From School to Battle-field: A Story of the War Days
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Whenever the class was formed for recitation it took seats on those northward-facing benches, the head of the class in a chair, with his back to the avenue window, close by the westernmost bench. The others of the "Sacred Band," as that guileful First Latin had once been derisively named, strung out in the order of their class rank along the benches, with Hoover, nine times out of ten, alone at the bottom. The system of recitation was peculiar to the school, and proved that the "copious notes," so often scornfully, yet enviously, referred to by outsiders, were only blessings in disguise. It might be that Virgil was the subject of the hour, the lesson say some fifty lines in the third book, and in this event Beach, not Meeker, was in the chair, a man of firmer mould, yet not invulnerable. One after another, haphazard, the youngsters were called upon to read, scan, translate, and at the very first slip in quantity, error in scanning, mistake of a word in translation, the master would cry "Next," and the first boy below who could point out the error and indicate the correction stepped up and took his place above the fellow at fault. A perfect recitation was a rarity except among the keen leaders at the head, for no error, big or little, was ever let pass. It was no easy thing for the average boy to read three lines of the resounding dactylic hexameters of "P. Virgilius Maro" according to the Columbia system of the day without a slip in quantity. Scanning, too, was an art full of traps for the unwary, but hardest of all for one of Pop's boys was it to translate. No matter how easy it might be by the aid of the oft-consulted "pony" to turn the Latin into English, it was the rule of the school that the Doctor's own beautiful rendition should be memorized word for word wherever it occurred, and the instances, like the notes, were all too copious. At the word "Enough" that checked his scanning the boy began to translate, and having given the poetic and flowery version of the great translator, then turned to and, word by word, followed with the literal meaning. Then came the prodding questions as to root, verb, subject, etc., and lucky was the youngster who, when he took his seat, found himself no more than half a dozen places below where he started. At the end of the hour the marks were totted up, and he who had the highest number marched to the head of the class, the others being assigned according to their score. It was all plain sailing when the Doctor himself was in the chair. Few boys ventured on fun with him. On the other hand, few other masters could maintain order on a system that gave such illimitable possibilities for devilment. To illustrate: It is a brisk October morning. School has "been in" an hour. The First Latin is arrayed for recitation in the ?neid, and the boys have easily induced an Italian organ-grinder to come, monkey and all, to serenade them, and to the lively notes of "Patrick's Day in the Morning" one of the confirmed scamps of the class is called upon to begin.He himself was the heaviest subscriber to the fund which secured the services of the dark-eyed exile and his agile monkey. Bliss knows nothing whatever of the lesson and is praying for the appearance of the red-capped simian at the window. The janitor has been sent down to bid the organ-grinder go away, but the boys have blocked that game by bidding higher, and the Italian is warned to pay no attention to such orders, but to hold his ground, – the neighborhood approves of him and he'll be short a quarter if he goes. John comes panting up-stairs to report his ill success, and meantime the recitation cannot go on. Bliss is finally told to pay no attention to "Patrick's Day" and to push ahead on the most beautiful lines in the book,
and Bliss slips on the quantity of the first syllable of the third word, is promptly snapped up by Doremus, next below, who tallies one on his score and jumps above him. Bliss shuts his book despairingly. "Mr. Beach," he begins, in tones of deepest injury, "I know that just as well as anybody else; but I protest, sir, I'm so distracted by that grinding I can't do myself justice – or the subject either." And if the astute Beach had any lingering doubt as to whether the boys worked that game themselves or not the doubt is banished now. Bertram, Doremus, Snipe, Shorty, all are on their feet and pleading with the master to have that impudent music stopped. Mr. Beach vainly warns them to their seats and commands silence.
"Mr. Beach, let me go down and drive him away, – I can do it," implores Beekman, the pigmy Gothamite. It is three minutes before the master can compel silence in the class, so great is its sense of the outrage upon its peace and dignity.
"Mr. Beach, let me fetch a policeman," cries Shorty, who knows there isn't a blue-coat nearer than the Harlem depot at Twenty-sixth Street, and is spoiling for a chance to get out-of-doors.
"The next boy who speaks until bidden will have five marks struck off," says Beach, and with one accord the First Latin opens its twenty-seven mouths, even Hoover swelling the chorus, and, as though so many representatives in Congress assembled were hailing the chair, the twenty-seven ejaculate, "Mr. Beach, nobody's got five yet." Then little Post jumps up, in affected horror, and runs from his seat half-way to the master's table. "Mr. Beach!" he cries, "the monkey!"
