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Horace Annesley Vachell was a prolific English writer of novels, plays, short stories, essays and autobiographical works. Born in Sydenham, Kent on 30 October 1861, he was educated at Harrow and Sandhurst.Collection of 6 Works of Horace Annesley Vachell________________________________________BrothersBunch GrassFishpingleQuinneys'The HillThe Soul of Susan Yellam
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The Premium Complete Collection of Horace Annesley Vachell
The Detailed Biography of Annesley Vachell
The Soul of Susan Yellam
Horace AnnesleyVachell (1861–1955) was a prolific English writer of novels, plays, short stories, essays and autobiographical works.
Born in Sydenham, Kent on 30 October 1861, he was educated at Harrow and Sandhurst. After a short period in the Rifle Brigade, he went to California where he became partner in a land company and married Lydie Phillips, his partner's daughter. His wife died in 1895 after the birth of their second child. He is said to have introduced the game of polo to Southern California.
After 17 years abroad, by 1900 Vachell was back in England and went on to write over 50 volumes of fiction including a popular school story, The Hill (1905), which gives an idealised view of life at Harrow and of the friendship between two boys. He also wrote 14 plays, the most successful of which in his lifetime was Quinneys (1914), made into a film in 1919 and again in 1927. 'Quinneys' was first published as a book by John Murray, London in 1914. It was "a book of friends; of quaint human characters against the background of a shop for faked antiques and genuine love." Another play, The Case of Lady Camber (1915), was the basis for the film Lord Camber's Ladies (1932), produced by Alfred Hitchcock but not directed by him. It was later adapted again as The Story of Shirley Yorke. Vachell's last autobiographical book, More from Methuselah (1951), was published in the year of his 90th birthday.
Although some fiction, like the stories in Bunch Grass (1912), is set in American ranching country, much of his writing concerns a comfortably prosperous English way of life which was echoed in his beautiful old house near Bath and his old-fashioned, distinguished appearance and manner. He was a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He died on 10 January 1955 in Somerset.
THE TRUE HISTORY OF A FIGHT AGAINST ODDS
HORACE ANNESLEY VACHELL
LONDON JOHN MURRAY, ALBEMARLE STREET 1905
FIRST EDITION . . May 1904 Reprinted . . June 1904 Reprinted . . August 1904 Reprinted . . November 1904 Reprinted . . December 1904 Reprinted . . The same month Reprinted . . January 1905
Copyright in the United States of America by Horace Annesley Vachell
TO ALL MEN AND WOMEN WHO HAVE STRIVEN: TO THE STRONG WHO HAVE ATTAINED THEIR GOAL, TO THE WEAK WHO HAVE MADE THE RUNNING FOR THE STRONG, AND IN PARTICULAR TO THOSE WHO HAVE CONFRONTED ILL-FORTUNE, ILL-HEALTH, AND DISAPPOINTMENT WITH FORTITUDE AND SERENITY, I DEDICATE THIS BOOK
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
A DRAMA IN SUNSHINE JOHN CHARITY THE PROCESSION OF LIFE LIFE AND SPORT ON THE PACIFIC SLOPE THE SHADOWY THIRD THE PINCH OF PROSPERITY
It is likely that the brothers in this book will be recognised by some readers who may indict the good taste of revealing a secret guarded jealously during many years. To these let it be said that the brother who attained to the highest honours and dignities of his profession earnestly desired that the truth concerning certain incidents in his earlier career should be told in a biography. A desire he was constrained reluctantly to forego. The story of the Samphires satisfies adequately enough the exigencies of a peculiar case. The many are not concerned; the few will discern truth through the thin veil of fiction.
PrologueBubble and SqueakBilly's *v.* Bashan'sWhich contains a FortuneMiss Hazelby is ShockedValeteAt Burlington HouseThe Hunt BallBarbizonAt King's CharterisAfter Three YearsIn Love's PleasaunceBetty in StepneyBagshot on the RampageA Moral ExigencyAphrodite Smiles and FrownsWestchester CathedralSurrender!Ariadne in NaxosA Sanatorium in SutherlandBetty sees a Sprig of RueRecuperationOn Ben CaryllHymenealA Red TieMark Hears a BleatingReadjustmentIn Grub StreetA Sunday in Cadogan PlaceThe Procession of LifeA Note of InterrogationBetty sees Danger SignalsBetty makes Good ResolutionsIlluminationCharing CrossChrysostom Returns to ChelseaFenellaPoppy and MandragoraGonzalesAt the Miraflores"Come!"The Power Behind the Throne
Mark Samphire clutched tightly his mother's hand, as the big room began to fill with people. Some he knew, and these he feared: because they might speak to him, and then he would stammer, and choke, and make a piteous spectacle of himself. He wished that he were his brother, Archibald, standing on the other side of his mother, Archie, the pink-skinned and golden-haired, a tremendous fellow clad in a new sailor suit, and tolerably self-possessed, but pinker than usual, because a lady in lavender silk had hugged him and called him "a darling." Nobody called Mark a darling except his mother, and that only when they were alone. The fat butler kept shouting out more names. Mrs. Corrance and Jim arrived. Mark hoped they would sit near him. Jim was his own age—a ripe seven—and a sworn friend. Lord Randolph talked to Admiral Kirtling, the funny man who made everybody laugh. Ah! Jim had pushed his way through the crowd. In a minute the two boys were whispering together, nineteen to the dozen, for Mark seldom stammered when he talked to Jim.
An older person than Mark would have seen on the faces of the assembled company an air of expectation. Big folding-doors, now shut, divided the drawing-room from the library. Upon these the eyes of the women lingered, for behind them stood mystery and—so it was reported—beauty! Meantime they chattered, talking for the most part about the house, newly built, and well named The Whim. Miss Selina Lamb, one of the Lambs from Cranberry-Orcas, who had so many relations that she was never out of half-mourning, gave information to the Dean of Westchester.
"I assure you, Mr. Dean, that it is a fact. The dear Admiral got into a fly at Westchester—he carried nothing but a white umbrella, and told the man, Thomas Pinnick, who has driven me a score of times, to take him to 'some salubrious locality.' Thomas, quite properly, drove him here across the downs. The west wind was blowing strongly, and the dear man thought he was in the chops—it is chops, isn't it?—yes, in the chops of the Channel. He gave Thomas Pinnick a sovereign, and bought this hill within the week. Now he has built this remarkable house."
The Dean smiled, admitting that the house might be described as remarkable. Bedrooms covered the ground floor; above these the sitting-rooms commanded a fine view of the pastoral county of Slowshire; at the top of the house were the kitchen and servants' offices!
