A dozen boys were playing ball in a field adjoining the boarding-school of Dr. Pericles Benton, in the town of Walltham, a hundred and twenty-five miles northeast of the city of New York. These boys varied in age from thirteen to seventeen. In another part of the field a few younger boys were amusing themselves. All these boys were boarding-scholars connected with the school.
The ball had been knocked to a distance by the batter, and it was the duty of Nicholas Thorne, one of the oldest boys, to ran after it. But he thought of an easier way.
"Cameron, run for that ball!" he cried, addressing one of the smaller boys outside the game.
"I don't want to," said little Cameron.
"Did you hear what I said?" demanded Thorne, imperiously.
"Then you'd better go if you know what's best for yourself," said the bully, frowning.
"I ain't in the game," said Cameron. "Why should I get the ball?"
"Because I say so!" retorted the tyrant.
"Run after it yourself, Thorne," said a lad named Davies. "It's your business, not Cameron's."
"It's his business, because I ordered him to do it," said Thorne, flushed and angry. "Do you think I will allow him to bully me?"
"The boot's on the other leg," said Davies, dryly. "Run after the ball, and don't keep the game waiting."
"That's so," said half a dozen voices. "Let Cameron alone."
"I won't let him alone," said Thorne, who had by this time worked himself into a towering passion. "I'll give him the worst flogging he ever had, if he doesn't obey me!"
So saying, he advanced toward Cameron in a menacing manner.
Thorne was the acknowledged bully of the school. He was a big, hulking fellow, with a heavy figure and a repulsive face, and small ferret eyes, emitting a cold and baleful light. He was more than a match for any of his fellow-pupils, and availed himself of his superior physical strength to abuse and browbeat the smaller boys. Knowing his strength he was not afraid of interference, and usually carried his point. If Cameron had not been particularly occupied playing marbles with a boy of his own age he would not have ventured to object to obey the despot. When he saw Thorne advancing toward him with a cruel light in his eyes he became frightened, and said, hurriedly:
"Don't pound me, Thorne, I'll go."
"Yes," said Thorne, between his teeth, "you'll go; but you ought to have done so at first. I'll give you something to remind you to be more prompt next time."
"Don't hit me, Thorne!" pleaded the little boy, with tears in his eyes. "I'm going."
"Shame, Thorne!" exclaimed Davies.
Thorne glared at Davies wrathfully.
"Take care how you talk," he said, "or it'll be your turn next!"
Davies was two inches shorter than Thorne, and by no means his equal. So, honestly indignant as he was, he didn't venture to say any more.
Little Cameron turned to run, despairing of help, and Thorne started to pursue him. Of course there was no chance of the smaller boy's escape, or would not have been, but for an unexpected incident.
"Stop!" was heard, in a clear, commanding voice.
Thorne turned in surprise. What boy (for it was a boy's voice) had dared to command him to atop?
He wasn't long in doubt.
Jasper Kent, a new scholar, who had only arrived the day before, advanced intrepidly to the rescue of the little victim. He was an inch shorter than Thorne, of a slight, elegant build, with a clear complexion and a bright, attractive face that would have been pronounced handsome by anyone. Judging from outward appearances, no one would have thought him the equal of Thorne in strength.
When Nicholas Thorne's eye lighted on his antagonist his lip turned in scorn and he paused.
"You're the new boy, I believe?" he said.
"I thought so. If you had been here longer you would know better than to interfere with me."
This was spoken with the utmost arrogance.
"You appear to consider yourself master here," said Jasper, quietly.
"I am master here," returned Nicholas, in the same tone.
"And you claim the right of ordering around smaller boys?"
"And of beating them if they dare to disobey your majesty's commands, I suppose?" continued Jasper, with sarcasm.
"Yes, I do. Have you anything to say about it?" exclaimed the young despot, in a swaggering manner.
"Yes, I have," was the quiet answer.
"What have you got to say, I should like to know?"
"That I won't allow it," said Jasper.
"You won't allow it?" exclaimed Thorne, bursting into a brutal laugh. "And who are you, young poppinjay?"
"My name is Jasper Kent, at your service."
"Then, Mr. Jasper Kent, I beg leave to suggest that you mind your own business."
"I generally do," said Jasper, coolly; "but that advice comes with a bad grace from you."
"Why does it?"
"Because you are not attending to your business."
"What is my business?" demanded Thorne, angrily.
"To go after that ball."
"It's Cameron's business. I ordered him to go after it."
"And I order him not to go for it," said Jasper, resolutely, but without excitement.
Thorne answered with an oath.
"I've a great mind to send you for it," he exclaimed, his small eyes glaring at his opponent.
"It's one thing to order, and another to secure obedience," said Jasper.
"Your turn will come," growled Thorne, "but just at present I've got Cameron's case to dispose of. Cameron, go for that ball!"
The little boy started, but his purpose was interrupted. Jasper Kent hurried forward and placed his hand kindly on his shoulder.
"Don't go, Cameron," he said. "I'll protect you."
Cameron stopped, but looked apprehensively at Thorne. He evidently doubted the power of his young protector.
Thorne was now thoroughly exasperated. His authority was openly defied. He rushed at Jasper, intending to overwhelm him by the suddenness and momentum of his attack. But Jasper was prepared for him. He turned swiftly aside and planted a blow on Thorne's right ear which sent him staggering to the earth.
The bully was astonished, but rallied. Almost foaming at the mouth with rage, he sprang to his feet and renewed the attack. He attempted to throw his arms round the waist of Jasper and throw him. Had his tactics been successful, probably Jasper would have been borne to the earth by the superior weight of his opponent. But here, again, he was prepared. He stepped back and received Thorne with a blow on his breast, so firmly planted that he staggered again.
By this time he had lost all control of himself and was thoroughly under the dominion of passion. He "pitched into" Jasper, trying to get in a blow wherever he could, and in so doing exposed himself to the skilful blows of his slighter foe, who had some knowledge of boxing, while Thorne had none whatever.
Finally Thorne was stretched on his back, not immediately to rise.
"Have you had enough?" asked Jasper, bending over him.
"I'll kill you!" shrieked Thorne.
"Wail till you are able," said Jasper.
Thorne struggled to rise. Jasper held him down forcibly.
"You will stay there till you promise to let Cameron alone," he said.
"I won't promise!"
"Then you'll stay where you are."
But at that moment a small boy came across the field from the school.
"Thorne is wanted," he said. "There's a lady to see him."
"You can rise, then," said Jasper.
Thorne rose sullenly, and without a word strode toward the large, square building, with an extended wing, which was used for the boarding-school.
Little Cameron seized Jasper's hand and kissed it.
"How brave you are!" he said. "How much I thank you!"
"Oh, it's nothing," said Jasper, modestly. "You just send for me when you're in trouble, Cameron. I won't let him hurt you."
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