forbidding in his manner to the very persons whom he most desired to approach. Moreover, as has been said, he had little knowledge of boys and their ways and small desire to increase that knowledge, though he regarded them as a class of young savages whom it was his duty to try to improve, just as one day he hoped to work among the heathen of India.
The large grounds of Flemming Hall lay a little to the south of the town. Turning abruptly from the street, the drive wound up a steep hillside to the group of brick buildings on the level ground at the top. From there, a magnificent view opened out in every direction. Old Flemming, as it was called, the dormitory where the boys all lived, fronted towards the west, and, standing on its broad piazza, one could look far away into the Green Mountains, beyond the river whose gray water shone here and there through the trees below. At the south the hills rose, range on range, some thickly wooded, others more open and dotted with white farmhouses, long, rambling barns, and herds of black and white cattle grazing over the smooth pastures. In the other direction lay the little village nestled among its trees, and beyond that, the mountains, blue and misty in the distance. Directly in front, the smooth green lawn sloped away to the street, and half-way down the hill was the pretty red cottage where Dr. Flemming lived with his wife and little daughter. At the right of the dormitory rose the square tower on the recitation hall; at the left was the armory, with the stars and stripes flying above it. Back of the armory was the much-trodden parade-ground, and beyond lay the great fields given up to baseball, football and tennis, for Dr. Flemming believed that boys needed plenty of out-door exercise and that, indulged in moderately, such exercise was a help rather than a hindrance to the lessons. Having once made sure of sound bodies, by a careful selection of his teachers and a no less careful oversight of their work, he would succeed in developing the sound minds to put into them. So well did he carry out his ideas that there was nearly as much rivalry in the class-rooms as in the games, and it was by no means uncommon to find the same boy excelling in both connections.
As Leon followed his brother into the great dining-room, that first night, he glanced curiously up and down the room to see his new companions. The seventy or more cadets who were grouped about the four long tables, looked so much alike, in their gray uniforms, that he had some difficulty in recognizing the half-dozen of them to whom Harry had introduced him, in the afternoon. But soon Jack Howard’s tall figure caught his eye, and the next moment, he found himself sitting down opposite Max Eliot who was casting significant glances towards the far corner of the room. Leon followed the direction of his eyes and saw a young man with a discouraged, anxious face and a head of bristly brown hair, seated at the upper end of the table diagonally across from the one at which they were taking their places.
“That’s Bony,” whispered Max, leaning across the table. “Isn’t he fine?”
Leon gave a nod of assent.
“Hope I don’t get at his table,” Max went on, in the same tone; “his face would sour the milk on the oatmeal, mornings, and I don’t want to have my appetite destroyed in that way.”
“You look as if you were pining away, Max,” remarked Leon’s right-hand neighbor.
“So I am,” responded Max, with a pretended sigh. “You could pack my appetite in a pill-box, and put on the cover. By the way, Alex, this is Leon Arnold, Hal’s brother. Arnold, this fellow is Alex Sterne, a bright and shining light of the senior class.”
Leon turned slightly, to be met by two blue eyes which gazed so squarely and steadily into his own that they would have had a look almost of defiance, had they not been softened by the mouth below them. There was an air of candor and truthfulness about the lad, about his broad, open forehead and the clear eyes which looked into Leon’s, that gave the new-comer a sudden feeling that this was a friend to be trusted. Moved by this attraction, he said, with a laugh,—
“Max doesn’t seem to fancy the new teacher.”
“He’s not so bad,” answered Alex, as he scientifically speared an olive. “He isn’t pretty to look at, I know; but he would be well enough in class, if the fellows would let him alone. Have you seen the doctor?”
“You’ll like him; all the boys do. He’s a good man, and Lieutenant Wilde is another.”
“I’ve seen him,” said Leon; “and he told us to come to his room to-night. Where does he live, at the doctor’s?”
“No; he’s down there now, but he rooms here and sits at the head of this table. There’s always a squabble among the boys, to see who shall sit near him. He’s so jolly that he keeps them in a roar, all meal-times. Is this the first time you have been away to school?”
Leon modestly confessed his inexperience.
“Well, Flemming is a good place to come to, and I know you’ll like it. You start at an advantage,” Alex went on, in a lower voice; “in being Harry Arnold’s brother. Everybody here likes Hal, and if you’re the fellow you look, they’ll like you too, provided you keep out of mischief.” And he turned away from Leon, and began to talk with the boy on the other side of him.
“I saw you chumming with Alex Sterne at supper to-night,” remarked Harry, as the boys were starting for Lieutenant Wilde’s room. “How did you like him?”
“Immensely,” responded Leon, with unexpected fervor.
“You’re all right there,” answered Harry; “Alex is one of the finest fellows at Flemming. He’s older than most of us, nineteen, and adjutant of our battalion, the truest, steadiest, most all-round sort of fellow we’ve ever had here. I don’t believe he has an enemy in the school, and that’s more than anybody else can say. I’ll tell you more about him some day; but this is Lieutenant Wilde’s room.”
A cordial “come in” answered Harry’s knock, and the boys entered the bright, attractive room, half bedroom, half study. Lieutenant Wilde tossed his magazine on the table.
“It’s you, is it, Arnold?” he said, as he came forward to greet the boys. “And I am glad to see you too, Leon. Sit down by the fire; I have it for looks, not warmth.” And he drew up two or three chairs before the ruddy grate that lent an air of cosy comfort to the chilly September evening.
“We may as well proceed to business at once,” remarked the young man, when they were seated. “Some of the other boys may be in soon, and I want to find out what Leon knows, while we are alone.” And in a pleasant, off-hand way, he began to question the boy about his past work, while Harry amused himself with the magazine that Lieutenant Wilde had laid aside. The examination was a most informal one, and was over and done before Leon had time to be frightened.
“Your brother will easily go into the second,” Lieutenant Wilde said then, as he turned back to Harry. “And now tell me what you have been about, all summer.”
Harry was just entering on an account of his doings, when a knock announced the arrival of Alex Sterne and Jack Howard, who were closely followed by Max Eliot and Stanley Campbell; for Lieutenant Wilde’s room was a favorite resort with the boys, and it had long been his habit to hold a sort of open court in it, on every Wednesday and Saturday evening. Though any and all of the cadets were welcome, it was Harry and his half-dozen intimates who were most often to be met with, gathered around the fire, or walking up and down the long room, now talking over their lessons, now planning some holiday excursion or, quite as often, listening meekly to a timely little lecture from Lieutenant Wilde, for some thoughtless, mischievous freak, too slight to be brought before the doctor’s notice.
This evening was the first Saturday of the new year, and with one consent the boys grouped themselves about their teacher, waiting to hear of the way he had spent his time during the six months that he had been away from them. It was all so pleasant and sociable, so unlike the usual relation between teacher and pupil that, for a time, Leon was content to sit quiet and listen to the spirited narrative of Lieutenant Wilde, to his lively description of the quaint little southern town where he had gone for rest and change, of his summer camping tour in the Yellowstone Park, where he caught his fish for dinner in one stream and cooked them in the boiling waters of the next one, only a few paces distant. But it was impossible to feel himself an outsider long, for Lieutenant Wilde constantly turned the conversation in his direction, in such a winning, friendly way that the lad was soon as much at home as any of the others; and long before “lights out” had sounded, he had mentally sworn allegiance to this young man who joked and laughed like a boy, yet never failed to keep a certain quiet, kindly dignity of his own which made the lads feel that, although he was a real friend and companion, still he was never to be trifled with or opposed.
“Say, Hal, how does it look?” asked Leon eagerly.
It was early the next morning, so early that Harry was still dozing between the sheets; but Leon stood before the square mirror, trying in vain to get a glimpse of his own back and legs which, for the first time, were clothed in cadet gray. The suit he had worn the day before was tossed carelessly across the foot of his bed, and for half an hour he had been devoting all his attention to his toilet, then turning and twisting himself before the glass, to assure himself that the new uniform was to his liking. The change of costume was becoming to the lad. He already looked more the man and the soldier than he had done the evening before, and thanks to Harry’s persevering efforts during the summer, he carried himself with the ease of an old cadet, rather than the conscious awkwardness of the raw recruit, first donning his regimentals. But after he had inspected himself in every possible position, and gone through a sort of rudimentary drill of salutes and facings, he began to wish for the admiration of some disinterested person, so he remorselessly waked up his brother. At the third call, Harry rolled over sleepily.
“Ha-um!” he remarked, with a vigorous yawn.
“Wake up, Hal!” Leon implored him. “I want you to see if I’m all right.”
“Guess so.” And Harry turned back and composed himself to sleep once more, without bestowing a glance on his brother.
Leon crossed the room and shook him, for he felt that this was the time, if ever, when he had a right to demand fraternal advice and approval; but Harry only pulled the blanket over his head and sleepily murmured,—
“Won’t you?” said Leon. “Well, we’ll see about it.” And filling a bath sponge with water, he cautiously approached the bed, with one hand suddenly twitched away the blanket and with the other dropped the sponge directly into Harry’s face. This time his efforts were crowned with success. Harry sat up spluttering and wrathful.
“Confound you, Leon!” he shouted, as he hurled the dripping sponge straight at his brother, who dodged just in time to let it drop harmlessly on the floor behind him. “Why can’t you let a fellow sleep? What are you waking me up for, in the middle of the night?”
“’Tisn’t; it’s morning,” returned Leon coolly; “and besides, I wanted you to see whether I’d put on my rig the way it ought to go. I knew you’d hate to have me appear with my coat on hind side before. Just cast your eye over me and see if I’m all here.”
“Did you get up at this time in the morning, just for this?” And Harry surveyed his brother with a scorn which soon changed to ill-concealed approval, as his eye rested on the trim, straight figure before him.
“You do carry it off better than most of the new fellows, Leon; that’s a fact. You must button your coat, though, and just pull up your left cuff a little, for it shows too much. There, that’s all right.”
“Then I do look well?” asked Leon, blushing like a girl at his own vanity.
“Yes, you’re O.K., only don’t let your finery make a Miss Nancy of you. Now, do let me go to sleep. It’s a good hour to breakfast time.”
“All right; I’m going out to explore.” And catching up his cap, he departed, leaving Harry to resume his nap.
Fifteen minutes were enough to show him the grounds and the outside of the buildings. On his way back to Old Flemming he met Stanley and Alex, who were just starting for a walk.
“You’re early, young Arnold,” Alex called, as he drew near. “If you’ve nothing better to do, come with us.”
“Where are you bound?” asked Leon, secretly longing to accept the invitation, but afraid he might be intruding.
“Only just to the village and back,” answered Stanley, pushing back his cap to let the cool morning air strike his forehead. “Come on.”
Leon accepted this repeated invitation, and the three boys tramped away up the road, which stretched along between two stone walls overgrown with blackberry vines and the dainty sprays of the Virginia creeper.
“What do you do here, Sundays?” asked Leon, stooping to break off a top-heavy spray of golden-rod that was lazily supporting itself against a rock.
“A little of everything,” answered Stanley. “Sunday is an off day and we aren’t kept nearly so close. We don’t really begin work till to-morrow morning, anyway.”
“When does drill begin?” inquired Leon.
“You new fellows will be put right at it,” Alex replied. “You’ll be divided up into squads and put in charge of the sergeants till you can salute and march and manage a gun without knocking the next fellow’s head off. After that, you can drill with the battalion.”
“It’s no end of fun to see the new fellows on drill, for they make such work of the ‘military goose-step,’ and when they first get their rifles, they’re all the time dropping them on their own toes, in parade rest and order arms,” added Stanley. “We used to go over to watch them, but it rattled them so badly that Lieutenant Wilde made us stop.”
“What is he?” asked Leon. “What’s his rank, I mean?”
“He ranks lieutenant in the army,” said Alex; “but here he’s commandant and major of our battalion. You’ll get on to the ranking soon,” he added encouragingly.
“Oh, Hal’s told me some of it, and he’s given me ever so much drill this summer, so he said that, after a day or two, I could go right into battalion drill, with the other fellows of my class.”
“Good thing you have a brother,” said Stanley. “Most of us have to learn it all after we get here, and precious slow work it is, too.”
“Hullo, what’s this?” exclaimed Leon suddenly, as he glanced up the road ahead of them. “This thing coming looks like a scarecrow out for a morning stroll.”
“That’s one of Hilton’s characters,” answered Alex. “He’s kind of a half-witted fellow that lives in the woods north of the village. You must go to see him some day, for he’s delighted to have us boys call on him, and his cabin, where he lives all alone, is well worth the seeing. Just bow to him when you meet him; it pleases him immensely.”
The subject of the conversation was hurrying along towards them, with a curiously uncertain, rocking gait. The huge felt hat that covered his head and rested on his shoulders behind, was pushed off from his forehead, showing long, lank wisps of yellowish white hair; and the ragged gray coat whose tatters were fluttering airily in the morning breeze, made him look so much like what Leon had called him, “A scarecrow out for a morning stroll,” that one felt moved to peep under his coat for the supporting cross-sticks and straw which went to make up his body. Trudging along by his side was a mite of a boy with a bushy thatch of tousled flaxen hair, and dressed in a jacket and trousers of blue checked gingham. The strange pair seemed to be well-tried friends, for the urchin was chattering earnestly to his venerable companion who looked down at him with a simpering, vacant expression, as if only half understanding the simple talk of his little comrade.
“Who’s the boy?” asked Leon, after watching them for a moment, in amused silence.
“Cappy Toomsen, short for Caspar,” said Alex. “It isn’t a cheerful name, I confess; but it doesn’t seem to worry Master Cappy, for a more jolly little imp never lived. He is a great admirer of old Jerry, and the two are off somewhere together, almost every day.”
“How do? Fi’ day. New boy. Who he?” remarked Jerry, planting himself in their path at this moment, and pointing at Leon who flushed under his broad stare.
“Hullo, Jerry!” responded Stanley, nodding good-naturedly to the old man. “This is Leon Arnold, a new boy at Flemming.”
“Arno’, Leon Arno’,” said the old fellow, bobbing his head wisely. “Jerry likes Flemming boy!”
“Well he may,” remarked Stanley, as he went on. “He gets many an old coat and bit of money out of them.”
“The Hilton people call him Flemming’s ragbag,” added Alex. “He goes round, most of the time, dressed in our cast-off uniforms. Jerry always insists on being introduced to every new boy that comes to Flemming, and he has an endless memory for names and faces, so he’ll never forget you, you may be sure.”
Quarter of an hour later, the boys went in to breakfast. At the dining-room door, Leon was waylaid by his brother.
“Where in the world have you been, Leon?” he said eagerly. “I’ve been looking all round for you, to tell you that word just came up from the doctor’s that we’re to dine there to-night. Isn’t that jolly? It’s because you’re a new fellow, with a brother among the old boys. He always invites them.”
At breakfast, the new seats for the term were assigned, and Leon found himself between Stanley Campbell and Mr. Boniface, with Max opposite him. Farther down the table were Alex and Louis, while Harry was across the room, next to Lieutenant Wilde. As the boys took their seats, Max introduced Leon to still another table-companion, George Winslow by name, who glanced up long enough to nod indifferently, then began to eat his breakfast with a perfect unconcern. Leon watched him with an instinctive feeling of repulsion, for he formed a complete contrast to the genial good-nature of the other boys around him; and his low, square head with its cold, steel-gray eyes and heavy under jaw, was as little agreeable as was his habit of taking in his food in stolid silence, and with an utter disregard for the needs of those about him. He was still deliberately turning over the pile of muffins, to select the brownest and lightest, when he caught Leon’s stare of amused astonishment. He paused long enough to give back one look of defiance which made Leon hastily drop his eyes, while his face flushed as if he had been struck a blow. That one look told Leon, plainly as words, that here he had found an enemy. When he glanced up again, Stanley was giving an account of their meeting with Jerry.
“Jerry’s a rare specimen,” commented Max, as with a fine unconsciousness, he slipped his hand under that of George Winslow, and brought away the last muffin on the plate. “Oh, beg your pardon; were you after that?” he asked innocently, then continued, “You just wait till you get inside the church this morning, you’ll see more odd people there than you ever supposed were in the world.”
When the long line of boys was marshalled into the little church, Leon was forcibly reminded of the remark which Max had made at breakfast for, accustomed as he was to the city and its ways, the place and people filled him with amazement. The church itself was a low, square room in which only the middle seats faced the minister, while along each side of the room were rows of pews slightly raised and facing each other, thus giving their occupants a fine opportunity to see everything that concerned the congregation. The warm September sun streamed in at the unshaded windows, making the two tall stoves with their long stretches of rusty pipe seem quite unnecessary. Huddled together in the corner, around the wheezy little organ, sat the half-dozen singers, while at the foot of the low pulpit lay a shaggy yellow dog with one eye, who had followed the minister up the aisle and taken his place with an air of calm assurance which told, as plainly as words could have done, that his appearance at church was as regular as the coming of Sunday itself. The congregation, except for the Flemming boys, was limited to a few women whose pleasant, gentle faces looked strangely overpowered by their vast and top-heavy bonnets, while here and there was a subdued-looking farmer in his ill-fitting suit of Sunday clothes, or a freckled, sun-burned child. The boys of the school occupied the seats along the left side of the room; and from his seat between Harry and Louis, Leon glanced about, now at the tin basins hung by wires underneath the joints in the stove-pipe, now at old Jerry who, from his seat by the door, was lending a vacant attention to all that was passing, now at the dog who seemed impressed with the solemn nature of his surroundings, and lay quiet, only scratching his head, now and again, with a deprecating, apologetic air.
“I seen them boys laughin’ at Bose, ma,” he heard a sharp-faced child say to her portly companion, as they were coming out of church.
“More shame to ’em, Sairy, to hev their thoughts on sech carnal things! But,” added the good dame severely, as she glared down at her little daughter, “ef your own eyes had ’a’ b’en where they’d ought to be, you wouldn’t ’a’ seen it.”
“That dog is another of Hilton’s characters,” Louis was explaining, as the boys walked away down the road. “He was brought up from his puppyhood to go to church, and he behaves better than most of the children.”
“He has the advantage over the kids though,” put in Max from behind, where he was walking with Harry. “Bose can go to sleep when the sermon gets too dry, and they aren’t allowed to. I saw old Mrs. Wilson wake up her little girl six and a half times to-day, Wing.”
“Which was the half-time?” asked Leon.
“The time she poked her and she didn’t wake up,” responded Max promptly, while the boys laughed at his mathematics.
So the nonsense ran on until the boys reached the steps of Old Flemming. There they separated, Harry, Stanley and Louis going to their rooms to write their home letters before the hour for dinner, while Alex, with Max and Leon, sat down on the steps in the sunshine.
“Come take a walk, Max?” asked a gay voice behind them.
Max sprang up at once, exclaiming,—
“Hullo, Frank; where’ve you been all the morning?”
“In my room; I didn’t feel just right, so I cut church. Now I want to stretch myself a little. Come on.” And as the two boys walked away, Leon heard the new-comer ask,—
“Who’s the new fellow?”
“Hal Arnold’s brother.”
By this time, they were too far away for Leon to catch their words, but he sat staring after them, as if dazzled by the rich, dark beauty of the stranger. When they were out of sight, he turned back to Alex.
“Who’s that?” he asked eagerly.
Alex, too, had been watching the boys, while something like a frown gathered on his face.
“That’s Frank Osborn,” he answered. “I don’t see what makes Max so wild to be with him.”
“Why not?” inquired Leon, surprised at his change of tone.
“Because he’s the worst friend Max can have,” said Alex abruptly. “He’s a Southerner with plenty of money and brains; but he’s no dig and he gets Max into scrapes the whole time. He’s not really bad, only a little fast, and getting worse; but he laughs at Max for being slow and makes him think it’s manly to just steer clear of being expelled. He’s not ugly, though, like Winslow, the fellow you saw at breakfast. He’s nothing but a bully, and you don’t want to have much to do with him. But you have Hal to look out for you, and he’s steady as a deacon, so you’re all right.”
The shadows were stretching out in long lines from the western hills, as Leon turned away from the mirror after a prolonged season of prinking, and rather nervously followed his brother down the stairs, out of the house and down the hill to the doctor’s door. In spite of Harry’s delight at the invitation, Leon was dreading the prospect of dining with the master of Flemming. However, such an invitation was not to be refused, and he was soon being ushered into a cosy parlor, where a little girl of six was sitting alone in front of a crackling fire. She was a dainty maiden, with a tangle of long brown curls and a pair of roguish brown eyes that shone with excitement, as she came bounding forward to meet Harry, with a patient-looking gray cat so doubled up over her arm that its lank tail and pointed ears met below.
“Hullo, Gyp!” exclaimed Harry, catching her up, as she reached him.
“Hullo!” she answered, returning his caress as a matter of course. “Papa told me to stay here till you came, so I could call him d’reckly. I kept Mouse for company, you see.”
“Is this the same old Mouse?” inquired Harry, laughing. “I thought the rats ate her up, long ago.”
“No, course not,” responded Gyp, in a tone of contempt for Harry’s mistaken idea. “Mouse āted all the rats up; that’s the way ’twas. Now I’ll call papa.” And she vanished, carrying the long-suffering Mouse head downward in her arms.
“Gyp is a great institution,” laughed Harry. “She and Mouse make no end of fun for us, and she’s as bright as Mouse is stupid. That cat must have been damaged in her infancy, I know.”
At this point, Gyp reappeared, triumphantly leading by the hand a gentleman whom she introduced as “papa.” Dr. Flemming might have been forty or forty-five years old, and though his tall, slight figure and thin face with its silky, yellow moustache and deep-set blue eyes, suggested delicate health, yet, there was no air of languor in either his words or manner. He welcomed both boys cordially, and at once set about entertaining them in a pleasant, friendly way that delighted Leon as much as did the quaint, dry wit which came into almost every remark he made. A few moments later, Mrs. Flemming entered the room, and Leon found her a bright, motherly little woman with a delightfully long memory for the different boys of the school, and the pet hobbies of each one of them.
After an informal dinner and an evening of pleasant talk, the boys reluctantly rose, to say good night. Dr. Flemming rose, too, and, taking Leon’s hand in both his own firm, slender ones and looking down into the lad’s eyes so keenly that Leon felt he could see into the very depths of his soul, he said kindly,—
“Arnold, you are just starting out into a new life, and I say to you what I say to all the boys when they come here. You will miss your home in many ways; you will find many things here that are new and strange. Do the very best you can in everything, whether it is work or play. Be generous and manly and, above all else, be true, true to yourself and true to the hopes of your parents in sending you to us, and we shall all be satisfied. And one more word: at the first, when you choose your friends, remember that, in a school the size of this, there are all sorts of boys, and choose those that will be a help to you, instead of a pull-back. Boys can’t be too careful about their friends, for with them it is just as it is with anything else. If you handle something black, a little of the color is likely to rub off on you. Look for the best and truest boys and, for your share, try to be as good for them as they are for you. Then your life at Flemming will be a pleasant and a happy one. And now, good night.” And he dismissed them, with a friendly smile.
The real work of the term began in earnest, the next morning, and Leon found himself in a class of fifteen or twenty boys, nearly all of them older than himself, and among whom he looked in vain for one of the lads that he had seen in Harry’s room. George Winslow’s scowling face was the only familiar one that met his eye, and Leon gladly turned away from him, to make a closer study of his new companions. At his right hand sat a boy of eleven, with an abnormally large head and a dry, weazened, lead-colored face, who appeared to feel it his duty to maintain the credit of the class by answering all the questions addressed to any of its members. At Leon’s other side was a boy of about his own age, whose mocking brown eyes were dancing with fun, as he watched Leon’s other neighbor; and he looked so bright and companionable that Leon ventured to whisper, under cover of suppressing a yawn,—
“Who’s the fellow next me?”
“I don’t know,” answered the other; “I’m new here. Don’t you know him?”
“No; I’m new, too. Isn’t he a terror?” responded Leon.
Both boys kept their eyes intently fixed on their books, for a few moments. Then Leon attempted another question.
“What’s your name?” he asked cautiously, with his gaze still on the page before him.
“Harold King,” replied his neighbor. “What’s yours?”
“Leon Arnold; I’m Hal Arnold’s brother. Aren’t you Jack Howard’s cousin? He said something or other about you.”
“Yes. Hush! Do hear that fellow go on. He must be one of the fiends.”
“Fiends!” echoed Leon in wonder; for his sole association with the word was the idea of a black hobgoblin, and his neighbor only resembled his mental picture of that race, in the size of his head.
“That’s what Jack called them,” answered Harold, as the class rose to go back to the main school-room. “He says they call those little bits of pert fellows that think they know it all, fiends. Not a bad name, either,” he added, with a wink.
Leon’s reply was prevented by a sudden push from behind, and the next instant George Winslow passed him, jostling him roughly as he went. The rudeness of the motion was so uncalled for and so evidently intentional that Leon, as he stood his ground and gazed proudly into the lowering face before him, felt that sooner or later it would be war to the knife between them.
He felt so still more during his first drill, that afternoon. The armory was given up to the new cadets, together with the half-dozen non-commissioned officers who were detailed for their instruction, under the general supervision of Lieutenant Wilde. There were a few words of explanation of the duties of the soldier, the object and aim of the drill, and then the novices were divided into squads of four and assigned to the care of their different instructors. As he took his place, Leon glanced up to find himself confronted by George Winslow. However, the weeks of faithful training that he had received from Harry, made him feel no hesitation in obeying the orders which were issued, and he promptly set to work to take the required positions for setting up and saluting, confident that he could hold his own with the raw recruits by his side. But for some reason or other, his best endeavors proved quite unavailing, and he found himself constantly called to account, now for having his shoulders uneven, now for inattention, and again for delayed obedience. At first he was annoyed by these continual reprimands; then he grew indignant, for he fancied he caught a little smile of satisfaction on Winslow’s face, as he ordered,—
“Right hand—salute!” Then suddenly struck down Leon’s raised hand, saying sharply, “Get in position before I command, and hurry up about it.”
“Arnold’s position was correct,” said Lieutenant Wilde’s voice over his shoulder; then he added quietly, “that will do, Winslow. I will take charge of this squad myself, for the rest of the afternoon.”
The dismissal was final, and Winslow dared not disobey; so, with one furious glance at Leon, he went away, and Lieutenant Wilde took his place. Drilling under him was an entirely different matter; and Leon left the armory, half an hour later, happy in the promise of being promoted to drill with the battalion, so soon as he should have had a little practice in the manual of arms. But, as he left the dining-room that night, he was stopped by Winslow, who planted himself directly in his pathway.
“I owe you one for this, Arnold,” he said, in a low, distinct voice; “and if it means reporting me to the doctor, you’ll be sorry for it.”
“You’ll have trouble with Winslow yet, Leon,” said Harry, at bed-time when Leon told him of the day’s events. “I don’t see what started him after you, but he’s always taking just such spites. He’s an awful bully and, if it only wasn’t against the rules of the school, the best thing you could do would be to give him a good sound thrashing.”
In the meantime, matters had not gone well for Mr. Boniface, that morning. The general school-room had been left in his charge, for the doctor was busy with the new cadets, and Lieutenant Wilde’s classes met in the little laboratory up-stairs. The ten or twelve seniors were grouped at the front of the room for their Latin recitation, and Mr. Boniface was trying to give them his undivided attention and, at the same time, to keep a watchful eye on Max and Frank Osborn and half a dozen kindred spirits who occupied the far corner of the room. The poor teacher was nervous, that morning. In spite of the careful preparation which he had given his lesson, he felt sure that he was not holding the interest of his pupils who presented every appearance of languid inattention. As he glanced from Jack Howard who was lounging in his seat, with his eyes fixed on the tree just outside the window, to Harry Arnold who was making an elaborate pattern of dots and dashes on the margin of his Cicero, he raised his eyebrows and gave a deep, though half-unconscious sigh. The sound was promptly echoed from the distant corner; and when Luke Boniface looked over in that direction, he found the boys all laughing except Max who, perfectly serious, was deep in his lesson, swaying to and fro with his eyes fixed on his book and his lips moving silently. Though in his own mind there was no doubt as to the culprit, it was too slight an offence to be taken up, and Mr. Boniface could only resolve to watch himself more closely in the future, that he might present no such opportunities to the fun-loving Max.
The lessons went heavily on, marked by an entire absence of sympathy between teacher and pupil. If Mr. Boniface tried to give some bit of interesting information, it was received with perfect unconcern; if he attempted any pleasantry, it was heard with stolid silence; when he was stern and severe, it produced no more effect. When Irving Wilde came in, at the end of the third hour, to take charge of the room, he found the other teacher looking almost distracted, while the boys were all in a high state of glee over the pranks of Max and Frank Osborn. As Lieutenant Wilde took his place at the desk, with a reproachful glance at the uproarious boys, the older man noted with envy how the faces before him grew bright and interested, and how suddenly the room was stilled. For a moment he stood looking about the room and rubbing his hand up and down over his hair, as was his habit, when annoyed or perplexed. Then he hastily gathered up his books and left the room, with a miserable certainty that his morning had been wasted.
And so it went on, day after day. While there was no open outbreak or breach of discipline, yet the new teacher was subjected to all sorts of petty annoyances by the lads, who had taken a dislike to his gloomy, serious manner. Order was out of the question, and any attempts, on the master’s part, to establish it were worse than useless, for the boys promptly turned the tables and came off victors, again and again. However, it had taken but a short time for Mr. Boniface to single out Max as the leader in much of the iniquity, and after watching him closely for a week, he surprised him, one morning, by an invitation to occupy the seat directly in front of the master’s desk which was extended to serve for both master and boy. With a good-natured smile, Max picked up his books and marched down the aisle to the appointed place, where he seated himself, with a triumphant backward glance at his mates, triumphant, for this was a fresh vantage point for an attack.
It was the habit of the awkward young teacher to sit with his feet stretched far out in front of him, quite regardless of the fact that, in this way, his coarse shoes were exposed to the gaze of the whole school. Max had studied these shoes well, and was never tired of drawing them from every possible point of view, exaggerating their defects with the skill peculiar to boyish caricature.
As soon as the master’s mind was again on his class, Max displayed a bit of paper on which his friends made out the terse inscription: “Got ’em.” It was but two words, it is true; but it was enough to rouse their curiosity, to see what the fertile brain of Max could mean by this novel declaration of war. They watched and waited; but they only saw Max put his elbows on his desk, clutch his yellow top-knot with both hands and fall to studying with a will, as if heartily ashamed of his fault and resolved to make amends. But if their teacher was deceived, the boys, who knew their friend better, were not. His sudden devotion to his book, at such a time and in such a place, could only mean fresh mischief. Suddenly Leon, who was looking on, saw the teacher give a violent start, while Max quite as suddenly raised his head, with an affectation of perfect surprise, and meekly begged his pardon. The face of Luke Boniface flushed, and he looked suspiciously at Max. He could read nothing, however, in the boy’s unconscious expression, so he merely bowed, in recognition of the apology, and went on with his lesson. Half an hour later, the mystified boys saw the same performance repeated. At the close of the morning session, Max was told that he could return to his seat.
Late that afternoon, several of the boys were sitting on the piazza rail, resting after a lively hour of football practice, when Jack Howard suddenly inquired,—
“I say, Max, what was it you did to Bony this morning, to make him jump so?”
Max chuckled at the recollection, but vouchsafed no other reply.
“Go on and tell us, Max,” urged Louis, hooking his toes into the railing to balance himself, as he leaned forward with his elbows on his knees.
“What’s the use?” responded Max. “I may want to do it again some day, and I don’t want you all to get on to it; it’s my own invention.”
“Nonsense, Max; we won’t steal it, and we couldn’t do it, if we would; we’re all too good for that sort of thing,” put in Harry Arnold, from the step near by, where he sat leaning against the end of the rail.
“Much you are!” returned Max ironically. “Well, I’ll tell you; I just happened to step on his toe, that’s all.”
“Happened?” inquired Paul Lincoln, taking careful aim at a belated mosquito, as he spoke.
“Yes, happened,” repeated Max solemnly. “You see, when I study, I get so interested that I can’t keep on the lookout to see what my feet are doing. To-day they wouldn’t stay on the floor, but, first thing I knew, they were way up in the air. Of course I put them down again, as quick as I found it out, and Bony’s feet were right in the way. See? I begged his pardon, though. But the queerest thing about it all was that pretty soon I did that very same thing again. Strange how interested a fellow can get in his lessons, isn’t it?” And Max paused to look innocently around at the group.
“It was an untoward event, anyway,” remarked Paul.
The boys groaned at the pun.
“Oh, come, you fellows,” observed Harry; “I feel sort of sorry for Bony, once in a while. I hate him as badly as any of you; but we are leading him a dog’s life between us.”
The boys turned and looked at him in surprise. Harry Arnold was a lad whose opinion carried weight in the school, and a hush followed his clear voice. It was Jack who broke the momentary silence.
“That’s true enough, Hal; but he isn’t obliged to stay here. The sooner he clears out, the better we fellows would like it, and he may take the hint, in time.”
“I wonder if the doctor likes him?” said Leon.
“I don’t see how he can,” said Louis, while he carefully brushed his cap and replaced it on the back of his head. “I have an idea that the doctor took him out of charity.”
