Burr Junior, Page 2George Manville Fenn
How strange it all seemed! I had ridden down the previous day by theHastings coach, which had left me with my big box at the old inn atMiddlehurst. Here the fly had been ordered to take me the remaining tenmiles on to the school, where I had arrived just at dusk, and, after asupper of bread and milk, I was shown my bed, one of six in a largeroom, and made the acquaintance of Mercer, who, after pretty wellpeppering me with questions, allowed me to go to sleep in peace, tillthe bell rang at six, when I sprang out of bed, confused and puzzled atfinding myself there instead of at home. Then, as the reality forceditself upon me, and I was scowled at by five sleepy boys, all in theill-humoured state caused by being obliged to get up before theypleased, I hurriedly dressed, thinking that I could never settle down tosuch a life as that, and wondering what my uncle and my mother would sayif I started off, went straight back, and told them I did not mean tostop at school.
Everything looked cheerless and miserable, for there was a thick fogoutside, one which had been wafted over from the sea, so that there wasno temptation to go out, and, in spite of my low spirits, I was hungryenough to make me long for breakfast.
This was laid for us in the schoolroom, to which the boys flocked, asthe big bell on the top of the building rang out again, and here I foundthat there were two long tables, as I supposed, till I was warned aboutbeing careful, when I found that they were not tables, but the doubleschool-desks with the lids of the boys' lockers propped up horizontal.
"And if you don't mind, down they come, and your breakfast goes outsideinstead of in," said Mercer.
Milk and water and bread and butter, but they were good and plentiful,and though I was disappointed at first, and began thinking of the hotcoffee at home, I made a better breakfast than I had expected; and indue course, after a walk round the big building, of which I could seenothing for the chilly fog, the bell rang again, and I had to hurry backinto the schoolroom, taking a seat pointed out for me by Mercer, withthe result related in the last chapter.
"Here, come along!" cried my new friend: "What a game! You are a goodchap. I wish a new boy would come every day. Hooray! old Rebble's off.Bet sixpence he goes down to the river bottom-fishing. He nevercatches anything. Goes and sits in his spectacles, blinking at hisfloat, and the roach come and give it a bob and are off again longbefore he strikes. Hi yi yi yi!" he shouted; "here we are again!" and,jumping on to the form and from there to the desk, he bent down, tooklightly hold of the sides, threw up his heels, and stood on his head.
"Here, look at old Mercer!" cried a boy.
"Bravo, Senna T!" cried another.
A dictionary flew across the room, struck the amateur acrobat in theback, and fell on the floor, but not much more quickly than my newfriend went over backwards, the blow having made him overbalance so thathis feet came with a crash on the desk, the ink flew out of two littleleaden wells, and the performer rolled off on to the form, and then tothe floor, with a crash.
"Here!" he cried, springing up. "Who did that? Give me that book. Oh,I know!" he cried, snatching the little fat dictionary, and turning overthe leaves quickly. "`Eely-hezer Burr.' Thanky, I wanted some paper.I'm all over ink. What a jolly mess!"
As he spoke, he tore out three or four leaves, and began to wipe the inkoff his jacket.
"I say, Burr," cried the big boy who had read about Penelope, "Mercer'stearing up your dictionary."
"You mind your own business!" cried Mercer, tearing out some moreleaves, and then throwing the book at the tale-teller just as the tall,thin boy, who bore the same name as I, came striding up with his faceflushed and fists doubled, to plant three or four vigorous blows inMercer's chest and back.
"How dare you tear my book?" he cried. "Here, you, fat Dicksee, bringit here."
"Thought you meant me to use it," cried Mercer, taking the blowsgood-humouredly enough. "Oh, I say, don't! you hurt!"
"Mischievous beggar!" said my senior taking the book and marching off.
"Go on! Ask your father to buy you a new one," cried Mercer derisively,as he applied a piece of blotting-paper to one leg of his trousers."Hiss! Goose!"
"Do you wish me to come back and thrash you, Tom Mercer," said the tallboy, with a lordly manner.
"No, sir, thank-ye, sir; please don't, and I'll never do so no more,sir."
"Miserable beggar," said Burr major. "Here, Dicksee, come down thefield and bowl for me. Bring five or six little uns to field."
