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Title: My Friend Smith - A Story of School and City Life
Author: Reed, Talbot Baines, 1852-1893
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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My Friend Smith
A Story of School and City Life

By Talbot Baines Reed
________________________________________________________________________
This is a curious book by the author.  It does not surprise us, because
it has a long school-life section, but then it goes on to describe in
rather frightening detail the life of a young clerk in London, trying to
survive on a miserable pittance, living in a cheap lodging-house, and
trying to keep up socially with his contemporaries.  He is loyal to his
friends, and in particular to his friend Smith, whom he had met at
school, which had been a school for troublesome and backward boys.

I think it rings very true.  There is a foreword which is as
enthusiastic as I am about the book.  It still gives you a lot to think
about.  It was quite a true image even when I was young myself and
trying to make my way in London, and from what I hear of the
tribulations of the young, it is probably not far from the truth today.

Read the book yourself and see what you think.  NH.
________________________________________________________________________
MY FRIEND SMITH
A STORY OF SCHOOL AND CITY LIFE

BY TALBOT BAINES REED



CHAPTER ONE.

HOW I CAME TO BE SENT TO STONEBRIDGE HOUSE.

"It was perfectly plain, Hudson, the boy could not be allowed to remain
any longer a disgrace to the neighbourhood," said my uncle.

"But, sir," began my poor old nurse.

"That will do, Hudson," said my uncle, decisively; "the matter is
settled--Frederick is going to Stonebridge House on Monday."

And my uncle stood up, and taking a coat-tail under each arm,
established himself upon the hearthrug, with his back to Mrs Hudson.
That was always a sign there was no more to be said; and off I was
trotted out of the dreaded presence, not very sure whether to be elated
or depressed by the conversation I had overheard.

And indeed I never was quite clear as to why, at the tender and
guileless age of twelve, I was abruptly sent away from my native village
of Brownstroke, to that select and popular "Academy for Backward and
Troublesome Young Gentlemen," (so the advertisement ran), known as
Stonebridge House, in the neighbourhood of Cliffshire.

Other people appeared to divine the reason, and Mrs Hudson shook her
head and wiped her eyes when I consulted her on the subject.  It was
queer.  "I must be a very backward boy," thought I to myself, "for try
as I will, I don't see it."

You must know I was an orphan.  I never could recollect my mother--nor
could Mrs Hudson.  As to my father, all I could recall of him was that
he had bushy eyebrows, and used to tell me some most wonderful stories
about lions and tigers and other beasts of prey, and used now and then
to show me my mother's likeness in a locket that hung on his watch-
chain.  They were both dead, and so I came to live with my uncle.  Now,
I could hardly tell why, but it never seemed to me as if my uncle
appeared to regard it as a privilege to have me to take care of.  He
didn't whack me as some fellows' uncles do, nor did he particularly
interfere with my concerns, as the manner of other uncles (so I am
told), is.  He just took as little notice as possible of me, and as long
as I went regularly to Mrs Wren's grammar-school in the village, and as
long as Mrs Hudson kept my garments in proper order, and as long as I
showed up duly on state occasions, and didn't bring more than a square
inch of clay on each heel (there was a natural affinity between clay and
my heels), into his drawing-room, he scarcely seemed to be aware that
his house possessed such a treasure as an only nephew.

The part of my life I liked least was the grammar-school.  That was a
horrid place.  Mrs Wren was a good old soul, who spent one half of her
time looking over her spectacles, and the other half under them, for
something she never found.  We big boys--for twelve is a good age for a
dame's grammar-school--we didn't exactly get on at old Jenny Wren's, as
she was called.  For we gradually discovered we knew almost as much as
she did herself, and it dawned on us by degrees that somehow she didn't
know how to keep us in order.  The consequence was, one or two boys,
especially Jimmy Bates, the parish clerk's son, and Joe Bobbins, the
Italian oil and colourman's son, didn't behave very well.  I was sorry
to see it, and always told them so.

They got us other boys into all sorts of scrapes and trouble.  One day
they would hide poor Jenny's spectacles, and then when search was made
the lost treasure would be found in some one else's desk.  Or they would
tie cotton reels on the four feet and tail of the old tabby cat, and
launch her, with a horrid clatter, right into the middle of the room,
just as I or one of the others happened to be scampering out.  Or they
would turn the little boys' forms upside down, and compel them with
terrible threats to sit on the iron feet, and then in the middle of the
class "sneak" about them.

Poor Jenny couldn't manage the school at all, with such boys as Jimmy
Bates and Joe Bobbins in it.  Up to boys of ten she was all right; but
over ten she was all at sea.

However, she worked patiently on, and taught us all she could, and once
or twice gave us a horrible fright by calling up at our houses, and
reporting progress there (Mrs Hudson always received her when she came
up to my uncle's).  And for all I know I might be at Jenny Wren's school
still if a tremendous event hadn't happened in our village, which
utterly upset the oldest established customs of Brownstroke.

We grammar-school boys never "hit" it exactly with the other town boys.
Either they were jealous of us or we were jealous of them.  I don't
know, but we hated the town boys, and they hated us.

Once or twice we had come into collision, though they always got the
best of it.  One winter they snowballed us to such a pitch that as long
as the snow was on the ground a lot of the little kids would no more
venture to school alone than a sane man would step over the side of a
balloon.

Another time they lined the street down both sides, and laughed and
pointed at us as we walked to school.  That was far worse than
snowballs, even with stones in them.  You should have seen us, with pale
faces and hurried steps, making our way amid the jeers and gibes of our
tormentors--some of the little ones blubbering, one or two of the bigger
ones looking hardly comfortable, and a few of the biggest inwardly
ruminating when and how it would best be possible to kill that Runnit
the news-boy, or Hodge the cow-boy!

These and many other torments and terrors we "Jenny Wrenites" had
endured at the hands of our enemies the town boys, on the whole
patiently.  In process of time they got tired of one sort of torment,
and before their learned heads had had time to invent a new one, we had
had time to muster up courage and tell one another we didn't care what
they did.

Such a period had occurred just before my story opens.  It was a whole
month since the town boys had made our lives unhappy by calling, and
howling, and yelling, and squeaking on every occasion they met us the
following apparently inoffensive couplet:--

"A, B, C, Look at the baby!"

How we hated that cry, and quailed when we heard it!  However, after
about a fortnight's diligent use of this terrible weapon the town boys
subsided for a season, and we plucked up heart again.  Four whole weeks
passed, and we were never once molested!  Something must be wrong in the
village!  Of course we all came to the conclusion that the town boys had
at last seen the error of their ways, and were turning over new leaves.

Rash dream!  One day when we were least expecting it, the "Philistines
were upon us" again, and this time their device was to snatch off our
caps!  It was too terrible to think of!  We could endure to be hooted
at, and pelted, and said "A, B, C" to, but to have our little Scotch
caps snatched off our heads and tossed over pailings and into puddles,
was too much even for the meek disciples of Jenny Wren.  The poor little
boys got their mothers to fasten elastics to go under their chins, and
even so walked nearly half a mile round to avoid the market cross.  It
was no use, the manoeuvre was discovered, and not only did the
youngsters have their caps taken, but were flipped violently by the
elastics in the face and about the ears in doing so.  As for us older
ones, some ran, other walked with their caps under their tunics, others
held them on with both hands.  The result was the same; our caps were
captured!

Then did Jimmy Bates, and Joe Bobbins, and Harry Rasper, and I, meet one
day, and declare to one another, that this sort of thing was not to be
stood.

"Let's tell Mother Wren," said one.

"Or the policeman," said another.

"Let's write and tell Fred Batchelor's uncle," said another.  That
referred to my relative, who was always counted a "nob" in the village.

"I say, don't do any," said the redoubtable Bobbins.  "The next time
they do it to me _I_ mean to kick!"

The sentiment was loudly applauded, and a regular council of war was
held, with the following decision.  We four were to go home together
that afternoon, and without waiting to be chased, would ourselves give
chase to the first bully we saw, and take _his_ cap!  The consequences
of course might be fearful--fatal; but the blood of the "Jenny Wrenites"
was up.  Do it we would, or perish in the attempt.

I think we all got a little nervous as the afternoon school wore on and
the hour for departing approached.  Indeed, when we were about to start,
Bates looked very like deserting straight away.

"Oh, you three go on," he said, "I'll catch you up; I just want to speak
to Jenny."

"No we don't," we all protested; "we'll wait here, if it takes you till
midnight to say what you've got to say to Jenny."

This valiant determination put an end to Bates's wavering, and with a
rueful face he joined us.

"Now, mind," said Rasper, "the first you see!"

"Well," exclaimed I, starting suddenly to run, "that's Cad Prog, the
butcher-boy, there; come along."

So it was!  Of all our enemies Cad Prog was the most truculent, and most
feared.  The sight of his red head coming round the corner was always
enough to strike panic into a score of youngsters, and even we bigger
boys always looked meek when Prog came out to defy us.

He was strolling guilelessly along, and didn't see us at first.  Then
suddenly he caught sight of us approaching, and next moment the blue
apron and red head disappeared with a bolt round the corner.

"Come on!" shouted Rasper, who led.

"So we are!" cried we, and hue and cry was made for Cad Prog forthwith.

We sighted him as we turned the corner.  He was making straight for the
market.  Perhaps to get an axe, I thought, or to hide, or to tell my
uncle!

"Come on!" was the shout.

It's wonderful how a short sharp chase warms up the blood even of a
small boy of twelve.  Before we were half down the street, even Bates
had no thought left of deserting, and we all four pressed on, each
determined not to be last.

The fugitive Prog kept his course to the market, but there doubled
suddenly and bolted down Side Street.  That was where he lived; he was
going to run into his hole then, like a rabbit.

We gained no end on him in the turn, and were nearly up to him as he
reached the door of his humble home.

He bolted in--so did we.  He bolted up stairs--so did we.  He plunged
headlong into a room where was a little girl rocking a cradle--so did
we.  Then began a wild scuffle.

"Catch him!  Take his cap off!" cried Bobbins.

"He hasn't got a cap!" cried Rasper--"butcher-boys never have!"

"Then pull off his apron!" was the cry.

In the scuffle the little girl was trodden on, and the cradle clean
upset.  A crowd collected in the street.  Cad Prog roared as loud as he
could, so did his little sister, so did the baby, so did Jimmy Bates, so
did Joe Bobbins, so did Harry Rasper, so did I.  _I_ did not care what
happened; I went for Cad Prog, and have a vague idea of my hand and his
nose being near together, and louder yells still.

Then all of a sudden there was a tramp of heavy footsteps on the stairs,
and all I can remember after that was receiving a heavy cuff on my head,
being dragged down into the street, where--so it seemed to me for the
moment--at least a million people must have been congregated; and,
finally, I know not how, I was standing in the middle of my uncle's
study floor, with my coat gone, my mouth bleeding, and my cap, after
all, clean vanished!

It was a queer plight to be in.  I heard a dinning in my ears of loud
voices, and when I looked at the bust on the top of the bookcase it
seemed to be toppling about anyhow.  Some people were talking in the
room, but the only voice I could recognise was my uncle's.  He was
saying something about "not wanting to shield me," and "locking-up," the
drift of which I afterwards slowly gathered, when the village
policeman--we only had one at Brownstroke--addressing my uncle as "your
honour," said he would look in in the morning for further orders.

At this interesting juncture the bust began to wobble about again, and I
saw and heard no more till I woke next morning, and found Mrs Hudson
mopping my forehead with something, and saying, "There now, Master
Freddy, lie quite still, there's a good boy."

"What's the matter?" said I, putting up my hand to the place she was
washing.

It was something like a bump!

"It's only a bruise, Master Freddy--no bones broken, thank God!" said
she, motioning me to be silent.

But I was in no mood to be silent.  Slowly the recollection of
yesterday's events dawned on me.

"Did they get off Cad Prog's apron," I inquired, "after all?"

Of course, the good old soul thought this was sheer wandering of the
mind, and she looked very frightened, and implored me to lie still.

It was a long time before I perceived any connection between our chase
of the redoubtable Cad Prog up Side Street yesterday and my lying here
bruised and in a darkened room to-day.  At last I supposed Mr Prog must
have conquered me; whereat I fired up again, and said, "Did the other
fellows finish him up?"

"Oh, dear me, yes," said the terrified nurse; "all up, every bit--there
now--and asked for more!"

This consoled me.  Presently a doctor came and looked at my forehead,
and left some powders, which I heard him say I was to take in jam three
times a day.  I felt still more consoled.

In fact, reader, as you will have judged, I was a little damaged by the
adventure in Side Street, and the noble exploit of my companions and
myself had not ended all in glory.

A day or two after, when I got better, I found out more about it, and
rather painfully too, because my uncle landed one day in my bedroom and
commenced strongly to arraign me before him.

He bade me tell him what had happened, which I did as well as I could.
At the end of it he said, "I suppose you are not aware that for a day or
two it was uncertain whether you had not killed that child that was in
the room?"

"I?"  I exclaimed.  "I never touched her!  Indeed I didn't, uncle!"

"You knocked over the cradle," said my uncle, "and that's much the same
thing."

I was silent.  My uncle proceeded.

"And I suppose you are not aware that the barber who tried to take you
down the stairs is now in the hospital with an abscess on his leg, the
result of the kick you gave him?"

"Oh, I can't have done it, uncle--oh, uncle!"

And here I was so overwhelmed with the vision of my enormities and their
possible consequences that I became hysterical, and Mrs Hudson was
summoned to the rescue.

The fact was, in the account of the fray I appear to have got credit for
all the terrible deeds that were there done; and I, Master Freddy
Batchelor, was, it appeared, notorious in the village as having been
guilty of a savage and felonious assault upon one C.  Prog, of having
also assaulted and almost "manslaughtered" Miss Prog the younger, and
further of having dealt with my feet against the shin of one Moppleton,
a barber, in such manner as to render him incapable of pursuing his
ordinary avocations, and being chargeable on the parish infirmary;
besides sundry and divers damage to carpets, crockery, glass, doorposts,
kerb-stones, and the jacket of the aforesaid C.  Prog.  On the whole,
when I arose from my bed and stepped once more into the outer world, I
found myself a very atrocious character indeed.

At home I was in disgrace, and abroad I was not allowed to wander beyond
my uncle's garden, except to church on Sunday under a heavy escort.  So
on the whole I had not a very good time of it.  My uncle was
terrifically glum, and appeared to think it most audacious if ever I
chanced to laugh or sing or express any sentiment but deep grief and
contrition in his presence.  Mrs Hudson read me long lectures about the
evil of slaying small children and laming barbers, and I was
occasionally moved to tears at the thought of my own iniquities.  But at
the age of twelve it is hard to take upon oneself the settled gloom of
an habitual criminal, and I was forced to let out at times and think of
other things besides my wicked ways.  I got let off school--that was one
alleviation to my woe--and being free of the garden I had plenty of
opportunity of letting off the steam.  But it was slow work, as I have
said; and I was really relieved when, a week or two afterwards, my uncle
made the announcement with which this chapter begins.

How I fared, first at Stonebridge House, and subsequently in the City
Life for which it was meant to train me, will be the theme of this
particular veracious history.



CHAPTER TWO.

HOW I MADE MY FIRST ACQUAINTANCE WITH STONEBRIDGE HOUSE.

The eventful Monday came at last, and with my little box corded up, with
Mrs Hudson as an escort, and a pair of brand-new knickerbockers upon my
manly person, I started off from my uncle's house in the coach for
Stonebridge, with all the world before me.

I had taken a rather gloomy farewell of my affectionate relative in his
study.  He had cautioned me as to my conduct, and given me to understand
that at Stonebridge House I should be a good deal more strictly looked
after than I had ever been with him.  Saying which he had bestowed on me
a threepenny-bit as "pocket-money" for the term, and wished me good-bye.
Under the circumstances I was not greatly overcome by this leave-
taking, and settled down to make myself comfortable for my long drive
with Mrs Hudson to Stonebridge.

Mrs Hudson had been my nurse ever since I could remember, and now the
poor old soul and I were to part for good.  For she was to see me safely
inside the doors of Stonebridge House, and then go back, not to my
uncle's (where she would no longer be needed), but to her own home.  Of
course she was very much depressed by the prospect, and so indeed was I.
For a good while we neither of us said much.  Then, by way of changing
the subject and beguiling the way, she began to address to me long and
solemn exhortations as to my conduct at the new school.  She knew as
much about "schools for backward and troublesome boys" as I did; but
that was no matter.

She made me promise, for one thing, that I would make a point of wearing
a clean collar three times a week; and, for another, of calling the
housekeeper's attention to the very first sign of a hole in my socks.
(As my socks, by the way, usually showed the daylight in upon six out of
the ten toes, and one out of the two heels every time I took off my
boots, I was promising a lot when I made this bargain!)  Further, I was
to see my Sunday clothes were always _hung_ on pegs, and not _laid_ in
drawers; and my blue necktie, mind, was not to be touched till my black-
and-pink was past work.

From these matters she passed on to my conduct towards my new masters
and companions.

"Mind and always tell them the truth straight out, Freddy," she said,
"and say `sir' whenever you speak to Mr Ladislaw--and say your prayers
regularly night and day, won't you? and be very careful to use your own
comb and brush, and not lend them about to the other young gentlemen."

Mrs Hudson, you see, had an easy way of flying from one topic to
another.  Her exhortations were crowded with pieces of good advice,
which may have sounded funny when all strung together, but were each of
them admirable taken separately.  I of course promised her everything.

The journey was a long one, but the day was bright, and we had a good
basketful of provender, so it was not tedious.  At length the driver
turned round, and said we should come in sight of Stonebridge at the
next turn of the road.

My spirits began to sink for the first time.  Dismal and all as
Brownstroke had been, how did I know I should not be happier there,
after all, than at this strange new place, where I knew no one?  I
wished the driver wouldn't go so fast.  Mrs Hudson saw my emotion, I
think, for she once more opened fire, and, so to speak, gathered up the
last crumbs of her good counsel.

"Oh, and Freddy dear," fumbling nervously in her pocket, and letting
down her veil, "write and tell me what they give you to eat; remember,
pork's bad for you, and leave your cuffs behind when you go out bird's-
nesting and all that.  Mind, I'll expect to hear about everything,
especially about whether you get warm baths pretty regularly, and if Mr
Ladislaw is a good Christian man--and look here, dear," she continued
hurriedly, producing a little parcel from the depths of her pocket,
"you're not to open this till I'm away, and be sure to take care of it,
and don't--"

"That there chimbley," interrupted the driver at this stage, "is the
fust 'ouse in Stonebridge."

Five minutes later we were standing in the hall of Stonebridge House.

It didn't look much like a school, I remember thinking.  It was a large
straggling building, rather like a farmhouse, with low ceilings and
rickety stairs.  The outside was neat, but not very picturesque, and the
front garden seemed to have about as much grass in it as the stairs had
carpets.  As we stood waiting for some one to answer our ring, I
listened nervously, I remember, for any sound or trace of my fellow
"backward and troublesome boys," but the school appeared to be confined
to one of the long straggling wings behind, and not to encroach on the
state portion of the house.

After a second vigorous pull at the bell by our coachman, a stern and
scraggy female put in her appearance.

"Is this Frederick Batchelor?" she inquired, in tones which put my
juvenile back up instantly.

"Yes, this is Master Freddy," put in the nervous Mrs Hudson, anxious to
conciliate every one on my behalf.  "Freddy, dear, say--"

"Is that his box?" continued the stern dame.

"Yes," said Mrs Hudson, feeling rather chilled; "that's his box."

"Nothing else?"

"No, except his umbrella, and a few--"

"Take the box up to my room," said the lady to a boy who appeared at
this moment.  "Where is the key?"

"I've got that, marm," replied Mrs Hudson, warming up a little, "and I
should like to go over his things myself as they are unpacked."

"Wholly unnecessary," replied the female, holding out her hand for the
key.  "I see to everything of that kind here."

"But I _mean_ to open the box!" cried Mrs Hudson, breaking out into a
passion quite unusual with her.

I, too, had been getting the steam up privately during the last few
minutes, and the sight of Mrs Hudson's agitation was enough to start
the train.

"Yes," said I, swelling out with indignation, "Mrs Hudson and I are
going to open the box.  You sha'n't touch it!"

The female appeared to be not in the least put out by this little
display of feeling.  In fact, she seemed used to it, for she stood
quietly with her arms folded, apparently waiting till we both of us
thought fit to subside.

Poor Mrs Hudson was no match for this sort of battle.  She lost her
control, and expressed herself of things in general, and the female in
particular, with a fluency which quite astonished me, and I did my
little best to back her up.  In the midst of our joint address a
gentleman appeared on the scene, whom I correctly divined to be Mr
Ladislaw himself.

Mr Ladislaw was a short, dapper man, in rather seedy clothes, with long
sandy hair brushed right back over the top of his head, and no hair at
all on his face.  He might have been thirty, or he might have been
fifty.  His eyes were very small and close together; his brow was stern,
and his mouth a good deal pulled down at the corners.  Altogether, I
didn't take to him at first glance, still less when he broke into the
conversation and distinctly took the part of Mrs Hudson's adversary.

"What is all this, Miss Henniker?" he said in a quick, sharp voice,
which made me very uncomfortable.

"This is Mr Jakeman's servant," answered the female.  "She was talking
a little rudely about Frederick Batchelor's luggage here."

"And so was I!"  I shouted valiantly.  "It's not _your_ luggage, and you
sha'n't have it, you old--beast!"

The last word came out half-involuntarily, and I was terribly frightened
as soon as it had escaped my lips.

I do not know how Mr Ladislaw or Miss Henniker took it, for I dare not
look up.  I heard Mrs Hudson utter a mild protest, and next moment was
conscious of being taken firmly by the hand by Mr Ladislaw and led to
the door from which he had just emerged.

"Remain here, Batchelor," said he, sternly, "till I come back."

There was something in his voice and manner which took the spirit out of
me, and he might have spared himself the trouble of locking the door
behind him.  I found myself in a small study, with shelves on the walls
and a writing-table in the window, which looked out on to a playground,
where, in the distance, I could catch sight of three boys swinging.

This first prospect of my future companions so interested me that I had
actually nearly forgotten all about poor Mrs Hudson, when Mr Ladislaw
entered the study and said--"The person is going now, Batchelor.  If you
like you can say good-bye."

I flew out into the hall.  Mrs Hudson was there crying, alone.  What we
said, and how we hugged one another, and how desperately we tried to be
cheerful, I need not relate.  I was utterly miserable.  My only friend,
the only friend I had, was going from me, leaving me in this cheerless
place all alone.  I would have given worlds to return with her.  Mr
Ladislaw stood by as we uttered our last farewells.

"Be a good boy, Freddy, dear; be a good boy," was all she could say.

"So I will, so I will," was all I could reply.  Then she turned to where
the coach was waiting.  But once more she paused, and drew from her
pocket another parcel, this time a box, of the nature of whose contents
I could readily guess.

"It's only a few sweets, dear.  There, be a good boy.  Good-bye,
Freddy!"

And in another minute the coach was grating away over the gravel drive,
and I stood utterly disconsolate in Stonebridge House, with my box of
sweets in one hand and Mr Ladislaw at the other.

Some of my readers may have stood in a similar situation.  If they have,
I dare say they can remember it as vividly as any incident in their
life.  I know I can.  I remember instinctively ramming the box into one
of my side trousers pockets, and at the same time wondering whether both
the hats hanging on the pegs were Mr Ladislaw's, or whether one of them
belonged to some one else.

Then suddenly it came over me that the former gentleman stood at my
side, and all my misery returned as he said--

"I will take you to Miss Henniker, Batchelor; follow me."

The sound of the wheels of Mrs Hudson's coach were still audible down
the road, and as I turned my back on them and followed Mr Ladislaw up
the carpetless stairs, it seemed as if I was leaving all hope behind me.

I found Miss Henniker in the middle of a large parlour, with my box
lying open on the ground beside her, and some of my vestments already
spread out on the table.  A half inclination to renew the rebellion came
over me, as I thought how poor dear Mrs Hudson had been triumphed over;
and all these tokens of her kindly soul, folded so neatly, inventoried
so precisely, and all so white and well aired, had here fallen into
strange hands, who reverenced them no more than--than the shirts and
collars and cuffs of I do not know how many more "backward or
troublesome" boys like myself.  But I restrained my feelings.

"I will leave Batchelor in your charge for the present," said Mr
Ladislaw.  At the same time he added something in an undertone to Miss
Henniker which I did not catch, but which I was positive had reference
to the dear departed Mrs Hudson, whereat I fumed inwardly, and vowed
that somehow or other I would pay Miss Henniker out.

When Mr Ladislaw was gone Miss Henniker continued her work in silence,
leaving me standing before her.  She examined all my clothes, looked at
the mark on every collar, every sock, and scrutinised the condition of
every shirt-front and "dicky."  At last she came to my Sunday suit, at
the sight of which I remembered all of a sudden my nurse's injunction,
and said, as meekly as possible, "Oh, if you please, Mrs Hudson says
those are to be hung up, and not laid flat!"

Miss Henniker stared at me as if I had asked her her age!

"Silence!" she said, when she could sufficiently recover herself;
"and--"

"And," continued I, carried away with my subject, and really not hearing
her remonstrance--"and, if you please, I'm to have three clean collars a
week, and you're to darn--"

"Frederick Batchelor!" exclaimed Miss Henniker, letting drop what she
had in her hand, and stamping her foot with most unwonted animation;
"did you hear me order you to hold your tongue?  Don't dare to speak
again, sir, till you're spoken to, or you will be punished."

This tirade greatly surprised me.  I had been quite pleased with myself
for remembering all Mrs Hudson's directions, and so intent on relieving
my mind of them, that I had not noticed the growing rage of the middle-
aged Henniker.  In after years, when this story was told of me, I got
the credit of being the only human being, who all by himself, had
succeeded in "fetching" the Stonebridge housekeeper.  At present,
however, I was taken aback by her evident rage, and considered it
prudent to give heed to her admonition.  The unpacking was presently
finished, and the scarlet in the Henniker's face had gradually toned
down to its normal tint, when, turning to me, she silently motioned me
to follow her.  I did so, along a long passage, in which there were at
least two turnings.  At the end of this was a door leading into a room
containing half a dozen beds.  Not a very cheerful room--long and low
and badly lighted, with only two washstands, and a rather fusty flavour
about the bedclothes.  Don't suppose, at my age, I was critical on such
points; but when I take my boy to school, I do not think, with what I
know now, I shall put him anywhere where the dormitory is like that of
Stonebridge House.

"That," said Miss Henniker, pointing to one of the beds, "is your bed,
and you wash at this washstand."

"Oh," said I, again forgetting myself; "you are to be sure my brush and
comb--"

"Silence, Batchelor!" once more reiterated Miss Henniker.

From the dormitory I was conducted to the schoolroom, and from the
schoolroom to the dining-room, and from the dining-room to the boot-
room, and my duties were explained in each.

It was in the latter apartment that I first made the acquaintance of one
of my fellow "troublesome or backwards."

A biggish boy was adopting the novel expedient for getting on a tight
boot of turning his back to the wall and kicking out at it like a horse
when I and my conductress entered.

The latter very nearly came in for one of the kicks.

"Flanagan," said she, "that is not allowed.  I shall give you a bad mark
for it."

Flanagan went on kicking till the end of the sentence, and then subsided
ruefully, and said, "The bothering thing won't come on or off, please,
ma'am.  It won't come on with shoving."

"If your boots are too small," replied the lady, solemnly, begging the
question, "you must write home for new ones."

"But the bothering things--"

"Batchelor," said Miss Henniker, turning to me, "this is the boot-room,
where you will have to put on and take off your boots whenever you go
out or come in.  This boy is going out, and will take you into the
playground with him," and away she went, leaving me in the hands of the
volatile Flanagan.

"Who are you?" he demanded.

It was a horribly dark place, this boot-room, and I could scarcely see
who it was who was questioning me.  He seemed to be a big boy, a year or
two older than myself, with a face which, as far as I could make it out,
was not altogether unpleasant.  He continued stamping with his
refractory boots all the time he was talking to me, letting out
occasionally behind, in spite of Miss Henniker.

"Who are you?  What's your name?" he said.

"Fred Batchelor," I replied, deferentially.

"Batchelor, eh?  Are you a backward or a troublesome, eh?"

This was a poser.  I had never put the question to myself, and was
wholly at a loss how to answer.  I told Flanagan so.

"Oh, but you're _bound_ to know!" he exclaimed.  "What did they send you
here for, eh?"

Whereupon I was drawn out to narrate, greatly to Flanagan's
satisfaction, the affair of Cad Prog and his baby sister.

"Hurrah!" said he, when I had done.  "Hurrah, you're a troublesome!
That makes seven troublesomes, and only two backwards!" and in his
jubilation he gave a specially vigorous kick out behind, and finally
drove the obstinate boot home.

"Yes," said he, "there was no end of discussion about it.  I was afraid
you were a backward, that I was!  If the other new fellow's only a
troublesome too, we shall have it all to ourselves.  Philpot, you know,"
added he confidentially, "is a backward by rights, but he calls himself
one of us because of the Tuesday night jams."

"Is there another new boy too?"  I inquired, plucking up heart with this
friendly comrade.

"Oh! he's coming to-morrow.  Never mind!  Even if he's a `back' it don't
matter, except for the glory of the thing!  The `troubs' were always
ahead all Ladislaw's time, and he's no chicken.  I say, come in the
playground, can't you?"

I followed rather nervously.  A new boy never takes all at once to his
first walk in the playground; but with Flanagan as my protector--who was
"Hail fellow, well met," with every one, even the backwards--I got
through the ordeal pretty easily.

There were eight boys altogether at Stonebridge House, and I was
introduced--or rather exhibited--to most of them that afternoon.  Some
received me roughly and others indifferently.  The verdict, on the
whole, seemed to be that there was plenty of time to see what sort of a
fellow I was, and for the present the less I was made to think of myself
the better.  So they all talked rather loud in my presence, and showed
off, as boys will do; and each expected--or, at any rate, attempted--to
impress me with a sense of his particular importance.

This treatment gave me time to make observations as well as them, and
before the afternoon ended I had a pretty good idea whom I liked and
whom I did not like at Stonebridge House.

Presently we were summoned in to a bread-and-cheese supper, with cold
water, and shortly afterwards ordered off to bed.  I said my prayers
before I went to sleep, as I had promised good Mrs Hudson, and, except
for being shouted at to mind I did not snore or talk in my sleep--the
punishment for which crimes was something terrific--I was allowed to go
to sleep in peace, very lonely at heart, and with a good deal of secret
trepidation as I looked forward and wondered what would be my lot at
Stonebridge House.



CHAPTER THREE.

HOW A MYSTERIOUS NEW BOY CAME TO STONEBRIDGE HOUSE.

When I rose next morning, and proceeded to take my turn at the
washstand, and array my person in the travel-stained garments of the
previous day, it seemed ages since I had parted with Brownstroke and
entered the gloomy precincts of Stonebridge House.

Everything and everybody around me was gloomy.  Even Flanagan seemed not
yet to have got up the steam; and as for the other boys--they skulked
morosely through the process of dressing, and hardly uttered a word.  It
was a beautiful day outside; the sun was lighting up the fields, and the
birds were singing merrily in the trees; but somehow or other the good
cheer didn't seem to penetrate inside the walls of Stonebridge House.

I tried to get up a conversation with Flanagan, but he looked half-
frightened and half guilty as I did so.

"I say," said I, "couldn't we open the window and let some fresh air
in?"

(Mrs Hudson had always been strong on fresh air.)

"Look-out, I say," said Flanagan, in a frightened whisper; "you'll get
us all in a row!"

"In a row?"  I replied.  "Who with?"

"Why, old Hen; but shut up, do you hear?" and here he dipped his face in
the basin, and so effectually ended the talk.

This was quite a revelation to me.  Get in a row with Miss Henniker for
speaking to one of my schoolfellows in the dormitory!  A lively prospect
and no mistake.

Presently a bell rang, and we all wended our way down stairs into the
parlour where I had yesterday enjoyed my _tete-a-tete_ with Miss
Henniker.  Here we found that lady standing majestically in the middle
of the room, like a general about to review a regiment.

"Show nails!" she ejaculated, as soon as all were assembled.

This mysterious mandate was the signal for each boy passing before her,
exhibiting, as he did so, his hands.

As I was last in the procession I had time to watch the effect of this
proceeding.  "Showing nails," as I afterwards found out, was a very old-
established rule at Stonebridge House, and one under which every
generation of "backward and troublesome boys" who resided there had
groaned.  If any boy's hands or nails were, in the opinion of Miss
Henniker, unclean or untidy, he received a bad mark, and was at once
dismissed to the dormitory to remedy the defect.

One or two in front of me suffered thus, and a glance down at my own
extremities made me a little doubtful as to my fate.  I did what I could
with them privately, but their appearance was not much improved.

At last I stood for inspection before the dreadful Henniker.

"Your hands are dirty, Batchelor.  A bad mark.  Go and wash them."

The bad mark, whatever it might mean, appeared to me very unjust.  Had I
known the rule, it would have been different, but how was I to know,
when no one had told me?

"Please, ma'am, I didn't--"

"Two bad marks for talking!" was my only reply, and off I slunk, feeling
rather crushed, to the dormitory.

I found Flanagan scrubbing at our basin.

"Ah," said he, "I thought you'd get potted."

"I think it's a shame," said I.

"Look-out, I say," exclaimed Flanagan, skipping away as if he'd been
shot, and resuming his wash at the other basin.

Presently he came back on tip-toe, and whispered, "Why can't you talk
lower, you young muff?"

"Surely she can't hear, here up stairs?"

"Can't she?  That's all you know!  She hears every word you say all over
the place, I tell you."

I went on "hard all" at the nail-brush for a minute or so in much
perplexity.

"Keep what you've got to say till you get outside.  Thank goodness,
she's rheumatic or something, and we can open our mouths there.  I say,"
added he, looking critically at my hands, "you'd better give those nails
of yours a cut, or you'll get potted again."

I was grateful for this hint, and felt in my pocket for my knife.  In
doing so I encountered the box of sweets Mrs Hudson had left in my hand
yesterday, and which, amid other distractions, I had positively
forgotten.  "Oh, look here," said I, producing the box, delighted to be
able to do a good turn to my friendly schoolfellow.  "Have some of
these, will you?"

Flanagan's face, instead of breaking out into grateful smiles, as I
anticipated, assumed a sudden scowl, and at the same moment Miss
Henniker entered the dormitory!

Quick as thought I plunged the box back into my pocket, and looked as
unconcerned as it was possible to do under the trying circumstances.

"Flanagan and Batchelor, a bad mark each for talking," said the now
painfully familiar voice.  "What have you there, Batchelor?" added she,
holding out her hand.  "Something Mrs Hudson gave me," I replied.

"I wish to see it."

I was prepared to resist.  I could stand a good deal, but sheer robbery
was a thing I never fancied.  However, a knowing look on Flanagan's face
warned me to submit, and I produced the box.

The lady took it and opened it.  Then closing it, she put it in her own
pocket, saying--

"This is confiscated till the end of the term.  Flanagan and Batchelor,
`Show nails.'"

We did show nails.  Mine still needed some trimming before they were
satisfactory, and then I was bidden descend to the parlour for prayers.

Prayers at Stonebridge House consisted of a few sentences somewhat
quickly uttered by Mr Ladislaw, who put in an appearance for the
occasion, followed by a loud "Amen" from Miss Henniker, and in almost
the same breath, on this occasion, the award of a bad mark to Philpot
for having opened his eyes twice during the ceremony.

After this we partook of a silent breakfast, and adjourned for study.
Miss Henniker dogged us wherever we went and whatever we did.  She sat
and glared at us all breakfast time; she sat and glared at us while Mr
Ladislaw, or Mr Hashford, the usher, were drilling Latin grammar and
arithmetic into us.  She sat and glared while we ate our dinner, and she
stood and glared when after school we assembled in the boot-room and
prepared to escape to the playground.  Even there, if we ventured to
lift our voices too near the house, a bad mark was shot at us from a
window, and if an unlucky ball should come within range of her claws it
was almost certainly "confiscated."

I don't suppose Stonebridge House, except for Miss Henniker, was much
worse than most schools for "backward and troublesome boys."  We were
fairly well fed, and fairly well taught, and fairly well quartered.  I
even think we might have enjoyed ourselves now and then, had we been
left to ourselves.  But we never _were_ left to ourselves.  From morning
to night, and, for all we could tell, from night till morning, we were
looked after by the lady housekeeper, and that one fact made Stonebridge
House almost intolerable.

We were lounging about in the so-called "playground" that afternoon, and
I was beginning to discover a little more about some of my new
schoolfellows, when there appeared walking towards us down the gravel
path a boy about my own age.

He was slender and delicate-looking, I remember, and his pale face
contrasted strangely with his almost black clustering hair and his dark
big eyes.  He wasn't a handsome boy, I remember thinking; but there was
something striking about him, for all that.  It may have been his solemn
expression, or his square jaw, or his eyes, or his brow, or his hair, or
the whole of them put together.  All I know is, that the sight of him as
he appeared that afternoon walking towards us in the playground, has
lived in my memory ever since, and will probably live there till I die.

"Here comes the new boy," said Philpot.  Of course we all knew it must
be he.

"And a queer fish, too, by all appearances," responded Flanagan.

"Very queer indeed," said Hawkesbury.  Hawkesbury was one of the two
"backwards,"--but for all that he was the cleverest boy, so the others
told me, in the whole school.

"He doesn't seem very bashful," said another.

Nor indeed did he.  He sauntered slowly down the path, looking solemnly
now on one side, now on the other, and now at us all, until presently he
stood in our midst, and gazed half inquiringly, half doubtfully, from
one to the other.

I know I felt a good deal more uncomfortable than he did himself, and
was quite glad when Flanagan broke the solemn silence.

"Hullo, youngster, who are you, eh?"

"Smith," laconically replied the new boy, looking his questioner in the
face.

There was nothing impudent in the way he spoke or looked; but somehow or
other his tone didn't seem quite as humble and abject as old boys are
wont to expect from new.  Flanagan's next inquiry therefore was a little
more roughly uttered.

"What's your Christian name, you young donkey?  You don't suppose you're
the only Smith in the world, do you?"

We laughed at this.  It wasn't half bad for Flanagan.

The new boy, however, remained quite solemn as he replied, briefly,
"John Smith."

"And where do you come from?" said Philpot, taking up the questioning,
and determining to get more out of the new-comer than Flanagan had; "and
who's your father, do you hear? and how many sisters have you got? and
why are you sent here? and are you a backward or a troublesome, eh?"

The new boy gazed in grave bewilderment at the questioner during this
speech.  When it was ended, he quietly proceeded to move off to another
part of the playground without vouchsafing any reply.

But Philpot, who was on his mettle, prevented this manoeuvre by a sudden
and dexterous grip of the arm, and drew him back into the circle.

"Do you hear what I say to you?" said he, roughly, emphasising his
question with a shake.  "What on earth do you mean by going off without
answering?"

"It's no business of yours, is it?" said the new boy, mildly.

"Yes," exclaimed Philpot, "it is.  You don't suppose we fellows are
going to be humbugged by a young sneak like you, do you?"

"I sha'n't tell you, then!" quietly replied Smith.

This astounding reply, quietly as it was uttered, quite took away
Philpot's breath, and the breath of all of us.  We were so astonished,
indeed, that for some time no one could utter a word or make up his mind
what to do next.

Then gradually it dawned on the company generally that this defiant,
stuck-up youngster must immediately be put down.

"Come here!" said Philpot, as majestically as he could.

Smith remained where he was, as solemn as ever.  But I, who stood near,
could detect a queer light in his black eyes that looked rather ominous.

When one fellow, in the presence of an admiring audience, grandly orders
a junior to "Come here!" and when that junior coolly declines to move,
it is a very critical situation both for the boy who orders and the boy
who disobeys.  For the one, unless he follows up his brag, will pretty
certainly be laughed at; and the other, unless he shows the white
feather and runs away, will generally come in for a little rough usage.
This seemed likely to happen now.  As Smith would not come to Philpot
for a thrashing, Philpot must go to Smith and thrash him where he stood.
And so doubtless he would have done, had not Mr Hashford appeared at
that very moment on the gravel walk and summoned us in to preparation.

This interruption was most unsatisfactory.  Those who wanted to see what
the new boy was made of were disappointed, and those whose dignity
wanted putting to-rights were still more disappointed.

But there was no helping it.  We trailed slowly indoors, Philpot vowing
he would be quits with the young cub some day, and Hawkesbury, in his
usual smiling way, suggesting that "the new boy didn't seem a very nice
boy."

"I know what _I_ should do," said Flanagan, "if I--"

"A bad mark to Flanagan for not coming in quietly," said the voice of
Miss Henniker; and at the sound the spirit went out from us, and we
remembered we were once more in Stonebridge House.

"Preparation" was a dreadful time.  I knew perfectly well, though I
could not see her, that Miss Henniker's eyes were upon me all the time.
I could feel them on the back of my head and the small of my back.  You
never saw such an abject spectacle as we nine spiritless youths appeared
bending over our books, hardly daring to turn over a leaf or dip a pen,
for fear of hearing that hateful voice.  I could not help, however,
turning my eyes to where the new boy sat, to see how he was faring.  He,
too, seemed infected with the depressing air of the place, and was
furtively looking round among his new schoolfellows.  I felt half
fascinated by his black eyes, and when presently they turned and met
mine, I almost thought I liked the new boy.  My face must somehow have
expressed what was passing through my mind, for as our eyes met there
was a very faint smile on his lips, which I could not help returning.

"Batchelor and Smith, a bad mark each for inattention.  That makes four
bad marks to Batchelor in one day.  No playground for half a week!"

Cheerful!  I was getting used to the lady by this time, and remember
sitting for the rest of the time calculating that if I got four bad
marks every day of the week, that would be twenty-eight a week, or a
hundred and twelve a month; and that if four bad marks deprived me of
half a week's playground, one month's bad marks would involve an absence
of precisely fourteen weeks from that peaceful retreat; whereat I bit my
pen, and marvelled inwardly.

The dreary day seemed as if it would never come to an end.  My spirits
sank when, after "preparation," we were ordered up stairs to tea.  How
_could_ one enjoy tea poured out by Miss Henniker?  Some people call it
the "cup that cheers."  Let them take tea one afternoon at Stonebridge
House, and they will soon be cured of that notion!  I got another bad
mark during the meal for scooping up the sugar at the bottom of my cup
with my spoon.

"Surely," thought I, "they'll let us read or play, or do as we like,
after tea for a bit?"

Vain hope!  The meal ended, we again went down to our desks, where
sheets of paper were distributed to each, and we were ordered to "write
home"!  Write home under Miss Henniker's eye!  That was worse than
anything!

I began, however, as best I could.  Of course, my letter was to Mrs
Hudson.  Where she was, was the only home I knew.  I was pretty certain,
of course, the letter would be looked over, but for all that I tried not
to let the fact make any difference, and, as I warmed up to my task, I
found my whole soul going out into my letter.  I forgot all about its
contents being perused, and was actually betrayed into shedding a few
tears at the thought of my dear absent protectress.

"I wish I was back with you," I wrote.  "It's _miserable_ here.  The
sweets you gave me have been stolen by that horrid old--"

At this interesting juncture I was conscious of somebody standing behind
me and looking over my shoulder.  It was Miss Henniker!

"Give me that," she said.

I snatched the letter up and tore it into pieces.  I could stand a good
deal, as I have said, but even a boy of twelve must draw the line
somewhere.

Miss Henniker stood motionless as I destroyed my letter, and then said,
in icy tones--

"Follow me, Batchelor."

I rose meekly, and followed her--I cared not if it was to the gallows!
She led me to her parlour, and ordered me to stand in the corner.  Then
she rang her bell.

"Tell Mr Ladislaw I should like to see him," said she to the servant.

In due time Mr Ladislaw appeared, and the case for the prosecution
forthwith opened.  My misdemeanours for the entire day were narrated,
culminating with this last heinous offence.

"Batchelor," said Miss Henniker, "repeat to Mr Ladislaw word for word
what you were writing when I came to you."

I know not what spirit of meekness came over me.  I did as I was told,
and repeated the sentence verbatim down to the words, "The sweets you
gave me have been stolen by that horrid old--"

"Old what?" said Mr Ladislaw.

"Old what?" said Miss Henniker, I hesitated.

"Come, now, say what you were going to write," demanded Mr Ladislaw.

"Old what, Batchelor?" reiterated the Henniker, keeping her eyes on me.

I must be honest!

"Old beast," I said in a low tone.

"I thought so," said the lady.  "Batchelor has called me a beast twice
since he came here, Mr Ladislaw."

"Batchelor must be punished," said Mr Ladislaw, who, I could not help
privately thinking, was a little afraid of Miss Henniker himself.  "Come
to my study, sir."

I came, followed of course by the Henniker; and in Mr Ladislaw's study
I was caned on both hands.  Miss Henniker would, I fancy, have laid it
on a little harder than the master did.  Still, it was enough to make me
smart.

But the smart within was far worse than that without.

"Return to the class-room now, and write at once to your uncle, Mr
Jakeman," said Miss Henniker, "and to no one else."

I returned to the room, where I found an eager whispered discussion
going on.  When a boy was taken off for punishment by the Henniker,
those who were left always had a brief opportunity for conversation.

The subject of discussion, I found, was Smith, who sat apart, with no
paper before him, apparently exempt from the general task.  As usual, he
was looking solemnly round him, but in no way to explain the mystery.
At last Hawkesbury, the "pet" of the school--in other words, the only
boy who seemed to get on with Miss Henniker and Mr Ladislaw--had walked
up to Mr Hashford's desk, where the usher sat in temporary authority,
and had said, "Oh, Smith, the new boy, hasn't any paper, Mr Hashford."

"No, I was told not to give him any," said the usher, terrified lest the
Henniker should return.

"I wonder why?" said Hawkesbury.

"Yes, it is strange," replied Mr Hashford; "but please go to your
place, Hawkesbury; Miss Henniker will return."

Hawkesbury had reported this brief conversation to his fellows, and this
was what had given rise to the discussion I found going on when I
returned from my caning.  It was soon cut short by the Henniker's
reappearance; but the mystery became all the greater when it was seen
that no notice was taken of the new boy's idleness, and that at the
close of the exercise, when we were all called upon to bring up our
letters, his name was distinctly omitted.

My effusion to my uncle was brief and to the point.

Dear Uncle Jakeman,--Miss Henniker wishes me to say that I have had five
bad marks to-day.  I have also been caned hard on both hands for writing
to dear Mrs Hudson, and for calling Miss Henniker bad names.  I hope
you are very well.  Believe me, dear uncle, your affectionate nephew,--

Fred.  Batchelor.

With the exception of striking out the "dear" before Mrs Hudson this
letter was allowed to pass.

In due time and to my great relief the bell rang for bed, and glad of
any chance of forgetting the hateful place, I went up stairs to the
dormitory.

The new boy, I found, was to occupy the bed next mine, at which I was
rather pleased than otherwise.  I could not make out why I should take a
fancy to Smith, but somehow I did; and when once during the night I
happened to wake, and heard what sounded very much like a smothered sob
in the bed next mine, I at least had the consolation of being sure I was
not the only miserable boy at Stonebridge House.



CHAPTER FOUR.

HOW SMITH AND I TOOK A BREATH OF FRESH AIR AND PAID FOR IT.

As "circumstances over which I had no control" prevented my joining my
fellow troublesome and backward boys in their daily retreat to the
playground for the next few days, I had only a limited opportunity of
seeing how the new boy settled down to his new surroundings.

Inside Stonebridge House we were all alike, all equally subdued and
"Henpecked."  The playground was really the only place where any display
of character could be made; and as for three days I was a prisoner,
Smith remained as much a mystery to me at the end of the week as he had
been on the day of his arrival.

I could, however, guess from his looks and the looks of the others that
he was having rather a bad time of it out there.  Hawkesbury used to
come in with such a gracious smile every afternoon that I was certain
something was wrong; and Philpot's flushed face, and Rathbone's scowl,
and Flanagan's unusual gravity, all went to corroborate the suspicion.
But Smith's face and manner were the most tell-tale.  The first day he
had seemed a little doubtful, but gradually the lines of his mouth
pulled tighter at the corners, and his eyes flashed oftener, and I could
guess easily enough that he at least had not found his heart's content
at Stonebridge House.

My term of penal servitude expired on Sunday; and in some respects I
came out of it better than I had gone in.  For Mr Hashford had the
charge of all detained boys, and he, good-hearted, Henniker-dreading
usher that he was, had spent the three days in drilling me hard in
decimal fractions; and so well too, that I actually came to enjoy the
exercise, and looked upon the "repeating dot" as a positive pastime.
Even Miss Henniker could not rob me of that pleasure.

"Batchelor," whispered Flanagan to me, as we walked two and two to
church behind the Henniker that Sunday, "that new fellow's an awfully
queer cove.  I can't make him out."

"Nor can I.  But how's he been getting on the last day or two?"

"Getting on!  You never knew such scenes as we've had.  He's afraid of
nobody.  He licked Philpot to fits on Thursday--smashed him, I tell you.
You never saw such a demon as he is when his dander's up.  Then he
walked into Rathbone; and if Rathbone hadn't been a foot taller than
him, with arms as long as windmills, he'd have smashed Rathbone."

"Did he try it on you?"  I inquired.

"No--why should he?" said the sturdy Flanagan; "time enough for that
when I make a brute of myself to him.  But I dare say he'd smash me too.
It's as good as a play, I tell you.  That time he did for Philpot he
was as quick with his right, and walked in under his man's guard, and
drove up at him, and took him on the flank just like--"

"A bad mark to Flanagan for talking, and to Batchelor for listening,"
rose the voice of Miss Henniker in the street.

This public award made us both jump, and colour up too, for there were a
lot of ladies and gentlemen and young ladies close at hand, all of whom
must have distinctly heard the Henniker's genial observation.  However,
I was most curious to hear more of Smith.  Flanagan and I both had colds
the rest of the way and finished our conversation behind our
handkerchiefs.

"Have you heard any more about him?" asked I.  "Not a word.  He's as
close as an owl.  Hawkesbury says Hashford told him he came here
straight from another school.  By the way--keep your handkerchief up,
man!--by the way, when I said he's afraid of no one, he _is_ afraid of
Hawkesbury, I fancy.  I don't know why--"

"I don't think I like Hawkesbury, either.  He's got such an everlasting
grin."

"So will you have if you don't talk lower, you young idiot," said
Flanagan.  "Yes, it's the grin that fetches Smith, I fancy.  I grinned
at him one day, meaning to be friendly, but he didn't half like it."

I laughed at this, greatly to Flanagan's wrath.  Luckily, however, no
evil consequences happened, and we reached church without any more bad
marks.

Of all days, Sunday at Stonebridge House was the most miserable and
desperate.  We had not even the occupation of lessons, still less the
escape to the playground.  After church, we were marched back to the
school, and there set to read some dry task book till dinner.

And after dinner we were set to copy out a chapter of Jeremiah or some
other equally suitable passage from beginning to end on ruled paper,
getting bad marks as on week days for all faults.  After this came tea,
and after tea another dreary march forth to church.  But the culminating
horror of the day was yet to come.  After evening church--and there
really was a sense of escape and peace in the old church, even though we
could not make out the sermon--after evening church, we were all taken
up to Miss Henniker's parlour, and there doomed to sit perfectly still
for a whole hour, while she read aloud something by one of the very old
masters.  Oh, the agony of those Sunday evenings!

I have sat fascinated by that awful voice, with a cramp in my leg that I
dared not stir to relieve, or a tickling in the small of my back from
which there was no escape, or a cobweb on my face I had not the courage
to brush away.  I have felt sleep taking possession of me, yet daring
neither to yawn, nor nod my head, nor wink my eyes.  I have stared
fixedly at the gas, or the old china ornament on the mantelpiece, till
my eyes became watery with the effort and I have suffered all the
tortures of a cold in the head without the possibility either of
sniffing or clearing my throat!

It made no difference to Miss Henniker that she was reading aloud.  She
had her eye on every one of us the whole time, nay, more than ever; and
many a bad mark was sprinkled up with her readings.

"Once more, dearly beloved--Batchelor, a bad mark," became to me quite a
familiar sound before I had been many Sundays at Stonebridge House.

This particular Sunday evening I thought I should go mad, at least,
during the first part of the performance.  I _couldn't_ sit still, and
the more I tried the more restless I became.  At last, however, some
chance directed my eyes to where the new boy was sitting in a distant
corner of the room, and from that moment, I can't tell why, I became a
model of quiet sitting.  I found myself forgetting all about the
cobwebs, and Mrs Hudson, and the china ornament, and the small of my
back, and thinking of nothing but this solemn, queer boy, with his big
eyes, and black hair, and troubled face.  The more I looked at him the
more sorry I felt for him, and the more I wished to be his friend.  I
would--

"Batchelor, repeat the last words I read," broke in Miss Henniker.

She thought she had me, but no!  Far away as my thoughts had been, my
ears had mechanically retained those last melodious strains, and I
answered, promptly, "Latitudinarianism of an unintelligent
emotionalism!"

One to me!  And I returned to my brown study triumphant, and pretty
secure against further molestation.

I made up my mind, come what would, I would speak to the new boy and let
him see _I_ was not against him.

Some one will smile, of course, and say, sarcastically, "What a treat
for the new boy!"  But if he only knew with what fear and trembling I
made that resolution, he would acquit Fred Batchelor of any very great
self-importance in the matter.

Bedtime came at last, and, thankful to have the day over, we crawled
away to our roosts.  The new boy's bed, as I have said, was next mine,
and I conceived the determination, if I could only keep awake, of
speaking to him after every one was asleep.

It was hard work that keeping awake; but I managed it.  Gradually, one
after another dropped off, and the padding footsteps overhead and the
voices below died away till nothing was heard but the angry tick of the
clock outside and the regular breathing of the sleepers on every hand.

Then I softly slid out of bed and crawled on my hands and knees to
Smith's bed.  It was an anxious moment for me.  He might be asleep, and
wake up in a fright to find some one near him; or he might be awake and
resent my intrusion.  Still I determined I _would_ go to him, and I was
rewarded.

"Is that Batchelor?"  I heard him whisper as I approached his bed.

"Yes," I answered, joyfully, and feeling half the battle over.

"Come in," said he, moving to make room for me.

"Oh no!"  I said, in terror at the very idea.  "Suppose I fell asleep.
I'll kneel here, and then if any one comes I can crawl back."

"What is it?"  Smith said, presently, after a long and awkward pause.

I was thankful that he broke the ice.

"Oh," I whispered, "aren't you jolly miserable here, I say?"

"Pretty!" said he.  "Aren't you?"

"Oh, yes!  But the fellows are all so unkind to you."

Smith gave a little bitter laugh.  "That doesn't matter," he said.

"Doesn't it?  I wish I was bigger, I'd back you up--and so will
Flanagan, if you let him."

"Thanks, old man!" said the new boy, putting his hand on my arm.  "It's
not the fellows I mind, it's--" and here he pulled up.

"Old Henniker," I put in, in accents of smothered rage.

"Ugh!" said Smith; "she's awful!"

But somehow it occurred to me the Henniker was not what Smith was going
to say when he pulled up so suddenly just before.  I felt certain there
was something mysterious about him, and of course, being a boy, I burned
to know.

However, he showed no signs of getting back to that subject, and we
talked about a lot of things, thankful to have scope for once for our
pent-up feelings.  It was one of the happiest times I had known for
years, as I knelt there on the hard carpetless floor and found my heart
going out to the heart of a friend.  What we talked about was of little
moment; it was probably merely about boys' trifles, such as any boy
might tell another.  What was of moment was that there, in dreary,
cheerless Stonebridge House, we had found some interest in common, and
some object for our spiritless lives.

I told him all about home and my uncle, in hopes that he would be
equally communicative, but here he disappointed me.

"Are your father and mother dead too?"  I said.

"Not both," he replied.

It was spoken in a tone half nervous, half vexed, so I did not try to
pursue the subject.

Presently he changed the subject and said, "How do you like that fellow
Hawkesbury?"

"Not much; though I don't know why."

Smith put out his hand and pulled my face close to his as he whispered,
"I hate him!"

"Has he been bullying you?"  I inquired.

"No," said Smith.  "But he's--ugh--I don't know any more than you do why
I hate him.  I say, shall you be out in the playground to-morrow?"

"Yes, unless I get four bad marks before.  I've two against me already."

"Oh, don't get any more.  I want to go for a walk."

"A walk!"  I exclaimed.  "You'll never be allowed!"

"But we might slip out just for a few minutes; it's awful never to get
out."

It _was_ awful; but the risk.  However, I had promised to back him up,
and so I said where he went I would go.

"If it was only to climb one tree, or see just one bird on the bushes,"
he said, almost pathetically.  "But I say, ain't you getting cold?"

I was not, I protested, and for a long time more we continued talking.
Then at last the creaking of a board, or the noise of a mouse, startled
us in earnest, and in a moment I had darted back to my bed.  All was
quiet again.

"Good-night, old boy," I whispered.

"Good-night, old man.  Awfully good of you," he replied.  "I'll come to
you to-morrow."

And not long after we were both sound asleep.

I managed to keep down my bad marks below four next day, so that I was
able once more to take my walks abroad in the playground.

It was with a little feeling of misgiving that I sallied forth, for
Smith was at my side, reminding me of our resolution to escape, if only
for a few minutes, to the free country outside.  I would greatly have
preferred not trying it, but Smith was set on it, and I had not the face
to leave him in the lurch.

The far end of the playground, beyond the swings, broke into a patch of
tangled thicket, beyond which again a little ditch separated the grounds
of Stonebridge House from the country outside.

To this thicket, therefore, we wandered, after "showing ourselves" on
the swings for a few minutes, for the sake of allaying suspicions.  The
other fellows were most of them loafing about on the far side of the
gravel yard, where the marble holes were; so we managed to make our
escape pretty easily, and found ourselves at length standing on the
breezy heath.  Once there, Smith's whole manner changed to one of wild
delight.  The sense of freedom seemed to intoxicate him, and the
infection seized me too.  We scampered about in a perfectly ridiculous
manner; up hills and down hollows, leaping over bushes, chasing one
another, and, in fact, behaving exactly like two kids (as we were),
suddenly let loose from confinement.

"I say," said I, all out of breath, "suppose we run clean away, Smith?"

Smith pulled up in the middle of a scamper, and looked up and down on
every side.  Then the old solemn look came as he replied, "Where to,
that's it?"

"Oh, Brownstroke, if you like; or your home.  Let's turn up, you know,
and give them a jolly surprise."

Smith's face clouded over as he said, hurriedly, "I say, it's time to be
going back, or we shall get caught."

This was an effectual damper to any idea of flight, and we quickly
turned back once more to Stonebridge House.

We found our gap all right, and strolled back past the swings and up the
gravel walk as unconcernedly as possible, fully believing no one had
been witness of our escapade.  We were wrong.

Hawkesbury came up to us as we neared the house, with the usual smile on
his face.

"Didn't you hear me calling?" he said.  "You know it's against rules to
go out of bounds, and I thought--"

"What! who's been out of bounds?" said the voice of the Henniker at that
moment.

Hawkesbury looked dejected.

"Who did you say, Hawkesbury, had been out of bounds?"

"I'd rather not tell tales," said Hawkesbury, sweetly.

"I've been out of bounds," blurted out Smith, "and so has Batchelor.  I
asked him to come, and Hawkesbury has been spying and--"

"Silence," cried Miss Henniker.  "Smith and Batchelor, follow me."

We followed duly to Mr Ladislaw's study, where we were arraigned.
Hawkesbury was sent for as evidence.  He came smiling, and declared he
may have been mistaken, perhaps it was two other boys; he hoped we
should not be punished, etcetera.  Smith was nearly breaking out once or
twice during this, and it was all I could do to keep him in.  Hawkesbury
was thanked and dismissed, and then, with the assistance of Miss
Henniker, Mr Hashford, and Mr Ladislaw, Smith and I were birched, and
forbidden the playground for a fortnight, during which period we were
required to observe absolute silence.

So ended our little adventure out for a puff of free air!  Among our
fellows we gained little enough sympathy for our misfortunes.  Flanagan
was the only fellow who seemed really sorry.  The rest of the ill-
conditioned lot saw in the affair only a good opportunity of crowing
over their ill-starred adversary, and telling me it served me right for
chumming up to such a one.

One day, greatly to my surprise, when the Henniker was away
superintending the flogging of Flanagan for some offence or other,
Hawkesbury came over and sat beside me.

"Oh," said he, softly, "Batchelor, I've been wanting to tell you how
sorry I am I helped get you into your scrape.  I didn't mean--I was only
anxious for you to know the rule.  I hope you'll forgive me?" and he
held out his hand.

What could I do?  Perhaps he was telling the truth after all, and we had
thought too badly of him.  And when a big boy comes and asks pardon of a
small one, it is always embarrassing for the latter.  So I gave him my
hand, and told him I was sure he did not mean it, and that it did not
matter at all.

"Thanks, Batchelor," he said, smiling quite gratefully.  "It's a relief
to me."

Then I watched him go on what I knew was a similar errand to Smith, but,
as I expected, his reception in that quarter was not quite so flattering
as it had been in my case.  I could see my chum's eyes fire up as he saw
the elder boy approach, and a flush come over his pale cheeks.  I
watched Hawkesbury blandly repeating his apology, and then suddenly, to
my astonishment and consternation, I saw Smith rise in his seat and
throw himself furiously upon his enemy.  Hawkesbury was standing near a
low form, and in the sudden surprise caused by this attack he tripped
over it and fell prone on the floor, just as Miss Henniker re-entered.

There was a brief pause of universal astonishment, then the Henniker
demanded, "What is this?  Tell me.  What is all this, Hawkesbury?"

Hawkesbury had risen to his feet, smiling as ever, and brushing the dust
from his coat, replied softly, "Nothing, really nothing, ma'am.  I fell
down, that's all."

"I knocked you down!" shouted Smith, panting like a steam-engine, and
trembling with excitement.

"Oh," said Hawkesbury, kindly, though not quite liking the downright way
in which the adventure had been summed up.  "It was only play, Miss
Henniker.  My fault as much as Smith's.  He never meant to be so rough.
Really."

"Silence, both!" said Miss Henniker.  "Smith, follow me!"

"Oh, Miss Henniker, please don't punish him," said Hawkesbury.

"Silence," replied the Henniker, icily.  "Come, Smith."

Miss Henniker had the wonderful art of knowing by instinct who was the
culprit in cases like this.  She was never troubled with a doubt as to
her verdict being a right one; and really it saved her a great deal of
trouble.

Smith was haled away to justice, where, in addition to a flogging and
further term of imprisonment, he was reduced for a given period to a
bread-and-water diet, and required publicly to beg Hawkesbury's pardon.

That there might be no delay about the execution of the last part of the
sentence, the culprit was conducted back forthwith to the schoolroom,
accompanied by Miss Henniker and Mr Ladislaw.

"Hawkesbury," said the latter, addressing the injured boy, "I have
desired Smith to beg your pardon here and now for his conduct to you.
Smith, do as you have been told."

Smith remained silent, and I who watched him could see that his mind was
made up.

"Do you hear Mr Ladislaw, Smith?" demanded the Henniker; "do as you are
bid, at once."

"Please, sir," began Hawkesbury, with his pleasant smile.

"Silence, Hawkesbury," said the Henniker.  "Now, Smith."

But she might have been addressing a log of wood.

"Do you hear what I say to you?" once more she exclaimed.

Smith only glared at her with his big eyes, and resolutely held his
tongue.

"Then," said Mr Ladislaw, "Smith must be publicly punished."

Smith was punished publicly; and a more repulsive spectacle I never wish
to witness.  A public punishment at Stonebridge House meant a flogging
administered to one helpless boy by the whole body of his schoolfellows,
two of whom firmly held the victim, while each of the others in turn
flogged him.  In the case of an unpopular boy like Smith, this
punishment was specially severe, and I turned actually sick as each of
the cowardly louts stepped up and vented their baffled wrath upon him.
Hawkesbury, of course, only made the slightest pretence of touching him;
but this of all his punishment seemed to be the part Smith could bear
least.  At last, when it was all over, the bruised boy slunk back to his
desk, and class proceeded.

That night, as I knelt beside my poor chum's bed, he said, "We've paid
pretty dear for our run on the heath, Fred."

"_You_ have, old man," I replied.

Smith lay still for some time musing, then he said, "Whatever do they
mean by forgiving enemies, Fred?"

Smith didn't often get on these topics, and I was a little nervous as I
replied, "What it says, I suppose."

"Does it mean fellows like Hawkesbury?"

"I should say so," said I, almost doubtful, from the way in which he
spoke, whether after all I might not be mistaken.

"Queer," was all he replied, musingly.

I tried hard to change the subject.

"Are you awfully sore, Jack?"  I said.  "Have one of my pillows."

"Oh no, thanks.  But I say, Fred, don't you think it's queer?"

"What, about forgiving your enemies?  Well, yes it is, rather.  But, I
say, it's time I cut back.  Good-night, old man."

And I crept back to bed, and lay awake half the night listening to him
as he turned from side to side in his sleep, and feeling that everything
and everybody was queer, especially my friend Smith.



CHAPTER FIVE.

HOW A

CHAPTER OF MISFORTUNES BEFEL MY FRIEND SMITH AND ME.

The summer wore on, and with it the gloom of Stonebridge House sunk
deeper and deeper into our spirits.  After a week or two even the sense
of novelty wore off, and we settled down to our drudges' doom as if we
were destined all our lives never to see any place outside the
Henniker's domain.

If it hadn't been for Smith I don't know how I should have endured it.
Not that we ever had much chance of enjoying one another's society.  In
school it was wholly impossible.  In the playground (particularly after
our recent escapade), we had very little opportunity given us; and at
night, when secretly we did contrive to talk, it was with the constant
dread of detection hanging over us.

What concerned me most of all, though, was the bad way in which Smith
seemed to get on with every one of his schoolfellows except me, and--
perhaps Flanagan.  With the bullies, like Philpot and Rathbone, he was
at daggers drawn; towards the others he never took the trouble to
conceal his dislike, while with Hawkesbury an explosion seemed always,
imminent.

I could not understand why he got on so badly, especially with
Hawkesbury, who certainly never made himself disagreeable, but, on the
contrary, always appeared desirous to be friendly.  I sometimes thought
Smith was unreasonable to foster his instinctive dislike as he did.

"Jack," said I one night as he was "paying a call" to my bedside--"Jack,
I'm half beginning to think Hawkesbury isn't so bad a fellow after all."

"Why?" demanded Smith.

"Oh, I don't know.  He's done me one or two good turns lately."

"What sort?"

"Well, he helped me in the Latin the other day, of his own accord,
and--"

"Go on," said Smith, impatiently.

"And he gave me a knife to-day.  You know I lost mine, and he said he'd
got two."

Smith grunted.

"I'd like to catch him doing a good turn to me, that's all," said he.
"_I'd_ cure him of that!"

I didn't like to hear Smith talk like this.  For one thing, it sounded
as if he must be a great deal less foolish than I was, which nobody
likes to admit; and for another thing, it seemed wrong and unreasonable,
unless for a very good cause, to persist in believing nothing good about
anybody else.

So I changed the subject.

"I say," said I, "what are you going to do these holidays?"

"Stay here," said he.  "Are you going home?"

"What!"  I exclaimed.  "Stay here for four weeks with the old Hen?  Why
ever, Jack?"

"Don't know--but that's what I've got to do.  Are you going home?"

"I suppose so," said I, with an inward groan.  "But, Jack, what _will_
you do with yourself?"

"Much as usual, I expect.  Sha'n't get much practice in talking till you
come back!" added he, with a low laugh.

"Jack, why don't you go home?"  I exclaimed.  "Are you in a row there,
or what?  You never tell me a word about it."

"Look-out, I hear some one moving!" cried Smith, and next moment he was
back in his bed.

I was vexed.  For I half guessed this alarm had been only an excuse for
not talking about home, and I didn't like being silenced in that way.
Altogether that night I was a good deal put out with Smith, and when
presently he whispered across "Good-night," I pretended to be asleep,
and did not answer.

But I was not asleep, and could not sleep.  I worked myself first into a
rage, then into an injured state, and finally into a miserable condition
over my friend Smith.

Why should he keep secrets from me, when I kept none from him?  No, when
I came to think over it, I did not keep a single secret from him!  Did
he think I was not to be trusted, or was too selfish to care?  He might
have known me better by this time.  It was true I had told him my
secrets without his asking for them; in fact, all along he had not
seemed nearly as anxious as I had been for this friendship of ours.  My
conscience stung me at this last reflection; and there came upon me all
of a sudden a sense of the utter desolation of this awful place without
a single friend!  No, I determined it should take more than a little
pique to make me cast away my only friend.  And with the thought, though
it must have been far on in the night, I slipped from my bed and crawled
to his.

He was fast asleep, but at the first touch of my hand he started up and
said, "What's the row?"

"I'm sorry, Jack; but I was in a temper to-night, and couldn't go to
sleep till I made it up."

"A temper! what about?" said he.  "I didn't know you were."

"I fancied you wouldn't--that is, that you thought--you didn't trust me,
Jack."

"You're the only fellow I do trust, Fred, there," said he, taking my
arm.  Then, with a sigh, he added, "Why shouldn't I?"

"What a beast I was, Jack!" cried I, quite repentant.  "I don't--"

"Hush!" said Jack.  Then, whispering very close to my ear, he added,
"There are some things, you know, I _can't_ tell even you--about home--"

There was a sound in the room, as of a boy, suddenly aroused, starting
up in his bed.  Our blood turned cold, and we remained motionless,
hardly daring to breathe, straining our ears in the darkness.

Suddenly the boy, whoever he was, sprang from his bed, and seizing the
lucifers, struck a light.

It was Hawkesbury!  I had almost guessed it.  I felt Jack's hand tighten
on my arm as the sudden glare fell full upon us, and Hawkesbury's voice
cried, "Oh, you fellows, what a start you gave me!  I couldn't make out
what the talking was.  I thought it must be thieves!"

At the same moment the dormitory door opened, and a new glare lit up the
scene.  It was Miss Henniker in her dressing-gown, with a candle.

"What, talking?  Who was talking?" she said, overhearing Hawkesbury's
last exclamation.

It was a queer picture that moment, and I can recall it even now.
Hawkesbury standing in his night-shirt in the middle of the room.  I, as
lightly clad, crouching transfixed beside my friend's bed, who was
sitting up with his hand on my arm.  And the Henniker there at the door,
in her yellow-and-black dressing-gown and curl-papers, holding her
candle above her head, and looking from one to the other.

"Who was talking?" she demanded again, turning to Hawkesbury.

Hawkesbury, smiling, returned to his bed, as he replied, "Oh, nothing.
I think I must have been dreaming, and woke in a fright."

But as he spoke his eyes turned to us two, and Miss Henniker's followed
naturally.  Then the whole truth dawned upon her.

I rose from my knees and walked sheepishly back to my bed.

"What are you doing out of your bed, sir?" demanded she.

It was little use delaying matters by a parley, so I replied, bluntly,
"Talking to Smith."

"And I," added the loyal Smith, "was talking to Batchelor!"

"Silence!" cried the Griffin.  "Batchelor, dress immediately, and follow
me!"

I did as I was bid, mechanically--that is, I slipped on my
knickerbockers and slippers--and found myself in a couple of minutes,
thus airily attired, following Miss Henniker, like a ghost, down the
long passage.  She led the way, not, as I expected, to the parlour, or
to Mr Ladislaw's room, but conducted me upstairs and ushered me into a
small and perfectly empty garret.

"Remain here, Batchelor!" said she, sternly.

The next moment she was gone, locking the door behind her, and I was
left shivering, and in total darkness, to spend the remainder of the
night in these unexpected quarters.

My first sensation was one of utter and uncontrollable rage.  I was
tempted to fling myself against the door, to shout, to roar until some
one should come to release me.  Then as suddenly came over me the
miserable certainty that I was helpless, and that anything I did would
be but labour lost, and injure no one but myself.  And, Smith, too!  It
was all up with our precious secret parleys; perhaps we should not even
be allowed to see one another any more.  In my misery I sat down on the
floor in a corner of my dungeon and felt as if I would not much care if
the house were to fall about my ears and bury me in the ruins.  Cheerful
reflection this for a youth of my tender years!

As I sat, shivering and brooding over my hard fate, I heard footsteps
ascending the stairs.  When you are sitting alone in an empty room, at
the dead of night, this is never a very fascinating sound, and I did not
much enjoy it.

And as I listened I could make out that the footsteps belonged to two
people.  Perhaps I was going to be murdered, I reflected, like Prince
Arthur, or the two boys in the Tower!  At the same moment a streak of
light glimmered through the crack of the door, and I heard a voice say,
"Come this way, Smith."

So Smith, too, was going to be locked up for the night.  My heart
bounded as for an instant it occurred to me it would be in my dungeon!
No such good fortune!  They passed my door.  At any rate, my chum should
know where I was, so I proceeded to make a demonstration against my door
and beseech, in the most piteous way, to be released.  Of course, it was
no use, but that did not matter; I never expected it would.

I listened hard to the retreating footsteps, which stopped at the end of
the passage.  Then a door opened and shut again, a key turned, one pair
of steps again returned past my door, and as I peeped through the
keyhole I had a vague idea of a yellow-and-black gown, and knew that the
Henniker had gone back to her place.

If only Smith had been shut up next door to me I might have been able to
shout to him so that he could hear, but what chance was there when three
or four rooms at least divided us?  After all, except that he was near
me, and knew where I was, things were not much better than they had been
before.  So I sat down again in my corner and sulkily watched the first
glimmers of dawn peep in at the little window.  It must be about 3 a.m.,
I thought.  And that meant four good hours before any chance of a
release came.  And as it was, my feet were pretty nearly dead with cold,
and a thin nightgown is not much covering for a fellow's body and arms.
It rather pleased me to think the adventure might end fatally, and that
at my inquest Miss Henniker might be brought in guilty of manslaughter.

It must be breezy, for those leaves have been tapping away at my window
the last minute or so pretty hard.  Bother the leaves!  And yet, when
you come to think of it, you do not often hear leaves tap as hard as
that!  My window will be smashed in if they keep it up at that rate.  So
I get up lazily and approach the scene of action.

I nearly screamed as I did so, for there, close up against the window,
was a face!  I was so taken aback that it took me a good minute to
recover my wits and perceive that the apparition was none other than my
faithful friend Jack Smith, and that the tapping I had been giving the
leaves such credit for had been his eager attempts to attract my
attention.

I sprang to the window, jubilant, and opened it.

"Oh, Jack! hurrah!  However did you get here?"

"Oh, you have _spotted_ me at last, have you?" said he, with a grim
smile.  "I've been here five or ten minutes."

"You have!" exclaimed I.

"Yes.  My window opened on to this ledge, too; so I didn't see why I
shouldn't come."

"You might have fallen and killed yourself.  But I say, Jack, won't you
come in?  Even if we do get caught things can't be much worse than they
are."

"I know that--so I think you'd better come out."

"What for?" exclaimed I, in astonishment.

"To get away--anywhere," said he.

In a moment I was up on the window-sill, scrambling out on to the ledge
beside him.  The fresh morning breeze blew on my face as I did so, and a
glorious sense of freedom took hold of both our drooping spirits.  We
needed no words.  Only let us get free!

"Come along," said Jack, crawling along the narrow ledge which ran round
the top of the house.

"How shall we get down?"  I asked.

"That's what I want to find out," said Jack.  "Isn't there a water-pipe
or something in front?"

Carefully we made our perilous journey round the side of the house
towards the front.  Smith leaned over and peered down.

"Yes," said he, "there's a water-pipe we could easily slide down, if we
could only get at it.  Look!"

I looked over too.  The ground seemed a long way below, and I felt a
trifle nervous at the prospect of trying to reach it by such unorthodox
means as a water-pipe, even could we get at that pipe.  But the ledge on
which we were overhung the side of the house, and the pipe began under
it, just below where we stood.

"We must try, anyhow," said Jack, desperately.  "I'll go first; catch
hold of my hands, Fred."

And he was actually going to attempt to scramble over and round under
the ledge, when he suddenly paused, and cried, "Hold hard.  I do believe
this bit of ledge is loose!"

So it was.  It shook as we stood upon it.

"We might be able to move it," said Jack.

So we knelt down and with all our might tugged away at the stone that
divided us from our water-pipe.  It was obstinate at first, but by dint
of perseverance it yielded to pressure at last, and we were able
triumphantly to lift it from its place.

It was easy enough now reaching the pipe.  But here a new peril arose.
Sliding down water-pipes is an acquired art, and not nearly as easy as
it seems.  Jack, who volunteered to make the first descent, looked a
little blue as he found the pipe was so close to the wall that he
couldn't get his hands round, much less his feet.

"You'll have to grip it hard with your ankles and elbows," he said,
beginning to slide down an inch or two; "and go slow, whatever you do."

It was nervous work watching him, and still more nervous work when at
length I braced myself up to the effort and proceeded to embrace the
slender pipe.  How I ever managed to get to the bottom I can't say.  I
remember reflecting about half way down that this would be good daily
exercise for the Henniker, and the mere thought of her almost sent me
headlong to the bottom.

At last, however, I stood safe beside my chum on the gravel walk.

"Now!" said he.

"Now," I replied, "where shall we go?"

"London, I think," said he, solemnly as ever, "All right--how many
miles?"

"Eighty or ninety, I fancy--but where's your coat?"

"In the dormitory.  I was too much flurried to put it on."

