The Two Friends by Unknown

MANY years ago two youths, whom we will call only by their Christian names,—Walter and Sidney,—were at the same boarding-school, at Mount’s Bay, in Cornwall. They were each the sons of captains in the merchant service; but though they were equals in station, there was a great difference in their circumstances, for Walter inherited considerable property. Sidney’s father had not been a prosperous man, and it was as much as he could do to give his boy a good education.

Among the whole school there were no two lads so closely knit in friendship as Walter and Sidney; they were within a week of the same age (thirteen) at the time our narrative begins. It is always a pleasant sight, and also a good example, when two intelligent, kind-hearted boys become friends. They show to others what a disinterested and noble thing true friendship is. Thus, in their lessons and their sports, these boys were helpful to each other. They shared together every indulgence that the kindness of friends procured them, and if any added study were imposed, Sidney, who learned easily, would, after he had swiftly mastered his own lesson, take upon himself both the office of teacher and companion, and never rest until Walter was as well up in the task as he himself was. Most certainly the punishment of one was ever the punishment of both, for, if they were sharers in each other’s joys, they were not the less so in their troubles. Perhaps the vigilance which each exercised over the other was the reason why they were comparatively seldom in any very serious disgrace, and their characters stood high in the school, both with masters and pupils.

But while in the little world within the walls of the school all went equally well with the youthful friends, in the great world outside, heavy troubles came to Sidney’s father. The vessel he commanded was lost near the mouth of the River Mersey, and though the crew were saved, yet it was judged that some mismanagement caused the disaster, and Sidney’s father lost his certificate, and no owners would again trust him to command a vessel. The poor man took this so much to heart that he fell into a bad state of health, and declined so rapidly, that the week after Sidney received from Liverpool the first intimation of his father’s illness, tidings came that he was dead.

It was in the autumnal quarter, about eight weeks before Christmas, that the sad letter was received which told Sidney he was now an orphan. The only aunt the poor boy had, his father’s sister, wrote the account, and she was obliged to add the painful fact that, with the loss of his father, Sidney would lose the means of further education, and must look forward to some humble means of earning his daily bread, with as little delay as possible.

Walter learns why Sidney is upset

“Why, Sid,—what’s this? Dear old fellow, what’s the matter?”

In his first great grief at hearing of his father’s death, all else seemed trivial. Change of circumstances, hard work, any trouble, would have been as nothing if his father had been spared to him. But after the first shock of his sorrow, Sidney admitted that he must leave school; that it would not be honest, either to his aunt or his schoolmaster, to remain. Strangely enough, the very week in  which this trouble came to Sidney, his friend Walter was at home for a few days, joining in the celebration of his father’s fiftieth birthday. He had wanted Sidney to have a holiday also; but the latter, being already aware of his father’s reverses and illness, though having no fear of any greater grief impending over him, had declined his friend’s kind invitation. So it happened that, while a happy jubilee was being celebrated in Walter’s home, Sidney was suddenly made a poor orphan.

Never, during the three years that they had been school-fellows, had the countenances of the two boys showed such a contrast of expression as when they met in the playground a few minutes after Walter had alighted at the gate, on his return from the pleasant sojourn at his home. He was flushed with health and happiness, and ran up, with a boyish shout of mirth, to greet his friend. Poor Sidney, pale and choking with the effort to restrain his tears, could only grasp the proffered hand in silence, and turn away his head, unable to look up,—almost unable to bear the pent-up grief that throbbed at his heart, and tightened his chest with a sense of suffocation.

“Why, Sid, what’s this? Dear old fellow, what’s the matter?” was Walter’s astonished inquiry, when a boy near whispered in his ear the brief words,—

“His father’s dead!”

That explained all; and Walter, twining his arm round his friend, led him away to a quiet spot, where they could weep together. The greater grief so completely absorbed Sidney on his first meeting with Walter, that it was not until the next day that any mention was made between them of how this bereavement would affect the future. Young and prosperous as Walter was, he knew well enough how sad it would be for his friend to lose the advantages of education just at the time when his studies would be needed to fit him for some pursuit in life.

