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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesWe And The World: A Book For Boys - Part 1 - Chapter 9
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We And The World: A Book For Boys - Part 1 - Chapter 9 Post by :tinabarr4 Category :Long Stories Author :Juliana Horatia Ewing Date :May 2012 Read :2163

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We And The World: A Book For Boys - Part 1 - Chapter 9


"In doubtful matters Courage may do much:--In desperate
--Patience."--Old Proverb.

The young skater duly recovered, and thenceforward Mr. Wood's popularity in the village was established, and the following summer he started a swimming-class, to which the young men flocked with more readiness than they commonly showed for efforts made to improve them.

For my own part I had so realized, to my shame, that one may feel very adventurous and yet not know how to venture or what to venture in the time of need, that my whole heart was set upon getting the school-master to teach me to swim and to dive, with any other lessons in preparedness of body and mind which I was old enough to profit by. And if the true tales of his own experiences were more interesting than the Penny Numbers, it was better still to feel that one was qualifying in one's own proper person for a life of adventure.

During the winter Mr. Wood built a boat, which was christened the _Adela_, after his wife. It was an interesting process to us all. I hung about and did my best to be helpful, and both Jem and I spoiled our everyday trousers, and rubbed the boat's sides, the day she was painted. It was from the _Adela that Jem and I had our first swimming-lessons, Mr. Wood lowering us with a rope under our arms, by which he gave us as much support as was needed, whilst he taught us how to strike out.

We had swimming-races on the canal, and having learned to swim and dive without our clothes, we learnt to do so in them, and found it much more difficult for swimming and easier for diving. It was then that the trousers we had damaged when the _Adela was built came in most usefully, and saved us from having to attempt the at least equally difficult task of persuading my mother to let us spoil good ones in an amusement which had the unpardonable quality of being "very odd."

Dear old Charlie had as much fun out of the boat as we had, though he could not learn to dive. He used to look as if every minute of a pull up the canal on a sunny evening gave him pleasure; and the brown Irish spaniel Jem gave him used to swim after the boat and look up in Charlie's face as if it knew how he enjoyed it. And later on, Mr. Wood taught Bob Furniss to row and Charlie to steer; so that Charlie could sometimes go out and feel quite free to stop the boat when and where he liked. That was after he started so many collections of insects and water-weeds, and shells, and things you can only see under a microscope. Bob and he used to take all kinds of pots and pans and nets and dippers with them, so that Charlie could fish up what he wanted, and keep things separate. He was obliged to keep the live things he got for his fresh-water aquarium in different jam-pots, because he could never be sure which would eat up which till he knew them better, and the water-scorpions and the dragon-fly larvae ate everything. Bob Furniss did not mind pulling in among the reeds and waiting as long as you wanted. Mr. Wood sometimes wanted to get back to his work, but Bob never wanted to get back to his. And he was very good-natured about getting into the water and wading and grubbing for things; indeed, I think he got to like it.

At first Mr. Wood had been rather afraid of trusting Charlie with him. He thought Bob might play tricks with the boat, even though he knew how to manage her, when there was only one helpless boy with him. But Mrs. Furniss said, "Nay! Our Bob's a bad 'un, but he's not one of that sort, he'll not plague them that's afflicted." And she was quite right; for though his father said he could be trusted with nothing else, we found he could be trusted with Cripple Charlie.

It was two days before the summer holidays came to an end that Charlie asked me to come down to the farm and help him to put away his fern collection and a lot of other things into the places that he had arranged for them in his room; for now that the school-room was wanted again, he could not leave his papers and boxes about there. Charlie lived at the farm altogether now. He was better there than on the moors, so he boarded there and went home for visits. The room Mrs. Wood had given him was the one where the old miser had slept. In a memorandum left with his will it appeared that he had expressed a wish that the furniture of that room should not be altered, which was how they knew it was his. So Mrs. Wood had kept the curious old oak bed (the back of which was fastened into the wall), and an old oak press, with a great number of drawers with brass handles to them, and all the queer furniture that she found there, just as it was. Even the brass warming-pan was only rubbed and put back in its place, and the big bellows were duly hung up by the small fire-place. But everything was so polished up and cleaned, the walls re-papered with a soft grey-green paper spangled with dog-daisies, and the room so brightened up with fresh blinds and bedclothes, and a bit of bright carpet, that it did not look in the least dismal, and Charlie was very proud and very fond of it. It had two windows, one where the beehive was, and one very sunny one, where he had a balm of Gilead that Isaac's wife gave him, and his old medicine-bottles full of cuttings on the upper ledge. The old women used to send him "slippings" off their fairy roses and myrtles and fuchsias, and they rooted very well in that window, there was so much sun.

