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Oh Life, without thy chequered scene, Of right and wrong, of weal and woe, Success and failure, could a ground For magnanimity be found? WORDSWORTH.
Dr. May was called for late the next day, Friday, and spent some time in one of the houses near the river. It was nearly eight o'clock when he came away, and he lingered, looking towards the school, in hopes of a walk home with his boys.
Presently he saw Norman coming out from under the archway, his cap drawn over his face, and step, gesture, and manner betraying that something was seriously wrong. He came up almost to his father without seeing him, until startled by his exclamation, "Norman--why, Norman, what's the matter?"
Norman's lips quivered, and his face was pale--he seemed as if he could not speak.
"Where's Tom ?" said the doctor, much alarmed. "Has he got into disgrace about this business of Tomkins? That boy--"
"He has only got an imposition," interrupted Norman. "No, it is not that--it is myself"--and it was only with a gulp and struggle that he brought out the words, "I am turned down in the school."
The doctor started back a step or two, aghast. "What-how--speak, Norman. What have you done?"
"Nothing!" said Norman, recovering in the desire to reassure his father--"nothing!"
"That's right," said the doctor, breathing freely. "What's the meaning of it...a misunderstanding?"
"Yes," said Norman, with bitterness. "It is all Anderson's doing--a word from him would have set all straight--but he would not; I believe, from my heart, he held his tongue to get me down, that he might have the Randall!"
"We'll see you righted," said the doctor eagerly. "Come, tell me the whole story, Norman. Is it about this unlucky business?"
"Yes. The town-fellows were all up about it last evening, when we came out of school. Anderson senior himself began to put them up to having the fence down again. Yes, that he did--I remember his very words--that Tomkins could not bring it into court, and so set old Hoxton at us. Well, I told them it would not do--thought I had settled them--saw them off home--yes, Simpson, and Benson, and Grey, up the High Street, and the others their way. I only left Axworthy going into a shop when I set off on my walk. What could a fellow do more? How was I to know that that Axworthy would get them together again, and take them to this affair--pull up the stakes--saw them down--for they were hard to get down--shy all sorts of things over into the court-hoot at old Tomkins's man, when he told them to be off--and make a bonfire of the sticks at last?"
"And Harvey Anderson was there?"
"No--not he. He is too sharp--born and bred attorney as he is--he talked them up to the mischief when my back was turned, and then sneaked quietly home, quite innocent, and out of the scrape."
"But Dr. Hoxton can never entertain a suspicion that you had anything to do with it!"
"Yes, he does though. He thinks I incited them, and Tomkins and the policeman declare I was there in the midst of the row--and not one of these fellows will explain how I came at the last to look for Tom."
"Not Tom himself?"
"He did try to speak, poor little fellow, but, after the other affair, his word goes for nothing, and so, it seems, does mine. I did think Hoxton would have trusted me!"
"And did not he?" exclaimed Dr. May.
"He did not in so many words accuse me of--of--but he told me he had serious charges brought against me--Mr. Harrison had seen me at Ballhatchet's, setting an example of disregard to rules--and, again, Mr. Harrison saw me coming in at a late hour last night. 'I know he did,' I said, and I explained where I had been, and they asked for proofs! I could hardly answer, from surprise, at their not seeming to believe me, but I said you could answer for my having come in with the flowers for my sister."
"To be sure I will--I'll go this instant--" he was turning.
"It is of no use, papa, to-night; Dr. Hoxton has a dinner-party."
"He is always having parties. I wish he would mind them less, and his business more. You disbelieved! but I'll see justice done you, Norman, the first thing to-morrow. Well--"
"Well then, I said, old Ballhatchet could tell that I crossed the bridge at the very time they were doing this pretty piece of work, for he was sitting smoking in his porch when I went home, and, would you believe it? the old rascal would not remember who passed that evening! It is all his malice and revenge--nothing else!"
"Why--what have you been doing to him?"
Norman shortly explained the ginger-beer story, and adding, "Cheviot told me I should get nothing but ill-will, and so I have--all those town fellows turn against me now, and though they know as well as possible how it was, they won't say a word to right me, just out of spite, because I have stopped them from all the mischief I could!"
