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   Chapter 4 No.4

That Scholarship Boy By Emma Leslie Characters: 15247

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Dr. Morrison.

Leonard Morrison found himself sent to Coventry, not by his schoolfellows, but by his sister. It was just the punishment he had decided she deserved for daring to have an opinion of her own that differed from his, and so to find himself 'hoist with his own petard' made him very angry.

'Where is Flo going to do her lessons to-night?' he asked his mother, when he went to the study and found it in darkness. His sister usually lighted the lamp ready for him, but his mother had come with him to do it to-night.

'She has gone to her own room-she wants to be quiet, she says. You should not talk so much, Lenny dear,' added the lady.

'Nasty little thing! She has been telling tales, I suppose?'

'She did not say what you had been talking about, if that is what you mean,' said Mrs. Morrison, 'but your father heard a great deal of chatter, he says.'

'So Flo has taken herself off,' said Leonard, as he took his seat and opened his school satchel. 'A nice time I shall have, if Taylor keeps his word and sends me to Coventry at school! I shall lose the use of my tongue in about a week, if nobody will speak to me. It's a lively look-out, any way, and what have I done to deserve it, I should like to know?'

Leonard considered himself a very ill-used individual just then, and he was specially angry with his sister because she had so neatly turned the tables upon him in leaving him to do his lessons alone.

He missed her sadly as the time went on, and there was no one to grumble at or ask advice from. What to do about speaking to his father he did not know, and at last he decided to say something to his mother about the matter; not that he meant to tell her all, but he would just ask her if she thought Taylor was right in his statement.

So when Mrs. Morrison came into the room with his slice of cake for his supper, he said, 'Do you know whether father had anything to do with sending that scholarship boy to Torrington's?'

'Why-isn't he a good boy?' said the lady.

'That isn't it, mother. He may be good-I dare say he is-but did father send him there?'

'The County Council sent him; your father would not have the power.'

'I suppose not,' said Leonard in a satisfied tone.

'But why did you ask, my boy?' said the lady.

'Oh, it doesn't matter,' said Leonard, lightly. 'As long as daddy didn't send him it's all right.'

'But what has happened? What sort of a boy is he?'

'Oh, he's all right, I dare say. Boys can't peach, you know, mother.'

And Leonard's light words sent his mother out with an aching heart.

'More trouble, I fear,' she said softly to herself, as she closed the door and went back to the dining-room. 'Poor Dick! poor, dear Dick! What misery he has brought to us all! And yet he was never wicked-only weak.'

The lady buried her face in her handkerchief for a few minutes, but roused herself when she heard the street door open and close, and went and rung the bell for supper to be served.

'You are late to-night, dear,' she said, when her husband entered the room.

'Yes, I have had a busy day, and am as hungry as a hunter. Chicks gone to bed, I suppose, he added, as he looked round the room before going to wash his hands and change his coat for a comfortable hour by his own fireside.

A tasty hot supper was on the table when he came back, but he noticed as he ate that his wife scarcely touched hers; but he did not ask what was troubling her until the meal was over and the table cleared. Then he said, leaning back in his chair-

'Now, little woman, I have done my duty to your nice supper, which I know is all you have been waiting for. Now tell me what is amiss. Has Flo cut her finger, or Len got into mischief?' he asked.

'No, dear, the children are all right,' said Mrs. Morrison, with a sigh; 'but I have been wondering whether you were wise to get that little board school boy sent to Torrington's. You did have a good deal to do with it, I know,' added the lady.

'To be sure I did. The lad had fairly earned the Thompson Scholarship, and, from all we heard of the lad and his relatives, we thought he would be an acquisition to the school rather than otherwise. His mother was a patient of mine about a year ago, and from all I saw then I concluded that they were people who had come down in the world, for it was easy to see that they were superior to their surroundings, and I thought then that if ever it was in my power to help them I would do so. The father is abroad, travelling, I understand; but he seems to have left his family badly provided for. What have you heard about the boy?'

'Oh, nothing,' promptly replied Mrs. Morrison. 'Only from a word Lenny dropped I fancy he is not popular at the school, and you know what queer notions people take sometimes; and if it was said that Dr. Morrison sent a board school boy to the school they are all so proud of, we might have all our old troubles over again.'