"Yah! Tailor!" said Mercer, as his bully marched out.
"I'll tell him what you said," cried Dicksee.
"Hullo, Penny loaf! you there? Yes, you'd better tell him. Just youcome to me for some physic, and you'll see how I'll serve you."
"Don't ketch me taking any of your stuff again," cried the big, fat,sneering-looking fellow. "I'll tell him, and you'll see."
"Go and tell him then," said Mercer contemptuously. "So he is a tailor,and his father's a tailor. Why, I saw his name on a brass plate in CorkStreet."
"So's your father got his name on a brass plate," sneered Dicksee.
"Well, what of that? My father's a professional gentleman. Here, comeon, Burr, and I'll show you round. Hooray! the sun's come through themist. Where's your cap? All right. You'll have to get a squaretrencher by next Sunday. This way."
He led me out into the big playground, and turned.
"Ain't a bad house, is it? Some big lord used to live here, and Magglinsays his father says it was empty for years, and it was sold cheap atlast to the Doctor, who only used to have four boys at first."
"Ha, ha!" laughed Mercer; "he calls himself a gardener because he comeshere to help dig, but I know: he's a poacher, that's what he is. Youask Hopley."
"But I don't know Hopley," I said, laughing.
"You soon will. He's General Rye's keeper. I buy birds off him tostuff."
"What, geese?" I said, as I recalled that my companion spoke about agoose just before.
"Geese? no. Magpies and jays and hawks. I stuff 'em with tow; I'llshow you how. Old Hopley says Magglin's a rank poacher, and first timehe catches him on their grounds he'll pull him up before his master, youknow. General's a magistrate. But he won't catch him. Magg's tooartful. I say, got any money?"
"Yes, I have some," I said.
"That's right. Don't you spend it. You save up same as I am. Magg'sgot a gun I want to buy of him. He says he won't sell it, but I knowbetter. He will when we offer him enough. I did offer him tenshillings, but he laughed at me. I say!"
"It's such a beauty. Single barrel, with a flint lock, so that it neverwants no caps, and it comes out of the stock quite easy, and the barrelunscrews in the middle, and the ramrod too, so that you can put it allin your pocket, and nobody knows that you're carrying a gun."
"But what's the good of a gun here at school?"
"What? Oh, you don't know because it's all new to you. Why, there arehares in the fields, and pheasants in the coppices, and partridges inthe hop-gardens, and the rabbits swarm in the hill-sides down toward thesea."
"But you don't shoot!"
"Not much, because I have no gun, only a pistol, and it don't carrystraight. I did nearly hit a rabbit, though, with it."
"But can you get away shooting?"
"Can I? Should think I can. We have all sorts of fun down here. Canyou fish?"
"I went once," I said, "on the river."
"But you didn't catch anything," said Mercer, grinning.
"No," I said; "I don't think I had a bite."
"Not you. Just you wait a bit, I'll take you fishing. There's theriver where old Rebble goes, and the mill-pond where old Martin gives meleave, and a big old hammer pond out in the middle of General Rye'swoods where nobody gives me leave, but I go. It's full of great carpand tench and eels big as boa-constrictors."
"Oh, come!" I said.
"I didn't say big boa-constrictors, did I? there's little ones, Idaresay.
Here we are. That's Magglin--didn't know he was here to-day."
He pointed out a rough, shambling-looking young man down the greatkitchen garden into which he had led me. This gentleman was in hiscoat, and he was apparently busy doing nothing with a hoe, upon which herested himself, and took off a very ragged fur cap to wipe his brow aswe came up, saluting us with a broad grin.
"Hallo, Magg! you here? This is the new boy, Burr."
"Nay," said the man in a harsh, saw-sharpening voice, "think I don'tknow better than that? That aren't Master Burr."
"No, not that one. This is the new one. This is Burr junior."
"Oh, I see," said the man. "Mornin', Mr Burr juner. Hope I see youwell, sir?"
"Oh, he's all right," said Mercer. "Give him a penny to buy a screw oftobacco, Frank."
I gave the required coin, and Mr Magglin spat on it, spun it in theair, caught it, and placed it in his pocket.
"Thank-ye," he said.
