Grandmother Dear Part 17

"'Berkeley,' he said gravely, 'have you forgotten what I said to you two or three days ago?'

"Carlo stared. The fact of the matter was that he _had_ forgotten, but as his remembering would have made no difference, considering that he had never had the slightest intention of taking any notice of Mr. Sawyer's prohibition, his instinctive honesty forbade his giving his want of memory as an excuse.

"'No,' he replied, 'at least I don't know if I did or not. But I have always come this way--lots of us do--and no one ever says anything.'

"'But _I_ say something now,' said Mr. Sawyer, more decidedly than he had ever been known to speak, 'and that is to forbid your coming this way.

And I expect to be obeyed.'

"Carlo made no reply. This time there was no mistaking Mr. Sawyer's meaning. It was mortifying to have to give in to the 'mean little sneak,'

as Carlo mentally called the new master; still, as next morning he happened to be in particularly good time he went round the proper way.

The day after, however, he was late, decidedly late for once, and, throwing to the winds all consideration for Mr. Sawyer or his orders, Carlo jumped the bar and made his appearance in time for prayers. He had not known that he was observed, but coming out of chapel Mr. Sawyer called him aside.

"'Berkeley,' he said, 'you have disobeyed me again. If this happens once more I shall be obliged to report you.'

"Carlo stared at him in blank amazement.

"'Report me?' he said. Such a threat had never been held out to either him or Jack through all their Ryeburn career. They looked upon it as next worst to being expelled. For reporting in Ryeburn parlance meant a formal complaint to the head-master, when a boy had been convicted of aggravated disobedience to the juniors. And its results were very severe; it entirely prevented a boy's in any way distinguishing himself during the half-year: however hard a 'reported' boy might work, he could gain no prize that term. So no wonder that poor Carlo repeated in amazement,

"'_Report_ me?'

"'Yes,' said Sawyer. 'I don't want to do it, but if you continue to disobey me, I must,' and he turned away.

"Off went Carlo to his cronies with his tale of wrongs. The general indignation was extreme.

"'I'd like to see him dare to do such a thing,' said one.

"'I'd risk it, Berkeley, if I were you,' said another. 'Anything rather than give in to such a cowardly sneak.'

"In the midst of the discussion up came Jack, to whom, with plenty of forcible language, his brother's woes were related. Jack's first impulse was to discredit the sincerity of Mr. Sawyer's intention.

"He'd never _dare_ do such a thing as report you for nothing worse than bar-jumping,' he exclaimed.

"But Carlo shook his head.

"'He's mean enough for anything,' he replied. 'I believe he'll do it fast enough if ever he catches me bar-jumping again.'

"'Well, you'll have to give it up then,' said Jack. 'It's no use hurting yourself to spite him,' and as Carlo made no reply, the elder brother went away, satisfied that his, it must be confessed, not very exalted line of argument, had had the desired effect.

"But Carlo's silence did _not_ mean either consent or assent. When Jack had left them the younger boys talked the whole affair over again in their own fashion and according to their own lights--the result being that the following morning, with the aggravation of a whoop and a cry, Carlo defiantly jumped the bar on his way to chapel for prayers.

"When Jack came to hear of it, as he speedily did, he was at first very angry, then genuinely distressed.

"'You will only get what you deserve if he does report you,' he said to Carlo in his vexation, and when Carlo replied that he didn't see that he need give up what he had always done 'for a cad like that,' Jack retorted that if he thought Sawyer a cad he should have acted accordingly, and not trusted to _his_ good feeling or good nature. But in his heart of hearts Jack did not believe the threat would be carried out, and, unknown to Carlo, he did for his brother what he would never have done for himself.

As soon as morning school was over he went to Mr. Sawyer to beg him to reconsider his intention, explaining to the best of his ability the extenuating circumstances of the case--the tacit indulgence so long accorded to the boys, Carlo's innocence, in the first place, of any intentional disobedience.

"Mr. Sawyer heard him patiently; whether his arguments would have had any effect, Jack, at that time at least, had not the satisfaction of knowing, for when he left off speaking Mr. Sawyer replied quietly,

"'I am very sorry to seem severe to your brother, Berkeley, but what I have done I believed to be my duty. I have _already_ reported him.'

"Jack turned on his heel and left the room without speaking. Only as he crossed the threshold one word of unutterable contempt fell from between his teeth. '_Cad_,' he muttered, careless whether Sawyer heard him or not.

"And from that moment Jack's championship of the obnoxious master was over; and throughout the school he was never spoken of among the boys, big and little, but as 'that cad Sawyer.'

"Though, after all, the 'reporting' turned out less terrible than was expected. How it was managed I cannot exactly say, but Carlo was let off with a reprimand, and new and rigorous orders were issued against 'bar-jumping' under any excuse whatever.

"I think it probable that the 'authorities' privately pointed out to Mr. Sawyer that there might be such a thing as over-much zeal in the discharge of his duties, and if so I have no doubt he took it in good part. For it was not zeal which actuated him--it was simple conscientiousness, misdirected perhaps by his inexperience. He could not endure hurting any one or anything, and probably his very knowledge of his weakness made him afraid of himself. Be that as it may, no one concerned rejoiced more heartily than he at Carlo's acquittal.

"But it was too late--the mischief was done. Day by day the exaggerated prejudice and suspicion with which he was regarded became more apparent.

Yet he did not resent it--he worked on, hoping that in time it might be overcome, for he yearned to be liked and trusted, and his motives for wishing to do well at Ryeburn were very strong ones.

"And gradually, as time went on, things improved a little. Now and then the better-disposed of the boys felt ashamed of the tacit disrespect with which one so enduring and inoffensive was treated; and among these better-disposed I need hardly say was our Jack.