"I understand," said Mr. Dean, "that food descends like manna from above, and that the common odours of leek and cabbage ascend, and are smelled of none, save perhaps the skylarks."
"You always put things so poetically," murmured Miss Lamb. "Yes, you are right. The still-room is just above the library."
"Where it should be, my dear Miss Lamb. I hope the Admiral's housekeeper wears list slippers."
Miss Lamb, sensible that the Dean was making a joke which she could not quite understand, smiled, showing large even teeth, and asked if Mr. Dean had ever met the young lady in whose honour they had gathered together. Mr. Dean had not met the young lady, but he had known, intimately, her mother. Miss Lamb blushed.
"She was charming," murmured the Dean absently, "the most fascinating creature."
The spinster sniffed her surprise, reflecting that her companion was a radical. A true blue, the bishop, for instance, would not have mentioned the mother at all. She felt it her duty to bleat a feeble protest.
"She behaved so shockingly, Mr. Dean."
"True, true, but she was very young, Miss Lamb. Poor, pretty creature! And now—dead!"
Miss Lamb closed her thin lips, and her large, too prominent, china-blue eyes settled upon a portrait just opposite: the portrait of Colonel Kirtling, the Admiral's elder brother, the father of the mystery behind the folding-doors, and the husband of the pretty creature who had behaved so shockingly. The picture, painted by Richmond, was not unlike the famous portrait of Lord Byron. Colonel Fred Kirtling had been one of the handsomest men in the Guards. Richmond reproduced his curling auburn hair, his short upper lip, his finely modelled nose, his round chin with a distracting (the adjective was Lady Blessington's) dimple in it, and his "wicked" (Lady B. again) eyes.
"Did you know Colonel Kirtling, Mr. Dean?"
"Yes. A sad scamp, Miss Lamb, a scamp when he married—at sixty!"
He began to speak of the Kirtling family. Admiral Kirtling was the fourth son of the sixteenth Lord Kirtling, of Kirtling, in the county of Cumberland, who married a Penberthy from Cornwall, an heiress with a large fortune settled upon herself and her children. The seventeenth lord inherited whatever his sire had been unable to sell: Kirtling heavily mortgaged and stripped of its huge leaden roof (gambled away at hazard) and the wild moors which encompass it. This nobleman lived and died in chronic resentment against the poverty his father had inflicted upon him. His brother succeeded, and was the father of a son whom we shall meet by and by. Fred, the third brother, who had a royal duke for a godfather, married Louise de Courcy, a beauty with French blood in her veins. It is certain that she married Fred for love and against the wishes of her parents; and it is equally certain that she left him—just four years afterwards—because she loved somebody else much better. This somebody, who happened to be a peer and a famous soldier, offered Fred such satisfaction as one gentleman, even in those latter days, might tender an injured husband. Fred, however, wrote in reply that he was under an obligation to his lordship for taking off his hands the most ungrateful hussy in the kingdom. Fred's word, be it added, was little better than his bond (the children of Israel knew that to be worthless); and it is significant that Mrs. Kirtling's family, both French and Irish, abused Fred to all-comers: asserting that he had deceived dozens of women in his time, and none more cruelly than his charming wife. Death shut the mouths of the gossips by carrying off both Fred and Louise within six months of the latter's elopement.
By this time the Admiral, a bachelor of some eccentricity, had just settled into his new house at King's Charteris, near Westchester, and was known to be averse to leaving it. Yet he had to answer the question: "Who will take care of Fred's baby?" Lady Randolph, a kinswoman, was called into council.
"Children are the devil," said the Admiral gloomily. "Think of my nymphs." (He had some beautiful china).
"This one may prove the prettiest of them all," said Lady Randolph.
"Yes, yes; father and mother the handsomest couple, even if forty years were between 'em. Well, well, I lean on you, dear lady."
Lady Randolph did not fail him. She fetched the child from town, gave the nurse, an impudent town minx, twenty-four hours' notice, and installed in her place a respectable girl, Esther Gear, out of her own village of Birr Wood.
So much, and little more, was known to the company assembled in the Admiral's drawing-room.
Presently the big folding-doors were flung open, and Lady Randolph passed through, leading by the hand little Elizabeth Kirtling. A buzz of admiration greeted Betty. She wore a delicate India muslin frock, encircled by a rose-coloured sash. Rose-coloured shoes embellished her tiny feet, and a knot of the same coloured riband glowed in her dark curls, which framed an oval face. The Admiral had told Esther Gear that he would tolerate no black, which came, he said, into people's lives soon enough. Round her neck was a string of coral beads which matched the tints of her cheeks. Her great hazel eyes shone demurely beneath their thick black lashes, and when she smiled her lips parted, revealing a fairy's set of teeth between two dimples. The Admiral met his niece on the threshold of the room, took her hand, and patted it softly. Then he led her forward. The finely proportioned saloon, filled with rare and beautiful things, the silver light of an October afternoon, the many faces—young and old alike touched and interested—served as a setting for the grizzled veteran, with his whimsical weather-beaten face seamed by a thousand lines, and the diminutive creature at his side. Mrs. Samphire let two tears trickle unheeded down her thin cheeks, but her pretty mouth was smiling. Mark felt that his mother's grasp had tightened. Perhaps she foresaw, poor lady, that the time appointed for her to leave her sons was near at hand. Mark stared hard at the little girl as if indeed—as was true—he had never seen her like.
Now it seems that the Admiral had told his niece, with a twinkle in his kind eyes, that the drawing-room was her room: the state apartment of the only lady of his house. And so, when Betty looked up and saw many strange faces about her she recalled an adjective too often in her father's mouth, and said clearly and loudly: "Uncle, what are all dese dam peoples doing in my room?"
When the laughter died down, the Admiral said with his queer chuckle: "Egad! this is a maid of surprises"; but he was careful to explain to his niece that his friends were her friends, to be honoured and loved by her. The child's mouth puckered, and her great eyes were troubled.
"I can't love all dese peoples," she protested, on the edge of tears. The Admiral laughed.
"You must pick and choose, Betty. 'Tis the privilege of your sex. Come now, who pleases you best?"
She understood perfectly: examining the company with dignified curiosity. Finally, her eyes rested upon the three boys at Mrs. Samphire's side.
"I like dem boys," she said clearly.
The three boys were confused but charmed.
"She likes the boys, the coquette!" exclaimed the Admiral. "And which of the three, missie, do you like best?"
The boys blushed because the company stared at them. Archie, the handsome one, stood nearest to little Betty, and seeing her hesitation held out his hands; Jim Corrance smiled invitingly; Mark, the stammerer, attempted no lure, dismally conscious that he could not compete against the others, but his forget-me-not blue eyes, the only fine feature he possessed, suffused a soft radiance.
