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Bert Lloyd's Boyhood
Chapter XIV. An Honourable Scar

BERT was not learning very much at Mr. Garrison’s school. He had some glimmering of this himself, for he said to Frank one day, after they had returned to their seats from having gone through the form—for really it was nothing more—of saying one of their lessons:

“It’s mighty easy work getting through lessons at this school, isn’t it, Shorty?” And Shorty, being of the same opinion, as he had happened not to be asked any questions, and, therefore, had not made any mistakes, promptly assented.

“That’s so, Bert,” said he, “and the oftener he asks Munro and you to say the whole lesson, and just gives me the go-by, the better I like it.”

But Bert was not the only one who noticed that his education was not making due progress. His father observed it too, and, after some thinking on the subject, made up his mind that he would allow Bert to finish the spring term at Mr. Garrison’s, and then, after the summer holidays, send him to some other school.

The winter passed away and spring drew near. Spring is the most dilatory and provoking of all the seasons at Halifax. It advances and retreats, pauses and progresses, promises and fails to perform, until it really seems, sometimes, as though midsummer would be at hand and no spring at all. With the boys it is a particularly trying time of the year. The daily increasing heat of the sun has played havoc with the snow and ice, and winter sports are out of the question. Yet the snow and ice—or rather the slush they make —still lingers on, and renders any kind of summer sport impossible. For nearly a month this unsatisfactory state of affairs continues, and then, at length, the wet dries up, the frost comes out of the ground, the chill leaves the air, and marbles, rounders, baseball, and, later on, cricket make glad the hearts and tire the legs of the eager boys.

This spring was made memorable for Bert by an occurrence that left its mark upon him, lest, perhaps, he might be in danger of forgetting it. In front of the large building, in one room of which Mr. Garrison’s school was held, there was a large open square, known as the Parade. It was a bare, stony place kept in order by nobody, and a great resort for the roughs of the city, who could there do pretty much what they pleased without fear of interruption from the police. On the upper side of this square, and over toward the opposite end from Mr. Garrison’s, was another school, called the National, and having a large number of scholars, of a somewhat commoner class than those which attended Mr. Garrison’s. It need hardly be said that the relations between the two schools were, to use a diplomatic phrase, “chronically strained.” They were always at loggerheads. A Garrison boy could hardly encounter a National boy without giving or getting a cuff, a matter determined by his size, and riots, on a more or less extensive scale, were continually taking place when groups of boys representing the two schools would happen to meet.

Bert was neither quarrelsome nor pugnacious by nature. He disliked very much being on bad terms with any one, and could not understand why he should regard another boy as his natural enemy simply because he happened to go to a different school. More than once he had quite an argument with Frank Bowser about it. Frank was always full of fight. He hated every National boy as vigorously as though each one had individually done him some cruel injury. As sure as a collision took place, and Frank was present, he was in the thick of it at once, dealing blows right and left with all his might.

In obedience to the dictation of his own nature, strengthened by his father’s advice, Bert kept out of these squabbles so far as he possibly could, and as a natural consequence fell under suspicion of being a coward. Even Frank began to wonder if he were not afraid, and if it were not this which kept him back from active participation in the rows. He said something about it to Bert one day, and it hurt Bert very much.

“I’m not afraid, Shorty; you know well enough I’m not,” said he, indignantly. “But I’m not going to fight with fellows who never did me any harm. It’s wrong, that’s what it is, and I’m not going to do it. I don’t care what you say.”

“But you ought to chip in sometimes, Bert, or the boys will think that you ’re a coward,” urged Frank.

“I can’t help it if they do, Shorty,” was Bert’s unshaken reply. “I don’t feel like it myself, and, what’s more, father doesn’t want me to.”