“That’s just it,” responded Harry, clasping his hands behind his head. “Bony’s got to grub along somewhere till he gets money enough to pay for his course in the seminary. If he gets turned out here, it will be no easy thing for him to get in somewhere else.”
“The sooner he goes off for a missionary, the better it will be for this side of the world,” remarked Jack encouragingly. “You’re right there, Hal, and we ought to do our share towards sending him off in a hurry.”
“If he only wasn’t so grumpy, I wouldn’t mind,” added Max; “but I hate a man that can’t see a joke when it’s fired at him head first; and then it’s such fun to see him get mad over every little thing.” And Max twisted up his face in imitation of his teacher’s frown.
“I don’t blame you much, Max,” said Harry candidly. “He is pretty bad; I don’t see what makes him so uncommonly disagreeable.”
“One thing’s sure,” suggested Max, laughing; “when he goes as a missionary, the cannibals won’t do anything but taste him, for he’s so sour that he’ll set their teeth on edge, first thing.”
At this point, a window just above their heads was abruptly closed. As they heard the sound, the boys exchanged glances of consternation.
“Great Scott!” exclaimed Jack Howard. “That’s Bony’s window. Do you suppose he’s been up there, all this time?”
“I hope he enjoyed himself, then,” answered Louis, as he slipped down from the rail.
“I don’t know as I much care if he did hear,” said Max deliberately. “I don’t want to be ugly and hurt his feelings, any more than Hal does; but now honestly, if he knew just what we thought of him, perhaps he’d try to treat us a little more decently.”
But how well he did know just what they thought of him! Sitting by the open window, in the yellow sunset light, Mr. Boniface had been quite absorbed in his work until the repeated use of his unpleasant nickname had roused him from his book, and forced him to listen. It was only for a few moments that he had sat there; but it was long enough to hear Harry’s attempted defence and final confession to sharing in the general dislike, to writhe under the jests of Max and to note the contempt in the tone of all the boys. Then he closed the window; but it was too late, for the winged words, sharp as arrows, had already flown in and struck home, touching just the points where he knew himself weakest. And with all their teasing, they were sorry for him; that was the worst of it all. He could bear their dislike, but not their half-scornful pity, as to an inferior. Just because their lives had been spent in luxury, should they despise him on account of his struggle with poverty? The thought galled him, and with his arms folded tightly in front of him and his head bowed, he paced angrily up and down the room.
Irving Wilde found him so, when he knocked at his door, half an hour later, to return a borrowed book. As he heard the nervous steps, he paused for a moment to listen. Then he rapped with decision.
“Come in,” said an unwelcoming voice.
“I just came to bring back your book,” said Lieutenant Wilde, looking with some surprise on the flushed face and angry eyes of his host, who stood facing him, without making the slightest movement towards receiving the book. “I am afraid I am intruding,” he went on.
“No,” the other man replied briefly; “I’m not busy.”
Irving Wilde felt a little perplexed. It was evident that Mr. Boniface was in some trouble, but his rather hostile manner made it difficult to offer any sympathy. The lieutenant put the book down on the table and turned to go away.
“Sit down,” said the other abruptly.
It was more a command than an invitation, and Lieutenant Wilde meekly obeyed, wondering what was to follow.
“I thought,” he was beginning vaguely, when Mr. Boniface interrupted him.
“Lieutenant Wilde, what am I going to do about these boys?” he said, rushing at once into the midst of his subject, with the air of a man too much in earnest to waste time in mere words.
Lieutenant Wilde met him with equal directness.
“What boys?” he inquired. “Has there been any fresh trouble, Mr. Boniface?”
“No,” burst out the other; “nothing fresh, but it’s a matter of every day, and it’s wearing the life out of me. They hate me and they try to annoy me in every way, till I feel like an old dog, at the mercy of a crowd of snarling, yelping puppies. I’ve tried everything, but it’s getting worse every day. I want the boys to like me, and I want to like them,” he continued, resuming his march; “but it’s come to where we regard each other as sworn enemies. It’s spoiling the best years of my life and sapping my best energies.”
“Oh, pshaw, Boniface!” exclaimed Lieutenant Wilde, with sudden impatience; “men in our position haven’t any business to know whether we have any best energies or not; all we are here for is to make the best we can out of our boys. But I beg your pardon,” he added more quietly; “I didn’t mean to be rude. Who are the boys that are annoying you?”
Luke Boniface dropped into a chair and began twisting his watch-chain restlessly.
“All the boys, more or less; but most of all, that Max Eliot and his set.”
“Max Eliot?” responded the other teacher thoughtfully. “Max is an incorrigible imp; but really, Mr. Boniface, he isn’t a bad boy, only a thoughtless, mischievous tease. I am sorry he’s made you trouble, for I think he and his set are the finest fellows in the school.”
Mr. Boniface looked at him incredulously.
“Have you ever found Max doing anything really dishonorable?” asked Lieutenant Wilde. “All that set of boys are wide-awake, happy-go-lucky fellows, ready for any amount of fun, and often a little too careless of others’ feelings; but I don’t believe one of them would lie, if it were to save himself from being expelled.”
“They must be remarkable boys,” said Mr. Boniface sarcastically.
Irving Wilde turned on him with a frown; then he controlled himself and said quietly,—
“That is just where you lose ground with the boys, Mr. Boniface, by making them feel that you distrust them. Do you remember what the Rugby fellows used to say: ‘It’s no fun to lie to Arnold, for he always believes us.’ There’s a great deal of truth there. Treat boys like honorable gentlemen and, to a great extent, they will become so. Watch them like pickpockets, and they will act accordingly. Boys are quick to see when they are trusted, and nine out of ten of them will do their best to be worthy of the trust. Try and see if it isn’t so, Boniface.” And he beamed on his companion with such hearty good-will that Mr. Boniface was forced to admit the truth of his remark, as far as he himself was concerned.
There were a few moments of silence; then Lieutenant Wilde rose and moved across the room to where his host was sitting. Leaning on the back of his chair, he said, with the genial, off-hand manner that was peculiarly his own,—
“Now, Boniface, take the advice of a friend, and forget all about your best energies. Excuse my speaking so freely; but you asked my opinion, you know. Trust the lads and make them feel that you trust them; like them as well as you can and show them all the liking that you feel. That is the main thing in dealing with boys. And then, if you could only be a little more sociable with them, talk to them at table and when you meet them around the grounds, till you know every single fellow for what he really is; then I promise you that they will do their share towards meeting you. For my part, I’ll have a little talk with Eliot and Howard and two or three more of them, and I hope your trouble will be mostly over.” And he went away, leaving Mr. Boniface to ponder on his words.
It was the hour for afternoon drill. The trumpets had rung out in the quick, tripping arpeggios of assembly and the companies had formed for roll-call, then marched to their places upon the battalion parade-ground. In the centre of the line stood the color-sergeant, Frank Osborn, with his senior corporals at either hand, Leon on his right, on his left Winslow and Smythe, the “fiend” of the second class. Beyond them, to the left and right, stretched the four companies of the battalion, while still farther to the right stood the band.
From the first, Leon had been fascinated by the perfect order and regularity of the battalion drill, where every man and every piece were only well-adjusted parts of the whole, and where any trifling delay or irregularity on the part of a single cadet was enough to mar the work of an entire company. So heartily had he thrown himself into the training that now, after six weeks of it, he was promoted to be one of the ranking color-corporals, and each day proudly took his place beside Frank Osborn, who never looked half so handsome and dashing as when on duty, with the soft, bright folds of the flag drooping beside his dark oval face. And yet, with all his attraction for Leon, the younger boy felt a certain distrust of this brilliant comrade, which prevented their daily association from ever ripening into anything like an intimacy. It was not that he was not always bright and companionable, quick to plan and bold to execute the frolics which seemed to add zest to his school life, and equally ready to take the consequences of his many sins. But, after all, there was a look about the imperious young face, about the proudly arching lips and the restless eyes, that told of his descent from the flower of Southern chivalry, a chivalry which might too easily become hot-tempered and wild, in spite of a firm and resolute control. Leon’s New England training held him aloof from the gay, rollicking fellows who met in Osborn’s room to take counsel how best to shirk the hours of study, and to hold late suppers, after “lights out” had sounded, and the Flemming world was supposed to be sleeping the sleep of the just. Max alone, of all the Arnolds’ friends, was frequently at one of these revels; for with his eager activity, he was always ready for fun, in almost any shape that offered, and was filled with a boyish admiration for Osborn’s lavish generosity and high-handed carelessness of discipline. The consequences of the intimacy were often disastrous to poor Max, for while his friend contrived to emerge unscathed from scrape after scrape, Max was singularly luckless, and was continually finding himself reduced from the rank to which his brilliant scholarship and excellent drill had raised him.
Of all the boys in the school, there was no other set so closely bound together in all their tastes and pursuits, as the little group of seniors and juniors who were most often to be found in the Arnolds’ room, or with Max and Louis, across the hall. For the past two years their intimacy had been growing steadily. Other friendships had sprung up and died away, in the meantime; but these seven lads stood firmly together, never quarrelling and rarely disagreeing, in spite of the wide difference in their characters. Instead of that, indeed, they were a mutual help and check to each other, so that steady Alex Sterne was stirred up by the irrepressible Max whom he vainly tried to keep in order; while careless Jack and dandified Louis each rubbed off a little of the other’s peculiarity, for though Jack laughed at Louis’s careful precision of speech and dress, he unconsciously lost much of his own slang and disorder by his daily association with his friend.
To this little circle, Leon and Harold King had been admitted, on account of their relationship to Harry and Jack; and except for the mere work of the class-room, they mingled little with the second class cadets, greatly to the disgust and envy of those boys, for the Wilders, as they were called, were the acknowledged leaders of the school. Not only did they number among them the best athletes and brightest pupils, but with them started nearly every change in the public opinion of Flemming, and although the other lads might grumble a little at first, in the end they never failed to follow in their footsteps. None of the other cadets had cared to be on such intimate terms with the teachers, satisfied to drift along from day to-day, in pleasant enough relations with the doctor and his assistants, but regarding them only as very insignificant parts of their school life, as compared with the ball-field or the dinner-table.
As the cadets were leaving the armory, that afternoon, Max and Leon were joined by Osborn who overtook them on the steps.
“Come up to my room this evening in study-hour, you fellows,” he said, in a tone too low to catch the quick ear of Lieutenant Wilde who was just ahead of them. “We’ll have some grub and some games.”
“Can’t,” said Leon concisely.
“Why not? Won’t the dominie let you?” asked Osborn, with a scornful curl of his lip.
“The dominie, as you call him, has nothing to do with it. I don’t choose to get myself into a scrape,” returned Leon loftily, for the slighting allusion to his brother irritated him more than he cared to admit.
“Just as you say,” responded Osborn indifferently. “You’ll come, won’t you, Max?”
“Dässent,” responded Max, with an indescribable flattening of the word. “I can’t afford to get a rep, for the paternal has promised me a new bicycle in the spring, if I’ll get up to a first lieutenancy by that time. Here ’tis November and I’m only a sergeant, so I don’t care to run any risks. Besides, I’m saving up all my energy for the game, next Saturday.”
“You’re getting slow, Max,” was Osborn’s comment as he strolled off, leaving the others to go on alone.
“He’s up to something,” Max said regretfully; “and I’d like to be in it; but that Victor is too much to be thrown away, and Lieutenant Wilde is getting to watch Osborn’s room as a cat watches a mouse-hole.”
“Osborn’s getting reckless, anyway,” answered Leon. “He’s come out all right so many times that he’s beginning to believe his luck will follow him. Some day he’ll get left.”
“Hope ’twon’t be this time,” said Max; “for it might mean extra guard duty next Saturday, and he’s too good a half back to lose. It would ruin our chances, if he didn’t play, for we haven’t a single good substitute. I tell you, Leon, you’re in luck. ’Tisn’t every fellow that gets in the color-guard and plays quarter back, the first term he’s here. You owe some of it to the start Hal has given you, though.”
“Haven’t a doubt of it,” returned Leon, laughing. “By the way, do you know why Osborn hates Hal so?”
“He doesn’t hate him, exactly,” Max answered, as he paused with his hand on the knob of his door; “he only knows Hal is down on him, and it doesn’t make him love the dominie, as he calls him, any too well.”
“Hal does say he’s outrageously fast,” said Leon meditatively. “He’s full of his larks, but I don’t think he’s a bad fellow.”
The next morning Leon was a little later than usual in taking his place at the breakfast-table. As he seated himself, Max leaned forward to speak to him.
“Osborn was skinned last night,” he said in a low voice.
“What?” And Leon looked up in surprise.
“Yes, the lieutenant called on him last night, and caught him playing cards in study-hour. ’Tisn’t the first offence, and they say it means a reduction for him.”
This was evidently an unexpected announcement to George Winslow who glanced up eagerly, as if in sudden exultation over the degradation of his superior officer. The quick motion did not escape the keen eye of Max, who went on with an increased distinctness of utterance,—
“Yes, and if he comes down to Private Osborn again, the boys all say ’t will be Corporal Arnold that will be taking his place as color-bearer. Are you open to congratulation yet? What are you kicking me under the table for, Winslow?” he asked, suddenly turning to his neighbor. “If you want anything, speak up and say so.”
“Beg pardon; didn’t know I hit you,” muttered Winslow, discomfited to find that his sudden angry motion had not passed unobserved.
“Well, your shoes must be made of cast iron, then,” returned Max composedly. “It’s my belief you’re nervous, Winslow, and oughtn’t to drink so much strong coffee.” And before Winslow could realize his intention, he had filled up his half-empty cup from the contents of the water-flask which stood beside him. That done, he moved back from the table, leaving Winslow to growl in peace, with the certainty that, true to the nature of the genuine bully, he would never dare attack an upper class man.
“What is it really about Osborn?” asked Leon, joining Max in the hall, a few minutes later.
“Why, Lieutenant Wilde walked in on him last night, about half-past eight. He suspected something was up, so he took them by storm. He found Osborn and Strong playing cards, and he just walked them down to the doctor’s. I don’t care for Strong; he’s no good, but I’m sorry for Osborn. But I’ll tell you, Leon, we were well out of it.”
“I’ve never been in it much with Osborn,” said Leon thoughtfully. “Hal won’t let me have much to say to him; but I shall miss him in drill, for he’s a good fellow there, and I shall hate to lose him.”
“Even if it gives you his place?” suggested Max wickedly.
“’twon’t,” said Leon. “My chance isn’t as good as Smythe’s; he’s sure to get it.”
“It’s a close call between you,” answered Max; “but everybody says that, if it comes to a promotion, you’ll get it. If you do, though, you may as well prepare for a row with Winslow, for he’s down on you already, and never will consent to having you put over him. He wanted to go for me, this morning; but he didn’t dare, for he knew I was more than a match for him. We had one little set-to last year, and that taught him a lesson. He’s queer, anyhow; he can’t stand it to be laughed at, so I just make fun of him whenever I can.”
“I wish he were out of the way,” said Leon, with an anxious frown. “He makes me wild, and I’m afraid some day I can’t stand it any longer and shall pitch into him.”
“I hate fighting as badly as you do, Leon,” said Max candidly; “but there are some fellows that need to be knocked down a few times to make them endurable. The worst of it is, it’s likely to knock yourself down at the same time and land you with the privates again. Winslow is just naturally ugly, and he hates you because he says you laughed at him that first morning you saw him. I don’t wonder; he’s enough to make a crocodile laugh, sometimes.”
By noon, the rumors of Osborn’s disgrace were confirmed, and the question of his probable successor was discussed on all sides. It was the general opinion of the boys that the office would fall to Leon, though Smythe’s narrow, but literal scholarship and slavish adherence to rules made him a possible candidate. Of Winslow, strange to say, there seemed to be no question.
Contrary to Leon’s expectations, Osborn, when he appeared at dinner, seemed in no way cast down by his late experience. On the contrary, he carried it off with his usual gay good-nature, and laughingly offered to bet as to his successor who was not to be appointed until dress-parade, on the following day.
“Whoever ’tis, he ought to be grateful to me for stepping down and out,” he declared with a careless laugh. “I’ve given somebody a chance to go up, and I hope he’ll feel properly obliged to me.”
Late that evening, Leon went to Lieutenant Wilde’s room, to ask a question in regard to his lesson for the next day. As usual when he was there, he lingered for a time, talking of this matter and that, with the perfect good-fellowship which marked all the relations between Lieutenant Wilde and his pupils. When, after half an hour of lively talk, he stepped out into the hall, he was surprised to come upon Winslow who stood a few feet from the door, apparently waiting for someone.
“Hullo, Winslow! what are you up to here?” he asked, for Winslow rarely went into his teacher’s room.
But Winslow made no reply, and Leon went away down the hall, quite unconscious of the threatening glances cast after him by his rival. He thought no more of the meeting until the next morning when he and Harold King were strolling about the grounds, between the early guard-mounting and chapel, as the boys called the simple opening exercises of the school. The two boys had reached the foot of the hill and were just turning to come back, when Winslow abruptly appeared to them.
“What were you doing in Lieutenant Wilde’s room last night, Arnold?” he demanded roughly.
“It’s none of your business,” returned Leon coolly; “but I’d just as soon tell you. I went in to ask him about to-day’s lesson.”
“I don’t believe it,” said Winslow doggedly. “You went in to talk up this color-guard affair.”
“What an idea!” said Leon, with a disdainful laugh. “Nobody but you would think of such a thing.”
“You did, then,” insisted Winslow, although without once meeting the clear, steady gaze of his antagonist; “you went in there to try to get him to give you Osborn’s place.”
“Oh, come, Winslow,” remonstrated Harold; “don’t be a fool. That isn’t Arnold’s way.”
“You shut up, King!” returned Winslow brutally, “I’m not talking to you.”
“No; but I am to you,” retorted Leon, who felt his temper fast giving way. “I’ll thank you to clear out and let me alone; you’ve been in my way long enough.”
“I’ve been there long enough to see that you’ve toadied to Lieutenant Wilde ever since you came; and if you think you’re going to sneak, and get promotions away from better fellows than you are, you’re much mistaken.”
“What!” And Leon faced his foe with blazing eyes, and his lips quivering with excitement. “I’ve never taken unfair advantage of any fellow in this school, George Winslow, and you know it.”
“That’s a lie.”
The insult was more than Leon could bear; and the words were no sooner spoken than there came one quick, decisive blow, and Winslow went sprawling backward on the ground. Too thoroughly cowed to rise, he lay staring up into the flushed, angry face of his slender conqueror. Half frightened at what he had done, Leon bent on one knee to see that he had not materially injured his fallen foe; then, when freed from any anxiety on that score, he rose to his feet, saying haughtily,—
“Next time you want to tell any such stories about me, Winslow, just remember that what I’ve done once I can do again, and keep out of my sight, unless you want a worse thrashing than this. And now,” he added, with cutting sarcasm, “if you aren’t afraid, you’d better get up and get somebody to brush your back off, for it’s almost chapel time, and being late might hurt your chances of promotion.” And turning on his heel, he went in search of his brother to whom he told the story of the fight, with a strange mingling of pleasure and shame as he recounted the insults of Winslow and his speedy punishment.
“’Twas all you could do, Leon,” said Harry admiringly, when his brother paused. “It had to come, for he was going to walk over you till you put a stop to his impudence. The worst of it is, I’m afraid this ends your chance of promotion, for the doctor is down on fighting. You’ll be well off, if you get out of it without a week’s arrest.”
Leon groaned at the thought. Indeed, the idea of a week spent in his room, only varied by going to and from his lessons, was not an attractive one; and moreover, this was Wednesday and on Saturday came the long-anticipated football game. The rest of the morning was spent by Leon in alternating periods of hope and fear, which last was not lessened by seeing Winslow go limping up the steps to the doctor’s door, and later by overhearing a summons to Harold King to go to the doctor at noon.
Soon after noon his own call came, and he slowly made his way to the doctor’s study, which was always the scene of interviews of a like nature. It was Leon’s first introduction to the place and, as he glanced nervously about, it seemed to him that the very writing-table took on an austere frown, and that the copy of a Verestschagin above the mantel looked unnecessarily vengeful and destructive. Then he looked at the doctor, and felt an immediate relief. Though unusually grave, it was still the same kind, just, quiet man whom he knew so well.
“Arnold,” said the doctor slowly, “I am told that you have been fighting.”
Leon looked at him without flinching.
“Yes,” he admitted; “I knocked Winslow over.”
“But don’t you know that it is against the rules of the school?”
Leon bowed in silence.
“Then why did you do it?” asked the doctor again.
The boy hesitated.
“Because there wasn’t anything else I could do,” he said at length.
“I can hardly believe that, Arnold. Fighting is thoroughly lowering and brutalizing, besides destroying the order of the school. Questions of discipline must be left to me, not settled by each one of you boys. I think you understood that when you came here, although you have now disobeyed the established rule of the school. Is there anything you wish to say for yourself?”
“Nothing,” replied Leon briefly.
In spite of himself, the doctor looked at the boy admiringly. He had heard the story of the fight from Harold King, and he appreciated Leon’s silence in regard to the provocation he had received, his proud reluctance to lighten his own punishment by accusing a schoolmate. Memories of a like scene in his own school life rushed into the doctor’s mind, and made him long to pardon the young culprit whose look met his so squarely; but justice must be done, so he hardened his heart and said, as severely as he could,—
“Very well, Arnold, you have willfully broken the rules and been guilty of grave insubordination. Since you have no excuse to offer, I shall order Lieutenant Wilde to deprive you of your promised promotion, and put you under two days’ arrest. Now go.” And he waved Leon from the room, not daring to prolong the interview, for fear he might relent.
“What are you going to do with such a boy?” the doctor said to his nephew that night. “He just stood his ground and wouldn’t give in, though he knew he had excuse enough, if he would only tell it. It’s no easy work to punish a fellow like that, for you or I would have done just as he did, if we’d been in his place.”
“It strikes me that our color-guard is getting demoralized about as fast as it can,” Max observed to Louis, as they were going to bed. “With Frank Osborn down, and Leon down, and Winslow half-way in disgrace, Smythe can have it all his own way, confound him! But I’ll tell you one thing,” he added vindictively; “I’ll make it hot for that Winslow. He deserves to be court-martialled for his pains.”
“If bread is the staff of life, butter is the gold head to the cane,” remarked Max profoundly, as he waved the butter-knife.
“I say, Max,” inquired Stanley; “how long did it take you to study that up?”
“I knew he had something on his mind,” added Alex; “he has been unusually quiet all the morning.”
“None of your impertinence, Alex,” Max was beginning, with mock dignity, when Louis said, from his seat farther down the table,—
“He made it up last night, before he went to sleep. I was just dropping off when I heard him mumbling, ‘Bread—staff of life—butter—hm—butter?—um—yellow—no, gold.’ I fell asleep just then, and left him still studying on it.”
“You don’t appreciate really good jokes,” said Max loftily; “and if you tell any more such stories about me, I’ll leave you out of the next lark I have on foot.”
“You don’t dare,” said Louis, laughing.
“What’s going on?” inquired Stanley curiously, for he had caught a knowing glance which passed between the room-mates, and felt sure, from Max’s suppressed excitement, that there was some frolic on hand.
“Nothing more exciting than the game to-morrow,” answered Max evasively, as he moved away from the table. “I only wish that Leon had been ordered for extra duty in the afternoon, instead of Frank Osborn. I’m afraid our side hasn’t much chance, unless two days of arrest have undermined Leon’s constitution. He’ll make trouble for us, if it hasn’t.”
The boys separated for evening study-hour, and soon afterwards quiet reigned over Flemming, for the members of the eleven went early to bed, to be ready for the event of the morrow, while the other boys soon followed the example of their mates. Long before “lights out” had sounded and Lieutenant Wilde had made his round, Old Flemming was as dark and silent as a deserted house, left tenantless even by ghosts. However, if any ghostly wanderer had been walking the halls of Old Flemming, that night at midnight, he would have been surprised to see a door swing slowly open and two boys step stealthily out into the hall, their shoes in their hands and a great, dark bundle under the arm of one of them. With long, noiseless steps they moved towards the head of the stairs, pausing often to listen and peer into the velvety darkness around them; then they stole down the stairs to the outer door which they opened as cautiously as they had done the other, closed it behind them, and passed out into the night. At the foot of the steps leading from the drive up to the level of the armory door, they dropped down on the ground and began to put on their shoes.
“All right so far, Wing,” said one of them in a low tone, as he laced up his shoe and tied the string in a complicated knot. “If we can carry this thing through, we’re in luck.”
“And if we’re caught, it will be bad for us,” returned Louis gloomily. “After all, though, the chances are with us, for nobody has ever tried anything of the kind before now, and they won’t be on the watch to prevent it.”
“We’re all safe enough till we go in again,” said Max; “as long as we don’t break our necks,” he added provisionally, as he glanced up at the armory which was dimly outlined against the starless sky above.
“Fine night for us,” observed Louis. “But come ahead; we don’t want to waste any time talking.” And he led the way to the buttresses which flanked the corner of a little wing near the front of the building.
“I’ll go up ahead,” said Max; “and then you hand up the colors. Bother the fellow that planned this building!” he added petulantly. “I’ve rubbed all the skin off my knee, trying to get a purchase against this smooth stone. Why couldn’t he have left it rough, I wonder.”
“He would, if he’d had the interest of ninety-two at heart,” returned Louis. “But stop scolding and hurry up there.”
Both the boys were as agile as monkeys, and by bracing themselves against the angle of the buttresses, they had soon climbed up to where they could gain a slippery footing on the steep roof of the wing. Once there, their way was easier, for a row of small bars fastened to the slates, showed where the janitor went up to the ridgepole, in the rare event of trouble with the lines for raising the colors. At the ridgepole the boys came to a halt, and seating themselves astride the sharp comb of the roof, they began to untie the bundle they had so carefully brought with them. The next moment, the roof at their feet was covered with something large and dark, which lay in loose folds along the tiles.
“Ready?” asked Max, after a moment of careful adjustment.
“Ready,” answered Louis from his post farther back on the roof.
“Let her go, then!” And there was a sound of rasping cordage, as the dark mass slowly rose into the air.
“Catch hold of me, while I make this fast,” said Max. Then he bent forward over the edge of the roof, for a moment. “Now,” he continued, as he cautiously rose to a perpendicular once more, “if they don’t stare to-morrow morning, when they go to put up the colors, my name’s not Max Eliot.”
“Won’t Paul be wild, though, to think that none of his men were bright enough to think of it?” said Louis, with a chuckle, as he prepared to descend.
Max followed him at a little distance, and half their way was safely accomplished when Louis heard a sudden slip, followed by a heavy thud and a suppressed exclamation from Max.
“What’s the matter?” he asked, in the same low tone in which all their conversation had been carried on.
“Missed one of the steps and sat down,” replied Max wrathfully. “I wouldn’t mind the thump; but I hit on one of these beastly nails and I felt something give out. If I’ve torn a hole in my coat, it will give the whole thing away. I could build a better armory than this, myself,” he added, as he scrambled to his feet again.
“Safe!” ejaculated Louis, when the door of their room had once more closed behind them. “We’ve put the thing through, Max, and I don’t see how we can get caught.”
“Unless my coat tells the story,” said Max ruefully, as he pulled off the offending garment and felt up and down the back. “Here ’tis,” he continued; “a great three-cornered tear, large enough to put my head through. However am I going to mend it, so it won’t show?”
“You can pin it up,” said Louis hopefully. “If you can just get through the morning, you can let it go that was torn in a scrimmage. But do go to bed, for we mustn’t be sleepy in the morning.”
Louis’s warning was unnecessary, for the excitement of their escapade and of the coming game kept the boys from sleeping soundly during the few remaining hours of the night; and the first light of the morning found Max, partly dressed, sitting on the edge of his bed, with his mouth full of pins, as he tried to repair the damages wrought by his fall.
“How does this go, Wing?” he asked, slipping on the coat and turning his back to Louis who was still in bed.
“Like time,” responded Louis promptly and concisely. “It’s all puckered up and looks worse than the hole.”
“Then what can I do?” asked Max desperately. “I never could sew it up, even if I had the tackle; and it can’t go as ’tis, for ’t would tell the whole thing. If I only had another fatigue coat! Help me out, there’s a good fellow, for you’re in it as badly as I am.”
“Let’s see,” said Louis, raising himself on his elbow to contemplate the task before him; “my sister mends her gloves with plaster; why not doctor up your coat the same way?”
“Good scheme!” said Max approvingly, as he dived into his pocket for a tiny silver case.
Then, possessing himself of the one pair of scissors which the room afforded, he settled himself to his novel tailoring with such good success that he was enabled to put in a prompt appearance at the breakfast-table, with but little trace of his adventure of the previous night.
It was the unvarying custom of the school to have the colors raised on the armory, every morning at the hour for guard-mounting; but on this particular morning, the eyes of the early stragglers about the grounds were met by a new feature in the landscape. From the top of the flagpole on the armory, a flag was already waving in the morning wind; but instead of the familiar stars and bars of the national tricolor, there flaunted a huge blue cambric banner, inscribed in golden letters with the legend: ’92 AND ’94. The new colors were promptly hauled down, but not before most of the cadets had gathered around the armory to look and laugh, and speculate as to the perpetrators of the joke; but neither the boys’ speculations, nor the doctor’s efforts to discover the offenders, ever succeeded in bringing to light the mystery of the midnight expedition of the loyal juniors.
The long-anticipated Saturday before Thanksgiving was a cold, clear, bracing day, as if especially designed for the annual football match. According to the regular habit of the school, lessons were over at eleven that morning, and a light lunch was served immediately afterwards. Promptly at two o’clock the procession formed in front of the armory, headed by the school band who banged and tooted away in their best style. Back of them walked the two elevens, gorgeous in their uniforms, the white jerseys of one side adorned with a huge scarlet F. on the chest, while the others wore a blue letter modestly surrounded with a halo of little golden stars. This impressive body was followed by the twenty or thirty cadets who had no active part in the proceedings, but went merely in the light of spectators. Lieutenant Wilde and Mr. Boniface, walking arm in arm, brought up the rear with befitting solemnity. To the inspiring strains of “Marching through Georgia,” the line moved off, turned down the hill and marched twice around the doctor’s house, while Mrs. Flemming and Gyp watched them from the front piazza, and Maggie O’Flarity, on the back porch, saluted them with a flourish of her broom and poker. Then, with the doctor in their ranks, they started for the ball-field, while the band, with a delightful impartiality, changed their tune to “See, the Conquering Hero comes!” And the small village boys that garnished the fence, waved their shabby hats in pleased anticipation.
The doctor and Lieutenant Wilde took up their positions as umpire and referee, for out of love for their boys they cheerfully resigned themselves to the somewhat doubtful enjoyments of these honorary offices; the spectators arranged themselves as best they could, and the players took their places for the struggle. The seniors realized that this was their last chance to cover themselves with glory, so far as football was concerned, and Leon was burning with a determination to efface the memory of his recent disgrace; while, on the other side, the juniors, secure in their faithful training, viewed their opponents with scorn, and encouraged their young allies to do their best. Louis squared his shoulders, and stood very straight, with the consciousness that his blue and gold finery was extremely becoming, and Max tossed a stray pine cone at the nearest village urchin, a tow-headed youth who dodged and chuckled in recognition of this especial mark of attention.
At a signal from the doctor, the play began and then—But why describe all the details of the game to an audience of American boys who know and love it so well, or to those older and wiser—and duller heads, to whom the whole subject is uninteresting, and its mysteries a sealed book? It is enough to tell that there were the usual groupings of wildly excited lads, the usual mad races across the field, the usual wild onslaughts of the rush line. Again and again Leon caught the ball from the snapper and passed it on to Paul for a run, again and again the fine punting of Max saved the game for the juniors; but the intermission had come and gone, and the issue was doubtful. Slowly, as if reluctant to leave the busy scene, the sun dropped towards the western hills, and the battle was in favor of the seniors. The critical moment had come, and the teams lined up for a scrimmage, with the ball far towards the junior goal. Very quietly and steadily Jack Howard took the ball, though his face was white with the intense excitement of the moment, as he waited for the captain’s signal to play.
“One—four—three!” commanded Paul.
For one instant he balanced the ball on its end, then snapped it back with suddenness and precision, rising again in time to block his man in the opposing rush line. With the same accuracy that his centre had shown, Leon caught up the swiftly-moving ball in the hollow of his right arm, and with one quick swing, passed it on to the left tackle who darted away down the field, only to be met full in his course by the junior right tackle, who leaped upon him with a suddenness that fairly hurled the ball from his grasp into the clutches of the junior men.
Again came the breathless excitement of awaiting the signal to play. Then the cry of the junior captain, “Five—six!” was followed by the answering signal from Stanley, to warn the snap back that he was ready. Swift as thought, the ball rolled back to his hand, and went flying to Louis who, seizing an unguarded opening between the end and tackle, sprang forward and went dodging down the field, half-way to the senior goal, before he could be stopped. There was a moment of deafening applause; then the tumult was stilled, for all realized that the climax of the game had come.
“Seven—two!” commanded the junior captain.
