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Bert Lloyd's Boyhood
Chapter XXXII. A Boy no Longer

FRANK and Bert put their hearts into the city mission work, just as they did into everything else that they undertook, and it was well they did. For surely nothing save genuine zeal, and fidelity to a strong purpose could have carried them through the experiences that awaited them. The mission school was still small and struggling. But for the almost heroic energies of its superintendent, a clerk in a city banking house, it could not have been carried on at all. He was a small, slight, fragile-looking man, but he had a heart big enough for a giant, and having consecrated his spare hours to this most unattractive of all phases of Christian work, he carried it on with a self-denying earnestness that no difficulties could dampen, nor obstacles appal. He was as ready with his purse, to the extent of its slender ability, as he was with his Bible, and his splendid unselfishness was so well appreciated by the dangerous degraded beings among whom he toiled, that alone and unprotected he might go among them at any hour of the day or night, and meet with nothing but respect and rude courtesy.

Such a man was David McMaster, under whose direction Bert and Frank lost no time in placing themselves; and a right glad welcome they had from him, his pale, thin face fairly glowing with pleasure at the addition to his force of two such promising recruits. With him they went the rounds of squalid tenements, hideous back alleys, and repulsive shanties, the tattered children gazing at them with faces in which curiosity was mingled with aversion, and their frousy parents giving them looks of enmity and mistrust, no doubt because they were so clean and well dressed.

But apparently noting nothing of this, Mr. McMaster led the way from one rookery to another, introducing his new workers to their wretched inhabitants with an easy grace that disarmed all suspicion, and made them feel that so long as he was the presiding genius of the school, they had nothing to fear in the worst locality.

The following Sunday morning they began work on their own account. The school was held at ten o’clock, closing just in time to permit the teachers to get to church, and the part assigned to Bert and Frank was to go out into the highways and byways, and invite the children playing in the dirt to come to the school, or else to go to the homes, if such they could be called, of those whose names were already upon the roll, and secure their attendance at the service.

Then when the school opened they found plenty to do, distributing the hymn books, helping in the singing, keeping a sharp look-out for unruly behaviour, watching the door lest any scholar should take it into his head to bolt, insuring an equitable division of the picture papers, and so on until the hour came to close the school, and they turned their steps churchward, feeling with good reason that they had really been doing work for God, and hard work, too.

They soon grew to love Mr. McMaster as much as they admired his zeal. He was in many ways a quaint, curious character. His body seemed so small and insignificant, and his spirit so mighty. He knew neither fear nor despair in the prosecution of his chosen work, and it was impossible to be associated with him without being infected by his unquenchable ardour. For some time no special incident marked their work, and then Bert had an experience that might have brought his part with it to an end had he been made of less sturdy stuff.

In company with Mr. McMaster he was making the usual round previous to the opening of the school, beating up unreliable scholars, and had entered a damp, noisome alley, lined on either side with tumble-down apologies for houses. Mr. McMaster took one side and Bert the other, and they proceeded to visit the different dwellers in this horrible place. Bert had knocked at several doors without getting any response, for the people were apt to lie in bed late on Sunday morning, and then his attention was aroused by sounds of crying mingled with oaths, that came from the garret of a villainous-looking tenement. He could hear the voices of a woman and of a child raised in entreaty and terror, and without pausing to consider the consequences, sprang up the broken stairs to the room from which they issued.

On opening the door a scene presented itself that would have stirred the sympathies of a man of stone. Pat Brannigan, the big wharf labourer, had devoted the greater portion of his week’s wages to making himself and his boon companions drunk with the vile rum dealt out at the groggery hard by. At midnight he had stumbled home, and throwing himself upon his bed sought to sleep off the effects of his carouse. Waking up late in the morning with a raging headache, a burning tongue, and bloodshot eyes, he had become infuriated at his poor, little girl, that cowered tremblingly in a corner, because she would not go out and get him some more drink. Half-crazed, and utterly reckless, he had sprung at the child, and might have inflicted mortal injury upon her had not the mother interposed, and kept him at bay for a moment, while she joined her shrieks to those the girl was already uttering.