"I love him!" cried Betty, running forward. She passed Archie and Jim, flinging her arms round Mark's neck, who bashfully returned her eager kisses.
"Um!" said the Admiral, half smiling, half frowning, "as I remarked just now, here is a Maid of Surprises."
BUBBLE AND SQUEAK
This is the history of a fighter, a fighter against odds, whose weapons were forged at Harrow-on-the-Hill. Afterwards, in Mark Samphire's eyes, all school buildings, even the humblest, had a certain sanctity, because they are strewn with precious dust, the pulverem Olympicum, so pungent to the nostrils of a combatant. To him, for instance, the ancient Fourth Form Room at Harrow was no battered mausoleum of dead names, but a glorious Campus Martius, where Byron, Peel, and other immortal youths wrestled with their future, even as Jacob wrestled with the angel.
Mark and his friend Jim Corrance became Harrovians when they were fourteen, taking their places in the First Shell, the highest form but one open to new boys. Archibald Samphire, their senior by eighteen months, had just reached the Upper Remove, two forms ahead of the First Shell.
The three boys travelled together from King's Charteris to London; but at Euston Mark and Jim were bundled by Archie into a first-class carriage, with instructions to sit still and not "swagger." Archie joined some swells on the platform. One of these Olympians lighted a cigar, which he smoked for a couple of minutes, throwing it away with the observation that really he must tell the dear old governor to buy better weeds.
"How do you feel, Mark?" whispered Jim.
"If I l-looked as small as I f-f-feel," said Mark, "you wouldn't be able to s-s-see me."
An hour later they stood in the schoolyard. Here "bill" was called; here yard-cricket, beloved by many generations of boys, was played; here, peering out of his cell, might be seen the rosy, clean-shaven face of old Sam, Custos, as the Doctor called him; that sly old Sam who sold all things pertaining to Harrow games at a preposterous profit; who prepared the rods, who was present when those rods fell hurtling upon the bare flesh—Sam of the fair, round belly, Sam of the ripe, ruby-coloured nose, who has led bishops, statesmen, field-marshals, peers and baronets, members of Parliament, members of the Bar, members of the Stock Exchange—to the BLOCK! Can it be possible that Sam has passed away? Surely not. Is he not part and parcel of the Yard? And when the Yard lies silent and deserted, when the moonbeams alone play upon it, when the school clock tolls midnight, does not the ghost of old Sam fare forth on his familiar rounds, keeping watch and ward in the ancient precincts?
From the Yard Archibald escorted Mark and Jim to Billy's, their boarding-house, where the boys found themselves joint tenants of a two-room, a piece of good fortune (for there were several three-rooms and one four-room) which they owed partly to Archie, as he was careful to inform them, and partly to the high places they had taken in the school. Long and narrow, with a door at one end and a window at the other, this room contained two battered fold-up bedsteads, two washhand-stands, two bureaux, a shabby carpet, a table, a fireplace, and three Windsor chairs. Here the boys were expected to work, to sleep, and to eat breakfast and tea. No room, according to Mark, has since given him the pleasure and pride which he derived from this. And Jim Corrance, after he had made his enormous fortune, liked to speak of the first sporting-prints which he bought and of the moth-eaten head of a red deer, a nine-pointer, found in an attic at Pitt Hall, the home of the Samphires.
This first summer half was as pleasant as any Mark spent at Harrow. He learned to swim in "Ducker," the school bathing-place, a puddle in those days, but since greatly enlarged and improved; he was taught to play cricket with a straight bat; he lay upon the green slopes of the Sixth Form Ground and ate ices; he spent his exeat at Randolph House in Belgrave Square, and witnessed at "Lord's" the defeat of the Eton eleven from the top of Lord Randolph's coach, returning to Harrow with a sovereign in his pocket, pride in his heart, and heaven knows what mixture of pie and pudding and champagne in his small stomach!
At Billy's the colour, tone, and texture of the "house" were exceptionally good. Billy treated his boys as gentlemen. Some dominies play the spy, thereby turning boys into enemies instead of friends; Billy always coughed discreetly when making his rounds. And if he had reason to suspect a boy of conduct unbecoming an Harrovian, he would send for him and speak to him quietly, or perhaps, if the offender was a good fellow, ask him to breakfast or dinner, heaping food upon his plate and coals of fire upon his head. His favourite warning may be quoted: "I have had my eye on you for some time." But Mark knew, even then, that Billy's eyes were none of the best, and that often they pretended not to see much that a wise man overlooks.
The first year passed quickly. Mark and Jim found themselves in the Lower Remove at the beginning of the winter half, where they achieved the distinction of a "double," jumping over the Upper Remove into the Third Fifth, known as "Paradise," a place so pleasant that some boys refused to leave it. One could say to aunts and uncles, "Oh, I'm in the Fifth," and few were unkind enough to ask, "Which Fifth?" Here they found Archie and a friend of his, Lubber West, who in these latter days doubtless would have been superannuated, and not without cause. Archie and the Lubber practised what they called the "co-operative system of work." They would come to Mark's room and sit upon the sofa with a large gallipot of strawberry-ice between them. Then Mark and Jim were instructed to "mug up" forty lines of Euripides. This took time, and meanwhile the ice was consumed and anything else in the form of light refreshment which might be offered. When Mark was ready to construe, Archie and the Lubber produced a couple of battered books, and listened attentively enough to what Mark had to say, noting in light pencil marks unfamiliar verbs and nouns. In this way, as Archie observed, much valuable time was saved, and the lesson honourably learned. Archie had a number of "cribs," but, as elder brother, he denounced their use by Mark as immoral. "Samphire major has given us a very 'Smart'[#] translation," was one of Billy's bon mots, not original with him by any means, but accepted by his pupils as proof of wit and gentlemanlike satire.
[#] Horace was translated by Smart.
During this half, Archibald was working hard at cricket, under the kindly eyes of those famous coaches, the late Lord Bessborough and Mr. Robert Grimston. He had more than a chance of playing for the school; and accordingly he pointed out to Mark that it was the minor's duty to help his major with Greek and Latin. "If I do get my straw,"[#] he said, "you will reap your reward." This unconscious humorist was now a glorious specimen of Anglo-Saxon youth. He had crisp yellow hair, curling tightly over a round, well-proportioned head, the clear, ruddy skin which from the days of David has always commanded admiration, and a tenor voice of peculiarly fine quality. Mark was his humble and adoring slave. Now, it chanced that in a shop half-way down Harrow Hill two young women possessed of bright complexions and waspish waists served hot chocolate and buttered toast to boys coming up from the playing fields, and in particular to certain boys of Billy's. Behind the shop was a back room, into which two or three big fellows were admitted. In a certain set it became the thing to drop into Brown's at half-past four and have a lark with the girls. The girls were able to take care of themselves; the boys lost their heads. Because Archie's head was a pretty one, the girls were not particularly anxious that he should find it. During the Christmas term he and a boy from another house were in and out of Brown's half a dozen times a day, and the school wondered what would happen.
