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Bert Lloyd's Boyhood
Chapter XVI. The First Days at Dr. Johnston's

IT was a fine, bright September morning when Mr. Lloyd, with Bert on one side of him and Frank on the other—for Frank had come down, so that he might go with Bert—made his way to Dr. Johnston’s school. The school occupied a historic old building, whose weather-beaten front faced one of the principal streets of the city. This building had in times long past been the abode of the governor of the province, and sadly as it had degenerated in appearance, it still retained a certain dignity, and air of faded grandeur, that strongly suggested its having once been applied to a more exalted use than the housing of a hundred boys for certain hours of the day. So spacious was it, that Dr. Johnston found ample room for his family in one half, while the other half was devoted to the purposes of the school. At the rear, a cluster of shabby outbuildings led to a long narrow yard where tufts of rank, coarse grass, and bunches of burdocks struggled hard to maintain their existence in spite of fearful odds.

The boys’ hearts were throbbing violently as Mr. Lloyd rang the bell. The door was opened readily by a boy, who was glad of the excuse to leave his seat, and he entered the schoolroom, followed by his charges. The room was long, narrow, and low-ceilinged, and was divided into two unequal portions by a great chimney, on either side of which a passage had been left. At the farther end, occupying the central space between two windows, was the doctor’s desk, or throne it might more properly be called; for never did autocrat wield more unquestioned authority over his subjects than did Dr. Johnston over the hundred and odd scholars who composed his school. In front of him, running down the centre of the room, and on either hand, following the walls, were long lines of desks, at which sat boys of all sorts, and of all ages, from ten to eighteen. As Mr. Lloyd entered, those nearest the door looked up, and seeing the newcomers, proceeded to stare at them with a frank curiosity that made Bert feel as though he would like to hide in one of his father’s coat-tail pockets.

They turned away pretty quickly, however, when Dr. Johnston, leaving his desk, came down to meet Mr. Lloyd, and as he passed between the lines, every head was bent as busily over the book or slate before it, as though its attention had never been distracted.

Considering that Dr. Johnston was really a small, slight man, it was surprising what an idea of stately dignity his appearance conveyed. He could hardly have impressed Bert with a deeper feeling of respect from the outset, if he had been seven feet high, instead of only a little more than five. He was a clergyman of the Episcopal Church, and wore at all times a long black gown, reaching nearly to his ankles, which set off to the best advantage the spare, straight figure, and strong dark face. The habitual expression of that face when in repose was of thoughtful severity, and yet if one did but scan it closely enough, the stern mouth was seen to have a downward turn at its corners that hinted at a vein of humour lying hid somewhere. The hint was well-sustained, for underneath all his sternness and severity the doctor concealed a playful humour, that at times came to the surface, and gratefully relieved his ordinary grimness.

As he walked down from his desk to meet Mr. Lloyd, he looked very pleasant indeed; and Bert felt his nervousness a little calmed as, holding out his thin, white and yet muscular hand, Dr. Johnston said, cordially:

“Good-morning, Mr. Lloyd. I presume these are the two boys you spoke to me about.”

“They are, Dr. Johnston,” Mr. Lloyd replied. “I brought them in good time so that they might learn as much as possible about the ways of the school the first day.”

“You did well, Mr. Lloyd. It is important to have a good beginning in everything that is worth doing,” said the doctor; then, turning to Bert, he slipped his hand under his chin, and lifting his head so that he might look him full in the face, added, with a smile, “I need hardly ask which of these boys is yours, for this one betrays his paternity in every feature.”

“You have hit the mark, doctor,” said Mr. Lloyd, smiling in his turn. “This is my son Cuthbert, at your service, and this is Frank Bowser, his inseparable companion.”

“Quite a case of Damon and Pythias, eh?” said the doctor, whose devotion to the classics was such that his one great regret was that he had not lived in the time of Horace.

“Yes, something of the kind,” rejoined Mr. Lloyd; “and I would be very glad if you could manage to let them sit together so long as they behave themselves.”

