(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

Peter Westcott lived with his harsh father and his invalid mother at Scaw House, near the town of Treliss in Cornwall. As he grew up, Peter made friends with Stephen Brant, a farmer who occasionally took the child to the Bending Mule Inn. One Christmas Eve at the inn, Peter watched Stephen fighting with another man over a girl. That night, he arrived home late from the Bending Mule, and his father gave him the most severe whipping he had yet received. On another day, Stephen took him to the curiosity shop operated by Zachary Tan. There Peter was introduced to jovial Mr. Emilio Zanti, from London, who treated the boy with special consideration. At supper that night, Peter’s father told him that he was to go off to school in Devonshire.

The next phase of Peter’s life revolved about Dawson’s School, where his best friends were Bobby Galleon and Jerry Cardillac. Bobby was the son of a famous writer. Cardillac, called Cards, was Peter’s idol; he was everything that Peter would have liked to have been but was not. After Cards left at the end of Peter’s second year, affairs did not progress smoothly for Peter. One day, he found Jerrard, the best bowler in school, forcing whiskey down the throat of a small boy. It was the eve of a big game in which Jerrard’s services were needed; nevertheless, Peter, in his capacity as a monitor, turned him in to the authorities. Jerrard was expelled, and Dawson’s School lost the game. On the last day of the term, the whole school joined in hissing Peter when he called the roll. Bobby Galleon was the single exception.

He was spared the indignity of returning to Dawson’s School when it was closed after the summer holidays because of a lack of funds. His father then sent Peter to read law in the office of Mr. Aitchinson in Treliss. Meanwhile, Peter became aware of his mother. For many years, she had been an invalid who never left her room, and Peter was not encouraged to visit her. One day when his father was away, Peter went to her room. He found that she was dying as the result of his father’s cruel and harsh attitude toward her, and his visit hastened her death. A short time after her funeral, Peter again saw Mr. Zanti, who offered the lad a job in his bookshop in London. Finding life at Scaw House intolerable, Peter decided to leave home. On Good Friday, he met a little girl who gave her name as Clare Elizabeth Rossiter. According to his plans, Peter left home, but only after...

(The entire section is 1002 words.)