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Title: The Choir School of St. Bede's
Author: Harrison, Frederick
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Choir School of St. Bede's" ***

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  The Choir School of
  St. Bede’s


  BY

  FREDERICK HARRISON

  Author of “Wynport College”


  _WITH THIRTEEN ILLUSTRATIONS BY EMILY A. COOK_


  BLACKIE AND SON LIMITED

  LONDON GLASGOW AND BOMBAY



CONTENTS.


  CHAP.                          Page

     I. THE NEW SOLO-BOY            5

    II. THE FIRST OF APRIL         23

   III. ALFRED AT THE DEANERY      40

    IV. THE KEY TO THE SUMS        50

     V. THE PAPER-CHASE            62

    VI. AT MR. COTTENHAM’S         70

   VII. POLLY AT SCHOOL            82

  VIII. THE OLD PIT                92



THE CHOIR SCHOOL OF ST. BEDE’S.



CHAPTER I.

THE NEW SOLO-BOY.


It was a lovely morning, about eleven o’clock, and the boys of the
cathedral choir of St. Bede’s were playing in the cloister of the grand
old church. There was a square plot of grass in the centre, where the
boys used to amuse themselves during the intervals of school-work; when
it was wet they would walk round the covered cloister.

One boy, of about eleven years, was standing by himself, looking shyly
on without taking any part in the games of the others. He was leaning
against a stone pillar, when one of the bigger boys came up to him.

“You’re the new probationer solo-boy, aren’t you?” he demanded.

“Yes,” replied Alfred Davidson, for that was his name.

“Where do you come from?”

“From Darlton.”

“What’s your father?”

“He’s an engineer on a ship.”

“On board of a man-of-war?”

“No; on one of the big ships that go to Australia,” replied Alfred.

“I suppose you think no small cheese of yourself now you’ve got a place
in the choir, don’t you?” said the other with a sneer.

“I am very pleased to get into this choir, as I am fond of music, and I
hope I shall be an organist some day,” replied Alfred.

“Organist!” laughed the other. “You’ll never be fit for anything
except to blow the organ. I suppose you would consider that
assistant-organist?”

“Certainly! some people aren’t good enough even for that,” replied
Alfred, moving behind the stone pillar.

“Oh, indeed!” said King, “aren’t they?”

He aimed a backhanded slap at Alfred as he spoke, but the latter bobbed
his head, and King barked his knuckles.

“That’s your little game, is it?” he exclaimed, and seizing Alfred he
shook him and threw him on to the grass, nearly causing another boy,
who was stepping backwards, to roll over him. Alfred got up at once and
brushed his clothes, and while he was doing so another boy came up and
spoke to him.

“What’s up?” he exclaimed.

“I am, now,” replied Alfred, smiling.

“So I see,” said Walter Parker, laughing; “but you were down a moment
ago, weren’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Has Herbert King been bullying you because you’ve got the place he
wanted his brother to have?”

“I don’t know the name of the boy who pushed me down,” replied Alfred,
“but he did not have it all his own way. He went to hit me, and as I
ducked my head he knocked his knuckles against the pillar instead.”

“I am glad of it,” said Walter. “It serves him right; he is far too
fond of bullying, especially new boys. If I catch him at it I will
punch his head again, as I did last week. You tell me if he hits you,
and I will square accounts with him. What is your name?”

“Alfred Davidson.”

“Very well, Davidson, I hope we shall be friends. My name is Walter
Parker, and I live in Cross Street.”

“So do I,” said Alfred. “I am staying with Mrs. Dawson.”

“I live next door, so we can go home together.”

These few words made Alfred feel quite happy, and at the invitation of
his new friend he joined in the game of prisoner’s base. Walter Parker
was thirteen years of age, a stout, well-built boy, although not very
tall.

Alfred Davidson, although so young, had a voice of wonderful power and
sweetness, and having been taught music by his mother for some time,
he had at eight entered the choir of the parish church of Darlton,
where he had continued his training for some three years. He had just
succeeded in obtaining not only a place in the choir by competition,
to the exclusion of Herbert King’s younger brother, but even the
appointment of a probationer soloist, which was very unusual for so
young a boy.

The deputy choir-master, who was also the schoolmaster, called the boys
in to work. The room was under the cathedral library, and led out of
the cloister.

“Alfred Davidson!” called Mr. Harmer.

“Davidson,” said Walter Parker to him, “‘uncle’ is calling you.”

“Is he your uncle?” inquired Alfred, as he moved out of his seat.

“No,” replied Walter; “but we always call him uncle behind his back.”

“Come here,” said Mr. Harmer; “I want to examine you, to see in which
division I can place you.”

Alfred answered the questions put to him sufficiently well to be placed
in the first division.

“I hope, Davidson, you will work well, so that I may be able to keep
you in this division. If not, of course I shall put you down into the
second. You can go back to your seat again.”

Walter Parker assisted Mr. Harmer by taking the youngest and the
most backward boys. Herbert King was his equal as far as knowledge
went, but the master had chosen Walter in preference to King, as he
was more patient and careful in the work. These two boys were the
principal soloists, but as King’s voice was beginning to show signs of
breaking, it was necessary to have another boy in training, ready to
take his place later on. King had hoped that his brother would obtain
a place in the choir, but the organist, Dr. Phillips, and Mr. Young,
the precentor (one of the clergy who assist in directing the musical
services), had both chosen Alfred to fill the vacancy. This was one
reason why King felt anything but friendly towards the newcomer.

As the boys were going home, one of them, Stephen Gray, filled a paper
bag with water at the school tap, unseen by Alfred, who was slowly
sauntering along.

“What are you going to do with that?” inquired Walter Parker.

“Wait and see,” replied Steve, running on and calling out to Alfred.
“Davidson!”

“What do you want?” replied Alfred.

“Can you catch?”

“I think so.”

“Then catch this,” said Steve, throwing the bag as he spoke.

Alfred, being quite unused to the tricks of schoolboys--choir-boys are
not a bit different from other boys--attempted to catch the bag, and
the moment it reached his hands the water spurted all over his face and
clothes. He was too much surprised to say anything, and Steve, who was
a good-natured boy, after laughing at the success of his joke, wiped
him with his handkerchief, and accompanied him and Walter, as he lived
near them.

When Alfred had finished his tea he wrote home a long letter to his
mother and sister, trying to make them feel quite happy about him. He
hoped that in a few days he should like all the boys as much as he
liked Walter and Stephen. Mrs. Dawson was very kind to him, and he went
to bed feeling hopeful and happy.

The next morning, as he was walking up to the cathedral, the Rev. Mr.
Young, the precentor, met him.

“You are the new boy, are you not?” he asked.

“Yes, sir,” replied Alfred.

“How are you getting on, my boy?”

“Very well, sir, thank you.”

“I shall inquire from time to time of Mr. Harmer to see how you
progress in your work, and if you do well in your Latin, later on I
will teach you Greek, if you think you would care to learn it.”

“Thank you, sir; I should very much like to.”

“Your name is Davidson, is it not?”

“Yes, sir, Alfred Davidson.”

“Well, Davidson, stick to your work and be a good boy. My old college
friend is vicar of Darlton, and knows your mother well, so I shall feel
an extra interest in you, and he can tell your mother, when I write to
him, how you get on with your work.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Now run on and join your fellow-choristers. As you are early, you will
have a quarter of an hour for play before work.”

Alfred raised his cap and ran away to catch his new friends, Walter and
Stephen. They met Herbert King and three other boys, who joined them,
and walked up to a large open space near the cathedral, where they
played cricket and football. It was a very pretty place. There were
several large trees, and close by ran the river, on which some of the
boys used to row, as the father of one of the choristers owned boats,
and let them out.

“Can you play football, Davidson?” asked King.

“No--that is, not much,” replied Alfred.

“He will be on our side,” exclaimed Walter. “He will soon learn.”

The game began. It was near the end of March, so they had not yet
commenced cricket, as the weather had been too wet and cold. Alfred was
put among the forwards, and being a very quick runner, succeeded in
shooting a goal for his side.

“It was off-side,” exclaimed King angrily.

“No it wasn’t,” replied Walter.

[Illustration]

“You always say ‘off-side’ when we score a goal,” said Stephen Gray;
“but if you kick one it is always quite fair.”

“Very well, have your own way,” replied King, moving off to kick the
ball.

The game then became very exciting. King seemed on the point of scoring
a goal for his side, when Alfred cleverly got the ball away, and
carried it right down the field into the enemy’s quarters. King did
not say anything, but there was an angry look on his face. Shortly
afterwards Alfred was violently pushed from the back and sent off the
grass on to the gravel path, where he lay for a few moments, too much
shaken to move.

“Foul!” shouted Stephen. “You know, King, that isn’t fair.”

“What do you mean?” exclaimed King in a passion. “Do you dare to say I
cheat?”

“Yes,” replied Steve fearlessly. “You pushed Davidson down on purpose;
I saw you.”

“Then take that,” exclaimed King, aiming at Steve a blow, which he
dodged, and in return hit out.

Alfred had got up, but his hands and face were bleeding from the
scratches. The other boys had gone on with the game and had not noticed
the disturbance. Steve was goal-keeper, while Walter was playing centre
forward and was making a dash for the goal. Alfred wiped his face
and hands with his handkerchief, and although he was hurt, was going
forward to rejoin the game, when he saw Steve hit King back. King was a
bigger boy than Steve, but the latter was not afraid of him.

“You dare to hit me!” said King. “I’ll give you one for yourself.”

“No, you won’t,” exclaimed Walter, running up; “it’s football we’re
playing, not boxing. What’s all this row about?”

Stephen had not time to answer, as the school bell rang, and the boys
had to run in. Alfred dipped his handkerchief in some water at the
school tap and wiped his face and hands.

“Boys,” said Mr. Harmer, directly after calling over the names, “I have
something to say to you. First, I hear that some of you are in the
habit of playing near the old pit-mouth; in fact I have been told that
you go down it with a rope, and sometimes play in it. I must forbid
your doing so, as it is very dangerous. You know it was a coal-mine,
but has been closed for several years, and in all probability there is
a great quantity of water at the bottom after the rain. The ground also
might at any time fall in, as it has done before. The second thing is,
that you must not row on the river near the weir, as it is dangerous
even for a good rower. You may go up the river above the bridge as
far as you like, as the water is not very deep and the current is not
strong. Now get your books.”

Alfred was busily engaged in doing his sums, and not noticing anything
or anybody else, when Harry Cox asked him to help him, as he was very
bad at figures. Alfred showed him how to do the practice sums and some
decimals, and then finished his own.

“Cox,” said the master, “bring up your work.”

Cox took up his book and showed it to Mr. Harmer.

“These are much better, Cox, than usual,” said Mr. Harmer. “Did you do
them all alone, or did anyone help you?”

“I did them, sir, all alone,” replied Harry promptly.

“I thought I saw you talking to Davidson just now.”

“Yes, sir, but it was not about the sums.”

“Oh, indeed!” replied the master, as if he did not altogether believe
what Cox said. “You can go back to your seat.”

When the boys met again, before afternoon school, Cox came up to Alfred.

“Look here, Davidson,” he said, “if Mr. Harmer asks you about my sums
at any time, mind you just keep your mouth shut.”

“And supposing I shouldn’t?” inquired Alfred.

“Then I shall punch your head after school,” replied Cox.

“Then punch away!” exclaimed Alfred, darting round a lamp-post.

Cox ran after him to carry out Alfred’s suggestion, when the latter
dodged round a man walking along the street, and Cox, not being quite
quick enough, charged the stranger before he could stop himself.

“Take that!” exclaimed the irritated man, giving Cox a hearty box on
the ears, which made them sing for some minutes.

Meanwhile Alfred had run on and reached the school before Cox had any
chance of catching him.

“Cox, come here!” exclaimed Mr. Harmer, when the school was reassembled.

Cox promptly went up.

