Through the Fray by G. A. Henty
Chapter V: The New Master
It was with much excitement and interest that the boys gathered in their places for the first time under the new master. The boarders had not seen him upon their arrival on the previous evening, but had been received by an old housekeeper, who told them Mr. Porson would not return until the coach came in from York that night.
All eyes were turned to the door as the master entered. The first impression was that he was a younger man than they had expected. Mr. Hathorn had been some forty-five years old; the newcomer was not over thirty. He was a tall, loosely made man, with somewhat stooping shoulders; he had heavy eyebrows, gray eyes, and a firm mouth. He did not look round as he walked straight to his desk; then he turned, and his eyes traveled quietly and steadily round the room as if scanning each of the faces directed toward him.
"Now, boys," he said in a quiet voice, "a few words before we begin. I am here to teach, and you are here to learn. As your master I expect prompt obedience. I shall look to see each of you do your best to acquire the knowledge which your parents have sent you here to obtain. Above all, I shall expect that every boy here will be straightforward, honorable, and truthful. I shall not expect to find that all are capable of making equal progress; there are clever boys and stupid boys, just as there are clever men and stupid men, and it would be unjust to expect that one can keep up to the other; but I do look to each doing his best according to his ability. On my part I shall do my best to advance you in your studies, to correct your faults, and to make useful men of you.
"One word as to punishments. I do not believe that knowledge is to be thrashed into boys, or that fear is the best teacher. I shall expect you to learn, partly because you feel that as your parents have paid for you to learn it is your duty to learn, partly because you wish to please me. I hope that the cane will seldom be used in this school. It will be used if any boy tells me a lie, if any boy does anything which is mean and dishonorable, if any boy is obstinately idle, and when it is used it will be used to a purpose, but I trust that the occasion for it will be rare.
"I shall treat you as friends whom it is my duty to instruct. You will treat me, I hope, as a friend whose duty it is to instruct you, and who has a warm interest in your welfare; if we really bear these relations to each other there should be seldom any occasion for punishment. And now as a beginning today, boys, let each come up to my desk, one at a time, with his books. I shall examine you separately, and see what each knows and is capable of doing. I see by the report here that there are six boys in the first class. As these will occupy me all the morning the rest can go into the playground. The second class will be taken this afternoon."
The boys had listened with astonished silence to this address, and so completely taken aback were they that all save those ordered to remain rose from their seats and went out in a quiet and orderly way, very different from the wild rush which generally terminated school time.
Ned being in the second class was one of those who went out. Instead of scattering into groups, the boys gathered in a body outside.
"What do you think of that, Sankey?" Tompkins said. "It seems almost too good to be true. Only fancy, no more thrashing except for lying and things of that sort, and treating us like friends! and he talked as if he meant it too."
"That he did," Ned said gravely; "and I tell you, fellows, we shall have to work now, and no mistake. A fellow who will not work for such a man as that deserves to be skinned."
"I expect," said James Mather, who was one of the biggest boys in the school though still in the third class, "that it's all gammon, just to give himself a good name, and to do away with the bad repute the school has got into for Hathorn's flogging. You will see how long it will last! I ain't going to swallow all that soft soap."
Ned, who had been much touched at the master's address, at once fired up:
"Oh! we all know how clever you are, Mather--quite a shining genius, one of the sort who can see through a stone wall. If you say it's gammon, of course it must be so."
There was a laugh among the boys.
"I will punch your head if you don't shut up, Sankey," Mather said angrily; "there's no ink bottle for you to shy here."
Ned turned very white, but he checked himself with an effort.
"I don't want to fight today--it's the first day of the half year, and after such a speech as we've heard I don't want to have a row on this first morning. But you had better look out; another time you won't find me so patient. Punch my head, indeed! Why, you daren't try it."
But Mather would have tried it, for he had for the last year been regarded as the cock of the school. However, several of the boys interfered.
"Sankey is right, Mather; it would be a beastly shame to be fighting this morning. After what Porson said there oughtn't to be any rows today. We shall soon see whether he means it."
