The Choir School of St. Bede's
The Choir School of
Author of “Wynport College”
WITH THIRTEEN ILLUSTRATIONS BY EMILY A. COOK
BLACKIE AND SON LIMITED
LONDON GLASGOW AND BOMBAY
|I.||The New Solo-boy||5|
|II.||The First of April||23|
|III.||Alfred at the Deanery||40|
|IV.||The Key to the Sums||50|
|VI.||At Mr. Cottenham’s||70|
|VII.||Polly at School||82|
|VIII.||The Old Pit||92|
THE CHOIR SCHOOL OF
THE NEW SOLO-BOY.
IT was a lovely morning, about eleven o’clock,and the boys of the cathedral choir of St.Bede’s were playing in the cloister of thegrand old church. There was a square plot ofgrass in the centre, where the boys used toamuse themselves during the intervals of school-work;when it was wet they would walk roundthe covered cloister.
One boy, of about eleven years, was standingby himself, looking shyly on without taking anypart in the games of the others. He was leaningagainst a stone pillar, when one of the biggerboys came up to him.
“You’re the new probationer solo-boy, aren’tyou?” he demanded.
“Yes,” replied Alfred Davidson, for that washis name.
“Where do you come from?”
“What’s your father?”
“He’s an engineer on a ship.”
“On board of a man-of-war?”
“No; on one of the big ships that go toAustralia,” replied Alfred.
“I suppose you think no small cheese of yourselfnow you’ve got a place in the choir, don’tyou?” said the other with a sneer.
“I am very pleased to get into this choir, as Iam fond of music, and I hope I shall be anorganist some day,” replied Alfred.
“Organist!” laughed the other. “You’ll neverbe fit for anything except to blow the organ. Isuppose you would consider that assistant-organist?”
“Certainly! some people aren’t good enougheven for that,” replied Alfred, moving behindthe stone pillar.
“Oh, indeed!” said King, “aren’t they?”
He aimed a backhanded slap at Alfred as hespoke, but the latter bobbed his head, and Kingbarked his knuckles.
“That’s your little game, is it?” he exclaimed,and seizing Alfred he shook him and threw himon to the grass, nearly causing another boy, whowas stepping backwards, to roll over him. Alfredgot up at once and brushed his clothes, and whilehe was doing so another boy came up and spoketo him.
“What’s up?” he exclaimed.
“I am, now,” replied Alfred, smiling.
“So I see,” said Walter Parker, laughing; “butyou were down a moment ago, weren’t you?”
“Has Herbert King been bullying you becauseyou’ve got the place he wanted his brother tohave?”
“I don’t know the name of the boy whopushed me down,” replied Alfred, “but he didnot have it all his own way. He went to hitme, and as I ducked my head he knocked hisknuckles against the pillar instead.”
“I am glad of it,” said Walter. “It serveshim right; he is far too fond of bullying, especiallynew boys. If I catch him at it I willpunch his head again, as I did last week. Youtell me if he hits you, and I will square accountswith him. What is your name?”
“Very well, Davidson, I hope we shall befriends. My name is Walter Parker, and I livein Cross Street.”
“So do I,” said Alfred. “I am staying withMrs. Dawson.”
“I live next door, so we can go home together.”
These few words made Alfred feel quite happy,and at the invitation of his new friend he joinedin the game of prisoner’s base. Walter Parkerwas thirteen years of age, a stout, well-built boy,although not very tall.
Alfred Davidson, although so young, had avoice of wonderful power and sweetness, andhaving been taught music by his mother forsome time, he had at eight entered the choir ofthe parish church of Darlton, where he had continuedhis training for some three years. Hehad just succeeded in obtaining not only a placein the choir by competition, to the exclusion ofHerbert King’s younger brother, but even theappointment of a probationer soloist, which wasvery unusual for so young a boy.
The deputy choir-master, who was also theschoolmaster, called the boys in to work. Theroom was under the cathedral library, and ledout of the cloister.
“Alfred Davidson!” called Mr. Harmer.
“Davidson,” said Walter Parker to him, “‘uncle’is calling you.”
“Is he your uncle?” inquired Alfred, as hemoved out of his seat.
“No,” replied Walter; “but we always callhim uncle behind his back.”
“Come here,” said Mr. Harmer; “I want toexamine you, to see in which division I canplace you.”
Alfred answered the questions put to himsufficiently well to be placed in the first division.
“I hope, Davidson, you will work well, so thatI may be able to keep you in this division. Ifnot, of course I shall put you down into thesecond. You can go back to your seat again.”
Walter Parker assisted Mr. Harmer by takingthe youngest and the most backward boys.Herbert King was his equal as far as knowledgewent, but the master had chosen Walter inpreference to King, as he was more patientand careful in the work. These two boys werethe principal soloists, but as King’s voice wasbeginning to show signs of breaking, it wasnecessary to have another boy in training, readyto take his place later on. King had hoped thathis brother would obtain a place in the choir,but the organist, Dr. Phillips, and Mr. Young,the precentor (one of the clergy who assist indirecting the musical services), had both chosenAlfred to fill the vacancy. This was one reasonwhy King felt anything but friendly towards thenewcomer.
As the boys were going home, one of them,Stephen Gray, filled a paper bag with water atthe school tap, unseen by Alfred, who was slowlysauntering along.
“What are you going to do with that?” inquiredWalter Parker.
“Wait and see,” replied Steve, running on andcalling out to Alfred. “Davidson!”
“What do you want?” replied Alfred.
“Can you catch?”
“I think so.”
