Grandmother Dear Part 16

"No," said Ralph. "His aunt is young, and dresses very grandly, and I don't think she takes much notice of Prosper himself. Oh no, _you_ could do it much better than any one else, grandmother; find out all about her and what she would like--in a nice sort of way, you know."

Grandmother drew Ralph to her and kissed him. "My own dear boy," she said.

Ralph got rather red, but his eyes shone with pleasure nevertheless.

"Grandmother," he said, half shyly, "I've had a lesson about not calling fellows cads in a hurry, but all the same you won't forget about telling us the story of Uncle Jack's cad, will you?"

"What a memory you have, Ralph," said grandmother. "You're nearly as bad for stories as Molly. No, I haven't forgotten. As well as I could remember, I have written out the little story--I only wish I had had it in your uncle's own words. But such as it is, I will read it to you all this evening."

Grandmother went to her Davenport, and took out from one of the drawers some sheets of ruled paper, which she held up for Ralph to see. On the outside one he read, in grandmother's neat, clear handwriting, the words----



"I do not like thee, Doctor Fell, The reason why I cannot tell."


And grandmother of course kept her promise. That evening she read it aloud.

"They were Ryeburn boys--Ryeburn boys to their very heart's core--Jack and his younger brother Carlo, as somehow he had got to be called in the nursery, before he could say his own name plainly."

"That's uncle Charlton, who died when he was only about fifteen,"

whispered Sylvia to Ralph and Molly; "you see grandmother's written it out like a regular story--not saying 'your uncle this' or 'your uncle that,' every minute. Isn't it nice?"

Grandmother stopped to see what all the whispering was about.

"We beg your pardon, grandmother, we'll be quite quiet now," said the three apologetically.

"They had been at school at Ryeburn since they were quite little fellows, and they thought that nowhere in the world was there a place to be compared with it. Holidays at home were very delightful, no doubt, but school-days were delightful too. But for the sayings of good-byes to the dear people left at home--father and mother, big sister and little one, I think Jack and Carlo started for their return journey to school at the end of the midsummer holidays _very_ nearly as cheerfully as they had set off for home eight weeks previously, when these same delightful holidays had begun. Jack had not very many more half-years to look forward to: he was to be a soldier, and before long must leave Ryeburn in preparation for what was before him, for he was fifteen past. Carlo was only thirteen and small of his age. He _had_ known what it was to be homesick, even at Ryeburn, more than three years ago, when he had first come there. But with a big brother--above all a big brother like Jack, great strong fellow that he was, with the kindest of hearts for anything small or weak--little Carlo's preliminary troubles were soon over. And now at thirteen he was very nearly, in his way, as great a man at Ryeburn as Jack himself. Jack was by no means the cleverest boy at the school, far from it, but he did his book work fairly well, and above all honestly. He was honesty itself in everything, scorned crooked ways, or whatever he considered meanness, with the exaggerated scorn of a very young and untried character, and, like most boys of his age, was inclined, once he took up a prejudice, to carry it to all lengths.

"There was but one cloud over their return to school this special autumn that I am telling you of, and that was the absence of a favourite master--one of the younger ones--who, an unexpected piece of good luck having fallen to his share, had left Ryeburn the end of the last half.

"'I wonder what sort of a fellow we shall have instead of Wyngate,' said Jack to Carlo, as the train slackened for Ryeburn station.

"'We shan't have any one as nice, that's certain,' said Carlo, lugubriously. 'There couldn't be any one as nice, could there?'

"But their lamentations over Mr. Wyngate were forgotten when they found themselves in the midst of their companions, most of whom had already arrived. There were such a lot of things to tell and to ask; the unfortunate 'new boys' to glance at with somewhat supercilious curiosity, and the usual legendary caution as to 'chumming' with them, till it should be proved what manner of persons they were; the adventures of the holidays to retail to one's special cronies; the anticipated triumphs in cricket and football and paper-chases of the forthcoming 'half' to discuss. Jack and Carlo soon found themselves each the centre of his particular set, too busy and absorbed in the present to give much thought to the past. Only later that evening, when prayers were over and supper-time at hand, did the subject of their former teacher and his successor come up again.