Mather suffered himself to be dissuaded from carrying his threat into execution, the rather that in his heart of hearts he was not assured that the course would have been a wise one. Ned had never fought in the school, but Tompkins' account of his fight on the moor with Bill Swinton, and the courage he had shown in taking upon himself the office of spokesman in the rebellion against Hathorn, had given him a very high reputation among the boys; and in spite of Mather's greater age and weight there were many who thought that Ned Sankey would make a tough fight of it with the cock of the school.
So the gathering broke up and the boys set to at their games, which were played with a heartiness and zest all the greater that none of them were in pain from recent punishment, and that they could look forward to the afternoon without fear and trembling.
When at twelve o'clock the boys of the first class came out from school the others crowded round to hear the result of the morning's lessons. They looked bright and pleased.
"I think he is going to turn out a brick," Ripon, the head of the first class, said. "Of course one can't tell yet. He was very quiet with us and had a regular examination of each of us. I don't think he was at all satisfied, though we all did our best, but there was no shouting or scolding. We are to go in again this afternoon with the rest. He says there's something which he forgot to mention to us this morning."
"More speeches!" Mather grumbled. "I hate all this jaw."
"Yes," Ripon said sharply; "a cane is the thing which suits your understanding best. Well, perhaps he will indulge you; obstinate idleness is one of the things he mentioned in the address."
When afternoon school began Mr. Porson again rose.
"There is one thing I forgot to mention this morning. I understand that you have hitherto passed your play time entirely in the playground, except on Saturday afternoons, when you have been allowed to go where you like between dinner and tea time. With the latter regulation I do not intend to interfere, or at any rate I shall not do so so long as I see that no bad effects come of it; but I shall do so only with this proviso: I do not think it good for you to be going about the town. I shall therefore put Marsden out of bounds. You will be free to ramble where you like in the country, but any boy who enters the town will be severely punished. I am not yet sufficiently acquainted with the neighborhood to draw the exact line beyond which you are not to go, but I shall do so as soon as I have ascertained the boundaries of the town.
"I understand that you look forward to Saturday for making such purchases as you require. Therefore each Saturday four boys, selected by yourselves, one from each class, will be allowed to go into the town to make purchases for the rest, but they are not to be absent more than an hour.
"In the second place, I do not think that the playground affords a sufficient space for exercise, and being graveled, it is unsuitable for many games. Therefore I have hired a field, which I dare say you all know; it is called 'The Four Acre Field,' about a hundred yards down the road on the left hand side. This you will use as your playground during the six summer months. I have brought with me from York a box which I shall place under the charge of Ripon and the two next senior to him. It contains bats, wickets, and a ball for cricket; a set of quoits; trap bat and ball for the younger boys; leaping bars and some other things. These will give you a start. As they become used up or broken they must be replaced by yourselves; and I hope you will obtain plenty of enjoyment from them. I shall come and play a game of cricket with you myself sometimes.
"You will bear in mind that it is my wish that you should be happy. I expect you to work hard, but I wish you to play hard too. Unless the body works the brain will suffer, and a happy and contented boy will learn as easily again as a discontented, and miserable one. I will give you the box after tea, so that you can all examine them together. The second and third classes will now stay in; the fourth class can go out in the playground with the first. I shall have time to examine them while the others are doing their work tomorrow."
There was a suppressed cheer among the boys and Ripon, as the senior, said:
"I am sure, sir, we are all very much obliged to you for your kindness, and we will do our best to deserve it."
There was a chorus of assent, and then the elder and younger boys went out into the playground while the work of examination of the second and third classes began.
On the following day lessons began in earnest, and the boys found their first impressions of the new master more than justified. A new era had commenced. The sound of the cane was no longer heard, and yet the lessons were far better done than had been the case before. Then the whole work had fallen on the boys; the principal part of the day's lessens had been the repeating of tasks learned by heart, and the master simply heard them and punished the boys who were not perfect.
There was comparatively little of this mechanical work now; it was the sense and not the wording which had to be mastered. Thus geography was studied from an atlas and not by the mere parrot-like learning of the names of towns and rivers. In grammar the boys had to show that they understood a rule by citing examples other than those given in their books. History was rather a lecture from the master than a repetition of dry facts and dates by the boys. Latin and mathematics were made clear in a similar way.