Charlie had only just begun a fern collection, and I had saved my pocket-money (I did not want it for anything else) and had bought him several quires of cartridge-paper; and Dr. Brown had given him a packet of medicine-labels to cut up into strips to fasten his specimens in with, and the collection looked very well and very scientific; and all that remained was to find a good place to put it away in. The drawers of the press were of all shapes and sizes, but there were two longish very shallow ones that just matched each other, and when I pulled one of them out, and put the fern-papers in, they fitted exactly, and the drawer just held half the collection. I called Charlie to look, and he hobbled up on his crutches and was delighted, but he said he should like to put the others in himself, so I got him into a chair, and shut up the full drawer and pulled out the empty one, and went down-stairs for the two moleskins we were curing, and the glue-pot, and the toffy-tin, and some other things that had to be cleared out of the school-room now the holidays were over.

When I came back the fern-papers were still outside, and Charlie was looking flushed and cross.

"I don't know how you managed," he said, "but I can't get them in. This drawer must be shorter than the other; it doesn't go nearly so far back."

"Oh yes, it does, Charlie!" I insisted, for I felt as certain as people always do feel about little details of that kind. "The drawers are exactly alike; you can't have got the fern-sheets quite flush with each other," and I began to arrange the trayful of things I had brought up-stairs in the bottom of the cupboard.

"I _know it's the drawer," I heard Charlie say. ("He's as obstinate as possible," thought I.)

Then I heard him banging at the wood with his fists and his crutch. ("He _is in a temper!" was my mental comment.) After this my attention was distracted for a second or two by seeing what I thought was a bit of toffy left in the tin, and biting it and finding it was a piece of sheet-glue. I had not spit out all the disgust of it, when Charlie called me in low, awe-struck tones: "Jack! come here. Quick!"

I ran to him. The drawer was open, but it seemed to have another drawer inside it, a long, narrow, shallow one.

"I hit the back, and this sprang out," said Charlie. "It's a secret drawer--and look!"

I did look. The secret drawer was closely packed with rolls of thin leaflets, which we were old enough to recognize as bank-notes, and with little bags of wash-leather; and when Charlie opened the little bags they were filled with gold.

There was a paper with the money, written by the old miser, to say that it was a codicil to his will, and that the money was all for Mrs. Wood. Why he had not left it to her in the will itself seemed very puzzling, but his lawyer (whom the Woods consulted about it) said that he always did things in a very eccentric way, but generally for some sort of reason, even if it were rather a freaky one, and that perhaps he thought that the relations would be less spiteful at first if they did not know about the money, and that Mrs. Wood would soon find it, if she used and valued his old press.

I don't quite know whether there was any fuss with the relations about this part of the bequest, but I suppose the lawyer managed it all right, for the Woods got the money and gave up the school. But they kept the old house, and bought some more land, and Walnut-tree Academy became Walnut-tree Farm once more. And Cripple Charlie lived on with them, and he was so happy, it really seemed as if my dear mother was right when she said to my father, "I am so pleased, my dear, for that poor boy's sake, I can hardly help crying. He's got two homes and two fathers and mothers, where many a young man has none, as if to make good his affliction to him."

It puzzles me, even now, to think how my father could have sent Jem and me to Crayshaw's school. (Nobody ever called him Mr. Crayshaw except the parents of pupils who lived at a distance. In the neighbourhood he and his whole establishment were lumped under the one word _Crayshaw's_, and as a farmer hard by once said to me, "Crayshaw's is universally disrespected.")

I do not think it was merely because "Crayshaw's" was cheap that we were sent there, though my father had so few reasons to give for his choice that he quoted that among them. A man with whom he had had business dealings (which gave him much satisfaction for some years, and more dissatisfaction afterwards) did really, I think, persuade my father to send us to this school, one evening when they were dining together.

