Read CHAPTER IV - THE LINCHPIN of Leslie Ross / Fond of a Lark, free online book, by Charles Bruce, on ReadCentral.com.

“Rain, rain, rain, I think we are going to have a second deluge,” said Arthur Hall, looking disconsolately out of one of the school-room windows.

“Yes, I think so, too,” said Fred Moore, joining him.

“This makes the second week it has poured down, with not a single bright day all the time.”

“It would not be a bad plan if it only rained at night, and not during the day, for play and work could go on quite nicely then,” remarked Lynch, who was copying out his twenty lines.

“It is rather fortunate for you and Ross, that all this rain has come during your punishment month.”

“Yes,” chimed in Leslie, “with the exception of the daily task of twenty lines, our last fortnight has not been much of a punishment, for I assure you I have had no desire to go out.”

“Always your fortune,” said Hall, who was manifestly in an ill humour; “now, if I had been punished instead of you, the weather would have been a marvel of fineness, sunny all day and starry all night.”

“Well, don’t get cross, Hall, the holidays will soon be here; another ten days, and good-bye books, slates, and masters.”

“Yes, there is some consolation in that,” said Hall; “but you two, Ross and Lynch, just step here and see how it comes down.”

“One moment,” said Lynch, “I am finishing my last line; there, the doctor ought to give me three good marks, and set me up as an example of clever penmanship before the whole school.”

“How quick you write, Johnnie,” said Leslie, looking up from his task, as his friend waved his paper round his head, “here I have six more lines to copy.”

“Courage, my dear fellow, courage; remember this is our last day, our punishment is now ended.”

“Yes, I am happy to say.”

“I already feel a new man,” said Lynch, stretching himself; “no longer a slave, bound hand and foot in fetters, I am free as the winds.”

“True,” said Leslie, a minute after laying down his pen, “my punishment is over, I am happy.”

“Yes, we have taken all our physic, and are now free from the doctor’s rule. When will you have another lark, Leslie?”

“Never again,” said Leslie, folding up his paper.

How confidently he spoke.

“Now, then, what is there to be seen,” exclaimed Lynch, approaching the group at the window.

“Why, come and inform us what prospect we have of playing our game of cricket to-morrow,” said Hall.

“Oh, my! how it rains!”

“Yes, it does come down,” said Leslie.

“You will have to play out your game under umbrellas, I fear,” said Lynch.

“Yes, and with pattens on the feet.”

“Why, if it keeps on much longer, we shall be able to bathe in the playground; just look at the pools,” said one boy.

“Look at the river; how it has risen,” said Leslie.

“It has, indeed,” said Hall, “and the water is speeding along pretty fast, too.”

“I say,” exclaimed a boy, “you don’t think there’s any danger, do you?”

“Danger of what?” inquired Hall.

“Why, of Ascot House taking a fancy to sail down the stream.”

“I should imagine not,” said Hall, looking out at the waters.

“Here comes Arnold, I will ask him what he thinks,” said Lynch, as he saw one of the elder boys approaching.

“Arnold, will you look here a minute.”

“What is it you want?” said Arnold, stepping up to the window.

“Do you think there is any danger of the river overflowing?”

Arnold watched the turbulent flow of the waters for a few minutes in complete silence; the conversation we have reported had attracted several more of the boys to the window, so that quite a circle surrounded him, waiting anxiously for his verdict. Arnold knew not what to think; he had never before seen the river in such a state as he now beheld it, so full or so rapid; he was half afraid there was danger, but did not care to give his fears expression, for fear of frightening the boys, but in his secret heart he determined to call the doctor’s attention to its condition, and ask his opinion.

Turning to the group, he said, “Well, boys, I am not competent to give an opinion, but such a thing has never before occurred, to my recollection.”

“But old Badger, up in the town, says he recollects a flood when he was a boy, which carried away a few cottages,” said one of the group.

“Pooh! old Badger is in his second childhood,” said Arnold, trying to make light of the affair; “he must mean the great deluge.”

“Well, I only know what he told me,” said the boy.

“Yes, but if you believe all you hear, you will gain some extraordinary knowledge in the course of your life,” said Arnold, walking away in search of the doctor.

