Reginald's First School Day

ONE frosty morning in January two delicate-looking children were sitting before a blazing fire in a long, low nursery with oak rafters running across the ceiling. Between them lay a great shaggy dog.

“You will take good care of Rover whilst I am away?” said the boy, winding his fingers in Rover’s shaggy hair and leaning his head against him.

“Yes; he shall go for a walk with me every day, and in the twilight I will talk to him about you,” answered Alice. “You might send messages to him in your letters,” she added.

“Would you understand them, old fellow?” asked Reginald, lifting up the dog’s head and looking into his eyes.

The dog wistfully returned his master’s gaze and gave him his paw.

“I believe he understands,” said Reginald, throwing his arms round the dog’s neck. “Oh, Rover, Rover, if I could only take you with me!”

“It would not be so bad then,” sighed Alice.

“It won’t be really bad when I get accustomed to it. Just at first it may be strange, but I shall be sure to like one, at any rate, out of the forty boys. It is going out into the world, and my father says it is well for a boy to learn his level early. On the whole, I am glad I am going; it is only the first bit of it that one is not sure about.”

It was a large room, with desks and benches on either side, and an aisle, as Reginald called it, up the middle. It had four large windows looking out on the playground, and a fireplace at each end, round which some dozen or two of boys were clustered.

Reginald advanced toward the fireplace at the lower end of the room, hoping that some one might speak to him and rid him of the strange, uncomfortable feeling that crept over him; but none of the boys spoke, though they regarded him critically, as if measuring the sort of being he was before committing themselves to any closer acquaintance.

So he sat down on a bench halfway down the school-room, tried to look unconscious, and half wished himself at home again.

“Have any of you fellows got a knife? I want to cut this piece of string,” said a tall boy, addressing the group generally.

In a moment Reginald had taken out his new knife and offered it to the speaker.

“Ah!” said Thompson, the tall boy; “a capital knife. Much obliged; will borrow it for the present;” and after using it he quietly put it into his pocket.

Some of the boys laughed. One of them, however, murmured, in an undertone, “What a great shame!”

Reginald’s color rose. He walked straight up to Thompson:

“Will you please to give me my knife again?”

Thompson looked surprised:

“No; I shall please to do nothing of the kind. You offered it, and I accepted it. An offer’s an offer.”

“I lent it to you to cut the string.”

“You did not say so.”

“I do not think it just of you to take my knife in that way,” said Reginald, thoroughly aroused; “and if you do not return it at once, I shall speak to Dr. Field about it.”

“Oh!” said Thompson, coolly; “you’re a sneak, are you?”

Reginald working on his slate by the light of a candle


 The boys, who had been gathering round Reginald, admiring his spirit in confronting the tall boy, now drew back, and the words “tell-tale!” “blab!” “sneak!” were distinctly heard. And Reginald found himself standing alone, deserted by those who had drawn near in sympathy with him, for Thompson was the tyrant of the school.

Presently, when the boys had returned to their places by the fire, and Reginald was apparently forgotten, a merry-looking boy a year older than himself sat down by him.

“No,” said he; “you must not say anything to Dr. Field. You must let your knife go, and learn wisdom for the future.”

Reginald looked up.

“It’s mean and unfair,” he said.

“That may be, but the boys would say it was meaner still to complain. One has to put up with things of this sort at school, and make the best of them.”

“What’s your name?” asked Reginald, suddenly, for there was something about the boy that he liked, and he thought this might be the one who was to be his friend.

“Barton. And yours?”

“Reginald Murray.”

“Murray’s enough, without the other.”

“I should like you to be my friend.”

Barton glanced at the large dark eyes that were fixed upon him, and at the delicate and somewhat mournful face, and felt attracted also.

“I think I shall like you,” he returned; “but I must wait and see how you go on. I think you’ve the right spirit; but you must take my advice about the knife. Will you?”

There was a struggle in Reginald’s mind. It was very hard to give up the knife that Alice had saved up her pocket-money to buy for him. Still, Barton had been at school for some time, and knew better than he what ought to be done, so he answered, “I will.”

But Barton was not prepared for his manner of carrying out the decision. To his great surprise, Reginald marched straight up to Thompson. “I shall not,” he said, “speak to Dr. Field about the knife. It’s unfair and unjust of you to take it, and I sha’n’t be friends with you as long as you keep it. But Barton says it would be telling tales if I made a complaint.”

Some of the younger boys stood quite aghast at Reginald’s boldness; one or two even murmured, “Well done!”

Thompson stared, half in astonishment, half in anger. “You’re too fast, young sir; you’ll have to be put down, I see,” said he. But he did not give Reginald his knife again.

School was indeed a new world to Reginald. He made friends and found enemies; he worked hard—indeed, often sat up by candle-light to prepare examples for the next day. He played well, and on the whole was tolerably popular. Thompson, however, still kept the knife, using it upon all occasions, which caused a thrill of indignation to go through Reginald’s delicate frame.

“If I can’t get it one way, I will another,” thought he; and he brooded over the knife until he magnified every word that Thompson said into a series of insults to himself, and Thompson, pleased with the power he possessed over the boy, exercised it on all occasions.

So the spring went by, and the summer came, and the days slipped away, and the holidays were close at hand.

 “If I were strong enough, I would fight him for it,” said Reginald to Barton, one day, when Thompson had been more than usually aggravating.

The remark was repeated to Thompson, who was standing by the side of the river that ran at the foot of the playground.

At that moment Reginald drew near.

“So you would like to fight me if you were big enough?” said he, with a sneer.

“I should!” answered Reginald, warmly.

“Ah! it’s a bad state of feeling. If the knife causes such wicked thoughts, the best way is to get rid of it. So here it goes, and there is an end of it!” And drawing the knife from his pocket, he flung it into the river. It fell short of where he intended, and Reginald saw his beloved knife through the clear river, lying within what he supposed to be an easy reach. Without a moment’s thought he jumped in after it, regardless of the cry that rose, “The water’s deeper than it looks!”

His hand had, as if by instinct, grasped the knife, but as he tried to struggle back through the swiftly-running water he got confused, for, as the boys had called out to him, it was a great deal deeper than it looked, and just there the ground shelved suddenly, and Reginald, taking a false step, lost his footing.

There was a general outcry, which brought Dr. Field and a visitor who had just arrived to the spot:

“Murray’s in the river!”

And they pointed to the spot where the poor boy had sunk.

With such a cry as the boys long remembered, the visitor had plunged into the water, and had caught the boy, who had risen for the last time, by the arm.

And the next thing that the boys knew was that a white, dripping form was carried through the playground into the house.

Then a whisper went round, “It was his father.”

Then a whispered question, “Is he dead?”

And Thompson shuddered as he heard it.

But Reginald did not die; he opened his eyes to find his father clasping his hand. At first he could remember nothing, then he looked round anxiously: “Is the knife safe? I went to pick up my knife.”

Then he closed his eyes and remained for a long time silent; and when he spoke again, it was in the wild ravings of delirium.

The shock had been too much for the delicate boy. Fever came on, and it was weeks before he could be moved home. And then he was ordered to the South, and Italy was the chosen place in which Mr. and Mrs. Murray and their two children should sojourn until Reginald should have completely recovered his health.

And this time Rover was to go with his young master.

The day before Reginald left home a carriage drove up to the door, and Thompson stepped out of it.

He and Reginald were alone for a quarter of an hour, and they parted friends.

“I have my knife now, Thompson,” said Reginald, “and so the quarrel is over.”

And Thompson returned to Dr. Field’s a better and a wiser boy. He never bullied any one again.