The doctor laughed. 'You think half my patients must be offended as well as the boys at Torrington's! I have heard a whisper that some of them don't like the new scholar; but he will live it down, I daresay, and I am not going to notice it.'

'But, my dear, if you should lose your patients? If this boy should disgrace himself, people will be sure to say that you had no business to send him to such a school, and the worst of the trouble is sure to come upon us.'

'Ah, I see you have been saddling the horse ready to go and meet it! How many times am I to tell you, little woman, to wait until the trouble comes to you, and then to look it squarely in the face and fight it, if fighting is likely to do any good, and if it is not, then bear it with all the patience and courage that God will give you, if you only do your share in the matter? Now what has Master Len been saying about this lad?'

'He asked if it was true that you were the means of sending that scholarship boy to Torrington's. The boys had said you did it.

The doctor laughed. 'Murder will out, you see, Maria.'

'I told him the County Council sent him, and of course they did.'

'Quite true; but I had the casting vote in the matter, and I voted that the lad should go to Torrington's, both for the sake of the school and the boy, and also that I might hear incidentally from Len what sort of a lad he was. What does he say?'

'Nothing definite. He wanted to know whether it was true that you had sent him, and when I asked why, he said boys were not allowed to tell tales, or words to that effect.

The doctor smiled. 'Then it's nothing very bad,' he said, 'and if this lad can only hold his own among some of those big louting lads, he will do our school a world of good.'

'How is he to do that?' asked the lady.

'Why, this boy has formed the habit of steady application to the task before him, whatever it may be. If he had not, he could not have passed the examination necessary to gain this scholarship. Now Torrington's sadly needs a few lads like this, for it is beginning to suffer from the dry rot that a great name often brings to a school after some years. The sons of wealthy men are sent there, who have no need to toil with either hands or brains, and they take care not to do it themselves, and to hinder others from doing it if they can. For Len, and lads like him, this example is bad; and so to introduce a studious lad, who will think less of games than of lessons, has become a necessity, if Torrington's is to be saved from going to the dogs; and I should be very sorry to see the school go down. I went there when I was a lad, and have always been proud of

Torrington's, and that is why I am anxious to save it from collapse.'

'I believe Lenny is just as proud of it as you are,' said his wife.

'I should hope so. I don't think much of a lad who is not proud and fond of his school, and ready to fight for its honour against all antagonists.'

'I think all Torrington's lads feel the same about their school,' said Mrs. Morrison. 'But suppose some of them should think a poor boy, who is dependent upon a scholarship for his schooling, beneath the rest of the scholars? I cannot forget the old trouble,' she added.

'Then they must learn to know better! Learn to consider that there is something more in the world than money worth consideration. This is what I am afraid is spoiling some of the Torrington boys just now, and it is high time it was checked. We talked this aspect of the matter over at the Council meeting-for there are several old boys among us who are proud of our school-and we agreed that a little new blood among these purse-proud young gentlemen would do them a world of good, and I hope this boy may be what is needed among them. As for the old trouble,' went on Dr. Morrison, 'that is left behind, I hope; but you must remember that it arose from a very different cause. Your brother Dick behaved very badly to more than one of my patients, and so disgraced us.'

'Poor, dear Dick!' said the lady with a sigh; 'I am sure he never intended to do us any harm.'

'I never thought he did. No one who knew Dick would think that of him; but the misery came to us all the same, and Dick was responsible for it.'

This allusion to her brother brought the tears to Mrs. Morrison's eyes. He had been such a bright, winning lad. When he was the age of Leonard he had only one fault that she would admit, even now, and that was that he was too easily led. He could not say 'No,' though not to say it and abide by it under the circumstances was wrong. This ended at last in what was little less than a crime, for which they had to pay the penalty in a long struggle against adverse circumstances, and eventually to leave Liverpool, and return to Mr. Morrison's native town and begin the world afresh.

This ending to what might have been a bright and honourable career for her brother, and a no less prosperous one for her husband, was a very bitter trial to the lady; and though Dr. Morrison's practice was now steadily increasing, anything that rendered him less popular might bring back the old trouble she feared.