"They asked me whether--since I allowed that I had been there at last--I had dispersed the boys. I said no, I had no time. Then they desired to know who was there, and that I had not seen; it was all dark, and there had not been a moment, and if I guessed, it was no affair of mine to say. So they ordered me down, and had up Ned Anderson, and one or two more who were known to have been in the riot, and then they consulted a good while, and sent for me; Mr. Wilmot was for me, I am sure, but Harrison was against me. Dr. Hoxton sat there, and made me one of his addresses. He said he would not enter on the question whether I had been present at the repetition of the outrage, as he called it, but what was quite certain was, that I had abused my authority and influence in the school; I had been setting a bad example, and breaking the rules about Ballhatchet, and so far from repressing mischief, I had been the foremost in it, making inflammatory harangues, leading them to commit violence the first time, and the next, if not actually taking part in it personally, at any rate not preventing it. In short, he said it was clear I had not weight enough for my post--it was some excuse I had been raised to it so young--but it was necessary to show that proficiency in studies did not compensate for disregard of discipline, and so he turned me down below the first six! So there's another May in disgrace!"
"It shall not last--it shall not last, my boy," said Dr. May, pressing Norman's arm; "I'll see you righted. Dr. Hoxton shall hear the whole story. I am not for fathers interfering in general, but if ever there was a case, this is! Why, it is almost actionable-- injuring your whole prospects in life, and all because he will not take the trouble to make an investigation! It is a crying shame."
"Every fellow in the school knows how it was," said Norman; "and plenty of them would be glad to tell, if they had only the opportunity; but he asked no one but those two or three worst fellows that were at the fire, and they would not tell, n purpose. The school will go to destruction now--they'll get their way, and all I have been striving for is utterly undone."
"You setting a bad example! Dr. Hoxton little knows what you have been doing. It is a mockery, as I have always said, to see that old fellow sit wrapped up in his pomposity, eating his good dinners, and knowing no more what goes on among his boys than this umbrella! But he will listen to me--and we'll make those boys confess the whole-- ay, and have up Ballhatchet himself, to say what your traffic with him was; and we will see what old Hoxton says to you then, Norman."
Dr. May and his son felt keenly and spoke strongly. There was so much of sympathy and fellow-feeling between them, that there was no backwardness on Norman's part in telling his whole trouble, with more confidence than schoolboys often show towards their fathers, and Dr. May entered into the mortification as if he were still at school. They did not go into the house, but walked long up and down the garden, working themselves up into, if possible, stronger indignation, and concerting the explanation for to-morrow, when Dr. May meant to go at once to the head-master, and make him attend to the true version of the story, appealing to Harvey Anderson himself, Larkins, and many others, for witnesses. There could be hardly a doubt that Norman would be thus exculpated; but, if Dr. Hoxton would not see things in their true light, Dr. May was ready to take him away at once, rather than see him suffer injustice.
Still, though comforted by his father's entire reliance, Norman was suffering severely under the sense of indignity, and grieved that Dr. Hoxton and the other masters should have believed him guilty--that name of May could never again boast of being without reproach. To be in disgrace stung him to the quick, even though undeservedly, and he could not bear to go in, meet his sisters, and be pitied. "There's no need they should know of it," said he, when the Minster clock pealing ten obliged them to go indoors, and his father agreed. They bade each other good-night, with the renewal of the promise that Dr. Hoxton should be forced to hear Norman's vindication the first thing to-morrow, Harvey Anderson be disappointed of what he meanly triumphed in, and Norman be again in his post at the head of the school, in more honour and confidence than ever, putting down evil, and making Stoneborough what it ought to be.
As Dr. May lay awake in the summer's morning, meditating on his address to Dr. Hoxton, he heard the unwelcome sound of a ring at the bell, and, in a few minutes, a note was brought to him.
"Tell Adams to get the gig ready--I'll let him know whether he is to go with me."
