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The Fifth Form at St. Dominic's/Chapter II

“Good-bye, my boy; God bless you! and don’t forget to tell the housekeeper about airing your flannel waistcoats.”

With this final benediction ringing in his ears, the train which was to carry Master Stephen Greenfield from London to Saint Dominic’s steamed slowly out of the station, leaving his widowed mother to return lonely and sorrowful to the home from which, before this day, her youngest son had never wandered far without her.

Stephen, if the truth must be told, was hardly as affected by the parting as his poor mother. Not that he was not sorry to leave home, or that he did not love her he left behind; but with all the world before him, he was at present far too excited to think of anything rationally. Besides, that last remark about the flannel waistcoats had greatly disturbed him. The carriage was full of people, who must have heard it, and would be sure to set him down as no end of a milksop and mollycoddle.

He blushed to the roots of his hair as he pulled up the window and sat down in his corner, feeling quite certain every one of his fellow-travellers must be secretly smiling at his expense. He wished his mother would have whispered that last sentence. It wasn’t fair to him. In short, Stephen felt a trifle aggrieved; and, with a view to manifesting his hardihood, and dispelling all false impressions caused by the maternal injunction, he let down the window and put his bare head out of it for about a quarter of an hour, until a speck of dust settled in his eye and drove him back to his seat.

It is decidedly awkward to get dust in your eye when you want to figure as a hero, for the eyes will water, and must be wiped, and that looks particularly like weeping. Stephen refrained from using his handkerchief as long as he could; but it was no use; he must wipe his eye in the presence of his fellow-passengers. However, if he whistled a tune while doing so, no one could suspect him of real tears; so he struck up, “Glide along, my bonny boat,” as cheerfully as he could, and mopped his smarting eye at the same time. Alas! the dust only got farther in, and the music, after half an hour’s heroic perseverance, flagged altogether. It was no use trying to appear heroic any longer, so, what with pain and a dawning sense of loneliness and home-sickness, Stephen shed a few real tears into his handkerchief, an indulgence which did him good in every way, for it not only relieved his drooping spirits, but washed that wretched piece of dust fairly out of its hiding-place.

This relief, with the aid of a bun and a bottle of ginger-beer at one of the stations, set him, so to speak, on his feet again, and he was able to occupy the rest of his journey very pleasantly in drumming his heels on the floor, and imagining to himself all the marvellous exploits which were to mark his career at Saint Dominic’s. He was to be a prodigy in his new school from the very first; in a few terms he was to be captain of the cricket club, and meanwhile was to gain the favour of the Sixth by helping them regularly in their lessons, and fighting any one against whom a special champion should be requisite. He was, indeed, just being invited to dinner with the Doctor, who was about to consult him concerning some points of school management, when the train suddenly pulled up at Maltby, and his brother Oliver’s head looked in at the window with a “Hullo! here you are! Tumble out!”

Oliver and Stephen were Mrs. Greenfield’s only two boys. Their father had died twelve years ago, when Stephen was a baby, and the two boys had been left in charge of an uncle, who had carefully watched over their education, and persuaded his sister, to allow her elder boy to go to a public school. Mrs. Greenfield had consented, with many tremblings, and Oliver had, four years ago, been sent to Saint Dominic’s, where he was now one of the head boys in the Fifth Form. Only a few weeks before the opening of this story the boys’ uncle had died, leaving in his will a provision for sending Stephen to the same school as his brother, or any other his mother might select. The poor widow, loth to give up her boy, yet fain to accept the offer held out, chose to send Stephen to Saint Dominic’s too, and this was the reason of that young gentleman’s present appearance on the stage at that centre of learning.

“I’ll send up your traps by the carter; we can walk,” said Oliver, taking his young brother into charge.

Stephen was only too glad, as it gave him time to breathe before plunging at once into the scene of his future exploits. “Is it far?” he asked.

“Only a mile,” said Oliver; “come on. Hullo, Rick, where have you been to?”

This was addressed to Ricketts, whom they met just outside the station.

