Howard Minturn was a king among the schoolboys; so, though some of them nudged each other and laughed a little when Tip swung open the iron gate and appeared in Mr. Minturn's grounds, the most of them, seeing how quickly Howard sprang forward, and how heartily he greeted the newcomer, did the same. Howard was his father over again; if he did a thing at all, he did it well. Every moment of that afternoon was enjoyed as only boys know how to enjoy holidays: the whole round of winter fun was gone through with,—coasting, snowballing, building forts, rolling in the snow, each had their turn.
Tip was not one whit behind the rest in all these matters, and if ever boy enjoyed an afternoon, he did that one. The sun had set in its clear, cold beauty, and the sharp winter night was coming down; the boys stood at the foot of the hill waiting for Ellis and his sled, which were at the top; they came at last, shooting down the glassy surface.
"Hurry up," called out Howard, as he spun along. "What the mischief became of you? We thought you had gone to hunt up Sir John Franklin and crew."
"Hurry down, I should say you meant," answered Ellis, guiding his sled skilfully around the curve, and springing to his feet. "I waited for the rest of you; thought you were coming back."
"No," said Howard, "we just ain't. We appointed a committee to find out how many were frozen up altogether entirely, and found that every single one of us were; so we're going in to the library fire to get thawed out by tea-time."
"All right," said Ellis, shouldering his sled; "Howard, where's your skates?"
"Oh, bother! they're at the top of that awful hill. Never mind; you walk on slowly, and I'll run back and get them."
The boys obeyed, and Ellis Holbrook was just swinging open the little gate that led to Mr. Minturn's grounds, when Howard called, as he ran down the hill, "Hold on! Don't go that way, it will lead you right through the deepest snow there is; take the big gate." And by the time he reached them, panting and breathless, they were at the big gate.
"This is jolly," said Will Bailey, throwing himself into a great arm-chair before the glowing fire. "My! I believe I'm a snowball."
"You'd have been an icicle if you had gone the way Ellis was leading you; why, the snow is so high," said Howard, raising his hand almost on a level with his head.
Ellis laughed. "I'm sure I thought I was going right," he said. "I must have been thinking of yesterday's lesson in Sunday school,—'Enter ye in at the strait gate.'"
"Ho!" said Will Bailey; "for that matter, one gate is as straight as the other."
"You don't understand the Bible, my boy," said Howard, laying his hand on Will's shoulder with a provoking little pat, "or you'd know that strait means narrow."
"I'll bet a dollar that you were no wiser yourself until father explained the verse yesterday," said Ellis, laughing.
Tip, meantime, stood apart flushed and silent; he knew about the Sunday lesson, and remembered the solemn talk which Mr. Holbrook gave them; and remembered how he urged them, while they were young, to enter into that strait gate; he felt shocked and troubled at the sound of Ellis's careless words.
"I know one thing," he said abruptly.
"Do you?" said Will Bailey in a mocking tone. "That's very strange!" Will felt above Tip, and took care to let him know it.
Ellis turned a quick, indignant glance on him; then spoke to Tip in a kind and interested tone: "What were you going to say, Tip."
"That, if I were the minister's son, I wouldn't make fun of the Bible."
Ellis's face was crimson in an instant. "What do you mean by that?" he asked haughtily.
"Just what I say," was Tip's cool reply.
"Do you pretend to say that I make fun of the Bible?"
"Humph! Didn't I hear you?"
"No," said Ellis, in a heat, "you didn't! and I'd thank you not to say so neither."
"Well, now," said Tip, "I'll leave it to any boy here if you didn't. When a fellow takes a thing in the Bible and twists it around, and makes believe it means some little silly thing that it don't mean at all, I call that making fun."
"Poh!" said Howard, coming to the rescue of his friend. "What a fuss you're making about nothing. You're getting wise, aren't you, Tip? Ellis was only saying that verse in fun, just as lots of people do. I've heard good men quote the Bible and laugh over it."
"Can't help that," said Tip boldly; "I say it's wicked, and Ellis Holbrook's father says so too. I heard him tell Will Bailey once that folks ought to be very careful how they said things that were in the Bible.'
"Did he tell you to go around preaching for him through the week? How much does he pay you for your services? Come, let's hear."
This was said in Will Bailey's most disagreeable tone. Before Tip had time to answer, Ellis spoke again.
"Well, I don't pretend to be as good as some people are, but I really can't see any awful wickedness in anything that I've said to-night."
"Neither can anybody else, except Tip," said Will, "and he's good, you know; he never does anything wrong, except to tell lies and swear, or some little matters."
Ellis was an honest boy. "No," he said gravely, "there is no use in saying what isn't true, for the sake of helping my side along. Tip don't do either of those things now-a-days, I believe; but I'm sure I don't thank him for his good opinion of me."
Howard was glad at this moment to hear the tea-bell peal through the house, for the boys were growing cross. Most of them had been so astonished at the bold stand which Tip had taken, that they said nothing, only gathered round, and waited to see what would come next.