Again, as the ball rolled back to Stanley, the lines were broken for a desperate, hand-to-hand struggle. Then a triumphant shout from the seniors was met by an answering groan from the friends of the juniors. Stanley had passed the ball to the “scrub” who was substituting for Frank Osborn. Misunderstanding the captain’s signal, he had fumbled in receiving it, and the seniors had fallen on the ball.
For an instant, Paul surveyed the field. In spite of their recent mishap, the juniors were playing finely; still, when it came to a question of brute force, the advantage lay with the seniors, and he gave his orders accordingly. Massing their men into a wedge about the precious ball, the seniors ploughed their way down the field, offering a resistless, impenetrable front to the baffled juniors. Six yards, eight yards, eleven yards, on they swept. Then Louis, who had been watching for his moment to come, all at once plunged through and over the human barrier, knocking the ball from the hands of the man who was holding it, and capturing it in the very midst of the enemy, amidst the jubilant shouts of his allies. Ten minutes more to play, on an almost even score; but the advantage of position lay with the junior team, as once again the elevens lined up.
“Seven—four!” commanded the junior captain.
Once more the ball flew from Stanley to Louis who made a rush towards a weak spot in the opposing line, then, seizing the moment when the senior team had massed itself to protect the threatened point, abruptly passed the ball to Max, who shut his teeth together and punted as he had never punted before. Up and out flew the ball, far over the heads of the rushers, and away sprang the boys after it, with Louis leading the juniors, and the ends plunging along close at his heels. At almost the same moment, Leon and Louis reached the ball. Leon cast himself upon it, but Louis hurled himself on top of Leon and knocked the ball from his grasp. When they emerged from the pile of wriggling boys, it was Louis who held the ball and they were close to the senior goal. Three minutes later, the victory lay with the juniors.
The conquering eleven were immediately seized and surrounded by their schoolmates, for both the spectators and the defeated contestants united in giving them hearty congratulations on their fine play, although Louis was unanimously voted the real winner of the game. There were a few minutes of breathless, noisy chatter; then the band struck up “Hail to the Chief,” and the procession reformed, to march back to Old Flemming for a jolly supper, presided over by no less a person than the doctor himself, supported on either hand by the captains of the rival elevens.
“I say, Hal,” said Paul, stopping him on the piazza; “where’s that young brother of yours? He played magnificently, and I want to tell him so.”
“I don’t know where he is,” answered Harry. “I haven’t seen him since the game. Perhaps he’s gone up-stairs for something; I’ll go and see, if you want.”
“Oh, never mind,” said Paul, turning away. “He’ll be down to supper in a few minutes, and I can see him then.”
But Leon failed to appear at supper-time, and when Harry and Paul went to look him up afterwards, they found him lying on his bed, looking a little white about the mouth.
“What’s the matter, Leon?” exclaimed Harry anxiously.
“Oh, nothing much,” answered Leon, sitting up as he saw them enter; “only I twisted my foot a little in that last rush. It felt sort of queer, and I thought I’d keep still to-night; but ’t will be all right in the morning, so don’t say anything about it.”
However, morning found the ankle so swollen and lame that Leon allowed his brother to ask Lieutenant Wilde to come and look at it. Slight as was his knowledge of such matters, Lieutenant Wilde unhesitatingly pronounced it a severe sprain, and the village doctor, who appeared a little later, confirmed him in the statement and ordered the boy to give his foot a rest for some days.
“When you boys get a little sense of your own,” the old man remarked vehemently, while he bound up the foot with fingers as gentle as a woman’s; “when you boys get a little sense of your own, I say, you’ll leave off playing such an abominable game as football. It’s come now to where it isn’t much but a prize-fight, and all it’s good for is to bring in an income to us doctors. There! now you’re all right, but don’t you think of stepping on that foot for the next week. Then we’ll see!” And he took his departure, leaving his patient looking rather forlorn.
“This is fine,” remarked Leon disconsolately, when he had gone. “Here ’tis Thanksgiving week, and everybody going off. Between this and my row with Winslow, I am rather down on my luck, just now.”
“Never mind, Leon,” said Alex, who chanced to be in the room. “Everybody says the doctor only punished you because he had to, for the looks of it; and you can console yourself with the thought that the seniors are all saying that you did more than any other one fellow to save the game for them.”
“Yes,” added Harry; “and you’d better be thankful that you didn’t lay yourself up in practice. Plenty of fellows have done it before now, and there’s neither glory nor fun in that kind of thing, you know.”
“Much good that does me,” returned Leon ungratefully, though at heart he was proud of his success. “I only hope daddy won’t think I’m a hard case. But when you fellows are off eating turkey, think of me, starving here on husks, with only Dame Pinney for company.”
But Mrs. Flemming was far too motherly a little woman to think of leaving Leon for a lonely Thanksgiving with Mrs. Pinney, the housekeeper. Early the next morning, she knocked at Leon’s door, with a daintily-packed basket in one hand and the latest boys’ book in the other.
“I just looked in for a minute,” she said; “to ask if it wouldn’t be a good idea to have you carried down to our house, Wednesday morning, to stay till the boys come back, on Monday. Lieutenant Wilde will be with us, and we should all like this chance to get better acquainted with you. Gyp is lamenting that we can’t have Harry, too; but I suppose his plans are already made.”
Accordingly on Wednesday morning Leon was waited upon by a “lady’s chair,” formed of Jack and Alex, who marched down the hill to the doctor’s house and deposited their burden in a reclining-chair which was cosily drawn up in front of the parlor fire, close to a little table covered with the latest illustrated papers and a number of books of travel and adventure, such as boys love. From this luxurious retreat, Leon could watch his departing friends with calm indifference; for was he not to spend five whole days in the house with the doctor and Lieutenant Wilde, with Mrs. Flemming to coddle him, and Gyp to amuse him to the best of her small ability?
The next morning Leon lay on the sofa reading, for at least the tenth time, the adventures of the immortal Tom Brown, with as deep an interest in them as he had felt when first he made the acquaintance of that hero so dear to boyish hearts. The doctor and his nephew had gone to walk up an appetite which should do honor to the dinner of state that Mrs. Flemming was superintending in the kitchen, and Gyp sat on the floor in the corner, robing the patient Mouse in the clothes of her second-best doll.
“There! Doesn’t she look pretty, Leon?” she inquired at length, triumphantly holding the cat up to his view.
The usual melancholy expression of the poor old cat was now set off by a rosy silk bonnet cocked rakishly over one eye, while her long, lank body was adorned with a green skirt, a pale blue sash and a white waist. Mouse, however, was evidently accustomed to such finery for, except for an increased droop to the corners of her mouth, there was nothing to show her disapproval of this treatment. Leon laughed, as he dropped his book by his side and, clasping his hands back of his head, he turned to watch Gyp who was holding Mouse out at arms’ length, tipping her head from side to side, as she critically eyed her pet.
“There’s one good thing about Mouse, Gyp,” he remarked lazily; “she’s a real good frame to build a cat on, if you ever want to do it.”
“I don’t know zac’ly what you mean,” said Gyp, with great severity; “but I ’most know you’re making fun of Mouse.”
She was silent for a few moments, while she added the finishing touches to the already elaborate toilet of the cat. Then she seemed to repent of her sternness, for she dropped Mouse into a chair and went across to Leon’s sofa, where she sat down on the edge of it and laid one chubby arm across the boy’s shoulders, in a comically protecting fashion. She surveyed him for a moment, puckering up her small mouth, while her roguish brown eyes grew gentle and the heavy curls drooped till they brushed his cheek. Then, as if satisfied that he was neither hurt nor angry, she went on in a wheedling tone, as she nestled closer to him,—
“I’m so sorry you hurt you, Leon. Don’t you think you’d like to tell me a story?”
“A story!” groaned Leon despairingly, for as the youngest of the family, he knew little of children. “I’m afraid I’m not much good at stories, Gyp.”
“Why not?” inquired Gyp remorselessly. “Harry is. He says he used to have to tell them to you lots of times, when you were little and cross.”
Leon blushed, in spite of himself.
“What kind of stories do you like?” he asked, willing to change the subject.
“’Most any kind,” answered Gyp, reaching up to tuck the afghan around Leon’s chin and, at the same time, slyly moving his book out of his reach. “I like those best with ever so many wild animals in them, eflunts and bears and things; but they must always be true ones, ’cause mamma doesn’t want me to learn ’bout things that aren’t so.”
“But, Gyp,” remonstrated Leon, in dismay at this literary program; “I don’t know any true stories about wild animals.”
“I should think you could make up some,” answered Gyp logically. “I make ’em up, sometimes, and I’ll tell you one, if you want, by and by, after you’ve told me yours.”
“Tell me now,” urged Leon, hoping to gain time.
“No, you must tell first, ’cause you’re company,” replied Gyp, with an uncomfortable regard for the etiquette of the occasion.
“Hm!” sighed Leon. “Let me see, what shall I tell you about? Do you know old Jerry, Gyp?”
“The old, old man with long, white hair that comes around here, sometimes, to see if we’ll give him something to eat or some clothes.”
“Yes,” nodded Gyp. “I know him. What about him.”
“I was going to tell you how I went to see him once,” said Leon, moving to make more room for the child. “It was about two weeks ago, and Max and Jack and I started off, one Saturday, to go to his house. He lives way up beyond the village, in the woods. His house is a queer little bit of a one, made out of rough boards, with a piece of stove-pipe for a chimney, and a little narrow door, painted blue.”
“What’s that for?” inquired Gyp.
“Why, to go in at,” said Leon, rather surprised at the question.
“No; I mean what for did he paint it blue?” persisted Gyp.
“I don’t know, I’m sure,” answered Leon, with the certainty that he was about to lose favor in Gyp’s eyes, because of his lack of accurate information upon this point.
“Well,” he went on; “we knocked at this blue door, and by and by we heard a man say ‘come in,’ and we went in and there was Jerry. He sat there smoking a pipe made out of a corn cob, and mending a hole in his boot with a piece of string. There were ever so many funny things there, fish-poles and box-traps and snares—”
“What’s that?” interposed Gyp.
“Oh, things to catch birds in,” explained Leon lucidly. Then he continued, “And there were some cages on the wall, some with birds in, and some with squirrels, and one had a snake. And there was a great black crow hopping around on the floor, and three dogs, one yellow, and one white, and one black and yellow. And—and—and—” Leon hesitated.
“What did you do then?” demanded Gyp.
“We stayed a little while, and then we came home again.”
“Is that all?” asked the child, and there was a scornful ring to her tone.
“I’m afraid it is,” replied Leon meekly.
“Well, I don’t think that’s much of a story,” remarked Gyp, with a frankness of criticism which would have done credit to a professional reviewer.
“You tell me one now, Gyp,” suggested Leon, feeling that his attempt at story-telling had resulted in dismal failure.
“Well, I will,” said Gyp, with perfect readiness.
Curling up one foot under her, she turned so that she could face Leon. When she was settled to her liking, she began her tale which she emphasized now and then by nodding her head, or smacking her lips, with an air of relishing the gloomy details.
“Well, once, ever ’n ever so long ago, there was a duck and a squan, and one day they were sitting on the bank in the sun to dry their feet, and the duck said, ‘I love you; do you love me?’ and the squan said, ‘No, I won’t,’ and the duck said, ‘I’ll make you.’ So he ran at the squan, and the squan ran away and jumped into the lake. The duck ran after her and, first thing he knew, he had tumbled in, right head first over heels. They began swimming round and round after each other, and pretty soon the squan was tired, so she turned into a crocodile with great, long teeth and claw-nails, and climbed out on the bank. Then the duck turned himself into another crocodile and went out after her; but when he found her, she wasn’t there, for she made herself back into a squan and was clear off in the water. You see, she was quicker ’n he was. He didn’t stop to change, but went after her, fast as he could go, and when he came up to her, he pulled out the carving-knife and cut her into four pieces. ‘There,’ he said, ‘now I’ve killed you; that’s too bad.’ But the pieces sank down to the bottom and when they hit the mud down there, they all grew together again, so she could swim up. She came up, just as quick, and pulled the carving-knife out of his hand, and she took the carving-knife, and stuck the points in and made little dents all over him. So he died, and the squan pulled three pink feathers out of his tail, to show she’d killed him, and then she went home to her little chickens. But she forgot the carving-knife, and when she saw her chickens, she was so glad, that she dropped the carving-knife right down on top of them and cut all their heads off, and so they were dead as could be, every one of them; and when she knew they were dead and she had killed them, she felt so badly that she went right off and was drowned, and that’s all there is about them.”
“Where’d you get all this story, Gyp?” inquired Leon, much impressed by the tragic end of the tale.
“Out of my think-box,” responded Gyp, as she slipped down from the sofa and ran to the door, to meet her father and her cousin.
“Well, my boy; how goes it?” asked the doctor, as he moved up a chair and sat down beside Leon. “Has it been a long morning to you?”
“Oh, papa, we’ve had a real good time,” interrupted Gyp, climbing on his knee and taking his face between her hands, to enforce his attention. “We’ve been telling stories, and Leon has been telling me about an old man that lives alone with a black canary and smokes pop corn; and please wont you take me to see him?”
“I wasn’t talking to you, chatterbox,” said her father, laughing. “How is the foot, Leon?”
“Won’t you, papa?” Gyp insisted.
“Won’t I what, you monkey?”
“Won’t you take me to see the old man?”
“I tried to tell her about Jerry’s house,” explained Leon; “and she’s a little mixed up about it.”
“Nothing unusual,” answered the doctor. “Is it Jerry that you mean, Gyp?”
“Yes, I want to go to see his bird.”
“Some day, perhaps, when you are older; but it is too far for you to go now, for you would get all tired out. Now you mustn’t tease any more, but run away and play with Mouse, because I want to talk to Leon.” And as Gyp walked away, he dismissed the matter from his mind although, as it appeared later, the young lady did not.
Dr. Flemming devoted the next half hour to entertaining his guest, and their pleasant, rambling talk of Tom Brown, and the football game, and the boys, and the winter sports of the school gave Leon an even greater admiration for the doctor than he had felt before, and made him forget that he was a prisoner for some days. The doctor, on his side, was making every effort to make the time pass pleasantly, for not only did he admire the straightforward manliness of his pupil, but he was anxious to remove the memory of their recent interview in the study when, against his own will, he had been forced to punish the lad for a breach of discipline which, in the eyes of the school, was more than justified by its cause. He succeeded so well that, when Lieutenant Wilde came into the room, he found them discussing the prospect for the spring regatta with the eagerness and good-fellowship of a pair of children; and Leon was almost sorry when Mrs. Flemming appeared, a little later, to tell them that dinner was ready.
“Now, auntie,” said Lieutenant Wilde, as he rose; “as I said to you this morning, we don’t want this young man to eat his Thanksgiving dinner, in solitary state before the fire; so, with his permission, I’ll escort him to the table.” And before Leon had time to object, he was picked up bodily and carried out into the next room, where Lieutenant Wilde put him down in a chair between himself and Mrs. Flemming.
It was one of the merriest dinners that Leon had ever known, and the informality was decidedly increased by Gyp, who insisted that Mouse, in all her elegance, should come to the table and sit in a high chair by the side of her small mistress, where she was regaled on many a dainty morsel which she received and swallowed with a stolid unconcern, apparently quite unconscious of the fact that her pink bonnet had slipped off from her ear, and worked its way around until the eye on the other side was in a state of complete eclipse.
Then they went back to the parlor again, and while Mrs. Flemming drew together the heavy curtains to shut out the gathering twilight and the fine, soft snow which was beginning to fall, the doctor piled the sticks high on the andirons, and they watched the slow, curling tongues of blue flame work their way up among them, and then all at once turn to the bright red blaze which lighted all the room. To Leon, after two months in the large boarding-house, the quiet, homelike air of the place was indescribably pleasant; and he lay back in his deep chair, saying little, but watching the flickering light and listening to the conversation around him. Lieutenant Wilde sat beside him, resting one elbow on the arm of Leon’s chair. Suddenly he turned to the boy.
“Homesick or sleepy, Leon?”
“Not a bit of either,” declared Leon, laughing, “I’m as lazy and happy as Mouse herself.”
“But it will never do to spend Thanksgiving evening in this quiet fashion,” said Mrs. Flemming, starting up. “We must have lights, so we can have some games.”
“Don’t do it for me,” protested Leon. “I’m having an uncommonly good time, now.”
“It isn’t for you, any more than for the rest of us,” answered Mrs. Flemming. “We play games, the doctor and I, almost every evening that we are at home. It keeps us from getting old and stupid; and then I’m a great believer in home games, anyway. If I had twenty boys, I’d keep open house for their friends, and play games with them all, whenever they felt like it.” And she went away to see about the lights, while Lieutenant Wilde drew the card-table up to the fire, and the doctor threw on fresh wood, preparatory to settling himself for his evening game.
It was not strange that, after three or four days spent in this pleasant home, Leon almost dreaded the return to the regular hours and discipline of Old Flemming. So heartily did the doctor and his wife unite in making the boy feel at ease, that he soon forgot he was a guest, and occupied much the position of a favorite son of the house; for the family life went on in its usual course, only widening its boundaries enough to take him well inside them, cordially welcome, yet free from all constraint. The doctor himself was enough to accomplish this, now entering into games with the zest of a boy, now reading aloud interesting scraps from his evening paper, now carrying off Leon for a long, quiet talk in the study that, somehow, lost much of its threatening aspect and became a mere cosy den, under these new conditions.
On Sunday night they were comfortably established there, alone, for Gyp was in bed and Lieutenant Wilde had gone to church with his aunt, when the doctor suddenly asked,—
“Did you know Winslow wasn’t coming back after the recess, Leon?”
“No.” And Leon roused himself from his book. “What’s that for?”
“Several reasons, none of them those that you need to know. I had a long talk with him before he went, however, and he finally admitted that he was as much in the wrong as you were, in your recent trouble with him. I thought it only right to tell you this, as long as you refused to bring any charges against him. But, after all, his fault doesn’t do away with your own, and it’s only fair that you should suffer the penalty for it. Next to deceit, my strictest rules are against fighting, for if all the boys were to settle their disputes in that way, good by to the discipline of the school, and then good by to the school itself. I know it puts a boy into a hard place when he is annoyed in such a way, for of course he doesn’t want to come to me with complaints. Still, I have made the rule, and I feel that I have the right to exact obedience from my boys. If they have the honor of the place at heart, they will see the reason for it. Isn’t it so, Leon?”
And Leon gave a hearty assent.
“I don’t believe you fellows know how hard you are making it for Mr. Boniface,” Lieutenant Wilde had said to the boys who were gathered in his room one night, not long before Thanksgiving. “I told him so the other day when we were talking about it, for I don’t think any one of you would be mean enough to try to break up his classes.”
The subject was unexpected to them all, and for a moment they were speechless.
“Has he been complaining of us,” asked Jack scornfully, after the pause.
“Yes and no,” answered Lieutenant Wilde. “I saw that something was wrong, and asked him about it. He told me then, and not till then. You would all have been sorry for him, if you had seen him that day, for he seemed to feel so keenly that he was making a failure here. Now aren’t you boys all of you loyal enough to the doctor to feel that you must be polite and respectful to any man he may choose to put in here over you? Any rudeness to one of his teachers is an insult to himself.”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” confessed Max frankly. “But Bony and the doctor are two different people.”
“That may be,” responded Lieutenant Wilde, as he pulled off his spectacles and fell to twirling them by the slender, bent ends of the bows; “but Mr. Boniface represents the doctor in his classes. And moreover, he’s come here a stranger, and you who know each other and the place, ought to try to make him feel at home, instead of forming a league against him, to torment him with childish tricks that are more suited to Gyp than to cadets of your ages. He is hired to teach you and is paid for it, I know; but he has come here with as true a wish to help you and be friends with you, as the doctor himself, but you all treat him like an enemy instead.”
“What makes him so queer and glum with us, then?” said Jack, as he leaned forward to give the coals a vigorous punch.
“Don’t you know yet, Jack, that everybody isn’t just like everybody else? Mr. Boniface would like to be pleasant and cordial with you; but he hasn’t the gift of it, as the doctor has—”
“‘And you, Brutus,’” put in Max with a wink.
Lieutenant Wilde laughed, but took no other notice of the interruption, as he went on with his plea,—
“Besides, Mr. Boniface has one quality that I’ve heard you all admire in other people.”
“What’s that?” inquired Paul skeptically.
“Stick-to-ativeness, in plain Saxon. I’ve often heard you talk about it in the boys, when they wouldn’t give up in some game, or the gymnasium; and you all say that Louis, here, saved the football match for the juniors in that very way. Mr. Boniface is doing just the same thing with his education. He has had disadvantages and setbacks enough to knock down a dozen ordinary men; but he has fought his way along till now, and in the very last battle—scrimmage, if you prefer—he is liable to be beaten and driven out of the field by a dozen thoughtless boys, who would some day be sorry to be responsible for breaking down a man’s courage and spoiling his life’s plans.”
“I don’t think we any of us started to be mean to Bony, Lieutenant Wilde,” said Alex. “We’ve sort of fallen into the habit of running on him, for we don’t any of us like him. He is pretty bad in class.”
“I didn’t suppose he really cared so much,” added Max. “It’s mean to hit a fellow when he’s down. I can’t like him, though, Lieutenant Wilde.”
“Have you tried very hard, Max?” inquired Lieutenant Wilde, laughing.
“Uncommonly,” responded Max with fervor. “I can’t like him, I know; but maybe I can swallow him like a very bitter pill, and he’ll be good for me.” And he rolled up his eyes at his teacher, with such wickedness sparkling in them that Lieutenant Wilde’s dignity broke down, and he joined the boys in their shout.
“But, Lieutenant Wilde,” remonstrated Paul Lincoln; “why do you go for us about it? We aren’t any worse than the other fellows.”
“Possibly not; but I doubt that. Even if you aren’t, though, I have spoken to you about it, partly because I know you better, and partly because you are the most organized set in the school, and so have more weight and influence. If you nine boys would make up your minds to stand by Mr. Boniface, you could carry the school along with you, till he wouldn’t have any more trouble at Flemming. Why not do it? Every young knight must win his spurs by helping the poor and oppressed. You won’t find many giants and dragons in your way, so why not lend a hand to help on Mr. Boniface? If you boys will treat him like a man and a friend, you’ll be more than repaid, for he is only waiting for a chance to know you and help you. And in some ways, he’s the finest teacher we have ever had at Flemming.”
Jack shook his head incredulously; then he said seriously,—
“I’ll tell you what, boys, we ought to be willing to do as much as this for Lieutenant Wilde’s sake.”
“Thank you, Jack,” replied Lieutenant Wilde quickly. “Start to do it for me, if you will; but the time will soon come that you are doing it for the sake of Mr. Boniface.”
The subject was dropped, but though no more was said at the time, it was plain that the little talk had had its effect, for matters were now going on most smoothly. Alex and Stanley had always been above any reproach of rudeness, although it must be confessed that they had shown a keen appreciation of the mischief of the others. Harry had gone over to their side, as a matter of conscience, and insisted upon Leon’s doing the same, while Jack Howard openly stated that he “stood up for Bony just because Lieutenant Wilde wanted them to.” For one reason or another, the other lads had followed their example, even to Max who, like most impulsive, affectionate fellows, was easily influenced by his friends for the time being, and not even the persuasions of Frank Osborn had been able to win him from his good resolutions.
The change in the situation was so marked that it was small wonder that Mr. Boniface had confided to Lieutenant Wilde his fear that it was too sudden and too good to last.
“Even Eliot is behaving like a model boy,” he remarked, the Tuesday night after Thanksgiving. “He is a likable fellow at times, too.”
“Max is a splendid fellow,” answered Lieutenant Wilde enthusiastically. “He’s freakish and thoughtless in his fun, often a little too much so, but he is the soul of honor and, in my opinion, that covers a multitude of sins.”
“So it does,” assented Mr. Boniface a little dubiously, for he was reflecting upon how large an expanse it had to work in the case in hand. “Eliot is a truthful boy, I think; but what a comfort it would be, if all the boys were as steady and as anxious to learn as little Smythe. That boy is a perfect wonder.”
“Yes,” said Irving Wilde, in a tone of deep disgust; “he’s a wonderful little prig. He learns like a poll parrot, and his only desires on earth are to show off what he knows, and to turn out his toes at a proper angle, when he’s on parade. The boys call him the King of the Fiends, and it’s my private opinion that they’re about right. I’ve no patience with him, and it just galls me to have to promote him over the heads of much better fellows than he. Let me take Max, with all his sins, and with proper training and influences, I’ll make ten times the man of him.”
“Well, I think I prefer Smythe,” replied Mr. Boniface.
“You’re welcome to him; I don’t want him,” answered Lieutenant Wilde. “Life is something besides committing schoolbooks to memory; put the two boys into the same emergency, and balance the selfish conceit of Smythe against the quick, impetuous generosity of Eliot, and tell me which will do more to help on his fellow-men. Smythe is just the boy to put behind a counter, to sell ribbons and tape and spools of thread; Eliot, if he keeps straight, will be a man from whom we shall hear, sometime or other. In the meantime, he’s neither saint nor sinner, but a genuine, healthy American boy, and taken at its best, there’s no better race in the world.”
The door closed behind him, and Luke Boniface sat down to read, feeling unusually at peace with the boys, even to Max himself. Fortunately he knew nothing of the mischief which was just then being plotted by the boy, who was restless with the concentrated impishness developed by his four days’ holiday. Had he suspected, his quiet, restful mood might have been rudely disturbed; now, as it was, he could enjoy it to the utmost.
Next morning, the lessons were under full headway. In the large school-room, left in the charge of Mr. Boniface, the seniors were having a recitation, while the members of the junior and second classes were deep in their work. Over in a sunny corner by the window, sat Max, in his favorite position, with his bent head held firmly between his hands, covering his ears from disturbing sounds. All at once, two or three of the boys near him raised their heads and sniffed the air suspiciously. A faint sickening odor began to be noticeable, and rapidly increased, filling the air and penetrating even to the teacher’s desk, at the far side of the room. In his turn, Mr. Boniface raised his head and looked wonderingly about, as if seeking the source of this fragrance, whose mystery was only equalled by its pungency. Nothing was to be seen to account for the phenomenon. Although some of the boys were beginning to choke, and Louis sat with his nose buried in his daintily-scented handkerchief, Max alone seemed undisturbed in his work, and paid no heed to the sensation in the room. At length it could be endured no longer, and Mr. Boniface said,—
“Please open a window, Campbell.”
Stanley rose to do his bidding. As he moved across the floor, he glanced at Max, surprised at his unusual interest in his lesson; then, for the first time in his whole school life, Stanley Campbell lost all consciousness of where he was, and burst into an irrepressible laugh. Carefully arranged on the knee of Max, in the full glare of the sunshine, lay a smoldering lump of india-rubber, mounted on a bit of iron, and above it, just where it would focus the rays of light upon it, was a powerful lens, for the moment converted from a magnifier into a burning-glass.
In a moment, too soon for Max to remove his apparatus, Mr. Boniface stood beside him. Silently he stretched out his hand; silently Max put into it the glass and bit of rubber, noting, with a naughty satisfaction, that his teacher winced as the hot mass dropped into his palm. Then Mr. Boniface said quietly,—
“Come to my room at three this afternoon, Eliot.”
“Yes, sir,” replied Max, with unwonted meekness.
That was all. Mr. Boniface returned to his class and Max fell to studying with a will, though pausing now and then, while he turned over a leaf, to speculate as to what direful punishment was in store for him. There seemed something ominous in the calm, collected manner of the teacher, and Max wondered if he were aware of the doctor’s strong prejudice against corporal punishment. Like most boys, Max disliked the idea of being whipped, not only on account of the hurt, but also because he had a vague idea that it took from his manliness, and put him on a level with dogs and horses and very small babies. Still, he would pay the penalty for his fun, and take the consequences as easily as he could.
But Mr. Boniface was wily. He had watched Irving Wilde’s methods with the boys, and had come to the conclusion that they were worth imitating. He was gradually schooling himself until he had lost something of his old excitable manner, and could more easily meet the little annoyances that came to him, day after day. Now at length he was to attempt his master-stroke and see if he could win over his arch-enemy, for so he regarded Max. Directly after dinner, he went out for a long, rapid walk in the clear, cold air, and came in with every sense so quickened and refreshed from the hour of active exercise, that he felt himself ready for the coming interview.
Punctually at three, there came a knock at his door. For a moment the teacher’s courage failed. He could more easily face the whole examining board of a missionary association, than one solitary, mischievous schoolboy. But it was too late to draw back, so, as cordially as he could, he told Max to enter.
Max strolled into the room, with his hands stuck into his trousers pockets, and stood leaning against the table with a carelessness which somehow failed to agree with the little troubled look in the blue eyes. Not only was Master Max rather anxious to know what was in store for him, but his conscience, too, was beginning to be uncomfortably active. His burning the rubber seemed not quite so funny to him as it had done in the time of it, or as it would have done if Mr. Boniface had been very angry, instead of so quiet about it. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other and back again, while he listened to hear his teacher come to the subject in hand.
“Sit down, Eliot,” said Mr. Boniface, motioning him to a chair.
Max obeyed, with an unhappy feeling that this lessened his chance of flight. He pulled his hands out of his pockets and carefully fitted the tips of his fingers together, bestowing a little extra attention on the thumbs. Suddenly Mr. Boniface turned to him.
“Eliot, what am I going to do with you?” he asked.
“I’m sure I don’t know, sir,” answered Max, half-defiantly, half-meekly.
“I don’t know as I do, either,” said. Mr. Boniface, with a smile. Then he went on quite seriously. “Eliot, suppose we forget for a while that we are teacher and pupil, and have a little talk, as one man would to another.”
Mr. Boniface had struck the right chord. At this appeal to his manhood, Max straightened up suddenly and looked his teacher squarely in the eyes as he went on,—
“You’ll admit, won’t you, Eliot, that you were guilty of a great rudeness this morning? I was doing my best to carry on the work for which I am here, and you deliberately and purposely tried to break up my class. Isn’t it so?”
“I—I s’pose so,” said Max, glaring down at his folded hands, as if they were in some way to blame for his present position.
“But why did you do it?” went on Mr. Boniface, pursuing his advantage unrelentingly.
“Fun,” answered Max laconically.
“Which was the fun,” inquired Mr. Boniface, “to sicken us all, yourself among the rest, with a disagreeable smell, or to interrupt the class for ten minutes and make the school work so much longer at noon? Whichever way you put it, Eliot, it strikes me that the game isn’t worth the candle, as they say, and the trick reacts on you and the other boys, as much as on myself.”
Max raised his head at this.
“Honestly, Mr. Boniface, the other boys weren’t in it a bit. Nobody else had anything to do with it.”
“Is this your glass?” asked Mr. Boniface, taking it from the table and pointing to the initials H. P. A. cut in the handle.
“That’s Hal Arnold’s,” answered Max. “I borrowed it of him yesterday; but I didn’t tell him what I wanted of it. I knew if I did, he wouldn’t let me take it,” he added, with an artless confession that he knew he was in the wrong.
“That’s as much as to say you knew you were doing something to be ashamed of,” said Mr. Boniface slowly.
“I was; and what’s more, I believe I am a little ashamed,” answered Max honestly. “I did just want to see if that glass would burn rubber, and it was a splendid place to try. The other fellows did look so astonished; didn’t they?” And Max laughed at the memory.
In spite of himself, Mr. Boniface laughed too. That laugh settled the matter, for it won Max completely. The boy put both elbows on the table, rested his chin in his hands and remarked with a frankness which took away the teacher’s breath,—
“Mr. Boniface, now see here: I’m sorry for what I did, and I won’t do it again—if I can help it. I’m willing to say I’m sorry before all the boys, if you want. It’s no use for me to promise not to do that kind of thing again, though, for I shall most likely forget and do something just as bad, in a week or two. You see, when you just came, I sort of got into the habit of teasing you, and I’ve kept on. I promised Lieutenant Wilde that I wouldn’t any more, but I’ve broken my promise. Now I’ll try again. You said we might talk together like two men, so I thought ’twas fairer to tell you this, than to keep saying it about you.”
During this clear, but surprising statement, Mr. Boniface had looked first perplexed, then annoyed. At length his face brightened and, with a smile as cordial as Lieutenant Wilde’s own, he held out his hand to the boy, saying,—
“Thank you, Eliot, for being so honest; now I know just how we stand. I don’t see but we mean to do the fair thing by each other, only, once in a while, we both make mistakes. Shall we shake hands on it, and try again in the future?”
What need to ask? As he put the question, Max’s brown hand lay in his and the pressure of the boy’s fingers upon those of the man told an eloquent story of a newly-gained friend. No direful punishment, no long, solemn lecture could have done the work which this pleasant talk had accomplished, and as Max sat there, he was resolving, in his boyish soul, “to stand by Bony” in the future.
Meanwhile in Louis’s room, the boys were restlessly lounging about, while they waited for the reappearance of the young sinner.
“He must be having a bad time,” said Jack, taking out his watch for the twentieth time in the last half hour.
“I’m afraid Bony’s giving it to him strong,” added Paul.
“You don’t suppose Bony’d whip him, do you?” suggested Leon, in an awed tone.
