We all liked Captain Sanker; a post-captain in the navy, ages since on half-pay; who came into Worcestershire, and brought a letter of introduction to the Squire. He was about a seventeenth cousin of the Sankers of Wales, and a twenty-seventh of Mrs. Todhetley. The captain and his wife and family, six children, had lived in Ireland and the Channel Islands, and other cheap localities, making both ends of their income meet as well as they could — and nobody need be told how poor is the half-pay of naval officers, and what a fight and a struggle it is to rub along. At last, through the death of a relative of Mrs. Sanker, they dropped into quite a fortune, and came over to settle at Worcester.
A Dr. Teal, who had also recently come to Worcester, and was an old friend of Captain Sanker, proposed it to them. He wrote a flaming account of the pretty place that Worcester was, of the loveliness of the surrounding country; and of the great advantage the college school would be to the young Sankers, in giving them a free education if they could be got into it. The prospect of a free education for his boys took with the captain, and he lost no time in removing to Worcester, the Welsh Sankers giving him an introduction to us. We grew pretty intimate: calling on them when we went to Worcester for a day, and having them over to spend days with us.
All the young Sankers were got into the college school by degrees, and became four of the forty king’s scholars. At that time — it is long past now — the school was not thought much of, for the boys were taught little but the classics, so entrance was easy: Latin, Greek, bad writing, and the first rule in arithmetic: there it ended. Captain Sanker thought the education first-rate, and had them all enrolled: Frederick, Daniel, King, and Toby. As to Toby, I fancy his real name was Alfred, but I never heard him called by it.
They had been in Worcester between one and two years, when Tod and I went over to them on a visit. The captain had come to spend a summer’s day at Crabb Cot, and in his jolly, open-hearted fashion insisted on taking us two back with him. He was a short, stout man, with grey hair, and merry bright blue eyes all alight with smiles. The college school would be breaking up for its long holidays in a week or so, and it would have been better for us to have gone then; but the captain always did things on impulse, and had no more forethought than young Toby. The holidays were taken late that year, and would be very long, because the college hall, which was the schoolroom, would be wanted for the music-meeting in September.
The Sankers’ was a funny household, and we pitched down amongst them without ceremony on either side. The house was at the corner of an open road, not very far from the cathedral. It was a commodious house as to size; but all the rooms were in an everlasting litter, so that you could never find a chair to sit down on. The captain was good-humoured always, going in and out a hundred times a day. There seemed to be no fixed hour for meals, and sometimes no meals to eat: Mrs. Sanker would forget to order them. She was a little lady, who went about as if she were dreaming, in a white petticoat and loose buff jacket; or else she’d be sitting aloft in the turret, darning stockings and saying poetry. She was the least excitable person I ever knew; all events, good and bad, she took as a matter of course: had the house caught fire she would have looked on quietly — as Nero did when Rome was burning. Why they called the room the turret did not appear. It had a great high beam running through it on the floor: and Mrs. Sanker would sit on that, reading poetry to us or telling her dreams, her light hair all down.
At seven o’clock the boys had to be in school. Being summer weather, that was no hardship. At nine they came in again with a rush, wild for breakfast. If Mrs. Sanker was not down to give it them, the four boys would begin and eat up the piles of bread-and-butter; upon which Hetta Sanker would call them tigers, and go to the kitchen to tell the maids to cut more. Which was the cook of the two servants and which the housemaid, they did not themselves seem to know: both did the work indiscriminately. Breakfast over, the boys went out again, Tod and I with them. At ten they must be in school. At one they came home to dinner; it might be ready, or it might not: if not, they’d go in and polish off anything cold that might be in the larder. It didn’t seem to spoil their dinners. Afternoon school again until four o’clock; and then at liberty for good. Tea was at any time; a scrambling sort of meal that stayed on the table for hours, and was taken just as we chanced to go in for it. Jam and boiled eggs would be on the table, with the loaf and butter ad libitum. Sometimes toast and dripping, and there used to be a scuffle for that. As to dinner, when Mrs. Sanker forgot it, the servants would bring in a big dish of poached eggs, and we made it up with bread-and-cheese. Or Dan or Toby would be sent tearing off to High Street for a lot of penny pork-pies and apple-tarts. At night we had prayers, which the captain read.
Now I dare say that to people accustomed to a domestic life like clock-work, this would have been unbearable. I thought it delightful; as did Tod. It was like a perpetual picnic. But it was from one of these dinnerless episodes we found out that Captain Sanker had a temper. Generally speaking, he took disasters with equanimity.
It was on a Thursday. We were to have had four ducks for dinner, which the captain had bought at market the day before. Fine ducks that he was proud of: he carried them home himself, and brought them into the parlour to show us. On this day, Thursday, Tod and I had been into the Town Hall in the morning, listening to a trial before the magistrates — some fellow who had stolen his neighbour’s clothes-props and cut them up for firewood. We reached home just as the boys and their books did, as hungry as they were. There was no cloth laid, and Fred shouted out for Biddy, asking whether we were to dine today or tomorrow. Biddy heard, and came rushing in with the cloth and knife-tray.
“What’s for dinner besides the four ducks?” asked Dan. “Any pudding? Have you put plenty of stuffing?”
“Indeed then, and I don’t think there’s much for dinner,” replied Biddy. “I’ve been in the turret with the missis all the morning, helping to stuff a pillow.”
