Forester, by Maria Edgeworth

The Skeleton.

About a week after our hero’s arrival at Dr. Campbell’s, the doctor was exhibiting some chemical experiments, with which Henry hoped that his young friend would be entertained; but Forester had scarcely been five minutes in the laboratory, before Mackenzie, who was lounging about the room, sneeringly took notice of a large hole in his shoe. “It is easily mended,” said the independent youth; and he immediately left the laboratory, and went to a cobbler’s, who lived in a narrow lane, at the back of Dr. Campbell’s house. Forester had, from his bed-chamber window, seen this cobbler at work early every morning; he admired his industry, and longed to be acquainted with him. The good-humoured familiarity of Forester’s manner pleased the cobbler, who was likewise diverted by the eagerness of the young gentleman to mend his own shoe. After spending some hours at the cobbler’s stall, the shoe was actually mended, and Forester thought that his morning’s work was worthy of admiration. In a court (or, as such places are called in Edinburgh, a close) near the cobbler’s, he saw some boys playing at ball: he joined them; and, whilst they were playing, a dancing-master with his hair powdered, and who seemed afraid of spattering his clean stockings, passed through the court, and interrupted the ball players for a few seconds. The boys, as soon as the man was out of hearing, declared that he passed through their court regularly twice a day, and that he always kicked their marbles out of the ring. Without staying to weigh this evidence scrupulously, Forester received it with avidity, and believed all that had been asserted was true, because the accused was a dancing-master; from his education he had conceived an antipathy to dancing-masters, especially to such as wore silk stockings, and had their heads well powdered. Easily fired at the idea of any injustice, and eager to redress the grievances of the poor, Forester immediately concerted with these boys a scheme to deliver them from what he called the insolence of the dancing-master, and promised that he would compel him to go round by another street.

In his zeal for the liberty of his new companions, our hero did not consider that he was infringing upon the liberties of a man who had never done him any injury, and over whom he had no right to exercise any control.

Upon his return to Dr. Campbell’s, Forester heard the sound of a violin; and he found that his enemy, M. Pasgrave, the dancing-master, was attending Archibald Mackenzie: he learnt, that he was engaged to give another lesson the next evening; and the plans of the confederates in the ball-alley were arranged accordingly. In Dr. Campbell’s room Forester remembered to have seen a skeleton in a glass case; he seized upon it, carried it down to his companions, and placed it in a niche in the wall, on the landing-place of a flight of stone stairs down which the dancing-master was obliged to go. A butcher’s son (one of Forester’s new companions) he instructed to stand at a certain hour behind the skeleton, with two rushlights, which he was to hold up to the eye-holes in the skull.

The dancing-master’s steps were heard approaching at the expected hour; and the boys stood in ambush to enjoy the diversion of the sight. It was a dark night; the fiery eyes of the skeleton glared suddenly upon the dancing-master, who was so terrified at the spectacle, and in such haste to escape, that his foot slipped, and he fell down the stone steps: his ankle was sprained by the fall, and he was brought to Dr. Campbell’s. Forester was shocked at this tragical end of his intended comedy. The poor man was laid upon a bed, and he writhed with pain. Forester, with vehement expressions of concern, explained to Dr. Campbell the cause of this accident, and he was much touched by the dancing-master’s good nature, who, between every twinge of pain, assured him that he should soon be well, and endeavoured to avert Dr. Campbell’s displeasure. Forester sat beside the bed, reproaching himself bitterly; and he was yet more sensible of his folly, when he heard, that the boys, whose part he had hastily taken, had frequently amused themselves with playing mischievous tricks upon this inoffensive man, who declared, that he had never purposely kicked their marbles out of the ring, but had always implored them to make way for him with all the civility in his power.

Forester resolved, that before he ever again attempted to do justice, he would, at least, hear both sides of the question.

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Last updated Sunday, March 2, 2014 at 14:44