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A Hero of Romance

Richard Marsh

  Produced by Charles Bowen, from page scans provided by Google Books

  Transcriber's Note:

  1. Page scan source:


  "Perhaps you don't know who I am?" (_Page_ 155.)]

  _A Hero of Romance_.] [_Frontispiece_.




  _Author of "The Datchel Diamonds," "The Crime and the Criminal_" _etc., etc_.







  I Punishment at Mecklemburg House.

  II Tutor Baiting.

  III At Mother Huffham's.

  IV A Little Drive.

  V An Evening at Washington Villa.

  VI Afterwards.

  VII The Return of the Wanderer.

  VIII Preparing for Flight.

  IX The Start.

  X Another Little Drive.

  XI The Original Badger.

  XII A "Doss" House.

  XIII In Petersham Park.

  XIV In Trouble.

  XV Out of the Frying-pan into the Fire.

  XVI The Captain's Room.

  XVII Two Men and a Boy.

  XVIII The Boat-train.

  XIX To Jersey with a Thief.

  XX Exit Captain Tom.

  XXI The Disadvantages of not Being Able to Speak French.

  XXII The End of the Journey.

  XXIII The Land of Golden Dreams.

  Chapter I


  It was about as miserable an afternoon as one could wish to see. Mayis the poet's month, but there was nothing of poetry about it then.True, it was early in the month, but February never boasted weather ofmore unmitigated misery. At half-past two it was so dark in theschoolroom of Mecklemburg House that one could with difficulty see toread. Outside a cold drizzling rain was falling, a shrieking east windwas rattling the windows in their frames, and a sullen haze was hidingthe leaden sky. As unsatisfactory a specimen of the English spring asone could very well desire.

  To make things better, it was half-holiday. Not that it much matteredto the young gentleman who was seated in the schoolroom; it was nohalf-holiday to him. A rather tall lad, some fourteen years of age,broad and strongly built. This was Bertie Bailey.

  Master Bertie Bailey was kept in; and the outrage this was to hisfeelings was altogether too deep for words. To keep him in!--no wonderthe heavens frowned at such a crime!

  Master Bertie Bailey was seated at a desk very much the worse forwear; a long desk, divided into separate compartments, which wereintended to accommodate about a dozen boys. He had his arms upon thedesk, his face rested on his hands, and he was staring into vacancywith an air of tragic gloom.

  At the raised desk which stood in front of him before the window wasseated Mr. Till. Mr. Till's general bearing and demeanour was not muchmore jovial than Master Bertie Bailey's; he was the tyrant usher whohad kept the youthful victim in. It was with a certain grim pleasurethat Bertie realized that Mr. Till's enjoyment of the keeping-in wasperhaps not much more than his own.

  Mr. Till had a newspaper in his hand, and had apparently read itthrough, advertisements and all. He looked over the top of it atBertie.

  "Don't you think you'd better get on with those lines?" he asked.

  Bertie had a hundred lines of _Paradise Lost_ to copy out. He paid noattention to the inquiry; he did not even give a sign that he wasaware he had been spoken to, but continued to sit with his eyes fixedon nothing, with the same air of mysterious gloom.

  "How many have you done?" Mr. Till came down to see. There was a torncopy of Milton's poems lying unopened beside Bertie on the desk; infront of him a slate which was quite clean, and no visible signs of aslate pencil. Mr. Till took up the slate and carefully examined it foranything in the shape of lines.

  "So you haven't begun?--why haven't you begun?" No answer. "Do youhear me? why haven't you begun?"

  Without troubling himself to alter in any way his picturesque posture,Bertie made reply,--

  "I haven't got a slate pencil."

  "You haven't got a slate pencil? Do you mean to tell me you've satthere for a whole hour without asking for a slate pencil? I'll soonget you one."

  Mr. Till went to his desk and produced a piece about as long as hislittle finger, placing it in front of Bertie. Bertie eyed it from acorner of his eye.

  "It isn't long enough."

  "Don't tell me; take your arms off the desk and begin those lines atonce."

  Bertie very leisurely took his arms off the desk, and delicatelylifted the piece of slate pencil.

