Page images

much seen. On the left, against the wall, was a small bookcase. Above the chair hung the great black board before referred to; and at the back of the dais appeared an ominous-looking fixture, like the stump of a tree cut off two feet from the ground. This was the block, at which chaps knelt to receive punishment, in view of the school.

Mr. Ringrose then came forward, and received from Harry Maitland, Ambrose Hall, Tom Bush, and other seniors, a solemn assurance, by which they pledged themselves, on behalf of the school generally, to yield respectful obedience to the authority of Miss Percival, who remained seated the while, looking (except as to her baleful eyes) the very incarnation of womanly gentleness.

When Maitland had spoken, and the other fellows murmured their assent, she bowed slightly—very slightly—and smiled—a strange, ironical smile, as was remarked at the time by some close observer, and extended her beautiful white hand to Mr. Ringrose, as though in token that she needed his countenance and support no longer.

Then Mr. Ringrose quitted the room, and we were alone with our queen.

For a good minute we gazed at her, and she at us, in silence. The strangeness of the situation kept us quiet. How it affected her I can't say. To all appearance, she never changed a muscle. Suddenly she rose:

“ The school will assemble at three."
Low murmurs followed, for it was Wednesday, a half-holiday.

“ The school will assemble at three, and at the same hour on succeeding Wednesdays until further notice, as a penalty for this disorder."

You might have distinctly heard a fly caressing his nose during this speech, so completely stupified were we at this first exercise of power. Before we had recovered, our Queen Stork had glided from the room.

The playground was a curious scene that morning. Cricket wasn't dreamed of. Chaps walked gravely about in pairs, or gathered in clusters round some detached senior listening to his maturer views—while, squatting under the tamarisks, like Indian chiefs at a palaver, Harry Maitland and his particular friends, with knitted brows reviewed the course they had so hastily adopted—not without some little misgiving that, if sticking to one's word was to be the order of the day-they had somewhat imperilled the general liberties.

Upon the whole, however, livelier views prevailed. Discipline must be relaxed-that was inevitable. Lessons will be short and easy, young lady can have ventured much beyond Cæsar and Cornelius Nepos —and it will be, no doubt, a jolly lark to see her boggling at Homer! Our spirits rose rapidly, and thus it happened that even before the accus. tomed hour the schoolroom was well filled by fellows waiting eagerly the commencement of the fun.

Jokes at the expense of the new directress went smartly round, and various ingenious little plots for rendering her position as awkward and embarrassing as possible were hastily concocted. To these the big fellows made but faint opposition, satisfying their consciences by refraining from any open share, and perhaps seeing no reason for taking upon them the “police" of the school, which properly belonged to the masters.

Among other things, it came into the head of Charley Lysons, the

for no

mischievous, who had a turn for the fine arts, to sketch upon the black board above the master's chair a pre-Raphaelite cartoon. This design represented a rustic dame, with nose and chin amicably kissing each other, and (to avoid any misapprehension) with a bandage over her eyes. She was armed with an immense rod, and was engaged in dispensing justice and orthography to a circle of sturdy louts, with countenances expressive of intense alarm.

Upon this happy inspiration the youthful artist was yet receiving our congratulations when the three o'clock bell rang.

A few moments elapsed, the door quietly opened, and Mary Percival, cool and unembarrassed as though entering a friend's boudoir, glided in and took her place. Not alone, however; Queen Mob immediately followed her, carrying a basket piled up with disabled socks and handkerchiefs to a height that convinced us we were destined to enjoy her society for the rest of the afternoon, as duenna to the young

directress. The latter threw a calm and comprehensive glance round the apartment, taking in but not dwelling upon Charley Lysons's performance, arranged some books on the desk before her, and spoke :

“ Mr. Weekes."

The voice, sweet, clear, and liquid as a harp-string, sounded oddly in that rough assenıblage ; the more so, as the name she uttered was, as I have before observed, never heard from that chair save in the association of impending punishment. “ Mr. Weekes"



the school, and stationed himselfmechanically, as it werein the spot he usually occupied when engaged in his official duties—i.e., close by the block, awaiting, with his hands in his trousers-pockets, and his mouth and round eyes wide open, the next order.

“ I am informed by Mr. Styles and Mr. Ringrose,” said the musical voice of our directress, “ that this has always hitherto been a school of gentlemen. Gentlemen may regret but never disavow their deeds. The author of this folly” (she tossed her little head back as though disdaining to look at the board) “will step forward and efface it.”

