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- Cashel Byron's Profession - 2/49 -
"Sit down, Byron," said the doctor. Byron suddenly forgot how to sit down, and looked irresolutely from one chair to another. The doctor made a brief excuse, and left the room; much to the relief of his pupil.
"You have grown greatly, Cashel. And I am afraid you are very awkward." Cashel colored and looked gloomy.
"I do not know what to do with you," continued Mrs. Byron. "Dr. Moncrief tells me that you are very idle and rough."
"I am not," said Cashel, sulkily. "It is bec--"
"There is no use in contradicting me in that fashion," said Mrs. Byron, interrupting him sharply. "I am sure that whatever Dr. Moncrief says is perfectly true."
"He is always talking like that," said Cashel, plaintively. "I can't learn Latin and Greek; and I don't see what good they are. I work as hard as any of the rest--except the regular stews, perhaps. As to my being rough, that is all because I was out one day with Gully Molesworth, and we saw a crowd on the common, and when we went to see what was up it was two men fighting. It wasn't our fault that they came there to fight."
"Yes; I have no doubt that you have fifty good excuses, Cashel. But I will not allow any fighting; and you really must work harder. Do you ever think of how hard _I_ have to work to pay Dr. Moncrief one hundred and twenty pounds a year for you?"
"I work as hard as I can. Old Moncrief seems to think that a fellow ought to do nothing else from morning till night but write Latin verses. Tatham, that the doctor thinks such a genius, does all his constering from cribs. If I had a crib I could conster as well--very likely better."
"You are very idle, Cashel; I am sure of that. It is too provoking to throw away so much money every year for nothing. Besides, you must soon be thinking of a profession."
"I shall go into the army," said Cashel. "It is the only profession for a gentleman."
Mrs. Byron looked at him for a moment as if amazed at his presumption. But she checked herself and only said, "I am afraid you will have to choose some less expensive profession than that. Besides, you would have to pass an examination to enable you to enter the army; and how can you do that unless you study?"
"Oh, I shall do that all right enough when the time comes."
"Dear, dear! You are beginning to speak so coarsely, Cashel. After all the pains I took with you at home!"
"I speak the same as other people," he replied, sullenly. "I don't see the use of being so jolly particular over every syllable. I used to have to stand no end of chaff about my way of speaking. The fellows here know all about you, of course."
"All about me?" repeated Mrs. Byron, looking at him curiously.
"All about your being on the stage, I mean," said Cashel. "You complain of my fighting; but I should have a precious bad time of it if I didn't lick the chaff out of some of them."
Mrs. Byron smiled doubtfully to herself, and remained silent and thoughtful for a moment. Then she rose and said, glancing at the weather, "I must go now, Cashel, before another shower begins. And do, pray, try to learn something, and to polish your manners a little. You will have to go to Cambridge soon, you know."
"Cambridge!" exclaimed Cashel, excited. "When, mamma? When?"
"Oh, I don't know. Not yet. As soon as Dr. Moncrief says you are fit to go."
"That will be long enough," said Cashel, much dejected by this reply. "He will not turn one hundred and twenty pounds a year out of doors in a hurry. He kept big Inglis here until he was past twenty. Look here, mamma; might I go at the end of this half? I feel sure I should do better at Cambridge than here."
"Nonsense," said Mrs. Byron, decidedly. "I do not expect to have to take you away from Dr. Moncrief for the next eighteen months at least, and not then unless you work properly. Now don't grumble, Cashel; you annoy me exceedingly when you do. I am sorry I mentioned Cambridge to you."
"I would rather go to some other school, then," said Cashel, ruefully. "Old Moncrief is so awfully down on me."
"You only want to leave because you are expected to work here; and that is the very reason I wish you to stay."
Cashel made no reply; but his face darkened ominously.
"I have a word to say to the doctor before I go," she added, reseating herself. "You may return to your play now. Good-bye, Cashel." And she again raised her face to be kissed.
"Good-bye," said Cashel, huskily, as he turned toward the door, pretending that he had not noticed her action.
"Cashel!" she said, with emphatic surprise. "Are you sulky?"
"No," he retorted, angrily. "I haven't said anything. I suppose my manners are not good enough, I'm very sorry; but I can't help it."
"Very well," said Mrs. Byron, firmly. "You can go, Cashel. I am not pleased with you."
Cashel walked out of the room and slammed the door. At the foot of the staircase he was stopped by a boy about a year younger than himself, who accosted him eagerly.
"How much did she give you?" he whispered.
"Not a halfpenny," replied Cashel, grinding his teeth.
"Oh, I say!" exclaimed the other, much disappointed. "That was beastly mean."
"She's as mean as she can be," said Cashel. "It's all old Monkey's fault. He has been cramming her with lies about me. But she's just as bad as he is. I tell you, Gully, I hate my mother."
"Oh, come!" said Gully, shocked. "That's a little too strong, old chap. But she certainly ought to have stood something."
"I don't know what you intend to do, Gully; but I mean to bolt. If she thinks I am going to stick here for the next two years she is jolly much mistaken."
"It would be an awful lark to bolt," said Gully, with a chuckle. "But," he added, seriously, "if you really mean it, by George, I'll go too! Wilson has just given me a thousand lines; and I'll be hanged if I do them."
"Gully," said Cashel, his eyes sparkling, "I should like to see one of those chaps we saw on the common pitch into the doctor--get him on the ropes, you know."
Gully's mouth watered. "Yes," he said, breathlessly; "particularly the fellow they called the Fibber. Just one round would be enough for the old beggar. Let's come out into the playground; I shall catch it if I am found here."
That night there was just sufficient light struggling through the clouds to make Panley Common visible as a black expanse, against the lightest tone of which a piece of ebony would have appeared pale. Not a human being was stirring within a mile of Moncrief House, the chimneys of which, ghostly white on the side next the moon, threw long shadows on the silver-gray slates. The stillness had just been broken by the stroke of a quarter past twelve from a distant church tower, when, from the obscurity of one of these chimney shadows, a head emerged. It belonged to a boy, whose body presently wriggled through an open skylight. When his shoulders were through he turned himself face upward, seized the miniature gable in which the skylight was set, drew himself completely out, and made his way stealthily down to the parapet. He was immediately followed by another boy.
The door of Moncrief House was at the left-hand corner of the front, and was surmounted by a tall porch, the top of which was flat and could be used as a balcony. A wall, of the same height as the porch, connected the house front with the boundary wall, and formed part of the enclosure of a fruit garden which lay at the side of the house between the lawn and the playground. When the two boys had crept along the parapet to a point directly above the porch they stopped, and each lowered a pair of boots to the balcony by means of fishing-lines. When the boots were safely landed, their owners let the lines drop and reentered the house by another skylight. A minute elapsed. Then they reappeared on the top of the porch, having come out through the window to which it served as a balcony. Here they put on their boots, and stepped on to the wall of the fruit garden. As they crawled along it, the hindmost boy whispered.
"I say, Cashy."
"Shut up, will you," replied the other under his breath. "What's wrong?"
"I should like to have one more go at old mother Moncrief's pear-tree; that's all."
"There are no pears on it this season, you fool."
"I know. This is the last time we shall go this road, Cashy. Usen't
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