“I wish you to do those two sums again that you did this morning,” said
the master. “Sit down there where I can see you.”

Cox sat down, knowing very well that he could not do the sums alone.
Alfred heard this, and felt almost as uncomfortable as Cox himself.
While he was writing out some parsing in English, a small piece of
paper was put into his hand. He opened it.

_Just do those sums again for me or I shall split on you.--H. C._

“What are you doing, Davidson?” demanded the master.

“Someone put a piece of paper in my hand, sir,” replied Alfred.

“Give it to me.”

Alfred took it up to his master.

“You wrote this, Cox?” said Mr. Harmer.

“No, sir,” replied Harry Cox quickly, and then stammered out: “I mean
yes, sir.”

“You told me a lie then when you said you had not been assisted?”

Harry Cox turned very red and said nothing. It was useless for him to
deny it.

“I am perfectly well aware that you had been assisted. For telling me
an untruth I shall give you six sums extra to do; and if I find you out
in another lie, I shall cane you. Davidson, as you are not a teacher
here, I shall be obliged to you if you will confine your attention to
your own work. If the boys require assistance, either Walter Parker or
myself will help them. As you are a new boy, I will say nothing more
this time, but don’t do it again.”

Alfred looked somewhat foolish, but not so much so as Cox, who was less
grieved at his fault than at being found out and punished.

Several of the boys had arranged to have an hour on the river later in
the day, and as Alfred was running off to join his new friends, Walter
Parker and Steve Gray, King met him.

[Illustration]

“Davidson, come here,” he cried out. “Where are you off to?”

“The boats,” replied Alfred, without stopping.

King soon overtook him, and giving him a slap on the face, exclaimed:

“Take that, you little sneak! Now you can go and tell ‘uncle’ that
virtue has been rewarded.”

Alfred ran away again as quickly as he could, and found Walter and
Steve waiting for him in a boat. They were going to row, while he was
to steer.

“What makes your face so red on one side?” asked Steve.

“It was hit.”

“Who did it? Herbert King, I suppose?” demanded Walter.

“Yes.”

“What for?”

“He said I was a sneak.”

“When we meet him again we’ll give him one back,” exclaimed Steve, who
had not yet settled his own quarrel with King.

They rowed up the river for about half an hour, and then pulled the
boat up to the side of the bank and got out their fishing-rods.
Although it was still the month of March the weather was quite warm.
They fished in silence for some time, when a second boat came up with
King and three other boys in it.

“You don’t mean to say, Parker,” exclaimed King, “that you have let
that little sneak come with you?”

“He isn’t a little sneak,” retorted Walter. “What did you hit him for?
He only spoke the truth, as I should have done in his place.”

“Sneaking, of course,” replied King, splashing the water so as to
disturb their fishing.

“Stop that!” cried Steve.

“Make me!” replied King, pulling away and splashing more than ever.

“All right!” said Walter, “I’ll make you pay for that!”

“When?” demanded King, rowing off.

“To-morrow, if you’ll come to the green early,” replied Walter, who was
now thoroughly angry.

After they had gone, Walter and Steve fished for some time, but caught
nothing, so they put their rods away and began to row gently back. They
heard a shout, and saw the other boat coming after them as fast as the
boys could pull it.

“Come, Steve!” cried Walter; “don’t let them catch us up; pull away!”

“All right, Walter,” replied Steve, “I’ll back you up!”

The boat moved quickly through the water, but, after a few minutes, the
other began to gain on them. They pulled as hard as they could, when
they heard a noise, and saw that one of the boys in the other boat had
caught a crab and had lost his oar. They were near the bridge, where
the water was deep, and the current, being narrowed in width, ran more
quickly. Steve and Walter shot through the middle arch and left off
rowing.

“Walter,” cried out Steve, “they haven’t got a rudder, and are drifting
against the bridge!”

“Look out, King,” shouted Walter, “or you’ll be dashed against the
bridge!”

King turned his head round, and in a moment saw the danger which
threatened his boat; it was rapidly drifting nearly broadside towards
the centre pier of the bridge. If it struck it, there was every
probability of its being capsized. He began to pull vigorously with his
one oar, when it snapped, and, with a grating noise, the boat struck
the bridge.

“Sit still all of you,” shouted King, “or you’ll have the boat over!”

Standing up, he held tightly to the bridge, while Walter and Steve
turned their boat round and pulled hard against the stream to their
help.

“Don’t stir!” cried King, as one of the boys in fear tried to clutch
hold of the pier. “If you move we shall all be in the water.”

Walter and Steve pulled through the next arch, and, coming close to
the boat, Alfred laid hold of the stern of it while they rowed. In a
few minutes they had drawn the second boat up the stream, clear of the
bridge; then, again pulling round, they fastened it behind theirs, shot
the bridge, and soon reached the landing-stage.

“That was a near shave, King,” said Walter.

King knew it, although he did not answer. He was pale, and directly
they landed he ran off to his home, hardly thanking them for their
timely assistance.



CHAPTER II.

THE FIRST OF APRIL.


It was the first day of April, and a lovely morning, as Alfred was
strolling slowly to school. In the distance he saw Cox and King talking
earnestly together, and as he came near they took out some coppers and
counted them. Since the boat accident they had been less unfriendly,
and often walked to school with him.

“Davidson,” said King, “I wish you would just get us something from
Mr. Cottenham’s; there’s a good fellow. Here’s a piece of paper with
the names of the things written down, so you need only give it to him.
Here’s threepence to pay for them. We will wait here for you.”

Alfred read the paper. On it was written: _1d. of pidgon’s milk in
a peny vile, and 1d. of strongest strap-oil for the barer for his
trouble_.

“You wrote this, Cox, didn’t you?” inquired Alfred, smiling the smile
of the innocent.

“Yes; why do you ask? It’s written plain enough, isn’t it?” asked Cox.

“Yes, it’s plain enough, and I can read it all right.”

“Then what do you want to know for?”

“Because the spelling is not right. _P-i-g-e-o-n_ spells _pigeon_, and
a bottle is _vial_ not _vile_, and _bearer_ is spelt with an _e_ in it.”

“Any more mistakes?” said Cox angrily. “It was a bad pen I’d got, and I
should like to know how anyone can be expected to spell with a rotten
old nib.”

Cox’s weakness in spelling was a cause of many impositions at school,
as Mr. Harmer made him write out ten times every word which was not
correctly spelt.

“Come, youngster,” said King, “will you take this to Mr. Cottenham’s,
or won’t you? If you won’t, I can go myself.”

“I will go with pleasure,” said Alfred, pleased to do anything for
anyone at any time, especially for those with whom he now hoped to make
friends.

[Illustration]

“Here’s the money,” said Cox, winking at King. “Mind you tell Mr.
Cottenham that the strap-oil is for yourself--for your trouble in
getting the things.”

“Thank you,” replied Alfred, “but I don’t want to be paid for doing a
little thing like that.”

“All right, Davidson!” said Cox; “you did us a good turn the other day,
and so I want to pay you back for it, you see.”

“Thanks, very much,” said Alfred amicably, running off to the chemist’s
shop, which was quite near.

Mr. Cottenham was a very big man, with a very big moustache and a very
big voice; but withal a very jolly man and very popular with everybody.
He was standing in his shop, whistling a merry tune and talking to his
gray parrot, when Alfred came in. He knew Mr. Cottenham by sight, as
he was often in the cathedral, being very fond of music. As he walked
into the shop, the parrot gave a whistle and a scream, and said: “Shop!
you’re wanted!”

Alfred looked at the parrot and laughed.

“Do you want a pill?” said the bird, and then it whistled again, and
sighed in a very natural manner. “Come, Joe, hurry up!” continued the
parrot.

“All right, Poll!” said Mr. Cottenham, “I will. You are one of the
choir-boys, aren’t you?”

“Yes, sir,” replied Alfred, “Will you kindly let me have these things?
The strap-oil is for myself, for the trouble of bringing the note.”

“Let me see. What is to-day?”

“The first of April, sir.”

“So I should imagine. I often get orders like yours on this day.”

Mr. Cottenham enjoyed a joke as much as anyone, and nothing pleased him
more than to turn a joke against those who tried to victimize others.
He gave Alfred some nice jujubes, saying that that was the best form
of strap-oil for taking. Then he got a small bottle, and put something
into it which smelt like very strong onions, and to this he added some
liquid like water, also with a very strong odour. Then all the liquid
became milky.

“Phew!” whistled the bird, and added: “Cork it up.”

Alfred could not help laughing at the droll sayings of the parrot,
which seemed so suitable.

“Can you whistle?” said Poll, giving a loud shrill whistle.

“Here you are, my boy,” said Mr. Cottenham, smiling, “give this to the
boy who sent you.”

“Thank you, sir,” replied Alfred.

“Stop!” screamed out Poll.

Alfred stopped.

“What’s the time?” said Poll; and then it laughed just like a human
being.

Mr. Cottenham went to the door and watched the boys.

“Here’s the pigeon’s milk,” said Alfred, handing Cox the bottle.

Cox tore the paper off and saw the milky liquid, and eagerly pulled out
the cork to smell it. It was so strong, that he jerked the contents
over King’s coat.

“He laughs loudest who laughs last,” said Mr. Cottenham, smiling. “That
joke has cost you threepence, at all events.”

The boys ran off quickly, and turned round the corner of the street
before they stopped.

“What a little fool you are,” said King, “to bring that stinking stuff!
I must wash my coat or it will smell in the cathedral.”

King rubbed his jacket with his moistened handkerchief, but he could
not get rid of the smell.

Now it happened that his seat was close to the dean’s, and as they were
returning from morning service, walking down the cloisters, the dean
called to one of the boys to send King to him.

He went at once.

[Illustration]

“How dare you eat strong onions just before a service?” demanded the
dean, who had been head-master of one of the big public schools. “Once
a schoolmaster always a schoolmaster,” which means that when a man has
been a schoolmaster, he always treats every one afterwards, whether men
or boys, just as if they were schoolboys under him.

“If you please, sir, I haven’t been eating onions,” replied King.

“How dare you stand there and tell me such an untruth?” said the dean.
“Do you suppose I cannot smell? I say you have been eating onions, and
the odour is very nasty indeed.”

“Please, sir, I have not really eaten any onions,” said King.

“What! Do you persist in telling me such a falsehood. You shall be
punished at once. Mr. Harmer!”

“Yes, sir,” said the master.

“Give this boy at once a good caning. He has dared to tell me a lie and
persist in it.”

As the dean said this, he walked away.

When Mr. Harmer was about to cape King, the boy said he really had not
been eating onions.

“I can smell them,” said the master.

“That’s something I’ve got on my coat,” replied King.

“How did you get it on your coat?”

King explained, but the master caned him all the same, saying it
served him right for playing practical jokes on a little boy. King felt
very angry with Alfred, as if he had been the cause of his punishment.

It would be well for all boys, when they are going to play jokes on
others, to think how they would like them if turned against themselves.

As Alfred was going home in the afternoon with Steve, Mr. Cottenham was
standing at his door and called out to them as they passed.

“Come here,” he said, “I want to speak to you for a few minutes.”

They went up to him. Alfred readily guessed why he wanted them.

“What is your name?” he asked Alfred.

“Alfred Davidson.”

“Well, Alfred, how did your friends like the pigeon’s milk?”

“Not much, sir. Herbert King got into a row over it,” replied Steve
laughingly. “He even got caned.”

Steve told him about the dean being angry, because he did not like the
smell of onions, and would not believe what King said; also that Mr.
Harmer would not listen to his excuse, but had caned him, and said he
deserved it, for playing practical jokes.

“King is very angry with Alfred now, sir,” continued Steve, “because he
thinks it was all through him that he got into such a row, and he says
he will be even with him yet.”

“It served him right,” remarked Mr. Cottenham, laughing loudly; “he has
sent boys here before on fools’ errands, but I don’t think he will do
so again.”

“Come, come,” said Poll, “where’s the bottle?”