She laid the cloth, and Mrs. Sanker came mooning down in the short white petticoat and buff jacket, darning a sock of Dan’s. The dreadful truth came out — busy over beds and pillows, nobody had thought of dinner, and the ducks were hanging in the larder, uncooked. Before speechless tongues could find words, Captain Sanker came in, bringing his friend Dr. Teal to taste the ducks. All the Teals were as intimate at the house as we were. Years before, when the captain was a middy, Dr. Teal had been assistant-surgeon on the same ship.
“They’ve a cold dinner at Teal’s today,” said the captain to his wife, as she was shaking hands with the doctor, “so he has come to share ours. Fine ducks they are, Teal!”
Then the news had to be told. The ducks were not cooked: dinner altogether had been forgotten.
I saw Captain Sanker’s face turn white — quite white; but he did not say a word. Dr. Teal — a scientific Scotchman, who walked with his nose in the air and his spectacles turned to the skies, as if always looking for a lunar rainbow — made the best of it. Laughing, he said he would come in another day, and went out.
Then it began. Captain Sanker gave vent to passion in a way that startled me, and made Tod stare. I don’t believe he knew for a few moments what he was doing or saying. Nora, the other servant — both girls had come with them from Ireland, and were as thoughtless as their mistress — came in with a dish of some hastily concocted pudding: a sort of batter. The captain, who still had his stick in his hand, lifted it and spattered the pudding all about the cloth. Then he stamped out of the house with a bang.
“Sit down, dears,” said Mrs. Sanker, not at all moved, as she began to collect the pudding with a spoon. “Bring in the cheese, Nora, and do some eggs. Here’s a corner seat for you, Johnny; can you squeeze in? The captain will have his dinner with the Teals, no doubt. He has been tasting the doctor’s port wine, I think; or he wouldn’t have been so put up.”
And somehow we gathered, then or later, that the captain was easy as an old glove at all times and over all crosses, unless he was a little “put up” by artificial help. He told us himself one day (not, of course, alluding to anything of this sort) that he had had naturally an awful temper, would go into passions of absolute madness for a minute or two, when he was younger; but that he had by much self-restraint chiefly if not quite subdued it. It was true; and the temper never need be feared now unless he took anything to excite him. Dan had the same temper; but without the good-nature. And they said Hetta had; but we saw nothing of it in her. Hetta was eighteen, a nice-looking girl, who was governess to little Ruth, or pretended to be; but Ruth would manage to escape her lessons five days in the week. It was all the same to Mrs. Sanker whether she did them or whether she didn’t.
At the time of this visit of ours to Worcester, the college school was in a ferment. Between the Cathedral and St. Peter’s Church was situated a poor, back district called Frog Lane. It had been rechristened Diglis Street, but was chiefly called by the old name still. Crowded dwellings, narrow streets, noise and dirt — that’s how the place struck me. The inhabitants were chiefly workmen belonging to the glove and china manufactories of the town. In this district was the parish school, always filled with boys, sons of the working-men, and under the superintendence of Mr. Jones, the portly parish clerk. Now there was wont to spring up from time to time a tide of animosity between these boys and the boys of the college school. Captain Sanker said it was the fault of the college boys: had they let the St. Peter’s boys alone, St. Peter’s boys would never have presumed to interfere with them: but the college boys could be downright contemptuous and overbearing when they pleased. They scornfully called the St. Peter’s boys the Frogs, “charity boys;” and the Frogs retorted by calling them the College Caws — after the rooks that had their homes in the old trees of the college green and kept up a perpetual cawing. The animosity generally ended in a grand battle; and then hostilities would be dropped for months, perhaps years. One of these quarrels was going on while we were at Worcester; it had kept both schools in a ferment for some weeks, and there was every sign of a culminating fight. Of course we went in heart and soul with the king’s scholars: but the boys on both sides held a code of honour — if you can call it so — that no stranger must take part in the engagements. The college boys were only forty, all told; the Frogs seemed to number four times as many.
Skirmishes took place daily — the scene being the top of Edgar Street. St. Peter’s boys (let out of school at twelve, whereas the others did not get out till one) would collect in the narrow neck of their district opening on Edgar Street, and wait for the enemy. As soon as the college boys’ steps were heard racing under the dark gateway of Edgar Tower, hisses and groans began. “Caw, caw, caw! Hiss, hiss, hiss! How’s your Latin today? — what birchings has you had? Call yourselves gents, does you, you College Caws? You daren’t come on fair, and fight it out with us, you Caws. Caw, caw, caw!” Sometimes the college boys would pass on, only calling back their contemptuous retorts; sometimes they’d halt, and a fierce storm of abuse would be interchanged, to the edification of Edgar Street in general and the clerks in Mr. Clifton’s Registry Office. “You beggarly Frogs! We don’t care to soil our hands with you! Had you been gentlemen, we’d have polished you off long ago, and sent you into next week. Croak, Frogs! Croak!” Not a third of the college boys need have taken Edgar Tower on their way home; through the cloisters and out by St. Michael’s churchyard would have been their direct way; but they chose to meet the Frogs. Once in a way there’d be a single combat; but as a rule nothing came of it but abuse. When that was exhausted, each lot would rush home their separate ways: the Frogs back down Frog Lane; the others up the steps, or onwards down Edgar Street, as their road might lie, and remain apart till the same hour next day.