"A pale, thin, rather starved-looking young man came into the schoolroom desiring them to put away their books, which they were arranging for next morning. His manner was short but ill-assured, and he spoke with a slightly peculiar accent. None of the boys seemed in any hurry to obey him.

"'Cod-faced idiot!' muttered one.

"'French frog!' said another.

"'Is that the new junior?' said Jack, looking up from the pile of books before him.

"'Yes; did you ever see such a specimen?' replied a tall boy beside him, who had arrived the day before. 'And what a fellow to come after Wyngate too.'

"'He can't help his looks,' said Jack quietly; 'perhaps he's better than they are.'

"'Hallo, here's old Berkeley going to stick up for that nice specimen Sawyer!' called out the boy, caring little apparently whether Mr. Sawyer, who had only just left the room, was still within ear-shot or not.

"Jack took it in good part.

"'I'm not 'sticking up' for him, nor 'not sticking up' for him,' he said. 'All I say is, wait a bit till you see what sort of a fellow he is himself, whatever his looks are.'

"'And most assuredly they're _not_ in his favour,' replied the tall boy.

"From this Jack could not honestly dissent; Mr. Sawyer's looks were not, in a sense, in his favour. It was not so much that he was downright ugly--perhaps that would have mattered less--but he was _poor_ looking.

He had no presence, no self-assertion, and his very anxiety to conciliate gave his manner a nervous indecision, in which the boys saw nothing but cause for ridicule. He did not understand his pupils, and still less did they understand him. But all the same he was a capital teacher, patient and painstaking to the last degree, clear-headed himself, and with a great power, when he forgot his nervousness in the interest of his subject, of making it clear to the apprehensions of those about him. In class it was impossible for the well-disposed of his pupils not to respect him, and in time he might have fought his way to more, but for one unfortunate circumstance--the unreasonable and unreasoning prejudice against him throughout the whole school.

"Now our boys--Jack and Carlo--Jack, followed by Carlo, perhaps I should say, for whatever Jack said Carlo thought right, wherever Jack led Carlo came after--to do them justice, I must say, did not at once give in to this unreasonable prejudice. Jack stuck to his resolution to judge Sawyer by what he found him to be on further acquaintance, not to fly into a dislike at first sight. And for some time nothing occurred to shake Jack's opinion that not improbably the new master was better than his looks. But Sawyer was shy and reserved; he liked Jack, and was in his heart grateful to him for his respectful and friendly behaviour, and for the good example he thereby set to his companions, only, unfortunately, the junior master was no hand at expressing his appreciation of such conduct. Unfortunately too, Jack's lessons were not his strong point, and Mr. Sawyer, for all his nervousness, was so rigorously, so scrupulously honest that he found it impossible to pass by without comment some or much of Jack's unsatisfactory work. And Jack, though so honest himself, was human, and _boy_-human, and it was not in boy-human nature to remain perfectly unaffected by the remarks called forth by the new master's frequent fault-finding.

"'It's just that you're too civil to him by half,' his companions would say. 'He's a mean sneak, and thinks he can bully you without your resenting it. _Wyngate_ would never have turned back those verses.'

"Or it would be insinuated how partial Sawyer was to little Castlefield, 'just because he's found out that Castle's father's so rich'--the truth being that little Castlefield, a delicate and precocious boy, was the cleverest pupil in the school, his tasks always faultlessly prepared, and his power of taking in what he was taught wonderfully great, though, fortunately for himself, his extreme good humour and merry nature made it impossible for his companions to dislike him or set him down as a prig.

"Jack laughed and pretended--believed indeed--that he did not care.

"'I don't want him to say my verses are good if they're not good,' he maintained stoutly. But all the same he did feel, and very acutely too, the mortification to which more than once Mr. Sawyer's uncompromising censure exposed him, little imagining that the fault-finding was far more painful to the teacher than to himself, that the short, unsympathising manner in which it was done was actually the result of the young man's tender-hearted reluctance to cause pain to another, and that other the very boy to whom of all in the school he felt himself most attracted.