"Aw, sit down, Post," protests Joy, in the interest of school discipline and harmony. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself making such a fuss about a monkey." Snipe and Carey seize the first weapons obtainable – the sacred ruler and the Japan tray on the Doctor's desk – and make a lunge for the windows.
"Lawton – Carey! Back to your seats!" orders Beach.
"We only want to drive the monkey away, sir," protests Snipe, with imploring eyes. "Post'll have a fit, sir, if you let the monkey stay. He's subject to 'em. Ain't you, Post?"
"Yes, sir," eagerly protests Post, on the swear-to-anything principle when it's a case of school devilment, and two minutes more are consumed in getting those scamps back to their places and recording their fines, "Ten marks apiece," which means that when the day's reckoning is made ten units will be deducted from their total score. The settlement, too, is prolonged and complicated through the ingenuity of Snipe and the connivance of Bagshot and Bertram, who have promptly moved up and occupied the place vacated by their long-legged, curly-pated, brown-eyed comrade, and who now sturdily maintain that Snipe doesn't know where he belongs. As a matter of fact, Snipe doesn't; neither does he greatly care. He's merely insisting on the customary frolic before the class settles down to business, but to see the fine indignation in his handsome face and listen to the volume of protest on his tongue you would fancy his whole nature was enlisted in the vehement assertion of his rights.
Mr. Beach fines Snipe another five for losing his place, and then stultifies himself by ordering Bertram and Bagshot back to their original station, thus permitting Snipe to resume his seat, whereupon he promptly claims the remission of the fine on the ground that he himself had found it, and Bertram, a youth of much dignity of demeanor, gravely addresses Mr. Beach, and protests that in the interests of decency and discipline Lawton should forfeit his place, and to prove his entire innocence of selfish motive offers to leave it to the class, and go to the foot himself if they decide against him, and the class shouts approval and urges the distracted Beach to put Snipe out forthwith. Then somebody signals "Hush!" for Halsey, the head-master, the dark Othello, has scented mischief from afar, and is heard coming swiftly down from the floor above, and Halsey is a man who has his own joke but allows no others. Bliss is the only boy on his feet as the stern first officer enters and glances quickly and suspiciously about him.
"Go on with the recitation, Mr. Beach," he says. "That Italian was doubtless hired by these young gentlemen. Let them dance to their own music now, the eloquent Bliss in the lead. Go on with your lines, Bliss."
And as this is just what Bliss can't do, Bliss is promptly "flunked" and sent to the foot, where Hoover grins sardonically. He's ahead of one fellow anyhow. Just so long now as that organ-grinder does must Halsey stay – and supervise, and scorch even the best scholars in the class, for well he knows the First Latin and they him, and their respect for him is deeper than his for them, despite the known fact that Pop himself looks upon them with more than partial eyes. The class is getting the worst of it when in comes an opportune small boy. "Mr. Meeker says will Mr. Halsey please step into the Fourth Latin room a minute," and Halsey has to go.
"If those young gentlemen give you any trouble, Mr. Beach, keep the whole class in at recess," he says, and thereupon, with eyes of saddest reproach, the class follows him to the door, as though to say, How can such injustice live in mind so noble? But the moment Halsey vanishes the gloom goes with him. Beach's eyes are on the boys at the foot of the class, and with a batter and bang the Japan tray on the Doctor's desk comes settling to the floor, while Joy, who dislodged it, looks straight into the master's startled eyes with a gaze in which conscious innocence, earnest appeal, utter disapprobation of such silly pranks, all are pictured. Joy can whip the bell out from under the master's nose and over the master's table and all the time look imploringly into the master's eyes, as though to say, "Just heaven! do you believe me capable of such disrespect as that?" Three boys precipitate themselves upon the precious waiter, eager to restore it to its place, and bang their heads together in the effort. Five marks off for Shorty, Snipe, and Post. Bagshot is on the floor, and announces as the sense of the First Latin that a boy who would do such a thing should be expelled. Mr. Beach says the First Latin hasn't any sense to speak of, and tells Bagshot to begin where he left off. Bagshot thereupon declares he can't remember. It's getting near the "business end" of the hour, and the whole class has to look to its marks, so it can't all be fun. Thereupon Beach, who is nothing if not classical, refers to Bagshot's lack of acquaintance with the Goddess of Memory. "Who was she, Bagshot?" "Mnemosyne." "Very good; yes, sir." ("Thought it was Bacchante!" shouts little Beekman. "No, sir. Five marks off, Beekman. No more from you, sir.") "Now, Bagshot, you should be higher than ten in your class to-day, and would be but for misbehavior. What was the color of Mnemosyne's hair?" Bagshot glares about him irresolute, and tries the doctrine of probability.