“We’ll see, we’ll see,” was the doctor’s non-committal response.

“Very well, then, doctor,” said Mr. Lloyd, turning to leave. “I’ll hand them over to you now. I am sure you will make the best of them, and that I am leaving them in very good hands. Good-bye, boys.” And then, bending down, he whispered in Bert’s ear, “Remember—quit you like men—be strong,” and then left them.

As Mr. Lloyd disappeared through the door, the air of geniality the doctor had been wearing during the brief interview vanished from his countenance, and it relapsed into its wonted look of resigned severity.

“Lloyd and Bowser, come with me to my desk,” said he, turning his back upon them, and walking down the room. The boys followed very meekly, and on arriving at the desk the doctor entered their names in a huge book that lay open before him, using an old-fashioned quill pen that scratched so harshly as to send a shudder through Bert, who was very sensitive to such things.

“We will now see about seats for you both,” continued the doctor. Then, raising his voice, he called out, “Mr. Snelling, will you please come here,” and from the far end of the room a respectful voice responded “Yes, sir.”

Looking in the direction whence the voice came, Bert saw an odd-looking man approaching, who, of course, was Mr. Snelling. He was of medium height, but quite as slight as the doctor himself. Many years at the schoolmaster’s desk had given a stoop to his shoulders and a pallor to his face, that were in marked contrast to his chief’s erect figure and swarthy countenance. But if his face was pale, his hair made a brave attempt to atone for this lack of colour, for it was the richest, most uncompromising red; and as though he delighted in its warm tints, Mr. Snelling allowed it to grow in uncropped abundance, and his favourite gesture was to thrust his fingers through its tangled mass. Beneath a white and narrow forehead were two small sharp eyes, that peered out keenly through a pair of gold-bowed spectacles, and were ever on the watch to detect the slightest misbehaviour among the urchins gathered around him.

Bert’s first impression of Mr. Snelling was not a favourable one, and as he stood by and heard Dr. Johnston say: “Mr. Snelling, here are two more pupils. This is Lloyd, and this is Bowser. They will go into your room for the present. Will you please see that desks are assigned them?”—he thought to himself that in spite of the doctor’s grim appearance he would rather stay in his room than be handed over to Mr. Snelling.

However, he was not to be consulted in the matter, so he followed in the wake of Mr. Snelling, who, by the way, it should be explained, was the assistant master, having special charge of all the younger scholars, and the drilling of them in the English branches of learning. The classics and mathematics the doctor reserved for himself, and a better teacher of the former particularly there was not in all Halifax.

Mr. Snelling’s portion of the room differed from the doctor’s only in that it was not so well lighted and the seats were not quite so comfortable. The school being pretty full at the time, the securing of seats for the two new-comers required some rearranging, in the course of which changes had to be made that evidently did not by any means meet with the approbation of those who were immediately concerned; and Bert’s spirits, already at a low ebb, were not much elevated by sundry scowling looks directed at him, and by one red-faced, irritable-looking chap seizing the opportunity when Mr. Snelling’s back was turned to shake his fist at Bert and Frank, and mutter loudly enough for them to hear:

“I’ll punch the heads of you both at recess, see if I don’t.”

At length, with some little difficulty, Mr. Snelling got matters arranged, and the two boys were placed in the farthest corner of the room, and, to their profound delight, side by side. Their accommodations were the reverse of luxurious. A wooden bench, destitute of back, and shiny from the friction of dear knows how many restless sitters; a sloping desk, cut and carved by careless knives, and having underneath an open shelf upon which the books, slate, cap, and lunch might be put—that was the sum total. Yet, after all, what more do schoolboys really need, or can be safely intrusted with?

Feeling very strange and nervous, Bert and Frank took their seats, and slipping their caps under the desk—they were both wearing that serviceable form of headgear known as the Glengarry—they did their best to seem composed, and to take in their surroundings. The gaunt, unlovely room was soon inspected, and from it they turned their attention to its occupants. Mr. Snelling has already been described. To the left of his desk, and extending row upon row, one behind the other, were desks filled with boys of different ages and sizes. In front of him was an open space, in which the classes stood when reciting lessons to him, and across this space was another line of desks placed close to the wall, which were assigned to the oldest boys in the room.

