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- Cashel Byron's Profession - 4/49 -
footsore and repentant. After parting from Cashel and walking two miles, he had lost heart and turned back. Half way to the cross roads he had reproached himself with cowardice, and resumed his flight. This time he placed eight miles betwixt himself and Moncrief House. Then he left the road to make a short cut through a plantation, and went astray. After wandering until morning, thinking dejectedly of the story of the babes in the wood, he saw a woman working in a field, and asked her the shortest way to Scotland. She had never heard of Scotland; and when he asked the way to Panley she lost patience and threatened to set her dog at him. This discouraged him so much that he was afraid to speak to the other strangers whom he met. Having the sun as a compass, he oscillated between Scotland and Panley according to the fluctuation of his courage. At last he yielded to hunger, fatigue, and loneliness, devoted his remaining energy to the task of getting back to school; struck the common at last, and hastened to surrender himself to the doctor, who menaced him with immediate expulsion. Gully was greatly concerned at having to leave the place he had just run away from, and earnestly begged the doctor to give him another chance. His prayer was granted. After a prolonged lecture, the doctor, in consideration of the facts that Gully had been seduced by the example of a desperate associate, that he had proved the sincerity of his repentance by coming back of his own accord, and had not been accessory to the concussion of the brain from which Mr. Wilson supposed himself to be suffering, accepted his promise of amendment and gave him a free pardon. It should be added that Gully kept his promise, and, being now the oldest pupil, graced his position by becoming a moderately studious, and, on one occasion, even a sensible lad.
Meanwhile Mrs. Byron, not suspecting the importance of the doctor's note, and happening to be in a hurry when it arrived, laid it by unopened, intending to read it at her leisure. She would have forgotten it altogether but for a second note which came two days later, requesting some acknowledgment of the previous communication. On learning the truth she immediately drove to Moncrief House, and there abused the doctor as he had never been abused in his life before; after which she begged his pardon, and implored him to assist her to recover her darling boy. When he suggested that she should offer a reward for information and capture she indignantly refused to spend a farthing on the little ingrate; wept and accused herself of having driven him away by her unkindness; stormed and accused the doctor of having treated him harshly; and, finally, said that she would give one hundred pounds to have him back, but that she would never speak to him again. The doctor promised to undertake the search, and would have promised anything to get rid of his visitor. A reward of fifty pounds wag offered. But whether the fear of falling into the clutches of the law for murderous assault stimulated Cashel to extraordinary precaution, or whether he had contrived to leave the country in the four days which elapsed between his flight and the offer of the reward, the doctor's efforts were unsuccessful; and he had to confess their failure to Mrs. Byron. She agreeably surprised him by writing a pleasant letter to the effect that it was very provoking, and that she could never thank him sufficiently for all the trouble he had taken. And so the matter dropped.
Long after that generation of scholars had passed away from Moncrief House, the name of Cashel Byron was remembered there as that of a hero who, after many fabulous exploits, had licked a master and bolted to the Spanish Main.
There was at this time in the city of Melbourne, in Australia, a wooden building, above the door of which was a board inscribed "GYMNASIUM AND SCHOOL OF ARMS." In the long, narrow entry hung a framed manuscript which set forth that Ned Skene, ex-champion of England and the colonies, was to be heard of within daily by gentlemen desirous of becoming proficient in the art of self-defence. Also the terms on which Mrs. Skene, assisted by a competent staff of professors, would give lessons in dancing, deportment, and calisthenics.
One evening a man sat smoking on a common wooden chair outside the door of this establishment. On the ground beside him were some tin tacks and a hammer, with which he had just nailed to the doorpost a card on which was written in a woman's handwriting: "WANTED A MALE ATTENDANT WHO CAN KEEP ACCOUNTS. INQUIRE WITHIN." The smoker was a powerful man, with a thick neck that swelled out beneath his broad, flat ear-lobes. He had small eyes, and large teeth, over which his lips were slightly parted in a good-humored but cunning smile. His hair was black and close-cut; his skin indurated; and the bridge of his nose smashed level with his face. The tip, however, was uninjured. It was squab and glossy, and, by giving the whole feature an air of being on the point of expanding to its original shape, produced a snubbed expression which relieved the otherwise formidable aspect of the man, and recommended him as probably a modest and affable fellow when sober and unprovoked. He seemed about fifty years of age, and was clad in a straw hat and a suit of white linen.