“Do you know these boys again?” said Mr. Cottenham, rubbing the bird’s
head.

“Look out!” said Poll.

“That’s a very clever bird, Mr. Cottenham,” said Steve.

“Yes, it is,” replied the chemist, “and I got it in a Very peculiar
way. If you can come and have tea with me, I will tell you a short
story of how I got Poll.”

“Thank you, sir! We will just run home and ask, and be back in less
than ten minutes,” said Steve.

Away ran the two boys, and in much less than ten minutes they were back
again.

“Wipe your boots!” said the parrot. “Come, Joe, hurry up!”

A lady entered, so the boys waited a few minutes while Mr. Cottenham
attended to her. They looked at the parrot, who kept turning its head,
first to one side and then to the other, chuckling as it did so.

Mr. Cottenham told them to go into his parlour at the back of the shop;
behind it was a large garden, which ran down to the river. The chemist
was very fond of gardening; his garden was always neat and trim, and
full of flowers, according to the season of the year. There was a door
which opened from the parlour into the garden, and they could see a dog
chained up. It was a big collie, and it wagged its tail when it saw
Steve.

“Rover,” called Steve to the dog through the open window, “good
doggie!” Rover barked and frisked about.

Stephen Gray’s father was an intimate friend of Mr. Cottenham, and
Steve had often had tea with him. Mr. Cottenham was a bachelor, and
his chief companion was his parrot. He was very fond of music, and
played the fiddle well, and he usually assisted when there was a grand
festival at the cathedral. Stephen Gray’s father was a solo-bass in the
choir, and also played the violoncello.

Mr. Cottenham brought in Poll, took it out of its cage, and put it on
the bar of its stand, when it began to chatter again.

“Poor Poll wants some cake. Oh dear! oh dear! where’s the sugar?” said
the bird.

“Now, Poll,” observed the chemist, “you must not talk, as I don’t want
to be interrupted.”

“Poor Poll wants some cake,” said the bird.

“Then Poll shall have some,” said Mr. Cottenham, picking out a piece,
while the bird watched every movement. “Now, Poll, draw a cork, and
then you shall have this piece of cake.”

Poll made a wonderful imitation of the popping of a cork and the
gurgling sound of liquid being poured out.

“Now, Poll, sneeze!” said its master.

Poll jumped up and down, and sneezed, and then laughed exactly like
a human being. Mr. Cottenham’s parrot was known for miles round, and
children would come to his shop on purpose to hear it talk.

A customer entered the shop, and Poll called out “Shop!” Mr. Cottenham
went, and returned in a few minutes.

The boys had a hearty tea. “Now, would you like to hear how it was I
bought Poll?” said their host.

“Yes, sir, very much,” said both of the boys.

“It was seven years ago last autumn, when I was out some distance from
here, going for a walk across country. I am very fond of a good walk,
and often go out all day when I take a holiday. It was very hot, and
so I had my big white umbrella, as I don’t care what people think or
say. I like to be comfortable if I can. It was rather difficult on that
day to feel very comfortable, though, as the sun was shining not only
brightly, but nearly as hot as I have felt it in India.”

[Illustration]

“Have you been in India, sir?” asked Steve.

“Yes, Steve, I was in a government medical store for five years when
I was quite a young man. Well, I have never felt in India so hot as I
felt on that particular day. I like warm weather, and feel as lively
as a kitten when it is hot. What are you laughing at? You think I am
rather too big to be a kitten?”

“Yes, sir,” replied Steve, laughing, “just a little bit.”

“Well, then, I will say as lively as an elephant. They can be lively
at times; for you must not judge of an elephant by what you see in
a circus procession in this cold country. To return to my tale. I
was just a bit too hot to feel as lively as a kitten or an elephant
on that particular day, but still I was enjoying myself. I had my
dinner at a country inn, and then walked into a wood and lay down,
and went fast asleep. When I woke up I found that it was getting
late, so I determined to take a short cut across the country to the
railway-station, and save about two miles. I got up and walked on for
some time, when the sky became overcast, and it got darker and darker.
In fact, it was nearly as dark as night, and I had great difficulty in
tracing out the right path. I had left the high-road for some time,
and felt certain that I could not mistake the direction, as I had been
twice before by the same way. After walking for an hour, a few big
spots of rain fell. I knew that there would be a thunderstorm soon, and
so I got out into the open country, as it is dangerous to walk near
trees.”

“So I have heard father say,” remarked Alfred. “He has told me if ever
I should be overtaken by a thunderstorm never to get near a tree, but
to lie down in the open, if there are no houses near.”

“You are quite right, Alfred,” said Mr. Cottenham. “There is rarely
any danger if you do so. Mind you never get into a cart-shed where the
front is all open, if there are any iron implements such as a plough in
it. Lightning always strikes the highest object, or one which is a good
conductor.”

“What is that, sir?”

“A good conductor is something, Alfred, through which electricity can
easily pass. For instance, glass will not let electricity pass through
it, but wire, whether it is copper or iron, will readily conduct it.
You know that lightning is electricity from the clouds.”

“Yes, sir,” said Steve, who wished him to continue the tale, not being
so desirous of gaining knowledge as his younger friend.

“Let me see; what was I saying?” observed Mr. Cottenham.

“You said, sir, that you got out in the open when you heard the
thunder,” replied Steve, readily, lest Alfred should ask any more
questions about storms.

“Yes, I remember. The rain now fell in torrents. I was wet through and
through. The lightning was very vivid, and the thunder almost as loud
as in India. It was, for England, a terrible storm. I had completely
lost my way, and walked on, not knowing at all where I was going. I
looked in vain in all directions for a house or cottage of any kind,
in which I could rest a while, as, although I am a fair walker, I was
very tired. The storm became a little less severe for a few minutes,
but then it came on worse than ever. The rain again poured, and I was
almost blinded by the lightning. Suddenly I heard a loud whistle, and
a voice called out--‘Look out!’ I paused, and stood still a moment,
when a very bright flash lighted up all around. Imagine my surprise
and horror when I saw that I was on the very edge of a deep old mine.
One more step, and I must have been killed. For a moment I stood
still, looking at the dark pit, then I felt very thankful for such a
providential escape, and looked round to see who had called out and
thus saved my life. I could see no one; but another flash of lightning
showed me a cottage only a few yards off. I went to it, and after
knocking at the door, was let in. I asked if I might stay until the
storm left off. They said ‘Yes’, at once, and gave me some supper
and dried my coat. While I was eating the food, the wife said to her
husband, ‘Where’s Polly?’ ‘Outside, I suppose,’ he replied. ‘I had
quite forgotten her.’ He went out and brought in a gray parrot, which
was wet through. No sooner did Poll come in than it began to shake its
feathers, and, putting its head on one side, while it looked at me,
said ‘Look out!’ I knew that it was the parrot’s timely warning that
had saved my life, and so I determined to buy it. I gave the miner five
pounds for it, and I would not sell it for fifty pounds. Now you know,
boys, why I value Polly so much, and should still value it, even if it
could not speak so well.”

Polly had been listening very intently, and when Mr. Cottenham had
finished, it said, “Look out!”

“Yes, Poll,” said its master, “I did look out, or I should not be here
to say so, eh?”

As he stroked his pet, the bird perched on his shoulder and ate a piece
of sugar out of his hand; then it rested on one foot, and blinked its
eyes, as if ready to go to sleep.

“Polly is ready for bed,” said the bird, and away it flew off to its
place for the night, which was on a shelf, and it was soon asleep.

The boys thanked Mr. Cottenham for his tale, and for their tea, and
accepted an invitation to come again another day, and bring Walter
Parker with them.



CHAPTER III.

ALFRED AT THE DEANERY.


When Alfred was on his way to school in the afternoon, he saw King and
Cox a little way ahead, so he ran after them.

“King,” he said, “I am so sorry that you got into a row yesterday. I
did not know what pigeon’s milk was, or I should have told you.”

As he said this he held out his hand, as he wanted to be friends with
all the boys if possible.

“We don’t want you, you young sneak, so clear off, or I shall give you
some strap-oil of the right sort,” exclaimed King, who was very angry.

Alfred moved away, and was soon afterwards joined by his friends
Steve and Walter. Steve had just been telling Walter all about Mr.
Cottenham’s clever parrot, and how it had saved his life.

“Alfred, what were you talking to King about?” inquired Walter.

“I only told him how sorry I was that he had been punished through me,
and that I wanted to shake hands and be friends,” replied Alfred.

“Through you! It served him right,” said Walter; “he is far too fond of
bullying boys who are smaller than he is. I am very glad that he will
be leaving at midsummer.”

“So am I,” said Steve; “I never did like him, and he has never liked
me. He always was fond of playing jokes on new boys. Last year, in
May, he persuaded a boy to climb over an orchard-wall to get him some
apples. The silly boy came from a big town, and he did not know that
there is no fruit on the trees until the autumn, so over the wall he
went. A man caught him and beat him, and when the boy told King of it
he only laughed at him.”

“The boy is Francis Day; you know him, Alfred, he sits opposite you,”
said Walter.

“Yes; he is a very quiet boy, isn’t he? He always does his work well.”

While they were in school, Alfred forgot all about King and Cox, and
worked well at his tasks. Cox sat close to him, and was doing some
sums. He did the same as Alfred, and seemed to be quite as hard at work.

Dr. Phillips entered.

“Mr. Harmer,” he said, “can you spare, for a few minutes, two of the
boys?”

“Certainly, Dr. Phillips,” replied the master; “which of them do you
want?”

“I want two boys to sing some solos at an ‘At Home’ which the dean is
going to give shortly, and he said he would like to hear their songs
now, as he will be going to London to-night for several days. I think
I should prefer Parker and Davidson. King, I am afraid your voice
is breaking, and you would not be able to sing the high notes with
certainty.”

King turned red and looked very much disappointed. Dr. Phillips was a
very clever musician, and trained the boys not only with great skill,
but also with great patience. They all liked him, and Alfred’s ambition
was to be an organist such as he was. Alfred could play the piano very
well for a boy, and the reason why he had made such satisfactory
progress was because he practised regularly. When his mother used to
tell him to practise an hour twice a day, instead of grumbling and
doing it very badly he did his best, and he was glad now that he had
done so, as Mr. Harmer said he might play on the school harmonium if he
liked, and he would help him. Mr. Harmer also was a very good organist;
he had sometimes played the organ when Dr. Phillips was away, or
conducting an orchestra.

Alfred was very pleased and very proud when he heard his name
mentioned, but Cox looked as much disappointed as King.

“Parker and Davidson, you can go with Dr. Phillips,” said Mr. Harmer.

“I am afraid I shall not be able to send them back, Mr. Harmer, until
after service,” said Dr. Phillips.

“Very good, there is only the writing lesson and dictation after they
have done their sums, and they both spell very well,” replied the
master.

Alfred and Walter went with Dr. Phillips, and were led into the dean’s
drawing-room, where there were several ladies.

“These are the boys, Mr. Dean,” said Dr. Phillips.

Both boys stood shyly near the door, but the dean’s daughter came and
shook hands with them, and told them to take a seat near the piano,
while she played over the accompaniment. She was so pretty and so kind
that Alfred soon got over his shyness, and sang the pieces which she
wished him to try, very well.

“He has a very powerful voice for so small a boy,” remarked the dean.
“He is training for a solo-boy, is he not?”

“Yes, sir,” replied Dr. Phillips, “and I think he will be one of the
best I have ever had in the choir.”

The ladies were all very much pleased with his clear voice, and asked
him many questions about his parents and his home.

“I shall want you both to sing at my ‘At Home’, and also at a concert
we are arranging in connection with the missionary society,” said the
dean’s daughter. “I hope you are both good boys at school.”

“We try to be so--at least, sometimes we do, ma’am,” said Walter.

“I think, Miss Rivers,” said Dr. Phillips, “they are very good boys,
that is, _for boys_.”

“What did you say your father was?” an elderly lady asked Alfred.