  "It wants sharpening," he said. He began to look for his knife,standing up to facilitate the search. He hunted in all his pockets,turning out the contents of each upon the desk; finally, from thelabyrinthine depths of some mysterious depository in the lining of hiswaistcoat, he produced the ghost of an ancient pocket-knife. As thoughthey were fragile treasures of the most priceless kind, he carefullyreplaced the contents of his pockets. Then, at his ease, he commencedto give an artistic point to his two-inch piece of slate pencil. Mr.Till, who had taken up a position in front of the window with hishands under his coat tails, watched the proceedings with anything buta gratified countenance.

  "That will do," he grimly remarked, when Bertie had considerablyreduced the original size of his piece of pencil by attempting toproduce a point of needlelike fineness. Bertie wiped his knife uponhis coat-sleeve, removed the pencil dust with his pocket-handkerchief,and commenced to write. Before he had got half-way through the firstline a catastrophe occurred.

  "I've broken the point," he observed, looking up at Mr. Till withinnocence in his eyes.

  "I tell you what it is," said Mr. Till, "if you don't let me havethose lines in less than no time I'll double them. Do you think I'mgoing to stop here all the afternoon?"

  "You needn't stop," suggested Bertie, looking at his broken pencil.

  "I daresay!" snorted Mr. Till. The last time Bertie had been leftalone in the schoolroom on the occasion of his being kept in, he hadperpetrated atrocities which had made Mr. Fletcher's hair stand up onend. Mr. Fletcher was the head-master. Orders had been given thatwhenever Bertie was punished, somebody was to stay in with him. "Now,none of your nonsense; you go on with those lines."

  Bertie bent his head with a studious air. A hideous scratching noisearose from the slate. Mr. Till clapped his hands to his ears.

  "Stop that noise!"

  "If you please, sir, I think this pencil scratches," Bertie said.Considering that he was holding the pencil perpendicularly, thecircumstance was not surprising.

  "Take my advice, Bailey, and do those lines." Advancing with aninflamed countenance, Mr. Till stood over the offending pupil.Resuming his studious posture Bertie recommenced to write. He wrotetwo lines, not too quickly, nor by any means too well, but still hewrote them. In the middle of the third line another catastrophehappened.

  "Please, sir, I've broken the pencil right in two." It was quiteunnecessary for him to say so, the fact was self-evident, though withso small a piece it had required no slight exertion of strength andsome dexterous manipulation to accomplish t
he feat. The answer was abox on the ears.

  "What did you do that for?" asked Bertie, rising from his seat, andrubbing the injured portion with his hand.

  Now it was distinctly understood that Mecklemburg House CollegiateSchool was conducted on the principle of no corporal punishment. Itwas a prominent line in the prospectus. "_Under no circumstances iscorporal punishment administered_." As a rule the principle wasconsistently carried out to its legitimate conclusion, not with thecompletest satisfaction to every one concerned. Yet Mr. Fletcher, oneof the most longsuffering of men, and by no means the strictestdisciplinarian conceivable, had been more than once roused intoadministering short and sharp justice upon refractory youth. But whatwas excusable in Mr. Fletcher was not to be dreamed of in thephilosophy of anybody else. For an assistant-master to strike a pupilwas a crime; and Mr. Till knew it, and Master Bertie Bailey knew ittoo.

  "What did you do that for?" repeated Bertie.

  Mr. Till was crimson. He was not a hasty tempered man, but to-dayMaster Bertie Bailey had been a burden greater than he could bear. Yethe had very literally made a false stroke, and Bertie was just theyoung gentleman to make the most of it.

  "If I were to tell Mr. Fletcher, he'd turn you off," said Bertie. "Heturned Mr. Knox off for hitting Harry Goddard."

  Harry Goddard's only relation was a maiden aunt, and this maiden aunthad peculiar opinions. In her opinion for anybody to lay a punitoryhand upon her nephew was to commit an act tantamount to sacrilege.Harry had had a little difference with Emmett minor, and had borneaway the blushing honours of a bloody nose and a black eye withconsiderable _sang-froid_; but when Mr. Knox resented his filling hisbest hat with half-melted snow by presenting him with two or threesmart taps upon a particular portion of his frame, Harry wrote home tohis aunt to complain of the indignity he had endured. The result wasthat the ancient spinster at once removed the outraged youth from thesanguinary precincts of Mecklemburg House, and that Mr. Fletcherdismissed the offending usher.