"It was almost too good to last," the boys said after the first day's experience of this new method of teaching; but it did last. A considerable portion of the work out of school was devoted to the keeping up the facts they had learned, for Mr. Porson was constantly going back and seeing that their memories retained the facts they had acquired, and what they called examinations were a part of the daily routine.
In some points upon which Mr. Hathorn had laid the greatest stress Mr. Porson was indifferent--dates, which had been the bane of many a boy's life and an unceasing source of punishment, he regarded but little, insisting only that the general period should be known, and his questions generally took the form of, "In the beginning or at the end of such and such a century, what was the state of things in England or in Rome?" A few dates of special events, the landmarks of history, were required to be learned accurately, all others were passed over as unimportant.
It was not that the boys worked fewer hours than before, but that they worked more intelligently, and therefore more pleasantly to themselves. The boys--and there were some--who imagined that under this new method of teaching they could be idle, very soon found out their mistake, and discovered that in his way Mr. Porson was just as strict as his predecessor. He never lost his temper; but his cold displeasure was harder to bear than Mr. Hathorn's wrath; nor were punishments wanting. Although the cane was idle, those who would not work were kept in the schoolroom during play hours; and in cases where this was found to be ineffectual Mr. Porson coldly said:
"Your parents pay me to teach you, and if you do not choose to be taught I have only to write home to them and request them to take you away. If you are one of those boys who will only learn from fear of the cane you had better go to some school where the cane is used."
This threat, which would have been ineffective in Mr. Hathorn's time never failed to have an effect now; for even Mather, the idlest and worst boy there, was able to appreciate the difference between the present regime and the last. In a marvelously short time Mr. Porson seemed to have gauged the abilities of each of the boys, and while he expected much from those who were able' to master easily their tasks, he was content with less from the duller intellects, providing they had done their best.
After a week's experience of Mr. Porson, Ned gave so glowing an account to his father of the new master and his methods that Captain Sankey went down to the school and arranged that Charlie, now ten years old, should accompany his brother. There were several boys no older than he; but Charlie differed widely from his elder brother, being a timid and delicate child, and ill fitted to take care of himself. Captain Sankey felt, however, after what Ned had told him of Mr. Porson, that he could trust to him during the school hours, and Ned would be an active protector in the playground.
It was not until a fortnight after the school began that the Four Acre Field was ready. By that time a flock of sheep had been turned into it, and had eaten the grass smooth, and a heavy horse roller had been at work for a day making a level pitch in the center.
It was a Saturday afternoon when the boys took possession of it for the first time. As they were about to start in the highest glee, Mr. Porson joined them. Some of their faces fell a little; but he said cheerfully:
"Now, boys, I am going with you; but not, you know, to look after you or keep you in order. I want you all to enjoy yourselves just in your own way, and I mean to enjoy myself too. I have been a pretty good cricketer in my time, and played in the York Eleven against Leeds, so I may be able to coach you up a little, and I hope after a bit we may be able to challenge some of the village elevens round here. I am afraid Marsden will be too good for us for some time; still, we shall see."
On reaching the field Mr. Porson saw the ground measured and the wickets erected, and then said:
"Now I propose we begin with a match. There are enough of us to make more than two elevens; but there are the other games. Would any of the bigger boys like to play quoits better than cricket?"
Mather, who felt much aggrieved at the master's presence, said he should prefer quoits; and Williamson, who always followed his lead, agreed to play with him.
"Now," Mr. Porson said, "do you, Ripon, choose an eleven. I will take the ten next best. The little ones who are over can play at trap bat, or bowls, as they like."
There was a general approval of the plan. Ripon chose an eleven of the likeliest boys, selecting the biggest and most active; for as there had been no room for cricket in the yard their aptitude for the game was a matter of guesswork, though most of them had played during the holidays. Mr. Porson chose the next ten and after tossing for innings, which Ripon won, they set to work. Mr. Porson played for a time as long stop, putting on two of the strongest of his team as bowlers, and changing them from time to time to test their capacity. None of them turned out brilliant, and the runs came fast, and the wickets were taken were few and far between, until at last Mr. Porson himself took the ball.
