The four o’clock bell was sounding up the staircase and down the passages of Saint Dominic’s school. It was a minute behind its time, and had old Roach, the school janitor, guessed at half the abuse privately aimed at his devoted head for this piece of negligence, he might have pulled the rope with a good deal more vivacity than he at present displayed.
At the signal there was a general shuffling of feet and uproar of voices—twelve doors swung open almost simultaneously, and next moment five hundred boys poured out, flooding the staircases and passages, shouting, scuffling, and laughing, and throwing off by one easy effort the restraint and gravity of the last six hours.
The usual rush and scramble ensued. Some boys, taking off their coats and tucking up their sleeves as they ran, made headlong for the playground. Some, with books under their arms, scuttled off to their studies. The heroes of the Sixth stalked majestically to their quarters. The day boarders hurried away to catch the train at Maltby. A few slunk sulkily to answer to their names in the detention-room, and others, with the air of men to whom time is no object and exertion no temptation, lounged about in the corridors with hands in pockets, regarding listlessly the general stampede of their fellows, and apparently not knowing exactly what to do with themselves.
Among these last happened to be Bullinger of the Fifth and his particular friend Ricketts, who, neither of them having any more tempting occupation, were comfortably leaning up against the door of the Fourth junior class-room, thereby making prisoners of some twenty or thirty youngsters, whose infuriated yells and howls from within appeared to afford the two gentlemen a certain languid satisfaction.
“Open the door! do you hear?” shrieked one little treble voice.
“All right!” piped another. “I know who you are, you cads. See if I don’t tell Dr. Senior!”
“Oh, please, I say, I shall lose my train!” whimpered a third.
“Wait till I get out; see if I don’t kick your shins!” howled a fourth.
It was no use. In vain these bantams stormed and raved, and entreated and blubbered. The handle would not turn, and the door would not yield. Mr. Bullinger and his friend vouchsafed no reply, either to their threats or their supplications, and how long the blockade might have lasted it is impossible to say, had not a fresh dissension called the beleaguerers away. A cluster of boys at a corner of the big corridor near the main entrance attracted their curiosity, and suggested a possibility of even more entertainment than the goading into fury of a parcel of little boys, so, taking advantage of a moment when the besieged had combined, shoulder to shoulder, to make one magnificent and desperate onslaught on to the obdurate door, they quietly “raised the siege”, and quitting their hold, left the phalanx of small heroes to topple head over heels and one over another on to the stone floor of the passage, while they sauntered off arm-in-arm to the scene of the new excitement.
The object which had attracted the knot of boys whom they now joined was the School Notice Board, on which, from time to time, were posted notices of general and particular interest to the school. On this particular afternoon (the first Friday of the Summer term) it was, as usual, crowded with announcements, each interesting in its way.
The first was in the handwriting of Dr. Senior’s secretary, and ran as follows:—
“A Nightingale Scholarship, value £50 a year for three years, will fall vacant at Michaelmas. Boys under seventeen are eligible. Particulars and subject of examination can be had any evening next week in the secretary’s room.”
“Fifty pounds a year for three years!” exclaimed a small boy, with a half whistle. “I wouldn’t mind getting that!”
“Well, why don’t you, you avaricious young Jew? You’re under seventeen, I suppose?” retorted the amiable Mr. Bullinger, thereby raising a laugh at the expense of this little boy of eleven, who retired from the scene extinguished.
The next notice was in the classical handwriting of the secretary of the Sixth Form Literary Society, and ran as follows:—
“This Society will meet on Tuesday. Subject for debate, ‘That the present age is degenerate,’ moved by A.E. Callender, opposed by T. Winter. Boys from the Senior Fifth are invited as auditors.”
This notice, even with the patronising postscript, would have passed without comment, as Sixth Form notices usually did, had not some audacious hand ventured to alter a word and make the subject of debate, instead of “That the present age is degenerate,” read “That the present Sixth is degenerate.” Who the perpetrator of this outrage might be was a mystery, but the alteration was quite enough to render the notice very amusing to many of the readers, especially the Fifth Form boys, and very terrible to others, especially the small boys, who looked nervous and guilty, and did not dare by the slightest sign to join in the mirth of their irreverent seniors. Most of the assembly agreed that “there would be a row about it,” with which assurance they passed on to the next notice.
“Wanted, a Smart Fag. No Tadpoles or Guinea-pigs need apply. Horace Wraysford, Fifth Form.”
“Bravo, Horatius!” said Ricketts. “A lucky young cub it will be that he takes on,” added he, turning to a group of the small boys near. “He’ll do your sums and look over your exercises for you like one o’clock. Ugh! though, I suppose every man Jack of you is a Tadpole or a Pig?”