I have not said much yet about King Sanker. He was lame: something was wrong with his knee. Gatherings would come in it, and then he’d be in bed for weeks together. He was nearly thirteen then; next to Dan: and Dan was over fourteen. King was a nice little fellow, with mild eyes as blue as the captain’s: Fred would order him to keep “out of the ruck” in the skirmishes with the Frogs, and he generally did. If it came to a fight, you see, King might have been hurt; he had no fighting in him, was frightened at it, and he could not run much. King was just like his mother in ideas: he would tell us his dreams as she did, and recite pieces of poetry a mile long. Dan and King slept together in the room next to ours; it was in the garret, close to the turret-room. King would keep us awake singing; sometimes chants, sometimes hymns, sometimes songs. They’d have let him try for the choir, but the head-master of the college school thought his knee would not do for it.
It was Saturday, and a pouring wet afternoon. Our visit was drawing to an end; on the following Wednesday we should bid the Sankers good-bye. Captain Sanker, always trying to find out ways of making folk happy, had devised a day of pleasure for the last day of our stay, Tuesday. We were to go to Malvern; a whole lot of us: ourselves, and the Teals, and the Squire, and Mrs. Todhetley, and take our dinner on the hill. It was so settled; and the arrangements were planned and made.
But this was yet only Saturday. We dined at twelve: whether for any one’s convenience or that the servants made a mistake in an hour, I don’t remember. It happened to be a saint’s day, so the boys had no school; and, being wet, came home after morning service in the cathedral. After a jolly dinner of peas and bacon and pancakes, we looked at the skies for a bit, and then (all but Fred and Hetta) went up to the turret-room. Dan said the rain had come to spite us; for the whole school had meant to race to Berwick’s Bridge after afternoon service and hold a mock review in the fields there. It was coming down in torrents, peppering the roof and the windows. Mrs. Sanker sat in the middle of the old beam, mending one of Toby’s shirts, “Lalla Rookh” open on her knee, out of which she was singing softly; the floor was strewed with patches, and scissors, and tapes, and the combs were out of one side of her hair.
“Read it out loud to us, mamma,” cried King.
“I can’t spare time to read, King,” she said. “Look here”— holding out the work, all rags and tatters. “If I don’t mend this, Toby won’t have a shirt to put on tomorrow.”
“I shan’t mind about that,” said Toby.
“Oh, but, dear, I don’t think you could go without a shirt. Has any one seen my cotton?”
“Then say something over to us that you know, mamma,” returned King, as Toby found the cotton.
“Very well. I can do that and work too. Sit down, all of you.”
We sat down, King and Toby on the floor before her, the rest of on the beam on either side her. Dan, who did not care for poetry, got some Brazil nuts out of his pocket and cracked them while he listened.
Mrs. Sanker might as well have read “Lalla Rookh.” She began to recite “The Friar of Orders Grey.” But what with gazing up at the sky through the rain to give it due emphasis, and shaking her head at pathetic parts, the sewing did not get on. She had finished the verse —
“Weep no more, lady, weep no more,
Thy sorrow is in vain;
For violets plucked, the sweetest showers
Will ne’er make grow again,”
when King surprised us by bursting into tears. But as Mrs. Sanker took no notice, I supposed it was nothing unusual.
“You young donkey!” cried Dan, when the poem was finished. “You’ll never be a man, King.”
“It is such a nice verse, Dan,” replied young King, meekly. “I whisper it over sometimes to myself in bed. Mamma, won’t you say the ‘Barber’s Ghost’? Johnny Ludlow would like to hear that, I know.”
We had the “Barber’s Ghost,” which was humorous, and we had other things. After that, Mrs. Sanker told a dreadful story about a real ghost, one that she said haunted her family, and another of a murder that was discovered by a dream. Some of the young Sankers were the oddest mixtures of timidity and bravery — personally brave in fighting; frightfully timid as to being alone in the dark — and I no longer wondered at it if she brought them up on these ghostly dishes.
“I should not like to have dreams that would tell me of murders,” said King, thoughtfully. “But I do dream very strange dreams sometimes. When I awake, I lie and wonder what they mean. Once I dreamt I saw heaven — didn’t I, mamma? It was so beautiful.”
“Ay; my family have always been dreamers,” replied Mrs. Sanker.
Thus, what with ghosts and poetry and talking, the afternoon wore on unconsciously. Dan suddenly started up with a shout —
The sun had come out. Come out, and we had never noticed it. It was shining as brightly as could be on the slates of all the houses. The rain had ceased.
“I say, we shall have the review yet!” cried Dan. “And, by Jupiter, that’s the college bell! Make a rush, you fellows, or you’ll be marked late. There’s three o’clock striking.”
The king’s scholars thought it a great shame that they should have to attend prayers in the cathedral morning and afternoon on saints’ days, instead of wholly benefiting by the holiday. They had to do it, however. The three went flying out towards the cathedral, and I gave King my arm to help him after them. Tod and I— intending to take part in the review at Berwick’s Bridge — went to college also, and sat behind the surpliced king’s scholars on the decani side, in the stalls next to the chanter.
But for a little mud, you’d hardly have thought there had been any rain when we got out again; and the sun was glowing in the blue sky. Not a single fellow was absent: even King limped along. We took the way by the Severn, past the boat-house at the end of the college boundaries, and went leisurely along the towing-path, intending to get into the fields beyond Diglis Wharf, and so onwards.