[#] The black-and-white straw hat only worn by members of the school eleven.
"I l-l-loathe those girls," said Mark; "one b-b-bubbles and one squeaks."
Billy's seized the phrase. Within a week the girls were known as Bubble and Squeak. One of the fags pinned a card to Archie's door:—
"Which do you like best: chocolate and buttered toast or Bubble and Squeak?"
"What can we do?" said Mark to Jim.
"Is it Bubble or Squeak?" Jim asked.
"I d-d-don't know or care; they're vulgar b-b-beasts. Old Archie has a lock of hair. They've given away tons of it: enough to stuff a sofa."
"They can get more from the same old place," said Jim.
"Oh, it's their own," said Mark. "I hate marmalade-coloured hair—don't you?"
It was after this brief dialogue that Jim noticed a falling off of Mark's interest in his work. For the first time a copy of Iambics deserved some of the remarks which the form-master made upon them. During the next fortnight this negligence, coupled with his stutter and a temporary deafness, sent Mark to the bottom of his class. Jim asked for an explanation.
"It's old Archie. He's playing the devil with himself."
"Let him," said Jim, who was no altruist. "What's the good of worrying? We can't do anything."
"Perhaps we c-c-can," said Mark. "We must," he added.
"You have a scheme?"
Mark nodded. "I d-d-don't know w-what you'll say to it."
"I can't say anything till I hear it."
"S-suppose I give Billy a hint?"
The scheme was so alien to a boy's conception of the word "honour," such a violation of an unwritten code—in fine, such a desperate remedy—that Jim gasped.
"D-don't look like that!" said Mark sharply. "C-can't you see that I loathe it—as—you do. If m-mother were alive I'd write to her. But if I told father, he would come bellowing down, and behave like a bull in a china shop. There would be a jolly r-r-row then."
"Mark," said Jim, "Archie is big enough to look after himself."
"It's worse than you think," Mark said. "He's meeting this g-g-girl after lock-up. He gets out of the pantry window. I daresay he's squared one of the Tobies" (Toby was the generic name for footmen). "And it's frightfully r-r-risky. If he's nailed, he'll be sacked."
"What a silly old ass!" said Jim.
"He runs these frightful risks—for what? To kiss a girl who bubbles at the mouth!"
"It's the one who squeaks," Jim amended. "And she's an artful dodger. She thinks he'll marry her. All right, I'll go with you to Billy after prayers to-night."
"I'll go alone."
"Yes; yes; yes."
Jim's obstinacy prevailed. After prayers, the boys waited in the passage. Jim had been swished by the Doctor in the Fourth Form Room, and his sensations before execution reproduced themselves. Mark seemed cool and collected.
"Sit down," said Billy. "Open your books."
Mark laid his Thucydides upon the table.
"Bless my soul!" ejaculated Billy. He had pushed up his spectacles while he was speaking. Now, he polished a pair of pince-nez and popped them on his nose. Nervousness is contagious.
"We have c-c-come here to t-t-tell you, s-sir, s-s-something which you ought to know."
The house-master blinked, and glanced at both doors. One communicated with the passage, the other opened into the drawing-room, where his wife was playing one of Strauss's waltzes: Wein, Weib und Gesang. Whenever Jim heard this waltz he could conjure up a vision of that square, cosy, book-lined room, the big desk littered with papers, and behind it the burly figure of Billy, his eyes blinking interrogation. He let Mark take his own time.
"Something wrong in the house?" said Billy.
Billy seized a quill pen, and began to bite it.
"Isn't this a serious step for you boys to take?" he asked suddenly.
His gravity became portentous. Perhaps he feared an abominable revelation.
"You both understand," he coughed nervously, "that I may be compelled to act on what you choose to tell me; and if what you have to say implicates—er—others, if others may—er—have to—er—suffer, perhaps severely," he nodded so emphatically that his pince-nez fell off, "it may be well for you to—er—in fact—to," he blew his nose violently, "to bid me—Good night."
"Not yet," said Mark firmly.
Billy's hesitation vanished.
"Go on," he said curtly. "Speak plainly, and conceal nothing."
Mark told his story. He made no mention of the pantry window, nor of the meetings after lock-up. For the rest, he spoke with a conciseness and practical common sense which filled Jim with admiration. As he was concluding, Billy began to smile.
"You are both good fellows, and I'm obliged to you. You must dine with me. I shall pull a string or two, and our—er—marionettes, mark that word; it is pat; our marionettes shall dance elsewhere."
"Not Archie?" gasped Mark.
"No. We can't spare Archibald. I undertake to handle him. Silly fellow, very silly fellow! His father and mother put a better head on your shoulders, my boy"; he tapped Mark's cheek. "And now open old Thicksides. Eh, what? you know your lesson? Then let's hear it." Jim got rather red. "I shan't put you on, Corrance, but Samphire minor and I will construe for your benefit. Fire away, Samphire minor."
The boys went back to their room to find Archie at full length on the sofa. His greeting justified Billy's sagacity in keeping Mark to construe Thucydides. "What a time you fellows have been! I suppose Billy gave you half a dozen readings. Well, let's have 'em, late though it is. I must get my remove this half."
So no suspicion was excited.
Within the week Bubble and Squeak mysteriously disappeared, and Samphire major had an interview with his house-master. What passed was not revealed at the time, but, later, Archie gave Mark some details, which are set down with the premiss that a minor canon of Westchester Cathedral is speaking, not a Fifth Form boy at Harrow.
"Do you remember those girls at Brown's?" he said. "Well, I fell in love with one of them. What? You knew it? Oh! Oh, indeed! The whole school knew it? Ah, well, Billy knew it too. Sent for me, and behaved like a gentleman. Made me blubber like a baby. I give you my word I never felt quite so cheap. It wasn't what he said, but what he left unsaid. And I promised him that I would have nothing more to do with Squeak. He told me a thing or two about her which opened my eyes; she was a baggage, but pretty, very pretty: an alluring little spider. I felt at the time I would go through fire and water to her——"
"Not to mention a pantry window," said Mark, grinning.
"You don't mean to say that you knew that too? Well, well, it might have proved an ugly scrape."