Few things are harder to guess at than the grounds on which an Englishman of my father's type "makes up his mind"; and yet the question is an important one, for an idea once lodged in his head, a conviction once as much his own as the family acres, and you will as soon part him from the one as from the other. I have known little matters of domestic improvements, in which my mother's comfort was concerned and her experience conclusive, for which he grudged a few shillings, and was absolutely impenetrable by her persuasions and representations. And I have known him waste pounds on things of the most curious variety, foisted on him by advertising agents without knowledge, trial, or rational ground of confidence. I suppose that persistency, a glibber tongue than he himself possessed, a mass of printed rubbish which always looks imposing to the unliterary, that primitive combination of authoritativeness and hospitality which makes some men as ready to say Yes to a stranger as they are to say No at home, and perhaps some lack of moral courage, may account for it. I can clearly remember how quaintly sheepish my father used to look after committing some such folly, and how, after the first irrepressible fall of countenance, my mother would have defended him against anybody else's opinion, let alone her own. Young as I was I could feel that, and had a pretty accurate estimate of the value of the moral lecture on faith in one's fellow-creatures, which was an unfailing outward sign of my father's inward conviction that he had been taken in by a rogue. I knew too, well enough, that my mother's hasty and earnest Amen to this discourse was an equally reliable token of her knowledge that my father sorely needed defending, and some instinct made me aware also that my father knew that this was so. That he knew that it was that tender generosity towards one's beloved, in which so many of her sex so far exceeds ours, and not an intellectual conviction of his wisdom, which made her support what he had done, and that feeling this he felt dissatisfied, and snapped at her accordingly.

The dislike my dear mother took to the notion of our going to Crayshaw's only set seals to our fate, and the manner of her protests was not more fortunate than the matter. She was timid and vacillating from wifely habit, whilst motherly anxiety goaded her to be persistent and almost irritable on the subject. Habitually regarding her own wishes and views as worthless, she quoted the Woods at every turn of her arguments, which was a mistake, for my father was sufficiently like the rest of his neighbours not to cotton very warmly to people whose tastes, experiences, and lines of thought were so much out of the common as those of the ex-convict and his wife. Moreover, he had made up his mind, and when one has done that, he is proof against seventy men who can render a reason.

To rumours which accused "Crayshaw's" of undue severity, of discomfort, of bad teaching and worse manners, my father opposed arguments which he allowed were "old-fashioned" and which were far-fetched from the days of our great-grandfather.

A strict school-master was a good school-master, and if more parents were as wise as Solomon on the subject of the rod, Old England would not be discredited by such a namby-pamby race as young men of the present day seemed by all accounts to be. It was high time the boys did rough it a bit; would my mother have them always tied to her apron-strings? Great Britain would soon be Little Britain if boys were to be brought up like young ladies. As to teaching, it was the fashion to make a fuss about it, and a pretty pass learning brought some folks to, to judge by the papers and all one heard. His own grandfather lived to ninety-seven, and died sitting in his chair, in a bottle-green coat and buff breeches. He wore a pig-tail to the day of his death, and never would be contradicted by anybody. He had often told my father that at the school _he went to, the master signed the receipts for his money with a cross, but the usher was a bit of a scholar, and the boys had cream to their porridge on Sundays. And the old gentleman managed his own affairs to ninety-seven, and threw the doctor's medicine-bottles out of the window then. He died without a doubt on his mind or a debt on his books, and my father (taking a pinch out of Great-Grandfather's snuff-box) hoped Jem and I might do as well.

In short, we were sent to "Crayshaw's."

It was not a happy period of my life. It was not a good or wholesome period; and I am not fond of recalling it. The time came when I shrank from telling Charlie everything, almost as if he had been a girl. His life was lived in such a different atmosphere, under such different conditions. I could not trouble him, and I did not believe he could make allowances for me. But on our first arrival I wrote him a long letter (Jem never wrote letters), and the other day he showed it to me. It was a first impression, but a sufficiently vivid and truthful one, so I give it here.

"CRAYSHAW'S (for that's what they call it here, and a beastly hole it is).

"MY DEAR OLD CHARLIE,--We came earlier than was settled, for Father got impatient and there was nothing to stop us, but I don't think old Crayshaw liked our coming so soon. You never saw such a place, it's so dreary. A boy showed us straight into the school-room. There are three rows of double desks running down the room and disgustingly dirty, I don't know what Mrs. Wood would say, and old Crayshaw's desk is in front of the fire, so that he can see all the boys sideways, and it just stops any heat coming to them. And there he was, and I don't think Father liked the look of him particularly, you never saw an uglier. Such a flaming face and red eyes like Bob Furniss's ferret and great big whiskers; but I'll make you a picture of him, at least I'll make two pictures, for Lewis Lorraine says he's got no beard on Sundays, and rather a good one on Saturdays. Lorraine is a very rum fellow, but I like him. It was he showed us in, and he did catch it afterwards, but he only makes fun of it. Old Crayshaw's desk had got a lot of canes on one side of it and a most beastly dirty snuffy red and green handkerchief on the other, and an ink-pot in the middle. He made up to Father like anything and told such thumpers. He said there were six boys in one room, but really there's twelve. Jem and I sleep together. There's nothing to wash in and no prayers. If you say them you get boots at your head, and one hit Jem behind the ear, so I pulled his sleeve and said, 'Get up, you can say them in bed,' But you know Jem, and he said, 'Wait till I've done, _God bless Father and Mother_,' and when he had, he went in and fought, and I backed him up, and them old Crayshaw found us, and oh, how he did beat us!