“An engineer, ma’am,” replied Alfred.

[Illustration]

“My husband is one of the directors of that line,” she remarked, after
asking him on what ship his father was serving, “and I remember his
mentioning a very clever piece of work your father did when some of the
machinery went wrong. My husband was on board at the time, and during a
terrible storm some part of the engine broke down. I do not know what
part it was, as I do not understand engines, although I ought to, as
my husband is so often talking about them. Your father, at the risk of
his life, repaired the engine, and saved not only the ship, but the
passengers also. Where is your father now?”

“He went a few weeks ago, ma’am, on another voyage,” replied Alfred.
“This is his first voyage for more than six months, as he has been very
ill. He got hurt, ma’am, in that storm, but he’s better now.”

“My husband also has been ill since; so much so, that he is only just
able now to resume his duties. He is going to ask the other directors
to reward your father for his bravery and skill. What does your mother
do?”

“She has been teaching at a school while father was ill, as we had no
money left, ma’am.”

“Can it be possible? How neglectful we have been! My husband always
intended that your father should be rewarded, but while you have been
so badly off, we have been thinking of ourselves only. I must write
down your address, and my husband and I will call and see your mother
this week. I hope your father is quite well now.”

“He isn’t quite well, ma’am, but he is better, and said he thought the
voyage would do him good.”

“I hope it will, I am sure,” replied the lady. “Here, take this, little
boy, and give that to the other boy.”

“This” was half-a-crown. Alfred looked at it with surprise. He had
never had more than a shilling at a time to spend, and thought himself
quite rich with that amount. How happy he felt when he pictured what he
could buy with it for his mother and for Maggie, who was three years
older than he!

“Now, boys,” said Dr. Phillips, “we must be moving, or we shall be late
for service. You are taking the solo, aren’t you, Parker?”

“Yes, sir.”

The boys went away with Dr. Phillips, and Alfred thought he had never
enjoyed a service so much before; he certainly had never sung better.

When the service was over, the boys went home, as there were no more
lessons that day.

“Steve,” said Walter, as they were walking from the cathedral, “we’ve
been in luck.”

“What’s that?” asked Steve.

“We’ve had half-a-crown each given to us by a lady at the deanery.”

“Why don’t you buy an induction-coil now at Mr. Cottenham’s?--you’ve
got batteries--and then we can do some experiments.”

“All right!” said Walter, “I am game. You had better buy one as well,
Alfred, and then we can make a very strong current.”

Alfred did not reply, and away they ran as quickly as they could to
spend the money.

Mr. Cottenham was not in the shop, so the parrot whistled and called
out “Shop!”

Mr. Cottenham came in.

“Well, boys, what do you want?”

“One of those half-crown induction-coils, please, sir.”

He got one out for them, and soon showed Walter how to use it. Walter
was very fond of science, and all his spare pocket-money was spent with
Mr. Cottenham, who not only encouraged the boy, but helped him, and
gave him quite as much as he bought.

“Well, Alfred, do you want one too?” he inquired, seeing the half-crown
in the boy’s hand.

“No, thank you, sir.”

“What are you going to do with your money? Put it in the savings-bank,
eh?”

“No, sir; I am going to send it home to mother.”

“That’s right, Alfred.”

“Do you want a pill?” said Poll, who had been watching the boys very
intently without speaking.

The coil having been bought, the boys were just going away, when Mr.
Cottenham invited them all to come the following evening to tea,
promising to show them some experiments in chemistry and electricity.

“Thank you, sir,” replied Walter, his eyes beaming with pleasure. “We
will all come as early as we can. Good-evening, sir!”

“Stop!” cried out Poll.

“No, thank you, Polly,” said Walter, laughing.

“We haven’t much home-work, Walter,” said Steve, “can we come in and
see your electrical apparatus to-night?”

“Yes, do; you come also, Alfred.”

“Thank you, Walter; I should very much like to come.”

Later in the evening the two boys were watching Walter, who had made
some mechanical toys, which he worked with his batteries. There were
two windmills, a pump, and a small engine. Walter wanted to be an
electrical engineer or a chemist. He gave them some shocks with his
coil.

“I say, Walter,” exclaimed Steve, “what a lark it would be to put your
batteries on to the door-handle, so when the boys tried to open the
door they would get a tremendous shock!”

“Yes,” replied Walter; “I have never thought of that. We will take them
to-morrow. You can carry one, while I take the other with the coils.”

Then they separated for the night.



CHAPTER IV.

THE KEY TO THE SUMS.


The next morning Alfred got up very early to write a letter to his
mother and tell her all the news, and at the same time send the
half-crown. He had stayed longer than he intended with Walter, and had
to go to bed directly he came in. He sat down in his bedroom with his
pen and ink and wrote with letters very well formed, but rather big,
the following letter:--

[Illustration]

  _My own dearest Mother and Maggie_,--

  _I am getting on ever so nicely, and I like all the boys except two,
  who don’t like me. There names are King and Cox._ (He paused here
  and scratched his head. He thought “there” did not look quite right;
  he was not quite sure whether he ought to have put “their”, so he
  smudged the last two letters and then went on.) _I like Steve and
  Walter ever so much, and Mr. Cottenham had us to tea yesterday, and
  we are going their to-morrow._ (Again Alfred hesitated. He knew that
  there were two ways of spelling the word, “there” and “their”, but
  could not remember for some time which was which. Then he went back
  again and altered the words, wondering how he could be so silly.
  The first word he altered with a big blot, and put “their”, and the
  second “there”. Again he continued.) _He has bought a coil with
  half-a-crown, but I have sent mine to you, because I knew you would
  be pleased. A lady gave us both each half-a-crown. She is coming to
  see you. Her husband was in the ship when father mended the engin,
  and he is going to get father a reward for saving his life. The
  parrot saved Mr. Cottenham’s life, and he likes it very much. It is
  very clever, and can talk just like a real man or boy. It says funny
  things. I am just going to have my brekfast, and I am going off to
  school with them, and they are going to take their batterys with them
  there, so no more now._

                                   _Your loving son and brother_,

                                                                _ALFIE_.


Then there were a number of crosses to signify kisses, and quite as
many blots and smudges, which Alfred did not mean to signify anything
in particular.

If Mr. Harmer had seen the letter he would have told Alfred that
“breakfast” is the way to spell the word, and that when words end in
“y” with a consonant before the “y”, you must change the “y” into “ies”
for the plural. For a small boy Alfred usually spelt very well except
when he was careless.

There was a post-office at Mr. Cottenham’s, for the general post-office
was a long way off, so after breakfast Alfred went into his shop to buy
a stamp with one of the few pennies he had.

“Please, sir, will you give me a penny stamp?” he said, putting a
bright penny on the counter.

“Certainly, I will give you one, Alfred,” replied Mr. Cottenham. “Have
you written home to your mother?”

“Yes, sir, and I have sent her the half-crown.”

“Let me see your letter. You must not send money in an envelope like
that without registering the letter.”

Alfred did not know what that meant.

“Well, Alfred, it costs twopence more, and then the postman takes care
of it so that it shall not get stolen or be lost.”

“Please, sir, I have a penny a week pocket-money, and I will bring you
two more pennies presently. I have got four at home.”

“You are a good boy,” said Mr. Cottenham, “so I will register it, and
pay the postage for you as well. Give me the letter, I will take care
of it.”

Alfred thanked him for his kindness, and ran off with a light heart
to school. He did not meet Steve or Walter, as they were arranging
how they could fix the batteries so as to give each boy a shock as he
entered. Unfortunately for them the first to enter was Mr. Harmer, who
received a slight shock, but not so great as theirs when they saw him
come in.

“What are you doing?” he exclaimed.

“Please, sir, only a little fun. I didn’t think you would be here yet,
sir,” said Walter, looking very foolish, and feeling quite as foolish
as he looked.

“I am surprised at you, Parker, doing such a thing. You ought to set
the boys a good example, as you help me with them. It is the first time
you have ever done such a silly thing, so I will say no more this time,
but I shall keep your batteries for the rest of this month. I think
that will be quite punishment enough.”

Mr. Harmer took away both the batteries, and the coil as well, while
Walter and Steve slunk away, feeling very small at the failure of their
little joke.

“Walter,” said Steve, “what will Mr. Cottenham say to-night if you tell
him that you have not brought your batteries?”

“I had forgotten that,” replied Walter.

“Let’s ask Mr. Harmer just to give them back to us for this once;
perhaps he will,” suggested Steve.

“I know he won’t,” replied Walter. “Whatever he says he always sticks
to, so it would not be any good.”

Walter was quite right in his opinion of Mr. Harmer, as he was a
man who did stick to what he said. If he said a boy should do an
imposition, all the tears and entreaties in the world would not move
him.

After the roll-call Mr. Harmer set the boys their lessons, and then
called Alfred up to him.

“Davidson,” he said, “come here.”

Alfred left his seat and went up to the master.

“Do you know that you left your sum-book on the desk when you went away
yesterday with Dr. Phillips?”

“Please, sir, I am very sorry, but I quite forgot all about it. I won’t
do it again, sir.”

“Do you know what the imposition is for leaving books about?”

“Yes, sir, three sums.”

“Then you must do three sums. I never excuse a boy.”

Alfred stood still.

“Do you know any other reason why I called you here?”

“No, sir,” replied Alfred, not remembering having done any wrong.

“Just think a minute,” said the master, looking at him very closely.
“Doesn’t your conscience tell you the reason?”

“Please, sir,” said Alfred, ready to cry, “I don’t know anything wrong
that I’ve done. I don’t really, sir.”

“Look at this sum. Tell me how many seven and nine make?”

“Sixteen, sir.”

“Then why do you put fourteen?”

“I am sorry, sir, I was so careless. I really will try not to do so
again.”

“You have made another mistake in the same sum. You have added the
farthings up incorrectly, and have put one halfpenny, when it should be
three farthings.”

“Shall I do the sum again, sir?”

“I have not yet finished, Davidson,” continued Mr. Harmer. “What is
strangest of all is, that your result, thus incorrectly done, should
be the right answer. If you had added up the figures correctly, your
answer would have been wrong. That is very strange, is it not?”

“Yes, sir,” replied Alfred.

“Do you know that I don’t allow any boy to use an arithmetic book with
answers at the back of the book?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then how dare you use one?”

“Please, sir, I have not done so.”

“How dare you stand there and tell me that falsehood? Do you see this?”

The master held up a page of answers, evidently torn out of an
arithmetic book, which had all the answers at the back.

“You have been squaring your sums so as to make the answers right.
I can understand now why you helped Cox, and why he sent that note
asking for your help again. I thought that he alone was to blame in the
matter, but this makes me change my opinion. Where do you suppose I
found this sheet of answers?”

Alfred did not reply, as he was too much frightened and surprised.

“Leave off crying!” said Mr. Harmer angrily. “Your tears will not
save you. You have been a very deceitful boy, and I shall punish you
severely. Cox, come here!”

Cox went up to his master.

“Has Davidson helped you before with these answers?”

“Yes, sir,” replied Cox, without hesitation.

“Was that the reason why you asked him to help you the other day?”

“Yes, sir.”

“You know that I forbid the use of answers, don’t you?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then I shall punish you both. You will stay in during every interval
this week. Go to your seat. Davidson, you will also stay in during
every interval this week, and come to me again directly after the
afternoon service.”

When Alfred returned to his seat King whispered to him:

“You got me a caning the other day, and now you are in for one
yourself, you little sneak! I hope Mr. Harmer will make you smart like
he did me, that’s all.”

It was a sad day for Alfred. The service in the cathedral, which was
one of the pleasures of his life, he could not enjoy. His friends,
Walter and Steve, tried to make the best of it, but it was no good. He
spent most of the time in tears, the hours seemed so long; and when he
went alone into the school-room, after the afternoon service, it was
with beating heart and trembling limbs. Mr. Harmer was not there, and
he had to wait some minutes.