For a year after this incident, the sun shone serenely in the Samphire firmament. The brothers moved up out of Paradise, into the Second Fifth, Paradise Lost, and thence into the First Fifth, Paradise Regained, singing pæans of praise and thanksgiving. This was at the beginning of Mark's third summer half, the half when Archie made a great score at Lord's, carrying out his bat for eighty-seven runs in the first innings; the half, also, when Mark received his "cap,"[#] the night before the match wherein Billy's became cock house at cricket!
[#] The "cap" is the house cricket-cap, given to members of the house eleven.
BILLY'S v. BASHAN'S
During this summer half Mark and Jim built some castles, in which, as you will see, they were not called upon to live. If Fate made men dwell in the mansions of their dreams how many of us would find ourselves queerly housed? Mark's castles were military fortresses. He had the pipeclay in his marrow, whereas Jim saw the Queen's red through his friend's spectacles. The boys studied the lives of famous captains, from Miltiades to Wellington, and at tea and breakfast would fight the world's great battles with such well-seasoned troops as chipped plates and saucers, a battered salt-cellar and pepper-pot, a glass milk-jug, and a Britannia metal teapot, which would not pour properly. India, and in particular the Indian frontier, was their battlefield: the scene of a strife such as the world has not yet witnessed; a struggle between the Slav and the Anglo-Saxon for the supremacy of the world. Mark boldly reached for a marshal's bâton; Jim modestly contented himself with the full pay of a general, the Victoria Cross, and a snug little crib in a good hunting country.
Sometimes Archie deigned to listen to them, but he was not encouraging in his comments.
"You, a soldier!" he would exclaim, looking at Mark's narrow chest and skinny arms; "why you'd die of fatigue in your first campaign. I advise you to be a schoolmaster."
"You have f-f-forgotten" (most boys would have said "you don't know"), "you have forgotten," Mark replied, "that Alexander was a small man; and Nelson, and Napoleon, and Wellington."
"Pooh, they were hard as nails."
That same evening Mark said: "I'm g-going to the Gym" (gymnasium) "every day, till I get hard as nails."
"Not in the summer?" Jim exclaimed.
"Yes; I'll have the place to myself—so much the better."
He worked indefatigably, and Jim was asked to feel his biceps about four times a day.
About the middle of June Jim made a discovery. High up, on one of the inside panels of his bedstead, he found the name of a gallant fellow who had fought gloriously in the Indian Mutiny.
"I'd like to sleep in his bed," said Mark.
"What a rum chap you are!" Jim exclaimed.
"If I sleep in his bed I may d-dream of him," Mark replied.
They changed beds with mutual satisfaction; for Jim's had a trick of collapsing in the middle of the night.
Later on Jim made another discovery: subjective this time. Mark was overdoing himself: working mind and muscle too hard. Never was spirit more willing, nor flesh more weak. One day, a sultry day in the middle of July, he fainted in school. That night Billy detained Jim after prayers.
"Entre nous, I am uneasy about Samphire minor," he said. "And as two heads are better than one I've sent for you, his friend and—er—mine. What do you suggest?"
At that moment Jim would have gone to the rack for Billy. As Jim suggested nothing, Billy continued: "The case presents difficulties, but difficulties give an edge to life—don't they?"
"Sometimes," said Jim cautiously; for Billy had a trick of leading fellows on to make fools of themselves.
"Samphire minor goes too fast at his fences."
Billy knew that any allusion to the hunting-field was not wasted on Jim.
"And the fences," continued Billy thoughtfully, "are rather big for Samphire minor."
"And he won't ride cunning," added Jim.
"Just so. Thank you, my dear fellow; you follow me, I see. Now Samphire major, big though he is, takes advantage of the—er—gaps."
"Rather," said Jim.
"Humph!" Billy stroked his ample chin. Jim was reflecting that his tutor was too heavy for a first-flight man, but that in his day he must have been a thruster.
"In fine, not to put too fine a point on it, we must interfere."
"Yes," said Jim, swelling visibly.
"We must head him off, throw him out, teach him that valuable lesson, how to reculer pour mieux sauter."
If Billy had a weakness (a faible, he would have said), it was in the use of French, which he spoke perfectly.
"Ye-es," said Jim, not so confidently.
"Now, how would you set about it?"
"I, sir? If you please, sir, I don't see my way, but I'll follow your lead blindly, sir!"
Billy smiled, and polished his pince-nez.
"We shall move slow. The blind leading the blind. Both of you expect to be in the Sixth next September? Yes. Suppose—I only say suppose—suppose you were left—where you are?"
"Come, come, I thought Paradise Regained was the jolliest form in the school."
"It is," said Jim, "but——"
"You are rather young and small for the Sixth. Why, God bless me! only the other day you were fags. Now, if I gave you my word that there would be no real loss of time, that you would fare farther and better by taking it easy, what would you say?"
"I say—all right, sir."
"Good boy! Wise boy! Leave the rest to me! I shall see that Samphire major goes up, which is fitting. The height will give him—er—poise, not avoirdupois, of which he has enough already. Samphire minor will not complain if you keep him company. Good night. À propos—will you and Samphire minor dine with us next Tuesday? A glass of champagne will do neither of you any harm."
Next term Mark became less angular, and some colour came into his thin cheeks. Both Jim and he played football hard in the hope of obtaining a "fez."[#] Harrow, like Eton and Winchester, has a game of football peculiarly its own, differing from "socker" in that it is lawful to give what is called "yards." A boy, for instance, dribbling the ball, may turn and kick it to one of his own side. If this manoeuvre be executed neatly, the other boy catches it and yells: "Yards!" Then the opposite side retires three yards from the spot where the ball was caught, and the catcher is given a free kick, which at a critical point of the game may prove of value. In Billy's brute force rather than finesse informed the play, a fact which had not escaped Mark's notice.
[#] Worn by members of the house football eleven.
"We lose lots of goals," said Mark to Jim, "because we try to rush 'em, instead of giving 'yards' and taking it coolly. Let's you and I practise 'yards' till we have it p-pat. Our best players f-foozle awfully."
Accordingly they bought a football and kicked it secretly and assiduously, Mark insisting that "yards" should not be given by them in the ordinary house games till they were masters of a wet, slippery ball. Then one afternoon, when Billy came down to see how his house was getting on, both boys gave "yards," in the forefront of the battle. As they panted up the hill after the game, Archibald, in the school flannels, asked if they were much the worse for wear. In giving "yards" where the advantage was greatest, they had been knocked down several times.
"You fellows played up," said the great man. "If you go on like that, I may give you a chance next Saturday."
"Thanks awfully," said Mark.