"Got any birds for me?"
"Nay, nary one; but I knows of a beauty you'd give your ears to get."
"What is it?" cried Mercer eagerly.
"All bootiful green, with a head as red as carrots."
"Get out! Gammon! Think I don't know better than that? He means aparrot he's seen in its cage."
"Nay, I don't," said the man. "I mean a big woodpecker down in SquireHawkus Rye's woods."
"Oh, Magg: get it for me!"
"Nay, I dunno as I can. Old Hopley's on the look-out for me, and if Iwas to shoot that there bird, he'd swear it was a fezzan."
"Perhaps it is," said Mercer, laughing.
"Nay, not it, my lad," said the man, with a sly-looking smile. "If itwas a fezzan I shouldn't bring it to you."
"Why not? I should like to stuff it."
"Daresay you would, my lad, but if I did that, somebody would stuff me."
"Ha, ha!" laughed Mercer. "You'd look well in a glass case, Magg."
"Shouldn't look well in prison," said the man, laughing. "Why, what'dbecome o' the Doctor's taters?"
"Oh, bother the taters. I say, what about that gun, Magg?"
"What about what gun?" said the man softly, as he gave a sharp glanceround.
"Get out! You know."
"Whish!" said the man. "Don't you get thinking about no guns. Iwouldn't ha' showed it to you if I'd known. Why, if folks knew I had agun, there'd be no end of bother, so don't you say nothing about itagain."
"Well, then, sell it to me. Burr here's going to join me."
The man gave me a quick glance, and shook his head. "I don't sellguns," he said.
"Then will you shoot that woodpecker for me?"
"Nay, I mustn't shoot, they'd say I was a poacher. I'll try and get itfor you, though, only it'll be a shilling."
"Can't afford more than ninepence, Magg."
"Ninepence it is then; I don't want to be hard on a young gentleman."
"But if it's all knocked to pieces and covered with blood, I shall onlygive you sixpence."
"Oh, this'll be all right, sir."
"When shall you shoot it?"
"Ha'n't I told you I aren't going to shoot it?"
"How will you get it, then?"
"Put some salt on its tail," said the man grinning. "Get out! Here, Isay, could we catch some tench in the mill-pond to-day?"
"Mebbe yes, mebbe no."
"Well, we're going to try. You have some worms ready for me--apenn'orth."
"A penny. Why, you've just had a penny for nothing."
"All right, master. Going?"
"Yes, I'm showing him round," said Mercer. "Come along, Burry, we'll goand see old Lomax now."
He led the way out of the kitchen garden, and round by a field where theDoctor's Alderney cows were grazing, then through a shrubbery to theback of the thatched cottage I had dimly seen as the fly drove by theprevious night.
"Left, right! Three quarters half face. As you never were. Leftcounter-jumper march! Halt stare at pease!"
All this was shouted by Mercer as we approached the cottage door, andhad the effect of bringing out a stiff-looking, sturdy, middle-aged manwith a short pipe in his mouth, which he removed, carried one hand tohis forehead in a salute, and then stood stiff and erect before us,looking sharply at me.
"Mornin', gentlemen," he said.
"Morning," cried Mercer. "'Tention! Parade for introductions. This isField-Marshal Commander-in-Chief Drill-master and Riding-master Lomax.This is Burr junior, new boy, come to see you. I say, Lom, he's goingto be a soldier. His father was a soldier in India. He was killed atwhat's-its-name?--Chilly winegar."
"Eh?" cried the old soldier. "Glad to see you, sir. Shake hands, andwelcome to your new quarters. Come inside."
"No, not now, I'm showing him round. We'll come another time, and bringyou some tobacco, and you shall tell us the story about the fight withthe Indian rajahs."
"To be sure I will, lads. Where are you going now?"
"Going? Let's see. Oh, I know. We'll go to Polly Hopley's."
"Ah, I suppose so. You boys are always going to Polly Hopley's.Good-bye."
He shook hands with us, then drew himself up and saluted usceremoniously, and, as I glanced back, I could see him still standingupright in his erect, military fashion.
"You'll like old As-you-were," said Mercer, as we went on, now along theroad. "The Doctor got hold of him cheap, and he does all sorts ofthings. Cuts and nails the trees, and goes messages to the town. He'sa splendid chap to get things for you."
