Bernard’s Experiment

Author: Anon

When the Headmaster sent for Gray Minor, on receipt of a telegram from his home, the boys were in great consternation, because they all regarded him as a “ripping good fellow.”

“I wonder what’s up,” said one, and this speech expressed the feeling of every boy. Then Gray Minor appeared, white, but determined, and told them that, his widowed Mother being suddenly ruined, he would have to leave the school at once.

“I say, Gray, you’re such a chap for experiment, perhaps you’ll see your way out of this fix; but, all the same, it’s jolly hard lines on you,” said his greatest chum, wringing Gray’s hand. The boys expressed their grief in different ways, but each was equally sincere, and Gray Minor departed, universally regretted.

Mrs Gray sat by the fire of the little cottage parlour, a black-edged letter lying idly between her fingers. Very pale, she had the appearance of one who had passed many sleepless nights. Outside, the November sky was overcast, the rain was coming down in torrents, and sad-looking people picked their way down the muddy lane under streaming umbrellas to the railway-station.

Suddenly, a quick, firm footstep sounded on the little garden path, and a boy’s round face smiled in at the diamond-paned window like a ray of bright sunshine. Mrs Gray almost ran to the door. “Bernard, you must be drenched!” she cried.

“No, Mother, not a bit of it,” he laughed, taking off his streaming mackintosh.

“It is such a dreadful day,” she said, but her face had brightened astonishingly at the sight of her brave boy.

“Yes, but it has put a scheme—a grand scheme in my head! Wait until I get my wet togs off and I’ll tell you.”

“An experiment?—already! oh, Bernard!” Mrs Gray laughed with actual joy: her faith in her only son was so unquestioning.

As Bernard came downstairs, the faithful old servant was carrying in a substantial tea for her young master. “Hullo, Dolly,” he cried; “I haven’t stayed up the remainder of the term, you see.”

“Ah, Mr Bernard, it’s well you take it so lightly—but it’s black ruin this time and no mistake. My poor mistress has been fretting night and day over it. Whatever is she to do?”

“Trust herself to me,” said Bernard valiantly.

Dolly laughed. “Why, you ain’t sixteen, Mr Bernard, and not done with your schooling. But, as parson said, so strange-like, on Sunday, for his text—‘the only son of his mother and she was a widow’—you’re all she has left.”

When Mrs Gray and her son were alone she told Bernard the whole history of their misfortunes. An unfortunate speculation on the part of their trustee had left them almost penniless. “There is nothing left to us,” she said, “but this little cottage and seventeen pounds in the cash-box. But, Bernard,” she added, “I grieve over nothing but your school. You had such a brilliant future, and so many friends.”

“Oh, but there were to be so many new fellows next term—nearly all my chums were to leave, so don’t grieve over that,” answered Bernard, ignoring her words about his future. Then he explained his “experiment.”

“I have decided,” he said, “to sweep a crossing.”

“Sweep a crossing! Ah, that is what so many people say, but they would never do it when it came to the point.”

“It’s what I mean to do,” said Bernard quietly. “It’s an inspiration, Mother, I assure you. You say this cottage is freehold, is it not, and worth—how much?”

“I have been offered one hundred pounds for it, but it is too near the railway, and too much out of repair to be valuable.”

“We shall do better than that. Do you know how many people go down this road daily to the station since all those new villas were built?”

Mrs Gray shook her head.

“Five hundred, and the place is growing like—well, like old boots. Now, Mother, this is my scheme. You know how bad the approach to the station is. You know, also, that the new asphalt path from the new blocks of houses comes to our very garden gate. Well, people can come so far without muddying their boots. Now, our garden abuts almost on the railway-platform, so I propose sweeping a path straight across from the road, putting up a gate at each end, and saving people five hundred yards of quagmire, and a good five minutes in time, and a lot of swear-words, and my charge for all these improvements will be one penny!”

The next morning, at half-past seven, the new path of forty yards was swept from end to end, some of the palings were pulled down near the railway-bank, and another small path swept up to the platform.

An old door was placed lengthwise over the front gate and painted white, and on it, in somewhat clumsy printing, was the announcement:— “Quickest way to Endwell Railway-Station. Dry all the way. Admission, one penny.”

About eight o’clock the business men came hurrying along under their umbrellas, for it was still drizzling. They looked at Bernard in a curious way and then at the signboard, but they scarcely grasped the situation, and plunged heroically into the five hundred yards of mud.

At nine o’clock a wealthy stockbroker came panting along, late for his train; so Bernard shouted to him: “Come my way, Mr Blunt; it will save you five hundred yards and all that horrid mud!”

“Hullo, Gray; back from school?” he gasped. “What’s the idea, eh?”

So Bernard told him his scheme in as few words as possible.

“Then I’ll be your first patron, my boy,” and Mr Blunt held out a shilling. “There’s your first capital.”

“Only a penny,” laughed Bernard, pushing back the kind hand, and pointing to his signboard.

“Oh, we are proud,” said Mr Blunt. “Well, I wish you luck! Through you I shall catch my train, and it means a little matter to me to the tune of three hundred pounds.”

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