The Downfall





In one point the master was a great disappointment to Hughie; he could

not be persuaded to play shinny. The usual challenge had come up from

the Front, with its more than usual insolence, and Hughie, who now

ranked himself among the big boys, felt the shame and humiliation to be

intolerable. By the most strenuous exertions he started the game

going with the first fall of snow, but it was difficult to work up

any enthusiasm for the game in the face of Foxy's very determined and

weighty opposition, backed by the master's lazy indifference. For,

in spite of Hughie's contempt and open sneers, Foxy had determined to

reopen his store with new and glowing attractions. He seemed to have a

larger command of capital than ever, and he added several very important

departments to his financial undertaking.



The rivalry between Hughie and Foxy had become acute, but besides this,

there was in Hughie's heart a pent-up fierceness and longing for revenge

that he could with difficulty control. And though he felt pretty certain

that in an encounter with Foxy he would come off second best, and though

in consequence he delayed that encounter as long as possible, he never

let Foxy suspect his fear of him, and waited with some anxiety for the

inevitable crisis.



Upon one thing Hughie was resolved, that the challenge from the Front

should be accepted, and that they should no longer bear the taunt of

cowardice, but should make a try, even though it meant certain defeat.



His first step had been the organization of the shinny club. His next

step was to awaken the interest of the master. But in vain he enlarged

upon the boastfulness and insolence of the Front; in vain he recounted

the achievements of their heroes of old, who in those brave days had won

victory and fame over all comers for their school and county; the master

would not be roused to anything more than a languid interest in the

game. And this was hardly to be wondered at, for shinny in the snow upon

the roadway in front of the school was none too exciting. But from

the day when the game was transferred to the mill-pond, one Saturday

afternoon when the North and South met in battle, the master's

indifference vanished, for it turned out that he was an enthusiastic

skater, and as Hughie said, "a whirlwind on the ice."



After that day shinny was played only upon the ice, and the master,

assuming the position of coach, instituted a more scientific style of

game, and worked out a system of combined play that made even small

boys dangerous opponents to boys twice their size and weight. Under his

guidance it was that the challenge to the Front was so worded as to

make the contest a game on ice, and to limit the number of the team to

eleven. Formerly the number had been somewhat indefinite, varying from

fifteen to twenty, and the style of play a general melee. Hughie was

made captain of the shinny team, and set himself, under the master's

direction, to perfect their combination and team play.



The master's unexpected interest in the shinny game was the first and

chief cause of Foxy's downfall as leader of the school, and if Hughie

had possessed his soul in patience he might have enjoyed the

spectacle of Foxy's overthrow without involving himself in the painful

consequences which his thirst for vengeance and his vehement desire to

accomplish Foxy's ruin brought upon him.



The story of the culmination of the rivalry between Hughie and Foxy is

preserved in John Craven's second letter to his friend Edward Maitland.

The letter also gives an account of the master's own undoing--an undoing

which bore fruit to the end of his life.





"Dear Ned:--



"I hasten to correct the false impression my previous letter must have

conveyed to you. It occurs to me that I suggested that this school

afforded unrivaled opportunities for repose. Further acquaintance

reveals to me the fact that it is the seething center of the most

nerve-racking excitement. The life of the school is reflected in the

life of the community, and the throbs of excitement that vibrate from

the school are felt in every home of the section. We are in the thick

of preparations for a deadly contest with the insolent, benighted,

boastful, but hitherto triumphant Front, in the matter of shinny. You

know my antipathy to violent sports, and you will find some difficulty

in picturing me an enthusiastic trainer and general director of the

Twentieth team, flying about, wildly gesticulating with a club, and

shrieking orders, imprecations, cautions, encouragements, in the most

frantic manner, at as furious a company of little devils as ever went

joyously to battle.



"Then, as if this were not excitement enough, I am made the unwitting

spectator of a truly Homeric contest, bloodier by far than many of those

fought on the plains of windy Troy, between the rival leaders of the

school, to wit, Hughie of the angelic face and OTHER-angelic temper, and

an older and much heavier boy, who rejoices in the cognomen of 'Foxy,'

as being accurately descriptive at once of the brilliance of his foliage

and of his financial tactics.



"It appears that for many months this rivalry has existed, but I

am convinced that there is more in the struggle than appears on the

surface. There is some dark and deadly mystery behind it all that only

adds, of course, to the thrilling interest it holds for me.



"Long before I arrived on the arena, which was an open space in the

woods in front of what Foxy calls his store, wild shrieks and yells fell

upon my ears, as if the aboriginal denizens of the forest had returned.

Quietly approaching, I soon guessed the nature of the excitement, and

being unwilling to interfere until I had thoroughly grasped the ethical

and other import of the situation, I shinned up a tree, and from this

point of vantage took in the spectacle. It appeared from Foxy's violent

accusations that Hughie had been guilty of wrecking the store, which,

by the way, the latter utterly despises and contemns. The following

interesting and striking conversation took place:



"'What are you doing in my store, anyway?' says he of the brilliant

foliage. 'You're just a thief, that's what you are, and a sneaking

thief.'



"Promptly the lie comes back. 'I wasn't touching your rotten stuff!' and

again the lie is exchanged.



