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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWe And The World: A Book For Boys - Part 1 - Chapter 11
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We And The World: A Book For Boys - Part 1 - Chapter 11 Post by :tinabarr4 Category :Long Stories Author :Juliana Horatia Ewing Date :May 2012 Read :1458

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We And The World: A Book For Boys - Part 1 - Chapter 11

PART I CHAPTER XI

"Whose powers shed round him in the common strife
Or mild concerns of ordinary life,
A constant influence, a peculiar grace;
* * * * * *
Or if an unexpected call succeed,
Come when it will, is equal to the need."
WORDSWORTH'S Happy Warrior.


Judgement came at last. During my first holidays I had posted a letter from Lewis Lorraine to the uncle in India to whom he had before endeavoured to appeal. The envelope did not lack stamps, but the address was very imperfect, and it was many months in reaching him. He wrote a letter, which Lewis never received, Mr. Crayshaw probably knew why. But twelve months after that Colonel Jervois came to England, and he lost no time in betaking himself to Crayshaw's. From Crayshaw's he came to my father, the only "unexceptionable reference" left to Snuffy to put forward.

The Colonel came with a soldier's promptness, and, with the utmost courtesy of manner, went straight to the point. His life had not accustomed him to our neighbourly unwillingness to interfere with anything that did not personally concern us, nor to the prudent patience with which country folk will wink long at local evils. In the upshot what he asked was what my mother had asked three years before. Had my father personal knowledge or good authority for believing the school to be a well-conducted one, and Mr. Crayshaw a fit man for his responsible post? Had he ever heard rumours to the man's discredit?

Replies that must do for a wife will not always answer a man who puts the same questions. My great-grandfather's memory was not evoked on this occasion, and my father frankly confessed that his personal knowledge of Crayshaw's was very small, and that the man on whose recommendation he had sent us to school there had just proved to be a rascal and a swindler. Our mother had certainly heard rumours of severity, but he had regarded her maternal anxiety as excessive, etc., etc. In short, my dear father saw that he had been wrong, and confessed it, and was now as ready as the Colonel to expose Snuffy's misdeeds.

No elaborate investigation was needed. An attack once made on Mr. Crayshaw's hollow reputation, it cracked on every side; first hints crept out, then scandals flew. The Colonel gave no quarter, and he did not limit his interest to his own nephew.

"A widow's son, ma'am," so he said to my mother, bowing over her hand as he led her in to dinner, in a style to which we were quite unaccustomed; "a widow's son, ma'am, should find a father in every honest man who can assist him."

The tide having turned against Snuffy, his friends (of the Driver and Quills type) turned with it. But they gained nothing, for one morning he got up as early as we had done, and ran away, and I never heard of him again. And before nightfall the neighbours, who had so long tolerated his wickedness, broke every pane of glass in his windows.

During all this, Lewis Lorraine and his uncle stayed at our house. The Colonel spent his time between holding indignant investigations, writing indignant letters (which he allowed us to seal with his huge signet), and walking backwards and forwards to the town to buy presents for the little boys.

When Snuffy ran away, and the school was left to itself, Colonel Jervois strode off to the nearest farm, requisitioned a waggon, and having packed the boys into it, bought loaves and milk enough to breakfast them all, and transported the whole twenty-eight to our door. He left four with my mother, and marched off with the rest. The Woods took in a large batch, and in the course of the afternoon he had for love or money quartered them all. He betrayed no nervousness in dealing with numbers, in foraging for supplies, or in asking for what he wanted. Whilst other people had been doubting whether it might not "create unpleasantness" to interfere in this case and that, the Colonel had fought each boy's battle, and seen most of them off on their homeward journeys. He was used to dealing with men, and with emergencies, and it puzzled him when my Uncle Henry consulted his law-books and advised caution, and my father saw his agent on farm business, whilst the fate of one of Crayshaw's victims yet hung in the balance.

When all was over the Colonel left us, and took Lewis with him, and his departure raised curiously mixed feelings of regret and relief.