The door opened, and King and Cox put their heads round and laughed.

“I wouldn’t be in your shoes for anything,” said King. “Now you know
how I felt.”

Then both of the boys laughed. Alfred remained in his seat and did not
even look up. Suddenly the boys, hearing the master coming, ran away.

Mr. Harmer walked up to his desk. Alfred heard him open it and get out
his cane.

“Davidson, come here!” he said.

“Please, sir, won’t you believe me?” he pleaded, sobbing bitterly. “I
did not, sir, I really did not use those answers. I know you will hurt
me, but I don’t mind that if you will only believe me, sir. Please, do
this once, sir!”

Alfred could not speak any more. The master stood, cane in hand, and
looked at him. His memory went back to his boyhood, and he remembered
how he had once stood before his master pleading, as Alfred was
pleading at that moment; and he recollected, too, how he had been
punished severely, and his innocence proved some months after. Yes, he
remembered all this, and that his heart-broken grief did not move his
master. He was disgraced until it was proved that he had spoken the
truth. He hesitated. Masters do sometimes err in judgment, but it is
not often, and he could not believe that Alfred was a boy who would
tell a lie and persist in it. He looked at the boy crying, and then put
his cane down.

“Davidson,” he said kindly, “I will believe you.”

“Oh, thank you, sir, thank you! I don’t mind being caned now, at least
not so much. You have made me so happy, sir.”

“When I forgive a boy, Davidson, I entirely forgive him; so I shall not
cane you. I shall wait and watch, and I shall find out some day who
used those answers. You must stay in during the interval to-morrow to
do three sums for leaving your books about. I will accept no excuses
for breaking rules.”

“Thank you, sir,” replied Alfred, looking at his master.

“You may go now, my boy,” said Mr. Harmer, patting his rough, curly
hair.

Alfred ran off. All his grief went at once. Outside the door he met his
two friends, who were waiting for him.

“Did it hurt much?” inquired Steve.

“Mr. Harmer has believed me,” replied Alfred with joy, “and I am so
happy now! He has not caned me. I have only got to do three sums for
leaving my books about.”

“I am glad,” exclaimed Walter, with emphasis. “I believe some one else
put those answers in your book, purposely to get you in a row, while we
were with the dean. I’ll try to find out.”

“What are you going to do now, Alfred?” inquired Steve. “Will you come
for a walk with us? We don’t go to Mr. Cottenham’s until half-past
five.”

“No, thank you, Steve,” replied Alfred. “I shall run home and wash
my face, and just write a letter home to my mother and tell her
everything.”

“All right!” said Walter. “We will call for you about a quarter-past
five.”

“Thanks!” said Alfred, and away he ran, as happy as he had been
miserable before, to write home.



CHAPTER V.

THE PAPER-CHASE.


Two days after this, Alfred received a letter from his mother which
made him very happy. The letter said that his father would be back in
about a fortnight, and would have time to come home for a few days
before going away again. His father was much better, and he was coming
with his mother, and Maggie as well, to see Alfred and hear him sing in
the fine old cathedral. Was not Alfred glad when he read that!

He was so pleased, that he read it again and again. It was a long
letter, and there was something else in it. The lady whom Alfred had
met at the deanery had called upon his mother, and her husband was
coming with her to see Alfred’s father directly he returned.

It need hardly be said that Alfred showed this letter to both his
friends, and even to Mr. Cottenham, who met him near the cathedral.

Walter said he would try to find out who put the answers in Alfred’s
book; both Steve and he believed that it was either King or Cox.
Walter thought that Cox used answers, as he was a dunce at sums, and
that King had either put the page in Alfred’s book, or had told Cox to
do so. He knew that the answers would only be used by a boy who was
weak in sums, and who was doing practice, as the answers were for that
part of the arithmetic book. King was good at arithmetic and much more
advanced, so that the answers would not be of any use to him. There
were two other boys who sat at the same desk as Alfred and Cox, and one
of them was doing practice also, but the other was quite a little boy
who had not got so far. So Walter thought that it must be either Cox or
the other boy, whose name was Frank Pitt.

On the previous day Cox could not get his sums right, and had been kept
in, while Frank Pitt’s were all right. He could not doubt that it was
Cox alone who wanted the answers to help him, and so he determined to
watch him.

Walter taught all the smallest boys, who were called probationers.
As their name explains, they came on trial, and if they did well and
behaved themselves they became choir-boys, if not, they had to leave.
Now one of these little boys, Thomas Brown, was the fourth boy who sat
at Alfred’s desk, and during the interval, Walter thought he would ask
him a few questions, as he sat next to Cox.

“Tommy,” he said, “does Cox ever help you with your sums?”

“No,” replied Brown, “he can’t do his own always.”

“Can he do them sometimes, then?”

“Yes, he gets them done quickly sometimes, but at other times he keeps
making figures and crossing them out.”

“Does anyone help him?”

“He told me that King does sometimes in the evening.”

That was all that Walter said at the moment, as he did not wish to let
Brown suspect anything.

During school, Mr. Young came in.

“Mr. Harmer,” he said, “as the weather is so fine and warm, I should
like to arrange a paper-chase for the boys to-morrow morning directly
after service. I am going to give them all a good dinner at Brangton,
and we will come back by train in time for the afternoon service. We
ought to get to Brangton by one, following the hares, and then we shall
have an hour and a quarter for dinner and be back before three o’clock.”

“Very good, Mr. Young,” replied Mr. Harmer. “If the day should be as
fine as it is to-day, they will all enjoy it very much.”

“Will you come as well, or would you rather not walk so far?”

“If you really do not mind, I think I should prefer to go by train and
meet you there, Mr. Young.”

“Then, boys, I hope you will not forget to be in the cloisters
punctually for the start. I have plenty of paper ready for the chase.”

In one moment every boy’s tongue was let loose, and they were talking
to each other about the chase, while Mr. Harmer and Mr. Young arranged
the details.

“Silence, boys!” said Mr. Harmer; “who will be the hares?”

“King and Gray are the quickest runners,” said Walter.

“Yes,” said Mr. Young, “I know they can run well; so can Cox and Pitt.
Then let King and Gray be the hares. Now, boys, get on with your work
again.”

Mr. Young went away, and the boys again turned their minds to their
work, and were as busy as bees, or at least they looked as if they
were. When they were free, nothing was talked about except the
paper-chase.

The following day was fine, and directly after morning service in the
cathedral all the boys were ready. Mr. Young soon joined them, and
gave King and Stephen each a bag of torn paper. Off they started,
crossing the bridge and making for a wood which lay in the direction
of Brangton, about a mile from the cathedral. Brangton was a pretty
village, with a railway-station, about five miles away.

Mr. Harmer took three very small boys with him by rail.

“Now, boys,” said Mr. Young, as the cathedral clock struck, “it is time
for us to start.”

Cox and Walter led the boys, while Mr. Young, who could walk and run
well, came with the others. Alfred trotted well and soon came up with
Walter.

The trail was not difficult to follow until they got right into the
woods, when they wandered about for some minutes.

“Here it is, Walter,” cried out Alfred. “They have crossed this ditch.”

Walter ran up and jumped over the ditch, followed by the rest and Mr.
Young. Now they ran across a meadow, and then over a ploughed field and
up a lane. They had not yet seen either of the hares, and already one
hour was gone. They halted for a few minutes.

“Well, Parker,” said Mr. Young, “have you lost the trail again?”

“No, sir. I can see the paper along the side of the hedge. They have
crossed this brook.”

The brook was at least twelve feet wide, and about four feet deep where
they were.

“Look, sir!” said Cox; “they have leaped over it and thrown the pole
down on the other side.”

Mr. Young glanced in the direction in which he pointed, and saw a long
pole lying near the water, and the trail across the field on the other
side of the brook.

“There is a wooden bridge about a quarter of a mile up the stream.
Those of you who can’t jump over must go round,” exclaimed Mr. Young,
who took a short run and easily cleared the brook. “Here’s the pole for
any who care to try and follow me.”

Most of the boys had already made for the bridge. Walter, Cox, and
Frank Pitt alone leaped over the brook by the help of the pole. Alfred
had gone with the others. Again they all followed the trail. Brangton
was in sight, and if the hares reached the farmhouse before they were
caught, they would win the chase. Walter, with Cox and Pitt, now made
a final spurt, and saw Steve and King quietly sitting down about a
quarter of a mile ahead.

They got up and waved their caps in derision, and then darted off, all
the others following as fast as they could. It was rather a hopeless
task. The hares slackened speed, but as soon as Walter, Cox, and Pitt
came within a few yards of them, they ran away again, laughing at them.

“Now, boys, I think I can catch them,” said Mr. Young, who was a very
swift runner.

The hares saw him coming and gaining rapidly on them, so they ran into
a sweet-shop, through the house, into the garden, and over the wall,
and then made for the farmhouse, not a hundred yards ahead. Mr. Young
had gone round, and was only about ten yards behind. King he succeeded
in overtaking, but Steve got into the house first. The rest came in a
few minutes later.

Mr. Harmer was waiting for them, and so was a good dinner also. The
boys were hungry, and the good people of the farm thought that they
would never be able to satisfy their appetites.

“Have you bought railway tickets, sir?” inquired the farmer.

“No, Mr. Robinson, not yet,” replied Mr. Young.

“Because there’s a wagon going back that you might all ride in, if you
like, sir.”

“Thank you, Mr. Robinson; but I am afraid we should not be back in
time for service, as we should be over an hour if we rode in that. The
service is at three, and it is now nearly two.”

“I had forgot about the sarvice, sir. You’ll go back by the two-twenty
train, I suppose, then, sir?”

“Yes, that is the train I intend to return by.”

The boys sang grace after the meal, and then walked down to the station
and returned by the train, having enjoyed their run immensely.

“We are much obliged to you, sir,” said Walter.

“I am quite sure, Walter,” replied Mr. Young, “that none of you have
enjoyed the run more than I have. We must arrange another before it is
too hot.”

They marched in a very orderly manner to the cathedral and joined
heartily in the service, after which they went to their homes to do
their work for the next morning.

“King,” Walter heard Cox say, “will you come home with me and give me
a hand with those sums? I can’t do them now I’ve lost my help.”

Walter was standing behind one of the pillars in the cloister, and Cox
did not see him, although King did.

“Come on with me, Harry,” said King, running off.

Walter decided in his own mind that the “help” must be the answers he
had used, but he could not, of course, be sure about it, so he said
nothing to Steve or Alfred then, but resolved to wait until he could be
sure.

The three boys had an invitation to go to Mr. Cottenham’s to tea once
a week, on Thursdays. He had promised on their next visit to show them
some more experiments, so they went home to do their work first, as he
said he would always have tea later, in order that they might be able
to spend an hour or so with him without neglecting their lessons.



CHAPTER VI.

AT MR. COTTENHAM’S.


Mr. Cottenham was unable to show them the experiments he had promised,
as he was engaged all the evening, so they went home after tea. A week
later they again went to see him.

“I was very sorry, Walter,” he said, “to disappoint you last week; but
I have everything ready this time.”

“Take care!” said the parrot; “wipe your boots!”

“A very good hint!” laughed Mr. Cottenham.

As it was a lovely April day, and quite warm, they had tea in the
summer-house. Mr. Cottenham was very proud of his garden, in which he
spent most of his leisure time, working very hard to keep it tidy and
full of the best flowers of the season. There were already many flowers
in bloom, and the view across the river towards the grand old cathedral
was very fine.

“Steve,” he said, when they were about to sit down to tea
together--Poll was also there, and Alfred had gone to fetch Rover, the
big dog, from his kennel--“Steve, when I was in the old book-shop,
looking at some works on gardening, one of your boys came in; his name,
I think, is Cox; his father is agent for an insurance company. He is
about your height, and has red hair.”

“Yes, sir, that is Harry Cox,” replied Steve.

“What arithmetic do you use?”

Steve named the book they used.