"I am not going to bowl fast," he said, "just straight easy lobs;" but the boys found that the straight lobs were not so easy after all, and the wickets of the boys who had made a long score soon fell. Most of those who followed managed to make a few runs as well off Mr. Porson's bowling as from that at the other end; for the master did not wish to discourage them, and for a few overs after each batsman came to the wicket aimed well off it so as to give them a chance of scoring.
The last wicket fell for the respectable score of fifty-four. The junior eleven then went in, the master not going in until the last. Only twenty runs had been made when he took the bat. In the five balls of the over which were bowled to him he made three fours; but before it came to his turn again his partner at the other end was out, and his side were twenty-two behind on the first innings. The other side scored thirty-three for the first four wickets before he again took the ball, and the remaining six went down for twelve runs. His own party implored him to go in first, but he refused.
"No, no, boys," he said; "you must win the match, if you can, without much aid from me."
The juniors made a better defense this time and scored forty before the ninth wicket fell. Then Mr. Porson went in and ran the score up to sixty before his partner was out, the seniors winning the match by nine runs. Both sides were highly pleased with the result of the match. The seniors had won after a close game. The juniors were well pleased to have run their elders so hard.
They all gathered round their master and thanked him warmly.
"I am glad you are pleased, my boys," he said; "I will come down two or three times a week and bowl to you for an hour, and give you a few hints, and you will find that you get on fast. There is plenty of promise among you, and I prophesy that we shall turn out a fair eleven by the end of the season."
The younger boys had also enjoyed themselves greatly, and had been joined by many of the elders while waiting for their turn to go in. Altogether the opening day of the Four Acre Field had been a great success.
The old cake woman who had previously supplied the boys still came once a week, her usual time being Wednesday evening, when, after tea, the boys played for half an hour in the yard before going in to their usual lessons. Ned was not usually present, but he one evening went back to fetch a book which he needed. As he came in at the gate of the yard Mather was speaking to the woman.
"No, I won't let you have any more, Master Mather. You have broken your promises to me over and over again. That money you owed me last half ain't been paid yet. If it had only been the money for the cakes and sweets I shouldn't ha' minded so much, but it's that ten shillings you borrowed and promised me solemn you would pay at the end of the week and ain't never paid yet. I have got to make up my rent, and I tell ye if I don't get the money by Saturday I shall speak to t' maister about it and see what he says to such goings on."
"Don't talk so loud," Mather said hurriedly, "and I will get you the money as seen as I can."
"I don't care who hears me," the woman replied in a still louder voice, "and as soon as you can won't do for I. I have got to have it on Saturday, so that's flat. I will come up to the field, and you'll best have it ready for me."
Ned did not hear the last few words, but he had heard enough to know that Mather owed ten shillings which he had borrowed, besides a bill for cakes. Mather had not noticed him come into the yard, for his back was toward the gate, and the noise which the boys made running about and shouting prevented him hearing the gate open and close.
"It's a beastly shame," Ned muttered to himself as he went off to school, "to borrow money from an old woman like that. Mather must have known he couldn't pay it, for he has only a small allowance, and he is always short of money, and of course he could not expect a tip before the holidays. He might have paid her when he came back, but as he didn't I don't see how he is to do so now, and if the old woman tells Porson there will be a row. It's just the sort of thing would rile him most."
On the next Saturday he watched with some curiosity the entry of the old woman into the field. Several of the boys went up and bought sweets. When she was standing alone Mather strolled up to her. After a word or two he handed her something. She took it, and said a few words. Mather shook his head positively, and in a minute or two walked away, leaving her apparently satisfied.
"I suppose he has given her something on account," Ned said to himself. "I wonder where he got it. When Ripon asked him last Monday for a subscription to buy another set of bats and wickets, so that two lots could practise at once, he said he had only sixpence left, and Mather would not like to seem mean now, for he knows he doesn't stand well with any one except two or three of his own set, because he is always running out against everything that Porson does."
