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   Chapter 7 No.7

That Scholarship Boy By Emma Leslie Characters: 23436

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


News for Mrs. Morrison.

'Oh dear, how late you are for luncheon! it always happens so, if I want you to come home early!'

'Can't help it, my dear,' said Dr. Morrison, as he began to take off his coat.

But his wife was too impatient to let him do it this time. 'Come in here while they put luncheon on the table,' she said, and she drew him into the little room. 'I have had a letter. Guess who it is from.'

But Dr. Morrison shook his head. 'I am too hungry to guess anything,' he said. 'Is it from the man in the moon?'

'Almost as wonderful,' said the lady. 'It is from Dick, dear old Dick! I feel ready to jump for joy.'

The doctor stood still and looked at his wife in blank amazement. 'From Dick? your brother Dick?' he said at last.

'Oh dear, don't speak like that, as though the poor fellow had ever done anything wicked! I have heard you say many times that he was only weak, not wicked.'

'Yes, yes, I know he is only weak; only too ready to say "Yes," and be led into mischief, when he ought to say "No," and stand to it. Think what his easy-going ways have cost us.'

'No, no, I can't think of that now,' interrupted the lady. 'I can only remember that he is my only brother, and I want you to take me to him at once. I have not seen him for five years,' she added, 'and he begs that you will go to him at once, because he has a friend with him who needs your attention at once. He says he met with him out in the wilds of Australia, and he has been the best friend he ever had-that this Mr. Howard has saved him body and soul. But he has fallen ill, through disappointment at not receiving a letter from his wife as soon as he landed. That he has not heard from her for years, because he had to leave England in a hurry, a great many years ago.'

'Why, that might be written of Dick himself,' said the doctor, with a smile. '"Birds of a feather," you know the old proverb!'

'Oh, but Dick must have altered, I am sure, for he says that he and Mr. Howard have both worked very hard, and made a moderate fortune, or they would not have come home to England again. That is not like the old Dick, is it?'

'No, my dear, for he generally let other people do the hard work, while he dreamed of what he would like to do. But now let me see this letter.'

'Luncheon is served, ma'am,' said the housemaid, tapping at the door at this moment.

The doctor and his wife were to have the meal alone to-day, and so the servant's service was dispensed with, that they might discuss this wonderful letter, for wonderful it was, even the doctor had to confess, when he had read it.

There was far more about his friend, whose wife and family he was anxious to find, than there was about the writer himself; but the most interesting piece of information was in the postscript.

'My friend has just heard that his wife went to live in the neighbourhood of your town. Can you make inquiries? She has two sons, Frederick and Horace. The latter would be about thirteen, I think.'

The doctor dropped the letter and gazed at his wife. 'I wonder whether it is the father of that scholarship boy!' he almost gasped.

'What scholarship boy?' asked Mrs. Morrison impatiently.

'Why, the one that was sent from the board school to Torrington's. His father was entered as a traveller, I believe, and he was said to be abroad. My dear, put your things on, and we will drive round and see this Mrs. Howard. She lives at that old-fashioned cottage just outside the town.'

'Oh, but I want to go and see Dick!' said the lady.

'And we will go, if possible; but I shall have to see Warren first, and we must do as Dick wishes, and inquire for his friend's wife before we go.'

Dr. Morrison was not a man to let the grass grow under his feet, and so the carriage was ordered at once, and in half an hour they were on their way to the cottage.

A very few words convinced the doctor that he had found the lady he was seeking; and when she had read all that was said about her husband she readily agreed to go with the doctor and Mrs. Morrison to London. While the doctor went to his friend Warren, she wrote a letter explaining something of what had happened, and that she was going with Dr. Morrison to London. This she sent by a messenger to Fred at his work, asking him to tell Horace something of what had occurred, and also to meet his brother when he came home to tea.

Fred was not a little puzzled when he received this letter, but he asked to be allowed to leave a little earlier, and so managed to reach home just as Horace appeared at the bend of the lane.

'I tried to get here before you, but you were too quick for me,' he said, when his brother rushed in at the garden gate.

'Where's mother?' asked Horace, when he saw Fred take the street-door key from his pocket.

'Come indoors, and I'll tell you all I know. Let me light the fire first,' he added. Fred had learned to be very handy about the house, and he soon had the fire blazing under the kettle; and while it boiled he told Horace that a letter had been sent to him early in the afternoon from his mother, saying that she had just received news of his father, who was ill in London. 'Dr. Morrison came and told her all about it, and he has gone to London with her.'

'Dr. Morrison!' repeated Horace. 'Why, Morrison is in my class at school; and the doctor is his father, I know.'

'What sort of a fellow is young Morrison?' asked Fred. He was handing cups and saucers to Horace, who was setting them ready for tea.