Howard sprang up. "There's something I, for one, am ready for. Come, boys;" and he led the way to the dining-room. Oh, that dining-room, with its bright lights and splendid table, was such a wonderful sight to Tip! It was a very nice birthday supper,—plates of warm biscuit, platters of cold chicken, dishes of beautiful honey, silver cake-baskets, filled with heavily-frosted cake. Tip, for one, had never seen such a sight in his life before, and he was so bewildered with the dazzle and glitter that he didn't know which way to turn.
"Howard," said Mrs. Minturn, turning to her son, after she had welcomed his friends, "do you want your father to take the head of the table, or would you and the boys prefer having the room to yourselves?"
"No, ma'am," answered Howard, with energy; "we want you and father both. I guess I want you to my party, whoever else I have."
Tip watched the bright light on Howard's face with surprise. How much he seemed to love his mother, and how much she loved him! how queer it was! The supper was a great success; the boys forgot their excitement and ill-humour, and enjoyed everything.
It was almost nine o'clock, the hour when it was generally understood that the party was to break up. The boys had been very merry all the evening; the discussion which had taken place just before tea seemed to have been forgotten, save by Ellis, who, genial and hearty enough with the others, was cold and haughty to Tip. Still, they kept apart, and the fun had gone on famously. There was a sudden lull in the uproar when Mr. Minturn opened the door.
"Are the walls left?" he asked, coming forward.
"The walls?" said Ellis inquiringly; "why, sir, did you expect to miss them?"
"Well, I had some such fears, but I see they're all right. What are you up to?"
"Ellis was telling a story, that's what we were laughing at when you came in," said Howard. "Go on, El—never mind father, he likes to hear stories."
"No," said Ellis, blushing crimson; "I think I'll be excused."
"Go ahead," said Mr. Minturn; "I'm very fond of stories."
"I was only telling, sir, how Joe Barnes talked to his father when I was down there this morning."
"Yes, and, father, you'd be perfectly astonished to hear him," chimed in Howard. "I never heard a fellow go on so in my life; he makes fun of every single thing his father says."
"Do you think there is anything very surprising in that?" asked Mr. Minturn coolly.
"Surprising! I guess you'd think so. Why, when his father is talking to him real soberly, he mimics him, and laughs right in his face."
"But I shouldn't suppose you would think there was anything strange about that."
The boys looked puzzled. "Why, Mr. Minturn!" said Ellis; "wouldn't you think it strange if Howard should do so?"
"Well, no; I don't know that I should have any reason to be astonished."
Howard looked not only surprised, but very much hurt. "I'm sure, father," he said, in a voice which trembled a little, "I didn't know I was so rude to you as all that."
"No," said Mr. Minturn, "you never have been, but I rather expect you to commence. I shall have no reason to be surprised if you and Ellis and Will Bailey, and a host of others, all go to making fun of what your fathers say to you after this."
The boys seemed perfectly astonished. "I, for one," said Ellis Holbrook proudly, "think too much of my father, to be in any such danger."
"You do?" said Mr. Minturn; "well, now, I am amazed. I supposed you would be the very worst one."
Howard left the table and came over to where his father had seated himself.
"Father, what do you mean?" he asked, in an earnest, anxious tone.
"Why, I mean," said his father, "that I was in that room over there just before tea, and I heard the discussion which came up between you boys, and I came to the conclusion that boys who thought it such a little matter to make fun of solemn words which God has said to them, need not be expected to show much respect for what their father or anybody else said."
A perfect stillness settled over the boys at these words, and not only Ellis Holbrook's cheeks, but his whole face glowed.
Howard came to the rescue at last, very stammeringly: "But, father—I don't think—do you think—I mean—well, sir, you know Ellis and the rest of us didn't mean to make fun of what God said. Don't you think that makes a difference?"
"I don't know, I'm sure. How do you know that Joe Barnes means to make fun of what his father says?"
"He acts like it," Howard said.
"Exactly; and so do you, every one of you, except Tip. I don't say, boys, that you are all going to be disrespectful to your elders after this; I only say I don't see why your earthly friends should expect more reverence from you than you give to God."
Boys and man were all silent for a little after that, until Mr. Minturn broke the stillness by repeating reverently, "'Enter ye in at the strait gate.' I guess you all know what that means. I would like to know whether there is a boy here who thinks he has entered in at that gate."
How still the room was while he waited for his answer! Tip could feel his heart throb—throb—with loud, distinct beats; twice he tried to break the silence, and couldn't. At last he found voice: "I do, sir."
Mr. Minturn turned quickly. "What makes you think so, Tip?"
"Because I love Jesus, and I'm trying to do what He says."
Mr. Minturn's voice trembled a little: "God bless you, my boy; try to get all the rest to go through the same gate."
The town clock struck the hour, nine o'clock. The boys made a move to separate. Tip took his cap and walked out alone in the cold, clear starlight. He felt quiet and strong. It was done at last: he had taken his stand before the boys—had "shown his colours."
They all knew now that he was trying hard, and who was helping him. Things must surely be different after this, for ever.