The Master of the Shell - Talbot Baines Reed - ebook

The Master of the Shell ebook

Talbot Baines Reed



In this novel, for a change, the protagonist is a master, not students. We see events from the point of view of some boys, but it is new that readers are asked to look at things from the point of view of the teacher. Mark Ralesford is a young gentleman who has just become engaged. He is also ready to start work after graduation and travel around the world. He is accepted as a teacher and home master at a boarding school called Grandcourt, where, coincidentally, one of his students will be Arthur Herapat, the younger brother of his bride.

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Liczba stron: 492

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CHAPTER I. Twice Accepted

CHAPTER II. “Veni, Vidi, ——”

CHAPTER III. Opening Day

CHAPTER IV. A Friendly Chat

CHAPTER V. Arthur and the Baronet settle down for the Term

CHAPTER VI. When the Cat’s away the Mice will play

CHAPTER VII. The Session of Masters, and an Outrage

CHAPTER VIII. The Doctor has a Word or Two with Railsford’s House

CHAPTER IX. Ainger has a Crumpet for Tea, and Smedley sings a Song

CHAPTER X. Arthur puts Two and Two together

CHAPTER XI. A “Cause Célèbre”

CHAPTER XII. Throwing down the Gauntlet

CHAPTER XIII. A Fly in the Ointment

CHAPTER XIV. Challenging the Record

CHAPTER XV. Mr. Bickers prefers the Door to the Window

CHAPTER XVI. The Testimonial

CHAPTER XVII. The Secret Out

CHAPTER XVIII. Rods in Pickle for Railsford

CHAPTER XIX. Felgate, the Champion of the Oppressed

CHAPTER XX. The Little Sweep

CHAPTER XXI. The Naturalists’ Field Club

CHAPTER XXII. The Haunted Window


CHAPTER XXIV. The Strange Adventures of a Brown-Paper Parcel

CHAPTER XXV. The Blow Falls

CHAPTER XXVI. Things go well with Mr. Bickers

CHAPTER XXVII. Clearing Up and Clearing Out


CHAPTER I. Twice Accepted

The reader is requested kindly to glance through the following batch of letters, which, oddly enough, are all dated September 9, 18–:

No. 1.–William Grover, M.A., Grandcourt School, to

Mark Railsford, M.A., Lucerne.

“Grandcourt, Sept. 9.

“Dear Railsford,–I suppose this will catch you at Lucerne, on your way back to England. I was sorry to hear you had been seedy before you left London. Your trip is sure to have done you good, and if you only fell in with pleasant people I expect you will have enjoyed yourself considerably. What are you going to do when you get home–still follow the profession of a gentleman at large, or what? Term opened here again last week, and the Sixth came back to-day. I’m getting more reconciled to the place by this time; indeed, there is no work I like better than teaching, and if I was as certain it was as good for the boys as it is congenial to me I should be perfectly contented. My fellow-masters, with an exception or two, are good fellows, and let me alone. The exceptions are harder to get on with.

“As for the boys, I have a really nice lot in my house. One or two rowdies, who give me some bother, and one or two cads, with whom I am at war; but the rest are a festive, jovial crew, who tolerate their master when he lets them have their own way, and growl when he doesn’t; who work when they are so disposed, and drop idle with the least provocation; who lead me many a weary dance through the lobbies after the gas is out, and now and then come and make themselves agreeable in my rooms when I invite them.

“I fancied when I came here I should get lots of time to myself–enough perhaps to write my book on Comparative Political Economy. Vain hope! I haven’t time to turn round. If my days were twenty-six hours I should scarcely then do all I ought to do here. Ponsford is getting old, and leaves the executive to his lieutenants. He sits aloft like Zeus, hurls a thunderbolt now and then, and for the rest acts as a supreme court of appeal. Bickers, my opposite neighbour, is still a thorn in my side. I don’t know how it is, I try all I know, but I can’t get on with him, and have given him up. Moss, I believe, who is Master of the Shell and head of a house, has come to the end of his endurance, and there is some talk of his throwing up his place here. It would be a pity in many ways, and it might be hard to get a good man in his place.

“By the way, if there is a vacancy, why should not you enter the lists? I see you smile at the idea of any one exchanging the profession of gentleman at large for that of Master of the Shell. But it’s worth a thought, anyhow. Let us know where and how you are; and if you can run down this way for a Sunday, do, and make glad the heart of your friend,

“W. Grover.”

No. 2.–Arthur Herapath, Esq., Lucerne, to Sir

Digby Oakshott, Bart., Grandcourt.

