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Bert Lloyd's Boyhood
Chapter XIX. Victory and Defeat

AS may be easily imagined, Dr. Johnston’s severe punishment of Rod Graham for having taken upon himself the part of an informer did not tend to make that young gentleman any more pleasant in his bearing toward Bert. By some process of reasoning, intelligible only to himself, he held Bert accountable for the whipping he had received, and lost no opportunity of wreaking his vengeance upon him. Every now and then during that winter Bert had bitter proof of his enemy’s unrelenting hate. It seemed as though there were no limit to Rod’s ingenuity in devising ways of annoying him, and many a hot tear did he succeed in wringing from him.

As spring drew near, this persecution grew more and more intolerable, and, without Bert himself being fully conscious of it, a crisis was inevitable. This crisis came sooner, perhaps, than either Bert or Rod anticipated. One bright spring morning, as Bert, with satchel strapped upon his back, approached the school, feeling in high spirits, and looking the very picture of a sturdy schoolboy, Rod, who had been in hiding behind a porch, sprang out upon him suddenly, snatched the cap off his head, and, with a shout of, “Fetch it, doggy; go, fetch it,” flung it into the middle of the street, that was now little better than a river of mud.

This proved to be the last straw upon the back of Bert’s endurance, and it broke it. With a quickness that gave his tormentor no chance to dodge or defend himself, he doubled up his fist, shut his eyes tight, and, rushing at him, struck out with all his might. The blow could hardly have been more effective if Bert had been an expert in boxing, for his fist landed full on Rod’s left eye, sending him staggering backward several paces, with his hands clapped over the injured optic. But he soon recovered himself, and, with clenched fists, was rushing upon Bert, to pummel him fiercely, when Teter Johnston, who had just come up, sprang in between, and, catching Rod’s uplifted arm, cried out, sternly:

“Stop, now! none of that! This must be a fair fight, and you shan’t begin until Lloyd is ready.”

Then turning to Bert, while Rod, who had too much respect for Teter’s prowess not to obey him, gave way with a malignant scowl, Teter said, encouragingly:

“You must fight him, Bert. It’s the only way to settle him. You’ll thrash him all right enough. I’ll see you through.”

Bert had a good many doubts about his thrashing “him all right enough,” but he was still too angry to think calmly, and, moreover, he was not a little elated at the surprising success of his first blow, which, although struck at a venture, had gone so straight to the mark, and so he nodded his head in assent.

“Very well, then, it’s a fight,” said Teter to Rod. “In the yard at the noon recess. You bring your second, Graham; I'll look after Bert myself.”

The words were hardly uttered when the bell rung, and the boys had all to hurry to their places in the schoolroom.

That morning was one of the most miserable poor Bert had ever spent. He was a prey to the most diverse feelings, and it was with the utmost difficulty that he could bring his mind to bear sufficiently upon his lessons to keep his place in the classes. In the first place, he really dreaded the fight with Rod Graham. Graham was older, taller, and much more experienced in such affairs, and Bert could see no reason why he should hope for a victory over him. It was all well enough for dear old Frank to say from time to time, as he noticed Bert’s depression:

“Keep up your spirit, Bert; you’ll thrash him sure. And if you don’t, I will, as sure as I’m alive.”

But that did not make the matter any clearer, for Bert would rather not get a thrashing at Rod’s hands, even though Rod should get one at Frank’s hands shortly after.

Then, again, he did not feel at all certain that his father and mother would approve of his having a fight with one of his schoolmates. They disliked anything of the kind, he knew well enough, and perhaps they would not be willing to make an exception in this case. He wished very much he could ask their permission, but that, of course, was out of the question. The mere mention of such a thing would assuredly raise a howl of derision from the other boys, and even Teter Johnston would no doubt ask contemptuously if “he was going to back out of it in that way.”

No, no; he must take the chances of his parents approval, and likewise—and here came in the third difficulty—of Dr. Johnston’s also, for he could not help wondering what the doctor would think when he heard of it, as he was certain to do.

Thus perplexed and bewildered, the morning dragged slowly along for Bert, who would one moment be wishing that recess time could be postponed indefinitely, and the next, impatient for its arrival.

