Read CHAPTER VII - ERIC A BOARDER of Eric, free online book, by Frederic William Farrar, on ReadCentral.com.

“We were, fair queen,
Two lads that thought there was no more behind,
But such a day to-morrow as to-day,
And to be boy eternal.” WINTER’S TALE, .

The holidays were over. Vernon was to have a tutor at Fairholm, and Eric was to return alone, and be received into Dr. Rowlands’ house.

As he went on board the steam-packet, he saw numbers of the well-known faces on deck, and merry voices greeted him.

“Hallo, Williams! here you are at last,” said Duncan, seizing his hand. “How have you enjoyed the holidays? It’s so jolly to see you again.”

“So you’re coming as a boarder,” said Montagu, “and to our noble house, too. Mind you stick up for it, old fellow. Come along, and let’s watch whether the boats are bringing any more fellows; we shall be starting in a few minutes.”

“Ha! there’s Russell,” said Eric, springing to the gangway, and warmly shaking his friend’s hand as he came on board.

“Have your father and mother gone, Eric?” said Russell, after a few minutes’ talk.

“Yes,” said Eric, turning away his head, and hastily brushing his eyes. “They are on their way back to India.”

“I’m so sorry,” said Russell; “I don’t think anyone has ever been so kind to me as they were.”

“And they loved you, Edwin, dearly, and told me, almost the last thing, that they hoped we should always be friends. Stop! they gave me something for you.” Eric opened his carpet-bag, and took out a little box carefully wrapped up, which he gave to Russell. It contained a pretty silver watch, and inside the case was engraved “Edwin Russell, from the mother of his friend Eric.”

The boy’s eyes glistened with joyful surprise. “How good they are,” he said; “I shall write and thank Mrs. Williams directly we get to Roslyn.”

They had a fine bright voyage, and arrived that night. Eric, as a new comer, was ushered at once into Dr. Rowlands’ drawing-room, where the head master was sitting with his wife and children. His greeting was dignified, but not unkindly; and, on saying “good night,” he gave Eric a few plain words of affectionate advice.

At that moment Eric hardly cared for advice. He was full of life and spirits, brave, bright, impetuous, tingling with hope, in the flush and flower of boyhood. He bounded down the stairs, and in another minute entered the large room where all Dr. Rowlands’ boarders assembled, and where most of them lived, except the few privileged sixth form, and other boys who had “studies.” A cheer greeted his entrance into the room. By this time most of the Rowlandites knew him, and were proud to have him among their number. They knew that he was clever enough to get them credit in the school, and, what was better still, that he would be a capital accession of strength to the cricket and football. Except Barker, there was not one who had not a personal liking for him, and on this occasion even Barker was gracious.

The room in which Eric found himself was large and high. At one end was a huge fire-place, and there was generally a throng of boys round the great iron fender, where, in cold weather, a little boy could seldom get. The large windows opened on the green playground; and iron bars prevented any exit through them. This large room, called “the boarders’ room,” was the joint habitation of Eric and some thirty other boys; and at one side ran a range of shelves and drawers, where they kept their books and private property. There the younger Rowlandites breakfasted, dined, had tea, and, for the most part, lived. Here, too, they had to get through all such work as was not performed under direct supervision. How many and what varied scenes had not that room beheld! had those dumb walls any feeling, what worlds of life and experience they would have acquired! If against each boy’s name, as it was rudely cut on the oak panels, could have been also cut the fate that had befallen him, the good that he had there learnt, the evil that he had there suffered what noble histories would the records unfold of honor and success, of baffled temptations and hard-won triumphs; what awful histories of hopes blighted and habits learned, of wasted talents and ruined lives!

The routine of school-life was on this wise: At half-past seven the boys came down to prayers, which were immediately followed by breakfast. At nine they went into school, where they continued, with little interruption, till twelve. At one they dined, and, except on half-holidays, went into school again from two till five. The lock-up bell rang at dusk; at six o’clock they had tea which was a repetition of breakfast, with leave to add to it whatever else they liked and immediately after sat down to “preparation,” which lasted from seven till nine. During this time one of the masters was always in the room, who allowed them to read amusing books, or employ themselves in any other quiet way they liked, as soon as ever they had learnt their lessons for the following day. At nine Dr. Rowlands came in and read prayers, after which the boys were dismissed to bed.

The arrangement of the dormitories was peculiar. They were a suite of rooms, exactly the same size, each opening into the other; six on each side of a lavatory, which occupied the space between them, so that, when all the doors were open, you could see from one end of the whole range to the other. The only advantage of this arrangement was, that one master walking up and down could keep all the boys in order while they were getting into bed. About a quarter of an hour was allowed for this process, and then the master went along the rooms putting out the lights. A few of the “study-boys” were allowed to sit up till ten, and their bedrooms were elsewhere. The consequence was, that in these dormitories the boys felt perfectly secure from any interruption. There were only two ways by which a master could get at them; one up the great staircase, and through the lavatory; the other by a door at the extreme end of the range, which led into Dr. Rowlands’ house, but was generally kept locked.

In each dormitory slept four or five boys, distributed by their order in the school list, so that, in all the dormitories, there were nearly sixty; and of these a goodly number were, on Eric’s arrival, collected in the boarders’ room, the rest being in their studies, or in the classrooms which some were allowed to use in order to prevent too great a crowd in the room below.

At nine o’clock the prayer-bell rang. Immediately all the boarders took their seats for prayers, each with an open Bible before him; and when the school servants had also come in, Dr. Rowlands read a chapter, and offered up an extempore prayer. While reading, he generally interspersed a few pointed remarks or graphic explanations, and Eric learnt much in this simple way. The prayer, though short, was always well suited to the occasion, and calculated to carry with it the attention of the worshippers.

Prayers over, the boys noisily dispersed to their bed rooms, and Eric found himself placed in a room immediately to the right of the lavatory, occupied by Duncan, Graham, Llewellyn, and two other boys named Bull and Attlay, all in the same form with himself They were all tired with their voyage, and the excitement of coming back to school, so that they did not talk much that night, and before long Eric was fast asleep, dreaming, dreaming, dreaming that he should have a very happy life at Roslyn school, and seeing himself win no end of distinctions, and make no end of new friends.