"But may we go right away like this?" I said, as I saw we were now farfrom the grounds.
"Oh yes, to-day. He's very strict at other times, and we have to getleave when we want to go out, but this is free day, and I want to showyou everything because you're new. Nobody showed me anything. I had tofind it all out, and I was so jolly miserable at first that I made up mymind to run away and go back home."
"But you did not?" I said eagerly, for, though I felt better now in theinterest of meeting fresh people and learning something about the place,I could fully appreciate his words.
"No, I didn't," he said thoughtfully. "You see, I knew I must come toschool, and if I ran away from this one, if I hadn't been sent back, Ishould have been sent back to another one, and there would have beenwhackings at home, and they would have hurt my mother, who always hatedto see me have it, though I always deserved it: father said so. Thenthere would have been whackings here, and they'd have hurt me, so I madeup my mind to stay."
"That was wise," I said, laughing.
"Oh, I don't know," he replied, wrinkling up his face; "the cane onlyhurts you outside, and it soon goes off, but being miserable hurts youinside, and lasts ever so long. I say, don't you be miserable aboutcoming away from home. You'll soon get over it, and there's lots ofthings to see. Look there," he cried, stopping at the edge of the road,"you can see the sea here. The doctor will give us leave to go someday, and we shall bathe. There it is. Don't look far off, does it? butit's six miles. But we've got a bathing pool, too. See those woods?"
"Yes," I said, as I gazed over the beautiful expanse of hill and dale,with a valley sweeping right away to the glittering sea.
"Those are the General's, where the pheasants are, and if you lookbetween those fir-trees you can just get a peep of the hammer pond wherethe big eels are."
"Yes, I can see the water shining in the sun," I said eagerly.
"Yes, that's it; and those fields where you see the tall poles dottedover in threes and fours are--I say, did you ever see hops?"
"Yes, often," I said; "great, long, tight, round sacks piled-up onwaggons."
"Yes, that's how they go to market. I mean growing?"
"Those are hops, then, climbing up the poles. That's where thepartridges get. Oh, I say, I wish old Magg would sell us that gun.We'd go halves in buying it, and I'd play fair; you should shoot just asoften as I did."
"But he will n
ot sell it," I said.
"Oh, he will some day, when he wants some money."
"And what would Doctor Browne do if he knew?"
"Smug it!" said Mercer, with a comical look, "when he knew. Look! seethat open ground there with the clump of fir-trees and the long slope ofsand going down to that hollow place!"
"Rabbits, and blackberries. Such fine ones when they're ripe! And justbeyond there, at the sandy patch at the edge of the wood, snakes!--bigones, too. I'm going to catch one and stuff it."
"But can you?"
"I should think so--badly, you know, but I'm getting better. I had tofind all this out that I'm telling you, but perhaps you don't care aboutit, and want to go back to the cricket-field?"
"No, no," I cried; "I do like it."
"That's right. If we went back we should only have to bowl for oldEely. Everybody has to bowl for him, and he thinks he's such a dabsterwith the bat, but he's a regular muff. Never carried the bat out in hislife. Like hedgehogs?"
"Well, I don't know," I said. "They're so prickly."
"Yes; but they can't help it, poor things. There's lots about here.Wish we could find one now, we'd take it back and hide it in old Eely'sbed. I don't know though, it wouldn't be much fun now, because he'dknow directly that I did it. I say, you never saw a dog with ahedgehog. Did you?"
"No," I said.
"It's the finest of fun. Piggy rolls himself up tight like a ball, andNip,--that's Magg's dog, you know,--he tries to open him, and pricks hisnose, and dances round him and barks, but it's no good, piggy knowsbetter than to open out. I've had three. Magg gets them for me. Hetold me for sixpence how he got them."
"And how's that?" I said, eager to become a master in all thiswoodcraft.
"Why, you catch a hedgehog first."
"Yes," I said, "but how?"
Mercer looked at me, and rubbed his ear.
"Oh, that is only the first one," he said hurriedly.
"But you must know how to catch the first one first."
