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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWe And The World: A Book For Boys - Part 1 - Chapter 10
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We And The World: A Book For Boys - Part 1 - Chapter 10 Post by :tinabarr4 Category :Long Stories Author :Juliana Horatia Ewing Date :May 2012 Read :1481

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We And The World: A Book For Boys - Part 1 - Chapter 10

PART I CHAPTER X

"But none inquired how Peter used the rope,
Or what the bruise that made the stripling stoop;
None could the ridges on his back behold,
None sought him shiv'ring in the winter's cold.
* * * * *
The pitying women raised a clamour round."
CRABBE, _The Borough_.


A great many people say that all suffering is good for one, and I am sure pain does improve one very often, and in many ways. It teaches one sympathy, it softens and it strengthens. But I cannot help thinking that there are some evil experiences which only harden and stain. The best I can say for what we endured at Crayshaw's is that it _was experience, and so I suppose could not fail to teach one something, which, as Jem says, was "more than Snuffy did."

The affection with which I have heard men speak of their school-days and school-masters makes me know that Mr. Crayshaw was not a common type of pedagogue. He was not a common type of man, happily; but I have met other specimens in other parts of the world in which his leading quality was as fully developed, though their lives had nothing in common with his except the opportunities of irresponsible power.

The old wounds are scars now, it is long past and over, and I am grown up, and have roughed it in the world; but I say quite deliberately that I believe that Mr. Crayshaw was not merely a harsh man, uncultured and inconsiderate, having need and greed of money, taking pupils cheap, teaching them little or nothing, and keeping a kind of rough order with too much flogging,--but that the mischief of him was that he was possessed by a passion (not the less fierce because it was unnatural) which grew with indulgence and opportunity, as other passions grow, and that this was a passion for cruelty.

One does not rough it long in this wicked world without seeing more cruelty both towards human beings and towards animals than one cares to think about; but a large proportion of common cruelty comes of ignorance, bad tradition and uncultured sympathies. Some painful outbreaks of inhumanity, where one would least expect it, are no doubt strictly to be accounted for by disease. But over and above these common and these exceptional instances, one cannot escape the conviction that irresponsible power is opportunity in all hands and a direct temptation in some to cruelty, and that it affords horrible development to those morbid cases in which cruelty becomes a passion.

That there should ever come a thirst for blood in men as well as tigers, is bad enough but conceivable when linked with deadly struggle, or at the wild dictates of revenge. But a lust for cruelty growing fiercer by secret and unchecked indulgence, a hideous pleasure in seeing and inflicting pain, seems so inhuman a passion that we shrink from acknowledging that this is ever so.

And if it belonged to the past alone, to barbarous despotisms or to savage life, one might wisely forget it; for the dark pages of human history are unwholesome as well as unpleasant reading, unless the mind be very sane in a body very sound. But those in whose hands lie the destinies of the young and of the beasts who serve and love us, of the weak, the friendless, the sick and the insane, have not, alas! this excuse for ignoring the black records of man's abuse of power!

The records of its abuse in the savage who loads women's slender shoulders with his burdens, leaves his sick to the wayside jackal, and knocks his aged father on the head when he is past work; the brutality of slave-drivers, the iniquities of vice-maddened Eastern despots;--such things those who never have to deal with them may afford to forget.

But men who act for those who have no natural protectors, or have lost the power of protecting themselves, who legislate for those who have no voice in the making of laws, and for the brute creation, which we win to our love and domesticate for our convenience; who apprentice pauper boys and girls, who meddle with the matters of weak women, sick persons, and young children, are bound to face a far sadder issue. That even in these days, when human love again and again proves itself not only stronger than death, but stronger than all the selfish hopes of life; when the everyday manners of everyday men are concessions of courtesy to those who have not the strength to claim it; when children and pet animals are spoiled to grotesqueness; when the good deeds of priest and physician, nurse and teacher, surpass all earthly record of them--man, as man, is no more to be trusted with unchecked power than hitherto.

The secret histories of households, where power should be safest in the hands of love; of hospitals, of schools, of orphanages, of poorhouses, of lunatic-asylums, of religious communities founded for GOD'S worship and man's pity, of institutions which assume the sacred title as well as the responsibilities of Home--from the single guardian of some rural idiot to the great society which bears the blessed Name of Jesus--have not each and all their dark stories, their hushed-up scandals, to prove how dire is the need of public opinion without, and of righteous care within, that what is well begun should be well continued?