“Oh! to Sherren’s about my togs. I wanted them for the match to-morrow, you know. I’ve told him if he doesn’t send them up in time we’ll all get our things made in London, so I guess he’ll hurry himself for once. Oh, look here! did you get a paper with the result of the American match? Bother! Here, you kid, what’s your name, cut back to the station and get a daily. Look sharp! Bring it to me in my room. Come on, Greenfield.”

Master Stephen looked so astonished at this cool request from a total stranger that both the elder boys laughed.

“This is my young brother, Rick, just come—”

“Oh, I beg your pardon,” said Mr. Ricketts, blushing, “I’ll go—”

“No, I’ll go,” said Stephen, darting off, and expending a penny of his own to get this magnifico of the Fifth his paper.

This little incident served to break the ice for the new boy, who felt highly honoured when Ricketts said he was “much obliged to him.”

“By the way,” said Oliver, suddenly, “I ought to get my togs up too. Bother that Sherren! I say, Rick, see my young brother up to the school, will you, while I cut back? He can wait in my study.”

Stephen felt very desolate to be left thus alone the moment after his arrival, and it did not add to his pleasure to observe that Ricketts by no means appeared to look upon the task of seeing him to Saint Dominic’s as a privilege. They walked on in silence for about half a mile, and then encountered several groups of boys strolling out along the road. Ricketts stopped to talk to several of them, and was very nearly going off with one of the party, when he suddenly remembered his charge. It was rather humiliating this, for Stephen; and already his triumphal entry into Saint Dominic’s was beginning to be shorn of some of its glory. No one noticed him; and the only one that paid him the least attention appeared to look upon him as a nuisance.

“Here, Tony,” suddenly shouted Ricketts to Pembury, who was jogging along on his crutches a little way ahead, towards the school; “do you mind showing this kid the way up? I have to go back with Wren. There’s a good fellow.”

“Well, that’s cool,” replied Master Pembury; “I’m not a kid-conductor! Come on, youngster; I suppose you haven’t got a name, have you?”

“Yes, Stephen Greenfield.”

“Oh, brother of our dear friend Oliver; I hope you’ll turn out a better boy than him, he’s a shocking character.”

Stephen looked concerned. “I’m sure he doesn’t mean to do what’s wrong,” began he, apologetically.

“That’s just it, my boy. If he doesn’t mean to do it, why on earth does he do it? I shall be sorry if he’s expelled, very sorry. But come on; don’t mind if I walk too fast,” added he, hobbling along by Stephen’s side.

Stephen did not know what to think. If Ricketts had not addressed his companion as “Tony” he would have fancied he was one of the masters, he spoke with such an air of condescension. Stephen felt very uncomfortable, too, to hear what had been told him about Oliver. If he had not been told, he could not have believed his brother was anything but perfection.

“I’m lame, you see,” said Pembury, presently. “You are quite sure you see? Look at my left leg.”

“I see,” said Stephen, blushing; “I—I hope it doesn’t hurt.”

“Only when I wash my face. But never mind that; Vulcan was lame, too, but then he never washed. You know who Vulcan was, of course?”

“No, I don’t think so,” faltered Stephen, beginning to feel very uneasy and ignorant.

“Not know Vulcan! My eye! where have you been brought up? Then of course you don’t know anything about the Tenth Fiji War? No? I thought not. Dreadful! We shall have to see what you do know. Come on.”

Stephen entered Saint Dominic’s thoroughly crestfallen, and fully convinced he was the most ignorant boy that ever entered a public school. The crowds of boys in the playground frightened him, and even the little boys inspired him with awe. They, at any rate, had heard of Vulcan, and knew about the Tenth Fiji War!

“Here,” said Anthony, “is your brother’s study. Sit here till he returns, and make the most of your time, for you’ll have to put your best foot foremost to-morrow in the Doctor’s exam.”

So saying, he left abruptly, and the poor lad found himself alone, in about as miserable a frame of mind as a new boy would wish to be in.

He looked about the study; there were some shelves with books on them. There was a little bed let into the wall on one side; there was an easy-chair, and what professed to be a sofa; and there was a pile of miscellanies, consisting of bats and boots and collars and papers, heaped up in the corner, which appeared to be the most abundantly furnished portion of the little room. Stephen sat there very dismal, and wishing himself home again once more, when the door suddenly opened and a small boy of his own age appeared.