"Oh, I say, don't argue like that. It is like doing propositions inEuclid. You have to begin with one hedgehog, that's an axiom. Then youtake him in your pocket."
"Doesn't it prick?" I said.
"Oh, I don't know. How you keep interrupting! And you go out at nightwhen it's full moon, and then go and sit down on a felled tree right inthe middle of an open place in the wood. You get a bit of stick, arough bit, and take hold of piggy's foot and rub his hind leg with thestick."
"But suppose he curls up," I said.
"Oh, bother! Don't! How am I to tell you? You mustn't let him curlup. You rub his hind leg with the stick, and then he begins to sing."
"Oh, come!" I said, bursting out laughing.
"Well, squeal, then, ever so loud, and the louder he squeals, the harderyou must rub."
"But it hurts him."
"Oh, not much. What's a hedgehog that he isn't to be hurt a bit! Boysget hurt pretty tidy here when the Doctor's cross. Well, as soon as hesqueals out, all the hedgehogs who hear him come running to see what'sthe matter, and you get as many as you like, and put 'em in a hutch, butyou mustn't keep live things here, only on the sly. I had so many, theDoctor put a stop to all the boys keeping things, rabbits, and whitemice, and all. That's why I stuff."
"Because you can keep frogs, and jays, and polecats, and snakes, andanything, and they don't want to be fed."
"What a nice cottage!" I said suddenly, as we came upon a red-brick,red-tiled place, nearly all over ivy.
"Yes, that's Polly Hopley's--and hi! there goes old Hopley."
A man in a closely fitting cap and brown velveteen jacket, who was goingdown the road, faced round, took a gun from off his shoulder and placedit under his arm.
He was a big, burly, black-whiskered man, with brown face and dark eyes,and he showed his white teeth as he came slowly to meet us.
"Well, Master Mercer?" he said. "Why ain't you joggryfing?"
"Whole holiday. New boy. This is him. Burr junior, this is BobHopley, General's keeper. Chuck your cap up in the air, and he'll makeit full of shot-holes. He never misses."
"Oh yes, I do," said the keeper, shaking his head; "and don't you do ashe says. Charge of powder and shot's too good to be wasted."
"Oh, all right. I say, got anything for me?"
"No, not yet. I did knock over a hawk, but I cut his head off."
"What for? With your knife?"
"No-o-o! Shot. You shall have the next. Don't want a howl, I s'pose?"
"Yes, yes, a white one. Do shoot one for me, there's a good chap."
"Well, p'raps I may. I know where there's a nest."
"Do you? Oh, where?" cried Mercer. "I want to see one, so does he--this chap here."
"Well, it's in the pigeon-cote up agen Dawson's oast-house, only hewon't have 'em touched."
"What a shame!"
"Says they kills the young rats and mice. Like to go and see it?"
"Well, I'm going round by Rigg's Spinney, and I'll meet you at the farmgates. Jem Roff'll let you go up if I ask him."
"How long will you be?"
"Hour! Don't forget!"
"Just as if we should!" cried Mercer, as the keeper shouldered his gunagain and marched off. "It's rather awkward, though."
"What is?" I said.
"Being friends with Magglin and Bob Hopley too, because they hate eachother awfully. But then, you see, it means natural history, don't it?"
He looked at me as if he meant me to say it, so I said, "Yes."
"An hour. What shall we do for an hour? 'Tisn't long enough to go tothe hammer pond, nor yet to hunt snakes, because we should get sointerested that we should forget to come back. But, I say, would yourather go back to the school field, where the other chaps are, or comeback and pick out your garden? We've all got gardens. Or have a gameat rounders, or--"
"No, no no," I said. "I like all this. It's all new to me. I wasnever in the country like this before."
"Then you do like it?"
"That's right. Then you will not mind old Rebble's impositions, and theDoctor being disagreeable, and going at us, nor the boys pitching intoyou, as they all do--the big ones--when the Doctor's pitched into them.Why, you don't look so miserable now as you did."
"No. It's awful coming away from home, I know, and I do get so tired oflearning so many things. You do have to try so much to get to knowanything at all. Now, let's see what shall we do for an hour?"
"Go for a walk," I suggested.
"Oh, that's no good, without you're going to do something. I know;we'll go back and make Magg lend us his ferret, and then we'll try for arabbit."