He had just finished his pipe when a youth stopped to read the card on the doorpost. This youth was attired in a coarse sailor's jersey and a pair of gray tweed trousers, which he had considerably outgrown.
"Looking for a job?" inquired the ex-champion of England and the colonies.
The youth blushed and replied, "Yes. I should like to get something to do."
Mr. Skene stared at him with stern curiosity. His piofessional pursuits had familiarized him with the manners and speech of English gentlemen, and he immediately recognized the shabby sailor lad as one of that class.
"Perhaps you're a scholar," said the prize-fighter, after a moment's reflection.
"I have been at school; but I didn't learn much there," replied the youth. "I think I could bookkeep by double entry," he added, glancing at the card.
"Double entry! What's that?"
"It's the way merchants' books are kept. It is called so because everything is entered twice over."
"Ah!" said Skene, unfavorably impressed by the system; "once is enough for me. What's your weight?"
"I don't know," said the lad, with a grin.
"Not know your own weight!" exclaimed Skene. "That ain't the way to get on in life."
"I haven't been weighed since I was in England," said the other, beginning to get the better of his shyness. "I was eight stone four then; so you see I am only a light-weight."
"And what do you know about light-weights? Perhaps, being so well educated, you know how to fight. Eh?"
"I don't think I could fight you," said the youth, with another grin.
Skene chuckled; and the stranger, with boyish communicativeness, gave him an account of a real fight (meaning, apparently, one between professional pugilists) which he had seen in England. He went on to describe how he had himself knocked down a master with one blow when running away from school. Skene received this sceptically, and cross-examined the narrator as to the manner and effect of the blow, with the result of convincing himself that the story was true. At the end of a quarter of an hour the lad had commended himself so favorably by his conversation that the champion took him into the gymnasium, weighed him, measured him, and finally handed him a pair of boxing gloves and invited him to show what he was made of. The youth, though impressed by the prize-fighter's attitude with a hopeless sense of the impossibility of reaching him, rushed boldly at him several times, knocking his face on each occasion against Skene's left fist, which seemed to be ubiquitous, and to have the property of imparting the consistency of iron to padded leather. At last the novice directed a frantic assault at the champion's nose, rising on his toes in his excitement as he did so. Skene struck up the blow with his right arm, and the impetuous youth spun and stumbled away until he fell supine in a corner, rapping his head smartly on the floor at the same time. He rose with unabated cheerfulness and offered to continue the combat; but Skene declined any further exercise just then, and, much pleased with his novice's game, promised to give him a scientific education and make a man of him.
The champion now sent for his wife, whom he revered as a preeminently sensible and well-mannered woman. The newcomer could see in her only a ridiculous dancing-mistress; but he treated her with great deference, and thereby improved the favorable opinion which Skene had already formed of him. He related to her how, after running away from school, he had made his way to Liverpool, gone to the docks, and contrived to hide himself on board a ship bound for Australia. Also how he had suffered severely from hunger and thirst before he discovered himself; and how, notwithstanding his unpopular position as stowaway, he had been fairly treated as soon as he had shown that he was willing to work. And in proof that he was still willing, and had profited by his maritime experience, he offered to sweep the floor of the gymnasium then and there. This proposal convinced the Skenes, who had listened to his story like children listening to a fairy tale, that he was not too much of a gentleman to do rough work, and it was presently arranged that he should thenceforth board and lodge with them, have five shillings a week for pocket-money, and be man-of-all-work, servant, gymnasium- attendant, clerk, and apprentice to the ex-champion of England and the colonies.
He soon found his bargain no easy one. The gymnasium was open from nine in the morning until eleven at night, and the athletic gentlemen who came there not only ordered him about without ceremony, but varied the monotony of being set at naught by the invincible Skene by practising what he taught them on the person of his apprentice, whom they pounded with great relish, and threw backwards, forwards, and over their shoulders as though he had been
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