"----_Wednesday_. Old Snuffy is a regular brute, and I don't care if he finds this and sees what I say. But he won't, for the milkman is taking it. He always does if you can pay him. But I've put most of my money into the bank. Three of the top boys have a bank, and we all have to deposit, only I kept fourpence in one of my boots. They give us bank-notes for a penny and a halfpenny; they make them themselves. The sweet-shop takes them. They only give you eleven penny notes for a shilling in the bank, or else it would burst. At dinner we have a lot of pudding to begin with, and it's very heavy. You can hardly eat anything afterwards. The first day Lorraine said quite out loud and very polite, 'Did you say _duff before meat_, young gentlemen?' and I couldn't help laughing, and old Snuffy beat his head horridly with his dirty fists. But Lorraine minds nothing; he says he knows old Snuffy will kill him some day, but he says he doesn't want to live, for his father and mother are dead; he only wants to catch old Snuffy in three more booby-traps before he dies. He's caught him in four already. You see, when old Snuffy is cat-walking he wears goloshes that he may sneak about better, and the way Lorraine makes booby-traps is by balancing cans of water on the door when it's ajar, so that he gets doused, and the can falls on his head, and strings across the bottom of the door, not far from the ground, so that he catches his goloshes and comes down. The other fellows say that old Crayshaw had a lot of money given him in trust for Lorraine, and he's spent it all, and Lorraine has no one to stick up for him, and that's why Crayshaw hates him.

"----_Saturday_. I could not catch the milkman, and now I've got your letter, though Snuffy read it first. Jem and I cry dreadful in bed. That's the comfort of being together. I'll try and be as good as I can, but you don't know what this place is. It's very different to the farm. Do you remember the row about that book Horace Simpson got? I wish you could see the books the boys have here. At least I don't wish it, for I wish I didn't look at them, the milkman brings them; he always will if you can pay him. When I saw old Snuffy find one in Smith's desk, I expected he would half kill him, but he didn't do much to him, he only took the book away; and Lorraine says he never does beat them much for that, because he doesn't want them to leave off buying them, because he wants them himself. Don't tell the Woods this. Don't tell Mother Jem and I cry, or else she'll be miserable. I don't so much mind the beatings (Lorraine says you get hard in time), nor the washing at the sink--nor the duff puddings--but it is such a beastly hole, and he is such an old brute, and I feel so dreadful I can't tell you. Give my love to Mrs. Wood and to Mr. Wood, and to Carlo and to Mary Anne, and to your dear dear self, and to Isaac when you see him.

"And I am your affectionate friend,

"P.S. Jem sends his best love, and he's got two black eyes.

"P.S. No. 2. You would be sorry for Lorraine if you knew him. Sometimes I'm afraid he'll kill himself, for he says there's really nothing in the Bible about suicide. So I said--killing yourself is as bad as killing anybody else. So he said--is stealing from yourself as bad as stealing from anybody else? And we had a regular _argue_. Some of the boys argle-bargle on Sundays, he says, but most of them fight. When they differ, they put tin-tacks with the heads downwards on each other's places on the forms in school, and if they run into you and you scream, old Snuffy beats you. The milkman brings them, by the half-ounce, with very sharp points, if you can pay him. Most of the boys are a horrid lot, and so dirty. Lorraine is as dirty as the rest, and I asked him why, and he said it was because he'd thrown up the sponge; but he got rather red, and he's washed himself cleaner this morning. He says he has an uncle in India, and some time ago he wrote to him, and told him about Crayshaw's, and gave the milkman a diamond pin, that had been his father's, and Snuffy didn't know about, to post it with plenty of stamps, but he thinks he can't have put plenty on, for no answer ever came. I've told him I'll post another one for him in the holidays. Don't say anything about this back in your letters. He reads 'em all.

"----_Monday_. I've caught the milkman at last, he'll take it this evening. The lessons here are regular rubbish. I'm so glad I've a good knife, for if you have you can dig holes in your desk to put collections in. The boy next to me has earwigs, but you have to keep a look-out, or he puts them in your ears. I turned up a stone near the sink this morning, and got five wood-lice for mine. It's considered a very good collection."

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