My Friend Treacle by Watkin-Elliott

"So Charley is going to marry 'the most charming girl in the world'!" I ejaculated, after a hearty laugh over the following epistle from my old friend:—

"Dear Bob,—

      "I am going to do for myself in earnest; no humbug this time. 'For better or for worse,' and if it turns out the latter it will be a scrape no one can get me out of. Of course, you understand I am about to marry, and I need not add she is the most charming girl in the world: fair, sky-blue eyes, silk-worm—I mean spun silk hair, lovely in fact! Come and be my best man: do, old fellow! You have backed me up lots of times before, and although we have lost sight of one another since 'we were boys together,' that goes for nothing between us—does it? Write by return, and say you will support me: I have a dread that I shall marry the wrong girl, or allow some one else to marry Lucy—that's her name!—or do something unlucky, unless you look after me.

"Yours, as ever,            
"Charley Boston.

"P.S.—It comes off in a fortnight."

"'It,'—well that is vague enough, but I suppose he means the happy event. Ye gods and little fishes!—to call a marriage 'it'! but that is like Boston. And 'sure to do something unlucky,' are you? Well, I guess you are not the 'Treacle' of old unless you get into some quandary over it," I muttered; and then I threw myself back in my chair and laughed again as some of our adventures, when we were at Dr. Omega's school—I mean college—presented themselves to my mind.

Glorious times those! looking back upon them now, although we did not value them, in our careless youth, at their full worth.

Treacle's—i.e., Boston's—daring always led him to some adventure, and I always backed him up—in a feeble way, perhaps,—and we always got found out somehow, and got our deserts in a manner more satisfactory to lovers of justice than to ourselves. Stunning times!

The very fact of our being punished for the same crime, and at the same time, was a bond of union between Treacle and myself.

"One touch of sympathy," or one touch of the rod, made us kin in a manner very peculiar;—a fellow feeling made us wondrous kind and sympathetic.

You talk of little dinners and little suppers in these days, and think them epicurean feasts!—but, be really hungry—hungry as a school-boy, and enjoy a little supper off kippered herring on the sly—that is a feast, if you like. Such feasts as these we enjoyed at Mother Kemp's, down the village, when the Doctor, tutors, and monitors imagined us safely tucked in our little beds.

Looking upon Mother Kemp, in those days, I thought her a good fairy disguised as a witch. Looking back upon her, with manhood's enlightened judgment, I think she was an unprincipled old woman, who traded on our weaknesses. I confess myself to have been a hungry boy,—Boston, with a penitence which did him credit, used to confess the same: we both had a propensity to come through our trouser-legs and sleeve-jackets, and, what was worse, could not help ourselves doing so.

Boston was of an ingenious turn of mind, and it was he who suggested that those boys, who could afford to be hungry with any satisfaction to themselves, should club together for a supper at Mother Kemp's once a-week; and it was through one of these suppers, or the search for one, that he got his sweet sobriquet of "Treacle."

He having made the suggestion, we elected him chief of our expeditions, and thus to a certain extent he held the fate of our appetites in his hands.

One night we had escaped, as usual, by means of a rope-ladder made by Boston, from the window of the room of which I was senior boy, to Mother Kemp's in the village.

Mother Kemp kept a general shop—that is to say, she retailed tallow, treacle, rope, bacon, herrings, soap, cottons, tops, balls, butter, sweets, and so forth; and she not only, as a rule, sold us a supper out of her heterogeneous store, but cooked it, if needs were, and served it for us in her back parlour—that is, if we could pay ready cash down.

This night of which I speak we could not. We had appealed to Madame Kemp's motherly heart for "trust," in vain, and we were returning home in a state of double the hunger to that in which we had started, on account of our hopes being unfulfilled, when Charlie Boston made a remark in a melancholy tone: it was—

"I wonder if the pantry window is open."

We eyed him askance and in silence.

"And if," with a frown of determination on his brow, "there is anything inside!"

Then we knew we were "in" for something, be it to eat or feel, and followed him half in hope, half in fear.

The window was open. Looking upon that casement from my point of view now, I decide it was an architectural folly, being no more than seven feet from the ground, and innocent of bars or protection of any kind, and moreover large enough for any one of moderate size to creep through.

From our point of view, then, we thought it a very jolly contrivance.

"Hurrah!" shouted Boston, sotto voce—in fact, very much sotto voce—"we will indeed sup at the doctor's expense to-night, bless him!—eh, boys?"

Either to the supper or blessing we assented, joyfully; but when our chief asked who was for reconnoitring, the question was received in silence.