"Never mind, we can use mine turn about.  But I wish we'd got boots
instead of slippers."

"So do I," replied I, who even as I stood felt the sharp gravel cutting
my feet; "ninety miles in slippers will be rather rough."

"Never mind," said Jack, "come on."

"Come on," said I.

At that moment, to our dismay and misery, we heard a window above us
stealthily opened, close to the water-pipe, and looking up beheld the
Henniker's head and yellow-and-black body suddenly thrust out.

"Batchelor and Smith--Mr Ladislaw," (here her voice rose to pretty
nearly a shriek)--"Mr Ladislaw! come at once, please--Batchelor and
Smith, running away.  Mr Ladislaw, quick!  Batchelor and Smith!"

We stood motionless, with no spirit left to fly, until the door was
opened, and Mr Ladislaw, Miss Henniker, and Mr Hashford, all three,
sallied out to capture us.

Among them we were dragged back, faint and exhausted, into Stonebridge
House, all thoughts of freedom, and London, effectually banished from
our heads, and still worse, with the bitter sense of disappointment
added to our other miseries.

Mr Hashford was set to watch us for the rest of the night in the empty
schoolroom.  And he had an easy task.  For even though he fell asleep
over it, we had no notion of returning to our old scheme.  Indeed, I was
shivering so, I had no notion of anything but the cold.  Jack made me
put on his coat, but it made very little difference.  The form I was on
actually shook with my shivering.  Mr Hashford, good soul that he was,
lent me his own waistcoat, and suggested that if we all three sat close
together--I in the middle--I might get warmer.  We tried it, and when at
six o'clock that same eventful morning the servant came to sweep the
room she found us all three huddled together--two of us asleep and one
in a fever.

I have only a dim recollection of what happened during the next week or
so.  I was during that time the most comfortable boy in all Stonebridge
House.  For the doctor came every day, ordered me all sorts of good
things, and insisted on a fire being kept in my room, and no lessons.
And if I wished to see any of my friends I might do so, and on no
account was I to be allowed to fret or be disturbed in mind.  I couldn't
help feeling half sorry for Miss Henniker being charged with all these
uncongenial tasks; but Stonebridge House depended a great deal on what
the doctor said of it, and so she had to obey his orders.

I took advantage of the permission to see my friends by requesting the
presence of Smith very frequently.  But as the Henniker generally
thought fit to sit in my room at the same time, I didn't get as much
good out of my chum as I might have done.  I heard he had had a very
smart flogging for his share of that eventful night's proceedings, and
that another was being saved up for me when I got well.

It was quite a melancholy day for me when the doctor pronounced me
convalescent, and said I might resume my ordinary duties.  It was
announced to me at my first appearance in school, that on account of my
delinquencies I was on the "strict silence" rule for the rest of the
term, that my bed was removed to the other dormitory, and that I was
absolutely forbidden to hold any further communication, either by word
or gesture, with my friend Smith.

Thus cheerfully ended my first term at Stonebridge House.



CHAPTER SIX.

HOW THINGS CAME TO A CRISIS AT STONEBRIDGE HOUSE.

A year passed, and found us at the end of it the same wretched,
spiritless boys as ever.  Stonebridge House had become no more
tolerable, the Henniker had grown no less terrible, and our fellow
"backward and troublesome boys" were just as unpleasant as they had
been.  No new boys had come to give us a variety, and no old boys had
left.  Except for the one fact that we were all of us a year older,
everything was precisely the same as it had been at the time of the
adventure related in my last chapter.  But that one year makes a good
deal of difference.  When Smith and I slid down the water-pipe a year
ago we were comparatively new friends, now we had grown to love one
another like brothers.  When the Henniker, on the same occasion, put an
end to our scheme of escape, we had endured her persecutions but three
months, now we had endured them for fifteen.  A great deal of secret
working may go on in a fellow's mind during a year, and in that way the
interval _had_ wrought a change, for we were a good deal more to one
another, Smith and I, and a good deal more desperate at our hard lot,
both of us, than we had been a year ago.

It had been a miserable time.  My holidays alone with my uncle had been
almost as cheerless as my schooldays at Stonebridge House with Miss
Henniker.  If it hadn't been for Smith I do believe I should have lost
every vestige of spirit.  But happily he gave me no chance of falling
into that condition.  He seemed always on the verge of some explosion.
Now it was against Hawkesbury, now against the Henniker, now against Mr
Ladislaw, and now against the whole world generally, myself included.  I
had a busy time of it holding him in.

He still showed aversion to Hawkesbury, although I differed from him on
this point, and insisted that Hawkesbury was not such a bad fellow.
Luckily, however, no outbreak happened.  How could it, when Hawkesbury
was always so amiable and forgiving and friendly?  It was a wonder to me
how Jack _would_ persist in disliking this fellow.  Sometimes I used to
be quite ashamed to see the scornful way in which he repulsed his
favours and offers of friendship.  On the whole I rather liked
Hawkesbury.

The summer term was again drawing to a close, and for fear, I suppose,
lest the fact should convey any idea of pleasure to our minds, the
Henniker was down on us more than ever.  The cane was in constant
requisition, and Mr Ladislaw was always being summoned up to administer
chastisement.

Even Hawkesbury, who generally managed to escape reproach, came in for
her persecution now and then.

One day, I remember, we were all in class, and she for some reason
quitted the room, leaving Mr Hashford in charge.

Now, no one minded Mr Hashford very much.  He was a good-natured
fellow, who did his best to please both us and his mistress; but he was
"Henpecked," we could see, like all the rest of us, and we looked upon
him more as a big schoolfellow than as a master, and minded him
accordingly.  We therefore accepted the Henniker's departure as a signal
for leaving off work and seizing the opportunity to loosen our tongues
and look about us.  Hawkesbury happened to be sitting next to me.  He
put down his pen, and, leaning back against the desk behind him, yawned
and said, "I say, Batchelor, I hope you and Smith haven't been
quarrelling?"

"Quarrelling!" exclaimed I, astounded at the bare notion.  "Why,
whatever puts that into your head?"

"Oh," said he, with his usual smile, "only fancy.  But I'm glad it isn't
the case."

"Of course it isn't," said I, warmly.

"I haven't seen you talking to him so often lately; that's why," said
Hawkesbury; "and it always seems a pity when good friends fall out."

I smiled and said, "How can I talk to him, except on the sly, in this
place?  Never fear, Jack Smith and I know one another too well to fall
out."

"Ah, he is a mysterious fellow, and he lets so few people into his
secrets."

"Yes," said I, colouring a little.  "He doesn't even let me into them."

Hawkesbury looked surprised.  "Of course you know where he came from
first of all, and all that?"

"No, I don't," I said.

"What, not know about-- But I'd better not talk about it.  It's not
honourable to talk about another boy's affairs."

"Hawkesbury," said Mr Hashford at this moment, "don't talk."

This was quite a remarkable utterance for the meek and mild Mr Hashford
to make in the Henniker's absence, and we all started and looked up in a
concerned way, as if he must be unwell.

But no, he seemed all right, and having said what he had to say, went on
with his work.

Hawkesbury took no notice of the interruption, and went on.  "And, on
the whole, I think it would be kinder not to say anything about it, as
he has kept it a secret himself.  You see--"

"Hawkesbury," again said Mr Hashford, "you must not talk."

Hawkesbury smiled in a pitiful sort of way at Mr Hashford, and again
turned towards me to resume the conversation.  "You see--" began he.

"Hawkesbury," again said Mr Hashford, "this is the third time I have
told you not to talk."

"Who was talking?" cried the Henniker, entering at that moment.

"Hawkesbury, I'm sorry to say, Miss Henniker."

"Hawkesbury--a bad mark for--"

"Oh!" said I, starting up, "I was talking--"

"A bad mark to you, Batchelor, for interrupting me, and another for
talking.  Hawkesbury, a bad mark for talking in class."

We were all astonished.  We had hitherto looked upon Hawkesbury as a
privileged person who might do as he liked, and upon Mr Hashford as a
person who had not a soul of his own.  Here was the phenomenon not only
of our schoolfellow getting publicly censured, but of Mr Hashford
backing up Miss Henniker, and Miss Henniker backing up Mr Hashford.

Flanagan afterwards confided to me his theory of this unwonted event.
"I expect," said he, "Hashford's just got his screw raised, and wants to
show off a bit before the Hen, and she wants to encourage him to be
rather more down on us, you know.  She's got the toothache, too, I know,
and that accounts for her not being particular who she drops on, though
I am surprised she pitched on Hawkesbury.  How pleased your chum Smith
will be!"

But my friend Smith, when I had a chance of speaking to him, seemed
indifferent about the whole affair, being taken up with troubles of his
own.  A letter had come for him that day, he told me, in tones of fierce
anger.  It had been opened and read as usual, before being handed to
him.  He did not complain of that; that was an indignity we had to
submit to every time we received a letter.  But what he did complain of,
and what had roused his temper, was that the last half-sheet of the
letter had been deliberately torn off and not given to him.

Directly after class he had marched boldly to the Henniker's parlour and
knocked at the door.

"Come in!" snapped she.

Smith did come in, and proceeded to business at once.

"You haven't given me all my letter, ma'am," he said.

Miss Henniker looked at him with some of the same astonishment with
which she had regarded me when I once told her she was to see my socks
were regularly darned.

Then she pulled herself up, in her usual chilly manner, and replied, "I
am aware of that, Smith."

"I want it, please, ma'am," said Smith.

Again the Henniker glared at this audacious youth, and again she
replied, "You will not have it, Smith!"

"Why not?"

"Leave the room instantly, sir, for daring to speak like that to me, and
write out one hundred lines of Caesar before you get your dinner!" cried
the Henniker, indignantly.  "You've no right to keep--"

"Smith, follow me!" interrupted Miss Henniker, in her most irresistible
voice, as she led the way to Mr Ladislaw's study.

Smith did follow her, and was flogged, of course.

I was as indignant as he was at this tale of injustice; it reminded me
of my box of sweets last year, which I had never seen back.

Smith's rage was beyond all bounds.  "I won't stand it!" said he;
"that's all about it, Fred!"

"What can we do?" asked I.

That was the question.  And there was no answering it.  So we slunk back
to our places, nursing our wrath in our bosoms, and vowing all sorts of
vengeance on the Henniker.

Nor were we the only boys in this condition of mind.  Whether it was the
Henniker was thoroughly upset by her toothache, or by Hawkesbury's bad
conduct and Smith's impertinence, I cannot say, but for the next day or
two she even excelled herself in the way she went on.

There was nothing we could do, or think, or devise, that she did not
pounce upon and punish us for.  Some were detained, some were set to
impositions, some were flogged, some were reduced to bread and water,
some had most if not all of their worldly goods confiscated.  Even
Hawkesbury shared the general fate, and for a whole week all Stonebridge
House groaned as it had never groaned before.

Then we could stand it no longer.  We all felt that; and we all found
out that everybody else felt it.  But as usual the question was, what to
do?

It was almost impossible to speak to one another, so closely were we
watched, and even when we did, we discovered that we were all at sixes
and sevens, and agreed only on one thing, which was that we _could not_
stand it.

At length one day, to our infinite jubilation, as we were dismally
walking from the schoolroom to the parlour, we saw the front door open.
A fly was standing at it, and as we passed, the Henniker in her Sunday
get-up was stepping into it!

What had we done to deserve such a mercy?  She was going to pay a state
call somewhere, and for one blessed hour at any rate we should be at
peace!

A council of war was immediately held.  For once in a way Stonebridge
House was unanimous.  We sunk all minor differences for a time in the
grand question, what should we do?

A great many wild suggestions were immediately made.

Rathbone undertook, with the aid of any two other fellows, to inflict
personal chastisement on the public enemy.

This was rejected peremptorily.  It would be no use, we should catch it
all the worse afterwards; besides, bad as she was, the Henniker was a
woman, and it would be cowardly to thrash her.

"Tie up her hands and feet and gag her," suggested Philpot.

Wouldn't do again.  She'd get Ladislaw to help her out.

"Tie up Ladislaw and Hashford too."

We weren't numerous or strong enough to do it.

"Let's all bolt," suggested Flanagan.

They'd send the police after us.  Or if they didn't, how were we to get
on, without money or shelter or anywhere to go?

"Suppose," said I, "we shut them out of the schoolroom and barricade the
door, and don't let them in till they accept our terms."

"That's more like it," said some one; "but then what about food?  We
can't store enough, even if we emptied the larder, to stand a long
siege."

"Well, then," said Smith, "suppose we screw them up, and don't let them
out till they give in."

"That's it," said every one, "the very thing."

"What do you say, Hawkesbury?" inquired I.

"Well," said he, smiling pleasantly, "it's not a nice thing to turn
against one's master and mistress; but really Miss Henniker has been
very vexing lately."

"Hurrah! then you agree?"  And the question was put all round, every one
assenting.  At least so I thought.  But Smith as usual was doubtful of
Hawkesbury.

"You agree, Hawkesbury?" said he.

"Really," said the other, with a smile, "it isn't nice to be suspected,
Smith.  Isn't it enough to say a thing once?"

"Oh yes, yes," cried out every one, impatiently, and most anxious to
keep the meeting harmonious.  "He said he did, Smith; what more do you
want?  Do let's pull all together."

"Just what I want," said Smith.

"Well," said Philpot, "I propose we lock them up in the big schoolroom."

"Wouldn't it be better," said Flanagan, "to lock the Henniker up in her
own room, and let Ladislaw and Hashford have the parlour?  It will be
more comfortable for them.  There's a sofa there and a carpet.  Besides,
the window's a worse one to get out of."

"How about feeding them?" some one asked.

"That'll be easy enough," said Smith.  "There's a ventilator over all
the doors, you know.  We can hand the things in there."

"I vote the old Hen gets precious little," interposed Rathbone.  "I
wouldn't give her any."

This idea was scouted, and it was resolved that all the prisoners should
have a sufficient, though, at the same time, a limited amount of
provisions.  That being arranged, the next question was, when should we
begin?  We had to take a good many things into account in fixing the
important date.  To-day was Friday.  The butcher, some one said, always
brought the meat for the week on Monday; but the baker never came till
the Wednesday.  So if we began operations on Monday we should have a
good supply of meat but very little bread to start with; and it was
possible, of course, the baker might smell a rat, and get up a rescue.
It would be better, on that account, to defer action till after the
baker's visit on Wednesday.  But then the washerwoman generally came on
the Thursday.  We all voted the washerwoman a nuisance.  We must either
take her a prisoner and keep her in the house, or run the risk of her
finding out that something was wrong and going back to the village and
telling of us.

"If we could only keep it up a week," said Smith, "I think we could
bring them to terms."

"Suppose we drop a line to the washerwoman the day before not to call,"
suggested I.

The motion met with universal applause, and I was deputed to carry it
out at the proper time.  The good lady's address I knew was on a slate
in Miss Henniker's pantry.

"And I tell you what," said Smith, starting up with the brilliancy of
the suggestion; "let's hide away all the bread we can find, except just
what will last over to-morrow.  Then most likely she'll tell the baker
to call on Monday, and we can begin then!"

It was a brilliant suggestion.  Two of the company departed forthwith to
the larder, and unobserved hid away a few loaves in one of the empty
trunks in the box-room.

Our plans were ripening wonderfully.  But the most difficult business
was yet to come.  What terms should we require of our prisoners as the
price of their release?  And on this point, after long discussion, we
found we could not agree.  Some were for the immediate dismissal of the
Henniker; others demanded that she should not be allowed to speak
without special permission; and others that she should remain in her
parlour all day long, and come out only for prayers and to give orders
to the tradesmen.

These proposals were too absurd to take seriously; and as presently the
company began to grow a little quarrelsome over the matter, it was
decided for peace' sake that the question should be deferred, and terms
arranged when the prisoners themselves offered to give in.

"If I may make a suggestion," said Hawkesbury, who had taken no part in
the previous discussion, "it is that you should appoint one fellow
captain, and agree to obey his orders.  You'll never manage it if you
don't."

"Not at all a bad idea," said one or two.  "You be the captain,
Hawkesbury."

"No, thank you," said he, smiling gratefully.  "I really am not used to
this sort of thing; but I think Smith, now, would be just the fellow."

I considered this beautiful of Hawkesbury, coming so soon after Smith's
rather uncomplimentary behaviour to him.

The proposition was generally approved.  Smith was not a favourite, but
he had made the only suggestions of any real use in the present case,
and appeared to have entered into the scheme so warmly that it was
evident no one would make a better captain.

He received his new dignity with great complacency.

"I'll do my best," said he, "if you fellows will back me up and stick to
the engagement."

Our time was now getting brief, so after a few more hurried suggestions
and discussions we separated and returned to our ordinary duties.

That evening the Henniker was no better than she had been during the
day.  Her brief sojourn in society that afternoon had not improved her a
bit, Flanagan, as usual, suggested a plausible reason.

"I expect," whispered he, "she went after a new pupil and didn't hook
him; that's why she's in such a precious tantrum."

"Flanagan!" cried the well-known voice--"Flanagan, come here!"

Flanagan obeyed, and stood meekly before the tyrant.

"This is the eighth time to-day, Flanagan, I have rebuked you for
talking.  You are detained for the rest of the term.  Hold out your
hand, Flanagan!"

It was not often the Henniker inflicted corporal punishment herself;
when she did it was pretty smart, as Flanagan found.  In the absence of
a cane she had used the ruler, and as Flanagan--who unsuspectingly
supposed she was merely seized with a desire to inspect his nails--held
out his hand knuckles upwards, the ruler descended on his knuckles with
such force that the luckless youth howled for astonishment, and
performed a dance _solo_ in the middle of the floor.

We were sorry for him, yet we inwardly smiled to think how soon the
tables would be turned.

That night, just before we went to bed, as I was in the shoe-room
looking for my slippers, I had the satisfaction of hearing the Henniker
say to the kitchen-maid, "Matilda, we're getting short of bread.  Let
the baker know to call on Monday next week."

Things could not have promised better for our desperate scheme!



CHAPTER SEVEN.

HOW THERE AROSE A NOTABLE REBELLION AT STONEBRIDGE HOUSE.

Of course we were wrong; of course we were foolish.

But then, reader, please remember we were only boys goaded up to the
last pitch, and quite unable, as I have narrated, to stand the Henniker
any longer.

It was no game we were embarked on.  If you had seen the seriousness of
our faces as we inspected the parlour and reconnoitred the Henniker's
future prison, that Saturday; if you had heard the seriousness of our
voices as we solemnly deliberated whether nails or screws would be best
to use in fastening up the doors--you would have found out that,
"backward and troublesome" boys as we were, we could be in earnest
sometimes.

"Screwing's quieter," said Rathbone.

"Nailing's quicker," said Philpot.

"Isn't that a thing the captain had better decide?" softly suggested
Hawkesbury, turning to Smith.

I always got fidgety when the senior boy and my chum got near each
other.  Smith had such a way of firing up instinctively at whatever the
other might say, even when it meant no harm.

He flared up now with his eyes, and then turning to the two boys, said,
shortly, "Screws of course; that's been settled long ago."

Hawkesbury smiled gratefully, and said he was sure a matter like that
would not be overlooked.

Well, the Henniker went on having her fling that Saturday and Sunday.
We caught it right and left, and took it all meekly.  Nay, some of us
took it so meekly that I was once or twice afraid our secret would be
suspected.

The regulation-reading in the parlour on Sunday evening was a shocking
time for me.  I had no intention of being bad, but somehow, what with
the excitement of our scheme, and the dreariness of the reader's voice,
and the closeness of the room, I fell asleep and nearly rolled off my
form.

The Henniker put down her book.

"Batchelor," said she, "you shall be punished.  Stand on the form and
read aloud."

And so saying, she handed me the book and pointed to the place.

This was the very refinement of torture, and I draw a veil over the sad
spectacle which followed.  Nor was I the only victim standing there
struggling and perspiring through the long sentences, turned back
whenever I made a mistake, to begin the page over again, till the end of
the chapter seemed to get farther and farther away; the other boys, too,
came in for part of the tragedy, for the Henniker, being now free of her
book, had no occupation for her eyes but to glare at them, and no
occupation for her tongue but to level bad marks and rebukes and
punishments at the head of every offender.

"Reading" lasted that evening until ten o'clock, and to this day I
cannot imagine how it ever came to an end even then.  I know I never got
to the end.  This sad experience gave a considerable additional zest to
our hopes of freedom on the following day.

Smith was not the sort of fellow to undertake what he did not mean to
carry through, and I was astonished to see how carefully his plans were
laid, and how precisely he had allotted to every one of us our
respective duties.

Monday dawned at length, and we rose from our beds like patriots on the
morning of a battle which is to decide their freedom or slavery.

I had two minutes' whisper with Smith as we went down to breakfast.

"Tell the fellows," said he, "that the signal to begin will be just when
morning school is over.  The Hen goes to get ready for dinner, and
Shankley and Philpot are to follow and screw her up.  The holes are
already bored, so it won't take long."

"Suppose she yells," suggested I.

"Not likely, but if she does--her room's far enough away.  Oh! by the
way, I've screwed her window already.  I thought we can one of us easily
smash a pane for her if she wants more ventilation."

"And how about Ladislaw and Hashford?"

"I'm going down, when the Henniker's safe, to ask them both to step up
into the parlour.  They'll probably think something's wrong, and hurry
up.  (I've screwed that window, too, by the way.)  Then you and Rathbone
are to screw their door when they are safe in--I've put the key outside,
too--and I've told the other fellows to be ready to bring a lot of desks
and things out of the schoolroom and pile them up, in case they kick too
hard."

"Upon my word, Jack, you're a regular general.  But I say, we've
forgotten the two servants."

"No, we haven't.  I've told them what's up, and they won't interfere;
but--shut up now."

During the morning we continued to pass round word what the arrangements
were, and waited feverishly for the close of morning school.  As we sat
in the class-room we had the satisfaction of seeing first the butcher's
pony and then the baker's cart drive up the front garden and drive back
again.  We were all right for the "sinews of war" for a day or two,
anyhow!

The Henniker kept it up till the last, and distributed her favours
lavishly and impartially all round.  But we heeded it not; we even
enjoyed it, for were not we to have our innings next?

It seemed as if morning school would never end.  At last a fluttering at
our hearts, more convincing even than the clock, told us the hour was
come.  We rose from our seats.  The rebellion at Stonebridge House had
begun.

The Henniker marched with stately tread from the room, and up the stairs
to her own apartment.  It seemed a long journey to us, who sat listening
in breathless silence, and at last the closing of her door seemed to
resound all over the house.

"Now then," said Smith to Shankley and Philpot, who, with their shoes
off and their tools in their hands, stood ready, like two trained
assassins, for the word of command.  "Now then, and keep quiet, whatever
you do!"

They went.  There was nothing stately about their march.  They darted up
the stairs two steps at a time, and the last we saw of them was as they
turned the corner into the passage, at the end of which was situate the
enemy's fortress.

It seemed a year before they returned!

At last Shankley, with beaming face, burst into our midst.

"It's all right!" said he, in an excited whisper.  "She sounded a little
like kicking, so Philpot's keeping guard.  We had one screw half in
before she even heard us."

"What did she say then?" asked three or four eager questioners.

"She wanted to know who was there, and if we wanted to speak to her we
must wait till she came down, and a bad mark to whoever it was for
coming and disturbing her."

There was a general laugh at this, which Smith hurriedly checked.

"The thing's only half done yet," he said.  "Time enough to laugh when
the other two are safe."

This was a wise rebuke, and we became serious in an instant.

"Now," said Smith, "have you got the screwdriver and screws all right,
Batchelor?  The rest of you be ready if I call;" and off he went to
summon the two masters to the parlour.

It was a critical moment, for every thing depended on our getting both
into the room together.

Smith, so he told us afterwards, found both Mr Ladislaw and Mr
Hashford talking together in the study of the former.  He entered the
room suddenly, and crying, in an agitated voice, "Oh, will you both
please step up to Miss Henniker's parlour at once?  Please be quick!" as
suddenly vanished.

Of course both the masters, making sure Miss Henniker must be in a fit,
or else that the house must be on fire, rushed upstairs, gallantly side
by side, to the rescue.  Rathbone and I, who were in hiding behind the
door next to that of the parlour, could hear them scuttling towards us
along the passage, and making straight for their trap.  They rushed
wildly into the room.  In a moment we were out after them, the door was
slammed to, the key was turned, and the first screw was well on its way
home before they even found out that the beloved Henniker was not there!

Then, after a moment's pause (during which screw number two had started
on its way), the handle of the door was shaken, and Mr Hashford's voice
cried out, "Who is there?  What are you doing there, you boys?"

His only answer was a mighty cheer from the assembled pupils of
Stonebridge House, which must have been quite as explicit as the longest
explanation.

"Now then," cried Smith, as once more the handle of the door was
violently agitated; "look sharp, you fellows, with the desks--"

"Smith," cried the voice of Mr Ladislaw, from within; "you shall answer
for this, Smith.  Undo the door at once, sir."

But it had been agreed no parley should be held with the besieged, and
Smith's only answer was to help to drag up the first desk and plant it
firmly against the door.  The blockade was soon made, but until it was,
the fellows kept steadily and seriously to work.

Then ensued a scene I shall never forget, and which told significantly
as the most thrilling story what had been our privations and
persecutions and unhappiness at Stonebridge House.

The fellows yelled and rushed through the school as if they were mad.
They shouted, and sung, and halloed, and laughed.  They flung books and
rulers and ink-pots to the four winds of heaven.  They put the cane in
the fire, and one of the Henniker's reading books, which was lying in
the study, they tore into a thousand pieces.  They burst into every
forbidden nook and cranny of the house.  They rushed down to the kitchen
and up to the attics.  They bawled down the speaking-tube, and danced on
the dining-room table.  Nothing was omitted which could testify to their
glee at the new emancipation, or their hatred of the old _regime_.  They
held a mock school outside the Henniker's door, and gave one another bad
marks and canings with infinite laughter, by way of cheering up their
prisoner.

Finally the calls of hunger put an end to this strange demonstration,
and with a mighty stampede we made for the kitchen.  To our surprise, it
was empty.

"Why, where's the cook and housemaid?" cried one and another to Smith.

"Oh," said Smith, who with the cares of generalship upon him had taken
only a small part in the jubilation which had just been celebrated, "the
servants have gone home.  They both live at Felwick, so I said they
might take a week's holiday."

The coolness of this announcement was received with much laughter, in
the midst of which, however, Hawkesbury was heard to say, "I hope Smith
is a good cook, for really I can't eat my food raw."

This was certainly a matter we had not reckoned on, and the idea of raw
meat did cast a temporary shadow on our happiness.  But Smith replied,
"Oh, of course we do the cooking by turns.  By the way, Hawkesbury, you
and Flanagan have to see to that to-day."

Hawkesbury's smile left him for an instant.

"Nonsense; I'm not going to do anything of the sort."

"Then you'd better be the captain," said Smith glumly, "if you aren't
going to obey orders."

Hawkesbury's smile returned.

"Oh, if it's the captain's orders, of course.  Come along, Flanagan."

"Come along," said the jovial Flanagan; "I think we'll make a hash of it
with a vengeance!"

Whereat this little breeze blew over.  As a matter of fact, we all
assisted at the cooking of this celebrated meal, and made a terrific
hash of it, which, nevertheless, we relished greatly, and declared we
had never tasted such a dinner since we came to Stonebridge House.  No
more we had!

But amid our own feasting it would never do to forget our prisoners.
Three parcels were made, containing each a liberal helping of bread and
meat, with little parcels of salt and butter thoughtfully added.

"Write on them `For two days,'" said Smith, "and bring them up."

"How about water?" asked some one.

"There's enough in each room for a day or two," said Smith, who seemed
to have taken note of everything.

"I don't see the fun of feeding them up this way," said Rathbone.
"You'll never get them to give in as long as you make them so jolly
comfortable."

"I'd like to see how you liked it for two days," said Smith.  "I don't
suppose you'd think yourself overfed or jolly comfortable either.  But
come on; have you got the string?"

Each parcel was attached to a long piece of string, and conveyed in
state by the entire school to its respective destination.  The Henniker
was first fed.  Amid shouts of "Cheer, boys, cheer," and "Rule
Britannia," we marched up to her door and halted, while Smith, with the
aid of a rake, lifted the parcel on to the small ventilator above the
door, and gave it a little shove over the other side.

"Now lower away," said he to the boy who held the string.

"Smith, I hear your voice," cried the Henniker.  "Smith, open my door,
_please_."

Except for the last extraordinary expression the Henniker's voice
sounded much as usual.  No answer, of course, was given, and we waited
until the parcel should be detached from the string.

For about five minutes it remained untouched, during which period the
holder tried to attract the attention of the prisoner by sundry
spasmodic jerkings of the string.  At length the fish did bite.  Without
a word the parcel was detached from the string.  We turned to go.

"Plate, knife, and fork in the cupboard," cried out Smith, as we did so.

"You don't mean to say," said Rathbone, as we went along, "that you've
put a knife and fork for her?"

"Yes, I have," said Smith, in a manner which did not encourage the
truculent Rathbone to pursue the subject.

The feeding of the two masters was a longer process.  For to reach their
door it was necessary to climb over a perfect jungle of desks and chairs
piled up against it; and when reached it was discovered that the glass
ventilator, which usually stood open, had been shut and fastened inside.
But Smith was not to be baulked by a trifle.  He coolly broke the glass
with his rake, till he had made a hole big enough to admit the parcels,
which, one after the other, were lifted over the opening, and lowered
within reach of their respective owners.  In the present case the string
to which they were attached was double, so, when it was found that
neither was taken, Smith gave the order to "run" the string, and let
them drop the parcels off on to the floor.  This was done, and we were
turning to go, when Mr Ladislaw's voice rose in angry tones.

"Listen to me, boys," he cried, authoritatively.

A general yell was the only answer to this, mingled with loud laughter,
as Mr Hashford's head suddenly appeared at the broken ventilator.  The
apparition was the signal for a general fusillade of paper balls, in the
midst of which the usher modestly retired from observation.

The evening was spent in the same rollicking manner as the afternoon.
We held mock school in Mr Ladislaw's study, and got Flanagan to dress
up in an old gown of the Henniker's, which was found in the boot-room,
and enact that favourite character's part, which he did to the life.  We
also made out our own "reports" for home, and played a most spirited
game of croquet in the hall, with potatoes for balls and brooms for
mallets, besides treating our prisoners to a ravishing concert by an
orchestra of one dinner-bell, two dish-covers, two combs and paper, and
one iron tray.

We kept it up till rather late, and, indeed, it was not till Smith
summoned us to a council of war that the problem of how and where to
spend the night occurred to us.

"Some of us ought to stay up as sentinels," said our captain.

"Well, I can't, for one," said Philpot, "for I was never so sleepy in my
life."

"I should think," said Hawkesbury, sweetly, "if the captain stayed up we
should be quite safe."

Why _should_ Smith glare so whenever Hawkesbury spoke?  I wondered.  I'm
sure there did not seem to be anything offensive in this.

"I'll stay up, Jack," said I, more with a desire to avert a row than
because I felt particularly "spry."

"So will I," said Shankley, "if you'll dig me in the ribs when I get
sleepy."

"I'll tell you what," said Smith, after having recovered himself.
"Suppose we bring all the beds down and camp out on the landing."

This was carried with acclamation, and every one forthwith proceeded to
his dormitory, and reappeared staggering under the weight of his
bedclothes.  One monstrous bed was made in which we all "camped out" in
turn, one fellow only remaining awake as sentinel for an hour at a time.

"We shall have to settle to-morrow," said Smith, when he had returned to
"camp," after having gone the round and seen that all lights were out,
and all doors and bolts fastened--"we shall have to settle to-morrow
what to say to them about coming out, you fellows."

"I thought that was left to the captain," said Hawkesbury.

"I vote we stick out against the Henniker having anything to do with
us," said Philpot, "in or out of school."

"Yes, and do away with afternoon school and preparation too," said
Rathbone; "they are both nuisances."

"And get a holiday to go out of bounds once a week," said Flanagan in
the act of dropping asleep.

These sweeping schemes of reform, however, agreeable as they sounded,
seemed none of them likely to receive the assent of our prisoners.

Smith's idea was a good deal more moderate.  "I don't see that we can
stick out for more than leave to talk when we are not in class, and do
away with `detentions.'"

"That really seems hardly worth all the trouble," said Hawkesbury, "does
it?"

"It's left to the captain," said Smith, shortly, "and that's my idea, if
you agree."

"We ought to bargain they don't take any more notice of this affair, or
write home about it," suggested Shankley.

"Who cares what they write home?" scornfully inquired Smith.

"Ah, it may not matter to _you_," said Hawkesbury, smiling very sweetly,
"but to all the rest of us it does."

Smith glared at the speaker, and looked as if he was about to fly at his
throat; but he controlled himself, and merely replied, "Very well, then,
they are to promise not to say anything about it at home, as well as
give in on the other things.  Is that settled?"

Everybody said "yes," and shortly afterwards most of the mutineers were
peacefully asleep.

"Fred," said Smith to me that night, as we kept watch together, "unless
that fellow Hawkesbury lets me alone I shall give the thing up."

"Don't do that," said I.  "Really, I don't think that Hawkesbury means
it.  I'll speak to him if you like."  It cost me a great effort to say
this.

Smith fired up unwontedly at the suggestion.

"If you do, you and I will never be friends again," he said,
passionately.  Then recovering himself, he added, repentantly, "Fred,
I'm awfully sorry I lost my temper.  I know I'm a brute; but please
don't think of speaking to any one about it."

"All right, old man," said I.

And so the night wore on, and when presently it came to be our turn to
lie down and sleep in the big bed, I, at any rate, did so a good deal
disturbed in my spirit, and not altogether sure whether in our present
escapade we Stonebridge House boys were not making rather fools of
ourselves.



CHAPTER EIGHT.

HOW THE REBELLION COLLAPSED, AND WE LEFT STONEBRIDGE HOUSE.

I was roused next morning early by the sound of voices, and found that a
fresh council of war was being held in the big bed on the question of
the ultimatum.  Smith was away at the time.

"I mean to say," said Rathbone, "Smith's far too mild to suit me."

I felt called upon to stick up for my chum.

"Why did you make him captain?"  I said.  I had long got past the stage
of being afraid either of Rathbone or Philpot at Stonebridge House.

"Well," retorted the malcontent, "why doesn't he go the whole hog?"

"Depends on what you call the whole hog," I replied.

"Why, instead of feeding them up like fighting-cocks I'd starve them--I
would.  And I'd have locked them all together in an empty garret, and
not in rooms with sofas and beds and all that nonsense.  And I wouldn't
let them out till they came out on their knees and promised to do
whatever they were ordered.  That's what I'd do, and I'll tell--"

"Now then, Rathbone," cried Smith, entering at that moment, "it's your
turn to look after the grub, remember.  Look alive, or we shall have no
breakfast."

It was a curious indication of the power that was in my friend Smith,
that Rathbone--though the words of mutiny were even then on his lips--
quietly got up and went off to his allotted duties without saying a
word.

"Look here," said Smith, presently, pulling two papers from his pocket,
"I've written out the terms we agreed to.  How will this do?

"`To Mr Ladislaw, Miss Henniker, and Mr Hashford,--We, the undersigned
boys of Stonebridge House, are willing to release you on the following
conditions:

"`1.  That leave be given to the boys to talk to one another when not in
class.

"`2.  That detention for bad marks given by Miss Henniker be abolished.

"`3.  That you say nothing to any one about all this.

"`As long as you stick to these conditions, and Miss Henniker doesn't
plague us, we agree to be steady and not mutiny any more.'  That's about
all we need say, isn't it?"

"I don't see," said Philpot, "the use of the last clause.  We don't want
to bind ourselves down."

"There's no harm, though, in saying we won't kick up a row if they treat
us properly."

"I don't know," said Philpot, doubtfully.  "I don't want to sign away my
right to kick up a row."

We laughed at this ingenuous admission, and Smith said, "Well, I think
we've a better chance of bringing them to book if we keep it in.  What
do you say, Flanagan?"

"Oh yes, keep it in.  You know I like rows as well as anybody, but
what's the use of them when there's nothing to make them about?"

"I think it had better stay in," said I.  "What do you say, Hawkesbury?"

Hawkesbury smiled in an amused way, as if it was a joke.

This appeared to incense Smith greatly, as usual.

"Why ever don't you say what you think instead of grinning?" he blurted
out.

"Why, you know, my dear fellow, we leave it all to you.  I agree to
anything!"

I verily believe if Smith had had a boot in his hand it would have found
its way in the direction of his enemy's smile.  Happily he hadn't; so he
turned his back on the speaker, and proceeded, "Very well, then we'd
better sign these at once.  I've got a pen and ink here.  Look sharp,
you fellows."

"Don't you think," said Hawkesbury, blandly, once more, "as it's all
been left to the captain, he had better sign the paper in the name of
the school?  You don't mind, Smith, I'm sure?"

Smith snatched up the pen hastily, and signed his name at the foot of
each document.

"I'm not afraid, if that's what you mean."

I could watch the working of his face as he hurriedly folded each paper
up into the form of a note, and knew the storm that was going on in his
own breast.  Certainly Hawkesbury, however good his intentions, was a
little aggravating.

"Perhaps you'll throw that in over the Henniker's door?" said Smith,
handing one of the notes to Hawkesbury.

Again Hawkesbury smiled as he replied, "Really, I'm such a bad shot; I'd
much rather you did it."

"Give it me," I cried, interposing before my friend could retort.  "I'll
throw it in."

Saying which I took the missive, and after one or two bad shots,
succeeded in getting it through the ventilator and hearing it drop in
the middle of the Henniker's floor.

"A letter for you," I cried by way of explanation.  "You've an hour to
give an answer."

"Batchelor," replied Miss Henniker from within, in what seemed rather a
subdued voice, "you are doing very wrong.  Let me out immediately,
Batchelor."

"Not till you promise what's written in the note," replied I, quitting
the place.

A similar ceremony was enacted by Smith in delivering the "ultimatum" to
the two masters, and we then adjourned for breakfast.

"What shall we do to-day?" asked Flanagan, who was quite fresh again
after yesterday's hard work.

"Oh, any mortal thing you like," said Shankley.  "I mean to go and have
a rare walk over the roof."

"I vote we make up a party and go down to the village," said another.

"No, no," said Smith, looking up, "we must stay indoors, or the thing
will soon get known.  You can do anything you like indoors."

There was a little growling at this, although we knew there was reason
in the prohibition.

"I don't see any harm in going out on the heath," said Rathbone; "you
did that yourself once."

"Yes, and some one saw me do it," replied Smith.  "I say, stay in
doors."

His tone was peremptory, and as usual it had its due effect.  The
fellows ate their breakfast quietly and said no more about it.

The meal was rather a protracted one, owing to Rathbone having forgotten
to put the bag in the coffee-pot before he inserted the coffee, and thus
spoiling the beverage altogether.  He was sent back to make it over
again--a circumstance which by no means had the effect of soothing his
spirits.

By the time breakfast was done the hour had nearly arrived when our
prisoners were to give their answers to our manifesto.

As we were preparing to march up stairs, with a view to ascertain their
decision, Hawkesbury met us, coming down with his hat on.

"Where are you going?" demanded Smith.

Hawkesbury looked very pleasant indeed as he replied, "Oh, please don't
mind me.  I'm going out for a walk.  I've got a headache, and really I
don't see much use playing about indoors."

Smith's face darkened.  "Didn't you hear me say there was no going out?"
he said.

Hawkesbury smiled and seemed much amused.  Smith's wrath was rising
apace.  "What I said I'll stick to!" cried he, standing across the step.
"You sha'n't go out!"

"Hawkesbury," I interposed, anxious to avert a row, "we've all promised
to obey the captain, you know."

"Really," replied Hawkesbury, "I didn't.  Please let me pass, Smith."

"Then you were speaking false," exclaimed the irate Smith, "when you
said you did promise?"

"Really, Smith, I didn't say I did promise--"

"Wretched liar!" replied Smith.

"That's not a nice name to call a fellow," mildly replied Hawkesbury.
"I hope I'm a gentleman, and don't deserve it."

"Bah," said Smith, in tones of utter disgust, standing aside and letting
his enemy pass.  "Go where you like, we want no sneaks here!"

Hawkesbury walked on, smiling pleasantly.

"Good-bye for the present," said he.  "Mind you obey your captain, you
fellows.  We all know _he's_ a gentleman, don't we?"

And he went out, leaving us all in a state of utter astonishment.

A babel of voices at once arose.  Some declared Hawkesbury was quite
right not to stand being ordered about; others said he ought to have
been stopped going out, and others said, "Who cared if he did go?"

In the midst of this my eyes turned to Jack Smith.  His face, which had
been flushed and excited, was now pale and solemn.  He either did not
hear or did not heed the discussion that was going on; and I must
confess I felt half-frightened as my eyes suddenly met his.  Not that he
looked dangerous.  He had a strange look--half of baffled rage and half
of shame--which was quite new to me, and I waited anxiously to discover
what he meant.

As his eye met mine, however, he seemed to recover himself and to make
up his mind.

"Batchelor," said he, "get the screwdriver."

"What are you going to do?" asked some one.  "Are you going to lock
Hawkesbury out?"

"No," said Smith, quietly; "but I'm going to let out the others."

"What!" cried the fellows at this astounding announcement: "without
waiting for their answer?  We shall all get expelled!"

"No, you won't!" said Smith, doggedly, and rather scornfully.

"You don't mean to say you're going to show the white feather?" said
Rathbone.

"I mean to say I'm going to let them out."

"Yes, and get all the credit of it, and leave us to get into the row,"
said Philpot.

Smith turned round short on the speaker and held out the screwdriver.
"Here," said he, "if you want the credit, go and do it yourself!"

Of course, Philpot declined the tempting offer, and, without another
word, Smith walked up to the passage and began pulling away the desks
from the parlour door.

Flanagan and one or two of us, sorely perplexed, helped him; the others
stood aloof and grumbled or sneered.

The two masters within heard the noise, but neither of them spoke.

At last all was clear, and Smith said, "Now then, you'd better go, you
fellows!"

We obeyed him, though reluctantly.  Our curiosity as well as our anxiety
prompted us to stay.  We retired to the end of the passage, where from a
distant door we nervously watched Smith turn the key and draw out first
one screw then the other from the door that divided him and us from our
masters.

At last we saw it open.  Smith walked into the room and shut the door
behind him.  What happened inside we never exactly knew.  After half an
hour, which seemed to us as long as a day, the three emerged, and walked
straight down the passage and up the stairs that led to Miss Henniker's
room.  Smith, with the screwdriver, walked in the middle, very solemn
and very pale.

Stealthily we crawled up after them, and hid where we could observe what
was to follow.

Mr Ladislaw knocked at the Henniker's door.

"Well?" said a voice within.

The word was mildly spoken, and very unlike the snap to which we had
been accustomed in former days.

"It is I," said Mr Ladislaw, "and Mr Hashford."

"I shall be glad if you will immediately have my door opened," was the
reply.

"Smith, unscrew the door at once," said Mr Ladislaw.

Smith solemnly proceeded to do as he was bid, and presently the screws
were both dislodged.

"Is it done?" said the Henniker when the sound ceased.

"Yes, Miss Henniker; the door is quite free."

"Then," said the Henniker--and there positively seemed to be a tremor in
the voice--"please go; I will be down presently."

So the little procession turned and once more walked down the stairs,
Smith, with his screwdriver, still walking solemnly in the middle.  We
who were in hiding were torn by conflicting desires.  Our first impulse
was to remain and enjoy the spectacle of the crestfallen Henniker
marching forth from her late prison.  But somehow, rough boys as we
were, and not much given to chivalric scruples, the sound of that
tremble in the Henniker's voice, and with it the recollection of the
part we had taken in her punishment, made us feel as if, after all, the
best thing we could do was not to remain, but to follow the others down
stairs.

As we were doing so the ten o'clock bell rang for morning classes, and
we naturally sought the schoolroom, where, with Mr Hashford in the
desk, school was assembled just as if nothing had happened.  Hawkesbury
was the only absentee.

I certainly admired Mr Hashford on this occasion.  He appeared to be
the only person in the room who was not thoroughly uncomfortable.
Indeed, as we went on with our work, and he, almost pleasantly, entered
into it with us, we felt ourselves getting comfortable too, and could
hardly believe that the usher now instructing us had, an hour ago, been
our prisoner, and that we so recently had been shouting words of mutiny
and defiance all over the school.  It was like a dream--and, after all,
not a very nice dream.

But we were recalled to ourselves when presently, along the passage
outside our door, there resounded a footstep which instinct told us
belonged to the Henniker.  Not much chance of feeling comfortable with
that sound in one's ears!

But to our surprise and comfort it passed on and descended the stairs.
It was like a reprieve to convicted felons.

Class went on, and the clock was getting on to twelve--the usual hour
for a break--when the door opened, and Mr Ladislaw put in his head and
said, "Smith, will you step down to my study?  Mr Hashford, the mid-day
bell will not ring till one to-day."

Smith solemnly followed the master from the room, and for another hour
we worked in class--one of us, at any rate--feeling very anxious and not
a little uneasy.

When the bell did ring, and we went down stairs, not knowing exactly
what was to become of us, my first thought was, what had become of
Smith?  He was not in the playground, where we wandered about listlessly
for a quarter of an hour before dinner, nor was he to be seen when
presently we assembled in the memorable parlour for our mid-day repast.

It was not a very grand meal, that dinner.  We partook of the cold
remains of a joint which one of ourselves had made a woeful attempt to
cook the day before, and which now tasted anything but delicious.  Miss
Henniker was in her usual place, and as we sat with our eyes rigidly
fixed on the plates before us, we were conscious of her glancing once or
twice towards one and another of us, and then turning away to speak to
Mr Ladislaw, who was also present.  Except for the whispered
conversation of these two not a word was uttered during the meal.  Even
Flanagan, when, in reaching the salt, he knocked over his water, did not
receive the expected bad mark, but was left silently to mop up the spill
as best he could.

It was a terrible meal, and my anxiety about my friend Smith made it all
the worse.

Dinner was over, and we were descending to afternoon class in Mr
Ladislaw's study, when the front door opened and Hawkesbury entered.

We could see he was taken aback and utterly astonished to see Mr
Ladislaw and Miss Henniker at liberty and us once more at our old tasks.
For a moment his face looked concerned and doubtful, then, suddenly
changing, it broke out into smiles as he ran up to Mr Ladislaw.

"Oh, Mr Ladislaw," cried he, "and Miss Henniker, I am so glad!  I
really couldn't bear to be in the school while they were treating you so
shamefully!"

"Where have you been, Hawkesbury?" said Mr Ladislaw.

"Oh!  I went out in hopes of being able to--"

"You have told no one of what has occurred?" said Mr Ladislaw, sternly.

"Oh, no!" said the smiling Hawkesbury; "I really went out because I
couldn't bear to be in the school and be unable to do anything for you
and Miss Henniker.  I _am_ so glad you have got out!"

None of us had the spirit to protest.  We could see that Hawkesbury's
statement, and his expressed joy at their liberation, had gone down both
with Mr Ladislaw and Miss Henniker--and at our expense, too; and yet we
dared not expostulate or do ourselves justice.

Afternoon school went on, and still no Smith appeared.  Was he locked up
in the coal-hole or in one of the attics up stairs?  I wondered; or had
he been given into custody, or what?  No solution came to the mystery
all that afternoon or evening.  We worked silently on, conscious that
the Henniker's eyes were upon us, but aware that she neither spoke nor
interfered with us.

Bedtime came at last, and, in strange trouble and anxiety, I went up.  I
almost made up my mind to ask Mr Hashford or Mr Ladislaw what had
become of Smith, but I could not screw my courage up to the pitch.

As I was undressing, Hawkesbury came near me and whispered, "Where is
Smith?"

I vouchsafed no reply.  I had been used to give Hawkesbury credit for
good intentions, but I had had my confidence shaken by that day's
events.

"Don't be cross with me, Batchelor," said he; "I really don't deserve
it."

"Why did you desert and leave us all in the lurch?" growled I.

"I did not mean to do it," said he, very meekly; "but really, when I
woke this morning I felt I was doing wrong, Batchelor, and could not
bear to stay in and stand by while Mr Ladislaw and Miss Henniker were
kept shut up.  That's really the reason, and I thought it would be
kinder of me to keep out of the way and not spoil your fun.  Smith quite
misunderstood me, he did really."

"Why didn't you say you wouldn't join before we began?"  I asked.

"Why, because you know, Batchelor, I was in a bad frame of mind then,
and was angry.  But I tried hard to forgive, and I blame myself very
much that I even seemed to agree.  You mustn't think too hardly of me,
Batchelor."

I said nothing, but went on undressing, more perplexed than ever to know
what to think.  Hawkesbury, after a warm "Good-night," left me, and I
was thankful, at any rate, for the prospect of a few hours' sleep and
forgetfulness.

I was just getting into bed, and had turned back the clothes to do so,
when I suddenly caught sight of a scrap of paper appearing from under my
pillow.

I first supposed it must be some remnant of last night's sports, but, on
taking it out, found that it was a note carefully rolled up and
addressed to me in Smith's well-known hand.

With eager haste I unfolded it and read, "I'm expelled.  Good-bye.
Write `J.,' Post-Office, Packworth."

Expelled! sent off at an hour's notice, without even a word of good-bye!
My first sensations were selfish, and as I curled myself up in bed,
with his note fast in my hand, I felt utterly wretched, to know that my
only friend, the only comfort I had at Stonebridge House, had been taken
away.  What should I do without him?

Expelled!  Where had he gone to, then?  Packworth, I knew, was a large
town about ten miles from Brownstroke, where my uncle now and then went
on business.  Did Jack live there, then?  And if he did, why had he
never told me?  At any rate, I could get over and see him in the
holidays.  "Write to me."  How was that possible here? unless, indeed--
unless I could smuggle the letter into the post.  Poor Jack expelled!
Why should he be expelled more than any of us, except Hawkesbury?  What
a fury he had been in with Hawkesbury that very morning!  Certainly
Hawkesbury was aggravating.  Strange that my friend Smith and
Hawkesbury--that my friend Jack--that Jack and Hawk--

And here, in a piteous muddle of mind and spirit, I fell asleep.

I remained another year at Stonebridge House after Jack Smith had been
expelled.  We did not get a single holiday during that period, so that
my scheme of walking over from Brownstroke, and finding him out at
Packworth, never came off.  And I only contrived to write to him once.
That was the first time, the Sunday after he had left, when the Henniker
saw me dropping my letter into the post.  After that I was closely
watched, and I need hardly say, if Jack ever wrote to me, I never got
his letter.  Still I cherished the memory of my friend, and even when
Stonebridge House was most desolate, found some consolation in feeling
pretty sure I had a friend somewhere, which is more than every one can
say.

I made steady progress with my arithmetic and other studies during the
year, thanks to Mr Hashford, who, good fellow that he was, took special
pains with me, so that at the end of the year I was pronounced competent
to take a situation as an office-boy or junior clerk, or any like post
to which my amiable uncle might destine me.

I was not sorry to leave Stonebridge House, as you may guess.  During
the last year, certainly, things were better than they had been.  No
reference was made on any occasion, either in public or in private, to
the great rebellion of that summer.  The Henniker never quite got over
the shake she had had when we rose in arms against her, and Mr Ladislaw
appeared proportionately subdued, so on the whole things were rather
more tolerable.  And for lack of my lost friend, I managed to improve
the acquaintance of the good-natured Flanagan, besides retaining the
favour of the smiling Hawkesbury.

So passed another year, at the end of which I found myself a wiser and a
sadder boy, with my back turned at length on Stonebridge House, and my
face towards the wide, wide world.



CHAPTER NINE.

HOW I REPLIED TO AN ADVERTISEMENT AND WAITED FOR THE ANSWER.

The day that witnessed my departure from Stonebridge House found me, I
am bound to confess, very little improved by my year or two's residence
under that dull roof.  I do not blame it all on the school, or even on
Miss Henniker, depressing as both were.

There is no reason why, even at a school for backward and troublesome
boys, a fellow shouldn't improve, if he gave his mind to it.  But that
is just where I failed.  I didn't give my mind to it.  In fact, I made
up my mind it was no use trying to improve, and therefore didn't try.
The consequence was, that after Jack Smith left, I cast in my lot with
the rest of the backward and troublesome boys, and lost all ambition to
be much better than the rest of them.

Flanagan, the fellow I liked best, was always good-humoured and lively,
but I'm not sure that he would have been called a boy of good
principles.  At any rate, he never professed to be particularly
ambitious in any such way, and in that respect was very different from
Hawkesbury, who, by the time he left Stonebridge House, six months
before me, to go to a big public school, had quite impressed me with the
worth of his character.

But this is a digression.  As I was saying, I left Stonebridge House a
good deal wilder, and more rackety, and more sophisticated, than I had
entered it two years before.  However, I left it also with considerably
more knowledge of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division;
and that in my uncle's eye appeared to be of far more moment than my
moral condition.

"Fred," he said to me the day after I had got home, and after I had
returned from a triumphant march through Brownstroke, to show myself off
to my old comrades generally, and Cad Prog in particular--"Fred," said
my uncle, "I am going to send you to London."

"To London!" cried I, not knowing exactly whether to be delighted, or
astonished, or alarmed, or all three--"to London."

"Yes.  You must get a situation, and do something to earn your living."

I ruminated over this announcement, and my uncle continued, "You are old
enough to provide for yourself, and I expect you to do so."

There was a pause, at the end of which, for lack of any better remark, I
said, "Yes."

"The sooner you start the better," continued my uncle.  "I have marked a
few advertisements in that pile of newspapers," added he, pointing to a
dozen or so of papers on his table.  "You had better take them and look
through them, and tell me if you see anything that would suit you."

Whereat my uncle resumed his writing, and I, with the papers in my arms,
walked off in rather a muddled state of mind to my bedroom.

Half way up stairs a sudden thought occurred to me, which caused me to
drop my burden and hurry back to my uncle's room.

"Uncle, do you know the Smiths of Packworth?"

My uncle looked up crossly.

"Haven't you learned more sense at school, sir, than that?  Don't you
know there are hundreds of Smiths at Packworth?"

This was a crusher.  I meekly departed, and picking up my papers where I
had dropped them, completed the journey to my room.

It had been a cherished idea of mine, the first day I got home to make
inquiries about my friend Smith.  It had never occurred to me before
that Smith was such a very common name; but it now dawned slowly on me
that to find a Smith in Packworth would be about as simple as to find a
needle in a bottle of hay.

Anyhow, I could write to him now without fear--that was a comfort.  So I
turned to my newspapers and began to read through a few of the
advertisements my uncle had considerately marked.

The result was not absolutely exhilarating.  My uncle evidently was not
ambitious on my account.

"Sharp lad wanted to look after a shop."  That was the first I caught
sight of.  And the next was equally promising.

"Page wanted by a professional gentleman.  Must be clean, well-behaved,
and make himself useful in house.  Attend to boots, coals, windows,
etcetera.  Good character indispensable."

I was almost grateful to feel that no one could give me a good character
by any stretch of imagination, so that at any rate I was safe from this
fastidious professional gentleman.  Then came another:

"News-boy wanted.  Must have good voice.  Apply Clerk, Great Central
Railway Station."

Even this did not tempt me.  It might be a noble sphere of life to
strive to make my voice heard above a dozen shrieking engines all day
long, but I didn't quite fancy the idea.

In fact, as I read on and on, I became more and more convinced that my
splendid talents would be simply wasted in London.  Nothing my uncle had
marked tempted me.  A "muffin boy's" work might be pleasant for a week,
till the noise of the bell had lost its novelty; a "boy to learn the art
of making button-holes in braces" might perhaps be a promising opening;
and a printer's boy might be all very well, but they none of them
accorded with my own ideas, still less with my opinion of my own value.

I was getting rather hopeless, and wondering what on earth I should say
to my uncle, when the brilliant idea occurred to me of looking at some
of the other advertisements which my uncle hadn't marked.  Some of these
were most tempting.

"A junior partner wanted in an old-established firm whose profits are
£10,000 a year.  Must bring £15,000 capital into the concern."

There!  If I only had £15,000, my fortune would be made at once!

"Wanted a companion for a nobleman's son about to travel abroad."

There again, why shouldn't I try for that?  What could a nobleman's son
require more in a companion than was to be found in me?

And so I travelled on, beginning at the top of the ladder and sliding
gently down, gradually losing not only the hope of finding a situation
to suit me, but also relinquishing my previous strong faith in my own
wonderful merits.  I was ready to give it up as a bad job, and go and
tell my uncle I must decline all his kind suggestions, when, in an
obscure corner of one paper, my eye caught the following:

"Junior clerkship.  An intelligent lad, respectable, and quick at
figures, wanted in a merchant's office.  Wages 8 shillings a week to
commence.  Apply by letter to Merrett, Barnacle, and Company, Hawk
Street, London."

I jumped up as if I had been shot, and rushed headlong with the paper to
my uncle's study.

"Look at this, uncle!  This will do, I say!  Read it, please."

My uncle read it gravely, and then pushed the paper from him.

"Absurd.  You would not do at all.  That is not one of those I marked,
is it?"

"No.  But they were all awful.  I say, uncle, let's try for this."

My uncle stared at me, and I looked anxiously at my uncle.

"Fred," said he sternly, "I'm sorry to see you making a fool of
yourself.  However, it's your affair, not mine."

"But, uncle, I'm pretty quick at figures," said I.

"And intelligent and respectable too, I suppose?" added my uncle,
looking at me over his glasses.  "Well, do as you choose."

"Will you be angry?"  I inquired.

"Tut, tut!" said my uncle, rising, "that will do.  You had better write
by the next post, if you are bent on doing it.  You can write at my
desk."

So saying he departed, leaving me very perplexed and a good deal out of
humour with my wonderful advertisement.

However, I sat down and answered it.  Six of my uncle's sheets of paper
were torn up before I got the first sentence to my satisfaction, and six
more before the letter was done.  I never wrote a letter that cost me
such an agony of labour.  How feverishly I read and re-read what I had
written!  What panics I got into about the spelling of "situation," and
the number of l's in "ability"!  How carefully I rubbed out the pencil-
lines I had ruled, and how many times I repented I had not put a "most"
before the "obediently"!  Many letters like that, thought I, would
shorten my life perceptibly.  At last it was done, and when my uncle
came in I showed it to him with fear and trembling, and watched his face
anxiously as he read it.

"Humph!" said he, looking at me, "and suppose you do get the place, you
won't stick to it."

"Oh yes, I will," said I; "I'll work hard and get on."

"You'd better," said my uncle, "for you'll have only yourself to depend
on."

I posted my letter, and the next few days seemed interminable.  Whenever
I spoke about the subject to my uncle he took care not to encourage me
over much.  And yet I fancied, gruff as he was, he was not wholly
displeased at my "cheek" in answering Merrett, Barnacle, and Company's
advertisement.

"Successful!" growled he.  "Why, there'll be scores of other boys after
the place.  You don't expect your letter's the best of the lot, do you?
Besides, they'd never have a boy up from the country when there are so
many in London ready for the place, who are used to the work.  Mark my
word, you'll hear no more about it."

And so it seemed likely to be.  Day after day went by and the post
brought no letter; I was beginning to think I should have to settle down
as a newspaper-boy or a page after all.

At the end of the week I was so disheartened that I could stay in the
house no longer, but sallied out, I cared not whither, for a day in the
fresh air.

As I was sauntering along the road, a cart overtook me, a covered
baker's cart with the name painted outside, "Walker, Baker, Packworth."

A brilliant idea seized me as I read the legend.  Making a sign to the
youth in charge to stop, I ran up and asked, "I say, what would you give
me a lift for to Packworth?"

"What for?  S'pose we say a fifty-pun' note," was the facetious reply.
"I could do with a fifty-pun' note pretty comfortable."

"Oh, but really, how much?  I want to go to Packworth awfully, but it's
such a long way to walk."

"What do you weigh, eh?"

"I don't know; about seven stone, I think."

"If you was eight stun I wouldn't take you, there!  But hop up!"

And next moment I found myself bowling merrily along in the baker's cart
all among the loaves and flour-bags to Packworth.

My jovial driver seemed glad of a companion, and we soon got on very
good terms, and conversed on a great variety of topics.

Presently, as we seemed to be nearing the town, I ventured to inquire,
"I say, do you know Jack Smith at Packworth?"

The Jehu laughed.

"Know him--old Jack Smith?  Should think I do."

"You do?" cried I, delighted, springing to my feet and knocking over a
whole pyramid of loaves.  "Oh, I _am_ glad.  It's him I want to see."

"Is it now?" said the fellow, "and what little game have you got on with
him?  Going a grave-diggin', eh?"

"Grave-digging, no!"  I cried.  "Jack Smith and I were at school
together--"

The driver interrupted me with a loud laugh.

"Oh, my eye, that's a good 'un; you at school with old Jack Smith!  Oh,
that'll do, that'll do!" and he roared with laughter.

"But I really was," repeated I, "at Stonebridge House."

"You was?  How long before you was born was it; oh my eye, eh?"

"It was only last year."

"Last year, and old Jack lost the last tooth out of his head last year
too."

"What! has he had his teeth out?" cried I, greatly concerned.

"Yes, and all his hair off since you was at school with him," cried my
companion, nearly rolling off the box with laughter.

"What do you mean?"  I cried, in utter bewilderment at this catalogue of
my friend's misfortunes.

"Oh, don't ask me.  Old Jack Smith!"

"He's not old," said I, "not very, only about sixteen."

This was too much for my driver, who clapped me on the back, and as soon
as he could recover his utterance cried, "My eyes, you _will_ find him
growed!"

"Has he?" said I, half envious, for I wasn't growing very quickly.

"Ain't he!  He's growed a lump since you was at school together," roared
my eccentric friend.

"What is he doing?"  I asked, anxious to hear something more definite of
poor Jack.

"Oh, the same old game, on'y he goes at it quieter nor he used.  Last
Sunday that there bell-ringing regular blowed him out, the old covey."

A light suddenly dawned upon me.

"Bell-ringing; old covey.  That's not the Jack Smith I mean!"

"What!" roared my companion, "you don't mean him?"

"No, who?" cried I, utterly bewildered.

"Why, old Jack Smith, the sexton, what was eighty-two last Christmas!
You wasn't at school with him!  Oh, I say; here, take the reins: I can't
drive straight no longer!" and he fairly collapsed into the bottom of
the cart.

This little diversion, amusing as it was, did not have the effect of
allaying my anxiety to hear something about my old schoolfellow.

My driver, however, although he knew plenty of Smiths in the town, knew
no one answering to Jack's description; and, now that Packworth was in
sight, I began to feel rather foolish to have come so far on such a
wild-goose chase.

Packworth is a large town with about 40,000 inhabitants; and when,
having bidden farewell to the good-natured baker, I found myself in its
crowded bustling streets, any chance of running against my old chum
seemed very remote indeed.

I went to the post-office where my two letters had been addressed, the
one I wrote a year ago, just after Jack's expulsion, and the other
written last week from Brownstroke.

"Have you any letters addressed to `J'?"  I asked.

The clerk fumbled over the contents of a pigeon-hole, from which he
presently drew out my last letter and gave it to me.

"Wait a bit," said he, as I was taking it up, and turning to leave the
office.  "Wait a bit."

He went back to the pigeon-hole, and after another sorting produced,
very dusty and dirty, my first letter.  "That's for `J' too," said he.

Then Jack had never been to Packworth, or got my letter, posted at such
risk.  He must have given me a false address.  Surely, if he lived here,
he would have called for the letter.  Why did he tell me to write to
Post-Office, Packworth, if he never meant to call for my letters?

A feeling of vexation crossed my mind, and mingled with the
disappointment I felt at now being sure my journey here was a hopeless
one.

I wandered about the town a bit, in the vague hope of something turning
up.  But nothing did.  Nothing ever does when a fellow wants it.  So I
turned tail, and faced the prospect of a solitary ten-mile walk back to
Brownstroke.

I felt decidedly down.  This expedition to Packworth had been a
favourite dream of mine for many months past, and somehow I had never
anticipated there would be much difficulty, could I once get there, in
discovering my friend Smith.  But now he seemed more out of reach than
ever.  There were my two neglected letters, never called for, and not a
word from him since the day I left Stonebridge House.  I might as well
give up the idea of ever seeing him again, and certainly spare myself
the trouble of further search after him.

I was walking on, letters in hand, engaged in this sombre train of
thought, when suddenly, on the road before me, I heard a clatter of
hoofs accompanied by a child's shriek.  At the same moment round a
corner appeared a small pony galloping straight towards where I was,
with a little girl clinging wildly round its neck, and uttering the
cries I had heard.

The animal had evidently taken fright and become quite beyond control,
for the reins hung loose, and the little stirrup was flying about in all
directions.

Fortunately, the part of the road where we were was walled on one side,
while the other bank was sloping.  I had not had much practice in
stopping runaway horses, but it occurred to me that if I stood right in
the pony's way, and shouted at him as he came up, he might, what with me
in front and the wall and slope on either side, possibly give himself a
moment for reflection, and so enable me to make a grab at his bridle.

And so it turned out.  I spread out my arms and yelled at him at the top
of my voice, with a vehemence which quite took him aback.  He pulled up
dead just as he reached me, so suddenly, indeed, that the poor child
slipped clean off his back, and then, before he could fling himself
round and continue his bolt in another direction, I had him firmly by
the snaffle.

The little girl, who may have been twelve or thirteen, was not hurt, I
think, by her fall.  But she was dreadfully frightened, and sat crying
so piteously that I began to get quite alarmed.  I tied the pony up to
the nearest tree, and did what I could to relieve the young lady's
tribulation, a task in which I was succeeding very fairly when a female,
the child's nurse, arrived on the scene in a panic.  Of course my little
patient broke out afresh for the benefit of her protectress, and an
affecting scene ensued, in the midst of which, finding I was not wanted,
and feeling a little foolish to be standing by when so much crying and
kissing was going on, I proceeded on my way, half wishing it had been my
luck to secure that lively little pony for my journey home.

However, ten miles come to an end at last, and in due time I turned up
at Brownstroke pretty tired, and generally feeling somewhat down in the
mouth by my day's adventures.

But those adventures, or rather events, were not yet over; for that same
evening brought a letter with the London postmark and the initials M.,
B., and Company on the seal of the envelope!

You may fancy how eagerly I opened it.  It ran as follows:

"Messrs. Merrett, Barnacle, and Company are in receipt of Frederick
Batchelor's application for junior clerkship, and in reply--"

"What?"  I gasped to myself, as I turned over the leaf.

"--would like to see Batchelor at their office on Saturday next at
10:15."

I could hardly believe my eyes.  I rushed to my uncle and showed him the
letter.

"Isn't it splendid?"  I cried.

"Not at all," replied he.  "Don't be too fast, you have not got the
place yet."

"Ah, I know," said I, "but I've a chance at least."

"You have a chance against a dozen others," said my uncle, "who most
likely have got each of them a letter just like this."

"Well, but, of course, I must go on Saturday?"

"You still mean to try?" said my uncle.

"Why yes," said I resolutely.  "I do."

"Then you had better go to town on Saturday."

"Won't you go with me?"  I inquired nervously.

"No," said my uncle; "Merrett, Barnacle, and Company want to see you,
not me."

"But--" began I.  But I didn't say what I was going to say.  Why should
I tell my uncle I was afraid to go to London alone?

"Where am I to live if I do _get_ the place?  London's such a big place
to be in."

"Oh, we'll see to that," said my uncle, "in due time.  Time enough for
that when you get your place."

This was true; and half elated, half alarmed by the prospect before me,
I took to my bed and went to sleep.

My dreams that night were a strange mixture of Merrett, Barnacle, and
Company, the little girl who fell from the pony, Jack Smith, and the
jovial baker; but among them all I slept very soundly, and woke like a
giant refreshed the next day.

If only I had been easy in my mind about Jack Smith, I should have been
positively cheerful.  But the thought of him, and the fact of his never
having called for my letters, sorely perplexed and troubled me.  Had he
forgotten all about me, then?  How I had pictured his delight in getting
that first letter of mine, when I wrote it surreptitiously in the
playground at Stonebridge House a year ago!  And I had meant it to be
such a jolly comforting letter, too; and after all here it was in my
pocket unopened.  I must just read it over again myself.  And I put my
hand in my pocket to get it.  To my surprise, however, only the last of
the two letters was there, and high or low I could not find the other.
It was very strange, for I distinctly remembered no having it in my hand
after leaving Packworth.  Then suddenly it occurred to me I must have
had it in my hand when I met the runaway pony, and in the confusion of
that adventure have dropped it.  So I had not even the satisfaction of
reading over my own touching effusion, which deprived me of a great
intellectual treat.

However, I had other things to think of, for to-morrow was Saturday, the
day on which I was to make my solitary excursion to London in quest of
the junior clerkship at Merrett, Barnacle, and Company's.



CHAPTER TEN.

HOW I RAN AGAINST MY FRIEND SMITH IN AN UNEXPECTED QUARTER.

I suppose my uncle thought it good discipline to turn a young fellow
like me adrift for a whole day in London to shift for myself, and
wrestle single-handed with the crisis that was to decide my destiny.

He may have been right, but when, after an hour's excited journey in the
train, I found myself along with several hundred fellow-mortals standing
in a street which seemed to be literally alive with people, I, at any
rate, neither admired his wisdom nor blessed him for his good
intentions.

Every one but myself seemed to be in a desperate hurry.  Had I not been
sure it was the way of the place, I should have been tempted to suppose
some tremendous fire, or some extraordinary event was taking place at
the other end of the street, and that every one was rushing to get a
glimpse of it.  I stood a minute or two outside the station, hoping to
be left behind; but behold, no sooner had the tail of the race passed
me, when another, indeed two other train-loads of humanity swarmed down
upon me, and, hustling me as they swept by, fairly carried me along with
them.

One thing alarmed me prodigiously.  It was not the crowd, or the noise,
or the cabs, or the omnibuses, or the newspaper-boys, or the shops, or
the policemen, or the chimney-pot hats.  These all astonished me, as
well they might.  But what terrified me was the number of boys like
myself who formed part of the procession, and who, every one of them as
I imagined, were hurrying towards Hawk Street.

My uncle had told me that I should find Hawk Street turning out at the
end of the street in which the station stood, and this was precisely the
direction in which these terrible boys were all going.

How knowing they all looked, and how confident!  There was not one of
them, I was certain, but was more intelligent than I, and quicker at
figures.  How I hated them as they swaggered along, laughing and joking
with one another, looking familiarly on the scene around them, crossing
the road in the very teeth of the cab-horses, and not one of them caring
or thinking a bit about me.  What chance had I among all these?

There was not much conceit left in me, I assure you, as I followed
meekly in their wake towards Hawk Street that morning.

My uncle's directions had been so simple that I had never calculated on
having any difficulty in finding my destination.  But it's all very well
in a quiet country town to find one street that turns out of another,
but in London, between nine and ten in the morning, it's quite a
different matter.  At least so I found it.  Half a dozen streets turned
out of the one which I and the stream descended, and though I carefully
studied the name of each in turn, no Hawk Street was there.

"Can you tell me where Hawk Street is?"  I inquired at last of a fellow-
passenger after a great inward struggle.

"Hawk Street?  Yes.  Go through Popman's Alley, and up the second court
to the left--that'll bring you to Hawk Street."

"But uncle said it turned--" My guide had vanished!

I diligently sought for Popman's Alley, which I found to be a long paved
passage between two high blocks of buildings, and leading apparently
nowhere; at least I could discover no outlet, either at the end or
either side.  Every one was in such a hurry that I dared not "pop the
question" as to the whereabouts of Hawk Street again, but made my way
back once more to the entrance.  By this time I was so muddled that for
the life of me I could not tell which was the street I had come down,
still less how I could get back to it.

Ask my way I must, if I died for it!  Ten o'clock had struck ten minutes
ago, and I was due at Merrett, Barnacle, and Company's at 10:15.

I noticed a boy ahead of me walking rather more slowly than the rest.  I
would ask him, and stick to him till he put me right.  So I made up to
him boldly.

"Will you show me the way to Hawk Street, please?"  I said, as I came
up.

He turned round suddenly as I spoke.  Was it possible?  Here, in London,
where one might as soon expect to meet a body one knows as meet the man
in the moon!

It was my friend Smith!

"Jack!"  I exclaimed.

"Fred!" exclaimed Smith, seizing my hand.

There was no doubt about it, and no doubt about all my foolish
suspicions as to his having forgotten me or ceased to care for me being
groundless.  His solemn face lit up almost to a look of jubilation as he
grasped my hand and said, "Why, Fred, old man, whatever are you doing
here?"

"What are _you_ doing?" cried I.  "Who ever would have thought of
running up against you in this place?  But I say," said I, suddenly
remembering the time.  "I have got to be in Hawk Street in two minutes,
Jack.  For goodness' sake, show us the way, if you know it."

Smith opened his black eyes very wide.

"You have to be somewhere in Hawk Street?" he asked.

"Yes.  Merrett, Barnacle, and Company's the name.  I'm after a place
they have got there."

Smith's face passed through a variety of expressions, ending in the old
solemn look as he quietly said, "So am I."

"You!"  I exclaimed.  "You after the same place?  Oh, Jack!"

"I'm awfully sorry," said he.  "I didn't know--"

"Oh, it's not that," I interrupted, "at all.  I wish they had two
places, though."

"So do I.  Perhaps they have.  But I say, you'd better look sharp."

"Aren't you coming too?"  I said.

"I haven't to be there till 10:30.  They'll see you first."

At that moment a clock chimed the quarter, and startled me nearly out of
my wits.

"That's the time," cried I.  "Where _ever_ is Hawk Street, Jack?"

"This is it we're in, and that's the place over the way.  Merrett's is
on the first-floor."

"Be sure you wait outside for me," said I, preparing to dart over.

"Yes," said he.  "But, Fred, promise me one thing."

"What?" said I, hurriedly.

"Not to show off badly because I'm after the place too."

Old Jack!  He gave me credit, I fear, for a good deal more nobleness
than I had a right to claim.

"All serene," said I, "if you'll promise the same."

"Yes," said he.  "Mind, honour bright, Fred."

And so we parted, he to pace up and down the street for a long quarter
of an hour, and I to present myself before the awful presence of Messrs.
Merrett, Barnacle, and Company.

If all the youths who had flocked with me from the station in the
direction of Hawk Street had been bound (as my fears had suggested), for
this place, they would have found themselves rather cramped for room by
the time they were all assembled; for the first-floor offices which I
entered were decidedly limited in their capacity.  I, who had been
expecting at least a place capable of holding several scores of clerks,
was somewhat taken aback to find myself in a counting-house which
accommodated only half a score, and even that at rather close quarters.
In fact, I was so much taken aback that, although I had seen the name
plainly inscribed on the door, I was constrained to inquire on entering,
"Is this Messrs. Merrett, Barnacle, and Company's office, please?"

"Yes," said one of the clerks, shortly, "what about it?"

"Oh, if you please," I began, "I've come to--that is I've--"

"Come, out with it, can't you?" said the clerk.

"It's the situation," said I, feeling very uncomfortable.

"Well, what about it?" said the clerk, who, evidently cheered by the
smiles of his fellow-clerks, thought it a good joke to browbeat a poor
green country boy.

"Only I've come after it," faltered I.

"Have you, though?  And who told you to do that, I'd like to know?"

"My uncle--that is I had a letter--" but here a general laugh
interrupted my confession, and I felt very foolish indeed.

"So you've got an uncle, have you?  Do you ever lend him your gold
watch?"

This witticism was lost on me.  I didn't see the connection between my
uncle borrowing my gold watch (if I had had one), and the situation at
Messrs. Merrett, Barnacle, and Company's.  But it would never do to make
myself disagreeable.

"I've not got a gold watch, or a silver one either," I said.

This seemed to occasion fresh merriment among my catechist and his
fellows.

"Why don't you say who told you to come?" demanded the clerk.

"I did say," mildly replied I.  "I got a letter."

"What's that to do with it?  I got a letter to-day, didn't I, Wallop, to
tell me my washerwoman had changed her address.  But that's no reason
for my coming here."

This was perfectly sound reasoning.  So I amended my explanation.

"I got a letter from Merrett, Barnacle, and Company.--"

"_Messrs_.  Merrett, Barnacle, and Company, if you please," put in the
clerk.

"I beg your pardon," said I, "from Messrs. Merrett, Barnacle, and
Company, telling me to be here at 10:15."

"Oh.  Why didn't you say that before?  What's the use of prevaricating
when it's just as easy to tell the truth straight out, eh?  What's the
time now?"

"Twenty past," said I, looking at the clock.

"And you call that punctual?  That's a nice beginning, anyhow.  What's
your name?"

"Batchelor," said I.

This again appeared to afford amusement to the company in general; and
one or two jokes at the expense of my name were forthcoming, which I
bore with as good a grace as I could.

At length it pleased the clerk who had cross-examined me to get off his
stool, and after poking the fire and consulting the directory, and
skirmishing pleasantly with a fellow-clerk for a minute or two, to go to
the door of the inner-room and knock there.

"Come in," I heard a voice answer, and the clerk entered.

He emerged again in a moment and beckoned to me.  Now was the time!  I
braced myself up to the ordeal, and not heeding the facetious dig in the
ribs which the clerk gave me in passing, I put on my best face, and
entered the awful presence.

Two gentlemen sat facing one another at the table, one of them old, the
other middle-aged.  These I instantly guessed to be Messrs. Merrett and
Barnacle.  Mr Barnacle, the junior partner, who had a sharp voice and a
stern face, undertook my examination, Mr Merrett only coming in
occasionally with some mild observation.

