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- Cashel Byron's Profession - 3/49 -
it to be a lark? Eh?"
"If you don't shut up, it won't be the last time; for you'll be caught. Now for it."
Cashel had reached the outer wall, and he finished his sentence by dropping from it to the common. Gully held his breath for some moments after the noise made by his companion's striking the ground. Then he demanded in a whisper whether all was right.
"Yes," returned Cashel, impatiently. "Drop as soft as you can."
Gully obeyed; and was so careful lest his descent should shake the earth and awake the doctor, that his feet shrank from the concussion. He alighted in a sitting posture, and remained there, looking up at Cashel with a stunned expression.
"Crikey!" he ejaculated, presently. "That was a buster."
"Get up, I tell you," said Cashel. "I never saw such a jolly ass as you are. Here, up with you! Have you got your wind back?"
"I should think so. Bet you twopence I'll be first at the cross roads. I say, let's pull the bell at the front gate and give an awful yell before we start. They'll never catch us."
"Yes," said Cashel, ironically; "I fancy I see myself doing it, or you either. Now then. One, two, three, and away."
They ran off together, and reached the cross roads about eight minutes later; Gully completely out of breath, and Cashel nearly so. Here, according to their plan, Gully was to take the north road and run to Scotland, where he felt sure that his uncle's gamekeeper would hide him. Cashel was to go to sea; where, he argued, he could, if his affairs became desperate, turn pirate, and achieve eminence in that profession by adding a chivalrous humanity to the ruder virtues for which it is already famous.
Cashel waited until Gully had recovered from his race. Then he said.
"Now, old fellow, we've got to separate."
Gully, thus confronted with the lonely realities of his scheme, did not like the prospect. After a moment's reflection he exclaimed:
"Damme, old chap, but I'll come with you. Scotland may go and be hanged."
But Cashel, being the stronger of the two, was as anxious to get rid of Gully as Gully was to cling to him. "No," he said; "I'm going to rough it; and you wouldn't be able for that. You're not strong enough for a sea life. Why, man, those sailor fellows are as hard as nails; and even they can hardly stand it."
"Well, then, do you come with me," urged Gully. "My uncle's gamekeeper won't mind. He's a jolly good sort; and we shall have no end of shooting."
"That's all very well for you, Gully; but I don't know your uncle; and I'm not going to put myself under a compliment to his gamekeeper. Besides, we should run too much risk of being caught if we went through the country together. Of course I should be only too glad if we could stick to one another, but it wouldn't do; I feel certain we should be nabbed. Good-bye."
"But wait a minute," pleaded Gully. "Suppose they do try to catch us; we shall have a better chance against them if there are two of us."
"Stuff!" said Cashel. "That's all boyish nonsense. There will be at least six policemen sent after us; and even if I did my very best, I could barely lick two if they came on together. And you would hardly be able for one. Yon just keep moving, and don't go near any railway station, and you will get to Scotland all safe enough. Look here, we have wasted five minutes already. I have got my wind now, and I must be off. Good-bye."
Gully disdained to press his company on Cashel any further. "Good-bye," he said, mournfully shaking his hand. "Success, old chap."
"Success," echoed Cashel, grasping Gully's hand with a pang of remorse for leaving him. "I'll write to you as soon as I have anything to tell you. It may be some months, you know, before I get regularly settled."
He gave Gully a final squeeze, released him, and darted off along the road leading to Panley Village. Gully looked after him for a moment, and then ran away Scotlandwards.
Panley Village consisted of a High Street, with an old-fashioned inn at one end, a modern railway station and bridge at the other, and a pump and pound midway between. Cashel stood for a while in the shadow under the bridge before venturing along the broad, moonlit street. Seeing no one, he stepped out at a brisk walking pace; for he had by this time reflected that it was not possible to run all the way to the Spanish main. There was, however, another person stirring in the village besides Cashel. This was Mr. Wilson, Dr. Moncrief's professor of mathematics, who was returning from a visit to the theatre. Mr. Wilson had an impression that theatres were wicked places, to be visited by respectable men only on rare occasions and by stealth. The only plays he went openly to witness were those of Shakespeare; and his favorite was "As You Like It"; Rosalind in tights having an attraction for him which he missed in Lady Macbeth in petticoats. On this evening he had seen Rosalind impersonated by a famous actress, who had come to a neighboring town on a starring tour. After the performance he had returned to Panley, supped there with a friend, and was now making his way back to Moncrief House, of which he had been intrusted with the key. He was in a frame of mind favorable for the capture of a runaway boy. An habitual delight in being too clever for his pupils, fostered by frequently overreaching them in mathematics, was just now stimulated by the effect of a liberal supper and the roguish consciousness of having been to the play. He saw and recognized Cashel as he approached the village pound. Understanding the situation at once, he hid behind the pump, waited until the unsuspecting truant was passing within arm's-length, and then stepped out and seized him by the collar of his jacket.