A week later Mr. Porson said, at the end of school:
"By the way, boys, have any of you seen that illustrated classical dictionary of mine? I had it in school about ten days ago when I was showing you the prints of the dress and armor of the Romans, and I have not seen it since. I fancy I must have left it on my table, but I cannot be sure. I looked everywhere in my library for it last night and cannot find it. Perhaps if I left it on the desk one of you has taken it to look at the pictures."
There was a general silence.
"I think it must be so," Mr. Porson went on more gravely. "If the boy who has it will give it up I shall not be angry, as, if I left it on the desk, there would be no harm in taking it to look at the pictures."
Still there was silence.
"I value the book," Mr. Porson went on, "not only because it is an expensive work, but because it is a prize which I won at Durham."
He paused a moment, and then said in a stern voice: "Let every boy open his desk."
The desks were opened, and Mr. Porson walked round and glanced at each.
"This is a serious matter now," he said. "Ripon, will you come to the study with me and help me to search again. It is possible it may still be there and I may have overlooked it. The rest will remain in their places till I return."
There was a buzz of conversation while the master was absent. On his return he said:
"The book is certainly not there. The bookshelves are all so full that it could only have been put in its own place or laid upon the table. Ripon and I have searched the room thoroughly and it is certainly not there. Now, boys, this is a serious business. In the first place, I will give a last chance to whoever may have taken it to rise in his place and confess it."
He paused, and still all were silent.
"Now mind," he said, "I do not say that any of you have taken it --I have no grounds for such an accusation. It may have been taken by a servant. A tramp may have come in at the back gate when you were all away and have carried it off. These things are possible. And even were I sure that it had been done by one of you I should not dream of punishing all; therefore for the present we will say no more about it. But in order to assure myself and you I must ask you for the keys of your boxes. The servants' boxes will also be searched, as well as every nook and corner of the house; and then, when we have ascertained for a certainty that the book is not within these four walls, I shall go on with a lighter heart."
The boys all eagerly opened their trunks and play boxes, searched under the beds, in the cupboards, and in every nook and corner of their part of the house, and an equally minute search was afterward made in the other apartments; but no trace of the book was discovered. For days the matter was a subject of conversation among the boys, and endless were the conjectures as to what could have become of the dictionary. Their respect and affection for their master were greatly heightened by the fact that his behavior toward them was in no way altered by the circumstances. His temper was as patient and equable as before in the schoolroom; he was as cheerful and friendly in the cricket field, They could see, however, that he was worried and depressed, though he strove to appear the same as usual. Often did they discuss among themselves how different the state of things would have been had the loss happened to Mr. Hathorn, and what a life they would have led under those circumstances.
At the end of a week the happy thought struck Ripon that a subscription should be made to buy a new dictionary. The amount was a serious one, as they found that the book could not be purchased under two guineas; but every boy subscribed to his last farthing. Some promised their pocket money for weeks in advance; others wrote home to their parents to ask for money, and in ten days the boys had the satisfaction of seeing Ripon at the commencement of school walk up to Mr. Porson's desk and present him with the handsome volume in the name of all the boys. Ripon had taken some pains in getting up an appropriate speech, and it was voted a great success.
"Mr. Porson," he said, "in the name of all the boys in the school I beg to ask your acceptance of this volume. It cannot have the value to you of that which you have lost, as that was a prize; but we hope, that as a proof of the respect and affection which we all have for you, and as a token of our appreciation of your very great kindness toward us, you will accept it in place of the other."
Mr. Porson's face lit up with pleasure.
"My boys," he said, "I am very highly gratified at this proof that I have succeeded in my endeavors to make you feel that I am your friend as well as your master, and I shall value your gift far more highly than my college prize. That was simply the result of my own labor; this is a proof of kindness and affection on your parts. I shall value it very greatly all my life. And now, as I don't think you will be able to pay much attention to your work this morning, and as I have been for some days awaiting an opportunity to go over to York, where I have some pressing business, I shall start at once, and can just catch the stage, and shall get back in time for school tomorrow morning, so you will have the day to yourselves."
With a shout of pleasure the boys started off for a long day in the cricket field, while Mr. Porson hurried away to catch the stagecoach for York.