If any one doubts this, let him pause on each instance, one by one, and think of what he has seen, and heard, and read, and known of; and he will surely come to the conviction that human nature cannot, even in the very service of charity, be safely trusted with the secret exercise of irresponsible power, and that no light can be too fierce to beat upon and purify every spot where the weak are committed to the tender mercies of the consciences of the strong.

Mr. Crayshaw's conscience was not a tender one, and very little light came into his out-of-the-way establishment, and no check whatever upon his cruelty. It had various effects on the different boys. It killed one in my day, and the doctor (who had been "in a difficulty" some years back, over a matter through which Mr. Crayshaw helped him with bail and testimony) certified to heart disease, and we all had our pocket-handkerchiefs washed, and went to the funeral. And Snuffy had cards printed with a black edge, and several angels and a broken lily, and the hymn--


"Death has been here and borne away
A brother from our side;
Just in the morning of his day,
As young as we he died."


--and sent them to all the parents. But the pupils had to pay for the stamps. And my dear mother cried dreadfully, first because she was so sorry for the boy, and secondly because she ever had felt uncharitably towards Mr. Crayshaw.

Crayshaw's cruelty crushed others, it made liars and sneaks of boys naturally honest, and it produced in Lorraine an unchildlike despair that was almost grand, so far was the spirit above the flesh in him. But I think its commonest and strangest result was to make the boys bully each other.

One of the least cruel of the tyrannies the big boys put upon the little ones, sometimes bore very hardly on those who were not strong. They used to ride races on our backs and have desperate mounted battles and tournaments. In many a playground and home since then I have seen boys tilt and race, and steeplechase, with smaller boys upon their backs, and plenty of wholesome rough-and-tumble in the game; and it has given me a twinge of heartache to think how, even when we were at play, Crayshaw's baneful spirit cursed us with its example, so that the big and strong could not be happy except at the expense of the little and weak.

For it was the big ones who rode the little ones, with neatly-cut ash-sticks and clumsy spurs. I can see them now, with the thin legs of the small boys tottering under them, like a young donkey overridden by a coal-heaver.

I was a favourite horse, for I was active and nimble, and (which was more to the point) well made. It was the shambling, ill-proportioned lads who suffered most. The biggest boy in school rode me, as a rule, but he was not at all a bad bully, so I was lucky. He never spurred me, and he boasted of my willingness and good paces. I am sure he did not know, I don't suppose he ever stopped to think, how bad it was for me, or what an aching lump of prostration I felt when it was over. The day I fainted after winning a steeplechase, he turned a bucket of cold water over me, and as this roused me into a tingling vitality of pain, he was quite proud of his treatment, and told me nothing brought a really good horse round after a hard day like a bucket of clean water. And (so much are we the creatures of our conditions!) I remember feeling something approaching to satisfaction at the reflection that I had "gone till I dropped," and had been brought round after the manner of the best-conducted stables.

It was not that that made Jem and me run away. (For we did run away.) Overstrain and collapse, ill-usage short of torture, hard living and short commons, one got a certain accustomedness to, according to the merciful law which within certain limits makes a second nature for us out of use and wont. The one pain that knew no pause, and allowed of no revival, the evil that overbore us, mind and body, was the evil of constant dread. Upon us little boys fear lay always, and the terror of it was that it was uncertain. What would come next, and from whom, we never knew.

It was I who settled we should run away. I did it the night that Jem gave in, and would do nothing but cry noiselessly into his sleeve and wish he was dead. So I settled it and told Lorraine. I wanted him to come too, but he would not. He pretended that he did not care, and he said he had nowhere to go to. But he got into Snuffy's very own room at daybreak whilst we stood outside and heard him snoring; and very loud he must have snored too, for I could hear my heart thumping so I should not have thought I could have heard anything else. And Lorraine took the back-door key off the drawers, and let us out, and took it back again. He feared nothing. There was a walnut-tree by the gate, and Jem said, "Suppose we do our faces like gipsies, so that nobody may know us." (For Jem was terribly frightened of being taken back.) So we found some old bits of peel and rubbed our cheeks, but we dared not linger long over it, and I said, "We'd better get further on, and we can hide if we hear steps or wheels." So we took each other's hands, and for nearly a mile we ran as hard as we could go, looking back now and then over our shoulders, like the picture of Christian and Hopeful running away from the Castle of Giant Despair.