“Whip Max? Nonsense!” responded Harry.
“Don’t you be too sure, Hal,” said Jack. “Bony looks as if he’d be ready for anything when his blood is up. He’s just made up his mind that he is not to be interfered with.”
“But Dr. Flemming doesn’t allow whipping,” said Alex. “Bony’s much more likely to report him. It’s mean to come down on Max, though, for such a little thing, when we’ve all been as bad as he.”
“Or would have been, if we’d been bright enough and had dared,” added Harry, unconsciously striking the two main causes of Max’s being singled out to be the one in disgrace.
“The truth of it is,” said Louis; “Bony has been holding off, this long time, and now at last, after we’ve walked all over him, the worm has turned, so I shouldn’t much wonder if he was pretty severe. I only wish it hadn’t been Max. A little discipline wouldn’t hurt Smythe or some of those fellows, they’re such sneaks; but Max—”
“Here he comes!” interrupted Paul excitedly. “Now we shall hear all about it.”
“Well,” remarked Max coolly, as he came into the room; “this is quite an unexpected pleasure; but I am delighted to see you, gentlemen, I am sure.” And with a low bow of mock ceremony, he crossed the room and sat down on the bed.
The boys waited eagerly to hear him speak, for they felt sure that he would have an interesting story to tell; but Max held his peace. His cheeks were flushed, and his eyes looked a deeper, clearer blue than ever; but otherwise there was nothing to show that anything unusual had occurred. At length Louis’s impatience could be restrained no longer.
“Say, Max, what did he do to you?” he asked anxiously.
“Who?” inquired Max, with a preoccupied air.
“Oh come, Max, that’s no go,” interrupted Jack. “Bony, of course. Is he going to report you?”
“Report me? No, indeed,” answered Max calmly.
“Did he scold you much?” asked Alex sympathetically.
“Scold me?” echoed Max. “Not a bit.”
“Well then, what the mischief did he do? Tell us, Max, for we’re dying to know,” said Harry persuasively.
“Well, I’ll tell you,” answered Max slowly. “He treated me like a gentleman that had made a mistake, and I’m going to try to behave like a gentleman, after this. Bony’s a good man, boys, even if he is queer; and I mean to stand by him. I’m ashamed of myself that I’ve carried on so, and I told him I was. That’s all there is about it.”
“I’ll tell you what,” remarked Harry, as he and Alex went away together; “Bony must have had a change of heart.”
“It’s much more likely that Max has,” responded Alex Sterne.
It was more than a week after Thanksgiving when Dr. Flemming came hurrying into the school-room one morning, and spoke to Mr. Boniface for a moment. Then he turned to the boys who were watching, curious to see the meaning of his unwonted excitement.
“I should like to ask if any one of you have seen Gypsy this morning.”
No one answered, but there was an immediate sensation in the room, for from the doctor’s manner, they all saw that something was wrong with the child, and merry little Gyp was the pet and plaything of all the boys.
“What is the matter? Is Gyp lost?” asked Alex, who had chanced to be standing near the desk when the doctor entered.
“I am afraid so,” her father replied, knitting his brow anxiously. “Her mother just sent up to see if she was here. Gyp went out to play, early this morning, and she hasn’t been seen since then.”
“Perhaps she may be with Lieutenant Wilde,” suggested Mr. Boniface.
“A good idea! Thank you, Mr. Boniface,” said the doctor gratefully. “Eliot, will you run up to the laboratory and see?”
Max rushed away, but was soon back again with the discouraging report that no one there had seen the child since the afternoon before, when she had brought Mouse to call upon her cousin.
The doctor took one or two hasty turns up and down the room to collect his thoughts, for the idea of any harm coming to the child unmanned him. Then he faced the boys again.
“My boys,” he said; “I must call on you for your help. Mrs. Flemming had looked about the grounds before she came here, and now there is no knowing how long the child has been gone. How many of you will help me to hunt for her? Any that are willing may leave their lessons and come to me in the hall.”
With one exception, every cadet in the room sprang up. The exception was Leon who was still unable to use his foot freely, and who sat there, gazing rather forlornly after his companions as they hurried away, followed by Mr. Boniface himself. The boy had taken his sprained ankle very patiently; but now he was wretched enough, as he glanced about the empty room, and listened to the voices of his friends outside. Then he hopped slowly over to the window and stood there, watching the boys as the doctor divided them into squads and sent them off, this way and that. It was a bleak, cold day, with every promise of snow. The upper limbs of the bare trees waved and twisted in the wind like so many gray, beckoning arms, and the dead brown leaves went scurrying across the frozen ground, in search of some sheltered corner where they might stop and rest. Leon watched the group of boys, among whom were Alex and Harry and Max, until it was out of sight, then he looked up at the dull, lead-colored sky and shivered, for it seemed as if he could feel its chill, even inside the house. But there was no use in his staying there alone, so, picking up his cane, he hobbled over to his room in Old Flemming and sat down to read.
For some reason, his book was unusually dull, and out from its pages the face of Gyp kept laughing up at him, just as it had laughed down at him on Thanksgiving morning, when he lay on the sofa and she told him her wonderful story of the duck. All at once Leon threw down his book excitedly. Strange he hadn’t thought of it before! She had probably gone to see old Jerry. He recalled how interested she had been in his blue door and his crow. That was doubtless the secret of the matter. For a moment he rejoiced in the suggestion; but then he remembered that he was alone in the house, for even the servants had joined in the search. Careless of his foot, he sprang up and started for the door, thinking to go himself; but a dozen reckless steps convinced him that such a proceeding was impossible, and with an irrepressible moan of pain, he threw himself on his bed and clasped his ankle in both hands. There he lay for a long hour, forgetting his throbbing, aching foot while he listened for any sound from below, and meanwhile glancing out, from time to time, at the heavy flakes of snow which were beginning to whiten the air. What would become of Gyp, he wondered. It was more than four miles to the old man’s house, a long walk for a little child, and the road through the thick woods and along by the lake was lonely, even to a grown person. He fancied he could see the small figure trudging wearily along, now and then starting at some unexpected sound, and throwing an affrighted glance back over her shoulder. And what if, as was highly probable, Jerry should be away from home? Any one who has been anxious, alone and in pain, will realize how rapidly Leon’s fears increased, and understand the relief he felt when steps and voices were heard on the piazza below. He rose and, though the pain in his ankle turned his very lips white, he went to the window, threw it open, and called loudly,—
“Who’s there? Come to fifteen!”
He waited for a moment until he heard the steps coming up the stairs; then he closed the window and dropped into the nearest chair, just as Harry, Louis and Stanley came into the room.
“Did you find her?” he asked impatiently, while they shook the snow from their shoulders and looked at him inquiringly, too breathless to speak.
“Not yet,” said Louis. “We thought there were too many of us together, so we came back to see if there was any news, and if not, to start out again.”
“What do you want of us, Leon?” added Harry. “Tell us quick, for we don’t want to lose any time.”
“I think she’s gone to find Jerry,” answered Leon, and then, while the boys rubbed their blue, cold fingers, he went on to tell them his reasons for such a supposition.
“I shouldn’t wonder if you were right,” said Stanley, when they had heard him out. “It’s a good idea, and we’ll start for there, straight. Between the wind and the snow, it’s an awful day, and the child must be found soon, or she’ll freeze. But what makes you look so queer, Leon?”
“Nothing, only I hurt my foot a little. Never mind me, but go along. Bother my ankle! I wish I could go with you.”
“What crazy thing have you been doing, Leon?” demanded Harry sternly. “If you’ve twisted your ankle again, it will be no joke. You know what the doctor said.”
“Yes, I know,” replied Leon meekly; “I didn’t mean to. But you go on now, for the storm is getting worse, every minute.”
Harry looked at him anxiously. He was afraid the boy had done more harm than he would admit; but, in the meantime, as he had said, the storm was increasing, and he felt that Leon’s clue was too valuable to be neglected. With a reluctant glance at his brother he turned away, and followed the other boys down the stairs and out to the road.
“This is a genuine blizzard, and no mistake,” remarked Louis, as the boys paused at the gate to button their coats tightly, turn up their collars and pull their caps well down over their eyes, before turning north, to face the cutting wind.
“I believe you,” responded Harry briefly. “That baby couldn’t stand this long.”
Then they were silent, for the wind blew the words back into their teeth, and they needed all their energy to struggle onward against the driving storm. The walking was comparatively easy as yet, for the snow was soft and light, and only a few inches had fallen; but it powdered the fences and tree-trunks and threw a bluish-white light over all the landscape, till it seemed as if they were passing through a strange and ghostly world. On they plodded, now facing the storm, now turning to walk backwards for a few steps, now stopping short to regain their breath. They passed through the village street; quite deserted it seemed to them, for even the hardy farmers were staying inside their homes that day; then they came out past the last house in the street, went down the hill, crossed the brook at the foot and struck out into the open country. For a mile the road was quite unsheltered; then it wound along under the trees, gaining a partial protection from the storm; then again it came out on the shore of the little lake, across which the wind swept fiercely. They talked but little on the way, so absorbed were they in reaching the end of their journey, for not one of the lads had the faintest doubt of finding Gyp curled up by the fire in Jerry’s cabin. Leon’s suggestion had seemed so probable to them that they had accepted it as a fact, and felt quite sure that they would go triumphantly back to Flemming, with Gyp in their arms.
It was nearly three o’clock in the afternoon when they came in sight of Jerry’s well-known blue door. Exhausted as they were, half-frozen and faint with hunger, the sight of the cabin roused them until they broke into a run. Harry reached the door first, pushed it open and glanced in. Then he stopped short, and his face grew deadly pale. No Gyp was there; only old Jerry dozing contentedly before the fire, with his dogs asleep around him.
“She isn’t here,” he said faintly, facing the others as they came up.
“Not here!” echoed Louis and Stanley, growing white in their turn.
“No one here but Jerry,” repeated Harry; and the three boys stood gazing at one another, in blank dismay.
The rush of cold air had wakened Jerry, who turned drowsily in his chair, caught sight of the well-known uniform, and was on his feet at once, to show his respect for his guests.
“How do?” he remarked. “Flemming boys; Jerry knows. How do? Sit down.” And he bowed so low that his yellow-white hair fell forward over his wrinkled old face.
“We can’t stay, Jerry,” said Louis. “What shall we do, boys? It’s plain she isn’t here.”
“I don’t know what next,” said Harry wearily, as he took off his cap and wiped the melting snow off the visor. “What do you say, Stan?”
“She may have been here and gone,” suggested Stanley rather doubtfully, for indeed it did not seem likely that the child would venture out into such a storm, for the second time.
“We can’t have passed her on the way,” said Louis. “I’m sure I should have seen her,” he added, as if to reassure himself, for a vision of little Gyp, lying chilled and alone by the side of the road, had struck terror to his soul.
“Gyp has plenty of pluck,” said Harry. “If she really made up her mind to come here, no amount of storm could keep her away. Let’s ask Jerry if she has been here. Do you suppose we can make him know what we mean?”
“I’ll try it, anyway,” said Stanley.
This little conversation had been carried on in a hurried undertone, while the old man was still bowing and beckoning to the boys to approach the fire. Stanley now turned to him and, following the direction of his hand, went up to the stove in the corner.
“Jerry,” he began, “do you know little Gypsy Flemming?”
Jerry shook his head in hopeless bewilderment.
“It’s no use, Stan,” said Louis, in a low voice; “you’ll never get it through his head, and we’re only just wasting our time talking.”
“Wait a minute, Wing,” said Harry; “it’s worth trying. Go ahead, Stan.”
“Listen, Jerry,” said Stanley firmly; “a little girl with long brown hair, all curly, and a red coat. Has she been here?”
The old man’s face lighted with a sudden thought.
“Jerry knows,” he said, while the boys eagerly pressed nearer him. “Little girl so high,” and he measured with his hand; “long hair, red hat, red coat, all cold, came here this morning and played with Jim Crow.”
As Jerry paused, the boys were startled to hear a hoarse caw from above their heads. Looking up, they saw a black head and two bright, beady eyes peering down at them from a beam of the rough wall.
“That’s Jim,” remarked Jerry. “Jim knows Jerry, heard Jerry call.” And in proof of the statement, the bird just then swooped down to his master’s shoulder where he stood, cocking his head this way and that, as he lent a goblin-like attention to the conversation.
“Where is she now?” asked Louis excitedly.
“Gone,” said Jerry, shaking his head, while the crow bent forward and twisted his glossy neck until he could look into his master’s face.
“Where did she go?” inquired Harry.
“Jerry do’ know.”
“Hold on, boys; too many of us asking questions at once will only rattle him,” said Stanley. “Now, Jerry, tell me when she was here.”
“Lit’ while ago.”
“How long did she stay?”
“Good while; got warm, played with Jim, then said ‘good by’ and went out, do’ know where.”
“I suspect that’s all we can get out of him,” said Louis. “We may as well go on, for if he can’t tell time and doesn’t know which way she went, we can’t gain much here.”
“At least, she’s been here,” said Harry thoughtfully; “and it can’t be so very long since she left, I should think. What shall we do next, Stan?”
“Let’s go on up the road a little farther,” advised Stanley. “If only ’twere not snowing so hard, so we could see her track! But that’s all covered up.”
“Shall we all keep together, or shall we take different ways?” asked Louis.
“Keep together,” said Stanley briefly. “It may be that we shall find her somewhere that it will take us all to see to her.”
Though the boys made no response, they realized the awful meaning of Stanley’s words, and it was with a dull, heavy ache in their hearts that they sadly left the cabin. As Harry turned back, to pull the door together after him, he got sight of the crow who was hopping up and down on old Jerry’s shoulder, croaking and chattering in a perfect abandonment of mirth, as if in malicious enjoyment of their trouble.
Even the short time they had spent talking with the old man had made a great change out of doors. It was now snowing furiously, and the flakes, instead of falling, were driven straight before the wind which had increased to a gale, here sweeping the ground bare, there piling high white drifts which, to the boys’ excited imaginations, looked in the uncertain light like little mounds heaped over a human body. Twice they started out into the road; twice they were beaten back, and stood breathless in the shelter of the cabin. Then Louis said, as he shut his teeth tightly together, to steady his voice,—
“This won’t do, come on.”
On and on they struggled, peering this way and that, now and again stopping to call the child’s name, then pressing onward once more. At length Stanley halted.
“You’ll have to leave me, boys,” he panted. “I can’t go on any farther.”
“You must,” said Harry decidedly. “It’s sure death to stop here. Wing, you take hold one side of him, and I will the other. Steady, old fellow; keep up your courage and try again. We’ll get to a house soon.”
Yielding to their encouragement, Stanley made another effort, and the three boys went on, arm in arm, floundering through the drifts which were every moment growing deeper. The road had come out into the open fields again, and it was becoming difficult to keep in the track, while, to add to the danger of getting lost, the early winter twilight was settling down around them and they could see but a few paces ahead. Stanley’s steps were growing more and more uncertain, and the other boys staggered under the weight of supporting him. Their very eyelids were pressed together with the sweep of the snow, and it was well-nigh impossible for them to glance up, as they plodded onward, with only chance—or a higher, unseen power, to guide them.
All at once, Harry stopped abruptly.
“Listen!” he exclaimed.
They listened and heard, close at hand, the welcome sound of a dog’s bark.
“There, Stan,” said Louis, trying to speak lightly; “we’re all right now. All we have to do is to follow our noses till we get to the house, and then we can get warm and dry before we go on.”
They renewed their efforts, and twenty steps more brought them to the farmhouse, only twenty steps, but to the chilled and weary boys they seemed like twenty miles. Without waiting to knock, and only intent on finding warmth and rest, they pushed open the heavy kitchen door and stumbled in, dazed with the rush of light and heat which met them. Two women sprang up as they entered, leaving a small figure before the fire. The figure turned and calmly remarked,—
“Hullo, Harry! Come see my kitties.”
It was Gyp herself, sitting on the floor and contentedly playing with the cat and her family, perfectly unconscious of the alarm and suffering she had caused.
Too much exhausted to speak, now the stimulus of their anxiety was gone, the boys sank into the hard kitchen chairs, while Gyp ran up to them, with four or five squirming kittens gathered up in the skirt of her little apron.
“What’s the matter?” she asked, pausing to survey them doubtfully. “Are you cold, or only just tired?”
There was a moment of silence. Then Louis bent forward and caught the child in his arms, with her warm cheek against his cold one. The drops on his face were not all from the melted snow, and his lips were quivering; but he only said,—
But fortunately boy strength and spirits are both elastic, and by the time the lads had taken off their overcoats and drawn their chairs up to the stove, they had rallied and were themselves again. While their plump hostess and her rosy daughter trotted up and down, setting out a bountiful supper for the unexpected guests, the older woman told them of Gyp’s coming.
“We was sitting here by the fire,” she explained, as she brought out a great mince pie to adorn the feast, “when we heard a little knock, low down on the door. It was storming so that I was some surprised, for I didn’t expect I’d see anybody to-day. I went straight to the door, and there stood this little shape, looking for all the world like a great big snowball. We pulled her in and give her some dinner and got her all het up, sos’t she shouldn’t take cold. She told us she was Dr. Flemming’s little girl; but there wasn’t anybody to take her home, for our men-folks all went off after cattle, this morning. But heart alive! did you walk up here in all this storm?”
“So’d I,” put in Gyp; “at least, it didn’t storm till I was ’most at Jerry’s. I meant to go home again; but I was mixed up and came here instead. I’m glad I did, though, for now I’ve seen the kitties.”
“What time did you start, Gyp?” asked Harry, taking her on his knee, while she helped herself to his pie, unrebuked.
“Just when papa went up to school,” answered Gyp. “I wanted to get to Jerry’s in time for dinner; but he didn’t give me any. I had lots of fun with the crow, anyway.”
“But, Gyp,” remonstrated Louis, half-vexed at the child for being so unconcerned; “don’t you know you were naughty to run away, and frighten papa and mamma and all us boys?”
Gyp’s lip began to roll over, and she dropped her pie.
“I didn’t mean to,” she said. “I only wanted to see the old man and the blue door that Leon told me ’bout.” And she burst out crying.
The boys looked at one another in dismay. It was easier for them to face the storm than Gyp’s tears, and they hastened to console her with assurances of pardon. The farmer’s wife came to their relief.
“Poor little tyke!” she said, taking the child into her motherly arms; “she’s plumb tired out, and I’ll put her straight to bed.”
The supper completed the work the fire had begun, and when their hostess came back to the kitchen, she found the boys pulling on their rubber boots again and buttoning their coats.
“Whatever are you going to do?” she asked, in astonishment.
“We must get back now, as soon as we can,” said Louis, who had regained all his usual grace of manner. “Dr. and Mrs. Flemming will be anxious to hear, and we must let them know Gyp is found. We’re much obliged for the supper, and if Gyp can stay here over night, somebody will come for her in the morning.”
“I suppose you’d ought to go,” she answered reluctantly; “but even if you do, you sha’n’t walk, when we’ve got a horse standing in the stable. I’d like you to stop first-rate,” she added hospitably, as she started in search of a lantern.
It was the work of only a few moments to harness the raw-boned old horse to the home-made sleigh; the boys were rolled up in blankets. Harry took the lines and they were off, with the wind at their backs, while the two women encouraged them with shrill words of cheer, as long as they could see the gleam of the lantern.
To both Mrs. Flemming and to Leon, the day had been a long one; and as one party after another came back, took a hasty meal and went out again, the suspense became almost unbearable. With an utter disregard for the truth, the lads tried to convince the anxious mother that the storm was not severe; but she was too familiar with the heavy snows which visit the hill towns, to be deceived by their words. By afternoon it had become impossible for her to keep still, and she wandered restlessly from window to window, gazing out in the vain hope of seeing the familiar little red coat being borne home in triumph. How cruel the darkness seemed to her, as it settled down about the house! As the last light faded away, she felt as if it were taking all hope with it. When she could no longer see the outline of Old Flemming, up the hill, she left the window, but still kept moving about the room, now stirring the fire, now changing the position of the light in the window, and often stopping to open the front door and listen intently. One by one, the searching parties straggled in, each one stopping at the doctor’s to give the same report, “No news yet,” and then going on up the hill, to plan for their next departure.
Dame Pinny was ready for them with a hot supper, and they gathered in the dining-room to eat and talk at once, for moments were precious. Harry, Louis and Stanley had not yet appeared; but the boys were expecting them at any minute, for no one but Leon knew where they had gone, and none of the boys had been up-stairs to see him. In their excitement, nobody noticed that he did not come down to supper.
The hurried meal was nearly ended, when the doctor came into the room. At sight of his tired, haggard face, there was a sudden respectful silence.
“I want to thank you all for the hard work you have done to-day,” he said, and it was plain that it cost him an effort to speak. “And now I must insist on your not going out again till morning. My duty to your parents will not allow me to expose you to such a storm.”
There was a murmur of dissent from the boys; but it was stilled as the doctor went on,—
“I am grateful for your good-will, but I shall forbid your going out again to-night. Besides, it is useless to attempt anything in such darkness. If Gyp is in some house, she will be perfectly safe; if not—”
He paused abruptly, rather than speak the words. The short silence which followed, was broken by a sudden call from Jack Howard, who had restlessly strayed to the door again.
In a second, the dining-room was deserted, and seventy anxious boys stood bareheaded on the piazza, straining their ears to catch any sound above the roar of the wind.
“It’s sleigh-bells!” exclaimed Max.
“Hush!” said Lieutenant Wilde, laying his hand on the shoulder of the lad who was madly dancing up and down. “Listen again.”
This time there could be no mistake. The strong north wind was bringing them the distant sound of bells, and with the jingling, were mingled shouts and whistles, cheers and cat-calls, all of an unmistakably joyous nature. The sounds came nearer and nearer, more and more distinct, until above them all, could be heard Harry’s voice calling out the welcome words,—
And the ringing cheer from seventy throats bore the news to the lonely, waiting mother.
Unlike another young woman who shared Gyp’s taste for solitary and unexpected rambles, and who was punished by being put to bed until she was rested, justice descended upon Gypsy, and after the first hour of enthusiasm over the returned prodigal, she was informed that she must spend the rest of the day in her own room, while for a week she could not leave the house nor see any one of the boys who came there. This was a severe blow to the small sinner for she had been regarding herself as the lion of the occasion and expected to be petted and admired for her enterprise, accordingly. However, she knew the firmness of her mother’s discipline too well to rebel, so, with one longing glance out at the hill where the boys were coasting, she picked up Mouse and slowly retired to her room. Once there, she passed the time by telling her furry companion the story of her wanderings, dwelling with an unkind emphasis on the beauty and plumpness of the cat and kittens at the farm.
But not even Gyp’s imprisonment punished her half so much as did the sight of Leon, a week later, when she met him one morning, hopping over to the recitation hall on crutches. Gyp was a tender-hearted child, and fond of Leon, so the knowledge that her running away had been, even indirectly, the cause of his fresh injury nearly broke her small heart; and she tried, with all sorts of coaxing, wheedling arts, to make amends for the suffering she had brought him. The few quick steps which Leon had taken, on that memorable day, had done serious harm to his ankle that had by no means recovered from the previous sprain, and his using his foot was now delayed for weeks instead of days. During the time that Gyp was shut up, he too was a prisoner; but, with no lessons, plenty of books to read, unlimited dainties sent up the hill by the doctor’s wife and the boys running in at all hours, a week spent in bed was rather luxurious than otherwise. It was not quite so much fun when, promoted to crutches and allowed, after a day or two of experimenting on them about his room, to slowly work his way over to his classes, he could watch the fun from a distance without being able to have a share in it. Still, he was somewhat consoled by the doctor’s assurance that he would be able to go home for the holidays, and that he would be walking as well as ever, long before winter was over. With that he was forced to content himself; and, thanks to a happy, sunny temper, he was enabled to make the best of a rather bad matter, and bear the trouble with such perfect good-nature that he won the praise of all the boys and the sincere admiration of his teachers, even to the phlegmatic Herr Linden who said approvingly, one day,—
“So, mein sohn, you haf a brave heart.”
“What’s the use of having anything else, I’d like to know, as long as it can’t be helped,” was Leon’s comment, when he told Harry of the old German’s praise. “It’s worth all the bother of it to be fed up as I am, and have all you fellows at my feet, to say nothing of the lieutenant and old Bony himself. If ’twasn’t quite such splendid coasting, I shouldn’t be in any hurry to get on my feet again. I do hope daddy’ll let me come right back after the holidays, though, and not make me wait till I’m over it.”
A day or two later, several of the cadets were strolling back from the armory where they had their afternoon drill, now that the storms had made the parade-ground unfit for use. Leon was with them, for he had been over to look on, a little enviously, it must be confessed, for the drill under Lieutenant Wilde had been his delight, and this was the first time he had seen it since his loss of promotion, a month before. The boys came slowly along, adapting their pace to his rather uncertain one. As they reached the steps of Old Flemming, Leon dropped down there in the warm sunshine. The others followed his example.
“It doesn’t seem as if ’twere almost Christmas; does it?” asked Alex, turning up his collar to keep out the wind, and then bending down to do the same by Leon, who sat on the step below him.
During the past month, a strong intimacy had sprung up between the two cadets, so far apart in age. Next to Harry, Leon adored Alex as a superior being, and was never quite so happy as when in his society. Alex, on his side, had been attracted from the first by Leon’s wide-awake manner and frank, open nature. Then came the boy’s accident, and Alex had been completely won by his pluck and uncomplaining endurance. He had been most unselfish with him, giving up many an out-of-door frolic to stay with him, until even Harry was half-jealous at times, and laughingly protested that Alex was cutting him out.
“Thanks, old fellow,” said Leon, turning around, as he felt the hand on his collar. “I don’t feel in any great hurry for vacation; I’m well enough off here,” he added contentedly.
“You might petition the doctor to keep right on,” suggested Max wickedly, while he appropriated one of Leon’s crutches to knock down an icicle near by.
“No,” said Leon meditatively; “I don’t know as I mind going home for a few days for a change. What are you going to do, Alex?”
“Stay around here, somewhere,” answered Alex. “Vacation’s too short to make it worth while to go clear to Denver and back.”
“Not go home? H’m!” And Leon thoughtfully drew down his lips and raised his eyebrows, in unconscious imitation of Mr. Boniface.
“Seems to me this has been an unusually exciting term,” observed Paul. “With Winslow and the football and Gyp’s getting lost and—”
“The Boniface rebellion,” added Jack, in a lower tone.
“That’s mostly over now,” said Max. “There are a few little sneaks left that walk over him, but most of the fellows either like him or let him alone.”
“How he’s changed!” said Paul. “He doesn’t seem like the same man that came here in September. He was a terror, then.”
“Perhaps the change is in us,” remarked Max, in a sanctimonious falsetto. “Maybe we’re getting good at last.”
“No danger for you, Max,” said Leon reassuringly.
“We didn’t treat him decently, though,” returned Max, whose loyalty to Mr. Boniface had dated from the day of their long talk together. “He was queer and green and cross, and we made him more so.”
“I like old Bony pretty well, now,” said Jack, as he stretched out his arms along the shoulders of the boys beside him. “He’ll always be too solemn; but he’s improved immensely, and he’s a first-rate teacher, anyway.”
“Even if we have been three months in finding it out,” said Alex, as he rose and then stooped to help Leon to his feet.
Two days before vacation, Leon was sitting in his room, devoting one last hour to an approaching examination, when Harry came in, with an envelope in his hand.
“Here’s a letter for you from father,” he said, as he tossed it over to Leon.
Leon caught it eagerly, tore it open and ran his eye over the contents. Then he threw it down on the table.
“Good for daddy!” he exclaimed. “Here, Hal, you can read it; I’m going to find Alex.” And he went hurrying away.
Harry picked up the letter and read the few lines it contained; then his face grew as bright as Leon’s had done, and he rushed off after his brother. The note was evidently in reply to one written by Leon, asking permission to bring Alex home for the holidays; and it brought back a most cordial invitation from both Mr. and Mrs. Arnold. But little urging was needed to make Alex consent to so delightful a plan, and, two or three days later, the Arnolds carried him home to Boston in triumph.
Three jolly stage loads left Hilton that morning, to board the train at the station eight miles down the valley. Gathered at one end of the car, the cadets formed a noisy, gay group, now chattering and laughing until the rest of the passengers smiled in sympathy; now rushing to the door at a station, to give three ringing cheers for the schoolmate who was leaving them; now quiet for a moment while some member of the party pulled the ever-present banjo from its green bag, and played a few strains of a rollicking college air. It is remarkable the effect a party of schoolboys going home for the holidays, can have on a carful of people. Gradually the men leave their politics, the women their novels, and even the fretful baby, who has been wailing for the past fifty miles, stops its tired sobbing, while they all gaze with growing interest on the happy group who are by no means impressed by them in return. They catch at the names, listen eagerly for the jokes which they repeat to each other in undertones, and quietly compare notes on their preferences. On this particular day, opinions were divided, for the older men declared themselves in favor of roguish Max, the mothers beamed on steady Alex, the young girls pronounced Louis “so elegant,” while Leon scarcely relished the verdict of one country dame who remarked to her daughter, with the full power of her lungs,—
“For my part, I prefer the little lame one, he is so peart.”
Mr. Arnold met the boys at the station, and they drove directly to the house, to be welcomed there by Mrs. Arnold and Dorothy, her pretty daughter of eighteen. The next ten days were given up to holiday merry-making, and the four young people were continually together. Dorothy, who was enjoying her first winter of social life, would gladly have drawn Alex into her gay circle, for she was by no means unconscious of the advantage of introducing a handsome, well-bred escort; but here Alex stood firm. Nothing would tempt him to forget that Leon was his host, and to leave him alone, for the sake of pleasures in which he could have no share. So the days passed in drives and a little sight-seeing for the sake of Alex, who had never before visited the city, and the evenings were given up to games and impromptu theatricals with the young people who dropped in, nearly every night. It was a pleasant home party, for while Mrs. Arnold petted and coddled Leon as only a mother can do, and Mr. Arnold and his older son had the long, quiet talks which so plainly showed the close intimacy between father and child; in the meantime, Alex and Dorothy had established a frank, cordial friendship, and indulged in a mild flirtation varied, now and then, by a merry war of words.
On the last evening of the vacation and as the final frolic of the holidays, the Arnolds and Alex went to the theatre together. The people around them smiled sympathetically at their bright faces, as Dorothy came in, followed by the three cadets, all in full uniform, and the tall young cadet turned from the daintily-dressed girl, to help the short, slight lad at his other side.
“I say, Dorry,” remarked Leon, bending across in front of Alex, to speak to his sister; “I hope you aren’t easily puffed up. ’Tisn’t every girl here that has a new frock and three elegant young men to take care of her, and one of them a crippled veteran of the last campaign, at that.”
Dorothy gave him a look of amused scorn.
“Three young men!” she echoed in disdain. “You’d better say two young men and one little boy. You’re nothing but a child, you know, and only allowed to be up so late as a special indulgence, just for this once.”
Leon’s answering shot was prevented by the rising of the curtain, and from that time on, they thought nothing more of themselves or the audience, as they followed one of the most brilliant young actors of his day in his changing fortunes, now at the country farm, now in the excitement of London life, then back to the quiet home once more; now laughing almost convulsively at the rustic’s struggles to attain the height of city fashion, and now finding their eyes grow suddenly dim as he turned from his scoffing friends to welcome his good old mother, in spite of her strange, eccentric garb. In reality, it was only for two or three hours that they sat there; but as the curtain fell, it seemed to them that months had passed since they entered the theatre, and that they had lived through the scenes which had gone on before them, for with rare power and skill, the young hero avoided any professional manner, but with his rich touches of fun, his grandly simple pathos, he stood in all their eyes, not as an actor, but as a living, human man.
They did not talk much while they were driving home through the quiet, snowy streets, for they were thinking of the play, and of their parting, the next morning. But the stir of getting out of the carriage and going into the house had roused them all, so that four rosy, wide-awake young people entered the parlor, laughing and talking in a blithe chorus. Mr. and Mrs. Arnold looked up to greet them, as they came in.
“You ought to have gone, mother,” Harry exclaimed. “It was too funny for anything. I thought Leon would roll out of his chair, laughing.”
“After all,” added Dorothy, as she went up to the fire; “funny as it all was, there was a cry under the laugh, till I didn’t know whether ’twas more funny or sad.”
“Come, Dot, stop your wisdom and give us a song to top off with,” demanded Harry, who stood leaning against the mantel, looking down on his pretty sister with evident approval.
“I will,” said she, with her usual readiness; “and I’ll choose this one because, if anything can teach us to appreciate our homes and parents, it ought to be the little story we have watched to-night.”
Dorothy spoke with a sweet, gentle seriousness quite unusual with her, for she was much like Leon in her bright, merry disposition, and inclined to treat life as one long, happy frolic. Perhaps the tender passages in the play had touched her girlish heart, perhaps she had some dim realization of what the future had in store for her. However it might have been, she threw aside her wraps, drew off her long, light gloves and, going over to the piano, she sang the simple little song from “The Water Babies,” which stood as the motto for the play.