Meanwhile, as Sidney’s aunt had not been able to send the money for the poor lad to go so long a journey as from West Cornwall to Liverpool, to attend his father’s funeral, there was no immediate hurry at the school in preparing for the youth’s departure. Walter, therefore, had time to carry out a plan which his affection suggested. He wrote an urgent letter to his father, filled with praises of Sidney, and accounts of all the help which his cleverness and conduct had afforded to him (Walter), and earnestly pleading that he might have the gratification of paying for a year or more schooling for his orphan friend, adding, as a concluding argument,—

“You know, papa, that I have forty pounds that aunt Margaret put in the savings bank for me, to do as I like with; and how could I spend it better, or so well, as in helping a good clever fellow like Sidney? It would be a real treat to me—the best I could have; and you promised to increase my pocket-money: you needn’t; I can screw myself down famously, if you’ll only give it to help Sid, who’s always been helping me, I can tell you.”

Walter was too earnest, it seemed, to pick and choose his words. He meant to have corrected and rewritten his letter, but there was no time; so he sent it, faults and all. And his father, in reading it, felt the heart-throb that beat in his boy’s generous words; and though a man not at all demonstrative, he was observed to be taken as if with a sudden cold in his head, to judge by the vigorous use of his pocket handkerchief; but all he said was conveyed in a single nautical phrase,—“The youngster is on the right tack.”

The day after, the principal of the Mount’s Bay School received an intimation that Sidney was to continue his  studies there as long as he proved diligent; but the name of his patron was not to be told him. So, to the lad’s great satisfaction, he was informed that a friend who had known his father would, for the present, help him. Walter knew the truth, but though he felt the intense joy that a good action always yields to the doer even more than to the receiver, he was careful to obey his father, and keep the secret.

If Sidney was studious before, he redoubled his diligence now, and in the year made such great progress, that a Dutch gentleman, who visited the school, offered him a situation in his office at Rotterdam; and as Sidney knew that a residence abroad would be a great improvement to him, and also was eager to enter upon some mode of earning his own living, he wished earnestly to take the offer. At no time during their now four years of mutual school-life and friendship would Walter have heard with patience of Sidney leaving. But a parting now came.

Walter’s father had become an invalid, and was ordered to a warmer climate. The family removed to Florence, in Italy, and, of course, Walter went with them; his greatest grief being that Sidney could not accompany them.

With the keenest pangs of youthful sorrow, the two friends parted, promising to write often, looking forward to meet at no distant future, for the world did not seem too wide for them, accustomed as they were, by association, to maritime people and travellers.

It was three months after Walter had left, when Sidney took leave of his kind master, and the school which had been a home to him, and went, in cold spring weather, to the Venice of the north—Rotterdam. When he left he made one request, which his tutor thought it not wrong to grant. He desired to know the name of the benefactor who had so munificently helped him; and though he was not very much surprised when he heard the source from whence the aid had come, and was indeed glad that his gratitude was due where his friendship had so long been given, yet it naturally moved him very deeply when he found how Walter had been the means of effecting this. He also remembered vividly some acts of self-denial that added to the delicacy of his friend’s silence, and made the action truly noble.

“I can never repay you, dear Walter, nor your kind father; I shall ever be your grateful debtor,” he wrote; “but I will try to employ the talents you have cultivated, so as not, at all events, to disgrace your friendship.”

Though railways made the continent open to travellers, and the desire to see his friend Walter never languished, yet years went by and it was not realized. Some tidings there were of reverse of fortune through a lawsuit, and of journeyings to different places. The last that Sidney heard of his friend was in a letter from Madeira, where his father was lingering on in too weak a state to bear removal.

The desultory, unsettled life that the family had led seemed to have prevented Walter from making much progress as a sculptor,—a profession he had thought of while in Italy,—and his letters were somewhat vague and unsatisfactory as to his future plans.

Then came a long interval with no tidings, and afterwards a returned letter with the one word Dead, written under the name of Walter’s father on the superscription.

So, like a pleasant morning that ends in clouds and gloom, the friendship seemed to end which had so gladdened the youth of Sidney, and even blended with all the fondest memories of his  boyhood. Many were the prayers he breathed, that one who had been as a brother might not be entirely lost to him.

As years went on great changes occurred in the firm that Sidney served. He had risen in the confidence of his employers. They had a business in Australia, under the care of a partner, who was also a relative. He died, and as there was a sudden increase of business facilities at Melbourne, Sidney was sent out, and a share in the concern was given him. His surname did not appear. He was announced, as many a junior partner is, by the little word “Co.” appended to the principal name of the firm.