We were particularly afraid of the milkman, for milkmen drive about early, and he had taken a runaway boy back to Crayshaw's years before, and Snuffy gave him five shillings. They said he once helped another boy to get away, but it was a big one, who gave him his gold watch. He would do anything if you paid him. Jem and I had each a little bundle in a handkerchief, but nothing in them that the milkman would have cared for. We managed very well, for we got behind a wall when he went by, and I felt so much cheered up I thought we should get home that day, far as it was. But when we got back into the road, I found that Jem was limping, for Snuffy had stamped on his foot when Jem had had it stuck out beyond the desk, when he was writing; and the running had made it worse, and at last he sat down by the roadside, and said I was to go on home and send back for him. It was not very likely I would leave him to the chance of being pursued by Mr. Crayshaw; but there he sat, and I thought I never should have persuaded him to get on my back, for good-natured as he is, Jem is as obstinate as a pig. But I said, "What's the use of my having been first horse with the heaviest weight in school, if I can't carry you?" So he got up and I carried him a long way, and then a cart overtook us, and we got a lift home. And they knew us quite well, which shows how little use walnut-juice is, and it is disgusting to get off.

I think, as it happened, it was very unfortunate that we had discoloured our faces; for though my mother was horrified at our being so thin and pinched-looking, my father said that of course we looked frights with brown daubs all over our cheeks and necks. But then he never did notice people looking ill. He was very angry indeed, at first, about our running away, and would not listen to what we said. He was angry too with my dear mother, because she believed us, and called Snuffy a bad man and a brute. And he ordered the dog-cart to be brought round, and said that Martha was to give us some breakfast, and that we might be thankful to get that instead of a flogging, for that when _he ran away from school to escape a thrashing, his father gave him one thrashing while the dog-cart was being brought round, and drove him straight back to school, where the school-master gave him another.

"And a very good thing for me," said my father, buttoning his coat, whilst my mother and Martha went about crying, and Jem and I stood silent. If we were to go back, the more we told, the worse would be Snuffy's revenge. An unpleasant hardness was beginning to creep over me. "The next time I run away," was my thought, "I shall not run home." But with this came a rush of regret for Jem's sake. I knew that Crayshaw's, did more harm to him than to me, and almost involuntarily I put my arms round him, thinking that if they would only let him stay, I could go back and bear anything, like Lewis Lorraine. Jem had been crying, and when he hid his face on my shoulder, and leaned against me, I thought it was for comfort, but he got heavier and heavier, till I called out, and he rolled from my arms and was caught in my father's. He had been standing about on the bad foot, and pain and weariness and hunger and fright overpowered him, and he had fainted.

The dog-cart was counter-ordered, and Jem was put to bed, and Martha served me a breakfast that would have served six full-grown men. I ate far more than satisfied me, but far less than satisfied Martha, who seemed to hope that cold fowl and boiled eggs, fried bacon and pickled beef, plain cakes and currant cakes, jam and marmalade, buttered toast, strong tea and unlimited sugar and yellow cream, would atone for the past in proportion to the amount I ate, if it did not fatten me under her eyes. I really think I spent the rest of the day in stupor. I am sure it was not till the following morning that I learned the decision to which my father had come about us.

Jem was too obviously ill to be anywhere at present but at home; and my father decided that he would not send him back to Crayshaw's at all, but to a much more expensive school in the south of England, to which the parson of our parish was sending one of his sons. I was to return to Crayshaw's at once; he could not afford the expensive school for us both, and Jem was the eldest. Besides which, he was not going to countenance rebellion in any school to which he sent his sons, or to insult a man so highly recommended to him as Mr. Crayshaw had been. There certainly seemed to have been some severity, and the boys seemed to be a very rough lot; but Jem would fight, and if he gave he must take. His great-grandfather was just the same, and _he fought the Putney Pet when he was five-and-twenty, and his parents thought he was sitting quietly at his desk in Fetter Lane.

I loved Jem too well to be jealous of him, but I was not the less conscious of the tender tone in which my father always spoke even of his faults, and of the way it stiffened and cooled when he added that I was not so ready with my fists, but that I was as fond of my own way as Jem was of a fight; but that setting up for being unlike other people didn't do for school life, and that the Woods had done me no kindness by making a fool of me. He added, however, that he should request Mr. Crayshaw, as a personal favour, that I should receive no punishment for running away, as I had suffered sufficiently already.

We had told very little of the true history of Crayshaw's before Jem fainted, and I felt no disposition to further confidences. I took as cheerful a farewell of my mother as I could, for her sake; and put on a good deal of swagger and "don't care" to console Jem. He said, "You're as plucky as Lorraine," and then his eyes shut again. He was too ill to think much, and I kissed his head and left him. After which I got stoutly into the dog-cart, and we drove back up the dreary hills down which Jem and I had run away.