“Bee-youtiful, Dorry!” remarked Leon, from the easy chair, where he had thrown himself down when he came in. “If you’d only just put a little more feeling into the last part of it, you’d have made me cry.”
“Don’t you mind his impertinence, Dot,” said Mr. Arnold. “I’ll try to keep him quiet, and you sing something else. No matter if it is late; it is our last night together for some time.”
So Dorothy sang on, giving them one old favorite after another, as they were called for; and to Alex, as he stood leaning on the piano with his chin in his hands, watching the group before him, it seemed that no home could be happier than this one, where parents and children were bound together in such pleasant, lasting intimacy. It was only an every-day home picture, it is true, but one telling an eloquent story of father and mother love, of respect and honor from the children, well-deserved and freely given, of perfect understanding and good-will on both sides.
“Now,” said Dorothy mischievously; “I’ll stop, after I have sung one more for the benefit of the boys.” And turning back to the piano, she sang “Sweet Home.”
Her face at first was brimming with fun; but the old familiar strains brought back her former mood and, dropping her tone of exaggerated sentiment, she sang it as simply and sweetly as a little child, while her hearers, forgetting to laugh at the trite old lines, took up the refrain of the last verse, and the sound died away in a happy chorus of “sweet home.”
No one broke the hush that followed, until Leon said pensively,—
“I know I shall cry myself to sleep to-night, after Dorothy’s harrowing me up in such style.”
An every-day home picture.—Page 176.
“You’d better take an umbrella up-stairs with you, Dot,” suggested Harry. “Leon is right over you, you know, and if the ceiling should leak, you’d get a ducking to pay for your song.”
“I wouldn’t go back, Leon, if I felt so badly about it as all that,” said his father. “I confess that I hate to have you go, myself; I’d much prefer to have you here, in charge of Dr. Bruce.”
“Don’t go, Leon,” urged his mother anxiously. “I’m afraid you’ll get a fall on your crutches, or strain your foot again, in some way. You’d better stay here at home, till you are over this.”
“Oh, mother,” remonstrated Harry; “Leon is just as well off up there. We’ll take good care of him, I promise you.”
“One thing is certain,” said his father seriously; “that was the last game of football that either of my sons will play, with my consent. You needn’t groan, Leon, I mean just what I say.”
“Yes,” added Dorothy a little inconsiderately; “we’ve had football enough for one family. This sprain of Leon’s has spoiled all the fun, this vacation.”
“Speak for yourself, if you please, Dorry,” he said almost angrily. “I’m sorry if I’ve been a drag on you; but, for my part, I’ve never enjoyed the holidays so much. Have you, daddy?” And forgetting his momentary temper, he laughed up at his father, who stood thoughtfully studying his son’s face.
Mr. Arnold roused himself at the question.
“The holidays have been a success, have they, sonny? Well, I’ve hated to see you hopping around in this way; but I’ve rather enjoyed it, after all, for if you’d been quite well, you would all have gone gallivanting off, and left the old people alone at home.”
“This is more fun than gallivanting,” said Leon serenely. “I’ll leave that till Easter, or till mother and Dot come up to Flemming, next month. But I think I’ll gallivant to bed now, for I’m uncommonly sleepy. Come on, boys.”
He picked up his crutches, kissed his father and mother good night in the same way he had done ever since he was a little boy, and limped away, laughing and joking with his brother and Alex. As he passed the door, some impulse made him turn back to add merrily,—
“Good night again, daddy. This is positively the last time.”
How often both the words and the scene came back to him, with the memory of that evening!
Bright and early the next morning, the lads started on their journey, for they had prolonged their vacation until the last possible moment. The whole family drove to the station with them, and as the train rolled away, the boys’ last glimpse was of handsome, kindly Mr. Arnold, waving them one parting salute.
The term opened on that morning, and nearly all the boys were back, so the Arnolds and Alex took the little journey by themselves. It seemed a short ride to them all, for what with the past vacation and the coming term, they had so much to talk over that they were all rather surprised when they came into the familiar station, and saw the old stage waiting for them.
In spite of the good times they had been enjoying, it was very pleasant to Leon to go to supper in the great dining-room, and listen to the uproar of seventy-five boys all talking at once; and when, an hour later, he and Stanley and Max, with half a dozen others, were gathered around the fire in Lieutenant Wilde’s room, planning for a sleighing party, it seemed as if the home he had left that morning, were thousands of miles and countless weeks away. It was not that he cared less for his home than other boys do; but this happy school life had already become so familiar to him that he dropped back into it just as naturally as, ten days before, he had settled into his old home corner.
But when at last he fell asleep, on that first night of the opening term, he found himself at home again, lying on the sofa, with his father by his side. And his father bent over and said something to him. What the words were, he knew not, nor yet the meaning; but he felt a strange, deep sadness creep over him, and then his father’s face faded away from his sight, and he was left alone.
“Are you going to be busy this afternoon, Campbell?” asked Lieutenant Wilde, as they came out from dinner one Saturday noon.
“Nothing special,” answered Stanley. “Is there anything I can do for you?”
“I wondered whether you would be willing to go over to the laboratory, and help me get ready for one or two experiments that I want to show the class Monday morning. Don’t come, if you’ve anything else on hand.”
“I haven’t a thing,” said Stanley eagerly. “Really, I’d like no better fun.”
“Well, I’m going over at half-past two. Will you be over there? Or come to my room for me, if you like. I have a letter to write first.” And Irving Wilde turned away to go to his room, while Stanley joined a group of cadets who were standing in the hall, to discuss their plans for making the best of a stormy Saturday afternoon.
Punctually at half-past two o’clock, Stanley and Lieutenant Wilde were walking across the grounds to the recitation hall. It was a dreary, raw day, with a heavy rain beating down, splashing on the paved walks and soaking the earth until little dark gray pools of snow and water lay here and there, while an occasional patch of brown, dead grass came up through its white covering. But if it was cold and dismal outside, the little laboratory was warm and comfortable enough to make up for it, and Stanley gave his favorite inarticulate grunt of content as he hung up his dripping cap and overcoat beside Lieutenant Wilde’s. It was no hardship for him to have to help Lieutenant Wilde that day. The two were excellent friends, and the lieutenant had often admitted to himself that he found no one of the cadets more companionable than this silent, slow boy of fourteen. Though Stanley might lack the brilliancy of Max or Leon, and had to work far longer at his lessons than many another boy, yet he never stopped until he understood his subject to its foundations, and knowledge so thoroughly gained was never lost. No skimming over the top of things, no hasty cramming would satisfy Stanley Campbell. He must and would know his subject through and through, before it could make any lasting impression on his mind. No matter, then, that when any test came, he was found to lead his class. Such boys as Stanley go far towards making the solid men who are much more the real leaders of the nation, than the brilliant talkers and thinkers that float lightly along on the surface of events but, like all other driftwood, lodge and stick fast when they come to a rock in their passage. And moreover, silent and unresponsive as Stanley was generally thought to be, Lieutenant Wilde and his intimate boy friends knew him better. True, the lad could not talk easily, partly from shyness, partly from utter inability to rattle off the random nonsense which was the delight of the other boys; but, under all his outward reserve, he kept up a strong interest in the conversation, and his face would grow merry or soften by turns, and often he would give the speaker a quick glance of understanding at some little point, too slight to catch the notice of his companions. But however silent he might be in general, he was always at his ease with Lieutenant Wilde who saw and appreciated the real fineness of his mind, and predicted a broad and honorable future for the lad.
“I haven’t so very much to do, after all; only a few sulphur experiments,” remarked Lieutenant Wilde, with a laugh, as he began setting out an array of flasks and beakers and rubber and glass tubes, on the long, broad desk which ran across one side of the room. “I’m afraid, if the truth were told, Campbell, I wanted your company more than I did your help, this afternoon. Still, you may light the gas there, if you will.”
Stanley did so, and then stood watching his teacher as he scientifically linked together his flasks and tubes, now mixing innocent-looking substances with a practised hand, now applying the flame to this compound, or adding a few drops of acid to that.
“There,” he said, after looking closely at one of them for a moment; “that will begin to work now. Bring up a couple of stools, Stanley; we may as well make ourselves comfortable, for all we can do at present is to watch this. I wanted to see that they were all in order for next time, and not have them fail me, as my chlorine experiment did. Do you know,” he added, with an anxious frown; “I am a little suspicious of some of these last chemicals.”
“Why?” asked Stanley, as he seated himself astride his lofty stool.
“They don’t act just right, and I’m not at all sure that they are pure. Still, they came from the same house that always supplies us, and they must be good.” And Lieutenant Wilde bent his head, to look more closely at the bubbling mixture.
“What if they aren’t pure?” inquired Stanley.
“Oh, they may explode; that’s the worst they can do,” said Lieutenant Wilde, laughing at the boy’s dismayed face and involuntary motion away from the desk. “You needn’t worry, Campbell,” he added reassuringly; “I think these are probably all they ought to be.”
“I wonder how I’d like to be a chemist,” remarked Stanley thoughtfully.
“You have rather a gift for it,” responded Lieutenant Wilde, resting one elbow on the desk, while he twirled his glasses by their bows, in the other hand.
“I’m afraid I haven’t much gift for anything,” said Stanley, and there was a little tone of regret in his voice, as he went on, “I wish I could get at things as quick as Max does. It seems as if he knew everything, without studying it at all. He’s an awfully bright fellow, Lieutenant Wilde.”
“Yes,” assented Lieutenant Wilde absently. He was mentally weighing the two boys, as unlike as boys could be.
They were silent for a few moments. Lieutenant Wilde could see that the boy had something on his mind. He moved restlessly on his stool, while he leaned his elbows on the desk in front of him, and fitted the knuckles of his left hand against the knuckles of his right, with a frowning precision. When he looked up, it was to meet his teacher’s steady, inquiring gaze, and his face suddenly brightened, showing one little dimple in his smooth, round chin.
“Well, Stanley?” said Lieutenant Wilde; laughing.
“You’ve something in your head; out with it!”
“How do you know?” asked Stanley rather abruptly, surprised at being found out.
“How did I know? Why, everything about you tells it, except your tongue, so that may as well speak,” answered Lieutenant Wilde, smiling as he watched the boy’s face.
“I believe you do know everything, Lieutenant Wilde,” said Stanley. “You’ve told me so much, you’d better finish, and say what it’s about?”
“Is it about Max?”
“There’s nothing wrong with him, I hope.”
“No, I don’t know as there is; at least, nothing special. No, there isn’t really,” answered Stanley, who had a curious habit of thinking aloud, whenever he was much absorbed.
“What is it, Stanley?” asked Lieutenant Wilde quite seriously.
“It really isn’t anything; honestly, Lieutenant Wilde,” said Stanley, supporting his chin on his hands and looking straight into his teacher’s face. “I truly hadn’t any business to say anything, for I’ve most likely imagined it all; but you caught me by taking me by surprise.”
“You’ve gone so far, Campbell,” said Lieutenant Wilde, as he moved to light the gas under another flask; “that it isn’t quite fair to Max not to talk it over and let me judge whether or not you have imagined some trouble that isn’t there. Come,” he added persuasively; “you ought to be able to trust me with it, Stanley. Have you boys been having a quarrel, or has Max been shirking his work?”
“Neither,” replied Stanley. “It can’t do any harm to talk about it to you, Lieutenant Wilde; it’s only this, have you noticed how Max is getting in with Osborn and his set, lately?”
Lieutenant Wilde suddenly became very grave, and frowned a little, as he sat with his eyes fixed on the rain-streaked window across the room. Of late, Osborn and his friends had been causing Dr. Flemming more anxiety than all the rest of his pupils. Their increasing disregard of discipline and reckless extravagance threw little credit upon the school, while their influence upon the other boys was far from helpful. As they did just enough work to keep their place in their classes, and were wary enough to avoid any open outbreak, there seemed to be no reasonable excuse for sending them away from Flemming. But though the doctor always hesitated about open expulsion, since he knew well how difficult it would be for a pupil whom he had dismissed, to gain admission anywhere else, yet he was only waiting till the end of the year, to give them a quiet hint to leave Flemming, in search of another school.
“I hadn’t thought of it,” Lieutenant Wilde answered, after considering the matter for a moment. “Isn’t Max with your set, as much as he used to be?”
“I don’t know but he is,” replied Stanley; “only ’tisn’t in just the same way. He’s all the time running off to see some of them. I’m not a bit jealous, Lieutenant Wilde,” and Stanley laughed uneasily; “but they aren’t a good kind of fellows for Max to be with.”
“That’s very true, Stanley,” responded Lieutenant Wilde quickly; “they’re the worst possible friends for an impulsive, good-natured boy like Max, for he’s easily led, and before he knows it, they’ll get him into trouble. How long has it been going on?”
“All this term. He’s with us a great deal of the time; but he and Osborn are both training for the ninety-two crew, and besides, since the boys started the quartette, that takes Louis and Leon and Paul and Alex, with Harry for the banjo, and it sort of leaves Max by himself. Then he doesn’t have to study nearly so much as the rest of us do; that gives him more chance for fun, and so he takes up with them. They’re a jolly set and make it lively for him; you see, they want to hang on to him, for they know he’s in with the Arnolds and Alex and those fellows that won’t have anything to do with them. I don’t think Max is to blame; but he may get into a scrape, for all that, for they’re a reckless crowd, and Max is always ready for a joke,” explained Stanley, not very lucidly.
Lieutenant Wilde stroked his silky moustache and bit his lip thoughtfully.
“I don’t quite like it, Campbell,” he said; “and I am very glad you spoke of it. I’ll try to get a word with Max before long, and see if I can’t break it up.”
“Oh, don’t!” exclaimed Stanley hastily.
“Don’t you be afraid, I won’t say anything about you. I only want to caution him, as I have all of you, over and over again, to be careful in choosing his friends. Max is a magnificent fellow and would never mean to go wrong; but he is so fond of fun that he loses his head a little sometimes, and I will just put him on his guard, that’s all.”
There was a moment of silence, and then Lieutenant Wilde said, with one of his frank, boyish laughs, as he put on his glasses and leaned forward to survey the compound before him,—
“Do you know, Stanley, that I make myself think now and then of a Japanese juggler with his balls, when he is throwing them up by turns, to keep them all in the air. It’s just about the way I have to do with you boys, first one of you, then another, to keep you going the way I want you to. It would be ever so much easier for me, if I didn’t care about you and just let you go on in your own way; but I hate to see you go wrong, so I have to put in my word occasionally. Perhaps we’re all the better friends for it, though, and—I’ll see if I can’t give Max a little start, to set him straight once more. Now,” he went on, “I must see to this. Will you just hand me the largest flask you can find in that closet over there?”
Stanley slid down from his high stool and went across to the closet, while Lieutenant Wilde hastily pushed aside the low gas-burner, with its flaring jet of colorless flame. The boy stood behind the half-open door, comparing two or three of the flasks before him, when he heard an ominous click and a short, sharp exclamation from Lieutenant Wilde. The next instant, the room echoed with a loud explosion which jarred the windows and doors in their casements, and set every flask and funnel to dancing on its shelf; there was a rush of suffocating vapor that filled the room and, catching fire where it was densest, blazed up in a dull blue flame about the desk. Then came that sickening sound, the thud of a heavily-falling body. For one moment, Stanley stood as if dazed by the report; but it was for only one. Then this boy who was counted as slow by his friends, returned to his senses and, only conscious that some accident had occurred and that there was need of prompt action, turned to see Lieutenant Wilde lying senseless on the floor, below the desk which appeared to be enveloped in a mass of flame. It was but the work of an instant to leap forward, turn off the gas, then rush to the nearest window and throw it open with an unconscious force which shattered the glass; only an instant, but it showed the stuff of which the lad was made, and proved his ability to think and act quickly in an emergency that would have paralyzed many an older person. From window to window he hurried, throwing them wide open to let in the cool outer air, then back to his teacher’s side, where he stooped to look at him closely and steadily, though his heart sickened at the sight.
Lieutenant Wilde lay in the same cramped position in which he had dropped when the rush of gas had stifled him; his eyebrows and moustache were burned half off, and his face was cut here and there with the bits of flying glass. For a minute, the boy’s courage failed, but he quickly nerved himself again, when he remembered that they were alone in the building and that immediate aid must be summoned. No calling would do, for the boys were all inside the house, and the noise of the storm would drown the sound of his voice. But, on the other hand, dared he leave Lieutenant Wilde? He might then be dying, or even dead. Desperately he tore off his coat, rolled it into a sort of pillow and arranged it under the young man’s head. Then he rushed away, bareheaded and in his shirt sleeves, through the cold, drizzling rain, down to the doctor’s house.
The doctor met him on the steps, for he had heard the explosion, and, seeing him coming in this strange plight, he at once imagined some serious trouble, an impression increased at sight of the boy’s drawn, ash-colored face.
“Come quick—to the laboratory—Lieutenant Wilde!” panted Stanley breathlessly.
The doctor turned to his wife, who had followed him out to the piazza.
“Send Maggie for Mr. Boniface,” he said briefly; “you stay here till I send you some word.” And he hurried away up the hill after Stanley, who had rushed back to the laboratory again.
When the doctor entered the laboratory, his nephew had opened his eyes and was breathing with short, quick gasps, as he lay with his head and shoulders supported on Stanley’s knees, while the boy bent over him, anxiously gazing down, in the hope of receiving a glance of recognition. In as few words as possible, Stanley told what had occurred, adding pleadingly,—
“I did what I could, sir, and then called you,” as if fearing he might in some way be blamed for the explosion.
“I know you did,” said the doctor heartily, just as Mr. Boniface came in the room. “I don’t quite like the looks here, though,” he added, as Lieutenant Wilde’s eyes closed heavily again, and he gave a little moan. “Campbell, you’ve run enough, but I shall have to ask you to go and send either Keith or Lincoln for the doctor, and then tell Mrs. Flemming what has happened and to be ready for us to bring him down to the house, as soon as he can be moved. Tell her to keep you there and look out for you a little,” he went on kindly, as he noticed the hard, strained lines about the boy’s white lips.
“Do you think he—?” faltered Stanley.
“I can’t tell yet,” interrupted the doctor, as if unwilling to hear the words; “but if he comes out of this, he has you to thank. Go now, please.”
The news had already flown through the school, and as Stanley went down the hill, with his coat thrown carelessly over his shoulders, he was waylaid and questioned by group after group of his schoolmates who had rushed out, anxious to learn the truth, even at its worst. But Stanley only answered with a word or two, and hastened on to give his messages for, now that the reaction had come, he felt strangely weak and sick.
The rest of the afternoon was to him like a long, confused dream: the half hour of anxious waiting, when kind Mrs. Flemming, in the midst of her dread and her hurry, made him lie down on the sofa and take the stimulant of which he stood so sorely in need; then the sound of heavy steps as the doctor and Mr. Boniface, Jack and Alex brought the young man into the house and up to the room which Mrs. Flemming had made ready for him; then the quick trot of the doctor’s horse, as he came hurrying up the hill; all the stir throughout the house, that comes with any sudden illness. Then followed the dreadful stillness, when the old doctor went into the room and the door closed behind him, and Stanley, Alex and Jack sat on the stairs outside, listening oh! so intently for any sound that might tell them what was passing within. They did not speak, not even to whisper a syllable to each other, but sat silently gazing at the opposite wall, in an agony of waiting. No harm to one of their schoolmates, to Mr. Boniface, or even to the doctor himself could have moved them as did this sudden fear of losing Lieutenant Wilde. They felt as if they had never before appreciated him; and in their minds, they were going over and over again the many pleasant hours they had spent together, with a vague feeling that it all was ended now.
But someone was moving in the room, and now and then a low voice could be heard. Then all was still again; but presently the door opened and Mr. Boniface came out. He was smiling a little, and to the anxious lads, his homely face looked like the face of an angel of light, as he came down to them and seated himself at Stanley’s side.
“It’s not so bad as we thought,” he said, in a low tone. “He was stunned by the explosion and half-suffocated with the gas; but he’s come to himself now, and the doctor says the worst is over. He’s badly cut with the glass, and burned; but his spectacles saved his eyes, and the rest is painful, rather than dangerous, so it won’t be long till he’s as well as ever.”
As Stanley gave a deep sigh of relief, Mr. Boniface put his hand on his shoulder, while he went on,—
“And the doctor, Dr. Rowe, I mean, says that if this boy hadn’t kept his wits about him as he did, we shouldn’t have had Lieutenant Wilde with us now. Nothing but his quick thought in turning off the gas and letting in more air, could have saved him. We can’t thank you, Campbell; but we can congratulate you, and admire you for the part you have played. And now I must leave you to tell the others, while I go back up-stairs. Don’t let the boys make any noise outside, for they want Lieutenant Wilde to get to sleep.” And he quietly left them.
“You’re the hero of the school, Stan,” said Jack, as the boys stood up, with a queer, dizzy feeling, now that their anxiety was at an end.
“I knew you had it in you, though,” added Alex, as they put on their caps. “There isn’t another fellow in Flemming that would have done as well, and I’m proud to call you a friend of mine.”
And they went away to tell the good news.
But my lady was not sleeping; quite the reverse. After the excitement of an evening spent in her brothers’ room, Dorothy was still lying awake, thinking over the events of the day, when the boyish voice fell upon her ears. Rising cautiously, so as not to disturb her sleeping mother, she threw a heavy shawl across her shoulders and stole noiselessly across the room to the window. There was no moon, but the white snow below and the clear stars above made it easy for her to distinguish the scene before her. But for once, Dorothy’s eyes were heedless of the long lines of hill and valley, as she bent forward to peer down on the lawn below. It was a most romantic-looking figure who stood there, banjo in hand; and though the voice was quite unfamiliar, Dorothy was sure she could recognize the dark, oval face and flashing eyes raised towards her window as, after a short interlude, the singer went on,—
“Boo-o!” shivered Dorothy, as the incongruity between the words and the frost which was nipping her bare, cold feet, flashed into her brain. “That must be the only serenade he knows, or else they never have cold nights down south. But what’s the matter?”
A sudden sound like splashing water had succeeded an abrupt pause in the serenade, and the next moment, the air below was thick with flying snowballs that dashed against the singer’s back and shoulders, covering him from head to foot with a soft, light powder. However, he stood his ground valiantly, and with one proud glance towards the spot where he supposed his unseen enemies to be, he strummed another short interlude, and began on the last verse,—
But a carefully-aimed ball, which struck the back of his neck, just above his upturned collar, was followed by a second volley so determined that the cavalier took to his heels, regardless of his lady, who stood peeping between the curtains and laughing at the fate of her tuneful guest. She watched him until he had vanished in the darkness, and then was about to creep back into bed again, when her quick ear caught a crunching of the snow beneath, and in a moment more, she saw four figures standing under her window, in place of the one who had gone. A second glance told her that the shortest of the group was leaning on crutches, and that the tallest had in his buttonhole a flower singularly like the carnations she had worn in her belt, that evening. Then they began to sing; but before she had time to recognize her brother’s clear, high voice, and the deep bass notes of Alex, it had dawned upon her that the Flemming quartette had come to serenade her and, finding someone else upon the scene before them, had taken the quickest and surest means of driving away the intruder.
They were singing; and in spite of the beauty of the familiar strains, Dorothy smiled to herself, as she thought of the undercurrent of meaning which lay beneath the words. She knew that neither of her brothers approved of Osborn’s evident admiration for her, and were probably exulting in this opportunity to drive their unsuccessful rival from the field.
As the last words died away upon the still night air, she hastily snatched from a vase near by, the flowers she had been wearing, softly opened her window and, with one quick sweep of her arm, dropped them directly at the feet of the tallest singer. He stooped a moment to gather them up from the snow, then bowed low in acknowledgment, as the four voices took up the sadder, sweeter melody of the “Soldier’s Farewell.”
That was all: only a school-boy frolic, and three, at least, of the singers had no more thought of sentiment than they would have done in listening to the band on parade. But if it were all child’s play, why did Dorothy’s fair face grow suddenly wistful, under cover of the darkness, as she watched them move away down the road; and why was she conscious of her heart’s giving a quick throb of pleasure, when she saw the tallest cadet slacken his pace and stretch out a hand to help support his shorter comrade, as he limped slowly along over the slippery crust? What a true knight he was, she said to herself; and then felt the hot blood rush to her cheeks, at the thought of that unqualified pronoun, “He.”
True to their promise made to Leon in the holidays, Mrs. Arnold and Dorothy had come up to Hilton for a week, and Dorothy was holding high carnival among the cadets. Captivated from the first by her pretty face and dainty gowns, the boys had besieged Harry with requests for introductions; and the acquaintance, once begun, was followed up eagerly, as they came to know more of her. Her frank liking for them all, and her evident enjoyment of the little entertainments they prepared for her, quite won their hearts, and Dorothy soon had the Wilders at her feet, while Frank Osborn, to Harry’s great disgust, insisted upon lavishing on her the countless little attentions, which he knew so well how to render acceptable to a young and charming girl.
Mrs. Arnold was a model chaperon, and Dorothy enjoyed the week to the utmost, entering into all the frolics with a heartiness which was, however, never quite so apparent as when Alex was included in them. There were grand coasting parties in the clear, cold starlight, when Mrs. Flemming and Mrs. Arnold were each the centre of a little group whose members had been too late to carry off Dorothy instead; there were long hours of skating, on the little pond at the foot of the hill; there was the daily expedition to the armory with Leon, to watch the drill which was now in charge of Adjutant Sterne, while Lieutenant Wilde was still confined to the house, as a result of his accident; and there were impromptu spreads and euchre parties in the different rooms, after evening study-hour. Day by day, Harry was becoming more and more proud of his sister, while Alex and Paul and Louis and Jack and a dozen more were eagerly contending for her smiles.
The last evening of the visit was to be given up to a dinner at the doctor’s, although Mrs. Flemming had said, rather apologetically, as she invited her guests,—
“I’m afraid we’re hardly in good order for company. My nephew will be able to be down-stairs, but he doesn’t sit up much yet. Still, if you can excuse his lack of manners, we shall all enjoy your being with us.”
It was a pleasant, informal evening, and when Harry, and Alex came to take the guests home, they found Dorothy sitting by the sofa, chattering gayly with Lieutenant Wilde, who looked very handsome and manly, in spite of his undress uniform, and a most undignified strip of plaster running down his left cheek. It was the first time the boys had seen him since his accident and, made to feel at home by Mrs. Flemming’s cordial welcome, and her assurances that it was too early for her company to break up, they established themselves by the sofa, full of boyish solicitude for his health, and eager questions as to his getting out among them again.
Quite too soon the evening was over, and Dorothy found herself bidding her hostess good night, then going out into the clear, frosty air, with Alex at her side. They walked on in silence for a little way, then Dorothy said enthusiastically,—
“Such a pleasant evening! It has been a fit ending to our visit here.”
“How did you like Lieutenant Wilde?” asked Alex. “Had you seen him before to-night?”
“No; this was my first glimpse of him, and I don’t wonder that he’s Hal’s hero. He’s every inch a man and a soldier. But do you know, Mr. Sterne,” she added, with a laugh, “I’ve become so used to uniforms, since I came up here, that I shall find it very hard to see nothing but plain black coats, when I go home. You’ve all done so much to make me have a good time, that you have quite spoiled me.”
“We have the worst of it,” Alex assured her. “We have to settle down now for two months of steady grind, without the prospect of seeing a soul outside the school, till the Easter holidays. Your being here has been a perfect blessing to us; I only wish it hadn’t been quite so short.”
“I’m glad it seems short to you,” she answered frankly. “It has been delightful, every moment of it; but I began to be afraid that Hal’s friends would be heartily tired of entertaining me. You’ve certainly done it right royally, and I wish I didn’t have to leave Hilton in the morning.”
There was another little pause. Then she added, as they drew near the gate where Harry and his mother stood waiting for them,—
“One more word I want to say, Mr. Sterne, before we say good night and good by. Leon has told me, and I have seen how kind you have been to him, since he hurt his foot. Let me thank you for it all, please, and say how we appreciate it.” And she put out her hand impulsively.
Alex raised his cap, as he bent over the little hand.
“It was nothing,” he answered simply. “I was glad to do it for him—and for you.” And as he walked back to Old Flemming, he was conscious that the coming weeks would seem long and lonely to him, after the happiness of the last one; and he found himself looking forward to June and Commencement with an interest hitherto unknown.
It had been hard work for the Wilders to settle down to routine again, the day after the Arnolds went home; and, as Alex had said, they had two months of uninterrupted work before them. The new term was, by this time, well on in its course, and the day was fast approaching when Leon was to be allowed to give up his crutches and to use his foot again, though with a little care at first. While athletics were out of the question for the present, it would be such a delight to be able to walk again, that he accepted the rest without a thought of complaint. Lieutenant Wilde, too, had quickly recovered from his injuries and resumed his usual place in the school where he was more than ever idolized by his boys, who knew how near they had come to losing him.
In the meantime, January had drawn to a close, and Leon’s birthday had come. The Wilders, with whom he was a general favorite, had put their heads together to make the day merry enough to atone for any good times he might have lost, as a result of his sprain, and with Alex and Max at their head, the boys had not been slow to plan the jokes and surprises which kept appearing from early morning until late at night. A long drive with the doctor kept Leon out of the way during the whole afternoon; and while he was gone, the lads busied themselves in making ready for the spread which was to be the grand climax of the day. The village store and the local bakery—pie-foundry, as Max called it—had been ransacked, and the servants had received a generous bribe to do a little extra cooking, when, as if in furtherance of their plans, a huge box had arrived from home, and Harry had unpacked a tempting array of goodies, in the midst of the admiring plaudits of the boys.
As seven o’clock struck, Harry appeared at Lieutenant Wilde’s door, to escort his brother to his room, for Leon had not been allowed to return there, after his drive in the afternoon. With due ceremony, he was marched down the hall, between his brother and Lieutenant Wilde, and ushered into the room which was strangely transformed for the reception. The beds had been taken down and piled into Louis’s room across the hall, while additional tables had been brought in and arranged in a row, to form one long one, which was literally covered with the feast that the lads had collected, to do honor to the occasion.
As Leon came inside the door, his guests rose to welcome him, and here the surprise was perfect; for instead of the usual unbroken array of gray uniforms, there were several fine ladies present to grace the feast. This idea had come from Max, who had spent much time and shown considerable ingenuity in devising the costumes from the material at hand. A short curly bang, a great bath-sponge fastened to the top of his head, eyeglasses and a sheet gracefully draped into a robe and enlivened with a crimson portière, by way of court train, transformed Miss Margaret Eliot, as she was introduced, into a very fair type of society girl; while Harold King’s delicate face and slight figure were set off by a red tablespread for a skirt, surmounted by a pale blue dressing-gown belonging to Louis. Louis himself appeared in a trailing blue gown, garnished with as many watch chains and scarf pins as the entire force of the Wilders could afford, while a stuffed owl adorned one shoulder, a huge bunch of red paper roses rested on the other, and his head was covered with Dame Pinney’s second-best cap which Max had in some way managed to coax her into lending. Stanley Campbell’s freckled face and short, straight brown hair were unmistakably boyish; but Max had done his best to disguise the work of nature with a dark green skirt whose cambric breadths were insecurely basted together with long white stitches, a gay orange and blue blazer and a broad straw hat, from which waved a garland of peacock feathers. However gorgeous was the result, when Max had added the finishing touches to his work, he had been moved to confess that Stanley looked far more like an Indian on the war-path, than the pretty girl for whom he was intended. But proud as the boys were of their own costumes, one and all agreed that Baby was the real success of the evening. Jack Howard’s long white cotton gown was tied in at the waist by a broad blue cambric sash, blue bows fluttered airily on his shoulders where a wide hem and the letters F. H. in indelible ink made their appearance, and a blue band caught together the long golden curls of a wig that Lieutenant Wilde had worn in some West Point theatricals.
“The gentlemen will please escort the ladies to the table,” called Harry, who had been chosen floor-manager of the occasion. “The hero of the evening can have first choice.”
Leon advanced a step, and appeared to be hesitating between the overgrown infant and the jewelled Louisa, when Stanley’s wonderful headgear caught his eye.
“Thanks, I’ll take Lo,” said he, bowing before the appalling vision.
“Very well, take your places,” commanded Harry, pointing to the head of the table; “and don’t forget to look out for the leg of that end table, because it’s ricketty. Lieutenant Wilde, it’s your turn next.”
Lieutenant Wilde chose Max, and the others paired off in turn, until they were all seated at the table. It was a wildly hilarious party, and in spite of wooden plates, paper napkins and no serving, they enjoyed their supper as only hungry, healthy boys can do, though the maidens present were by no means left behind. And while the knives and forks were busy, the tongues kept pace with them, and the jokes flew up and down the room till the walls echoed with the laughter, and the boys in the farthest corner of the house wondered enviously “what on earth the Wilders are at.”
“My dear,” Dr. Flemming had said to his wife, that evening, “if you have nothing else to do, suppose we go up to see Irving to-night. We haven’t been up there since he went back.”
Mrs. Flemming agreed and, at a little before eight o’clock, the doctor and his wife climbed the stairs of Old Flemming, and knocked at their nephew’s door. All was dark within, but on the door was a card: “In Number Fifteen.” The doctor read it.