He had quite won my mother's heart, chiefly by his energy and tenderness for the poor boys, and partly by his kindly courtesy and deference towards her. Indeed all ladies liked him--all, that is, who knew him. Before they came under the influence of his pleasantness and politeness, he shared the half-hostile reception to which any person or anything that was foreign to our daily experience was subjected in our neighbourhood. So that the first time Colonel Jervois appeared in our pew, Mrs. Simpson (the wife of a well-to-do man of business who lived near us) said to my mother after church, "I see you've got one of the military with you," and her tone was more critical than congratulatory. But when my mother, with unconscious diplomacy, had kept her to luncheon, and the Colonel had handed her to her seat, and had stroked his moustache, and asked in his best manner if she meant to devote her son to the service of his country, Mrs. Simpson undid her bonnet-strings, fairly turned her back on my father, and was quite unconscious when Martha handed the potatoes; and she left us wreathed in smiles, and resolved that Mr. Simpson should buy their son Horace a commission instead of taking him into the business. Mr. Simpson did not share her views, and I believe he said some rather nasty things about swaggering, and not having one sixpence to rub against another. And Mrs. Simpson (who was really devoted to Horace and could hardly bear him out of her sight) reflected that it was possible to get shot as well as to grow a moustache if you went into the army; but she still maintained that she should always remember the Colonel as a thorough gentleman, and a wonderful judge of the character of boys.

The Colonel made great friends with the Woods, and he was deeply admired by our rector, who, like many parsons, had a very military heart, and delighted in exciting tales of the wide world which he could never explore. It was perhaps natural that my father should hardly be devoted to a stranger who had practically reproached his negligence, but the one thing that did draw him towards the old Indian officer was his habit of early rising. My father was always up before any of us, but he generally found the Colonel out before him, enjoying the early hours of the day as men who have lived in hot climates are accustomed to do. They used to come in together in very pleasant moods to breakfast; but with the post-bag Lorraine's uncle was sure to be moved to voluble indignation, or pity, or to Utopian plans to which my father listened with puzzled impatience. He did not understand the Colonel, which was perhaps not to be wondered at.

His moral courage had taken away our breath, and physical courage was stamped upon his outward man. If he was anything he was manly. It was because he was in some respects very womanly too, that he puzzled my father's purely masculine brain. The mixture, and the vehemence of the mixture, were not in his line. He would have turned "Crayshaw's" matters over in his own mind as often as hay in a wet season before grappling with the whole bad business as the Colonel had done. And on the other hand, it made him feel uncomfortable and almost ashamed to see tears standing in the old soldier's eyes as he passionately blamed himself for what had been suffered by "my sister's son."

The servants one and all adored Colonel Jervois. They are rather acute judges of good breeding, and men and maids were at one on the fact that he was a visitor who conferred social distinction on the establishment. They had decided that we should "dine late so long as The Gentleman" was with us, whilst my mother was thinking how to break so weighty an innovation to such valuable servants. They served him with alacrity, and approved of his brief orders and gracious thanks. The Colonel did unheard-of things with impunity--threw open his bedroom shutters at night, and more than once unbarred and unbolted the front door to go outside for a late cigar. Nothing puzzled Martha more than the nattiness with which he put all the bolts and bars back into their places, as if he had been used to the door as long as she had.

Indeed he had all that power of making himself at home, which is most fully acquired by having had to provide for yourself in strange places, but he carried it too far.

One day he penetrated into the kitchen (having previously been rummaging the kitchen-garden) and insisted upon teaching our cook how to make curry. The lesson was much needed, and it was equally well intended, but it was a mistake. Everything cannot be carried by storm, whatever the military may think. Jane said, "Yes, sir," at every point that approached to a pause in the Colonel's ample instructions, but she never moved her eyes from the magnificent moustache which drooped above the stew-pan, nor her thoughts from the one idea produced by the occasion--that The Gentleman had caught her without her cap. In short our curries were no worse, and no better, in consequence of the shock to kitchen etiquette (for that was all) which she received.