"Immediately there is demand from the spectators that the matter be

argued to a demonstration, and thereupon one of the larger boys, wishing

to precipitate matters and to furnish a casus belli, puts a chip upon

Hughie's shoulder and dares Foxy to knock it off. But Hughie flings the

chip aside.



"'Go away with yourself and your chip. I'm not going to fight for any

chip.'



"Yells of derision, 'Cowardy, cowardy, custard,' 'Give him a good

cuffing, Foxy,' 'He's afraid,' and so forth. And indeed, Hughie appears

none too anxious to prove his innocence and integrity upon the big and

solid body of his antagonist.



"Foxy, much encouraged by the clamor of his friends, deploys in force in

front of his foe, shouting, 'Come on, you little thief!'



"'I'm not a thief! I didn't touch one of your things!'



"'Whether you touched my things or not, you're a thief, anyway, and you

know you are. You stole money, and I know it, and you know it yourself.'



"To this Hughie strangely enough makes no reply, wherein lies the

mystery. But though he makes no reply he faces up boldly to Foxy and

offers battle. This is evidently a surprise to Foxy, who contents

himself with threats as to what he can do with his one hand tied behind

his back, and what he will do in a minute, while Hughie waits, wasting

no strength upon words.



"Finally Foxy strides to his store door, and apparently urged to frenzy

by the sight of the wreckage therein, comes back and lands a sharp cuff

on his antagonist's ear.



"It is all that is needed. As if he had touched a spring, Hughie flew

at him wildly, inconsequently making a windmill of his arms. But

fortunately he runs foul of one of Foxy's big fists, and falls back

with spouting nose. Enthusiastic yells from Foxy's following. And Foxy,

having done much better than he expected, is encouraged to pursue his

advantage.



"Meantime the blood is being mopped off Hughie's face with a snowball,

his tears flowing equally with his blood.



"'Wait till to-morrow,' urges Fusie, his little French fidus Achates.



"'To-morrow!' yells Hughie, suddenly. 'No, but now! I'll kill the lying,

sneaking, white-faced beast now, or I'll die myself!' after which heroic

resolve he flings himself, blood and tears, upon the waiting Foxy, and

this time with better result, for Foxy, waiting the attack with arms up

and eyes shut, finds himself pummeled all over the face, and after a few

moments of ineffectual resistance, turns, and in quite the Homeric way

seeks safety in flight, followed by the furious and vengeful Achilles,

and the jeering shouts of the bloodthirsty but disappointed rabble.



"As I have said, the mystery behind it remains unsolved, but Foxy's

reign is at an end, and with him goes the store, for which I am devoutly

thankful.



"I would my tale ended here with the downfall of Foxy, but, my dear Ned,

I have to record a sadder and more humiliating downfall than that--the

abject and utter collapse of my noble self. I have once more played

the fool, and played into the hands of the devil, mine own familiar and

well-beloved devil.



"The occasion I need not enlarge upon; it always waits. A long day's

skate, a late supper with some of the wilder and more reckless outcasts

of this steady-going community that frequent the back store, results in

my appearing at the manse door late at night, very unsteady of leg and

incoherent of speech. By a most unhappy chance, a most scurvy trick

my familiar devil played upon me, the door is opened by the minister's

wife. I can see her look of fear, horror, and loathing yet. It did

more to pull me together than a cold bath, so that I saved myself the

humiliation of speech and escaped to my room.



"And now, what do you think? Reproaches, objurgations, and final

dismissal on the part of the padre, tearful exhortations to repentance

on the part of his wife? Not a bit. If you believe me, sir, my unhappy

misadventure remains a secret with her. She told not a soul. Remarkably

fine, I call that. And what more, think you? A cold and haughty reserve,

or a lofty pity, with the fearful expectation of judgment? Not in

the least. Only a little added kindness, a deeper note to the frank,

sympathetic interest she has always shown, and that is all. My dear

chap, I offered to leave, but when she looked at me with those great

hazel-brown eyes of hers and said, 'Why should you go? Would it be

better for you any place else?' I found myself enjoying the luxury of

an entirely new set of emotions, which I shall not analyze to you. But

I feel more confident than ever that I shall either die early or end in

being a saint.



"And now, do you know, she persists in ignoring that anything has taken

place, talks to me about her young men and her hopes for them, the work

she would do for them, and actually asks my assistance! It appears that

ever since their Great Revival, which is the beginning of days to them,

events being dated from before the Great Revival or after, some of

these young men have a desire to be ministers, or think they have. It is

really her desire, I suspect, for them. The difficulty is, preparation

for college. In this she asks my help. The enormous incongruity of

the situation does not appear to strike her, that I, the--too many

unutterable things--should be asked to prepare these young giants, with

their 'tremenjous' religious convictions, for the ministry; nevertheless

I yield myself to do anything and everything she lays upon me. I repeat,

I shall without doubt end in being a saint myself, and should not be

surprised to find myself with these 'tremenjous' young men on the way

to Holy Orders. Fancy the good Doctor's face! He would suspect a lurking

pleasantry in it all.



"This letter, I know, will render chaotic all your conceptions of me,

and in this chaos of mind I can heartily sympathize. What the next

chapter will be, God only knows! It depends upon how my familiar devil

behaves himself. Meantime, I am parleying with him, and with some

anxiety as to the result subscribe myself,



"Your friend,



"J. C."





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