"You are Batchelor," said Mr Barnacle, when I had entered and carefully
closed the door behind me.  I noticed he held in his hand my original
letter of application.  "You are Frederick Batchelor.  How is it you are
late?"

"I'm sorry, sir," faltered I, at this rather discouraging beginning,
"but--"

And here I stuck.  What was the use of trying to explain what still
remained the fact?

Mr Barnacle eyed me keenly, and continued, "You are fourteen, you say,
have just left school, and are good at arithmetic.  What school were you
at?"

"Stonebridge House, sir."

"Where is that?"

"In Cliffshire."

"And you think you would suit us?"

"I'd try, sir," said I.

"Do you know what our work is?" said Mr Barnacle.

"No, sir, not exactly," I replied.

"Generally speaking," mildly put in Mr Merrett, "you've a sort of
idea."

"Yes," said I, not quite sure whether I was telling the truth or not.

Mr Barnacle touched his bell, and the clerk appeared.

"Bring me the invoice-book, Doubleday."

Mr Doubleday returned directly with a large account-book, which he
deposited on the table before the junior partner.

Mr Barnacle pushed it towards me.

"I want a list made out of all the goods sent to Mr Walker, of Bombay,
since the beginning of the year.  Let me see you make it out."  Then
touching his bell again, he said to Mr Doubleday, the clerk, "Here,
Doubleday, give this boy some invoice paper and a pen, and let him write
at your desk.  He is to make a copy of all Walker's invoices since the
beginning of this year."

"Yes, sir," said Doubleday.

"Be particular that he receives no assistance, and bring me the sheets
when completed.  Batchelor, take this book and follow Mr Doubleday to
the counting-house."

"Do it as well as you can, without any help," mildly put in Mr Merrett,
by way of encouragement.

I followed my conductor in a state of terrible trepidation, feeling that
all this wasn't a bit like what I had expected my interview with Messrs.
Merrett, Barnacle, and Company to be.

"Here, hop up, young fellow," said Mr Doubleday, pointing to a high
stool at one of the desks, "and pull up your boot."

I concluded this last expression meant make haste, and I accordingly
pulled up my boot, and lost no time in setting myself to my task.

I was to make out a list of all that Walker of Bombay had had since the
beginning of the year.  I opened the big account-book; it contained a
great many accounts, some long, some short.  I began at the beginning,
and searched through for any belonging to Walker of Bombay.

At length, after about twenty pages, I found an entry dated December
30th last year.  That would not do; I was only to make a list of what
had been sent this year; and yet, on looking again, I saw it noted that
these goods, though entered on the 30th of December, had not been
shipped till the 2nd of January.  Here was a poser to begin with.  I
looked up and caught the eye of Doubleday, who, evidently enjoying my
perplexity, was watching me.

"I say," I ventured to say, "does he mean--"

"Hold your tongue, sir," broke out the virtuous Doubleday.  "Didn't you
hear Mr Barnacle say you were to get no assistance?  What do you mean
by it?  I'm ashamed of you; so's Wallop."

"I shall mention the matter to the governor," observed Wallop, with a
grin at his ally.

"Oh, don't," I said.  "I beg your pardon!"  It was evidently hopeless to
expect any light from without on the problem, so I decided for myself I
would include the account in question.  I was just beginning to copy it
out, and to shut my ears to the chaff that was going on around me, when
the counting-house door opened, and the solemn face of my friend Smith
appeared, asking if Messrs. Merrett, Barnacle, and Company were at home.

His quick eye detected me at once, and I felt very uncomfortable, lest
he should misunderstand the state of affairs and jump to the conclusion
that I had been already engaged by the firm.  At all risks I determined
to put him right on this point.

"I'm not taken on, Jack," I said, before his question had been answered.
"They've given me--"

"I'll give you a box on the ears, young gentleman," broke out the amazed
Doubleday.  "You're forgetting yourself.  Go on with your work.  Now
then, young hop-o'-my-thumb," said he, addressing himself to Smith,
"what do you want?"

Smith solemnly produced a letter, which he exhibited to the senior
clerk.

"Oh, you're after the place too, are you, young bull's-eye?"

"Yes," said Smith, solemnly, and apparently not aware that the last
expression had been intended as a joke.

"Why don't you laugh, eh?" cried Wallop; "we all laugh here when Doubles
makes a joke; don't we, Crow?"

Mr Crow, thus appealed to, replied, "Oh, of course.  We don't get much
laughing, though."

Mr Doubleday waxed red in the face at this, and rounded on Smith.

"Don't go staring at me, do you hear?  Look in the fireplace, can't you?
and then you won't set alight to anything.  Do you know this kid here?"
added he, pointing at me over his shoulder.

"Yes," replied Smith.

"Do you know he's after the place?"

"Yes," said Smith.

"Then what do you want to come after it for?  One of you's enough, ain't
it?"

Smith stared solemnly at the speaker, whereat that virtuous individual
waxed once more very wroth.

"Look here, if you can't cast your eyes somewhere else, young fellow,
I'll cast them for you, so now.  Why don't you answer my question?"

"I was told to be here at half-past ten," replied Jack.

"Then what do you mean by coming at twenty-eight past, eh, you young
ruffian?  Stay outside the door till the right time."

Smith obeyed solemnly, and for exactly two minutes remained outside.  At
the end of that period he returned.

Mr Doubleday, evidently perplexed for the moment how to get a rise out
of him, announced him to the partners, and I saw him vanish into the
inner-room.

"I say, Wallop," said Doubleday, when he had disappeared, "I hope
they're not going to take on a couple of them."

My heart bounded as I listened.  The bare suggestion was delightful.

"I hope not," said Wallop.  "I don't see what they want _one_ for."

"Oh, I do," said Crow (who I supposed had hitherto been the junior),
"he'll be jolly useful, you know, running errands, and all that."

"All I can say is, unless he does it better than you, he'll be very
little use."

"There you go," said Crow, in a sulk.  "The more a fellow does for you
the more you growl.  You see if I get you any more cheap neckties.  I'm
always ashamed, as it is, to ask for ninepenny sailor's knots and one-
and-twopenny kid gloves at the shop."

"Tell the truth--they're one-and-three.  I suppose you get one-and-
twopenny and pocket the odd penny!"

This pleasant recrimination might have proceeded I know not how long,
greatly to the detriment of my task, had not some one at the other desk
changed the subject.

"Don't you fret, you there," said he, "the junior's not for you at all.
He's for the imports.  I told the governor we wanted a boy in our
department last week."

"You did!" exclaimed Doubleday.  "Why, I told him we couldn't possibly
do without more help here in the exports a fortnight ago."

I don't know if any one saw my face when this glorious announcement was
made.  I could have danced on my desk for joy!  Just suppose--suppose it
should turn out that Jack Smith should be taken on in the export
department and I in the import--or the other way round!  I could hardly
contain myself at the bare idea.  Wouldn't I be glad!  I would get
Wallop one-and-fourpenny gloves and only charge him one-and-three for
them, to signalise the joyous event.  I would let myself out as a slave
to the entire office, if only Jack Smith and I were both taken on!  How
was he getting on in the partners' room?  I wondered.  I hoped--

"I suppose you've done," said Doubleday, looking round at this point;
"if so you can hook it."

"I haven't quite," said I, dashing back to my work.

I finished at last, and before Jack had come out of the inner-room too.

I handed my papers to Doubleday, who looked at them critically.

"Well," he said, "that's a pretty show.  Have a look at this, Wallop, I
say.  Your youngest grandchild could make his sevens nearly as well as
that!"

As Mr Wallop was about eighteen years old, I ventured to regard this
language as figurative on the part of Mr Doubleday, and trusted the
sevens were not quite as bad as he made out.

"All right," said Doubleday, "you can cut home to your mother-in-law.
You'll probably hear no more about it.  There's millions of other
loafers after the berth."

"When will I know?"  I faltered.

"Let's see, this is the nineteenth century, ain't it?  Call again about
the year two thousand.  February the thirty-first's the most convenient
day for us, we're all at home then.  Ta-ta."

I departed rather disconsolately, and waited half an hour outside in the
street for Smith.

"Well," said I, when presently he appeared, "how did you get on?"

"Not very grand," said he.  "I had to do some accounts like you.  I
heard one of the partners say yours were pretty good when the clerk
brought them in."

"Really?" cried I, with pleasure I could hardly disguise.  "But, I say,
Jack, unless you get on too, it'll be an awful sell."

"We can't both get on," said Jack.

"I don't know," said I.  And I related what I had overheard in the
counting-house.

Smith brightened up at this.  A very little encouragement was enough to
set us building castles in the air.  And we did build castles in the air
that morning as we paced the crowded city streets.

By the time these architectural exercises were over it was time for me
to go back to the station and catch my train; but not before I had tried
to extract from Jack what he had been doing with himself since he was
expelled from Stonebridge House.

As before, he was very uncommunicative.  All I heard was that the reason
he didn't get my letters at Packworth was that he had told me, or
thought he had told me, to address my letters to "T," and I had always
addressed them to "J."  But even had I addressed them correctly, he
would only have received the first, as a fortnight after he left
Stonebridge he went to London, where he had hitherto been working as a
grocer's shop-boy.  You should have seen the look of disgust with which
he referred to this part of his life!  But now, having seen Merrett,
Barnacle, and Company's advertisement, he was applying for their
situation.

But in all his story he would tell me nothing about his home, or his
relatives, so that as to knowing who my friend Smith was, or where he
came from, I went back that afternoon to Brownstroke as much in the dark
as ever.  But I had found _him_!



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

HOW MY FRIEND SMITH AND I ENTERED ON NEW DUTIES IN NEW COMPANY.

The two days which followed my eventful expedition to London were among
the most anxious I ever spent.  Young and unsophisticated as I was, I
knew quite enough of my own affairs to feel that a crisis in my life had
been reached, and that a great deal, nay, everything, depended on how my
application for Merrett, Barnacle, and Company's situation turned out.
If I succeeded there, I should have made a start in life--modest enough,
truly, but a start all the same--and who was to say whether from the
bottom of the ladder I might not some day and somehow get to the top?
But if I missed, I knew full well my uncle would take my affairs into
his own hands, and probably put me to work which would be distasteful,
and in which I should be miserable.  So you see, reader, I had a good
deal staked on my little venture.

The miserable thing was that I might never hear at all from the firm,
but go on hoping against hope, day after day, in a suspense which would
be worse than knowing straight off that I had failed.  However, I kept
up appearances before my uncle, for I didn't want him to think it was no
use waiting a little before he took me in hand himself.  I spent several
hours a day working up my arithmetic, making out imaginary invoices
against every imaginable person, and generally preparing myself for
office work.  And the rest of my time I spent in cogitation and
speculation as to my future destiny, and the merits and demerits of
those enviable mortals, Doubleday, Wallop, and Crow, of the Export
Department of Messrs. Merrett, Barnacle, and Company.

On Tuesday morning two letters came for me with the London postmark, one
in Jack Smith's well-remembered handwriting, the other with the awful
initials, "M., B., and Company," on the seal.

I opened Smith's letter first.  It was very short.

"Dear Fred,--I hear to-day I have got the situation.  I'm afraid that
means you have missed it.  I'm awfully sorry, old boy, that's all I can
say.  I hope in any case you will come to London.  I'll write again.
Ever yours,--Jack."

I flung down the letter in a whirl of mingled feelings.  That Jack Smith
had got the situation I could not help being glad.  But that I had lost
it was simply crushing.  Although I had kept reminding myself all along
in words that the chances were very remote, I yet discovered how I had
at heart been reckoning on my success almost to a certainty.  And now I
was utterly floored.

All this was the first hurried impression caused on my mind by my friend
Smith's letter; and for a minute I quite forgot, in my mortification,
that I had in my hand another letter--a letter from Merrett, Barnacle,
and Company themselves.  Then suddenly remembering it, I called to mind
also the vague rumour of two clerks being wanted in the office, and with
new hope and wild anxiety I tore open the envelope.

Could I believe my eyes?

"Frederick Batchelor is informed that his application for junior
clerkship is successful.  He will be required to begin work on Monday
next at 9 a.m."

For the space of two minutes, reader, I knew not if I was standing on my
head or my feet.  I will pass over the excited day or two which
followed.  My uncle, of course, did what he could to check my glee.  He
said Merrett, Barnacle, and Company must be easily pleased, but they
would soon find out their mistake, and that I might as well make up my
mind to be dismissed after the first fortnight, and so on.  I didn't
take it much to heart; and after the first gush did not trouble my
relative much with my prospects.

I was, however, a little curious to know what proposal he would make
about my board and lodging in the great metropolis, which, after all,
was a matter of some little consequence to me.

He did not see fit to relieve my anxiety on this point until the very
eve of my departure from Brownstroke, when he said, abruptly, "You will
be gone before I'm down to-morrow, Frederick.  Don't forget the train
starts at two minutes before six.  I have arranged for you to lodge with
Mrs Nash, whose address is on this card.  There will be time to take
your trunk round there before you go to your work.  For the present I
shall pay for your lodging."

"Shall I get my meals there?"  I ventured to ask.

"Eh!  You must arrange about that sort of thing yourself; and take my
advice, and don't be extravagant."

As my salary was to be eight shillings a week, there wasn't much chance
of my eating my head off, in addition to providing myself decently with
the ordinary necessaries of life.

"I say I shall pay your lodging for the present, but before long I
expect you to support yourself entirely.  I cannot afford it,
Frederick."

It had never occurred to me before that I cost anything to keep, but the
fact was slowly beginning to dawn on me, and the prospect of having
shortly to support myself cast rather a damper over the pictures I had
drawn to myself of my pleasant life in London.

"Good-bye," said my uncle.  "Here is half-a-sovereign for you, which
remember is on no account to be spent.  Keep it by you, and don't part
with it.  Good-night."

And so my uncle and I parted.

It was with rather subdued feelings that next morning I set out betimes
for the station, lugging my small trunk along with me.  That trunk and
the half-sovereign I was not to spend comprised, along with the money
which was to pay my fare, and the clothes I wore, the sum of my worldly
goods.  The future lay all unknown before me.  My work at Hawk Street,
my residence at Mrs Nash's, my eight shillings a week, I had yet to
find out what they all meant; at present all was blank--all, that is,
except one spot, and that was the spot occupied by my friend Smith.  I
could reckon on him, I knew, whatever else failed me.

I caught my train without much difficulty, as I was at the station at
least half an hour before it was due, and had a third-class carriage to
myself all the way to London.  There were not many people travelling at
that early hour, and when I reached the great metropolis at seven
o'clock the station and streets looked almost as deserted as on the
former occasion they had been crowded.

Mrs Nash's residence, so the card said, was in Beadle Square, wherever
that might be.  I was, however, spared the anxiety of hunting the place
up, for my uncle had authorised me to spend a shilling in a cab for the
occasion; and thus conveyed, after twistings and turnings which
positively made my head ache, I arrived in state at my future lodging.

The "square" was, like many other City squares, a collection of
tumbledown dingy houses built round an open space which might once have
contained nothing but green grass and trees, but was now utterly
destitute of either.  There was indeed an enclosure within rusty and
broken iron palings, but it contained nothing but mud, a few old beer-
cans, and a lot of waste-paper, and one dead cat and one or two half-
starved living ones.  A miserable look-out, truly, as I stood on Mrs
Nash's doorstep with my trunk waiting to be let in.

A slatternly female, whom I supposed to be the servant, admitted me.

"Is Mrs Nash in?" said I.

"Yes, that's me," said the lady.  "I suppose you're young Batchelor."

She spoke gruffly and like a person who was not very fond of boys.

"Yes," said I.

"All right," said she; "come in and bring your trunk."

I obeyed.  The place looked very dark and grimy, far worse than ever
Stonebridge House had been.  I followed her, struggling with my trunk,
up the rickety staircase of a house which a hundred years ago might have
been a stylish town residence, but which now was one of the forlornest
ghosts of a house you ever saw.

I found myself at last in a big room containing several beds.

"Here's where you'll sleep," said the female.

"Are there other boys here, then?"  I asked, who had expected a solitary
lodging.

"Yes, lots of 'em; and a bad lot too."

"Are they Merrett, Barnacle, and Company's boys?"  I inquired.

"Who?" inquired Mrs Nash, rather bewildered.

I saw my mistake in time.  Of course this was a regular lodging-house
for office-boys generally.

"Leave your box there," said Mrs Nash, "and come along."

Leading to the floor below the dormitory, I was shown a room with a long
table down the middle, with a lot of dirty pictures stuck on the wall,
and one or two dirty books piled up in the corner.

"This is the parlour," said she.  "Are you going to board, young man?"

I looked at her inquiringly.

"Are you going to get your grub here or out of doors?" she said.

"Do the other boys get it here?"  I asked.

"Some do, some don't.  What I say is, Are you going to or not?"

"What does it cost?"  I said.

"Threepence breakfast and threepence supper," said Mrs Nash.

I longed to ask her what was included in the bill of fare for these
meals, but was too bashful.

"I think," said I, "I had better have them, then."

"All right," said she, shortly.  "Can't have breakfast to-day; too late!
Supper's at nine, and lock-up at ten, there.  Now you'd better cut, or
you'll be late at work."

Yes, indeed!  It would be no joke to be late my first morning.

"Please," said I, "can you tell me the way to Hawk Street?"

"Where's that?" said Mrs Nash.  "I don't know.  Follow the tram lines
when you get out of the square, they'll take you to the City, and
then--"

At this moment a youth appeared in the passage about my age with a hat
on one side of his head, a cane in his hand, and a pipe, the bowl as big
as an egg-cup, in his mouth.

"I say, look here, Mrs Nash," said he, in a sleepy sort of voice; "why
wasn't I called this morning?"

"So you was," said Mrs Nash.

"No, I wasn't," drawled the youth.

"That's what you say," observed the landlady.  "I say you was; I called
you myself."

"Then you ought to have knocked louder.  How do you suppose a fellow who
was out at a party overnight is to hear you unless you knock hard?  I
shall be late at the office, all through you."

Mrs Nash said "Shut up!" and the youth said "Shan't shut up!" and Mrs
Nash inquired why, if he was late, he did not go off instead of dawdling
about there, like a gentleman?

This taunt seemed to incense the youth, who put his nose in the air and
walked out without another word.

"There," said Mrs Nash, pointing to his retreating form, "you'd best
follow him; he's going to the City, the beauty."

I took the hint, and keeping "the beauty" at a respectful distance,
followed in his lordly wake for about twenty minutes, until the rapidly-
crowding streets told me I was in the City.  Then, uncertain how to
direct my steps, I quickened my pace and overtook him.

"Please can you tell me the way to Hawk Street?"

He took two or three good puffs out of his big pipe, and blew the smoke
gracefully out of the corners of his mouth, and, by way of variety, out
of his nose, and then said, in a condescending voice, "Yes, my man;
first to the left and second to the right."

He certainly was a very self-assured young man, and struck me as quite
grand in his manners.  I had positively to screw up my courage to ask
him, "I say, you are one of Mrs Nash's lodgers, aren't you?"

He stared at me, not quite sure what to make of me.

"Only," said I, by way of explanation, "I saw you there just now, and
Mrs Nash said I'd better follow you."

"Mrs Nash is a jolly sight too familiar.  So are you."

With which the stately youth marched on, his nose higher in the air than
ever.

I was not greatly reassured by this first introduction, but for the time
being I was too intent on reaching Merrett, Barnacle, and Company's in
good time to think of much beside.  Fortunately my fellow-lodger's
direction was correct, and in a few minutes I found myself standing on
familiar ground in Hawk Street.

When I entered the office the youth who rejoiced in the name of Crow was
the only representative of the firm present.  He was engaged in the
intellectual task of filling up the ink-pots out of a big stone jar, and
doing it very badly too, as the small puddles of ink on nearly every
desk testified.  He knew me at once, and greeted me with great alacrity.

"Hullo! young 'un, here you are.  Look sharp and fill up the rest of
these, do you hear? and mind you don't make any spills!"

I proceeded to obey, while Mr Crow, quite a grandee now that there was
some one in the office junior to himself, stood, with his legs apart,
before the fireplace and read the _Times_, giving an occasional glance
at my proceedings.

"Hold hard!" he cried, presently, in an excited manner, when, having
filled all the ink-pots along one of the desks, I was proceeding to
attack on the other side of the screen; "hold hard! you don't want to
fill up for the Imports, I say.  They can do that themselves!"

Of course I agreed with him in this, and was just about restoring the
jar to Mr Crow's custody, when Jack Smith entered the office.

"Hullo!  Jack," I cried, feeling quite an old hand; "here you are.
Isn't it fine?"

"Rather," said Jack, solemnly, returning my grasp.  "I _am_ glad."

"So am I.  I was in such a fright when--"

"Now then, you young 'un there," said Crow, looking up from his paper,
"don't go dawdling, I say.  Just stick fresh nibs in all the Export
pens, and look sharp about it, too."

"I'll help you, Fred," said Jack Smith, as I proceeded to obey.

"No, you won't!" said Crow; "we don't want you messing about in our
department.  You stick to your Imports."

It was evident Exports and Imports at Messrs. Merrett, Barnacle, and
Company's were not on absolutely brotherly terms.  Anyhow I had to stick
in the nibs unassisted.

Presently the other clerks began to drop in, among them Mr Doubleday,
who was very witty on the subject of my appointment, and told Wallop he
understood I was to be admitted into partnership next week, and would
then sign all the cheques.

"All right!" said Wallop; "I'll put off asking for a rise till next
week."

I was presumptuous enough to laugh at this, which greatly offended both
the magnates.  Doubleday ordered me to my desk instantly.

"Get on with your work, do you hear? and don't stand grinning there!"

"What had I better do?"  I inquired, mildly.

"Do?" said Mr Doubleday, proceeding to take up his pen and settle
himself to work; "I'll let you know what to-- Look here.  Crow," he
broke off, in a rage, pointing to one of the ink puddles which that hero
had made, "here's the same beastly mess again!  Every Monday it's the
same--ink all over the place!  Why on earth don't you keep your messes
to yourself?"

"That young 'un filled up to-day," said Crow, coolly pointing to me.

I was so astounded by this false charge that I could hardly speak.  At
last I retorted, "I didn't; you know I didn't!"

"Yes, you did!" said Crow.

"I didn't fill up that pot; it was done before I got here."

"Don't tell lies!" said Crow.

"I'm not telling lies!" cried I.

"Yes, you are!" said Crow.  "I'm ashamed of you!"

"Oh, it was you, was it?" demanded Mr Doubleday, turning to me; "then
just come and wipe it up.  Look sharp!"

I was disposed to resist this piece of injustice to the utmost, but
somehow the morning of my arrival it would hardly look well to figure in
a row.

"I didn't do it," said I, in an agitated voice, "but I'll wipe it up."

"Look sharp about it, then!" said Doubleday, grinning at Wallop.

It is one thing to offer to wipe up an ink puddle, and quite another to
do it.

"Now then!" said Doubleday, as I stood doubtfully in front of the scene
of operation.

"I don't know," I faltered,--"I, that is--I haven't got anything I can
do it with."

"What! not got a handkerchief!" exclaimed the head clerk, in apparent
consternation.

"Yes; but I can't do it with that.  Wouldn't some blotting--"

"Blotting-paper!--the firm's blotting-paper to wipe up his messes!  What
do you think of that, all of you?  Come, out with your handkerchief!"

Things looked threatening.  I saw it was no use resisting.  Even the
Imports were standing on their stools and looking over the screen.  So I
took out my handkerchief and, with a groan, plunged it into the spilt
ink.

Doubleday and the clerks evidently appreciated this act of devotion, and
encouraged me with considerable laughter.  My handkerchief and my hand
were soon both the colour of the fluid they were wiping up, and my frame
of mind was nearly as black.

"Now then," said Doubleday, "aren't you nearly done?  See if there's any
gone down the crack there.  Is there?"

I stooped down to inspect the crack in question, and as I did so Mr
Doubleday adroitly slipped his pen under my soaking handkerchief, and,
by a sudden jerk, lifted it right into my face.

At the same moment the door opened and Mr Barnacle entered!  He looked
round for a moment sharply, and then, passing on to the inner-room,
said, "Doubleday, bring the two new office-boys into my room."

If I had heard just the sentence of death pronounced on me I could
hardly have been more horrified.  My face and hand were like the face
and hand of a negro, my collar and shirt were spotted and smeared all
over with ink, and even my light hair was decorated with black patches.
And in this guise I was to make my first appearance before my masters!
Jack Smith's expression of amazement and horror as he caught sight of me
only intensified my own distress, and Doubleday's stern "Now you're in
for it!" sounded hopelessly prophetic.

I could do nothing.  To wipe my face with my clean hand, with the tail
of my jacket, with my shirt-sleeve, could do no good.  No; I was in for
it and must meet my doom!

But I determined to make one expiring effort to escape it.

"Please, sir," I cried, as we came to the door and before we entered,
"I'm very sorry, but my face is all over ink.  May I wash it before I
come in?"

I was vaguely conscious of the titters of the clerks behind me, of the
angry grip of Doubleday on one side of me, and of Smith's solemn and
horrified face on the other, and the next moment I was standing with my
friend in front of Mr Barnacle's awful desk.

He regarded me sternly for a moment or two, during which I suffered
indescribable anguish of mind.

"What is the meaning of this?" said he.  "I don't understand it."

"Oh, please, sir," cried I, almost beseechingly, "I'm so sorry.  I was
wiping up some ink, and got some on my face.  I couldn't help."

Mr Barnacle looked angry and impatient.

"This is no place for nonsense," said he.

"Really I couldn't help," I pleaded.

There must have been some traces of earnestness visible, I fancy, on my
inky face, for I saw Mr Barnacle look at me curiously as I spoke, while
there was the faintest perceptible twitch at the corners of his lips.

"Go and wash at once," he said, sternly.

I fled from his presence as if I had been a leper, and amid the
merriment of my fellow-clerks sought the sink at the other end of the
office and washed there as I had never washed before.

After much exertion, my countenance resumed something like its natural
complexion, and the white skin faintly dawned once more on my fingers.
My collar and shirt-front were beyond cleaning, but at the end of my
ablutions I was, at any rate, rather more presentable than I had been.

Then I returned refreshed in body and mind to Mr Barnacle, whom I found
explaining to Smith his duties in the Import Department.  He briefly
recapitulated the lecture for my benefit, and then dismissed us both
under the charge of Mr Doubleday to our duties, and by the time one
o'clock was reached that day, and I was informed I might go out for
twenty minutes for my dinner, I was quite settled down as junior clerk
in the Export Department of Merrett, Barnacle, and Company.



CHAPTER TWELVE.

HOW MY FRIEND SMITH AND I KNOCKED ABOUT A BIT IN OUR NEW QUARTERS.

Smith and I had a good deal more than dinner to discuss that morning as
we rested for twenty minutes from our office labours.

He was very much in earnest about his new work, I could see; and I felt,
as I listened to him, that my own aspirations for success were not
nearly as deep-seated as his.  He didn't brag, or build absurd castles
in the air; but he made no secret of the fact that now he was once in
the business he meant to get on, and expected pretty confidently that he
would do so.

I wished I could feel half as sure of myself.  At any rate, I was
encouraged by Jack Smith's enthusiasm, and returned at the end of my
twenty minutes to my desk with every intention of distinguishing myself
at my work.

But somehow everything was so novel, and I was so curiously disposed,
that I could not prevent my thoughts wandering a good deal, or listening
to the constant running fire of small talk that was going on among my
fellow-clerks.  And this was all the less to be wondered at, since I
myself was a prominent topic of conversation.

Mr Doubleday was a most curious mixture of humour, pomposity, and
business, which made it very hard to know how exactly to take him.  If I
dared to laugh at a joke, he fired up, and ordered me angrily to get on
with my work.  And if I did become engrossed in the figures and entries
before me, he was sure to trip me up with some act or speech of
pleasantry.

"Why don't you stick a nib on the end of your nose and write with it?"
he inquired, as I was poring over an account-book in front of me, trying
to make out the rather minute hieroglyphics contained therein.

I withdrew my nose, blushingly, to a more moderate distance, a motion
which appeared greatly to entertain my fellow-clerks, whose amusement
only added to my confusion.

"Hullo!  I say," said Doubleday, "no blushing allowed here, is there,
Wallop?"

"Rather not.  No one ever saw _you_ blush," replied Mr Wallop.

This turned the laugh against Doubleday, and I, despite my bashfulness,
was indiscreet enough to join in it.

Mr Doubleday was greatly incensed.

"Get on with your work, do you hear? you young cad!" he cried.  "Do you
suppose we pay you eight bob a week to sit there and grin?  How many
accounts have you checked, I'd like to know?"

"Six," I said, nervously, quite uneasy at Mr Doubleday's sudden
seriousness.

"Six in two hours--that's three an hour."

"Quite right; not bad for Dubbs, that, is it, Crow?" put in Wallop.

"No.  He's reckoned it up right this time."

"I wish _you'd_ reckon it up right now and then," retorted Doubleday.
"How about the change out of those two handkerchiefs?"

"There is no change," said Crow, sulkily; "they were sixpence each."

"What's the use of saying that, when they are stuck up fourpence-
halfpenny each in the window, you young thief?"

"You can get them yourself, then," replied the injured Crow.  "I'll go
no more jobs for you--there!  I'm not the junior now, and I'm hanged if
I'll put up with it."

"You'll probably be hanged, whether you put up with it or not," was Mr
Doubleday's retort, who, apparently desirous to change the conversation,
suddenly rounded on me, as I was looking up and listening to the
edifying dialogue.

"Now then, young Batchelor, dawdling again.  Upon my word I'll speak to
Mr Barnacle about you.  Mind, I mean what I say."

"You'd better look-out, young turnip-top, I can tell you," growled Crow;
"when Dubbs means what he says, it's no joke, I can tell you."

On the whole my first afternoon's work at Merrett, Barnacle, and
Company's was somewhat distracting, and by the time half-past six
arrived I felt I had not accomplished quite as much as I had intended.

My first care on rejoining Jack was to sound him as to the possibility
of his coming to lodge at Mrs Nash's.  To my delight he anticipated me
by inquiring, "Have you got any place to lodge, Fred?"

"Yes," said I, "and I only wish you'd come there too, Jack."

"Whereabouts is it?" he asked.

"Mrs Nash's, at Beadle Square.  But you will come, won't you?"

"Perhaps there's not room."

"Oh yes," said I, taking upon myself to assert what I did not know,
"there is.  Come along, old man, it'll make all the difference if we get
together."

"How much is it?" asked Jack, doubtfully.

"Come along, and we'll ask," said I, dragging him along.

He came, and together we bearded Mrs Nash in her den.

"I say, Mrs Nash," said I, "my friend's coming to lodge here, please."

Mrs Nash eyed Jack suspiciously, and then said abruptly, "No room."

"Oh, bother!  Can't he sleep with me, then?"  I inquired.

"No," replied she, "he can't.  It's not allowed."

"When will there be room?"  Jack asked.

"Next week, may be."

"Oh, how jolly!"  I exclaimed.  "Then you will come, Jack, won't you?"

"How much is it?" inquired Jack of Mrs Nash.

"Three-and-six a week--in advance," said Mrs Nash; "no tick."

Jack pulled rather a long face.

"It'll be a tight fit," said he to me, "out of eight shillings a week."

"Oh, I can pay part," said I, too delighted at the prospect of Jack's
company to admit of any obstacle.  "My uncle pays my lodging, you know,
so I have the eight shillings all to myself."

Jack, however, scouted the idea.  After a little more parleying, to my
unspeakable joy he told Mrs Nash he would come next week.  I begged
hard for him to be allowed to share my quarters in the meanwhile.  The
landlady was inexorable, so we had to submit.

Jack took me a long stroll through the London streets that evening,
entertaining me with a description of his life as a grocer's shop-boy,
now happily at an end.  I forbore to ask him any questions on the
mysterious subject of his home, and he of course never referred to it.
Our walk ended again at Beadle Square, where we parted for the night; he
to return to some poor lodging in a distant part of the town, I to take
part in the nine o'clock supper at Mrs Nash's.

I was rather nervous as I approached the parlour where were congregated
my fellow-lodgers, and heard the sound of their noisy voices and
laughter.  I half repented that I had committed myself to sup on the
premises; it would have been so much less embarrassing to slip in just
at ten o'clock and go straight to bed.  However, I was in for it now.

I opened the door and entered the room.  The parlour was full of boys--
two dozen or more--of all ages, and engaged in all sorts of occupations.
Some lounged lazily in front of the fireplace, some were indulging in
rough horse-play in the corners, some were reading novels, some were
writing, some were talking, some were laughing.

As I entered, however, everybody suddenly ceased his occupation and
stared at me--everybody, that is, except the small group who were
skirmishing in the corner nearest the door.  These, with the most
laudable presence of mind, took in my situation at once, and next moment
I was one of the skirmishing party and having rather a lively time of
it.

By this time the rest of the company had taken in the state of affairs.

"Pass him on there," some one called, and I was accordingly passed on in
rather a lively way to another party of skirmishers, who in turn, after
buffeting me up and down a bit among themselves, passed me on to another
group, and so on, till, with back and limbs and head all rather the
worse for wear, I had performed the tour of the room and found myself
finally pitched head-first into the embrace of the lordly youth who that
morning had condescended to point out to me the way to Hawk Street.

"Look here," cried he, kicking out somewhat savagely at my shins; "don't
you be so jolly familiar, do you hear?  Look what you have done to my
shirt-front!"

"I beg your pardon," said I, rubbing my poor shin.  "I couldn't help--"

"Yes, you could, you young cad!" cried he, kicking again.

"No, I couldn't, and--oh!  I say, stop kicking, please!"

By this time most of the company had gathered round, some calling on the
youth to "let me have it" others encouraging me "to go in and win."  I
felt very greatly tempted, especially after the receipt of the third
kick, to act on the suggestion given, and might have done so, had not
Mrs Nash at that moment entered the room with the supper.

This interruption created a new diversion.

"I say, Mrs Nash," cried my adversary, "who's this kid?  We don't want
him here."

"You'll have to have him whether you want him or not," replied Mrs
Nash, in her usual gracious way.  "He's a lodger here."

"What do you want to shove another lodger in for when you know we're
chock-full?" demanded the youth.

"You hold your tongue, Mr Jackanapes," replied Mrs Nash.

"I say, don't you be so familiar," cried the young gentleman, greatly
offended.  "My name's Horncastle, not Jackanapes."

"Very well, then, Mr Horncastle, you'd better hold your tongue."

"I sha'n't hold my tongue.  You've got a spite against us, that's what
it is, or you wouldn't go crowding us out with kids like this."

"Crowding you out!" retorted Mrs Nash, scornfully.  "You've got another
kid coming next week, my beauty, so you'd better not talk of crowding
out till then."

"What! another besides this young cad?  Oh, that's too much!  We won't
stand it.  That's all about that," cried Mr Horncastle, in tones of
utter disgust.

"Won't you?  Then you can cook your own sausages for supper, my man, and
shell out what you owe on the nail.  We'll see who won't stand it or
not!"

This threat had the desired effect: Horncastle knuckled down as if by
magic.

"Oh, don't be a brute, Mrs Nash," he said, in tones of agitation.  "Do
us those sausages, there's a good body, and you can cram in half a dozen
kids if you like."

And so the question of my admission was settled satisfactorily, if not
flatteringly, for me, and the fellows, the novelty of my appearance
being once over, took no more notice of me than of any of the rest of
their fellow-lodgers.

Mrs Nash's establishment appeared to be one to which fond parents in
the country, whose darlings were about to launch out on the sea of life
in London, were invited to confide their sons, under the promise of a
comfortable, respectable, and economical home.

As to the comfortable, we who were best able to judge did not admit the
description a true one.  As to the respectable, that was a matter of
opinion.  If each of us had been the only lodger there, the place would
have been undoubtedly respectable, but with all the rest there, we each
of us considered the society rather "mixed."  As to the economical, we
were all agreed on that point.  The place was fearfully and wonderfully
economical!

By the time my first week in London was ended I had shaken down fairly
well, both to my work at Merrett, Barnacle, and Company's and my
quarters at Mrs Nash's.  I still found the fellowship of Messrs.
Doubleday and Wallop and Crow rather distracting, and more than once
envied Jack his berth among the Imports where, as a rule, silence
reigned supreme.  And yet I could hardly bring myself to dislike my
fellow-clerks, who, all of them, as far as I had found out, were good-
natured, and certainly very entertaining, and who, when they perceived
that I was amused by their proceedings, relaxed a good deal in their
attitude to me.

I gradually came to be on talking, if not on chaffing terms with several
of the fellows, and found myself, I never exactly knew how, installed in
the position, lately vacated by Mr Crow, of messenger and confidential
commission agent to the company.  Most of my twenty minutes in the
middle of the day was thus taken up in buying articles of comfort or
decoration for one and another of my seniors, or else changing books at
the library, taking messages to other clerks in other offices, and
otherwise laying myself out for the general good--a self-denial which
brought me more kicks than halfpence, but which, all the same, served to
establish my footing as a regular member of the Export fraternity at
Merrett, Barnacle, and Company's.

Smith, I discovered, was let in for something of the same work with the
Imports, but to a much smaller extent.  Indeed, he had so much less of
it than me that I one day questioned him on the subject.

"I say, Jack, it seems to me the Exports want a jolly lot more things
done for them than the Imports.  To-day I've got to go to Mudie's to
change a book, then I've to get a scarf-pin mended for Crow, and buy a
pair of flannel drawers for Wallop, and go and offer two shillings for a
five-shilling mariner's compass at the stores for Doubleday.  I shall
have to get my grub when I can to-day, I expect."

"Oh!" said Jack, "the Imports wanted to let me in for that sort of
thing, but I didn't see the use of it, and told them so."

"What did they say?" asked I, astonished at his boldness.

"They didn't like it, of course," said Jack; "but I don't see why they
shouldn't do their own jobs."

"Well," said I, "I wouldn't mind if I could stick out too, but somehow
I'm in for it now."

And off I started on my round of errands.

I was, however, greatly impressed with Jack's cool treatment of the
whole affair.  I would as soon have dreamed of refusing to go an errand
for Doubleday or Wallop as of flying.  The office, I knew full well,
would soon be made pretty hot for me if I did, and it was a marvel how
Jack apparently got over the difficulty so easily.  He was one of those
fellows, you know, who seem to care absolutely nothing about what others
think of them.  It's all one if fellows hate them or love them, and as
for being influenced by any desire to cultivate the good graces of one's
neighbours, you might as well expect a bear to cultivate the good graces
of a porpoise.

I soon began to suspect that Jack was not altogether comfortable in his
new quarters, although he never hinted to the contrary.  There were
vague rumours which came across the partition of uncomfortableness which
silently went on, and in which Jack took a prominent part; and an event
which happened just a week after our arrival made the thing certain.

One morning, Mr Barnacle, apparently in a great hurry, looked in at the
Import door and called out, "Smith, make me three copies of Elmore's
last consignment, at once, on foreign paper."

"Yes, sir," said Jack.

After a pause, I heard him say, "Will you lend me that entry-book,
please, Harris, to make the copies from?"

"No," curtly replied Harris; "I'm using it."

"But Mr Barnacle says he must have it at once."

"I can't help that," said Harris.

"That's right, Harris!" said another voice; "pay him out for his
beastly, selfish ill-nature!"

"Will you lend me the book, Harris?" again demanded Jack, in tones which
I could tell were fast losing their calmness.

"No, I won't! and what's more, shut up your row!" replied Harris.

There was a pause, then I heard Jack get off his stool and march boldly
to the door.  He came out and passed solemnly through our office to the
door of Mr Barnacle's room, which he entered.

Next moment Mr Barnacle came out, very red in the face, and demanded,
in a loud voice, "Who is it using the entry-book?  Didn't you hear me
say the copies were to be made at once, sir?  Let Smith have the book."

"It's on his desk," replied Harris, meekly.  "I was only ruling off the
last line, to show where the account ended."

"Copy it at once," said Mr Barnacle, sharply; "the papers have to be
down before twelve, and here's five minutes wasted already."

Smith silently went to work, and Mr Barnacle withdrew.

"Vile young sneak!"  I heard Harris say; "I'll pay you out for that!"

"I didn't want to sneak.  You should have given me the book," replied
Jack solemnly.

"I'll give you _something_, see if I don't!" was the reply.

I believe Jack did receive this promised something.  He did not come out
at mid-day till late, and then he was pale and flurried.

"Has Harris been bullying you?"  I said.

"Been doing his best," replied Jack, gloomily.  "I don't much care for
him."

This was quite enough.  I could guess what it meant.

"I suppose you think I was a fearful sneak?" said Jack.

"No I don't, old man!" said I.

I had, I must confess, felt a little doubtful on the subject; but, then,
what else could he have done?

"I'm sorry I did it now," said Jack solemnly; "I sha'n't do it again."

"What else could you do?"  I asked.

"I shall have to knock Harris down, I suppose," said Jack, so seriously
that I stared at him in bewilderment.

Without doubt my poor chum was preparing a warm time for himself with
the Imports at Merrett, Barnacle, and Company's!

That same evening he entered on his new quarters at Mrs Nash's, greatly
to my joy, and greatly to the disgust of everybody else.

Horncastle, who had recovered from his temporary fright for the cooling
of his sausages, was specially loud in his remonstrances.

"It's no use your coming here," he said, advancing in a menacing way
towards Jack on his arrival.  "We aren't going to have you--there!"

And with that, as in my case, he emphasised his remark with a smart kick
on Jack's shins.

Jack was not a short-tempered fellow, but this unprovoked assault
startled him out of his usual composure.

"You'd better not do that again," said he, glaring at his adversary.

Horncastle did _not_ do it again.  I don't know what it was, but at
those words, and the glare that accompanied them, his foot, already
raised for further action, dropped quietly beside the other.

"I shall do it again if I choose," he said surlily.

"Then you'd better not choose," quietly said Jack.

"You've got no business here, that's what I say," exclaimed Horncastle,
falling back upon a safer line of attack.

"Why haven't I?" said Jack.  "I'm a clerk like you."

"And you call yourself a gentleman too, I suppose?" sneered the other.

Jack always fired up when any reference of this kind was made.

"I don't want _you_ to tell me whether I am," he retorted.

"Why, he's a regular cad," cried some one.  "I know him well; I saw him
selling penn'orths of nuts a week or two ago in the Borough."

"You hear that," said Horncastle, turning to Jack.  "Was it so?"

"I don't see what it's got to do with you," replied Jack; "but if you
want to know, I was."

"I thought so!  I thought so!" exclaimed Horncastle; "a wretched shop-
boy!  Ugh! get away from me."

And by one consent the company followed the example of their leader and
left poor Jack isolated in a corner of the room, with only me to stand
by him.

But he was not greatly afflicted by the incident, and made no attempt to
assert his rights further.  And after all we got on very well and had a
very jolly evening without the help of Mr Horncastle and his friends,
and slept quite as soundly after our day's excitement as if we had been
in the wholesale line all our lives.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

HOW MY FRIEND SMITH AND I CAUGHT A YOUNG TARTAR.

The novelty of our life in London soon began to wear off.  For the first
week or so I thought I never should grow weary of the wonderful streets
and shops and crowds of people.  And the work at the office, while it
was fresh, appeared--especially when enlivened by the pranks of my
fellow-clerks--more of a game than downright earnest.  My eight
shillings a week, too, seemed a princely allowance to begin with, and
even the lodging-house in Beadle Square was tolerable.

But after a month or so a fellow gets wonderfully toned down in his
notions.  I soon began to pine inwardly for an occasional escape from
the murky city to the fresh air of the country.  The same routine of
work hour after hour, day after day, week after week, grew tame and
wearisome.  And I began to find out that even the lordly income of eight
shillings a week didn't make the happy possessor, who had to clothe and
feed himself, actually a rich man; while as for Mrs Nash's, the place
before long became detestable.  The fact is, that I, with no cheerier
home than Brownstroke to look back on, became desperately homesick
before three months in London were over; and but for my friend Smith, I
might have deserted entirely.

However, Smith, solemn as he was, wouldn't let me get quite desperate.
He was one of those even-tempered sort of fellows who never gush either
with joy or sorrow, but take things as they come, and because they never
let themselves get elated, rarely let themselves get down.

"Fred," he said to me one day, when I was in the dumps, "what's wrong?"

"Oh, I don't know," said I, "I'm getting rather sick of London, I
think."

"Not much use getting sick of it yet," said he.  "Time enough in fifty
years."

"Jack," said I, "if I thought I had all my life to live here, I should
run away."

"You're a duffer, old man.  Aren't you getting on at Hawk Street, then?"

"Oh yes, well enough, but it's most fearfully slow.  The same thing
every day."

Jack smiled.  "They can't alter the programme just to suit you."

"Of course not," I cried, feeling very miserable; "of course I'm an ass,
but I'd sooner be back at Stonebridge House than here."

"By the way," said Smith, suddenly, "talking of Stonebridge House, who
did you think I ran against to-day at dinner-time?"

"Who, old Henniker?"  I inquired.

"Rather not.  If I had, I think I should have been game for running away
along with you.  No, it was Flanagan."

"Was it?  I should like to have seen him.  What's he doing?"

"Not much, I fancy.  He says his brother's a solicitor, and he's come up
to loaf about in his office and pick up a little law."

"Oh, I like that," I cried, laughing.  "Think of old Flanagan a lawyer.
But didn't he say where he was living?"

"Yes, Cabbage Street, in Hackney.  I forget the number.  I say, Fred,
suppose we take a stroll this evening and try to find him out.  It'll do
you good, a walk."

I gladly consented.  We gave Mrs Nash due notice that we should not be
home to supper, and might possibly be out after ten, and then sallied
forth.  Hackney was a good four miles from Beadle Square, and by the
time we had discovered Cabbage Street it was almost time to be
returning.  But having come so far we were resolved we would at least
make an effort to find out our old schoolfellow.  But the fates were
against us.  Cabbage Street was a new street of small houses, about a
third of a mile long.  Even if we had known the number it would have
taken some time to discover the house; but without that information it
was simply impossible.  We did try.  Jack took the left of the street
and began knocking at the odd numbers, starting from 229; while I
attacked the even numbers on the right side.  But as far as we went no
one knew of a Flanagan, and we had to give it up.

It was half-past nine when we finally abandoned the search and turned
our faces Citywards once more.

"Horrid sell," said Jack.  "We shall have to find out where his
brother's office is from the Directory, and get at him that way."

We walked back hard.  Mrs Nash's temper was never to be relied on, and
it was ten to one she might lock us out for the night.

Luckily Jack was up to all the short cuts, and he piloted me through
more than one queer-looking slum on the way.

At last we were getting near our journey's end, and the prospect of a
"lock-out" from our lodgings was looming unpleasantly near, when Jack
took me by the arm and turned up a dark narrow passage.

"I'm nearly certain it's got a way out at the other end," he said, "and
if so it will take us right close to the square."

I followed him, trusting he was right, and inwardly marvelling at his
knowledge of the ins and outs of the great city.

But what a fearful "skeery"-looking hole that passage was!

There were wretched tumbledown houses on either side, so wretched and
tumbledown that it seemed impossible any one could live in them.  But
the houses were nothing to the people.  The court was simply swarming
with people.  Drunken and swearing men; drunken and swearing women;
half-naked children who swore too.  It was through such a company that
we had to thread our way down my friend Smith's "short cut."  As we went
on it became worse, and what was most serious was that everybody seemed
to come out to their doors to stare at us.  Supposing there were no way
through, and we had to turn back, it would be no joke, thought I, to
face all these disreputable-looking loungers who already were making
themselves offensive as we passed, by words and gesture.

I could tell by the way Smith strode on that he felt no more comfortable
than I did.

"You're sure there's a way through?"  I said.

"Almost sure," he answered.

At the same moment a stone struck me on the cheek.  It was not a hard
blow, and the blood which mounted to my face was quite as much brought
there by anger as by pain.

"Come on!" said Smith, who had seen what happened.

Coming on meant threading our way through a knot of young roughs, who
evidently considered our appearance in the court an intrusion and were
disposed to resent it.  One of them put out his foot as Smith came up
with a view to trip him, but Jack saw the manoeuvre in time and walked
round.  Another hustled me as I brushed past and sent me knocking up
against Jack, who, if he hadn't stood steady, would have knocked up
against some one else, and so pretty certainly have provoked an assault.
How we ever got past these fellows I can't imagine; but we did, and for
a yard or two ahead the passage was clear.

"Shall we make a rush for it?"  I asked of Jack.

"Better not," said he.  "If there is a way through, we must be nearly
out now."

He spoke so doubtfully that my heart sunk quite as much as if he had
said there was no way through and we must turn back.

However, what lay immediately before us was obscured by a suddenly
collected crowd of inhabitants, shouting and yelling with more than
ordinary clamour.  This time the centre of attraction was not ourselves,
but a drunken woman, who had got a little ragged boy by the collar, and
was beating him savagely on the head with her by no means puny fist.

"There!--take that, you young--!  I'll do for you this time!"

And without doubt it looked as if we were to witness the accomplishment
of the threat.  The little fellow, unable even to howl, reeled and
staggered under her brutal blows.  His pale, squalid face was covered
with blood, and his little form crouching in her grip was convulsed with
terror and exhaustion.  It was a sickening spectacle.

The crowd pressed round, and yelled and laughed and hooted.  The woman,
savage enough as she was, seemed to derive fresh vehemence from the
cries around her, and redoubled her cruel blows.

One half-smothered moan escaped the little boy's lips as she swung him
off his feet, and flung him down on the pavement.

Then Jack and I could stand it no longer.

"Let the child alone!" cried Jack, at the top of his voice.

I shall never forget the sudden weird hush which followed that
unexpected sound.  The woman released her grasp of her victim as if she
had been shot, and the crowd, with a shout on their lips, stopped short
in amazement.

"Quick, Fred!" cried Jack, flying past me.

He dashed straight to where the little boy lay, swept him up in his
arms, and then, with me close at his heels, was rushing straight for the
outlet of the court, which, thank Heaven! was there, close at hand.
Next moment we were standing in the street which led to Beadle Square.

It all took less time to accomplish than it takes to write, and once out
of that awful court we could hardly tell whether we were awake or
dreaming.

The boy, however, in Jack's arms settled that question.

"Come on, quick!" said Smith, starting to run again.  "They'll be out
after us."

We hurried on until we were in Beadle Square.

"What's to be done?"  I asked.

"We must take him in with us," said Jack.  "Look at the state he's in."

I did look.  The little fellow, who seemed about eight years old, was
either stunned by his last blow or had fainted.  His face, save where
the blood trickled down, was deadly pale, and as his head with its shock
of black hair lay back on Jack's arm, it seemed as if he could not look
in worse plight were he dead.

"We must take him with us," said Jack.

"What will Mrs Nash say?" was my inward ejaculation, as we reached the
door.

All the lights were out.  We knocked twice, and no one came.  Here was a
plight!  Locked out at this hour of night, with a half-dead child in our
charge!

"Knock again," said Jack.

I _did_ knock again, a wonderful knock, that must have startled the cats
for a mile round, and this time it called up the spirit we wished for.

There was a flicker of a candle through the keyhole, and a slipshod
footstep in the hall, which gave us great satisfaction.  Mrs Nash
opened the door.

At the sight of our burden, the abuse with which she was about to favour
us faded from her lips as she gazed at us in utter amazement.

"Why, what's all this? eh, you two?  What's this?" she demanded.

"I'll tell you," said Jack, entering with his burden; "but I say, Mrs
Nash, can't you do something for him?  Look at him!"

Mrs Nash was a woman, and whatever her private opinion on the matter
generally may have been; she could not resist this appeal.  She took the
little fellow out of Jack's arms, and carried him away to her own
kitchen, where, after sponging his bruised face and forehead, and giving
him a drop of something in a teaspoon, and brushing back his matted hair
and loosing his ragged jacket at the neck, she succeeded in restoring
him to his senses.  It was with a thrill of relief that we saw his eyes
open and a shade of colour come into his grimy cheeks.

"What have you been doing to him?" said Mrs Nash.

"He was being knocked about," said Jack, modestly, "and Batchelor and I
got him away."

"And what are you going to do with him?" inquired Mrs Nash, who, now
that her feminine offices were at an end, was fast regaining her old
crabbedness.

"He'd better go to bed," said Smith.  "I'll have him in my bed."

"No, you won't!" said Mrs Nash, decisively.

"We can't turn him out at this time of night," said I.

"Can't help that.  He don't sleep here, the dirty little wretch."

"He'll be murdered if he goes back," said Jack.

"That's no reason I should have my house made not fit to live in," said
Mrs Nash.

"He won't do any harm, I'll see to that," said Smith, rising and taking
the boy up in his arms.

"I tell you I ain't going to allow it," said Mrs Nash.

But Jack without another word carried off his burden, and we heard his
footsteps go slowly up the stairs to the bedroom.  I stayed for some
little time endeavouring to appease Mrs Nash, but without much effect.
She abandoned her first idea of rushing out and defending the
cleanliness of her house by force of arms, but in place of that relieved
herself in very strong language on the subject of Jack Smith generally,
and of me in aiding and abetting him, and ended by announcing that she
gave us both warning, and we might look-out for somebody else to stand
our impudence (she called it "imperence"), for _she_ wouldn't.

When I went up stairs Jack and his small _protege_ were in bed and
asleep.  I was quite startled when I caught sight of their two heads
side by side on the pillow.  It looked for all the world like a big Jack
and a little Jack.

"Wouldn't Jack be flattered if I told him so!" thought I.

I was not long in following their example.  All night long I dreamt of
Flanagan and that dreadful court, and of those two heads lying there
side by side in the next bed.

When I awoke in the morning it was very early and not yet light.  I soon
discovered that what had aroused me was a conversation going on in the
next bed.

"Go on! you let me be!"  I heard a shrill voice say.

"Hush! don't make a noise," said Jack.  "I'll take you home in the
morning all right."

"I ain't done nothink to you," whined the boy.

"I know.  No one's going to hurt you."

"You let me be, then; do you 'ear?" repeated the boy.  "What did you
fetch me 'ere for?"

"You were nearly being killed last night," said Jack.

"You're a lie, I worn't," was the polite answer.

"Yes you were," said Jack.  "A woman was nearly murdering you."

"That was my old gal--'tain't no concern of yourn."

Evidently there was little use expecting gratitude out of this queer
specimen of mortality; and Jack didn't try.

"You stay quiet and go to sleep, and I'll give you some breakfast in the
morning," he said to his graceless little bed-fellow.

"You ain't a-going to take me to the station, then?" demanded the
latter.

"No."

"Or the workus?"

"No."

"Or old shiny-togs?"

"Who?"

"Shiny-togs--you know--the bloke with the choker."

"I don't know who you mean."

"Go on!--you know 'im--'im as jaws in the church with 'is nightgown on."

"Oh, the clergyman," said Jack, hardly able to repress a smile.  "No.
I'll take you back to your home."

"To my old gal?"

"Yes, to your mother."

"You ain't a 'avin' a lark with me, then?"

"No," said Jack, pitifully.

With this assurance the small boy was apparently satisfied, for he
pursued the conversation no longer, and shortly afterwards I fell off to
sleep again.

When next I woke it was broad daylight, and Jack Smith was standing by
my bed.

"Fred, I say, he's bolted!" he exclaimed, in an agitated voice, as I sat
up and rubbed my eyes.

"Who--the kid?"  I asked.

"Yes."

"He's a nice amiable young specimen," replied I.  "When did he go?"

"I don't know.  When I woke up he was gone."

"Well, it's a good riddance," said I, who really did not see why Jack
should be so afflicted about such a graceless young ragamuffin.  "Do you
know Mrs Nash has given us both warning over this business?"

"I don't care.  But, I say, I wonder if he's hiding anywhere."

"Not he.  He's safe away, depend upon it, and if Mrs Nash had had any
silver spoons they'd be safe away too."

Jack began to dress thoughtfully, and then said, "I'm sorry he's gone."

"I don't see why you should be," I said.  "The ungrateful young cad!  If
it hadn't been for you he might have been killed."

Jack smiled.  "He doesn't think so himself," he said.  "He told me I'd
no business to interfere between him and his `gal,' as he politely
styles his mother.  Poor little beggar!  I dare say he'll catch it all
the worse now.  Hullo!  I say!" exclaimed Jack, feeling in his pockets.
"I'm positive I had a shilling and two pennies in my pocket yesterday
evening.  I must have been robbed in that court!"

The money had evidently gone, and what was more, I made the pleasant
discovery that a sixpence which I had in my pocket, as well as my
penknife, were both missing!

Jack and I looked at one another.

"The young thief!"  I exclaimed.

"Perhaps it was done in the court," said Jack.  "There was an awful
crowd, you know."

"All very well," I replied; "but, as it happens, I had my knife out
before I went to bed, to cut one of my bootlaces, and when I put it back
in my pocket I distinctly remember feeling the sixpence there.  No; our
young hopeful's done this bit of business."

"I'm awfully sorry, Fred," said Jack; "it was my fault bringing him
here."

We went down to breakfast in a somewhat perturbed state of mind.  Here
we found the assembled company in a state of great excitement.  Mr
Horncastle, who occupied a bed in the next dormitory to that where Jack
and I slept, had missed his collar-stud, which he described as "red
coral," and complaining thereof to Mrs Nash, had been told by that lady
that Smith and Batchelor had brought a young pickpocket into the house
with them last night, and that being so, she was only surprised Mr
Horncastle had not lost all the jewellery he possessed.  Whereat, of
course, Mr Horncastle was in a mighty state of wrath, and quite ready
for poor Jack and me when we appeared.

"Oh, here you are.  Perhaps you'll hand me out half a sov., you two."

"What for?" demanded I.

"Never you mind, but you'd better look sharp, or I'll give you in
charge!" said Horncastle, pompously.

"You're funny this morning," said I, utterly at a loss to guess what he
was driving at.

"So will you be funny when you get transported for stealing!"

"What do you mean?" asked Smith, solemnly.

"Mean; why, I mean my collar-stud."

A general laugh interrupted the speaker at this point, which did not
tend to improve his spirits.

"What's your collar-stud to do with me, or Batchelor?" demanded Smith,
who evidently saw nothing to laugh at.

"Why, you've stolen it!" shouted Horncastle.

Smith gazed solemnly at the speaker.

"You're a fool," he said, quietly.

This cool remark drove the irate Horncastle nearly frantic.  He advanced
up to Smith with a face as red as the collar-stud he had lost, and
cried, "Say that again, and I'll knock you down."

"You're a fool," quietly repeated Jack.

Horncastle didn't knock him down, or attempt to do so.  He turned on his
heel and said, "We'll see if we're to be robbed by shop-boy cads, or any
of your young thieving friends.  I'll complain to the police, and let
them know you know all about it, you two."

"I don't know anything about it," said I, feeling it incumbent on me to
make a remark, "except that I don't think a red bone collar-stud costs
ten shillings."  This occasioned another laugh at the expense of Mr
Horncastle, who retorted, "You're a companion of thieves and
blackguards, that's what you are.  I'll have you kicked out of the
house."

And as if to suit the action to the word, he advanced towards me and
aimed a vehement kick at my person.

I had just time to dodge the blow, but as I did so something knocked
against my hand.  Fancy my astonishment when, stooping to pick it up, I
found that it was the missing red bone collar-stud, which had dropped
into the leg of its stately owner's trousers, and which this kick had
unearthed from its hiding-place!

The laugh was now all against the discomfited Horncastle.  Even those
who had at first been disposed to side with him against Jack and me
could not resist the merriment which this revelation occasioned,
particularly when the stud, which Horncastle at once identified, was
discovered to be an ordinary painted bone article, with a good deal of
the red worn off, of the kind usually sold in the streets for a penny.

Jack and I had at least the relief of feeling that so far we ourselves
were the only sufferers by our hospitality to our little ragamuffin
acquaintance.

But more was to come of this adventure, as the reader will see.



CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

HOW SMITH WENT HOME AND I TOOK PART IN AN EVENING PARTY.

Two days after the events recorded in the last chapter something
happened which materially affected the course of my life in London.

Smith and I were just starting off to the office, after having finally
made our submission to Mrs Nash, and induced her, with a promise "never
to do it again," to withdraw her threat to turn us out, when the postman
appeared coming round the corner.

It was a comparatively rare sight in Beadle Square, and Jack and I
naturally felt our curiosity excited.

"May as well see if there's anything for me," said I, who had only once
heard from my affectionate relative in six months.

Jack laughed.  "I never saw such a fellow," said he, "for expecting
things.  It's just as likely there's a letter for me as for you."

At this moment the postman came up with a letter in his hand in apparent
perplexity.

"Anything for me?"  I said.

"Not unless your name's Smith," said the postman.  "Smith of Beadle
Square, that's the party--might as well send a letter to a straw in a
haystack."

"My name's Smith," said Jack.

"Is it?" said the postman, evidently relieved.  "Then I suppose it's all
right."

So saying he placed the letter in Jack's hand and walked on, evidently
quite proud to have found out a Smith at first shot.

Jack's colour changed as he took the letter and looked at it.

He evidently recognised the cramped, ill-formed hand in which it was
addressed.

"It's from Packworth!" he exclaimed, as he eagerly tore open the
envelope.

I don't think he intended the remark for me, for we had never once
referred either to his home or his relatives since the first day we were
together in London.  In fact, I had almost come to forget that my friend
Smith had a home anywhere but in Beadle Square.

He glanced rapidly over the short scrawl, and as he did so his face
turned pale and a quick exclamation escaped his lips.

"Anything wrong, old man?"  I asked.

"Yes," said he, looking up with a face full of trouble.  "Here, you can
see it," he added, putting the letter into my hand.

It was a very short letter, and ran thus:--

"Dear Mister Johnny,--Mary is very very ill.  Could you come and seen
her?  Do come--from Jane Shield."

"Mary is my sister," said Jack, nearly breaking down.  "I must go,
whether Barnacle lets me or no."

Our walk to the office that morning was quicker than usual, and more
silent.  Poor Jack was in no mood for conversation, and I fancied it
would be kinder not to worry him.  We reached Hawk Street before any of
the partners had come, and Smith's patience was sorely tried by the
waiting.

"I say," said he presently to me, "I must go, Fred.  Will you tell
them?"

"Yes, if you like, only--"

"Now then, you two," cried Mr Doubleday, looking round; "there you are,
larking about as usual.  Go off to your work, young Import, do you hear?
and don't stand grinning there!"

Poor Jack looked like anything but grinning at that moment.

"I'll do the best I can," I said, "but I'm afraid Barnacle will be in a
wax unless you ask him yourself."

"I can't help it," said Jack, "I must go."

"Eh? what's that?" said Doubleday, who was near enough to hear this
conversation; "who must go?"

"Smith has just heard that his sister's ill," I said, by way of
explanation, and hoping to enlist the chief clerk's sympathy, "and he
must go to her, that's all."

"Hullo!" interposed Crow, "you don't mean to say he's got a sister.  My
eyes, what a caution!  Fancy a female bull's-eye, Wallop, eh?"

"So you may say," said Wallop the cad, laughing.  "I guess I wouldn't
fancy her, if she's like brother Johnny."

"And he's got to go to her, poor dear thing, because she's got a cold in
her nose or something of the sort.  Jolly excuse to get off work.  I
wish _I'd_ got a sister to be ill too."

"Never mind," said Wallop; "if you'd been brought up in gaol you'd be
subject to colds.  It's a rare draughty place is Newgate."

No one but myself had noticed Jack during this brief conversation.  His
face, already pale and troubled, grew livid as the dialogue proceeded,
and finally he could restrain himself no longer.

Dashing from his desk, he flew at Wallop like a young wolf, and before
that facetious young gentleman knew where he was he was lying at full
length on the floor, and Jack standing over him, trembling with fury
from head to foot.

It was the work of an instant, and before more mischief could be done
Doubleday had interposed.

"Look here," said he, catching Jack by the arm and drawing him away from
his adversary, "we aren't used to that here, I can tell you!  Go to your
desk!  Do you hear?  There's the governor coming up!  A nice row you'll
get us into with your temper!  Come, you Wallop, up you get, I say--you
beast!  I'm jolly glad the young 'un walked into you.  Serves you right!
Look alive, or you'll be nobbled!"

The result of these exertions was that when the door opened half a
minute later the office was, to all appearance, as quiet as usual.

To our surprise, the comer was not Mr Barnacle, who usually arrived
first, but Mr Merrett, who on other days hardly ever put in an
appearance till an hour later.

What was the reason of this reversal of the order of things we could not
say, and did not much care.  Indeed, it was rather a relief to see the
mild senior partner instead of the sharp-eyed junior, who was, some of
us thought, far too quick to perceive anything amiss.  Jack's face
brightened as much as any one's at the circumstance.  For a moment he
forgot all his wrath, and thought only of his poor sister.

He followed Mr Merrett quickly to the door of the partners' room and
said eagerly, "May I speak to you a moment, sir?"

"Yes, my man; come in," was the encouraging reply.

"Gone to tell tales, I suppose," said Crow, as the door closed on the
two.

"No, he's not," said I, ready to take up the gauntlet for my friend;
"and you'd better not say it again!"

"Oh, I say!  Look here," said Doubleday, "don't _you_ begin at that
game, young shaver!  We're used to it from your chum bull's-eye, but I'm
not going to let you start at it.  Besides, Crow wouldn't like it.  Get
on with your work, do you hear?"

Jack reappeared in a minute with a grateful face, which showed at once
that his application had been successful.

"Good-bye," said he, coming to my desk; "I'll send you a line;" and
without another word to any one he was gone.

"He's a cool fish, that friend of yours!" said Doubleday, that afternoon
to me.  "He seems to get on pretty much as he likes."

"He's awfully cut up about his sister," I said.  "Poor Jack!"

"No harm in that!" said Doubleday, condescendingly.  "I thought he was
quite right to walk into that cad Wallop myself.  But he'll find it
rather hot for him when he gets back, I fancy.  When's he coming back?"

"In a day or two, I suppose," said I.

"And you'll be mighty disconsolate, I suppose," said Doubleday, "till he
returns?  What do you say to coming up to my lodgings to-night, eh,
young 'un, to see me?"

I felt very grateful for this unlooked-for honour, and said I would be
delighted to come.

"All serene!  I've asked one or two of the fellows up, so we'll have a
jolly evening.  By the way, when you go out get me a couple of boxes of
sardines, will you, and a dozen twopenny cigars?"

I executed these commissions, and in due time, business being ended,
Doubleday and I and Crow, and the sardines and the cigars, started in a
body for Cork Place, where, in a first-floor front, the estimable Mr
Doubleday was wont to pitch his daily tent.

They were cosy quarters, and contrasted in a marked manner with Beadle
Square.  Doubleday knew how to make himself comfortable, evidently.
There were one or two good prints on his walls, a cheerful fire in the
hearth, a sofa and an easy-chair, and quite an array of pickle-jars and
beer-bottles and jam-pots in his cupboard.  And, to my thinking, who had
been used to the plain, unappetising fare of Mrs Nash, the spread on
his table was simply sumptuous.

I felt quite shy at being introduced to such an entertainment, and
inwardly wondered how long it would be before I, with my eight shillings
a week, would be able to afford the like.

We were a little early, and Doubleday therefore pressed us into the
service to help him, as he called it, "get all snug and ship-shape,"
which meant boiling some eggs, emptying the jam-pots into glass dishes,
and cutting up a perfect stack of bread.

"Who's coming to-night?" said Crow, with whom, by the way, I had become
speedily reconciled in our mutual occupation.

"Oh, the usual lot," said Doubleday, with the air of a man who gives
"feeds" every day of his life.  "The two Wickhams, and Joe Whipcord, and
the Field-Marshal, and an Irish fellow who is lodging with him.  We
ought to have a jolly evening."

In due time the guests arrived, Mr Joseph Whipcord being the earliest.
He was a freckled youth of a most horsey get up, in clothes so tight
that it seemed a marvel how he could ever sit down, and a straw in his
mouth which appeared to grow there.  Close on his heels came the two
Wickhams, whose chief attractiveness seemed to be that they were twins,
and as like as two peas.

"Hullo! here you are," was Doubleday's greeting.  "Which is which of you
to-night, eh?"

"I'm Adam," replied one of the two, meekly.

"All serene, Adam.  Stick this piece of paper in your button-hole, and
then we'll know you from Abel.  By the way, Whipcord, I suppose you
never heard my last joke, did you?"

"Never heard your first yet," replied Whipcord, shifting his straw to
the other corner of his mouth.

"Oh, yes you did," retorted Doubleday, who as usual always preferred the
laugh when it was on his own side.  "Don't you remember me telling Crow
last time you came that you were a fellow who knew a thing or two?  That
was a joke, eh, twins?"

"Rather," said both the twins, warmly.

"But my last wasn't about Whipcord at all: it was about you two.  I got
muddled up among you somehow and said, `For the life of me I am not able
to tell one of you from Adam!'"

"Well?" said Whipcord.

"Well, what!" said Doubleday, savagely "The joke?"

"Why, that _was_ the joke, you blockhead!  But we can't expect a poor
fellow like you to see it.  I say, the Field-Marshal's behind time.
I'll give him two minutes, and then we'll start without him."

Just then there was a knock at the door, and two fellows entered.  One
was a tall, thin, cadaverous-looking boy a little my senior, and the
other--his exact contrast, a thick-set, burly youth, with a merry
twinkle in his eye and a chronic grin on his lips.

"Late again, Field-Marshal," said Doubleday, clapping the cadaverous one
on the back with a blow that nearly doubled him up.  "Is this your chum?
How are you, Patrick?"

The youth addressed as Patrick, but whose real name subsequently was
announced as Daly, said he was "rightly," and that it was his fault the
Field-Marshal was late, as he had to shave.

This announcement caused great amusement, for Master Daly was as
innocent of a hair on his face as he was of being tattooed, and by the
manner in which he joined in the laughter he seemed to be quite aware of
the fact.

We sat down to supper in great good spirits.  I was perhaps the least
cheerful, for all the others being friends, and I knowing only my two
fellow-clerks, I felt rather out of it.  However, Doubleday, who seemed
to have an eye for everybody, soon put me at my ease with myself and the
rest.

What a meal it was!  I hadn't tasted such a one since I came to London.
Eggs and sardines, lobster and potted meat; coffee and tea, toast, cake,
bread-and-butter--it was positively bewildering.  And the laughing, and
talking, and chaffing that went on, too.  Doubleday perfectly astonished
me by his talents as a host.  He never ceased talking, and yet everybody
else talked too; he never ceased partaking, and took care that no one
else should either.  He seemed to know by the outside of a cup whether
it was full or empty, and to be able to see through loaves and dish-
covers into everybody's plate.  It would be impossible to say what was
not talked about during that wonderful meal.  The private affairs of
Hawk Street were freely canvassed, and the private affairs of every one
of the company were discussed with the most charming frankness.  I found
myself giving an account of my uncle to the Field-marshal, which
confidence he reciprocated by telling me that he was a private in the
volunteers (that was why the fellows called him Field-Marshal), and an
accountant's clerk, that his income was fifty pounds a year, that he had
saved seven pounds, that he was engaged to a most charming person named
Felicia, whom at the present rate of his progress he hoped to marry in
about twenty years.  Whipcord was discoursing on the points of every
racehorse in the calendar to the twins, who had evidently never seen a
racehorse; and Daly was telling stories which half choked Crow, and kept
us all in fits of laughter.  It was a new life to me, this, and no
mistake.

"Now then, young Batchelor, walk into those sardines, do you hear?" said
our host.  "Any more coffee, twins?  Pass up those tea-cakes when you've
helped yourself, Crow.  I got them for twopence apiece--not bad, eh?  I
say, I suppose you've heard what's up in Hawk Street, eh?--jam to the
Field-Marshal there.  Yes, Harris of the Imports told me: he heard it
from Morgan, who knows a fellow who knows old Merrett.  Plenty more
potted meat in the cupboard; get out some, Batchelor, that's a good
fellow.  The fact is--sugar enough in yours, Paddy?--the fact is, the
old boy is going to put in a nephew--pass up your cup, Adam, Abel,
what's your name, you with the paper in your button-hole?--what was your
mother about when she gave you such idiotic names, both of you?  I'd
like to give her a piece of my mind!--a nephew or something of the
sort--that'll be the third kid in the last half-year landed in on us--
don't you call that lobster a good one for eighteen pence, Paddy, my
boy?  Never mind, I'll let them know I'm not going to train up all their
young asses for nothing--hullo!  Batchelor, beg pardon, old man; I
forgot you were one of them!"

This occasioned a laugh, which made me look very self-conscious; which
Doubleday saw, and tried to help me out.

"If they were all like you," he said, with a patronising smile, "it
wouldn't hurt; but that bull's-eye chum of yours is a drop too much for
an office like ours.  Do you know, I believe it's a fact he's been in
gaol, or something of the sort--try a little vinegar with it, Field-
Marshal--capital thing for keeping down the fat.  Never saw such a
temper, upon my word, did you, Crow?  Why, he was nearly going to eat
_you_ up this very morning.  And the best of it is, he thinks he's the
only fellow in the office who does a stroke of work.  Never mind, he's
safe at home for a bit; but, my eye! won't he be astonished to find
Merrett, Barnacle, and Company can get on without him!"

I was beginning to feel very uncomfortable.  It was rank treason to sit
by and listen to all this without putting in a word for my friend; and
yet in this company I could not for the life of me make the venture.
Indeed, to my shame be it said, with the eyes of my companions upon me,
and their laughter in my ears, I even faintly joined in the smile at
poor Jack's expense.

"Is this pleasant chap a friend of yours?" said the Field-Marshal.

"Yes," said I, rather hesitatingly, "we were at school together, you
know."

I despised myself heart and soul for my cowardice, and for me the rest
of the meal passed with little enjoyment.

And when the cloth was cleared away fresh difficulties presented
themselves.

"Are you a good hand at whist?" asked Adam, as we stood in front of the
fire.

"No," said I; "I don't play."

"Don't you?  We'll give you a lesson, then."

Now my bringing-up had been peculiar, as the reader knows.  In many ways
it had been strict, and in many ways lax; but one of the scruples I had
always carried about with me was on the subject of gambling.

Consequently I felt particularly uncomfortable at the twin's offer, and
at a loss how to respond to it; and before I could resolve the chance
was gone.

"Now then," said Doubleday, "make up your fours there, but for goodness'
sake don't let both the patriarchs get at the same table!  You with the
paper and Crow, and Paddy and I--we'll have this table, and you other
four take the other;" and before I knew where I was I found myself
seated at a table, opposite Whipcord, with thirteen cards in my hand.

I did not know what to do.  Had my partner been any one but Whipcord,
with the straw in his mouth, I do believe I should have made a mild
protest.  Had Doubleday or Crow been one of our party, I might have
screwed up my courage.  But Whipcord had impressed me as a particularly
knowing and important personage, and I felt quite abashed in his
presence, and would not for anything have him think I considered
anything that he did not correct.

"I'm afraid I don't know the way to play," said I, apologetically, when
the game began.

"You don't!" said he.  "Why, where were you at school?  Never mind,
you'll soon get into it."

This last prophecy was fulfilled.  Somehow or other I picked up the game
pretty quickly, and earned a great deal of applause from my partner by
my play.  Indeed, despite my being a new hand, our side won, and the
Field-Marshal and Abel had to hand over sixpence after sixpence as the
evening went on.  The sight of the money renewed my discomforts; it was
bad enough, so I felt, to play cards at all, but to play for money was a
thing I had always regarded with a sort of horror.  Alas! how easy it
is, in the company of one's fancied superiors, to forget one's own poor
scruples!

The game at our table came to rather an abrupt end, brought on by a
difference of opinion between the Field-marshal and Mr Whipcord on some
point connected with a deal.  It was a slight matter, but in the sharp
words that ensued my companions came out in a strangely new light.
Whipcord, especially, gave vent to language which utterly horrified me,
and the Field-Marshal was not backward to reply in a similar strain.

How long this interchange of language might have gone on I cannot say,
had not Doubleday opportunely interposed.  "There you are, at it again,
you two, just like a couple of bargees!  You ought to be ashamed of
yourselves!  Look how you've shocked the young 'un there!  You really
shouldn't!"

I coloured up at this speech.  From the bantering tone in which
Doubleday spoke it seemed as if he half despised any one who was not
used to the sound of profanity; and I began to be angry with myself for
having looked so horrified.

The quarrel was soon made up with the help of some of the twopenny
cigars, which were now produced along with the beer-bottles.  By this
time I had been sufficiently impressed by my company not to decline
anything, and I partook of both of these luxuries--that is, I made
believe to smoke a cigar, and kept a glass of beer in front of me, from
which I took a very occasional sip.

My mind was thoroughly uncomfortable.  I had known all along I was not a
hero; but it had never occurred to me before that I was a coward.  In
the course of one short evening I had forsaken more than one old
principle, merely because others did the same.  I had joined in a laugh
against my best friend, because I had not the courage to stand up for
him behind his back, and I had tried to appear as if bad language and
drinking and gambling were familiar things to me, because I dared not
make a stand and confess I thought them loathsome.

We sat for a long time that night talking and cracking jokes, and
telling stories.  Many of the latter were clever and amusing, but
others--those that raised the loudest laugh--were of a kind I had never
heard before, and which I blush now to recall.  Any one who had seen me
would have supposed that talk like this was what I most relished.  Had
they but heard another voice within reproaching me, they might have
pitied rather than blamed me.

And yet with all the loose talk was mixed up so much of real jollity and
good-humour that it was impossible to feel wholly miserable.

Doubleday kept up his hospitality to the last.  He would stop the best
story to make a guest comfortable, and seemed to guess by instinct what
everybody wanted.