"Don't peach, you fellows,” said Charley Lysons, putting down his head and speaking along the desk. Something made Charley regret that he had been the first to offend.

“Am I understood ?” inquired the princess, sweetly. “Don't stand it, Charley," said one chap, who was a bit of a sneak. “ Go, Charley,” suggested another, who wasn't. “ Blest if I do!” said Charley himself.

“You go, young Lysons," said Harry Maitland, in a low, fierce tone (he wanted to humour the princess a little), “or look out, after five."

The dark suggestion of something disagreeable when the school rose determined Charley. He got up, sulkily, and, mounting the platform, tore down the board ; then, kneeling, proceeded to rub out with his cuffs and handkerchief the efforts of his genius ; indemnifying himself, however, as he did so, by a pantomimic gesture, concealed, as he not unnaturally imagined, by the board.

Unlucky Charley! His thumb had not fairly quitted his nose before vengeance was upon him! With one step, like the glide of a panther, the princess was at his side; there was the flash of a white band, and a

box on the ear such as, with the combination of pain and surprise, sent the boy fairly rolling from the platform upon the schoolroom floor.

" For the second insult, not the first,” remarked the princess, gently, and resumed her seat.

“Who'd have thought those gimlet-eyes of hers could see through a board ?” muttered Charley.

Business now proceeded with tolerable tranquillity for some half-hour or so, during which many curious glances were directed towards our mysterious mistress, who was dimly seen through the glazed screen immersed in thought or study.

- She's getting up the Latin,” suggested somebody. * Corderius," said the musical voice, as though in answer. (The Corderius class was usually taken by one of the under-masters.)

I thought so; she'll take the easy ones,” said Charley Lysons, spitefully.

Up went the class, and formed its usual half-circle round the chair, the leader politely presenting his book to the lady, who flung it carelessly on the desk. She heard the lesson, with the same cool, quiet air; detecting, however, the slightest inaccuracy, and correcting it with a sort of hasty, careless disdain, not easy to describe, often aecompanied by that peculiar smile we had already noticed. It was a smile that did not cheer, but chill; I suppose it was like that of Henry the Cruel, as the books tell us, whose “sweet friend” meant, literally, go and be hanged !” We learned to dread it even more afterwards, as we knew her better.

The lesson drew to an end, and but three or four lines remained ; these, according to custom, should have fallen to the lot of the last boy in the class. Something induced the mistress to transfer them to the boy immediately above him, who had executed his own portion with remarkable glibness and accuracy. Nevertheless, he was the greatest blockhead in the school. Learn he wouldn't or couldn't, but it was his habit to get up at least a minute portion of every lesson, and by carefully calculating where his turn would come, usually managed to cut in, and make a very respectable display, being in reality totally ignorant of about eleventwelfths of what he had to study.

Of course, in the present case, poor Brome Debary was at once floored. Queen Stork, with ominous patience (and her terrible smile), put him through the entire lesson, word by word. Not one could he manage ! Then she gave him his own portion. Here Brome's tongue was loosed, and he gabbled over it with an alacrity which, alas ! only helped to convict him of the fraud. It was evident, however, that Queen Stork had long since detected it, and the interest that now began to attach to the scene induced a profound silence. Would she venture to punish him— and how ?

Curiosity was quickly satisfied. She dismissed the class. " Remain, sir,” she added to Brome.

She then turned to her desk, and, taking something from it, handed to Looby Weekes, who still retained his position, a stick, or rather whip, of three fibres closely plaited together, altogether not thicker than an ordinary cane, perfectly black, and looking fearfully hard and pliant. It had a leathern handle, like a coach-whip, which offered a beautiful grip. Poor Brome had visited that block too often to miss his way, or, indeed,

to feel greatly dismayed at what was impending ; so, yielding to destiny and Queen Stork, he knelt patiently down, and received on his hardened shoulders six sharp strokes. But he had miscalculated the amount of pain. No cane ever cut like that! Two strokes he endured with surprise, but fortitude. At the third

" It's not fair," bellowed Brome.

The fifth elicited a terrific howl, and the last dismissed the luckless Brome from the block, if not a better at least a wiser boy, for he never tried that artifice again.

“For idleness and deception,” said the princess, in her sweetest tone, as Brome, writhing with rage and pain, staggered away.