“Dear Dig,–Here’s a game! The gov.’s been and lost a lot of the luggage, and ma won’t go home without it, so we’re booked here for a week more. He’s written to Ponsford to say I can’t turn up till next week, and says I’m doing some of the mug, so as not to be all behind. Jolly good joke of the gov.’s, isn’t it? Catch me mugging here!

“Stunning place, this! We went a picnic to–I say, by the way, while I remember it, do you know it’s all a howling cram about William Tell? There never was such a chap! This is the place he used to hang out in, and every one says it’s all my eye what the history says about him. You’d better let Moss know. Tell him, from inquiries made by me on the spot, I find it’s all humbug, and he’d better get some chap to write a new history who knows something about it. I was asking Railsford–by the way, he’s a stunning chap. We ran up against him on the St. Gothard, and he’s been with us ever since. No end of a cheese! Rowed in the Cambridge boat three years ago, No. 4, when Oxford won by two feet. He says when you’re rowing in a race you see nothing but the fellow’s back in front of you. He’s 6 feet 2, and scales 12-14. That’s why they put him No. 4; but he rowed stroke in his college boat. He’s having a lot of fag about our luggage, but I’m in no hurry for it to turn up.

“How are all the fellows? I guess I’m missing a lot of fun this week. Get some of them to keep something till I come back. How’s Tilbury? By the way, who am I stuck with this term? I don’t want to get chummed again with that young ass Simson. Tell Moss that. Any more rows with Bickers’s lot? There will be when I come back! I’ve got half a dozen of them in my eye. Gov. says I’ll have to wake up this term. What a go! If I don’t scrape into the Shell at Christmas, he says he’ll know the reason why! So look out for no-larks.

“This fellow Railsford’s put me up to a thing or two about mugging. He was a hot man at Cambridge, and says he knew Grover. He’s gone with Daisy up a mountain to-day. Wanted to take me, too, but I told them I didn’t see it. I tried it once, that was enough for me! Ta-ta, old man; keep your pecker up till I come, and then mind your eye!

“Yours truly,

“A. Herapath, LL.D.”

No. 3.–From Miss Daisy Herapath to

Miss Emily Sherrff.

“Lucerne, Tuesday.

“My Dearest Milly,–We are in such trouble! Two of our boxes have been lost between Como and here. One of them contained my new black grenadine with the Spanish lace. I have positively nothing to wear; and had to appear at table d’hôte in my blue serge and one of mamma’s shawls. Just imagine! It is such a sad end to our holiday. I am longing to get home. Travelling abroad is all very nice, but one gets tired of it. I feel I shall like to settle down in town once more.

“Poor papa has had so much trouble with the boxes, and must have spent pounds in telegrams. It was really Arthur’s fault. He sent the porter who was booking the luggage for us to get him some chocolate from the buffet, and the consequence was the train went off before all the boxes were put in the van. Dear Milly, never travel abroad with your young brother!

“I have been quite lazy about sketching the last few days. I can’t tell you how lovely some of the sunsets have been. It is the regular thing to sit out in the hotel grounds and watch them. I wish so often you could be here to share my pleasure, for papa and mamma are afraid to sit out, and Arthur is so unpoetical! There are a great many Americans here. The fashion of short sleeves seems quite to be coming in again! I shall have to get mine altered as soon as I come home. Some of our party went up the Rigi to-day. The view from the top was beautiful; but the place is spoiled by the crowds of people who go up. I so much prefer the quieter excursions.

“I must go to bed now, dearest Milly. It will be lovely to see you soon. When one is away from home, one feels more than ever how nice it would be to have one’s friends always about one. (What a lot of “ones!’)

“Ever your very loving friend,


“P.S.–We met the Thompsons at Como. Did you know Edith was to be married this autumn, quite quietly, in the country? The Walkleys are here, and one or two other people we know. Arthur has struck up with a Cambridge fellow, named Railsford, whom we met on the St. Gothard, and who took so much trouble about the luggage. It is so nice for Arthur to have a companion. Dearest Milly, he (M. R.) was one of the party who went up the Rigi to-day; he speaks German so well, and is so attentive to mamma. Don’t be too horribly curious, darling; I’ll tell you everything when I get home. (He is so good and handsome!)”

No. 4.–Francis Herapath, Esq., Merchant, to

James Blake, Esq., Solicitor.

“Private and Confidential.

“Dear Blake,–Being detained here owing to a miscarriage of some of our luggage, I write this instead of waiting till I see you, as it may be another week before we are home.

