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   Chapter 5 No.5

That Scholarship Boy By Emma Leslie Characters: 17358

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


The Champion.

'Mother, I think I shall be obliged to wear that other jacket to go to school,' said Horace one evening as he ate his dinner.

He had come home from school looking almost radiant, and his mother had heard incidentally that one of the other boys had walked most of the way with him.

'But I thought you said no one lived this way?' said Mrs. Howard.

'Oh, I think Warren came out of his way a bit that we might finish our talk! He likes history awfully, and so do I a bit, and we got talking about those old battles, and almost forgot the time. Now, mother, don't you think I had better take my best jacket for school? The sleeves of this are getting so short.'

His mother laughed.

'Why, I told you the same thing a month ago,' she said, 'but you insisted that it did not matter!'

'Well, you know, I don't want to cost you more than I am obliged for clothes, and I thought I might wear the old jacket a bit longer, as I should wear out so many boots; but now--' And there Horace stopped, lest he should say something that might betray how his schoolfellows had treated him lately.

'You must be careful to wear the linen apron and sleeves while you do your chemistry work,' remarked his mother, 'for you are beginning to make the old one a variegated colour.'

'All right, I'll be careful; but I thought Warren looked at my hands poking too far through the sleeves of that old one, and Warren is a nice fellow; I should not like to hurt his feelings,' said Horace.

'Ah! you find that some lads are more particular about their clothes than you are. Yes, wear the best jacket by all means, and I have no doubt I shall be able to buy you a new one when you want it.'

So the matter was settled, and the next morning he met his new friend as they had arranged, and the two boys had a pleasant chat on all sorts of subjects as they walked along the road. Just before the school was reached, and when they came within sight of other groups of boys, Horace stopped short, and said-

'Now you had better go on; it don't matter if I am late, I have plenty of time in the dinner hour to do the imposition.'

'What do you mean-what do you take me for?' said Warren, thrusting his arm through his companion's.

'Well, you know the school have sent me to Coventry lately; and if you know what for, it's more than I do, so that it isn't likely to alter its opinion in a hurry,' said Horace.

'Oh, the school be bothered!' said Warren. 'Of course a fellow has to do the same as the rest when he is at school, but "the cock of the walk" is going a bit too far this time, and I mean to let the whole lot see that I won't follow the lead, when I don't think it's fair and square. If they had any good reason for sending you to Coventry, I'd see you hanged before I'd try to take your part; but I like fair play, and it is not a fair game they are playing against you now.'

'But suppose they send you to Coventry as well?' said Horace.

'Oh, they will, you bet. Taylor and Curtis and that crowd are sure to do it, and I dare say they will rage like a bull in a china shop. Come on here. They see we are going in arm-in-arm.'

A storm of hisses greeted their appearance at the school gate, and Horace changed colour and his arm shook; but Warren gripped him the tighter, so that he could not get away.

'Is it worth while sticking to me if the rest don't like it?' whispered Horace.

'Is anything worth fighting for as those old Englishmen fought in the Civil War-Hampden and that lot?' Warren's face was flaming, and he held his head high, as he led Horace through the hooting crowd of boys, while he asked this question loud enough for any of them to hear.

Horace did not answer. He almost wished Warren would leave him alone. But this was not that gentleman's way. 'I tell you what it is, Howard,' he said, when they had reached the comparative shelter of the playground, where the hooting had to cease, for fear the master should insist upon knowing what it was about. 'I have been thinking a lot of what we were talking about last night, and it's my opinion that there would not be so many tyrants in the world if they did not find easy victims. You knuckled under to "the cock of the walk" at the first touch, when you ought to have said, "Now, what do you mean by sending me to Coventry? What rule of the school have I broken?"'

'Ah, but you know we are not rich people. I am only a scholarship boy, and come from a board school.'

'As if I didn't know that. As if my pater has not told me a dozen times lately that he wishes he had sent me to a board school when I was young. Bless you, we are not rich. My father is only a doctor, like Morrison's, and there are swarms and swarms of children in the nursery, so you may know we haven't got money to roll in, like Curtis. No, old fellow, we are two poor boys, and so we'll just stand shoulder to shoulder, and fight the lot, if they want to fight us. Now mind, you've got to fight for me, and I'll fight for you; and we'll let 'em see what two can do, if nobody else joins us. Little Morrison will, though I think Taylor has led him a dog's life lately; and so I should think he would be glad enough to cut that shop, and join Howard and Co.'

Horace laughed as he had not done since he had been at Torrington's. He was ready enough to fight for his new friend, and when one or two tried to hustle them apart as they were going to school, he did not hesitate to push one of them off, when he was crowding down upon Warren.

The boy turned and scowled at Horace. 'Who are you?' he demanded angrily.