It was just at this moment that Bert entered the room. As quick as a flash he sprang to Pat Brannigan’s side, and seized his arm now uplifted to strike down the unhappy wife. With a howl of rage the big brute turned to see who had thus dared to interfere. He did not know Bert, and his surprise at seeing a well-dressed stranger in the room made him hesitate a moment. Then with an oath he demanded:

“Who may you be, and what’s your business here?”

Bert looked straight into his eyes, as he answered, quietly:

“I heard the noise, and I came in to see what was the matter.”

“Then you can just be taking yourself off again as fast as you like,” growled the giant, fiercely.

Bert did not stir.

“Be off with you now. Do you hear me?” shouted Brannigan, raising his clenched fist in a way there was no mistaking.

Still Bert did not move.

“Then take that,” yelled Brannigan, aiming a terrible blow at the boy. But before it could reach him the poor wife, with a wild shriek, sprang in between them, and her husband’s great fist descended upon her head, felling her to the floor, where she lay as though dead.

At this moment, Mr. McMaster rushed in through the open door. Pat Brannigan knew him well, and when sober held him in profound respect. Even now his appearance checked his fury, and he stood swaying in the centre of the room, looking with his bleared, bloodshot eyes, first at Mr. McMaster, and then at the motionless heap upon the floor at his feet.

Advancing a step or two, Mr. McMaster looked into Brannigan’s fiery face, and asked, sternly, as he pointed to the insensible woman lying between them:

“Is that your work?”

The giant quailed before the fearless, condemning glance of the man who seemed like a pigmy beside him. His head fell upon his breast, and without attempting a reply, he slunk over to the other end of the room, flung himself into a chair, and buried his face in his hands.

“Come, Bert, let us lift her up on the bed,” said Mr. McMaster, and between them Mrs. Brannigan was lifted gently, and placed upon the miserable bed.

“Now, Katie, get us some cold water, quick,” said he, turning to the little girl, who watched him with wondering eyes. As if glad to get out of the room, she sped away, and presently returned with a tin of water, with which Mr. McMaster tenderly bathed Mrs. Brannigan’s forehead, and soon the poor sufferer recovered consciousness. Mr. McMaster and Bert then went away, the former promising to look in again after school was over, and see if further help might be required.

When Bert told of the morning’s experience at home, his mother became very much agitated, and seemed strongly inclined to oppose his continuing the work. But Mr. Lloyd was not of the same opinion at all. He thought it a very admirable training for Bert, and Bert himself had no disposition to give it up. Accordingly, he went on as though nothing had happened, meeting with many discouragements, and few real successes, yet sustained by a steady impulse to willing service, strengthened by a real interest in the work itself.

The days of Bert’s boyhood were rapidly passing by. The time was approaching for him to enter college, and once enrolled as an undergraduate he could of course be counted a boy no longer. Not indeed that he was growing old in the sense of becoming too prim or particular to indulge in boyish sports and pranks. There was nothing premature in his development. He was in advance of many boys of his age, it is true, but that was only because he strove to be.

He was not content unless he stood among the leaders, whether in study or sport. He looked forward to college with ardent expectation. Ever since the days of Mr. Garrison’s school he had been accustomed to see the students in their Oxford caps and flowing black gowns going to and from the university which had its home in a handsome freestone building that stood right in the heart of the city, and he had felt impatient for the time to come when he might adopt the same odd and striking costume.

During the past year his studies had been directed with special reference to the matriculation examination. As regards the classics, he could not have had a better teacher than Dr. Johnston, and his progress in knowledge of them had been sure and steady. In mathematics, however, he was hardly up to the mark, partly because they were not taught with the same enthusiasm at Dr. Johnston’s, and partly because he did not take to them very kindly himself. Mr. Lloyd accordingly thought it wise to engage a tutor who would give him daily lessons during the midsummer holidays.