“Then catch this,” said Steve, throwing thebag as he spoke.
Alfred, being quite unused to the tricks ofschoolboys—choir-boys are not a bit differentfrom other boys—attempted to catch the bag,and the moment it reached his hands the waterspurted all over his face and clothes. He wastoo much surprised to say anything, and Steve,who was a good-natured boy, after laughing atthe success of his joke, wiped him with his handkerchief,and accompanied him and Walter, ashe lived near them.
When Alfred had finished his tea he wrotehome a long letter to his mother and sister,trying to make them feel quite happy abouthim. He hoped that in a few days he shouldlike all the boys as much as he liked Walter andStephen. Mrs. Dawson was very kind to him,and he went to bed feeling hopeful and happy.
The next morning, as he was walking up tothe cathedral, the Rev. Mr. Young, the precentor,met him.
“You are the new boy, are you not?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” replied Alfred.
“How are you getting on, my boy?”
“Very well, sir, thank you.”
“I shall inquire from time to time of Mr.Harmer to see how you progress in your work,and if you do well in your Latin, later on I willteach you Greek, if you think you would care tolearn it.”
“Thank you, sir; I should very much liketo.”
“Your name is Davidson, is it not?”
“Yes, sir, Alfred Davidson.”
“Well, Davidson, stick to your work and be agood boy. My old college friend is vicar ofDarlton, and knows your mother well, so Ishall feel an extra interest in you, and he cantell your mother, when I write to him, howyou get on with your work.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Now run on and join your fellow-choristers.As you are early, you will have a quarter ofan hour for play before work.”
Alfred raised his cap and ran away to catchhis new friends, Walter and Stephen. Theymet Herbert King and three other boys, whojoined them, and walked up to a large openspace near the cathedral, where they playedcricket and football. It was a very pretty place.There were several large trees, and close by ranthe river, on which some of the boys used torow, as the father of one of the choristers ownedboats, and let them out.
“Can you play football, Davidson?” askedKing.
“No—that is, not much,” replied Alfred.
“He will be on our side,” exclaimed Walter.“He will soon learn.”
The game began. It was near the end ofMarch, so they had not yet commenced cricket,as the weather had been too wet and cold.Alfred was put among the forwards, and being avery quick runner, succeeded in shooting a goalfor his side.
“It was off-side,” exclaimed King angrily.
“No it wasn’t,” replied Walter.
“You always say ‘off-side’ when we score agoal,” said Stephen Gray; “but if you kick oneit is always quite fair.”
“Very well, have your own way,” repliedKing, moving off to kick the ball.
The game then became very exciting. Kingseemed on the point of scoring a goal for his side,when Alfred cleverly got the ball away, and carriedit right down the field into the enemy’s quarters.King did not say anything, but there wasan angry look on his face. Shortly afterwardsAlfred was violently pushed from the back andsent off the grass on to the gravel path, where helay for a few moments, too much shaken to move.
“Foul!” shouted Stephen. “You know, King,that isn’t fair.”
“What do you mean?” exclaimed King in apassion. “Do you dare to say I cheat?”
“Yes,” replied Steve fearlessly. “You pushedDavidson down on purpose; I saw you.”
“Then take that,” exclaimed King, aiming atSteve a blow, which he dodged, and in returnhit out.
Alfred had got up, but his hands and face werebleeding from the scratches. The other boyshad gone on with the game and had not noticedthe disturbance. Steve was goal-keeper, whileWalter was playing centre forward and wasmaking a dash for the goal. Alfred wiped hisface and hands with his handkerchief, and althoughhe was hurt, was going forward to rejointhe game, when he saw Steve hit King back.King was a bigger boy than Steve, but the latterwas not afraid of him.
“You dare to hit me!” said King. “I’ll giveyou one for yourself.”
“No, you won’t,” exclaimed Walter, runningup; “it’s football we’re playing, not boxing.What’s all this row about?”
Stephen had not time to answer, as the schoolbell rang, and the boys had to run in. Alfreddipped his handkerchief in some water at theschool tap and wiped his face and hands.
“Boys,” said Mr. Harmer, directly after callingover the names, “I have something to say to you.First, I hear that some of you are in the habitof playing near the old pit-mouth; in fact I havebeen told that you go down it with a rope, andsometimes play in it. I must forbid your doingso, as it is very dangerous. You know it was acoal-mine, but has been closed for several years,and in all probability there is a great quantityof water at the bottom after the rain. Theground also might at any time fall in, as it hasdone before. The second thing is, that you mustnot row on the river near the weir, as it is dangerouseven for a good rower. You may go upthe river above the bridge as far as you like, asthe water is not very deep and the current isnot strong. Now get your books.”
Alfred was busily engaged in doing his sums,and not noticing anything or anybody else, whenHarry Cox asked him to help him, as he wasvery bad at figures. Alfred showed him how todo the practice sums and some decimals, and thenfinished his own.
“Cox,” said the master, “bring up your work.”
Cox took up his book and showed it to Mr.Harmer.
“These are much better, Cox, than usual,” saidMr. Harmer. “Did you do them all alone, or didanyone help you?”
“I did them, sir, all alone,” replied Harrypromptly.
“I thought I saw you talking to Davidsonjust now.”
“Yes, sir, but it was not about the sums.”
“Oh, indeed!” replied the master, as if he didnot altogether believe what Cox said. “You cango back to your seat.”
When the boys met again, before afternoonschool, Cox came up to Alfred.
“Look here, Davidson,” he said, “if Mr.Harmer asks you about my sums at