Beach compresses his lips. "M – n – no. That hardly describes it. Next."
"Carnation," hazards Van Kleeck.
"Next! Next! Next!" says Beach, indicating with his pencil one after another of the eager rank of boys, and, first one at a time and distinctly, then in confused tumbling over each other's syllables, the wiseacres of the class shout their various guesses.
"Brick-red!" (This last from Turner, who makes a bolt for a place above Bagshot, and can only be driven back and convinced of the inadequacy of his answer by liberal cuttings of ten to twenty marks.) Then, at last, Beach turns to Carey, at the far head of the class, and that gifted young gentleman drawls, —
"Right!" says the master, whereupon half a dozen contestants from below spring to their feet, with indignation in their eyes:
"Well, what did I say, sir?"
"That's exactly what I meant, sir."
"I'll leave it to Bliss if that wasn't my answer, sir."
And nothing but the reappearance of Othello puts an end to the clamor and settles the claimants. Shorty submits that his answer covered the case, that Mnemosyne herself couldn't tell carrot color from flame, and is sure the Doctor would declare his answer right, but is summarily squelched by Mr. Halsey, and he has the "nous" to make no reference to the matter when the Doctor comes. The hour is nearly over. Only three minutes are allowed them in which to stow their Virgils in the big open bookcase and extract their algebras. Halsey vanishes to see to it that the Third Latin goes to the writing-room without mobbing the Fourth. The marks of the First are recorded, not without a volume of comment and chaff and protest. Then silence settles down as the master begins giving out the next day's lesson, for the word has been passed along the line of benches, "Get ready for a charge!" A moment later the janitor sounds the bell on the landing without, and twenty-six young fellows spring into air and rush for the bookcase. Not a word is spoken, – Hoover, alone, holds aloof, – but in less time than it takes to tell it, with solemnity on every face except one or two that will bubble over in excess of joy, the First Latin is jammed in a scrimmage such as one sees nowadays only on the football field. The whole living mass heaves against those stout partitions till they bend and crack. From the straining, struggling crew there rises the same moaning sound, swelling into roar and dying away into murmur, and at last the lustier fight their way out, algebras in hand, and within another five minutes order is apparently evolved from chaos.
In such a turmoil and in such a charge Joy's watch disappeared that October day, and the school had not stopped talking of it yet.
It has been said that two boys were the observed of gloomy eyes the Monday following Snipe's misfortune. One, Hoover, of course. The other a fellow who in turn had sought to be everybody's chum and had ended by being nobody's. His name was Briggs. He was a big, powerful fellow, freckle-faced, sandy-haired, and gifted with illimitable effrontery. He was a boy no one liked and no one could snub, for Briggs had a skin as thick as the sole of a school-boy's boot, and needed it. One circumstance after another during the previous year had turned one boy after another from him, but Briggs kept up every appearance of cordial relations, even with those who cold-shouldered him and would have naught to do with him. During the previous school-year he had several times followed Snipe, Shorty, and their particular set, only to find that they would scatter sooner than have him one of the party. He had been denied admission to the houses of most of the class. He had been twice blackballed by the Uncas, and it was said by many of the school when Briggs began to consort with Hoover that he had at last found his proper level. One allegation at his expense the previous year had been that he was frequently seen at billiard-rooms or on the streets with those two Hulkers, and even Hoover had hitherto eschewed that association. Perhaps at first the Hulkers would not have Hoover. The class couldn't tell and really didn't care to know. One thing was certain: within the fortnight preceding the opening of this story Briggs and Hoover had been together more than a little and with the Hulkers more than enough.
"Are you sure of what you say?" both Carey and Joy had asked Shorty that exciting Monday morning, as the eager youngster detailed for the tenth time the incidents of the assault on Snipe.
"I'm as sure of it as I am of the fire," said Shorty, positively. "Jim Briggs was with the Metamora crowd, running in the street. He looked back and laughed after he saw Snipe down."
But when confronted with this statement by the elders of the "Sacred Band" Briggs promptly and indignantly denied it.
"I never heard of it till to-day!" said he. "'Spose I'd stand by and see one of my class knocked endwise by a lot of roughs? No, sir!"