“Alfred told me all about the trouble he got into with Mr. Harmer, when
he found a page of answers to his sums in his exercise book,” said
Mr. Cottenham. “When I heard a boy ask for an arithmetic book with
answers, and saw that it was one of your boys, I noted what occurred.
Mr. Thrupp, the bookseller, found him a copy, and told him it would be
two shillings. It was a second-hand book. He bought it and took it away
with him. I did not say anything, but you, Walter and Steve, should
watch and see if his sums are right now.”

“We will, sir,” replied Walter, “and we are much obliged to you for
telling us. I think either he or Herbert King put the answers in
Alfred’s book to spite him.”

“Don’t say a word to Alfred until you are sure about it; but I thought
if I told you, it might lead to the discovery of the boy who used the
answers. Here comes Alfred with Rover.”

Rover came in, jumping about, and threatening to break all the cups and
saucers, until his master told him to lie down. Poll amused itself by
whistling and calling the dog, but after the first time Rover was not
deceived, and merely looked at the bird as if he wondered how it did
it.

Mr. Cottenham always had plenty of anecdotes to tell the boys of his
adventures in India, as he had been a keen sportsman and crack shot. He
was now an officer in the local volunteers, and by far the best shot in
the regiment.

“You promised once, sir,” said Steve, “to tell us an anecdote about a
tiger-hunt you once had in India.”

“Did I?” replied Mr. Cottenham; “then I must keep my word. I shall
never forget that adventure. Although it was very dangerous, it was
also very funny, and I believe I laughed more than I trembled at the
time. I was in charge of one of the government stores in a distant
part, where there were but few Englishmen, although there was a
regiment of native infantry and a squadron of cavalry.

“Our work up there was much the same day after day, so I was as
much excited at the prospect of a change as you are. The captain in
command of the cavalry came in one morning and asked me if I should
like to join him in a tiger-hunt. A large tiger had been seen in the
neighbourhood, and had carried off a lot of cattle and a horse. He said
he had sent some mounted men out to scour the country, to see if they
could find out where the animal was. I told him I should be delighted
to join him as soon as I had finished my official duties. I had a large
store-room, in which the drugs were kept, and amongst them, some large
bottles of ammonia. I suppose you know that ammonia is very strong
smelling, and is used in smelling-salts.”

“You put some in the pigeon’s milk, didn’t you, sir?” inquired Alfred,
laughing.

“I did, Alfred. Well, I was busily engaged in looking over the stores
and making up some medicines; but I was thinking about the hunt we
were going to have rather than about the work I had in hand. My native
servant was occupied in getting both my guns ready, and my horse as
well, as I hoped in an hour to be able to join the captain, who was
about to start. He called, on horseback, and told me where the tiger
had last been seen, and asked me to come to him as soon as possible. I
told him I would, and I hurried on with my work, just as you boys do
when you have a holiday directly it is finished.

“I had to go into the large warehouse at the back of the store for some
drugs. The warehouse had four small windows and one door only, which I
always kept locked, as I had had many goods stolen. It was very hot,
and when I was in the warehouse I was so warm that I sat down for a few
moments on some mats, just to cool myself and write down a few notes
in my book. I suppose I must have fallen asleep almost immediately, as
I woke with a start and recollected the hunting expedition. I looked
at my watch, and you may imagine my surprise and disappointment when
I found that I had been asleep nearly two hours. I felt very cross
with myself, as I had never yet had an opportunity of joining in a
tiger-hunt. I longed to see the ferocious animal in his wild native
state. So I got up, and was about to finish my work, when I chanced to
glance towards the doorway. There, in the cool shade, stretched quite
at his ease, lay a huge tiger!

“I had no weapon, and it was quite impossible for me to get out of
the outhouse without walking over the savage beast. All this flashed
through my mind in a moment. If I shouted I should arouse the tiger,
which would in all probability immediately attack me. I was quite
defenceless, and my only hope of safety lay in being absolutely quiet.
You may rest assured I did so, hoping that my servant might chance to
come round and see where I was; but, as I had told him he could join
the hunt directly he had got my guns and horse ready, I had little
hope of that. I suppose that the animal must have been hunted by the
captain and his followers, and, being tired, had selected that spot for
repose. There were several big boxes behind which I had been lying, so
I was hidden from the tiger’s view. My store was outside the village,
and stood alone, so that the tiger was not disturbed. I need hardly
say I could not take my eyes off the beast, which was apparently fast
asleep. I waited for quite a quarter of an hour, silently watching my
uninvited guest, when suddenly I saw a large bottle which was labelled
_Liquor Ammoniæ Fortiss_. You know sufficient Latin to understand
that _fortiss_, is the abbreviation for strongest. Noiselessly I took
this big bottle and put it on a box in front of me. Then I found a
small pan, filled it with the strong ammonia, and hid myself again
behind a big box. The breeze carried the strong odour towards the
tiger’s nostrils, and the animal was aroused in a moment. It sniffed
and jumped up, and then sniffed again, as if undecided what to do. It
went up to the pan and took one sniff at the liquid, then bounded out
of the shed as if it had been shot. I could hardly help laughing at
his sudden disappearance. I ran quickly into the store and got both
my guns, mounted my horse, and went in the direction in which I had
seen the tiger rush. A few minutes later I met the captain returning,
without having seen the tiger he had been hunting for. In a few words I
explained what had taken place, and away we went after my old friend.
Well, boys, to cut a long story short, I had the good luck to shoot
the animal myself, and you must have seen the skin hanging up in my
parlour.”

“Is that the very same, sir?” asked Steve. “It is a very big one.”

“Yes, Steve, and it looked much bigger when alive and lying in that
doorway, I can assure you. Why, boys, you have not been eating and
drinking while I have been talking. What has become of your appetites?”

Thus reminded, the boys did ample justice to the food, and after tea
they went into Mr. Cottenham’s laboratory--that is, the room in which
he made chemicals or did chemical experiments. Walter eagerly followed
everything he said and did. Mr. Cottenham explained in a very clear
way all the changes that took place. He took a glass jar, called a
beaker, and put into it a white powder, which, he said, was called
_sugar of lead_ or _acetate of lead_. This powder he dissolved in some
water, tied on to a string some pieces of zinc, and fastened the other
end of the string to a glass rod, which he placed across the top of
the beaker. He left this while he was doing some other experiments,
and there was gradually formed, on the string, a bright, leaf-like
structure, called a lead-tree. He explained to Walter that the zinc had
changed places with the lead, and was in the liquid, while the lead
was on the string. He took a glass-tube, called a test-tube, and put
into it some more _sugar of lead_ dissolved in water, and then he took
some little whitish crystals of _iodide of potassium_, and mixed the
two liquids while warm. When the mixture was cool there were beautiful
crystals, just like gold, glittering and yellow. These, he said, were
_iodide of lead_.

“When I was in India, boys, I made a quantity of this to amuse myself;
and to have a joke, I put a lot of these crystals in the sandy soil by
the side of a small stream, where the natives often came for water.
I stood at a distance and watched for a short time, when a terrible
hubbub was raised. There were the men, women, and children squabbling
and grabbing this gold, as they thought. In one of the papers it was
afterwards said that a quantity of gold had been discovered, and an
engineer and some government officials came to investigate. I need
hardly say that no gold was found. I did not tell them how the report
had got circulated. I suppose, boys, I am rather fond of spinning
yarns.”

“What’s that, sir?” innocently inquired Alfred.

“Why, Alfred, that means telling short stories.”

“We like them ever so much,” said Alfred, “and we shall remember what
you tell us better, because we can’t forget your stories--yarns, I
mean.”

Amongst several other experiments which Mr. Cottenham performed was
one in which he took some powdered sugar and some other white powder,
called _chlorate of potash_, moistened a rod in an acid (oil of
vitriol) and touched the mixed powders. Immediately they caught fire,
and all the powder turned black.

“Mind, boys, that you always wash your hands after touching any
chemicals, as many of them are poisonous, and also, never do any
experiments without first asking, as some things explode, and might
seriously injure you. I had an accident when I was a boy, through
being too conceited to ask. I thought I knew everything, and so I
made some gas (it was _hydrogen_), and lit it without taking the
proper precaution of seeing that there was no air left in the flask.
Immediately there was a loud report like a pistol-shot, and my
apparatus was blown all to pieces. You see that scar just above my eye.
Well, that was where a piece of glass struck me, and I am thankful that
I did not lose my sight. Boys too often think that making an explosion
is a big joke, but it is also a very dangerous one.”

“Do you teach chemistry, sir?” inquired Alfred.

“Yes, at the grammar-school, and I am going to ask Mr. Harmer to let me
give you a course of lectures at your school next autumn, similar to
those I give at the grammar-school.”

“Please do, sir!” exclaimed Walter; “and let me help you with the
experiments.”

“That I certainly will, Walter, as it is a pleasure to teach you
chemistry, you take such an intelligent interest in all I do here.”

“What is that for, sir?” inquired Steve, pointing to a very complicated
piece of apparatus.

“That is for water analysis,” replied Mr. Cottenham. “I am the borough
analyst, and have to test the milk, butter, and anything else that may
be brought to me.”

“I should like to be a chemist, sir!” exclaimed Walter. “I hope that
when I leave school father will let me be one.”

[Illustration]

“Please, sir,” inquired Steve, “can you do any kind of analysis?”

“Yes, Steve,” replied Mr. Cottenham. “I think I may venture to say I
can undertake any analysis.”

“Will you analyse something for me, sir, which I should so much like to
have done?”

“Certainly, Steve, with pleasure.”

“Then, sir, I wish you would kindly do my grammar analysis for me
to-night,” said Steve, grinning.

Mr. Cottenham laughed good-humouredly, and said he feared that he had
quite forgotten that branch of analysis.

“What’s the time?” cried Poll.

“Boys, Polly evidently thinks it is time you went, and so do I, so
good-night!”

The boys thanked him heartily, and ran off home at once.



CHAPTER VII.

POLLY AT SCHOOL.


Ten days passed, and Alfred received another letter from his mother,
saying that his father was expected home in three days’ time.
Moreover, the lady he had met at the deanery had called again, this
time with her husband, Mr. Rogers, and they had promised to repeat the
visit when his father came home. “_Don’t forget, Alfie_,” wrote his
sister, “_that we hope next week to come and see you_.” Alfred was not
likely to forget that; he almost counted the hours and minutes to the
day when he should see his father again.

Steve met him as usual, as he was on his way to school, and as they
passed Mr. Cottenham’s shop, he called to them:

“Steve,” he said, “poor Polly’s gone!”

“Dead, sir?”

“No; Steve; at least I hope not. Last night a strange cat came into my
parlour, through the open window, and flew at Polly. I only heard a
noise, and when I came in I saw the parrot fly through the window, and
the cat after it. I rushed down the garden, but Poll, although one wing
has had a few feathers taken out to prevent it from flying away, can
still fly some yards at a time--farther than I thought it could. I have
been out half the night and early again this morning, but I cannot find
any trace of it. I hope I sha’n’t catch that cat until I am less angry,
or it will be a bad job for it.”

“We will look about, sir,” replied Steve, “and run back if we should
see it or hear anything about it. Everybody in the town knows it, I
should think, so I do hope you will get it back again.”

“I hope so too, Steve, I can assure you.”

The boys went on to school without seeing Polly, or meeting anyone who
had seen it. They told their school-fellows, and all of them determined
to join Mr. Cottenham in their spare time in hunting for the bird.

The dean still retained something of the schoolmaster about him, and
used twice a year to examine the choir-boys in the school for about
a couple of hours. His visit was always an unexpected one, and the
boys, when assembled after service, were surprised when he walked in,
accompanied by Mr. Young. All the boys were afraid of him, not that
they need have been, for although he was a firm believer in discipline,
he was very fond of young people, and boys had at various times
experienced many kindnesses at his hands. But still, he was the dean,
and because he was the dean, the choir-boys were always uneasy, to say
the least, when the surprise examination took place. Moreover, if a boy
were very bad and had to be expelled, he was taken before the dean,
and in that light, as a judge, he was always regarded.

