At home I had been protected if only by my mother’s tears, but here I was alone, and felt myself to be so little and helpless. But just as my lip was beginning to drop, at the thought of what my mother would suffer if she saw me in this position of infamy, and I was about to cry out to the schoolmistress: “Don’t beat me! Oh! please don’t beat me!” a strange thing happened, which turned my shame into surprise and triumph.
Through the mist which had gathered before my eyes I saw a boy coming out of the boys’ class at the end of the long room. It was Martin Conrad, and I remember that he rolled as he walked like old Tommy the gardener. Everybody saw him, and the schoolmistress said in her sharp voice:
“Martin Conrad, what right have you to leave your place without permission? Go back, sir, this very moment.”
Instead of going back Martin came on, and as he did so he dragged his big soft hat out of the belt of his Norfolk jacket and with both hands pulled it down hard on his head.
“Go back, sir!” cried the schoolmistress, and I saw her step towards him with the cane poised and switching in the air, as if about to strike.
The boy said nothing, but just shaking himself like a big dog he dropped his head and butted at the schoolmistress as she approached him, struck her somewhere in the waist and sent her staggering and gasping against the wall.
Then, without a word, he took my hand, as something that belonged to him, and before the schoolmistress could recover her breath, or the scholars awake from their astonishment, he marched me, as if his little stocky figure had been sixteen feet tall, in stately silence out of the school.
I was never sent back to school, and I heard that Martin, by order of the butcher, was publicly expelled. This was a cause of distress to our mothers, who thought the future of our lives had been permanently darkened, but I cannot say that it ever stood between us and our sunshine. On the contrary it occurred that—Aunt Bridget having washed her hands of me, and Martin’s father being unable to make up his mind what to do with him—we found ourselves for some time at large and were nothing loth to take advantage of our liberty, until a day came which brought a great disaster.
One morning I found Martin with old Tommy the Mate in his potting-shed, deep in the discussion of their usual subject—the perils and pains of Arctic exploration, when you have little food in your wallet and not too much in your stomach.
“But you has lots of things when you gets there—hams and flitches and oranges and things—hasn’t you?” said Martin.
“Never a ha’p’orth,” said Tommy. “Nothing but glory. You just takes your Alping stock and your sleeping sack and your bit o’ biscuit and away you go over crevaxes deeper nor Martha’s gullet and mountains higher nor Mount Blank and never think o’ nothing but doing something that nobody’s never done before. My goodness, yes, boy, that’s the way of it when you’re out asploring. ‘Glory’s waiting for me’ says you, and on you go.”