Chapter V. Turned Aside.
I watch them drift, the youthful aspirations,
Shores, landmarks, beacons, drift alike. C. KINGSLEY.
EDWARD BRYANT seemed to lose heart, or to throw it into another direction, after his interview with Mr. Goodrich. He felt affronted as well as disappointed, and, did not try again. He hoped that the master would have talked to his mother, and though there was no great reason to expect much to be gained, yet still he felt it was due to him. He did not know what searchings of heart the young tutor had with himself, in his real affection for the lad, and desire to win so promising a recruit for the mission field, and his own sense of duty and fair dealing toward the boy's mother and grandfather.
He did talk of the matter with the rector of the parish, Mr. Fraser, but was advised by him to let it alone. "Poor Mrs. Bryant is a timid [56/57] woman, and evidently much afraid of the old man. Even if you could see her without his interfering, I do not think you would be able to make her understand the responsibility of interfering with his aspirations. Of course, at his age, there is no knowing whether the call is real, or whether there is only interest in adventure. Indeed, it is quite doubtful whether he ought to go."
Mr. Goodrich, who had his family's blessing and approval, could hardly enter into the rector's scruples. But he gave way when the argument that he had himself used was applied, namely, that thirteen years was too early an age to build upon, and that the really best preparation would be such dutifulness as would form a sound, manly, godly character.
But at the beginning of the Easter holidays came an urgent call from the Bishop of Saskatchewan for men who were likely to stand the climate to go out with him to the mission to the Canadian Indians. The head-master consented to the engagement being given up, and Mr. Goodrich only returned to the school, before the term began, in much haste to bid farewell and pack up [58/59] his properties, nor did Edward hear of his visit till it was over, or that he had left a kind message for him.
But already the world had seemed changed to Edward with the overthrow of his dream and purpose. He did not like to walk to church with Mabel Millar, who always expected him to tell her a missionary story, and when he told her instead a ridiculous tale about the cherry tree that grew out of a horse's back, she was vexed, and said it was not what she wanted.
He hung back so as not to overtake the girls on their way to church, and on going out, joined company with some other lads, older than himself, and of a rather lower grade, whom he was used to meet at cricket matches.
They were talking about an expedition to an old ruin four miles off, full of jackdaws' nests, and they turned to him laughing, saying it was of no use asking such a swell to go; and another declared he was half a parson, and of course he would not meddle with "parson birds," he was just like them. Afraid they had discovered his missionary inclination, Edward loudly disavowed all idea of being a parson, declared (and believed [59/60] it) that his affections were set on a tame jackdaw, and undertook to meet the other lads after they had gone home and had their dinner.
And so he did; but the expedition was not very successful. The walk took longer than had been expected, and was wearisome in spite of the lads cutting sticks and sparring with each other, with a good deal of chaffing and holloaing. And when at length the half-dozen lads reached the ivy-grown old ruin, and Jack Bowser had climbed up, causing a prodigious row among the jackdaws, who flew out, croaking and chattering, he found nothing but eggs; and suddenly a keeper came out from some unknown quarter, and roared at them to be off. My lord would not have the place meddled with, and if he caught them there again he would have them up for trespass. Sims, the biggest and most impudent, who was apprenticed in the town, tried to reply with some sauce about "Holloa, leggings, don't you wish you may get it." But, of course, this only made him more angry, and threatened them with immediate "prosecution," so that they had to flee--till they were out of breath; and Sims, having a shilling in his pocket, proposed to turn into [60/61] a public-house and have a glass of beer all round, which startled Edward Bryant, who had no notion of doing any such thing, and, besides, had no money in his Sunday coat. "His mammy won't trust him," was the cry, and "Never mind, we'll treat you."
It hurt his pride, and he would have marched on, but the more good-natured Hill drew him in; and though not much money, yet much time, was spent in somewhat rude chaffing and fun, and the lads did not set out for home till far too late for -evensong. This was nothing to them, but Edward had of late been generally regular in attendance, though, so far as his home was concerned, he could do as he pleased as to the second service.
On the whole, his mother was far from objecting when he said he had been for a walk with "some other chaps." In fact, perhaps she viewed it as a sign that the wild*project, which she dreaded, was passing from his mind.
And so it was, though perhaps it might be doubted whether the course of these Easter holidays left her thinking about her only son as happily as she had done before. He was, perhaps, [61/62] growing too old to be satisfied with the Millar girls as companions; and it was unreasonable to be vexed when he proved not to be with them, but about somewhere with Bowser, Sims & Co., and coming home later and later in the evening. The old man growled at her nonsense, when the lad was only getting to be something like a boy at last, and he would not have him meddled with.
The effect was, that when the holidays were over, and school work began again, Edward could not settle down to diligence. His holiday task had only been hurried over, and was far from perfection, and that slow, plodding, dull James Sparrow soon passed him; and he saw less and less chance of carrying off the scholarship, but he did not care. His only desire was for diversion that might fill up his mind, and keep it from reverting to the happy days of Mr. Goodrich. So it was that, whenever there was a row, Bryant was sure to be concerned in it, and it came at last to the head-master writing to his mother that if things went on in this way, he should have to consider whether to retain him.
With many tears, she spoke to Edward, and [62/63] received only a rough, churlish answer, telling her that women and schoolmasters were the greatest humbugs in the world, and he had been doing nothing.
Then, when he was startled by seeing that he had made her cry, he gave her a hug, and told her not to mind what a horrid old fogey might say. Which did not comfort her much, except that she told the head-master, also Dr. Millar, that her Edward was such an affectionate boy.
The first thing that made any difference in his goings on was that his grandfather had a stroke. Edward came home, much later than he ought to have done, to find candles flaring about the house, Dr. Millar in the old man's room, his mother on the stairs watching for him, and all in confusion. They did not expect Mr. Bryant to live through the night, and when Edward was drawn into the room, heard the snoring gasps, and saw the drawn, unconscious face, he was very much shocked.
Dr. Millar laid his hand on his shoulder and said: "Get your mother to go down with you and eat some supper. She will have a great deal to go through to-night, and she should take some food to enable her to go through with it."
Edward was too awe-struck to speak much, but he took hold of her hand in the coaxing way he had not used for a long time, and said, "Come, mamma, do!"
"Yes, go; you ought to give him his supper," said the doctor, "and take some yourself."
"Poor boy! he has had nothing to eat," she answered, in a dreamy way; but she let him lead her downstairs, and sat at the table, helping him and mechanically, herself, while she told him how, when she was busy in the kitchen, Alice the maid had called her, saying that master was in a fit, and there he was, almost dropping out of his chair, in the same state as at present. They had called in the shuffler to get him upstairs, but they could not do it till Dr. Millar came and helped. She made sure that he was struck for death, and she let herself cry a good deal, as she had not dared to do since the first, and said he had been her only friend, and what would become of them now?
Edward was confused and puzzled; but he wished to comfort her, so he came over and kissed [64/65] her and said, "Never mind, mother, you've got me, and I'll do all I can."
He had not kissed her since the days when he first went to school, and it was a great comfort and pleasure to her, before she was obliged to rise up and prepare for her night watch, sending him to bed, and promising to call him if there were any change. And Edward, as he knelt by his own little bed, prayed the first real, though very incoherent and uncertain, prayers that he had put up since Mr. Goodrich discouraged his missionary "castles."