And, in a few minutes, the doctor opened Norman's door, and found him dressed, and standing by the window, reading. "What, up already, Norman? I came to tell you that our affairs must wait till the afternoon. It is very provoking, for Hoxton may be gone out, but Mr. Lake's son, at Groveswood, has an attack on the head, and I must go at once. It is a couple of dozen miles off or more. I have hardly ever been there, and it may keep me all day."
"Shall you go in the gig? Shall I drive you?" said Norman, looking rather blank.
"That's what I thought of, if you like it. I thought you would sooner be out of the way."
"Thank you--yes, papa. Shall I come and help you to finish dressing?"
"Yes, do, thank you; it will hasten matters. Only, first order in some breakfast. What makes you up so early? Have not you slept?"
"Not much--it has been such a hot night."
"And you have a headache. Well, we will find a cure for that before the day is over. I have settled what to say to old Hoxton."
Before another quarter of an hour had passed, they were driving through the deep lanes, the long grass thickly laden with morning dew, which beaded the webs of the spiders and rose in clouds of mist under the influence of the sun's rays. There was stillness in the air at first, then the morning sounds, the labourer going forth, the world wakening to life, the opening houses, the children coming out to school. In spite of the tumult of feeling, Norman could not but be soothed and refreshed by the new and fair morning scene, and both minds quitted the school politics, as Dr. May talked of past enjoyment of walks or drives home in early dawn, the more delicious after a sad watch in a sick-room, and told of the fair sights he had seen at such unwonted hours.
They had far to go, and the heat of the day had come on before they entered the place of their destination. It was a woodland village, built on a nook in the side of the hill, sloping greenly to the river, and shut in by a white gate, which seemed to gather all in one the little old-fashioned church, its yard, shaded with trees, and enclosed by long white rails; the parsonage, covered with climbing plants and in the midst of a gay garden; and one or two cottages. The woods cast a cool shadow, and, in the meadows by the river rose cocks of new-made hay; there was an air of abiding serenity about the whole place, save that there stood an old man by the gate, evidently watching for the physician's carriage; and where the sun fell on that parsonage-house was a bedroom window wide open, with the curtains drawn.
"Thank Heaven you are come, sir," said the old man; "he is fearfully bad."
Norman knew young Lake, who had been a senior boy when he first went to school, was a Randall scholar, and had borne an excellent character, and highly distinguished himself at the university. And now, by all accounts, he seemed to be dying--in the height of honour and general esteem. Dr. May went into the house, the old man took the horse, and Norman lingered under the trees in the churchyard, watching the white curtains now and then puffed by the fitful summer breeze, as he lay on the turf in the shade, under the influence of the gentle sadness around, resting, mind and body, from the tossing tumultuous passionate sensations that had kept him restless and miserable through the hot night.
He waited long--one hour, two hours had passed away, but he was not impatient, and hardly knew how long the time had been before his father and Mr. Lake came out of the house together, and, after they parted, Dr. May summoned him. He of course asked first for the patient. "Not quite so hopeless as at first," and the reasons for having been kept so long were detailed, with many circumstances of the youth's illness, and the parents' resignation, by which Dr. May was still too deeply touched to have room in his mind for anything besides.
They were more than half-way home, and a silence had succeeded the conversation about the Lake family, when Norman spoke:
"Papa, I have been thinking about it, and I believe it would be better to let it alone, if you please."
"Not apply to Dr. Hoxton!" exclaimed his father.
"Well, I think not. I have been considering it, and it does hardly seem to me the right thing. You see, if I had not you close at hand, this could never be explained, and it seems rather hard upon Anderson, who has no father, and the other fellows, who have theirs farther off--"
"Right, Norman, that is what my father before me always said, and the way I have always acted myself; much better let a few trifles go on not just as one would wish, than be for ever interfering. But I really think this is a case for it, and I don't think you ought to let yourself be influenced by the fear of any party-spirit."