In thinking thus she, of course, exaggerated the circumstances in every way, for, in point of fact, not even Mrs. Howard knew that it was through the doctor's influence that Horace was sent to the same school with his own son; and as the name of Morrison was not mentioned by Horace, she did not know that he was there for some time. Her son was industrious and fond of scientific study, and had fairly won the scholarship, she was assured by the schoolmaster. He was very proud to add that Horace was the first scholarship boy who had been sent by the County Council to Torrington's. But that her doctor had had anything to do with the selection of a school for Horace she knew nothing.

She heard afterwards that it was the best school in the county; but she thought more of whether Horace would be able to do the lessons required of him, without overworking himself, and also whether she would be able to keep him suitably clothed, so that he did not look particular among the other lads.

The school was nearly two miles from their home, so that he would wear out his boots very fast, she reflected, when considering ways and means. There was a small allowance made for this, after the school fees were paid out of the scholarship money, and it was the consideration of this that made Horace resume wearing the old jacket, when his mother wished him to keep on with his best one, which he had worn for the first week or two.

In fact, he had worn the best jacket until he was so mysteriously sent to Coventry, and though he carefully kept this fact to himself, it was the underlying meaning of what he told her when he said it would make no difference to him at school whether he wore a new or an old jacket.

Of the bitterness underlying the words that were said, that she should not spend too much on his clothes, she knew nothing. Indeed, after the first week or two Horace was very reticent about what passed at school, rarely mentioned a schoolfellow by name, and seemed absorbed in his lessons all the evening. He talked sometimes to Fred about his mysterious idea, which she knew was connected with chemistry; but beyond this she knew very little of her boy's life at this time. Sometimes he looked worried as he sat poring over his books, as though they were a little beyond his power, she thought; and then she would say, 'Now, Horace, if you are getting tired, give it up. You know going to this school is quite an experiment for you, and if you fail to keep up with the rest it will be no disgrace to own it. You have been looking pale the last day or two.'

'I feel quite well, mother; and as to keeping up with the rest, well, you should see the young giant who is always at the bottom of the class.' And Horace laughed as he mentally recalled the perpetually yawning figure of Curtis, with his back propped against the wall. 'I believe he would go to sleep outright if it wasn't for the master saying, "Now, Curtis, keep your ears and eyes open!"'

'Poor fellow! perhaps he does not feel able to do the work,' said Mrs. Howard pityingly.

'Well, he doesn't let lessons trouble him much. He and "the cock of the walk," that's another big chap who doesn't care much about books, they take it pretty easy, except when they get an "impot," and that takes all their dinner time.'

'And what do you do at dinner time?' asked his brother at this point.

'Eat my dinner, to be sure,' answered Horace.

'Well, you don't look much the better for it. Mother, I'm going to be paid an extra shilling a week, and I vote it goes in dinners for the boy with an idea,' said Fred.

'No! No! I can do very well, and I enjoy my dinner hours now, for I often go up to the "lab.," and have a nice time to myself. Mr. Skeats told me I might go, if I did not take any of the other boys with me. You see, some of them might get up to larks, and--'

'Why don't you get up to larks?' interrupted his brother.

Horace laughed, 'Oh, you know that isn't much in my way, and there's room for everybody in a big school like Torrington's.'

'I wish the youngster did not look so serious,' said Fred, after his brother had gone to bed that night.

'He always was quiet,' remarked his mother.

'Quiet, yes; but now he looks up from his book sometimes, as though he had a world of care upon his mind.'

'Perhaps he is thinking over his "idea." You know he could talk of nothing else for a day or two,' said Mrs. Howard.

'Well, he doesn't talk much now, at any rate, and I am wondering whether he is quite happy at that school.'

'But surely he would tell us if he was not. I have asked him again and again. I think he would tell us if there was anything wrong.'

'Now, mother, don't vex yourself, or I shall be sorry I have spoken. Just let that extra shilling a week I am to have go for the youngster's mid-day meal. Get him something better than bread and butter to take with him-sandwiches or a little meat-pie. They say people who work with their brains want as much to eat as those who work with their hands, and I am sure two slices of bread and butter wouldn't satisfy me at twelve o'clock.'

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