At length twelve o’clock struck, and the boys, who were by this time all fully aware of what was in the wind, crowded out into the yard and quickly formed a ring in the corner farthest away from the schoolroom. Into this ring presently stepped Rod Graham, looking very jaunty and defiant, supported by Harry Rawdon, the fly catcher, the one friend he had in the school. A moment later came Bert Lloyd, pale but determined, with Teter and Frank on either side of him, Frank wearing an expression that said as plainly as possible:

“Whip my friend Bert, if you dare.”

It is neither necessary nor expedient to go into the details of the fight, which did not last very long. Acting on Teter’s sage advice, Bert made no attempt to defend himself, but rushing into close quarters at once, sent in swinging blows with right and left hands alternately, striking Rod upon the face and chest, while the latter’s blows fell principally upon his forehead; until finally, in the fourth round, Graham, whose face had suffered severely, gave up the contest, and covering his head, with his hands, ran away from Bert, who was too tired to pursue him.

Great was the cheering at this conclusive result; and Bert, panting, perspiring, and exhausted, found himself the centre of a noisy throng of his schoolmates, who wrung his hand, clapped him upon the back, called him all sorts of names that were complimentary, and, in fact, gave him a regular ovation. After he had gone to the tap and bathed his hot face, Bert was very much pleased to find that the brunt of the battle had fallen upon his forehead, and that, consequently, he would hardly be marked at all. To be sure, when he tried to put his cap on, he discovered that it would be necessary to wear it very much on the back of his head, but he felt like doing that, anyway, so it didn’t matter.

He would have liked to shake hands with Rod, and make it all up, but Rod was not to be found. After fleeing from his opponent, he had snatched up his coat, and, deserted even by Rawdon,who was disgusted at his running away, he had gone out into the street, and did not appear again for the rest of the day.

His victory worked a great change in Bert’s feelings. He was no longer troubled about what his parents would think of the fight. He felt sure they would applaud him, now that he had come out of it with banners flying, so to speak. And he was not far from right, either. Mrs. Lloyd, it is true, was a good deal shocked at first, and Mr. Lloyd questioned him very closely; but when they heard the whole story, much of which, indeed, was already familiar to them, they both agreed that under the circumstances Bert could not have acted otherwise, without placing himself in a false position.

“At the same time, Bert, dear,” said his father, laying his hand upon his shoulder, “as it is your first, so I hope it will be your last fight. You have established your reputation for courage now. You can sustain it in other ways than by your fists.”

Dr. Johnston’s method of showing that he was fully cognisant of the event was highly characteristic. The next morning when Bert, with swollen forehead, and Rod, with blackened eyes, came before him in the same class, he said, with one of his sardonic smiles:

“Ah, Graham, I see Lloyd has been writing his autograph on you. Well, let that be an end of it. Shake hands with one another.”

Bert immediately put out his hand and grasped Rod’s, which was but half extended.

“Very good,” said the doctor. “We will now proceed with the lesson.”

One of the most interested and excited spectators of the fight had been Dick Wilding, a boy who will require a few words of description. He was the son of one of the merchant princes of the city, and was accustomed to everything that the highest social station and abundant wealth could procure. He was a handsome young fellow, and although thoroughly spoiled and selfish, was not without his good points, a lavish generosity being the most noteworthy. This, of course, supplemented by his reckless daring as regards all schoolboy feats, and natural aptitude for schoolboy sports, made him very popular at the school, and he had a large following. Previous to Bert’s decisive victory over Rod Graham, he had not shown any particular interest in him, beyond committing himself to the opinion that he was a “regular brick ” on the occasion of the hoisting, and again, when Bert bore his whipping so manfully. But since the fight, he had exhibited a strong desire to have Bert join the circle of his companions, and to this end cultivated his society in a very marked way.

Now, this same Dick Wilding had been in Mrs. Lloyd’s mind when she had hesitated about Bert’s going to Dr. Johnston’s. She knew well what his bringing up had been, and had heard several stories about him, which made her dread his being a companion for Bert. She had accordingly spoken to Bert about Dick, and while taking care not to be too pointed, had made it clear that she did not want them to be intimate. This was when Bert first went to the school, and as there had seemed no prospect of anything more than a mere acquaintance springing up between the two boys, nothing had been said on the subject for some time, so that it was not fresh in his mind when Dick, somewhat to his surprise, showed such a desire for his society.