"Very well," I said eagerly.
"No, that wouldn't do, because his ferret's such a beggar."
"Is he?" I said.
"Yes; he goes into a hole in a bank and comes out somewhere else, farenough off, and you can't find him, or else he goes in and finds arabbit, and eats him, and then curls up for a sleep, and you waiting allthe time. That wouldn't do; there isn't time enough. You want all dayfor that, and we've only got an hour. Wish I hadn't said we'd go andsee the owls."
"Shall we sit down and wait?" I suggested.
"No, no. I can't wait. I never could. It's horrid having to wait.Here, I know. It's lunch-time, and we're here. Let's go into PollyHopley's and eat cakes and drink ginger-beer till it's time to go."
"Very well," I said, willingly enough, for walking had made me thirsty.
"I haven't got any money, but Polly will trust me."
"I've got some," I ventured to observe.
"Ah, but you mustn't spend that. You've got to help pay for the gun.Come on.--Here, Polly, two bottles of ginger-beer, and sixpenn'orth ofbis--I say, got any fresh gingerbread?"
This was to a stoutish, dark-eyed woman of about one-and-twenty, as weentered the co
ttage, in one of whose windows there was a shelf with arow of bottles of sweets and a glass jar of biscuits.
"Yes, sir, quite new--fresh from Hastings," said the girl eagerly. Andshe produced a box full of brown, shiny-topped squares.
"Was it some of this old Dicksee had yesterday?" said Mercer.
"Yes, sir. I opened the fresh box for him, and he had four tuppennybits."
"Then we will not," said my companion sharply. "Let's have biscuitsinstead."
The biscuits were placed before us, and the keeper's daughter then tooka couple of tied-down stone bottles from a shelf.
"I say," cried Mercer, "I didn't introduce you. Burr junior, this isPolly Hopley. Polly, this is--"
"Yes, sir, I know. I heard you tell father," said the woman quickly, asshe cut the string.
Out came the opal-looking, bubbling liquid into a grey mug covered withstripes, and then _Pop_! again, and a mug was filled for my companion,ready for us to nod at each other and take a deep draught of thedelicious brewing--that carefully home-made ginger-beer of fifty yearsago--so mildly effervescent that it could be preserved in a stonebottle, and its cork held with a string. A very different beverage tothe steam-engine-made water fireworks, all wind, fizzle, cayenne pepper,and bang, that is sold now under the name.
"Polly makes this herself on purpose for us," said Mercer importantly."We boys drink it all."
"And don't always pay for it," said Polly sharply.
I saw Mercer's face change, and I recalled what he had said aboutcredit.
"Why--er--" he began.
"Oh, I don't mean you, sir, and I won't mention any names, but I thinkyoung gen'lemen as drinks our ginger-beer ought to pay, and father saysso too."
I glanced at Mercer, whose face was now scarlet, and, seeing that he wasthinking about what he had said respecting credit, I quietly slipped myhand into my pocket and got hold of a shilling.
"It is beautiful ginger-beer," I said, after another draught.
"Beautiful," said Mercer dismally, but he gave quite a start and thenhis eyes shone brightly as he glanced at me gratefully, for I had handedthe shilling to the keeper's daughter, who took it to a jug on thechimney-piece, dropped it in, and then shook out some half-pence from acracked glass and gave me my change.
"Here, put your biscuits in your pocket, Burr," cried Mercer, "and we'llgo on now."
Saying which, he set the example, finished his ginger-beer, and made thekeeper's daughter smile by declaring it was better than ever.
"Glad you like it, sir; and of course you know I didn't mean you, asI've trusted before, and will again, because you always pay."
"Thank-ye. I know whom you mean," he replied. "Come on."
As soon as we were out of sight of the cottage, Mercer laid an arm on myshoulder.
"I can't say what I want to," he said quickly, "but I liked that, and Iwon't ever forget it. If ever old Eely hits you, I'll go at him, see ifI don't, and I don't care how hard he knocks me about, and if ever I cando anything for you, to save you from a caning, I will, or from anyother trouble. You see if I don't. I like you, Burr junior, that I do,and--and do come along, or we shall be late."