Tadpoles and Guinea-pigs, I should say, were the names given to two combinations or clubs in the clannish Junior School, the mysteries of which were known only to their members, but which were not regarded with favour by the older boys.
As no one answered this charge, Ricketts indulged in a few general threats, and a few not very complimentary comments on the clubs in question, and then returned to the notice board, which contained two more announcements.
“Cricket Notices. To-morrow will be a final big practice when the elevens for the ‘A to M versus N to Z’ match on the 25th will be chosen. ‘Sixth versus School’ will be played on the 1st proxo. The School Eleven will be selected from among players in the two above matches.”
“A private meeting of the Fifth will be held this afternoon at 4:30 to discuss an important matter.”
“Hullo!” said Bullinger, looking up at the clock, “it’s half-past now! Come along, Rick.”
And the two demagogues disappeared arm-in-arm down the passage, followed by the admiring glances of the juniors, who spent the next half-hour in wondering what could be the important matter under consideration at the private meeting of the Fifth. The universal conclusion was that it had reference to the suppression of the Tadpoles and Guinea-pigs—a proceeding the very suggestion of which made those small animals tremble with mingled rage and fear, and sent them off wriggling to their own quarters, there to deliberate on the means of defence necessary to protect themselves from the common enemy.
The meeting in the Fifth, however, was to consider a far more important subject than the rebellious clubs of the Junior School.
The reader will doubtless have inferred, from what has already been said, that the young gentlemen of the Fifth Form at Saint Dominic’s entertained, among other emotions, a sentiment something like jealousy of their seniors and superiors in the Sixth. Perhaps Saint Dominic’s is not the only school in which such a feeling has existed: but, at any rate during the particular period to which I am referring, it was pretty strong there. Not that the two Forms were at war, or that there was any fear of actual hostilities. It was not so bad as all that. But the Fifth were too near the heroes of the top Form to consent to submit to their authority. They would be Sixth men themselves soon, and then of course they would expect the whole school to reverence them. But till that time they resented the idea of bowing before these future comrades; and not only that, they took every opportunity of asserting their authority among the juniors, and claiming the allegiance for themselves they refused to render to others. And they succeeded in this very well, for they took pains to make themselves popular in the school, and to appear as the champions quite as much as the bullies of the small fry. The consequence was that while Tadpoles and Guinea-pigs quaked and blushed in the presence of the majestic Sixth, they quaked and smirked in the presence of the Fifth, and took their thrashings meekly, in the hope of getting a Latin exercise looked over or a minor tyrant punished later on.
Just at the present time, too, the Fifth was made up of a set of fellows well able to maintain the peculiar traditions of their fellowship. They numbered one or two of the cleverest boys (for their age) in Saint Dominic’s; and, more important still in the estimation of many, they numbered not a few of the best cricketers, boxers, football-players, and runners in the school. With these advantages their popularity as a body was very great—and it is only due to them to say that they bore their honours magnanimously, and distributed their kicks and favours with the strictest impartiality.
Such was the company which assembled on this afternoon in their own class-room, with closed doors, to deliberate on “private and important business.” About twenty boys were present, and the reader must let me introduce a few of them, before his curiosity as to the occasion of their assembling themselves together can be satisfied.
That handsome, jovial-looking boy of sixteen who is sitting there astride of a chair, in the middle of the floor, biting the end of a quill pen, is the redoubtable Horace Wraysford, the gentleman, it will be remembered, who is in want of a fag. Wraysford is one of the best “all-round men” in the Fifth, or indeed in the school. He is certain to be in the School Eleven against the County, certain to win the mile race and the “hurdles” at the Athletic Sports, and is not at all unlikely to carry off the Nightingale Scholarship next autumn, even though one of the Sixth is in for it too. Indeed, it is said he would be quite certain of this honour, were it not that his friend and rival Oliver Greenfield, who is standing there against the wall, with his head resting on a map of Greece, is also in for it. Greenfield does not strike one as nearly so brilliant a fellow as his friend. He is quieter and more lazy, and more solemn. Some say he has a temper, and others that he is selfish; and generally he is not the most popular boy in Saint Dominic’s. Wraysford, however, sticks to him through thick and thin, and declares that, so far from being ill-tempered and selfish, he is one of the best fellows in the school, and one of the cleverest. And Mr. Wraysford is prepared to maintain his allegation at the point of the knuckle! That hulking, ugly youth is Braddy, the bully, the terror of the Guinea-pigs, and the laughing-stock of his own class-mates. The boy who is fastening a chalk duster on to the collar of Braddy’s coat is Tom Senior, the Doctor’s eldest son, who, one would have imagined, might have learned better manners. Last, not least (for we need not re-introduce Messrs. Ricketts or Bullinger, or go out of our way to present Simon, the donkey of the Form, to the reader), is Master Anthony Pembury, the boy now mounting up on to a chair with the aid of two friends. Anthony is lame, and one of the most dreaded boys in Saint Dominic’s. His father is editor of the Great Britain, and the son seems to have inherited his talent for saying sharp things. Woe betide the Dominican who raises Tony’s dander! He cannot box, he cannot pursue; but he can talk, and he can ridicule, as his victims all the school over know.
