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First in the Field: A Story of New South Wales, Page 2

George Manville Fenn



  Three boys began to explain at once; but the doctor, who was walkingwith his wife and two daughters, and had been attracted by the strugglegoing on, held up his hand.

  "That will do! that will do!" he said in his most dignified manner andwith his deepest-toned voice. "I have seen enough. Disgraceful!disgraceful! It would have been bad enough in the village lads and thefarm labourers' boys; but in the young gentlemen of the Friary it isoutrageous. Silence!" he nearly shouted, as Nic began to speak. "Itell you I saw enough. You, sir, were attacking Green with a violencethat was nothing less than brutal and savage. I am shocked, quiteshocked. Such conduct cannot be borne. Ladies present too, exposed toseeing your ruffianly violence."

  "But, sir--" began Nic.

  "How dare you speak, sir, after I have ordered you to be silent! Yourhalf-holiday is cancelled. Back all of you to the Friary; I will seeyou on my return. Now, my dears, we will resume our walk."

  The doctor turned upon his heels, and went off with his ladies talkingin a loud voice about botany, the words _Ranunculaceae_ and_Caryophyllaceae_ being plainly heard as he stopped and picked a yellowblossom and a tuft of weed, the young ladies glancing back twice at theboys who had been guilty of so disgraceful a breach of scholasticetiquette as to have their fight take place upon an open common and letit be seen.

  Nic stood arranging his jacket and torn-off collar, looking down ratherdismally at Green, and wishing that he had not hit him quite so hard;for his adversary was seated upon the grass where there was no furze,embracing his knees and resting his brow upon them, softly swaying hishead from side to side.

  Tomlins was the first to speak, for the others were looking after thedoctor, and were--especially the two seconds--wondering what the doctorwould say when he came back, and how severe their punishment would be.

  The fight had done the little dark-eyed fellow good. It was like somuch liniment rubbed into his bruise to see the brutal tyrant of theschool well thrashed; and feeling that with such a protector as Nic hehad no more to fear from Green, he was not above giving expression tohis thoughts.

  "Never you mind, Nic Braydon," he said. "I shall speak out when thedoctor has us up. It wasn't your fault, but bully Gooseberry Green's.He began it, knocking me about, kicking me--a brute. I shall tell thedoctor everything just as it happened."

  At this Green raised his face to dart a vindictive, threatening look atthe little fellow, but he had not paused to think about the state of hisface, which was comic in the extreme, and instead of alarming Tomlinsmade him forget his lameness more and more, and sent him into a fit oflaughter.

  "Here, boys, look at Gooseberry's phiz. He seems as if he'd beenwashing it and left it too long to soak! My! what a swelled head!"

  The others joined in the roar of laughter, and Green's face was hiddenagain directly.

  But Nic had not laughed. He was hurt bodily and mentally. There was afeeling of regret, too, uppermost, which made him resent this unseemlymirth as cowardly to a fellow enemy.

  "You be quiet, Tomlins!" he cried.

  "What for?" retorted the boy. "You haven't been kicked as I have. Ishall laugh at Gooseberry if I like. He began it all, and he has gothis dose, and serve him right. Here, let's get back. Old Dictionaryturned his head just now. I say, Greeny, like to have another kick.I'm such a little one, I shan't hit you again."

  "Wait a bit," muttered Green.

  "Oh, certainly; I'm in no hurry. Only you may as well do it when NicBraydon's here, because he can give you my compliments afterwards, andleave my card in each of your eyes. Poor old chap! I'm so glad you'vebeen licked."

  "Will you be quiet, young un!" cried Nic angrily. "It's mean andcowardly."

  "Well, that's the stuff he deals in," said Tomlins. "He likes thatbetter than anything else."

  "That's no reason why you should," cried Nic. "Let him be, I tell you."

  "Oh, all right, I've done; but I suppose I may say I'm very sorry forhim."

  "No, you _mayn't_," cried Nic. "Here, come on back, Greeny; we've hadit out, but we needn't be bad friends. I'm sorry we fought; you'llshake hands, won't you?"

  Green made no movement, and Nic drew closer and held out his hand again.

  "Come on," he said; "I'm sorry now; shake hands."

  But Green did not move. He sat there crouched together, till Tomlinswent behind him.

  "He's asleep," cried the little fellow. "I'll give him a job like hegave me, and wake him up."

  Green spun round upon the bottom of his spine and faced his littletormentor, who started back with a cry of mock alarm.

  "Here, hi, Nic!" he shouted. "Hold him back. He's going to bite."

  Nic made a rush, not to protect Tomlins, but to seize him and drag himaway.

  "If you tease him again, I'll kick you too," he whispered. "Let him be;he's beaten. You don't want to hit him now he's down."

  "Yes, I do," said the boy, struggling to free himself. "I owe him alot, and it isn't safe to hit him when he's not down. Oh, I say, don't;you're hurting me."