"It is not only that, papa--I have been thinking a good deal to-day, and there are other reasons. Of course I should wish Dr. Hoxton to know that I spoke the truth about that walk, and I hope you will let him know, as I appealed to you. But, on cooler thoughts, I don't believe Dr. Hoxton could seriously suspect me of such a thing as that, and it was not on that ground that I am turned down, but that I did not keep up sufficient discipline, and allowed the outrage, as he calls it. Now, you know, that is, after a fashion, true. If I had not gone on like an ass the other day, and incited them to pull down the fences, they would not have done it afterwards, and perhaps I ought to have kept on guard longer. It was my fault, and we can't deny it."
Dr. May made a restless, reluctant movement. "Well, well, I suppose it was--but it was just as much Harvey Anderson's--and is he to get the scholarship because he has added meanness to the rest?"
"He was not dux," said Norman, with a sigh. "It was more shabby than I thought was even in him. But I don't know that the feeling about him is not one reason. There has always been a rivalry and bitterness between us two, and if I were to get the upper hand now, by means not in the usual course, such as the fellows would think ill of, it would be worse than ever, and I should always feel guilty and ashamed to look at him."
"Over-refining, Norman," muttered Dr. May.
"Besides, don't you remember, when his father died, how glad you and everyone were to get him a nomination, and it was said that if he gained a scholarship it would be such a relief to poor Mrs. Anderson? Now he has this chance, it does seem hard to deprive her of it. I should not like to know that I had done so."
"Whew!" the doctor gave a considering whistle.
"You could not make it straight, papa, without explaining about the dealing with Ballhatchet, and that would be unfair to them all, even the old rogue himself; for I promised to say nothing about former practices, as long as he did not renew them."
"Well! I don't want to compromise you, Norman. You know your own ground best, but I don't like it at all. You don't know the humiliation of disgrace. Those who have thought highly of you, now thinking you changed--I don't know how to bear it for you."
"I don't mind anything while you trust me," said Norman, eagerly; "not much I mean, except Mr. Wilmot. You must judge, papa, and do as you please."
"No, you must judge, Norman. Your confidence in me ought not to be a restraint. It has always been an understood thing that what you say at home is as if it had not been said, as regards my dealings with the masters."
"I know, papa. Well, I'll tell you what brought me to this. I tumbled about all night in a rage, when I thought how they had served me, and of Hoxton's believing it all, and how he might only half give in to your representation, and then I gloried in Anderson's coming down from his height, and being seen in his true colours. So it went on till morning came, and I got up. You know you gave me my mother's little 'Thomas a Kempis'. I always read a bit every morning. To-day it was, 'Of four things that bring much inward peace'. And what do you think they were?--
'Be desirous, my son, to do the will of another
rather than thine own.
Choose always to have less rather than more.
Seek always the lowest place, and to be inferior
Wish always and pray that the will of God may be
wholly fulfilled in thee.'
I liked them the more, because it was just like her last reading with us, and like that letter. Well, then I wondered as I lay on the grass at Groveswood, whether she would have thought it best for me to be reinstated, and I found out that I should have been rather afraid of what you might say when she had talked it over with you."
Dr. May smiled a little at the simplicity with which this last was said, but his smile ended in one of his heavy sighs. "So you took her for your counsellor, my boy. That was the way to find out what was right."
"Well, there was something in the place and, in watching poor Lake's windows, that made me not able to dwell so much on getting on, and having prizes and scholarships. I thought that caring for those had been driven out of me, and you know I never felt as if it were my right when I was made dux; but now I find it is all come back. It does not do for me to be first; I have been what she called elated, and been more peremptory than need with the lower boys, and gone on in my old way with Richard, and so I suppose this disgrace has come to punish me. I wish it were not disgrace, because of our name at school, and because it will vex Harry so much; but since it is come, considering all things, I suppose I ought not to struggle to justify myself at other people's expense."
His eyes were so dazzled with tears that he could hardly see to drive, nor did his father speak at first. "I can't say anything against it, Norman, but I am sorry, and one thing more you should consider. If Dr. Hoxton should view this absurd business in the way he seems to do, it will stand in your way for ever in testimonials, if you try for anything else."
"Do you think it will interfere with my having a Confirmation ticket?"
"Why no, I should not think--such a boyish escapade could be no reason for refusing you one."
"Very well then, it had better rest. If there should be any difficulty about my being confirmed, of course we will explain it."