At all this, Queen Mob had looked on with undisguised delight, never interfering in the remotest manner, and resuming her darning with a chuckle and a goggle of approval.

Although by this time it was abundantly clear that we, the juniors, had caught a Tartar, the real trial was still to come. Gradually it approached.

“ Virgil,” said the directress.

A class of fifteen fellows, about the age of twelve or thirteen, now stood up, prepared to construe the poet in question, the head boy, as usual, offering bis book. As before, the lady declined this aid, and, with consummate coolness, nodded to the class to proceed, appearing, to our extreme astonishment, as well “up” in the most difficult passages of the Æneid as in the dissyllabie fragments of Corderius! Not an error escaped her, and the oceasional substitution of some searching phrase for the conventional renderings to which schoolboys are addicted, showed her completely mistress of the subject.

The lesson was passing off very smoothly, each boy taking up the author where the last left off, at the pleasure of the teacher, when, about the middle of the class, Fred Prowett, who was construing, came to a sudden stand.

Well, sir ?" said the princess, interrogatively. “Please 'm, that's all." “ All! In the middle of a sentence ? What is your lesson ?” “Fifty lines, ’m, and on to the next full stop."

Proceed, then.” “Please 'm, full stop.”

“ Virgil, sir, is believed to have understood his own language. Give me your book.”

She took it, examined, and returned it, took the next, and the next, and so on through the whole class. As she was about to give back the last, an idea seemed to strike her; she held up the leaf between her eyes and the light; the terrible smile gathered on her lip. The trick was discovered!

You must know that an ingenious chap of our class had found out that by dipping the point of a pin in ink and striking it into the page, a mark was produced almost exactly resembling a printed period. If, therefore, at the end of the allotted fifty lines, the want of a full stop added materially to the length of the lesson, we sometimes took the liberty of introducing one. Oddly enough, though the eccentricities of Virgil's punctuation had not a little puzzled the worthy Styles, it had never occurred

[ocr errors]

to him that there was any trick. In the present case, however, less care than usual having been observed, so inhuman a divorce had been brought about between a verb and the substantive it governed, that a less penetrating eye than Queen Stork's must have detected the fraud.

She laid down the book and paused, regarding us contemptuously. Her eye glanced from us to Looby Weekes, who still stood, grasping the black cane, aghast at the idea of having perhaps to flog fifteen boys ! But it was a different decree :

“ The lesson will henceforth be one hundred lines," said the princess, calmly." You may go, gentlemen .!

We slunk away, some of us a leetle ashamed, and began to compare notes. Opinions were a good deal divided. The junior boys certainly regretted the change.

Brome Debary shrugged his still smarting shoulders, and grumbled mutiny.

Charley Lysons suggested plans of insidious revenge.
Some older chaps hinted at the pledge we had given.
“Give her rope," said Harry Maitland, darkly. And-

“Greek play,' said the musical voice, as calmly as though it had called for Goody Two-Shoes in the original.

Disdainful smiles were exchanged among the members of this, the first class, as they rose, in a rather dignified manner, and strolled up to the platform.

Now for a lark!" whispered a junior next me.

This time Queen Stork accepted the book tendered by the leader; but nevertheless held it in her hand with a provoking carelessness that did not promise well for any especial fun.

It happened, moreover, to be the same play I had heard Styles reading to her-viz., the “ Alcestis” of Euripides. In the course of the lesson occurred the Queen's dying speech :

"Αλιε, και φάος άμέρας

Oupaviai te divai, &c. &c. Admetus rejoins :

'Opa oe kaje, &c. “Stop," said the princess. “What is the nominative to opa ?” Oupavla," replied Maitland, carelessly.

“Because," said the princess, “it happens to lie conveniently near. An excellent reason. Common sense, however, puts in a claim on behalf of 'Hlcos, the substantive first mentioned by Alcestis. Go on.”

With one or two such hints the lesson proceeded to a satisfactory conclusion, the princess showing herself to be on the best possible terms with Euripides, and (though with scarcely a glance at the book) not permitting the slightest deviation from his text, except when, in one instance, she herself altered a disputed reading.

Five o'clock struck, and, without word or sign, Queen Stork glided from the room as quietly as she came. Queen Mob, on her part, gathered up her work, grinned horribly at the school, as much as to say, “ How do you like it now ?” and followed.

Some of us, I've no doubt, looked foolish enough. The seniors were

« PreviousContinue »