“During our travels my daughter has become engaged to a Mr. Mark Railsford, apparently a very desirable and respectable young man. You will wonder why I trouble you about such a very domestic detail. The young gentleman was very frank and straightforward in making his proposal, and volunteered that if I desired to make any inquiries, he was quite sure that you, his late father’s solicitor, would answer any questions. I have no doubt, from the readiness with which he invited the inquiry and his satisfaction in hearing that you and I were old friends, that you will have nothing to say which will alter my favourable impression. Still, as my child’s happiness is at stake, I have no right to omit any opportunity of satisfying myself. Anything you may have to say I shall value and treat as confidential.

“I understand Mr. R., under his father’s will, has a small property; but of course it will be necessary for him now to find some occupation, which with his abilities I have no doubt he will easily do. As usual, the young people are in a hurry to know their fate, so it will be a charity to them to reply as soon as convenient. Excuse the trouble I am giving you, and, with kind regards to Mrs. B. and your sister,

“Believe me, yours faithfully,

“Fras. Herapath.”

No. 5.–Mark Railsford to William Grover,


“Lucerne, Sept. 9, 18–.

“Dear Grover,–You have often in your lighter moods laughed at the humble individual who addresses you. Laugh once again. The fact is, I am engaged. I can fancy I see you reeling under this blow! I have been reeling under it for thirty-six hours.

“It’s partly your fault. Coming over the St. Gothard a week ago, I fell in with a family party, Herapath by name; father, mother, boy and girl. They had come part of the way by train, and were driving over the top. The boy and I walked, and I discovered he was at Grandcourt, and of course knew you, though he’s not in your house, but Moss’s. That’s how you come to be mixed up in it. During the last hour or so Miss H–walked with us, and before we reached the Devil’s Bridge my fate was sealed.

“The ladies were in great distress about some lost luggage–lost by the land offices of the boy–and I went back to Como to look for it. It lost me two days, and I never found it. However, I found the brightest pair of blue eyes when I got back. I will draw you no portraits, you old scoffer; but I challenge you to produce out of your own imagination anything to match it. I don’t mind confessing to you that I feel half dazed by it all at present, and have to kick myself pretty often to make sure it is not a dream. The father, whom I bearded yesterday, nods his head and will say “Yes’ as soon as he’s looked into my credentials. Meanwhile I am tolerated, and dread nothing except the premature turning up of the lost luggage.

“But, to be practical for once in my life. Amongst much that is delightfully vague and dreamy, one thing stands out very clear in my own mind at present. I must do something. My loafing days are over. The profession of a gentleman at large, with which you twit me, I hereby renounce. She will back me up in any honest work–she says so. I’ve confessed the way I wasted the last three years. She said she is glad she did not know me then. Oh my, William, it is all very well for you to scoff. I’m not ashamed to tell you what it is that has brought me to my senses. Don’t scoff, but help a lame dog over a stile. My object in life is to have an object in life at present. Give me your counsel, and deserve the benediction of some one besides your friend,

M. R.”

The patient reader must infer what he can from these five letters. They are copied word for word from the original documents, and speak for themselves. I am unable to say whether the luggage was found–whether Miss Daisy got her sleeves altered to her liking–whether Arthur found any “fun” left on his arrival, a fortnight late, at Grandcourt, or how soon Mr. Blake’s reply to the father’s letter reached Lucerne. All these momentous questions the reader can settle for himself as well as I can for him. He will at any rate be able to understand that when one day in October a telegram reached Railsford from Grandcourt with the brief announcement–“Vacancy here; see advertisement Athenæum; am writing”–it created no small stir in the manly breast of the worthy to whom it was directed.

He went at once to Westbourne Park and held a cabinet council with his chief adviser, and again, on returning home, called his sisters into consultation. He wrote to his college tutor, drew up a most elegant letter to the governors, read a few chapters of Tom Brown’s Schooldays, and then waited impatiently for Grover’s promised letter.

“You will have guessed,” said that letter, when it arrived, “from my telegram that Moss has resigned, and that there will be a vacancy for a house-master and Master of the Shell here at Christmas. You know how I would like to see you appointed. But–”

“But what?” inquired some one who read the letter over the reader’s shoulder.

“I should not be your friend if I represented this place as a bed of roses, especially Moss’s house. You’ll have hard work to hold your own with the boys, and harder still with some of the masters. You will get more criticism than backing up from head-quarters. Still it is a splendid opening for a man of courage like you; and all the school would profit by your success. Talk to Podmore about it; he’ll give you good advice. So will Weston. Of course I can do nothing at all but look on sympathetically, and, if you try for the place and succeed, promise you at least one hearty welcome.”

“It seems pretty clear it won’t be child’s play,” said Railsford, folding up the letter.

“It would not suit you if it was,” replied his adviser.

This brave speech went far to make up Railsford’s mind.