Bert, as was quite natural, did not altogether relish the idea of mingling work with play in this fashion in the glorious summer weather when the days seemed all too short for the enjoyment that was to be had; but when Frank, who was of course to go to college also, entered heartily into the plan, and Mr. Scott, the tutor, proved to be a very able and interesting instructor, full of enthusiasm about the university, in which he was one of the most brilliant students, Bert’s indifference soon disappeared, and the three lads—for Mr. Scott was still in his teens—had a fine time together that summer, studying hard for two hours each morning, and spending the rest of the day in boating, or cricket, or some other pleasant fashion.

As the heat of summer yielded to the cool breezes of autumn, and the time for the opening of the college drew near, Bert grew very excited. There were two scholarships offered at each matriculation examination, one open to those coming from the city, the other to those from the country. He had fixed his ambition upon the city scholarship, and determined to do his best to win it. He had caught some of his tutor’s enthusiasm, and fully appreciated the importance of a brilliant beginning. Accordingly, he gave diligent heed to the good advice Mr. Scott delighted to give him, as well as to the studies he set for him, and looked forward hopefully to the approaching examination.

Toward the end of October the examination took place. It was the boys’ first experience of a written examination, and it is little wonder if they felt nervous about it.

With Mr. Scott as guide they made their way to the university building, where he led them along the echoing stone corridors to a door inscribed, “Library" and then, wishing them the best of fortune, bade them enter and try their fate. They found themselves in a large bright room whose floor was covered with desks, and the walls lined with bookcases, and having at one end a baize-covered table, around which sat several spectacled gentlemen attired in long black gowns, and chatting busily with one another. They took no notice of the two boys, who sat down at the nearest desk, and awaited developments. They were the first candidates in the room, but others presently came in until more than a score had gathered.

All evidently felt more or less nervous, although some tried very hard to appear unconcerned. They varied in age from Bert, who was undoubtedly the youngest, to a long-bearded, sober-visaged Scotchman, who might almost have been his father; their appearance was as different as their ages, some being spruce, well-dressed city lads, and others the most rustic-looking of youths, clad in rough homespun. They each sat down in the first seat they could find, and then stared about them as if they would like very much to know what was going to happen next.

They had not long to wait in uncertainty. A short, stout, pleasant-faced professor disengaged himself from the group at the table, and stepping up to the platform, said, in a smooth voice, with a strong Scotch accent:

“If you are ready to begin, gentlemen, will you please arrange yourselves so as to occupy only every alternate desk.”

There was a little noise and bustle as this order was being carried out, and then they settled down again, with a vacant desk between each pair as a precaution against whispered assistance. The next proceeding was to distribute paper to the candidates, they being expected to supply their own pens and ink. And then came what all were awaiting with beating pulse—viz., the examination paper. Each one as he received his paper ran his eye eagerly down the list of questions, his countenance growing bright or gloomy according as, to this hasty survey, the questions seemed easy or difficult.

Bert scanned his list rapidly, gave a great sigh of relief, and then turned to Frank with a meaning smile, which said more plainly than words:

“I’m all right.”

Frank smiled back, in token that he was all right, too, and then the two boys bent to their work.

They did not get along very fast at the start. It was their first written examination, and this, added to their natural nervousness, kept both their ideas and their ink from flowing freely. But after a few minutes they forgot themselves in their eagerness to commit to paper the answers to the questions before them, and for an hour or more they scribbled away until the first paper, which was upon the classics, had nothing unanswered left upon it.

Bert finished first, and the professor, noticing him unemployed, brought him another paper, this time the mathematical one. As he expected, he did not do quite as well with it But he felt sure of being right in his answers to six out of the ten questions, and very hopeful about two others, so that altogether he was well satisfied.

The third and last paper was upon the English branches—history, grammar, geography, and so forth, and he polished this off with little difficulty, making a clean sweep of the dozen questions. All this took until after one o’clock, and when he laid down his pen with his task finished, he felt pretty tired, and anxious to get out and stretch himself. Frank, however, was not quite through, so he waited for him, and then the friends hurried off to compare notes, and estimate their chances.