I don’t believe there was a thought in any one’s mind that afternoon of the enemy. The talk — and a good hubbub it was — turned wholly upon soldiers and reviews. A regular review of the Worcestershire militia took place once a year on Kempsey Ham, and some of the boys’ heads got a trifle turned with it. They were envying Lord Ward, now, as they went along: saying they should like to be him, and look as well as he did, and sit his horse as proudly.
“Of course he’s proud,” squeaked out the biggest Teal, whose voice was uncertain. “Think of his money! — and his horses! — and see how good-looking he is! If Lord Ward hasn’t a right to be proud, I should like to know who has. Why, he — oh, by George! I say, look here!”
Turning into the first field, we found we had turned into a company of Frogs. All the whole lot, it seemed. Caws and croaks and hoots and groans from either side rose at once on the air. Which army commenced hostilities, I couldn’t tell; the one was as eager for it as the other; and in two minutes the battle had begun — begun in earnest. Up dashed the senior boy.
“Look here,” said he to me and Tod; “you understand our rules. You must neither of you attempt to meddle in this. Stay and look on, if you please; but keep at a sufficient distance where it may be seen that you are simply spectators. These beggars shan’t have it to say that we were helped.”
He dashed back again. Tod ground his teeth with the effort it took to keep himself from going in to pummel some of the Frogs. Being upon honour, he had to refrain; and he did it somehow.
The Frogs had the blazing sun in their eyes; our side had it at their backs — which was against the Frogs. There were no weapons of any sort; only arms and hands. It looked like the scrimmage of an Irish row. Sometimes there was closing-in, and fighting hand to hand; sometimes the forces were drawn back again, each to its respective ground. During the first of these interludes, just as the sides were preparing to charge, a big Frog, with broad awkward shoulders, a red, rugged face, and a bleeding nose, came dashing forward alone into the ranks of the college boys, caught up poor lame helpless King Sanker, bore him bravely right through, and put him down in safety beyond, in spite of the blows freely showered upon him. Not a soul on our side had thought of King; and the college boys were too excited to see what the big Frog was about, or they’d perhaps have granted him grace to pass unmolested. King sat down on the wet grass for a bit, and gazed about him like a fellow bewildered. Seeing me and Tod he came limping round to us.
“It was good-natured of that big Frog, wasn’t it, Johnny Ludlow?”
“Very. He’d make a brave soldier. I mean a real soldier.”
“Perhaps I should have been killed, but for him. I was frightened, you see; and there was no way out. I couldn’t have kept on my legs a minute longer.”
The battle raged. The cawing and the croaking, that had been kept up like an array of trumpets, fell off as the fighting waxed hotter. The work grew too fierce and real for abuse of tongue. We could hear the blows dealt on the upturned faces. King, who had a natural horror of fighting, trembled inwardly from head to foot, and hid his face behind me. Tod was dancing with excitement, flinging his closed fists outward in imaginary battle, and roaring out like a dragon.
I can’t say who would have won had they been left alone. Probably the Frogs, for there were a great many more of them. But on the other hand, none of them were so old as some of the college boys. When the fight was at the thickest, we heard a sudden shout from a bass, gruff, authoritative voice: “Now then, boys, how dare you!” and saw a big, portly gentleman in black clothes and a white necktie, appear behind the Frogs, with a stout stick in his hand.
It was Clerk Jones, their master. His presence and his voice acted like magic. Not a Frog of them all but dropped his blows and his rage. The college boys had to drop theirs, as the enemy receded. Clerk Jones put himself between the two sets of combatants.
The way he went on at both sides was something good to hear. Shaking his stick at his own boys, they turned tail softly, and then rushed away through the mud like wild horses, not waiting to hear the close: so the college boys had the pepper intended for the lot. He vowed and declared by the stick that was in his hand — and he had the greatest mind, he interrupted himself to say, to put it about their backs — that if ever they molested his boys again, or another quarrel was got up, he would appeal publicly to the dean and chapter. If one of the college boys made a move in future to so much as cast an insulting look towards a boy in St. Peter’s School, that boy should go before the dean; and it would not be his fault (the clerk’s) if he was not expelled the cathedral. He would take care, and precious good care, that his boys should preserve civility henceforth; and it was no great favour to expect that the college boys would do so. For his part he should feel ashamed in their places to oppress lads in an inferior class of life to themselves; and he should make it his business before he slept to see the head-master of the college school, and report this present disgraceful scene to him: the head-master could deal with it as he pleased.
Mr. Jones went off, flourishing his stick; and our side began to sum up its damages: closed eyes, scratched faces, swollen noses, and torn clothes. Dan Sanker’s nose was as big as a beer barrel, and his shirt-front hung in ribbons. Fred’s eyes were black. Toby’s jacket had a sleeve slit up, and one of his boots had disappeared for good.
The spectacle we made, going home down the Gloucester Road, could not be easily forgotten. Folks collected on the pavement, and came to the windows and doors to see the sight. It was like an army of soldiers returning from battle. Bleeding faces, black eyes, clothes tattered and bespattered with mud. Farmers going back from market drew up their gigs to the roadside, to stare at us while we passed. One little girl, in a pony-chaise, wedged between a fat old lady in a red shawl and a gentleman in top-boots, was frightened nearly into fits. She shrieked and cried, till you might have heard her up at Mr. Allies’s; and the old lady could not pacify her. The captain was out when we got in: and Mrs. Sanker took it all with her usual apathy, only saying we had better have come straight home from college to hear some more poetry.