Not a familiar or friendly face could the newcomers find, but instead, they saw many that seemed to take pleasure in making them feel, if possible, still more ill at ease, by fixing upon them a cold, indifferent stare, or even an ugly grimace. The only ray of light was that which came from the sweet countenance of a blue-eyed, fair-haired boy, who, catching Bert’s eye, nodded pleasantly at him, as though to say, “I’m glad you’ve come; make yourself at home.” And Bert resolved that he would make his acquaintance at the very first opportunity.

Having nothing to do but watch the other boys as they studied and recited, the morning dragged along very slowly for Bert and Frank, and they were immensely relieved when the noon recess was announced, and the whole school poured tumultuously out into either the yard or the street, according to their preference. The majority of the boys went into the street, and the two friends followed them, feeling not a little anxious as to what sort of treatment they might expect at the hands of their new companions. As it proved, however, they had nothing to fear, for it was an unwritten law of the Johnston school, that new boys should be left in peace for the first day; and accordingly Frank and Bert were permitted to stand about and watch the others enjoying themselves without interruption. No one asked them to join in the games, although, no doubt, had they done so of their own accord, no one would have objected. After they had been there a few minutes, Bert heard a soft voice behind him saying:

“It’s horrid to be a new boy, isn’t it? When I was a new boy I felt so frightened. Do you feel frightened?” And turning round he saw beside him the blue-eyed, fair-haired boy whose pleasant face had attracted his attention in the school.

“I don’t think I feel just frightened,” he answered, with a smile. “But I can’t say I feel very much at home yet.”

“Oh, my! But it will be very much worse tomorrow,” said the new acquaintance.

“And why will it be worse?” inquired Bert, eagerly.

“Because they’ll hoist you,” said the other, with a nervous glance around, as though he feared being overheard.

“Does it hurt dreadfully to be hoisted?” asked Bert, while Frank drew near, awaiting the reply with intense interest.

“Oh, yes; it does hurt dreadfully! But”—with a more cheerful air—“you get over it after a little while, you know.”

“Well, then, I guess I can stand it. If you got over it all right, so can I,” spoke up Bert, manfully; then, turning to Frank, “And you can, too, can’t you. Shorty?”.

Frank shook his head doubtfully. “I can all right enough, but I don’t know that I will. I’ve a mind to give them a fight for it, anyhow.”

“Not a bit of use,” said the blue-eyed boy, whose name, by the way, as he presently told the others, was Ernest Linton. “Not a bit of use. They’ll only beat you the harder if you fight.”

“We’ll see,” said Frank, with a determined air. “We’ll see when the time comes.”

Bert and Frank found Ernest a very bright and useful friend, and they had so many questions to ask him that they were very sorry when the ringing of a bell summoned them back to their seats, where they were kept until three o’clock in the afternoon, when school was over for the day.

At home that evening Bert recounted his experiences to three very attentive listeners, and his face grew very grave when he came to tell what Ernest had said about the “hoisting.” Having never witnessed a performance of this peculiar rite by which for many years it had been the custom of the school to initiate new members, Bert had no very clear ideas about it, and, of course, thought it all the more dreadful on that account. But his father cheered him a great deal by the view he took of it.

“See, now, Bert,” said he. “It's just this way. Every boy in Dr. Johnston’s school has been hoisted, and none of them, I suppose, are any the worse for it. Neither will you be. Take my advice and don’t resist. Let the boys have it all their own way, and they’ll like you all the better, and let you off all the easier.”

“Very well, father, I’ll do just as you say,” responded Bert. “And when I come home to-morrow afternoon I’ll tell you all about it.” And feeling in much better spirits than he had been in all day, Bert went off to bed, and to sleep, as only a tired schoolboy in sturdy health can sleep.

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