"Well, sir," he said. "What are you doing here at this hour? Eh?"
Cashel, scared and white, looked up at him, and could not answer a word.
"Come along with me," said Wilson, sternly.
Cashel suffered himself to be led for some twenty yards. Then he stopped and burst into tears.
"There is no use in my going back," he said, sobbing. "I have never done any good there. I can't go back."
"Indeed," said Wilson, with magisterial sarcasm. "We shall try to make you do better in future." And he forced the fugitive to resume his march.
Cashel, bitterly humiliated by his own tears, and exasperated by a certain cold triumph which his captor evinced on witnessing them, did not go many steps farther without protest.
"You needn't hold me," he said, angrily; "I can walk without being held." The master tightened his grasp and pushed his captive forward. "I won't run away, sir," said Cashel, more humbly, shedding fresh tears. "Please let me go," he added, in a suffocated voice, trying to turn his face toward his captor. But Wilson twisted him back again, and urged him still onward. Cashel cried out passionately, "Let me go," and struggled to break loose.
"Come, come, Byron," said the master, controlling him with a broad, strong hand; "none of your nonsense, sir."
Then Cashel suddenly slipped out of his jacket, turned on Wilson, and struck up at him savagely with his right fist. The master received the blow just beside the point of his chin; and his eyes seemed to Cashel roll up and fall back into his head with the shock. He drooped forward for a moment, and fell in a heap face downward. Cashel recoiled, wringing his hand to relieve the tingling of his knuckles, and terrified by the thought that he had committed murder. But Wilson presently moved and dispelled that misgiving. Some of Cashel's fury returned as he shook his fist at his prostrate adversary, and, exclaiming, "YOU won't brag much of having seen me cry," wrenched the jacket from him with unnecessary violence, and darted away at full speed.
Mr. Wilson, though he was soon conscious and able to rise, did not feel disposed to stir for a long time. He began to moan with a dazed faith that some one would eventually come to him with sympathy and assistance. Five minutes elapsed, and brought nothing but increased cold and pain. It occurred to him that if the police found him they would suppose him to be drunk; also that it was his duty to go to them and give them the alarm. He rose, and, after a struggle with dizziness and nausea, concluded that his most pressing duty was to get to bed, and leave Dr. Moncrief to recapture his ruffianly pupil as best he could.
Accordingly, at half-past one o'clock, the doctor was roused by a knocking at his chamber-door, outside which he presently found his professor of mathematics, bruised, muddy, and apparently inebriated. Five minutes elapsed before Wilson could get his principal's mind on the right track. Then the boys were awakened and the roll called. Byron and Molesworth were reported absent. No one had seen them go; no one had the least suspicion of how they got out of the house. One little boy mentioned the skylight; but observing a threatening expression on the faces of a few of the bigger boys, who were fond of fruit, he did not press his suggestion, and submitted to be snubbed by the doctor for having made it. It was nearly three o'clock before the alarm reached the village, where the authorities tacitly declined to trouble themselves about it until morning. The doctor, convinced that the lad had gone to his mother, did not believe that any search was necessary, and contented himself with writing a note to Mrs. Byron describing the attack on Mr. Wilson, and expressing regret that no proposal having for its object the readmission of Master Byron to the academy could be entertained.
The pursuit was now directed entirely after Molesworth, an it wan plain, from Mr. Wilson's narrative, that he had separated from Cashel outside Panley. Information was soon forthcoming. Peasants in all parts of the country had seen, they said, "a lad that might be him." The search lasted until five o'clock next afternoon, when it was rendered superfluous by the appearance of Gully in person,
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