At last the time came for separating, and I rose to go with feelings
partly of relief, partly of regret.  The evening had been a jolly one,
and I had enjoyed it; but then, had I done well to enjoy it?  That was
the question.

"Oh, I say," said Daly, as we said good-night on the doorstep, "were you
ever at a school called Stonebridge House?"

"Yes," said I, startled to hear the name once more.  "You weren't there,
were you?"

"No; but a fellow I know, called Flanagan, was, and--"

"Do you know Flanagan?"  I exclaimed; "he's the very fellow I've been
trying to find out.  I _would_ like to see him again."

"Yes, he lives near us.  I say, suppose you come up to the Field-Marshal
and me on Tuesday; we live together, you know.  We'll have Flanagan and
a fellow or two in."

I gladly accepted this delightful invitation, and went back to Mrs
Nash's feeling myself a good deal more a "man of the world," and a good
deal less of a hero, than I had left it that morning.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

HOW I GOT RATHER THE WORST OF IT IN A CERTAIN ENCOUNTER.

My evening at Doubleday's lodgings was the first of a course of small
dissipations which, however pleasant while they lasted, did not
altogether tend to my profit.

Of course, I had no intention of going in for that sort of thing
regularly; but, I thought, while Jack Smith was away for a few days,
there would be no harm in relieving the dulness of my life at Beadle
Square by occasionally accepting the hospitality of such decent, good-
natured fellows as Doubleday and his friends.  There was nothing wrong,
surely, in one fellow going and having supper with another fellow now
and then!  How easy the process, when one wishes to deceive oneself!

But two days after Smith had gone home I received a letter which
somewhat upset my calculations.  It had the Packworth postmark, and was
addressed in the same cramped hand in which the momentous letter which
had summoned Jack from London had been written.

I was surprised that it was not in Jack's own hand.  It ran as
follows:--

"Sir,--I am sorry to say Master Johnny has took ill since he came down.
The doctor thinks it is smallpox; so please excuse him to the gentlemen,
and say we hope it will make no difference, as he cannot come for a many
weeks.  Your humble--Jane Shield."

John ill--with smallpox!  This was a blow!  My first impulse was, at all
risks, to go down and look after him.  But I reflected that this would
be, after all, foolish.  I should certainly not be allowed to see him,
and even if I were, I could not of course return to the office with the
infection about me.  Poor Jack!  At least it was a comfort that he had
some one to look after him.

My first care, after the receipt of the letter, was to seek an interview
with the partners and explain matters to them.  And this I found not a
very formidable business.  Mr Barnacle, indeed, did say something about
its being awkward just when they were so busy to do without a clerk.
But Mr Merrett overruled this by reminding his partner that in a week
or two his nephew would be coming to the office, and that, to begin
with, he could fill up the vacant place.

"Besides," said he, with a warmth which made me feel quite proud of my
friend--"besides, Smith is too promising a lad to spare."

So I was able to write a very reassuring letter to good Mrs Shield, and
tell her it would be all right about Jack's place when he came back.
Meanwhile, I entreated her to let me know regularly how he was getting
on, and to tell me if his sister was better, and, in short, to keep me
posted up in all the Smith news that was going.

This done, I set myself to face the prospect of a month or so of life in
London without my chum.

I didn't like the prospect.  The only thing that had made Beadle Square
tolerable was his company, and how I should get on now with Mr
Horncastle and his set I did not care to anticipate.

I confided my misgivings to Doubleday, who laughed at them.

"Oh," said he, "you must turn that place up.  I know it.  One of our
fellows was there once.  It's an awfully seedy place to belong to."

"The worst of it is," said I--who, since my evening at Doubleday's, had
come to treat him as a confidant--"that my uncle pays my lodging there;
and if I went anywhere else he'd tell me to pay for myself."

"That's awkward," said Doubleday, meditatively; "pity he should stick
you in such a cheap hole."

"I don't think, you know," said I, feeling rather extinguished by
Doubleday's pitying tone, "it's such a very cheap place.  It's three-
and-six a week."

Doubleday gazed at me in astonishment, and then broke out into a loud
laugh.

"Three-and-six a week!  Why, my dear fellow, you could do it cheaper in
a workhouse.  Oh, good gracious! your uncle must be in precious low
water to stick you up in a hole like that at three-and-six a week.  Do
you know what my lodgings cost, eh, young 'un?"

"No," said I, very crestfallen; "how much?"

"Fifteen bob, upon my honour, and none too grand.  Three-and-six a week,
why--I say, Crow!"

"Oh, don't go telling everybody!" cried I, feeling quite ashamed of
myself.

"Oh, all serene.  But it is rather rich, that.  Good job you don't get
your grub there."

I did not tell Doubleday that I did get my "grub" there, and left him to
infer what he pleased by my silence.

"Anyhow," said he, "if you must hang on there, there's nothing to
prevent your knocking about a bit of an evening.  What do you generally
go in for when your friend Bull's-eye's at home?  I mean what do you do
with yourselves of an evening?"

"Oh," said I, "they've got a parlour at Mrs Nash's, and books--"

Once more Doubleday laughed loud, "What! a parlour and books included
for three-and-six a week!  My eye! young 'un, you're in luck; and you
mean to say you--oh, I say, what a treat!--do you hear, Crow?"

"Please!"  I exclaimed, "what's the use of telling any one?"

"Eh--oh, all right, I won't tell any one; but think of you and Bull's-
eye sitting in a three-and-six parlour without carpets or wall-papers
reading _Tim Goodyboy's Sunday Picture-book_, and all that."

I smiled faintly, vexed though I was.  "They've novels there," I said,
grandly.

"No! and all for three-and-six too!  No wonder you're snug.  Well, no
accounting for tastes.  I wonder you don't ask me to come and spend an
evening with you.  It _would_ be a treat!"

The result of this conversation and a good many of a similar character
was to make me thoroughly discontented with, and more than half ashamed
of, my lot.  And the more I mixed with Doubleday and his set, the more I
felt this.  They all had the appearance of such well-to-do fellows, to
whom expense seemed no object.  They talked in such a scoffing way of
the "poor beggars" who couldn't "stand" the luxuries they indulged in,
or dress in the fashionable style they affected.

After six months, the clothes with which I had come to London were
beginning to look the worse for wear, and this afflicted me greatly just
at a time when I found myself constantly in the society of these
grandees.  I remember one entire evening at Doubleday's sitting with my
left arm close in to my side because of a hole under the armpit; and on
another occasion borrowing Mrs Nash's scissors to trim the ends of my
trousers before going to spend the evening at Daly's.

That occasion, by the way, was the Tuesday when, according to
invitation, I was to go up to the lodgings of Daly and the Field-
Marshal, there to meet my old schoolfellow Flanagan.

I had looked forward not a little to this meeting, and was secretly glad
that he would find me one of a set represented by such respectable and
flourishing persons as Doubleday and Daly.  When, a fortnight before,
Smith and I had hunted up and down his street to find him, I knew
nothing of "what was what" compared with what I did now.  I was
determined to make an impression on my old schoolfellow; and therefore,
as I have said, trimmed up the ends of my trousers with Mrs Nash's
scissors, invested in a new (cheap), necktie, and carefully doctored the
seam under my armpit with ink and blacking.

Thus decorated I hurried off to my host's lodgings.  The first thing I
saw as I entered the door filled me with mortification.  It was
Flanagan, dressed in a loud check suit, with a stick-up collar and a
horseshoe scarf-pin--with cloth "spats" over his boots, and cuffs that
projected at least two inches from the ends of his coat sleeves.

I felt so shabby and disreputable that I was tempted to turn tail and
escape.  I had all along hoped that Flanagan would be got up in a style
which would keep me in countenance, and make me feel rather more at home
than I did among the other stylish fellows of the set.  But so far from
that being the case, here he was the most howling swell of them all.

Before I could recover from the surprise and disappointment I felt he
had seen me, and advanced with all his old noisy frankness.

"Hullo! here he is.  How are you, Batchelor?  Here we are again, eh?
Rather better than the Henniker's parlour, eh?"

I forgot all my disappointment for a moment in the pleasure of meeting
him.  In voice and manner at least he was the Flanagan of old days.  Why
couldn't he dress rather more quietly?

Daly was there in all his glory, and the Field-Marshal as lank and
cadaverous as ever; and besides ourselves there was Whipcord with the
straw in his mouth, and one or two other fellows belonging to our host's
particular set.  The supper was quite as elaborate and a good deal more
noisy than that at Doubleday's.  I sat next to Flanagan, and hoped to be
able to get some talk with him about old days; but I found he was far
too much taken up with the fun that was going on to be a very attentive
listener.  And so I felt more than ever extinguished and out of it, and
all my fond hopes of making an impression on my old schoolfellow
speedily vanished.

"What are you going to do?" said Whipcord, when the meal was over.

"I don't care," said Daly; "cards if you like."

"Oh, bother cards," was the reply; "let's have a ramble out of doors for
a change."

"Hullo!  Whip, how is it you're down on cards?" said the Field-Marshal.
"I thought you always won."

There was something not very nice in the tone of the cadaverous man of
war which roused the ire of the virtuous Whipcord.

"What do you mean, you--who says I always win at cards?"

"You generally win when I'm playing against you," said the Field-
Marshal.

"Look here," said Whipcord, very red in the face, and chewing his straw
in an agitated manner, "do you mean to insinuate I cheat at cards, eh,
you--?"

"I never said anything of the kind," replied the Field-marshal; "I said
you generally won, that's all.  What's the use of making an ass of
yourself?"

I began to perceive by this time that Mr Whipcord was excited by
something more than the Field-Marshal's talk.  The fact was, he had
drunk too much, and that being so, it was worse than useless to reason
with him.

"Who says I generally win at cards?" shouted he.  "I'll fight any one
that says so: if you like, I'll take the lot of you."

The laugh which greeted this valiant challenge only enraged the excited
youth the more.

He broke out into language which seemed to be only too ready to his
lips, and again shouted, "I'll teach you to call me a cheat, I will!
I'll teach you to call me a blackleg, so I will!  I'll teach you to call
me--"

"A howling jackass," put in the Field-Marshal, whose chief vocation it
seemed to be to goad on his irate guest.

"Yes, I'll teach you to call me a howling jackass!" cried Whipcord,
turning short round on me, and catching me by the throat.

"Me!  I never called you a howling jackass!" cried I, in astonishment
and alarm.

"Yes, you did, you young liar; I heard you.  Wasn't it him?" he cried,
appealing to the company in general.

"Sounded precious like his voice," said one of the fellows, who, as I
had scarcely opened my mouth the whole evening, must have had a rather
vivid imagination.

"Yes, I know it was you.  I knew it all along," said Whipcord, shifting
his straw from side to side of his mouth, and glaring at me, half-
stupidly, half-ferociously.

"It wasn't, indeed," said I, feeling very uncomfortable.  "I never said
a word."

Whipcord laughed as he let go my throat and began to take off his coat.
I watched him in amazement.  Surely he was not going to make me fight!
I looked round beseechingly on the company, but could get no comfort out
of their laughter and merriment.

Whipcord divested himself of his coat, then of his waistcoat, then he
took off his necktie and collar, then he let down his braces and tied
his handkerchief round his waist in the manner of a belt, and finally
proceeded to roll up his shirt-sleeves above the elbows.

"Now then," said he, advancing towards me in a boxing attitude, "I'll
teach you to call me a thief!"

I was so utterly taken aback by all this, that I could scarcely believe
I was not dreaming.

"I really didn't call you a thief," I said.

"You mean to say you won't fight?" cried my adversary, sparring up at
me.

"Hold hard!" cried Daly, before I could answer.  "Of course he's going
to fight; but give him time to peel, man.  Look alive, Batchelor, off
with your coat."

"I'm not going to fight, indeed," said I, in utter bewilderment.

"Yes you are," said Flanagan, "and it won't be your first go in either,
old man.  I'll back you!"

One or two of the fellows pulled off my coat--my poor seedy coat.  I
remember even then feeling ashamed of the worn flannel shirt, out at
elbows, that was below it, and which I had little expected any one that
evening to see.

"Will you have your waistcoat off?" said Daly.

"No," replied I.

"Better," said Flanagan, "and your collar too."

This was awful!  My collar was a paper one, and pinned on to the shirt
in two places!

"No!"  I cried, in desperation at these officious offers; "let me alone,
please."

"Oh, all serene!  But he's got the pull of you."

Perhaps if I had had a clean linen shirt on, with studs down the front,
I might have been more tractable in the matter of peeling.

It had by this time gradually dawned on me that I was in for a fight,
and that there was no getting out of it.  My adversary was bigger than I
was, and evidently far more at home with the customs of the prize-ring.
I would fain have escaped, but what could I do?

Meanwhile the table was hurriedly pushed into a corner of the room and
the chairs piled up in a heap.

"Now then!" cried the Field-Marshal, who, in some miraculous manner, now
appeared as backer to the fellow with whom a few minutes ago he had been
quarrelling--"now then, aren't you ready there?"

"Yes," said Flanagan, rolling up my shirt-sleeves; "all ready!  Now
then, old man, straight out from the shoulder, you know.  Keep your toes
straight, and guard forward.  Now then--there!"

I was in for it then; and, being in for it, the only thing was to go
through with it, and that I determined to do.

My adversary advanced towards me, half prancing, with his hands high,
his elbows out, his face red, and his straw jerking about like a steam-
engine.  It might be showy form, I thought, but from the very little I
knew of boxing it was not good.  And the closer we approached the more
convinced of this I was, and the more hope I seemed to have of coming
out of the affair creditably.

Now, reader, whoever you are, before I go further I ask you to remember
that I am recording in this book not what I ought to have done, but what
I did do.  You will very likely have your own opinions as to what I
should have done under the circumstances.  You may think that I should,
at all costs, have declined to fight; you may think I should have
summoned the police; you may think I should have stood with my hands
behind my back till my face was the size of a football, and about the
same colour; or you may think I was right in standing up to hit my man,
and doing all I knew to demolish him.  Do not let me embarrass your
judgment; my duty just now is merely to tell you what did happen.

As I expected, Whipcord's idea seemed to be to knock me out of time at
the very beginning of the encounter, and therefore during the first
round I found it needed all my efforts to frustrate this little design,
without attempting on my part to take the offensive.

As it was, I did not altogether succeed, for, Whipcord being taller than
I, I could not help coming in for one or two downward blows, which,
however, thanks to my hard head, seemed more formidable to the
spectators than they really were.

"Not half bad," was Flanagan's encouraging comment when in due time I
retired to his side for a short breathing space.  "I never thought you'd
be so well up to him.  Are you much damaged?"

"No," said I.

"Well, you'd best play steady this next round too," said my second.  "He
can't hold out long with his elbows that height.  If you like you can
have a quiet shot or two at his breastplate, just to get your hand in
for the next round."

This advice I, now quite warmed up to the emergency, adopted.

Whipcord returned to his sledge-hammer tactics, and as carelessly as
ever, too; for more than once I got in under his guard, and once, amid
terrific plaudits, got "home"--so Flanagan called it--on his chin, in a
manner which, I flattered myself, fairly astonished him.

"Now then, Whip, what are you thinking about?" cried the Field-Marshal;
"you aren't going to let the young 'un lick you, surely?"

"Time!" cried Daly, before the bruised one could reply; and so ended
round two, from which I retired covered with dust and glory.

I felt very elated, and was quite pleased with myself now that I had,
stood up to my man.  It seemed perfectly plain I had the battle in my
own hands, so I inwardly resolved if possible to bring the affair to an
end in the next round, and let my man off easy.

Conceited ass that I was!  To my amazement and consternation, Whipcord
came up to the scratch on time being called in an entirely new light.
Instead of being the careless slogger I had taken him for, he went to
work now in a most deliberate and scientific manner.  It gradually
dawned on me that I had been played with so far, and that my man was
only now beginning to give his mind to the business.  Ass that I had
been!  Poor wretch that I was!

Before the round had well begun I was reeling about like a ninepin.  The
little knowledge of pugilism I had, or thought I had, was like child's
play against the deliberate downright assault of this practised hand.  I
did what I could, but it was very little.  The laughter of my opponents
and the gibes of my backers all tended to flurry me and lose me my head.

Let me draw a veil over that scene.

My opponent was not one of the sort to give quarter.  He had had a blow
of mine on his chin in the last round, and he had heard the laughter and
cheers which greeted it.  It was his turn now, and he took his turn as
long as I could stand up before him.  It seemed as if "time!" would
never be called.  I was faint and sick, and my face--

Ah! that last was a finishing stroke.  I could keep my feet no longer,
and fell back into Flanagan's arms amidst a perfect roar of laughter and
applause.

At that moment the shame was almost more bitter to me than the pain.
This then was the result of my high living!  This was what I had got by
turning up my nose at my lot in Beadle Square, and aspiring to associate
with my betters!  This was the manner in which I was to make an
impression on my old schoolfellow, and improve my footing with my new
friends!  No wonder I felt ashamed.

"You'd better invest in a little raw beefsteak," said Flanagan; "that's
what will do you most good."

This was all the comfort I got.  The fight being over, everybody lost
his interest in me and my opponent, and, as if nothing had happened,
proceeded to re-discuss the question of playing cards or taking a walk.

I was left to put on my poor shabby coat without help, and no one
noticed me as I slunk from the room.  Even Flanagan, from whom I had at
least expected some sympathy, was too much taken up with the others to
heed me; and as I walked slowly and unsteadily that night along the
London streets, I felt for the first time since I came to the great city
utterly friendless and miserable.

When I returned to Beadle Square every one had gone to bed except one
boy, who was sitting up, whistling merrily over a postage-stamp album,
into which he was delightedly sticking some recent acquisition.  I could
not help thinking bitterly how his frame of mind contrasted at that
moment with mine.  He was a nice boy, lately come.  He kept a diary of
everything he did, and wrote and heard from home every week.  The
fellows all despised him, and called him a pious young prig, because he
said his prayers at night, and went to a chapel on Sundays.  But, prig
or not, he was as happy as a king over his stamps, and the sight made me
(I knew not why), tenfold more miserable.

"Hullo!" said he, stopping whistling as I came in, "there's a letter for
you.  I say, if you get any foreign stamps at your office I wish you'd
save them for me, will you?  Look, here's a jolly Brazil one; I got it--
what's the matter?"

I heard not a word of his chatter, for the letter was from Packworth.

"Sir,--We're afraid poor Master Johnny is very bad--he's been taken to
the hospital.  He said, when he took ill, that it must have been a boy
he took out of the streets and let sleep in his bed.  Oh, sir, we are so
sad!  The young lady is better; but if Johnny dies--"

I could read no more.  The excitement and injuries of the evening, added
to this sudden and terrible news of my only friend, were too much for
me.  I don't exactly know what happened to me, but I have an idea young
Larkins was not able to get on with his postage-stamps much more that
evening.



CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

HOW I EXPERIENCED SOME OF THE DOWNS AND UPS OF FORTUNE.

My reader will hardly accuse me of painting myself in too flattering
colours.  I only wish I could promise him that the record of my folly
should end here.  But, alas! if he has patience to read my story to the
end he will find that Frederick Batchelor's folly was too inveterate to
be chased away by two black eyes and a piece of bad news.

But for the time being I was fairly cowed.  As I lay awake that next
morning, after a night of feverish tossing and dreaming, I could think
of nothing but my friend Smith--ill, perhaps dying, in the hospital at
Packworth.  I could do nothing to help him; I might not even go near
him.  Who could tell if ever I should see him again?  And then came the
memory of my cowardly refusal to stand up for him in his absence when he
was being insulted and mocked behind his back.  No wonder I despised
myself and hated my life in London without him!

I got out of bed, determined at all costs to turn over a new leaf, and
show every one that I _was_ ashamed of what I had done.  But as I did so
I became faint and sick, and was obliged to crawl back to bed.  I had
all this time nearly forgotten my bruises and injuries of the previous
evening, but I was painfully reminded of them now, and gradually all the
misery of that exploit returned, and along with it a new alarm.

If Smith had caught smallpox from that wretched little street boy, was
it not possible--nay, probable--I might be beginning with it too?  It
was not a pleasant thought, and the bare suggestion was enough to
convince me I was really becoming ill.

"I say, aren't you going to get up?" said young Larkins, at my bedside,
presently, evidently having come to see how I was getting on after last
night's sensation: "or are you queer still?"

"I'm very queer," said I, "and can't get up.  I think I'm going to be
ill, Larkins.  Would you mind calling at Hawk Street, and telling them
there?"

"All right!" said Larkins.  "But what's the matter with you?"

"I'm not quite sure, but I'm afraid--have I got any spots coming out on
my face?"

"Eh?  No; but your face is all black and blue, and there's a big bump on
one cheek."

"Is there?  Then it must be so.  Larkins, you'd better not stand too
near, I'm afraid I've smallpox!"

Larkins's face grew alarmed, and his jaw dropped.  "What!  Smallpox?
Oh, I say, Batchelor, I hope not.  It looks more like as if you'd been
fighting."

"That's the smallpox coming on," I said, mournfully; "I'm sure!"

"Perhaps I'd better go," said Larkins, making for the door.  "I'll tell
them at your office," and with that he bolted suddenly.

It rather pleased me to imagine the sensation which his news would
occasion not only down stairs among Mrs Nash's lodgers, but also at the
office.  I could hear the sound of eager voices below, followed by what
I fancied was the hurried stampede of the company from the house.  Then
presently Mrs Nash's foot sounded on the stairs, and she opened the
door.

"Have you had it, Mrs Nash?"  I cried, as she appeared.

She made no answer, but walked up straight to my bed.  "What's all this
nonsense about?" she demanded.

"I'm afraid it's smallpox.  I'm so sorry on your account," I said, quite
meekly.  "I sort of felt it coming on some days," I added, quite
convinced in my own mind it had been so.

To my astonishment, the good lady expressed neither surprise nor
sympathy.  "Fiddlesticks!" said she.  "Come, get up!"

"Get up?"  I cried, in astonishment.  "I can't possibly, Mrs Nash.  I
tried just now, and couldn't stand!"

"Stuff and nonsense!  You ought to be ashamed of yourself going and
fighting with a parcel of young roughs over night, and then shamming
illness in the morning because you daren't show your black eyes to the
governors!  Come, you don't get round me with any of your nonsense!  Up
you get, or I'll start and sweep out the room before you're dressed!"

It was in vain I protested and pleaded.  I had to rise, and, dizzy and
sick as I felt, to huddle on my clothes and go down stairs, utterly
horrified at such inhuman treatment.  Mrs Nash even expected, now I was
up, I should go to the office; but this I positively declared I could
not do, and was therefore permitted to make myself as comfortable as I
could in the cheerless parlour, and there wait for the further
development of my malady.

Towards mid-day I began to feel hungry, but dared not ask Mrs Nash for
anything; it would be so unlike an invalid.  But I rang the bell and
implored her to send for a doctor, which she finally promised to do.

In the interval I began to feel more and more like myself.  It was very
aggravating, to be sure!  Unless he came quickly the doctor would hardly
think me ill at all.  And yet I _must_ be ill, even though it cost an
effort!

When the doctor did arrive I did my best, by putting on a pained
expression of countenance, by breathing rather hard and closing my eyes
occasionally, to make him feel he had not come for nothing.  But somehow
I didn't quite succeed.  He smiled pleasantly as he just touched my
pulse, and gave a single glance at my protruded tongue.

"There's nothing wrong with him, except a black eye or so.  Fighting, I
suppose.  Boys will be boys.  Send him to bed early to-night, Mrs Nash,
and he'll be all right in the morning."

"But what about--about the smallpox?"  I inquired, forgetting that
during the last speech I had been lying with my eyes closed, apparently
unconscious.

The doctor laughed noisily, and Mrs Nash joined in the chorus.

"We'll see about him when we catch him, my young fighting-cock," replied
he, and then went.

Then I hadn't really got it!  A nice fool I had made of myself!  Larkins
had, of course, announced it to all the lodgers at Mrs Nash's, to my
employers and fellow-clerks, and here was I all the while as right as a
trivet, with nothing but a bruised face and an empty stomach afflicting
me.  Was ever luck like mine?

I took care to be in bed before the fellows got home that evening, but
as I lay awake I could hear their laughter down stairs, and it was not
hard to guess what it was about.  Larkins came up to my room.

"You're a nice fellow, Batchelor," said he, laughing, "telling me it was
smallpox!  You gave me such a fright.  I told all the fellows, and at
your office, and you should have seen how blue they all looked.  What a
sell it will be when you turn up all serene."  This was pleasant.

"You'd better not be too sure," I said, still clinging to my ailment.
"It may be it after all.  The doctor said I was to go to bed early to-
night and keep quite quiet.  I'd advise you not to stay in the room,
Larkins."

"Oh, all right, good-night," said Larkins, going to the door.

I heard him whistling merrily down the stairs, and felt still more
uncomfortable.  However, merciful sleep ended my troubles for a season.
I slept like a top all that night, and woke next morning as fresh and
well as I had ever been in all my life.  The only thing wrong with me
was the colour of my face.  That was certainly rather brilliant.  I had
to endure a regular broadside of quizzing from my fellow-lodgers that
morning at breakfast, which certainly did not tend to cheer me up in the
prospect of presenting myself shortly at Hawk Street.  I would fain have
been spared that ceremony!

There arrived, as I was starting out, a hurried line from Mrs Shield,
announcing that Jack was "much the same," which of course meant he was
still very ill.

Poor Jack!  I had been so taken up with my own fancied ailment that I
had scarcely thought of him.  As it was I could hardly realise that he
was so very ill.

Little had we imagined that evening when he caught up the half-murdered
urchin in his arms and carried him to our lodgings what the result of
that act would be to one of us!  And yet, if it were to do again, I
fancied my friend Smith would do it again, whatever it cost.  But to
think of his being so ill, possibly losing his life, all for a graceless
young vagabond who--

"Clean 'e boots, do y' hear, clean 'e boots, sir?"

Looking towards the sound, I saw the very object of my thoughts in front
of me.  He was clad in a tattered old tail coat, and trousers twice the
size of his little legs.  His head and feet were bare, and there seemed
little enough semblance of a shirt.  Altogether it was the most
"scarecrowy" apparition I ever came across.

"Shine 'e boots, master?" he cried, flourishing a blacking-brush in
either hand, and standing across my path.

I stopped short, and answered solemnly, "Where's that sixpence you stole
out of my pocket, you young thief?"

I expected he would be overawed and conscience-stricken by the sudden
accusation.  But instead of that he fired up with the most virtuous
indignation.

"What do yer mean, young thief?  I ain't a-goin'--Oh, my Jemimer, it's
one of them two flats.  Oh, here's a go!  Shine 'e boots, mister?"

There were certainly very few signs of penitence about this queer boy.
This was pleasant, certainly.  Not only robbed, but laughed at by the
thief, a little mite of a fellow like this!

"I've a great mind to call a policeman and give you in charge," said I.

He must have seen that I was not in earnest, for he replied, gaily, "No,
yer don't.  Ef yer do, I'll run yer in for prize-fightin', so now."

"How much do you earn by blacking boots?"  I asked, feeling an
involuntary interest in this strange gutter lad.

"Some days I gets a tanner.  But, bless you, I ain't a brigade bloke.  I
say, though, where's t'other flat; 'im with the eyes?"

"He's away ill," I said.  "He's got smallpox, and says he believes he
caught it from you."

"Get 'long!" replied the boy.

"Well, most likely it was in the court where you live."

"You can take your davy of that," replied the boy; "there's plenty of
'im there."

"Have you had it?"

"In corse I 'ave.  I say, 'ave yer seen the old gal about?"

"Your mother?  No.  Why?"

"On'y she's a-missin', that's all; but there, she allers turns up, she
does, and wipes me to-rights, too."

"She was nearly killing you the night we saw you," said I.

"'Taint no concern of yourn.  Shine 'e boots, sir? 'ere yer are, sir.
Not that bloke, sir.  Do yer 'ear?  Shine 'e boots, mister?"

This last spirited call was addressed to an elderly gentleman who was
passing.  He yielded eventually to the youth's solicitation, and I
therefore resumed my walk to the office with a good deal more to think
of than I had when I started.

If I had desired to make a sensation at Hawk Street, I could hardly have
done better than turn up that morning as usual.  It was a picture to see
the fellows' faces of alarm, bewilderment, astonishment, and finally of
merriment.

They had all heard that I was laid up with smallpox, which, as my friend
Smith was also ill of the same malady, they all considered as natural on
my part, and highly proper.  They had, in fact, faced the prospect of
getting on without me, and were quite prepared to exist accordingly.
The partners, too, had talked the matter over, and come to the decision
of advertising again without delay for a new clerk to take my place, and
that very morning were intending to draw up the advertisement and send
it to the papers.

Under these circumstances I appeared unexpectedly and just as usual on
the Hawk Street horizon.  No, not just as usual.  Had I appeared just as
usual, it might have been easier for the company generally to believe
that I was really sound, but when my face presented a brilliant
combination of most of the colours of the rainbow, the effect was rather
sensational.

"Why, if it's not Batchelor," exclaimed Doubleday; not, however,
advancing open-armed to meet me, but edging towards the far end of the
desk, and dexterously insinuating Crow and Wallop between me and his
precious person.  "Why, we heard you had smallpox."

"So we thought yesterday," said I, gravely, half aggravated still that I
had been defrauded of that distinction.

"Oh, you did, did you?" said Doubleday, gradually working back to his
own seat.  "Well, you _have_ got something on your face to show for it;
hasn't he, Wallop?"

"Looks as if he'd been painting up for the South Sea Islands," observed
Wallop.

"That's rather a showy tint of yellow down his left cheek," said Crow.
"Very fashionable colour just now."

"Did you lay it on yourself?" said Doubleday, "or did you get any one to
help you?"

"Oh," I said, in as off-hand a manner as I could, "I was having a little
box with Whipcord up at the Field-marshal's.  You weren't there, by the
way, Doubleday.  Whipcord's rather a good hand."

"Is he?" said Doubleday, laughing exuberantly, with Wallop and Crow as
chorus.  "I would never have supposed that by your face, now; would you,
you fellows?  It strikes me you got a big box instead of smallpox, eh?
Ha, ha!"

"I wonder at Whipcord standing up to you," said Crow.  "He's such a
quiet fellow, and doesn't know in the least what to do with his hands."

"He had the best of me," I said.

"Well, I don't know.  It doesn't do to trust to appearances.  If it did
one might suppose he had--rather.  I hope you'll ask me up when you have
the return match."

I didn't see much fun in those witticisms, which, however, appeared to
afford great merriment to the company generally, so much so that when
Mr Barnacle presently opened the door he caught the whole counting-
house laughing.

"What tomfoolery is this?" he demanded, looking angrily round.  "You
seem to forget, all of you, that you come here to work, and not to play.
If you want to play you can go somewhere else.  There!"  So saying he
passed into his private room, slamming the door ill-temperedly behind
him.

This was not encouraging for me, who, of course, had to report myself,
and contradict the rumours regarding my illness.

I gave him a quartet of an hour or so to quiet down, partly in the hope
that Mr Merrett might meanwhile arrive.  But as that event did not
happen, and as Doubleday informed me that the advertisements for a new
clerk were to be sent out that morning, I made up my mind there was
nothing to be gained by further delay, and therefore made the venture.

I found myself anything but comfortable as I stood before Mr Barnacle's
desk, and stammeringly began my statement.

"Please, sir--"

"Why, what is this, sir?" demanded Mr Barnacle, sternly.  "We were told
yesterday you were ill."

"So I was, sir, and I believed I was going to have smallpox, but the
doctor says I'm not."

"And does that account for your face being in that state, pray?"

"No, sir, I got that boxing--that is fighting."

"Most discreditable conduct!  Is that all you have to say?"

"Yes, sir.  I'm sorry I was away yesterday."

"Well, now, listen to what I have to say," said Mr Barnacle, laying
down his pen, and leaning forward in his chair.  "You've not been doing
well lately, Batchelor.  I've watched you and I've watched your work,
and I don't like it.  I was mistaken in you, sir.  You're idle, sir, and
unless you improve I sha'n't keep you another week, mind that."

"Indeed, sir--" I began.

"Hold your tongue, sir," said Mr Barnacle.  "We've no room in this
office for boys of your kind, and unless you change you must go
somewhere else.  You've played the fool quite enough here."

I would fain have replied to justify myself, but in the junior partner's
present temper the attempt would have been hazardous.

So I said nothing and returned to my work, determined for my own credit,
as well as in my own interest, to show Mr Barnacle that he had judged
me harshly.

How I worked that week!  I refused invitation after invitation, and
stayed late after every one else had gone to get ahead with my work.
During office hours I steadily abstracted myself from what was going on
all round, and determined that nothing should draw me from my tasks.  I
even volunteered for and undertook work not strictly my own, greatly to
the amazement of everybody, especially Wallop, who began to think there
really must be something in the rumour that I was not well.  And all the
while I most assiduously doctored my face, which gradually came to
resume its normal complexion.

I could see that this burst of industry was having its due effect in
high quarters.  Mr Barnacle, who after his lecture had treated me
gruffly and abruptly for some days, began again to treat me civilly, and
Mr Merrett bestowed once or twice a special commendation on my
industry.

In due time, so far from feeling myself a repentant idler, I had grown
to consider myself one of the most virtuous, industrious, and well-
principled clerks in London, and in proportion as this conviction got
hold of me my application to work relaxed.  One event especially
completed my self-satisfaction.  About three weeks after my interview
with Mr Barnacle I was summoned into the partners' room, and there
informed that, having now been eight months in their service, and
proving myself useful in my situation, my salary would henceforth be
twelve shillings a week!

I could hardly believe my ears!  Why, it was just half as much again as
what I had been receiving.  On eight shillings a week I had lived
economically, but not so badly.  And now, what might I not do with
twelve shillings a week?

Doubleday insisted on my coming up to his lodgings that evening to
celebrate the joyful event with a quiet supper.  This invitation I
accepted, the first for nearly a month, and in view of the occasion
spent my first extra four shillings in anticipation on a coloured
Oxford-shirt, which I grandly requested, with the air of a moneyed man,
to be put down to my account.  I found myself quite the hero of the
party that evening.  Every one was there.  I had an affecting
reconciliation with Whipcord, and forgot all about Flanagan's desertion
and Daly's indifference in my hour of tribulation; I discoursed
condescendingly with the Field-Marshal about his hopeless attachment,
and promised to go for a row up the river one Saturday with the twins.
And all the time of supper I was mentally calculating the cost of
Doubleday's entertainment, and wondering whether I could venture to give
a party myself!

In fact, I was so much taken up with my own good fortune and my new rise
in life, that I could think of nothing else.  I forgot my former
warnings and humiliations.  I forgot that even with twelve shillings a
week I had barely enough to clothe me respectably; I forgot that every
one of these fellows was in the habit of laughing at me behind my back,
and I forgot all my good resolutions to live steadily till Jack came
back.

And I forgot all about poor Jack--(now, so the letters had told me),
convalescent and slowly recovering health, but still lying lonely and
weary in the Packworth Hospital.  Indeed, that evening his name only
twice crossed my mind--once when Doubleday and Crow were laughing over
the prospect of "Bull's-eye" turning up with a face deeply marked with
his late disease; and once when, walking back to Beadle Square, full of
my new plans of extravagance, I chanced to pass a small boy, curled up
on a doorstep, with his head resting on a shoeblack box, and the light
of a neighbouring lamp shining full on his sleeping face.  Then I
remembered how, not very long ago, I had seen that same head lying side
by side with Jack's head on the pillow at Mrs Nash's.  And as I stood
for a moment to look, I could almost have believed that the sleeping
figure there, with all his vulgarity and dishonesty, had as good a title
to call himself Jack Smith's friend as I had.



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

HOW I GAVE A LITTLE SUPPER TO SOME OF MY FRIENDS.

The idea of giving a party of my own to my new friends, in return for
their hospitality to me, was not by any means a new one.  It had been
simmering in my mind for some weeks past.  Indeed, ever since I began to
be invited out, the thought that I could not return the compliment had
always been a drawback to my pleasure.

But there had always been two obstacles in the way of carrying out my
wish.  The first was lack of funds, the second was Mrs Nash.  On eight
shillings a week I had come to the conclusion it was out of the question
to dream of giving a party to eight persons.  By the most modest
calculation I couldn't possibly do the thing decently under a shilling a
head.  It was true I had my uncle's half-sovereign in my pocket still.
I might, I reflected, borrow that, and pay it back by weekly
instalments.  But somehow I didn't like the idea quite, and never
brought myself to the point of carrying it into effect.  Now, however,
with the sudden rise in my fortunes recorded in the last chapter, the
financial obstacle to my hospitality was quite swept away.  I had only
to take the extra four shillings a week for two weeks--and the thing was
done!

So the idea no longer simmered in my mind--it boiled; and I was
determined for once in a way to astonish my friends.

But though one obstacle had vanished, the other remained.  What would
Mrs Nash say?  For, much as I disliked it, I was forced to face the
fact that my party, if I gave it, would have to come off in Beadle
Square.  I had half thought of borrowing Flanagan's room for the
occasion, but didn't like to ask him; besides, if I did, it would have
to be half his party and half mine, which wasn't at all my idea.  Then
it occurred to me, should I take lodgings for a week and give it there?
No, it would cost too much even for twelve shillings a week; and my
uncle, if he heard of it, might stop my keep at Mrs Nash's.  Suppose I
hired a room at an hotel for the evening, and asked the fellows there?
It wasn't a bad idea, and would probably only cost me half a week's
wages.  But the worst of it is, if you ask fellows to dine with you at
an hotel, they are sure to come expecting a grand turn out; and I
doubted my talents to provide anything grand; besides, the hotel people
would be sure to want to supply the things themselves, and ask for the
money in advance.  Or if I didn't humour them they would to a certainty
turn crusty and critical, and spoil my party for me.

No, the only thing was to make the best of Beadle Square, and to that
end I determined to tackle Mrs Nash at once.

You may fancy the good woman's surprise and scorn when I propounded to
her my ambitious scheme.

"You give a party!  Fiddlesticks!  You'll do nothing of the sort."

"Please, Mrs Nash," pleaded I, "it will be a very quiet one, I
promise."

"And where do you expect to have it, I wonder?" said she.  "In the coal-
cellar, I suppose?  That's the only spot in the house that ain't
occupied."

"Oh," replied I, thinking it judicious to laugh at this facetious
suggestion, "I'd like the parlour for that evening, if you could manage
it, Mrs Nash."

"What! are you going to ask all the fellows here to your party, then?"

"Oh, no.  Couldn't you let them know the parlour's engaged for that
evening?--just for once?  You know I'd pay you something--"

"I dare say you would!--you'd pay anything, you would!  And what are you
going to give them all to eat, eh?"

"Oh, I'll see to that," said I.

This was an unfortunate reply of mine.  Mrs Nash, as it happened, was
inclined to enter into my scheme, and, had I only known it, would have
offered to take some trouble to help me.  But this answer of mine
offended her sorely.

"Oh, very well," said she, loftily; "you don't want me, I can see, and
I'm just as glad."

In vain I protested, and implored her not to be vexed.  I hadn't meant
it at all.  I couldn't possibly do without her.  I was a beast to say
what I had, and so on.  The most I could get out of her was a vague
promise that I might have the room on the evening in question.  As for
the entertainment, she washed her hands of the whole affair.

I was inclined to give it up.  Not that I had ever imagined she would
help me; but to have her downright unfriendly at such a time would, I
knew, ruin the thing totally.

For some days she would listen to nothing at all on the subject.

"It's your look-out," she said to every appeal.  "Let's see what sort of
a hand you'll make of it, my beauty."

I was in despair.  I longed to issue my invitations, but till Mrs Nash
was "squared" it was out of the question to name the happy day.  It was
evidently useless to argue the matter.  The best thing I could do was to
let it alone, and allow her to imagine the scheme had been abandoned.

In this calculation I was correct.  Some days afterwards, happening to
be in the parlour with her after breakfast, she said, "And when's your
grand party, as you call it, coming off, Mr Batchelor?"

I started up in rapture at the question.

"Then you _will_ help me, Mrs Nash?"  I cried, running up to her, and
taking it all for granted.

She first looked amazed, then angry, and finally she smiled.

"I never said so.  You're a sight too independent for my taste, you are.
_I_ ain't a-goin' to put my fingers into where I ain't wanted."

"But you _are_ wanted, and you will be a brick, I know!" cried I, almost
hugging her in my eagerness.

The battle was won, and that morning I went down to the office
positively jubilant.  My party was fixed for Thursday!

I felt particularly important when the time came for inviting Doubleday
and Crow to the festive assembly.  I had rehearsed as I walked along the
very words and tones I would use.  On no account must they suppose the
giving of a party was the momentous event it really proved itself.

"By the way, Doubleday," said I, in as off-hand a manner as I could
assume, after some preliminary talk on different matters--"by the way,
could you come up to supper on Thursday?  Just the usual lot, you know."

I could have kicked myself for the way I blushed and stammered as I was
delivering this short oration.

Doubleday gazed at me half curiously, half perplexed.

"Eh--supper?  Oh, rather!  Where's it to be?  Mansion House or
Guildhall?"

I didn't like this.  It wasn't what I had expected.

"Oh, up at my place, you know--Beadle Square," I said.

At this Doubleday fairly laughed.

"Supper at your place at Black Beadle Square?  Oh, rather!  I'll come.
You'll come too, Crow, eh?  The young un's got a supper on on Thursday.
Oh, rather.  Put me down for that, old man."

Could anything have been more mortifying?  Most invitations are received
politely and graciously.  What there was to laugh at about mine I
couldn't understand.

"Oh, yes, Crow's coming," I said, meekly.  "At least I hope so."

"Oh, rather!" said Crow, beaming.  "I wouldn't miss it for a lot.  Is it
evening dress or what?"

I was too much disconcerted and crestfallen to answer the question, and
avoided my two prospective guests for the rest of the day.

Already I was half repenting my venture.  But there was no drawing back
now.  Letters or messages came from the rest of the "usual lot"--the
Twins, Flanagan, the Field-Marshal, Daly, and Whipcord, every one of
them saying they'd be there.  Yes, there was nothing left but to go
through with it.

The next two days were two of the most anxious days I ever spent.  I was
running about all one afternoon (when I ought to have been delivering
bills of lading), inquiring the prices of lobsters, pork-pies, oranges,
and other delicacies, arranging for the hire of cups and saucers,
ordering butter and eggs, and jam, and other such arduous and delicate
duties.  Then I spent the evening in discussing with myself the
momentous questions whether I should lay in tea-cakes or penny buns,
whether I need have brown bread as well as white, whether Mrs Nash's
tea would be good enough, whether I should help my great dish--the eel-
pie--myself, or trust it to one of the company to do.

These and similar momentous matters engaged my thoughts.  And it began
to dawn on me further that my financial estimates had been greatly out,
and that my supper would cost me nearer a pound than ten shillings.
Never mind.  After all, was I not worth twelve shillings a week?  I
needn't trouble about the expense.  Besides, the pastrycook had agreed
to give me credit, so that really I should have comparatively little to
pay down.

A far more serious anxiety was Mrs Nash.  It required constant and most
assiduous attention to keep her in good temper.  And the nearer the time
came the more touchy she got.  If I suggested anything, she took it as a
personal slight to herself; if I was bold enough to differ from her, she
was mortally offended; if I ventured to express the slightest
impatience, she turned crusty and threatened to let me shift for myself.
The affair, too, naturally got wind amongst my fellow-lodgers, who one
and all avowed that they would not give up their right to the parlour,
and indulged in all manner of witticisms at my cost and the cost of my
party.  I pacified them as best I could by promising them the reversion
of the feast, and took meekly all their gibes and jests when they begged
to be allowed to come in to dessert and hear the speeches, or
volunteered to come and hand round the champagne, or clear away the
"turtle-soup," and so on.

But the nearer the fatal day came the more dejected and nervous I got.
Mrs Nash's parlour was really a disreputable sort of room, and after
all I had had no experience of suppers, and was positive I should not
know what to do when the time came.  I had neither the flow of
conversation of Doubleday, nor the store of stories of Daly, nor
Whipcord's sporting gossip, nor the Twins' self-possessed humour.  And
if my guests should turn critical I was a lost man; that I knew.  How I
wished I were safe on the other side of that awful Thursday!

The day came at last, and I hurried home as hard as I could after
business to make my final preparations.  The eel-pie was arriving as I
got there, and my heart was comforted by the sight.  Something, at
least, was ready.  But my joy was short-lived, for Mrs Nash was in a
temper.  The fact is, I had unconsciously neglected a piece of advice of
hers in the matter of this very eel-pie.  She had said, have it hot.  I
had told the pastrycook to deliver it cold.  Therefore Mrs Nash, just
at the critical moment, deserted me!

With a feeling of desperation I laid my own tablecloth--not a very good
one--and arranged as best I could the plates and dishes.  Time was
getting short, and it was no use wasting time on my crabby landlady.
Yet what could I do without her?  Who was to lend me a kettle, or a
saucepan for the eggs, or a toasting-fork, or, for the matter of that,
any of the material of war?  It was clear I must at all hazards regain
Mrs Nash, and the next half-hour was spent in frantic appeals to every
emotion she possessed, to the drawing of abject pictures of my own
helplessness, to profuse apologies, and compliments and coaxings.  I
never worked so hard in my life as I did that half-hour.

Happily it was not all in vain.  She consented, at any rate, to look
after one or two of the matters in which I was most helpless, and I was
duly and infinitely thankful.

In due time all was ready, and the hour arrived.  All my terrors
returned.  I felt tempted to bolt from the house and leave my guests to
entertain themselves.  I _hated_ Beadle Square.  And there, of course,
just when I should have liked things to be at their best, there were
three or four cats setting up a most hideous concert in the yard, and
the chimney in the parlour beginning to smoke.  I could have torn my
hair with rage and vexation.

I seized the tongs, and was kneeling down and vigorously pushing them up
the chimney, to ascertain the cause of this last misfortune, when a loud
double-knock at the door startled me nearly out of my senses.  I had
never realised what I was in for till now!

Horror of horrors!  Who was to open the door, Mrs Nash, or I?  We had
never settled that.  And while I stood trembling amid my smoke and eel-
pie and half-boiled eggs, the knock was repeated--this time so long and
loud that it must have been heard all over the square.  I could hear
voices and laughter outside.  Some one asked, "Is this the shop?" and
another voice said, "Don't see his name on the door."

Then, terrified lest they should perpetrate another solo on the knocker,
I rushed out and opened the door myself, just as Mrs Nash, with her
face scarlet and her sleeves tucked up above the elbows, also appeared
in the passage.

They were all there; they had come down in a body.  Oh, how shabby I
felt as I saw them there with their fine clothes and free-and-easy
manners!

"Hullo! here you are!" said Doubleday.  "Found you out, then, at last.
Haven't been this way for an age, but knew it at once by the cats.
Hullo, is this your mother?  How do, Mrs Batchelor.  Glad to see you.
Allow me to introduce--"

"It's not my mother!"  I cried, with a suppressed groan, pulling his
arm.

"Eh, not your mother?--your aunt, perhaps?  How do you--"

"No, no," I whispered; "no relation."

"Not?  That's a pity!  She's a tidy-looking old body, too.  I say, where
do you stick your hats, eh?  I bag the door-handle; you hang yours on
the key, Crow.  Come on in, you fellows.  Here's a spree!"

Could anything be more distressing or humiliating?  Mrs Nash, too
indignant for words, had vanished to her own kitchen, shutting the door
behind her with an ominous slam, and here was the hall chock-full of
staring, giggling fellows, with not a place to hang their hats, and
Doubleday already the self-constituted master of the ceremonies!

I mildly suggested they had better bring their hats inside, but they
insisted on "stacking" them, as the Field-marshal called it, in pyramid
form on the hall floor; and I let them have their way.

"Come in," I faltered presently, when this little diversion appeared to
be ended.  As I led the way into the parlour my heart was in my boots
and no mistake.

They entered, all coughing very much at the smoke.  What a seedy,
disreputable hole Mrs Nash's parlour appeared at that moment!

"I'm sorry the chimney's smoking," I said, "a--a--won't you sit down?"

This invitation, I don't know why, seemed only to add to the amusement
of the party.  Daly proceeded to sit down on the floor, no chair being
near, and the Twins solemnly established themselves on the top of him.
The others sat down all round the room in silence.  What could I do?  In
my cool moments I had thought of one or two topics of conversation, but
of course they ah deserted me now.  All except the weather.

"Turned rather cold," I observed to Whipcord.

"Who?" exclaimed that worthy, with an alarmed face.

"I mean the weather's turned rather cold."

"Poor chap, pity he don't wear a top-coat."

"I say," said Doubleday, who had, to my great discomfort, been making a
tour of discovery round the room, "rather nice pictures some of these,
this one of Peace and Plenty's not half bad, is it, Whip?"

"Why you old ass, that's not Peace and Plenty, it's a Storm at Sea."

"Well, I don't care who it is, it's rattling good likenesses of them.
Hullo, Twins, don't you be going to sleep, do you hear?"

This was addressed to the two brothers, from under whom, at that moment,
Daly contrived suddenly to remove himself, leaving them to fall all of a
heap.

In the midst of the confusion caused by this accident, it occurred to me
we might as well begin supper; so I called the company to attention.

"We may as well begin," I said, "there's no one else to wait for.  Will
you take that end, Doubleday?"

"I'm game," said Doubleday.  "Now then, you fellows, tumble into your
seats, do you hear?  We're jist a-going to begin, as the conjurer says.
I can tell you all I'm pretty peckish, too."

"So am I, rather," said Crow, winking at the company generally, who all
laughed.

Awful thought!  Suppose there's not enough for them to eat after all!

I began to pour out the coffee wildly, hardly venturing to look round.
At last, however, I recollected my duties.

"That's an eel-pie in front of you, Doubleday," I said.

Now at all the parties I had been to I had never before seen an eel-pie.
I therefore flattered myself I had a novelty to offer to my guests.

"Eel-pie, eh?" said Doubleday; "do you catch them about here, then?
Eel-pie, who says eel-pie?  Don't all speak at once.  Bring forth the
hot plates, my boy, and we'll lead off."

"It's cold," I faltered.

"Oh, goodness gracious!  _Cold_ eel-pie, gentlemen.  You really must
_not_ all speak at once.  Who says cold eel-pie?  The Field-Marshal
does!"

"No, he doesn't," replied the Field-Marshal, laughing.

"Flanagan does, then?"

"No, thank you," said Flanagan.

"Well, you Twins; you with the cut on your chin.  I wish one of you'd
always cut your chin shaving, one would know you from the other.  Any
cold eel-pie?"

"Rather not," said the Twin addressed.

"Have some lobster?"  I said, despairingly.  If no one was going to take
eel-pie, it was certain my other provisions would not last round.  Why
hadn't I taken Mrs Nash's advice, and had that unlucky dish hot?

"What will you take?"  I said to Flanagan.

"Oh, I don't mind," replied he, in a resigned manner; "I'll take a
shrimp or two."

"Have something more than that.  Have some lobster?"  I said.

"No, thanks," he replied.

Evidently my good things were not in favour; why, I could not say.
Nobody seemed to be taking anything, and Crow was most conspicuously
_smelling_ my lobster.

The meal dragged on heavily, with more talk than eating.  Every dish
came in for its share of criticism; the eel-pie remained uncut, the
lobster had lost one claw, but more than half the contents of that was
left on Abel's plate.  My penny buns all vanished, that was one ray of
comfort.

"Ring the bell for more buns," said Doubleday, as if he was presiding at
his own table.

What was I to do?  There were no more, and it was hardly likely Mrs
Nash would go for more.  Before I could make up my mind, Whipcord had
rung a loud peal on the bell, and Mrs Nash in due time appeared.

"More buns, and look sharp, old woman," said Doubleday.

"I'll old woman you if I've much of your imperence, my young dandy!" was
the somewhat startling rejoinder.  "I'll bundle the pack of you out of
the house, that I will, if you can't keep a civil tongue in your heads."

"I say, Batchelor," said Doubleday, laughing, "your aunt has got a
temper, I fancy.  I'm always sorry to see it in one so young.  What will
it be when--"

"Oh, please don't, Doubleday," I said; "you can see she doesn't like it.
It doesn't matter, Mrs Nash, thank you," I added.

"Oh, don't it matter?" retorted the irate Mrs Nash, "that's all; we'll
settle that pretty soon, my beauty.  I'll teach you if it don't matter
that a pack of puppies comes into my house, and drinks tea out of my
cups, and calls me names before my face and behind my back; I'll teach
you!"  And she bounced from the room.

I thought that meal would never end, although no one took anything.  In
time even the fun and laughter, which had at first helped to keep the
thing going, died away, and the fellows lolled back in the chairs in a
listless, bored way.  It was vain for me to try to lead the talk; I
could not have done it even if I had had the spirit, and there was
precious little spirit left now!

Doubleday began to look at his watch.

"Half-past seven.  I say," said he, "time I was going.  I've a
particular engagement at eight."

"Well, I'll go with you," said Whipcord; "I want to get something to
eat, and we can have supper together."

"Sorry we've got to go," said Doubleday.  "Jolly evening, wasn't it,
Crow?"

I was too much humiliated and disgusted to notice their departure.  To
have my grand entertainment sneered at and made fun of was bad enough,
but for two of my guests to leave my table for the avowed purpose of
getting something to eat was a little too much.  I could barely be civil
to the rest and ask them to remain, and it was a real relief when they
one and all began to make some excuse for leaving.

So ended my famous supper-party, after which, for a season, I prudently
retired into private life.



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

HOW MY FRIEND SMITH CAME BACK, AND TOLD ME A GREAT SECRET.

My grand evening party was over, but I had still my accounts for that
entertainment to square.  And the result of that operation was
appalling.  It was a fortnight since my salary had been raised, but so
far I had not a penny saved.  The extra money had gone, I couldn't
exactly say how, in sundry "trifling expenditures," such as pomatum, a
scarf-pin, and a steel chain for my waistcoat, all of which it had
seemed no harm to indulge in, especially as they were very cheap, under
my altered circumstances.

On the strength of my new riches also I was already six shillings in
debt to the Oxford-shirt man, and four shillings in debt to the Twins,
who had paid my share in the boating expedition up the river.  And now,
when I came to reckon up my liabilities for the supper, I found I owed
as much as eight shillings to the pastrycook and five shillings to the
grocer, besides having already paid two shillings for the unlucky
lobster (which to my horror and shame I found out after every one had
left had _not_ been fresh), one shilling for eggs, sixpence for shrimps,
and one-and-sixpence for the hire of the cups and saucers.

The ingenious reader will be able to arrive at a true estimate of my
financial position from these figures, and will see that so far, at any
rate, my increase of riches had not made me a wealthier man than when I
had lived within my income on eight shillings a week.

Nor had it made me either better or happier I made a few more good
resolutions after the party to be a fool no longer.  I could see plainly
enough that all my so-called friends had been amusing themselves at my
expense, and were certainly not worth my running myself head over ears
in debt to retain.  I could see too, when I came to reflect, that all my
efforts to pass myself off as "one of them" had ended pitifully for me,
if not ridiculously.  Yes, it was time I gave it up.  Alas! for the
vanity of youth!  The very day that witnessed the forming of my
resolutions witnessed also the breaking of them.

"Hullo, young 'un!" cried Doubleday, as I put in my appearance at the
office; "here you are!  How are you after it all?"

"I'm quite well," said I, in what I intended to be a chilly voice.

"That's right.  Very brickish of you to have us up.  We all thought so,
didn't we, Crow?"

"Rather," replied Crow.

"I'm afraid some of the fellows were rather rude," continued Doubleday.
"Those Twins are awfully underbred beggars.  I believe, you know, their
mother never knew which of the two it was that wanted whopping, and so
she let them both grow up anyhow.  If I'd been her, I'd have licked them
both regularly, wouldn't you, Crow?"

Without setting much store by Doubleday's moral disquisition on the duty
of the parents of Twins, I felt mollified by the half apology implied in
his reference to yesterday's entertainment, and to the manner of his
behaviour towards me now.  It was clear he felt rather ashamed of
himself and his cronies for their behaviour.  Who could tell whether, if
they had given me a fair chance, my supper might not have been a success
after all?  At any rate, I didn't feel quite so downhearted about it as
I had done.

"How's that festive old lady," proceeded Doubleday, "this morning?  I
pity you with an old dragon like her to look after you.  That's the
worst of those boarding-houses.  A fellow can't do the civil to his
friends but he's sure to be interfered with by somebody or other."

He was actually making excuses for me!

Yes; if it hadn't been for the rudeness of some of the fellows and the
aggravating behaviour of Mrs Nash, my supper would have gone off quite
well.  I was quite thankful to Doubleday for the comfort he gave me, and
cheerfully accepted an invitation to go up to his lodgings "to meet just
the usual lot" next evening.

Which I did, and found the "usual lot" in their usual good spirits.  No
one seemed to bear a grudge against me for that cold eel-pie, and one or
two assured me that they had enjoyed themselves immensely.

Nothing could speak more for my greenness and vanity than the fact that
I believed what they said, and felt more convinced than ever that my
party, however it had _seemed_ to go off, had really been a success.

On my return to Beadle Square that evening I found a letter waiting for
me, and to my joy and surprise it was in Jack Smith's own handwriting.
It said:

"Dear Fred,--You'll be glad to hear I'm off the sick list at last, and
have been turned out a perfect cure.  Mrs Shield, my sister's nurse and
friend, insists on my taking it easy another week, and then I shall come
up to town, and mean to work like a nigger to make up for lost time.
I'll tell you all the news when I come.  I'm afraid you've been having a
slow time.--Yours ever, Jack.

"P.S.--I've written to M., B., and Company, to tell them I'll be up on
Monday next."

It seemed almost too good to be true that I should so soon see my friend
again.  Ah! how different it would all be when he came back!  For the
next week I could think of nothing else.  What a lot I should have to
tell him!  How he would laugh over my adventures and misfortunes, and
how he would scold me for my extravagances and follies!  Well, these
would be over at last, that was a comfort.

So, during the week, in view of giving up my extravagances, I bought a
new suit of ready-made clothes that only half fitted me, and went on the
Saturday afternoon with Whipcord and the Twins to see a steeplechase,
where I was tempted to put two half-crowns, which I borrowed from the
Twins, into a sweepstake, and lost them both.  This was a good finish up
to my little "fling" and no mistake; so much so that I began to think it
was a pity Jack had not come last Monday instead of next.

"He would have kept me out of all this mischief," said I to myself.  Ah!
I had yet to learn that if one wants to keep out of mischief one must
not depend altogether upon one's friends, or even oneself, for the
blessing.  Strength must be sought from a higher Power and a better
Friend!

At last the long-looked-for Monday arrived, and I went down to the
station in the evening to meet Jack's train.

I could scarcely have said what feeling it was which prompted me to
wear, not my new stripe suit, but my old clothes, shabby as they were,
or why, instead of wearing my coloured Oxford-shirt, I preferred to
array myself in one of the old flannel shirts with its time-honoured
paper collar.

Somehow I had no ambition to "make an impression" on my friend Smith.

There was his head out of the window and his hand waving long before the
train pulled up.  The face was the same I had always known, pale and
solemn, with its big black eyes and clusters of black hair.  His illness
had left neither mark nor change on him; still less had it altered his
tone and manner, as he sprang from the carriage and seizing me by the
arm, said, "Well, old fellow, here we are again, at last!"

What a happy evening that was!  We walked to Beadle Square, carrying
Jack's bag between us, and talking all the way.  The dull old place
appeared quite bright now he was back; and the meal we had together in
the parlour that evening before the other fellows came home seemed
positively sumptuous, although it consisted only of weak tea and bread-
and-butter.

Then we turned out for a long walk, anywhere, and having no bag to catch
hold of this time, we caught hold of one another's arms, which was quite
as comfortable.

"Well, old man," began Jack, "what have you been up to all the time?
You never told me in your letters."

"There wasn't much to tell," I said.  "It was awfully slow when you
left, I can assure you."

"But you soon got over that?" said Jack, laughing.

He wasn't far wrong, as the reader knows, but somehow I would have
preferred him to believe otherwise.  I replied, "There would have been
simply nothing to do of an evening if Doubleday--who is a very decent
fellow at bottom, Jack--hadn't asked me up to his lodgings once or twice
to supper."

I said this in as off-hand a way as I could.  I don't know why I had
fancied Jack would not be pleased with the intelligence, for Doubleday
had never been very friendly to him.

"Did he?" said Jack.  "That was rather brickish of him."

"Yes; he knew it would be dull while you were away, and I was very glad
to go."

"Rather!  I expect he gave you rather better suppers than we get up at
Beadle Square, eh?"

"Yes.  And then, you know, when I was there I heard where Flanagan was
living, and found him out.  Do you remember our hunt after him that
night, Jack?"

"Don't I!  By the way, Fred, has there been any news of the boy?"

"The young thief?  I should fancy you'd had enough of him, old man, for
a good while to come.  But I have seen him."

"Where?" asked Jack, with an interest that quite amused me.

"One would think that after giving you smallpox, and robbing you of your
money, you were really under an obligation to the young beggar, and
wanted to thank him personally.  If you are so very anxious to pay your
respects, it's ten to one we shall run across him at the top of Style
Street--that's where his place of business is."

"Place of business?  What do you mean?"

"I mean that he has spent the money he stole from us in buying a
shoeblack's apparatus, and seems to think it's something to be proud of,
too," I replied.

Jack laughed.  "He might have done worse.  My boots want blacking, Fred;
let's go round by Style Street."

The young vagabond was there, engaged, as we approached him, in walking
round and round his box on the palms of his hands with his feet in the
air.

At the sight of us he dropped suddenly into a human posture, and, with a
very broad grin on his face, said, "Shine 'e boots, governor?  Why, if
it ain't t'other flat come back?  Shine 'e boots?"

"Yes; I want my boots cleaned," said Jack, solemnly, planting one foot
on the box.

The boy dropped briskly on his knees and went to work, making Jack's
boot shine as it had never shone before.  In the middle of the operation
he stopped short, and, looking up, said, "You _was_ a flat that there
night, you was!"

I could only laugh at this frank piece of information.

"I think you were the flat!" said Jack, putting up his other foot on the
box.

"Me?  _I_ ain't no flat, no error!" replied the boy, with a grin.  "I'm
a sharp 'un, that's what I are!"

"I think you were worse than a flat to steal my money, and my friend's."

The boy looked perplexed.  "Ga on!" said he.

"What's your name?" asked Jack, changing the subject.

"Billy," replied the boy.

"Billy what?"

"Ga on!  What do you mean by `what'?  Ain't Billy enough?"

"Where do you live?"

"Live? where I can; that's where I live!"

"Then you don't live with your mother in that court any longer?"

"The old gal--she ain't no concern of yourn!" said the youth, firing up.

"I know that," said Jack, evidently at a loss, as I had been, how to
pursue the conversation with this queer boy.  "I say, Billy," he added,
"where are you going to sleep to-night?"

"Ain't a-goin' to sleep nowheres!" was the prompt reply.

"Would you like to come and sleep with me?"

"No fear!" was the complimentary reply.

"What are you going to do, then?"

"'Tain't no concern o' yourn; so it ain't."

"Will you be here to-morrow?"

"In corse I shall!"

"Well, I expect I'll want my boots done again to-morrow evening.  Here's
a penny for this time."

The boy took the penny and held it in the palm of his hand.

"Isn't it enough?" asked Jack.

"You're 'avin' a lark with me," said the boy.  "This 'ere brown--"

"What's wrong?  It's a good one, isn't it?"

"Oh, ain't you funny?  I don't want yer brown!" and to my amazement he
tossed the coin back.

Jack solemnly picked it up and put it back into his pocket.  "Good-
night, Billy," said he.  "Mind you are here to-morrow."

"No fear!" said Billy, who was once more resuming his gymnastic
exercises.

And so we left him.

My friend Smith was certainly a queer fellow.  He seemed more interested
during the remainder of our walk with the little dishonest shoeblack we
had just left than with my half-candid story of my life in London during
his absence.

"Depend upon it, that's his way of making amends," said he; "there's
some good in the young scamp after all."

"It's precious hard to discover," said I.  "He appears to me to be a
graceless young reprobate, who knows well enough that it's wicked to
steal, and seems rather proud of it than otherwise.  I say, Jack, I'd
advise you not to have too much to do with him.  He's done you harm
enough as it is."

When we returned to Beadle Square we found our amiable fellow-lodgers
evidently expecting our arrival.  It was so long since I had taken
supper at Mrs Nash's that I seemed quite as much a stranger as Jack.

"Here they come," said Horncastle, who always shone on occasions like
this.  "Here comes the two smallpoxes.  Hold your noses, you fellows."

In this flattering manner we were received as we proceeded to seat
ourselves in our accustomed place at the table.

"They seem as cheerful and merry as ever," said Jack, solemnly, to me,
looking round him.

"I say, Jones," cried Horncastle, in an audible voice to a friend,
"wonderful how Batchelor turns up here now the other's come home!  Got
to stop going out every night now, and coming home drunk at two in the
morning, eh?  Going to behave now, eh?  But he does go it, don't he,
when his keeper's back's turned, eh?"

All this, ridiculous as it was, was not very pleasant for me.  To Jack,
however, it was highly amusing.

"I suppose they mean that for you," said he.  "I feel quite flattered to
be called your keeper."

"It's all a lie," I said angrily, "about my coming home drunk, and all
that."

"I should rather hope it was," said my friend with a smile.

I was sufficiently uncomfortable, however, by the turn my fellow-
lodgers' wit was taking.  Without meaning to deceive, I had somehow, in
my story to Jack, omitted all reference to my own extravagances, and
represented my dissipations more as contrivances to pass the time in my
friend's absence than congenial pleasures.

"Rum thing, too," continued Horncastle, who evidently saw I was not
liking it--"rum thing he's dropped those new ready-made togs of his and
his flash watch-chain.  I wonder why--"

"Because they're not paid for," said another.  "I know that, because I
was in Shoddy's shop to-day, and he asked me to tell Batchelor the
things were sold for ready money and no tick.  Do you hear that,
Batchelor? that's what he says, and you'd better attend to it, I can
tell you."

Why need I have got myself into a rage over a suit of ready-made
clothes?  It was surely no crime to possess them; and if I was owing the
amount it didn't follow I had anything to be ashamed of, as long as I
paid in the end.  But I flushed up dreadfully, in a manner which Jack
could not help noticing, and replied, "You mind your own business--I'll
mind mine!"

"You'd better, my boy," was the reply.  "Pyman, the pastrycook, was
asking most affectionately after you too.  He says he hopes you won't
move without letting him know, as he'd like to call and--"

"Come on, Jack!"  I cried, taking Jack's arm; "it's enough to make one
sick the way they talk."

And amid much laughter, and in no very amiable frame of mind, I quitted
my persecutors.

I made sure Jack would read me a lecture, or at any rate refer to the
subject which had caused me so much annoyance.  He did neither.

"Lively lot they are," said he.  "It's a wonder where they pick up all
their notions."

"They want to make you believe I've been up to all sorts of mischief
since you went away," I said.

Jack laughed.

"And they expect me to believe it," said he.  "The best way with them is
to let them say what they like, and take no notice."

We went upstairs to bed, as the only place where we could enjoy one
another's society undisturbed.

As we were undressing.  Jack took from his pocket a photograph, which he
showed to me.

"Fred," said he, "would you like to see a portrait of Mary?"

"Your sister?" said I, taking the picture.  "Yes."

It was a pretty little girl of about twelve or thirteen, with dark eyes
and hair like Jack's; but, unlike him, with a merry, sunny face, which
even under the eye of a photographer could not be made to look solemn.

"How jolly!" was my exclamation.

Jack looked as delighted with this unsentimental comment as if I had
broken out into all sorts of poetic raptures, and replied, in his
peculiar, solemn way, "Yes, she is jolly."

"Is she your only sister?"  I asked, giving him back the portrait.

"Yes," said he.

"Was she very ill when you got down?"

"Yes; we hardly thought she was going to live," he replied.

"I heard how you were both getting on now and then from Mrs Shield.
She seems a very kind person."

"She's our old nurse, you know," Jack said, "and like a mother to Mary
and me."

He had never spoken like this about home before.  Whenever we had
approached the topic he had nervously changed the conversation.  Now,
however, he seemed almost glad to talk to some one, and there was quite
a tremble in his voice as he spoke of his sister and Mrs Shield.

"Then your own mother's not alive?"  I asked.  I had asked the same
question once at Stonebridge House, I remembered, and then he had almost
resented it.

"No, she died when Mary was born, fourteen years ago.  I cannot remember
her at all."

"Just like me," I said.  "I never saw my mother that I know of.  I say,
Jack, let's look at that portrait again."

He was delighted to show it to me, and I was glad once more to get a
glimpse of that merry face.

"And your father," I inquired, presently, "is he dead too?"

"No!" said Jack, with a sudden return of his old abruptness.

I was perplexed, but it was no use, evidently, pumping my friend with
further questions in that direction.  So we proceeded to undress in
silence, and were soon in bed.

Presently the other lodgers came up, and then there was no chance of
renewing our talk, even if Jack had been so inclined.  But he seemed
evidently in no humour for pursuing it.

In due time all was quiet once more, and then, just as I was beginning
to feel drowsy, and was lying half awake, half asleep, fancying myself
back again at Stonebridge House in the old dormitory, I felt a hand on
my arm and heard Jack's voice whisper, "Fred, are you asleep?"

"No," I replied, moving over to make room for him as he slipped in
beside me.

"Fred," he whispered, "I'm afraid you think me a brute."

"No, I don't," replied I, astonished; "why ever should I?"

"Why, I offended you just now, when you meant to be kind."

"No you didn't," said I.  "I know there are some things you don't like
to talk about, and I--I've no right to ask you about them."

Jack lay silent for some minutes.  Then he whispered--

"Old man, you can keep a secret, can't you?"

"Yes," I said, wondering what was coming.

"I've never told it to anybody yet; but somehow it's awful having no one
to talk to," he said.

"What is it, Jack?"  I asked.  "I won't tell a soul."

He crept closer to me, and his voice dropped to a lower whisper as he
said, "Fred--_my father is a convict_!"

I was too bewildered and shocked to speak.  All I could do was to take
the hand which lay on my arm and hold it in mine.  This then was Jack's
mystery.  This explained his nervous avoidance of all references to
home, his sudden changes of manner both at Stonebridge House and in
London.  Poor Jack!

We neither of us spoke for some time; then, as if in answer to the
questions I longed to ask, he continued, "I hardly ever saw him.  When
mother died he went nearly mad and took to drinking, so Mrs Shield told
me, and left home.  No one heard of him again till it was discovered he
had forged on his employers.  I remember their coming and looking for
him at M--, where we then lived.  He wasn't there, but they found him in
London, and,"--here Jack groaned--"he was transported."

"Poor Jack!" was all I could say.  "How dreadful for you all!"

We said no more that night, but as we lay arm in arm, and presently fell
asleep, I think we both felt we were bound together that night by a
stronger tie than ever.

Yet, had I known what was to come, I would sooner have rushed from that
house than allow my friend Smith to tell me his secret.



CHAPTER NINETEEN.

HOW HAWKESBURY PUT IN AN APPEARANCE AT HAWK STREET.

When I woke in the morning and called to mind Jack's confidence of the
night before, I could hardly believe I had not dreamt it.

I had always guessed, and I dare say the reader has guessed too, that
there was some mystery attached to my friend's home.  But I had never
thought of this.  No wonder now, when other boys had tormented him and
called him "gaol-bird," he had flared up with unwonted fire.  No wonder
he had always shrunk from any reference to that unhappy home.  But why
had he told me all about it now?  I could almost guess the reason.  For
the last month or two he had been back at the nearest approach to a home
that he possessed, at his old nurse's cottage at Packworth, with her and
his sister.  And now, leaving them, and coming back once more to work in
London, a home-sickness had seized him, and an irresistible craving for
sympathy had prompted him to tell me his secret.

"And it shall be safe with me," I said to myself.

We did not refer to the subject again that day, or for several days.
Indeed, I almost suspected he repented already of what he had done, for
his manner was more reserved and shy than I had ever known it.  He
seemed to be in a constant fright lest I should return to the subject,
while his almost deferential manner to me was quite distressing.
However, we had our work to occupy our minds during most of the day.

"Slap bang, here we are again!" cried Doubleday, as we entered the
office together that morning.  "What cheer, Bulls'-eye?  Awfully sorry
we haven't got the decorations up, but we're out of flags at present.
We're going to illuminate this evening, though, in your honour--when we
light the gas."

"Awfully glad you're back," said Crow.  "The governors have been in an
awful way without you to advise them.  We've positively done nothing
since you went, have we, Wallop?"

"No--except read his life in the Newgate Calendar," said Wallop, who had
not forgotten his knock down on the day Jack left.

All this Jack, like a sensible man, took quietly, though I could see, or
fancied I saw, he winced at the last reference.

He quietly took his old place, and proceeded to resume his work just as
if he had never been absent, wholly regardless of the witticisms of his
comrades.

"We've drunk his health now and then in his absence, haven't we, Batch,
old man?" said Doubleday again, addressing me.

I did not at all like to be thus drawn into the conversation, but I was
forced to answer.  "Yes, now and then."

"Let's see, what was the last sentiment--the other night up at Daly's,
you know; what was it, Crow?"

"Oh, Doubleday!" cried I, suddenly, in terror at the turn the talk was
taking, "would you look at this invoice, please?  Only twelve cases are
entered, and I'm certain thirteen were shipped."

"Eh, what?" exclaimed Doubleday, who in business matters was always
prompt and serious; "only twelve entered? how's that?  Why, you young
idiot!" said he, taking up the paper; "can't you read what's straight in
front of your nose?  `A set of samples, not invoiced, in case Number
13.'"

"So it is, to be sure," exclaimed I, who, of course, knew it all along,
and had only raised the alarm in order to interrupt Doubleday's awkward
talk.  "Thanks."

This expedient of mine, disingenuous as it was, was successful.  Before
Doubleday could get back to his desk and take up the thread of his
conversation where he left it, Mr Merrett entered the office.  He
walked straight up to Jack's desk, and said, heartily, "Well, Smith, my
man, we're glad to see you back.  Are you quite well again?"

"Quite well, thank you, sir," said Smith, rising to his feet, and
flushing with pleasure at this unexpected attention from the head of the
firm.

I felt quite as proud as he did, and still more so when presently Mr
Barnacle arrived, and after first looking over his letters and glancing
at his _Times_, touched the bell and said he wished to speak to Smith.

"They're going to make a partner of you," said Doubleday, mockingly, as
he delivered the message.  "Never mind; you won't forget your old
servants, I know."

"Talking of partners," said Harris, of the Imports, over the screen,
when Jack had gone in obedience to the summons, "we're to have the new
chap here next week."

"What's his name?" asked Doubleday.

"Don't know.  He's a nephew, I believe, of old Merrett's.  The old boy
told me the other day he was to come into my department to learn the
business.  He says I'm to teach him all I know, as he wants him to get
on."

"That's pleasant.  I suppose he's to be shoved over our heads, and tell
us all what to do."

"Never fear," said Harris; "I sha'n't teach him too much.  But the
governor says he's a `youth of good principles and fair attainments,'
and thinks I shall like him."

Crow whistled.

"`Good principles and fair attainments!'  That's a good un.  I guess
he's come to the wrong shop with those goods.  Nobody deals in them here
that _I_ know of."

"Speak for yourself," retorted Doubleday, sententiously.  "No one
suspected you of going in for either, but Batchelor and I flatter
ourselves we _are_ a little in that line."

"Well, if you are," said Wallop, breaking in, "all I can say is, young
Batchelor had better show his principle by stepping round to Shoddy's
and paying his bill there, or he may `attain' to something he doesn't
expect."

"What do you mean?"  I said.  "I've only had the things a fortnight, and
he said I needn't pay for them for a month."

"No doubt he did," said Wallop, not observing that Jack had by this time
returned from the partners' room, and was seated once more at his desk.
"No doubt he'd have let you go on tick for a twelve month, but when he
finds you owe all round to the butcher and baker and candlestick maker,
no wonder he gets a bit shy.  Why, only yesterday--"

"Will you mind your own business?"  I exclaimed, desperately, not
knowing how to turn the talk.

"Only yesterday," continued Wallop, complacently, evidently noticing and
enjoying my confusion, "he was asking me what I thought of your credit.
Shoddy and I are chummy you know, Crow."

"Will you shut up and let me get on with my work?"  I cried,
despairingly.

"I told him," continued Wallop, deliberately, "I knew you only had
twelve bob a week, and that, though you were a very nice boy, I would
advise him to proceed with caution, as I knew for a fact--"

I sprang from my seat, determined, if I could not silence him by
persuasion, I would do it by force.  However, he adroitly fortified
himself behind his desk, and proceeded, greatly to the amusement of
every one but Jack, "I knew for a fact you owed a pot of money at the
tuck shop--"

Here the speaker had to pause for the laughter which this announcement
had elicited.

"And that the Twins had advanced you getting on for half-a-sov.,
besides--"

There was no escape.  I sank down in my seat and let him go on as he
liked.

I had the satisfaction of hearing a full, true, and particular account
of my debts and delinquencies, which every one--I could not for the
world tell how--seemed to know all about, and I had the still greater
satisfaction of knowing that my friend Smith was hearing of my
extravagances now for the first time, and not from my lips.

What would he think of me?  How strange he must think it in me not to
have trusted in him when he had confided to me his own far more
important secret.  I felt utterly ashamed.  And yet, when I came to
think of it, if I had acted foolishly, I had not committed a crime.  Why
should I be ashamed?