'The scholarship boy, and this is my friend,' he said, still holding on to Warren, and dealing some sharp thrusts at those who were trying to push between them. There could be no great demonstration here in the lobby of the school, or the masters would want to know what the quarrel was about.

At dinner time there was little opportunity for the new friends to meet, for the science master, if he did not know, shrewdly guessed the attitude taken by the rest of the class towards the scholarship boy, and so had contrived to find something for him to do in the chemistry laboratory during the recess; and Horace was only too glad of the change to do a little extra practical work towards the elucidation of his idea, which grew all the more interesting, as he saw it would need great care and industry to arrive at the result.

But when afternoon school was over Warren waited about until Horace appeared, and then he said, 'Just go on a little way, while I speak to Morrison. I want him to come with us, for I know that "cock of the walk" is bullying him, and if he'll just join us we shall be three to the other lot. Little Morrison isn't a bad sort of fellow, when you can get him to make up his mind, and the Curtis lot are getting a deal too cocky.'

So Horace walked on to the corner of the road, and Warren waited for Leonard; but the moment Taylor saw him speak to the lad he pounced down upon him. 'Now look here, Morrison,' he said, 'if you go talking to Warren now he's joined that fellow in Coventry, you'll be sent there yourself by the rest of the school. I'll give you a week to think over what we were talking about at dinner time;' and Taylor, as he spoke, slipped his arm into Leonard's and walked him off, leaving Warren to try and persuade another boy to join him in his walk home with Horace.

But the Taylor and Curtis party were too strong just now for another to rebel against their rule, and so the two lads walked home by themselves, amid the derisive cheers of Taylor and a few others.

This state of things continued for a few days-the two friends learning to know and like each other better each time they met, and cared less for the company of others. Then a quarrel broke out in the ranks of the popular party, and Warren heard that Taylor was so hectoring the others as to what they should do, that at last, out of sheer perversity, two or three came to walk home with them, and held a discussion concerning Taylor and his ways that ought to have made that young gentleman's ears tingle.

'We're all in Coventry now, of course,' said one boy, 'and I vote that we make ourselves jolly over it. I say, Howard, I want you to tell me how you get your lessons done, for you're always ready with an answer, and I've been so floored lately that I've had a private message if I don't do better I shall have to go down among the juniors, and that would make my people wild.'

Horace laughed at the idea of there being any royal road to the acquisition of lessons but the one of careful, steady, thoughtful study.

'Then you do swa

t awfully, as the fellows say, and that's what they are so mad about. Taylor says Torrington's will be nothing better than a swatting shop, and no place for gentlemen, if it isn't stopped.'

Horace opened his eyes. 'I thought we went to school that we might learn all we could!' he said.

'Oh, Torrington's has got so fashionable that fellows have come to think of it as an easy-going place, where they need not work if they don't like it.'

'Just what my pater says!' exclaimed Warren. 'And he told me that if I didn't turn over a new leaf he should send me somewhere else. Now I propose we make ourselves into a swatting club. I believe Mr. Mason would be glad if we did.'

'I'm sure Skeats would,' said another.

'Well, there are six of us here. Suppose we agree that we'll stick to our work of an evening till we've got our lessons perfect for the next day.'

'Won't Taylor be mad when he finds it out!' said another. But, as Taylor had offended them, the suggestion added piquancy to the notion. And so before they separated each pledged himself to join the new swatting club. It was not an elegant name for a party of students to call themselves, but the object of the combination was good, and was warmly commended by the parents, who were taken into the confidence of their sons.

If the little party of students thought they were going to have an easy time of it at school, they were mistaken; for Taylor and the more popular party soon found out by the answers given in the classes what the new combination meant, and he was more angry than ever.

'A parcel of beggars who set themselves up to be gentlemen have no business at Torrington's; and the sooner they take themselves off the better!' he exclaimed angrily, when discussing this new departure with a few of his chosen friends.

Warren overheard what he said, and was not averse to a duel of words with 'the cock of the walk.'

'Who do you call gentlemen?' he demanded-'those who live in glass houses, and the son of a man who used to keep--'

Taylor did not wait to hear more. Before the objectionable word could be spoken Warren received a blow that felled him to the ground.

It came so unexpectedly and was struck so unfairly that there was an instant cry of, 'Coward! coward! Fight it fair and square!'

'All right, let him come on,' said Taylor. But Warren was in no fit condition to stand up to his antagonist just now, for he had struck his head as he had fallen, and lay for a minute or two quite unconscious. Some of the boys grew alarmed, and all were glad to see the boy open his eyes and the colour slowly return to his face. They were outside the school premises when the incident occurred, and they all took care to walk away as quickly as they could, lest the master's attention should be called to the quarrel, and they be compelled to give an account of it, which would not have been at all to their taste, as they preferred to manage their own affairs in their own way, with as little interference from the masters as possible in what they regarded as their own private business.