“He will be sure to be down on me, worse luck,” exclaimed King, “on
account of that young sneak, Davidson!”

King had been often called “Onions” since the first of April incident,
and was always very angry when anyone used the nickname. He could not
see that side of the joke.

If the boys were anxious, the master was equally so, as he wished them
to show up well before the dean. This did not always happen, and work
which Mr. Harmer had been through time after time, they sometimes quite
forgot when they were questioned by the dean. The unlucky boy, who from
inattention had not learnt his work properly, or from nervousness was
unable to remember, would not only be reproved by the dean, but, after
he had gone, Mr. Harmer would give him some impositions in order to
help his memory.

Those boys who had been previously examined remembered this, and that
was one reason why they were always very glad when the dean’s visit was
over.

While the dean was talking to Mr. Harmer about the work the boys had
done during the past few months, the boys themselves were quietly
talking about their chances.

“I wish I had been unwell to-day,” said Harry Cox, “so that I should
not have been able to come. Frank Pitt, lucky beggar, is at home with a
bad cold. I wish I had twenty colds!”

“You’ll find it warm enough presently to cure all your colds, Harry,”
said Steve. “I hope the dean is in a good temper; he is sometimes.”

“He isn’t likely to be so with me, anyhow,” observed King, who was
trying to put on a bold face and tone; but it was rather a failure, for
he looked more nervous than anyone.

The dean took the master’s seat and glanced round the class. Not a
sound was heard.

“I have been reading the report on your conduct, boys, and on the whole
it is satisfactory, although I find some complaints. It appears that at
times some of you boys have not been quite so truthful as I should like
to see. All British boys like to be thought brave! Quite right, too. I
like to see brave boys, and so always remember this, that lying is the
refuge of cowards. Don’t forget what I say, boys. To be brave you must
be truthful. I am not going to preach to you.”

The dean looked at Harry Cox and two other boys. They all felt and
looked very much ashamed.

Mr. Harmer and Mr. Young left the room, and the dean took his seat at
the masters desk.

He was glancing over the list of subjects which the boys had done, when
suddenly a voice exclaimed, “Come, Joe, hurry up!” Then there was a
quiet laugh.

“What boy has dared to make that impertinent remark?” exclaimed the
dean angrily.

No boy answered or moved.

“I will severely punish every boy, if necessary, to find out the guilty
one,” said the dean.

Still no boy answered.

“As you are all silent, I shall question each one of you separately,
and the boy who has been guilty of this insult shall be severely
punished.”

“Herbert King,” said the dean, “stand up. Did you speak, or do you know
who spoke?”

“No, sir,” replied King, pale with fear.

“Phew!” came the sound of a whistle.

“Who whistled?” exclaimed the dean. “It was one of you boys at the end
of the room. Do you suppose I cannot tell where the sound comes from?
Stand up, every one of you!”

As the boys rose a voice called out, “Wipe your boots!”

The dean looked at the boys in blank astonishment.

“One of you boys is trying to mock me by imitating a man’s voice. How
dare you? Which boy is it? It must be one of you who were sitting on
that end form. Unless you at once confess, I will send for Mr. Harmer
and have you all caned.”

“Look out!” said the voice.

The dean could see that none of the boys was speaking.

“Do you want a pill?” said the voice.

The dean and all the boys looked towards the end of the room. No one
was there.

“Where’s the bottle?” said the voice, and then there was a loud
whistle, followed by a sneeze.

“Please, sir,” said Steve, “there’s Mr. Cottenham’s parrot on that
beam. He lost it last night.”

“Oh dear! Oh dear!” said Polly, “where’s the sugar?”

Steve was right. There was the lost parrot eyeing the boys in a very
knowing manner. Had the dean been anyone else than a dean he must have
laughed; as it was, he smiled.

“You had better fetch Mr. Cottenham,” said the dean to Steve. “King,
close the window, so that the bird cannot fly away.”

Away ran Steve as fast as he could, and in less than five minutes he
was at Mr. Cottenham’s.

[Illustration]

“If you please, sir,” he exclaimed, breathless, “your parrot is in our
school-room!”

“What, Steve,” said Mr. Cottenham, “is my Polly up there? I will come
back with you at once and get it.”

As they walked to the school, Steve related the amusing little scene
with the dean. He could enjoy the joke now.

“I am very sorry, sir,” said Mr. Cottenham to the dean, “for the had
behaviour of my parrot.”

“Don’t mention it, Mr. Cottenham,” replied the dean, laughing.

“Look out! Shop, you’re wanted!” said Poll, who flew on to its master’s
shoulder, and rubbed its head against him. “Good-bye!” shrieked the
bird, as Mr. Cottenham left the room with it.

Quiet and attention having been restored, the dean proceeded to test
the class, each boy in turn having to stand up and answer a number of
questions on various subjects. If a boy appeared nervous, he was told
to sit down again, and was examined later on. Alfred did very well,
and so did his friends; not so Cox, who was severely reproved for his
idleness and ignorance. King did well, for he was in some subjects at
the head of the school.

When Mr. Harmer returned, the dean said that he was much pleased with
the boys on the whole, but a few had done badly, and he named Cox in
particular.

“As you have done so well, boys,” said the dean, “except those three I
have named, I shall ask Mr. Harmer to excuse you any more work to-day.”

“Thank you, sir,” said most of the boys.

The dean left the school-room, and Mr. Harmer took his usual place.

“As the dean has given you a holiday,” he said, “I shall let you all go
at once, except those he has named.”

Away the boys ran, leaving their unfortunate, or perhaps it should be
said their idle, school-fellows to receive extra work for the rest of
the term.

Walter, Steve, and Alfred called on their way home to see that Mr.
Cottenham’s parrot was all right, and found it as talkative as ever,
being none the worse for the dean’s reproofs, or for its flight from
the cat.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE OLD PIT.


Alfred’s father had returned home, and had written to him saying that
they were all coming to see him on the following day. It was not many
miles from Darlton to the old city where Alfred was. He had done all
his work well, and both Mr. Harmer and Dr. Phillips had praised him for
his industry and attention.

Mr. Cottenham, unknown to the boys, had told Mr. Harmer that Cox had
bought an arithmetic book and key with the answers, and the master had
promised to look carefully over his sums in future. Cox thought himself
very cunning, and used to do about one sum in three wrong, so that his
master might not suspect him. But boys forget that, however clever
they may think themselves, masters have eyes, and also have been boys
themselves, and know what tricks are done in school.

For several mornings Mr. Harmer did not look carefully over Cox’s sums,
but merely asked him to read out the answers. A day came, however, on
which the boys were given a holiday after services in the cathedral,
and Mr. Harmer felt certain that Cox would have all his sums quite
correct, in order that he might not be kept in. As usual, he was simply
asked to read out the answers. Cox did so; they were all correct, as
Mr. Harmer had expected.

“Bring your book here,” he said.

Cox brought up his arithmetic book.

“No, Cox,” he said, “I wish to see your exercise book, with the working
of the sums.”

“I haven’t put quite all the working down, sir,” stammered Cox, turning
very red. “I did the sums first on a piece of paper at home, and then
threw it away.”

“Bring up your book.”

Cox brought it. The sums were commenced all right, and the answer was
correct also, but there were several mistakes in the working which
could not possibly have produced the results put down.

“It is very extraordinary, Cox, how you could get such an answer from
that working.”

“Please, sir, I copied the sums in the book in a hurry, perhaps I made
some mistakes.”

“Perhaps! Come now, tell me the truth. Have you a book with answers?”

“No, sir.”

“You have never bought such a book?”

“No, sir, never.”

“You did not go into Mr. Thrupp’s a fortnight ago and buy one?”

“No, sir,” replied Cox hesitatingly.

“How can you stand there, Cox, and tell me such a deliberate falsehood?
If you do not at once speak the truth, I will take you to the dean. I
have seen Mr. Thrupp, who knows you, and he said you did buy a copy.
Mr. Thrupp also told me that you bought a similar book last term. I
have not the slightest doubt now that you put that leaf of answers into
Davidson’s book, or, at least, that it belonged to you.”

Cox did not reply.

“Now, Cox, listen to me. Either you will answer my questions
truthfully, or I will take you this very minute to the dean. Did you
put that page in Davidson’s book?”

“No, sir.”

“Do you know who did put it there?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Who was it?”

Cox was silent.

“Are you going to answer me, or do you prefer to go to the dean?”

This decided Cox.

“It was Herbert King, sir, who put it in the book.”

“King, I am ashamed of you! A boy of your age to do such a paltry
trick!”

“Please, sir, I only did it for a joke.”

“A joke! A joke is only a joke when both sides can laugh. It was a
mean, despicable trick to do, and Davidson might have been unjustly
punished for it. You are leaving at the end of this term, King, or I
should feel very much inclined to send you to the dean. I shall cane
you both now before the whole school as a warning to others, and a just
punishment to yourselves.”

Mr. Harmer was as good as his word, and the two boys returned to their
places not only in pain, but in humiliation. King felt the disgrace
even more keenly than his companion, for he was the biggest boy in the
school.

All the class had of course stopped work and looked on, many of them
in fear, as Mr. Harmer was very rarely as angry as they saw him that
morning. When the lessons and services were over, Cox and King slunk
away by themselves.

Alfred had arranged to meet his two friends about half a mile beyond
the old pit. He did not accompany them, as he was going to write a
letter to his father, and it took Alfred much longer to write such
a letter than Walter and Steve would care to wait. He had arranged,
therefore, to join them at the place at which they usually fished. The
two boys had gone in a boat, but Alfred was to take a short cut across
the fields in order that he might not lose too much time.

The letter was written and posted, and away Alfred ran to find his
chums. He was as happy as a boy could be at the prospect of meeting
all his family again, and he was also very glad that his innocence
was proved. When he was passing near the old pit which Mr. Harmer had
forbidden the boys to visit, he saw King and Cox playing together, or
rather trying to amuse themselves. King threw his cap at Cox, and,
missing him, it fell down the pit.

“That serves you right,” exclaimed Cox, laughing at King. “Now you’ve
lost your cap.”

“No, I haven’t. I shall climb down and get it. It isn’t deep. I have
been down several times before.”

The pit was not apparently very deep, owing to the sides having fallen
in after some very heavy rains. There was a rude fence round the mouth
of it, formed by lashing scaffold poles together. These the boys used
to untie, knot the pieces of cord together, and let each other down.
One pit in the vicinity had lately been flooded, and in the bottom of
this old one there was some water.

“Herbert,” said Cox, “your cap won’t be much improved by that muddy
water.”

“We can wash it in the river afterwards,” replied King. “Come and lend
me a hand, and we will soon get these pieces of rope off and tied
together.”

“I wonder how much water there is at the bottom!” said Cox, looking
down at the dark muddy water.

“Only a few inches. I know the depth of the pit when it is dry, and I
can see there isn’t much difference in it. You had better go down, but
I will if you are afraid. I don’t think you are strong enough to help
me up again, are you?”

“I don’t know,” replied Cox, looking very doubtfully at the water.

“Don’t be in such a funk,” exclaimed King, “or I shall tie the rope
round one of these posts and let myself down.”

“I am not in a funk,” said Cox. “I will go down when we get these
pieces tied together. This rope is a bit rotten, isn’t it?”

“No, it’s all right. It has borne my weight, and so I am sure it will
yours.”

Cox did not seem at all in a hurry to commence the descent, which was
perhaps some thirty or forty feet.

“There goes young sneak,” he exclaimed, as he saw Alfred running across
the other side of the field. “Stop him.”

As soon as Alfred heard this, he ran as fast as he could, but King soon
overtook him.

“Herbert,” called out Cox, “let’s make him go down and fetch your cap.
He’s fond of sneaking, so that will give him something to talk about.”