"I wish every one showed themselves as well prepared!" half muttered the doctor; then, after long musing, "Well, Norman, I give up the scholarship. Poor Mrs. Anderson wants it more than we do, and if the boy is a shabby fellow the more he wants a decent education. But what do you say to this? I make Hoxton do you full justice, and reinstate you in your proper place, and then I take you away at once- -send you to a tutor--anything, till the end of the long vacation."
"Thank you," said Norman, pausing. "I don't know, papa. I am very much obliged to you, but I think it would hardly do. You would be uncomfortable at seeming to quarrel with Dr. Hoxton, and it would be hardly creditable for me to go off in anger."
"You are right, I believe," said Dr. May. "You judge wisely, though I should not have ventured to ask it of you. But what is to become of the discipline of the school? Is that all to go to the dogs?"
"I could not do anything with them if I were restored in this way; they would be more set against me. It is bad enough as it is, but, even for my own peace, I believe it is better to leave it alone. All my comfort in school is over, I know!" and he sighed deeply.
"It is a most untoward business!" said the doctor. "I am very sorry your schooldays should be clouded--but it can't be helped, and you will work yourself into a character again. You are full young, and can stay for the next Randall."
Norman felt as if, while his father looked at him as he now did, the rest of the world were nothing to him; but, perhaps, the driving past the school brought him to a different mind, for he walked into the house slowly and dejectedly.
He told his own story to Ethel, in the garden, not without much difficulty, so indignant were her exclamations; and it was impossible to make her see that his father's interference would put him in an awkward position among the boys. She would argue vehemently that she could not bear Mr. Wilmot to think ill of him, that it was a great shame of Dr. Hoxton, and that it was dreadful to let such a boy as Harvey Anderson go unpunished. "I really do think it is quite wrong of you to give up your chance of doing good, and leave him in his evil ways!" That was all the comfort she gave Norman, and she walked in to pour out a furious grumbling upon Margaret.
Dr. May had been telling the elder ones, and they were in conversation after he had left them--Margaret talking with animation, and Flora sitting over her drawing, uttering reluctant assents. "Has he told you, poor fellow?" asked Margaret.
"Yes," said Ethel. "Was there ever such a shame?"
"That is just what I say," observed Flora. "I cannot see why the Andersons are to have a triumph over all of us."
"I used to think Harvey the best of the two," said Ethel. "Now I think he is a great deal the worst. Taking advantage of such a mistake as this! How will he ever look Norman in the face!"
"Really," said Margaret, "I see no use in aggravating ourselves by talking of the Andersons."
"I can't think how papa can consent," proceeded Flora. "I am sure, if I were in his place, I should not!"
"Papa is so much pleased with dear Norman's behaviour that it quite makes up for all the disappointment," said Margaret. "Besides, he is very much obliged to him in one way; he would not have liked to have to battle the matter with Dr. Hoxton. He spoke of Norman's great good judgment."
"Yes, Norman can persuade papa to anything," said Flora.
"Yes, I wish papa had not yielded," said Ethel. "It would have been just as noble in dear Norman, and we should not have the apparent disgrace."
"Perhaps it is best as it is, after all," said Flora.
"Why, how do you mean? " said Ethel.
"I think very likely things might have come out. Now don't look furious, Ethel. Indeed, I can't help it, but really I don't think it is explicable why Norman should wish to hush it up, unless there were something behind!"
"Flora!" cried Ethel, too much shocked to bring out another word.
"If you are unfortunate enough to have such suspicions," said Margaret quietly, "I think it would be better to be silent."
"As if you did not know Norman!" stammered Ethel.
"Well," said Flora, "I don't wish to think so. You know I did not hear Norman himself, and when papa gives his vehement accounts of things, it always puzzles us of the cooler-minded sort."
"It is as great a shame as ever I heard!" cried Ethel, recovering her utterance. "Who would you trust, if not your own father and brother?"