“Fifteen? Let me see, that is the Arnolds’ room.”
“How good of Irving to go in there!” said Mrs. Flemming. “I suppose he was afraid that Leon would have a dull evening for his birthday, and has gone in to stay with him for a while.”
“Leon has had rather a bad time this winter,” answered the doctor; “worse than any of us know, I fancy, for he has taken it so as a matter of course, that he hasn’t had half the sympathy he has deserved. Well, as long as Irving isn’t here, I suppose we may as well go home again.”
“Let’s go in to see Leon for a few minutes,” suggested Mrs. Flemming. “He would be so pleased to have you call on him, and now we are here, we can do it as well as not.”
As they approached the door of number fifteen, they heard a burst of laughter from inside. Mrs. Flemming laughed too.
“Evidently he isn’t having a very dismal evening,” she said. “What can they be doing in there?”
“That remains to be seen,” said the doctor, as his knock interrupted a fresh shout.
There was a chorus of “come in” from several voices, and the doctor, throwing the door wide open, appeared on the threshold, with Mrs. Flemming at his side. There was an instant of perfect silence, while the astonished boys gazed at the doctor who was no frequent visitor in their rooms, and the doctor’s eyes roved from the loaded table to the remarkable guests who were seated about it. However, before the pause had lasted long enough to be embarrassing, Harry came to his senses and, shaking his head at Stanley, who was plucking wildly at his feathers without being able to remove them, he sprang up, went to the door and invited the unexpected guests to come in and have a share in the feast. The doctor accepted, with a manifest enjoyment of the fun, and while his wife was laying aside her wraps, two more chairs were brought in, and Harry led Mrs. Flemming to the table, as Jack rose and offered his arm to the doctor. If the fun had been great before, it was perfect and complete now, for the Flemmings entered into the frolic as heartily as did their young hosts, tasting all the goodies and laughing at all the jokes with as much enthusiasm as if they had been fourteen, instead of forty. They had not spent twelve years in work among boys to no purpose, and they understood just how to meet them on their own ground without loss of dignity or lessening of influence. Suddenly the doctor rose to his feet, with a glass of lemonade in his hand.
“I call on you all to drink a toast with me,” he said; “in honor of one of our boys who, although almost the youngest present, has yet shown himself a true knight and soldier, by his patience in bearing a trouble that would have made too many of us fretful and unhappy. I drink to the health and happiness of the guest of the evening, Leon Arnold.”
A wild burst of applause and a clinking of glasses followed the toast. Then came the cry,—
But, for a moment, Leon was speechless. The unexpected praise from the doctor had touched him keenly, and brought the hot blood to his cheeks and a lump into his throat. However, the boys were determined to have a response from him, so he controlled himself with an effort, stood up and began falteringly,—
“I thank you all for the spread, and for the toast, and for making my birthday such a jolly one that I shall always remember it. You’ve all been so good to me, since I sprained my ankle, that I haven’t minded it much, now honestly, and—and—and—” Leon hesitated for a minute, in the hope of further inspiration; then added desperately, “and please take some more grub.”
It was scarcely the ordinary form for an after-dinner speech; but it was sincere enough to make up for any other faults, and the boys received it with acclamation, while Mrs. Flemming said to Harry, as she helped herself to another piece of the birthday cake,—
“What a pity your mother and Miss Dorothy couldn’t have been here! But tell me, where did you ever get such wonderful costumes for your young women?”
“You’ll have to ask Max about that,” he answered. “He’s taken possession of everything he could lay his hands on, from the sheets off his bed to the dame’s cap. He’s made us some pretty fair-looking girls, though,” he added, glancing complacently at Max who was coquetting with Lieutenant Wilde, quite regardless of the fact that his top-knot had fallen off on the floor, back of his chair.
Just then the doctor leaned forward as if to say something, and there came a pause.
“Speech, sir?” inquired the irrepressible Max, turning his eyeglass on him.
The doctor laughed.
“Not exactly a speech, Max. I only want to say, before I go, how much I have enjoyed my evening. And now, as long as I don’t often see all the Wilders, as the boys call you, together, I’m going to take just a minute to talk to you. Some of you only have a few months more to stay here, and then your days at Flemming will be ended. I dread the changes as they come, for not even twelve years of teaching have hardened me to having one class after another go away from me. You know you are all my boys, and wherever you go in the future, whatever you do, you will still be ‘the boys’ to me, no matter how old and gray, or how famous and renowned you may become. And so I want my boys to always be as true and pure and high in their aims, as honorable in their every-day lives as they are to-day. I have been looking around at you since I have been sitting here, and I am proud and glad to see that every one of you looks me squarely in the eye, and holds up his head like a man and a soldier. It’s not a bad test for a boy, after all; and I’ve watched you closely enough to know that I am not deceived in it. So remember, whether you go away from Flemming this year or next, while you are here and after you have left us, make up your minds to live so that I can be proud of you; so that you are doing honor to the old school; and, above all, so that you may never shrink from looking your mothers and sisters and, some day, perhaps, your wives too, straight in the eye when you meet them. Then I shall know that I made no mistake when I gave my boys the uniforms of soldiers, for a soldier’s first duty is to be true, true to himself and to his Maker. That’s enough sermonizing to-night; but I am so happy in my boys now, that I must never be disappointed in them in the future.”
As the doctor paused, Max impetuously sprang up, waving his glass of lemonade with such recklessness that he splashed it in a sticky tide down over Lieutenant Wilde’s forehead and glasses.
“I say, boys,” he cried; “here’s three cheers for the doctor and his wife, and may they live long enough to teach school till there isn’t a boy left in the country!”
“That’s hard on you, uncle,” called Lieutenant Wilde, across the table. “Are you going to kill them all off as you go along?”
In the jesting that followed, the doctor and his wife took their departure, leaving the boys to prolong the fun until “lights out” put an end to Leon’s birthday spread.
And when they did go to bed that night, there was not one of them but lay awake for a few moments, thinking over the little talk the doctor had given them, and resolving, in his boyish heart, to be worthy the trust a good man placed in them, worthy to be an honored son of Flemming Hall.
“Oh, do hurry up, Wing!” said Max impatiently.
“Yes, in just a minute,” responded Louis.
“You’ve said that three times already, in the last quarter of an hour; and besides, if you don’t come soon, you’ll crack that glass, see if you don’t.”
“None of your impudence, Max,” returned Louis serenely, while he brushed his coat and then turned his attention to his shoes.
“But you’ll be late.”
“Don’t care if I am. Girls are never ready, and I can’t go looking like an old clo’ man.”
“What’s in the wind?” inquired Harry, strolling into the room without the formality of knocking. “I’ve heard Max hurrying you up for the last hour, Louis; and Leon and I are getting curious to know what’s going on. What’s the whyness of all this prinking, I’d like to know?”
“Louis thinks the fate of the nation is hanging on his getting his hair smooth,” returned Max. “He wants to put in a fine appearance, for he’s asked the girls to go to ride, this afternoon. The worst of it is, he insists on my going too, for ballast. Shouldn’t you think he’d be afraid I’d hoodoo him? I say, Wing, why didn’t you put your hair in papers over night, to give it an aristocratic curl?”
“It’ll have to go as ’tis,” replied Louis complacently, as, with his eye, he measured the points of his collar, to see that they were even.
“I don’t really see, myself,” continued Max gloomily; “the use of playing the agreeable to a girl old enough to be your maiden aunt. One of these damsels is eighteen and the other is twenty-two; and they most likely regard you as a promising infant, Wing. Why can’t you be sensible and leave them to Lieutenant Wilde and Bony?”
“I don’t care for little girls, myself,” said Louis, once more picking up his hairbrush. “If I’d known you felt this way about it, I’d have asked one of the other fellows to go in your place, and left you to play dolls with Gyp.”
“You didn’t dare,” chuckled Max; “you were afraid they’d cut you out; but you knew there wasn’t any danger of my doing it. Now you see here, you told me to be ready at half-past two. Here ’tis three, and we have to go up to the stable to get the horses. How soon are you going to be ready, I’d like to know?”
“I’ll be ready to leave the house in exactly five minutes,” answered Louis.
“All right; I’ll be back by that time,” and Max went out of the room, leaving Harry and Louis alone.
“Look out for yourself, Wing,” advised Harry. “Max is up to some mischief, I know, for his eyes never look that way when he’s innocent. He’ll probably do something to pay you for your prinking, all this time.”
“What can he do?” asked Louis, looking a little alarmed.
“Trust Max for getting himself up in some absurd way, if you particularly want him to look his best. I never knew him slow to discover a way to tease.”
“I wish he wasn’t quite so bright,” said Louis, laughing uneasily. “I want the girls to have a good time, as long as the doctor let me ask them. I’ve hired the only decent rig in Hilton, Searle’s bays and the double sleigh; and now, if Max does anything to spoil it, I’ll cut his acquaintance, see if I don’t.”
“Where are you going?” asked Harry. “We ought to know, so we can send an exploring party after you, in case you get lost or run away with.”
“Up the river, somewhere,” replied Louis, as he pulled on his overcoat and plunged his hands into his sealskin gloves.
“The roads are abominable, that way,” said Harry. “Why don’t you go south?”
“I’ll risk the roads,” said Louis. “Now, where’s Max? He’s the late one, this time.”
“Here he is,” responded Max; “sharp on the minute. Come on.” And he marched into the room, trying in vain to look unconscious of Louis’s expression of consternation and Harry’s evident amusement.
“Max, you sha’n’t! You aren’t going to!” began Louis despairingly.
“To what?” inquired Max innocently.
“To wear those—those things.”
“What, these?” And Max raised his hand to the bridge of his nose, on which triumphantly rode a huge, bulging pair of black goggles.
“Yes, those. Where’d you get them?” demanded Louis.
“They’re little Smythe’s. I borrowed them because the sun was so bright, and you’ve no idea how comfortable they are,” returned Max, while Harry laughed unfeelingly.
“But Max, you aren’t going out to drive with the girls, with those things on!” protested Louis. “They make you look like a cuttle-fish, or an octopus, or a—soft-shell crab. Do take them off.”
“Not a bit of it,” said Max solemnly. “They feel very good, and Smythe wears them when he goes to walk with Bony, so they ought to look well enough for you. Besides, my eyes feel very tired to-day. I studied two good hours this morning, and they aren’t used to the strain.”
“Max Eliot, you deserve to be thrashed!” said Louis wrathfully. “But come on; I can’twaste any more time talking. You’ll have the worst of it.” And he stalked out of the room, followed by Max who pulled off his goggles long enough to wink at Harry, and then settled them in place once more, as he went down the hall.
Quarter of an hour later, a sleigh was driven up to the doctor’s door, and Louis, after passing the lines to Max, jumped out and ran up the steps. After a short interval, he reappeared, followed by two tall young women, helped them into the sleigh, and the party drove off, while Gyp gazed forlornly after them from the front steps.
It was a month after Mrs. Arnold and Dorothy had gone home, and a fresh interest had come to Flemming for, two weeks before this time, the school had been thrown into a ferment by the news that two nieces of the doctor were about to come up from New York, to make him a visit. Guests rarely came to Hilton during the winter months, and this second excitement, following so closely upon the other, had roused even the least susceptible of the boys; so it was surprising how many of them had chanced to be out on the hill, one rainy afternoon, when the old stage deposited two waterproofed figures and two large trunks upon the doctor’s steps. There was but one subject of conversation in the dining-room that night, as the cadets cast envious glances at the vacant chair of Lieutenant Wilde who, in virtue of his cousinship, was privileged to dine with the fair strangers down the hill. Naturally enough, the Wilders were among the first boys to be introduced to Miss Bernard and Miss Alice Bernard; and from that time on, they vied with one another to make the girls’ visit a pleasant one. However, Louis had soon distanced them all in the race for popularity, for a note had come from his mother, introducing him to these daughters of an old schoolmate; and aided by this and by his easy, charming manners, Louis had succeeded in cutting out his mates. The young women, amused by the boy’s devotion and regarding him, as Max had suggested, as a promising infant, had accepted his attentions as frankly as they were given, so Louis had been the fourth in most of their good times with Lieutenant Wilde.
But the last day of their visit had come, and Louis had asked and obtained permission from the doctor to invite his young guests for a long sleigh-ride. Now, at length, there was no Lieutenant Wilde in the way and, for the first and only time, Louis could monopolize the society of Miss Bernard, leaving her younger sister to the care of Max, whom he had repeatedly warned to be on his good behavior.
It would be hard to say why it is that every boy passes through the stage of adoration for a woman years older than himself; but such is the fact, and now, for Louis, that stage had come. He was conscious of a wild thrill of pride and pleasure as he helped pretty Miss Bernard to her seat, and then tucked the robes closely about her, noticing, as he did so, the becomingness of her sealskin toque and jacket. And he too felt very elegant and grown-up as he gathered up the reins, touched the horses with the whip, and went dashing away down the hill and out into the main road which led to the village. If only it had not been for Max and those atrocious goggles, Louis would have been quite content.
“Do your eyes trouble you, Mr. Eliot?” Alice had inquired sympathetically, as Max bent over to arrange the robe around her.
And Max had made answer, with perfect seriousness,—
“Very much, at times. You see, I suppose I study more than I ought, and it keeps them a little weak. It’s very trying, I assure you.”
“I feel very sorry for you,” said Miss Bernard, turning to face the goggles behind her. “It must be such an interruption to your work, besides being so very painful.”
“It is, very,” replied Max, in a tone so suggestive of patient suffering that Louis had a momentary longing to drop him out into a snowdrift, as he saw the compassionate glance which Miss Bernard gave the young deceiver.
But the clear, crisp air, the dazzling sun that blazed and sparkled over the snowy crust and, above all, the pretty young woman at his side, soon restored Louis to his usual good-humor, and he exerted himself to be as entertaining as possible while they sped away up the valley. Miss Bernard responded to his efforts, for both she and her sister had a genuine liking for this lad, who had put himself and his resources so entirely at their disposal during their visit at the school, so they chattered away pleasantly like the oldest of friends, while an occasional burst of laughter from the back seat, showed that his friend was successfully amusing Alice, who was as gay and full of fun as Max himself.
To the happy party in the sleigh, it seemed as if the sun were in an unusual hurry to hide himself behind the western hills, and it was with a feeling of unmixed regret that Louis turned the horses’ heads toward home. The afternoon had been so short and so full of enjoyment to the lad, and soon he would have left only the memory of what Miss Bernard had just called their “perfect drive.” To his eager young mind, it had all appeared to be created on purpose for his plans, the bright, cold day, the fine sleighing, even the spirits of the horses who arched their necks and tossed their heads with a pride far above their origin, as coming from a mere country livery stable. As the sun went slowly down towards the trees, the conversation had ceased, and Miss Bernard was leaning quietly back in her seat, gazing at the constantly-changing views of mountain and river. How pretty she looked, with the fresh, bright color in her cheeks, and the dreamy expression in her eyes! If he were only a little older, Louis thought, and if—
“Wing,” said Max abruptly; “I don’t want to complain, as long as I’m only a guest; but my nose is simply congealed, and I know Miss Alice is starving. Please remember that it’s almost supper-time and wake up those horses; they’re only just somnambulating.”
Alas for sentiment! There was never an opportunity for it, when Max was within reach; and Louis roused himself from his reverie, to start up the horses once more. Max’s sudden remark had set them all to talking again, and they went briskly on towards warmth and supper. With a sinking heart, Louis noted how they flew past one familiar landmark after another, now the upper cross-road, now Jerry’s cabin, now the lake and now the old turnpike. Then, as the sun threw one last golden beam over the white landscape and then lazily slid down out of sight, they reached the little bridge at the foot of the long hill leading up into the town.
Max breathed a sigh of relief.
“Now the sun’s gone, I think I can take off my glasses,” he said, as he pulled them off and deposited them in his side pocket, blinking meanwhile at the sudden change.
“Don’t be in too much of a hurry,” Louis cautioned him grimly.
“No,” answered Max seriously; “but it will be dark soon, so I don’t think I shall need them any more. But, say, Wing,” he added, in a hollow tone, as he pointed to one of the tiny burial-grounds which were scattered about the town; “aren’t you afraid to go past this spooky graveyard at this time of night?—Hullo! What’s up?”
How it happened, Louis never knew, for it was all so sudden that no one of the party saw the catastrophe coming in time to warn the driver, or even to cry out; but the exclamation from Max found them all sitting in the snow by the roadside, in various undignified attitudes, and gazing stupidly after the sleigh which went frisking away from them on its side until, all of a sudden, it righted itself and left the horses to draw it after them at their ease, as they trotted quietly away to their accustomed stable. Fortunately, except for the blow to Louis’s pride, no one of the young people was hurt in the least, and after staring at the sleigh until it vanished in the distance, and then turning absently to look at each other, they suddenly came to their senses and sprang up, with a general laugh over their upset.
“But I say,” remarked Louis ruefully, while he helped Miss Bernard to brush the snow from her shoulders; “here’s a go!”
“Well, no; I should call it a stay,” returned Max unsympathetically, as he performed a similar service for Alice.
“Oh, come, don’t laugh at a fellow,” implored Louis; “but help me find some way out of this mess. Here we are two miles from home, not a house in sight, and almost dark; what’s the best thing to do? Confound those horses!” he added vindictively, as he drew off his glove, in order to wipe his face which, in spite of the weather, felt uncomfortably warm.
“No use to wipe your eyes for spilt milk, much less for spilt humanity,” said Max philosophically. “I don’t see but two things that we can possibly do: either Miss Bernard and Miss Alice and I will sit here on the fence and wait while you run up to the village for another team; or else we’ll all walk home. Which do you prefer?” he asked, turning to Alice who looked like a feminine Santa Claus, with her shaggy black fur coat whitened here and there with the tiny lumps of snow which had frozen into the curls.
“Walk, by all means; don’t you say so, Nell?” she answered, while Louis bit his lip, and turned away his head to hide his vexation over the unexpected end to his drive.
Miss Bernard, too, declared herself in favor of walking, so they set off for home, while Alice gayly maintained that she had “always longed to be tipped over just a little, for the fun of it.” Her sister, thoroughly sorry for the evident annoyance of their young host, joined her in turning the whole affair into a joke, so, in spite of the merciless teasing of Max, the brisk walk homeward in the short twilight was by no means the dullest part of the afternoon, and it was a jovial party that looked in on the astonished men at the stable, to assure them that all was well. Their coming was only just in time, for the owner, alarmed by the appearance of the empty sleigh, was bestirring himself to drive down to the school, and inform the doctor of the probable accident to his young charges. Congratulating themselves that they had escaped this exposure of their absurd plight, they climbed into the sleigh which was still standing under the shed, and were driven home in triumph by good-natured Mr. Searle, who promised to say nothing of the matter, thus sparing Louis the mortification of being laughed at by the whole school.
Mrs. Flemming had the daintiest of dinners awaiting their return, and insisted that the boys should stay and spend the evening. Lieutenant Wilde, too, was of the party; but Miss Bernard, anxious to restore Louis’s self-respect, for the once neglected her handsome cousin, in order to devote herself more exclusively to the boy at her side. Accordingly it was no wonder that Louis, as he went up the hill in the starlight, had lost the memory of his brief mortification, in the thought of the pleasant hand-clasp which accompanied the words,—
“Till we meet in the Easter holidays then, Mr. Keith.”
“I say, Wing,” said Max, ruthlessly breaking in upon his meditations; “did you hear what Lieutenant Wilde was telling me, on the way up the hill?”
“No,” answered Louis, rousing himself from a vague but blissful dream of the future; “No; what was it?”
“Nothing very important,” said Max wickedly. “He only just happened to mention that Miss Bernard is going to be married next month.”
“What!” And Louis was all attention.
“Yes,” pursued Max remorselessly; “she’s going to be married to a man named Hiram Budge. Pretty name, isn’t it? Maybe she’d like to have you on hand, to act as one of the little boys that open the floral gates, to let the bride go through.”
This last thrust was more than Louis could bear. Pulling off his coat, he tossed it into a chair, with a carelessness quite at variance with his usual methodical precision. Then, turning on Max, he picked him up, kicking and struggling, laid him carefully in his bed, piled the blankets over him, threw the pillows on top of the blankets and seated himself on the pillows, saying,—
“Now, Max Eliot, I’m going to sit here till you promise never to speak of this day again, either to me or to anybody else, if I have to sit here till morning. Now promise.”
And Max promised.
Three weeks later, both the boys received the wedding cards of Mr. and Mrs. Hiram Budge; and not all of Louis’s remonstrances could prevent Max from sending, as his gift, a silver bonbon dish in the form of a tiny sleigh.
The winter term had passed rapidly, and again the boys were within ten days of their vacation. The term had been a pleasant one; but in spite of all their good times, Leon was eagerly looking forward to his two weeks at home, for once more Alex was to be with them, and the Arnolds were full of plans for his entertainment, which it had been impossible for them to carry out at Christmas, owing to Leon’s temporary lameness. Every day since Mrs. Arnold’s note of invitation to Alex had come, the boys had added to their program, which had become full and varied enough to satisfy the most difficult of guests, much more Alex, who was ready to enjoy it all, however simple. Dorothy, too, had carried her point, and invitations were already out for a grand party, on the night after Easter, at which, as a crowning happiness, Lieutenant Wilde was to be among the guests, going down from Hilton on the Saturday beforehand, and staying at the Arnolds’, to come up with the boys, three days later. What wonder that even quiet Harry was excited over the brilliant prospect; while at home, pretty Dorothy was planning a wonderful gown of the pale, creamy yellow which Alex had once chanced to say was his favorite color.
“It doesn’t seem as if I could wait, Hal!” Leon kept saying. “I almost know something will happen to spoil it all.”
And Harry would ask in reply,—
“But what can happen, Leon?”
Old Flemming was deserted, one afternoon, for the boys had just gone over to a dress-parade in the armory; and they still stood grouped about the door, while they waited for Lieutenant Wilde’s coming, before taking their places. The cadets were all in a state of ill-suppressed excitement, for Captain Curtis, an old class-mate of Lieutenant Wilde at the Point, had suddenly appeared to him, and the boys were to have the honor of parade before a soldier fresh from active service among the Dakota and Montana Indians. None of the cadets had seen the hero who had only reached Hilton that morning; but his fame had gone before him, and the boys, forgetful of his years, were picturing him as a seamed and scarred veteran who would burst upon them in all the panoply of war, and were conscious of a keen sense of enjoyment as they put on their dress uniforms and hurried across to the armory to await his coming.
“Alex says he came east on furlough, after the Sioux pow-wow, last December,” said Leon.
Leon’s sleeve was now decorated with the three stripes and block of his rank, for since he had been able to resume his drill, six weeks before, his mental and physical standing had kept him constantly in the line of promotion, and Corporal Arnold was now Sergeant Arnold, with a fair prospect of rising, so soon as there should be a vacancy in the ranks.
“How jolly! Then he’s seen Sitting Bull and his men. I wish I could get in at West Point, and have a chance for a little fun,” sighed Max enviously.
“Much fun it is!” said Jack. “It’s mostly living in garrison on the plains, for we don’t get an Indian war every day. This man was promoted after the battle at Wounded Knee Creek. He was shot there; but he stayed round in camp, and wouldn’t give up and come home, till the Indians surrendered. He’s been at home ever since, getting patched up again, and now he’s stopped over a day with Lieutenant Wilde, on his way back to his company.”
“After all, it must be fun to be out there. I should think it would make Lieutenant Wilde crazy to go,” said Louis, whose ideas of frontier army life were largely derived from Captain King’s novels.
“Not much!” returned Jack scornfully. “I’d rather be a first-class cowboy, myself. But here they come.” And the cadets scurried into position and saluted, as Alex came into the armory, followed by Lieutenant Wilde and a stranger.
At the first glance, the boys were a little disappointed in the appearance of this yellow-haired, blue-eyed young officer, who looked so like a boy, in his citizen’s dress; but there was something in his soldierly carriage, in the firm lines about his lips which made them realize that they stood in the presence of one accustomed to command, while a long scar on his right cheek bore witness to his having seen service, outside of the more ornamental duties of garrison life.
As the companies formed for inspection, the stranger walked slowly across the floor and took up a position where he could watch the cadets when, at adjutant’s call, they fell into line. Then, while the music sounded off and the adjutant received the reports, he closely scanned the faces before him, now and then giving a quick nod of approval at some well-executed detail of the drill. As the sergeants returned to position, Alex faced about, saluted Lieutenant Wilde and reported the absentees. The lieutenant acknowledged the salute and added, according to the usual form,—
“Publish the orders, sir!”
Again Alex faced about to the battalion commanding,—
“Attention to Orders!”
There was no need for the command, for the cadets always looked upon this as the crowning moment of the parade, and waited eagerly to hear the promotions and appointments; while, on this day in particular, they were all on the alert to do credit to themselves and their commanding officer.
Some sudden memory of his own cadet days made the young captain smile to himself, as Alex read:—
General Orders, No. 116.
The following promotions of Officers and Non-com. Officers is announced for the benefit of all concerned,—
The following appointment is also announced,—
Cadet Reed to be Corp.
“I say, Leon; you’re in luck,” said Harry, seizing his brother’s arm, as they left the armory after parade. “I didn’t suppose you were in for a promotion now, anyway; and then it’s so jolly to get it under the eyes of an army officer, too. I heard him asking Lieutenant Wilde which you were, for he said he met father in Helena, two years ago. He remembered the name, because father knew all about Lieutenant Wilde; and he’s coming to our room this evening to see us.”
“I’m going over now to write to daddy,” said Leon. “I want him to know about this right away, because he was awfully cut up about my row with Winslow, even if he didn’t say much about it.”
“All right,” returned Harry; “I’ll be over by and by, to help get things into shape for the captain.” And he strolled away with Max and Louis, who were greatly elated over their new honors.
True to his promise, Captain Curtis did call upon the Arnolds in their room, that evening; and for half an hour he held the boys in a state of breathless interest, with his stirring tales of frontier life, in camp and in the field. He had been detailed for service here and there in the West until he was familiar with every phase of it, among the Black Hills or in the Alkali deserts, in campaigns against Sioux, Blackfoot or Apache. Two years before, while on a brief furlough, he had met Mr. Arnold at Helena, and some slight favors which the older man had done him, had ripened the short acquaintance into a friendship that made him doubly glad to meet the young cadets. At length he rose, to return to Lieutenant Wilde’s room; but at the door, he turned back to say cordially,—
“Don’t fail to tell your father how well I remember our meeting at The Helena; and say to him that the next time I come to Boston, I shall surely call on him. I’m glad to have the chance to get acquainted with you for his sake, for he is a man whom every one must delight to honor; and I am so much indebted to him that I can only hope the time may come when I can do something either for him or for his sons.”
He paused while he shook hands with Harry; then he turned to Leon, whom he had been studying closely, during the evening.
“Let me congratulate you most heartily on your promotion,” he said. “So far as I can judge by what I have seen to-day, you deserve it, for you’ve the making of a soldier in you. Some day, perhaps, we may meet again in service out on the plains.”
“Oh dear! I wish he meant what he said, and there was any chance of it,” said Leon, as their guests took their departure.
“Why, you wouldn’t really like to go into the army?” And Harry looked at his brother in surprise.
“Wouldn’t I, though!” echoed Leon. “I’d like it better than anything else. I believe I was meant for a fighter; not fisticuffs, like the time I knocked Winslow over, but regular army service. I wonder if daddy would let me do it.” And Leon gave his more peaceful brother a look which was anything but blood-thirsty, as Harry asked again,—
“How would you like it to have to give up college and just go to West Point? Life there isn’t anything but states-prison discipline.”
“Give me a chance to choose, and I’d show you what I’d do. But ’tisn’t so easy to get in at West Point, and I shall never get the chance. I shall most likely end by being a minister, or a lawyer, or something else that’s poky.” And Leon went to his desk, to add a postscript to his letter to his father, telling him of their call from Captain Curtis, and of the captain’s answer to his own unspoken longings.
Three days later, the Wilders had been out for a long walk up to the lake and back. It had been an unusually merry walk, too, for the boys, excited by the near prospect of vacation, were all full of fun; while Max, in particular, had invented a dozen different pranks to amuse and torment the others, until Harry had suggested dropping him into the lake and leaving him there, to meditate upon his sins. An hour before supper, they came trooping home, as hungry and hearty as nine lads could be, all laughing and talking at once. As they separated, to go to their rooms, Alex paused at the stairway window long enough to see the doctor walking hurriedly up the hill, with an open letter in his hand, and his head bowed, as if in deep and painful thought. For a moment, the boy watched him anxiously, for he knew that the doctor rarely came to Old Flemming, and never at this hour in the day, when he was usually preparing for dinner.
“I hope nothing’s wrong,” he said to himself, as he went on. Then he dismissed the matter from his mind, for Stanley Campbell had overtaken him, with a question about the next day’s plans.
Alex would have been still more anxious, could he have seen the doctor enter his nephew’s room, and heard the short, hurried conversation which took place there.
“Do it if you can, Irving,” said the doctor, at length. “You can tell them better than I, for the boys are both so fond of you.”
Irving Wilde rose to do his bidding; but his face was deathly pale, and his knees were trembling beneath his weight. He took off his glasses and wiped them, before he could see clearly. For the first time in his young life, he was to be the bearer of a sad message, and the thought unmanned him. Then he shut his teeth together, mustered all his strength and said briefly,—
“I will. Let me take the letter, please.”
His uncle silently handed it to him; silently he turned away and walked down the hall towards number fifteen. At the door he stopped, with his hand raised, just ready to knock. He could hear the boys laughing inside the room, while he stood there outside, waiting to put an end to all their frolic. He longed to go back to his uncle, to beg him to take his place; but it was too late, he must go on. He rapped desperately.
“Come on in!” shouted Leon’s voice.
Slowly the knob turned and the door swung open, showing Lieutenant Wilde on the threshold. The boys had turned to the door, expecting to see one of their mates, Max perhaps, or Jack, come to continue the fun. At sight of their teacher’s wan white face, Harry sprang forward.
“Lieutenant Wilde!” he exclaimed in alarm. “What’s the matter? Are you ill?”
With an effort, Lieutenant Wilde rallied.
“No,” he said; “I’m not ill, so don’t be frightened. I only came to bring you a message from the doctor.” And he dropped into a chair, while his fingers closed upon the letter in his hand with a nervous pressure which left the nails white and bloodless. The boys watched him anxiously, sure that something was amiss.
“The doctor has had a letter from your home,” Lieutenant Wilde went on, after a moment, with a vain attempt to assume his usual quiet manner.
Leon’s hand was on his shoulder, and he felt the boy’s fingers grow rigid, as they clutched him.
“Who is it?” he asked abruptly. “Some one is ill, I know.”
Delay was useless, and Lieutenant Wilde answered at once, feeling that it would be cruel to waste words.
“It is your father,” he said gently.
Again the boy’s thought had rushed on in advance of the words.
“He is dead,” he said excitedly.
Irving Wilde could not speak. For his only answer, he rose and put his arm around the boy. He was none too soon for with a cry,—
“Oh, Hal! Oh, daddy, daddy!” Leon reeled where he stood.
With the help of Harry, who until then had remained speechless and dazed, Lieutenant Wilde laid him gently on his bed and sat down by his side, with one hand on his, the other arm around Harry’s shoulders. There was comfort and strength in his touch; but he sat there silent, while the twilight in the room slowly changed to darkness, for he knew only too well that, as yet, no words could comfort the sorrowing hearts before him.
At length Harry raised his head.
“Please tell us,” he said brokenly; “when was it?”
Then Lieutenant Wilde told, as gently and quietly as he could, and pausing, now and then, until the fresh wave of boyish grief had spent itself, and he could go on with his sad story.
There was but little to tell, for in the hurry and confusion of their sudden grief, the letter was short. During the early part of the evening before, Mr. Arnold had seemed to be unusually bright and full of fun. At about nine o’clock, he had gone into the library to write to the boys; and he had been away from the room for more than two hours, before they wondered at his absence. Then Mrs. Arnold went in to speak to him, only to find that he had left them, never to come back to his pleasant earthly home. He sat there, leaning back in his chair, as one fallen asleep, with a quiet smile on his genial face which had so rarely known a frown. Under his hand, still stretched out upon the table before him, was a sheet of paper, on which he had written,—
“My dear boys,—Only a week before you come back to your old daddy again, but Leon’s letter, with its good news of his promotion and of your seeing Captain Curtis, makes me write to you once more. Captain Curtis is a good man, and if either of you could be as true a soldier as he, I would gladly give my consent, though I had never thought of that life for my sons. We were all delighted over the news from Leon; in fact, your daddy is thoroughly proud of both of his boys wh—”
Then the nerveless fingers had relaxed their hold, and the pen had dropped. Mr. Arnold’s last thought on earth had been given to his boys.
The opening of the summer term found the Arnolds back in their old places at Flemming, for it had seemed best not to interrupt their school life, much as Mrs. Arnold longed to have them with her. She was not the woman to sacrifice to her own inclinations the best good of her children, and not even Harry’s entreaties to be allowed to stay with her and Dorothy, had moved her from her original plan. Moreover the boys were too young, she felt, to have their lives saddened by the constant sight of her grief, so with the unselfishness of the true mother, she gave them up once more, to go back to their happy school life among the New Hampshire hills.