  As Mr. Till stood eyeing his refractory pupil, all this came forciblyto his mind. He knew something more than Bertie did; he knew that whenMr. Fletcher, smarting at the loss of a remunerative pupil, had madeshort work of his unfortunate assistant, he had also taken advantageof the occasion to call Mr. Till into his magisterial presence, and tothen and there inform him, that should he at any time lay his handupon a pupil, under any provocation of any kind whatever, the resultwould be that Mr. Knox's case would be taken as a precedent, and hewould be instantaneously dismissed.

  And now he had struck Bertie, and here was Bertie threatening toinform his employer of what he had done.

  "If you don't let me off these lines," said Bertie, pursuing hisadvantage, "I'll tell Mr. Fletcher as soon as he comes home, you seeif I don't."

  Mecklemburg House Collegiate School was not a scholastic establishmentof any particular eminence; indeed, whatever eminence it possessed wasof an unsavoury kind. Nor was the position of its assistant-master atall an enviable one. There was the senior assistant, Mr. Till, andthere was the junior, Mr. Shane. Mr. Till received L30 a year, and Mr.Shane, a meek, melancholy youth of about seventeen, received sixteen.Nor could the duties of either of these gentlemen be considered light.But if the pay was small and the work large, the intellectualqualifications required were by no means of an unreasonable kind.Establishments of the Mecklemburg House type are fading fast away.English private schools are improving every day. Mr. Till, consciousof his deficiencies, was only too well aware that if he lost hispresent situation, another would be hard to find. So, in the face ofBertie's threat, he temporized.

  "I didn't mean to hit you! You shouldn't exasperate me!"

  Bertie looked him up and down. If ever there was a young gentleman whoneeded the guidance of a strong hand, Bertie was he. He was not anaturally bad boy,--few boys are,--but he hated work, and he scornedauthority. All means were justifiable which enabled him to shirk theone and defy the other. He was just one of those boys who might becomebad if he was not brought to realize the difference between good andevil, right and wrong. And it would need sharp discipline to bring himto such knowledge.

  He had a supreme contempt for Mr. Till. All the boys had. The onlyperson they despised more was Mr. Shane. It was the natural result ofthe system pursued at Mecklemburg House that the masters were lookedupon by their pupils as quite unworthy their serious attention.

  Bertie had had about a dozen impositions inflicted on him even withinthe last days. He had not done one of them. He never did do them. Noneof the boys ever did do impositions set them by anybody but Mr.Fletcher. They did not by any means make a point of doing his.

  "You will do me fifty lines," Mr. Till would say to half a dozen boyshalf a dozen times over in the course of a single morning. He spoke tothe wind; no one ever did them, no one would have been so muchsurprised as Mr. Till if they had been done.

  On the present occasion Mr. Fletcher had gone to town on business, andMr. Till had been left in supreme authority. Bailey had signalised theoccasion by behaving in a manner so outrageous that, if any semblanceof authority was to be kept at all, it was altogether impossible tolet him go scot free. As it was a half-holiday, Mr. Till had announcedhis unalterable resolve that Bertie should copy out a hundred lines of_Paradise Lost_, and that he should not leave the schoolroom till hehad written them.

  The result so far had not been satisfactory. He had been in theschoolroom considerably over an hour; he had written not quite threelines, and here he was telling Mr. Till that if he did not let him offentirely he would turn the tables on his master, and make mattersunpleasant for him. It looked as though Bertie would win the game.

  Having taken the tutor's mental measure, he thrust his hands into histrousers pockets, and coolly seated himself upon the desk. Then hemade the following observation,--

  "I tell you what it is, old Till, I don't care a snap for you."