"Yes, yes," said Flora, not by any means wishing to displease her sisters. "If there is such a thing as an excess of generosity, it is sure to be among ourselves. I only know it does not suit me. It will make us all uncomfortable whenever we meet the Andersons or Mr. Wilmot, or any one else, and as to such tenderness to Harvey Anderson, I think it is thrown away."
"Thrown away on the object, perhaps," said Margaret, "but not in Norman."
"To be sure," broke out Ethel. "Better be than seem! Oh, dear! I am sorry I was vexed with dear old June when he told me. I had rather have him now than if he had gained everything, and every one was praising him--that I had! Harvey Anderson is welcome to be dux and Randall scholar for what I care, while Norman is--while he is, just what we thought of the last time we read that Gospel--you know, Margaret?"
"He is--that he is," said Margaret, "and, indeed, it is most beautiful to see how what has happened has brought him at once to what she wished, when, perhaps, otherwise it would have been a work of long time."
Ethel was entirely consoled. Flora thought of the words "tete exaltee" and considered herself alone to have sober sense enough to see things in a true light--not that she went the length of believing that Norman had any underhand motives, but she thought it very discreet in her to think a prudent father would not have been satisfied with such a desire to avoid investigation.
Dr. May would not trust himself to enter on the subject with Dr. Hoxton in conversation; he only wrote a note.
"Dear Dr. Hoxton,
"My son has appealed to me to confirm his account of himself on Thursday evening last. I therefore distinctly state that he came in at half-past nine, with his hands full of plants from the river, and that he then went out again, by my desire, to look for his little brother.
--Yours very truly,
A long answer came in return, disclaiming all doubt of Norman's veracity, and explaining Dr. Hoxton's grounds for having degraded him. There had been misconduct in the school, he said, for some time past, and he did not consider that it was any very serious reproach, to a boy of Norman's age, that he had not had weight enough to keep up his authority, and had been carried away by the general feeling. It had been necessary to make an example for the sake of principle, and though very sorry it should have fallen on one of such high promise and general good conduct, Dr. Hoxton trusted that it would not be any permanent injury to his prospects, as his talents had raised him to his former position in the school so much earlier than usual.
"The fact was," said Dr. May, "that old Hoxton did it in a passion, feeling he must punish somebody, and now, finding there's no uproar about it, he begins to be sorry. I won't answer this note. I'll stop after church to-morrow and shake hands, and that will show we don't bear malice."
What Mr. Wilmot might think was felt by all to affect them more nearly. Ethel wanted to hear that he declared his complete conviction of Norman's innocence, and was disappointed to find that he did not once allude to the subject. She was only consoled by Margaret's conjecture that, perhaps, he thought the headmaster had been hasty, and could not venture to say so--he saw into people's characters, and it was notorious that it was just what Dr. Hoxton did not.
Tom had spent the chief of that Saturday in reading a novel borrowed from Axworthy, keeping out of sight of every one. All Sunday he avoided Norman more scrupulously than ever, and again on Monday. That day was a severe trial to Norman; the taking the lower place, and the sense that, excel as much as ever he might in his studies, it would not avail to restore him to his former place, were more unpleasant, when it came to the point, than he had expected.
He saw the cold manner, so different from the readiness with which his tasks had always been met, certain as they were of being well done; he found himself among the common herd whom he had passed so triumphantly, and, for a little while, he had no heart to exert himself.
This was conquered by the strong will and self-rebuke for having merely craved for applause, but, in the play-ground, he found himself still alone-the other boys who had been raised by his fall shrank from intercourse with one whom they had injured by their silence, and the Andersons, who were wont to say the Mays carried every tale home, and who still almost expected interference from Dr. May, hardly believed their victory secure, and the younger one, at least, talked spitefully, and triumphed in the result of May's meddling and troublesome over strictness. "Such prigs always come to a downfall," was the sentiment.
Norman found himself left out of everything, and stood dispirited and weary on the bank of the river, wishing for Harry, wishing for Cheviot, wishing that he had been able to make a friend who would stand by him, thinking it could not be worse if he had let his father reinstate him--and a sensation of loneliness and injustice hung heavy at his heart.