Saturday came, and with it the first of the series of house-matches. When the list went up on the old landing at the head of the rickety stairs, and when Mark's and Jim's names were seen, a howl of remonstrance was heard.
"They'll be getting babies to play next," said many whose names were not on the list.
Archibald sent for Mark and spoke a sharp word: "They accuse me of favouring, the silly fools, as if my brother wasn't the last fellow in the house I'd think of favouring."
"I know that, Archie."
"You see," Archibald explained, "this match with Bashan's doesn't count. We must give 'em a licking, and afterwards it will be just as easy to let you drop out, as it was to stick you in."
The school, however, were of opinion that this match might prove a surprise for Billy's. Bashan's was not a first-class team, but there were big fellows in it who had the reputation of playing a savage game. Bashan's, it was said, would sell their souls and bodies to lower Billy's pride, and Billy's would sell theirs as cheerfully rather than Bashan's should triumph. Billy's included two members of the school eleven, Archie and the Lubber; Bashan's had one, but he was reckoned the finest player of his generation.
The game began. Half the school was present, including Billy, who was known to miss many things in life, but his house-match—never! Behind the crowd of boys the austere figure of the Doctor sat erect on his brown horse.
Archie kicked off. The wind carried the ball to Bashan's top side. There a lean, long-legged, long-winded Bashanite stopped it, kicked it, and swooped after it like a lurcher after a rabbit! By virtue of his speed he shot by Billy's top-side men before they had got into their stride; in another second he had kicked the ball again—and again. It rose slowly, sailed over the head of the back—who was not quite back—and just fell between and through the goal-posts.
Bashan's bellowed itself into a frenzy. Billy's smiled coldly and critically. Archie had a vacuous expression, as of an ox stricken by a pole-axe. Mark's eyes were shining.
"We are going to have a f-fight," he said.
Within ten minutes Bashan's had kicked a second goal almost as "flukey" as the first. Stupor spread like a London fog. Billy's was demoralised. At times bad luck paralyses mind and muscles. On such occasions the man of finer clay than his fellows seeks and finds opportunity. Mark, for instance, rose to and above this emergency. He, the smallest player on the ground, the one, physically speaking, least well equipped for the task, thrust himself into the breach between promise and performance. In the brief interval, after the second goal had been kicked, he went up to Archie and the Lubber, who were standing apart, inert and speechless.
"I s-say," stammered Mark, "you must change your tactics."
The Lubber raised his heavy head.
"Shut up, Mark!" said Archibald.
"I won't," said Mark. "These Bashanites haven't a chance if you d-d-do the right thing."
Archie scowled; but the Lubber, who had reason to respect Mark's abilities as a scholar, growled: "Well, what is the right thing?"
"The Bashanites are like a lot of helots, drunk with success. If we go canny, they'll play themselves out. Then we can trample on 'em. Don't attack a victorious enemy! Defence is our game. Pull our fellows together! Tell 'em to keep c-cool and quiet for ten minutes; close in the top sides; keep the whole eleven in front of our g-goal; forbid individual effort till you give the word!"
"By Jove! he's right," said the Lubber. Archie kicked off for the second time; and the Bashanites fell on the ball, kicked it hard, and charged furiously. Met by a solid phalanx, hurled back, bruised and broken—they charged again and again, panting and bellowing; but Billy's held together. Doubtless Billy himself fathomed the plan of campaign, for when the fry of his house began to complain, when cries of "Follow up! Follow up!" were heard above the yells of the Bashanites, when shrill voices screamed, "Now's your chance!" or, in disconsolate wail, "Why don't you run, you idiot!" or, in still more poignant accents, "Good Lord! what is the matter with the fools?"—then, above these heart-breaking cries, boomed a big bass voice:
"Steady, Billy's! Well played! Steady! Steady there!"
Within ten minutes of half-time it was plain that the enemy was exhausted. Wild eyes, heaving chests, pallid faces confronted a team full of running and brimful of hope. At the next pause Archie moved along the line. Orders to charge. And didn't Billy's charge? Didn't every boy's heart thrill to that whispered word? Charge? Aye, with a yell which must have echoed in the Fourth Form Room, nearly a mile away. Charge? Yes—with the fury of the Light Brigade at Balaclava! And the Bashanites bowed down before that charge like the worshippers of Baal beneath the sword of the Prophet! It was Homeric, worthy, so Billy said, of the finest traditions of the house.
One goal to two—and half-time.
While Billy's sucked the lemons which the fry hurled at them, Jim found time to observe to Mark: "I say, so far we haven't scored."
"N-n-not yet," said Mark.
Bashan's kicked off after ends had been changed. They had got their second wind, and also sound advice from their captain, a man of guile, who has since been seen and heard at Baba Wali, at Abu Klea, and at Suakin. The Bashanites herded together, bent on retaining the advantage of their one goal, not daring to risk it in pursuit of another. Once, twice, thrice, Billy's swept up the field, to be driven back and back when within a dozen paces of the Bashanite citadel. And then, at the fourth essay, Jim's chance came. He had the ball between his legs. "Kick it, kick it!" screamed Billy's. "Yards," whispered Mark. Jim turned mechanically, kicking the ball into Archie's outstretched hands as the leading Bashanite rolled him head over heels in the mud.
A silence fell on players and onlookers. Archie took his time, eyeing anxiously the distance between himself and the goal-posts. Jim shut his eyes, which in point of fact were nearly closed already. A roar of applause from Billy's, a despairing groan from Bashan's, proclaimed the accuracy of the kick.
Two goals all, and twenty minutes to play!
The Lubber sauntered up, sucking a lemon, and stolid as usual.
"Well," said he to Mark, "what'll happen now?"
"Why they'll play up like m-mad, of course. They've everything to gain, and precious little to lose. We ought to go back to our defensive tactics. Let 'em p-pump 'emselves out, and then smash 'em."
"Good kid," said the old Lubber; "if your body was half as big as your brain, you'd be a corker."
He was seen talking to Archie; and Archie was nodding his handsome head, as if in accord. Before the ball was kicked off, word was passed round to play on the defensive. These tactics may seem elementary to the modern player, but five-and-twenty years ago football on both sides of the Atlantic was go-as-you-please—a succession of wild and unpremeditated rushes, with much brilliant individual work, but lacking in strategy and organisation.
Within a few minutes of resuming play, the Lubber stupidly interposed his ankle between a boot and the ball, forgetting that his skull was the most invulnerable part of his person, with the result that Billy's lost his services and weight when they were most needed. Archie, too, was slightly disabled and more than slightly dismayed. Bashan's pressed their advantage with vigour.
"It's all right," Mark panted.