"And from this want of understanding his master's real feelings towards him arose the first cloud of prejudice to dim Jack's reasonable judgment.

"Now at Ryeburn, as was in those days the case at all schools of old standing, there were legends, so established and respected that no one ever dreamed of calling them into question; there were certain customs tolerated, not to say approved of, which yet, regarded impartially, from the outside as it were, were open to objection. Among these, of which there were several, were one or two specially concerning the younger boys, which came under the junior master's direction, and of them all, none was more universally practised than the feat of what was called 'jumping the bar.' The 'bar,'--short in reality for 'barrier,'--was a railing of five or six feet high, placed so as to prevent any of the junior boys, who were late in the morning, from getting round by a short cut to the chapel, where prayers were read, the proper entrance taking them round the whole building, a matter of at least two minutes'

quick walking. Day after day the bar was 'jumped,' day after day the fact was ignored; on no boy's conscience, however sensitive, would the knowledge of his having made his way into chapel by this forbidden route have left any mark. But alas, when Mr. Sawyer came things struck him in a different light.

"I cannot go into the question of how far he was wrong and how far right.

He meant well, of that there is no doubt, but as to his judiciousness in the matter, that is another affair altogether. He had never been at a great English school before; he was conscientious to the last degree, but inexperienced. And I, being only an old woman, and never having been at school at all, do not feel myself able to give an opinion upon this or many other matters of which I, like poor Mr. Sawyer, have no experience.

I can only, children, 'tell the tale as 'twas told to me,' and not even that, for the telling to me was by an actor in the little drama, and I cannot feel, therefore, that in this case the 'tale will gain by the telling,' but very decidedly the other way.

"To return, however, to the bar-jumping--of all the boys who made a practice of it, no one did so more regularly than Carlo, 'Berkeley minor.' He was not a lazy boy in the morning; many and many a time he would have been quite soon enough in the chapel had he gone round the proper way; but it became almost a habit with him to take the nominally forbidden short cut--so much a habit that Mr. Wyngate, who was perfectly aware of it, said to him jokingly one day, that he would take it as a personal favour, if, _for once_, Carlo would gratify him by coming to chapel by the regular entrance. As for being _blamed_ for his bar-jumping, such an idea never entered Carlo's head; he would almost as soon have expected to be blamed for eating his breakfast, and, naturally enough, when Mr. Sawyer's reign began, it never occurred to him to alter his conduct. For some time things went on as usual, Mr. Sawyer either never happening to see Carlo's daily piece of gymnastics, or not understanding that it was prohibited. But something occurred at last, some joke on the subject, or some little remark from one of the other masters, which suddenly drew the new 'junior's' attention to the fact.

And two or three mornings afterwards, coming upon Carlo in the very act of bar-jumping, Mr. Sawyer ventured mildly, but in reality firmly, to remonstrate.

"'Berkeley,' he said, in his nervous, jerky fashion, 'that is not the _proper_ way from your schoolroom to chapel, is it?'

"Carlo took this remark as a good joke, after the manner of Mr. Wyngate's on the same subject.

"'No, sir,' he replied mischievously, 'I don't suppose it is.'

"'Then,' said Mr. Sawyer, stammering a very little, as he sometimes did when more nervous than usual, 'then will you oblige me for the future by coming the proper way?'

"He turned away before Carlo had time to reply, if indeed he had an answer ready, which is doubtful, for he could not make up his mind if Mr.

Sawyer was in earnest or not. But by the next morning all remembrance of the junior master's remonstrance had faded from Carlo's thoughtless brain. Again he went bar-jumping to chapel, and this time no Mr. Sawyer intercepted him. But two mornings later, just as he had successfully accomplished his jump, he perceived in front of him the thin, uncertain-looking figure of the junior master.

Chapter end

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