"Suppose it is missed in the morning—I mean, what we eat," suggested some one, timidly.

"Cats!" settled Boston with laconic contempt.

"But cats don't eat cheese, and—"

"Bah! cats eat anything, from mice to stewed-eels' feet. Who will follow if I lead?"

"Couldn't you get in and hand something out?" asked another, coolly.

"Wish you may get it. Travers, you will follow, will you not?"

"Yes," I replied, with a little inward shudder. "'Lead on, Macduff, and'—and, what you may call it, be him that first cries 'Hold, enough!'"

"Old enough for what?" queried the wit of the party.

"Look here, Jenkins, don't you be a fool; this is not the time for vile puns, or Shakspeare either," with a frown at me.

"It will take a jolly long time for us all to get in one after the other," I ruminated upon this snub.

"And a jollier long time to get out, if we want to, in a hurry," suggested the timid one.

"That is true," agreed the chief. "We will toss up, and 'odd man' goes in and hands out—eh?"

Faint applause.

But the idea was not carried out, because, upon reflection, we remembered Mother Kemp had our last coin.

"Never mind," cried Boston, in his happy dare-all way. "I'll do it! Lend me a back, somebody, and keep a sharp look out, mind!"

We lent him a back with alacrity, it being a cheap and easy loan, and he drew himself up.

"I see a pie!" he cried, and the words revived us. "Supposing it is steak!"

We supposed, and felt more hungry than ever.

Then we watched him with increased interest, as he squeezed his body through the casement, paused a moment to recover breath, descended gradually and carefully, and—Heavens, what was that? There was a scuffle and a gasp. Was it the doctor?

I think at this juncture my knees began to tremble; so I cannot describe what the other sounds in the pantry were—at least, not with any accuracy.

"I say," began some one of our party—he was always doing that, saying "I say," and stopping short; a nasty habit, you know, for when one's nerves are unstrung it makes you anxious, not to say alarmed.

"Old Omega!" whispered another in an awed tone.

"Can't be; there's no talking."

"No, because he's such an artful old fox; he thinks he'll catch us all!—Eh?"

The "eh" was to one who thought he had "better go and see if the ladder was there all right."

It ended in their all going for the same commendable purpose, and leaving me behind to look after Boston. I was very much inclined to follow them, I confess, but I liked my friend too much to leave him, so, having a regard for my own personal safety, I got behind a laurel and waited.

"Silence there, and nothing more."

Could it be the doctor! Could the doctor keep his anger so long bottled up—even to catch the rest of us—without bursting?

I thought not: he would have had a fit by this time.

In those days I remember revolving in my mind the advantage I would gain if Dr. Omega did have a fit and died. It was very horrible of me, of course, but then I was a boy, and as I looked at the doctor's purple visage—was it coloured by the liquid et cetera?—I decided that if he were removed, no matter how, I might have a jolly holiday until another authority was placed over me, or I placed under another authority.

O, it was wicked of me, I know, terribly wicked!—but true. Mais revenons à Boston. If it is not the doctor in there with him, it may be the cook, I revolved behind the bushes. The cook ought to be in bed, by this time—so ought I: I was not, that was a certainty, perhaps the cook was not; if not—why it was very wrong of her not to be, I concluded virtuously.

The moments passed, and still no sound from the pantry of voices. Had Charley fallen down in a fit instead of the doctor? I crept from my hiding place and essayed a faint whistle, recognised by us all as a call.

No answer.

"Boston!" I ejaculated, feeling sure now that the doctor could not possibly be there.

Then, as I watched the casement, as anxiously as any lover could that of his mistress, I saw something appear at it: by the light of the moon it looked black and shiny. If the shock had not deprived me of motion I should have fled. I could not flee, so I stood bravely to my post and shook like a jelly.

What was it? I felt like Hamlet when he saw the ghost of his father; but I did not apostrophize it—I knew better,—at least I had not sufficient choice Shakespearian language at my tongue's end to do so becomingly.

"Travers?"

"Angels and ministers"—my name in Boston's voice. In a moment the roaring in my ears ceased, and my muscles gained strength.

"Is that you, Charley?" I asked, sensibly enough.

"Phew!"

"Why—why, hang it, Boston, what's up—eh?"

"'Up!'—all over me—choking me—Treacle!" gasped my friend, creeping through the window, with difficulty, as he spoke, and losing his balance, as he reached the ground, he fell against me, stuck to me, disengaged himself, and finally stood upright.

"Treacle!" I ejaculated with a roar, which even though the doctor might have heard I could not suppress, as Charley began clearing out his eyes and mouth with his already sticky fists.