And the change was good for them. The past three weeks had worn upon them both, and they needed the association with their old comrades to rouse them from their sorrow. At home, everything had suggested to them their loss; their father’s easy chair, his favorite books, even the very walls of the rooms seemed to speak of him and of his absence. Once back at Hilton, it was different. It was not that either Harry or Leon forgot their father or mourned for him any the less; but the reaction had come, as it naturally would do, and the fresh every-day interests crowded into their lives and, in a measure, replaced the one absorbing thought of their trouble.
Hilton was very beautiful, that year, with the on-coming of the spring; and the seniors watched it lovingly, with a tender regret that, for them, it was the last opportunity to see the buds swell into fresh green leaves, to hear the songs of the birds returning to the Hilton woodlands. A year from that time, they would all be scattered, while the familiar life of the old school would be going on just as usual, only without them.
One Saturday afternoon, early in May, Flemming Hall was quite deserted; not a face appeared at any of the windows, not a cadet was to be seen in any part of the grounds. It was the day of the annual regatta between the junior and senior classes, and the Flemming world had betaken itself to the lake.
Lake Hudson, as the cadets had named it, in honor of the river which rolls below the West Point bluff, lay two or three miles to the north of the village, in a small valley among the surrounding hills. It was a beautiful sheet of water, more than six miles long, and only broken by one little island near the southern end. Learned professors who had visited the spot, had examined it well, surprised at its lack of inlets, and had come to the only possible conclusion, that it was fed from underground sources. This gave an air of mystery to the little lake, which was heightened by a hollow, rumbling echo, to be heard at certain points along the shore, that suggested rocky caverns far below the surface. Lake Hudson had had its tragedy, too, like many another peaceful inland lake. The boys were all familiar with the sad story of the famous young musician who had been caught in a squall one day, while fishing in company with his older brother; how the boat had been overturned, and the older man had clung to its side in safety, only to see his brother struggle and sink before his very eyes.
But the lake looked quiet enough to-day, in the warm spring sun which lay over the water, turning it to a sheet of dazzling silver, broken here and there into the tiny golden ripples which came nearer and nearer, to creep through the rushes by the shore and splash up against the pebbles on the margin, with a gentle, lapping sound. Away to the north, the valley opened out before the eye, showing ranges of hills growing more and more distant until their green sides turned to a hazy blue, and then lost themselves against the hazier blue of the sky. The wooded shores sloped down to the road which ran along the very borders of the lake, affording scanty room for the throng of carriages which had gathered there, for the day of the regatta was a gala day for the surrounding towns, and ever since noon, the quiet country roads had been gay with the crowd that had assembled from far and near to watch the contest. Soon after dinner, the cadets had left Flemming, to walk up to the lake, and a little later the doctor and his wife, Lieutenant Wilde and Mr. Boniface had driven away in the same direction.
The three-mile course lay along beside the western bank, within full view of the road, and started from a point about half a mile from the foot of the lake, near the southern end of the little island, to take advantage of a long, unbroken sweep of shore which afforded an uninterrupted view of the boats, as they moved along parallel with the road. Far out, beyond the line of gayly decorated stakes which marked the half-mile points on the course, the water was dotted thickly with the little boats of every shape and color, in which the boys were paddling about as they waited for the crews to take their position at the starting-line.
“Rah! F. L. E. M. M. I. N. G! Fszt! Rah! Rah! Rah! Rah!”
The Flemming cheer came up from the lake, in a stormy chorus, as the doctor, with a tiny morocco case in his hand, stepped into the boat which was awaiting him, and was rowed away towards the upper end of the course, where a stake, adorned with the colors of the two classes, marked the goal. For a time, the Flemming was the centre of interest; then, as it slowly came round into position and dropped anchor, every eye was turned back, to look away to the southern end of the lake, where the crews were still hidden in the lee of the Flemming boat house.
To the eager watchers, it seemed as if they would never start out into sight; and they strained their eyes to catch the first glimpse of the red and blue jerseys. In all the history of Flemming regattas, there had never been so exciting a race as this one, for it was agreed on all sides that, in any event, it must be a very close victory. Both crews were in perfect condition, for they had been in training for months, and had taken to the water so soon as the spring thaws had cleared the lake of floating ice, and allowed them to go up for their daily pull over the course. Moreover, the seniors were resolved to wipe out the stain upon their football record, while the juniors were no less determined to maintain the advantage they had gained, and leave untarnished the name and glory of the class of ninety-two.
Some trifling collision between two of the little boats had directed the attention to the upper end of the lake, when an enthusiastic cheer from a tiny blue boat, turned every eye towards the boat house. Slowly the junior crew rounded the side and came into view, followed, at a little distance, by the seniors, and both rowed lazily down to the starting-point. The regular sweep of the oars, and the almost mechanical precision of the motion of the backs, as they rose and fell in perfect unison, were the only hints they gave of their power, as they came down towards their waiting schoolmates, who received them with loyal shouts,—
“Nine-ty-one! Rah! Nine-ty-one! Rah!”
“Nine-ty-two! Rah! Rah-oh-ah!”
But the shouts died away, as the crews took their places. The light shells lay motionless upon the water, while the rowers sat with their oars poised in air, their gaze bent on Lieutenant Wilde, as he stood waiting to give the signal. Not a breeze stirred the air, and the lake was only broken by the tiny ripples that just roughened its glassy surface. The very water seemed to feel the hush of waiting, and to be holding itself motionless, like the human life around and upon it.
Then the shouts rang out again, for the signal was given and each shell, answering to the sudden tension of eight pairs of arms, leaped forward on its course. The race had begun.
The shells passed the first half-mile post in excellent style. Ninety-two was leading by a boat-length, and rowing twenty-eight strokes to the minute. The senior stroke was a little slower, and it was plain that both crews were reserving their best efforts until farther on in their course. Keeping pace with them, the carriages drove along up the shore of the lake, while beyond the course, on the outer side, the little fleet of boats shifted their positions and moved on, to keep their favorite crews well in sight. There was little outward show of enthusiasm as yet, for the course was long, and the boys were saving their throats for the final demonstration; but they watched with eager interest the steady rise and fall of the shoulders, the quiet, even play of the muscles which the light jerseys could not conceal, and the smooth stroke as the oars struck the water, cut their way through it, then were feathered in the air, before falling again for the succeeding stroke. In the meantime, occasional scraps of comment could be heard, tossed from boat to boat as the groups continually shifted and changed.
“Ninety-two has a fine stroke.”
“Wait till ninety-one gets after her.”
“I’ll wait; ninety-one won’t be in it to-day.”
“Don’t you believe it, she’s only holding off now.”
“The blue’ll have it; she’s more than three lengths ahead.”
“Red’s spurting. There she comes!”
True enough, as they approached the one-mile stake, the seniors quickened their stroke to thirty to the minute, and little by little their bow crept forward, lessening their distance by half a length, just as they reached the second stake.
“Nine-ty-one! Rah! Nine-ty-one! Rah!” answered the friends of the seniors, in an encouraging shout, while the loyal adherents of ninety-two sent back the cry,—
“Nine-ty-two! Rah! Rah-oh-ah!”
The first mile stake once passed, the crews settled to work in earnest. Ninety-two still kept the lead, with a long, steady stroke which not even the occasional spurts of ninety-one could pass. Three lengths, at the end of the next half-mile, showed that the juniors were more than holding their own, and made their friends exultant over the prospect of an easy victory. But the seniors and their friends, whose eyes were fixed on Captain Howard’s face, felt that the real test had not yet come; and they were content to wait, for they believed that the juniors were using their most finished stroke, while ninety-one still held herself in reserve. Even as they watched, the change came, a change too slight to catch the attention of any but a trained eye; and as ninety-one entered on the last half of her second mile, she slowly gained upon her adversary. Line by line, inch by inch she approached the leading shell, not a spurt this time, but a steady gain, slow but resistless, and the crews swept past the second mile stake with but two and a quarter lengths between.
“Hold your ground, blue!”
“Hurrah for red and ninety-one!”
“She can’t hold out!”
“Ninety-two’s stroke’ll win yet!”
But the cries died away again, for the boys were too eager in watching the straining muscles, the set, resolute faces of their champions, to waste any thought on mere class cries. Ninety-two was pulling magnificently, but ninety-one still continued to decrease the distance. At the end of the next quarter-mile, there was less than a boat-length between them, and both crews were putting forth their best energies, as they came sweeping down towards the goal. The next quarter-mile did its work, and the senior crew were still gaining: a length, three-quarters, half, one-third, one-eighth, and the crews were side by side with scarcely ten inches start for the juniors, as they entered upon their final half-mile, amidst the deafening cries which rose from lake and shore.
All at once, there came a sudden stillness which turned their jubilant shouts into a sort of low moan. The junior shell swerved slightly in her course, and for an instant her speed was checked. The next moment, ninety-one swept proudly past, leading her by two or three feet as she righted and resumed her stroke. The change was so sudden, that even the most distant on-looker realized that some accident had occurred, while the boys in the nearest boats had seen Frank Osborn’s oar snap in two, under the strain he had placed upon it.
“Nine-ty-one! Rah! Nine-ty-one! Rah!” shrieked the triumphant seniors, for they already fancied the prize in their hands. Indeed, it seemed an impossibility that the junior crew, crippled by the loss of an oar, and by having to carry the weight of a useless man, could regain its lost advantage.
No one knew what was to follow.
For one instant, the junior shell lay motionless as Frank Osborn rose, with a hasty word of warning, turned his handsome, scornful face towards the senior crew, in one flash of defiance, and then jumped far over the side of the boat into the cold, blue water below, as the lifted oars fell again and the lightened shell darted onward, amid the loud cheers that rose on every side.
The third quarter post of the last mile flashed past them, and ninety-one was still leading by a half length. Ninety-two had recovered from her shock and, with thirty-four strokes to the minute, was cutting the water like a knife, close in the rear, so close that Captain Howard made a final spurt.
Ninety-two answered with another, gained a little, lost a little, gained again, and for a second the boats stood bow to bow, and the goal was close at hand. Not a cry rose from bank or boat; nothing could be heard but the sound of the oars and the labored breathing of the men, as the boats swept past the stake, not eighteen inches apart. There was a hush, as the crowd drew one long, deep breath; and then came roar after roar, louder and yet more loud,—
“Nine-ty-two! Rah! Rah-oh-ah!”
“Nine-ty-two! Rah! Rah-oh-ah!”
“O. S. B. O. R. N! Rah! Rah! Rah!”
“Rah! F. L. E. M. M. I. N. G.! Fszt! Rah! Rah! Rah! Rah!”
“Nine-ty-two! Rah! Rah-oh-ah!”
The race was over, and the blue had won. Once more, ninety-two was triumphant; but the junior captain was not half the hero in the boys’ eyes that Frank Osborn was, when he was landed, dripping, from the boat which had picked him up, and stowed away in the doctor’s carriage, for a quick drive homeward in the sunset.
It was two weeks after the regatta, and again the boys were on the water. Six of the Wilders had taken advantage of a pleasant Saturday afternoon to walk up to the lake, and take out the Flemming for two or three hours’ fishing. For some time they had been watching their lines with a patience which was but ill-rewarded, for they had only a meagre number of worthless little fish to show for their waiting. Now, at the suggestion of Max, they were about to seek a fresh ground, and with their light anchor still dragging, they were slowly rowing up to the northern end of the lake, to try their fortunes in a deep, quiet pool which they had known of old. Suddenly Harry paused on his oars.
“Halt! I say,” he exclaimed. “This place is too cool and pleasant to leave; let’s lie off here for half an hour and enjoy it. We shall have time then for all the fishing we want.”
“Only four weeks more,” sighed Jack; “and then where’ll we be?”
warbled Max sentimentally, from his seat in the bow. “We’ll be the seniors then,” he added complacently, “and you’d better believe we’ll show you how to do things.”
“No use to put on airs, Max,” retorted Jack. “There’ll never be another class like ninety-one, and you may as well make up your mind to it.”
“Conceit, thy name is—Howard!” paraphrased Max, dropping his oar and bending over the edge of the boat, to paddle in the clear water.
“Oh, Hal,” asked Alex, all at once; “how comes on the poem?”
Harry groaned, as he lay down on the narrow seat and turned his face up to the blue sky above.
“It doesn’t come,” he said, “I’ve a few ideas, but I can’t make them rhyme. I don’t see why, in the name of all common sense, you fellows put me in as class poet.”
“Probably because there wasn’t anybody else to do it,” suggested Max benevolently. “When we come to our class day plans, though, we sha’n’t have any trouble over our poet, we have one all ready and waiting to step into office.”
“Who is it?” inquired Leon curiously.
“Wing, of course,” responded Max. “Didn’t you know he wrote poetry? He does, ever so much, and grates his teeth, and his eyes roll like anything while he’s doing it. Then he tears it up. I saw one bit of it, though. I’ve forgotten just how it was; but it went something like this:—
“Max Eliot, you hold your tongue,” interrupted Louis, blushing and wrathful. “You make up stories faster than you can tell them.”
“What’s struck you to-day, Max?” asked Alex. “You’re even wilder than usual.”
“Aren’t we all Wilders, I’d like to know? But I feel unusually hilarious; I’m invited to a great and glorious spread to-night, and it excites me, don’t you see?”
“Who has a spread?” queried Jack idly.
“Frank Osborn. It’s his birthday, I believe; anyway, he’s going to have a great time of it.”
“Say, Max, I wouldn’t go,” said Alex persuasively.
“Not go! Why not, I’d like to know?” returned Max.
“Osborn isn’t any sort of fellow for you to be with,” Alex answered, with a troubled look on his pleasant face. “I thought your liking for him had died the death, anyway.”
“So it had, for we had a little row; but that’s all over now,” said Max carelessly. “I don’t think Osborn’s a bad fellow, though, Alex.”
“He’s not my style, and I don’t like him at all,” returned Alex; “I think he’s fast, and I hate to have him think he’s going to get in with any of our set. I’d cut his acquaintance and let him go, Max.”
“Maybe I will, after I’ve had a taste of his spread,” answered Max, laughing. “You seniors don’t like him because he won the race for ninety-two; but it was a magnificently plucky thing to do, you know it was.”
“If you want my candid opinion of Osborn,” said Jack deliberately; “he’s a low-bred sneak and a disgrace to Flemming. He did do a plucky thing when he jumped overboard; but he’s been insufferably conceited about it ever since, too cockahoop for anything.”
For a minute Max glared at Jack, with an angry gleam in his blue eyes; but Harry interrupted them,—
“Oh, come now, you fellows, don’t get into a row. There isn’t room here. Besides, I’ve never noticed that the fish came down the lake to look for us, and if we’re going to try our luck up above here, it’s time we were starting.” And he took up his oar, letting its blade fall into the water, with a splash which sent the drops flying into the faces of the belligerent boys around him.
It had the desired effect of cooling their tempers; and the boys rowed away up the lake, the long, steady sweep of the oars sending the tiny waves far to the left and right of their track. The shadows from the bank had grown long upon the water, as the boys skirted the little island and then struck off towards the eastern shore. As they neared the bank, Max rose and peered eagerly over the bow of the boat.
“Slow!” he commanded. “I want to be sure when we get there. Steady! We’re in the shallows. Start her up a little; it’s more than ten feet ahead.”
Forgetful of their anchor which was still dragging, the boys at the oars made a sudden spurt. The little boat sprang forward for a few feet, then stopped with such suddenness that Max was sent plunging forward, into the clear, bright water below. For a moment there was a panic, and as the boy disappeared under the ripples, his companions sprang to their feet in alarm.
“Sit down!” commanded Alex instantly. “Do you want to upset the boat, and give us all a ducking? Max is all right; he’s a good swimmer, and here he comes up again, anyway.”
As he spoke, there was a miniature whirlpool at a little distance from the boat; and the forehead, eyes, nose, mouth and chin of Max slowly rose to their sight. Then one arm appeared, as Max made a hasty snatch at his cap which was floating past him.
“Can you keep up a minute, till we get to you?” called Jack.
“Keep up; I should say so,” answered Max, spluttering and wiping the water from his eyes. “I’m standing on the ground all right; but I can’t wade over to you, for I’m just across that hole I was looking for. Told you I’d find it,” he added, with a triumphant chuckle.
“All right, we’ll come over to you,” said Leon. “You didn’t go out quite as gracefully as Osborn, but ’twasn’t so bad for a first attempt. Is it wet any, over there?”
Max was sent plunging forward.—Page 264.
“I should think ’twas, slightly,” returned Max, as he rubbed away the streams which were trickling from his yellow hair. “If you doubt it, come in and see. Do hurry up with that boat, though, for I am nearly frozen.”
For again and again the boys had bent to their oars, but the boat remained motionless.
“Confound the old tub!” exclaimed Jack. “What’s the matter with her? She can’t be aground, for I can’t touch bottom with my oar. Pull again, boys, and start her up.”
They did pull, but with no more result than before, while Max, his teeth chattering from his chill, stood fifteen feet away, railing at their efforts.
“It’s the anchor,” said Leon suddenly. “We forgot and left it dragging, and it’s caught on something. Back her, some of you, till I get this loose.”
“Anything you please, only do hurry up,” said Max. “I’m getting a little damp about the ankles, and besides, I shall be late for the spread.”
“I shouldn’t much mourn about that,” said Jack, in an undertone, as he went forward to help Leon in his efforts to free the anchor. “From what I’ve heard, Osborn is getting ready to have a high time to-night. Max,” he added, as a few powerful strokes sent the boat over to the drenched and shivering boy, “now you tumble in here, and let us get you home as soon as ever we can. If you didn’t have more lives than a cat, Max Eliot, you’d be dead long before this. Now, boys, pile your coats over him, and we’ll run him home in a hurry.”
Max came to the breakfast-table, the next morning, complaining of a severe headache for which not even his unpremeditated bath of the afternoon before, seemed sufficient to account. His unusual pallor and the dark lines under his eyes were proof enough of his not being well, so no one was surprised at his excusing himself from church, and spending the morning in his room. Soon after dinner, however, he appeared at the door of the Arnolds’ room, yawning and stretching, and invited Leon to go out for a walk. In spite of the unseasonable warmth of the day, the clear May sunshine was too attractive to be resisted, so Leon gladly enough laid aside his book and went away with him.
Half an hour later, Alex put his head in at the door.
“Do you know where Max and Leon are, Hal?” he asked.
“No,—wait a minute, though; I think they said something about going up to the ravine, but I didn’t pay much attention. What do you want?”
“Nothing special,” answered Alex lightly. “To the ravine? Well, perhaps I’ll walk up that way, on the chance of meeting them.”
Alex went on his way; but instead of going directly to the ravine, he paused irresolutely in front of the doctor’s house. Then he went up the steps and rang the bell. The doctor himself came to the door. He looked tired and anxious; but at sight of Alex his face brightened.
“Oh, Alex,” he said cordially; “I’m glad to see you. Come in.”
“May I have a little while to talk to you?” asked Alex, with simple directness.
“Yes, indeed; I am always glad to have a call from you.” And the doctor led the way into his study, where they could be free from interruption.
“Sit down,” he said; “and tell me about it.”
“It?” said Alex inquiringly.
“Yes, it,” returned the doctor, smiling. “You look as if something were wrong.”
“So there is,” replied Alex, anxiously knitting his brows; “and the worst of it is, I don’t know whether I have any business to be here, it seems so like telling tales.”
Dr. Flemming bent forward and laid his hand on the boy’s shoulder.
“Don’t you know, Alex, that I always want to hear all that concerns my boys, whether for good or ill? I can rely on your sense of honor, I am sure, for you have proved yourself far above the meanness of ordinary tale-bearing. If you wish, I promise you that whatever you say shall remain a secret between the two of us.”
“Thank you.” And Alex met the doctor’s steady gaze without flinching. “Of course you know how gossip flies, in a place like this, and won’t be a bit surprised when I tell you it’s common talk that you had an interview with Osborn this morning.”
“I didn’t expect it quite so soon,” replied the doctor quickly. “But go on.”
“Well, the boys all think it means expulsion for him and his set; but very likely that’s wrong. Now, what I wanted to ask you was—” Alex stopped for a moment, then went on in a lower voice; “whether you knew Max Eliot was at the spread last night.”
The doctor started; this was unexpected news.
“Please understand the reason I’m telling you this,” Alex continued hastily, as if to free himself from any charge of meddling with another’s concerns. “I knew you’d hear of it sooner or later, perhaps from Osborn himself, for he’s always spited our set, and would like to hurt us through Max. But if you heard it that way, you would never know what a mere chance it was that Max was there. If he was in the scrape, it’s the first time he’s done anything of that kind, for he isn’t a bit fast, like the others.”
“And what then?” asked the doctor kindly.
“Just this,” replied the boy, with a quiet dignity all his own; “if it should come to where you have to punish the other fellows, please remember that Max isn’t quite one of them. He’s gay and full of his pranks; but he’s not fast, and last night is the first time he’s ever been at one of their wine spreads. He’s broken off with them lately, and we were all surprised at his saying, yesterday afternoon, that the friendship was on again. But upon my honor, Dr. Flemming,” here the blue eyes were again fixed on the master’s face; “on my honor as a Flemming boy, it is Max’s first offence, and I hope you’ll be as easy on him as you can.”
The doctor closely studied the earnest face before him; then he rose and took one or two turns up and down the room.
“Alex,” he said, as he came back to his chair; “I can trust you, and I am going to talk plainly to you. The boys did have a very wild time at their spread, last night, and one or two of them were the worse for the champagne. For some time I have been suspicious of their spreads, but this was the first time I could prove anything against them. This morning I saw them, and quietly told them not to come back here, after the close of this term. I have been thinking for months that this must come, but the year is so nearly over that I thought best not to make a public expulsion of it. I had no idea that Max was there, or he might have shared the same fate. But if you can tell me on your honor that this is his first offence, I will let him off this time. Max isn’t a bad fellow, only too full of fun and a little weak, too easily made by his companions of the moment. I will give him another chance, but I must have a long talk with him. Can you see him this afternoon, tell him what has occurred and ask him to come to me this evening?”
Alex tried to thank him; but he interrupted,—
“Never mind the thanks, Alex; they come to me in the perfect freedom you have shown in talking with me. If only all my boys had felt to me as you do, this miserable affair need never have taken place. But don’t go; stay and tell me about yourself, for it’s a long time since I’ve had a chance to talk with you.”
“I’d better not,” Alex answered. “I want to see Max, if I can, before he gets wind of this.”
“Go, then; perhaps you’d better. I am glad you came to me as you did, for if I had heard that Max was there, and nothing more, I might have been unwisely severe.”
As Harry had suggested, Alex found the two boys in the ravine. After the heat of the May afternoon and his rapid walk, the coolness around them was a great relief, and Alex was glad to drop down on the coarse, uneven turf by their side, and rest for a few moments, before beginning upon the subject which was weighing so heavily on his mind. The ravine, as the boys called it, was a deep gorge in the hills, worn away by the swift mountain brook that hurried through it, to seek the calmer waters of the Connecticut and go with them to the sea. The brook was so narrow and the slant of its sides so abrupt that the branches of the trees on either side mingled overhead to form one common shade; while below them the water now plunged over a little precipice, now raced along the shallows, breaking into a lacelike foam over its rocky bed, now flowed smoothly and silently through the still pools, so dark and deep, where trout love to hide under the shelter of the over-hanging ferns, then rushed away, to go on racing and plunging and eddying, over and over again, till it joined the quieter current of the mighty river, three miles and more away.
“Max,” Alex began abruptly, after the interval of silence which had followed their greetings; “you went to that spread last night, didn’t you?”
Instantly Max was on the defensive.
“Yes, I did,” he replied curtly, as he threw a stick into the whirlpool below him, and watched it circle round and round in the swirling eddy. “What then?”
“I hear you had rather a lively time,” said Alex, trying to approach the subject so gently that Max should not be roused to anger.
“Well, as I said, what then?” said Max defiantly, as he tried in vain to meet the kind blue eyes so steadily fixed upon his own. “I don’t know as it’s any of your business, if we did.”
Leon looked up in surprise, for in his ignorance of the matter, he was at a loss to account for Max’s unwonted irritability.
“Perhaps it is my business,” Alex replied, and he went on to tell of his talk with the doctor.
As Max listened, his face slowly lost a little of its frown, and he rolled over on his back, to stretch his hot hand up to Alex.
“You’re a good fellow, Alex,” he said, with a new and softer light in his eyes. “You’ve done me a good turn to-day, and I know it.”
“Prove it by letting those fellows alone, in the future,” responded Alex quickly.
“I will, honestly, now. I didn’t stay as late as the others,” confessed Max penitently; “I did take some of the stuff, though, but when I saw how ’twas going, I sneaked out and came home. I wish I’d come earlier, so I needn’t have had this abominable headache. Truly, though, Alex, I only took a little.” And his voice was almost pleading, as he spoke. “I’m sorry I did that, but it wasn’t enough to do the least bit of hurt.”
Once more the silence was only broken by the rushing water below them, and the bird-songs from the branches above their heads. Then Alex spoke again, but slowly and as if with an effort.
“Max,” he said, “I’m not over fond of pulling family skeletons out of their closets, and you fellows all know that I’m not much given to talking about my own affairs. I suppose you all have wondered at my being here, when I’m so much older than the rest of you. I think I’ll tell you all the story now, for it can’t do any harm, and it may save you a little something by and by.”
As he paused, there was a slight catch in his breath. Leon rose, as if to leave them alone.
“Don’t go, Leon,” he went on. “Except for the doctor and Lieutenant Wilde, Hal is the only one here who knows this, so you may as well stay and hear it out, too. It isn’t a pretty story, but I’ll try to make it as short as I can.”
Leon dropped back into his former place beside Alex, who continued, with his eyes fixed on the water below,—
“You see, in the first place you must remember that life in Denver isn’t much as it is here in the east. Out there, everybody drinks wine, as a matter of course, and it comes into everything from a business contract to an evening call. You have it here, I know; but not near so much. Well, my father, when he went out there, was a gay, handsome young man with a splendid reputation in his profession—he’s a doctor, you know—just the kind of a man to be popular and in demand in a social way. Being in society out there means, almost as a matter of course, taking more or less wine; and father was just like all the rest of them, only he couldn’t stand as much as some others. From a little and a little, he went on until the little had come to be a great deal, and he had grown to depend on it, as a daily need. Even then, his old patients stuck to him, for ’twas a saying that they’d ‘rather have Dr. Sterne drunk than any other doctor sober.’ But it had gone too far to stop, and slowly—What’s the use of dwelling on it? Father finally reached the point where he was a common street drunkard, without practice and without money. I tell you, Max, those were bad times, and I remember them well. They aren’t the kind of thing one wants to live through, or to talk about, either. It went on so for several years, and then, eight years ago, the change came. People said ’twas miraculous and wouldn’t last, and even we never knew what started him; but all at once father braced up a little. He had a few good friends out there, among the solid, true men of the city, and with their help, he scrambled up on his feet again. They wanted him to go away, and start fresh somewhere else; but he said no, he’d gone under there, and there he’d come up, till he’d lived down the past. There aren’t many men strong enough to do it, and the fight was a terrible one; but now he has won back his old place in the city, and his reputation is higher than ever. Still, it has made an old man of him; and it all started from just such light social drinking as you tried last night.”
Max had rolled over and turned his face away from his friends. He lay very still.
“But that wasn’t the worst of it,” said Alex, in a lower tone. “As far as a man can do, father has left the past behind him; but there is one side of it that can’t ever be set right. I’ve a brother about ten years old; I don’t believe you ever heard me say much about him.”
Leon shook his head.
“Poor little Jack! He’s had the hardest of it all to bear. He was born just in the most dismal days, when father was at his worst, and mother was overworked and worried till she didn’t know which way to turn to get us food and clothes, for she was too proud to ask help from her old friends. You ought to know my mother, Leon. Well, I suppose that affected Jack; anyway, his mind has never been quite right, so he couldn’t go to school or anything of that kind. He’s a dear little fellow, but he’ll always be like a baby; and father has to watch him, year after year, and know that he alone is the cause of it, that Jack has to take the penalty of his father’s sins. That’s all there is to the story; but if you’d lived through what we have done, you wouldn’t want to play with wine-drinking, for it’s easier to go down than up, and where one comes up again, one hundred stay down. Besides, if you can bring yourself up out of the rut, you don’t know what harm you may be doing to the next generation who aren’t to blame, but can’t help themselves and just have to grin and bear it. Keep out of it, Max, if you want to be a happy man.”
There was another silence, a long one this time. Max did not move, so Alex beckoned to Leon, and together they stole quietly away, leaving the boy to himself.
The boys never knew what passed in the doctor’s study, that night. Max was gone for a long time, and when he went back to his room at bed-time, his eyes were red and his voice unsteady. With scarcely a word to Louis, he went to bed, but not to sleep. Far into the night, he lay staring at the darkness, while Dr. Flemming’s last words still echoed in his ears,—
“But above all, my dear boy, you will never be a full-grown man until you have learned to stand alone, without leaning on your friends. Whenever the question arises, make up your mind, once for all, where the right lies, and then go towards it, even if your path leads across the bodies of your dearest friends. Right is always right; and I am here only just to help my boys to find it out and march steadily towards it. That done, I need no other reward. Now, bless you, my boy; and good night.”
Quickly, far too quickly, the remaining weeks of the year had passed, and the commencement season had come. Little had occurred to mark the four weeks, for the work of the school had gone smoothly on to its close, without disaster or incident to mark the every-day routine. For a week after the spread in Osborn’s room, the school had buzzed with more or less incorrect reports of the affair; but, except for Alex and Leon, none of the cadets knew how near it had come to being disastrous to careless, mischievous Max. Then it was slowly forgotten by every one but the disgraced lads, and by Max who had gone to work in earnest, anxious to prove to the doctor that he was worthy of his continued confidence and friendship.
The seniors, one and all, were busy with their plans for commencement; and although they were clinging fondly to all the old associations; yet in spite of it all, they were eager for the coming of the great day to which, for four long years, they had been steadily pointing. The juniors, too, caught something of their spirit, for the hour which transformed the senior boys into men, would in turn advance themselves into the coveted position of seniors, to be admired and looked up to by the whole school; so that only the lower classes were free from the excitement which reigned at Flemming, as the June days slowly passed away.
At last the time had come, and Hilton was filled to overflowing with the guests, who had assembled to watch the young soldiers march past their first milestone. The quiet village street was swarming with gray coats, and the elaborate gowns of stately mothers, and pretty sisters and cousins; while portly fathers gathered on the piazza of the little hotel, to exchange confidences in regard to “my boy,” with an ill-concealed pride.
Commencement week at Flemming always began with the anniversary sermon in the village church which, once a year, was beautified with masses of the pink laurel that softened the bare, barren walls of the dreary little place. The following day was given up to the social pleasures of the ivy-planting, and the evening hop at the doctor’s, together with the dress-parade which came in the late afternoon.
On Sunday evening, the boys had gathered in the Arnolds’ room, for a few minutes before “lights out.” They had been speaking of the young clergyman who had made the annual address, a simple, earnest appeal for a manly life, which had roused the boys to quick enthusiasm.
“I’d like to know that man,” Harry was saying; “he strikes me as being a friend worth having.”
“Yes,” answered Max pensively, and without a thought of joking; “he must be a pretty good man, for such a young one; for he made even me feel sort of good.”
There was a moment of silence; then Harry said restlessly,—
“I do wish to-morrow would be over, for I’ve been dreading this class-day circus for more than six weeks.”
“I’ve seen his old poem, though,” observed Leon; “and it really isn’t so bad, considering Hal wrote it.”
“Thank you, my patronizing infant!” returned Harry, with a sweeping bow. “You’d better go to bed, on the strength of that. Let’s hope ’twill be pleasant to-morrow morning, for I don’t care to stand out in the rain and spout my production.”
“That would be a waterspout, with a vengeance,” said Max, before Louis could suppress him and drag him off to bed.
The next morning was pleasant enough to satisfy even Harry; and by half-past nine o’clock, the guests had assembled in front of the recitation hall, to await the coming of the boys. It was an attractive sight as they marched across the familiar lawn, with the band gayly playing at the head of the procession,—the last time that those same boys would be marching together, under the green old elms of Flemming. On the next day, the breaking-up must come and the friends be scattered, some, perhaps, never to meet again.
There was an expectant hush as the seniors grouped themselves in their places, and Jack Howard, as president of the class, made his little address of welcome. Harry’s turn came next, and as he stood there waiting, he glanced down into the front row of guests, where Leon had stationed himself at his mother’s side and, back of them, Alex, moving slightly from his place in the ranks, had taken his stand beside Dorothy. The girl looked very delicate and pretty in her black gown, as she gazed steadily and proudly up at her brother, then turned to speak to the tall cadet at her side, with a perfect unconsciousness of the envious glances cast upon her by the less favored girls in the rear.