“All right, Harry,” replied King, “a jolly fine idea that! Now, little
sneak, you are going down that pit to fetch up my cap, do you hear?”

“Yes,” replied Alfred, “I hear.”

“Do you mean to say you don’t intend to go down there?”

“Yes, I do,” replied Alfred firmly.

“Supposing I say I will make you, what then?”

Alfred did not reply.

“If you won’t go after his cap, perhaps you will after your own,”
exclaimed Cox, taking Alfred’s cap and throwing it down the pit.

King laughed. Alfred remained still, without attempting to move. King
shook him roughly.

“Now, look here,” he said. “You are going down to fetch those caps
quietly, or we shall tie this rope round you and drop you down, whether
you like it or not.”

“I tell you I sha’n’t go,” replied Alfred, “and if you don’t leave me
alone, I’ll kick you.”

“Then clear off, little sneak,” exclaimed King angrily, and shaking
him violently. “Come, Harry, and get my cap, and leave his there until
called for.”

Cox would have liked to refuse, as Alfred had done, only he feared the
jeers of his chum. So he allowed himself to be bound with the cord,
while the other end was secured to a post. King intended to lower him
gradually. Alfred remained where he was, simply looking on.

“Harry,” said King, “you must steady yourself against the side as you
go down, and when you climb up again, dig your feet well into the loose
earth.”

“Is this tied tightly?” asked Cox, who was very nervous.

“Yes, that’s all right. Come, are you ready?” cried King.

Cox approached the mouth, and Alfred then came nearer and watched
them. They seemed to have forgotten his presence for the time. Slowly
Cox began to descend; King, being a strong boy, let the rope slide
gradually. Alfred went to the very edge of the pit and saw Cox going
slowly lower and lower.

Suddenly King’s feet slipped and he loosened his hold of the rope. Cox
fell some feet with a jerk, when the cord snapped, and a loud splash
was heard.

Pale with fear, both King and Alfred gazed down and saw that Cox
had disappeared beneath the water. In a few seconds--which seemed
hours--his head appeared above the surface.

“Help! help!” he screamed, and again disappeared.

King stood still, paralysed with fear.

In a moment Alfred had grasped the rope and descended rapidly,
blistering his hands as he did so.

He had reached the water. Cox had risen again almost senseless. He
grasped him by his jacket and held him with one hand, while he clutched
the rope with the other.

“King,” he cried, “I can’t hold him long. Get some help at once! My
arm is breaking!”

King was aroused by his cry, and looked wildly around. The rope was
too rotten for him to dare to descend. There was no one to help them.
Suddenly he seized one of the poles which formed the fence.

[Illustration]

“Davidson, I will drop down one of these poles! Look out! Hang on to it
when it is in the water.”

The pole reached the water with a splash, and as it did so, the upper
end struck Alfred’s head a violent blow which almost stunned him. Away
rushed King for help.

Alfred could feel the blood trickling down his face from the wound he
had received. He felt faint and giddy, and his arms seemed to have
lost all sense of feeling. He tried to cry out, but his tongue seemed
to cleave to his mouth. He knew he could not hold on much longer, and
if he let his school-fellow go, he must be drowned. All this flashed
through his mind in an instant. His feet touched something. It was the
pole, which was floating almost upright. He rested one foot on it, and
it gradually sank, but after it had sunk about a foot he felt it was
firmer, and he thought it must be resting on the bottom of the pit.

The poles were each some twenty feet long, and his heart sank when
he realized that there was that depth of water. He was able now, by
putting both feet on the end of the pole, to rest himself a little, but
he was obliged also to keep Cox’s head up above the water. He wondered
if Cox were dead. His face was white and his eyes were closed. Would
no one ever come?

He dared not loosen his hold either of the rope or of his
school-fellow. He felt faint! He could not see distinctly! Everything
was fading away!

Suddenly the pole slipped a few inches. This roused him again. He
determined that he would not let his burden go, come what might.

“Hold on, Davidson,” cried out King. “Mr. Cottenham is here with a
stout rope.”

Alfred clung desperately to the rope and to Harry Cox, who was still
unconscious, the dead weight of his burden nearly dragging his arms but
of their sockets. At last, looking up, he saw a dark figure descending.
Could he hold on a few seconds more? Again everything became dim; he
thought he heard a noise, and then he became unconscious.

Mr. Cottenham had brought two long pieces of rope, which he had
fastened to two posts; by one he descended, and the second he had ready
to put round one of the boys. Walter Parker and Steve Gray had come
with him, and together with King they awaited the signal to haul up.
Just as he reached Alfred, the boy’s eyes seemed fixed, and then they
closed, and with a sigh he fell into the chemist’s stout arms. He
grasped both of the boys with his free arm, and then, getting a footing
on the sunken pole, he managed to fasten the cord round Alfred, and
shouted to the boys above to pull away.

In a few minutes he saw Alfred landed safely, and again they lowered
the rope. With less difficulty he secured it round Harry Cox, and as
soon as he saw him fairly up, he climbed up himself.

Harry Cox’s eyes were open, and he stared wildly round. Mr. Cottenham,
after bandaging Alfred’s head, seized Cox in his arms, while Walter
took Alfred, and they walked as rapidly as possible towards the cottage
hospital, which was not very far distant.

In a few minutes both boys were put to bed and attended by the doctor.

“A narrow escape this,” he said to Mr. Cottenham, who was assisting him
in restoring animation to the boys.

Cox soon recovered, and gazed about vacantly, and then asked where he
was.

“You must not talk now,” said the doctor; “lie still.”

It was some time before Alfred recovered. When he opened his eyes he
saw the kind face of Mr. Cottenham at his side. He felt a burning heat
in his throbbing temples, and when he tried to speak he could not utter
a word.

[Illustration]

The doctor gave him some medicine, and he soon fell asleep, with dreams
of falling over precipices and down pits.

       *       *       *       *       *

King, with Walter and Steve, waited about for two hours before Mr.
Cottenham returned to tell them that Alfred was better.

“You had better go and tell Mr. Harmer what has happened,” he said to
Walter.

“Do you think, sir, that they will die?” inquired King, with an anxious
look on his now pale face.

“I hope not,” replied Mr. Cottenham. “They are progressing as well
as can be expected. If you call on me as you go to school to-morrow
morning, I will let you know how they are. Do you know Alfred
Davidson’s home address, Steve?”

“Yes, sir,” he replied, giving it.

“I will write to his mother at once.”

“Is Alfred dangerously ill?” asked Walter.

“The doctor hopes for the best, but there is cause for anxiety. He will
come to my place for his weekly chat and smoke, and so I shall hear the
latest tidings to-night, and early to-morrow I shall come up here and
see how the boys are. I think Cox will soon be well again, but with
Alfred it will be a longer affair.”

Very early the next morning King was waiting at Mr. Cottenham’s to hear
how they were. He had hardly slept a wink all night. He knew that he
had been the cause of the accident; and if Alfred should die--! He
shuddered at the thought.

Both Walter and Steve were out early, and found King still waiting
outside Mr. Cottenham’s. At last the chemist appeared.

“How is Davidson, sir?” inquired King earnestly.

“Cox is much better, and in a couple of days will probably be quite
well,” replied Mr. Cottenham.

“How is Alfred, sir?” asked Walter.

“I have just telegraphed for his mother to come at once.”

“Is he worse, sir?” inquired Walter. King was too anxious to speak.

“I am afraid he is,” replied Mr. Cottenham shortly. “Come again after
dinner and I will let you know any further news of him.”

       *       *       *       *       *

As Mr. Cottenham had said, Cox was sufficiently well in two days to be
removed to his own home. The strain on Alfred’s system, added to the
blow on his head, caused a dangerous illness; but, thanks to his youth
and naturally good constitution, assisted by the close attention of a
kind nurse and skilful doctor, he did recover. His mother had come, and
soon afterwards his father also arrived, and when Alfred was out of
danger, his joy may readily be imagined at seeing both of his parents
at his bedside. Later in the day his sister came, and his good friend
Mr. Cottenham.

As he got better, the doctor said that he might, in a few days, be
removed to his home for a change.

“Alfie,” said his mother, “we have a lot of good news for you. Your
father has been appointed to a good position at Eastport, so that he
will not be obliged to go any more voyages; and the directors have
given him a hundred pounds for his services in that great storm.”

“Mother, I am so happy now!” he exclaimed. “I should like to see Mr.
Cottenham again. I have never thanked him for saving my life. If he had
not come, I am sure I could not have held on any longer.”

When Alfred returned to the school after his holiday at home, he was
told to come at five o’clock, after the service, to the cathedral
library. No one had said a word to him of what was intended, and great
was his surprise when he saw the large room crowded with people. Walter
and Steve took charge of him. All the choir were there, and the clergy
as well. Mr. Cottenham occupied a place on the platform, and the dean
delivered a short address on the gallant rescue of a school-fellow by
Alfred Davidson.

[Illustration]

“Alfred,” said Walter, “you have to go up and receive a medal. The
dean has called out your name.”

Scarcely knowing what he was doing, Alfred went up to the platform,
and amid the loud cheers of his fellow-choristers and the applause of
others, the dean’s daughter presented him with a medal.

When the dean afterwards made reference to the timely assistance of
Mr. Cottenham, the applause was scarcely less than that which Alfred
had received. After the presentation was over, all the choir-boys were
invited by Mr. Cottenham to tea in his garden. And it was a tea! One
of the boys asked him if he had been to India to fetch the delicacies.
There is one little incident more to be recorded. While all the boys
were seated at the table, King and Cox got out of their seats and came
to Alfred.

“Davidson,” said King, in a voice choked with emotion, “Harry Cox and I
want to give you this. I can’t make a speech like the dean, but I hope
you won’t refuse it.”

It was a silver watch, engraved on the inside with Alfred’s name, the
date, and these words, “For a gallant rescue at the risk of his own
life”.

It may be doubted whether their united means would have secured so
expensive a present if Mr. Cottenham had not heard of their intention.
The choir-boys subscribed for the chain, and the organist, Dr.
Phillips, gave Alfred a very handsome book.

This gallant rescue is still treasured among the annals of the
choir-school of St. Bede’s.



“English boys owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Henty.”--_Athenæum._

Blackie & Son’s

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The Hero of Panama: A Tale of the Great Canal. Illustrated by W.
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Pioneers in West Africa. With 8 coloured illustrations by the author,
and maps and other illustrations in black-and-white. Demy 8vo, cloth
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ALEXANDER MACDONALD


Through the Heart of Tibet: A Tale of a Secret Mission to Lhasa. 6_s._

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A Middy of the King: A Romance of the Old British Navy. Illustrated by
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--The Cruise of the Thetis: A Tale of the Cuban Insurrection. 5_s._

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STAFF SURGEON T. T. JEANS, R.N.


On Foreign Service: or, The Santa Cruz Revolution. Illustrated by W.
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The Adventures of Harry Rochester: A Story of the Days of Marlborough
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The Rival Treasure Hunters: A Tale of the Debatable Frontier of British
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The Diamond Seekers: A Story of Adventure in South Africa. 6_s._

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Every Inch a Briton: A School Story. 3_s._ 6_d._

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The Disputed V.C. A Tale of the Indian Mutiny. 3_s._

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The Naval Cadet: A Story of Adventure on Land and Sea. 3_s._ 6_d._

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Lords of the World: A Tale of the Fall of Carthage and Corinth. 3_s._
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The Nameless Prince: A Tale of Plantagenet Days. Illustrated by CHARLES
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When Lion-Heart was King: A Tale of Robin Hood and Merry Sherwood.
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DOROTHEA MOORE


God’s Bairn: A Story of the Fen Country. 3_s._ 6_d._

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For the Sake of His Chum: A School Story. 3_s._ 6_d._

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The Quest of the Golden Hope: A Seventeenth century Story of Adventure.
Illustrated by FRANK WILES. 2_s._ 6_d._



TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES:


  Italicized text is surrounded by underscores: _italics_.

  Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.





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