The doctor gave it as his opinion that there was no possible danger of a flood; but, that all fears might be set at rest, he would give orders for a thorough examination of the banks of the river, so that whatever damage the continuous rains had done might at once be rectified, and all possible danger averted. But at night time, as the doctor gazed from his bedroom window at the turbulent stream, he could not but think that he had been somewhat too hasty in his conclusion regarding the possibility of a flood; but with the mental determination to order the examination the first thing in the morning, he closed his window and retired to bed.

The following morning, however, was bright and clear, the rain-clouds had all vanished away, while the glorious sun was flooding the earth with warmth and light. The doctor thought there was no immediate necessity to order the examination, and, receiving some rather important letters, the subject dropped from his mind.

Meanwhile, Leslie’s month of punishment had passed away, and with the returning sunlight, returned his liberty. He awoke early on this bright morning, and lay awake for some time before either of the other inmates of the room had unclosed their eyes. He lay thinking how he could best prevent himself falling again into that weakness which had already cost him so much sorrow and punishment. How ardently he wished he could always keep a strict guard and watch on his wayward fancy; he recollected reading of some prisoner who always had an eye watching him; through every hour of the day and night, that eye was ever watching his slightest movement, and noting his every gesture; Leslie wished that some such an eye could watch the secret promptings of his mind.

“Come what will,” he murmured to himself, “I will try and cure myself of this fault,” and then he lifted up his heart in prayer for strength to accomplish what he had determined in his own mind. There is always a refuge open from whence strength can be received.

It was market-day in the little town close to Ascot House, and half-holiday with the boys, many of whom took pleasure in sauntering into the market place to view the noisy and exciting scenes; to pull the ears of the pigs, and feel the wool of the sheep; to watch the farmers and higglers making their bargains, or to join in the chase after a refractory bullock, which would run pell-mell through the busy throng, scattering both buyer and seller, master and man.

Leslie found great pleasure in all this; at his home by the sea-side he had seen nothing of the kind, it was all fresh and novel, and highly exciting as well as amusing. He never lost an opportunity of enjoying this pleasure.

He had wandered about the market all the afternoon; visited every sheep-pen, pig-pen, and cattle-stall; watched the racing up and down of sundry horses; seen the transfer of several baskets of fowl, and peeped into the corn exchange, when he thought it was about time to return home; but as he passed an inn-yard he lingered to see a farmer commence his homeward journey. He was making preparations to start, at the same time boasting how far his horse could trot.

While the man was in the act of mounting, Leslie stood close to one of the wheels of the cart; he noticed the linchpin was nearly half out; “What a lark,” he thought, “if I were to take the pin wholly out, the farmer’s horse would not trot so very far to-day.”

Without another moment’s consideration Leslie extracted the pin; but no sooner was it safe in his hand than he repented the action. Was this following out his morning’s resolution? Was this turning over a new leaf? He attempted to replace the pin again in its proper position; the farmer, however, had now gathered the reins into his hand, and shouted to him to stand clear.

“You young monkey,” he cried, “do you wish to be run over,” and with that the horse started. Leslie set off in chase, shouting for the man to stop; but the farmer, paying no heed to his cries, soon left him far behind with the abstracted linchpin in his hand. He sat down on a bank by the road side and burst into tears. What should he do? How could he remedy what he had done? What would the consequences be? The wheel might come off, the farmer be thrown out and seriously hurt, or perhaps killed, and he, Leslie, would then be a murderer.

It was some time before Leslie could make up his mind to return back to school, he thought it would be best to run away and hide himself somewhere, in some secret place where no one could find him, or would ever dream of searching for him. Then he thought he had better go directly to the doctor and confess what he had done; but this, his wisest plan, was overruled by the lingering hope in his heart that perhaps after all the farmer might reach home in safety.

When any one does wrong, it is always best to confess it at once; concealing the wrong makes it more, adds to the offence, and to the restless unhappiness of him who committed it. If Leslie had done this, fully and frankly confessed his fault perhaps the result of his mischief might not have fallen so heavily upon himself.

Two days of wretched anxiety passed. Leslie heard that a farmer returning home from market had been thrown from his cart and severely injured, but he could gain no particulars of the accident, how it had occurred, or who had been the victim. He most fervently trusted that it was not the consequences of his thoughtlessness; but it was almost like hoping against hope to believe this.