"I say," I began, when that evening we were walking home, rather
moodily, side by side--"I say, you must have been astonished by what
those fellows were saying to-day, Jack."

"Eh?  Well, I couldn't quite make it out."

"They are always chaffing me about something," I said.

"Then it was all a make-up of Wallop's about what you owed?"

"Well, no--not exactly.  The fact is, I do owe one or two little
accounts."

"Do you?" said Jack.  "It's a pity."

I did not quite like the tone in which he said this.  It may have been
that my conscience was not quite clear as to my own straightforwardness
in this matter.  I was not obliged to tell him everything, to be sure;
but then, no more was I obliged to try to deceive him when I did tell
him.  At any rate, I felt a trifle irritated, and the rest of our walk
proceeded in silence till we reached Style Street.  Here we found Billy
at his old sport, but evidently expecting us.

"Shine 'e boots, governor!" cried he, with a profound grin.

Jack put his foot upon the box, and the young artist fell-to work
instantly.

"I'll stroll on," I said, out of humour, and anxious to be alone.

"All serene!" replied Jack, solemnly as usual.

By the time he turned up at Beadle Square I had somewhat recovered my
equanimity, and the rest of the evening was spent in talking about
indifferent matters, and avoiding all serious topics.  Among other
things, I told Jack of the expected addition to the staff at Hawk
Street, which interested him greatly, especially as the new-comer was to
work in the Import department.

"I hope he'll be a nice fellow," he said.  "What's his name?"

"I don't know.  He's a nephew of Merrett's, they say, and a good fellow.
He's coming in as a clerk at first, but Harris says he's to be taken in
as a partner in time."

"Then he's only a boy yet?"

"I suppose so--seventeen or eighteen."

Of course there was a considerable amount of speculation and curiosity
as to the new arrival during the week which followed.  I think most of
us were a little jealous, and Doubleday was especially indignant at the
fellow's meanness in being the governor's nephew.

"Of course, he'll peach about all we do," growled he, "and give his
precious uncle a full, true, and particular account every evening of
everything every one of us has been up to during the day.  And the worst
of it is, one can't even lick the beggar now and then, like any other
fellow."

It undoubtedly was hard lines, and we all sympathised not a little with
the chief clerk's grievance.

Our suspense was not protracted.  On the appointed day Mr Merrett
arrived, accompanied by a slender youth of about eighteen, at sight of
whom Jack and I started as though we had been shot.  The new-comer was
no other than our former schoolfellow, Hawkesbury.

If a skeleton had walked into the office we could not have been more
taken aback.  Of all persons in the world, who would have guessed that
this fellow whom we had last seen at Stonebridge House, and had never
even heard of since should turn up now as the nephew of our employer,
and as one of our own future chiefs at the office?

"Gentlemen," said Mr Merrett, "this is my nephew, Mr Hawkesbury.  I
trust you will all be good friends.  Eh! what!"

This last exclamation was occasioned by Hawkesbury's advancing first to
me and then to Smith, and shaking our hands, much to the surprise of
everybody.

"These two gentlemen were at school with me, uncle," he said, by way of
explanation.  "It is quite a pleasant surprise to me to see them again."

"Very singular," said Mr Merrett; "I'm glad of it.  You'll get on all
the better.  Harris; perhaps you will allow Mr Hawkesbury to assist you
for a day or two, just while he is learning the work."

So saying, the senior partner vanished into his own room, leaving
Hawkesbury in the midst of his new comrades.

I did not know whether to be glad or sorry.  For myself, though I never
quite liked Hawkesbury, I had always got on well with him, and been
disposed to believe him a well-meaning fellow.

But on Jack Smith's account I felt very sorry, and not a little uneasy,
for they had never "hit" it, and from what I could judge never would.

However, for the present at any rate, such apprehensions seemed to be
groundless, for Hawkesbury, naturally a little ill at ease among so many
strangers, appeared to be glad to claim the acquaintance of one of them,
and sat down beside him and began to talk in quite a cordial manner.

"This is a pleasant surprise," he said again; "who would have thought of
seeing you and Batchelor in Uncle Merrett's office?"

"We've been here several months," replied Jack, not quite as cordially,
I could see, as his old schoolfellow.

"Have you?  I'm afraid I shall never learn as much as you have," he
said, with his old smile.

"Now then, young governor," said Harris, "when it's _quite_ convenient
to you we'll get to work.  Don't put yourself out, pray; but if you can
spare the time from your friend, I should like you to add up this
column."

Hawkesbury looked a little astonished at this speech, but at once
replied, with a smile, "You are Mr Harris, I suppose?  I shall be glad
to learn what you can teach me."

If Harris had expected to put the new-comer down by his witticisms he
was sorely mistaken.  Hawkesbury coolly seated himself at the desk
beside him, and, with the air more of a man inspecting the work of
another than of a learner seeking information, he examined the papers
and books handed to him and catechised Harris as to their contents.

It was evident that he was fully aware from the beginning of his own
position at the office, and that he wished us all to be aware of it
also.  He adopted a patronising air towards me and Jack and the other
clerks, as if we were already in his employment and doing his work.

"A jolly cool hand," growled Doubleday to Crow, in an undertone most
unusual to him when the principals were out of hearing.  "I'm glad I'm
not Harris."

"Now then, Harris," said Crow, "mind how you dot your p's and q's, old
man--I mean your i's."

Hawkesbury looked up from his work and said, smiling, "I think Mr
Harris dots his i's very well.  What did you say is entered in this
column, Harris?"

This was nothing short of a snub to Crow, who was quiet for the rest of
the day.

After business, as Jack and I were proceeding to walk home, Hawkesbury
came up and joined our party.

"Which way are you going?" inquired he.  "I'll join you, if I may."

We could hardly say no, and yet we neither of us relished the offer.
However, he did not appear to notice our reluctance, and walked along
with us, conversing in his usual pleasant way.

"I hope we shall be good friends at the office," he said, after a long
uncomfortable pause.

"I hope so," said I, who knew it was not much use to rely on Jack Smith
to keep up the conversation.

"I dare say you know," said he, "that my uncle's idea is for me some day
to join him and Mr Barnacle, but of course that depends on how I get
on."

"Yes," said I, as there was a pause here.

"In any case I hope that won't make any difference between us old
schoolfellows," he continued.  "I hope not," again I replied.

"Where are you living in London?" he presently asked.  I told him, and
he thereupon proceeded to make further kind inquiries as to how we liked
our quarters, if we had nice friends, what we did with ourselves, and so
on.  All of which it fell-to my lot to answer, as Jack Smith showed no
inclination to assist me.

At length we reached the top of Style Street, where, as usual, the
athletic Billy was at his sports.  I really believe he spent the entire
time he was not blacking boots in walking round and round his box on the
palms of his hands with his feet up in the air.

At the sight of his patron he dropped promptly to attention.

"Well, Billy," said Smith, "are you ready for me?"  Billy grinned all
over his face, as he replied, "Yaas," and at once fell-to work.

Hawkesbury watched the incident with interest, not quite sure what to
make of it, and rather taken aback to have our walk thus abruptly
stopped.

"Old gal's bolted agin," observed Billy, in the middle of his task.
"'Ave any of you blokes saw her?"

"No," said Smith, "when did she go?"

"Last night," said Billy.  "She give me a dose fust, and when I came
round, if she ain't sloped along of all my browns.  She's a rum un."

Poor Billy, what a picture of his domestic life was this!

"Bless you, though," continued he, breathing hard on to the toes of
Jack's boot, "she'll turn up.  When she's done them browns she'll step
round for more.  Bless her old soul!"

"You ought to keep your money where she can't find it," suggested Jack.

"'Tain't no concern of yourn where I keep my brass.  Oh, my eye, there's
a nob!" cried he, suddenly perceiving Hawkesbury, who all this time had
been looking on and listening in bewilderment.  "Shin'e boots next,
cap'n?  Oh my, ain't he a topper?"

This last appeal was made to Jack, whose boots were now clean, and who,
of course, did not reply.

"Who's your friend?" said Hawkesbury to him, with a smile.

"My friend's a shoeblack," drily replied Smith.

"All, a curious little fellow.  Well, as I dare say you've plenty to say
to one another, I'll be going.  Good-bye," and he shook hands with us
both and departed.

That evening Jack and I had a long and painful discussion about
Hawkesbury.  As usual, he had not a good word to say for him, while I,
on the contrary, thought that at any rate he might be well-meaning.

"All I can say is," said Jack, "it wouldn't take much to make me leave
Hawk Street now."

"Oh, don't say that!"  I cried, miserable at the bare idea.

"Don't be afraid," said he, bitterly.  "A convict's son can't get taken
on anywhere, and I shall just have to stay where I am as long as there
are the people at home to depend on me."

He said this in such a sad tone that my heart bled for him.  Alas! there
seemed to be anything but happy days in store for my friend Smith.



CHAPTER TWENTY.

HOW I SERVED MY FRIEND SMITH ANYTHING BUT A GOOD TURN.

A week sufficed to put Hawkesbury quite at his ease at Hawk Street.  And
it sufficed also to reconcile most of the clerks to the new arrival.
For Hawkesbury, although he proved plainly he was aware of his position
and prospects, showed no inclination to be stiff or unfriendly with his
new associates.  On the contrary, he took a good deal of trouble to make
himself agreeable, and succeeded so well that in less than a week
Doubleday pronounced him "not such a cad as he might be," which was very
great praise from him.

Jack Smith, however, was irreconcilable.  He seemed to have an
instinctive dislike to his old schoolfellow, and resented the least
approach on his part to friendliness.  It was in vain I argued with him
and urged him.

"I'm sure he's civil enough," I said.

"I'm glad to hear it."

"Why ever are you so down on him?  I'm sure he would only be too glad to
be friendly."

"I don't like him," said Jack.

"At any rate," said I, "you need not take so much trouble to make an
enemy of him.  Some day you may be sorry for it."

Jack did not answer, and I saw it was no use pursuing the unpleasant
topic.  But I was vexed with him.  Why should he consider himself better
than all of us who had accepted the proffered friendship of our new
comrade?

"Young Batch," said Doubleday one morning about a week after
Hawkesbury's arrival, "come up to my diggings this evening.  The other
fellows are coming up, and the new boss too."

This was rather an awkward question, as since Jack's return I had not
gone out, and I imagined every one would conclude it was no use inviting
me without him.

"I know what you're going to say," said Doubleday, noticing my
hesitation.  "You'll ask Bull's-eye's leave, and then tell me.  Here,
Bull's-eye, Smith--whatever your name is--I want young Batch to come up
to supper with me this evening, and like a dutiful boy he says he can't
come till you give him leave.  What do you say?"

"Don't be an ass, Doubleday!"  I cried, quite ashamed and confused to
stand by and hear Smith thus appealed to.  "I--I'm afraid I can't come
this evening."

"Previous engagement?" said Doubleday, with a wink.

"No," I said; "I'm going for a walk with Smith."

"I'm going to stay here late to-night," said Jack, quietly, "I want to
catch up some work."  I wished I knew what he meant by it.  "All serene!
then the young 'un can come to us, can't he?" said Doubleday.

"Thanks," said I, not appearing to notice that the question was
addressed to Smith.

My decision appeared to afford much amusement to the other clerks.

"Landed at last!" said Doubleday, mopping his face with his handkerchief
and puffing like a man who had just gone through some great exertion.

I did not join in the laughter that followed, and spent the rest of the
day rather uncomfortably.  In the evening I left Jack at his desk.

"I hope you don't mind my going," I said.  He looked up, half vexed,
half astonished.  "What do you mean?" he replied.  "Surely it's nothing
to do with me?"

"Oh, I know.  But I wouldn't care to do it if you didn't like it.
Besides, I feel rather low going when you're not asked too."

"I shouldn't go if I was asked," replied Jack.

"Why not?"  I inquired.

"I've something better to do with my time and my money than that sort of
thing," he replied, quietly.

I went up to Doubleday's that evening more uneasy in my mind than I had
been for a long time.  I was angry with him for asking me; I was angry
with myself for going; and I was angry with Smith because I felt his
rebuke was a just one.

"Hullo, young un!" cried my host as I entered his now familiar lodgings;
"all waiting for you.  Why, how glum you look!  Has the Lantern been
lecturing you? or have you been having a dose of cold eel-pie on the
road? or what?  Come on.  You know all these fellows.  By the way, my
boy, glorious news for you!  Don't know what we've all done to deserve
it, upon my honour, but Abel here has knocked out one of his front
teeth, so there'll be no more trouble about spotting him now."

Abel grinned and exhibited the gap in his jaw which had called forth
this song of thankfulness from our host.

"How ever did you do it?"  I asked, glad to turn the conversation from
myself.

"Ran against a lamp-post," replied the mutilated Twin.

This simple explanation caused much merriment, for every one chose to
believe that Abel had been intoxicated at the time, and as Abel himself
joined in the laugh, it was easy to see that if that had been the cause
of the accident, neither he nor any one else would be greatly ashamed of
it.

"What would Jack think?"  I could not help saying to myself.

Hawkesbury walked over to where I was and shook hands.  "I'm glad you've
come," said he, sweetly smiling; "I was afraid you would be prevented."

"No, I'd nothing to prevent me," replied I, colouring up.

"I fancied you would prefer staying with your friend Smith, or that he
might not like you to come."

"Smith is working late at the office to-night," I replied, shortly.

"Now you fellows!" cried Doubleday, "if you want any grub, sit down.
Batch, old man, will you take that end of the table? you're used to
lobsters, I know."

Once more I blushed to the roots of my hair, as I obeyed in as
unconcerned a manner as I could.

"What's the joke about the lobster?" asked Hawkesbury, innocently.

I wished the ground would open and swallow me.  Was that unlucky
lobster, then, to haunt me all the days of my life?

"There was no joke about it, I can tell you that!" said Whipcord, with a
significant grimace; "was there, Daly?"

"Well, I don't know," said Daly, looking mysterious; "there was one
rather good joke about it, if what I was told is true."

"What's that?" demanded the company.

"It was paid for!"

Don't you pity me, reader?  I was obliged to join in the laugh, and
appear to enjoy it.

"They're rather down on you," said Hawkesbury, amiably.

"Oh, they like their little joke," said I.

"So they do--who's got the butter?" said Doubleday--"so does everybody--
hang it, the milk's burnt; don't you taste it burnt, Field-Marshal?
I'll give my old woman notice--so does everybody, except--the muffins,
please, Crow--except your precious friend Smith.  I don't suppose he
ever enjoyed a joke in his life now, or--help yourself, Hawkesbury--or
saw one either, for the matter of that, notwithstanding his bull's-
eyes."

"I don't know," said I, relieved again to divert the talk from myself,
and glad at the same time to put in a mild word for my friend, "I think
Smith has a good deal of fun in him."

"I'd like to know where he keeps it," said Crow; "I never saw it."

"Oh!  I did," said Hawkesbury, "at school.  He was a very amusing fellow
at school, wasn't he, Batchelor?  Did Batchelor ever tell you of the
great rebellion that he and Smith got up there?"

I had not told the story, and was there and then called upon to do so--
which I did, much to the gratification of the company.

"Why don't you bring this mysterious Mr Smith down to show to us one
evening?" asked Whipcord.  "We're always hearing about him.  I'd like to
see him, wouldn't you, Twins?"

"Very," replied Abel, who evidently had been thinking of something else.

"I'm not sure," said I, "whether he'd come out.  I don't think he cares
much about visiting."

"I hope he doesn't think it's wrong to visit," said the Field-Marshal.

"No, not that," said I, sorry I had embarked on the subject; "but
somehow he doesn't get on, I think, in company."

"I should rather say he doesn't!" said Crow--"at any rate, at Hawk
Street, for a more stuck-up, disagreeable, self-righteous prig I never
saw."

"I think," said Hawkesbury, mildly, "you judge him rather hardly, Crow.
Some of us thought the same at school; but I really think he means
well."

"Yes," said I, ready to follow up this lead, "his manner's against him,
perhaps, but he's a very good fellow at bottom."

"Besides," said Hawkesbury, "he really has had great disadvantages.  He
has no friend at all in London, except Batchelor."

This was flattering, certainly, and naturally enough I looked sheepish.

"I beg your pardon," said Hawkesbury, suddenly perceiving his error, "I
meant that he has very few friends at all; isn't that so, Batchelor?"

"Yes," said I, "very few."

"Wasn't he in a grocer's shop, or some place of the kind, before he came
to us?" asked Doubleday.

"Yes," I answered.

"No wonder he's a rough lot," said Whipcord.  "I should have thought his
governor might have done better for him than that."

"But," I said, feeling flurried by all this, and hardly knowing what I
said, "he hasn't got a father--that is--I mean--"

"What do you mean?" asked Flanagan.

I was in a dreadful plight.  Every one must have seen by my confusion
that I was in a fix, and how was I to get out of it?

"Eh, what about his father?" demanded Doubleday.

"Oh," said I, "he's living abroad."

"Where, Botany Bay?" asked Daly, with a laugh.

I felt my face grow scarlet, and my whole manner utterly confused and
guilty-looking, as I pretended not to hear the question, and turned to
speak to Crow about some other matter.  But my assailants were too quick
for me.  My manner had roused their curiosity and excited their
suspicions, and I was not to be let off.

"Eh?  Is that where he resides?" again demanded Daly.

"I really can't say where he lives," I replied, abruptly, and in a tone
so unlike my ordinary voice that I hardly recognised it myself.

I was conscious of a startled look on the faces of one or two of the
company as I said this, and of a low whistle from Crow.

What had I done?

"I don't think," said Hawkesbury, with his usual smile, "your friend
Smith would be grateful to you, Batchelor, for letting the cat out of
the bag like this."

"What cat?"  I exclaimed, in an agitated voice.  "You are all mistaken,
indeed you are.  Smith's father is not a--I mean he's merely away for
his health, I assure you."

"Rather a lingering illness," drily replied the Field-marshal, amid
general laughter, "if it's kept him abroad all these years."

"If you will take my advice, Batchelor," said Hawkesbury, "you'll be
careful how you tell everybody a thing like this.  It's not a pleasant
sort of thing to be known of a fellow."

"Indeed, indeed," I cried once more, almost beside myself with terror
and rage, "you're all wrong.  I wish I'd said nothing about it.  Won't
you believe me?"

"Delighted," said Whipcord, who with every one else had been enjoying my
dismay, and laughing at my efforts to extricate myself.  "You say
Smith's governor is a--"

"No--it's false.  I was telling a lie!"  I cried, in tones of misery
which any ordinary mortal would have pitied.  "I don't know what he is.
I never heard of him.  Indeed, indeed, I was only speaking in fun."

Thus wildly did I hope by a shield of lies to hide the secret which I
had--by my manner more than my words--betrayed.

"I'm afraid, Batchelor," said Hawkesbury, with a grave but sweet smile,
"you either are not telling quite the truth, or you are speaking in fun
about a very serious matter."

"Oh yes, you're right," I cried; "I've been telling lies; upon my honour
I have."

"Upon his honour he's been telling lies," said Daly.  "The fellow _will_
have his joke.  Never saw such a joker in all my days."

I would fain have rushed from the place, but I dared not.  Every word I
said involved me deeper, and yet I could not leave them all like this
without one effort at least either to recover my secret--Jack's secret--
or else to appeal to their confidence and generosity.

It was evident they were not disposed to believe anything I told them,
except the one hideous fact.  And that, though I had not uttered it in
so many words, every one believed from my lips as if I had been
inspired.

I sat in abject misery while the meal lasted, listening to the brutal
jests made at the cost of my absent friend, and knowing that I was
responsible for them all.

Directly supper was over I appealed to Doubleday.

"I do hope you won't say anything about this at the office, Doubleday,"
I said, imploringly.  "It would be such a dreadful thing for it to get
out."

"Then it is true?" demanded Doubleday.

"No--that is--I--I--don't know," responded I, "but oh! don't say
anything about it."

"Bless me, if you don't know," said he, "why do you make such a fuss?
Take my advice, young un, and don't say any more about it to any one.
You've done very well so far, and if you want the fellows to forget all
about it you'd better not remind them of it so much."

"But, Doubleday," I implored once more, "out of friendship for me--"

"Out of friendship for you let me offer you a cigar," said Doubleday.
"Now you fellows, what's it to be--whist, nap, poker, or what?"

I turned in despair to Hawkesbury.

"Please, Hawkesbury," I said, "promise to say nothing about it at the
office.  I would be so grateful if you would."

"Then," said Hawkesbury, asking the same question as Doubleday had just
asked, "it is true?"

I dared not say "Yes," and to say "No" would, I knew, be useless.

"Oh, please don't ask me," I said, only "promise--do, Hawkesbury."

Hawkesbury smiled most sweetly.

"Really," he said, "one would think it was such a nice subject that a
fellow would like to talk about it!"

"Then you won't!"  I cried, ready to jump at the least encouragement;
"oh, thanks, Hawkesbury!"

This was the only comfort I could get.  Crow laughed at me when I
appealed to him; and the other fellows reminded me that as they had not
the pleasure of knowing my pet gaol-bird they were afraid they couldn't
tell him what I had done, much as they would like.

Flanagan alone treated it seriously.

"Batchelor," said he, "I never believed you were such a fool.  Can't you
see you're only making things worse by your fuss?  Why can't you hold
your tongue?  Smith has little enough to thank you for as it is."

He had indeed!  As I walked home that evening, I felt as if I would
never dare to look him in the face again.

It was late when I reached Beadle Square.  Jack had returned before me,
and was fast asleep in bed.  A candle burned beside him, and on the
counterpane, as if dropped from his hand, lay a book--a Roman History.

I groaned as I looked at him, and envied him his quiet sleep, the reward
of honest work and a good conscience.  I crept into bed that night as
silently as I could, for fear of waking him.

The next few days I was on thorns.  I dreaded to be alone with Jack, and
still more dreaded to be by when the fellows were--now an ordinary
pastime--chaffing him at the office.  It was like living on a volcano
which might at any moment explode.  However, the days went on, and my
fears did not come to pass.  The fellows had either forgotten all about
it, or, more likely, their sense of honour prevented them from making it
known.  I was devoutly thankful, of course, and by every means in my
power endeavoured to show it.  I made myself as agreeable as possible to
my comrades, and bore all their chaff and persecution with the utmost
good-humour, and went out of my way to secure and retain their good
graces.

Of course I could not do this without in a way defying Jack's influence.
Though he had never once taken me to task in so many words, I knew well
enough he considered I was wasting my time and money in this perpetual
round of festivities.  But I had to take the risk of that.  After all, I
was playing to shield him.  If he only knew all, he would be grateful to
me, I reflected, rather than offended.

He could not help noticing my altered manner, and of course put it down
to anything but its true cause.  He thought I was offended with him for
not encouraging my extravagances, and that the great intimacy with
Doubleday and Hawkesbury and Crow was meant to show him that I was
independent of him.

However, he made one brave effort to pull me up.

"Fred," said he, thoughtfully, one evening, as we walked home--"Fred,
what are you going to do about your debts?"

"Oh, pay them some day, I suppose," I said, shortly.

"When will that be?" he continued, quietly, not noticing my manner.

"I really can't say," I replied, not liking to be thus questioned.

"Do you know how much you owe?" he asked.

"Really, Jack, you take a great interest in my debts!"

"I do," he replied, solemnly, and with the air of a fellow who had made
up his mind to go through with an unpleasant duty.

"Well," I said, warming up rather, "I fancy I can look after them quite
as well by myself."

"I'm afraid I am offending you," said Jack, looking straight at me, "but
I don't think you do look after them properly."

"What do you mean?"  I demanded.

"I mean," said Jack, with his arm still in mine, "that you are head over
ears in debt, and that, instead of paying off, you are spending your
money in other ways.  And I don't think it's right, Fred."

"Upon my word, Jack," I said, "it's quite new for you to lecture me like
this, and I don't like it.  What business is it of yours, I should like
to know?"

"You are my friend," he said, quietly.

I drew my arm roughly from his.

"If you are mine," said I, "when I want your advice I'll ask it."

He looked at me a moment doubtfully with his big eyes.  Then he said, "I
was afraid of this; we never quarrelled before, Fred."

"And we shouldn't quarrel now," I cried, "if you'd mind your own
business."

"It is my business," he persisted--doggedly, as I thought.

"What's your business?"  I demanded, with rising rage.

"To beg you not to be a fool," he replied, steadily.

My temper had already gone.  My self-control now deserted me as I
stopped abruptly, and turned to him.

"Your business!"  I exclaimed, bitterly.

"Yes, Fred, my business," he said, quietly, with a touch of sadness in
his tone.

"Then let me tell you," I exclaimed, forgetting everything but my
resentment, "I don't intend to be told my duty _by you of all people_!"

It was enough.  He knew the meaning of those cowardly words.  His face
turned suddenly pale, and his eyes dropped, as with a half-groan he
started to walk slowly on.

I would have given worlds to recall the words--worlds to be able to
seize his arm and beg his forgiveness.  But my wicked vanity kept me
back, and I let him go on alone.  Then I followed.  It was the first of
many, many sad, solitary walks for me.



CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.

HOW A DOOR CLOSED BETWEEN MY FRIEND SMITH AND ME.

If any one had told me a month before that I should quarrel with my
friend Smith, I should have laughed at the bare idea.  But now the
impossible thing had happened.

That night as I lay awake in my bed I felt that I had not a friend in
the world.  I had wounded, in the cruellest way, the only true friend I
ever had, and now I was to suffer for it.  The words had come hastily
and thoughtlessly, but they had come; and Jack, I knew, regarded me as a
coward and a brute.

The next day we scarcely spoke a word to one another, and when we did it
was in so constrained a manner that it would have been more comfortable
had we remained silent.  We walked to and from the office by separate
ways, and during the mid-day half-hour we lunched for the first time at
different eating-houses.

I longed to explain--to beg his pardon.  But he was so stiff and distant
in his manner that I could not venture to approach him.  Once I did try,
but he saw me coming and, I fancied, turned on his heel before I got up.

What was I to do?  If this was to last, I should be miserable for ever.
Yet how could it end?  Would I write him a letter, or would I get some
one to plead my cause for me?  Or would I let him see how wretched I
was, and work on his feelings that way?  It was all my fault, I knew.
Yet he might have come out a little and made a reconciliation easy.
Surely if he had really been my friend, thought I, he would not be so
quick to cast me off, and judge me by one or two hasty words!

What between an evil conscience, vexation, and disappointment, I was
that day about the most miserable fellow alive.  The fellows at the
office all noticed and added to my discomfort by ostentatiously
condoling with me.

"Poor old chap!" said Doubleday; "he's been letting you have it, has he?
Awful shame."

"As if a fellow mayn't get screwed without his interfering," laughed
Crow.

"It's nothing of the sort," said I, as usual taking in earnest what was
meant as a jest; "I was never screwed."

Crow's only answer was a whistle, which greatly amused all the others.

"Never mind," said Doubleday, "come along with us to-night, old man;
we've got a little spree on, haven't we, Crow?  We're going to get tea
and shrimps at the Magpie, and then going in a body to the Serio-Comics,
and finish up with a supper somewhere or other.  Going to make a regular
night of it.  Come along."

"I don't want to," I said; "besides, I can't afford it."

"Afford your great-grandmother!  Why, a fellow who can entertain the
whole lot of us as you did can't be so very hard up, can he, Wallop?  So
come, none of your gammon.  You're coming with us to-night, my boy, and
old Bull's-eye can sit and scowl at himself in the looking-glass if he
likes."

I went with them, glad enough to get anywhere out of Jack's sight.  We
had a "rollicking evening," as the fellows called it; which meant that
after a noisy and extravagant tea at the Magpie we adjourned in a body
to the performance, where we made quite as much noise as the rest of the
audience put together, after which we finished up with a fish supper of
Doubleday's ordering, at a restaurant, the bill for which came to two
shillings a head.

I was not in a condition to enjoy myself.  The thought of Jack haunted
me all the evening and made me miserable.  I fancied him walking back
from Hawk Street alone.  He would stop to talk to Billy, I knew, and
then he would go on to Beadle Square and bury himself in his book till
bedtime.  Would he ever think of me?  Why, even the little shoeblack was
more to him now than I was.

I got home late--so late that Mrs Nash protested angrily, and
threatened to stand my irregularities no longer.  Jack was not asleep
when I entered the room, but at sight of me he turned over in his bed
and drew the clothes round him.  I was angry and miserable and made no
attempt to speak to him.  But I could not sleep.  The spirit seemed to
have gone out of my life in London, and I dreaded to-morrow as much as
ever I had hated to-day.

I rose early in the morning, and after a hurried breakfast started from
the house before Jack came down.  At least I could take refuge in my
work at the office.

I had the place to myself for quite half an hour, when Hawkesbury
arrived.

"Well, Batchelor," said he, "you are industrious.  I thought I should be
first to-day, but you are before me.  Where's your friend Smith?"

"I don't know," I said, hurriedly.

"I'm afraid," said Hawkesbury, with his sweet smile, "you and Smith
haven't been getting on well lately.  I noticed yesterday you never
spoke to one another."

"I'm not obliged to speak to him," I growled.

"Certainly not.  In fact I think it's very kind indeed of you to make
him your friend under the circumstances."

Of course I knew what these last words meant.  A day or two ago they
would have terrified me; but now in my mortified state of mind they
didn't even offend me.

"Jack and I always got on well," I said, "until he began to interfere
with my affairs.  I didn't like that."

"Of course not; nobody does.  But then you know he has always been a
sort of guardian to you."

"He was never anything of the sort," I retorted.

"Well," said Hawkesbury, pleasantly, but with a touch of melancholy in
his voice, "I never like to see old friends fall out.  Would you like me
to speak to him and try to make it up?"

"Certainly not," I exclaimed.  "If I want it, I can do that myself."

"What can he do himself?" cried Doubleday, entering at this moment with
Crow and Wallop, and one or two others of last night's party.  "Was the
young un saying he could find his way home by himself after that supper
last night, eh?  My eye, that's a good 'un, isn't it, Crow?"

"Nice gratitude," cried Crow, "after our carrying him home and propping
him up against his own front door."

"I wonder what his friend Smith thought of it?" said Wallop; "he must
have been shocked."

"When you fellows have done," I said, who had felt bound to submit to
all this with the best grace I could, "I'll get on with my work."

"What a joker the fellow is!" said Doubleday.  "One would think he was
always at his work."

"I want to work now," I said.  "I do indeed."

"Do you indeed?" said Doubleday, mocking my tones and making a low bow.

"Since when did you take a fancy for hard labour?"

"Hard labour?"

At that moment the door opened and Jack Smith entered.

I could notice the quick start he gave as the words fell suddenly on his
ear.  He gave one scared look round the office, and then went quietly to
his desk.

At the sight of him there was an abrupt silence amongst us.  Crow and
Wallop stopped short in the middle of their exclamation.  Hawkesbury and
I buried ourselves in our work, and Doubleday, standing before the fire,
began to whistle softly.

Could anything have happened more awkwardly and suspiciously?  Jack must
certainly believe we were all talking about him, and the ill-fated word
he had overheard would naturally suggest to him--

"When you've done laughing, young Batchelor," said Doubleday, stopping
short in his whistling, "we'll get to work."

This unexpected remark, which of course was a delicate way of calling
everybody's attention to my rueful countenance, served to put all the
rest of the company except myself at their ease, and Mr Barnacle's
entrance a minute afterwards put an end for the time to any further
conversation.

But the day dragged on miserably.  What must Jack think of me?  He would
be sure to believe the worst of me, and it was impossible for me to
explain.

"After all," I thought, "if he does choose to form wrong conclusions,
why should I afflict myself?  No one was even speaking of him when he
entered the office.  What business of mine is it to put him right?"

And then, as usual, I forgot all about the injury I had done him, all my
treachery, all my meanness, and instead felt rather aggrieved, and
persuaded myself it was I, not he, who was the injured person.

At dinner-time I ostentatiously went out arm-in-arm with Hawkesbury, and
when on returning I met Smith on the stairs I brushed past him as if I
had not seen him.

That afternoon I was called upon unexpectedly to go down to the docks to
see after the shipment of some goods.  I was relieved to have the excuse
for being alone and getting away from the unpleasant surroundings of
Hawk Street.

It was late in the afternoon when I returned, so late that I almost
expected the fellows would some of them have left for the day.  But as I
entered the office I noticed they were all there, and became aware that
something unusual was taking place.  From the loud tones of the speakers
I concluded the partners had left for the day.

At first I could not tell whether it was a joke or a quarrel that was
being enacted; but it soon began to dawn on me.  Jack Smith was being
set on by the others.

What his offence had been I could not quite gather, though I believe it
consisted in his insisting on using the ledger he was at work on till
the actual hour for ceasing work arrived, while Harris, who was
responsible for the locking-up of the books, and who wanted this evening
to go half an hour earlier, was demanding that he should give it up now.

"I must finish these accounts to-night," said Jack.

"I tell you I'm not going to be kept here half an hour just to please
you," replied Harris.

"We're not supposed to stop work till seven," said Jack; "that's the
time we always work to when Mr Barnacle is here.  And it's only half-
past six now."

"What business of yours is it when we're supposed to work to, Mr Prig?"
demanded Harris, savagely.  "You're under my orders here, and you'll do
what I tell you."

"I'm under Mr Barnacle's orders," said Jack, going on with his writing.

"You mean to say you're not going to do what I tell you?" asked Harris,
in a rage.

"I'm going to do what's right--that's all," said Smith, quietly.

"Right!  You humbug!  You're a nice respectable fellow to talk about
right to us, Mr Gaol-bird!  As if we didn't know who you are!  You son
of a thief and swindler!  Right, indeed!  We don't want to hear about
right from you!"

Jack gave one startled, scared, upward look as he spoke; but it was
turned not to the speaker, but to me.  I shall never forget that look.
I could have sunk into the earth with shame and misery as I encountered
it.

He closed the ledger, and with white face and quivering lips took his
hat and walked silently from the office.

To me his manner was more terrible than if he had broken out into
torrents of passion and abuse.  At the sight of his face that moment my
treachery and sin appeared suddenly in their true light before my eyes.
I had been false to my best friend, and more than false.

Who could tell if I had not ruined him?  Vain and selfish fool that I
had been!  Always thinking what others would think of me, and never how
best I could help him in his gallant struggle against his evil destiny.

I rushed wildly from the office after him, and overtook him on the
stairs.

"Oh, Jack," I cried, "it really wasn't my--oh!  I'm so dreadfully sorry,
Jack!  If you'll only let me explain, I can--"

He was gone.  The door shut-to suddenly in my face, leaving me alone
with my misery, and shutting out my one hope of recovering my only
friend.

I returned miserable to the office--miserable and savage.  Though I knew
I had only myself to blame for what had happened, I was fain to vent my
anger on the cowardly set who had used my secret against my friend.  But
when I tried to speak the words would not come.  I locked up my desk
dejectedly, and without a word to any one, and heedless of the looks and
titters that followed me, walked from the place.

Half way down the street I became aware of a footstep following
hurriedly, as if to overtake me.  Could it be Jack?  Was there yet a
chance?  No, it was Hawkesbury.

"Oh, Batchelor," he said, "I am so sorry.  It's most unfortunate the way
it came out, isn't it?"

I made no answer, and drew my arm out of his.

"Harris is such a short-tempered fellow," he went on, not noticing my
manner, "but I never thought he would go as far as he did.  I assure
you, Batchelor, when I heard it, I felt quite as sorry as you did."

"I should like to know who told Harris about it," I said.  "I didn't."

"Didn't you?  Wasn't he there that evening you told all the rest of us?
To be sure he wasn't.  He must have heard the others speaking about it."

"They all promised--that is, I begged them all--not to tell any one," I
said, with a groan.

"Yes, I remember your asking me that evening.  It's a great shame if the
fellows have told Harris.  But he may have heard some other way."

"How could he?" said I.

"Well, I suppose it was all in the papers at the time," said Hawkesbury.

"Harris would hardly be in the habit of reading newspapers thirteen or
fourteen years old," I said, bitterly.

"Was it so long ago as that?" said Hawkesbury.  "No, it hardly does seem
likely.  Somebody must have told him."

"It was a blackguard thing of him to do," I said, "and I'll take good
care never to speak to him again."

"Well, you'd be quite justified in cutting him dead," replied
Hawkesbury.  "I'd do the same if he'd done as much to a friend of mine."

I did not reply to this.  After all, had Harris been much more to blame
than I had been in the first instance?

"Well," said Hawkesbury, "I hope it will soon blow over.  One never
likes unpleasant things like this coming up.  You must tell Smith how
angry I am with Harris."

"I don't suppose Smith will ever speak to me again," I said.

"Really?  Oh, I hope it's not so bad as that.  After all, you know,"
said Hawkesbury, "it would have been much more straightforward of him to
tell the fellows what he was at first.  They don't like being taken by
surprise in a matter like this.  I really don't see that _he_ has so
much to complain of."

"But it was so low of Harris to fling it in his teeth like that," I
said.

"Well, yes, it was," said Hawkesbury; "but it was not as bad as if he
had said something about him that wasn't true.  Well, good-night,
Batchelor.  I hope it will be all right in time."

I was not much comforted by this conversation; and yet I was not
altogether displeased to find that Hawkesbury agreed with me in
condemning Harris's conduct, and his last argument, though it took away
nothing from my unkindness, certainly did strike me.  However unpleasant
and cruel Jack's treatment had been, one must remember that the story
told about him was true.  Yes, it was a great consolation to feel that,
whatever else had happened, no one had told a lie!

As I passed the top of Style Street, meditating on these things, I
became aware that Billy was striding across my path with a face full of
grimy concern.

"I say, master," he cried, "where's t'other bloke?"

"I don't know," I said, walking on.

"What, ain't you saw him?" he demanded, trotting along, blacking-brush
in hand, by my side.

"Yes--go away, do you hear?  I don't want you walking beside me."

"That there clock," said Billy, pointing up to a clock just over his
usual place of business--"that there clock's been gone seving a lump,
and he ain't been."

"It's nothing to do with me," I cried angrily.  "Come, get away, unless
you want your ears boxed."

"Won't he's boots be in a muck, though," continued the boy, wholly
regardless of my wrath, "without no shine."

"Do you hear what I say?" cried I, stopping short threateningly.

Billy slunk off more disconsolately than I had ever seen him, leaving me
to pursue my way unmolested.

I do not know where I wandered to that evening, or what I thought of as
I walked.  My mind was too confused and miserable to take in anything
clearly, except that I had lost my friend.

Fellows passed me arm-in-arm, in earnest talk or with beaming faces, and
only reminded me of what I had lost.  Memories of the past crowded in
upon me--of Stonebridge House, where his friendship had been my one
comfort and hope; of our early days in London, when it seemed as if,
with one another for company, nothing could come amiss, and no hardship
could be quite intolerable; of his illness and absence, and my gradual
yielding to frivolity and extravagance; then of his return and
confidence in me.  Would that he had never told me that wretched secret!
If he had only known to whom he was telling it, to what a pitiful,
weak, vain nature he was confiding it, he would have bitten his tongue
off before he did it, and I should have yet been comparatively happy!

But the evil was done now, and what power on earth could undo it?

I slunk home to Beadle Square when I imagined every one else would be in
bed.

Mrs Nash met me at the door.

"Your friend Smith's gone," she said.

"Gone!"  I exclaimed.  "Where?"

"How should I know?  He paid his bill and took off his traps two hours
ago, and says he's not coming back!"

You may guess, reader, whether I slept that night.



CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.

HOW I TRIED TO FORGET MY FRIEND SMITH, AND FAILED.

When I rose next morning I was nearly ill with misery and remorse.  The
thought of Jack had haunted me all night long.  I entertained all sorts
of forebodings as to what had become of him and what was to be the
result of my treachery to him.  I pictured him gone forth alone and
friendless into the world, hoping to lose himself in London, giving up
all hope of a successful career, with his name gone and his prospects
blighted, and all my fault.  Poor Jack!  I might never see him again,
never even hear of him again!

As to hearing of him, however, I soon found that in one sense I was
likely to hear a good deal of him, now he was gone from Beadle Square.
Horncastle and his particular friends appeared that morning at breakfast
in a state of the greatest jubilation.

"Well, that's what I call a jolly good riddance of bad rubbish,"
Horncastle was saying as I entered the room.  "I thought we'd make the
place too hot for him at last!"

"Yes, it was a job, though, to get rid of him."

"Bless you," said Horncastle, with the air of a hero, "a man doesn't
like hurting a fellow's feelings, you know, or we could have told him
straight off he was a beast.  It was much better to let him see we
didn't fancy him, and let him clear out of his own accord."

"Yes, much better," answered a toady friend; "you managed it very well,
Horn, so you did."

"You see, when a fellow's a sneak and a cad he's sure to be
uncomfortable among a lot of gentlemen," said Horncastle, by way of
enlarging on the interesting topic.

If I had not been so miserable I should have felt amused at this
edifying conversation.  As it was I was rather tempted to break into it
more than once, but I remembered with a pang that, though I had a friend
to stand up for yesterday, I had none to-day.

"I suppose now he's gone," sneered some one of the same set, "his
precious chum will be going too."

"I don't know," said Horncastle, pretending not to be aware that I was
in the room.  "Batchelor's got some good points about him, and now the
other's gone he might improve if he stayed with us."

"Besides, he's got his lodgings paid for him, so I've heard," said
another.

"Yes, there's something in that.  And on the whole he's a pretty
decent--hullo, Batchelor, I never knew you were here.  So you've lost
your chum, eh?"

"You seem to know all about it," I growled, by no means won over by the
vague compliments bestowed on me.

"Oh, yes, I know all about it," cried Horncastle, mounting his high
horse, and offended at my tones.  "We were too respectable for him here.
But we ain't going into mourning for him.  And if you go too we shan't
blub.  Shall we, you fellows?"

"Not exactly," replied the chorus, with much laughter.

I ate a miserable breakfast, and sallied forth disconsolately to my now
solitary walk to the office.

Would Jack Smith turn up at Hawk Street?  That was a question which
exercised not only me but the other fellows who had witnessed
yesterday's catastrophe.

I hardly knew what to hope for.  If he did come, I didn't know what I
should do, or how I should meet him.  If he did not come, then I should
know I had driven him not only from me but from his very prospects in
life.

The general impression at Hawk Street was that he would not come.
Doubleday and Harris had a bet of a shilling on the event.

"If he does turn up," said Crow, "it'll show he means to brazen it out
before us all."

"Then you may be sure he'll come," said Wallop, "It was all very well
when we weren't supposed to know," said Harris, "but now it's all out he
doesn't expect us to treat him like an ordinary gentleman."

"It's certainly not anything to be proud of," remarked Hawkesbury,
pleasantly; "but--"

At that moment the door opened and Smith entered--solemn as ever, and to
all appearances perfectly composed and unconscious of the curiosity his
appearance occasioned.

But I who watched him narrowly could detect a quick, doubtful glance
round as he entered and took his usual place.

He never looked at me.  On the contrary, he appeared to guess where I
was, and purposely avoided turning in that direction.

The fellows were evidently perplexed, and not quite pleased.

"You've won your bet," said Harris across the screen to Doubleday.

"Never mind, you've got your man," replied Doubleday.

"He seems awfully pleased with himself," said Crow.

"I wish my governor was a yellow-jacket, so I do," growled Wallop, "then
I could hold up my head like a gentleman.  But he's only a merchant!"

All this was said in a loud voice, evidently for the benefit of Smith.
He, however, heeded it not, but quietly took his pen and blotting-paper
from his desk, and turning to Harris said, "I want that ledger to go on
with, if you'll unlock the safe, please."

Harris stared in astonishment.  It had passed his comprehension how the
fellow could have the face to show up at the office at all, but for him
to have the audacity to address a fellow-clerk, and that fellow-clerk
Harris, of all people, seemed fairly to stun that worthy.

It took him fully half a minute to recover his speech.  Then he
stammered out in white heat, "Eh?  Do you know who you're speaking to--
you cad?"

"I'm speaking to you," said Smith, calmly.

"Then what do you mean by it, you son of a thief?" demanded Harris.
"When I want you to speak to me I'll ask you--there."

Smith looked up with a slight flush on his face.

"You seem to want to quarrel," he said.  "I don't intend to quarrel.
I'll wait till you choose to unlock the safe."

This mild reply seemed to exasperate Harris far more than an angry
retort would have done.  He was naturally short-tempered, and when
conscious that he was being worsted in an argument before his fellow-
clerks he was always particularly savage.

He walked up to Smith and demanded furiously, "Didn't I tell you I'm not
going to be spoken to by a low gaol-bird like you?  If you don't hold
your tongue I'll give you such a thrashing as will make you remember
it."

"Come now, you fellows," said Doubleday, "if you must have a row, keep
it to yourselves.  The governor will be here in a second.  Plenty of
time for a shindy in the evening."

Even this interposition failed to put the irate Harris off his purpose.

Seizing a ruler, he struck Smith a blow on the shoulder with it that
resounded all through the office.

"There, you cowardly dog, take that for daring to speak to a gentleman!"

Smith sprang to his feet, his face flushed with sudden pain and anger.
At the same moment I, who had been a silent and miserable spectator of
the scene hitherto, could bear it no longer, and rushed forward to help
my old friend.  He had clenched his fist and seemed about to return the
blow, when, catching sight of me, his face changed suddenly to one of
misery and scorn, as letting fall his arm he dropped again on to his
seat heedless of the second blow of his cowardly assailant.

Was ever misfortune like mine?  Not only had I done my friend the worst
injury one fellow could do to another, but at the very moment when, at
least, he was about to show his comrades that all spirit had not been
crushed out of him, I had by my hateful presence baulked him of his
purpose, and made him appear before every one a coward!

And what a scorn his must be when he would rather submit tamely to a
cowardly blow than have me suppose that for a moment anything _I_ could
do would be of service to him!

However, Mr Merrett's arrival put an end to further altercation for the
present, and during the next few hours no one would have guessed what
fires were smouldering under the peaceful surface of the Hawk Street
counting-house.

As the evening approached I became more and more nervous and restless.
For, come what would of it, I had determined I _would_ speak to Jack
Smith.

He seemed to guess my intention, for he delayed leaving the office
unusually long, in the hope that I would leave before him.  At last,
however, when it seemed probable we should be left alone together in the
counting-house, he took his hat and hurriedly left the office.  I
followed him, but so stealthily and nervously that I might have been a
highwayman dogging his victim, rather than a friend trying to overtake a
friend.

Despite all my caution, he soon became aware of my intention.  At first
with a half-glance back he started to walk rapidly away, but then,
seeing that I still followed, he stopped short and waited till I came up
with him.

Already I was repenting of my determination, and this attitude of his
quite disheartened me.

Still I could not draw back now--speak to him I must.

"Oh, Jack," I cried, as I came up.  "It really wasn't my fault--indeed
it wasn't.  I only--"

He put up his hand to stop me and said, his eyes blazing with
indignation as he did so, "You've been a liar and a coward!"

He may have been right.  He was right!  But the words were ill-judged
and rash.  I had followed him ready to do anything to show my
contrition, ready to make any atonement in my power for the wrong I had
done him.  One gentle word from him, one encouraging look, would have
made the task easy.  But this angry taunt, deserved as it was--nay, just
because it was so fully deserved--stirred up in me a sudden sense of
disappointment and resentment which choked all other feelings.

This was my reward for the effort I had made!  This was the friend I had
striven so desperately to recover!

He gave me no time to retort, even if I could have found the words to do
so, but turned on his heel and left me, humbled and smarting, to find
out that it would have been better far for me had I never tried to make
matters right with Jack Smith.

But I was too angry to be dispirited that night.  His bitter words rang
in my ears at every step I took, and though my conscience cried out they
were just, my pride cried out louder they were cruel.  I longed to get
out of their sound and forget the speaker.  Who was he, a convict's son,
to accuse me as he had?  Half an hour ago it had been I who had wronged
him.  Now, to my smarting mind, it seemed as if it was he who was the
wronger, and I the wronged.

"Hullo, old fly-by-night," suddenly exclaimed a voice beside me, as I
walked slowly on my way; "what's the joke?  Never saw such a fellow for
grinning, upon my honour.  Why can't you look glum for once in a way,
eh, my mouldy lobster?"

I looked up and saw Doubleday, Crow, Wallop, and Whipcord, arm-in-arm
across the pavement, and Hawkesbury and Harris following on behind.

"Still weeping for his lost Jemima, I mean Bull's-eye," said Wallop,
"like what's his name in the Latin grammar."

It wasn't often Wallop indulged in classical quotations, but when he did
they were always effective, as was the case now.

My recent adventure had left me just in an hysterical mood; and try all
I would, I could not resist laughing at the very learned allusion.

"Bull's-eye be hanged!"  I exclaimed, recklessly.  "Hear, hear," was the
general chorus.  "Come along," cried Doubleday.  "Now you are sober you
can come along with us.  Hook on to Whip.  There's just room for five on
the pavement comfortably.  Plenty of room in the road for anybody else.
Come on, we're on the spree, my boy, and no mistake.  Hullo, old party,"
cried he to a stout old lady who was approaching, and innocently
proposing to pass us; "extremely sorry--no thoroughfare this way, is
there, Wallop?  Must trouble you to go along by the roofs of the houses.
Now, now, don't flourish your umbrella at me, or I shall call the
police.  My mother says I'm not to be worrited, doesn't she, Crow?"

"You ought to be ashamed of yourselves, a set of young fellows like
you," said the old lady, with great and very natural indignation,
"insulting respectable people.  I suppose you call yourselves gentlemen.
I'm ashamed of you, that I am!"

"Oh, don't apologise," said Whipcord; "it's of no consequence."

"There's one of you," said the old lady, looking at me, "that looks as
if he ought to know better.  A nice man you're making of him among you!"

I blushed, half with shame, half with bashfulness, to be thus singled
out, but considering it my duty to be as great a blackguard as my
companions, I joined in the chorus of ridicule and insult in a manner
which effectually disabused the poor lady of her suspicion that I was
any better than the others.

In the end she was forced to go out into the road to let us pass, and we
rollicked on rejoicing, as if we had achieved a great victory, and
speculating as to who next would be our victim.

I mention this incident to show in what frame of mind the troubles of
the day had left me.  At any other time the idea of insulting a lady
would have horrified me.  Now I cared for nothing if only I could forget
about Jack Smith.

We spent the remainder of the evening in the same rollicking way,
getting up rows here and there with what we were pleased to call the
"cads," and at other times indulging in practical jokes of all kinds, to
the annoyance of some passers-by and the injury of others.

More than once we adjourned to drink, and returned thence to our sport
more and more unsteady.  As the evening grew later we grew more daring
and outrageous.  Hawkesbury and Harris left the rest of us presently,
and, unrestrained even by their more sober demeanour, we chose the most
crowded thoroughfares and the most harmless victims for our operations.
Once we all of us trooped into a poor old man's shop who was too infirm
to come from behind the counter to prevent our turning his whole stock
upside down.  Another time we considered it gentlemanly sport to upset
an orange barrow, or to capture a mild-looking doctor's boy and hustle
him along in front of us for a quarter of a mile.

In the course of our pilgrimage we came across the street in which Daly
and the Field-Marshal lodged, and forthwith invaded their house and
dragged them forth with such hideous uproar, that all the neighbours
thought the house must be on fire, and one or two actually went for the
engines.

About eleven we made a halt at a restaurant for supper, at the end of
which, I say it now with bitter shame, I scarcely knew what I was doing.

I remember mildly suggesting that it was time for me to be going home,
and being laughed to scorn and told the fun was only just beginning.
Then presently, though how long afterwards I can't say, I remember being
out in the road and hearing some one propose to ring all the bells down
a certain street, and joining in the assent which greeted the
proposition.

Whether I actually took part in the escapade I was too confused to know,
but I became conscious of Doubleday's voice close beside me crying,
"Look-out, there's a bobby.  Run!"

Suddenly called back to myself by the exclamation, I ran as fast as my
legs could carry me.  My conscience had reproached me little enough
during the evening's folly, but now in the presence of danger and the
prospect of disgrace, my one idea was what a _fool_ I had been.

Ah! greatest fool of all, that I had never discovered it till now, when
disgrace and ruin stared me in the face.  It is easy enough to be
contrite with the policeman at your heels.  But I was yet to discover
that real repentance is made of sterner stuff, and needs a hand that is
stronger to save and steadier to direct than any which I, poor blunderer
that I was, had as yet reached out to.

If I could but escape--this once--how I vowed I would never fall into
such folly again!

I ran as if for my life.  The streets were empty, and my footsteps
echoed all round till it sounded as if a whole regiment of police were
pursuing me.  My companions had all vanished, some one way, some
another.  They were used to this sport, but it was new--horribly new to
me.  I never thought I _could_ run as I ran that night.  I cared not
where I went, provided only I could elude my pursuers.  I dared not look
behind me.  I fancied I heard shouts and footsteps, and my heart sank as
I listened.  Still I bounded forward, along one street, across another,
dodging this way and that way, diving through courts and down alleys,
till at last, breathless and exhausted, I was compelled, if only for one
moment, to halt.

I must have run a mile at the very least.  I had never run a mile before
that I knew of, and can safely say I have never run a mile since.  But,
remembering that night, I have sometimes thought a fellow can never
possibly know how quickly he can get over the distance till some day he
has to run it with a policeman behind him.

When I pulled up and looked round me, my pursuers, if ever I had had
any, had disappeared.  There was the steady tread of a policeman on the
opposite side of the road, but he, I knew, was not after me.  And there
was the distant rumble of a cab, but that was ahead of me and not behind
me.  I had escaped after all!  In my thankfulness I renewed with all
fervour and sincerity my resolve to avoid all such foolish escapades for
the future, and to devote myself to more profitable and less
discreditable occupations.

As it was I dared not yet feel quite sure I was safe.  I might have been
seen, my name and address might have been discovered, and the policeman
might be lying in wait for me yet, somewhere.

I slunk home that night down the darkest streets and along the shadiest
sides of them, like a burglar.  I trembled whenever I saw a policeman or
heard a footfall on the road.

But my fears did not come to pass.  I regained the City safely, and was
soon on the familiar track leading to Beadle Square.

As I crossed the top of Style Street the place seemed as deserted as the
grave.  But my heart gave a leap to my mouth as suddenly I heard a voice
at my side and a bound, as of some one springing upon me from a place of
hiding.

It was only Billy, who had been curled up on a doorstep, but whose cat-
like vigilance had discovered me even in this light and at this hour.

"Well, you are a-doin' it neat, you are," said he, grinning profusely;
"where 'ave you been to, gov'nor?"

"What's that to do with you?" demanded I, to whom by this time the small
ragamuffin's impudence had ceased to be astonishing.

"On'y 'cos t'other bloke he was 'ere four hour ago, and I ain't see'd
you go by.  I say, you're a-doin' it, you are."

"Has my fr-- has Smith been here this evening?"  I asked.

"He are so; and I give 'im a shine to-rights, I did.  But, bless you, he
was glum about the mazard, he was."

"What do you mean?"  I asked.

"Ga on!  As if you didn't know.  `Wot's up, governor?' says I.  `Things
is a-going wrong with me, Billy,' says he--so he does.  `T'other bloke
been givin' you any jaw?' says I, meaning you, says I.  `Never mind,
Billy,' says he--`you give me a good shine,' says he, `and I won't mind
the rest.'  And there, I _did_ give he a proper shine.  He's a
gentleman, he is!"

Jack Smith had still a friend.  I had sacrificed him, but he had yet
another, more faithful and honest than ever I had been, ready to
champion his cause, and rejoicing to do him service.

I slunk home to Mrs Nash's that evening more disgusted and discontented
with myself than ever.  My conscience, no longer to be kept down, was
reproaching me right and left.  I had been a false friend, a vain, self-
righteous puppy, a weak, discreditable roysterer, without the courage to
utter one protest on the side of chivalry and right.  And at last, at a
hint of danger, behold me a pitiful, abject coward, ready to vow
anything if only I might escape the threatened catastrophe.

Reader, as I curled myself up in bed that night you may imagine I had
little enough cause to be proud of myself!



CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.

HOW I BEGAN TO DISCOVER THAT I WAS NOT A VERY NICE BOY AFTER ALL.

If I had flattered myself I had ceased to care about my friend Smith,
the events of the evening just described served to cure me of any
delusion.  I had thrown myself recklessly into dissipation and riot, so
as to forget him; but now, as I lay on my bed and thought over what had
befallen me, my misery at losing him returned tenfold, aggravated by the
consciousness that now I deserved his friendship even less than ever.

"He's a gentleman, he is!"  The words of the little shoeblack rang in my
ears all night long, echoed by another voice from within, "What are
_you_?"  After all, had I not been doing my very best the last few days
to prove Jack's own description of me as a liar and a coward to be true?

The fellows at the office next morning were in a high state of glee over
the adventures of the previous evening.

"Wasn't it just about a spree?" said Wallop.  "I never saw such a fellow
as young Batch for leading one into mischief.  I used to think _I_ was a
pretty wild hand, but I'm a perfect sheep to him, ain't I, Dubbs?"

"You are so," replied Doubleday.  "Batch, my boy, if you go on at the
rate you did last night, you'll overdo it.  Take my word for that."

I had come to the office that morning determined to let every one see I
was ashamed of my conduct; but these insinuations, and the half flattery
implied in them, tempted me to join the conversation.

"It was you, not I, proposed ringing the bells," I said.

They all laughed, as if this were a joke.

"Well, that's a cool one if you like," replied Doubleday.  "Why, it was
all we could do to keep you from wrenching off the knockers as well,
wasn't it, Crow?"

"Never thought we'd keep him from it," said Crow.  "If the bobby hadn't
turned up, I do believe he'd have wanted to smash the windows also."

"You're making all this up," I said, half amused, half angry, and almost
beginning to wonder whether all that was being said of me was true.

"Not likely," said Doubleday; "the fact is, I couldn't have believed it
of you if I hadn't seen it.  By the way, Wallop, is it true the Field-
Marshal was run in?"

"No, was he?" exclaimed Wallop, and Crow, and I, all in a breath.

"Well, I passed by Daly's this morning, and he told me he hadn't been
home all night, and he supposed he'd have to go and bail him out."

"What a game!" cried Wallop.

"You'd call it a game if you had to hand out forty shillings, or take a
week," replied Doubleday.  "A nice expensive game this of yours, Master
Batchelor.  It'll cost you more than all your eel-pies, and lobsters,
and flash toggery put together."

Fancy, reader, my amazement and horror at all this!  It might be a joke
to all the rest, but it was anything but a joke to me.  Instead of the
Field-Marshal it might have been I who was caught last night and locked
up in a police cell, and what then would have become of me?  My
"friends" would all have laughed at it as a joke; but to me, I knew full
well, it would have been disgrace and ruin!

I was in no humour to pursue the conversation, particularly as Jack
Smith entered at that moment, composed and solemn as ever, without even
a glance at me.

My only escape from wretched memories and uncomfortable reflections was
in hard work, and that day I worked desperately.  I was engaged in
checking some very elaborate accounts under Doubleday's direction the
whole day.  It was a task which Wallop, to whom it fell by rights,
shirked and passed on to me, greatly to my indignation, a week ago.  But
now it proved a very relief.  The harder I worked, the easier my mind
became, and the more difficult the work appeared, the more I rejoiced to
have the tackling of it.

Our firm had received over a large cargo of miscellaneous goods from
India, which they were about to trans-ship to South America; and what I
had to do was first of all to reduce the value of the goods as they
appeared in Indian currency to their exact English value, and after
adding certain charges and profits, invoice them again in Spanish money.

"A nice spicy little bit of conjuring," as Doubleday described it, who,
rackety fellow as he was, always warmed up to business difficulties.

He and I agreed to stay and finish the thing off after the others had
gone, an arrangement I was very glad for all reasons to fall in with.

We worked away hammer-and-tongs for two hours (for it was a very lengthy
and intricate operation), exchanging no words except such as had
reference to our common task.

At last it was completed.  The calculations and additions had all been
doubly checked, and the fair copies and their duplicates written out,
and then, for the first time, we were at leisure to think and speak of
other topics.

Few things tend to draw two fellows together like hard work in common,
and Doubleday and I, with the consciousness of our task well and
honestly accomplished, found ourselves on specially friendly terms with
one another.

Despite his extravagance and mischief, there had always been a good-
nature and a frankness about the head clerk which had made me like him
better than most of his companions either in or out of the office.
Although he had never been backward to lead others into trouble, he had
usually stopped short before any harm was done.  Even in the
persecutions of Jack Smith, many of which he had instigated himself,
there was never any of the spite on his side which characterised the
conduct of Crow, Wallop, and Harris.  And although he never professed to
admire my friend, he never denied him fair play when he was roused to
resistance.

"Well," said he, shutting up the inkpot, and throwing our rough copies
of the invoice into the waste-paper basket, "that's a good job done.
You're not a bad hand at a big grind, young Batchelor.  Crow or Wallop
would have left me to do it all by myself."

Of course I was pleased at the compliment.  I replied, "I rather enjoyed
it."

"Well, there's not another fellow in the office would do the same," said
he.

Wasn't there?  I thought I knew better.  "I think there's one other
fellow," I said, hesitatingly.  "Eh--oh, Bull's-eye!  Yes, you're right
there, and he'd have knocked it off smarter than you've done too, my
boy."  There was a pause after this.  We had both accidentally got on to
an awkward topic.  Doubleday was the first to speak.

"I say, Batchelor," he went on, quite nervously for him, "excuse my
saying it, but it's my opinion you're a bit of a fool, do you know!"

This unexpected announcement, coming from this unexpected quarter,
naturally astonished me.  "What do you mean?"

"Oh," said he, still rather embarrassed, "it's no concern of mine at
all, but when you came here about a year ago you were rather a nice
boy."

"Well," said I, not knowing exactly whether to be pleased or vexed.

"Well, you're not a nice boy now, you know!"  I said nothing.  I knew he
was right, and his abrupt words struck home harder than he thought for.
When Jack Smith, the night before, had called me a liar and a coward, I
had fired up angrily.  But when the rackety Doubleday now told me I
wasn't a nice boy, I somehow felt a sudden pang of shame and humility
that was quite new to me.

"I suppose you're going to flare up," continued Doubleday, noticing my
silence, "when you've pumped up the words.  I'll wait."

"No, no," said I, not looking up.  "Go on."

"It doesn't concern me a bit how you and your precious friend get on,"
pursued my companion, cutting a quill pen, "and I see you're not in the
same boat now by any means.  But that's no reason why you should make a
regular all-round ass of yourself in the way you're doing."

I looked up inquiringly.  "I don't quite understand," I said, meekly.

"Well, I suppose you don't exactly imagine you've anything to be proud
of over last night's performances?" said he.

"No, I was ashamed of myself for that," I said.

"Humph!  I suppose you'd come again to-night and do the same thing if I
asked you?"

I hesitated.  "I don't think--" I began, but there pulled up.  I knew
well enough I _would_ go if he asked me.

"Of course you would," said he; "you'd go anywhere.  Just because a
fellow a peg above you asks you, _you'll_ go and make a fool of yourself
and risk every chance you've got, because you've not the pluck to make
yourself disagreeable!"

How true it all was!  Yet why had I never seen it before?

"I'm afraid--I'm sure you're right," I said.

"I don't flatter myself," went on Doubleday, beginning on a new quill,
"I'm very particular.  I dare say I'm about as rackety a lot as any
you'd pick up near here.  But somehow I've no fancy for seeing a fellow
going to the dogs out of sheer folly.  It spoils my pleasure, in fact."

"I have been a fool, I know," I said.

"Of course you have, and so you will be unless you kick.  Well, I'm off
now," added he, taking up his hat.  "I dare say I've offended you, and
you'll call me an officious humbug.  I may be a fool for concerning
myself about a young muff like you; but anyhow I've told you what I
think of you.  So good-night, young un."

He left abruptly, before even I could say good-night, or thank him.

That night, as I walked home solitary, I felt more humble and less
satisfied with myself than I had done for many a month.

One good sign was that I was by no means disposed this time to launch
out into the extravagant resolutions to turn over a new leaf which had
marked my former repentances.  In fact, I said to myself, I won't
resolve to do anything; but, God helping me, do something I will.  And
the first thing to do would be to get back my old friend Smith.  For
since I lost him everything had gone wrong with me.

And yet, now, how was it possible for me even to speak to him?

In the midst of these reflections I reached Style Street, where I
suddenly became aware that something unusual was taking place.  A small
crowd was collected round the spot where Billy was usually in the habit
of pursuing his business, and loud voices proclaimed that the occasion
was one of anything but peace.

Curiosity tempted me to draw near, and a strange sight met my view as I
did so.  The central figures of the group were Billy and his "old gal,"
whom I recognised at once as the woman who had so vehemently ill-used
him in the court that memorable evening weeks ago.  She was a sad
spectacle, more than half drunk, with every trace of tenderness and
womanliness stamped out of her features.

If I had not recognised her by her appearance I should probably have
done so by her occupation at that moment, for she was engaged in
chastising her offspring with all the vehemence and all the cruelty of
her former performances.  But in the present case there was a
difference.  Billy, instead of taking his castigation meekly, as before,
was violently resisting by shout and kick the attentions of his
relative.  This it was which appeared to render the transaction so
particularly interesting to the onlookers.

"Go it, young bantam-cock," some one was crying as I approached, "let
her have it."

"Give it up, do you hear, or I'll murder you!" shrieked the woman.

Billy replied nothing, but continued fighting tooth and nail.  I never
saw a child of his age so desperately active.  He struggled not so much
to escape his mother's blows aimed at himself, as to elude the clutches
she made at a necktie he wore round his throat, which I at first glance
recognised as having formerly belonged to Jack Smith.

This article of toilet the woman seemed as determined on having as her
son was resolved on keeping.  She probably considered it of some value--
enough, at any rate, to pawn for drink; and Billy's violent refusal to
give it up only roused her the more to secure it.

It was a revolting spectacle to watch, this struggle between mother and
child.  The one sparing neither blow nor curse, the other silent and
active as a cat, watching every movement of his adversary, and ready for
the slightest chance of escape.  The crowd, careless of the rights of
the case, cheered on both, and only interfered when the woman, having
secured the boy in her grip, bade fair to bring the interesting
encounter to too abrupt an end.

I dared not interfere, even if I had been able, but was forced to stand
wedged up in the crowd to watch the issue of the struggle.  And it was
not long in coming.  Amid loud cheers from the onlookers, Billy
contrived for the seventh or eighth time to wriggle himself free from
the clutches of his well-nigh frantic assailant, dealing her at the same
time a blow on the arm with the blacking-brush he had all along retained
in his hand.  The surprise and pain of the blow, the jeers of the
bystanders, and the tipsy rage of the woman combined to drive her nearly
mad.  With a fearful yell and threat she literally flung herself in wild
fury upon her little victim.  But the wary Billy was too quick for her.
Stepping lightly aside, he eluded her reach, and left her to fall
forward with a heavy crash on the pavement amid the howls and cheers of
the brutal crowd.

Quick as thought the boy snatched up his box and brushes, and dived
head-first into the crowd just where I stood.  There was a cry of "Stop
him!"

"Fetch him back!" on all hands, and one young fellow near me actually
made a grab at the poor boy and caught him by the arm.  It was no time
for ceremony or parley.  It had been all I could do to stand still and
watch the sickening spectacle.  Now it should not be my fault if, just
to please a party of blackguards, the whole thing was to be repeated.

With an angry shout of "Let him go!"  I sprang at the fellow and struck
him full on the chest.  He dropped Billy as if he had been red-hot iron,
and turning with livid face to me, stared at me for a single moment, and
then tearing off his coat and clenching his fists rushed at me.

For all I know he might have annihilated me, but at that moment arose a
cry of "Police!" at the sound of which the crowd dispersed like beetles
before a candle, my antagonist being among the first to go, leaving me
and Billy alone on the scene, from which even the tipsy woman had
vanished.

It was not till the coast was all clear that Billy deposited his box or
noticed my presence.  The exciting scene which was just over seemed in
no way to have disturbed the young gentleman's equanimity.  He favoured
me with one of his most affable grins and saluted me with one of his
habitual somersaults as he said, "Shine 'e boots, master?  T'other bloke
he was 'ere at ten past seving."

"Hadn't you better go somewhere else?"  I said.  "Your mother will be
back after you."

"Well," said Billy, in his usual touchy way, "she ain't no concern of
yourn."

"Aren't you afraid of her hurting you?"

"'Urting me!" cried the boy, in tones of the utmost contempt, as if he
had not been half-murdered once a week for the last eight years.  "No
fear!  Ain't you funny?  But she ain't a-going to collar this 'ere
choker; not if I knows it!" said he, taking off his new article of
decoration with a flourish and holding it up.

The well-worn and used-up necktie did not certainly look worth the
battle that had been waged over it.

"Why are you so particular about this?"  I asked, half guessing
beforehand what the reply would be.

"Pertikler!" he cried, "why, that there bloke give me this 'ere!"

Nothing evidently could have been more conclusive to Billy's mind.  I
felt almost jealous to find how much truer Jack's new friend was than
his old one.

"Was he here long this evening?"  I asked, presently.

"Yaas; he was jawing nigh on half a' hour, he was, while I gi'en him a
shine.  But, bless you, them boots of his is pretty nigh 'andy wore out,
and I tell him so.  `Never mind, Billy,' says he; `I'll be getting a new
pair soon when I've got the money saved,' says he.  `I mean to get a
good strong pair,' says he, `double-soled and plates on the 'eels, my
boy,' he says, `and you shall polish them up every night for me.'  `That
I _will_,' says I.  Bless you, governor, that there bloke'll 'ave the
shiniest pair of boots in town."

It was a sight to see the little grimy face glow as he expatiated on the
grateful theme.

"I suppose he didn't--did he say anything about me?"  I asked,
hesitatingly.

"Yaas," said Billy.  "Says I to him, `So t'other bloke,' (meaning you),
`has lagged off,' I says.  `Yes,' says he, `we don't live together no
more?' says he.  `I know all about it,' says I; `I seen the animal,'
(meaning you), says I, `o' Toosday.'  `Did you?' says he.  `Yaas,' I
says, `and nice and boozy he was,' I says, `at eleving o'clock o'
night,' I says.  `Did he say anything about me?' he says; and I told
him, and he says he must go off, he says, 'cos he didn't want to be
'ere, he says, when you come.  He do talk beautiful, he does."

I went on my lonely way more humbled than ever, but more determined, if
possible, to recover my lost friend; yet thinking little or nothing of
the greater and ever-present Friend against whom I had sinned so
grievously.

But it was not to be for many days yet.

Smith always avoided me at the office in the same marked way, so that it
was utterly impossible to make any advances to a reconciliation.  The
idea of writing to him occurred to me more than once, but the thought
that he might throw my letter into the fire unread deterred me.  No, the
only thing was to bear my humiliation and wait for a chance.

Doubleday's lecture had wrought a considerable change in my habits.
Although I found it impossible all at once to give up consorting with
"the usual lot," especially those of them (now not a few), to whom I
owed money, I was yet a good deal more chary of my complaisance, and
less influenced by their example in ordinary matters.  I succeeded,
greatly to my own satisfaction and much to every one else's surprise, in
making myself distinctly disagreeable on more than one occasion, which
Doubleday looked upon as a very healthy sign, and which, though it
involved me in a good deal of persecution at the time, did not seriously
affect my position as a member of their honourable society.

How I wished I might once more call Jack Smith my friend, and cast off
once for all these other shallow acquaintances!

During these wretched weeks Billy became my chief comforter, for he of
all people was the only one I could talk to about Jack.

I always arranged my walks by Style Street so as to pass his "place of
business" after the time when I knew Jack would have left, and then
eagerly drank in all the news I could hear of my lost friend.

One evening, a week after the adventure with Billy and his mother just
recorded, the boy greeted me with most extraordinary and mysterious
demonstrations of importance and glee.  He walked at least half a dozen
times round his box on his hands before he would say a word, and then
indulged in such a series of winks and grimaces as almost drove me into
impatience.

"Whatever's the matter with you?"  I asked, when this performance had
been going on for some time "Oh my!--ain't it a game?" he chuckled.

"What's a game?"  I demanded.

"Why--oh, ain't you a flat, though?--why, them there boots!"

"What boots?  Why can't you talk sense?"

"Why, that there bloke's boots.  When I was a-shinin' of 'em, if the
sole of one on 'em don't come clean off!" he cried, with a grin.

"I don't see anything so very amusing in that," I replied.

"He's gone off to get 'em sewed on," continued the boy, beaming all
over; "and he's a-coming back this way to show me.  Bless you, they'll
never sew that there sole on.  The upper wouldn't hold it--you see if it
does."

"He will have to get a new pair," I said.

"Why, he ain't _got_ the browns.  He's a-saving up, but it'll be a month
afore he's got the brass."

Here Billy positively laughed, so that I felt strongly inclined to give
him a box on the ear for his levity.

"And it's been a-rainin' all day," continued he, jocularly "and the
streets is all one marsh of muck."

"Poor fellow!" said I.  "I wish I could lend him a pair of mine."

"Ga on!" cried Billy, scornfully, dropping on his knees before his box.

"I say, guv'nor," said he, in a sudden mysterious tone, "can you keep it
mum?"

"Yes--what?"  I asked.

He looked carefully up the street and then down, and then all round.  No
one was near.  He moved so as to let the light of a neighbouring lamp-
post shine full on the pavement, as with jubilant face he lifted up his
box and disclosed--a pair of new double-soled lace boots!

"Them's for _him_," he said, in an excited whisper.

"For him?  Why, Billy, wherever did they come from?"

His grimy face turned up to mine all aglow with pride and triumph as he
answered, "Stole 'em!"



CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.

HOW I FOUND THAT HOPE DEFERRED MAKES THE HEART SICK.

The reader may picture my horror and astonishment on discovering Billy's
secret.  And the strangest part of it was that the graceless youth
appeared to be utterly unconscious that he had done anything wrong.  On
the contrary, his jubilant face and triumphant voice showed plainly that
he considered he had done a fine--a splendid thing.

I endeavoured to reason with him; he flared up as if I were trying to
defraud Jack Smith of his new boots.  I warned him of the punishment
that would follow if he were caught.  He gloried in the risk he ran.  I
told him it was wicked to steal--even for other persons.  He retorted,
"It wasn't no concern of mine."

Altogether it seemed hopeless to disenchant him with his exploit, and I
therefore left him, wholly at a loss to make out this strange puzzle of
a boy.

I was still more perplexed when, next morning, Jack Smith appeared at
the office wearing the identical new pair of boots which had been the
cause of all my horror!

I waited impatiently for the hours to pass, when I should be at liberty
to pay my usual visit to Billy.

He was sitting there grimly, unlike his usual manner, evidently
expecting me.

"Well," said I, "what have you done with those boots?"

"'Tain't no concern of yourn!"

"But he was wearing them to-day."

"In course he was!" said Billy, brightening a little.

"Did you tell him you had--had stolen them?"

"Yaas," replied the boy, gruffly.

"And he took them?" said I, in astonishment.

"Ain't you saw them on 'im?" demanded he, evidently disliking this
catechism.

"Billy," said I, "I can't understand it."

"You ain't no call to!" was the polite reply; "'tain't no concern or
yourn."

"It is my concern if other people are robbed," I said.  "Don't you know,
if I chose, I could fetch a policeman and get you locked up?"

"In course you could!  Why don't yer?"

Was there ever such a hopeless young scamp?

"Whose shop did you take them from?"  I asked.

"Trotter's, aside of our court.  Go and tell him!" replied he,
scornfully.

"How would you like any one to steal away one of your brushes?"

"I'd give 'em a topper!"

"But that's just what you've done to Trotter," I argued.

"Well, why don't you fetch him to give me a topper?" he replied.

I gave it up.  There was no arguing with a boy like this.  If there had
been, there would have been no further opportunity that night, for as I
stood by, puzzling in my mind what to say to bring home to the graceless
youth a sense of his iniquity, he began picking up his brushes and
shouldering his box.

"Where are you going so early?"  I asked.

"Don't you like to know?" retorted he.

"Yes, I would."

"Well, if you must know, I'm a-going to the racket school!"

"The what?"  I exclaimed.

"Racket school."

"Oh! ragged school, you mean.  Where is it?  I didn't know you went.
They ought to teach you better there than to steal, Billy," I said.

"Oh!" replied the boy, with a touch of scorn in his voice, "that there
bloke's a-going to learn me, not you!"

"What! does Smith teach at the ragged school, then?"

"In course he do!  Do you suppose I'd go else?"

And off he trotted, leaving me utterly bewildered.

Jack Smith teaching in a ragged school!  Jack Smith wearing a pair of
boots that he knew were stolen!  What could I think?

At any rate, I was resolved to be no party to Billy's dishonesty.  At
any cost, since I had not the heart to deliver up the culprit to
justice, I must see that the victim was repaid.  He might never have
noticed the theft; but whether or no, I should have no rest till his
loss had been made good.

It was no time to mince matters.  My own funds, as the reader knows,
were in a bad state.  I owed far more than I could save in half a year.
But I had still my uncle's half-sovereign in my pocket, which I had
hitherto, despite all my difficulties, kept untouched.  An emergency had
now arisen, thought I, when surely I should be justified in using it.
As long as I remained a party to Billy's dishonesty I was, I felt,
little better than a thief myself, and that I could not endure, however
bad in other respects I might have been.

I went straight to Trotter's shop.  A jovial, red-faced woman stood at
the door, just about to shut up for the night.

"I want to see Mr Trotter," said I.

"Mrs Trotter, you mean, I suppose?" said the woman.  "I'm the lady."

"Can I speak to you for a minute?"  I said.

