Read CHAPTER II - LESLIE'S INTRODUCTION TO ASCOT HOUSE of Leslie Ross / Fond of a Lark, free online book, by Charles Bruce, on

A few days after his adventure with old Crusoe, Leslie bade farewell to home and all its delights. He tried to be brave and not cry, but in spite of all his efforts he continually felt a kind of choking sensation in the throat, and when he kissed his mother for the last time, he fairly burst into tears, and did not again recover his calmness until he found himself seated by his papa in a first-class carriage, and being whirled to London as fast as an express train could whirl him.

“Come, Leslie,” said Mr Ross, “dry up your tears and be a man, you will not find school life so unpleasant as you imagine; after the first few days, you will settle down and soon make friends.”

The school to which Mr Ross was conveying Leslie was situated about fifty miles the opposite side of London to that of his own home, and was known by the name of Ascot House, and had the reputation of being one of the best private schools in its county; Mr Ross, however, had chiefly selected it from the fact that its principal, Dr Price, had been an old college companion and friend, and he knew him to be a man of probity and honour, and one to whom he could safely intrust both the moral and mental education of his son.

The school-house was a large building, and contained ample accommodation for many more than the number of scholars the doctor undertook to educate, and was situated a few hundred yards from the banks of a broad, but somewhat sluggish stream; in fact, the school-house seemed much too near to the river to be pleasant, especially when it was known that the building itself was below its level; but as no inundations had ever been known, and all dangerous parts had been well dammed up, and every precaution taken against its overflow, no danger was apprehended. On this river the boys were allowed to row, and in it they were allowed to bathe. To the scholars generally it formed a great feature of attraction.

“See, Leslie,” said Mr Ross, as they neared the school, “you will still have your favourite element on which to exhibit your prowess.”

“Yes, I see, papa, but it is nothing compared to the sea.”

It was near noon of a beautiful summer day that they drove up to the private entrance of the school-house; the sun was shining brightly, and every flower in the garden was alive with beauty and colour.

“If your school career is as bright as this day is, Leslie, it will do.”

“I will try and make it so, papa.”

“Do, my son; mine and your mamma’s thoughts will be constantly travelling to Ascot House.”

“And mine travelling home, papa.”

“So I believe, my dear boy; but life is always full of partings, and absence from those we love.”

Mr Ross and his son were ushered into the doctor’s library, where they found the doctor himself ready to receive them, who, after shaking hands with his old college friend, placed one on Leslie’s head, saying, “This, then, is the young gentleman concerning whom you wrote.”

“Yes, doctor, he is my only son.”

“Well, I trust we shall work well and pleasantly together, and that I may always have a good account to transmit to you concerning him.”

Leslie murmured something in reply, but what, he scarcely knew. He was glancing round the doctor’s library, to ascertain if there were any instruments of punishment to be seen, his ideas of school discipline and punishment being almost one and the same.

“You will, of course, stop and dine with me, Ross, and be introduced to my wife and child; your son also, will like to have one more meal with you; meanwhile I will introduce him to his future companions, with whom he has both to work and play.”

“Then I will bid you farewell till dinner time, Leslie,” said Mr Ross, as the doctor took his son by the hand to lead him away.

As they approached the school-room door a confused buz of many voices fell upon Leslie’s ear, which was hushed, complete silence reigning, as they entered. It was a long and lofty room, containing as many as eighty or ninety boys of various size and age, from the little urchin of nine years in knickerbockers, to the youth of eighteen sporting his first tailed-coat. Leslie gave one hasty look round the room and then lowered his glance, fixing it upon the floor, being unable to withstand the battery of so many eyes, all of which were fixed scrutinisingly upon himself.

“Boys,” said the doctor, “I introduce to you a new companion, who, being a stranger, I hope you will treat with all kindness and courtesy. Hall, I place him beneath your care and protection, make him familiar with the ways of the school. It is my custom, you know, boys,” continued the doctor, “to indulge you with a half-holiday whenever a new boy enters the school; we will therefore resume our studies at half-past eight to-morrow morning.”

“Hurrah! one cheer for the doctor,” cried a boy, jumping on a form and waving a large dictionary in the air. “Hip! hip! hip! hurrah!” was the deafening response. “Now then, one more for the new boy.”

“Hip! hip! hip! hurrah!” was again heartily shouted, in the middle of which the large dictionary slipped from the hand which held it, falling with a crash upon the head of a boy who was just rising to leave his desk.

“You, Johnnie Lynch,” cried the boy, rubbing his head, “just be careful where you throw your books.”

“I beg pardon,” replied Lynch, laughing; “it was quite an accident, I assure you.”

“It is all very well saying so now it is done; I never had so many words thrown at me before.”

“Well, never mind, words are but wind.”

“Wind, I found them anything but wind.”

“Besides, Lynch,” chimed in another boy, “your dictionary struck him in his weakest part.”