“Hullo! What do you want?” demanded this hero.

“I’m waiting for my brother.”

“Who’s your brother?”

“Oliver Greenfield.”

“Oh, all right! you can get his tea as well as I can: you’ll find all the things in the cupboard there. And look here, tell him Bullinger wants to know if he can lend him some jam—about half a pint, tell him.”

Poor Stephen! even the small boys ordered him about, and regarded him as nobody. He would fain have inquired of this young gentleman something about Vulcan, and have had the advantage of his experience in the preparation of his brother’s tea; but the youth seemed pressed for time, and vanished.

As well as he could, Stephen extricated the paraphernalia of his brother’s tea-table from the cupboard, and set it out in order on the table, making the tea as well as profound inexperience of the mystery and a kettle full of lukewarm water would permit. Then he sat and waited.

Before Oliver arrived, four visitors broke in upon Stephen’s vigil. The first came “to borrow” some tea, and helped himself coolly to two teaspoonfuls out of Oliver’s canister. Stephen stood by aghast and speechless.

“Tell him I’ll owe it him,” calmly remarked the young gentleman, as he departed with his booty, whistling a cheerful ditty.

Then a fag came in and took a spoon, and after him another fag, with a mug, into which he poured half of the contents of Oliver’s milk-jug; and finally a big fellow rushed in in a desperate hurry and snatched up a chair and made off with it.

Stephen wondered the roof of Saint Dominic’s did not fall in upon these shameless marauders, and was just contemplating putting the stores all back again into the cupboard to prevent further piracy, when the welcome sound of Oliver’s voice in the passage put an end to further suspense.

“Well, here you are,” said Oliver, entering with a friend. “Wray, this is my young brother, just turned up.”

“How are you?” said Wraysford, in a voice which won over Stephen at once; “I heard you were coming. Have you—”

“Oh!” suddenly ejaculated Oliver, lifting up the lid of his teapot. “If that young wretch Paul hasn’t been and made my tea with coal-dust and cold water! I’d like to scrag him! And—upon my word—oh, this is too much!—just look, Wray, how he’s laid the table out! Those Guinea-pigs are beyond all patience. Where is the beggar?”

“Oh!” exclaimed Stephen, starting up, very red in the face, as his brother went to the door; “it wasn’t him. I made the tea. The boy told me to, and I didn’t know the way. I had to guess.”

Oliver and Wraysford both burst out laughing.

“A pretty good guess, too, youngster,” said Wraysford. “When you come and fag for me, I’ll give you a few lessons to begin with.”

“Oh! by the way, Wray,” said Oliver, “that’s all knocked on the head. Loman makes out the captain promised him the first new boy that came. I’m awfully sorry.”

“Just like Loman’s cheek. I believe he did it on purpose to spite me or you. I say, Greenfield, I’d kick up a row about it if I were you.”

“What’s the use, if the captain says so?” answered Oliver. “Besides, Loman’s a monitor, bad luck to him!”

“Loman’s a fellow I don’t take a great fancy to,” said Wraysford. “I wouldn’t care for a young brother of mine to fag for him.”

“You are prejudiced, old man,” said Oliver. “But I wish all the same Stephen was to fag for you. It’s a pity, but it can’t be helped.”

“I’ll speak to the captain, anyhow,” growled Wraysford, sitting down to his tea.

All this was not very pleasant for Stephen, who gathered that he was destined to serve a not very desirable personage in the capacity of fag, instead of, as he would have liked, his brother’s friend Wraysford.

However, he did justice to the tea, bad as it was, and the sardines Oliver had brought from Maltby. He was relieved, too, to find that his brother was not greatly exasperated on hearing of the various raids which had been made on his provisions, or greatly disconcerted at Mr. Bullinger’s modest request for half a pint of jam.

Then, as the talk fell upon home, and cricket, and other cheerful topics, the small boy gradually forgot his troubles, even down to the Fiji War, and finished up his first evening at Saint Dominic’s in a good deal more cheerful frame of mind than that in which he had begun it.