It was a question of veracity, then, between Briggs and Shorty, the class believing the latter, but being unable to prove the case. Snipe himself could say nothing. Being in the lead, he had seen none of the runners of the Metamora except the heels of a few as they bounded over him when he rolled into the street. There was an intense feeling smouldering in the class. They were indeed "laying" for Hoover as they had been for Briggs when they tumbled out for recess. The latter, with his characteristic vim and effrontery, denied all knowledge of the affair, as has been said, and challenged the class to prove a thing against him. The former, as has been told, lurked within-doors. What had he to fear? He was not at the scene of the fire and the assault. He never had energy enough to run. There was some reason why he shrank from meeting or being questioned by the boys. There was some reason why Snipe Lawton should have left them and returned to the school, and was discovered standing there at the doorway, looking fixedly at the head-master's angered face as it glowered on Hoover and the tearful John. Whatever the reason, it could not well be divulged in the presence of Mr. Halsey. Hoover stood off another proposed demonstration in his honor after school at three o'clock by remaining behind, and only coming forth when he could do so under the majestic wing of the Doctor himself. Pop looked curiously at the knots of lingering First Latins, and raised his high-top hat in response to their salutations. Hoover huddled close to his side until several blocks were traversed and pursuit was abandoned. Then he shot into a street-car, leaving the Doctor to ponder on the unusual attention. And so it happened that while the class was balked for the time of its purpose, and the victim of Saturday's assault was debarred from making the queries he had planned, Mr. Halsey was enabled to pursue his bent. Just as the little group of five, gazing in disappointment up the avenue after the vanishing forms of the Doctor and Hoover, was breaking up with the consolatory promise that they'd confront Hoover with their charges first thing in the morning, the open-mouthed janitor came running.
"Oh, Lawton!" he panted, "Mr. Halsey says he wishes to speak with you, and to please come right back."
"I'll wait for you, Snipe," said Shorty. "Day-day, you other fellows." And wait he did, ten, twenty minutes, and no Snipe came, and, wondering much, the smaller lad went whistling down the avenue, forgetful, in the fact that he still wore the jacket, of the dignity demanded of a lad of the First Latin and full sixteen. He wondered more when eight o'clock came that evening and without Snipe's ring at the door-bell. He wondered most when he saw Snipe's pallid, sad-eyed face on the morrow.
There was something in the friendship between those two members of the First Latin not entirely easy for the school to understand. In many ways they were antitheses, – Snipe, over-long; Shorty, under-sized; Snipe, brown-eyed and taciturn, as a rule; Shorty, blue-eyed and talkative (Loquax was Pop's pet name for him); Snipe was studious; Shorty quick to learn, but intolerant of drudgery. Both loved play, active exercise, and adventure. Both took naturally to everything connected with the fire department, but in addition the smaller boy had a decided love for the military, and was a member of the drum corps of a famous organization of the old State militia, and vastly proud of it. Snipe loved the fishing-rod, and Shorty had no use for one. Shorty loved drill, Snipe couldn't bear it. Take it all in all, they were an oddly assorted pair, but when forty-eight hours passed without their being in close communion something had gone sadly amiss; and that was the case now.
Everybody knew that Snipe Lawton had little or no money of any kind, but few knew why. His own father had been dead many years. His mother had remarried when he was twelve years old, and between the boy and his step-father there was no love whatever. Nor was this the boy's fault. Open-hearted, affectionate, and of gentle nature, he had really tried to like and to win the regard of the man who had won his mother's heart and had given her an attractive, even a beautiful, home. But there are men who have no sympathy whatever with boys. Mr. Park was one of these, and, after two years of experiment, gave up trying to understand his step-son, and declared that the boy must be sent away to school. It is needless to describe what those two years were to the mother or to the son. Both welcomed the decision, though it cost the former many tears. A younger sister was married and living in New York City. Mr. Park was a Columbiad and a fervent admirer of the great Doctor. It was arranged that the boy should have his home under the roof of his aunt, Mrs. Lawrence, and his lessons under Pop. He grew rapidly, and his clothes were generally short for him. He was shy, sensitive, and hated to ask for money from home, because it had to come from his step-father. Time and again he could not go to the little social gatherings of his schoolmates, with whom he became popular almost from the start, solely because of his outgrown coat and trousers. His aunt had a houseful of company much of the time; her husband's kindred were numerous and prevalent, and, to tell the truth, she was a little ashamed of the tall, shy, sometimes awkward, if not gawky, boy, whose wrists were always in evidence and whose trousers were so short and shabby. And so it resulted that poor Snipe had his little bedroom in her garret, which