'Oh, Morrison is all right,' said Horace, who was clattering the cups and saucers; for he did not want to discuss his school troubles with his brother. 'I don't see much of him, because he likes to go with the bigger boys. I say, Fred, do you remember our father?' said Horace; 'he's been gone away such a long time. We used to have a nice house and servants when he stayed at home with us, didn't we?'

'Then you remember him, Horry?' said Fred.

But Horace shook his head. 'No, I don't remember a bit about him, only that we had a nice house a long time ago.'

'Well, I only remember a little,' said Fred. 'But I know he was a tall gentleman, and I think he was a doctor. He went away to travel, I have heard mother say, and she thought he must be dead until Dr. Morrison came this afternoon. I have brought home some sausages,' announced Fred, who wanted to change the conversation.

He knew so little and remembered so little about his father and those former days; but as he had grown older he had grown angry that his father should leave his mother as he had, without cause-so far as Fred knew-and without explanation, he had heard, and simply gone abroad to travel, leaving them to battle with poverty as they could.

As time went on he had spoken less and less of his father, but he had become certain that there must have been some cause for his father's disappearance, though his mother might not know it; but in his own mind there was a lurking fear that some disgrace might lie hidden below the long silence. And so, as soon as tea was over, he said-

'I am going out to get some things for breakfast.'

So Horace was left to the comfort of his books and the study of his lessons.

When Leonard reached home that same afternoon, Florence met him with the information that father and mother had both gone out, and Mary the housemaid did not know what time they would be home.

'Where have they gone?' asked Leonard, for it was a rare occurrence for both to be away at the same time.

Florence shook her head. 'Mary says that James was sent with a letter to Mr. Warren, and so I should think father had asked him to look after some of his patients.'

'Very likely,' answered her brother; and then he took his satchel to the little room where lessons were studied and sat down to think.

He did not know whether he was glad or sorry to hear that his father had gone out. As he came along he had made up his mind that it would be impossible to get bottles from his father's dispensing-room, for he was never allowed to go there, and it was just possible that his father had locked the door before going out, in which case he could tell Taylor that it was impossible to get the chemicals for him, and there would be an end of it.

But, although he said this, he knew there would not be an end of it, and if he refused at last to get what was wanted, he would be sent to Coventry, at least by those whose society he desired.

So after washing his hands before going to tea he went to the dispensing-room, to find out whether the door could be opened, and found that it yielded at once. He went in and closed the door, lest one of the servants should come that way and see him, when they would be sure to remind him that he was not allowed to go there.

After closing the door he looked round to see what he could find, and there by the sink was a row of glass-stoppered bottles, evidently filled with water for washing them. He selected two that he thought would hold about half a pint each, and pouring out the water he took them to the study and hid them in a corner out of sight, in case Florence should decide to do her lessons with him this evening.

But it seemed as though everything was to favour him in what he knew was wrong-doing. His sister told him at tea-time that she must do her lessons in her own room, for she had an extra piece of history to study, as she was working for the history prize to be given at Christmas.

'Oh, all right,' said Leonard, with his mouth full of bread and jam. 'It's all a girl can do, I suppose, get a prize now and then.'

'You can't do that if you are a boy!' retorted Florence; and then there was a little more sparring and wrangling, until the housemaid appeared to clear the table. Florence went upstairs to her lesson then, and Leonard sauntered off to the little study and lighted the gas, for it was getting dusk.

When the gas was lighted he went to look at his bottles, and then saw in the corner, near where he had hidden them, an old leather bag of his father's. He remembered now that he had been told he might have it for his books when the satchel was worn out; and he decided to take it at once. 'This is good fortune indeed! Taylor says he'll take care nobody finds out, if I only get the stuff there. Taylor is a smart fellow, and so is his father, or he could not have made a big fortune in a year or two, as Taylor says he did. My dad won't make one in a life-time, I'm afraid, and I shall just have to go plodding on at hard work, unless I can learn a thing or two from Taylor by-and-by.'

While he had been speaking to himself he had been wrapping each bottle up separately in a piece of old newspaper and putting them into the bag. Then he took the written paper given him by Taylor and the half-sovereign, and decided to go at once and get his bottles filled. He must tell the chemist to seal the stoppers down securely, or there would be such a smell from the bag that it would betray them before it could be got into 'the stinkery' at school. He put a book in the bag as well as the bottles, so that if his sister should discover that he had been out, he could say he had been to borrow a book from one of his schoolfellows.

He went out by the back gate, for he did not want anyone to know he was going if he could help it, and Florence might hear him shut the front door. He knew where to go, and as he brought his father's private bottles and half-a-sovereign to pay for what he had, the chemist served him without demur. He wondered a little what the doctor could want the chemicals for, but reflected that as Leonard was old enough to sign his poison-book in the

regular way, and as Mr. Morrison was a well-known practitioner in the town, there could be no harm done in letting him have what he wanted.