An awful fuss was made by the head-master. Especially as the boys had to appear on Sunday at the cathedral services. Damages were visible on many of them; and their white surplices only helped to show the faces off the more. The chorister who took the solo in the afternoon anthem was decorated with cuttings of sticking-plaster; he looked like a tattooed young Indian.
The school broke up on the Monday: and on that day Mr. and Mrs. Todhetley drove into Worcester, and put up at the Star and Garter. They came to us in the afternoon, as had been agreed upon; dinner being ordered by Captain Sanker for five o’clock. It was rather a profuse dinner; fish and meat and pies and dessert, but quite a scramble of confusion: which none of the Sankers seemed to notice or to mind.
“Johnny dear, is it always like this?” Mrs. Todhetley could not help asking me, in a whisper. “I should be in a lunatic asylum in a week.”
We started for Malvern on Tuesday at eleven o’clock. The Squire drove Bob and Blister in his high carriage: Dr. Teal, Captain Sanker, and Fred sitting with him. There was no railroad then. The ladies and the girls crammed themselves into a post-carriage from the Star, and a big waggonette was lent by some friend of Dr. Teal for the rest. The boys were losing the signs of their damages; nothing being very conspicuous now but Dan’s nose. It refused to go down at all in size, and in colour was brighter than a rainbow. The Teals kept laughing at it, which made Dan savage; once he burst out in a passion, wishing all the Frogs were shot.
I remember that drive still. John Teal and I sat on the box of the post-carriage, the post-boy riding his horses. I remember the different features of the road as we passed them — not but that I knew them well before; I remember the laden orchards, and the sweet scent of the bean-fields, in flower then. Over the bridge from Worcester went we, up the New Road and through St. John’s, and then into the open country; past Lower Wick, where Mrs. Sherwood lived, and on to Powick across its bridge. I remember that a hearse and three mourning-coaches stood before the Lion, the men refreshing themselves with drink; and we wondered who was being buried that day. Down that steep and awkward hill next, where so many accidents occurred before it was altered, and so on to the Link; the glorious hills always before us from the turning where they had first burst into view; their clumps of gorse and broom, their paths and their sheep-tracks growing gradually plainer to the sight the nearer we drew. The light and shade cast by the sun swept over them perpetually, a landscape ever changing; the white houses of the village, nestling amidst their dark foliage, looked fair for the eye to rest upon. Youth, as we all get to learn when it has gone by, lends a charm that later life cannot know: but never a scene that I have seen since, abroad or at home, lies on my memory with half the beauty as does that old approach to Malvern. Turning round to the left at the top of the Link, we drove into Great Malvern.
The carriages were left at the Crown. An old pony was chartered for some of the provisions, and we boys carried the rest. The people at St. Ann’s Well had been written to, and the room behind the well was in readiness for us. Once the baskets were deposited there, we were at liberty till dinner-time, and went on up the hill. Turning a corner which had hidden the upper landscape from view, we came upon Dan Sanker, who had got on first. He was standing to confront us, his face big with excitement, his nose flaming.
“If you’ll believe me, those cursed Frogs are here!”
In angry consternation — for the Frogs seemed to have no business to be at Malvern — we rushed on, turned another corner, and so brought ourselves into a wide expanse of upper prospect. Sure enough! About a hundred of the Frogs in their Sunday clothes were trooping down the hill. They had the start of us in arriving at Malvern, and had been to the top already.
“I’ll — be-jiggered!” cried Dan, savagely. “What a horrid lot they are! Look at their sneaking tail-coats. Wouldn’t I like to pitch into them!”
The college school wore the Eton jacket. Those preposterous coats, the tails docked to the size of the boys, did not improve the appearance of the Frogs. But as to pitching-in, Dan did not dare to do it after what had passed. It was his nose that made him so resentful.
“I desire that you will behave as gentlemen,” said Captain Sanker, who was behind with the Squire, and bid us halt. “Those poor boys are here, I see; but they will not, I am sure, molest you, neither must you molest them. Civility costs nothing, remember. What are you looking so cross for, Dan?”
“Oh, well, papa, it’s like their impudence, to come here today!” muttered Dan.
The captain laughed. “They may say it’s like yours, to come, Dan: they were here first. Go on, lads, and don’t forget yourselves.”
Tod’s whistle below was heard just then; and Dan, not caring to show his nose to the enemy, responded, and galloped back. We went on. The paths there are narrow, you know, and we expected to have all the string of Frogs sweeping past us, their coats brushing our jackets. But — perhaps not caring to meet us any more than we cared to meet them — most of them broke off on a detour down the steep of the hill, and so avoided us. About half-a-dozen came on. One of them was a big-shouldered, awkward, red-faced boy, taller than the rest of them and not unlike a real frog; he walked with his cap in his hand, and his brown hair stood on end like a porcupine’s. Indisputably ugly was he, with a mouth as wide as a frying-pan; but it was a pleasant and honest face, for all that. King suddenly darted to him as he was passing, and pulled him towards Captain Sanker, in excitement.
“Papa, this is the one I told you of; the one who saved me and didn’t mind the blows he got in doing it. I should have been knocked down, and my knee trampled on, but for him.”