He it is who has, of his own sweet will, summoned together the present meeting, and the business he is now about to explain.
“The fact is, you fellows,” he begins, “I wanted to ask your opinion about a little idea of my own. You know the Sixth Form Magazine?”
“Rather,” says Ricketts; “awful rubbish too! Papers a mile long in it about Greek roots; and poetry about the death of Seneca, and all that sort of thing.”
“That’s just it,” continued Pembury; “it’s rubbish, and unreadable; and though they condescend to let us see it, I don’t suppose two fellows in the Form ever wade through it.”
“I know I don’t, for one,” says Wraysford, laughing; “I did make a start at that ode on the birth of Senior junior in the last, which began with—
“‘Hark, ’tis the wail of an infant that wakes the still echoes of lofty Olympus,’
“but I got no farther.”
“Yes,” says Tom Senior, “Wren wrote that. I felt it my duty to challenge him for insulting the family, you know. But he said it was meant as a compliment, and that the Doctor was greatly pleased with it.”
“Well,” resumed Pembury, laughing, “they won’t allow any of us to contribute. I suggested it to the editor, and he said (you know his stuck-up way), ‘They saw no reason for opening their columns to any but Sixth Form fellows.’ So what I propose is, that we get up a paper of our own!”
“Upon my word, it’s a splendid idea!” exclaimed Wraysford, jumping up in raptures. And every one else applauded Pembury’s proposition.
“We’ve as good a right, you know,” he continued, “as they have, and ought to be able to turn out quite as respectable a paper.”
“Rather,” says Ricketts, “if you’ll only get the fellows to write.”
“Oh, I’ll manage that,” said Anthony.
“Of course you’ll have to be editor, Tony,” says Bullinger.
“If you like,” says the bashful Tony, who had no notion of not being editor.
“Well, I call that a splendid idea,” says Braddy. “Won’t they be in a fury? (Look here, Senior, I wish you wouldn’t stick your pins into my neck, do you hear?)”
“What shall we call it?” some one asks.
“Ah, yes,” says Pembury, “we ought to give it a good name.”
“Call it the Senior Wrangler” suggested Ricketts.
“Sounds too like a family concern,” cried Tom Senior.
“Suppose we call it the Fifth Form War Whoop,” proposed Wraysford, amid much laughter.
“Or the Anti-Sixth,” says Braddy, who always professes an implacable enmity towards the Sixth when none of them are near to hear him.
“Not at all,” says Greenfield, speaking now for the first time. “What’s the use of making fools of ourselves? Call it the Dominican, and let it be a paper for the whole school.”
“Greenfield is right,” adds Pembury. “If we can make it a regular school paper, it will be a far better slap at the Sixth than if we did nothing but pitch into them. Look here, you fellows, leave it to me to get out the first number. We’ll astonish the lives out of them—you see!”
Every one is far too confident of Tony’s capacity to raise an objection to this proposal; and after a good deal more talk, in which the idea of the Dominican excites quite an enthusiasm among these amiable young gentlemen, the meeting breaks up.
That evening, as the fellows passed down the corridor to prayers, a new notice appeared on the board:
“The first number of the Dominican will appear on the 24th inst.”
“What does it mean?” asked Raleigh of the Sixth, the school captain, of his companions, as they stopped to examine this mysterious announcement; “there’s no name to it.”
“I suppose it’s another prank of the Fifth. By the way, do you see how one of them has altered this debating society notice?”
“Upon my word,” said Raleigh, reading it, and smiling in spite of himself, “they are getting far too impudent. I must send a monitor to complain of this.”
And so the two grandees walked on.
Later in the evening Greenfield and Wraysford sat together in the study of the former.
“Well, I see the Nightingale is vacant at last. Of course you are going in, old man?” said Wraysford.
“Yes, I suppose so; and you?” asked the other.
“Oh, yes. I’ll have a shot, and do my best.”
“I don’t mean to let you have it, though,” said Greenfield, “for the money would be valuable to me if I ever go up to Oxford.”
“Just the reason I want to get it,” said Wraysford, laughing. “By the way, when is your young brother coming?”
“This week, I expect.”
“I wonder if he’ll fag for me?” asked Wraysford, mindful of his destitute condition.
Greenfield laughed. “You’d better ask the captain about that. I can’t answer for him. But I must be off now. Good-night.”
And an hour after that Saint Dominic’s was as still and silent as, during the day, it had been hustling and noisy.
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