"Yes, treacle," crossly. "You needn't laugh like that, Bob, and make such a confounded fool of yourself," he growled. "I stumbled, somehow, and fell face forward into a pan of it. Don't make such a row, Travers!" as I continued my cachination and held my aching sides, "I might have been smothered for all you would have cared. By Jove! smothered in treacle! Why a butt of Malmsey would be a natural death in comparison."

"The treacle we have for our puddings and with our brimstone?" I gasped at last.

"Yes." Here the ludicrous aspect of affairs struck the martyr, and he joined me in my merriment.

"I didn't know where I was going until I was in it," he continued. "Ugh! I shall hate treacle like poison for the rest of my life! Where are the other fellows?"

"Sneaked away; thought Omega had caught you."

"Cowards!"

At this moment a low whistle, a danger signal, from the boys just denounced, caused us to hurry from the spot, and reaching the rope ladder, we were up it like cats, gaining our room just in time to find that, by the light shining under the door, some one was on the alert.

"Get under my bed!" I whispered to Charley, as his escape to his own room was cut off.

In his hurry and confusion, he got into it. I had no time to demur, and jumped in after him, just as the doctor, suspicious and austere, entered, candlestick in hand.

"Noise in number three: senior boy, report."

I, senior boy, reported, and replied by a nasal demonstration which I flattered myself was a very good imitation of a sound snore.

"Robert Travers!" in a voice which might, almost, have awakened the dead.

"Sir," replied I—Robert—as sleepily as I could.

"Somebody walking about this room, and talking."

If brevity is the soul of wit, then old Omega was the wittiest fellow I ever came across,—although he never looked it.

He always spoke sharply and to the point, and gave us our due in the same manner.

Now, as he jerked his sentence out, he approached nearer. Charley, like a certain big bird, seemed to fancy that, because his own face was hidden and he could see no one, it followed that no one could see him; whereas, half his head was exposed to view.

I sat up in bed, hurriedly giving my companion a vicious kick of caution, as I explained to the doctor that "little Simpson walked and talked in his sleep;" at which "little Simpson," in a corner of the room, groaned audibly.

"Simpson, junior, what do you mean by walking in your sleep, sir?"

Simpson groaned again, and the doctor, thinking he was snoring, continued,—

"He eats too much; must diet him. A dose of brimstone and treacle (I felt Boston jump) in the morning will do him good—cooling. Remind me, Travers. By the way, sir, how comes it you are awake?"

"Please, sir, you woke me—awakened me, sir," I stammered.

"Hem," doubtfully. "Whom have you in bed with you—eh?" as Boston, rendered uncomfortable by his sticky face, had moved.

"With me, sir?" I murmured, vaguely.

"Yes, sir, with you. Come out, whoever it is!" roared Omega, without further parley.

But Boston remained still as a mouse.

Struck dumb with anger and astonishment, that a boy should have the impudence to stop in when he ordered him to come out, the doctor strode round to Charley's side, and laid hands on the miscreant to have him out by force; but, no sooner had he felt the viscous state of our hero, than he withdrew them precipitately, with the pious ejaculation,—

"Good heavens! What is the matter with him!"

"Necessitas non habet legem."

I, being senior boy, had to report. I did so, tremblingly, and imitated the doctor in my brevity.

"Matter, sir—treacle, sir."

"Treacle!" in a voice of concentrated thunder, if you know what that is like.

"His mother sent him a pot of treacle, sir, and he—and he thought it was pomatum, sir, and—and——" my imaginative powers fell before the lightning of the doctor's glance.

"Whose mother?"

"Boston's, sir."

"Boston, come out!"

And Boston, after some little delay caused in having to detach himself from surroundings, came forth like a lamb—I mean, like a black sheep.

"What the dev——!"

But I draw a curtain over the rest; the doctor was profane, and he hurt my feelings very much.

Poor old Treacle! The name stuck to him ever after.

Well, I went to his wedding, and with the exception that at the critical part of the ceremony he dropped the ring, which, after we had all scrambled on our knees for, was found in the bride's veil, he went through the "happiest day of his life" without a mistake.

As for myself, in searching for that ring, I knocked my head against Treacle's sister's, and it upset me. A thrill went through me, which was most painfully pleasant. At the breakfast-table I became sentimental; in making my speech for the ladies, I caught her—Treacle's sister's—eye, she smiled, and I lost the thread of my discourse. It was a very slender thread, and I never found it again until, one day, I was wandering round somebody's garden with my arm round Treacle's sister's waist, and,—but that doesn't matter! She is a jolly little thing, though—Treacle's sister is.