“Come, Mr Sharp-tongue, you had better make yourself scarce,” said the boy, making a grab at the last speaker, who, however, was too nimble, for, eluding his grasp, he made his way to where Leslie was standing, and introduced himself as Arthur Hall, to whose protection the doctor had confided him. Hall was a bright, merry-looking boy, about fourteen years of age.

“Well, youngster, what is you name?” commenced Hall.

“Ross, Leslie Ross.”

“Is this your first school?”

“Yes, my father has educated me until now.”

“Why does he send you to school?”

“Because I nearly drowned myself and old Crusoe.”

“Oh, I say, you’re a lively fellow, I hope you won’t try it on any of us. I for one don’t want my friends to go into mourning on my account,” said one boy from the group which had clustered round Leslie.

“Oh, no fear,” replied Leslie, who loved a joke, “I won’t try it until I’m perfectly sure of success, and will then take the whole school in hand.”

“Ah, but unless you can swim, my boy, you will have to keep on dry land; the doctor don’t like more than one pupil drowned a term, and Jones, here, was very near it the other day,” slapping a quiet-looking boy on the back. “If Hall and I had not stood him on his head, to let the water run out of his mouth, and rolled him over and over on the bank, his place in the class would have been vacant, and you would have seen all our eyes red with weeping; eh, Jones?”

“That will do Moore,” replied Jones; “you must not believe him, you new boy, or he’ll cram you with no end of nonsense.”

“Nonsense, Jones, nonsense! why, am I not the most sensible boy in the school?”

“Yes, when all the rest of us are away.”

“Come, Moore, say no more,” broke in Hall, “I have not ended my questioning yet.” Then turning to Leslie he said, “Can you swim?”

“Yes, and row too?”

“Where did you learn?”

“Oh, my home is by the sea-shore, an old sailor taught me.”

“Well, come and have a row now, and let’s see who’s the best man. I never have rowed on salt water.”

“You are sure to beat me,” said Leslie, “you are so much older than I am. But will there be time before dinner?”

“Plenty; besides, the exercise will sharpen your teeth, and they’ll need it to-day, for Fridays are boiled beef days.”

“But I am to dine with my father at the doctor’s table.”

“Oh, then, you are all right, come along.”

Away the boys bounded, as only school-boys can, shouting and laughing, and playing off harmless practical jokes upon each other. They soon reached that part of the river where the boats were hauled up on the bank.

“Who will lend Ross a boat?” inquired Hall, as he stepped into his, and began preparing for the race.

“I will,” said Moore; “here, jump in, youngster, and let’s see what you’re made of.”

Leslie seated himself in the boat which Moore pushed into the stream. “You see that solitary tree about a quarter of a mile farther on? well, that’s the winning post,” said Moore; “now then, all ready? one, two, three, off.”

Away the boats flew. Leslie found he had all his work cut out to beat Hall, who, if not so skilful as himself in the use of the oars, was much older and stronger. The other boys ran along the bank shouting and waving their caps by way of encouragement. The two boats for a third of the way kept even pace, then Hall’s gradually forged a-head, and, try all he could, Leslie was unable to regain the lost space, so that, when the winning post was reached, Hall won by quite a boat’s length.

“Come,” said Hall, as he stepped out of his boat on their return, and gently patted Leslie on the shoulder, “come, I think you and I are likely to be good friends.”

Leslie thought so too, although he felt a little hurt at having been beaten.

In the doctor’s dining-room Leslie was introduced to Mrs Price, who gave him a very kindly welcome, and when he looked up into her pleasant face, he thought he should be sure to like her, and hoped that he would have many opportunities of being in her company; but when Leslie was introduced to the doctor’s little daughter, a year younger than himself, he was quite charmed, and decided in his own mind that the world could not possess a prettier creature than Maud Price.

Leslie had not been much accustomed to the society of girls, and in consequence felt quite bashful when he found himself seated next to her at table; but her quiet, easy, and graceful manner speedily put him at his ease; and during the progress of dinner he could not refrain from stealing a few glances at her face and eyes. The little lady, however, was very quiet, and, until dessert was placed on the table, said not a word, when, lifting up her eyes to his face, she said,

“Have you come to be a school-boy?”

“Yes, and this is my first school.”

“I’m so sorry, because school-boys are so noisy and troublesome; I can’t bear school-boys.”

“But perhaps I may turn out different,” said Leslie, scarcely knowing what to say in reply to the decided expression of the young lady.

“Well, perhaps so, but I have not much hope.”

“Suppose I try to keep as I am now for your sake?”

“Ah, that would be nice, then I would ask mamma to invite you into the parlour sometimes.”

“An inducement,” said Leslie, with a smile.

The time sped rapidly on, and the hour approached when Mr Ross was compelled to leave, and, taking his son into the garden, he there bade him farewell, saying, “Good-bye, my boy, mind and write home to let us know how you get on; if I may judge from what I have seen of the school, you will be comfortable here.”

“Yes, papa, as comfortable as I can be away from home.”

And Leslie thought so again, as at night he knelt down by his bedside, to repeat his evening prayer.