Taylor was one of the first to walk off when he saw Warren was getting better, and the rest, who had hoped to enjoy the spectacle of a fight, were disappointed. There were plenty to urge Warren to 'take it out' of Taylor another day, and plenty more to side with the bigger lad, and urge him to 'have it out' with Warren for his 'cheek' in daring to dispute the authority of the majority of the class, and speak to the scholarship boy when he had been sent to Coventry.

Leonard Morrison was one of the foremost in urging Taylor to fight it out.

'The school expects it of you,' urged Leonard. 'He said your father was--'

'Shut up, will you!' snarled Taylor, turning his angry gaze upon Leonard. 'If he has taken that fellow out of Coventry, it was a plucky thing to do in the face of the whole class, and I like pluck,' he added, 'though I may get the kicks.'

It was plain that 'the cock of the walk' was seriously hurt or alarmed by what Warren had said, for he ceased to crow as loudly as usual, and walked home without noticing what his satellites said, his eyes bent on the ground, and evidently lost in thought over something that disturbed him more than the prospect of a fight with Warren.

Of course, as this was the latest phase of the scholarship boy question, it occupied more of the thought and attention than the earlier question; and so Horace walked into school the next morning chatting with one or two others, and no protesting hisses were raised.

It was noticed that Warren was not with him, and he looked round anxiously from time to time in search of his friend. But the day passed, and he did not appear, and the boys' spirits were damped a little in consequence, for they remembered now that they had heard that a blow on the head might prove dangerous to Warren.

But, to the relief of everybody, the two friends were seen coming along the road together the next morning, and when Taylor appeared round a bend in the road Warren walked up and joined him.

'Look here, Taylor, I had no business to say what I did the other day, for I can't fight you, it seems. My father has forbidden it, because--'

'Then you won't repeat what you said the other day?' interrupted Taylor eagerly.

'What do you take me for? I should be a cad if I did. Besides, I can see now that I have no business to blame you for what--No, I'm not going to say anything,' he whispered, in answer to Taylor's frown. 'Let every tub stand on its own bottom, I say.'

'All right, old fellow, we'll let the matter drop, then, and, mind, mum is the word between us.'

'Right you are,' said Warren, and then he ran off to join Horace, for he had drawn Taylor aside to say this, as neither of them wished their talk to be overheard.

Whatever it might be that Warren had heard concerning the antecedents of Taylor's family, he could not be more sensitive upon the point than Warren was over his inability to fight without danger to his life. For a schoolboy to be told that he cannot stand up in a fair, square fight without bringing the danger to his antagonist of being charged with manslaughter, had brought such a shock to the boy that it was this, rather than the effects of the fall, that made his father forbid him going to school the previous day. The lad had wondered how he was to get out of finishing the fight already begun; and it demanded a greater amount of courage on his part to walk up to Taylor and ask him to let the matter end where it was, than to stand up before him for a turn at fisticuffs, even with the almost dead certainty of getting the worst of it.

He had told his secret to Horace as he came along, glad of a confidant who would understand his difficulty; and Horace had counselled that he should make up his quarrel with Taylor, even though it involved throwing him over, if Taylor should make the demand.

Warren shook his head. 'I shan't do that,' he said. 'I think we shall find another way, and you can tell the fellows we have agreed to cry quits. But don't tell them I can't stand up and fight, for fear the other fellow should get sent to prison afterwards. That's the dreadful part about it, and that's what my father says would be pretty sure to follow. What an awful muff I must be!' sighed the boy, 'worse than any girl!'

'But look here, you've just done something that took a lot more courage of another sort,' said Horace, who was ready to make a hero of his new friend for managing the affair with Taylor without throwing him over. 'You did a plucky thing too, speaking to me in the face of all the class.'

'Oh, that was just part of the fight that is in me. I believe I was born a fighter, and now for the sake of other people I must be mum, and go through the world like a girl.'

'I don't know anything about girls; I never had a sister, so I can't tell what they are like, but I know you will have plenty of the other sort of courage when it is wanted, so you need not mind much, if you can't fight with your fists.'

They had reached the crowd of boys near the gate now, and two or three pressed eagerly forward, to know when and where the fight was to come off.

'We've settled it now,' answered Warren.

'Bosh! Don't believe it, boys. They are just going off to have it out by themselves.'

'You're not going to let Warren off, are you, Taylor?' shouted another lad, as Taylor appeared.

'Shut up and mind your own business, and leave Warren and me to settle our own affairs in our own way!' And having said this, he pushed his way through the crowd and marched straight into school.

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