Archie had the ball and was away, his side streaming after him. Down the field he sped, faster and faster. The biggest Bashanite met him shoulder to shoulder in full career. The Bashanite reeled over backwards; Archie hardly swerved. On and on strode that glorious figure in the violet-and-black stripes. Only one more Bashanite stood between him and the goal; but he, crafty as Ulysses, was quick to perceive what must be done. The ball rolled between him and the all-conquering Archie. He rushed forward. Archie crashed into him. The Bashanite fell, but the ball sailed towards a group of battered gladiators, who, having abandoned pursuit, were awaiting just such a piece of good fortune as now befell them.
"Get back!" yelled the fry.
Billy's got back in the nick of time, mad with disappointment. The Bashanites retreated, cursing. In a minute "Time" would be called. At this moment Mark darted out of a scrimmage dribbling the ball.
A second later he turned his back upon three big fellows who were within ten feet of him, knowing that they would meet with irresistible force on the spot where he was standing, and knowing—who better?—-his own feebleness of bone and sinew. He turned and gave "yards."
Jim looked down.
When Jim looked up a pile of figures lay upon the wet, mud-stained grass, and the ball was in the hands of a sure and safe player. And then, as a roar of applause ascended from the throats of everybody on the ground, the word "Time" fell like a thunderbolt.
The match was over. Bashan's had tied Billy's.
But the eyes of the crowd rested on the pile in front of Bashan's goal. Three figures rose silently; the fourth lay face down in the mire. Archie touched his brother lightly.
"You're all right, old chap, aren't you?"
Mark did not answer. His arm was turned outward at a curious angle.
"Back," said Archie, as the two elevens surged forward. "Back!"
He faced them, terror-stricken, and Jim Corrance had never admired him so much nor liked him so well, because his strong voice trembled and his keen blue eyes were wet.
"Mark," he cried, kneeling down, "don't you hear me? Don't you hear me?" His voice broke. "My God!" he exclaimed, "he's dead!"
The face upturned to the chill November skies was of death's colour; the eyes stared glassily; the livid lips were parted in a grim smile heart-breaking to see. The two elevens formed a ring around the brothers and Billy, who had his fingers on Mark's pulse. Beyond this inner circle was the outer circle of spectators. One boy began to sneeze, and the silence had become so impressive that his sneeze seemed a personal affront, an unseemly violation. Archibald was crying as men cry—silently, with convulsive movements of the limbs.
Just then the school surgeon hurried up. Fortunately he was on the ground, but had retired with the Lubber to a distant bench, busy in bandaging that giant's ankle. Kneeling down, he laid his ear to the small blue-and-white striped chest.
"I can't feel any pulse," Billy growled.
The doctor's head was as that of a graven image.
"Why don't you do something?" Archibald demanded, giving expression to the unspoken entreaty of three hundred boys.
The surgeon paid no attention; he was listening for that murmur of life which would justify his doing anything.
"He is coming to," he muttered.
"He is coming to" passed from lip to lip. The school sighed with relief. The clouds above let fall a few drops of rain.
"A hurdle," commanded the surgeon, "and some coats!"
Billy was the first to pull off his overcoat. The surgeon touched Mark's body in a dozen places. Mark gasped and gurgled; then he tried to sit up—and succeeded.
"Back's all right," said the surgeon. "Keep quiet, my boy! You're a little the worse for wear. There, there, shut your eyes and believe that we shall hurt you as little as possible. Your arm is broken."
The news spread while the hurdle was being brought. Mark closed his eyes and lay back. The captain of Bashan's stepped forward.
"May I help to carry the hurdle?" he said.
The biggest swells were proud to carry that hurdle! The school formed itself into two long lines; and when Mark passed through—pale, but smiling—some chord was struck, which thrilled into sound.
"Three cheers for Samphire minor!"
The brave shout rolled over the playing-fields and up Harrow Hill, past the Music Schools which recorded it; past the Chapel, where its subtle vibrations were enshrined; past the Yard, which gave back the glad acclaim of valour; past the Vaughan Library, startling, perhaps, some bookworm too intent upon what has been to care greatly for what is and may be; down the familiar street, where countless generations of ardent boys had hastened to work or play; on and on till it reached Billy's—Billy's with its hoary traditions of innumerable battles fought and won, Billy's shabby and battered, scarred within and without, Billy's—dear old Billy's—where it became merged but not lost, in the whole of which every valiant word or deed or thought is an imperishable part!
WHICH CONTAINS A FORTUNE
At lock-up Billy announced that Mark's injuries, albeit severe, were not such as to cause his friends serious anxiety. And so, when Archie came to Jim's room with a face as long as the catalogue of ships in the Iliad, and when the two boys present got up and left hurriedly at his impatient nod of dismissal, you may believe that Jim's heart began to thump and his eyes to pop out of his head with interrogation.
"I dropped in to tell you, you could get your 'fez,'" said Archie.
"Oh, thanks awfully. And—and Mark?"
"I bought one for him and sent it in. He got it after his arm was set."
Jim's heart warmed to the big fellow. "I'm glad you thought of that."
"His advice saved the match, and—and—and—" his voice had a curious quaver in it—"and it's no good. Mark can never play footer again."
He sat down and laid his curly head upon a Greek lexicon.
"You see," Archie continued heavily, "I thought Mark would step into my shoes."
"Good Lord!" said Jim, seeing Mark's foot. "He'd lose himself in 'em."
"The Lubber says he'd have made a great player, a great captain."
"So he will—yet. Footer's not the only game."
"That's true. There's cricket." Archie's face brightened. "I must push him on at that. The governor might get a 'pro' to bowl to him during the Easter holidays. He shall, by Jove! Yes, you're right. I was a fool not to think of that. And when he leaves there will have been three Samphires of Pitt Hall in the school eleven. I'll go now. I've got to tackle a nasty bit of Æschylus. You played up like fun to-day. I told the Doctor you came from our part of Slowshire. He said something in Greek which I couldn't make head or tail of; but I grinned, because I made certain it was complimentary. I say—don't be in too much of a hurry to get into the Sixth. A fellow can't work and play too. And I didn't come to Harrow to be killed by Greek tragedians. By-the-by, if you could go down and give the old Lubber a 'con,' he'd be grateful. He'd come up, as usual, only he doesn't want to climb these stairs. Good night. We're to see Mark to-morrow, if he has a decent sleep."