"Yes--half an hour if you like.  What is it?"

"It's something private."

"Bless us, are you going to offer to marry me, or what?" exclaimed she;
"come, what is it?"

"Have you--that is, did you--the fact is, I don't know whether you
happen to have missed a pair of boots," I said, falteringly.

She made a grab at my arm.

"So you're the thief, are you?  A nice trade you've started at, young
master, so I can tell you!"

"Oh," I cried, in the utmost alarm and terror, "you're quite wrong, you
are indeed.  I never touched them--I only--I--I know who did, that's
all."

Mrs Trotter still held me fast.

"Oh, you know who did, do you?"

"Yes--he's a--" I was going to say "shoeblack," but I stopped myself in
time, and said, "a little boy."

She released her grasp, greatly to my relief, and waited for me to go
on.

"And I really don't think he knows any better," said I, recovering my
confidence.

"Well," she said, eyeing me sharply.

"Well," I said, "I know the proper thing would be to give him up to the
police."

"That's what I'd do to you in a minute, if you'd stolen them," she said.

"I've rather an interest in the little boy," I said nervously, "and I
thought if you wouldn't mind telling me what the boots came to, I'd ask
you to let me pay for them.  I don't think he'll do it again."

"Well, it's a very queer thing," said the woman; "what a popular young
thief your friend must be!  Why, I had a young gentleman here yesterday
evening asking the very same thing of me!"

"What!"  I exclaimed, "was it Jack Smith?"

"I don't know his name, but he'd a pair of black eyes that would
astonish you."

"That's him, that's him!"  I cried.  "And he wanted to pay for the
boots?"

"He did pay for them.  I shall make my fortune out of that pair of
boots," added she, laughing.

This, then, explained his wearing the boots that morning.  How quick I
had been to suspect him of far different conduct!

"You'd better keep your money for the next time he steals something,"
observed Mrs Trotter, rather enjoying my astonishment; "he's likely to
be a costly young treat to you at this rate.  I hope the next party he
robs will be as lazy about her rights as me."

I dropped my uncle's half-sovereign back into my purse, with the rather
sad conviction that after all I was not the only honest and righteous
person in the world.

The next morning, on my arrival at Hawk Street rather before the time (I
had taken to being early at the office, partly to avoid arriving there
at the same time as Smith, and partly to have the company of young
Larkins, of postage-stamp celebrity, in my walk from Beadle Square), I
found Doubleday already there in a state of great perturbation.

"What do you think," he cried, almost before I entered the office--"what
do you think they've done?  I knew that young puppy's coming was no good
to us!  Here have I been here twelve years next Michaelmas, and he not a
year, and blest if I haven't got to hand over the petty cash to my lord,
because old Merrett wants the dear child to get used to a sense of
responsibility in the business!  Sense of rot, I call it!"

It certainly did seem hard lines.  Doubleday, as long as I had been at
Hawk Street, had always been the custodian of all loose cash paid into
the office, which he carefully guarded and accounted for, handing it
over regularly week by week to be paid into the bank.

It is never pleasant when a fellow has held an office of trust to have
it coolly taken from him and handed to another.  In this case no one
would suspect it meant any lack of confidence; for Doubleday, even his
enemies admitted, was as honest as the Bank of England; but it meant
elevating another at his expense, which did not seem exactly fair.

"If the darling's such a big pot in the office," growled Doubleday,
"they'd better make him head clerk at once, and let me run his errands
for him."

"Never mind," said I, "it'll be so much less work for you."

"Yes, and a pretty mess the accounts will get into, to make up for it."

Hawkesbury entered at this moment, smiling most beautifully.

"How punctual you two are!" said he.

"Need to be punctual," growled Doubleday, "when I've got to hand you
over the petty cash."

"Oh!" said Hawkesbury; "the petty cash?  My uncle was saying something
about my keeping it.  I think it's a pity he couldn't let it stay where
it was; you're so much more used to it than I am.  Besides, I've plenty
of work to do without it."

"I suppose I shall get some of your work to do for you," said
Doubleday--"that is, if I'm competent!"

Hawkesbury laughed softly, as if it were a joke, and Doubleday relapsed
into surly silence.

It was still some minutes before the other clerks were due.  Hawkesbury
used the interval in conversing amiably with me in a whisper.

"I'm afraid Doubleday's put out," said he.  "You know, he's a very good
sort of fellow; but, between you and me, don't you think he's a trifle
too unsteady?"

What could I say?  I certainly could not call Doubleday steady, as a
rule, and yet I disliked to have to assent to Hawkesbury's question.
"He's very steady in business," I said.

"Yes; but at other times I'm afraid he's not," said Hawkesbury.  "Not
that I'm blaming him.  But of course, when a fellow's extravagant, and
all that, it _is_ a temptation, isn't it?"

"Do you mean a temptation to be dishonest?"

"Well, it's rather a strong way of putting it.  I don't suppose for a
moment Doubleday is not perfectly trustworthy; no more does my uncle."

"I should think not," said I, rather warmly.

"Of course not," said he, sweetly; "but you know, Batchelor, prevention
is better than cure, and it seems the kindest thing, doesn't it, to put
temptation quite out of a fellow's reach when one can?"

"But," observed I, "it seems to me you are taking it out of Doubleday's
reach and putting it into your own."

For an instant a shade of vexation crossed his face, but directly
afterwards he laughed again in his usual amused manner.

"You forget," said he, "I live at home, and haven't the chance of
following Doubleday's example, even if I wished to.  In fact, I'm a
domestic character."

He seemed to forget that he had frequently accepted Doubleday's
hospitality and joined in the festivities of the "usual lot."

"I thought you lived at your uncle's?" said I.

"Oh, no!  My father's rectory is in Lambeth.  But we're just going to
move into the City.  I don't enjoy the prospect, I can assure you!  But
I say, how are you and your friend Smith getting on now?"

He was always asking me about my friend Smith.

"The same as usual," said I.

"That's a pity!  He really seems very unreasonable, considering he has
so little to be proud of."

"It's I that have got little to be proud of," replied I.

"Really, Batchelor, you are quite wrong there.  I think it's very
generous the way you have always stuck to him--with certainly not much
encouragement."

"Well," said I, "I shall have another attempt to make it up with him."

Hawkesbury mused a bit, and then said, smilingly, "Of course, it's a
very fine thing of you; but do you know, Batchelor, I'm not sure that
you are wise in appearing to be in such a hurry?"

"What do you mean?"  I said.

"I mean, I shall be as glad as any one to see you two friends again: but
if you seem too eager about it, I fancy you would only be demeaning
yourself, and giving him a fresh chance of repulsing you.  My advice as
a friend is, wait a bit.  As long as he sees you unhappy about it he
will have a crow over you.  Let him see you aren't so greatly afflicted,
and then, take my word for it, he'll come a good deal more than half way
to meet you."

There seemed to be something in this specious advice.  I might, after
all, be defeating my own ends by seeming too anxious to make it up with
Jack Smith, and so making a reconciliation more difficult in the end.  I
felt inclined, at any rate, to give it a trial.

But the weeks that followed were wretched weeks.  I heard daily and
regularly from Billy all the news I could gather of my friend, but
before Smith himself I endeavoured to appear cheerful and easy in mind.
It was a poor show.  How could I seem cheerful when every day I was
feeling my loss more and more?

My only friends at this time were Hawkesbury and Billy and young
Larkins.  The former continued to encourage me to persevere in my
behaviour before Smith, predicting that it would be sure, sooner or
later, to make our reconciliation certain.  But at present it did not
look much like it.  If I appeared cheerful and easy-minded, so did
Smith.  The signs of relenting which I looked for were certainly not to
be discovered, and, so far from meeting me half way, the more
unconcerned about him I seemed, the more unconcerned he seemed about me.

"Of course he'll be like that at first," said Hawkesbury, when I
confided my disappointment one day to him, "but it won't last long.
He's not so many friends in the world that he can afford to throw you
over."

And so I waited week after week.  I saw him daily, but our eyes scarcely
ever met.  Only when I glanced at him furtively I thought him looking
paler and thinner even than usual, and longed still more intensely to
call him my friend and know why it was.

"Most likely he's fretting," said Hawkesbury, "and will soon give in.
It's a wonder to me how he's held out so long."

"Unless he speaks to me soon, I'll risk everything and speak to him."

"I can quite understand your anxiety," said my counsellor, "but I really
wouldn't be too impatient."

I tried to find out from Billy the reason of Jack's altered looks.

"Yaas," said he, in response to my inquiry whether he had heard if my
friend was ill--"yaas, he do look dicky.  `Governor,' says I, `what's
up?'  I says.  `Up,' says he, `what do you mean by it?' says he.  `Go
on,' says I, `as if you didn't know you was queer!'  `I ain't queer,'
says he.  `Oh, no, ain't you,' says I; `what do you want to look so
green about the mazard for, then?' says I.  `Oh, that's nothing,' says
he; `reading late at night, that's what that is,' says he.  `Turn it
up,' says I.  `So I will,' says he, `when my Sam's over,' says he.
Bless you, governor, I'd like to give that there Sam a topper, so I
would."

So, then, he was reading for an examination!  This paleness, after all,
did not come from fretting on my account, but because he had found an
occupation which drove me from his thoughts evening after evening!

I felt more hopeless of recovering my friend than ever.

"Do you go to the ragged school still?"  I asked.

"Yaas, a Fridays.  I say, governor, look here."

He dipped his finger into his blacking-pot, and, after cleaning the
flagstone on which he knelt with his old hat, proceeded laboriously and
slowly to trace an S upon it.

"There," he cried, when the feat was accomplished, "what do you think of
that?  That's a ess for Mr Smith, and a proper bloke he is.  He do
teach you to-rights, so I let you know, he do."

"What else does he teach you besides your letters?"

"Oh, about a bloke called Cain as give 'is pal a topper, and--"

He stopped abruptly, as he noticed the smile I could not restrain, and
then added, in his offended tone, "I ain't a-goin' to tell you.  'Tain't
no concern of yourn."

I knew Billy well enough by this time to be sure it was no use, after
once offending him, trying to cajole him back into a good-humour, so I
left him.

So the wretched weeks passed on, and I almost wished myself back at
Stonebridge House.  There at least I had some society and some friends.
Now, during those lonely evenings at Mrs Nash's I had positively no
one--except young Larkins.

That cheery youth was a standing rebuke to me.  He had come up to town a
year ago, a fresh, innocent boy; and a fresh, innocent boy he remained
still.  He kept his diary regularly, and wrote home like clock-work, and
chirruped over his postage-stamp album, and laughed over his storybooks
in a way which it did one's heart good to see.  And yet it made my heart
sore.  Why should he be so happy and I not?  He wasn't, so I believe, a
cleverer boy than I was.  Certainly he wasn't getting on better than I
was, for I had now had my third rise in salary, and he still only got
what he started with.  And he possessed no more friends at Beadle Square
than I did.  Why ever should he always be so jolly?

I knew, though I was loth to admit it.  His conscience was as easy as
his spirits.  There was no one he had ever wronged, and a great many to
whom he had done kind actions.  When any one suggested to him to do what
he considered wrong, it was the easiest thing in the world for him to
refuse flatly, and say boldly why.  If everybody else went one way, and
he thought it not the right way, it cost him not an effort to turn and
go his own way, even if he went it alone.  Fellows didn't like him.
They called him a prig--a sanctimonious young puppy.  What cared he?  If
to do what was right manfully in the face of wrong, to persevere in the
right in the face of drawbacks, constituted a prig, then Larkins was a
prig of the first water, and he didn't care what fellows thought of him,
but chirruped away over his postage-stamp album as before, and read his
books, as happy as a king.

It was in this boy's society that during those wretched weeks I found a
painful consolation.  He was constantly reminding me of what I was not;
but for all that I felt he was a better companion than the heroes with
whom I used to associate, and with whom I still occasionally consorted.
He knew nothing of my trouble, and thought I was the crossest-grained,
slowest growler in existence.  But since I chose his company, and seemed
glad to have him beside me, he was delighted.

"I say," said he suddenly one evening, as we were engaged in
experimenting with a small steam-engine he had lately become the proud
possessor of, "I saw your old friend Smith to-day!"

"Where?"  I asked.

"Why, down Drury Lane.  I heard of a new Russian stamp that was to be
had cheap in a shop there, and while I was in buying it he came in."

"Was he buying stamps too?"

"No; he lives in a room over the shop.  Not a nice hole, I should fancy.
Didn't you know he was there?"

"No," I said.

"Oh, you should go and see the place.  He'd much better come back here,
tell him.  But I thought you saw one another every day?" he added, in
his simple way.

"Did he say anything to you?"  I asked, avoiding the question.

"Yes.  I asked him how he was getting on, and he said very well; and I
asked him what he thought of the Russian stamp; and he said if I liked
he could get me a better specimen at his office.  Isn't he a brick? and
he's promised me a jolly Turkish one, too, that I haven't got."

"Was that all?"  I asked.  "I mean all he said?"

"Yes--oh, and I asked if he'd got any message for you, and he said no.
Look, there--it's going!  I say, isn't it a stunning little engine?  I
mean to make it work a little pump I've got in the greenhouse at home.
It's just big enough."

Any message for me?  No!  Was it worth trying for any longer?  I
thought, as once more I crept solitary and disappointed to bed.

But the answer was nearer than I thought for.



CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.

HOW I TOOK PART IN A NOT VERY SUCCESSFUL HOLIDAY PARTY.

Several weeks elapsed, and I was beginning to doubt whether Hawkesbury's
advice, after all, was good, when a general holiday occurred to break
the monotony of my life both at Hawk Street and Beadle Square.

I had for some time meditated, if I had the funds, taking advantage of
my next holiday to run down to my uncle's.  Not that I expected any
particular welcome from him, but I longed to see the old familiar haunts
of my childhood after my long imprisonment in London; and, even if there
were no more congenial friend than Cad Prog to hail me, it would at
least be a change from this dreary city, with its noise and bustle, and
disappointed hopes and lost friendships.

But my intention in this direction was upset by a double reason.  One
was that I had no money.  Indeed, my debts had got so far ahead of my
means that it was clear a crisis in my financial affairs must soon come.
The other reason was an invitation to join in a grand day's excursion
by road to Windsor.

It came from Hawkesbury.

"Are you doing anything particular on Monday?" he asked me, a day or two
before the holiday.

"No; I half thought of going home, but I can't afford that, so I may go
to the British Museum."

"Not a very cheerful place to spend a holiday," laughed Hawkesbury.
"What do you say to coming a quiet drive with me?"

Had the invitation come from Crow or Daly, or even Doubleday, I should
have regarded it shyly.  But Hawkesbury was a steady fellow, I thought,
and not likely to lead one into mischief.

"I should like it awfully!"  I said, "only--that is--I don't think I can
afford it."

"Oh!" said he, smiling affably, "you shan't be at any expense at all.
It's my affair, and I should like to take you with me."

Of course my gratitude was as profuse as it was sincere.

"My idea was," continued Hawkesbury, "to get a dogcart for the day and
go somewhere in the direction of Windsor, taking our own provender with
us, and having a jolly healthy day in the open air."

Nothing could be more delightful or more in accordance with my own
wishes.

"Will it be just you and I?"  I asked.

"Well, these traps generally hold four.  I thought perhaps Whipcord
would come for one; he's a good driver, you know, and a steady enough
fellow when he's by himself.  And there's a friend of mine called Masham
I mean to ask as well."

I would have preferred it if the expedition had been confined to
Hawkesbury and myself, but I had no right to be discontented with the
arrangements which had been made, and spent the next few days in eager
anticipation.

I wondered what Jack Smith meant to do on his holiday; most likely he
would be reading hard for his "Sam," as Billy called it.  It seemed
shabby of me to go off on a spree and leave him to drudge; but, as
Hawkesbury said when I referred to the matter, it would just show him
what he missed by holding aloof, and make him all the more ready to try
to get back my friendship.

Doubleday, when I told him of my plan for the day, snuffed up at it in
no very pleasant way.  But then he had always been jealous of Hawkesbury
since giving up the petty-cash to his charge.

"All I can say is," said he, "_I'd_ think twice about going with that
party, and I'm not so very particular.  I suppose you never met Mr
Masham, did you?"

"No," said I.

"Ah!" he replied, laughing, "you'll find him a very nice boy; just a
little too strait-laced for me, but he'll suit you."

I could not make out whether this was in jest or earnest; in any case, I
put it down to the petty-cash, and thought it a pity Doubleday should be
so put out by a trifle.

"What are you going to do?"  I asked him.

"Oh!  I'm going to do my best to be cheerful in a mild way," said he,
"down the river.  It's a good job Hawkesbury's booked you, my boy, for I
meant to ask you to join us, and that would have done you out of your
quiet day with Petty-Cash and his friends, which would be a pity."

The Monday came at last, and opened perfectly.  My spirits rose as I
looked out and saw the blue cloudless sky overhead, and thought of the
trees, and birds, and flowers, and country air I was so soon to be
among.

I was to meet my party at the Horseshoe stables in the City, and thither
I repaired in good time, in my smartest get-up, and with a shilling
plum-cake under my arm, which I had made up my mind to take as my
contribution to the commissariat of the expedition.  I passed Style
Street on my way, and came in for hilarious greeting from Billy.

"Hi! shine 'e boots, governor?  My eye, there's a nob!  Shine 'e all
over, governor.  Ain't you got 'em on, though?  What's up, mister?"

"See you again soon, Billy," said I, bustling on.  I was angry with him
for the way he laughed, and for the description of me I knew quite well
he would presently give to Jack Smith.

Early as I was at the rendezvous, Hawkesbury was before me, and with him
his friend Masham.  The latter was a queer-looking fellow of about
thirty.  He was pale and dark round the eyes, like a person who hadn't
slept for a week.  His lips were large and red, and the lower part of
his face a good deal too big for the upper.  Altogether Mr Masham was
neither a very healthy nor a very prepossessing-looking specimen; but
Hawkesbury had told me he was clever and very amusing, so I supposed I
oughtn't to judge by appearances.

"Punctual as usual," said Hawkesbury, as I approached.  "Phil, this is
my friend Batchelor I was telling you of."

I wished secretly I knew exactly what he had been telling him of me.

"Oh," said Masham, eyeing me all over, as he lit a cigar, and then held
out his cigar-case to me.  "What do you smoke, Batchelor?"

"I don't smoke, thank you," said I.

"Have you given it up, then?" said Hawkesbury.  "You used to smoke at
Doubleday's parties."

"Ah!  I thought he looked like a chap that smoked," said Masham, holding
out his case again.  "Don't be modest, Batchelor.  We're all friends
here."

I didn't like the style of this Masham.  Indeed, I was a trifle afraid
of him already, and half repented coming.

"I gave up smoking some weeks ago," said I, determined not to give in if
I could help.  "I found I couldn't afford it."

"The very reason you should take a cigar now when you've a chance of
getting one for nothing," replied Masham, digging me pleasantly in the
ribs.

"Thanks, I'd rather not, if you'll excuse me," I replied again.

"Can't excuse you, my dear fellow.  We're all bound to be sociable to-
day.  At least, so I fancy."

"Come, Batchelor," said Hawkesbury.  "We may as well humour him.  I'd
advise you to take a cigar.  I'll take one, too, to keep you company,
though I hate them.  They always make me feel sick."

So saying, he took a cigar and lit it.  I felt bound to do the same, not
only to relieve myself of Masham's importunity, but to avoid disturbing
the harmony of our party at the very beginning of the day.

At this moment Whipcord arrived on the scene, as stylish as ever, with
his hat all on one side of his head and his straw all on one side of his
mouth.

"What cheer, my venerable chums?" he cried, as he approached.  "Ah!
Masham.  You turned up again!  I thought we'd lost--"

"That'll do," said Masham, with a significant jerk of his head towards
me.  "Have a weed?"

"Thanks, we'll see about that later on.  I'm off my smoke just now.  Ah!
young Batchelor, you there?  Brought your boxing-gloves with you, I
hope?  Hot fellow with the gloves is Batchelor, Phil.  Well, where's
your trap, Hawkesbury?"

"There it is coming out."

Whipcord eyed it professionally and critically.  He liked the dogcart,
but didn't think much of the horse.

"Do all right for a water-cart, I dare say," observed he, "or cat's
meat.  But I don't see how we're to get to Windsor and back with such a
rheumatic old screw."

"You're out there, mister," said the ostler, who was harnessing the
animal.  "You'll find he ain't such a screw as you think.  You'll need
to keep a steady hand on him all the way, pertikler on the road home, or
he'll screw you a way you don't fancy."

Whipcord laughed.

"I'll do my best," he said.  "He does look a sort of beast to be nervous
of, certainly."

The ostler grinned cynically, and we meanwhile mounted to our seats,
Hawkesbury and Whipcord being in front, and I, much to my disgust, being
placed beside Masham on the back seat.

Despite Whipcord's desponding prophecies, our charger stepped out at a
pretty fair pace, and in due time we began to shake off the dust of
London from our wheels and meet the first traces of country.

For a considerable time my companion absorbed himself in his cigar--much
to my satisfaction--and I, for fear of appearing anxious for
conversation, betook myself to mine.

At length, however, after about half an hour thus occupied, Masham broke
the silence.

"Know Hawkesbury well?" he asked.

"Pretty well," I answered; "we were at school together first, and now
we're in the same office."

"Nice boy at school?"

"Yes; I think so."

"Not quite sure, eh?"

"I always got on well with him."

"Yes, you would.  Sort of a nest for bad eggs, that school, wasn't it?"

"Yes--that is, a good many of the boys were a bad sort," said I, not
very comfortable to be undergoing this cross-examination.

"I understand.  You weren't, of course, eh?" said he, digging me in the
ribs with his knuckles.

His manner was most offensive.  I felt strongly inclined to resent it,
and yet somehow I felt that to be civil to him would be the less of two
evils.

"Hawkesbury doing well at the office, eh?"

"Certainly!" said I.  "Why not?"

"See no reason at all.  Worthy chap, Hawkesbury.  Nice boy at home;
great comfort to the old people."

"Really," said I, "you know him much better than I do."

"Ah! should get to know Hawkesbury all you can.  Moral chap--like you
and me, eh?" and here followed another dig in the ribs.

This was getting intolerable.  However, at this point Whipcord pulled up
at a wayside inn, much to my relief.  Anything was better than Masham's
conversation.

We halted a quarter of an hour, to give our horse time to get breath, as
Whipcord explained, but, as it really seemed, to allow that gentleman
and Masham to refresh themselves also.

When we started again my companion began almost immediately to resume
the conversation, but this time it was of a less personal nature, though
disagreeable enough.

For he made no secret at all that he was a youth of depraved tastes and
habits, and insisted on addressing me as though I resembled him in these
respects.  He gave me what he doubtless intended to be a highly
entertaining and spicy account of many of his escapades and exploits in
town and country, appealing to me every few sentences as to what I
should have said or done or thought in similar circumstances.

And when he had exhausted his stories of himself he told me stories of
his friends, some of which were disgusting, some horrifying, and some
stupid.  But with it all he had an air as if he believed everybody at
heart was bad, and as if morality and sobriety and unselfishness were
mere affectation and cant.

Has any of my readers ever met such a one as Masham?  I hope not.  If he
should, let him beware of him as the worst enemy a boy could encounter.
For no poison is more deadly than that which strives to make one man
lose all faith in his fellow-man.

I was so far infected by his manner that, though I felt ashamed to be
sitting and listening to his bad talk, I dared not protest, for fear of
appearing (what he would be sure to consider me), a hypocrite.

And so, unprofitably, the journey was beguiled, not without frequent
stoppings and refreshings, each of which had the effect of exhilarating
Whipcord's spirits and making Masham's tongue looser and looser.

At length Windsor was reached, and I looked forward to exchanging my
undesirable companion for more interesting occupation in seeing over the
town with its grand old castle.

But in this I was woefully disappointed.  Whipcord drove straight up to
an inn in the town, where he ordered the horse and trap to be put up,
while we all entered the smoky coffee-room and discussed the
desirability of having dinner.

"I thought we were going to picnic out of doors?"  I said, mildly, in
answer to Masham's appeal whether we should not order dinner where we
were.

"All very well if you could get your liquor laid on," said Whipcord.  "I
fancy we'd better stay where we are.  What do you say, Hawkesbury?"

"I'm sorry to disappoint Batchelor," said Hawkesbury, smiling, "but I
really think we shall get dinner more comfortably here.  We've no plates
or knives; and, as Whipcord says, there would be a difficulty about the
beer."

I was outvoted, and had to give up my idea of a rustic meal in the open
air.

It was not a very pleasant dinner.  Masham, despite Hawkesbury's
protests, persisted in interlarding it with his offensive stories, and
Whipcord, who was taking very decided measures to excite his spirits,
chimed in with his horsey slang, not unmixed with profanity.

"How are you getting on, Batchelor?" said the former presently to me.
"Don't be afraid of that bottle, man, it's only whisky!"

"Don't you believe him; it's gin," laughed Whipcord.

"I thought you said it was brandy," said Hawkesbury.

"There you are!" said Masham.  "One says one thing, one another, and one
another.  Now I tell you what, Batchelor shall be umpire, and we'll each
put five shillings on it, eh?  What do you say to that?"

"I'd rather not bet," replied Hawkesbury, "but I'd like to know what
Batchelor says it is."

"I'll go half-sovs. with you on it," said Whipcord.

"Done with you!" said Masham; "but Hawkesbury must go too, for if it's
brandy we both lose."

"I'd rather not bet," said Hawkesbury, "but if it will spoil your fun if
I don't I'll join."

"Thanks.  Now, Batchelor, fill up, old toper, and give us your verdict."

"I really am no judge of spirits," said I.  "Innocent babe," said
Masham, "how well he does it!  But he doesn't seem to know the rule in
these cases," added he, winking at the other two.  "What rule?"  I
asked.

"Why, about hanging back.  Half a tumbler for every twenty seconds,
isn't that it, Whipcord?"

"I thought it was a whole tumbler!"

"Ah, wouldn't you take your time to decide, eh?  Come now," said Masham,
taking out his watch, "we'll start now."

"Hold hard," said Whipcord.  "Surely we are to have glasses too, to see
if he guesses right."

"Very well, fill all round.  Now, Batchelor."

"I really can't do it," I said, faintly.  "Five seconds gone!" bawled
Masham, laughing.  "Please, don't be so foolish," I cried, getting
alarmed.  "Hawkesbury, please stop them!"

"Ten seconds gone, eleven, twelve!"

"I tell you, I--"

"Seventeen, eighteen," said Masham, rising and reaching out his arm for
the bottle.

There was no help for it.  I seized my glass and gulped down its
contents.  It made me cough and sputter, and my eyes watered, greatly to
the amusement of my persecutors.

"What is it?" they all cried.

I could scarcely speak for anger and the burning in my throat.

"It's a shame!"  I began.

"That's not what it is," cried Whipcord.  "Come, give it a name, or
you'll have to drink another!"

"Oh, brandy," I almost shrieked, willing to do anything rather than
that.  "I say, Hawkesbury," I said, reproachfully, "I didn't expect you
were bringing me to this sort of thing."

"It is a shame," he said to me aside.  "I would have stopped it if I
could; but don't you see they were eager about their bet, and it was the
only way of quieting them.  Never mind."

The rest of the afternoon passed away much as it had begun.  After
dinner we went down to the river and took a boat, in which Masham and
Whipcord lay and slept all the time, while Hawkesbury and I rowed them
about.  It was with difficulty, about five o'clock, that we got them
ashore again, and half led, half dragged them back to the inn.

"Come," said Hawkesbury to Whipcord, "it's time to be getting the trap
ready for the start back, isn't it?"

"Is it?  Go and tell the fellow, some of you," replied our driver.
"I'll be ready pretty soon," said he, moving once more towards the bar.

"You surely aren't going to drink any more," cried I, taking his arm and
trying gently to stop him.

He wrenched his arm loose and gave me a push back, saying, "Young prig!
what's it to do with you?"

"I think he wants to come too," said Masham.  "Come along, Batchelor."

I had positively to run away to elude them, and made the pretext of
going to the stable to see after the harnessing of the horse.

When this was done I sought for Hawkesbury.

"Do you think it's safe for Whipcord to drive in the state he's in?"

"Oh, yes.  With a horse like that too.  He's pretending to be a great
deal worse than he is, just to horrify you."

It seemed ages before we actually started.  Whipcord, in a most
quarrelsome humour, had to be dragged almost by force from the bar.
Hawkesbury, at the last moment, discovered that he was going without
paying the bill; while Masham, having once made himself comfortable in
the bar parlour, flatly refused to be moved, and had finally to be left
behind.

The only consolation in this was that I had the tail of the dogcart to
myself, which was infinitely preferable to the odious society of Masham.

It was nearly six when we finally started from Windsor and turned our
horse's head homeward.  And this had been my day's enjoyment!



CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.

HOW I FELL BADLY, AND WAS PICKED UP IN A WAY I LITTLE EXPECTED.

The delightful picnic to which I had looked forward with such
satisfaction had certainly not come off as I expected.  And it was not
_yet_ over, for the drive home under the conduct of Mr Whipcord
promised to be the most exciting portion of the whole day.

As long as we were in the country roads the unsteadiness of our Jehu did
not so much matter, for he was sober enough to keep the horse upon the
road, though hardly fit to steer him past other vehicles.  However, it
was marvellous how we did get on.  What hairbreadth escapes we had!  It
was useless attempting to remonstrate with the fellow.  He was in that
quarrelsome and mischievous humour which would brook no protest.  Once,
very soon after starting, in passing a country cart we as nearly as
possible upset against it, a misadventure which Whipcord immediately set
down as a deliberate insult intended for himself, and which nothing
would satisfy him but to avenge then and there.

He leaped down off the dogcart, heedless of what became of the horse,
and, throwing off his coat, shouted to the countryman to "Come on!" an
invitation which the countryman answered with a crack of his whip which
made the doughty hero leap as high into the air as he had ever done in
his life.

As might be expected, this incident did not tend to pacify the outraged
feelings of the tipsy Whipcord, who, disappointed of his vengeance on
the countryman, was most pressing in his invitations to Hawkesbury or me
or both of us to dismount and "have it out."  Indeed, he was so eager
for satisfaction that he all but pulled me off my seat on to the road,
and would have done so quite had not the horse given a start at the
moment, which put me out of his reach, and nearly upset him in the dust.

Things certainly did not look promising for a nice quiet drive home.
With difficulty we coaxed him back into the trap, where he at once began
to vent his spleen on the horse in a manner which put that animal's
temper to a grand test.

He further insisted on pulling up at every wayside inn for refreshment,
until it became quite evident, if we ever reached London at all, we
should certainly not do so till nearly midnight.

I held a hurried consultation with Hawkesbury as to what ought to be
done.

"Don't you think," suggested I, "we had almost better go on by ourselves
and leave him behind?"

"Oh no," said Hawkesbury; "that would never do.  It wouldn't be
honourable."

It occurred to me it would not be much less honourable than inviting a
fellow to a quiet picnic and letting him in for an expedition like this.

"Well," said I, "suppose we let him drive home, and you and I go back
some other way?"

"You forget I'm responsible for the trap.  No, we'd better go on as we
are.  We've not come to grief so far.  Perhaps, though," said he, "you'd
sooner drive?"

"What's that about sooner drive?" shouted Whipcord, coming up at this
moment.  "Who'd sooner drive?  You, young Batchelor?  All right; off
with your coat!"  And he threw himself on me in a pugilistic attitude.

After a long delay we got once more under way, the vehicle travelling
more unsteadily than ever, and my misgivings as to ever reaching London
becoming momentarily more numerous.

How we ever got back I can't imagine, unless it was that after a time
Whipcord finally dropped the reins and allowed the horse to find its own
way home.  He certainly thought he was driving, but I fancy the truth
was that one of the ostlers on the road, seeing his condition, had
cunningly looped the reins round the front rail of the trap, so that,
drive all he would, he could not do much more harm than if he was
sitting idle.

At length the lateness of the hour and the frequent lights announced
that London must be near.  It was fortunate it was so late, or we should
certainly have come to grief in the first crowded street.  As it was,
Whipcord had already got command of the reins again, as the sudden jerks
and shies of the horse testified.

My impulse was to avoid the danger by quietly jumping down from my seat
and leaving the other two to proceed alone.  But somehow it seemed a
shabby proceeding to leave Hawkesbury in the lurch, besides which, even
if I had overcome that scruple, the seat was so high that at the
unsteady rate we were going I would run considerable risk by jumping.
So I determined to hold on and hope for the best.

We got safely down Oxford Street, thanks to its emptiness, and were just
proceeding towards Holborn, when Whipcord gave his horse a sudden turn
down a side street to the right.

"Where are you going?"  I cried; "it's straight on."

He pulled up immediately, and bidding Hawkesbury hold the reins, pulled
off his coat for the twentieth time, and invited me to come and have it
out on the pavement.

"Don't be a fool," said Hawkesbury; "drive on now, there's a good
fellow."

"What does he want to tell me which way to drive for?" demanded the
outraged charioteer.

"He didn't mean to offend you--did you, Batchelor?  Drive on now,
Whipcord, and get out of this narrow street."

With much persuasion Whipcord resumed his coat and seized the reins.

"Thinks I don't know the way to drive," he growled.  "I'll teach him!"

I had been standing up, adding my endeavours to Hawkesbury's to pacify
our companion, when he suddenly lashed furiously at the horse.  The
wretched animal, already irritated beyond endurance, gave a wild bound
forward, which threw me off my feet, and before I could put out a hand
to save myself pitched me backwards into the road.

I was conscious of falling with a heavy crash against the kerb with my
arm under me, and of seeing the dogcart tearing down the street.  Then
everything seemed dark, and I remember nothing more.

When I did recover consciousness I was lying in a strange room on a
strange bed.  It took an effort to remember what had occurred.  But a
dull pain all over reminded me, and gradually a more acute and intense
pain on my left side.  I tried to move my arm, but it was powerless, and
the exertion almost drove back my half-returning senses.

"Lie quiet," said a voice at my side, "the doctor will be here
directly."

The voice was somehow familiar; but in my weak state I could not
remember where I had heard it.  And the exertion of turning my head to
look was more than I could manage.

I lay there, I don't know how long, with half-closed eyes, seeing
nothing, hearing nothing, and feeling only the pain and an occasional
grateful passing of a wet sponge across my forehead.

Then I became aware of more people in the room and a man's voice
saying--

"How was it?"

"I found him lying on the pavement.  I think he must have been thrown
out of a vehicle."

That voice I had certainly heard, but where?

"It's the arm--broken!" said the voice.

"Ah," said the doctor, leaning over me and touching me lightly near the
elbow.

I groaned with agony as he did so.

"Go round to the other side," said he, hurriedly.  "I must examine where
the fracture is.  I'm afraid, from what you say, it must be rather a bad
one."

I just remembered catching sight of a well-known face bending over me,
and a familiar voice whispering--

"Steady, old man, try to bear it."

The next moment I had fainted.

It may have been minutes or it may have been hours before I next came to
myself, and then my arm lay bandaged by my side, and the sharpness of
the pain had gone.

"Fred, old man," was the first thing I heard as I opened my eyes.  I
knew the voice now, and the face with its two great eyes which bent over
me.

I had found my friend at last!

"Hush, don't talk now," he said, as I tried to speak; "lie quiet now,
there's a dear fellow."

"Jack!"  I said.  I could not resist uttering his name, his old familiar
long-lost name.

"Yes, it's Jack," he whispered, "but don't talk now."

"You forgive me, Jack?"  I murmured, heedless of his injunction.

"Yes, a hundred times!" he said, brushing back the hair from my
forehead, and putting his finger to my lips.

Then I obeyed him, and lay silent and happy all day.  Happier with all
my pain than I had been for months.

The doctor came later on and looked at my arm.

"He'll do now, I think," said he, "but he will very likely be feverish
after it.  You should have him taken to the hospital."

"Oh no," cried Jack.  "He must stay here, please.  I can look after him
quite well."

"If it was only the arm," said the doctor.  "But he's had a bad fall and
is a good deal bruised and shaken besides.  He would get better
attention, I think, at the hospital."

"I would so much sooner he stayed here," said Jack; "but if he'd really
be better at the hospital, I suppose I ought to let him go."

"I won't go to the hospital!" exclaimed I, making the longest speech I
had yet made since my accident, with a vehemence that positively
startled the two speakers.

This protest settled the question.  If only a sick person threatens to
get excited about anything, he is pretty sure to have his own way.  And
so it proved in my case.

"But will you be able to stay at home all day from business to look
after him?" asked the doctor.

"No, I'm afraid not," said Jack, "but I think I know some one who will.
He sha'n't be left alone, and I can always just run home in the dinner-
hour to see how he's getting on."

The doctor left, only half satisfied with this arrangement, and
repeating that it would have been far better to move me to the hospital.

When he was gone Jack came and smoothed my pillow.  "I am glad you're to
stay," he said.  "Now, for fear you should begin to talk, I'm going out
to Billy to get my boots blacked.  So good-bye for a bit, old boy."

"But, Jack--" I began, trying to keep him.

"Not a word now," said he, going to the door.  "Presently."

I was too contented and comfortable to fret myself about anything, still
more to puzzle my brains about what I couldn't understand.  So I lay
still thinking of nothing, and knowing nothing except that I had found
my friend once more, and that he was more to me than ever.

Nothing makes one so sleepy as thinking of nothing at all; and long
before Jack returned from his visit to Billy I was asleep, and slept
soundly all through the night.

Next morning I woke invigorated in body and mind.  Jack was up and about
before I opened my eyes.  He was at my side in a moment as I moved.

"Well, you have had a sleep," he said, cheerily.  "I have," replied I.
"But, Jack, where am I?"

"Oh, this is my lodgings," said he.  "I'm pretty comfortable here."

I looked round the room.  It was a poor, bare apartment, with only two
beds, a chair, a small table, and a washstand to furnish it.  The table
was covered with papers and books.

"You've got a sitting-room too, I suppose?"  I said, after taking the
room in.

He laughed.

"I find this quite as good a room to sit in as to lie in," said he, "for
the matter of that.  But I have got the use of another room belonging to
a fellow-lodger.  He's a literary man, and writes for the papers; but in
his spare moments he coaches me in Latin and Greek, in consideration of
which I give him half my room to sleep in."

"Whatever's he to do now when I'm here?"  I asked.

"Oh, he's going to have a shake-down in his own room.  You'll like him,
Fred; he's a very good-natured, clever man."

"How old?"  I asked.

"About fifty, I should think.  And I fancy he's seen a good deal of
trouble in his time, though I don't like to ask him."

"I say, Jack," I began in an embarrassed manner, "ever since that
time--"

"Shut up, now," said Jack, briskly.  "The doctor says unless you obey me
in everything you're to go straight to the hospital.  And one of my
rules is, you're to talk about nothing I don't approve of."

"I was only going to say--"

"There you go.  I don't approve of what you were going to say.  I
suppose you'll be interested to hear I reported your case to the firm
yesterday, and they were very sorry to hear of it, and told me there
were other fellows in the office they could have spared better.  There's
a compliment!"

"Was Hawkesbury at the office?"  I asked.

Jack's face clouded for a moment.

"Yes, Hawkesbury was there."

"You know he was with me when the accident happened?"  I said, by way of
explanation.

"Oh," said Jack.  "Hullo! here comes Billy.  I hope, you won't be
horrified to have him to look after you while I'm at the office.  He's
the only person I could think of."

"Billy and I are very good friends," I said, somewhat taken aback,
however, by the prospect of being consigned to that young gentleman's
charge for several hours every day.

"Here you are, Billy," said Jack, as the boy entered.  "You needn't have
brought your blacking-box with you, though."

"What, ain't none of the blokes here got no boots, then?" remarked the
youth, depositing his burden.

"The bloke, as you call him, who lies there," said Jack, pointing to me,
"won't be putting on his boots for a good many days yet."

Billy approached my bed with his most profuse grin.

"I say, ain't you been and done it?  Do you hear? you've broke your
arm!"

This piece of news being so remarkably unexpected visibly affected me.

"Yes," said Jack, "and I want you to sit here while I'm away, and see
nobody breaks it again."

"I'll give the fust bloke that tries it on a topper, so I will," said
Billy, fiercely, sitting down on his box and preparing to mount guard.

"I quite believe you," said Jack, laughing.  "But mind, Billy, you
mustn't make a noise or disturb him when he's resting.  And if anything
special happens and I'm badly wanted, you must run to my office and
fetch me.  You know where it is?"

"Yaas, I know," said Billy.

"If Mr Smith comes up, you may let him in and make yourself scarce till
he goes away again."

"What Mr Smith?"  I asked.

"Oh, my fellow-lodger.  Isn't it funny his name's Smith?  At least,
wouldn't it be funny if every other person weren't called Smith?"

"It is rather a large family," said I, laughing.

Billy having received his full instructions, including the serving of
certain provisions out of a cupboard in a corner of the room, made
himself comfortable on his perch, and sat eyeing me, after Jack had
gone, as if I were a criminal of some sort whom it was his duty to
prevent from escaping.

It was a queer situation to be in, certainly.  Left alone in a friend's
lodging with a broken arm and other contusions, and a small shoeblack to
look after me, who had once robbed me of my penknife and a sixpence!

I was rather doubtful whether his new employment was quite as congenial
to him as his old.  Indeed, I rather pitied him as he sat there silent
and motionless like a watch-dog on guard.

"You may stand on your hands if you like, Billy," I said, presently.

He eyed me sharply and doubtfully.

"You're 'avin' a lark with me," he said.

"No, I'm not.  You really may do it."

"Ain't a-goin' to do it," replied he, decisively.

"Why not?"  I asked.

"T'other bloke ain't said I'm to do it," replied he.

"Well," said I, "if you don't think he'd like it, don't do it.  For I'm
sure he's very good to you, Billy, isn't he?"

"'Tain't no concern of yourn," responded my genial guardian.

After this there was a long silence, and I was getting drowsy, when
Billy said, "That there 'orse was a-goin' it."

"What horse?"

"Why, as if you didn't know!  That there 'orse as was drivin' you blokes
a' Monday night."

"What, did you see us, then?"  I asked.

"In corse I did.  I seen you as I was a-comin' back from the racket
school.  My eye, wasn't you tidy and screwed though!  You don't ought to
be trusted with 'orses, you don't."

"I wasn't screwed, Billy," said I, "and I wasn't driving."

"No, that you wasn't driving.  But I knows the bloke as was."

"Do you know Mr Whipcord?"

"Yaas, I knows the animal," he replied, with a grin.  "He gave me a
doin' with his stick once, he did."

"But did you see me pitched out?"  I asked, not feeling particularly
interested in the last reminiscence.

"In corse I did.  I seen you.  Thought you was dead, and I fetches the
bloke to yer, and the bloke sends me for the doctor, and the doctor--"

At this moment the door opened and a stranger entered.



CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN.

HOW I SUFFERED A RELAPSE, WHICH DID ME GOOD.

The gentleman who entered the room was a middle-aged man, of striking
appearance.  In face and person he seemed worn and feeble.  He walked
with a slight stoop; his cheeks were hollow and slightly flushed, and
his brow was furrowed by lines which would have appeared deep even in a
much older man.  But as soon as he began to talk his face lit up, his
eyes sparkled, and there was a ring in his voice which was more like
Jack Smith himself than his older and more sedate namesake.

For this stranger, I guessed at once, must be the other Mr Smith with
whom Jack lodged.

At sight of him Billy stopped abruptly in the middle of his sentence,
and, putting his hand up to his forelock, saluted him with his usual
familiar grin.

"Ah, William, my worthy friend, you here?" the gentleman said, almost
gaily, as he entered.  "I heard I should find you on duty.  You must
introduce me to this sick gentleman, and ask him if I shall disturb
him."

Billy grinned in a confused sort of way, not knowing exactly how to do
the honours.  Then, looking at me and jerking his thumb in the direction
of the stranger, he said, "This here's the cove from downstairs!"

The gentleman approached my bedside and said, gently, "Am I disturbing
you?  I found a note from my fellow-lodger when I got in just now,
asking me to call up and see how you were getting on."

"It's very kind of you," said I.  "I hope you can stay a bit."

"Certainly; I've nothing to do."

Billy, however, did not apparently favour this suggestion.

"This 'ere cove," said he, pointing to me, "ain't to jaw, mister!"

"Quite right, William," said the gentleman; "I'll see he doesn't.  I'll
do all the talking and he shall do the listening.  You can go down to my
room and make my bed ready for me and tidy up."

The boy looked dubiously first at the speaker, then at me, as if he was
not quite sure about the propriety of allowing me out of his sight, but
finally obeyed.

"There's a trusty youngster for you!" said the gentleman, laughing, as
he disappeared.  "Young Smith couldn't have found a safer nurse for you
anywhere."

"I believe you are right," said I.

"And how are you feeling?  You're looking better than when I saw you
last, anyhow."

"I never saw you before, did I?"  I asked.

"No, you didn't; but I saw you when you were brought in here the other
evening.  However, as Billy says, you mustn't talk now.  I suppose you
heard me order him to make my bed.  I always go to bed every morning at
eleven.  Young Smith and I are like Box and Cox, you know; he's away all
day, I'm away all night.  Just when he's finishing up work I'm
beginning."

"I wonder you can keep awake all the night," I said.

"Not more wonderful than you keeping awake all day, my boy.  In fact,
there's not much chance of a poor literary hack sleeping over his work.
Now I wonder, when you read your newspaper in the morning, if you ever
think of what has to be done to produce it.  If you only did, I dare say
you would find it more interesting than it often seems."

And then my companion launched out into a lively description of the work
of a newspaper office, and of the various stages in the production of a
paper, from the pen and ink in the sub-editor's room to the printed,
folded, and delivered newspaper which lies on one's breakfast-table
every morning.  I wish I could repeat it all for the benefit of the
reader, for few subjects are more interesting; but it would take more
time than we have to spare to do so.

Of course Mr Smith the elder--for so I had to call him to distinguish
him from my friend his namesake--rattled on in this strain, more for the
sake of keeping me interested and amused than any other reason.  Still,
his talk was something better than idle chatter, and I began to feel
that here at last, among all my miscellaneous acquaintance, was a man
worth knowing.

He gave me no chance of talking myself, but rattled on from one topic to
another in a way which left me quite free to listen or not as I liked,
and finally rose, much to my regret, to go.

"Now I must be off, or I shall have Billy up to hunt me off.  Good-bye,
my boy; glad to see you doing so well.  You've a lot to be thankful for,
and of course you are."

"Will you come again?"  I asked.

"Gladly; that is, if Billy allows me," said he, laughing, and nodding
kindly as he left the room.

"No wonder," thought I, as I listened to his footsteps going down
stairs--"no wonder Jack Smith found these lodgings pleasanter than
Beadle Square."

I saw Mr Smith frequently during the next few days.  He usually came up
to sit with me for half an hour or so in the morning, and was always the
same cheery and interesting companion.

And yet I could not quite make him out.  For when not talking or smiling
his face used to wear a look of habitual trouble and restlessness, which
made me suspect he was either making an effort to be cheery before me,
or else that he was the victim of a constant battle between good spirits
and bad.

However, just as I was getting to feel intimate with him, and looking
forward to hear more about him than I had yet learned, my recovery came
to a sudden and rather serious halt.

I was lying one evening propped up in my bed, with my damaged arm
feeling comparatively comfortable, and myself in a particularly jovial
frame of mind as I listened to Jack Smith attempting to instil into the
mind of the volatile Billy the art of spelling d-o-g--dog.

"Now, Billy," said the instructor, "you'll never get on at this rate.
That letter you're pointing at is a B for Billy, and not a D."

"That there B's a caution," growled the boy; "he's always a-turnin' up."

"Time you knew him, then," said Smith.  "Now show us the D."

Billy cocked his head a little to one side and took a critical survey of
the alphabet before him.  His eye passed once down and once up the
procession, then looking up at Jack with a grin, he said, "He's 'iding,
I reckon, governor.  That there dorg'll have to start with a B after
all."

Our laughter at this philosophic observation was interrupted by an
unwonted footstep on the stairs outside.  It certainly was not Mr
Smith, for he was out at his work; nor was it the doctor, our only other
visitor, for he always came up two steps at a time, and his boots always
squeaked.  Who could our visitor be?

"Come in," called Smith, as a knock sounded on the door.

To my utter astonishment and concern, Hawkesbury, with his sweetest
smile, entered the room.

How had he found out my retreat?  What did he want here?  What would
Jack Smith say?  These were the questions which rushed through my mind
as he closed the door behind him and walked into the room.

I glanced round at Jack.  There was written anything but peace in his
countenance, while Billy glared like a young bulldog ready to spring on
the intruder.

"Well, Batchelor," said Hawkesbury, in his blandest voice, addressing me
and ignoring everybody else; "you'll be surprised to see me here.  The
fact is, I couldn't feel happy till I came to see you and tell you how
sorry I was for your accident."

My few days' confinement and the opportunity for meditation they had
afforded had served to give me an insight into Hawkesbury's character
which made me treat this speech suspiciously.  I replied nothing, and
felt very uncomfortable.

"It was most unfortunate," proceeded Hawkesbury, helping himself to the
chair.  "You know--"

"Excuse me," interrupted Smith at this point, in a tone which made me
start; "this is my room, Hawkesbury, and I must ask you to go."

The visitor's face clouded with a quick shade of vexation, but
immediately regained its chronic smile, as he said, "Ah, Smith!  I
should have said it was my friend Batchelor I came to see, not you."

"You're no friend of his," retorted Smith, with rising wrath.

"Do you hear, nob," broke in Billy, unable to restrain himself any
longer; "you ain't a-wanted here."

Hawkesbury looked round with an amused smile.

"Really," said he, "a most gratifying reception, and from a most
unexpected quarter.  Er--excuse me, Smith, I'm afraid it's rather a
strange request--would you mind allowing me to have a little private
conversation with my friend?"

"No," replied Smith, firmly.

"Really," said Hawkesbury.  "I must appeal to Batchelor himself."

"I shall answer for Batchelor," said Smith, not giving me time to reply.
"Leave my room, please."

"Do you hear?  You leave the bloke's room," cried Billy.  "Ef you don't
you'll get a topper."

Hawkesbury, whose colour had been rising during the last few moments,
and whose assurance had gradually been deserting him, now turned round
with a ceremonious smile to the last speaker as he rose to his feet and
said, "If _you_ desire it, I'll go.  I can submit to be ordered off by a
shoeblack, but the son of a convict is--"

With clenched fist and crimson face Jack gave a sudden bound towards the
speaker.  But as suddenly he checked himself and walked gently to my
bed, where I had started up ready to spring to my feet and back up my
friend in what seemed a certain quarrel.

"What a cad I am!" he murmured, as he bent over me, and motioned me
gently back to my pillow, "but the fellow nearly drives me mad."

I was too exhausted by my effort to say anything.

Jack remained by my side while the unwelcome visitor slowly walked to
the door.  But if one of Hawkesbury's enemies was disposed of, another
remained.  Billy, who had been a fuming and speechless witness of this
last scene, now boiled over completely, and was to be kept in check no
longer.

Wasting no words, he made a wild dash at the retreating intruder and
closed with him.  He would have closed with a lion, I firmly believe, if
a lion had made himself obnoxious to Jack Smith.

Hawkesbury turned suddenly to receive the assault; an angry flush
overspread his face, his hands clenched, and next moment Billy reeled
back bleeding and almost senseless into the middle of the room, and the
visitor had gone.

This was the event which put a check on my recovery.

To lie helpless and see Jack Smith insulted before my face would have
been bad enough, but to hear him taunted with the very secret I had so
miserably and treacherously let out was more than I could endure.

I don't know what I did that evening, I was so weak and so excited.  I
have vague recollections of breaking out into passionate self-reproaches
and wild entreaties for forgiveness; and of Jack Smith with pale and
troubled face bending over me trying to soothe me, imploring me to be
still, telling me twenty times there was nothing left to forgive.  And
then in the middle of the scene the doctor arrived, with serious face
and hushed voice.  He felt my pulse more carefully than ever, and took
my temperature not once only, but several times.  There was a hurried
consultation in the corner of the room, of which all I heard were the
words "most unfortunate" and "fever."  My usual supper of bread-and-
butter and an _egg_ gave place to a cup of beef-tea, which I could
scarcely taste, and after that some medicine.  Jack, with a face more
solemn than ever, made his bed at the foot of mine, and smoothed my
pillow for me and whispered--

"Be sure and call if you want anything."

Then everything was silent and dark, and I began to realise that I was
ill.  I shall never forget that night.  I tossed restlessly and
ceaselessly all through it.  In whatever position I lay I found no
relief.  My arm seemed to pain me more than ever before, my head ached,
I was nearly suffocated with heat.  And my mind was as restless as my
body.  One after another the follies and meannesses, the failures and
sins of my life in London, rose up before me and stared me in the face.
Try all I would, I could not get rid of them.  I tried to think of other
things--of books I had read, of stories I had heard, of places I had
seen, of Stonebridge House, of Brownstroke--but no, the thought of my
pitiful career in London, my debts, my evil acquaintances, my treachery
to my friend, would come and come and come, and drive out all else.  And
all the while I seemed to see Jack's solemn face looking reproachfully
at me from the bottom of the bed, just as it had looked at me that
morning weeks ago at Hawk Street.  Once, instead of being at the bottom
of the bed, I found it close beside me, saying--

"What is it, old boy?"

"Eh? nothing.  I didn't call."

"Yes you did.  Do try and lie still and get some rest."

Lie still!  As soon tell the waves to lie still in the storm as expect
me, with my fever-tossed body and mind, to rest!

So the night wore on, and when the morning light struggled through the
window it found me in a raging fever and delirious.

------------------------------------------------------------------------

I must pass over the weeks that followed.  I was very ill--as ill, so
they told me afterwards, as I well could be, and live.

Jack watched me incessantly.  I don't know what arrangement he came to
at Hawk Street, but while I was at my worst he never left my bedside day
or night.

No one else was allowed up, except occasionally Billy, to relieve guard.
With these two nurses to tend me--and never a patient had two such
guardian angels!--I battled with my fever, and came through it.

I came through it an altered being.

Surely--this was the thought with which I returned to health--we boys,
sent up to rough it in London, are not, after all, mere slung stones.
There _is_ One who cares for us, some One who comes after us when we go
astray, some One who saves us when we are at the point of falling, if we
will but cry, in true penitence, to Him!

I had had many and grievous lessons before I had found it out; but now I
had, life seemed a new thing to me!

As my convalescence advanced and my bodily strength returned, my spirits
rose within me, and I felt eager to be back at my post at Hawk Street.
However, I had to exercise some patience yet.  Meanwhile, with Billy
(and occasionally Mr Smith), as my companion by day, and Jack by night,
the time could hardly hang heavily.

"Well, Billy," I said one morning when the doctor had been and told me
that next week I might be allowed to sit up for an hour or so a day, "I
shall soon be rid of this bed.  I don't know what would have become of
me if it hadn't been for you and Jack Smith."

"Ga on," said Billy, who, with his tongue in one cheek and his face
twisting into all sorts of contortions, was sitting writing an exercise
in a copy-book, "you don't know what you're torkin' about."

"Oh yes, I do, though," I replied, understanding that this was Billy's
modest way of disclaiming any merit.

"More'n you didn't when you was 'avin' the fever!" observed the boy.

"What?"  I inquired.  "Was I talking much when I was ill?"

"You was so," said Billy, "a-joring and a-joring and a-joring same as
you never heard a bloke."

"What was I saying?"  I asked, feeling a little uneasy as to what I
might have said in my delirium.

"You was a swearin' tremenjus," said the boy.

"Was I?"  Alas!  Jack would have heard it all.

"Yes, and you was a-torkin' about your Crowses, and Wollopses, and
Doubledaisies, and sich like.  And you was a-tellin' that there
'Orksbury (which I'd like to do for, the animal, so I would), as you was
a convex son, and he wasn't to tell no one for fear Mashing should 'ear
of it.  And you was a-crying out for your friend Smith to shine your
boots, and tellin' him you wouldn't do it never no more.  And you was a-
singin' out that there was a little gal a-bein' run away with on a pony,
and you must go and stop 'im.  You was a-jawin', rather."

I could hardly help laughing at his description, though its details
reminded me sadly of my old follies and their consequences.

The most extraordinary raving of all, however, was that which referred
to my stopping the little girl's runaway pony at Packworth years ago--an
incident I don't believe I had ever once thought of since.

It was curious, too, that, now it was called to memory, I thought of the
adventure a good deal, and wished I knew what had become of the owner of
that restive little pony.  I determined to tell Jack about it when he
came home.

"What do you think, Jack?"  I said, as he was tucking me up for the
night.  "Billy has been telling me what I was talking about in my fever,
and says one thing I discoursed about was a little girl who was being
run away with by a pony."

"Yes," said Jack, laughing; "I heard that.  It was quite a new light for
you, old man, to be dreaming of that sort of romantic thing."

"But it really happened once," I said.

"No! where?  I thought the Henniker and Mrs Nash were the only lady
friends you ever had?  Where was it?"

"At Packworth, of all places," I said.  "It was that day I went over to
try and find you out--just before we came up to London, you know.  I was
walking back to Brownstroke, and met the pony bolting down the road."

Jack seemed suddenly very much interested.  "What sort of little girl
was it?" he asked.

"I can't exactly tell you.  She was so frightened I had hardly time to
look at her.  But--"

"What sort of pony?" asked Jack.

"A grey one--and a jolly little animal, too!"  I said.  "But why do you
ask?"

"Only," said Jack, with a peculiar smile, "because it strikes me very
forcibly the young person in question was my sister, that's all!"

"What!"  I exclaimed, in amazement, "your sister!--the little girl of
the photograph!  Oh, Jack, how extraordinary!"

"It is queer," said Jack; "but it's a fact all the same.  I heard about
it when I was last home.  The pony took fright, so they told me, and--
wasn't there a nurse with her?"

"Yes, there was."

"Yes; that was Mrs Shield.  The pony took fright as she was walking
beside it, and Mary would have come to grief to a dead certainty, so
they both say, if a young gentleman hadn't rushed up and stopped it.
Why, Fred, old man," said he, taking my hand, "I little thought I owed
you all that!"

I took his hand warmly, but humbly.

"Jack," I said, "I think it's almost time you and I gave up talking
about what we owe to one another.  But," I added, after a moment, "if
you do want to do me a favour, just let us have a look at that
photograph again, will you, old man?"



CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT.

HOW I FOUND MYSELF ONCE MORE AT HAWK STREET.

In due time the doctor paid his final visit and gave me leave to return
to Hawk Street.

I can't describe how strange it seemed to be walking out once more in
the open air, leaning on Jack's arm, and feeling myself an active member
of society.

The part of the town where Jack's lodgings were situated was new to me.
It could not have been worse than Beadle Square, but it wasn't much
better.  This street was narrow and squalid and crowded, and presented
no attractions either in the way of fresh air or convenience.  Still, to
me, any place that harboured Jack Smith would have been more homelike
than the stateliest mansion.

"By the way," said Jack, as we walked down to the office the first
morning, "I suppose you don't want to go back to Beadle Square."

"Not if I can help it," I said; "the only thing is, I suppose, I ought
to tell my uncle.  You know he paid my lodging there."

"Oh, that's all right," said Jack.  "I went down one day and saw Mrs
Nash and told her what had become of you, and said she might let your
bed to any one else.  And I wrote to your uncle (I thought it best not
to bother you by telling you at the time), and told him where you were
and how you were getting on.  He wrote back a civil note to say he was
glad to hear you were getting better; and with regard to the lodgings,
he had been just about to write and say that as you had now a
respectable income at the office he would not be continuing to pay for
your lodging; so that when you got well you might consider yourself free
to do as you liked in that respect."

"Awfully obliging of him," said I.

"Well, it struck me as rather a cordial way of putting it," remarked
Jack, laughing.

"I had better look for quarters at once," said I.

"Do nothing of the kind.  Stay where you are!"

"What?"  I exclaimed, in pleased astonishment.  The idea had never
occurred to me before.  "How ever could I?  As it is I've been turning
Mr Smith out long enough."

"He was talking to me about it the other day," said Jack.  "He finds
that all his time is now required at the office of the newspaper he
writes for, and therefore he has really no use for his room except as a
bedroom.  So that our room up stairs is at our complete disposal."

"How jolly!"  I exclaimed.  "Nothing could have happened more
delightfully."

"Nothing," said Jack, as pleased as I was; "and he says any time of an
evening when he's away we can use the lower room as if it was our own.
Isn't it brickish of him?"

I agreed heartily in the sentiment, and proceeded to Hawk Street with
less weight on my mind than ever.

There, as was natural, I found myself an object of a good deal of
interest and remark.  Doubleday, who once during my illness had sent me
a short note of sympathy by Smith, was the first to welcome me back to
my old quarters.

"Here we are again, young 'un, alive and kicking," cried he, clapping me
on the back as I entered.  "How his whiskers have grown, haven't they,
Wallop?  Well, how's your game leg?"

"It was my arm, not my leg," I said.

"No! was it?  I heard it was your off-leg and your spine and your skull
that were smashed.  That's what made me so surprised to see you.  Never
mind, I'm glad to see you, young 'un, for there's a ticklish bit of
figure work to do.  None of the others would look at it, so I've saved
it up for you, my boy."

"And I'm ready for it," said I.

Crow and Wallop greeted me rather more shyly.  I fancy they had had
rather a fright when they heard how very ill I had been.

They shook hands rather sheepishly, and Wallop said something about the
weather which had no actual bearing, on my recovery.  I had come to the
conclusion during my illness that Crow and Wallop had not been
altogether profitable companions, and I was therefore glad they were not
more demonstrative now.

But I had yet to meet Hawkesbury, and wished the operation well over;
for however much I may once have believed in him, I now disliked him,
and determined to have as little to do with him as possible.

"Ah, Batchelor," cried he, coming up with outstretched hand, and beaming
as if the incident in my sick-room weeks ago had never happened.  "So
glad to see you back.  We have missed you greatly.  How do you feel?
You're looking better than when I saw you last."

I just took his hand and said, "Thank you," as shortly as I could.

He appeared neither to notice my manner nor my tone.

"You've had a long spell of it," said he.  "I'd no idea a broken arm was
such a serious thing.  But I dare say you'll be all the better for your
long rest."

I set to work to open my desk and get together my papers and pens, ready
for work.

"It was a bad fall you had," continued he, standing beside me as I was
thus employed.  "You have no idea how distressed I was when it happened.
But Whipcord was really in such a shocking state that night that--"

"Can you give me a piece of blotting-paper?"  I said to Doubleday across
the desk.

He waited till I had got what I wanted, and proceeded, smiling as ever,
"It really wasn't safe for any of us.  Masham, by the way, was very
sorry to hear of your accident, and asked me to tell you so.  I meant to
do so the evening I called, but your friend was really so polite that I
forgot all about it."

I had stood it thus far, and kept to my resolve of saying as little as I
could.  But when he brought in Jack's name it was all I could do to hold
my peace.

I made an excuse to leave my place and consult a Directory, in the hopes
of shaking him off, but there he was when I returned, ready to go on as
benignly as ever.

"I'm sure, Batchelor," said he, "it must have been greatly against you
to be cooped up in that miserable lodging all the time, and in--what I
should call--such uncongenial society.  But when one is ill, of course
one has just to put up with what one can get."

My patience had reached its limit at last.

"My friend's society is more congenial to me than yours is at present!"
I said, colouring up and bending over my writing.

"I see," said he, "he has got you under this thumb again, and means to
keep you there."

"Will you let me get on with my work?"  I said.

"Oh, certainly!" said he, smiling blandly.  "I merely wished to tell you
how glad I was to see you back at last; but I dare say that doesn't
interest you."

I made no answer, and, seeing that I was determined to hold no more
conversation, he gently withdrew.

I felt quite relieved when he had done so, and still more to find that,
for the first time in my life, I had been proof against his
blandishments.

"What have you been doing to Petty-Cash?" whispered Doubleday to me,
presently; "he looks so smiling and benevolent that I'm certain you must
have given him mortal offence about something or other."

"I don't care if I have," I said.

Doubleday whistled softly.  "I say, young 'un," said he, "your illness
has smartened you up a bit, I reckon, eh?"

This, coming from the source it did, I felt to be a compliment.
However, I had more calls upon my new resolutions before the day was
over.

The partners arrived and received me--each in his own peculiar way--very
kindly.  Mr Merrett was good enough to say the work of the office had
suffered a good deal in my absence, and Mr Barnacle said he hoped I had
come back prepared to make up for lost time.  To both which observations
I listened respectfully, and returned once more to my desk.

The morning passed quickly and busily.  I had made a plunge into the
difficult task so considerately saved up for me by Doubleday, and felt
quite refreshed by the array of figures to be dealt with.  In fact, I
was so engrossed with it that when Jack came and asked me if I was going
out to lunch I said I really could not leave it now, but would take my
lunch later on.

So he went, and several of the others, leaving me with Crow, Wallop, and
Hawkesbury, in possession of the office.

The two former heroes had by this time somewhat recovered from their
surprise at seeing me once more in the land of the living, and seemed
disposed to wax facetious in proportion at my expense.

I dug my thumbs into my ears, in the hopes of getting on with my work,
but it was not easy, and I had at last to give up the attempt.

"Jolly glad he's not kicked the bucket, for one thing," said Wallop.

"Why?" asked Crow, apparently surprised that there should be any reason
for thankfulness in such an event.

"He owes me thirty bob, that's all," said Wallop.

It was true!  It was one of the oldest of my debts, and one which had
been greatly on my mind for many a day.

"Ah!" said I, feeling constrained to take some notice of the remark.
"I'm afraid I've kept you out of that money a long time, Wallop."

"Don't mention it," said Wallop.  "When I want it I'll drop on you for
it, my boy."

"I'll try to pay it off as soon as ever I can," I said.

I disliked Wallop, as I have said, and the thought that I owed him money
was not at all pleasant to me.

My creditor laughed.

"There's plenty more will be glad to hear you're better," said he.
"There's Shoddy I met the other week in a regular blue funk because he
thought you'd bolted.  He wanted to come down and see the governors here
about his little bill, but I managed to pacify him.  But he says if you
don't give him a call soon he'll wake you up."

"I'll go and see him at once," I said, feeling very uncomfortable.

"Then there's the Twins.  It seems you're on their books for a matter of
a sov. or so advanced you at odd times.  They've been most affectionate
in their inquiries about you."

It wasn't pleasant to be reminded thus on my first morning back at work
of the burden of debt which still pressed on me from the old, and I
humbly hoped bygone, days of my extravagance.  Not even a broken arm or
a dangerous fever will wipe off old scores.

Wallop rather enjoyed going through the catalogue of my debts.

"Then there's Tucker, the pastrycook, wants half-a-sov. at the very
least, and Weeden, the tobacconist, a florin for mild cigarettes, and--"

"Yes, yes," I said; "I know all about it, and I'm going to pay them
all."

"That's a good job," remarked Wallop, "and the sooner you tell them all
so the better.  They'd all like to have your present address."

"I'm not sure that that would console them much," said Crow.  "It's
rather a shadier place than the old one."

"Yes, when you come to think of it, a fellow would get a bit shy when he
read the address, `care of Tom Jailbird, Esquire, Up a Slum, Drury
Lane.'"

"Look here!" cried I, suddenly starting up; "don't you call my friend
names, please."

Nothing could have delighted the genial pair more than my excitement.
They greeted my protest with laughter, and winking at one another,
continued to talk among themselves.

"Good practice, I should think.  Crow, living with a chap like that--get
used to prison fare.  Come all the easier later on."

"Wonder if they practise picking one another's pockets to keep their
hands in, of an evening."

"I'm told that jailbird has got an album full of tickets-of-leave."

"Ah!  His father must have travelled a good bit in his time."

It was pitiful, paltry jesting, but it was more than I could stand.

"Will you stop?"  I shouted.

"Nobody was speaking to you," said Wallop.

"You were speaking of my friend!"  I exclaimed.

"More shame to you for chumming up with such disreputable lot," said
Crow.

"Do you hear? stop it!"  I shouted.

"We'll stop it," said Wallop, "when--"

I did not wait to hear more, but rushed upon the speaker.

The upshot might have been serious for me in my present weak condition,
and being one against two.  But before my blow could be returned
Hawkesbury, who had so far been a silent witness to the scene, sprang
from his place and pulled me away.  I struggled to get free, but he held
me firm, as he said, "Batchelor, don't be foolish.  You two, be quiet,
will you, or I must report you to my uncle.  Fighting is not allowed in
here."

"I didn't want to fight," said Wallop, putting up his hand to his
smarting cheek, "but I'll have it out with him."

"Young prig!" growled Crow, savagely.

"You hear what I say," said Hawkesbury.  "I won't allow it to go any
further.  Here, Batchelor, go to your seat, and don't be absurd."

This tone of authority and his unasked-for interference irritated me as
much as ever the language of my two adversaries had done.  Hawkesbury
was always getting the pull of me in ways like this.

I retired sulkily to my seat, saying I would thrash any one who insulted
Smith in my presence, at which the others sneered.

"All I can say is," said Wallop, with his hand still up to his face, "if
I don't get that thirty shillings he owes me to-morrow, I'll show him up
in a way that will astonish him--that's all."

With which threat he took up his hat and went out, leaving me in a very
agitated and uncomfortable frame of mind, as the reader may guess.

I would far sooner have been thrashed out and out by Wallop than be left
thus under what Hawkesbury would certainly consider an obligation to
him.

"I thought it best," said he, in his insinuating way, "to interfere.
You are really not well enough for that sort of thing, Batchelor."

During the rest of the day my mind was too uneasy to permit me to make
much progress with my work, and I was glad when evening came and I could
escape with my friend.

"You look fagged," said he, as I took his arm.

"I am rather," said I, "and worried too, Jack."

"What about?" he asked.

Then I told him all about my debts; and we spent the rest of the evening
in a sort of committee of ways and means.

Taken separately my debts were none of them very large, but added all
together their total was something appalling.  Ten pounds would scarcely
cover them, and that did not include what I owed the doctor.

It was a serious business, without doubt.

Wallop's threat to insist on immediate payment, or else "show me up"
before the partners and my other creditors, may have been mere bounce;
but it may equally well have been in earnest, in which case I was
ruined.

Jack's one solicitude that evening was to keep me from fretting too
much.  But it is all very well to say, "Don't fret," and another thing
to remove the cause of fretting.  And that we could neither of us do.

Jack had no money.  What little he had saved he had spent on books or
sent home to Mrs Shield.  As for Mr Smith, senior, even if I had cared
to ask him to help me, I knew he had barely enough to keep body and soul
together.  The idea of borrowing from Doubleday occurred to me, but
Smith promptly discouraged it.  Besides, I had once asked him for a
loan, and he had refused it, on the ground he never lent money to
anybody.

"The only thing," said Jack, "is to write home to your uncle."

I could scarcely help smiling at the idea.  I knew my uncle better than
Jack Smith did, and I might as well hope to get blood out of a stone as
expect him to pay for my extravagances in London.

However, Jack was so sure it was the right and only thing to do that I
finally consented to sit down and make a clean breast of it, which I did
in the following note:--

"Dear Uncle,--I am better now, and back at work.  I am sorry to say,
however, I am in a good deal of difficulty about money.  Before my
illness I had got into extravagant ways and run into debt.  I enclose a
list of what I believe I owe at the present moment.  You will see--not
including the doctor's bill--it comes to £10 2 shillings 4 pence.  The
names marked with a star are clerks at the office who have lent me
money, I am sorry to say, for gambling and other purposes.  I don't know
what to do about paying them back.  I thought if you wouldn't mind
advancing the amount I could pay you back so much a week out of my
salary.  I hope and trust you will help me in my difficulty.  I need
hardly say I have seen the folly of my old ways, and am determined to
live carefully and economically in future.  Do please write by return
and help me.

"Your affect. nephew,--

"Fred.  Batchelor."

Jack approved of this effusion as businesslike and to the point.

"You haven't gone out of the way to excuse yourself," said he, "and I
dare say it will go down all the better for that.  If he doesn't write
and send up the money I shall be surprised."

Poor Jack!  A lot he knew about uncles of my sort!

However, I felt more comfortable to have written the letter, and if I
could only have been sure Wallop's threat was mere idle bluster I should
have slept easily.

As it was, I had had rather a stirring day for my first one out, and at
the end of it felt a good deal less game for work than at the beginning.
Nothing could exceed Jack's tenderness and anxiety to relieve me of as
much worry as possible.  When I was in bed he came and read aloud to me.
It was Virgil he read--which he was working at for his examination.
And I remember that evening lying half awake, half asleep, listening now
to him, thinking now of my debts, mixing up Aeneas with Wallop, and Mr
Shoddy with Laocoon, and poor old Priam with my uncle.

The following morning I rose only half refreshed, and made my way
anxiously to the office.  One of the first fellows I met was Wallop, who
greeted my approach with a surly grin.

I felt sure at that moment he had meant what he threatened yesterday,
and my heart quailed within me at the prospect.

"Well, young prig," said he, "I suppose you've brought my money?"

"No," said I; "I'm afraid I must ask you to wait a little longer.  I
hope you won't do anything for a day or two, at any rate.  I will do my
best to get it by then."

He laughed in my face, and evidently enjoyed my distress.

"You sung a different tune yesterday, my boy, when you hit me.  Do you
remember?  That wasn't the payment I wanted!"

"I'm sorry I lost my temper," said I.

"Well, I mean to show you I pay my debts more punctually than you do,"
said he; and with that he gave me a cuff on my head which sent me
reeling half across the office.

I could not--I dare not--return it, and he knew it.

"There," said he, laughing brutally; "now we're quits!  As to that
thirty shillings, I'll let you off, as it has been paid me."

"Paid you!"  I exclaimed, in utter bewilderment.  "Who by?"

"Hawkesbury!"



CHAPTER TWENTY NINE.

HOW I BEGAN TO SEE DAYLIGHT THROUGH MY TROUBLES.

Those of my readers who have read their Virgil will most likely remember
an observation made by one of the gentlemen who figure conspicuously in
the story of the _Aeneid_.  He dreaded his hereditary enemies, the
Greeks, under any circumstances; but he never dreaded them so much as
when they came and offered him presents!

This was pretty much my feeling when I was told that my debt to Wallop
had been paid for me by Hawkesbury.

There had been a time in my life when I almost liked Hawkesbury.  More
recently I had suspected him of being not quite the angel I once
believed him.  Later still I had felt my suspicion grow to very decided
dislike.  And now, at the moment when he made me his debtor for thirty
shillings, I positively loathed him.

I could not guess his motive.  I was certain it was not out of pure love
for me or pity for Wallop.  Indeed, I was pretty certain there was far
more mischief than good in the action.  I would sooner have owed Wallop
thirty pounds than Hawkesbury thirty shillings.  He knew it, too, and
for that very reason paid my debt to Wallop.

"Whatever business of Hawkesbury's is it?"  I demanded of Wallop, as
soon as I could find words to express myself.

"Goodness knows," replied Wallop, with a laugh.

"But I won't let him do it.  I don't want him to pay my debts.  You must
give him the money back, Wallop."  Wallop grinned delightedly.

"Oh, quite so.  It's rather likely, when I've been waiting for my money
the best part of a year, I should decline to receive it when I've got
the chance!  No, my boy, you can settle with Hawkesbury now.  You owe
him the thirty bob, not me!"

What was I to do?  I demanded an explanation of Hawkesbury as soon as he
appeared.

"Wallop tells me you've paid him the thirty shillings I owed him," said
I.

"Oh, he shouldn't have told you," said Hawkesbury, with the meek air of
a benevolent man who doesn't like to hear his own good deeds talked
about.

"I wish you hadn't done it," said I.

"Oh, you mustn't think of it," said he, blandly.  "It was only because I
heard him threaten to get you into trouble if you didn't pay him, and I
should have been so sorry if that had happened."

"Thank you, but really I prefer to pay my own debts!"

He laughed as if it was a joke.

"I'm sure you do; but as I knew you couldn't do it, I thought it would
be a relief to you if I did it for you."

Could he be in earnest?  He talked as if I ought to be grateful to him
instead of in a rage, as I was.  Certainly it was a queer position to be
in--storming at a fellow who has just saved you from debt, perhaps
disgrace, possibly ruin, I _couldn't_ make out what to think of it.

"I daresay you thought you were doing me a good turn," I said as civilly
as I could, "but as it happens I wish you had let the thing alone."

He sighed forgivingly and went to his desk.

The moment Jack and I got outside at dinner-time I unburdened my woes to
him.

He was in as great if not a greater commotion than I was.

"What does he mean by it?" he exclaimed.  "Fred, you must pay him back
at once, whatever it costs you!"

"All very well," said I, "but you know I've nothing."

"Can't you pawn anything? can't you get a job of some sort to do?
anything to pay him off.  I shall be miserable as long as you owe him a
farthing!"

He spoke with a vehemence that quite astonished me.--"You don't mean to
say you're going to let yourself stop in his debt?" he exclaimed, when I
did not answer.

"Not a second after I can get the money."

"When will you hear from your uncle?"

"To-morrow morning if he writes by return.  But I've no hopes from him."

"I suppose it would not do to ask the partners," said Jack.

I was thunderstruck at the very idea.  For Jack to entertain it for a
moment only showed how desperately in earnest he was.

We could get no light on the subject, and I had the pleasure of being
reminded by Hawkesbury's smile all day long that I was in his power, and
saw no way out.

That whole evening Jack and I sat and discussed the situation.  We even
rose early, to consult Mr Smith the elder on his return to the
lodgings.  He soon appreciated our difficulty; but he could suggest no
relief.  For he was as poor as either of us, and had as few friends.