So Leonard walked home in triumph with the bottles securely wrapped up in the bag. On his way back he met Taylor walking arm-in-arm with Curtis, and both smoking cigarettes.

'Hullo, little Morrison!' he said in a patronising tone, as Leonard stopped them, for they would have passed without noticing him.

'This is a piece of luck!' exclaimed the boy. 'You can take the bag now, Taylor. The bottles and stuff are in it safe enough.'

'What bottles? What stuff?' he said, stepping back a pace, as if the proffered bag would bite him.

'You know what it is,' said Leonard in a tone of surprise.

'Oh no, I don't! I know nothing until you bring me the stuff I told you about. Ta-ta! little Morrison. Don't forget the bag in the morning;' and the 'cock of the walk' and his friend went on their way laughing, leaving the boy transfixed with anger and amazement. His first thought was that he would go and throw the bottles in the canal just as they were, give Taylor the change out of the half-sovereign, and tell him where he would find the bottles if he wanted them. He went so far as to walk down the canal road, but his courage evaporated before he had gone any distance, and although he was still very angry over the treatment he had received from his chosen friend, he turned his steps homeward, still carrying the bottles, but half decided that he would not take them to Taylor in the morning.

As he was going in at the back gate one of the servants met him.

'Dear me, Mr. Leonard! how you made me jump! There's a telegram come for you, and Miss Florence has been hunting all over the house to find you, for the boy said he was to wait for an answer.'

The importance of having a telegram sent to him soothed Leonard's ruffled feelings, and he hurried in to find his sister and learn what the message could be. 'Mother and I cannot come home to-night-coming to-morrow.' This was what the mysterious yellow envelope contained by way of a message, and Leonard read it with Florence looking over his shoulder.

'There's no answer to go back,' said Leonard, when he saw Mary looking at him. 'Go and tell the boy Father has just sent to say that he is not coming home to-night;' and then he went and carried the bag to the little room, leaving Florence to read the telegram over for her own satisfaction-as if that would give her any more information.

She followed her brother to the study and said, 'Where do you think they have gone, Len?'

'How can I tell? I never heard of a rich uncle, did you?'

His sister shook her head. 'Daddy was an only son, I know,' she said. 'But I think mother had a brother.'

'Was he a millionaire?' asked Leonard.

'He was a doctor, which is quite as good, I am sure, for that is--'

'Flo, you're a duffer,' interrupted her brother. 'There's nothing like millionaires in these days, and so I hope this uncle, whoever he may be, has made his pile, and will leave it all to us.'

'But you don't know it is an uncle they have gone to see. Father had friends in London, and this telegram came from Westminster, and I know that is in London.'

'Well, we shall hear all about it when they come, I dare say. Now run away, little girl, for I want to get on with my lessons, now I have got the book I wanted.'

'Oh, that was what you wanted! You boys are so careless. It is a good job you can borrow of each other;' and Florence went away, leaving Leonard to do his lessons or reflect upon the strange events of the evening.

After a few angry thoughts concerning Taylor and his behaviour towards him that evening, he began wondering once more whether it was an uncle his parents had gone to see, and then whether he was rich, and would make them wealthy too. He had never thought so much of money and what it could do for its possessor until lately, but Taylor and Curtis both belonged to wealthy families, and he thought of what they could do. He called to mind the half-sovereign and the cigarettes he had seen them smoking, and he had no doubt they were going to a famous billiard-room in the town. Billiards, cigars, and half-sovereigns made up an entrancing picture to the boy, and he sat and dreamed of these things, and wished he had plenty of money, until half the evening was gone; and although he declined to go to bed at the usual hour, he only half knew his lessons when he did go.

The next morning he started for school in good time, for fear he should miss Taylor, and be compelled to have those bottles on his mind all the morning. But Taylor was looking out for him at the corner of the road where they usually met. He was in a different mood this morning, and flattered and praised the lad for having got the chemicals without anyone finding out what he had done.

'You carry the bag to the gate, and I'll take it of you there, and no one will ever see those bottles again, I can promise you.'

'But how are you going to manage?' asked Leonard.

'Oh, I have made my plans! I have to work in "the stinkery" this morning, so the thing will be easy enough when I have once got your bottles up in the "lab.," and they'll go in my pockets for me to take them up there. Oh, never fear! we shall get rid of that board school beggar this time, for Skeats is awfully particular about his stuff, and he'll never forgive him for using chemicals like these away from "the stinkery." I know where to put them till I want them, so you can give them to me in a minute, and I will put them into the pockets of this dust-coat I am carrying; I brought it with me on purpose.'