In the house at Westbourne Park, particularly, the career opening before our hero was hailed with eager enthusiasm. “Dear Arthur” was in Moss’s house, and at Christmas he would get his remove to the Shell. In both capacities he would have the protecting interest of his prospective brother-in-law, spread like an ægis over his innocent head. “It really seems almost a providential arrangement,” said Mrs. Herapath.

“I am sure it will be a great thing for Arthur,” said Daisy.

“It makes one believe there’s some truth in the saying that every man has his niche waiting for him somewhere in life,” moralised Mr. Herapath.

That evening a letter came from Arthur to Daisy. The boy, of course, knew nothing of Railsford’s candidature.

“Such a flare up!” wrote the youth. “Moss has got kicked out! He’s jacked it up, and is going at Christmas. Jolly good job! He shouldn’t have stopped the roast potatoes in the dormitories. Bickers’s fellows have them; they can do what they like! Dig and I did the two mile spin in 11.19, but there was too much slush to put it on. All I can say is, I hope we’ll get a fellow who is not a cad after Moss, especially as he will be Master of the Shell, and I’ll get a dose of him both ways after Christmas. We mean not to let him get his head up like Moss did; we’re going to take it out of him at first, and then he’ll cave in and let us do as we like afterwards. Dig and I will get a study after Christmas. I wish you’d see about a carpet, and get the gov. to give us a picture or two; and we’ve got to get a rig-out of saucepans and kettles and a barometer and a canary, and all that. The room’s 15 feet by 9, so see the carpet’s the right size. Gedge says Turkey carpets are the best, so we’ll have a Turkey. How’s Railsford? Are you and he spoons still? Dig and the fellows roared when I told them about catching you two that time at Lucerne in the garden. You know, when I thought the window was being smashed? Could you lend me a bob’s worth of stamps till Christmas? I’ll pay you back. Dig says he once had a cousin who went spoons on a chap. He says it was an awful game to catch them at it. So, you see, we’ve lots to sympathise about. Love to all.

“I am, yours truly,


“P.S.–Don’t forget the stamps. Two bob’s worth will do as well.”

Daisy laughed and cried over this outrageous epistle, and hesitated about showing it to Mark. However, that happy youth only laughed, and produced half a crown, which he begged Daisy to add to her own contribution.

“That’s the sort of Young England I like!” said he. “It will be like a canter on a breezy moor to come in contact with fresh life and spirit like this, after wasting my time here for three years.”

“I expect you will find it breezy,” said Daisy, recovering her smiles. “Arthur is a dreadful boy; it will be so good for him to have you.”

At the end of a fortnight came a summons to Railsford, as one of six selected candidates, to appear and show himself to the governors. He had expected thus much of success, but the thought of the other five rendered him uncomfortable as he leaned back in the railway carriage and hardened himself for the ordeal before him. Grover had deemed it prudent not to display any particular interest in his arrival, but he contrived to pay a flying visit to his hotel that evening.

“There’s only one fellow likely to run you close–an Oxford man, first-class in classics, and a good running-man in his day. I think when they see you they’ll prefer you. They will have the six up in alphabetical order, so you’ll come last. That’s a mercy. Take a tip from me, and don’t seem too anxious for the place, it doesn’t pay; and keep in with Ponsford.”

“Will he be there? Oh, of course. What sort of men are the governors?”

“Very harmless. They’ll want to know your character and your creed, and that sort of thing, and will leave all the rest to Ponsford.”

Next morning at 11.30 Railsford sat with his five fellow-martyrs in the ante-room of the governors’ hall at Grandcourt. They talked to one another, these six unfortunates, about the weather, about the Midland Railway, about the picture on the wall. They watched one another as, in obedience to the summons from within, they disappeared one by one through the green baize door, and emerged a quarter or half an hour later with tinged cheeks, and taking up their hats, vanished into the open air. Railsford was the only one left to witness the exit of the fifth candidate. Then the voice from within called, “Come in, Mr. Railsford,” and he knew his turn was come. It was less terrible than he expected. Half a score of middle-aged gentlemen round a table, some looking at him, some reading his testimonials, and one or two putting questions. Most of them indulgent to his embarrassment and even sharing it. Dr. Ponsford, however, massive, stern, with his shaggy eyebrows and pursed mouth, was above any such weakness.

“What have you been doing since you left college?” demanded he, presently fixing the candidate with his eyes.

It was a home question. Railsford answered it honestly, if hesitatingly.

“I was unfortunately not under the necessity of working,” he added, after going through the catalogue of his abortive studies, “that is, not for my livelihood.” Some of the governors nodded their heads a little, as though they recognised the misfortune of such a position.

“And what places you under that necessity now?”

“I do not expect to remain a bachelor always, sir.”

Here a governor chuckled.

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