"It was the end of October. But a few days were wanting to the anniversary so dear to schoolboy hearts--that of Gunpowder Plot. This year the fifth of November celebration was to be of more than ordinary magnificence, for it was the last at which several of the elder boys, among them Jack, could hope to be present. Fireworks committees were formed and treasurers appointed, and nothing else was spoken of but the sums collected and promised, and the apportionment thereof in Catherine wheels, Chinese dragons, and so on. Jack was one of the treasurers. He had been very successful so far, but the sum total on which he and his companions had set their hearts was still unattained. The elder boys held a committee meeting one day to consider ways and means, and the names of all the subscribers were read out.

"'We _should_ manage two pounds more; we'd do then,' said one boy.

"'Are you sure everybody's been asked?' said another, running his eye down the lists. 'Bless me, Sawyer's not in,' he added, looking up inquiringly.

"'No one would ask him,' said the first boy, shrugging his shoulders.

"A sudden thought struck Jack.

"'I'll tell you what, _I'll_ do it,' he said, 'and, between ourselves, I shouldn't much wonder if he comes down handsomely. He's been very civil of late--I rather think he'd be glad of an opportunity to do something obliging to make up for that mean trick of his about Carlo, and what's more,' he added mysteriously, 'I happen to know he's by no means short of funds just now.'

"They teased him to say more, but not another word on the subject could be got out of Jack. What he knew was this--that very morning when the letters came, he had happened to be standing beside Mr. Sawyer, who, with an eager face, opened one that was handed to him. He was nervous as usual, more nervous than usual probably, and perhaps his hands were shaking, for as he drew his letter hastily out of the envelope, something fluttered to the ground at Jack's feet.

"It was a cheque for twenty pounds, and conspicuous on the lowest line was the signature of a well-known publishing firm. Instinctively Jack stooped to pick it up and handed it to its owner--it had been impossible for him not to see what he did, but he had thought no more about it, beyond a passing wonder in his own mind, as to 'what on earth Sawyer got to write about,' and had forgotten all about it till the meeting of the fireworks committee recalled it to his memory.

"But it was with a feeling of pleasant expectancy, not unmixed with some consciousness of his own magnanimity in 'giving old Sawyer a chance again,' that Jack made his way to the junior master's quarters, the list of subscribers in his hand.

"He made a pleasant picture, as, in answer to the 'come in' which followed his knock at the door, he opened it and stood on the threshold of Mr. Sawyer's room--his bright, honest, blue-eyed, fair-haired 'English boy' face smiling in through the doorway. With almost painful eagerness the junior master bade him welcome; he liked Jack so much, and would so have rejoiced could the attraction have been mutual. And this was the first time that Jack had voluntarily sought Mr. Sawyer in his own quarters since the bar-jumping affair. Mr. Sawyer's spirits rose at the sight of him, and hope again entered his heart--hope that after all, his position at Ryeburn, which he was beginning to fear it was nonsense to attempt to retain, in face of the evident dislike to him, might yet alter for the better.

"'I have not a good way with them--that must be it,' he had said to himself sadly that very morning. 'I never knew what it was to be a boy myself, and therefore I suppose I don't understand boys. But if they could but see into my heart and read there how earnestly I wish to do my best by them, surely we could get on better together.'

"'Well, Berkeley--glad to see you--what can I do for you?' said Sawyer, with a little nervous attempt at off-hand friendliness of manner, in itself infinitely touching to any one with eyes to take in the whole situation and judge it and him accordingly. But those eyes are not ours in early life, more especially in _boy_-life. We must have our powers of mental vision quickened and cleared by the magic dew of sad experience--experience which alone can give sympathy worth having, ere we can understand the queer bits of pathos we constantly stumble upon in life, ere we can begin to judge our fellows with the large-hearted charity that alone can illumine the glass through which for so long we see so _very_ 'darkly.'

"'I have come to ask you for a subscription for the fifth of November fireworks, Mr. Sawyer,' said Jack, plunging, as was his habit, right into the middle of things, with no beating about the bush. 'We've asked all the other masters, and every one in the school has subscribed, and I was to tell you, sir, from the committee that they'll be very much obliged by a subscription--and--and I really think they'll all be particularly pleased if you can give us something handsome.'

"The message was civil, but hardly perhaps, coming from pupils to a master, 'of the most respectful,' as French people say. But poor Sawyer understood it--in some respects his perceptions were almost abnormally sharp; he read between the lines of Jack's rough-and-ready, boy-like manner, and understood perfectly that here was a chance for him--a chance in a thousand, of gaining some degree of the popularity he had hitherto so unfortunately failed to obtain. And to the bottom of his heart he felt grateful to Berkeley--but alas!

"He grew crimson with vexation.

"'I am dreadfully sorry, Berkeley,' he said, 'dreadfully sorry that I cannot respond as I would like to your request. At this moment unfortunately, I am very peculiarly out of pocket. Stay,'--with a momentary gleam of hope, 'will you let me see the subscription list.

How--how much do you think would please the boys?'

"'A guinea wouldn't be--would please them very much, and of course two would be still better,' said Jack drily. Already he had in his own mind pronounced a final verdict upon Mr. Sawyer, already he had begun to tell himself what a fool he had been for having anything more to do with him, but yet, with the British instinct of giving an accused man a fair chance, he waited till all hope was over.

"'A guinea, two guineas?' repeated Mr. Sawyer sadly. 'It is perfectly impossible;' and he shook his head regretfully but decidedly.

'Half-a-crown, or five shillings perhaps, if you would take it,' he added hesitatingly, but stopped short on catching sight of the hard, contemptuous expression that overspread Jack's face, but a moment ago so sunny.

Chapter end

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