His first interruption was a merry voice. "I say, June, there's no end of river cray-fish under that bank," and Larkins's droll face was looking up at him, from that favourite position, half stooping, his hands on his knees, his expression of fun trying to conceal his real anxiety and sympathy.
Norman turned and smiled, and looked for the cray-fish, and, at the same time, became aware of Hector Ernescliffe, watching for an opportunity to say, "I have a letter from Alan." He knew they wanted, as far as little boys ventured to seek after one so much their elder, to show themselves his friends, and he was grateful; he roused himself to hear about Alan's news, and found it was important- -his great friend, Captain Gordon, had got a ship, and hoped to be able to take him, and this might lead to Harry's going with him. Then Norman applied himself to the capture of cray-fish, and Larkins grew so full of fun and drollery, that the hours of recreation passed off less gloomily than they had begun.
If only his own brother would have been his adherent! But he saw almost nothing of Tom. Day after day he missed him, he was off before him in going and returning from school, and when he caught a sight of his face, it looked harassed, pale, and miserable, stealing anxious glances after him, yet shrinking from his eye. But, at the same time, Norman did not see him mingling with his former friends, and could not make out how he disposed of himself. To be thus continually shunned by his own brother, even when the general mass were returning to ordinary terms, became so painful, that Norman was always on the watch to seek for one more conversation with him.
He caught him at last in the evening, just as they were going home. "Tom, why are you running away? Come with me," said he authoritatively; and Tom obeyed in trembling.
Norman led the way to the meads. "Tom," said he, "do not let this go on. Why do you serve me in this way? You surely need not turn against me," he said, with pleading melancholy in his voice.
It was not needed. Tom had flung himself upon the grass, and was in an agony of crying, even before he had finished the words.
"Tom, Tom! what is the matter? Have they been bullying you again? Look up, and tell me--what is it? You know I can stand by you still, if you'll only let me;" and Norman sat by him on the grass, and raised his face by a sort of force, but the kind words only brought more piteous sobs. It was a long time before they diminished enough to let him utter a word, but Norman went on patiently consoling and inquiring, sure, at least, that here had broken down the sullenness that had always repelled him.
At last came the words, "Oh! I cannot bear it. It is all my doing!"
"What--how--you don't mean this happening to me? It is not your doing, August--what fancy is this?"
"Oh, yes, it is," said Tom, his voice cut short by gasps, the remains of the sobs. "They would not hear me! I tried to tell them how you told them not, and sent them home. I tried to tell about Ballhatchet--but--but they wouldn't--they said if it had been Harry, they would have attended--but they would not believe me. Oh! if Harry was but here!"
"I wish he was," said Norman, from the bottom of his heart; "but you see, Tom, if this sets you on always telling truth, I shan't think any great harm done."
A fresh burst, "Oh, they are all so glad! They say such things! And the Mays were never in disgrace before. Oh, Norman, Norman!"
"Never mind about that--"began Norman.
"But you would mind," broke in the boy passionately, "if you knew what Anderson junior and Axworthy say! They say it serves you right, and they were going to send me to old Ballhatchet's to get some of his stuff to drink confusion to the mouth of June, and all pragmatical meddlers; and when I said I could not go, they vowed if I did not, I should eat the corks for them! And Anderson junior called me names, and licked me. Look there." He showed a dark blue-and-red stripe raised on the palm of his hand. "I could not write well for it these three days, and Hawes gave me double copies!"
"The cowardly fellows!" exclaimed Norman indignantly. "But you did not go?"
"No, Anderson senior stopped them. He said he would not have the Ballhatchet business begin again."
"That is one comfort," said Norman. "I see he does not dare not to keep order. But if you'll only stay with me, August, I'll take care they don't hurt you."
"Oh, June! June!" and he threw himself across his kind brother. "I am so very sorry! Oh! to see you put down--and hear them! And you to lose the scholarship! Oh, dear! oh, dear! and be in disgrace with them all!"
"But, Tom, do cheer up. It is nothing to be in such distress at. Papa knows all about it, and while he does, I don't care half so much."
"Oh, I wish--I wish--"
"You see, Tom," said Norman, "after all, though it is very kind of you to be sorry for not being able to get me out of this scrape, the thing one wants you to be sorry about is your own affair."
