Each and all had some fearful story to tell of the cruelty of the headmaster, and all swore they’d get even with him. These stories filled Robert with a certain fear, for he was an imaginative and sensitive boy. Still he knew there was no escape. He must go to school and go through with it whatever the future might hold for him.
So far he had grown wild and free, and loved the broad wide moor which began even at the end of the row where he lived. It seemed to him that there never had been a time when he did not know that there was a moor there. Nothing in it surprised him, even as a child. Its varied moods were already understood by him, and its silences and its many voices appealed to and were balm to his soul. The great blue hills which fringed it away in the far distance were for him the ends of the world, and if he could go there some day, he would surely look over and find—what? The thought staggered him, and his imagination would not, or could not, construct for him what was at the other side. All day, often, he had lain stretched full length upon the moor, watching the great white clouds sailing past, seeing himself sometimes sitting astride them, proudly surveying, like God, the whole world. At times it was so real that he bounded to his feet when by some misadventure he slipped from the back of the cloud. He listened to the songs of larks, the cries of curlews and lapwings and all the other moorland birds, and became as familiar with each of them as they were with one another.
But this going to school was a break in his freedom, and it stirred him strangely. He felt already that he would rather not go to school. He had always been happy before, and he did not know what lay ahead.
In the schoolroom that morning, Robert was called out by the headmistress to her desk, and while she was jotting down in her register particulars as to his age, etc., it happened that Peter Rundell was also on the floor. Robert looked so wonderingly at the white collar and the shining boots, that Rundell, to fill in the blanks and keep himself cheerful, promptly put out his tongue. Robert, not to be behind in respectfulness, just as promptly put out his, at the same time making a grimace, and immediately they were at it, pummeling each other in hearty glee before the teacher could do anything to prevent them. It was their first fight. The whole class was in immediate uproar and cries of—“Go on, Rob!” and “Good Peter!” were ringing out, as the supporters on either side shouted encouragement. Both went at it and for a couple of minutes defied the efforts of the teacher to separate them; but in response to calls for help, Mr. Clapper, the headmaster, came in, and taking hold of Robert soon had him across his knee, and was giving him a taste of the “tawse” he had heard so much about that morning, and Robert went back to his seat very sore, both physically and mentally, and crying in pain and anger. Thus his first day began at school, and the succeeding months were full of many such incidents.