The very next day there was a row of unusual dimensions, brought about by one of the Garrison boys at the noon recess having started a fight with one of the National boys, which almost in a twinkling of an eye involved all the boys belonging to both schools then in the Parade. It was a lively scene, that would have gladdened the heart of an Irishman homesick for the excitement of Donnybrook Fair. There were at least one hundred boys engaged, the sides being pretty evenly matched, and the battle ground was the centre of the Parade. To drive the other school in ignominious flight from this spot was the object of each boyish regiment, and locked in hostile embrace, like the players in a football match when a “maul” has been formed, they swayed to and fro, now one side gaining, now the other, while shouts of “Go in, Nationals!” “Give it to them, Garrisons!” mingling with exclamations of anger or pain, filled the air.

Bert was not present when the struggle began. In fact, it was well under way before he knew anything about it, as he had lingered in the schoolroom to ask Mr. Garrison some question after the other boys had run out. On going out upon the Parade, he was at first startled by the uproar, and then filled with an intense desire to be in the midst of the battle. But, remembering his father’s injunctions, he paused for a moment irresolute. Then he noticed that the National boys were gaining the advantage, and the Garrison boys retreating before them. The next instant he caught sight of Frank Bowser, who had, of course, been in the forefront of the fight, left unsupported by his comrades, and surrounded by a circle of threatening opponents. Bert hesitated no longer. With a shout of “Come on, boys!” he sprang down the steps, rushed across the intervening space, and flung himself into the group around Frank with such force that two of the Nationals were hurled to the ground, and Frank set at liberty. Inspirited by Bert’s gallant onset, the Garrisons returned to the charge, the Nationals gave way before them, and Bert was just about to raise the shout of victory when a big hulk of a boy who had been hovering on the outskirts of the Nationals, too cowardly to come to any closer quarters, picked up a stone and threw it with wicked force straight at Bert’s face. His aim was only too good. With a sharp thud, the stone struck Bert on his left temple, just behind the eye, and the poor boy fell to the ground insensible.

Instantly the struggle and confusion ceased, but not before Frank, in a passion of fury, had dealt Bert’s cowardly assailant a blow that sent him reeling to the ground, and had then sprung to his friend’s side.

“Get a doctor, some fellow" he shouted, holding up the pale, calm face, down which the blood was trickling from an ugly wound. “Let’s carry him into the school!”

A dozen eager volunteers came forward. Carefully and tenderly Bert was lifted up, and carried into the schoolroom, which, fortunately, Mr. Garrison had not yet left. Placed upon one of the benches, with Frank’s coat for a pillow, his head was bathed with cold water, and presently he revived, much to the relief and delight of the anxious boys standing round. A few minutes later the doctor arrived. With quick, deft fingers he stanched the wound, covered it with plaster, enveloped it with bandages, and then gave directions that Bert should be sent home in a cab without delay.

“Why, Bert darling, what does this mean?” exclaimed Mrs. Lloyd, as she opened the door for him.

“Ask Frank, mother; my head’s aching too bad to tell you,” replied Bert, putting up his hand with a gesture of pain. And so, while Bert lay on the sofa, with his mother close beside him, and Mary preparing him a refreshing drink, Frank told the story in his own, rough, straightforward fashion, making it all so clear, with the help of a word now and then from Bert, that when he ended, Mrs. Lloyd, bending over her son, kissed him tenderly on the forehead, saying: “You know, Bert, how I dislike fighting, but I cannot find it in my heart to blame you this time. You acted like a hero.”

In this opinion Mr. Lloyd, when he came home, fully concurred. He had not a word of blame for Bert, but made the boy’s heart glad by telling him to always stand by his friends when they were in trouble, and then he would never be without friends who would stand by him.

Bert’s wound took some time to heal, and when it did heal, a scar remained that kept its place for many years after. But he did not suffer for nought. The incident was productive of good in two directions. It established Bert’s character for courage beyond all cavil, and it put an end to the unseemly rows between the schools. The two masters held a consultation, as a result of which they announced to their schools that any boys found taking part in such disturbances in future would be first publicly whipped, and then expelled; and this threat put an effectual stop to the practice.

