« IndietroContinua »
and expected wealth, his agreeable manner and dashing cleverness, soon got him friends whose rank and mode of life not only drew him off from Eustace, but led him almost to despise him, and to dread his claim to relationship.
More than that, there were certain interests of his own which he had; and though I do not mean that he intended it, still he may have been a little influenced, by the recollection of the doubtful inheritance.
He had fallen chiefly under the influence of a young baronet, Sir Walter Stapleton, whose whole idea of life was fashionable existence, and a mimicry of the manners and pursuits of men about town. He was seventeen, but an adept in many of the faults and even sins of the world.
More than once, Raymond had told him of the money and strange plan of old Cleffain, and the tale had fallen on no deaf ear, or inattentive mind. To bring about Eustace's fall was now the object of Stapleton, and he had an end in view.
"He's a poor fool," said Stapleton; "what'll he do with the money? No foxhounds, no wine, no play, all thrown away upon him; the beggar will build churches and chant masses. It's a duty, Raymond, to hinder him, I say. What a fool old Cleffain must be to dream of giving him a chance. What sort of fellow is he? a character ?"
"Well, yes; exactly. But you'll see more of him when you come home with me you know, next holydays. Then you can judge for yourself."
"But look here," said Stapleton, squeezing Raymond's elbow under his arm; up "look here, old fellow, would old Cleffain cut him off for fighting or not fighting ?" "Well," said Raymond, after a pause, "I declare I
don't know, he's so odd; I think he'd think rather better of a fellow for fighting than not."
"Well, that's strange."
"In fact, I think he'd judge according to his principles and bringing up."
"And this fellow has had a peaceful bringing up, eh ?" "Why, yes-he has-his principle, I think, would be against fighting."
"Then I've hit number one on the head at least; you know, my dear fellow, we can't do these things in a moment, it must be by slow degrees, and then your man of the world will overcome the saint."
"How ?" said Raymond, a little anxiously and uneasily, knitting his brow.
"I only mean, that we must not expect to cut him off from the old man's good opinion by one stroke or twenty, but by slow degrees; and here's number one. As far as I understand, you mean that if you stuck up and thrashed your cousin, you'd rise like mercury in the old man's thermometer, eh ?"
"I think so."
"And if he did, he'd sink to zero."
"Yes, that's what I mean."
"Exactly; very well,-then let's make him fight." "Fight! who ?"
Why, Saunders to be sure, whom should he fight ?" "Well ?"
"Well; why that done, let the old gentleman know it by accident."
"But he won't fight."
Oh, trust me. He's not without pluck, fool as he is. Now leave that to me,-only back me up well; promise, eh ?"
"Yes, only you know—"
"Oh! none of your reservations, aut Cæsar aut nullus,' no fears. 'Screw your courage to the sticking point.'"
And Raymond was silent; he did not quite see why Stapleton was so eager, nor why he was to be so bitter against his cousin.
The bell rang for school, and both moved to go in. Through the whole school a constant buzz of whispers, passing of notes, stretching behind a boy to give a dear friend a pinch or a silent tug of the hair, disturbed the peace of the odes of Horace. All this was going on in the upper row.
In the lower form things were calmer.
The notes were from Stapleton to Saunders. Thus : Note a. "I say, old fellow, you must fight him." Note b. "Don't be a bore."
"You're not afraid of him ?"
Note d. "Of whom? do be quiet, Mills will put me on."
Note e. "Who? why hypocrite to be sure, you must fight him after school."
“What is that you are passing, boys? You must give it me," said Mr. Mills.
It was note f, to this effect, from Saunders: "Do be quiet, can't you? that fool old Mills will see me through his spectacles, and the old brute will put me on, and I can't do a word."
This flattering epistle was read by Mr. Mills, with a smile indicative of something, no one knew exactly what. It was a Mills' smile.
"Go on, Saunders.'
Saunders looked like a hospital patient walking home. But there was no help for it.
"Give me your 'derivations,' there's a good fellow,
do," said Saunders, in agony, clutching at Eustace's derivations," which lay on a book beneath him.
“These are not in your hand-writing," said Mr. Mills. "Yes, sir, they are," said Saunders, doggedly.
Mr. Mills asked him three questions out of them. But Saunders knew none, half-closed his eyes, and bit his under lip.
"Write out the third book of the Eneid," said Mr. Mills, and Saunders sat down.
And now school was over, and there was the usual rush towards the door.
"A FIGHT! a fight behind school!" was the cry which now ascended on all sides. Eustace knew that he would fight with any one as far as the mere point of courage went that was not the difficulty; but he felt that he had no good cause in which to fight. He doubted, and more than doubted, its being right; and he was unwilling to commit himself to what might afterwards become a stumbling-block in his religious life.
"I am not going to fight," said Eustace; "I don't mean to fight, and I won't be forced to it."
"Vile coward!" cried two or three voices, "I knew what it would end in; that is your high principle."
"Poor fool!" said Wollaston, in a whining tone of mock indignation.
But matters were becoming formidable- the boys were excited-a fight was not the sort of entertainment
that they would be disappointed in. Eustace's character too was just now not popular in the school; he laboured under false impressions among the boys. His conduct about the bedroom had been of course mistaken, and his previous transactions had not been consistent with the tastes of the boys. Things seemed reaching a culminating point.
It is a matter of no small interest what makes a schoolboy popular, but it is hard to decide.
The boys were not going to be balked of their fun; the iron gates were closed-Burke and Walhouse held them; the whole school recoiled from the gates: Ovids, Tacituses, Exempla majora, Musæ Græcæ-little inky, dirty, grey masses sticking under boys' arms or in their hands, were the only badges of the great army. The form or the remove of each might be known by his books; they were its insignia, and recognised by any master in a moment who glanced over the multitude. A little fellow came up innocently to the gate, and stood waiting
till it should open; but no "sesame" came to his lips
and he waited in vain.
"What do you want ?" said Walhouse.
"To go home," said the child.
The child called Evans' house "home." The answer was practical and useful; the impression lasting. The boy felt himself suddenly caught up into mid-air by a vigorous hand, which was planted mid-way between the back buttons of the braces, and having enjoyed the sensation of sea-sickness for a moment or two, he found himself, like young Edward at Tewkesbury, "sprawling" in mid-yard, his Ovid's Epistles flying over his head, and he endeavouring in vain to ascertain the proximate or moral cause of his sudden evolution.
But the fact was the magnates had determined on