Out went Captain Sanker’s hand to shake the boy’s. He did it heartily. As to the Frog, he blushed redder than before with modesty.
“You are a brave lad, and I thank you heartily,” said the captain, wringing his hand as though he’d wring it off. “You do honour to yourself, whoever you may be. There was not one of his own companions to think of him, and save him, and you did it in the midst of danger. Thank you, my lad.”
The captain slid half-a-crown into his hand, telling him to get some Malvern cakes. The boy stood back for us to go by. I was the last, and he spoke as if he knew me.
“Good-day, Master Johnny.”
Why, who was he? And, now I came to look at his freckled face, it seemed quite familiar. His great wide mouth brought me remembrance.
“Why, it’s Mark Ferrar! I didn’t know you at first, Mark.”
“We’ve come over here for the day in two vans,” said Mark, putting his grey cap on. “Eighty of the biggest of us; the rest are to come tomorrow. Some gent that’s visiting at St. Peter’s parsonage has given us the treat, sir.”
“All right, Mark. I’m glad you thought of King Sanker on Saturday.”
Ferrar touched his cap, and went vaulting down after his comrades. He was related to Daniel Ferrar, the Squire’s bailiff, of whom you have heard before, poor fellow, and also to the Batleys of South Crabb. He used to come over to Crabb, that’s where I had seen him.
Some donkeys came running down the hill, their white cloths flying. Captain Sanker stopped one and put King on him — for King was tired already. We soon got to the top then, and to Lady Harcourt’s Tower. Oh, it was a glorious day! The great wide prospect around stood out in all its beauty. The vale of Herefordshire on the one side with its rural plains and woods basked in the sunshine, its crops of ruddy pears and apples giving token of the perry and cider to come; on the other side rose the more diversified landscape that has been so much told and talked of. Over the green meadows and the ripening corn-fields lay Worcester itself: the cathedral showing out well, and the summit of the high church-spire of St. Andrew’s catching a glint of the sunlight. Hills caught the eye wherever it turned: Bredon Hill, Abberleigh Hills, the Old Hills; homesteads lay upon their lands, half hidden by their rick-yards and clustering trees; cattle and sheep browsed on the grass or lay in the shade to shelter themselves from the midday sun. To the right, on the verge of the horizon, far, far away, might be caught a glimpse of something that sparkled like a bed of stars — the Bristol Channel. It is not often you can discern that from Malvern, but this day that I am telling of was one of the clearest ever seen there; the atmosphere looking quite rarefied in spite of the sunlight.
King’s donkey regaled himself with morsels of herbage, the donkey-boy lay stretched beside him, and we boys raced about. When an hour or two had passed, and we were as hot as fire and more hungry than hunters, we bethought ourselves of dinner. King got on his donkey again, and the rest of us whipped him up. When half-way down we saw Dr. Teal gesticulating and shouting, telling us to come on and not keep dinner waiting longer.
We had it in the room behind the well. It was a squeeze to sit round the table. Cold meats, and salad, and pastry, and all sorts of good things. Dan was next to me; he said he could hardly eat for thirst, and kept drinking away at the bottled ale.
“My dear,” said Mrs. Todhetley to him by-and-by, “don’t you think you had better drink some water instead — or lemonade? This bottled ale is very strong.”
“I am afraid it is,” said Dan. “I’ll go in for the tarts now.”
The room was stuffy; and after dinner a table was carried out to a sheltered place near the well: not much better than a little ledge of a path, but where we could not be overlooked, and should be quite out of the way of the hill-climbers. The bank rose perpendicularly above us, banks descended beneath to goodness knew where; there we sat at dessert, all sheltered. I think dark trees and shrubs overshaded us; but I am not altogether sure.
How it came about, I hardly know: but something was brought up about King’s store of ballads, and he was asked to give us his favourite one, “Lord Bateman,” for the benefit of the company. He turned very shy, but Captain Sanker told him not to be silly: and after going white and red for a bit, he began. Perhaps the reader would like to hear it. I never repeat it to myself, no, nor even a verse of it, but poor King Sanker comes before me just as I saw him that day, his back to the ravine below, his eyes looking at nothing, his thin hands nervously twisting some paper about that had covered the basket of raspberries.
Lord Bateman was a noble lord,
A noble lord of high degree:
He shipped himself on board a ship;
Some foreign country he would see.
He sailed east, he sailèd west,
Until he came unto Turkey,
Where he was taken, and put in prison
Until his life was quite weary.
In this prison there grew a tree:
It grew so very stout and strong:
And he was chained by the middle
Until his life was almost gone.
The Turk, he had one only daughter,
The fairest creature eye e’er did see:
She stole the keys of her father’s prison,
And said she’d set Lord Bateman free.
“Have you got houses? — have you got lands
Or does Northumberland belong to thee?
And what would you give to the fair young I
Who out of prison would set you free?”
“Oh, I’ve got houses, and I’ve got lands,
And half Northumberland belongs to me;
And I’d give it all to the fair young lady
That out of prison would set me free.”
Then she took him to her father’s palace,
And gave to him the best of wine;
And every health that she drank to him
Was “I wish, Lord Bateman, you were mine.
“For seven long years I’ll make a vow;
And seven long years I’ll keep it strong:
If you will wed no other woman,
I will wed no other man.”