Dick’s latest enterprise was the organisation of a cricket club, into which he was putting a great deal of energy. As the bats and balls and other necessary articles were to be paid for out of his own pocket, he found no difficulty in getting recruits, and the list of members was fast filling up. Bert had heard a good deal about this club, and would have liked very much to belong to it, but as nobody belonged except those who had been invited by Dick, his prospects did not seem very bright. Great then was his delight when one day at recess, Dick came up to him and said in his most winning way:

“Say, Bert, don’t you want to join my cricket club? I’d like to have you in.”

Bert did not take long to answer.

“And I’d like to join ever so much,” he replied, in great glee.

“All right, then; consider yourself a member, and come round to the field behind our house this afternoon. We practise there every day.”

Bert was fairly dancing with joy. Yet he did not forget his friend Frank. If Frank were not a member of the club, too, half the pleasure of it would be gone. So before Dick went off, he ventured to say:

“Frank Bowser would like to belong, too, I know. Won’t you ask him?”

“Certainly. No objection at all,” replied Dick, in an off-hand way. “Bring him along with you this afternoon.”

With beaming face, Bert rushed over to where Frank was busy playing marbles, and drawing him aside, shouted rather than whispered in his ear:

“I’ve got something splendid to tell you. Dick Wilding has asked us both to join his cricket club, and we’re to go to his field this very afternoon.” “You don’t say so!” exclaimed Frank, his face now beaming as brightly as Bert’s. “Isn’t that just splendid! I wanted to belong to that club ever so much, but was afraid Dick wouldn’t ask me.”

They had a capital game of cricket that afternoon in the Wilding field, which made a very good ground indeed, and not only that afternoon, but for many afternoons as spring passed into summer and the days grew longer and warmer. Bert told them at home about the club, but somehow omitted to mention the prominent part Dick Wilding played in it. In fact, he never mentioned his name at all, nor that it was his fathers field in which the club met. This was the first step in a path of wrong, the taking of which was soon to lead to serious consequences.

His reason for suppressing Dick Wilding’s name was plain enough. He knew that in all probability it would put an end to his connection with the club. Now this club had every attraction for a boy like Bert that such an organisation could possibly possess. It was select and exclusive, for none could belong except those who were invited by Dick. The field was a lovely place to play in, and they had it all to themselves. The balls and bats and stumps were first-class, a fine set of cricket gear having been one of Dick’s Christmas presents; and, finally, Dick was always bringing out to the players iced lemonade, or ginger beer, or spruce beer, or something of the kind, which was wonderfully welcome to them when hot and tired and thirsty.

With such strong arguments as these, Bert did not find it difficult to quiet his conscience when it troubled him, as it did now and then, and he continued to be a great deal in Dick Wilding’s society until something happened which caused him to bitterly regret that he had not heeded the inward monitor, and kept away from the associations his wise mother wished him to avoid.

Mrs. Lloyd had good reason for dreading Dick Wilding’s companionship for her boy, as Dick could hardly fail to do Bert harm, while the chances of Bert doing him any good were very small, since he was quite a year older and well set in his own ways. Dick’s parents were thorough people of the world. Their religion consisted in occupying a velvet-cushioned pew in a fashionable church on Sunday morning, and doing as they pleased the rest of the day. They made no attempt to teach their son anything more than good manners, taking it quite for granted that the other virtues would spring up of themselves. Dick was not much to be blamed, therefore, if he had rather hazy views about right and wrong. He had not really an evil nature, but he had a very easy conscience, and the motto by which he shaped his conduct might well have been: “Get your own way. Get it honestly, if you can. But—get it.”

Now, this cricket club had taken a great hold upon his fancy, and his whole heart was wrapped up in it. He was captain, of course, and all the other boys obeyed him implicitly. Their docility ministered to his pride, and he showed his appreciation by fairly showering his bounty upon them. There positively seemed no end to his pocket money. All sorts of expenses were indulged in. A fine tent was set up for the boys to put their hats and coats in and sit under when not playing, the ginger-beer man had orders to call round every afternoon and leave a dozen bottles of his refreshing beverage, and more than once the club, instead of playing, adjourned, at Dick’s invitation, to an ice-cream saloon, and had a regular feast of ice-cream. When some indiscreet companion would express his astonishment at the length of Dick’s purse, the latter would answer, carelessly:

“Plenty of funds. Father, and mother, and uncle all give me money. There’s lots more where this came from,” jingling a handful of silver as he spoke. So, indeed, there was; but had it any business to be in Master Dick’s pocket?