My uncle's letter did not come that day or the next.

Meanwhile I knew no peace.  Hawkesbury's manner was more suave and
condescending than ever.

To the rest of my fellow-clerks during those two days I was the most
cross-grained and obnoxious comrade conceivable.  My only relief seemed
to be in quarrelling with somebody, and as they all laid themselves out
to bait and tease me one way or another I had a pretty lively time of
it.

My chief hope was (and Jack shared in it), that if my uncle had been
determined not to help me at all he would probably have written by
return.  The delay might mean he was at least considering the matter.

At last, on the third day of my waiting, the postman knocked at our
door.  With beating heart I rushed to receive the letter which I knew
must be for me.

It was, but it was not from my uncle, it was from Hawkesbury.

"My Dear Batchelor," he wrote, "I am very sorry to see that I have given
you offence by settling your debt with Wallop.  I really meant it for
the best, because I knew you could not pay, and I was afraid if it came
to my uncle's or Mr Barnacle's knowledge it might be awkward for you,
for I happen to know my uncle feels very strongly about clerks getting
into debt, especially through gambling.  I'm afraid I can't undo what
has been done, for Wallop will hardly give me back the money.  So I
write to tell you how sorry I am, and to say I hope you will forgive me.
Please do not trouble about the repayment of the loan; you must take
whatever time suits you.  I trust this little matter will not make us
worse friends than before.

"Yours sincerely,--

"E.  Hawkesbury.

"P.S.--I write this as I shall be away from the office the next two
days, while we are moving to our new house.  When we are settled in I
hope you will come and see us."

What was I to think of it?  For the last three days I had been losing no
opportunity of snubbing this fellow, and to demonstrate to him that, so
far from feeling obliged to him, I disliked him all the more for what he
had done.  In return for which he now writes me this beautiful letter,
breathing forgiveness and considerateness, and absolutely apologising
for having paid thirty shillings to save me from ruin!

Either he must be a paragon of the first water, or else--

I gave it up, and handed the letter across to Jack Smith.  He read it,
with knit brows, from beginning to end, and then a second time; after
which he tossed it back to me and said, "Well, what do you think of
that?"

"What do you?"

"Rot, every bit of it!"

I expected he would say so.  "But, Jack," I began.

"You don't mean to say," said Jack, "you're going to let yourself be
taken in by that stuff?"

"But unless he means what he says, what possible motive can he have for
writing a letter like that?"

Jack did not answer.  We did not discuss the matter further, but I went
down to the office that morning with the letter in my pocket, heartily
wishing I could make up my mind what to think of it all as easily as
Jack Smith.

One thing, at any rate, was a comfort--I should not see Hawkesbury for
two days.

But if I was to be spared the sight of one unwelcome person, I had in
store for me another which I little expected.  I was coming with Jack
out of the office on the second evening afterwards, after a hard day's
work, wondering why my uncle did not write, and sighing inwardly at the
prospect of seeing Hawkesbury back next day, when a stranger accosted me
in the street.

At least, I thought him a stranger until, standing full in front of him,
I saw his face and heard him speak.

"Oh, good evening, Mr Batchelor, sir!  The governor's compliments,
sir--Mr Shoddy's compliments--and he'll be particularly glad if you'll
step round now, sir."

I owed Shoddy three pounds, and this summons fell on my ear like a
knell.

"Better go," said Jack.

How sick Jack must be of me, thought I, by this time.  Ever since I had
been back with him he had been for ever worried either with my health or
my debts or my office rows.  I was half tempted to ask him not to come,
but I could not bring myself to be sufficiently self-denying.

"What does Mr Shoddy want me for?"  I asked of the assistant as we
walked along.

"I believe, sir, between ourselves, it's about your little account, sir.
How do the clothes wear, sir?  Nice stuff that tweed we made them of.
Could do you a very nice suit of the same now, sir, dirt cheap.  Two
fifteen to you, and measure the coat.  We should charge three guineas to
any one else."

It occurred to me to wonder why so great exception should be made in my
favour, especially as I had owed my present bill so long.  However, we
let the fellow rattle on at his shoppy talk, and soon arrived at Mr
Shoddy's ready-made clothes establishment.

I felt rather like a criminal being brought up before a judge than a
customer before the tailor of his patronage.

"Good evening, Mr Batchelor," said the tailor.  "Take a seat, sir."

I did so, and Jack took another.

A long pause ensued.

"You wished to see me," observed I.

"Well, yes, I do," said the tailor.  "The fact is, Mr Batchelor, you
aren't treating me well.  Those clothes were sold you for cash, sir--
cash down!"

"Yes, I'm afraid I have been rather slow in paying, Mr Shoddy," said I.

"Quite so, sir!  The question is, have you the amount with you now--
three pounds plus six shillings for interest to date?"

"I certainly have not the money with me," said I.

"Ah!  Then you are prepared to give me security, of course?  Now what do
you say to my drawing on Messrs. Merrett, Barnacle, and Company, at one
month, for the amount?  I should be satisfied with their bill."

I nearly jumped off my seat with horror.

"Merrett, Barnacle, and Company pay my tailor's bill!  Oh, no! quite out
of the question!"  I exclaimed.

"Ah, that's a pity!  I should have liked their bill, and you could pay
them by instalments."

"I wouldn't on any account have them spoken to on the subject," said I.

"Well, perhaps your friend here--"

"No," said Jack; "I've no money at all."

"Your uncle possibly--"

How had the man heard that I had an uncle?  He seemed to know all about
me, and I began to get uncomfortable.

"My uncle, I fear, would not advance the money.  I have already asked
him, and had no reply."

"This is rather awkward for you, sir," said Mr Shoddy, coolly.  "I
quite hoped you would have been prepared with a proposal."

"I might be able to pay you a shilling a week," I faltered.

Mr Shoddy shrugged his shoulders.  "Three pounds six is sixty-six
shillings, interest six and six; seventy-two shillings and sixpence--
seventy-two and a half weeks--one year and four and a half months to pay
off.  Thank you, sir; can't do it."

"I don't know what to do if you won't accept that," I faltered.

"Three shillings a week, _secured_," said the tailor, "would meet the
case, I think.  What do you think?"

"I could never keep it up, I fear," said I; "but I'd try."

"Thank you, sir.  You draw your salary weekly, I believe?"

"Yes," I said.

"Oh, then, if I just look in and see one of the principals and explain,
he'll stop the three shillings a week for me, which will save all
trouble.  What time are they generally at home?"

The cool resolve of the man to make my employers a party to my debt
positively terrified me.  I begged him to give up the idea, promised
wildly to do all sorts of things to pay him, and entreated him to give
me more time.

He was politely inexorable.  "Pleased to oblige you, but, after a year,
we must look after our little accounts, mustn't we?  Let's see, to-
morrow I'm engaged.  I'll look in on Friday and settle it."

No argument or entreaty of mine could make him understand such a step
would be ruination to me.  He was firmly convinced a guarantee from the
firm would be the best security for his money, and so, simply
disregarding all my protests and appeals, gaily promised to see me again
on Friday.

What was I to do?  My only hope was in my uncle's answer, and that, as
the reader knows, was small enough.

The following morning it arrived.  It was brief, and to the point:--

"Dear Nephew,--I hold that lads of your age cannot learn too soon that
the people to pay debts are those who make them.  I return your list, as
it may be useful.

"Yours,--

"F.  Jakeman."

It was what I had expected.  My last hope of a respite now gone to the
winds!

We walked down disconsolately to the office.  Hawkesbury was back in his
place, smiling as usual.  But the dread of Shoddy's visit to-morrow
drove away all thought for the present of resentment against Hawkesbury.
I was even constrained to greet him civilly, and when he asked if I had
received his letter, to say yes, I was much obliged.

On leaving the office that evening the tailor's assistant was hanging
about outside as before.  I imagined he had some fresh message, and went
up to him eagerly.  "Well," said I, "what is it?"

"Nothing that I know of," said he.  "I was just passing this way, and
thought I'd see how you were getting on.  No orders, I suppose?  None of
your young gentlemen want a nice cheap suit?  Pleased to make you a
consideration for the introduction.  If one or two of you joined
together and took a piece, could do the lot very reasonably indeed."

So, not only was I to be exposed before my employers to-morrow, but
meanwhile my movements were being watched, for fear I should run away, I
suppose.

"Jack," said I, as we walked along, "I believe you are right after all."

"How?" said Jack.

"The only thing to do is to tell the partners all about it, before
Shoddy comes to-morrow!"

"Well," said Jack, "I don't see it could be much worse than letting them
hear all about it from him."

With which consoling but desperate resolution we proceeded.

To beguile the time, we went round by Style Street.

A youth was standing having his boots blacked as we came up.  We thought
we recognised the figure--though till he turned round we could not
recall his name.  Then to our surprise we saw it was Flanagan.

But such a swell as he was!  He had alarmed me more than once by the
grandeur of his attire when I had met him at the parties of the "usual
lot."  I had seen him rarely since.  As for Jack, the two had scarcely
met since they left Stonebridge House.

"Hullo, Batchelor," he cried, as we approached, "that you?  I heard
you'd been ill, and--why, Smith," he broke out, catching sight of my
companion, "how are you?  Haven't seen you for ages!  And the rum thing
is I was speaking about you this very moment--wasn't I, kid?"

"Yaas," said Billy, with a grin.

"You know, Batchelor, you once introduced me to this young gentleman
when we were rolling home one night after a spree--fearfully slow
parties some of those!--and I've given him a job pretty often since--and
he was just telling me about you.  Lodging Drury Lane way, I hear?"

"Yes," said I.  There was something so genuine in the tone of my old
schoolfellow that I could almost forgive him his grand clothes.

"I say, couldn't you come along to my rooms to-night?  I'm all by
myself.  Jolly to talk over old days.  Come on, Smith."

"Thanks," said Smith, who, I could see, felt half shy of this old
comrade, "but I have to work for an exam., and it's coming off now in a
week or two."

"Well, Batchelor, you come," said Flanagan.

I hesitated a moment, and then consented.  The fact was, I suspected
Flanagan might possibly get his clothes made at Shoddy's.  In which
case, as to all appearance he must be a good customer, he might, I
thought, use his influence with the tailor to prevent the threatened
visit to-morrow.

So I went with him, much to his satisfaction, and we had a pleasant
evening together.  He confided to me his troubles.  How he was getting
tired of the "usual lot," and of London altogether, and wanted his
father to let him be a farmer.  How he was always getting into trouble
up here in town, living by himself, with far more money than he wanted,
and no one "to pull him up," as he called it.  How he often recalled
Stonebridge House with all its hardships, and wished himself back there
instead of in this unsatisfactory world of London.

"If I could only grind like Smith," said he, "it wouldn't be so bad; but
what's the use of my grinding?  In fact, what's the use of my being up
here at all, when I only get into rows, and spend one half of my time
going to the dogs and the other in pulling up?"

"Well," said I, "that's better than me, who spend all my time in going
to the dogs."

"Oh, but you had Smith to keep you steady," said he.  "You couldn't go
far wrong with him.  I've got no one of that sort.  I really wish my
father would put me to farming.  A fellow couldn't go to the dogs, you
know, all among the cows, and pigs, and horses--that is," added he,
laughing, "not the sort of dogs I mean."

There was a great deal in Flanagan's troubles with which I could
sympathise.  He was a fellow with a kind nature at bottom, but too easy-
going to withstand the temptations of London.

In return for his confidence I told him most of my troubles.  He was
greatly interested in the story, and especially reproached himself with
his share in aiding and abetting my past extravagances.

When, however, I came to tell him of my financial troubles with
Hawkesbury and Shoddy he brightened up suddenly.

"Why, why ever didn't you tell me of that before, Batchelor?" he
exclaimed.  "And this beggar Shoddy's going to show you up, is he?  Ha,
ha! we'll disappoint him for once in a way.  I know him of old."

"I was wondering if you knew him," said I, suddenly feeling my spirits
lightened, "and would mind asking him not to call up at the office."

"Of course I will," said Flanagan, jumping up and taking his hat.  "Come
along, old man, he won't be shut up yet, I expect.  If he is we'll wake
him up."

And off we went, my heart full of joy at this unexpected hope.

Shoddy's shop was still open, and its lord was at home.  He greeted
Flanagan obsequiously, as a good customer.

"Ah, Shoddy, how are you?  Just make out my friend's bill here, will
you--look sharp!"

Shoddy, in as much surprise as I was, promptly obeyed, adding the
interest for the last year and the next.

"Knock off that last six-and-six," demanded my friend.

"But that's for--"

"Knock it off, do you hear?" shouted Flanagan, "and receipt it."

Fancy my astonishment!  I had expected to see Shoddy persuaded to
abandon his idea of calling at the office; but this was far more than I
ever dreamt of.

"Oh, Flanagan," I began, "you really--"

"Shut up," said Flanagan.  "May as well owe it to me as Shoddy.  There,"
added he, putting down the money and giving me the receipt, "and look
here, Mr Shoddy, the next time you try your sharp practice on us I
change my tailor."

"And now," said he, putting a note into my hand, "this will help to
square accounts with Hawkesbury and some of the others.  Mind you pay it
back, do you hear?"

Before I could even turn to speak to him he had bolted round the corner
and vanished!



CHAPTER THIRTY.

HOW I PAID OFF A SCORE, AND MADE A RATHER AWKWARD DISCOVERY.

I stood staring at the five-pound note which Flanagan had left in my
hand in a state of utter bewilderment.

My first impulse was to give chase to my benefactor and compel him to
take back the money.  My second was to do nothing of the sort, but
rejoice with thankfulness over the help thus unexpectedly sent me.

It was little enough I had done to deserve any one's kindness, and it
was only too reasonable to expect to have to get myself out of my own
troubles.  But here, like some good fairy, my old Irish schoolfellow had
stepped on to the scene, and sent all those troubles to the right-about
with a single turn of the hand.

What rejoicings Jack and I had that night over my good fortune!  What
careful plans we made for a systematic repayment of the loan! and how
jubilantly I looked forward to handing Hawkesbury back his thirty
shillings in the morning!

Since I had received that letter of his my wrath had somewhat abated
towards him.  Much as I disliked and suspected him, still I could not
feel quite certain that he might not after all have meant well by what
he did, however blundering and objectionable a way he had taken to show
it.  That, however, did not interfere with my satisfaction now at the
prospect of being quits.

It was a positive luxury, as Jack and I entered the office next morning,
to be able to meet his amiable, condescending smile in a straightforward
way, and not by colouring up and looking confused and chafing inwardly.

I was anxious to get the ceremony over as soon as possible, and
therefore walked straight up to his desk, and, placing the thirty
shillings before him, said, in a voice which I did not trouble to
conceal from the other clerks present.

"That's the thirty shillings you paid Wallop for me the other day,
Hawkesbury.  I'm much obliged for the loan of it."

If some one had informed him he was to start in five minutes for the
North Pole, he could not have looked more amazed or taken aback.
Nothing, evidently, had been farther from his thoughts than that I
should be able to repay the loan, and to have it here returned into his
hands before I had been his debtor a week fairly astonished him.

His face darkened suddenly into an expression very unusual with him, as
he looked first at the money, then at me.

However, I gave him no time to say anything, but hurried off to my desk,
feeling--for the first time since my return to Hawk Street--that there
was not a man at the office I dared not look in the face.

As I expected, he sidled up to me at the first opportunity.

"Batchelor," said he, "you must really take the money back.  I am sure
you must want it.  I should be quite uncomfortable to feel I was
depriving you of it."

And so saying, he actually laid the two coins down on my desk.

"Thank you," I began; "but if--"

"Please don't talk so loud," said he; "I would rather everybody didn't
hear."

"Then," said I, "kindly take the money off my desk.  It's yours."

"But, really, Batchelor, I don't feel comfortable--"

"I do," I interrupted.

"I am sure you are not in a position to afford it," said he.  "Excuse my
asking, but--"

"I suppose you'd like to know where I got it from," said I, irritated at
his persistency.  "You may be surprised to hear I didn't steal it, and
equally surprised to hear I have no notion of gratifying your
curiosity."

I was perfectly amazed at my own hardihood in thus addressing him.  But
now I had paid him I was afraid of him no more.  He was too much put out
to keep up his chronic smile as he said.  "I hardly expected to be
spoken to in this way by you, Batchelor, after all that has happened.
If you had been left to yourself, I'm sure you would not have spoken so,
but your friend Smith appears to have a special spite against me."

I was tempted to retort, but did not, and he went back pensively to his
desk, taking the money with him.

The remainder of the five-pound note served to discharge my debts to the
Twins, and to Tucker, the pastrycook, and Weeden, the tobacconist.  The
last two I paid myself; the first I sent by Doubleday, not wishing to
encounter again the familiar heroes of the "usual lot."

It was with a light heart and a sense of burden removed from my life
that I returned that evening to the lodgings, whither jack had preceded
me.

On my arrival I found him in a state of uneasiness.

"Very queer," said he, "Billy's not turned up.  He was to be here at
seven, and it's now half-past; I never knew him late before."

"Very likely he's had some unexpected customers to detain him," I said.

"Not likely.  Billy wouldn't be late for an appointment here if the
Prince of Wales himself came to get his boots blacked."

"What can have become of him, then?"  I said.

"I wish I knew.  I am afraid he's got into trouble."

We waited another half-hour, and no Billy appeared.  Smith looked more
and more anxious.

"I think," said he, "we'd better go and look for him, Fred; what do you
say?"

"I'll come, certainly," said I; "but where do you expect to find him?"

"If there is no sign of him in Style Street, I expect he'll be in the
court where his mother lives."

I had a lively recollection of my last visit to that aristocratic
thoroughfare.  But I did not wish to seem unwilling to accompany Jack in
his quest.  Only I rather hoped we should find our man--or boy--in Style
Street.

But that we did not do.  The flagstone on which he was wont to establish
his box was there, bare and unoccupied except for the scrawling letters
and sums traced out with his finger-tip.  High or low, he was not to be
found in Style Street.

We went on in the growing dark towards the court.

"Do you know the house he lives at?"

"I'm not sure," said Jack.

"Do you know what name to inquire for?"

"No, only Billy," said Jack.

"Don't you think," said I, "it's rather unlikely we shall come across
him in a crowded court like that, knowing neither the name nor the house
where he lives?"

"Let us try, anyhow," said Jack.

We went on, and soon reached the well-known "slum."  I must confess
honestly I would rather not have entered.  Last time we had been there
one of us had been struck by smallpox, and both had had to run for our
lives, and it seemed to me--perhaps my illness had made me a coward--
that we were running an unnecessary risk now by plunging into it just
because Billy happened to be an hour late for an appointment.

However, Jack was determined, and I was determined to stick by Jack.

When we first entered, the court was as before, swarming with men and
women and children, and in the crowd we passed some way unnoticed.

Presently, however, Jack stopped and asked a woman--

"Do you know in what house a little boy called Billy who black boots
lives?"

The woman who was engaged in sewing a black sleeve on to an old grey
coat, looked up sharply, and demanded--

"What do you want to know for?"

"I want to see him," said Jack.

"What do you want to see him for?"

"He didn't come to the ragged school to-night."

The woman flared up.

"We don't want none of your ragged schools!  You go and teach yourselves
manners--that's what you'd better do, and don't come nosing about here--
as if we couldn't get on without a parcel of snuffing young prigs like
you to tell us what to do.  That's what I think of you."

And the honest British matron tossed her head in a huff, and went on
with her patchwork.

"If everybody was as honest as you," said Jack--where the sly dog
learned the art of flattery I can't imagine--"no one would interfere.
But we are afraid Billy's mother is not very good to him."

The woman looked up again, as if not quite sure what to make of this
speech.  But Jack looked so much in earnest that she said, shortly--

"You're about right there.  I'm a poor woman, but I hope I know better
than to make a beast of myself to my own childer."

Then she knew Billy, and could tell us where he lived after all.

Jack began, almost confidentially--

"Do you think--"

But he got no farther just then, for we had not noticed a group of
idlers who, attracted by our presence in the court, and curious to know
our business, had gathered round, and now began, half in jest, half in
earnest, to hustle us, crying--

"Go on home.  Go and teach yourselves.  We don't want none of your ABC."

We thought it wise to walk slowly on, without appearing to be running
away.

About half way up the court, however, a further stoppage occurred.

This was occasioned by the appearance of another stranger in the court
besides ourselves--a clergyman, who, with a small but offence-less crowd
at his heels, was making a grand tour of the various houses and flats.

He was a tall, kindly-looking man, with hair just turning white, who
looked like a man who did not spare himself or live for himself.  He had
a pleasant word for everybody, however unpleasant and unpromising they
might seem, and bore all the remarks and jests of unfriendly loafers
with great good-humour and composure.

The sight of him in the midst of our difficulties was most welcome.  We
quickened our steps to meet him.  The knot of roughs who were following
us looked on this as a rout, and set up a yell of defiance.  Others,
seeing us walking rapidly away, joined in the demonstration, and one or
two, not content with following us with their voices, followed us with
stones.

Just as we came up to the clergyman a stone intended for one of us
whizzed past my ear, and struck him on the cheek.  He never moved a
muscle, or even looked to see where it came from, but walked on to meet
us.

"Oh! sir," said Jack, stepping forward, "we're so glad to meet you.
We're looking for a little boy called Billy, who lives in this court,
who generally comes to our ragged school, but wasn't there this evening.
He's a shoeblack.  Do you know where he lives?"

"I wish I could tell you," said the clergyman, "but this is my first
visit here.  Where is your school?"

"Oh, it's not properly a school, but Billy and sometimes one or two
others come to our lodgings, and learn to write and read.  He has never
missed before.  That's what makes me fear something is wrong."

At that moment the object of our search stood before us, with his usual
grin wider than ever.

"What cheer, blokes?" was his greeting.  "Oh, 'ere, governor, I reckon
you're a-goin' to turn me up 'cos I wasn't at the racket school.  But my
old gal, she's a-missin'.  She's always a-skylarkin' somewheres, she is,
and I was a-lookin' for her."

"Have you found her?" asked Jack, whose pleasure at finding his young
_protege_ was unconcealed.

"Found 'er!  No; but I knows where she is."

"Where?"

"In the station, for smashin' winders.  Ain't she a wonner?"

"My poor boy!" said the clergyman, sympathisingly.

"Ga on!  I ain't your boy.  Don't know yer; I'm this 'ere bloke's chap,
and I ain't a-goin' to be larned by no one else."

It was impossible to avoid smiling at this frank declaration, seriously
as it was uttered.

"When did your mother get into trouble?" asked Jack.

"This very afternoon, bless 'er old 'art.  She was on the fly all
yesterday, a-goin' on any'ow.  So I comes round afore the racket school,
to see if she was a-coolin' down, and, there! if she 'adn't hooked it!
I 'as a good look up and down the court, but she'd walked.  So I cuts to
the nighest station, and sees a pal o' mine outside.  `It's all right,'
says he; `she's in there,' meaning the lock-up.  `Wot was she up to?'
says I.  `Winders agin,' he says.  So she's all safe, she is."

"I tell you what it is, Billy," said Smith.  "I'm afraid you let her
spend the money you get for blacking boots on drink.  That's what gets
her into trouble."

"That ain't no concern of yourn," said Billy.  Then, suddenly correcting
himself, he added, "Leastways it ain't no concern of these here two
blokes.  Mister, I say, governor, is it too late for to learn me to-
night?"

"Yes, it's too late to-night; but we'll have the school to-morrow
instead.  Where will you live while your mother's away?"

"Oh, ain't you funny!" said the boy, with a grin.  "As if a chap liked
me lived anywheres!"

"Well," said Jack, taking my arm, and not desirous to prolong the
discussion, "mind you turn up to-morrow, Billy."

"No fears," cried Billy, with a grin, accompanying us for a step or two,
walking on his hands.

"That's a most extraordinary lad," said the clergyman.

"There's a lot of good in him," responded Smith.

"And you are doing your best to bring it out," said the clergyman.

"Which way are you going?" said he, when presently with no further
adventure we had got through the court.

"To Drury Lane," said I.

"Ah, down this street.  That's my way too.  Will you just come into my
house and have a bit of supper?"

Jack never liked accepting invitations, but there was something so
friendly and simple-minded about this clergyman that it would almost
have seemed rude to say no.

"This is quite a new part of the town to me," said he, as we walked
along.  "I suppose you know it well?"

"Yes," said I, "we lived close here for some months."

"I wished you lived here still," he said.  "I want workers of your sort
in my new parish."

He insisted on including _me_ in his compliments, not knowing how little
I deserved them.

"My walk this evening," said he, "is really the first serious voyage of
discovery I have made in my parish, and the result is not very
encouraging.  It seems a very low neighbourhood, worse a good deal than
I expected.  However, there will be all the more to do."

There was something so modest and yet so resolute in the way he spoke
that we both liked him.

His house, a dull-looking City rectory, was at the end of the street,
and here we halted.

"We're rather in a state of confusion here," said he, as he rang the
bell, "we only moved in this week.  So you must take us as you find us."

We entered, and were ushered into a pleasant parlour, which appeared to
be the only completely furnished room at present.

"Is Mr Edward at home?" asked our host of the servant.

"Yes, sir, he's upstairs."

"Ask him to come down," said he, "and bring in supper."

He explained to us that Edward was his son, whom he would like us to
know.

"I'm often sorry for him," said the father; "he has no mother, and I am
too much occupied to be much with him.  I wish he had some _good_
friends in London."

He emphasised the word "good," as much as to say that some of his son's
friends were not very desirable.

The servant brought in supper, and said that Master Edward would be down
presently.

Meanwhile our host chatted pleasantly, chiefly about his parish and his
plans for improving it.  I could not help admiring him more and more as
he went on.  He was not, to all appearance, a very clever man, but there
was an honest ring about all he said which made me feel that, had I only
known him in the months past I might have been spared many of my follies
and troubles.

At last there was a step in the hall outside, and the door opened.  What
was our amazement and consternation when we beheld in Edward, the good
clergyman's son--Hawkesbury!

Our consternation, however, hardly exceeded his, on seeing who his
father's visitors were.  And as for the clergyman himself, the sight of
our mutual astonishment fairly took him aback.

It was half a minute at least before any one could sufficiently recover
his surprise to speak.  During the interval my great fear was how Smith
would act.  I knew he detested Hawkesbury, and believed him to be a
hypocrite and a deceiver, and I knew too that he was rarely able to
contain himself when face to face with the fellow.  How he would behave
now, a guest in the father's house, I could not imagine.  Fool that I
was!  I was always doubting my friend!

"Why, how is this," said Mr Hawkesbury, "you seem to know one another?"

"Yes," said I, "Hawkesbury here is at Merrett, Barnacle, and Company's
with Smith and me."

"How very curious!" said the clergyman; "and, to be sure, I neither knew
your names, nor you mine.  Well, as you all know one another, I needn't
introduce you."

"Father," said Hawkesbury, standing still at the door, "I want to speak
to you a moment, please."

"Yes, presently; but come in now, Edward, we are waiting to begin
supper.  Now, what an odd coincidence to come across you in this way!"

"I want to speak to you, father," again said Hawkesbury.

The father looked vexed as he turned towards his son.

Smith rose at the same moment and said, holding out his hand to Mr
Hawkesbury, "I think, if you will excuse us, we had better go, sir."

"What, before supper! why, how is this?"

"I think your son would rather not have us here," said Jack, solemnly.

The father looked in amazement, first at us, then at his son, who once
more asked to speak to his father.

The good man, in evident bewilderment, begged us to excuse him for a
moment.  But Jack, taking my arm once more, said, before our host could
leave the room, "Good-night, sir.  Thank you very much for your
kindness."

And before I well knew where I was, we were standing out in the street.



CHAPTER THIRTY ONE.

HOW I MADE A STILL MORE IMPORTANT DISCOVERY.

A few evenings after the awkward discovery recorded in the last chapter
Mr Hawkesbury himself called at our lodgings.  He looked troubled and
constrained, but as kind as usual.

He came to tell us how sorry he was to have been deprived of our company
that evening, and to offer a sort of apology for his son's conduct.

"I fear from what he tells me that you do not all get on very happily
together at the office.  I am so sorry, for I would have liked you all
to be friends."

It was hardly possible to tell the father frankly what we thought of his
son, so I replied, vaguely, "No, we don't get on very well, I'm sorry to
say."

"The fact is," said Jack, "we never have been friends."

"He told me so, greatly to my sorrow."

"I suppose he also told you why?" asked Jack, glancing sharply at the
clergyman.

The latter looked disturbed and a trifle confused as he replied, "Yes,
he did tell me something which--"

"He told you I was a convict's son," said Jack, quietly.

"What!" exclaimed the clergyman, with an involuntary start--"what!  No,
he didn't tell me that, my poor boy: he never told me that!"

"I am," quietly said Jack.

I was amazed at the composure with which he said it, and looked the
visitor in the face as he did so.

The face was full of pity and sympathy.  Not a shade of horror crossed
it, and for all he was Hawkesbury's father, I liked him more than ever.

"Do you mind telling me what he did say about me?" asked Jack,
presently.

"We will not talk about that," said the clergyman.

Jack looked disposed for a moment to persevere in his demand, but the
father's troubled face disarmed him.

"Poor Edward has had great disadvantages," he began, in a half-
apologetic, half-melancholy way, "and I often fear I am to blame.  I
have thought too much of my work out of doors, and too little of my duty
to him.  I have not been to him all that a father should be."

He said this more in the way of talking to himself than of addressing
us.  But I saw Jack colour up at the last reference, and hastened to
change the subject.

We felt quite sorry for him when he rose to go.  He evidently knew his
son's failings only too well, and with a father's love tried to cover
them.  And I could see how in all he said he was almost pleading with us
to befriend his boy.

To me it was more than painful to hear him talk thus--to speak to me as
if I was a paragon of virtue, and to apologise to _me_ for the defects
of his own son.  It was more than I could endure; and when he started to
go I asked if I might walk with him.

He gladly assented, and then I poured into his ears the whole story of
my follies and struggles and troubles in London.

I shall never forget the kind way in which he listened and the still
kinder way in which he talked when he had heard all.

I am not going to repeat that talk here; the reader may guess for
himself what a simple Christian minister would have to say to one in my
case, and how he would say it.  He neither preached nor lectured, and he
broke out into no exclamations.  Had he done so, I should probably have
been flurried and frightened away.  But he talked to me as a father to
his son--or rather as a big brother to a young one--entering into all my
troubles and difficulties, and even claiming a share in them himself.

It was a long time since I had had such a talk with any one, and it did
me good.

An uneventful week or two followed.  We occasionally saw Mr Hawkesbury
at our lodgings, for Smith could never bring himself to the point of
again visiting the rectory.  Indeed, he was now so busily engaged in the
evenings preparing for his coming examination that he had time for
nothing, and even the education of the lively Billy temporarily devolved
on me.

It was not till after a regular battle royal that that young gentleman
could be brought to submit to be "larned" by any one but his own special
"bloke," and even when he did yield, under threats of actual expulsion
from the school, he made such a point of comparing everything I did and
said with the far superior manner in which Smith did and said it, that
for a time it was rather uphill work.  At length, however, he quieted
down, and displayed no small aptitude for instruction, which was
decidedly encouraging.

At the office Hawkesbury, ever since the uncomfortable meeting at his
father's, had been very constrained in his manner to Jack and me,
attempting no longer to force his society on us, and, indeed, relapsing
into an almost mysterious reserve, which surprised more of those who
knew him than our two selves.

As Doubleday said--who had never quite got over his sense of injury--"he
had shut himself up with his petty-cash, and left us to get on the best
we could without him."

Smith and I would both, for his father's sake, have liked if possible to
befriend him or do him a good turn.  But he seemed studiously to avoid
giving us the opportunity, and was now as distant to us as we had once
been to him.

However, in other respects our life at Hawk Street proceeded pleasantly
enough, not the least pleasant thing being a further rise in both our
salaries, an event which enabled me to set aside so much more every week
to repay Flanagan his generous loan, as well as to clear myself finally
of debt.

Things were going on thus smoothly, and it was beginning to seem as if
the tide of life was set calm for both of us, when an event happened
which once more suddenly stirred us to excitement and perturbation.

It was a Sunday evening, the evening preceding Jack's examination.  He
had been working hard, too hard, night after night for weeks past, and
was now taking a literal day of rest before his ordeal.  We were in our
room with Mr Smith the elder, who was a regular Sunday visitor.  He had
devoted whatever spare time he could give of late to Jack's
preparations, "coaching" him in Latin and Greek, and reading with him
Ancient History.  And now he was almost as excited and anxious about the
result as either of us two.

Indeed, Jack himself took the whole matter so coolly that it seemed he
must either have been perfectly confident of success, or perfectly
indifferent to it, and this evening he was doing quite as much to keep
up our spirits as we his.

The examination, which was to last two days, was to begin at nine next
morning, and Jack had received a gratifying permission from the partners
to absent himself for those two days accordingly.

"It will be a pretty hard grind while it lasts," Jack said, "for the
examination goes on eight hours each day."

"When is the _viva-voce_ portion?" asked Mr Smith.

"To-morrow.  They begin with it, and I shall be glad when it is over.  I
don't mind the writing nearly so much."

"Hadn't you better go to bed now," suggested I, "and get a good-night?"

"So I will," said he, "presently.  But I must first write to Mrs
Shield."

I happened to be looking towards Mr Smith the elder as Jack said this.
He gave a quick involuntary start, which, however, he instantly turned
off into a fit of coughing as his eyes met mine.

Mr Smith had had a racking cough ever since I had known him, but I
don't think I ever remembered his having a spasm of this kind before.

"The fact is," said Jack, whose back was turned, as he looked for some
note-paper on the shelf, "I ought to have written last week, but I was
so busy.  And if I put it off any longer they will both think something
is wrong."

I only heard what he said mechanically, for my eyes were fixed on Mr
Smith.

His face had turned deadly white, and the old frightened look about his
eyes came out now with startling intensity.  He certainly must be ill or
in pain.

"Are you--" I began.

But with a sudden effort he rose to his feet, and with a glance at Jack
motioned to me to be silent, and leave the question unasked.

"What?" said Jack, turning round to me.

"Are you--going to write a long letter?"  I asked.

"I can't say till I begin," said Jack, laughing, and sitting down to
write.

"I'll say good-night," said Mr Smith, in a hoarse but otherwise
composed voice.

"Good-night," said Jack.  "I wish you'd get rid of your cold.  All that
night work must be bad for you."

Mr Smith shook hands with me in silence and quitted the room.  I heard
his footsteps go strangely down the stairs, and his door shut behind him
in the room below.

I didn't feel comfortable.  I was afraid he was ill--more ill than he
wished either of us to suspect.  It was the only way in which I could
account for the spasm which preluded that last fit of coughing.

If it was so, he would be naturally anxious to conceal the fact from
Jack on the eve of his examination, and that would account for his
abrupt interruption of my question.

However, I had no examination to-morrow, and I was determined if
possible to know the truth about our friend that very evening.

I sat by while Jack wrote his letter, thinking it interminable, and
wondering what he could have to say to fill two sheets.  When it was
done I insisted on taking it to the post.

"It's after ten now," said I, "and you really ought to be in bed."

"You're precious careful of me, old boy," he said.  "However, you shall
have your own way for once."

I saw him safe in bed before I started, and then hastened out.

To post the letter was the work of a minute or two, for there was a
pillar-box a little way down the road.  This done, I returned eagerly
and with some trepidation to the lodgings, and knocked at Mr Smith's
door.

He made no answer, so I entered without leave.

He was sitting on a chair by the tireless hearth with his head on his
hands, either asleep or buried in thought.

It was not till I touched him that he became aware of my presence, and
then he did so with a start, as if I had been a ghost.

"Ah, Batchelor," said he, recovering himself and leaning back in his
chair.

"Are you ill, Mr Smith?"  I asked.

"No, my boy, no," said he; "not ill."

"I thought you were--upstairs just now."

"Did you?  Ah! you saw me jump; I had a twinge.  But don't let's talk of
that.  Sit down and let's talk of something else."

I sat down, very perplexed and uneasy, and more convinced than ever that
Mr Smith was not himself.

"How do you think he'll get on in his examination?" asked he, after a
pause.

"Jack?  Oh, I have very little doubts about it," said I.

"No more have I; he's well and carefully prepared."

"Thanks a great deal to you," said I.  "Well, I did get him on a little
with the Greek, I believe," said Mr Smith.

Another pause ensued, during which Mr Smith sat looking hard into the
empty grate.  Then he asked, "You have known him a long time,
Batchelor?"

"Yes; we were at school together."

"Do you know his parents at all?"

"No," I replied, feeling uncomfortable to be once more on this dangerous
ground, although on my guard, and prepared to bite my tongue off rather
than play my friend false again.

Mr Smith assumed as complete an air of unconcern as he could as he
asked, "It's a strange question, but do you know anything about them?"

I would have given a good deal to be out of that room.  There was
something in Mr Smith's voice and manner and frightened eyes which made
the question, coming from him, very different from the same inquiry
flippantly thrown out by one of my old comrades.  And yet I would not--I
could not--answer it.

"I can't say," I replied, as shortly as possible, and rising at the same
time to leave the room.

He prevented me by a quick gesture, which almost ordered me not to go,
and I resumed my seat.

"You wonder why I ask the question?" said he, slowly.

"I think," said I, "it would be best to ask it of Jack himself."

Mr Smith said nothing, but sat brooding silently for a minute.  Then he
said, in a tone which sounded as if he was asking the question of
himself rather than me, "Who is the Mrs Shield he writes to?"

He spoke so queerly and looked so strangely that I half wondered whether
he was not wandering in his mind.

"Please," said I, "do not ask me these questions.  What is the matter
with you, Mr Smith?"

"Matter, my boy!" said he, with a bitter laugh; "it's a big question you
ask.  But I'll tell you if you'll listen."

I repented of having asked the question, he looked so haggard and
excited.  However, there was nothing for it but to sit still while he,
pacing to and fro in the room, told me his story in his own way.

"This is not the first time you have been curious about me, Batchelor.
You have suspected I was or had been something different from the poor
literary hack you see me, and you have been right, my boy."

He stopped short in his walk as he said this, and his eyes flashed, just
as I had sometimes seen Jack's eyes flash in the old days.

"Sixteen--no, seventeen--years ago I was the happiest man alive.  I can
see the little cottage where we lived, my wife and child and I, with its
ivy-covered porch and tiny balcony, and the garden which she so prided
in behind.  It seemed as if nothing could come and disturb our little
paradise.  I was not rich, but I had all I wanted, and some to spare.  I
used to walk daily across the field to--where the bank of which I was
manager was situated, and they--she and the boy--came to meet me every
evening on my return.  I felt as if my life was set fair.  I could
picture no happiness greater than our quiet evenings, and no hope
brighter than a future like the present."

Here Mr Smith paused.  This picture of a happy home he had drawn with a
dreamy voice, as one would describe a fancy rather than a reality.
After a pause he went on:

"The thing I thought impossible happened suddenly, fearfully, while I
was even hugging myself in my prosperity and happiness.  She died.  A
week before she had given me a sister for my boy.  Our cup of joy seemed
full to overflowing.  The mother and child throve as well as any one
could expect.  She was to get up next day, and I was to carry her down
stairs, and set her for a little amongst her flowers in the little
drawing-room.  I wished her good-bye gaily that morning as I went off to
my work, and bade her be ready for me when I returned.

"Ah! what a return that was!  At mid-day a messenger rushed into the
bank and called to me to come at once to my wife.  I flew to her on the
wings of terror, and found her--dead!"

Here the speaker paused again.  His voice had trembled at the last word,
but his face was almost fierce as he turned his eyes to me.

I said nothing, but my heart bled for him.  "The hope had gone from my
life.  I had no ballast, nothing to steady me in the tempest.  My hope
had been all in the present, and it perished with her.  I cared for
nothing, my little children were a misery to me, the old home was
unendurable.  I got leave of absence from my employers, and came up
here--desperate.  I dashed into every sort of dissipation and
extravagance; I tried one excitement after another, if only I could
drown every memory I had.  I abandoned myself to so-called `friends' of
the worst sort, who degraded me to their own level, then forsook me.
Still I plunged deeper--I was mad.  My one dread was to have a moment to
myself--a moment to think of my home, my children, my wife.  How I lived
through it all I cannot think--and I did not care.

"At last a letter reached me from my employers, requiring my presence at
business.  My money had long gone, my creditors pressed me on every
hand, my friends one and all mocked at my destitution.  I returned to
---, hiding before my employers the traces of my madness, and letting
them wonder how grief had changed me.  My home I could not go near--the
sight of it and of the children would have driven me utterly mad.  I
lived in the town.  For a week or so I tried hard to keep up
appearances--but the evil spirit was on me, and I could not withstand
him.  I had not then learnt to look to a Greater for strength.  I must
fly once more from one misery to another tenfold worse.

"But I had no money.  My savings were exhausted.  My salary was not due.
I dared not beg it in advance.  I was manager of the bank, and had
control over all that was in it.  The devil within me tempted me, and I
yielded.  I falsified the accounts, and tampered with the books of the
bank.  My very desperation made me ingenious, and it was not till I had
been away a month with my ill-gotten booty that the frauds were
discovered."

Again he stopped, and I waited with strangely perturbed feelings till he
resumed.

"At first I tried to hide myself, and spent some weeks abroad.  But
though I escaped justice, my misery followed me.  During those weeks, I,
who till then had been upright and honest, knew not a moment's peace.
At night I never slept an hour together, by day I trembled at every face
I met.  The new torture was worse than the old, and at last in sheer
despair I returned to London and courted detection.  It seemed as if
they would never find me.  The less I hid myself, the more secure I
seemed.  At last, however, they found me--it was a relief when they did.

"I acknowledged all, and was sentenced to penal servitude for fourteen
years."

"What!"  I exclaimed, springing from my seat.  "You are--"

"Hush!" said Mr Smith, pointing up to the ceiling, "you'll wake him.
Yes, I am, or I was, a convict.  Listen to the little more I have to
say."

I restrained myself with a mighty effort and resumed my seat.

"I was transported, and for ten years lived the life of a convicted
felon.  It was a rough school, my boy, but in it I learned lessons an
eternity of happiness might never have taught me.  Christ is very
pitiful.  They brought me out of madness into sense, and out of storm
into calm.  As I sat at night in my cell I could bear once more to think
of the little ivy-covered cottage, of the green grave in the churchyard,
and of the two helpless children who might still live to call me father.
What had become of them?  They were perhaps growing up into boyhood and
girlhood, beginning to discover for themselves the snares and sorrows of
the world which had overcome me.  Need I tell you I prayed for those two
night and day?  A convict's prayer it was--a forger's prayer, a thief's
prayer; but a father's prayer to a pitiful Father for his children.

"After ten years I received a `ticket-of-leave,' and was free to return
home.  But I could not do it yet.  I preferred to remain where I was, in
Australia, till the full term of my disgrace was ended, and I was at
liberty as a free and unfettered man to show my face once more in
England.  It is not two years since I returned.  No one knew me.  Even
in--my name had been forgotten.  The ivy-covered cottage belonged to a
stranger, and no one could tell me what had become of the forger's
children who once lived there.  It was part of my punishment, and it may
be my long waiting is not yet over."

Here once more he paused, looking hard at me with his frightened eyes.
I was going to speak, but he stopped me.

"No; let me finish.  I came here, sought work, and found it; and found
more than work--I found your friend.  When I first met him he was
unhappy and friendless.  You know why better than I do.  I watched him,
and saw his gallant struggle against poverty and discouragement and
perhaps unkindness.  I found in him the first congenial companion I had
met since she died.  I shared his studies, and--and the rest you know.
But now," said he, as once more I was about to speak, "you will wonder
what all this has to do with the questions I asked you just now.  You
may guess or you may not; I don't know.  This is why.  When she died,
and I madly deserted all the scenes of my old happiness, my two orphan
children were left in the charge of a nurse, a young married woman then,
whose name was Shield.  Now do you wonder at my questions?"



CHAPTER THIRTY TWO.

HOW I CAME TO HAVE SEVERAL IMPORTANT CARES UPON ME.

I scarcely knew whether I was awake or dreaming as Mr Smith closed his
strange story with the inquiry--

"Now do you wonder at my questions?"

Little had I thought when that evening I knocked at his door and
entered, that before I left the room I should have found Jack's father.

It was some time before I could talk coherently or rationally, I was so
excited, so wild at the discovery.  My impulse was to rush to Jack at
once, and tell him what I had found, to run for Mr Hawkesbury, to
telegraph to Mrs Shield--to _do_ something.

"Don't be foolish," said he, who was now as composed as he had lately
been wild and excited.  "We may be wrong after all."

"But there can be no doubt," I said.  "This Mrs Shield is his old nurse
and his sister's--he has told me so himself--who took care of them when
their father--went away."

Mr Smith sighed.

"Surely," I cried, "you will come and tell Jack all about it?"

"Not yet," said he, quietly.  "I have waited all these years; I can wait
two days more--till his examinations are over--and then you must do it
for me, my boy."

It was late before I left him and went up to my bed in Jack's room.

There he lay sound asleep, with pale, untroubled face, dreaming perhaps
of his examination to-morrow, but little dreaming of what was in store
when that was over.

It was little enough I could sleep during the night.  As I lay and
tossed and thought over the events of the evening, I did not know
whether to be happy or afraid.  Supposing Jack should refuse to own his
father!  Suppose, when he heard that story of sin and shame, he should
turn and repudiate the father who had so cruelly wronged him and his
sister!

What a story it was!  And yet, as I went over its details and pictured
to myself the tragedy of that ruined life, I trembled to think how
nearly a similar story might have been mine, had I not by God's grace
been mercifully arrested in time.

Who was I, to think ill of him?  He had been driven to his ruin by a
shock which had nearly robbed him of reason.  I had fallen through sheer
vanity and folly, and who was to say I might not have fallen as low as
he, had there been no hand to save me, no friend to recall me, by God's
mercy, to myself?

I was thankful when I heard Jack stir, and had an excuse for getting up.

"Hullo!" said he, as I did so; "you were a jolly long time posting that
letter last night, or else I must have gone to sleep pretty quickly."

"I just looked in to talk to Mr Smith," I said, "on my way back."

"Ah, do you know, I think he's working too hard.  He didn't look well
last night."

"He seemed a little out of sorts," I said, "but I'm afraid that's
nothing very unusual.  Well, old boy, how do you feel in prospect of
your exam.?"

"Oh, all right," said Jack, complacently.  "I suppose I ought to feel in
mortal terror and nervousness and despondency.  I believe that's what's
expected of a fellow before an exam.  If so, I'm unorthodox.  Perhaps
it's a sign I shall be plucked."

"I'm not afraid of that," said I.

"Well, I have a notion I may pull through."

"If you pass," said I, struck with a thought that had not before
occurred to me, "shall you go to college, Jack?"

He laughed at the question.

"I should have to come out first of all," said he, "to get what would
keep me at college.  And even so, I'm not cut out for that sort of
life."

"If you mean living by your brains, I say you are."

"Of course you say so.  You're always stuffing me up.  But, apart from
that, you know there are other reasons why I should not be likely to get
on well at a university."

I knew what his meaning was only too well.

"But what rubbish we are talking!" said he.  "We've made up our minds
I'm going to come out first, when it's more likely all I shall do will
be to scrape through with a pass, and not take honours at all."

At this point Mr Smith looked in to wish Jack joy before he started,
and greatly to my relief Billy entered at the same time.

The latter visitor was quite unexpected.

"Well, Billy, what's up?"  I inquired.

"Ga on!  As if you didn't know," replied the grinning youth.

"I don't know."

"What," said Billy, jerking his head towards Jack, "ain't he goin' to
'is 'sam, then?"

"Yes, he's going to his examination this morning."

"And I are a-goin' to give him a proper shine afore he goes," replied
the boy, almost fiercely.

"Of course you are, Billy," said Jack.  "I believe I should come to
grief altogether if I went without having my boots polished."

"In corse you would," said the delighted Billy, commencing operations
forthwith.

"I say, governor," said he, looking up, halfway through his task, "I
give the animal a topper last night."

"What animal?" inquired Jack.

"That there 'Orksbury, so I did.  Him and 'is pal comes along and twigs
me a-sottin' on my box.  `That's the kid.  Mashing,' says 'Orksbury.
Mashing he up to me, and says he, `Would you like a shillin', my boy?'
says he.  `You're 'avin' a lark with me,' says I.  `No, I ain't,' says
'e, 'oldin' it out.  `What do yer want?' says I.  `You know Smith?' says
'Orksbury.  `That ain't no concarn of yourn,' says I.  `You ain't got no
concarn with my governor,' says I.  `Oh, then you don't want the
shillin'?' says he.  `No, I don't,' says I, seein' they was up to games.
`What do you mean by it?' says Mashing, a-pullin' my ear.  (Bless you,
'e don't know the way to pull a cove's ear; my old gal can do it
proper.) `No one is going to do anything to Smith,' says 'e.  `We only
want you to give him this,' says he, pullin' out a bit of paper.  `Don't
give it 'im,' says 'Orksbury; `he's a young thief,' says 'e, `and 'e'll
only spoil it all.'  `I will so,' says I, `and I'll spoil you too,' says
I, aimin' a brush at his 'ed.  They gives me a wipin' for it, but there,
they can't 'arf do it.  And they says if I want my shillin' I can go and
get it from that cantin' son of a thief--meanin' you, governor--what
kep' me.  Bless you, they did jaw, them two, but I give that 'Orksbury a
topper, which I owed 'im one afore."

This spirited address on the part of our young friend I need hardly say
interested us all deeply.  We all resented the outrage which had been
offered to him, and admired the spirit with which he had stood to his
colours during the interview.

This little episode served to smooth the way for Mr Smith's interview
with Jack.  It gave him time to compose himself, and get over the
emotion which the first sight of his lost son since last night's
discovery naturally roused.

When he did speak it was steadily and cheerily as ever.

"Just popped up," he said, "to wish you success, my boy.  Keep your head
during the _viva-voce_, and remember that rule about the second aorist."

"All serene," said Jack, laughing.  "I say, Mr Smith," added he, "if I
don't pass I shall feel myself the most ungrateful brute out."

"So you will be," replied Mr Smith, nodding pleasantly as he left the
room.

I wondered at his nerve, and admired the self-control which could thus
enable him to talk and even jest at such a time.

I had time to walk round with Jack to the place of examination before
business, and give him my final benediction at the door.

Then I hurried off to Hawk Street.

It was a long, dull day there without him.  Hawk Street had long since
ceased to be exciting.  The fellows I liked--and they were very few--did
not obtrude their affections on me during business hours, and the
fellows I disliked had given up the pastime of baiting me as a bad job.
I had my own department of work to attend to, and very little
communication with any one else in the doing of it, except with
Doubleday, who, as the reader knows, usually favoured me when anything
specially uninviting wanted doing.

Of Hawkesbury I now saw and heard less than any one.  He had been
promoted to a little glazed-in box of his own, where in stately solitude
he managed the petty-cash, kept the correspondence, and generally worked
as hard as one who is a cut above a clerk and a cut below a partner is
expected to do.

On the day in question I was strongly tempted to break in upon his
solitude and demand an explanation of his conduct to Billy on the
preceding evening.  But a moment's reflection convinced me of the folly
of such a course.  It was not likely, if I got any answer at all, I
should get a satisfactory one, while to reopen communications at all
after what had occurred might be unwise and mischievous.  For ever since
Hawkesbury and I had ceased to be on talking terms at the office I had
been more comfortable there, and involved in fewer troubles than ever
before.

So I let well alone.

During the day an important telegram arrived at the office, which kept
the partners closeted together in the inner-room for an hour, in earnest
conference, at the end of which time Hawkesbury was sent for.

Doubleday, who had seen the telegram, told me it was to say that a
vessel reported lost had turned up, with a cargo which was now double
the value in the market it would have been had she arrived when
expected.  However, there were points connected with the insurance and
other matters which would require the presence of one of the firm at
Liverpool, and this was evidently the object of the present
confabulation.

"A year ago," said Doubleday, "they would have sent me.  But now the
darling comes in for all the trips."

Which proved to be the case now.  Hawkesbury emerged from the inner-room
with an important face, and told the junior clerk (I no longer held that
distinguished post), to fetch a hansom immediately.  Doubleday nudged
me.

"If it was you or me, I fancy we'd fetch our own hansoms, eh!  Never
mind, we've neither of us got uncles."

"Haven't we?" said I, laughing.  "I have."

"Ah--so have I, for the matter of that.  Three--all as poor as church
mice too.  I mean we've not got uncles in the firm.  But what puzzles me
is, what is to become of the petty-cash?  I suppose I'm to be favoured
with that job during his lordship's absence.  I shall certainly cover
the book with crape."

"Batchelor," called Hawkesbury at that moment, just putting his head out
of the door of his box, "will you step here, please?"

Doubleday nudged me again, harder than ever.

"I say," said he, with glee, "you're to be sent too to carry his bag--
see if you aren't."

However, Doubleday was wrong for once.  The honour he prophesied was not
reserved for me.  But another was, almost as surprising.

"Batchelor," said Hawkesbury, almost in his old wheedling tone, "I shall
be away for three or four days.  I'll get you to keep the petty-cash
accounts till I return.  I won't leave the regular book out, as I have
not time to balance it.  You can enter anything on a separate paper,
which I will copy in when I return.  There is £3 in the cash-box now.
You had better keep it locked up in your desk."

I could not help being surprised that he should fix on me of all persons
to undertake this responsibility for him during his absence.  It seemed
so much more naturally to devolve on its former guardian that I could
not help asking, "Don't you think Doubleday had better--"

"I prefer you should do it, please," said Hawkesbury, decisively,
bustling off to another desk at the same moment, and so cutting short
further parley.

So I had nothing for it but to take up the cash-box, and, after making
sure it contained exactly the £3 he had mentioned, transfer it to my own
desk.

When I told Doubleday that afternoon what had happened he waxed very
facetious on the head of it.  He was undoubtedly a little hurt that I
should be selected for the charge instead of him.  But we were too good
friends to misunderstand one another in the matter.

"I expect he's left it with you because you're a young hand, and he
thinks you're sure to make a mess of it.  That would just suit him."

"I'll do my best to deprive him of the luxury of putting me right," said
I.

"If you do get up a tree," said Doubleday, "I'm your man.  But I hope
you won't, for I don't want to have anything to do with it."

After all it was not such very alarming work.  A few people dropped in
during the day and paid small amounts in cash, which I received, and
carefully entered on my sheet.  And a few demands came from various
quarters for small disbursements in the way of postage-stamps,
telegrams, cab fares, and the like, all which I also carefully entered
on the other side of my account.

Before I left in the evening I balanced the two sides, and found the
cash in my box tallying exactly with the amount that appeared on my
sheet.  Whereat I rejoiced exceedingly, and, locking-up my desk, thought
the keeping of the petty-cash was ridiculously simple work.

That evening when I reached the lodgings I found Jack had arrived before
me.  I was eager to hear of his success or otherwise at the examination,
and he was prepared to gratify my curiosity.

He had got on well, he thought.  The _viva-voce_ portion, which he had
dreaded most, had been easy, or, at any rate, the questions which fell-
to him had been such as he could readily answer.  As for the written
part, all he could say was that he had replied to all the questions, and
he believed correctly, although time prevented him from doing one or two
as full justice as they deserved.  In fact, after talking it over, we
both came to the conclusion that the day's effort had been a success,
and if to-morrow turned out as well, all doubt as to the result might be
dispensed with.

Then I told him of my adventures, which did not seem altogether to
overjoy him.

"I don't know why it is," said he, "but Hawkesbury is a fellow I cannot
but mistrust."

"But," said I, "I don't see what there can possibly be to suspect in his
handing over this simple account to me to keep."

"All I can say is," said he, "I wish he hadn't done it.  Why didn't he
hand it over to Doubleday?"

"I wondered at that," said I, "but there's no love lost between those
two.  Doubleday says he thinks he did it because I am a bit of a fool,
and he wants the pleasure of seeing me in a mess over the account."

Jack laughed.

"Doubleday is always flattering somebody," said he.  "Never mind; it may
be only fancy on my part after all."

Jack wanted to get to his books that evening, but I dissuaded him.

"It can do no good," said I, "and it may just muddle you for to-morrow.
Take an easy evening now, and go to bed early.  You'll be all the
fresher for it to-morrow."

So, instead of study, we fell-to talking, and somehow got on to the
subject of the home at Packworth.

"By the way, Fred," said Jack, "I got a letter from you the other day."

"From me?"  I cried; "I haven't written to you for months."

"It _was_ from you, though, but it had been a good time on the road, for
it was written from Stonebridge House just after I had left."

"What! the letter you never called for at the post-office?"

"The letter you addressed to `J.' instead of `T.' my boy; But I'm glad
to have it now.  It is most interesting."

"But however did you come by it?"  I asked.

"If you will stop runaway horses when your hands are full you must
expect to lose things.  This letter was picked up by Mrs Shield after
that little adventure, and only came to light out of the lining of her
bag last week.  She remembered seeing it lying on the road, she says,
and picking it up, along with Mary's shawl and handkerchief, which had
also fallen.  But she was too flurried to think anything of it, and
until it mysteriously turned up the other day she had forgotten its
existence.  So there's a romantic story belonging to your letter."

I could not be satisfied till the interesting document was produced and
conned over.  We laughed a good deal in the reading, over the
reminiscences it brought up, and the change that had come over both our
lives since then.

"Mrs Shield says Mary insisted it belonging to her, and that she had no
right to send it to me," said Jack, laughing.  "What do you think of
that?"

"It's very kind of her," said I, "to think anything about it.  I say,
Jack," I added, blushing a little, "got that photo about you?"

Jack handed out his treasure, and we fell-to talking a good deal about
the original of the picture, which interested me quite as much as it did
Jack.

"Do you know, Fred," said he, presently, "she doesn't know anything
about--about father?  She believes she is an orphan, and that I am the
only relation she has."

"I'm sure," said I, "it's far better so."

"Yes," said Jack, sadly.  "At present it is.  But some day she ought to
know."

"Why?" said I.

"If he ever--but we're not going to talk of that.  What do you say to
turning in?  That's half-past ten striking by the church."

So ended the first day of suspense.

I regret to say that my last act that day was one of petty larceny!

During our talk about Mary I had held the photograph in my hand, looking
at it occasionally, and occasionally laying it down on my knee.  When
Jack rose and proposed turning in for the night he gathered together the
other papers he had taken from his pocket and replaced them.  But,
strangely enough, he forgot to look for the photograph, or else supposed
it was with the other papers.

It wasn't, for it lay under my hand all the while, and presently, when
his back was turned, it lay in my pocket.

Later on, when the lights were out and all was quiet, it lay under my
pillow for greater security!

No wonder the reader is shocked!  If ever there was a clear case of
purloining this was.  I know it, dear reader.  I knew it at the time,
and yet I did it.

For I had a motive, which perhaps the reader can guess.

The picture which had lain first under my hand, then in my pocket, then
under my pillow, experienced yet another change of situation that night.

Just as the first streak of dawn struggled through the window I heard a
door close and a footstep in the room below.  Mr Smith had come home.

Lightly and silently I crept from my bed, and with my treasure in my
hand sped down the stairs and slipped into his room.

And for an hour after that the picture lay in a hand which had never
touched it before, and the bright laughing eyes looked up and met the
tearful eyes of a father!



CHAPTER THIRTY THREE.

HOW SEVERAL VISITORS CALLED AT OUR LODGINGS.

Billy arrived punctually as we were dressing next morning in great good-
humour.

"What cheer, covies?" cried he before he was well in the room.  "She's
come back!"

"Who--your mother?" said Jack.

"Yaas," said Billy; "worn't she jolly neither?  She give me a wipin'
last night same as I never got."

And when we came to look at our queer visitor he bore about his face and
person undoubted marks of the truth of this story.

"What a shame it is!"  I said to Jack.  "Can't anything be done to stop
it?  He'll be murdered right out one day."

"'Taint no concern of yourn!" said Billy.  "But I say, governor," added
he, turning to Jack, "she are a rum 'un, she are!  She was a-sayin' you
was makin' a idle young dorg of me, she says, and she'll wait upon you,
she says, and know the reason why, she says.  And she says ef she
ketches me messin' about any more with my ABC, she says she'll knock the
'ed off me.  But don't you mind 'er, she's on'y a-jawing!"

Jack looked a good deal troubled.  He had taken upon himself the welfare
of this happy family in the court, and it seemed likely to cost him many
an uneasy moment.  Only a short time before, he had told me, he had
called with Mr Hawkesbury and seen Billy's mother, just after her
release from prison, and tried to plead with her on Billy's behalf, but,
he said, you might as well talk to a griffin.

Billy appeared to be oppressed with no cares on the subject.  "It's that
there penny bang," said he, "as she's got her back up agin.  I told her
as I was a shovin' my coppers in there, and she says she'll shove you
in, governor, she says.  She did swear at you, governor!  It's a game to
hear her."

"When you learn better, Billy," said Jack, quite sternly, "you won't
talk like that of your mother."

Billy's face overclouded suddenly.  He looked first at me, then at Jack,
and finally at the boot in his hand, which he fell-to polishing till it
dazzled.  But Jack's tone and look had effectually damped his spirits,
and when he spoke again it was with a half whine.

"I _are_ a larning better, governor, do you hear?  I knows my letters.
You ask this 'ere bloke," pointing to me with his brush.  "And them
Aggers, too.  I writ 'em all up on my slate, didn't I?  You tell the
governor if I didn't!"

"Yes," I said; "you did."

"There you are!  Do you hear, governor?  I'm larnin' better.  I writ all
them there Aggers, I did; and I can say my d-o-g, dorg, proper, can't I,
pal?  And I've shove my coppers in the bang, and I am larnin'."

"I know you are," said Jack, kindly.  "Come, it's time I got on my
boots.  Are they done?"

Billy in the delight of his heart took one more furious turn at the
boots.  He breathed hard upon them till he was nearly black in the face,
and polished them till it was a wonder any leather at all was left.
And, to complete all, he polished up the tags of the laces with the
sleeve of his own coat, and then deposited the boots with an air of
utmost pride and jubilation.

"I shall be done the examination to-day," said Jack, as the boy started
to go; "I'll come down and see you in the evening."

Billy's face was nearly as bright as the boots he had polished as he
grinned his acknowledgments and went on his way rejoicing.

Mr Smith did not put in an appearance before it was time for Jack to
start.  He had told me he would not.  He was afraid of betraying his
secret prematurely, and deemed it wisest to stay away.  And I was just
as glad he did so, for it was all I could do not to show by my manner
that something of serious moment was in the wind.

However, by an effort, I tried to appear as if nothing unusual had
occurred.

"By the way, Jack," said I, as we walked down to the examination hall,
"you're a nice fellow to take care of a photograph!  Do you know you
left this at my mercy all night?"

"What!" he exclaimed, "I thought I put it back in my pocket with the
other papers.  What a go if I'd lost it!"

"What a go if I'd kept it!" said I.  "The next time I will."

"To prevent which," said Jack, "take your last look, for you shall never
see it again!  Good-bye, old man.  It will be all over when I see you
next."

"All over!" mused I, as I walked back to the office.  "It will be only
beginning."

I never made a more rash promise in all my life than when I under took
to Mr Smith to break the news of his discovery to Jack.

It had appeared so simple at the time, but when the moment came the task
seemed to be one bristling with difficulties on every hand.  All that
day the sense of the coming ordeal haunted me, and even the custody of
the petty-cash could not wholly divert my mind.

I was therefore quite relieved that evening, on returning to the
lodgings, to hear as I ascended the stairs voices speaking in our room,
and to find that Jack had a visitor.  I should, at least, get some time
to recover the wits which the near approach of my ordeal had scattered.

For a moment I wondered whether Jack's visitor could be Mr Smith
himself.  It was a man's voice, and unless it were Mr Smith or Mr
Hawkesbury, I was at a loss to guess who it could be.

To my astonishment I found, on entering the room, that the visitor was
no other than my uncle!

Whatever had brought him here?

Jack looked as if his _tete-a-tete_ had not been a very cheerful one,
for he jumped up at my arrival with evident joy, and cried, "Oh, here
you are at last!  Here's your uncle, Fred, come to see you.  He was
afraid he would have to go before you got back."

This, at least, was a comfort.  My uncle was not going to stay all
night.

I went up in a most dutiful manner to my relative, and hoped he was
well.

"Yes," he replied, in his usual frigid way.  "You seem surprised to see
me.  But as I had business in town I found out this place, and came to
look you up."

"It was very kind of you," said I.

"You shouldn't say that when you don't mean it," said my uncle.  "And as
I am going in a few minutes you need not look so alarmed."

"I hope you will have a cup of tea before you go," said I, hoping to
change the subject.

"No, thank you.  Your friend here asked me that already.  Now, what
about your debts, Fred?"

"Oh," said I, "they are all paid by this time.  An old schoolfellow
advanced me the money, kindly, and I have all but repaid him out of my
weekly allowance."

"Humph!" said my uncle.  "That scrape will be a lesson to you, I hope.
Boys who make fools of themselves like that must suffer the
consequences."

"I had been very foolish I know," I replied, humbly.

"But Fred's as steady as a judge now," said Jack, interposing for my
relief.

"It's nearly time he was," replied my uncle, "unless he has made up his
mind to ruin himself.  He's given up all his wild friends, I hope?"

"Oh yes, every one," said I; "haven't I, Jack?"

"Yes, he's nothing to do with them now," said Jack.

"And he spends his evenings in something better than drinking and
gambling and that sort of thing?"

This was pleasant for me.  As the question appeared to be addressed to
Jack, I allowed him to answer it for me.

"Well," said my uncle, after a few more similar inquiries had been
satisfactorily answered, "I hope what you tell me is true.  It may seem
as if I did not care much what became of you, Fred.  And as long as you
went on in the way you did, no more I did.  You had chosen your friends,
and you might get on the best you could with them.  But now, if you have
done what you say you have and given them up--"

At that moment there was a sudden tumult on the stairs outside, which
made us all start.  It was a sound of scuffling and laughter and
shouting, in the midst of which my uncle's voice was drowned.  Whoever
the visitors were, they appeared not to be quite sure of their quarters,
for they were trying every door they came to on their way up.  At length
they came nearer, and a voice, the tones of which were only too
familiar, shouted, "Come on, you fellows.  We'll smoke him out.
Batchelor ahoy there!  Wonder if he lives on the roof."

It was Whipcord's voice, whom I had not seen since my accident, and who
now had fixed on this evening of all others to come with his friends and
pay me a visit!

"It's Whipcord," I said to Jack; "he mustn't come in!  Let's barricade
the door, anything to keep them out."

Jack, who looked fully as alarmed as I did, was quite ready to agree,
but my uncle, who had hitherto been an astounded witness of the
interruption, interfered, and said, "No--they shall come in.  These are
some of your reformed friends, I suppose, Mr Fred.  I'd like to see
them.  Let them come in."

"Oh no, uncle," I cried, in agitation, "they mustn't come in, indeed
they mustn't, they are--"

As I spoke the shouting outside increased twofold, and at the same
moment the door was flung open, and Whipcord, Crow, the Field-Marshal,
the Twins, Daly, and Masham, burst into the room!

Is it any wonder if, as I looked first at them, then at my uncle, a
feeling of utter despair took possession of me?

They were all, evidently, in a highly festive state of mind and ready
for any diversion.

"Here he is," cried Whipcord, who appeared to be leader of the party.
"Here you are, Batch, my boy--we got your address at the police-station
and came to look you up, and oh, I say, what a glorious old codger!"

This last note of admiration was directed to my uncle, who sat sternly
back in his chair, gazing at the intruders with mingled wrath and
astonishment.

"I say, introduce us, Batch," said the Field-Marshal, "and to the other
aristocrat, too, will you?"

"Why, that's Bull's-eye," cried Crow.  "You know, Twins, the fellow I
told you about who's--"

"Oh, that's the Botany Bay hero, is it?" cried Masham.  "I must shake
hands with him.  One doesn't get the chance of saying how d'ye do to a
real gaol-bird every day.  How are you, Treadmill?"

Jack, whose face was very pale, and whose eyes flashed fiercely,
remained motionless, and with an evident effort, as Masham held out his
hand.

"What--thinks we aren't good enough for him, does he?" said Masham.

"So used to the handcuffs," said Abel, "doesn't know how to use his
hands, that's it."

"But we don't know yet who this old weathercock is," cried Whipcord,
turning again to my uncle.  "What do they call you at home, old Stick-
in-the-mud?" and he nudged him in the ribs by way of emphasis.

It was time I interposed.  Hitherto, in sheer helplessness, I had stood
by and watched the invasion with silent despair.  Now, however, that my
uncle seemed to be in danger of rough handling, something must be done.

"If you fellows have any pretence to be called gentlemen," I shouted, in
tones choked with mingled shame and anger, "you will leave Jack's room
and mine."

"Jack's! who's Jack?  Is the old pawnbroker called Jack, then?  Oh, I
say, you fellows," cried Whipcord, dropping on a chair, and nearly
choking himself with a fit of laughter.  "Oh, you fellows, I've got it
at last.  I've got it.  Jack!  I know who it is."

"Who is it?" cried the others.

"Why, can't you guess?" yelled Whipcord.

"No!  Who?"

"Jack Ketch!"

This new idea was taken up with the utmost rapture, and my uncle was
forthwith dubbed with his fresh title.

"Three cheers for Uncle Ketch, you fellows!" shouted Whipcord.

The cheers were given with great hubbub.  Then my uncle was called upon
for a speech, and, as he declined, a proposal was made to compel him.

Up to this time, protest as well as resistance had seemed worse than
useless.  Jack and I were only two against seven, and our visitors were
hardly in a condition to give us fair play, even if we did come to
blows.  But our wrath had been gradually approaching boiling-point, and
now the time seemed to have come to brave all consequences and assert
ourselves.

Whipcord and Masham had each seized one of my uncle's arms, with a view
to carry out their threat, when by a mutual impulse Jack, and I assumed
the defensive and rushed into the fray.  Both our adversaries were, of
course, utterly unprepared for such a demonstration, and in consequence,
and before they could either of them take in the state of affairs, they
were sprawling at full length on the floor.  The whole action was so
rapidly executed that it was not for a moment or two that the rest of
the party took in the fact that the affair was something more than a
joke.  When, however, they did so, a general engagement ensued, in which
Jack and I, even with the unlooked-for and gallant aid of my uncle,
could do very little against superior numbers.

What the upshot might have been--whether we should have been eventually
ejected from our own lodgings, or whether the invaders would presently
have wearied of their sport and made off of their own accord--I cannot
say, but just as things were looking at their worst for us an opportune
diversion occurred which turned the tide of battle.

This was none other than the simultaneous arrival of Billy and Flanagan.
The latter, I recollected, had promised to look in during the evening,
to see how Jack had fared at the examination.

In the general confusion the new-comers entered the room almost
unnoticed.  The unexpected scene which met their eyes in our usually
quiet quarters naturally alarmed them, and it was a second or more
before, in the midst of all the riot, they could make out what was the
matter.

Billy was the first to recover himself.  The sight of Jack Smith being
attacked by Masham was quite enough for him, and, with a cry of, "Do you
hear, you let him be!" he sprang upon his patron's assailant like a
young tiger.

Poor, gallant Billy!  Masham, taken aback to find himself thus attacked
by a small boy who seemed to come from nowhere, recoiled for an instant
before his vigorous onslaught.  But it was only for an instant.
Stepping back, and leaving the others to engage Jack and me, he seized
the boy by the arm, and, dealing him a blow on the side of the head,
flung him savagely to the floor, adding a brutal kick as he lay there,
stunned and senseless at his feet.

The sight of this outrage was all that was wanted to rouse us to one
desperate effort to rid ourselves of our cowardly invaders.  Jack closed
in an instant with Masham, and by sheer force carried him to the door
and literally flung him from the room.  The others, one by one,
followed.  Some, half ashamed at the whole proceeding, slunk away of
their own accord; the others, seeing themselves worsted, lost spirit,
and made but a slight resistance to our united assault, now vigorously
reinforced by Flanagan.

The last to leave was Whipcord, who endeavoured to carry the thing off
with his usual swagger to the last.  "Well, ta, ta, Batch," he said; "we
just looked in to see how you were, that's all.  Thanks for the jolly
evening.  By-bye, old Jack Ketch, and--"

And here, in consequence of a sudden forward movement from Flanagan, he
hurriedly withdrew, and left us for the first time that evening with
leisure to look about us.

It was no time, however, for asking questions or giving explanations.
An exclamation from Jack turned all attention to Billy, who lay still
unconscious and as white as a sheet where he had fallen.  Jack gently
raised him and laid him on the bed.  "Open the window, somebody," said
he.

The air seemed to revive the boy somewhat, for he opened his eyes and
looked vacantly round.  But a fit of sickness followed this partial
recovery, and again he swooned.

Jack's face was nearly as pale as the boy's as he looked up and said,
"Fetch the doctor!  Quick!"

Flanagan darted off almost before the words were out of his lips.

There was nothing for us who were left behind to do but to watch with
painful anxiety the poor little sufferer, who lay mostly unconscious,
and still at intervals violently sick.

Masham's ruffianly blow and kick had evidently done far more damage than
he or any one supposed.  As we waited in silence for the doctor to come
our alarm increased, and it even seemed doubtful whether, as we stood
there, we were not destined to see a terrible end to that evening's
proceedings.

"Has the boy a father or mother?" whispered my uncle to me.

Jack who sat with the sufferer's head on his arm, heard the question,
and said hurriedly, "Yes.  You must fetch his mother, Fred!"

There was such a tone of alarm in his voice that had Billy's mother been
a wild beast I could hardly have disobeyed.

I darted off on my unenviable quest, meeting the doctor on the stairs.
I knew the house in the court by this time, and was myself well-known to
its inmates.

The woman was not at home; she had not been home since the morning, and
no one knew where she was.  I left a message apprising her of what had
happened, and telling her to come at once to the lodgings.  Then with
much foreboding I hastened back to Drury Lane.

The evening had been a strangely different one from what I had expected.
I was to have broken the news to Jack of his father's discovery,
instead of which, here was I rushing frantically about trying to find an
unhappy woman and summon her to what, for all I knew, might be the
death-bed of her son!

I found when I returned that Billy had somewhat revived.  He was lying
back, very white still, and apparently unconscious, but they told me the
doctor had given some hope of his recovery, and that the fits of
sickness had stopped and left him stronger.

My uncle, whose concern for the poor boy was scarcely less than ours,
had relieved Jack at the patient's bedside.  Jack, who, now that the
imminent anxiety was over, had given way to a natural reaction, was, I
could see, in a terrible state of misery and rage.

"If he dies," muttered he to me, "I'll--"

What he meant to say I do not know.  He stopped short and flung himself
in the empty seat by the window, trembling all over.  I had never known
before how fond he was of the poor boy.

"What about his mother?" he said presently, turning to me.

"I couldn't find her, or hear of her anywhere," I said.  "But I left a
message for her."

Just then my uncle beckoned with his hand.

Billy had opened his eyes, and was looking about him.  He had done so
once or twice before, but always in a vacant, stupid sort of way.  Now,
to our intense joy, there was a glimmer of something like the old life
in his pale face, especially when, catching sight of Jack, who sprang to
his side in a moment, his features broke into a faint smile.

My uncle came quietly to me across the room.

"I'll go now," said he--more kindly than I had ever heard him speak.  "I
shall stay in town to-night, and will look in in the morning;" and so
saying he went.

Mr Smith and I accompanied him to the door.  As we were returning up
the stairs some one called after us.  I turned, and saw that the new-
comer was Billy's mother.



CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR.

HOW I GOT RID OF THE PETTY-CASH, AND OF MR. SMITH'S SECRET.

Billy's mother was, for the first time in my experience, sober.  I
stayed behind for her on the stairs, while Mr Smith retired to his own
room, saying he would come up and see us all in the morning.  I wished
he would have stayed and countenanced me in my interview with the
unhappy woman.

"What's all this, mister?" she said, as she came up.

Once, possibly, Billy's mother might have been a handsome and even
attractive woman, but drink had defaced whatever beauty she once had,
and had degraded her terribly, as it always does, both in body and mind.

"Billy has been badly hurt," I said, "and we thought you ought to come."

"Who hurt him?" she demanded.

There was no sympathy or even concern in her tone.  She spoke like a
person to whom all the world is an enemy, in league to do her wrong.

"There was a struggle," I said.  "A man was hitting Mr Smith--"

"Mr Smith!" she exclaimed, fiercely; "who's he--who's Mr Smith?"

"Why, my friend who sometimes goes to see you in the court."

"Oh!" said she, with a contemptuous laugh, "that fool!"

"Some one was striking him, and Billy put himself between them, and was
badly hurt."

"Well, what's come to him?  Is he dead, or what?" demanded the woman.

"No, he's not, mercifully," said I.  "He's getting better, we hope."

"And you mean to say," said the woman, with her wrath rising, "you've
got that child among you, and you're not content with robbing him and
keeping him away from me, but here you've half-murdered him into the
bargain, you-- Where is he, mister?  I'll take him back along with me;
I've had enough of this tomfoolery, I tell you."

"Oh!"  I exclaimed, "it would kill him to move him!  You mustn't think
of it."

"Get out of the way!" she exclaimed, fiercely, trying to push past me.
"I'll take him out of this.  I'll teach you all whose child the boy is!
Get out of my way!  Let me go to him."

What could I do?  I had no right to keep a mother from her son; and yet,
were she to carry out her threat, no one could say what the result to
the boy might not be.