the servants soon learned they could neglect with impunity, and a place at her table when they were not entertaining company; but home, he really had none. Breakfast was served at the Lawrences' at nine o'clock, but before that time Snipe was expected to come down to forage for himself and be off to school and out of the way. Luncheon he could take with him, if he chose to put it up and carry it, but as none of the other boys did this Snipe soon ceased, and one of Duncan's doughnuts was the mid-day sustenance, washed down by a glass of what the Doctor referred to as "copious cold Croton" (the Doctor loved that word copious), and on this rather meagre diet Snipe worried through the day till dinner-time, which with Uncle and Aunt Lawrence was half-after six, and a very hungry boy was he who silently, even humbly, took his seat among the lively, chattering party (there were always six or eight in the family circle), and, as soon as his appetite was appeased, was permitted to withdraw, presumably, to his studies, though the fact that he was at Shorty's home was always comforting to Aunt Lawrence, for she had great regard for certain feminine relatives of the smaller boy, and believed that wherever they presided her nephew could not possibly get into mischief. It is not that Aunt Lawrence was either knowingly neglectful or actively unkind. She was a busy woman, a fashionable woman, a woman full of pleasant impulse. She had told George to be sure and come to her whenever anything went wrong, when he needed advice or aid, or – rather vaguely – anything else. She had told the butler to be sure to see that Master George had coffee ready every morning at quarter-past eight, and the seamstress was ordered to keep his wardrobe in repair, and for a month or so both did as they were bid, and then let Master George look out for himself. Mr. Park had requested Mr. Lawrence to see that George was given fifty cents each Saturday for his spending money, out of which he was to provide his own shoes and gloves. This was Park's own allowance in the old days when he was a boy at the grammar school and Columbia was away down-town, about on line with the City Hall, and the boys lunched sumptuously at Shaddle's for thrippence; but Park had not to buy his shoes in those days, though he said he bought his gloves out of his little sum. He simply argued that it would be good discipline for his step-son to learn to economize. Gloves and shoes cost much less in the ante-bellum days than now, and less in Park's school-days than in those of his step-son. George took what was given him silently and without appeal, and during his three years at Pop's that was every cent of money he received from home. But gloves, he said, he had no use for, and boots were far beyond him. Furthermore, low shoes, summer and winter both, were best to run in, and not another boy at the Doctor's dreamed of the true state of the case, unless it was little Shorty, for to that boy the hungry heart of the lonely fellow seemed to go out from the start. He, too, was an alien; he, too, had left the mother wing to find a nest in the great, thronging city; he, too, was probably not a little in the way, but for him at least there was warmth and interest and sympathy and kindliness, and many a time and oft did Snipe roost all night long in that snug white bed of Shorty's, with no one "at home" the wiser. And many and many a time had he been made welcome at the bountiful board where Shorty sat among an affectionate kindred, and the tall boy's soft brown eyes seemed mutely to thank each member of the big family circle for every pleasant word. They had grown to like him, despite his silence, or perhaps because of it and its contrast with Shorty's chatter. They took no note of his short-sleeved, skimpy sack-coat or the low shoes at which Briggs had sneered and other fellows at school had levelled their witticisms until they saw it hurt, and then, wonder of wonders, the latter quit it. With all their impulse for fun and frolic and mischief, Pop's boys had the leaven of gentlemen. Even Hoover had never twitted Lawton on the evidences of his poverty, and there were others of that immortal twenty-seven little better off than he. In all the First Latin, Briggs had been the only one to continue the torment after the discovery that it brought pain and distress, and even Briggs no longer dare attempt it when certain of the class were near, for Julian, overhearing him one day, had called him aside at recess and told him that only a mean-spirited whelp would be guilty of such a thing, slapped his face, and invited him into a neighboring stable to fight it out, which invitation Briggs declined. Even little Shorty, overhearing Briggs one day, had flown at him like a young bull-terrier and drawn blood from Briggs's nose before they could be separated. The class stood up for Snipe most loyally in these days of his early tribulations, and by the time Second Latin year was over no one seemed to think of his worn and undeniably shabby garb. Snipe himself was "all right," said they. But there was lingering venom in the soul of Briggs, and as for Hoover, his soul was that of Ishmael and his hand against everybody, and when these two crabbed natures drifted together in alliance, offensive and defensive, it meant trouble for somebody, and there was no fun in the First Latin when Tuesday came, for to one and all it was plain that Snipe Lawton's heart was heavy, and his big brown eyes were full of nameless misery.
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