Leonard breathed a sigh of relief when the bottles were safely transferred from the bag to the inside pockets of the fashionable coat.

'If the stopper should come out of that bottle of sulphuric acid, your coat won't be worth much,' he said, as Taylor swung the coat over his arm.

'The stoppers are all right, I can see,' he said; but still he carried the coat carefully, and went at once to hang it up when he got to the school.

The laboratory had been built at a later date than the main body of the school, and was reached by a flight of steps from the playground. The room below it was used for coats and hats and other impedimenta the boys might bring with them, each boy having his own peg and place on the shelf for bag or lunch basket. They passed through this room on their way to the laboratory, and so it would be easy for Taylor to take down his coat, and carry it up with him when he went for his practical chemistry lesson, and he did this without any notice being aroused among the other boys.

At twelve o'clock, when school was over, the science master went to the playground to look for Howard, who was eating his sandwiches as he walked up and down. 'You won't be long before you go up to the laboratory, I suppose, Howard?' he said, when he saw the lad.

'No, sir, I'm going in a minute,' said the boy.

'I have left three boys there finishing their work. Just see they leave their things all right, when you go in.'

Horace frequently performed such small services for the science master, and readily promised to do this. But just as Mr. Skeats turned away, Warren came up, and the two stood talking for two or three minutes before Howard went to the laboratory. He ran up the steps, and was surprised to find the door closed, but not locked, as boys usually locked it when they were left to do some work after school hours. When he opened the door, he was struck by the peculiar smell of almonds that pervaded the place. He closed the door, but did not lock it. 'I say, what have you fellows been using?' he said, as he went to the further end of the room. There lay one boy stretched out on the floor near a bench, and close to another lay a second. He tried to rouse the one nearest to him, and then seized him by the legs and dragged him across the room out on to the landing. There he shouted 'Help! help!' and ran back to pull out the others, for he knew the deadly nature of that almond-like smell. He managed to get another to the door, where he would get fresh air, and then returned for the third. He found him lying near 'the stinkery,' and thought he would open that door, for the better ventilation of the outer room; but as he passed his own bench, which stood near, he was overpowered by the fumes pouring out of a flask standing there, from which acid also was boiling over on to the bench and floor. He reeled, and before he could reach the door fell insensible to the ground, one hand falling helplessly into the pool of burning liquid there. But by this time the fresh air had revived the first boy he had dragged out, and he called to a lad in the playground.

'What's the row?' said Warren-for it happened to be that young gentleman. 'Oh, what a stink!' he said the next minute, and putting his head in, he saw Howard and the other lad lying on the floor at the further end of the room. He knew that the fumes were dangerous, and stuffing his pocket-handkerchief into his mouth and up his nostrils, he dashed in and tried to drag both boys at once to the door, but had to drop one just as Mr. Skeats rushed up. He picked up Horace, and carried him down, and then sent for the head master and other lads to carry out those who, although somewhat revived, were still lying on the landing at the top of the steps.

'You must have a doctor, sir,' said Warren, pushing his way through the crowd of boys who had gathered round to know what was the matter.

'Yes, yes,' said the master; and Warren rushed off to the gate and ran hastily down the road. He knew his father was often in the neighbourhood about that time of the day, and, to his great joy, he saw him driving in his gig. The boy ran and shouted, and speedily attracted the doctor's attention when his son shouted, 'Something wrong in the "lab!"'

He ran into the playground, and there half-a-dozen voices called, 'They have carried them all to the master's house.'

Here he found two of the boys well-nigh recovered, but the third one was still unconscious, and Horace seemed even worse. His hand and arms were badly burned with the acid, and there were splashes of it on his face.

The masters were doing what they could to get the deadly poison out of his lungs, but it seemed as though Horace and the third lad had inhaled so much of the gas that all their efforts were in vain. The doctor looked grave when Mr. Skeats told him the boys had been breathing hydro-cyanic acid gas. The application of artificial respiration was redoubled, but it was not until nearly four o'clock that Horace began to revive, and what Leonard felt during those awful hours of suspense could be better imagined than described! The laboratory had been locked up, as soon as it was known what had happened, so that the affair might be inquired into. No boy was allowed to go home either, although Taylor had complained of being very ill, and had wanted to leave early.

Not until it was known that Horace was out of all immediate danger was there a word spoken, and then Dr. Mason said, 'I am ready to hear any explanation that you may wish to give me as to the cause of what has happened. I have heard all about the attendant circumstances and the rescue of these lads. What I want to know is, who caused the disaster?'

Not a sound broke the silence of the school when the doctor had said this. Leonard was ready to tell of his share in the affair, but as he glanced at Taylor he received such a look of warning as made him cower in his seat, and the school broke up wondering what would happen next.

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