This delightful state of affairs went on for some weeks, no one enjoying it more than Bert, and then came a revelation that broke upon the boys like a thunder-clap out of a clear sky.

One evening, Mr. Wilding came over to see Mr. Lloyd, looking very grave and troubled. They had a long talk together in Mr. Lloyd’s study, and when he went away Mr. Lloyd looked as grave and troubled as his visitor. After showing Mr. Wilding out, he called his wife into the library, and communicated to her what he had just heard, and it must have been sorrowful news, for Mrs. Lloyd’s face bore unmistakable signs of tears, when presently she went out for Bert, who was hard at work upon his lessons in the dining-room.

The moment Bert entered the room he saw that something was the matter. The faces of his father and mother were very sorrowful, and an indefinable feeling of apprehension took hold of him. He was not long left in uncertainty as to the cause of the trouble.

“Bert,” said his father, gravely, “have you seen much of Dick Wilding lately?”

Bert blushed, and hesitated a moment, and then answered:

“Yes, father; a good deal. He’s the captain of our cricket club, you know.”

“I did not know until now that you have told me, Bert,” said Mr. Lloyd, looking meaningly at him. “You never told me before, did you?”

The colour deepened on Bert’s face.

“No, father; I don’t think I did,” he murmured. “Had you any reason for saying nothing about him, Bert? Were you afraid we would not let you belong to the club if we knew that Dick Wilding was its captain?” asked Mr. Lloyd.

Bert made no reply, but his head drooped low upon his breast, and his hands playing nervously with the buttons of his coat told the whole story more plainly than words could have done. Mr. Lloyd sighed deeply and looked at his wife as though to say: “There’s no doubt about it; our boy has been deceiving us,” while Mrs. Lloyd’s eyes once more filled with tears, which she turned away to hide.

After a pause, during which Bert seemed to hear the beating of his own heart as distinctly as the ticking of the big clock upon the mantel, Mr. Lloyd said, in tones that showed deep feeling:

“We would have been sorry enough to find out that our boy had been deceiving us, but what shall we say at finding out that he has been a sharer in pleasures purchased with stolen money?”

Bert looked up in surprise. Stolen money! What could his father mean? Mr. Lloyd understood the movement, and anticipated the unasked question.

“Yes, Bert; stolen money. The beer, the candy, and the ice cream, which Dick Wilding lavished upon you so freely, were paid for with money stolen from his mother’s money drawer. He found a key which fitted the lock, and has taken out, no one knows just how much money; and you have been sharing in what that stolen money purchased.”

Bert was fairly stunned. Dick Wilding a thief! And he a sharer in the proceeds of his guilt! He felt as though he must run and hide himself. That Dick should do wrong was not entirely a surprise to him, but that his sin in being a companion of Dick’s on the sly should be found out in this way, this it was which cut him to the heart. Without a word of excuse to offer, he sat there, self-condemned and speechless. The silence of the room was appalling. He could not bear it any longer. Springing from his chair, he rushed across the room, threw himself on his knees before his mother, and putting his head in her lap, burst into a paroxysm of tears, sobbing as though his heart would break.

“Poor Bert, poor Bert!” murmured his mother, tenderly, passing her hand softly over the curly head in her lap.

Mr. Lloyd was deeply moved, and put his hand up to his eyes to conceal the tears fast welling from them. For some minutes the quiet of the room was broken only by Bert’s sobs, and the steady ticking of the clock upon the mantelpiece.

Mr. Lloyd was the first to speak.

“You had better get up and go to your room, Bert. We both know how sorry you are, and we forgive you for having so disobeyed us. But we are not the only ones of whom you must ask forgiveness. Go to your knees, Bert, and ask God to forgive you.”

Bert rose slowly to his feet, and, not venturing to look either his father or mother in the face, was going out of the door, when his father called him back.

“Just one word more, Bert. It is not long since you won a brave fight, and now you have been sadly defeated by a far worse enemy than Rod Graham. You can, in your own strength, overcome human foes, but only by Divine strength can you overcome the tempter that has led you astray this time. Pray for this strength, Bert, for it is the kind the Bible means when it says, ‘Quit you like men, be strong.’”

And with a look of deep affection, Mr. Lloyd let Bert go from him.

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