After Archie had left the room, Jim rose to go downstairs to the Lubber, and in rising his eye caught a picture of Mark's mother, which hung to the right of the head of the nine-pointer. On the other side was a picture of the Squire, a capital portrait of that fine specimen of the country gentleman. From time immemorial the owners of Pitt Hall had sought wives in Slowshire; but Mark's father went a-wooing in London and married a delicate creature of sensibility, refinement, and culture, the daughter of an eloquent and impecunious member of Parliament, a friend of Cobden and Bright, with some of Sheridan's wild blood in his veins, tempered, however, by a tincture of John Wesley's. This lady bore her husband three sons: George, cut to the old Samphire pattern (whose fortunes do not concern us), Archibald, and Mark, the stammerer. Then she died, and in due time the Squire of Pitt Hall married again, selecting Miss Selina Lamb, of Cranberry-Orcas, of whom mention has been made.
Jim stared at both portraits, seeing dimly the gulf between husband and wife, realising that Mark was his mother's child, even as Archie was as truly the son of his burly father. Mrs. Samphire's pathetic eyes seemed to pierce his heart, so poignant was the reflection that the mother's fine qualities of head and heart had been reproduced faithfully, and with them her infirmity of body. Then he blundered out into the dimly lit passage and stumbled against Nixon minimus going to supper, although he was as full of tea and potted meat, and hot buttered toast, and strawberry jam as a Fourth Form boy could be.
"I say," whined Nixon minimus, "I wish you'd look and see whom you're shovin' into."
"I am looking," said Jim. "Unless I'm vastly mistaken, I heard you say to me this afternoon: 'Why don't you run, you silly fool?' I'm going to answer that question now. I didn't run because I was playing to orders. Later, when I was lying flat on my back, with the wind squeezed out of me, you specially urged me to get up and play up. Yes, you didn't mean it, of course, but I happen to want to kick somebody, and I'm going to kick you, you spoiled infant, you! Take that, and that!"
Jim went on his way relieved in mind and uplifted. The Lubber welcomed him warmly, looking very funny, with his swollen foot in a footbath and a huge piece of sticking-plaster across his nose. On his lap lay a battered volume of Livy and a crib.
"I can give you a rare good pie," he said; "if you're hungry, stick your nose into that cupboard!"
Jim declined this hospitable offer, and picked up the Livy.
"These cribs aren't much help," growled the Lubber. "It's the verbs and idioms that flummux me. Eh? What? Oh, done it before! Bless you—a dozen times; but my memory is rotten. As Billy said in pupil-room last week, 'You'll forget your own name some day. West, and sign it North.' Rather bad form making puns on a fellow's name. By gad! I'm glad you came. No, hang the 'con'! I'll chance it. I want to have a yarn with you about the Kid. Awful—wasn't it? And Archie says he won't be allowed to play footer again. Old Archie has taken it hard. Not a bad chap, Archie, but a bit stodgy—like me. It's on my mind that I've had a hand in the overdoin' of the Kid. He's a corker is the Kid. I must be blind as a bat, not to have found that out before. But he must go slow, or he'll break down. Now it wouldn't surprise me if the Kid made a mark. What? A joke? Not I. Never made one in my life—except by accident. I mean he'll turn over some big things some day."
"He seems to have turned over some big things to-day. The three Bashanites weren't small."
The Lubber laughed.
"To relieve your mind," Jim continued, "I don't mind telling you that Billy has his eye on the Kid. He won't break down in his training."
The Lubber accepted this assurance with the faith of a child; then he looked at the cupboard.
"I think," said he, "that if you don't mind hauling out that pie, I'll have a go at it. Somehow, I couldn't tackle my tea. You'll have some too, eh? That's right. I never feel quite myself when my tummy's empty."
Next day, after dinner, Archie saw Mark. He was in bed, and above the bed hung his "fez," placed there by the matron. Archibald tiptoed into the room, feeling rather uncomfortable. Mark, he feared, would be miserable. To his surprise, he was greeted with a grin.
"You don't care——"
"I've thought it out—with Billy. He was here before dinner. I slept like a t-top last night, and when Billy came in I read his face. He was awfully d-decent. It's a pity he has only a daughter, although, perhaps, that makes him extra nice to the sons of other people. He said that I was strong enough to know the truth. And the truth is that footer isn't my game. Well—I knew it. But I wanted to get my 'fez,' and—and there it hangs, and there is this. Billy must have had it engraved the f-first thing this morning."
He put his hand under his pillow, and pulled out a small hunting-flask. Upon it was inscribed his name, and beneath, in small script, the line from Horace:
"Palmam qui meruit ferat."
"He gave me this," said Mark, "and with it a jolly good jaw. He m-made me see that w-w-weakness is part of my kit, and the w-weak make the running for the strong; and it's no use messin' about and trying to do what others can do much better. And he s-said that a fellow who rebelled and sulked was a silly ass—and—by Jove!—he's r-right!"
Mark recovered quickly, and was treated as an honoured guest by his kind hostess, who played and sang to him every day. Boys, particularly English boys, are not taught to express their gratitude in happy phrases, but perhaps it is none the less on that account. If the lady who played Strauss's waltzes to Mark Samphire should chance to read these lines, let her believe that the memory of her kindness has ripened with the passing years.
After the Christmas holidays Mark and Jim found themselves in the Sixth, privileged to "fag," and accepted by Billy's as Olympians. It was a pleasant half, and at the end of it Archibald won the school mile. Mark trained him. Most of the boys who trained, trained too hard; and here again Mark's weakness developed his brother's strength: they took their "runs" slowly, but regularly. During these spring afternoons more than fresh air was imbibed. Mark had capacity for absorbing information about places and people. To him an ordinary cottage was a volume of romance; a man asleep by the roadside quickened speculation; a travelling van held inexhaustible material. One day they came upon an encampment of gipsies. Mark insisted upon stopping to speak to an onyx-eyed urchin, who asked for coppers, and while they were talking a handsome girl of sixteen lounged forward, addressing Mark as "my pretty gentleman."
"Go along with you," said Mark. "I'm as ugly as they make 'em."
"You are not," the girl replied, staring impudently into his eyes. "Them eyes of your'n are bits of heaven's own blue; and the women will look into them and love you."
Mark turned scarlet.
"And you," the hussy turned to Archie. "Ah, you're a real beauty, but your brother's eyes are handsomer than your'n."
"How do you know he's my brother?" said Archie.
"We Romanies know many things. Give me half a crown, and I'll tell you both a true fortune."
"Shall we take a bob's worth?" said Archie. "Sixpence each?"
"I'll read your hand for a bob," said the girl, "and his," she nodded at Mark, "for nothing."
Archie produced a shilling. The girl took his hand between her long, slender fingers, and gazed at the lines on it.
"Well," said a harsh voice, "what do you see?"
An old hag, possibly the girl's grandmother, had approached silently.
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