"I wish I had never come to school! I wish Anderson would leave me alone! It is all his fault! A mean-spirited, skulking, bullying--"
"Hush, hush, Tom, he is bad enough, but now you know what he is, you can keep clear of him for the future. Now listen. You and I will make a fresh start, and try if we can't get the Mays to be looked on as they were when Harry was here. Let us mind the rules, and get into no more mischief."
"You'll keep me from Ned Anderson and Axworthy?" whispered Tom.
"Yes, that I will. And you'll try and speak the truth, and be straightforward?"
"I will, I will," said Tom, worn out in spirits by his long bondage, and glad to catch at the hope of relief and protection.
"Then let us come home," and Tom put his hand into his brother's, as a few weeks back would have seemed most unworthy of schoolboy dignity.
Thenceforth Tom was devoted to Norman, and kept close to him, sure that the instant he was from under his wing his former companions would fall on him to revenge his defection, but clinging to him also from real affection and gratitude. Indolence and timidity were the true root of what had for a time seemed like a positively bad disposition; beneath, there was a warm heart, and sense of right, which had been almost stifled for the time, in the desire, from moment to moment, to avoid present trouble or fear. Under Norman's care his better self had freer scope, he was guarded from immediate terror, and kept from the suggestions of the worse sort of boys, as much as was in his brother's power; and the looks they cast towards him, and the sly torments they attempted to inflict, by no means invited him back to them. The lessons, where he had a long inveterate habit of shuffling, came under Norman's eye at the same time. He always prepared them in his presence, instead of in the most secret manner possible, and with all Anderson's expeditious modes of avoiding the making them of any use. Norman sat by, and gave such help as was fair and just, showed him how to learn, and explained difficulties, and the ingenuity hitherto spent in eluding learning being now directed to gaining it, he began to make real progress and find satisfaction in it. The comfort of being good dawned upon him once more, but still there was much to contend with; he had acquired such a habit of prevarication that, if by any means taken by surprise, his impulse was to avoid giving a straightforward answer, and when he recollected his sincerity, the truth came with the air of falsehood. Moreover, he was an arrant coward, and provoked tricks by his manifest and unreasonable terrors. It was no slight exercise of patience that Norman underwent, but this was the interest he had made for himself; and the recovery of the boy's attachment, and his improvement, though slow, were a present recompense.
Ernescliffe, Larkins, and others of the boys, held fast to him, and after the first excitement was past, all the rest returned to their former tone. He was decidedly as much respected as ever, and, at the same time, regarded with more favour than when his strictness was resented. And as for the discipline of the school, that did not suffer. Anderson felt that, for his own credit, he must not allow the rules to be less observed than in May's reign, and he enforced them upon the reluctant and angry boys with whom he had been previously making common cause. Dr. Hoxton boasted to the under- masters that the school had never been in such good order as under Anderson, little guessing that this was but reaping the fruits of a past victory, or that every boy in the whole school gave the highest place in their esteem to the deposed dux.
To Anderson, Norman's cordial manner and ready support were the strangest part of all, only explained by thinking that he deemed it, as he tried to do himself, merely the fortune of war, and was sensible of no injury.
And, for Norman himself, when the first shock was over, and he was accustomed to the change, he found the cessation of vigilance a relief, and carried a lighter heart than any time since his mother's death. His sisters could not help observing that there was less sadness in the expression of his eyes, that he carried his head higher, walked with freedom and elasticity of step, tossed and flourished the Daisy till she shouted and crowed, while Margaret shrank at such freaks; and, though he was not much of a laugher himself, contributed much sport in the way of bright apposite sayings to the home circle.
It was a very unexpected mode of cure for depression of spirits, but there could be no question that it succeeded; and when, a few Saturdays after, he drove Dr. May again to Groveswood to see young Mr. Lake, who was recovering, he brought Margaret home a whole pile of botanical curiosities, and drew his father into an animated battle over natural and Linnaean systems, which kept the whole party merry with the pros and cons every evening for a week.
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