In my dilemma I thought of Mr Smith, and conducted my intractable
visitor to his room, in the hopes that he might be able to dissuade her
from carrying out her threat.

But nothing he could do or say could bring her to reason.  She appeared
to be persuaded in her own mind that the whole affair was a conspiracy
to do her some wrong, and that being so, entreaties, threats, and even
bribes would not put her off her idea of taking Billy away with her.

"Come now," said she, after this ineffectual parley had gone on for some
time, "I'm not going to be made a fool of by you two any more.  Where's
Billy? where are you hiding him?  It's no use you trying to impose on me
with your gammon!"

"He's upstairs," said I, feeling that further resistance was worse than
useless.  "I'll run up and tell Jack you're coming.  Billy may be
asleep."

But the woman caught me roughly by the arm.  "No, no!" said she, "I
don't want none of your schemes and plots; I can go up without your
help, mister."

So saying, she broke away from us and went up the stairs.

"Don't follow her," said Mr Smith; "the fewer up there the better.
Jack will manage."

So we spent an anxious half-hour, listening to the voices and sound of
feet above, and wondering how the interview was going on.  Evidently it
began with an altercation, and once Billy's shrill treble joined in in a
way which sounded very familiar.  Eventually the angry tones of the
woman ceased, and presently she returned to us, quiet in her manner,
though still hunted-looking and mistrustful.

To our relief she was alone.

"I'm coming for him in the morning," said she as she passed us.

We could never make out how Jack had subdued her and put her off.  When
we asked him, he said simply he begged her to wait a little, at any
rate, till the boy was better, and had then promised to bring him home
himself.

That night I shared Mr Smith's room--or rather I occupied it during his
absence, leaving Jack and Billy in possession upstairs.

My reflections during the night were not pleasant.  If it had not been
for my folly, my sin, in times past, the calamity of this evening would
never have happened.  These "friends" of former days were not to be
shaken off as easily as they had been picked up, and meanwhile it was
not I who was made to suffer, but Jack and Billy, who had never been
guilty of my follies and sins.  And, more than this, I felt the burden
of Mr Smith's secret still hanging unrelieved on my mind.  And how was
I to get rid of it and tell.  Jack all, while this anxiety about Billy
lasted?

In the early morning Mr Smith returned, and I confided to him all my
troubles.  He was very sympathetic, and agreed with me that the present
was hardly the time to tell Jack his secret.  And yet it was plain to
see he was in terrible suspense till it should be all over.

We did not sleep much that night, and in the morning hastened to the
room above.  To our relief, we found Billy much better.  He was even
grinning as usual as we entered, and greeted us both in very like his
old familiar way.

"What cheer!" said he, feebly but cheerily.  "I _are_ got a dose off
that there Mashing!  He do give yer toppers!"

"Come, hush, Billy!" said Jack, pleasantly; "didn't I tell you not to
talk?"

"Yaas," said the boy, relapsing abruptly into silence.

His mother, as we rather anticipated, did not put in an appearance.  My
uncle did, and, after ascertaining that all was going on well, went off,
leaving, greatly to my astonishment and not a little to my
gratification, a sovereign in my hand as he said good-bye.

There was something kindly about my uncle, after all!

Leaving Mr Smith in charge, Jack and I went down to the office that
morning with lighter hearts than we had expected to have.

Crow was waiting for us outside the office, with an anxious face.

"I say," said he, as he came up, and not heeding Jack's wrathful looks,
"is it true what I hear, that that boy was killed last night?"

"Who told you so?" demanded Jack.

"I heard it from Daly.  And Masham has bolted.  Is it true, then?"

"No!" said Jack, "and no thanks to you it isn't, you coward!"

Crow had evidently been too much frightened by the news he had heard to
resent this hard name.  He answered, meekly, "I'm glad it's not true.
I'm ashamed of that affair last night, and there's no harm in telling
you so."

This was a good deal to come from a fellow like Crow.  We did not reply,
but entered the office.

There, for a few hours at least, hard work drove away all other cares.
At dinner-time Jack rushed home, and brought back a further good report
of the patient, whom the doctor had seen, and pronounced to be making
satisfactory progress.

As for me, I stayed at the office and made up for the lost time of the
evening before.  Part of my work was a grand balancing up of the petty-
cash, which, as Hawkesbury was due back next morning, I would then have
to be prepared to hand over.  It was no small satisfaction to find that
my accounts were right to a penny, and to know that in the fair copy of
those accounts which I drew up no ingenuity or patience would be able to
discover an error.  Indeed, I was so particular, that, having made a
minute blot in my first fair copy, I went to the trouble of writing out
another, absolutely faultless, preserving the other in my desk, as an
occasional feast to my own eyes in my self-satisfied moments.

That evening I was strongly tempted to unburden my secret to Jack as we
walked home.  But I could not bring myself up to the point.  At least, I
could not do so till we got to the door of our lodgings, and then it was
too late, for Jack had rushed to Billy's bedside, and it was hopeless to
get him to think of anything else.  So I had to wait on, and once more
to endure the sight of Mr Smith's anxious, frightened face.

The following morning brought a letter from my uncle, addressed, not to
me, but to Jack Smith.  It contained a five-pound note, which he said
might be useful when Billy's doctor's bill had to be paid, and anything
that was over might go to buy the boy a suit of clothes!  My uncle was
certainly coming out in a new light!  It was like him writing to Jack
instead of me, and I thought nothing of that.  But for him to send a
five-pound note for the benefit of a little stranger was certainly a
novelty, which surprised as much as it encouraged me about my relative.

The money, as it happened, was very opportune, for neither of us was
very flush of cash at the time.

Billy, who was now steadily recovering from the shock of his blow,
pleaded very hard to be allowed to get up, and only Jack's express
command could keep him in bed.

"Ga on, governor," said he, "let's get up.  I ain't a-getting no coppers
for that there penny bang, no more I ain't; and I ain't a-larnin'
nothink, and she," (we knew only too well whom he meant), "may be up to
all manner of larks, and me not know nothink about it."

"You shall get up soon, when you're better," was Jack's reply.

"I are better, governor."

"Yes, but you won't be unless you lie still for a day or two more, and
do what you're told," said Jack, firmly.

Whereat the boy subsided.

Hawkesbury turned up at his place at the office in a benevolent frame of
mind, and received over my petty-cash and the beautiful copy of accounts
which accompanied it with the utmost condescension.

He was extremely obliged to me, he said, for taking charge of the
accounts during his absence, and had no doubt he would find everything
correct when he went through the figures.  He hoped it had not given me
much extra work, and that during his absence I had been in the enjoyment
of good health and spirits.

All which "gush" I accepted with due gratitude, wondering inwardly
whether he had been actually made a partner since I last saw him--he was
so very gracious.

"By the way," said I, when the ceremony was at an end, and feeling a
little mischievously inclined, as well as being anxious to vent my
feelings on the point--"by the way, your particular friend Masham came
to our lodging the other evening."

"Ah, did he?" said Hawkesbury, blandly; "I'm glad he called.  He wanted
to see you again.  He took rather a fancy to you that day, you know."

"Did he?" said I.  "I think he was rather sorry he called, though."

"Why?"

"Why, because Smith gave him the thrashing he deserved, and the
thrashing he's not likely to forget in a hurry either!"

"I don't understand," said Hawkesbury.  "What has Smith to do with my
friend Masham?"

"Just what he has to do with any other blackguard," retorted I, warming
up.

"Batchelor, you are forgetting yourself, I think," said Hawkesbury.  "I
hope what you are saying is not true."

"If you mean about Masham being a blackguard," said I, "it's as true as
that he is your friend."

"I really don't know what all this means," said Hawkesbury, haughtily.
"I must ask Masham himself."

"I'm afraid you won't find him," I said.  "He nearly murdered the boy
who was with us at the time.  And as the report went out that the child
was actually dead, he is prudently keeping out of the way for the
present.  I'm sure he will be--"

"Excuse me, Batchelor," said Hawkesbury, interrupting.  "I really
haven't time to talk now.  Kindly get on with your work, and I will do
the same."

I may not have derived much good by this edifying conversation, but I
had at least the satisfaction of feeling that Hawkesbury now knew what I
thought of his friend.

Jack said that evening he thought it was a pity I had said as much as I
had, and further reflection made me think the same.  However, it
couldn't be helped now, and anything that made clear the estimation in
which I held Masham was on the whole no bad thing.

That evening when we got back we found Mr Smith at home.  He had come,
he said, to insist on taking Jack's place with Billy for the night.
Jack protested in vain that he felt quite fresh, that he was not in the
least sleepy, and so on.  Mr Smith was inexorable for once, so we had
finally to retire together to the room downstairs, and leave him in
possession.

As we said good-night he gave me a look which I well understood.

"It's awful nonsense," said Jack, "making out I want sleep.  Why, I've
slept most of every night I've been up there.  I'm sure more than he
has."

"He thinks a good deal about you, Jack, I fancy," said I, anxious to
steer the talk round in the required direction.  Jack nodded and went
and opened the window.

"It's awfully close to-night," said he.

We stood leaning out of the window for some minutes, watching the few
passengers in the street below and saying nothing.  What Jack was
thinking about I could not tell.  What was passing through my mind I
knew well enough.

"How do you think he seems?" asked I, after a long pause.

"Who, Billy?  He's getting on wonderfully."

"I didn't mean Billy," said I.  "I meant Mr Smith."

"Oh, you ought to know better than I do.  I really have hardly seen him
the last few days.  I've not heard him cough so much, though."

"He's not been himself at all the last few days," I said.

"No wonder," said Jack.  "That night's work was enough to upset
anybody."

"Oh, I don't mean in that way," I said, feeling hopeless as to ever
getting out my secret.  "Though I am sure he was very much concerned
about Billy.  But he seems to have other things on his mind too."

"Has he?  He works too hard, that's what it is; and not content with
that," added he, "he insists on sitting up all night with Billy."

There was another pause.  I was no nearer than before, and for any hint
I had given Jack of what was coming he knew as little of it as he did of
the North Pole.

I must be more explicit, or I should never get out with it.

"Do you know, Jack," said I presently, "he's been telling me a good deal
of his history lately?"

"Oh," said Jack, "you two have got to be quite chummy.  By the way, we
ought to hear the result of the exam, on Tuesday, certainly."

"It is very strange and sad," said I, thinking more of what was in my
mind than of what he was saying.

"What _do_ you mean?  They oughtn't to take more than a week surely to
go through the papers."

"Oh, I wasn't talking about that," I said.  "I was thinking of Mr
Smith's story."

"Why, what's up with you, Fred?  You've gone daft about Mr Smith,
surely.  What's strange and sad?"

"The story of his life, Jack.  He was once--"

"Stop," said Jack, firmly.  "I dare say it's all you say, Fred, but I'd
rather you didn't tell it me."

"Why not?"  I said.

"He told it to you, but not to me.  If he wants me to know it, he will
tell me himself."

I could not but feel the rebuke.  Had I but been as careful of another
secret, half my troubles would never have come upon me.

"You are quite right, Jack," I said.  "I know by this time that I should
have no business to tell other people's secrets.  But, as it happens,
Mr Smith is anxious for me to tell you his story; and that is the
reason, I believe, why he has insisted on leaving us together to-night."

I had launched my ship now!

Jack looked at me in a puzzled way.

"Wants you to tell me his story?" he repeated.

"Yes."

"Why?"

"He has a reason.  I think you had better hear it, Jack."

Jack was no fool.  He had wits enough to tell him by this time that in
all this mysterious blundering talk of mine there was after all
something more serious than commonplace tittle-tattle.  My face and tone
must have proved it, if nothing else did.

He remained leaning out of the window by my side as I told him that
story in words as near those of Mr Smith himself as I could recall.

He interrupted me by no starts or exclamations, but remained silent,
with his head on his hands, till the very end.

Indeed, he was so still after it was all told that for a moment I felt
uneasy, lest he was taken ill.

But presently he looked up, with his face very pale, and said, "I can
scarcely believe it, Fred."

There was nothing in his tone or look to say whether the disclosure came
to him as good news or bad.  I longed to know, but I dared not ask.  A
long silence followed.  He sat down on a chair with his face turned from
me.  I felt that to say another word would be a rude disturbance.

After a while he rose and said, in a voice very low and trembling, "I'll
go up stairs, Fred."

"No," said I, taking his arm and gently leading him back to his chair.
"I'll go up, old boy, and look after Billy to-night."

He did not resist, and I hastened up.

Mr Smith met me at the door with anxious face.

"Well?" he inquired, in a voice which trembled as much as Jack's had
done.

"He knows all," I said.

"Yes? and--"

"And he is downstairs, expecting you," I said.

With a sigh very like a sob, Mr Smith left me and went down the stairs.
All that long night, as I sat beside Billy and watched his fitful
sleep, I could hear the sound of voices in the room below.

What they said to one another I never knew, and never inquired.

But next morning, when Jack came and summoned me to breakfast, his happy
face and Mr Smith's quiet smile answered far more eloquently than words
every question I could possibly have asked about that strange and sacred
meeting between a lost father and a lost son.



CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE.

HOW JACK AND I TALKED LOUDER THAN WE NEED HAVE DONE.

About a week after the experiences narrated in the last chapter, my
friend Smith and I went down one morning early to Hawk Street.

We usually took a short walk on our way when we happened to be early,
and I don't exactly know why we did not do so this time.  But certain it
is that instead of reaching the office at half-past nine, we found
ourselves there a few minutes before nine.

The housekeeper was sweeping the stairs and shaking the mats on the
pavement as we arrived.

She naturally looked surprised to see us, and said she had the office
yet to sweep out, and we had better take a walk.

But, being lazily disposed, we declined the invitation, and determined
to brave the dust and go up.

The office was certainly not very tempting for work.  The windows were
wide open, and the din of omnibuses and other traffic from the street
below was almost deafening.  Stools and chairs were stacked together in
the middle of the floor, and the waste-paper of yesterday littered the
whole place.  Even our own desks were thick with dust.

Under these depressing circumstances we were forced to admit that
possibly the housekeeper was right, and that we had better take a walk.

"It's a nuisance," said I, "for I had to leave one or two things
unfinished yesterday."

"I've a good mind to try," said Jack.  "Unless I can catch up my work I
shall have to stay late to-night, and I don't want to do that, as father
is going to try to get away early."

So we dusted our desks as best we could, shut the windows to keep out
the noise, recovered our stools from the assortment in the middle, and
prepared to make the best of it.

"Do you know, Jack," said I, as I was getting out my papers, "it is so
queer to hear you talking of Mr Smith as father?  I can hardly realise
it yet."

"No more can I, often," said Jack, "though I am getting more used to the
idea."

"When are you going to take him to Packworth?"  I asked.

"I'm not quite sure.  He thinks he can get a week at the end of this
month, and I shall try to get the partners to let me take my holiday at
the same time."

"I hope you'll be able to manage it."

"So do I.  Poor father is in very low spirits at the prospect of meeting
Mary, I think.  You know we shall have to tell her everything."

"Will you?  Is it necessary?"

"Oh, yes.  At least father says it is.  If she were to hear of his story
from any other source, he says he would never dare see her again.  It
will be far better to tell her.  But I wish it was over."

"So do I," I said.  "Poor Mary!"

I had got quite into the way of talking of her to Jack by her Christian
name, as if she were my sister as well as his.

"I suppose," said I, "she will still live with Mrs Shield at
Packworth?"

"Oh, yes, for the present.  There's no place to bring her to in London
till we get a little better off."

"I hope that won't be very long," said I.

"I'm afraid father's situation on the staff of the _Banner_ is not a
very--"

"Hush!"  I exclaimed, suddenly.

We had remained, so far, in undisturbed possession of the office, and
there was no chance of any new-comer entering without our knowing.  But
while Jack was speaking I thought I heard a sound, not on the stairs
outside, but in the partners' room, which opened out of the counting-
house.

Suppose one of the partners had been there all the while, and heard all
we had said.

Jack stopped dead in his talk, and with pale face looked inquiringly at
me.

"I thought I heard a noise in there," said I, pointing to the door.

"What?" said Jack, with a gasp.  The same thought was evidently crossing
his mind which had crossed mine.

"It can't be either of the partners," whispered he, "at this hour."

"We'd better see," said I; "it may be a thief."

We went quietly to the door.  All was silent as we listened; and yet I
felt I could not have been mistaken about the noise.  The door was
closed to, but not fastened.  Jack opened it softly.

There, sitting at the partners' table, with his head on his hands,
apparently absorbed in work, and unconscious of everything else, sat--
Hawkesbury!

A spectre could not have startled and horrified us more!

At first he did not seem to be aware of our presence, and it was not
till Jack advanced a step, and involuntarily exclaimed "Hawkesbury!"
that he looked up in a flurried way.

"Why, Smith!" he exclaimed, "and Batchelor!  What a start you gave me!
What are you doing here at this hour, and in this room?"

"We've been here a quarter of an hour," said Jack, solemnly.

"Have you?  How quiet you've been!"

This, at any rate, was a relief.  He could hardly have heard our
conversation.

"But what are you doing in here?" he added, in an important voice.  "You
must know this room is private, and not for the clerks."

"We heard a noise," said I, "and did not know who was here."

Hawkesbury smiled incredulously.

"All I can say is," said he, "I hope you are not in the habit of coming
in here when you are by yourselves in the office.  But kindly leave me
now--I am busy."

He had a lot of papers spread out on the table before him, which he was
gathering together in his hand while he spoke.  Whether they were
accounts, or letters, or what, we could not tell; but as there was
nothing more to be said we withdrew to the counting-house.  He followed
us out in about five minutes, carrying the papers to his desk.  Then,
informing the housekeeper in an audible voice that he would just go and
get breakfast, he left us to ourselves.

"What a mercy," said I, "he doesn't seem to have heard what we were
talking about!"

Jack smiled bitterly.

"Unless I'm mistaken, he's heard every word!"

"Surely, Jack," I exclaimed, stunned by the very idea, "you don't mean
that?"

"I'm sure of it."

Our feelings during the remainder of that day may be more easily
imagined than expressed.  If there was one person in the world more than
another we would have wished not to hear what had been said, it was
Hawkesbury.  Thanks to my folly and meanness, he had known far too much
as it was, before, and trouble had fallen on Jack in consequence.  Now,
if Jack's surmise was true, to what use might he not put the knowledge
just obtained?

No one quite understood Hawkesbury.  But I knew enough of him to see
that jealousy of my friend Smith mixed up with all the motives for his
conduct at Hawk Street.  His tone of superiority, his favouring one
clerk above another, his efforts to assert his influence over me had all
been part of a purpose to triumph over Jack Smith.  And yet, in spite of
it all, Jack had held on his way, rising meanwhile daily in favour and
confidence with his employers, and even with some of his formerly
hostile fellow-clerks.

But now, with this new secret in his hand, Hawkesbury once more had my
friend in his power, and how he would use it there was no knowing.

All that day he was particularly bland and condescending in his manner
to me, and particularly pompous and exacting in his manner to Jack, and
this, more than anything else, convinced me the latter was right in his
suspicion.

Our discussion as we walked home that night was dismal enough.  The
brighter prospects which had seemed to dawn on Jack and his father
appeared somehow suddenly clouded, and a sense of trouble hung over both
our minds.

"One thing is certain," said Jack, "I must tell the partners everything
now."

"Perhaps you are right--if there is any chance of his telling them.  But
he could surely hardly act so shamefully."

"It may be too late, even now," said Jack.  "You know, when I was taken
on at Hawk Street, and they asked me about my father, I said simply he
was abroad.  I've thought since it was hardly straightforward, and yet
it didn't seem necessary to tell them all about it."

"Certainly not.  Why should your prospects be ruined because your
father--"

"Because my father," said Jack, taking me up quietly, "had lost his?
That's what I thought.  But perhaps they will think differently.  At any
rate, I will tell them."

"If you do," said I, "and they take it kindly, as I expect they will, I
don't see what more harm he can do you."

"Unless," said Jack, "he thinks it his duty to tell the proprietors of
the _Banner_."

"What possible good could that do him?"  I asked.

"Why, he might as well think it his duty to tell Mary."

Jack said nothing, and we walked on, very uneasy and depressed.

When we arrived at our lodgings we found Billy, whose recovery was now
almost complete, sitting up in the bed with a jubilant face.

"You're a-done it, governor," cried he, as we entered.  "You are a-done
it."

"Done what?" said Jack.

"Why, that there sam."

"What about it?" we cried, eagerly.

"Oh, that there flashy bloke, Flanikin, 'e comes up, and says 'e, `Jack
Smith in?' says he--meanin' you, governor.  `Ain't no concern of yourn,'
says I--not 'olding with them animals as comes to see yer.  `Yes it is,'
says 'e, a blowin' with the run he'd 'ad.  `Tell 'im the moment 'e comes
in that 'e's fust in the sam,' says he."

"Hurrah!"  I cried, forgetting everything in this good news.  "Old man,
how splendid!"

Jack too for a moment relaxed his grave face as he answered my greeting.

"I can hardly believe it," said he.

"Oh, there ain't no error, so I tells you," cried Billy, "the cove 'ad
been up to the shop, he says, and copied it down.  He was nigh off 'is
'ead, was that there Flanikin, and 'e's a-comin' in to see you 'imself,
he says, afore eight o'clock."

And before eight Flanagan turned up and confirmed the glorious news with
a printed list, in which sure enough "Smith" stood out distinctly in the
first place.

"You know, I thought it might be another Smith," said Flanagan,
laughing; "there are one or two of the same name in the world, I know.
But there's not another in the list, so it's all right.  I say, wouldn't
old Henniker be proud of you now, my boy--eh, Fred?  She'd let you
sneeze without pulling you up for it, I do believe."

A letter by the evening post to Jack brought the official confirmation
of the news from the examiners, and announced further that the
distinction carried with it a scholarship worth £50 a year for three
years.

In the midst of our jubilation, Mr Smith came in, and that evening, but
for the morning's cloud which still hung over us, our happiness would
have been complete.

The next day Jack took an early opportunity of seeking an interview with
the partners, and making a clean breast to them of his birth and
position.  He gave me an account of the interview afterwards, and said
that while Mr Merrett, as usual, took everything kindly and even
sympathetically, Mr Barnacle was disposed to regard Jack's
representation of himself on first coming to the office as not candid,
and so blameworthy.  However, they both agreed that he had done the
proper thing in speaking out now, and willingly agreed to let him take
his holiday at the time proposed, so as to accompany his father to
Packworth.

So a great weight was taken off our minds, and the consciousness that
now nothing remained concealed from our employers enabled us to bear
Hawkesbury's lofty manner with comparative indifference.

I even yet had my doubts whether he could really have overheard our talk
that morning.  Nothing certainly that he said or did gave colour to the
suspicion; only his almost deferential manner to me, and his almost
scornful manner to Jack, seemed to hint that it might be so.

Jack's opinion, however, on the point was unshaken.

An uneventful fortnight passed.  Billy was up again and back at his work
as usual, except that he was strictly forbidden to walk about on his
hands any more--a terrible hardship for the lad.

The first half-year's cheque of Jack's scholarship had come, and had
been proudly deposited in the bank, as a nucleus of a fund in which
father, son, and daughter were some day to participate.

And now the long-looked-for time had arrived when Jack and his father
were to pay their promised visit to Packworth.  I had seen them both
half rejoicing in, half dreading the prospect; and now that I saw them
actually start, I scarcely knew whether most to pity or envy them.

It was a lonely evening for me, the evening after I had seem them off.
They had promised to write and tell me how they fared; but meanwhile I
felt very desolate.  Even Billy's company failed altogether to raise my
spirits.

However, as it happened, that youth had some news to give me which at
any rate tended to divert my mind for a time from my bereaved condition.

"I seen that Mashing agin," he said, abruptly.

"Did you?  Where?"

"Down Trade Street.  I was on a pal's beat there, for a change, and he
comes and wants his boots blacked.  I knows the animal, but he don't
twig me, bein' off my beat.  I would a-liked to give the beauty a
topper, so I would; but, bless you, where's the use!"

"So you blacked his boots for him?"

"I did so.  An' 'e got a pal along of him, and they was a-jawin' about a
parson's son as owed Mashing fifteen pound, and saying as they'd crack
him up if he didn't pay up.  And then they was a-jawin' about the shine
up here that night, and the pal was a-chaffin' Mashing cos of the wipin'
my bloke give 'im, and Mashing he says he reckons he's quits with the
prig--meaning the governor--by this time, he says.  And t'other one say
`'Ow?'  And Mashing says as the governor's a conwex son, and he knows
who Mr Conwex is, he says, and he are writ a letter to Miss Conwex, he
says, down in the country, that'll open 'er goggle eyes, he says."

"What!"  I exclaimed, starting from my seat, "he's written to Mary, the
brute!"

"Dunno so much about your Mary, but that's what he says," replied Billy,
composedly.

"When--when did he write--eh?"  I cried.

"'Ow do I know?" retorted Billy, who evidently misunderstood and failed
to appreciate my agitated manner.

"I aren't arsked 'im.  Arst 'im yourself if you want to know."

And he drew himself up in evident dudgeon.

I didn't know what to do.  It was no time to denounce or lament.  The
thought of the poor innocent girl receiving such a letter as Masham
would be likely to write was too much to endure.  If only I could
prevent her seeing it!

"When did you hear all this?"  I said to Billy.

"Find out.  'Tain't no concern of yourn," said the offended hero.

"But, Billy," said I, "it's most important.  Do you, know that what
Masham has done will make your Mr Smith miserable?"

Billy started at this.

"If I'd a known that, I'd a wrung his leg off," said he.

"But when was it?  This morning?"

"No, last night."

Last night!  Then the letter would already have reached Packworth, and
long before Jack and his father arrived the happiness of her life would
have been dashed.

It seemed no use attempting anything.  I determined, however, to send a
telegram to meet Jack on his arrival, so as to warn him, in case the
letter should still be undelivered.  I worded it carefully, for fear it
might be opened before Jack arrived.

"Hawkesbury did hear our talk.  He told Masham, who has written a letter
to some one we both care for."

This I flattered myself was sufficiently unintelligible to any one but
Jack.

I spent the rest of the evening in fighting against the tumult of my own
feelings.  My impulse had been to rush at once to Hawkesbury and charge
him with his infamy.  But what good would that do?  And who was I, to
prefer such a charge against another?  My next was to find out Masham,
and take some desperate revenge on him.  But, after all, my only
authority was Billy's report of a conversation overheard by him; and,
though it might be all true, I had no right, I felt, without further
proof, even if then, to do anything.

On the whole, I came to the conclusion I had better go to bed, which I
did.  But whether I slept or not the reader may guess.



CHAPTER THIRTY SIX.

HOW HAWKESBURY AND I CAME ACROSS ONE ANOTHER RATHER SERIOUSLY.

It took a great effort to appear before Hawkesbury next morning as if I
was not aware of his meanness.  Now Jack was away, he once again put on
an air of friendliness towards me which was particularly aggravating.
Had he only made himself disagreeable, and given me an opportunity of
venting my wrath, I should have been positively grateful.  But to stand
by all day and be simpered to, and even cringed to, was galling in the
extreme.

I did once venture on a mild protest.

He was speaking to me about the coming holidays, and begging me in a
most humble manner to choose what time I should like to take mine,
assuring me that any time would do for him.

I suggested, curtly, that as Doubleday had not yet had his holiday I
considered he had first choice.

"Oh," he said, "I don't think so.  Besides, Batchelor, Doubleday and I
could both be away at the same time; but I really would hardly feel
comfortable in going unless you could take charge of the petty-cash
while I am away."

"Smith will be back," I said; "he could do that for you."

As I expected, his face clouded.

"I can't agree with you there, Batchelor.  But don't let us talk of
that.  I hope you will choose the time you would like best.  I can
easily arrange for any time."

"I don't know what makes you so wonderfully civil," said I, losing
patience at all this soft soap.  "After all that has happened,
Hawkesbury, I should have thought you might have spared yourself this
gush, as far as I was concerned."

"I would like bygones to be bygones between us, Batchelor.  I know quite
well I have been to blame in many things!  I am sorry for them now, if
it prevents our being friends."

And he smiled sweetly.

I gave it up in disgust, and let him say what he liked.  It was not
worth the trouble of preventing him, unless I was prepared for an open
rupture, which just then I felt would be unwise, both on Jack's account
and my own.

So he had the satisfaction of believing his sweetness had made its due
impression on my savage breast, and of scoring to himself a victory in
consequence.

As I had found it before, hard work proved now to be the best specific
for dull spirits, and during the next few days I gave the remedy a full
trial.

It seemed ages before any letter came from Packworth, and I was dying to
hear.  For meanwhile all sorts of doubts and fears took hold of me.  How
had that strange family meeting gone off?  Had it been marred by
Masham's cruel letter? or was the poor lost father once more finding
happiness in the sight of one whom he had last seen an infant beside his
dead wife?  Surely if sympathy and common interest were to count for
kinship, I was as much a member of that little family as any of them!

At last the letter came.  It was from Jack:

"Dear Fred,--We got down on Wednesday.  Father went that night to the
hotel, as his heart failed him at the last moment.  I went on to Mrs
Shield's, and found your telegram on my arrival.  I was horrified, but
hardly surprised at what it told me.  Happily, Mary was in bed, as I had
not been expected till the morning, so I was able to explain all to Mrs
Shield.  She knew all about it before I told her; for the enclosed
letter had arrived by the post in the morning, addressed to Mary.
Mercifully, seeing it was in a strange hand, and, as I have often told
you, being most jealously careful of Mary, Mrs Shield took it into her
head to open the letter and read it before giving it to Mary, and you
may imagine her utter horror.  She of course did not let her see it, and
thus saved the child from what would have been a fearful shock; and I
was able to break it all to her gradually.  Father is to come this
evening--I am thankful it is all so well over.

"How are you getting on?  Anything fresh at Hawk Street?  I don't envy
Hawkesbury or his friend their feelings just now; but I am determined to
take no notice of this last brutal plot.  Good-bye now.

"Yours ever,--

"J.S."

The enclosure, written in an evidently disguised hand, was as follows:--

"An unknown admirer thinks it may interest Mary Smith to know that her
father is a common thief and swindler, who has just come back from
fourteen years' penal servitude among the convicts.  He is now living in
London with his son, Mary's brother, who, Mary may as well know, is
following close in his dear father's footsteps, however pious he may
seem to others.  This is the truth, or the writer would not have taken
the trouble to send it.  The best thing, if Mary wants to prevent the
whole affair being made public, is to make her brother leave his place
in London at once, and go somewhere in the country where he will be a
nuisance to nobody."

My first feeling on reading this was one of devout thankfulness for the
Providence which had kept it from falling into the hands for which it
was designed.  But my wrath soon drove out every other feeling--wrath
ten times the more fierce because it was helpless.

I could do nothing.  I might go and attempt to thrash Masham, or I might
thrash Hawkesbury, who was equally to blame, if not more.  But what good
would it do?  It would only make bad worse.  Jack's secret, instead of
being the private property of a few, would become common talk.  I should
be unable to bring positive proof of my charges, and even if I could, I
should only be putting myself in the wrong by using force to redress my
wrongs.  No, after all, the only punishment was to take no notice of the
affair, to let the two blackguards flatter themselves their plot had
succeeded, and to leave them to find out as best they could that they
had failed.

So I kept my hands resolutely in my pockets when next I met Hawkesbury,
and consoled myself by picturing what his feelings would have been, had
he known that that letter of his and his friend's was in my pocket all
the time.

However, my resolution to have nothing to do with him was upset very
shortly, and in an unexpected manner.

Since the eventful morning when Jack and I had had that unlucky
conversation at Hawk Street, I had not again put in an appearance there
before the stated time.  Now, however, that I was all by myself in town,
with very few attractions towards a solitary walk, and a constant sense
of work to catch up at Hawk Street, it occurred to me one fine morning--
I should say one wet morning--when the streets were very uninviting, to
seek shelter at the unearthly hour of half-past eight in Messrs.
Merrett, Barnacle, and Company's premises.

The housekeeper, greatly to my satisfaction, was engaged in clearing out
the offices below ours, so that I was able to ascend without challenge
and establish myself at my desk.  I had not been there five minutes when
another footstep sounded on the stairs and Hawkesbury entered.

I had thought it quite possible he might be there when I arrived, and
was therefore not nearly so surprised to see him as he appeared to see
me.

"What, Batchelor!" he exclaimed, "are you here?"

"Yes," I replied, "are you?"

Why should he express such surprise, I wondered, at my doing just what
he was doing?

"What brings you here at this hour?" he demanded, dropping for a moment
the coaxing tone with which I had become so familiar the last day or
two.

"What brings you here, for the matter of that?"  I retorted.

If he thought I was going to clear out to please him, he was mistaken.

"Don't address me like that," he replied, with as great a tone of
authority as he could assume.  "I have a right to be here.  You have
none."

"Until I am told so by some one better than yourself I sha'n't believe
it," I replied.

I was losing my temper fast.  Masham's letter burned in my pocket, and
the sight of this fellow giving himself airs to me was as much as I
could stand.

Fortunately for us both, however, he did not prolong the discussion, but
went to his desk.

It was evident, despite his assumed displeasure, he was very much put
out about something.  That something, I could not help thinking, must be
my presence.  He fidgeted about uneasily, looking now at the clock, now
at me, now opening his desk, now shutting it, now scribbling on the
paper before him, now tearing it up.

All this I saw as I tried to proceed steadily with my work.  At last he
brought me an envelope he had just addressed, and said in a rather more
persuasive manner than he had yet assumed--

"Batchelor, would you kindly take this note round to Hodge and
Company's?  It is very important; they should have had it yesterday."

"Hodge's are never open till ten," I said.

"Oh yes, indeed they are.  At least they expect this letter by nine
o'clock.  It's a bill of lading for their goods."

"If that's so," replied I, "the mail went out yesterday--you know that--
and there's not another till Monday."

"Oh, but there's a letter with it that has to be attended to
immediately."

"It's not been copied," said I, who had charge of the letter-book, and
was responsible for copying everything that went out.

"I've kept a copy.  I'll see to that.  It's only to ask them to call
round," he said, with evident confusion.

I did not believe a word he said.  And more than that, I strongly
suspected all this was a device to get me out of the office--and that
was what I had no intention of submitting to.

"If it's to ask them to call round," I said, "it will do when the
commissionaire comes at half-past nine."

"But I tell you it must be there at _nine_," he exclaimed.

"Then," said I, "you had better take it yourself."

I had ceased to be afraid of Hawkesbury, or the look with which he
returned to his desk might have made me uneasy.

I could see that as the time went on he became still more uneasy.

Once more he came to me.

"Will you go with the letter?" he demanded angrily.

"No, I won't go with the letter," I replied, in decided tones.

"You'll be sorry for it, Batchelor," he said, in a significant way.

"Shall I?"

"You would not like my uncle and Mr Barnacle to be told of your early
visits here without leave."

"They are quite welcome to know it."

"And of my catching you and Smith going into their private room."

"Where we found _you_," I replied, laughing, "busy at nobody knows
what?"

He looked at me hard as I drew this bow at a venture, and then said,
"You must know, Batchelor, that I have a right to sit in that room when
I choose.  And," he added, dropping his voice to a whisper and looking
at me in a most significant way--"and if the door happens to be open,
and if you and Smith happen to talk secrets, there's every chance of
their being overheard!"

This was his trump card!  If anything was to settle the question of my
obeying him and taking Hodge and Company's letter, this was to do it.

"Then you did hear what was said?"  I asked.

"Yes, I did," he said.

"And you mean to say--"

"I mean to say," said he, with a glance up at the clock, "that you had
better take this letter at once, Batchelor."

"And if I don't?"

"If you don't, your friend Smith shall smart for it."

Before I could make up my mind what to do--whether to feign alarm and
take the letter, leaving him to suppose he still had the whip-hand over
us, or whether to undeceive him at once, and defy him point-blank--
before I could reply at all, the door suddenly opened, and Masham
entered.

If anything was still wanted to decide me, this sufficed.  I felt
certain now that there was mischief on foot somewhere, and the
appearance of this bird of ill-omen was sufficient to account for
Hawkesbury's eagerness to get me out of the way.

What could have brought these two to arrange a meeting here, at the
office, and at an hour when in the ordinary course of things no one else
would be present?

I determined to stay where I was at all risks.

Masham on seeing me started, and looked inquiringly at Hawkesbury.

"What's he doing here?" he said.  The very sound of his voice made my
blood boil.

"He is going to take a letter to the Borough for me," said Hawkesbury,
bestowing a meaning glance on me.

"I'm not going to take it," said I.

"What?" exclaimed Hawkesbury, in sudden fury.

"I'm not going to take it.  I'm going to stay where I am."

"You know the consequences?" he muttered between his teeth.

"Yes."

"You know what it means for your friend Smith?"

"Yes."

He looked perplexed, as well he might.  That I should defy him in the
face of his threat against Jack Smith was the last thing he had
expected, "Batchelor," said he, altering his tone suddenly to one of
entreaty, "I have very important business to arrange with Masham.  Would
you mind leaving us for half an hour?  I would not ask you, only I shall
get into awful trouble if I can't talk to him alone for a little."

It passed my comprehension how, after threatening me with Jack's ruin,
he should now turn round with such an appeal.  And he put on such a
beseeching manner that in the midst of my wrath I half pitied him.
However, I was not to be moved.  "If you want to see him so privately as
all that," said I, "take him up to the sample-room.  No one will disturb
you there."

He gave me one look of hatred and menace, and then said to Masham, "We
must fix another time, Masham; we can't go into the matter now."

"Eh?" said Masham, who had hitherto stood by in silence.  "What do you
say?  If we can't do it now, we won't do it at all, my boy."

Hawkesbury went up to him and whispered something.

"Oh, we'll soon settle that!" said the other, laughing.  "He won't go,
won't he!  We'll help him, that's all?  Whereabouts is the coal-hole?"

So saying he made a grab at my arm, and before I could resist Hawkesbury
had secured the other.

I struggled all I could, but unavailingly.  Between them I was dragged
up stairs to the sample-room, into which I were ignominiously thrust,
and the door locked behind me.  At first my rage and indignation were
too great to allow me to think of anything but kicking at the door and
shouting to my captors to release me.  But this I soon discovered was
fruitless, and in due time I gave it up, and resolved to wait my time
and make the best of my lot.

That some mischief was afoot I now felt certain, and whatever it was, I
felt equally sure it was being enacted during my imprisonment.  Yet what
could I do?  I could only listen to the sound of voices below and
speculate as to what was going on.  Suddenly, however, it flashed across
me that the room in which I was was not over the office, but over the
partners' room, and that therefore the sounds I heard must proceed from
thence.

What could they be up to?  I heard a door open and shut, and a noise of
what might have been keys, followed by a heavy slamming-to of something
which, for the thud it gave, might have been the iron safe itself.

I felt very uncomfortable, but I was forced to remain chafing where I
was for nearly half an hour, when the lock of my prison turned and the
two entered the room.  They both seized me as before.

"Now you can come down," said Masham.

"Not till he promises to say nothing about this," said Hawkesbury.

"He knows what to expect if he doesn't!" said Masham.

"After all," said Hawkesbury, "we didn't mean to hurt you; Masham and I
only wanted to settle some horse-racing and other scores, and as the
papers were all in my desk, we were bound to use the office, and of
course I couldn't ask him round any other time.  If you'd been half a
gentleman, Batchelor, you would have left us at once."

"I don't believe you," I replied.  "What did you want in the partners'
room, I should like to know, eh?"

"What!" exclaimed Hawkesbury, in a rage.  "We were never there, were we,
Masham?"

"Never knew there was a partners' room," said Masham, "and if there had
been, what if we had been in it?"

"We were in the counting-house all the time," said Hawkesbury.  Then he
added, "But come down now, and take my advice, Batchelor, and don't ruin
yourself."

"Ruin myself!" cried I, with a scornful laugh; "I don't see how letting
the partners know your goings on would ruin me."

"You'll see!" was the reply.

He doubtless considered the threat enough, but, knowing as I did that
Jack had told the partners everything Hawkesbury could possibly tell, I
could afford to treat it with contempt.

Masham took his departure, and I returned with Hawkesbury to the
counting-house, where we were soon joined by our fellow-clerks.

I was very uncomfortable, and hardly knew how to act.  That it was my
duty to tell the partners what had happened I had no doubt; but how much
to tell them, and when, I could not make up my mind.  I determined to
take Doubleday into my confidence, and get the advantage of his good
advice and clear head.

But it was easier said than done.  Almost as soon as he came in
Doubleday had to go down to the docks, and the opportunity of consulting
him was thus delayed.  Every moment that passed I felt more and more
uneasy.  Mr Barnacle had already arrived, and Mr Merrett was due in a
few minutes.  What right had I to delay even for a moment a matter which
affected the credit of the whole house?

Yet suppose, after all, I had found a mare's-nest!  Suppose Hawkesbury's
explanation of what had occurred should by any chance have been
correct--suppose the sounds I heard during my confinement had not been
caused by those two at all, but by the housekeeper sweeping out the room
and putting it in order?  If that was so, what a fool I should make of
myself!

No; I resolved, for all the difference it would make, I would wait till
I could consult Doubleday.

Hawkesbury was very busy that morning; he was constantly fidgeting in
and out of his little box, giving vague directions to one clerk and
another, and keeping a special eye on me and all I did.

When Mr Merrett arrived he went as usual to say good-morning to his
uncle, and as usual followed him into the partners' room, to receive
such letters as might require answering.

I wished Doubleday had not been called down to the docks this morning of
all others.  He would have told me in a moment what I ought to do, or,
which came to the same thing, what he would have done in my place.
Anything would be better than this suspense.  I was tempted even then to
break in upon the partners and tell them what had happened, and what my
suspicions were.  But I could not do it while Hawkesbury was there.
When he came out--

By the way, what an unconscionable lot of letters there must be to keep
him in there all this time!  He was usually there about five minutes,
but this morning he had been half an hour at the very least.

The thought suddenly occurred to me, could he be telling the partners
about Jack Smith's antecedents?  In the midst of all my uneasiness I
almost smiled to think how sold he would be when he discovered they had
heard it all already!

Ah! here he was at last.

No.  It was Mr Merrett who appeared at the door with an extremely long
face; and looking round the office, fixed his eyes on me, and said,
"Batchelor--come in here!"

I obeyed.

Instead of going in as usual before me, he waited till I had entered,
and then followed me, closing the door behind him.

What on earth does it all mean?

Mr Barnacle sat looking straight before him through his spectacles.
Hawkesbury also sat at the table, twisting a quill pen backwards and
forwards with his fingers.

"Hawkesbury," said Mr Merrett, as he re-entered, "you might leave us,
please.  I will call you when you are wanted."

Hawkesbury, without looking at me, rose to obey.  As he reached the
door, Mr Merrett stepped after him, and whispered something.  At
ordinary times I should not have heard what he whispered, or thought of
listening for it.  But there was such a silence in the room, and my
nerves were strung up to such a pitch, that I distinctly caught the
words.

What I heard was this--

"Fetch a policeman!"



CHAPTER THIRTY SEVEN.

HOW HAWKESBURY AND I SPENT A MORNING IN THE PARTNERS' ROOM.

"Fetch a policeman!"  The truth flashed across me as I heard the words.
Instead of standing here an accuser, I stood the accused.  Hawkesbury
had been before me with a vengeance!

The very shock of the discovery called back the presence of mind, which,
on my first summons, I had almost lost.  I was determined at least that
nothing I should do or say would lend colour to the false charge against
me.

"Batchelor," said Mr Merrett, after Hawkesbury had gone and the door
was locked--"Batchelor, we have sent for you here under very painful
circumstances.  You doubtless know why."

"I must ask you to tell me, sir," I replied, respectfully, but with a
tremble in my voice which I would have given anything to conceal.

"I will tell you," said Mr Merrett, "when you have first told Mr
Barnacle and me what you have been doing since eight o'clock this
morning."

"And let me advise you," said Mr Barnacle, looking up, "to tell the
truth."

"I certainly will tell the truth," I began.

What possessed that unlucky voice of mine to quaver in the way it did?
Those few words, I was convinced, would tell more against me than the
most circumstantial narrative.  I clutched hold of the back of a chair
near me, and made a desperate effort to steady myself as I proceeded.  I
gave an exact account of everything that had happened since I entered
the office that morning, omitting nothing, glossing over nothing,
shirking nothing.  They both listened attentively, eyeing me keenly all
the time, and betraying no sign in their faces whether they believed me
or not.

"Then you mean to say," said Mr Merrett, when it was done, "that you
were not in this room at all?"

"Yes, I never entered it."

"Were you ever in this room without our knowledge?"

"Yes, a fortnight ago.  Smith and I were here early, and hearing a noise
inside, we opened the door and came in to see what it was."

"What did you find?"

"Hawkesbury, working at the table where Mr Barnacle is now sitting."

"What occurred?"

I related precisely what had occurred, repeating as nearly as I could
the very words that had been used.

There was a silence, and then Mr Merrett, in his most solemn tones,
said, "Now, Batchelor, answer this question.  You say you were here
before any one else arrived this morning?"

"Yes, sir.  I had been here about five minutes before Hawkesbury came."

"What were you doing during that time?"

"I was working at my desk."

"You are quite sure?"

"Perfectly," said I, my cheeks burning and my heart swelling within me
to be thus spoken to by those whom, with all my faults, I had never once
so much as dreamt of deceiving.

"You did not enter this room?"

"No."

Mr Merrett touched his bell, and Hawkesbury appeared.  I scarcely
wondered he should try to avoid my eye as he stood at the table waiting.

"Hawkesbury, repeat once more, in Batchelor's hearing, what you have
already told us."

He kept his head down and his face averted from me as he said, "I
arrived here at a quarter to nine this morning, and noticed the door of
this room open, and when I came to see who was there I saw Batchelor in
the act of shutting the safe.  He did not notice me at first, not until
he was coming out of the room.  I asked him what he was doing here.  He
seemed very much disconcerted, and said he had been looking for some
papers he had left on Mr Barnacle's table the day before.  I asked him
what he had been doing with the safe, and where he had got the key to
open it.  He got into a great state, and begged me to say nothing about
it.  I said I was bound to tell you what I had seen.  Then he flew into
a rage, and told me he'd serve me out.  I told him that wouldn't prevent
me doing what was right.  Then he left the office, and didn't come back
till a quarter to ten."

All this Hawkesbury repeated glibly and hurriedly in a low voice.  To
me, who stood by and heard it, it was a cowardly lie from beginning to
end.  But to my employers, I felt, it must sound both businesslike and
straightforward; quite as straightforward, I feared, as my own equally
exact but tremblingly-spoken story.

"You hear what Hawkesbury says?" said Mr Merrett, turning to me.

I roused myself with an effort, and answered quietly, "Yes, sir."

"What have you to say to it?"

"That it is false from beginning to end."

"You deny, in fact, ever having been at this safe, or in this room?"

"Most certainly."

They all looked grave, and Mr Merrett said, solemnly, "I am sorry to
hear you deny it, Batchelor.  If you had made a full confession we
should have been disposed to deal more leniently with you."

"I never did it--it's all false!"  I cried, suddenly losing all self-
control.  "You know it's false; it's a plot to ruin me and Jack."

"Silence, sir!" said Mr Merrett, sternly.

"I won't be silent," I shouted; "I never deceived you, and yet you go
and believe what this miserable--"

Mr Merrett touched his bell angrily; but before any one answered it Mr
Barnacle had looked up.

The junior partner had been silent all this time, an attentive but
impassive listener to all that had passed.  Once or twice during
Hawkesbury's story he had darted a quick glance at the speaker, and once
or twice during my indignant protest his brows had knit, as it seemed,
in anger.  Mr Barnacle had always had the reputation of being the
sterner of the two partners, and now, as he abruptly joined in the
conversation, I felt as if it boded very little good for me.

"One moment," said he to Mr Merrett; "there are a few more questions we
should ask, I think.  Batchelor, you are doing yourself no good by this
noise," he added, turning to me.

He was right, and I saw it.  I quieted down with an effort, and wondered
what was coming next.

Wallop appeared at the door in answer to the bell, and was told he was
not wanted.  Then Mr Barnacle turned to Hawkesbury and asked, "What
brought you here so early as a quarter to nine, Hawkesbury?"

This question surprised Hawkesbury as much as it delighted me.  I hardly
expected to have a cross-examination in my favour conducted by Mr
Barnacle.

"I came to do some work," said Hawkesbury.

"What work?"

"I had several things to catch up."

"What?  Invoices, or letters, or accounts, or what?"

"I had the petty-cash to balance."

"That is supposed to be done every day, is it not?"

"Yes; but I had got rather behind."

"How many days behind?" said Mr Barnacle.

"Really I can't quite say," said Hawkesbury, who did not seem used to
being driven into a corner.  "My journey North threw me out of it."

"Then you have not balanced the petty-cash since before you went North,
nearly three weeks ago?  Am I to understand that?"

"Yes," said Hawkesbury.

"Is this the first morning you have come here early?"

"No.  I have been once or twice."

"This is the only time you found Batchelor here?"

"No; about a fortnight ago he was here with Smith.  I found them both in
this room."

"What were they doing?"

"They were writing something at the table.  They were in a great rage
with me when I came in."

"Was the safe open at the time?"

Hawkesbury had got past the stage of sticking at trifles.

"Yes," he said; "when I came in it was.  But they made a rush and turned
me out of the room and locked the door.  And then when I came in again
it was shut."

"And did you mention this to anybody?"

"No."

"And why, pray?"

Hawkesbury was taken aback by the sudden question.  It was evident he
could not make his story square at all four corners.

"I--I--hoped I might be mistaken," said he, uncomfortably.  "In fact, I
meant to mention the affair, but--but I forgot."

"Oh," said Mr Barnacle, in a way that made the witness writhe.

"I hope you don't doubt my word," said Hawkesbury, attempting to assume
a lofty air of virtuous indignation.

Mr Barnacle vouchsafed no reply.

"What we desire," said Mr Merrett, "is to come at the truth of the
matter, and I can only say that it would be much better if the culprit
were to make a full confession here now."

He looked hard at me as he spoke, and I did my best to stand the look as
an innocent man should.

"A cheque for eight pounds has been missed," continued Mr Merrett,
"which was only drawn yesterday, and left in the safe.  I ask you,
Batchelor, do you know anything of it?"

"No, sir," I replied.

"Do you?" said Mr Barnacle to Hawkesbury.

Hawkesbury flushed as he replied, "I never expected to be asked such a
question, Mr Barnacle.  I know nothing about it."

Mr Merrett evidently disliked his partner's persistency in putting to
Hawkesbury the same questions as had been put to me, but he could hardly
complain.  He turned to his nephew and said, "Did you fetch a policeman,
Hawkesbury?"

"No; I was just going when you called me in here."

Mr Merrett touched his bell, and Crow appeared.

"Is Doubleday in?" asked the senior partner.

"No, sir."

"As soon as he comes in, tell him he is wanted."

Crow took an eyeful of us as we stood there, evidently dying of
curiosity to know what it all meant, and then retired.

"You two had better go to your work for the present," said Mr Barnacle;
"but understand that you are neither of you at liberty to leave the
office.  Merrett, I will go down to the bank."

"Do," said Mr Merrett.

And so this first painful interview ended.  My feelings on finding
myself once more at my desk among my fellow-clerks may be more easily
imagined than described.

My indignation and sense of injury would scarcely allow me to think
calmly on my position.  That my employers should be ready, on the
testimony of such a fellow as Hawkesbury, to believe a charge like this
against me, was simply unbearable, and my own helplessness to prove my
innocence only added tenfold to my trouble.  Oh! if Jack were only here,
I might get some light.

I hurriedly dashed off a note to him, telling him all, and begging him
to come.  Yet what was the use of writing when I was not allowed to
leave the office to post the letter?

I only wished Mr Barnacle would come back from the bank, and that I
might know the worst.

As for Hawkesbury, he had shut himself up in his glass box, and was
invisible.

Presently, not a little to my comfort, Doubleday returned.  Fortunately,
Crow was in another part of the office at the time, so that before he
delivered his message I had time for a hurried consultation.

"Doubleday," said I, in a whisper, "I am accused of stealing a cheque;
can you help me out?"

"Guilty, or not guilty?" inquired Doubleday, taking a practical view of
the case at once.  This was pleasant, but it was no time to be
particular.

"It is a lie from beginning to end, invented by Hawkesbury to shield
himself from a similar charge."

"Oh, that's it?  He's been coming out in that line has he?"

I hurriedly narrated the morning's adventures, greatly to his
astonishment and wrath.  He took in the situation at once.

"Jolly awkward fix," said he.  "Seen the cheque?"

"No; Mr Barnacle is down at the bank now."

"Doubleday," said Crow, entering at this moment, "the governors want
you--sharp."

"They are going to send you for a policeman," I said.  "If anything
happens, Doubleday, will you please telegraph to Smith, at Mrs
Shield's, Packworth, and tell him to come to me, and also find out
Billy, the shoeblack, and say I want to see him."

Doubleday looked at me with something like amazement as I made this
request, which, however, he promised to fulfil, and then waited on Mr
Merrett in the partners' room.

However, he returned almost immediately, and said he was to wait until
Mr Barnacle came back.

It seemed ages before that event happened.  Meanwhile Doubleday advised
me not to be seen talking to him, or anybody, but to go to my desk and
keep my own counsel.  It was good advice, and I took it.  Mr Barnacle
returned presently, accompanied by a man who I fancied must be connected
with the bank.  The two partners and this stranger were closeted
together for some time in the inner-room, and then Doubleday was
summoned.

After what seemed a century he emerged and beckoned to me to go in.
"You're wanted," he said.

I could gather neither comfort nor hope from his face as he stood to let
me pass.

"Come when I ring," said Mr Merrett to him.

Once more I stood before my employers.  The stranger was still in the
room, and eyed me as I entered in a manner which made me feel as if,
whatever I was, I ought to be the guilty person.

"This matter, Batchelor," began Mr Merrett, solemnly, "is more serious
than we imagined.  Not only has a cheque been stolen, but it has been
tampered with.  Look here!"

So saying he held out the cheque.  It was dated the previous day, and
payable to bearer.  But the amount, instead of being eight pounds, was
eighty.  The alteration had been neatly made, and no one who did not
know the original amount drawn for would have suspected that £80 was not
the proper sum.

"This cheque," said Mr Merrett, "was presented at the bank this morning
at ten o'clock and cashed."

I made no reply, being determined to say as little as I could.

"You were here at this hour, I believe," continued Mr Merrett, "but you
had left the office between 9 and 9:45."

"No, sir.  I have not left the office since I arrived at half-past
eight."

Mr Merrett touched the bell.

"Send Hawkesbury here," he said to Doubleday.

Hawkesbury appeared, and at Mr Merrett's bidding, after being shown the
cheque, repeated once more his story in the hearing of the stranger.

It did not vary from the former version, and included the statement that
I had quitted the office at the time alleged.

"Did you leave the office at all?" inquired Mr Barnacle.

"No," said Hawkesbury.

"Not at all?"

"No, I said so," replied he.

"And no one came to see you here?"

"No."

"Your friend Masham did not?"

Hawkesbury, much offended to be thus catechised, made no reply.

Mr Barnacle coolly repeated the question.

"No--he did not!"

"What were you doing all the time?"

"I was working."

"Yes, what particular work were you engaged in?"

"I told you--I was balancing the petty-cash."

"Did you finish it?"

"Nearly."

Mr Barnacle touched the bell, and Doubleday appeared.

"Doubleday, go to Hawkesbury's desk and bring me the petty-cash book and
box."

Hawkesbury turned pale and broke out into a rage.

"What is this for, Mr Barnacle?  I am not going to stand it!  What
right have you to suspect me?"

"Give Doubleday the key," repeated Mr Barnacle.

"No," exclaimed Hawkesbury, in a white heat.  "I will not, I will fetch
the book myself.  He doesn't know where to find it.  He has no business
to go to my desk."

"Remain where you are, Hawkesbury," said Mr Barnacle.

"What right have you to search my desk?  I have private things in it.
Uncle Merrett, are you going to allow this?"

"Mr Barnacle has a perfect right to see the petty-cash account," said
Mr Merrett, looking, however, by no means pleased.

"Why don't you examine his desk?" said Hawkesbury, pointing to me; "he
is the one to suspect, not me.  Why don't you search his desk?"

"I have no objection to my desk being searched," said I, feeling a good
deal concerned, however, at the thought of the mess that receptacle was
in.

"It is only fair," said Mr Barnacle.  "This gentleman will search both,
I dare say.  Doubleday, show this gentleman both desks."

It was a long, uncomfortable interval which ensued, Hawkesbury breaking
out in periodical protests against his desk being examined, and I
wondering where and how to look for help.  The partners meanwhile stood
and talked together in a whisper at the window.

At length the gentleman, who, it had dawned on me, was not a bank
official, but a detective, returned with Doubleday, who carried in his
hands a few books and papers.

The petty-cash book and box were first delivered over, and without
examination consigned to the safe.

"These letters were in the same desk," said the detective, laying down
the papers on the table.  They appeared to be letters, and in the
address of the top one I instantly recognised the handwriting of the
letter sent to Mary Smith, which I still had in my pocket.

Hawkesbury made an angry grasp at the papers.  "They are private
letters," he exclaimed, "give them up!  What right have you to touch
them?"

"Hawkesbury," said Mr Barnacle, "in a case like this it is better for
you to submit quietly to what has been done.  Nothing in these papers
that does not concern the matter in hand is likely to tell against you.
Is that all, officer?"

"That's all in that desk," said the detective.  "In the other young
gentleman's desk the only thing besides business papers and litter was
this key."

A key?  What key could it be?  It was the first I had seen of it!

"Let me look at it," said Mr Merrett, suddenly, as the detective laid
it on the table.

It was handed to him, and his face changed as he took it.  He turned for
a moment to show it to Mr Barnacle and whisper something.  Then he
said, "This is my key of the safe, which I left last night in the pocket
of my office coat in this room!"



CHAPTER THIRTY EIGHT.

HOW I ENDED THE DAY MORE COMFORTABLY THAN I HAD EXPECTED.

My misfortunes had now fairly reached a climax, and it seemed useless to
struggle against circumstances any more.

Of course, I could see, as soon as my stunned senses recovered
sufficiently to enable me to perceive anything, that the same false hand
which had pointed me out as a thief had also placed that key in my desk
as part of his wicked plot.  I remembered that when I was conveyed up to
the sample-room that morning my desk had been open.  Nothing, therefore,
could have been more simple than to secrete the key there during my
absence, and so lay up against me a silent accuser which it would be far
harder to gainsay than a talking one.

But what was the use of explaining all this when evidently fortune had
decreed that I should become a victim?  After all, was it not better to
give in at once, and let fate do its worst?

"This is my key of the safe," said Mr Merrett, and all eyes turned on
me.

Nothing I could say, it was clear, could do any good.  I therefore gaped
stupidly at the key and said nothing.

"How came it in your desk, Batchelor?" asked Mr Barnacle.

I didn't know, and therefore I couldn't say, and consequently said
nothing.

"Have you any explanation to offer?" repeated Mr Barnacle.

"No," I replied.

"Then, officer," said Mr Merrett, "we must give him in charge."

The bare idea of being walked off to a police-station was enough to
drive all my sullenness and reserve to the four winds.

Suddenly finding my tongue, I cried--

"Oh, please don't, please don't!  I can explain it all.  For mercy sake
don't be cruel--don't send me to prison!  I am innocent, Mr Merrett,
Mr Barnacle; I can explain it all.  Please don't have me locked up."

In my confusion and panic I turned round and addressed these last words
to Hawkesbury, who received them with a smile in which there was more of
triumph than pity.

"You false coward!"  I exclaimed, suddenly seeing who it was, "you did
this.  You put the key in my desk while I was locked up stairs."

"Really, Batchelor," replied he, in his sweetest tones, "I'm afraid you
hardly know what you're saying.  I don't understand you."

"You do," said I, "and you understand how helpless I am to defend
myself.  You and Masham did your work well this morning."

"At any rate," retorted he, firing up, "we gave you a lesson for your
impudence."

Mr Merrett had been speaking with the detective, and did not hear this
dialogue; but Mr Barnacle did, happily for me.

"Then," he said, turning short round to Hawkesbury, "Masham _was_ here
this morning?"

Hawkesbury, thus suddenly cornered, turned first red, then white, and
tried to mumble out some evasion.  But Mr Barnacle was not the man to
be put off in that way.

"Then he _was_ here this morning?" he demanded again.

Hawkesbury had no retreat, and he saw it.

"He just called in for a moment," he said, sullenly; "that's all."

"Oh," said Mr Barnacle, "you can go to your desk, Hawkesbury, for the
present."

Hawkesbury, looking anything but triumphant, obeyed, and Mr Barnacle,
who evidently suspected the real truth more than his partner did, turned
to me.

"Batchelor, do you still decline to offer any explanation of the
discovery of this key in your desk?"

"I can only say," I replied, "that it must have been put there, for I
never touched it."

"Who would put it there?"

"Hawkesbury, I suppose.  When he and his friend dragged me up stairs my
desk was left open."

"Can you describe this Masham?"

I could, and did.

"The description," said the detective, "tallies exactly with that given
at the bank of the person who presented the cheque."

"Do you know his writing?"

"I know what I believe to be his writing," said I.

"Is that it?" inquired Mr Barnacle, showing me an envelope addressed to
Hawkesbury.

"No, that is not the handwriting I believe to be his."

"Is that?" showing another.

"No."

"Is that?"  This time it was the envelope I had already recognised.

"Yes, that is it."

"How are you able to recognise it?"

"By this," said I, producing the letter to Mary Smith from my pocket.
The handwriting on the two envelopes was compared and found to be alike,
and further to correspond with a signature at the back of the cheque.
The clerk, it seemed, being a little doubtful of the person who
presented the cheque, had required him to write his name on the back;
and the fictitious signature "A.  Robinson" was accordingly given in
Masham's hand.

"That seems clear," said the detective.

"I see," said Mr Barnacle, looking again at the envelope I had given
him, "this letter is addressed to the place where Smith lives.  Is
Masham a friend of Smith or his family?"

"Would you mind reading the letter, sir?"  I said; "that will answer the
question better than I can."

Mr Barnacle did so, and Mr Merrett also.

In the midst of my trouble it was at least a satisfaction to see the
look of disgust which came into both their faces as they perused its
contents.

"A dastardly letter!" said Mr Merrett.  "How came Masham to know of
Smith's private affairs?"

"Hawkesbury overheard Smith and me talking of them on the first occasion
that we found him here, and must have told Masham, who had a grudge
against Smith."

"You heard, of course, that Hawkesbury included Smith as well as
yourself in his accusation?"

"Yes, I did.  And I wish he was here to confirm my denial of it.  What
happened was--"

"Yes," said Mr Barnacle, "you need not go into that again.  But answer
one more question, Batchelor.  Are you acquainted with Masham?"

"Slightly.  I once was introduced to him by Hawkesbury and spent a day
with him."

"Have you any reason to believe he is a swindler?"

"I know of nothing which would warrant me in saying so," replied I.

"Do you know whether Hawkesbury owes him money?"

"Yes--at least I have been told so."

"By whom?"

"By a boy--a shoeblack who--"

"A shoeblack!" exclaimed Mr Merrett.  "Is that your only authority?"

"I believe he is honest," I said; "he overheard a conversation between
Masham and a friend, in which Masham mentioned that Hawkesbury owed him
£15."

"Really," said Mr Merrett, "this is almost absurd to take such
testimony as that."

"It wouldn't be amiss to see the boy, though," said Mr Barnacle; "a
great deal depends on whether or no Hawkesbury owed money to Masham.
Where is this boy to be found?"

"Oh, I could fetch him at once.  I know where he works," I said.

"No," said Mr Barnacle, "you must stay here.  Doubleday can go."  And
he touched the bell.

"Doubleday," he said, when that youth entered, "we want you to bring
here a shoeblack."

"Yes, sir," said Doubleday, artlessly: "will any one do?"

"No, no," said Mr Barnacle, "the boy we wish to see is--where is he,
Batchelor?"

"He works at the top of Style Street," I said; "you will know the place
by the writing all over the flagstones on either side."

With this lucid direction Doubleday started, and I in the meanwhile was
left to go on with my usual work.  Most of the fellows were away at
dinner, and Hawkesbury as before was invisible, so I had the place
pretty much to myself, and was spared, for a time, at any rate, a good
deal of unwelcome questioning.

In due time there was a sound of scuffling and protest on the stairs
outside, and Doubleday reappeared dragging in Billy.  That youthful
hero, evidently doubting the import of this strange summons, was in a
highly indignant frame of mind at being thus hauled along by the
mischievous Doubleday, who, vouchsafing no explanation and heeding no
protest, had simply made a grab at his unlucky young victim, and then
led him away, box, brushes, and all, to Hawk Street.

"Do you hear? turn it up--do you hear?" he cried, as they entered.  "Oh,
go on, you let my arm be--let me go, do you hear?"

At this point he recognised me, who thought it well to interpose.

"Don't alarm yourself, Billy," said I, "no one's going to hurt you."

"This cove do--and he _are_!"

"Well, he didn't mean.  The gentlemen here want to ask you some
questions, that's all."

"I ain't a-goin' to be arsted no questions.  They ain't my governors, so
I let them know.  I ain't a-goin' to be arsted questions by any one 'sep
my governor."

"But what they want to ask you, Billy," said I, "has something to do
with Mr Smith's happiness and mine.  All you have to do is to tell the
truth."

This explanation mollified the ruffled Billy somewhat.

"Come, young cock-sparrow," said Doubleday, returning from announcing
the distinguished visitor, "you're wanted inside.  They want you, too,
Batch."

We entered.  Billy, as usual, was more at his ease than any one else.
"What cheer?  Well, what do you want to arst me?" he cried, jauntily.

The partners, thus encouraged, looked rather amused, and Mr Barnacle
said, "You're the little shoeblack, are you?"

"In corse I are!"

"And you know this gentleman?"

"Yaas; I knows the animal!"

"And you know Mr Smith?"

"What! my governor?  He ain't no concern of yourn," retorted the boy,
firing up a little at this liberty taken with his "governor's" name.

Mr Barnacle gazed curiously at the strange urchin through his
spectacles, and then resumed, in as coaxing a tone as he could assume,
"You know a person called Masham, do you?"

"Yaas; I knows 'im."

"What sort of person is he?"

"What sort?  Why, he are a beauty, so I tell you!"

"Yes; but I mean, what sort of looking man?  Is he tall or short?  Has
he dark hair or light?  Would you know him if you saw him?"

"Know him?  Oh no--no fear--I know the beauty!"

"Well, what sort of looking man is he?" asked Mr Barnacle.

"He's a ugly bloke with a mug like yourn, and a 'orseshoe pin in 'is
weskit."

"Yes?  And what colour is his hair?"

"Carrots!"

That was quite enough.  This unromantic portrait corresponded
sufficiently nearly with the description already given.

"Now," said Mr Barnacle, "will you tell us when you last blacked his
boots?"

"A Toosdy."

"Do you remember whether he was alone?"

"Ain't you arstin' me questions, though!" exclaimed Billy.  "Of course
he 'ad a bloke along of him, and, says he, `That there parson's son,'
says he, `is a cuttin' it fat?' says he.  `He do owe me a fifteen pun,'
says 'e, `and ef 'e don't hand it over sharp,' says he, `I'll wake 'im
up!'  And then--"

"Yes," said Mr Barnacle; "that's enough, my man, thank you."

When Billy had gone, Mr Merrett turned to me and said, "Go to your
work, Batchelor, and tell Doubleday to send Hawkesbury here."

I obeyed, feeling that, after all, as far as I was concerned, the storm
had blown over.

Doubleday went to Hawkesbury's glass box and opened the door.  "You're
wanted, Hawkes-- Hullo!"

This exclamation was caused by the discovery that Hawkesbury was not
there!

"Where's Hawkesbury?" he inquired of the office generally.

"He's not come back," said Crow.

"When did he go out?"

"Why, the usual time, to be sure."

Doubleday gave a low whistle, and exclaimed, "Bolted!"  And so it was.
That afternoon Hawkesbury did not appear again at Hawk Street, or the
next day, or the next week, or the next month.  And when inquiry was
made at the rectory, all that could be ascertained was that he had left
home, and that not even his father knew where he had gone.



CHAPTER THIRTY NINE.

WHICH PARTS ME FROM THE READER, BUT NOT FROM MY FRIEND SMITH.

And now, reader, my story is all but done.  One short scene more, and
then my friend Smith and I must retire out of sight.

It was on a Christmas day, three years after the event last narrated,
that a little party assembled in a tiny house in Hackney to spend a very
quiet evening.

It was, I daresay, as modest a party in as modest a house as could have
been found that Christmas-time in all London.

The house had hardly yet lost the smell of paint and varnish which had
greeted its occupants when they first moved into it a week ago.  To-day,
however, that savour is seriously interfered with by another which
proceeds from the little kitchen behind, and which dispenses a
wonderfully homelike influence through the small establishment.  In
fact, the dinner now in course of preparation will be the first regular
meal which that household has celebrated, and the occasion being more or
less of a state one, the two ladies of the house are in a considerable
state of flutter over the preparations.

While they are absorbed in the mysterious orgies of the kitchen, the
four gentlemen are sitting round the cheery little parlour fire with
their feet on the fender, talking about a great many things.

One of the gentlemen is middle-aged, with hair turning white, and a face
which looks as if it had seen stormy weather in its journey through
life.  He is the quietest of the party, the talk being chiefly sustained
by two younger men of about twenty-one years, considerably assisted by a
boy who appears to be very much at home on every subject, especially
boots and mothers.  Indeed, this boy (who might be ten, or might be
fifteen, there is nothing in his figure or face or voice to say which),
is the liveliest member of the party, and keeps the others, even
occasionally the older gentleman, amused.

In due time the ladies appear, as trim and unconcerned as if they had
never put their foot in a kitchen all their lives, and the circle round
the fire widens to admit them.  The elder of these ladies is a careworn
but pleasant, motherly-looking body, who calls the elder gentleman "sir"
when she speaks to him, and invariably addresses one of the two young
men--the one with the black eyes--as Mister Johnny.  As for the younger
lady, whose likeness to Mister Johnny is very apparent, she is all
sunshine and smiles, and one wonders how the little parlour was lighted
at all before she entered it.

At least the other young man--he without the black eyes--wonders thus as
he looks towards where she sits with the elder gentleman's hand in her
own, and her smiles putting even the hearth to shame.

"So, Billy," says she, addressing the boy, "you've been made office-boy
at Hawk Street, I hear?"

"I are so--leastways I ham so," replies Billy, who appears to be in some
difficulty just now with his mother tongue.

"You mustn't stand on your head in the office, you know," says the young
lady, with a mischievous smile, "or the junior partner would be
horrified."

The young lady's brother smiles, as if this observation referred to him,
and the elderly lady looks particularly proud, for some reason or other.

"That there bloke--" begins the boy.

"Order, sir," exclaims the young lady; "haven't I told you, Billy, that
`bloke' is not a nice word?  It's all very well for a shoeblack, but it
won't do for an office-boy."

"You do jaw me--" again began the boy.

"I what you?"

"Jaw--leastways you tork, you do," said Billy, who appeared to be as
much in awe of the young lady as he was hopeless of attaining the
classical English.

"I say, Mary," laughed the brother, "you might give Billy a holiday to-
day, as it's Christmas Day.  You can't expect him to master the Queen's
English all at once."

So Billy is allowed to express himself for the rest of the evening in
the way most natural to him, and shows his gratitude by making ample use
of his liberty.

Presently the elder lady disappears, and returns in a minute or two with
the information that dinner is ready, an announcement which Billy greets
with the laconic ejaculation, "Proper!"

It is a cheery Christmas dinner that.  The elderly gentleman is rather
quiet, and so is the young gentleman called Fred, who looks a great deal
oftener at the young lady than he does at the plate before him.  But the
others make up in fun and chatter for the silence of these two, and as
the meal goes on the good spirits of the party rise all round.

"This is rather better than Drury Lane, eh, Jack?" says Fred.

"Rather," says Jack.  "The only fear is about its being too far away for
father."

"Not at all," says the elder gentleman.  "I'm better already for the
walk every day.  You've no idea how agreeable the streets are at three
o'clock every morning."

"Do you remember our first walk out this way, Fred," says Jack, "when we
tried to find out Flanagan?"

"Yes, I do, indeed.  We missed him, but we found Billy instead."

"Yaas, and you was a nice pair of flats, you was, when I fust comed
across you," observes Billy, who, I regret to say, has not quite
finished his mouthful of plum-pudding before he speaks.

"They're pulling down the court, I see, Billy," says Fred.

"They are so.  'Tain't no concern of mine, though, now she's hooked it."

Billy says this with a grave face, and means no irreverence in thus
speaking of his dead mother.

"Mr Hawkesbury will be almost sorry to see it pulled down," says Jack,
"for he had done so much good there."

"Poor Mr Hawkesbury!" says Mary.  "I wish he would have come to us to-
day.  But he says he would be happier at his regular work, and we hadn't
the heart to urge him."

"He's good deal happier now, though," says Fred, "since he heard from
his son.  In fact, he's had one or two letters, and Hawkesbury really
seems to be turning over a new leaf; so the father is quite hopeful."

There is a pause, and then Jack changes the subject.

"Talking of pulling down places," says he, "I saw an advertisement to-
day, Fred, of the sale of that valuable and desirable place, Stonebridge
House."

"Did you?" says Fred.

And then follows a talk about old school days in which more present are
interested than the two who actually take part.

"It seems a long while since we were there," says Jack.

"It's seven years six months and a week to-day since I left," says Fred.

"Why, how exact you are in your dates!" smiles the young lady.

"It was on the eighteenth of June," replies Fred.  "I recollect it
because it was on the twenty-first that I first met you."

He had not meant to say this, and blushes when it escapes him, and for
the next minute or two he occupies himself with his plate.  So does the
young lady with hers.

Then the talk drifts off to other subjects, and the party fall to
sketching out the programme of their new life in London.  Jack is to be
home to tea every evening at seven, and as Jack's father has not to
leave for his newspaper office till eight, the little family will at any
rate get one hour a day together.  And as soon as the spring comes Miss
Mary is going to convert the little strip of garden behind into a second
paradise, and Mr Fred, if he pleases, may come and help her.  Indeed,
it is taken for granted that, although his lodging is away in a street
hard by, he is to be considered as free of this house and one of the
family; as also is Billy, provided he does not call Jack "bloke," and
attends diligently to the instructions Miss Mary promises to give him
two evenings a week.

In due time dinner is ended, and the little party once more congregate
round the parlour fire.  Scarcely have they assembled when there is a
ring at the door, and next moment a cheery gentleman called Doubleday is
announced.  Every one welcomes the visitor warmly, and room is made for
him in the magic circle.

"Thought I'd call and pay my respects," says Mr Doubleday, bobbing to
the ladies.  "Jolly snug little box you've got here, too."

"Yes, it is snug," says Jack.

"Glad to see you settled down before I go," says the other.  "Settled
down both here and at Hawk Street too, eh?"

"I'm awfully sorry you're going abroad," says Jack, "we shall miss you
badly."

"Oh, I'll soon be back.  You see, it's rather a good offer, this Bombay
agency, and I'm bound to have to hop over to the old country every now
and then to look you up."

"The oftener the better," says every one.

Mr Doubleday fidgets a bit in his chair, and then remarks, "I say,
Smith, excuse my saying it, but I'm very glad you ever came to Hawk
Street, and I may as well tell you so."

Jack is about to say something, but Doubleday is before him.

"I know what you're going to say, but it's a fact.  Batch here thinks so
too."

Mr Fred assents warmly.

"Fact is," says Doubleday, "I don't know how you did the trick, but
you've drawn more than one of us out of Queer Street."

"What do you--" begins Jack, but Doubleday continues, "Of course you'll
deny it, but no one believes you; do they, Batch?  Why, even Crow was
saying yesterday--"

"That's Flanikin," exclaimed Billy at this point, as another ring
sounded at the door.

This interruption, though it cuts short Mr Doubleday's speech, is a
decidedly pleasant one; and when a burly, rosy-faced Irish gentleman
enters and joins the party the magic circle seems finally complete.

I need not recount all the talk of that happy Christmas evening.  It was
a merry Christmas, without doubt, though not a boisterous one.  No one
seemed to want any better enjoyment than chatting over old times, or
sitting and listening while others chatted; and when Mary's sweet voice
rang out presently in the words of some of the grand old Christmas
hymns, the joy that lit up more than one face in the happy group spoke
more eloquently than words of the true happiness which this season of
peace and goodwill brought to their hearts.

In due time the hands of the little clock crawl round to eleven, and the
two visitors rise to leave.

When they are gone the rest of the party once more draw in round the
fire.  By some accident, I suppose, Mr Fred's chair finds itself next
to Miss Mary's, which, as it turns out, is convenient, for these two
young people happen to have a good deal to say to one another which can
only be spoken in whispers.

What they say, or most of what they say, is doubtless silly enough.  But
one or two sentences have some truth in them, and seem to express what
is in the hearts of all that little party.

"Yes," says Mary, "it really does seem as if this was the beginning of a
happy time for us all."

"I hope and trust it may be," Fred responds.

"Dear father seems better in health and spirits already, doesn't he?
And Jack--Well, I dare say you are jealous of our taking him away from
you?"

"Jealous, no!" says Fred.  "He deserves all the happiness he has found,
and far more."

"Yes," responds Mary.  "He has always been a good brother."

"This one thing I know," says Fred.  "If there is any good in me--and
there's precious little--I owe it all, under God, to my friend Smith."

And, reader, I owe it still.

THE END.





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