That Snuffy was bland to cringing before my father did not give me hope that I should escape his direst revenge; and the expression of Lorraine's face showed me, by its sympathy, what _he expected. But we were both wrong, and for reasons which we then knew nothing about.

Cruelty was, as I have said, Mr. Crayshaw's ruling passion, but it was not his only vice. There was a whispered tradition that he had once been in jail for a misuse of his acquirements in the art of penmanship; and if you heard his name cropping up in the confidential conversation of such neighbours as small farmers, the postman, the parish overseer, and the like, it was sure to be linked with unpleasingly suggestive expressions, such as--"a dirty bit of business," "a nasty job that," "an awkward affair," "very near got into trouble," "a bit of bother about it, but Driver and Quills pulled him through; theirs isn't a nice business, and they're men of t' same feather as Crayshaw, so I reckon they're friends." Many such hints have I heard, for the 'White Lion' was next door to the sweet-shop, and in summer, refreshment of a sober kind, with conversation to match, was apt to be enjoyed on the benches outside. The good wives of the neighbourhood used no such euphuisms as their more prudent husbands, when they spoke of Crayshaw's. Indeed one of the whispered anecdotes of Snuffy's past was of a hushed-up story that was just saved from becoming a scandal, but in reference to which Mr. Crayshaw was even more narrowly saved from a crowd of women who had taken the too-tardy law into their own hands. I remember myself the retreat of an unpaid washer-woman from the back premises of Crayshaw's on one occasion, and the unmistakable terms in which she expressed her opinions.

"Don't tell me! I know Crayshaw's well enough; such folks is a curse to a country-side, but judgment overtakes 'em at last."

"Judgment," as the good woman worded it, kept threatening Mr. Crayshaw long before it overtook him, as it is apt to disturb scoundrels who keep a hypocritical good name above their hidden misdeeds. As it happened, at the very time Jem and I ran away from him, Mr. Crayshaw himself was living in terror of one or two revelations, and to be deserted by two of his most respectably connected boys was an ill-timed misfortune. The countenance my father had been so mistaken as to afford to his establishment was very important to him, for we were the only pupils from within fifty miles, and our parents' good word constituted an "unexceptionable reference."

Thus it was that Snuffy pleaded humbly (but in vain) for the return of Jem, and that he not only promised that I should not suffer, but to my amazement kept his word.

Judgment lingered over the head of Crayshaw's for two years longer, and I really think my being there had something to do with maintaining its tottering reputation. I was almost the only lad in the school whose parents were alive and at hand and in a good position, and my father's name stifled scandal. Most of the others were orphans, being cheaply educated by distant relatives or guardians, or else the sons of poor widows who were easily bamboozled by Snuffy's fluent letters, and the religious leaflets which it was his custom to enclose. (In several of these cases, he was "managing" the poor women's "affairs" for them.) One or two boys belonged to people living abroad. Indeed, the worst bully in the school was a half-caste, whose smile, when he showed his gleaming teeth, boded worse than any other boy's frown. He was a wonderful acrobat, and could do extraordinary tricks of all sorts. My being nimble and ready made me very useful to him as a confederate in the exhibitions which his intense vanity delighted to give on half-holidays, and kept me in his good graces till I was old enough to take care of myself. Oh, how every boy who dreaded him applauded at these entertainments! And what dangerous feats I performed, every other fear being lost in the fear of him! I owe him no grudge for what he forced me to do (though I have had to bear real fire without flinching when he failed in a conjuring trick, which should only have simulated the real thing); what I learned from him has come in so useful since, that I forgive him all.

I was there for two years longer. Snuffy bullied me less, and hated me the more. I knew it, and he knew that I knew it. It was a hateful life, but I am sure the influence of a good home holds one up in very evil paths. Every time we went back to our respective schools my father gave us ten shillings, and told us to mind our books, and my mother kissed us and made us promise we would say our prayers every day. I could not bear to break my promise, though I used to say them in bed (the old form we learnt from her), and often in such a very unfit frame of mind, that they were what it is very easy to call "a mockery."

GOD knows (Who alone knows the conditions under which each soul blunders and spells on through life's hard lessons) if they were a mockery. _I know they were unworthy to be offered to Him, but that the habit helped to keep me straight I am equally sure. Then I had a good home to go to during the holidays. That was everything, and it is in all humbleness that I say that I do not think the ill experiences of those years degraded me much. I managed to keep some truth and tenderness about me; and I am thankful to remember that I no more cringed to Crayshaw than Lorraine did, and that though I stayed there till I was a big boy, I never maltreated a little one.

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