But Harry had stepped forward and, with one anxious, troubled look down at the little home group, as if beseeching them to be as merciful as possible in their judgment, he began to read. As the last words were spoken:—
and Harry moved back to his place behind Jack, there was a short silence, and then a burst of applause so enthusiastic that even modest Harry could not forbear stealing one happy, exultant glance down at his mother and Dorothy. Then, when all was done and the ivy planted in its appointed place, hosts and guests scattered, to pass the time as best they might, until four o’clock should bring them together again at the parade-ground. In the meantime, the Wilders and their friends assembled in the Arnolds’ room, where Harry received general congratulations for his success of an hour before.
It was a very flushed and happy-looking Dorothy whom Alex escorted to the parade-ground, that afternoon, after a long drive, and left in charge of her mother, while he hurried away to change his fatigue coat for the dress uniform which added so much to the dignity of his appearance.
Then assembly sounded, and, at the sergeants’ command, the companies fell into line on their separate parade-grounds. As the signal ceased, the order Left—Face rang out and the cadets turned sharply in their places before being brought to support arms, by order of the first sergeant. A few moments later, the trumpets sounded the quick notes of adjutant’s call, and Adjutant Sterne and Sergeant-Major Arnold, with their markers, marched across to the regimental parade-ground, where they took up their positions, Alex to the right, Leon on the left, while company after company was led forward by its captain, dressed in line and brought to support arms. As Lieutenant Wilde took his place, as commanding officer, at a little distance in front of the battalion, the adjutant ordered the captains to bring their companies to parade rest, the butt of every piece fell to the ground, its barrel grasped with both hands before the breast, and the cadets stood at parade rest, while the band sounded off, marching along the line from right to left and back again.
It was all so beautiful, with the warm June sun glowing down over the grounds and buildings, and touching with a golden light the uniforms and gleaming bayonets of the cadets, that the lookers-on were hushed in admiration. Not a sound broke the stillness, but the gay notes of the band, not a motion disturbed the absolute quiet of the ranks, but the flutter of the stars and stripes which were softly stirred by the little breeze that stole down from the hills. Dorothy’s eyes moved up and down the line, rested proudly upon Leon’s slim, straight figure, then turned to the opposite side of the parade-ground, where Adjutant Sterne stood resting his clasped hands upon the grip of his sword.
But the band had returned to its former position, and Adjutant Sterne stepped forward to order the ranks opened, verify the alignment of officers and men, and bring the cadets to present arms, before saluting Lieutenant Wilde, and making the report,—
“Sir, the parade is formed.”
“Take your post, Sir!” ordered Lieutenant Wilde, and Alex moved to his place behind him and at his left, as Lieutenant Wilde drew his sword and issued a succession of quick orders from the manual of arms.
The drill was a creditable one, both to commandant and cadets, for the months of training had accomplished their work, and officers and men were on their mettle to do their best, before the assembled guests. With the precision of well-adjusted parts of a great machine, the rifles were shifted up and down, to right, to left, then dropped to the ground in order arms, as the adjutant once more advanced to receive the reports from the first sergeants and drum major, who stepped forward to salute and report, then fell back to position, while Adjutant Sterne saluted Lieutenant Wilde again, before making the general report,—
“Sir! All are present or accounted for.”
Then came the concluding ceremony of the parade. At the order, Parade is dismissed, the officers returned their swords to the scabbards, marched towards the centre of the line, then forward, to halt six yards away from the commandant and salute. For an instant they paused, with their hands raised to their visors, while Lieutenant Wilde acknowledged their salute; then, at the same moment, every hand fell to the side. The officers dispersed, the first sergeants marched their companies back to their own grounds, and ninety-one had ended its last parade.
Evening found the doctor’s rooms gay with lights and music and dainty evening gowns. Out on the piazza overlooking the lawn, Dorothy was holding a sort of court, surrounded by a dozen loyal admirers; for the Wilders, one and all, had agreed in pronouncing her the prettiest girl present. As she rested there, with the full moon shining down on her golden hair and white gown, Alex sat on the rail at her right, Louis stood at her left, toying with her great bouquet of white roses, and Harry, Jack, Max and Stanley were at her feet.
“It has been a successful day,” she said, and she lingered over the words as if they held some new, sweet meaning to her which, as yet, the others could not know. “I wonder if any other class was ever quite so fine as ninety-one.”
“That’s an amiable remark to make, Miss Arnold,” protested Max, from his place on the floor at her feet. “Here you have the three finest minds of ninety-two under your very eyes, and still you declare for ninety-one. That’s not fair.”
“But you couldn’t expect me to forsake my allegiance to ninety-one, when it has been giving me such a good time,” she answered contentedly. “And besides, haven’t I a brother in this year’s class, and hasn’t he done us all proud to-day?”
“Only wait till our turn comes next year,” said Louis, as he slyly abstracted a rose from the great bunch in his hand.
In a moment, the eye of Max was upon him.
“No poaching on those preserves, young man,” he called. “Miss Arnold, I advise you to look out for your bowpot, for Louis is helping himself to it.”
“You’d better pass them around, Miss Arnold,” suggested Jack, laughing up at Louis who was gazing sentimentally at the flower in his hand. “That will make it even, and prevent our coming to blows later.”
Dorothy laughed, as she held out her hand for the flowers.
“Give them to me please, Mr. Keith,” she said. “Soldiers don’t usually wear posies in their buttonholes, when they start out into battle; but I will decorate you all, in honor of the happiest day I have ever spent.”
“What’s going on?” inquired Leon, strolling up to the group. “I demand my share of the booty too, Dot, so pass over. What’s the meaning of this unusual generosity?”
“Your sister is giving her colors to her true and lawful knights,” answered Alex lightly, as, in his turn, he bent down while Dorothy fixed the large, full-blown flower in his buttonhole.
“Oh, that’s it, is it?” said Leon. “Well, if that’s the order of the day, mother’ll have to do the same by Bony, for he’s stuck to her like a burr, all the evening, and he’s quite playing the society man. See there!”
As he spoke, Leon pointed in at the open window, opposite which sat Mrs. Arnold, with the young teacher at her side. Mr. Boniface was talking with an animation and an earnestness which lent an unwonted ease to his ordinarily stiff manner. Harry surveyed them approvingly.
“I knew ’twould be so, when I introduced him to her,” he said. “Trust my mother for always finding out the softest side of people and getting at it, in spite of their hard shells.”
Just then there was a general movement of the people inside the parlor, and Mr. Boniface rose, offering his arm to the woman at his side. A moment later, Lieutenant Wilde appeared in the doorway.
“Miss Arnold,” he said; “may I take you in to supper?”
For a moment, Dorothy’s eyes rested on him admiringly. Lieutenant Wilde was unusually resplendent that night, for he was in full army uniform and the lights shone out on his blue coat, and glittered and winked over the brass buttons and epaulettes which were so becoming to the firm, manly figure and handsome face. Then the girl rose and passed her hand under the arm of Alex, who stood ready at her side.
“Thank you, Lieutenant Wilde,” she said gently; “but Mr. Sterne had asked me before.”
Again, the next morning, they all gathered in the little church, for an hour or two. Then, just as the golden noontide had come, the doctor spoke his few last earnest words, and the class of ninety-one had marched from quiet Flemming, out into their wider field of service.
The next evening the Wilders were gathered on the steps of Old Flemming. It had been a hurried, confused day, for the morning had been devoted to departing friends, and the afternoon to packing, since they were to leave Flemming Hall early the next morning. Now all was done, and they had gone down from their forlorn, dismantled rooms, to enjoy the still, warm night.
“I believe this has been an unusually moony commencement,” said Louis thoughtfully, as he watched the white light on the lawn and buildings before him.
“It most certainly has,” responded Leon fervently, while he stepped on Alex’s toe, under cover of the shadow around them.
“I wish we could be as lucky, next year,” said Stanley. “Most likely we shall have a rainy week, to make up for this.”
“Never mind if we do,” said Max consolingly.
“We don’t need the help of the weather, as this year’s fellows do. We can stand on our own merits.”
“What are you all going to do, this summer?” asked Paul.
“Our plans are only just made,” Harry answered, as he took off his cap and ran his fingers through his hair. “We’ve been so unsettled since father’s death that we haven’t known what to do. Mother didn’t feel as if she could go back to the old place in Lenox this summer, so we’re all going abroad for the season. Jolliest of all, Alex is going with us.”
“Alex! Why didn’t you tell me, old fellow?” asked Stanley, turning to his friend.
“I only knew it myself yesterday,” Alex answered; “and it didn’t seem worth while to discuss an uncertainty.”
“I wish I could go too,” sighed Jack enviously. “Where shall you go, Hal?”
“England, mostly. Leon and I both want to go to Eton and Harrow-on-the-Hill and Rugby, and see the places it tells about in Tom Brown. Mother and Dot care for the Cathedral towns, and then we shall take in France and Germany. We shall have to be back by the time college opens, so we can’t do much. It won’t make much difference if Leon is a week or so late, coming back here. Lieutenant Wilde has just decided to go over on the steamer with us, so we shall have quite a party, just by ourselves. Where are you going to be, Paul?”
“Home, through July; then Jack and I are going camping in the Adirondacks for a month.”
“What a mixed-up set we’ll be, in a year or two!” remarked Jack. “When we’re scattered through all the different colleges, we shall come back here as rivals, to fight our battles. If you go to Columbia, Paul, and Alex and Hal to Harvard, and I to Cornell, that’s something of a break up. Where shall you go, Max?”
“Yale, every time,” responded Max promptly.
“I’m not sure yet; but most likely Yale. Father is a Yale man and he wants me to follow in his footsteps. What do you do, Stan?”
“I’m going to Cornell for the electrical engineering,” replied Stanley. “Give me the red and white for my colors!”
“We’ll be patriotic, at least, with our red, white and blue,” said Max, laughing. “We sha’n’t have any stripes, though, for we’re every one of us bound to be stars.”
“Gyp has been in her element this afternoon,” observed Harry, after a pause. “She’s been wandering back and forth between our room and Louis’s, with Mouse in her arms, offering all manner of suggestions to help us in our packing. She wanted me to give Mouse the sash of my tennis suit for a parting gift, and was quite disgusted when I refused to bestow it on her.”
“Mouse came near being a dead cat this afternoon, though,” said Louis. “I had my trunk all shut and locked once; but I heard a dismal, lonesome little noise inside, so I suspected something was wrong, and went on an exploring expedition. There was Mouse, carefully put to bed in the deepest box of my trunk-tray, on top of all my collars and cuffs. Gyp had stowed her away in there and forgotten all about her, till I rooted her out. She was so distressed, that I gave her that little old lambswool rug of mine, and sent her off home, to put Mouse to bed.”
“Mouse is getting old,” remarked Alex; “and I’m afraid that, if we come back here next June, there won’t be any Mouse to welcome us.”
“She ought to be perfect through suffering, long before this,” said Leon. “With the best intentions in life, Gyp has tormented the very hair off her head. I don’t know what she will do, when Mouse dies.”
“Do you know,” said Paul reflectively; “I believe this has been the jolliest year we have had. I shouldn’t have been half so sorry to leave Flemming, a year ago, as I am now. We nine boys have had uncommonly good times together.”
“Especially after the football game,” suggested Leon maliciously.
“You did get rather the worst of that, Leon; but then, you did by far the best work on our side, and I’d be content to make such a record as you did, on almost any terms,” said Jack admiringly. “But do any of you lads know what Bony is going to do, next year?”
“I’m afraid he’s getting ready to leave,” said Max regretfully. “I’m no end sorry, for now I know him, I like him. He’s a good man, through and through, and it will be a long time before we get anybody to fill his place.”
“That’s true,” assented Louis; “but it took us long enough to discover it.”
“I told you, in the first place, he was like an olive,” retorted Max. “He’s puckery, the first you get of him; but if you keep at him, you’ll want more and more. I do wish he’d stay another year, to finish us off.”
Just as he spoke, the boys caught sight of two figures coming up the hill from the doctor’s house.
“Is it a farewell-session of the Wilders?” called Irving Wilde’s voice.
“Yes, and we only need you to fill up the number, you and Mr. Boniface,” said Alex, as he moved to give them a place on the steps beside him. “We were just talking about you, Mr. Boniface, wondering if you were to be here another year, or not.”
“And devoutly hoping you were,” added Max.
Mr. Boniface turned to him gratefully.
“Thank you, Max,” he answered. “I don’t really know, myself. I had expected to go away at the end of this term, to finish up my studies; but the doctor is urging me to stay at least one more year. If I thought I could do good work here and be of any help to you boys, perhaps—”, he hesitated, then went on; “but whatever comes, I know that I shall be better through all my life, for having come to know and care for my boys, here at Flemming Hall.”
Lieutenant Wilde broke in upon the pause that followed.
“Well, Leon,” he asked; “what do they say to your news?”
“He hasn’t told it yet,” interposed Harry. “He’s been waiting till he could have the floor, and make his announcement with proper effect. Go it now, Leon; we’re ready.”
“What’s up with Leon?” asked Max curiously.
“Tremendous honors are showered upon the infant,” answered Harry. “Speak and tell us, Leon.”
Leon laughed; but even in the moonlight, the boys could see the quick color come into his cheeks, and his voice trembled a little with excitement, as he said,—
“You fellows all remember Captain Curtis, Lieutenant Wilde’s friend that was here in March. He knew daddy, and after daddy died, he wrote to us. I answered the letter, and since then he’s written to me three or four times. Last Saturday I had another letter from him, and he’s offered to get me in at West Point, when I’m old enough.”
“What!” And Max started up eagerly.
“Yes, isn’t it fine? He has a cousin that’s congressman from Pennsylvania, and their district will have a vacancy the summer after I’m seventeen. Captain Curtis says he can get me the appointment, if I want it. Daddy would have been willing, I know, so, if nothing happens, seven years from now, I shall be Lieutenant Arnold, of the United States Army. Don’t you all envy me, though?” And Leon smiled complacently around at the group.
“Just my luck!” sighed Max. “Another fellow is always sure to get the blessings I deserve. Why couldn’t Captain Curtis have taken a liking to me? Still, I’m no end glad you have it, Leon, for it’s just the thing for you.”
For an hour longer they sat there, now talking, now silently watching the moonlight as it lay caressingly over the doctor’s house, and over their little group as they lingered on the piazza, where they had so often sat before. It was far past their usual bed-time, yet no one of the boys made the move towards going into the house. The next morning would end it all, so why not prolong the evening as far as they might? But, little by little, the light talk of past frolics and future hopes and plans had died away, and they sat there quiet. Perhaps they were growing sleepy; perhaps they were thinking of the morrow, and of the days and years to come. Then, all at once, Leon’s clear, high soprano voice took up the air of one of the Harrow songs which Lieutenant Wilde had brought back to them after a vacation tour to England. It was a song that the boys knew and loved, both for itself, and for that vague feeling of romance which overhangs all that pertains to life at an English public school. Often and often had they sung it together, when driving, or rowing on the lake, or when, as now, they sat on the Old Flemming steps; but never had it meant to them all that it did to-night, on the eve of their parting. One after another, the boys joined in the chorus, until the sound swelled on and upward, as if to carry out to the waiting world their promise for their future lives:—
Listen: [MP3] [MIDI]
Clear and true, the last notes lingered upon the air, and then slowly died away into the stillness of the summer night. Then Jack Howard’s voice led off in one parting cheer:—
“Rah! F. L. E. M. M. I. N. G.! Fszt! Rah! Rah! Rah! Rah!”
Reprinted in America by permission of Mr. Eaton Faning, music
master of Harrow School, at Harrow-on-the-Hill, England.
Through the courtesy of Mr. Geo. L. Fox,
Rector of Hopkins Grammar School, New Haven, Connecticut.
TOM CLIFTON; OR, WESTERN BOYS IN GRANT AND SHERMAN’S ARMY. By Warren Lee Goss, author of “Jed,” “Recollections of a Private,” etc. Fully illustrated. 12mo, $1.50.
Mr. Goss has the genius of a story-teller. No one can follow the fortunes of Tom Clifton and his friends either in their experiments in farming in Minnesota or in the Western army, without the deepest interest. It is the best boys’ book of the year, and has, besides, permanent value from a historical standpoint.
FAMOUS TYPES OF WOMANHOOD. By Sarah K. Bolton, author of “Poor Boys Who Became Famous,” etc. Lives of Marie Louise, Queen of Prussia, Madam Récamier, Jenny Lind, Miss Dix, etc. With Portraits. 12mo, $1.50.
Mrs. Bolton here gives in an entertaining style vivid pictures from the lives of some notable women who have won undying fame in art, philanthropy, and other fields of usefulness.
MIXED PICKLES. By Mrs. Evelyn H. Raymond, author of “Monica, the Mesa Maiden.” Illustrated. 12mo, $1.25.
Under this mysterious and alluring title Mrs. Raymond describes the queer and amusing adventures of a number of bright German boys and girls and their cousins in a quiet Quaker farmhouse.
THE RIVERPARK REBELLION, and A TALE OF THE TOW PATH. By Homer Greene, author of “The Blind Brother,” “Burnham Breaker,” etc. 12mo. Illustrated. $1.00.
The first is the story of an episode in a military school on the Hudson, and it simply glows with life and energy. In the “Tale of the Tow Path” Mr. Greene takes the reader out of the usual environment and shows him new scenes described in his own inimitable way.
IN BLUE CREEK CAÑON. By Anna Chapin Ray, author of “Half a Dozen Girls,” “Half a Dozen Boys,” etc. Illustrated. 12mo, $1.25.
Miss Ray transports to the Rocky Mountains a party of her happy, wholesome boys and girls, and depicts photographically their pleasures during a summer in a mining camp. The story is full of atmosphere and life.
THE CADETS OF FLEMMING HALL. By Anna Chapin Ray, author of “Half a Dozen Girls,” “Half a Dozen Boys,” etc. Illustrated. 12mo, $1.25.
Schoolboy life has not been often depicted in colors that will more surely delight the reader than in this volume. It is a story full of enthusiasm, with exciting adventures, genial fun, and of high purpose.
THE MOTHER OF THE KING’S CHILDREN. By the Rev. J. F. Cowan, author of the “Jo-Boat Boys.” With an introduction by the Rev. F. E. Clark, D. D. Illustrated. 12mo, $1.50.
A book of much merit, quite above the average, and will do good wherever read. Especially will it deepen an interest in practical religious work.
LITTLE ARTHUR’S HISTORY OF ROME. By Hezekiah Butterworth, author of the “Zigzag Books,” etc. A companion volume to “Little Arthur’s England and France.” Illustrated. 12mo, $1.25.
No one better understands the requirements of the young than Mr. Butterworth, and his book will foster an appetite for classical studies.
SHORT STUDIES IN BOTANY FOR CHILDREN. By Mrs. Harriet C. Cooper. Fully illustrated. 12mo, $1.00.
Many teachers and parents have found that Botany may be made attractive to very young children. Mrs. Cooper’s little volume contains a practical demonstration of this.
A SCORE OF FAMOUS COMPOSERS. By Nathan Haskell Dole, formerly musical editor of the Philadelphia Press and Evening Bulletin. With portraits of Beethoven, Wagner, Liszt, Haydn, etc. 12mo, $1.50.
No pains have been spared to make this volume of musical biographies accurate, and at the same time entertaining. Many quaint and curious details have been found in out-of-the-way German or Italian sources. Beginning with Palestrina, “the Prince of Music,” concerning whose life many interesting discoveries have been recently made, and ending with Wagner, the twenty Composers, while in the majority of German origin, still embrace representatives of England and Italy, Hungary and Russia, of France and Poland. Free from pedantry and technicalities, simple and straightforward in style, these sketches aim above all to acquaint the reader, and particularly the young, with the personality of the subjects, to make them live again while recounting their struggles and triumphs.
FAMOUS ENGLISH STATESMEN. By Sarah K. Bolton, author of “Poor Boys Who became Famous.” With Portraits of Gladstone, John Bright, Robert Peel, etc. 12mo, $1.50.
Mrs. Bolton has found a peculiarly congenial subject in her latest contribution to the series of “Famous” books. Nearly all of the English statesmen whose biographies she so sympathetically recounts, have been leaders in great works of reform; and with many Mrs. Bolton had the privilege of personal acquaintance. She has given succinct, yet sufficiently detailed descriptions of the chief labors of these statesmen, and the young reader will find them stirring and stimulating, full of anecdotes and bright sayings.
THE JO-BOAT BOYS. By Rev. J. F. Cowan, D.D., editor of “Our Young People,” etc. Illustrated by H. W. Peirce. 12mo, $1.50.
The shanty boats which shelter the amphibious people along the banks of the Ohio are called Jo-Boats, and Dr. Cowan has chosen this original environment for the earlier scenes of his remarkably lively and spirited story. It will appeal to every boy who has a spark of zest in his soul.
AN ENTIRE STRANGER. By Rev. T. L. Baily. Illustrated. 12mo, $1.25.
The heroine of Mr. Baily’s naïve and fascinating story is a school-teacher who is full of resources, and understands how to bring out the diverse capabilities of her scholars. She wins the love and admiration of her school, and interests them in many improvements. It is a thoroughly practical book, and we should be glad to see it in the hands of all teachers and their scholars.
THROWN UPON HER OWN RESOURCES; OR, WHAT GIRLS CAN DO. By “Jenny June” (Mrs. Croly). A book for girls. 12mo, $1.25.
Mrs. Croly, the able editor of The Home Maker, in this book for girls, shows in her practical, common-sense way, what chances there are open to young women, when the necessity comes for self-support. The wise, prudent words of one who has had so much experience in dealing with the problems of life will be welcomed by a large class of readers.
LED IN UNKNOWN PATHS. By Anna F. Raffensperger. Illustrated. 12mo, $1.25.
A simple, unpretentious diary of homely, every-day life. It is so true to nature that it reads like a transcript from an actual journal. It is full of good-humor, quiet fun, gentle pathos, and good sound sense. One follows with surprising interest the daily doings, the pleasures and trials of the good family whose life is pictured in its pages.
HALF A DOZEN GIRLS. By Anna Chapin Ray, author of “Half a Dozen Boys.” Illustrated, 12mo, $1.25.
A book for girls displaying unusual insight into human nature with a quiet, sly humor, a faculty of investing every-day events with a dramatic interest, a photographic touch, and a fine moral tone. It ought to be a favorite with many girls.
RECOLLECTIONS OF A PRIVATE. A Story of the Army of the Potomac. By Warren Lee Goss, author of “Jed.” With over 80 illustrations by Chapin and Shelton. Royal 8vo. Cloth, $3.25; seal russia, $4.25; half morocco, $5.00.
Among the many books about the Civil War there is none which more clearly describes what took place among the rank and file of the Union Army, while on the march or on the battle-field, than the story given by Mr. Goss in this volume.
It is one of the handsomest, as well as one of the most valuable works in American war literature.—Boston Globe.
No volume of war history has given the reader more graphic descriptions of army life.... The writer speaks from knowledge and not from theory.—Chicago Inter-Ocean.
... It may seem strange, but it is true, that I have had comparatively little time to devote to war literature, but I derived much pleasure from the perusal of this book. Its raciness of style, accuracy of statement, and often pathos of the story, so much interested me that I devoted a whole evening to it. It is all the more pleasant because from my own knowledge, I believe it to be a fair representation of the spirit of that great body of patriotic men, the private soldiers of the Union Army; and I hope it may be largely read, not only by old soldiers, but also by other citizens, young and old.
JED. A Boy’s Adventures in the Army of 1861-’65. A Story of Battle and Prison, of Peril and Escape. By Warren Lee Goss, author of “The Soldier’s Story of his Captivity at Andersonville and other Prisons,” “The Recollections of a Private” (in the Century War Series). Fully illustrated. 12mo. Cloth, $1.50.
In this story the author has aimed to furnish true pictures of scenes in the great Civil War, and not to produce sensational effects. The incidents of the book are real ones, drawn largely from the writer’s personal experiences and observations as a soldier of the Union during that war. The descriptions of life in the Southern prisons are especially graphic. It is one of the best war stories ever written. Boys will read it with avidity.
Of all the many stories of the Civil War that have been published it is not possible to mention one which for sturdy realism, intensity of interest, and range of narrative can compare with Jed.—Boston Beacon.
A book that every boy in the country will want to read the moment he sees it, and it is as instructive as entertaining.—Brooklyn Union.
A thrilling story of bravery, endurance, and final success.—Boston Home Journal.
For sale by all Booksellers. Complete Catalogue sent to any address upon application.
1 TOM BROWN’S SCHOOL DAYS
By Thomas Hughes. With 53 illustrations engraved by Andrew, carefully printed from beautiful type on calendered paper. 12mo, cloth, $2.00; full gilt, $2.50. Edition de luxe, limited to 250 numbered copies, large paper, Japan proofs mounted, $5.00.
Praise or comment on this classic would be a work of supererogation. Every parent sooner or later puts it in his children’s hands. We can only say that the present edition is by all odds the best that has ever been offered to the American public. Printed from large type, well illustrated, and handsomely bound, it makes a book worthy of any library.
2 FAMOUS EUROPEAN ARTISTS.
By Mrs. Sarah K. Bolton, author of “Poor Boys Who Became Famous,” etc. With portraits of Raphael, Titian, Landseer, Reynolds, Rubens, Turner, and others. 12mo, $1.50.
In this handsome volume, Mrs. Bolton relates sympathetically, and with her usual skill in seizing upon salient points, the lives of Sir Joshua Reynolds, Turner, and other artists, whose names are household words. The sketches are accompanied by excellent portraits.
3 FAMOUS ENGLISH AUTHORS OF THE 19th CENTURY.
By Mrs. Sarah K. Bolton, author of “Poor Boys Who Became Famous,” etc. With portraits of Scott, Burns, Carlyle, Dickens, Tennyson, Robert Browning, etc. 12mo, $1.50.
During a recent visit abroad, Mrs. Bolton had the opportunity of visiting many of the scenes made memorable by the residence or writings of the best known English authors, and the incidents which she was thus enabled to invest with a personal interest, she has woven into the sketches of Tennyson, Ruskin, Browning, and the other authors of whom she writes. These two companion volumes are among the best of the famous “Famous” Series.
4 GOSPEL STORIES.
Translated from the Russian of Count L. N. Tolstoi by Nathan Haskell Dole. 12mo, $1.25.
Count Tolstoï’s short sketches of Russian life, inspired generally by some pregnant text of Scripture and written for the masses, perhaps even more than his longer works show the man’s real greatness. Sixteen of these, selected from various publications, are here presented in a neat and attractive volume.
5 PHILIP, or What May Have Been
A story of the First Century. By Mary C. Cutler. 12mo, $1.25.
An appreciative notice of this story contains the following words:—“Reverence, accuracy, a chastened feeling of perfect sincerity, pervade this book.... We have read it through, and can confidently recommend it as in every way fitted to give the old familiar facts of the gospel history a new interest.”
6 HALF A DOZEN BOYS.
By Annie Chapin Ray. 12mo, illustrated, $1.25.
This is a genuine story of boy life. The six heroes are capital fellows, such as any healthy lad, or girl either for that matter, will feel heart warm toward. The simple incidents and amusements of the village where they live are invested with a peculiar charm through the hearty and sympathetic style in which the book is written. It is a book quite worthy of Miss Alcott’s pen.
THE EVERY DAY OF LIFE. By the Rev. J. R. Miller, D.D., author of “Silent Times,” “Making the Most of Life,” etc. 16mo, gilt top, parti-cloth, $1.00; 16mo, white and gold, gilt edges, $1.25; levant morocco, flexible, gilt edges, $2.50.
Hearty words of love and sympathy designed to help and cheer those who are weary with the treadmill of daily cares and perplexities.
WORDSWORTH’S POEMS. (Selections.) Illustrated in photogravure by E. H. Garrett. Printed on fine deckle-edge, laid paper. 12mo, cloth, ornamental design. Gilt top, cloth box, $2.50; full leather, gilt top, $3.50.
This is the selection made by the late Matthew Arnold and includes the cream of Wordsworth’s verse. Mr. Garrett, the artist, has here found a peculiarly congenial field, and his admirable drawings in the interpretation of the text will be fully appreciated.
WALTON’S ANGLER. New edition. Complete in two volumes with all the original 86 illustrations of Major’s edition and photogravure frontispieces. 2 vols. 16mo, cloth, gilt top, $2.50.
Even those who do not fish love the quaint style of the “divine Izaak,” and there is no better edition than Major’s, or this reproduction of that time-honored classic.
POLLY BUTTON’S NEW YEAR. By Mrs. C. F. Wilder. 12mo. Unique parti-cloth binding, .75.
Miss Polly Button, reduced in fortune, makes herself a power in her church by applying her Christianity to every-day life.
EQUITABLE TAXATION. A series of Prize Essays by Walter E. Weyl, Robert Luce, Bolton Hall, and others. Introduction by the Hon. Jonathan A. Lane. Biographical sketches and portraits. 12mo, .75.
Nothing is more evident than that there is a crying need for change in our unjust tax laws. A most stimulating and valuable book.
DAILY FOOD. New illustrated edition, with 12 photo-engravings. 18mo. Parti-cloth, gilt edge, .75; 18mo, lavender and gold, gilt edge, .75; 18mo French silk, gilt edge, $1.25.
Thousands of this little classic have been sold. The present edition is most attractive in appearance, neatly printed from new plates, exquisitely illustrated, and handsomely bound.
A PLEA FOR THE GOSPEL. By the Rev. George D. Herron, author of “The Message of Jesus,” “The Larger Christ.” 16mo, parti-cloth, gilt top, .75.
The author’s previous volumes have been hailed by men of all denominations as the work of a writer intellectually and spiritually cast in the mould of Maurice, Mulford, and Brooks.
MONICA, THE MESA MAIDEN. By Mrs. Evelyn H. Raymond. Illustrated. 12mo, $1.25.
Monica is a Spanish girl of Southern California, who lives in a quaint old house of adobe, surrounded with vines and flowers. She meets with strange adventures which result in the unravelling of a complicated chain of destiny.
LES MISÉRABLES. By Victor Hugo. Translated by Isabel F. Hapgood. New edition. Complete in two volumes, with 32 full-page illustrations. 12mo. Cloth, gilt top, boxed, $3.00. White back, fancy paper sides, gilt top, $3.00.
TENNYSON’S POEMS. New edition. Complete in two volumes. Illustrated with two photogravures and numerous wood engravings by the best artists. 2 vols. 12mo. Gilt top, $3.00; white back, fancy paper sides, gilt top, $5.00.
T. Y. CROWELL & CO.,—New York and Boston.
“The most interesting books to me are the histories of individuals and individual minds, all autobiographies, and the like. This is my favorite reading.”—H. W. Longfellow.
“Mrs. Bolton never fails to interest and instruct her readers.”—Chicago Inter-Ocean.
“Always written in a bright and fresh style.”—Boston Home Journal.
“Readable without inaccuracy.”—Boston Post.
POOR BOYS WHO BECAME FAMOUS.
By Sarah K. Bolton. Short biographical sketches of George Peabody, Michael Faraday, Samuel Johnson, Admiral Farragut, Horace Greeley, William Lloyd Garrison, Garibaldi, President Lincoln, and other noted persons who, from humble circumstances, have risen to fame and distinction, and left behind an imperishable record. Illustrated with 24 portraits. 12mo. $1.50.
GIRLS WHO BECAME FAMOUS.
By Sarah K. Bolton. A companion book to “Poor Boys Who Became Famous.” Biographical sketches of Harriet Beecher Stowe, George Eliot, Helen Hunt Jackson, Harriet Hosmer, Rosa Bonheur, Florence Nightingale, Maria Mitchell, and other eminent women. Illustrated with portraits. 12mo. $1.50.
FAMOUS MEN OF SCIENCE.
By Sarah K. Bolton. Short biographical sketches of Galileo, Newton, Linnæus, Cuvier, Humboldt, Audubon, Agassiz, Darwin, Buckland, and others. Illustrated with 15 portraits. 12mo. $1.50.
FAMOUS AMERICAN STATESMEN.
By Sarah K. Bolton. A companion book to “Famous American Authors.” Biographical sketches of Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton, Webster, Sumner, Garfield, and others. Illustrated with portraits. 12mo. $1.50.
FAMOUS ENGLISH STATESMEN.
By Sarah K. Bolton. With portraits of Gladstone, John Bright, Robert Peel, Lord Palmerston, Lord Shaftesbury, William Edward Forster, Lord Beaconsfield. 12mo. $1.50.
FAMOUS EUROPEAN ARTISTS.
By Sarah K. Bolton. With portraits of Raphael, Titian, Landseer, Reynolds, Rubens, Turner, and others. 12mo. $1.50.
FAMOUS AMERICAN AUTHORS.
By Sarah K. Bolton. Short biographical sketches of Holmes, Longfellow, Emerson, Lowell, Aldrich, Mark Twain, and other noted writers. Illustrated with portraits. 12mo. $1.50.
FAMOUS ENGLISH AUTHORS OF THE 19th CENTURY.
By Sarah K. Bolton. With portraits of Scott, Burns, Carlyle, Dickens, Tennyson, Robert Browning, etc. 12mo. $1.50.
STORIES FROM LIFE.
By Sarah K. Bolton. A book of short stories, charming and helpful. 12mo. $1.25.
THOMAS Y. CROWELL & CO., Publishers, New York.