On the third day, as he was leaving the school grounds in company with Lynch, Hall, and Moore, he felt a rough hand laid on the collar of his jacket, while a harsh voice fell upon his ear, exclaiming,

“You be the young dog that took out my linchpin.”

“Hallo! what’s this?” shouted Hall, trying to pull Leslie free from the man’s grasp.

The man carried one arm in a sling.

“Just you leave him alone, young sir,” said the man, “I have nothing to say to you, but to this young dog I have.”

“But what is it all about, man?” enquired Hall; “you must not seize the pupils of Ascot House in this way.”

“Pupil or no pupil,” said the man, doggedly, “this ’ere one goes along with me to the doctor.”

“Don’t parley, Hall,” said Lynch; “can’t you see the man’s mad; waste no words, but rescue Ross.”

“Yes, come on,” cried Moore, seizing one arm, while Lynch hauled at the man’s coat behind.

“Hear me a minute,” said Leslie, as his friends thus proceeded to active measures; “I had better go with this man to the doctor, for I fear I am only too much in the wrong.”

“Ah! now you speak sensible; so come along,” and without removing his hand from his collar he led Leslie up to the doctor’s private door, and asked permission to speak with him for a few minutes. They were shown into the library, where the doctor soon made his appearance.

“Good morning, Farmer West, what has this young gentleman done that you should hold him by the collar like a prisoner?”

“Why, sir, I can’t positively say this young gentleman did it, but I strongly suspect he took one of the linchpins out of my cart last market day, so that a wheel came off and I was thrown out and broke an arm.”

The doctor looked earnestly at Leslie, who had fixed his eyes upon the carpet, too much ashamed to raise them to his master’s face.

“Is this true, Ross?”

“Yes, sir, but I did not mean to do it.”

“Mean to!” broke in the farmer, “but you did it; look at my arm!”

“I assure you, sir,” said Leslie, earnestly, “that I repented the action the moment I had done it, and tried to replace the pin, but the horse started before I was able.”

“Your repentance will not mend this gentleman’s arm,” said the doctor.

“I know it will not, sir, but believe me I am sorry,” said Leslie, with tears rolling down his cheeks.

“How can I place confidence in what you say,” said the doctor, “when the very day after your punishment had expired for your former act of folly, you commit a far more serious one?”

Leslie could make no reply, his tears showed his distress.

“Leave me for the present, while I say a few words to Mr West; I must write to your father and consult with him as to what course I shall pursue.”

Leslie left the library with a very heavy heart.

Two days after, the doctor sent for him, and informed him that he had written to his father, and that in his reply his father had desired him to keep his son at school during the holidays as a punishment for his fault; at the same time Leslie received this unwelcome intelligence, the doctor handed him a note which had been enclosed in that he himself received.

Leslie found the note was from his mother; he could scarcely read it, tears blinded his eyes. “Do not think,” ran the words of the note, “that we at home are not grieved and sorry because our son is not to be with us; we were looking forward to the pleasure of seeing you and clasping you once again in our arms; but we think it our duty to forego all this for your sake. We want our little boy to grow up into a brave and good man, and this he will never do unless he learns to govern well his own nature, repress with a strong hand that which is evil, and foster that which is good. You often used to wonder, when we read the Pilgrim’s Progress together, what could be meant by the ‘arrow sharpened by love;’ now you will learn it by experience, your punishment is an ’arrow sharpened by love.’

All Leslie’s companions were sorry when they heard what his punishment was to be, and manifested their sympathy in various ways, and by many words of condolence.

“I pity you, old boy,” said Hall, one night when they were all in bed, “I pity you, for I know what it is to be at school during the holidays; I must not grumble, however, for the latter part of the time was passed pleasantly enough.”

“What, were you ever at school during holiday time?” inquired Leslie.

“Yes, and at Ascot House, too.”

“Tell us all about it, Hall,” said Lynch, sitting up in bed.

“Yes, do, Hall!” said the rest of the boys.

“All right, I’m agreeable; so here goes:” and Hall told the story of his holiday passed at school.