Then she took him to her father’s harbour,
And gave to him a ship of fame;
“Farewell, farewell to you, Lord Bateman;
I fear I never shall see you again.”
When seven long years were gone and past,
And fourteen days, well known to me;
She packed up her gay gold and clothing,
And said Lord Bateman she would see.
When she came to Lord Bateman’s castle,
So boldly there she rang the bell:
“Who’s there, who’s there?” cried the young proud porter:
“Who’s there, who’s there, unto me tell?”
“Oh, is this Lord’s Bateman’s castle?
And is his lordship here within?”
“Oh yes, oh yes,” cried the young proud porter:
“He has just now taken his young bride in.”
“Tell him to send me a slice of cake,
And a bottle of the best of wine;
And not to forget the fair young lady
That did release him when close confined.”
Away, away went this young proud porter,
Away, away, away went he;
Until he came unto Lord Bateman,
When on his bended knees fell he.
“What news, what news, my young porter;
What news, what news have you brought unto me?”
“Oh, there is the fairest of all young ladies
That ever my two eyes did see.
“She has got rings on every finger,
And on one of them she has got three;
And she has as much gold round her middle
As would buy Northumberland of thee.
“She tells you to send her a slice of cake,
And a bottle of the best of wine;
And not to forget the fair young lady
That did release you when close confined.”
Lord Bateman in a passion flew;
He broke his sword in splinters three;
“I’ll give all my father’s wealth and riches
Now, if Sophia has crossed the sea.”
Then up spoke his young bride’s mother —
Who never was heard to speak so free:
“Don’t you forget my only daughter,
Although Sophia has crossed the sea.”
“I own I’ve made a bride of your daughter
She’s none the better nor worse for me;
She came to me on a horse and saddle,
And she may go back in a carriage and three.”
Then another marriage was prepared,
With both their hearts so full of glee:
“I’ll range no more to foreign countries,
Since my Sophia has crossed the sea.”
King stopped, just as shyly as he had begun. Some laughed, others applauded him; and the Squire told us that the first time he had ever heard “Lord Bateman” was in Sconton’s show, on Worcester racecourse, many a year ago.
After that, we broke up. I and some of the boys climbed up straight to Lady Harcourt’s Tower again. A few Frogs were about the hills, but they did not come in contact with us. When we got back to St. Ann’s the tea was ready in the room.
“And I wish to goodness they’d have it,” cried Dan, “for I’m as thirsty as a fish. I’ve been asleep out there all the while on the bench in the sun. Can’t we have tea, mother?”
“As soon as ever the gentlemen come back,” spoke up Mrs. Teal, who seemed to like order. “They went down to look at the Abbey.”
They were coming up then, puffing over the walk; Tod and Fred Sanker with them. We sat down to tea; and it was half over when the two young Sankers, King and Toby, were missed.
“Tiresome monkeys!” cried the captain. “I never came over here with a party yet, but we had to spend the last hour or two hunting some of them up. Well, I’ll not bother myself over it: they shall find their way home as they can.”
Toby ran in presently. He had only been about the hills, he said, and had not seen King.
“I dare say King’s still in the place where we had dessert,” said Hetta Sanker, just then thinking of it. “He stayed behind us all, saying he was tired. You boys can go and see.”
I and Jim Teal ran off together. King was not there. One of the women at the well said that when she went out for the chairs and things, just before tea-time, nobody was there.
“Oh, he’ll turn up presently,” said the captain. And we went on with our tea, and forgot him.
It was twilight when we got down to the village to start for home. The Squire set off first: the same party with him as in the morning, except that Mrs. Teal took her husband’s place. When they were bringing out the post-carriage, King was again thought of.
“He has stayed somewhere singing to himself,” said Mrs. Sanker.
We went off in different directions, shouting our throats hoarse. Up as far as St. Ann’s, and along the hill underneath, and in all the corners of the village: no King. It was getting strange.
“I should hope none of those impudent Frogs have made off with him!” cried Toby Sanker.
“They are capable of anything, mind you,” added Dan.
One vanload of Frogs had started; the other was getting ready to start. The boys, gaping and listening about, saw and heard all our consternation at the dilemma we were in. Mrs. Todhetley, who did not understand the state of social politics, as between them and the college school, turned and inquired whether they had seen King.
“A delicate lad, who walks lame,” she explained. “We think he must have fallen asleep somewhere on the hill: and we cannot start without him.”
The Frogs showed themselves good-natured; and went tearing up towards the hill to look for King. In passing the Unicorn, a pleasure-party of young men and women, carrying their empty provision-baskets, came running downwards, saying that they had heard groaning under a part of the hill — and described where. I seemed to catch the right place, as if by instinct, and was up there first. King was lying there; not groaning then, but senseless or dead.
Looking upwards to note the position, we thought he must have fallen down from the place where we had sat at dessert. Hetta Sanker said she had left him there by himself, to rest.
“He must have dropped asleep, and fallen down,” cried Dr. Teal.
King came to as they lifted him, and walked a few steps; but looked around and fell aside as though his head were dazed. Dr. Teal thought that there was not much the matter, and that he might be conveyed to Worcester. Ferrar helped to carry him down the hill, and the other Frogs followed. A fine fury their van-driver was in, at their having kept him waiting!