Sidney had been in the colony some three years, and was now a stalwart young man of twenty-seven, when one day, riding on horseback towards a suburb of the rapidly growing city of Melbourne, called Brighton, he noticed a gang of young men working on the road. He knew that many respectable emigrants had come over during the first excitement of the gold discoveries. Clerks used only to the pen, students, unsuccessful professional men, all in the first delirium fever-fit of the gold fever, had come in the expectation that hands unused to hard toil could use the pickaxe of the gold-digger, or wash the rubble for the precious ore. Ah, it was a wild, a fatal delusion! Many a gentleman and scholar pined to death with hardships and disappointments, while some, after weeks of sickness, rose to earn their bread by the humblest manual labor. Working on the roads, for which government pay was given, was often the resource of those who had been worsted in every other effort. Unable to help among such numbers of claimants on sympathy, Sidney had contented himself with joining in the subscriptions raised for the relief of the sick and destitute: but now, as he passed along, he felt a desire to speak to the workers in this gang. As his eye scanned them he saw only a group of thin, toil-worn, weather-beaten men, with rough beards half hiding their wasted features. Nothing was more acceptable, as a recreation to the emigrants, than books, and Sidney had commenced a lending library of books and publications; so, after a cheerful salutation, he now reined up his horse, and began to tell them of his plan, and to add, “I have opened a room, friends, two nights a week,—it is but a rough shed, but I hope to make it better soon,—as a meeting-place, where a comfortable, pleasant, and profitable evening may be spent.”

“Then,” said a man with a strong Irish brogue, “your honor’s the great Dutch merchant.”

“Yes, at the Dutch merchant’s store; but I am English; my name is Sidney—”

There was a wild panting sort of cry, and a man in the group fell to the ground.

“He’s in a fit.” “He oughtn’t to have come.” “Poor fellow!” “Fetch water!” “Give him air!” These were the cries that were uttered. Meanwhile, throwing his horse’s bridle over a post, Sidney dismounted, and helped to lift in his strong arms the tall but wasted form of a man from the ground. He was borne to a bank at the side of the road. Sidney put aside the matted hair that fell over his brow, and taking the pannikin, which some one had filled with water, he put it to his lips, wholly unconscious that he had ever seen that face before, until the eyes slowly opened, and the old expression, the soul-gaze, shone in them, and the hoarse and altered voice, yet with tones that woke old echoes, said, “Sidney! Dear friend! Don’t—don’t you know me—Walter?”

Walter! Yes it was he. The once blooming, prosperous, happy boy was this wasted, worn skeleton of a man. O,  the tide of feeling that rushed through Sidney’s every vein, as he recognized his early friend—his benefactor! To raise him up, put him on his own horse, lead him gently to his own home, and, once there, to send for the best medical skill, and tend him through the illness that supervened, with a tenderness feminine in its thoughtful gentleness, was Sidney’s privilege.

In the intervals of his illness Walter related that his father had died at Madeira; that, hoping to obtain a settlement of some claims, he had visited America; that, waiting to have better news of himself to communicate, he put off writing from time to time; that he had gone with a company of adventurous young men to California, and there, instead of finding gold, spent all his means. Hoping to retrieve his position, he had come to Australia, and there his lot, though hard, was only that of hundreds, in the first trying time of mad excitement and wild adventure. “And I must get to work again. I’m not going to be here idle much longer,” he said, at the conclusion of a conversation on the past.

“As to work, I’ve plenty for you to do.”

“I can’t continue to be a burden on you, Sid. I’ve no claim.”

“You’ve every claim. As to burdens, you remind me how long I was a burden on you and your father. Once for all, I say, the help you gave me fitted me to get my living, and, by God’s blessing, to make my way in life. Share with me in my business.”

Walter was beginning to interrupt; but Sidney, raising his hand, deprecatingly, said,—

“You have still the advantage over me, that you gave me help when I had done nothing to deserve it of you. I only make a small repayment—a mere instalment of a great debt. Dear Walter, my good fellow, let there be no contest between us. Are we not friends? Does that not mean helpers?”

And so it was. The tie, never broken, was knit again yet more closely. Brothers in friendship, they ultimately became so in relationship; for as soon as Walter had a home, he invited a sister to share it with him, and she, in a few months after her arrival, became the wife of Sidney. And so the bond of brotherhood prospered, for many years.