  "Serve you right. Come away."

  "Here, boys, help!" cried Tomlins, making a grimace. "Convict's settingup for--Ah!"

  He did not have time to finish his sentence, for Nic caught him sharplyby the shoulders and gave him an angry shake.

  "If you say that again, I'll serve you worse than Green did. No, Iwon't;" he said in repentance. "There, go on back."

  The boy was silenced, and in a startled way joined his schoolfellows,while Nic once more went close up to Green.

  "Let me help you up," he said. "Here, shake hands, Green. It was onlya fight, and you might have won."

  There was no answer, and Nic took his adversary by the arm, half forcinghim to rise; but Green did not turn his head, nor raise his face to gazein that before him, though he unresistingly allowed himself to be helpedalong the side of the hedge, so as to reach the lane that led to thehigh road and the village, at one end of which the park-like grounds ofthe doctor's establishment stood.

  "He'll come round soon," thought Nic. "He's sure to feel sore aftersuch a licking."

  "I say, isn't old Convict a rum one," whispered one of the boys who hadbeen seconds.

  "Well, he always was," said the other. "What do you mean?"

  "Why giving Green a licking, and then going to help him like that."

  The other boy looked at the battered pair, and let them pass on infront, following afterwards with the others.

  "It's the proper thing to do, isn't it?"

  "Yes, with some fellows," said Tomlins, who was listening. "I should doit to either of you chaps if I'd licked you."

  The pair looked at each other and laughed.

  "Hark at Mouse Tomlins," said one of them.

  "Ah, you wait. I shall get bigger some day, and then I shall do just asConvict Braydon does; but I shouldn't to old Green. You see if he don'thit foul before long, and serve poor old Convict out."

  "Don't you be so fond of calling him Convict; he doesn't like it," saidBraydon's second.

  "Well, he shouldn't be a convict then," retorted the boy.

  "And you shouldn't be a cocky, conceited little donkey," said the elderboy.

  "But I'm not," said the little fellow, laughing; and then wincing andcrying, "Oh, my leg!"

  "And he's not a convict."

  "But Gooseberry Green says his father is, and that he was sent over toBotany Bay, and that's what makes poor old Braydon so mad."

  "His father and mother are both out there somewhere, because Nic told meso, and he says he's going out there some day; but his father can't be aconvict, or else he wouldn't be at a good school like this. It's allGreen's disagreeableness."

  "I'm jolly glad he has got a licking," said the other, "though Iseconded him; but I wish he hadn't spoiled our afternoon. If NicBraydon would come too, I'd go and get into the Hurst. The doctor won'tbe back for two hours safe, and he's sure not to send for us t
ill eighto'clock. Let's get him to come."

  "Well, you ask him."

  The boy hurried on and overtook the adversaries.

  "Here, Nic Braydon, let him go on by himself. We're going to finish theafternoon together. We don't see any fun in going back yet."

  Nic turned his face to his companion, who burst out laughing--a laugh inwhich he was joined by the others as they came up, Tomlins being themost facetious.

  "I say, look at his open eye," cried the little fellow, "and the crackon his lip. I say, don't laugh, Nic; it'll hurt. Don't he look likeenjoying himself!"

  "Be quiet, Tomlins!" cried Nic's second.

  "All right; I've done."

  "I say, will you come, Nic?"

  "No; I'm going to see Green back to the Friary."

  "And then," cried Tomlins, "they're going to have a can of hot water andsponge one another, and make friends and live happy ever after. I say,wouldn't they both look nice in a glass case!"

  Nic smiled in spite of himself; and went on back to the Friary, wherethe man-servant also indulged in a grin as he saw the battered, pair,who partook of their tea with pain, and looked thoroughly unpresentablewhen at eight o'clock they were summoned to the doctor's study to belectured severely, Nic getting the greater part of the scolding, whichended with the ominous words:

  "I will say no more, Dominic Braydon, for I don't like to come hastilyto decisions; but I am afraid that I shall be forced to expel soevil-tempered, virulent, and quarrelsome a boy. Now retire, sir, toyour dormitory. I will see you after breakfast in the morning."

  Nic went slowly up to the room he shared with Tomlins and the boy whohad been his second, feeling that the doctor was cruelly unjust inrefusing to listen to explanations which he had on his side beenextremely unwilling to make.

  "Nobody seems to understand me," he said to himself; "convict, alwaysconvict. And, suppose I am expelled, what shall I do? what will myfather say? It seems sometimes more than I can bear;" and for hoursthat night he lay awake, feeling no bodily pains in the fiercer ones ofthe mind, and always dwelling upon his position--quite alone in England,with father, mother, and sisters at the other side of the world, at atime, too, when it might take a year for a letter sent to bring back itsanswer; so that it was getting far on toward the early dawn when heceased thinking about the far-away land of the convict and kangaroo, andwent off fast asleep.