And yet we modified our household ways for him, as they were never modified for any one else. On Martha's weekly festival for cleaning the bedrooms (and if a room was occupied for a night, she scrubbed after the intruder as if he had brought the plague in his portmanteau) the smartest visitor we ever entertained had to pick his or her way through the upper regions of the house, where soap and soda were wafted on high and unexpected breezes along passages filled with washstands and clothes-baskets, cane-seated chairs and baths, mops, pails and brooms. But the Colonel had "given such a jump" on meeting a towel-horse at large round a sharp corner, and had seemed so uncomfortable on finding everything that he thought was inside his room turned outside, that for that week Martha left the lower part of the house uncleaned, and did not turn either the dining or drawing rooms into the hall on their appointed days. She had her revenge when he was gone.

On the day of his departure, my lamentations had met with the warmest sympathy as I stirred toffy over Jane's kitchen fire, whilst Martha lingered with the breakfast things, after a fashion very unusual with her, and gazed at the toast-rack and said, "the Colonel had eaten nothing of a breakfast to travel on." But next morning, I met her in another mood. It was a mood to which we were not strangers, though it did not often occur. In brief, Martha (like many another invaluable domestic) "had a temper of her own"; but to do her justice her ill feelings generally expended themselves in a rage for work, and in taking as little ease herself as she allowed to other people. I knew what it meant when I found her cleaning the best silver when she ought to have been eating her breakfast; but my head was so full of the Colonel, that I could not help talking about him, even if the temptation to tease Martha had not been overwhelming. No reply could I extract; only once, as she passed swiftly to the china cupboard, with the whole Crown Derby tea and coffee service on one big tray (the Colonel had praised her coffee), I heard her mutter--"Soldiers is very upsetting." Certainly, considering what she did in the way of scolding, scouring, blackleading, polishing and sand-papering that week, it was not Martha's fault if we did not "get straight again," furniture and feelings. I've heard her say that Calais sand would "fetch anything off," and I think it had fetched the Colonel off her heart by the time that the cleaning was done.

It had no such effect on mine. Lewis Lorraine himself did not worship his uncle more devoutly than I. Colonel Jervois had given me a new ideal. It was possible, then, to be enthusiastic without being unmanly; to live years out of England, and come back more patriotic than many people who stayed comfortably at home; to go forth into the world and be the simpler as well as the wiser, the softer as well as the stronger for the experience? So it seemed. And yet Lewis had told me, with such tears as Snuffy never made him shed, how tender his uncle was to his unworthiness, what allowances he made for the worst that Lewis could say of himself, and what hope he gave him of a good and happy future.

"He cried as bad as I did," Lewis said, "and begged me to forgive him for having trusted so much to my other guardian. Do you know, Jack, Snuffy regularly forged a letter like my handwriting, to answer that one Uncle Eustace wrote, which he kept back? He might well do such good copies, and write the year of Our Lord with a swan at the end of the last flourish! And you remember what we heard about his having been in prison--but, oh, dear! I don't want to remember. He says I am to forget, and he forbade me to talk about Crayshaw's, and said I was not to trouble my head about anything that had happened there. He kept saying, 'Forget, my boy, forget! Say GOD help me, and look forward. While there's life there's always the chance of a better life for every one. Forget! forget!'"

Lewis departed with his uncle. Charlie went for two nights to the moors. Jem's holidays had not begun, and in our house we were "cleaning down" after the Colonel as if he had been the sweeps.

I went to old Isaac for sympathy. He had become very rheumatic the last two years, but he was as intelligent as ever, and into his willing ear I poured all that I could tell of my hero, and much that I only imagined.

His sympathy met me more than half-way. The villagers as a body were unbounded in their approval of the Colonel, and Mrs. Irvine was even greedier than old Isaac for every particular I could impart respecting him.

"He's a _handsome gentleman," said the bee-master's wife, "and he passed us (my neighbour, Mrs. Mettam, and me) as near, sir, as I am to you, with a gold-headed stick in his hand, and them lads following after him, for all the world like the Good Shepherd and his flock."

I managed not to laugh, and old Isaac added, "There's a many in this village, sir, would have been glad to have taken the liberty of expressing themselves to the Colonel, and a _depitation did get as far as your father's gates one night, but they turned bashful and come home again. And I know, for one, Master Jack, that if me and my missus had had a room fit to offer one of them poor young gentlemen, I'd have given a week's wage to do it, and the old woman would have been happy to her dying day."

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