The Empire Makers
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Pages (PDF): 266
Publication Date: 1900
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Three braver, franker, and more chivalrous hearts never beat in male breasts than those that beat under the jackets of Ned Romer, Clarence Raybold, and Fred Weldon.
Ned Romer, the long-acknowledged hero and captain of the school, was about seventeen years of age. He had won his supremacy, as all lads must do at schools, by hard fighting and expertness in outdoor games and sports, as much as by general proficiency in his studies.
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The boys expected him, of course, to be dux in the schoolroom; they could never have respected a duffer, no matter how smart he may have been on the field. An ignorant booby could never win schoolboy respect, no matter how great a fighter he proved himself to be.
To become the leader of a school requires many perfections in a boy. He must have the same qualities which form a leader of men—personal force and self-control, the power of controlling and influencing those about him. He must be always prepared and ready to face unexpected difficulties, be tireless in his work, willing ever to help his followers in their task, and thus win their admiration, by proving that he knows much more than they do.
He must be prepared to act as champion for the school, if called upon; to be the best batsman and bowler, the most tireless runner and swimmer; in fact, to be constantly on the qui vive.
Schoolboys are very keen critics, and don’t give their admiration blindly. True, once their allegiance is given, it takes a good deal to destroy the prestige of their hero. Unlike grown men, they do not easily forget Ned Romer had all the natural qualities of a hero. Physically, he was tall for his age, handsome, strongly formed, and absolutely fearless.
A well-posed, firm head rested between square shoulders. His hair was crisp, curly, and light brown. His eyes were those bright and blue eyes that look frankly and bravely out upon the world, and never shift when appealed to. When boys or men possess those kind of eyes, a lie direct is an impossibility with them. They cannot prevaricate. It is not the despicable meanness of a lie that prevents them; they do not consider such ethics or reasons. Like George Washington, they simply cannot tell a lie. To do so would be a physical impossibility. The liar and the craven are natural products, and go together, as real courage, magnanimity, and truth are ever found united.
His habits of constant exercise had made Ned Romer an athlete. A natural aptitude for study and thirst for knowledge made his tasks a pleasure, and easy to acquire. He was ambitious to shine, and could not endure defeat. To him an obstacle meant an enemy to be overcome and destroyed, and until he achieved this, he had no peace of mind.
This was his last term at school; and during the years he had spent at Shebourne Academy, he had learnt that the most precious of all a brave man’s possessions is the habit of controlling his temper. He had a fiery temper. Now, a temper is as needful to boy and man as a pair of strong arms, but, like strength, this must be kept in reserve for occasions when force is required, not dissipated in senseless outbursts. As our story progresses, the reader will find out more about the characteristics and temper of Ned Romer.
Early in life he had been left an orphan, under the guardianship of his late father’s solicitor.
This guardian was a bachelor, who evidently considered it to be the beginning and end of his duty to pay the school fees and other expenses of his ward.
Thus Ned had never been invited to visit his guardian during his holidays, the master of the college, or academy, Dr Heardman, LL.D., M.A., etc., being paid to look after the boy during the holidays. In consequence of these arrangements, Shebourne Academy was the only home that Ned Romer had ever known, and his schoolfellows were his only friends.
Some lads would have felt lonely and have pined under the monotony of such a life; but Ned was not one of the brooding kind. The country all round the academy was beautiful, being in the heart of Devonshire, and within sight of Dartmoor hills. What money he required, in reason, his guardian freely sent, and as Ned had lived here ever since he could remember, his needs were not extravagant, with such Spartan tastes as he had.
Books he had in profusion, for the doctor’s library was at his disposal. He found amusement enough during the vacations in studying botany and reading books of travel and exploration.
When asked by his guardian what vocation he would like to take up in life, during one of that gentleman’s rare visits, Ned had answered promptly—
“I mean to be a traveller.”
His guardian was pleased with this reply; at least, he seemed to be so from the way his foxy face beamed and the manner in which he rubbed his hands together.
“Yes, Ned, I think such a life would suit a bold, strong lad like you exactly. You might go to Australia or Africa, and make a fortune in no time.”
“Oh, I don’t care much about the fortune,” replied Ned, carelessly. “As long as I have enough to live and keep clear of debt, I’ll be satisfied, so that I can do some good and help on civilisation and the glory and power of England.”
“Like the great Cecil Rhodes, eh—the Empire-maker?” said his guardian, slyly.
“That is my ambition, Mr Raymond,” answered Ned, calmly.
He was not very familiar with his guardian, and although he could not say that he disliked him, yet he always felt better pleased to bid him good-bye than to welcome him at the beginning of his infrequent and short visits.
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