King was made comfortable along the floor of the waggonette, upon some rugs and blankets lent by the Crown; and so was taken home. When Captain Sanker found what had happened, he grew excited, and went knocking at half the doctors’ doors in Worcester. Mr. Woodward was the first in, then Dr. Malden and Mr. Carden came running together. By what the captain had said, they expected to find all the house dead.
King seemed better in the morning. The injury lay chiefly in his head. We did not hear what the doctors made of it. He was sensible, and talked a little. When asked how he came to fall, all he said was that he “went over and could not save himself.”
Coming in, from carrying the news of how he was to the Squire and Mrs. Todhetley at the Star, I found Mark Ferrar at the door.
“Mr. Johnny,” said he, in a low voice, his plain face all concern, “how did it happen? Sure he was not pushed over?”
“Of course not. Why do you ask it?”
Ferrar paused. “Master Johnny, when boys are lame they are more cautious. He’d hardly be likely to slip.”
“He might in walking. It’s only a narrow ledge there. And his sister says she thinks he went to sleep when she left him. She was the last who saw him.”
Mark’s wide mouth went into all sorts of contortions, and the freckles shone in the sun in his effort to get the next words out.
“I fancy it was me that saw him last, Master Johnny. Leastways, later than his sister.”
“Did you? How was that?”
“He must have seen me near the place, and he called to me. There was nobody there but him, and some chairs and a table and glasses and things. He asked me to sit down, and began telling me he had been saying ‘Lord Bateman’ to them all. I didn’t know what ‘Lord Bateman’ meant, Master Johnny — and he said he would tell it me; he should not mind then, but he had minded saying it to the company. It was poetry, I found; but he stopped in the middle, and told me to go then, for he saw some of them coming ——”
“Some of what?” I interrupted.
“Well, I took it to mean some of his grown-up party, or else the college boys. Anyway, he seemed to want me gone, sir, and I went off at once. I didn’t see him after that.”
“He must have fallen asleep, and somehow slipped over.”
“Yes, sir. What a pity he was left in that shallow place!”
King seemed to have all his wits about him, but his face had a white, odd look in it. He lay in a room on the first floor, that belonged in general to the two girls. When I said Mark Ferrar was outside, King asked me to take him up. But I did not like taking him without speaking to Captain Sanker; and I went to him in the parlour.
“The idea of a Frog coming into our house!” cried resentful Dan, as he heard me. “It’s like his impudence to stop outside it! What next? Let him wait till King’s well.”
“You hold your tongue, Dan,” cried the captain. “The boy shall go up, whether he’s a Frog, or whether he’s one of you. Take him up, Johnny.”
He did not look unlike a frog when he got into the room, with his wide, red, freckled face and his great wide mouth — but, as I have said, it was a face to be trusted. The first thing he did, looking at King, was to burst into a great blubber of tears.
“I hope you’ll get well,” said he.
“I might have been as bad as this in the fight, but for your pulling me out of it, Frog,” said King, in his faint voice. And he did not call him Frog in any contempt, but as though it were his name: he knew him by no other. “Was that bump done in the battle?”
Mark had his cap off: on one side of his forehead, under the hair, we saw a big lump the size of an egg. “Yes,” he answered, “it was got in the fight. Father thinks it never means to go down. It’s pretty stiff and sore yet.”
King sighed. He was gazing up at the lump with his nice blue eyes.
“I don’t think there’ll be any fighting in heaven,” said King. “And I wrote out ‘Lord Bateman’ the other day, and they shall give it you to keep. I didn’t finish telling it to you. He owned half Northumberland; and he married her after all. She had set him free from the prison, you know, Frog.”
“Yes,” replied Frog, quite bewildered, and looking as though he could not make top or tail of the story. “I hope you’ll get well, sir. How came you to fall?”
“I don’t think they expect me to get well: they wouldn’t have so many doctors if they did. I shan’t be lame, Frog, up there.”
“Did you slip? — or did anybody push you?” went on Frog, lowering his voice.
“Hush!” said King, glancing at the door. “If papa heard you say that, he might go into a passion.”
“But — was it a slip — or were you pushed over?” persisted Frog.
“My leg is always slipping: it has never been of much good to me,” answered King. “When you come up there, and see me with a beautiful strong body and straight limbs, you won’t know me again at first. Good-bye, till then, Frog; good-bye. It was very kind of you to carry me out of the fight, and God saw you.”
“Good-bye, sir,” said Frog, with another burst, as he put out his hand to meet poor King’s white one. “Perhaps you’ll get over it yet.”
Tod and I took leave of them in the afternoon, and went up to the Star. The Squire wanted to be home early. The carriage was waiting before the gateway, the ostler holding the heads of Bob and Blister, when Captain Sanker came up in dreadful excitement.
“He’s gone,” he exclaimed. “My poor King’s gone. He died as the clock was striking four.”
And we had supposed King to be going on well! The Squire ordered the horses to be put up again, and we went down to the house. The boys and girls were all crying.
King lay stretched on the bed, his face very peaceful and looking less white than I had sometimes seen it look in life. On the cheeks there lingered a faint colour; his forehead felt warm; you could hardly believe he was dead.
“He has gone to the heaven he talked of,” said Mrs. Sanker, through her tears. “He has been talking about it at intervals all day — and now he is there; and has his harp amongst the angels.”
And that was the result of our Day of Pleasure! The force of those solemn words has rarely been brought home to hearts as it was to ours then: “In the midst of life we are in death.”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55