  Mr. Till simply glared. He realized, not for the first time, that thepupil was too much for the master. Bertie continued,--

  "My father always pays regularly in advance. If I wrote home and toldhim that you'd hit me, for nothing"--Bertie paused and fixed his stonygaze on Mr. Till--"he'd take me home at once, and then what wouldFletcher say?" Bertie paused again, and pointed his thumb over hisleft shoulder. "He'd say, 'Walk it'!"

  This was one way of putting it. Though Mr. Bailey was by no means sucha foolish person as his son suggested. He was very much unlike HarryGoddard's maiden aunt. Had Bertie written home any such letter ofcomplaint--which, by the way, he was far too wise to have dreamed ofdoing--the consequences would in all probability have been the worsefor him. The father knew his son too well to be caught with chaff.Unfortunately, Mr. Till did not know this; he had Mr. Knox's fatebefore his eyes.

  "You'd better let me off these lines," pursued the inexorable Bertie;"you'd better, you know."

  "You're an impudent young----" But Bertie interrupted him.

  "Now don't call me names, or I'll tell Fletcher. He only said theother day that all his pupils were to be treated like younggentlemen."

  "Young gentlemen!" snorted Mr. Till with scorn.

  "Yes, young gentlemen. And don't you say we're not young gentlemen,because Mecklemburg House Collegiate School is an establishment foryoung gentlemen." And Bertie grinned. "You'd better let me off theselines, you know."

  "You know I never hurt you; you shouldn't exasperate me; you're themost exasperating boy I ever knew; there's absolutely no bearing withyour insolence! You'd try the patience of a saint."

  "I shouldn't be surprised if I was deaf for a week." He rubbed theinjured part reflectively. "I've heard Fletcher say it's dangerous tohit a fellow on the ear. You'd better let me off those lines, youknow."

  Mr. Till, fidgeting about the room, suddenly burst into eloquence. "Iwonder if it's any use appealing to your better nature? They say boyshave a better nature, though I never remember to have seen much of it.What pleasure do you find in making my life unbearable? What have Iever done to you that y
ou should try to drive me mad? Are younaturally cruel? My sole aim is for your future welfare! Your sole aimis for my ruin!"

  Bertie continued to rub his ear.

  "Bailey, if I let you off these lines will you promise to try to giveme less cause to punish you?"

  "You can't help letting me off them anyhow," said Bertie.

  "Can't I? I suppose, young gentleman, you think you're getting thebest of me?"

  "I know I am," said Bertie.

  "Oh, you know you are! Then let me do my best to relieve you of thatdelusion. Shall I tell you what you are doing? You're doing your bestto sow the seeds of a shameful manhood and a wasted life; if you don'ttake care you'll reap the harvest by-and-by! It isn't only that you'rerefusing to avail yourself of opportunities of education, you're doingyourself much greater harm than that. You think you're getting thebest of me; but shall I tell you what's getting the best of you?--amean, cruel, cowardly spirit, which will be to you a sterner masterthan ever I have been. You think yourself brave because you jeer andmock at me, and flout all my commands! Why, my boy, were I bettercircumstanced, and free to act upon my own discretion, you wouldtremble in your shoes! The very fact of your permitting yourself tothreaten me, on account of punishment which you know was perfectlywell deserved, shows what sort of boy you are!"

  Bertie's only comment was, "You had better let me off those lines."

  "I will let you off the lines!"

  Bertie sprang to his feet, and began to put slate and book away withabundance of clatter.

  "Stay one moment--leave those things alone! It is not the punishmentwhich degrades a man, Bailey; it is the thing of which he has beenguilty. I cannot degrade you; it is yourself you are degrading. Takemy advice, turn over a new leaf, learn not to take advantage of a manwhose only offence is that he does his best to do you good; don'tthink yourself brave because you venture to attack where defence isimpossible; and, above all, don't pride yourself on taking your pigsto a bad market. You are so foolish as to think yourself cleverbecause you throw away all your best chances, and get absolutely worsethan nothing in return. Bailey, get your Bible, and look for a versewhich runs something like this, 'Cast your bread upon the waters, andyou shall find it after many days.' Now you can go."

  And Bertie went; and, being in the safe neighbourhood of the door, heput his fingers to his nose; by which Mr. Till knew, not for the firsttime, that he had spoken in vain.