The results would not be declared for two days at least, and Bert found it very hard to keep his impatience in check. He could think of nothing else than those examinations. Having answered so many questions, he felt not the slightest uneasiness as to passing; but the scholarship—ah! that was the point. Mr. Scott had made it very clear what an important position a scholarship winner held in his class. It gave him the lead at once, and was in every way an honour to be highly coveted.

Well, the longest days have their ending, and the two days of excited uncertainty dragged themselves past, and on Friday morning with a heart beating like a trip hammer, Bert hastened to the university. The results would be posted up on a huge blackboard that hung in the central corridor, and on entering he found an eager crowd thronging about this board, through which he had some difficulty in making his way. But by dint of pushing and elbowing, he soon got near enough to make out what was written on the long sheets of paper that occupied the centre of the board, and then—how shall be described the bound of wild delight his heart gave, when he read: “The City Scholarship—CUTHBERT LLOYD.”

Then underneath the word “Passed? in large letters, the name “Cuthbert Lloyd,” and a few names lower down “Frank Bowser,” while below them were the rest of the candidates.

Frank was beside him, and by a common impulse of joy the two friends threw their arms about each other, and hugged one another like two enthusiastic young bears. Then they ran off as fast as their legs could carry them to tell the good news.

There was not a happier, prouder family in all Acadia that night than the Lloyds. Mr. Bowser and Frank came in to exchange congratulations, and they rejoiced together over the boys’ success. Mr. Bowser was as delighted over Frank’s passing as Mr. Loyd was over Bert’s scholarship. Like many men of defective education, he had very vague views about college. It was all a mystery to him, and that Frank, whom he was just finding out to be something more than a boy, should so easily penetrate these mysteries, and take a good place among the candidates for admission, was a source of unbounded satisfaction to him.

After the first exuberance of joy had subsided, the conversation sobered down somewhat, and they began to talk about the future.

“Now, young gentlemen—for I suppose I dare not call you boys any longer,” said Mr. Lloyd, smilingly —“you should soon be making up your minds as to what part in life you intend to take, because, once you have decided, your studies at college should be carried on with that end in view. Don’t you think so, Mr. Bowser?”

“I most certainly do, sir,” replied Mr. Bowser, promptly.

“Well, of course, it is not a question to be decided off hand,” continued Mr. Lloyd, “nor one which we should decide for you, unless you turn it over to us. So we will leave it with you for a while, if you like.”

“I don’t think that’s necessary, father,” spoke up Bert. “Frank and I have pretty well made up our minds already—that is, of course, if there is no objection.” .

“And what is your choice, Frank?” asked Mr. Lloyd.

“I would like to follow my father’s business, if he will have me, sir,” answered Frank, giving his father a look of inquiry.

Mr. Bowser’s face flushed with pleasure. He rose from his chair, and crossing the room to where his son sat, he put his big hand upon his shoulder, and said, in his heartiest tones:

“Ay—that I will, my lad, and all that I have shall be yours when I am gone.”

“I hope that won’t be for a long time yet, father,” said Frank, looking up affectionately into his father’s beaming face.

“So do I, my boy, so do I; but when it does happen, God knows what a comfort it will be to me to leave such a son behind me.” And the tears slipped down his broad cheeks as he went back to his chair.

There was a moment’s silence, for all had been affected by this touching little scene; and then, Mr. Lloyd, turning to Bert, inquired of him:

“And what is your choice, Bert?”

“Well, father, if you think I can ever become fit for it, I would like to be a minister,” he answered, modestly.

It was now Mr. Lloyd’s turn to become radiant.

“My darling boy, you could not have delighted me more,” he cried. “It has been my desire and prayer for you, that this should be your choice, but I have said nothing to you, because I wanted you tp be perfectly free and unbiassed by any thought of pleasing me. I see clearly now that this is the Lord’s doing, and my heart is full to overflowing with joy. God bless you both, my boys. I am sure that the hope and prayer of us all is that in your manhood may be fulfilled the promise of your boyhood that has been so bright, and to which you have now bidden farewell.”


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