The days and weeks slipped by, and the summer vacation, so eagerly looked forward to by all schoolboys, arrived. None were more delighted at its arrival than Bert and Frank. Their friendship had grown steadily stronger from the day of their first acquaintance. They had few disagreements. Frank, although the older and larger of the two, let Bert take the lead in almost all cases, for Bert had the more active mind, and his plans were generally the better. Happily for the serenity of their relations, Bert, while he was fond enough of being the leader, never undertook to “boss” his companions. If they did not readily fall into line with him, why he simply fell into line with them, and that was an end of it. His idea of fun did not consist in being an autocrat, and ordering others about. He very much preferred that all should work together for whatever common purpose happened to be in their minds at the time; and thus it was, that of the boys who played together in the old fort, and waded in the shallow water that rippled along the sand beach at its foot, no one was more popular than Bert Lloyd.

They had fine fun during this summer vacation. Neither Frank nor Bert went out of the city, and they played together every day, generally in the fort; but sometimes Bert would go with Frank to the Horticultural Gardens, where a number of swings made a great attraction for the young folk, or down to the point where they would ramble through the woods, imagining themselves brave hunters in search of bears, and carrying bows and arrows to help out the illusion.

The greatest enjoyment of all, however, was to go out upon the water. Of course, they were not allowed to do this by themselves. They were too young for that yet, but very often Mr. Lloyd would leave his office early in the afternoon in order to take them out in the pretty skiff he kept at the fort, or the whole family would spend the long summer evenings together on the water.

Bert was at his happiest then. Under his father’s directions he was vigorously learning to row, and it was very stimulating to have his mother and sister as spectators. They took such a lively interest in his progress, that he did not mind if they did laugh heartily, but of course not unkindly, when sometimes in his eagerness to take an extra big stroke he would “catch a crab,” and roll over on his back in the bottom of the boat, with his feet stuck up like two signals of distress. Bert accomplished this a good many times, but it did not discourage him. He was up and at it again immediately.

“Don’t look at your oar, boys! Don’t look at your oar! Keep your faces toward the stern,” Mr. Lloyd would call out as Bert and Frank tugged away manfully, and they, who had been watching their oars to make sure that they went into the water just right, would answer “Ay, ay, sir!” in true sailor fashion; and then for the next few moments they would keep their eyes fixed straight astern, only to bring them back again soon to those dripping blades that had such a saucy way of getting crooked unless they were well watched.

A more delightful place than Halifax harbour of a fine summer evening could hardly be desired. The wind, which had been busy making “white caps” all the afternoon, went to rest at sundown. The ruffled waters sank into a glassy calm, the broad harbour becoming one vast mirror in which the rich hues of the sunset, the long dark lines of the wharves, and the tall masts of the ships sleeping at their moorings were reflected with many a quaint curve and curious involution. Boats of every kind, the broad-bottomed dory, the sharp-bowed flat, the trim keel-boat, the long low whaler, with their jolly companies, dotted the placid surface, while here and there a noisy steam launch saucily puffed its way along, the incessant throb of its engine giving warning oi its approach. Far up the harbour at their moorings off the dockyard, the huge men-of-war formed centres around which the boats gathered in numerous squads, for every evening the band would play on board these floating castles, and the music never seemed more sweet than when it floated out over the still waters. Sometimes, too, after the band had ceased, the sailors would gather on the forecastle and sing their songs, as only sailors can sing, winning round after round of applause from their appreciative audience in the boats.

All of this was very delightful to Bert. So, too, was the paddling about on the beach that fringed the bottom of the fort’s grassy slope, and the making of miniature forts out of the warm, dry sand, only to have them dissolve again before the advancing tide. Just as delightful, too, was the clambering over the boulders that marked the ruins of an old pier, searching for periwinkles, star-fish, and limpets, with never-ceasing wonder at the tenacity with which they held on to the rocks. Playing thus in the sunshine almost from dawn to dark, Bert grew visibly bigger and browner and sturdier, as the days slipped swiftly by.

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